Saturday, July 14, 2007

It never fails when you're in a hurry...

... you always get stuck in the slow lane:

I didn't have a great deal of time to fly today and pretty much needed to have it wrapped up and myself back to the ranch by noon. That was no problem since near-by Urbana was hosting a balloon fly-thing (I don't know what to call it since they're actually trucked in and launched, rather than flown in as you would in a traditional 'fly-in'), and I'm of the opinion that you simply cannot take a bad picture of a hot air balloon. With an early enough start, I figured I could be there and back before my curfew.

Well, wouldn't you know that I'd get behind the exact same guy up on the airway? Poking along in the fast lane too! I'm surprised he didn't have a turn signal on, like those folks you get behind on the highway that go for miles promising a lane change that they never seem to get around to.

There's a metaphor in the way the reflected compass rose from my directional gyro encircles the plane, I suppose, but I'm just not poetic enough to know what it is.

Anyway, I finally got a chance to pass, and as I went by I recognized the driver: none other than RV-9A builder Rick, taking a break from his building tasks to join me for breakfast at the balloon fly-thingy. He's borrowing that Cherokee from a friend while he finishes up his RV, which is convenient for me as I still get someone to eat with but don't have a witness to my landings. Win-win. I tease him a lot about how slow it is, but it's really a nice, well-equipped airplane and I suspect it's even a knot or two faster than my Tampico was.

Now, I said before that it's darn near impossible to get a bad picture of a hot air balloon. You may assume that to be a statement regarding their photogenic nature, but in fact it means you can never find one to take a picture of at a balloon fly-thingy. I'm not sure if 9:00 was simply too late to catch them, or if the forecast of 10G15 wind was enough to dissuade them, but they were trucking up and leaving as I landed. I'm pretty sensitive to the wind in my taildragger, but as you can imagine balloonists are positively adverse to anything but a light breeze, or so it seems. I know I would be!

I needed gas, and Rick did too, so we briefed for a quick hop down to MadCo. We had to wait a few minutes for our turn at the pump, but it was no big deal since the plane we were waiting for was so nice to look at (and long for):

Things were really hopping at MadCo. Just before I saddled up for the jaunt back to Bolton, this crop duster landed for a refill. It's a turbine, so I got a whiff of the fumes that take me back to an overseas RF-4C flightline much in the way that the whop-whop-whop of a Huey probably effects a Nam vet. I think it would be a tremendous amount of fun (and risk, I suppose) to fly a duster like that. If I was wealthy enough to work at something that doesn't pay, I think I'd try on a new job every year and write a book about each experience. Crop dusting would be on my list. Oddly enough, even more sedate things like being a steward on a cruise ship would make the list.

Coming back into Bolton, I heard a Grumman report in to the tower as 7 miles west, and a quick glance at the GPS showed me at 6.8 miles west. That was fine, though, as the GPS also informed me of my 171 knot groundspeed. There's no Grumman shy of the F-14 (ok, their probably is, but I invoke literary privilege) that would be in danger of catching up and running me over, so I felt it safe to ignore him, as long as I let Papa keep up the pace. If I'd had the wheel pants back on, I'd have been doing at least 180 knots. As it was, we were cooking right along.

Photo courtesy of Richard J. Schwandt

Photo courtesy of Richard J. Schwandt

As I was entering mid-field right downwind to 22, a Cessna 172RG had already been cleared to land from a 1 1/2 mile left base. This being my home field and my plane known to the controllers, the tower guy told me that if I could keep a tight pattern, he could clear me in front of the Cessna. "I can do it," I told him, and was immediately cleared to land. I had whoa-ed Papa a bit on the entry to the pattern, but thinking that I'd be flying an extended downwind to land #2 behind the Cessna, I hadn't yet slowed down to the 100mph limit for dumping the flaps. I also had an 11 knot tailwind, so I was eating up pattern distance at a far more prodigious rate than the other guy.

Throttle to idle and no wheel pants to block the drag from the wheels got me down to flap speed quickly enough, so I dumped them down and turned base just past the numbers. At this point, the 11 knot wind RDTR worked in my favor. I was high and fast pretty close in to the threshold, but the headwind was keeping my distance across the ground manageable so I didn't even need to resort to a slip. I also target a spot 1000' down the runway for my touchdown so I am slowing to turning/taxi speed just as I reach the A3 taxiway, so I had plenty of room to work with. It was a nice, smooth touchdown and I had turned off of the runway at A3 and onto the parallel taxiway to head back to the barn by the time the Cessna was flaring for his touchdown. I don't think I've ever ridden a more controllable and eager-to-please mount than PapaGolf.

Update: just playing around in Picasa, I tried the grainy WWII newsprint look:

Photo courtesy of Richard J. Schwandt

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