Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Almoooost there... Over the top!

Does anyone else watch the hit counter over there on the right side? It's creeping towards the 10,000 mark.

That astounds me.

UPDATE: Visit 10,000 hails from Pennsylvania:

Nice to know people read this stuff, and I'd like to thank each and every one of you for contributing to the attainment of this completely arbitrary and meaningless goal. At the current pace, we should hit the 50,000 mark in 56.625 months, so stay tuned!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Sunset Canter

First day back to work after a wonderful vacation, and all of the restorative effects wear off within the first half of the morning. The missed week's frustrations awaiting my arrival patiently, lying in ambush in the Outlook Inbox like a pack of hyenas hidden by the watering hole, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the not-quite-wary-enough gazelle. The wheels come off the bus early, problems cropping up like brushfires, efforts to squelch them only prolonging the agony of addressing last week's similar complaints.

The normal ire-inducing drive home, avoiding America's finest drivers and their ill-thought antics. Dinner cooked, cholesterol count climbs, dishes to be washed. Legs twitching with pent up stress and energy, mind screaming for a distraction from the inevitable climb back down into the well worn rut. Ah, a Miata drive to the airport might do the trick.

The hangar beckons, my trusty mount stabled inside, also chomping at the bit, needing a canter around the pasture to stretch his legs too. The rider and steed both willing, we saddle up for a quick jaunt.

The tower is closed, so it's just us and the low-time renter painstakingly and meticulously going through his run-up checklist at the end of the runway. Our run-up is much simpler - we know each other intimately after a few hundred hours together. We take the next taxiway down the runway rather than wait, the loss of 300 feet or so of available runway not a serious factor given the 5000+ feet remaining. Winds calm, Papa in a get-up-and-go mood, and we're 50' above the concrete accelerating to 140 mph in no time. Off the end of the runway, the rider still holding Papa down low, until at just the right moment he pulls up into a climbing right turn to the west, showing his neighbors what it means to be in passionate love, a love that they will never feel nor fully understand, with what they see only as a machine.

Out to the west, and it's time to rein in Papa to save a few dollars on fuel. A few positive G steep turns, some climbs and descents to watch the airspeed indicator and altimeter hands exchange extremes on their respective faces, and a turn back to the ranch. It's beautiful up here, with the setting sun in the west casting orange-pink hues on the few clouds and a full yellow moon rising in the east, continuing its age-old, yet as futile as the coyote's pursuit of the roadrunner, chase of the setting sun. He will never catch it, but he will never stop trying.

Racing away from the rapidly setting sun towards the equally rapidly ascending moon, all the while gaining speed while losing altitude, we cross over the neighborhood at 167 knots across the ground. A tight bank into the downwind bleeds off the speed, and by the time we reach the big '22' painted on the arrival end of the runway, we are slow enough to drop the flaps.

A smooth, graceful landing rewards the practice that has gone into achieving same, and a brief taxi back to the hangar finishes our ride. The tach indicates an elapsed time of .20 hours - read that as 12 minutes if it makes it easier for you. Twelve minutes, but the relaxing effect far surpassing any that would be available through hours of expensive therapy.

Appetite sated, and the drive home in the Miata provides a tasty yet light dessert.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

MERFI - Not.

Click for larger:

The forecast for Mansfield and the MERFI fly-in called for 3500 scattered, light winds, and good visibility. One out of three ain't enough, as it turns out. I called their automated weather observation system when I got to the hangar this morning, and its beady little electronic eyes peeked out the window and told me to expect 10 miles vis, clear skies, but only 2.5 miles visibility. 3 miles is required for VFR, but the FAA gives you a little wiggle room there: you can request a special VFR, which only requires 1 mile and the self-preserving ability to stay out of the clouds. Mansfield is a good sized airport, and it has radar services to keep the airplanes separated, so 2.5 would be plenty to find one of those huge, inviting runways. With the GPS in the plane there was no doubt as to being able to find the airport, so I decided to go ahead and have a look. There was a good chance that the conditions would improve to meet the forecast by the time I got there anyway.

To give the sun a chance to contribute its fog clearing abilities to the situation by the time I got there, I reduced RPM to a miserly 2000 rpm, garnering a gratifying 115 knots across the ground. At 5500', we were well above the cloud layer, but there were plenty of holes that I could use to descend through. I informed the approach controller that we would accept a special VFR clearance (they aren't allowed to offer it - you have to ask) and she told me that there might be a little wait. Sure enough, I spent a few minutes loitering in big lazy circles 15 miles outside of their airspace, mostly assessing the chances of getting below the clouds. The odds favored the house, as usual, but having come this far it was worth going the last few miles to look for a miracle hole right over the airport. Really, I should have known that the ground fog wasn't going to "burn off," but that it was actually going to simply rise up and become under-achieving, ground-hugging clouds.

We were eventually cleared to head into the airport, but it appeared that the special clearance wouldn't be required after all as they were now reporting VFR conditions. I was coming from the southwest, so they had me enter a left downwind to runway 23. While still 5 miles out from the airport, it became clear that there was no way we were getting down through the clouds while maintaining a reasonable altitude. We were swerving around the taller peaks at pattern altitude, while there was a solid undercast below. The tower controller, apparently unable to pull his eyes away from his radar display long enough to look at the scuddy mess outside his window, actually asked if I could see the airport. Well, not just no, but hell no!

I asked for a turn back towards Bolton and he gave me a vector of 230 degrees, which was pretty much a direct line towards Urbana, not Bolton. That gave me an idea: I dialed I74 into the GPS and decided that we might as well get something out of all the $5.05/gal gas I was burning. Urbana was pretty crowded, and there was at least one other pilot that was there because he couldn't get into Mansfield. By the time we had our coffee and food, Mansfield was reporting 300' and 2 miles, which is actually getting pretty close to the ILS minimums. Yowza, was that forecast ever off! Or, to be fair, did I ever try to get there too soon!

The landings at Urbana and back at Bolton were both pretty good, and dealing with the uglier than imagined by the overly optimistic weather-guessers conditions was good experience. It's also both fun and pretty to fly in the smooth air over the tops of the clouds, particularly when you have 158 knots on the clock - it gives a great sense of how fast you're going. So, it wasn't a complete waste, but that damn omelet had a long way to go to be worth the $100 it took to get there! Oh, and being VFR on top while cruising at only 3500' is something a little out of the ordinary, too.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Testing a new controller

UPDATE: Here's the link to the review:

I had hoped to fly to the MERFI fly-in at Mansfield today, but the morning forecast was terrible, with high winds, low clouds, and low visibility. I don't know if any of those ever transpired, but I found productive alternatives. Amongst them was writing my next review, which is for a new flight yoke and throttle quadrant from Saitek. The review won't be posted until next week, so check back for a link, but for now here is a quick video of a takeoff in Microsoft Flight Sim 2004, flying a Lockheed Constellation out of Midway airport in Chicago:

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Screw you too, Phoenix

Ok, nice place to visit, and we had a great time up north, but this kind of thing really irks me. Here's the rundown of taxes applied to the rental car:

- Airport Access Fee: 11.11%
- Stadium Surcharge: 3.25%
- Veh Lic Surcharge: 5.00%
- CFC: $4.50 a day
- Stadium Surcharge (AGAIN!!): $2.50

I didn't even get flowers and a dinner. And I'll bet they don't call. I feel so used...

The Song of the Miata

The Song of the Miata

It begins with the chirp of the insects deep inside the corn fields. A slightly acrid scent from the same fields provides an olfactory background.

The engine, as finely tuned as a swiss watch, rises and falls in pitch as we work through the gears. Its part complete, it fades into the background as the song reaches the sustained crescendo of the rush of the oncoming air beating against your ears, and the chirping of millions of individual insects compressed into a steady screech.

Periodically, the snick-snick of the tires crossing the tar used by the road crews to fill the cracks in the pavement interrupts the steady hum of the tires.

A stop sign approaches and the entire song is played in reverse, as if to find a rumored hidden meaning, as you would with a Beatles song. The identity of the Walrus is not forthcoming, though.

The intersection cleared, the melody repeats, with each player re-entering in turn. The melody is familiar, but never repetitive, never monotonous.

Then, you're there.

The engine is off, but still ticking as it cools.

The driver's knuckles and back snap as they're stretched.

The song is over.

For now.

As always, click on a picture to see a larger version:

"Reflecting on Life"

I call this one "The Road Not Taken"

Jus' guessing, but I think Co-pilot Egg enjoyed her stay!

My brother has his race car done:

When we were kids, our grandmother used to tell him "Play safe, we don't have any Band-aids."

The big hat on the front is from his engine sponsor, Big Hat Stables (Farm?), the home of fine Standardbred pacers.

Arizona - Coming Home

The travel day back from vacation is always bitter sweet for me. The 'sweet' is obvious: returning to our family and pets, and even looking forward to my own pillows, shower, etc. The 'bitter' is only partially the leaving of a very nice and relaxing place in favor of the awaiting daily grind. The other part? Airline travel.

We had a 9:30 departure from Phoenix, but of course, we weren't in Phoenix. We were way up in the mountains north of Phoenix. It would be a three hour (at least) ordeal to even get to Phoenix. Now, this is not the kind of thing that a professional worrier such as myself handles with any degree of aplomb. Common sense says "get to bed early, get plenty of rest, prepare for the ordeal." Common sense only works while you're awake. Me? I fall asleep easily enough, then wake up every 16 minutes when my inner stress meter shrieks with panic: "there'll be a traffic jam! You'll get lost! The security line will stretch to Vegas and back! You'll miss your flight!"

I've never missed a flight, and this is why. Around 3:00 am, I simply recognize the inevitable and get up, load up the car, and hit the road. The only allowable delay is to find a cup of a caffeinated beverage to forestall the horrible headache caffeine addicts get when they don't get their daily dose. The B&B had tea bags in the foyer, so I grabbed a bag of Earl Grey and brewed it up. Once completed, I noticed that was decaf. Sigh. Threw a caffeinated bag in with it, and hoped for the best. I didn't want to get caffeine pumped to the espresso or Starbucks level since I hoped to catch up on some sleep on the airplane, so this would have to be enough.

The first hour on the highway, pitch black but with a ceiling of stars that was as amazing as it was beautiful, was ok. Not much by way of traffic to deal with, and the under-powered rental, while still a lousy performer handling-wise, was able to coast easily down the hills. After the first hour, I was more or less comfortable with the dark, twisty highway and had gotten into a nice rhythm. It was right about then that I felt something at my throat. I reached up to scratch it, only to find a moth the size of a hummingbird fluttering away, apparently attracted to my Adam's apple. Eeeeek!

I brushed it away, but didn't know where it went. Caffeine was no longer a factor in keeping me alert on the drive down out of the mountains; every 10 minutes or so, the monster moth would take a few laps around the interior of the car (he seemed to respond whenever a disco-like song was on the radio; country or classical calmed him right down, but a lullaby for him was a lullaby for me - not good) and provide us with a nice adrenalin burst. We never did manage to get him to leave the car, but once we got to Phoenix and their early morning rush hour traffic, there was no more time to deal with him.

The traffic was fairly heavy, but not as bad as it would been had we waited another hour before leaving the mountains. The only problem with the traffic is that it makes it much more difficult to weave around trying to figure out where in the hell you are. Still too dark to read a map, we had to depend on there being signs to the airport. There weren't. We finally bailed out of the whole highway rat race, both to tank up the rental (only $2.49/gal, while we're paying $2.89 here in Ohio) and to get a look at the map. We weren't too far off course, and easily recovered to the rental car return facility.

The shuttle to the airport was fast and easy, but the security line took more than 30 minutes. We had plenty of time, of course, so there was no pressure to get through. In fact, we got to the gate with a couple of hours to spare. By that time, I was pretty tired but the chairs near the gates are intentionally designed to preclude sleeping, or so it seems. I tried to read a book, but the proof positive of the existence of hell on earth (CNN Airport Network) was too distracting. I sat there and did the bobblehead thing: fall asleep, head falls forward, wake up. Repeat ad infinitum.

The plane boarded on time (US Airways was 100% on-time for both legs of this trip), and I was ready for my long anticipated nap. Well, we were on one of the newer Airbus 319s, which apparently come from the factory with a HPSDF* unit installed. That turned out not to matter, though, as we were in a row just forward of the exit rows. Why does that matter? Well, by Federal Regulation, those seats are not allowed to recline. Crap. Three more hours of bobblehead.

The flight got us back on time, and Port Columbus is far easier to negotiate than mega-airports like Phoenix. We were even able to get the the Vet's office in time to get Hogarth back from the doggy hotel. He was just as tired as the rest of us, so we were all in bed by 10:00. I slept like an almost-teenager: over 10 hours of uninterrupted sleep! The 'almost' part means I didn't wake up surly and mad-at-the-world; it's a bright, sunny day (although it will be miserably hot later this afternoon) and a perfect day for a Miata drive to the farm to bring Egg home.

Which, as soon as I finish this espresso, is where I'm going.

* High-Pitched Screeching Diaper Filler

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Arizona - Day 3, Afternoon walkabout in downtwon Flagstaff

As we walk from the B&B to the parking lot, 11 pairs of husky eyes watch intently to see whether we will go straight to the car, or if we will veer to the left to come visit them. As soon as we take the first step towards them, they rush to the fence, presumably with the expectation of receiving a treat.

After visiting with them for the few moments it took them to realize that we were not, in fact, bearing treats, we headed to a lunch of our own. We selected (because it was right next to the free parking) the Beaver St. Brewery, and a good selection it was.

I had the Brewers Platter, clearly the most phallic choice on the menu. It was a bratwurst and a southwestern (read 'spicy') sausage, sitting on a bed of caramelized onions and sweet & sour red cabbage. There was also a nice dollop of cinnamon apples on the plate, and a large Caesar salad to the side. I sampled two of their micro-brews: a light raspberry (very good) and a red called Railhead Red (even better!).

Many of the original buildings from old Flagstaff are still being used today, and I just had to buy something from Babbit's. I bought a nice pair of Keen's Newport men's sandals to replace the ancient pair of cheapie sandals I've had for decades.

It's a nice little town, but a lot of trains go through. In fact, I thought it would make a nice picture to have a train passing by in front of the old railroad stattion, but naturally there wasn't one to be seen for miles. Typical.

Arizona - Day 3, morning hike

Right after another fabulous breakfast, (eggs benedict today - while you'd expect a good breakfast at a Bed & Breakfast, what with it being fully half of their forte, the breakfasts here are superb!) I walked out of the dining room directly onto a path the leads up into the surrounding hills. Under the most amazingly blue sky, I had a nice hour and a half hike. While I was still close in to the buildings, I walked away from the trail and up through the trees. Once I started getting far enough away that getting lost was a possibility, I stuck to the trail.

As I got far enough into the walk that I could no longer hear the faint drone of the highway or the electronic beeping that personal injury lawyers make every time something larger than a pickup truck backs up, I started leaving pointers back to where I came whenever I got to a fork in the path. In the pictures below, the more obvious one is the one I actually missed and walked right past. Figures. Good thing I eventually ran into a fence!

You might have to click on the picture above to see the larger image to pick out the pointer that I left for myself. It's subtle.

Can you believe this is the pointer I missed, but I didn't miss the one above??

Monday, August 20, 2007

Arizona - Day 2

Today was the train ride to the Grand Canyon. The steam locomotive takes a little more than two hours each way to pull the train the 65 miles from Williams, AZ to the South Rim of the canyon. We paid a little extra (a lot, really) to ride in the 'dome car,' which offered two primary benefits: a terrific view in all directions, and no young children incessantly demanding to know if we were there yet.

Once there, we had almost four hours to walk around and take pictures. It's easy to take good pictures of something as spectacular as the canyon, but it's hard to select which ones to load up to the blog. On this laptop, it's also hard to tell if the colors are correct and do the other edits I normally do before posting pictures, so these may not be up to my normal standards.

Somewhere down below you'll also see the great beef brisket lunch I had at the Arizona Room. Amazingly, what with us being pretty much captive customers, my lunch (including the salad) was $11.50, with only a 10 minute wait for a table.

Without further ado (in other words, I'm drag-ass tired and the hot tub awaits, hopefully to alleviate some of the aches and pains I brought back as souvenirs), here they are: