Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Lunch in Lima

After lamenting just yesterday about the month-long drought of flyable weather days that would dovetail with my tightened holiday schedule so as to allow me to go flying, and how that extended period of not flying had surely had a deleterious affect on my ability to competently do so, it was good to see a good forecast for today. The weather for the morning was forecast to be OK, but things got even brighter by 1100, when we were expected to see clear skies and moderate 9 knot winds out of the south. Given the extended layoff I would have asked for a little less than 9 knots, but ya takes what ya gets and you're thankful for it when it comes to winter flying weather.

Just as I was sitting down at the computer to work on a couple of game reviews while I waited for the clearer weather, Brandon (former RV-4 owner) popped up on AIM and we were able to arrange for lunch up in Lima (KAOH) for later in the morning. Brandon is a fellow devotee of Skyline Chili, a local restaurant chain that has spread throughout southern and central Ohio from its original locations in Cincinnati. Being born and bred in Cincy, Skyline and I go way back. While market forces have forced them to expand their menu to include other things, their specialty is the 3-way, 4-way, and 5-way chili spaghetti and chili coneys. So, just that easily I had a plan.

By the time that I had my writing done, the Weather-out-the-Window(tm) forecast was looking very good:

A month long layoff is hard on both the pilot and the airplane, so I coached myself on the drive over to the airport to be careful not to miss anything on the preflight and to take my time getting ready. I pulled Papa out into the sun to both provide better light for looking him over and to provide a little warmth as it was still fairly chilly. The preflight showed Papa to be in fine health, although as always I was concerned about the health of the battery. Not to worry, though, as he started right up on the second blade. I carefully arranged my charts and reference materials, wound the 8 day clock, got the KAOH destination plugged into the GPS, and generally dithered around heads down in the cockpit. When I finally glanced up, it was to be met with an airplane sitting on the taxiway waiting for me to get out of the way so he could get to his hangar. Chagrined at my unintentional and uncharacteristic rudeness (well, uncharacteristic in an airplane anyway) I scurried over to the side of the ramp to let him passed.

The tower gave me taxi clearance to runway 22 which would give me a crosswind from the left on takeoff. Crosswinds from the left on takeoff are my least favorite since they cause the airplane to want to weather vane to the left and exacerbate the left turning tendency caused by the torque of the prop. That means a bit more rudder work on the takeoff roll and what with me being pretty rusty on the entire subject of takeoffs in general, I could do without exacerbation.

I took my time on the run-up to allow the engine to get nice and warm and to hopefully find any water than may have gotten into the fuel lines prior to taking off. Everything seemed fine, and a cockpit review showed that the pre-takeoff items (mixture rich, radio on tower frequency, strobes on, fuel pump on, elevator trim set, etc.) were all done. As I taxied out onto the runway, I reminded myself that things would appear to happen faster than they do when I've been flying regularly. As I advanced the throttle and checked to make sure the engine was delivering the full 2,200 static rpm, Papa started his sprint for the sky. With a lurch to the left. Which seemed odd, but then again there was that wind out there urging him to do so. I got some right rudder in and straightened him out as we continued down the runway. The only thing is, events did not appear to be happening more quickly. In fact, it seemed as if everything was going pretty slowly. My first thought was that I was dragging the brakes, something that happens now and then when I don't get my feet positioned low enough on the rudder pedals and end up accidentally applying the brakes. As I considered it, I felt that my feet were low enough to not be abusing the brakes and a quick look at the airspeed indicator shower that we were at 60 knots, so up we went.

Things still didn't feel right, though. While the climb was OK, it seemed more lethargic than I would expect for a cold, high pressure day and light fuel tanks. At about 100' I looked out the left and caught sight of the left flap: still fully down. As was the right. I had taken off with full flaps!! Doh! Scurrying out of the way of the other airplane must have distracted me from my already-fragile routine.

As I belatedly raised the flaps, Papa breathed a sigh of relief and accelerated to a more reasonable speed and we soon had a sprightly 1,300 feet-per-minute showing on the vertical speed gauge. A turn to the northwest headed us in the direction of Lima. As we flew over the Big Darby river and Darby Dan Farm, I caught this picture of what I believe to be a sheltered/indoor horse training track:

We had a terrific tailwind right behind us, resulting in a 163 knot cruise speed at 2,300 rpm. With a little time on my hands, I took some pictures including these self portraits:

You will no doubt have noticed a couple of things in that lower photo, the first being that I have a vacation beard. Second, you will have noticed (lord knows Co-pilot Egg did, and has commented on it ad nauseum) that a significant portion of it is gray. Based on my theory (and personal experience) that gray hair works its way from the lower to the upper regions of the body, it seems that I will soon have gray hair in the first visible location (the first actual location being clad in underwear and the second being normally shaved off): the temples. And, in fact, I just noticed a few gray ones emerging from the area where side burn meets beard the other day. Alas.

As I approached Lima, I struggled to catch sight of the windsock to determine whether to land to the east or the west. I knew the wind was generally from the south, but not its actual direction. KAOH has an automated weather reporting system but it inconveniently transmits on a frequency that I do not have since I am a purely GPS-based navigator. The frequency they use there is down in the VHF navigational band, and I don't have a VOR in the airplane. From what I could see of the windsock, it looked like I'd have my choice. Since I was already on the side of the airport that would allow for a standard left traffic pattern I opted to land on runway 27, which faces due west. This put the crosswind on my left again but I don't mind that as much as I do on the takeoff. Probably due to the fact that Brandon had not yet arrived to witness the landing, it went pretty well. There was a little swerviness when the tail wheel came down, but nothing horrible.

Brandon drove us over to the Skyline where I had a 4-way:

Looks good, doesn't it?

The weather stayed pretty much the same while we ate, so I was soon faced with another left crosswind takeoff when we got back to the airport. This one went better, although there was still more swerving than usual. I think it's going to take my feet awhile to get back up to speed. The air was still clear, but the tailwind that contributed to our good pace heading north was now impeding progress back to the south. We were only seeing 134 knots at 2,300 rpm, but since I had just tanked up at KAOH for the amazing (well, it seems that way now after a summer of $5.50+ gas) rate of $3.81 per I boosted Papa up another 100 rpm to speed things along.

Just before I reported in to the tower as I crossed over Darby Dan airport, I heard a 172 get a takeoff clearance out of Bolton that had him departing with a right turn to the north, right where I happened to be. As I reported my position to the tower, he asked me to report a 2 mile right base to runway 22, and that there was a recently departed Cessna headed my way. They're getting better about that lately. They usually don't mention it, and I've never understood why. In any event, the air was clear enough that I picked him up easily and maneuvered to let him pass at my 10:00 high.

The landing back at Bolton actually didn't suck. I still hope for decent weather in the next few days, though. I'm going to need another flight or two to get back to good form.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Mansfield Curse, continued

This morning marked exactly one month since I've flown with Papa. What with my having been on vacation for more than a week one might think that I have had ample opportunity to fly, but the weather has been simply atrocious. When it hasn't been raining (both freezing and regular), foggy, or just genuinely crappy, it has been windy. Still, the eternal optimist in me forces me to look at the next day's forecast every afternoon, hoping that at least one decent day will present itself for my convenience.

Yesterday afternoon's early (non-aviation) forecast looked perfect: clear skies, reasonably warm temps, and moderate winds. The promise of clear skies always makes me think of photo/video ops, and I've been hoping for awhile to meet up with Dr. Ted to make another attempt at shooting some air-to-air video. Papa also needs gas, and Ted reported a very respectable price was available at Ohio University's airport (KUNI). Meeting Ted over Vinton Co., flying off of his wing to KUNI for a gas stop, and then on to Parkersburg, WV (KPKB) seemed to be a perfect plan.

Perfect, that is, except for one thing: the wind. The forecast this morning promised winds at 15 knots, gusting to 25. The steady 15 knots is right on the boundary of my personal minimums (well, maximums in this case), although the direction of 220 degrees is aligned right down the runway and is usually a mitigating factor. I'm never a fan of 10 knot gusts, though. Those can catch you right in the landing flare and put an unneeded and equally unwanted 20 feet of air back below your wings, at exactly the moment when your airspeed is just above the stall. As you can imagine, a 20' drop is a great way to break an airplane.

All that said, had it not been a month since I've flown I might have gone anyway. My only point of concern would have been the landing at the unfamiliar KUNI airport with a stiff, gusty wind. That could have been easily remedied simply by changing the plan, though. That was all moot - after not flying for a full month, I will have to wait for a calmer day to get back into the swing of it.

Informed of my decision via an early email, Ted called and suggested that he fly up to Bolton and we make a flight from there. Ah, the twin benefits of currency in the airplane and a nosewheel. Myself having neither, I gladly accepted the offer. It was just too pretty of a day to miss flying. Weather-out-the-Window(tm) showed that while it was still a bit cold in the shade, the sun was at least providing some help:

The sky looked inviting, but there is always that chance that the strong winds will roil it up so that it is anything but:

Ted arrived within just a few minutes of his ETA of 0900 despite a delay at Portsmouth waiting for the ubiquitous fog at the airport to clear off. I hadn't really put together any kind of plan, but thought that maybe we could try the restaurant at Mansfield that I've been trying to get to for a couple of years now. There always seems to be some kind of problem that keeps me from getting there, but I figured that maybe Ted would bring better luck. I had checked on AirNav to make sure it was still open, but beyond that had done no planning.

The restaurant is, in fact, still there:

But see if you can find the major flaw in my plan:

We were there at 0950, on Monday. Cursed, I tell ya. Still, the air was for the most part nice and smooth and it was a good day just to take a ride. As I watched Ted as we rode down the final approach back into Bolton and saw how busy he was working his way down to the runway through the gusty winds, I was also pretty happy I had decided not to fly myself. I probably could have made it with no problem, but I am not overly fond of counting on too many 'probablys' in my flying.

Friday, December 26, 2008

I'm no Santa...

I think December 26th is one of the best days of the year. The months long season of rampant consumerism is finally at an end, I can rest assured that I will no longer be assailed with various renditions of Winter Wonderland everywhere I go, and it's still seven days until I go back to work. It's time to relax and enjoy the relatively trouble-free days with new gifts and toys, and wait for opportunities to use any new tools or appliances we may have received. The waiting can be difficult or easy, depending.

In the case of the Co-owner, the usage of the nifty Plantronics Bluetooth headset for her cellular phone will have to wait until she can go to the AT&T store and get a phone that is (and it pains me to admit this) actually Bluetooth capable. Yes, I bought a Bluetooth headset without first checking to see if the phone itself was able to interface with it. I mean hey, they all are these days, right? Well.... no. No they're not.

For me it's easy: I can easily wait a good long time before having to use the new ski mask and goggles Co-pilot Egg gave me to protect my face from the frigid weather encountered when plowing snow from the driveway:

When I saw that in the home video, the first thing I thought of was Bender, the robot character from the animated series Futurama:

Uncanny resemblance, isn't it?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Guess who got a scanner for Christmas...

I've been in need of a good flatbed scanner for ages now, and finally received one as a present. With the horrid flying weather on tap until at least Saturday, it seemed a good time to test the scanner by finally capturing some of the pictures in the old "Safety in Flight" book that my brother picked up for me at a used book store. "Safety in Flight" was first published in 1941, but the same theories regarding weather and flying are more or less in use today. The book was written by Assen Jordanoff, a rather famous aviator in the 30's and 40's and a respected expert on flight safety.

World War I

After finishing secondary school in Sofia, Yordanov was drafted for World War I. He entered the military flying school at Bozhuriste, near Sofia, the capital. On graduation, Jordanoff was promoted to lieutenant and was assigned to the air force. He took part as pilot in 84 military missions. He ended the war being awarded several insignias of honour, most importantly the Bravery Order. The war was ultimately very costly for Bulgaria, leaving the country with heavy war reparations and a virtually destroyed economy.

Emigration to America

In May 1921 Assen Yordanov and his wartime friend, Alexander Stoyanov, read of a contest to fly around the Earth in 100 days. The first plane to make it would win one million dollars. Yordanov and his partner were granted with 6,000 dollars by the Bulgarian Ministry of War to take part in the great initiative and they travelled to the USA. But Yordanov and Stoyanov were the only candidates and therefore the contest was postponed and later cancelled. Nonetheless, Yordanov decided to remain in the United States, where he later found his new home. He also anglicized his surname to "Jordanoff".

Aviation career

Faced with the dilemma of knowing absolutely no English, Assen Jordanoff began his life in America shovelling snow in New York for ridiculous pay. After the snow melted, Jordanoff was able to find a construction work on a skyscraper that was being built. Having a job he spent all his free time at the Public Library, studying English by himself or reading books and manuals on subjects such as aeronautics, machinery, and mechanics. At that time he become known among his friends and colleagues as Jerry, rather than Assen, a familiar name that would stick with him for the rest of his life.

Jordanoff then got a job at the Curtiss-Wright Corporation. Having mastered his English, Assen Jordanoff went on to take university courses in engineering, aeronautics, radio electronics, physics, and chemistry. At the same time he graduated from a flying school; his instructor was William Winston, Charles Lindbergh's flight instructor. Jordanoff moved later to Curtiss-Wright, therefrom he would emerge as a test pilot and in parallel as a sales manager, a pilot of air taxis, a stunt pilot and above all a flying instructor. He also specialized in flying under complex weather conditions. Jordanoff was still just in his late 20s.

Learning of the popular Jordanoff, Thomas Edison invited Jordanoff to visit him at his home in Menlo Park, New Jersey as he (Edison) was at the stage of developing a proto-radar and was also interested in helicopters, a research project in which Assen Jordanoff was involved at the same time. They collaborated designs and worked together for several months.

While the text is informative and pertinent to the type of flying I do, it's the illustrations that I really like. Many were penned by Fred L. Meagher, a noted comic book artist of the era. It is these that I was desperate to scan, and here are the results:

The cruel irony of a December warm front

It's been cold lately. Bitter cold. Almost Minnesota cold. It's understandable that people are gratified to hear the forecast of an approaching warm front and welcome the arrival of more temperate weather. What they disregard, though, is the effect of the passing of the front. Many people visualize the passing of a front as simply turning up the thermostat: presto, it's warm now. They visualize the front a a vertical wall separating the cold air from the warm air. That's not the case. In actuality, the front approaches as a wedge, with the warm air up high climbing over the cold air. You can see it in this (modified) diagram:

Much like a cold front in the summer, there is often precipitation at the leading edge of a warm front. In the summer, that spells thunderstorms. In the December warm front, it spells freezing rain. The warm, moist air of the front is above freezing, so the precipitation comes in the form of rain. Until the cold air closer to the ground is moved out of the way by the full passage of the front, the rain falling from the higher temperatures above freezes as it passes through the frigid air hugging the ground. What you end up with is a city-wide ice rink. This invariably occurs right around the evening rush hour, of course.

This is all by way of saying that we had a warm front come through yesterday, and had it not been for the lure of Irish Egg Rolls (essentially a deep fried Reuben sandwich- so yummy!) at the Dublin Village Tavern, I would never have left the house. Today we're sitting under a steady rain and enjoying, such as can be accomplished on a rainy December day) moderate temperatures in the 50s.

Not flying weather at all.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

I think I'll stay in today

I just walked down to the end of the driveway to retrieve the one newspaper we get each week, which owes its position as sole survivor of the seven per week that we used to receive to the passel of dollar-saving coupons stuffed inside it. The daily was canceled upon the sad passing of our hamster; she was the only one that found anything even remotely useful in its pages, that being their absorptive properties more than any objective news reporting printed thereupon. I mention my trek to the delivery point not to bemoan the state of the 21st century press but to point out that it is bitter cold out there. Something in the negatives, I believe, with the kind of cold, piercing wind that reminds men that they have nipples.

I won't lack for entertainment, having been presented with an early Xmas present in the form of a new game for the computer. I will spend such time as I can fighting the Germans in Operation Market Garden proving, as I always do with games of this sort, that the only thing that kept Hitler from winning the war was that I wasn't in it. The action is fast and frantic and the pace is maddeningly fast. In many games of this nature that doesn't matter. You can find a nice, safe place to cower down and catch your breath and try to gather your thoughts. Sure, your squad leader will be hollering his head off to get you back into the fight, but you can safely ignore him. The Germans will wait.

Not so with this one. Now I am the squad leader, so it's up to me to tell the rest of the guys what to do. And there's no time to noodle it - the Germans will advance if given a chance. The idea is to use the assault team and machine gun team under my command to suppress the Germans while either the other team or I find a way to flank their positions. It's startlingly realistic in the graphics, sounds, and my incompetence as a leader getting a lot of my guys killed.

"Rank Has Its Privileges"
(Click for larger)

I was hoping for flyable weather today having spent a long day indoors yesterday due to an even uglier day. There's no hurry, I suppose, since I don't have to be back to work until Jan. 2nd. Breakfast at home for two weeks! All of that black pepper bacon is surely going to have a demonstrably bad effect on my cholesterol numbers, but if eating bacon means the difference between living to 87 versus say, 85, that's a deal I'm willing to make. Breakfast time is fun, too. Yesterday we had a full kitchen with me, the co-owner, and co-pilot Egg getting in each other's way as we prepared our meals. I heard Egg complaining about not being able to use the specific spatula that she wanted to stir the eggs and that the alternative spatula was not up to the task. That, for some reason, triggered long suppressed memories of the old Dating Game TV show:

"Spatula number two, what would you do to stir my eggs?" I thought that was horribly funny, of course, but the co-pilot not only found it to be anything but funny, but somewhat frightening as well in a genetic sense. She's afraid that some time in the near future she too will start making awful jokes like that. She might be right, if genetics gets a vote. Oh well, at least I didn't bequeath her my roman nose!

The rest of the day was taken up with rearranging the PapaGolf Data Centre. Recent additions of furniture and equipment in the Operations Centre had changed the configuration such that everything needed to be rearranged to make better use of the limited space. It also presented an opportunity to winnow out abandoned cables and retrieve things that had fallen behind the desk.

As I was moving stuff around, I decided to take one more crack at getting my recalcitrant UPS to live up to its commitment to provide electricity to my more critical components in the common event of a power outage. I bought it a few years ago, but it has never worked right. What should happen when you have your computer plugged into a UPS when the power goes out is... nothing. Everything plugged into it should keep working, albeit only for so long as the battery can provide sufficient juice. With mine, however, the opposite occurred: everything went off. I verified that I had connected the battery correctly, as boldly stipulated as a requirement for operation on a bright yellow sticker right on the top of the unit. It never worked, and I finally just forgot about it and left it in place to act as a surge protector, that being deemed to be better than nothing.

As I tested the UPS again once I had it out from behind the desk, I found that the situation remained unchanged. No power from the wall meant no power to the PC, as always. Before hiding it away again in my shame for not being able to make it function correctly, I decided to remove that ugly, glaring, and taunting yellow sticker. Guess what was underneath that sticker? Well, there were three more outlets, marked as "Battery Backup & Surge Protection." The outlets that I had been using all of these years were marked only with "Surge Protection." Do the math on that: I've been using the wrong outlets all along. Sigh.

Oh well, at least I have a functional UPS now. Well, I actually always had a functional UPS, so I should say "at least I have a functioning brain now."

My troops would probably argue that point.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I love it when an idea takes off!

I love it when an idea takes off, so to speak. Courtesy of RVer Jim Piavis and by way of Bob Collins (and with a little photoshop editing by the editor), here is the first Geek Squad Aerial Response Vehicle:

Monday, December 01, 2008

I am considering the theft of an idea.

Specifically, I'm considering offering up a monthly calendar here at The Chronicles, and idea that I would be shamelessly pilfering from Mr. Doug Reeves, purveyor of the venerable Van's Air Force web site.

This is what I'm personally using this month:

And here's a more representative example (I wouldn't be limiting the pictures to airplanes) that I like to call January, 2009:

Is there any interest in these?

Chris Stewart, I've read Ernest K. Gann and you, sir, are no Ernest K. Gann

So, most pilots have had those moments when watching a movie or reading a novel when it's kind of annoying to know as much about flying as we do. As an example, consider two pilots in the front of a B-17 conversing in normal, indoor voices. We know that's ridiculous - they could barely hear each other at a full shout.

I was browsing the shelves looking for some light reading at the library over the weekend when I came across a "techno thriller" written by some fella named Chris Stewart. There's an F-117 Stealth Fighter on the cover, which indicated to me that there would be flying involved in the story. As I usually do, I went directly to the author's bio on the dust jacket to determine his qualifications. Hmm, former SR-71 and B-2 bomber pilot. That should be good enough.

And, for the most part, the aviation aspects have been pretty accurate. Absent, that is, the one occasion where the main character made a night takeoff "as the blue runway lights" passed by his peripheral vision... what?? Blue runway lights?? That poor sap was using a taxiway as a runway!!

I got by that part ok, but on page 131 of 333 I'm about to give it up. It's not the flying parts that are bothering me. It's the horrible proofreading. Every single instance of 'hangar' is spelled 'hanger'. I've seen 'demonstrated' used instead of 'demonstrate'. There have been a lot of other things like that, but a single sentence on page 131 is just about enough to drive me to quitting this thing: "Inside the parameter (perimeter would be correct) fence, the track spit (split?) into three parallel rails..."

If trying to read a flying novel as a pilot is frustrating, consider what this must be like for me, a walking spell checker. I don't know whether to blame Mr. Stewart or the nabobs at M. Evans and Company, Inc., but I've had enough.

It's so bad, in fact, that it prompted me to turn on my PC and write this blog post. And what did I see on boot up?

"Configuring updates: Stage 3 of 3 - 0% complete." The very message of doom that put paid to my entire Friday last week! My blood ran cold! Visions of a complete Vista re-install had me near tears. Help me Geek Squad Air Force, you're my only hope!

Two minutes later, it booted up just fine. Phew! What a relief! I feel so good now that I might even be able to make amends with Mr. Stewart. Oh, and Mr Gates: no more automatic updates on this machine either, thank you very much.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Geek Squad: Airborne Division

Maybe you've seen one of them: a black & white Volkswagen Beetle often being driven by nerdish looking fellow, with a 'Geek Squad' logo plastered onto each side of the car. They look like a mutated cross between Deputy Barney Fife's squad car and a low-budget Nascar team.

My impression is that they provide on-site PC support for home users. That a company like Geek Squad exists at all is tangible evidence that day to day life, at least as it pertains to the care and feeding of the amazing electronic devices that simultaneously make our lives vastly easier and vastly more complex, has become very difficult. The worst offender of all is arguably the PC. Even for those people that just want to be able to send and receive emails, and periodically consult The Great Google Oracle on the topic of whatever triviality of the day is nagging at their minds, owning a PC can be a mind boggling, frustrating, and enraging experience. But when the PC is broken? It. Needs. Fixed. Now. Speaking solely for myself, I can't stand to be without the computer and internet.

The range of problems that can crop up in even the most mundane of PC configurations can run from a plethora of problems related to the hardware itself to another obscure host of problems having to do with the operating system software. And if that's not enough, there is an entirely separate set of issues that can arise from a combination of the two. When you consider that today's most prominent operating system, Microsoft Windows, is difficult for many people to comprehend when it is operating correctly, you can see the scope of the problem when things don't work properly. Buttons mysteriously move to new locations or disappear entirely, programs crash and burn, and performance mysteriously drags to a crawl. What's a person to do?? Call the Geek Squad! Or... get one of your kids to fix it.

Each generation, it seems, has a unique skill or ability that they can use to aid the generations that preceded them. Co-pilot Egg, for example, helps me figure out the mysteries of my cell phone and, of course, is always there should I need a kidney donation, bone marrow transplant, or a replacement liver. ("Hey, wait a minute... I only have one liver Dad!!" I'm aware of that, little girl.) Eventually she will expand her inherited ability to discern the ills of electronic devices into the home computer realm, but for now that is still my function. I provide computer support for the generation that preceded me, and just as often for my own generation.

Which brings us to Friday the last. "Black Friday" it's called; the day after Thanksgiving. Normally a day of rest for me and the fifteen other people in the US that refuse to brave the madding crowds of the annual retail tsunami. This year, though, a restful day simply wasn't in the cards. I had a PC to fix.

As anyone who has had to buy a new PC in the last couple of years can attest, it is no longer possible to buy a new Windows computer that doesn't come with some flavor of Windows Vista. And as they will also be able to tell you, that is not a good thing. The reliability of Microsoft's flagship operating system has gained such a negative reputation that Microsoft has taken to running ads showing Vista being demonstrated under a bogus name to people that must be escapees from the local Gullibility Clinic. "Wow! Looks great!" Yeah, just wait until you get it home, buster. It's no coincidence that Apple is concurrently running ads that mock Microsoft's "It Ain't Vista If We Change the Name" commercials.

The PC in question had gotten itself stuck in an infinite update loop. Microsoft, knowing that their product was a buggy miasma of poor design and egregiously bad quality control, built in the ability for updates (aka fixes that they finally got around to, long after the horse had left the barn) to be applied to a home PC over the internet. And, knowing that most people would answer 'No' out of a fear of unknown consequences when prompted by the PC for permission to install an update, they made it totally automatic. All of which works just fine, except when it doesn't. In this case, Windows would start up by saying that it was applying update 3 of 3, and that it was 0% done with that. And 0% was all you got, no matter how long you waited. It would eventually restart itself, only for the cycle to repeat.

I had hoped that it would be an easy fix. Microsoft, in one of their rare nods to the fact that things aren't always as they should be in the reboot process, provides a thing called "Safe Boot" that ostensibly bypasses all of the things that could be causing the start process to fail, resulting in a 'clean' windows boot up. I use Safe Boot a lot when PCs have picked up obnoxious, performance-degrading viruses that can only be removed before they get a chance to start. I thought that it might be as simple as booting into Safe Mode, finding the command that was instructing the 3 of 3 update to apply itself, and disabling that command. No such luck, however: the update tried to run even in a Safe Boot. I suspect that they're doing something nefarious like creating a new boot sector on the hard drive, but I have no evidence of that. [embellishment]And given that the last person to investigate it was founding floating in Lake Sammamish just a few miles from Microsoft's corporate HQ in Redmond, WA well....[/embellishment] I'm just going to let it go.

The remainder of the day was spent using a combination of Google quests, repeated reboots, creative swearing, and the sacrifice of what turned out to be a non-virginal chicken. That last thing would have worked if it hadn't been for that SOB rooster....

Eventually the problem was solved via the brute force method of completely reinstalling Vista. 'Twas not easy; no install disk was provided. More Googling, a BitTorrent (whatever that is) download of a .iso image (huh??), and a DVD burned with the downloaded .iso got the ball rolling, though. At the tail end of all that is the actual installation. The install is followed with a couple of hours of setting various configurations to turn off the annoying and intrusive nag screens that are the most readily obvious Blight 'O Vista, find and enter the ever elusive email password that Outlook normally remembers for you (so you don't have to, and don't), and most importantly, the disabling of automatic Windows updates. Sorry, Mr. Gates, but you aren't to be trusted with automatic updates again. Ever.

The upshot of all of this is that the newly repaired PC was 70-some miles from home. And how on Earth was I going to deliver the better-than-new PC to its owner without spending 3 1/2 hours on the road? Need you ask???

Consider the Weather-out-the-Window(tm) forecast for Saturday morning:

Winds calm, sky clear, and 34 degrees F (238 degrees Sled Dog) forecast to reach the mid-40s. Yes, the falling barometer indicated both rain and a sinus headache in the near future, but I still thought that it was time for the Geek Squad to have its own Air Force! I thought the temps would warm up a little bit around 10:00, so there was no morning rush to get to the airport. Dressed in the same layers of clothes as last week, it was actually almost pleasant to be outside doing the preflight after the sun had had some time to warm things up. The 'almost' qualifier refers to the fact that my hands were still pretty cold. I wear a set of thin harness racers gloves:

The gloves are about the weight of golf gloves. I like them for their thinness because there are a lot of small knobs, buttons, and switches to deal with in the airplane. That same thinness makes them a bit less useful outside in the cold, though. I made a mental note that it's time to start bringing two sets of gloves with me. I would have been OK if I had just been doing a routine pre-flight, but I also spent a few minutes getting the video camera mounted. I tried a new way of securing the tripod today to see if it would reduce some of the vibration that I got the last time I flew with the mounted camera. There's only so much shaking that I'm going to be able to insulate the camera from, though. I guess that's just the cost of the vibration inherent in a conical mount Lycoming.

Papa was already nice and warm in the hangar since he was still on the oil pre-heater from the last time we flew, so once the pre-flight was out of the way I saddled up and put the key to him. I used three shots of prime and that resulted in a three blade start. A fourth shot would more than likely resulted in the half blade start that is more typical of him. Still, he was in a perky and ready-to-go mood. The colder air seems to give him a few more horsepower and we were soon seeing a 1,500 fpm climb at an indicated 120 mph.

Papa and I had a beautiful flight out to KVES where we delivered and set up the repaired PC (which, of course, didn't work at first and needed another 10 minutes of swearing to fix), went out to a huge lunch at the Fairlawn, and let Faygo take us for a walk to work off some of the excess calories from the huge plate of food at the Fairlawn.

The Fairlawn is a pretty interesting place. It is essentially a steak house that was frozen in time sometime around the Rat Pack era. Just compare these signs:

Photo Copyright this dude who does some very good work.

The interior too reflects an earlier time. Deep red leather booths, comfortable, heavy wood chairs surrounding Formica covered tables, deep carpet, faded pictures hanging on the walls, and a menu with a long list of hearty American foods served in huge, very reasonably priced portions.

And good, too!

The flight back to Bolton was every bit as smooth and enjoyable as the flight out. I took some video over Piqua; I wonder how many people that have only seen it from the ground know how scenic their waterfront is. With the plane light and me flying solo, I even took the opportunity for a little air work.

Just before calling the tower to report over Lilly Chapel (obligatory "No, I don't think I will ever get over Lilly Chapel"), I heard another plane report in at five miles west of the airport. That put him three miles ahead of me, right at my twelve o'clock. Since chances are usually pretty good that I'm flying the faster of the two planes, I went ahead and throttled Papa back to a more sedate (and typical of other airplanes) speed of 120 mph. The tower (and I gotta tell you, I appreciated this) called the other plane to tell him that I was also incoming, three miles behind him.

He replied, "Ok, we should be well ahead of him."

Well then. It only took a little restraint, but note that it did require some restraint, to keep my right hand from reaching back up to the throttle to resume our 145 knot approach just so I could reach the downwind right behind him. I mean after all, who in their right mind insults the speed capabilities of a Van's RV?? As it turned out, 120 mph was just right and we were abeam the numbers on right base as he turned a short final.

The landing should have been a greaser, but was rather pretty sloppy. The flare and touchdown were fine, but I must have carried too much speed into it; as I started to apply the brakes, the nose dipped. Releasing the brakes and putting a little more back pressure on the stick immediately resolved it, so quickly that you might not even be able to see it on the video. That would be been fine, but I also managed to get a pretty healthy swerve to the right into the mix as well. I think a score of '6' would be generous, but it was better than a '5'. Either way, it was nothing to be proud of.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hogarth's sporty new seasonal wear

We've been looking in the pet stores and department stores for new neck wear for Brave Sir, but without much luck. The selections are slim, and the prices somewhat robust for a foot square piece of cloth. Today at Hobby Lobby, as I was milling around the store while waiting for a couple of pictures to be framed, I came across a nice selection of bandanas priced at a fraction of the prices we'd been seeing.

This is his new Fall Holiday look:

I believe that I have mentioned his aversion to the camera before:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Brave Sir Hogarth: lucky that I hate to pay shipping charges

If it wasn't for the $4.95 shipping charge, Brave Sir would be greeting holiday visitors accessorized thusly:

The dog simply doesn't appreciate how good he has it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Devoted to the cause

A couple of days ago, I was slightly shocked to realize that the calendar had yet again rolled through to the three-weeks-with-no-flying phase of the moon without my having really noticed it. The days are short now, and there's just no time for an evening flight before dark anymore. I don't enjoy night flying, so all that's left of the weekly available flying days is limited to the weekend days, which through their unfortunate scarcity are particularly susceptible to falling prey to bad weather or conflicting time demands. I can make it through three weeks easily enough, but at the three week point I start to get twitchy about my currency. Luckily for me, I had both a free morning and clear (but brisk!) weather in the forecast.

Co-pilot Rick checked in as available for a breakfast hop to Urbana. Winter is notable for the change it has on my choice of destination; when the weather gets too cold for stomping around on a walk-about, it becomes all about the food. Urbana is nice and close, and while avgas prices are starting to recede, they're only down to $4.69 at MadCo, and Urbana is still working their way through a $5.60-ish load. In other words, distance still matters and close is better than far. Economics meshed with mission as we departed on a "three landings for currency, cheapest-available-gas for the wallet" trip to Ubana via MadCo.

This was to be our first cold weather flight of this winter, but lessons past learned about warm attire vs. limited cabin space were well remembered. Long gone are the days when we'd both both arrive wearing bulky coats only to find that while we were comfortably warm, we couldn't both fit into the airplane. The proper way to dress for a cold weather RV flight is in layers. To keep my legs and feet warm I had on two layers of long underwear, two pairs of socks, and loose jeans. For the top I had a long underwear t-shirt, a long sleeve regular t-shirt, and a hoody sweatshirt. That's protects me enough to at least get through a pre-flight and out to the runway without freezing, but it wouldn't be enough for a hike or photo tour. Bigger jackets could be carried in the back, of course. The biggest risk, as far as I'm concerned, is the one that keeps me from drinking any coffee or tea before departure: I'm not sure I'm quite man enough to work my way through three layers of underwear and a pair of jeans should I need to utilize a urinal.

Don't pity me, we all have our crosses to bear.

The cross we all bear as airplane owners, though, is the devotion that is required to the cause. An airplane doesn't need constant attention, but neither can it brook negligence. Airplanes do not thrive on extended inactivity and need to be exercised regularly. It's not just my personal level of competency alone that starts nagging at me right around the three week mark; I start to worry about the health of Papa at about that time too.

In the summer I worry about the humid air rusting his engine from the inside out. In the winter I worry about the battery dying and/or the mechanical brutality of the cold-weather engine starts. The latter is usually mitigated by using an oil pre-heater, which is nothing more than an electric heating pad glued to the bottom of the oil sump. It's easy-peasy and works great at keeping the oil at least somewhat warm and ready to flow when I start cranking the starter.

Easy-peasy, that is, as along as you remember to plug it in. I don't like to leave it plugged in all the time because I've read/heard that keeping the oil hot for all that time will 'coke' it. I don't know what 'coking' is, but it doesn't seem to be a benefit in the context of the statements mentioning it, so I avoid doing it out of conservatism. Besides which, the Miata was using the extension cord for its new trickle charger and I figured I'd just go swap the plugs whenever I needed to.

Not surprisingly, I forgot to go over to the hangar and do it. Forgot, that is, until 2:00 in the morning while I was mid way through the labyrinthine path between me and the bathroom that winds its way around all of the spots on the floor that are likely to contain a sleeping Brave Sir Hogarth. If he's not too deeply asleep he'll let out a mournful warning moan to let me know where he is, much like a fog horn on a lighthouse, but it's best not to count on that. I follow the path. Halfway through, I was hit right between the eyes with a stunning bolt of lucidity: it was then that I remembered that I hadn't plugged in the pre-heater.

And here it was: a test of my devotion to the cause. I could go back to my nice, warm bed, get up early and go plug the heater in, and just hope that an hour or two of heat would be enough. Or I could brave the cold 0200 weather (140 degrees Sled Dog)* and go plug it in. It was no decision, really. The thoughts of the damage I could to by starting Papa with 20F oil would keep me awake anyway. I grabbed the Walmartts(tm), cranked the Subie seat heater to FULL, and headed to the airport. It was 0215 by that time, a time that roughly coincides with the government-mandated closing hour for our bars. In other words, any cars on the road should be assumed to being driven by a drunk. There was only one other car on the road, though, and it appeared rock steady. In fact, he was probably more worried about the guy in jammies and Walmartts yawning like Sleepy the Disney dwarf. It only took a few seconds to swap the plugs and I was on my way home.

After all that, the rest of the morning went easily. The co-pilot maintained his strong reputation for consistent and precise punctuality, and worries about the health of the battery were unfounded. Papa started on the first blade after a generous four stroke priming. He never fails to impress! The winds were nearly right down the runway but light enough for their direction to not really matter. The ambient pressure was high, the temps were low, and we were light on fuel - the very recipe for a strong takeoff and climb. The takeoff run exhibited the symptoms of a three week layoff, though, with a bit of swerving as the tail came up and a tendency on my right foot's part to unintentionally apply a little brake when we needed it least.

The air was very calm and clear, but it was hard not to notice that the verdant green fields and vivid orange forests of the last two seasons have given way to the brown corduroy look of winter:

The landing at MadCo was nothing to write home about. It was a nice flare and touchdown, but again I had a little work to do to maintain directional control. It's always amazing to me how narrow rural runways look when I haven't used one in awhile. The roll-out also had quite a bit of the "mechanical" bounce that I get when I forget to relieve some of the back stick pressure that I held through the flare. MadCo is self-serve at the pump now, and today was a good day for me to lament that fact. I would have been perfectly content to wait in the office while someone else did the pumping, but those days are gone. Truth be told, I always stood out there chattering with the guy as he pumped anyway; perhaps it is that that I miss.

It's only a short hop from MadCo to Urbana, although with the additional 130 pounds of fuel in the wings Papa wasn't the same airplane we had departed Bolton in. With the full weight of the new fuel he was much more reluctant to climb, and equally averse to accelerating to cruising speed once sufficient altitude was gained. It seemed that we had no sooner built up a nice Bucket 'O Inertia when it was time to start slowing for the approach into Urbana.

There was very little traffic in the pattern upon our arrival and that's always a treat. The landing was better than that at MadCo, although there was still a little of the bouncing, and I had also exhibited an inability to remember if I was landing on runway 22 or 20 while making position reports. '20' is the correct number, but I think I kept lapsing back to '22'. That's no surprise: I've known for years now that one of the competencies that erodes quickly with a lay off is ATC comms.

Papa looked good in the crisp, winter light while we ate breakfast:

The air was still clear and calm as we headed back towards Bolton. On the way, we saw these guys working on we thought was a pretty late start on the harvest. It certainly looked like it would be done by the end of the day, though:

Back at Bolton I made a middling good landing. I think that of the three landings, each was better in some way than the one the preceded it. And I successfully purchased avgas at less than $5 per! I think that's enough to declare today's two-purpose mission a success.

Oh, and I left the pre-heater plugged in: I'm off work all of next week and I am sure about two things: I will want to fly, and I will not want to go to the hangar at 0200 to make it possible.

* You know that the multiplier to convert degrees Fahrenheit to degrees Sled Dog is the same as converting people years to dog years (7), right?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How low can it go??

The gas price? Well, no, but at $1.67 a gallon I think it may have found the floor. No, I'm referring to this morning's drive-to-work temperature: 19 degrees Fahrenheit (convenient conversions for my international and canine readers: -7 degrees Celsius, 133 degrees Sled Dog).

How cold is it? It's so cold that when Brave Sir Hogarth broke his don't-run-away rope last night, he didn't. Run away, that is. Unfettered freedom most assuredly beckoned to his independent spirit and the Call of the Wild was no doubt ringing in his ears, but the Call of the Pillow In Front of the Fireplace was far more urgent.

That's cold!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Another option for the "Planes I'll Never Get Around To Building" list

I've been leaning towards the RV-12 mostly due to the benefits of the Light Sport rules, but I'm not convinced that it is the plane to have if I ever realize my dream to move to the mountainous areas of the southwest. I'd really like a more rugged, bush-flying type of plane for that region. There are a number of Citabrias and Aviat Husky options, but those are store bought and therefore more expensive to acquire and maintain.

Image shamelessly purloined from EAA Chapter 57's web site

I've always thought the Glasair Sportsman would be a good choice, and I really like the idea of their Two Week to Taxi program, but with the recent regulatory review of homebuilding rules by the FAA, I was concerned that the program would be shut down. Naysayers in the homebuilt world are vocal about their disdain for the program, and strongly believed that it went against the grain of the regs.

That appears to no longer be a disqualifying issue:

Two Weeks To Taxi Approved
By Russ Niles, Editor-in-Chief

Glasair's controversial Two Weeks To Taxi program, in which builders of Glasair Sportsman aircraft build an almost-complete aircraft in two weeks at Glasair's facitlity in Washington State, has been endorsed by the FAA's Production and Airworthiness Division after a week-long audit. "The FAA's on-site team found that the "lean manufacturing" processes employed, combined with the provided educational assistance, accelerates the Sportsman build time significantly without violating the spirit or intent of Part 21, Section 21.191(g)," the company said in a news release.

More than 100 Sportsmans have been built in the program, in which company staff lay out tools, round up the necessary parts and provide instruction to customers who, according to the FAA's findings, do at least 51 percent of the work. "We have worked very, very hard to develop a program that makes aircraft building more accessible, more organized, and as efficient as possible, while staying within the letter and spirit of the amateur built rule," said Glasair CEO Michael Via. The company says it will expand the program. The decision would seem to set the tone for the current discussion by the FAA's Amateur-Built Rulemaking Committee, which is reviewing the level of participation required by builders in all aspects of the construction of their aircraft. Among those auditing the Glasair program was Frank Paskiewicz, who heads up the FAA's Production and Airworthiness Division and is a key member of the 51 percent rule committee.

The biggest issue with the Glasair remains the same, though: it costs at least three times what an RV-12 would cost. When you consider that the RV-12 is about 13 1/2 times more expensive than I can afford in the current economic client, well, you can see my dilemma. But long term? It seems like it would be an incredible two weeks, and you one great mountain/travel plane out of it too. For now it's just good to know that it's still an option.