Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Power of Google

(Note: some of the pictures require reading - click on them for larger images)

I can't remember exactly how long ago it was. Something like a year, I think. I was idling away the time Googling my name for the umpteenth time to see if I had yet attained the preeminent position on the results list (I have now, but at the time I think I was still pretty far down the list) when it struck me: if I could Google my own name, surely I could Google other people's names. I know, I know: Duh! I decided that I'd see if I could track down some of the people that I've lost touch with over the years. One such person was "J," who had been a fellow student in the Computer Science program at THE Ohio State University. It's hit or miss, this Googling thing. It's not uncommon to get no hits at all, or to get far more than can be dealt with if the name in question happens to be something common like Ken Smith or Bob Jones. The other thing that can happen is that you find a manageable list of names, and even find an email address, but it turns out to be a dead address or the wrong person. The great thing about Google is that it remembers everything, but of course the biggest problem with Google is that... you know it's coming... it remembers everything.

In the case of J, though, the address was valid and my test email was quickly replied to with a confirmation that I had found the right person. More emails followed as we got caught up on some of the twenty years that had passed since we last talked. At the time, J was working (or visiting - my memory is its normal untrustworthy self on the specifics, so bear with me) in California and the question came up as to whether it would be a good idea to take an open cockpit biplane ride up the California coast around San Diego, to which I replied that it would be a fantastic idea to do so. We bounced some emails back and forth about getting a pilot's license and the like, and it was apparent that there was certainly some interest in aviation on J's part.

Fast forward to early last week when J told me that a visit to Columbus was forthcoming, and that there might be time to get together for a reunion. That opportunity came today, and since the weather was forecast to be eminently flyable, I proposed that we fly to Urbana for breakfast for us and gas for the plane, then head north for a visit to Put-in-Bay. That plan was deemed acceptable. The Weather-out-the-Window (tm) forecast did not disappoint:

It was clear skies and only moderate winds, and the forecast for the afternoon predicted nothing worse than a high overcast. Good to go! The winds, such as they were, were coming from the north, so Bolton tower sent us down to runway 4. The controller was far more specific with his taxi directions than normal:

"Taxi to runway 4 via Bravo to Alpha."

I don't mention that because it's an abnormal routing; it's actually notable because it's the default path to the runway, and normally just assumed by all parties to be the way it's done. It's not normally spelled out. In fact, it's pretty much the only way to do it. I'm wondering if they have a new tower chief or if there was some kind of audit done by the FAA because I've noticed distinctly more formality from them lately.

Take off went fine, and we were soon at our cruising altitude of 3,500'. I gave J a few lessons in holding straight & level and making gentle turns along the way, but even with those deviations we were setting up to land at Urbana in what seemed like just a few minutes. Just as I was getting ready to report that we were five miles out and setting up for a midfield crossover to the left downwind for runway 2, I heard a flight of three RVs check in with their intention to overfly the field in formation. I waited until we were a couple of miles from the airport and asked for a position update - they were circling over the field and we easily picked them up visually. They were moving back out to the southwest to come back in and make an overhead break for landing. I was able to squeeze in behind them and make it to downwind just as they were overflying the runway to enter their landing break. I tightened up my pattern to avoid holding them up, which worked out well for all involved, but I ended up bouncing the landing. Why do I never get the greasers when I have guests on board?? Ach.

After breakfast we headed north to the islands. The sky was clear and there was just a little haze, and we had a glass smooth ride at 5,500'. With the wind being kinda-sorta out of the north, I knew we'd be landing on runway 3 at Put-in-Bay, so I made my usual dogleg to the east in order to allow for a three mile gap between us and the pattern. PIB can be pretty busy on nice days, so I like to be off to the side of the landing pattern and come in at the traditional 45 degree downwind entry angle. It turned out to be completely unnecessary today since there were no other planes in the pattern, but you never know. The common frequency was a cacophony of people talking on top of other people, so I hadn't been able to tell if there were any other planes in the pattern until we got there. Better safe than sorry, I figure.

PIB has a relatively short runway if you respect the displaced thresholds (which I don't), and the wind tends to bet a bit burbly as it blows through the trees just to the west of the runway. I caught an inconvenient updraft on short final, and ended up higher than I would have wished for as we came over the approach end of the runway. The runway length being what it is, I try not to argue too much about it and don't try to rescue a greaser - I just get it down. This is, of course, all in explanation of my second bounced landing of the day. I love having company with me on these trips, but as far as the topic of the landings goes, there are certain benefits to being alone. The lack of witnesses being one of the primary, as it turns out.

We paid the $10 landing fee and started our walk of the island. Usually I just head north to the town, but during the approach I had caught sight of what looked like a lighthouse on the southern tip of the island so I thought we'd try something different and head south instead. The furthest south on the island that I had ever been before was the bicycle rental place just down the road from the airport:

Just beyond that, we came to an open pasture populated solely by a couple of windmills and a collection of antique farm equipment:

I'm not sure why the pasture was populated solely by a couple of windmills and a collection of antique farm equipment, but there it is. It's a mystery. The lighthouse was eventually found to be just past the Mysterious Pasture of Antique Farm Equipment. It seems to be a somewhat unique in its design (remember, click on the picture for bigger):

There was no one around to enforce the "Open for Photography after May 25" restriction, so we went ahead and had a look around:

Rahther than head back on the same road we had used to get down to the southern tip of the island, we took an easterly course and found another (much quieter!) road that headed back north up to the town. It's Spring Spring SPRING in Ohio, so there were a lot of nice flowers and shrubs along the way:

Even the little 9 hole golf course was looking nice:

We walked past the cemetery and I stopped for a picture:

So, who was this De Rivera who warranted such ostentatious accommodations? Well, we found out later when we were walking through the waterfront park:

I also enjoy looking at the older houses sprinkled around the island:

After walking for a couple of hours, the light breakfast we'd had at Urbana was long forgotten and it was time to find someplace for lunch. Two places looked nice from the outside, but both were noisy with bar patrons inside and we were looking for something a little quieter. We ended up at the diner that Co-pilot Rick and breakfasted at last Fall when we weren't able to get into Urbana, but over the winter it had morphed into an Italian place:

I don't know much of the Italian language beyond "Ciao," but I'm pretty sure "Quattro" means "four." The menu cast doubt on that belief:

Mozzarella... one.
American... two.
Swiss... three.
Cheddar... four.
Monterey Jack... five!

Still, five cheeses or four didn't really matter - it was a fine sandwich anyway:

By the time we had finished lunch, it was getting late and we were expected back in Columbus. The high overcast had come in by that time, and it was getting a little chillier. We still had a mile long walk back to the airport to look forward to, so the decision to head home was made. The flight was a little bumpier on the way back, but not to the degree I've come to expect when I make the same trip later in the summer. We had a little tailwind, so the trip back to Bolton only register .83 on the tach. Oh, and I went three for three on crappy, bouncy landings. I'm nothing if not consistent!

We had a great time and it was wonderful to spend time getting reacquainted with my friend. Thanks, Google!

Friday, April 25, 2008

He was warned

Now before you get all judgmental on me, I have to stress that he was warned. Repeatedly.

What has happened is that Brave Sir Hogarth has discovered that he has a taste for cat food. Whenever he gets the chance (in other words, every time we leave the house), he avails himself of the opportunity to empty the cat's bowl. Now I'll grant that he makes more efficient use of the vittles in question than the cat himself does, given that the cat regurgitates roughly 30% of everything he eats in furtherance of his feline performance art project (for which he apparently is in the running for a hefty NEA grant given the devotion he shows to it), but it's causing problems nonetheless.

See, the cat resents it. Gets him all riled up, truth be told, and the cat has a touch of the vigilante in him. Took matters into his own hands, such as they are. Being as the cat food is of much higher culinary quality than the dog food, the "eye for an eye" approach of getting redress via the eating of the dog's food was deemed to be a non-starter. No, the cat has decided to even the scales by peeing on the dog's bed. This we cannot have.

The cat's unilateral and unsanctioned decision to discipline the dog having failed (because let's face it: there aren't many smells that are offensive to a dog, and I'm not convinced that Brave Sir even realized that the cat was attempting to punish him. "Thanks for the new scent, Buddy!" was more the reaction I saw), our hand was forced - we had to get control of the situation. Scolding, however, had no effect. Oh sure, we got the droopy ears and averted eyes, and we got the supplicating rolling on the ground in shame, but first chance he got to engorge himself on the cat's chow... he did.

So I raised the stakes. I told him that if he did it again, I was going to put a goofy cat hat on his head, take pictures, and post them on the internet with the expressed goal of humiliating him. And I meant it:

I hope this works. If it doesn't, my only recourse is to pack him off to military school or something.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Against all odds, it actually floats!

It all came together tonight: temps in the low 80s, UPS delivered the kayak carriers that I ordered last week, and other than getting the yard mowed, I had no outstanding chores. I brought the boat up from the Boat Works and got it loaded onto the poor little Subie:

I gathered the troops and we made the 10 minute drive to the Big Darby. The boat is big and ungainly, and to be honest it's a royal pain to move around alone, so the extra help was a huge benefit. We got the boat into the water, and when it showed no immediate tendency towards plummeting to the bottom of the 8 inch deep water, I climbed in. This naturally lowered the boat enough that it was resting on the river bottom, so the trend towards failing to immediately sink was to continue for at least a few more gratifying moments. The entire operation had gained the undivided attention of all of the other folks hanging around the river banks by this time, so pride forced my hand: I pushed away from the sanctuary of the river bank and out into the open water:

Never having been in a kayak of any type before, I was surprised at how wobbly it is. It's a lot like the first time someone grabs the stick of the RV - they're surprised at how easily it rolls, and they often rock it back and forth trying to get it settled down. There's a benefit to that quick response in the RV, and it's quite likely that it's a good thing in the kayak as well. It's a very long boat, and as a result it's pretty hard to get it turned around. There may be some quicker way to turn it that depends on its ability to heel over as quickly as it does - I think I might have to see if I can find a Kayaking for Dummies book to get a better feel for how I'm supposed to drive this thing.

I was also very impressed at how easy it is to get it moving forward; very little effort with the paddle gets it going pretty fast:

Dinner had been delayed quite long enough by this time, so as much as I was enjoying paddling around in my pool toy, both the pit crew and I needed fed. I had mastered steering enough by this time to be able to hit the long, wide part of a river pretty accurately:

I'm just so proud of my little boat!


Regarding the "tippiness," I did a little research using the 'Peek Inside' feature on, whereby you can find out pretty much anything you want to know if you don't mind using the Surprise Me button until it finally hits the page you're looking for. As I suspected, the tippiness is used to make the boat easier to turn. The first few times I tried to turn the boat, it was liking pivoting an aircraft carrier. Essentially what was happening was that I was trying to push 17' of vertical surface against the resistance of the water. The proper thing to do is lean into the turn. That will change the shape of the hull that is felt by the water, or so said the book. By design, a cruising kayak like mine is somewhat resistant to turning when level since you don't want to ge fighting to keep it straight as you paddle; the tipping is used to make it turn when you want it to. Kind of like a motorcycle, I'm thinking.

The problem initially is that the tipping is oh so easy to do and you feel like it's just going to go all Poseidon Adventure you. It turns out, and I discovered this a little later by myself in my brief outing, that there is a thing called 'Secondary Stability'. This is when you've tipped the boat far enough that the big, flat chine is flat on the surface of the water. The tippiness more or less goes away at that point. It makes perfect sense, but it takes a few times trying it to convert it from a leap of faith into a proven fact. Next time out I'll try a few turns with a tip to the secondary stability position.

I'm still not sure what the value of doing this is, though:

How the other half lives flies...

Anyone who has read the writings of Ernest K. Gann know how false the derogatory "glorified bus driver" description is for airline pilots, but these days not that many people have read Fate is the Hunter or any of his other fabulous books. As I've mentioned before, people don't appreciate the complexity of the environment; all they know is that "we're late!" or asking "why are we stuck in this damned tube sitting on the ramp??" Someone ought to make a law!

As is becoming increasingly common, a more realistic, in-depth, and accurate picture than that presented by the media is available on a blog:

The hop to MSP was just about the longest 45 minute flight of my life. It was turbulent, the radar was filled with yellow returns, heavy snow alternated with a deafening rain of ice pellets, St. Elmo's fire danced up and down the windscreen, and ATC was barely audible above all the static in the radios. We kept the cockpit floodlights up high in case we took a lightning strike. We diverted around the heaviest precipitation and then ATC turned us around and vectored us for a 40 mile final.

In this case, an accurate, honest, and extremely detailed pilot's-eye explanation as to what goes on in seats 0A and 0B on a small regional jet caught out by bad weather conditions is yours for the asking, right here.

I found it fascinating.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Getting in hot water: lessons in Customer Service

It was an odd weekend, starting out somewhat off-kilter with the airport buzzards incident and progressing from there. The weather kept me on the ground all weekend again, but I was able to fill my time learning how to be a Guitar Hero on the Wii and dealing with various flavors of broken utilities, with the incumbent interactions with different customer service folks.

As a bit of background, it helps to know that my mother-in-law has been noticing strange behavior on her Windows XP laptop. For awhile now, it has gone to a BSOD on shut down. I've looked at it a few times but haven't been able to solve it. Not that it mattered much in the end, of course, since it happened when she was done with the computer and turning it off anyway. "Man up and deal with it," and all that. Well, there's no "man up" to be had when it starts proudly BSODing on start-up, is there? That's pretty much something that needs fixin'.

It was with trepidation that I approached the job, knowing full well that a BSOD problem can range anywhere from very severe to really, really severe. The error message it posted, UNMOUNTABLE_BOOT_VOLUME, spoke, well... volumes. That message translated into English pretty much says "HARD_DRIVE_HAS_GONE_TO_MEET_MAKER." I bundled up the laptop to take back home, shared the gloomy prognosis with the concerned relatives, and promised "to take a look at it at home." By that, of course, I meant that I'd toss it atop the pile of other broken computers in the basement and glance at it now and then when I was down there for other reasons. That way, "I'll take a look at it" became true, albeit in a Clintonesque sense.

As is my wont, and usually to my eventual detriment, I got to thinking about it. It seemed to me that the hard drive was only almost dead if it could get as far as the Windows splash screen before rolling over. There may be hope yet! A quick consult with the Oracle of Google showed that there was, in fact, a potential path to recovery. Without boring you (further) with the hoary details, after a few hours of concerted effort I was able to breath life back into the computer! Unfortunately, not before I had ordered a new Mac for her to replace the defunct Windows machine, but a miraculous recovery nonetheless.

Genius has its limits, though. So proud of my results that I simply had to brag to the wife, I simutaneously heralded by own genius while patting myself on the back. For a genius it turns out that I'm somewhat short-sighted: "Oh, so we can drive it back up there and give it back to her?" Sigh. Not what I had in mind at all! The Wii was beckoning, after all. And a Jacuzzi for my aching back was on the agenda too. Put my foot down, I did, and went to draw a bath. No hot water. The hot water heater than has been exhibiting signs of illness for months had finally BSODed. Sigh.

Not willing to be without hot water for any length of time, I thought the most prudent approach would be to just buy a new one. Previous efforts to find someone willing to attempt a repair on a propane-driven water heater having garnered exactly zero results, replacement seemed the quickest alternative. But... a glance at showed that this may be easier said than done: they apparently don't keep propane hot water heaters in stock, but I could have one as early as May 3rd. Uh, no. So we called Sears. Told the fella that I needed a propane hot water heater, and I needed it NOW. "Let me check," said he. "Yep, the computer says we have two of those."

Many times bitten, very shy, or so I say. "Could you physically check to see if you have one?" I asked. "Sure, hold on." A pause, during which (to cut to the chase, because ultimately it turned out that they didn't have one) Moe, my intrepid salesman, apparently only pretended to take physical inventory. Clever, that. It's not like I could see him just standing around laughing at me, is it.

This presented a three birds, one stone scenario. A trip to deliver the repaired laptop to the mother-in-law would also allow for a shower, and a chance to retrieve the MAC ID address of her cable modem. I needed the ID because I'm going to be setting up the new Mac for her email, and just like everyone else in the world, she has no idea what her email password is. Outlook remembers it for you so you don't have to, so quite predictably, you don't. Email providers are well aware of this and are sick and tired of answering that particular tech support call, so they have nifty little password reset utilities on their web sites. All you need to know is the email address and the MAC ID for your cable modem. Well, I knew the email address, but the modem was still physically located at her house. As long as I was going to bring back the laptop and take a shower, I could write down the MAC ID for later use in configuring the Mac.

After re-installing the laptop and recording the ID, I decided to just go ahead and reset the email password so I could update her Outlook at the same time. Great idea, but the web site said that the ID didn't match the email address. In other words, "tough nuts, Bubba." The only recourse was to use the Live Chat support function and ask what I could do to get the password sent to me. I clicked on the button, and got a fairly quick response:

"Hi, I'm KeithS and I will be providing support for you. What can I do to help you?"

To which I replied that I was configuring a new computer for my mother-in-law, and needed the email password to do so.

"Go to our support web site and enter the cable modem MAC ID address..." was his reply.

"Tried that, didn't work."

We went back and forth for awhile before he told me that "for security reasons, he can only provide the password directly to the account holder."

Well. I figured that meant that she was going to have to get on the phone and call them. Ugh. To confirm, I typed "How can she get ahold of you?"

His reply: "I can work with her through this chat window."

Hmmmm. Taking a page from the Moe Book of Customer Service, I thought:




Then I started typing.

"Hi Keith, this is...."

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Sleepovers and Buzzards

The weather patterns affecting the central Ohio region are well known: dry, sunny weekdays, followed by gray, wet weekends. Friday was a perfect example: just a smidgen over 80F, light winds, clear blue sky, and just a bit of haze to salve the wound of missing an absolutely perfect day for flying due to being ensconced in the old salt mine. Truth be told, a nearly perfect day is every bit as hard to miss out on as a perfect day, so the light haze didn't really help all that much.

Still, the conditions were ripe to at least get out to the hangar to clean up the wheel pants (they get kind of grimy from bearing grease and other detritus collected from various ground surfaces) and get them back on the plane. If it wasn't for the extra 12 mph they provide, I wouldn't even bother with them. But at $4.59 per gallon, it would be unconscionable to accept the performance penalty associated with flying without them.

The job went quickly, and as I was putting away the tools I realized that all I had to look forward to was a night trapped in the house with Co-pilot Egg and a couple of her A-girl (their names all start with 'A' these days - what's up with that??) friends who were over for a sleepover. Balancing that against my pledge of not burning avgas simply for the sake of burning avgas, I decided that I could quit flying-for-the-sake-of-flying in the same way a lot of people quit smoking: repeatedly. "How hard can it be to quit? I've done it dozens of times!" It was still early in the evening, so there was plenty of time to take a short ride around the local area.

Papa was more than willing, and it wasn't very long at all before we were preflighted and taxing down towards the runway. As we were just starting towards the runway, the tower keyed up and offered the following:

"I'll just warn you now that there is a group of ten to twelve buzzards in a group at the intersection of the runway and taxiway A5. They've been there for awhile now."

I replied with a couple of questions:

"Do they appear to be content with what they're doing, or are they looking flighty? And which side of the runway are they on?"

He replied:

"They appear to be eating something brown and furry, and they haven't reacted to any other planes flying by. They're on the right side of the runway, so if you want to move over to the left after takeoff, I'm ok with that."

Taxiway A5 is pretty far down the runway when departing on 22 - I'm guessing it's at least 4000'. The runway is also 100' wide, so I quickly developed a plan. I would use the left half of the runway and once off the ground I would make a gentle turn to the left. By the time I passed A5, I would be about 500' up and a good distance offset to the left. In other words, I wouldn't be disturbing the Buzzard Critter Buffet, and they wouldn't be bothering me. It's kind of like when you sit on the opposite side of the dining room from the group of rowdy gang-looking teens at the Golden Corral.

The plan worked fine, but I didn't anticipate the call I got from the tower as I overflew the area of the buzzard repast: "Can you see what they're eating?"

"Nope, afraid not, my wing is in the way."

Had I been thinking about it, I could have positioned myself so that I'd be able to see what they were doing. As it was really just idle curiosity and not at all pertinent to the situation, though, it was no big loss that I didn't think of it.

I flew around long enough to work some of the kinks out of my attitude, and also to fiddle around with the new EGT gauge. It appears that leaning with the EGT is going to require a little more research than I can do while flying alone. It's not hard to find peak EGT on one cylinder, but it is going to require more attention to the gauge than I can devote to it in order to determine which cylinder is peaking first. That's a critical piece of knowledge in that the first cylinder to peak is the one that will be used to determine the correct mixture. Still, the gauge is working wonderfully:

My fiscal conscience got the better of me after 15 minutes so I headed back in. I contacted the tower right about the time the airport maintenance truck arrived from Port Columbus to deal with the buzzard situation. Thus transpired one of the more memorable tower communications I've ever heard:

Larry the Cable Airport Maintenance Guy: "They told me there was a bird strike or something for me to clean up."

Tower: "No, there's a group of buzzards down by Alpha 5 - they seem to be eating something."

Larry the Cable Airport Maintenance Guy: "Yeah, it looks like they got 'em a big ole ground hog. I'll go 'head and scoop 'er up."

Tower: "Watch out for the buzzards. They may not appreciate you taking their dinner."

Larry the Cable Airport Maintenance Guy: "Most of 'em don't seem to mind, but one of them seems a little pissed about it."


Larry the Cable Airport Maintenance Guy: "Ok, I got 'er done."

Tower: "Ok, thanks. Don't forget to call your wife and let her know you're bringing home dinner!"

Despite the amusing distraction from all of that going on, I actually scored a really nice landing right on the numbers. I usually land a little long on 22 in order to expedite the trip down to the first turn-off at Alpha 3, but I thought I'd land shorter than usual and get slowed down well before entering Pissed-off Buzzard Territory. I taxied back to the hangar, and just as I was turning into my row, I heard my cell phone ringing. Picked it up and was informed by the spouse that she and the three girls were at JP's BBQ (located in the Bolton terminal building) and had hoped to watch me land. I offered to go around and do it again (Please brer Fox, don't toss me in that there briar patch!), and the offer was readily accepted. This presented the issue of how to explain to the tower that I wanted to turn around and go back out. None of his business, of course, but at your home airport you tend to develop a bit of a rapport with the tower guys and it's not uncommon to share your plans with them if you're going to do something that breaks with your normal patterns.

"Bolton Tower, 466 Papa Golf, I've just been informed that I have a house full of giggling teen girls waiting for me at home for a sleepover - I think I need to go fly a little more before I'm confronted with that. At the T-hangars, ready to taxi."

He cleared me down to the runway, and updated me on the buzzard situation: five of them were still hanging around. I replied that they were either cleaning up scraps or waiting for the postprandial football games to come on. Either way, I didn't figure they'd be any more of a problem than they were the first time around.

I gave the girls a nice takeoff and departure back out to the west. After five miles or so, I figured there was no point in going any further and called the tower to let him know that I was returning:

"Tower, Six Papa Golf, I figure I've gotten away with as much delaying as I can get away with, six miles west for landing, full stop."

As expected, he cleared me to report a midfield right downwind to runway 22. The pattern was empty, so I asked if I could cross the runway for a left downwind instead, figuring that would afford me the opportunity to cross over the girls at full-tilt-boogie with a tight turn to get slowed down, and let them watch the full landing approach. Cleared as requested, but he pointed out that there were three buzzards still down there.

"You mean the three standing there at JP's? Those are mine."

"Oh, are those your daughters down there?"

"Well, one is mine, the other are the guests."

"Ah, I've got three of my own. I can understand why you needed a little more time in the air!"

Like I said: rapport.

On short final, I got to thinking that I had set myself up perfectly for big time embarrassment: what if that wonderful landing I just had before was my full quota of the day? Poor Egg, having to go to school and be mercilessly taunted because her daddy can't land worth a darn! Oh, the humanity!! Concern mooted by a greaser, in case you're wondering. Well, that and the fact that I was later informed that they weren't even paying attention. They were too busy playing with their cell phones.


Friday, April 18, 2008

New filler material

AvGas is approaching $5 a gallon, so this may not be much of a year for flying. I've already curtailed my evening canters - pretty much looking for weekend trips only this year. We'll see.

Anyway, I've got to fill space on the blog somehow, and if I continue down the slippery slope of "anger blogging," all the fun is going to go out of it. So, for the first time ever, I'm introducing "Old Airplane Picture Day." The beauty of really old pictures of really old airplanes is twofold: I like them (as you may have noticed with my insistance on using those dreary sepia-toned pix of PapaGolf in the banner), and they are typically unencumbered with those ever-annoying copyright issues.

So, short story already made too long, here's the first. I'm too lazy to do even rudimentary research to determine what kind of plane this is, or any of its storied history. As is my wont, I will fill in the vast gaps left by my slothful nature and just make stuff up.

Here we have an example of a depression era float plane. By living a life of bleak subsistance which eroded their bodies to mere husks of their former sizes, the Turner brothers were able to devote enough of their limited resources to the design and building of the Turner WH-1 ('WH' having been agreed to by the ever-cheerful boys as a reminder of their constant lament that "We're Hungry").

The design of the plane reflected their decreased wealth, both in its meager wingspan and barely suitable three cylinder engine:

The story, unfortunately, doesn't have a happy ending. The design showed tremendous promise and caught the eye of a wealthy investor. Having been fronted a few thousand dollars to advance the design, the boys quite understandably leapt at the opportunity to engorge themselves at the local buffet. What they failed to consider was the effect this would have on their weight, and both perished in a tragic accident after an ensuing test flight proved the WH-1 to be incapable of flight with the additional load.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Annual done, plane flown, shorts gradually unpuckering

I talked to the A&P yesterday about the idle problem that grounded me over the weekend, and he agreed that it made sense to try to lean the idle mixture a wee bit. That's as easily done as said, for a (welcome) change, involving only a small twist to an almost-accessible knob (not so) conveniently placed on the very back of the carburetor. A half turn was sufficient and a quick engine run confirmed that the problem was solved. I also got some of the small remaining things done, like replacing the batteries in the ELT and taking care of the paperwork.

Tonight I was able to get the assistance of co-pilot Rick to aid in the ever-difficult replacing of the cowls on the airplane. I've gotten better at it over time, but it will never be anything remotely like easy. And fun? Well, that's right out, mate. In any event, it only took an hour or so to make my last minute look around the engine and its associated bits and get the cowls back on. It was only a little after 7:30 when we finished, and the conditions were as good as they were ever going to get for a test flight: 4 knots wind precisely and exactly down the runway, high clouds, and great visibility.

I'm always a tad nervous on the first flight after an annual, but it was ever more stressful tonight in that this would be my first time flying since March 1st. Almost by definition, there should be no better pre-flighted airplane than one just released from annual, but as intuitive as it sounds, I don't personally believe it. I walked around and verified for the umpteenth time that every piece that had been removed had also been returned to its former position. Airplane parts make great desk decorations, but their only real utility is realized by actually placing them on or in an airplane.

The engine started quite easily as is its wont, which was unsurprising because it had just been run last night. The tower was closed, so there were no more delaying tactics to be found - I taxied down to the runway. I ran the engine up a little harder and longer than usual, and went through the mag checks twice. Everything was in order, so I took the runway and pushed the throttle gently to full power. The engine ran up smoothly, with no burbling or lagging that would indicate that the idle mixture was not correctly set. With the wind being a complete non-factor, the takeoff roll was smooth and straight, and afforded me ample opportunity to check the various engine pressure and temperature gauges to ensure that everything was moving whatever fluid it was intended to move as well as it needed to.

I climbed out at a relatively slow 80 mph to quickly get as much altitude below the wings as possible while also keeping as much runway down there as possible too. Not to worry, though, as the engine keep up its end of the bargain admirably. I stayed in the pattern as I didn't want to get too very far from the sanctuary of the 5300' long strip of concrete quite yet, and besides that it would be hard to relax and enjoy a little flying with the knowledge that I had my first landing in more than a month to look forward to. I kept the pattern high as I worked my way through downwind, base, and final. I deliberately worked the throttle up and down in the rpm range that had previously been the area where I would get that uncomfortable burbling in the engine (and the resulting burbling in my belly), but it ran like a champ. I'll try that again next time I fly, but early indications are that the problem is fixed.

As for the landing itself, I flared over the numbers and made my first of three ungracious bounces very soon thereafter. The first of them was a bounce that I would score somewhere better than atrocious, but worse than merely cringe-worthy. I only assign these arbitrary values because the use of the actual Richter Scale is too embarrassing.

The next two were a bit more gentle, of course, what with the tremendous amount of energy that had been expended on the first one. Well, the first landing in a month can be that way, I suppose.

I cleaned up the flaps and reset the trim before feeding in full throttle again to go around for another try. I'm glad I did - the second landing was a squeaker. And even more surprising than getting such a great landing on only the second try was that co-pilot Rick hadn't left his watchful position at the side of the runway after the first one, with the result that he was still there to witness the second landing. Whew! You'd sure hate to waste a landing like that by doing it without a witness!

After shut-down back at the hangar, I took another inventory of all of the airplane parts to ensure that I had returned with as many as I had departed with. Everything seemed to still be there, and there were no fluids dripping out anywhere, so I'm going to chalk it up as a success.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

"Don't Get Eaten!"

With the airplane still out of commission but a beautiful Spring day to spend, Co-pilot Egg and I decided to load as much of our arsenal as would fit into the trunk of the Miata and drive to the farm to do some good, old-fashioned shootin'. She's not a big fan of the Miata, and I'm the first to admit that I probably wouldn't be either if the roles were reversed - it's a far funner driving car than it is a comfortable riding car. It's driver's prerogative, though, and it was selfishly exercised in my favor.

Something about the Miata encourages me to view the same old pieces of road that I've driven over time after time with a more attentive and discerning eye, even when the top is up. About mid-way on the outbound trip, we caught sight of a couple of large birds (vultures??) perched on top of what appeared to be an abandoned house. The calculus of the situation (abandoned house = little chance of being accosted by irate resident) was rapidly calculated, and before you know it we were stopped in the driveway. As I started to get out of the car to retrieve my camera from the trunk, Egg (whom I think watches far too much TV) helpfully provided me with some last-minute advice, laudable more for its succinctness than its applicability to the situation: "Don't get eaten!"

The birds were, in fact, far more afraid of me than I of them (perhaps naively on my part, but all's well that end's well, eh?) and threatened to fly away as I made even the smallest movements towards them, but I was able to get a few shots before they finally decided that discretion was mathematically and statistically the better advised option over valor:

After a quick lunch at McDonalds, notable only for the exchange with the order-taker (those folks ought to get a loftier title, like the coffee-servers at Starbucks did when they self-aggrandized themselves with the ludicrous moniker "Baristas." Or, perhaps they have and I just don't know it.) when she failed to accurately enter my order for a double quarter pounder with cheese. She arrived with two quarter pounders on the tray, and I was faced with the dilemma of trying to determine if this particular McDonalds had adopted some quirky method of providing the mathematically equivalent of two single quarter pounders, or if our entire order was supposed to consist on one single and one double. I gracefully addressed that quandary by demonstratively asking my father if he had also ordered a double, or some similar query intended to prompt the sandwich sommelier to verify the accuracy of the order.

"Oh", said the burger-barista, "I didn't charge you for a double. Do you want me to change it?"

I replied along the lines of "I don't care if you change what you charged us or not, but I do want a double quarter pounder with cheese." An eminently fair compromise, I maintain, what with the customer traditionally always assumed to be right, and one getting what one asked for not really being an unexpected or overbearing demand.

A double quarter pounder with cheese, I'm happy to say, was quickly provided without an accompanying adjustment of the bill and we each went our separate ways, firmly convinced that the other was an idiot. I can live with that, I suppose. An equitable outcome for all involved.

Back at the farm, Egg industriously set about preparing our weaponry:

We usually shoot at flat steel targets, but for the sake of increased entertainment, my brother brought out a cinder block for me to shoot at with the new SKS. Oddly enough, he also brought out some wooden panels that he insisted that I shoot at first before I would be allowed to shoot at the cinder block, ostensibly to first prove that I could hit something else before actually being allowed to shoot at the cinder block. The logic of this escaped me since I figured that were I to actually miss the cinder block, the very act of missing it was very likely to leave the block completely intact and undamaged, waiting for my next attempt with the infinite patience that cinder blocks are simply legendary for:

The entire question was moot, of course, since I hit it on the first try. And the next, and the next, and the next. It eventually got pretty challenging since the remaining pieces just got smaller and smaller. Eventually, I was pretty sure the cinder block was sufficiently dead for me to approach it and assess the damage, but I wasn't taking any chances that the wounded block would make a last gasp lunge at me. I approached it with bayonet extended:

Having fully ascertained its demise, I posed for the requisite "kill shot," unfortunately sans the equally requisite can of Bud Light:

Note too that at one point I did completely miss the cinder block and shoot down the practice board. I did not point that out to my brother!

After my having demonstrated the awesome stopping power of the NATO 7.62x39 Full Metal Jacket round on an inert and immovable object, Egg took a turn with the Beretta Neos pistol:

She doesn't like the pistol very much, which is not surprising since she misses far more often than she hits. While I took a turn with the Neos (hitting maybe 7 out of 10, on average) she helped out by loading magazines for my brother, who clearly is compensating for something with his taste in handguns:

She's a big fan of the Marlin 925, though, and hits a target (presumably the one she was actually aiming at, but she's non-committal on that question) nearly every time:

I took a few turns with the Marlin too, but after shooting the SKS I don't like it very much. It fires with not much more oomph than a dry fart, and the bullet flies so slowly to the target that you can actually hear it. I think I could probably throw one faster. That said, I'm pretty accurate with it and can hit the target nearly every time, but it really is a damp paper towel of a gun:

I use the "swinger" targets for the Marlin, and just round robin between targets and try to re-fire quickly enough to keep them all moving:

After burning through 60 rounds of 7.62 and a couple of hundred .22 longs, we loaded everything back in the Miata and headed home. I stopped and took some pictures of the little water fall that we go past, something I've wanted to do for years, but always seemed to be in the wrong car. There's just something about that Miata:

Everything is field stripped and laid out for cleaning:

The cat (who apparently has never heard the conventional wisdom that curiosity killed the cat, but a gun killed it quicker) is investigating the baggage: