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.



  1. Awesome story! You owe me a pair of shorts since I laughed so hard, that I "pissed my knickers".

    2 greasers? Back-to-back? Are we starting a trend here? I hope that you have buzzards on all your landings.

    (Watching the snow falling here in Oregon)

  2. Sounds like a great day at the airport! Unfortunately my trip to Louisville was done by car and not airplane. However the lightning on the way home convinced me I made the correct decision.