Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Heating up the oil

Papa is due for an oil transfusion, and long experience shows that the whole draining process goes far easier if the oil is nice, hot, and thin as water. Sure, that sounds like an excuse to go flying around on one of those evenings that are so incredibly pretty that even people that have no interest at all in flying look to the skies wistfully, feeling a tug in their gut that they can neither understand nor satisfy. But really, it needed to be done, and the task fell to me. Which, of course, I can live with. I'm civic-minded that way, you know.

By 1945 hours, the winds had died to a barely negligible 3 knots, and the sky was as cloudless as any I've ever seen. As I was pulling up to the hangar, I saw that my new airport neighbor was also enjoying the evening at the airport. He's the exact opposite of the former tenant, who had to be the unhappiest airplane owner that I've ever met. He had a beautiful Mooney 232, hardly ever flown. Asked if he was going to fly on any given day, the answer was invariably no, followed by a litany of complaints and general grousing. The new guy is building an RV-6, a clear hallmark of a discerning and dedicated aviator. Anyway, short story already long, he greeted me with a hearty "Hey Dave, going flying?"

"Yep, gotta heat up the oil and drain it."

"So, do you wanna take a pretty girl along?" he asked.

"Sure, do you have one handy?"

Turns out his daughter, who is post-solo but pre-checkride, was there as well, and having spent the lion's share of her hours in a Cessna 150 was clearly excited about a change of pace. And yes, she was pretty, a fact which I, of course, noted merely in order to be able to present an accurate record here. Being young and spry, she had no trouble getting into the plane and belted up. No help needed from me, alas.

Being as it was after 1930, the tower was closed so we were able to taxi straight out to runway 4. We took off and I climbed to 3,500' at a nice 1,200 feet per minute while maintaining 100 knots or so, an airspeed right around the top cruise speed of the trainers she's used to. Ah, suitably impressed. My shoulder straps were too tight to allow any kind of chest thumping, though.

At 3,500' I let her take over, and she immediately impressed me by not over controlling in the way most people do on their first attempt. She flew around for a bit, then I showed her stalls and other stuff she's been doing in her training. I didn't want to stay out too long since I still needed to get the cowls off and the oil drained, so we headed back towards the airport. By accident or design (and I'm not saying which), we were nicely positioned 8 miles out from a straight-in to runway 4. I had left the common traffic frequency on the radio the whole time, so I knew that to all appearances the pattern was empty. I called that we were 8 miles inbound for an overhead break, and started a slow descent to pattern altitude.

By the time we got to the airport, the pattern was still empty so we flew down the runway at pattern altitude and with 150 knots on the speedometer. A nice tight break to the left dropped that to just a few knots over the 100 knot flap extension speed. Down they went, and we made a nice base leg right over my house. The wind was dead calm and I landed right on the spot I aim for when using runway 4.

And get this: I greased it in. It was one of those landings where the wheels just start rolling, and you have to convince yourself that you're actually on the runway. You only get a few of those a year, and I have to tell you, it sure is nice to get one at the same time that you're flying with a pretty girl! Everyone had a good time, but her dad is in for a lot of nagging to get his -6 done!

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Kayaking on the Big Darby

The Weather-out-the-Window(tm) forecast for today was, if anything, nicer than yesterday's. Having just flown yesterday, and it being nearly a year since starting the kayak build, it seemed appropriate to make my first real trip today. The obvious departure point was the canoe/kayak launch area co-located with our local sled riding hill on the banks of the Big Darby. This offers an easy place to get the boat into the water, and there is another publicly accessible area a few miles down river to come back out. All told, it's about six miles on the water.

Having had the boat in the water once before, the one thing I already knew for sure was that it would float. The rest I had to learn as I went. The first thing I learned was that kayaking in a Blue Heron Boatworks vessel is a horrible way to blend into the scenery. It draws a tremendous amount of attention. In fact, 9 out of 10 bystanders volunteered the comment that it was awesome, beautiful, or pretty. Additionally, 4 out of 5 beer drinking canoers modified the adjective with a preceding F-word, which I think is intended to convey that idea that is somewhat above and beyond awesome. The most original comment came from a guy with his hat on backwards who observed it to be "old school."

I'm used to this kind of attention, of course, because Papa Golf draws a lot of attention as well, but this was different, and not in a subtle way. In what way, you ask? Well, I didn't build Papa. I have to say, despite not being able to have a nice, quiet, introspective paddle down the river, it was really, really nice to hear all of those compliments.The only thing I didn't really like was being asked how much it cost, so I took to deflecting the question by replying that it was home made. Felt a little like bragging, but better than confessing to driving a $1,000 boat down the river. Yuppie.

After about 20 minutes of slowly paddling my way down the river, I was getting a better feel for how to steer and control my direction. Not too much longer after that, I found that I was getting the feel for planning ahead for dealing with cross currents, much like you learn how to position a plane for a cross wind landing. I also found that keeping the nose straight is a lot like landing the taildragger: you watch far downstream (or down the runway) to get an early start on any unwanted drifting of the nose.

The boat rides pretty high in the water, and it only takes a few inches of water to float it. There are, of course, times when the water is fast and shallow and there may be a little scraping over the gravel. I got pretty good at detecting the lee behind a submerged rock and avoiding it, but in the cases where I just couldn't miss one, I also learned the technique of lifting a cheek to raise that side of the hull to minimize the contact with the rock.

It doesn't take much effort at all to keep the boat moving at the pace of the plastic kayaks and the canoes, and with just a little more effort I was able to speed (the term being relative when it comes to man-powered boats) past the larger, noisier groups. For the second half of the trip I pretty much had the entire river to myself.

It became very natural to move the boat where I wanted it to go within the first 45 minutes. Good thing, too, because I came to a spot where the water was channeled between the river bank and a low island, with a branch from a fallen tree hanging over the water at bang-your-head-into-it level. There was a three or four foot gap to get through, but it required a 90 degree right turn in rapidly moving water to get through it. I made it through there with a foot to spare, and then was faced with an immediate 90 degree turn to the left.

Right after the excitement of what passes for rapids (which were quite rapid enough for me, mind you) on the Big Darby, I came around a corner to find a wide open lagoon-like area. And there, standing on the side of the river having a drink, were three deer. I lifted the paddle and let the boat drift closer and closer to them, something they found interesting to watch, but apparently not threatening enough to cause them to leave. I eventually drifted over to a large fallen tree where I was able to snuggle in under the branches. One of them kept an eye on me while the other two had their drink, then they decided they had had enough and walked away.

A little further on, I was drifting slowly along through a canyon of trees of varying shades of green, with the blue sky making a triangle formed by the lines of trees on the sides and the bill of my cap across the top. I saw a couple of dry, white branches coming up through the surface of the water, each extending about 8 to 10 feet out into the sun. Each branch was lined across its entire length with turtles warming themselves in the sun. I assume they were families as for each two large ones, there was a collection of much smaller ones. They too were very interested in my approach, and eventually they all dove off the branches into the water.

Long before I was ready, I reached the end of the trip and my return to "civilization." The access point is off to the corner of a small fishing pond, and catty-corner to Trapper John's Canoe and Kayak rental. About a dozen members of the demographic that I've taken to referring to as Generation Jackass were carrying on as is their wont, and the river was flooded (so to speak) with groups of exuberant renters starting their way down the river. It was a stark contrast to the wonderful hour that I had just enjoyed coming down the river.

I learned one more important thing: it's kind of hard to get out of that boat after 90 minutes. I had just enough cell signal to call home for my ride, and spent another 15 minutes answering questions about the boat. Oh, and was reminded by bystanders again and again about just how effing AWESOME it is.

I don't disagree!

Shooting and Horses

They shoot horses, don't they?

Actually, I don't think they do anymore. Seems an odd title for a post here, but it will become at least somewhat clear...

Considering the Memorial Day weekend's de facto status as the beginning of the summer recreation season, the pressure is certainly on to deliver weather conditions appropriate to the tasking. Often, the entire operation is an abject failure, but not this year. The Saturday morning Weather-out-the-Window(tm) forecast looked extraordinary, and even the supplemental sensors failed to detect even a glimmer of a problem. A wide-open day with great flying weather: what to do, what to do.

I had printed a series of pictures ( taken Thursday night at Kil-Kare Speedway where my brother was running a test day with his Nascar Modified and needed to deliver them in person, my past experiences with the US Postal service's distinct lack of concern with the overly optimistic "Photos - DO NOT BEND" stamp on the envelope being that they tend to view it as more of a non-binding suggestion than something to actually, you know, do. As luck would have it, good flying weather has a lot in common with good shooting range weather, and an impulse buy of 80 more rounds for the SKS a couple of weeks ago put me in a pretty good position to combine the photo delivery job with a shooting day.

I've been promising Co-pilot Rick a trip to said shooting range for an appreciable measure of time, so I'd even have company for the trip. A phone call to the farm to arrange for transport, and we were on our way. What little wind there was to deal with was coming out of the north east, so I knew we'd have the long taxi down to the far end of the runway. The ground controller cleared my "to runway 4, follow the Cessna." Maybe the Cessna got the "via Bravo to Alpha" language they've been using lately, but I didn't hear it. In any event, following a Cessna is easy enough.

In fact, what with it being one of the rentals, the trick when following one is usually to keep from running into it as students tend to taxi a little more slowly than I do. They also tend to take a very long time doing their end-of-runway run-up (not inappropriately in a rental, to be fair) so I considered stopping at Alpha 5 rather than going th next 500' to Alpha 6, the taxiway at the very end of the runway. Turned out, though, that I taxied slower than the Cessna, so I figured the pilot to be more experienced and that maybe the run-up wouldn't be a drawn out affair, and it seemed kind of rude to take Alpha 5 in a very transparent effort to get to the runway first. Well, I guessed wrong; it was a lengthy spell at the end of the runway, but at least he pulled off into the back corner of the taxiway and I was able to get around him. We were at least five miles west of the airport before we finally heard him call the tower for takeoff clearance.

The air was clear and calm, and having stuck the co-pilot with the bumpy flight back from Portsmouth a few weeks ago, I let Rick fly this one. Throttled back to 2,200 RPM as part of my new fuel conservation scheme, we still scored 135 knots on the GPS. By the time we got to Darke Co., the wind had picked up a little, but not enough to really matter. Being at least a few degrees out of the east, the runway of choice was 9. That's a good thing, because I have never had a good landing on 27. Even using the other end of the runway, I still managed to catch a gust of wind just as I was feeling my way down the runway, but it only caused a little bounce. I decided to buy gas there since they were only charging $4.55/gallon, which is a bargain in today's market.

I brought the SKS and the Beretta NEOS, leaving the BB gun strength Marlin 22 at home - I figure Co-pilot Egg to be the only one that enjoys shooting that one. My brother had made all new targets, but saved on of the old ones just for use with the SKS. The targets that he makes are cut out of 1/4" steel and are great for .22s, but as you'll see, they are essentially one-time use for the SKS:

Rick with the SKS

Me with the Beretta Neos

The SKS makes a cleaner hole than a unibit!

You still have to de-burr, though!

We ran through the ammo in a little more than an hour, took a tour of the farm, and headed into Greenville for a visit to the Darke Co. fairgrounds where my Dad had one of his young horses running in a matinée race. We couldn't leave without visiting at least briefly with Harvey Six, a name that I prefer to pronounce using a faux Cockney accent to arrive at a gratuitous 'Arvey Six. You know, RV-6.

Harvey Six

We met this big fella too, but due to his failure to be named after an airplane, I've already forgotten his name:

Not so much a race, really, more of a practice session. The young horses have to get used to the starting gate, the noise and distractions of a race, and the proximity of other horses and drivers. It seemed an opportunity to get a few pictures, especially so since my Dad would be up in the timing & scoring booth and we would be able to go up there for some pictures:

The booth is up at the top of the grandstand, the grandstand itself being fairly photogenic in and of itself:

Take a close look at those two pictures. They're the same picture, cropped in different ways. I thought the first one would be a good entry in the annual photo show that I enter, but I didn't know what to do about that awful yellow sky. I didn't want to lose the older guy sitting down there all by himself though, so I was resigned to just living with it. I caught Rick Lee sitting at his computer and asked for a little advice. That advice (paraphrased) was "ditch the old guy, he doesn't bring much to the table, and the bright sky draws the eye away from the seats." That result is the second picture, and by golly if he isn't right again!

Here are a few pictures from up in the booth:

On the way back out to the airport, I diverted through the town of Greenville to see how the restoration is going on their beautiful Carnegie Library, where I spent hours and hours during my annual week long summer stays with my grandparents, who lived right across the street. Can't tell much from the outside, but according to the sign they're just about done:

I flew the homeward leg, and sure enough it was a tad bumpy. Windier on the landing, too, but only a little bouncing.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Transponder checked and accurate

Every couple of years, I'm required to get my transponder checked for accuracy. For those of you that just said "your what??" allow me to briefly explain. The transponder (aka Xpdr) is an electronic box attached to the altimeter (more accurately an altitude encoder, but just think of it as a box that knows how high the airplane is at any given time) that receives radar transmissions from ATC radar. Without the Xpdr, the ATC radar would see me as an unidentified blip on the screen. Could be anything, really, and that's not sufficient data to keep hundreds of airplanes from running into each other all the time.

That would be horrible for ticket sales numbers, if nothing else, and the airlines would have a tough time filling seats. The Xpdr recognizes when it has been hit by ATC radar and replies back with an increased strength signal that also has two very important pieces of additional data encoded in it: my four digit ID number (which is always 1200 for me and every other VFR airplane out there stooging around) and my altitude. If the altitude that is being reported is incorrect, ATC is keeping airplanes separated with faulty data, which is darn near as bad as having no data at all. So, they make you get it checked and, if needed, calibrated every other year.

I called the outfit that does the inspection for me yesterday afternoon to make sure they could fit me into the schedule and was told that first thing in the morning would be the best time. That suited me just fine, so I got out to the airport at about 0745 to find clear skies and light winds. But oddly enough, the rotating beacon on the control tower was still on which indicates that either it's night, conditions are IFR, or the tower is closed. Two out of those three were easily seen to not be the case, and the tower should have been open at 0730. There were planes in the pattern doing touch & goes, but that doesn't mean that there's anyone in the tower. Figuring I would know one way or the other once I get Papa out of the hangar and ready to taxi, I went ahead and did just that.

Engine started and a call to the ground controller requesting taxi clearance resulted in a quick clearance to runway 22 "via bravo to alpha." Ok, we're still playing the formal comms game, but I'm getting used to it. It's probably for the better anyway. Take off was non-eventful, and I was soon settled in for the ride to the airport where the avionics shop lives. Gas is over $5 a gallon now, so I throttled back from my normal 2,550 RPM to a more (hopefully) economical 2,200 RPM. That still gave me a quite respectable cruise speed of 135 knots, and it made for a much quieter ride. I think I'm going to start using that power setting as a matter of routine. It was only a minute or so out of the way, so I detoured over to the lake to see how the water level is doing. Here is a picture of the boat ramp that last fall ended quite short of the actual edge of the water:

Looks like my worries of a drought may have been premature. As I approached the destination airport from the north, I dialed up the frequency of their automated weather reporting system and found the winds to be within a few degrees of directly down runway 23, and a mere handful of knots besides. Should be easy! Of course, this particular airport has a lot of tree-laden hills just of the end of 23, so there's always updrafts and the like to deal with.

I stayed a little higher than normal while on final to keep out of as much of that disruptive stuff as possible, which naturally led to one of those express elevator arrivals at the runway. Handled with aplomb, if I do say so myself, and a terrific greaser of a landing. With no witnesses. Oh well. It's not like I'm in it for the ego, right? Right?

Taxied up to the hangar and shut down, then headed inside to report my arrival to the avionics guy. "Good morning! I'm here for the VFR Xpdr check I called about yesterday."

[blank stare]

"Aren't you the guy that I talked to?"

"Uh, no," he replied, "I'm not expecting anyone until the guy coming in at 9:00 for some work. You must have talked to the other guy, and he didn't write you on the schedule, and he's not here yet."

He didn't seem too happy about it, and I wondered if I was to be sent packing. That would be unfortunate - it takes a day off of work combined with good flying weather (a rare combination) to get this thing done. He went ahead and got the hangar door open and started getting the test equipment ready, though, so it appeared that all was well. The other guy showed up about 15 minutes later, and I went outside to avoid the storm clouds I saw developing in the office. I don't know what went on in there for the next few minutes, but as we got started working on the plane there seemed to be a distinct chill in the air. Not my fault, of course, but uncomfortable nonetheless, and a perfect situation for turning the BanterAmp(tm) up to 11 and see if I could change the climate a little.

It probably would have been easier if the 9:00 appointment hadn't shown up early. There I was parked in front of the hangar, and there he was in his plane trying to figure out where he was supposed to park. The guy that had arrived a little late tried to make amends by going out on the ramp to try to direct the newly arrived plane to a parking spot, but the pilot didn't see him and went ahead and shut his engine down, leaving the presumptive parking director standing in the middle of the ramp with both hands up in the air.

"He seems to have accepted your surrender," I yelled over to him. Say, was that the glimmer of a smile? Yes, yes, I think it was! This battle could still be won!

The newly arrived pilot got out and was welcomed by the plane parking guy like a long lost acquaintance. As they were walking over to the hangar, I could hear them getting caught up on that status of another acquaintance of theirs who is "currently being hosted by the county" in some sort of facility. Penal, would be my guess. "Well, at least he's losing weight. I think I might go in for a spell myself and see if I can drop a few pounds myself. Be good for me," he said, patting his belly.

Now, there comes a time now and then where you have to take a risk on a single roll of the dice. The nuclear option, so to speak. This, to me, seemed to be one of those times. I went for it (and I apologize in advance for this, dear reader): "It'd do wonders for your love life too, at least in quantity if not quality."

That could have gone either way, naturally, but the odds were with me and the gamble paid off. Big laughs all around, and a distinct change in the atmosphere. Things went along nicely after that. Papa got himself all hooked up to the equipment, and I stood back and watched:

He looks like he's in for surgery with all of those tubes attached to him, but those are just pressure and vacuum hoses attached to the pipes and holes (pitot and static, for those that like the technical terms) that sense the atmosphere to provide airspeed and altitude readings. By adjusting the pressure sensed at each, the test box can fool the instruments into thinking that the airplane is in the air flying. The Xpdr is itself fooled in turn, and transmits the encoded altitude data. An antenna attached to a separate test box receives the transmitted signal and decodes the reported altitude for display. The altitude shown on the altimeter should match that shown on the test box. Mine was indicating 200' low, but a quick adjustment cleared that up. Job done.

I wandered around the airport a little bit. Some of you will remember my description of airport courtesy cars from a few weeks ago:

Courtesy cars are a breed all their own in the automotive world, and are particularly well known for their quirks.

Well, here's a perfect example:

The flight home went as well as the flight down there, but the arrival back at Bolton was a bit odd. I reported in "over Boutn, inbound full stop." Boutn is a defined waypoint about five miles directly off of the runway, and I've used it as my initial reporting point for years without an problems at all. So I was a little surprised to receive a gruff "say direction from airport" in response. It's not like Boutn has moved - it's right off the south west of the airport where it was always been, but whatever.

"Five miles southwest, inbound, full stop." This new attitude from the tower is perplexing, but it's their airport and I can play by their rules. It's not wrong, it's just different. Like I said, I'm getting used to it, and if it's intended to be a safety improvement, that's just fine with me. But then I get this directive:

"Report entering downwind for runway 22."

Well, that's a poser. Remember, I was directly in line with the runway, so I could enter downwind on either the left or the right side. It would be nice to know, from my point-of-view, which it was to be. It's not intended to be up to me, after all. He seemed to realize by my lack of response that something was amiss, and before I could ask for clarification called back with "Correction. Report entering right downwind, 22."

Ah, good!

The wind by this time was something near or above 10 knots out of the north west and was, in fact, a 90 degree crosswind to runway 22. Right downwind put me upwind of the runway, and I didn't compensate enough for the resultant wind drift towards the runway as I plodded along on the downwind leg. That, combined with the same effect applied as I turned right base, caused me to overshoot final by quite an appreciable degree. This required a tighter, steeper turn to final, and I have read enough flying safety articles to know that this how a lot of people die. With a higher than normal bank in the tighter than normal turn, I knew that I had to be especially cognizant of my airspeed to avoid spinning and/or stalling, either of which would be a fatal mistake. The upshot is that by the time I was established on final, I was high and fast. I sailed right on by my preferred exit taxiway (Alpha 3) and slowed down in time to at least make the turn at Alpha 4. It was still a pretty smooth landing, though.

They have been clearing me back to the hangar with "turn right on Alpha 3 (or 4, as it was today), taxi to park via Alpha to Charlie and across the ramp, monitor Ground on point eight." I was ready for that today, but apparently they're trying to keep us on our toes. Instead of what I was expecting, I got "Turn right on Alpha 4, taxi to park via Alpha to Bravo."

Ok, that's the same as saying "do it like we always have in the past," so it was easy enough to do. Except for one thing. He didn't tell me what frequency to monitor. Sometimes they tell you to monitor "point eight," which is the Ground frequency of 121.8, and sometimes they tell you to "remain this frequency," which is the tower frequency of 128.1. I'm not sure what it means if they don't tell you one way or the other. I stayed on Tower. Figured that would be the first place he'd look. I never heard from him either way, so it remains a mystery.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Enhanced Weather-out-the-Window?

Sometimes the Weather-out-the-Window(tm) forecast doesn't give the entire picture. Today, for example, looked pretty nice. But out of an excess of caution, I decided to deploy a secondary predictive device to garner a bit more detail. One can't be too careful, you know. I therefore deployed the Weather-on-Hogarth's-butt(patent pending) sensor:

Analysis of this precision instrument is more of an art than it is a science, and depending on whether or not other dogs, rodents, or pizza delivery drivers are in the cone of detection, there can be false-positive indications present. I, however, have mastered the reading of the raised-hair indicator and was confident in my analysis: it's windy today.

No flying, what with the wind only forecast by the professionals to get increasingly strong throughout the day, but I had hoped that plan B would be effective. The idea was that if I couldn't fly, I could at least take the kayak down the river. Temps in the low 60's made that idea unattractive as well. I have to say, the weather thus far this has been quite disappointing.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Is it just me...

... or is this "teaser" from the latest AOPA ePilot somewhat tacky:

On Oct. 10, 2004, a Cessna 152 and a Cessna 172 collided on approach to Cincinnati West Airport in Harrison, Ohio. The two aircraft became locked together in flight at 300 feet agl and spiraled into a gravel pit. Find out what led to the accident and if the pilots and passenger survived in this special report prepared by the AOPA Air Safety Foundation.

It's this part that gave me pause:

"Find out what led to the accident and if the pilots and passenger survived in this special report"

Do we really need AOPA to be pitching articles like the local news shows? It's just the kind of thing that almost parodies itself:

"Is your drinking water contaminated with deadly poison? We'll tell you on Channel Six News at 11..."


Oh, by the way, they did survive. Sorry to steal your lede, AOPA.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Great gift idea!

For me, that is.

IMing with frequent reader Brandon, he sent me a link to this web site that sells prints commemorating various Air Force units. I wasn't able to find my second assignment working RF-4Cs with 51st at Osan AB, South Korea or my post active duty National Guard years with the 178th at Springfield Ohio ANG, but they did have my first and third assignments:

Those are pretty darn nice! Only a few months until my birthday....

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

F me??? Well, FU too, buddy!

Have you ever wondered about the misanthropic 'FU' emblazoned proudly on PapaGolf's flanks? Judging by the number of people that have asked me about it, chances are good that you have. Heck, I asked too when I first went to "take a look," which is my code for "pretend to look for a reason not to buy this plane."

Well, as it turns out, Papa comes by his easy-to-misconstrue tattoos honourably. The simple explanation is that the US Air Force numbered F-86s with the 'FU-' followed by a three-digit integer, as can be plainly seen here:

"Sure," you say, "but what has that to do with an RV-6?" Well, the backstory there is that the builder of PapaGolf was an F-86 pilot stationed in Europe back in the '50s. He flew in the 417th Fighter Bomber Squadron under the umbrella of the 50th Fighter Bomber Wing. His squadron commander was a fella you've probably heard of, Gen. Chuck Yeager. On the tail of this plane, you can see the unit emblem that Papa has painted on his tail as well:

This the unit patch that was worn on their uniforms:

Here are a couple more photos of 417th birds that I was able to find via the Google Oracle:

Papa is missing the big yellow stripe show on this 417th F-86:

That's a bit of a shame. It's purty.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Temporal Concurrence

Temporal Concurrence is when things happen at the same time. I'm sure you can think of endless examples, but here's one you may or may not have heard before: the Weather-out-the-Window(tm) forecast for this morning showed today to be the first nice, dry day all week. Normally this is automatically considered to be flying weather, but here's where the temporal concurrence comes in. See, the weather that keeps me from flying during the week is also the weather that causes the grass to grow, and to add insult to injury, keeps me from mowing it. Believe it or don't, but 'mowing weather' outranks 'flying weather.'

You can't get a really early start on the mowing without rankling the neighbors, and besides, the indentured servant doesn't roll out all that early either. Mowing was done by mid-morning, but a survey of the estate showed that the annual clover (and related felons) invasion was well under way. Drat. Nothing for it but to proceed to the local Tractor Supply Center for a big jug of the appropriate fertilizer/herbicide mix, known in the vernacular as Weed & Feed. Which, of course, they did not have. They did have the weed killer as a standalone, though, and never having really been fully in love with the idea of encouraging the grass to actually grow, you know... faster, I decided that the killing agent sans 'Feed' would suffice.

Co-pilot Egg rode along to provide company, but hard on the heels of the mowing and all, she was hungry and wanted fed. That taken care of, the afternoon fairly glittered before me, but an accidental channel-checking trap in the form of Pole Day for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, in HD to boot, ended up costing me a few hours on the sofa.

Short story long, 'twas 1830 before I decided enough was enough and given the horrible forecast for tomorrow, thought it prudent to get a little flying in while I still could. Ever cognizant of the onerous OPEC yoke, I opted for a leisurely low fuel consumption ride down the length of river that I hope one day to traverse in the kayak. It looks like the water levels are good and high (well, they would be, wouldn't they, after a week of rain) and will allow for a minimum of portage.

The winds were 7 knots at a 90 degree crosswind, but that didn't seem to make much difference to the landing: a nice one-wheel greaser. Wrong wheel, truth be told, but it's the thought that counts. Good piloting technique would have had the upwind leg as the first to touch down for a crosswind landing, but I somehow managed to reverse that. Meh, whatever.

Taxi back directions were " the runway at Alpha 4, Alpha to Alpha 3 to Bravo, point-eight off the runway." I'm having trouble getting used to this new verbose way of things, and it showed in my read back: "Left on Alpha 4, uh, Alpha 3, ramp, home." Or something even less intelligible. I'm not quite sure. Needs practice, it does.

And, as mentioned before, rain in the offing for tomorrow. As in: the rain will be washing offing all that herbicide I spent so much time applying today.

Meh, whatever.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Ok, I owe you one

After the goofy F-86 video, I owe you one. Here's one that shows the helmet cam put to good use:

Speaking of... I'm kicking around the idea of getting into doing more PapaGolf travel vids. Not necessarily limited to the helmet cam, though, as it's somewhat restricted to just the flying and does nothing to share the destination with the viewer. I ordered a few books on video composition and editing to learn some of the techniques, but the sticking point is, as it has been for quite awhile, the matter of equipment. I thought about getting another cheapy camcorder, but the more I think about it, the more I want to move to higher end HD.

My thinking was that if I was going to use YouTube as the delivery mechanism, the quality of the video wouldn't matter. Two things changed my mind:

- We have an HD TV, and I'd like to be able to use the camera for family purposes as well. For example, Co-pilot Egg is just now starting her "career" in her high school marching band. It's an active band in parades and regional competitions, and I'm thinking things like that would make for good recordings.

- I discovered

Deep Sea Fishing and Lobstering in Gloucester - Video Blog from Tom Guilmette on Vimeo.

(To see it in HD, click on the HD button on the lower right of the video and use the link to go directly to Vimeo. Note, however, that even in SD the quality is far superior to YouTube)

That's just a randomly selected video to demonstrate the quality of web-based HD video. Compare that to YouTube!

Saving my pennies....

$700 at A bit spendy, but maybe they'll come down.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Because I will watch anything with F-86's in it...

Trust me, turn your volume OFF (not down, OFF!) before hitting 'Play':

For my scrapbook...

You know, I really ought to start keeping nice things like this:

Yes, well, um, I guess I just did start keeping things like this!

Thanks, Doug!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Sometimes, a plan just gets in the way

The Weather-out-the-Window for yesterday was horrible. It rained most of the day, and the winds were strong enough to rattle the little flappy thing on the exhaust for my range hood. If I hear that flap raising a ruckus in the morning, I don't even have to get out of bed to check the Weather-out-the-Window to know that I'm not flying. Today made up for it, though. You could ask for a better day for flying, but that would be greedy. It was as close to perfect as you're likely to see in Ohio. Unfortunately, I hadn't made any plans, so the whole idea of flying somewhere was up in the air, so to speak. I keep thinking that I've done pretty much everything there is to do in Ohio, but I'm reluctant to fly much further with the gas prices being what they are. I'd like to take a trip out to Indianapolis to visit the Indy Car Museum at the track, but it's May and things are going to be heating up for the big race at the end of the month.

I figured lunch someplace was the best I could hope for, and I hadn't been down to Portsmouth for awhile to visit with my flying buddy Ted, the proud builder and pilot of an RV-9A. I know through experience that Ted gets up early and that there was a good chance that he'd get an email if I sent one. I mentioned that Co-pilot Rick and I might be looking for a destination, and that even if Rick turned out to be unavailable, I would come down for a visit. Ted replied that he would be at the airport by 1:00, but would be heading out for some formation practice. I could live with that - worst case was that I had a nice lunch at the airport diner and headed home. I'm trying to get more utility out of my flying dollar than just a lunch these days, but with the weather being as nice as it was, just the flying would be worth the gas money. Anything beyond that would be gravy.

Rick was available, so we agreed to meet at the airport at noon. We got settled into the plane and started the taxi down to runway 22, again "via Bravo to Alpha." I'm getting used to the new formality from the tower controllers, so that didn't throw me for a loop like it did last week. The ride down was smooth for the most part, although there were a couple of bumps now and then. Rather than taking a straight shot from Bolton to Portsmouth, I entered a route into the GPS that would keep me under the Buckeye MOA, whose floor is at 5,000', and far enough east to stay out of the Brush Creek MOA, whose floor runs from the ground to something high. There's also a national interest restricted zone around something or the other down that way to be careful of, but its ceiling is at a relatively low 2,500'. We'd be cruising at 3,500' so that wasn't a factor. Still, I avoid it anyway. No sense prodding the Feds, after all. I've never bothered to find out what it is they want us to stay away from, but then again, I've never cared.

Portsmouth County Airport is just to the east of a good sized set of hills, and since the wind was negligible, I had my choice of landing to the north or south. Landing to the south would have been in a direct line with our flight path, but I'm not a big fan of straight-in approaches. That, and figuring that flying the left downwind that would be required to get us to the south side of the airport for a landing to the north would give me a chance to take a look at the wind sock and see what it was doing, was enough to decide on a landing to the north. It turns out that the wind sock couldn't settle on any given direction at all; it was just kind of loafing its way desultorily through the entire compass rose. Left downwind on top of the big hills is a little nerve wracking since the tops of hills seem to attract cell towers and power lines like a dead raccoon attracts buzzards, so I stayed snugged in close to the runway. The landing itself was one of those that I get now and then when the narrow width of a county airport runway causes me to flare high and reach for the runway like a kid testing the temperature of an under-filled pool with an extended toe. We eventually found concrete with a bit of a thud, but it was acceptable given the conditions. The conditions being, of course, the having of a witness on board.

I gassed up at the Sunday cash discount price of $4.45/gallon and parked the plane to wait for Ted. Since I wasn't all that keen on formation flying, I thought to ask the line boy if they had a courtesy car that we could use to visit downtown Portsmouth. After what was to be only the first of a few "why would you want to do that??" responses I would get today, he answered that they did, in fact, have a car that I could use. Courtesy cars are a breed all their own in the automotive world, and are particularly well known for their quirks. The courtesy car at Portsmouth, I was told, has been reluctant to keep a charge on its battery, so we would have to carry a jump start battery with us. Additionally, the windows don't roll down, but that would be OK because the air conditioner still worked. Beats walking, and neither condition seemed all that onerous. As we were taking possession of the car, Ted arrived and drove back to his hangar. We followed in the beater, and I explained to Ted that I had a new car and had decided to drive down instead. He wasn't fooled for a second, of course. He knows I have a Miata, and that would clearly have been the car of choice on a day like today.

Ted took one look at the loaner and insisted that we take his Acura MDX instead. I protested in a pro forma sort of way that the beater would be quite sufficient, and might add a sense of adventure to the entire operation as well, but yet again, I wasn't fooling anybody. In the end, the Acura brought two critical capabilities to the table, the first being that we knew it would start again, and a close second being the on-board GPS navigator. The GPS turned out to be hugely helpful; the quality of the map provided with the loaner car was eerily similar to the quality of the loaner car itself. Which, in a word, sucked. Beggars can't be choosers, but that isn't to say that they shouldn't avail themselves of better opportunities, eh?

It's a 15 or 20 minute drive from the airport to Portsmouth, and quite scenic to boot. While we had the GPS to help us, we figured not too much could go wrong as long as we headed south. It was a pretty fair bet that we would reach the Ohio River eventually, so the chances of accidentally drifting into Kentucky were deemed to be nil. Once we got to an East-West road down by the river, a turn towards the west was nearly certain to take us to Portsmouth, and that is exactly the way it all turned out. Now, finding the city is not quite the same as finding things in the city, so we ended up poking around a bit without a whole lot of navigational competence on display. We did find the river, though:

As always, click on the pictures for larger images!

As we were walking around the river banks, I saw this piece of brick:

That led me to believe that at some point in the past, there was a brick foundry in the Portsmouth area. As we'll see later, I think I was right.

I had googled Portsmouth before leaving for the airport, and I saw a brief reference to a wall full of murals. I didn't see much beyond that in the description, but for want of anything better to do, I suggested that we track down said wall. How hard could it be, right? Well... we ended up at the end of a small road, confronted by a pair of orange barrels that could signify that the road was closed, but were far enough apart to allow for the passage of, say, an Acura MDX. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and I don't have the bone in my foot that will enable to back up while there's still a chance to move forward, so on we went. Next thing we knew, we were right in the middle of a group of dozens of parked motorcycles, receiving stares from their riders as they tried to figure out just what kind of idiot would drive an Acura MDX past a couple of orange barrels put in place specifically to keep traffic out. Nothing for it but to press on, of course, unless one is willing to look like a total moron in front of dozens of bikers. If you ever find yourself in this situation, just do what I did: pretend to be looking at directions to try to find your friends house. You'll still get the stares, mind you, but at least you save just a wee bit of face.

Once out of the motorcycle gathering, we found ourselves on a street that seemed to be running right into the downtown area. Co-pilot Rick caught sight of a small sign on a light pole promising that "Murals" were in the vicinity. I pulled over and parked, figuring hunting around on foot might be a lower risk endeavor that randomly drifting around in Ted's Acura. And voila, there the were! Murals painting on the flood wall build after the flood of 1937, stretching almost 1/3 of a mile:

The murals depict a timeline of the local history of the Portsmouth area. It didn't take long to find one that confirmed the theory of the brick foundry:

I can't put all of the pictures here on the blog, but here is a small sampling:

This one was pretty neat in the way that it used an existing feature of the flood wall:

I asked this guy what he was doing. He says they get cracks in the murals that he has to repair. It's not as simple as just throwing some spackling compound into the crack; he has to repaint the damaged area of the mural too:

The 1937 flood left an indelible mark on Portsmouth:

The marker on the side of this building shows the high water mark of the flood:

I wouldn't have noticed it except for the fact than an older guy walking by pointed it out to me.

One of the bikers rode by:

They're apparently a bit of an institution in Portsmouth, or have a strong lobbying group. Either way, they're well represented on a mural:

This is another clever usage of an existing architectural feature:

That was the end of the mural wall. I created a web album with a lot more of the pictures that you can see by clicking here. Worth a look, if I do say so myself.

It was getting late and time to head back to return Ted's Acura. We walked past this seed shop, which for some reason I thought was photogenic:

This is not the airport courtesy car, although I suspect that they might be distant cousins:

The Ohio bicentennial barns are still being kept in good shape:

As we were walking across the ramp from where we had dropped off Ted's car, I saw this bee taking in the sun on the propeller of and old Piper Cub:

The absence of a plan reared its ugly head, though, as we realized that we had completely forgotten to eat. Well, that's not entirely true; we had decided to fore go the pleasure of Arby's while we were still in town in favor of letting Ted get home from the airport while we dined at the nice restaurant in the Portsmouth terminal. Co-pilot Rick ordered a double burger called a Skyboy, and platterized it with fries and slaw. They were running a two-for-one special on the Flyboy, so I took the extra and sided it with some onion rings. Quite delicious, and so cheap that I again question how anyone can afford to not have an airplane:

Even with the moderate temperature, Papa builds up quite a bit of heat when he sits in the sun. It's a good idea to let him breath a bit before climbing in:

The flight back was much bumpier, especially over the hills. It was the kind of ride where you'll hit a bump head on and either bang your head against the canopy or drop so fast that the straps are required to hold you in your seat. If you hit just the edge of an up- or down-draft, it will kick the wing into an unwanted bank that you have to correct for. In other words, it wasn't much fun to fly in. So I let Rick do it. I'm generous that way.

Not much going on back at Bolton and we fit back into the landing patter much easier than I had expected to. The landing wasn't too bad; a couple of not-quite-bounces was the worst of it. The tower cleared me back to the barn "via the ramp," which again is a new wrinkle. On the plus side, "via the ramp" takes us right past the ogling crowd at JP's BBQ, and I am by no means above a enjoying a few moments of pride as I taxi past the folks who look at a little plane like mine in open awe. Oh, who am I kidding? I revel in it!

So, despite the absence of any kind of plan, it turned out to be an exceptional day. Really, who needs a plan anyway?