Sunday, June 15, 2008

Indy Car museum

There's no Weather-out-the-Window(tm) observation today. This one was so blindingly obvious that we were able to utilize the far less accurate Human-on-the-Porch(tm) forecast. A bit of a role reversal for Brave Sir Hogarth and myself.

Espresso was the order of the day for getting the BCL (Blood Caffeine Level) up to a value suitable for the task of flying to Indianapolis, with the primary goal of that trip being to take a photo tour of the Indy Car Museum at the speedway. The right amount of regular coffee would have provided the same stimulus, of course, but with the additional benefit of not tasting like the mud scraped from the hooves of Juan Valdez's mule. But as they say, there are no potties in RVs, so the additional fluid volume of the Espresso-equivalent quantity of regular coffee would be bound to cause difficulties later. Better to "man up" and get the needed caffeine dose compressed into the size of a Dixie cup now than to be dealing with the yellow "Bladder Capacity High Pressure Warning" light on the instrument panel later, I figured. Figuratively, that is.

The plan was to make an initial stop at Urbana-Grimes to get breakfast for Co-pilot Rick and myself, and a pair of full fuel tanks for Papa as long as we were there. Grimes was showing $4.60/gallon on AirNav (for advisory use only, usually, but accurate in this case) while just about everyplace else was charging well over $5.00. Easy decision, really, since Grimes was only a small deviation north of the straight line between Bolton and our destination airport, Eagle Creek Airpark. We were monitoring unicom while still a dozen miles out and it became increasingly apparent that the question of breakfast might have to be re-visited, the radio being alive with calls of other planes landing there. It's a small restaurant, and they don't handle large crowds well. And there was a schedule to be kept. Still, Papa needed fed even if we could forego ours, so we had no choice but to land and fuel up.

Grimes has those self service pumps that give me so many problems, and today was no different. I couldn't read the little LCD screen to find the button I needed to push to get the pump turned on until I remembered to remove my polarized sunglasses, and then I failed to notice that they now keep a cap on the end of the hose nozzle. The cap must be to keep things out of the nozzle because it did a horrible job at keeping fuel in. All it did when left in place at the end of the nozzle whilst I tried to pump gas was cause 100LL to spray all over everyplace, with the only thing in the immediate area that didn't suffer the ignominy of having fuel showered over it being the inside of the fuel tank itself. And how many times squeezing the pump handle and spraying fuel all over the place did it take for me to figure out what was going on? Well, more than one, and that's all you really need to know. After the second, it's really all just relative increments of dumbass isn't it?

Fuel in the tanks and breakfast having unanimously been voted as "not worth it," off we went to Indy. We climbed to 4,500' and saw about 135 knots across the ground reported to us courtesy of Garmin wizardry. That wasn't so hot, really, since I was running at 2,500 rpm, so I figured we were going the hard way against about a 15 knot wind. It was smooth and mostly cloudless, so there were no ill feelings held against the unhelpful wind. We'd get some of it back on the way home, I figured, and since I'm always in a bigger hurry to get home than I am on the outbound leg, it was all to the good. Money in the bank, as it were.

Eagle Creek Airpark is located due north of Indianapolis's big airport, and sits under a 2,100' shelf of the big airport's controlled airspace. Since we were coming from nearly due east, it seemed to me that it might be prudent to avail myself of their ATC services rather than trying to duck down to 2,000' to slip under the shelf. Not least because there are some very large radio towers that we'd have to fly over, and staying as high above their grasp as possible seemed a prudent course. I called Indy Approach as we crossed over Mt. Comfort airport on the east end of town. The controller didn't have any special plans for me, so we were left to pretty much go about our business of following the yellow line on the GPS straight to Eagle Creek.

The automatic weather observer machine (Weather-Robot-at-the-Airport(tm)) at EYE said that the winds were out of the west at 6 knots, indicating that a landing on runway 21 would be the best fit for the prevailing conditions. When we were still a few miles out, a Cessna 172 reported an impending departure on runway 21, thus validating our decision to use that runway. Still, there was now the fact that we were going to be crossing off of the departure end to make our way across to a left downwind to consider, and I didn't want a Cessna climbing into us.

To avoid that happening, I aimed for the middle of the runway, figuring that there aren't many Cessna 172s that can reach pattern altitude halfway down the runway. Still, it would be a good idea to watch the takeoff. Just the other day at Bolton, a Beechcraft Baron landed on runway 4 while I was just a few miles from flying directly across the departure path on my way to a left crosswind/downwind. I kept an eye on him in what seemed to be an abundance of caution, and good thing I did: without saying a word about it, he made a touch & go rather than a full stop. I was able to scoot out of his way, but it was still a bit of a nasty surprise.

In any event, I thought that I ought to know where that Cessna was and searched the runway for it, and was I ever surprised when I finally found it. I had expected it to be rolling down the runway from left to right, but there it was sitting on the numbers of runway 21, facing right to left! Wait, did I say "21??" Why, that's the runway I'm landing on, except.... "I'M HEADING THE WRONG WAY!" And, should anyone care, I have the video that will prove that that is exactly what I said.

For some reason, I had visualized having to cross the runway to a left downwind for runway 21, but that notion was 180 degrees wrong. Luckily, I had aimed at a midfield point to go over the runway, and that worked out just fine for an immediate conversion to a non-traditional 135 degree downwind pattern entry. Kind of an "I meant to do that" moment, although no one on board the aircraft was fooled. Tough room! The more common 45 degree entry being for renters and students, after all. Us accomplished pilots can handle more degrees with complete aplomb. Right? Patting myself on the back for such a masterful recovery having taken priority over the more uncomfortable (but probably more beneficial) question as to how I had managed to get that backwards in my head in the first place, I thought we were in fine shape for a good arrival.

Yet... there we were on short final, fighting bumps and gusts and a little bit high still, with airspeed maybe still a little too high as well, in the flare, holding, holding, and... the bottom fell out. If the 1960s-era Batman were to have a landing like this, one of those KERSPLAT! screens would surely follow.

The result was an unwanted return to the sky to the tune of six feet if it was an inch, and us being already a third of the way down the runway. Two choices, and two choices only, with no time for a prolonged internal debate: 1) try to save the landing by applying a burst of power to level out the parabolically inevitable firm arrival back on the runway, or 2) go around. Easy decision: go around! And, should anyone care, I also have some video evidence from this event that conclusively proves that the sound made by striking a Van's RV-6 onto a concrete runway sounds exactly like someone forgetting about the live mike in the camcorder and yelling "Damn!" Eerie how much it sounds like that. Truly amazing.

The ensuing second landing was graded as "nearly survivable" which, considering the first, was a stellar improvement. So, we were finally on the ground and looking for means of transport to the speedway. I was hoping for a courtesy car, but had brought along the number for Yellow Cab as a fall back. It looked to be a $20+ trip each way from Eagle Creek to the speedway via cab, though. The courtesy car was denied (planning on using it for three hours or so having been unilaterally decided to be a bit too much of a courtesy to ask, after all) but an alternative to the cab offered: a $25, four hour rental car. I didn't even know things like that were available. That was a much better approach than the cab because not only was it cheaper, it offered far more flexibility and efficient use of time. And it was much, much nicer that a courtesy car. I wish more airports would do that!

We eventually found the track after a few mis-turns on my part, those caused by the effects of the Espresso finally having worn off more than any failure on the part of the navigator. He can hardly be held responsible if I turn right in response to a directive to turn left, after all. Once found, the entrance to the museum is on the south side of the track between turns one and two. There's a tunnel that goes under the short chute on the track, a security shed populated by a guy whose entire job seems to be to wave at you as you pass, and voila, there it is. It's $3 to get in, open 364 days a year.

I got busy taking pictures, and it's a good thing that I chose some of the less populated areas first. After shooting a couple of hundred pictures down in the lower area, I moved into the upper area, which seemed to be the province of the old-guys-with-else-to-do. I was approached twice by red-jacketed museum attendees asking whether I was a professional photographer or taking pictures for myself. It seems that anyone using something other than a cell phone to take pictures these days is something of an oddity. Anyway, I took it as a compliment (in my normal self-serving way) but it would have been better if they'd asked after looking at my pictures instead of my tripod. It would have been far less of a stretch to eke a sincere compliment out of it that way but hey, I take what I can get.

I don't use a flash for indoor places like these because I get much better pictures using a tripod and ambient lighting. But something about using the tripod gets them all worked up. I've had the same thing happen at the Air Force Museum. One of the guys, after again explaining to me that I couldn't take pictures for commercial use, also told me that normally they don't allow the use of tripods, the reason being that people could trip over them. He said didn't mind me using one (for non-commercial use only, mind you) since it wasn't very crowded at the time and the tripping risk was therefore minimal. The third guy to approach me on the topic wasn't nearly as lenient as the first two, though, and asked me to stop forthwith. So that was the end of the picture taking. Eh, my eyes were getting tired anyway. So there!

We made it back to the airport with plenty of time to spare on the four hour rental, but at least I got away with not gassing it up, as I had been directed to do by the officious matron of the FBO desk. We had only put 14 miles on it, and I just wasn't keen on stopping to buy $2.25 worth of gas. By the time we were out to the plane, it was 85 degrees and the plane had absorbed every degree of it. It was one of those days in the RV where you have to be very careful about what you touch, or about what you allow to touch you. One wrong move with a seatbelt harness tab, for example, and you'll be trying to find a way to explain that hickey on your neck at home.

Taking a look at the chart, and considering that prevailing traffic was now using the runway pointed to the north east (they call it "3" there, not "21"), it looked like we could depart straight out and stay below the 2,100' shelf for a few miles. That would mean that I wouldn't have to mess around with calling clearance delivery and working with the approach controllers on the way out. I had to make sure to keep reminding myself to stay at 2,000', though. Or would I? As it turns out, we were well clear of the shelf boundaries before Papa, full of gas and lethargic in the mid-afternoon heat, was able to climb himself up that high. We slogged up to 5,500' and settled in for the hour long, slightly bumpy ride home. We had the extra 15 knots I had hoped for, so we had a good 165 knots on the GPS at 2,400 rpm.

But... it's an unwritten law that if there are going to be any clouds at all on the way home, they will be at your chosen altitude. Up to the even smoother air, and maybe a couple of more knots to boot? Or down into the hot, bumpy air under the clouds, and more than likely a longer ride? Easy choice: Angels seven-point-five it is. That was high enough to take us completely over Dayton International instead of the circumnavigation that would have been required at the lower altitude, too. And, it was high enough that I could satisfy my flying ego by starting our descent into Bolton just as we passed over Springfield Municipal, nearly fifty miles away from Columbus.

Bolton was landing 22, and it was so-so, with a right side crosswind at eight knots complicating matters to a minor yet discernible degree. Bugs to remove, canopy to clean, and a couple of cold MGDs to dispatch: the usual routine. And so, so gratifying!

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