Thursday, July 31, 2008

I'll level with you...

Think back to the French Lick trip. We climbed and climbed and climbed until we reached 11,500' in order to get over the clouds for the flight back. If you remember, we did it in increments of 2,000' because we could not tell whether we were above the cloud tops yet or not. What was needed was a way to determine whether we were above or below the clouds in front of us. I remembered seeing a sight level thingy available from Sporty's years ago, but back then I had an underpowered airplane and my only real choice was to stay below, at least for the short trips.

Well, last week while flying down to Tennessee with Ted, we had occasion to ask the very same question: where are those clouds in relation to our current altitude? Well, Ted had an answer for that. He reached into his center console and retrieved a sight level that instantly made the determination that our altitude was just fine, and no more time or gas would need to be expended to get over them. I decided right then and there that I would not rest until such time as I had a gauge like that to carry in Papa.

Being as I am both cheap and lazy, I decided (without even looking) that Sporty's would be too expensive. Those Saturday hot dogs are really free, after all. So I wanted a deal, and deals are available at Oshkosh. Which, well, was a problem in that I would not be going. This is where the lazy comes in. Co-pilot Rick was going to Oshkosh, and I managed to catch him on his cell phone between traffic tie-ups on his way up there to ask that he keep his eyes open for something similar. Upon his report that such was not available at OSH, I decided to let Google do the work.

I found the Stanley Sighted Level easily enough:

But... almost $23 at, plus shipping. Unless I could find something I wanted for $2.01 to get over the $25 free shipping hump, anyway. But I've learned that free shipping from Amazon means that items are sent strapped to the back of a arthritic, paraplegic mule, or so it would seem. Not that there's any hurry to get this thing, mind you, but it rankles nonetheless.

Well, I had occasion to be in Home Depot today, and decided to see if they might have one of these gadgets on the shelf. They didn't. They had two! Both, however, were taped into their packaging in the manner of a returned item, and the price was $29.96. So, the dilemma. Buy it for more than I could get it for from Amazon and be done with it? Again, I'm not in any hurry, so the extra $7 or so would be hard to justify, but... well, a bird in the hand, right? And they looked like they had been returned and I'm generally reluctant to buy returned goods. But... it's just a level - what could go wrong with such a simple device??

I decided just to buy the darn thing and be done with it. I went to the checkout and was pleasantly surprised to see $10.98 come up as the price. Ah, open package discount!! So, as long as the thing wasn't returned from a crash site on the side of a mountain caused by an inaccuracy in the level, all should be well.

Oh, and the one Sporty's sells? $19.95 plus tax and shipping.

Co-pilot Egg promoted to Capt. Egg?

Well, yes, but only temporarily and only in the nautical sense:

We were visiting family in Vermilion, OH, and said family are of a nautical bent. They seem to feel about boats the same way that I've often stated that I feel about airplanes: you need at least two, but no more than five to meet all of your boating/flying needs/desires. They have two: a big Hatteras cruiser, and a slightly smaller Jupiter "fun" boat. They were gracious enough to take us out onto Lake Erie in the fun boat for some tubing (powered by twin Mercurys producing 550 horsepower at 30 gallons per hour!!). Well, to be precise Egg did the tubing, I did the photography/videography and piloted the boat for a little while. And, as you can see above, Co-pilot Egg also wore the Captain's hat for awhile. I'm not sure which she enjoyed more, but you can see that she had a pretty good time:

Note that the 'Thumbs Down' is not a rating of the ride, it is actually her way of communicating to the boat owner that she felt somewhat ignored when she gestured for the boat to be slowed down a wee bit, a request typically made by raising a downward pointed thumb. The smile belies the stridency of her complaint, though. I think she was bluffing.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Dave and Ted's Most Excellent Aerial Adventure

The odds against having yet another wonderful flying weather day while on vay-cay must be infanttestically infinitessomolly really, really small, but there was no denying the Weather-out-the-Window(tm) reading: Charlie Foxtrot Bravo. CFB. Clear as a Frikking Bell. And not only was it a day off of work, but it was a day that had a weather-dependent, pre-planned trip on the line. What are the odds?? But... some over-achieving fly must always become mired in the ointment, right? The first stop on the trip was fogged in.

The plan was a quick half hour hop to Portsmouth where we would rendezvous with Ted, builder and pilot of a very nicely equipped RV-9A. From Portsmouth, we would launch south in Ted's plane in the general direction of Gatlinburg, TN. Well, not the general direction, actually. We would be headed in the ultra-precise direction of Gatlinburg, courtesy of the GPS and autopilot Ted has installed in his plane. Me, I'm happy to be able to hit the broad side of a state as wide as Tennessee, but Ted prefers the laser precision of an electronically enhanced navigation system. Me, jealous?? Surely you jest! Those grapes are just sour, that's all. Yeah, that's it. The grapes are sour and I wouldn't want them anyway. I'm not fooling anyone, am I? Ok, I admit it: he has a very sweet panel, and I had to be very careful not to short anything out as I salivated over it. To see the effect of the GPS-driven autopilot, note the preternaturally straight line of the outbound leg:

The return leg has a couple of turns in it - those were the occasions when we had to go around clouds that were too tall to go over.

But before all of that, I first had to get to Portsmouth, and the automated Weather-out-the-Window(tm) robot there was reporting 1/4 mile visibility in fog and 100' ceilings. When even the birds are walking, it's prudent to follow suit. After calling the robot every ten minutes for an hour I started to get a little antsy to get going and headed to the airport where I would consult the robot one more time, and if it was still foggy I would fly to a clear airport just a few miles from Portsmouth. I called Ted and told him my plan, but it turns out that a pair of human eyes on the ground are more discerning that a robot. Ted reported that half of the 5000' runway was clear, and that was more than enough for me.

The skies over Bolton were faultlessly clear, and the air was as smooth as a Skyy vodka martini. There was very little haze, and barely a whisper of wind. In short, it was exactly the kind of weather that you wish you could bottle, package, freeze, or in some other way preserve. But... you can't preserve it, so you use it while it's fresh. Off we went, headed in the approximate direction of Portsmouth. Twenty-five minutes later, we were just a few miles north of the airport and could see the entire length of the runway. The clouds that had caused the earlier fog had drifted off just to the south of the airport. I captured a few brief seconds of the view we had of the runway while just a mile north as we were entering the landing pattern, as you can see at the tail end of the video:

In addition to all of the complex operational/navigational gadgetry, Ted's plane also has 10 more horsepower and a lot more wing than mine, so he would be doing the flying for the high altitude, long distance phase of the trip. I parked Papa and climbed into the right seat of Ted's plane. We started up, and were soon climbing away from the Portsmouth runway. At about 300' altitude, Ted finished the fandango his fingers had been dancing on the collection of mysterious buttons on his panel and leaned back to enjoy the ride, saying "My work is done." The extra power and increased lifting surface of the longer wing made short work of the climb to 8,500', and we were soon throttled back and settled into our cruise. The fuel flow meter was indicating a frugal 6-some gallons per hour while the GPS and associated electronic gadgetry informed us of our 170 mph ground speed. It even told us that we were achieving 20+ miles per gallon, an efficiency that I would be hard pressed to achieve in my Subaru!

The weather remained clear for almost the entire ride to Gatlinburg, although there were some nice puffy clouds around as we got closer to Tennessee. Both Kentucky and Tennessee provided mile after mile of beautiful scenery to watch flow by under the wings, but before long we were descending into Gatlinburg:

We borrowed the courtesy car for a quick trip down the road for lunch. The traffic was horrible, and any thoughts that I had been harboring about visiting for a more extended stay were quickly eradicated. Touristy and crowded: not the place for me. We found a little Mexican restaurant where I ordered a chicken quesadilla, sans black beans out of deference to my passenger/guest status. Beans and unpressurized airplanes can be a dangerous mix.

It was a nice lunch, but the courtesy of the courtesy car was somewhat Cinderellaesque: be back in an hour or it turns into a pumpkin. The distant relationship between beggars and choosers should be maintained, of course. As with the proverbial Gift Horse, one should most studiously avoid looking into its mouth. Still, the restriction could have been more artfully communicated. Somewhat gruff, it was. But bearable: I was hungry.

Lunch done, and on to the next stop. I've been wanting to make a trip to Knoxville, and as it is not very far at all from Gatlinburg, Ted graciously offered to make a landing there so that I could get a feel for the airport. It's a nice looking place, but fairly busy:

Scenic area too:

From there we headed south into the full-size Smokey Mountains. I took pictures while Ted flew the plane:

The destination for this leg was Jackson County, North Carolina. Jackson County airport was built using the standard methodology for mountainous areas: find an unsuspecting mountain, chop its top off, and build a runway. It's odd to me that they chop off the top of the mountain but then do a pretty lame job of leveling it. Ted was faced with a slightly downwind landing onto a downward sloping runway. It was the first time all day that I was happy to be riding, not flying! It was a beautiful airport, though. It was both quiet and scenic, two traits that were conspicuously missing from Gatlinburg:

Ted's plane has a distinctive paint scheme that requires him to either fly to the south or to fly over central Ohio without stopping until he gets to Michigan:

Maize and Blue being somewhat... unwelcome in Columbus, home of THE Ohio State Buckeyes.

In addition to various slopes on the runway, mountaintop airports are also apparently susceptible to situations arising from part of the mountain deciding to move elsewhere:

The answer to the dilemma of having a few hundred feet of runway fall down the mountain was pretty simple: they just re-painted the runway a few hundred feet shorter. Note to pilots landing on runway 15 at Jackson Co.: DON'T LAND LONG!

If you ascribe to my long held theory that the more expensive the golf course, the harder it is to play (which seems to me to be exactly backwards), you will agree with me that it must cost a small fortune to play here:

From there we headed back to Portsmouth. It had been a long day of flying, and I was a little concerned that I would be reluctant to climb back into Papa for the half hour flight back to Bolton, but such proved not to be the case. It was great to ride along with Ted, but it's even greater to be the guy doing the flying. The weather was still terrific and it was an enjoyable trip. And, to top it all off, it was another greaser of a landing!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Breakfast with Brandon, Kayaking with Co-pilot Egg

We had a series of big thunder-rippers come through over night. One after the other, they pounded their way through, so loud and persistent that Brave Sir Hogarth was beside himself with the urge to wake us up and get us all down into the fallout shelter. Informed that we don't have a fallout shelter, he gave me that look that can only mean "What?? Why the hell not??? What are those thumbs you guys are so proud of good for if you don't use them to build a fallout shelter?" I returned his disparaging glare with a scowl that I hoped would mean "Cower if you must, my Brave Knight, but let us at least try to get some sleep." Apparently, it didn't. If the results are to be the judge, it meant "come up with a new plan, and wake me when you have it figured out."

Fifteen minutes later, he woke me up with a look that said "Lifeboats! Everyone to the lifeboats!! What??? We don't have those either??"

On the plus side, the back end of a ripping storm like that is often at least one nice day of blue sky and clear air. Lucky for me, that was the case. The morning Weather-out-the-Window(tm) forecast was beautilicious. A second opinion from the national weather service confirmed it: FLY!

But... I had promised the Co-pilot Egg that we would go kayaking. What to do, what to do. Quite the dilemma, and even Sir Hogarth the Answer Dog couldn't offer a solution. Mostly because he was still somewhat irate about our inadequate storm preparations, I suspect, and not really in the mood to help me out. Not so much couldn't, but wouldn't. The Egg had had a member of the Junior Varsity All-Girl Giggling Club over for a sleepover, though, and they seldom emerge from her quarters before the noon lunch whistle, so I had at least the morning. Breakfast! In Lima! A stellar idea! So stellar, in fact, that it had already been planned. 'Twas just a matter of notifying Occasional Blog Commenter Brandon of my departure time.

I grabbed the camcorder on the way out thinking that I might as well make a movie of the little trip. Which, well, I did, but man is it boring! That's not to say that it wasn't a fun flight; the weather was just terrific for flying. It's not even that there was nothing interesting to see. I saw a round barn (for some reason, I think those are sooo cool!), and I flew over the Honda test track. The test track is incredible. I grabbed a couple of pictures from Google map.

This one shows the immensity of the oval track if you compare the one mile legend to the length of the straights:

This one shows the various testing conditions they have besides the long haul of the oval:

I think the only road condition they can't test here is the "Inattentive Soccer Mom with a Van Full of Screaming Kids and an Ear Plastered to her Cell Phone" that is so nearly ubiquitous on our local highways. Oh, and they might not have the "Guy With a Cell Phone in One Hand, a Cigarette in the Other Hand, and a Beer in his Third Hand." We get a lot of those, too.

Lima isn't renowned as The Breakfast Capital of the World for nothing. As it turns out, Lima isn't renowned as The Breakfast Capital of the World at all. Nothing more exotic than two Bob Evans's and a Panera Bread. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Bob's is where we eat breakfast in the big city too. Throwing caution to the wind in the manner only a homeowner who has failed to provide a fallout shelter or collection of lifeboats can do, I ordered the Border Scramble Breakfast Burrito, a concoction of tummy-roiling ingredients (Beans? BEANS?? Before flying???) guaranteed to make their presence felt on the return trip. Short trip, though, and the odds, while not being in my favor, were nonetheless tolerable. Besides which, I LOVE breakfast burritos!

After the kind of conversation two pilots are bound to have (No, not politics. Flying!) and a nice breakfast, I had to get back home for the kayaking. The skies were still pilot-friendly, not having stirred themselves up with bumps and haze and all of that other stuff they like to do on hot summer afternoons. A nice, greasy landing back at Bolton finished off a nice morning flight.

I arrived back at the house to find the two members of the Giggling Club just sitting down to breakfast. Very good timing on my part! The Egg and I would be on the river by 1:00 at that rate. Kayaking being similar to flying when it comes to tight quarters having no "rest" facilities, I downloaded the morning caffeine intake to prepare for a few hours stuck in a boat. Flying clothes are not kayaking clothes, so preparations along those lines were accomplished as well. Soon enough, we were on the way to the canoe livery.

Egg, herself having no kayak of her own, would require a rental. That being the case, I too would be in a rental. I thought ahead far enough to bring my own paddle, though, thinking that the kind of equipment available for a $20 rental was, while adequate, unlikely to be of the high quality I have become accustomed to. After all, they rent these things out to people that have never used a kayak before, and having seen some of the more stellar members of their target market out on the river, I can certainly understand why they have to use the most robust and lowest cost equipment available.

But... spoiled by good equipment, I am! And I was correct about the quality of the equipment: the kayaks were Old Town Otters, a very low cost kayak that I suspect is made out of recycled Rubbermaid trash cans, and a solid plastic paddle that weighed almost twice as much as mine and was only half the length too. "Sucks to be the Egg," I thought, but it wasn't more than a half mile down the river before I was swapping my carbon fiber paddle for her plastic abomination. It was heavy and unwieldy, and she was under much better control with the better paddle. She got my gloves too, about a mile later. She was gripping the paddle overly tight and giving herself blisters. I know that, having done it myself. Which prompted the purchase of the gloves in the first place, of course.

The shorter kayak (less than 10' as compared to the 17' Shearwater) turned much easier, but I'm not sure if that was a blessing or a curse. It took the Egg no more than a mile or so to get comfortable with controlling her boat under normal conditions, but she found (as did I, on one memorable occasion) that it was easy to come out of a faster piece of the river and "spin out." These boats simply don't track straight at all.

The canoe livery offers an Upper Trip and a Lower Trip. The trips are measured from the location of the livery, with the livery being in the middle. For the Upper Trip, they put you in a van and carry you six miles up river to start, and you pull in at the livery after working your way back down river. This is the trip I take in my boat since both the drop-off and destination are publicly accessible. Since I've made that trip a couple of times now, we opted for the Lower Trip. I also thought it might be the easier of the two since the livery turns hundreds of first-timers loose on it daily, and one would think that liability would enter into the equation.

Apparently they are counting on the strength of the liability waiver they required us to sign, because I found the Lower Trip to be a lot more challenging than the Upper. There are more shallow areas, and shallow areas can present either or both of fast water or water so shallow that you get stuck on the rocks. The other complication to arise was having a second kayak to coordinate with. After bouncing off of each other enough times, the Egg and I figured out that we needed to keep a little space between our boats, but it remained the case that we would periodically get in each others way as we negotiated some of the faster parts of the river. It was not uncommon to be barreling along just fine only to be blocked by a spin out from the leading kayak.

I also learned not to follow the lead of a boat that was 45 pounds lighter than mine. There was one area that the Egg made it through by scraping over the rocks, but I got solidly stuck. I had to get out of the boat and drag it to deeper water. That was better than what happened a little later, though: I ran into a big, submerged rock going full speed. Remember that these boats are plastic? Well, the big stone hit the bottom of the boat in just the right spot to flex the plastic and impart at least a portion of the force of the impact into, well, my stones, if you catch my drift. Ouch!

By the time we were halfway down the river, Egg was controlling her boat well enough that she could get through fast, tight areas unscathed while I, the supposedly more experienced kayaker, ran into obstructions. I lead the way through one area where I was about to run right into the trunk and roots of a fallen tree and had to stuff the paddle into the root structure to push myself away. The roots and dirt acted like the proverbial Tar Baby (I apologize if that term, like many others, is now politically forbidden to use, but I can't think of another simile that works as well) in that once the paddle went in, I had a helluva time pulling it back out. I ended up with my right arm covered in dirt, mud, and various flakes of root detritus. Much to the delight of the Egg, who shuffled on through the same spot completely unscathed. The secret to her success must have been the paddle, I figure. In fact, I'm sure that was it!

There weren't many people on the river, and those that were we caught up with and passed. Once you get out in front of the others, your chances of seeing wild life are greatly increased. We saw a couple of turtles slipping into the water, and at one point we got as close to a blue heron as I've ever been able to get. All of that quiet nature stuff is great, but it only makes the return to "civilization" even more stark.

This time, we were greeted at the exit point by a group of 25 noisy pre-teen kids on an outing from their day care. They were quite busy throwing rocks into the river, and completely blocking the exit point with their canoes. They were attended by a handful of chaperones that clearly had no idea that their function was to ride herd on the children under their charge. Typical of more and more people these days, they were completely oblivious to their (in)actions, and couldn't be bothered to move their boats a few feet out of the way of others that may be wanting to get off of the river.

Egg had a good time, and I think she would kayak again, but I'm not keen on renting again. We waited nearly half an hour to be picked up by the livery folks, the boats floated, but really weren't good kayaks, and by the time you spend $40 to rent every time you want to go, you're not too far from what it would cost to pick up a used boat on Craigs List.

And, having failed to provide a Weather-out-the-Window(tm) picture from the glorious morning, here is an evening photo:

Monday, July 21, 2008

(S)he slats seats by the sea shore

Yeah, say that five times fast!

On vay-cay this week, so mornings are mine. A trip to Lowes, so much more sedate on a Monday morning than it is on weekends, brought home 10 1x2s. Typical of my luck, in a nearly completely empty store I end up being in the way of a wheelchair bound fella that just happened to need access to the exact same pile of wood. It's just like when I turn around in someone's driveway: the homeowner invariably comes down the road and wants to pull into his driveway, and there I am. I swear, it's nearly every single time! Well, I was 8 boards through my 10 board selection process and not keen on giving way, so I rushed through the last two and paid for my haste later, as we'll see.

The slats are cut from those same 1x2s, and any kind of bend (lengthwise horizontally, lengthwise vertically, or both) is going to translate into a shoddy looking seat. So does my innate ability to cut the same intended length to an ultra-imprecise 1/4" tolerance, but that's different somehow. You know how it is: I screw up, fine. I paid for the privilege. The wood is bent from the get-go? Well, that's an alternatively hued equine, is it not? I was out of luck right out of the gate. Never had a chance. Well, that's the true cost of buying cheap wood, a practice I will continue until such time as I gain sufficient competence and confidence to use the pricier stuff.

With the slats cut, it's glue & screw time. Having learned the lesson of pre-drilling the holes, it went much more smoothly than before. The gallon jug (the vinegar today, as suited my mood) made a reappearance, this time holding the bottom edge of the first slat in place while I aligned and drilled the first hole. The plans call for a 1/2" space between each slat, and conveniently enough I had cut out a couple of 1/2" spaces to hold the front edge of the seat frame flush while I coerced it into permanently holding shape:

As I proceeded to add more slats, it became more obvious that a lot of the wood was inconveniently bent. Sometimes I could reduce the gap between slats with the simple expedient of reorienting the newest board, but that would only work now and then. One board was so bent that I just tossed it to the scrap pile. You might be able to see the gap between the slats in this picture, or it might be that I'm just too sensitive to it:

With all of the slats in place except the ninth, which goes in after the back piece is mounted, I gave it a test sit:

A little bendy, isn't it? Maybe that comes from using cheap pine too.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

The Harbor Freight Tax

Family obligations are keeping me and Papa more or less grounded for the entire weekend, but I'm on vacation all week so I think we'll get a trip in soon. I might even get a short hop today in support of distracting a neighbor while the arrangements for is surprise birthday party are finalized. It should be quite a surprise to land at Bolton after his ride and find his 40th birthday being celebrated at JP's BBQ, right there on the airport. Well, it will be a surprise if he doesn't suddenly discover this blog in the next hour.

Later: It was a nice ride, but hot (96F), bumpy, and windy (11G18, 270 degrees) enough to make the landings look ham-fisted and clumsy. Even the takeoff from Bolton had a little moment when we were just off the runway and the gusting wind... stopped gusting. The instant loss of airspeed caused a little dip that almost took us back to the runway. Nothing dangerous - it's more of a point of pride to only touch the ground with the airplane when you're actually trying to. Anything else is simply bad form.

The passenger wasn't expected at his surprise party until 1:30, so we had an hour to kill. As I mentioned, it was hot and bumpy, so I didn't want to spend the full hour futilely burning gas and getting him ever more queasy, so I mentioned to him that I hope to take a trip this week and ought to stop at MadCo to gas up before the prices could get any higher. Dragging my feet through the refueling which for once (untimely, that) didn't include waiting behind a bunch of other planes. Nope, when you want to kill time, everything invariably goes quickly. Commits suicide of its own volition, it does. Damned inconvenient. But I was able to fuddle around reading the directions on the self serve pump, and lamenting just how slow the gas pumps are.

In any event, we hit the pattern back at Bolton at 1:25, bounced our way into a poorer-than-average landing, and pulled up on the ramp. Which, of course, was not where we had departed from. I explained it off as my being out of beer in the hangar and thus having the need to get something to drink from JP's. And that he'd be hot waiting in the plane, so he ought go with. And what with his girlfriend and kids having promised to meet him upon his return anyway, JP's was the most accessible place on the field, and although they weren't in sight, they were bound to show up soon. And being this hot, maybe they're waiting over in the shade of the party barn, and no search would be complete without looking there. Which, well, he fell for like the proverbial 2000 lbs. of brick. "Surprise!!" shouted the crowd.

I turned back to him, and completely deadpan said, "Oh, here they are."

Mission complete.

With that done, it was back to the porch swing project:

Not that it upsets me all that much, but it never fails that any new project will eventually be the direct cause of a trip to Harbor Freight for to procure some exotic new tool for which I had never before felt ample need to buy. In the case of the porch swing, the tool in question was a right angle drill guide. A princely sum of $17.99 for it, thus moving me incrementally closer to the ever-increasing the risk that is incumbent with any type of project: it will end up costing more to build than to simply buy.

'Tis a nifty tool, though, and of the type that foreshadows those inevitable "Wow, I'm glad I had that!" moments that will arise in projects still well over the horizon:

The need for a tool whose entire reason d'etre is to ensure the drilling of a completely straight hole is, in this case, the holes that will be drilled vertically through the 2x6 seat sides in to pass the supporting swing ropes through. Drilling a 5/8" diameter hole the long way through a 2x6 is hard enough to do in and of itself, but keeping it vertically aligned the whole way adds even further complexity to the task. One would not want the drill to pierce the side of the board, after all. Out the bottom and out of sight is the goal here.

It worked pretty well, although the narrowness of the board combined with the flexibility inherent in a cheap plastic tool bit cause it to wander around a bit. Get it? A "bit?" Drill bit? Get it?? Hmm, tough room. Better keep my day job!

It worked almost perfectly, but there was one little problem: I need to drill a 5 1/2" hole, but the guide (and the bit, for that matter) reached their limits at about 5 3/8". I had to disassemble the entire apparatus and flip the woodwork over to finish the holes from the opposite side. Fortunately, the bit had just enough length to at least poke a guide hole in the bottom for me to follow.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The seat frame

It sure looked easy enough. Downhill all the way after those pesky curved cuts were done. Putting the seat frame together looked to be simply a matter of building a rectangle.

I measured and marked where the 2 2x4s would go in relation to the side pieces that I made last night and laid it all out on the floor. The parts are glued and screwed together: Elmers wood glue and 2.5" #10 wood screws. 2.5" is a long way to go through pine, but screwing one into a test piece showed that it could be done. I thought it would be a good idea to countersink the outside surface, though, so the tops of the screws would be flush with the sides:

Isn't the impressive? I'll bet you're thinking that those screws went right on in and seated themselves all nice and flush and... What? You don't think that? Well, you're right:

Stripped out and stuck. Twice! I had to turn them back out with a pair of pliers, drill the hole all the way down, then put in new screws. And it would have worked too, except for one thing: the top screw went right on down into the hole easy as could be and... stuck. Stuck right in the same place as before. Now, I'd like to be able to tell you that it had run into a solid, impermeable pine knot and that no one could have foreseen such a blameless and unpredictable event. But I can't. What I had done is picked up the same stripped out screw that I removed with the pliers only minutes before and ran it right back down in there. It never had a chance. And it had to come right back out, didn't it?

Well, I wasn't really in the mood to pull it back out again right away. I had earned a break, even if it had been earned through an example of abject boobery. Work is work, productive or not. So, a break. So, do you remember that part where I said the joints a screwed and glued? Well, I remembered the screwed part, but not the glued part. I thought it was hard getting that screw out the first time; after that glue set up, it was even harder to get that thing back out of there, not least because the head of the thing was getting pretty mangled.

That screw sitting on the top of the side rail? Oh, look very closely at its head. Once I got the mangled screw out for the second time, I made sure to go to the bench and get a replacement. I put the new one in the hole and hit it with the drill: nothing. Of all the times to pick a bad screw out of a brand new box of screws, it had to be on this one damn painful hole.

Once I finally got a screw into that hole, I proceeded to drill the other joints:

You may be asking yourself what the purpose of those gallon jugs of fluid perched on the corners of the frame is, and I have an answer: they're holding the corners down. I'm using cheap wood again, and at least one of the 2x4s is warped enough that it caused a huge twist in the frame. Those jugs are what I had handy, but they were by no means the optimal tool to use. They kept falling off at the most inopportune times!

Once it was all screwed together, though, it flattened out nicely:

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Taking another swing at it

I picked up the borrowed bandsaw from Co-pilot Rick last night, and tonight I used it to re-cut the part that I messed up so badly with the jigsaw. The top of the ruined board was actually still usable as a template for marking the cut line on the new board, so that only took a matter of moments to trace, and it was off to the saw:

Ahhhh, that's better:

I went ahead and cut the second piece, and they match fairly well:

If you get right up close, you can see where they don't exactly match:

Ok, who's got a belt sander??

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Had it been me rather than Noah...

... we'd have no animals today. There's no way I could have built that ark.

The weather yesterday was thunderstorm after thunderstorm after thunderstorm, and as is my wont, I got to thinking about projects. After a brutally long Google hunt, I arrived at this:

It has everything I look for in a project: useful, inexpensive, and at least at a cursory glance, easy enough for even me to build:

How hard could it be? There's only one curved part, after all. Well, two, but they're identical to each other. What could go wrong there? Oh... yeah. They could end up with one inch gaps between them that would guarantee that it would never float. No, that's the canoe project that I'm thinking of. This should be much simpler.

This morning started out cloudy and muggy, and even though it was supposed to clear up at around 3pm, I knew that I had an raft load of chores that I've been putting off. If there was to be any flying at all, it would be a short ride in the cool of the evening. So off to Lowes, hopefully before the normal Sunday crowd.

I decided not to buy the entire load of wood for two reasons, the first being that there is only so much lumber you can carry in a Subaru Forester. The second was, of course, that I didn't want to end up with a bunch of wood if I couldn't get that curved piece right. The list calls for a single 2 x 6 x 10 pine board, but I can't fit a 10' length in the Subie. Lowes had an 8' length, though, so I bought two. I also went ahead and got a couple of 2 x 4s too, since the step after cutting the curved parts is to join them together with 2 x 4s.

As I was checking out, the cashier dude asked me if I was building a small porch swing. I hate to admit it, but I was simply astonished that he could figure that out based on a purchase of four innocuous planks, right up until I realized that I was holding the plans. Duh. The boards fit (barely) into Red Sue and we made an uneventful trip back home, where I got the chores out of the way. With that done, it was time to get to work.

The curved line that needs to be cut in the 2 x 6s is shaped the same way as was done on the canoe: they give you measurements to a couple of points and you use something flexible to make and trace the curve. The measurements are pretty straightforward, but I didn't have enough hands to hold the PVC pipe in place while tracing the line:

The curves look OK to me:

Time to cut:

At this very moment, I have two conflicting emotions: a devout hatred of jigsaws, matched only by my burning desire for a band saw. This cut, as a matter of understatement, did not go well:

Fortunately, I have plenty more 2 x 6 and can try again.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Herding electrons

I paid Papa a rare mid-week visit this afternoon to address a couple of annoying little quirks he's been exhibiting. First, Co-pilot Rick has been complaining that he's not getting any sound through his headsets, and thus can't hear me talking. Now, most people would consider that a feature, but broken is broken and cannot be tolerated.

I went out to the hangar prepared to pull the jacks out of the panel to look for wiring problems or possibly a trapped insect, but decided to approach this particular job in stages. First stage: clean the jacks on the headset. Brasso and elbow grease took a lot of black junk off of them, and now they're putry and shiny. I plugged them in and listened to static on the radio for a few minutes - solid noise. Problem solved? Well, maybe. Maybe not. I really won't know until the next time he flies with me.

The other problem was with the oil pressure gauge. It's been reading low (usually over vast expanses of water or solid-looking trees), but a few taps on the gauge would run it up to red line. Absent the fact that an oil pump is an unbelievably simple piece of machinery (basically it's just two meshed gears spinning and forcing the oil to flow around them) and would not typically fail all at once, one must consider that tapping on the face of the gauge would be very unlikely to even be noticed by the oil pump, much less responded to.

I had a similar problem with the fuel pressure gauge a couple of years ago and ran through a new gauge and transducer before tracing the problem down to a loose ground wire. With that in mind, I have on a couple of occasions reached behind the panel to tighten up the two wires plugged into the back of the gauge. But today was different: I broke out an actual tool! I took an inspection mirror out of the tool box and actually looked at the back of the gauge where, to my surprise, I learned that there are three more wires that I hadn't known about. The two wires I had been securely pressing onto the gauge had nothing to do with the pressure indication at all; they are for the night light. Sigh.

That was good in a way, though, as it still left open the possibility of a zero dollar fix. Two of the wires had red terminals (indication positive polarity, I guessed) and the third was blue. I wiggled the blue terminal and it was tight enough on the spade, but both of the wires pressed into it fell right out. Ok, now that's a clue! I pulled the terminal off and inspection showed that it hadn't been fully crimped. Another tool fixed that, and the terminal was pushed back onto the gauge. Fixed? Don't know. It should be interesting next time I fly!

Monday, July 07, 2008

French Lick: Not what it sounds like!

My categorization of Saturday's weather as 'icky' received a challenge, but I'm sticking by it. The early forecast was for 3,000' ceilings all day, and with an accompanying promise for a level of humidity that would make a humidor proud, I figured any flying would have to be below the clouds and down in the sauna. It looked fine from the ground, though, so I took the opportunity to get a few chores done. I've been waiting for a couple of rain free days to get my crop dusting done (which sounds more fun that it is, although I do get a small pecuniary rush every time I spray my yard for weeds using a $20 gallon of concentrate rather that paying $160 to Scotts Lawn) and I've been back burner-ing the task of sanding the rusty spots off of the heavy steel cellar doors (I call them the Auntie Emm doors) and spreading on a coat of Rustoleum. Those completed, I considered pressing on with the miserable job of sweeping the insect detritus out of the stairwell covered by the Auntie Emm doors, but the natural extension of that would be to sweep up the even larger Blue Heron Boatworks, and the very thought of that brought on an insurmountable malaise.

Sunday's forecast was, well, more of the same. Except for an improvement in the ceiling, the promise being for no worse that 4,500' all day. 85/feels-like-85 on the temp/humidity discomfort scale, though, so the desired destination would/should be air conditioned. As I've been investigating opportunities in the next state over recently, I thought that it might be time to finally visit French Lick, Indiana. The name alone is intriguing, isn't it? Why, those wacky French and their tongues - it could mean anything! Google(the fun wrecker) cleared that up, though:

There are a number of colorful stories concerning the origin of the town’s name but the most widely-accepted theory came from its early settlers. French Lick got its name from the early French settlers and the “mineral licks.”

French traders came to the area and discovered the mineral springs bubbling from the ground in the vicinity of what is now French Lick. At the same time, they discovered the abundance of wildlife that flocked to them to lick the mineral deposits left on the ground and rocks.

Google, however, failed to turn up any of the alleged "colorful stories," but that may be because I keep the Google Safe Search setting turned on. But I did find out that Larry Bird was born there, so yet one more completely useless piece of trivia makes it to my blog. Now, I think that we can all agree that going to visit the birthplace of Larry Bird would be necessary and sufficient reason all by its lonesome to visit French Lick, but wait(!!), there's more!

The waters (or the name - I can't be sure) were a huge draw in the late nineteenth century, which was prior to the common importation of Evian ('Naive' spelled backwards - coincidence or in-your-face irony: you be the judge) to fill the populace's need for expensive water:

As many as 14 Pullman train cars a day pulled into town, traveling mainly down the Monon and Southern Railway systems. In 1907 a limestone passenger station was built and in 1929 a brick freighter station constructed to handle the influx of tourists, who didn’t only come to drink the water.

At the turn of the twentieth century, tourists particularly came for the casino gambling, although it was illegal. Until 1949, Taggart (National Democratic Committee Chairman Thomas Taggart - no comment) had all the right political connections to avoid prosecution and as a result thousands of dollars were dropped at gambling halls like the Elite Club and the Brown.

So, short story made long, there's some interesting history there. Still, there's history everywhere, so why fly to French Lick? Well, gambling is legal in Indiana now (as opposed to Ohio, where the state government holds firm rein on their gambling monopoly with the state lottery, while concurrently banning any other type of gambling because of their deeply held ethics. Snort.) and some of the old hotel/casinos have been revitalized. Specifically, the French Lick Hotel and Casino, and the West Baden Springs Hotel. The infusion of gambling dollars has allowed them to restore those old buildings to their original glory, and to install air conditioning.

All of which only matters if one can get to the hotel from the airport. It's the classic "last few miles" quandary that every pilot deals with eventually. As luck (and the typical high-end service that accompanies gambling establishments) would have it, the French Lick Hotel is well aware of two things: high rollers often have airplanes, and those flying in need transport to the hotel. The French Lick airport, despite being way out in the middle of nowhere and having a very small FBO, has a 5,500' runway. It's no coincidence that 5,500' is long enough to handle almost all business/luxury jets. Transportation reportedly would not be an issue.

With a destination in mind, the next step was to consult Sunday's Weather-out-the-Window(tm) forecast. Loyal readers know that I've been breaking in a new camcorder, and the idea struck me that my fancy new camcorder also acts as a still camera, albeit not to the high quality of my DSLR Olympus. But sometimes good enough is good enough, and only having to lug around one small camera versus the camcorder/Olympus combo-kit sounded like an idea worth investigating. I used the still camera function camcorder for this Weather-out-the-Window(tm):

Yep, looks like good enough is good enough.

Chief Videographer & Co-pilot Rick shares my belief in getting an early start, particularly on days that promise to provide hot, muggy, and bumpy flying conditions. We had agreed to a 0900 meeting at the airport gate, with takeoff scheduled for 0910. I'm up far earlier than that, so there was time for a shower (might as well at least start off smelling good, no matter what the end of the day brought) and a cup of "long-trip-with-no-potty" Espresso. Hard lessons learned and retained being the impetus for the latter, as you know. I got to the airport and did the preflight inspection, and the co-pilot arrived right on time. The weather was still very nice, clear skies and no wind to speak of promising to provide at least a nice morning flight. Mornings like that have a feeling, though, that foreshadows what the afternoon will bring.

Papa had full tanks, so there was nothing to prevent a non-stop trip to KFRH. I had to create a five waypoint route on the GPS to guide us around the Cincinnati Class B airspace and to thread the needle between a couple of MOAs in Indiana. You can fly through MOAs if you want to, but given that MOA stands for Military Operating Area, it doesn't seem prudent. One of them also has a Restricted area embedded in it, and as the name implies, you can't fly through those. The GPS makes short work of navigating around them, so there's no reason not to.

Avoiding the airspace. Note that the return leg is much wavier; we were avoiding the really tall clouds.

The ride was glass smooth and not yet hot, so we cruised down at 3,500'. Normally when heading to the west under VFR (visual flight rules), you would cruise at an even numbered altitude plus 500 feet, and at an odd number plus 500 feet when flying east. That rule only takes effect when flying higher than 3,000' above the ground, though, and at 3,500' on the altimeter we're actually only 2,500' above the Ohio landscape. So it pays to keep an eye open for traffic when you're down low. Which is hard to do when it's hazy and you can't see stuff very well. Not my favorite flying conditions, these. In any event, a cruise power setting of 2,300 rpm gave us a nice 143 knot cruise speed and a fuel burn later calculated to be just a tad over 7 gallons per hour. My nod to frugal flying, that.

The landing at French Lick was passably good, much to the relief of Co-pilot Rick who had endured the debacle at Eagle Creek just a few short weeks ago. As we taxied onto the parking ramp and parked next to the only other airplane there, the guy out on his mower immediately stopped his mowing and came over to the airplane to ask if we were headed to the casino. I thought he might be wanting to ask if we'd throw a coin in a slot machine for him, but his goal was far more service oriented: when Rick applied in the affirmative, he whipped out his cell phone and called the casino to have a shuttle bus sent out to pick us up. Fortunately, it would be ten minutes before it would arrive so I had time to visit the restroom. Yes, it was low-volume Espresso, but at the end of the day (or the flight), Espresso is still coffee, and all that that implies.

The shuttle picked us up and we enjoyed a nice ride through the rolling, rural hills of Indiana to the casino. The ride is gratis, but there is a well-positioned tip basket by the door, providing a hint to even the most financially obtuse. The driver shared a lot of local knowledge and provided entertaining conversation, so it was absolutely painless to toss some bills in the basket on the way out. Compared to other airport transportation situations, it was also dirt cheap. He told us that one of the shuttles would pick us up anywhere in French Lick and deposit us anywhere else we would want to be. That is what I call pilot friendly!

We stopped at the French Lick Hotel and Casino first, where we wandered about the old, well restored building:

We also had lunch in the old power plant control room, now converted into the Power Plant Lounge:

Yummm, cheeseburger. A bit steep at $8.50, though. I would have gone for the optional bacon had I known at ordering time that Co-pilot Rick was picking up the check.

After lunch, we flagged down the shuttle for a ride over to the West Baden Springs Hotel. This is the more luxurious of the two, and also the more architecturally intriguing. It's a round building (you'll see it from the air in the video), with a tremendously huge inner courtyard:

It was getting hot, and the clouds were building up. Knowing that it would only get worse, I started getting itchy to get back in the air and headed home. I want to go there again sometime when I can spend the night, though, and not feel the rush to get home or have the horrible restriction against having a beer at the Power Plant Lounge to go with my lunch.

On the way back to the airport, the shuttle driver stopped at the golf course for us to see. They are going to be building another course, the new one being designed by Pete Dye. They hope to have a PGA tour stop in 2010. The way I figure it, the airport alone will go a long way towards accomplishing that. If I learned nothing else during my years at NetJets, I learned how PGA golfers like to travel.

Back at the airport, I gassed up at a reasonable (given the current market) $4.80/gallon. Taking off with full tanks and a hot-ish day, every foot of the 5,500' runway was welcome. Not used, mind you, but welcome nonetheless. It's a bit unfriendly in the area surrounding the airport should an off-airport re-arrival be required, so having that mile long strip of concrete out in front of us was at least a mild comfort.

I had resigned myself to the long, hot, bumpy ride home under the clouds, but decided that I might as well try to get over them. I'd be looking for an odd numbered altitude, so 5,500, 7,500, or 9,500 were my choices. The lower the better, since the climbing takes a bit of time, and even at $4.80 per, time is (significant) money. Well, 5,500 didn't even get close, 7,500 wasn't much better, and 9,500 was marginal at best. We ended up at 11,500, which is the highest Papa and I have ever been. I know it's no more rational than being more afraid of swimming in the 18' deep pool than the 8' depth, but I get nervous up high like that. I'm not sure if it's the lower oxygen content causing some kind of tense reaction, or the way the airplane performs with the thinner air, or just a feeling of not belonging there, but for whatever reason it takes me awhile to get comfortable with it. It's worth doing, though, because that's where the clear, smooth, cool air hangs out, and it's much nicer to hang out with the cool air.

Even at 11.5, we were slaloming around some of the taller cloud build-ups. Just east of Cincinnati, I saw a very large gap in the clouds, and was thus presented with a dilemma: descend back down through that big hole and do the remaining 40+ miles down in the sludge, or hope that there would be another opportunity closer to home. Taking to mind the proverbial bird in the hand, down we went. Now here's a cool thing about the RV-6: we made a 2000 foot-per-minute descent without indicating any more than 140 mph on the speedometer. Normally I wouldn't be in such a hurry, but gaps are only as big as they are, and the far side might as well be a solid wall should I fly into it. Gotta get down while the gettings good, I always say. As a postscript, my ears didn't pop for three or four hours after I got home.

The Big Descent

As expected, we descended into bumpy, murky flying conditions which, were I to be honest, wouldn't exactly be the conditions I'd mention in a "Learn to Fly" brochure. In fact, I think I'd go to pains to not mention them. Icky, I think was the word I used on Saturday. It was the longest 40 miles of the day.

We arrived back at Bolton to a landing clearance of "number two behind the Cessna on downwind, and he's cleared for the option." There were thus to be two forces at play here: "The Option" indicates a student flying touch & goes (although it can also mean other things, as we will see) and a student flying touch & goes almost always indicates a landing pattern wide enough to land a 747. In that latter part, I was correct. By the time he turned base, I was well downwind of the airport. I gave him a little more room, slowed Papa down a bit more, and turned final behind him with what I thought to be more than enough room.

I was wrong. The Option selected by the fella in front of us was to stop in the middle of the runway and gather his thoughts, as was his right. Not the most courteous thing to do, mind you, but that kind of thought only comes with experience, and I was a student once too. I make concessions to that sort of thing. Which I say only because if you watch the video, you will hear me say "I wish he would GO!" just before you hear the tower instruct me to go around and try again. Because he didn't go, you see. Just sat there. As was his right, and I just want it known that I was observing, not criticizing. Even though it doesn't exactly sound like it.

But it was a day of things not being what they sound like, wasn't it?

And, by the way, I greased the landing.

The Video: