Sunday, September 07, 2008


When it comes to the annual-when-they-have-one-at-all Mid-Eastern Regional Fly-In, the acronym MERFI lends itself to comparisons with Murphy's Law. Last year the fly-in was hosted by Mansfield Lahm Regional Airport (KMFD) and Co-pilot Rick and I attempted to go, but we arrived over Mansfield ("No, I don't think I'll ever get over Mansfield") to find the worst of the clouds still below us when we were left downwind for landing at pattern altitude. After trying to catch even a small glimpse of what is a relatively large airport with scant success, and being unwilling to press our luck, we made an expedient 180 degree turn to retreat to Urbana for breakfast.

This year MERFI has been moved to Urbana, presumably because the weather's better. Fine by me, though, since it's practically right next door. I considered going on Saturday but The Mighty Ohio $tate Buckeyes were playing in-state neighbor Ohio University. It pays not to second guess decisions like these in the clear knowledge of hindsight, but... well, flying may have been the better choice over staying home to watch the game. It was a sloppily played game on the O$U on side of the ball, and it was disconcerting to see how dependent their offense is on one player. The defense carried the day eventually, but their porosity on 3rd down bode ill for next week's test against USC.

Today, the Weather-out-the-Window(tm) was adequate, but by no means inspiring. Low-ish clouds and cool temps, with the feel of rain showers somewhere just over there. And a promise of 11G17 in the early afternoon, but right down the runway where it would be in the no-harm-no-foul region. Not terrific, but with my having not flown for three weeks now, it would have to do. After a layoff like that it's important to make a flight or two to keep the skills, if not sharp, at least less blunt.

Urbana is, of course, a flight I've made many times so there wasn't much of concern there, but we were going to a fly-in. That always presents the issue of a lot of traffic, some with no radios, and is one of the reasons I don't go to them as I often as I used to. That said, the Co-pilot is always on board for an early go so we could hopefully mitigate some of the traffic complexity simply by getting there early, and the extra set of eyes scanning for traffic really helps as well. Some of you may recognize this as the same strategy I used when going to fly-ins back before I learned how to land. Back then I called it "getting there before the witnesses."

After not having flown for a few weeks, parts of the routine don't always feel, well, routine. Knowing that I might have to air up the tires, I got to the hangar about 15 minutes before the pre-arranged departure time. Just a glance at both wheels was enough to determine that they'd both need service. Because of the tight aerodynamic wheel pants, though, it's a little trickier to do that job alone than it is with someone there that can sight through the access hole cut into the side of each wheel fairing to watch for the air valve as I roll the airplane forward.

Having been through this before, I have spray painted a red strip on the inside of each tire to indicate the position of the air valve. That way, all I have to do is roll the plane out of the hangar until one of the painted stripes is at the bottom of the wheel. That seems like it would be an easy, routine thing to do, but every single time I rolled the airplane forward to align the paint mark juuusssstt sooooo, the plane rolled forward another few inches as I let go of it to move to the air hose and fill the tire. And I couldn't reach far enough back to stuff a chock in without it moving. Hilarity and somewhat painful contortions ensued, but I finally managed to get the plane to hold still while I aired the tires.

The tires having finally been serviced and the plane pretty much all the way out of the hangar as a result of its little game of Mother May I?, I got through a pre-flight with no problems. Good to know that at least my head was in the game. We mounted up and put the key to Papa, and he greeted us with a single turn of the blade followed by a nice loping idle. Papa's in the game! I called for taxi clearance, and replied back crisply with the appropriate "Bravo Alpha 22 for 6 6 papa golf" in response to the expected taxi clearance. Great, my tongue is in the game and I won't be tripping over it.

So, we worked our way down to the runway and made the final checks before committing to the sky. Switches fell to hand readily: hands are in the game. Cleared for takeoff and away we go, skipping and swerving down the runway. Feet in the game? Not so much. That remained pretty much the situation for the rest of the day. The witnesses were already at Urbana by the time we got there, but I don't think the kind of lapse in footwork that I see is very noticeable from a distance. The traffic wasn't very bad, either. There were just a couple of planes in front of us, but one of them was, unfortunately, the type that flies a tri-county landing pattern. Huge patterns like that really bugger up the works for everyone else.

Once on the ground, the arriving traffic was well handled by the volunteers that were working the flightline. There was no hunting around for a parking spot and getting in everyone's way here. We were met at the runway by a 'Follow Me' golf cart that escorted us directly to a parking spot. The same excellent service was in evidence later when we were leaving. We received another escort from the parking area back out to the runway, which is very welcome when taxiing a tailwheel airplane around groups of unpredictable spectators.

So, MERFI. Yeah, the pancakes were great, but I can get those at Bob Evans. No, the real reason you fly in to the MERFI Fly-In is to walk around and see what other people flew in to the Fly-In. That, and see what hides behind the normally closed hangar doors. For example, this B-25:

This is an A-26 that looks as if it might be waiting its turn for a restoration:

There's also a decades long restoration of a B-17 underway:

It's interesting to the Co-pilot and I to see the type of work they're doing. As he pointed out, it all looked very familiar to the kind of work that goes into building an RV. Or, in my case, taking A&P classes where I learned about sheet metal, avionics, and engines.

When they get it done, I know where they can get a Norden bomb sight:

"Since the Norden was considered a critical wartime instrument, bombardiers were required to take an oath during their training stating that they would defend its secret with their own life if necessary. In case the bomber plane should make an emergency landing on enemy territory, the bombardier would have to shoot the important parts of the Norden with a gun to disable it. As this method still would leave a nearly intact apparatus to the enemy, a thermite gun was installed; the heat of the chemical reaction would melt the Norden into a lump of metal."

Heh. Now you can find them unsecured and unattended in the seat of a Jeep. Technology is like that, I guess.

There were a few older planes amongst the fly-ins:

It's tiring walking around all of the planes, so it's nice to be able to rest a bit:

As mentioned before, the departure procedures were every bit as well handled as the arrivals, so we had no trouble getting out of Urbana to head back to Bolton. I reported to Bolton Tower as we crossed over Darby Dan airport as I usually to, but got a little wrinkle in the response from the tower.

I usually expect "report two mile right base to runway 22." Instead I got "enter right base leg 22, report two mile final." Those aren't the same thing, but I didn't know if he misspoke or if he really wanted me to get far enough out to the north to give me a two mile long final. As I got close to the base leg, I called that I was "two mile right base, but that will put me inside of a two mile final, if that's OK."

It wasn't.

There was a touch & go Cessna way, way out there on a left base to runway 22, and the tower controller needed us to head up north a bit in order to stay outside of the wide pattern of what was more than likely a student pilot. That was easy enough to do, but it did put us in the position of having nowhere to go but the roof of Lowes if we were to lose the engine. I prefer a tighter pattern, but you get what you get.

The flare felt like it always feels after a few weeks without flying, which is to say "very fast." It takes a few flights to get re-acclimated to the pace of things, particularly things that happen close to the ground and on those uncomfortable days when your feet still aren't in the game. There was just a little swerve on the roll-out, but it was still a below par performance. You'd better get with it, feet! There are no permanent starters on this team!

Absent the poor footwork, though, it was a pretty nice day of flying. The skies were very smooth. So smooth, in fact, that the question of sharing the flying duties with the Co-pilot was moot. There were no flying duties. Papa rode along like he was on rails.

We caught a little rain on the way to Urbana which, despite repeated experience to the contrary, I always hope will wash the airplane as we fly through it. It really just rinses the crud out of hidden nooks and crannies and spreads it across the skin, leaving you with a yuckier looking plane than you started with, but I never seem to remember that.

The Eternal Optimist, I am.

So, having run out of ado and therefore being unable to provide further, here's your (notably brief) moment of Fly-In eZen(tm):

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