Sunday, November 30, 2008

Geek Squad: Airborne Division

Maybe you've seen one of them: a black & white Volkswagen Beetle often being driven by nerdish looking fellow, with a 'Geek Squad' logo plastered onto each side of the car. They look like a mutated cross between Deputy Barney Fife's squad car and a low-budget Nascar team.

My impression is that they provide on-site PC support for home users. That a company like Geek Squad exists at all is tangible evidence that day to day life, at least as it pertains to the care and feeding of the amazing electronic devices that simultaneously make our lives vastly easier and vastly more complex, has become very difficult. The worst offender of all is arguably the PC. Even for those people that just want to be able to send and receive emails, and periodically consult The Great Google Oracle on the topic of whatever triviality of the day is nagging at their minds, owning a PC can be a mind boggling, frustrating, and enraging experience. But when the PC is broken? It. Needs. Fixed. Now. Speaking solely for myself, I can't stand to be without the computer and internet.

The range of problems that can crop up in even the most mundane of PC configurations can run from a plethora of problems related to the hardware itself to another obscure host of problems having to do with the operating system software. And if that's not enough, there is an entirely separate set of issues that can arise from a combination of the two. When you consider that today's most prominent operating system, Microsoft Windows, is difficult for many people to comprehend when it is operating correctly, you can see the scope of the problem when things don't work properly. Buttons mysteriously move to new locations or disappear entirely, programs crash and burn, and performance mysteriously drags to a crawl. What's a person to do?? Call the Geek Squad! Or... get one of your kids to fix it.

Each generation, it seems, has a unique skill or ability that they can use to aid the generations that preceded them. Co-pilot Egg, for example, helps me figure out the mysteries of my cell phone and, of course, is always there should I need a kidney donation, bone marrow transplant, or a replacement liver. ("Hey, wait a minute... I only have one liver Dad!!" I'm aware of that, little girl.) Eventually she will expand her inherited ability to discern the ills of electronic devices into the home computer realm, but for now that is still my function. I provide computer support for the generation that preceded me, and just as often for my own generation.

Which brings us to Friday the last. "Black Friday" it's called; the day after Thanksgiving. Normally a day of rest for me and the fifteen other people in the US that refuse to brave the madding crowds of the annual retail tsunami. This year, though, a restful day simply wasn't in the cards. I had a PC to fix.

As anyone who has had to buy a new PC in the last couple of years can attest, it is no longer possible to buy a new Windows computer that doesn't come with some flavor of Windows Vista. And as they will also be able to tell you, that is not a good thing. The reliability of Microsoft's flagship operating system has gained such a negative reputation that Microsoft has taken to running ads showing Vista being demonstrated under a bogus name to people that must be escapees from the local Gullibility Clinic. "Wow! Looks great!" Yeah, just wait until you get it home, buster. It's no coincidence that Apple is concurrently running ads that mock Microsoft's "It Ain't Vista If We Change the Name" commercials.

The PC in question had gotten itself stuck in an infinite update loop. Microsoft, knowing that their product was a buggy miasma of poor design and egregiously bad quality control, built in the ability for updates (aka fixes that they finally got around to, long after the horse had left the barn) to be applied to a home PC over the internet. And, knowing that most people would answer 'No' out of a fear of unknown consequences when prompted by the PC for permission to install an update, they made it totally automatic. All of which works just fine, except when it doesn't. In this case, Windows would start up by saying that it was applying update 3 of 3, and that it was 0% done with that. And 0% was all you got, no matter how long you waited. It would eventually restart itself, only for the cycle to repeat.

I had hoped that it would be an easy fix. Microsoft, in one of their rare nods to the fact that things aren't always as they should be in the reboot process, provides a thing called "Safe Boot" that ostensibly bypasses all of the things that could be causing the start process to fail, resulting in a 'clean' windows boot up. I use Safe Boot a lot when PCs have picked up obnoxious, performance-degrading viruses that can only be removed before they get a chance to start. I thought that it might be as simple as booting into Safe Mode, finding the command that was instructing the 3 of 3 update to apply itself, and disabling that command. No such luck, however: the update tried to run even in a Safe Boot. I suspect that they're doing something nefarious like creating a new boot sector on the hard drive, but I have no evidence of that. [embellishment]And given that the last person to investigate it was founding floating in Lake Sammamish just a few miles from Microsoft's corporate HQ in Redmond, WA well....[/embellishment] I'm just going to let it go.

The remainder of the day was spent using a combination of Google quests, repeated reboots, creative swearing, and the sacrifice of what turned out to be a non-virginal chicken. That last thing would have worked if it hadn't been for that SOB rooster....

Eventually the problem was solved via the brute force method of completely reinstalling Vista. 'Twas not easy; no install disk was provided. More Googling, a BitTorrent (whatever that is) download of a .iso image (huh??), and a DVD burned with the downloaded .iso got the ball rolling, though. At the tail end of all that is the actual installation. The install is followed with a couple of hours of setting various configurations to turn off the annoying and intrusive nag screens that are the most readily obvious Blight 'O Vista, find and enter the ever elusive email password that Outlook normally remembers for you (so you don't have to, and don't), and most importantly, the disabling of automatic Windows updates. Sorry, Mr. Gates, but you aren't to be trusted with automatic updates again. Ever.

The upshot of all of this is that the newly repaired PC was 70-some miles from home. And how on Earth was I going to deliver the better-than-new PC to its owner without spending 3 1/2 hours on the road? Need you ask???

Consider the Weather-out-the-Window(tm) forecast for Saturday morning:

Winds calm, sky clear, and 34 degrees F (238 degrees Sled Dog) forecast to reach the mid-40s. Yes, the falling barometer indicated both rain and a sinus headache in the near future, but I still thought that it was time for the Geek Squad to have its own Air Force! I thought the temps would warm up a little bit around 10:00, so there was no morning rush to get to the airport. Dressed in the same layers of clothes as last week, it was actually almost pleasant to be outside doing the preflight after the sun had had some time to warm things up. The 'almost' qualifier refers to the fact that my hands were still pretty cold. I wear a set of thin harness racers gloves:

The gloves are about the weight of golf gloves. I like them for their thinness because there are a lot of small knobs, buttons, and switches to deal with in the airplane. That same thinness makes them a bit less useful outside in the cold, though. I made a mental note that it's time to start bringing two sets of gloves with me. I would have been OK if I had just been doing a routine pre-flight, but I also spent a few minutes getting the video camera mounted. I tried a new way of securing the tripod today to see if it would reduce some of the vibration that I got the last time I flew with the mounted camera. There's only so much shaking that I'm going to be able to insulate the camera from, though. I guess that's just the cost of the vibration inherent in a conical mount Lycoming.

Papa was already nice and warm in the hangar since he was still on the oil pre-heater from the last time we flew, so once the pre-flight was out of the way I saddled up and put the key to him. I used three shots of prime and that resulted in a three blade start. A fourth shot would more than likely resulted in the half blade start that is more typical of him. Still, he was in a perky and ready-to-go mood. The colder air seems to give him a few more horsepower and we were soon seeing a 1,500 fpm climb at an indicated 120 mph.

Papa and I had a beautiful flight out to KVES where we delivered and set up the repaired PC (which, of course, didn't work at first and needed another 10 minutes of swearing to fix), went out to a huge lunch at the Fairlawn, and let Faygo take us for a walk to work off some of the excess calories from the huge plate of food at the Fairlawn.

The Fairlawn is a pretty interesting place. It is essentially a steak house that was frozen in time sometime around the Rat Pack era. Just compare these signs:

Photo Copyright this dude who does some very good work.

The interior too reflects an earlier time. Deep red leather booths, comfortable, heavy wood chairs surrounding Formica covered tables, deep carpet, faded pictures hanging on the walls, and a menu with a long list of hearty American foods served in huge, very reasonably priced portions.

And good, too!

The flight back to Bolton was every bit as smooth and enjoyable as the flight out. I took some video over Piqua; I wonder how many people that have only seen it from the ground know how scenic their waterfront is. With the plane light and me flying solo, I even took the opportunity for a little air work.

Just before calling the tower to report over Lilly Chapel (obligatory "No, I don't think I will ever get over Lilly Chapel"), I heard another plane report in at five miles west of the airport. That put him three miles ahead of me, right at my twelve o'clock. Since chances are usually pretty good that I'm flying the faster of the two planes, I went ahead and throttled Papa back to a more sedate (and typical of other airplanes) speed of 120 mph. The tower (and I gotta tell you, I appreciated this) called the other plane to tell him that I was also incoming, three miles behind him.

He replied, "Ok, we should be well ahead of him."

Well then. It only took a little restraint, but note that it did require some restraint, to keep my right hand from reaching back up to the throttle to resume our 145 knot approach just so I could reach the downwind right behind him. I mean after all, who in their right mind insults the speed capabilities of a Van's RV?? As it turned out, 120 mph was just right and we were abeam the numbers on right base as he turned a short final.

The landing should have been a greaser, but was rather pretty sloppy. The flare and touchdown were fine, but I must have carried too much speed into it; as I started to apply the brakes, the nose dipped. Releasing the brakes and putting a little more back pressure on the stick immediately resolved it, so quickly that you might not even be able to see it on the video. That would be been fine, but I also managed to get a pretty healthy swerve to the right into the mix as well. I think a score of '6' would be generous, but it was better than a '5'. Either way, it was nothing to be proud of.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hogarth's sporty new seasonal wear

We've been looking in the pet stores and department stores for new neck wear for Brave Sir, but without much luck. The selections are slim, and the prices somewhat robust for a foot square piece of cloth. Today at Hobby Lobby, as I was milling around the store while waiting for a couple of pictures to be framed, I came across a nice selection of bandanas priced at a fraction of the prices we'd been seeing.

This is his new Fall Holiday look:

I believe that I have mentioned his aversion to the camera before:

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Brave Sir Hogarth: lucky that I hate to pay shipping charges

If it wasn't for the $4.95 shipping charge, Brave Sir would be greeting holiday visitors accessorized thusly:

The dog simply doesn't appreciate how good he has it.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Devoted to the cause

A couple of days ago, I was slightly shocked to realize that the calendar had yet again rolled through to the three-weeks-with-no-flying phase of the moon without my having really noticed it. The days are short now, and there's just no time for an evening flight before dark anymore. I don't enjoy night flying, so all that's left of the weekly available flying days is limited to the weekend days, which through their unfortunate scarcity are particularly susceptible to falling prey to bad weather or conflicting time demands. I can make it through three weeks easily enough, but at the three week point I start to get twitchy about my currency. Luckily for me, I had both a free morning and clear (but brisk!) weather in the forecast.

Co-pilot Rick checked in as available for a breakfast hop to Urbana. Winter is notable for the change it has on my choice of destination; when the weather gets too cold for stomping around on a walk-about, it becomes all about the food. Urbana is nice and close, and while avgas prices are starting to recede, they're only down to $4.69 at MadCo, and Urbana is still working their way through a $5.60-ish load. In other words, distance still matters and close is better than far. Economics meshed with mission as we departed on a "three landings for currency, cheapest-available-gas for the wallet" trip to Ubana via MadCo.

This was to be our first cold weather flight of this winter, but lessons past learned about warm attire vs. limited cabin space were well remembered. Long gone are the days when we'd both both arrive wearing bulky coats only to find that while we were comfortably warm, we couldn't both fit into the airplane. The proper way to dress for a cold weather RV flight is in layers. To keep my legs and feet warm I had on two layers of long underwear, two pairs of socks, and loose jeans. For the top I had a long underwear t-shirt, a long sleeve regular t-shirt, and a hoody sweatshirt. That's protects me enough to at least get through a pre-flight and out to the runway without freezing, but it wouldn't be enough for a hike or photo tour. Bigger jackets could be carried in the back, of course. The biggest risk, as far as I'm concerned, is the one that keeps me from drinking any coffee or tea before departure: I'm not sure I'm quite man enough to work my way through three layers of underwear and a pair of jeans should I need to utilize a urinal.

Don't pity me, we all have our crosses to bear.

The cross we all bear as airplane owners, though, is the devotion that is required to the cause. An airplane doesn't need constant attention, but neither can it brook negligence. Airplanes do not thrive on extended inactivity and need to be exercised regularly. It's not just my personal level of competency alone that starts nagging at me right around the three week mark; I start to worry about the health of Papa at about that time too.

In the summer I worry about the humid air rusting his engine from the inside out. In the winter I worry about the battery dying and/or the mechanical brutality of the cold-weather engine starts. The latter is usually mitigated by using an oil pre-heater, which is nothing more than an electric heating pad glued to the bottom of the oil sump. It's easy-peasy and works great at keeping the oil at least somewhat warm and ready to flow when I start cranking the starter.

Easy-peasy, that is, as along as you remember to plug it in. I don't like to leave it plugged in all the time because I've read/heard that keeping the oil hot for all that time will 'coke' it. I don't know what 'coking' is, but it doesn't seem to be a benefit in the context of the statements mentioning it, so I avoid doing it out of conservatism. Besides which, the Miata was using the extension cord for its new trickle charger and I figured I'd just go swap the plugs whenever I needed to.

Not surprisingly, I forgot to go over to the hangar and do it. Forgot, that is, until 2:00 in the morning while I was mid way through the labyrinthine path between me and the bathroom that winds its way around all of the spots on the floor that are likely to contain a sleeping Brave Sir Hogarth. If he's not too deeply asleep he'll let out a mournful warning moan to let me know where he is, much like a fog horn on a lighthouse, but it's best not to count on that. I follow the path. Halfway through, I was hit right between the eyes with a stunning bolt of lucidity: it was then that I remembered that I hadn't plugged in the pre-heater.

And here it was: a test of my devotion to the cause. I could go back to my nice, warm bed, get up early and go plug the heater in, and just hope that an hour or two of heat would be enough. Or I could brave the cold 0200 weather (140 degrees Sled Dog)* and go plug it in. It was no decision, really. The thoughts of the damage I could to by starting Papa with 20F oil would keep me awake anyway. I grabbed the Walmartts(tm), cranked the Subie seat heater to FULL, and headed to the airport. It was 0215 by that time, a time that roughly coincides with the government-mandated closing hour for our bars. In other words, any cars on the road should be assumed to being driven by a drunk. There was only one other car on the road, though, and it appeared rock steady. In fact, he was probably more worried about the guy in jammies and Walmartts yawning like Sleepy the Disney dwarf. It only took a few seconds to swap the plugs and I was on my way home.

After all that, the rest of the morning went easily. The co-pilot maintained his strong reputation for consistent and precise punctuality, and worries about the health of the battery were unfounded. Papa started on the first blade after a generous four stroke priming. He never fails to impress! The winds were nearly right down the runway but light enough for their direction to not really matter. The ambient pressure was high, the temps were low, and we were light on fuel - the very recipe for a strong takeoff and climb. The takeoff run exhibited the symptoms of a three week layoff, though, with a bit of swerving as the tail came up and a tendency on my right foot's part to unintentionally apply a little brake when we needed it least.

The air was very calm and clear, but it was hard not to notice that the verdant green fields and vivid orange forests of the last two seasons have given way to the brown corduroy look of winter:

The landing at MadCo was nothing to write home about. It was a nice flare and touchdown, but again I had a little work to do to maintain directional control. It's always amazing to me how narrow rural runways look when I haven't used one in awhile. The roll-out also had quite a bit of the "mechanical" bounce that I get when I forget to relieve some of the back stick pressure that I held through the flare. MadCo is self-serve at the pump now, and today was a good day for me to lament that fact. I would have been perfectly content to wait in the office while someone else did the pumping, but those days are gone. Truth be told, I always stood out there chattering with the guy as he pumped anyway; perhaps it is that that I miss.

It's only a short hop from MadCo to Urbana, although with the additional 130 pounds of fuel in the wings Papa wasn't the same airplane we had departed Bolton in. With the full weight of the new fuel he was much more reluctant to climb, and equally averse to accelerating to cruising speed once sufficient altitude was gained. It seemed that we had no sooner built up a nice Bucket 'O Inertia when it was time to start slowing for the approach into Urbana.

There was very little traffic in the pattern upon our arrival and that's always a treat. The landing was better than that at MadCo, although there was still a little of the bouncing, and I had also exhibited an inability to remember if I was landing on runway 22 or 20 while making position reports. '20' is the correct number, but I think I kept lapsing back to '22'. That's no surprise: I've known for years now that one of the competencies that erodes quickly with a lay off is ATC comms.

Papa looked good in the crisp, winter light while we ate breakfast:

The air was still clear and calm as we headed back towards Bolton. On the way, we saw these guys working on we thought was a pretty late start on the harvest. It certainly looked like it would be done by the end of the day, though:

Back at Bolton I made a middling good landing. I think that of the three landings, each was better in some way than the one the preceded it. And I successfully purchased avgas at less than $5 per! I think that's enough to declare today's two-purpose mission a success.

Oh, and I left the pre-heater plugged in: I'm off work all of next week and I am sure about two things: I will want to fly, and I will not want to go to the hangar at 0200 to make it possible.

* You know that the multiplier to convert degrees Fahrenheit to degrees Sled Dog is the same as converting people years to dog years (7), right?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How low can it go??

The gas price? Well, no, but at $1.67 a gallon I think it may have found the floor. No, I'm referring to this morning's drive-to-work temperature: 19 degrees Fahrenheit (convenient conversions for my international and canine readers: -7 degrees Celsius, 133 degrees Sled Dog).

How cold is it? It's so cold that when Brave Sir Hogarth broke his don't-run-away rope last night, he didn't. Run away, that is. Unfettered freedom most assuredly beckoned to his independent spirit and the Call of the Wild was no doubt ringing in his ears, but the Call of the Pillow In Front of the Fireplace was far more urgent.

That's cold!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Another option for the "Planes I'll Never Get Around To Building" list

I've been leaning towards the RV-12 mostly due to the benefits of the Light Sport rules, but I'm not convinced that it is the plane to have if I ever realize my dream to move to the mountainous areas of the southwest. I'd really like a more rugged, bush-flying type of plane for that region. There are a number of Citabrias and Aviat Husky options, but those are store bought and therefore more expensive to acquire and maintain.

Image shamelessly purloined from EAA Chapter 57's web site

I've always thought the Glasair Sportsman would be a good choice, and I really like the idea of their Two Week to Taxi program, but with the recent regulatory review of homebuilding rules by the FAA, I was concerned that the program would be shut down. Naysayers in the homebuilt world are vocal about their disdain for the program, and strongly believed that it went against the grain of the regs.

That appears to no longer be a disqualifying issue:

Two Weeks To Taxi Approved
By Russ Niles, Editor-in-Chief

Glasair's controversial Two Weeks To Taxi program, in which builders of Glasair Sportsman aircraft build an almost-complete aircraft in two weeks at Glasair's facitlity in Washington State, has been endorsed by the FAA's Production and Airworthiness Division after a week-long audit. "The FAA's on-site team found that the "lean manufacturing" processes employed, combined with the provided educational assistance, accelerates the Sportsman build time significantly without violating the spirit or intent of Part 21, Section 21.191(g)," the company said in a news release.

More than 100 Sportsmans have been built in the program, in which company staff lay out tools, round up the necessary parts and provide instruction to customers who, according to the FAA's findings, do at least 51 percent of the work. "We have worked very, very hard to develop a program that makes aircraft building more accessible, more organized, and as efficient as possible, while staying within the letter and spirit of the amateur built rule," said Glasair CEO Michael Via. The company says it will expand the program. The decision would seem to set the tone for the current discussion by the FAA's Amateur-Built Rulemaking Committee, which is reviewing the level of participation required by builders in all aspects of the construction of their aircraft. Among those auditing the Glasair program was Frank Paskiewicz, who heads up the FAA's Production and Airworthiness Division and is a key member of the 51 percent rule committee.

The biggest issue with the Glasair remains the same, though: it costs at least three times what an RV-12 would cost. When you consider that the RV-12 is about 13 1/2 times more expensive than I can afford in the current economic client, well, you can see my dilemma. But long term? It seems like it would be an incredible two weeks, and you one great mountain/travel plane out of it too. For now it's just good to know that it's still an option.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Well, that figures...

I'm looking at the weekend forecast now that AvGas prices have receded back to the $4-ish level: it looks to be typical late fall, early (and mid to late, for that matter) winter weather. The kind of weather that reminds me of a $1.99 buffet: there's plenty of variety, but none of it is palatable.

Sunday morning was a case in point. The temperature/wind chill combination is 34F, the skies are cloudy, and so is my mood. Every year there is a day that you just know is the first day of the rest of the winter, and today is that day. Winterization projects abound, including taking the front porch rockers down to their winter den in the basement, taking the snow plow (as of today it is the snow plow; up until today it was the lawn mower) out of the shed and putting it in the garage, and putting the BBQ grill in its place in the shed. The snow plow has to be kept in the garage for two reasons: first, the battery will die in the frigid cold of the uninsulated shed and second, because the snow will pile up in front of the shed doors and I won't be able to get them open to extract the plow.

Last year I just moved the Miata to the very back of the garage and blocked it in with the plow, but ironically enough that positioning left me with a dead Miata battery on one of the rare nice weather days when I tried to drive it. This year I decided to try keeping it in the hangar. The battery will die even more quickly there, but without the plow blocking it in I should be able to drive it now and then. If the battery dies before I can next drive it, it will be easy to jump start since the battery on a Miata is located in the trunk (Or "boot" to you Irish folk - it's an international set that frequents The Chronicles):

The pear trees were the last to finally lose their green, and I thought it a colorful opportunity to provide an update on the health of the duct tape tree:

It seems to be doing fine, but the first big test will be a windy/icy storm. Either the wind will blow it down, or the ice will be so heavy that it hasn't the strength to hold it. Time will tell, as they say.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Yo! Other morning commuters, listen up!

Hey, gas is $1.96 a gallon now. Can we just get over the whole 55 mph in a 65 zone thing? Oh, and the zero-to-thirty time of a minute and a half (in a 45 mph zone, natch)? You know, at least until the prices rocket up again or we get some snow/ice or something?

I'm just sayin'.


$1.84 today. I drilled a small hole in my gas tank to let it leak out just because I'm having so much fun buying it these days! Well, no, not really. But still - $1.84!!

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Why do we fly?

While the Weather-out-the-Window(tm) forecast is still a critical determining factor regarding whether or not I fly on any given day, its primary decision-making power of late has been usurped by the How-do-I-Feel-Today(tm) forecast. The cold that I came down with a couple of weeks ago lingered around like grungy February weather and had pretty much the same effect that weather like that has on my ability (and desire, for that matter) to fly. Which is to say: I don't fly. As one would expect, the actual Weather-out-the-Window(tm) for almost the entire two weeks was incredibly nice. I had to satisfy myself that I was extracting at least a modicum of benefit from what is likely to be the last nice period of weather for the next three or four months by sitting on the front porch reading with Brave Sir Hogarth. He doesn't read, of course, but he enjoys the company when we sit out there together. His entertainment comes from sampling the scents in the light breeze flowing by, and watching for other dogs to walk by.

The head and chest cold that had plagued me for far longer than I had hoped it would finally broke mid-week, not coincidentally on the exact same day the fine weather ended and was replaced by high, cold winds and a general sense of winter to come. Today, though, we finally had a confluence of reasonably good weather and good health. The winds are light, but there's a pretty solid layer of clouds at the 6,000' level and about six or seven miles of visibility in light haze. And just as importantly, it's forecast to stay that way. The forecast last night, as it turns out, was pretty accurate in that regard, so I had a chance to pre-arrange a flight. I usually use a pre-plan option like that to give rides to folks that have expressed an interest.

This time around, the next on the list was an offer made by the Co-owner. While she doesn't fly with me all that often, she does take quite a bit of pride in PapaGolf. In fact, for most of the year she drives the Subaru that has the AOPA and EAA decals on it along with the nifty RV decal that a previous rider gave to me as a thank-you for the ride. She had the Subie in to the dealer for an oil change when one of the service representatives asked her about the decals. As they chatted, he mentioned that the other representative (Ann) was a student pilot and would really like a ride in Papa. The Co-owner carries a few of the nifty little business cards that I had made for the blog with her and gave one to Ann, along with a promise that we'd call and arrange for a ride.

Last night, when the forecast indicated that I would more than likely be able to get in at least a morning flight, we called and checked to see if she'd be interested in taking a ride and if so, would she be available in the AM. It turned out that early morning actually worked best for her schedule which, as we all know, fits my preferences perfectly. We arranged for an 0800 meeting at the airport gate. It wasn't until later that I got to thinking I probably should have made an affirmative confirmation that we were talking about the new 0800 rather than the previous EDT version, but that turned out to be a non-factor. Bright, shiny, and right on time - those are the pax that I like the most! The early start time had the additional benefit of allowing me to get out of the house prior to Co-pilot Egg and two fellow members of the Junior Varsity All-Girls Giggling Club emerging from the den of last night's sleepover. Bed head on teenage girls is a sight to be avoided whenever possible as far as I'm concerned. Plus there's always the remote risk that I might get tagged to make breakfast. Not worth chancing, iffen ya got the option.

As it turned out I was a little later than normal getting out of the house, even with the additional Congressionally mandated extra hour working on my behalf, so I had only gotten as far as getting the hangar door up (I have to confess, I really missed my hangar frog) when I saw the big maroon pick-up heading down the airport driveway, right on time. We parked our vehicles and chatted a bit as I did the preflight inspection. Naturally, I had a lot of questions about how her pilot training is going, where she's doing it, what she's flying, and how far along she was. And, of course, the ubiquitous "How'd you two meet?" question for pilots and interested parties: what made you decide to start flying?

That last question prompted a lot of discussion which I'll share later, so I'll just bullet the curriculum vitae for now:
  • Less than 10 hours, pre-solo
  • Flying out of Delaware County, about 22 miles north of Bolton as the Cleared-through-Class-C-airspace crow flies.
  • Flying a Tecnam Bravo, a nifty little high wing LSA:
Tecnam Bravo

I'm very interested in LSA airplanes these days as I continue to ponder the trade-off between the LSA's benefits of not requiring an FAA physical and relatively low operating costs aspects vs. the 155 knots on tap with PapaGolf. If it wasn't for the 45 knot difference, the choice would be obvious. Interestingly, Ann's plans are to pursue the full-blown Private license rather than the LSA rating. I say it's interesting mostly because she said that it took a few months of FAA frustration to get her class III physical because she needed a waiver for some previous medical issues, and she wouldn't even need a physical at all to fly the LSA plane that she's training in now. That said, if your ultimate goal is to have the enhanced privileges that come with the full rating, it certainly pays to know you're going to be able to reach that goal before starting down what is inarguably a long, expensive path.

The Tecnam itself turned out to be the impetus for her deciding to learn to fly in the first place. She and her husband had taken advantage of the Mustang fly-in and airshow hosted at nearby Rickenbacker AB last year to go out and see some airplanes fly. The Air Force Thunderbirds were there (although we both agreed that the Navy Blue Angels typically put on a superior show and with me being a former Air Force guy, that's saying something) along with the hundred-plus P-51s that gave the show its name. Apparently there was also a display of the Tecnam owned by a local flight school, and something about it inspired them to both get licenses and work towards the long-term goal of owning an airplane. It was decided that she'd get her license first, with his to follow. The Tecnam is based at Delaware (KDLZ), which is why why she started flying there rather than at the much-closer-to-home Bolton Field.

With that baseline, I was able to point out the things that would be different from what she's used to with the Tecnam. The low wing of the RV versus the high wing of the Tecnam was obvious, of course, but less obvious was that the engine would be turning at about half the RPM of the geared Rotax in the Tecnam. I'm in the habit of providing directions as to how to put on the seat belt and shoulder harnesses, but the last two times I've flown with a young female rider, I haven't had too. If you remember, Pretty Girl was taking lessons in a similarly equipped Cessna. Ann too needed very little assistance because they were "just like the ones in my race car." Now, as you can imagine, that's the kind of statement that opens a whole nuther line of conversation. We'll get to that in a bit. In any event, it was time to determine a destination. I had planned for a breakfast at Urbana, but if her time was tight we could just fly around the local area.

The breakfast plan was approved.

All saddled up and strapped in, we cranked Papa's engine. I only primed three strokes, although I was tempted to add a fourth in consideration of the cooler temps and two week layoff from flying. Three got it done, but it was a five blade start rather than the one or two that are more typical from the ever eager Papa. Flying out of Delaware, an uncontrolled field, Ann hadn't had any experience with working with a control tower and in retrospect I probably should have done more to describe what was going on. We had plenty of more interesting stuff to chat about, though. The winds were light out of the northeast, so we had the long trek down to runway 4 to fill with conversation. The run-up complete, we took to the newly painted runway for departure.

When flying off of runway 4, I like to use the mile of runway and beneficial attributes of ground effect to get up a good head of steam before a brisk climb to pattern altitude and a turn towards the open fields west of the airport. If I remember correctly, it was during the post liftoff climb and turn that Ann fully realized the difference between an RV-6 and a Tecnam Bravo. I'm basing that assumption primarily on the roller coaster "Wheeeee!!" that was piped into my headsets, which I think is usually a pretty reliable indicator. Once we were away from the airport and close enough to our planned cruising altitude of 3,500', I offered her the stick so she could try her hand at flying. I'm always curious about how people will respond to their first handful of that luscious RV handling; half will over control, the other half are very, very gentle. Ann was in the latter half.

She flew awhile and then, as is my wont, I took over to show her how an RV can handle some of the maneuvers she will be making later in her training. Steep banks and such feel far more natural in the RV than they do in airplanes that are designed and engineered for the more sedate life of a trainer/rental. My experience is that people either really get a kick out of a steep bank in a full canopy airplane, or they don't. If they don't, the remainder of our ride is as smooth and gentle as the ambient weather conditions permit. Those that do enjoy the aggressive air work are welcome to more of it if they'd like. Ann liked it, so we spent a few minutes exploring a wider flight envelope in both the pitch and roll axis. Experience has shown that this is the kind of thing that is better experienced on the way to breakfast rather than on the way back. Trust me on this. Again based on the sounds in the headset, I think the E-ticket ride was the perfect choice and well accepted.

The RV Grin

Urbana traffic was pretty light when we got there, with only an RV on downwind and a Velocity behind us. We fit easily into the flow and arrived with a slightly bouncy landing that I'm going to score as an '8'. It wasn't too bad considering the recent layoff and the mild chop of the 6 knot crosswind. Over breakfast we delved deeper into the reasons to pursue a pilots license. Ann, as a self-described gear head, has very similar interests to mine. There are a number of reasons to want to fly, ranging from the desire for fast travel to the appreciation of the natural beauty visible only from the air to the desire to master the challenge of the operation of a complex piece of equipment in a complex environment.

We both, as it turns out, fall mostly into the latter category. I have always been fascinated with airplanes; flying them was a natural extension of that. It's like generations of kids before me that grew up fascinated with railroad locomotives. After all, how fun can it be to drive a locomotive once you get over the initial thrill of not having to stop for railroad crossings? But as powerful, complex machines, they provide a fascination and passion for some folks that is a cousin to my feelings about airplanes. Of course with airplanes, there is a much higher degree of satisfaction whenever you fly one. Mostly, I suspect, because of the freedom one gets from not being stuck to a pair of rails and doing at most 65 mph. This fascination with fast, high performance vehicles also explains why both Ann and her husband race drag racers. It also explains why my Bucket List has a preponderance of things in it like operate a backhoe, drive a tank, and fly a helicopter.

After breakfast, and secretly hoping for a more gentle ride home.

Being as both Ann and her hubby are gear heads, we spent a little time chatting about options in the airplane ownership world. My suggestion to her was to take a good look at the Vans RV-12. I think they'd get a kick out of building it together, and once it was done they'd have an airplane that is comparable to the performance of the Tecnam at half the cost. It makes a lot of sense for them in the same way that it does for me: the cost can be spread across years, the work is for the most part fun and educational to do, and if you ever decide you can't finish you can recoup most (if not all) of the money you have invested in it. It's kind of a shame, though, that you can't test yourself at a relatively low cost by building a tail kit, the traditional rite of initiation in building an RV.

The flight back to Bolton was smooth and easy, culminating in another '8' landing. I have a follow-up to take care of still: I promised her that I'd send contact info for a good CFI that flies out of Bolton, which would both reduce her driving distance significantly and get her into a Cessna 172 for the same money she's paying for the Tecnam. If she's going for the full-blown Private, I think a 172 is going to be a better fit both for training and the type of flying she will do after training. Once I get that obligation fulfilled I'm going to relax and enjoy the glow that I get from flying, a glow that is particularly bright on those days when I get to share the Papa Experience(tm)with someone that really gets it.