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.

No comments:

Post a Comment