Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Lunch in Lima

After lamenting just yesterday about the month-long drought of flyable weather days that would dovetail with my tightened holiday schedule so as to allow me to go flying, and how that extended period of not flying had surely had a deleterious affect on my ability to competently do so, it was good to see a good forecast for today. The weather for the morning was forecast to be OK, but things got even brighter by 1100, when we were expected to see clear skies and moderate 9 knot winds out of the south. Given the extended layoff I would have asked for a little less than 9 knots, but ya takes what ya gets and you're thankful for it when it comes to winter flying weather.

Just as I was sitting down at the computer to work on a couple of game reviews while I waited for the clearer weather, Brandon (former RV-4 owner) popped up on AIM and we were able to arrange for lunch up in Lima (KAOH) for later in the morning. Brandon is a fellow devotee of Skyline Chili, a local restaurant chain that has spread throughout southern and central Ohio from its original locations in Cincinnati. Being born and bred in Cincy, Skyline and I go way back. While market forces have forced them to expand their menu to include other things, their specialty is the 3-way, 4-way, and 5-way chili spaghetti and chili coneys. So, just that easily I had a plan.

By the time that I had my writing done, the Weather-out-the-Window(tm) forecast was looking very good:

A month long layoff is hard on both the pilot and the airplane, so I coached myself on the drive over to the airport to be careful not to miss anything on the preflight and to take my time getting ready. I pulled Papa out into the sun to both provide better light for looking him over and to provide a little warmth as it was still fairly chilly. The preflight showed Papa to be in fine health, although as always I was concerned about the health of the battery. Not to worry, though, as he started right up on the second blade. I carefully arranged my charts and reference materials, wound the 8 day clock, got the KAOH destination plugged into the GPS, and generally dithered around heads down in the cockpit. When I finally glanced up, it was to be met with an airplane sitting on the taxiway waiting for me to get out of the way so he could get to his hangar. Chagrined at my unintentional and uncharacteristic rudeness (well, uncharacteristic in an airplane anyway) I scurried over to the side of the ramp to let him passed.

The tower gave me taxi clearance to runway 22 which would give me a crosswind from the left on takeoff. Crosswinds from the left on takeoff are my least favorite since they cause the airplane to want to weather vane to the left and exacerbate the left turning tendency caused by the torque of the prop. That means a bit more rudder work on the takeoff roll and what with me being pretty rusty on the entire subject of takeoffs in general, I could do without exacerbation.

I took my time on the run-up to allow the engine to get nice and warm and to hopefully find any water than may have gotten into the fuel lines prior to taking off. Everything seemed fine, and a cockpit review showed that the pre-takeoff items (mixture rich, radio on tower frequency, strobes on, fuel pump on, elevator trim set, etc.) were all done. As I taxied out onto the runway, I reminded myself that things would appear to happen faster than they do when I've been flying regularly. As I advanced the throttle and checked to make sure the engine was delivering the full 2,200 static rpm, Papa started his sprint for the sky. With a lurch to the left. Which seemed odd, but then again there was that wind out there urging him to do so. I got some right rudder in and straightened him out as we continued down the runway. The only thing is, events did not appear to be happening more quickly. In fact, it seemed as if everything was going pretty slowly. My first thought was that I was dragging the brakes, something that happens now and then when I don't get my feet positioned low enough on the rudder pedals and end up accidentally applying the brakes. As I considered it, I felt that my feet were low enough to not be abusing the brakes and a quick look at the airspeed indicator shower that we were at 60 knots, so up we went.

Things still didn't feel right, though. While the climb was OK, it seemed more lethargic than I would expect for a cold, high pressure day and light fuel tanks. At about 100' I looked out the left and caught sight of the left flap: still fully down. As was the right. I had taken off with full flaps!! Doh! Scurrying out of the way of the other airplane must have distracted me from my already-fragile routine.

As I belatedly raised the flaps, Papa breathed a sigh of relief and accelerated to a more reasonable speed and we soon had a sprightly 1,300 feet-per-minute showing on the vertical speed gauge. A turn to the northwest headed us in the direction of Lima. As we flew over the Big Darby river and Darby Dan Farm, I caught this picture of what I believe to be a sheltered/indoor horse training track:

We had a terrific tailwind right behind us, resulting in a 163 knot cruise speed at 2,300 rpm. With a little time on my hands, I took some pictures including these self portraits:

You will no doubt have noticed a couple of things in that lower photo, the first being that I have a vacation beard. Second, you will have noticed (lord knows Co-pilot Egg did, and has commented on it ad nauseum) that a significant portion of it is gray. Based on my theory (and personal experience) that gray hair works its way from the lower to the upper regions of the body, it seems that I will soon have gray hair in the first visible location (the first actual location being clad in underwear and the second being normally shaved off): the temples. And, in fact, I just noticed a few gray ones emerging from the area where side burn meets beard the other day. Alas.

As I approached Lima, I struggled to catch sight of the windsock to determine whether to land to the east or the west. I knew the wind was generally from the south, but not its actual direction. KAOH has an automated weather reporting system but it inconveniently transmits on a frequency that I do not have since I am a purely GPS-based navigator. The frequency they use there is down in the VHF navigational band, and I don't have a VOR in the airplane. From what I could see of the windsock, it looked like I'd have my choice. Since I was already on the side of the airport that would allow for a standard left traffic pattern I opted to land on runway 27, which faces due west. This put the crosswind on my left again but I don't mind that as much as I do on the takeoff. Probably due to the fact that Brandon had not yet arrived to witness the landing, it went pretty well. There was a little swerviness when the tail wheel came down, but nothing horrible.

Brandon drove us over to the Skyline where I had a 4-way:

Looks good, doesn't it?

The weather stayed pretty much the same while we ate, so I was soon faced with another left crosswind takeoff when we got back to the airport. This one went better, although there was still more swerving than usual. I think it's going to take my feet awhile to get back up to speed. The air was still clear, but the tailwind that contributed to our good pace heading north was now impeding progress back to the south. We were only seeing 134 knots at 2,300 rpm, but since I had just tanked up at KAOH for the amazing (well, it seems that way now after a summer of $5.50+ gas) rate of $3.81 per I boosted Papa up another 100 rpm to speed things along.

Just before I reported in to the tower as I crossed over Darby Dan airport, I heard a 172 get a takeoff clearance out of Bolton that had him departing with a right turn to the north, right where I happened to be. As I reported my position to the tower, he asked me to report a 2 mile right base to runway 22, and that there was a recently departed Cessna headed my way. They're getting better about that lately. They usually don't mention it, and I've never understood why. In any event, the air was clear enough that I picked him up easily and maneuvered to let him pass at my 10:00 high.

The landing back at Bolton actually didn't suck. I still hope for decent weather in the next few days, though. I'm going to need another flight or two to get back to good form.

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Mansfield Curse, continued

This morning marked exactly one month since I've flown with Papa. What with my having been on vacation for more than a week one might think that I have had ample opportunity to fly, but the weather has been simply atrocious. When it hasn't been raining (both freezing and regular), foggy, or just genuinely crappy, it has been windy. Still, the eternal optimist in me forces me to look at the next day's forecast every afternoon, hoping that at least one decent day will present itself for my convenience.

Yesterday afternoon's early (non-aviation) forecast looked perfect: clear skies, reasonably warm temps, and moderate winds. The promise of clear skies always makes me think of photo/video ops, and I've been hoping for awhile to meet up with Dr. Ted to make another attempt at shooting some air-to-air video. Papa also needs gas, and Ted reported a very respectable price was available at Ohio University's airport (KUNI). Meeting Ted over Vinton Co., flying off of his wing to KUNI for a gas stop, and then on to Parkersburg, WV (KPKB) seemed to be a perfect plan.

Perfect, that is, except for one thing: the wind. The forecast this morning promised winds at 15 knots, gusting to 25. The steady 15 knots is right on the boundary of my personal minimums (well, maximums in this case), although the direction of 220 degrees is aligned right down the runway and is usually a mitigating factor. I'm never a fan of 10 knot gusts, though. Those can catch you right in the landing flare and put an unneeded and equally unwanted 20 feet of air back below your wings, at exactly the moment when your airspeed is just above the stall. As you can imagine, a 20' drop is a great way to break an airplane.

All that said, had it not been a month since I've flown I might have gone anyway. My only point of concern would have been the landing at the unfamiliar KUNI airport with a stiff, gusty wind. That could have been easily remedied simply by changing the plan, though. That was all moot - after not flying for a full month, I will have to wait for a calmer day to get back into the swing of it.

Informed of my decision via an early email, Ted called and suggested that he fly up to Bolton and we make a flight from there. Ah, the twin benefits of currency in the airplane and a nosewheel. Myself having neither, I gladly accepted the offer. It was just too pretty of a day to miss flying. Weather-out-the-Window(tm) showed that while it was still a bit cold in the shade, the sun was at least providing some help:

The sky looked inviting, but there is always that chance that the strong winds will roil it up so that it is anything but:

Ted arrived within just a few minutes of his ETA of 0900 despite a delay at Portsmouth waiting for the ubiquitous fog at the airport to clear off. I hadn't really put together any kind of plan, but thought that maybe we could try the restaurant at Mansfield that I've been trying to get to for a couple of years now. There always seems to be some kind of problem that keeps me from getting there, but I figured that maybe Ted would bring better luck. I had checked on AirNav to make sure it was still open, but beyond that had done no planning.

The restaurant is, in fact, still there:

But see if you can find the major flaw in my plan:

We were there at 0950, on Monday. Cursed, I tell ya. Still, the air was for the most part nice and smooth and it was a good day just to take a ride. As I watched Ted as we rode down the final approach back into Bolton and saw how busy he was working his way down to the runway through the gusty winds, I was also pretty happy I had decided not to fly myself. I probably could have made it with no problem, but I am not overly fond of counting on too many 'probablys' in my flying.

Friday, December 26, 2008

I'm no Santa...

I think December 26th is one of the best days of the year. The months long season of rampant consumerism is finally at an end, I can rest assured that I will no longer be assailed with various renditions of Winter Wonderland everywhere I go, and it's still seven days until I go back to work. It's time to relax and enjoy the relatively trouble-free days with new gifts and toys, and wait for opportunities to use any new tools or appliances we may have received. The waiting can be difficult or easy, depending.

In the case of the Co-owner, the usage of the nifty Plantronics Bluetooth headset for her cellular phone will have to wait until she can go to the AT&T store and get a phone that is (and it pains me to admit this) actually Bluetooth capable. Yes, I bought a Bluetooth headset without first checking to see if the phone itself was able to interface with it. I mean hey, they all are these days, right? Well.... no. No they're not.

For me it's easy: I can easily wait a good long time before having to use the new ski mask and goggles Co-pilot Egg gave me to protect my face from the frigid weather encountered when plowing snow from the driveway:

When I saw that in the home video, the first thing I thought of was Bender, the robot character from the animated series Futurama:

Uncanny resemblance, isn't it?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Guess who got a scanner for Christmas...

I've been in need of a good flatbed scanner for ages now, and finally received one as a present. With the horrid flying weather on tap until at least Saturday, it seemed a good time to test the scanner by finally capturing some of the pictures in the old "Safety in Flight" book that my brother picked up for me at a used book store. "Safety in Flight" was first published in 1941, but the same theories regarding weather and flying are more or less in use today. The book was written by Assen Jordanoff, a rather famous aviator in the 30's and 40's and a respected expert on flight safety.

World War I

After finishing secondary school in Sofia, Yordanov was drafted for World War I. He entered the military flying school at Bozhuriste, near Sofia, the capital. On graduation, Jordanoff was promoted to lieutenant and was assigned to the air force. He took part as pilot in 84 military missions. He ended the war being awarded several insignias of honour, most importantly the Bravery Order. The war was ultimately very costly for Bulgaria, leaving the country with heavy war reparations and a virtually destroyed economy.

Emigration to America

In May 1921 Assen Yordanov and his wartime friend, Alexander Stoyanov, read of a contest to fly around the Earth in 100 days. The first plane to make it would win one million dollars. Yordanov and his partner were granted with 6,000 dollars by the Bulgarian Ministry of War to take part in the great initiative and they travelled to the USA. But Yordanov and Stoyanov were the only candidates and therefore the contest was postponed and later cancelled. Nonetheless, Yordanov decided to remain in the United States, where he later found his new home. He also anglicized his surname to "Jordanoff".

Aviation career

Faced with the dilemma of knowing absolutely no English, Assen Jordanoff began his life in America shovelling snow in New York for ridiculous pay. After the snow melted, Jordanoff was able to find a construction work on a skyscraper that was being built. Having a job he spent all his free time at the Public Library, studying English by himself or reading books and manuals on subjects such as aeronautics, machinery, and mechanics. At that time he become known among his friends and colleagues as Jerry, rather than Assen, a familiar name that would stick with him for the rest of his life.

Jordanoff then got a job at the Curtiss-Wright Corporation. Having mastered his English, Assen Jordanoff went on to take university courses in engineering, aeronautics, radio electronics, physics, and chemistry. At the same time he graduated from a flying school; his instructor was William Winston, Charles Lindbergh's flight instructor. Jordanoff moved later to Curtiss-Wright, therefrom he would emerge as a test pilot and in parallel as a sales manager, a pilot of air taxis, a stunt pilot and above all a flying instructor. He also specialized in flying under complex weather conditions. Jordanoff was still just in his late 20s.

Learning of the popular Jordanoff, Thomas Edison invited Jordanoff to visit him at his home in Menlo Park, New Jersey as he (Edison) was at the stage of developing a proto-radar and was also interested in helicopters, a research project in which Assen Jordanoff was involved at the same time. They collaborated designs and worked together for several months.

While the text is informative and pertinent to the type of flying I do, it's the illustrations that I really like. Many were penned by Fred L. Meagher, a noted comic book artist of the era. It is these that I was desperate to scan, and here are the results:

The cruel irony of a December warm front

It's been cold lately. Bitter cold. Almost Minnesota cold. It's understandable that people are gratified to hear the forecast of an approaching warm front and welcome the arrival of more temperate weather. What they disregard, though, is the effect of the passing of the front. Many people visualize the passing of a front as simply turning up the thermostat: presto, it's warm now. They visualize the front a a vertical wall separating the cold air from the warm air. That's not the case. In actuality, the front approaches as a wedge, with the warm air up high climbing over the cold air. You can see it in this (modified) diagram:

Much like a cold front in the summer, there is often precipitation at the leading edge of a warm front. In the summer, that spells thunderstorms. In the December warm front, it spells freezing rain. The warm, moist air of the front is above freezing, so the precipitation comes in the form of rain. Until the cold air closer to the ground is moved out of the way by the full passage of the front, the rain falling from the higher temperatures above freezes as it passes through the frigid air hugging the ground. What you end up with is a city-wide ice rink. This invariably occurs right around the evening rush hour, of course.

This is all by way of saying that we had a warm front come through yesterday, and had it not been for the lure of Irish Egg Rolls (essentially a deep fried Reuben sandwich- so yummy!) at the Dublin Village Tavern, I would never have left the house. Today we're sitting under a steady rain and enjoying, such as can be accomplished on a rainy December day) moderate temperatures in the 50s.

Not flying weather at all.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

I think I'll stay in today

I just walked down to the end of the driveway to retrieve the one newspaper we get each week, which owes its position as sole survivor of the seven per week that we used to receive to the passel of dollar-saving coupons stuffed inside it. The daily was canceled upon the sad passing of our hamster; she was the only one that found anything even remotely useful in its pages, that being their absorptive properties more than any objective news reporting printed thereupon. I mention my trek to the delivery point not to bemoan the state of the 21st century press but to point out that it is bitter cold out there. Something in the negatives, I believe, with the kind of cold, piercing wind that reminds men that they have nipples.

I won't lack for entertainment, having been presented with an early Xmas present in the form of a new game for the computer. I will spend such time as I can fighting the Germans in Operation Market Garden proving, as I always do with games of this sort, that the only thing that kept Hitler from winning the war was that I wasn't in it. The action is fast and frantic and the pace is maddeningly fast. In many games of this nature that doesn't matter. You can find a nice, safe place to cower down and catch your breath and try to gather your thoughts. Sure, your squad leader will be hollering his head off to get you back into the fight, but you can safely ignore him. The Germans will wait.

Not so with this one. Now I am the squad leader, so it's up to me to tell the rest of the guys what to do. And there's no time to noodle it - the Germans will advance if given a chance. The idea is to use the assault team and machine gun team under my command to suppress the Germans while either the other team or I find a way to flank their positions. It's startlingly realistic in the graphics, sounds, and my incompetence as a leader getting a lot of my guys killed.

"Rank Has Its Privileges"
(Click for larger)

I was hoping for flyable weather today having spent a long day indoors yesterday due to an even uglier day. There's no hurry, I suppose, since I don't have to be back to work until Jan. 2nd. Breakfast at home for two weeks! All of that black pepper bacon is surely going to have a demonstrably bad effect on my cholesterol numbers, but if eating bacon means the difference between living to 87 versus say, 85, that's a deal I'm willing to make. Breakfast time is fun, too. Yesterday we had a full kitchen with me, the co-owner, and co-pilot Egg getting in each other's way as we prepared our meals. I heard Egg complaining about not being able to use the specific spatula that she wanted to stir the eggs and that the alternative spatula was not up to the task. That, for some reason, triggered long suppressed memories of the old Dating Game TV show:

"Spatula number two, what would you do to stir my eggs?" I thought that was horribly funny, of course, but the co-pilot not only found it to be anything but funny, but somewhat frightening as well in a genetic sense. She's afraid that some time in the near future she too will start making awful jokes like that. She might be right, if genetics gets a vote. Oh well, at least I didn't bequeath her my roman nose!

The rest of the day was taken up with rearranging the PapaGolf Data Centre. Recent additions of furniture and equipment in the Operations Centre had changed the configuration such that everything needed to be rearranged to make better use of the limited space. It also presented an opportunity to winnow out abandoned cables and retrieve things that had fallen behind the desk.

As I was moving stuff around, I decided to take one more crack at getting my recalcitrant UPS to live up to its commitment to provide electricity to my more critical components in the common event of a power outage. I bought it a few years ago, but it has never worked right. What should happen when you have your computer plugged into a UPS when the power goes out is... nothing. Everything plugged into it should keep working, albeit only for so long as the battery can provide sufficient juice. With mine, however, the opposite occurred: everything went off. I verified that I had connected the battery correctly, as boldly stipulated as a requirement for operation on a bright yellow sticker right on the top of the unit. It never worked, and I finally just forgot about it and left it in place to act as a surge protector, that being deemed to be better than nothing.

As I tested the UPS again once I had it out from behind the desk, I found that the situation remained unchanged. No power from the wall meant no power to the PC, as always. Before hiding it away again in my shame for not being able to make it function correctly, I decided to remove that ugly, glaring, and taunting yellow sticker. Guess what was underneath that sticker? Well, there were three more outlets, marked as "Battery Backup & Surge Protection." The outlets that I had been using all of these years were marked only with "Surge Protection." Do the math on that: I've been using the wrong outlets all along. Sigh.

Oh well, at least I have a functional UPS now. Well, I actually always had a functional UPS, so I should say "at least I have a functioning brain now."

My troops would probably argue that point.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I love it when an idea takes off!

I love it when an idea takes off, so to speak. Courtesy of RVer Jim Piavis and by way of Bob Collins (and with a little photoshop editing by the editor), here is the first Geek Squad Aerial Response Vehicle:

Monday, December 01, 2008

I am considering the theft of an idea.

Specifically, I'm considering offering up a monthly calendar here at The Chronicles, and idea that I would be shamelessly pilfering from Mr. Doug Reeves, purveyor of the venerable Van's Air Force web site.

This is what I'm personally using this month:

And here's a more representative example (I wouldn't be limiting the pictures to airplanes) that I like to call January, 2009:

Is there any interest in these?

Chris Stewart, I've read Ernest K. Gann and you, sir, are no Ernest K. Gann

So, most pilots have had those moments when watching a movie or reading a novel when it's kind of annoying to know as much about flying as we do. As an example, consider two pilots in the front of a B-17 conversing in normal, indoor voices. We know that's ridiculous - they could barely hear each other at a full shout.

I was browsing the shelves looking for some light reading at the library over the weekend when I came across a "techno thriller" written by some fella named Chris Stewart. There's an F-117 Stealth Fighter on the cover, which indicated to me that there would be flying involved in the story. As I usually do, I went directly to the author's bio on the dust jacket to determine his qualifications. Hmm, former SR-71 and B-2 bomber pilot. That should be good enough.

And, for the most part, the aviation aspects have been pretty accurate. Absent, that is, the one occasion where the main character made a night takeoff "as the blue runway lights" passed by his peripheral vision... what?? Blue runway lights?? That poor sap was using a taxiway as a runway!!

I got by that part ok, but on page 131 of 333 I'm about to give it up. It's not the flying parts that are bothering me. It's the horrible proofreading. Every single instance of 'hangar' is spelled 'hanger'. I've seen 'demonstrated' used instead of 'demonstrate'. There have been a lot of other things like that, but a single sentence on page 131 is just about enough to drive me to quitting this thing: "Inside the parameter (perimeter would be correct) fence, the track spit (split?) into three parallel rails..."

If trying to read a flying novel as a pilot is frustrating, consider what this must be like for me, a walking spell checker. I don't know whether to blame Mr. Stewart or the nabobs at M. Evans and Company, Inc., but I've had enough.

It's so bad, in fact, that it prompted me to turn on my PC and write this blog post. And what did I see on boot up?

"Configuring updates: Stage 3 of 3 - 0% complete." The very message of doom that put paid to my entire Friday last week! My blood ran cold! Visions of a complete Vista re-install had me near tears. Help me Geek Squad Air Force, you're my only hope!

Two minutes later, it booted up just fine. Phew! What a relief! I feel so good now that I might even be able to make amends with Mr. Stewart. Oh, and Mr Gates: no more automatic updates on this machine either, thank you very much.