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.