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.

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