Saturday, February 28, 2009

Friday, February 20, 2009

Second draft of the article

I heard back from EAA regarding the article that I had submitted. They felt that it was too long and possibly had a bit too much stress on the scarier part of the formation flying. I expected that it would require edits, of course, and they actually took quite a bit of time to tell me what exactly they would like to see changed. I imagine they're pretty much swamped with article submissions at any given time, so I think it's exemplary that they took as much time as they did to point me in the right direction. So, without further ado, here is the second draft:

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted a Van’s RV. Even as a teenager, back when the only models available were the RV-3, RV-4, and the brand new RV-6, I had purchased the video from Van’s in order to become better acquainted with what it would take to get one of these fascinating airplanes for myself someday. A few years ago, I realized my dream of owning a Van’s airplane of my very own through the simple expedient of purchasing an already-built RV-6. As part of my pre-purchase due diligence, I had contacted a local RV-8 owner who was generous enough to not only take me flying with him, but to ride along with him as he practiced formation flying with a collection of other RV owners. I not only got rides in an RV-8, RV-6, and an RV-4 that day, I also got to experience for the first time the thrill of flying in a formation with other airplanes. While I was irrevocably hooked on the RV experience, I had more than a little trepidation about the formation flying aspect. I decided to adopt a “wait and see” mentality towards that type of advanced flying, planning instead to spend at least a year becoming comfortable with my RV before giving it a try.

By early 2007, I was ready to try my hand at formation flying. When I found out that the Ohio Valley RVators were scheduling a formation flying clinic for May, I signed up. Having ridden along on a series of formation flights already and seen the focus and concentration required, I was under no illusions that this kind of flying was a simple thing to do. In fact, I had the benefit of knowing that it was quite the contrary and that I would have to be diligent in my preparation of both myself and my airplane.

The departure date for the clinic arrived without regard for whether I was ready for it or not, but I felt that I had done all that I could do to prepare myself in advance. That preparation was mostly in the realm of book learning. I figured that I was going to be busy enough simply learning how to maneuver the airplane in close proximity to other airplanes, a situation that I had been diligently trained to avoid throughout all of my previous training, without simultaneously trying to learn and understand the various formations we would be flying in and the collection of signals that the formation lead would be using to direct our flight. My bible for these studies was the venerable “The Art of Formation Flying” written by a group of T-34 pilots and accepted as the definitive source of basic formation flying information.

The first official event of the clinic was in the early evening when we all sat down for pizza and a briefing regarding the events and schedules for the weekend. We went through the roster of attendees, with each person standing up for an introduction. A computer spreadsheet listing each participant in the clinic was projected onto a large screen and it was plain to see that each pilot had been assigned a color, either red, yellow, or green. Red indicated a first-timer like myself, yellow was used for pilots that had at least some previous experience, and green signified a pilot that was considered to be proficient in formation flying. This segmentation was used by the clinic instructors to tailor their efforts to each pilot's individual skill levels.

The rest of the meeting was spent going through the in-flight signals and what we could expect in the morning when we made our first formation flight. I was still somewhat fuzzy on some of the signals, but I was well enough prepared by my pre-study for the class discussion to clear up some of the more subtle questions for me. Between the reading and class discussion I felt that I was well enough prepared that it would all come together for me when we started flying in the morning. The stress of the preceding few days of preparation was catching up with me by the end of the evening session, but even as tired as I was I did not sleep well that night. Visions of echelon turns, pitch-outs, and the sundry other formation concepts that I would be introduced to in the crucible of flight cost me any chance for a restful sleep. By the time 0530 rolled around on the motel room alarm clock, I was more than ready to get going with some actual flying.

Upon arrival at the airport, I did what I could to ensure that my airplane was up to the task by performing a thorough preflight inspection. I had to keep a close eye on the clock, though, as the first briefing was scheduled for 0800 and I wanted to make sure that I was there in plenty of time. The briefings were run with the military precision required of something as complex as formation flying and would start on time whether I was there or not.

The first flight would entail me riding with an experienced formation pilot and watching/learning how the book knowledge worked in actual application. This was a welcome relief to me. Riding along and watching the signals and experiencing the correct responses without having to devote any energy or attention at all to operating the airplane was exactly what I needed for it all to come together in my head. What I found is that all of the various signals in the books can be distilled down to just five or six fundamentals, and just like the various entries to your home airport, you can narrow down the decision tree you will have to follow to quickly and accurately decode a signal to just a few options.

As we headed back to the airport after the introductory ride, I impressed myself by thinking ahead (and make no mistake, formation flying is all about anticipating what’s going to happen next) and predicting what formation change would happen next and what the signal for that change would be. This, more than anything, helped me to get over the fear that I was going to be unable to grasp the concepts in time for the next flight when I would be flying the airplane.

Given that my job on that flight had been to pay attention and learn, I considered the first mission to be a resounding success. I was far more aware of what to expect when it came time for me to fly in just an hour or so, and that was a comfort to me. That said, I was by no means calm about the impending leap from rider to driver. The briefing for my first flight at the controls was at 1000. I understood everything that was briefed, and there's a lot to be said for that. Since this was to be my first flight, we briefed for a normal takeoff rather than a side-by-side formation takeoff. We would take off one at a time at five second intervals. I was also assigned an experienced formation pilot to ride along with me as a mentor who would instruct me in the finer points of safety and maintaining a correct position on the wing of the formation leader.

After the very detailed briefing outlining what we would be doing and when, we headed for the airplanes. Unfortunately, this is where my nerves took over and caused me to make some basic mistakes. For example, we had briefed that the initial check-in on the radio would be on our assigned in-flight frequency, but I dialed in the tower frequency instead. At the end of the runway we lined up with the other planes in the formation to do our run-ups and pre-takeoff checks and my ride-along mentor pointed out that I still had my flaps down. Normally this is something I never forget, but with all of the other things running through my head I was becoming somewhat overwhelmed by it all. A few deep breaths to calm my nerves helped, as did the confident demeanor of my mentor.

After returning a thumbs-up to the flight leader to indicate that we were ready to go, I lined up for takeoff on the left side of the 150’ wide runway while the flight leader took position on the right. Five seconds after the leader started his takeoff roll, I released the brakes, fed in the throttle, and we began our takeoff. The idea was that the leader would make a gentle turn to the left after takeoff and we would make a slightly tighter turn inside of him to close the gap between us. It turned out to be one of many things that I would find out over the course of the weekend that had sounded much easier to do than they actually were. In this case it took the active involvement of my mentor to get us correctly joined into the formation, but once we were in position I was able to take over control and start to get a feel for what was required to keep ourselves correctly positioned slightly below and slightly behind the leader.

In RV formation flying, there is an imaginary line running through the outside aileron hinge on the wing up and through the propeller spinner. If you have the aileron hinge lined up properly with the spinner, you are correctly positioned in two dimensions: forward/backward and up/down. Being on the proper line is a lot like being on the correct radial line of a VOR without DME equipment, though, in that you don't know how close or far away you are. You can be on the correct line 10 feet away, or you can be on the correct line 100 feet away. With this being my first effort at being on the correct line, it turned out to be quite enough of a challenge to maintain that position without worrying too much about also being the correct distance from the leader to create a perfect formation.

As in many other aspects of flying, there is a special lingo involved when discussing formation flying. If you are ahead of the line, you are "acute." If you are behind the line, you are "sucked." You also want to be "stacked down," which means you are below the leader. The absolute worst place to be is "high and acute," because this is a dangerous place indeed. It means you are flying right alongside another airplane, quite close, and if he were to turn in your direction you might both end up having really bad days. I found myself in precisely that position a number of times, as it turns out, but he took quick actions to return us to a safer position.

During the first flight, I struggled to stay on the line. I was high, I was low, I was acute, and I was sucked, and sometimes managed to be a couple of those things simultaneously. Keeping the airplane precisely positioned on the line is a lot like balancing a marble on the tip of a pencil: it doesn't want to be there and it requires constant adjustments to keep it there. These adjustments have to be very precise, quick, smooth, anticipatory, and it pays to remember that a little bit of adjustment goes a long way. It is critical to anticipate the adjustments that need to be made because once the marble starts to fall off of the pencil, it's far too late to catch it. This is, of course, why it is not a good idea to try to self-teach yourself the art of formation flying. It takes time and practice to get good at it.

After what seemed like hours of struggling to maintain my correct position but was in actuality only 45 minutes, we headed back to the airfield. As we approached the airport we moved into the echelon formation as expected, and as we headed down the runway I knew to that the signal for a pitch-out would be next. This signal is a wagging finger from the flight lead, followed by a number of fingers indicating the timing of the desired spacing in seconds. In this case it was two fingers. The big event that I would then wait for is the "kiss-off" signal from Lead, upon receipt of which I would smartly move my eyes to "eyes forward," count to two seconds, enter a 60 degree bank to the left, pull in pitch for a 2G turn to the downwind, and immediately pull the power back to idle in order to slow down to 100 mph flap extension speed.

Which is almost exactly what I did, except for one critical omission: I didn't get the power all the way out. Before I knew it, I was caught up to Lead and had to go out wide out of him on downwind to go past him (going through him not being an attractive option, after all), which really, really isn't what a wingman wants to do. As a result of my mistake, I ended up high and fast in the pattern. It was at this point that the year or so that I had spent getting comfortable with the flying traits of an RV came in handy and I was able to correct my speed and altitude to make what turned out to be a pretty good landing.

Every formation flight ends with a debrief. The debrief is an essential element of formation flying, and it is the absolutely perfect time to find someplace to store your ego out of sight for awhile. Formation flying is serious business, and if you’re too thin-skinned or too wrapped up in the ego of it all, formation flying really isn't for you. Brutally honest, constructive criticism and no-holds-barred analysis of your performance is the order of the day, and it is the only way to improve. And no matter who you are, or what you've flown, or how long you've been doing it, there is always something that can be improved. Part of the attraction of formation flying in the first place is similar to the most addictive aspect of golf: it is a beautiful thing to see when done perfectly but a really ugly thing when done poorly, and perfection is impossible to attain. Also like golf, it rewards you when you are successful, and it punishes you when you are not.

In debrief we talked about the few occasions on the flight that I had actually managed to get myself on the proper line, and the far more plentiful times that I hadn't. We talked about my mistake on the pitch-out, we talked about the initial rejoin after the takeoff, and we talked about a bunch of other stuff. Lead, taking into consideration that this was my first hop, told me that it was an impressive performance. I gotta tell ya, that was worth a million bucks to me.

There were two more flights scheduled for the remainder of the day, but I only made one of them. The second flight introduced more advanced topics such as formation takeoffs , trail formation (flying behind the leader in a chase position), and an increased stress on proper communication technique. I was pretty tired after the second flight and didn't consider myself up to making a third flight, so I begged off and pushed the plane back into the hangar.

As I reflected on the day, I realized that despite all of the stress and anxiety I had had a great time. I can’t remember a more emotionally significant and satisfying weekend in my 25+ years of flying. My Private Pilot check ride? Yeah, that was a big day 9 years in the making but I had been confident all along that I could do it. The IFR check ride? Yeah, that was ok, but for some reason it felt like more of a continuing education class than a major accomplishment. I won’t say that a couple of days of formation flying changed my life or anything quite as dramatic as that, but it did open my eyes to how challenging and rewarding that type of flying is and the experience is something that I will never forget. Oh, one more thing: after having tried my hand at it myself, I can safely say that I will never see the large Oshkosh formations the same way again.

It may still be too long at 2,800 words and there are still a few sentences that I can't seem to make flow as well as I'd like. This game is harder than it looks!

Monday, February 16, 2009

AF Museum (road) trip

I'm sure there are valid reasons for not doing so, but I sure do wish that the United States Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson would provide a way for pilots to fly in for a visit. Certainly that would make a bigger difference to people that live further away than the 1 + 10 drive that I have, but it would still be an infinitely cooler way to arrive. Particularly when arriving in an airplane that looks as if it would fit right in as an exhibit. It is what it is, though, so a road trip it was.

The secret to the AF museum is to get there promptly at 0900. That's not a critical success factor, of course, but it does help alleviate some of the obstructions to photography that crop up once the Cub Scout groups and families with half a dozen strollers arrive. There's an even bigger secret that I am only willing to share with you because of the limited readership here at the Chronicles. That secret is that the first thing you do when you get into the museum is to get in the line to get out of the museum. Given the counter-intuitive tenor of that advice, I will elucidate.

In my opinion, one of the best kept secrets of the museum is that there are actually two museums. There's the big three-hangar museum that everyone is aware of, and there is a second two-hangar museum that contains the Research & Development airplanes (think "X-planes") and the presidential aircraft (think Air Force One). In the past, the shuttle ride over to the annex was very informal; you simply hopped on a bus for the quarter mile drive to the other hangars. The Air Force has seemingly become aware that the practice of driving civilians over to the "live" side of the base and dropping them off with no records whatsoever of who went (and more importantly, who returned) was potentially a recipe for disaster.

Not surprisingly in today's (appropriately) higher level of security awareness, new policies are in place. Now you need to register before going to the annex, said registration involving the showing of a valid photo ID, wearing a wristband ala Oshkosh, and sitting through a short security briefing. A passenger manifest of sorts is maintained by your "tour guide," whose sole function is ensuring that everyone taken over to that side of the base also returns from that side of the base. It's a perfectly reasonable arrangement and adds very little time to the side trip. It is a much longer drive on the bus now, however. They now leave the base, drive all the way around to the other side of the base, and come back in through a security checkpoint. It's not much of a burden, though, in that you get a kind of mini-tour of the active Air Force Base.

The atmosphere in the annex hangars is much more informal. There are no barriers around the airplanes, and while they ask that you not touch the airplanes, some contact is inevitable. Unfortunately, I suspect most of the human-to-airplane contact comes in the form of painful bumps as people unfamiliar with the various sharp appendages common to military aircraft become intimately acquainted with pitot probes, angle-of-attack sensors, and sharp wing leading edges. I myself am certainly not immune, but my five years of flightline maintenance work hold me in good stead. No bumps, bruises, or contusions to report on my part this time around.

Equally interesting is that mere mortals such as myself are offered the opportunity to actually enter former presidential aircraft and tread the exact same airplane aisles as former presidents ranging from FDR to Clinton. The seats, office areas, and flight decks are blocked off my (unfortunately dirty and clouded) plexiglass, but it's still awe inspiring to experience these venerable airplanes. The collection contains every presidential aircraft from the Douglas C-54 to the Boeing 707. My favorite is the gorgeous Lockheed Constellation used by the Eisenhower administration.

Sorry about the aspect ratio being wrong. Stupid YouTube.

It only takes an hour to work your way through the collections in both hangars, but I find that it's not a 50-50 split. I spend about 75% of the available time with the X-planes, mostly because they are the more exotic of the two genres. It's intriguing to see the evolution of what were exotic and unproven ideas back in the era of experimentation into the proven technologies that are common today. For example, you will see the Bell X-1B, the first airplane to use reaction rockets to control attitude when flying at altitudes so high that there was not enough air for traditional flight controls to be effective, sitting right next to the X-15, the research airplane that demonstrated the viability of the launch into space and glide back to a landing model used in the Space Shuttle.

Vimeo gets the aspect ratio right, but they only allow me one video a week

Once returned to the main museum, you are more constrained in how close you can get to the airplanes. That's not normally much of a burden, but in the two cases of the airplanes that I worked on while I was in the Air Force it is somewhat frustrating to not be able to go "visit" the various panels and doors that we used to gain access to our electronic reconnaissance equipment. I'd like to get a look at the KS-87 camera and some of the other sensors, both optical and infrared, that were carried by the RF-4C tactical recon jet that I worked on in Korea and Germany:

My unit patch from my two years in Zweibrucken, West Germany:

I couldn't find one for my unit in Korea.

We would meet the jets upon their return and download the film. This camera, the KA-56 Low Pan, was a horizon-to-horizon scanning camera. The film would sometimes "accordion" and come spewing out as soon as we removed the film magazine. This would invariably elicit a profanity-laced tirade from the pilots.

We would remove the used take-up reel and replace it with an empty reel. If the film counter showed that the supply reel was low, we'd refill it in a "dark box" that we carried in our maintenance truck.

I also like to visit the other plane that I worked on, the SR-71 Blackbird. This is a picture of a unique variant of an already unique airplane:

It's the only flying SR-71B, the two-pilot training variant. Normally the guy in back cannot see anything at all in front of the airplane. The B model has an elevated rear cockpit to allow an instructor pilot to monitor what's going on. We simply referred to it as 956, short for its full tail number 61-7956. In fact, there were so few SR-71s that we referred to all of them by the last three digits of their tail number.

My favorite job on the Blackbird was loading the map projector. The map projector (the light gray box visible just to the right of the control stick above) projected a 35mm film strip that detailed where they were going and their altitude/speed at any given stage of the mission. There was also a larger one in the rear seat that provided directions regarding when, where, and which sensor was to be used to gather the reconnaissance product. 956 had the same smaller map projector in both the front and rear cockpits. Seeing the maps and mission profiles was the next best thing to riding along with them!

You can see how restricted the forward view was for the guy in back:

The gray screen that looks like a drop-down meal tray on a passenger plane was the screen for the map projector. The projector itself, when installed, was a black box attached where you can see 'C2' stenciled below the screen. The missing control panel where you see the cover stenciled 'SLR' was the controls to operate the primary reconnaissance system that I worked on, the Side Looking Radar. The MFD screen above the map projector screen is new to me. Back when I was working on these planes, that space was filled with a downward looking optical viewfinder that was used to mark landmarks and update the astro-nav or inertial nav systems. The viewfinder may have been replaced in 1986 when the CAPRE radar I had worked on was replaced with a more modern synthetic aperture system.

So, at the end of the day it's nice to visit my old planes, but with the barriers in place it's a lot like visiting an old friend in jail: look, but don't touch.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Free at last, free at last.

The forecast for today was about as specific as a politician's campaign promises, which is to say that it was mealy-mouthed enough to explain any failure to live up to expectations by a convenient re-parsing of the words to fit the situation. Read one way, it sounded like we were in for another gray, cloudy day. Read with a more optimistic view, it seemed that it might actually be flyable. I've been around this block enough times to know that it would probably be the former, but I should keep my options open should it prove to be the latter. The cost of this kind of indecisiveness is that I can't make any hard and fast plans. Rather, I have to wait until morning and see what the Weather-out-the-Window™ forecast has to say on the topic. The forecast was in early: it looked flyable. The early FAA forecast promised no worse than 3,000 ceilings, so all indications pointed to good (enough) flying weather.

It has been warm enough over the last few days to melt away the residual sheet of ice in front of my hangar, so it appeared that all of the necessary elements were in place for at least a short brunch flight. Co-pilot Rick is usually on-call anytime after 0900 when the sun is out and today was no different - we quickly arranged for a 1015 show time at the airport gate. I was recently made aware via a Twitter pal that there is a Denny's within walking distance of Zanesville (KZZV) airport, so we decided to go take a look. It's only just over fifty miles to the west, so in theory they would have pretty much the same weather that we had in Columbus, so it met the requirement to not introduce further weather complications to the equation. People that have Denny's in their towns are no doubt scratching their heads right now, wondering why having a Denny's nearby is such a big deal, much like people west of the Mississippi used to wonder why us easterners cared so much about Coors beer. To them it was a mediocre brand, but scarcity made it desirable to those who didn't normally have access to it. Denny's is like that to Columbus folks.

Oddly enough, I think I've only ever landed once at Zanesville, and even that was a touch & go as part of an IFR cross country training flight. I remember it well because my coffee-enriched bladder had been expecting a rest stop; it let me know just how badly it needed the break about halfway to Akron. I won't share the details regarding how that particular problem was worked out, but I'll leave it with this: there are times when an autopilot would be worth its weight in gold.

Rick arrived at 1008, just as I was laying on the hangar floor airing up the right side tire. Once I retrieved him from the gate, I continued the type of slow, methodical pre-flight that I do when the airplane has sat idle during five weeks of egregiously bad weather. All was well and we were soon saddled up and ready to go. Four shots of prime gave us a three blade start, which I think was about right for having not been run at all for five weeks. The tower gave us clearance for the long ride down to the end of runway four and off we went. Everything checked out just fine at the end of the runway and we were soon cleared for takeoff. A five week layoff can cause a bit of a bother on takeoff as my feet get re-accustomed to the little dance they need to do to keep us more or less pointed in the direction of the runway, but they did just fine today.

I wanted to depart to the south to give us clearance around the bottom arc of the Columbus Class C and that usually works best with a right turnout, but a Cessna 152 had taken off just prior and was loafing its way into a right closed pattern for some touch and go work. Rather than try to work around him, I asked the tower for a left turnout. He approved it, but something in his tone caused me to think that he didn't really understand why I wanted it. The thing is, it was pretty hazy out and those white Cessnas are hard to see until you're right on top of them. I figured that a 152 was going to be doing 80 knots tops on downwind and we'd be on his back pretty darn quickly.

Once we were far enough to the southwest that we wouldn't be turning into his base leg on the off chance that he got there first, we set course for Zanesville. We climbed to 3,500' but it was soon apparent that this wouldn't be high enough to get us over the murky haze layer. In fact, as we got closer to Zanesville it became clear that we were going to be arguing with a layer of Visa clouds ("They're everywhere you want to be") and it might behoove us to select either a lower or a higher altitude. Being as we were only about 17 miles out, lower seemed the better option. At 2,500' we were well below the clouds, but the visibility was pretty crappy. It was one of those days where a GPS pays for itself without even breaking a sweat.

Zanesville has two huge, wide runways and lent itself to being more or less easy to find once we were within 4 miles. The ASOS at the next airport over (Zanesville has one, but it transmits on a VOR frequency that I can't receive with my comm-only radio) was reporting light winds out of the north-ish, so I decided runway 4 was the one for me. The huge runway made for a comforting target in that it would be pretty hard to miss, but this was going to be my first landing in more than a month so I suggested to co-pilot Rick that it might be good to assume the brace position. It turned out to be a pretty good landing, though, with a nice flair and only the little mechanical bounces that I get from the spring steel landing gear.

Photo courtesy of Co-pilot Rick

We parked and chocked and headed into the FBO. On the way in, Rick pointed out their weather vane. As some of you know, I'm finishing up an old abandoned RC airplane kit that I found in my basement, but I have no intention of buying the equipment that would be required to make it flyable. One idea that I had (but rejected) was to use it as a weather vane. I rejected that idea in favor of giving to to JP's Ribs at Bolton, but after seeing this I am reconsidering the weather vane idea:

Now, I have been in a lot of FBOs all over the country and I have to say that I have never seen an FBO as nice Zanesville's My house isn't as nice as this FBO. Words can hardly do it justice, so I spent a few minutes taking pictures:

This stained glass decoration shows the outlines of the runways and taxiways:

The quality of the interior decorating was surpassed only by the friendly service. The young guy working the counter offered to drive us down to the Denny's. We had planned on walking, but the idea of getting a ride there to ensure that we didn't get lost on foot was appealing, so we accepted his generous offer. I only had a couple of singles to tip him with, but even at that paltry amount he seemed surprised that I'd even suggest it. I figure a third of a six-pack is better than no six-pack at all, and eventually I think he saw the logic in that argument and graciously accepted my offer.

The Denny's is not your normal run-of-the-mill Denny's:

It was crowded, as you'd expect, but we're manly men and chose to sit at the counter rather than wait for a booth. That got us seated immediately. There was quite a lot to choose from, but after a brief search I found just the breakfast for me: sausage links, grilled ham, bacon, eggs, hashbrowns, toast, and pancakes. I wish I had thought to tell the waitress to hold the toast and pancakes as there was no way I would be able to eat it all:

While we were waiting, I took a few pictures of the diner ambiance:

The walk back to the airport helped burn off about 100 of the 5000 calories I had just ingested. It's a nice, quiet country road:

Quiet, that is, right up until you get to the house where these guys live:

They made it known (in no uncertain terms) that we would be very welcome to stay the hell out of their yard. Which I agreed to, as you can surely imagine!

By the time we got back to the airport (and re-thought the decision to buy gas there based on their current price of $6.22 a gallon!), the wind had shifted around enough to allow a convenient departure on runway 22, pretty much aligned with the direction we wanted to go. I made the takeoff, cringed at the hostile hilly run-off area southwest of the airport, and flew just long enough to determine that it was going to be a bumpy leg. That can mean only one thing: it was co-pilot Rick's turn to fly. He flew us back to Bolton using the requisite Class C avoidance techniques, and I let him keep the stick until we were over the numbers on runway 4, still about 200' in the air. The Alpha 4 taxiway was closed because it had an ice wall blocking it, so I kept us high on the approach to allow us to land long and exit at Alpha 3. It was another good (enough) landing, again with just a little of the mechanical bounce.

We pushed Papa back into the hangar and went our separate ways. On the way out of the airport, I saw that the Cherokee in hangar E1 was out and decided to stop and say Hi to the owner. He had commented on one of my YouTube videos and I thought it would be nice to meet in person. It turned out not to be him, but his partner in the plane instead. We chatted for awhile and ended up going for a ride in Papa since I needed to get the gas that I hadn't bought at ZZV. Two birds, one stone. He totally enjoyed the ride over to MadCo, and was just the kind of exuberantly appreciative rider that makes it so fun to share my plane. It even turns out that there is some possibility that they will be looking for another partner in the Cherokee and that is something I might have to consider. I'd love to have access to an IFR-capable four-seater for those trips that I would like to be able to make with the family and his description of the way they handle the finances sounds very intriguing. I'll talk more on that if anything ever comes of it;.

The arrival back at Bolton got a little interesting. I was inbound to a left base for runway 4, cleared number two behind a Skyhawk inbound on the ILS. The tower instructed me to call him in sight, but it was too hazy for me to see him. I offered a 360 out of the base leg to join in behind the Cessna, but the tower instructed a right turn to downwind instead. We were withing a mile or so of the runway at that point and the stress of not being able to see the traffic was starting to get under my skin. I started a turn to the left, thinking the tower wanted a right downwind, but it only took a few degrees of turn for me to realize that that didn't make any sense whatsoever. I tossed out a quick "say again" and got the clarification that the tower wanted a right turn to a left downwind. That made eminently better sense, but at that point I was so close to the extended centerline of the runway that I was afraid that I would be turning right into the Cessna. I wracked us around in a very tight turn to the right and got us out of the potential conflict. As it turns out, the Cessna was still 2.5 miles out, and it would have all worked out just fine if the tower had just cleared me to land in front of the Cessna.

We continued down the left downwind and made the turns onto base and final with what I thought was plenty of room to spare, but the Cessna planted his landing right on the numbers and began a very lethargic taxi down the runway to Alpha 4. The tower saw the developing situation and asked the Cessna to please get moving as he had landing traffic behind him and needed a 3,000' gap to allow both of us to be on the runway simultaneously. Hearing that, I was able to slow us to a sedate 65mph and preserve what gap we had. It all turned out just fine and we taxied back to the hangar to bed down Papa for the second time today. Oh, by the way, both the landing at MadCo and the higher-pressure landing back at Bolton were fine.

It was great to get out and fly again, and the opportunity to get four landings under my belt was welcome indeed. I sure hope it's not another five weeks before I can do it again!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

It's hump day!

And no, by 'Hump Day' I do not mean Brave Sir Babyhumper will be "entertaining" guests again. No, I mean it in the traditional sense, which is that it is the day that I begin looking at the weekend weather forecast in the hopes that I can do some long overdue flying. The Weather-out-the-Window&trade isn't overly promising, though, with a light dandruff of snow and a chilly 15° F, but if I know anything at all about Central Ohio weather it is that the weather we have today tells us nothing at all about what we will have three days from now. Or three hours from now, for that matter. 

We've had a few days in a row now with highs in the 38° to 44° range and this has melted away most of the frozen precip that was blocking Papa's way out of the hangar. It doesn't appear that the dusting of snow that we received last night is going to have any significant or lasting impact on that,  so hopefully access will not be a factor.  If everything aligns such that I can actually get out and fly, I have two or three possible destinations lined up. Interestingly (or not - you can vote with the little check box thingies at the bottom of this post), they all involve eating. 

I could go to Zanesville (KZZV) where, as I recently learned, there is a Denny's only a mile from the airport.  I really liked their Sopranos-like Super Bowl commercial, so I'm in the mood for a Grand Slam. We don't have Denny's in Columbus for some reason, so I only ever get to eat there when I go to Oshkosh. I could also fly out to Salem Airpark (38D) where there reportedly is a very nice diner. Finally, I could try (yet again) for the Flying Turtle at Mansfield (KMFD).

Decisions, decisions. It doesn't pay to agonize over it right now, though, since there is a very real chance that the weather will be cruddy, the taxiways will be icy, or Papa's battery may be dead after another protracted period of disuse. I'm hoping for the best, though, as I am really starting to miss my time with Papa again.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

PapaGolf held hostage, day umpteen

The Weather-out-the-Window™ this morning looked good with clear blue skies and medium-ish winds at 10-12 knots, but a quick trip over to the aerodrome showed the futility of hoping to fly today. Much like a three day wine binge, the hangover from our ice storm is still causing me grievous discomfort. With an inch of ice below the 8 inches of snow, the plows have not been able to scrape their way down to actual pavement. While the snow has for the most part been pushed aside, the taxiways are still covered with a mix of packed down snow and ice. I'm reluctant to risk Papa on a snowy surface, as you can imagine, but even worse is that today's sun has melted the very top of the ice and created a wet, slippery sheen. Even my normally trusty and resolute Subaru was slip-sliding around, and given its normal sure footedness that's really saying something.

So, no flying today, although I may still get outside long enough to take Brave Sir Hogarth for a walk, assuming that I get over my intense anger with him. You see, we had a co-worker and his family over for dinner last night, myself having talked up my superb secret-recipe pot roast (the secret ingredient is bacon - you can never go wrong with bacon) during my drunken bragging at our office Christmas Secular Non-denominational Holiday party to the degree that he simply had to try it.

Accompanying him was his wife, two year old son, and three year old daughter. Brave Sir Hogarth loves children, but unfortunately he loves them in an extremely inappropriate physical way, if you get my drift. And, much like Shakespeare's Romeo, he is not easily dissuaded. Those poor kids were mounted more times than a merry-go-round pony. We work in a pretty small office, too, so by 10:00 Monday morning the entire office is going to be asking after the health of Brave Sir Babyhumper. As if I didn't dread Mondays enough already...

Assuming that I fail to find it within my heart to forgive the canine pedophile, I may start to think about getting going on my annual tax preparation nightmare. Regular readers of the Chronicles will know that I handle the stress of tax preparation in pretty much the way I handle the infuriating partisan bloviations of election season, which is to say: poorly. It's even worse this year as each new news cycle brings to light yet another of our illustrious ruling class that couldn't be bothered to pay the taxes that they so cavalierly burden us with, at least until such time as they were nominated to a high level position in the Hope and Change Administration.

I've decided that instead of the routine IRS 1040, Schedule A, Schedule B, Schedule D, and a covey of other brutally interrogative forms, this year I'm doing my taxes on the new IRS 1040dem form. It's even easier than the 1040EZ, itself being so simple that it is the only IRS form that can be filled out with a crayon. With the IRS 1040dem, you just take the form, wad it up, and throw it away. One caveat: you have to fill out a Schedule OOPS if you ever get nominated for a high visibility position. I don't figure that I'm likely to ever be offered such a position, so it seems like a win-win deal to me: no paperwork, and tens of thousands of my own dollars left in my pocket.

What could go wrong?