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!


  1. You should turn these into a book. You write really well and I love the pictures - it's like being there!

  2. I really enjoy your writing. I know now what Bob Collins says great things about you!
    Pete H.