Sunday, April 05, 2009

Know when (not) to go

The Weather-out-the-Window™ yesterday looked pretty good and, in fact, it was. My RV friend Ted had mentioned on Friday that he and his wife would be flying up to Put-in-Bay for a visit, and I generously invited myself and Co-pilot Egg to join them. I warned him that any commitments along those lines on my end were tentative at best because it is hard to predict how any number of critical decision-making elements will turn out:

- will she still want to go?
- will she get out of bed before noon?
- will the weather be calm enough? Note that I have much tighter weather criteria when flying EOB (Egg On Board) than usual.

As it transpired, two out of the three elements were met, and the third (the weather) was OK in the local area, but it looked like it would be cold and breezy on the island. Both of those things matter: the island is inhospitably cold when the temps are in the mid 30s, and the small runway is as threatening as a Doberman with a painful hang nail when it's windy. I made the decision to stay home, and after reading about the results of the trip on Ted's blog, I think I made the right decision:

The headwind was strong at 27 kts. We stayed at 5,500' to get above turbulence and less headwind. When we arrived at Put in Bay, I tuned to Port Clinton AWOS. It reported wind 300 at 14 gust 19, both runways 3 and 21 gets 90 degree cross wind. I decided to circle all islands in a clockwise pattern, that brings me to right downwind runway 3. Air was bumpy at this time. By the time I was on short final I noticed that I had to fight very hard to keep my airplane lined up with the runway center line and on the glide slope. My landing was the worst I ever had in my RV. After my left main touched down it bounced a little and wobbled down the runway. Fortunately, I got positive control of the airplane and exited the runway at around 1,500'. The lady worked at the counter told me that the pilot of a commuter flight that morning complained about the wind too. The wind was different than the one reported at Port Clinton. Landing on runway 3 I had shifting tail wind gust to 23 kts. She said that if I could land today I could land any day there.

And, like I said, that runway is never a particularly easy target in the best of weather:

Photo courtesy (Presumably. I didn't actually ask!) of Ted Chang

Having decided not to fly, we managed to still get outside and enjoy the weather by taking a family walk and nearby Prairie Oaks Metro Park:

The Co-Pilot, Co-Owner, and Brave Sir Hogarth

I had hoped to get any flying that I wanted to do done on Saturday under the threat of really nasty weather on Sunday. As these things often work out, the Weather-out-the-Window&trade on Sunday morning was every bit as nice as the preceding day's had been, albeit with the promise of somewhat stronger winds in the afternoon. Feeling that I still owed Egg a flying lesson, we started casting about for a destination.

Back when I was just getting started in flying, the big deal was to fly to Bluffton (5G7) for Denny's. The Denny's was in an adjoining parking lot, so it was a simple matter to land and walk on over. That Denny's went out of business years ago, but every now and then someone will buy the place and try again. Google showed that the most recent was a place called the Eagle's Nest, but we all know that one of the less positive traits of Google is that it never forgets anything. In other words, just because Google remembers a restaurant being there does not mean that a restaurant is still there. Still, it was a nice distance for a flight and since Egg had covered her bases by eating some Eggo's prior to departure, it was a safe enough bet.

We took off from Bolton with a nice crosswind from the right. The wind from the right was at just the right strength to counteract the normal left turning tendency on takeoff, so the only rudder required was to adjust for the varying speeds. It wasn't a steady wind, you see. It was something along the lines of 8 gusting 12. One over achiever of a gust hit us just as the tail lifted which necessitated an enthusiastic correction with the rudder, but that was not unexpected and was handled with aplomb by my caffeine-enhanced foot reactions.

I climbed us up to 3,500 and pointed us in the general direction of Bluffton before handing the reins over to Co-pilot Egg. I gave her some quick reminders concerning how to keep the GPS aligned and to make sure to keep an active scan of instruments/GPS/airspace going. The air was smooth, albeit with some mild bumps and up/down drafts, so after just a few minutes I was able to fly us along the course while I diddled with maps and the camcorder. We had a quartering tail wind, so we were making 152 knots across the ground at 2,300 rpm. She has a suitably light touch on the stick and has gotten over her initial desire to get back to our altitude with a big yank or shove on the stick. I'm pretty sure we never drifted any more than 150' high or low during her entire time at the controls. Very good! And I think she enjoyed it, too:

When we were a few miles out from the destination, I took over and made the descent into the landing pattern. The winds were favoring runway 5, so we crossed over the airport to enter the standard left downwind. From our perch just above the airport, I could see that the restaurant was deserted. While we still held the advantage of the high ground, we searched for alternatives and found a bevy of fast food places just across the highway. With that observation, I elected to continue the landing. It was a 10 gusting 13 crosswind from the right, which is just strong enough to be considered good practice. The touchdown was smooth, with just one little bounce resulting from the extra 5 mph that I carried into the flare.

After we had parked by the FBO and were walking in, a nice young lady came out to inquire as to our needs. Feigning a complete lack of knowledge about, and desire to use, a crew car, I adopted my Bambi-face and asked how difficult the walk across the highway bridge would be. She replied, "Well, would you like to use our crew van? I can walk over and get it for you." It's slightly possible that I over-played the thinking-about-it pause before answering in the affirmative, but I think the chances are good that I got it just right. See, if you accept too fast, it becomes really, really obvious that the whole 'walking' question was really just an un-subtle beg for use of the car. There's an art to these things, after all.

The crew van turned out to be a very nice example of that type of car. You may remember, for example, the car we borrowed down in Ashland that was so nasty that it called into question just how much 'courtesy' there really is in the term 'courtesy car' sometimes. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. It's just more of an observation on the wide spectrum of the loaner cars various airports make available to visiting pilots.

It was less than a mile from the airport to the row of restaurants, and I let Egg choose our destination from a list of restaurants including a McDonalds, Arbys, Burger King, Subway, and Taco Bell. She decided on Subway, where we split a footlong BMT and a bag of chips.

On the way out, I had her ask for change for a $10 bill so I'd have a fiver to tip the airport girl with. I taxied over to the pumps and she came out and pumped the gas for me. I didn't really need any, but at $3.42/gallon I figured that I'd go ahead and fill up. As she was running the Visa card through back in the office, I slipped the five under the crew van keys on the desk. Sometimes they get all "Oh, you don't need to do that!" on me, so I just avoid the argument and put it someplace that they're sure to find it.

Egg's current career plans involve nursing. Granted, her interest is currently in neo-natal, but I haven't given up on trying to get her interested in Life Flight. The local Life Flight operation is based at Bluffton, so we snuck over to their ramp to sneak a picture:

There were cars in their parking lot that indicated that there might be people on-duty, but the skies were clouding up with the precursors of tomorrow's bad weather and the winds were starting to pick up, so I decided that rather then pestering them, we would just head home. It was bumpier heading back, and even at 2,500 rpm we were only making 140 knots across the ground. As we approached Bolton from the north, we reported in over Darby Dan and were requested to report entering mid-field left downwind to runway four.

Just a minute or so later, a Skyhawk reported in over Lilly Chapel, which is eight miles west. We were descending down to pattern altitude and I still had most of the throttle in, so I figured that the resulting 170 mph on the speedometer would get us to the runway far quicker than the Cessna. The tower wasn't quite as sure, but that's simply because he has no way of knowing how fast I'm going. He thought it might be a good idea to figure out who was going to get there first, so he queried our position, which was three miles north. The Cessna responded to his query as "still more than five miles out." RV-6, for the win!

The winds were a bit stronger by that time, but Bolton has a nice, wide runway and it's pretty easy to find a spot to land in it under just about any conditions. It was a nice enough landing, considering. I taxied back to the hangar and started going through the steps of bedding down Papa. At one point, it struck me that I wasn't getting much help from the co-pilot. Well, as it turns out, this piloting business is tiring work:

Still, she's enjoying flying with her old man these days every bit as much as she did years and years ago when she wrote this:

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