Sunday, May 31, 2009


The Weather-out-the-Window&trade today was terrific! Amazingly blue skies, moderate winds in the 10 to 14 knot range, clear air, and a temperature that would be high on just about anyone's "If I Could Only Have One Temperature It Would Be..." list. In short, the perfect flying day. But... I didn't. Instead I checked something off on my "Waiting For The Perfectly Appropriate Day To Do It" list.

That item was to walk the Darby Creek Greenway Trail up to the Darby Dan "Round Barn," a seven mile round trip. I've been curious about this barn since the day I noticed it while flying:

I was curious enough about that barn to engage Google in learning more about it and found a newspaper article about it. After learning that it was quite accessible should I ever choose to visit it as a groundling, I added it to the above mentioned list.

For years, Darby Dan Farm in western Franklin County served as a training ground for some of the country's top racehorses, including champion thoroughbreds. It was a place that celebrities, a president and a princess visited.

Time and weather have faded its track, barn and grandstand, which were purchased by Franklin County Metro Parks in 2003 and 2004.

But the parks district soon will begin refurbishing the grandstand and barn and convert the area into a museum of sorts, with historic markers and photos telling some of the history of the Galbreath family and reflecting prominent developer John W. Galbreath's love of horses.

On April 1, the park system opened a 4.3-mile trail connecting the Cedar Ridge area of Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park to the track, grandstand and "round barn" -- a covered, 1/8 -mile oval that once housed up to 32 horses.

The start of the trail is only a few miles from my house so it's eminently convenient, but the prospect of what was advertised as an 8.6 mile walk was enough to convince me to wait until a day that provided cool temps, no chance of rain, and time enough to allow a relaxed walk. Today turned out to be that perfect confluence that I had been awaiting.

After having found and utilized the appropriate parking area, I started looking for the trail entrance. My intrinsically superior map reading skills aided me in locating it after only a few minutes and I began the trek. Well, there was a slight delay. Last week I had somehow gotten on the topic of recumbent bikes. I can't remember why I was thinking about them, but I can certainly remember why I think they're more attractive to me than normal bikes: they offer both a more comfortable seat and much-needed lower back support. Actually, better seat padding could also answer to the call of "much-needed" when you get right down to it! As I was walking to the trail, I stopped to talk to the owner of this example:

I asked all of what are surely the usual questions he gets:

- Why a recumbent? Better seating.
- Are they expensive? Yes.
- Do they ride differently than normal bikes? Of course they do, you idiot! Just look at it - does it look like it would ride the same as a normal bike?

Well, that's not really what he said. What he actually said was "try it." I'm here to tell you, it rides very differently. I nearly fell off of it. I came so close to ignominiously flopping onto my left side that I actually ended up making what must have appeared to be a fairly normal turn.

"Hey, you picked it up with no problem at at all!"

"Yep, piece of cake."

It's just a fact of life: native incompetence can often be masked with false aplomb. Thankfully, it would appear that this would be one of those occasions.

I was somewhat taken aback at the very beginning of my hike, though. This is what awaited me at what I thought to be the start of the trail:

What tipped me off to the fact that this was not the trail I was looking for was a sign alongside what I thought to be a bike path warning that there is no water available on the Greenway Trail. "Hey," I thought, "the Greenway Trail is exactly what I'm looking for!" I then astutely observed that the sign was located in a position that left no doubt that what I thought was just a bike path was in fact the trail that I was looking for. Not quite as astutely, I disregarded the warning that there was no place on the trail where one could divest himself of the water (or coffee) that he was already carrying, if you catch my drift. That would ultimately introduce a not insignificant level of urgency in getting back to the parking lot a few hours later. But that was hours in the future; at that moment I was just getting started on what looked to be a very well-prepared and -maintained trail:

I hadn't even gone the first mile when I came across another trail user:

I'm so used to skittish creatures like Herons that I found myself sneaking up on this guy, stopping every few feet to snap a picture before he could run away. It took an embarrassingly long time for me to realize that him running away was the least of my worries. I mean, he's a turtle! How fast could he go? As it turned out, he was quite comfortable with me being there and didn't move a bit, although at one point it looked like he was considering closing up shop. As soon as I saw him getting ready to retreat into his shell, I stopped and waited a few moments while he calmed down.

There was quite a bit of scenery to stop and look at:

The trail remained smooth and mostly flat all the way up to the round barn. Of the people I saw on the trail, most were on bikes but there were a couple of runners that passed by. If I was actually capable of running, it seems like it would be a good place to do it. It ended up being about three and a half miles up to the barn rather than the 4.3 I had been expecting. Once getting to the barn, a runner could take a short break and look around before heading back. The scenery varies from what a sign called the "Oak Savannah" to a preserved wetland area to the barn itself. I think it would be great for a bike ride to, assuming I can ever solve the seat padding issue.

As far as walking, having now done it I doubt if I will do it again. After about a mile and a half I became aware that a couple of things were going poorly in my shoes. On the left side, I could feel a blister building on the back of my heel. I hadn't tied that shoe tight enough and my heel had worn itself raw against the back of the shoe. I tightened up the shoe but the damage had already been done, and more was yet to come. Trying to ease the movement against the blister caused me to change my gait, which in turn caused a recurrence of the pain that I've been having in my planter fascia on that foot. Feeble, I am.

That was the left side. On the right side, one of the shorter middle toes had armed itself with a poorly trimmed toenail and was using it as a weapon against that taller jerk next to him that he hates so very much. By the time I found a place to sit down and remove shoe, sock, and offending toenail, that poor tall toe was in poor condition indeed. Feeble times two.

None of that discomfort was enough to dissuade me from my goal, however. I finally made it to the barn:

I had hoped that I'd be the only one around and that there'd be enough privacy to avail myself of the opportunity to, well, ameliorate the coffee over-capacity problem, but no such luck. I had counted on the 3.5 mile distance from the trail entrance keeping the number of people getting to the barn at a bare minimum, but it seems that there must be a shorter way of getting there. Perhaps there is another entrance at the top of the trail. It matters not; for whatever reason, the coffee that made it up the trail would be heading back down too.

For the last two miles of the walk back to the car, I distracted myself by thinking about that recumbent bike. As I thought about it, it seemed that the whole thing could be improved with the addition of another wheel or two. I was visualizing something like a recumbent tricycle or human-power quad runner. My path of thinking then led to the obvious question of whether things like that were already available, or if it would be something that would have to be kludged together. As soon as I got home, I would Google it to see. Well, that probably wouldn't be the first thing I'd do, would it? No. No it most certainly would not!

Once I got home and had access to Google I started looking around the vast, deep reaches of the Internet, and finally came across this:

Perfect! Well, perfect in the sense of being perfectly suited to what I had imagined. Not perfect in the sense of "Oh crap. Here's one more thing that I simply have to have!" At $879 they aren't terrificly, unattainably expensive, but... let's just say it's not very likely.

Just to make it worse, look at how flipping cool these things are:

I console myself thusly: I just know, without ever even seeing one in person, that the seat would be hard and uncomfortable. That's the story I'm feeding myself, anyway.

Monday, May 25, 2009

I made motel reservations this afternoon...

I've been working on plans for going to the big Oshkosh Fly-in/Air Show with Co-pilot Egg this year. Route planning, scheduling, and first and foremost, lodging all need to be considered. As to the route, I considered driving north into Michigan and taking a ferry across to Wisconsin to avoid the inevitable traffic frustration associated with Chicago but ultimately decided that it wasn't worth the extra cost. For the schedule I've wrestled with early in the week, the middle, of the week, or the end of the week. Since Egg is going to be doing some volunteer work at the Girls With Wings booth and she might be useful in helping in getting the booth ready, I've decided that our travel day would be Sunday the 26th up and Wednesday the 29th back.

Lodging is the real challenge. You have to experience Oshkosh to get an understanding for the immensity of the crowd and the effect that has on occupancy rates for the local hotels, motels, camp grounds, dormitories, and cardboard boxes under the highway overpasses. The lowest cost and highest availability option is tent camping, and that had been my working plan for the last couple of weeks. I decided last night, though, that a motel was the right way to go. I made reservations at a Hampton Inn near West Bend, WI this afternoon. It's well to the south of Oshkosh, but we can easily commute for a couple of days.

So, why not save the money and go camping? Well... let me tell you.

Co-pilot Rick pulled into the driveway at 0730 Sunday morning. The Subie was already loaded with all of the equipment (well, most of it anyway) that I would need for a night of camping at The Farm&trade. All that remained to be done was to load Rick's supplies into the smidgen of available space that I had left for him and to load the kayaks onto their carrying racks. We had plenty of time; I wasn't scheduled to pick up Wingman Ted at Versailles Darke Co. (KVES) until 1030.

By the time we had stopped for breakfast and ice for the coolers, and added a few unexpected miles to detour around a piece of closed road for good measure, it was apparent that I'd be late. Never one to waste a good crisis, I managed to work that to my advantage by expediting our arrival to, and my exit from, the farm using the "Hey, Rick! Take the Subie on down to the site while I jump in my Dad's hot little BMW convertible to go get Ted" gambit before he had a chance to catch on to my impromptu yet nefarious scheme. Even though we were running a little late, we arrived at the airport just has Ted entered a crossover left downwind for runway 9.

Ted (who has a PhD) was smart enough to only plan on spending the day rather than camping overnight with us. If that isn't a tangible demonstration of the value of being highly educated, I don't know what is. Temps were in the mid-80s and the humidity was a "coming attraction" trailer for August, so we were in for a hot, sticky day. It was hazy and overcast, though, so at least we wouldn't be baking all day. Still, because Ted didn't have the same luxury of time that we did and of a necessity needed to keep abreast of adverse weather development, we pushed right into the day's activities.

First on the agenda was shooting. I brought my Beretta NEOS .22 and my 7.62x39mm SKS rifle and Ted had come equipped with an AR-15 and some kind of Czechoslovakian CZ .22 scoped rifle. I was not only appreciative of the East meets West irony of me, the Anglo heritage guy, having the Chinese rifle while Ted, him being of Taiwanese descent, had the American AR-15 (it's a lot like an M-16), but also anxious for a chance to fire a few .223 rounds through the aforementioned AR-15. It wasn't to be.

The AR-15 experienced an irresolvable jam on the second round fired. I was a bit surprised (if any gun needs to be 100% reliable, it's a military piece) at first but, upon further review, I think I understand what happened. Ted was using Russian ammo (Wolf) fed from an Israeli magazine into an American rifle. Why should that combination be any less dysfunctional than the United Nations?

We had plenty of guns to go around, even after the unexpected loss of the AR-15. We took turns shooting the other three with varying success. The SKS provided a big bang but marginal accuracy, while the scoped CZ provided extremely accurate shooting with a report barely louder than a popped balloon. The CZ was so accurate, in fact, the we soon moved on to the tougher challenge of shooting the pistol. That, having nearly instantly being determined to be too hard from the same spot that we had been shooting a scoped rifle from, prompted a move closer to the targets.

After convincing ourselves that we were each proficient enough to hit the proverbial (as far as we're willing to tell him) broad side of my brother's barn (which sits just behind the big mound of dirt used to catch the bullets), we packed up the shooting irons and moved on to the next stop of the day. We drove into Greenville to visit the Darke County Fairgrounds and watch a couple of matinée horse races. These races are typically training races for young, newly trained horses. They keep the field small - the two races we watched only had three horse each in them.

We were all getting pretty hungry by then and I still needed to get my tent set up, so we jumped back in the car and headed back to the camping area to get a fire started, some food cooked, and my tent out of the bag. Rick and Ted concentrated on the first two tasks while I muddled my way through the third. I was doing far more than simply assembling my tent, though. I was also working through the list of things that I forgotten to bring:

- a hammer to put in tent stakes
- the little light that I like to use at night to avoid tripping over a tree or slumbering grizzly bear
- water
- beer
- a pillow

'Twas the pillow that concerned me most.

By the time I had my tent forced into a shape that could be considered reasonably similar to that of a tent, at least to an untrained eye, the brats cooking over the fire were just about ready. And, as an additional bonus, the fire had begun to chase away the multitudinous flocks of mosquitoes that had jumped on us like a tour bus full of senior citizens lining up for the 4:00 Las Vegas buffet. I had remembered (Sigh. Ok, been reminded by the Co-owner) to bring some bug spray but the three of us had already put a significant dent in its capacity. We would need more. The shopping list was growing!

We sat and had a nice lunch of brats and potato chips while listening to the rush of water running through the falls next to the camp site and inhaling the almost overpowering scent of insect repellent. It is my considered opinion that the words 'odor free' when seen in the context of insect repellent mean only that they aren't charging extra for the horrible smell. Fortunately, it wasn't strong enough to have a notable adverse effect on the lunch.

Having finished our late lunch, it was time to run some errands. Ted needed to head back home before the thunderstorms developing in southeastern Ohio put him in the position of having to spend the night with us. Again: PhD = smart. Even then, the trip was no picnic:

My XM did not work. I circled around Jamestown for awhile trying to figure out the course to take. Air was very bumpy between Jamestown and Washington Court House. Finally I eyeballed my way through some rain shower and went around the real bad stuff near Chillicothe.

Rick and I then needed to go to Wal-Mart for the procurement of the supplies we were lacking. Water and beer were easy to pick out, but the pillow gave me more trouble. Because there is every possibility that I would be purchasing a pillow for one time use, cost was very high in the list of selection criteria. My options were quickly winnowed down to two:

- $5.00 for a pillow that, according to the packaging, was "optimal for side sleepers"
- $3.50 for a pillow that apparently wasn't optimized for any specific sleeping strategy

So, in other words, $1.50 more for the promise of the optimal pillow for me, versus the risk I'd be taking by selecting the more ambiguously defined pillow. I rolled the dice and selected the cheaper of the two.

The selection of insect repellent was also an exercise in decision making. There were quite a few options to choose from, but careful analysis indicated that the primary difference between the various selections was the concentration of something called "Deet." There were some with 45% Deet, some with Deet combined with sun screening chemicals, some that promised to be odor free (as mentioned above, we know better than to misinterpret that pledge), and various other combinations. Rick and I were unable to reach consensus in our individual selections. He went with 'Maximum Deet,' while I chose '100% Deet.' In theory, of course, these are exactly the same thing. I wasn't the smartest kid in the Cincinnati Public School System, but I'm pretty sure that the maximum concentration of anything is 100%. I could be wrong about that, but even if some clever manufacturer has figured out how to cram 107% in there, I don't think it would make that much difference. Besides, I don't even know what 'Deet' is. It's probably just a politically correct name for DDT. A little of that goes a long way...

Having become acclimated to the air conditioned environment at Wal-Mart, I wasn't really keen on going straight back down to the hot, humid camp site. Bad luck for me, that, as we still had some chores to do. If we wanted to have access to our favorite fishing area, a tree that had fallen across it would have to be chopped up with a chainsaw borrowed from my Dad. I did the sawing, as can be seen by this rather embarrassing picture:

I underestimated just how much bending force there was on that branch. As I was cutting down thorough it, the two sides of the cut clamped down on the saw freezing it into place. This presented us with quite a dilemma. The saw was really, really wedged in there, and it would take a second saw to remove it. We didn't have one. I asked what they would do on Survivor, but cutting to commercial proved to be a nonviable answer. The two us being slightly smarter than your average cave dweller, we soon arrived at the idea of using a lever. Well, Rick using a lever and me taking a picture of it. We all have our strengths...

With the fishing area clear, Rick grabbed some essential fishing supplies and tried his luck:

As long as I had the camera out, I wandered around taking pictures:

Removing the chain saw from the tree was the last straw for me from a heat/humidity tolerance aspect. I was done. Tired. Worn out. Knackered. But rather than just come right out and say that, which would glaringly demonstrate my inherent wussiness, I dodged into it by suggesting to Rick that I really ought to visit with my parents in their air-conditioned house for awhile. Oh, and that he was more than welcome to join me. Did he agree to go with me just a tad too quickly? No, of course not. Surely that's just my imagination trying to maintain a modicum of self-esteem.

We spent some time chatting and hoping that the rains would abate in time to allow Nascar to get the big race in Charlotte started, but they eventually were forced to give up. By 8:30 the temperature was starting to approach something more reasonable so we headed back down to the site. We needed to get the fire fluffed up again and get dinner started. The contents of the night's chili had already been cooked, cut, mixed, and packed into travel containers, so it was just a matter of tossing it all into the cast iron dutch oven and plopping it down onto the fire.

While it was heating, I decided to go do a little fishing. Or, as I like to call it, feeding lures to the river rocks. I am the king of snagging lures. I could snag a lure in a Dixie cup of water.

That's all to the good though, because if there is one thing that I can't stand about fishing, it's catching a fish. More accurately, it's removing the hook from the fish that I simply cannot stand doing. I get someone else to do it on the rare occasions that I actually catch anything. That's not as wussy as it sounds, actually. It can be relatively dangerous. On one occasion the woman (!!!) removing the hook proceeded to run it right through the web of skin between my thumb and forefinger. Ouch!

You see this coming, right? Within just a couple of minutes of tossing the lure into the creek, I caught this fella:

I have very light and small tackle (why are you giggling?) so even a fast current can feel like a small fish hitting on the lure. Conversely, if the pole bends and the reel drag starts squealing, I've snagged the lure. That latter is what happened. I was reeling in the line when it just stopped. Just as I was thinking that I'd have to cut it loose, it moved! It started tugging, but much stronger than the current could do. It eventually dawned at me that I had either snagged a tire or hooked a fish. Still unsure, I fought it in a little closer, a little closer, a little closer... and eventually it broke water. Wow!

It was at that point I yelled at Rick to come down and get this fish off of my hook. It took a few more minutes of fighting to get it beached, and just a few more seconds beyond that to realize that I hadn't brought a pair of pliers for hook removal. Sigh. Add it to the list. Rick managed to get the hook out and we sent Mr. Big Bass on his way.

By this time I was sticky with sweat, smelled like Deet, and wanted a shower. It was at this point that I realized that camping was not the way to stay at Oshkosh with Egg. We would be miserable. I want her to have a good time, not endure three days of misery. I'll catch a lot of grief from the camping purists who seem to believe that suffering is the same as fun when camping, but I can live with that. I don't know who was the first to put the 'tent' in 'penitent' but I choose to reject that false choice and take the easy way out. I'll see you at the Hampton Inn.

After dinner and a few beers, I was bushed and ready to head to my tent. I was pretty tired and fell asleep quickly, but not before texting to Rick:

"DAMN! This is NOT a side sleeper pillow!"

I slept pretty well, happy that I hadn't had much to drink. I go light on the drinking because I dread having to get up and claw my way out of the tent in the middle of the night in order to stumble around in the dark looking for a nice tree to water, but that moderation never seems to make much difference. I think it's the sound of the creek rushing by that ensures that I will have to make that trek at least twice. I think the sound of the water rushing past on its way to an ocean has the same wanderlust-inducing effect on the water molecules that comprise 60% of our bodies as the sound of a railroad locomotive had on a teenager living in Kansas in the 30's. Just. Gotta. Go.

I woke up a little after first light, rolled over, and slept for another hour. Then came the most awkward part of camping: meeting the strange bugs that you slept with last night. Ick. Well, as long as everyone had fun, I guess. I also dug out my allergy pills, but after a night of sleeping surrounded by pollen-generating foliage, I was unable to achieve my normal Claritan-enabled clearness. The best I could do was more of a foggy translucence. Coffee helped. Mental note: make sure the Hampton Inn provides a coffee maker.

On the way back from breakfast (Bob Evans: The Official Breakfast Of Wussy Campers) we stopped to visit with some of the race horses my parents keep on the farm. This is King Me:

This is the second try at this picture. I got a real nice one the first time he went galloping across the field, but accidentally deleted it while I was showing it off to Rick and bragging about what a wonderful shot it was. Smooth. At least King Me was kind enough to take another jog for me. He's a good boy.

Don't let my tales of tribulation fool you: despite the little trials and the heat/humidity issues, we had a great time. There's no better way to spend a Saturday evening than sitting on the banks of a running creek sharing a few brews. Some day Egg and I will camp at Oshkosh, but I think we should work up to it a little bit at a time. We'll see how she does with a motel room first - even with a room, it's a physically demanding couple of days.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Flying: it's not like riding a bike

You do forget how. It's a well recognized fact that pilots need to undergo periodic refresher training to remain as safe as possible in the air. This is true for airline and military pilots that fly complex equipment in a ever-changing and always-challenging environment nearly every day, and it is true for people like me that fly a much simpler airplane in conditions of my choosing. For the professionals, both the government and their employers (which are, of course, the same thing for the military folks) decree what the recurrent training cycles are and what will be taught. Far more often than not, that type of training is performed in very sophisticated simulators. Two obvious reasons for training in a simulator rather than an actual airplane are cost (fuel and lost revenue from taking a jet off the line) and safety. You can read about a recent example of this type of training in this post by Lynda, a Cessna Citation X pilot:

Today was my first day of STEP training. STEP stands for Scenario Based Training and Education Program. Instead of doing the same old instrument approach proficiency practice and single engine and other emergency procedures, the company has determined that a lot of risk involved in our everyday operations involves threat and error management. In other words, recognizing the first link in a chain of events that may lead to an incident or accident. Instead of taking a checkride, the instructor evaluates our SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) knowledge and decision making skills.

As you might expect, things are a bit easier for those of us flying smaller planes, although maybe not for the reasons you might guess. It would be tempting to say that we fly in a less challenging environment, but that isn't necessarily true. We fly at lower levels and have to deal with weather that jets fly over, we typically fly as the only pilot, we normally don't have the systems redundancy and anti-icing protection of a "big" plane, and we don't have the support of an entire room full of dispatchers and meteorologists watching out for us. And, as noted, we don't always have the depth of training. So, if it's not the comparative difficulty that allows us to fly without the ever-watchful eye of check pilots and FAA inspectors looking over our shoulders, what is it?

Well, I can only guess that it's the fact that we aren't hauling around dozens or hundreds of paying customers. It's not that we're lower risk (and statistics will glaringly show that we most emphatically are not lower risk), it's that the cost of an accident isn't as high. It's high enough, of course, but not as high as that of an airline disaster.

The FAA has mandated that a private pilot must have an hour of air instruction and an hour of ground instruction with a certified flight instructor no less than once every two years. This is known as a Biennial Flight Review, or BFR. Mine was due by the end of May. BFRs are very low stress if you're an active and current pilot, but those that are not fortunate enough to fly as regularly as I do often view them as being another check ride and the first one was tough enough, thank you. I view them as a chance to learn a few new things about my airplane. This is similar to Lynda's employer's view that there is benefit in practicing things that you don't do every day.

I would be flying with Greg, a guy I've known from way back when I was just out of renting and into my first flying club. He's been building an RV-6 for as long as I've known him and I thought he'd be a good choice for working with me on my BFR. I'd get a good lesson and he'd get some seat time in the same type of airplane that he will someday be flying.

It's always fun to have RV builders ride with me - every single one of them goes over the plane with a fine tooth comb looking at how the parts that they've assembled in their shops all go together to make a functioning airplane. Every single one has a specific part that they may have had trouble building and they want to see how it looks on my plane. And the biggest thing? I believe that every single one of them goes back to their shop newly inspired to get their RV done so that they too can enjoy the experience of flying such a well balanced airplane. So, as long as I didn't totally screw up the flying, it was a win-win.

I like having my BFR due in May because by the time it rolls around, the weather has been good enough for at least enough flying for me to be demonstrably proficient. I wouldn't like my chances as much in February, for instance. Flying is flying to Papa, so for him it was just another romp around the local area. He did me proud in front of Greg, starting up with a nice rumble after only half a blade. You'd almost believe he was showing off!

The BFR requirements stipulate an hour of air work but do not define what must be covered in that hour. That makes sense when you consider the huge variety of different flying situations you will find with private pilots. While NetJets can reasonably assume that Lynda will be flying in conditions and equipment nearly identical to her peers and tailor her training accordingly, private pilots are like snowflakes and finger prints: no two are alike. Some pilots will be rusty at the basic skills and need to concentrate on landings and takeoffs. Others may fly every day, but need practice in seldom visited flight regimes such as slow flight or even stalls. The CFI and the pilot work together to decide what they should concentrate their efforts on.

I expressed to Greg that my number one area of concern with regards to the type of flying that I do and the type of airplane that I do it in is landing after an engine failure. The RV-6 has a relatively short, stubby wing and my perception has always been that it would come down like the price of Chrysler stock if the fan ever stopped turning. I usually use my BFRs to practice simulated engine out landings. We flew over to MadCo where I made a normal landing (well, not entirely normal: it was a greaser), then took off again and stayed in the landing pattern.

At pattern altitude and just past midfield, I had 120 mph in the bank. I pulled the throttle back to idle and glided it in. I usually keep the flaps up until I'm established on final and it appears that I won't be landing ignominiously short of the runway. This usually keeps me too high on the approach, but that's considered by most pilots to be a superior situation to be in over the alternative. It's easy to lose altitude sans engine, harder to find it. If the flaps still don't get us down fast enough, a forward slip will finish the job.

On the first landing, I didn't get low and slow soon enough. Had it been an actual emergency, we would still have been able to get onto the runway and stopped before the end, but since it was just practice and I still had the option of using the engine available to me, I went around to see if I could do better with another try. I did, and scored my second greaser of the day.

With the landing practice done, we climbed back up to do some air work. I mentioned to Greg that stalls are not only somewhat abrupt in an RV, they are also very sensitive to the rudder. There's a phrase that describes an uncoordinated stall in an RV: spin entry. Stall it with the rudder hanging out in the breeze and you will soon find yourself heading in the opposite direction and staring at the ground through eyes as big as tennis balls. And by 'soon' I mean 'RIGHT NOW!' Because of this, I normally recover from my practice stalls at the first sign of buffet which, as it turns out, in an RV is concurrent with the signature precipitous drop of the nose that defines a stall. Greg, God bless him, wanted to know what happens if you actually hold it in the stall. Me? I couldn't care less. Well, that's my excuse for not knowing, anyway, and I'm sticking to it. I can understand why you might think that my reluctance to find out what happens has a little more to do with a case of huevos pequeños on my part than an actual disinterest in the topic, but I couldn't possibly comment on that.

In any event, now I know: hold the stick back after putting Papa in a stall and he will buck like a enojado caballo. He shakes his nose up and down and kicks back through the control stick. But he's honest about it: as long as you keep the nose centered, he won't drop off on a wing. Which is good because it takes a long time to cram those tennis ball sized eyes back into your head.

Our hour was up so we headed back to Bolton. I had hoped to go three for three on the perfect landings, but didn't. It wasn't a bad landing, mind you. It was the routine tiny little bounce that's so common for me. But still, a perfect trifecta would have been nice.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Even when you're not flying, you're still a pilot

I spent my weekend with pilots, but didn't fly at all. One of the most compelling things about becoming a pilot is that it is a lot like joining a fraternity (or sorority, of course), albeit without the hazing and, for the most part, the drunken debauchery. Because of the relative scarcity of pilots in the general population, it is one of those avocations that instantly defines you to the non-flying masses, and makes you easily and readily approachable by others in the club.

How often have you been introduced to someone thusly: "Harry, this is Sally. She's a pilot." I've seldom been introduced to someone whom the introducer felt compelled to mention as being "a bowler" or "a philatelic." It's not that there is anything wrong with those interests, you see, it's just that they don't seem to have the same conversational ice-breaking strength of flying. It is rare indeed to find the person that doesn't either share any and all experiences that they've had in small airplanes, mention some relative that is a pilot (although they never know what kind of plane he/she flies, or have any number of questions they'd like to ask about flying. And, on the even rarer occasion that you are meeting a fellow pilot, well, you're assured of good conversation for hours.

My weekend spent with pilots started early. Just before beer-thirty on Thursday afternoon, the phone rang and presented me with a CallerID number that was completely unfamiliar to me. That nearly always means that it is someone calling to sell me something, or a call for the co-owner. Note, if you will, that those are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In any event, I'm loath to answer knowing full well that the call isn't for me, and even more reluctant to do so when the co-owner isn't home. You can't just let thing ring, though, can you? Just.Gotta.Know. So I picked it up and issued forth with my patented gruff "I ain't buying nothing" version of hello. Hey, why encourage them, right?

"Hi, is this Dave Gamble?"

[switch to "Who's asking" tone] "Yes, yes it is."

"Is this the Dave Gamble that writes The PapaGolf Chronicles?"

[Run through the normal litany of thoughts: Who did I piss off? How did this guy get my number? I wonder how much I'm going to get paid for my autobiography.] "Yes, that's me."

"Hi! My name is [Minnesota Paul] and I'm here in town on business. I've been reading your blog for quite awhile, and I wondered if you're not busy tonight if you'd like to get together for dinner." (Note: paraphrased from memory)

[Hmm. I'm actually not doing anything tonight, and it would be a nice night to go over to JP's BBQ and watch the planes fly. And really, wouldn't this be an overly elaborate ruse just to serve me with a subpoena?] "Ok, how about JP's?"

Minnesota Paul arrived at the airport with a business compatriot that we'll call Pennsylvania Rick. Both pilots. One always wants to know what the other guys are flying, much in the same way that dogs like to know what each other had for lunch, although we have an easier way of determining what we want to know, if you catch my drift. In any event, Pennsylvania Rick somewhat grudgingly admitted to flying lowly Cessna 172s, as if there were some shame in that.

I asked him about that and he said it always seems like other people are flying bigger, faster, or cooler airplanes. Well, that's true. With relation to a 172, Papa satisfies two out of three of those. But even with an RV-6 in the hangar, there are still plenty of other types for me to be jealous of myself. That never ends. Even Harrison Ford has to look at someone else's plane now and then and sigh, "I wish."

I find that with airplanes, it's not a matter of having what you want, it's a matter of wanting what you have. Flying is flying, and flying any airplane at all is better than not flying at all. Just ask any of the 99.9999% of people that can't! And besides, there are times when I would be jealous of a 172. Sometimes I want to carry four people. Sometimes I want to fly IFR. Sometimes I just want a nose wheel!

So, assured that we'd have plenty to talk about, we proceeded to do exactly that. I gave them the dollar tour of Papa and did my RVer duty of trying to sell them on the idea of getting one themselves. Well, two. One each. It's an easy sale: they fly great, they're fast, they're commonly available, and you can do as much of the maintenance yourself as you're comfortable with.

Then, to dinner. JP's is one of the very few places that I can find a good sausage meal. I'm not sure why sausage seems to only be available at breakfast, and even then it's hard to find a good polish sausage. JP's is the exception: they have a thing called a King Bull. It's 1/4 pound of polish sausage deep fried, put on a bun, and covered with chili and onions. I like it with the Au Graten potatoes. That and a cold Blue Moon. Oh yeah!

I was busy yammering about one thing or another, and completely forgot to thank Minnesota Paul for picking up the tab. Careless, that. So, thanks Paul!

On Friday I learned (well, was reminded) that Co-pilot Egg was going to be gone for the night, off to a sleepover. This provided the rare opportunity for a night on the town for myself and the Co-owner, but I was bereft of ideas as to where to go or what to do. I was poking around on the computer Googling various options available in the Columbus Arena District when I impulsively checked my Facebook page to see what was going on in that little world. And what did I find? Wingman Ted (RV-9A) was coming to town with his wife to spend the night before a 5K run in the morning. I sent him a message telling him that we were planning on being downtown and could meet up with them, if there was any interest in doing so. He answered in the affirmative so I started getting ready to go.

Unfortunately, my planning was woefully inadequate. I failed to determine that not only were the Columbus Clippers hosting a game in the new baseball stadium in The District, but that the Ringling Brothers Circus was in the Nationwide Arena. Had I bothered to check on that, I would have known that we would want to give that area a wide berth. Because I didn't, we had to deal with the traffic, the climb to the 9th floor of the nearly full parking garage, and the fact that we weren't going to be able to get into any of the jam-packed restaurants that I had so carefully researched. We dealt with all of that by walking the five blocks to Ted's hotel, and then walked a few blocks more to find a good place to eat. In that, we succeeded. We had a nice dinner (crab manicotti and a good heffe-weizen for me) and a nice conversation.

Here's a description of the beer:

This traditional unfiltered German-style weizen has banana and clove flavors not typically found in American versions of the beer. The yeast is the sole producer of the spicy character as no spices or fruit is added to the beer. Served with a lemon wedge.

I'm taking their word for the banana thing. I swear I could taste it, but that may have simply been the power of suggestion.

We finished up dinner and headed back to the parking garage. We got there to find that the circus had just finished. Ninth floor of the garage to the exit in a solid line of slowly moving cars.

Sigh. Could have been worse, though. I'm betting the kids in many of those cars were tired, wound up, and cranky. We were just tired.

Sunday provided me with a dilemma: a Weather-out-the-Window™ forecast that was good for either flying or kayaking. The registration for the guest kayak had arrived in the Saturday mail and Papa really needs a tank of gas, so I opted for the kayaking. A change of pace being in order, in my opinion. Co-pilot Rick agreed, so we planned on getting an early-ish start. It's been my experience that it's nice to get out on the water before the beer-fueled crowd can crawl out of bed. All we needed to know was where to go.

We had flown over Alum Creek, a big reservoir north of Columbus, on our way back from Cleveland last week. From our vantage point a few thousand feet above I was able to pick out a spot where it looked like we would be able to park and get the boats into the lake. We drove up there and found that the area that I had seen from the plane was in fact suitable to that purpose, so off we went for a three hour tour. Yes, a three hour tour. And truth be told, the weather did start getting rough.

Actually, I think we went one inlet further north than depicted, but I got tired of drawing red lines.

Ok, the "rough" weather was only 10 or 12 knots of wind, but amongst the many things that I learned about kayaking today, one of them is that it can be added to the lengthy list of Things That Are Not Improved by Wind. See, there's this thing called weathervaning... something I was already aware of from things like, say, taxiing a taildragger or taking off with a crosswind. It turns out that weathervaning also is a factor in kayaking, and can be referred to as "the thing that makes it hard to steer a kayak in the direction you want to go." Just as with an airplane, the boat wants to turn into the wind. You can correct for that with a rudder if you have one, but if you don't you have to try to manage it with paddling. That can be tiring. As is heading into the wind - that's no picnic either.

Other notable lessons learned:

  • it is easier to drift down a river for three hours than it is to provide your own motive force.
  • it is even harder to provide your own motive force when faced with a headwind.
  • it's a bad idea to lose your seat cushion, particularly if that is not an area in which you are physically well endowed yourself.
  • power boats are a pain in the ass, but only metaphorically. For a literal pain in the ass, see previous item. Power boats are loud, smelly, and make uncomfortable waves for tiny little boats riding only a few inches above the water. That said, Alum Creek is a no-horsepower-limit lake and I knew that. It's up to me to find a more kayak-friendly body of water - it's not hard to do.
  • if it is comfortable to kayak when it's 59 degrees, it's likely to be miserable at 89. Something to remember...
  • it's easier to take pictures while flying an airplane than it is to take pictures from a kayak. Still, I managed:

Rick took a few too. I think this was his most common view of me:

My boat is lighter and faster than the guest boat. It's not that the guest boat doesn't have an advantage of it's own, though. It has a rudder. That turned out to be quite useful. See 'weathervaning' above. Plus, Rick got to pretend he was flying!

Do you see the tire on the bank in this one?

It was a really old white wall. It probably came off of a Packard or something of that era. It looked like it had been there for awhile. It was anything but uncommon to see floating bottles and other crap littering the lake. Sad.

Still, when we could get out of the chop and wind and wakes from rambunctious power boats, it was very quiet and relaxing. We could hear birds chirping and woodpeckers pecking, all accompanied by the periodic honking of Canada geese. We're already planning our next trip to a smaller, quieter lake. We may even make a river run. It turns out that I'm kind of partial to the idea of letting the water do the work of moving the boat.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

My Google Map FAIL!

Look, I'll just say it right up front: it was more than likely the fault of the Margaritas. Yes, true, it was my own choice to drink them, but did they have to be so very delicious? Well, in any event I found myself at the computer this morning planning a flight to Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland. Not so much planning the flight, although that was part of it, but planning the ground-based activities as well. I had a dim recollection of visiting a really neat galleria in downtown Cleveland some 25 years ago, and I thought that maybe I could find it again.

As we all know, the first place one would look for such a thing is Google, and as is nearly always the case, Google found the place as easily as I can find the item on a restaurant menu that they're out of. Whoops, not so fast there, Bub. The first place in the Google results was much newer and more modern than I remembered. I was all set to go there anyway, but my friend Lynda chimed in on Twitter with a link to the place that I was actually looking for. The problem, as is also often the case with Google, was in the search string that I was using. What I was actually looking for was the Cleveland Arcade.

So, now that I knew what I was looking for, I needed only to find out where it was. Google, again. Maps this time. So here's what I found:

For some reason, (cough Margaritas cough) I saw the item at E as the place I wanted to go. FAIL! It turns out to have been item B that I wanted. You would think the fact that E was surrounded by exactly nothing resembling a building of any sort would have served as a clue, but you would be wrong, wrong, wrong. I diligently memorized the walking route from the Burke Lakefront aiport to... nowhere. That all came later, though; first we had to get to Cleveland.

Recognizing at the very time of their ingestion that those margaritas had the potential to make an early departure unpalatable to both myself and Co-pilot Rick, I suggested an 0930 meeting at the aerodrome. That would give me time to assuage my morning headache with coffee, and to get over to the hangar early enough to put the wheel pants back on. They're worth 10 knots extra speed when they're on the plane, and the trip to Cleveland and back is long enough to make that difference noticeable.

The morning forecast promised a calm-ish, clear morning with afternoon conditions trending towards 12G20 winds and 5,000' ceilings. Winds at 12G20 are within the limits of my capabilities, but foretell possible issues with personal comfort enroute. In fact, the forecast was a virtual guarantee of a bumpy ride home. That's flying, though. We deal with it.

As promised, it was a glorious morning and I was able to get myself fully caffeinated and the airplane fully dressed before the Co-pilot made another on-time arrival at the gate. As I walked around doing the preflight inspection, I couldn't help but notice that the wind was starting to pick up. By the time we got to the end of the runway for takeoff, we had a pretty steady crosswind from the left. That's the bad side on takeoff, of course, since the wind beating against the side of the rudder exacerbates the left-turning tendency caused by the torque of the engine and propeller.

As we were accelerating down the runway, I was finding that it was taking a pretty hefty pressure on the right rudder pedal to keep us tracking more or less straight. I knew that once the wheels came off of the pavement I was going to have to be ready for the transition from ground vehicle to airborne vehicle, but failed to carry the left aileron that would have eased the rapid entry into the left crab that we would carry to keep us moving down the centerline of the runway. Well, good practice and better luck next time.

We climbed to 7,500' to get over the tops of the puffy white clouds that we could see stretching in front of us in the clear morning air and found smooth sky for our ride to Cleveland. Unfortunately, Cleveland is surrounded by Class B airspace, and with the clouds being right at the altitudes we would need to fly at in that airspace, we wouldn't be able to go that way. Besides which, I've tried working with the controllers that manage the Class B airspace surrounding Cleveland before and found it to be a frustrating experience. I decided it would be easier (and in some ways, safer) to just stay under it at 3,000'.

The problem with that strategy is that we would have to descend from our comfortable perch up in the smooth air down into the far bumpier air underneath the clouds. The GPS was still indicating 35 miles or so to go when I saw a big hole in the clouds below us to drop down through. If there's one thing Papa likes to do, it's go down fast. With the throttle pulled back to a high idle, we were able to drop through the opening at 3,000 feet per minute. All too soon, we were bumping along beneath the clouds and navigating around the controlled airspace. When we were 15 or 20 miles out, we had to drop even lower to stay under some rather mean looking clouds:

It looked like it would be clear ahead once we got under the darkest cloud, and it was:

I dialed up the KBKL ATIS frequency to get the weather conditions at the airport, but rather than the ATIS I expected I found an automated report. That's fine by me - the weather is the weather - but I was a little surprised at it. I was ready to quickly make note of the current ATIS advisory (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc.) so I'd be able to tell the tower on my initial contact that I had heard the report ("Lakefront Tower, experimental 466PG with information Bravo, 10 miles south...") so it took me a couple of moments to figure out why the identifier wasn't provided.

I went ahead and contacted the tower and was directed to fly over the top of the airport and enter a left downwind for runway 6 Right. Oh, and to watch out for a banner tow a couple of miles from the airport. Apparently the Indians were playing. The nice thing about banner towing planes as traffic is just how easy they are to see. That is the entire point of a banner ad, right? To be seen? Sure it is! With the banner tow in sight and the only other plane in the pattern already on short final, it was an easy arrival. There was some wind, but nothing really noticeable. With the airport being right on the banks of Lake Erie, low winds are somewhat abnormal, but certainly welcome. It was a pretty good landing.

My studiously laid out route to nowhere took us right past the USS Cod, and as Rick hadn't visited it in decades, we decided to take the tour. It's one of those things that's best done when it's not crowded, and since it appeared that we'd be the only ones there, in we went.

Probably the most defining trait of a machine of war as utilitarian and designed for functionality as a submarine is the predominance of machinery. You are literally surrounded by knobs, valves, levers, handles, gauges, lights, and switches. There are no soft edges to anything; the entire boat is made out of steel, brass, iron, or some combination thereof. And it is cramped. Narrow, steep ladders and small hatchways are the means of moving from one part of the boat to another. In other words, it's an intriguing place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there!

Plus, there are big guns!

Then it was time to continue our hike to nowhere. Naturally I took the opportunity to brag about how clever I was in researching our route to know that I couldn't use the landmark that I had seen in the Google street view: a guy rolling by in a wheel chair. Nope, too clever to fall into that trap, but not clever enough to recognize the complete lack of well, anything located at the spot I took us to. After ambling around looking for the Galleria/Cleveland Arcade, I posted a note on Twitter advertising to the world that I had failed to write down the actual address of the destination, what with my being convinced that I had no need for such esoteric information.

As we were heading back to the airport in shame (well, I was ashamed. Rick was just hungry. Downtown Cleveland is a ghost town on Sundays and everything was closed), two things happened nearly simultaneously. First, we stumbled across the entrance to The Arcade:

Second, just as we were going in, I received a text message from Eric forwarding the address that Lynda has posted on Twitter in reply to my failure Tweet. What an amazing world we live in! So, was it worth the trip? Sure! Isn't this beautiful?

I'd like to spend a night there sometime when Cleveland is, well, open. There are a lot of nice restaurants around there, and plenty of really good touristy things to do. The wind was starting to pick up, though, so it was time to head home.

Back at Burke, we untied the airplane and loaded up for our trip back. With Papa's engine started and warming up, I called Lakefront Ground and told them we were ready to taxi for departure, VFR south, He cleared us to taxi out to runway 24L. Once we were out there, I changed over to the tower frequency and told him that we were ready to go. Now in my defense, back at Bolton the ground controller and the tower controller are the same guy, and in that world he would have already known that we were planning a VFR departure to the south. Not so at Burke: "Say direction of flight." D'oh! How embarrassing! But then he said, "Information Alpha is current." Which could mean only one thing: the ATIS was active, and I hadn't checked it. What a Rube! Well, I didn't need to check it, really, because it was already evident what it would say: it's windy. And it was. It was mostly down the runway, though, so the takeoff went well enough.

A left turn from runway 24L to point us to the south would have put us right over downtown Cleveland, so we were instructed to make a right turn out and proceed back to the east until further notice. As we were tooling along the coast, I got to wondering just how far east we were going to have to go. Eventually the tower instructed some other tail number to resume on course heading, but I didn't remember there being another airplane out in front of us.

"Was that for 466PG?"

"Why, yes. Yes it was."

Glad I asked! We'd be in Buffalo by now!

So, how was the trip back? Bumpy. Guess who flew that leg.

I let the Co-pilot take over once we were clear of the Class B (he can't see the GPS from where he sits, so he couldn't see the green rings) and let him endure the rough, choppy ride back to Bolton. We climbed to 4,500', but that wasn't high enough to get over the disturbed air. Any higher would have brought the clouds into play, so... we just dealt with it. It was the kind of ride where you reach for a knob on the GPS or radio and the best that you can hope for is that you actually grab the particular piece of equipment you were aiming for, then try to work your way over to the correct knob. More common is the case where a bump moves your hand to a completely different box and you have to try again.

I've been letting Rick fly deeper and deeper into the pattern at the destination airport, but I took over a little earlier this time. While the tower was reporting the winds as 3 gusting 16 (which is a very odd report indeed!), we were feeling a steady 15 knots or more from the west. That was having the effect of pushing us from right to left and really messing up the nice squareness of the approach. We were also having trouble getting down to the pattern altitude - I finally realized that Papa wasn't slowing down like I expected him to because I had put the wheel pants back on. He's a little less draggy that way, and I hadn't factored that into my plans.

Other than one sharp bump from a gust of wind on short final that lifted the right wing into a 20 degree bank, the winds were fairly steady. It was a direct crosswind from the right, so I had to carry quite a bit of rudder to offset the drift. Even with all of that, I managed a fairly decent landing. Sure, there was a fairly good bounce, but I'll take it.