Saturday, July 04, 2009

A routine flight? There's no such thing.

The Weather-out-the-Window™ this morning looked fantastic. That was a bit of a relief - I had been out at a party last night and unable to check the forecast. Just to make sure I didn't leave it too late to make arrangements for flying, I texted Co-pilot Rick to see if he could check the forecast. He responded with a five page text containing the forecast, but it was raw data rather than the human readable form that I can get from the internet.

Since the internet briefing sites are more than happy to decode the FAA gibberish for me, I have gotten out of the habit of reading the original format. I was too embarrassed to ask for a plain text report, besides which it would have entailed receiving a ten page text. Given that each page rings the phone as it arrives, I thought it might be rude to be the guy whose phone won't stop ringing. I was able to read enough of the salient points to see that at least the morning was predicted to be nice. If I was reading it correctly, that is, which is why it was a relief to see a sunny sky and calm air out the window at 0630 this morning.

Just so you can more easily understand the challenge, here is the raw format:

TAF KCMH 041132Z 0412/0512 27005KT P6SM SCT250
FM041800 24007KT P6SM BKN120
FM050000 14005KT P6SM VCSH BKN050
FM050800 VRB03KT P6SM VCSH SCT035 OVC050

This is the decoded format that I apparently have become overly dependent on:

Columbus OH (Port Columbus Intl) [KCMH] terminal forecast
issued on the 4th at 7:32am EDT (1132Z), valid from the 4th at 8am EDT (12Z) through the 5th at 8am EDT (12Z)

8am EDT (12Z) wind 270° at 5 knots, visibility greater than 6 miles, 25,000 feet scattered

2:00pm EDT (1800Z) wind 240° at 7 knots, visibility greater than 6 miles, 12,000 feet broken

8:00pm EDT (0000Z) wind 140° at 5 knots, visibility greater than 6 miles, showers in the vicinity, 5,000 feet broken

4:00am EDT (0800Z) wind variable at 3 knots, visibility greater than 6 miles, showers in the vicinity, 3,500 feet scattered, 5,000 feet overcast.

Quite a difference, don't you think? Actually, I can usually still read the encoded version fairly well, but the tiny screen of my phone made it difficult. And I'm not completely absolving Samuel Adams and his diabolically smooth and light Summer Ale of a share of the blame either. Ok, I admit it: it was the Sam Adams.

As we all know, though, the Weather-out-the-Window™ forecast only provides an initial measure of the flyability of the day and further research is required. It didn't take long to learn that the expectations for the afternoon weren't nearly as rosy. In fact, those municipalities that stood on tradition and decided to have their fireworks displays on the 4th are likely to be disappointed. When faced with a nice morning but a questionable afternoon, the default decision is a routine breakfast flight to Urbana.

Not flying at all wasn't a viable option since Papa needs fuel and the local airports charging less that $4 per gallon are becoming increasingly scarce. Urbana was, in fact, one of the few remaining with the lower priced fuel, and that is more than likely not going to be the case for much longer. Next time they buy fuel, they too will probably be north of $4.00. I figured I'd better get the cheap stuff while the getting was good. Since a routine food and fuel flight isn't all that exciting anymore, Rick and I thought that we'd get it done early and then take the kayaks out for a little spin when we got back.

On the way out the door, I briefly considered grabbing my camera as required by the "Never Fly Without a Camera" rule. (Stop me if you've heard this one - you can probably already predict where I'm going with this.) I didn't. After all, I've hauled that camera back and forth to Urbana a gazillion times without ever using it. Why lug it along just for breakfast and fuel??

As I was opening the hangar door, I was surprised to see that I have a new hangar frog! I guess he never heard the tragic news about what happened to the last hangar frog that tried to live in hangar H5. Too bad I didn't have my camera to commemorate his arrival. Well, actually, I guess it would be more accurate to say that I needed a picture of him before I accidentally run over him like I did his predecessor.

I did the preflight and we were off the ground at about 0845 and enjoying a smooth ride over to Urbana, unopposed by any kind of wind. I throttled back a little bit to make a good 140 knots, there being no real reason to spend the fuel to get there any quicker than that. When we were 15 or so miles out, we heard a pilot call arrival at Urbana:

"North American, overhead pattern to left traffic runway 2."

That was helpful - when the winds are calm and either direction on the runway is equally valid, it's nice to have someone already there to establish the runway to use. We were curious about what type of 'North American' airplane it was, though. The options run from a Navion to T-6 Texan to P-51 Mustang and all the way up to a B-25 Mitchell or an F-86 Sabre. The specific type doesn't really matter in one aspect, though: having any one of those types at the airport would be just the reason that I made the "Never Fly Without a Camera" rule in the first place. Still, I've seen all of them before. While I was a little frustrated to be sans camera, it wasn't all that horrible. Well, truth be told I'd be furious if it was an F-86, but that odds of that were very, very small.

Traffic was light at Urbana and we didn't hear another arrival until a Skyhawk checked in:

"Skyhawk [insert random numbers here - I don't remember them] is five miles south for a straight-in to runway 2."

As we were a little more than six miles south east ourselves at that moment, I thought I ought to go ahead and let him know that we were about the same distance away as he was and that we would be crossing over the runway to make left traffic to the same runway. He replied that he would forego the straight-in approach and also cross over to a left downwind. In theory that made the whole thing easier, but it didn't turn out that way.

The first thing I do when I find myself to be equidistant to the airport with a plane like a Skyhawk is speed up. It does neither of us any good to arrive at the same time, so I just throw a little more coal on the fire and get there before him. I figured there was no way he was going to keep up with 150 knots, and actually told Rick that I'd eat my hat if we didn't easily get there first, but with one caveat: he didn't sound all that confident on the radio and I figured there was some chance that he didn't really know how far he was from the airport. Most people have GPS now and are therefore very aware of their position relative to the airport, but there are still some guys out there that either don't have a GPS or never learned how to use the one in the plane they fly.

We crossed over the runway and made the left turn to downwind and reported such on the radio:

"Four Six Six Papa Golf is midfield left downwind runway 2."

The next transmission from the Skyhawk was a stunner:

"But I'm midfield downwind too!"

As you can imagine, this revelation caused no small degree of consternation in the Papa Golf command center!

"Do you see him?"

"How could he have gotten here before us?"

"I don't see him and he doesn't see us - we'd better get out of here."

I started a turn to the north and transmitted that we'd be making a big 360 for spacing and would re-enter the downwind after the Skyhawk had gotten to base leg. This wasn't the most comfortable thing to do because the Skyhawk pilots often fly very, very wide patterns and if this guy was way, way out on a downwind, we'd be turning right into him. He had said he was at pattern altitude, though, so I climbed us up a few hundred feet so we'd hopefully go over him if he was as far out as we were. By the time we were through the circle, we still couldn't see him and he had not yet called a base turn. He did have one important thing to report, though:

"Skyhawk [whatever] is midfield crosswind to the left downwind, runway 2."

Ah, so he wasn't on the downwind at all! And sure enough, now that we knew where to look, there he was still a mile or so south of us.

Sigh. Both of us had heard him report that was was midfield downwind. He can only have meant that he was midfield downwind on the other side of the airport (if you were going to land in the opposite direction), but that doesn't make any sense. Either way, I would have been better off continuing on my downwind but there had been no way to know that. Although, when you consider how often high wing versus low wing mid-air incidents occur, I'd probably make the same decision again.

Dealing with that distraction led to me turning base to final with more altitude and air speed to get rid of than usual. There was no headwind to help reduce our ground speed as we were coming down final, either. The whole mess ended up with a big embarrassing bounce on landing. The recovery from that bounce was, if I do say so myself, pretty good, but that absolves nothing. To make it worse, there was no shot at all of making the face-saving first turn-off.

We taxied in the long way and parked in my favorite spot right in front of the diner.

It was closed.

Drat. Should have seen that coming. July 4th and all that.

On the plus side, we were able to see the what kind of North American we had heard on the radio was. It was a T-6.

Having failed to get food, there was nothing left to do but taxi over to the pumps and get the fuel Papa needed. As I was getting ready to pump the gas, a couple of guys came flying over in a golf cart.

"Oh great, they aren't selling gas today either," I thought to myself.

Rick was over at the plane removing the fuel caps so appeared to the head golf cart dude to be the PIC:

"Hey, is this your plane?"

Rick pointed him in my direction.

"Now what? He wants to rag on me about that debacle of a landing?"

Nope, that's not what he wanted. Phew!

It turns out that he knows Papa's builder and has quite a few hours in the plane himself. He just wanted to see the plane again. Cool! He also mentioned that food was available at a car show that just happened to be going on adjacent to the airport, and he'd be happy to give us a ride over there. I moved Papa back down the ramp to an appropriate parking spot, and as I was buttoning up the canopy and dropping a chock down by the wheel, I heard him on his cell phone:

"Hey, guess where I am. I'm sitting in front of your old airplane!"

He had called the builder to tell him that Papa was at Urbana. Then he handed me the phone. It turns out that the builder is at Urbana quite often doing volunteer work on a B-17 that's being restored there. He seemed interested in seeing Papa again, so I promised I'd give him a call next time I'm going to be there. And not just because he told me that he found the original plans for the airplane and has been saving them for me, either. Nope, it's just that I'm a nice guy. That's my story, anyway.

Rick and I made our way over to the car show by way of the B-17 hangar. They're working on the fuselage right now and I think I saw a huge completed rudder sitting off in a corner. Things were pretty cramped and it left me wondering where they're going to find the room to rebuild those huge wings.

The car show looked like it was going to be very well attended. Even as early as we were there, cars were pouring in. Many of them were spectacular. I swear, if I wasn't a plane guy I'd be a car guy. I was particularly impressed with the very, very old 1900's models. It amazes me that they can keep them running at all, and it's even more impressive that they look just like they had come from the show room yesterday.

Gee, wouldn't some pictures be nice right around now?

So, we're standing at the food trailer when I see a car pull in with a dog in the back seat. That in itself wouldn't be blog-worthy, of course. What's amazing is that the dog in question was very nearly an identical twin to Brave Sir Hogarth! This I had to see! I'm not normally the walk-up-to-a-stranger kind of guy, but in this case I willingly made an exception. The closer I got to the dog, the more astonished I was by his similarity to Hogarth. After chatting with the owner for awhile and ascertaining that her dog (Sully) had gobs of similar traits to Hogarth, I asked how old he was. Four years old. Hogarth is nine. No direct relationship then, but you wouldn't think it to look at them. No one at home would believe me. And I had no camera to prove it. Argh!

But... did I mention that Rick had brought his camera? Well, he did, and I rushed back to find him because I simply had to have photographic evidence to take home. Here are a couple of pictures of Sully:

Compare to Brave Sir:

Very handsome lads, the both of them. In my opinion, anyway.

And yeah, I've been holding out on you with the whole Rick brought his camera thing. Why? Well, because it was funnier this way. I reserve that right.

Here's a picture of the hangar frog:

And here's the T-6:

And even a picture of the car show:

1 comment:

  1. Sully's Mom And DadJuly 4, 2009 at 7:54:00 PM EDT

    I just got on here to see the pictures of Hogarth and WOW he does look so much like my Sully, I cant believe they are not related. And like you said in your comments they have alot of the same habits..Hogarth is one handsome dude if I may say so... thanks for sharing him with us. Sully's Mom and Dad