Sunday, August 30, 2009

Weather Patterns

Our local cable TV provider offers an invaluable service that they make available even to their lowest cost customers on basic cable: they have a channel that does nothing but show Nexrad weather radar. The audio channel is used to transmit recorded weather forecast data. Lately it has sounded something like this:

"And now for the weather patterns affecting the Central Ohio Region: crappy, unflyable weekend weather followed by five glorious days that will taunt and frustrate you during the work week."

This week, though, was a little different. We had a torrential downpour during the Friday homeward bound rush hour that slowed the commute significantly, but at least I wasn't in the Miata with the top down this time. Saturday was forecast to be nice, and Sunday was promised to be even better. This weekend was planned to be another attempt at the trip to Niagara Falls with Wingman Ted, but unfortunately the bad weather we had on Friday reached the Niagara Falls region just in time to prompt yet another cancellation of the trip.

With fairly decent weather Saturday but the promise of better on Sunday, I decided to fly on Sunday and fill Saturday with a few hours of driving practice for Co-pilot Egg. Unlike when I was a teenager learning how to drive, the State of Ohio now has a requirement that a new driver log fifty hours of driving before being allowed to take the test and receive a license. We've been knocking out an hour here and there, most notably during our week at Oshkosh.

For her first ten to fifteen hours I've been very selective about the conditions she would be driving in. On our morning commute from West Bend to Oshkosh, I'd have her exit the highway for a driver change just before we reached a road construction area just south of Fond du Lac, for example. Yesterday I decided to up the stakes a little bit and let her try her hand at a more hostile environment: dealing with Saturday afternoon shoppers. But first, I let her try a few laps around the neighborhood in the Miata. I'm a firm believer in the idea that everyone should know how to drive a manual transmission. I've heard from others that weren't taught how to drive a stick that it is very hard (bordering on impossible) to find someone to teach you later in life, so I thought I'd start broaching the subject with Egg.

That went about as well as you'd imagine, assuming you remember your first try at it. Once you learn it and get to the point that it's as automatic (heh!) as using the turn signals, you tend to forget how difficult and confusing it was when you were first learning it. And to be perfectly honest, you probably shouldn't try to teach someone else how to do it in a car that you care about. Having a sentimental attachment to the vehicle might lead to exchanges like this:

"Erika, you have to use the clutch if you're going to stop with it in gear!!"

"I DID use the clutch!"

"Then, pray tell, why is the engine no longer running???"

So, yeah. That might have happened. Twice.

Still... after about the fifth lap of the neighborhood she was starting to get it. I think she'll get a lot better at it with practice, but I don't think we'll try it on the roads quite yet.

Once done with that, we transferred to her preferred car. She seems more comfortable in the Forester than either of the other cars and with the challenges lying ahead I though there'd be great benefit in having her use the car she likes the most. The target of the driving challenge was a busy road full of strip malls and restaurants. And although this confession will likely spark a conflagration of "Why would you do that!" statements from the Co-owner, I told Egg that we could stop at CarMax and look at used cars in her price range. Hey, why should I be the only one harboring secret, unattainable dreams? With me, it's the goal of building a plane; with Egg it's the idea of owning her own car.

Speaking of building a plane, I really did some damage to that dream last week. It was a stupid thing to do, but it had to happen eventually: I measured the cellar door from the basement up to the back yard to see if an assembled wing would fit through. Well, it would fit through the door, but it wouldn't fit the steep climb up the stairs. That pretty much kills the dream of building a plane. The only other way to do it would be to use two of the three bays in the garage. Those bays, inconveniently enough, are currently used to garage automobiles, and the idea of leaving one of the cars outside (the other would just be moved out as needed) for the three to five years it would take to build an airplane is unlikely to sit well. I've heard anecdotally that an arrangement like that causes significant friction. So, that's that.

Although... I'm still tempted to build an RV-12 tail kit. That's small enough to be built in the basement. Even if I never went on to build a full airplane, it would be easy enough to sell at cost. According to the guy for whom the garage situation is anything but anecdotal, all you lose when selling an in-work project is the cost of your time. That seems a good trade to me. I want to spend the time on it.

So, back to the driving with Egg. Having a firm destination in mind helps with the driving in that it provides an opportunity to not only practice driving, but to learn some of the local roads and routes as well. We started out on the highway where Egg capably dealt with a bit more traffic that she's used to. I also pointed out areas along that route that she will want to remember in order to be in the correct lane. Little tidbits of advice like "stay in this lane because that one is going to be 'exit only' in a mile" should help avoid the dangerous situations you see when someone unfamiliar with the roads gets in a panic and tries to make a last second lane change, often with tragic (yet predictable) results.

Picking a destination that's very hard to get to also afforded the opportunity to show her how to find alternate routes when the shortest way is not truly feasible. In the case of CarMax, getting there the shortest way involves coming off of the highway to a continuous lane, then having to get across three lanes of heavy traffic to make the left turn. Because you don't have to stop as you come off the highway, people behind you get a little pissy if you stop to wait for a gap to make the lane changes. It's better to just go down to the next intersection, make a left there, and work your away around the block back to the dealership. And other than some knucklehead pedestrian with a death wish (seriously, this guy just strolled across four lanes of traffic without a glance in either direction, his attitude essentially being "dare you to run me over"), the alternative route worked out very well.

Being a Saturday afternoon, CarMax had all of their sales people prowling around the lot. You don't get very far without being intercepted. "So, what are you looking for?" is a more common pick-up line than "do you come here often?"

"We're just window shopping today, but we have three requirements:

- $10,000 or under tag
- no sports cars
- no large horizontal spaces."

Sales guy: "[LOL] I understand that last one - I have three daughters myself. I suspect at least one grandchild probably came from that."

Oh, and I told him that Egg was just training and we came all the way up there just to practice difficult traffic conditions, and how we'd gone around the block rather than try to make those lane changes right off the highway.

"I do that too!"

He also told Egg that he had taught all three of his daughters how to drive a manual transmission and that although it may seem impossible now, it would get much easier with practice. And, because he's a salesman and therefore required to agree with everything I say, he agreed that a Mazda 3 would be a good choice for her.

We weren't there long, but it was long enough to get caught. I responded to a text message from home requesting that we bring food back with a terse "We're all the way up on Sawmill Rd."

To which I received a very predictable reply: "What are you doing all the way up there?"

And here's where I unintentionally taught Egg a very bad lesson: "Going to Trader Joe's."

Which was the truth since I needed to go buy more coffee beans, but not quite all of the truth. Some day I'll get hoist on that petard. If I'm lucky, at least it won't involve the inappropriate usage of horizontal vehicle space.

We stopped for lunch on the way back which unintentionally put us in place for another valuable lesson: how to get out of the way of a speeding fire engine. Closely followed by the "what do I do to get around this car wreck instead of sitting here all afternoon" lesson. So, good experience for her. Bad experience for the poor folks that inadvertently constructed the learning opportunity.

Three hours of frantically pushing at a non-existent brake pedal on my side of the car was enough; we called it a day.

Sunday dawned with a very nice Weather-out-the-Window&trade forecast:

The remainder of the day was forecast to have a scattered layer of clouds at 3,500'. Being as flat as Ohio is, we'd be OK just staying under them if we didn't want to spend the time climbing over them. The winds were expected to be out of the northwest at 8 knots, which is just fine. Departing on runway 22 put the crosswind on our right side, and eight knots of it was pretty much just enough to completely moot the need for the normally required boot full of right rudder. We had a pleasant, smooth, and scenic flight down/over:

We stopped by Rick Gray's RV shop, although I was pretty sure he wouldn't be there:

He wasn't, but that didn't stop us from peaking through the windows. What a great workshop! Color me jealous. From there it's just a short walk over to the airport terminal where the restaurant is. Now here's something you don't want to arrive to:

Closed!! How could that be??? Fortunately, I walked a little further down the hall and found the 'Coffee Shop' entrance. They apparently open that on the weekends when they think the whole dining room is too much bother to open. That's fine, really, but they ought to put a sign on the other door. I wouldn't have walked down the hall if I hadn't been going to see this:

I asked Co-pilot Rick if he knew why the bear was waving. He didn't. Seems obvious to me: "Because he's gotta split!"

Seriously, I don't know why he flies with me.

We departed out of Parkersburg and headed west along the river:

As we started heading northwest towards Bolton, we found ourselves just under the promised puffy clouds at 3,500'. Puffy clouds mean bumpy air, and bumpy air means it's Rick's turn to fly. I busied myself with diddling around with the Garmin 396 checking weather observations. Bolton was reporting sky clear while Rickenbacker, just a few miles away, was reporting a ceiling at 1,900'. Both were wrong. I guess I have to learn to take the XM METARS with a healthy grain of salt. Here's what it looked like the whole way:

It's neat to fly below the clouds. We have to stay at least 500' below them to comply with the federal regs, but that's still close enough that they lend a real sense of speed that you normally don't get. The RV was cooking along at 140 knots, so that visual indication of just how fast that really is was pretty cool. But yes, it was a little bumpy.

I took over the controls from Rick after I accidentally put a wingtip two feet into the Columbus Class C (a fact that the Garmin dutifully informed me about post haste) and managed a pretty good landing at Bolton, considering the conditions. Sometimes entering on the base leg as we did today will result in me being a little high on final, and today was one of those days. It happened at Parkersburg too, but with the hostile terrain down there and the very-long runway, that's no big deal. It's actually a good thing.

But back at Bolton, the effort to rid myself of inconvenient altitude ended up making me fast on final too. The flaps were able to absorb that excess potential energy, but I allowed them a little too much latitude. By short final I was at 70 mph and dropping like Paris Hilton's pants (ooh, sorry about that one!). Landing a short-winged plane like the RV-6 in an energy state like that is similar to an auto-rotation landing in a helicopter: you have enough energy for one, and only one, attempt at the flare. You'd better get it right the first time!

I did.

Of course, it's not like the engine wasn't running - I could have added a blip of throttle if I didn't get it right. Still, good practice.

As I pulled into my driveway at a little before noon, I couldn't help thinking that I probably would have stayed home if the Weather-out-the-Window&trade had looked like this:


  1. Yea the weather didn't look too inviting most of the day today... I was gonna take the Cub up for a spin but it was too windy.

    (They have a 10 kt max wind rule for solo flight)

  2. Looks like you had fun too. The family and I rented 172S(S for Slow- 124 kts) from I69 and flew to French Lick Indiana. Wife was a little scared going on top(of the clouds). She thought we'd get stuck up there. I had never been allowed to in training, so first time for me in 95hrs. It was amazing how smooth it was. I'd like to fly in the 6 sometime with you. I have the 10 ordered for Nov delivery. My early or only christmas gift. Take care. Enjoyed your write ups/pics as always. Wayne.