Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Great Moments in Pedometry

I started wearing a little electronic pedometer yesterday, mostly out of curiosity to learn just how far I walk in any given day. While in theory I have a desk job, the reality of it is that I am up and down all day responding to one thing or another from my user community. Life as the 'computer dude' is a lot like being the guy that owns the only pick-up truck: everyone needs your help, and they aren't shy about asking for it.

I mention this because I spent 45 wholly unproductive and extremely frustrating minutes stuck in the foyer of my office building, a victim of a recalcitrant electronic security lock that refused to recognize the authority of my key card. Repeated attempts were every bit as futile as my muttered curse words in swaying its opinion to my point of view. For that I dragged myself out of bed a little after 0500 to get to the office by 0615??

How does that little workplace drama qualify as a Great Moment in Pedometry you ask? Well, by the time the maintenance dude (whom I am never reluctant to ask for help, although he has yet to offer up the use of his pick-up truck) arrived and reset whatever system required resetting, I had toted up fourth tenths of a mile on the pedometer from pacing around in the foyer. From outside I probably looked like a fish circling in an aquarium. Minus the sucking of algae off of the bottom gravel, of course.

And here's the thing: that was the high point of my day.

It was a tremendous relief to liberate myself at 3:30, drop the top on the Miata, and head home under clear blue skies and a warm sixty (plus a handful) degrees. With the annual done and the airplane all put back together, it looked like I might be able to squeeze in a little therapy before dinner. The plane needed gasoline, so a quick trip over to MadCo for a fill-up seemed a good idea. MadCo is usually my first stop on the first flight after the annual, a habit I developed years ago when the Bolton mechanics had a propensity for not getting all of the cowl screws sufficiently tightened on my Tampico. I'd drop down into MadCo and tighten up any screws that had taken advantage of the eighteen mile flight to work themselves loose. While I don't have the same problem with the RV-6, it's still a good idea to take a short flight and land to ensure that everything that I took off with remained attached for the landing.

My end-of-winter annual inspection cycle preserves as much of the flying season as possible, but it has a down side in that it seems to always find me making that post-maintenance test flight when I'm also a bit rusty on my flying skills. That's two possible strikes against me from the get-go. I make sure to do a thorough preflight and concentrate on slowing my pace down from my normal flying season tempo. After only sporadic flying for three months, it's too easy to forget something that normally would be an ingrained habit.

It seems, though, that I never manage to convince myself to slow down my radio interactions with the tower. ATC speaking skills are every bit as dependent on regular practice as any other aspect of flying and they suffer a degree of atrophy from inactivity fairly rapidly. I realized that as I muddled through a sloppy read back of my takeoff clearance. I suspect that the tower had no idea whatsoever what I had agreed to, but he let it slide. After all, there's only one way you can go, assuming you're on the correct runway. That was just the first of what ultimately turned out to be a good half dozen flubs. Not to worry - it's a skill that recovers quickly.

There was very little wind to deal with so the takeoff was non-eventful. The flight over to MadCo was easy enough; one skill that seems to never really degrade is the actual flying of the airplane enroute. The only notable weakness after a lengthy hiatus is an inexplicable disregard for maintaining a constant altitude. That too will return to being second nature within a few hours, but for today I think I was lucky to be within 300 feet of my chosen altitude at any given moment.

Eighteen miles in an RV-6 at full tilt (well, knock off 10 knots from "full tilt" on account of my not having put the wheel pants back on yet) goes by pretty fast. It was time to get configured for the landing at MadCo just a little bit before my head realized that it was, well, time to get configured for the landing at MadCo. Long story short (too late?), I ended up high and fast on final. Both are easily rectified in a pantsless RV, though. With the wheels hanging out in the breeze and the flaps hanging down grabbing bucketfuls of air, the plane will both slow down and come down. In most planes you can't get both of those at the same time and often have to make a difficult decision as to which you want the most.

The RV-6 is happy to do both. In fact, it can be a bit of a surprise how quickly it will do those things concurrently after having been out of the saddle for a few months.

Now, I need to interrupt this narrative to point out that it's a little know fact that after changing the tires on an airplane, it is an accepted technique to deliberately make the first landing somewhat firm in order to seat the tire beads fully onto the wheel, and that's exactly what I did.


You've never heard of that? Well, I did say that it was a little known fact, right?

What I didn't say is that it's such a little known fact because I just made it up. Out of whole cloth, as they used to say. A complete fabrication.

(cloth and fabric - get it?? Terrible, ain't it.)

My innate integrity forces me to come clean: I pranged that landing. It was so bad that I had to take a mulligan. I pulled off of the runway and made the Taxi of Shame all the way back to the end of the runway to take off and try for a better landing. As I was taxiing along, I noticed that I was being watched by an older guy preflighting a Cessna 150.

A witness, in other words. Inconvenient, that. Undesirable, the truth be fully told.

Had my airplane been suitably equipped, it would have been my second Great Moment in Pedometry in one day!

The second landing was better, considering, but still far short of what I would have expected on such a nice evening. As I was pumping gas, the witness pulled up in his car and approached me.

"I have a few questions for you," he said.

Now, I'm getting better about my airport paranoia. I no longer immediately assume that the questioner is an undercover FAA agent intent on yanking my license. That said, I always wonder with some degree of trepidation exactly what type of questions are going to be asked. Particularly after such an egregious demonstration of aerial incompetence, as you might imagine.

But no, they were questions about RVs.

He's an 82 year old that finds himself, after ten long years of work on a quick-build (a misnomer if there ever was one!) RV-8, only a few days from his first engine start and is starting to believe that he might actually be called upon to fly the thing in the not-too-distant future. He hasn't flown a taildragger since the late 40's when he flew SNJs, ostensibly while in the Navy. I didn't get around to asking - I'm always far more interested in talking about me. As a rule, I'm pretty much my favorite topic. I know how utterly shocking it is to hear that from a blogger, but... it's true!

His question was whether I knew anyone that would fly him through re-learning how to fly a high performance taildragger. In particular, an RV-8. I had to confess to him that I thought that was going to be a very tough person to find since no instructor is keen on taking his chances blind in the back seat and with no brake pedals to comfort him, and that the difficulty of that specific endeavor was a fairly large factor in my choice of an RV-6 over the much more desirable RV-4. It was the answer he was expecting, having previously asked the question on numerous occasions when talking to other RV folks. Still, we had a nice chat. It just goes to show you, even something as commonplace and mundane as buying gas is interesting and fun in an airplane.

My landing back at Bolton was the best of the three, but there's still room for improvement. And, as sad as it is, I also think I'm about due for a new lucky flying hat:

It's looking kind of ragged, isn't it. Just another tragic victim of a long, hard winter.

No comments:

Post a Comment