Sunday, April 18, 2010

Why drive when you can fly?

Because of the walking, that's why.

I was looking for someplace to fly today after I finished the mowing, a small repair on the tail light fairing on the RV-6, and the breaking down of the crate that the RV-12 fuselage kit came in. It was getting late, but there are plenty of airports nearby. What there's a shortage of, though, is airports nearby that offer some excuse for choosing them as a destination. Not that it's needed, mind you, but still. It helps salve the conscience when burning $4.00/gallon fuel. A truly impecunious situation not always being a staunch requirement for a frugal lifestyle when one is engaging in ostentatious and conspicuous consumption, as it were. It's all about appearances, you see.

I had never taken a close look at Newark-Heath, an airport over on the east side of town. Through the miracle of Bing Maps and its fancy new Silverlight-based "find the closest grub" feature, I found a Skyline Chili just a short walk from the airport. Short being relative, as it turns out, because my co-pilot of the day quickly evidenced an aversion to any walk of greater than five minutes duration. In her defence, she was probably still a bit wobbly from the atrocious landing that I made upon arrival. In my defense of the landing, I too was still a bit unsettled after a brief hallucination in which I thought I saw a tremendously large basket, of all things.

Well, actually, part of that is untrue. I did see a really huge basket, but that doesn't explain the bad landing. That was due to a shifty right crosswind that was boiling across the tree line north of the runway. No complaints, though, since that wind was keeping the air nice and clear and providing one of those rare days when the horizon is clearly visible and the light makes the ground shine. Even though it was just a few minutes of flying, it was enough to shake off the burdens of the week past and improve everyone's mood.

Well, until that landing, anyway. Oh, and the looonnngg walk to the restaurant down a narrow but busy road, diving down into the drainage trenches every time a car came along. Which was a lot. At the end of the narrow road, we found yet another challenging hazard: we had to get across to the other side of an even busier road!

The flight back was a little bumpier, but that was no big deal. It got a bit hectic as we got back to Bolton, though. We were about seven and a half miles southeast of Bolton and I was just getting ready to call the tower, when:

"Bolton Tower, Meridian [whatever] is ten miles southeast, inbound, landing."

Uh-oh. That's pretty much the neighborhood we're in, and a Meridian is a big, fast turboprop.

"Meridian, report a two mile right base, runway four."

Hmm, I better get in this game before I get shut out.

"Bolton Tower, experimental four six six papa golf, seven miles southeast, inbound, landing."

"Six papa golf, report two mile right base runway four."

Uh, no. Bad idea.

"Tower, six papa golf, why don't I head for a mid-field right downwind instead. That Meridian is going to over take me."

"Six papa golf, you can do that if you want to. (Chicken!)"

I wanted to. I really wanted to. I had already slowed down to dump the altitude that I had kept to cross over the Rickenbacker Class D airspace and now had to lose before getting to the pattern at Bolton. I didn't want to hit the pattern with a gigantic basket full of airspeed, so I had slowed down to buy myself time. Getting in line behind a Meridian would be no big deal since it's a big, fast turboprop. And he'd still be boogeying along at 120 - 130 knots at least, I figured.

Just as I was thinking how odd it was to see two Meridians in one day (a different one had been taxiing out for takeoff when we arrived at Newark - he didn't see my awful landing, though) when I hardly ever see one, the radio came alive again.

"Bolton Tower, Cessna six two two six six over downtown, inbound, landing."

Hmm, about the same distance as us, but since he's pretty much pointed straight down the runway the tower will put him in a left downwind.

"Two six six, enter a right downwind, runway four."

Whaaaaaatt?? Why would he do that?? Oh, I had forgotten about the student that was doing his first solo. (He's sitting at home right now writing one hell of a blog posting, I'll bet) He must be on the left downwind and the tower is keeping him out of the fray. Great, something else to worry about. He'd be turning left base at just about the same time I'd be turning right base. Nose-to-nose with a guy making only the second solo landing of his life. Sounded like fun.

A couple of minutes later I caught sight of the Meridian off to my left screaming along in a wide right base. He definitely would have caught up with us. A glance to the right and there was the Cessna coming in from downtown. I wasn't quite to the point where I would usually make my turn into the downwind (I normally get pretty tight in so I can glide to the runway if for some reason I ever need to) but I went ahead and started my turn while simultaneously telling the tower that I had both the Meridian and 266 in sight.

Six papa golf, follow the Meridian. Meridian [whatever], cleared to land runway four. Two six six, your traffic is an experimental in front of you on the downwind."

At that point, everything was lined up nicely and I figured the only potential wrench in the works was the guy doing his first solo, but...

"Eight three nine, taxi back from taxiway alpha four via alpha."

Oh, he was doing stop & goes. That nicely solved for one of the variables in the equation, but left as an unknown why 266 wasn't on a left downwind. I'll never know that, and it didn't really matter anyway. There was one more nagging thing, though: in my opinion, "follow the Meridian" does not carry the same legal weight as "cleared to land."

"Tower, Papa Golf is right base.(hint hint)"

"Papa Golf, cleared to land. (didn't I already tell you that??)"

In the flare I thought it was going to be another horrible bouncer, but I somehow finessed it into a fairly decent arrival. It's almost as if the runway at Bolton is padded in some way that other runways aren't. As I was rolling out on the runway, still going pretty quickly because 266 was coming down final:

"Six papa golf, left at alpha three, hold short at the parallel."

Ah, there's yet another Cessna taxiing out. I made the left off of the runway onto Alpha 3 and was just reaching up to pop open the canopy for a little air, when:

"Six papa golf, WITHOUT DELAY continue across the parallel on Alpha 3 onto the ramp."

"Without delay" is something I'm particularly good at, and so is your typical Van's airplane.

"Wilco, six papa golf."

I love saying "Wilco," especially when it's followed with a blast of throttle. Makes me feel like, I don't know... a pilot!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hedging my bets

It's one of life's cruel ironies that the weather most suited for flying is also most suited for far less desirable activities such as spring cleaning and yard work. If it's nice and cool under clear blue skies, there's a lot to be said for getting work done that would be far more uncomfortable once the temperature and humidity rises to oppressive levels. But... flying! The temptation is to defer the flying for the next day and get the chores done today, right? Well, no, that's not at all right. The temptation is to ditch the chores and go flying while the gettin' is good.

I opted to do the chores. I suffer brief episodes of maturity that are every bit as concerning (and thankfully rare) as blackouts. And really, those hedges haven't been trimmed in the six or seven years since they were planted and they've grown so out of control that Japanese film makers are considering using them as city-destroying monsters in their next series of films. So, start with the hedges and see how that goes.

It's a horrible job, particularly for those hedges that have spiky foliage. I don't know the official name of them; I just call them Those ^#$#*%$ Bushes.

Whenever I'm out doing yard work on a beautiful day, I'm reminded of one of the very few downsides to living near the airport. The planes out doing touch & goes that I normally enjoy as one of the benefits of being so close to the airport taunt me, teasing me with their freedom to enjoy such fine conditions. Oh, how I hate them!

But eventually the job is done, and the job after that (scrubbing the winter road gunk off of the garage floor) is done too. It's too late in the day to go anywhere, and I'm planning on flying somewhere tomorrow anyway, but what if the weather doesn't cooperate and I end up grounded? Ugh, a fate to ugly to ponder! So I decided to hedge my bets and take a little ride around the local area. The winds had picked up to 14G18 by then, but they were conveniently oriented right down the runway.

I've owed Bob the Neighbor a ride for awhile since he has twice served as the on-call lifting buddy for the receipt of RV-12 kits, so I asked if he'd like to ride along. Indeed he would, probably in aid of getting out of yard work, but who am I to judge?

It was quite a nice ride. The wind only made things bouncy down low and once we climbed to 5,500' to make a touristy deviation over downtown Columbus and THE Ohio $tate University it was perfectly smooth. Bob enjoyed his ride, but darned if he didn't ask the worst question a pilot ever wants to hear which is, of course, "Do you have a bag?" We made it back without him needing a sick bag, which is good because I didn't have one. I really ought to get one; it is not at all rare for a little queasiness to arise (so to speak) in the RV simply because it's a lot different than the flying most people are used. Which is to say, I tend to fly it in a manner that most planes wouldn't tolerate. Which is to say, well, somewhat thoughtlessly at times. After 400 some hours, I tend to forget that it's an acquired taste.

Bob's problem came from his request for me to lower the right wing so he could get a picture. We were in the "channel" between the Rickenbacker and Bolton Class D airspaces and I needed to keep the plane headed in the right direction, so as I lowered the right wing I had to compensate with left rudder. That's a sliding, slipping, uncomfortable flight attitude at the best of times, but it is even more so if you have your head turned and your vision restricted to the viewfinder of a camera.

Surprisingly, given the fairly strong winds, the landing was a nice, light almost-greaser. And after me having warned him that it would probably be a pretty bouncy one. Oh well, under-commit and over-deliver, I always say.