Saturday, May 15, 2010

Trepidation and hot dogs

I didn't think it would be this way, but I guess I should have known. Brave Sir Hogarth should have been the clue. When younger, back when his name was just Hogarth and he had yet to be saddled with the ironic/sarcastic sobriquet "Brave Sir," there wasn't much of anything that he was afraid of. These days, a thunderstorm will send him to the basement where he attempts to dig himself an even deeper bunker through solid concrete. He is shy of the baby gate that we use to constrain the movements of the still periodically incontinent Cabot. Rather than growing less trepid with age, the reverse has happened.

I'm seeing the same thing happening with me and flying. With over 700 flying hours behind me, it seems odd that there are more and more things that I prefer to avoid because they scare me. One of them is fly-ins, or any other event that might cause a normally sedate uncontrolled airport to become a nexus of activity in the landing pattern. In short, they scare me. I avoid them. But...

Today was the day of the annual fly-in at Sporty's. That would normally, if history is any predictor, be a complete and total "don't care" to me. This year, though, a relative-by-marriage was going to be there selling his wares. I married into a flying family, at least with regards to some of the cousins and an uncle. Bill hasn't got his own plane (yet - I'm wearing him down), but he is able to bum some left seat time in an airplane that basically flies itself.

It's not like I have to sell him on the idea of flying a plane that responds directly to the pilot's wants, desires, and demands without first consulting with an electronic committee of decision makers since he used to fly Boeings and still remembers what it was like to fly a plane rather than manage it, but I think he still needs some convincing on this whole concept of flying below 30,000 feet and having to get your own coffee. I suspect that it's going to take an RV ride to really set the hook.

In any event, I figured I couldn't go wrong flying down there on a nice Saturday morning for a visit and a couple of free (well, free to me. Actually paid for by people that buy air tugs from Sportys) Brats and/or Metts, as long as I got an early start and beat the rush. I'd have to get a really early start, though, since there wasn't enough gas in the plane to get there and back. Unwilling to buy gas down there at the unconscionably extortive rate of $4.85 per, I opted to stop at Circleville for a dram or two of their rapidly dwindling $3.99 vintage. There's no way that price can last and I wanted to get some of it while the getting was still good.

We all know by now how much I likes me irony, right? I'm going to ruin the punchline and just tell you right now: it was far more difficult getting into Circleville than it was getting into Clermont Co. And harder to get out, too, but for a different reason.

As is my wont, I was monitoring the traffic at Circleville (CYO) while still 15 miles out in order to develop a mental picture of what was going on. I didn't expect there to be much traffic, and there wasn't. As I was approaching from the northwest, there was a Piper Warrior on left downwind to runway 19 (I would have preferred the opposite, but the wind was still light enough that it wouldn't matter that much) and a Cessna coming in from the west. The Cessna was a few miles in front of me, so I'd be following him.

When I was still ten or so miles out, another Cessna (we'll call him Hotel Delta, mostly because that's the plane he was flying - a rental from Bolton) called in that he was on the VOR approach to 19. For most weekend pilots, that is a distinctly useless piece of information. I knew what it meant, though: he'd be making what is in essence a straight in approach to the runway; he wouldn't fly a downwind - base - final pattern like the rest of us. Assuming, that is, that he intended to land at all. Given the startlingly clear weather, the only reason to be flying such an approach is for practice. A practice approach seldom ends in a landing.

As I got closer and had heard no further updates from Hotel Delta, I asked him where he was.

"Four miles north, planning a low pass."

Ah, good. That was helpful, particularly since it indicated that we might be at the airport at around the same time. Hard to tell without knowing his speed. But at least I knew what he'd be doing. Just to make sure we had plenty of separation, I asked him what altitude he'd be using as he went down the runway.

"One thousand, four hundred."

Since I had to cross over the airport (Why? To get to the other side!), I told him that I'd stay at 2,000' until I was on the other side and then descend in the downwind.

No reply.

"You're welcome," I thought.

When I got to the airport, the Warrior had landed and the Cessna was on left base. I called that I was turning left downwind, had Zero Two Alpha (the other Cessna) in sight, but did not know where Hotel Delta was. There had been no further calls from him, but it shouldn't have mattered. If he was down at 1,400' flying a low pass down the length of the runway, he was no factor.

He wasn't, and he was. He wasn't flying a low pass down the length of the runway, and he was most certainly a factor. Rather than doing what he said he was going to do, he had continued along the VOR course and started a climb right after crossing the runway. What he had done was basically fly into the downwind pattern where he knew another airplane was going to be. I knew all of this because I looked to the left to see the runway and was greeted with the sight of a Cessna heading right at me. I got on the radio and told him that I was at his twelve o'clock (right in front of him) which I hoped would alert him to the need to change course.

Nothing. No reply, no amendment to his current agenda item of killing us both. Being the gracious sort, I got out of his way. I'm nice that way.

In the picture above, the yellow line indicates the path of the VOR approach. I've always found nice weather days to be the absolute worst time to practice instrument approaches, and that they require the utmost in caution and communication if you're going to go ahead and do it anyway. The green line is what I would have expected from a "low pass," what with the whole idea of flying an instrument approach being to get aligned with a runway and "low pass" having a well defined meaning.

The red line is what would be the most dangerous thing to do.

He chose the red line.

It is what it is, and the rule of the road is see and avoid. I saw him, I avoided him. I was just a little surprised at where I saw him, but I shouldn't have been. I know that approach comes in at an angle, and I know the temptation is to just keep following the VOR course, and I know that there is also the temptation to make the left turn on the missed approach right after crossing the VOR (or in this case, less than a minute), but I also know how I would have done it. It's likely that he had always intended to make the missed approach and not make any attempt at all to align with the runway.

But... I also know that I would have communicated all of that to the planes that I knew were already in the pattern. They might be interested, after all.

Did I mention the problems with getting back out of Circleville? Well, one of the reasons I like going there is because of all of the older guys hanging around there that like to chew the fat and share their flying stories and the history of the planes they've owned. But when I'm kinda in a hurry? Not so much. But what can you do? Who wants to be the Type A that comes blazing in with his fancy little hot rod and buys gas without so much as a how ya doin'? Not me. It took a bit longer to get back out that I would have hoped, but it was worth it.

I wasn't so sure it was worth it once I started listening in on Clermont's unicom, though. It sounded pretty crowded! It doesn't matter until you get there since the situation is very dynamic, so I just kept going. Eight miles out, just as I was starting to get a feel for where I would fit in, I started to hear pilots announcing that they going around. A Cozy's nosewheel had collapsed, stranding it on the runway.

I guess they're supposed to look like that. But only when commanded to, not on the runway. That's simply not done in polite company.

I briefly considered just going back home. My last experience with a runway incident had me sitting at MadCo for a couple hours while the runway was closed. Clermont is an uncontrolled airport, though, which means that there is no control tower, and thus no one to close the runway. I orbited around for five or ten minutes to see what would happen. Once I heard airplanes starting to land again, I headed in. It wasn't too bad at all.

Anything for a free hot dog, right?

But I was too early. They were still lighting the grills. I knew that had been a crosswind on the landing!

I hung around waiting; I figured the line was going to grow fast once they started cooking. I was right! I was second through the line, turned around, and saw this behind me:

I did a little walking around. It was like a .0000001% Oshkosh.

Lane Wallace and some AOPA bigwigs flew in to give away Sporty's sweepstakes Cessna LSA:

Lane is a terrific aviation writer, but despite my best efforts I don't think I was able to do anything notable enough to get her attention and have a glowing article written about me.

Not that I found that surprising; I've been invisible to hot chicks for a long, long time now. You know, like forever! (Except for one, Dear, in case you're reading this)

As long as it was sitting there, I took a close look at Cessna's LSA. Since performance between my RV-12 and Cessna's factory-built plane is nearly identical, I wanted to see what you got for twice the money. Other than not getting the chance to build it yourself, that is. I thought that it might be more refined, for example.

I don't think it is.

Cowls attached with screws. They're going to be replacing those a lot!

Fairings attached with blind rivets. These would be fun to remove if you needed to get to something under them.

All kinds of stuff just hanging out in the open. I thought cables and fuel lines would be hidden behind a veneer. Not that I would want them to be hidden, mind you, but for all that money...

Simple bent-tube pitot, just waiting to be bent or knocked off by a careless passenger or line boy.

Not flush riveted. That's not a problem, neither is the RV-12. I just like the picture.

The RV-12 is not a large plane either, but I don't think I'll need to hunker down to get in it.

To be fair, it does have one heck of a nice collection of Garmin avionics in it.

And I'm not sure I wouldn't prefer the Continental engine over the Rotax. Still, I'll happily keep the extra $40,000 it would take to buy one, assuming they ever actually get around to selling them.

The flight home? Would have been a piece of cake if the line boys hadn't made me push Papa back so far. I'm going to feel the pains of pulling him out of this mess for awhile.

I should have known: plenty of people there in the morning, none to be found in the afternoon. I pulled him out while a guy stood there watching me struggle and asking questions about the plane. I was a good ambassador for Van's today.

It was bumpy and a little hot on the way back. My ears even got hot. I let the vents cool them off a bit, until the noise got to be too much.

Back at Bolton I was the only plane in the pattern. And the landing?

Greased it.


  1. Man, that's a bit of everything in one day of flying. I also hate when people take the time to use the CTAF and then seemingly ignore it halfway thru. While he was probably talking to Approach and it IS see and avoid like you said, to change plans after announcing something different and then not mentioning it on the radio is pretty silly.

    Too bad I had to miss Sporty's - it was on my calendar for a long time until the UK trip came along. Looks like you have a similar opinion of the Skycatcher as me, comparison to homebuilding aside. I first saw it down at the AOPA Summit in Tampa last fall and wasn't a big fan of the fit and finish, either. On the other hand, the American Legend Cub... purrrrty.

  2. I didn't stick around to find out. I wasn't entered since Sporty's doesn't automatically enter people that only come for the hot dogs. They haven't updated their web site either.