Saturday, July 03, 2010

The Mansfield Open House and Car Show

It happens now and again that it doesn't really matter where I fly to as long as I fly. Going is good enough, getting there only matters as a condition of personal survival, and what I do while there has no bearing on the entire trip. When the weather is just perfect, when it seems like it has been ages since it was even flyable, when the urge to feel the pulse of an aerial conveyance throbbing through my hands all gets to be just too much to resist, when I just have to fly, the questions of where, why, and when drop from pertinence. "Why climb Mt. Everest?" elicited the answer "because it is there." "Why do you want to fly today?" could have been answered with "because I can," but the truth of it was "because I need to."

When it just doesn't matter, a whole lot of options open up. So it was with a wide open mind that I sat down on the sofa this morning, cracked my knuckles, took a deep drink of coffee, and fired up the netbook to begin my search for a destination. It didn't take long.

Perfect! Mansfield is nearby, at least in RV6 terms. It would be nice to see Lynda again, and it might even me a sufficient motivation to get Co-pilot Egg to go with me (it wasn't). And finally, there were sure to be other RVs there. I don't do many fly-ins anymore since I've allowed myself to become frightened by the prospect of dozens of planes milling about in the landing pattern at uncontrolled airports trying to get lined up in some kind of order for landing, but Mansfield has a control tower. Better yet, Mansfield also has a radar-equipped approach and departure controller. Not only would that be a lot less hectic, it would also serve as good practice. It's been awhile since I've worked with an approach controller.

I launched out of an eerily quiet Bolton Field, wondering where all of the other pilots were. I imagine those that were going anywhere were already gone, and those that would normally be filling the pattern in rental planes doing touch & goes were grounded by the incredible costs associated with renting a plane these days. With gas well over $5.00 / gallon, it's getting harder and harder to justify the cost even for those that have the means. As I climbed to the north and worked my way around a banner tow orbiting over some indeterminable function on the southwestern side of town, I couldn't help but reflect on my good fortune. As an owner, I have a lot more options when it comes to where to buy my gas, and as an owner of a fast, efficient plane like the RV-6, I burn less of it per mile. Still, frugality is the order of the zeitgeist - I throttled back to a sedate 2,200 rpm once I had reached my 3,500' cruising altitude. The trade-off between spending a few more minutes enjoying the splendid view while riding along in smooth air versus a couple of gallons of saved gas was a no-brainer. Win-win, as it were.

I dialed in the Mansfield ATIS about 25 miles out and learned that they were landing every which way in the calm air, and sat through a bunch of other stuff I didn't care (or need to care) about. Oh, and they announced that the restaurant is closed. Again. As flying dies off, so too do the airport restaurants that don't draw in local, ground-bound patrons. Places like Urbana will likely survive. Others will not. 

At 15 miles out, I called approach. 

"Mansfield Approach, Experimental four six six papa golf, fifteen southwest with Tango, inbound, landing."

"Four six six papa golf, Mansfield Approach. Squawk four seven three one and ident."

I dialed the requested numbers into the transponder. This would place the numeric identifier they had given me next to my little blip on their radar screen. I pressed the little green button that would send an 'ident' signal, which I believe makes my data block flash or something to draw the controller's eye to it on a crowded screen.

"Four six six papa golf, Mansfield Approach, radar contact. Set up for a straight in to runway five."


From where I was sitting, I was perfectly located for either a right base to runway five or a left base to runway 32. They were using both. As far out as I was, it was a simple matter to just shave a few degrees off of my northeasterly heading and head a little closer to north to allow for a much more efficient straight-in approach. I held that line until I was eight miles out, at which point the approach controller handed me off to the tower controller for final instructions. I had no real expectations for what I'd get from the tower, but this was a little surprising:

"Four six six papa golf, cleared to land runway five, hold short of runway 14."

Wow! Cleared to land while still eight miles out! This was so much better than the normal fly-in!

The runways at Mansfield form a big X, and with the "hold short" he was telling me to make sure that I was stopped before crossing the X. Another plane might be using it. It's nice to meet new people at fly-ins, but not that way.

That left me with, oh, five thousand some feet to use. I felt pretty confident that I could do that.

I was lined up and cruising down my eight mile final at a good 140 knots when the tower called:

"Four six six papa golf, confirm cleared to land runway five, hold short of runway 14."

Well, I already had. I had read back the clearance right after receiving it. This is the kind of thing that can feel like a mild rebuke if you let it, but simply considering the consequences for all involved if there is any doubt at all that everyone in the choir isn't singing from exactly the same page makes it easy (and vitally important, for that matter) to resist the urge to defend one's self with an "I already read it back to you" and instead just swallow any such urges, take one for the team, and just read it back again. Which I did.

The thing about being cleared to land that far out on a runway that immense is just how long it seems to take to finally get there. It felt like I was going down final for half an hour! I was actually kind of surprised at how far out I was when they gave me the clearance, but I just attributed it to the relatively high airspeed they were seeing on their radar. I was cooking, baby! Interestingly, though, by the time I was talking to the tower controller I had gone from being "experimental six papa golf" to "Baron six papa golf." A Baron is a big, twin-engine Beechcraft more typically flown by self-important folks that consider themselves too special to rub elbows with the airport riff-raff who only fly tiny two-seaters (caution: I'm quite unfairly basing this observation on a sample set of one, who just happens to have the hangar next to mine) so if the controllers indeed had somehow convinced themselves that I was flying a Baron, well, I could understand why they wanted to give me the royal treatment.

I was right when I thought that there might be other RVs there. I was met at the plane by Wingman Ted and there were plenty of other folks there that I have met before. There were also a couple that, although we had never net in person, knew me already from my writings here - I always get a kick out of that. I also enjoy watching the small crowds that form around Papa.

I broke away for a few minutes to go visit Lynda at the Girls With Wings booth. When I got there, she had her back to me and was chatting with the vendor in the tent behind hers. This was the perfect set-up for one of my little (and often ill-advised) jokes. 

Here's the set-up: Lynda is very active with her Girls With Wings blog, and every now and then she gets grief from a few closed-minded fools that don't understand what she is trying to do with her efforts to provide encouragement to young girls and women that are interested in aviation. She is working against decades of male dominance in the industry and the commensurate mindset that if women want to fly, they need to assimilate themselves into the male flying society. 

Not too long ago, she had a couple of comments left on her blog that were simply embarrassing to me as a male pilot. One of them made sarcastic comments about the need for a Boys With Wings organization, little realizing that such a thing already exists: the 99.999% of male pilots have already formed such a de facto organization. So, I thought it would be funny to come up behind her and ask if she could help me find the Boys With Wings booth.

Hilarious, right? I really crack me up.

Anyway, we had a nice visit. We arranged for Egg's volunteer work schedule at Oshkosh and she shared some inside stories about her recent experience with aerobatics training. How incredibly awesome! As long as I was there, I also bought a Girls With Wings license plate frame for Egg's car. I've been looking for one that says "Don't blame me, my Daddy taught me to drive this way!" but haven't found one, so the GWW plate frame will work out just fine.

I decided to grab a quick lunch of a couple of hot dogs (nowhere near as good as Sporty's!!). As I was standing in line, the kid behind me was telling his dad that one of his friends had sent him a picture (presumably through a mobile device that would have been science fiction when I was his age but is now so ubiquitous that kids have them) of his Xbox and wanted to know why he'd rather be at a car show than playing video games in his basement. His dad and I both said "Car show?? Where, in the parking lot?" at the same time and enjoyed a laugh together. After lunch I took a walk around to look at some of the other planes. I thought the weather was perfect, but a few folks thought it was getting a little too hot.

There was one plane in particular that I wanted to look at, but as I was approaching it I heard the unmistakable whine of a jet engine spooling up. It turned out to be this guy.

The big cloud of smoke behind him isn't an indication of a bad set of piston rings; it's actually air show smoke. We're going to talk about that a little more in a minute. But first, take a look at this plane.

This is the kind of plane that I was referring to when I discussed the challenges that builders were up against in the early days of homebuilt airplanes here.

Back in the early 70's when Van's Aircraft was comprised of one guy and one single-seat airplane (the RV-3), building a kit airplane was nothing like it is now. By "kit" the manufacturer typically meant a box of raw materials, a set of plans, and a few pages of notes about how to put it all together. The raw materials were somewhat more advanced than a few boxes of bauxite ore from which you would smelt and shape your own aluminum sheets, but not by much. Even so, the fact that parts like wing ribs and the like were pre-formed was orders of magnitude better than the previous standard: the "plans built" plane. Those truly were old school. You would have to form every single piece from raw stock. By way of contrast, it is relatively rare while building the RV-12 to even have to drill your own holes.

As I was admiring the workmanship and pondering just what it would be like to fly in a plane like that, I heard the jet starting to taxi out. Now I spent quite a few years working around jets in the Air Force and I know not to stand directly behind them when they're running. That said, here I was standing next to a delicate airplane that had obviously taken immense effort and dedication to build, an airplane that was in plain sight of the guy flying the jet. Surely he would be aware of the need to control his jet blast. This is the last thing that I saw before being proven wrong.

Right after I took that picture, he continued his turn to the right. As he did so, he throttled up his engine and kicked on the smoke system. I heard it coming and got turned around quickly enough to protect my eyes, but not quickly enough to get a good grip on my brand-new, bought in the Cayman Islands Oshkosh hat. As it blew off of my head, I remember thinking "oh crap, there goes another hat." I opened my eyes to try to watch where it went in hopes of being able to retrieve it, but literally could not see my hands in front of my face because the smoke was so thick.  It lingered long enough for me to rip off a pretty graphic curse directed towards the jerk driving that jet regarding his pitifully weak intellect, his direct maternal ancestry, and some flavor of forbidden, incestuous human copulation. If you catch my drift. 

Now, here's an interesting thing about smoke that I had temporarily forgotten: it blocks vision but not hearing. As the smoke cleared and I was again able to see my surroundings, I couldn't help but note that a few people were looking in my direction somewhat accusingly. 

See that guy in the orange and yellow vest? I pointed at him.

I found my hat under a nearby King Air.

So, here's my thought about air show smoke: having it does not mean you have to use it.

It seemed as good of a time as any to think about heading home. As I was working my way back to my plane, I ran across what must be the ugliest LSA airplane I've seen yet.

It reminds me of one of those so-called Smart cars that are anything but.

I wasn't the only one that was ready to leave. There was a bit of a line at the runway.

The trip home was, as is often the case, somewhat bumpier than the morning trip but still quite enjoyable. All in all, it turned out to be a very satisfying day of fly and socializing. As far as I'm concerned, that's just icing on the cake. It was a great, GREAT day to fly!

Reader Mail:
Thanks for coming to Mansfield. It was such a beautiful day. We'll forgive you the comments about Barron owners as we mostly hang out with the guy who restored the Buhl Pup that caught your eye. We have printed your blog in color for him. Next year walk through the extensive classic car show on the other side of the terminal to the hangars and visit Chuckie Lootens' restoration hangar, the one next to the Barron. It's worth the walk. We will be watching for you July 2, 2011.

Pam Fonseca
Well, it really is just the one Baron pilot that was behind those comments. It would be like if you only had personal experience with, say, only one Port-O-Let repairman, and he was a bit of a prat. He might, for example, walk past you on the way to his Port-O-Let Repairman's truck and completely ignore your salutatory "Hello" and accompanying wave. And not just once, mind you, which would be quite possibly an isolated incident. No, this guy is in his own little world and has no time for the riff-raff. If that was your in toto experience with Port-O-Let repairmen, well, you might be awfully tempted to paint them all with the same brush. Which, as I noted, would be quite unfair. I believe that I will now have to actively seek out more Baron pilots to expand my personal knowledge of the breed. And, you know, get a ride in a Baron. They're actually quite nice airplanes. (A moment of personal introspection.... am I simply jealous of my hangar-neighbors airplane? No, that's not it. Although that golf cart he uses to push it into the hangar? Yeah, that's pretty cool!)

There really was a car show? I'm sorry to have missed that! I'll check that out next year.

Oh, it's good to know the identify of the Buhl Pup. I've been curious about it and now that I know what it's called I will be able to Google it. I want to note that even though it is a restoration and not a kit plane (as I had assumed in my description above), it is still a fantastic piece of work. A restoration of an airplane that old (1930's, by the look of it) is an enormous undertaking, often requiring the fabrication of new parts to replace things that haven't been manufactured for more than half a century, or were hand made in the first place.

Oh, what the heck. I'll Google it right now.

The Buhl LA-1 Bull Pup was a light sports airplane developed in the United States in 1930. It was a mid-wing wire-braced monoplane with fixed tailskid undercarriage and an open cockpit for the pilot. Buhl developed the Bull Pup as a cheap aircraft through which the company hoped to remain in business as the onset of the Great Depression was felt. However, as the economic situation worsened, it became evident that there was no demand for even such a basic aircraft; when production ceased in 1932, all aircraft still in stock were sold off at half price as the company folded.
Wow! A pre-LSA LSA! I should buy one!

1931 BUHL BULL PUP • HISTORICAL AIRCRAFT FOR SALE • NC11161, SN#102. This is the oldest Buhl Bull Pup in existence. It last flew in 1943, was disassembled and placed in dry storage for over 65 years. This is an unadulterated significant piece of aviation history. Aircraft totally complete. Would be an extremely easy restoration into flying status or it could be displayed in unrestored/original condition as a rare artifact from depression era America. I will sell this aircraft outright for $29,900 or consider interesting pre 1940 aircraft and pre 1920 automobiles in trade. Qualified inquiries only, please. • Contact Brian T. Coughlin, Owner - located Cazenovia, NY USA • Telephone: 315-436-2217 . 315-655-5997 • Posted June 17, 2010

And that's what they call "an extremely easy restoration!"

I'll stick with the RV-12, thank you very much!


  1. Wow, Dave, you are quick on your blog (and, of course, good, as I so often tell you)! Thanks for the mention of Girls With Wings and I look forward to seeing you and Erica/Egg at Oshkosh - in what, a coupla weeks. Woo-hoo!

  2. Thanks for coming out to Mansfield for our event, Dave. As an RV-9A builder, I also enjoyed seeing all the RV's.

  3. Thanks for coming to Mansfield. It was such a beautiful day. We'll forgive you the comments about Barron owners as we mostly hang out with the guy who restored the Buhl Pup that caught your eye. We have printed your blog in color for him. Next year walk through the extensive classic car show on the other side of the terminal to the hangars and visit Chuckie Lootens' restoration hangar, the one next to the Barron. It's worth the walk. We will be watching for you July 2, 2011.

    Pam Fonseca

  4. dave, such a detailed and descriptive post - i actually felt like i was with you in the cockpit! i look forward to hearing more of you travels.