Saturday, August 28, 2010

Hazards to aerial navigation

It's completely unfair and almost entirely unwarranted, but ever since I almost busted my private pilot check ride by getting too close to a hot air balloon I have referred to them as hazards to aerial navigation. What can I say? I just hold a grudge, I guess. They're slow, expensive, and offend my delicate sensitivities with their innate and irreconcilable uselessness. For crying out loud, those guys hanging helplessly underneath the balloon in a wicker basket even have the temerity to refer to themselves as pilots! Pilots!!! When the only thing they have any control over whatsoever is the expulsion of hot air!

No, the irony of making that last statement after bloviating about balloons, the beautiful flowers of the sky, does not escape me. Expulsion of hot air indeed!

So what brought on this diatribe, you ask? Well, after busting my hump after work yesterday to get the lawn mowed, having failed to do so on Thursday, I thought I'd reward myself with a little flying. I arranged to have ab initio co-pilot trainee John ride along, the plan being to teach him how to act as my autopilot and voice-activated GPS destination enterer.  If I remember correctly, John has only ever been in an airplane three times in his life, and all three have been with me. Without any other basis of comparison, I think the poor guy is convinced that the only way to land an airplane is to bounce it down the runway like it's on a trampoline. He's also a self-admitted addict of the Discovery and History channels, or any other channel that has shows about airplanes. I love flying with people that, like me, have been fascinated with airplanes for as long as they can remember.

The weather was great for it, too.  The very light winds and clear blue sky would practically guarantee a smooth ride, and that would be beneficial for John's first experience with controlling the airplane. I had planned out a round robin flight that would give him good experience in plugging in a waypoint in the GPS and flying to it. I was a little over optimistic on the issue of how much evening light we get these days, though. I planned six different airports; we made it to three.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. For awhile I thought we might be thwarted from even getting off of the ground. As we were driving out to the hangar, it was hard to miss the fact that the sky just to the east of the runway was cluttered with the aforementioned hazards.

I wasn't sure that we'd even be able to take off. Thankfully, the wind, such as it was, was blowing them away from the airport.

The flight went off without a hitch. I made the takeoff and did the initial stage of our climb to 3,500', handing control over to John at the 2,500' level. He finished the climb and picked up the GPS course, then proceeded to fly us directly to the first airport on our list. He took to it like a fish to water. Of course, with it being his first time he had to concentrate pretty hard on not fixating on any one thing, but that's normal. It takes awhile to develop a good scan of the instruments, the GPS, and the situation outside the windshield. The temptation is to stare at the altimeter, or the GPS, or at whatever it is that you're trying to manage at any given moment. The trick is to internalize the fact that these things all change relatively slowly, and that you have plenty of time to take glances at other stuff to make sure all is well in those realms too. You can read a bit more on the topic of instrument scans here.  While we weren't flying instruments, the concept is the same: you have to split your time and attention between a number of different things, and it takes awhile to learn how to do that.

It was starting to get late when we finally arrived at Circleville (KCYO), our only real destination of the flight. Papa needed gas, and Circleville is the cheapest within easy range. While I pumped the gas, John chatted with a student pilot that had found herself stranded at KCYO while on her long cross country. I didn't catch her entire story, but I think something had gone wrong with her navigation radio and she was afraid that she wouldn't be able to find her way back to West Virginia without it. I wish we had had more time to chat with her, but we were in a bit of a race with the sun. We had to be back to Bolton by sunset, and it was starting to look like it might be a near thing.

I had John fly us back while I fiddled with the camera. Here he is enjoying the coolest sunset of his life (as far as I'm concerned, but I confess to being quite biased).

You can't see it very well in the picture, but those sunglasses are awesome. I'm going to have to try to find some for myself. They have little reading glass type lenses embedded in the lower part of the sunglass lenses, almost like bifocals. That would be extraordinarily useful for me, Capt. Presbyopia.

The balloons were gone by the time we got back to Bolton and there was very little traffic to deal with. It was an easy approach and it culminated in what to John was a normal landing.

In other words, I bounced it.

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