Wednesday, April 06, 2011

It's all about the wind

The annual is finally done, and after an epic struggle, the engine cowls are back on the airplane. What with the shiny, tight new hinges, it was a bit of a chore to get the pins to go in. It had to be done, though: I had a flight scheduled that I didn't want to miss. We're going through an ISO certification at the paying job and the corporate office experts are in town to help me muddle my way through the explanations of the somewhat quirky processes that result from the small size of our business unit and the heavy dependence we have on IT in-house services (i.e. me).

One of the corporate specialists is Jen, who just had her first flying lesson this past weekend. She's flying out of Oakland, and if nothing else, the scenery is spectacular.

As spectacular as her training environment will/would be, there will be costs above and beyond the rental charges to consider, though. It's a forty-five minute trip to the airport, and the Bay Area is notorious for winds and fog. She's still on the fence about whether she will continue with the lessons or not, but one way or the other she has developed a taste for flight.

Me? As you've seen in these pages before, I've developed a taste for flying with pretty women.

We scheduled our flight for Wednesday night as that night offered the best opportunity to break away from the group. Unfortunately, the winds did not want to cooperate. As Jen will eventually learn in her training, the wind is always, always, always a consideration in flying. High winds need to be considered in all aspects of any given flight. With a light plane, the pilot has to be aware of the direction of the wind even when taxiing out to the runway. A strong enough wind from the side could, for example, lift a wing or even flip over the airplane. The same strong wind will affect the directional control on takeoff, ground speed (and thus projected fuel requirements) while enroute, and all manner of things while approaching to land. A crosswind will factor in the pilot's approach and landing pattern as it attempts to move the plane closer to or further from the optimum downwind and base leg paths. It will certainly have an affect on the final approach and landing, even if it is right down the runway.

Even light winds need to be considered, albeit not quite as heavily. A light wind on takeoff will require more runway to reach a flyable airspeed. The landing roll out will be longer as well without a good headwind to slow the airplane. Light winds also have an affect at uncontrolled airports where each individual pilot gets to determine which runway direction is "active" and the wind isn't providing a clear choice.

The forecast for our flight was winds out of the southwest at 18 knots, gusting to the high 20's. That's too much wind for my comfort. Later in the day, the forecast showed the winds tapering off to 10 knots at or around 7:00 pm. That's more like it! At the end of the workday, the winds were still too high but we decided to make the trip across town anyway in the hopes that the forecast for lower winds would come true and we'd be able to fly.

By the time we got there, the forecast had been amended: 25 knots gusting to 37.


Not today, then.

Having made the trip, though, we decided we might as well go over to the hangar for a tour. I got to show off my half-completed RV-12, up to and including a quick demonstration of the always impressive pneumatic rivet puller and the often intriguing concept of clecos. After about a half hour of expostulating on the benefits of the RV-12, I figured it was about time we give up and go get some dinner instead. But... it seemed less windy. I called the AWOS phone number and sure enough, the winds has dropped to 17 gusting 22. Right down the runway.

That was more like it! Just another couple of knots...

By the time we got into the plane, the tower was reporting 15 gusting 20-ish. It's a go!

The takeoff was a breeze (so to speak) and we were soon climbing towards the setting sun. At 3,000' I let Jen take the controls. Her first lesson having been primarily on the topics of straight & level flight and sightseeing, she demonstrated her acquired skills in each. After a few minutes of that, I showed her how to determine our compass direction (well, ground track to be perfectly precise) from the GPS and how to turn to a given heading. North being my first choice, my aging eyes having quickly tired of squinting into the later afternoon sun.

After a series of gentle turns, I took over and demonstrated some of the more aggressive maneuvers available in the repertoire of an RV-6 pilot. I think above all of the great things about flying with neophytes is the kick I get from spontaneous delighted laughs. Or squeals, as the case may be.

I can only do so much of that without risking the onset of nausea in both pilot and passenger, so we then climbed up to sufficient altitude to overfly Columbus without invoking the dreadful ire of Columbus Approach, and by extension, should my luck run that way, the FAA.

By the time we got back to Bolton, the winds were down to 13 gusting 21, still right down the runway. We were well positioned for an entry to right base, although with the twenty degrees of crab I needed to hold us close to the runway, it was a very ill-defined base leg. Crawling down final gave me plenty of time to assess the slight crosswind component and set up for a flare right over the numbers. The touchdown wasn't bad at all, but the roll out had my feet moving fast enough to qualify for a spot on Dancing with the Stars. With the extra wind over the nose, the tail stayed up longer than normal which meant that most of my steering was with the rudder rather than the tailwheel. That can be tricky as the airflow across the rudder decreases and I have to start stabbing at the brakes. By the time the tail finally dropped, we were almost at a crawl.

We turned off at Alpha 3 and I congratulated myself on a "good enough" landing.

We ran into a little problem while heading back to the hangar. A pair of geese have built a nest by one of the hangars and one of them was standing right in the middle of the taxiway. You don't dare hit one of them; that would qualify as a prop strike and required a federally-mandated tear down of the engine to check for damage to the crankshaft. In other words, thousands of dollars. I finally encouraged the goose to move out of the way, but he wasn't at all happy about it. As with any entitlement-minded member of a government-protected identity class, he got very vocal about any perceived encroachment on his rights. As we went by, he was at full neck extension, honking his fool head off. I expect he and the missus will be camping in a capital rotunda somewhere soon.

Friday, March 04, 2011

The final chapter

Now showing on

RV-6 • $56,500 • FOR SALE • Beautiful and eye-catching low time RV-6 must go to make room for RV-12. 400 TT. Lyc. O-320 A2D 150 hp 400 TTS Factory Reman., Sensenich FP prop 400 since new. Garmin 396 GPS, Dynon D-6, ICOM A200, Intercom, KLN-89B GPS, strobes, nav lights, sump pre-heat, electric flaps. Nice interior. Always hangared. Annuals performed by a trusted A&P. This is a simple, reliable, low-maintenance RV-6 built in the spirit Van intended. Emails preferred. • Contact Dave Gamble, Owner - located Grove City, OH USA • Telephone: 614 277-1269 • Posted March 4, 2011 • Show all Ads posted by this Advertiser •Recommend This Ad to a Friend • Email Advertiser • Save to Watchlist • Report This Ad • View Larger Pictures •Finance

I have to confess that posting the ad hurt a lot more than I thought it would. I knew the day was coming when I first pulled a rivet on the RV-12, but.... still hurts.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Learning to Fly

Well, that's what it felt like, anyway. I was aghast when I looked at my flight log and saw that I had not flown since November someteenth, 2010. I knew it had been awhile, but I had no idea that for the first time in twenty years I had let my VFR currency lapse.

Wait, what? Well, I think the FAA can say it better than I can:
§ 61.57   Recent flight experience: Pilot in command.
(a) General experience. (1) Except as provided in paragraph (e) of this section, no person may act as a pilot in command of an aircraft carrying passengers or of an aircraft certificated for more than one pilot flight crewmember unless that person has made at least three takeoffs and three landings within the preceding 90 days, and—
    (i) The person acted as the sole manipulator of the flight controls; and
    (ii) The required takeoffs and landings were performed in an aircraft of the same category, class, and type (if a type rating is required), and, if the aircraft to be flown is an airplane with a tailwheel, the takeoffs and landings must have been made to a full stop in an airplane with a tailwheel.
Clear as mud, right? Basically it means that the FAA thinks I will forget how to fly an airplane on the 91st day of not doing so. It also says that they're fine with me going out alone and teaching myself how to fly all over again, but they'd prefer that I not risk anyone else's bacon. There's a little wrinkle in there for tailwheel airplanes like mine: the landings have to be to a full stop on the runway. This is as opposed to nosewheel airplanes which are, when compared to tailwheel airplanes, so easy to fly that you only have to show the ability to find the runway and smack into it with two out of the three wheels.

And to some degree, I think they're right. It had been 94 days since I had last flown and I definitely felt something akin to trepidation as I was driving home from work marveling at the fact that it's still the middle of February and the car thermometer was indicating 44 degrees outside. The winds were light out of the south-southeast and there was only a thin layer of clouds at the 10,000' level, far above any altitude that I would be likely to reach if I were to go out and practice a few landings. The tingling of nerves came from the inescapable fact that this was good flying weather and that I really, really needed to get back into the air, whether I felt perfectly secure in my ability to do so or not.

It was, however, by no means a given that Papa would share my desire to fly. Having endured three months of inactivity and bitter cold, there was a chance that I wouldn't even be able to get the engine to start. Although brand new, it was possible that the battery would have lost sufficient charge to crank the engine after sitting idle in the cold weather. There was also a question of logistics: would I be able to even get the plane out, what with all of the RV-12 construction going on?

The latter question was answered first: I was able to navigate Papa out of the hangar without knocking anything over or dinging any parts on either airplane. This begged a follow-on question: would I be able to do the same thing in reverse when I got back?

After the kind of extensive preflight that I do when I haven't flown for awhile (which has more to do with delaying the moment when I will have to bet the farm on my retained ability to actually fly an airplane than it does on distrust of the equipment) I climbed in and settled into the now unfamiliar cockpit environment. Geez, the two open holes where I yanked out the gyros are still there. I haven't installed that Dynon yet?? I spent a few moments reviewing the engine start procedures in my mind, proceeded with them once I was sure I had the order correct, applied just a titch more fuel prime than I would normally, and engaged the starter.

I had worried needlessly.

A strong, hearty crank of two blades and the engine sprang to something passably like life. Like a bedridden patient that's taking his first steps after months of inactivity, there was a little limping and complaining, but within a minute or two everything had smoothed out. I wanted to let the engine loaf along at a low idle for a few minutes anyway, so my usual angst at the delay caused by the GPS having been lobotomized to the degree that it couldn't even tell what day it was didn't lead to the normal hurling of derogatory insults at the smug little box.

While the engine was shaking off the deleterious effects of months-long neglect, I rehearsed my pending communications with the control tower. I've found that it pays to slow my radio tempo down considerably when talking to ATC after any significant gap in my recent experience. If I were to try going from zero-to-sixty like I would normally do, I end up tripping over my words like a lying five year old caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Or a Congressman presented with photographic evidence of marital malfeasance. Either way, it's embarrassing, so I try to avoid it.

All went well, although I was a little curious as to why I would be taxiing to runway 4. Both wind socks were indicating that the prevailing breeze would slightly favor runway 22. I suppose the ultra-sophisticated and high-calibrated electronic gadgetry in the control tower was presenting a more accurate representation of the conditions than the extraordinarily low-tech windsocks. Who ya gonna believe? At a wind speed of four knots and a difference in wind direction wavering between ten to twenty degrees, I figured it wasn't worth making a fuss over, particularly since there was an inbound on the ILS 4 approach. I wasn't going to win that argument, I figured, so why start it?

I spent a little longer on the engine run-up than I normally would, mostly because I wanted the engine to have every opportunity to forfeit the game while we were still safely on the ground, but also because I knew I was going to have to wait for the ILS arrival to either land or go off on the missed approach. All of the cylinders were showing heat on the EGT and the mag drop on both sides was nominal, and the ILS arrival broke off the approach a mile out. There were no more excuses; it was time to try to fly!

The takeoff was a breeze, given the minimal impact of, well, the breeze. We were soon climbing out to the west with Papa screaming skyward at an impressive 1,500 feet per minute and me struggling to get my head around the fact that we weren't still rolling down the runway. Experience quickly kicked in and I went through the transition from takeoff to flying which is simply fuel pump off, lean the mixture, and start paying attention to where we're going. We toodled along at 3,500' at nearly full throttle for the fifteen or twenty minutes that I figured it would take to get the oil heated up enough to burn out any moisture that may have gathered in it and, to be honest, delay the moment when I'd have to again bet the farm on my retained ability to land an airplane.

The moment when the rubber meets the road, if you will.

There's not much to say about the ensuing landings. We were right traffic to runway 4 which meant that I had to be careful not to let the wind get me pushed in too close to the runway or let it push me too far out on the base leg. It took a couple of landings to get over my ground shyness and let the plane descend on the base leg, and it also took those two landings to get over the feeling of the plane traveling very fast in the flare. It also takes a few landings to get used to the RV-6's pitch sensitivity in the flare. With all that said, I thought all four of the landings were acceptable. None were great, but all were satisfactory.

While carefully pushing the Papa back into the hangar, I couldn't helping thinking about how nice it was to feel like a pilot again.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

I remember when...

... I used to be a pilot.

This has to have been one of the worst winters ever for bad flying weather, although I do recognize that I probably say that every year. It has been gray, gray, gray.

It looked like Friday afternoon might be nice enough for a set of touch & goes, but that idea was mooted by the sheet of ice in front of the hangar. The airport maintenance folks had been up and down the taxiway in front of the hangar with one of the big brush trucks they use on the runway, but that had the not-so-great result of simply burnishing the ice to a rink-quality sheen.

Except, of course, for the ice wall. That was still there and every bit as insurmountable as ever. It doesn't look like much, but you have to remember that I'd have to push the airplane over it with only the grip my feet could get in the shiny ice to act as a fulcrum.

Not likely to work, that.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Arriving today via UPS, weather permitting

We're in the clutches of an ice storm, and while that's better than the pummeling that the rest of the midwest is getting, it's still playing havoc on transportation and commerce. But should the UPS truck manage to slip/slide its way to my driveway, I should be receiving one of these today:

What in the world is that?? Well, a picture is worth a thousand words, so a YouTube must be worth 30,000 words per second:

That's probably to most boring video on YouTube, at least after the first minute, but it certainly shows what a Trius 1-Step is and how it works. Not how it should be used, though. He really ought to be pressing it with his left foot. Still, you get the idea.

The idea is simple: it is to allow me to practice my shooting on off weeks from sporting clays. Now I just need to find a big, open field...

Monday, January 31, 2011

Another round of sporting clays

When you consider that my first full 10-station round with a 12 gauge was two weeks ago, and that it came right on the heels of my first time shooting a shotgun in my life, today was a resounding success. That round last week when I first tried a 12 gauge?

I shot 7 out of 50.

Today, with my new (to me) shotgun and two rounds of experience under my belt?

Missed 'em all!

No, just kidding!  I can't believe how much better I did. Out of the first two pairs, I nailed three birds. It went on like that for the rest of the round. I finished with a total of 22 out of 50! Out of the five of us in the group, that was second best.  The new gun worked great, but a big part of the improvement came from a suggestion from one of the guys I was shooting with. He's pretty new at it too, and he was also having the same problem I was having with trying to aim like you would with a rifle. They say with the shotgun you should shoot with both eyes open rather than with one closed as you would with a rifle. His advice was to ignore those guys and go ahead and just use one eye. It made all the difference!

I took my little camcorder with me today and while I'm a little disappointed in the jerkiness of some of the video, at least you can get an idea of what it's like.

Crossposting just to keep this blog alive

I haven't been flying at all this winter. Just the other day I was thinking about how fun it used to be to be a pilot. I've been busy on the RV-12, but even that project has its delays.  As we can see here:

The down side of winter projects is....

...winter is cold!!

The reason I need winter projects so badly is that I get cabin fever something fierce. I have to have something to keep myself occupied. In fact, February is the worst month of my life because it is so hard to find something to do that doesn't involve being outside. When I started on the RV-12, my hope was that I would consistently have work that I could do down in the basement, but for the second year in a row that hasn't worked out. Last year I was forced to move to the hangar to build the tail cone. I started the fuselage in the spring and was able to spend some days in the basement that would have been nicer spent outside. This year it's the wings.

It's 6 degrees Fahrenheit outside today.

I'm inside, and I'm staying there. At least there's football on TV!

I did go out for awhile this morning, and I'll share the details of that with you since I told you about shooting Sporting Clays last weekend. I might have mentioned that I'd be wanting to get my own shotgun rather than being dependent on borrowing a gun. To that end I did some research to try to find a reasonably priced gun that offered reasonable quality in return. From what I've seen in retail stores, there is exactly one low-cost over/under shotgun, and web reviews were not favorable. That gun costs $450 new. The next one up in price (and I was assured that this was a terrific deal by the guy at the counter) was $899.  Marked down from $1,200, I think. Didn't matter. You could mark down the Hope diamond from $12,000,000 to $5,000,000 - I still can't afford it.

I started looking for used guns. That's not as easy as you might think. Craig's List won't sell them, nor will eBay. I finally came across (which for some reason I keep reading as '' - a strange mental tick, that) which is kind of a Craig's List for guns. I spent a week perusing the listings and finally found one that I was interested in. It was a Remington 310 over/under (made in Russia) for $400. It took a week for the seller to get back to me, and that was just to tell me that it was already sold.

I decided to expand my search from Columbus to all of Ohio and BAM!, I found a Verona LX-502 (Italian made) for an asking price of $525. That was a pretty good price, but somewhat over my budget. The seller accepted an offer of $460. That was only $10 over budget, and he was kind enough to meet me in Washington Court House, thus saving me a couple of hours of driving.  We had a nice breakfast at McDs and chatted about guns, work, taxes, and wives. He seemed a decent and likable sort; that has been my experience with everything that I've bought or sold on Craig's List, as well as everyone I've met in shooting and gun shows.

So, here's my new sporting equipment:

I also found a few videos on YouTube that someone from the place I went last weekend has been uploading for the last couple of weeks. I suspect that it's hard to do Sporting Clays justice with a handheld camcorder, but you can kind of get the idea:

(20 gauge shells are yellow - that's why there was surprise over them being red)