Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Where I've been, in the U.S.

I found this link in Roy's journal - it generates a map that will highlight the states you select. I checked off the ones that I have visited or travelled through; looks like I have east of the Mississippi pretty well covered. Lots of big rectangular states out there in the breadbasket I haven't seen; I think I'll wait until I have a faster plane...

The same site has a world map, which I haven't done well on; and it's a bit deceiving. I've made tiny forays into Canada and Mexico, for example, but it highlights the whole country in each case, from the arctic circle down to Central America. My only off-continent travel so far has been one trip to England, the Netherlands and Belgium. But I'm looking forward to traveling with Gail, and expanding my world a bit.

create your own visited states map.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Pictures, 1000 words, etc.

No stories today, but I have been uploading a lot of my flying photos to my Flickr photo page. Summer sun and blue skies... *sigh*

Saturday, December 04, 2004


I see that Roy had a good idea; use a journal entry as a scrapbook, a la Orkut. Let's try it out... scrap me!

Sunday, November 21, 2004

The Silent Birdman... Nests

I've been short on flying yarns lately, although Gail and I were aloft last Sunday for a nice evening ride. We have been keeping busy making wedding plans and setting up housekeeping, and busy enjoying our own company as well. Gail has been working hard, and circumstances (and her employers) have been kind; so we will be able to spend almost all of our time together for the next few months.

The most important element of a happy marriage is ensured, though... Gail loves to fly! Commercially, of course, she being an inveterate world traveler; but my kind of flying, too. In my last entry I mentioned flying above the clouds, and we did some steep turns and maneuvering. I don't normally do that kind of thing with pax aboard; only with assurance from Gail that she was comfortable, and indeed enjoying it.

Last Sunday we went up again, and I let myself play a little more. The barrel roll is an easy maneuver for almost any aircraft, keeps everyone in their seat and puts very little stress on the airframe. Start with a little dive for airspeed, raise the nose about 20 degrees, and then full aileron and a touch of rudder for a maximum-performance roll. (5 MB video clip). Gail got out her camera and nodded ready, and I flicked around once to the left. Wide grins on each of us; "Again, again!"

Gosh, I love this girl. I continued with a series of tight rolls, the late-day horizon spinning in the windscreen, the lake far below arcing over our heads. Since the wing remains flying throughout this maneuver, there is always a downward force in the cabin; there is an element of lightness in the tummy, but the effect is mostly visual. I find it most thrilling, and so does my intended. We enjoyed some more steep turns and climbs as the daylight faded.

I leveled out and we enjoyed the sunset from the plane. We kept flying west into Wilkes-Barre airspace and shot a touch-and-go on the big runway, then headed back home for dinner and the Pilot's Association meeting; another opportunity for Gail to meet my flying buddies, and for me to share the news of our betrothal.

No flying so far this week - both of us have been busy with work, and the weather has not been too great. But you know... I've been very, very happy nonetheless.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Of clouds and glory

Gail and I spent a great evening with one of my CAP flying comrades Saturday night. Dale and his wife Ingrid are another "international" couple - she British, he Texan - and they invited us to meet and welcome my fiancee into the fold.

Dale prepared a fine round of steaks and we all enjoyed his homemade wine (and a wee bit of scotch) late into the night. Sunday morning we were happy to enjoy the bonus DST hour in bed, and our host engineered a pancake breakfast that could put him in the Michelin guide - with crushed cashews and raisins, and a secret batter.

Sunday afternoon we stole away to the airport for a few hours to get in some flying time. The winds were strong and gusty, but Gail and I are stalwart flyers, so I was soon wrestling 02P off the runway and bouncing skyward. The clear blue morning was giving way to a broken layer of clouds, with their bases at about 7,000 feet. For Gail's second flight in my plane - our plane - I thought it might be nice to get above the clouds. Circling over the lake, we climbed slowly into smoother air, and eventually rose above the white tufted cloudtops.

Gail was taking photos and enjoying the ride, and I began to swoop around the hills and valleys of white cotton. After a few gentle turns I began to enjoy myself as I often do alone amongst the clouds; diving through gaps in the fluff, banking hard around mile-wide boulders, rolling madly from one turn into the next. The short and stubby old Tri-Pacer maneuvers beautifully for play like this, much more responsive and light on the controls than newer, more stable aircraft.

I looked over and saw that Gail was wearing a grin to match mine, still snapping pictures and video. I circled up-sun from one of the clouds and chased our shadow across its flank, and we saw the unique phenomenon called a "glory" - sometimes when an airplane flies above a cloud layer, the water droplets cause a set of rainbow-colored rings around the shadow of the plane. We marveled at it, and I came around again; Gail captured it beautifully in a short video clip.

Too soon, we had to return to the airport to make our dinner plans. While I refueled 02P, one of the other local pilots taxied up in his 2-seat Cessna; an older Polish gentleman, a friend of mine. I introduced Gail, and he congratulated us warmly, and we exchanged some hangar talk.

As I pushed the plane backwards into the hangar, some darker clouds showed up with a few drops of rain; but it was too late for them to do any harm to our fine day.

Saturday, October 23, 2004


I took the afternoon off from work today to finally fly the river reconnaissance mission. I was first called a week ago, but bad weather and schedule problems had scotched two previous attempts. Today, the weather finally cleared, but we had to wait until afternoon since George Bush was in town stumping. (Since 9/11, anywhere the Prez goes is subject to a 30-mile no-fly zone, which not even the C.A.P. can violate.)

So the flight restriction lifted at 12:25, and I lifted off at 12:30 to head north. I picked up my crew, the Wyoming Country EMA director and his deputy; they had asked us to assist them with some waterway management problems which had cropped up after the tropical storms of September. They brought a video camera and a laptop, and a list of trouble sites where the creeks had jumped banks; we were also looking for debris in the Susquehanna River, missing oil and LP tanks.

I briefed the guys and got them strapped in. I always give a careful briefing when flying with inexperienced flyers, and let them know that we could land any time if they were uncomfortable. With all their gear stowed in easy reach, we took off heavy from the short runway and climbed low over downtown Tunkhannock (luckily, the traffic light was green...) and headed downriver to the county border.

We had good visibility and began noting possible targets for investigation later; I used the GPS unit in the panel to mark the coordinates. The river bends and curves back on itself up there, and the terrain grew more rugged as we worked upriver. Often I had to circle 270 degrees to keep the river in clear view, or stay up-sun. While the EMA guys worked, I kept my attention on the mountaintops - cell phone towers are everywhere, and in some places power lines cross the river. But the scenery was beautiful, the last blaze of fall colors, and I watched our shadow rise and fall as we crossed each ridge.

After nearly two hours, we had accomplished enough, and I put on speed and altitude to head back to the airport. As we headed south, we saw the President's two huge cargo planes climbing away from Scranton. The EMA folks were very happy; they remarked on how much they could see, and how well I hugged the river, and how smooth the flight was. (Well, they did; why should I be modest?) I took their picture next to the plane, and asked them to think of us again if they needed help.

Anyway, another mission accomplished by the intrepid aviators of the Civil Air Patrol, "Eyes of the Home Skies". (Dramatic music here.) To pile cliché on cliché, I actually touched down at sunset. Let's end the video there - not ten minutes later, when I slipped in the wet grass pushing the plane back into its tiedown.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

October 18, 2004

I've let this sit idle for a while, but since you good readers are barely in the double digits, little harm done I suppose.

It was my plan to use this space to spin my flying yarns, to cut down on telling the same stories over and over. But my logbook has become rather quiet, what with some grey and wet fall weather. I was supposed to fly tomorrow to do some reconnaissance for a local county EMA, but we've moved it back again to Thursday.

My own little plane has been quietly parked in the old tin hangar since last weekend, fuel tanks full so I won't get water condensation in the lines. Last winter's first freeze cracked a component and leaked gasoline all over; one among many such small lessons. I'm a shadetree mechanic, and I'm getting comfortable working on this simple old machine, within the limits of the law and my own abilities.

Anyway, she's ready to go, fresh oil in the crankcase too. When the season finishes changing the air will get cold, clear and dense; good flying weather. Great heater in that plane, and come February I may allow that a closed cockpit is not such a bad thing.

My life on the ground - which I don't plan to log extensively or in detail here - is going rather well. I have been unceremoniously discarding a lot of gloomy and incorrect ideas about the world and my journey through it. And an amazing new friend has returned something to me that I thought I lost, quite some time ago.

I wish you all the same. Clear skies and happy landings.

Saturday, October 09, 2004

October 2-4, 2004

I was going to write about the great time I had last weekend, as I have been doing with all of my flying yarns. But - since I spent it with a new friend, and wrote about it in her journal, you can just click over there to hear about it.

Gail's Balcony

I may post some photos, but they are all Gail's. I was just the stick and rudder guy.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Joyrides and checkrides

Another busy, beautiful fall weekend. Saturday I took a vanload of CAP cadets to the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, ( a living museum of very old airplanes in upstate New York. They have an airshow every weekend from midsummer though the fall, and also offer "barnstorming" rides in their 1929 New Standard D-25 biplane.

We left early so the kids could sign up for the rides, offered in the morning before the airshow. 15 miles into the trip, our old Chevy van threw a belt, and I spent over an hour finding a replacement and fitting it to the maze of pulleys; thankfully, a trucker was pulled over nearby and loaned us some tools and a hand. So we got to Rhinebeck, but a little too late to sign up for a morning ride. But we found that afternoon rides were available after the show, so we signed up a planeload (4 seats, plus the pilot) and watched the great, campy airshow. (Pilots clip falling sheets of toilet paper with their wings; a befuddled farmer "accidentally" takes off in the Piper Cub; and an "escaped convict" is chased by the Keystone Cops, silent movie style.) Great fun. Plus some amazing historic aircraft, including the oldest flying plane in the country - a 1909 Bleriot, which still makes short hops. It's odd to see the computer-printed FAA airworthiness certificate, taped in the varnished wood cockpit of the 95-year-old plane.

After the show, the kids headed to the gate for their rides. The barnstorming pilot remembered us; we go to the Aerodrome every year, and last year we gave him a squadron patch. So he was very friendly - all the folks at Rhinebeck are - and gave the cadets a great ride, including some extra wingovers above the Hudson River. Lots of big smiles when they landed, pics in the album.

Sunday I got up early again to go flying. It was time for my annual CAP checkride; we have to re-test every year to maintain proficiency. Another new pilot in the squadron needed his initial checkride, so the two of us flew south to meet the check pilot. It was great flying weather, and we both spent the day getting thoroughly tested and checked out. I signed out a 182 (a slightly larger plane) for my flight and flew stalls, steep turns, a spiraling emergency descent, and a few instrument approaches. Hard work but a good confidence-builder. And now we have another qualified pilot to keep our squadron's plane busy, a good thing.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Sun, sand & hangin'

Got back Saturday night from a great week in the Outer Banks! Hurricane Ivan cut a broad arc across the country, completely missing us, so we had great weather for the whole week. Must be clean living...

I went with an old high school friend, and his wife and little girl Kyra, 15 months. I swam in the ocean almost every day; the beach was uncrowded and the water was phenomenal. I spent hours in the warm surf, swimming and watching the pelicans. Kyra got her first taste of the ocean too - she enjoyed having her feet dipped in the water, but being a wobbly walker, didn't care for the shifting sand. She has a sweet disposition and smiled all week.

We also visited the aquarium and Elizabethan Colony on Roanoke Island, and fished, and I got my first taste of hang gliding. Kitty Hawk Kites runs a school on the huge dunes at Jockey's Ridge State Park - the same place that Wilbur and Orville Wright tested their gliders in 1901. It's tailor-made for the purpose - the dunes are about 60-70 feet high, and you can run and take off into the wind no matter which way it's blowing. (And the landing sites are all soft sand, in case of an abrupt landing!) I did the 1-hour ground school and 5 solo flights - it was amazing! The instructors were great, despite the slacker appearance (my certificate proclaims that my instructor's name was "Dude".) They steady you on your first runs, making it almost impossible to get hurt, and they do the additional hard work of carrying the glider back up the hill. (It weighs just 55 pounds, hard to believe.)

I just had a great, amazing week. It reminded me how important vacations are; I probably wouldn't have gone if my friends hadn't asked me along, and I'm so glad I did. I feel totally relaxed and refreshed, and the memories will carry me through the winter - the tan won't, alas...

Now, how much did he say those hang gliders were?

Thursday, September 09, 2004

Another "find"

U.S. Federal Aviation Regulation Part 91, paragraph 207 (my squadron number...) details the use of emergency locator transmitters in U.S.-registered civil aircraft. These transmitters (ELTs for short) activate whenever the unit is subjected to impact, so that in a crash, the radio will automatically alert search-and-rescue personnel.

That's our specialty in the Civil Air Patrol; we find ELTs, either from the air or the ground. We have direction-finding equipment to allow us to quickly track down the source of an emergency signal. It's most often a unit that goes off in error, but we treat every call like there could be lives at risk.

It was a false alarm tonight; I just got back. A corporate jet at the local airport was pinging, so its ELT probably got set off by a hard landing or by being jarred by the tug. We didn't have to launch our plane to find it, I tracked it down with a handheld unit.

(Click here to hear what an ELT signal sounds like. Sometimes I get to listen to that for hours...)

We roused the poor pilot from his hotel, and met him at the plane to turn the beacon off. At least he can sleep in, his morning flight will be cancelled due to the plane being out of service. (That beacon must be replaced now, before the plane can be used for air carrier operations.) It was a beautiful 8-seat jet - the pilot and I got to climb all over it trying to find the transmitter.

Anyway, it was good practice. And I got to play with my new cell phone, which I just bought tonight - a Nokia 6800, that folds out into a little keyboard. It's got Internet access and text messaging, which I'll figure out tomorrow.

*yawn* G'night.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Back-breaking Labor Day

Despite a badly sprained back, I went off the pain meds this morning and went flying. Alan, a squadron mate of mine, met me at the airport and helped me get the hangar door open and my plane rolled out.

It was a beautiful, calm morning, with morning haze beginning to dissipate into broken clouds. We flew south to Mount Pocono to get the CAP Cessna out, to take one of my young lady cadets for a training flight and to return some equipment to a nearby squadron. Julie is becoming comfortable in small planes, this was about the fourth flight for her. She did much of the flying today, even executing some nice turns to remain clear of the clouds on the way back.

Back at Mount Pocono airport, I took Julie's mom and little brother (age 5) for a short ride in my Tri-Pacer. Robert found some money in his house so he could pay me for the flight - he gave me a quarter! He's very cute, and he had a good time riding around his house - propped up on a big cushion so he could see out, with the headset looking too big for his head. He also drew me a picture while he was waiting for his sister. He will have to be very patient - he can't become a CAP cadet himself until he's 12.

The last time climbing in and out of my plane, my back started to yell again, so I let Alan fly left seat on the way home. Alan is a pilot from way back, getting recurrent to fly more modern planes with the CAP; this was good practice for him. My old plane is less stable and a bit harder to fly than the Cessna he has been flying, and he was working hard to keep it in line as we headed back north. (The Cessna tends to stay straight-and-level; the Tri-Pacer often has it's own ideas about which direction it wishes to fly, and needs a firm hand on the controls at all times.) Alan did well, I only took the controls on final approach to land.

Back at Cherry Ridge, we fueled 02P and watched a parade of beautiful old planes. In front of us at the pumps was a restored Belgian Stampe biplane from the 1930s, it's fabric painted in a snappy scheme of navy blue over cream. One of the earliest Cessna Skyhawks, a straight-tailed 1957 model, rolled by with it's polished aluminum prop ticking over in the sun. (Black, white and canary yellow on that one, in the doo-wop factory paint scheme.) Nearby on the ramp was a homebuilt RV-4, an aerobatic kit plane with two tandem seats and a bubble canopy. This one was obviously turned out by a master builder, the finish and quality better than most factory-built planes.

A great day to plane-watch, and to swap hangar talk with one of our veteran old aviators; Chet, the founder of the airport, stopped by to see how I was doing with my old bird. Chet has been flying biplanes over these hills since long before I was born, even before my plane was built. I listen respectfully to the old birdman, trying to glean the bits of flying wisdom from the wild yarns; I do aspire to be an old flier myself, someday!

I would have liked to fly more, the day was just continuing to be clear and smooth, but I thought it prudent to come back here and eat and take a muscle relaxant for my back. Just another flying day that should never end.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Stranger to the Ground

Feeling my age tonight - turns out that flying is hard work, if you do enough of it. It was a busy weekend, that actually started Thursday. I had three new cadets to fly with after work, all three were 12-13 years old and first time flyers. The weather was summer-hazy and pretty cloudy, but I managed to sneak over to another airport 30 miles off and back with them. All three had a great time, though the visibility was terrible. One was very serious and polite, one only slightly reserved and the third noisy and rambunctious. (Have to work on him.)

Friday night I flew down to the Allentown area to get in a last-minute checkride, to renew my mission pilot status. This weekend was the Pennsylvania Wing search-and-rescue exercise (SAR-Ex) and I had to be current to participate. First we had to ferry a Cessna with an electrical problem over to Jersey, then we flew a thorough checkride for two hours until dusk. (The check pilot was properly hard on me; we practiced aerial searches of every kind, including a few wrinkles I had never heard of.) I flew back in dark and haze (the weather is in summer reruns, apparently) with a fat yellow moon for company. Managed to find Mount Pocono in the murk and land.

Then suddenly it's Saturday morning at 7:30, and I'm back at the airport. I had three squadron mates with me, filling all four seats in the plane. We took off into the morning fog, soon to become the daily haze (it's August... "summer crud" is the norm.) Our inbound practice mission was a route search that took us south and then to Harrisburg, where the weather was even hotter and muggier. We checked in and soon headed out on another practice search towards Pittsburgh; we knew from the weather radar that storms were coming, and as expected we encountered them over Altoona. We were running out of room between clouds and mountain tops, and my crew was hot and uncomfortable bumping along low and slow; so we turned around and headed back to the mission base.

Now the weather was developing into afternoon thunderstorms, such as Floridians are so familiar with. We declined another search mission (hey, we're volunteers) and I filed for an instrument flight that would take us into higher (hopefully cooler) air. Now with all four of us back in the plane, we boiled on the taxiway for ten minutes while ATC worked out our routing and cleared us. Note that there is absolutely no air conditioning in a Cessna 172, and little ventilation unless it's moving - so the cabin was around 115 degrees. We were debating flying home in our underwear when we were finally released, and I blasted off.

Slowly. The plane was loaded to capacity, full of fuel, and the day was extremely hot, which limits performance. We climbed rather slowly to 7,000 feet, watching the oil temp linger near the high end of the gauge. Finally we got some speed up, and ATC routed us around the worst of the storms. We still managed to fly through a few downpours, including a few dark and bumpy ones, but the plane rode the turbulence well with its heavy load. Finally we got our final vectors for the approach into Mount Pocono, and landed in light rain. It was still hot, but much better in the Poconos than it had been down south.

So, all told I logged ten hours in three days. It doesn't seem like much in airline terms, but it was all low-level hand flying - no autopilot. Some of it blind-flying, and all of it over rugged terrain. I was dog-tired after the last leg, so I gratefully accepted when one of my crew invited me out for beer and barbecue and a swim in the lake. Man, that felt good - floating in the water and watching the thunderstorms that we had outraced, rolling in from the west. Can't hurt us now...

Today I left my own plane in the hangar, and enjoyed the mundanity of laundry and yardwork. I do love flying. But there's a lot to be said for sitting on the front porch, looking over my newly-squared-off shrubbery, with a beer and a dozing cat and a few free hours. It doesn't happen much.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

One leaves the nest

Preflight 1
Originally uploaded by AviatorDave.
I got in one last flight tonight with one of my Civil Air Patrol cadets, Eric. He is leaving tomorrow for Oklahoma, where he will begin full-time flight training to continue his airline career. Eric just turned 19, and just logged his 101st hour as a pilot.

I started flying with Eric when he was 14; he was one of a pair, he and Joel, who were my two most enthusiastic students. Whenever I mentioned that I would be flying cadets, those two would materialize in front of me, with a matched set of wide grins. Now he has his private pilot's certificate, and with a little more practice he will be ready for his Instrument rating. (Joel is off to the Army, hoping for helicopter-related duties.) I am proud to have been associated with both of them, and the other cadets, for these past five years.

I flew my old Tri-Pacer down to Mount Pocono to meet him, so we could use the CAP Cessna; similar to what he will fly in training. He wanted to practice some of his skills, so he wouldn't be rusty when he gets to school. He wants to impress his instructors.

And he will. He had planned out the flight when I got there, and began a thorough preflight inspection of the plane. It was a hazy day, and he had planned a challenging flight; a trip 60 miles to the north by pilotage (flying by eye only) to an airport he had never seen. We agreed to turn off the GPS and fly by map and compass.

Eric took off and flew the plane beautifully; he flies smoothly and on the numbers. We made our way north, talked to ATC, and checked off the points he had marked on his kneepad. Even 50 miles out, he was still hitting his waypoints within two minutes of his estimates; and I had thrown in some extra changes along the way. We were within sight of our destination when a convective SIGMET came over the radio (a warning of thunderstorms to the north). So we wheeled around to the south and climbed a half-mile, and I put the vision hood on him and had him fly back on instruments. He did quite well at that too, and he landed smoothly back at Mount Pocono. I hadn't touched the controls once.

I admonished Eric to email us, and keep us posted on his exploits. A great adventure, to be nineteen years old and leaving home. When he finishes his training, in a year and a half, he will be an instructor himself, multiengine and instrument; and a year after that he will likely have logged more hours than I have. I had to head out quickly; the thunderstorms coming in from the north were headed for my home 'port. So I tossed my gear in 02P, rolled out to the active, and took off. I reefed into a tight right turn towards home, and waved a wing at Eric in the parking lot.

I could see the dark mass to the north, but I beat it to the airport by a few miles; when I touched down it was still four miles away. I had just slid the tin hangar door closed when the rain began to fall, and thunder grumbled harmlessly. It's still raining now.

I have a new crop of cadets; there are always new kids joining the squadron. Juan, 13, has the same broad smile when he flies, and so do Cory and Julie and many of the others. My "nest" isn't empty. But I do feel that I have helped one young birdman off to a good start.

Clear Skies, Eric.