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.