Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Day 19 Quick Summary

The lads are home, safe and sound. Look for a more complete update tomorrow night.

The IFR Pilot is off to lay his head down on his own pillow and get a well deserved rest.

Night y'all.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Day 18 Summary

Well, the IFR Pilot's weather-related decision-making proved prescient. Reports out of the home base indicated hurricane-strength winds, with multiple aircraft being flipped over at Lakefront Airport. Glad that we didn't try to make our way home today.

So, we went back to Oshkosh. Today, we covered the southern half of the show: ultralights, rotorcraft, sea planes, etc. Also, exhibition hangars B and D.

But first, we managed an up-close and personal view of SpaceShip One and White Knight. Both were on display smack dab in the center of AeroShell Square. These pictures don't do justice to the beauty of these sleek aircraft, but hey, I did the best I could.

Those icons appear to represent the results of the various flights. Right next to "X2," in very tiny markings, is "$10M." Might be hard to see, but trust me, it's there. Of course, it represents the $10 million Ansari X prize that the project captured.

On our way around the site, we ran across the display for Snap-On Tools. Proudly stationed out front was the custom-built chopper from Orange County Choppers. You know, those guys from American Choppers. This machine is one remarkable piece of craftsmanship.

We made our way to the Seaplane Base. That proved to be less exciting than expected. Kind of a whimper instead of a bang.

On the way back, we saw this remarkable SeaBee, powered by -- of all things -- a Corvette engine. One thing I'll say for EAA: If you can dream it up, someone's probably already done it.

Finally, with regret, I must announce that the Dadster was fired today from his job as Chancellor of the Exchequer. As we left the hotel this morning, the IFR Pilot strongly admonished him: "Don't let me spend any money today."

So what does he go ahead and let me do? Try out a pair of Bose X ANR headsets.

Now, if you know anything about these bad boys, you will agree that trying them on is akin to taking that first hit from a crack pipe. You're hooked. (For the record, I've never smoked, and never intend to smoke, crack. But, you get the analogy.)

The Dadster failed to use physical force to prevent the IFR Pilot from withdrawing his VISA and snapping up a set. Hey, it's a thirty-day no obligation trial, followed by a twelve-month, no interest payment plan. And a free AeroShell Flight Jacket airplane detailing kit. If I sell that on eBay, plus my current headset, plus my left kidney, that should pay for the new headset, right?

Evidence of the IFR Pilot's contribution to this quarter's GDP:

We'll see how they work on the flight home tomorrow. They certainly did a good job blocking out the sounds of the air conditioner at Applebee's, where we ate dinner tonight. Fortunately, it was early and the restaurant wasn't too crowded, so there weren't that many witnesses to the IFR Pilot sitting at the dinner table with aviation headset on...

Day 18 Update

The weather between Oshkosh and home base stinks, so the IFR Pilot scrubbed today's flight.

Hmm, what should we do? I hear there's this little airshow in town. Methinks we might go give it a once-over. I'm leaving the VISA at home, though. Otherwise, a Stormscope just might show up in 78S's panel....

Day 17 Summary

Oshkosh, baby. We made the pilgrimage, and it was well worth it.

The first thing that captures you on the bus ride in the massive number of planes parked there for the show:

Here's the oft-seen view of the front gate:

First stop was the AOPA tent and a view of the Commander Sweepstakes plane that I will be willing:

Nice panel. Also, AOPA favored me with a couple of new hats. I think they knew that my current one is showing signs of flying in the summer. 'nuf said about that hat.

Bombers, bombers, warplanes everywhere!

Plus, of course, even more homebuilts than you could count:

The IFR Pilot particularly like the paint job on this one. Simple yet elegant. Not unlike the IFR Pilot....

One of big attractions of the day was the arrival of SpaceShip One and White Knight. They did a couple of flybys and then landed to a rousing ovation from the crowd. Getting pictures wasn't easy:

We did some shopping. The Dadster bought a welder of all things. The IFR Pilot picked up a couple items for the plane, including a long-desired vertical card compass. Saw a bunch of electronic flight bags on tablet PCs. When I win the lottery and scrap lawyering to become a freight dog, I'm all over one of those puppies!

Also saw this nifty little portable tiedown, which appears to be much easier to insert into the ground than the typical screw-ins.

The Dadster says he can whip these up himself, though from steel not aluminium. Always conscious of weight and balance considerations, the IFR Pilot requested that he swiss cheese them with lightening holes!

Waiting for the bus back to the hotel, we caught part of the airshow, which commenced with some warbird formation flights:

All in all, a good time was had by all.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Day 16 Summary

The day began with a surprise. We arrived at Eau Claire Airport, but were unable to locate 78S. It was one of those Twilight Zone moments. I know I tied my plane down here yesterday; where is it now???

I walked inside and politely inquired, "Ummm, hi. Have you seen my plane, 3978S?" After a moment, the nice folks at Heartland Aviation indicated that they had hangared it last night to make room on the ramp. Whew, that's a relief.

While they were retrieving 78S from her evening's lodgings, we surveiled the damage at the airport. As you will recall, we delayed launching east due to severe storms. Well, that was an excellent decision, if I do say myself, given the fury with which the storm whipped through EAU. Apparently, it didn't last long. But, according to the line guy, this happened with the first gust of the storm:

In case you can't interpret this photo, the scrap lying on the left side of the hangar is the former hangar door. It was blown right off from its cables.

The storm also extracted a tool on this Aero Commander, which couldn't be moved into a hangar in time to save it:

While it doesn't necessarily look bad, the flexing and bowing of the struts necessary to inflict the damage that you see to the fairings is probably indicative of severe stresses on the airframe that may exceed permissible tolerances. Sucks to be the owner of that airplane.

Anyway, we couldn't launch early as there was a pretty good overcast sitting on top of the airport. Some of the other folks that were also heading to Oshkosh weren't going anywhere, either. I figured I'm not necessarily smarter or a better pilot than any of them, so as long as they wait, I wait.

A couple of hours later -- after properly inspecting and testing the Pilot's Lounge -- we followed the other folks out of EAU. I tried to maintain VFR below the clouds, but at 2500 MSL, we were pretty close to the terrain. In fact, there's a huge tower about 20-25 miles SSE of EAU that reaches up to over 3000 MSL. After flying for about 20 miles this way, I decided that enough is enough.

Putting on my most professional pilot voice, I radioed ATC.

"Minneapolis Center, 78S with a request."

"78S, say request."

"78S requests IFR clearance direct to Appleton. Clouds are pretty bad down here, we'd like to try on top."

After confirming that I was IFR rated and the plane IFR equipped, we were cleared direct to Appleton at 6000 MSL. (Someone else called in shortly after, saying basically, "I'd like the same thing as that other Skyhawk." Good for him, but hey, never be afraid to ask for a pop-up IFR clearance. The worst they could say is no. If ATC had refused me the pop-up, I just would have gone back to EAU and filed there.)

We climbed for a couple of minutes, finding the tops at around 4800. We cruised on top, with a groundspeed that went from 92 knots below to over 120 above. Plus, it was nothing but clear blue skies up there:

About 30 miles out, I was told to descend to 5000. Appleton was reporting clear below 5000, and so I was told to expect the visual. No problem there.

After a couple minutes at 5000, I asked for 4000, thinking that would get us below and I could cancel IFR. I didn't want to clog up arrivals into Appleton by staying on the IFR clearance. ATC told me to expect lower in about 4 miles.

Just as advised, a few miles later, I was told to descend to 3000 at pilot's discretion and fly heading 090, vector for the right base to Runway 21. I complied, and we broke out at 4200. I gave Green Bay Approach at quick pirep of the bases.

Switched over to Appleton, they cleared me to land on 21. Then, they asked if I wanted 29, which was better for the prevailing winds. Fine by me. I was told to report midfield downwind for a right-hand landing on runway 29. Can't tell you the last time I made a right hand pattern. Again, not a problem, just haven't done one in a while.

It was getting busy at Appleton; there was an RV behind me, and a King Air inbound from the souteast. Tower told me to make a short approach. OK, now this is getting interesting.

Just past the numbers, I chopped the throttle, bled off the airspeed, dropped in the flaps, and charged down for the runway. I flared, planted her delicately on the runway, and made the first turnoff. How's that for helping out my fellow aviators?

We taxiied to parking, where there were already several dozen aircraft parked. Here's the IFR Pilot and Dadster proudly on the ground at Appleton:

Handsome devils, aren't we?

Look for a HUGE update tomorrow after we prowl the grounds at Oshkosh. Looks like we'll be home on Tuesday.

(Alas, we were unable to locate a DQ this afternoon. The IFR Pilot, however, using his reknowned oratorical skills managed to talk the waitress at Texas Roadhouse into giving the Dadster his ice cream fix....)

Day 16 Quick Summary

The boys are in town. Oshkosh, that is. Or, more specifically, Appleton.

We'll have a full update for you after we cool off in the hotel AC. It's a heat wave up here today, lads....

And now, we're off to find a DQ.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Day 15 Summary

After a quick campside breakfast of grits for the IFR Pilot and oatmeal for the Dadster, we hit the shower in the pilot's lounge. Then, it was time to get a weather brief and launch for Oshkosh.

Holy Cow, Batman, that's not happening. There was a huge thunderstorm cell developing in eastern South Dakota that looked like it was heading right for Minneapolis and points east. Guess where Oshkosh is???

The IFR Pilot again exercised command authority and determined that we were not going to try and "beat" the storm. We'd sit tight and follow in its wake. Plus, Aitkin Aviation was offering free sloppy joes and chili. How can you turn that down? Plus, it gave me time to make some calls and set up lodging in Oshkosh. (That turned out not be be quite as hard as I would have imagined it.)

Aitkin dodged the worst of it, though there were reports of localized flooding and wind damage south of us. So, the $25 I spent to put the plane in the hangar ended up not being necessary, but $25 is cheaper than replacing wing skins damaged by 1.5" hail -- which was widely reported!

Around 2:00 p.m., I got a briefing. The cell was east of Eau Claire, moving at 50 knots. I filed IFR to Eau Claire, and figured we'd sort things out then. After launching, the skud was much lower than I thought. Minneapolis Center wouldn't issue me a clearance without my identifying a bearing off of a local VOR. I had a bit of an issue figuring it out. With the weather worse than I had been led to believe, I elected to 180 it out of there and go back to Aitkin. So, after a total of 18 minutes, we were back in Aitkin.

Make a long story short, after a couple of hours, the clouds had lifted mightily in Aitkin, and every AWOS along the route to Eau Claire was reporting "clear below 12,000." Perfect! I refiled, dialed in the VOR in advance, and took off. I got my clearance promptly and climbed to 5000.

Where we had ground speeds of 92 knots. No way we're staying there kids. The IFR Pilot sought, and obtained, clearance to 7000, at which point our groundspeed soared to 120 knots. Yeah, baby!

Soon, we were above a solid undercast. Hmm, what's this about "clear below 12,000"? Doggone AWOS weather.

I got handed off to the final sector controller, who asked me to advise when I had the Eau Claire weather. I promptly advised her that the weather was all "missing." She asked what approach I wanted, and I said "Gimme the ILS."

The ILS 22 at EAU has three initial fixes: one at the marker with a typical procedure turn reversal, and two DME arcs. The IFR Pilot has flown precisely one DME arc in his flying career, so guess where the IFR Pilot was cleared to? You got it, the northwest DME arc.

Well, I flew her pretty good, and overheard someone in the pattern at EAU. I found this hard to believe, given that from 10 miles out, we had no sign of the airport. I cycled the lights and had advised the Dadster to be looking for the airport lights. We spotted them about 6 miles out, so I called and cancelled IFR, transitioned to visual flight, and made a pretty good landing.

Tomorrow, Oshkosh!

Day 14 Summary

Kept you in suspense for a day, didn't we?

Don't sweat it, IFR Pilot and Dadster are still with ya. We were just in places where there was zero -- and I do mean zero -- access to the internet. Today, that's been remedied, so let me try to bring y'all up to date.

When we last left you, our heroes were in Regina, SK. After restocking on groceries the night before, we departed early for Piney/Pinecreek. This airport literally straddles the U.S./Canada border. More importantly, it is open until 10:00 p.m. at night, so I was able to call and provide the requisite notice in advance to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Many other Customs locales close at 5:00 p.m. and don't open until 9:00 a.m., and so calling them in the morning would have meant either delaying our takeoff time, or requiring us to make a mid-trip stop. We wanted to avoid both, so Piney/Pinecreek it was.

Our path took us southeast until a few miles from the border, then east until we cleared the eastern edge of the Tiger North MOA. Here, you can see the total lack of evidence of the border between the US and Canada at the 49th parallel:

Here, we see proof of the Dynamic Duo's crossing of yet another border:

After obtaining the proper code for the transponder so that the AWACS wouldn't think we were trying to sneak across the border, we plodded along eastbound. Below, we see the customs inspection station located near some interstate highway; I forget which one:

A couple hours after taking off, we founds ourselves on the ground at Piney/Pinecreek. See?

There's no border painted anywhere on the airport, but the IFR Pilot determined where it was, took a photo, and provided you with an appropriate annotation:

We had some company: The biggest black flies that the IFR Pilot has ever seen. And, this lovely little 182 on floats that the Customs Agent searched with a fervor:

After a quick fuel up, we launched for Aitkin, Minnesota. After an hour an a half, we arrived just before a North American reported behind us. Apparently, he was on his way back from Colorado where he had some very important ADs complied with. The paint job was awesome! This thing look like it just rolled off the assembly line!

I can't decide if I want this one, or the King Air. Maybe I'll just take both. After I win the lottery, of course...

Also found on the Aitkin ramp was this crop duster. Not just any crop duster, but a bi-plane jetprop. Talk about loud!

For the first time, we broke out the tent and made camp. For the IFR Pilot, who hasn't been camping since he was a wee little IFR Pilot, it was peculiar. So absolutely quiet. Also, once it really got dark, having the airport beacon sweep by every couple of seconds was unnerving.

Around 1:30 a.m., the Dadster announced that he was going to try sleeping in the plane. He just couldn't get comy on the ground. The IFR Pilot stuck it out for a few more minutes, but was too worried about getting attacked by bears or robbers, that he rounded up the Dadster -- who looked like he was getting settled in -- and we crashed the pilot's lounge. Which, most importantly, had an air conditioner. It was pretty stinkin' hot in Aitkin.

And buggy. I hate bugs.

Did I mention that I hate bugs?

Thursday, July 21, 2005

More on the Accident

Like I said, the accident site wasn't pretty. Here's the photo that was splashed all over the front page of the Lethbridge Herald this morning:

The body language of Coaldale Deputy Fire Chief Jack Van Rijn says it all
as he looks over the wreckage of a small plane that crashed and burst into flames,
killing the pilot, Thursday near the Lethbridge County Airport.

Shortly after it happened and my test flight was over, I was standing in the FBO office when a guy approached me.

"Say, sir, I'm So-And-So from the Herald. Can you guys get me closer over there for a view of the accident site."

I promptly advised him that I didn't work there.

That was it. I didn't tell him who did (they weren't around anyway), nor did I give him any other helpful information.

I knew exactly what was going to happen. Big photo on the front page of the paper. And I was right.

I understand that an airplane accident is news. I wish that it wasn't. After all, every stinking automobile accident doesn't get a front page, above-the-fold photo showing the injured (or deceased) driver.

Why there's such a difference, I don't know. I just wish there wasn't.

And I wish that pilot had taxiied over to the maintenance hangar to have someone look at his engine, like I did with mine. Maybe he'd still be here with us today.

For those that care, here's the text of the article that accompanied the photo:

Pilot dies in crash

Plane had just taken off from Lethbridge County Airport when crash occurred


Lethbridge Herald

A large puff of black smoke "like a mushroom cloud" filled the sky briefly Wednesday marking the site of the crash of a small home-built aircraft.

The pilot of the craft was killed in the crash, said Cpl. Guy Sorensen, with the Lethbridge RCMP Traffic Services.

The crash took place just after 3:30 p.m. Wednesday west of the Lethbridge County Airport.

A source at the Lethbridge County Airport, who heard the pilot's distress call, said the pilot had just left the Lethbridge airport when he reported having trouble. Police could not confirm if the pilot was a male or a female, the age of the deceased or where the pilot was from but unconfirmed reports suggest it was a man piloting the plane.

The same source said the plane is thought to have been a home-built aircraft, possibly a Long EZ.

The crash took place about four kilometres west of Highway 5, along Twp Rd. 8-2.

Kendon Hastings was walking to his neighbour's house, just west of the gravel road where the plane crashed, when he saw smoke out of the corner of his eye.

"I saw the fire and then a big puff of black smoke," he said.

Another witness, who didn't want to be named, was at the scene shortly after the plane crashed and said there were flames that reached three metres.

The charred fuselage was upside down in the middle of gravel road.

In a farm field, around 20 metres away from the aircraft, there was a large swath of hay pressed down and one of the plane's wings that had been ripped off rested about 10 metres from the aircraft close to a ditch.

When the plane crashed it burst into flames and the hayfield close by also caught fire.

Coaldale deputy fire chief Jack Van Rijn said the Lethbridge Fire Department put out the flames on the small aircraft and the Coaldale Fire Department put out the flames in the adjacent field.

"When we pulled up we had to extinguish several grass fires," Van Rijn said. He said the fuel that had spilled out of the aircraft fed the flames.

Sorensen said he wasn't able to speculate on how the crash happened.

"We don't know if it was aircraft failure or pilot error," he said.

RCMP officers photographed the scene, contacted Transport Canada and planned to maintain a perimeter around the crash site.

Sorensen said he expected Transport Canada to be on the site to investigate the crash by around 9 p.m. Wednesday. Until that time, the body of the dead pilot had to remain in the aircraft.

Van Rijn said firefighters sprayed class B foam onto the aircraft to make sure there were no flare-ups because the fuselage continued to smoulder long after the flames were doused.

(c) 2005, Lethbridge Herald

Day 13 Summary

Today's flight also involved some adventure, though nowhere near the kind that we had yesterday.

The plan was to depart Lethbridge around 9:15 a.m. and proceed direct to Cut Bank, Montana to clear customs. We had notified Customs the night before and expected an uneventful flight. *fingers crossed*

We arrvied at the airport in plenty of time, and so had a few minutes to chill -- after answering a couple of questions from the Transport Canada investigators who were looking into yesterday's crash. Here's some of the sights we saw:

Apparently, there's no problem farming hay on the land next to the airport. Which explains why there's no fence with barbed wire surrounding the airport. There's just a different attitude toward aviation in Canada. It's not seen as a nuisance like in most of the urban areas of the U.S. I suspect that's because in Canada, and Alaska, aviation is a necessity. There's just no other practical way to move people and goods to remote locales.

We had the opportunity briefly to visit with these three lads, who were flying their ultralights to Whitehorse. The IFR Pilot employed the voice of experience to tell them how to fly the route up the Highway. At their pace of about 70 mph, they expect to take about 5 days to get there. I thought the guy with the open cockpit was the bravest of them all; you should have seen how he was bundled up!

(Note the Dadster getting a briefing on the capabilities of the aircraft above.)

After breaking off the chat between Dad and the pilot of the ultralight, we launced for Cut Bank. The engine roared and the IFR Pilot flew her magnificently.

For 10 miles that is.

At which point, the IFR Pilot performed an absolutely flawless 180 degree turn and returned to Lethbridge. The clouds that were "scattered" over the airport had turned to overcast within 10 miles, and they weren't much more than 1000 AGL. Sorry, no go, we're heading back.

So, 15 minutes after taking off, we were back on the ground. I called Customs and advised that we wouldn't be visiting them today. They grumbled a bit, but I again reiterated that in my judgment, flight was not safe and that we weren't coming. Sue me. I could have flown it IFR, but (a) I didn't have the proper charts, (b) I didn't have the proper approach plates, and (c) what moron would take a plane into IFR conditions when we had just had engine roughness the day before? Sure, I think we've determined that there is nothing mechanically wrong with the plane, but how would it have read in the NTSB briefing if something was wrong and I took her into the clouds. No, sorry, that's not going to happen.

It didn't look like things were going to clear too soon, so it was time to develop Plan B. Plan B = go east, where the sky is clear. OK, pick a destination. Regina it is. (It's "RAH-gi-na," not "reh-GI-na." It rhymes with, well, a certain part of the female anatomy. Enough said.)

Regina is about 300 nm east-northeast of Lethbridge. It's not excatly on the direct path back to Ohio, but at least it's more easterly and brings us closer to lots of other options with regard to crossing the border.

So we lauched around 11:00, for what turned out to be a totally uneventful flight. The engine performed perfectly, with the IFR Pilot occasionally administering doses of carb heat to ward off any ice that might have been growing. Conditions during the last half of the flight were similar to those yesterday: OAT around 50 degrees F, with scattered cumulus clouds.

Saw these strange lakes just west of the Alberta-Saskatchewan border:

Here's the GPS view of the border:

Two hours later, we landed at Regina and put 78S to bed for the night. We could have pressed on, but I hadn't figured out the customs situation and there was talk of thunderstorms (which did not materialize). Plus, I was pretty stressed out from the flight. It wasn't difficult in any way, but you know how your mind plays tricks on you after a stressful event.

We almost busted the military airspace at Moose Jaw due to a chart interpretation error on my part. Fortunately, I called Moose Jaw approach up early and after requesting transition through their area, I got vectored around. Apparently, you are supposed to stay north of the Trans-Canada Highway. Who knew?

Does this one really need any explanation?

The plan for tomorrow is to cross the border at Piney-Pinecreek, then continue on to Aitlin, MN. Then, we're Oshkosh bound! Hope to see you there.