Thursday, May 29, 2008

Low and Slow

Ventured back to the edges of Texas Hill Country on Wednesday to take advantage of a hidden gem: Rental of a 1946 Piper J-3 Cub from Boerne Stage Airfield (info here, website here; note that Boerne is pronounced "BERN-ie," not "bohrne"). My host for the afternoon was CFI Jordan Schultz, who's been instructing for about seven months.

We began with a brief overview of the IFR Pilot's overall flight experience, experience flying a Cub (none), and experience with tailwheel aircraft (none). We quickly decided that in the couple of hours that we had available, a complete checkout and tailwheel endorsement wasn't in the cards, but we could certainly tackle some aerial flightseeing. Given that the airplane cruises slower than most pickup trucks drive on a Texas Interstate Highway, the reality was that we weren't going to go that far. Then again, it wasn't about seeing anything in particular, but more about honing some stick and rudder skills, flying low and slow, and communing with one of my aviation heroes, Rinker Buck, author of Flight of Passage, a memoir of two young brothers who fly their Cub from New Jersey to California in the mid-1960's.

Predictably, we started with the preflight inspection. Our faithful steed for the day was NC70997, a 1946 J-3. She was in immaculate condition, with nary a scratch on the doped linen, and the classic yellow Piper Cub paint scheme.

There wasn't all that much to check on the preflight: oil (at least 3 quarts), fuel, rigging lines (free movement, no corrosion), cotter pins in the cowling, and a couple of other do-dads. As the panel shows, this Cub is all-original -- no electrical system. Just an RPM gauge, airspeed indicator, whiskey compass, (non-functional) altimeter, and oil pressure and temperature gauges. The red-lines on the RPM and airspeed gauges appeared to have been added by red pain pen on the outside of the glass!

Jordan also reviewed the cockpit controls (pretty simple: stick, carb heat, magneto switch), although the separate pedals for the heel brakes were a revelation. He also reviewed the mechanics of hand propping, which he'd be doing. The IFR Pilot was quite attentive to this, as it would have been quite a downer if Jordan had been run over during the start sequence!!!

Preflight complete, the biggest challenge of the day arrived: Stuffing my non-1946 sized body into the cub. This involved no small amount of gymnastics on my part, all of them attempted with a delicate touch lest so damage be done to the airplane. The challenge is that you can't step in the base of the strut like you may be used to doing in your favorite Cessna. I finally grabbed the upper bars and literally pulled myself into the seat.

Jordan dutifully hand propped the Cub -- after making sure several times that yours truly was standing on the heel brakes hard enough! Then we taxied for some fuel. S-turns were in order, as was a lot of the IFR Pilot's head sticking out of both sides of the cockpit to look for obstructions. After adding a couple of gallons of 100LL, we started up again and taxied to the runway. A quick run ensued, basically just a mag check and a check of the flight controls -- and then it was onto Runway 17 for takeoff.

Jordan primarily handled the takeoff, although I kept hands and feet on the controls to get a sense of the delicate touch needed with a tailwheel airplane. Moments after takeoff, however, Jordan turned the controls over to the IFR Pilot and away we went. We climbed for a while at 55 MPH, eventually leveling off at 1000 to 1500 AGL. We flew with the right side door down and the window up, so it was a new experience to stick my head out of the cockpit and look down at the trees and scrub passing below us.

Our destination was Medina Lake, a man-made lake southwest of the airport. We circumnavigated a particularly large transmitting tower, and then dropped down to a couple of hundred feet off the surface of the lake and flew over the entire length of it. See for yourself:

And, there's even some video available as well!

After we finished out tour of the lake, we climbed back up to altitude and I put us on a reciprocal heading back to 5C1. All too soon we were in the pattern, and Jordan handled the landing. We called it quits after that, as he had another student arriving for a lesson.

All in all, it was a great time, and well worth the $120 that it ended up costing. If you find yourself in the San Antonio area with some free time on your hands, get out to Boerne Stage airport and get some stick time in NC70997. When it's done, you'll end up with a smile on your face bigger than mine!

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Grabbed a rental car from the hotel this morning, plugged in the Tom Tom, and sped 65 miles west into the Texas Hill Country. Destination? Well, that should be readily obvious:

Earlier this year, the IFR Pilot had the opportunity to spend some quality time with a couple of senior executives from Mooney Airplane Company. When they learned that Yours Faithful Narrator would be in San Antonio for a week with little to do (shhhh, don't tell The Boss), they kindly offered a factory tour and the chance to fly one of their hand-crafted masterpieces.

Arriving around 10:30 this morning, it was already 85+ degrees F, and -- smartly dressed in LONG pants and polo shirt with undershirt -- I was reminded why I do enjoy living on the shores of Lake Erie. In any event, I was given an in-depth tour by Mr. Stanley Fuller, who has been a Mooney employee for 48 years, including by his count seven different ownership groups. He took me through the machine shop, the upholstery and electronics shops, the subassembly and assembly lines, and other places I can't remember. The factory employs about 430-440 people, each of whom obviously takes great pride in their craftsmanship. Stanley also pointed out some marks on the concrete floor where Mooney used to assemble the wood wings of their original M20 and M20A models.

After the factory tour concluded, I had lunch with Tom Canavera, the Senior Director-Delivery. Tom's job involves making Mooney customers happy, and with his quick wit and amiable personality, it's easy to see why he was selected for this position. We went to a local Kerrville establishment and caught up on some business issues.

We returned to the factory, and Tom had to take another employee to San Marcos to pick up another Mooney. I quickly jumped at the offer to tag along, and so climbed into the back seat of N509RT, an Ovation2 GX. Tom and his partner in crime did their best to one-up each other with various insults and verbal taunts, making it quite clear that you'll need a thick skin to work with them!

Taxiing to the active, we had to hold short for the departing jet traffic:

I took the opportunity to capture an image of the cockpit, dominated of course by the twin screens of the Garmin G1000 electronic flight display:

Shortly thereafter, Tom blasted us off. Watch it for yourself:

I knew that we were in a speedier steed than 2MH when we hit 120 knots IN THE CLIMB! That's the same speed I use for flight planning. Upon reaching our cruise altitude of 3500, we trued out at 170+ knots, and with the push from the winds, our ground speed was nearly 180 knots. All of that on about 15 gallons. Not too shabby.

We had company for the part of the flight, an Air Force T-6A Texan II. It was flying low, maybe 500' off the deck and maneuvering. Fortunately, we had TIS overlaid on the G1000 and it was but a fool's errand to monitor the traffic at our 9:00! Fearless, we are.

All too quickly, it was time for Tom to prove his mettle and land this thing. He did it with aplomb. Don't believe me? See for yourself:

We did a quick swap, and I assumed my "rightful" position in the front seat. We taxiied for 72 miles (don't believe me? look at the airport diagram yourself!) to get to Runway 17. Tom once again handled the takeoff duties with expertise, but shortly after demonstrating some of the niceties of the Garmin GFC700 autopilot, he turned the controls over to the IFR Pilot.

Now, truth be told, I don't have all that much experience in flying from the right seat. A bit here and there, but it hasn't been a deliberate focus of my flying activity. But let's not have that stand in the way of taking control of this fine piece of aviation technology. Shut that autopilot off and let the IFR Pilot see if he can keep us straight-and-level and on course.

I did that more or less, and all too soon, we were in the Kerrville arrival area. Tom took control, and then we flew a 27-mile extended downwind to permit a Skyhawk complete its VOR-A approach. OK, it wasn't quite 27 miles, but it was without doubt the single longest downwind leg I've ever flown. Moments later, however, we were on the ground.

And that's the story of the first Mooney time that's made it's way into my log book. I'm quite a fan, although trying to cram MS and I into the cockpit would be a substantial challenge. Of course, that's a moot consideration until I win this week's lottery....

By the way, the plane's for sale, if you need a new ride. She's a beauty:

Tomorrow, we visit the polar opposite of the aviation technology spectrum: A 65-hp, all-original Piper J-3 Cub!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Update from KSAT

It seems that reader John is geographically knowledgeable. He promptly guessed the IFR Pilot's whereabouts as San Antonio, Texas. Tomorrow's plan involves test flying a very, very fast airplane. Look for a ride report in the evening. In the meantime, feast on some more pictures:

Cruising along on the Rio Taxi.

San Antonio's finest, watching the Spurs beat the Lakers 103-84.

(Yes, we went to the top of the Tower of the Americas. It was cool, but I was very, very happy to get back to terra firma.)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Guess the IFR Pilot's Location

Currently, the IFR Pilot is on location (a/k/a "vacation"). Clues to his current whereabouts:

1. Total flight time from Delta's hub in CVG: about 2.75 hours.

2. Local temperature: Freaking hot. Really freaking hot.

3. Photographic evidence:

If current plans materialize, stay tuned for ride reports in a J-3 Cub and a high performance G-1000 equipped speedster.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Requiem for an Airline

Sorry for the silence on the blogging front. There has been much flying, but little time to blog about it. We shall endeavor to play catch-up this week.

Late April say the IFR Pilot make a short-hop to Columbus, Ohio for the Spring meeting of the Ohio Aviation Association. Upon landing on runway 28L (after the proverbial "cleared to land runway 28L, keep your speed up") and taxiing to Land Aviation, I had a good chuckle at the irony of it. ATC certainly wasn't asking for an expedited approach to make room for Skybus. After all, they had gone bust and Port Columbus was chock full of bright orange aircraft. It was actually kind of sad:

The reality of the matter is that far too many members of the general public treat transportation by air as if it were nothing more than a flying bus. The cold, hard truth is that this view could not be further from the truth. Air transportation involves exponentially more variables that impact operations, not the least of which are the multitudinous regulations of the FAA.

It used to be that travel by air was a special occasion; today, its a hair's width -- if that -- above being a fungible commodity. No longer do people put on their Sunday best to travel, perhaps in large part because the TSA is going to make you remove your belt, shoes, coat, and more before you submit to the metal detectors.

Only time will tell which of the legacy carriers will survive the gauntlet thrown down by $120+ oil. Time will also tell when the price of 100LL reaches the breaking point.

In the interim, Mike Hotel and the IFR Pilot will continue to ply the skies.