Monday, May 09, 2016

North To Alaska!

I’ve never had a strong desire to fly a private plane to Alaska -- or even drive a car to Alaska.  It has always seemed like a long way to go through a lot of nothing.  I have, however, wanted to land a plane in Alaska.  I always sort of imagined it as a "Sandra and I take an airliner for an Alaska vacation and one day I go rent a plane" kind or event.  I have also been wanting to build up tailwheel experience in the T-6 / SNJ / Harvard.  I got some time in one a couple years back before I had a tail-wheel endorsement, and logged one landing with an instructor.  This year for my birthday, my wife gave me a gift certificate for three more hours in a T-6.  We were making plans for a family California vacation and I would fly with Aviator Flight Training (AFT) when stumbled upon a Facebook post of a guy looking for a co-pilot on a ferry trip from Vancouver Washington to Fairbanks Alaska.

I raised my virtual hand, and met Andy Bibber, the owner of Adventure Flight. He runs a tail-wheel only flight school out of Northern California in the winter, and air tours in Fairbanks during the summer.  It was time to take the planes north.  Sandra agreed to I could have this adventure in place of the three hours with AFT.

loading up at Pierson
My friend, Eric, flew me down to Pearson Airfield in Vancouver Washington on Sunday night where I met Andy in person.  He’s a good guy with a strong aviation background.  We planned to leave first
thing in the morning, but the big radial engine uses a lot of oil, so we are waiting for a shipment to arrive before we can leave.  It was supposed to be there on Friday.

The oil arrives!
Monday morning I am at the plane packing my things into the back and Andy calls to invite me out for breakfast, because the oil is still on a UPS truck somewhere in the Portland area.  So we hung out at his in-laws and I held his new baby, and the oil finally showed up at 3:00 PM.

Vancouver WA to Bellingham WA

The Columbia River, separating Oregon from Washington
We finished loading the plane, filled it with gas and departed to the west, turning right and following the railroad tracks north and the joining the Columbia river, then over Chehalis, Olympia, up the Puget Sound to the west of Seattle, and finally my second T-6 landing at Bellingham.

My home airport from the other side of the Puget Sound
We refueled and went into the FBO to call Canadian Customs.  Our next leg was to take us up the Hope Valley to Prince George, but we learned that customs there was already closed for the day.  We would have to clear customs someplace else.  Andy inquired about all the airports along the Hope and Fraser Valleys, looking for a place to clear customs.  Finally all the way back at Vancouver BC we found an open Customs office.  But the office needed two hours notice before our arrival.  So for the second time, we sat and waited before departing on our 20 minute flight to across the border.

Bellingham WA to Vancouver BC

Coal terminal at Vancouver BC
Since the plane's radio only works from the front seat, and since Andy is familiar with the border crossing and customs procedures, I suggested he fly front seat on this leg.  It was a short but pretty hop over Boundary Bay, and then circling out west of Vancouver before coming back in to land.  We were then directed to the customs area.  A big area on the ramp delineated with a red outline on the ground.  We parked, shut-down, and called customs.  No one came out, no one looked at us, they just cleared us.  We both wondered why we couldn’t have called the same guy from Prince George.  Oh well.

Vancouver BC to Prince George BC

Even though dark was rapidly approaching we decided to press on over the mountain range between us and Prince George.  It is rugged harsh terrain.  I would not want to go down in there.  It is beautiful, but intense.

We climbed out to 10,500 feet.  This was the first real demonstration of the power of the plane’s 600 horsepower R-1340 engine.  It wasn’t even struggling at 10,500 feet.  In level cruise with a bit of a tail-wind we were making 175 to 180 knots over the ground.  Big growly radial engine, eating sky ahead and spraying oil out behind.

Flying the SNJ in the dark allows us to see the exhaust flame's reflection off of the wing joint fairing and adjust the fuel air mixture by color.

At 10:00 PM that night we were lining up for my third T-6 landing.  I bounced once, and then pinned the main wheels on the runway.  With the heavy airframe, the high approach speed, and the ineffective brakes, I rolled past my turn off.  We turned around on the runway, taxied back, and shut the plane down at Esso Aviation for the night.  My first landing in Canadian Province, and even better, my first landing in a foreign country.

Prince George was having some big to-do so there were lots of big 4x4 trucks.  I think one of the mills or factories or something had gone out of business and there was an equipment auction scheduled for the next day.  For a small town so far north, in the middle of what seemed like nowhere, this is a pretty lively city!

Prepping for our morning departure
The next morning we grabbed some breakfast and a cab to get us back to the plane.  The old SNJ drew attention wherever we went.  I have to admit it was nice to be the guy getting the attention rather than the one giving it.  Our preflight included giving the plane a couple more gallons of oil to spray out the back, and replenishing the hydraulic fluid.  Back inside the FBO a couple of Learjet pilots were asking about the fluids.  "Does that thing hold like eight gallons?"

"Ten."  I replied.

"Is it normal for it to need that much oil?"  He asked.

"Yeah, it uses about three quarts an hour."

Look of shock.  "And the hydraulic fluid?"

"Yep.  It leaks somewhere."

The Lear pilot pressed on.  "Where does it go?  Why does it leak?"

"Look," I said, "The plane is 70 or 80 years old.  When you are that old, you are going to leak too."

The other Learjet pilot and the FBO staff laughed at the poor guy.

Prince George BC to out-of-choices.

We had been watching a weather front moving in from the west, and the edge of it was producing scattered snow showers along our path towards Dease Lake.  We took off into clear skies and settled into a cruise at 8,500 feet.

Far in the distance we could see a small knot of clouds on the horizon, but space on either side.  We flew on, aiming for the left side of the clouds ahead.  We passed the first small, isolated snow shower on our right.  We began working our way north and west, but soon our route was blocked at we made a 180 degree turn back out.  We flew northeast finding some more openings, but soon that was blocked, and we went back northwest.  Blocked again.  We were not getting around the snow showers, and our fuel is limited.  We radioed Dease Lake to check the weather and found no encouraging reports.  Our only option was to climb above the snow showers and divert to Watson Lake.  It was further, and would tax our fuel supply, but the weather was favorable there.

Snow making things tougher
We found less bad reports at Watson Lake, decided we had to commit or we would end up out of options, out of ideas, out of fuel and landing in the remote wilderness of northern British Columbia.  Below us at the time was a reservoir with a gravel strip near by.  I mentally tucked that away as better than landing in the trees.  There was no route out at the current altitude so we decided to go over the clouds to the north.

And commit we did. North to Watson Lake YT we pressed on.  Up we went.  With the plane pointed up hill, the fuel sloshes to the rear of the tank, and pick-up in the front of the right main began to suck air and the engine sputtered.  This was new for me.  I’ve never had a tank run dry in a plane.  A quick switch to the left main had those 600 horsepower pulling us easily up to 14,000 feet to clear the clouds ahead.

We went GPS direct to Watson Lake skimming across the clouds, we switched back to the right main where the fuel had sloshed back forward to give us another 10 or 15 minutes of flying.  We were making good time with the GPS showing ground speeds between 175 and 180 kts, and finally the right main went completely dry.  So back to the left main tank we went, and pressed on.  We were still on the left main, and the reserve tank would give us about half an hour of flying time, and the GPS was showing about 40 minutes to the airport.  So as long as we had 15 or 20 minutes of fuel in the left main, we would make the airport.  Plus we can glide a long way from 14,000 feet.

But this is not good.  We had flown ourselves into a situation where we had no alternates.  Either this worked or...  I’d prefer to not think about it.

Watson Lake's terminal
As we moved north, the clouds below us thinned as forecast, and the tops became lower.  We could see the terrain through gaps in the clouds well below us.  We we getting into the lower valley as confirmed by the GPS and charts.  We could make this.  As the cloud tops got lower we pointed the plane down hill and headed for thicker air.  With the plane sliding down hill, and a little extra push from the wind we were closing on the airport at over 200 kts.  The distance was melting away.

We didn’t want to spend any time maneuvering so we lined ourselves up for a straight in approach to the runway, dropped the gear, and I plopped it hard onto the runway again.  We were both glad to be on the ground next to a gas pump.

Watson Lake to Whitehorse

The Yukon River
We filled both fuel tanks, the oil tank, got a weather briefing, and stood around for a few minutes.  Whitehorse YT was right around 2 hours away.  After the last leg, it was a welcome break before a short trip.  The flight was uneventful.  At first we followed the Alcan highway, but soon the direct route parted ways with the road.  We played in the clouds, doing a little “yankin’ and bankin’” around the edges, over the tops, and between the cloud valleys.  Where there were no clouds the vast wilderness stretched out below with winding rivers, rolling hills and beautiful colors.  Before long we were coming around the last ridge to pick up the Alcan highway for the final five miles into the airport.  There was a gusting 15 knot direct crosswind, and as much trouble as I had been having with getting this thing on the ground, I knew to let Andy take the strong crosswind landing.

Whitehorse to Fairbanks

Right Downwind departure from Whitehorse
Customs back into the United States gave us the same timing troubles that Canada did.  But this time the nearer airport’s customs would be off-duty requiring another long leg to the on-duty customs in Fairbanks.  We filled the tanks, filled the oil, and pushed the throttle forward for the final leg.  I took off with the same crosswind Andy had just fought on the way in, and got the plane up and turned back towards the Alcan highway to point it towards Fairbanks.  This would be a 3 hour leg, and I was starting to get stiff from sitting in the seat that was built with 1933’s knowledge of ergonomics.  My behind was getting tired.

And it was cold.  I had on wool socks, jeans, 2 shirts, a flight suit, and a pair of gloves.  There is no heat in this plane.  It mostly warms from the sun shining through the “greenhouse canopy.”  But little sun we were getting was not keeping up with the cold leaky cockpit.  My hands were starting to ache from the cold.  I would sit on one and fly with the other, and then trade to warm up the cold one.  I would tuck them into my armpits or press them up on my body to get them warm.  My toes were getting stiff.  I was getting stiff.

Note the line on the hill.  Left side Canada, Right side Alaska
Andy was pointing out the sights. The line carved into the hills delineating Canada from Alaska, a lake where his friends have a cabin, a mountain range where everything was over 14,000 feet, a valley leading to Valdez, a valley leading out to Anchorage, more of the Alcan Highway, and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. 
Tanana River and the Trans-Alaska Pipeline
I recall as a kid my Dad’s employer had a contract to build some of the stands that hold the pipe up off the ground and Dad spending months welding the frames together.  Seeing the pipeline below reminded me of him, and his of legacy of infrastructure projects he worked on, and it makes me wonder if any of the computer code I have worked on will still matter in the decades ahead.  My work is so ethereal, it sometimes feels like a snowman you work hard to complete, only to have it melt a couple days later when the wind brings in the next batch of warm air.

At the edge of the TRSA

The arrival to the Fairbanks area routed us through several Military Operation Areas, and two military airports.  About 30 miles south east we called up the Terminal Radar Service Area (TRSA) controllers.  TRSAs are odd things.  They provide radar services for arrivals into the areas, but pilot's participation is optional.  To our right we passed Eielson Air Force Base, and then Fort Wainwright / Ladd Army Airfield.

The planes by the float pond reminded me of
an airplane homeless encampment
Fairbanks International is an eclectic airport with a couple of long runways for the airliners.  But it also has a “ski strip” of gravel that extends runway 20L, and a float pond between ski strip and 20R.  A mish-mash or new, used, and consumed airplanes are littered about the ramp.  Here 737s peacefully co-exist with weather-worn Cessnas and Pipers.

I had to make a couple passes at the runway to figure out the layout of the runways, and at first I lined up on a taxiway to the left of the ski strip, and by the time I got lined up on the runway, I was behind the plane and bounced it, I slammed the power back forward and went around for a second try.  On the second pass, I managed to keep the left wing low for the crosswind, and still set the plane down hard -- again.  With the power off and the tail pinned down, the end of the runway closing fast, I applied the marginally effective brakes, and heard Andy in my headsets saying "We are going off the end!"  Then I stood on the brakes.  With my legs extended straight out, and my back pressed hard against the back of the seat, I got the plane stopped feet from the threshold and turned off to the left towards the general aviation (GA) ramp.

On the ground in Fairbanks, clear of customs.
A deep breath and a call to the ground controllers and we were taxiing back across both runways to customs on northwest side of the airport.  The customs agent came out and met us, and escorted us back into the building where we were interviewed and filled out the immigration paperwork.  I found it odd that as an American citizen to get into Canada all that happened was the customs agent talked to Andy on the phone.  To get back into America we had to get out of the plane, be escorted in, interviewed, and fill out forms.  It was easier to get into another country than it was to get back into my own country.  On the way back out to the plane we snapped a quick photo.

We taxied back to the GA ramp where Andy’s friends came out to greet him.  Inside we filled out the last of our log books, Andy signed off my Biennial Flight Review (BFR), and I booked the next Delta Airlines flight back to Seattle.

EPILOG and Full Photo Album

One new friend, two days in the SNJ-4, 11.9 hours of flying, seven gallons of oil, gasoline measured in liters, 24 more months of flying on one BFR, two new provinces, one new country, and one new state.  34 down, 16 to go.  One AWESOME adventure.

Full photo album.
Checking off Alaska.  34 down 16 to go

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Why I fly: A day trip to Spokane

My son, Isaac, applied to college on the other side of the state.  In Washington, that’s 300 miles and a six hour drive one way.  He was called for an interview for admissions into the program, so I offered to fly him instead if the weather was clear.

The day before I filed an IFR flight plan from the Paine VOR direct to the Spokane VOR, which involved coming up with my own airway between the two, including finding the highest point four miles either side, and setting my minimum altitude at 2,000 feet about that.  This would put me at 11,000 feet over the Cascades.  The forecast was for scattered to broken clouds in the departure area and clear on the east side of the mountains.

I awoke at 7 AM for my 8 AM departure.  Out my window, I saw gray.  Lots of gray.  I called the Paine ATIS to hear about a 600 foot overcast and visibility restricting fog.  That’s not in the forecast.  My son drove us to the airport while I called flight service.  The briefer told me about the conditions I could already see.  Overnight a front had moved down from the north and mucked up my hope of good weather.  He also said there were clouds over the Cascade Mountain Range with undetermined tops and the freezing level was at 10,500 feet.  Great.  My plan was for 11,000 and any clouds would put me in freezing conditions over remote mountain terrain.  Bad plan.

I filed a new plan to go from the Paine VOR to the Seattle VOR and then follow V2 across to Spokane.  This would add about 10 minutes to the trip, keep us at 9,000, well below the freezing level, and pretty much over I-90 (the world’s longest runway).  Better plan.  By now the weather at Paine field was 500 ft overcast.  That’s enough to take off in, and if things go bad, an instrument approach will get me down to 200 feet – out of the clouds.

Isaac and I prepped the plane, plugged in our headsets, programmed the GPS, and buckled in.  We called for our IFR clearance and instead of what we filed we got KPAE PAINE3 departure Vectors V2 MWH ZOOMR ONE KGEG (the identifier for Spokane).  I knew this would take some special decoding.

The PAINE3 departure can be summarized by “do what you are told.”  It is vectors on course.  OK, That’s not hard.  Next is “vectors to join Victor 2.”  Again, do what you are told.  The ZOOMR ONE part was new to me.  Back the charts.  This arrival starts at MWH (Moses Lake) and then goes to the ZOOMR and GANGS intersections, then on to the Spokane VOR.  Both ZOOMR and GANGS are on Victor 2!  Calling out arrival added little to no value to the flight plan.

8:22 AM we were cleared for takeoff, my plane’s fresh engine pulled us rapidly south on the runway and into the sky.  At over 1,000 feet per minute climb I had less than 30 second from when the plane lifted off until the outside went gray and we lost visual reference to the ground.  “Fly the little airplane” I told myself as I looked to the artificial horizon in the center of the instrument panel in front of me.  I began my instrument scan, looking to my airspeed to make sure I was maintaining 80 to 90 MPH, then to my heading indicator to stay pointed at the runway heading of 160 degrees.  But wait, I was at 180 degrees!  I was already 20 degrees off.  I banked the airplane left to get it lined back up and continued to climb.  We are only 20 seconds or so into the clouds.  I went back to the instrument scan.  As we climbed through 1,500 feet we were still at full power.  I pulled the throttle back and gave the propeller control a spin to let the engine settle in at “25 squared” for the climb out.  Back to the instrument scan.  Paine tower handed me off Seattle Approach Control.

Around 2,000 feet Isaac piped up and said “Wow!  This is so pretty at the tops of the clouds.” I glanced up to see the clouds clearing away from around the nose of the plane as we skipped across the ragged tops, and then they fell away below us.

The sky above was beautiful-morning-blue, and we could see the mountains to our left shrouded by higher clouds.  Now above the first layer of clouds we could see that we could have flown direct over the mountains at 11,000.  The controller cleared us up to 9,000 feet where we were 1,000 feet above the second layer, and then direct to BANDR, a fix on our intended airway.

From there, the trip was boring.  Lots of straight and level, a couple air traffic control hand offs, a right downwind for runway 21 at Spokane, strong crosswind out of the south, and the left wing low to a pleasingly smooth one wheel set down, then the other, and finally the nose.

Isaac’s interview went well, or we are hoping it did.

A couple hours later we were back at the Spokane airport filing a new flight plan.  Paine Field was reporting 100 foot overcast – worse than when we left!  Going over the weather reports and forecasts with the weather briefer we realized the most recent forecast predicted it would already be clear, but it was not.  The overcast was hanging on.  Arlington to the north was clear, and Boeing to the south was clear.  So I filed a return trip with KBFI as the alternate, and off we went.

Again the flight was uneventful.  After passing Moses Lake I requested an update on the weather at our destination and got back a relieving report of 1,200 scattered.  As we flew along there were a couple of opposite direction planes called out by the controllers.  Crossing over the Cascades Mountains we were turned northwest and given direct to Paine.  Shortly after that we were given clearance to descend.  A left downwind to the runway and soon we were parking the plane.

4.3 hours of running engine, One instrument departure .7 hours of actual instrument time, One good adventure with my son.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Tax on the Math Impaired

Today for the first time since the year 2000 I bought a lottery ticket.  As of this writing, the lottery stands right around ~$800 million.  And that got me to thinking, how much would it cost to assure you had purchased "the" winning ticket.

Turns out power-ball has 292,201,338 combination.  At two dollars a ticket, it costs $584,402,676 -- just over a half a billion dollars. So if the pay out were $584,402,676 then buying all the tickets would result in winning that amount of money.

But you don't get it all.  You get an annuity that pays out over 20 years.  And the money you get 20 years from now will not have the same value as the money you paid today.  So the lottery office offers a lump sum today of 62%.  That raises the required pay out to $942,584,961.  But then you have to pay federal income tax (I live in a sales tax state so I am ignoring state and local taxes).  Top marginal tax rate is 39.6% so that raises the payout to $1,560,571,127.

Here's how it would break down

Less 38% lump sum discount$593,017,028
Net Lump Sum Payout$967,554,099
Less 39.6% tax$383,151,423
This is what you really get -->$584,402,676

But then there is the risk or more than one person having the correct numbers. And the payout is split again. So even now, the power-ball lottery is a tax on the math impaired.

Friday, December 25, 2015

My fifty-by-fifty quest continues, even in the middle of December.

The Request

"Flights Above The Pacific Northwest" or FATPNW is an active local facebook group.  It has really exploded with activity and flying lore, so much so, that it was recently highlighted by AOPA on how to connect with local pilots.

In a recent post, there was a request for someone to help ferry a plane from east coast back to the Seattle area.  The post generated a bit of back and forth about the evils of ferrying an airplane for free, and how not charging for a ferry flight hurts the profession and blah, blah, blah.  The back and forth kind of set me on edge.  The presumption that money was the only moral motivation for ferrying an airplane felt wrong on many levels.
  • There was no indication in the request there would be no payment.
  • It negated the notion that there could be non-economic motivations, implying adventure or flight time were not forms of compensation.
  • It implied that not paying to fly was different than being paid to fly (both clearly lower my cost of flying).
  • There were accusations of under-cutting and hurting other ferry pilots (apparently OK to hurt the airplane owners or yourself by paying for flight time)
  • It seemed threatening, as though if you were to fly for free you would be black-listed by the professional pilots.
In my opinion the other contributors to the post came off pompous and condescending.  Their contributions to the discussion had the opposite effect as was intended and I decided to throw my name in for consideration.  My friend, James, had thrown his name in too.  The owner of the plane reached out to us and together we decided it would be a fun adventure.

The challenge

After some discussion I was less sure.  The two previous attempts to ferry the plane both ending in off airport landings.  I only know the details second-hand and cannot find any official reports, but YIKES!  The plane had not been flown much in the preceding years but after some inspection and review of the plane’s maintenance records the plane departed the east coast, headed west.  About 30 minutes into the flight the engine started to falter, generating less power.  The pilot opted to land the plane down on a road.  The wings were removed, and the plane was transported to a local airport where another examination found no issues with the plane’s systems, and there were whispers in community of pilot error.  The plane departed a second time, with a different, more experienced pilot / mechanic.  About 30 minutes into the flight, the engine started to falter, generating less power.  The pilot opted to put the plane down field.  The whispers of pilot error were unfounded.  This plane has something wrong with it.

The plane was brought to yet another mechanic who tore into it with gusto.  The fuel system was examined and tested, the carburetor was removed and rebuilt, the ignition system was disassembled and any suspect parts were replaced.  And while it was down, the owner opted to have some other improvements made on the plane.  The new mechanic flew the plane repeatedly, accumulating multiple hours of flight time with no issues.  It bothered me that no root cause of the failures had been found for certain, but the collection of the mechanic’s flight time demonstrated that something had been made better.  So James and I committed to picking the plane up, and getting it as far west as we could, but safety would be our first priority.  No night flights, no instrument flights, and at the first sign of trouble, we were putting the plane down at the nearest available airport.  The owner agreed.

Day One: TN to OK

James was able to get too Tennessee a day before me and go over the repair paperwork with the mechanic.  He was also able to fly the plane over the airport for a couple hours without incident.  That evening James flew from Rogersville TN (KRVN) to Smyrna (KMQY) just outside Nashville where I arrived later that night.

Early the next morning I requested my first Uber ride and the two of us headed for the Smyrna Airport.  While the plane was still in the hangar, we did our preflight to assure the plane was ready.

The winds favored a north departure from runway 01, and the cold morning air had us airborne in a brisk climb out following a left turn to the west.  We climbed to 6,500, intercepted I-40, and followed it on a 2.4 hour flight to Memphis.  We flew north of downtown, and landed to the south at General Dewitt Spain Airport (M01), paralleling the Mississippi river.  I landed in my first new state of the trip.

We refueled, and calculated our fuel burn at 6.9 gallons per hour (GPH) -- about what I would expect out of a 150 hp engine.

James took off to the south, and made a right turn out over the Mississippi River where we crossed over into Arkansas, my first time in Arkansas, but it would not count until I touched the ground.  After an hour and a half of following I-40, James flew north of the Bill and Hillary Clinton Airport in Little Rock Arkansas (KLIT).  James slipped in for a touch-and-go, and we flew around the pattern.  He turned the plane’s control over to me, and I touched down for my landing in Arkansas.  My second new state of the trip. We picked up a courtesy car from the airport, went out for lunch, and swung by Walmart to pick up some water and snacks for in the plane.  Back at the airport the plane had not been refueled, so our departure was delayed.

Again we calculated fuel consumption at 7.1 GPH -- again, right in the expected range.

I departed Little Rock, climbed to 6,500 feet, followed I-40 North West to Fort Smith, and then West for Oklahoma City.  The winds were picking up and our ground speed was reflecting the pain of flying into the wind.  Combine that with our delayed departure from Little Rock, and our commitment to only fly in daylight, and we were running out of time.  In flight, we re-planned and diverted Okmulgee OK (KOKM), about 60 minutes short of our planned stop for the night.  I landed and took back off, turned the controls over to James and he landed – each of us checking off our final new state for the day.

Okmulgee OK, unsurprisingly, has neither local taxi service nor Uber drivers.  But the airport has a courtesy car, and a brief call to the airport manager revealed the location of the hidden key.  We had good dinner at a local Mexican diner, and headed to the hotel for a good night of sleep.  The strong headwinds were a foreboding indicator of the weather system that was pushing them at us.  The forecast was not encouraging, but did offer a small bit of hope.  A low scattered layer around 1,000 to 1,800 feet, and high overcast above could allow us to proceed between layers.

Day 2: OK to …

We awoke early and headed for the airport, did a preflight on the airplane, the whole time keeping an eye on the sky to the west.  The scattered layer looked manageable.  We discussed our limits, if the engine were to give out again we needed some time to set up for landing.  There are frequent airports along I-40 so we agreed we could try it safely.  We also agreed no lower than 3,000 feet of altitude, and we must be able to keep the ground in sight.  James took off, and we headed west climbing between the clouds.  But our ground speed was showing a mere 35 knots.  The winds were going to make this a long day.

We climbed to 6,500 feet and headed west between the layers.  And it just got worse.  Soon the scattered layer below us had become a solid sheet of clouds.  Our commitment to fly only with the ground in sight required we turned back.  Turning with the wind, our ground speed jumped up to over 150 knots; the wind that was slowing us down before, now had us in hyper-drive back to clear air.  Just below the edge of the clouds was Jones Memorial, a small airport in Bristow OK.  (3F7).  It has a dramatic up-sloping runway to the south, and it creates the illusion you are high on final.  James made a good landing, and we pulled the plane in to the lea side of a building to shelter it from the strong south winds.

We hoped to sit it out for a bit while the clouds pushed through.  We walked up and down the ramp while we waited.  We looked at the other planes at the airport.  We looked in the windows of the shop.  We looked at the sky.  We looked for a restroom.  We waited.  We looked at the weather on our phones.  We looked at forecasts.  We looked at the sky.  We looked some more for a restroom.  We looked at our progress for the morning, 25 nautical miles.  A guy in a truck passed by and let us know there was a pilot lounge in the first of two mobile homes.  Turns out there was a whole home in the pilot’s lounge.  Inside we found shelter from the wind, a restroom, a kitchen, a living area, and a couple of bedrooms.

We hunkered down there for a bit, and then decided to walk 3 miles into town for lunch in continued hopes the sky would return to their earlier scattered condition.  We found a Subway sandwich shop, and quaint small town on Route 66, with folks all dressed up after church, and families having lunch together.  We walked main street and found a train depot all decorated up for the Christmas train that was taking families for a ride up the tracks a bit, and then coming back.

We walked back to the airport, still hoping for a break in the clouds.  It was not to be.  We secured the airplane with ropes.  We sat in the trailer and read.  I finished my book.  We debated over who got the bed, and who got the fold-out couch.  There was no bedding on the couch, so we brought in our jackets from the plane.  James convinced me to take the bed.  We headed off to sleep early.  But each time I was about to drift off, the trailer was hit by another gust of wind jarring me back awake.

Day 3: OK to NM

My alarm went off while it was still dark; we wanted to be airborne as soon as possible.  Outside, the stars were out, the clouds were gone, and there was a light breeze.  We also found the gas pump was not working.  A warm shower and a granola bar for breakfast, a preflight of the plane, and a new flight plan on file, and we were airborne again for our third day.

Up to 6,500 feet, back over the top of I-40, westbound we went towards Oklahoma City.  We chuckled at the way the controllers said “Murican Airlines” and we made the short hop to Sundance Airport North West of Oklahoma City (KHSD).  James again made a smooth landing to the south on the long runway.  The FBO at Sundance is a beautiful, modern, glass and marble facility.  And they had cheap gas!  But now it was Monday morning, and we had hoped to be here Saturday night.  We filled up, having only flown 1.5 hours since our last fill up.  We wished we had emptier tanks to take the opportunity to buy more of the inexpensive gas.

I took off again to the North and turned west to follow I-40 to Amarillo TX.  We churned along at 6,500, but knowing we could soon be in Albuquerque, we needed to know what the little 150 hp plane could do, so I set out on a climb to 10,500 feet.  The plane delivered, and we climbed first at 500 feet per minute, and then 400, and then 300 until the altimeter’s hands declared our arrival.  We could do it.  We motored along in the little airplane as we watched the cars below, and let the plane descend back down to 8,500 at first, and then back to 6,500.

James had not landed in Texas yet, so at Tradewinds Airport in Amarillo (KTDW), I turned the controls over to him for this landing too.  The winds were strong and favoring a short crossing runway.  James set up a crab on final, and then rolled in a good right-wing-low cross wind landing.  We taxied to the FBO, and set out in search of lunch.  We ended up at Whataburger.

James lands in TX
We refueled and taxied back out to the short runway for departure.  The day before we were amused by a web page listing the eleven things that frustrate pilots.  Number 11 is "taxing to a runway only to find a major wind-shift that requires a runway change."  Sure enough, as we got to runway 23, the wind shifted to favor runway 35.  Most of the time in a 172 3,000 feet is plenty of runway.  But with the crosswinds, the elevation, and the airplane with an unfriendly history, we opted to taxi back, and use the longer runway.  When we reached it the winds had shifted again to favor 23. But now we were on a long runway.  We can accept the added distance as a benefit.

The Longest Leg

Out of Tradewinds we started our climb to 8,500. Most of our travel so far was over low terrain rarely rising over 1,000 feet above sea level. But coming up on this leg into New Mexico, parts of our flight would put us over terrain that reached up to 7,400 feet, and then in a mountain pass with 9,000 and 10,000 foot peaks on either side.  And there were more strong headwinds to contend with.  This would end up being our longest leg.  We were showing triple digit ground speeds on the first part of the trip, but as we neared Santa Rosa, we climbed to 10,500 and our progress slowed.  We decided that the winds at that altitude were too much of an impediment, so we returned to 8,500.  But our ground speed did not return.  The winds were fighting us at this altitude too.  We pressed on towards Albuquerque at a crawl.  My 31 year old Honda is faster than this, I thought to myself.  Minutes drug by, cars passed us on the freeway below.  We climbed back up to 10,500 as we approached Cline’s Corner.  Our ground speed slowed more.  We inched towards Moriarty (0E0).  The airport hung in front of us while more cars passed.  The plane droned for progress.

The controller told us about earlier planes in our area experiencing "severe turbulence."  Moriarty seemed to never move closer.  We climbed higher in hopes of avoiding the reported turbulence.  Sandia East (1N1) came into view.  Moriarty stayed out of reach.  Time marched on, we did not.  We climbed to 12,500 feet.  We leaned the mixture more.  The engine was at the end of what it could deliver at this altitude.  Moriarty had finally moved next to us.  Sandia East was just ahead.  The mountain pass grew, our view of the city improved, but the GPS’s estimated time to Double Eagle II (KAEG) was still longer than we anticipated.  We recalculated fuel burn, and how long we had already been flying.  We tightened our seat-belts for the predicted turbulence.

Sandia East finally passed below.  The airplane inched forward towards the pass.  We anticipated the turbulence.  We were finally in the pass.  To the right we could see the west face of Sandia Peak.  I looked for the tram but could not spot it.  The city was in full view, and we had traversed the pass without getting bounced around.

We aimed towards Double Eagle II and started our descent.  We were cleared to land, James gave me the controls so he could take some photos.  Vectoring the plane on final, we passed between the airport and a couple of hot-air-balloons.  This seemed fitting for Albuquerque.

James lands in NM
I knew we were at a high altitude airport, so I lined up high and fast to avoid getting behind the power curve and pointed the plane down towards the runway.  Due to our extended time flying above 10,000 feet James was concerned about both our judgments being impaired by hypoxia, and he asked me if realized I was high and fast, and still had the power in.  I did, but he was also right, it was time to pull the power back and let the plane slow.  And down we went towards runway 22.  The little 172 lost its airspeed quickly, and soon the flaps were out and we were touching down.  My forth state of the trip, and first landing in a couple days.

I powered the plane back up, gave it time build up excess speed, climbed to 500 feet above the ground, turned right to circle back towards the other end of the runway, and turned the controls over to James.  James landed on the same runway and we taxied in.

Press on?

Auto created movie of the adventure
We had been watching the forecast over North East Arizona for a couple days, and it had stayed pretty consistent.  It was forecast indicated clear skies from Albuquerque, over to Gallup, but from there to Winslow, over the Mogollon Rim, and down over Fountain Hills the forecast called for low ceilings and scattered rain and snow.  Not worth the risk.  We opted to leave the plane at Double Eagle II and take an airliner home for the holidays.  Checking off four new states, and a good adventure.

View the full photo album.

33 down 17 to go

Saturday, August 15, 2015

An over due update on my 50 by 50 progress.

I started my "50 by 50" quest on a fluke a couple years back, thinking I could actually make all 50 states by the time I was 50.  I have since realized it is more likely that I will make all 50 states before I am no longer in my 50's.

And on that theme, I have added a couple more that deserve updates.  My last update had me landing in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, with a graphic inadvertently including New Mexico.  Since then I have added two new states.

Getting Fuel in Esterville IA
In July of last year, I traveled with my friend to AirVenture, or Oshkosh Wisconsin for the EAA's annual fly in and air show.  We traded off flying legs, and leaving South Dakota, it was Eric's turn to fly.  So he guided the plane to Estherville Iowa, where I flew the last 3 minutes to landing and fuel.  The ramp was torn up for repaving, and the fuel pump was balanced on a stack of railroad ties, and had a couple of pipes running out to it -- one for fuel, and one for power.

We took the crew car into town for lunch, came back and had a nice visit with the manager about the various types of aircraft.  It was clouded over when we took off, so we filed an instrument flight plan and then took off for Juneau Wisconsin.  28 down, 22 to go.

On my recent trip to Texas, I rented a Piper Archer from Texas Flight, and flew
Me, Victor, and the Archer at Southland Field
it over to Sulphur Louisiana.  It was my first trip in a plane with A/C, and we needed it!  I felt like such a hypocrite.  I've derided people for putting weight and power stealing A/C units in small planes.  Now I get it.  During our trip we encountered a Terminal Radar Service Area, or TRSA.  Neither I nor Victor had flown in one before.  Turns out it is just and extended area of radar service around a smaller class "D" airspace.

Victor and I departed KDWH to the north east and slowly climbed our way up from under Houston's controlled airspace, and then made a leisurely cruise to Louisiana, State number 29.  After Landing we re-hydrated from sweating our way across an hour of hot and humid Texas sky.

On the way back there were some rain squalls.  Initially cruising at 6,500 feet, Houston approach pushed us down earlier than I would have liked.  I was able to delay the descent due to a cloud layer.  We could have flown through it had we picked up an instrument clearance, but staying visual gave us an excuse to not descend into the heat.

29 down 21 to go.
We dodged around a squall to our south and then turned left to line up with the south bound runway.  On the ground, I bought a new t-shirt.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Adding a Windows 8.1 pro client to a domain.

At my home, I run a Windows NT domain for file and print sharing (it's a long story, just accept it as true).  My son just bought himself a Dell Insprion 11-3000 laptop with Win 8.1 pro. (ooh shiny!)

After joining it to the domain, It could not read any file or print shares.  So I googled around to find the answer, but couldn't find an answer that seemed to apply.  A coworker I knew had used a Win 8 on the domain at work, so I pinged him.  His reply?

open powershell as admin.
Set-SmbClientConfiguration -RequireSecuritySignature $true

TADA!  It works.  Wow.  That's pretty arcane.  The fix left me with several questions.  The biggest two are 

  1. What does this do?  Even the online help does not clear anything up.
  2. Why was this not set to begin with on a pro version, intended for use on a domain?

Friday, April 03, 2015

Over designed, Under engineered.

A couple years back my oldest son was starting college, and would need transportation to an off the bus-line campus.  For a teenage boy, I wanted a boring four door sedan with airbags (every thing since 1988 has airbags, so that was not a high bar), a stick shift, and a broken radio.

I came across a low mileage 1999 VW Passat.  It had been well cared for, and it ran well.  It had a handful of little things that needed attention like various lights and cover panels needed cleaned up and replaced, along with a broken mirror switch.

We got a fair deal on the car and it was way better appointed than I wanted.  It came with heated leather seat, power everything, six disc CD changer, sunroof, and a hoot of a 150 HP 1.8 liter turbo-charged engine.

We've owned the car now for about 4 years.  It is still fun to drive, but something seem to break on it a regular basis.  The anti-lock break module failed, the CV boots cracked, the cam seal started leaking, the suspension arm joints wore out.  And now the windows have stopped going up and down.

And today, for the second time, the button to open the fuel door stopped opening the fuel door.  The system to open the door is a bit Rube Goldberg-esque.  Electricity comes from the fuse panel, the wire splits, one side goes to the button in the center console to open the fuel door, the other to a button in the glove box that opens the trunk.  From the button in the center console, the power runs back to a small electric motor mounted behind the fuel door.  The electric motor drives a worm gear that retracts a latch holding the door closed.

I stopped to fill the gas tank today, hit the button to pop the door, and... nothing.  Inside the trunk, I pulled the lining away from the wall, reached my hand to the motor, pulled the latch with the tip of my fingers, and filled the tank.

At home I pulled out the switch and found there is only 3.5 volts a the end of the power wire.  I have no idea why.  There is 12 volts at the fuse, and there is 12 volts at trunk release switch on the same circuit.  But somewhere, and I cannot find where, the voltage falls off on the way to the fuel release door.  The system components are wonderfully crafted, well mounted, tucked in behind tasteful panels, tactically satisfying to use, and fragile.

It would have been simpler to use a cable, like Honda, or even simpler to use a spring loaded door like Ford or BMW.  But nope, VW used a highly designed, under engineered, complicated, and fragile system.  The fuel door is not the only system.  There is a cover under the car that manages the airflow, held on by half-turn spring clips exposed to rain and road grime that corrode and fall out.  The security system central-control-unit is safely ensconced under the floor on the drivers' side of the car.  The failure of a 5 amp fuse results in security system preventing the starter from engaging.  Oh, and did I mention the the beautifully integrated rainwater management system clogs resulting in the rain ending up inside the car filling the compartment where the security system central-control-unit is now swimming.  Little things that look nice, and are enjoyable to use when they are working, but keeping them working requires a advanced degrees in mechanics, electronics, and metallurgy.

So today I spent the afternoon futilely disassembling the car's interior attempting to trace wires back to their source.  And in the end, I trained my son to reach over the lining of the trunk to open the fuel door.

But on a happy note, I found my sunglasses in the back seat!