Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Three days, three flights.

Day one: My first experimental plane.

The sales rep from Glasair talked me into a demo flight in a Sportsman. Nick met me at Regal where we did a walk around and pre-flight of the plane, we also briefed on proper speeds: Best angle of climb (Vx), Best rate of climb (Vy), and Best glide (Vbg). We strapped in together, and I taxied the plane out. I had never flown a kit-built or experimental plane before, so I was pretty attentive to how it handled.

This is the diesel Sportsman
The taxi out went without a hitch. There is no nose wheel steering, it just castors, and at taxi speeds there is not enough rudder authority to manage heading so some differential braking is necessary.

The plane was equipped with a 210 HP Lycoming IO-390 engine, and it weighs less than a typical four seat plane, so the takeoff roll was brief and we popped up into the sky without eating a lot of runway. The climb was brisk, right around 1,000 feet per minute.

We leveled off, and did some light yankin' 'n' bankin', steep turns, and a couple stalls. The plane is well behaved with few surprises. The only thing of note is the firmness of the controls. The stick took more force than I would have expected from a light plane. I also thought the stick was installed a bit too low and would have been more comfortable if it were maybe three to six inches higher. The plane also has a large effective rudder. I am guessing this is a benefit when it is configured as a tail-wheel.

I greased the plane onto the runway at Bremerton and parked next to a gaggle of VariEze planes. Their owners had all joined up at Arlington and flown here for dinner. I had a good visit with Nick, and found him to be an engaging man with deep passions for his family and and aviation. Made me wish I had more time in my life to spend with people like him. The food was standard airport food. I will certainly be back.

After dinner we reversed the route back to Paine Field where I bounced the plane onto the runway, erasing the illusion of competence created by my earlier landing.

Over all I think I could have read the manual, hopped in this plane, and flown it away SAFELY with no additional training. It is just that well behaved and familiar. Good plane.

Day two: The Apprentice becomes The Master.

Eric is PIC
I have been mentoring Eric for a several years now. He has earned his private pilot and instrument licenses, and recently set out to get a High-Performance Endorsement and a check-out in my plane. This day would be the day Eric took me out in my plane to lunch. We popped across the Puget Sound for a lunch at the Spruce Goose in Port Townsend.

I had a nice flight looking out the window and enjoying the views. We flew across the stern of one of the Navy’s aircraft carriers on our way over. What a massive beast!

After lunch we strolled through the Port Townsend Aero Museum to admire their collection of classic general aviation airplanes.

On the trip back, the airspace a Paine was crowded. The controller first cleared us one direction, then amended our clearance for a second direction, and then lined us up too close to a landing airplane, only to send back into the sky for a second try. 

We returned to the pattern and were cleared to land third behind two other planes. We spotted the traffic ahead, and started slowing down to accommodate it. We could tell this would be a tough one too. On final, the plane ahead floated long and for a long time. We were only about 100 feet above the runway, and the plane ahead had still not set down. It was pretty clear there was not enough time for it to set down, slow, and exit the runway before we were on the runway. We powered up for the second go around of the day - at nearly the same time the plane ahead powered up for a go-around of its own.

Our third attempt to land was successful. Eric is a very safe pilot.

Day Three: Formation with one slow and one fast plane.

Up early in the morning I was standing next to my plane briefing with two other pilots and two photographers for a photo flight. Earlier we had looked at some example photos the pilots liked as models for what we were going for. Lining up Mt Rainier, downtown Seattle, and the Space Needle would necessitate us orbiting over Ballard. The flight was particularly challenging because we had to find a speed slow enough for one plane to keep up, and fast enough to the other to maintain lift. We settled in at 90 kts.

James Polivka -- Pilot's Eye Photography
Two photographers loaded into my plane, and we headed into the sky. The flight was completed as briefed with the first priority being safety and secondarily getting the shot. And man what a shot it is. My hat is off to everyone involved in getting this photo. Well done!

We were back on the ground by 9:AM.  I am a fortunate man.  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Ford Engineering Fail

This is the trim from around the driver's side door key hole of my wife's 2011 Ford Edge.

Tonight, my wife called to tell me the door handle on our 2011 Ford Edge was all "katty-wumpus," the door would not stay closed, and the door ajar light stayed on. Out in the garage I found the door handle floating free. You see, the door handle just clips in, no bolts or screws or anything.  The little piece of trim pictured above keeps the handle from sliding backwards, un-clipping and falling out.

My door handle had fallen out.  My trim piece was on the garage floor.

After recovering the pieces I went inside to search for how to fix it. Having written a "how to fix it" blog post, I know they are pretty dang popular, so I hoped someone else had beat me to it.

I started to search... Hey, I am in luck! I am not the first one to have trouble with my door. In fact there are dozens of posts about the switch in the door failing. Most all authors suggest contacting safecar.gov and report issues. Always a good idea for safety related issues in involving passenger containment, brakes, steering etc.

I started watching this video. (sorry about the VVS I did not make it), and tearing the door apart. After about seven minutes of video I got to the bit about taking the door handle off. It turns out I could have started there as it was all I needed to know to repair my door handle.

The little piece of trim is held in place by a set screw that traps the trim piece in place. That set screw squishes up against here. Well not really here.

Where I am pointing has broken off. There, that little piece of plastic, squeezed by a screw, broke off, freeing the trim to fall off the door, allowing the handle to slide to the rear, and fall off. It is a weak single point of failure that could have easily been engineered to work some other way. Ford, you blew this one.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Thirty years of the same car

a photo I copied from ebay
It was either late 1983 or early 1984, and I was just finishing up my last trimester of college in Phoenix AZ, about to become a freshly minted college graduate. I was in computer lab with my friend David, who pulled out a recent magazine, and opened the centerfold to reveal the sexy beast inside – the latest incarnation of the Honda Civic. The CRX. We “oohed” and “ahhed” at the advertisement, the entire time knowing that neither one of us had the income to pay off our student loans, let alone buy a pretty new car like the one in the magazine.

Within a couple months, I was out of college and holding down my first programming job. It was not a glamorous gig, but I was paying the bills. I was driving my old "air conditioning free" Datsun pickup in the Arizona summer sun back and forth to the office. It was time to step up, and I knew what I wanted.

The little CRXs were in high demand. I called around to the local dealers, and found Honda Car Co in Mesa Arizona would sell me a blue one for $7,500. I wanted three options: Air Conditioning, passenger side mirror, and the shop manual. I went on the waiting list, expecting mine to be delivered in 6 to 8 weeks! I could have had one sooner from another dealer, but they insisted on delivering it with an option package that was already installed, and for a price much higher. I decided I could wait.

About a week later, I received a call from the dealership. The two buyers in ahead of me had their credit declined. My car was waiting for me to pick it up. On August 8, 1984 I drove it off the lot with .4 miles on it.

Over the next few months I added floor mats, mud flaps, and a stereo. My roommate ran a window tinting shop, so one evening we took the car to his shop to apply tint film to the windows. He had been experimenting with layering tint to get lighter and darker tints, and making patterns. So we traced the CRX lettering from the rear panel onto silver tint and laid it up on the window. Over that we applied the dark tint. From the outside, the letters CRX appear prominently in silver. From the inside they appear as slightly darker area.

The car got attention wherever I went. One night I took my girlfriend (now my wife) out to dinner, and the valet stepped up to park my car said “Cool car! I have one just like it!” He did not get a tip.

By the summer of 1986, I was married, and ready to move back to my home state. We put the car on a dolly behind the Ryder moving van and headed to suburbs of Seattle where my wife and I began our careers. For my daily commute ended up riding the bus, so I decided to store the car in my cousin’s garage. We would take it out every now and then to run the engine. It stayed there for nearly 10 years, coming out in 1995, with less than 50,000 miles on it. But it was also starting to show traditional CRX problems; the front header was cracked in two places. And there were miscellaneous dings and dents from parking lots and shopping carts.

We had just moved into a home with our own garage, so the car came with us. Now the CRX was nearby and available for more frequent use, so it started to accumulate miles. By the late 90’s the AC pump has seized up, and living in Seattle, I was not motivated to have it fixed.

In early 2000, I took a job off the bus line. I bought a set of rims and new tires, and upgraded stereo. I worked at that job for five years, and the little blue CRX became my daily driver. Down and back on I-405 the little car was racking up the miles. I car-pooled whenever I could, but the miles flooded on unabated. As did the progressive wear. The heater fan stopped running on low, the headlight chime no longer came on when I left the lights on. The rear window defroster stopped working. But the car was still a bucket of fun to drive!

In 2002 the alternator failed, leaving me stranded on the edge of the freeway. It was easily replaced and the little blue CRX soldiered on.

By 2003 we had collected our fourth child. When BMW resurrected the MINI I was starting to think that a two seat car was really not that practical for us, and I needed more seats. So I went MINI shopping. The dealers were pretty proud of their cars, and if you wanted the MINI S or the JCW, they were exceptionally proud of their cars. The MINI is hot, but I could just not get past the price. If were to dispose of the CRX and replace it with the MINI it was going to cost me somewhere near $30,000! But the question I kept coming back to was this: Is there $30,000 worth of fun and utility in the MINI over the CRX? The answer was always a resounding "NO!"

8/8/2005.  When it turned 21.
In 2005, I snapped a photo for its 21st birthday. I remember thinking it odd to have a car that was old enough to drink.

By 2006 it had rolled over 100,000 miles. The cracked header had come off and was replaced by a PVC black ebay special. The blue was collecting more dings and scrapes; the black plastic was peeling off the window trim. The kids leaned their bikes against Dad’s old car. Ugh. The slipping clutch was replaced. The leaking break master cylinder was replaced. Years of getting in and out of the driver seat had worn through the fabric on the side bolster, and the seat now wore an old t-shirt as a cover.

But after each repair, it kept delivering driving fun, and over time frequency of repairs ebbed. And a weird thing happened. Several of those four kids were driving on their own. The need for that MINI diminished.

But then on a dark and rainy night in November of 2012, tragedy struck. And it struck on the driver’s side front corner in the form of a little old lady. I was waiting at a stop sign to cross the intersection. A car approaching on the cross street from my right was turning left in front of me. She cut the corner too tight, and scraped the full side of her brand new Kia Optima on the corner of my car. There went my bumper, the corner marker light, and the fender.

And back to the MINI dealer I went. I had found a used one I thought I should buy and was talking to my wife on the phone after test driving it. She asked "What did you think of the car?"

"It will do." I responded.

"You cannot buy it."

"What?!" I was baffled.

"Look," she said, "you have loved owning your CRX for a lot of years. You may not spend that much money on a car that 'will do.' If you are going to replace the CRX you have to replace it with something you are able to be as excited about. Either spend enough money to get a car you are excited about, or find a different car."

I hung up the phone knowing she was right. It was then I decided I wanted my CRX back. The insurance company and I settled. I probably got more for the damage than the car was worth, but not enough to complete the repairs.

I was going to need some parts. So I started googling for Honda parts, where I was fortunate to discover NW Classic Honda and Danny Carlson living just a few miles from my home. Danny became my hero. When I needed something I thought was odd, Danny always came through.

Over the next year, I tore the car apart. The bumpers came off, the fender came off, the front header came off, all of the lights, and turn signals came off. The doors came apart, and I removed the locks, the lower panels. I traced the defroster wire back to the hatch hinge where the wire had broken. I found the heater speed control resister that had burnt out. I took the seats out. Cut a piece of marine plastic to replace the disintegrating fiber board that covered the spare tire.

With all the front body panels removed I found damage to the upper apron on the driver side fender. I would need a body shop to pull the deformation out. The seats were sent to the upholstery shop. And while the front was off the car, it went to the air conditioner shop too.

NW Classic Honda referred me to SouaSpeed and Kevin Sousa for a new front header. Kevin custom formed one from fiber glass for my car. The new bumper was fitted, the new fender was sanded. It seemed like forever, but soon it was time for paint to be applied -- See full album. I found a shop around the corner from my house that agreed to work on it. I had always liked the metal flake that was on the ’86 CRX. It was subtle, but it sparkled, and I though it added a little extra pizzazz. So when I had the paint applied, we did it in the metal flake.

The car went back together quickly, and I love the result!  I ordered personalized plates, and now use the car for errands and dates. The little blue CRX will turn 30 years old this August, and I still and as excited to take it out for a drive as the day I bought it.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Icepack tricks

My son had his wisdom teeth pulled the other day and a friend suggested putting corn syrup in a bag and freezing it as an icepack.  We double bagged them in case of leaks, but the corn syrup stays flexible so it conforms to the area being iced.  I wish I thought of it, so I decided to share it here! 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

National Celebration of Adoption

This month is national adoption month, and last Friday was national adoption day. As many of you already know, all four of my children are adopted.

My wife and I were part of a Permanency Planning program. Here’s the theory: The longer a child stays in foster care, the more frequent their moves to new homes become. And the more frequent moves are not healthy for the child. So the program seeks out foster children who are at risk for being in the system a long time.

Those children are then placed in homes that are committed to two concurrent plans with the intention of one of them being permanent. The foster parents are expected to interact with and encourage the birth-parents, and at the same time the birth-parents are given intensive training and services to get them to the level where they can care for their birth-child. This is intended to lead to a situation where the child can be returned to the birth parent. But if the child cannot be returned, one of several paths is initiated so the foster-parent can adopt the child.

Andy Worhol said we all get 15 minutes of fame. Back in 1997, I used up eight of my fifteen minutes in this NPR interview about the Permanency Planning program.

There are a several things I find appealing about this program. It provides birth-families with the help, services, and training they need to hold their families together, 
and at the same time holds the 
birth-parent accountable for their progress. This provides hope of a positive outcome for the children in either a birth-family or an adoptive-family. And it provided my wife and me a home full of pretty darn good children. My wife and I were able to adopt four children through this process. It was not easy, and we are still in the daily struggles of raising our children. Yet I can truthfully say I am glad we did it.

The program is managed by a non-profit, Lutheran Community Services, that contracts to the State to manage the case. This reduces the work-load on the state caseworker, and a stipend it paid to the non-profit to manage the child’s case. If the child’s case makes it to adoption there are pro-rata fees the adoptive families pay. But these payments are not enough to fully fund the program. For the first time in the 20 or so years I have been involved in the program they are in need of our help.

In a recent meeting, some quick math determined that they are about $50 short per month per child they are working with. If you agree with me that programs such as this are important to the child, to the families, and to the community please designate your contribution of any size to "Seattle-Everett Metro (King & Snohomish Counties), WA" and specific LCS program "Permanency Planning".

Thank you for your consideration.  

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

South Dakota Vacation. The Final day.

We had diverted to Livingston MT but were now ready to continue home.  With the top off of fuel, I knew we could make it to Spokane eliminating any further descents and climbs in the Rocky Mountains.  I filled our new flight plan.

In the plane I called to pick up my clearance.  The controller said that he could give it to me a clearance and release at the same time, so call back when I was ready to take off.  So we taxied out to the east end of the runway, did our run-up, and called for our clearance.  But from there the controller was not responding. After repeated calls I decided to take off and pick up my clearance in the air.  As soon as we were off, I called the controller and he cleared us to climb to 13,000 feet. Yikes, that is a long way up for my little airplane.  It will do it, but regulations say I cannot stay that high more than 30 minutes without supplemental oxygen.

I negotiate with the controller.

IFR Low Altitude chart for western Montana
He says Victor two's Minimum Enroute Altitude (MEA) is 13,000 feet.  True, but not until AFTER the Helena VOR and even then the MEA not only assures terrain clearance but also navigation reception.  I’m in VFR conditions navigating by GPS.  And the satellites above me are not obstructed.  The Minimum Obstacle Clearance Altitude (MOCA) is down at 10,800 feet.  The controller held me at 13,000 until just before Helena, and then cleared me down to 10,000, 800 feet below the MOCA.  Odd, but OK.  Whew.  20 minutes up there and I had a headache.

We were churning along at 10,000 feet and the winds across the Rockies were starting to pick up.  Our little plane was being bounced around.  So I thought I could compromise with the controller at 12,000.  I called requesting 12,000.

On a weak and garbled transmitter a new controller replied.

I read back my clearance "One eight tree (we say 'tree' instead of 'three') five zulu, cleared to climb out of one zero thousand for one two thousand" and began to climb.  At 10,000 feet, I don’t have much climb performance, so about two minutes later as I was just clearing 10,700 feet.

A new voice on the radio came on with some urgency, "Seattle Center, One eight tree five zulu return immediately to one zero thousand feet."

OK, back down to 10,000.

A few minutes later I received "Cleared to one two thousand.  And when you get on the ground, I have a number for you to call."

Uh oh.  That’s not good.  That usually means they want to reprimand you.  I wonder what I did.

Victor two is a straight line between Helena and Missoula.  The MOCA along that route is 10,300 feet, and again I had an odd exchange with the controller.

"Can you accept direct to Missoula?"

Sure, since that is what victor two's path is.

"Cleared direct Missoula at one zero thousand feet."

Now that is just weird. Earlier I was cleared on a 10,800 ft MOCA down to 10,000 and now again on a 10,300 ft MOCA down to 10,000. I'm not worried because it is clear and I can see everything around me. I have no concerns for colliding with the Rockies.  On a side note, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigates and categorizes accidents.  They would call colliding with Rockies "CFIT" (pronounced see-fit), or Controlled Flight Into Terrain.

What did concern me was the call I had to make in Spokane.  We landed at Spokane International after our new longest leg of 2:56.  The runways and taxiways are all torn up there for construction, so I got progressive taxi instructions to parking.  We spilled out and I went inside to make the call.  I reviewed all my charts, and played back the earlier diversion and negotiations over MEA and MOCA.

I steeled my nerve and dialed the number.  "This line is recorded."  Well that’s a fine "How do you do."

The same urgent voice that had earlier sent me back to 10,000 feet answered.  "Thanks for calling, I listened to the tape.  You did not get the clearance you thought to climb to 12,000.  But since you read back what you thought your clearance was, we should have stopped you.  You did it right.  Sorry for the trouble, have a nice day."

And with that I let out a big sigh of relief. We exchanged pleasantries and hung up.

It was time for a meal. Again we are loaned a crew car and we head over to Airway Heights to find food.

Departure instructions for Spokane airport
Our final leg brought me back over familiar territory.  The runway at Spokane points directly at the VOR I need to fly over to join victor two.  In fact that is my departure clearance.  Fly runway heading direct to the GEG VOR and join victor two.  And as simple as that, we are on our way to Moses Lake.

My clearance brought me up to 10,000 feet again, well above the terrain.  Along this stretch 10,000 also put us above the thermal turbulence and heat.  Our path took us over Moses Lake, then to Ellensburg.

Crossing the Ellensburg VOR and approaching the eastern slope of the Cascade Range, a thin layer of clouds developed above us. My passengers in the back seat were sleeping soundly.  In the front seats Isaac and I watched as the plane flitted in and out of the base of the clouds.  The clouds sloped down, so as we progressed further into the Cascade Range we got further clouds, and soon we were skittering along the top of the thin fluffy layer.  The tops of the clouds formed cloud-valleys and cloud-tunnels as we raced through them.  It was very pretty.  Isaac and I marveled at the clouds as we bounced from one to the next.

We stayed at 10,000 until well onto the west side of the mountains, still skipping along in and out of the clouds.  We were then cleared turn direct to Paine Field and to descend, first to 8,000, then 6,000, then 4,000.  We broke out of the clouds somewhere below 6,000.  Upon reporting the airport in sight, we were cleared for the visual approach and handed off to the tower controllers.  The plane touched down 2:05 after leaving Spokane.

During the week I had flown over 14 hours on IFR flight plans, logged an hour of actual instrument flight, and made exactly zero instrument approaches.

Monday, September 02, 2013

South Dakota Vacation, the trip home begins. And Stops.

I didn't sleep well that night, knowing on Friday morning we would be starting our journey west towards home and there were isolated thunder storms forecast for the area between Helena and Missoula, and Missoula was my destination for Friday.  I plotted a course reverse of our trip east, and a back-up route to Rock Springs WY, Boise ID, and then back to the Puget Sound.  The southern route would add two hours to the trip.  Friday morning the isolated thunder storms were still forecast, but it looked like there would be a break around the time we would be passing through, so we took off on the northern route. 

I filed out of Rapid City on the same Transition route on which I had flown in, T288.  The flight briefer taking my plan had never heard of a T-route.  He entered anyway, and the flight plan computer accepted it.  He was kind of excited to have learned something. 

West side of the Black Hills.
Again the flight between Rapid City and Billings brought no surprises.  Take-off, Climb, Cruise, Navigate, Descend, Land – 2:18 of flight.  The highlight to me was seeing Devil’s Tower.  But the heat and turbulence were starting to build, so I could tell my back seat passengers would become miserable soon.  

In Billings we walked to the terminal where we had a very good meal at Gateway Restaurant and Lounge.  I checked with Delta to see if I had enough miles to buy my more delicate passengers a ride home at a higher altitude.  I did, but the next available flight was not until Saturday, and it went through Salt Lake City.  We decided to make a run for Missoula.  The nice folks at Edwards Jet Center provided us a crew car and directions to the CVS pharmacy where we got some Dramamine. 

I filed a flight plan, got one last check of the weather, and decided that the gap between storms was too small.  Not worth taking the chance, so we tied down the plane and headed for the pool.  A lot of work for little progress. 

Again on Saturday we loaded the plane, filed a flight plan, checked the weather, and took off.  

Traveling with a son who has type one, or juvenile, diabetes can present its own challenges.  Hotel breakfasts seem to prefer starches and carbohydrates over protein.  And teenage boys loves them some carbs.  Especially after not eating for the eight hours they were sleeping.  Carbs turn to glucose, and with enough insulin, the glucose turns to energy or stored as fat for later use.  But we miscounted, and the excess glucose over ran the insulin and kicked off and attempt by the kidneys to filter out the excess glucose.

Welcome to Livingston
And that kicked of an unscheduled stop in Livingston Montana.  A wide left downwind 45, and a strong headwind made for an easy high altitude landing.  48 minutes -- this was supposed to be more than a 2 hour leg.  But I would not trade the son for anything.  This is just one of the costs for the privilege of raising him. 

A brief stop, a snack, a little insulin, and all is well.

At 4,659 above sea level, I pondered if it was the highest altitude airport I had landed at.  It is not – Fort Collins at 5,016, Colorado Springs at 6,178, and Rock Springs at 6,765 are all higher.  

Move along there is nothing to see here.