Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Why I Fly (chapter 2)

This installment begins with an admission. I am biased. I think my children are cuter and hold more potential than any other children. Oh, and smarter too. Now that I have that out of the way, my youngest son had a gymnastics meet in Portland Oregon.

The drive to Portland from my house takes three to four hours. The path down I-5 passes through pretty, but repetitive, landscape. (Hey, haven’t we driven past that fir-tree covered hill three times already?) It also takes us through the heart of the Seattle – Tacoma congestion.

Whenever I go to Portland, my preference is always the airplane. I joke that if I have to go south of Seattle and there’s no airport, then I’m not going. I have found the air routing for the Paine to Portland a bit odd, but still better than driving, much of it is spent sending traffic either to the east or west of the busy SEA-TAC airport airspace.

On this trip, it was overcast with forecast freezing in clouds and precipitation, but also clear above 7,000 feet with conditions improving through the day and to the next morning. I filed IFR out of Paine to ARPEE (a fix on the west side of Puget Sound) and then GPS direct to Hillsboro. My plot of the course showed me well clear of SEA-TAC, and then an easy straight line to my destination, climbing to 9,000 feet would put me above the dreary Northwest gray (“grey” for those of you reading from Great Brittan).

The gymnastics meet started at 5:00 P.M. so the forecast fit well into the situation. Go down day IFR in or over the clouds, and back night IFR but with visibility. We had a leisurely lunch, dropped the other three kids off at friends, and went to the airport with plenty of time to load up. Today was a day of not rushing.

Once in the plane, I radioed the tower to pick up my instrument flight clearance. Much to my disappointment, I was given the serpentine route around SEA-TAC, to the Olympia VOR, then on the airway with a peculiar bend in the middle, past my destination to Newburg VOR, and finally back to Hillsboro. Yuck. So much for that fancy moving map GPS in the plane.

I updated the flight plan in the GPS to the new routing, and initiated the communication for taxi and take off. Around 2,500 feet we were met by the overcast. The plane climbed through the clouds as I guided it on course towards ARPEE. At 7,000 we broke out of the clouds to a world of bright white.

To our left the white clouds extended as far as we could see, interrupted only by the mountains tops breaking the flat upper surface. To our right were scattered to broken clouds, giving us an intermittent view of the Olympic Mountains and forests stretching out to the Pacific Ocean.

Mercifully, after passing Olympia we were given direct routing to our destination. Our course carried us past Mt. Rainer, and Mt. St. Helens. Just the top of the crater's rim was peering above the clouds. As we approached the airport we were vectored down through the clouds to the airport, the cloud bases opened up around 3,000 feet so we were given a normal visual landing. Turning us to the left to enter the pattern for the runway landing to the northwest.

Our rental car was waiting for us, and surprisingly for only $20 a day on weekends. It was an easy drive over to the meet with a stop for a light meal. We wanted to make sure my son had enough food in him to get him through the meet, but not so much that he was uncomfortable. We got to the meet early.

The meet went well, and while there I met up with Kale, who lives on an airport, and who had also flown his son to the meet. Kale was in the process of buying a plane that is like ours, but newer and is turbo-charged.

We got back to the Hillsboro Airport and the car return was closed. There was a drop off for the keys, but it also meant my path through the fence back to the plane was blocked. Had I been paying attention, I could have read the code on the inside of the fence for opening the gate and getting back in. Instead I had my son climb the fence and open the gate so we could get back to the plane.

By now the sky had cleared up and with no moon, the stars were the main source of light above. We cruised home in still air watching the meandering line of headlights along I-5. Night flying is particularly beautiful; the predominate visible feature is blackness. The lights of population centers create bright spots on the ground, and then fade out as density decreases in to more suburban and rural areas, roads appear as streams of lights. Where population and water come together, a crisp line delineates the boundary. Rivers cut paths of dark through cities; bays can look like bites out of neighborhoods. Above, the stars appear more brilliant.

The air is usually calmer as well. There is no shaking of the plane, no bumps or burbles in the air, and at times it can seem like the plane is suspended above the ground on a string. The still air and the inky blackness create this sense of isolation. Like being alone, and yet all the rest of the world is visible but only remotely connected.

My routing home was much more favorable. I was cleared GPS direct to ARPEE, and then to Paine. At Bremerton, I was vectored direct to Paine, and I started my descent out of 8,000 feet.

By now the tower at Paine was closed and there was nobody in the landing pattern. I kept my speed up as I approached the airport, and crossed the end of the runway still going over 120 knots. I continued to let the speed dissipate down to landing speed as we floated along the 9,000 foot long surface, finally touching down and turning off about the middle.

That night we were back in the comfort of our own home.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Why I Fly (chapter 1)

During long runs of flight training like the one I just completed, I often wonder "Why do I do this to myself?" I don't fly for the money, this costs me. In some cases flying is less convenient, and maintaining the skills requires a further investment of time and money.

My wife, Sandra, has one of those inspirational signs on the refrigerator that says "Life is not made of the number of breaths you take, but of the number of times your breath is taken away." And lately, I've had a string of take-my-breath-away rides that I call "this is why" flights.

The first was to Roache Harbor. It was back in February and we were having a run of early clear spring weather. When it is not raining here, the Pacific Northwest is beautiful. On this day, the blue skies, jagged green islands, and sun dancing off the water combined as an elixir that erases the memory of every gray rain-soaked day that came before it.

A little after noon on Sunday Sandra suggests we take the kids and plane out for lunch. After some debate about where to go, we load up for the 30 - 40 minute flight to Roache Harbor. With the six of us in the plane, my trusty steed (always wanted to use that phrase) climbed easily through the cool air to our cruising altitude of 3,500 feet. The route took us over the Mukilteo Ferry dock, and then along the length of Whidbey Island and then into the San Juans.

We landed at the Roache Harbor Airport, which started out it's life as a road, but when the road was relocated a couple hundred yards to the south, the straight hard surface was made into a runway. The approach cirlcles you out over the water of the Puget Sound and then down onto final approach crossing over the boats moored in the marina, and on to the thin strip of asphalt.

The walk into the resort is about a half mile along a rustic road lined by lush green vegetation. Our senses were assaulted from all sides. The sun casting shafts of light through the trees, the crisp air on our skin, the greens and browns of the forest, punctuated by the bright white buildings, with the scent of the forest mingled with the sea combined into an unforgettable experience.

After exploring around for a bit, we headed to the restaurant. A rustic fish and chips (what else?) place on the dock. Alas, it had just closed, but they referred us to the little grocery store on the same dock, closer to the shore. We bought the kids some sandwiches, chips, and drinks, and sat at the picnic tables near by. While we ate, boaters wandered by with pets, birds arrived and departed, and the sun bathed it all.

When the food was done we explored the moorings, then the parking lot, and the ruins of the old lime mining operation, and then around the coast past the Hotel De Haro and the chapel, then onto the cabins where the kids found a frozen mud-puddle and jungle-gym to climb on and swing. The ice on the mud puddle jolted me in to the realization of just how amazing the day was. Here in the shade, water froze. But in the bright sun, we were warm in our light jackets.

After swinging for a bit, we explored the coast line of the island, discovering kelp, and planks, and rotted out ship hulls, and rusted steel boilers. There were rocks to climb, trees to swing from, and sea critters to be chased from under rocks.

When I started to corral the kids back towards the airport, they nor their mother were none too happy. This was a day that wanted no end.

The plane carried us back into the sky, but on this leg we stayed low as we flew around the coastline of the island, scanning the waters for whales or other interesting sea life. Instead we found only the patterns and colors that showed the water's depth and flow.

The trip back home was peaceful. I let my oldest daughter guide the plane, with me making slight corrections when necessary to keep us headed towards the big runway.

We were back in time for the kids to watch a movie, read for a bit, and then drift off to sleep.

Without the plane, just the trip to the San Juan's is nearly a half day event, we were able to go there and back -- on a moments notice -- and make memories along the way.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

new wifi router.

Several years ago I was using wingate to connect multiple computers to the internet and, I decided I needed a firewall, and better system than leaving one computer on all the time. So I bought an SMC Barricade 802.11b wireless router. It has been pretty much trouble free.

I'm sort of a late adapter, using the "if it works, don't fix it" theory. So I have not been in a rush to upgrade to "g," and with "n" just around the corner (there is always something better), I've been stalling. My SMC died last week, so time to upgrade. Several folks I know use linksys. They really like them. Some of them are biased as they work for Cisco, which owns linksys. My three experiences with the linksys routers have none gone well.

Not sure why I didn't look for another SMC. It was a good product. On a side note, the first NAT router I ever installed was a macsense. And it is still running today, although the owner is starting to talk about wireless.

Another friend has a netgear, and it didn't seem all that bad. So I used a gift certificate I had from work to upgrade.

While I was waiting for it to arrive, I attempted to resurrect my SMC, resetting it to factory defaults. I also created a profile on my laptop for an unsecured connection so I could hook up to it. Bang, I'm connected up right away. I enter the URL to the router management page and type in the default password. At this point I'm thinking that I just wasted my money on a new router, when the old one still works.

When the router config page comes up, it doesn't say SMC, it says linksys! Huh? What's going on? It took me a few seconds, but it turns out that my router was still not working, but my neighbor's across the street was. And it was totally unsecured, right down to the admin password having never been changed.

Now this worked out pretty good for me because I could stay connected to the net until my router came. Whoo Hoo!!!

My netgear showed up and I quick like read the install directions (yeah right!), ok browsed the install directions, which walked a new user through the security configuration process. Very handy.

Anyway I ignored them and set it up the way I wanted it, and in 20 minutes I was all up and running again. I also went and confessed to my neighbor, and offered to help him secure his. He politely declined, and said he was going to call linksys and have them walk him through it.

But if you are reading this and you don't know if your wireless router is secure, you need to spend some quality time with the instructions.