Monday, June 13, 2005

Why I Fly (chapter 5)

Airplane flying is measured in time, not distance (no, that is not the reason I fly. Just some background). The reason for this is because airplanes fly in a moving air-mass, not over the stationary ground. I know that sounds stupid, of course they fly in the air, but what do I mean they don't fly over the ground? Consider your car. There is direct contact between your tire and the road. As the tire turns, your car is displaced the same amount as the movement of your tire.

Not so in an airplane. An airplane's connection is to the air-mass around it. And that air-mass has some movement over the ground. If the air-mass is moving a direction other than the direction of the plane (headwind) the flight will take longer. If is moving in a direction complementary to the plane (tailwind) the flight will be shorter.

Not sure why I added that, because the point of this story is about flight time. Pilots and airplane operations are logged in tenths of hours. Airplanes have to be inspected after every 100 hours of operation, pilots need a set amounts of time to get licenses. 40 hours for this, 3 hours for that, 250 hours for the other. It almost makes me think I should fly slower airplanes to become more qualified.

Anyway, Sunday afternoon I logged .7 hours, or about 42 minutes of flying. Well not really flying. It is better to say 42 minutes of airplane operation because you get to start counting the time from the moment you start the plane with intent to take off. So you could start it up, run some tests, fiddle with gauges, then request and get taxi clearance, drive on the taxi way, run some more tests, and then take off. This could easily use up a tenth or two before the plane even gets off the ground.

For the point-seven on Sunday we climbed on board the plane as a family and taxied out to Paine's third runway, two-niner. Over the radio we say the number nine as "niner" because the word "nine" sounds too much like the word "five" (go figure). Runways are numbered according to the nearest 10 degrees of magnetic heading. So runway "two-niner" is about 290 degrees magnetic, which is about west - northwest. As we are rolling out onto the runway, Sandra comments that she has never used this runway before. Wow, ten years of flying, and she's never used this runway. How did that happen? Once air-borne, I adjusted my course slightly and we headed out west.

We crossed the Puget Sound a little above 2,500 feet -- fairly low. The sound was the typical blotting of dark green and blue, being criss-crossed by various watercraft. A speed-boat headed north, the ferries crossed east west, and there were clusters of sailboats about. I made a straight line for the other side of the water.

We swung around the south end of Indian Island and over the shoreline where I started down for 1,100 feet and Port Townsend airport. Our course put us on an easy entry in to the flow of landing traffic as I circled around the south side of the airport in gentle right hand turns.

We landed and taxied off the runway to parking, directly across from the restaurant, named the "Spruce Goose." When it comes to great airplane eateries, the Spruce Goose is the best one I've found. Not too slick, on the homey side. Inside there is a short counter to the left, tables spread around room, I'd guess that seating more than about 25 people inside would make things pretty tight. Models and pictures of airplanes are the decorating motif. The windows face the runway and a also over look the deck with picnic tables.

As the six of us climbed out of the plane, I wondered what that looks like to people watching. Does it look the same as the mini-van it feels like?

We picked table out on the deck, it was warm enough that my four-year-old complained about her head being hot, so I put my baseball cap on her. The food at the Spruce Goose is decidedly average. The kids like the fish and chips, I had a sandwich of some sort, as did Sandra. The portions are large enough that we asked for an extra plate and all shared with our youngest. The real treat of the meal is the homemade pies. These are awesome. After our meal, we ordered a collection of pie slices and shared them. I liked the Dutch apple with a bit of cherry pie mixed in.

While we ate there was a pleasant flow of people arriving and departing. I had thought that because this was an airport diner, that most of the people would be arriving by aircraft. And many did. There was a Piper Cub that came in, bright yellow and the door off. A couple of small helicopters, old men in their Bonanzas (what is it with old men and Bonanzas?), a stream of Cessnas. One family departed in a very nice twin engine plane they had chartered. What most surprised me was the number of drive up customers. More than one set of elderly grand-parents drove in to join a young family that had also driven up.

Each of the children in these parties were given small Styrofoam airplanes to assemble, which each did and then departed for the grassy area off the deck to soar their creations while the parents waited for the food to arrive. My own children compared notes as to which of the many styles of airplanes they had received on previous visits. I realized that I may be visiting the Spruce Goose a bit too frequently.

The kids played in the grass as Sandra and I prepared the plane for departure, and once ready we all boarded and strapped in.

The winds favored a departure to the east, back towards our home airport. Again the crossing of the Puget Sound seemed to be routine. In the midst of the magic of flight, I'm making a routine crossing of this beautiful place. I called the Paine tower and requested a straight in for runway one-one. This is the same runway we used to leave Paine Field, but now we are going the other direction and this time is line up approximately 110 degrees or east - southeast.

The controller approved request, instructed me to report when I was two miles away, and advised me of traffic to my left that would be landing to the south on runway one-six. I spotted the traffic and listened as the controller attempted to negotiate a "Land and Hold Short" (
LAHSO) clearance with the other plane. This means the plane is cleared to land on the runway, but may not cross my runway while I am landing, kind of like putting a stop light at the intersection of the runways. A couple of years ago, there were a series of accidents where pilots did not comply with LAHSO instructions and collided with other planes, so the FAA has become pretty careful with these. The LAHSO instruction leave the landing aircraft has a bit over 4,000 feet to land. Since the other plane was capable of landing in about 1,500 feet or less, this left plenty of margin between him and me.

As the negotiation went on I was getting closer to my runway. The controller needed to hear the pilot acknowledge and agree to the
LAHSO instructions. I reported being two miles out and still having the cross traffic in sight. At this point, the pilot of the other plane made the best decision I've seen in a plane over a crowded airport -- he admitted that he did not understand the controllers request.

At first I was appalled, and then horrified by what he may do. The controller was very good. She quickly instructed the pilot to make a left 360 degree turn, starting right where he was. Flying the plane in a circle would create about a two minute delay for him, giving me enough time to land and clear the runway. Once the other pilot started his left turn, I was cleared to land. The other pilots admission created an opportunity for the controller to give new instructions that would keep our airplanes separated. The controller also asked the other pilot to call the tower after landing so she could explain it to him. Usually when you hear "call the tower," it means the controller is going to reprimand you. In this case, the tone communicated a true desire to help and educate. Kudos to both the other pilot, and the controller!

We landed without incident, and took the taxi way that rolled us out right in front of Regal. I shut down and the kids climbed out and set about tying the plane to the ground. They have taken it upon themselves to make this their post-landing task. With the plane tied down, I logged the .7 and ended our adventure for the day.