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.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

South Dakota vacation -- a quick hop to Nebraska.

On Thursday, Isaac and I were up early and off to the airport.  There was a thin overcast at 1,200 feet in the area, but it was not reported to be extensive, so we took off for a 40 minute flight to Chadron Nebraska.  We stayed below the overcast until we found a hole in the clouds about 10 miles out.  I made a right turning Chandelle to pop up above the clouds, and then contacted Ellsworth Approach for flight following.  The controllers at Ellsworth advised me that Rapid City tower had been attempting to contact me – but I had missed the call.  I wonder if it had to do with being so low? 

We stayed in contact with Ellsworth approach most of the way to Chadron.  There was no airplane traffic as we were arriving so we made a right base entry into the pattern and landed in state number 25 after 41 minutes of flight. 

Isaac and I parked the plane next to a guy who was hand-propping his old Luscomb airplane.  Hand propping is the airplane equivalent of push starting your car.  If you don’t have an electrical starter, you grab one of the propeller blades the give the engine a spin hoping it starts. 

Chadron, Nebraska
There is very little to see around Chadron.  It appears to be a small farming community.  Still we found plenty of activity at the little airport.  While we were there we met a friendly mechanic with a hangar full of planes he was repairing, and at least three airplanes departed.  Soon Isaac and I were on our way back to Rapid City.  Knowing there was an overcast layer, I picked up flight following from Ellsworth approach in anticipation of needing a popup IFR clearance to land.  But as we drew closer, the overcast had been cleared away.  Just 36 minutes to get back.

25 States down, 25 to go.
I have landed a plane in these states
I am half way.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Family Vacation to South Dakota Day Two

Day two began with a good breakfast at the Fairfield Inn.  I was briefed on a new temporary flight restriction (TFR) that was north of our intended course.  An airplane had crashed in a military operations area (MOA) and there were ongoing recovery activates.  Before long we were making the easy climb back to 9,000 feet and watching the ground below us slip from Montana, to Wyoming, and then into South Dakota. 
There is a lot of dry, yellow-brown nothing between Billings, Sheridan, and Gillette.  Occasionally we would find an interesting canyon, or a small outpost of humanity, or even a strip mine where coal is harvested. 

The dry nothing of Wyoming gave way to South Dakota’s Black Hills.  Pretty, rolling, pine tree adorned hills with grass-land valleys and speckles of cabins.  It looked tranquil and inviting.  I could see living there.  The dark green pine trees were mixed with splotches of red-brown pine trees. We later learned that these trees were being killed off by a beetle.

About 20 minutes, or 40 miles out, the controller asked if we were aware of our proximity to Ellsworth Air Force base, and instructed us to report Rapid City in sight.  Turns out, the airplane that had crashed to create the TFR was a B-1 bomber from Ellsworth Air Force base.

Staff from WestJet Rapid City secures the plane
Yet the controller still wanted me to see an airport at forty miles?  No way.  We stayed on course for another 30 miles when I picked out both Ellsworth Air Force Base and the Rapid City Airport.  A total of 2:12 after taking off, we were rolling out in Rapid City. 

State number 24 checked off the list.  Again a friendly welcoming staff greeted us, helped us unload, and then tugged our plane off and tied it down. I could get used to this, thanks WestJet Air Center!

We spent the afternoon and next couple days being tourists.  I had been to Rapid City a couple times before as a child.  The most memorable was from the days when it was still OK to ride around in the bed of a pickup truck.  We had taken a family vacation – seven of us – towing a camp trailer with Dad’s pickup truck.  Three of us on a bench seat in the cab, and four of us on sitting on what we called "bunks" under the canopy in the back.  The bunks ran front to rear, one on each side of the truck bed, opened for storage, and had a narrow isle between them. 

I recall being about seven or eight years old and sitting on the front of one of those bunks near the canopy window looking forward through the cab.  Dad had to stop abruptly, but I did not.  My momentum carried my head through the sheet glass front window of the canopy, stopping at the rear window of the cab.  Pieces of glass rained down around my head.  My older brother pulled me back to triage my wounds.  He found a small cut on one ear.  Yeah, I remember Rapid City pretty well. 

I had seen Mt Rushmore a couple times before as a child.  But this was the first time I had seen the Crazy Horse Memorial.  I think Mt Rushmore is an excellent monument to the four Presidents who were selected to be carved on the mountain.  But I also learned the artist, Gutzon Borglum, intended to build a Hall of Records in the mountain behind the faces to secure the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.  This project never came to fruition because Congress cut off his funding.

At Crazy Horse I learned two things I found fascinating.  First is that ONE guy, Korczak Ziolkowski, set out to carve a granite mountain into the world’s largest monument -- taller than the Washington Monument in DC, and so large that all of Mount Rushmore’s Presidents can fit on Crazy Horse’s head.  One guy.  Really.  Just one.  This guy could dream really big.  Makes my goal of landing a plane in all 50 states seem weak.  Granted, Mr. Ziolkowski died before seeing it finished, and it is still not finished, and there is no schedule for finishing it, but still what a dreamer!  Go big or go home!  Second is that the Crazy Horse Monument Foundation does not accept any money from the state or federal government.  It is all done with private money.  Mr. Ziolkowski had a distrust of the government, so he did not want to become beholden to them.  Yet in an odd twist, this was the same man who was wounded TWICE in World War II defending his country.  All of the progress that has been made to date has been achieved from donations, entrance fees, and concessions received by the foundation.  Again, I have to admire the guy’s integrity to hold to a belief.

Family Vacation to South Dakota Day One

I just got back from a big flying adventure, and I have a lot to write about.  I will break it up into several parts to keep it from getting too long.

My week started early Monday morning as we loaded suitcases into the back of the Cessna 205.  We had the FBO remove the rear seats in preparation, so there was plenty of space for our light packing.  We buckled in for the longest leg of our journey to the heartland.

I had filed an Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) flight plan so I would be in constant communication with the controllers in the event of needing any assistance.  Monday turned out to be a beautiful clear day as I pushed the throttle forward and headed south down runway One Six Right (16R).

Runway 16R / 34L is the only operating runway out of Paine Field’s three runways.  11 / 29 has 787s parked all over it, and has had for about 2 years.  16L / 34R has been closed for a couple months as it gets dug up and replaced.

As soon as we were airborne, I was told to turn to the east and contact Seattle Approach Control.  From there I was vectored nearly directly to the Ellensburg VOR, and then "as filed."  "As filed" means I was to follow the path I gave in my flight plan.  I had filed to fly a preset airway named Victor Two (V-2) across the state of Washington at 9,000 feet, over the Idaho panhandle climbing to 11,000 feet, through the Rocky Mountains of western Montana, and then land in Missoula.  Think of it as I-90 for airplanes.

With the monster tail-wind we were getting, this course would get us to Missoula in time for lunch.  However, even a consistent 160 knots over the ground could not make up for having been delayed before takeoff, and then falling behind an hour at the Idaho / Montana border, we ended up landing around 2 pm local time.

Missoula the the forest fire smoke in the background
At Missoula, I was instructed to fly a left downwind (parallel and south of the runway, or fly a rectangle making left turns) but shortly before getting there, a fire bomber airplane returning from fighting the fires reported in to the south of the airport, so we were switched to a right downwind on the north side of the airport.

I kept the plane high on final above the flight path of the heavier plane that had just landed in front of me to avoid the wing-tip-vortices.  We landed without any excitement, and were taxied to Minuteman Aviation.  We were guided into a parking space and escorted into the terminal with the other business jet passengers.  It was pretty nice.  Their staff topped off the plane, the attendant loaned us a "crew car" and we drove towards town for lunch.

Our longest leg was behind us.  2:40 minutes in the sky.

After lunch we strapped back into the plane for a short hop from Missoula to Billings.  This would not be an easy run though, and led me to my first use of my instrument flying skills on the trip.  As I mentioned earlier, there was a large forest fire burning to the south of Missoula.

Missoula is down in a valley at about 3,000 feet above sea level with tall valley walls to either side.  To get out the valley, you must fly a preset course through the valley, climbing to at least 9,000 feet before attempting to fly out of the valley.  So first we flew back to the Northwest -- the way we had just arrived, climbing to nearly 7,000 feet, and then turning around and continuing our climb.

As we crossed back over the city, it became apparent we would not be able to climb over the wall of smoke being cast by the forest fire.  I requested and receive clearance to attempt to parallel the smoke wall to the north until it thinned out, but after several miles it became apparent the smoke was not abating.  We turned back to the east and entered the smoke.  There was no visibility outside the plane, just brownish orange haze.  I looked down at my flight gauges and pressed on.  We were in the smoke for what seemed like forever, but it was probably only 10 minutes or so.

Back out the other side the sky ahead was hazy with the orange glow of the sun behind us and the particulates of the smoke ahead of us.  We were soon getting 160 knots of ground speed out of our normally 120 knot airplane.  Tailwinds are wonderful things.

The air cools about four and a half degrees every 1,000 feet you go up.  So while at an altitude of 11,000 it may be a nice cool 60 degrees outside the plane, peeling off the 8,000 feet necessary to get down to the runway means the airplane and passengers heat up to 95.  Combine that with some bouncing around and you have a recipe for passengers arriving at the destination separate from the food they left with.

Isaac helps with the Plane in Billings
In Billings we were vectored for the visual approach to runway two eight right (28R).  We were held high south of the city a little longer than necessary, so we ended up making a diving left turn with a tail wind over the city, then paralleling the ridge line with the formerly helpful tail-wind rolling up and over it to create some interesting flying while I slowed plane down for landing.

The trip from Missoula to Billings took 2:10 minutes, and we all agreed it was time to stop for the day.  Edwards Jet Center tied down the plane and my passengers got a much needed break in the hotel pool.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Not Everything That Happens In Vegas Stays There

But somethings will...

My wife and I spent a few days in Las Vegas.  In planning our trip, Sandra asked if I had already landed a plane in Nevada and if there were any states near Las Vegas in which I had not landed.  True enough, I had not landed in Nevada.  Since I already had California and Arizona, Utah was the only other near by. 

I have attended several safety seminars on stalls and spins put on by Bruce Williams of Bruce Air and recall he kept his plane in Nevada part of the year.  Bruce gives really solid training on aerodynamics and flight upset, and he seems like a stand up guy, so I decided to start my search for a plane with him.  On his website, he recommends Monarch Sky.

Monarch's website makes them appear like a normal FBO in the desert southwest, but it hides a wonderful secret.  Monarch is a sister company to Sky Combat Ace (SCA)!  For less than the cost of an afternoon of my playing blackjack, they strap you in the business end of a 330 horsepower aerobatic lunch expulsion vehicle.  This however would NOT be my destiny.

I have been trying to find opportunities to build tail-wheel time.  I got a tail-wheel endorsement a little over a year ago from Snohomish Flying Service in their woefully under-powered Aeronca Champion.  This is an honest airplane.  Every wiggle, every adjustment, every sneeze changes some axis of this airplane's flight.  There is no "trimming it out" and cruising; you are always adjusting this, or correcting that, or leveling this, or stepping on that.  And even if there was trimming it out, the meager 80 knot speed is far from cruising.  But it teaches you to fly.  It reminds the pilot why the rudders are there.  It honestly exhibits adverse yaw.  It teaches you to be using the rudders in the sky and on the ground.

When the Champ grew up it became the Citabra, and when I found Monarch had one of these, I realized I could simultaneously knock two more states off my list and build tail wheel time.  John from Monarch scheduled me with Chris.  A great match.  Chris is semi-retired, and has flown since his 'teens, and is now flying whenever he can for Monarch and SCA.

At 6:30 AM Monday morning the alarm on my phone jolted me awake (that's what you get for waking up in Vegas).

continues after the jump

By 7:30 Chris and I were exchanging pleasantries.  We discussed my goals, we briefed the flight, loaded up on water bottles and climbed aboard the plane.

We departed Henderson Executive Airport to the south and turned left to head east over the ridge-line a couple miles from the airport, and then direct to
Boulder City and Hoover Dam.  In route the plane and it's little 150 horsepower motor scraped at the hot dry air to get every bit of climb-rate it could muster.  We leveled out at 7,500 feet for the 100 or so miles to St. George Utah.  We followed the lake east along the Nevada-Arizona border
and then turned to follow it north up to Overton and on to Mesquite Nevada.
The charts depicted the lake reaching up to Overton, but it was a dry valley.
As we crossed the Arizona-Utah border, we followed the Colorado River and I-15 through a very steep walled valley.

We passed south of the St. George airport to enter on a left-down-wind-forty-five, and set up for landing behind a Cessna doing touch-and-go landings.

We taxied in and went to reload our water bottles, leaving the plane open to keep it from collecting the 100+ degree heat.  St George Municipal airport is a nice big airport.  Bigger than I would have expected to find in the unused corner of Utah.  The FBO, Above View Jet Center, is a large comfortable facility where they hand out welcome bottles of spring water.

Chris and I spent several minutes sampling the fuel quantity.  Each wing tank holds 18 gallons, and the 1.5 hours we spent flying out should have consumed about 12 of those gallons of fuel, leaving us with about 24 gallons.  But the testing process was showing we had about half a tank in each side.  We considered various possibilities:  Was fuel leaking?  Did we start with less than full tanks?  Was I sampling the quantities incorrectly?  Chris repeated the sampling process and reached the same half-full conclusion.  If we used half of our fuel to get there, we would use the next half to complete our return, with no reserves.  Regulations require a plan for 30 minutes of reserves.

The Nall report is an annual report of general aviation accidents.  As pilots we like to learn from others mistakes because we know we can never live long enough to make them all ourselves.  The important bit in the report is that about 11% of aircraft accidents are due to fuel management errors.  You know, things like "running out of gas."  It is my belief that ALL of these accidents are avoidable.  Chris and I discuss the three things that are useless to a pilot in an emergency:
  1. Altitude above them.
  2. Runway behind them.
  3. Fuel on the truck.
We have the FBO put 10 gallons of fuel in the plane.  The left wing tank won't quite hold the extra 5 gallons. We were mis-reading the fuel sample process. We had plenty, but now we are sure.

The airport is at about 2,900 feet MSL, and it is about 100 or so degrees out and density altitude is about 6,500 feet -- It's going to take some runway to get this little plane off the ground.  As altitude and temperature go up, three important things happen:  The wing needs more airflow to create lift.  The propeller (a spinning wing of its own) is less effective in thin air.  Finally the engine is less able to produce power.  Each of these creates conditions to reduce the airplane's ability to fly.  Chris and I are rushing to get airborne before the hottest parts of the day. 

I plan to put the airport's 9,300 foot long runway to good use.  We taxi into position and run the engine up.  I lean it out to get it creating every bit of extra power I can and start my roll.  I push the stick forward to hold it on the ground while we develop speed, and at 65 knots the little plane pops up off the runway.  I hold the stick forward to keep the plane in ground effect and accelerate to 80 knots before letting the the nose rise and the sky fill the windshield.  We climb over the valley for 8,500 feet for some cooler air on the trip back to Henderson.

Aside from some extra negotiation with the controller, the trip home is uneventful. Chris makes pleasant conversation; we discuss our families, careers, and love of aviation.  Soon we are back at Henderson admiring the toys that await someone for the next adventure.

Thank you Sandra for giving me time to do this, John for making the arrangements, and Chris for keeping us safe.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

FAA Medical

Unlike a driver’s license, in order to operate an airplane, pilots must have a medical review periodically. In general, airline pilots get checked every six months, charter pilots get checked every twelve months, and general aviation pilots get checked every twenty four months. Mine came due at the end of March. 

I have been getting my medical from Dr. Randal Franke since 1997. At the time I chose him, it was because he was close. Based at the airport, and a short bike ride from my house, I saw him every couple years to get updated. But recently he left his practice at the airport, and opened a new office in a residential community about half way between the airport and downtown Seattle. He told me his reasons for switching, but since this blog is about me and not him, I will recommend you see him for the story. 

I made my appointment on line -- that was easy. But shortly after I got an email from him assuring the reason for the appointment, negotiating a better time, and confirming I had filled in the correct FAA "MedExpress" forms to initiate my visit. From his mobile phone! The email came from HIS mobile phone. He was making sure everything was arranged during his casual time -- on email. 

Today I made my way to his new office. Honestly I was a bit surprised. His office is in a building that was quite clearly somebody’s home at one time. A sign in front says "Professional Building," but upon walking through the entrance it is clear you are in what was someone’s living room. Directly across is a kitchen, and to the left are offices that were once bedrooms. No receptionist, no medical assistant, no check in counter. On the door labeled "Randal Franke, MD" a yellow sticky proclaimed "with a patient." I sat down in the living waiting room. 

Dr. Franke came out to let me know he would be with me soon. Shortly after he called me back, and I had one of the BEST experiences with a doctor that I can recall. I've long recognized Dr. Franke is a thorough doctor, and has seemed like a nice guy, but today was different. He was relaxed and conversational; he asked about how my life had been in the last couple years and followed up with questions about my health. It wasn't like he was prying; it was like he was paying attention. 

I told him how much I liked interacting informally via email, and how I would be willing to pay my doctor a recurring retainer for such freedom. He said I could email him anytime. 

He performed the rest of the medical review, filled out my paper work and sent me on my way. In reflecting on the experience, I realized what I got today was better than an FAA medical, I got humanity. Thank you Dr. Franke! We’d all be better off with more doctors like you.

Monday, April 08, 2013

It's all about me being the right temerature

I am discouraged today.  Had the big rolling over the odometer birthday last Thursday (not why I am discouraged) and that day, I realized I could hear the flame part of our furnace but the blower motor was not coming on.  It was making heat, but not pushing it around the house.

It had been a warm couple of days, and the forecast was for a few more warm days, so I declared "It's my birthday, I'm not going to worry about it today!"  

The furnace has been a source of sadness since we built the house.  We needed zone control so we could meter out heat to separate sections individually.  If an area was unoccupied or warm enough already we did not want to be heating it.  And if the furnace is not blowing heat into the whole house, it does not need to be blowing at full speed.  Therefore as different zones request heat, the motor is programmed to run at different speeds.  

But the furnace we installed was a bit too bleeding edge for it's own good.  The Lennox Pulse 21V furnace with a Harmony Zone control system loves to burnout motors.  

The furnace was installed just before we moved in back in August of 1994 (it has been running for just over 18 years!).  But by November of 1995 the original motor had failed.  It seemed to be a weak link in the system, and the motor was just not up to the demands of running at various speeds necessary as different combinations of zones demanded heat.  Lennox had released a second generation motor (the heralded ICM2) and a new set of control boards.  The new motor was installed that Autumn and warmth filled the house again.  

... Until December of 2001.  Poof the second motor failed.  This one was not covered by warranty and six hundred dollars and a 40 mile trip to Kent later and the again we were warm.  

This motor lasted the longest.  It ran until July of 2010.  Not too shabby.  When the third motor failed my wife and I discussed replacing our furnace with a heat pump -- Hooray for air conditioning that will be used three weeks a year.  Ouch!  That is going to be expensive.  But about the time we were going to write the check, other family demands reset our priorities and we settled on what was now a new thousand dollar fourth motor to carry us through.  

Now here we are March of 2013 -- not quite three years later -- staring down what could be our fifth one thousand dollar Lennox 39L2801 one horse power variable speed motor.

Lennox has a reputation for using highly customized components, where vendors like York use more generic (read "interchangeable") components.  I have on my desk here next to me a three year old bid for a York heat pump.  So I go read the review.  Lennox?  Number 45 out of 56 (boo!)  York?  Number 34 out of 56.  (gulp!)  34th?  Only 29% of their customers recommend them.  yikes!  Oddly Kenmore (Only a single review -- Sears anyone?) and Emerson score pretty high.  I guess it is time to get more bids.  

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Why I Fly (Chapter 20)

The documentary movie "Air Racers 3D" was released about a year ago.  It was just after the crash at the Reno races in which my friend's brother was killed.  They were at the races together with their parents when the plane went into the ground just behind their box seats.  The debris passed over my friend, his wife, and father who were all seated, but his brother was standing and the debris passed through him.  It was a traumatic and terrible event.
The movie played briefly at the IMAX theater near my house, but I was unable to carve out time in my schedule to see it.  As a gift to myself I decided to make the trek to Evergreen Air and Space Museum to see the movie and take in the museum.

I filed an IFR flight plan for the trip down, we got off the ground late, and then got some ridiculous routing before getting on course to the west of Sea-Tac's class "Bravo" airspace, and then we were vectored around further for traffic.  The weather was perfect, and I really didn't need to be IFR, but I wanted the practice in the system.  We ended up arriving with minimal time to get across the street to the theater.
The museum was created by the Evergreen International Aviation Company.  Most recently this is the company that coordinated the 747 LCF, and the 747 fire suppressant tankers.  Early in their history they were recognized as Air America.
When I was last there, it was a single large building housing the HK-1 (nee H-4) Hercules and a chaos of other planes squeezed in where there was space.  The campus has since been expanded to four buildings .  Most prominent of the new buildings is the one furthest to the west with a 747 mounted on top with water slides protruding from the sides. Next in line is the original building that still houses the spruce goose, then the IMAX theater, and finally on the east end is the space building.

The original building is now much better organized, containing primarily propeller driven planes with piston engines.  Notable displays include a several of the more famous WW II planes including the P-38, P-51, F-4U, and some German FW-190 and ME-262.  There is even a fair amount of empty space.
SR-71 and J-58 engine
The space building contains some very well organized history of rockets and missiles, mixed in with newer jets.  The SR-71 that was once strewn unceremoniously below the tail of the spruce goose now has its own space. 
Rocket Engine and Control Ring
One of my favorites is the 3 foot tall control ring off of a Saturn V rocket of the Apollo Mission fame.
We arrived at the museum just in time for the movie to begin.  The movie is short, only about 40ish minutes.  I may be aviation biased, but of all the 3-D movies I have seen, the is the first that really works to add to the story-telling and immersing the viewer into the story.  We ended up flying for three and a half hours to see a 40 minute movie, but the flight, movie, and museum were quite enjoyable.  Any of the activities alone would have made for a good day.  Sandra, my wife, also watched the feature on Lewis and Clark, and came back disappointed she had not insisted our kids go with her.

On the way home we skirted east along the south side of Portland's class "Charlie" airspace until we were above it and on flight-following before turning north over the top of the airport and headed for the east side of Seattle over the foothills of the Cascade range,
Mt St Helens
bringing us in close proximity to Mt St Helens and
Mt Rainier
Mt Rainier.
My oldest son had hiked to the top of Mt Si earlier this week during his spring break.
Mt Si
 He asked if we could see it from the plane, so we made a slight detour on the way home.

We were home in time for a nice meal at a local restaurant, and over dinner everyone agreed it had been a great day.