Sunday, July 22, 2012

See Smell & Avoid

Often times, things that I have learned from flying have parallels in the ground-bound world as well. Take, for example, the one of the key fundamentals of VFR flying: See and Avoid.
Visual flight rules (VFR) are a set of regulations under which a pilot operates an aircraft in weather conditions generally clear enough to allow the pilot to see where the aircraft is going. Specifically, the weather must be better than basic VFR weather minima, i.e. in visual meteorological conditions (VMC), as specified in the rules of the relevant aviation authority. The pilot must be able to operate the aircraft with visual reference to the ground, and by visually avoiding obstructions and other aircraft. The VFR pilot is required to "see and avoid" obstacles and other aircraft. Pilots flying under VFR assume responsibility for their separation from all other aircraft and are generally not assigned routes or altitudes by air traffic control.
As it turns out, there is a similar concept for convertible drivers: Smell and Avoid.

I mention this because I have had occasion to practice both in the last two days. Last night I convinced the co-owner to go out to dinner in a topless Silke. This is normally something that she (the co-owner, not the car) doesn't enjoy because the wind plays havoc with carefully coiffed hair. We weren't going far, though, so she agreed to it. In order to make the experience as pleasurable as possible, I decided to take an alternate route to my norm because I happened to discover that very morning that a road-kill deer that has graced the side of the road for more than a week now was getting more than a little fragrant. I learned that the hard way, to be honest. One of the nicer things about driving a convertible is that all of your senses get the full impact of the environment through which you are driving. One of the less nice things about driving a convertible is that your sense of smell is right there in the mix.

After dinner, I started the return trip without lowering the top but the co-owner said that I might as well - the trip to the restaurant had been just fine and we might as well enjoy the evening. As we were on the way home using the usual route, she reminded me that I was going to have to go past the dead deer if I continued in the way we were going. Not to worry, I said, I will simply go another way around. Genius, right? Well, not so much. No more than a quarter of a mile later as we were driving past the local golf course, we encountered the pungent, unadulterated odor of a very recently flattened skunk.

Par for the course, I suppose. If you'll pardon the pun.

This morning dawned clear and cool with calm winds, the very definition of VFR weather. Counter-intuitively, these conditions provide for some of the more risky VFR flying there is. The reasons for that are: 1) lot's of people will be flying, and 2) without a clear wind direction for guidance, it's pretty much anything goes when it comes to which runway direction people will use at uncontrolled airports. Beautiful days like this can cause complacency at precisely the wrong time.

But.... I haven't been flying since my ride with Pretty Penny nearly a month ago and a thin patina of corrosion has again begun to coat my flying skills. After the horribly embarrassing landing that I made with her aboard, I resolved to not let myself get that rusty again. Of course, a month's worth of 100+ degree days put paid to that resolution.

Thus it was that Silke and I arrived at the hangar early this morning. Having had a Smell and Avoid failure just last night, I decided that I would use the fallback technique: hold your breath.

The plan for the flight was to head out west to MadCo, the scene of my last poor performance, for some stop and go landings. In the cool air and with just me aboard, we were able to approach the reported-but-not-experienced-by-me top speed of Silke.

Coming from the east and having my choice of runway direction, I made my first landing on runway 27. After taking off again from a very fine landing, I made left traffic to go back for another.

This is one of my favorite moments in flying: the turn from the base leg to final. This is where all of the various elements that need to be tightly coordinated come into play all at once. Airspeed, altitude, and bank angle all have to be considered and managed, as does the track of the airplane across the ground as the winds influence our path. It's the closest thing to ballet that I will ever do. And it is simply beautiful to experience.

I never made that landing, though. As i was on short final, the reason that the FAA insists on pilots having 20/20 vision became apparent: I saw another plane taking off directly at me. Having never heard a peep on the radio, I assumed the pilot to be operating NORDO (no radio), which while legal, I consider to be pretty stupid. Handheld radios are comparatively cheap, after all, and well worth the cost when compared to encountering situations like this. That said, this is also the very type of situation that calls for the key fundamental of See and Avoid.

I made a go-around.

Having climbed out of the final approach and into a left downwind for runway 9, I went ahead and landed in that direction instead. As it turns out, the other guy was doing stop and go landings too, and I ended up behind him for my next takeoff.

That was enough excitement for the morning, so I headed back to Bolton, where I made another good landing. Rust: removed.

Speaking of things that should have been easy but weren't, if you will excuse the labored segue, I spent three hours working on the plane yesterday morning. It was an eventful day in that it saw the return of Harley to the shop, the last time he was there being the day we installed the landing gear. Shortly after that day, he was involved in a car accident which put him in a hospital bed for some very, very long weeks. He's still pretty beat up, so he spent most of his visit in the management role that I usually reserve for myself.

He was quite helpful in that role, as it turns out. After seeing Kyle, lighting technician and caterer for The Jackson Two, catch a little bitty demerit on his FAA inspection in the form of an unsecured cotter pin on one of the main gear wheels, I thought that perhaps I should check my own. Which, to my chagrin, ended up being completely without any cotter pins whatsoever. Easily fixed, I thought, although that proved to be, as usual, untrue. The problem is that the cotter pins that Vans sells are slightly fatter than those that come with the wheels, but I have already purchased a large quantity of the Van's pins for future use.

To get those to fit requires drilling the hole in the axle to a #30 size, rather than the infinitesimally smaller size provided by the manufacturer. This, while easy to do, would require the removal of the wheels, which in turn would require the lifting of the airplane. Having never done that, I would need to consult the maintenance manual provided by Van's. That posed no problem - I am a 21st century builder so I had only to consult the electronic copy that I keep on my iPad.

The directions were pretty clear: push the tail down, place a sawhorse under the front. Lift the tail up, slide in the aft sawhorse. What the manual didn't say was just how to lift the tail. There's nothing to grab hold of to lift with. As we muddled around trying to figure that out, Harley suggested that we put some padding on a 2x4, slide it under the tail, and have someone lift from each side while one of us slid the sawhorse into place. Ever helpful, I immediately volunteered to manage the sawhorse placement while Pete and Harley's son lifted the plane. I'm selfless that way. Known far and wide for it, in fact.

After that is was just a matter of removing the outer brake pad, removing the axle nut, removing the wheel, drilling the hole, replacing everything that had been removed, and discovering that the cotter pins were too long to fit down inside the hub of the wheel to allow them to align with the hole in the axle. Back to the iPad for to consult with those that have gone before and shared their experiences on the internet. "Bend the shank of cotter pin, get it started in the hole, and bend it back to the straight and narrow" they said.

And that is precisely what I did.

The difficulty of this seemingly simple task caused me to wonder if perhaps I might be better served by passing my time in a more simple pursuit. I'm thinking maybe something like completing a 60,000 piece jigsaw puzzle of the Beatle's White album.

Once I'm done with that, I'll move onto AC/DC's Back in Black.

Yep, much easier!

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