Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Signed, Sealed, Delivered, but not necessarily in that order, and most assuredly not without periods fraught with angst.

I would say it all started with the aforementioned problem with applying map updates to the Garmin GPS, but in reality it has been a steady stream of stressful and frustrating events spread across two-plus years of trying to sell the RV-6. But just for the sake of brevity, at least to the degree that I am ever able to achieve such a thing, we will continue where we left off with the GPS.

This ended up being quite the fiasco. When last we met, I had attached the GPS to my home computer and navigated to Garmin.com. This is the way I update the Garmin GPS that I use in my car. What happens when I open Garmin.com with a GPS attached to the computer is that the Garmin site signifies that it "sees" the GPS by identifying it by model number. In this case, I was welcomed with open arms under the name 'Garmin GPS 396'.  

Perfect - that is precisely what is emblazoned on the face of the GPS itself. As you may recall, it also informed me that no map updates were required -- "...all is as it should be, My Good Man," was the gist of the message.

To which I said, "Nay. On this I must beg to differ, for it has been lo this half decade since last the sweet ambrosia of fresh data has passed these thirsty lips."  Or words to that effect, anyway. As I reflect more deeply upon the moment, I think what I actually said had more to do with an expletive associated in some manner with bovine digestive byproducts, but that's just quibbling over semantics.

I wasn't going to be refused, but no amount or manner of poking around on the web site could convince it to provide me with the updates, though, so I resorted to my personal oracle of choice: I Googled it. And, not surprisingly, others had encountered the same recalcitrant, obstructive attitude. The answer, as it turns out, is to not go to Garmin.com in the first place; what you're really looking for is Fly.Garmin.com. And while I was grateful to learn this helpful fact, I don't think it to be churlish on my part to be somewhat resentful of the web designer that felt that a seemingly warm, yet actually insincere, welcome to Garmin.com was somehow better than a polite "Wrong room. You actually want to go a little further down the hall, third door on the left. It will say 'Fly.Garmin.Com' on the door."  

Would that have been so hard? Would my feelings have been hurt? I say no, not only would my feelings not have been hurt, but I also would have very likely been grateful for the assistance.

So, confidence in the entire process more or less restored, off I went. I confidently plunked down the $50 for the map update, confidently answered the proffered questions, confidently pushed all the right buttons, and was confidently rewarded with... abject failure. 

Despite (or, possibly, because of) repeated efforts, the map updates consistently (and confidently) failed. But at least the error message provided useful and topical advice as to what recourse I should pursue. I believe the message quite specifically referred to the cause of my technical difficulties as "Unknown."  Not very helpful, I have to say. As much as misery loves company, in this case I was really looking for someone to provide useful information, not simply to join me in my ignorance. 

There was but one path left open to me, and it was the path the I dislike the most: I would have to call the customer service line. Long hold times, surly and/or condescending help desk agents, indecipherable foreign accents - you know the drill. I abhor it.

I was pleasantly surprised. I waited on hold for no more than three or four minutes before I was greeted by a patient and helpful service agent. He walked me through the process step by step, guiding me deep into the nether regions of the GPS's menu system. We put the GPS into something called 'Simulation Mode', his thinking being that this would somehow make the unit more receptive to having data crammed down its throat. And he was right! Before too very long, the process was complete.

That was pretty much the final technical hurdle preventing the delivery of the airplane to Virginia for its pre-buy inspection. All that was left to do was piloting stuff like planning the route, waiting for a day upon which both the presumptive buyer (hereafter referred to as 'Capt. Byer') and his mechanic were available to have the inspection performed, and flying the plane to Culpeper, VA. 

That last item being, as I am sure you are aware, very heavily weather dependent. The idea of just staying low to the ground and scudding along under the clouds in the way I did to make the trip to Ross Co. to get the transponder work done would not work for this trip for the simple reason that there are mountains in the way. Not mountains in the meaningful sense of something like the Rockies, mind you, but little bitty mountains like these are just as painful to run into as the big ones, so it is very definitely something to be avoided. I would need ceilings in the 6,000' plus neighborhood to allow enough space between me and the tops of the 4,000' mountains.

Unless, that is, I simply went around them. I plotted both options on the chart.

The crappy weather that had been oppressively sitting on us for at least a couple of weeks had shown no intentions of moving on, so I figured it would be days, if not weeks, before all of the required elements aligned. The first weather-agnostic opportunity would be Monday. I considered that to be viable as related to my work schedule - I would simply extend my vacation by one day. This would be possible, although it would not be popular with one of the fellows at the day job who was growing impatient with the delays in my fixing of something that I had broken just before leaving for a week.  I felt bad about potentially forcing him to wait yet another day, but sometimes you just have to be selfish. And it was doubtful that the weather would cooperate anyway.

I fired off an email to Capt. Byer to notify him that I was okay with planning for that day, but the current odds were against it. The weather had been far too spotty to make even the slightest commitment. Not too long after sending it, another email from Capt. Byer arrived. The email suggested that should Sunday appear to have adequate conditions, I would be welcome to fly to Culpeper a day early and spend the night in his home. One of the kids is away at college and  her room is available for guests. 

Well, that could work!

Thus it was that I found myself in front of my computer again early Sunday morning. The forecast for the Zanesville area, about 40 miles east of home base, was for horridly bad weather occurring by 9:00 am and not improving a whit throughout the remainder of the day. The weather in eastern Virginia, on the other hand, was stellar. Shame about all that crud between us, though.

But.... if I were to leave RIGHT NOW, I would be able to get to the east of the bad weather before it got bad enough to preclude flying. 

In theory, anyway.

Worth a look, I figured. 

I commenced to running around the house gathering up clothes, maps, electronics, various sundries required for morning ablutions, the Bill of Sale paperwork that I had thoughtfully had the co-owner sign in advance, and sped to the airport. By 7:45, I was loaded up and ready to go!

The weather at Bolton was fine, although even early in the climb it was apparent that heading towards the east was going to involve quite a bit of weather management.

All of that weather avoidance stuff would have to come later, though. Before that, I had a major problem to solve. For you see, I was pretty doggone certain that I was headed in a southerly direction as we climbed out of Bolton, and maybe even had a little eastward component in there as well, but the GPS was quite stridently insisting that my direction was due north.  Additionally, I was reportedly heading due north at the incredible rate of precisely zero miles per hour. It doesn't take a Mensa membership to realize that zero miles per hour is a physical impossibility in anything but a helicopter, and the fact that scenery was passing under my wings attested to the same ineluctable finding:

The GPS was not working.


Flash of memory: "Simulation Mode."

In English, that means "Not at all useful for anything other than playing with the buttons to see how the gadget works."

But here's the deal: it is a fundamental fact of life that successfully diagnosing a problem is a necessary yet insufficient portion of solving a problem. I would have to try to remember the incantations the Garmin wizard had used to get the GPS into this mode, and hope that the spell for resetting it back to "Real Live Piece of Navigation Equipment Mode" was similar.

Long story short (ha ha - too late for that!), I managed to get it working. It wasn't quite as easy as just getting it back into the correct mode, though. No, the poor little critter was lost. It thought it knew where in the sky to look for the satellites based on its last known position on the ground, but because it was now miles from the point at which it was last sentient, and moving further away by the second, it had to spend what seemed like quite a bit of time figuring out where we were.

Eventually it did.

As an aside, I noted that this was very likely the last time that I would ever see a 161 knot (185 mph) ground speed in an airplane that I own. I'm gonna miss that!

With the technical problems all fixed (or, at least, those that I was aware of), we pressed on towards the east. As I said before, it was already apparent that cloud layers were going to have a say in how the rest of my day went.

At least they're cute when they're young:

They don't stay that way:

It wasn't too far from Zanesville when I ran into what I call Visa(tm) clouds: they were everywhere that I wanted to be.  I had to choose: stay under them and risk getting caught below them as their height above the ground possibly decreased, or climb over them and risk getting caught on top with no way back down through.

Working in favor of an "on top" decision was the fact that I knew I could simply reverse my course to go back to known good weather if I needed to, and the fact that I had close to four hours worth of flying time in the fuel tanks.

I climbed.

Cruising along between two layers wasn't too bad. As long as I can see a horizon and some light at the end of the tunnel, everything is fine. Eventually we ended up flying through some fairly heavy rain, but that's not really a problem as long as I can still see what's out in front. It was a good half hour of flying through the rain and hoping to see improving weather soon before it finally happened.

There it was! Light at the end of the tunnel!

It just got better and better the further east we went.

And then we reached the mountains.

Because I had taken the northerly route, there really wasn't much to see.

Just shy of two hours after leaving Bolton, we were at Culpeper, where I made my last landing in my RV-6. Luckily, it was a fairly good one.

I had left Columbus too early in the morning to notify Capt. Byer that I was coming, so there was no one to meet me at the airport.  It would be almost an hour and a half before he could get to the airport. I had left without eating, so I was pretty hungry. This is the kind of scenario that is the very reason behind airport courtesy cars (free to use for short periods of time - all they ask is that you put a few gallons of gas in it) and IHOP restaurants.

After breakfast, I met up with Capt. Byer and we spent a few hours at the airport getting the plane at least partially ready for the following day's inspection, then headed back to his house for the night. He was an excellent host - we stopped and bought food for the grill, and he already had plenty of compellingly-named beer on hand. There was even a pool table in the basement. I'm horrible at pool, but he very graciously missed a few very make-able shots now and then so I could win a couple of games.

Monday morning found Papa all torn apart again, ready to undergo yet another session of poking and prodding. This one would be different, though, This would be the one that decided her fate.

The mechanics had not yet arrived, so I wandered around the hangar, as is my wont.

This is a Yak 11, a military trainer from Russia. Clearly something untoward had happened to the cowls.

Someone has fully Americanized the instruments.  Also note how robust the airframe must be: 400  mph Never Exceed speed! Yow!

From right to left, these are the mixture, prop, and throttle controls. I don't have any idea what lever 'B' does.

While I was sightseeing, the Captain continued disassembly operations.

The mechanics arrived and did the engine compression test. This was the one, solitary test that I was sure we would pass with flying colors. Sure enough, these are the best results I've ever seen.

There were a few scares, though, and at one point I decided that I needed to walk away. There were three mechanics crawling around and some of the things that they were commenting on ("This rivet isn't loose yet, but it could be some day") I found to be unnecessarily picky (and yes, I recognize that my bias was a contributor to this, as was my stress level).

I thought it best to distance myself from the ordeal.

The big scare began with, "Hey, you ought to come look at this too."

They had found what was either a crack in the paint or a crack in one of the welds where the landing gear is supported by the engine mount. A crack in a weld is orders of magnitude worse than a crack the paint. In fact, a crack in the weld would have very likely been a show-stopper. Repairing it would require the complete removal of the engine and mount to repair the weld, which means hours and hours and hours of labor.

And that, my friends, got me very tensed up, very quickly.  It was twenty minutes before the verdict came in:

A crack in the paint.


There were a few other faults, but they were easily rectified with money.

It was finally time for the final signing of the Bill of Sale!!

While I was relieved that the sale was finally final, there was also a bit of sadness at our final parting. I posed for one last picture.

We didn't have a lot of time for long goodbyes, though. We needed to get to the airport in time for the 3:30 flight back to Columbus. There were any number of things that could make us late, including traffic and massive lines at the TSA checkpoint. The traffic wasn't bad, but the line at the TSA barriers was huge! As I was joining the queue, one of the TSA agents waved me over to a new line that they were just opening. I went from last to first in one swoop. It was so fast, in fact, that I wasn't ready with my credentials!

And that was the last good thing that happened that day.

In the naivete of a person that has never flown with anything other than a full-blown ticket, I hadn't realized the full implications of my return flight ticket being a "guest pass." In the vernacular of an airline, it seems that the words "guest pass" translate to "the lowest priority stand-by ticket possible. Pet rabbits will fly before you do."

I never had a chance at the 3:30 flight. There were at least five people above me on the list, and not a single one below.

The next chance was the 7:30 flight. When I checked in at the gate, the agent told me that I needed one person to not show up.

I asked her to point him out to me using the pitch-perfect tone and precise timing required to convey the implication that said passenger might meet with some unfortunate bad luck that would preclude his arrival at the gate in time to make the flight.

I guess I should have known this intuitively: there is no humor at the departure gate.

I sat down to wait out the suspense. After five "this is your last chance before we give away your seat" calls over the PA, which I assumed to mean that at least one passenger was missing, I thought my odds were looking better and better.


At the last possible minute, a slovenly dressed guy picked himself up from his seat at the nearby bar, strolled cavalierly to the gate, retrieved a wadded-up boarding pass from his pocket, and strolled down the jet way.

And there went the 7:30 flight.

It would have to be the 10:30 flight or nothing.

We had been told earlier that the 10:30 flight looked like a sure thing, but right around 8:00 I got a call from the Captain.  He had been at home monitoring the numbers on a web site made available to employees of the airline and it was starting to look questionable as to whether I would get on the plane or not. He decided not to take a chance; he suited up in his pilot's uniform, cancelled my guest pass, and made a reservation for himself as a "non-rev," which is airline speak for "crew member travelling to work," and a new reservation for me that indicated that we were travelling together. The non-revs get the highest priority, and anyone flying with them goes to the top of the non-non-rev stand-by list.  The plan was for him to fly to Columbus with me if that's what it took to get me on the flight. If it appeared that I would still go even if returned to the bottom of the stand-by list, he would just go home.

I gotta say, that was a very classy thing to do.

Naturally, the 10:30 flight was delayed. That late in the day, weather problems and other little impediments throughout the earlier part of the day can (and usually do) sum up to delays for the later flights. The flight went from a 10:30 departure to 11:07, and from there to 11:17. They made an announcement stating that they wouldn't even have a crew until after 11:00, which made an 11:17 departure nearly impossible. I had no sooner texted "there will be a little more delay" home to the (former) Co-owner when they announced that we could commence with boarding the flight. The numbers worked out such that the Captain did not need to fly out with me, so we parted ways.

"Boarding" can mean multiple things. When it comes to the little bitty airplanes that they use for flights that can be just as easily made in an RV-6, it sometimes means getting in a shuttle bus and riding out to the airplane. I was surprised that we were boarding so early given the lack of a crew, and it so transpired that my cynical belief that the gate agents just wanted to get us out of the gate area so they could go home had some validity to it.

We arrived at a cold, empty, and sealed airplane, with no crew in sight. About ten minutes later, the crew strolled out and started getting the plane ready to fly.

It was only an hour long flight, but the bad weather over Zanesville was still there. It was a pretty rough ride, but it included calming things like lightening blasting just outside the windows and stomach-churning drops in altitude to make up for it. The woman seated behind me was sobbing for the last part of the approach into Columbus. We landed safely, I was promptly picked up by the (former) Co-owner, and I crossed the threshold of the palatial manor at 1:30 am. Home at last!

A trip that took me two hours in my airplane took eleven hours to go by airline.

I got up at 5:00 this morning to go to work. I hope the guy that wanted his problem fixed appreciates the effort that took,

Even after all of that, it's good to finally be back to owning only one airplane. While I am sure that I will, at times, miss the RV-6, I have a wonderful new RV-12 to fly around in, and I am secure in the knowledge that the older plane has gone to a good home.


Anonymous said...

Friends don't let friends fly on Buddy Passes.

Nonrev is any employee at an airline not just crew members. Tough way to travel. The great travel benefit for airline employees is no more. Congrats on the sale.

Steve said...

Great write-up, though it's certainly bittersweet. You're right about the classy Captain - impressive gesture on his end!

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