Saturday, May 24, 2014

Bonus Days

I seem to be entering an uncomfortable area in my working life where I find myself to be ready to retire, yet not quite ready to retire. If you're wondering how I can hold what are obviously mutually exclusive desires, well, just wait. You'll get there too.

It's like this: I'm pretty much at the top of my game as far as the two 'comps' go, by which I mean that I am probably as competent as I will ever get, and my compensation is pretty likely to be similarly capped. Another way of saying that would be to say that "I'm comfortable." So what's the problem?


The daily grind of rolling out of bed while the "up at the crack of dawn" farmers are still sound asleep in order to get to the opposite corner of the city before the traffic gets horrendous, working a nine hour day dealing with a never-ending mountain of new work while being constantly tugged in multiple directions with the demands of supporting forty some users, each of whom have their own work burdens to deal with and are understandably impatient when their computers or applications aren't working, and trying to ignore the pointed glances at wrist watches from those who strolled in three hours after I got there when they see me packing up to head home at what to them seems like a very early 3:00 so I can beat the traffic on my commute back across town... it wears me down like a pair carborundum underpants.

By Thursday I'm wiped out. I can watch maybe twenty minutes of TV before falling asleep. Five at the most if there are British accents involved. It takes me two weeks to get through an episode of Top Gear.

For quite awhile, I have rewarded myself by leaving "early" on Fridays, by which I mean ducking out after an eight hour day.

A few weeks ago, I decided that I might try following the lead of some of my co-workers who decided that working a ten hour (well, ten and a half to make up for a quick lunch at the desk) wasn't that much harder than working eight and a half, and by doing so, they would meet the de facto expected forty hour work week in four days, thus allowing a four day work week.

It worked poorly. I think I made a somewhat critical mistake: I planned to work Monday through Thursday and take Fridays off.  Had I decided on Mondays off, it would be fait accompli by the time Friday rolled around. If there was still work to be done... that's what next Tuesday is for, right? But by targeting Fridays, all I had done was place a wager on there not being critical work to be done that I would have to go in and do.

That happened on each of the first three weeks.  It wasn't horrible - I think the longest I ended up working on a Friday was five hours.  Still, that put me back in the old grind of needing Saturday just to rest and recuperate.

Yesterday was different. I had the whole day off!

What to do, what to do. With an uncharacteristically affable weather forecast urging me towards flying somewhere, I sent out a feeler to The Jackson Two to see if they might be interested in a flight up north. More specifically, to Cleveland, home of Burke-Lakefront airport. Burke is one of those rare few airports that are within walking distance of interesting attractions, my favorite of which is the USS Cod.  I've been there before, as some of you will remember, but the rest of you can read about it here and/or here.

Being as we would be flying right over Medina, OH, home of my cousin-in-law Capt. Bill, I wondered if perhaps he would be amenable to a brief visit for a quick breakfast. As a recently retired airline captain, he would probably not have to go to any great efforts to have Friday off as well, so I thought the odds might be in my favor.

They were.

It was arranged, then, that both myself and The Jackson Two would touch done at Medina Muni at 9:00 am.  Which we did, on the dot.  The very stroke of 9:00 am. To be met by.... no one.  For you see, after years of flying for airlines, Capt. Bill know that flights never arrive on time.

Ha ha, just kidding. Not about him not being there, of course, but about the reason for it. The actual reason is that he lives no more than five minutes away and that gave us time to fuel up our planes at the relatively low cost small airport rather than at Burke, which not only charges $1.45/gallon more, but gets a $10 landing fee too.  We would be on the hook for the landing fee either way, but the cheaper gas was welcome.

I'm getting a little bit ahead of the story, though. To make our 9:00 arrival, we would have to be very efficient on our flight up from the south. The plan was for The Jackson Two, who had an additional forty-five minutes of flying to do, to land at Bolton no later than 8:00. They actually made it a little earlier than that. I was prepared - I had already positioned my plane on the main ramp and let the engine idle for as long as it took to get my oil heated to the required 120 degrees.  They never even had to shut down their engine; they pulled up alongside and I used hand signals to get them to change their radio to frequency 122.75, which is the frequency favored by the FAA/FCC for idle chit-chat. We were than able to coordinate our flight route and decide who would lead.

I was elected.

With the half mile separation we keep, "leading" really doesn't entail any undue burden other than spending the first few miles plugging along at a somewhat sedate rate until the wingman can catch up.

Here we are, climbing through 2,600' on our way to 3,500', with The JT's only a wee bit behind and a 100' below.

I was surprised to see almost no one at the Columbus Zoo, until I realized (not for the last time) that is was NOT Saturday morning.

The ride up was smooth at 3,500' and I was able to let the cruise control do the flying. It started getting a little bumpy about fifteen or twenty miles out, and the wind picked up a little. From the northerly direction it was coming from, it looked like we would have a choice between runway 1 and runway 27 at Medina, with the wind somewhat favoring runway 1. The info page in the Dynon indicated the runway condition for 27 as being "Excellent," while 1 scored a measly "good." Having landed at this airport a few years ago, I remembered the runway conditions as being "deplorable."

Playing the role of Lead, I hollered across an intervening half mile of ether to notify my wingy that we would accept the stronger crosswind on 27 rather than the pot holes and loose pieces of asphalt detritus on runway 1.  Rolling out after a gusty approach and a firm arrival on 27, I noticed that it still had the fairly steep downhill component that I remembered (runway one has the same slope, but uphill) but that the pavement actually lived up to its 'excellent' billing.

I had taken the liberty of selecting the breakfast destination based on three traits: it is a diner, it has decent homemade (as opposed to the egregiously indecent stuff that comes out of a can looking and smelling for all the world like low-grade dog food) corned beef hash, and it was located on the public square.

It was the trifecta!

So, in short order (heh, get it? That's diner humor folks!) we found ourselves seated at Eli's Diner.

Kyle ordered the sausage gravy, along with the only appropriate side meat to pair with sausage gravy which is, as you may already know, more sausage.

There was no question as to what I would be having.

The food was quite good and the service was excellent.  Lucky for me I had 1) ignored the internet reviews, and 2) steadfastly avoided the almost unbearable temptation to order the falafel sandwich, an avoidance assisted in no small manner by my complete ignorance as to what falafel is, and a near total disinterest in finding out:

This is the most disgusting restaurant I have ever eaten at. I ordered the filafel sandwich and what I got was boxed filafel not cooked all the way and hummus straight from the can. The waitress was rude and the place was filthy. Don't waste your money here. Stay away!!

Disgusting really. Feels like it hasnt been cleaning in 30 years. Dudes smoking in the back, stinking up the place. Requested splenda for my coffee which was cold...she dropped the packets on the floor right next to my table and picked them up and put them right next to my plate. Gross. Manager/Owner with heavy accent was really rude. Stay away people...stay away.

Having been to several of the restaurants in the Medina Square and enjoyed my experiences I was shocked that this place is still in business. With only 5 customers seated already, seating another 5 didn't appear to be a problem. It took at least 15 minutes just to get cups of water. I reluctantly ordered the falafel sandwich (which I have had at Aladins before) The pita was so hard I couldn't fold it, the falafels were terrible tasting and dry, and the hummus was bad. Really bad.

Waste of time and money. Went for breakfast after going to farmer's market. Waitress was very rude. Brought out check same time as she brought out the food making me feel I had to leave right away and she did not refill my water. Table was dirty and sticky. The pancake I got had a flat flavor and were done too long.
As we finished breakfast and emerged onto the public square, a high school orchestra was setting up for a concert. Plus, there was an Army-Navy store on the corner that was just begging for a visit, and a model train store right next to it that didn't even need to bend a supplicative knee - we had to go there. Doing would, however, completely explode our schedule for getting up to Cleveland.  The decision was fast and unanimous: we would stay in Medina a bit longer.

With an eclectic selection like this in the window, it seemed certain that I would find something that I wanted.

And I did!

One of the very few downsides of my fancy new zero turn radius mower is that at the end of a row, you make a zero radius turn, right into the cloud of dust and grass clippings floating in a cloud behind you. Those irritants are like a hysterically angry male figure skater: they go straight for your eyes.

I found a pair of Desert Fox goggles! Perfect for mowing.

They were $15 and worth every bit of it, but they do come at quite a high personal cost.  Let's just say that they looked a hella lot better on Rommel than that do on me:

On second thought, let's not "just say that." Let's be brutally honest: they make me look like a psychotic idiot.

Small price to pay. Do you see all of the stuff stuck to the lens?  That's what it looks like after I wiped it off after mowing.

On to the train store. This is such a niche shop supporting such a niche hobby surviving in such a small town that I have to guess that most of the customers are driving over from Akron or down from Cleveland.

It was very interesting, to say the least.

This is so cool that I would buy it just to control Christmas tree lights, if it wasn't $185:

By the time we were done shopping, the band was warming up.

It's an odd quirk that I have that make me look at the dates when buildings crammed together like this were erected and wonder how they ended up not being built in linear order. Note the 1880 stuck in between the 1878 and the 1879.

I have no understanding of or explanation for this. It just caught my eye as I walked by.

Who am I kidding? You know darn well that I looked it up.  It's a reference to Bertha's Mussels in Baltimore.

For bonus points, I read a review.

Don't "Eat Bertha's Mussels"”
2 of 5 starsReviewed March 19, 2009

Ate there last night...really pretty bad...and I'm pretty tolerant. Service was terrible, one disinterested waitress for whole room

After breakfast, I coerced Capt. Bill into taking a ride in my plane. After contacting his insurance agent to see if his plan gave him coverage for such a foolhardy undertaking (heh - see what I did there?), we decided on a quick lap of the airport, during which he would try to find his house. He quickly discovered one of the very few disadvantages to having a heavily wooded lot. It's in there somewhere...

He was completely enamored with the freedom of private flight, mostly because of being allowed to use his camera phone below 10,000'.

The newer developments did away with the pesky trees.

I can't remember what I did to elicit such a shocked look. It was probably the lack of flying a fifteen mile final approach, or forgetting to have him put his tray table in the full upright and locked position. Or, as Kyle postulates, he was asking from which side the Grand Canyon will be visible.

I have to say this: there is only one thing, ONE THING that you really, really want when flying a professional pilot, and that ONE THING is a good landing.

I scored one of those landings where the touchdown is so smooth that you don't even realize it has happened until it is patently obvious that we have slowed to such a low speed that the wing could not possibly be supporting us anymore.  Yeah!!

I then proceeded to completely ruin the whole idea of having demonstrated my professional grade aptitude.  Bill was watching as I attempted to restart the engine after dropping him off, managing only to knock the key out of the ignition and have to completely unstrap my belts in order to retrieve it from the floor.

Heading back, we were faced with a far bumpier ride. I got a few miles head start while The JT's had to warm their oil, mine still being quite toasty after Bill's ride.  I figured the ride would be smoother on top of the widely scattered clouds, so I started climbing. And climbing. And climbing. I finally got on top at 8,500'.

There was a pretty good crosswind. You can see on the face of the Dynon that it required a good twenty degree crab into the wind to stay on course. Note that this wind correction is something you used to have to figure out for yourself - the magic of GPS and a nice computer is that it is now down for you.

Just north of Mansfield, I noticed that the undercast was getting pretty solid. I dialed up Mansfield weather and found that they were reporting a 'broken' ceiling, which means that the holes in the clouds are not necessarily sufficient for descending through. I backtracked three or four miles to a good sized hole and descended down into the bumpy air.  Kyle, who is smarter than me in the ways of piloting, himself being a graduate of a collegiate aviation program, checked the Columbus weather instead and found a report of scattered clouds. He stayed up in the smooth air.

I got a better view.

As it turned out, I caught up with them and taxied in 50' behind them.

Surprisingly, even after all these years, I like seeing my house from the air too. It's just a little easier for me since ours is located in what used to be a farm field.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Instructing the Instructor

I haven't provided any updates on my Make a Pilot project, mostly due to having hit a wall on making any progress. That's not to say that Jeff isn't progressing along - the opposite is true: he gets better every time we fly together. On our most recent flight, I began the difficult process of weaning his eyes off of the instrument panel. They were there in the first place at my behest; it was high time that he began to keep his heading and altitude within reasonable boundaries. Early on, that is best accomplished by a slavish focus on the instruments. Back in the days when young Co-pilot Egg was flying with me in the Tampico, she had no choice but to use the instruments as her sole reference: she was too short to see out the front window.

You could to that, of course. You could fly along staring at the panel, completely oblivious to the rest of the world out there in front of you. You probably wouldn't do it for long, though, because that world is a cold, hard place, and if you intend to touch it in an airplane, your strong preference should be that you meant to.  They don't call the type of flying we do Visual Flight Rules for nothin', you know.  You have to watch where you're going!

This is typically accomplished by having the preponderance of your attention focused on the outside of the airplane. But... if you're looking out the window, how do you know if the airplane is maintaining the desired altitude? More importantly, how do you know that you are keeping the plane with in the proscribed +- 100' altitude required to satisfy an FAA examiner? After all, when you are thousands of feet above the ground, a 200 foot difference in altitude is not discernible.  That's easy: you use the instruments, but you use them sparingly. Because while that altitude drift isn't noticeable while looking out the window, it does show up on one of the rate instruments, specifically the Vertical Speed Indicator. This little gem has a needle that shows you at a glance whether you are climbing, descending, or level. All you have to do is glance at it now and then and correct for any non-level indication.

To reduce the number of times that you have to look at that gauge and to minimize the amount of deflection that you might see when you do look at it, you have to learn the "sight picture" of level flight.  This is basically where the nose of the airplane will be in relation to the horizon. It takes awhile to learn, and it changes with every make and model of airplane, and its accuracy will depend on the current speed of the airplane, but it is possible to very accurately determine whether you are in level flight with only periodic glances back at the panel. I have enough time in the 12 now to be pretty good at it; it will take longer for Jeff.  That said, progress is definitely being made.

So, why the lack of motivation on my part? Well, mostly because until very recently I had been unable to find an instructor for myself. To be fair, my standards were pretty high: you had to respond to an email sent to your published email address. Yeah, twenty-first century requirements, but still. The only response I had received was from a guy that wanted the job, but had relocated to Florida without updating his contact and location info on the internet.  With no CFI in sight to provide the mentoring and FAA-mandated three hours of flight instruction, I had no motivation to even study for the written exams.

That has now changed. While it took almost a week, I did get a reply from a local instructor that was interested in working with me. His name is Eric, and we had our first flight together today.

I wasn't sure how the seating arrangements are normally done when a CFI is training a presumptive CFI, but his experience is mostly in Cessna airplanes so he is totally unfamiliar with the RV-12. Not surprising, that, considering that 99.9999999% of the world's population shares that trait. In any event, we cleared up the question of which seat the instructor applicant flies from (the right side - good thing I've been practicing that) and I was able to demonstrate a little of the teaching acumen that I have picked up from working with Jeff (and, to be honest, just about anyone that I've ever given a ride to) by showing him how a pre-flight inspection is done on an RV-12. This is always interesting to people that know a lot about "normal" planes because of the design considerations that went into making the wings removable.

Once in the airplane, I continued my role as faux instructor by walking him through the checklist and coaching him through starting the engine and programming a destination into the Dynon GPS. I even let him taxi us out to the runway. He picked it up quicker than Jeff did, of course, what with having thousands of hours in small planes, but it still took a few zigs and zags before he got it settled down.  At the end of the runway, I had him do the engine run-up. Although I had mentioned to him that the RPMs we use with the geared Rotax would seem astronomically large to him, I think he was still slightly astonished at being instructed to run the RPMs up to 4,000 to test the ignition systems. The use of separate physical switches rather than the normal off-left-right-both-start key caused a brief pause as well.

After explaining that the takeoff would seem very much like a Soft Field Takeoff to him, (because we want to limit the stresses on the nosewheel, we hold the stick almost full back as we start the roll so it will lift as soon as possible, similar to what's done when taking off from a soft grass runway) I proceeded to do just that.

I gave him the airplane at three or four hundred feet, high enough to safely let him go through the brief Cessna-itis over-controlling of the exceedingly light-footed and nimble RV-12 before settling down to the light stick pressures used in such a light plane.

It didn't take long for him to get the right feel for it, nor did it take long for the inevitable praise for the generously unobstructed visibility to start. If you've been flying high wing airplanes for any length of time at all, it's like throwing off visual shackles to make a turn and still be able to see what you're turning into in a low-wing plane. With the wing on top of the airplane, your view in the direction that you are turning is always blocked to some degree by the big slab of aluminum that drops into your line of sight when you bank the airplane. To me, that constitutes a massive design flaw; I cannot see myself ever going back to a high wing airplane.

The point of the flight was to review the air maneuvers that I will have to demonstrate to future students, and for me to practice them myself to the much tighter standards of a CFI check ride. For example, I will have to do two steep bank turns (55 degrees of bank) of 360 degrees each, one to the left and one to the right, while maintaining altitude with +- 50 feet, while only looking outside. Remember that sight picture concept that I'm teaching to Jeff? It's that on steroids. Steroids, and the sci-fi nuclear mutation that created Godzilla, et al.

It is going to be a tough, tough test.

We also worked through a couple of stalls and other maneuvers. I haven't done some of these things in a quarter of a century, so I'm going to have to go out and practice them.

The flight back to Bolton was routine straight and level. It was a nice chance to unwind and enjoy a little chit-chat. Back at the airport, I made one of the better landings that I've made from the right seat, although I did carry a little too much speed into the flare and overshot my intended touchdown point by a hundred feet or so.

Sadly for me, 100' further down the runway is a hella lot easier to discern that it is in the air at 3,500 feet.

Perhaps I shouldn't have been so bold about telling him precisely where I planned on touching down.