Catch-22

pilotwindow

Pilot Window

It’s amazing how happy this little piece of metal makes me.

A lot of small airplanes have these little windows. They leet you put your fingers into the wind stream without filling the cabin with noise. They let you call out “Clear prop!” right before you hit the starter. If you are sitting on the tarmac waiting to take off on a hot day you can open this little vent window and cup your hand to direct some cooler air into the cabin.

A pilot is sad without this little window.

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A Better Approach

I’ve flown sixteen hundred hours in the airplane and I’m still learning. 

On Tuesday, July 1,  Nell spoke at the Great Books Summer Program up on the Stanford campus. It’s the perfect trip in the plane, two hours twenty minutes up and we landed right at the Palo Alto airport. It’s so cute, a real throwback to another era. As a bonus we flew over Moffett field on the way in, and the blimp hangars are huge. One of them is stripped to just the steel structure, so beautiful to see. (The hangar was going to be demolished, but the Google boys stepped up and said they would pay for the renovations to the skin.)

The weather was clear on the way up, although we dodged some clouds on takeoff. The forecast was for everything to remain clear, but on our way home it looked like Santa Monica had the marine layer roll over it and the very slight four knot breeze wasn’t helping clear it back off. As we turned inland over the Oxnard airport and the Camarillo VOR SoCal’s approach controller gave us a clearance direct to DARTS and said we would be cleared for the approach. (This is the first time I have come in from the north and gotten a clearance direct to DARTS. Usually the clearance includes flying over the Van Nuys VOR and along victor airway 186 to DARTS. So already I was a little off kilter.) Continue reading

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Up the Coast and Back

It seems unlikely that we will make our usual jaunt from coast-to-coast this summer. Rudy starts college on August 20th, Dexter is booked solid for the entire summer up until a Shakespeare performance on August 9th, and we are here in Los Angeles for a wedding the following weekend. So we’re pretty pinned down.

I’m going to count our trip up the west coast as our summer family flight. I’m hopeful that in August we’ll get up to at least the Bay area, or maybe even Lake Tahoe, but for now this one will have to do. 

For Rudy’s college tour we flew much of this same route, stopped overnight to look at Berkley (too big) and stretching as far north as Wala Wala, Washington for Whitman college (too small) while also stopping in Portland to look at Reed (just right!).  Continue reading

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Where the Buffalo Roam

The great thing about flying little planes is that you never know which flight is going to be an adventure. It could just be a milk run, or it could turn into the time you saw the most gorgeous sunset of your life as you flew past the largest wildfire you’ve ever seen, complete with fire service planes dropping fire retardant on the conflagration.

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Why Engines Fail

As mentioned in many other posts, I fly along waiting for my engine to fail. That was an integral part of my training: always have an emergency landing location picked out. The whole way from airport to airport. (And, subsequently, I plan my routes to fly over enough airports that there is a real runway within gliding distance most of the time.)

I felt much better after being up at the Lake one summer and watching Rudy running a little ten horsepower outboard motor that my brother got started after it had sat inactive for nearly twenty years. The thing (very similar technology to the tractor engine in the front of my plane) just hummed along.  Continue reading

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Top Twenty-Five Mistakes Pilots Make

On Tuesday (April 8 2013) I flew down to Air Flite at Long Beach and took a FAA Safety Team seminar “The Twenty-five Biggest Mistakes Pilots Make.” It was put on by the Pilot Safety Institute, and the speaker was Gary Reeves, a CFII with all sorts of accomplishments (top ten percent of CFIs in the United States, top five in the state or some such). Thousands of hours of flying time and a real commitment to trying to make General Aviation safer by trying to teach pilots not to make the most common mistakes.

(The mere fact of showing up makes me a safer pilot. Those pilots involved in continuing their training and education in aviation are much less likely to kill themselves and their passengers. Essentially, it is a good indicator of whether you care about safety at all. I am all about risk management and, when possible, risk elimination.) Continue reading

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Bugatti in the Air

It is interesting the way worlds collide sometimes.

My friend Andy has taken me up to the Mullin Museum in Oxnard before. We went up and looked at the most beautiful cars of the 1920s and 1930s. The sort of things that architects want parked next to the homes they design, so some of the breathtaking aesthetic rubs off on the viewers’ eyes. Their website (as of April 2013) is stunning. Peter Mullin is currently the curator of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles as well.  Continue reading

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Payoff

This is a little like when Adam and went airport hopping.

Our plane needed a software upgrade (that’s the sort of world we live in now), and there was a clicking in the radios that the mechanic thought he could trace to the ignition system. So N971RD needed to be in Long Beach for most of Thursday. Friends online suggested that once I had the multi-engine certificate I should make sure to do something fun with it, since the lessons themselves are not a lot of fun (you fly around on one engine a lot of the time). So while our plane was in the shop I rented N570TS, one of the Twinstars that I had not been in for training.

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Passing

The follow up check ride to my failed multi-engine flight was uneventful. I had gone down on Wednesday, October 23rd and had yet another lesson with my instructor. We did three landings on a single engine, just flying the pattern around 25L at Long Beach. I did well on each of them, even the last one, where Zach messed with the power lever, pulling power from the failed engine, simulating a feathered propeller becoming unfeathered.

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100% on the Oral Portion, 94% on the Flight Practical: In Other Words, Failing

I have been training to get my multi-engine rating for the past few weeks. When I tell people they always ask, “Oh, are you going to get a bigger plane?” But it’s not really about that. 

In the spring I took a motorcycle safety course (getting a perfect score on the written and a perfect score on the riding test), which was the best way to get an M on my California drivers license. I have not gone out and bought a motorcycle (although there are some tempting electric ones out there now). In fact, I have not even been on a motorcycle since getting the M. Two things figured into it. The first is that I rode motorcycles quite a bit when I was younger (putting ten thousand miles on a bright blue Yamaha Seca II, and spending two years driving around Las Vegas, Nevada on it). It seemed like if I was going to do any more of it, I should get proper training and become legal (here in California even our governor was riding around without the M). The second thing is that learning something new (or getting real training for something you already “know”) is good for your brain. It gets harder to learn new things as you get older, it gets very easy to settle into the same patterns and that is bad for the brain. We live way too long now for us to stop learning new things when we are fifty. That would mean we spent the next fifty treading the same little paths. What good can come of that? Stretch, explore, learn. Continue reading

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