Better to be Down Here

Better to be down here wishing you were up there,
than up there wishing you were down here.
– Old saw in aviation about the weather

Rudy’s fall break was approaching and it was getting colder. So I wanted to go up, get the condo in Friday Harbor ready for guests, and enjoy a week with Rudy. On Wednesday I hopped the plane to Long Beach where my mechanics did the hundred hour oil change, checked a few things and replaced a hose clamp on a cooling line.

Whenever they have the cowlings off and I am around I go over, trying hard to stay out of the way, and poke my nose into things and ask questions. “Why so many wire ties in here?” “Is the dripping onto this surface ever a problem?” “What does an adell clamp look like?” “If there is the sign of the coolant spray in here, from that earlier leak, should we check the coolant level?” I am sure I am a tremendous pain in the ass and they should probably have a separate hourly rate for teaching me about my plane.

Long Beach is one of the homes of Cheap Fuel in the Los Angeles Basin, so I topped off down there, flew home, and got the plane set up for the long trip on Friday.

Nell departed on a redeye Thursday night and at 7am on Friday I headed to the airport, grabbing my donuts, and had the engines turning a little before 8am. It was a crisp, gorgeous morning to climb into the air over Santa Monica, turning over the empty beach and talking to SoCal departures as I hummed over the Santa Monica Mountains toward the Gorman VOR. Continue reading

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Mistakes Were Made

Always record your mistakes.There are a few good reasons, but the primary one for me is that it might keep me from making the same one again. If I only make each mistake once, then I think I can make it to the end of my flying career without hurting anyone or getting hurt. (There’s also the chance someone else can learn from one of my mistakes which one be awesome. If I can save them from making one, we’ll all be flying a little safer. I think there’s an old saw about, “Learn from other people’s mistakes, you don’t have time to make them all yourself.”) Mistakes are also when I make new rules for my piloting habits, like the Three New Rules for Landing at Night.

I now have over four hundred hours in N972RD. I am just starting to get comfortable enough to do a short approach or short field takeoff. If The Killing Zone applies to each aircraft type separately, or even to each aircraft separately, I have now escaped it flying the DA42. Continue reading

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Returning from the North

Dexter spent eight weeks at the Friday Harbor Marine Laboratories, studying the mechanical properties of fish skin. At the end of the program he had a huge sleep debt and I flew him back home. We were meant to depart at 7am, but there was unforecast fog blanketing the island when I woke up.

“How’s the weather?”
“Birds are walking.” Continue reading

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Instrument Approaches

There is the old saw about getting your Private Pilot certificate, that it “is a ticket to learn,” meaning that you’ve just gotten the little slip of paper that lets you learn to be a better pilot. I totally buy that. I didn’t count on forgetting some of the things I learned, though.

To get my ticket to fly in the clouds I needed to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the types of instrument approaches to bring the plane out of the clouds and onto the runway. In practice, in real life flying, there only seemed to be two that mattered: ILS and VOR approaches. There’s a VOR approach into Santa Monica and a lot of the larger airports I land at have an ILS. Let’s just look at these two types. Well, let’s just mention the least precise sort of approach, so that we have them all here. Continue reading

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The Clearance Test

It was the middle of May, which means the end of the school year. So it was time to pick Dexter up from Cambridge and ferry him home. The forecast for Saturday was rainy, which was killing my mood a little. While Dexter had his last 3hr final (Life Science) I was going to triage his room so that we knew what we were bringing home, what we would store and what we would toss. Walking around Cambridge in the rain did not feel like a good time. The day dawned and it was going to hold off until 5pm. Phew.

By 3:00pm we were merrily rolling along in our Lyft to the Bedford airport. My only real concern was that we might want to climb above weather and I wasn’t sure what the oxygen cylinder had left in it. Nell and I had just crossed the country and used it the whole time (for me, part of the time for her). Fortunately, there was more than half left. I got us all packed up, everything strapped in carefully in case there was turbulence (it makes it so much harder to fly IFR when you are being pounded on the head by your own luggage). Continue reading

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The Three Scariest Flights

The Fleet Awaiting the Next Adventure

Aeronautical Decision Making (ADM) is the process defined by pilot training and the FAA that pilots apply to choices when flying. Or, most importantly, when deciding whether to go flying. It involves situational awareness, understanding of your aircraft’s performance, frank assessment of the priorities and requirements of the flight, and a rational decision in a timely manner.

I found myself doing some ADM as I hurtled down runway two-one and Santa Monica a couple weeks ago. I was at just about eighty miles an hour, but short of the eighty knots I use as a rotation speed. The wind was entirely calm, but the plane pulled a little left for a moment, enough to yank me off the centerline by about five feet or so. Continue reading

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The Small Mistake Heard ‘Round the World


“White markings, it’s a runway, Chewie.”

A few people have asked me about Harrison Ford landing down at John Wayne airport. They said from the news it was hard to tell what had happened. Among pilot friends I have mostly said, “I sure am glad that none of my tiny mistakes are broadcast around the globe. It would make me so nervous every time I got in the plane.”

And, in general, nervous pilots make more mistakes. Continue reading

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Disappointing Flight

I actually checked in with the Santa Monica tower on my return this morning as, “Disappointed Angel Flight 7866.”  Continue reading

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A Small Nudge from Technology


When Adam and I started training, the radio work was very difficult for me. I am sure part of it is that my primary instructor was impatient with the progress (or lack) that I was making on that front, so I was double-tongue tied worried about pissing off the controller and pissing off my CFI. Eventually I bought a hand-held radio and set it next to my cereal bowl in the morning and just listened to the Santa Monica tower. I slowly learned the script that they were following, making it a lot easier to formulate my own lines to say. And that allowed me to join this invisible community in the sky, which included these wise, helpful, sort of omnipresent, omniscient members that were earthbound.  Continue reading

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Tiny Things


Back to Red

One of the suggestions of the ferry pilot was to collar the autopilot’s circuit breaker on the panel with a red ring. When something goes wrong, you want to be able to disable the autopilot as quickly as possible and yanking the circuit breaker would do that. Finding the correct circuit breaker might take a few moments, so mark that one, critical one. So I ordered the silly fifty cent plastic ring and installed itContinue reading

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