The curve

A curled kittytail has never been such a beautiful sight. It has been nearly three weeks since Ya-chan suffered a spinal injury and loss the ability to control his bladder, his sphincter and his tail. At first his recovery was in tiny steps. Almost imperceptible day by day. But now each day is lightyears better than the one before. And now instead of a dead appendage following him around his tail is one again the lively, expressive tail it used to be.

Flying again

It has been a long long time. My last flight was in December (yeah, surprised me, I thought it was in January). So today was my first flight of 2008. I needed to do some touch-and-go landings to regain my PIC currency (meaning I can carry passengers). The mowers were out at McKinney Airport so while the runway was open for operations the tower wasn’t allowing touch-and-goes.

It was interesting to see how the mowers worked. They had three guys on large commercial tractor mowers followed by a guy in a pickup truck. Then there was a street sweeper following the mowers and two guys on foot walking the runway and taxiways looking for debris. Whenever an aircraft wanted to land or take off the tower would radio out to the mowers asking them to clear the runway. The mowers (actually I think it was the guy in the truck) would radio back once they were clear. After the aircraft finished the tower would radio them the all-clear to continue.

The tower actually chided one of the mowing teams after I taxied out because while they got out of the way they didn’t respond over the radio. He didn’t give them the all clear for quite a while and when they asked he said something like ‘well if you don’t respond to me I don’t know what your intentions are’. You just don’t jack with the man in the tower!

I flew at 3000′ from McKinney to Bonham Municipal Airport and did four touch-and-go landings. I was tuned into the common traffic advisory radio frequency and it was really busy. One CTAF frequency will serve several different non-towered airports in a region so flyers will call out the airport first when they make their calls.

“Terrell Traffic, Skyhawk XXX is on left downwind for runway 17, Terrell Traffic”. etc.

There was so much radio traffic that people were constantly stepping on each other’s calls. When that happens you’ll usually hear one of the pilots but behind their voice is a loud squealing noise. Sometimes all you get is the squeal. Unfortunately, the pilot transmitting can’t tell he’s interrupting someone else. The trick is to be patient and listen and when there’s a gap jump in and do your think.

Though, it’s tricky sometimes. If you’re in the pattern to land you need to make your calls at the appropriate time and that means you have to balance being polite with being safe. If there are other planes in the pattern that I can see then I’ll opt for safe.

After the touch-and-goes I flew a little further north to follow the Red River for a while. That’s always fun for site seeing. I took along my new binoculars to see how they work in the cockpit and turns out they work great. It’s a little hard to focus on an object and fly at the same time so I think they’ll be better use for Greta when she’s riding along as passenger.

lightning strike

Lightning just struck the high power lines in front of my house. We’re sitting here listening to the rain and watching the storm coverage on tv when there’s a bright flash … loud thunder … loud humming and a shower of sparks down onto the median and the road.

From the little I can see out the front windows it doesn’t look like a line is down but they’re swinging in the wind pretty crazily.

I think one benefit of having those tall steel high power line towers in front of the house is that it’s VERY unlikely lightning will ever strike the house.

The sparks were kind of pretty.

Grounded

I haven’t been doing any flying lately and I probably won’t for quite a while. It’s not a medical problem … instead it’s all about money. Perhaps in another month or two we’ll be in a position to do more flying. But for now I’m grounded. In the meantime I’m paying attention to the fight over FAA funding. There’s no way to tell how this is going to turn out. But I’m worried that by next year flying will be out of my price range.

checkride passed

I passed the flight portion of my checkride this morning. It was a beautiful morning for flying, there’s high pressure in the area so practically no wind, only high cirrus clouds, and the obligitory haze.

Norm, the DPE, had me plan a flight from Addison (KADS) to Guthrie, OK (KGOK). We left Addison and flew over the first two checkpoints making my planned time within half a minute. Along the way we determined that the GPS was broken and so we turned it off. After the second checkpoint Norm had me tune in a VOR and identify our location, then we started following a radial while he asked me questions about VORs. At that point Norm asked me if he could look at my chart. I handed it over and he folded it up and stuck it up between the glareshield and the window. “Oh I’m a bad passenger, I opened the window and your only chart just flew out. Good thing we tuned in the Bonham VOR.”

LOL

Once we got to the VOR and the flag flipped over Norm asked me if I’ve ever been to the Bonham Municipal Airport (F00). I hadn’t so he suggested we go there and do a short field landing over a 50′ “tree”. He asked me a couple of times whether I thought the traffic pattern was right or left. I finally got the hint and dug out my AFD and confirmed that it was a left pattern. We then entered the pattern and I performed a short field landing. We got down and stopped within 1000′ which made Norm very happy (he said so). =;-)

We taxied back and then he had me do a short field takeoff. Next stop was Sherman Municipal (SWI) where I did a soft field landing and takeoff. Next Norm had me put on the hood and he led me on a tour of North Texas with me flying on instruments alone. We did quite a few heading changes and climbs and descents (with and without turns) until he tuned in another VOR and asked me to identify our position relative to it and then fly along a radial toward the VOR.

Once he was satisfied with my performance it was time for unusual attitudes. The first one was a real stomach churner and we ended up in a climbing turn. I leveled the wings, added some power and got us straight and level. The next one was much more subtle. I could hardly tell what Norm was doing but when he turned over the controls were were in a diving turn. So this time I leveled the wings and pulled the power until we were flying straight and level again.

Norm asked me to descend to 2500′ and pointed in a direction just off our nose … “we’re over Celina and that was is Prosper. Take us that way and we’ll go back to Addison.” So I did. I called up the Addison ATIS and got the info, then contacted regional approach (who was really busy today) to get cleared back to Addison. We were passed off to Addison Tower pretty quickly and then we hit a glitch. I had the tower and ground frequencies tuned into radio one and though the display showed I was transmitting I never heard a response. We both fiddled with the radio a bit before tuning in the tower on radio two. Now they are coming in loud and clear. There wasn’t too much traffic so hopefully we didn’t step on anyone’s toes. We were cleared for a straight in approach to runway 15.

This time Norm wanted a normal crosswind landing, and we actually did have a slight crosswind to deal. I managed to get on the glide path correctly this time (I’m usually too high on straight in approaches) though on short final I was too low and had aggressively add some power to get back on the path. Then I managed to do a half-decent crosswind landing with only a little bit of bounce. While turning off the runway and onto taxiway foxtrot Norm sticks out his hand and says “congratulations pilot”. I wish you could have seen the grin on my face!

I knew the hard part was over when I finished the oral exam but this flight really was not that hard at all. Not to say that Norm let me off easy, it’s more that I have the confidence to fly the way I’ve been taught and I know that I should pass because I’ve been taught well. This flight was a test, and I was nervous, but Norm completely put me at ease and let me perform at my own pace. In the end this checkride was just a darn pleasurable flight.

A couple of things Norm said really pleased me. First was that he doesn’t always get to take examinees into Bonham and Sherman airports because they have narrow 4000′ runways. Plus, Sherman’s runway is on a slope … and from our perspective today went downhill. Most of the examinees need more runway than that. He mentioned that at Bonham it might as well have been a 2000′ runway because that’s all I would have needed.

Then he also complimented me on my rudder skills. I’ve always thought I had a bit of a clubfoot when it came to the rudder pedals so I was surprised by this. But Norm said I made excellent use of the pedals and that sometimes he couldn’t even feel me giving the plane more rudder during turns and takeoffs. That really made me feel good!

So now what? I’ve got a Skyhawk at Monarch reserved for most of next Sunday. The wife and I are going to Llano, TX, I think, to get some of that excellent Cooper’s BBQ. But today I’m also contacting the North Texas Flying Club (based at KTKI) to sign up. So hopefully next Saturday I’ll be doing a checkout with them.

This flight: 1.7 hours (simulated instruments @ 0.4 hours)
Landings: 3
Total : 65.7 hours (started training in December 2004)