Wednesday, March 25, 2015

How Many Keystrokes Does it Take?

That's the second space bar I've worn a hole in
Whirring, clicking, freezing, and heating to the temperature of an Amish Fireplace, my computer signals its final days.  When the new one arrives, I shall be lost.  Gone will be the incessant sounds of a crippled fan bearing and a hard drive looking for somewhere to write.  My hand are also sure to freeze in winter.  What I'll miss most though is the perpetual gambling.  Will it work when I need it to or not?  Oh well, I can't say that it hasn't served me well.
Ginger and I bought two HP Minis almost 8 years ago.  Hers kicked off after two years. Thankfully though, we kept the carcass.  Five years later, when I had worn out my keyboard, we cannibalized that machine to give mine new life.  Add to that, two power cords, three batteries, and some internal work on the charging port and mine is now about to join the other.
Most people would have replaced the computer years ago.  But, it was so handy for traveling I could not bring myself to do it,  Keeping it also helped stretch the pennies.  The average person goes through multiple machines in that amount of time.  They also spend thousands.  If I remember correctly, I've spent around $500 total on everything to date.   Considering how much work I've completed with it, that's not bad.
Now to the question at hand; how many keystrokes does it take to kill a computer?  I know that benchmark isn't really relevant to the life of such a machine, but I do wonder how many there have been?  Cameras have had shutter counters on them for ages. This helps people determine the amount of life left in the components.  But, many photographers just use them as measuring poles.  "My D5 shows (insert hundred thousand something number here)".  I can hear it now and I also understand it.  It's fun to know how many photos you have triggered, how many steps you taken, and how many keystrokes you've made.  Well, that last one would be fun.
Maybe there is a such a thing and I don't know it.  There are keystroke loggers for NSA style tracking of messages and passwords.  But, I do not know of a single program which tracks the total number of keystrokes made on a keyboard.  In fact, if it were up to me, I'd have one that would also break it down into individual characters.  It would be totally worthless but it sure would be fun to be able to tell you I've made 3,879,385 total strokes with 427,002 of them being the letter "s", 501,553 being the space bar, and the character "#" rounding out the list with 7,098 total hits.  Yeah, that would be fun.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  I think we're about even.

Goodbye to Another Friend

A photo I took of Peter flying the CX4.
Our good friend Peter Beck passed away on January 11, 2015.  He is survived by his wife, Kathy; his daughter, Melinda; his son, Ted; and his brother Timothy.  Of course, he is also survived by us, all of his friends, however large a group that may be. 
Admittedly, Peter’s passing happened some time ago.  So, for me to be discussing it now may seem a little late.  But, I must tell you that I sat down no less than five times prior to tell the story.  Each time it never worked and I walked away.  His passing was different for me and I struggled to put it to words.  This time I'll get it right.
Peter Beck came into our lives through aviation; more specifically, the Thatcher CX4.  When we first met, he was in the process of “kitting” the popular single-seater.  Before long, he was visiting on a regular basis, volunteering, and even sponsoring the fly-in on occasion.   The plane spurred his passion.
Away from the CX4, Peter was still an interesting individual.  Some aviation enthusiasts are single faceted.  Aviation is their everything.  His life was more.  Driven by a strong mind, he graduated from Harvard, served the Air Force exceptionally, majored in Finance in graduate school, worked for companies all over the world, served as director of planning for MCI, started his own communications business, and consulted or assisted many others corporations in their efforts to excel.  He also enjoyed working with his hands which you can read about in his obituary (click here).  Through it all though, aviation never left him.
He really enjoyed that plane.
The first aircraft Peter built was a Thorpe T-18.  At the end he was building a two seat tricycle version of the CX4 called the CX5.  The last time I talked to him, taking the CX5 to Oshkosh was high on his list.  Yet, little did I know, he was still involved in many other things.  Basically, he was a sharp knife in a dull world and I greatly enjoyed his visits.
When Peter was around everything was fair game.  You name it we talked about it.  Politics, economics, language, art, music, international travel, theory and philosophy, and even operatic training to improve vocal projection were among the subjects.  Cars, aluminum, the FAA, and the future of aviation were also extensively covered.  It’s that last one that made Peter’s death different.
It’s no secret that aviation is losing a battle of attrition.  It’s something he and I frequently discussed with great energy.  Peter was a fun and fine adversary when it came to debate.  We often sparred off from different sides, both enjoying, not dismissing, the other's point of view.  His thoughts were always well constructed and I looked forward to them all.  They may have been born within a greater generation, but the fight for aviation frustrated us equally.
And yet, when I heard Peter had passed away, my thoughts about aviation took on a new sense of reality.  I’ve argued for almost two decades that aviation needs a real strategy in order to win the fight for its soul.  I’ve meant every word.  But until Peter he was gone, one feeling had escaped me; being the last soldier in line.
It’s true.  Up until the news of his passing, it may have occurred to me, but I had never truly felt that I was, along with the rest of my generation, the last real line of defense.  We’re it.  There isn't another behind us.  Younger folks may argue that point, but the truth is they are merely the breadcrumbs from the feast.  It isn’t a slight at them, but the observation of reality we must accept.  Peter’s death drove that point home.
That was a fun day of flying.
Reading his obituary made me remember all the other great friends I had lost who were 60 and over.  Not only was the total number growing, it was accelerating faster than I cared to face. Unfortunately though, truth is not an image.  It is a feeling which can be felt from all directions, and that day hurt.
Folks, we’re it, and we’re losing.  Choosing what sounds good over what works, we’re failing those who came before us.  That is not something I care to accept.
Thanks to Peter Beck I have a new sense of reality.  Sadly though, he’s not here to debate it.  If he were, any effective idea could be considered.  Instead, we're left behind in a world of people who choose fantasy over facts.  His generation never thought that could happen in America and it was too late before they realized they were wrong.  Now it’s up to us to fix the problem.  They carried with them the spirit of aviation and our country.  We must do the same.
Thanks Peter.  You were a good friend who always, even in death, expanded my mind.  You will be missed.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Airframe or Family Member

Ginger flying her Cub.
Planes, are they machines or family members?  It never ceases to amaze me how people become so attached to them.  I bet each of you can name one you'll never forget. Ginger's Cub is a great example.
Several years ago we heard from the family of the original owner.  Their dad used to fly it all over Maine with his dog in the back seat.  While he was still getting around fairly well, family members arranged for him to see it once again. Pictures were taken and memories shared.  Like the horse of a frontiersman, to him it was a trusted friend; to family they were one.  It was a great experience.
Photo taken over Joe-Mary Lake near Millinocket, Maine.
If you own old planes you almost always end up with one such moment.  The other day a second one found us.  It was an email about the Cub.  Someone on the other end was looking catch up with it (N88734).  Their father had been the second owner.  And, once again, their memories of a person carried were married to a machine.
The first email led to an exchange of messages that eventually contained the photo above.  Dad flying the Cub is a fond memory many people share.  Sandy Haynes is one such person and has the image to keep it sharp.  Now, we do too.  And, to top it all off, Sandy has the original logbook that has been missing since 1960.
Soon, this treasured piece of aviation history will join the other logs so that it's story can be better told to future owner; numerous may they be.  Hopefully, one day someone will even tell the story of its time at a grass field field in Indiana.  If it's as relatively far in the future as the most recent discovery, that'll be 2070; one hundred and twenty-four years after its birth.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Living the Dream (Video)

Rare perfect items are produced.  You can't go out and find them.   They arrive on your doorstep at random. Today's one such thing is, "Living the Dream".  It's a short video about life as an airline pilot and it is perfect.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Don't Hate the Media if You're No Different

Will fly for nuts.
A few years ago, I was promised the chance to fly an extremely rare bird.  Due to the nature of the opportunity, I went to great lengths to make it happen.  When the day came, I was high on anticipation.  Then came the flight.
The person delivered the plane to the place where I would fly it was a known quantity.  He never liked how most old planes flew, had banged up a few, and was generally grumpy.  No problem there, I’ve met my share of them.  But, I had talked to this guy in the past and the impression I had was that he was very protective of “the seat”.  “The seat” is the right to fly somebody else’s plane and many of the people who are “given seats” get very protective of it; often going to the point of doing whatever it takes to keep others out of it.  And, sure enough, that’s what I got.
I would not be allowed to fly the plane after all.  I would only get to take the controls for a few minutes in the air.  Unfortunately, that just doesn’t give you a full picture of how a plane flies.  Yet, having cashed in a lot of time and energy I went anyway (I do not like being a passenger/not above it, just don’t like it).
When it came time for me to take the controls, I asked my usual questions.  Included in this list is perhaps the most important one of all, “How does it stall?”  The pilot didn’t know.  Not only did he not know, but to his knowledge nobody else had stalled it either because they were “afraid of it”.  Well, I stalled it.
Guess what.  It stalled simple and easy.  Dropped one wing a little and that was it.  Scary.
"She flies like a big Cub"
Around the same time, I was invited to fly a Staggerwing and jumped at it.  We took off, flew around, did some stalls, slow flight, steep turns, a few high altitude slips, and came back to land.  Lining up I couldn’t believe how easy it was.  The plane just put itself where it needed to be and I found it to be one of the easiest planes to land I had flown in some time.  According to others though, they’re somewhat of a pain to fly.
Congruously, a lot of time in a PT-22 time was going into my logbook.  Everyone has heard the stories about the Ryan but I found none of them to be true.  So untrue were they, it became the big joke.   Oooh, the scary 22.
Of course, the list goes on and on.  Plane after plane I fly turns out to be nothing at all like I’ve been told.  Take the accepted knowledge on the machine and throw it out the window.  Most of it qualifies as rubbish. 
Naturally, there have been some planes that got the best of me.  The flights may have been successful but they were not wonderful.  And without fail, I flew all of them when I was tired, or rushed, or unfamiliar with the airport.  Never do this.  These things will kill you before any plane.
She flies great!
Yet, with each plane I didn’t fly perfectly, I never found the plane to be the problem.  It was always me.  Wait, there was one time I thought about the plane when I tried to figure out why a flight did not go smoothly.  The aircraft's behaviour was bizarre and only recently (years later) did I figure out the issue (I had flown others and found them to be great fliers).  It turns out it was me.  I was tired and rushed and if you ask me in person I’ll tell you the specifics. Whatever the case, it wasn’t the plane.
Today though, it’s becoming more and more common to see any old plane, even tricycles, described as very hard to fly, requiring a lot of skill, and sometimes even scary.  Why is that?  Statistically speaking, it’s impossible that I have always earned “a seat” in the most perfectly rigged example of each type.  But, that’s almost always what I get from pilots when questioning their sketchy report on any aircraft.  So common is their rebuttal, I now often cover the subject up front with, “It’s an older restoration so I don’t believe it was rigging”, or “Maybe I just flew the most perfect example on the planet.”
If you’ve read to this point, you’re probably curious why I insist on questioning the reports of others.  If not, you’re likely asking yourself, “It is possible that by chance he has flown the best rigged planes?”   The answer to the first one is easy.

I do not want the pilots of tomorrow to be afraid of these planes and in turn quit flying them.  If they were to quit using them, it would be a crime to base those decisions on the likes of pilots who have made these machines out to be dragons only the manliest of men can slay.  That’s garbage.
He's wearing the uniform so he must know what he's talking about.
But what about that second one?  How do I keep managing to fly the best planes?  That answer to that too is simple; I don’t.
You see, there is a simple trick to flying old planes.  It doesn’t matter what you fly, small to big, slow to fast, or cheap to expensive, as long as you aren’t afraid of it.  Even subtle unrecognized second guessing will make anything difficult to fly.  But again, it won’t be the planes fault.  It will be yours.  And that’s the trick.  Don’t fear the plane*.  If you do, the shadows of trees outside your window will quickly turn to monsters.
If that’s too philosophical, here’s something practical.  You have to understand the difference between respect and fear.  There is no plane on the planet today, which was originally built in any substantial numbers (more than 20) that is dangerous or difficult fly.  If the make or model received enough funding or orders to make a run of them, and they were good enough for the fliers of the day, there’s no reason to fear taking them up.  Respect is another thing.
You must respect the plane.  To do so, you must also understand why it was built and for what purpose, how planes of the day flew, and that today’s definition of good flying characteristics is irrelevant.  If a plane hunts for altitude in flight that does not make it difficult to fly. It’s a common characteristic of planes built before the thirties. If landing a specific plane requires you to be on top of your game, that does not mean it should be feared. And finally, there is no plane on the planet that I know of which goes uncontrollable when it stalls. 
They each fly differently and yet they all fly better than you.
Sure, some old planes may wear you out on a cross-country, others demand more attention near the ground, and some will drop a wing on you if stalled.  Yet, each and every single one of them are easily controlled if you respect it and fly it the way it was intended to be flown.  Respect leads to purposeful control.  Fear breeds reaction.  That's the critical difference.
So there you have it.  Old planes aren’t scary or difficult.  They’re just different.  And, if you’re flying old planes and telling everyone they’re no fun because they hunt for altitude, don’t have balanced controls, are difficult to land, or they’re dangerous to stall, then you should not be flying them, owners should not be allowing you to fly them, and you should quit doing history a great disservice.

This thing may not fly pretty but it does the job it was designed for.
Bent gear, a bent airframe, or bad rigging on an old airplane is fairly common.  I won’t go into the reasons why but I will reiterate that you should be on the lookout for them BEFORE you fly.  Once you’re operating the plane, these things can and will make the flight characteristics unpleasant.  Yet again, that is not a reflection on the design of the airplane but the owner, mechanic, or restorer.   In relation to the discussion above though, a bent airplane is rarely the reason people describe a specific flying machine as being poor in nature.

*Never fly a plane you fear

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Ok, I Have To Admit...

My very first commercial "job" was flying a Stearman.
I love antique aircraft.  By now, everybody knows that.  If it was built before 1956 I like it.  And, if it was built before 1945 I love it.  It’s that simple.
In fact, among the greatest loves of my life are a specific few airplanes.  Old Bess was my Stearman.  She was my safe place; the place everything was right.  N2665E was the family Champ.  She brought me into this world (of aviation).  There’s also a special SNJ, DC-3, and two square tail Stearman in my diary.  All of them will be in my thoughts to the end.  But, discrimination has no place in my life.
Never does a day go by that I don’t think of vintage aircraft, dream of vintage aircraft, and plot ways to fly as many of them as I can before I die.  I may have loved a few but I intend to test drive them all.  I just can’t get enough.  Therefore, knowing what you now know, what I’m about to say may shock you.  I love the 747.

Anchorage 747-8
During my many years flying the EMB-145 for a regional airline, there was one thing I heard more passengers say than anything, “This plane sure is small”.  Yeah, even the person who hitchhiked to the airport because their Camaro was on blocks was positive they got shafted.  To me, it was hilarious.
If the news told of some executive flying this plane to a meeting they’d be pissed as hell that “the man” had it so good.  But, as soon as their pajama wearing butts placed their open toed shoes in the door, it was a small piece of junk that was below them.  Again, I thought it was funny.  Others did not.
How race cars make it to other countries.
Many pilots took it personal.  Hearing those words was an insult.  Of course, to many pilots the job and the plane made them who they were.  This meant little plane, little man.  Therefore, the only thing they wanted was to fly a bigger plane.  It still makes me laugh.
The “145” was a great little plane and I enjoyed flying it.  Being the smallest jet on the ramp didn’t matter.  Why complain?  It flew well.  Yet I was never in love with it.  We were more like partners of circumstance who never let each other down.
Only four of these were ever built and I get to fly them.
Today though, I fly the 747.  And, I have to confess, I love this plane.  If I could spend the rest of my career flying it I would.  She’s perfect.  I didn’t always know that.
Recently I came to a crossroad.  It was one of those potentially life changing moments when you take stock of the important things.  That day, the thought of life without her passed through my mind.  It was not good.  That’s when I realized how much I enjoy flying Boeing's flagship.  I haven’t been the same sense.
It’s like I am a Montague and she, a Capulet; forbidden love.  How could this stick and rudder kid from a clan of antiquers dare even say such a thing - commit to such a relationship?  It’s heresy I tell ya.  But, it’s true.  Unfortunately, just like the play, some tragedies cannot be avoided.
How the Red Bull Racers get from one race to the next.
If I ever have to fly another plane for work, I’ll do it.  But it won’t be a “seven four”.  There I’ll sit enjoying the ride, doing my job, thinking of that girl I used to know.  And if it crosses my mind, I may even switch my facebook aviation relationship status to “it’s complicated”.
Dear Diary, 7-DC, PT-17, SNJ, DC-3, PT-9, C3R, and 747.  That last one may seem out of place but, she did that thing and, well, she earned the spot.

PeeEss:  I decided to sit down and admit to my high-bypass turbofan powered aluminum indiscretion after reading the story of the Quantas 747-400 making her last landing in Australia.  It’s cool to see so many people take an interest in such a thing.  Therefore, I decided to also to share with you a few things I’ve learned about the plane which you may or may not find interesting.

If you're ever lucky enough to ride in an empty 747 during a max thrust takeoff, you'll never forget it.  It's even hard to explain.   Holy wow!
The 747 can be slipped.  It’s true.  It doesn’t explode, flip upside down, or cartwheel.  But, it’s not something you want to push.  She does after all have the highest sweep of any commercial airplane(and she's the fastest).
Yep, she goes like crazy.  Max cruise is .92 mach and I've read that in
flight testing the 747-400 they took her to .98 with no flutter.
The plane is also quite difficult when it comes to judging how high you are off the ground.  Without the radar altimeter it’s challenging at best.  This relates to the video included above as the guy did a great job putting it on the end of the runway.  That is not easy.
Ummm, yeah, there's that.
On the other hand, I am quite sure a lightly loaded 747 with no restrictions on braking and reverser usage, and no concerns about hot brakes and turn-around times, could land and come to rest in under 2000 from the point its tires touched ground.   She has amazing stopping power.  And so, I guess this takes away some of the thrill of seeing one land at a small airport.  But, it shouldn’t.  I’ve been to some not-so-large out of the way places in the “seven four”, and people from each culture always stop to watch.  A cruise ship in a creek translates to every language.

Finally, because of how well the plane flies, and the way your mind adjusts to whatever you’re flying, from the cockpit it does not feel like you are operating one of the largest planes ever to grace the skies.  But, every time you fly the old girl, either when you walk up to her to begin a flight or afterwards during the post-flight inspection, every true pilot stops, looks around, marvels at her immensity, and says to himself, “I can’t believe I fly this”.

I will never forget the Orlando ground controller who was always
encouraging us to "snuggle up to that heavy virgin".

Thursday, March 5, 2015

I Love Winter

Over the past few winters, Ginger and I really started to consider the idea of flying south for the season.  It's just been miserable here and cabin fever has run wild.  Yet, with this latest snow, I have realized a personal truth; I love winter.
I always knew I enjoyed cold weather and all things associated with it.  But, I never really had that talk with myself, "You know, I think I really love winter. What do you think self?  Well, I would say that you are correct.  Winter is one of your seasons".   And that's pretty much the conversation I had this evening.
But why would it hit me today and not in the past?  Because this was winter; not that wet, dark mess of a season we usually get.  And to top it off,  I had time to take it all in.
During the most recent snowfall, I happened to be home for a stretch.  Anticipating the event, seeing it begin, and watching everything become softly frozen made my mind come alive.  As the fine crystals fell everything was touched.  Inch upon inch transformed the world revealing opportunities of circumstance.  Overnight an earthen bank became a sledding run, a road a hiking trail, and a deck an aviary.

Birds of every flock created a circus outside our window.  Somewhere in the shadows of the feathered community nervous excitement swirled.  Word on the twig was that the same guy from years past was handing out food to any bird (except Starlings) in need of a meal.  Before long, a line formed around the clouds.  The grain kitchen was open.
Some were anxious to eat while others held back until the feeling of safety or unbearable hunger enveloped them.  In either case, they soon realized I expected nothing in return but to watch them live.  It was a fair trade.
Getting comfortable with one another I even sat beside them as they engorged themselves. Early in the morning I would find myself outside watching and listening.  A cover of snow changes the sound and feel of everything.
Currents of air through the forest, soft thumps of snow falling to earth from branches, and the distant sharp call of Sandhill Cranes heading north pulled me from my world into another.  It was a place few today care to experience.
Avoiding the cold external reality, most would rather sit in the warmth of their home. Myself, I would be just as happy sitting on an outcrop in the woods listening the to call of a Red Bellied Woodpecker and the chatter of squirrels as they chase about the trees.  A subtle coolness permeating my clothes would make everything feel more alive; a filter of sorts, the sensation leaving only the most intense characteristics to be experienced.

Walking along, kicking up snow, everything has drawn a picture just for you. Almost magical, as if from the mind of a child, the images created are simple, gray, and white yet explode upon the senses like the sound of chocolate and the texture of happiness. You'll remember them forever.

So, who cares if it adds to the drudgery of daily life? Some things should not be missed, and winter is one of them.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Help a Fledgling Pilot

One of aviation’s most recognizable paint schemes comes to life
with an attitude in this light hearted bumper sticker.  Get yours
now while they’re still in stock.  It’s a limited run so don’t wait.
It started with an old bumper sticker photo found online.  “Help stamp out nosewheels” it said.  A few laughs and “why nots” later, a small batch of replicas had been made.  They were a big hit.
This decal has a mission - stamp out nosewheels.  And what better way
to start the fight than to place this homage to the training aircraft of
WWII on your toolbox or automobile?  Get yours now while
they’re still in stock.  It’s a limited run so don’t wait.
Then, when the first run sold out, the obvious question was, “Do we make more?”  Of course, pilots being pilots, more encouragement and ideas followed.  And, once again, Jessica Voruda put her graphic arts and computer skills to work to make them a reality.  Over several days of back and forth with friends online, designs were firmed up and generated.  When those involved agreed the images were just right, another order was placed.
The legendary black lightning bolt on yellow is known world wide
to belong to the Cub.  Open the door to some good natured
ribbing with this light hearted jab at your tricycle friends.
Get yours now while they’re still in stock.
It’s a limited run so don’t wait.
The results of all that effort are what you see here.  We hope you like the designs.  Myself, I am happy to have played a part in the process and I hope you will order them for you and your friends.  Jessica Voruda, the graphic artist who took all the ideas and actually made it happen, is passionate about aviation and a student pilot.  In fact, she is set to resume her flying lessons (in a Cub) once the weather improves.   So, please support her efforts and buy one for you and each of your friends.  They’d look great on your tool box and automobile.  There’s only 50 of each so don’t wait.  Click here to purchase your bumper sticker now.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Three Years Ago Today

March 2nd, 2015

Three years ago today, Lee Bottom Flying Field was hit by a tornado.  Knowing that stormed killed many people in the area, it's obvious we came off pretty lucky.  Yet, we're still rebuilding so it continues to be a downer.  That said, I think I'd rather deal that than a Poseidon Rex.