Busy Weekend

By lex, on June 6th, 2010

Post quantity (and quality?) has been trailing off of late, for your host is madly busy tipping it the entrepreneurial, albeit at a remove. Hisself being but a mere employee of the actual entrepreneur. ‘Twas a short work week though, leading into a travel week coming up, as we sally forth to Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland for to convince the aviation set that 1) they really want to be on the Global Information Grid, and 2) we are the ones that can most efficiently provide them an on ramp. In between that and this was an intervening weekend.

Played golf yesterday at the Navy’s Admiral Baker golf course, and met an old shipmate now finishing his tour as an NROTC unit commanding officer down Texas way.

“I hear you’ve got a blog,” said he with a conspiratorial wink.

“Who, me?” I answered. Uselessly. And after all, it’s retired I am, amn’t I? Why shouldn’t I have a blog?

Still, old habits are hard to break.

I joined three young men on the first tee, two of them currently sailors and the third a former shipmate now working on his commercial aviation ticket. All of them were or had been SAR swimmers, and they were each of them thoroughly good eggs. One was on his way to BUDS, and your humble wished him luck, for BUDS is nothing like a stroll in the park. I thought of recommending that he wade into the ocean until his lips turned blue and then roll around in his street clothes on the beach, rinse, repeat. Time enough for misery though. It isn’t like you have to practice bleeding.

Jolly company though they were, they were none of them as who should properly say golfers.  If they were in any way sensitive to their faults, the case of Coors Lite they had sitting in the cooler seemed to ease the sting. As for me, I played a credible game for the most part, although the ivory pillars that others call “legs” – to which I owe my own, sainted Irish ma – took a bit of a beating, the thoroughgoing application of sunscreen being a goal rather than a certainty.

Last night we had as a guest one of Son Number One’s NROTC contemporaries, already complete with his first deployment to Afghanistan’s Helmand province as an infantry platoon leader and on his way back soon as a mortar platoon leader in his Weapons Company. (Son Number One, meanwhile, has finally received his “up chit” for to go flying with a civilian flight instructor in a Cessna 172 and appears to be doing well. His roommate, not so much, having received an invitation to pursue other goals after having only scored an 86 on his latest nav exam. Ninety-four to 96 being the “average” these days, and naval aviation being oversupplied with student naval aviators by some 200 souls. If a 96 average would have been required back when your correspondent was a flight school student, you’d have been several hundred blog posts short on “tales of naval aviation.”)

Today, Tailspin Tom repositioned the Bonanza we will fly to Portland on the 11th for to pick up the eldest daughter.


Three hundred horses under the cowl, and capable of cruising at 160 knots on 14 gallons per hour while carrying 800 pounds of stuff (people, clothes, school books, etc.) with 80 gallons of fuel on board. With 200 pounds taken up by your scribe, summat less by Tom and around half by our university student, that leaves grunches of weight left over. Is our hope. With a GPS and moving map, it’ll be very like flying a Hornet, less the afterburners and 300 or so knots of groundspeed.

He flew to Montgomery at 1200 from Palomar, which is closing down for a week to resurface the runway. I rented the Citabria from Gillespie for to pick him up and bring him back north again. I’d arrive precisely at noon, thus completing our Perfect Plan. Cresting the hill on the way to Horrible East County I noted that there was some class of smoke trailing aerobatic machine doing loops and such over the aerodrome, which could only signify that, 1) there was an airshow whose existence I was hitherto ignorant of, or 2) some maniac was over the field.

Occam’s Razor applied. There were two P-51s and an F4F besides the other goodly gear, and I was wholly enraptured.

Fortunately, there was a brief opportunity to launch just after noon and fly the short jaunt to Montgomery. A stiff, 50 degree crosswind out of the south made the landing sporty, but there was no harm done. Touch and go until the taxi clear though. The funny thing about a tricycle landing gear aircraft is that I find myself worrying about the aircraft, mostly the engine. In a tail dragger, I find myself worried mostly worrying about me. Maybe it will come in time.

Tom bundled into the front seat to let me get a sense of taxiing and taking off a tailwheel aircraft of greater engine mass, so it was s-turn our way down the taxiway in order see what it was I was moving towards. The crosswind was still blowing from the left as I took the active runway to get airborne.

In a breeze like that it takes pretty much full aileron into to prevent the aircraft from weather vaning, which would lead in time to the center of gravity getting out from behind the main landing gear at which point it’s off to the races. Even with the stick fully displaced into the wind, the Citabria crow hopped a bit to the right despite my best footwork on the rudder pedals before I finally yanked her off the deck on one wheel and into ground effect. Once we were up and away, she was just another airplane.

Another wholly VFR airplane, what with Palomar reporting 800 feet overcast but good visibility. Malgre the fact that I flew too many months in the Tule Fog of the San Joaquin Valley, I’d never – until today – flown a special VFR approach to an airfield. Today I popped my cherry.

A special VFR clearance is designed to let those who are intimately familiar with the environs to pursue an approach to landing below normal VFR minima. If you can see and recognize the terrain features surrounding the airport, the reasoning goes, y’orta be able to find your way home. The weather requirements go from a thousand feet above, two thousand feet laterally, 500 feet below and three miles visibility to “clear of clouds and a  mile,” don’t hit anything.

I noticed on taxiing out that the thing which most felt like “tail dragging” was my own tail, you’re that close to the deck from the back seat. The winds were right down the runway, and the landing was pretty much a no-brainer until I started my flare and lost sight of the landing area. I flared too high and held her off until she settled gracelessly down to the tarmac from God-knows-how-high with a thump. Full aft stick ensured that she stayed planted despite her protestations, and now it was quick glances left and right to keep her tracking straight down the runway and attentive to her duty, for a taildragger viciously resents any class of sideload or drift.

I dropped Tom off by his ride and took off again under a special VFR clearance to the east. On the way to Ramona, the left wing tank registered half full while the right reported full . I tried to sideslip and get some of the right wing’s fuel into the left, but it was no go, and I wasn’t even sure the two tanks were cross-connected. There’s only one way to be absolutely sure that the other wing will start to feed the engine after the first goes dry. If the engine keeps running, then it was never anything to worry about. If it sputters and dies, well, then you know.

Several landings – including three proper wheel landings –  at Ramona while waiting for the airshow to wind down at Gillespie, and I finally had enough. Spent a half hour thumbing through back issues of Flying magazine in the air conditioned comfort of the FBO, running out the clock.

The short flight back from Ramona to Gillespie was uneventful. I taxied in and shut her down like I knew what I was doing. It’s actually starting to feel that way, which can only mean one thing.

It’s time to start really paying attention.


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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Flying, Friends, Good Stuff

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