Clearing Baffles

By lex, on March 22nd, 2009

Political liberalism is nationally ascendant, with a crisis to exploit. Unthinkable sums * are being thrown at “the problem” – with amateurs driving the bus *. Serious thinkers wonder whether the underlying premises of such social activism are fatally flawed (while leaving themselves open * to broad critique as to the rigor of their methods).  And everywhere, I believe, normal folks like you and me wonder where the bottom is, or even if there is one. Does our economic system find the floor and bounce back up? Or does it crash right through our accepted orthodoxies, leaving us in previously unimagined, undiscovered territory? Which probably isn’t as cool as it sounds.

Beats the hell out of me. It’s too big to wrap my noodle around. I was driving the Kat to the barn yesterday and listening to NPR when even one of their announcers spoke of the burden we were laying atop her generation’s shoulders. I felt an actual twinge of guilt at what we’ve done to the world our parents gave us, and what we will leave behind.

Sometimes things are just too big to contemplate. So yesterday I went flying.

Nothing special, a little Cessna 172N from the local flying club. The Skyhawk may be one of the most popular light utility aircraft ever produced in mass quantities, but a heart stirrer she is not. Still, if your short term goal is to gain a handle on the moment, to feel transitory control over your environment (and do it legally), the 172 will fit the purpose at $94 to the hour.

Parenthetically, it’s funny how spoiled a military aviator can get: When I first started training in the T-34, it seemed like an awful lot of airplane. As a retractable landing gear, turboprop aircraft with a constant speed prop, fully capable of aerobatic flight and equipped with a (then) bewildering array of communications and navigation gear it just seemed like an awful lot for a novice to handle. A few years later, I ended up getting a ferry flight from Fallon in the T-34 as a two-thousand-hours-in-fighters lieutenant commander back in the late 90s. It seemed like a wee, fragile toy. After a self-imposed addiction recovery process of several years out of the air, I got back into the flying game last year in the Varga. A few months back I saw a T-34 from Miramar on the Montgomery flight line, and was suddenly impressed with the machine again. There’s some “cycle of life” stuff for you.

I was 18 years old when N214AF *** came off the production line at Wichita. I’d like to think that of the two of us, I have aged better, but it’s a near run thing, and the lines are converging. What cannot be denied is that I have changed more – sitting in the cockpit * takes you back thirty years in time. Imagine getting behind the wheel of a 1978 Dodge station wagon at base trim, and you’ll get the picture.


1978 Cessna 172 cockpit. Picture added by editor (09-03-2018)

Still, fully functional and well-maintained. Which is more than we can say for the machine’s operator, yesterday.

General aviation enthusiasts speak of flying across the country without ever speaking to a controller, or indeed turning the radios on. In the Navy however, there’s a decided preference for filing an IFR flight plan “whenever practicable,” which is mostly. I still feel a little guilty about flying VFR truth be told, especially when in close proximity to Class B airspace ** like we have here in San Diego. Filing IFR is a bit of a hassle for a local flight, and it comes with certain restrictions – not least of which is angry mail from the FAA for deviations from the flight profile. “Flight Following” under VFR conditions is a neat way to split the baby, though. SoCal approach are a nice group of folks to talk with, and they help you remain clear of participating traffic.

Airways navigation up to Oceanside, then an ILS approach to Carlsbad via the HOMLY transition. Navigating with a pair of “to/from” course deviation instruments rather than a GPS-aided INS and moving map ** tend to keep you focused on the task at hand, and clears your head of financial meltdowns and generational guilt, at least for an hour or so.

You’re never going very fast in a Skyhawk, and the thing weighs about the same as an old VW bug. Which means that the winds can push you around a bit, and you have to factor them in when tracking a radial, or flying an approach. Staying “on the rails” during an ILS approach in gusty conditions is a chore, and the alternative is a certain philosophical acceptance that there will be deviations above and below glideslope. Just as long as you don’t accept deviations, but are always correcting back to the ideal you should be in good shape. It’s best to center about the mean, which is probably good advice elsewhere in life.

SoCal approach was waiting for me on the transit back to Montgomery, helpful as always. When you’re only making 80 knots or so good over the ground, you have the leisure to look around rather than watch it all unfold below you in a blur. Still using the instruments to navigate, you are nevertheless reassured by familiar landmarks. Ramona passing down the left, Black Mountain ahead, then Gillespie field – partially hidden by “Rattlesnake” mountain, less for the prevalence of genus Crotalus than for its history of reaching up and biting the unwary aviator in night or IFR conditions.

Vectors to ILS final at Montgomery, two laps around the pattern and it was time to put her away and get back to life as it is commonly lived in these uncommon times.

Another 1.4 for the logbook. Meaningless in the larger context of several thousand flying hours, but time well spent.


* 09-03-2018 Links Gone; no replacements found – Ed.

** 09-03-2018 Original link gone; replacement found – Ed.

*** 09-03-2018 Link Added  – Ed.


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Filed under Best of Neptunus Lex, by lex, Carroll "Lex" LeFon, Carroll LeFon, Flying, Neptunus Lex, Politics, Politics and Culture

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