Archive for the ‘Aviation’ Category

Review: Fighting the Flying Circus

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Eddie Rickenbacker‘s Fighting The Flying Circus is another book that I cannot pretend to objectively review.  I first read this in 7th grade in study hall, and then again the following year.  It’s Rickenbacker’s story of being a fighter pilot in World War I, and it’s a very thrilling read for a boy who wants to fly, full of comradeship, derring-do, and courage and decency in the face of danger.  Rickenbacker comes across as a responsible, daring guy who wanted to do his best for his country in a war.

I’m older now, and I can see where he’s filling pages, and how there are places where I wish Rickenbacker had written more of a memoir than a briefing.  It was still a thrill to revisit it again, though.

Then there’s the gung-ho side of the book – which is to say most of it.  Rickenbacker is honestly happy to go out strafing German soldiers, which he calls great sport.  He and his men treat shooting down Germans as a game at which they want to be better than anyone else.  There’s an unapologetic jingoism that’s hard to ignore; and of course one shouldn’t ignore it.

I think Rickenbacker wrote honestly, and so I’m sure that these were exactly what he and his men talked about, and probably believed about the war.  And he honestly describes the enormous relief that the Armistice brought them.  One pilot just keeps repeating “we won’t get shot at anymore.”  These men had been in combat less than a year.

To see the losses that they suffer in that year, and coming off reading about how hard this brief, brutal war affected others, it’s easy to wish Rickenbacker had been more thoughtful about the barbarism of what he experienced.  That’s probably a lot to ask of a young patriot six months after the experience, though.

It’s a good book in a lot of ways, and much more readable than von Richthofen‘s autobiography.


Review: Squawk 7700

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Peter Buffington’s Squawk 7700 is partly the bittersweet memoir of a man who had to give up on his dream of flying for a living and partly an indictment of the state of the airline industry that led him to that point.  I am naturally sympathetic to both of those aspects.  I love flying and dislike the idea that making a living doing it is closed to people with a passion for it.  I also see the dangers and unfairness of the treatment of regional airline pilots.  They have to work incredibly long hours at a technically and physically demanding job for the kind of money we pay house painters.  That is a recipe for trouble and more people should be aware of why their tickets are so cheap.

Buffington writes knowledgably and with heart about the technical topics and the hopes and routine days of an aviation professional.  He also is unflinching about the state of professionalism that he finds at all levels of the aviation world. There are a lot of useful facts and many interesting anecdotes in the work.

All that said, I think Buffington’s editors have let him down. As I say, there are two related but distinct books in here vying for time and focus –  the memoir and the warning.  Walking the line so that they reinforce each other’s message rather than distract from each other is no easy task, and Buffington is not always successful.  The dispassionate tone of a whistleblower creeps into his memoir at times, reducing the reader’s sympathy, and the inflamed tone of storyteller comes through in critiques of policy that may be better served by a cool assessment of facts that need no magnification.  There are some spots where closer copyediting would clarify the technical portions as well.

Overall I agree with his assessment, and respect his passion.  I think another editing pass or two would make those clearer to readers outside the aviation world, who would benefit greatly from hearing what he has to say.

New Feature on my Hold Quiz

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

A couple years ago, I wrote an interactive quiz for aviators to practice determining hold entries – mainly because I sucked at it.  At the suggestion of a user, I added a display mode to it.  You can check out the quiz.

Little things: Painted Gas Caps

Saturday, October 9th, 2010

Last week 32169 went in for annual inspection, followed by a week of rain so that I couldn’t fly her.  Today I went out and flew around a little to make sure all was well.  You’d think that right after a big teardown inspection everything would be perfect, and usually that’s true, but it’s always a flight I approach with extra caution.  That’s why I didn’t fly her in the rain – something I’m usually just as happy to do.

Anyway, the flight was great and everything was pretty much perfect.  There was an added bonus.  I’d asked about painting my fuel caps and that had been done.  I’d picked up a new cap a couple years ago when on the road and had never gotten it painted.  Now it looks beautiful.  I feel like the plane has doubled in value!  Of course it hasn’t; used airplane values are not doing well lately.

Gaze on the beauty of my painted cap:

A white gas cap!

A white gas cap!

Incidentally, you know you fly the same plane a lot when you realize that after painting the caps, your mechanic has put them on the “wrong” wing tanks.  You know you’re whack-o when you fix that.

Hesperia (CA)

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

I thought I’d written about flying to Hesperia Airport before, but it seems like I didn’t.  I flew there again today, so I’ll write about it now.

Hesperia is the airport in a fairly small desert town north of the Inland Empire.  The town is north of Lake Arrowhead and sort of along the way to Barstow.  It was growing pretty rapidly during the housing boom.  The airport is used primarily by the Mercy Air air ambulance folks, but there are hangars and some based planes there as well.  There is also an inexpensive fuel pit and a restaurant.  The restaurant is what drew me in there, of course.

I’d been out to Hesperia once many years ago looking for a restaurant that I’d heard of, but it was closed.  The fellow working the local FBO offered to share his sandwich with me, which was kind, but I didn’t take him up on it.  I saw from our friends at AirNav that there was indeed a new restaurant there, and tried it out.

The restaurant itself is a classic airport cafe: sandwiches, burgers, and breakfasts.  Everything I’ve had there is really tasty and the staff is very friendly and helpful.  It’s a good fly-in joint.

The field itself is kind of small.  There’s ample runway length, but it’s kind of tucked away and there’s not a lot around the airport.  It feels very close to the houses and highway nearby. It’s also in the high desert, so it can be windy and is higher than it might seem.  When I was there today, the density altitude was in the 6000′ range, and it was very noticeable on takeoff.  The wind was gusty though only 10 knots or so.

I took a few pictures.  I love the airport restaurant sign, and found a Cessna labeled with “Realtor.”  I have no idea why you’d need to label a plane with that, but there must be a reason.  For someone.

Lunch and Inspiration

Monday, July 5th, 2010

The June gloom in LA has extended itself to July, and I was hoping to take advantage of it and get some time in the clouds today.  As usual, as soon as I went up, the clouds began their retreat, but I did get a tiny touch of actual in and grab lunch at Riverside Municipal.  The flight out was a good refresher for IFR procedures even though I didn’t spend more than a minute or two in the clouds climbing out.  Juggling the radios, GPS, and other navigation aids is always good practice, even when I’ve cleared the layer.

The flight out wasn’t very eventful for me, but a Delta flight crew was having a pretty tough time of it, to the point where they managed to tick off an Approach Controller.  Everyone’s had a bad day, but when you hear someone having theirs, it makes you determined not to have one of yours at the same time.  Fortunately, my number wasn’t up; my flight was routine.

Riverside Municipal is a nice little towered airport with an old school diner on the premises.  I enjoyed a patty melt with my Pacific Flyer. I took a couple pictures of the airport and the planes, including the apparent Texan who’s modified the Bible verse on his horizontal stabilizer.

After lunch and pictures, it was back to Santa Monica under instrument rules, but without any clouds.


Sunday, June 20th, 2010

My sister was in town last week, and she and her family invited us up to see a practice round of the US Open up in Pebble Beach.  I was in Berkeley on Monday for a work commitment and flew down to Salinas to meet them as they drove up from LA.  It was a nice flight, and I got to spend a few minutes bumming around the ramp at Salinas before they caught up with me.  Imagine my surprise to see Arnold Palmer’s Citation on the ramp next to me.  (Palmer’s registration – N1AP – is well known among pilots for some reason).

Anyway I took a few pictures, including one with N32169 in the same frame.

No more “Taxi to” Clearances

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Apparently after 30 June this year, taxi clearances will be getting a lot more verbose.  AVWeb is reporting that the old style of taxi clearance is being discontinued.  That’s probably good.  Today (and for another couple months) a clearance to “Taxi to runway XX” authorizes the pilot to cross any runways and taxiway between their current position and the runway in question.  It saves time for controllers, but can be a little nerve wracking when taxiing on an unfamiliar field.  I know Brenda is uneasy when we do it.  Well, on 1 July she can taxi easier.

Back to Bakersfield (L45)

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

I finally had some time this weekend to go out and play in the plane a little. I’ve been meaning to check Bakersfield Municipal out more thoroughly since I stopped by on my last uncontrolled field tour. Today was the day.

The flight out was pretty, but hazy.  Honestly I was surprised at how little traffic was out.  Usually the basin is hopping on the weekends, but there were a couple times today when the radio was quiet long enough that I thought I might have lost comms.  No such luck, though – just quiet.

The other bummer is that I’ve had a cold this week and between climbing over the Gorman pass and descending back into the Central Valley my ears filled right up with phlegm.  Yes, I know this is a charming fact to share with you all.  It hurt a little, but mostly it took me a few minutes to clear them back out so I could hear normally again.

Anyway, Bakersfield is a really well kept-up field.  All the landscaping is pretty and the runway and taxiway surfaces have all been well maintained and, as far as I can tell, recently repaved.  It’s a very pleasant surprise to see such a beautiful little airport.

I actually had trouble finding the restaurant.  Despite the fact that the field is really well marked, I missed the building that held the place.  I stopped off on the FBO and a couple folks outside gave me great directions.  Should you ever be looking for the restaurant at Bakersfield, taxi all the way to the departure end of runway 14 and take a left.

The restaurant itself was unique and interesting.  It wasn’t so much a cafe as a bar with food, but it was a large, well lighted sports bar with a definite bias toward motor sports.  There was plenty of racing gear on display and for sale, and when I sat down the Speed Channel was on.

However, the place didn’t give off the vibe of being a pure sports bar.  It was pretty early in the day when I was there – around 11 – but there were a couple tables of families there and quite a few older couples and groups.  I got much more the feeling of a neighborhood haunt than the young men’s hangout that sports bars often seem to be.

I had a good turkey sandwich, but I probably should have aimed at the burgers, which seem to be a specialty.

Overall it was an excellent experience, and the place could easily become a favorite.  Recommended.

Uncontrolled Field Tour II

Friday, December 4th, 2009

As part of tuning up to go east this Christmas, I went out Sunday and did one of my favorite training exercises: an uncontrolled field tour.  An uncontrolled filed is one with no tower to direct traffic, and often no weather information available beyond a windsock at the field (though others have full automated weather broadcast continuously).  While an uncontrolled field is usually less busy than a towered one, they do force the pilot to pay more attention to the world outside the window, knowing that no tower controller will provide another pair of eyes.  Air Traffic Control is also not going to provide traffic advisories or the like in the pattern at an uncontrolled field.  The runways are often shorter and narrower, too.

I did my first tour several years ago when I was feeling uncomfortable about my uncontrolled field radio and pattern entry work, and I reprised it last weekend just to polish that corner of my skill set.  Basically, I go up into the central valley and hop between 8 fields.  Once I’m in the valley, I don’t get flight following, and stay down around 2500′ feet between airports.  I operate primarily by pilotage, and drill those skills as well as pattern entries and uncontrolled radios.

It was a lot easier this time than last.  I think my approach and landing skills have gotten a lot better.  I was much more comfortable getting on and off even the shorter fields in the mix this time.  Here’s a quick recap.

The first field I wanted to hit was a new one for me: Bakersfield Municipal, near the south edge of Bakersfield.  I flew through the Gorman pass and went through some strong up and down drafts.  I lost a couple hundred feet of altitude on more than one occasion by encountering a downdraft that I couldn’t out climb.  I reported them to ATC, but all they can do is warn people.  Once in the Central Valley, the winds eased off, and operations were straightforward.

Bakersfield Municipal from the tiedowns

Bakersfield Municipal from the tiedowns

I didn’t stop long at most of the fields, but I did take a picture or two at most.  I took most of them from the cockpit with the plane stopped and the engine running, so the quality isn’t great.  That’s a V-tail Bonanza landing at Bakersfield after I got there.  He was headed for the airport restaurant.  I haven’t been there, but I’ll be back.  The field looks clean and well kept up.

From Bakersfield it was up to Shafter-Minter airport, which I found by following some railroad tracks.  The other times I’ve been to Shafter I’ve seen biplanes in the pattern, including a couple low passes; no such luck today.  You can see some interesting aircraft on the ramp in the picture, though.

The ramp from Runway 12/30 at MIT

The ramp from Runway 12/30 at MIT

From Shafter, more railroad tracks brought me over to Wasco Airport.  This is a little field used primarily by crop dusters, it looks like.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear someone come into the field as I was leaving the area.  It sounded like a student on a cross country.  Here are a few planes on the ramp at Wasco:

Crop Dusters at Wasco

Crop Dusters at Wasco

A Cessna at Wasco

A Cessna at Wasco

From Wasco, it was a short hop over to Delano Municipal, which had a long runway, continuous weather reporting, and a restaurant and helicopter repair shop on the field.  No one was around over there, though, so I made a landing, snapped a shot of a bunch of helicopter fuselages at the repair shop and set out again.

Helos in for repairs at Delano

Helos in for repairs at Delano

The next stop, Porterville, is a favorite airport.  It’s somewhat out of the way, but the food at the restaurant is good, though it has changed hands a couple times.  I planned a stop here for food and gas, but was disappointed.  The restaurant was closed, though I did fuel up, and watch an old Bell helicopter taking some landing practice.

Helicopter practice at Porterville

Helicopter practice at Porterville

Restaurant and Terminal at Porterville

Restaurant and Terminal at Porterville

From Porterville, I started across the valley to Corcoran, a small field used primarily for crop dusting.  It was narrower than most of the fields I hit that day, and very utilitarian.  I always feel like I’m intruding on someone’s workplace when they’ve just stepped out when I come in and out of there, so I didn’t stay long.  As I turned around to leave, I snapped this shot of the AgTractors at rest.

The usual denizens at Corcoran

The usual denizens at Corcoran

The next field on my list was the unattended strip at Lost Hills.  There’s remarkably little at Lost hills, except for a runway and a few tie downs.  I think this is primarily used to bring equipment in and out of the oil drilling sites in the region.  It was easy enough to find from Corcoran by following the 5.  Here’s the windsock (and segmented circle).  As you can see, the sun’s going down, and I really like this picture.  I like how the windsock marks this a point of civilization but feels far from home.

The lonely windsock at Lost Hills

The lonely windsock at Lost Hills

From here, my last stop was Buttonwillow airport, another unattended strip just down the canal from Lost Hills.  I like Buttonwillow much more than I should, partially because I’ve had some cool experiences there.  Today as I was approaching from the north, I heard another aircraft approaching to land, which always surprises me; I always think I’m the only one who knows about Buttonwillow.  It turned out to be a Luscombe, who was straight in.  I let him in ahead of me and took a shot of the setting sun, the Luscombe (the nose is cut off in the thumbnail, but not the full shot), and the runway, which is really getting overgrown a bit.  I really like the runway shot because it again captures the out-of-the way feel of the place.  Try to ignore all the bugs on the windshield.

Sunset at Buttonwillow

Sunset at Buttonwillow

Another pilot at Buttonwillow

Another pilot at Buttonwillow

Runway 11/29 at Buttonwillow

Runway 11/29 at Buttonwillow

From here it was back to SMO in the fading light for a night landing that didn’t count toward currency.  I imagine that this wouldn’t be much fun for most passengers, but I enjoyed a day of picking my way along at a low altitude, getting into and out of small fields and generally just flying.