Saturday, February 26, 2011

Pure Love

While I do not miss the 4am wakeups to haul some banker out of Jackson Hole to foreclose on a property across the state, I do miss the air ambulance flying. One of my flight nurse friends posted this on his facebook page today:

"If you were to ask me what was the most memorable experience I've had as a nurse I would say it was the day I went toe to toe with a neonate a few hours old, just as we climbed out of the clouds... Pure love."

There was another kind of pure love on these flights. We lost some patients. Giving everything you have while a stranger dies is as pure as it gets.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Boy - Rock - Water

It was payday at the airport and another typical day
at the university. Which one of those sounds more attractive? So after finishing my class prep I headed out to the airport.

The combination "boy - rock -water" has an inevitable outcome, as does the combination "boy - money - airplane". What better use for my Flight Instructor pay than to spend a few minutes off the planet? What reasonable mission might I accomplish?

Ah! Here's an engineering question: how far above the house does our wireless router's signal travel? (Our home network is JETNet: my family members' initials are J, E, T, and N.) Would I see "JETNet" on my network list as I flew over?

That sounds like a reasonable question; so reasonable that, as an Affiliate Professor in Computer Science, it should be a tax-deductible flight.

I couldn't find the network, but I don't think I'll write a paper for Nature about it, either.

For many of us, flying "after work" means flying during the freight rush. There were 6 IFR departures and 3 IFR arrivals during my 30 minute flight, not including me, and Rob was busy in the tower. I monitored the tower during my experiment, mostly for amusement. Headed back, I could see the lights of a Gulfstream 200 outbound on the ILS and put my nose on them, which amounted to lag pursuit given the speed difference. Spacing was good, but the tower asked me to do a 360 on 4-mile final to let a SkyWest Brasilia depart. I complied, but was disappointed that they did not say "Thank You."

Even though it was quite dark, it was within an hour of sunset, so I got no night landings. This is a little ironic since it was much darker than the other night when I flew the Cherokee Six for night currency.

This sounds selfish, but I am disappointed to see my piloting skills continue to deteriorate. Not to the dangerous level, but I do find myself forgetting little things that used to happen automatically, the same things I observe in pilots who fly about as much as I do these days. Some things continue to be easy, so I think I have other people fooled, but in my heart I know that there is room for improvement.

Which means I better fly more!

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Forgotten Classic

When I first fell in love with flying I had already been in love with books, and I spent (and spend) countless hours chasing down used and rare books. When I started scrutinizing the aviation sections there seemed to be hundreds of copies of Guy Murchie's Song of the Sky clogging every used bookshop in the land. There were so many that I paid no attention, although I had fanned through it and noted that author's hand-made etchings. But, money and time being what they are, other books seemed more pressing. "I can get that one anytime," I thought.

Of course I was wrong; after a few years Song of the Sky had disappeared. I forgot about it until my wife returned from a recent business trip with a present.

Murchie covers some of the territory familiar from Ernest K. Gann's immortal classic Fate is the Hunter, but there is a different feel. Gann's prose is spare and beyond analysis. I pick it up and start to read a passage to see what makes it so good, but I get sucked into the story and forget all about Gann's prose.

But Murchie is more Byron than Hemingway, and he is not afraid to follow an idea where ever it may lead. All I know of his other writings is what I read in Wikipedia, but it appears that his interests were remarkably broad.

Which is as it should be. As much as I love flying, I'm always a little concerned when I run across someone with no other interest. How can this be? Flying is intertwined with geometry, art, leadership, mechanics, computing, law, the atmosphere, the stars, rocket science, and, as we all know from slipping these surly bonds of earth, poetry. To be interested in flying is to be interested in everything.

It's going to be a good read.

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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Tough Day at Jackson Hole

It looks like yesterday was a tough day in Jackson Hole, Wyoming (KJAC). I looked Flight Aware to see how a friend was doing; apparently he forgot about the strong west wind and flew through the localizer after the procedure turn:

He was better off than American 2253, a Boeing 757. It looks like they held at Dunoir VOR for quite a while before diverting to Salt Lake City. I've done about that many turns in that hold waiting for ILS minimums.

After cooling their heels in Salt Lake for a while, American 2253 tried again. This time, it looks like they went to Dunoir for the ILS-19 before changing their minds and opting for the VOR-DME 1 approach. (You can tell which approach because it looks like they flew the 16DME arc.)

If the weather was decent (which might have been the case even though the airport was showing 3 miles visibility in snow) the passengers got a nice tour of the Gros Ventre and Wind River ranges.

When I flew King Airs I went to KJAC a lot. I often touched down as the tower opened (0700LT). This meant that I had been in the air at 0620 or so, so I had been at my home airport at 0515, which means I left home at 0445, which meant that I had to get up at 0400.

I don't miss the 0400 wakeups...

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Fogged Out

I had to cancel another trip. I shouldn't be surprised: a simple single in the heart of the Rockies in the middle of winter isn't much airplane. And my ego forces me to broadcast "I could do it, but the airplane wasn't capable." I've done the mountain strips on moonless nights, in turbocharged or turboprop twins. I've done the "moderate" ice that proved severe (freight dogs "protect" each other by reporting moderating, since many carriers have Operations Specifications, and many airplanes have limitations, about severe ice). Nope, I can do it, but the airplane can't.

In the Archer, I can do an ILS to 100'. Wait, isn't Decision Height usually 200'? Yes, but by 14CFR91.175, you can descend to 100' if you see the approach lights; below that, you need to see the runway environment. I did the 100' decision height under the hood last week.

But nowadays I am more of a mathematics professor than professional pilot, and all I have is the Archer or the Cherokee Six. The Archer has better radios. Neither has de-icing of any kind.

And neither one has two engines.

So the other day when it was time to decide I looked at the METARs and TAFs and the icing forecast and the like. High pressure dominated the Snake River Plain and there were inversions and low fog. No problem! I've landed in Boise when everyone else was missing; there's really no excuse when you have minimums.

The problem was the enroute weather. Burley was at minimums. Twin Falls was forecast below minimums I would have more than one hour's flight time with no place to go when something went wrong.

In a King Air, 414, or even a Seneca, I would have launched. But the same line of reasoning that stops me from flying an Archer (or any other single, except maybe a PC12) across Lake Michigan keeps me from flying the Snake River Plain under fog, at night, with ne enroute alternates.

So I drove. The good part, I thought, would be seeing some new countryside along the unfamiliar route. Wrong: It was too foggy to see much. Sigh.