Sunday, January 27, 2013


It has been a tough winter and flying opportunities are scarce.  Once the semester ended I no longer had my weekly commute to our other campus.  Then came exams, which tie up the professor longer than the student.  I was in hot pursuit of a research project (writing some code).  I had a big credit card bill (airline tickets for Spring break), which I pay in full each month, leaving less in the flying budget.  The Archer was in for its annual and the Six seemed too expensive.

The temperatures were ghastly low, the lowest I've seen in Idaho this time of year, lots of -20C or less.  I had the bright idea to go gather data on cold temperature altimeter errors, hoping for dramatic pictures of high terrain and an altimeter reading something higher.  But it was so cold...

I went to a conference in San Diego, riding in the back of an airliner, looking down at the California desert and feeling deep longing in remembering my flights across that area.  But money was tight and the conference would be expensive enough...

And so six weeks passed without turning a prop.  I'm lucky: I've known people for whom six weeks became six years or even six decades.

The mission: night currency.  This was a bit of a joke: the full Moon over snow-covered ground meant that while it was legally night, it was not night.  But it was a chance to fly, and it made me legal.

I wasn't as behind as I thought I might be, but I seemed to have trouble with the landing light.  Usually I would turn it off climbing through 500AGL, but I kept forgetting to do so.  Maybe I was distracted by the way, each pattern, I crossed the departure end of the runway well to the right.  Each time around, I applied more wind correction, but still ended up to the right.  I was frustrated.  Paying more attention, I found some wind shear abeam the terminal, but still couldn't get the crosswind correction.

When the tower closed I switched to left traffic, and really got beat up on downwind and base.  Especially on base.  But the air smoothed out near the runway: wind shear, again.

I checked the ASOS: wind was variable at 3.  On the surface.  Something else was happening aloft.

After 10 landings or so I decided to call it a night and taxied in to the deserted ramp.  I shut down and stepped out to tie the airplane down.

The wind hit me, hard.  Variable at 3 my ass!

As I tied the plane down I heard something: ducks!  There were ducks flying around the airport tonight!  On a dark night, the birds stay on the ground, but it was so bright that they were comfortable flying.

I peered up at the noise - at the noises - but couldn't see anything.  Of course not.  And I wouldn't have seen them from the plane, either.

And then I thought about the landing light.  I was right to leave it on.  That warned the ducks that I was coming.

Maybe I wasn't so behind after all.