Monday, September 15, 2014

Day 4E: Washington, Iowa to New Castle, Pennsylvania

Highlights of today:
1. A dawn discussion with a young South African crop duster.  They fly the hell out of their machines.  No airport pattern, they head straight for the middle of the runway 30 feet up, kick it high into the air to lose their airspeed, kick it hard over and land.  Remarkable flying that I won’t try in Freddy.  Twenty flights a day.  Fly, load, fly, load…until the conveyer belt loader broke and I had to leave. 

2. Flying above the clouds, which is always a highlight. 

3. Stopping after my second flight at Neil Armstong Airport in Wapokoneta, Ohio, Neil’s hometown.  I met a family that included a grandfather, a father and his two young daughters.  They had flown over from elsewhere in Ohio in their Cessna 170.  They invited me to join them in the courtesy car so we drove to the museum discussing space and flying and the like.  The museum was fun, we practiced landing the shuttle simulator, watched a film on the first lunar landing and poked around at the displays. 

4. Most air traffic controllers are male.  Every now and then there is a female controller and it is nice to hear a change in tone.  But today, there was this amazing voice on the other end of the airwaves.  There was something about her voice.  I could have listened to it all day as I tried to picture who was behind the voice issuing appropriately strong, instructions and communications to her aviators.  When I had the airport in sight and were bidding each other the customary “Good day” or “Good night,” I couldn’t resist telling her that she had a beautiful voice.  She responded that I did too, but she was just being polite.  I’ll keep a listen out for that one again. 

5. The double sunset I saw when the sun set on the cloud layer I was flying above, and then again on the ground as I was descending. 

6. Playing my travel bass guitar with a headphone amp and The Black Crowes on my ipod also playing on my headphones through the amp, playing and dancing around in the dark, under the stars as the space station flew overhead. 

I should make it home tomorrow!  Returning is always a bitter-sweet experience.  How I love sitting in Freddy’s cockpit.  It’s been a fantastic voyage so far.  A few more flights to go!

Friday, September 12, 2014

DAY 3: Ogallala, Nebraska to Washington, Iowa

Eastward!  I left Ogallala late morning today.  The clouds lifted just enough to warrant a try, knowing full well I might just take a loop around the pattern.  The clouds were low, only a few thousand off the deck, but it was enough.  I paid careful attention to the antennas on the chart and made sure I stayed far away from them, even knowing I was above them all.  I don't usually like to fly only a few thousand feet up but with I-80 below me and an endless grid of fields and N-S/E-W criss crossing roads, I knew if I had an engine failure, I had quick options.  Thankfully, I did not need such options. 
I landed in Maryville, Missouri and hoped to beat my record of 45 minutes before I start the engine again, but was delayed due to a long weather briefing.  IFR conditions prevailed but at last we came to a solution of heading northeast to make a little bit of progress and set me up for tomorrow.  

I passed two beautiful cranes up high today.  So beautiful to see them in their element, up high soaring along.  Otherwise, the most interesting thing I flew over today was a huge abandoned ammunition cache.  Bunker after bunker for miles and miles.  

Ammunition bunkers.

A coal plant.  To think, some people think a wind turbine is an eye soar.

I hope there were some people enjoying this sunshine on the ground.  They must have done something right!
So off I went back into the sky and eventually made it to Washington, Iowa.  I passed the airport in hopes the briefer had been wrong or that conditions had changed, and I found a huge opening in the sky, but beyond it was solid and low overcast.  I hit my personal minimums and turned around but first climbed a few thousand feet in the huge hole just to see a bit of the sun that I hadn't seen in a few days.  So beautiful on the white clouds from above.  

So beautiful above the clouds.
Back down I went and back to Washington for a smooth landing, the cheapest gas yet at $5.05/gallon and a few crop dusters on the tarmac.  

I fueled up, organized and then tied Freddy down for the night.  The legs were eager so I ran the runway as I did this morning in Ogallala.  For how much I like the mountains and the sea, there's something to be said about the plains at dusk on a cool night.  The sunset reminds me of the sunset pictures from space, the open views satisfy my aviator's want to look at the sky in all directions.   

It is remarkably colder today and I've put on pants and shoes for the first time in what seems like months.  I'm now about 900 nautical miles from home.  Within striking distance but rain will probably preclude me from arriving home.  Maybe that will mean a stop at Neil Armstong airport in Wapakoneta, Ohio - Neil's hometown...

My bed for the last two nights.
How I keep busy when I'm organized and exercised.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

DAY 2 EASTBOUND: Ogallala, Nebraska

Homeward bound I am, or was...and hope to be again soon.  I managed to leave Lander before the storm, only to make it to Nebraska for the storm.  One bumpy flight with lots of clouds; not quite the beautiful puffy ones, but the ones that have rain under them, the ones that take concentration to avoid.  The mild turbulence stems the usual relaxation I feel in the cockpit and a few tosses of Freddy made me laugh after bringing the wings level again.  Toward evening things settled out a bit and the ride happily got smoother.  Ten miles out from the airport, I had to duck under an overcast layer of clouds at about 2,000 feet.  So clear above the clouds and so dark below.  It was such a distinct layer, I wanted to try to land the plane on top of the clouds and spend the night there.  

I headed below, over flew one airport then decided to divert 10 miles to the North to an airport with a second runway and automated transmitted weather broadcast.  (I like having the weather info both when I'm in the air and on the ground and the second runway give me better options for taking off into the wind.)  I landed in Ogallala, Nebraska (named after the Ogallala Sioux Indians), fueled up Freddy, found the pilot's lounge, had dinner in the plane as I logged my flight and tidied up the place and checked the next morning's weather, and then called it a night on the comfortable couch in the lounge.  

Today's weather was rain and overcast skies all day long with low ceilings.  By flight rules, the area was marginal VFR or marginal visual flight rules, so technically I could have taken off.  However, the number one cause of accidents is pilots flying from VFR into IFR (instrument flight rules) conditions.  So I did my best to exercise good judgement, and stayed on the ground.  

Around mid-day, I went into town and climbed the hill known as "Boot Hill" where all the cowboys were buried.  Apparently I'm in the cowboy capital of Nebraska.  Then went to a petrified wood museum, and had lunch at the local grill.  I asked two men in their sixties if I could sit down with them and they said yes.  There was not much conversation after that, despite their conversation before I got there.  I asked many questions about the town and about their work, one half-seemed to roll his eyes with each of my questions, but was very polite when I said goodbye.  They were certainly not the chatterbox that I ran into at the petrified wood museum.  Otherwise I had very friendly interactions as I got a new watch battery and at the music store.

I'm hoping to continue east tomorrow, at least by the afternoon.  More rain on the way with a chance of snow tonight!  Freddy's tied down facing east, very patiently, eye on the prize.  Now out to the plane to scrounge up some dinner.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Ready to Fly East

I've had a wonderful time here in Lander, WY.  I have done the refresher course for my WEMT, recertified my CPR, sutured a dead pig's foot, practiced intubating a mannequin, became known as "Ice-man Ben" to a group of fifth graders in Victor, Idaho, seen some wonderful friends, and made some wonderful new friends.  It has been wonderful to be near the mountains.  

Please excuse the poor stitching.  We did not have the right gauge so things slipped a bit.
Now Freddy is all packed to head east before the rain, and maybe snow, hit Wyoming.  I am eager to hop back in the pilot seat.  I love that seat, the smell of the plane, it makes my blood move a little faster, and makes me smile and sometimes laugh.  

From the Buick courtesy car to Freddy.
A beautiful evening!  Excited for tomorrow!
I'm hoping to get back in fewer than 5 days, and plan an early start for Wednesday, hoping for three flights before the sun goes down.  Trying to get a gauge on the weather and see which way the systems are moving.  I look forward to being back in the air, interacting with the weather.  

Here's a quote I've been thinking of a lot lately.  It was read to me on one of the first days of my student NOLS course.  To the East!

Security and luxury shield us from life.  You never see the sky until you’ve looked up at the stars for safety.  You never feel the air unless you’ve ben shaken by it’s storms.  You can never understand the ocean uyntil you’ve been alone in its solitude.  To appreciate fully, you must have intercourse with the elements themselves…Know their whims, their beauty, their dangers.  Then every tissue of your being sees and feels, and body, mind, spirit become one with the Earth. 
- Charles Lindberg