Young Eagles

Yesterday was the third Young Eagles event I’ve helped with in Mexico. The first was about four years ago at the airport in San Miguel de Allende. I was ground support for that one. The second and third were both in Celaya. Yesterday we had 52 kids and 4 airplanes.

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One of the boys that was excited to do maneuvers

I also had two of my favorite Young Eagles flights of all time. On the first I had three boys who were super excited to be flying. We took off and I could hear them laughing and yelling as we started to climb. Then when I turned toward the mountains I got another set of cheers as they could look out the side of the plane and see the ground. They loved doing maneuvers. So we did some steep turns and flew around a nearby volcano so they could take pictures out the side…

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Handout girl getting ready to fly

The other really cool flight for the day was with an older girl who seemed really into everything. Before every event we have one of our pilots do a ground school to teach the kids some things about aviation. As I started to taxi this girl got out her handouts from the classroom session and started to inspect the plane and compare her notes to the the actual plane. She was a bit more nervous, but calmed down and never stopped being fascinated by the whole affair.

Even the ride to the airport was fun with Carmen translating the dad in the back seat for me. His daughter got to fly with us at the previous event. His son wanted to go, but dad said the boys grades weren’t good enough. So the kid buckled down, got his grades up and was sitting in the back seat on his way to enjoy his hard earned ride.

The three excited kids, after their flight

The three excited kids, after their flight

Waiting for the next crew

Waiting for the next crew

Carlos was one of the volunteers assigned to my plane

Carlos was one of the volunteers assigned to my plane

Three of my young eagles

Three of my young eagles

 

Llano to Celaya

flight homeStopped at McCreery Aviation (I really need to be better about mentioning those people, good outfit. They are busy enough to be a full service FBO, but still have prices that make it reasonable for normal people) in McAllen for fuel, then Tampico gave me their typical good level of service. The bit of a challenge came after Tampico (click the flight plan above for a larger view). The issue was that the coast was pretty hazy with scattered as low as 2,000 feet and no other weather information available until deep into the mountains (Bienvenidos a Mexico!). So I launched and headed into the hills and was able to pick my way through until the rain rain shadowshadow effect kicked in and it was clear sailing from there.

Saw an absolutely beautiful waterfall that I hadn’t noticed before. Makes me want to get a group of local friends together and do some camping, but it’s pretty far from home. I have discovered in the process of writing this note that it is called Cascadas de Tamul (http://is.gd/42dcuL).

Mexican ATC Tried To Kill Me (Again)

Santiago picked me up at about 9 to give me a ride to the airport. He’s a cool guy. Has lived in US, Mexico and France, trilingual. Flew ultralights for decades and finally got a private pilot license just recently and is a partner in a 182. He’s done tons of flying in Mexico, including a lot of cross country trips in ultralights, and we’ve been talking about destinations we might check out.

Got to the airport and finally met the owner of the hangar I’ve been keeping my plane in. Nice young guy named Abraham. He runs a spray operation and owns a couple grass strips near Puerto Vallarta that he says we can use anytime. That could be an interesting option!

The planmaps was three legs. First, Celaya to Saltillo. In Saltillo clear customs and get a final load of cheap fuel ($3.60 a gallon, about $1.50 a gallon cheaper than the US average). Then stop briefly in Laredo, TX to clear customs into the US. Finally, Austin, TX for a couple nights of visiting and music.

The weather gods smiled on me this trip with hundreds of miles of the best tail winds I’ve ever flown with. The Maule is about a 120kt aircraft. You might be able to go a little faster at full blast, but in a comfortable cruise that’s a good compromise to keep from burning fuel for no good reason. At higher altitudes you can’t get enough oxygen to go any faster anyway. From Celaya to Saltillo I had a few times where my ground speed was over 170kts, so a tailwind in excess of 50kts. Makes the flight a lot shorter for sure!

Arriving in Saltillo, COA the control tower told me that winds were calm. I found this surprising given the winds aloft. I’ve also learned over the years not to trust ATC in Mexico when they give you a wind reading. I don’t know if the official placement for the wind gauge is in the tower or the equipment breaks and no one notices, but people flying in Mexico should be advised to never trust the wind information given by the tower. Look for wind socks, smoke, flags or anything else you can think of for wind information, just don’t trust ATC. The actual winds were 12G18.

Having survived another attempt by Mexican ATC to kill me, I departed for Laredo. Strong tail winds continued and I arrived nearly 30 minutes ahead of schedule, a shocking if not completely unprecedented occurrence in general aviation. I’ve complained about US Customs in the past. Least importantly they just always seem to be an odd combination of really, really bored and really, really full of themselves. Just unpleasant to interact with. More importantly, they have lost my paperwork then threatened me with a $5,000 fine. They have lost my amended arrival times and greeted me as I walked into the building with “It’s about time, I was just about the shred your paperwork”.

Given my previous complaints, I feel compelled to share my latest experience. The guys at Laredo this trip (notably, the location where I was threatened with a fine some time back) were fabulous. One came out on the ramp and explained the process to me courteously and quickly, the man at the desk was equally quick and pleasant. The entire thing was done in 10 minutes and everyone was very helpful.

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The wildcard this trip would be the final leg to Austin. When I left Mexico there was a huge storm over the town. I knew that the storm would be gone by the time I got there, but there was a good chance that the weather would still be low clouds and strong winds. Plan B was to stay in Laredo overnight, but when I did my flight planning in Laredo it was clear that everything was going to be ok. The biggest challenge, as it turned out, would be selecting from the thousands of similar restaurants in Austin.

When I first came to Austin ten years ago I constantly heard people say that they regretted how Austin had changed that that it wasn’t the same city it was in the 80′s. One of my friends in San Miguel de Allende says something similar about when he moved out in the 70′s. Of course I never doubted them, but it’s really striking to me how much the town has change even in the past 10 years. I still like the city a lot (though not the heat!), but having walked around since arriving yesterday I have to say that it no longer feels “weird” in any meaningful way. Walking down 6th street I found restaurant after restaurant that were minor variations on a theme. All had extensive outdoor seating (because why sit inside and be comfortable when you can sit outside in the humidity and sweat while inhaling exhaust from the passing cars), all had well appointed bars, most had some southwest/texmex/fake mex kind of a thing. All were very well done, don’t get me wrong, but if the weirdness of Austin was mostly gone 10 years ago when the long-timers were commenting, it’s almost completely gone now.

Still a lovely (expensive/hot/crowded) city, but no longer weird.

Lone Star Maule Roundup

IMG_1589-smI’m starting preparation for the Lone Star Maule Roundup today. It starts a week from tomorrow, so you might be wondering why someone who sometimes posts photos of an empty suitcase 15 minutes before catching a ride to the airport is starting so early.

In 2013 when I attended the first Maule Roundup I shot a video of the event. The organizer and I have become friends since and we recently did a formation flight to take photos of his Beaver. He was also kind enough to buy some Plane Perfect to raffle off and we matched his donation. He asked if I would do video again in 2015 and I agreed. Which is why I’m getting ready for the event a week ahead of time.

Tomorrow I will fly the Maule from San Miguel de Allende, GTO to Austin, TX and leave it there while I go to Chicago for a few days of work. Since I’ll be flying commercially to Chicago I can’t bring all my gear along and need to get things ready today.

I’ll be bringing three gopros, two video cameras, two video lights and a still camera. Between them I have nine batteries that need to be topped off. Overnight I downloaded the latest US charts and approaches into ForeFlight.

I’m also excited to see Mingo Fishtrap Saturday night. Haven’t seen those guys in a bit over a year.

Progressives And George Will’s Misunderstanding Of The Issue

“America’s national character will have to be changed if progressives are going to implement their agenda. So, changing social norms is the progressive agenda.”

Setting aside the fact that he completely misunderstands the progressive agenda, what he claims is already part of their agenda isn’t, but should be!

The problem with the past 50 years isn’t sudden laziness or lack of ambition or unions or socialism (a laughable claim in the least socialist first world nation on the planet) it’s globalization. Auto manufacturing started the trend with automakers in Japan paying people in Japan far less than US workers could afford to live on. Then US manufacturers shifted productions to other countries magnifying the trend. I buy some of my clothes from Flint and Tinder, voluntarily paying more for a higher quality product made in the US. I’m in a small percentage of people willing to do that, which is why until Flint and Tinder started a couple years ago there were zero textile companies like it in the US. Electronics used to be made in places like California and Texas, now 80% or more has been shifted to China because US workers can’t live on $1-2/hr. Knowledge jobs (like mine!!) have also been shifting as India, Ukraine, Brazil and Mexico all have smart college educated people willing to work for 20-50% as much as people make in the US getting out of college. And, again, this isn’t socialism or unions, this is the fact that the cost of living is less in those countries. I can buy a comfortable house in Mexico for $40K/USD. I pay my employees in Mexico $30-60K per year for skills that would cost me $70-150K in the US. That’s just a structural disadvantage for people in the US and, again, we’re not talking about laborers hear, we’re talking about the best and brightest free market libertarians that a nation can produce.

This trend is only going to continue as machines and robotics continue to replace more and more jobs that previously humans did. Over the next 100 years there simply will not be a need for the size of workforce that we have today. Yeah, there will be some bumps in that road, the US is currently still growing jobs after a big dent during the great recession, but the overall trend will be downward.

So what does a post-labor economy look like? I have no idea. But progressives ought to be thinking about it and preparing for it and they aren’t. There is a transition that began 50 years ago and continuing for the next hundred years from a society where most people need to work for the economy to function at a level sufficient to provide basic needs, to one where very few people are needed and I have no idea how society accomplishes it. How are goods and products distributed without hours of work, physical strength, intelligence or ambition as important parts of the equation? I have no idea.

I know that, to the degree that we are already having to deal with these kinds of issues thanks to globalization, we’re failing. People on welfare don’t have enough to live on so they aren’t happy. People paying taxes are feeling the pinch and they aren’t happy. We’ll see how things pan out…

Flying to Mexico 2015

Weather was fabulous. In eight days of calendar and sixteen hours of flying I was delayed once for a few hours by weather and had smooth skies for all but 45 minutes. Just ridiculously good luck.

Chicago: Start of the journey and where we are from.

St. Louis: Hanging out with new friends who organized a demonstration of our detailing products to their community.

Nashville: Hanging out with old friends and a new friend, the latter of which will be coming to Mexico in a few weeks to play our music festival to raise funds for a local children’s charity (http://magictownmusic.org/?page_id=74)

(insert 6 hours of weather delay here)

Dallas: Friend got a new Beaver and we went flying to do some air to air photography so he had something nice to hang on his wall. Also got to have dinner with a Nicaraguan expat friend I made online who has been tutoring me in spanish and took him up for his first ride in a little plane.

McAllen: I know no one in McAllen and didn’t have time to fly all the way to my final destination without flying in the mountains at night. I’m not going to do that, so option 2 would have been flying into Tampico and staying there for the night, but Tampico is a super industrial city in Tamaulipas, which has a crime problem*. Stopping there for fuel doesn’t pose a risk, the military keeps things under control on-campus. I wouldn’t want to go walking around outside the fence though.

Tampico: Fuel stop and clearing customs. The staff here was fabulous. Unlike some Mexican airports, all the offices you need to deal with to come into the country are in one hallway just steps from each other. Everyone was helpful and got me on my way pretty quickly.

(insert 45 minutes of bumpy flying, at midday, in the mountains, here)

Leon: My airport in Celaya is closed for maintenance for the moment, so I stopped instead in Leon for ten days or so of parking. My buddy Rusty picked me up and drove me to San Miguel de Allende where we’ve spent the bulk of the past couple years.

* Sad story: http://www.theguardian.com/cities/2014/jun/02/the-tragedy-of-tampico-mexico-a-city-of-violence-abandoned-to-the-trees