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

 

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.

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

Ohio Adventure

Spent the weekend with a couple friends in Ohio and found it to be quite an adventure flying yesterday. I got to town two days ago and we spent a day wrenching on Greg’s plane before Evan and I decided to head over to his direction. Greg and I put together this video of the fun we had at his strip.

Afterward, Evan and I flew over to his strip and found the winds tumbling over the hill leading to high turbulence on approach. The Maule is a compromise airplane. It’s pretty good in short fields and it’s pretty good for cross country, but it isn’t exceptional at either. One of the ways that they tuned it for short field was to give it very large flaps, but the tradeoff for that is smaller than typical ailerons. In order to use a strip like Evan’s, I need to be on approach at about 40 knots. The problem was that with my short ailerons I was going stop-to-stop keeping the airplane upright at 60 knots. I tried to touch down, but because I was faster than I needed to be, kept floating each time I hit another little gust of wind. I think I probably would have been ok if I just planted it and worked the brakes, but unfamiliar fields are kind of a bad place to push you luck. All in all, it was *way* sketchier than my approach in Philo. At Swingle’s the strip is pretty well sheltered, so once you are below the trees there isn’t nearly the same level of rolling winds.

Still, I’m looking forward to coming back to both when conditions are more favorable.

After bailing out at Evan’s I planned to go to Columbus as I have been there a few times and like the folks there. Evan is about 60 miles east of Columbus so I had plenty of time to monitor the weather readings and see how things were shaping up. Columbus caters to jet traffic and only has two parallel runways, facing nearly due west. Yesterday the windows were from 220, putting them at 60 degrees across the runway. Crosswind landings in a tailwheel aircraft are always challenging, but the winds were 17 gusting 30. That puts the gusts at a 26kt crosswind component. That’s pretty much a recipe for an insurance claim in anything with a rudder smaller than a DC-3, so I looked around for other options.

Just past KCMH is Ohio State University (KOSU) and they had a runway facing 230, right down the pipe of the winds. Rather than call for a clearance though Columbus class C, I flew a few miles north and went under the outer ring, calling State when I got about 10 miles out. They cleared me for a straight in approach and the I spent what felt like the next 20 minutes trying to go against the wind to get to the airport. Without crosswinds to deal with, I was able to slow to a normal approach speed, about 40kt, on short final which gave me a ground speed of 15-20kt! I think I should be able to log my time as helicopter for this trip! Really weird to feel normal pressures on the controls, see a normal speed on the airspeed indicator but look out the window and feel like you’re in a hover.

The tower there was having everyone take Hotel, Charlie, Alpha to the ramp but, in a move that I both welcomed and found surprising, noticed that I was a tailwheel aircraft and let me taxi all the way down the runway to within a few feet of the ramp so I could avoid having to taxi with the stiff winds. Very forward thinking of them!

On the ramp there was a minor hiccup with a rampie that stood where it was hard for me to see him over the cowl, but soon enough La Naranja Danzante was tied down and sitting pretty until I’m ready to head be to Chicago.

Weekend Update

Tuesday

The weather in the midwest has been preternaturally kind to us the past couple weeks. Day after day of temps in the 70′s, clear skies and calm winds. While I would still rather be back in Mexico, my work has us staying in the US for the moment. At least that makes it easy to go flying.

A few weeks ago I started to wonder how high La Naranja Danzante would climb. It has a reasonably powerful engine, but you still have to feed it oxygen to make the thing work. The higher you go the less of that there is available. It’s also true that the higher you go the less oxygen there is for the pilot! I borrowed an oxygen tank from a friend and set out to see what the plane could do.

Beth and I have done a couple trips to the mountains in a Cessna 172. I also flew out there to do some mountain flying training in the same kind of plane. So, the extent of my experience is quite limited. A 172, without any thermal or wind assist, will only go to 12-13,000 feet. With thermals or winds you can often do better, but that’s not the kind of thing you can flight plan around and my interest is in understanding the normal limitations of the plane.

Tuesday was as smooth a day as you can get. Clear skies and no wind meant that the flying was like glass. Preflight included figuring out how to use the oxygen system and route the tubes from the nasal cannula to the tank and verify that gas was flowing. I took off, headed southwest away from the O’Hare airspace and trimmed for a cruise climb. Cruise climbs have a lower vertical speed than climb at “best rate”. This allows more air to flow over the engine and cool the cylinders.

Even climbing at 15-20 MPH faster than best rate I was still able to climb at 1,500 ft per minute up to about 5,000 feet. From there I was able to climb at about 1,000 ft per minute to 10,000. Good weather and a light plane definitely allowed for great performance.

Once at about 10,000 ft though, the air really starts to get meaningfully thinner and climb rates continually fell off even when paying extra attention to proper leaning.

At about this point I put on the oxygen. Regulations say you must be on oxygen if above 12,500 feet for more than 30 minutes or above 14,000. I was pretty sure I was going to be able to reach 14,000 and wanted to try out the oxygen system in any case. The pulse oximeter registered that my blood saturation was about 95% and putting on the oxygen brought it up to a more normal level of 98% within a minute.

Continuing to climb I passed 14,000 as expected and still at about 500 ft per minute. Once I got a 172 up to about 13,000 feet so this was the highest I had ever piloted an aircraft and it was still performing really well, though the manifold pressure was down to around 17 inches.

In the end I ran out of airspace before I ran out of climb. Going above 18,000 ft demands an instrument flight plan and I didn’t have one so I topped out at 17,900 ft and still climbing at 250ft per minute.

Friday

Every Friday Central County Airport in Iola, WI has a fly-in lunch. We’ve had a week dominated by a high pressure system that has continued to bring great weather. I called my buddy Chris and told him to call in sick, we’re going to the lunch.

Got to the airport around 10 and fired up the plane. In this case, the plane was a 1947 Cessna 195 restored to like-new condition. The rumble of the 300hp Jacobs radial on the front of the old bird mixing the calm air and pulling us into the sky made it hard not to think of aviation in by-gone days.

The plane doesn’t have an autopilot, but the calm skies made hand flying a breeze as we motored our way an hour and a half north. As we got to the area, things started to get busy. We were clearly far from the only people who had the idea and the pattern was very busy. When we got into the area there were 7 planes in the pattern. We made a standard entry and radio calls all the way around. Things were busy, but organized. We made a low pass for the crowd and landed.

The landing was sketchy. I had been to this airport a year or two prior, but landed the opposite direction. Landing to the north was a whole different adventure. The trees on the approach end are much closer to the end of the runway, making for a challenging appearance. The runway itself is just a mess, with a huge divot right where you would want to touch down if making a short field landing. Needless to say, we bounced mightily off the divot.

The lunch was good, as always. They change the menu every week and this time it was pork chops, brats, ham steaks, quarter pounders and extra long hot dogs. We arrived a few minutes early, but the turn out was so large that they were already out of pork chops when we got served and I got the last serving of ice cream for dessert. They served about 200 people and, given that they are all volunteers, probably netted about a thousand dollars for the day. I bet that’s more than some EAA chapters make in dues for the year!

Saturday

Saturday was a beautiful day with a sad start. A local RC flying club had recently lost a member. Middle aged guy mowed down while riding his bike. They contacted some new friends I’ve been hanging out with at C09 (Morris, IL) about the possibility of doing a missing man formation flight. My new flight instructor invited me to go along before our lesson. Our formation had five planes, including two with smoke systems. We took off from Morris at about 9:00 and headed toward the RC flying field, getting into formation on the way.

Our first pass was just a simple formation and we circled back for another. On the second pass we’re in the number 2 plane so pull up sharply to be the missing man. At this point the formation goes pretty much out the window as we all make a series of maneuvers for the memorial attendees. At the end they all yelled their thanks into the radio.

From there my CFI and I headed east to the practice area to do some aerobatics training. We flew out to the aerobatics box and did some simple maneuvers. A few wing overs and a couple rolls, but unfortunately the cumulative effect of some of the aggressive figures in the missing man coupled with a few things in the box was just too much and I started getting a little nauseous. We headed back to Morris to call it a day.

We next went back to Morris and found that a bunch of folks were getting ready to head out on a lunch run. We joined them in the Pitts and watched the parachuters land while I had a chicken salad.

Next, we headed to DeKalb for lunch. It was the summertime pig roast complete with the Steve Miller cover band. Since it was second lunch, all I had was dessert. Someone potlucked in an apple strudel full of butter and cinnamon and I added a side of ice cream to round things out.

Our trip home was a three ship formation which, as I was in the Pitts, we elected to fly inverted. Surprisingly difficult to maintain over an extended period of time!

Sunday

Every summer the Joliet Airport has a combined airplane and car show. This year is my first at the airport and I was happy to see the date approaching with day after day of sunny skies and calm winds. When I got to the airport at 9:00 everything was already in full swing. The lunch vendors were getting setup and the tents were packed with people enjoying the pancake breakfast. The pancake griddle was an entertaining home brew turntable. The pancakers (that’s the term for people making pancakes, right?) just stood in one place while a big slab of metal spun around in front of them. I think the theory was that they should be able to put the cakes on at one station, flip them as they went past another one and finally pull them off at a third. The wheel was spinning way to fast though, so they ended up putting an entire wheel of pancakes on, trying to flip them in about the right order (made difficult by the fact that there wasn’t much pattern to how they were put on) and then pull them all off at once (again, in the right order).

The car show had some nice cars, though as a car show virgin I was entertained by what kinds of cars some people thought worth showing. One that caught my eye in particular was a mid-80′s LTD sedan. Not just a pretty ordinary car, but not even cleanly restored. Just kind of a normal car in decent shape for its age and a fresh wax job. It was sitting just a few paces away from a meticulously restored and maintained 50′s vintage Corvette.

On the ramp it seemed like almost everyone had their plane out, so we had quite a variety. I think my plane might have been the newest at only 12 years old. There were maybe as many as ten that were built in the 1940′s, including my buddy Chris’s 1947 Cessna 195 that I’ve been lucky to fly in a bunch over the past few months.

In terms of flying, we took the 195 up for a quick formation flight, but the highlight was when I got to fly in a TBM Avenger for the first time. The startup of the engine alone is amazing with a deep rumble, snorting, gasping and shaking the entire airplane to life. We had to taxi through a big crowd of people to the runway. The big plane drew pretty much everyone at the festival around to see us up close. Lots of people waving and taking videos.

Tom pushed the throttle forward and soon we were scooting into the sky. We had a couple JROTC kids in the plane also, including one kid who had never been in a plane before. What an amazing first ride she had!