What’s In a Name?

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. ~ William Shakespeare

Perhaps old Will had it right. What IS in a name? We’ve been literally flying around the weather for the last two days. With severe weather coming up through northwest Texas and Oklahoma (yes, I just sang the song to spell that!) today, we took off this morning due south of the ‘Show Me’ state for Hot Springs, Arkansas. A quick check of the weather and we were off again bearing west across Arkansas to settle in Stephenville, Texas southwest of Dallas/Ft. Worth.

One of my few jobs on this trip is to help navigate. Yes, for those non-pilots, it means that I hold the map. Ok, there is a bit more to it than that, but that is essentially what I do. Apart from being an extra set of hands, I track the two GPSs that we have and refer to the map for location, communication frequencies and weather updates. Needless to say, some of the town names we’ve come across are more than interesting.

Many towns pay homage to possible early settlers with foreign city/country names: Montreal, Paris, Mexico, London and Italy. Many other names are just plain quirky: Bald Knob, Gassville, Licking and Bible Grove. The funniest name we’ve come across so far was in Arkansas. While fighting the bumps due to weather and a rolling terrain unfolding before us, we found Flippin, Arkansas. Yes, Flippin, Arkansas.

A very tense day filled with stress from weather and difficult flight planning, we had quite a chuckle at the possible conversation:
‘Where you from?’
‘Yeah, I know that, but where in Arkansas?’
‘No, I mean it, where in Arkansas??”
‘No seriously, where???’
‘I’m from Flippin, Arkansas!!!’

Much like Abbott and Costello’s ‘Who’s on First?’, our visions of this slap stick type of exchange kept us giggling for quite a while. Maybe it’s the long hours in the plane, or maybe it really is funny. Either way, we’ll feel boring and uninspired from now on when we say, ‘We’re from Chicago’.

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Capital Plaza Hotel

‘As long as we don’t get rain or a big leak in our dikes, we should be OK.’ – Stuart Symington

Sitting around the house when you are wanting to fly can get pretty boring. Boring to the point that it kills people. It’s very easy to succumb to the urge to just get in the air and ‘wing it’. Maybe you make it to the destination, maybe you have to turn back. The problem is that many people, over the years, have inadvertently flown into weather that requires instruments to fly, but they weren’t trained to execute that phase of flight. JFK Jr. flew his plane into the ocean due to spatial disorientation in such conditions and, even though I have practiced such procedures in a simulator as recently as a month ago, in the mountains, it is absolutely not a situation in which you want to put yourself.

I got up at 6:30 and started watching the weather for a meaningful break in conditions. Early in the day a lot of the airports in north eastern Illinois were vacillating between being ok and needing an instrument rating. That’s not good. If you are just going to practice some landings in marginal conditions things might be ok. But if you are going to fly in a straight line from Chicago to the central plains you better have good weather through the entire route of flight. Things would look ok for a while, then bad. There has been a stationary front through the area for a couple days and that was causing the rains to just hover and dump their loads of moisture.

At 4 I was about to give up and crack open a beer when I noticed that all of the storm cells seemed to be rapidly weakening. My guess is that the persistent cloud cover reflected so much warmth back into space that the normal pattern of hot June sun creating big thunder clouds was interrupted. As the energy left over from yesterday started to drain out, suddenly the picture looked much, much better. Best put that beer back in the fridge…

Over the course of the next hour things shaped up almost better than I could have hoped. I did an online flight briefing and almost convinced myself, but was still skeptical. I’m still a low time pilot and didn’t want to make a mistake that could have big consequences so I did something I haven’t done in nearly a year, I called the FAA flight office and got a telephone briefing.

The drill is that you tell them who you are (773SP), what you want (a standard briefing for a VFR flight from KDPA to KJEF via KMUT) and when you intend to leave (45 minutes). They do a very good job of going through the same information that I got in the online briefing, but adding their knowledge and experience to the reading.

I was very happy when the first thing out of the briefers mouth was, “ok, I see you’re going out west and taking a dogleg south from there to avoid the convective sigmet for Missouri”. Yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing!

The rest of the briefing was similarly encouraging. We walked through the many weather considerations one by one and at the end he said, “I think that plan looks like it will work. Is there anything else I can help you with?” Nope, we’re going flying!

When we left for the airport it was raining pretty steadily. This was expected. There was one more front that had to pass before we would leave, and we were prepared to wait until that happened. By the time we got to the airport the rain had already stopped and we walked from the car to the hanger in a bit of sunshine. You will recall that the plane was already packed and ready to go from our previous attempt, so all we had to do was pre-flight and get going. The pre-flight showed that everything that was supposed to be tight was tight and everything that was loose was loose, so off we went.

The plane didn’t exactly leap into the sky, being as close to the weight limit as it was, but we got into the air without trouble and made our right turn to the west. It was at this point where I had my first doubt. Intellectually I knew that we would have to stay fairly low for a bit and that there were tons of fields to land in if we had engine trouble, but knowing that and looking at the clouds in front of us are different things. No way would I push the envelope into unsafe territory, but the sight picture was still intimidating. We cruised west for a while and had to slalom a few clouds to remain legal, but no big deal. Just had to let go of the notion of following the magenta line and fly the conditions.

Once we got southwest of DeKalb things rapidly improved. We were a bit worried that there would be a lot of dirty air from the storms that had come through, but the flying was actually quite smooth the entire route. We even got to see an absolutely gorgeous sunset shortly before touchdown.

Now we’re sitting in the Capital Plaza Hotel in Jefferson City, MO. The weather to get out of here doesn’t look great, but at least we aren’t city at home. We have a couple options, we can check out the partial ruined penitentiary or perhaps we’ll instead check out the Missouri State Highway Patrol Safety Education Center. The choices are nearly endless!

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Day Two

‘All human power is a compound of time and patience.’ – Honore de Balzac

Yesterday was a wash. A bunch of storms ended up just missing Chicago, but swamping nearly everything we might want to fly between here and Hot Springs. Today we are facing another challenging weather day, but in the reverse. Chicago is just a bit un-flyable, but if we can get a break, the rest of our route looks good. So, here we sit again, waiting for the weather to improve.

With this bad luck getting started, we’re going to have to skip Hot Springs and go straight to Carlsbad. This takes the pressure of trying to get both parts of the trip done and let’s us be patient and make smart decisions about whether or not to fly.

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Packing The Plane

‘Those that say you can’t take it with you never saw a car packed for a vacation trip.’ – Unknown

Rainy morning, rainy afternoon, rainy evening. Still waiting for a window. Thought we had it earlier. We got the plane all ready to go and were going to head east over Indiana to get around some thunderstorms. Stopped at the fuel pump and topped off the tanks. Got the weather update (Sierra) from ATIS and made the call to the tower.

“DuPage Ground, Cessna 773SP is at the self serve looking for a south bound VFR departure with Sierra.”

“Cessna 3SP, DuPage Ground. We’re now IFR with a 700ft ceiling, information Tango will be current in just a moment. State intentions”

Damn it!

“I guess we’re gonna have to head back to the hanger and wait for another chance. 3SP”

Here’s a video to keep you all entertained until lift off. The sheet of paper you see me referencing is the weight and balance spreadsheet with every single item, and its location in the plane, on it so that we could assure that even with the extended range tanks topped off we would be safe and legal.

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Give ‘em a Hand!

“Do you believe in fairies? Say quick that you believe. If you believe, clap your hands!” ~ James Matthew Barrie – author “Peter Pan”

cw84.jpgLike a lot of people, I’ve spent my fair share of time in an airplane traveling. As a kid, we would fly on Delta (‘Delta is ready when you are’) to Florida to make our annual visit to the ocean, the family and the Mouse. Since the early 70′s, many things about the airline industry have changed. Aviation technology, stewardesses, in-flight meals and traveling ‘togs’. I clearly remember laying out my flying outfit the night before our trip as it was still popular to dress up while traveling on an airplane. No pill box hats and white gloves like the 40′s, but I donned my best bib and tucker like many other passengers.

I also vividly remember as we became wheels down in the Sunshine State, a round of applause erupting from the cabin. This was a practice that I didn’t hear from the mid 70′s until we visited Polska in 2004. It seems that the reason for this display is not readily agreed upon. Some say it’s in appreciation for the pilot and crew, others think it’s to avoid thrombosis from sitting so long and still yet others think it’s because the travelers are just happy to be at their destination.

I recently Googled this tradition and learned that there are some people who actively HATE those who clap after landing in an airplane. While I will not divulge the blog in which I found this distain, I will ask a simple question: What in the world happened to this person as a child that they would actively hate someone who does this and feel compelled to complain about it in their blog? So what? if people want to thank their captain and flight crew for a job well done. So what? if people don’t want to drop dead from a blood clot in a taxi on their way home from the airport. So what? if people are happy to have arrived at their destination safely.

I almost feel compelled to clap on every commercial flight I will take for the rest of my life in the hopes that this sour puss is on my flight! Spread the love man! Life is too short to get your knickers in a twist over something as harmless as clapping on an airplane. It’s good to get the blood flowing, it’s good to be happy and I happen to know one pilot who would appreciate the gesture. Here, here RW2!

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Final Preparations

‘There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.’ – Colin Powell

IMG_3600.jpgIt’s the final days before we attempt to start our trip. It looks like it might be an attempt, rather than a start, based on the weather forecast, but that’s ok. Better delayed at home than in a hotel somewhere I suppose.

The photo on this update was taken over the weekend. I got all the sectionals (the aviation maps for the country are divided into 36 sections) we need for the flight and taped them together on the floor. This allowed a sense of space that would otherwise be hard to get and made it easy to get some initial flight plans laid out. It was also just kind of fun to see everything in one place. 19 sectionals were necessary to complete our route.

We’ve also been doing a ton of other stuff since we last updated the blog:

  • Have had multiple conversations with Ed and Randy at the flying club about getting the plane ready, how to handle things if there are problems and making sure that no schedule maintenance would be coming due while on the road. Thanks especially to Ed who’s been a great help!
  • We camped a night to make sure the ground pads would be ok on Beth’s back. They were. We’re staying in hotels and cabins as we travel, but if we’re delayed someplace and there aren’t any rooms available we wanted to have a backup plan. This is one of those things that takes pressure off the urge to fly. Without someplace to sleep we would otherwise be on a couch in some dinky airport somewhere and thus, perhaps, more tempted to push the flying envelope.
  • We have tried various soups and ‘heat and eat’ foods to find a few to bring along on hikes and as rations if we’re delayed. My favorite is the kimchi noodle bowl. Surprisingly spicy!
  • We got a new pump for our camp stove. So we’ll be able to warm things. I also learned how to properly light the stove, which apparently no one in the family previously knew how to do. Maybe I’ll post a video of that, it’s kind of cool.
  • We’ve started to weigh our stuff. Gross weight on this plane is 2550 pounds. Empty it’s 1690. Fuel (extended range tanks full up) and oil add 332. That leaves 528 for me, Beth and our luggage. We’ve got almost everything weighed now and have 106 pounds to spare.

We also have a few things left:

  • I have to do final flight plans. In reality this will be a never ending process. But I should be able to get to a 95% level before we leave and thus only have to worry about making modifications due to weather and such while we’re traveling.
  • Pack clothes.
  • Clean up laptop to make room for tons of videos and photos.
  • Do final weight and balance checks.

I’m counting the hours!

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