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‘Go where he will, the wise man is at home’ – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Left base: Runway 1, Searcy, AR
Left base: Runway 1, Searcy, AR
Left base: Runway 28, West Chicago, IL

After flying back from Austin on New Years Day we just vegged out in front of the football games and recovered. Dad has a home theater in the basement. One of the ones with a curtained 12 foot screen and a bunch of speakers for the surround sound. For food we had a big shrimp plate, veggie platter and some chips and dip. For dinner we went to a local chain restaurant and got some fried catfish. It was good, but nothing compared to Flying Fish.

Then came the best part after a long new years eve and early morning. We slept for 11 hours. It was glorious.

Why are there three landings listed on this post? I had a chance to take my Dad, his wife and my little brother up for a couple quick flights before Beth and I left for home.

They live reasonably close to the airport so I thought I’d take them up, fly around their house and then back. Immediately upon arrival an issue popped up. There was frost covering the airplane.

Frost is strictly prohibited as it interferes with the airflow over the wings. This kills lift and makes the airplane sketchy to fly. Fortunately, after a week of bad weather, we had a bright sunny day. The first thing we did upon arrival was turn the plane into the sun. This allowed the sunlight to make short work of the frost. By the time I was done with my pre-flight the ice had completely melted and we were ready to go.

First I took up my Dad and six year old little brother. The air was cold and dense. Even with the plane near gross weight we accelerated rapidly and climbed quickly into the sky. We followed the highway toward Cabot and circled the house a couple times. My brother was glued to the window the entire time. As we landed I heard him repeating from the backseat, “I love flying”.

Next up was Sandra. Same trip, this time with a camera.

When we got back there was a helicopter doing a training flight. There are parts of flying airplanes and training to fly airplanes that are pretty boring. I wrote a few days ago about holding patterns as an example of pure boredom. As boring as airplane training can get, it’s nothing compared to learning to fly a helicopter. It’s been compared to standing on a beach ball. You constantly have to be feeling the aircraft and making small adjustments in order to keep from falling off. And this is the work you have to do to go nowhere. Generally for $250/hr or so.

I dropped off my passengers and we loaded up for home.

Searcy is an uncontrolled airport. There was very little wind. Those two facts combined mean that it isn’t clear what the “most right” runway is. When I was flying there was a wind slightly favoring runway 1. Hence the two landings listed above. When we took off for home someone else had decided instead to use runway 19. Ah, the pleasures of a free for all…

This was a long flight. The approximate endurance of our plane is five and a half hours, from which I subtract an hour for safety margin. This flight would be a bit over four. Over that much time we passed through a lot of different airspace and talked with a lot of different controllers. It’s a shame that some people train in uncontrolled environments and never have a chance to get comfortable on the radio. Using services like flight following is a great safety net.

This flight took us through eight airspaces with special rules:

Shirley C MOA
Lindberg C MOA
Salem MOA
St. Louis Class B
Springfield Class C
Central Illinois Regional Class D
O’Hare Class B
DuPage Class D

MOA stands for Military Operations Area and designates an area set aside for training exercises. Class B, C and D are different levels of control for the areas around airports.

We also used 12 frequencies.

122.70 Searcy
120.07 Memphis Center
128.35 Kansas City Center
127.47 Kansas City Center
128.10 St. Louis Approach
119.15 St. Louis Approach
126.15 Springfield Approach
128.72 Peoria Approach
123.75 Chicago Center
124.80 DuPage Weather
120.90 DuPage Tower
121.80 DuPage Ground

At Searcy we talked with other planes and a helicopter using the airport to coordinate our departure. Small airports often don’t have any air traffic control, so pilots work together to make sure everyone can operate safely.

From Memphis until DuPage we communicated with various controllers who kept an eye on us with radar. This is the essence of flight following. We punch a magic number into a magic box that makes us show up on the radar screen. Then when they see other planes nearby they can give us updates and help us spot the other traffic.

Once we got closer to DuPage we got weather, landing instructions and taxi instructions.

The self fuel pump was broken, as usual, so we bought more expensive fuel from the truck. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s frustratingly consistent. In the two years I’ve been flying the thing has always had problems. A more cynical person might suspect it’s to sell more fuel from the truck. But I’m sure that can’t be it. Nah…

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New Years Eve

‘If we don’t change direction, we’ll end up where we’re going.’ – Chinese proverb

Left base: Runway 4L, Little Rock, AR. Southwest Flight 1567

We had finally made it to Austin and settled in downtown at our hotel and decided it was time for a decompression drink. Right next door is Cedar Door, one of our favorite watering holes. The core of the bar is a structure that has moved multiple times before ending up in its current location and undergoing a tripling in size. We sat under the sunny sky and enjoyed the ambience. Beth had her standard Mexican Martini and I had a nice dark local brew. I wish I could remember what beer it was as it was tasty and something I hadn’t had before. We finished things off with a crispy plate of nachos.

Our plans for the evening were thwarted by a general lack of healthfulness on Beth’s part. We were thinking of going to see The Scabs at Antone’s, but she wanted to get some sleep and try and heal up for new years eve. We stopped at the corner shop, got some beer and hunkered down in our suite relaxing the rest of the evening.

The next day we needed something to do in the afternoon. The local IMAX was showing Tron: Legacy about two hilly miles away, so we started walking. Between the hotel and the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum where the IMAX is located lies the state capital building. It is an Italian Renaissance Revival building made of pink granite. It makes for a great combination of classic lines with a different color than most people are used to seeing.

Legacy tries to take the core of the original Tron, make it current and turn it into a senpai/kōhai zen education story not dissimilar to the original star wars. This was stretched to include a clumsy digital version of the jedi mind trick.

Missing were any real grounding in computers or electronics, which made the original more notable than just a science fiction tale. Also missing was any sense of strategy for the light cycle game. Without any way for the viewer to internalize what is happening in the game, it fails to engage. It becomes just a series of special effects.

For the evening we hoped to go to our favorite sushi place. Unfortunately we didn’t come up with this plan until it was far too late to get a reservation. After looking around for a bit we decided to make things easy and just go across the street to PF Changs. I’m not a huge fan. It seems expensive for what you get. That said, it was convenient and we could get a table. Important qualities on one of the busiest dining nights of the year.

I had Dali Chicken. This is a nice spicy chicken in a chili sauce. We also have a few veggie gyoza and some seared tuna.

We had a few extra minutes so we stopped by our favorite Irish bar, B.D. Riley’s. We ran into one of our friends who is a partner in the bar and had a double Irish whiskey to pregame for the Bob Schneider show at the Paramount Theater.

Finally, it was off to see Bob.

We had never been to the Paramount and didn’t really know what to expect. It is gorgeous. Built in 1915 it was designed in a classic revival style. After many years of neglect and lack of maintenance it underwent a major restoration in the 80′s and has been a venue for a wide variety of acts ever since.

The show itself was great. Bob was in good voice and they added horn and string sections to fill out the sound for the larger venue. The show did lose a lot of the intimacy of Saxon Pub or even Antone’s though. People mostly sat in their seats for the first half, even during some of the more popular songs like 40 Dogs. Eventually Bob got everyone up and dancing. For sure we had fun, but I don’t think we’ll pay those kinds of prices for that sort of venue again. We’re just big fans of the smaller places.

The next morning we were entertained to get a cab at 8:30 and have the driver tell us that we were his first fare of the day that wasn’t drunk. Apparently we’re lightweights for being back to the hotel by 1:30 or so!

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Austin Bound

‘I look forward to a great future for America – a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose.’ – John F. Kennedy

Left base: Runway 17L, Austin, TX. Southwest Flight 767

Arriving in Searcy we pulled over to get some avgas. As I got the plane grounded and the fuel pump started my little brother came out with his mom and proceeded to get completely engrossed with a helicopter that was taxiing to its hanger. I was sure that he’d be interested in going up for a ride, but apparently after seeing the chopper my ordinary little plane paled by comparison. He wanted to watch the helicopter and nothing was going to change his mind.

Off we went into downtown Cabot. Cabot is in Lonoke County, one of those wonderful places where the government thinks it is smarter than you and should therefore make decisions on your behalf. I refer, naturally, to it being a dry county. This has been a great opportunity for Ace Liquors, a few yards over the border.

As we continued toward Dad’s house we noticed the local pastime. At least if quantity of stores is any indication, pawning is what people in the area love to do. There were big shops, small shops, junky shops, better shops. Shops of all kinds of variety. I guess if the nanny won’t let you drink you have to find something to do with your time.

When we get to the house we get to play with Marley, the young Border Collie of the house, and get our dog fix. Over the past few years we’ve lost our last two dogs and don’t intend to get anymore for a while. We’re on the fly too much these days and it wouldn’t be fair to try and keep a an animal that wants to live in groups in those sorts of circumstance. Getting a shot of oxytocin from playing with an energetic puppy was just what the doctor ordered.

Border Collies are among the smartest breeds of dogs, so I thought it would be fun to try and teach him something. I know there is controversy about what dogs are smart or dumb, but as a former Basset Hound owner I can speak authoritatively that there is a wide gulf between these two breeds. I decided to try and teach her to fetch. Having been told that she didn’t like to fetch that seemed like a good challenge.

First I found out her favorite toy and we started playing with it. I would take the toy and make it squeak. She would get very excited. Then I let her play with it some while I played with her. Finally, I threw it and she went running full speed to chase it down. I’ve read that one of the keys to training is to quit before the dog gets bored. Then they will crave it and be excited next time. So, after just a few throws we stopped.

On the heals of that success I decided to try a bit of table manners with her. Our Basset used to be terrible around mealtime. He would always sit around the table staring and drooling. We finally fixed this with an idea we used with him, the begging mat. We had a doormat that we designated the begging mat and the Basset was trained (slowly) that if he stayed on the mat that he would occasionally get a treat. If he begged at the table he never got anything and instead was shoed onto the begging mat. This took a really long time, but then it stuck.

With the Border Collie it didn’t take nearly as long. She, understandably, had no idea why I was putting her on her bed instead of letting her sit starting at me while we ate. After all just a few minutes prior we had been playing a second round of fetch, so clearly I was part of her pack. Still, once I gave her a little treat for staying on her bed she started to get it. After a couple false starts she didn’t get off again the rest of the meal. The next night she didn’t get off at all.

Clearly Border Collies are much smarter than Basset Hounds.

The next day we tried to see downtown Little Rock. It was a miserable, wet, cold day. This is to be expected, if it weren’t we would have been in the air. With Dad as our tour guide we headed downtown.

First we stopped at Flying Fish for lunch. Beth had a mexican shrimp cocktail. It was a nice large serving and a bit spicy. Not too much to handle, but a bit of a kick to it. I’m not really a fish fan so I got a combo basket with a couple pieces of fried catfish and a chicken strip as a backup plan. Their cornmeal coating turned out crispy and delicious and the catfish equally tasty. I also had a bowl of red beans and rice that were fantastic. To top it all off, it turns out they have a location in Garland, TX where I have been doing a bit of consulting. More of this grub is in my future.

We also went to the Clinton Presidential Library. The building is a large rectangular structure with glass on all sides. The 3rd and 4th floors contain a history of the Clinton presidency. Combined the two floors are modeled on the Trinity College library in Dublin. It’s a great place that reminds us that a lot of good things happened when he was running the show.

The weather still stinks, so we finally made the call to abort our plans to fly ourselves to Austin and instead booked tickets on Southwest in order to get there in time to ring in the new year.

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