It’s Important To Have The Right Attitude

It’s kind of amazing how a good night’s sleep will improve your attitude. After bouncing around the skies yesterday, we are up early and ready to go today. I check the weather and find that the winds have finally subsided and we should be ready to go. We eat a quick breakfast and I ask at the counter if we can get a van to the airport ASAP.

I walk back to the room and get our bags, doing a final sweep for any forgotten items. As I get back to the lobby the van is waiting and the driver is gossiping with the girl at the front desk. I’m very taken aback, then remember that I’m not in Mexico anymore. Things just happen more quickly here in the states.

We drive to the airport, pay our fuel bill and get everything loaded into the plane. We start our taxi and hear a familiar voice on the radio “Triple-2 Tango Foxtrot, taxi bravo to runway 35″. It’s the same controller and cadence as when we arrived in the stiff winds yesterday. As we get to Bravo I look left and right and see we’re about in the middle of a nice long runway.

I hear his voice on the radio again, “Triple-2 Tango Foxtrot, if you would like I can give you an intersection departure at Foxtrot”. I agree to the terms of his offer and we do a quick run-up at the hold short line for that intersection. We pull onto 35, take-off and are above the tower by the time we get to the Delta intersection. I ask him the distance between the two and am told 1,100 feet. So fun to fly a short take-off and landing (STOL) aircraft at sea level!

We fly uneventfully to College Station (motto: Howdy) and get some slightly above average BBQ at CJ’s BBQ. The cheddar and jalepeño sausage is particularly good. Back to the airport, the crew has filled up the plane, we pay the woman with all the personality of an generic grade white paper napkin and head once more into the sky.

As we fly over Arkansas I notice a small vibration in the attitude indicator out of the corner of my eye. As I glance down the vibration, if there was one, is gone and the AI is as solid as ever.

There are many controlled burns happening in the area. The weather for several days has been windy and the forecast is for more winds. It seems that this has inspired a tremendous number of prairie burns. The air is thick with smoke below about 4,000 feet, but clear and smooth above that, so we fly along at 5,500 feet enjoying watching the world burn.

Out of the corner of my eye, I again see the AI move. This time as I look at it, the movement becomes more pronounced and the AI starts to wobble around.

Attitude Indicators are gyroscopic instruments similar to the toy gyroscopes most people played with as kids. They spin really fast and, as a result, stay rigid. Only when they start to slow down do they start to lose rigidity. The wobble on my panel indicates that this is what’s happening. I start diagnosing the problem. The heading indicator is still working and the suction gauge is still in the green, so the vacuum pump seems to be working fine. The AI is vacuum powered, so it should be working also. This almost certainly means that the AI itself has gone bad.

The AI is also known as the artificial horizon. It shows pilots how the airplane is oriented in space. Without one it’s possible to fly safely, it just takes more work. Since we’re in very good weather here and somewhat poor weather conditions exist in Chicago, I elect to land somewhere nearby to get the AI fixed and we can continue via United to Chicago.

Beth finds Little Rock is within range and has a big shop. We will have to eat into our reserve fuel some to get there, but it seems like the best combination of mechanics, proximity and commercial service so we head that direction.

After about 45 minutes we get there and find the United has a flight leaving in two hours. I make arrangements for the plane repair and we fly the friendly skies the final leg home.

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Against the Wind

Morning comes too early sometimes. Today it’s 5:30 so we can head back to the states. Rusty has graciously offered to take me to the airport so Beth can take the rental car to another airport where I will meet her.

He shows up at 7 and we pack the car and we head out. Quick stops at the Oxxo and the bank to get some pesos to exchange for gasavion to power 2TF and 45 minutes later we are at the airport. We stop at rusty’s hanger first. He’s leaving the country for a few months and wants me to periodically start the engines on his Barron to lubricate them and warm the moisture out of the oil. We then head down the ramp to load up our plane.

The military kids come over and run the dog past our luggage. Rusty then cranks Camino de Guanajuato on his car stereo much to their amusement. I load the plane and head to Querétaro to pick up Beth.

Landing in the typical beautiful mountain weather I taxi over to the GA ramp and start to sort out the how to leave the country. As when we arrived it’s a much bigger hassle than it needs to be. We start by closing my 20 minute flight plan to Querétaro and creating a new one to enter the states. This must be stamped by immigration, so we walk to the other side of the airport and get that stamp.

Next customs wants us. For them we need to get in the plane and taxi to their location. They inspect and we get another stamp.

We go to the caja to order fuel and pay landing fees, but get stuck on something simple. A kindly Mexican helps us translate before heading to his 182 and flying somewhere himself. We also find out that we can’t order fuel here, we need to go next door to operations.

Next door we get the fuel ordered and return to flight services with all of our, now stamped, paperwork. He approves our flight plan and we are on our way.

We dash out to the plane to make sure the fuelers do the right thing and are met by customs. Apparently the pane is now clear but we are not. We unload the plane and put our bags through the X-ray machine. Given the all clear again we return to the plane and launch before anyone else can change there mind and decide we need another stamp or pay another fee.

Due to the delays we are launching at nearly noon so called US customs bust before takeoff with a new arrival time estimate. They can fine you if you show up outside of your arrival window. Our initial estimate was 12:30 but now we’ll be arriving at more like 3:30.

Also due to the delays we are now flying in bumpy midday thermal turbulence in the mountains. It’s very pretty, but not very comfortable. After a couple hours we finally get clear of the mountains and pretty close to the Gulf of Mexico. Here we find a dramatic change in wind direction. The forecast had shown the winds to have moved through already, but experimental data is showing that the winds are very much alive and blowing in our face at 30 knots.

The problem now is that we are on an international flight plan and cannot land in Mexico without a big hassle. It also isn’t clear where we would land even if we wanted to since the winds would be bad. In any case the forecast for the destination is for much calmer winds, so we push on.

Getting closer to the US the winds take a turn for the worse and we now are facing 35 to 40 know headwinds. At this point we have no good option. We push to the US with reduced reserves or land at one of the nearby uncontrolled airports. We are just getting into range of the weather broadcast for our destination so I listen to it. Bad going to worse we find that the surface winds are 20 gusting 29.

There is no weather for the airports on this side of the border, but they a close enough that they must be similar. Again I decide to push on. I contact San Angelo center and get final permission to enter and give them an amended ETA.

Getting into the pattern at Brownsville, TX (motto: we have both kinds, country and western) the controller asks us to go fast as we can to allow traffic behind us to make better time. Typically I’ll do what I can to help, but this is still a new airplane to me and stress is already high due to the low fuel and high winds. I tell him that I’m ‘unable’ (air traffic control magic word) but that I’d be happy to do a 360 degree turn to let the other traffic land. He tells me not to worry about it and let’s me land at my own pace. The wind check on final approach shows 12 knots gusting to 21 a very welcome improvement, but still much higher than I would like given the circumstances.

We descend to about 20 feet and my hand hovers over the throttle like a cat ready to pounce on a mouse, the first hint of trouble and it will get mashed to the firewall and we will go around.

10 feet above and I feel a lull in the wind. The plane starts to settle and I start to think we might go ahead and land.

5 feet and we get hit with a big gust. Suddenly we’re at 20 feet again and floating. And the float feels weird. It’s like I’m flying a helicopter. The higher one flies the faster the plane is going across the ground compared to the speed indicated on in the plane. My last landing, 4 hours ago, was at Querétaro, a mountain airport. It was also with a slight tailwind. Those combined to make my landing amount to probably 80 knots across the ground. Now the combination of a fast headwind and being at 22 feet above sea level means that my ground speed is about 30 knots. I have plenty of time to contemplate all this while we hover at 20 feet.

Then the gust goes away as suddenly as it arrived. We are falling fast when we start to get cushion from returning to ground effect and a smaller gust kicks in. I feel the tail wheel touch a split second before my mains and pull back hard on the yoke to keep the tail pegged to the ground. Since our ground speed is so low when I touch the brakes we almost immediately come to a stop.

There is an adage in the tailwheel community, “don’t stop flying the plane until it is tied down.”

This truism comes into plane as I leave the runway and try to taxi to customs. Our plane doesn’t have enough rudder to keep the plane pointed in the right direction. I have to keep tapping the left brake to stop the plane from pivoting into the wind.

We arrive at customs and I basically stop trying to keep the plane straight. As soon as that’s the case the plane swings its butt around and we are pointed perfectly into the wind and ready to shut down.

US customs is a breeze compared with Mexico. But I will say this, every single Mexican has been nicer and more helpful than the Americans. While Mexican customs is a challenge, the Americans are just rude. I walk in and am met with “you’re late”. I tell him that we’re pretty much right on time and he looks at me like I’m lying. I find out that he was expecting us at 12:40, our original time, and realize he hasn’t gotten either of our amendments. I tell him that I spoke with officer Ballard and that I gave an update to San Angelo center, but he just looks at me and says that the day shift didn’t give him those updates. Must suck to live ones whole life in a jacket of mistrust and rudeness. I’m glad I’m not him.

He goes outside and checks the plane with a gadget that looks like it is from the 50′s and says we are free to go. The whole process takes 10 minutes and I think I might trade it for the 60 minutes I spent with much more pleasant people in Mexico.

We hop back in for a moment, ride the brakes to the FBO and get a ride to the hotel for a much welcome meal.

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