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!