Saturday, June 4, 2016


Coming back from breakfast today, I noticed spatters of mud on the screen door. This is odd, as the door is recessed, three feet from the nearest mud, and out of the wind. There was also mud on the concrete. So I looked up.

Some enterprising swallow (probably the fork-tailed one that's been yelling at me when I leave for work) is building a nest right above my front door; there's already a good mud foundation on the brick, about 10 feet up.

This explains why the cat is having random attacks of "Bird! Die now! Why can't I get through the glass and kill you?" when she looks out the window that covers the aerial approach to the front door.

Given that swallows like to return to nesting sites, this may have to be dealt with soon, before they complete the nest and use it for a month.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016


Didn't go flying today.

The CFI was a little amused by the thoroughness of my preflight inspection - but when you take an unfamiliar aircraft, and put it in the hands of someone who has rebuilt one, there's a lot more things that I now know can be cattywampus to check. Example 1: They'd never had a student check that the ignition wires were firmly attached to the spark plugs. (Look, it only takes once, okay? I learned that lesson from somebody else's exciting flight, and now I check every time.) Example 2: I identified the "we can't find that oil leak", and pointed out that it was very clearly from which spot on which seal on which cylinder - which means that fixing it would require cracking the engine. Given it is a very minor oil leak indeed, I can translate the mechanic's "can't find" quite clearly as "Don't want to crack the engine to fix."

The CFI was less amused when I pointed out previously unnoticed hangar rash that needs fixing.

But be that as it may, no preflight reveals the dead battery. That waited until we got in and pressed the start button, and got a single click from the solenoid as reward. So, we got the plane jumped. Now, once the plane is jumped, there's one instrument that needs extra special loving attention on the checks, and that is the ammeter. It should read as solidly charging the flat battery.

This one didn't. It didn't show as discharging (ie, dead alternator and we're running on the freshly jumped battery), but it didn't show charging, either. Hmm, I thought, that's hinky. Either the ammeter isn't working, or something's funky with the alternator. Better keep an eye one it, especially on the runup. 

Three minutes later, as we were rolling toward the runway, the GPS and the Com Panel went dead. Yeah, my apprentice mechanic skills are saying that alternator's either dead, or putting out so little power that we're draining the freshly-jumped battery past the point of sustaining the heaviest electrical load (the big glass screen and high-powered GPS avionics.) My CFI, who has the mistaken impression that I fly no radio because I fly one of those ancient taildragger-type airplanes, leaned forward and shouted (Com panel dead means the headsets don't work.) "I know you're used to flying no-radio, so I'll give you the option of continuing the flight!"

I looked at 'em like they were asking if I wanted to tango with a thunderstorm. "Unfamiliar airspace, unfamiliar airplane, no comm, no electrical? No way!"

So we taxied back to the mechanic's hangar, and waved one over so they could see what was going on. He leapt up on the wing as we slid the canopy back, and I pointed out the dead GPS, dead com, and the backup nav/com and transponder were still live. Then I asked (or shouted, over the engine and prop), "Beacon is switched on! Is the light on?" This is one of those helpful cross-check things, because the beacon is wired to the master switch, not the avionics master. It wasn't - there's enough juice to run the surviving avionics, but not the lights. Definitely sounds like an alternator that's putting out just enough juice that it tests fine under no load when tapped with a voltmeter - but not enough to power the lights and avionics and charge the battery at the same time. Ah, intermittent electrical issues, how I hate thee.

So I shut her down, and rescheduled.

Monday, May 30, 2016

In Memoriam

Yesterday, Ray Carter, known as Gay Cynic online (though he was much more of a lighthearted optimist than the name proclaimed), went off on a grand scheme to consult with G-d on his pranks, black humour, and the fabulousness of the angel's weaponry.

He left behind a lot of friends, a long legacy of fighting for second amendment rights for all people of all persuasions, a red, white, & blue leather with rabbit fur and rhinestone-studded holster, and a body that lost its second round with cancer.

 Here's to all those we've lost, who have gone before. May we meet again, in a better, brighter place, where there is peace, and laughter, and no more tears.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Stretching My Wings

Went flying today.

A good friend asked if it was exciting and fun, and was puzzled when I said it was more akin to finally getting out of the hospital and into rehab. I was flat exhausted, and wiped out for the rest of the day. My darling husband had to wake me from a nap to go to dinner.

There were a few reasons for that - the first being that I haven't gotten my plane down here yet. She's in with the mechanics, getting everything triple-checked and tweaked, a lot of minor fixes done, before I fly her on a long cross-country. So I was flying an unfamiliar airplane, in an area I'd never flown before.

The unfamiliar airplane was really unfamiliar: it was a Grumman Cheetah, which about as different from my plane as you can get and still be a single-engine airplane. Instead of a canvas sling seat that seats two, this has leather seats for four. Instead of high wing with clear patrol doors, it's a low wing with a canopy that slides back. Instead of tailwheel, it's a castering nosewheel. Instead of drum brakes activated by little tabs down by my heels, it has hydraulic toe brakes (at the top of the rudder pedals.)

Instead of cruising along at 85 miles per hour, it cruises at 127 knots (146 mph). It doesn't get down to 85 until you're landing. Oh, and it has flaps. Electric flaps.

Instead of a basic panel and a handheld radio, it has a full IFR setup with two nav/coms, including an IFR-certified GPS. We had to do a VOR check. I didn't even remember what that was...

Essentially, it's like driving a Ford Model T on farm roads for 15 years, and then getting plunked behind a 2016 ferrari with the new-car smell still reeking from the seats, and being asked to perform skids, sharp corners, spinning circles, and parallel parking.

On top of that, we took off in wind 19G30 (nineteen knots steady, gusting up to 30 knots), and found the practice area went from clear on the way over to heavy haze while we were there. So I was trying to perform visual maneuvers without a visual reference... "nose on the horizon" is a whole lot more work when you can't see a horizon.

And then, as the wind got stronger, I started practicing landings. By the time I did my final landing, it was steady 25 knots - thankfully, straight down the runway. The peak wind I like to fly the Taylorcraft in when I'm out of practice is 15 knots - fortunately, this plane is not nearly as good at converting wind to lift, so I was able to get her down smoothly.

Yeah, my brain feels like I took the flying skills portion, and the even-more-atrophied IFR flying skills portion, broke the casts open, and put them through a really vigorous round of physical therapy. The neurons hurt.

Other important thing I learned: must bring water when flying in Texas. I hadn't realized how dehydrated I got in an hour and a half flying, until I was working through the water bottles in my car before I got to less important things like seatbelt, putting keys in the ignition, going home...

But you know what? It was worth doing, and worth doing well. I regret nothing. I got to fly, so it was a good day.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Low(ish) carb gravy!

Just followed an excellent suggestion on the net: put one chicken in crockpot on top of onions, celery, etc. as standard. Cook chicken. After removing chicken from crockpot, pour off most of the broth, until there's just enough to cover the veggies. Then, hit that mess with the immersion blender. Salt & spice to taste, and hey, presto! Flour-free, no-wierd-gums-or-starches, gravy!

...update. Works great when served hot; add more salt & seasonings first. Does not work for frozen & reheated meals; the solids separate out from the liquid.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Mr. Lincoln's Haircut

Hopefull all y'all were taught the tire tread penny check by your fathers. If not, it goes like this: take a penny, and stick it in the channels on of the tire tread, with Lincoln's head pointing down. If the remaining tread is high enough to decapitate the guy let the income tax come into being, or at least kill him by slicing off a chunk of his brainpan, then life is good and your tire has enough tread.

On the other hand, if Mr. Lincoln merely gets a marine hair cut, then it's time to replace your tread. There are more precise methods to define for street legal, but this is an excellent rule of thumb for when it's starting to eat into the margin of safety.

The car now has 4 brand new tires, and it's like getting an upgrade on the entire car. It rides smoother, making a lot of the familiar ruts, cracks, and patches in the road almost unnoticeable. Farm more importantly, it stops faster, accelerates a little better, and the car doesn't dip and sway into turns as much. Now, my "haul two kids, a dog, and two kayaks" sized car will never be a sports car by any means, but it's a wonderful upgrade. Even better, I'm now no longer eyeing wet intersections with the narration in my head going "Will it blend? Or will it hydroplane?"

I shall resist the temptation for a road trip via country roads just to take it on sharp corners, leaving a trail of exhaust and giggles. Really. Maybe.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Small town Saturday

This morning, we met at a diner for breakfast with LawDog & Phlegmmy, and then headed out to go see a classic car show. It was the sort of small-town show where the cars and trucks were a mix from the professionally-restored polished classics in cobalt blue, to the antique tractor being started by flywheel (on the fifth try, it still hadn't caught, and the young gentleman in the cowboy hat eyed it in exasperation. "I just cut the grass with it yesterday, and it started right up!")

There was also a dolled-up ATV made to look like a locomotive, pulling a train of fuel barrels cut out to be little train cars for little kids, advertising train rides for a buck per seat. It was beautimous.

The announcer was busy thanking just about every business and church in the small town as we walked past the booth, and Although Peter's on a diet, I stopped to contribute $3 for a funnel cake to a church booth. Long habit from running a booth sticks; I handed over three one dollar bills, to the delight of the gentleman who claimed I was the first customer to do that. "Everyone wants change for twenties!"

Yes, sir, that's going to be a universal human habit as long as that's the base ATM currency. If you're ever going to staff a booth, whether it's major convention or small town car show, make sure you have lots and lots of 1's, 5's, and 10's for change. Most vendors like to price their products at 5 / 10 / 20 just to avoid compounding the change issue - but clearly, North Texas small town felt that was a little too rich for a funnel cake. I'm not complaining! It was delicious!

We saw OldNFO in passing, bustling by and muttering something about forms. I suspect he got sucked into herding cats - as long as he's happy! I got a hug from him, so I'm happy.

Not a terribly exciting day, but it was quite fun, and we got to see friends & neighbors, and some really nifty cars. Hope your weekend is just as fun!