Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The story behind the entry

My "weekend" was full of getting things done. One of those things was repainting the gas tank covers on the plane, as black was a perfectly ration de-icing color in Alaska, and an utterly irrational color in Texas that'll boil the gas out of the wing tanks in direct sunlight.

So I roll out of bed bright and early like 6am, whip them off, sand, prime, and paint 'em while it's still cool, and have them in time to go fly before it gets hot, right?

...Not so much.       

Especially not when my husband, whom I adore beyond telling, took a look at the stepladder I was using and finally understood why I'd been talking of getting a 3-step stepladder for the plane instead of the 6-footer that I was awkwardly twisted halfway around trying to use. He took off to nearby city's big box store to get the stepladder for me. Because he loves me, and buys me stepladders that are correctly sized instead of jewelry. Did I mention he's awesome?

When he got back, he found me basically sitting on the tire, playing sudoku on the phone, because without my ride, I couldn't go back to the house to get my mini hacksaw to cut a slot in the one stripped screw. Because of course, out of 44 screws, one stripped past saving, without coming out. So we head toward the house, until I recall in despair that I don't know which of the boxes in the wall of Not Yet Unpacked has my mini hacksaw.

Back to nearby city's Home & Aircraft Depot! ...Where, in his intention to spoil me, the man insists I really ought to buy a cordless Dremel instead. Sure, it's not in the budget, but it'll work on his gun stuff too, and I'll be able to use it on something else on the plane, and... My darling man might not buy me flowers, but he bought a cordless micro dremel for me. I'm so keeping him. You ladies will definitely have to get your own; this man's all mine.

And then off to Fastenal, to get replacement screws. Where the replacement screws I need come in packs of 100. Well, if I have to replace one stripped screw, why not replace them all, and not have to worry about the not-yet-really-stripped ones?

By then, Peter's moving slow and getting snappish, which he's just chalking up to it being a painful day. (My knees were telling me all about the weather forecast, so I wasn't surprised.) I look at the clock, diagnose an unrecognized case of hangry (hungry + angry) underlying the incoming-weather pain, and off we go to lunch. Except the first spot is closed on Tuesdays. Eh, Gyros are tasty, and only two blocks further away.

Of course, this puts us back at the airplane to tackle the last screw well after lunch, which means I'm sanding the tank covers in the shade of the mulberry tree in midafternoon. In North Texas. In August. By dusk, I had two primer coats and one color coat on the tank covers (and the cardboard backstop, and on the fence, because overspray goes with the wind... did I mention that it was a calm day, right up until I started sanding?

...So I ended up putting the tank covers back on this morning. You know, roll out of bed, pull on clothes, grab a screwdriver and ladder, the tank covers, and scoot over for a quick install, right?

...right.

Anyway, off to go put it in the logbook in accordance with FAR Part 43, Appendix A, Paragraph C - Preventive Maintenance, where it will join many other entries whose "one simple little job" or "Um, this is going to be a lot more involved than we thought" are disguised in dry understatement. (In the case of my airplane, you can even read between the lines and find, in the very first logbook, "Grounded due to war." 9/11 wasn't the first time we closed the airspace; that was 12/07/1941. If logbooks could talk about the story behind the entry...)

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

A Welcome Grey

Today I woke up to a lovely, familiar sound - rain hitting the windows. My back-brain completely relaxed to the grey light leaking in around the blinds, and went "Ah, it's August. Wonderful! All is right with the world!"

The problem is, that's the "everything is back to normal" in Anchorage in August. (Rev Paul explains here.) But I'm in Texas, where the more common response is a full-throated, heartfelt "Thank G-d!" Something about no rain hitting this patch of dirt in weeks. (I don't think it's been two months, because there was this one thunderstorm in mid-June, but...) In our backyard, in the one bare spot of dirt that hasn't yet recovered from the prior owner's dog digging around, the earth was developing cracks almost three-quarters of an inch wide.

The grass in our yard went from "Could use a trim soon, or in the next three weeks" in a shade of green-tinged brown to a variegated patchwork of bright and deep greens, and looks like it's set to grow three inches by tomorrow morning. The world smells of wet earth and growing things, and is filled with birdsong. It's under 100 degrees, and I'm cleaning the house while the chance to get dust out without more dust blowing in lasts.

Still, a good day. Tonight I'll cook comfort food for friends (the tzatziki is already chilling and melding flavours in the fridge), and celebrate the rain and friendship.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

What's that position named?

So, Phlegmmy and I agreed that we should start doing yoga again. (Something about getting into and out of inner tubes on the Guadalupe River. Awesome time, absolutely wonderful, but... more flexibility better!)

R, being a wonderful and straightforward person, found a class, and went twice while I was "Eh, I'll get there on my next weekend." She reports flexibility returning in proportion with ouchiness.

I decided I can't just sit there any longer, so I'm going to restart in my office, using a youtube instructor and my yoga mat. Even if I'm not getting out of the house, by gosh and by golly, I'm going to do yoga!

10 minutes in, I'm in a downward dog pose when the cat walks under me and tickles my nose with her tail.

I'm not sure what position I landed in after the sneeze, but I'm sure it's very highly advanced.

At least, even if my dignity, the cat's dignity, and my face didn't survive unscathed, my hip feels better than it has in days...

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Mud-spattered

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

Underpowered

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.