Saturday, October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween!

So far: two fairies, both shorter than my waist, with attendant smiling mothers hovering on the sidewalk, one young witch with a fabulously awesome homemade hat, parent cruising slowly in the car on the street, and one young luau dancer (with sweatshirt on top) attended by a big sister and big sister's buddy on the sidewalk, reminding her to say "Happy Halloween!"

Sure, they're mugging me for candy, but compared to all the "bring your child to where it's safe with approved community stations and healthful snacks", I'll take encouraging kids to ring up random neighbors and see that stranger aren't always scary (even if they have a fabulous black dress and crazy purple stockings)!

Happy Halloween, folks!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


The wings are hung in the rafters, the ailerons tucked away, the tools stored in a tote, and I am gone again.

I shall be back, I promised her. In the spring, to rebuild anew.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Poly-Stits Workshop

There are many skills in this world that are best taught and learned with hands-on instruction. No amount of dry spectographic and temperature detail in a textbook can best describe the right shade of glowing color that is best for hammering bar stock into a folded steel knife. No video can truly teach the feel of a ripe melon, or the smooth rhythm of a pass of a paint gun.

This weekend I was one of a class of four in a garage learning how to cover a fabric wing. We started with books describing both the Poly-Fiber and Ceconite processes, but it was up to us to crack them and read more in our own time. Instead, we spent most of our time with our hands on tools, being walked through recovering an aileron from a DC-3. (If you can recover that, with tapered chord and tight radius bends, wings and fuselage should be simple.)

I learned how to rib-stitch, how to avoid making mistakes, and how to fix the mistakes we made. If we didn't make the mistake, our patient instructor made them for us, so we could learn without fear on somebody else's plane! And like many things in life, if you understand the Why and the How, then the process is simple, but not easy. Fabric work is not complicated, but it does demand attention to detail and the occasional time spent standing there with cup of coffee in hand, plotting out how to accomplish the desired result.

Interestingly enough, this workshop drove home the point of increased expectations. I am rebuilding my plane to a far higher standard than she was originally built. When she came off the line in 1941, she had an expected lifespan of five years. Now, I am expecting the covering I put on her to have a working lifetime of 20 to 30 years with a minimum of fuss and maintenance... If I take good care of her and keep her in a hangar, the work I do now will show when she celebrates her 100th birthday.

That said, many choices in covering will not be driven by aesthetics or desire to look pretty, but rather by desire to have her be the best plane for getting out and exploring the world. We covered doubling fabric on the bottom of the elevators (where the tires are most likely to throw gravel), where to put six-inch tapes (sure, the manual says two, but everybody leans on the leading edge when pouring in fuel), where to put inspection rings (everywhere you might ever need them, whether or not you ever actually cut them out), where to put inspection panels (inspection rings will let one eyeball or one hand up inside, but not both at the same time), installing seaplane scoops over drain holes, how to keep mud daubers out of drain holes, how to repair dents in a leading edge, and how to repair moose-attacked fabric sufficient unto flying back to town for real repairs.

As to using poly-fiber vs. ceconite for the covering? One burn test later, I have absolutely no regret or second thoughts on my choice.

That was some of the best money I've ever spent for instruction, including all my semester-long classes in college.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Not if, but when.

When I was first taking ground school in Fairbanks, learning how to fly in this wild land, my instructor was a tall, grizzled man with a cheerful, laid-back humor. But as he stood before the class that day, he grew very still, and serious. He looked each of us in the eyes in a complete honesty, from a depth and stillness of soul that is anathema to our modern tv-raised hyper culture, and quietly spoke truth.

"If you stay in this - keep flying up here - it's not if you know someone who's not going to make it, but when. Listen up, look around, and pay attention, so that it's not you."

I have a friend, a park ranger who is from the same gentle mountains as I am, and we are both given to agree that the Appalachians are heart-warming, nurturing, gentle, and full of life. They do not compare, but contrast Alaska. Alaska's beauty is breath-stealing. She will catch you and force you to stillness, to awe, at her might, her glory, her grandeur, the sheer scale and wildness. She will strip back your illusions, and blast away your pretensions. She is shock and awe - and she is trying to kill you.

If you're hiking the Appalachian Trail, it's hard to die. Up here, it's easy. The land is not tame, and though we can sit in the city and ignore the earthquakes under our feet, the volcanoes around us, the glaciers that once ground the land down and still can, cough through the smoke of forest fires and smugly note we're above the danger point for most tsunamis, bitch about road closures from avalanches of snow or freeze-thaw loosened rock... It is only our ignorance, self-inflicted, that lets us think we are safe from nature.

That awareness of death weaves its way through our culture - everyone has lost someone, and understands that the land will claim its own if you do not respect it... and sometimes even then. There is no reason to be timid, no reward for cowardice, as it will kill you just as quickly. So it is better to reach for the stars, to climb the mountains, hike the backcountry, go fishing on the Bering Sea, and accept the glory of life with all its danger inherent.

You are going to die. So live, and live well. Love, and let yourself be loved. Enjoy yourself for who you are, and become the person you want to be. Reach out to your friends, to the family you were born with, the family you choose, and the family you make. Because all we are given is a birth, a death, and an uncertain span between to write our names in the hearts and minds of those around us, making our immortality in their memories.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Winter Hibernation in the sun

Not much progress made, the past two weeks. Not much more to be made if it's not made this month, because I'm packing to leave state. I wish I had a truck and trailer, but since I have an econocar that wouldn't last the drive down the Alcan, much less haul the plane behind, I shall be storing her and back in a few months to tackle her again.

It's too late in the year, already, for me to try to get her together and fly her through the passes and the winter storms. So outbound on a Boeing, stuffed into the guts of economy class, trying hard to sleep and dreaming of the joy and luxury when I'll take three weeks to recreate the 14-hour flight, and many stops all along America instead of three layovers in the artificial cities that are airport terminals.

Still, Stits workshop is on the 10th & 11th, so I'll have hands-on learning to cover my wings when the time comes. And I look forward to visiting friends I've met on the internet, and friends of my fiance, and warmth and sunlight in a time when that is a rare and precious resource in Alaska. Who knows, maybe this year for the first time in years, I may get a tan line that doesn't stop at my wrists and neck! ...nah.