Thursday, January 19, 2012

Signs I Married a Combat Vet, #82

His entire summary of the truck dumping all its transmission fluid as I was commuting to work: "Hey, it's not like you hit a land mine. I don't care about the truck, as long as you're fine."


Signs he married a pilot, #152

The mechanic says I saved the gearbox by stopping as soon as the transmission started malfunctioning. (I didn't; I got the truck out of the intersection first. Close enough.) He complimented Calmer Half by saying "Most people don't have the sense to stop right away, and end up trashing their vehicles. You've got a good wife."

I just blinked at Calmer Half when he told me this, vaguely offended and startled, and replied, "Of course I pulled over! First thing you always do when you get a strange engine noise is nose on the horizon and check your gauges, throttle and mixture, mags and carb heat. And if you can't fix it, you land as soon as practical!"

Saturday, January 7, 2012

FAA - Feds Against Avians

Let me introduce you to a bird few, if any, of you have ever actually seen, despite being five feet tall, with a wingspan of seven and a half feet: the whooping crane. Tallest bird in North America, and one of the most endangered, this ghost-white bird is one of the Things We Are Doing Right. In the winter 1941-1942, when my plane was only a few months old, the population reached its lowest ebb, with only 21 birds surviving and all of its migration lost - cooped inside a small refuge, clinging on like a last remnant before joining faded photographs and a few stuffed trophies in a museum.

They've gotten better, with the help of a lot of people, a lot of effort, and a lot of work - but bringing a population back from that brink is not something that you can click "like" on facebook, repost and feel it's all tidied up now. This is work that has taken decades, and will take decades more. As of 2011, there are 414 whooping cranes living in the wild. Even better, we have established more than one population, and given them migration routes again.

How do you teach a bird to migrate? Same way you teach young men and women to be honest, upright citizens, strong and free: you have to show them by example. They tried to raise whooping cranes with Sandhill Cranes, so they could learn - but the chicks imprinted on the wrong species, and failed to mate and raise families of their own. So, each year, chicks that have been raised by humans in whooping crane costume (so they don't imprint on the wrong species) learn to follow an ultralight as it taxis up and down the grass, then on short hops around their home site, and finally, out on the long journey from Wisconsin to Florida.

This is working. I don't mean that in the "The first run trial seems promising" sort of way, I mean that the birds are, despite predation and accidents, migrating on their own, mating, trying to raise chicks (mostly failing due to parental inexperience), and succeeding - teaching the few chicks that survive to adulthood to fly the migration with them. (There are also other sites where birds have been transported but not taught to migrate, in the hopes that they'll be a genetic reservoir if something (avian flu) should happen to the main population.)

Well, this is working - except that the FAA got its knickers in a twist last year, and decided to investigate Operation Migration, the fine dedicated folks who take the time and effort each year to teach the cranes the migration path, flying in ultralights while herding cranes all the way down. After all, technically their ultralights they use for long-distance flying are now under the Light Sport Aircraft category instead, a category that the FAA wants to forbid flying for hire. (Like ObamaCare, it's a badly written blanket regulation that's being riddled with exemptions instead of just taking it out.) The Wisconsin Flight Standards District Office (FSDO) realized there was nothing to gain from trying to ground Operation Migration, and possibly a species driven extinct to satisfy a badly thought out bureaucratic rule. They promptly decided that they were going to Take No Action, and put that in writing - essentially refusing to modify the rule to fit reality, but refusing to prosecute reality and drive a species back toward extinction through enforcing the rule.

Happy ending in an over-regulated environment? Not so fast. You see, the FSDOs are like little kingdoms, with the US divided between themselves - and they don't believe in playing well with each other, much less the flying public. So the Alabama & Northwest Florida FSDO decided that it is not bound by the Wisconsin FSDO's investigation, and launched one of their own against each and every pilot in Operation Migration. The migration this year has been interrupted, birds penned in Alabama, while bureaucrats make themselves feel important through obstruction and obfuscation. Way to go, assholes.

If you'd like to help, please go to Operation Migration, read their release, and then go to their Guestbook and leave a comment urging the FAA to stop interfering. The comments, both by quotes and by amount, will be bundled and presented as public support for Operation Migration. The only pressure that a bureaucrat may fear is public pressure that might affect funding - and in an election year, the more helpful comments made and publicity of idiocy given, the more public pressure can be brought against the FAA to remember that driving whooping cranes into extinction is not going to win them favors or funding.

Source of numbers:

In the News

Thursday, January 5, 2012

I was wrong

Calmer Half has amazing reserves of grace and calm, running deep through his character. I forget this from time to time - familiarity makes more highlight of the day to day sprinkled with awful puns and truly atrocious limericks.

On the other hand, after petulantly informing him that dinner was not wonderful, and I'm completely burned out on onions, and not finding much positive to say, I sat and glowered at my computer while he thoughtfully took a cuppa downstairs instead of taking the perfect opportunity for a pointless domestic conflict.

Half an hour later, he came back upstairs in search of another cup of tea. I rose, and took the opportunity to sheepishly confess that I'd just tossed all of dinner and the prior lunch back up into the toilet, wasn't feeling too hot (downright shivering cold, as a matter of fact), and it had not a thing to do with his cooking. But I still don't want anything that tastes like onion for a good long while.

Fearing no contagion, he hugged me, informed my stubborn butt how long I had before I will be herded to a doctor, and offered nice bland oatmeal. Taking no offense at the utter revulsion in stomach and face at the thought of more food, he told me he loved me, and left my standoffish I-feel-bad-don't-touch-me self alone at the computer. No gloating, not even a "don't grouch at me when it's all you" or "See, dinner really was fine." Just - gentle understanding. Here I am working on being scrupulously fair and acknowledging when I'm wrong, and he's all the way past that to easy forgiveness.

I understand intellectually just fine that someone who can say in that particularly dry tone "Tracer fire not only tells the enemy where you are, it's also flammable - and bush fires are no respecter of sides" is not a man who's going to be particularly easily perturbed by the little disasters of civilian life. But to casually walk by the thrown gauntlet of grouchy, touchy wife and gently defuse the unexploded bomb of coming-down-sick temper, is still a surprise to me. I *heart* Calmer half - he makes me aspire to be a better person.

I think I'll tell him, as soon as I finish swinging past the bathroom and discussing breakfast with the toilet.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

How to jump-start an airplane

I went out to the airport to go fly with my vacation time a couple days ago, but I got to talking to a gent about how I flew my plane down from Alaska (He's looking at flying his cub up). Then I went, but it was a little too windy for me to feel comfortable with my rusty skills. Then it was far too windy. Finally, a bright sunny day, clear below 12000, light winds. I went to the airport, did a very thorough preflight, gassed the plane, checked the fuel again, pushed her out, and pulled the starter... only to have the prop barely turn over, with all the vigor of my morning wakeup on vacation.

Yet one more reason to fly more often - if you don't, like on a car, the battery runs down.

How do you jump an airplane? Well, you can handprop 'em. This one will even do it, and my neighbor in his 152, fresh back from a flight, offered. I, being relatively unfamiliar and knowing my plane has weak brakes, declined.

If you have a battery up front in the engine compartment, you can easily pull the battery out easily and put it on a charger. But my battery is in the back of my baggage compartment, penalizing me with weight of very heavy starter wire for not having swapped my 13-pound alternator out for a lightweight and expensive plane power one, and not changing my huge, heavy, modified tractor starter (no kidding, these things started life on tractors) for an expensive, lightweight skytec starter. This means it's a pain to get out. I figured that was my best option, but it wasn't.

Instead, the line guys came out with their electric golf cart, the one with a tow bar sized for a 747 that they use to move cessnas around. I tied down and chocked my plane, and they crawled in and attached the jumper cables. Then, one flipped the golf cart seat up to reveal a bank of batteries. Never get into a wreck with an electric golf cart - they make look flimsy, but there's a heck of a lot of ballast under the seat!

One pointed to the other, and said, "Each cell provides six volts. So, find out what their electrical system is - twelve volts, ma'am? Then put that on this post here, for two cells. You can charge or jump start up to a 36-volt system with this."

It worked, too. Of course, then I had a running airplane, and was holding the brakes while they moved the golf cart away (remember that part about tied down and chocked? The cart was tucked behind my wing and in front of my horizontal stabilizer in order to reach the battery), then untied and unchocked my plane. Don't try this with just one person!

I flew for an hour, recharging the batteries of airplane and soul, and came in as the sun was a mere finger-width off the horizon. The line guys refused offers of pizza, beer, or takeout food, and told me with a grin, "Just have a great new year!"