Saturday, June 30, 2012


They say couples grow to be more like each other over time. Now me, I moved to Alaska on a whim a long time ago, and it was a series of whims and friendships that led to meeting Calmer Half. (The title of this blog, though whimsical, is not untrue.)

You'd think I'd grow to be calmer and more grounded, eh? Surely Calmer Half is much too laid back and sensible to grow more like me...

When we got to Mammoth Caves, the easiest tour, with 150 stairs, lots of sit-down benches and rest spots, was sold out for the day. The young, fit, and enthusiastic park employee recommended another tour that "Pretty much just like that one, only with a few more sights!"

Calmer Half looked at me, smiled, and said "Oh, well, why not?"

...So that may not have been the wisest choice, but aside from the inevitable pain and feeling utterly wiped out that night and kinda stiff and sore the next day, hey, he saw Mammoth Caves!

I think I know how I'm rubbing off on him.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Friends help you wash your car.
True friends help you... wash your cat after it tangles with a skunk.

I think I'm going to go wash my hair a third time before bed.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The view from the other side

One of the wonderful things about being friends with expats (and the wife of one), as well as growing up with kids who've been overseas is that I've been exposed to a fair number of worldviews - including historical and political - that are truly, in the most basic sense of the word, foreign.

It is only after you learn that there is another viewpoint that you can really start to see the shape of your own worldview, and question it. When you learn another culture, you can look back and question your own. When you learn another set of politics, the cultural signalling and stereotypes of your own become even stranger and more transparent.

With that, I present to you an essay from the president of Estonia - writing not as a president, nor as a politician, but as a thoughtful observer of human events. Just as the author is not American, neither is the intended audience - and that in itself is enlightening.

I'll Gladly Pay You Tuesday by Toomas Hendrik Ilves

Because that which is alien serves to make us know the world, and ourselves, better.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sometimes, dreams do come real.

The plot was hatched by a chance encounter with a random factoid on the web Friday night. Saturday morning, I walked carefully into a 10 year old boy's bedroom. (Not to avoid waking him; to avoid stepping on stray army men or legos.) On hearing his name, he twitched, and squeezed his eyes tighter. So I tried cajoling. "Wake up. Wanna go fly?"

Sleepy, confused, and utterly hopeful eyes snapped open as a small body half-levitated out of bed, like waving bacon under a black lab's nose. "Uh?"

"Wanna go fly?"



Now, this particular young man has absolutely fallen in love with the Memphis Belle, and can go on at length about the differences between the movie and reality (but still loves to watch the movie), as well as the lengths he's gone to in trying to build a better model of a B-17. He's plotting furiously to make a pilgrimage to the Air Force Museum as soon as the original Memphis Belle is restored. But even if it isn't a B-17, he still loves my little Taylorcraft. Heck, his view on growth spurts is "Soon I'll be able to reach the rudder pedals!"

So, his father had cracked slightly, and mentioned the night before that there was a B-17 down at Smyrna airport. I could see the glow in his eyes as I said "I haven't been into a towered airport in a while; I need to go to one today to stay in practice. So we're headed down to Smyrna." However, he didn't say a word about it. (Mostly, I think, he was terrified I'd change my mind, or that if he'd mentioned it, the weather would come down, or something.)

I am rusty on the radio - I can't write down a clearance as fast as they can speak 'em anymore. More practice is needed! Fortunately, the pattern was empty, so I wasn't competing with any sleek slick go-fast machines, and the clearance was pretty straightforward. So in we scooted. As we came down (high, as the much wider runway suckered me with a visual illusion), the Kid started chatting excitedly, forgetting the "be quiet when I'm taking off and landing" rule. My eyes scanned the taxiways, looking for any conflicting traffic, and noticed the olive green shape taxiing up to hold short, even as the radio confirmed that was their intention.

"Kid, Look Right!" I snapped, taking a hand briefly from the throttle to point, then putting all my attention to landing the plane. ASOS reported winds light and variable, and to me that means peril of a quartering tailwind coming 'round. The chatter had stopped, but I was a little busy to pay attention - only after I had bounced lightly, then settled on the ground and slowed to a very controllable pace (the light and variable was a quartering left crosswind at that moment), did I look over at the kid.

He hadn't noticed that I had snapped at him - his jaw was hanging open, and his entire body was cranked around to look back blindly through the fabric of the plane to the four-engined bomber he'd seen below and to the side, props idling as they waited for us to clear the runway. It wasn't until I'd gotten through the initial request for progressive (otherwise known as "help, I'm lost here") taxi, steered down a taxiway, across another runway, and onto a third (or fourth?) taxiway that he finally spoke. "That was a B-17!"

"Yep." Because really, he wasn't looking for an explanation about The Liberty Foundation, and the tours they do. He was just confirming that his dream bird had leapt off the TV screen and taxied up to a runway as we were landing.

If you're ever flying into Smyrna, TN, the Smyrna Air Center are an awesome bunch of folks. Despite having a ratty old taildragger with tiny tanks, they were just as gracious and helpful as if we'd stepped off a chartered 747. Don't worry about parking your plane, we'll move it for you. We'll fill it for you, do you need a courtesy car? The Kid and I hit the bathrooms, got drinks from the vending machines, shared a bag of popcorn (carbs don't count if there's flying involved), and then wandered out just in time to catch the B-17 back and doing a quick turn between rides. And that's when he saw the nose art, and realized he was face to face with the movie-prop Memphis Belle. Indeed, if you read the noseart closely, her name is "The Movie Memphis Belle."

Generally, I'm a high-strung creature, but when aviation's involved, that switches off, and a much calmer, wiser attitude takes over of "It'll take as long as it takes, and cost as much as it costs. No big deal, eh?" Would that I could keep that fleeting whiff of sanity off-airport! So I eyed the books for sale, consulted with the Kid on swag to buy, and kicked back to wait until they were done giving rides and would be parked and open for tours. The Kid has been around the airport enough to be safe, and is generally reliably polite and respectful enough to be unsupervised. Not that I didn't keep an eye on him and send him to get more drinks so we both stayed hydrated, but after the first round, I let him go up on his own to wait his turn and then respectfully pepper their mechanic with questions on the plane.

Unfortunately, by the time they were done and we'd gotten the tour (and I had a hyper-exited boy who had passed so far beyond excitement into something almost simulating calm), a line of convective cells had cut me off from our home airport. What's a gal to do? Kick back, chat with the mechanic, the pilot and copilot, and very respectfully listen to a gentleman who'd been a belly gunner in one during the war. The Kid was too excited to stay in one spot, so I pointed out that if he waited in line, he could go through the tour again. And again. Nobody was stopping him from doing it more than once.

At one point, as the belly gunner had stopped for questions after talking about the cold at altitude, a small tow head dashed up to my elbow. "I went through six times!"
Several sets of bemused and amused eyes met mine, and looked at him. The old gentleman leaned forward. "Are you ready to fly her yet?"
"Oh, no!"
"Well, what do you want, then?" He smiled.
"I... want to go through her again!"
"Then why don't you?" I replied, bemused at how well he'd expanded on my original permission.
"Can I?" He looked up with an incandescent grin.
"They won't mind?"
"I think they understand young men who really love airplanes." I grinned at the back of his head, as he was already gone back to the now-shorter line.

Some time later, I checked the weather again, shrugged, and called the Kid's father, mentioning if the weather didn't clear, we'd need a ride. Smyrna Air Center, by the way, will pull you into the hangar for weather, and won't charge, even for an overnighter caused by weather. Color me impressed! His dad and sister came down (Sadly, they didn't wake up a napping Calmer Half), and we went out to dinner. Sometime between the nachos coming out and the carne asada being polished off, the weather cleared up, and I took his sister for a fifteen minute hop back to the hangar, while the Kid had some alone-with-dad time to gush about the airplane.

Because I'm me, and it was that sort of day, I had the fairly freshly-licensed teen drive me home, giving her experience in a different vehicle, a little night driving, and a little reinforcement that not all adults thump their feet on the imaginary brake pedal every time they second-guess her mentally, nor will everyone over thirty criticize her every hesitation or mistake. Giving them all a little room to stretch their wings, eh?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Today, I did it. I finally did it. After all this time - years, in fact.



washed the plane.

I should do that more often. She really does fly better when clean. And she looks... much better, but now she's just clean enough that I can see all the parts I didn't clean well enough standing out. As I've run my hands from prop bolts to tip of the rudder, I also have a much more comprehensive list of minor, nit-picking little maintenance items to do...

But now I'm sunburned, stinky, sticky with sweat and soap, and hotter than when I started. Washing the plane did not, in fact, cool me off.

Of course, the flight afterward was nice, breezy, and cool as soon as I got over a thousand feet up. I flew over the farm where we go some weekends, then worked my way down to the airport via some practice on standard rate turns, climbing turns, descending turns, S-turns, and turns around a point. While I could blame a beautiful sunny day filled with puffy cumulus and an airplane wing designed to convert every thermal into free lift, the reality is that the pilot is rusty and she knows it. There's nothing wrong in fun flights just goofing off, but there's something wrong when I can't meet my standards within the expected deviation. Just like in firearms, you don't rise to the occasion in flying - you fall back on your sloppiest level of practice. My landings have sunk to nothing to write home about, either - serviceable, safe, and ugly. Tomorrow I'll be back, weather permitting, and instead of blowing off stress and tension with an aimless sort of wandering in the sky, I'll be back to practicing.

That is, after I take care of a patch of flaking paint, a little rust, a couple spots that need oiling, a couple spots that need oil removed, and a few cracks in the dope that need a little fresh rejuvenator.

In the end, I started sweating heavily again as soon as the fan up front shut off, and it was dripping down my face by the time she was in the hangar. We also found quite a few bugs while we were up there... Ah, how quickly clean and cool do pass down here in the south!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Ladies' weekend out

One of the utterly endearing features of the internet is that it allows any person with a common interest to find other people who share that interest, no matter how rare it may be in their geographical area. Whether your fascination is steampunk or snowboarding, guns used in WWII on one particular front or the thread count of a civil war regiment's uniforms, there are people out there who share your passion.

So, of all the specialized forums on the internet, there is the site Ladies Love Taildraggers. They collect women who love conventional gear aircraft, encourage student pilots, and occasionally hold fly-ins. One was not that far from me, so Calmer Half booked a hotel, and off we went.

We were hardly alone - over fifty planes registered, and well over another fifty dropped in to see what was going on over the course of the weekend. And I was truly tripped out. I'm used to being "the girl", as were most of the women there. When there's well over thirty "the girl"s in the hangar at any given moment, we are torn between talking to each other in body language and styles that are understandable by men, and outbreaks of utter femininity.

It truly was a ladies' weekend out, where the women involved did indeed act like ladies, with plenty of grace and charm (and surprisingly little nail polish.) Even the poker run failed to be catty or competitive; we were all very agreeable that the fastest planes should depart first, so there'd be no danger of overtaking in the air... and at the second stop, they should hold a few tables at the restaurant near the airport for the slower planes.
(The supercub gaggle actually fly pretty fast - but they can't help themselves; every mowed-in grass strip, every fun bend of a passing river, every water tower and old barn with something painted on the side, person working their field or fishing on the banks calls for a detour. As for the open-cockpit biplane - well, if you wanted to go in a straight line quickly with the greasy side down all the time, you wouldn't have a Starduster.)

I'd like to give a shout-out to the companies who donated door prizes: David Clark donated a trademark avacado-green and tank-tough headset, Davis Aviation donated a bunch of Swag, Dakota Cub threw in t-shirts, Icom offered up some flight bags, Aircraft Spruce gave away goodies and gift certificates, and somebody, I wish I remembered who, had cases of oil and other useful products. Even the hosting airport manager, who rocked, gave away free gas.

(I really, really wish I could remember the petroleum distributor. Because I already own and love a set of David Clarks, as tough as my titanium wedding band, use an Icom radio, and order from Aircraft Spruce. If I could remember their darned name, they'd have a customer for supporting the flying. Phooey. Eventually I'll run across them again, go "It's You!" and happily buy a case of oil while they bemusedly figure that their marketing eventually worked on the extremely long tail.)

As we walked up and down the rows of aircraft (some camping, some staying in hotels in town), we saw a pilot had her Taylorcraft for sale. It perched there a lightly and proudly as a hawk on a fencepost, a beautifully restored 65-hp Post-WWII model, in red and cream and leather seats... absolutely, heartbreaking gorgeous, and for less than a new Kia. My husband looked at me, and I at him, and even though it doesn't make financial sense right now, we both knew the checkbook was burning like plasma in our pockets, whispering "A his and hers plane family..." in our ears.

We managed to walk away with checkbook and sanity intact. Mostly. Ignore the reading of EAA's Sport Aviation and increased debate on building an RV vs. a Hatz Bantam (or buying another Taylorcraft) around here. That's just the sort of lasting mental scarring to be expected when I drag my husband off with a ladies' weekend out.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Hangar Rash

My hangar is 40 feet wide. It's big, until you try to fit a roughly 36-foot wingspan plane in it. When I called my IA to confess, he wisely suggested I get some red duct tape, and mark the outer limit for each of the mains when rolling her in - and then, much as when landing her, make sure she's always going straight and centered when I roll her into the hangar.

I stopped as soon as I felt the contact - but 800-odd pounds of airplane, while very light for an aircraft, still has a momentum all her own. Nothing left to do but carefully straighten her out, put her away, and checked to make sure nothing was structurally wrong (there's a lot of torque that can be applied to a huge wing like that). Then, breaking out the book used through all the wing covering, I carefully read the section on patching.

First step is to clean off the old dope, right? Well, no. First step was to find, unpack, check, or order all the supplies. By the way, Aircraft Spruce will remember your order info, years after the fact. Also good to know - Aircraft Spruce has a demonstration kit, set up to show you how incredibly easy it is to ribstitch and dope fabric airplanes, and why you too should think this is awesome and decide to cover your airplane. While they send a heavy fabric instead of a light one, this means that all the dopes (and MEK) show up in one nice box in pint-size sample cans, more than enough for all the patches I could never want to do... for far less money than buying them individually otherwise. I did splurge and sprung for a quart of the color coat, so at some point all my patches will match my wings.

Okay, after it all arrives, calibrate the hobby iron, open the hangar doors to get a good breeze circulating, pray to G-d that not many mosquitos get stuck in your dope this time around (don't ask), glove and mask up, marke off the area with masking tape, and start scrubbing the entire patch area clean with MEK. Change gloves more often than you think you need to - gloves are cheap, MEK is nasty. When you're tired or finished, take off gloves and mask, pitch in camp chair under a wing, and stroll to the FBO for a can of soda, enjoying the fresh air, sunshine, and airplanes.

Come back, realize you need more surface area cleaned off, set new masking tape, and repeat. When the fabric is cleaned, cut away a few crumpled ragged edges and threads, and then cut a patch to overlap. Put it on, realize you're working on a curved surface, take off and readjust with judicious cutting. Think for a bit, cut a second patch to fit much better. Cement on. Take calibrated iron and iron spots not cemented down, which is strangely more than you'd think on a wingtip bow patch (as in, there was some).

Go get another soda. Come back, carefully pour base dope into a jar that's easier to dip brush into, and look a little dumbfounded. Remember that you did your entire wings with untinted dope, but that's right, Poly-Stits is usually a pink base. Laugh, mutter to the plane that she's not to go showing her pink parts to the world, apply dope carefully. Put everything away. Get another soda while it cures (yes, cures, not dries), try not to inflict humor on passing pilots.

Crack open the silver coat. Silver is a dope coat full of powdered aluminum - it's a heavy coat, as in weighs what you'd think when there's metal powder in that enamel, but should be applied in multiple very light coats. In fact, it really should be sprayed on, but this is not a show plane, and I don't have a HVLP sprayer or the air compressor to run it just yet. I do have a brush, and an airplane meant to be loved for her flying, not her looks. So, after stirring the silver, I pour a little into a can to use when brushing it on, and start applying light coats. As one coat cures, I walk around the airplane, looking for anywhere else that might need a little more silver to protect the fabric from the UV. Several rounds later, she looks good enough to functionally fly, if not as pretty as she used to be.

She'll do. Hopefully, her pilot has now gotten that stupidity out of her system, and never again shall the hangar door post and the airplane meet.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Wish for a crust of bread...

While the fabric is repaired beautifully, today dawned without a test flight on the plane. (Definition of overtime: trading time for money that you don't have time to spend.) The thunderstorms last night left low ceilings this morning, which didn't lift enough to meet my personal minimums until noon, so it was already hours past the time I wanted to leave before I got a chance to go. That was when I found my battery was dead, my radio's battery wasn't holding a charge, and the pilot was uncomfortable with hopping in the plane and going cross - country without some serious time making sure the plane was okay. Any one of these things could be easily overcome, but all together I just wasn't feeling good about it.

So we drove down in the car. There are two Taylorcrafts at this fly-in, both gorgeous, and more planes all over the ramp and grass, with a hangar full of people having a great time. It's rather strange; I'm used to being one of two or three lady pilots in the room. A hangar where the ratio is more like 60:40 women to men, and almost all pilots, is a little overwhelming... not bad, but overwhelming.

I packed my headsest, hoping I could bum a ride for Calmer Half or myself - not expecting, just hoping. Well, not only did I get offered a ride, I've been offered left seat by another Tcrate owner who's out for the count tomorrow. The plane is just post annual, barely four hours on the brand new engine, beautiful interior, what I felt of her handling today was dreamily smooth. (Roller bearing pulleys just went on my "must get when redoing the fuselage" list!) His wife wants to go on the poker run, but wants someone to fly with her...

Tomorrow I shall get into the plane and repeat a prayer as old as humanity, and as utterly sincere as the first time it was uttered by a man with a sharp stone on the end of a stick staring at a woolly mammoth: "Please, God, don't let me #$@* this up." For I have surely wished for a crust of bread and been given a banquet!