Monday, March 28, 2005

The airplane is OK!

I just got an email from my friend who also hangars his airplane(s) at Fort Deposit. Apparently everything was fine when he checked last night. Good deal!

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Severe weather

This weekend was fairly ugly weather-wise. I had Friday off and it was beautiful, but I was out of town visiting some friends. Saturday morning about 8:00 would have been great for flying...about 72 degrees and zero wind, but I had to change rear brake pads on my wife's Bonneville. That should have been an easy hour job, but it ended up taking three plus hours (Don't ask!). Saturday afternoon we had severe thunderstorms and a few tornado warnings in my county (Elmore, Alabama) and surrounding counties. This lasted the rest of the day and night and continued all day today. About noon today, we had a five-minute hail shower, with marble size hail, and a few pieces as big as a quarter from what I saw. I had to drive my son back to his house in Columbus, Georgia (about 112 miles one way) around 2:00PM. Heavy rain the entire trip there and back. I think we ended up getting about four inches of rain today.

All this weekend, the same weather (or worse) was hitting Fort Deposit where my airplane is stored. I sure hope it didn't receive any damage!

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Flitting about here and there...

Sunday morning started out as a real nice, sunny and bright morning. It wasn't too warm at first, about 45 degrees, but the sun warmed things up nicely. That is until about 10 O'clock when the clouds started rolling in. I had planned to arrive at the airport around noonish, but when the clouds came in I was wondering if it would be worth the 45 mile trip just to find out it's raining. Of course, I wanted to fly, and I had to tinker with a few things, so I found justification to at least visit the airport and my trusty MX.

On the way to Fort Deposit, I ran in to a bit of a mist, but after a mile or so, it quit. When I got to the airport, the clouds were still hanging out, but the windsock was limp. There were two layers of clouds, one high, thin layer that blocked out the sun and then the puffy cumulus clouds here and there. If the higher layer wasn't present, It would have been a sunny, blue sky with puffy white clouds. I installed a new antenna, an old Emergency Locator Transmitter antenna which I had lengthened to suit the frequencies that I use. I also investigated how difficult it would be to shield my ignition system to allow for clearer radio reception and transmission. I decided that it was a bigger job than I wanted to tackle at the moment, and I decided to go flying.

I did a thorough preflight, noted a few items that will need attention sometime in the future and warmed up the engine. It started on the first pull. I thought it might be warm enough to leave my snowmobile suit in the car, but I put on a sweatshirt and decided to do one takeoff/landing pattern without any additional clothing, just to check the temperature. I didn't even make it to the runway when I decided to turn around and dress heavier! I shut off the engine, grabbed my radio, goggles, headset, GPS and of course, the camera... and put them on the airplane. I put on the snowmobile suit and strapped into the seat. I love my new 3-point harness. It looks cool and really gives me a secure feeling.

After announcing my intentions on the radio, (I'm still not all that confident with my radio procedure, but this particular callout sounded like a pro!) I taxied out onto the runway and to the downwind end, before turning around and taking off into the wind. Takeoff was non-eventful and the air seemed to be very calm. After two left-hand turns, I cut across the runway at about 500 feet AGL and took a picture of the view. I spent a few minutes in the local area taking a few pictures. I had originally picked a destination about 20 miles away, but because of the weather, I was hesitant to go there. Turns out that it would have been just fine, but better err to the side of caution than to wish you had! I decided just to fly around the same old places and take pictures for my web log, which is what I did.

The air was the calmest it had been in the middle of the day so far this year. I was just out flying around taking pictures of some of the familiar sights in the area which I mostly fly. I get bored of flying around the same old places, but today it was great just to be out flying around. There was only so much I could do in one little area, so about 45 minutes in the air, I headed back. I took a picture of my hangar, and landed as usual. I was glad to be flying after a couple of weeks. It felt good. I feel some cross-country flights coming up this summer!

Flying parallel to runway 15 at Fort Deposit, looking east. Posted by Hello

Looking east just after takeoff from runway 15 at Fort Deposit. Posted by Hello

The small town of Fort Deposit, looking north just after takeoff. Posted by Hello

Pecan trees knocked over by hurricane Ivan. They weren't broken, the ground was so saturated that they fell over when assisted by 70 MPH winds. Posted by Hello

Fields to the east of the Fort Deposit airport. Posted by Hello

Barns in the middle of one of my "low and slow" flying areas. Posted by Hello

A closer (and lower) view of the barns. Posted by Hello

Some more damage courtesy of hurricane Ivan. Posted by Hello

This family has got it made. It's a huge home on a private lake. Notice how still the water is.  Posted by Hello

Local church and cemetary. I guess I had my timing right, it was about 1:00 on Sunday so nobody was there. Posted by Hello

Gee, I wonder if I could land on that itty-bitty piece of road if my engine quits? Posted by Hello

A private airstrip northeast of Ft. Deposit. From what I've heard, there's a Piper Cub in the building. Posted by Hello

Another nice home in the general area. Posted by Hello

More damage caused by hurricane Ivan. Most of the debris has been hauled away. Posted by Hello

I was having a tough time keeping the camera far enough away and flying straight and level! Posted by Hello

View looking rearward while I am flying. Posted by Hello

The Fort Deposit interchange on 1-65. Posted by Hello

This is the new Arvin-Meritor/Sejong factory being built in Fort Deposit. They will supply parts to the new Hyundai assembly plant in Montgomery. Posted by Hello

A view of my hangar just before landing. Posted by Hello

This is what little hair I have left looks like after flying! Posted by Hello

Sunday, March 13, 2005

SNJ at Greenville airport

When I looked in my email last night, I noticed that I had some pictures in my inbox. They were images of the SNJ (AT-6) that I spoke about in my previous post on March 6th, "Just out for a Sunday flight". They were great pictures, taken by James Kirkland who also has a hybrid Quicksilver hangared at Greenville. I haven't actually met James yet, but we've corresponded by email and through the Yahoo group "quicksilverultralightowners", which is a great group to belong to if you own, or want to own a Quicksilver. Anyway, I asked James for permission to post the SNJ pics...he said yes, so here they are!

 Posted by Hello

 Posted by Hello

 Posted by Hello

Friday, March 11, 2005

The President was in town

Yesterday, President George W. Bush was in Montgomery, Alabama as part of his "60 cities in 60 days" tour to promote his ideas about Social Security. Well, us aviation people know that whenever the President is anywhere, the FAA posts Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) so that there will be no aircraft flyovers anywhere near the President. What us pilots may or may not know, whenever the President is in town, automobile traffic is disrupted severely also! From Maxwell AFB in Montgomery, Auburn University in Montgomery (AUM, where the President was going to speak) is about a 10-12 mile drive. For security reasons, nobody knew what route he was going to take to get there. Wouldn't you know, I had to drive from Montgomery to Auburn, 50+ miles away, to attend the month Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) meeting. I left early enough from work because I wanted to try to get a picture of Air Force One to post on the blog. Of course, the presidential 747 wasn't sitting on the runway in full view, so I didn't get a picture. However, I did miss all the road closings because "W" didn't leave the airbase until well after I was on my way to Auburn. Talk about cops! I must have seen 40 (no kidding!) cop cars in the 12 mile stretch to AUM. Some had logos on them that I hadn't ever seen before! Well, it was great that I missed the closings, but I did have to wait in my car for about an hour and a half to kill time before the SME meeting started. Oh well, I ate a Big Mac and listened to FM 92.7 "The River" in Columbus, Georgia until it was time for the meeting to start. Several people were very late to the meeting because they got caught in the traffic. It was an honor to have President Bush here in our town, but it sure does screw things up!

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

My take on the Sport Pilot rule

OK...I've tried to keep my mind open and positive about the new FAA Sport Pilot rule and refrained from voicing any negative thoughts on the matter, but I feel that I now have to put my thoughts into words for posterity's sake.

In 1994, I took twelve hours of instruction from a United States Ultralight Association (USUA) Basic Flight Instructor (BFI). I have the hours documented in my logbook, but the instructor never signed off on them, telling me he would do so when I soloed. That never happened because he and I didn't see eye-to-eye on my flying ability. We had a bit of a disagreement at about 2000 feet on my last flight with him and I decided that I wouldn't solo with this BFI and I never returned. He went out of business some months after our episode, but that's another story.

I bought my single seat MX in the Fall of 1994 and soloed in it, and accumulated 60 hours or so of flight time before it fell into disrepair. Read some of the articles in my archive if you want all the details. I finally got flying again in August of 2004, all the while believing that I was going to have time to get registered as an Ultralight pilot before the Sport Pilot rule went into effect. I was wrong. I got caught with my pants down. The FAA announced that the Sport Pilot rule would go into effect on September 1st and all registered ultralight pilots would be allowed to take the written and oral test and they would become Sport Pilots if they had accumulated the required minimum hours that the rule specifies. I didn't make the deadline, and I don't think that with only 30 days notice that it would have been possible for me. I was having problems with my engine at the time and the instructor I was using wouldn't let me solo in his aircraft, citing liability issues.

I am interested in becoming a Sport Pilot because it will allow me to legally carry more fuel to extend my range and not worry about the weight limits imposed on part 103 legal ultralights. It would appear that I'll have to wait for sport pilot instructors to be trained in quantity, so that I can pay to receive training that I have already had, paying even more per hour than I originally did. Then I'll have to pay an independent inspector, called a District Area Representative (DAR) to inspect and certify that my airplane is airworthy. DARs are about as plentiful as Sport Pilot instructors because of the newness of the rule and the time it takes to get essential people trained and in place. Then I have to get a registration number and display it on my airplane. This entire process could very well cost me $1000 or more. And why is it I want to do this? Oh, yeah, to carry more fuel and add equipment to my airplane to make it safer structurally without worrying about weight. what are the alternatives? Only one that I can visualize. If I never want to fly to an event or location where the FAA will have a presence, I could just carry extra fuel and not worry about complying with the five gallon limit that part 103 stipulates. My MX looks identical to the part 103 compliant Quicksilver MX of 1984, the year my MX was manufactured. I could make all the needed upgrades that add weight and not worry about it, because it would still look like a compliant ultralight. If I wanted to fly to a location that has an FAA presence, I could remove the extra fuel. Would anybody who mattered ever bat an eyelash? I doubt it. The FAA has always operated on the premise that they don't investigate ultralight related accidents. They haven't ever gone looking for overweight ultralights and if there was a blatant violation (like an extra fuel tank plumbed into the fuel system) somebody might raise an eyebrow or ask a question or make a remark, but I don't believe the matter was ever pressed and/or fines issued. Will this still hold true now that the Sport Pilot rule is in effect? I don't know, but I sure don't want to be the poor sucker who is the unlucky one to be made an example of by the FAA.

Please don't misunderstand me. I want to comply, but it is not financially feasible for me to do so at this point in time, even if the proper instructors and inspectors were in place right at this moment. Sport Pilot does not seem to be a viable option for me, and I'm guessing, hundreds of other ultralight pilots facing similar circumstances.

I would like to propose an alternate solution. Move the deadline for ultralight pilots wishing to make the transition to Sport Pilots. Allow those who have been flying for years (but may not have chosen to register with an FAA recognized organization for whatever reason or principle) credit for their knowledge, at least reducing the cost to become a Sport Pilot. This doesn't solve the entire problem, but it would allow me personally to pursue the Sport Pilot option and become compliant, even if the process takes a year or so. As it stands right now, if there were a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) in a properly certificated Light Sport Aircraft (LSA) occupying the hangar next to me, I couldn't afford to start the process. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

Monday, March 07, 2005

More contributors invited

Recently, I decided to invite a few fellow flyers to do some writing for this blog. They are all ultralight flyers. Some of these people are middle-aged like me, some are older than me and some are quite young, relatively speaking. They vary in official documentation from none, like me, to instrument rated private pilots. This will still be an ultralight blog, focusing on ultralight flying, and I will direct the focus to that end. Because pilots of all types are a fraternity, there may be an occasional general aviation (GA) related story that you might find here. Usually they will be informative and entertaining...I hope!

For those of you who weren't necessarily invited directly and may wish to contribute one article (or many) you can email me and we can chat about it. Those who have been invited directly, I graciously welcome you. I'm a bit picky about spelling and grammar, and since I will retain administrative privileges of the blog, you may find that I'll edit your articles to correct these types of errors, but hopefully I won't be changing much. I understand that typos find their way into every article and can't be helped. I do it all the time and correct them whenever I find them. Photos are a must. This doesn't mean every post has to have them, but if you've got pictures, post them! It's a bit tricky to post them on the blog, but if you read the help files on the subject, it will guide you. If you still can't figure it out, I'll help. It took me a while to get the hang of it and I'm very computer literate.

Once again, I wish a warm, enthusiastic welcome to our new contributors. I don't foresee the change being anything but positive and should make the blog even more interesting.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Just out for a Sunday flight

Arrived at the airport today about 9:15 AM. Perfect weather...calm winds and bright sun. Temperature was about 65 degrees. Don and I had agreed to meet there between nine and ten as we both had some maintenance to do. I had to change an EGT probe (refer to Sunday, February 13th) and install my new 3-point harness and a new set of plugs. I have forgotten to buy the correct length coax for my radio, so I won't be changing that out yet. Don has this Aeronca Chief that he has for sale and has scheduled a prospective buyer to come and see it next week and wanted to tidy up a bit.

I got there before he did and proceeded to work on my plane, first the EGT probe, which I was dreading. It's not a big job, but I have all my wires and cables and probe leads secured with cable ties and it's very tedious for me to cut them off and have to re-install them. I hate it. Anyway, while I'm working installing the new probe, Don sneaks up behind me and scares the ever lovin' crap out of me! I hadn't heard him pull in. I said hello after he got done laughing at me, and I went back to my tasks, and he to his. I stopped what I was doing long enough to visit him while he was trying to start the Chief. Just before he made his first attempt, the light bulb went on in my brain as I asked him "Do you have to hand prop this plane?", to which he replied, "Yep, no electrical system". So I got to see my first hand-propped engine start. Looks pretty scary to me! Then I went back to my plane and continued to work on it. I finished the EGT probe, installed the 3-point harness (piece of cake) and changed spark plugs. The plugs looked OK, but were black with carbon and one was wet. They weren't caked or anything, but pretty black. Looks like the fuel/air mixture is a bit on the rich side, but my cylinder head temps and exhaust gas temps were right where they are supposed to be so I didn't mess with it.

I helped Don pull his Chief back into the hanger and damn...that thing was heavy! It took both of us pulling on the tailwheel dolly to get it back in place. He said something about the brakes being a bit tight. After that, he pulled out his Quicksilver (Sport II) I helped with his preflight, finding a screw that was just a touch loose. As we were doing this, an Army Blackhawk helicopter circled the field and landed at the far end of the runway! I thought it was strange, as the helicopter didn't enter the pattern at a 45 degree angle, instead it just flew the length of the runway, and made right turns (instead of the normal left) starting at the middle of the field until it arrived at the end of runway 33. It hovered a bit at the end, about 10 feet off the ground, turned 180 degrees, hovered some more, then plopped down on the ground. As all this was happening, I walked to the edge of the tarmac and watched. Pretty cool, but I don't know what they were doing there. Don says they occasionally practice touch and goes, rolling down the runway, but this time, I think one or more of the crew had to take a leak! They stayed on the runway until Don and I taxied out for takeoff, and as we were turning around, they took off and flew away. It looked like it might have flown a big circle back to the airport (passing about a mile in front of us) for more of whatever it was they were doing. We were heading away so it didn't really concern us too much.

We started flying in the general direction of Greenville. Don had a few pictures he wanted to take...something about a church and a used car lot. He said he will email me some of the pics, which I will post here. We circled around the church, I was high, about 1500 MSL and he circled low to get some good shots. As we were circling, I lost sight of Don for a while, until I finally saw him way off in the distance, nearer to Greenville. I finally caught back up near the airport. As we were approaching the airport, I could see a beautiful AT-6 Texan (actually a Navy SNJ...same thing) that was parked on the tarmac in front of a hangar. Don headed in a direction past the airport, and I followed for a while, until I became uncomfortable with the surroundings. We were getting closer and closer to the city of Greenville and I shied away from it. Don has a private pilot's license, as well as a bunch of other qualifications and certificates that I don't have. I turned back toward the airport and decided to land and look at the AT-6 or SNJ or whatever you want to call it. I landed, and as soon as I got out of my MX, Don was landing. We parked and disembarked and went into the FBO. I bought a drink, and the A&P (airframe and powerplant mechanic for the non-pilots) who was working on the airplane was inside. Don knew the fellow, an older man about 70, and introduced me to him. We asked if we could take a closer look at the airplane, and he joyfully said that we were welcomed to. I guess Don didn't think to take a picture, but this plane was beautiful and meticulously maintained. Not even any exhaust soot from the big radial engine was visible on the shiny paint. The mechanic said he was getting this plane ready for the trip to Sun & Fun, which this year is April 12-18th in Lakeland, Florida. I asked to look inside, and was given permission. Beautiful plane, but BIG! Turns out that this plane was owned by a doctor in an affluent town south of Montgomery. When I was looking for a hangar, I had actually written this person asking if I could base my ultralight out of his field. I never did get a reply and told the mechanic this. He said that they guy is very particular about his property and doesn't let anybody else on it. Can't say as I blame him, but a reply note saying such would have been nice. Maybe I'll get another opportunity to photograph this plane, then you will know what I'm raving about! For those of you planning on attending Sun and Fun, I'm sure you will see it there. Dr. Houghston is the owner.

There were some Harley riders who had seen us flying around the airport and decided to come by and have a look-see. They were impressed by the SNJ as well, and soon they were right there talking to the mechanic with us. After they had asked all they could think of about the SNJ, they said they originally saw Don and I flying near the airport and wanted to check out our ultralights. They asked us if they could look at our planes, and Don and I gladly fielded their questions. They didn't say what their impressions were of flying in airplanes like ours, but they were definitely interested in what made them work. After about 10 minutes, the questions tapered off and Don and I were ready to leave. They wanted to watch us take off, and just before we left, Don told them to have a great day and be careful on those Harleys...that they could hurt themselves on those bikes! I snickered quietly at the irony of his statement as we strapped in and taxied off the tarmac. I thought I had interpreted Don's intentions correctly when I announced our departure on the radio, but I was wrong. It's embarrassing to have to correct your announcement, then it's even more embarrassing when you make a mistake and announce a non-existent runway that you are taking off from. Oh well, they'll get over it and I'll be more attentive next time!

We flew from there to a private airstrip near Don's house and did a touch-'n-go or two. On the way, I spotted a waterfall that drained one of the large ponds (some people would call them lakes...not me...Lake Michigan is a lake!) then circled over Don's house for a while, before heading back to Ft. Deposit. Lot's of cattle and dogs and such in the pastures on the way back. We followed a well-traveled path of approach, seems like we always come back to the airport the same way. I guess it's because the entire approach is over pastures and it's safe, but dull! The landing at Ft. Deposit was uneventful even though the wind was blowing directly across the runway at greater than 10 MPH. I like the way my airplane flys with the lowered dihederal wires I installed a month ago. Much better cross-wind handling.

Don and I taxied up to the hanger and gabbed a bit while were were securing our planes. He told me that the waterfall I spotted was about eight feet high, which is pretty impressive for around here. The total length of our journey was about 56 miles...about an hour and a half of flight time. It was sure great to get back in the air after a few weeks of no flying.

Flightpath to Greenville and surrounding area. BP International is Don's house where he has a SHORT strip with trees all around.

A picture of me and my MX, as taken from my friends Quicksilver. Photo courtesy of Don Addison. Posted by Hello

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Another safety upgrade arrives at my door!

I recently purchased a 3-point harness from Mark Smith of Tri-State Kite Sales (link in right-hand column) and as usual, it arrived promptly and it's very high-quality stuff! Currently on my MX I have just a lap belt installed. It has served me well for years, but other flyers have convinced me that a three or four-point harness is necessary. Sure, if nothing disastrous or no unplanned events ever happen, it probably wouldn't be a requirement to have one. I've been "shown the light" by others who weren't planning on extraordinary things happening either. My instructor friend, Don Addision, told me a story about his brother and a Rotec Rally. To abbreviate the story, his brother ended up crashing on the runway, going in at a 45 degree plus angle. This was due entirely to his non-ability to retain control. When he hit the runway, the structure of the plane absorbed most of the energy of the impact, including the shoulder harness that he was wearing. He walked away beat up and bruised, but if he would have been wearing just a lap belt, Don thinks he would have snapped his back right at the pelvis, sustaining major injuries, or even death. This story alone was enough to convince me that the harness was needed.

The harness I bought from Mark is very high-quality stuff, as I said previously. A picture is posted below this text. It has one snap-in type buckle in the middle, with the shoulder straps sewn to the lap belt. All length adjustment is done with adjustment buckles, one on each strap. The adjustment buckles all have little red pull straps sewn onto them, and the leftover length of strap from adjusting is held securely with velcro, keeping it from flopping in the wind. At the other end is a length of steel cable attached to the end retaining buckle. The other end of the cable will be attached to a convenient bolt on the root tube of the airplane. I can't wait to install it and check it out.

forecast for Saturday and Sunday is nice...about mid-60's but the wind is supposed to be from the west at 12 MPH, gusting to 24MPH. That wind forecast usually gets better when the day in question arrives, but sometimes it doesn't. I guess we will just wait and see. Going on about 3 weeks now with no flying. I'm jones'n real bad!

Mark Smith 3-point harness Posted by Hello