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.


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