Archive for May, 2004

Who says I can’t fly in the rain?

27 May 2004 at 10:57 pm
by Berck

I’m not exactly sure why Joanna thought I wasn’t allowed to fly in the rain… Around here I need 3 miles of visibility, and I have to stay 500 feet below, 1000 feet above and 2000 feet horizontally from all clouds. I also need 3 miles of visibility.

The ceilings were above 12,000 feet, there was better than 10 miles visibility, and light rain today. We flew.

Actually, D. didn’t think I could fly either. “I dunno about the weather,” he told me. By now I’d already bicycled there. I’d gotten a weather brief. The briefer said, yes, there was a dry line to the west of us, but that was the only convective sigmet. I told D. I didn’t see any reason we couldn’t go on the cross country flight I’d planned. There was a cloud layer, 3300 scattered at Paul’s Valley. Winds aloft were LIGHT AND VARIABLE??? D. got a weather briefing himself while I preflighted the plane. He came back worried about the convective activity west and moving our way, very slowly. It wasn’t supposed to get here for another 2 hours, minimum. We decided that I could practice my landings. I needed practice.

Apparently every one else had the same idea. The controller said there were already four people in the pattern, and he didn’t really want another one. So we decided to go to a nearby airport and do touch and go’s. After we were climbing through 3,000 feet, it became obvious just how beautiful a day it was to fly. The air was perfectly smooth. The visibility cleared up quite a bit, and I could see farther than I usually can when the sky is clear. D. decided that we should, after all, fly my cross country.

There was quite a bit of rain falling from the clouds, most of it didn’t reach the ground. (The name for this is virga, but Joanna didn’t know this word, so you might not either.) Little holes in the clouds opened up every so often, allowing the sun to blast through in a little circle on on the ground. It was all very pretty, and a nice change from the clear skies, sun beating down on you days.

I got us to Shawnee okay, using nothing but my sectional, the compass and landmarks. It’s not the easiest thing in the world to do, but I’m getting better at it. I was rather frustrated that I couldn’t find the airport, until finally I saw it, clear as daylight, a little to the left of where I thought it was. Why I couldn’t find it, I don’t know. We did a couple of touch and go’s there, then flew to Paul’s Valley, then back to Westheimer. As I rolled out on final, the controller said, “Winds…calm.” No WONDER. I couldn’t figure out why it seemed like I was going so fast. It was really weird landing without wind, but actually fairly easy. So easy I wanted to go do a bunch more. I’d never landed in much less than 10-15knots, and it’s usually 20-30 knots, and that’s a big difference. It looks like you’re just flying along way too quickly, but that’s just because the air mass you’re flying in isn’t moving relative to the ground like it usually.

I told D. I wanted to fly more. “Hmm. I should solo you.”

So, after 1.5 hours of cross country instruction, I went in, got another weather briefing, and took off again for the south, this time by myself.

D. told me I needed an hour. The big thing was that I was supposed to head to the practice area and come back to the airport all by myself.

“Go do some maneuvers and come back.”

“What, like barrel rolls and upset recovery?”

“NO! Do steep turns or something. Don’t do too many stalls.”

So, I did steep turns, and that was boring, so I did steeper turns. Steep turns at 60 degrees is more fun. A 60 degree turn while maintaining altitude is a 2G maneuver. I got dizzy after awhile, and played around with some negative G-loads. Just enough to start to lift me out of the seat, nothing very extreme. I didn’t like not having a specific task. I would just go have fun, sight see, and enjoy flying, but I was paranoid that I’d get lost or something. “Just fly the river, you can’t get lost if you’re on the river,” D. told me. I couldn’t fly very far out, because I was getting into some heavier rain and visibility sucked that way. I couldn’t go North, because then I’d be in class D airspace. After about half an hour, and I headed back to Westheimer and opted to do some touch and gos, since that’s what I really need some practice with. I did 4 landings. The second one sucked. The third one was beautiful. By then the wind was at 10 knots from 170 and I was landing on runway 21, so that’s a substantial crosswind. The last two landings I landed almost perfectly straight, which sufficiently impressed me. D. was flying the same time I was, so he didn’t see them. “You sound like a real pilot on the radios, though,” he told me. At least I sound like one.

I got 1.5 hours dual and 1.0 hour PIC today. Maybe I’ll get a private certificate eventually.

Oh, where, oh, where has he gone?

27 May 2004 at 8:33 pm
by Jonah

It’s 8 p.m., and I have no idea where my husband is.

He can’t have gone far. I came home to find him and his bike missing. This isn’t unusual… they both disappear quite often to go flying. (Well, Berck goes flying. The bike stays on the ground.)

But it’s raining today. Berck can’t fly in the rain yet.

We only have one phone between us, and Berck supposedly has it. I got online and asked Nathan to call Berck’s phone. Berck didn’t answer, so Nathan left a voice mail.

I’m guessing Berck and his instructor are doing things that involve being on the ground. Maybe they flew anyway, because it doesn’t rain over all of Oklahoma at once. The weather tends to change rather quickly around here. It couldn’t have been raining when Berck left for him to be willing to ride his bike.

So I’ve been spending the evening looking for jobs. I got a rejection e-mail yesterday about the history professor position. That was nice of them to let me know, especially since Berck was going to make me call them the next day. There are two promising jobs in the paper today that I’m going to apply for. One is another history professorship at a community college. It asks for three professional letters of reference, so I’ve got to send out some e-mails begging for some. The other is for a curriculum developer. “Instructional designers, writers, and secondary teachers encouraged to apply.” That looks like fun, but I have to send in a writing sample. I’m thinking I may have to create one.

I spend my day in the warehouse sweating and thinking of things to write about. I’ve got a whole list of topics in my head. But by the time I come home, I’m too pooped to do much of anything except eat the (usually) delicious meal Berck has prepared for me. And then I spend whatever remaining energy I have studying the want-ads for employment. Fortunately, the local paper has all their classifieds online, searchable. It makes things easier.

So I’m sorry if my post is simply informative and not amusing. Maybe the next one will be more of the latter.

Now it’s 8:30. Where the heck is my husband?

Day to Day Sleeplessness

26 May 2004 at 2:38 am
by Berck

I have an unfortunate tendency to stay up quite late. “Around here.. we stay up very, very late…” (Counting Crows) I get involved with something, don’t notice that I’m getting tired, and soon it’s 4am. And then I sleep until it’s afternoon. And then I stay up even later, and so on. Left to my own devices, I tend to go to bed when the sun comes up and get up late afternoon. Unfortunately, the rest of the world seems to be very morning-centric.

Lately I’ve been flying in the afternoon. But Jonah works. And I when I can’t sleep, I toss and turn. And Jonah doesn’t like that. So then I get up and have to amuse myself until I think I might be able to sleep. I can’t do things like study, because I’m too sleepy. I’m probably too sleepy to write as well, but I’m probably also too sleepy to realize it.

I had my alarm set for 10am this morning. After not getting to sleep until very early in the morning, I wasn’t very happy about it going off. I figured the weather would probably be bad (the OKC TAF looked pretty bad when I went to bed), but I needed to confirm this before going back to bed. Because if it was good enough, I’d have to fly. Text weather isn’t that hard when I’m fully awake, but when I’m asleep, it’s difficult. I finally decided that even if there wasn’t much convective activity (and it didn’t look like there was), it was too cloudy. It was predicted to get to 800ft broken over OKC by 2pm. I was supposed to fly at noon. I decided that cross-country flying was probably, indeed, out of the picture. I set my alarm for 11am, checked the weather again. Less thunderstorms, more clouds. I called D., but he didn’t answer so I left a message.

My telephone rang at 12:30. A 251 number I didn’t recognize. I decided the possibility it was for me was slim to none. Being the anti-telephone sort of person I am, I sent the call to voicemail, then dialed my voicemail. It was someone calling about our overpriced health insurance that I was supposed to have had 3 months ago but which would now be effective on June 1. It’s always nice to think that you have health insurance, but then find out that you haven’t really had insurance for the last 6 months, you just thought you did. I suppose that if I never found out I didn’t have it, I didn’t need it, and I saved money…

There was also a message from D.. It seems that my phone didn’t ring when he called, only a couple minutes earlier than the insurance people. The message said, “Hey Berck, it’s Mike, I dunno if I missed you or what, I got back from my flight a little late… It’s 12:30, call me.” I called him back. He apparently hadn’t gotten my message, but he did agree that it might well be too cloudy for cross-country flying. He called back later to tell me that he was utterly unable to schedule me for Wednesday, but that I was in the schedule for 4pm on Thursday. This really bites. Flying 1.5 hours every 2-3 days is ridiculous. If I don’t fly more often than this, I might as well try to get a job.

So cleaned the kitchen. Joanna cleans the kitchen most nights, but she hadn’t been feeling well, so it was rather messy. And it needed a real cleaning. I cleaned off the counters, scrubbed the stains out, scrubbed the stove, cleaned the already clean pots which had some sort of scum in them, scrubbed the sink, found a tortilla that was now a petrified tortilla… After I got tired of that, I read cookbooks for awhile trying to decide what to make for dinner.

I’ve been wanting to make Gnocchi for some time now. I haven’t had it since I left Italy, and it was one of my favourite pasta dishes. I had, I thought, acquired everything I needed, but a careful examination revealed that I really needed a food mill. Not to mention that I needed one anyway to make tomato sauce. So I made “Spaghetti”. With all the real Italian cooking I’ve been doing lately… it was something of a dissapointment. Not bad, just disappointing. Joanna liked it, and that’s what’s important. Really.

I also found health insurance that’s costs 25% less, has a half the deductible, and no coinsurance (as opposed to the current policy which is 80/20). That’s good. Only now I have to go through all the headaches of applying for new insurance, canceling the old one and so on.

There was the hope that Joanna would get a job with benefits, but I’m starting to wonder. In spite of the literally hundreds of jobs she’s applied for, she’s gotten a sum total of zero phone calls and one rejection letter. This isn’t promising. I don’t really understand it– and it’s making me wonder just what good a college degree is after all. In fact, her current employer was worried about hiring her to work in a warehouse because she had a college degree. She’s started leaving her masters degree OFF of her resume for the secretary-type jobs she’s applied for.

There’s a position open at a local community college for a history professor that she’s well qualified for. But we’re not going to get excited.

Cross-country flights that don’t.

24 May 2004 at 8:39 pm
by Berck

While I was dutifully studying for the private pilot written exam, my telephone rang. D. wanted me to plan a cross-country flight to Shawnee (SNL), then Paul’s Valley (PVJ) and then back to OUN. “Get the weather, plan it, and we’ll fly it.” I downloaded a standard weather briefing for the route from Duats, skimmed the OKC TAF, and a few local METARs which indicated that it would be getting a bit more cloudy, but the ceiling would stay pretty high. Winds were around 20 knots and were supposed to stay that way. I jotted down the winds aloft forecast and went to go plot the course. It’s about 25NM to Shawnee, 45NM to Paul’s valley and almost 30NM back to OUN. I got out my trusty flight computer, which once belonged to my Dad. It says “Copyright 1957,” and it’s probably that old. Flying hasn’t changed much in 50 years, really. Most of the planes I fly were built in the early 70’s, and some even earlier. I plotted the course, got the true course, computed wind correction, magnetic variation and filled out a navigation log with all the checkpoints I’d be using along the way. Things like, “River bend to the North.” “The town of Tribbey.” “Some East-West powerlines.” These things all sound promising or look okay on on the chart, but it’s all much more difficult in real life.

A few days ago, (after my checkride but before my last solo) D. had me fly by pilotage (looking at stuff on the ground) to Chickasha which is about 20NM away. This was rather embarrassing. I was fairly certain I was going in the right direction, but it’s so hard to be sure. If you’re staring at a chart which has an unidentified road intersecting another road with a bend that just might be the same kind of bend that you’re looking at, it must be the one you think it is, right? The trouble is, it’s hard to know for sure. You can be certain that one road is another road, and not find out for a very long time. “Am I sure this is the right road?” “Well, there’s a town up here, on the left side of the road, and there’s a town on my map on the left side of the road…” But how do you know you’re not at a completely different road, which also has a town on the left. Everything in OK looks pretty boring. Lots of fields and roads on a grid. Judging distances is easy. Roads exist pretty much at every mile mark. Sometimes there are roads on the half mile mark. And fields are generally quartered at .25mi x .25mi.

I didn’t see the airport until I was nearly flying over it. We did some touch and go’s there. Landing at a different runway is nice for a change. Then we flew to Purcell. This was easier because a road goes between Chickisha and Purcell. I had some difficulty being sure I was at Purcell, but there’s a river and stuff. Then I flew the river back to Norman, and I was able to find it because it had gotten dark enough the beacons were on. Beacons are good. And traffic is so much easier to spot on a clear night than it is on a clear day.

I’m not completely lost even though I have a hard time with landmarks. I can tune up a VOR or a couple of NDB’s using the nav radios and come up with a fairly accurate idea of where I am. And there’s a nice strong NDB sitting at OUN, which makes it easy to know which direction it’s in. But… I’m supposed to be able to fly completely without reference to instruments… You know, in case I lose them. Or I’m flying a plane without them. (Uhh… Handheld GPS?) D. insists it gets easier. He said he flew his entire commercial cross country to Little Rock, AK and back using nothing but pilotage. Course, I-40 will take you there pretty easily. That’s a really long trek for a Cessna 152. 6.5 hours of flying round trip.

Anyway, I dutifully plotted out the course. I had all wind correction, headings, speeds and so on figured out. Then I looked outside and noticed that it looked like the weather gods had gotten bored and decided to stir things up… “But I checked the weather!” Then I realized that I hadn’t yet read the SIGMETs, or even the summary, or the severe weather warnings…. Rather than sifting through them, I simply pulled up the National Weather Service’s, Norman’s weather for dummies page. The local radar looked particularly nasty. Then I went and read the text weather more closely:

******** Convective SIGMET ********
MKCC WST 242155
OUTLOOK VALID 242355-250355
REF WW 273 275 276 278 279.

Oh. right. As if that wasn’t good enough:


Oh, dear. I felt rather silly for missing it before. But, the problem with text weather is that there are pages and pages and pages of it, most of which has nothing to do with me. And, if I’m leaving the pattern, I usually actually talk to a weather briefer anyway before I leave, so it’s not like I wouldn’t have noticed. Still bothered me.

I called D.. “So, uhh, have you looked outside?” I asked. “Yeah, we’re securing all the airplanes as best we can right now… I’ll put you in the schedule for tomorrow.”

So all that planning for nothing. Now I get to do it again tomorrow. Actually, the weather might well be crap tomorrow too.

Solo II

23 May 2004 at 11:16 pm
by Berck

Jonah’s been feeling bad all day, and has spent most of the day in bed with a headache. My phone battery died and I didn’t notice until about 6pm. When I replaced it, there was a message from my instructor, which he’d left at 4:30, saying “There’s no wind! Call me!” I called him even though it was now much later, and he told me to meet him at the airport so we could practice my landings.

The wind had picked up to about 15knots, and it was still ridiculously hot even though it was evening. After doing the engine run up, I called ground and asked for a closed pattern departure. She told me to taxi to Runway 17. Runway 17 requires over a mile of taxiing. Which isn’t the end of the world, but is really sort of a waste of time. Especially when I’m 50 feet from runway 21. Winds were 180 at 1t 13. I asked for Runway 21 instead, and the she agreed, provided I was willing to do my pattern work on 17. Crosswind takeoffs don’t bother me too much, even though it’s not obvious how much wind correction to use. At least not to me, yet. Supposedly, if the plane is shuddering down the runway trying to stay straight it’s not enough, and it’s too much if the plane is listing into the wind. As soon as I get the wheels off the ground though, the planes rolls around, yaws into the wind and establishes a comfortable crab angle all on it’s own. Then I feel at home again, and try to climb smoothly while tracking the runway outbound.

My landings were better today. My biggest problem with crosswind landings seems to be that I’ve got a hard time judging whether or not the plane is pointed straight down the runway. I’ve discovered that if I force myself to look out and down the length of the runway, toward the end, it’s much easier for me to judge if I’m going to land straight or not. Part of the reason crosswind landings are so difficult is because instead of coordinated turns, opposite rudder and aileron are necessary. The plane doesn’t like this, and complains. This is necessary to make the plane fly straight with regard the runway, but sideways wirth regard to the relative wind. What generally happens is that I land sideways, which is bad, and could be very bad if I were to land very sideways. I’m getting better.

I concentrated on trying to make coordinated turns in the pattern. I’m starting to be able to feel it! Almost not so much feel it as see it. This is good. Rudder. It’s all about rudder. Sure, the plane will turn without it, but it’s all so much better if I can stay coordinated. It’s easier in some of these planes than others. The one I tend to fly more often than not never really needs left rudder. It just needs greater or lesser amounts of right rudder. I’m doing the best I can to teach myself to do it without looking at the ball. Do what I think is right, then glance at it to see if I am, indeed coordinated. I’m getting better, I just need more time.

After about 5 touch and go’s, Mike had me ask for a full stop on runway 21 for several reasons. A full stop so he could get out and I could fly solo again. Runway 21 so that I could try a landing with significant amounts of crosswind, and so I wouldn’t have to taxi the aforementioned mile to let him out. He told me to do five touch and go’s, to use runway 17, keep my approaches steep, don’t drag it in, and various other bits of advice.

I wasn’t at all nervous this time. I called tower, who told me to Taxi to runway 17. I did, held short, went through my checklist, and called for takeoff. I was the only person in the pattern, and in fact, the only plane on the radio call during my five landings. That was nice. I found that I’m a lot more relaxed without an instructor, since I know I’m not going to get pounced on for anything. I looked around a bit. Tried to enjoy flying in between doing all the things I had to do. My first landing was pretty good. My second one was pretty bad. I probably should have just gone around after getting high and slow, but I recovered just fine, and didn’t think about going around until I already had it all under control. The next 2 landings were okay. I ballooned up a bit on the the second to last landing, but the actual touch down was completely straight and smooth, even if I was using the left half of the runway. Hey, it’s 100 ft wide. I’m in a very small plane. My last landing was great. The stall horn just before both mains squeaked in at the same time, the nose wheel touching shortly thereafter.

After I parked, I turned off the avionics, pulled the throttle to idle and the mixture all the way out. The plane sputtered. And sputtered. And sputtered, but wouldn’t die. I didn’t want it to keep running lean, since I know that’s pretty bad for an engine, but I wasn’t sure what to do. I advanced the throttle and it sputtered faster. I pulled it back out, it sputtered more slowly. I pushed the mixture control back in, then back out. It still wouldn’t die. So I turned the mags off. I told D. what happened, and he told me I should have turned the fuel off, not the mags. Right. Of course. Ooops. I probably should have been able to figure that out, but no one had ever mentioned what I should do if pulling the mixture doesn’t kill the engine. And the fact that I’ve got a fuel selector valve never entered my head– probably because I never touch it. I look down to make sure it’s on “Both” a lot. That’s about it. There’s not much use for it in normal flight.

Oh well. Now I’ve got an hour of PIC time now. Yay.

Joanna seems to be doing better, but I doubt she’ll sleep tonight after spending the day in bed.

We rented Kill Bill yesterday, and watched it on her computer. It’s not a bad way to watch movies. A 19″ monitor is a little small, but we can sit up close, and it’s much higher resolution than a TV.