Friday, May 20, 2016

MIAO: Kicked Out of the Nest!

Fly, little birdie, FLY!

Pilots: Do you remember your first solo?  Of course you do.  It became a turning point in your aviation story.  For the first time, you were totally in control.  For better or worse, the safe completion of the flight was wholly your responsibility, without the safety net of your instructor sitting next to (or behind) you. 

The funny thing is, you might be solo but you're never alone.  It's a lot like those insurance commercials that have been making the rounds on the radio.  Sure, you're technically the only person in the airplane, but those tidbits of advice stick with you.  I can still hear my instructors, Steve and Kandace, repeating "baaaaaack . . . baaaack . . . back . . . back, back, back-back-back-back" as I fumbled through learning to flare.  Those voices don't go away with time.  I remember how they'd alter the cadence (and occasionally urgency) as I unceremoniously plopped the Cub on the ground.  As I grew in my fledgling abilities, they got quieter and quieter, until the fateful day when Kandace turned around and said, "So, the only question now is, do I get out here or do I make you take me to the hangar to drop me off?"  I'm told my expression suitably resembled a deer in the headlights. 

The feeling of responsibility, coupled with that unique elation of "Look mom!  No instructor!," is a sensation closely linked to experiences where you have gained some knowledge, have some excitement, but have not yet stepped into that brave new world of self-sufficiency.  I'm about to get a whole new taste of that this weekend.

I hear this part is sort of important--and it looks like I'm going to have to remember how to string rib stitches together!  I'm looking forward to getting the Cub's freshly covered rudder signed by friends and family just like I did before I peeled the fabric off in January. 

Before my travel whirlwind started in March, the Oklahoma Kid's new ($$$) stabilizers were covered.  Her elevators needed some repair, which was accomplished last weekend, which meant they were ready to cover.  Mark at Dakota Cub had to spend some time reminding me what step was next as I had forgotten some of it over the six weeks the project had lain dormant.  It was, however, encouraging and exciting to see how the process of covering the elevators went more smoothly than covering the stabilizers.  The actions required were just a little more familiar--just enough so, it seems, that Mark has decided it's my job to cover the rudder without his hovering.

Yes, I'm getting kicked out of the nest!  I'm alternately excited and nervous about putting all of the things he has taught me into practice.  I suppose you can always cut your mistakes off and start over if it's bad enough--and if not, it will be good for a story when the Oklahoma Kid is out flying again.  I'm headed out to Dakota Cub tonight to get started . . . stay tuned.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Other Airplanes or: Why You Need More Than One

I last flew the Oklahoma Kid on December 17th, 2015, when I ferried her a short ways from home (South St. Paul – Fleming Field) to a nearby airport to have her wings and engine removed.  Progress has been made but it’s been stymied here and there as projects are.  Most recently, I was on a back-to-back (to back to back . . .) round of travel that took me east to Washington, DC, and Florida, west to Shanghai, and a few places in-between.  Unfortunately, the travel schedules and a few other life events lined up such that I haven’t been able to work on the airplane since the end of March. 

Things you should never have to do: Cut out a large (recognizable!) piece of your beloved airplane.  It's for the best, but it was painful. 
In the meantime, spring has decided to show up here in the upper Midwest, and it even seems like it’s here to stay for a while.  The combination of a busy travel schedule, other work responsibilities (that don’t take a holiday while you’re traveling), and life in general are enough to keep you busy just keeping your head above water, and everything else takes a back seat.  Then, suddenly, it’s 75 degrees out, sunny, with a light breeze straight down the runway and the familiar ache surfaces.  When you’re busy, it’s easy to forget or forego the things that bring you joy in favor of practical tasks like ensuring you have clean underwear.  It’s a part of life, and it’s fine until you get the reflective moment where you remember the pure and unadulterated joy of escaping the ground for a few laps around the pattern or a quick jaunt down the river—and then you realize you can’t have that.

The first stop of the whirlwind travel tour: Washington, DC at the peak of the cherry blossoms, though I only got a quick glimpse on my ride to and from the airport.
At least, you can’t have it right now.  That serves two purposes.  First, it lights a fire under your butt to want to do everything you can to get your magic carpet back in flying form.  Sometimes reality gets in the way of this timeline, whether in the shape of other obligations (like helping a parent get ready to sell their house, or getting car maintenance done, or myriad other things) or the financial requirements.  If you’re really lucky, you get to combine the other obligations with several other unplanned expenditures totaling in the thousands.  Anyways, the second impact is more complex.  Emotions always are.  You feel a longing to return to that previous life you had, where there was an airplane ready in the hangar.  You feel upset at yourself for not getting more done.  You feel depressed realizing the pure numbers involved (projects never do go according to plan), and wonder when you’ll be able to get your airplane back.  You feel generally cranky because, truth be told, a piece of you is missing. 

The most recent progress was at the end of March, covering the two new stabilizers I ordered.
This, of course, is why everyone should have more than one airplane.  In an ideal world, you could take one or even two down for maintenance and still have something to fly.  If you have found that ideal world, please let me know.  I’m available for adoption. 

Next stop: Florida (Round 1).  Lovely weather for a pasty Midwesterner to be outside ;)
I have to admit, I’m a bit of a one-trick pony.  The overwhelming majority of my time in the air is in some form of a Cub.  Sure, I should branch out more and fly other airplanes, but I don’t regret a single minute in the air in a Cub—even the uncomfortable ones.  I find myself fortunate to have fallen so deeply in love with an airplane and a way of life so early in my aviation involvement.  And sure, I recently stated that if all I ever had to fly was a humble Cessna 172, I would be happy because flying is flying—and that’s still true.  But there will never, in my mind, be any equal to the simple, unfiltered joy of flying a Cub. 

After two days at home, Florida (Round 2).  Improved weather, plus airplanes.
All that said, I love a lot of different airplanes and I’d love to fly a lot more.  However, if all I ever am is “nothing but a Cub pilot,” that’s ok too. 

Four and a half months after doing the dumbest thing of my life (dismantling my wonderful little airplane), I had the opportunity to go fly another yellow airplane, but not a Cub.  It was similar in form, a descendant of the Cub’s arch rival, and I was one lost and confused little Cub pilot.  Electrical systems, switches, boost pumps, props, radios, and gauges—it was all doable, things I was capable of managing, but it was one hell of a study in contrasts.  I think maybe differences are more pronounced when there is some expectation that items will be similar.  I wouldn’t step into a King Air expecting much to look comfortingly familiar, but a tandem, fabric-covered taildragger is a bit closer in nature, yet it’s quite nuanced in its differences. 

After another two days at home, hello, Shanghai! (No, that's not fog)

Same view at night.

Ok, this one might be partially fog

I should mention that there once was a time when I felt perfectly at home in a Cub or Cub variant.  I’m willing to admit that this might have been a false sense of security that comforted me, but I was accustomed to the airplane feeling like a well-worn sweatshirt.  It was familiar, a little musty-smelling perhaps, and welcoming.  I knew its quirks and personality traits, its starting tendencies and those little noises.  Now, however, is a different time.  Over the past few years, I have flown less.  First, I didn’t have an airplane, so I bought one, and now I keep taking it apart (someday I’ll learn).  I look forward to regaining that sense of belonging, but, for now, I’m conscious of the fact that I’m not as proficient as I once was.  I pay more attention to my state of mind, the weather, and the mechanical condition of the airplane.  That’s not a bad thing, but it is to say that I’m very aware of the rust collecting on my flying skills. 

After a whole week at home (the luxury!), this one was for fun :)
This degradation of my proficiency was fully evident to me as I clambered into a comparatively strange airplane.  I went out of my way to not assume I knew what was next, asked for clarification and direction, and generally tried not to screw it up too badly.  Everything felt different, and sometimes it was hard to tell if it was because I had forgotten how to fly an airplane or if I was actually picking up on some characteristics that distinguished the two airplane types.  “Why won’t you talk to me?” I wondered to the airplane.  “Why won’t you do what I want you to do?  Why do I have to think so much about this?”

After four days at home plus late-night unplanned car issues, it was up to Anchorage, Alaska, for the Great Alaska Aviation Gathering.  Landed back home at 5:40 Monday morning, caught a nap, and went back to work.  
Of course, the airplane was talking—I just hadn’t figured out how to listen to it.  I missed the sensation of feeling at ease and in control, not needing to think about minute tasks like setting the trim just so or where to find the oil temperature gauge.  But, with a little time, things became less clunky and forced.  I was still very aware of the variances between this airplane and my beloved Cubs, but it wasn’t quite so painful.  By the end of it all, I was even having fun and didn’t feel like a total floundering idiot. 

Yes, you read that correctly—I flew something other than a Cub and enjoyed it.  It is, in fact, possible.  All that said, you shouldn’t hold your breath on me going out of my way to fly other airplanes while mine is still in pieces.  Finances and time are, first and foremost, dedicated to getting Cubby back in one airworthy piece.  Once she is back in her home hangar and flyable, you’ll have a hard time convincing me to spend money or time on any airplane other than her—after all, we will have to make up for lost time! 

In the saga of unplanned expenses, this one is canine in nature.  Who knew doggy tooth extractions (necessitated by a tooth getting broken) could be more expensive than my unplanned car repairs, and on par with the excision of my abnormal mole?  In any case, I'm hoping we're done with expensive surprises for a while.
In the meantime when I can’t work on the Oklahoma Kid, I’ll occasionally slip into the Barnstormers trap and daydream about a second airplane.  Someday, I won’t have to go months without flying while my proficiency and confidence slowly seep away.  If you’re considering airplane ownership, I implore you to consider the insanity of multiple airplane ownership—sure, you’ll have more bills, but I think it might just beat the insanity of the pilot that can’t fly! 

More rebuild progress to ensue this weekend, and I can’t wait!