Coping: With WINGS and Things

Check ride day, so I’m in a a no-nonsense mood.

As the chief pilot of Ure International Airways, a concept admittedly borrowed from the late Ernest K. Gann, author of The High and the Mighty and one of the finest aviation writers of all time (along with Richard Bach of Jonathan Livingston Seagull and One), there are requirements to stay current on flying skills.  These have to be dragged out and shown off to a flight instructor or check ride pilot every so often, or you’re grounded.

It was almost 35-years ago I’d met Ernie Gann.  He’d just done the television special Masada based on his mini-series story The Antagonists

After all these years, the home-base of great author/pilots has blurred a bit, no doubt the effect of long-chain sugar molecule relatives and too many after-flying stories.  This is called “hangar flying” and the proof runs anywhere from 3.2 to 86, depending on heat and local supplies.

Gann and his wife, as I recall lived somewhere up on or northeast of Whidbey Island, north of Seattle.  Richard Bach, and his wife, lived up in the San Juan Islands, but for reasons I never understood, they moved to somewhere down in Oregon.  Seems like a fair number of pilot/writers despite sometimes awful weather.

Let me take that back.  I do understand.

It all depends on which is more important to a fellow; sailing or flying.  If yo8u like flying and sailing or boating, there is nowhere better.

The principles are the same, in either case.  You have a wing (which is all a sail is) and you control the angle of attack (with a yoke if by plane or sheets if by sea) and the lift is what makes adventure happen.

This time of the year, and in fact usually starting in late August, the San Juans tend to develop morning fog.  Some of the best (and safest) pilots you’ll ever meet fly for Kenmore Air Harbor which makes regular stops at places like Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor.

Gann lived, as I recall, more inland, away from the foggy Straits.  I want to say Coupeville, but memory is likely bad on that.  Bach’s move to Oregon would make a lot of sense.  The Cascade range tends to “scrape the rain out of the clouds” before they head east and that means central and eastern parts of Washington and Oregon have lots of clear days.

This morning, as fate would have it, the weather looks to be clear in the San Juans, Coupeville, WA, and even Seattle looks like good flying.  Portland, Oregon, on the other hand is looking at dense fog.  Just moving to Oregon doesn’t solve all problems, after all.  Next week there will be rain in Eastern Oregon and possibly snow on the backside of the Cascades where it’s cold.

Check rides, like today’s, aren’t especially difficult. Once learned, manipulating the controls of an aircraft is sort of like riding a bike.  But it’s the “head work” that takes a little bit of doing.  Even with a good memory, the process of staying sharp involves practice, study, and testing.

So yesterday was spent mastering a course in Aeronautical decision-making which involves working out acronyms like PAVE, IMSAFE, and PPP. And just when you get all that done, you remember that you need to brush up on the colored light flashes from a tower which are still used in the event of total radio failure at night.

The education part never stops.  I even carry my Washington DC SFRA card.  (SIFF-rah) Not that I plan to fly into Washington…it’s sort of like a USCG 6-Pack Captain’s ticket for ther serous boater:  Brag point.

The main difference, though is that if you have a captain’s ticket (even a 6-pack, not a 7 oceans sailing master 300 tons) and something goes wrong, the insurance outfits will point at the captain for not avoiding trouble.  In aviation, its somewhat the other  way around:  The more study and recurrent training you can document, the more insurance companies like you.  Rates come down because 80% of aviation accidents are people issues, not mechanicals.

And then there’s the fine points of chart-reading.  What does the little “H” in a circle in the corner of the VOR information box on a chart mean?  (HIWAS service available.)  And the Acronyms go on….and on…. until you get to the final CIGARS (controls, instruments, gas, attitude, run-up, safety before take-off) and finally you can get back in the sky.

The FAA has a continuous education programs called WINGS and it’s a fine service.  On tap for today, amd, we’ll see how much of the following I get through to bag WINGS basic:

From the Commercial Pilot Practical Test Standards for Airplane

  1. Area of Operation IV, Task A: Normal and Crosswind Takeoff and Climb
  2. Area of Operation IV, Task B: Normal and Crosswind Approach and Landing
  3. Area of Operation IV, Task F: Short-Field Approach and Landing
  4. Area of Operation IV, Task K: Power-Off 180º Accuracy Approach and Landing
  5. Area of Operation IV, Task L: Go-Around/Rejected Landing

Successful completion of an Instrument Proficiency Check in accordance with 14 CFR Part 61, section 57(d) [FAR 61.57(d)].

The Instrument Proficiency Check must comply with the requirements set forth in the currently approved Instrument Rating Practical Test Standard, FAA-S-8081-4. The Rating Task Table in that publication lists the minimum tasks required.

From the Private Pilot Practical Test Standards for Airplane

  1. Area of Operation II, Task A: Preflight Inspection
  2. Area of Operation II, Task D: Taxiing

  3. Area of Operation III, Task A: Radio Communications and ATC Light Signals

  4. Area of Operation III, Task B: Traffic Patterns

  5. Area of Operation III, Task C: Airport, Runway, and Taxiway Signs, Markings, and Lighting

  6. Area of Operation IV, Task E: Short-Field Takeoff and Maximum Performance Climb

As luck would have it, there’s not going to be much of a crosswind this morning, but I might propose that I “slip” the airplane in, instead of using flaps, and then straighten out just before landing.  That’s how flying was done in the old days:  By dipping one wing (say the right) while applying opposite rudder (left in this case), the airplane flies “sideways.”  Since more frontal area is presented, the airplane tends to lose altitude…fast! 

When you land in a crosswind, the process is about exactly opposite.  You make your approach normally (with flaps if needed) and you’ll be flying a crab angle in order to track over the ground on the runway heading while the wind is trying to blow you off course.

Once you get the feel of the correct crab angle, you simply fly this all the way down to the ground until you  are just about to touch down.  Holding the nose at the proper attitude (up) you apply enough “slip” so that the airplane “straightens out” and lines straight ahead onto the runway center line.  As speed comes down (and the nose wheel drops, you increase aileron down (on the into the wind side, right in this case) and smoothly slow the airplane.

If the wind is from the right (pushing you to the left), you slip with the right wing going down and the left rudder pedal.  For wind from the left, (pushing you right) the left wing does down and in goes right rudder.

It’s awkward at first, but slips are very useful, especially when a control tower asks you to “Turn base and final as soon as able due to a 737 on 10-mile final…” You want to be able to turn and drop like s safely dropped stone.  Our old Beech with flaps in will easily drop more than 1,.000 feet in a minute this way.

The other thing that’s fun is short field landings.  When our plane is light on fuel, and there’s 5 knots of wind coming down the runway, I can land in about 450 feet thanks to the vortex generators we had installed.  These prevent stalls from occurring as fast as factory airfoils, so instead of a stall speed of say 55 miles an hour, it’s more like 49 or 50.  With that kind of ultra low-speed control if you need it, combined with practicing slips, even a decent fairway on a golf course becomes a decent emergency landing site.

My shortest landing ever was about 200 feet, or so.  Palm Springs with a 30 knot headwind fall of 2011.  I flew the whole final approach at full power….

Landing on a golf course is not unusual in an emergency. Back in my news-chasing days, I seem to recall a KOMO traffic reporter doing just that on a Seattle golf course (Jackson Park) due to an engine failure.   1970’s timeframe.

Engine issues aren’t the end of the world…just the end of a flight.  I’ve only had an engine issue once…when a Cessna 150 I was flying with a flight instructor experienced an engine issue (loud racket) at 1,500 feet over the Space Needle in Seattle.  A safe landing on the long runway at Boeing Field (13R) with a fire truck pacing us and nothing to it.  Last I heard, my flight instructor Damien was still flying a turbine running cargo around Alaska.  Good money in that.

Our little adventure over the Needle turned out to be blown-out exhaust gasket (hence the noise).  But that can hurt a valve and that’s how accident chains begin.

Only other heart-stopper was a brake locking up on touchdown at Tacoma KTIW…which sent us careening off the runway, narrowly missing marker lights.  But calm and practiced reactions worked again…like they have so far.

Like sailing, good captains have stories – but only about the accidents that didn’t happen, or where (as at sea) the voyage was as uneventful as possible, despite a passing storm.

It’s a hard thing to teach someone.  Thrill-seeker personalities are dangerous, but the pro’s always have a back-up, always have a “way out” of any emergency that might crop up.

Days like this, I remind myself to send a note to my son about recurrent training and “right attitude.”

He’s at his 200th skydiving jump. 

Skydiving doesn’t kill…but every so often factors stack up.  Small chute, high altitude density, a problem with different pattern.  One of George II’s buddies, Nico, is still recovering from a skydiving miscalculation over at Lake Chelan recently.  He’s set up a fund-me page here.  Huge medical bills.

George II and I are still debating this skydiving hobby of his.

“Why get out of a perfectly good airplane?” I ask him.

You show me a perfectly good airplane….” he counters.

He gets his  B license.  I get my Biennial and some WINGS credits.

Neither one of us is really a thrill-seeker, or out to cheat death.  But there are things in life that add do add zest.  Whether it’s 150-feet down or 15,000 feet up…adventure is out there.

And thankfully, it’s Friday so you can actually do something about it. 

There are people who skydive and there are people who aren’t alive…” G II tells me. 

I’ll stick with stalls, an instrument holds over the Frankston VOR, and a 600-foot short field landing today with no wind and right at MGTOW, thanks.

Life is precious, but then so is avgas.

Way Cool WoWW

World of Woo-Woo report from reader Eric:

Mr. Ure, you recently said you were slow on Wuju reports; here’s a new one.

At around 8:00AM on 29Oct, I pulled out two small USB flash drives to get some information off them onto my work computer; I pulled both out because I didn’t know which one had the information I needed. I tried the smaller one first, carefully leaving the slightly larger (but still small) bright red drive on a very empty space on my cluttered desk; the red drive was still within arms reach but out of peripheral view. Turns out that the smaller drive had what I was looking for, and when I was finished I went to put them both away… and of course the bright red drive I had left out in the open was gone. For about 20 minutes I lifted every piece of paper in my cubicle, searched the floor, searched the trash can, brushed my hand across the last place I remember seeing the missing drive… it was gone. No one had come into my office space, and I never got out of my chair.

I closed my eyes, said a prayer that the drive would return, opened my eyes, and… it was still gone. I was not upset about losing anything on the drive, but it was driving me absolutely crazy that I could not find it. I tore my work space apart again looking for it. It took me awhile to get back into a mental state where I could be productive and stop looking for the USB drive, but finally I was able to get back to work. After being completely absorbed in my work for about a ½ hour, I took a breather, turned my chair to the left to grab my coffee cup, and there, almost shining it was so obvious, was the missing drive, exactly where I had left it. From the time I took it out until I put it back where it belongs, I had never left my chair and no one came into my space.

Nobody else was involved in this event, just me. The drive showed up in the exact place I had left it. So my question: Did the USB drive really go “somewhere else”, or did I go into some sort of hypnosis, a state of mind whereby it was impossible to see the thing I was looking for? I know that I was very agitated, and only saw the object after I had calmed down, focused my attention elsewhere, and actually forgot about it. If this event was due to a state of mind, when I was searching, I kept patting down and brushing the area where I had left it – was I actually touching the drive and unable to feel it because my mind said it was not there? Either explanation is disconcerting. My preferred reason – that objects can bop in and out of our observed dimensions much easier than quantum physics suggests – leads to more disturbing questions such as, “if this can happen to a physical flash drive, what stops it from happening to my nose, or whole body”…  But to me the other explanation is more troubling; if my mind can “choose” not to see a flash drive, what other realities is it blocking out?


The answer, I’m afraid is lots.  Still, if you ever have one of these “disappearing objects” things happen, be sure to run your hands through the space where the object was.  Many times. Sense for temp change (particularly colder).   And then when it comes back, the case for a dimensional micro wormhole kind of event is much stronger.

Gotta say, though, we get many reports like this,  No meds seem to be involved, although are you on a beta blocker on cholesterol med?  I won’t take ‘em…too many instances of TGA – transient global amnesia for my comfort level.

Write when you break even…