November 16, 2005

coming and going and busy both ways (also a mild labor rant)

Regatta photos below - go look. I'll wait.

-- files nails --

Things are stacking up to do both before we leave for Philly and after we get back. Given what November has been like, I was sort of thinking of not bothering to get out of bed the weekend after Thaknssgiving, but it's looking like that may not be an option. Of course after all that travel, the house is a disaster and the larder is empty. My socks are self-destructing at an alarming rate, and so far I've bought approximately one holiday present. That wouldn't be a problem, with Chanukah not beginning until Christmas Eve this year, but my mother and brother's birthdays are toward the beginning of December. I think I'll just wait until we visit to see what they might need. Rudder's birthday and Christmas gifts are also complicated by the fact that we still have no idea what we'll be doing next year, and two of our possible options include putting most of our stuff into storage.

Among other things I have to do before we leave is to pack up my entire office. Thanks to a new corporate policy I'm being moved out of my nice private roomy office into an eensy cube. A duoible one, in a room with ten other people. As you might imagine, I am not thrilled about this. I dislike cubicles both in practice and in principle; I don't believe people get as much done with no privacy and no space. The noise from others is distracting and I don't think it says much for the respect given to employees' dignity.

Someone said, "Well, at least you still have a job," and I don't like that philosophy either. The company doesn't hire me as a kind gesture; it pays me the amount it thinks I'm worth to perform a necessary job. If it decides that job is not necessary, it will not keep me around out of charity. In other words, I think I'm as valuable to my employer as they are to me. I even think my company realizes it, though they may forget it now and then in zea to reward stockholders. It's a two -way street, though; that principle implies they need to treat me with respect, but it also means I need to make damn sure I earn my paycheck, because they don't give it to be just because they like me just as I am. That may be a radical view on both sides, but I don't think it should be.

Posted by dichroic at 12:13 PM | Comments (3)

October 19, 2005

slightly weepy

I hadn't really been sad at all about failing my checkride or deciding to quit flying today. I left work, and since Rudder is off at a meeting, treated myself to a visit to the library (for audiobooks for the drive to JournalCon) and to sushi. I was feeling pretty good.... until I got home, unloaded my car from the day, and had to put my flight bag and all my flying books away for the last time. That phrase alone is guaranteed to get me dripping tears even if it's about something silly, let alone something I've put a year of my life into. The books had been sitting out in the livng room since I'd been needing them for constant reference. Now they are on a bookshelf with all the other books Rudder and I had amassed over our flying years, in the office where I won't see them much. The last time. If I ever do this again, it's likely to be far enough off that I'll need updated books, so this really is the last time.

There were two things to cheer me up, however: my credit card bill, which was paid off when I started and now has thousands in flight-induced debt on it, and which I can now return to its former status over the next few months, and the cat food bowl. nlike my credit bill, the cat food bowl was empty. I free-feed the cats, filling the bowl each morning and letting them chow on it through the day; by evening there's usually some food left. Today it was empty enough, and the water dish low enough, to let me know I had forgotten to feed them this morning.

They're hardly starving. They've got a fuzzy gut apiece they could well afford to lose, there were a few pieces of food left, and if they ever got really desperate, they could knock over the open cat food bag by the bowl. Still, I'd been feeding them every morning since the older cat and I began living together 16 years ago. If I'm distracted enough to forget something that routine, then I have no business trying to fly an airplane in instrument conditions, and quitting is the right decision.

Posted by dichroic at 08:42 PM | Comments (2)


I failed the checkride again.

It was going fairly well through intercepting a radial, holds, a VOR approach with the autopilot on (harder, in my opinion, than doing it without the autopilot, so I would never do it in real life, but the test requires it). Then it was back in the hold, which I had some problems with this time, but managed to correct. The hold looks like a long racetrack pattern; several planes can be stacked in it at altitudes 500' apart. You fly around it until your turn comes, then exit it toward the airport on whatever type of approach you're doing. When I exited the hold this time for the ILS approach, I had put in the frequency for the ILS but hadn't hit the button to make it the active frequency, so I was still looking at the VOR indication. They're in line with each other, so there was no obvious difference except that the glideslope indicator wasn't coming in. (An ILS has two needles, a vertical one showing if you're left or right of where you should be and an ILS showing if you're above or below where you should be as you follow the glideslope down to the runway.) Someone had mentioned on the radio earlier that the glideslope was "bouncing around a little today" and had recently been down, so I thought maybe it had gone down again, instead of realizing that the error was mine.

Anyway, I've decided to quit. It's not out of pique; I realized that I have just too much going on in my life, with work, flying, and training for the marathon. Further, I know that intensive rowing tends to make me stupider, though one symptom of the stupidity, unfortunately, is that it always takes me a while to realize what's going on. But I think that may be a prime source of my stupid mistakes. I scaled way back on the rowing when I started this; maybe I'd have passed the test if I hadn't ramped up the training again, but the rowing training is going much better and I've been enjoying it much more than the flying.

I'm not stomping off in a huff and declaring that I'll never fly a plane again. Flying is something I can do as long as I'm in good enough health to pass a Class III physical; with luck I have decades and decades left. I didn't particularly miss it during the seven years between getting my pilot rating and beginning the instrument training, when I flew only a few times. Maybe a decade from now my life will be calmer and I'll decide to take it up again then. I won't need to redo all the training: just enough to refamiliarize me, and get me used to anything that's changed. I don't think the FAA reg requires me to take another long cross-country, but a smart CFI would make me take one. Still, I won't have to do that all those cross-country hours again, so it would all be a lot quicker.

So I'm feeling a lot more relief than regret right now.

Posted by dichroic at 03:52 PM | Comments (0)

IFR again

Here we go again. I am bearing my rainbow omen in mind, and wearing my pearls (given to me by Rudder, who passed his IFR checkride on the first try) and a signet ring I got to replace one given to me long ago (and lost almost as long ago) by my grandparents, to remind me of how they believed I could do anything. Unlike the other three times I was scheduled for a checkride, the forecast does NOT include a warning of possible moderate turbulence, and the winds are not supposed to be above 3-4 knots. No one else is taking out the airplane before me. All conditions are propitious, and I believe this examiner wants to pass me unless I force him to do otherwise.

So now it's just up to me to Not Fuck Up.

Posted by dichroic at 08:52 AM | Comments (4)

October 18, 2005

good omens

Nope. No flying this morning. Thunderstorms in the area, turbulence, wind gusts forecast, low clouds - lots of reasons not to fly. We're going to try for the fourth time tomorrow around lunchtime.

This is difficult because every time I think I'll have a checkride I have to rearrange my schedule to try to be rested, alert, well-fed, and unstressed at the time of the test. This has meant skipping rowing or erging, trying to eat something the night before that will leave me well-nourished but not with an upset stomach, trying to eat breakfast ditto, and so on. Tomorrow, as with last week, I'll be flying around when I'd normally eat lunch, so I have to figure out how to make sure I'm not starving by then, but my stomach is predictably made more rebellious than it already is my nerves so I can't eat too much. As for practice, I give up. I've missed too many practices for this, and I'll be at JournalCon this weekend so will already be low on distance for this week. I'm going to row tomorrow, but will just try to row lightly enough so I'm not exhausted at 11.

I saw a great omen yesterday, though it obviously didn't predict today's outcome accurately. I'm not superstitious, but in a matter like this one that largely depends on my own confidence, I'll take any good omen that will help me feel calm and ready for the test. As I left work, it was dark and raining to the east, but the sun was out to the west - we rarely have clouds covering the entire sky. Since the conditions were right and the sun was low enough, I looked for a rainbow, and finally spotted it, just a faint glow and a few degrees of arc over the major airport next to our parking lot. As I drove out of the lot, I looked over and found that the rainbow had popped into brilliance, shining over the clouds, though still not very long. As I watched, an airplane flew right through it.

Sure it's all coincidence, but I'll take any confidence builders I can find - and could anyone really ask for a better image?

Posted by dichroic at 11:34 AM | Comments (1)

October 10, 2005

if at first...

Fuck. I blew it. Basically, I had the wrong button pushed nad didn't realize it until it was too late. For any pilots out there, whenpreflighting the GPS I accidentally left the NAV/GPSbutton in GPS mode, and didn't realize it until I was past and off the airway I was supposed to be intercepting.

We didn't get to go until late because two planes came back late and we were frustrated and hurried and the examiner was worried about getting to his next appointment on time. Add to that the frustration of not being able to go as originally scheduled yesterday due to wind. I'm sure all of that contributed to my distraction.

Since I screwed up early in the flight and was already flustered and annoyed, I elected not to do any more flying, though I could have to avoid having to do it later. Instead we just did a GPS approach partial panel (meaning, with some of the instruments covered to simulate instrument failure) into our home airport. If I retest, I don't have to redo the oral part, the partial panel or the GPS approach, since I've done them satisfactorily.

Three options: drop it entirely (and I haven't mentioned this here (wouldn't want to ruin the image) but I haven't been enjoying this training; take a break until after the marathon and then retest; or do one more (required) lesson with my instructor and then try again.

Pros and Cons:

Drop it entirely: Huge savings on money nad time but I feel like I have FAILURE on my permanent record. Plus if I ever do want to do a cross-country flight I can't file an instrument flight plan, which is the easiest way to navigate and gives you better air traffic control service even in clear weather.

Take a break: If I retest within 2 months, I can just redo the parts I missed. On the other hand, next weekend I need to do either 30km on the erg or a long piece on the water (really should also be 30km but I'll probably just do a half-marathon), the week after that is JournalCon, the next weekend is a regatta here, the one after is a regatta in Los Angeles, and then there's the marathon in Louisiana. By then I'd need to do several flights just to burnish off the rust before retesting, and then I'd be pushing that two-month limit.

Retest right away: Gets me an instrument rating if I don't screw up again and the final reimbursement from work of $1500 for the training. On the other hand to get that it will cost me $500 or so more into the hole by the time I pay for instructor, examiner, and airplane fees, and another morning I have to miss from work. If I pass, I don't have to feel like I failed - after all, who cares now that it took me two tries to pass my driver's test way back when? On the other hand, there are no guarantees I'll pass.

There are two factors in my favor, though: the examiner told my instructor that I did everything else very well, and after all, when I passed my driver's test the second time it was a similar situation. I'd goofed once, I was a very timid driver, and I was facing a deadline because I was moving 1500 miles away to a city where I didn't know anybody in a week. So there's precedent. Come to think of it, I probably have more hours in a plane now than I did in a car then.

So I've decided to take the test again. I'll fly with my instructor on Sunday and we'll do everything the examiner would have me do: intercept and track radials, DME arc, hold procedures, one precision and one more nonprecision approach, and some discussion of what to do if I were in instrument conditions and lost communications. And then I'll go out next Tuesday morning and try, try again.

Clarification for nonpilots, I am already a pilot; this was just for the instrument rating add-on.

Posted by dichroic at 04:04 PM | Comments (3)

October 09, 2005


I leave for my checkride in about half an hour. They're predicting "moderate" turbulence over most of the state today, the airport we use most to practice instrument procedures and approaches is closed and the NOTAM recommends avoiding the area (I think there's a fly-in) and the ILS approach at another airport we pratice at often is also closed, I have no idea why.

This should be interesting.

UPDATE: We finished the oral part of the checkride and it went well, but then called off the flying - the wind had been increasing all morning and it seemed likely that during the flight it would reach the predicted 15 knots with gusts to 25. The wind was from 290 degrees, the runway is oriented at 220 degrees, and the Cessna 172SP has a llimitation of 15 knots crosswind, so it was a safety issue. Yeah, we could have gone and just hoped the wind didn't pick up any farther (it was maybe 10 knots when we would have taken off), and I really really wanted to get this over with, but sometimes that's exactlly when you have to err on the side of safety. When I asked him (after making clear that I had made my final decision and wouldn't change it) the examiner agreed that I probably had made the right choice. And when we went out to dinner, the picked had in fact picked up more, so the weather confirmed it.

Also, now the examiner has seen me make a good safety decision (they're strict on safety issues). He could have downgraded me otherwise. So instead, I'll duck out of work for an extended lunch tomorrow. The prediction is for a high of only 87 and wind of about 5 knots, so it should be good flying weather, and with temps that low, might not even be too turbulent.

Posted by dichroic at 11:04 AM | Comments (1)

October 08, 2005

the pre-check check

In today's pre-checkride check with the FBO's chief pilot, I totally nailed a few things and screwed up a few others. I flew the prettiest DME arc you've ever seen, flew an ILS approach dead-nuts on the needles, perfectly navigated a GPS approach, and did well enough with recovering from unusual attitudes. On the other hand, I forgot to set the timer on the ILS, didn't put on 10 degrees of flaps for it, did one of the suckiest cross-wind landings ever (that didn't include a groundloop, any damage, or departing the runway, anyhow), busted the altitude limits about three times (though I noticed and corrected quickly, and in my defense there was a little turbulence) and a couple of more minor things. The altitude limits, the timer, and the landing in particular are things the examiner could object to.

Then I erged 25 kilometers, which I hadn't been looking forward to, but it actually felt pretty good. That in concert with the movie xXx that I was watching during the piece got me fired up again.

So here's the pep talk:

They call me Dichroic. I eat thunderclouds and spit hail, and I can fly across the Sonoran desert and back in a day. I'm smarter than most of the other pilots out there and I'm more conscious of safety than any testosterone-laden 20-year-old bucking for an airline job. If they can do this, then I can too. I've put a year of my life and a lot of cash and inconvenience into this and it is NOT going to go to waste. If I'm slow and careful and I do things in order then I have this nailed and no FAA examiner is going to tell me otherwise. Dammit.

(On the other hand, it's very windy right now and it's predicted to be just as bad tomorrow.)

Posted by dichroic at 05:45 PM | Comments (0)

te salutamus

Step 1: I have an end of training check with the FBO's chief pilot this morning - sort of a practice checkride.
Step 2: Come home and erg 25km.
Step 3: Tomorrow at 1, the real check ride. They're not predicting thunderstorms any more, but the afternoon is typically much more turbulent as well as hotterr than the morning (but the examiner wasn't available any earlier).

And around all that I have to fit grocery shopping, other errands, and laundry, as usual.

With my shield or on it,

Posted by dichroic at 07:34 AM | Comments (0)

September 06, 2005

a little bumpy

I don't think I even want to talk about New Orleans, except to say that turning down aid or, worse, blocking it from getting to the people who need it, just leaves me sputtering wordlessly. Also, I don't like lying at the best of times; telling desparate people, day after day, that aid is coming 'real soon now' is despicable.

OK. Now to not talk about New Orleans. Sorry, it's very hard not to, but I have nothing to say that hasn't been said.

Anyway, obviously, we're home now. I suppose it was a good weekend all in all, but the flight up was worse than I expected due to turnulence from Vegas on to Reno and then into Oregon. I'm a total chickenshit about turbulence, at least when I'm flying the airplane, so it was white knuckles all the way. (The first leg, up to Vegas, was actually quite nice.) It was too rough for the autopilot to maintain altitude, so I had to fly it by hand, and by the time we got there my right thigh and bicep were threatening to cramp up. I had t reasonably well trimmed, so that would be more due to tension in me than any undue control force required. It was all clear-air turbulence, heat rising over the desert, so no issue at all to a seasoned pilot. I'm just not seasoned. It took me a long time - years - to get over being nervous driving in heavy freeway traffic, so this isn't a surprise.

The way home wasn't bad except for some clouds that were threatening enough to worry me - the clouds were built up just a little, but the layer was broad enough that I was afraid there could be some embedded small storms, and there was some rain, though not much. Apparently they didn't worry Rudder, but I didn't find that out until afterward. He was flying calmly, but then that's what a pilot would be trying to do anyway.

I flew five of the six legs: Chandler to Jean (outside Las Vegas), Jean to Stead (on the north side of Reno), Stead to Lakeview OR, then on the way home Lakeview to Stead and Stead to Jean. Rudder flew the last leg home, because I was tired and also annoyed that ; coming into Jean he thought I was going too slowly in a landing and pushed the throttle in, not something you want your passenger to do without telling you even if he is a pilot. Other than that, he was a model copilot. He did apologize afterward. (I really was going too slow, but I maintain I'd have salvaged the landing or gone around in time.)

Rudder's parents met us at his grandparents'. So, unexpectedly, did an aunt, an uncle, a cousin and the cousin's girlfriend. It was nice to see them all, but having that many people around may have been a bit much for Rudder's grandmother, who's still recuperating from a couple of heart attackes and attacks of pneumonia this spring. It also meant the visit was quite as relaxing as I'd hoped for between flights, but Lakeview is so much slower-paced that we did get to rest a least a bit. And now I have all my required cross-country time, and just need to refresh my basic instrument maneuvers, figure out instrument approaches on autopilot, and bone up on all the questions for the oral. That's all scheduled to be about three flights and one ground lesson from now, but we'll see.

Posted by dichroic at 07:18 PM | Comments (1)

August 29, 2005

preliminary anxiety

I set a new record for this year Saturday - did the half marathon in one hour, fifty-six minutes and 23 seconds. That's not a PR - I did one last year about fifty seconds faster - but it's nearly four minutes faster than last week's. And fifty seconds isn't a whole lot over 21, 097 meters - about 1.5 seconds average split, whereas I averaged more than 5 seconds faster than last week. The good thing is that this is partly because I did the whole stinkin' almost two hours with no breaks, but it's also partly because I just rowed faster. This was after going flying the the morning, so I'd already had that to tire me out and work up a sweat (we've had heat advisories the last several days. I ate half a bagel, drank some diluted Gatorade, and took more of the latter up with me to the erg, where I took a swig without stopping about every 2000 meters. I won't even try to push on that long when I do the marathon at the end of September: I'll permit myself a brief stop every 6 or 7 km and will probably again drink on the fly every 2K or so. I need to do the math to figure out what split I have to do to match last year's time.

In the meantime, I have other things to be anxious about. On Friday, we leave to fly to Lakeview, OR, in a Cessna 172. We did this once before in a 182: this is a less powerful plane, but a nice new one. The seats are more comfortable, for one thing, and it's a little reassuring not to be flying something as old as I am, even if airplanes do get much better maintenance than most cars. The worst thing is knowing that if we had to make a forced landing anywhere on the first half of the trip, we'd have to put down into a 110-degree desert, with only the water we're carrying with us. (We'll take some extra, but water is heavy.) We'll have a few snacks and will do Lindbergh one better by taking peanut butter AND jelly sandwiches. As Rudder reminds me, though, most of the time we'd be able to put down near a road, so chances are even if we can't make a phone call from wherever we are, it wouldn't be all that long before rescue came. And of course I've flown over heated deserts four times before this summer, on round trips to San Diego and Sanata Barbara, which no airplae issues whatever.

Plus, this time I'll have Rudder with me. He doesn't know the aircraft as well as the instructor I flew with before, but for dealing with emergencies, I'd put my money on him. And there won't be any emergencies, anyhow; that's what aircraft maintenance and preflight inspection and flight planning are for.

Still, better to get the worrying out of the way beforehand.

Posted by dichroic at 01:45 PM | Comments (1)

August 07, 2005

written test taken


In case that text isn't clear for you, the important parts are:

EXAM: Instrument Rating Airplane

This is just the written, though. Next comes finishing up training, then the hard part: the checkride and oral quiz.

Posted by dichroic at 04:53 PM | Comments (14)

August 05, 2005

still not ready

I am really not ready for this exam. I found a practice test online, and am getting scores ranging from 60-80% (70 is required to pass). I'd be much happier with a 70-90 range. I'll see how I'm doing by Sunday; there's no hard deadline, and I can take the test pretty much whenever I want. I just want this IFR stuff over will, so I can quit hemorrhaging money on long / frequent flights. Once it's done, I should try to fly once a month or so, to maintain proficiency, but that won't be ungodly expensive.

Rudder and I may try to fly up to his Oregon grandparents' for Labor Day; that would give me enough hours to finish the cross-country requirements, and their town is remote enough that it takes very nearly as long to fly commercially and have to drive over.

I've been studying sort of backwards, reviewing test questions first and then when necessary reading up in the book. I had originally tried reading first, but some of the material is so tedious, and the authors make so many hoary and hokey jokes (any stray pilots reading this now know exactly what set of books I'm talking about). When I do the questions first, then when I read on the subject I'm having an easier time concentrating. Instead of dozing off, I think, "Oh, this came up and I didn't know it," so it's easier to pay attention. There are also DVDs to play on my computer, but those are even more annoying than the book.

Also, Rudder has gone insane. He's planning a third annual erg marathon despite saying last year in so many words that he wouldn't do it this year, and has presented She-Hulk with a marathon training schedule that involves doing 1,100,000 meters over the next few months. (He knows better than to try to talk me into that. He showed me an 80,000 variation of the training. Big improvement, not.) We're hoping this all wears off and he finds somewhere else to channel his formidable energy, now that the Charles race is out.

Posted by dichroic at 02:47 PM | Comments (1)

July 10, 2005

back from Santa Barbara

Wow. Santa Barbara is a very nice town, and he weather there was wonderful - nice and cool, with a sea breeze. Flying there went smoothly; we left here around stopped at Blythe to refuel, early enough that it was only hot, not blazingly hot. We got to Santa Barbara around 1:30. Rudder found us with no problem, and took us (and and my instructor, henceforth referred to as CFII since that's what he is - certified Flight Instructor, Instrument) to the Elephant Bar for lunch, and then down the main street so I could get a look at the town. The company Rudder went there to meet with had put him into an extremely nice hotel; we had a little suite with wood floors and a wrought iron bed and we'd booked a room for CFII. After checking him in and dropping our stuff, we all went for a long walk down the beach. I waded; I don't know how anyone can stand keeping their feet dry on a beach in summer, but Rudder and CFII did. We watched surfers and boogie boarders, but didn't get to see any kite surfers. The water is still cold enough that all of the surfers were wearing wetsuits, though other people were swimming in bathing suits. After that we walked out on a long pier and had dinner at a casuall place with a second floor deck. The food was all right, but I was very cold, not having brought a pullover. I didn't want to get too late a start in the morning and we were all tired from walking in the sand and from the salt air, so we walked back to the hotel and all went to sleep early. In the morning, we met for breakfast, headed to the airport, filed a flight plan and CFII and I headed back.

I think we probably left around 8:30 or so; we were expecting to get back here around 1. Rudder was on a commercial flight leaving around noon; he kept telling me he'd be back home "just a little after us". By the time we approached the airport, landed, taxiied, got all our stuff out, tied down the airplane, put the sunshades in its windows, noted down the Hobbs and Tach times, and I paid and drove home, it was about 2. It's 4:30 now, and Rudder's not here. There is this nice thing about general aviation airplanes: if the weather is acceptable at the departuer and destination airports and along the way, and neither the airplane nor pilot have anything much wrong with them, you can just go. I checked the airline web page and it looks like Rudder's plane was delayed for a couple of hours, presumably due to weather and some other airport entirely. Ha.

(Of course, it cou dhave been something wrong with the plane, which could just as easily have happened to mine, but still. Ha.)

Flying home wasn't quite as much fun. I was tired; Blythe was blazingly hot when we stopped for fuel, and we got some turbulence over the desert. Also, the whole last forty-five minutes was fairly miserable, as we descended into the blast furnace that s Phoenix in summer. The frst thing I did when I got home was to strip off my clothing and jump in the pool. For reasons I don't fully understand, my ponytail is still wet, two hours later (this is rare, in a desert) but no complaints about that.

Posted by dichroic at 05:28 PM | Comments (2)

July 08, 2005

flight planning

I'm trying to get ready for my flight to Santa Barbara tomorrow, and back on Sunday. There are so many things to remember that I feel like I'm drowning in paperwork - odd, considering I'm only flying a lightplane.

  • Check weather (this is just so I know whether to pack shorts or jeans; I'll do an aviation weather check tomorrow for things like expected winds at altitude and cloud ceilings
  • Flight planning. DUATS make it much, much easier, but I still need to double check it on a map to make sure that the route it picks is the most sensible one, and to make sure it doesn't demand I fly on an airway too high for my unpressurized plane.
  • Pack the walkie-talkie. Only because my silly husband refuses to own a cellphone.
  • Figure out where to park the plane at the destination airport - so Rudder knows where to find us. See previous point.
  • Decide if I need to stop for gas on the way. I don't legally - the flight will take about 35 gallons and I have 53 gal. usable fuel, but that's not including time to taxi or delays due to headwind. I have enough reserve that I don't really have to stop but ... it's my ass in that airplane. Also, make sure the place I plan to stop actually does have fuel.
  • Figure out what phone number or radio frequency I need to use to close the flight plan at the fuel stop.
  • Print out charts of the destination airport (Santa Barbara), the fuel stop airport (Blythe), and the alternate in case of bad weather (Santa Monica).
  • I need to pack some clothes, too.

Most of that is done by now - more would be, but I need to change the ink on my home printer because the printouts of the airports came out blurry. For some reason my work printer doesn't like the PDF files. The funny thing is, this is all much, much easier than planning a VFR (visual) flight would be.

Not everybody does this much planning for every cross-country. However, not everybody flies over a desert in 114-degree heat, either. Screwing up would be annoying.

Posted by dichroic at 01:27 PM | Comments (0)

June 25, 2005

change of plans

Well, shoot. Change of plans. We were planning to do what pilots call a "hundred-dollar breakfast" - fly out to Payson, eat breakfast, and come home. (The lunchtime version is a "hundred-dollar-hamburger".) Plans were changed because there are so many brushfires in the area that we'd have been threading between restricted zones. Also, the taxiway at Payson is closed because they're using it for heavy-lifting helos. We still could have done the flight and been legal, but fires can move, and the smoke can range far out of the restricted zone. Also, there was no real reason we needed to go other than to eat breakfast and score another hour cross-country time, so it seemed like a more prudent decision not to go.

Instead I did some much-needed weeding, including disposing of the brittle corpse of what had been one of my very few horticultural successes. Rosemary loves out sun and dry soil, and the two I had planted in front spread out nicely. Unfortunately there's an overtemp drain into that bed from the hot water heater; apparently last time we'd had it fixed, the plumber had set the threshold too low and hot water straight from the solar panel was cascading onto the rosemary. Apparently it wasn't fond of being boiled. I cut most of the mostly-dead one out, leaving the two living sprigs in a vain hope that it will come back, and left the one that's only half-dead to see what will happen.

I forgot to tell a story yesterday: I'm wearing glasses for a few days, on the advice of my eye doctor. One eye was getting irritated, and responding with mucus that clouded the contact lens further in a vcous cycle. I have to wear glasses for 2-3 days and then be very careful to take my extended-wear lenss out a least one day a week. If that doesn't work, I'll have to begin taking them out every night. I don't normally wear glasses to work, and yesterday one of our weirder directors told me I looked like a librarian in them. I told him, "Well, I know some very attractive librarians, so I guess that's a good thing."

Y'all are welcome.

Posted by dichroic at 08:40 AM | Comments (2)

June 12, 2005

review: Cirrus SR22-GTS

Yesterday, Rudder and I got to test fly a Cirrus SR22-GTS. The Cirrus people were in town and had brought three aircraft, two for test flights and one for ground show.

We were impressed.

For one thing, it's considerably more powerful than the Cessna 172SP I normally fly, with a cruise airspeed of 185 knots, as opposed to about 120 kt. (The lower model, the SR20, has a cruise of 156 kt, according to the Cirrus catalog.) It's so stable that it can do steep turns in slow flight, and climbs like a bat (in a normal climb off the runway, we were making about 1000 feet/minute instead of 5-700). Still, it wasn't the power that was most impressive; after all, for what a SR20-GTS costs, Cessna will sell you a Turbo Skylane that cruises at 158 kt.

What impressed me most was the design. Some of the improvements are obvious ones, taken from military and commercial aircraft and even cars: four-point harnesses, a glass cockpit with large Primary and Multifunction Flght Displays, leather seats and rear cupholders. But some showed a lot of thought into how private pilots fly and what they need. For example, there's a variable-pitch prop but it's controlled by the throttle, instead of a separate control, to get the best angle at a given airspeed. The transponder switches from Standby to Alt at a certain airspeed and then back again so you never have to remember it. The PFD is similar to the ones on the big planes; well-done and easy to readbut not revolutionary; it's the MFD where the design gets really thoughtful. Checklists are on the MFD and you can mark each item as you check it, so you don't skip a step. They worked with Jeppeson to produce an available option that has instrument approach plates on show up on the MFD, and you can toggle around to see different parts of it close up. This means if you divert to a different airport in instrument conditions, you always have the right plate. It also means updating plates is not a tedious page-by-page event (anyone who has used old MilSpecs knows exactly how much fun this is) but just a matter of plugging in a zip drive. There's also an engine monitor page that can be used to lean out the mixture more efficiently and to see what's going on at a number of checkpoints.

I should also mention that the Cirrus pilot who flew with us was one of the best CFIs either of us has encountered: calm, positive, totally not flaky, concise, able to explain well and to listen to our explanations (we knew the local area better, of course, and there are some peculiarities of how the hold around a VOR that's used a lot for practice approaches at an uncontrolled airport gets used). I'd be happy to learn from her any day. Of course, she has a plum job job for an instructor, but still I hope Cirrus appreciates just how good she is.

So yeah, we were impressed with the Company and the airplane. If I were buying tomorrow I'd probably choose the SR20-GTS, because you sacrifice 20kt cruise speed to get a $100K cheaper price, but still get all those handy options like a traffic watch, Stormscope, the built-in approach plates, and terrain avoidance.

Anyone got $330,000 to loan me?

Posted by dichroic at 08:44 PM | Comments (0)

June 05, 2005

the flight to San Diego

It went well, largely because the weather couldn't have been better - cool (relatively - under 100F) in Phoenix, and with a marine layer over San Diego that gave me some actual instrument conditions but was calm and easy to fly through. Also, George (the autopilot) did most of the work on the way there and back. We could practically have been playing cards in the cockpit.

The whole thing took much longer than I expected: we got to the FBO at 9, but between filing a flight plan and preflighting the plan, didn't take off until 10. We flew to Palomar, waited bloody forever for them to gas up the plane ("Oh! You want fuel? We didn't realize, even though you told both the line guy and the girls at the register!) Grr. Stlil, impressive pilots lounge: free popcorn, coffee and muffins, and then another room with a big screen and home-theater comfy chairs with controls built in. Then we flew to Montgomery (tower-to-tower clearance - those are nice but I still think it's excessive that my instructor practically creams his pants very time he talks about them) ate at the not-bad Mexican restaurant there, and flew back. We got home around 6:30. I got 6.7 hours of flight time including .8 hours of actual instrument conditions.

And then I went up again this morning, as safety pilot while Rudder practiced some approaches. I'd feel a little better about that if I were better at actually spotting other planes in the area - I generally knew where they were from their calls over the radio, but Rudder can figure that out himself, even under the hood. Safety pilots are supposd to be able to see around them.

Posted by dichroic at 08:07 PM | Comments (1)

June 02, 2005

popping and flying

Last weekend when RUdder and I went shopping, the supermarket was entirely out of popcorn. Popcorn! I ask you, how can a grocery store be out of popcorn? Oh, they had box after box of microwave popcorn: with fake butter, with less fake butter, with "lite" fake butter, with fake toffee, with roasted corn flavor added (we grill corn all the time; it doesn't taste like that), with fake caramel or toffee make with fake sugar. They had all those. What they were missing was plain ordinary popcorn, the kind you pop in a pot that you shake, or in a hot air popper, or, as in our case, in a stove-top popper with a crank to turn. I'm not even all that picky: I'll take "gourmet" or garden-variety, white or yellow or even black corn. I just want real popcorn.

As of last night, we seem to have solved that problem. In fact, we may have solved it for the next decade. We had some errands to do, one of which involved a visit to the local evil warehouse store. ("Evil" because shopping there is always grueling and because I don't like the politics or policies of the associated empire. But some stuff is really cheap there, and more importantly, they're the only place we know that sells peanut oil (needed whenever we deep-fry a turkey) so we maintain a membership and stop in occasionally.) Anyway, we figured we'd look for popcorn there, and by gosh we found it. In 50-pound sacks. We debated for a while about how silly it would be to buy it, but Rudder, as I have mentioned before, thinks big. He is also extremely good at finding places for things. And I eat a lot of popcorn. (So does he, now. When he was trying to lose a couple of pounds to compete as a lightweight at our last regatta, he realized it's filling without a lot of calories, and I think now he's developed a taste for it.) So, we now have fifty pounds of popcorn, at least five years' worth. It won't go bad, especially in this climate, though after a couple of years I might have to soak it in water so it won't be too dried out to pop. I stlil feel a little silly about it, though.

On Saturday, I will be flying to San Diego, for the long cross-country flight required for an Instrument Flight Rating. We'll fly from the local airport southeast of Phoenix to Mclellan-Palomar, do one instrument approach and land there, eat, fly down to Montgomery, fuel up, and fly home. I'm not looking forward to it; it will probably take nearly three hours to get there, depending on wind, and maybe two and a half coming back. I don't even like to drive for more than a couple hours straight. And there will be turbulence over the deserts, and lots of traffic in the city, and controllers to talk to the whole way. At least the traffic won't be my problem: since this is instrument training I'll be under the hood (wearing a visor so I can't see anything but the instrument panel) for a lot of the flight, including all approaches to airports. Also, there are no bathrooms in a Cessna 172. I keep reminding myself there will be an instructor along to help with anything that gives me trouble, and he's very familiar with this run. (That won't help with the lack of bathrooms, however.) On the other hand, it would be awfully nice to be comfortable flying to San Diego or LA for regattas, whenever we don't have to take our own boats. At least this is a little step toward that. The big problem is that I'm a nervous pilot. On this trip I'll have to deal with turbulence, boredown, navigation, busy controllers, air traffic, and strange airport procedures (that is, procedures at strange airports, not strange procedures). Even with cars it took me a long time to get comfortable driving; I didn't get my license until I was 22 because I didn't need it, and maybe because I was a little older I was never the sort of kid who wants to drive everywhere, as much as possible. Now, of course, I can drive a Hummer with boats hanging off the front and back through LA traffic, and did so two weeks ago. I keep reminding myself of that, too.

Posted by dichroic at 02:55 PM | Comments (3)

May 09, 2005

flying and rowing and writing as usual

I finally got to fly a cross-country as planned, yesterday, without having to cancel due to weather, aircraft issues, or anything else. And now, I only need to do it about twelve times more. (It's not a coincidence that the four or five I canceled were all when I was flying out of my previous FBO. At least, it's not a coincidence I left them.) This is the first one I've planned and have gotten to fly, though I did do a couple impromptu ones (no flight planning needed, just follow I-10 to Pinal with the instructor playing controller). So now I have about two more of the 50 hours I need, bringing me to about 26. Obviously it would make sense to do a few longer trips, but this one was exhausting. Trying to maintain heading and altitude when the thermals are determined you won't is difficult. Also, because it was warm out (hence less lift) and Rudder came along as a passenger, the aircraft just didn't want to climb. At least the turbulence was only annoying, not scary. I've been out in much worse.

You remember remember I wasn't planning to race this season, while working on the IFR. So guess what I'm doing this weekend? It's just a little local race, for which we had short notice, and it's not a proper regatta or the normal 1000m distance we do in spring and summer but a two-mile loop for canoes, kayaks, outriggers, and dragon boats as well as rowing shells. There's a separate category for singles, doubles, and so on, each for men and women. There was an option to just row it instead of racing, and I'm certainly not in racing form, but what the heck. I don't think there will be all that many people participating, and the race is against the clock, not all at once, so at least if I finish last it won't be too embarassing.

Also, the interview meme again, with questions from . First the rules:
1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me."
2. I will respond by asking you five questions. I get to pick the questions.
3. You will update your LJ with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Next, the answers:
1) Are those crossed blades on your icon a particular pair, and, if so, what do they signify?
Yes, or at least a particular blade design. The design on my boat, blades, and uni (I think that's an all-in-one to Brits) are based on the Arizona state flag. I compete as part of a loose and amorphous group called the Arizona Outlaws. Incidentally, I've never flown a plane with a four-bladed prop; it just looked cooler for the design than the two-bladed one from a Cessna 172.
2) Do you ever get troubled by the contradictions in DLS's character, specifically the ringing defence of the life of the mind in Gaudy Night and some of her more startlingly narrow-minded assertions?
Actually, the defense of the life of the mind doesn't bother me so much (because Catherine Freemantle is so clearly spouting dogma against her own inclinations, and because even in Gaudy Night there is punting and rowing and climbing over walls) as DLS's anti-Semitism. That latter, I just have to sort of grit my teeth and resolutely ignore.
3) Have you ever met a public figure whom you admired in real life, and if so how did you find the experience?
No. I once met a state Senator I'd have admired if I'd known more about him at the time, but I was very young then, and there wasn't much opportunity for conversation anyhow. I did heroically restrain myself from spitting on my state's governor more recently when we flew on the same airplane. (This would be shortly before he was indicted and kicked out of office.)
4) What's the biggest single thing you'd change about the current set up if you were President for the day -
5) - or had Bill Gates's wealth at your entire disposal?

I'll answer these together. I'm not really sure money is the answer to the biggest problems I see, except in so far as it controls the media and that would need to be subtle to be effective, I htink. Subtle is not my forte. If I were President, I think one important thing I'd do would be to set a very public example of allowing absolutely no favoritism to my own family, state, religion, or party, and no discrimination against religion, race, ethinicity, age, gender or sexual preference in any area I controlled.

Posted by dichroic at 01:39 PM | Comments (0)

April 21, 2005


First of all, black shirts do not go with dark brown pants. Dark brown shirts do not go with black pants. Ditto navy and black. So please stop. You may be able to get away with light brown or peat brown and black, and royal blue or cadet blue and black; however, there is a line between edgy pushing of the envelope and looking like you're colorblind and forgot to ask someone else to check your colors for you.

OK then.

Speaking of looking stupid, I need a photo of myself to send in for my reunion next week - someone is putting together a directory. I don't have a current photo I'm happy with, except maybe the MWAH! photo (see top left here) and I really don't want to send that to these former coworkers. I could send an older photo like the one on the bottom right on that same page, which was probably taken the same year I last saw these people, but it's a backpacking photo, not work-related. It's cute, though. Or I can sort through all of our photos at home (squijillions of them) to see what I can find, or ask Rudder to try to take one tonight. Like me, he's better at shooting mountains than people. I wish I had my brother-in-law's ability to look good in every photo taken of him, whether he's expecting it or not.

As of last night, I have decided: I don't like autopilots. Oh sure, they're handy when you're flying straight and level or in a steady climb or descent. But when you need them most, when there's a lot of turbulence, they don't work. (At least the ones in the little Cessnas I fly; the ones in jumbo jets are a bit more capable.) Even worse is when you're trying to use one for an instrument approach: the controller tells you to come down a thousand feet and you're trying to read the approach plate and simultaneously having to set a new altitude and descent rate. It's a lot easier just to fly the damned thing down.

Remember when you learned to drive, and it was so hard to simultaneously steer and keep your speed steady? And forget about reading a map at the same time, or using a manual shifter. Learning an airplane is a lot like that only even more so. Learning to fly on instruments raises that up another order of magnitude.

Posted by dichroic at 01:39 PM | Comments (1)

February 11, 2005

channeling Langston and Lindy

"Dona nobis pacem" says the old song: Give us peace, give us peace, give us peace.

But peace is not a thing to be given.
Peace is taken. Peace is earned,
Peace is held and peace is painfully made.

Peace is forged in the fire of a fierce determination,
Folded layers of decisions hammered for strength
With will.

Peace is built stick by stick,
Peace is balanced, stone on stone,
Stone on unthrown stone.
Peace is fitted together, each part slotted in
Where a place is found.

Peace is not poured in a pure stream from above;
Peace is built up from the ground by those who need its shelter most,
Holding it up,
Shoring it up,
Improvising as they build,
And propping where it starts to sag.

Peace is not the gift of gods or governments.
Peace is earned at the price of sweat, steel will,
Skill, care, unconfidence
And need.

That felt good. It's been a long, long while since I was able to write any poetry except by forcing it, a method guaranteed to produce nothing but doggerel (though still useful for practice). The beginning of this one came to me, though, when I was listening, ecstatic, to news of the Israeli/Palestinian ceasefire, and then, deflated, to the Israeli comment that the ceasefire depended on the Palestinians to maintain it. (Translation: one rebel throws one stone, or one renegade plants one bomb, and thwe're sending the army back in. Given the difficulty of controlling a whole population, I hope I'm mistranslating here.) Maybe because he cared about peace too, but I felt like I was channelling Langston Hughes as this thing above spoke in my head, with its pounding carpenter rhythm. (Or maybe that was Jimmy Carter, but he's not dead yet.) Of course, the words and the finishing still had to come through me, so I'm not blaming any lack of quality in this on Hughes. But it surely did feel good to have it come to me.

I did end up flying yesterday - and I got actual! (That means flying in actual instrument conditions, with a clearance, talking to Center, and the whole bit.) The wind wasn't bad but there was rain and low clouds. Once we were off the ground and I saw how bad the visibility was, I started worrying I wouldn't be able to see the runway well enough to land - fortunately I could once we were down to 1000 feet height-above-ground or so, but we did quite a bit of flying in the clouds with NO visibility at all. My instructor didn't even have me put on a hood (really a visor, worn so you can't look out and can see only the instrument panel). It was some scary shit, especially on the way back when Phx Approach was supposed to be vectoring us and didn't say anything for a very very long time. That was because they didn't need to, since we were heading straight for our home airport on a VOR radial, but the thing is they didn't say anything to anyone else either, which means there's no way to tell that the radios haven't gone out. Which would suck fairly hard in those conditions.

So yeah, it was scary to the point of pounding head and dropping pit of stomach. Of course that's not entirely rational; I had a CFI with me and my instruments were working fine. But they can break, and I'm not comfortable yet with what to do if they did, and anyway, instrument flying is inherently not a safe thing to do. There are mountains out there, and my little Cessna doesn't have a collision warning system to detect them. (Ironic, since that's one thing my company makes.) I do have a GPS with them programmed in, but again, the pit of my stomach doesn't know from GPSes.

I kept telling myself it was good to be doing this now, while there's a CFI along and I'm training in familiar territory, than to encounter it for the first time alone in a strange area. Here, at worst, we could have gone down low and found our way home by following roads and landmarks. Rudder pointed out that also, this is a good time in my training to do this because now some of the other tactics I'll be learning will be extremely memorable. (What to do if the radios go out, for instance.) The pit of my stomach doesn't listen to him, either.

Good experience, though. (I tell myself again.) Next time it will be much less scary. And one good thing was proving again that I'm not ruled by the pit of my stomach, because I flew well, nailed the ILS approach at Casa Grande (best one I've done yet) and did two landings so good the instructor was impressed. There's nothing like a bit of motivation to do it right, I guess.

Posted by dichroic at 12:19 PM | Comments (1)