Posted by: seawinglady | May 16, 2010

The nuts and bolts of it all

The Nuts and Bolts of it all

OK, OK, so some days things just don’t go as planned. We arrived at the hangar, with more than a little sleep in our eyes, anticipating the rush of an early dawn flight in the RV. Pushing open the door, we squeezed into the small gap between the door and the Mariner fuselage. Suddenly, our noses went into full alarm. Aviation fuel permeated every pore of our nasal passages. We looked at the pool of moisture below the wing, and the blue stains coursing across the undercarriage of our white bird.

“No, this can’t be happening,” our brains screamed, but it was. The tank, full last night is almost empty. It’s obvious we have a major problem. We steel ourselves to reality. We’re not flying this bird any time soon.

Regrouping, we go out to breakfast in the Yankee, flying on this perfect morning to Plane Jane’s, in Plymouth. We order chicken bok choy soup for me, and chili for Bill, it’s already mid-day by our standards, but everyone around us is carving into stacks of blueberry pancakes, and thick slabs of bacon. We suck down coffee over our bowls, and think, talk, call friends, and gather opinions.

Six days later, May 8, the rain is pouring down from overhead hammering the roof of the hangar, and we hammer the screw heads with a drummel tool, attempting to break the paint seal, remove thirty-six screws and pull the tank. Headache ensues, the paint chips, the screws strip, and we’re further behind.

Your turn, any ideas, we ask each other, and anyone overhead who may be listening.

Eventually, we give up, pack up our wet gear, and head home for a glass of wine, a warm dinner, and some regrouping insight.

Two steps forward, three steps back. Spring is here, but the winter darkness has hung the drapery. Wish us luck. Hope to be punching holes in the spring sky soon

Posted by: seawinglady | April 19, 2010

Public Transport, MBTA Style

Public transport, MBTA style

Some adventures in aviation begin in a place very different from what you normally think of. I was on my way to Sun’n’Fun, the traditional Mecca for experimental and general aviation pilots which happens every spring in Lakeland, Florida. I mean what better place can you imagine being at the end of a long northern winter than a small airfield in the heart our sunny southern state. For one week each spring we get to gather, listen to airplane noise from dawn until late into the night. Campers are packed together and the party continues round the clock. Everyone here has something in common, the love of airplanes.

The harsh reality of general aviation these days is for those of us in the real world it is far less expensive to fly to Florida commercially, and dream of the day when we have the time and resources to fly our own personal pride and joy into the field. For me, it may never happen, but I’ll keep dreaming.

This trip, however, began with the purchase of an airline ticket to Tampa. Not wanting to end up with both my husband’s car and my own in Boston, I elected to travel to the airport utilizing our state’s public transportation system. This began by imposing on a friend to drive me to the commuter rail station.

Following recent locale flooding, Massport, has chosen to close the road in front of my neighborhood, only allowing travel to the south. Unfortunately, the rail station is on the north side of town, so after an additional 12 miles of travel on rural back roads, my friend and I arrived at the station.

Moments later we were greeted by a woman in a florescent vest.

“Are you planning on taking the train?” she asks.

I consider, “No, I just thought the parking lot was a scenic destination, or No, I’m checking for loose change on the station platform, but I dumbly reply, ‘yes’”.

She nods towards an old yellow school bus, and tells us the bus will take us to Campello, up the line. She hands me a piece of paper with the words, “Here, this will explain.”

Have you ever tried to hoist a suitcase, and a backpack onto a yellow school bus? Not a pretty picture, but after several minutes I was occupying two empty seats on the bus. At 5’5” I could barely fit between the seats and wondered how the gentleman climbing on, who was well over six feet and outweighed me by a significant measure, would manage to shoehorn himself into the seat behind me, clearly designed for a member of the third grade class.

An obese woman dressed in a red sweater searching for an open seat brought back memories of Pooh Bear forcing his ample proportions out of rabbit’s hole after excessive honey consumption.  Mild curiosity on my part as I watched her progress was replaced by a look of terror from the woman on crutches whose injured leg stretched out into the isle.

Finally, looking like well-dressed patrons on a bus in Bolivia, miraculously everyone was seated. Slowly the gears of the bus went into arthritic motion and we headed north. Passing the highway entrance ramp, the bus trundled towards the traffic light marking a secondary road, which paralleled the highway.

Murmurs of surprise, were soon replaced by sighs of resignation as we slowed for the first of an endless string of stop lights. Leaning forward, I looked at the woman in front of me, agreeing the wheels of the bus might fall off if speeds over thirty mph were attempted.

Disembarking from our chariot at Campello station, we again found ourselves on the commuter rail. The train gained speed and dutifully stopped at the next station. A wave of relief swept through the group, perhaps we wouldn’t be too late.

Just as heads were dropping, the train rolled to a stop.

There appeared to be a conflict with a train passing in the opposite direction. Another twenty minutes and we were back in motion, informed by the printed data sheet we would be required to switch to the red line at the Braintree T station.

Dutifully, again we disembarked and searched for signs indicating the location of the inbound train. Tugging my Pullman over the eroded cobblestones and cracked concrete, I wondered how the woman on crutches was going to manage.

Arriving in the catacombs of south station I followed the suitcase crowd towards signs indicating the Silver Line, the transfer line to Logan airport.

By this time, my bladder was starting to complain and I was thankful I had passed on a second cup of coffee earlier. I was told I’d have to go back to the main station if I expected to find a washroom. I elected to let the yellow level rise in lieu of missing the bus to Logan.

Terminal C, relief, I was still well in time for my flight. I’ve been known to carry a bladder relief vessel in my Citabria, perhaps this might be a new consideration for the MBTA.

Posted by: seawinglady | April 9, 2010

Wings of Envy

Wings of Envy

Shoving off from the shoreline, I climb into my kayak desperately attempting to keep the sand and mud on the outside of the kayak without tipping over. I look like a gazelle trying to mount a horse. Safely floating I adjust my partially torn spray skirt, stretch my legs out, and dip my paddle in.

The kayak now glides elegantly along the water and I watch the seabirds circling overhead. Dancing in a private ballet, they swoop down over the water’s surface, and then lift upward on a sharp trajectory.

A pair of wood ducks lift off and skim the shoreline in tight formation. I envy their perfect synchrony and elegance. Inches apart they communicate turns, climbs, and descents. They perform in silence, without the need to exclaim their position and intentions to their flying partner. They are free of the need to call out speeds and vectors. How encumbered I am by my human condition.

My husband flies a plane called a Mariner at times. It is the closest thing I know of to feeling like a bird in flight. Some might argue in favor of flying a glider, or a hang glider, but I would argue that in those instances, one must follow the dictates of the air, rising with thermals and moving with air masses attempting to defy gravity. It is not always possible to choose to rise, or descend, and then rise again on a whim, jettisoning your ship in whatever direction you have selected.

But even a Mariner is a cumbersome machine, subject to engine failures, wing stalls, and rough waters. The pilot isn’t protected from either the cold winds or water with a plush downy coat.

Still, while we watch the seabirds in awe, we know we are lucky to be participants in the game.

Posted by: seawinglady | March 31, 2010

Spring Controls

Spring Controls

You tease, you offered a southern breeze, causing us to rush out to see you.  Your warming winds lifted across the barren fields of March, singing as they played the strings of swaying trees.  “I’m coming,” you told us Spring,  “clear off your garden beds, and purchase your spring seeds. It’s time to clean out your hangars and polish your winged machines.”

And so, we all rushed to uncover our waiting birds, soap them down and let them dry in the noon sun. We would fly them high into that blue sky that, twist and turn their limbs to the rhythm of your tune. We opened our hearts to you, all the while knowing they might be broken by your fickle nature.

Just as quickly as you lifted us up, you turned on us bearing down from the north, dragging your cold claws across our faces. We pulled down the hangar doors and cinched our blankets up under our chins. You hung a drapery of dark grey clouds over your blue sky, and we watched as the rain started to fall.

Captive as your prisoners, your voice now railed torrents of anger, shouting, “you are weak, you are foolish. I am sending the rains to your hangar, to the places where you live.  I am sending you storms so you will learn not to trust me. Your rivers will rise and your roads will flood. You will be cut off. You are not free, I am lord over you.”

The rains came, relentlessly just as you said, and the waters rose. The mud flowed around our feet. Water raced through our streets and poured into our houses. We kayaked through our kitchens. All the while, our planes were cowering in wait.

And then, you let your rains abate, and we cautiously stepped out and opened the hangar doors.

Posted by: seawinglady | March 29, 2010

Morning Rush

A game of consequences, there’s nothing like the quiet rush of sliding into the cockpit on a cold clear morning. Cold fingers fumble with the straps of the five-point harness as the pilot secures herself into position. Her warm breath condenses in the frosty air, fogging the plexiglass windshield as she strains her eyes peering across the dew covered airfield. Pink streams flow across the horizon illuminating the end of the runway in the haze.

Shifting my eyes back into the cockpit, my hands struggle to retain their tactile capacity despite the thin protection of my worn leather gloves, as they run along the line of switches. Beacon on, navigation lights on, radio off, intercom off, landing light off, fuel pump checked and off, ….I run down the list.

I fire the engine, praying for warmth and begin a slow taxi peering through the haze. The headset muffs chill my ears and I’m missing my wool cap. Slowly, I feel the electric vest under my flying jacket start to warm, relief. I pull the the straps on my harness tighter, and resettle in my seat.

The sky overhead is changing over to blue, and I listen for voices on the radio juxtaposed to my own breathing in time to the purr of the engine.

Adrenaline rushes through my body as I push everything forward, riding the nose down the centerline as we pick up speed, and wait for the thrill of release, and the climb, so impressive in this machine. I turn through 1000 feet over the far end the runway and climb through 1500 as I roll towards the downwind for departure.

The lakes on the horizon are still sleeping. Leveling out at 3000 feet, I listen to their quiet slumber. I twist and turn hoping they will see this dancer in their dreams, rolling, and twirling welcoming them to the morning.

Posted by: seawinglady | March 22, 2010

Devious/Delightful Sring

Devious/Delightful Spring

Spring has been playing its devilish tricks on us once again. Wild winds blow in from the Northeast harmonically resonating through the bare tree limbs, raping residual deadwood from standing trees, leaving it strewn on the thawing grounds. Our boots plow into the saturated soil as we walk across the lawn leaving muddy footprints to mark our path. Unlike clean deep footprints in bleach white snow, each impression forms its own murky pond.

Pelting rain pounds against the rooftops, and drums against the windowpanes. We wait and watch as the water level rises. Wayward pieces of debris float down the street and collect in the drainage points. The ditches are swollen filled with torrents of moving water.

Just as the social spirit has been all but disappeared, spring lifts the clouds off our shoulders. She delivers sunshine to our doorstep, and blue skies over the rooftops. She laughs at how easy we are to tease.

Dogs are let out into the yard, and children’s voices can be heard down the street. Muffled motorcycle engines purr in the distance, and a small plane appears overhead.

Bring me along, my mind pleads, and I make plans to pull the Grumman from the soggy hangar and join the playful crowd.

A day later, and it is arranged, a plan to fly to Keene, N.H. with a young friend, Michelle. I tell her of my friends up there, and how I have promised them a visit and a plane ride over the still frozen lakes or up towards the mountains.

Climbing into the Grumman, the winds are light, the temperature has risen to nearly 50 degrees, and the sun is casting our shadows on the ramp. I explain the flight plan to Michelle and hand her the sectional, a small GPS unit, an airport diagram and a note pad where I’ve written down the current and forecast weather, and frequencies we’ll be using along the way.

We push off. The land falls away and I see the magic of flying sweep across Michelle’s face.  I point out local Taunton buildings. We can see Boston and Providence in the distance, and Mt. Monadnock, near our destination. An hour later and we’re touching down on Runway 02 despite a crosswind. We roll out and taxi to the ramp, chalk the plane. Only then do I realize I’ve left my cell phone in the hangar at Taunton.

No problem, I borrow Michelle’s, get a phone number from the internet, and contact my friend JJ’s office. Leaving a new number we head towards town on foot. The day has warmed up even further, and we shed our fleece jerseys for the walk. Michelle has never seen Keene and as I point out the campus buildings, I share stories of visiting here as a member of the Cornell ski team when my age was closer to that of Michelle’s.

We’re both looking for a drink and perhaps a snack by the time we reach the center of town. It is near lunchtime and locals are out embracing the enticing warm sunshine. We vie with men dressed in colored oxford shirts and ties, women in slacks and Dansk shoes, and students for the tables which have been set out on the sidewalk at the Fresh Kitchen deli. I sit on the wrought iron chair and turn towards the sun taking a sip of my organic mocha coffee and purr.

Perhaps it is only with the ice of winter, and the storms of spring, we appreciate the sun.

Posted by: seawinglady | March 18, 2010

Spring Gears

Spring Gears

Just when we’re feeling the slump of mud season, the wind shifts, the sun emerges and our spirits are renewed. It is amazing how it always catches us off guard, and we are surprised by the sudden improvement in our outlook.

Yesterday proved to be one of those needed gifts, like a present arriving in the mail, the temperatures climbed from an awaking hour 24 degrees to a soaring 60 by mid-afternoon.

I pulled my summer car out of the hangar and rinsed off the collection of winter dust. The sound of the Mercedes engine starting exploded visions of winding roads through tree lined New Hampshire hills, blue lake vistas, and rally’s at beachfront overlooks.

Antique cars would start to appear on Sundays, and banners would show up over village squares announcing farmer’s markets, and grange fairs. A familiar sound of racing bass boats would echo across the lakes, as tournament season slips into high gear.

Posted by: seawinglady | March 17, 2010

Incoming: Spring

Incoming: Spring

March can give us all seasons within a single month. One day, it’s frigid out: Today with a high temp scheduled to be 16 deg. Fahrenheit and a 20-30 mph wind out of the northwest, makes it one of the coldest days of the year, perfectly painful to be outside. In contrast to the days this past week, when we found ourselves smiling under blue skies and a southwesterly breeze warming our world up to 50 degrees. Like everyone around me, I was finding excuses, on those days, to keep myself outside, and found myself wandering over to the airport. A brief visit to the hangar, then in to Atlantic Aviation, when I saw an old friend, Peter, landing in his readily identifiable Grumman tiger. Peter has “Whiskers” painted in leopard spots, with a gleaming cat’s smile painted across the base of the cowling below the eyes and nose. Named by a controller, asking if she also had whiskers, Peter decided then and there, that was how she’d get them.
Peter made the landing in the gusty cross-wind look especially challenging, which suggested either the winds were even harrier than I expected or he was having a bad day, as I’d seen him make many smooth put downs before, in “Whiskers”. Peter climbed out with a surprised to see me look, and said he was recovering from the landing which he had made from the right side of the plane as he had endured shoulder surgery just a month earlier. Being a survivor of shoulder surgery myself, I was entirely sympathetic.
We caught up and I implored him to come help me find some folks to pull my plane out of the hangar which had become increasing challenging as the ground in front of the hangar softened and settled causing the hangar to rest several inches below the height of the ramp and thus, requiring an uphill run to get out and ready to go.
A few hands and my bird was out and ready to go. I was looking forward to it with the new reassurance that my mechanic had recently checked the cylinder compression which I had been concerned about and found all was well, or at least well within the tolerable range. My power loss, was instead attributed to a leakage of carburetor heat. I climbed in, pulled the canopy over my head, secured the seat belt and fired her up. The engine sounded good, normal, and the gauges measured “in the green”. I taxied out feeling the crosswind across my aircraft, and readied myself for a gusty take off.
Full power, aileron into the wind, right rudder, I barreled down the runway, and held in the controls. Lift off, and I adjusted the controls to gain airspeed, and track down the runway surface. Climbing I could feel the plane pushed and jostled by the gusty air flowing over her wings. I banked to the south, cautious of the likelihood a gust from the west could instantly increase my angle of bank, and reduce my flying authority.
Angling towards the lake, I climbed to 2500 ft. above sea level where I’d been told by other landing pilots the air smoothed out. My little plane tossed and turned as I climbed, but did settle down at the higher altitude. I took a mental fix and then started have fun checking on the conditions of the residual ice on the lakes, ponds, and streams below me. I took a quick pass towards the canal and just north of the Mass Maritime Academy to see what the cadets were up to, but I think most of them were off campus and playing elsewhere on this glorious Saturday afternoon.
Deciding to land, I headed over towards Plymouth Municipal Airport. Winds were high, but presented less of a crosswind than back home. I landed, taxied up to Plane Jane’s to see who was around. A father and son watched as I rolled the plane up and climbed out, and I waved. A few bikers stood by the fence watching, and I asked how the roads were for the motorcycles. Early March riding means lots of residual sand and salt from winter’s toils, not to mention the possibility of flooded areas after the extensive rain the preceding two days. They reported they were “as expected” and not the best for a new rider.
A few more minutes, and I saddled up to take off again, back to Taunton. Up in the air, bumpy even at 3000 ft., I prepared for the sleigh ride through the crosswind and back on to the runway, but keeping my speed up, I planted her on center line, braked firmly, and taxied back to the pumps. The smell of spring.

Posted by: seawinglady | March 16, 2010

Weather Woes in Planning

Weather Woes hit Flight Plans

Flying the American way. Looked like an easy non-rev day, as a company free loader, flight wide open. I arrived at the gate and the agent gave me a hard time about boarding before members of group 6,  you know, those are the leftovers who climb on at the end of the line, and try and find a place to stow their luggage. Whatever happened to respecting the Captain’s wife, gone in the era of jammed aircraft and ragged travelers, although the agent was anxious to give “the red carpet” treatment to the first and business class travelers, platinum and platinum plus, whatever that means. As forever a plebe in the industry neither the captain nor I have a clue. Meanwhile, my husband is held up, getting paperwork for the flight. The eastern half of the country is immersed in a massive weather system which is bringing thunderstorms to the mid-west and the central eastern seaboard. Part of the system sweeps through the Carolinas and as far south as Georgia. Michigan is mired with high winds and sleet. Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine are all expecting significant snowfall. A calm on the backside of the storm is then scheduled to be swept back with a spring Nor’easter slated to hit New England Sunday, and linger throughout the week.

The weekend also marks the beginning of spring break for public schools in Massachusetts. Some spring, or some break. And as for me, while it looks like my plans to fly my little Grumman American Yankee down the east coast from Lakeville to Tampa have been deep sixed.

Yup, five weeks ago, I was on a mission. Collected sectionals from the north to the south, and laid out a course. Morning take off from Taunton, flying down the Taunton River to the sea port of Fall River. Skirting the Providence class Charlie airspace and skipping my little plane along the Rhode Island Shoreline, across the sound and landing on the western portion of Long Island. Next leg would be nerve racking Flying underneath the busy Bravo airspace of NY, would bring me low level out 10 nautical miles into the Atlantic ocean, en route to Cape May, New Jersey. Pushing the range of my short tanks, worried about whether or not my engines are reaching full power, The waters off Long Island are still mighty cold at this time of year. Not even sure, but I’d venture a guess of low 40’s, I wouldn’t last long even if I got out of the airplane. which brings to mind what type of survival gear should I put on board. I suppose at least a life jacket and a reflective mirror. I stick them in my gear kit.

If I make it to Cape May, it’s all new air space for me from there on south. I’ve studied the charts, the restricted zones, the warning areas, and the airports. A low coastal fog could push me inland and I’d either be in the soup, or in hot water in someone else’s airspace. Neither outcome sounds inviting, so I’d better be sure I had a pretty good handle on the weather ahead. Yes, I’m looking for that wide band of high pressure, widely space isobars, and a clear radar picture.

Instead, old “mom” is sending me, low pressure systems pushing in from the west, turbulence, nor’easters pushing back in after collecting scoopfuls of moisture from the North Atlantic.

The dream trip is slowly being dismembered by pellets of rain, and wind.

So, it looks like it will be back to non-revving to Florida, if I intend to go. Flights to Miami are all oversold through the weekend, but there are a few seats open on Monday morning at 5:40 am out of Logan, That means a home departure of 4 am, and a check in of midnight, which is about when my husband is scheduled to return from a Miami turn around on Sunday. If it works, we can catch up once we’re down there, both with each other, and with our sleep. No wonder we’re both tired much of the time. We must be insane. Well, it all keeps it interesting.

And don’t even talk about trying to get back home. I think it will happen some time after all the kids are back in school, and the storms systems are taking a minor breather.


Posted by: seawinglady | March 16, 2010

Winter Blues

Winter Blues

The shovels are all dented, the blades of our ice skates are dull, Christmas decorations have all been stowed for next year. It is the biathlon of the journey through winter, the second season. Spring is still beyond a glimmer in our eye.

We trudge to the mailbox to find tax forms and catalogues for winter sale items, which went unbeckoned by a holiday wish list.  We leaf through pages of leftover mittens, hats and boots.

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