Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Welcome to Minnesota! Now go away!

You must have to be a patient and forgiving sort to live near Roseau, on Minnesota's northern border. People there have to put up with things we non-border people take for granted. The freedom to move around America, for example.

It took an around-the-country trip by a California teacher to tell me something about my adopted state that I didn't know. There's an airport in Minnesota on which a runway spans two countries, surrounded by some unwelcoming feds.

For the last few weeks, Scott Chastain has been writing installments in his travelogue of last month's journey, during which he flew his homebuilt airplane -- an RV-8 -- around America, dropping in at small airports to discover the sort of wonders that mostly small towns possess. He eschewed hotels and depended on the kindness of people.

"What do you have in Solon Springs?" he asked a resident of that northwest Wisconsin town.

"We have a Dairy Queen," the man replied.

Lesson: People are proud of what they have in their towns, as well they should be.

Along his journey, he encountered plenty of kindness, flying without any sort of plan of where he'd end up on any day.

And then he made it to Minnesota.

"There wasn't a whole lot underneath me but marshland, lakes, and tundra as far as the eye could see," he writes.

He wanted to land at Piney Pinecreek Border Airport, which is shared by Piney, Manitoba, and Pinecreek, Minn.

The airport once resided entirely within the United States, but when the runway needed extending, it could go only go across the 49th parallel.

When Chastain visited, his string of welcoming encounters around America ended.

"It was like something out of a dystopian novel," he said on Van's Air Force.

I was wiping down the Dove, enjoying the beautiful greenery and the rolled-up hay bales, when suddenly an SUV with U.S. Customs markings pulled up. Leaving the engine running, an officer stepped out wearing combat fatigues and body armor.

He was a young guy. He didn't look happy. In fact, he looked pretty stone-faced and too serious for his own good. I looked at his uniform. Stitched over his heart was the name, Miller.

“Good morning!” I greeted him. I was in a great mood. Then that guy showed up.

“Where are you coming in from?” he asked me. He looked at me like he was about to reach for his gun.

“Duluth,” I told him.

“Well, we don’t open until nine o’clock. Why didn't you announce yourself coming in?”

I told him that I did announce myself. I told him that I announced myself 5 miles out, then on the 45-entry for runway 15. Didn't he hear me?

Then he told me that I should have called ahead on the phone to let him know that I was coming. He repeated to me that the airport wasn't open until nine-o’clock, and that I should have called him before landing.

“Yes, sir,” was all I could say. I felt like I was on the verge of being ordered to lie face-down on the pavement with my hands behind my head or something.

Then officer Miller told me, “Look. You see those tanks right there?” He was pointing at the fuel farm. I told him that, yes, I saw them. “Well if you walk past those, you’re in Canada, and you’re gonna be in trouble. Then if you try to walk back, you’re gonna be in even more trouble. You can use the restroom and get fuel if you need it, but stay on this side of the tanks. Got it?”
The reality and law is that Chastain was free to fly into the airport at any time he wanted. He's an American, traveling on American soil. He didn't need permission to use the restroom. He didn't need permission to land. He didn't need permission to buy fuel.

While the Customs office only opens at 9 a.m., Chastain wasn't crossing a border (he would have if he'd traveled farther down the runway). Chastain was free to move about America.

“Okay, thanks,” I said. “Have a great day.” He didn’t reply. He just got into his SUV and drove off. That’s when I decided to use the restroom and get out of there before he changed his mind again and came back to arrest me, for God knew what.

I quickly climbed back into the plane and strapped in. It was clear that I was unwelcome and I could not wait to get out of there. Why in the world was there a rotating beacon and a lighted runway if you could only land there at certain times of the day?

I cranked the Dove over and rolled forward. As I was taxiing out, I saw the SUV racing toward the tarmac again. It was 9:00. There was a Piper coming in on final, and I waited for him to clear the runway before I back-taxied to runway 33. I didn't waste any time blasting out of there. As I pulled the Dove back around and headed for Roseau, I looked down and saw Miller walking up to the Piper. A family was getting out of the plane, and I felt sorry for them.
In the rest of Minnesota, we have a freedom of movement we take for granted. Along Minnesota's northern border, the law-abiding are suspect.

I apologized to Chastain for the attitude my state showed him. But it was all good, he said. His next stop was Roseau, and he got to tour the Polaris plant.

Welcome to America.

If you have time to kill today, there are few better ways to spend it than reading his travelogue, which starts here.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Exploring the #3 cylinder

Come with us now as we explore the mysteries of the cylinder!

As I mentioned earlier, I was a little non-plussed that the compression in the #3 cylinder had fallen to 71/80, when it was 79/80 or so in January.

I couldn't find any reason for it. I didn't hear any air escaping during test, although I don't have very good hearing and I was kind of busy holding the prop under pressure to keep it from spinning.

So I bought a boroscope, the one Kevin Horton recommended on Van's Air Force -- the Vividia VA-400, which I think is a pretty nice piece of equipment for $149.

Last evening I had a look. Here, go on a 12-minute tour if you can stay awake.

As I was playing with the thing, my pal, Mike Hilger -- you probably know him from SteinAir -- stopped by. Mike is an A&P and looked at things and said things looked OK. We did note some carbon buildup, but he suggested flying for another 10 hours and checking the compression again because it's not unusual for these sorts of things to disappear.

Fine. I buttoned things up.

I posted the video -- a much shakier video -- on Facebook and another A&P (at least I think he's an A&P) said "pull that jug and fix the the broken ring."

What broken ring?

I don't know what a broken ring looks like but apparently he sees something there that others don't.

So I'm looking for analysis from other people who know what to look for.

For the record, I've noticed no increase in oil consumption.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Checking oil

I flew back to visit my mother in Massachusetts last week, which put about 15 hours on the tachometer (I don't have a Hobbs meter) and put my oil change slightly over schedule at 55 hours.

So over the weekend I changed the oil and filter and tested out the new oil filter cutter I bought at Oshkosh.

It's a horribly messy process but eventually I cut the paper out of the filter to examine.

Here's what I saw. See those two flecks? There are about four of them total. I'm not convinced they didn't come off my workbench when I rolled out the paper on a paper towel and stared separating each fold to inspect with a magnifying glass and magnet.

The magnet didn't pick anything up.

I also pulled out the new compression tester and found the #3 cylinder at 71/80, which is pretty pathetic seeing as how it was 79/80 six months ago at the annual condition inspection.

However, it's possibly I'm doing this wrong. My friend, Brad,is going to bring is equipment over some evening this week and we'll try it again.

I can't say the engine has been running rough but I've never been convinced the #3 is entirely healthy, so we'll see. I did notice that as I dialed up the air regulator on the compression tester, the right gauge wasn't moving until the pressure at the regulator went to about 30 and then it snapped up. I wonder if that might be indicative of a stuck exhaust valve and the pressure popped it closed?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A flight across America

I just got back from taking my RV-7A up to my hometown for the third time and I never fail to return without marveling at the capability of the machine.

I also never fail to marvel at the changing topography of the country as you go from the upper Midwest to the northeast. I think that because it's so populated, people think New England is wall-to-wall people. I'm here to tell you there are a lot of forests in New England and it doesn't take a flatlander pilot long to think, "Holy crap! If I lose my engine now I've got problems."

Here's a video of my return flight.

You have a lot of time to think on a 1,034 mile flight. For one thing, I wish I'd put in the full DigiFlight II two-axis autopilot instead of the DigiTrak single-axis one. I leave the navigating to the autopilot, but I have to continually adjust altitude and, the RV-7 being a twitchy kind of plane, it's a workload to stay level, even with a manual trim. I thought of this as I realized on the trip that I don't spend a lot of time looking at the sites below. I spend a lot of time holding altitude and monitoring engine systems.

But it would've cost me another $1,500 or so and that's money I didn't have then and don't have now.

The other takeaway from the trip is my hometown's insistence on making the same decisions that have gotten it into its predicament as a declining mill town. It got some federal money so it's building a nice new terminal building. The old one was cramped but it had an airport restaurant and people all over New England flew in for breakfast. I presume they might've even bought some gas even though the price there has always been unreasonable to me.

They're not going to allow the restaurant to open in the new building, which will be mostly empty. There'll be some vending machines, I'm told.

So fewer people will come, fewer people will buy gas and the glitzy new building won't make the pilots who do come notice the weeds on the ramp and the cracks in the taxiway. If you own a nose-gear RV, you best taxi slowly.

When I arrived yesterday morning to leave, the place was locked up tight. It was 7:30 a.m. on a weekday. So I hopped a construction fence after throwing my computers, luggage, and headphones over.

I didn't pay the $30 in parking fees for the time I was there because there was no one to take money. Maybe I'll send it to them.

Monday, July 11, 2016

60 seconds over the St. Croix

Every summer, the recreations of the Nina and Pinta, two of the planes in Cristopher Columbus' arsenal, sail up the Mississippi and St. Croix River to Hudson, Wis. Why, I do not know but it seemed like a good chance to take a look from the air.

They're small. Really small. So small they're not that interesting from the air.

But RV-7A's are.

Switch to HD settings are you'll miss the darn ships.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Hello, down there!

I think more than anything else, the best part about flying is picking out a rural airport on the sectional map, and then flying there just to see who's there. So this evening I flew to Boyceville, WI., (3T3) about 45 air miles from South St. Paul. It was a beautiful evening for a flight, and I picked up Mpls Approach on the way to help navigate around parachutists in Baldwin.

And, surprise, there was a plane in the pattern at this airport with a postage stamp-size-wide runway. A man was giving his grandson rides in a Cessna 150.

There's no taxiway there so he said he'd go ahead and land. Originally he was going to leave the pattern and let me in, which is typical Wisconsin small-airport hospitality, I've found. But I waved him on in and he landed then pulled off into the grass and invited me to come on down. He said later that he wanted to sit with his grandson and watch me land.

I landed and then we both turned and back-taxied to the hangar area where I got out to stretch my legs.

Greg was his name and he really liked my airplane.

He showed me his airplane, which was a doll, too, and pointed out the tires, which showed no tread.

"I flew it all last summer," he said. "I teach and I had a young man from Alaska here wanting to earn as many ratings as he could."

The student earned his private pilot license, went back to Alaska (Wasilla, for the record) and is a checkride away from having his instrument rating.

He said he bought his plane from his son, who works for Compass Airlines. I said that's a well-worn route to the major airlines and told him about several friends who've gone that way, as if I was telling him something he didn't already know.

He knew.

"Want to see my last flight" and he pulled out his iPhone and showed me a picture of a globe with a big line. He had flown a few days ago from Detroit to Shanghai on a route that took him directly over the North Pole.

He's a captain for Delta, flying 747s internationally.

He showed me his pictures of the North Pole ice sheet and told me about flying that route, on which his only emergency runway would've been Norway, which you wouldn't think would be sort of on the way to Shanghai by way of the North Pole, but then again we think of the world in up, down, left, right directions.

He said he was surprised to find that enroute and very near the exact North Pole, there's a base of some sort. "I think it's the Brits," he guessed.

"Could you land there?" I asked, wondering just how long a runway has to be to handle a 747.

"I could if I had to," he said of the 9,000 foot runway he saw.

He pointed out something else in the photos he took. From the vantage point of the front seat of a 747, he saw the curvature of the earth.

"Imagine how few who've ever walked this planet have seen any of this?" I said, repeating what my RV flying pal, Brad, had said to me as we climbed above some scattered clouds on the way home from Oshkosh a few years ago.

I've been talking to people I didn't know for years as part of my day job (I found "Radar O'Reilly" in a Denver McDonald's some years ago) and it never disappoints me.

The conversation was fascinating and we made plans to get together at some point this summer so he could also enjoy the view from an RV-7A. I've never flown a 747, but he's never flown an RV-7A, he said.

As for the grandson, he was unimpressed, refusing all offers to sit in my plane, or even look at it.

"I like my grandfather's plane better," he said. Seven-year-olds don't yet realize yet that an airplane can't sense betrayal.

I walked back to the spurned machine for the ride into a setting sun.

"Next time you come," the kid said, "I'm still not going to sit in your plane."

"Fair enough, kid," I thought to myself. "You can never go wrong with grandpa anyway."

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Pilots rally to provide a lift to a Kenyan man with a dream

When last we heard of Gabriel Nderitu, whom we first heard about here, the man from Kenya with a dream to fly had tried to coax his homebuilt airplane into the sky for a 14th time. And for a 14th time, he got a close up look at terra firma.

That was last summer and he's been earthbound since. He's a magnificent man minus a flying machine.

It's not for lack of passion, nor lack of trying. Like many things in Kenya, it's for lack of resources.

"Would somebody please help this man... before he hurts himself?" a Wisconsin pilot posted last summer on an aviation bulletin board.

And people did, a testament to the beauty of the Internet, and the willingness of people to be people.

As it happened, another member of the forum, run by Oshkosh's Experimental Aircraft Association, is Matthew Long, who also lives in Kenya but had never met Nderitu. He offered to organize a drive to collect as much knowledge about homebuilt aircraft (people around here seem to know a thing or two about the subject) and somehow get it into Nderitu's hands.

"With a per-capita income of about $1,400 in Kenya vs. about $55,000 in the USA, most people in Kenya are accessing the internet via cheap phones and pay-by-the-MB cellular plans so they are just able to skim the surface, not really dive in. So for Gabriel and most of the rest of the world, the information access that we take for granted just isn't there," Long said.

It's taken almost six months of effort, but pilots donated books about aerodynamics and airplane construction to Nderitu, who, while an educated man (he's in the information technology field), didn't actually understand enough about why airplanes fly.

One Twin Cities pilot sent almost a dozen books on gliders and instructions on building planes to Long. The EAA donated the books "Practical Lightplane Design and Construction for the Amateur", EAA Gas Welding, and EAA Sheet Metal Building Basics books. Some airplane-themed T-shirts and hats were included; inspiration has to look the part.

All that was left was for Long, who lives in Nairobi, to find Nderitu, who doesn't.

Last Saturday, however, Nderitu and Long connected.


I am pleased to say that, while it took some time for many reasons, I was finally able to connect with Gabriel Nderitu yesterday and pass on to him the Fly Baby plans and patch, EAA hat and t-shirt, many books and welding DVD that everyone had sent. Thanks to Kim, Ron, Pete and Charlie (for EAA) for the generous donations.

Gabriel has gotten his self-designed aircraft down to 130 kg (287 lb) empty without the engine, so it's still too heavy to fly with the engine he now has, which is a Hirth F33. He has a wooden prop cut down to size for him by Tennessee Props as well as an Ultraprop, so he is happy with his powerplant but is considering redesigning his plane for partial fabric covering to shed weight.

Talking with Gabriel I found an aviation enthusiast with quite a bit of knowledge but also handicapped by a lack of resources and others to bounce around ideas with. I will keep in touch with him and encourage him to join this and other groups that might be able to help.

Cheers from Nairobi!

Maybe Gabriel will achieve his dream of flight someday, maybe not. Many of his neighbors watch his attempts and laugh at his folly. But he now has the knowledge to build a plane at his fingertips, courtesy of two brothers from Dayton who heard similar laughter, and present-day pilots who know how to make it stop.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

The winter of our content

This has been, you might have, heard an unusual winter. The grey and clouds of November have hung around for most of the winter in the Upper Midwest. Even when it's been clear enough to fly, it's been unusually choppy.

Today was different. I was supposed to give my pal, Fareed Guyout, a ride up to St. Cloud today for the big Trivia Weekend at KVSC, but his boy is sick and so that got scrubbed. Since I'd already plugged in the nifty Reiff Preheating System, the oil was sitting at 100 degrees on a day when it was -15C. It seemed like a waste of good electricity.

So I took it down to Lake Pepin to see what the ice house people were up to today. It was gorgeous day to fly.

Be sure to select HD.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Fixing the leaky RV-7A tank

A few years ago I had a leaking rivet on the underside of the left fuel tank on the RV-7A and Doug Weiler of the Twin Cities Builder's Group suggested some ProSeal and a closed rivet. It worked great.

For the last couple of years, I've had two nagging rivets on the top of the tank which, when the tank is full and pressurized, emits just enough fuel (and it's not much) to put some streaks in my nicely polished plane.

This was one of the tasks to put off until annual and this week I started on the annual condition inspection, vowing that this one would be the most complete yet.

So I took the tank off . I didn't have to; it easily could be repaired without doing so, but the underside of a polished fuel tank and inboard wing gets beaten up, so this would also make it easier for me to polish it up on the underside while working at the workbench. I'll probably do the other side too ... polishing, I mean, there are no leaks on that side.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A ride for 'the little girl next door'

"H", as we call her publicly now because she's a teacher and you know how people are out there, was the little girl who grew up next door (approximately) when we moved to the neighborhood in 1993.

Now, as I indicated, she's a teacher and, presumably, a good one.

She was around, of course, when I started building the RV-7A in the garage and so when she commented on something about it I posted on Facebook a few weeks ago, I asked her if she'd like a ride. So we made arrangements to meet in Red Wing (MN) last Sunday.

It was awfully bumpy and I figured we'd climb high enough until it smoothed out, and orbit the field until she decided whether we should go farther. I'm pretty particular about the comfort of passengers to whom I'm exposing general aviation. Getting sick doesn't help its image one bit.

Have I mentioned how much I love giving rides to people?

Have I mentioned how much I like the expression passengers get when I make a crosswind turn, and that beautiful RV canopy fills up with a perfect view of America, America?

I made a little souvenir video of the flight for her. It's nothing special compared to some of your big productions I've seen. It's just someone experiencing the occasionally slightly nauseous joy of flight.

As I watching this video over and over again, I noticed something about me too. I'm never more relaxed. I'm never more comfortable. I'm never more sure of who I am. I'm never more at home... than when I'm flying an RV airplane.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


There's an old saying in the homebuilt airplane business. "The only reason to build an airplane is that you want to build an airplane." The same is true for people with polished airplanes, who have to constantly endure the admonishment that it's too much work. "The only reason to have a polished airplane is because you like polishing airplanes."

Big, expensive paint jobs are swell for those with big checkbooks. But park a painted airplane next to a polished one, and the polish attracts the eyeballs every time.

And that's the problem. Given enough exposure to polished aluminum, the defects soon become visible.

Thanks to the reflection of the fluorescent light in the photo above, you can see a couple of examples of something that is all over the plane. Fingerprints. But these are not prints from someone touching the plane. They're fingerprints from the application of Nuvite polish. As the instructions say, "dab" fingerprints of polish on the aluminum, smear with the wool bonnet on a drill or rotary machine (or cyclo machine). Voila!

Last winter, I noticed this happening. Very fine scratches would be put into the aluminum where the finger applied the polish, even if the polish was soon smeared around the AL. Even if the compounding (and cyclo'ing) took place.

At the time, my theory was that the aluminum was so cold, the polish was freezing in place and small amounts of ice scratched the surface.

But over the weekend, I polished a section of wing when it was about 80 degrees, and you can see the result, even though the area was subsequently polished with F7, Grade C, and Grade S polish and a new fleece blanket and then buffed with fresh fleece and flour.

Curiously, this started last year, two years after I first bought the polish. I tossed out a small can of F7, thinking that maybe it was the culprit. But an equally-old can of polish yielded the same results.

Is it possible that polish "goes bad" and causes this problem? We will continue to investigate the mystery.

In the meantime, when you look at my plane, leave your glasses at home.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Aid and comfort

(Reprinted from Van's Air Force)

My RV can do many cool things and take me to many enjoyable places. Last evening I learned it can help do something more: provide aid and comfort to people.

This is Sue and Gary. A few years ago, pretty much on this same spot on the Alexandria, MN apron, Sue said goodbye to her brother, her mother, and her sister in law, when they got in a Bonanza for a trip to Colorado. She'd asked her mother not to go; she just had a feeling.

Her brother's plane crashed in a field not far outside the Twin Cities. He had flown into IMC and as he emerged from the 900-foot overcast, the wing fell off, and then the tail.

I wrote about it for my day job and when she found it on Google, she dropped me an email last week asking if she could talk to me about it and learn more about my observations. "The tone was different than what I've read," she said. "And maybe it's because you're a pilot."

She had read the Aero News Network (please note: By NO stretch of the imagination will I ever be a fan of Jim Campbell's work). She thought it made her brother seem stupid and negligent. It's a good reminder of why we have to be careful when discussing accidents. Stick to the facts; avoid the judgments. Resist the social media urge to shame the pilot.

"Where are you located?" I asked in a return email.

"Alexandria," she said.

"I'll fly up to see you. How's Monday?"

So I did. And I had a story to tell her. It was about how easy it is for humans to make the same mistake her brother made, and until you experience GetHomeItis firsthand, you can't begin to understand the power it holds over even the most experienced pilots.

I told her about my trip to Massachusetts last fall, just three days after attending an Air Safety Foundation seminar on weather traps, specifically, GetHomeItis.

Three days later, I made just about every mistake I was warned not to make.

It can happen to anyone. Unexpected weather killed Scott Crossfield, and he had the Right Stuff.

As I spiraled through the clouds on an ill-advised and unnecessary attempt to land last year, I thought about the article I'd written about her brother. That was just about the time when I had the thought that someone was soon going to be writing about me.

I told her about the statistic I learned at the ASF Forum. The life expectancy of a VFR pilot flying into IMC is about 3 minutes.

The color seemed to drain from her face. She had never heard the statistic before. She wants to write a book about the accident, she told me. She heard a voice while taking a shower not long after her brother's plane crashed. It said the name of the book should be, "Three Minutes."

She wanted to hear how planes come apart. I explained that while the plane separated after it had emerged from the clouds, the damage was probably done while her brother was still in IMC. For all I know, I said, they might've suffered tremendous G forces that made them black out. I don't know. Maybe. Maybe not.

We chatted for about an hour, but there's nothing really you can say to make anyone feel better about losing three family members.

Her husband said she was very touched that I flew up. "Your brother is part of a very small fraternity," I said. "And now you are too. And it's what we do."

It rained while we were having our coffee, and she begged me not to launch into bad weather. If something happened to me, she said, she could never forgive herself.

I'd seen the showers on the hour-long flight up, and they were widely scattered, I assured her. And I'm a very careful pilot who knows a lot more know about GetHomeItis.

As they walked me out to the ramp for my flight home, her husband asked if they could say a prayer for me. Though I'm not religious by any stretch, I said, "sure." And so there we stood as darkness fell, her husband asking for a higher power's protection on this and all future flights.

You fly a lot more carefully, I noticed, when someone you've known for two hours holds your hand and wishes you godspeed.

I sent a text message when I got home, to let them know I arrived home just fine, vowing silently to myself never to put my family in a position of wondering what happened to me that time I went flying.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Oshkosh 2015

There's enough posts about all the cool things to see at Oshkosh this year that I won't bother adding to the list.

Oshkosh, as it has been for a long time, is a social event for me. But, to be honest, I wasn't looking that forward to it this year. Some people I had hoped would be there weren't going this year. Some others who I've seen in the past, well, let's just say we've moved on.

Again this year I was making two runs over. This year, my youngest son, Patrick, and I headed over on Tuesday.

Patrick has thoughts of being a pilot someday but at the moment his priority is finishing up a four-year nursing degree program at Augsburg in Minneapolis.

Our flight in was relatively uneventful, save for the 172 that passed up high while we were following the NOTAM. I swear, I will never understand why people who are able to fly an airplane, are so utterly incapable of reading a document intended to help keep them alive.

We had a great time in the days we were there doing Oshkosh things and visiting people like Sam Weigel and his wife, Dawn, who were way out in Row 134 in the South 40. My pal, Warren Starkebaum, was out there one year and I think I'd like to be out there sometime. It's much quieter -- no helicopters every 4 minutes -- and you get a really good view of the approach to 36L. Sam, who won his category in the AirVenture cup race, has written a great post on his time at OSH.

We also had a nice evening with the great folks at EAA Radio, including the sampling of some cherry stout, I believe.

As usual, I enjoyed people stopping by to see the plane, even though we were stuck wayyyy up back in homebuilt camping. We met a great couple just before we departed. They were from Toronto and invited us to use their condo if we ever fly up for a baseball game. I wonder if I'll ever hear from them again?

I'm not too ashamed to say I spent a great deal of time examining polished airplanes up close. They look great far away but I needed to know whether my work is measuring up against other people.

Oh, sure, I found a few flaws.

I say this with all humility. It does. I saw some nice polish jobs, but it was clear to me that in striving for perfection -- I've never achieved it, of course -- I have set a good standard.

We left on Thursday morning because Patrick had to work that evening (and was departing for New York early on Friday) and Carolie and I had tickets for Caroline Smith and also Black Joe Lewis at the Minnesota Zoo.

Want to hear some great cockpit resource management? Here's my kid.

On the way home, Patrick said, "I wonder how high those clouds are?"

"Let's go find out," I said.

Have I mentioned how much I love my RV? You can be at Oshkosh for breakfast, fly home for lunch, do laundry and take a shower in the afternoon, have dinner and a concert, and be back in the air the next morning, headed for Oshkosh.

On Friday, my oldest son, Sean, and I headed back. As luck would have it, my builder pal, Warren, was passing overhead at the time, so we flew over "together", several miles apart and chatting all the way.

Sean wasn't all that sure he wanted to stay until Sunday (which is code for "he didn't want to") but once we landed, he was all in.

This time we were given 18R. I haven't flown that approach in the five times I've landed at Oshkosh but for some reason it struck me as trickier.

I used to watch people make this approach and marvel at the rapid descent, tight turn, and spot landing ability they had. Unfortunately, when I made the rapid descent, tight turn, and landed spot on, the GoPro was out of batteries. But trust me: It was great.

Fortunately, my RV pal, Brad Benson and the rest of the South St. Paul RV crew had arrived the night before and we were able to hook up for good socializing.

The highlight was going to the Charcoal Pit restaurant where Sean sang some karaoke. The Collins clan is not known for singing voices and certainly not for singing in public. But there was my kid, singing before strangers ("People Are Strange" - Doors). The B-52 is cool. The Raptor is cool. Even stumbling across the Little River Band was cool. But seeing my kid stepping out of a comfort zone? That was coolest.

The only downside of Oshkosh this year were the sad exhibit halls, where so much consolidation has taken place, that the empty spots are being taken up by crappy flea market peddlers - a LOT of flea market peddlers.

A friend of mine who runs an avionics company says that although experimental projects in the pipeline when the economy collapsed were completed, there haven't been anywhere near enough new builders to sustain business models. It feels as though it'll be Dynon and Garmin who emerge with everyone else giving up. Even Avery Tools wasn't there this year.

I'm not entirely sure how GA is going to survive all of this.

But that's a topic for another day.

Sean and I left on Sunday morning, taking about an hour and half from start-up to touchdown in South St. Paul, just enough time for him to go home and change, and get to Target Field to watch the Twins and his favorite --the Yankees -- play.

I've heard enough people over the years talking about their memories of spending time at Oshkosh with their dads. When we're gone, these are all we leave behind.

I love my RV airplane.

(Photos by Patrick Collins)

Monday, July 13, 2015

Just tell me where you are!

For the longest time, I've wanted to fly into Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport to watch a Cleveland Indians game and over the weekend, my youngest son -- also an Indians fan -- and I did just that.

It was a thrilling approach to a great airport. My son has put some video up on Facebook of the fantastic approach to Runway 6L and as soon as he changes the permissions, I'll provide a link (update: Here you go).

We watched Saturday night's game and wanted to stay for Sunday's but the 1:30 start time and a front moving in convinced us to try to get out of Dodge, knowing we'd have to hopscotch our way through it.

Our first planned stop was to the Sandusky County Airport and we planned to re-evaluate there and wait things out, but we ran into low cloud cover about 10 miles out and I had to do a careful 180 while my son found us another airport. We ended up watching the rain and mist in Huron County. Nice little terminal building, but the constant beep-beep-beep of some alarm behind a locked door drove us crazy.

As things lifted, we hopped 14 miles through mist to Sandusky County, rain beating the crap out of the paint job on the prop. We were right at minimums with a mile visibility and it required all of our concentration. The workload was more than manageable with two people. We were vigilant and we made a ton of radio calls along the way, and the Garmin 296 called out obstructions which we picked up. A mile visibility in an RV is good for about 20 seconds. Fly over a nice straight road -- not a problem in Ohio -- and be ready.

We spent an hour in Sandusky -- long enough to find out the Indians again had zero offense against Oakland, and then as things brightened we headed for Bowling Green (Wood County) and walked into town to find some grub.

By the time we walked back (seriously, Dunkin Donuts: What's the deal with closing at 3 p.m.?), the western skies were brightening, and the METARs were improving. We took off and we had 6 miles visibility and ceilings up around 2900, and it was a nice flight down low. Ohio has gotten a ton of rain but things were a beautiful green, if a soggy green.

As we neared our favorite stop (which I ignored because I thought the FBO would be closed by then), we heard a pilot announce he was on a "GPS 1 approach to Dekalb County" from the west. We were approaching from the East.

This is one of the things that drives me crazy about IFR pilots. When they make a position report, they report where they are in their instrument procedures, but not where they are in relation to the airport.

I quizzed him about his locations, "Well...uh... I'm on the GPS One approach," he said.

"Are you inbound for landing and how far out are you, we're eastbound just north of the field..."

"I don't have you on my TCAS, we're at 2000 descending."

I was at 1700 and we didn't have him on the ZAON unit either. A minute later, son Patrick saw him -- a Citation -- on final.

The pilot was completely UNABLE to tell us where he was and I hear this all of the time with IFR pilots. What good is making a position report if your report is unintelligible to the VFR pilot? Just tell me where you are!

Another habit we encountered is the rapid-pace at which VFR pilots make their position calls, including the most important part of the call -- the airport. I do this too at my own field and I'm going to stop doing it.

A position report isn't just a requirement to zip through; it has a purpose and we have to be sure it's doing anyone some good.

Clearly, and slowly, say the airport name, give your position, then pause a second and clearly and slowly give the airport name again.

This is especially important for those of us transitioning unfamiliar airspace. Yes, the frequency can be busy, but it's the safe thing to do and that has to be the priority.

By the way, on the flight in from Cleveland, we got great service fro Cleveland approach. At one point, what with haze being thick, we had conflicting traffic and approach told us to hit a steep right turn (which you can't hear in this audio, but trust me, it got my attention). After the conflict, I thanked the controller for helping me (which you also can't hear) and he apologized for the late warning (which you can hear).

The flight in to Burke was particularly fun as we were racing another aircraft. Guess who won?

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Keeping the neighbors at wing's length

(Posted from the day job)

The Star Tribune story today on small airports and the challenges from the encroachment of neighbors is one that's being played out all across the country.

Many airports, as the Associated Press reported a couple of weeks ago, are being closed to turn them into more housing developments and industrial parks.

Others, like South St. Paul's Fleming Field, have somewhat warmer relations with their community, provide jobs in their territory, and are deeded to the city (as the Navy did for South St. Paul many years ago) requiring them to remain an airport.

How a small airport and neighborhoods can co-exist. At Fleming Field, two homes are being torn down (the owner of at least one was more than happy to sell), and some trees on the other end of the neighborhood are being cut down.

Will it make a big difference? Probably not. But the FAA has its rules and the FAA rules.

I videotaped a flight around the airport today to provide an additional perspective on today's article.

Sit back and enjoy your flight.