Saturday, July 31, 2010

Oshkosh Diary: Doesn't anyone want to fly anymore?

At the tail end of a segment on our being a nation of dreamers on MPR's Midmorning yesterday, I did a short interview with host Kerri Miller on the week at Oshkosh. It starts at 45:48.

Kerri asked whether kids are still interested in flying and so I relayed an anecdote from a friend who flies Young Eagle flights at Oshkosh (Young Eagles takes kids for their first airplane ride to try to get them interested in flying). He called me Thursday because he had a seat available and wanted to know if I'd like it. I couldn't because I had an interview scheduled but how is it with so many kids around Oshkosh this week, no enough wanted to go flying? And what does that say about the future of general aviation?

My interview was with Ray LaHood, the U.S. secretary of transportation. He was giving me the usual rote answers that were uninspiring, if not borderline patronizing.

"Did you ever want to learn how to fly?" I finally asked.

"Me?" he said. "Oh no!" He then relayed all of the aspects of general aviation that are stereotypes of why we shouldn't fly -- he was too old, too risky etc. All of them, of course, are wrong. But it's hard to have confidence in a transportation vision and a secretary who says "the administration is 100% behind general aviation" who has never harbored the dream to take flight and look down.

Kerri also asked about the DC3s at Oshkosh. A lot of them didn't show up, I told her, because of the conditions of the field. But look at this beauty that was at Aeroshell Square. This is why I bought a little aluminum polish at Oshkosh (I spent a total of about $20 on airplane stuff this week, a record low for me, even for me).

 Click on the image for a larger and more beautiful view. There are reasons not to go with polished aluminum on my RV airplane -- paint hides mistakes, they say -- but when you look at a plane like this, it's hard not to think about the option.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Oshkosh Diary: Ardy and Ed's

It's not really Oshkosh until we've stopped at Ardy and Ed's drive-in for lunch, which was today's mission. That's Darwin Barrie and me. Glenn Brasch took the photo. I don't know why son, Michael, isn't in this.

Ardy and Ed's sits on the approach end of runway 27 at Oshkosh. As we waited for our food, sitting outside, we saw a B-17 approaching from a distance and it went directly over us.

There is, probably, no place else in the world where people today waited for their root beer floats while a B-17 passed directly over head.

Tonight we had the annual RV gathering. It was great to see Mario Nolte from Germany, and Linda and Terry Frazier from Nevada, and Bob Kelly and his wife from Indiana, and Ben Schneider did a great job putting it on. Also attending was Brad Oliver (who took some unbelievable night shots which I'll get a link to soon), and Chad Jensen and his dad, Jeff. And Bill Wightman of Terminal Tool fame. And Jeff Pointe, Darwin, Glenn, Michael, Don Hall, Rich Emery, and it's always great to see Larry Frey, who's coming up to Minneapolis after Oshkosh for some transition training with my pal, Tom Berge.

Tomorrow, I have an interview with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, and then it's probably time to come home.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

An Oshkosh wedding

I've seen some cool things in the years I've been coming to Oshkosh, but I haven't seen anything as outstanding as tonight's wedding in the North 40 of Michael Regen and Karen Benitez.

The search for an alternative to 100 LL

If you're a general aviation pilot, you know that the days of 100 LL (low lead) are ending. Though it's called "low lead," it's not, and environmental concerns, coupled with the reduced demand, are making it increasingly difficult to find an alternative. Many aircraft engines can't handle auto fuel; it simply doesn't provide enough power in many cases. And ethanol is not good for aircraft engines.

Today, the President's Fuel Coalition, which is trying to come up with an alternative that won't make our aircraft engines paperweights, is holding a briefing. I'm providing details as they're announced.

The technical working group is:

Rob Hackman - Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association
Doug MacNair - Experimental Aircraft Association
Walter Desrosier - General Aviation Manufacturers Association

Oshkosh Diary: Meeting the neighbors

So far, this has been an "uncomfortable" Oshkosh, not in the sense that there's a lot of mud and all, but that it feels like it does when someone has moved the furniture around. While the AirVenture grounds feature the usual "been there, done that" vibe (I'm seeing very little I'd describe as remarkable for the homebuilder), out here in Camp Scholler, things are chaotic.

The grounds have dried out fine, but if you come here for years at a time, you usually end up in the same spot. It's comfortable. You know where to find people and people know where to find you. Not this year.

Fortunately, I've been able to connect with buddy Glenn Brasch and his son, Michael, and RV pal Darwin Barrie, who I'm pretty sure is now convinced I'm building a ghetto RV-7A. He's probably right, which is one reason I've decided never to fly it over here.But lots of other people I usually visit with are scattered to the wind.

In the meantime, Camp Scholler always offers an opportunity to meet the neighbors. This morning, for example, I met Alex and Benny, who are from "west of St. Cloud." Benny is a homemade wine afficianado so I've been invited to stop over this evening for a glass of his 2008 vintage. We'll see.


I'm not sure what the significance of this is, but I passed a display in one of the exhibit halls of beautifully carved airplanes of every model. The only one that's been cut to rock-bottom, is the RV line. The RV-8 models were also on sale. (Update: Gary Sobek e-mailed to tell me the vendor sold him one last year for $15. Now I remember this part of Oshkosh!)


There was a time when if you ran into someone wearing a Van's shirt or some other signal that they've built an RV airplane, you could instantly strike up a conversation. There weren't that many of them. Now, because of their popularity, they're everywhere. And the RV community -- singular -- has got pretty fractured. The RV-10 is for the monied, family crowd (not that there's anything wrong with that), the RV-12 seems to be for the older gen (getting there), and the RV-9s and RV-7s and RV-8s in between are for a very diverse crowd.

In other words, there really isn't an RV community anymore. It's no longer unusual to run into someone else building their own RV airplane and when you do, it isn't any more (or less) special than if you run into any of the other hundreds of thousands of people who live here for a week. What the community has in common -- building RV airplanes -- isn't really that significant as it once was. Sure, it's great to put faces to names of people you run across online; no doubt about that. And it's always great to see old friends, but there's 6,000 flying RVs now and probably another 20,000 under construction somewhere. As any city that grows past a certain point knows, larger communities split into smaller ones, and it becomes more and more difficult to maintain the larger group.

Like a corporation that's spinning off, it will be interesting to see how the transition occurs.


I'm using my son's old bike during Oshkosh. Fortunately, it's a mountain bike so it's good in mud. But here's a tip: Keep a detailed note of where you parked your bike at Oshkosh.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Oshkosh Diary - Getting back to normal

Anybody who has ever brought their little kids to Oshkosh recognizes this picture. It's Oshkosh in the campground. Kids doing what kids to; parents doing what parents do. Sure, the adults -- some of them -- are kvetching about the conditions here, but they're actually getting back to normal.

The main roads around the campground are now in pretty good shape, and the side roads -- through the fields actually -- no longer present a squishy "I'm crossing the Delaware" sound. True, they're still a mud bog, but all those pictures you've been seeing are starting to create a somewhat exaggerated pictures. Yes, there are still long lines of campers that can't get in. Yes, there are still rich people's toys who are camping on the roads. But there was a goodly amount of dust being generated around the campground today.

You watch, in a few days, some people will be complaining about that.

I have no idea -- and don't care that much -- what the situation is with people flying in. Jeff Point, who handles parking for RV airplanes, has been doing a great job of keeping people up to date on that on Van's Air Force.

My good friend, Warren, was supposed to fly over here from Minneapolis today. But the information about who can land here and who can't has been wildly inconsistent. He says he listened to the controllers at Fisk telling people nobody was landing. So he landed in Necedah and called me. I told him "you don't want to be here." Not with an airplane, and not sitting on the ground somewhere with the sun going down.

So he's opted to fly back and spend the evening with better company and a bottle of wine. Good choice.

Meanwhile, the biggest likely tragedy is that the porta-potty trucks aren't able to get to some parts of the campground. Guess which two they can't get to? In a couple of days, that's going to be a real problem. Meanwhile, we can ignore the one with the beer bottle and the vomit in it, I suppose. That one is, apparently, for the moose hunters from Kansas camped nearby. Awesome job, fellas. Awesome.


The EAA has wisely -- in my opinion -- given up on the idea of providing roaming wiFi around the campground. Instead, it's built small shacks all around AirVenture where people can connect. This is a good thing. Yes, it's a bit of a pain in the neck -- in a 2010 way of thinking -- to ride a bike to a hotspot. But I admit to being discomforted by seeing so many people last year sitting in their tent in the evening, playing on the computer. The place to be is outside meeting people.


The radio broadcasts began this evening and continue through AirVenture. My guess is more people listen around the world than at Oshkosh. It seems like a great group of people, all of whom could be my son or daughter. Many are students at St. Cloud State.

I've done a few interviews, as previous posts have shown, and for the most part I'm opting to dump them onto the kids, so they can write and produce the material. That's what they're hear for. I don't need my name plastered on a piece, although I do intend to do one or two.

The young journalists are part of a class at St. Cloud State University. It's nice to see that people are still interested in the art and the sooner they can get into the business, and the sooner the people predicted its demise can get out of it, the better off the world will be. I'm just glad they're letting me play along with them for a few days.

As I type this, they're one minute away from beginning the broadcast of tonight's program at Theater of the Woods. Throughout AirVenture -- and beyond -- you can listen here.


Canon, the camera company, has lent out huge cameras to just plain folk in recent years. It was a great promotion, and the cameras the size of Montana are the only way just plain folk will ever take great pictures. A sign on their building door today, however, said something like "due to worldwide demand, we're not handing out cameras this year." This, of course, is the type of gibberish that earns a public relations student a good grade.

Love and the airplane builder

All love starts in France. Or aboard the Ford TriMotor.

Just ask RV-7 builder and RV-4 owner Michael Regen of Maryland, who proposed to Karen Benitez a year ago on a flight aboard the Ford TriMotor at AirVenture 2009 in Oshkosh. "As we took off and I was able to get out of my seat, and propose to Karen."

She said yes. "I was actually looking out the window when all of this was going on, because I was somewhat irritated with him before we got on the Ford Trimotor and it almost didn't happen. I was staring out the window, grumbling to myself. I turned around, and there he was."

The two actually met as kids, thanks to their parents. "Our parents were stationed together in France before we were born, and they always kept in touch," Karen says. "We always saw pictures and what everyone is doing. I come from a family of three girls and he comes from a family of three boys."

"We always used to fight over who got to sit next to Karen when we were kids," says Michael.

The two will be married in the North 40 on Tuesday under a tent put up by the Bonanza airplane group.

"It's vacation time. It's relaxed, and you can't be around a greater group of (mostly) guys," according to Karen, who had the idea of getting married at Oshkosh. She figured most of the couple's friends are in the area, although when we talked on Sunday, Michael was trying to find a workaround to a canceled Delta Airlines flight that was to bring two of his children to Oshkosh. They'll fly to Appleton instead.

"We've been sweating for the last few days because there was a chance the Bonanza people weren't going to be able to fly in," Michael said. "Fortunately, things worked out."

Regen built an RV-7 a few years ago but has sold it in favor of an RV-4. "They both have their little nuances, but I couldn't pick which one I like better. The 7A was a great airplane."

But he says his soon-to-be bride tops any plane. "Karen's wearing half an RV-7 on her finger," he said.

Brazil to Oshkosh

Three RV-10s are sitting at show center at this year's  Oshkosh. Their pilots have earned the honor. They flew from Brazil to attend their first AirVenture.  It took eight stops and six days, according to Victor Yancovitz, right, a former airline pilot.

None of the airplanes was made by the pilots. In Brazil, companies are allowed to make kit aircraft, and then sell them to customers, Yancovitz says.  "Brazil is very strict about homebuilding. In the United States, you can make your aircraft, and go fly. There (Brazil),  it's very restrictive. You must be approved by an engineer."

Antonio Nallin's RV-10, which was made in Sao Paulo,  features extended fuel tanks. Three 150-liter tanks

Extended range tanks installed increased the size. Three 150-liter tanks (about 39 gallons) give the RV-10s a range of about 6 hours and 30 minutes.

Nallin says he likes to upgrade airplanes but doesn't like the idea of flying a light-sport category plane. He previously owned an RV-9 which is considered an ultralight in Brazil.  He was the first Brazilian pilot to cruise over  the Andes Mountains in an ultra-light five years ago. "It was a great adventure," said Nallin.

"He's a crazy man," counters Yancovitz.

Yancovitz says he's excited about the RV-12 and other light airplanes. "I've flown for  45 years," he said. "Boeings, DC8 , Airbus, everything. I love flying. When I retired I stopped flying commercial in 2001.  I have to keep my medical every six months. With the ultralight, it's every two years. All of my licenses have expired -- commercial, ATP, private, they've all expired. Now we have a license to fly ultralights. For me, the smaller aircraft is enough."


I awoke fairly early this morning, looked out the tent and saw this...

 The line from yesterday afternoon was gone; I don't know where it went, I've seen no indication anyone was allowed into the campground at AirVenture. But it was replaced by another line that stretches about a mile down the road. It's not moving and it doesn't appear it's going to move anything soon.

After breakfast, I went out and talked to some of the people.

Nate Gifford, from Worthington, Mass., and he flies for Continental. He and a couple of friends from the Berkshires (who didn't want to be identified but we exchanged some Berkshire County connections) drove all night from Massachusetts, and pulled into line at 5:30 this morning.

Nate was in pretty good spirits; he's been coming here since the '80s and didn't seem to mind waiting in line much. His colleagues are on their first trip to Oshkosh.

This gentleman is from my neck of the woods -- Oakdale, Minnesota. Kirk Martenson is ex-Army where he flew helicopters and he's looking forward to evaluating some of the kit helicopters. He says EAA could've done a better job of posting signs that say "go home."

As he understands it, EAA is going to organize a caravan to the parking lot at at the University of Wisconsin Duluth, where they'll drop their trailers. What happens after that, I don't know, and this isn't official so don't quote me.

From looking at some of the shopping center parking lots, however, it appears that EAA is trying to line up space for these people to put up shop. Various parking lots along S. Koeller Ave -- the frontage road -- now sport mini-neighborhoods.

This group is from St. Louis, the president and vice president of EAA Chapter 32 in St. Louis (on the right). David Doherty and his son, William Doherty. David proudly points out he was born on the day the EAA was formed in the basement of Paul Poberezny's Wisconsin home.

The people on the left are all from Australia. Dave Looten and Rae Percival are here for his 60th birthday. They've been traveling in the states for seven weeks and are now taking in Oshkosh and all its, at least for now, inaction.

I asked David -- Aussie David -- for his favorite flying experience and he reports that it came just a few weeks ago when he flew over the desert in Australia and found everything to be green, which apparently rarely happens. Everything's green in Wisconsin, too.  I told him if he got tired of making camp on a frontage road, the biggest ball of twine in the world is but a few hours away. He seemed appropriately unimpressed.

Last night, I had dinner with Darwin Barrie, and Glenn and Michael Brasch, and the pal I know only as "Tom the Camp Locator Shack Guy," and Jeff Point, who is the master parker of RV aircraft.  Jeff says the "phrase that pays" this week is, "I've never seen anything like this before," and describes the situation as a "Biblical flood." He says at this point, organizers are just "making it up as we go." There's no long-term plan, because people are just trying to figure out what to do in the short term.

They can't even park cars for people coming in today (although AirVenture officially opens tomorrow) because the fields they use for the parking lot are too wet.

EAA officials have fanned out around Camp Scholler, telling people they can't drive their cars once they set up camp; they have to walk the half mile or so to a shower or the store or wherever. The cars are simply carving up the field.

That wouldn't be such a  bad thing if the camp shuttle buses were running, but I haven't seen them yet and if they are running, they're going to have a difficult time because of all the big land yachts parked along the road.

And the owners of those rigs aren't sacrificing much. Even though people need to use the road, those that have living rooms that extend out the side, are deploying them, carving up more of the road. Thanks for taking one for the team, rich folks. Stay classy.

I did hear this morning from my favorite vendors -- Jerry Hansen and the gang from Trio Avionics, who were driving in to set up their shop. Hopefully, we'll be able to get together for dinner as we always try to do.

My friend, Warren Starkebaum, is due to fly over from Crystal Airport (Minneapolis) today. I left him a message saying "you don't want to be here."

Normally on Sunday, one can pass the time pulling up a chair by the runway and watching the mass arrivals. But there are no mass arrivals because there's simply no place to park them. There will be soon, Jeff hopes, but there are going to be large sections that simply won't hold the weight of airplanes this week.

The big fly-in of DC-3s has been canceled. They take up too much parking space on the ramp, space that has to be reserved for smaller planes.

(Click on the images to see larger ones and to see what's cut off from the smaller ones posted here.)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Oshkosh Diary - July 24, 2010

It's a lovely evening in Camp Scholler at AirVenture 2010 in Oshkosh... as long as you're looking up. Glance anywhere else, and you're looking at a looming disaster, at least for a few days until things dry out.
They've had over 10 inches of rain here since the beginning of the month and it shows. The little creek where I usually camp is running like the Mississippi.

Out on the frontage road, at least a mile long line of RVs (the kind on wheels) are stalled. They're not letting them in and some EAA people are going RV to RV handing out water. Inside Camp Scholler, only tenters are setting up. The RVs and other big units are mostly parking on the roadways and setting up there. It's a nightmare.

I looked at the EAA Radio compound where I was going to set up and decided that -- at least for tonight -- I'd head for high ground. I'm out on Second Street, which is a healthy stone's throw from the highway. But it's not standing water and my standards for comfort got lowered considerably. Tomorrow, perhaps, I'll move in with my broadcasting friends.

As for airplanes, I've seen very few fly in. Michael Regen is here. I'll be doing a story on him and his soon-to-be bride. He's parked his RV on the tarmac near the FBO until they start parking planes on grass.

His wedding on Tuesday will be in the North 40. Here's what the North 40 looks like right now.

And here's what it looks like in the campground:

The spot I'm at is working out fine for now. I'm half-deaf so maybe the truckers blowing their horns in the middle of the night won't bother me as much. But I come over here mostly to socialize and there isn't much of that out here. People don't walk by on their way to somewhere else. Out here, you've got a golf cart or a car to get where you need to go.

Glenn Brasch, his son Michael, and Darwin Barrie were setting up their site across from where they used to be near the camp locator shack. I almost got the car stuck when I stopped to say "hello." I now have a generous coating of mud on it.

There's no working wiFi yet. This year, EAA has built small buildings around the area as wiFi hotspots, which I presume means you won't be able to sit in your tent and watch Hulu this year. Good. But it doesn't appear to be turned on yet.

So I'm down at Starbuck's where a barrista who used to live on St. Paul's East Side asked me if I'm in town for the air show. "Do I scream 'air show'?" I asked. 
"No," she said, "it was your TCF Bank card. But, you know, you fly people are pretty well dressed. Usually we get beer guts and sandals in here. I was wearing muddy sneakers and a T-shirt. I chose not to show here my beer gut.

I suppose I could've pursued it and ended up at the point I dread ("you pilots are all rich."), but I'm tired and I still have to work up the energy get over to WalMart and navigate around the -- apparently -- Starbucks customers.

Drop a note if you have questions or comments and we'll be conversing here during the week.

Friday, July 23, 2010

On to Oshkosh!

Got in from a quick trip through Boston this afternoon and immediately headed for the hangar and packed the car for the trip to Oshkosh. There was quite a bit of activity with amphibs -- more so than usual, since Wipaire is on the field -- but driving out I saw this beauty.

I'm not one of the people who can identify every airplane out there on sight, I just know that that's a mighty fine job of polishing aluminum.

Anyway, I'm not sure what to expect at Oshkosh this year. It's been raining -- hard. They got about 7 inches of rain yesterday, I understand.

I hate mud.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

One more autograph

I've written several times before about the number of "autographs" that are hidden around N614EF. As people would help, I'd ask them to "autograph" the part they helped on. It's fun to be working around the airplane and see an autograph from eight or nine years ago, documenting a day I'd forgotten about.

Today, I added another autograph because the "helper" wasn't able to.

Jennifer Helen Collins, my niece, died this morning.

Jennifer was born with Spida Bifida, the oldest of my twin brother's four children. She could walk with crutches, but for the most part, the wheelchair was her constant companion.

I looked around the airplane this morning looking for the perfect spot to add her "autograph," finally settling on the inside of the right wing, in honor of my brother's love of politics.

Jennifer Helen Collins
12/1/78 - 7/18/10
She couldn't walk, but now she flies

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Countdown to Oshkosh

At this time next week, I'll be at Oshkosh, spending Saturday with a tape recorder in one hand, a camera in the other, putting some stories together for EAA Radio and also getting some pieces together for Letters From Flyover Country.

As in previous years, I'll be posting several times a day here and I hope you'll follow along. I tend to look for the comedic or at least slightly off-the-beaten path anecdotes so I'm probably not going to be a good source for the last technology that's unveiled at AirVenture.

Besides, there are plenty of other places to get that. But nobody else has written about the Porta Potty Prayer (Which you can find in this classic post).

As always, it's a lot more fun doing this if I know you're out there reading it. So please comment often.

What's the code?

While I'm building my own airplane, I don't fly that often. Truth is: I didn't fly that often before; only enough to keep 90-day current at Thunderbird Aviation in Eden Prairie. But last evening was the night for some practice.

I took the rusty bucket -- err, N4337V -- out to Glencoe for some landing practice and for reasons I still can't explain, I bounced almost every landing. The sun was setting and I was landing on Runway 31, so visibility wasn't the best, but it wasn't the worst either.

My airspeed and approach was perfect. Attitude good. Altitude proper. Airspeed dead on: 64 knots "over the fence." Bounce...bounce.

You can learn a lot even when things aren't going well. You can evaluate and work on your judgment, for example. On one landing, I bounced once....then twice, which was two times more than was acceptable. So I "firewalled" the throttle, dropped a notch of flaps, lowered the nose to pick up airspeed and executed a pretty fine go-around, if I say so myself.

That, actually, is a talent few pilots practice. When people get into trouble, it's often because they don't want to admit they're in a bad spot and take action to set up for another try. They try to "save" the landing. So that's a positive.

On another time or two, I reacted to the bounce with a touch of throttle to ease the plane -- more or less -- onto the runway rather than have it "drop." On every landing, I consider "what would happen now if this were my RV?"

If this were my RV, I'd be able to go back out this morning and get it right. But an hour and a half of rental time is $180 and, well, it'll be cheaper just to think about it while mowing the lawn and folding the laundry today.

As I was coming back into Flying Cloud -- I was just south of Waconia -- another problem developed. "Flying Cloud Tower, Warrior 4337V is 10 miles out, with Bravo, inbound landing." Silence. Ruh roh.

A moment later, another warrior announced his intentions to land and he was two miles behind me. A moment after that, a third Warrior announced he was in the general vicinity. So I reannounced my intentions. Nothing.

"This isn't good," I thought. I've got two planes around me somewhere, a tower that I can't talk to, and a setting sun messing with my visibility.

As you pilots probably know, the mantra here is "fly the plane." And I did, though I admit my altitude decayed from 2500 to 2200 as I circled to avoid getting any closer to Flying Cloud's Class D airspace without being in radio communication. I peeled off to fly south, away from where I figured my two new friends were.

I tried to diagnose the problem, checking cables, frequencies, volumes etc. I could hear the conversations taking place -- none involving me -- but I couldn't participate. As I circled, I'd be blinded when I turned toward the west, a most uncomfortable feeling.

I finally decided I was going to have to go "no radio," which involves changing the transponder code to a discreet setting that tells controllers that my plane is unable to communicate. They then use a red and green "light gun" from the tower to give me instructions (although I'm pretty sure the tower would've radio'd me to see if I could at least hear them, in which case there wouldn't be a problem.)

All I had to do was change the transponder to the appropriate squawk code which was.... ummm... 7700.... 7600.... 7500... oh, shoot, which code is it? I knew it's not 7700, because that's the setting for an emergency (I remember that for some reason by remembering the first two numbers are Ray Bourque's uniform number when he played for the Boston Bruins. Hey, whatever works!).

So it's either 7600 or 7500. One is for loss of radio, the other is to signal a "hijack." Since the horizon has big skyscrapers of a major American city (Minneapolis), I didn't want to get it wrong, because the response was going to be decidedly different.

My kneeboard has a "cheat sheet" on it which tells me the light-gun signal meanings, but it didn't have the proper codes. So as I circled in the blinding sun, my altitude decaying slightly, I went through my flight bag, looking for anything that might have the proper code. Of course, papers were flying everywhere by now.

I finally found it. 7600 (Which I will now remember by associating "76" with the year I graduated from college and didn't call home enough. Get it? Communications failure. Hey, whatever works!)

I switched the transponder and hit IDENT which, presumably, lit up the controller's radar screen, but I didn't hear him saying anything to anyone else flying near me. So I as I turned toward the field, it occured to me that I had changed the PS Engineering 4000 intercom early in the flight to give me "sidetone," the ability to hear myself in my headphones when I transmitted.

Sure enough, I had flipped an extra switch and somehow prevented transmitting. Of course, this also meant that all of my radio calls for the last hour out at Glencoe weren't going out either.

"Flying Cloud Tower, how do you hear 4337V?" I radioed.

"Warrior 4337V, loud and clear, sir. Confirm that was you squawking 7600?"

So I did, and got squared away from the approach and landing. Other than another bounce, I landed uneventfully, taxied back to the FBO and shut down the plane (by the way, nobody parks a plane better than me. Nobody.)

It was a pretty good workout that identified more areas to work on the next time I scrape together $180 to find out I need to be better at flying airplanes.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Meeting Miss Mitchell

Julia Schrenkler, interactive producer for Minnesota Public Radio, time traveled to the exotic land of South St. Paul yesterday, from where she filed this report.

There's history in Minnesota. Some stories are undiscovered, and others can be found if you're willing to visit Hangar #3 at Fleming Field in South St. Paul.

The Minnesota Wing of the Commemorative Air Force tends and flies some of the aircraft that shaped history. The goals: preserve and educate. They restore, maintain and show the planes. The Quonset hangar a short distance from the Twin Cities International Airport is the home base for the flying machines and the people who love them.


The planes dominate the aircraft entrance area while maintenance tool chests are scattered around the edges. In the back are historical displays (complete with propaganda and a collection of unopened rations) and where the men in uniform were waiting.

These men aren't pilots. They're not a functional flying crew. They're re-enactors and they were willing to deliver a crash course on their passion for history.


The pursuit of historical truth

"We're research geeks," Eric Cheever said, "I've always been obsessed with history, and I read as much of it as I could." Cheever seems to favor researching mid 20th century events and explained his father's friends were WWII veterans, "To sit and hear this history from a participant - you can't get that from a history book." He explained that once he started re-enacting, his understanding of what these people did "took a quantum leap in understanding."

But you may get it from someone willing to research it, experience it, and expose you to it.

The search - and perhaps rescue - of lost information is a first focus for the group. Troy LaFaye has ten years of reenacting experience. He simply stated, "If we are not historically accurate, it defeats the point of the hobby." LaFaye carefully elaborated that this activity isn't a glorification of war, but to demonstrate the people involved in the war and life at that time suffered. It is also LaFaye's goal to share that knowledge, "A lot of people that join think it's like playing airsoft or paint ball, but the whole point of reenacting is not to go out and 'play Army' by shooting blanks - although that's fun - the whole idea is to commemorate the men and women who were involved. The purpose is to teach history to other people, like a live version of a history book."

Gearing up to be living history

Eric Cheever suited up, gives a gear lesson.

It comes across as an intense hobby. While Michael Wells recorded the video of Cheever (above) re-enactor Darren Byrnes showed me some of his aviation gear. One piece, the packed parachute, looks like an overstuffed and unwieldly heavy messenger bag. I picked it up to get a sense of its weight and Byrnes laughed a little, "It's stuffed with a pillow." The parachute container is a mass of clips and webbed handles, designed to be quickly attached to a crew member. Byrnes showed me that they were actually stowed within arm's reach or loosely clipped at chest level, unlike the backpack-style system most people associate with parachutes. His next project relates directly to that life-saving device: working with Cheever to create their own parachute harnesses to complete their period-correct aviator uniforms. eBay was a source for the harness webbing, and the men will stitch them from scratch. Eventually a parachute equivalent will be in the pack, although Byrnes noted it would clearly not be safe or functional equipment.

Going to market

Not everything is hand-sewn or perhaps a family hand-me-down, there are collectors and sellers actively trading in historical pieces. Steve Shumaker tells me that the cost varies. "It depends on the market." He explained that a wealthy or avid collector can quickly and perhaps unwittingly create demand and drive up prices. Culture and media can affect cost, as even history has trends and fads. Shumaker gave an example, "'The Pacific' came out on HBO, and the Marine stuff is really big now!" Shumaker also notes that authenticity is expected, and that the group was onces called to task about their uniforms,"'Line up and let me see what you got wrong' the WWII vet said. After looking them over for a couple minutes, the vet shrugged and said 'Not a thing.'"

Meeting the Miss Mitchell


The group eventually moved towards the big plane, the main draw, the Miss Mitchell. A B-25 bomber, she looks big from a distance but surprised me with her actual size in the hangar. Aside from wing span, the plane actually seemed... small. I bet her main body couldn't be more than 12-15 feet longer than an average city bus. Although her physical size surprised me, her solidity didn't. Her panels are heavy under hand and riveted at consistent distances, giving her an armored appearance at certain perspectives.

I saw the re-enactors gravitate to her. LaFaye couldn't seem to resist looking at the plane or keep from smoothing the panels. They kept moving around the aircraft, explaining the crew's experiences and different roles between quiet gazes at the plane.


Boarding the plane is done alone. There's no jet bridge on a bomber, but multiple drop ladders that allow for one person to get into place at a time. We took breaks between entering the different assignment seats. Everything is a tight fit. Shumacker is 6'4" and broad-shouldered, but he showed no hesitation moving into the pilot's seat. I gamely tried to be graceful in the tight spots like the steel tunnel to the bombadier's position, but compared to the light and open space in the hangar the B-25 is dark and almost counter-intuitive inside. Everything seemed at odds with my perception of where I was actually at in the plane.

For example:


The mid-gunner's seat, shown here currently stowed perpendicular to the body of the plane. During flight, the seat ratchets up to 90 degrees. (Independent video of the turret in operation) It probably tested the best stomachs during banked turns.

It wasn't until I took the tail gunner's position that the re-enactors' messages finally clicked for me. Sitting on the equivalent of an old bike seat, with a 280-degree view but a small gun sight, trigger handles close and only one small constructed exit in an odd and difficult spot behind me... I got it. The vulnerability and violence in such a small space was overwhelming.


The crew member that staffed this position was likely half my age at the time of the war. He straddled a small seat with steel under him and clarity to the sides and above, seeing the entire flight mission move backwards away from his perspective. At any moment he could possibly be the first to spot enemy fire coming directly towards him. His tools were two machine guns mounted to the frame but practically in his lap, their workings literally zipped-in with nothing but heavy military fabric to the tail of the plane so they could be maintained without removal. I remembered the plane's enormous engine and exhaust noise from a different visit to Fleming Field, I considered what it would have meant to think about that fabric barrier but a foot or so away, and the threat of a forceful wartime death at so young an age.

Those impression aren't in this slideshow, but are a direct result of this history visit. I owe that moment to the re-enactors.

The Minnesota Wing of the Commemorative Air Force has open hours and hosts events at the hangar, such as charity open houses and food & drink events, like "Hops & Props."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

He's living my dream

There are worse ways to spend the day, I suppose, than the way my son got to spend his today. He's a paramedic and he just moved up in his company to critical care work in western Wisconsin. On his orientation today, he familiarized himself with the evac helicopters.

The company also has at least one Falcon jet (he had ridden in one of these months ago for a patient transfer).

He snapped this picture in the company hangar.

It looks like the perfect job for an aviation buff, if you take away all that blood and such.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Bright lights, little airplane

If nothing else, any time you can get a full instrument installed, wired, and powered up in one session of work, I think you've done OK.

Today I checked off another item on the big dry-ink board in the hangar: Install fuel level indicator.

The Electronics International fuel level indicator has two separate power wires -- one to power the instrument and one to to power the backlight, and a wire for each ground, then you run wires out to the fuel tanks.

I ended up following the headset wires to the left and right, then tie-wrapped to the fuel vent line to the floor and then out the fuselage. Because the fuselage is double-walled, the snap bushing doesn't extend out of the fuselage. I'll put a dab of RTV in to cushion things.

Here's one side at the fuel tank:

And here's the other:

To keep vibration to a minimum, I ran the wire through a couple of inches of static tubing, which is a very hard plastic, and secured the line to the fuel line.

After checking everything, I powered it up. My family, which occasionally recalls when I was kid, my riding my bicycle five or so miles to watch traffic lights in Newburyport, Mass, will understand why I like this instrument so much.

I actually don't remember that much of the installation process, which took about three hours; I was thinking of my niece, Jennifer, and my twin brother, Bill. Jennifer's in the hospital and isn't doing well. I called Bill who was on his way to the hospital to let him know I'm thinking about them both and hoping for the best. If I could trade this damned plane in to make it so, I would in a second.

There a lot more items on that list on the dry-ink board. But I think for now I'll pull up a chair by the hangar door, and watch it rain for awhile.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A new instrument

I can't say I was particularly thrilled about cutting a new hole for an instrument in a panel I'd already painted -- there's really no way to avoid some scuffing in an operation like that -- but on the other hand, I've always really liked the Electronics International fuel level gauge, which has a descending series of LED lights to indicate fuel level in each tank. I've always liked pretty colored lights.

And, as it turned out, the Grand Rapids EIS (engine monitoring system) is better for the fuel flow indicator than the fuel level, so I wanted two data references in the panel to track this sort-of important thing. Plus, the EIS seemed kind of lame in the wiring, requiring a resistor to be connected between the wiring and the fuel level sender in the tank.

So today I punched through a new hole, and installed the EI fuel level sender. That's it just above the red knob (the mixture regulates the fuel and air mixture). Glad I left a little expansion space in my panel design.

I should be able to get it wired up pretty quickly. It's very simple, from what I can tell. Even I can't screw it up.

Next to it is the TruTrak autopilot. I have a wing leveler system but haven't been able to wiring it up fully yet because of some questions I have about how it's tied in to the GPS.

I sent a note to Stein at SteinAir but haven't had a chance to get together with him yet, but maybe you can help in the meantime. Here's the questions:

On the the transponder, there were two wires remaining with no apparent home:

My setup is the Trutrak single-axis and the Dynon D100. The only GPS I have is a Garmin 296 in an Air Gizmo, although I'll probably upgrade to a 496 before I'm flying. Do these two wires have significance with my equipment and if so, where and with whom do they mate?

I'm also looking at the TRUTRAK harness kit with these 6 loose colored wires:

RED WIRE -- Power (I know what to do with that)
BLACK WIRE - Ground (I know what to do with that)
BLUE WIRE - Serial input from GPS (I bought the GPS Garmin cable, I assume this attaches to "Blue: Port one out" or "Violet: Port 2 Out". Is this correct? If so, does it matter which?
YELLOW - Dimmer (I know what do do with that. I think)
GREEN - To Altrak Pin 9. Since I don't have Altrak, I assume I just insulate it and wait for the lottery to do its thing.
WHITE/BLACK - To control wheel switch (from pin 2). I have on idea what this refers to. What control wheel switch?

Meanwhile, I have about three or four instruments with wires to a dimmer. Anyone want to guide me on how I would wire several instruments to one dimmer switch?
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