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.
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