Friday, January 16, 2015

Closing out the work week with Cub practice

Plane: Cub, 65 hp 
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Clear, 39 degrees, wind 270 degrees at 2 knots

A hectic week of work was coming to a close, it was nearly 40 degrees in mid-January, and I was just out of Cub currency. It should come as no surprise that I called Stewart and grabbed an available J-3 when I realized I could leave the office a little early. I arrived at the airport around 4:00, preflighted my favorite yellow aerial machine, and Jamie kindly propped the engine to life.

Ready to clear my head of everything but aviating

I knew I was bound to be a bit rusty so it was a prime day for practice. Light winds and a decidedly soft field (above-freezing temperatures after prolonged snow on the ground always result in mushy grass) made for ideal knock-the-rust-off conditions. I took off on Runway 26 and was quickly reminded how much fun a Cub can be. Even with the (lowly?) 65 hp model, I had to level off before turning crosswind; I was already at Stewart's pattern altitude of 800 feet AGL.

My first landing wasn't great - I lightly bounced a couple times as the tailwheel dragged across a couple muddy spots. The second time around the patch was better, though the landing still wasn't perfect. I would have preferred a light wind from the east, actually, since landing on Runway 26 when the sun nears the horizon results in a rather glare-filled windscreen. The air was also a bit hazy this evening so that didn't help matters.

After my second takeoff I climbed up to about 3,500 feet over Caesar Creek Lake. I trimmed the airplane for hands-off flight, checked for traffic, increased the throttle by about 150 RPM, and rolled into a 45-50 degree bank. I made three or four sets of steep turns to the left and the right, improving every time. I held altitude and airspeed spot-on during a few revolutions. I even hit my own wake twice. It always feels good to get dialed back in on steep turns.

Satisfied, I throttled back and pitched the airplane into slow flight, eventually adding some back in once I reached the back side of the power curve. I puttered along at 40-45 MPH indicated, then pulled the nose up and returned the throttle to full power. I pulled back until the nose finally dropped straight down for a nice, clean power-on stall break. Carb heat out, I did a couple more of the power-off variety.

Then I decided to try a falling leaf. After a power-off stall, I kept the stick full back. Following the second (or maybe third) break, I heard the unmistakable "click-click-click-click" sound the magnetos make when you turn the ignition off. I immediately pushed the stick and throttle forward and the engine gingerly coughed back to life. That was enough falling leaf practice.

Pro tip - a 65 hp Continental isn't a big fan of extended idle time when there's cold air rushing past the cylinders at 50+ MPH when it's 30 degrees (at altitude, at least) outside.

I snapped this out the tiny air vent on the port side of the cockpit

I did a pseudo-steep spiral (with partial power - for obvious reasons, I hope) down to pattern altitude and flew back to the airport. The haze made it hard to see much of anything in that direction but I kept my head on a swivel looking for the usual flow of NORDO traffic. Crossing midfield, I made a normal approach and a pretty good landing.

It's pretty rare for me to fly on a weekday in the winter, so I'm quite satisfied with today's practice. Got in some soft field takeoffs and landings and worked through a bunch of basic maneuvers. Best of all, I earned myself another 90 days of tailwheel / daytime PIC currency.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 0.8 hours
Total Time: 325.3 hours

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Ringing in 2015 with an octet of airplanes

Plane: Cessna 150 
Route: 40I-MWO-40I 
Weather: Clear, 25 degrees, wind 240 degrees at 15 knots gusting to 26

For the second year in a row, we took part in an old Stewart tradition - flying to breakfast on New Year's Day. Compared to last year, we doubled the turnout; eight airplanes flew this morning. I'm pretty sure that every one of Stewart's airplanes not currently in for annual took to the sky.

We lucked out, too. Although it was cold and windy there was not an ounce of frost, so we all avoided a lengthy deicing. Tommy hauled the preheater around the field to warm everyone's cylinders and all the engines were turning by 8:30. Within minutes, three Cubs, a Champ, the Arrow, the Fly Baby, and the 172 were airborne. We departed last in the 150.

We both got new Halo headsets for Christmas! :)

We were the eighth and final airplane to depart Stewart

Joining up with everyone else shortly after takeoff

Following a couple Cubs to Middletown

The third Cub, off our right wing

Entering the pattern at MWO in trail of all three Cubs

A different angle - us following the three Cubs from the ground MWO

Gina was quite excited that we could finally order some food

All eight planes on the ground in Middletown

I'm sure our eclectic formation was quite a sight from the ground - at least if anyone else was crazy enough to be up so early, looking skyward. We had a hearty headwind so the short 13 mile hop took nearly 25 minutes from takeoff to touchdown. I followed the three Cubs, landing last, with an absolute greaser in the shifty, gusty winds. The wheels touched so softly you could barely tell we had landed and I made the first turnoff. Definitely a good way to start to the new year!

Everyone parked on the edge of the ramp and walked through the gate to Frisch's next door. I'm not sure the staff expected 16 people to walk in together but our waitress was extremely cheerful and somehow kept our orders straight. I had an omlette and Gina had eggs and French toast; along with the coffee, it all certainly hit the spot.

We spent about an hour in the restaurant before heading back through the fence. I quickly preflighted the 150 and hopped in. I was slightly worried about the engine firing after spending an hour in the cold, gusty winds. Thankfully, she fired right up after three shots of primer. I taxied to the end of Runway 23, completed a runup, and was the first to depart. Everyone followed quickly behind and I soon joined up on the pack of airplanes flying eastward.

Flying back to Stewart at 2,500 feet following our hearty breakfast

Caesar Creek Lake, partially drained for the winter

In some spots, nearly all the water was gone

Even a small river has tremendous power to clear everything in its path

Foundations are still visible from buildings that were demolished when the lake was built

One final look at the low water on our way back towards the airport

Tommy and I were talking last night and he'd mentioned how low the lake was. They usually drain it in the winter (so there's greater capacity in the spring to hold snow melt and rainfall) but it seems even lower than usual this year. He said you could see some of the old foundations from the buildings that used to lie in the valley before it was flooded in the late 1970s when the lake was built. I hadn't seen that before so we continued east after the formation reached Stewart. As you can see above, it was definitely a unique view. Without question, it's a view that can only be truly appreciated from above.

Tuning in the AWOS at Wright Brothers, I checked the winds and noted that they had continued to pick up. They were gusting up to 25-30 knots but were at least only 20-30 degrees off the runway heading. I turned final for Runway 26 at Stewart and had to stay very active on the controls all the way down. Kicking in a little left rudder to counter a wind shift just as I was rounding out, I touched down very softly on the grass. Two for two to begin 2015. I'll take it.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.1 hours
Total Time: 324.5 hours

Happy New Year!

The past year was quite chaotic on nearly every front - work, personal, and flying. I spent 40-45 nights away from home for work and another 35-40 nights away on personal trips. You can probably imagine how that cut into my available hours for aviating. Still, I think I crammed a decent amount of fun and experience into my time aloft.

Prior Recaps: 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014

I certainly wish I could have filled more pages in the logbook (and posted more on here) over the past year. At the same time, it never really felt like I was flying so infrequently. But the logbook don't lie - I logged fewer hours in 2014 than in any year since I passed my checkride in 2008.

One way I remained reasonably current was focusing on the fundamentals. Despite the limited hours, I count 9 of 21 flights (9 of 15 if you exclude the cross-country trips) where the primary purpose was practice. Pattern work, stalls, steep turns, power-off 180s, you name it... I really do enjoy basic stick and rudder work. Especially in a Cub!

Gina and I still enjoyed plenty of great sights from the air; our annual birthday and fall foliage flights are always special. While I can't predict whether things will calm down in 2015, I do hope to fly more this year. We have a big trip planned this summer during which I won't be flying but it would be nice to push the hours north of 30 again over the remaining months.

Total Hours: 23.2 | Solo: 8.8 | XC: 10.8 | Dual: 1.9 | Night: 2.9 | Landings: 54

Aircraft Flown: C150, C172, C182 (Safety Pilot), Cub

New Airports: None (yikes!)

New States: None

First Flights: 4 (two kids in May, Stephanie and Stuart)

People Flown: 8 (above, plus Mike, Lauren, Dave, and Gina)

$100 Burgers: 2 (New Year's Day breakfast in Middletown and Marty's BBQ send-off in May)

Fly-Ins: None

What I'll Remember: My sister tagged along in the Cub for a memorable formation flight with Tommy in the Fly Baby on the Fourth of July. Being able to clear my mind and avoid the traffic by flying up to Michigan to visit my dad in the hospital, then returning with Gina at night. Crossing 100 hours in a single airframe (N2814L) for the first time. Maintaining my night currency for nearly the entire year - the best I've done in the 6+ years I've had my license.

2014 Goals: Glider lesson, glider lesson, glider lesson. Seriously, it's been on my to-do list since at least 2010! Meet up with fellow pilot bloggers somewhere this summer. Make more $100 hamburger flights and perhaps even an overnight airplane camping trip with some pilot friends.

^ Well that didn't work out so well. I need to make a conscious effort to revisit my goals more frequently in 2015!

2015 Goals: I'm out of excuses on the glider front. Although the rating's still a ways off, I absolutely need to go for at least one ride this year. Hold me to it! I would like to travel by airplane on at least one or two overnight trips with Gina. It would be fun to take a few more friends and coworkers up for their first flights. I need to fly some Young Eagles again, too.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Visiting the Titan Missile Museum

A few months ago, I attended a great presentation about the Titan II missile program at the USAF Museum. It was part of their excellent guest lecture series. At the end of the lecture, the presenter - David Stumpf, who literally wrote the book on the Titan II - gave out his email address and told everyone we were welcome to get in touch if we ever made it out to Tucson.

Now, I had never been to Arizona. It wasn't even on my radar. But, a month or two later, I found out I'd be in Phoenix for a conference in early December. You can probably imagine how quickly I dug out that address and sent David an email.

He responded and we communicated back and forth. Within a few weeks, he had - incredibly kindly, to say the least - set me up with a personal tour of the silo. When I arrived at the Titan Missile Museum on December 6th, I met David and a former Missile combat crew officer. Over the course of a few awesome hours, I got to climb up, through, down, and around the complex with two personal tour guides. It was an incredible experience, a wonderful history lesson, and an amazing illustration of just how differently we operated during the Cold War.

Follow along below for photos from my tour of the museum.


Topside of the missile complex from outside the security fence.


Elevator from the topside to the access portal adjacent to the Blast Lock Area.


Stairway from the topside to the Blast Lock Area - crews had to pick up phones and verify secret codes at 4 or 5 different doors before they ultimately gained access to the complex.


Exterior blast door at the entrance to the Blast Lock Area, built to withstand 1000 psi.


Control Center - note one of the massive springs that supports this floor of the complex across the room.


Control Center - the cabinets on the right were originally full of guidance computers; they were replaced by a single guidance computer during an upgrade in the 1970s - technology improves quickly!


Control Center - note the slack in every cable; the entire complex is suspended by springs that hold it 12" away from the outer concrete shell to survive the shock of a nearby nuclear blast.


Control Center - the two officers on duty each had their own padlock (they purchased it on their own and only they knew the combination) so both people were required to open the safe to access the secret codes in the event of a launch command.


Control Center - this is the launch control board that displayed the stages of the launch sequence.


Sleeping Quarters - pretty spartan! Crews rotated on 24 hour alerts the entire time the complex was active. This and the kitchen were the only places they were permitted to be alone.


Sleeping Quarters - you can see the 12" gap between the floor and the outer concrete shell, along with a copper grounding strap.


Cableway connecting the Control Center and Silo - fully suspended and isolated from the outer concrete shell by massive hydraulic pistons.


One of the many massive shock absorbers in the cableway that connects the Control Center and Silo.


Level 2 of the Silo - this is what you see immediately after crossing the Cableway from the Control Center.


 T'was a festive season to visit a former nuclear missile silo!


Looking down at the retractable work platforms and Titan II from Level 2 of the Silo.


Look closely and you'll get a good idea of when this complex was decommissioned.


Like every critical component in the complex, the lights were supported by long springs to cushion against the shock of a nearby nuclear blast.


Significant slack was left in all wiring and hydraulic lines to withstand the shock of a nearby nuclear blast.


The collection of air tanks that supplied pneumatic power to the complex on Level 7 of the Silo.


Manual shutoff valve that allowed the crews to run launch sequence drills without actually flooding the silo with thousands of gallons of water.


Base of the Titan II missile on the hardstand (engines removed) - the entire 135 ton missile rested on 4 small explosive bolts that detonated at launch.


Looking up from Level 7 of the Silo.


Looking down into the flame deflector; at launch, thousands of gallons of water were released, which instantly turned into steam to help reduce shockwaves within the complex.


The hardstand (that the missile rested on) was attached to and supported by these massive spring mounts, which were secured to the silo at the missile's center of gravity to increase overall stability and withstand attack.


Looking up from Level 7 of the Silo.


One of the water injection nozzles below the missile; at launch, thousands of gallons of water were released,which instantly turned into steam to help reduce shockwaves within the complex.


Looking up from the flame deflector; the work platforms on Level 7 are all extended above.


Note the areas with and without rivets - the missile structure was reinforced around the fuel and oxidizer tanks.


The hardstand (that the missile rested on) was attached to and supported by these massive spring mounts, which were secured to the silo at the missile's center of gravity to increase overall stability and withstand attack.


View of the missile from Level 5 of the Silo.


The hardstand (that the missile rested on) was attached to and supported by these massive spring mounts, which were secured to the silo at the missile's center of gravity to increase overall stability and withstand attack.


Backup diesel generator on Level 3 of the Silo. In the event of an attack, the entire complex was sealed from the outside - so the generator would only be able to run on (and exhaust into) whatever air was trapped in the silo.


View into the missile - you can see the forward dome of the oxidizer tank at the top of Stage I.


View into the missile at Level 3 of the Silo - you can see the forward dome of the oxidizer tank at the top of Stage I.


The chilled water system, which cooled the entire complex, located on Level 2 of the SIlo.


One of the primary communication antennas and a hardened backup antenna that would have remained underground unless the primary was destroyed by a nearby nuclear blast.


Lights and a claxon atop poles on the topside that would have warned of an impending launch.


Topside of the Titan II launch site. You can see the rails that the silo door rode on in the background.


These radar surveillance security systems formed a ring around the silo topside and were the primary form of security at all missile installations. Extremely sensitive, they would sound a loud alarm in the control center if anything crossed their invisible beams. Then, security forces from nearby Davis-Monthan AFB would be dispatched to investigate. Given the secure nature of the missile complex, crew members would never go outside themselves.


If anything triggered the radar surveillance security system (usually coyotes) MPs from Davis-Monthan AFB would be dispatched to the site in a Jeep like this to investigate.


Looking down into the silo from the topside; the closure door is now permanently fixed in a partially open position.



The silo door has been partially cut away - you can see the 3" thick steel. Below that was more steel and concrete. All told, the original door weighed 743 tons, rode on rails, and could be opened in 20 seconds.


Stage I engine assembly.



Stage II engine assembly.


As I hope you have seen, it is a spectacular museum and very worthy of your visit. I'm grateful I was able to take advantage of such a great opportunity. Let me once again thank David for his generosity and hospitality. If you're ever in the Dayton area again, David, there is certainly a Cub ride with your name on it!