Thursday, July 28, 2011

Enroute to Oshkosh!

A few weeks ago I came across an airfare I simply couldn't pass up - roundtrip from Dayton to Milwaukee for about $25 (yes, you read that correctly - $25) after applying a $100 Delta certificate I had on file. The certificate was set to expire on 7/31 and I had no other use for it, so I quickly booked a ticket and figured I might as well enjoy Airventure for a day! I'm heading to the airport super early tomorrow and should be in Oshkosh by noon.

As luck would have it, tomorrow happens to be the only day that Boeing's 787 Dreamliner is scheduled to be at the show and I'm really looking forward to seeing the new airliner in person. It should be a fun day full of aviation. Let me know if you're at OSH and I'll try to swing by and say hello!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The final Space Shuttle launch - Daily Show style

If you know me, you probably know I'm a die-hard Daily Show fan. Heck, it probably borders on obsessive. But I really appreciate great satire and they deliver it in droves. Anyway, I've waited long and hard for a clip that I felt was right to share on the blog - and they certainly have delivered. Without further adieu, here's John Oliver's brilliant take on the final Shuttle launch.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Touring Kennedy Space Center - Part II

As I mentioned in my last post, we spent a day thoroughly enjoying all the sights Kennedy Space Center has to offer. One of the best parts was the panoramic view from the Launch Complex 39 Observation Gantry. From there, you could see multiple launch sites and buildings. Even though we couldn't make it there to see Atlantis on the Mobile Launcher Platform prior to launch, it was still very cool to be so close to Pad 39-A. The massive tracks that the Crawler-Transporter rides on were also a very impressive sight. Hope you enjoy this set of photos!

Arriving at the LC 39 Observation Gantry

Space Shuttle Main Engine

Pad 39-A, where Atlantis lifted off for the final time on July 8, 2011

Pad 39-B, a former Shuttle launch site being converted for future vehicles

Close-up view of the support structure on Pad 39-A

Constructi0n underway on Pad 39-B

Vertical Integration Facility

Launch Complex 41, used for Atlas V launches

Gina on the Observation Gantry with Pad 39-A in the background

Proof that I was there too!

Launch Complex 40, used by SpaceX for Falcon 9 launches

Launch Complex 37, used for Delta IV launches

Solid Motor Assembly Building

Crawler-Transporter parked outside the LC39 Observation Gantry

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The 30-year Space Shuttle program has come to an end

I woke up early this morning to watch Atlantis land at Kennedy Space Center. Hard to imagine that the same vehicle that we saw launch off Pad 39-A just 13 days ago has since circled the planet 200 times and returned to the ground in Florida. It's a sad day for space fans and I certainly hope this country continues to explore space and our solar system as we move forward.

This is an awesome video that captures every Shuttle mission - all 135 of them - and a little bit of why this program has been such an important part of American scientific history.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Taking Gina's aunt up in the Cub

Plane: Cub, 85 hp
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Partly cloudy, 92 degrees, wind 010 degrees at 7 knots

Gina's aunt and uncle came down for a few days this week to visit and see some local attractions - the USAF Museum, Columbus Zoo, etc. We of course offered up an airplane ride if they were interested and her aunt Toni said she was up for it. Given the intense heat (the heat index hit at least 110 today) there was no way I was flying anything other than the Cub. I consider the open door a requirement when it's this hot out!

We all drove together to Stewart and I did my preflight and hooked up the portable intercom. This is actually the first time I've used an intercom and headsets in the Cub; I figured it was the only way to actually say anything to each other and I wanted Toni to be able to ask questions. I couldn't squelch out the wind noise (my intercom and headsets aren't really designed for open-cockpit use) but it definitely allowed us to talk up there.

Dave helped me push the Cub up onto the grass

After we were situated in the J-3, we were propped by Emerson and that got the much-needed wind blowing. Gina and her uncle Dave watched us as I ran through my pre-takeoff checks, then made a 360 and took off on Runway 26. There were some storm clouds popping up in the thick, humid air so I flew south towards I-71 to stay in a clear area while pointing out some of my usual sightseeing points of interest.

I flew much of my usual scenic route and also flew over our house

Toni was surprised at how much farmland and forest there was in the area. It really is one of those things you probably would never see or realize if you're always stuck on the ground. We may live in a relatively flat part of the country but it is rather pretty to look down on when everything's green.

I could see rain coming out of the clouds over Caesar Creek Lake so I didn't fly that direction. Instead, I turned north and headed back towards the airport since it looked like there were some darker clouds headed towards Stewart from the north. Once we entered the pattern I could see well off past the one dark cloud and things were quite clear, so I decided to keep flying and climbed up to 3,000 feet where the air was MUCH cooler and more comfortable.

Buckled in and ready for come Cubbin'

We flew over towards Wright Brothers and I was able to point out the MetLife Blimp that's been on the ground there for a couple days. It took a minute of explaining reference points, but I was even able to point out our house and neighborhood! Then I flew us a few miles away from the airport and let Toni take the controls for a couple minutes, making some gentle turns and even climbing and descending slightly. She commented that the stick was more touchy than she expected... but she did a great job flying!

I asked if she wanted to try a couple slightly more "fun" maneuvers and she said yes. We made one steep turn to the left and Toni said she didn't think it was that intense. I also made one very gentle push forward on the stick to show her how you can get that somewhat weightless feeling. Finally, I made a semi-steep spiral to drop down to pattern altitude - it's a quick way to lose 1,000 feet. During all of this I told her to let me know if anything bothered her and I'd stop instantly... but she said it was fun and felt fine.

Checking the intercom after starting the engine

I crossed mid-field and entered the pattern but wasn't planning on landing just yet. We flew around - downwind, base, final - but I kept the power in and made a pass probably about 150 feet above the ground and waved the wings at Dave and Gina, who were watching from one of the benches next to the runway. Then I explained to Toni what a forward slip was (since it's a bit unusual for someone new to small airplane flying) and made an approach at idle power. After a full forward slip from base to final we touched down quite softly and taxied back to the hangar area.

Toni told me she had a great time and I'm glad it went well - you certainly want to make sure someone's first "little airplane" ride is a good experience. She thanked me again later in the evening, so I figure it might have been fun for her. Sharing general aviation with new people is one of the best things about being a pilot - I'm glad to have been able to do so again this evening!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 0.8 hours
Total Time: 202.7 hours

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cubbin' with Mike

Plane: Cub, 85 hp
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Partly cloudy, 90 degrees, wind variable at 4 knots

After riding in his right seat for multiple Pilots N Paws flights (in February, May, and June) I finally had a chance to take my friend Mike up in the Cub. It had already been close to two months since the last time I flew the J-3 and I was very thankful for the wide-open door on such a hot summer afternoon. It honestly feels the exact same here as it did down in Florida last week - the air is so thick you can practically swim through it!

Enjoying the scenery from the pilot's seat

Approaching Caesar Creek Lake

We hopped in and got the engine turning as quickly as possible. Mike knows how to hand-prop so that helped speed things up. The winds were kind of shifty but slightly favoring Runway 8, so I taxied down to the west end of the field. Those extra 20 hp were nice to have as we climbed straight out towards Caesar Creek Lake. I leveled off around 4,500 feet and we had a little fun with a roll of toilet paper (hit it once - not my best effort) before descending down to about 2,000 feet for a low and slow scenic flight.

The requisite photo of our path through the hot, sticky air

Our shadow on the water

Approaching the main beach at Caesar Creek State Park

Boat ramp - it was quite busy

I followed the valley down over top of I-71 and over towards Kings Island. Mike shot some photos as we flew along and I think he got some good ones of the roller coasters. I'll post some on here when he sends them my way. Edit - photos now added on 7/22!

Someone was up in the Citbria practicing acro as we approached the field. The winds were pretty variable and I was going to land on Runway 8 again when I saw the Citabria start to approach to land the other direction. So I quickly turned right onto a downwind and followed them to a pretty smooth landing on Runway 26.

King's Island was also pretty packed

Construction work on the new Jeremiah Morrow Bridge on I-71

You probably know by now that I always try and get in at least three landings when tooling around at Stewart so I can extend my passenger-carrying currency by 90 days. We made two more laps around the pattern, each time with a simulated engine-out landing. The first was a bit bouncy and the second was better, though I wouldn't write home about either of them.

While rolling out on the final landing, the tailwheel caught a divot in the runway and came unlocked so I quickly managed brakes, power, and rudder to re-lock it and avoid a ground loop. We had to roll off to the north side of the runway (usually we go south - the airplane didn't feel like it) as I got things under control but it was otherwise uneventful. I haven't had that happen since I was flying the Champ a couple years ago... always a good reminder that you've never stopped flying a tailwheel airplane until it's tied down!

Mike had a good time and it was nice to get up high where the air was a bit cooler. I can't even imagine flying in the 172 on a day like today - at least not below 5,000 feet. Hopefully I get to fly the Cub some more soon so I can feel a bit more proficient again.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.2 hours
Total Time: 201.9 hours

Friday, July 15, 2011

Touring Kennedy Space Center - Part I

As if viewing a Space Shuttle launch in person wasn't awesome enough, launch tickets also include a second day's admission into Kennedy Space Center. Gina and I relaxed on Saturday and Sunday, visiting her great aunt and uncle, a winery, and getting some much-needed rest to recover from the all-nighter that preceded the launch. I figured the crowds would have calmed down plenty after a couple days, so we headed back out to Cape Canaveral on Monday to visit KSC.

NASA's massive Vehicle Assembly Building

Each stripe on the flag is as wide as a standard freeway lane

When built, this was the largest building in the world by volume

If you appreciate the history of our space program, it's hard not to be fascinated by most everything KSC has to offer. We arrived around lunchtime and hopped on a tour bus (a free tour is part of admission) to the Launch Complex 39 Observation Gantry. I'm actually going to include those photos next time; I took so many that I think it's best to break this into two posts. We then hopped back on the bus and spent a couple hours in the Apollo / Saturn V Center. They have an actual Saturn V mounted horizontally inside - honestly, I shouldn't have to say anything more than that. It's awesome.

I will elaborate slightly to remind you that - 44 years after it first flew - the Saturn V is still the tallest, heaviest, most powerful rocket ever launched by mankind. I've seen plenty of missiles and rockets in person before (many in the Missile & Space Gallery at the USAF Museum) but nothing compares to a Saturn V. It's just an incredible piece of engineering and machinery. I was also excited to see the other Apollo-era vehicles including a real Lunar Module and a Command/Service Module. The whole race to the moon is just fascinating to me and I never tire of seeing the remnants and reading up on the history.

Entering the Apollo / Saturn V Center

The actual launch control room from the Apollo era

The Saturn V is, quite simply, a massive thing of beauty

Patches from all the Apollo missions hang next to the Saturn V

First Stage

Second Stage

Third Stage

Command Module and Launch Escape System

Apollo Command/Service Module

Apollo Command/Service Module

Apollo Lunar Module

Lunar Module simulator

The infamous Astrovan

Vehicle Assembly Building as seen from the Apollo / Saturn V Center

Launch Pad 39-A as seen from the Apollo / Saturn V Center

We spent a couple more hours back on the main grounds of KSC after returning from the bus tour. Gina and I went on the Shuttle Launch Experience, a ride that simulates a Shuttle launch. To be perfectly honest, it was kind of underwhelming. Basically, you're strapped in, the thing rotates so you're sitting vertically, and then it vibrates like crazy for about two minutes. It was neat and all, but let's just say I'm glad it was included in the price of admission. They also have a full-size mockup of a Shuttle that we walked through; the payload bay was bigger than I would have expected.

The Constellation Sphere, 9 tons of granite suspended by water

Part of the new Orion vehicle that's still in development

The building that houses the Shuttle Launch Experience

Inside the Shuttle Launch Experience briefing room

Explorer, a full-size Shuttle mockup

Payload bay of the Explorer mockup

It was a good place to hide from the rain!

Space Mirror Memorial

Thousands of signatures and messages wishing Atlantis' crew good luck

Inside the Astronaut Hall of Fame

Memorial for the Challenger and Columbia crews at the Astronaut HoF

After a fun day at the Space Center, we finished up with about an hour at the Astronaut Hall of Fame. Had I known just how much was inside, I would have absolutely scheduled more time there. They had so many neat items that have flown in space or were part of the space program and everything in there was extremely interesting to read about. Come to find out they even have a centrifuge that you can get a ride in! Not that I probably would've jumped at that opportunity, but still... you don't find those available to the general public very often - if ever!