Category Archives: Aviation

Anything involving not being on the ground.

Pinnacle Mountain flight

A nice sharp clear fall Saturday morning, light wind out of the west, a brisk departure to the west off of Greenville’s runway 28. With a short flight planned, light on fuel, and we just about could have busted the class C airspace if we had a mind to.

By the time we leveled out at 4500′ I noticed we had a lot of headwind, and a groundspeed of only 89 knots, which helped to steepen that initial climb. We climbed up and circled the Pinnacle Mountain fire area, with due regard to the TFR (Temporary Flight Restriction).

For those who may not be aware, there’s been a fire burning in this area for almost two weeks now, and is reported to be the largest fire ever in Pickens County. Smoke does not make for good picture-taking conditions when you have to keep some distance, but you get the idea.

That’s actually a cloud on the right. There was a pretty good cloud deck to the north of the area. Unfortunately, they weren’t rain clouds.

Heading back east, we got the wind behind us and promptly hit 177 knots groundspeed. By the time we got back to the airport, that wind was mixing down to the surface, giving us winds gusting to 20 knots and not aligned with any runway. We managed to land without too much excitement, though, which is a good thing.

Connections, Creation

The other day I was hanging out with a friend and there was a Christian radio station playing. The music was good, but the stations tag line, something like “Music that makes you feel connected to God”, made me think. For me, it’s not so much music, but views like this (near Sugarloaf Mountain, NC, USA):

or this (mini creature feature, over Lake Hartwell, SC, USA):

that does it. This, to me, represents the direct handiwork of God, no translations, no interpretations, just the straight story of Creation.
As usual, click on the pictures for full-resolution versions.

Soggy weekend

Not a real good weekend for outdoor activities, but we did manage to sneak out into the air a bit under a ceiling that threatened to become a floor in places:

Duke Power maintains a hydro-electric facility called Bad Creek that, in part, operates like a big mechanical battery. During times when they have extra electricity, they pump water up into the reservoir. When demand cranks up, they let the water run back down to generate additional electricity. Those low ceilings didn’t leave room to get much closer than this.

Almost oddly, the sun did manage to find a hole here and there.

Update: Even though Sunday turned out to be overcast, drizzly with occasional rain, around 40F degrees, and a chilly northeast breeze, I couldn’t just sit around the house. I went out on the lake for a bit. One thing that I’ve noticed is the apparent indifference that a lot of the wildlife displays towards the weather. I’m sure they’re aware of the conditions, since it’s a matter of survival, but, also a matter of survival, they can’t just curl up somewhere. They have to get out and eat. It was a deadful day for trying to take pictures, but I caught this Kingfisher hangin’ around a fishing spot, getting a bit ruffled by the wind.

“The Annual” – done

That which was taken apart has been put back together again.

No major findings, just a couple of worn control surface bearings, which have been replaced and the aircraft is considered airworthy now.
It’s worth noting that airworthiness is as much as matter of paperwork as it is the condition of the machinery. The metal can be in pristine condition, but if the aircraft records don’t say it is, it ain’t airworthy.

“The Annual”

All US aircraft are required to undergo a comprehensive inspection every year. My own little airplane is no exception, and while many aircraft owners dread “the annual”, I look forward to this as an excuse to take some time off from the job that pays for all this and spend quality time with my torque wrenches, magneto synchronizer, compression tester, inspection mirrors, and other tools. I also like keeping my airplane well-maintained, and knowing that we have no secrets from each other.
So here’s what a small airplane looks like half way through an annual inspection:

The interior also gets opened up for inspection:

Which all means that right now I have something that looks more like a collection of airplane parts, rather than an airplane:

A lot of servicing also gets done at the same time. As long as we’re going to open up the oil filter and take an oil sample for analysis to look for signs of something coming undone in the engine, might as well put a fresh new filter on, change the oil, and clean the spark plugs, lubricate all the controls, etc… Really, the actual inspecting can be done in a small number of hours. It’s all the disassembly, servicing, reassembly, and checkout that takes days.

War birds

This weekend I had an opportunity to photograph some really special and rare “birds”. The Collings Foundation’s B-24 Liberator, B-17 Flying Fortress, and P-51 Mustang, all World War II war birds, were on tour at my home airport in Greenville, SC.

Watching these aircraft fly in and out of a modern-day 2013 airport with all the amenities, I can only imagine what it was like flying them out of what we would now call “unimproved” fields, carrying a full load of things designed and intended to blow up, during a war, knowing they’re going to be shot at.

However, there are people among us who do know, first-hand, what that was like. I encourage you to find a WWII veteran near you, and ask them what it was like. My Dad, an infantryman, has told me many stories that you will not find in history books. These are the stories that will tell you what that war was Really Like. Act now, this is a time-limited offer.

OK, now for the pictures (as usual, click on the pictures for a larger version)…

You can see some updated avionics in the cockpit of the B-24, which only makes sense. There have to be some updates in order for these aircraft to operate safely in our current airspace.

One thing that strikes me about the war craft of this era (I have no idea if it’s different now) is how cramped they seem to be. You could not be overweight, or claustrophobic, and spend any time in these aircraft, or the naval vessels I’ve visited.

When I visited the USS Yorktown, a WWII aircraft carrier, it actually gave me the willies a bit as I was squeezing around the cramped areas down in the bowels of the ship and thinking, “image now that someone is dropping bombs on this thing”.

Here the B-24 taxis out for takeoff:

with the B-17 not far behind:

The B-24 on its takeoff run while the B-17 prepares in the background:

And gets gone:

The B-17 starts its takeoff run:
You can see the B-24 in the distance near the top of the ’17′s tail.


They came back and made a pass over the airport. Here’s the B-24:

And the B-17:

Touchdown of the B-24:

And the B-17, about to return to Earth:

I didn’t see the P-51 flying much, but I did get this shot:

You can find the tour schedule for these aircraft at the Collings Foundation web site. Go out and see ‘em, and help support keeping this bit of history truly alive.

Ways to Travel

The recent loss of my Brother-in-Law (William A. Prall, 1943 – 2013) left me with a bit of a problem: How to get my 90-year-old Dad from South Carolina to Pennsylvania and back with an absolute minimum of wear-and-tear. I actually started thinking about this a couple months ago, knowing what was coming.

The obvious answer would be to take an airline, but this would require us to either make a connection(s) somewhere, possibly between concourses in separate zip codes, and/or drive to/from one of the major regional hubs multiple hours away. Then there’s all the standing in lines, security checks, parking lots that require GPS to navigate, cramped seats, and so on. I really did not want to subject my Dad to all that if I could at all avoid it.

I considered many options (I ruled out bicycle and kayaking right off). Near as I could tell, you just can’t get there from here by bus or train, and even getting close would take a good bit of time, as would just driving. For a variety of reasons, my own single engine airplane would not be a good choice. My Dad isn’t one to fly, and even being on a large airliner is a bit stressful.

I got to wondering what it would cost to charter a flight on something like a small turboprop. This might be a big enough airplane for my Dad to be reasonably comfortable, and would take out the entire “airline experience”. Since I know something about aviation, I knew it wouldn’t be cheap (there’s a saying that it takes two things to fly: airspeed and money, and airspeed is debatable), but then again, my research showed that short-notice airline travel would cost a small fortune anyway, even if we could get seats when we needed them.

One might wonder, “how does one go about chartering a flight?” It’s easy. Call up one or more charter operators (most larger airports, and many smaller ones, will have at least one), and tell ‘em what you need. These companies operate a lot like the big scheduled air carriers, but without the schedules and “established routes”. You go when you want to go and where you want to go, and a variety of aircraft are available. “On demand” and “air taxi” are terms that you may see. They’re governed by Federal Aviation Regulations part 135, which has many of the same requirements as the scheduled air carriers. There are, of course, differences to allow for flying anywhere and everywhere whenever with many different aircraft.

I’m sure any charter operator can help you figure out the best airports to use since they’ll fly to airports the airlines can’t use with their behemoth-sized aircraft, or just won’t bother with, but knowing what I know I was able to pick Allentown, PA as the best option. I considered Mt. Pocono airport, but it’s not all that much closer to where we needed to get to, and has no ILS approach. As it turned out, on the day we wanted to return home, Mt. Pocono was well below approach minimums in fog and basically unusable.

Anyway, I called around, and, yes, if short-notice airline travel would cost a small fortune, this would cost a modest fortune, but one that I could afford, if only once. We could go directly from the Greenville, SC right straight to Allentown, PA, non-stop, in a little over 2 hours. We could go and return when we wanted to. Cost is based on the actual cost of the flight, however long it takes, including any weather or ATC (Air Traffic Control) delays, and the “empty” trips for the aircraft to return to base and then come back to pick us up later, however the operators were happy to provide a “feasibility number”, and later when I got serious about doing this, a quote.

As an aside, I’ve had what I guess some might call a bucket list item to go out and do something like the “other half” does it. Do something and just not give a second (or even first) though about the cost. Go first class. Be “king for a day”. But I never really came across something I wanted to do that way. Get skybox tickets to a race or ball game? Meh…. limo ride out to dinner? Nah… Charter a flight to Pennsylvania, and maybe get to spend a little time up in the “front office” of something that’s a lot more airplane than my little Tiger? Bingo.

I called up Venture Aviation, an operator at Greenville Downtown, where I keep my own airplane, and got a real quote, which matched the rough number I was given previously. After that, it was just a matter of waiting for the actual event to occur, which, as it turned out, was only a few days. A phone call and some Emailed paperwork got everything set up.

As it turned out, I have serious doubts we could have done this on an airline anyway. My Dad had an appointment on Monday afternoon that we really needed to keep, and couldn’t be moved up, and the first services for my Brother-in-law were on Tuesday evening. We’d have been hard-pressed to make it there on time. With the charter, we were able to have a normal breakfast at home in South Carolina, and be at my Sister’s home in Pennsylvania by lunchtime, with none of the frazzling that seems to accompany airline travel.

The pilots were professional, helpful, and accommodated my request to stick my beak up in the cockpit once we reached cruise flight in the King Air 200 on the way up:

and the King Air 90 on the way back:

Interestingly enough, I could at least identify everything in the cockpit. I might not know just how or when to use the thing, but I at least knew what it was or what it was telling me. Guess I picked up a few things in almost 40 years of fiddling around with airplanes. It was neat watching the pilots work together during the busy portions of the flight: teamwork in action.

The aircraft were impeccable: clean, comfortable (with just the two of us, we had more leg room than leg), and in good operating condition to my casual, but Airframe and-Powerplant-mechanic trained eye. This is personal service. While these flights had no cabin attendants (such service is, I’m sure, available on larger aircraft), the pilots provided safety information, kept us informed, and answered all questions. They also helped with our baggage (another advantage is that we could travel a bit “heavier” than had we taken an airline) and generally made sure we were treated well. It’s worth noting that these pilots are also responsible for all aspects of the aircraft, including tidying up and making sure the snacks and beverages are on board.

I also need to mention the line crews. These are the folks that work at an FBO and provide the
fuel and other services for the aircraft on the ground. They also help with baggage and ground transportation, and create a seamless experience for us passenger types. The FBO also handled having our rental car there when we arrived, and handled it’s return, making that easy as well.

There’s a lot written out there about tips for these kinds of operations. Y’all can use Google as well as I can, so I’ll just add that, to me, when to tip is a matter of personal service. If someone is going to directly look after me, tote my “stuff”, and personally see to it that I’m happy, that deserves some consideration.

All that said, I am unlikely to be a repeat charter customer, just because this is a bit “out of my league”. But in this case, this was the right choice: my Dad got his trip safely and expeditiously, and it all worked out splendidly.

It was a great trip, even if the reason for the trip wasn’t. The final bill came in a little under the quoted price, but having my Dad there for the family was priceless.

Should some similar circumstance come up again, I’ll re-do the decision making process, and, again, give due consideration to all available options. In the meantime, sigh, back to mowing my grass and doing my grocery shopping.

Upcoming activities

With emphasis on “active”.

TakeFlight5k

The Greenville Downtown Airport (KGMU) is building an aviation-themed community park where people can come watch the airplanes, with a playground for kids, etc… In order to raise money to continue the construction, they’re holding a 5k run/walk on 25-May-2013:
http://book-events.com/takeflight5k/
http://www.greenvilledowntownairport.com/RunOnTheRunway.html
The keynote feature is that the run will be on the airport itself, including a runway. I’m planning to participate, if only so I can run down the runway flapping my wing…er… arms.

I kinda like the sneaker-wearing airplane logo.

Flight of the Dove

No, I’m not talking about backyard birds, for once. Flight of the Dove is upstate South Carolina’s premier (IMHO) organized bicycle ride. The routes are great, support is great, No restroom lines at the start/finish (at the Presbyterian College stadium in Clinton, SC), and lunch is included. And on top of all that, the ride supports a great cause: Hospice of Laurens County. Mark your calendars: 24-Aug-2013.

http://www.bikelaurenscounty.com/flight-of-the-dove.html
http://www.hospiceoflaurenscounty.com/Flightofthedove.html

Ride for Raptors

As long as I’m here, I’ll also mention another ride I like to do, Ride for Raptors. This one is in the fall (no date set yet for 2013), leaves out of Pendleton, SC, and wanders through the hills of Pickens County. This one supports the Carolina Raptor Center. More later…

http://www.ride4raptors.org/home.htm
http://www.carolinaraptorcenter.org/

Good day to see the lakes

It was a near-perfect day to fly. We caught this picture of Lake Jocassee (click on the picture for full-res):

Lick Creek splits up into a bunch of little streams and pools as it gets to Lake Rabon. Usually you can’t see any of this because of the trees, but today, as we approached that area, the sun suddenly reflected off all the streams and made them show up like a CT scan. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the camera in my hand (I had a handful of airplane instead), and we weren’t entirely successful in setting that shot up again:

We have a plan and will try this again on the next sunny day we get to fly.