Friday, April 03, 2009

Two Poor Approaches

Next morning I had to arrange maintenance for the broken tach. It was a weekend, of course. Airplanes know to break when it's a weekend, especially a holiday weekend, because they get more time off that way. I couldn't get a hold of the mechanic we'd planned to use here, so I left a message for the FBO manager asking if there was a weekend contact for him. (Yes, having Aviatrix in town means you sell a lot of gas, but you are at her beck and call, too). There were four other companies listed locally as "aviation repair." One has a an out of service number. I left messages for two others. One looked to be an aircraft manufacturer, not a repair shop, but if you can make one from scratch you can fix one, right? Maybe. I didn't call the the fourth company as it was clearly an aircraft cleaning company, and our problem wasn't dirt. I don't expect to hear from any of them before Monday, Maybe Tuesday if Monday is President's Day or Arbor Day or something. Another possibility is to find out who maintains the medevac helicopter that's parked at the hospital across the street from our hotel. That probably has 24 hour callout service. Broken airplanes inspire lateral thinking.

I go downstairs for the hotel breakfast, which is just ending. The woman cleaning up the breakfast leftovers is from Michigan, and admits to missing the snow, but only the first snowfall. After that she can live without snow just fine. She asks if I'd like another cinnamon bun and I decline. She asks again a little more insistently and I twig. "Do you have to throw them out?" She nods. I'll take them. I'll find someone who likes yummy food. She has a cute little box for the buns so they look really presentable.

I get a call back from Houston. The first company I called no longer has facilities locally, just the phone number, but he's very forthcoming with other possibilities in the vicinity. I write down all the names. The other company calls too. It's a helicopter operation, the owner of the medevac helicopter I saw. They seem to have discussed the problem before calling me back, because he says "we're betting it's a cable, and we wouldn't have the part for you." The FBO guy says he'll have the mechanic call me. He does, with a just woken up sort of voice. Turns out he's just come back from Mexico and is too sick to leave the house. I'm guessing that means too sick to leave the immediate vicinity of the bathroom, poor guy. He will try to look at the airplane tomorrow, if he can.

The PRM comes through with permission to ferry the aircraft. Standard wording: VFR, essential crew only, not over populated areas. I spread my search further afield and find an FBO we've dealt with before whose mechanics are willing to come out on a weekend. I do the counting on my fingers math to determine time to fuel, get a ride to the airport, warm up the engines and fly up there. I tell them I'll be there at noon.

I check the weather at the FBO and there is a line of weather approaching, with rain forecast for here. The satellite shows no high tops, just a bright green very narrow line dividing here from my destination. Weather has been very low at destination, probably corresponding to the front coming through, but is good now and is forecast to improve to clear about the time I'll arrive. Minimum visibility reported or forecast along the route has been two miles. It's so glorious having such density of reporting stations. If I were flying in Saskatchewan I'd have here and destination, with nothing in between.

I note the ferry permission in the logbook next to the snagged tach needle and except for that defect, the airplane runs up fine. I take off into the wind and then peel out of the circuit towards my destination, bombing along at 1900'. It's grey ahead, and I'm soon in the rain. Rain, rain, rain. There's rain coming in the window onto my elbow. Gotta get that seal fixed at the next scheduled maintenance. Two miles visibility and clear of cloud is acceptable VFR, but I can't actually see the ground only two miles away over my nose in level flight. My nose is too long. So I keep looking down over the wing at ground, "yep, still VFR". This is like being back at Victory Airways. The satellite picture was correct though. The rain quickly abates but there's lots of scud behind the front. I'm flying just above a scattered layer. About 30 miles back I pick up the ATIS. They're calling it 700 few, 2600 broken. So I'm expecting this scattered cloud to open up before I arrive. Twenty miles from destination I call approach and tell them the ATIS identifier I have.

There's no warning tone in the controllers voice at all as he asks me to confirm I just want a VFR approach. I answer in the affirmative and assume that he gets a lot of training traffic on a weekend, certainly my experience at most airports with IFR approach facilities. The ILS is NOTAMed out today, so I'm purely VFR. Approach clears me straight in, then ten miles out passes me to tower who immediately clears me to land. I can't even see the airport yet. Eight miles out I'm 500' above circuit altitude and still very much dodging clouds. This is not a picture of "few clouds at 700', broken at 2600'." I widen out to go around clouds, putting me on a kind of base, and then turn final using the guidance of the GPS. My engines are cooled back to the setting for landing, the flaps are set for approach, with prelanding checks are on the way. Five miles back on final I still don't have the runway in sight, but I'm sneaking down towards where the GPS tells me it is. Three miles out I'm at a thousand feet, exactly where I should be in altitude, but this so-called runway is still hidden by cloud. I can see outbuildings that show the airport is there. I put the gear down. It will have time to transit all the way down before I get around this last cloud and have to decide whether to overshoot or not. Taking the gear up before it is all the way down can confuse it.

And there's the runway. I fix my alignment, set landing flaps and props and touch down. That was an ugly, ugly VFR approach and I wouldn't want any student of mine doing it. Student pilots: don't fly like Aviatrix, and don't trust the ATIS. I accept my taxi clearance from the ground controller and suggest that 700 scattered might be more accurate. (The next METAR calls it 500 broken).

I taxi as told and the mechanic is there, marshalling me towards the hangar. He keeps beckoning me forward until my nosewheel bumps over the threshold of the hangar. I shutdown quickly and log the flight. I swear he had the cowl open before I had finished the very simple postflight paperwork. The mechanic asks me to watch the tach. He disconnects the tach cable and puts what looks like a drill into the end. When he powers it up, the tach responds, the needle lifting to about 700 rpm. The tach cable is not broken. Next he has me turn the propeller by hand while he watches the sending unit. It correctly reports the movement. That works. He wiggled the cable a bit more and hooked it up. He had me start the engine. I saw the tach come up, gave him the thumbs up and shut it down. The cable had been loose. That was all. I think the whole repair, including the paperwork, and putting the airplane back on the apron with a tug took twenty minutes.

I fawned with gratitude and gave him the stash of possibly still warm cinnamon buns to share with whomever it was I pulled him away from on a weekend. The weather at this point was still ugly so I decided to wait until it had gone through here, and until it had gone through and cleared up at "home" too. I asked the mechanics if local security would object to my walking down the apron to the FBO lounge. They said that technically I needed local credentials to be on that part of the apron, so I'd better go groundside. I went to the airplane to get my wallet and computer and he went home.

But then I realized I couldn't cut through the FBO to the groundside because the front door only locked with a key or from the inside, and I couldn't leave their shop unlocked. The pedestrian gates were chained and padlocked, but there was a security phone number on it.

"Hi," I said, to the person who answered. "I'm a pilot on the apron by the repair hangar and I want to walk down the apron to the FBO. Do I need a security escort or anything?"

I've given them a choice between saying "go ahead" and actually coming out and dealing with me. I know how this works. And I don't even have any more cinnamon rolls to give out. He says, "No, that will be okay. You can walk down there."

"Thanks," I say, already starting to walk down the apron. "I just wanted to make sure you weren't going to arrest me or anything."

I pass a building with a basketball hoop on the airside. I know of an airport with a horseshoe pit on airside, but this is my first basketball hoop. Just then the door on that building opens, and a uniformed security guard calls out jokingly "arrest her!" I laugh and then point out my surprise at the basketball hoop. I tell them I'm going to take a picture of it. "We're not going to arrest you for walking down the ramp! We're going to arrest you for taking pictures!" I take their pictures with the basketball hoop and continue, unarrested, to the FBO. I won't post the picture, because it's quite possible that they are supposed to arrest Canadians who photograph strategic airport basketball hoops, and it was only their common sense and my feminine wiles that kept me out of Guantanamo.

At the FBO I used their wireless to e-mail everyone about the success of my mission and tell them I'll be back when the weather clears up there, now forecast to be 3 p.m. And then I borrow a car from the FBO to do another of my assigned Texas experiments.

At Sonic, you must have a cherry limeade. You'll be blown away.

So I'm going to have lunch at Sonic, a drive-in I've noticed. They also have a drive-through window, and I steer for that. I drive up to the menu board and choose the accompaniments to my cherry limeade, and then I let my foot off the brake and roll forward looking for the speaker. Someone in the truck ahead of me is being handed a bag, from the first window, so it's not like McDonald's with one order window and one pick up window instead of a speaker. It must have been by the menu. At Tim Horton's the speaker is after the menu, so you have time to think about what you want while you're waiting for the queue to get to the speaker. Fortunately there's no one behind me.

I pull up to the window. "Sorry, I think I missed a speaker."

"That's okay," she says, and means it. It is a valid and important skill to be able to help people without making them feel stupid, and she does it. She could be an air traffic controller. She accepts my order for a small cherry limeade, a chili cheesedog and an Oreo Blast.

There's a sicker on the window reading "Comments? Call [this number] or ask to talk to a manager." When she brings me my order I say to her, "tell your manager you're awesome."

As I put my cherry limeade and my Oreo Blast in the cupholders, I see her actually doing it, pointing at me. The manager came over to the window, "I did, she is awesome," I confirm, and drive off.

I think I'll leave you in the same suspense as I was, driving back to the FBO to find out if I liked cherry limeade.


Wayne Conrad said...

When someone is just good like that, it's one of the true pleasures of life to see that they get some recognition for it. A bigger tip. A genuine smile. That their boss knows about it.

yoman said...

those cherry limeades are usually pretty good. i prefer the strawberry though. it even has bits of "real" strawberry in them.

Paul said... able to help people without making them feel stupid.... She could be an air traffic controller.

Are you sure you're flying in the US?


Aviatrix said...

Oh they can really tear a strip off a pilot who screws up and ought to know better, but if someone is really out of his depth, and having navigational difficulty, I've listened as they hold his hand and guide him to safety and sometimes I wonder if the pilot even realized they just saved his butt.

bigpeteb said...

At nearly all of the drive-through restaurants in the U.S., the speaker is co-located with the menu. Sometimes you can see the menu before you pull up to it, but just as often you can't. No, it doesn't make much sense.

If you want a really unusual experience, seek out a Checker's or Rally's (different brandings for the same restaurant) which have drive-throughs on either side of the building. Bring a passenger and make them have to pick up the order. :-)

Lord Hutton said...

I will use your airside skills if I mess up flying to Venezuela next week (as a passenger of course).
I once got stuck airside at LHR. It takes charm to get back in!

dpierce said...

In Atlanta, it's not uncommon to stage people through half a dozen "stations", especially in busier drive-thrus. One Burger King has a menu station, ordering station, payment station, pickup station, and finally a speaker with a call button you can use if it turns out your order is incomplete. We also have a Chick-Fil-A with THREE drive thru lanes. Madness.

The craziest are drive thrus that let multiple people order at the same time from the same lane. Two cars pull up to two speakers, one behind the other, and place their orders. It all gets sorted out (in theory) at the window. In reality, cars naturally stop at the first speaker they come to, so the idea doesn't work well.

GPS_Direct said...

At (most of) those multi-order-lane into one sites, it turns out they take your photo when you order so they can give you the right food when you pull to the window.

2 miles, clear of cloud... Running around in Class G then, are we? Though at 1600' MSL you must have moved from the low country in eastern Texas. And yes, flying with so many weather reporting sites takes away (some of) the challenge, I think.

Finally, you must have gotten some odd things-to-do in Texas... Sonic's are fun for the experience - you missed the kid bringing out your order on roller skates. But the food, with the exception of the peanut butter shake, isn't anything to write home (or blog) about.

Aviatrix said...

Okay, you're the second one to ask that (the other one was in e-mail). Is there some stigma to hacking around in Class G airspace around here?

Anonymous said...

Not really a stigma but over big parts of the country class E starts from 1200' AGL.

GPS_Direct said...

As mentioned above, no stigma to Class G. Done my share of flying along looking at cows (only a few look back...)

But, there's a LOT OF STUFF down that low. So when the viz is poo, I'm usually on the "wishing I was up there" side of the decision tree. Or I file, and that wasn't an option here.

Then again, none of my experience includes runways which cause me to utter "Cool, this one has stripes." when I line up on final at any of my usual destinations.