Thursday, September 11, 2008

Executive Officer

At the apron in Hagerstown we were greeted by an FBO employee who marshalls us into place and lays out a red carpet. As we are a two door airplane he had to pick which side to place it, and it was on my side. Whee. He had military short blond hair and 1970s-style cop sunglasses. I guess they're in fashion for pilots, but Lite Flyer and I don't subscribe to that one. He's a little brusque, one of the first things he has to say is that the restricted airspace will expand tomorrow at ten a.m., did we know that. We assure him we'll be out of here early tomorrow morning, as soon as the fog clears. For a moment I'm willing to entertain the idea that he's some kind of security droid, masquerading as an FBO employee in order to keep a close eye on the people coming in and out of this facility, but he manages to disabuse me of this notion pretty quickly through his haste in assuring us how important he is.

He talks about the people and aircraft that may come through here tomorrow as if to imply that he knows far more than he's allowed to tell on the subject. He mentioned more than once that he knew the owners of the facility here, and was working because they needed someone. I was going to say that it wasn't any particular thing he said that really spoiled the impression, just the cumulative effect of everything he chose to say, but there's one signature phrase that stood out.

"I am an executive officer of my own company."

At another point he mentioned the presence of a number of Dash-7s on the field. It's a kind of funny airplane to have a fleet of in the States so I asked, "what do they use them for?" Captain Important makes a zipping motion of fingers on lips. One of his other jobs was as a balloon instructor, which I thought was pretty cool. I tried to engage him in conversation on that, because people are always more interesting when they are talking about their area of expertise, but he kind of skims over it, apparently it doesn't fit in with the aura of importance that he's trying to establish.

At this time he was an important person for us, as he had secured permission to use the company van to take us and a gas can to the gas station for our Mogas needs. The first gas station was closed "for technical reasons," but he found a second one a little further away. It turned out to be a Sheetz, with the food ordering touch screens right by the pumps, but the ordering screens were unserviceable. I snapped a photo of the astonishing list of regulations posted on the pumps. Note that I didn't read the regulations, there were just too many. I mentioned the list to a less important person at the FBO, who laughed and said that Maryland has the most regulations anywhere. "If someone has invented a piece of protective gear anywhere, it's required by law to use it in Maryland. I wonder if the very low flow rate on the gas pump was part of the protective mechanism. When you complain that a pump is slow to fill a five gallon can, you know it's slow.

After the second trip--we only had one five gallon can and needed ten gallons--we both thank him and Lite Flyer puts a folded bill in his hand. I don't know what she gave him, but he softened by an unexpected amount. We put the fuel in the airplane, secured it for the night and made our way to a hotel for the night. It was a fine hotel, probably the best of the trip and there were probably many fine restaurants around, but we were beat and opted for pizza delivery. Lite Flyer had the idea of calling the desk for a pizza recommendation instead of choosing randomly from the yellow pages, and it's just as well she did because twenty minutes later when the pizza company had our room number wrong the desk knew whom to call and ask, "Did you order a pizza with .. uh .. everything on it?" Lite Flyer and I have may be compatible in the cockpit, but our pizza topping preferences are incompatible so she had ordered half hers and half mine, making a strange-looking pizza. It was pretty good though and we ate as much as we needed before sleeping.

Next morning we planned our next leg over breakfast and got a ride to the airport. It looked fine, but flight services was calling our airport of departure IFR. The tower was reporting low visibilities. I couldn't really see the runway from the apron, so I'll have to believe them, and the rest of the briefing included poor visibility elsewhere. Plus, as the briefer put it, "At ten a.m. today, the President gets larger." The restricted area would expand to the full 25 nm. I guess Camp David has its own airport, buried inside that white circle.

A couple of helicopter medevac pilots who had just been going off duty when we were there last night were back on duty for the morning. They are on standby for twelve hours at a time, required to be airborne within five minutes if called. So they are essentially on a tether that keeps them within 200 metres of their aircraft at all times. They admired our little craft, easily the most interesting thing within two hundred metres of theirs, and I bored Lite Flyer by asking them lots of questions about how helicopter IFR approaches work.

Eventually, as it always does if you wait long enough, the fog cleared and we deemed ourselves good to go. I told Lite Flyer to leave the chocks in for the run up. "People are going to think we've forgotten to remove them, and they may come up and try to be helpful, so watch carefully, especially for people who come from behind and have forgotten our propeller is back there. Sure enough, she hasn't even completed the start checklist before I have to open the door to yell, "We know! We're doing a run-up!" at the helpful people who approach.

We take the time to warm everything up properly and check over the systems, then we shut down, remove the chocks, and call for taxi. The controller starts to assign us a runway then most likely takes a second look at us, because she switches us to a different one. It's a shorter runway, but it's also a shorter taxi, and directly into the light morning wind. She asks for a "tight left turn immediately after take-off," which we can see is needed for the airspace, and she can see won't be a problem for an airplane this small.

Lite Flyer does the take-off again but it is much poorer than her previous effort. I'm barking "tail up! tail up!" in between cries of "right rudder!" but she never raises the tail, just leaves it in the three point attitude until it mushes into the air.

Later she says, "I didn't know what you meant by tail down!" so possibly I don't even know what I was saying. Eventual debriefing determines that her earlier brilliant take-off was a fluke. In that instance she accidentally relaxed back stick as she set full power and then realized that she had done so, so pulled back at just the right moment to rotate. Pretty funny, but at least we've got it clear now. She brings it around to parallel the runway north. We tell tower we will follow the freeway until well clear of the restricted airspace, and they give us a flight following frequency too. Thursday is underway.


david said...

The owner made a good choice to fly instead of trucking. She must have learned more about her plane and being a pilot in 4 days than she could in 4 years of local flights and lessons.

Reading this makes me thing of my slow, short-range 160 hp Warrior as a high-performance aircraft! I've flown near Hagerstown, and even in my Warrior it's only about 3 1/2 hours from Ottawa. I imagine that you have a lot more than that left to tell us about, and not only because you have to angle east to Nova Scotia.

dpierce said...

When my group gives instruction (although not on aircraft), something like 'tail up' is considered ambiguous, as it's not clear if the instructor means 'please bring the tail up' or if he/she is *warning* the student that the tail is up and they should do something to remedy it (ie, 'lower it now'). A direct and unambiguous command such as 'raise the tail' is preferred.

I also wonder if a student that is trained to think of the pitch control as something that raises and lowers the *nose* would get turned around thinking about orientation with respect to the *tail*.

I also recognize that I may not know what I'm talking about and that none of this may apply in the context of what you're doing.

Aviatrix said...

You're quite right, about the possible ambiguity of "tail up," dpierce. I believed I was giving the instruction in the context of someone who knew what she was doing and just needed prompting.

But you deliberately hold full aft stick on the taxi, knowing and thinking that you are pinning the tail, and you know that the aim of the manoever is to lift the tailwheel off the ground, so it seems odd to say "nose down" when that's so far from the intention of the pitch movement. Also the nose really doesn't move down very far in this airplane.

I'll have to wait until Lite Flyer or another tailwheel student reads this, and find out what they think.

Aluwings said...

The reference to the Dash 7 is interesting as so few of these are still in operation in North America. I wonder if they are part of

Anonymous said...

I'm a tailwheel pilot and to me "tail up" in NOT ambiguous when taking off.

Although my Flight Instructor used to tell me "forward stick" if I remember well. Most often immediately followed by "right rudder! right rudder! ;-)

Marc C. said...

I have been looking forward to getting work everyone morning this week. Why, you might ask? To read about the latest adventures of Aviatrix and Lite Flyer, of course! Your story-telling is great.

Scott Johnson said...

"Tail Up" or "Raise the #$&$^ tail" was frequently shouted at me by the colorful character who taught me to fly DC-3s. It doesn't seem ambiguous to me, nor do I think any taildragger pilot would find it so ... but a student accustomed to tricycle gear might.

Anonymous said...

I've never heard of an airstrip at Camp David. I believe the President arrives and departs via Marine One.

Pilot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pilot said...

Hagerstown is a nice airport, but I like University Park (KUNV - the main campus of Penn State University, and Altoona Blair County (KAOO) better ... just out of curiosity, what was your planned stop for that day (you mentioned that you changed plans because of delays)

But in case you miss Hagerstown, here is a video from a flight I did during my training.

IFR flight ... (the landing in Hagerstown starts about 14 minutes into the video)

The most memorable part of that trip (captured on video)

Unknown Aircraft: Hi little girl
Hagerstown Tower: Hi big boy

IFR Flight to Hagerstown