The Inevitable Fade of Summer

…comes a little earlier to the distant Pacific Northwest than it does for most of the populated Northern Hemisphere. Fade, it eventually must, nonetheless, witness:


FIrst Signs of Fall in the Susitna River – 2016

This was actually taken during the evening of 9/10. There’s a limit to what one can capture with a cellphone camera through a plexiglas Cessna window in some subtle bumpage at 1000′ AGL.

Via inspirational bump from Rev. Paul

Airworthy Elegance #1

One of the great things about flying in AZ is the number of airworthy classics in the area. I had noticed this lovely not-so-little airplane in the pattern at KFFZ the prior weekend. As a student and I pulled into the runup pad for runway 4L at Chandler, there it was waiting to leave on 4-left behind a spotless Waco:


Stinson Reliant SR-x Holding Short

Stinson Reliant SR-x Holding Short

That’s a Stinson Reliant, built from the early 1930s up through early WWII. This is a gull-wing variation, which I think makes it an SR-7 through 10 model. Could not tell which engine it has, possibly a big Lycoming radial, or an R-985. This one looks to be immaculately restored in stunning red with black/yellow trim.

It looks like a wonderful X/C traveling machine oozing with class; a signpost of an age only 30 years removed from the Wright Brothers, while our nation was still innocent, young, and, despite a depression, still optimistic about the future.

(Please excuse the prop artifacts on the school 172 we were flying…I was watching my student’s checklist execution, while making absolutely sure we had no brake creep during the mag check).

That type is definitely on my bucket list for stick time, along with the C-195 and B-18…

In Absentia

I feel like I’ve lost a friend this week. I didn’t, really, but he’s hung up his blog, and I’ll miss his presence regardless.

The fascinating thing about Borepatch is how our lifelines intersect. I never met the guy in person, yet I could detect a thread of commonality with him through his writing. Professionally, we both operate in similar disciplines – those being in the information security technology space. We both have a connection to the shooting sports (although I never wrote of it). Although our views on politics are not identical, our summary concerns regarding who we are and where we may be headed are very much in sync.

Finally, whether he knows it or not, he is about 40% responsible for my decision to once again own a motorcycle. I never believed this could come to pass, but then came comments from a close pilot friend who went riding, setbacks with a personal project, a few bad weeks at work, and then Borepatch posted this. A few weeks later, a used Harley graced my garage, where it remains today.

Sometimes we think we don’t have any impact on the world around us. But we do, if we take the time to look for those impacts.

I “hung up” this blog in mid 2012. When I started it, it was all about airplanes. Airplanes just make my life go around…I don’t make my living with them, but they’ve always been central to my consciousness and identity. They are what I chose to write about, and I limited it to that.

Why did I stop?

In early 2012, I went through arguably the worst crisis of my 30+ year career. Where I fit in my employer’s organization has always been contentious. The guy I worked for (now retired) had a strong vision of what he wanted his team to be, and my discipline was a key part of that vision. His management saw differently, and it came to a head in the spring of that year. At the end, I had all but thrown in the towel, not just on the job, but on the profession. He just managed to talk me into staying, but damage was done, trust was lost, and scars are still there. I did the right thing by them and my family by staying. But I no longer feel like I belong there, or that I was true to myself. Three years later, I still struggle with it.

That summer, I also managed to injure myself in a rushed bout of stupidity. It wasn’t life threatening (a fractured right heel), but it required surgical repair, the outcome of which was never guaranteed. It wasn’t until early 2013 that I was walking almost normally again; and could have some assurance that I’d have my full life back. Today, it’s doing fine, but I managed to get exceedingly lucky (having a great doctor made it possible too). I’ll never forget the uncertainty, it molded who I’ve become.

Those two events both pretty much kicked the crap out of my muse. I thought I’d get back to writing again, but never did.

Moreover, I am not the same person I was in 2012. Not even close. Our world has changed immensely since then, and I have a much harder edge than I did before. That chlidlike sense of optimism is gone, not to return. I can be optimistic, but I will never be optimistic in the same innocent way.

That said, sometimes the urge to write does take possession of me. It will not be the same as before, but sometimes, things need still need to be said. The thing I’ve discovered about the blogosphere is that there are others out there who we have commonality with. Sometimes, witnessing that commonality is a real comfort in a world rapidly running off the rails. Sometimes other writers validate your thinking, sometimes they challenge it. But the fact that those writers are there, and that they bring so much more depth than shallow left versus right arguments, is a true comfort.

So, I may pick things back up here. I’m thinking about it. If I do, thought, it won’t be the same. It can’t be.

But sometimes, a familiar voice in the wilderness is just what we needed. Let the falling tree make a sound…

Best shots from 2011 (a little late…)

It’s been far too long since I’ve updated, and few post-worthy topics of late. Still, I did have a couple of photos lying on my desktop from last year that I did want to share:

This is south of Knik Glacier, and is of  Lake George, as the glacier that feeds it fractures away into fresh water. The first shot is from May 1, on a pretty spring day:

Springtime view of Lake George area, Knik River headwaters, 5/1/2011

And the second shot, taken 8/13, under the later summer gloom:

Lake George area 8/13/2011

Late summer view, Lake George area, 8/13/2011

Note how the glacier chunks break through the remaining lake ice in the spring, but by late summer, the surface is just a slush.

As summer progresses, I’ll have more to share…


Why Pilotless Aircraft (Can Be) a Bad Deal

Since I work in a small corner of the information security space, I found this article to be alarming and yet quite expected eventually. I’m a bit surprised didn’t happen sooner, and it certainly won’t be the final occurrence.

These are unmanned weapons, folks. Imagine if, instead of being weapon systems, that they carried passengers, as some would have them do.

The Air Force deserves a lot of credit for being straight up about it, and I hope they get it cleaned up soon.

Perhaps the Most Pointless Use of an Airplane

In this summer of overheated energy costs, overheated weather, overheated politics, overheated traffic, and overheated expectations, this made me smile.

Phoenix, Arizona, where I currently hang, is like Los Angeles in many ways (excepting politics). With weather usually sunny and clear, it shares much of the same crime, crowding, traffic, smog, expense, and car-centered transportation monoculture as L.A. does 400 miles to the west. So when I read about the impending doom concerning the closure of the 405 for construction, I could relate to it. Local officials overblew the risks, sure, but problems were indeed possible.

I expected people to try interesting stuff to work around it. What I didn’t expect was that one low-cost airline would engage in a pointless publicity stunt to move 150 people 38 miles at a time using an Airbus (helicopter charters didn’t surprise me, however). This just appeared ludicrous. The infrastructure, resources, and time it would take to get all these folks to the airport, through security, boarded, cleared, in the air, separated from other airplanes,  and back out the other end is simply astounding for moving such a short distance.

Of course, I understand this was never about transportation, it was all about marketing. Regardless, never one to normally disparage the use of an airplane, this just seemed obscene to my sensibilities.

So, imagine my pleasure when these guys on bikes beat them door-to-door. And not by just a little, either, the airline got it’s butt kicked by over an hour.

See, much as I love to fly, I’m also a born-again-cyclist that cycle-commutes often. To see these guys authoritatively nail up their point that there is a place for bikes as useful transportation in an urban setting seemed dead-on. Conversely, using a 170,000 pound airplane that’s about as inefficient as it can possibly be operating at 5000 feet to do the job is Just Plain Wrong.

To be fair, to maintain their needed 26mph average, the riders were pacelining. Normal commuters would rarely find a wheel to follow, and it takes more than 2 or 3 riders to maintain that tempo for very long. In addition, the cabdriver got lost leaving the airport, adding to the door-to-door time for the air travelers (although it still wouldn’t have changed the outcome).

I’m impressed. Allez…

Toys of a Different Sort

The weekend of 6/5 found me teaching a dual cross country here in central AZ. Unknowingly, as I advised my student to plan a route Chandler->Safford-San Manuel->Chandler, the Wallow Fire was getting started, located about 60 nautical miles north of Safford. I didn’t expect visibility 10 to 15 in smoke for the day of the flight, but that’s what we had, and it became a useful exercise in VFR pilotage without the usual great visibility.

Landing at the end of the first leg, I noticed 2 Single Engine Air Tankers (SEATs) tied down at the fire suppression base near to the fuel pump. Seeing them, I couldn’t resist a couple of photos of machines one just doesn’t see everyday. At first, this looks like an ordinary crop-duster; perhaps a typical ordinary little airplane with a tailwheel:

Air Tractor AT802 parked at KSAD

Just an average small airplane, right? Not so fast…

Walk up to this machine and you realize it’s more than a little larger than just “average”. With a 5-blade Hartzell propeller being driven by an uprated P&W PT-6 breathing through 2 huge exhaust stacks, there’s clearly a chunk of horsepower hanging off the nose. Walking up to the tailwheel, I realize that it’s a 6.25, more than the mains on the 172 we just showed up in:

AT802's 6.25 tailwheel - proof this airplane carries a little weight...

At the time, I didn’t have the presence of mind to note the size of the main gear wheels (big…with double-caliper brakes), yet this machine really makes an impression once you get close-up. Observing that the entire center-section of the fuselage over the C/G is one big monster tank (and can be emptied almost all at once), you realize that this is one serious piece of flying hardware.

Located next to it at the base is a big poly mixing tank with 2 good-size gasoline-engine pumps feeding hoses that load the slurry mixture onboard. Behind that mixing tank are several other more permanent tanks containing various materials for final mixing to spec before loading. It looks as if, once the loading operation is running, someone is mixing into the poly loading tank between airplanes, possibly continuously, and as soon as an airplane pulls up, the hose is connected, and pumps started to load several hundred gallons into the airplane as soon as practical. With this setup, a crew can turn over loads of retardant very, very quickly.

After we left, I began thinking about what it might be like to fly one of these. Obviously, it’s not a hot rod like we’d typically think of it; it’s a machine meant to move large liquid loads over tight spaces at low altitude. It has to lift lots of weight, maneuver it to a specific point at less than a few hundred feet, unload all at once, and then head back for more (at which point it probably does seem like a hot rod). Thinking about the size, it seemed as if it’s slightly larger than an airplane many pilots would consider the definitive piston-engine hot-rod; the North American P-51 of WWII.

How close would they be? Let’s see:

Air Tractor AT802:
Length: 35′ 11″
Wingspan: 59’3″
Empty Weight: 6505lb
Gross Weight: 16000lb
Cruise: 221mph
Power:  1350hp
Service Ceiling: 25000′

North American Aviation P51D:
Length: 32′ 3″
Wingspan: 37’0″
Empty Weight: 7635lb
Gross Weight: 12100lb
Cruise: 362mph
Power:  1490hp
Service Ceiling: 41900′

Thus the P-51 has a smaller, lower-drag wing, optimized for speed and maneuverability at altitude and speed. The AT-802 has a large, high-lift wing optimized for load carrying and maneuverability at low altitude and low speed. Other than that, they do spec a lot alike.

Both are quite a bit more airplane than the N-model 172 we were flying…but that’s OK, we could afford that.

All fun aside, note that the haze in the background of the photo is residual smoke from the Wallow fire, which was under 100K acres when this was taken. As I write this, six days later, it has become a 430K acre monstrosity that now spans into New Mexico, and is still only 5% contained. In the southwest, we haven’t seen a wildland fire this bad for a long time, and my best wishes and prayers go out to the displaced families, and the guys and gals both on the ground and in the air fighting this awful beast, as these airplanes are likely doing right now…