July 27, 2005

Mementos Mori

John calls and amongst other things he tells me about a recent serious accident involving an acquaintance of his -- the sort of accident that friends keep asking me about when I start waxing lyrical about flying and becoming a grizzled old freight dog.

We also talk a while about jobs and flying stuff; he gently taunts me by telling me I could be flying for AmeriFlight instead of driving 100 miles a day down to Silicon Valley and back for jobs and such (urgh). I have visions of endlessly flying the AmFlight Death Tube back and forth between Oakland and Fresno or Bakersfield, with ten hour layovers at either place during the day -- all for about $20K per year, no benefits. Now there's a reason to get my Commercial :-). Speaking of which, we discussed this a little bit, and I'm starting to feel a few little stirrings towards getting off my arse ("ass" for the linguistically-challenged out there) and actually starting it. It shouldn't take too long: I already have the required hours, the instrument rating, etc., and the complex sign-off -- I just need to find a club or school with a decent complex plane. After flying the Arrow (with its robust and utterly fool-proof gear) for so long, I'm always deeply suspicious of the origami-like gear on the light Cessna retractables available elsewhere locally (like Oakland Flyers or California Airways). Especially since (as I've mentioned elsewhere), I've actually had a gear failure already (a total non-event in the Arrow; it's less clear how enjoyable it would have been in a 172RG or similar). It's a shame the Arrow's been sold.

Still, I'm in no real hurry yet, but it's starting to weigh on my mind...

* * *

An hour or so later I drop off some fuel receipts in the club and run into Gabe S., who tells me he and Alan G. are seriously thinking about buying a Mooney. I tell Gabe this is the first step towards becoming a real Grownup. I joke out loud about cashing in my 401K and joining them, but suddenly realise I ought stop saying things like this -- one day I might just do it. And then what would I do when I get old(er)?

July 24, 2005

Early Aircraft Design

I recently stumbed across Adventure Lounge's Early Aircraft Design, a fascinating look at old patent drawings for mostly unbuilt aircraft from the 1930's, 1940's, and 1950's (nothing whatever to do with Northern California GA flying, but as I've said before, I'm a sucker for this sort of thing).

John recently remarked on the odd looks of the Beech Starcruiser (and I said something similar about the Piaggio P180 in comments on his posting), but some of these are quite bizarre even by that standard. Some others are just toys; some look very conventional. Whatever the size -- giant four-engined seaplanes or small runabouts -- they're nearly all bristling with propellers. Very futuristic in that inevitably-dated way ("Nothing dates as quickly as the future..."). The odd shapes make you realise just how standardised airplane designs are now (for good reason, for sure). (Slow) evolution in action, I guess.

July 16, 2005

The Bay Tour

Bay Area pilots tend to have strongly-differing ideas about what the "Bay Tour" is, depending mostly on where they're based. For pilots based in Palo Alto or San Carlos, it typically seems to mean the 101 transition north (actually west) up the Peninsula, over SFO, and up to the Golden Gate; this involves a Class B clearance, and some careful airwork.

For us GA pilots in Oakland (and the occasional SouthWest departure that asks for -- and gets -- the Bay Tour on the way out of Oaktown for Burbank or wherever) it basically means lazily pottering about under SFO's Class B out towards the Golden Gate, Angel Island, Marin, etc., while getting flight following from NorCal. You call up ground at Oakland and tell them you'll be doing the Bay Tour, and they coordinate this with NorCal -- and as long as you're not busting the Class B, NorCal just keeps a helpful eye out for you as you meander, circle, etc., lazily about the Bay sight-seeing, taking photos, showing the relatives the sights, etc. Yes, you can do the 101 / Bayshore transition too, but you have to ask NorCal for it explicitly -- which is usually worth it, because it takes you right over SFO at 1200', and because NorCal will typically give it to you if you sound like you know what you're doing.

The 101 transition itself is deliberately not charted or mentioned anywhere official -- it's one of those Bay Area insider things that we don't talk about too much, in case it gets too popular and the FAA decides it's a bad idea :-). From an Oaklander's perspective, it's most useful to get you from over The City or the Golden gate down the Peninsula to Palo Alto; the routing is typically through the Class B at 2,500 or below initially, then 1500' or below as you approach SFO, over the City past San Bruno and SFO, over Bay Meadows, then along 101, always keeping 101 to the east from the City onwards. It's quite a flight, and great for showing visitors the local sights. But you have to ask for it explictly, and yes, it's quite true that controllers won't give it to you if you don't sound like you're on top of things or you sound hesitant or unclear on what it is (I asked this question when I visited NorCal's predecessor, Bay Approach, a few years ago). Not using the term "101 transition" or "Bayshore transition" tends to flag you as not-from-round-here -- and maybe less likely to understand exactly what the various restrictions really mean on the transition. The moment you're suddenly told by SFO tower to do 360's west of 101 off San Bruno, or to overfly "the BART station", or to head towards South City for a minute or two for traffic, is probably not the time to discover that you don't actually know where South City is, let alone San Bruno (or Hunters Point or Candlestick or Bay Meadows or SLAC or Stanford or any of the other informal local landmarks most Bay Area flyers will at least have a fairly good idea of. And heaven help you if you don't know how how to pronounce "Suisun" properly :-)...).

So after all those long flights, IFR or not, it's great to be doing the Bay Tour again, just lazing around over the Bay with Just Another Boring Bay Area Sunset in the background beyond the Golden Gate, the fog coming in over the Marin headlands and the bridge, the sky otherwise clear, the traffic very light... wish I'd brought the camera along with me. Or maybe not -- sometimes it's best to just let the views wash over you and forget about the camera. In any case, I'm taking a colleague from work up for a short introductory flight, and he appears to be enjoying it immensely, so after the obligatory circling of the Golden gate and Angel Island, we head off towards San Pablo Bay, then Mare Island, the mothball fleet in Suisun Bay, then back over Concord and down the Diablo Valley for a quick landing at Livermore (KLVK), then back through the darkness to Oakland. Cool! Even my cynical and humourless self enjoys this. I'll have to punish myself by spending several hours under the cone of stupidity again, paying to block the beauty out and to restrict my world to the AI, TC, DG, ILS, GPS, VOR and other essential acronyms.

* * *

Back at the fuel pumps there's a beautiful old Champ or Pacer (I can't for the life of me remember which is which...) being fueled by a guy in an airline uniform (three stripes...). We talk a while -- I babble on incoherently about taildraggers, aerobatics, Decathlons, Texas Taildraggers, etc., for a few minutes, and once he gets a few words in it turns out he's a SouthWest pilot who uses the Champ to commute to and from Oakland, all the way from Truckee (KTRK, up in the Sierra near Lake Tahoe). He does this every few days by the sound of things. That's quite a flight in a non-instrument certified plane, especially at night (for those of you who don't know Truckee, let's just say the density altitude there yesterday was well above 9,000', and the area's not exactly flat or blessed by extensive ground lighting, let alone given to perfect weather all the time), but he sounds suitably thoughtful about it all, and a few minutes later we hear him depart north into the night...

Nice guy -- and apparently living the life I sometimes wish I were living...

July 10, 2005

Loose Ends

Some loose ends, in the absence of any real flying for a couple of weeks now due to the usual work and contract pressures...

Official Self-Portrait Of the AuthorSomeone emailed me a few weeks ago and asked if that was me "striding across the ramp towards 2SP at Kaiser last Thursday". Sadly, no -- I'm more the slouching type. For future reference, the self-portrait, right, is the official guide to what I look like. Yes, my roots are showing.

And fresh from my stunning win of a shiny new quarter in John's latest competition, L. took one look at me and asked disgustedly what sort of nerd would know what that plane was without looking it up? This sort of nerd, apparently. A nerd well-schooled by the likes of Dave Montoya, who had a brilliant memory for the infinite varieties of aircraft, and who used to regularly correct ATC on-air for their (often quite obvious) misidentifications ("12R, traffic, a Challenger crossing 27R. He'll be clear before you land". Dave, taking over the radio from me: "Tower, that's a Bombardier". Tower, sounding a bit taken-aback: "12R, it's a Challenger. Trust me". Dave, confidently: "Nah, it's a Bombardier". Tower, after a slight pause: "12R... but... you can see it, right?" -- a scene repeated many times with slight variations).

Anyway, that wasn't really the point -- the Jetstar should be instantly recognisable to any flying James Bond fan, being that other aviatrix Pussy Galore's aircraft of choice (but I'm sure you all knew this already). And here's another view, courtesy of Ephemera Now, one of my favourite sites. Dig that red Lincoln. And those hats....

(From the same site -- here's what I want to be when I grow up and get my ATP. Oh, and anyone for the latest in aviator glasses?).