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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Hell of a Trip

I was supposed to fly from Dallas Forth Worth to Atlanta on Sunday evening to spend a day and a half meeting with a customer from France, then on Tuesday evening to flying Boston to meet a customer from Japan, do a video, and return Thursday.

My Sunday evening flight was at 7:10pm.  Normally I leave my house right around 2 hours before departure, allowing 30 minutes to get to the airport, and the remainder to park, pass security, find the gate and something to read.  So at 4pm, I was sitting in the parking lot of Kroger, waiting for Sally to come out, when my mobile phone rang.  It was the airline, calling to tell me that my flight had been canceled, and I was now on the 5:30.  I told the agent that I couldn't get to the airport in time, and she said "oh, never mind, that's just been canceled too!"

You may remember the winter storm that paralyzed Atlanta a few weeks ago.  That was the one.  The airlines started preemptively canceling flights the day before to avoid having their aircraft stuck at ATL.

I was re-booked on a flight early the next day, but before I went to bed, that one was canceled too.  All Monday flights were canceled, and the airline said that they could get me to Atlanta Tuesday morning, which I explained was useless to me now, having missed the meeting, but that I still needed to get to Boston. No dice.  My ticket said Atlanta first, so I was going to Atlanta, just in order to catch a flight to Chicago in order to get the one to Boston.  I manged to talk the agent into giving me a later one so that it would only take me 14 hours to get to Boston, about the same average ground-speed as my own single engine airplane will do.

The next morning (Tuesday), things were looking up.  The airline canceled the flight to Atlanta, but some kind soul put me on a direct flight to Boston, and in 1st class too!  So I arrived in Boston Tuesday afternoon, got my rental car and headed to the office.  Watching TV in the hotel that evening, the weather people were panicking, as the storm moving up from Atlanta was about to collide with a storm moving in from the great lakes area, and dump feet of snow on New England.

The next morning, the meeting had been canceled, and the office was closed.  Snow fell hard all morning.  I trudged over to the dining room to get breakfast, and wondering if I would be able to go anywhere for lunch, brought back some extra muffins to my room for later. Good job I did, the snow didn't stop until late afternoon, and my car was totally buried under 3 feet of snow.

The rental car company had kindly provided me with a brush, and I had anticipated this and brought snow boots and clothes.  So I was fairly comfortable as I started to sweep the snow off the car, but soon discovered how inadequate the brush was going to be, and walked to office to get a snow shovel.

After shoveling the snow from the sides and sweeping it off the roof and hood, snow slipped inside my glove.  I took off my left one, shaking my hand as I did so, and felt my white gold wedding ring slip off from my finger, and fly into a 3 feet deep snow bank.  I immediately started looking for it, but with no clue how far it had flown, and the snow so deep, it was like the proverbial needle in a haystack.   I watched with sinking heart as a bobcat came by and scooped up the snow, and deposited it on a 10 foot tall snow bank on the other side of the parking lot.

Later that afternoon, I called Sally to tell her what had happened, and as expected, she was not happy at all.  She accused me of not having actually looked for it (not true).  But it was better to tell her right away, so that she would have time to cool down before I got home on Thursday.  I ended up getting the car out, and driving 2,000 feet to a nearby restaurant for a lonely, cold dinner.

The next day was cold, but sunny.  As is the norm in New England, despite close to 30" of new snow, all the roads were plowed and gritted, and traffic was running normally again.  I went to the office, and did the video "filming" (no film, all digital), before heading to Logan airport to catch my flight back to Dallas.  Fortunate my return flight was on time, the only part of this trip that went as planned.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Echoed in the Sounds of Silence

Today is a double G&T day, just a "not-very-good" day of flying.

Marginal VFR.  Well, it was.  Now I'm in front of my keyboard, the sun is shining through a light haze on it's way to Western horizon.  This afternoon, a burst of sun got me on my way to the airport for a few touch and goes just to keep my hand in.  When I actually got there, the clouds had rolled back in.  ATIS reported 1400 feet ceilings and 5 miles visibility.  Not so good, but good enough for a little pattern work.

Pre-flight checks complete, I lined up at the runway, only to be scolded by the controller.  It seems I TOLD him that I was going to stay in the pattern for some touch and goes, and he said I should have REQUESTED that I would stay in the pattern.  I wrote that off as him having a bad day - normally he is very cooperative and easy to work with.  A short silence, then "Roger 49C", and I received take off clearance.

After 4 or 5 circuits, I lined up on final approach with a sense of disquiet.  Touching down, I realized that I hadn't heard a radio clearance to land.  Glancing at the tower, I saw a solid red light - but I was already in take off mode and quite busy, it didn't register what that meant until I was airborne and realized my radios had failed.

As I climbed out, I pulled out the headset plugs and reinserted them, keyed the radio and heard the transmit static.  I called the tower "McKinney Tower, 49 Charlie".  "49 Charlie, McKinney Tower.  Welcome back".  "49C had radio problems, how do you read?".  "Loud and clear 49C.  You have 2 choices, you can land now or depart my airspace."

I decided to land, and told him so.  He told me on final approach that if I wished I could fix my radios on the ground and then take off again, which I did.  Once on the ground he had a conversation about what had happened.  He told me he had called me several times.  I told him I'd seen the red light but too late, he said he'd given me a green light (OK to Land - which I hadn't seen), then the red one (DO NOT TAKE OFF) on the runway, but I had seen it too late.

My problem fixed, I taxied back to the runway, and requested (this time) to remain in the pattern for some touch and goes.  On climb out, I suggested that we could both use practice at no-radio procedures, and did a few circuits using the lights (called light guns), backed up by radio calls.  I found the green hard to see from more than 3 miles way, but the red was clear as long as I was looking and expecting it.  I did another 4 or 5 and called it a day, and the controller seemed to recover his normal personality.

Still, while the actual control over the aircraft was fine, my procedures need work. My first radio failure, and what did I do?  I probably didn't land without clearance, but I did take off without clearance at least once.  How long did it take until I noticed the Sound of Silence?  Did I do it once, or twice?

Either way, Just Not Good Enough.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Aviation Radio Humor

On short final to land at McKinney airport, I heard the following exchange between the tower and a Cessna 140:

Tower: “Cessna 4GM, right downwind, you’re number 3 to land on runway 35, behind a Lear Jet on left base. Caution wake turbulence, you are cleared to land”
Cessna 4GM: “4GM, number 3 cleared to land, looking for the Lear”

In the meantime, I landed and was exiting the runway.

Cessna 4GM: “Tower, is that the Lear about to land?”
Tower: “The Lear’s on a 1/2 mile final”
4GM: “Oh, I wasn’t sure. Looks slow for a Lear”
Tower: “Well, see if you can catch him!”