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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Sounds of Silence - Part 2

This last weekend, Thing 1 was unusually free, there not being a football game scheduled (she is in the band).  We had promised Thing 2 a trip to Sea World if she scored all A's and B's throughout 6th grade, and since she delivered, we had to as well.  The stars were aligned for a trip to San Antonio.

At 3:30 Friday afternoon I arrived at the airport, and having pre-flighted the Bonanza, taxied over to the fuel pumps for a fill up.  At 4pm, Sally arrived with Thing 1 and Thing 2, and we blasted off through the muggy afternoon, IFR with a clearance via Waco and Austin VORs.  Once south of Love Field, I was cleared up to 8,000, which put us in a layer of clouds, so I requested, and was cleared to continue the climb to 10,000ft.  With a GPS ground speed of 150 kts (17 knot headwind), we landed and shut down the engine just before 6pm. The FBO (Millionaire) had the rental car on the ramp, and helped us load it up, while I made arrangements at the desk.

After spending the whole day at Sea World, we arrived back at the FBO at 6:30pm. While San Antonio had high overcast, a check with Flight Service and looking at the radar, showed a line of strong thunderstorms near Waco, and heading north east towards Dallas.  I didn't fancy single pilot IFR at night under those conditions, so we made a reservation at a local hotel, and spent the night.

Early the next morning, San Antonio was wet.  Over half an inch of rain had fallen at the airport, and the ceiling was 300 feet.  Dallas was clear, and the cloud overcast thinned out around 50 miles north.  With my clearance in hand, I taxied to the active runway and ran my checks.  I switched the tower frequency, and then I noticed that my transmit light was flickering, and the #1 radio (a Garmin 430W) was also showing "Tx", which meant I was transmitting non-stop.  I switched radios, and found that the same thing happened with radio 2 - I had a stuck microphone transmitter switch.

Of course when transmitting, you can't receive.  In a recently well publicized case, two Southwest Airline pilots had a stuck mic, and transmitted their innermost and not very flattering thoughts to the whole world.  I don't think I said anything bad, except to insist that Thing 1 should wear her headset for take off.  I may have blocked the frequency for a few minutes.

I transmitted in the blind that I had a stuck mic, and was returning to the FBO, but I actually just went to the nearest, Landmark.  There they tried to find a mechanic, but being Sunday, no-one was working and no-one answered the on-call phone number.  So I decided to rent a car and drive home that day, so that the girls would not miss school, and come back the next day.  In the meantime, I asked them to put the Bonanza inside so that it could dry out, if the rain and damp was the cause.

The next morning, I got up at 5am and drove the 5 hours to San Antonio airport.  After returning the car and paying the hangar fee, I got into the Bonanza and turning on the radios.  I found I still had the same problem, but that if I put the audio panel intercom switch into "isolate", effectively turning off everything except my own headset and mic switch, the problem went away.  So I departed VFR, and arrived at my home airport 1 hour and 45 minutes later.

Once on the ground, I set the audio panel selector to first "crew" and then "all", and had no problems with a stuck mic.  I suspect that I was correct - the heavy rain and/or 100% humidity caused either the audio panel, or the co-pilot's push-to-talk switch to short out.  Getting into the dry air and running the radio stack and cooling fans dried it out.  So it was in the end fortunate that no mechanic was available early on Sunday, I saved a lot of money.  I did have to rent a car for a day and spend money on about 10 gallons of fuel each way, but now everything and everybody is where they are supposed to be.

Any lessons here?  Not really, I had a stuck mic and I found it on the ground before it became a big problem.  I made the right call in not attempting the night IFR flight on a stormy evening.  I spent $140 on a hotel room, $30 for a car and $60 for gas, plus $50 for a hangar rental.  But the first hotel was free, thanks to frequent traveler points, and it's only money.  Better to be safe, and alive to pay the bills, than to be sorry.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11th, 2011

Remember!  Remember 9/11, 2001!  That's what the media are all saying today.

You know what?  I hadn't forgotten.

9/11/2001 came early for me.  I was in San Diego attending a conference, although at the time I was living in Nashua, NH.  I got up around 6:30 am, after a largely sleepless night.  I though nothing of that, it's quite common for me sleep poorly away from home.  After showering and dressing, I left my hotel room overlooking the Dan Diego harbor, and called an elevator.  It was slightly before 7am, Pacific time.

I entered an elevator containing a somewhat bewildered woman, who asked me did I know that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center?  I didn't, and assuming it was probably a light plane doing little damage, I really didn't think any more about it until I reached the hotel dining room and took a table, waiting for another 2 people to join me - it was a business breakfast.

In the restaurant, all the TV's were on with the sound turned up, and everyone was watching, which is unusual.  I finally saw what was going on - replays of the 2nd airplane hitting the South Tower, and as I watched, it collapsed, live and on TV.  I heard about several other airplanes in the air, believed to have been hijacked (something I know a fair amount about!), and after my guests arrived, we watched the North Tower collapse as well.  I don't remember if we talked business or not.

I went back to my room, and turned on CNN, watching as the story came together - 4 airplane's destroyed, 1 in a crash and 3 crashed deliberately into buildings.  That there was another one (erroneously) thought to be in the control of the terrorists.  I looked out of the 35th floor window at the harbor and thought about how vulnerable these high-rise buildings are.  Around mid-morning I heard that the conference was canceled for that day, and soon afterwords, my TV started making a strange sound every 2 seconds or so.  After puzzling about it, I happened to look out of the window again, and just below me in the harbor was a guided missile destroyer, with its search radar turning (once every 2 seconds or so), and its anti-aircraft missiles on the launchers and ready to fire.

Strangely, I was originally intending to go from Boston to Los Angeles on the morning of September 11th.  I don't know if I was booked on American Flight 11, I do know that I looked at the departure time and worked out that with Route 3 under construction, I would have to leave at some awfully early time, and changed my plans to depart the night before, get better sleep and fit in my breakfast meeting.  I also decided to skip LA and go straight to San Diego.  It might have saved my life.

I know no-one who died, although a man from my church in Nashua was on one of the BOS-LAX flights that ended at Ground Zero, and a woman who worked for me was on a flight out to join me in CA that morning.  Her flight was recalled before taking off, but that was a close call.  For both of us.

With all the airlines grounded, I had no way to get home.  Some of my colleagues rented a car, and drove for 5 days right across the country.  They arrived the same day I did.  I rented a car, and drove to Phoenix Az, where my wife's sister lives, and stayed with them for a couple of days until I could get a flight to BOS via DFW.  The flight itself was bit tense - almost empty, but every time somebody got up to go the restroom, the whole plane would watch them, especially if they looked even slightly Mediterranean........

My car was where I had left it, which was a pleasant surprise.  I had heard that the airport had towed thousands of cars parked closer that a certain distance from a terminal.  My inability to find a good parking space saved my car from that ignominy. I arrived home Sunday evening.

I'm all for remembering.  I just don't want to be reminded to remember every second of today, the 10th anniversary.  I have never forgotten.  I also remember the Holocaust (although I wasn't alive then) and the Alamo (I live in Texas).  The only reason 10 years is anything different from 9 or 11 is that we all (mostly) have 10 fingers and count in base 10.  In Base 2, that is 1010.  In Base 4, it is 22.  The numbers *don't matter*.

I have not forgotten why we are fighting in Afghanistan, and despite being a political Liberal, I applaud what our forces are doing there, and I was very satisfied when the SEALS killed Bin Laden.  Iraq - well that was all about the Bush family using the US Armed Forces to settle a personal grudge against Saddam.  Close to 300,000 people died as a result, not just the 3,000 on 9/11, let's remember that too.

I haven't forgotten.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Cow Herding and Technology

An old cowboy was herding his herd in a remote pasture when suddenly a brand-new BMW came out of a dust cloud towards him.

The driver, a young man in a fancy suit and tie, leans out the window and asks the cowboy, "If I tell you exactly how many cows and calves you have in your herd, will you give me a calf?"

The old cowboy looks at the man, obviously a yuppie, then looks at his peacefully grazing herd and calmly answers, "Sure. Why not?"

The yuppie parks his car, whips out his Dell notebook computer, connects it to his AT&T cell phone, surfs to a NASA page on the Internet, where he calls up a GPS satellite navigation system to get an exact fix on his location which he then feeds to another NASA satellite that scans the area in an ultra-high-resolution photo. The young man then opens the digital photo in Adobe Photoshop and exports it to an image processing facility.

Within seconds, he receives an email on his Palm Pilot that the image has been processed and the data stored. He then accesses a MS-SQL database through an ODBC connected Excel spreadsheet with hundreds of complex formula He uploads all of this data via an email on his Blackberry and, after a few minutes, receives a response. Finally, he prints out a full-color, 150-page report on his hi-tech, miniaturized HP LaserJet printer and finally turns to the cowboy and says, "You have exactly 1586 cows and calves."

"That's right. Well, I guess you can take one of my calves ," says the cowboy.

He watches the young man select an animal and looks on amused as the young man stuffs it into the trunk of his car.

Then the old cowboy says to the young man, "Hey, if I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my calf?" The young man thinks about it for a second and then says, "Okay, why not?"

"You're a consultant" says the cowboy.

"Wow! That's correct," says the yuppie, "but how did you guess that?"

"No guessing required." answered the old cowboy. "You showed up here even though nobody called you; you want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked; and you don't know anything about my business...

......Now give me back my dog.

(Unfortunately, not original to me.  But I like it)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Daughters of the Remonstrance

I came to America as a teenager, after having grown up in England.  My parents emigrated during my first year of college in London, and being a minor, I was eligible for a Green Card, so I took it.  I did part of my degree in Massachusetts, but finished up and graduated back in London.  Once I was done, I came back to America, and have lived here ever since (apart from 18 months in 1999 and 2000).  I became a US citizen in 1986.

My wife's family have a different story.  While some parts of their ancestry go back to England and Germany (or Austria/Hungary), other parts are Dutch.  And some American threads go back so far that her Mother's sister is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.), so Sally could become a member too, as could Thing 1 and Thing 2.  To become a DAR, you must prove that you are a direct, female descendant of someone who took part in the American Revolution (also called the War of Independence), on the revolutionaries side. 

Sally Cooper's connection goes to perhaps one of the least well-known person who signed the Declaration of Independence, John Hart of New Jersey.  John Hart was a lawyer and separatist who was elected on June 22nd 1776 by the New Jersey assembly specifically to vote for separation from the Crown, which he did.  He signed the Declaration the following month, along with the other 4 New Jersey delegates.  That job done, he returned to Hopewell, NJ, and was re-elected to the state assembly.  He died in 1779, while the war was still raging, and the people of Hopewell raised a monument to his memory,


 John Hart was himself descended from someone perhaps more influential.  His Great Grandfather was Edward Hart of Flushing New Jersey, town clerk who who authored the Flushing Remonstrance on December 27, 1657, considered the first expression of religious freedom in America.  It was during the Dutch control of New Holland, now called New York (named after the James, Duke of York, the future James II and brother of Charles I of Great Britain, not after the town of York in England).  At that time, the established church was the Dutch Reformed Church; the only established and legal church, under a decree by Governor Peter Stuyvesant.  The Flushing Remonstrance requested an exemption to his ban on Quaker worship. It is considered a precursor to the United States Constitution's provision on freedom of religion in the Bill of Rights.

As a result,  Stuyvesant had the signers arrested.  Most of them immediately recanted, but Hart and Tobias Feake refused, and were jailed and fed bread and water.  With Hart's health declining, he was released after a month, having never recanted, and Feake was held for a several more weeks until he did recant and was pardoned after being fined and banned from holding public office. The town government of Flushing was removed and Dutch replacements were appointed by Stuyvesant.


In 2007, the town of Flushing, now part of Queens NY, celebrated the 350th anniversary of the Flushing Remonstrance.  For the 300th anniversary in 1937 the US government issued a commemorative stamp as seen here.

I don't think my side of the family has anybody like these two Harts, John and Edward.   With my name originating from Northwest France (Normandy and Brittany), and before them from Vikings, it's likely I'm descended from pillagers and conquerors, not from heroes.

Friday, September 2, 2011

This Bird Has Flown

If you have read my blog back a few months, you will know that I have been trying to sell my Sundowner, N6439C, after having bought a Bonanza.  It was just a matter of finding the right buyer - someone who knew and appreciated the unique values that a Sundowner has - ruggedness, precision and comfort, even if they may be a few knots slower than a Piper.  Those few knots are used by having a stronger, more solid frame, and higher wing loading and wider cabin with 2 entry doors.  That results in more drag, better stability and a slightly lower top speed.

But 49C has a Power Flow exhaust fitted, making it one of the best performing "180 HP" Sundowners out there, and a superlative avionics suite.

So this morning, Charlie's new owner J and I met at AeroCountry, and him having wired the selling price, I handed over the keys.  J and Charlie started their new adventures right away.

The Bird Has Flown......