Thursday, January 12, 2012

Shot in the dark

Just when you start feeling comfortable in air it's time for the night flights. The rules state that to fly at night there must be sufficient ground lights and/or celestial illumination. The timing with the full moon worked in my favor. We discussed illusions specific to night, did a pre-flight and talked about fast-food (all you Arbie's lovers know that the roast beef shows up at the franchises in a forty pound bag of grey gelatinous goo that the minimum-wagers add water to with a special implement, after which it turns brown and hardens enough to be sliceable for your five for six bucks sandwiches, right?) until civil twilight.

We headed north after fueling up and even with a moon, it was black as. There isn't much out there for the first twenty miles north of the airport. Savvy pilots spend flights looking for spots to land in the event of an emergency. I could hit that golf course, there's a turnout next to the highway, that beach is pretty wide, etc. At night, it be different. It all looks the same, mostly. Well actually you can see the road if there are cars on it. So you could shoot for right in front of the traffic which would be sweet except then you'd get smashed.

On the Big Island it's easy enough to tell the ground lights from starlight cuz it's against the rules to have white ground lights. The orange tinted ones are the law of the land. They produce less light pollution which is important for the biggest telescope on the planet which lives on the top of Mauna Kea. But it's easy enough to imagine how hard it would be if the lights were white. Then there are the lights that go up the ridges. You could easily align yourself level with them and trick yourself into thinking you were flying level as you banked a gentle right turn way off course or into the mountain.

Just when I started to think I was getting it down, Corbin had me turn back to the south over the ocean. Black on black is a great combo for a cocktail dress and silk panties but for flying it's creepy shit. You can't really tell if your climbing, diving, or Goldilocks.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Right place at the right time

So I realized halfway down the hill that I had forgotten my phone but I had an early flight and no time to turn back for it. No big whoop. I got to school, unpacked my things and got the double whammy of bummed and thankful. Bummed that my spaghetti sauce spilled all over my bag, thankful that it's a water-proof duffle. Actually now that I think about it, the sauce coulda wrecked my headset so that's two thankfuls to one bummed.

After the post flight, Cynthia from next door came over and said they had two extra seats. Next door is Paradise Helicopters. They're the reason I decided to wear earplugs while I do my pre-flights. Turbines are supercool (even if they are 407's) but they're also hella loud. Since I'd like to hear the birdies sing when I'm sixty, I dork out with big yellow wads poking out of my ears. So anyway Paradise had an extra seat and since I was the only student on the lanai (huge surf this week, well not North Shore of Oahu huge or climax in Point Break huge, but overhead) I was offered the chance to weigh in and listen to a safety briefing. No seat cushions, you get your very own lifejacket to wear for the entire trip.

The pilot was my instructor's instructor back in the day. I sat up front, a family of Ruskies with velvet suits and gigantic gold-rimmed sunglasses filled the back. Even the five year old girl had a super serious don't fuck with me look. I guess the mob schools don't do much in the way of teaching English cuz after Clay (the pilot) would talk about this or that for say three minutes, the dad translated over the intercom with about four words in Russian.

When we got through the saddle, I saw steam in several spots across the lava field. Clay had his ipod plugged into the system. I heard the horns on the Johnny Cash tune just as we circled the first lava tube that you could see through. Tubes are basically pipes made of cooled lava that the hot lava flows through. Some of them are close enough to the surface in places that you can see the molten lava flowing through them.

Clay also found a spot where the lava broke through to the surface and the red fire fanned out, turning black on top as it cooled while still flowing red underneath. Pretty cool that I got to see that cuz he flies the tour three times a day and hadn't seen it in a month. He shared his find with the other pilots and it was just like a whale tour out of Seward, all the ships headed our way. So we boogied off to the coast.

The lava is either there or it isn't. But the valleys have been there for thousands of years, and they are stunning. Waterfalls galore, the tallest of which is measures in at 1290', number eleven in the world. Spinal Tap, anyone? After all the photos were taken, none by me, (smartphone=camera=spilled spaghetti) we headed to the back of the valley. The walls are super steep and as we got to the top my reptilian brain freaked out cuz the ridge was razor thin and fell away just as steeply on the other side. It gives you the sensation of falling. Clay and I smiled while we listened to the hardened killers in the back sucking in their breath and exhaling big "Wheeeeee's."

The tour was super cool, Clay is an entertaining host and a good pilot. He did some sweet maneuvers that would make anyone appreciate helicopters. But now it's pretty boring to be flying and not doing the flying.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Pilot In Command

Several years ago, two friends and I made an attempt to climb the highest peak in North America. That particular mountain is quite crowded with box-checkers from all over the world. No matter what language they speak, all the climbers know one word, summit. Everybody asks, "Did you summit?" "You summit?" or "Summit?" depending on the speaker's grasp of the English language. The summit of acquiring one's private pilot license is to fly all by yourself. Everyone asks, "When are you gonna solo?" or "Did you solo, yet?"

The flight school spends lots of time and energy getting you to that goal. First your instructor puts you through the paces to make sure you're ready. It's his or her ass if you wreck while soloing as a student pilot. You are asked to demonstrate maneuvers with no help, talk to air traffic control, and that sort of thing. Once your instructor feels good, he schedules a stage check with the chief instructor.

Noah, the chief instructor, asked me how I felt during the preflight. I told him I was a little nervous. When he asked me why, I told him that it had been a while since I'd taken a test in which I cared about the results. That flight went well and I got the school blessing to go solo.

Corbin and I did a couple of pick-ups and set downs, stressing forward movement on both. Forward motion keeps the tail rotor ground strike scenario out of the realm of possibility. Then we did a few patterns, none of which were my best work. Probably nervous that he'd yank the solo endorsement out of my logbook.

I wasn't nervous about going solo. I felt I'd received adequate instruction, I'd been thinking about and understood the different handling characteristics, and really just wanted to get the hurdle behind me. We set down, he hopped out, and once a safe distance away, gave the thumbs up.

I checked my warning lights, gauges, and cleared my skids. Then I slowly raised the collective. I adjusted the cyclic way left to counter the lack of weight on left seat and a bit forward to protect the tail. It felt weird for sure, mostly because I had way more power and no one telling me all the things I should be doing better.