Thursday, February 2, 2012

Grounded hog day

Well, I stepped outside this morning and saw my shadow. It startled me, so I ran back inside to ponder six more weeks of highs in the low 80's. Frightening, but I'll make it. So I've met all the requirements set by the FAA to take the practical exam for private pilot. Including a solo cross-country flight involving landings at three airports. Corbin and I flew the exact route the day before per FAA regs. We bounced a bit on the leg up the coast to Upolu. It's on the northeast tip of the island and subject to the sea breeze from the west and the trade winds which usually blow northeasterly. Some of the trade winds get over the top of a ridge line called the Kohalas. Mixing wind speeds and directions mean the captain just illuminated the fasten seat belt sign in a big plane. In an R-22 it can mean changes in altitude of tens or twenties of feet per second, constant strain on your seat belt, and a heli that generally feels like it's flying you.

What are you supposed to do in that situation? Probably speed up and get the hell out of there, right? Nope. Slow down, hang out, try to keep the ship straight and level. Oh yeah and it's time to change radio frequencies. So take your eyes off the road (so to speak), fix the radio, halfway thru check outside and make sure you're still an agreeable distance from that mountain, back inside finish dialing in WKRP, exhale.

We did a couple of landings at Upolu then it was off to Waimae. The air was a little smoother but not much cuz Waimae lies (or lays, I never remember that rule) between the Kohalas and Mauna Kea, at 13,796', the highest point in the Big Island, so wind naturally flows through that opening before going over the top of either obstacle.

The Upolu leg is much more beautiful with its steep hills, coastline and sparse population. But Waimae has a highway to follow all the way and a couple of golf courses. Which while not as ascetic, offer some sweet crash landing options in the event of an engine failure or other such thing my mom doesn't want to think about.

But Corbin does. He constantly asks me where the wind is, where I'd try to get to, that sort of thing. What would I do if I had an electrical fire? Engine fire? Pants on fire? Sometimes he does fun stuff like say, "Hey, are those whales over there?" I look out that direction and he closes the throttle to simulate an engine failure. And simulate ain't quite the right word cuz bad shit starts to happen quickly if not corrected.

So we landed, filled out logbooks and talked about the next day's solo flight. We had a sobering conversation about my odds of limping away in the event of a real engine failure. I got a bad night's sleep, did a pre-flight, and took off to the northeast all by my lonesome.

It was pretty kick ass.


cynicalbuddha said...

Congrats buddy. You missed a hell of a storm up here. And I think there's like a thousand feet of snow at the top of Mt. Aleyeska.

alaskapowder said...

Two thumbs up Shane!

jimboboparino said...

nice job shaner. way to show it to mutha nature!!!