Monday, September 29, 2008

Clean Flying Down at the Grass Roots of GA...

The jaunty little Cessna 120 occupied a front space in the maintenance hangar at Dead Cow International, so anyone familiar with the pecking order knew this airplane was the top priority in the shop -- as opposed to the planes behind the 120: a Cessna 180 and an Ercoupe 415A.

A mutual flying friend, struggling with illness, old age and finances, sold his personal 180 to the Leprechaun after years of using it as a jump and photo plane. The 180 arrived at Dead Cow with something north of 65 squawks to resolve, in need of some exterior paint and TLC, and a whole lot of patience. Now, with the 180's physical rehabilitation complete, it awaits only a couple of items: completion of all the paperwork -- "That's my next project," said The Leprechaun -- which is the same status of the Ercoupe, which belongs to another elderly aviator friend. And some of its work and paperwork are of dubious validity. So The Leprechaun has his work cut out for him with those.

That's why they sit far back in the hangar. We call that last spot, farthest from the hangar door, "The Well of the Souls," a phrase coined by a known aviator who suffered through some major repair of his own plane for about seven months -- six of which back in The Well of the Souls. We've always theorized that the coiner was a fan of Indiana Jones and could relate to the remoteness and isolation Indy and his girfriend experienced surrounded by snakes in that film's Well of the Souls.

There's some synergies here...

So planes like the jaunty little 120 always stand out to visitors. We know it's not long for the shop, in for something as minor as a mag timing check or an annual, and headed back out the door to the runway as quickly as The Leprechaun and crew can manage it.

So it was with this jaunty little 120 Cessna. It seemed to speak to fun, simple flying through its bright-white paint, adorned with a single red trim stripe down the length of the fuselage, across the top and back up to the cowl again on the opposite side.

After only four days -- four days because of a wait for a part -- the owner arrived to reclaim his jaunty little 120. That the day of freedom was here was apparent pulling into the Dead Cow parking lot. The 120 gleamed sparkling clean in the evening sunlight sitting on the ramp in front of the open hangar door. Test run, test flown, paperwork done, she seemed as anxious to soar across the green-gold landscape of early Fall and after a suitable amount of trips between car and cockpit, the owner seemed to have all in hand to help the jaunty little 120 make its escape.

The owner turned the prop a couple of blades, belted in, locked the door and turned the key; with hardly a second blade passing by, those 85 horses in the little Continental came to life and settled into the low rhythm of its idle, while the owner contacted Clearance Delivery, obtained a squawk code and taxied to the departure end of 17 after first making a 360 turn to check that the pattern was clear. That Citation X headed to the arrival for ICT was of no consequence, so up the runway he went, contacted the tower, and started his take-0ff run...

...from the grass strip parallel to Dead Cow's paved 17/35...

"He likes his flying grass roots," The Leprechaun noted...

Grass roots, it occured to me, right down to the grass strip.

"Sure is a clean little bird," a voice said aloud.

"The cleanest...true grass roots," said the Leprechaun. "Since we're not flying, why don't you buy us a beer," he said quietly. Two bottles of a crisp, clean lager opened, we settled into the shade of the hangar to watch the jaunty little 120 ply its way downwind to its homefield...just in time to see Dead Cow's resident flight instructor, a not-so-jaunty little 150, turn final.

Happy little airplanes at a sleepy little airport with good company and a Beer:30 solution...

Grass Roots gets no better.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Cruising the End of Summer...

A pilot could hardly ask for a better day on which to launch an end-of-summer day of flying as we had around the Air Capital on Sept. 20. A small pilot club to which I belong planned a mid-day fly-in and lunch meeting at a tiny little prairie strip about 25 miles north of Dead Cow International.

With an invitation from The Leprechaun and a loaner Aeronca Chief available, we twisted ourselves into the tandem cabin, fired up the 85-horse Continental, and motoring off Runway 35, launched for an late-morning cruise in the low-and-slow lane.

We weren't past Dead Cow on our northbound track when The Leprechaun asked me to take the plane so he could enjoy the landscape slipping past below while sipping the black coffee I'd brought him. Green fields, grain elevators, other small airports and an occasional airplane slipped by us as we beat a track northwest from The Air Capital.

Now for anyone who's tried, there's no surprise in the challenge of keeping a trimmed attitude from the back seat of a Champ; no instruments -- not even a skid ball, and a panel and horizon mostly hidden by the shoulders and head of The Leprechaun up front.

But a little maneuvering allowed me a view of the tach and altimeter over his left shoulder and the airspeed indicator over his right. Between them, these on-and-off views of the dials helped me maintain level flight; a view of two big grain elevators just south of our destination airport helped me maintain heading.

And the little 85 churned along, dragging us across the textured Kansas landscape to the long, wide grass runway awaiting us.

Confirmation of the accuracy of my method came about five miles out, where even from only 800 agl we could see the row of 20-plus airplanes parked along the east-west taxiway at our destination.

Now if only those X-ray glasses would come through -- then I could have logged at least one takeoff and landing, at the party destination and at another grass airport we visited en route back to Dead Cow.

Throughout, the bumps of solar-heated air were moderate, the winds light and easy to endure.

And all the way, the 85-horse heart of the little Champ beat heartily enough to show 100 mph on the airspeed dial.

Can't think of a better way to wrap up a week than a little low-and-slow cruising, a few hours hangar flying with fellow aviation addicts, and the view available only from a small plane with a couple of vintage aviators in tow.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

A New Look

We've made some changes here to the UCAP homepage.

Most important is that we've made a live connection between the "Episodes List" and the RSS Feed. The RSS Feed is the official list of eps, and now, when it is updated, the info here on the homepage will be updated at the same time. This should help those listeners who visit this page to check for new episodes.

The other change is that we've moved the blog here to the homepage. We're gonna reactivate it with more frequent postings about the podcast and aviation in general. Having it here on the homepage will make it easier to keep track of.

We always love hearing from our listeners. If you have any comments on this new look please leave them as comments to this blog post or on the Forums area.