Tag Archives: flying

My Rocket Scientist Mentor Leaves Earth

Sunset viewed from the air

My friend, Jerry, soared to the Home Office, but not before learning to fly here on Earth

Jerry the Friend

My friend, Jerry the rocket scientist, passed away Tuesday morning. Saw him just a couple weeks before. He was fine. Old, as happens to all of us, but fine. Then suddenly gone.

Regina & I first connected with Jerry & Donna as fellow members of a fledgling church in northern California. They became both mom & dad and counselors to us, their lovely daughters as younger sisters. Jerry and I bonded over electronics, astronomy, and space travel. And I quickly learned he liked anything that flew. I gave him flight instruction through his solo flight.

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How Absolutes Beat Bad Air

Cessna 172 instrument panel enables holding absolute headings and altitudes

Heading north, morning sun streaming in from the right, smooth air at 8,500 feet—what’s not to like?

Last Friday I flew to Sandpoint, Idaho in the panhandle north of Coeur d’Alene. MAF asked me to retrieve two pilots who ferried a Kodiak 100 to the Quest factory for adding a new option. My craft, a more modest Cessna 172, performed well in the smooth, cool morning air. Fitted with a 180 horsepower engine mod, it lifted me and full fuel tanks quickly to 8,500 feet. I had an easy schedule, so I anticipated a great day wandering north.

Fifty minutes out of Nampa, I crossed the Hell’s Canyon west of Monument Peak and He-Devil Mountain. Billed as North America’s deepest, its gorge plummets 7,993 feet down to the Snake river. Most of the area remains inaccessible by road, but I got a prime seat.

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How Oshkosh Showed Me a Climb Attitude

Christen Eagle biplane taking off

After 17 years flying the Amazon jungle and Andes mountains, I came to my first AirVenture at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Before first day opening, I flashed my Exhibitor badge at the dutiful guards and walked through the AirVenture gate. Thirty years of professional aviation experience provided no preparation for what I beheld. Without turning my head I saw three times more aircraft than occupied the entire civil registry of the country where I served.

As a pilot and air ops manager, who knew I needed an aviation fix? Like a starving man no longer feeling hunger pangs, I didn’t know what I needed until I immersed myself into the world of cold 2024 aluminum skin, taut cotton wings, red hydraulic fluid, flashing glass panels, spinning propellors, and clouds of 100 octane exhaust fumes—ambrosia and incense.

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Patterns

airliner engine

Hundreds of rivets connected the gray inlet ring to the white engine cowling in purposeful pattern

I first noticed it riding the airline back to Cleveland. A big turbo-fan engine hung beneath the wing just outside my window. Around its front, a single row of rivets connected the inlet ring to the rest of the engine cowling. Hundreds of of them set in precise formation.Their pattern revealed disciplined purpose, like a single beat keeping time. Other patterns in complex harmonies, reveal themselves only from unique perspectives. Like flying, for example.

Day One

I came to Wooster, Ohio, again. Met Don, again. Met the pert Pacer, again. High winds calmed, as they would again after the next hard blow. I flew the Pacer to Holmes County airport, again. Practiced takeoffs and landings, again. Refueled, again. Don flew back to Wooster, repeating a pattern every airplane owner knows—a first and last flight. 

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Promises, Plans, and Pride

Airport terminal before dawn

Airport terminals before dawn provide only a short transition to the crowds

PROMISE

It was time to fulfill the second half of my promise. I successfully delivered the Bonanza to Vicksburg, MS. Next was an airline flight to Cleveland, OH to pick up a Piper Pacer and fly it back to Nampa, ID.

In predawn dark, five of us wrapped in private, half-awake thoughts loaded into the hotel airport shuttle. Our world extended only as far as headlights reached. A mobile world, winding on dark, tree lined roads and empty freeway ramps. The terminal entered our small orb with a wash of light. Welcome as the next journey step, but a disagreeable intruder none the less.

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Just the Two of Us

Beechcraft BE35 Bonanza

Beechcraft BE35 Bonanza

Flying mixes two of life’s apparent opposites—tech and art. And this week I get to indulge in both.

For the last two days, tech challenged. MAF asked me to deliver a rocket. The donated Beechcraft BE35 Bonanza, scooted along nicely. During the 9-hour flight from Nampa, ID to its new owner in Vicksburg, MS I routinely experienced ground speeds over 210mph. Equipped with way more computing power than NASA possessed going to the Moon, and a solid auto-pilot, I pointed the airplane in the right direction, leveled off at the correct altitude, then sat back and monitored systems. Look outside for other traffic. Look at the ground to confirm the GPS and moving map display tell the truth. Check flight instruments for the right heading and altitude. Switch fuel tanks every 30 minutes to balance the load in the wings. Scan the gages to ensure the engine and its systems still play nicely. Repeat.

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