Archive for the ‘Flying’ Category

After almost a week of trying, I soloed at Paine Field today. This is important because it’s a busy, towered airport with a small runway rather than a nice, quiet, non-towered airport in the middle of nowhere like Arlington.

On Monday, the clouds were too low for me to fly at all. On Tuesday, the wind was too gusty for me to chance flying alone. On Wednesday, my brain and body were being bitches, and there were 5 planes in the pattern because the weather was nice. Today, I had my first send-off lunch at Fiesta Latina before my lesson, and it looks like a burrito drenched in creamy tomatillo sauce made all the difference.

Why a send-off lunch? As of Monday, I will no longer be driving to Everett three days a week (or more). I found a job close to home and I’m excited to start! I’m going to keep flying and temporarily contracting at my current job until they replace me, but I’d rather spend a long Saturday up here doing a little work, flying for a bit, and then playing cards up at Tulalip than barrel up and down I-5 three weekdays.

I’ll be busy as hell getting on board at the new job, but I still plan to keep doing aquarium stuff. Apparently, WordPress, Blue Host, or some other web entity didn’t like my use of J-word when referring to a picture of an octopus spermatophore. The male octopus had a release a few days before he was to mate with our female octopus on February 14th. All that went well, and they have since been sent back into the wild and replaced.

Just to show my Internet Big Brother who’s boss, here’s a picture of two harlequin shrimp mating:

The crab in the background totally wants in on that action. He had a better view than my scrambled-aquarium-pr0n camera, too.

I’m not sure where to begin, but it ends with this:

I have that feeling you get when you’re sitting in traffic on the freeway for an hour and then finally pass that big annoying accident that’s holding everything up. First, you’re relieved that it’s over, then mostly you’re excited because you’re moving again. At long last, I feel like I’m actually going to reach my destination(s).

The weather was chilly, but still. The fog we had early this morning would have made driving difficult, but most of it rolled away by noon. As I took us out of Paine Field, over the Boeing plant, and north to Arlington, there was a shelf of very low hanging clouds to the east of us. Even though I’ve logged many dozens of hours at this point, flying above the clouds, seeing entire bodies of water at a time (islands and all), and approaching mountains head-on hasn’t gotten old.

Arlington is a non-towered airport, so I had more control of my runway (superficially, anyway, it mostly depends on weather) and how I wanted to execute my maneuvers, but it also involved more radio work because I had to tell other traffic what I was doing. Even though radio calls were one of my greatest weaknesses when I started flying, I prefer making extra ones at Arlington rather than taking direction from the tower at Paine. They do a great job, but they have to be there because there’s so much more traffic. There’s just too much happening there.


When I arrived at Arlington, the nearest traffic was at Pierce County, and I could just barely pick up the transmissions. For some reason, as I practiced touch-and-gos, other planes swarmed the airport like flies on shit. As I tried to juggle the whereabouts of every other plane in a 5-mile vicinity and corrections from my instructor, I kept getting further in the weeds and my landings got progressively worse.

Although it’s not abnormal for the stall horn to sound during a landing, it isn’t preferable either. That was the least of my worries. One of my landings was square on the nose wheel, and another involved my instructor pushing the yolk down and pretty much slamming us into the pavement so we wouldn’t keep floating over the runway and eventually stall for real.

I was really disappointed because I had meant for today to be the day. I wanted to solo on my birthday last week, but the weather was horrendous. It was no one’s fault, but I already felt I had waited too long in doing it then. That said, taking control of a airplane by yourself isn’t the kind of thing you want to rush into.

After two so-so landings, we pulled off the runway. My instructor signed off my logbook and offered a few simple reminders, including, “have fun”. Squawking mayday because I’m stuck in some trees… where does that fall on the fun scale?

My parting words with him were, “Are you sure?” And he hopped out of the plane. My fuel line was flooded so I couldn’t get it to start again, so he came back, got me going, and then hopped out and told me to have fun again.

Now I was more frustrated than scared and I had to pee. I also noticed a little green bug on my windscreen and was worried it would distract me. I named him Chopper and decided I wanted him there.

Because I was flying at a non-towered airport, I cleared myself for take-off like a boss and learned later I should have just said “Departing runway 3-4 for closed traffic.” Whoever could hear me probably smiled the way you do when I small child tries to use a big word and mispronounces it. In my defense, I usually depart Paine, get cleared for take-off there, and do touch-and-gos at Arlington so no clearance is needed there.

Anyway, I got in the air, executed my turns in the pattern, and came a little too close on final. I didn’t have enough time to get as close to the ground as I wanted, so I did a forward slip almost instinctively. When I realized that was what I was doing, I became aware of it, tried to ignore it, and I was on the flare before I could decide which thing I should be thinking about most.

I executed a perfect landing. No horn. No floating. Right down the center. I should solo more often.

If I said I woke up at 5:30 this morning, that would only be part of the truth. I also woke up at 12:15, 2, 2:30, 4, and 5:20. I was hot, I was cold, I was dreaming about a BDH customer I forgot I had and was scrambling to get a Scrabble bingo so I could properly meet their pre-arranged requests. (What?) I even went as far as continuing the dream after waking up once, still thinking I had the client, and tried to solve my Scrabble conundrum.

I could also blame my restlessness on the foul sustenance that is Chinese delivery, and the fact that I did nothing entertained company from my home all day yesterday.

At any rate, waking up wasn’t easy. I received an email from a potential client (absent of Scrabble requests, thankfully). I nicked my rear right tail light on a pole (the hearse is fine). And then I drove to Everett, listening to an NPR segment about obesity. A 50-year-old woman admitted to spending each one of her birthday wishes on being thin. She had recently lost 80 pounds in 8 months and ran a marathon. It reminded me first that I am lucky for being thin and doing nothing… then I remembered I ran a marathon once upon a time too.

I got to Paine Field, and the plane shook as I went through my pre-flight checklist. We were bombarded with gusts of wind reaching 30 mph as we ascended from the small runway. The plan was to make closed traffic and do a few touch-and-gos. “It will be a good learning experience,” my instructor said.

By our third take-off, I was feeling nauseous. I was tired, and frankly a little frightened by my lack of control of the plane. It was difficult to turn, and when I could, I was often thrust into turns steeper than I intended. The crosswind component was flirting with the plane’s limits, and we only stayed in the air for about 30 minutes.

However, all that really matters are the last 2 or 3. I executed a smooth, steady landing in that crosswind. Funny how the prospect of crashing a plane will wake you the fuck up and get your ass in gear. Left aileron into the wind, right rudder smashed into the floor, I fucking killed it.

My nervousness about flying solo is gradually fading. I definitely wouldn’t have flown in this by myself, but it’s good to know if conditions ever get that dicey while I’m in the air, I can handle it. Now it’s time for copious amounts of coffee and hopefully a nap later.

I decided to try my luck at traveling by commercial aircraft and spend a short weekend in San Francisco. Sea-Tac reorganized the security line for the N/S gates, so it’s no longer “choose your adventure”. This freaked me the fuck out, but I didn’t get selected for a scan. After the Great O’Hare Grope hot on the heels of Grandma’s funeral, I was ready to simply not fly at all. I’m still not too crazy about the idea.

My first stop in the Bay Area involved a Cal-Train ride to Palo Alto. The amount of transit happening that day was bizarre. I took a train to Sea-Tac, a plane to SF, the BART to the Cal-Train, and John’s car to Advantage Aviation where we flew over San Jose and Santa Cruz. That’s where Zoey and I would take weekend roadtrips and eat fried oreos on the boardwalk. Mega-nostalgia in effect.

Then John and I headed to the Fark party. It was yet another reminder than internet people in real life are still internet people. Although I’m no stranger to internet meetups, I like that Fark parties don’t happen as often and tend to be more special affairs. We always douse a lot of that “getting to know you” crap in alcohol so it’s not as painful.

I stayed at the weeeeird Hotel Vertigo and took a foggy walk to Zeitgeist to reunite with the group. After some kielbasa and a breakfast beer, we did a little tourin’. Most notably, we attended the Folsom Street Fair, which made Seattle’s Capitol Hill look conservative and uptight. Most of the pictures in that link are not safe for work, and some of the undocumented stuff I witnessed was not safe for just about anyone. But people were having fun, and that’s what matters.

Although I didn’t participate in ass-slapping, name-calling, mask-wearing hoopla, I let leave their (removable) mark on me. Since I haven’t messed with fake tattoos since I was a kid, I didn’t know I’d need to scrub it off my body to get rid of it, so I walked around like this for about about a week.

For awhile I forgot I was even wearing it, but for those who recognize the site, it probably looked more like an advertizement for the wearer rather than the company. I probably looked as obnoxious as those people who walk around with their underwear sticking out in attempt to look sexy. I was mostly in dark rooms covering Decibel Festival anyway, so I doubt people noticed.

View All the Pictures

Ever since I started taking flying lessons at Paine Field, I’ve been wanting to post pictures from the air. Rain or shine, every trip reminds me how beautiful it is out here and how lucky I am to be able to view all of it so easily. Below are some quick shots I took this morning. The weather ended up being a lot better for flying than I thought, since it was so nasty last night and not forecasted to get any nicer. It wasn’t bright out by any means (in fact, it’s raining now!), but that’s better because flying with the sun in your eyes is a bitch.

I used to go at lunchtime a couple times a week, but I’ve started doing mornings and it’s so much better. The weather tends to be calmer and you can still see fog in the valleys.

I didn’t want my instructor to think I wasn’t taking my lessons seriously, so I didn’t ask to take a picture until today. I’m starting to get a much better handle on the tasks I’m asked to do (slow flight, flying in a traffic pattern, stalling and coming out of it, etc.), which made me a little braver with little requests like this.

I know these pictures don’t do it justice, so you’ll just have to believe me when I say it was the perfect day for flying. I need a new camera and/or permission to bring a photographer friend next time!