Ivan Basso’s performance on this year’s Giro d’Italia leave no doubt in my mind who the real inheritor of Lance Armstrong’s mantle is. It looks like he’s going to try for the impossible – back to back wins in the Giro and le Tour, and if anybody can do it, he can. In a way it amazes me that a team from Denmark of all places can be so dominant in the mountains, but Basso had much better support in the mountains in the Giro than Armstrong had in last year’s Tour. Last year it seemed that whenever there was a mountain stage after a flat one, Discovery would get caught flat footed when the peleton broke up, leaving Armstrong alone without support. But Basso always seemed to have another rider or two until the crux of the stage.

It’s not as good as watching it on TV, but I’ve been following the race thanks to, and when away from the computer, using their WAP equivalent on my Treo. I think next year I’m going to spring for the money and get OLN’s webcast version. I didn’t do it last year because it was just the bare tv feed with no commentary, and because it required a Windows computer. This year they seem to have added commentary, and it works on Macintosh computers, but I didn’t go for it because I wasn’t sure if it was worth the money. But I’ve spent more for less, so next year I think I’m going to try it.

Pinckneyville #3

With my broken Treo, I felt like I was getting my weather briefing for the trip home with one arm tied behind my back. The briefer initially gave me a glowing report for the trip home, saying that there was a cold front, but it wasn’t anywhere near my route of flight. But then he started reading the NOTAMs for Rochester and told me that runway 16 was closed. Rochester doesn’t *have* a runway 16. Wait a second – “I did say Rochester NY, didn’t I?” Ok, time to start over. Suddenly the cold front was very significant. The weather now was similar to the trip out – VFR between Pinckneyville and Lima Allen County, but an airmet for turbulence below 6,000 feet for much of the route. It was going to be breezy for both landings. There was also going to be ice in the clouds from Cleveland on, and the freezing level was going to be lower than on Friday – as low as 3,000 feet between Buffalo and Rochester. Oh, and some convective activity around Buffalo.

I was pretty sure I could handle it, and finding a place to land en-route and waiting it out would always be an option. So I filed the first leg IFR from the BIB VOR on to AOH, figuring that it would be easier to pick up the clearance in the air than in a tiny uncontrolled field, especially without a cell phone.

As I lifted off from the runway, a voice came over the radio warning me about the presence of motorcycles and to conduct myself accordingly. And with that, I bid a fond farewell to PJY. It was a bit bumpy on the way up, but was smooth at altitude. It was a great clear day, and not much haze. I had a bit of trouble remembering how to pick up an IFR clearance in the air – I initially contacted Flight Service, but they put me straight and gave me a Kansas City Center frequency to call.

The only other excitement was due to my having gobbled down a couple of hard boiled egg just before I took off – suffice it to say I can’t apologize to Mark enough for the result of that. Once again we saw the airport from well away, and cancelled IFR, and entered the downwind. It was bumpy down low and pretty gusty winds, but I think I did one of my better landings of the weekend, if I do say so myself.

In the FBO, we borrowed the courtesy car, and went into town to grab a bite to eat. Mark put some gas in the car, so they waived the $10 rental fee. There was some sort of 4WD festival going on, and we saw a lot of people from that. We also checked the weather, and it looked pretty crappy. The winds were getting worse, the icing pilot reports were getting more numerous, and there were several areas of yellow and red on the radar around Buffalo. Once again, the plan was to try it, and be flexible.

AOH - PJYAs we’d been cut loose from Indiana Approach coming into AOH, we’d been told to contact them on the same frequency to pick up our next clearance, and so we did. In spite of the fact that I filed the same route (in reverse) that I’d had on the way down, which had netted me a re-route along the way, I got “cleared as filed”.

Somewhere between Indianapolis and Cleveland, the clouds started filling in below us, and I had to ask for higher to stay in the clear. I could see solid clouds below for as far as the eye could see, but more importantly I couldn’t see any clouds boiling up into the stratosphere. I was up to 9,000 feet or so over Cleveland, and they gave me a short vector to get me off Victor 14 over the airport, which you can see in the flight track.

Between Dunkirk and Buffalo, when they turned me over to Buffalo approach, the clouds were suddenly higher and I knew I’d soon be in them. I asked what they could see on the radar and they suggested that I go direct to Rochester which would put me between two areas of rain. I didn’t have anything on the Stormscope, so I wasn’t worried about thunderstorms any more. But not long after I was in the clouds and picking up ice. I asked for lower, and they soon sent me to 6,000, and then 4,000 as that *still* didn’t put me out of the clouds. A few times I got between layers and it looked like ice was coming off, but then the layers shifted and I was back in it. I asked for still lower, because I could see the bases not too far down. He said he couldn’t vector me down lower there, but he’d send me north to where the MVA (Minimum Vectoring Altitude) was 3,000 feet. On the vector, I got clear of the clouds and could see Batavia down below me. When he’d got me where he wanted and down to 3,000, I was definitely below the freezing level and the ice came off very fast. Which is good, because if that hadn’t worked I probably would have made a precautionary landing at Batavia, or cancelled IFR and scud run at 1,500 feet.

The Rochester controller didn’t seem to believe me that I was landing a small GA plane in this weather. He gave me numerous un-requested wind checks. It was varying between 30 and 40 knots, and I swear at least once it was gusting up to 48 knots, but fortunately it was only 10 or 20 degrees off of the nice long and wide Runway 28. I had to cinch up my seat belt to keep from hitting my head. It wasn’t a pretty landing, but with the strong winds I could keep a lot of power in, which helped. Taxiing back to the tie down I had to pause and think about how you are supposed to hold the controls while taxiing, because I rarely bother with such a heavy aircraft in normal light winds.

It was a challenging flight, a learning experience, and a great way to end a great weekend.

Pinckneyville part 2

In part 1, I’d managed to make it to Pinckneyville without being shot down.

This was a genuine concern, you see. I had a little trepidation about this flight, because I was heading into a nest of vipers, or at least right wingers. I’ve crossed swords with a lot of these guys before on Usenet, because my views on subjects like the proper role of government in people’s lives and the responsibilities of the United States on the world stage are diametrically opposed to most of them. I’m a fan of John Kenneth Gailbraith, Pierre Elliot Trudeau’s Just Society, and FDR’s New Deal, while some of these people actually like George W. Bush! But I’d given up trying to talk sense into these people, and stayed the hell away from political discussions on rec.aviation in recent months.

I had hoped that our mutual interests in flying, barbecue and beer would be the glue to keep things friendly, but by the same token I had sort of hoped to be semi-anonymous. When they gave us name tags to wear, I just wrote “Paul” on mine hoping that nobody unfriendly would know it was me.

When we got there, I was starving hungry because there hadn’t been any food simulators (vending machines) at AOH, and I had tried to eat a hard boiled egg in the plane but had instead dropped it on the floor and then thrown it out the window. I begged some left-over Italian Sausage from the hosts, which helped a lot. I soon figured out who a bunch of the people there were. Tina Marie was the person who had told me that I had to come, but the only picture I’d seen of her was her on her back under an airplane, so I wasn’t sure if the person I saw there was her until she walked over to the only twin on the field – I knew she was coming in Michael’s twin so I went over and introduced myself.

Part of the problem I have with meeting people I’ve known on-line is that a lot of people use different “handles” instead of their real names in different forums. For instance, I didn’t know until after the event when he put up his pictures and mentioned them that the Dylan whose posts I’d read in the rec.aviation newsgroups was the Alioth whose Slashdot journal I read.

I won’t describe in intricate detail everything that went on. There were a few people there I thought were being stand-offish towards me, and I don’t know if that’s because they knew me from on-line or because I wasn’t a regular or a local. But I thought I got along with everybody pretty well. I got into one semi-political discussion with one guy that stayed pretty friendly and civil, except that he kept making these un-backed-up assertions and anything I tried to counter them with was instantly dismissed as “all you’ve got is a few isolated empirical cases”. But it was thought provoking none-the-less.

There were some great planes there – a couple of local beautiful Aerocoupes, a very fast Quicky that did a couple of photo passes down the runway (I still haven’t figured out how to get the camera to focus fast enough for that), a Citabria (was it? Or was it a Decathlon?) taking people up for aerobatics, a Swift, a beautiful Cessna 140. Too many to remember. It was too bad that Big Red, John Johnson’s Stinson Reliant, wasn’t ready to fly – they did test the engine, but I understand it didn’t pass the test.

The highlight of the weekend for me was when John Ousterhout told me that if I’m not careful he’s going to reveal my big secret on the newsgroup – that I’m not a jerk in person. The second highlight was John Johnson’s amazing hangar flying stories. I’m told that some of them are even true.

The lowlight was when Mark decided to show me how to ride a minibike that had gears. I’ve ridden scooters before, and I had a ball with his little folding scooter until the handlebar broke. But evidently I don’t have the coordination to work the clutch and throttle with my hands – I got into first eventually, went off and tried to shift to second and popped the clutch. The bike went this way, I went the other, and I discovered afterwards that I’d forgotten to take my Treo off my belt and the screen was smashed. (Yesterday I found that while the insurance I’d been paying Cingular for will replace it, they’re cancelling my policy for having the gall to actually make a claim against it.)

Compared to the structure and frenetic pace of an Oshkosh or Sun-n-Fun, this was a totally different experience. Just a chance to hang around with friends, make new friends, and drink beer and talk about flying. It was great, and I hope they’ll have me back again.


This is part 1 of what I hope to be a three part report on my trek to and from the the rec.aviation fly-in at the Pinckneyville-DuQuoin airport, PJY. My memory isn’t 100% and I think next time I’m going to bring my laptop so I can start writing this stuff while it’s still fresh in my mind.

Friday, Mark and I were ready quite early. I won’t deny that a bit of pre-flight excitement and nervousness made it hard to sleep. The weather didn’t look great for the first bit of the flight – along the lake shore to Cleveland, there was an airmet for occassional trace to light rime or mixed icing in clouds or precipitation between the freezing level and somewhere in the flight levels. In other words, the same airmet that sits over Rochester all winter long. The only difference is that unlike Rochester in winter, the clouds were going to be in several layers, and the freezing level was at 5,000 feet. This was a perfect opportunity to put all that practical advice about dealing with icing from IFR and IFR Refresher magazines. There was also going to be some precipitation, but no convective activity (ie. thunderstorms) to speak of.

There were VIP Temporary Flight Restrictions in Chicago and Cinncinatti indicating that the President and Vice President were probably on the move, but fortunately my route went just about half way between them.

ROC to AOHSo I filed IFR for 8000 feet for the first leg from Rochester to Lima Allen County (AOH), somewhere in Ohio. The plane was a bit reluctant to leave the ground since we were pretty close to max gross on a warm day. But once airborne it climbed pretty well. We climbed out through a solid layer and were soon on top in billiant sunshine at about 2500 feet. But shortly afterwards, as we continued our climb, we went through another layer of clouds and were once again on top. This time we’d picked up a tiny bit of ice, but once we got into the clear again it was sublimating away pretty quickly. After I levelled out, though, I noticed a bit of strangeness in the way the VSI (Vertical Speed Indicator) was reacting compared with the Altimeter (and cross checked against the “fake panel” on my GPS). Then it hit me, I’d forgotten to put on pitot heat on the way through the clouds. I turned it on, and the VSI immediately showed an immediate +2000 fpm climb (which is impossible in that plane in just about any circumstances) and then quickly went back to no climb, while the altimeter showed me 250 feet higher than my assigned altitude. I guess the static port got a little iced.

Not too much later, a cloud layer built in on top of us and started sloping down towards us. As it reached us, again I got a bit of ice, so I asked for and was soon given lower and the ice went away. Then the cloud above went away and so I asked for my previous altitude of 8000 and was given clearance back. Around that time the Erie controller told me that Cleveland didn’t want me on Victor 14 going through their airspace since that’s a route they use for jet departures. They gave me a choice of going south through Akron and a VOR I couldn’t find on my chart, or north to Sandusky VOR, which I could find on my chart. So I chose Sandusky. That route puts you a bit off the shoreline, but at 8000 feet I had a lot of glide distance if something went wrong.

Passing through Cleveland, the clouds started coming up from below and filling in above. At first I asked for 10,000 feet, which put me above the clouds from below but the ones above were coming down, and soon after passing Sandusky I had to ask for a descent to freezing level. They cleared me down to 7000 feet and said if I needed lower I should ask it. But 7000 was between layers and the ice was coming off, so I kept it. And not long afterwards it cleared both above and below and we could see forever. The controllers also got a lot more laid back and I got to keep a radio frequency for longer instead of switching ever few minutes. Things were mostly uneventful from there to the fuel stop – I cancelled IFR about 15 miles out because I could see the airport and they said they were about to lose me on radar.

The FBO at Lima Allen County had a DTN weather setup – there I could see a bunch of nasty stuff in a line going straight south from Chicago down towards Pinckneyville and points south. It didn’t look like it was going to be possible to fly around it. However, the briefer was of the opinion that it was breaking up and in the two hours it would take us to get there things would be quite different. So I took off with the intention of staying in VMC until I could see this line visually and/or on the Stormscope and get a feel for things, and if it was still bad we could land and wait for it to dissipate and maybe arrive later Friday or even early Saturday.

AOH to PJYAs expected, it was pretty easy to stay in VMC, and my preferred altitude 8,000 feet was below the freezing level down there. About half an hour from where I expected to find that weather, I wasn’t showing anything on the Stormscope and I asked the controller if he could see anything on his radar. He said there was a cell about 40 miles south of us, and nothing else. And as we got to Bible Grove VOR, we actually passed between two extremely light rain showers, but didn’t get wet. We made the turn towards PJY and soon after the controller issued us a descent we saw it and cancelled IFR. (BTW: I don’t know what controllers do to track descents, but they always seem to issue me one just a few seconds after my GPS says that if I start a 500 foot per minute descent I’ll reach my target.)

We tried to reach the promised “drunken yahoos with handheld radios” to get landing instructions, but even identifying myself as Captain “Zoom” Campbell didn’t get a rise out of them on the radio. So we did a normal traffic pattern and taxied towards the hangar. We didn’t even get the “follow me” cart and had to find our own parking space, right next to the gigantic red Stinson Reliant which I later found out is known as “Big Red”.

We had arrived, and so far nobody had killed me. That’s good.