Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Hat

The Hat

March 31, 1997, Midway Airport, Chicago, Illinois.

Air South Flight 935 to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina is ten minutes from push-back.  The lead flight attendant leans into the flight deck and says:  "I think we have everyone."  The Captain asks:  "Full boat?"  "Of course."  A quick glance over my left shoulder confirms her answer. The cabin looked full.  About a third of the way back, on the left side, I see the hat---just the brim and crown; the person's face is blocked by the seat back in front.  I say to the Captain: "Someone has a hat like Bob Hoover."

It was my leg.  The weather in Chicago was beautiful.  The sky was clear, the air was smooth, and the winds were light and variable.  Not what you would expect for the last day of March.  Myrtle Beach was a different story.  Moderate turbulence below 10,000 feet with strong low level winds gusting out of the southwest.  It was a sporty approach---and I rolled it on!  My best landing ever in the Boeing 737-200.  I had about four minutes to feel good about myself---time to taxi to the gate---and then it was back to work.

Air South fancied itself South Carolina's version of Southwest Airlines.  The operational objective was point to point travel with thirty minute airport turnaround times.  Like most of the upstart airlines in the 1990's, they ran out of money before they could figure it all out. But that is a story for another time---and thirty minutes is not a lot of turn time.  As a rule, I tried to complete the post flight walk-around as soon as possible after we blocked in, usually finishing before the last of the passengers could exit the airplane.  Such was the case that day in Myrtle Beach. As I reentered the jetway; the guy in the hat was saying goodbye to the flight attendants.  As he turned my way, I said:  "I know you.  You're Bob Hoover!"  Shaking my hand, he said:  "And you are?"  I said:  "Bob Cottom."  With a twinkle in his eye, he asked: "Was that your landing?" I replied:  "Yes it was!"  With a giant smile, he said:  "Great job!"  Then he ambled up the jetway. . .  My ten seconds of fame!

Air South 737-200, Columbia, SC, 1997.

Sixteen years later. . .

Mr. Bob Hoover

Signing prints at the Carolinas Aviation Museum, April 9, 2013.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Pond Branch Afternoon

Double Webers and a 1950 Cessna 140A.

The message went out over the Pond Branch Telegraph. The Tree Top Flyers from EAA Chapter 1467 were gathering at Pond Branch Airfield Sunday afternoon. The Jellystoners were invited to attend.  "Falling off the Bone" baby back ribs were advertised!

Never one to turn down baby back ribs, I notified the Assistant Head Chef at the Pond Branch Sky Kitchen that I would provide a couple bottles of JP's All Natural Barbecue Sauce, from the Ole Smokehouse Restaurant in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Back in the day there were two Ole Smokehouse restaurants.  The original, close to Ma and Pa Cottom's Stokes Avenue Ranch, and a second location out by the airport that happily delivered to hungry line boys.  Both are now closed, but JP's sauce is still available in local grocery stores.  In our neck of the woods a good bottle of barbecue sauce is better than a $100 bottle of fancy French wine---even if your daughter does run a fancy wine shop!

Gusty winds forced a Tree Top Flyers drive-in.  I delivered the sauce in the silver Tacoma---my first auto-arrival at Pond Branch Airfield.

Pond Branch Starter Chimneys---Brother Price uses paper to start the charcoal.  No 100 octane aftertaste in the ribs at Pond Branch Airfield!

Weber #2.  Ready for ribs. . .

Pond Branch "Falling off the Bone" baby back ribs, smothered in JP's barbecue sauce. Weber #1 in the background.

The meeting of the Royal Order of the Tree Top Flyers has now come to order. . .

Pond Branch Lagoon

After the meeting Brother Price invited everyone to tour the airfield.  The beaver ponds are just off the departure end of Runway 29.

"There it is!"  Another fish story. . .

Looking down Runway 11.  Tree Top Flyers President Randy Berry (left) reviewing the judges' stand for the spot landing contest---canceled because of the gusty conditions.

Someone forgot to tell the judges.

Our hosts at Pond Branch Airfield, Sandy and Eddy Price.

Friday, April 12, 2013


This is "Gator," Mike Elliott's recently completed RV-8A, sporting it's new University of Florida inspired, P-51 style paint scheme.  You might recall, N800ME had it's first bare-metal flight on December 12, 2012.

Paint was applied in March.  The good folks at GLO Custom Aircraft, Inc., in Dallas, Texas did the work.  It looks fantastic!

The official University of Florida fly-by photo!

Mike and Gator have been vacationing in Florida---giving rides to friends and family, and attending Sun-N-Fun.  Mike said:  "The plane has been a big hit and the colors look great with the P-51 paint scheme."  Indeed it does!

Congratulations Mike!

Monday, April 8, 2013

On Impulse

March 30th I received a text message from Brother Barbeau: ".9 in the Hatz today.  It was a good day."  I was jealous.  When I read Gary's message I had already logged 5.8 hours in the MD-90, and still had (as it turned out) another eight tenths to go---Atlanta, Georgia to Greer, South Carolina.  Don't get me wrong, I love my job; but .9 in the Hatz trumps 5.8 in the airliner almost every time---biplane crosswind landing cold-sweats included!  The Hatz wasn't the only open cockpit biplane cruising around that Saturday afternoon.  Jellystone Air Park neighbor, Mark Accomazzo, was out flying his Great Lakes too. Gary said that when Mark saw the Hatz he asked:  "Is that Joe or Bob?"  I'll save the identity issue for another story.  The big issue here; it looks like spring has finally cracked the edge of an unusually irritating winter. Biplane season is officially open at Jellystone Air Park!

Speaking of spring. . .

Out in Port Townsend, Washington, Summer Martell owns a 1931 Student Prince biplane.  She chronicles her adventures in the Prince, and other airplanes, in her Summersky Blog.  In a recent post Summer recounts her first flight of spring in the Student Prince.  She describes part of the starting procedure for the Kinner radial engine as, "magneto switch to the "L" position."  Other than thinking, I guess that's how you start a Kinner, it never occurred to me to wonder why?  I probably knew the reason back when I took the written, but to be honest, only 1,100 of my 17,000 flight hours---a milestone reached on my last rotation---are in piston engine airplanes, and most of that was before the jet age.  Whatever magneto skills I once had expired years ago!  The important part of the story from my perspective:  Like me, Summer is thankful that spring has arrived.  I sent the link to the Brethren.  Brother Price was the first to respond.  "Why crank with just the left mag?"

It didn't take Brother Baker long to answer. . .

Eddie, on older engines (ours included, sometimes) one mag, usually the left one, is an impulse mag and the other a standard mag. I have Slicks, and they are both impulse mags.

If you know what an impulse mag is, then skip to the end. . . :-)

Back when hand-propping was standard, someone figured out a way to get a hotter spark on the relatively slow engine speed that hand-propping provides. Inside the mag, there is a magical device called an impulse coupling. It has a centrifugal lever/spring action that cocks itself and releases, spinning the mag spark generator faster when the engine is turning slowly, like at hand-propping speeds. It gives you a hotter spark right when you need it--engine start. When the engine speeds up, the centrifugal counterweights inside spin the levers to the outside and the impulse coupling is taken out of the system, letting the regular spark generation system take over. Since mags generate hotter sparks when they are running faster, this is a way of making these engines much easier to start.

As to why only the left? Impulse mags will delay the spark just a touch, backing off the timing when the engine is spun at really low rpm. You don't want the right mag firing at the standard time when you are trying to start an engine on impulse mags--two spark plugs arguing over their timing is not a good thing! This also makes it easier to start the engine when hand propping.
So, hence her left mag start. Dad remembers hand propping those older low-compression radials. With our engines, they have a higher compression, and you need a snap to get it through one, and maybe two compression strokes.  One guy--the airport manager in Winslow, Arizona, was so good at this, he could get the engine through four--FOUR--compression strokes when he hand-propped the Luscombe engine. I was impressed! Dad says he simply grabbed the prop--carefully--and walked by the front of the engine and the thing fired!

By the later forties and early fifties, starters had become common, and the cost of the impulse mag had come down to a point where both sides were impulse. No more left-only engine starts.

. . . and that is why Brother Baker is my choice for the next director of the AOPA, the EAA, the FAA, and the Aviation Historical Society of America.