Sunday, June 30, 2013

Don't dis the Wright Brothers!

Apparently the State of Connecticut has decided the Wright Brothers were not the first to fly.  A recent article in the NY Daily News states that Connecticut lawmakers have passed a bill giving the "First in Flight" title to a fellow named Gustave Whitehead, a former resident of Bridgeport, who they claim flew a machine of his own design in 1901, two years, four months and three days before the Wright Brothers' flights at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina on December 17, 1903.  Typical political mumbo-jumbo that is particularly irritating to Jellystone Air Park Historian---and Zen Master of all things aviation---Brother Joe Baker.  Here is what Joe had to say about the story:

This has been hashed and re-hashed. 
Gustav Whitehead had very little provision for control of his aircraft, and while there are a number of folks who claim to have "flown" before the Wrights, none have had their understanding of aerodynamics.  The Wrights invented the coordinated turn, and that is their legacy (along with correcting the Lilienthal lift tables, and the drastic improvement of the prop.) 
Before the Wrights, there was no coordinated turn.  And nobody cared, because nobody understood its importance.  After them, everyone used it, and after a short period, it became crucial. 
Those of you who learned to fly in the front seat of a Cub or Champ with a sadistic instructor who liked to yell and apply a rolled-up sectional to the back of your head may curse the Wrights and their emphasis on the coordinated turn.  You probably learned to hate that little ball!   But I'll bet you remember the first time you did a stall with that little ball off center!
Dealing with "firsts" in history is tricky.  Everybody tried everything.  The aileron, for instance, was patented by an Englishman in 1866!  But it took the Wrights to put it "into context" of the coordinated turn.  A good analogy would be this:  Was Columbus the first to discover America?  Of course not.  Many folks came to America all throughout history, but after Columbus it stayed "found."  To Europe, anyway. So he gets the credit.
So all the pieces for flight were around for a long time--George Cayley knew most of them a hundred years before--but the Wrights were the ones to arrange them in their proper place.  A good treatment of this is at the end of Tom Crouch's "Bishop's Boys," which is the best treatment of the Wrights I've seen.  Behind "Stick and Rudder" and "Fate is the Hunter," every pilot should have a copy of this book. 
And by the way, the end of the article mentions the fact that the Wrights were not displayed in the Smithsonian as the first to fly until way late (the forties) in a "backroom deal."  This is way off.  But this story, totally unrelated, is a juicy one.  Check it out.  A few minutes on Google about the Wright/Langley controversy will unearth a clearer picture.  This comment is totally off base. 

I would not be surprised if someone told me that Brother Baker was the captain of the Kahuku High School debate team.  I am surprised (and thankful) that he has never applied a rolled-up sectional to the back of my head!

Tail wheel endorsement photo, October 23, 2009.  Note the sweat-stained shirt.
For more on Gustave Whitehead go to

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Twenty Grand!

Brother Hogan and I crossed paths while changing airplanes in Detroit early this morning.  He was on his way to West Palm Beach, Florida; the second leg of a three day adventure.  I was waiting on the inbound MD-88 that First Officer Dave Barber, and I, were scheduled to fly back to LaGuardia---the end of a four day, thirteen leg rotation.  As we were parting, Mark said:  "One point one to go."  I was confused.  It takes longer than one point one (hours) to fly from Detroit to West Palm Beach.  I said:  "One point one to where?"  With a hint of a smile, Mark said:  "One point one to hit the twenty thousand hours mark!"

Like me, Brother Hogan has a resume full of bankrupt airlines.  Mall Airways, America West Airlines, Midway (III) Airlines, and Maxjet are just a few of the uniforms that Mark has worn prior to Big D.  He has time in Beech 99's, Boeing 737's, 767's, and the latest versions of the Douglas DC-9, the MD-88 & 90.  (He also has time in a 1947 Luscombe 8A.)  As you can see his workload started out easy---and then got progressively easier!  That pattern changed when he arrived on the MD-88.  Whereas on Boeing airplanes, one switch operates three different systems; on the MD-88, it takes three different switches to operate one system!  And then there's the stress associated with babysitting guys like me. . .

According to the Air Crew Record & Flight Time Logbook Authorities:  For each actual hour of Airbus operation, an airman must subtract three hours from his/her total flight time.  An additional five hours must be subtracted for each crew meal consumed during Airbus operation.  (Imagine shooting a NDB Approach when you don't have to balance your crew meal tray on just one leg!)  Twenty thousand hours is a major milestone!  And there are no sissy French airplane hours in Brother Hogan's logbook. . .

Congratulations Mark!

After reading this post Brother Hogan sent the following:
"OMG!  Where did you locate that Mall Airways logo?  1982-84.
Time to reminisce!  Three PA-31's:  N66891, N37490, N74923.  Three B-99's:  N851SA, N205TC, N7899R.  Thirty years later and I can still recall every tail number without referring to a log. . .
Ah, the good old days:  A propeller going into reverse on gear retraction.  One attempted hijacking.  A runaway stab trim on takeoff.  A 200 and 1/4 approach into BDL with winds 060 @ 60 gusting to 75.  Plus numerous other daily adventures. . .  Beating the ice off the wing leading edge so you could take off, then letting it build up enough in flight so you could pop the boots without blowing a patch off. . .  A whole career of catastrophes crammed into 20 months, all for $150 gross a week.  But they gave many a newbie pilot a start."
He also said I should go easy on the Airbus guys:
"One should go easy on the Francois Flyer.  Typing and connoisseur qualifications are probably going to be necessary in all our futures. . ."
He's probably right.  One of my fears is getting displaced to the A320.  I've been giving the EG (and now Brother Baker) so much grief---for so long---about flying a sissy French airliner. . .  They can't wait to return the favor.  It won't be pretty.
Brother Hogan's official 20K pre departure picture.  "Set against outmoded Jepp charts to emphasize one's age."

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Groundhog Day. . .

March 15, 2013, Union, SC.  Oil on the belly. . .

Tracking down the source of an oil leak can be as frustrating as trying to find the headwaters of a leaky roof; maybe more so.  Even a small amount of oil can make a big mess---all of which has to be cleaned before any kind of search can begin.  We use the wash and dye method at Jellystone Air Park:  The engine is washed, and then dye is added to the oil.  This is done so that after run-up, a bunch of guys with bad eyesight can probe the engine compartment with flashlights in a dark hangar.  Thus it was determined; all four cylinder base seals on 43 Bravo were oozing oil---not much, but enough to be more than just aggravating.  They needed to be replaced.  Not a terribly difficult job; but one that can lead to a deep, dark, endless hole in the ground. . .

Under the watchful eye of our expert mechanic, cylinders were honed, valves were lapped, and new piston rings were installed.  The overhauled cylinders were mounted with shiny new base seals that didn't leak after run-up.  Brother Baker was pleased.  There was order in the universe.  All was right in the world---so we thought.

In March, after a short flight to Union, South Carolina, we noticed a trail of oil on the bottom of the fuselage.  It stretched from ten inches aft of the breather tube all the way back to the tail wheel.  Our thoughts at the time:  Maybe the rings still need to seat. . .  Not too concerned, we added a quart of oil and flew back to Rock Hill.  After shutdown we checked the oil.  It was a quart low.  Total flight time for our trip down to Union, and back, was only one hour and ten minutes.  Even a former student athlete knows a blow-by rate of two quarts per hour is excessive.  We were concerned!

Experts were consulted.  Scientific tests were conducted---compression was checked through the complete cycle on each cylinder.  When the number three piston was at the bottom of it's cycle, the pressure release could be heard through the breather.  Eureka!  Time to spend some real money!

Putt-Putt II, the Zimmer & Son Cessna 150 was available for use.  While yours truly was out flying the line, Brother Baker and young Benny Zimmer delivered the offending #3 cylinder to the engine shop in Burlington, North Carolina.  After a quick inspection, the head honcho (according to Joe) removed a giant wad of chewing tobacco and said:  "No problem Mr. Baker, give us three days and it'll be good as new!"  True to his word, #3 was ready in three days.  Brother Baker however, was not.  On reserve, he was called for a trip.  We picked up the cylinder five days later, in the silver Tacoma.  It looked nice!  So did the shop.  Head honcho gave us the $330 tour. . .  Twenty minutes, and three wads of tobacco later (I thought Joe was kidding) we were on our way home.  A few days later #3 was back in place and 43 Bravo was ready to roll---so we thought.

Unity Airfield

Brother Baker and I decided we would fly a few circuits around the traffic pattern, and then if things looked good (meaning oil pressure) we would venture over to Unity Airfield, and check the progress on Les Kanna's Onex project---maybe even have lunch!  Unity Airfield is fifteen minutes southeast of Jellystone Air Park.  I took the first leg.  Everything looked good in the pattern, so off we went.  About four minutes out from Les' place we (thought) we detected a slight drop in oil pressure.  Sure enough, after shutdown there was oil on bottom of the fuselage.  But not as much, so maybe things were getting better.

Les & Joe with the Onex, April 11, 2013.

After lunch we added a quart of oil and launched for Jellystone Air Park.  On this leg Joe did the flying---my eyes were glued to the oil pressure gage!  About five minutes from touchdown the oil pressure slowly began to fall.  Not a good sign.  It took fifteen minutes to wipe the oil from the bottom of the fuselage.  One month in to this saga; we were two months past Groundhog Day---but that's where we were!

More experts were consulted.  "Fly it!  See if the rings will seat."  So we dumped a little more oil on York County. . .  "You might have glazed the cylinders."  That was a possibility.  There is conflicting literature on breaking in engines.  Owner, mechanic, and assistant; we were all scratching our heads---the more we thought about it, the more we thought we probably glazed the cylinders during the initial run-up.  We took it apart, cleaned it all up, and put it back together, again.

All smiles, before the oil pressure drop. . .

Then we circled the Rock Hill Airport for twenty minutes.  Joe flew, I chanted:  "Omni, Omni, NDB. . ."  At the ten minute mark, the oil pressure began to drop.  At the twenty minute mark, we landed.  We added a couple quarts of oil and tried it again.  Groundhog Day. . .  Obviously, throwing oil at the problem wasn't going to work.  "Maybe we screwed up the rings?"  Quite possible, so we ordered new rings. . .

Last week---two and a half months after we started this project---the team assembled.  We took it apart, cleaned it all up, and put it back together (sigh) again.

Tuesday morning I received a text message from Brother Baker.  "Two quarts blown by in FIFTEEN minutes.  Can I swear now?"

I swear it's Groundhog Day. . .