26 August 2007

Sublime Approach in Anchorage

Long Shadows, Short Final
Copyright 2007, V1VrV2

The end of a long ride in a cockpit jumpseat is nearing an end. My legs are stiff, and I’m cranky after six hours of listening to the Captain vent his unconsidered opinions on everything from gun-control to immigration. The First Officer is mostly silent. He’s a good F/O. He knows there’s no point in discussing important matters with someone wedded to illogic. He flies the plane with purpose and steadfast calm.

As we turn final, swinging our tail into the bright, low sun behind us, a landscape of intense color and depth emerges ahead. It looks like a painting, and I instantly understand where the term “purple mountains’ majesty” originates. My gloom evaporates into elation. The camera tells what I cannot.

Summit Closeup

Summit Closeup
Copyright 2007 V1VrV2

There’s a little-known departure procedure at Seattle-Tacoma Airport that allows you to level-off at an intermediate altitude, navigate to a point very close to Mount Ranier, and get a spectacular, up-close view of this dormant volcano. A couple of weeks ago, while I was deadheading to Los Angeles, the Captain on the flight asked for permission to fly the procedure, and got it. The passengers were practically falling over themselves to look out the left-side windows. I lucked out and had a window all to myself, with no wing to interfere with the shot.

This photo of the summit was so easy to get, I couldn’t help but think of all the dedicated mountain climbers who’ve hiked and struggled for days to make it up there. They should have just rented a plane, don’t you think?

I'm kidding, of course. My perfect view lasted for no more than 20 seconds, then it was onward and upward, climbing to the upper Flight Levels, where even mighty mountains become ripples in the tapestry below. It's lovely but rather two-dimensional up there. Most interesting aerial photos are taken at considerably lower altitudes. Photographer-pilots must balance good photography with strict adherence to Standard Operating Procedures -- in this case, the one that restricts the use of cameras below 18,000 feet. This makes getting good photos while I'm at work a challenge, but one I enjoy.

22 August 2007

Aeronautically Odd?

That Just Ain't Right...
Copyright 2007 V1VrV2

No matter how many times I see them, the elevator assemblies on McDonnell-Douglas MD-80 series airplanes always give me a vague sense of unease. Unsymmetric flight controls that flop around in the breeze just don't look right. Yep, I know they're un-powered, and they streamline during takeoff. I know the elevators move as a result of the movement of the balance tabs. I know the system works splendidly. But still...

16 August 2007

Even Simple Flying is Endangered

Kansas Twilight Storm
Copyright 2007, V1VrV2

I’ve noticed a fascinating fact. The further into my aviation career I get… and the more advanced-technology aircraft I get to fly… and the higher and faster I travel… and the more complex the airspace I must traverse… and the more complicated the procedures I must learn -- the more I’m attracted to “simple, low, and slow.” Perhaps the constant, looming threats of more government regulations, fees, taxes and other evils have given me an increased appreciation for the opportunities I have to climb into a Cub or similar airplane and go sightseeing for an hour over the rolling Midwest farmland, with the door down and the vague smell of hay drifting up to my not-so-lofty altitude.

As I cruise slowly though the lowest reaches of the atmosphere, burning 4 gallons of gas per hour, in nobody’s way, I wonder at the intransigence of a system and a government that will undoubtedly seek to one day equate this minor activity with that of a major airline or a business jet operation. Even as I enjoy the elevated view of a red-painted barn glowing in the bright rays of sunset, lately I’ve have to fight interfering thoughts. Distress, mostly. Partially, it’s anger at how the activity I most love and cherish is being dismantled. But perhaps my anger is a bit misdirected. Maybe I should blame myself for wearing rose-colored glasses for so long.

It was probably the naiveté of youth that caused me to miss the negative aspects of a career in aviation. The world of flight, to me, was always an unlimited world. Opportunities abounded, and there didn’t seem to be any real threat involved in choosing aviation as a career. Oh, sure – in the 1970s and 1980s, I read about a few airlines going out of business now and then, and new regs and Airworthiness Directives that seemed to spark lots of letters to the editor in the pages of Flying magazine. But I never felt like these threats were of such a serious nature that they threatened the entire industry. I never felt like there was such a hugely concentrated effort by lawmakers and special-interest groups to tax, restrict, and eventually ground certain facets of General Aviation. Until lately.

Are they aiming to restrict my evening J-3 flights? Probably not. But the manner in which the latest bills are being stuffed through the legislative process, with nary a clue as to their eventual impacts on the aviation industry, tells me we’re dealing with lawmakers of a different breed than we’ve seen before. They’re using a different recipe for getting what they desire than I’ve seen before. I hope they're as interested in their political careers, and the threat of losing the support of their constituency, as previous generations of politicians are, because I’ve been sending several letters per week to let them know how I feel.

If you're a pilot, a mechanic, an airplane owner, a business person, or just a dreamer and airplane lover, I believe time is short. I’m asking you to write a couple of letters. You don’t have to write them yourself. They're already written. Go to the
Alliance for Aviation Across America website, and click on a few links. They’ll do all the work of sending an email to your Senators and Representatives for you. Or, you can print the pre-addressed letters and mail them with a stamp.

I am an optimist. I have a tough time imagining U.S. general aviation taking the disasterous form it has taken in Europe. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch some of the
videos produced by the AOPA.) But I'm not taking any chances. I'm striking back with as much written effort as I can muster, by flooding my lawmakers' in-boxes. You should, too.

In the mean time, I’m going flying.

02 August 2007

Sundog II

Sundog II
Copyright 2007 V1VrV2

This is not the best photo, from a technical standpoint, but I thought I'd share it anyway. I've written about sun-dogs before, so I won't bore you with the details. I love the sight of an airplane's shadow racing along the face of a cloud. It conveys all the speed, power, and utter magic of flight like few other sights. Too bad this isn't video; sights like this are even more impressive when they're moving!