Thursday, May 20, 2010


Chapter One: Clouds

The recent rains and intermittent sunshine have caused the countryside around Wichita to explode with green. Planted fields are already substantially sprouted. Trees have all their leaves. Plowed fields provide a dark, wet contrast.

I am looking it all over; I am sitting in my airplane, looking out. To the north, I am struck by the dark charcoal clouds. They are hanging over the fields -- providing even more enunciation of color, dampness, wetness, nature. 500 feet off the ground; perhaps a little more. Occasionally my altitude wanders lower.

The clouds are like slashes of charcoal across a matte paper.

It has rained heavily. A creek is roaring between its banks -- all waters are thick brown. A bit of foam dances up to one bank, but somehow is repelled away. The vision recedes behind me.

I cross the Kansas turnpike. I see a plaza between the lanes. Cars can pull in; get gas; eat at the McDonalds, and go on their way. I wonder who is looking up from the cars, and what they think of my airplane. I'm sure almost all are puzzled: my airplane looks like a dragon.

A few days ago, a trio of deer had run across a field while I circled my dragon above them. Did they see me? I saw them.

I am, in some oblique sense of the word, wasting time.

I find myself once again flying over my friend Terry's home. I don't see his truck; I do see his airstrip. The airstrip is oddly hidden, because of the depth of the grass. (Terry, it needs to be mowed.)

Glancing at the gas gauge, I see 60% fuel remaining. Lots of time to continue to waste.

I can feel a bit of vibration coming up through the heels of my shoes. I've not noticed it before. Like many other pilots who've mused over an odd vibration or sound, I start to think about what could be wrong.

Nothing. Nothing is wrong.

Looking south, I can see 30 or 40 miles to the horizon.

Looking to the north again, the sky is a little hazier. The north horizon is not nearly as sharp as the south. There is more humidity in the air.

An odd thing happens: it starts to rain. Just lightly; but enough to patter the windshield. The doors are not installed on this airplane, and even so, I remain dry.

I have my leather coat on. I'm also wearing a stocking cap, noise cancelling headphones, and light gloves. It's a perfect combination. I can feel the wind beating on the sleeves of the coat as they rest on the sides of the fuselage. My torso and head stay in calm air.

Now I'm even more relaxed: I've pulled my feet off the rudder pedals. The airplane now moves wherever I want it to using just the control stick.

Above the clouds, the sun is shining. Below the clouds, there is ample evidence of the sun and its working: green-ness; creeks; fields; rain; cool flyable air; much more.

Chapter Two: Technicalities

The Belite uses a 5 gallon tank. The purposes of my flight today was to verify instrument functionality and to also nail down fuel consumption. We I flew the plane for exactly one hour and then measured the reserve. I had 1.6 gallons of fuel remaining.

This means that the Superlite fuel consumption with a Hirth 50HP F23 engine @ 5800RPM is about 3.4 gallons per hour. This allows 1 hour and 25 minutes from full to dry tank. Based on a cruising speed of about 60 mph, this gives a reachable radius of about 75 miles in calm winds. I may be able to improve this a little; I've ordered a cruise prop to go with my engine.

Chapter Three: Crosswinds

Our airstrip is 2600 feet long and about 75 feet wide. Beyond each side is an ample unmowed area.

A few days ago, we had a very blustery crosswind.

I looked at the runway a little differently. I walked across it, and picked up some grass. Tossing it up, and looking diagonally backwards, I saw a new runway, constructed by landing on the existing runway diagonally.

"I know what you are doing," said Doug, who runs his small business out of a hangar close to mine and had walked up behind me.

Doug practices whenever possible in one of his helicopters (he's a dealer). He understands the importance of practice, and he saw that I was trying to increase my practice time by overcoming the crosswind blues.

Comfortable with my new 'make-do' runway selection, I took off into the sharp crosswind. I started making circuits around the pattern and the field, re-creating the new pattern.

My new pattern works beautifully. I land without event, diagonally across the existing runway. I take off again. I land in some slightly taller grass. The feeling of moving through the grass on touchdown is ... I struggle for the right word. Great?! Wonderful!? Smooth?? These are not the right words.

There is no adequate word. Landing in the taller grass makes me feel like an adventurer. I don't know how to put that into one word.

This reminds me of when I landed in the flint hills, nearly a year ago. I remember the flow of the grass in the wind, and the feeling of gentleness, as my airplane settled into the thick grass on touchdown.

I take off and land again. Each landing builds confidence.

Chapter 4: El Dorado

The lineman at the El Dorado airport can't believe his eyes: He's never seen a plane as small as mine. We full my gas tank up with 100LL. Total bill, about $8.

Smallest plane he's ever seen; smallest gas sale ever as well.

Chapter 5: Instruments

I occasionally glance at the instruments on the panel. I like what I see! The clouds have completely blocked the sun; I flip the switch over to the 'dim' setting. The LEDs in the panel have a soft glow.

I roll the plane into a turn to the left; the turn gyro shows the turn. I note that my trim tab on the rudder is not quite set correctly: the slip indicator shows a constant 'one dot' slip to the left. I see that I have 30% of my gas remaining: perhaps it's time to land. I've throttled back and the airspeed is showing 55. All is well.

These instruments provide a sharpness about the condition of the airplane: I know my range; I know my speed; I know if I'm straight and level; I know how I'm doing. I like what I see.

I look back at the ground. There is so much green, and so much sharp definition between fields, prairies, creeks, horizon, and clouds.

I can't wait to fly again.

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