The Biker, the Babes, and the 'Baby

Posted December 2001

Gosh, I had fun this weekend.

The Seattle area has been drenched with rain even more than normal, this fall. For instance, we had fourteen inches of rain from November 1st to the 15th of December...ten inches more than the same period a year ago.

Needless to say, this is NOT conducive to driving any sort of airplane around, much less a Fly Baby.

However, things started to break about a week ago. Monday was pretty fair, although windy. I ducked out at lunchtime and took a 20-minute flight, coming back to work in my leather jacket, scarf, and aviator shades, grinning like a cat full of canaries au gratin.

I had hopes for this weekend. Saturday dawned with absolutely clear skies, but by the time I moseyed to the airport, it had clouded over quite a bit. The wind was fitful; the traffic pattern was for 16 when I blasted off. Temperature was about 47 degrees, still warm enough not to need more than the sweatshirt under the leather jacket.

I dropped in at Pierce County airport for fuel. As I mounted up, I heard a voice: "Hey, that's just like a bike." I looked over, and there was your architypical biker-type standing there, eyeing my airplane with a smile. He was a bit short and a bit rotund, with gray whiskers and a black leather jacket with silver studs.

We talked for a bit. He seemed intrigued with the Fly Baby as an airborne motorcyle, and we exhanged stories of long trips, nasty weather, and windburn.

Then I was off. A friend of mine lives in an isolated house in the foothills of the Cascades, and on nice days I usually do a couple of circles around his house...just to see him run into the yard, madly waving a red-and-white checkered tablecloth. I'm easily amused.

But today wasn't as amusing, though. The wind had been calm at home, and calm at Pierce County, but the Fly Baby seemed to be bucking a pretty good headwind as I got closer to the foothills. By the time I reached Dan's house, the 'Baby was bucking badly. I tried to fly a circle, but ended up with a monstrous teardrop, rocking madly all the way around.

The heck with this. I turned around, and the wind shot me back towards home. I got a bit worried; the wind was from about east-northeast, which would be a pretty stiff crosswind back home. Even worse, if they were STILL using 16, it'd be a quartering tailwind.

Auburn has a Superunicom setup, which I generally ignore, preferring to get my pattern information from observation and the radio calls of the other traffic. But 122.8 seemed oddly quiet. So as I got close, I clicked the mike button three times:

"Auburn Airport Information: Wind <GRZZIZZZIFGHGHTHTHHTH>..."

Somebody had walked-on the transmission. I tried again, and got about the same results.

I kept coming, blown by the easterly. I crossed over into the valley in which Auburn airport resides. Still no traffic calls. I click the mike button again:

"Auburn Airport Information: Wind calm. Altimeter...."


Still no traffic. Auburn uses 34 vs. 16 on low-wind conditions for noise abatement, and that was what the tetrahedron was showing. So I made my calls, and entered the pattern for 34. I had to crab a bit to hold a parallel track while on downwind. Calm? I made my radio call for a full-stop, not wanting to do touch-and-goes with a squirelly wind.

I turned final. I noticed I needed less and less crab as I descended. As I passed over the "Wendys" across the street, I could see the flags and banners sitting lifeless.

Son of a gun. It *was* calm, down here on the valley floor. I landed normally, and turned off.

Today, it dawned beautifully clear and gorgeous again, but I didn't appreciate it properly. Often, when a hi-pressure area moves in, I get a killer sinus headache...and had one this morning. I got up, read some of the paper, took some aspirin, and hit the sack again.

I got up this afternoon, feeling a lot better, although still a bit headachy. I stumbled around the house like a bear with low blood sugar. Gorgeous day. No wind. I live on the valley edge, with a great view of the airport. Planes were buzzing overhead, entering the pattern for 34. I picked up a pair of binoculars, and looked towards the hangars. There's Cecil, getting his T-18 ready to go. There's Terry and his Long-EZ. There's Cathy and Tim, prepping the Bluebird. AGGGGHHH!

It was just like being a kid again, sick at home, looking out the window as his friends play in the yard.

I decided my headache wasn't that severe.

Only about seventy minutes until sunset. "I'll just do a couple of touch and goes and see how I feel." I threw my sweatshirt on, grabbed my flight togs, and pelted for the car. Ten minutes later, I'm pre-flighting Moonraker.

We blasted off with about forty minutes of daylight left. The day was a full '10'; smooth air, sun, visibility sixty miles-plus. My headache was soon forgotten as I warped the Fly Baby around the pattern. There were several families in the park-and-ride lot short of the runway threshold, and I waved at the kids as I came by on final. Just an absolutely gorgeous time to be flying.

The sun got lower and lower; the shadow cast by the Fly Baby became more and more distorted as I climbed away from the runway after each touch-and-go. The pattern got fuller as the sun got lower.

Then, from one pattern to the next, it was like someone pulled a switch. The sun had dropped below some low clouds on the horizon, and it got pretty dark.

Last pass. I as I turned off crosswind to downwind, I heard by friend Athol call the water tank (a local landmark for pattern entry). I looked, and there was his 172, well into the 45, coming right at me. "I gotcha, Alhol, and I'll follow you," I called.


I turned right, away from the incoming aircraft, dropped a bit lower, then zoomed up onto his tail as he went by. The Cessna turned downwind, and I followed. I heard Athol again...making his "45 entry" call.

Hmmm... seems the plane I'd followed HADN'T been Athol, after all. I followed the unknown Cessna, and landed. As I taxied back, Athol landed, and followed me back to the hangar row we share.

"I was a bit wondering at your call," said Athol. "I didn't see you anywhere."

Oh, well, my bad. Athol had been giving a ride to two young Japanese women, interns at an airline. They had me take their picture with Athol, and I invited them to sit in my airplane.

After helping the first one into the cockpit, I plopped my helmet and goggles onto her head. Her friend got ready to shoot a picture...during which time I'd snuck back to the tail. As she lifted the camera, I grabbed the tailwheel...and lifted it into the air. The plane pitched down, there was a screech from the cockpit, with a snap of a shutter.

Love to see THAT one....

Anyway, a fun ending to a near-perfect weekend.

Comments? Contact Ron Wanttaja .

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