The Masked Marvel Rides Again

Posted December 2010

The weather here has been somewhat...malevolent, lately.

I mentioned the last time I got up, how it was a bit cloudy but seemed decent, only to deteriorate into a growing mesh of freezing rainshowers that sent me scurrying home with winds gusting directly across the runway.

Yesterday seemed half-decent, too.  But I decided to get a haircut before flying, and by the time I was done, it was drizzling a bit.

I gave up and went home.  Lying on the couch reading, I was suddenly blinded by sunlight coming in through the front window.  Just trying to lure me out...but within two hours, it was not only raining, but HAILING, with thunder and lightning to boot.  Just to wrap things up, it started to snow.

So when a sunbeam pierced the bedroom shades this morning, I was prepared for disappointment.  But...well, maybe things were going to be OK.  The skies were clear, just some puffy cumuli.  Not much wind. White stuff everywhere, a mix of regular snow plus icy pellets, the remnants of the hailstorms.

I love flying just after a snowfall.  It not only puts a great new face on familiar ground, but it tends to freak out the warmlovers when you taxi past in an open cockpit airplane.  A quick glance at the thermometer seemed to read 45 degrees F, warm enough to just fly with gloves and leather coat.

I could hear the car tires crunch over the ice pellets as I backed out the garage.  Down the hill to the airport, to find the taxiway covered with the same stuff, except where the sunlight had peeped over the hangar roof and melted it down on the opposite side.

Astute readers might say, "With a temperature in the mid-forties like Ron said, it should ALL have been melting."

Yes.  It should have.

Clueless as usual, I rolled the plane out over the crunchy granules.  It was downhill a bit from the hangar, so there wasn't any problem with traction.  After turning the plane to face down the taxiway, I usually drag it a couple extra feet to let the swiveling tailwheel re-lock. Took a bit more, today...not enough friction to force the tailwheel into trail.

Anyway, on with the scarf, on with the leather coat, hop into the cockpit, strap in, don the helmet, and crank 'er up.  Moonraker has a beautiful setup in its Stromberg, it's quick-starting in just about all conditions.

After a scare last summer flying on a very hot day (oil pressure a BIT low), I switched to 50-weight oil.  In consequence, I'm a bit more thorough when it comes to warming it up.  I taxied to the end of the hangar row (to keep from getting trapped by a slow-arriving hangar-row-mate, and sat to let the Continental warm up a bit.

Damn, it was cold.  I wasn't sure if it was the because I was sitting sideways to the wind or my new-found wussiness, but my face was freezing.  I lowered the goggles to block off some of the wind.  It helped, but my lower face was still getting real chilled.

As I've posted before, I usually add a face mask to my accouterments when the temperature gets below 40.  Damn it, it was in the mid-40s, the same temperature as my last flight.  I didn't need a face mask then...but why was my fact so derned cold?

Eventually, I caved.  I spun the plane around, taxied back, spun around again, shut down, unhelmeted, and went into the hangar. A few minutes rummaging found my black spandex face mask, a few seconds to ensure no denizens had taken residence, then pull it on.  Back into the plane, rehelmet, restrap, restart, and retaxi out to the end of the hangar row.

Temperature off the peg.  To the runup area, a quick check, then onto the runway and go.  With cool weather and an eight-knot wind (this time right down the runway), Moonraker was off and climbing.

It was just absolutely gorgeous up there.  The air was smooth, the snow-dusted Cascade foothills crystal-clear.  Patchwork white and green spread below.  The face mask did a great job of keeping my face warm. Except....

I leaned forward and looked at my reflection in the airspeed.  I could see my nose poking out above the spandex.  Did it

Didn't seem cold.  But I worked and shuffled the mask around to finally get the tip of my nose covered.

Check out one of the local airparks, run a pass over the RC flying field, look longingly at the bridge I don't dare fly under, and start heading for home for some touch-and-goes.  I had to grin while talking on the radio...the mask really cramps my speaking style.  "Aubun traffic, eye Baby ate-foah-ate downwin for touch-and-go...."

We all have good and bad times when we're trying to shoot landings.  The stiff 'ol Fly Baby gear, of course, tends to exaggerate the bad.  I've received compliments from folks for landing that I thought were rougher than a corncob going through puberty.

But man, I was "on" today.

I don't know if it was the dense air, or the stiff, steady wind right down the runway.  Maybe the mask was such a good disguise that the asphalt didn't do its usual dodge right before my wheels touch.  But I was *painting* that airplane onto the runway.

For the first time ever in a Fly Baby...and, if I think about it, the first time *period*...I landed and didn't realize it.  I was fighting to keep the nose up and the mains from touching, and it dawned on me that the plane was no longer reacting to my little side-to-side movements of the stick.  The mains had touched, the load had gradually transferred to the wheels without me detecting it.

I *should* have just made that one full stop.  But I poured the power back on and went around to do two more that were almost as good.

Finally, full stop, taxi back, turn the plane and shut down.  Rolling the plane up the slight slope back into the hangar was a bit tough...the ice pellet/snow mixture didn't give much traction.  I debated tying a rope to the tailwheel and hauling it from inside the hangar, but finally got it put to bed.

Nice day of flying.

And on the way back, I drove by a bank with a time-temperature sign. Thirty-one degrees, F.  Almost fifteen degrees colder than I thought it was.....

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