Messing With the Airport Staff's Minds

Posted December 2003

Winter in Seattle means, for the most part, clouds and drizzle.  The rain lets up occasionally, letting an impatient aviator shoot out and get a little flight time.  But it's usually under gray skies and with an eye to showers moving in from the cumulogranite to the east and west.

However, sometimes the weather gods blow it.  The skies blow clear, the sunshines, and the Cascade and Olympic mountains stretch around the horizon,showing snow-dusted flanks.

Perfect flying weather, but one drawback for the Fly Baby driver:  The temperature drops.  With the clouds and rain, the temperature generally runs about 45 to 50 degrees F, with only a little day/night variation.  But without the sky blanket to hold the heat in, the mercury dives.

Yesterday was such a day.  It was just over freezing when I got to the airport.  I was wearing a turtleneck under my Fly Baby denim shirt, but my leather jacket didn't provide enough warmth even during preflight.  So I added a sweatshirt.  For the first time in several years, I pulled my spandex ski-mask out of the flight bag, and added the brand-new fleece-lined leather gloves Santa had brought.

The temperfoam pad of Moonraker's seat was ice-hard when I slid down into the cockpit.  The bulky clothes made it a bit tougher to gather the safety harness straps and plug the headset into the comm system.  I was sweating a bit by the time I'd finally got myself attached to the airplane.  The temperfoam had thawed a bit by then; I made a mental note to re-tighten the straps before takeoff.

The new starter clutch spun the Continental to life, and the propwash hurriedly made me drag up the ski mask to cover my nose and lower the goggles.

After that, though...the flight was heaven.  The airplane performed like a wonder in the crisp air, aided by a stiff 10 knot wind right down the
runway.  It shot off the ground like it was flung by a rubber-band catapult.  As we rose, the snow-capped peaks of the Cascade range lifted above the horizon.  A few bumps due to the wind, otherwise smooth.

I did my usual cold-weather flying routine:  Fly to the nearby airports, and do either a landing or a low pass so people could point and say to each other, "Look at that idiot in the open-cockpit airplane!"  But I was comfortable...the combination of the leather helmet, ski mask, silk scarf, and turtleneck nicely kept the drafts away from any skin, and the cozy cockpit and heater handled the rest.

Back to the home drome after forty-five minutes.  I figured if I landed immediately, my friends would nod knowingly and say, "Guess Ron got too cold," so I shot some touch-and-goes first.  As usual, the cold and the ski mask made it tough to enunciate on the radio, but people seemed to be able to decode calls like "Eye Baby Ayht four Ayht down ind f'r touch-and-o on Eeee four."

After about a half-dozen bump-and-runs, I decided to call it a day.  'Raker was a bit low on gas, and I prefer to tank up on Avgas in the winter.  So I taxied up to the gas pumps.

Next to the pumps, I saw the new airport manager (whom I know fairly well), one of the airport staff, and a buddy huddled around an open equipment box installed on the wind-swept ramp.  The Superunicom was down, and they were trying to get it working again.

It's a fact of life that if you live in the Seattle area and don't own an open-cockpit airplane, you do NOT own much in the way of cold-weather gear. Seattlites may own five brands of raincoats, but other than maybe a ski jacket stuffed in the back of a closet, they're usually not equipped to spend much time outdoors in the cold.

These three guys certainly weren't.  With the stiff north wind, the wind-chill factor was probably in the teens.  The manager just had a topcoat over his suit and the staffer a thin jacket.  My buddy had a leather jacket on, but none of them had gloves or anything on their heads (old Swiss saying: If your feet are cold, put on your hat).

Me, on the other hand...I was still fairly comfortable.  But I'm sure after their time on the ramp, they probably *really* expected me to be half-frozen.  I shut down Moonraker, took off my headset, climbed out, and strolled over to them, still wearing my helmet, ski mask, etc.

"You know," I said, eyeing the shivering forms before me, "I would have picked a warmer day to work on that....." :-)

Ron Wanttaja