Most of the country is getting hit with horrible weather, but
Seattle's doing just fine.
Today dawned clear and beautiful. Only one problem:
Temperature was below freezing.
Now, I've flown in cold weather before. This should be any
different. But I stared out the window, wondering if I was
*really* ready to do it again.
It's been a few years, here, since cold weather coincided with
clear skies. I'm not forty anymore, in fact, I saw fifty
almost ten years ago. Maybe this gallivanting around,
flying an open-cockpit plane in freezing weather, was for the
Heck. Do I have the guts to do this again?
Finally decided to do it. Donned a turtleneck sweater
under my flannel shirt, grabbed the B-3, and headed to the
Cripes, it's cold. I preflight the plane in the hangar,
then roll it out into the frosty sunshine. My hands are
frigid; I should have worn gloves during the preflight, and the
prop was a block of ice when I tugged on it to get the plane
Over to the shelves, grab the ammo can with the cold-weather
gear (in an ammo can; it seals and keeps the mice out).
Out comes the ski mask, pull it on. Trail out the
blue-and-white RAF scarf, wrap it around the neck under the
B-3. Grab the thick gloves, and slip them on... better to
fumble with gloves on, than to risk dropping one to the cockpit
floor and have to get out to retrieve it.
Out to the cockpit. One problem with the B-3 is that it's
thicker, and with the shoulder harness loose enough to buckle,
the adjustment straps end up way behind my shoulders and almost
impossible to get to. Try to put them on WITHOUT loosening
Over the cockpit side, climb into the seat. Slam!
The carefully-sculpted Temperfoam of my fancy seat is rock
hard. I'm perched atop the front roll, nearly looking over
the top of the windshield. Grab the shoulder
harness. Doesn't come too near the lap belt... but by
loosening the lap belt, I'm able to connect the left
harness. Grab the right shoulder harness. A few
moments of struggle, and it's over the right-side lap
belt. Loosen the lap belt all the way, and it finally
clicks together. The lap belt is riding way too high, but
I figure as the Temperfoam warms, I'll drop down and tighten it
up in the right spot.
On with the helmet. Gloved fingers fumble with the plugs,
but finally get the whole thing plugged in. Ready to
start. Lower the goggles.
Hmmmm.... the ski mask is leaving a gap outside the
goggles. Pull it over. Ummm, can't do it with
gloves, pull off the right one to tug the elastic back...
...and the glove tumbles to the cockpit floor.
#$%^#! Lean forward. Can't reach. Sigh,
unbuckle the seat belts. STILL can't reach. Throw the belt
off, climb out, dig out the glove, put it on. I loosen the
shoulder belts a bit to make it easier to get back on.
Climb in, don belts. Right shoulder harness fairly
loose. Durn, it'll be fine.
Notice the headset power switch is On...and the red, "Replace
Battery" light is flashing. Damn, had I noticed that, I
could have replaced the battery during the glove
excursion. Oh, well, the ANR doesn't work too well over a
ski mask, anyway (bad seal).
Time to start the engine. Mags on, three squirts of prime,
"Clear," and pull the handle. Engine pulls over slowly a
few times, then catches and runs.
For fifteen seconds. Then it stops.
Hmmmm...it's NEVER done that before. I pull the handle and
crank it over some more. Nothing.
Flooded? Or needing more prime? Back when I flew in
North Dakota, we practically had to use the primers as a wobble
pump in cold weather. But, sheesh, it's barely freezing.
I give it another shot of prime. It flips over, almost
catches. Encouraged, I shoot another couple shots... catches,
and I'm able to keep it going.
We sit in front of the hangar, idling, for five minutes, then
start the long taxi to the end of the active. Runup is
Onto the runway, and slowly feed in power. The Continental
isn't too happy, but soon is cranking out 2300 RPM. Break
ground, watch the low-angle-sun shadow crawl sideways below.
Beautiful day. Around here, you can measure the weather by
counting volcanoes. Mt. Rainier is just 50 miles off,
looming huge as usual. I see Mt. Baker, hundred miles to
the north. Pretty hazy south, can't make out St. Helens.
I realized, suddenly, that I was comfortable. Nothing was
cold. Little of me was *warm*, in fact, but nothing was
uncomfortably chilled. I rested the left elbow on the cockpit
rim and settled back.
The browns and greens of a Pacific Northwest winter were spread
around...the browns of the fields, the dark green of the
evergreen forests. I noticed the big puddles and ponds had
a mirror-like finish. Ice! Dodged over to Lake
Tapps, a pretty big glacier-fed lake. Main part of the
lake looked ice-free, but the areas around the shores looked
like they were freezing over. Some of the smaller inlets
looked frozen, too.
Noticed my left elbow was getting a bit cold. I'd always
thought the B-3 was like a blasphemous declaration by US Navy
Submariners about the steel alloy their hulls are made
from...the clean part of the saying ends, "Nothing gets past
HY80!" I had previously felt that nothing would get past
my B-3, either. It fought well against that 90 MPH blast,
but was obviously gradually losing. No matter, just bring
the elbow inside.
Start heading home. Pattern is actually a bit busy, with two
flight-school helicopters and a Zenith running patterns. I
make my entry and turn downwind.
Now, I *know* that if I were to land on the first pattern on a
chilly day, people would nod knowingly and say, "Guess Ron got
Can't have THAT happen. So I called for a
touch-and-go. I hit some clearing bursts on the throttle
during final, but the Continental did NOT want to go back to
work again. I nursed it back to full power and roared off
Turn crosswind. Cessna calls on 45. I spot him, and
say, "I'll follow you."
"Thanks," he replies. "Staying warm?"
"Anytime I get cold I just fire up the espresso machine."
He chuckles, and we fly our patterns. I call touch-and-go,
and bring it around again. This'll be the last one, I'll
full-stop next time.
But...there's two figures, standing on the grass outside the
airport fence. One taller, older...but one little
guy. Watching me.
Can't stop now. I've got an audience.
Roll the wheels, nurse the C85 back to life, call downwind on
another touch and go. This time, I hold my left arm out of
the cockpit and wave. The man sees it and waves
back. No reaction from the kid.
Around again. Man is waving early. The kid doesn't
Hmmmm... give him one more chance. Around again, call for
Again, Dad (or Grampa) waves, and the kid stands stock still?
Shy? Probably. But maybe he's drinking it all in,
and has no time for me. Hearing the whirr of the wires
through the crisp air. The peeved mutter of the frosty
Continental. The curves of the wingtips, the arch of the
fuselage, the glint of the low winter sun on the drumming
Won't really know, I guess. Pass overhead, ease back on
the stick, feel for the asphalt. Thud-thud, we're down,
and decelerating quickly on the dense air.
Leave the goggles down while taxiing back...it's cold out there.
A friend waves from his hangar. Around the corner, down the row,
kill the engine, hit the seat lever, and climb on out.
As I get in the car to grab my normal glasses, I see myself in
the mirror. Bit of RAF scarf peeking from the B-3.
Nose bright and red from the cold (my ski mask doesn't cover
But, damn. DAMN nice flight. A little chilly, here
and there. But damn! I enjoyed that.
I have a tradition...if the flight was REALLY fun, I don't take
my scarf off after I stow the plane.
It stayed on today....