A Snowy Tail.

Last night, around 7-ish, I believe it was, I took the initiative and got the dogs rounded up to go outside for a potty break. Since Gizmo’s paralysis two summers ago, it’s been recommended by the veterinarian that he wear a jacket outside in the coldest weather to help keep his back comfortable. So I’ve been doing that, having discovered that it also prevents snow from accumulating on his undercarriage. Since I discovered this undocumented feature of dressing the dogs for the out of doors, I have complied because it makes my life far easier than before.

Even the rescue pup, Charlie, is reluctantly willing to don a jacket, though it’s still a challenge to get him to step into the arm holes on cue!

Once all three are adorned with their respective jackets, we proceed outside into the 18-plus inches of snow in the hope that they’ll be cued to do the dog thing.

Chloe begins by hopping about bunny style. Charlie actually starts to frolic, then catches himself and stops. I swear if he’d just relax and let himself go, he’d be a very happy pooch! Gizmo starts wandering and dashing about, trying to burn off some of the pent up energy of having been under house arrest all day. He wanders off down the street and finds a suitable place to eliminate and does so — the only dog to have a clue regarding our most sacred mission! Then he dashes back toward me about 20 feet and stops.

He’s maneuvering around in a rut in the snow about 18 inches deep presumably made by our neighbor Bill’s truck awhile earlier. So it’s kind of like being in a maze in which the direction of travel is limited to two directions: toward me and away from me.

Naturally he chooses the away-from-me path and takes off like a rocket.

Initially, I am not too worried figuring he won’t go that far, so I advance and collect the leftovers in the appropriate bag and proceed to follow Gizmo. By now, he is easily off the side street and on a street that will be one of the first to be plowed, meaning there’s a slight potential for motor vehicle traffic. He’s still in the rut, running like he’s being chased, but he isn’t because I am standing there in the dark, cold night, hands on my hips trying to get Gizmo’s attention.

No such luck.

Since this IS a relatively major thoroughfare, it occurs to be that an oncoming plow, four-wheel drive truck or any other vehicle will be hard pressed to see a black and white dog running in the dark at warp speed in a rut that’s only a few inches taller than he is.

It is then that I make a command decision. Now is an appropriate time to panic.

I take off running after him and calling his name and he ignores me like a hot woman at a cocktail party. All I see is his little doggie butt and his little doggie elbows as he beats little doggie feet away from me. Now I am REALLY starting to panic, so I start running after him and hollering at him trying to make him stop. I’d have had better luck commanding the snow to stop.

Now he’s down to the next intersection and I hear laughter from my right. I glance over and there’s a gentleman shoveling the snow from his driveway. He’s decidedly amused at my race after Gizmo. I suspect that about all he could see of Gizmo was a wisp of white, fluffy tail moving like a snow shark against the subdued lighting of the night, being hotly pursued by a rather panicked human.

It had to be hilarious.

Finally, Gizmo stops, then teases me with one more short dash away, then comes back toward me, all smiles and panting like… well, like a dog. He’s safe.

I don’t have a leash with me so I cajole him and herd him and ask him and tell him and… Anything to get him to head toward home. But he’s had enough and is ready to go home on his own, so he again takes off leaving me in the snow to find my own way home.

When I get there a short while later, he’s nosing around Bill’s house looking for their dog, Blaze, to come out and join the fun. But Blaze isn’t to be found, so he’s wandering aimlessly about. Once I catch up to him, he’s still a little reluctant to go in, so I have to lure him in with the promise of food.

But first, I’ll try the straightforward approach.

“Gizmo! Let’s go home, come on!”

Nothing. He doesn’t even acknowledge me.

“Gizmo,” I say sternly, “let’s go, NOW!”

Nope. I do not exist from his perspective. So next, I try the bribe.

“Gizmo, do you want a treat?”

That stops him as he weighs his options. But since dogs have higher clock speeds than we mere humans, he decides in a flash that nope, this is not worth giving up for a mere treat.

I sigh. I want to go in. I started to sweat during the 100 yard dash to capture Gizmo, and I am starting to get cold.

“OK, Gizmo,” I say. “How about dinner? Do you want some dinner?”

He stops dead in his tracks and spins his head toward me, ears erect and definitely paying attention. After all, I said the “D” word!

“Gizmo, do you have rumbly in your tumbly?”

Yeah, that’s a little embarrassing to say in public. But the neighborhood is covered with at least 18 inches of snow, and no one’s there but me and Gizmo, so it’s worth the risk. And he knows precisely what this means. I say it again.

“Gizmo, do you have rumbly in your tumbly?”

I think he was just waiting for me to confirm what he thought he heard the first time. At the second mention of the “rumbly in the tumbly,” he starts making his way toward me, indicating that dinner is, in fact, an adequate motivation to end his front yard romp in the snow. He hops off the curb and starts making his way toward me and the house, but of course, he’s up to his chin in snow. So he’s having a tough time.

“Gizmo, do you need some help?”

He stops struggling, straightens himself so I can pick him up, and I relocate him from the snow drift to another rut where he can maneuver just fine. At this point, he’s ready. He shakes the excess snow from his body and heads off toward the front door and to the warmth of the living room and his bed.

I follow him in, finally relieved that he’s out of danger. Then I realize it. I have rumbly in my tumbly, too. Yep, food is a more than adequate motivation to come in from the cold.

I just hope we’re not having the same thing for dinner.

Flight Lesson #9 – Second Attempt

18 December:

I seem to have lousy luck with aircraft these days. And tomorrow, it’s supposed to have snowed nearly 2 feet, so there’s no aviation for me tomorrow, even though it’s on the calendar.


It was bizarre, too.

Before you solo, you’re required to conduct three take offs and landings and one go around with an instructor present. Then the instructor endorses your logbook, hops out of the plane and then you do three more landings on your own.

Today was perfect. Winds calm. Temperature around 24 degrees Farenheit. Nice dense air — perfect day to do this.

The first two takeoffs were great. Landings….? Well, I still don’t quite have the hang of it, so I was glad to get in a little more practice. But I got it down without too much trouble.

It was the third approach, and I was supposed to do a go-around, or an aborted takeoff. Once you throttle up and the aircraft starts to climb, you’re supposed to raise the flaps incrementally as your airspeed increases. Well, I hit the throttle and reached over and raised the flaps once, then twice, then a third time which is how it’s supposed to go. But I was still pushing like crazy on the yoke trying to keep the nose down where it belonged. All the while, Brad is trying to correct me on the go around procedure.

After a short while, I finally said to Brad, “Hey, did you adjust the trim, Cause I am pushing like crazy here.” He took the controls and felt how much I was pushing down to maintain the attitude of the aircraft, and looked to see if the trim was somehow reset. But there was no doubt that neither of us touched it for the previous three approaches.

Then Brad says “Look at your flaps.” I look over my left shoulder and the flaps are still fully extended. Whoops! Brad recycles the flaps, but they stay frozen — probably literally, cause it’s cold — in the extended position. This makes for a lot of extra drag on the airplane, and it flies slower and climbs faster.

Once we figured out that the flaps were not going to go back up, we called the tower and told them we’d be going to the west ramp instead of taxiing back to do it all again.

It was a little different to handle, but it wasn’t difficult once I knew what the problem was. By the time I was on final, the flaps are supposed to be extended anyway, so it became a normal landing.

Once on the ground, we parked the airplane near maintenance to see if another aircraft was available, and it was, but Brad’s wasn’t. Another instructor was a definite maybe, and there was a question about whether the replacement aircraft would have been ready in time for me to go up again. So I just said “You know what? Let’s just do this another time.”

Unfortunately, “another time” will probably be mid week, since the snow’s coming, and coming fast.

Everything’s a learning point. If you succeed, you learn how to do something. If you get it wrong, you learn not to get it wrong again. If there’s an equipment failure, you learn how to deal with it systematically instead of panicking. So it’s my opinion that even though I didn’t get the solo endorsement today, even though I met the requirements and was verbally cleared, I gained so much from both the practice and the experience of yet another in-flight anomaly. It’s like old adage, anyone can steer the ship when the sea is calm.

But even rough seas have value if you learn from them.

Flight Lesson #9 – First Attempt

12 December:

I can’t tell for sure if I’m hungry, nervous or excited.

It’s about 8:30, and in a few hours, I’ll head out to the airport for my lesson and possibly first solo flight. First, I’ll do at least three take offs and landings with Brad, my instructor, in the right seat. Then if the winds and my own skills support it, Brad will hop out of the plane and I’ll do three more.

This all starts about 1 this afternoon, and I have oodles of chores to do before I leave. So I’ll at least be distracted while I am working, but at some point, I suppose I should face up to the likelihood that, by the time I get home, I will have actually flown a small airplane on my own.

So I guess this means that the next time I am on an airliner, and the flight attendant comes on the intercom and asks “Is there anyone onboard who can fly a plane?” I’ll be able to answer in the affirmative.

Damn straight.

12 December (afternoon):

Not quite.

I got close, though.

I wasn’t particularly confident that I had enough experience to get landings under control. Brad, my instructor, had 18 hours before he soloed. I had barely 11 this afternoon. But I did seven take offs and landings and next time, Brad feels as though I’ll be good to go. So it didn’t happen today, and frankly, I am relieved. I didn’t think I was ready, but of course, you have to trust your instructor, so I did. He’s supposed to make sure I wasn’t in a position to go up unassisted when I wasn’t ready. And he made the right choice.

Check that. WE made the right choice.

And for me, that’s just fine. I have the luxury of time. I am not doing this because I need it for work. I am not doing this under any time schedule at all. So I can take my time and be a little conservative with my goals until I am genuinely ready. There’s nothing worse than being pushed into something for which you aren’t ready, and in my case, I have no pressure to perform.

So next time. Probably mid week in the morning, if the weather’s holding.

More later. I’m pooped!

Flight Lesson #8 or "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!"

3 December:

Scheduled to fly with Brad. Did great pre-flight briefing. Winds look crappy for the return. Nothing like getting off the ground and not being able to get back. Shit. Weather cancellation number nine-thousand, three hundred and twenty two.

5 December:

No aviating today either. It’s raining at 6:30 am when I call in to Dulles Aviation and talk to Wanda. Wanda is one of the women who works the front counter. (Which makes me wonder all of a sudden why there aren’t any men working the front counter.) She’s a lovely person, but perhaps a tad on the curmudgeonly side. She’s pretty clearly seen it all when it comes to students and aviation. I have no clue what her background is, but she’s appears to have a firm grasp on reality when it comes to pilots. And I think the world of her. She’s always very friendly when I see her, but I just get the feeling if I say something stupid or point out the blindingly obvious, I’ll get skewered. Anyway, I recognize her voice when she answers, so I give her a cheery (for 6:30 am) greeting and let her know I have a lesson scheduled at 8:00 am. Laughter ensues. Copious laughter. Guffaws even. Add one more weather cancellation to the list. Weather cancellation number nine-thousand, three hundred and twenty three.

8 December:

November was a bust. Eight lessons were scheduled from the last time I flew. Eight were cancelled. Eight. E-I-G-H-T. Count ‘em. 8. If I had done all of them, I’d be on lesson 16 now, which is the Boeing 737. But no, here I am still on lesson 8.

(Did I mention that I had eight lessons cancelled?)

Today, I got me some aviation love. More about that in a minute.

Remember this? This was what happened on 17 November:

“The cabin smelled as though someone had poured a gallon on fuel on the floor and closed the doors. I wouldn’t drive my car in such a condition, and Chris agreed. Better safe than sorry, and all that. So, canceled due to strong odor of fuel in the cabin.”

Damn good thing we didn’t go.

Turns out that the filler neck for one of the two fuel tanks cracked and a significant amount of fuel had spilled into the wing above the cabin, which manifested as the strong odor. So it was a good decision to turn the aircraft over to maintenance for inspection. The consequences of any other course of action would have been rather severe. Let’s just say that I’d prefer that my name never come up in a Federal Aviation Administration incident report, particularly a fatal one.

Ok, back to Tuesday.

The weather actually cooperates, though the afternoon could be pretty bleak. I’m scheduled to fly with Brad, but I encounter Chris as I am unloading my flight bag from the Prius. We exchange insincerities and he says he’s pinch hitting for Brad, because he’s out sick. No problem. I like flying with Chris. In fact, Chris and Brad are my top choices for instructors when I’m scheduling. This is our second real attempt at lesson 8, so I am hoping that the aircraft is in good shape. Once the preflight briefing’s done, out to the hangar where the Cessna 172 is indoors avoiding frost.

We go inside and do the preflight inspection. It’s amazing how quickly you can do a preflight when you’re cold. But I did all the items on the checklist, except fuel testing, and she was ready to fly. The hangar doors were opened and the glory of a beautiful, cold morning rushed in. Of course, we were rushing out. A running plane is far warmer than a plane that’s NOT running, so we were both anxious to get going.

Did you know how often you have to push a small airplane? Did you know how easy it is compared to a car? The easy answers are: “Often” and “Very.” One has to push the airplane out of the hangar. You can’t do the fuel testing or start the engines in the hangar. Think about what would happen were one of the planes to catch fire while still inside. Any other planes would be at serious risk as would the structure, so it gets pushed out clear of the building before you test the fuel, climb aboard and start the engine.

In short order, I do the fuel testing and we climb aboard. In no time, we’re taxiing out to the runway. Now the moment of truth. We do the run-up tests as I did the last time up with Brad. Last time, they failed. This time they did not. I get clearance to take off and off we go.

This is a review lesson, and since it’s been over a month since I flew last, I was a little worried about it. Back around flight lesson 3, I wound up taking about three weeks off for various reasons, most of them valid reasons. But coming back was a disaster: “Not flying for three weeks was probably the WORST possible thing I could have done to myself as far as flight training goes. I expected to experience a setback, but I was really quite surprised at how much set back I was. This will not happen again voluntarily.”

I must be learning, because flying Tuesday was just like riding a bicycle, except a lot further up in the air.

I handled the aircraft nicely, for the most part, and felt comfortable that if I looked away or took my hands off the controls, everything would be where I left it when I looked back. It was. I got so bold as to let go of the yoke and unfold my chart with two hands and the damn Cessna flew just fine without me. This reinforced what I learned from the last lesson – work WITH the plane don’t try to overpower it by sheer force of will. Works a whole lot better.

I did three landings, two at Culpepper airport, a rather desolate little airfield a fur piece from the actual town of Culpepper. Since it was early and cold, there wasn’t a lot of competition in the air, so I was able to relax and enjoy operations there. Then, back to Manassas, where it was a straight in approach. I had forgotten that Chris had mentioned doing a slip-to-land at some point during the day. A slip is a maneuver in which the airplane is pointing in one direction, but rapidly moving down and in the opposite direction. It sounds worse than it is, and it’s a very effective way to lose altitude fast in a controlled fashion. Chris had apparently forgotten too, and like the bonehead I am, I said “Hey Chris. Weren’t we supposed to do a slip today?”

The situation was acceptable, so he assisted in the slip and I landed with no problems. But I need to practice that maneuver. It’s a bit complicated. It’s more than a bit disconcerting to feel the Cessna literally slip to the side. It’s not something that you’d think would work, but it does and when it works, it’s pretty cool!

So now I am at 24 landings and about 10 hours. Friday will be another review lesson, and then Saturday is the big day. I’ll do three take offs and three landings (the number of take offs and landings are supposed to be equal, by the way) and then the instructor, presumably Brad, will hop out of the airplane and I’ll do three more of each on my own. No one else in the plane. Solo.

Yup. I’m soloing Saturday, if everything cooperates and I do my job. Of course, this is just one step on the road to becoming actually licensed. That’s still 30 flight hours away, plus or minus. But still, I’ll be up there all by my lonesome for the very first time.

I’ll be ready.