Why do I do what I do?

Just about exactly three years ago I started this website.  Or should I say I amended and restated this site.  At that time, I felt compelled to feature a rather lengthy introduction and welcome on the home page.  Thought it was a good Idea at the time, as the saying goes.  Time marches on and I thought it looked a bit tacky so it was time for a remodel; I wanted something simple and I think I achieved “simple” with the latest look but don’t ask me why I changed it.  But unlike brick and mortar construction, I didn’t have to throw it away; I just moved it to here and saved it for posterity.  Someday I may want to change it back.  I don’t know why.

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Welcome to my website. Dedicated to those who pursue all that is impractical, illogical and immoral, and flying, which sometimes all go hand in hand.

This current website is a “restatement” of an earlier site first published in 2009.  That site, put together with an obscure piece of software long since extinct, consisted of a random collection of photos and not much else, devoid of a theme or purpose.  My first choice was to continue to modify the old site, but upon losing the administrator password I learned that even the best of the best at GoDaddy couldn’t revive the failing patient; the old site was toast and the new one emerged from the ashes on August 4, 2016.

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I learned to fly with the understanding that I would never use it for anything useful other than having fun; I have not been disappointed and with this site, I will recount some of the more memorable moments. Why?

Damned if I know.

 

–dan, 4Aug16 and 15Jul19

One Hot Plane in Every Sense.

Alas.  Time flies.  And you know what they say about the best laid plans.  I started this post over two years ago and then…..life happened.  And even though things have once again taken a MAJOR change, I decided to go ahead and finish this post before trying to catch up to the present.  Had I have pursued this post and completed it when I first started, it surely would have been more lengthy as the events would have been clearer in my mind.  But I will soldier on and give it my best shot.tw

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The Sunbird Saga:  From Beginning To End

I am a Virgo and have been told that Virgos tend to analyze things to death.  While I generally don’t believe in all of that astrological hoopla, I DO tend to seek out gobs of data when moving into something new.  My gut told me that even though the Sunbird was a “Pitts”, it somehow was substantially different than anything that I had flown and I needed to find out exactly what those differences were all about.  Only one man alive had flown the Sunbird and that was Spencer Suderman. Spencer had overseen and bankrolled the restoration of the Sunbird in anticipation  of using it to set a new world’s record for inverted spins.  Spencer’s help was priceless; we spoke by phone; we exchanged emails; we covered everything from start-up to shut down; and to me I saw LOTS of subtle differences between the Sunbird and anything else that I had flown.  But I had everything covered; at least that is what I thought:  rudder pedals, equipment, fuel transfer…..everything…..or so I thought.

After amassing pages of notes from my conversations with Spencer and pouring over all of the manuals for the avionics installed, I headed off to New Mexico to meet Fara Green, a delightful lady and the widow of the Sunbird’s builder, Dick Green, and to pick up the Sunbird.  The first order of business was to jump in the plane and see first hand all of the things that Spencer and I had discussed in such great detail.  Everything was exactly where it was supposed to be and worked as expected; there was nothing to do except fire it up and see how it handled.  So off I went; I fired it up and taxied out of Fara’s hangar attached to her home.  And that is when I ran into, almost literally, my first problem: the damn thing wouldn’t turn.  No matter what I did, no matter how far I pushed on the rudder pedals, the plane would simply not turn.  I ran off of the taxi way at least twice and almost ran into a post before I got on the phone with Spencer.  It seems that we forgot to discuss the tail wheel which was a free castering device that can only be steered, and just barely, by differential braking.  It took a fair amount of practice for the rest of a very hot afternoon.  And when it is 105 degrees in New Mexico, it is hotter than hell inside a single place biplane with no air vents and a bubble canopy.

The hospitality extended by Fara was unbelievable but the time came to leave; I was heading into what proved to be the hottest week of the year throughout the southwest.  Morning came, the take off was routine and I was on my way.  Now I had several concerns but on the top of my list was fuel:  the Sunbird doesn’t hold very much.  So, my first leg was relatively short so I could top off the fuel.  Ultimately it would take six fuel stops to make it home.  My next concern was landing:  despite Spencer’s reassurance, I wanted to see just how this thing handled  from power back to shut down.  That first landing was a non event.  Thanks Spencer.  But the trip back to San Luis Obispo had other obstacles:  I was sick and it was hot.  I don’t recall what medication I was taking but I am sure that the FAA may have raised an eyebrow or two.  And the heat was unbearable.  My plan was to fly only in the morning to avoid the hottest part of the day but on the second day it was already 115 degrees when I landed in Palm Springs and it wasn’t yet noon; that day topped out at 124 degrees. But make it home I did and without breaking or bending a thing, including my ego.  In fact, I was pretty jazzed about it for several days.

Over the next several months I accomplished a lot, including getting rid of that ridiculous tailwheel.  A trip back to Ray’s Aviation resulted in adding a big 3 bladed MT prop and a steerable tailwheel.  Then there was a fair amount of time in the pattern learning how to cope with the incredible sink rate with the extra weight and braking effect of that large prop, but I eventually got there.  Over time, I traveled with the Sunbird throughout California and into Nevada and Arizona.  Given the fuel situation–that is, the lack of a reasonable amount of fuel–I normally flew with the power pulled back.  But because the plane was so light and the engine and prop so powerful, I still could cruise at 150 MPH when the engine was using slightly less that 11 gallons per hour.

The Sunbird was built to fly, not to be worked on by a mechanic.  It seemed like even some of the simplest things if done in a certified Pitts proved to be a challenge on the Sunbird.  Thank God I had access to Ray; it would have been impossible without him.  The engine compartment was especially challenging: there was virtually no access to enginemany of the areas on the accessory case.  If the day ever comes when the electronic ignition goes out, the engine will have to be pulled.

One hot Saturday in July, 2017, found me topping off the tanks in Thermal, California, after a 10 – 15 minute flight from my home base at Palm Springs. (I like being based in Palm springs where KPSP is only a mile and a half from my house.  But at $7 a gallon for 100LL, I usually fueled up elsewhere until I learned that the FBO at PSP was supposed to be giving me a sizable credit for being a tenant. Once we got that credit situation straightened out, things got more friendly.)  While taxiing away with my now full fuel tanks, the radio came alive with this simple message from a stranger: “Hey Pitts, you’re leaking oil like a sieve”.  Even though I managed to kill the oillineengine in record time, I had already lost all but about 2 to 3 quarts of oil.  It took over a month of down time, two oil lines and an oil cooler to get the Sunbird back in the air.  Once flying, I headed straight to Santa Paula and once again Ray was able to fix the cause of the problem and not just patch up the symptoms.  So now the oil cooler had been repaired yet again and the engine sported a new and smaller starter and relocated starter solenoid; that finally put an end to the oil issues.

Even though the fuel situation could be managed to allow for travel from Point A to Point B, travel was tenuous at best: it was hot and it was small and much to my surprise, I really missed the 2nd seat.  So, once again, I started thinking of selling.  But this time, when I eventually listed the plane, I discovered that the sale would be anything but easy.  In fact, it was a bitch and a real pain in the ass.  I am not saying that all of the prospective purchasers were scavengers; they weren’t.  One really fun guy from southern California really loved it and didn’t balk at the asking price (at that point I was still asking only about 85% of what I had paid into purchasing it, not including repairs); but he was sooooo big that he could barely move once he wedged himself inside.  Life sometimes can be cruel.  But sell it did and I moved on.

And I came down with mono.

Nothing Lasts Forever

So now I was the proud owner of a freshly recovered S2B and life was good. And then came April, 2016.

Now I have not subscribed to Trade-a-Plane in years and really wasn’t at all interested in looking at it.  But once in a blue moon, I would come home and there would be a complimentary copy sitting on the counter; and, that is what happened in April, 2016.  I reached to pick it up and throw it away, but instead set it on the counter and it opened almost by itself.  Now there are never many, if any, Pitts for sale but the paper just happened to open to the page with the listings for Pitts. And there, right in the middle, was a simple one column inch ad for the Sunbird.  The Sunbird!  I read about this plane ten years before and had always thought, “That is what I would really like to own.”  I poured over that ad and thought about it all night and the next day I started making phone calls.  I spoke with the broker (who at the time was in Norway), and then with the only man alive who had flown the plane, and then mechanic who had recently refurnished it and, finally,  the owner.  It was a slippery slope and I was going down fast.

So what was it about that plane that got me so Jazzed?  I have always gravitated to the unique and unusual and the Sunbird fit that description to a “T.”  It’s registered Experimental, Amateur Built, with a design based on the Pitts S1.  Although its outward appearance is similar to the Pitts S1, under the cowl is a Lycoming IO540 generating at least 30% more horsepower found in the average S1.  Its a single seat plane, whereas my S2B had two seats.  Hell, most of the time (read that 95%+) I was alone when I flew the S2B so I figured having only one seat was not a big deal.

There are common threads that bind much of my experience with aviation. The Sunbird was designed by Dan Rihn, the designer of the Phoenix; the Phoenix is owned by John King who first checked me out in my first Pitts.  The Sunbird was recently rebuilt by Ray’s Aviation who had just recovered my current Pitts. It didn’t take long to find out a lot about the Sunbird and I decided to buy it.  The owner, Fara Green, is a delightful lady and was a pleasure to deal with; we struck a deal and I sent off a non refundable deposit. If I couldn’t sell the S2B in six weeks I would either (1) lose the deposit or (2) pay cash for the balance and own two planes until I could sell the S2B;  and, neither one of those options appealed to me.

S2B was out up for sale and potential buyers came out of the woodwork, lots of nice people from all over the world; it sold in a heartbeat.

Another adventure was about to begin.

 

 

 

N6034S The Aftermath

So now I was the proud owner of a fabric covered plane with a ginormous hole in the fabric and I didn’t have a clue as to where to start.  Well, actually I did know where to start:  the insurance company.  After just a couple of phone calls an insurance adjuster was scheduled and would arrive in a matter of just days.  Fortunately my paperwork was all in order.  Then, there was my local A&P–Al at Air San Luispitts-6034s-damage Al was a Godsend; without him, I would have been lost.  Without belaboring all of the details, we decided that Al would put a temporary patch on the hole, obtain a ferry permit and I would take the plane to Ray’s Aviation in Santa Paula for a permanent patch for the wing.  Actually, “we” didn’t decide anything; Al pretty much told me what needed to be done and that was the way it was going to be.

As far as “plans” go the one described above seemed straightforward and I was encouraged and just assumed that the repairs would be started quickly and would be complete in short order.  The plan started on schedule but went south quickly.  The first thought was just to use duct tape to make the patch.  But the hole was so big that the weight of the duct tape pulled the patch from the bottom of the wing–there wasn’t enough clearance behind the aileron to go completely around the wing with the tape.  Plan B involved sanding down the paint ant applying a fabric patch; this too should have been a quick fix but for the fact that the weather turned unseasonably cool and the bonding goop that Al wanted to use required warmer weather.  So we waited.  Eventually the weather warmed and now, nearly two months after the unfortunate occurrence in Reedley, the plane was taken down and handed off to Ray.

But Ray was in high demand; remember this is now in June.  Ray’s Aviation does a LOT of work for guys with aerobatic planes and once again I had to wait until Ray had the chance to start on the project.  At this point the project had expanded to a complete recovering of the bottom wing which the insurance company would pay for.  The only thing that I would be paying for would be modifications to the lower wing attach points to remove an AD.  But just as the work began another landmine exploded:  Ray indicated that the fabric on the whole plane was shot; it didn’t need a punch test, the fabric could be torn like tissue paper with your bare hands.  I knew this day was coming–the plane still sported the original cotton fabric that it wore the day it left the factory–but I was not ready for it mentally.  Holy crap.

All hope for seeing the plane back in short order and at little or no cost was shattered.  I had no idea how long this was going to take or how much it was going to cost.  But once again, the parts were ordered and the work began.  Ray was great about keeping in touch and letting me know about his progress:  he called me on a regular basis to tell me about some new part or some new repair that was required that wasn’t in the original quote.  And each time when asked about the cost of the additional work, Ray’s response was “Oh, I don’t know, but it will be around $X,XXX.XX.

I began to get concerned about all of those “XXXXs” adding up.  But we soldiered along and eventually, very late in 2015, the work was finished; and, it unknownwas beautiful.  And in all fairness to Ray all of my concerns about the cost were unjustified.  Sure, it wasn’t cheap, but it wasn’t outrageous by a long shot; I felt that he did a great job at a fair price.  I couldn’t have been more pleased.  I even got a souvenir. pitts_the-only-thing-left

N6034S, Part 2

In April, 2015, I pulled off one of the best wheel landings at KSBP after returning home from visiting my brother in Reedley, California.  Reedley is always a fun trip because my brother lives only about a mile and a half from the airport.  And his house is right under the point where I normally turn inbound on the 45 to enter the traffic pattern.  So I usually pass over his house at about 1000 feet AGL with the prop turning at 2500 RPM; there is no doubt to anyone below that I have arrived and they know to head to the airport to pick me up.  The only downside to the trip was in my haste to get back in the air when leaving, I managed to taxi off the edge of the ramp a bit and the left wheel went into the dirt.  It woke me up a bit but no harm done.

But back to the wheel landing in SLO.  I had gotten to the point where I wasn’t embarrassed to try wheel landing the plane.  And most worked out ok, but this one was perfect, at least by my definition.  I approached the airport at an altitude that would be ridiculously high in most other planes.  At about five to seven miles out, I just nosed it down and dove for the traffic pattern altitude with the airspeed topping 190.  The rest goes like this:  enter the pattern, pull the power way back, bleed off the speed, power all the way off, and you are over the numbers before you know it.   As I sink down towards the numbers, I add just enough power at the last few seconds so that the plane barely holds level flight; then just inch the power back and let it settle; this one worked out great.

Its amazing that I didn’t hurt myself patting myself on my back; life doesn’t get much better than this.  After tucking the plane back in the hangar, 20150413_153335_resizedI was almost ready to leave but, for whatever reason, I turned to get something that I had forgotten.  My heart sank.  A large strip of fabric was hanging from the lower left wing.  Apparently during my excursion from the Reedley taxiway, the left wing crossed over something that ripped the fabric; and the flight back to KSBP, especially my Kamikaze approach, really tore it up. The hole in the fabric was enormous.  20150413_153330_resizedThe good news?  The ribs, structural items and anything else of substance were untouched…..except for my crushed ego.  I had never had to orchestrate what it would take to get this repaired.  Little did I know what the future held.

 

 

 

N6034S

On any day in December, 2011, you could have found me pouring over the pages of Trade-A-Plane or browsing the listings at Barnstormers. There wasn’t a lot to choose from under the Pitts listings (there never is) but all I needed was one; and, as luck would have it, I found one and it was less than 200 miles south of me at KVNY. Numerous emails and telephone calls ensued and at the end of the day I bought my second airplane.

N6034S is an Pitts S2B built in 1988. Fortunately for me, the prior owner loved to work on the plane, more than he liked to fly it; at least that is my assessment and I may be wrong about it.pitts-6034s However, there is no escaping the fact that the former owner spent a LOT of money upgrading 34S and that was a major factor in my decision to buy it. Read that to mean he swapped out the radios and put in new Garmin equipment including a Mode S transponder linked to a Garmin 496 GPS. Fuel totalizer.  406 MHz ELT. Strobes. Fire extinguisher. Hooker harnesses. Bose headset jacks. And, oh yes, a 3-bladed MT prop. There was only one weak link: the plane was still covered in its original 23 year old cotton fabric, but, what the hell.

For the most part, 34S flies just like 24MC except the pitch forces are a bit higher and it sinks like a rock when the power is pulled back, but the transition was a non-event. However my purchase of 34S coincided with rapid rise in 100LL prices and the IO540 consumes 33% more fuel than an IO360. 34S was however significantly faster in cruise and I ignored the fuel costs as much as I could. My flying preferences remained unchanged: I stuck to my usual haunts for the proverbial $100 hamburger with an occasional side trip.

At least two instructors had tried to teach me the “proper” way to wheel land a taildragger, but neither or them succeeded. I was petrified at the thought of trying to land a plane and having to push the stick foreward. But, for whatever reason, wheel landings fascinated me and I decided to teach myself; fortunately, I didn’t bend anything in the process and eventually got to the point where wheel landings scored somewhere between acceptable and good about 75% of the time (as long as I had a real long runway to work with); the other 25% were salvageable.  But then the three point landings, which had served me quite well for years regardless of the wind conditions, went to crap; I couldn’t win.

For the most part I still stayed away from aerobatics, but I did begin to take a keen interest in inverted flight and slow rolls.  For fun, I would roll inverted and stay that way while I tried to follow a road or navigate off of the GPS; the roads were a hell of a lot easier than the GPS.  These diversions could become distracting and on one such occasion after rolling inverted my ink pen fell free from its storage place and was rolling around in the now inverted canopy.  I hesitated to roll upright because the pen could have ended up in one of several place that defy reasonable access so I proceeded to try to fish it out from the canopy; that was easier said than done.photo-2  Every time that I reached for the pen with my left arm, my right arm would unconsciously decrease or increase the pressure on the stick causing the pen to dance around in the canopy, eluding my grasp.  Somewhere in this process I managed to release enough pressure on the stick and allowed the nose to drop; it was quite sobering when, for whatever reason, I focused my eyes outside the cockpit and saw the ground coming up; we were level then upright in a heartbeat.  And I eventually found the pen after landing.

 

 

Pitts 24MC Part 4

One thing I learned in my years in retail is that the greatest of ideas are worthless unless you can sell them.  I decided to cool my heals about looking for a new plane until I found out if it were feasible to sell the one I had ; alas, there was no pipeline full of money to support more than one airplane.  And since we were still in the so-called “Great Recession” all bets were off.  An ad was crafted to place on Barnstormers (sorry Trade-A-Plane) to see if anyone were interested.

The number of people who responded to the ad was astonishing.  And, the replies came from around the world.  You wouldn’t have guessed there was any kind of economic downturn.  Of course, some of them were just kicking the tires; and, others just wanted to converse.  But many of them were legitimately interested to one degree or another.  One of the first who sounded interested was a fellow named Ted from Canada.  Ted and I traded quite a few emails and I can recall telling my then wife that Ted just wanted to chat; I doubted that he was a serious buyer.  But another thing I learned in retail was to never stop trying to sell, so I didn’t categorically dismiss Ted’s inquires.  And there were about four others who were seriously interested as well.

Over the course of two months I conversed with so many people that I lost track of the emails; I couldn’t recall what I had told to whom.  There were three guys who were likely buyers, not counting Ted; and, two of them showed up to look the plane over and fly.  But a sale wasn’t immanent.  And there was Ted.

Gradually, the discussions with Ted became much more detailed and I realized that Ted was serious.  We ultimately got to the point where we had to figure out a way to close the deal.  24MC was due for an annual and, in short, Ted and I agreed  that I would take it to a mechanic, Keith Peterman,  that was recommended by (again) Ken Erickson and based on the results of that annual, Ted would decide if he wanted to buy the plane.  Not feeling compelled to sell this plane, I told Keith that he was free to answer all of Ted’s questions and disclose anything and everything to Ted about his findings.  Well as a result of that, and unbeknownst to me at the time, Ted told Keith that if , in fact, Ted bought the plane, it was Ted’s intention to take the plane to Steve Wolf, the pre eminent  Abi Wan Kenobi in the Pitts world, and have Steve double check the work.   Professional pride is a great motivator and Keith became quite motivated; $4,500.00 worth of work later, 24MC emerged from the annual.  Ted wanted to buy.  There were no other S2As available at the time.photo_092509_025

Quite frankly, I didn’t care whether the plane sold or not; and as a seller, that is a great  mindset.  So, when Ted offered somewhat less than my asking price I politely refused.  Ted then offered to pay my asking price if I flew 24MC with him to Florida, Ted’s winter home.  Ted was offering to buy the plane sight unseen and my retail instincts were screaming “ACCEPT”.  And the thought of the ultimate cross country flight was irresistible, even though I had never dreamed of attempting such a feat, let alone in a Pitts.  Not wanting  to take any unfair advantage of Ted, I offered to take the plane off the market until Ted had the chance to fly to San Luis to inspect the plane.  And we agreed further that if he didn’t like it, then the deal was off, no harm, no foul.  And finally, if he liked it, we would fly it to Florida together.    Wanting to give Ted all of the options to decide not to buy the plane, I told Ted that the sale would wasn’t final until we crossed the border between California and Arizona. (I believe that this provision was actually added the Bill of Sale, but I didn’t keep a copy and can’t be sure). And, we agreed to split the fuel cost….I wanted to make that flight.  Ted happily agreed.

And thus the adventure began.  Ted arrived in  San Luis Obispo on the Friday following Thanksgiving in 2011.  He loved the plane. The final paperwork was attended to Saturday morning and at about noon we embarked for Florida.  One of my biggest concerns was the distance required between some of the fuel stops in the southwest; another was, of course, the weather that we might run into.  Both of these concerns were dispelled by one simple factor that we couldn’t have predicted–a 40+ mph tailwind that we picked up around Blythe, California, which continued all the way to Florida.  And the weather was spectacular; we literally saw NO clouds until we were east of Texas. On Tuesday, after 16 fuel stops, 24MC arrived in Florida; the deal was done.  It was a blast.  But somewhere around the time that we were over central Texas regret on having sold 24MC crept in. I vowed that my next plane would be another Pitts.

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After spending two days in Florida and meeting several delightful folks, all friends of Ted and his lovely wife, I boarded a commercial flight and was home, back in Avila Beach, California, in just a few hours.

Pitts N24MC Part 3

I feel like I cut my teeth in 24MC.  We flew together for 5 years.  But at first I was like a newly minted student pilot, since after all, it had been almost 20 years since I had gotten my license.  N24MC sported an advanced avionics suite:  a Garmin GPS Pilot III consisting only of an arrow that indicated the direction to your intended destination, similar to an ADF, if any of you remember those.  But to me, the Garmin was a Godsend, I was amazed at it’s accuracy.

I knew that I needed to practice so I decided to replicate my student pilot training.  Of course I started with a lot of time in the pattern getting more comfortable with landings.  And I laboriously planned cross country flights, some of which were ridiculously short in terms of time and distance.  One of my biggest concerns was fuel:  I had no faith in the fuel gauge and it took a while to get comfortable with the fuel burn per hour.  And, believe it or not, initially I didn’t trust the GPS:  I actually plotted courses out on a sectional and monitored, or tried to monitor, my progress using the sectional during the flight. N24MC was not rigged perfectly, or the trim was not adjusted quite right, so as soon as I would let go of the stick, the plane entered a descending right hand spiral turn; trying to turn the sectional over to follow the course required a fair amount of altitude.

One of my first cross country flights took me to Sacramento–KSAC.  The flight itself was uneventful; refueling was not.  I wasn’t accustomed to using the standard aviation gas nozzle and its large hose; the fuel pump at KRBL was similar to the old style automotive pumps.  For some reason when I got the hose to the plane at KSAC, there was no gas coming out of the nozzle, or I should say, it just trickled out. Of course I kept squeezing the handle trying to make it work, but that did no good.  It was only when I turn around that I could see that a kink in the hose was the likely culprit.  Not wanting to set the nozzle on the ground, I carried it back and started to fix the kink.  The gas gushed out the nozzle:  the valve was stuck wide open.  By the time I got the nozzle shut off, I was standing in a ten foot wide puddle of 100LL, my clothes were soaked, my eyes stung and I could taste the gas.   The best part:  nobody was around to see it.  The worst part:  I still hadn’t gotten any gas in the plane.

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And then there was a trip to Hayward; I was enjoying the sights in the San Francisco bay area so much that I managed to bust the TCA.  I had to phone the tower when I landed and fortunately the controller didn’t make a stink about it.  Nobody would have known who I was if I hadn’t called in to land.

But one thing that I still had yet to overcome was my aversion to turbulence: I still avoided flying when the wind was anything less than “perfect”, which defies definition, and would quickly return to the airport at the first sign of bumps.  But gradually, I came to grips with this fear.  The first turning point came when I was due for my next BFR; the instructor put me through all the paces:  stalls, steep bank turns, slow flight, spin entries (we had no parachutes so spins would have been “illegal”) and numerous landings at a relatively short runway.  By the end of the BFR, I was soaked from sweat, but on my solo return flight to KRBL, I felt fabulous, and for the first time was oblivious to bumps:  I was flying the plane.  Another turning point came when I was laid up with Shingles:  my main pastime was watching videos which featured aerobatic flying and all the while I said to myself, “I can do that”.  As soon as the Shingles abated I headed straight to the airport and pushed and pulled the Pitts through a series of maneuvers (none of which would have scored any points in an actual competition) and, again, after the flight, I was elated.  And finally there was the stern resolution that I made reminding myself that I was flying for the fun of it, and wouldn’t let anything else get in the way of that enjoyment.  Gradually, the fear abated and the enjoyment and the utility of the plane increased many times over.

Now the Pitts is anything but a cross country traveler, but that is how I used it.  I set a goal to visit all of the airports that looked like they had a decent restaurant where I could go for lunch.  So that took me all over northern and central California and into Nevada; later, after my family and I moved to the central coast, I covered many parts of southern California as well.  Occasionally I would roll or loop the plane and I was fascinated with inverted flight (trying to navigate off the GPS while inverted is a real hoot) but if it diverted from getting from point A to point B, I avoided it.img_46713

I never flew 24 MC anywhere the limit of it’s capabilities; it was a fun plane to fly; I enjoyed it.  But occasionally, and more frequently after five years, I wanted something that would fly a little faster and go a little further.  So, after five years and almost 400 hours on the tach, once again I was turning the pages of Trade-A-Plane, but not too certain what I was trying to find.

 

Pitts N24MC Part 2

Circa 2006.  So now I owned an airplane but knew that I wasn’t ready to fly it.  So I would go to the hangar and sit in it and make airplane noises.  (I stole that line from Sean Worthington….sorry, Sean)

Once again I contacted Ken Erickson to see if he could arrange a thorough checkout.  Ken was too busy, so he contacted Wayne Handley; Wayne was too busy so he contacted John King from the San Francisco bay area and John agreed to help.  Now mind you, I barely was even acquainted with Ken and had never met the other two guys and yet they were willing to go out of their way to help.  I was amazed.  Wayne even went so far as to phone me to follow up to make sure that everything was taken care of.  Let me repeat that:  He phoned me to follow up.  Who the hell phones people to follow up anymore?  I guess I spent too many years in retail and was really  jaded.

Pitts Special 2.jpgThe day came and John King arrived at the Red Bluff airport to begin the checkout:  he was driving a twin Cessna.  The meager amount of money that John was going to charge me wouldn’t make a dent in the cost of the fuel he would be burning to go back and forth to Red Bluff.

The first day got off to a very slow start; in fact, it never got started:  John was not comfortable with the way the canopy lock was working and wanted me to find a mechanic who could adjust it.  That was it.  John got back in the C310 and left.  End of Day 1.

After finding a local mechanic to make the requested adjustments, Day 2 arrived and I waited for the C310 to arrive; it didn’t.  Instead, a small black and white biplane approached the field:  it sounded like a P-51 making a high speed pass.  I had never heard a plane this loud.  I learned later that the plane was called the Phoenix, an experimental amateur built homebuilt that John used in aerobatic competitions at the unlimited level.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

The checkout began in earnest, complete with parachutes.  In my mind I knew that I had 14 hours in a Pitts from back in Texas; I even soloed in it.  But my mind had forgotten all of the subtle technique; the hands and feet didn’t know what to do.  The runway at Red Bluff, KRBL, is an ample 100 feet wide and my take offs used most of the width of the runway; surprisingly my landings, if you could call them that, were not quite so out of control.  I was over-controlling the plane and didn’t realize it.  Day 1 and Day 2 were not very pretty.

Sometime along about Day 3 I said to myself before John arrived: “I don’t know what I am doing wrong on these take-offs, but on the next one I am not going to touch the rudder pedals until I see the nose start to move.”  When John arrived and we started out, I tried out my idea; it worked and from that point forward the check out went smoothly.  John would not sign me off on a BFR in a Pitts unless I demonstrated some spin recoveries.  So we did some spins.  And then we did some loops and rolls, etc.  And I was on my way.

Because of John’s schedule or the uncertainties of the weather, the entire checkout process actually took a few months.  While I was cooling my heels between actual flying days, I spent a lot of time on the internet reading about flying.  I discovered an article written by the man, Dan Rihn, who had designed the Phoenix, the plane that John owned.  I was amazed that Dan Rihn, starting when he was in college or a few years thereafter, was designing planes; and, he designed not one, but several world class planes:  the Phoenix, the Sunbird, the Goshawk, Awesome Lady and the One Design.  Over the years, if I’ve read the article once, then I’ve read it fifty times.  Little did I know and I never could have predicted that my life would cross paths with Dan Rihn ten years later.  You can find the article here; its a great read.

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Pitts N24MC

The year 2006 was a turning point for me as I embarked on my first attempt at retirement. After several months of soul searching I came to the almost sudden realization that for years I had dreamed of owning my own plane; and, in one fell swoop, all of a sudden I was there. But, I hadn’t flown in 13 or so years and I knew I would be rusty. There was, however, no doubt about what kind of plane I would be looking for—a Pitts.

After several phone calls to all sorts of people to discuss countless issues involving owning a Pitts, I finally decided to find somewhere where I could get some dual to really decide if this was a goal worth pursuing. Several people referred me to a guy named Ken Erickson, who flew out of King City, California.  My son was attending Cal Poly at San Luis Obispo about 60 miles south of King City, this would be the perfect opportunity to go visit my son and also get in some time in a Pitts.  After finally hooking up via telephone with Ken, the date was set.

Ken is the Chief Pilot for the Tutima Acadamy of Aviation Safety and here is the place to go if you want some quality instruction in a Pitts. Over the course of two days, I believe I made four flights with Ken; I didn’t bother to enter the details in my logbook because my primary mission was to determine if I was up to actually going through with this plan.  But little did I realize just how much that I had forgotten–I don’t know if I would have killed myself if I had been allowed to  take the plane out solo, but at a minimum substantial damage to the plane would have been a safe bet.  Everything in the cockpit looked vaguely familiar but not familiar enough so that I knew what needed to be done with any of it when it was required.  And my landings and take offs had suffered the most.  On one occasion while flying downwind in the pattern,  Ken casually remarked: “Well, this should certainly be interesting”.  When I asked what he meant, Ken responded: “Take a look at your altimeter”, and upon doing so I realized that I had descended 500 feet without knowing it and we were at 500 feet AGL.  I was way behind the plane but somehow I managed to eek out a landing.  My two days of flying with Ken had not worked out the way I had imagined, but I was still bound and determined to see this through.

I started a serious search for a plane to buy.  The internet had not brought us Barnstormers.com so the hard copy of Trade-A-Plane was still the only way to go and I poured over it endlessly until I finally found what looked like a good deal; by that I mean it looked like it was in great shape, needed no work and I could afford it.  N24MC, an S2A, sported a recently remanufactured engine with only 69 hours on it and fabric and paint that, although it was not “new”, was in fabulous shape…….or at least that is what I was told by the owner, Gary Cebrian.  And, most important, it looked really good and it could be all mine.

Pitts N24MCBut I am the eternal skeptic; how does someone who has never bought a plane get over the hurdle of not being sure?  I decided to call Ken Erickson and ask his opinion; his response was immediate and without hesitation:  “You won’t find a nicer one; everything has been done to it”.  The funds transferred and the deal was closed shortly thereafter.  Only problem was that although I had paid for the plane, I wasn’t up to flying it and the plane stayed with Gary until Gary had the time to fly it up to Red Bluff where I had located hangar space.

The day came, 24MC was delivered, there was hand shaking all around and then it was over.  I was at long last a plane owner; it was parked neatly in the hanger; and, I knew that I was not up to flying it but that didn’t matter because 24MC was now mine.

Pitts N24MC