In the “rose colored memory” of The Sky Surfer, it has been the 1980′s since we have had as much snow in Kansas as we are experiencing this Winter. Back then, when I had a Quicksilver MX, I made a flight over new snow in the area Northeast of Wichita. I have always treasured that hour in the air and the grand view it provided. It was early enough in the morning that most of the streets were still snow covered. The visual impression was that of Kansas in the 1870′s – smoke from chimneys here and there but no cars out and no (visible) streets. I wandered about in the brisk air until it occurred to me there was no feeling in my right hand. Since that is the “control stick hand” for a Quicksilver, it seemed like a good time to turn back. The hand performed adequately and landing was uneventful.
Back now in 2014, in addition to the exceptional snow fall, temperatures have dropped as low as Zero this week – unusual for Wichita. I know my Canadian Friend Dave O’Malley - Aerographics Creative Services – is probably up in Ottawa sunbathing but, as for me, snow is not my favorite thing. On the other hand, I love grand gestures…
“Follow Through” Is Important In Golf And Sky Surfing
This January, I posted (in excruciating detail) a wind faring project that I built and installed on my Quicksilver. While considering the design, and even more so after finishing it, I knew it would require the acid test of actually flying in cold weather. I doubt if anybody else cared if I ever did “fly the fairing” but personally I had to “close the loop”. I suppose I could have done this in 40 degree temps but, would that impress the Inner Surfer? Would that inspire the one who envisions himself “Hanging 10″ into the beach at Molokai? The one who “rides the tube“ with impunity? Of course not. The Surfer needs a Challenge!
In January and February good quantities of snow manifested across the area. After these snow falls, flight was not propitious. Either the wind was too high, the snow too deep or the temperature had warmed too quickly and the field had turned to slush. I don’t take off in slush because my main landing gear throw it up on the wings and into the prop. The potential for a ruined propeller makes the endeavor not worthwhile.
I had one window of opportunity. In Feb, it snowed with a hard blowing wind. When it died down, I went to the airport to survey the situation. The field surface showed potential but visibility was only a mile and the air was quite humid. I decided to wait another day or so for a better moment. This proved to be a mistake as soon thereafter, the sun beat down so hard it seemed like Spring was starting early. For about a week or so I was disappointed with myself for not taking that “last” Snow Covered, Winter Flight Opportunity – Possibly the last one around here for Decades! That changed last weekend. Temperatures dropped dramatically along with a good quantity of snow. The high wind stopped on Monday the 3rd of March, the sky was clear and I knew it was time to act.
Stage 3 Winter Attire
The first picture in this report was taken just after I arrived at the field before opening the hangar. I had brought my “wind proof” snow suit, flight jacket, electric gloves, two sets of neck gaiters, warm boots and helmet. The only missing “Stage 3″ element was long underwear. They were not missed. The ambient air temperature was 15 degrees when I arrived with about a 5 mph surface wind from the South. It was cold enough that my uncovered hands lost feeling while I pre-flighted the plane and took pictures. When finally airborne, I am happy to say my experimental wind fairing did its job. I was quite comfortable. My face mask fogged up a few times and had to be cleared but that was the only physical indication of how cold it was.
Pre-Flight & Suit Up
I opened the hangar and pulled my plane to the opening where the light was better. Naturally I was thinking “photo op” and took a few pix. Geese from all around the region use the lake on the Southwest part of the Selby property to congregate. The word was out that afternoon for everyone to show up at The Aerodrome so all the while I was pre-flighting, warming up the engine and taking pictures, geese passed over in abundance.
Occasionally during this time of season for fun I will “herd” a small flock of geese. If a suitable group presents itself, I’ll dial my engine back to minimum flight speed and pull in just far enough behind them that they start looking over their shoulders at me. The flock will bank left to try to lose me and I will swing farther left and shift them to the right, etc. Sometimes I can turn them 180 degrees. I don’t carry this on too long because it is obvious the stunt tires them out. They don’t think it is as fun as I do…
No Video – No Story
In the 80′s when I shot TV News, we had a saying “No Video – No Story”. Even though they have to do “reader” stories with a still photo or graphic next to the anchor’s shoulder, news producers avoid those segments like the plague. Whether it is shakey, out of focus or missing sound – any video is preferable to a slide or graphic. This can help you understand why you frequently see “lame” news stories on TV that don’t seem to have any relevance to your town or even your area of the country. They run these stories only because the video was compelling in some way to the producers – NOT because the story necessarily had much intrinsic value. (McLuhan: “The medium is the message/massage”)
They are caught on the horns of a dilemma, though. For example, TV audiences will watch a “news story” consisting of cute pictures of someone’s dog doing wacky tricks by a large margin over a “talking head” economist explaining how government induced inflation is sapping your buying power and savings. The economist supplying information VITAL TO YOUR LIFE will be ignored by a vast majority of the TV audience simply because he is not balancing one-legged on a beach ball while juggling his calculators. He is not entertaining – the puppy is – so no one cares what Professor I. M. Numbers has to say. So, to get the all important ratings necessary to engender advertising support – Run The Puppy!
In similar ways, The Sky Surfer plays between the same goalposts. A flight in sub-freezing temperatures has the same intrinsic value with or without pictures. But without pictures nobody cares and… they may not believe. There are a few Sky Surfer Dudes and Dudettes that read his sparkling prose but most just scan a few of The Flite Blog™ pictures. Therefore additional effort is always expended to put The Surfer in the scene to “validate” the story…
Pass Go And Collect
When I was young, the game Monopoly was quite popular. When you passed “Go” on the game board you would collect a salary. “Pass Go And Collect” entered the lexicon with a variety of connotations. For one group, it was a term of derision.
My Dad, who was a fighter pilot, used that term to describe an ignoble practice happening during The Viet Nam War. As a young man, I overheard him discuss with his friends once how certain “desk jockeys” would arrange flights in C-130′s over a combat zone in order to obtain combat pay they did not actually deserve. To do this was to “Pass Go And Collect”…
While fooling around taking of the shot above, my hands lost their feeling, I was concerned I might have to “Pass Go And Collect”. Because of the cold, I thought I might have to take off, quickly snap a few pix, land and go home. This story wasn’t worth frostbite. I am happy to report that did not happen. The fairing and my winter outfit worked so well and the flight was interesting, so I stayed up almost an hour and a half.
Geese “Herd” The Sky Surfer
Above you see the view from the cockpit as I taxied out. The wind was from that direction (South) but I elected not to take off that way because of the gathering congregation. Geese always avoid the big, noisy yellow bird when I am airborne. Unfortunately they are not too smart. I knew a large flock could easily panic and flail in all directions. Striking a large bird is the bane of any size airplane. I elected to take off downwind to the North. That and the snow obstructing my tires caused my takeoff roll to be somewhat longer than usual. Once in the air, though, the MXL performed superbly.
Surfer Warm – Camera Not
During the regular season I use CopperTop batteries for my camera because they last the longest. It uses AA’s and I keep extras in my pocket if they go dead on a mission. This flight taught me about their inability to withstand the cold, though. Even after switching to an backup, new set of batteries, the camera kept shutting down warning me to “replace batteries”. In the old days, this was a known issue with NiCad batteries. They could not produce a charge in the cold. When we shot video in the winter, the standard operating procedure was to keep NiCads inside your jacket against your body keeping them warm. As soon as one got too cold and failed you would switch it with a “warm” one. Until “The Winter Challenge” flight, I did not realize regular dry cells have the same problem. I had to keep cycling the camera to get these shots. It would only stay “on” for about 20 seconds…
Sometimes You Just Have To Take What You Get
I tried the shot above about 6 times. For most of the passes I had the MXL shadow much closer and much bigger but the camera would shut down just as I was snapping the picture. I also saw a really nice “MXL shadow in a hedgerow” photo op. I tried to get that one about 5-7 times, too, but never got a satisfactory image – maybe another time.
Another Low Temperature Indicator
I really love my PowerFin Propeller. It is one of the keys to the great performance of this plane. My Standard Operating Procedure is to clean the prop after every flight. Years ago I chose windshield wiper fluid as my prop cleaner. It was cold enough that as soon as I spread the wiper fluid across the prop with my rag, it would freeze. I took a couple of shots so you could see it.
After approaching this flight as “a challenge”, I now see that Winter Flying my Ultralight with the improved windscreen and Stage 3 Cold Outfit isn’t so bad. I’ll be getting out more during the cold but mostly look forward for the arrival of “T-Shirt Weather”! Then The Sky Surfer can don his “jams” and surf the skies without shivering!
Blue Skies & Tailwinds!™
Brian FitzGerald – Wichita