Thursday, May 21, 2009

Gone Flat

(Note: this is from a few months back. I just forgot to finish and publish the post!)

The flat tire was a startling surprise. We were landing at a little airport just west of RIC-- and in fact, had only been in the air for about 10 minutes after departing RIC. As Husband started to land, he could tell something was wrong. Sure enough, as he let the power out and the weight settled a bit more on the wheels, I could hear the thump-thump of a flat tire. He called out at that point, "Flat nose wheel tire!". Somehow, I came up with the response "Soft-field landing technique!" He didn't understand at first, but then quickly realized that I wanted him to hold the nose wheel off as in a soft-field landing. Doing that, he was able to minimize the damage as we rolled off the runway and came to a stop. After calling the FBO on the phone (they didn't answer on the radio), we learned that there was a mechanic on field-- but that he was out of town for the next 2-3 weeks! Uh-oh!

They were friendly folks, though (most airports are) and came out to give us a hand. We tried just adding air using an air compressor, but the seal just wouldn't hold. To do anything else would require moving the airplane from the far end of the runway back to the ramp in front of the terminal building. Hoping to find some sort of tug, the airport manager took us around to the various hangars. If we hadn't been feeling the stress of being stranded, this would have been tons of fun. We found all sorts of people working on airplanes in various conditions. They all stopped and tried to help us solve the problem. Eventually, we were able to rig up a makeshift tug from a cart, a pair of chocks, and a rope attached to a pickup truck tow hitch. See the picture below. Using this contraption, we slowly towed the plane to the ramp.
Once back on the ramp, we resumed the process of finding a way to fix the flat. We had asked all the hangar inhabitants whether they had the type of tire/tube we needed... but no dice. We also started calling mechanics. Luckily, the airport manager knew the mechanic from a nearby airport enough to have a cell number. After leaving a message, we heard back from him a short while later. We were also lucky to have caught him before he started a drive to WV. He agreed to stop by on his way out and fix the tire for us. Phew!
It took about an hour for him to get there, and then we watched while he took apart the plane to change the tire. Because of the way the strut is fashioned, he had to take off the cowling and depressurize (I'm probably using the wrong term) the hydraullic fluid in the strut. Then, he could take off the wheel and change the tire. He had to replace both the tube and the tire-- which first had to be fitted together. Then he had to put it all back together again and readjust the strut.
While he was working, I started talking to the daughters of the friend he had with him. The youngest (maybe 7 or 8) had never been this close to a small plane before. She was fascinated. I had her climb up in the cockpit and showed her the various controls and screens and let her move the yoke back and forth and up and down. When the mechanic was almost done, I got an idea. I discreetly asked the girls father if he would like me to take the two of them up for a quick turn around the pattern. He said yes-- if she wanted. When I asked her, her eyes lit up and she started bouncing up and down (I think she had just consumed an entire box of candy). We found a blanket to use as a seat cushion and borrowed an extra headset from the FBO. I showed her what I was doing as I preflighted and started the engine. As we performed our final runup tasks, I looked over and saw the skydiving team that had been practicing all afternoon was just landing next to us on the grass. Very cool!
Around this time, I asked if she was okay. She admitted she was a tiny bit scared. So we agreed that if she was still scared once we were in the air, I would immediately come back around in land. But if she gave me the thumbs-up, then we would go fly out over the river and see the sights a bit. Of course, she gave me a huge thumbs-up and a big smile as soon as we were in the air. So I positioned us out over the river and did a few turns so she could see out the window. I then showed her how to take the yoke and move it side to side. She giggled as she realized that the plane moved side to side when she did that. Of course, I keept my fingertips on the controls and my feet on the rudders. But for a few minutes that day, she had wings.
As the sun began to set, we turned back toward the airport and I announced that we would be entering the pattern. I managed a smooth landing, and when I opened the door for her to get out, she was beaming. I think she bounced all the way back to the terminal building. Oh- and her dad seemed to enjoy the flight as well. As we said goodbye, she made the observation that it was very cool they had done something nice for us (delaying their trip so the mechanic could fix our plane) and then we had done something nice for them... Isn't it nice when things go right?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Long Hiatus

It's been a very long time since I posted. Lots has happened since then- though flying has been a bit scarce this Spring.
I have managed to do a little, though. Highlights (or in some cases low lights!) include:

  • A few forays into the clouds to gain actual instrument time an experience.
  • A (VA Aviation Ambassadors) passport stamping round robin that had to be aborted because of a Flat tire on landing.
  • A mountain flying lesson in the Rockies.
  • Volunteering (for Women in Aviation) at the Joint Services Open House at Andrews AFB
  • Developing and studying lesson plans for slow flight, eights on pylons, stalls, aerodynamics, weight and balance, and ground reference maneuvers
  • Flying my first real "right-seat" lesson in prep for my Instructor Rating
  • Giving Husband a lesson on eights on pylons
  • Discovery of a newly reopened restaurant at MRB that is awesome!
The mountain flying lesson was incredible. We tacked it onto a ski trip out to Telluride, meeting up with an instructor in Montrose on our way home. Husband let me fly while he sat in the back. The instructor kept telling me to "get closer to that mountain over there". My response was typically, "Are you sure?!" We flew the entire flight at max power in an old 172 that had had an engine upgrade (to a 180HP). On takeoff, he cautioned me that though the ground looked relatively flat, there was actually a gradual incline (and we were already at something like 7,000' MSL), and that if I did not hoof it up-- and turn at the right place, I'd get caught with not enough altitude or power. And I could tell that he was right, though I'm not sure I'd have been able to see it without him telling me! I'll try to remember to upload the pics sometime soon-- it was beautiful.

I'll post more about the flat tire in another post-- but just wanted to get myself back on a blogging trend. It's good to be back!