Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The truly hardcore ...

Not much to report here, just waiting for my next lesson this coming Sunday. Don't have time to fly this Thursday as some friends are playing a gig in town and I've agreed to run sound. They have some great original tunes and it drives me completely insane when people can't hear the vocals and properly balanced instrumentation ... simply because the PA system isn't properly manned. It takes a hardness of core to write music and play it in front of a crowd. The least I can do is help ensure that it sounds good from an acoustic perspective.

But in the meantime, here's an article from the frontier of the truly hard core flightmasters. Ladies and gentlemen, I present Mr. Yves Rossy:


Holy effin' crap.

Oh and yes, yes, yes, oh yes ... I definitely want one.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Like a leaf on a stream ...

I wasn't sure I'd make it on time today for my 12 noon flight lesson. Preparing, hosting, and thoroughly enjoying a going away party late into last night made getting up this morning a bit of a challenge. But the weather seemed just cooperative enough so I figured I would meet it half way.

Dick, my previous flight instructor, can't teach me on Sundays. So I was just a tad bit apprehensive about flying with someone else. Thankfully my new instructor, Regan Stooutermire, was great. We chatted a bit as he walked me through the initial pre-flight inspection of the plane. Here's a snapshot of the lil' bird.

I think the plane was built in the late 1970s or 1980s. Strange to think how aircraft, machines an entire order of magnitude more complicated than automobiles, are designed to last for decades and routinely serve even longer tours of duty with shining colors. The car industry has us hoodwinked folks. Anyhow, the little Cessna might not be as sexy as the Cirrus or an F16 but she surely does the job.

As we sat on the runway the wind began to pick up. My still not entirely vanquished fear from my initial flight experience began to tap me on the shoulder. Regan assured me it wouldn't be a big problem. I could swear a stronger breeze would kick up each time he said that. Regardless, we strapped in and got ready to go up. Here's a view from my (ie., the Pilot's) seat.

Lots of dials and gauges there. I'm still learning how to read them all properly, sometimes only using the corner of my eyes. The one to the middle left, for example, is actually designed to help you make smooth and proper turns. Second from the top right is the altimeter. Notice how the Cville airport runway is already at about 900 feet? Anyhow, you can read all about the controls lots of places online.

As we took off, we hit a few bumps and I could feel my breakfast starting to say hello. I reached for a handful of ginger gum chicklets. Regan sensed what was going on and offered some words of wisdom that his flight instructor had given him years ago: "Think of yourself like a leaf on a stream." Somehow this really resonated with me in that moment. Either that or the ginger gum had an immediate effect. I feel, however, that the truth in those words might be mined almost infinitely. The plane is basically drifting through a fluid with various flows and currents, much like a stream. Those currents also follow the contour of the land ... as well as many other more complicated variables. But the point is that you do keep flowing, regardless of the bumps, just like a leaf making its way down a mountain aqueduct. The idea was (and is) somehow very reassuring. The turbulence we hit subsequently affected me less and less, eventually not bothering me at all.

Here's a snapshot out the window:

I can only imagine how things will look as the fall foliage turns. Apparently you are allowed to fly over the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge.

Armed with my new found, somewhat zen, philosophy I was able to take the controls for the better part of an hour. We practiced 90 and 180 degree turns, as well as getting a sense of how throttle controls altitude. Regan had me follow the James river for a while, pick Scottsville as a landmark and fly over to it (very cool to pick a city as a landmark and just "fly over to it"), and basically just cruise around the area between Cville, Lake Monticello and Scottsville. We kept a modest speed of 120mph but I can definitely feel my thirst for more coming on strong.

All in all, today was the best flight experience I've ever had in my life. Regan tells me I did very, very well and that I have good respect for the controls, which by the way are extremely sensitive to movement and must be treated with great care and gentility. I'm already looking forward to next week and curious if I can bring some of the lofty, leaf-floating philosophy back down to earth here with me.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Can't control the weather ... but you can get space age polymers ...

I hadn't anticipated how frequently flight school would need rescheduling. The weather, despite having been amazingly consistent all summer, simply isn't cooperating. I'm not complaining, just learning to accept this as another dimension of the project. I'll likely have to continue switching around days to fly. I was supposed to go up last Thursday but the weather was terrible. Now I'm set for tomorrow and the weather at this point looks a bit iffy. So we'll see.

On another note, I am the proud owner of some incredible space age polymers: my new cast! It was amazing to watch my doctor put it on. He pulled out this tiny little bag with a blue spool of fiberglass (or whatever this magical stuff is), ran it under some water, then wrapped it around the gauze already positioned on my wrist and arm. In less than five minutes the wrap was hard as as rock. Amazing. There is no doubt in my mind that this technology has come to us from aerospace composite material research.

Sorry, my cell phone doesn't take the best images, but it's all I've got for now. I want more of this stuff. You could make anything out of it. I could, for example, make my very own little mechanical Iron Man (or Fiberglass Man) suit. Oh, and I checked with CFC, it seems as though I can in fact fly with a broken hand. Well, at least I can *try* to fly with a broken hand and not violate any FAA rules.

If only I could attach a wrist mounted rocket launcher to my arm, then we'd have some real fun. Yeah. ;-)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Unexpected ...

Life can be so very strange. Last week there were, at least in my mind, simply two possible posts I would make on this blog: my test flight was fantastic ... or ... I just couldn't deal with it and flying is simply out of the question for me. You would think I'm old and barely wise enough to know that there are always alternatives.

Before flying at Charlottesville Flight Center last Thursday, I actually took a slightly different test flight of sorts. Specifically, about twenty feet or so over the hood, windshield and roof of an older honda civic. While biking home at maximum velocity down the center lane (in between the double lines) of a two lane road full of commuters and undergraduate students, I locked horns with the left side of the automobile and went soaring and tumbling overhead.

Sadly I've already thrown away my helmet, but have been told that instead I should have made a shrine to it that I'd ideally bow to every morning in thanks for my ability to walk and breathe. I guess I'm doing that in part here.

After torquing myself, I asked the driver of the car I pummeled to give me a ride home so I could make it to my intoductory test flight. I guess I was so wired on adrenaline that I didn't really notice my shattered fifth metacarpal bone and separated shoulder.

The flight was absolutely fantastic. My instructor, Dick Yates, was wonderful. Part of what made it such an amazing and easy flight was the fact that there wasn't a single bump of turbulence. It seems as though the "other" flight school I checked out years ago made a mistake taking me (a complete novice) up in the air on a bumpy day. Dick explained that you simply can't do that. Turbulence is something you get better at dealing with over time.

I can't explain how easy and effortless it was to fly around up there. Granted, these are my first baby steps, but I'm happy to report that Dave 2.0, complete with broken hand and other injuries, was able to go up and fly a Cessna 172, one of the most popular trainers in the world. That being said, when I got down, my eyes began to wander. I love planes. I think they're amazingly sexy. It would seem as though there's a new supermodel on the block, the Cirrus SR22. A North Carolina based "sky taxi" service had one sitting on the runway at CFC. Sadly, I didn't have a camera at the ready. But here's a snapshot for you:

The image makes it hard to appreciate the gracious flowing lines of the machine. It's largely a composite structure, not aluminum. So naturally it has a more fluid body. It's also lighter and more powerful than your average single engine plane. It also encorporates some innovations like a side mounted stick (freeing up more console space for ... sexy ... instrument gages) and yes, believe it or not, a parachute. No, not for the pilots and passengers, but for the plane!

I want one, plain and simple.

Odd, I thought this post entry was going to be very different. But there ya go.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Take two (or three) ... what dreams may become

Work and life have been keeping me very busy with not much time to mentally wander around flying headspace. I'm rescheduled for tomorrow, 9/18. The weather forecast shows clear skys and low chance of precipitation so I am about to enter the chute, finally.

I find myself getting a slight bit anxious today but also somewhat excited about the prospect of winning this small personal victory. Learning how to fly has been so much of a dream that it's actually quite difficult for me to consider it as a reality. I'm curious to see what happens when dreams become so. My first (real first) attempt years ago turned into a nightmare. But I am not the same person I was then, thankfully.

When I think about it, I wonder how many people actually get to make their dreams into reality. Often, it involves a considerable amount of effort (which I know I am just about to begin), luck, and often an insane level of persistence. The I Ching has a great line that repeats in many hexagrams:

"Perseverence furthers..."

I'll have to ponder more on the subject, because I think part of our global malaise is that nobody buys into the dream of a better world anymore. Even Obama's rhetoric seems cooled as of late as we gear up for the slugfest of the final days.

This is, again, one of the reasons I feel so strongly about things like the space program. It gives people hope. When an astronaut (or cosmonaut) goes up into orbit, we all go up in a sense. They represent us, all of us, perhaps even life in general to the extent that it has evolved from simple single celled structures. I often like to think of our leaving the planet as somewhat akin to our ancient ancestors taking those first few steps out of the ocean.

In any case, DT 2.0 alloy stress test #1 coming up. The clock is ticking, about 31 hours to wheels up. Let's see if all my mumbo jumbo is worth the disk space.

Friday, September 12, 2008


Well, I got grounded yesterday. The cloud ceiling was at 1300 feet and raining. Apparently the minimum for newbie flights is 1500 feet.

Just as well, I wasn't in the best frame of mind yesterday anyhow. I somehow seriously injured my knee last week. My doctor says it's a patellofemoral injury (aka runner's knee). I have been working out insanely hard on the machine as well as biking to work every day and jogging four miles every other. Last Thursday was a particularly strenuous jog and Sunday a ridiculously ambitious bike ride around town.

It's annoying not to be able to bike or jog. Even worse, we had a very long "tech persons" meeting yesterday that simply would not die. Somehow it put me in a really bad mood for the rest of the day. The fact that the meeting room was freezing cold (seriously ... beyond reason) didn't help.

So perhaps getting grounded is a blessing in disguise. We're re-scheduled for next Wednesday. So I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

'Twas the night before flightmas ...

Yeah, I've been starting to psych myself out about this. I've also been trying to psych myself up for it too. Delicate balancing act there. But the fact is, tomorrow will be a huge litmus test. It's been a rough summer, which like it or not has resulted in some deep changes in my life that quite simply severely needed to happen. I'm still getting somewhat used to the new me, physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally.

All of those get tested tomorrow.

I tried pushing the physical part on Sunday with an insane 1100 calorie (in 40 minutes) monster bike ride around the hills of Cville. Now, my right knee is in agony and makes disturbing snap, crackle, pop noises.

Let's hope tomorrow's test goes better.

I've been here before. I feel like I'm back in high school before a debate tournament. No, I feel like the night before the final rounds of a debate tournament. It's do or die tomorrow. Damn, I wish I had my old Rocky III soundtrack cassette and walkman.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

When Fish Fly? Miles has left the house ...

I'm not sure why this feels related, but it does, so I'm going to claim freedom of blogspression. I gave away my fish, Miles, yesterday. He was named after the great jazz musician, as he came into my world shortly after Davis died. I've had him for about seventeen years. At various times in my life I've felt an almost mystical connection with him. As he would thrive, so would I, and vice versa.

Back in my early twenties, I really enjoyed having a fish tank. The cool glow of an illuminated tank always added a special quality to any room. Plus, still learning how to handle testosterone, I enjoyed having "arena tank" where you'd feed smaller live fish to larger ones and have all your friends come and watch. I also enjoyed the balancing act of filtration, plants and diverse species. At one point I had a Jack Dempsey, pleco, crayfish, and my catfish, Miles all in the same tank. Everybody had a job to do.

Miles is a pretty cool fish. We're not sure precisely what kind he is, but likely candidates are Synodontis Decorus or Shoutedeni. A problem with aquarium fish breeds is that cross breeding has been rampant and it's very difficult now to pin down specifics.

I remember bringing him home. One aspect of fish I've always enjoyed was their particular dexterity in three dimensional movement. Some fish lumber, others dart, and some have amazing kung fu like control over their position and velocity. Similarly, you can see how it's accomplished by their fin arrangement and thrust vectoring. Miles always reminded me of some kind of space battleship. I know that sounds wierd. But his primary three fin arrangement was pretty much at right angles, a bit different than most fish. He could stop on a dime, or rotate to any vector of his chosing. He also had a beautiful grey and black spotted color with obviously thick, tough skin.

Unlike some other fish I've owned, he was never aggressive (until he got old and grumpy). He was, however, tough and rarely intimdated by fish much larger than he was. All my other fish died for one reason or another. Eventually, it was just Miles. That's why he was the only one to survive and make it all the way down here to VA with me. I always had tremendous respect for his tenacity and vowed constantly to try and give him a happy, long life.

Over the last few years, however, his lonely situation in a somewhat algae ridden tank began to bother me. It felt wrong to keep a creature who could basically fly in his environment locked up in what was basically a tiny cell. Plants have been hard to keep. New fish are too small and he often didn't tolerate sharing his world. So I came to the conclusion a few months back that I need to either a) set him free or b) find him a good home. Research on a) didn't go very far and I don't see how an animal that has spent 99% of its life in captivity can survive well in the wild.

So I started putting up ads for b) a while back with mixed results, that is until this past weekend. A lovely woman who knows more about Synodontis catfish than I've ever heard about replied to a post. She has a 155 gallon tank with lots of other "like minded" fish. For reference, my tank is a 28 gallon. So I said my goodbyes and helped her get him into a bucket for rapid transport home. It seems as though he's doing well. Here's a snippet of an email:

"You're obviously an "anxious parent" so I'll do my best to keep you informed. I did about a forty minute drip into the bucket, and put our boy (girl?) into the tank. He sat in a corner for about five minutes, then started exploring. Kind of odd, and I've seen it before; they only go about as far as the footprint of the tank they were in last. Not quite the "Born Free" moment I'd been hoping for, but he finally decided to check out the other end of the tank, and found people just like him! He's eating well, cruising the length of the tank upside down and right side up , and basically doing nicely."

EDIT: update the day after...

"He's doing great! Dorsal is up; he's all over the tank, and eating like a pig. Life is good."

I'll post a pic of him in his new home when I get one from his new owner.

To some, this whole ordeal may sound insane. I mean, it's a fish. But I'd reply to all of them by saying that it's actually about respect for any and all living things, especially ones that can fly.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Target locked ...

Learning to fly embodies a larger component of life for me than simply being able to get places more quickly and with a nicer view. I've actually tried the Be A Pilot intro flight once before. Sadly, it just didn't go very well. There was some combination of fear, motion sickness and an instructor who simply wasn't that experienced ... which all resulted in a pretty scary experience. I recall taking the controls and thinking "I'm gonna kill us all!"

That was several years ago. There are apparently some tricks in terms of keeping your head level with the cockpit dash, ginger root and stronger abdominal muscles (which I now have), that can all help mitigate what is apparently a common experience. Regardless, part of this process for me involves confronting fear. I don't fear death and have actually confronted it several times in my life already. This issue has more to do it seems with control over one's environment, or lack of it, yet still being able to function and (for lack of a better term) control the situation. For me it feels like a very Zen practice which I feel finally up to the challenge for.

So I've found the local master, Dick Yates, and we'll be going up this coming Thursday, September 11, at around 6pm.


Wish me luck.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Ground Zero

Getting a pilot's license has been on my life's "to do" list for quite some time. I could go on and on about all the reasons why. Hopefully, that's what this blog will be all about.

Airplanes are glorious machines, arguably the most wonderful we as a species have ever conceived, let alone actually built. Flight enthralled the Italian futurists of the 1920s. F. T. Marinetti believed airplanes would reshape the future of humanity in a profoundly positive way. You can Google / Wikipedia all about it on your own. I humbly contend that the majority of their socially transformative power remains largely untapped.

I love examples of human ingenuity that stand in defiance of the impossible. Really I do. Consider the fact that the Wright Flyer I flew on December 17, 1903, an impressive feat. Less than forty four years later Chuck Yeager flew faster than the speed of sound. Pause for a moment, close your eyes, and think about that. Forty four years from sticks and cloth to the Bell X1.

It was, and still sometimes is, referred to as the sound BARRIER. People often forget that. Scientists and engineers at the time felt it was physically impossible to build a maneuverable machine that could effectively cut through supersonic airflow, hence the name. Pilots during WWII would sometimes hit this brick wall in nose dives, almost always resulting in catastrophe as their controls froze and they plunged to their deaths.

I can appreciate the apprehension given that it had only been a few decades since Orville and Wilbur rigged up some lumber, cloth and a very crude combustion engine to float along a few hundred feet. If they didn't have a 20+ mph headwind it may not have even happened. But the fact remains, they did it. We did it. Today, we have machines now that can fly twenty five times the speed of sound (ie., the Space Shuttle on reentry). The whole thing brings a tear to my eye when I really think about it.

A bit more personally (that's what blogs are about, right?) it has been a ridiculously hard summer for me on many levels. Actually, that's a complete understatement. Words simply fail. But ... I'm still here. As cliche as it may sound, what doesn't kill us (IF it doesn't kill us) really does make us stronger. The trick, as folks like Reiner Maria Rilke observe, is to allow the pain of the experience to enter us as something new ... that changes us. Ironically, that's exactly how alloys work and why they're stronger than pure metallic elements. So, self smithery has rapidly become a new hobby. I'll toss a bone here on that one:


As an aside, I'd like to point out that those fancy, superfast flying machines we know and love also make extensive use of exotic metal alloys.

I have absolutely no recollection of how the following came into my world. I missed out on the whole Grunge music thing in the 1990's. But somehow, almost randomly, a couple of months back one of Pearl Jam's biggest hits came on my radar. Like I said, I don't recall precisely how, but this blog owes its namesake to the tune.

Here's a particularly interesting video of the song performed live.


Dancing sign language FTW!

I don't ever recall a time when a single piece of art has so elegantly described personal and emotional events in my life. The effect, along with others, has been so profound that I simply cannot ignore it and have been both inspired to write this blog as well as kick start the process of learning how to fly. Time will tell I guess.

The band seem to have quite a few songs that hit eerily close to home for me. Ironic. I know, many of my musicologist friends will cringe at the thought of my referencing Pearl Jam for any kind of wisdom. We can duke it out over some drinks. But anyhow, there ya go.