To Be With An Old Friend
Monday, July 9, 2018 at 12:10PM
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Ed Wischmeyer

We speak the same languages, he and I – airplanes, gliders, cars, music. We communicate well, relishing conversations with each other of a type that we rarely enjoy with others in our normal circle of friends. Generally, he is more knowledgeable than I on most of these topics, as he has done many of the things that I only read about, avidly, in my youth. For example, the widow of a well-known glider pilot I used to read about, a friend of his, is here today. 

I have flown 600 nm on the sad occasion to attend is his late wife’s memorial service, to share these kinds of conversations and to fly with him.

He turns 87 this year, eight days before I turn 69.  His wife left us six months ago, actually, but they wanted the memorial service to be in the spring. The uncooperative upper Midwest spring this year is late, and the day is cool, but at least the winds and rain have stopped. His house is on 74 acres of what is left of his ancestors’ farm, with trees in the back planted by his great-grandfather.

Beside the lilac tree in full bloom is a tent on the driveway with chairs for 112. The tent is full and 20 more stand at the back, outside, plus the ten men who sing a capella at various times during the service. This is not just a celebration of her life, it is a celebration of the life that these people have all shared. Centered on her, it is a celebration of community.  I know only him, yet somehow this occasion makes us all friends.

The last task to complete, one that he especially wanted, is for me to fly with him, maybe this afternoon, when the weather clears enough to make it possible. Pilots need to be blessed by an instructor every two years to continue flying, and he has not flown in a year, for obvious reasons. I am that blessing, in several senses.

He has talked with his buddies about when the time will come to stop flying, and I am starting to have similar conversations about maybe toning down the kinds of flying that I will do. But he is still spry and alert, wondering what activities, his word, may replace flying when that time comes.

I am glad I came, to be here for him, to fly with him, for it is in giving that we receive.

* * * * * * * * *

So the RV-9A got me home from southeastern Michigan today, and I learned a few more things… things that I probably should have already known…

I woke up briefly at 5 a.m. and the iPhone showed a big chunk of weather south of Lake Michigan. That’s nice, thought I, and went back to sleep. At 6 a.m., it was looking ornerier and was halfway across the state. Flight service said we had an hour before it got to us. A mad scramble to pack and get out the door ensued, a school bus with flashing lights added to the chronological excitement.

At the airport, a light rain had started, thunder was audible, and the clouds looked ugly to the west. I picked up the IFR clearance on the iPhone and taxied out, a little surprised that my clearance void time gave me only 7 1/2 minutes instead of the ten minutes I expected. I kind of forgot about that as I was getting everything ready for takeoff, but got off just in time. Hmmm… bad cockpit discipline. 

Weather at takeoff was 2 1/2 miles in haze and clear. I took off towards the better weather in the east (spending a few of my 7.5 minutes to taxi), but I got off before the storm came and it really did come on, the heavens opening ten minutes after I launched. Surprisingly, I could have made that entire flight VFR (taking off in Class G airspace). Scary VFR but legal. And it was early enough that the tint of the sunglasses wasn’t appreciated, but my plain old reading glasses were packed out of reach. Hmmm.

When I flew with a friend in Michigan yesterday, I became aware of how sloppy my flying has become. Several reasons: one is that I used to be really, really good hand flying under the hood, and those skills recalled and assumed still valid far surpass present day skills. Second, the planes I’ve flown, RV and others, have had good handling characteristics: lots of power, and most of them have had high drag when you wanted it. I’ve gotten out of the habit of flying nice traffic patterns because I’ve had airplanes that didn’t require it. Bad form.

After the early morning scramble to get off, sitting there in the pilot’s seat for an hour looking at low contrast scenery through the haze with the autopilot flying, no radio traffic and a warm sun coming up made for a sleepy boy. However, the recliner with the built in massager at Fleming-Mason airport remembered me, and an hour later, I was refreshed and good to go.

Next stop was at Knoxville to have lunch with my sister. How cool is that, to fly across the country top to bottom and be able to stop to have lunch with your sister just because?

I’ve been working on a procedure for engaging the autopilot right after takeoff and integrating it into everything else that needs to be done: set everything up on the flight director, take off, retract flaps at 80 knots, pitch to seven degrees, autopilot on, and then fuel pump off. Don’t engage airspeed hold right over the runway because the autopilot may dive to get speed. This procedure worked great in Michigan and Kentucky, but didn’t work at Knoxville – the autopilot wouldn’t engage! Fortunately, fiddling with the autopilot disconnect button and the TOGA button got the autopilot happy again. I wonder how well I would have handled things coming out of Michigan, racing the weather, if the autopilot had decided not to cooperate…

The last leg wound up being IFR to more conveniently handle the clouds over the Smokey Mountains (a few hours later, those were thunderstorms). Clouds and showers at Savannah that I didn’t recall as part of an earlier forecast made it prudent to stay IFR. 

So what are my new year’s (it’s gotta be new year’s somewhere) resolutions?
• Fly precise traffic patterns and get really good at them again. No more screwing around with the pattern just because I can get away with it
• Do an autopilot takeoff (almost) every time for practice
• Hand fly the -9A a lot more. Get really good and really precise at it
• Always put the checklist down in the same place. Twice on this trip I hid it from myself
•Develop and maintain really good habit patterns. When I was a newbie, good habits made flying easier. Now that aging is a fact of life, good habit patterns will help reduce mistakes and blunders
• I know all the frequencies at my home airport so I never write them down. This is a bad habit for when I go to an unfamiliar airport, so start writing down frequencies and such

And what did IFR buy me on this trip? Some really scary VFR flying turned into very non-descript IFR flying, and made possible a very worthwhile trip to be with a good friend. For it is in giving that we receive.

 

Article originally appeared on In Flight USA (http://www.inflightusa.com/).
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