Flight Lesson 25

In a last ditch effort to squeeze in a bit more flying and learning time, I drove up to Palo Alto to fly one more hour in the Citabria, my last flight for the year.  It involved more touch and goes, slow speed turns, stalls, spin recognition (scary) and slips.  This is just what I need to help get me through the muck that is sure to be known as commercial air travel.

Grr! Holiday Air Travelers

I had to fly to Orange County, CA for work today and I thought that I’d have a pretty clean trip, what with it being Tuesday and all.  The day started off simple enough: get up at 5:30am, get to the airport by 6:10, and on the plane by 7:30.  No security lines, no delays, no parking issues.  This seemed great.

But when it came time to fly home tonight, via LAX, I could see the problems mounting.  Awful traffic getting to the airport (not unusual for LA), really crowded check-in areas in most terminals, spotty seating at the food court, and a band of unhappy and obviously very non-regular-travel-savvy people at the gate complaining about lost luggage, TSA confiscations, and the way the airports work.  When I arrived back in SJC I found a snarled traffic line leading well up into the 2nd story of the parking garage, people pulling into and stepping out of every possible space (just in time to be nearly hit by the cars), blinkers turning on in both directions, slow/lost drivers, and the general inability to understand how to get out of the airport.

Oh how I long for the ability to fly myself to and from smaller airports to avoid this nonsense.  People could save themselves, and more importantly me, a lot of headaches if they would just research the airport website and see how things work now, rather than tie up everyone as they wander around aimlessly looking for that perfect parking/storage/surprise space.  Geez!

Lessons 23 and 24

Another weekend, another couple of flights out of Palo Alto.  This time around it was a series of landings and simulated emergencies on the way to and from Livermore Airport, with some decidedly better (if I may say so) landings than I had the last time.  The instructor seems to think I’m getting a little bit better, so he’s ratcheting up the workload in the air.

On the 24th lesson I was swapped into a similar plane with 40 more horsepower. The difference was like driving my 4Runner around some cones and tight corners, then getting out and hopping into the vette to try the same thing.  More power, better handling, and boy can things get out of hand right quick.  I felt like I was behind the airplane the whole flight.  It climbs better, goes faster, and really gets off the ground in a hurry.  Have to be careful with all that power, it can get addicting.

Lesson 22

Today with all the wind, rain, and rough weather I headed out for another hour in the front seat of the Citabria.  It ended up being not as bumpy a ride as I had first thought, and in general I made my way around the field in relatively good shape.  Kudos to the instructor for keeping me flying right, even though the runway and pattern were now being flown from the left.

Landings proved to be tough again, as were my turns to base and final.  The instructor snuck in a few extras, like a short field landing, forward slips, and a go-around.  I’m starting to feel a bit more confident about my flying now, but I’m still not sure if I’m ready to fly on my own.

Flight Lessons 19, 20, and 21

I must have really bad luck with equipment, or something.  The 19th flight lesson was short because of the rapid onset of darkness (stupid wintertime!).  The 20th was fogged out with visibility of less than 500 feet.  The 21st was only 30 minutes long thanks to a weak engine.  Needless to say, I won’t be flying that particular airplane for a while.

If there is a silver lining out of all of this, its that I’m really learning not to trust the engine in the aircraft I fly in, so I’m extra paranoid about finding an emergency landing spot each time I hop in the cockpit now.  I guess that’s something to be thankful for, right?

Flights 17 and 18

I managed to go to a new airport and put a plane into the fix-it shop in this installment of flight training 101.

First up I got to go to San Carlos, just a quick hop up the peninsula from Palo Alto, and just close enough to completely throw off my check list for landing.  Other than one completely hosed approach, things fared fairly well.  Well, I think I did OK, anyhow.

This morning I headed out in the same plane as flight 17, and no one had flown it since I brought it in the night before.  After doing all the checks, the instructor and I took off and headed for Livermore.  About 1200 feet and a half mile from Palo Alto the instructor and I had this conversation:

CFI: Did you pull the power back?

Me: Not that I know of.

CFI: Level it off.  We’ll check some things.

Me: OK.

CFI: Hmm, that’s not right.  We’re missing about 150 RPM.

Me: So I guess we’re heading back to the airport?

CFI: Affirmative.  Let’s go now.

After all of that, it was a quick, and slightly unnerving rush back to Palo Alto to land.  It seems that the engine on this plane decided to start losing power, and did it slowly and smoothly enough that I was at a loss to explain what happened.  It also led me to do a forward slip, which is a pretty scary thing to do, to get down to the runway, pronto.  It was the shortest and most eventful flight I’ve had so far.

Flights 15 and 16

The most recent flights were more of the same: flying the pattern, learning how to properly setup to land and then takeoff again.  Should be getting easier, but I’m still finding ways to blow the base to final setup and then to be a bit early on roundouts at landing.

One exciting new event that happened was my near-night flying where I began losing spatial awareness, cutting my downwind leg short, and ending up a little closer to the runway than I’d like prior to landing.  That was a bit rough, but nothing compared to the student ahead of me who wandered out onto the active runway in front of the plane ahead of me.  He had the tower asking him what he was doing, then having the plane ahead of me abort his landing.  I politely slowed down as much as I could, buying some time for the other student to get out of the way.

Hope I don’t do that when its time for me to solo!

The "Fun" That is Windows Media Center and Xbox 360

Recently I went through a setup related exercise for work where I needed to get a Windows Media Center PC to talk to a Media Center Extender. An extender in Microsoft’s view is a device that attaches to a TV and enables interacting with a Media Center UI without the PC actually having to be in the same room as the TV. There have been a few of these devices shipping for a couple of years so I thought this would be a cakewalk. Boy was I wrong, really wrong.

I spend nearly two hours hooking up the Media Center PCs to my home network, getting them to see each other, display on the TV, then share content amongst themselves. Once that got done I added the Xbox 360 as my “extender” and had it talk to both Media Centers, as well as my home server PC. And next thing I knew another three hours was gone. I had very little to show for this time warp, other than a lot of cabling, noisy boxes, and a rather sore backside (me with the hardwood floors and all). In the end, I did get music, photos, and video up and running on the Xbox 360, but only from one Media Center PC at a time.

It seems that the Xbox 360 can only talk to one version of Media Center at a time. Trying to get two of them to cooperate, both an XP and the Vista version, met with utter failure or a host of “go to this web site, download some stuff, then come back and try again” messages. It was painful and I think I know why no one tries this at home. If I had to buy this stuff on my own I certainly would have taken it back for a refund by now.

It all works now, and I’m on my way to understanding how the different boxes work (or don’t) together. But my quick lessons are: one Media Center is all you need, sharing is tough, and PC’s don’t always love TV displays. Oh, and that the Xbox 360 is the noisiest thing I’ve ever heard in the living room.

Xbox 360

On the Track with the C6

I had the opportunity this past Thursday to go out to a real, honest to goodness race track and do some laps with the C6. This is the first time either I or the car has seen a track, so it was a lot of new-ness all around.

The track was Thunderhill and it was truly in the middle of nowhere, nearly 3 hours away (by my driving) from home. The track was full of twists, turns, and straight-aways and provided more proof that I have a much more powerful car than I am a capable driver. It was humbling to see so many cars blasting around the track at speeds far greater than I could hope to acheive in one short day.

It was a good experience and I should probably go again, but I think I’ll need some professional instruction first. This time was interesting, but with help I’ll bet I could to a lot more. I certainly now know that my car can do more.

C6 on the track