Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Chasing the Airplane

I believe we are close to closing a deal on the Pacer. I have the money and the pre-sale inspection is Monday, Labor Day. That’s really ideal because both the owner and I are off work and can both be there when the mechanic does it. I’m hoping to close a deal with the owner the next day.

The big unknowns are the condition of the fabric and the engine. I suspect the engine is okay; it only has 480 hours on it since it was overhauled. The fabric is another story. While it looks okay, I’m anxious to see whether it passes a punch test or not. If it does, the deal is a go at a price I believe the owner will find reasonable. If it doesn’t, I’ll literally have to cut my offer in half; it will cost me $12,000 to recover the airplane. I could cut the cost down to about $3000 by doing it myself, but I’d have to train up and that would also put the airplane down for six months. Not willing to go there. Besides, when I already can’t get everything done, does it make sense to take on anything else?

My wife and I are both looking forward to closing the deal. Unfortunately, even if I do, between getting the proper legal paperwork filed with the FAA and a trip we have upcoming, I may not get to fly the airplane until the week after.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Apologize for what?

Bob Dole’s insistence that John Kerry apologize to the US government for his anti-Vietnam war comments is about as funny as it is ridiculous but not unexpected. It has become ?unpatriotic? under the Bush administration and the Republican party to disagree with the party line. It would have been interesting had the Republican party been in charge of the country in 1776. Spouting then the rhetoric they are spouting now would have made them Torries.

It is the duty of every citizen, which makes it the duty of every military officer, to speak up against those things he believes are contrary to American ideals. I have observed many veterans who cannot let go of "being at war" and who insist that ?America right or wrong? is the only way to go. There is a modicum of truth in that approach; we must all strive to do what is in our country’s best interests to ensure its survival. The rub comes in when deciding what the best course is; and the only way to do that fairly and occasionally wisely is through the political process. The First Amendment is its cornerstone; without it, we are no better than the ?enemies? we cherish to hate so much.

Bush’s military record has been questionable from the git-go, and the attacks on Kerry really are meant to divert attention away from that fact. I’m not surprised that Bush seems too ready to commit the country to war; it’s easy to practice bravado when you’ve never been shot at. If anyone needs to apologize to our government, it’s Dole and those folks out there who have so little faith in our own leadership they are willing to disparage our country’s awarding of medals to Kerry as undeserved.

Maybe the best thing to do would be to get off the fear mongering, which is what this play-battle about who would be the best Commander in Chief is, and get onto something more substantive. American cannot live on security alone.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Back from the Wilds of Walt Disney World

The reason there haven’t been any posts to this blog for about the past week is simple. I wasn’t here. Instead, my wife and I were spending our third anniversary at Walt Disney World in Florida?with a one day swing through Kennedy Space Center. Our timing was absolutely perfect. Though we did have to deal with some rain, we were home before either tropical weather system (i.e.. Bonnie or Charley) ravaged the Florida coast.

I’d like to tell you that we are Mickey and Minnie’d out, but we’re not. We had a great time and hit the three parks in Walt Disney World we were aiming for. We even ate dinner with some Disney characters. Who says you can’t have a second childhood?

Of course, we paid Disney prices for everything. That’s to be expected. But they were nothing compared to the price of a hotdog and fries at Kennedy Space Center’s visitor center. I paid almost $7 for the pair! Won’t do that again.

I’m still need to download pictures out of our digital cameras, though we really didn’t take that many. I got no pictures inside Disney’s new ride, ?Mission:Space?, a helluva thrill ride that sends you to Mars, complete with space sickness. Nor inside the light-hearted bouncing and accelerations of ?Star Tours?. I might have a few from the ?Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular?. But I gave up on trying to photograph inside ?Pirates of the Carribean? long ago.

One thing no one talks to you about is the after-affect of such a rollicking visit. It’s called ?PMD?-Post Mickey Depression. My wife and I are suffering from it now. It’s showing itself via an urge to drop into early retirement and make people smile. Too bad we’re both trapped in that thing called ?making a living?.

By now, one of my favorite authors, Ed Abbey, must be turning in his grave. You’ll have to forgive me for this, Ed; my wife had never been and always has wanted to go. That’s done, now; and in deference to us both, our next anniversary will be spent in a more Abbey-like fashion, i.e., river-running the Grand Canyon. I can’t wait to write about that!

Sunday, August 01, 2004

From Adversity Comes Prizes

t’s often true that out of adversity comes prizes....that life leads you by the hand and takes you places you had never thought you could go but secretly hoped to.

It’s been tough at work. The scramble to safely get the space shuttle flying again has been anything but easy. My workload and responsibilities are at the highest levels they’ve ever been. And rightly so. The Columbia accident happened on my watch. I’m determined to do what I can never to see such a thing happen again, and it’s not only because it’s what I get paid to do. It’s because I have a personal stake in it.

Yet, I have had mixed feelings about this job and living in Houston for quite some time. My heart is in the desert southwest but finding work there has not been easy for me or my wife. Events always seemed to push us back here to Houston, and I kept asking God ?Why?? It was nice I seemed needed at my job at Johnson Space Center; but that is a mixed blessing for me and my charges, my coworkers I am expected to lead. One balances this kind of things with hobbies, something one loves to do. My hobbies have centered lately around computers and video. The problem is that they hold the unrealized potential of becoming a job. Hard to relax at that, especially when I’ve been told the shuttle program has only six more years of life in it. While I project it has ten to twelve, I have no illusions that when the program ends, so does my career. The last twenty years of my life, including the three years I was away from NASA, have been tied up with the space shuttle in one way or the other. It’s where most of my expertise is, and I’ve been around NASA long enough to know the true story. I’ll be too old to be needed once this program winds down. Especially as a contractor, I expect to be unceremoniously put out to pasture.

Which is why the airplane is such a surprise.

Flying has been one of my loves for various reasons, some healthy, some not. I got my private pilot’s license on December 22, 1973. I was in the Navy at the time, an enlisted jet engine mechanic using the Naval Air Station China Lake’s flying club airplanes to do the deed. From there I had gone on to get my commercial license and instrument rating (via the G.I. Bill and the Auburn University School of Aviation), gotten into Navy flight training and wound up in the backseat of an F-14, gone to NASA to train astronauts and learned to fly the space shuttle simulator, all the while plugging through the sky in little airplanes off and on, more off than on sometimes. Over the years, I had developed a love/fear relationship with flying. I sometimes wasn’t sure if I loved it anymore. I kept doing it because whenever I did, I felt better. It was, in essence, another form of therapy and a hidden form of joy...when I wanted to let it be.

For years, I’ve been flying with the Bay Area Flying Club. Located at a now-closed airport first called "Spaceland" and then "Houston Gulf", the club had given me relatively cheap access to Cessna 150’s and 172’s, 200 horsepower Piper Arrow’s, and Grumman Tigers. When Gulf was closed by a developer who bought the place from the Bin Laden family (an ownership that caused a lot of notoriety after 9/11), the club moved out to Clover, an airfield recently renamed ?Pearland Regional? and located between Pearland and Friendswood where my wife and I had bought a house. While out at the clubhouse a few months ago, I noticed a white and blue striped taildragger for sale nearby. It was an easy walk to go check it out. A paper stuck on a window said it was for sale. I really liked the airplane but I assumed I could never afford to buy it. And I was right. But what hadn’t dawned on me then was while I couldn’t afford to buy it, my wife and I could.

The airplane sat and sat, not selling. Was it waiting for me?

I mentioned it to my wife; and much to my surprise, she was all for getting it. She was, in fact, more excited than I was about it. If I had any doubt about being blessed by having a pretty wife that loves to fly, it disappeared. Not only was this something we could do together, but it was something we were looking forward to.

I want to buy this airplane. I feel right about it. Aligned with harmony. I’m cautious, though , because I also know this shiny apple could be hiding rotten meat. As a friend of Connie’s says, ?Friends don’t let friends buy airplanes?. My two closest pilot friends spent between two and five thousand dollars on their airplane’s first annual. Gulp! If we buy this airplane, its annual will be due in December and will cost at least $500. If we suddenly had to recover the airplane, it could cost about $10,000. While the fabric looks in good shape, I’m told the airplane was last recovered in 1982. Good fabric will last between 20 to 30 years, meaning we’re in the window for having it replaced. And there’s also the risk of me losing my medical. While I’m in fair shape, I’m not in good shape because I’m overweight and need to exercise more and change my diet and stressful lifestyle. The airplane’s going to force me to. My medical is due in February 2005. I have no reason to think I wouldn’t pass it, but "what if"?

I flew in the airplane for the first time yesterday. While I didn’t get to perform landings and take-off’s (the riskiest part of a flight in a taildragger) because his insurance woudn't let me fly, I did fly the airplane at altitude for a while, putting her through turns, slow flight, and a take-off stall. I liked how she flew. And he didn't appear to work that hard during the takeoffs and landings. The airplane was a typical short wing Piper. No float even at an approach speed closer to the Piper Arrow than the Cessna 172.

This is an airplane we can afford and one of the few that matches expense with capability. It’s not a great climber. With me and the skinny owner aboard on a 95 degree hot summer day at sea level, we got 400 fpm. But he wasn’t flying at best rate. I believe I could have gotten another 100 fpm out of it. Not great but respectable. Still, we want to go to the Big Bend area with it, something we'll have to do in early spring, winter, or late fall....once I figure out how to keep us from getting shot down or intercepted by the Border Patrol erroneously thinking we're smugglers.

So, what now? The pre-sale inspection is next. I’m still deciding which mechanic to use for that task. I have the insurance quote and I’m going to get AOPA to do a title search. If the title search is clear and the pre-sale inspection doesn't turn up any big ticket surprises, I’ll make the owner an offer. Stay tuned.