Saturday, August 25, 2012

A Giant Leap for Mankind

He was the consummate test pilot. In those last eternal seconds as the LM descended, with the computer warning of errors and the fuel state approaching critical and the boulder field stretching out before them and the outcome quite seriously in doubt, he stayed cool and did what test pilots do, as well as anyone ever has.

It was then, even more than with the One Small Step, that Neil Armstrong won his place in history.

"Pilots take no special joy in walking. Pilots like flying."
Neil A. Armstrong
First human to set foot on the surface of the Moon, 20 July 1969
Gone West, 25 August 2012

Photo: NASA/Science Photo Library

Friday, August 24, 2012

Today at KBDR (cont'd)

In July 1943 the US Army Air Forces accepted delivery (from the Douglas Aircraft plant at Long Beach, CA) of a C-47A-40-DL Skytrain aircraft carrying serial number 42-24064 and contractor's number 9926.

By the next spring, the aircraft was serving with the 74th Troop Carrier Squadron at RAF Aldermaston under the command of Major Ralph L. Strean, Jr. The 74th TCS was a unit of the 434th Troop Carrier Group, a part of the 9th Air Force. (The photo above at left shows the flight line at RAF Aldermaston in 1944.)

In the pre-dawn darkness of 6th June 1944, 52 C-47's of the 434th TCG, almost certainly including '064 (now marked with "invasion stripes" and carrying the squadron identifier "ID" and tail letter "N") crossed the English Channel into occupied France. Each Douglas transport towed either a Waco CG-4A or a Airspeed Horsa glider laden with troops, equipment and supplies to reinforce elements of the 101st Airborne Division that had already jumped from other C-47's into battle.

Aircraft '064 continued to participate in supply operations as Allied forces advanced across France and into Germany. The 74th TCS relocated from England to France and on 3 April 1945, while parked at an airstrip in Gelnhausen, Germany (near Frankfurt), '064 was involved in a minor mishap, being struck by a landing aircraft. The damage was repaired within a week.

The D-Day veteran continued to serve the military until it was demobilized and sold as surplus in 1947. Records indicate that as of 1954, now known to the FAA as N74589, it was working for a living in the livery of West Coast Airlines, flying passengers in the Pacific Northwest.

After the conversion to turbine power swept through the airline industry, N74589 went through a series of owners. It was abandoned at least once and claimed by an FBO in compensation for unpaid bills. (See photo at left of '589 sitting in the weeds.)

But eventually, she found a good home. Now, the Normandy veteran has been cleaned up, her paint freshened, and her colors restored to those of her glory days. This morning, I found Douglas C-47A c/n 9926 at rest on the ramp at KBDR, waiting patiently for someone to come spin up her twin Pratt R-1830's and take her into the sky once more. In her 70th year, the old gal still gives us a thrill.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Ask for What You Need! (cont'd)

Friday's flight from KBDR to KVKX took me back to a theme I focused on about a year ago: the importance of asking ATC for what you need to stay out of trouble. You have to have good situational awareness and an understanding of where you need to be. ATC will help you to get there.

As it got close to the time I'd planned for departure, the weather near Bridgeport was good. But things were happening in central Pennsylvania that needed watching. The Terminal Area Forecasts (TAF's) in effect for Allentown (KABE) and Lancaster (KLNS) contained some strong hints:

TAF KABE 171734Z 1718/1818 24005KT P6SM SCT050 BKN250
       FM171900 22011KT P6SM SCT050 BKN250
       TEMPO 1721/1724 5SM TSRA BKN035CB  
       FM180000 29005KT P6SM SCT050 BKN100
       TEMPO 1800/1803 5SM -SHRA OVC050 
       FM180400 33004KT P6SM SCT025 BKN050 
       FM180800 34005KT 5SM BR SCT020 OVC025 
       FM181400 01005KT P6SM BKN050 
       FM181600 02008KT P6SM BKN100=

TAF KLNS 171726Z 1718/1818 26008KT P6SM SCT200 
       FM172000 23007KT P6SM VCTS BKN040CB  
       FM180400 32005KT P6SM SCT040= 
From 21Z to 24Z, Allentown was forecasting periods of thundershower activity, while from 20Z through 04Z Lancaster was expecting thundershowers in the vicinity. The radar picture showed a fairly extensive area of precipitation and unsettled weather in central Pennsylvania, moving eastward fairly slowly.

N631S and I lifted off from Runway 24 at KBDR at 2013Z. The IFR clearance was the same one that is always issued by ATC's computer: Vectors to SAX, thence V249 to SBJ, V30 to ETX, V39 to LRP, V93 to BAL and thence direct to KVKX. I could have said "unable", and insisted on a routing over JFK and down the New Jersey coast, but that would have entailed a significant delay. I judged the forecast and weather situation to be manageable with ATC's usual enroute cooperation. Shortly after departure, the NEXRAD display on the Garmin 396 was showing (above) the beginnings of the adverse weather still well north and west of the planned route.

Once N631S and I got to Sparta (SAX) I asked for and promptly got a corner-cutting shortcut direct to LANNA; and after the handoff to Allentown approach I asked for and also promptly received clearance direct to FLOAT, which lies on V39 about halfway between East Texas (ETX) and Reading (KRDG). This track kept me south of the weather that was approaching Allentown from the north but I didn't want to go all the way to FLOAT (see above left). So about then, I had a brief chat with Allentown Approach:
N631S: Approach, Skylane 631 Sierra.
Approach: 31 Sierra, go ahead.
N631S: Could you please tell me what level of precip you're painting up ahead at FLOAT?
Approach: It looks like moderate precip at FLOAT...in fact, extensive moderate precip there and to the west.
N631S: 31 Sierra would like to request an early turn toward Lancaster to give that area of weather a wider berth.
Approach: 31 Sierra, I have your request. I'll need to work something out with Harrisburg.
N631S: That'd be great. Thanks.

At the time of this conversation, the view off to the north (at left) was gray and opaque, but I didn't see any lightning flashes. I pressed on toward FLOAT for about five miles and then the controller came back with "Cessna 631 Sierra, cleared direct Lancaster." I thanked her and turned N631S to the southwest.

Just a few miles farther on, the Allentown Approach controller completed the hand-off to Harrisburg Approach. I'd already been looking at the weather N631S and I were now heading toward at Lancaster (LRP) (depicted at left) and I checked in on the new frequency with a proposal for Harrisburg:
N631S: Harrisburg, Skylane N631 Sierra, level 8,000 with a request.
Approach: Skylane 631 Sierra, Harrisburg Approach. Harrisburg altimeter 29.78; go ahead with your request.
N631S: What are the chances of an early turn toward Baltimore for 31 Sierra, to stay clear of the weather along Victor 39 between Lancaster and Reading?
Approach: 31 Sierra, if I can get you down to 6,000 I can give you an early turn toward Baltimore. Can you accept 6,000?
N631S: 6,000 would be no problem for 31 Sierra.
Approach: Skylane 31 Sierra, descend and maintain 6,000. You can expect direct Baltimore in about one-zero miles.
N631S: Skylane 631 Sierra is out of 8 for 6, and thanks!

As soon as I leveled off at 6,000 feet, Harrisburg Approach advised, "Skylane 31 Sierra, steer heading 220." That got me pointed away from the weather (see left – note that the turn has already been made). And just a few miles farther along, "Skylane 631 Sierra, cleared direct Baltimore."

And with that, N631S and I were in the clear. The rest of the journey was uneventful and away from the influence of unpleasant weather. Again, the controllers all along the route – especially at Allentown Approach and Harrisburg Approach – have my appreciation for their skill and responsiveness.

And that's the story. Except...after passing Baltimore under the watchful care of Potomac Approach, N631S and I headed south to Nottingham (OTT) as we do nearly every Friday. I expected a vector after OTT to about a 240 heading and after a while a turn toward "home plate" at KVKX. But I got a pleasant surprise in the form of a clearance direct to the field from a point just north of OTT!

I must admit that I didn't recognize my benefactor's voice – people do sound differently on different frequencies – until I had KVKX in sight and cancelled IFR. That's when I heard, "Have a good evening, Frank..." and figured out that my final controller was my friend Sarah. So, if you read this, Sarah...thanks for the early turn toward home.