Back Into the Wilder Blue Yonder, Part 6

On Monday, August 3rd, Connie and I trampled through the security lines at Houston’s Hobby airport and to Southwest Airlines flight 262 to Oakland, California.  I found a window seat on the left side of the Boeing 737 just behind the wing, Connie piled in next to me, and we settled in for our four-hour flight.  The weather in Houston and Oakland was clear, and from our thirty seven thousand foot altitude, I could largely tell where we were for most of the trip.  While I had brought along the CTSW’s pilot operating handbook for study, I spent most of the trip doing what I always would do, which was stare out the window.

As we began our final descent into the Oakland area, I spotted the Columbia airport below, pointed it out to Connie, and took a hazy picture with my iPhone.  We would be back there later today to finalize the deal around the CTSW and begin flying out of the airport tomorrow.  I wasn’t sure what day we would head back to Texas yet; that would all depend on how my training went and how the weather would shape up.

We descended over the Sierra Nevada down into the San Jacquin valley, pushing east toward the coastline and the east bay where Oakland lived.  As we did on our first trip out, we jogged south and then turned north to land over the water.   A few minutes later and we had made our way through the terminal to the baggage claim.  Once again, after a half hour wait, we had our bags and made our way outside to a bus that would take us to the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) rail terminal.  It wasn’t hard to find; we paid our three bucks each and hopped on board.  It deposited us at a large cement building hosting rail lines on its upper level.  Inside its utilitarian bowels, I managed to find a ticket machine and was studying it when an older gentleman asked me if I needed help.  I told him where I was trying to go and he masterfully pushed the right buttons and then told me to swipe my debit card and I did, winding up with magical tickets for my wife and I.  I thanked him as he directed us up the stairs and we made our way to the upper level to await our silver, aluminum train that would whisk us to Pleasanton, California.  As we waited I called Connie’s cousin, Anne, on my iPhone and told her we were fixin’ to board up.  The trip to the Pleasanton station would take twenty to thirty minutes, and she would be awaiting us there when we arrived.

Inside our aluminum, electric-powered boxes, Connie and I sat toward the rear and the right side, looking out the windows at the buildings, hillsides, fences, and cars as they slowly built speed to rush past.  Under my feet, the low rumble of the wheel bearings made themselves known both by sound and feel, often overcoming the scream of the whining electric motors propelling us.  We slid into a terminal and stopped, waiting a few minutes for people to get on and off, and then jerked on our way again, speeding past the cars on the Interstate that were already stopping for congestion even though it was early in the afternoon.  Two more stops and we were finally on our way to the last, the Dublin/Pleasanton station where we would get off.  Once there, Connie and I piled out with the rest of the folks, riding escalators down to the ground floor, and the spilling outside into the street, past several policemen who were keeping watch.  Anne had asked us to meet her outside, so we crossed the street under the building where some people were busy catching rides and emerged in the open air between several buildings, one of which belonged to BART itself.  We waited at the curb for Anne’s car but didn’t see it, even though she had told us she was almost there.  After a few more minutes of not seeing her, we were starting to wonder if we were in the right place when my phone rang and she told us we were not.  Getting clear on where we were supposed to be, we walked back the way we came, paralleling the street under the building until it curved right and emerged outside again right next to a parking lot where Anne was waiting.

Despite the fact we were from Texas, we were family and she was happy to see us.  We threw our bags in the Mercedes’ trunk and then piled in as Anne headed us out.   Anne headed immediately for the Columbia airport, a destination some two and a half hours away.

We got there about five p.m. California time, made our way into the FBO, and sat until we saw Alan’s truck pull up in front of the FBO.  Boarding it, we took the short ride to the hangar where Alan had the CTSW ready to go, short of its little dinosaur, while the women stayed behind in the FBO.  A box with materials for the 496 and manuals that went with the airplane were stacked on the passenger seat. I put two sets of airplane covers, one lightweight and one heavyweight one, as well as a couple of white, embroidered, canvas bags back in the airplane’s baggage compartment.  The airplane’s logs and an extra set of keys were stored in a black, canvas briefcase from Flight Design, and after checking its contents, I put it on the passenger seat with the other stuff because I wanted to take it with me.  Satisfied I had everything, I told Alan I needed to park the airplane somewhere for the night and Alan suggested a spot just behind his hangar.    He offered to taxi the airplane around for me, and I accepted.  I was happy to make my first real introduction to flying the airplane in the morning with both a checklist and an instructor aboard.

Alan started the airplane up and taxied it out, as I followed along like a dog in heat and the ladies came behind.  Stopping on a tie down spot behind his hangar, he got out and then showed me where the tie down rings were; they were not normally been needed so he stored them in a small, zippered bag hidden inside a storage compartment on the floor.  I screwed the rings into the wings, placed the tiedown chains in them; and then, also at Alan’s behest, pulled out the lightweight canopy cover and proceeded to place it on the airplane as Connie and Anne caught up to me and came to help.   It took a few minutes for us to sort out which end was which, but I finally saw it, stepped in to straighten it out (Connie thought I was wrong at first), and then finished positioning the grey, lightweight canvas cover over the cockpit and inboard section of the airplane’s wings.   We piled back into Alan’s truck for the very short ride back to the FBO where Alan and I shook hands, he said ‘goodbye’ to his airplane, and the three of us made our way back to Anne’s car.   As she drove us down the narrow, crooked, tree-lined roads, I opened the Flight Design attaché case and rumbled through the aircraft logs and the pilot’s operating handbook, drinking in all the new information about the airplane I now had access to. Looking through it all kept me busy for the entire ride back to Anne’s vacation home up in the mountains.  I wanted to know everything and anything that would help me train to be a good pilot in the thing, and I only had until tomorrow morning to discover it.

The next morning was a blue-sky day with no clouds except up high.  Doug and I met at his office but spent only seconds there before heading out to the airplane.  We talked about the airplane’s various features as I did my preflight, which I was conducting from my own airplane checklist that I had spent a couple of weeks building using a Pilot’s Operating Handbook and other materials I had downloaded from the Wild Wooly Web.  I started my preflight in the cabin and then walked around the airplane to my left (clockwise), which is not what the preflight from Flight Design did.  In fact, that preflight was quite schizophrenic.  It jumped from place to place; its writer had obviously not ever performed a preflight inspection of a real airplane and certainly had not performed a preflight of a CTSW using what he wrote.  So, I had re-arranged it to make it flow smoothly…left to right and all the way around.  The airplane had plenty of gas and was ready to go.  Doug and I moved to hop in the airplane with me in the left seat.

As we strapped in, Doug decided to talk about management of the BRS, the Ballistic Recovery System, which is an emergency parachute used to save the whole aircraft.  Its T-shaped handle rested on the rear bulkhead between us.

“This is your airplane and how you manage this is up to you,” he said, “but let’s take a look at the BRS.  Grab the arming pin and pull it.”

I did.

“How long did that take you?”

“Less than a second,” I responded.

“Right.  If this were my airplane, I’d keep the arming pin inserted to keep the system safe.  That’ll protect you from an inadvertent deployment when people are strapping in.  They could get it caught in a shoulder harness when they drag it forward to strap in or in a long sleeve of a coat. If you really need the system, you can still deploy it with only an additional half-second of time lost.”

I nodded as I put the pin back in, safing the system.  (We flew with the system pinned for the rest of the time I was there.)

“When would you not use it?” he asked.

“For an engine failure when that’s all that’s wrong with the airplane and I’ve got a landing spot to go into.”

“Right.  Essentially, you only want to use the chute when there isn’t another option, such as you don’t have control or you’re coming down over hostile terrain.”

And with that, we turned our attention to the normal running of the airplane.  The CTSW uses a Rotax engine that manages its own mixture settings, so there is no mixture control in the cockpit.  Starting the engine is like starting the engine in your car except you holler “CLEAR PROP!” out the window as loudly and with as much of a masculine voice as you can muster.  Before doing that, though, I engaged electrical power by pushing in the BATT/GEN circuit breakers which together perform the same function as a MASTER switch in most light aircraft.  After pulling the choke lever back to engage it and pulling the T-shaped throttle lever back to ensure the engine was at idle, I yelled “CLEAR PROP!” and then rotated the key in the ignition switch past its “1”, “2”, and “1+2” detents to the START position.  The little Rotax engine started right up!

My eyes darted to the oil pressure gauge and it was showing plenty, so engine start was complete.  The flaps were all the way down as a result of my preflight, so I retracted them a stop at a time, watching to make sure both left and right barn doors came up together, and that the little red LED indicator on the instrument panel was properly tracking their position.  I stopped the flaps at zero degrees, even though there was still one more position to go.  The CTSW had MINUS degree flaps!

We donned our headsets as I turned on the intercom and the radios and tuned them to the airfield’s automated weather system. The altimeter was 30.02 and the winds were generally favoring runway 17 though they were mostly making a direct cross at about 7 knots.  I matched up my altimeter and powered up the GPS, making sure it was set to get back to the airport since I didn’t really know my way around. Then, I switched the communications radio back to the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency, i.e., 122.975.  I asked Doug if he was ready to taxi, and he was, so I released the little airplane’s parking brake and added a little throttle to start us moving.  I quickly popped the handbrake lever back to test our brakes and, satisfied they were working properly, let us continue forward as I pushed the left rudder pedal, turning us toward the taxiway.  We were pointed at the middle of the field and the grass, cross-runway 1/29 where a California Forestry Service S-64 Skycrane  and a Huey or two sat waiting to take off and deal with a forest fire spewing smoke into the sky to the north.   We turned right onto the taxiway for 17, heading toward a wide area where a California Forestry Service converted S-2 Tracker sat, awaiting its fire duties for the day.  I pulled the CTSW up parallel to the S-2 and we ran through the Take-off Checklist.  The engine checked out, flaps and trim were set, and the radios were on the right frequency.  Time to taxi out.  We ambled out past the hold short at the first intersection down from the runway threshold and hooked past to the end of the runway.  I checked downwind and final for traffic and, seeing none, called our departure on the radios and pulled us out onto runway 17.