Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Jan 23-24 Weekend Adventures

It is now my pleasure to relate to you, dear reader, one of the most absurd weekends I have ever had.

Photos: https://picasaweb.google.com/105494084231616659850/Jan2324Weekend

Saturday morning, I woke with a start - through system failure I was already late. I leapt into a convenient automobile and sped (figuratively speaking) to the local airport, where I, the pilot, was to fly a passenger around LA. My victim/passenger was the Australian author Matthew Reilly, who I had met by chance during his earlier visit to Caltech, keen on discovering new ways to destroy the world. MR is somewhat notorious for his books' casual adherence/disregard for the laws of physics, so I was looking forward to this flight.

The weather cooperated, the engine started with a minimum of expended credibility, and we were soon off into the hazy, smoggy, and reasonably polluted skies. We cruised east, through the Banning pass, over Palm Springs, Joshua Tree, and Painted Canyon, then descended to fly along the eastern shore of the Salton Sea. Just past Bombay Beach (not quite the same as Mumbai, for the record), we flew beneath four low-flying army helicopters, before passing the mud volcanoes, several geothermal power plants, and a quick tour of the delights of Anza Borrego desert. Flying back over Palm Springs, we saw several jets zoom past, ducked beneath the ferocious headwind, and, after a quick diversion through the practice area, landed without incident. MR headed off and I headed for the restaurant.

By 2:30pm, it was breakfast time! I ate 3 eggs, 3 sausages, 3 bacons, and 3 hams. My "water, no ice" came with ice, my over medium eggs were barely cooked, and my plain toast was buttered, so I rounded the bill up to the nearest dollar and headed back to the parking area, where my old trainer C-152 waited somewhat loyally. By now the skies were closing in, but I topped her off and soon after climbed up through a big gap in the cloud and headed for the Cajon pass. Above 5500 feet, the clouds disappeared and the snow capped mountains reared up on my left. The wind was blowing due east and produced some nice Kelvin-Helmholtz instability as the clouds swirled between the ridges. I crested the pass and turned for Barstow, keeping an eye on the clock. I fired up my GPS to keep an eye on the restricted airspace and noticed a discrepancy in airspeed. After deploying my E-6B for the first time probably ever, I determined that my 95mph plane was surfing a 40mph tailwind, which nearly made up for my bad flight planning and late departure. At Baker, I hung a left, started a descent between mountains over dunes and the Amargosa river, and just as the sun set I circled the tiny town of Shoshone before landing, parking, and packing up.

I wandered the town for a few minutes, enjoying the twilight, before settling down near a light (no insects!) and reading the book MR had given me earlier. About an hour later, the Caltech geology field trip to which I was attaching myself arrived. Soon after, about 25 super-geeks crowded the SHEAR (Shoshone Education And Research) station, a exquisitely proportioned outpost used by geologists and full of all sorts of historical knickknacks. Dinner was pasta (my favourite!) followed and preceded by conversation with many old friends. Soon after we went to the pool, which was just warm enough to induce hypothermia, then piled into a passing vehicle and went to the Tecopa natural hot spring, arriving just as the full moon and Jupiter rose over the eastern mountains.

In the geologically heated water, I put my hand on the moon's reflection, twisting the dark surface to create galaxies of shiny ripples. We stood carefully to avoid penetrating the thin insulating muddy bottom from hot gravel, and slowly cooked, half submerged to aid in our bodies' heat convection. Back at SHEAR, we dried beside the fire before retiring to bed.

The following morning I was woken in the midst of a well-needed dream by my alarm, quickly deundressed, and snaffled some bacon and eggs for breakfast. Arriving at the airport (50m down the road) I found a small layer of frost on the aeroplane - the night's minimum had been forecast at 46F, but clearly it had gotten below 32F, which is sub-ideal for starting a plane filled with regular oil. Additionally, some moisture had condensed inside the fuel tank, which I discovered during the preflight. Additionally, dipping the tanks revealed I had only 13 gallons left, half of what I started with, and the return flight would be into a headwind. It turned out that the dipstick is not correctly calibrated (haha!), but dealing with the cold was another issue. I turned the plane to face the sun, and the frost disappeared quickly. I positioned the window reflectors around the engine to warm it up, and, when the digital CHT and EGT was turned on, found that the temperature had risen sufficiently to start the plane. The battery had other ideas, but after a few attempts it all sputtered to life. 

Flying back down the Amargosa valley in the early morning, I initially had a decent tailwind. Turning west at Baker I stayed low to minimize the still strong (but not as strong as the previous afternoon) headwinds, before climbing over Barstow and heading directly for the pass. Back in the LA basin, smog replaced cloud and I pointed the bird for home, due to arrive only 10 minutes late. Sequenced for a 5 mile final, I had the luxury of doing all the prelanding stuff in plenty of time, only to have a helicopter take off right in front of me, flying the opposite direction. I took appropriate evasive action, but was amused to find that the relevant LiveATC recording http://archive-server.liveatc.net/kemt/KEMT-Jan-24-2016-1800Z.mp3 is missing the entire exchange and the first 13 minutes of the hour. I intend to follow this up and will report back. 

Back on the ground, I returned to the car, still in the previous day's clothes for a lack of time to pack in the morning's rush. I headed for home and looked forward to a relaxing afternoon.

Ha! I got home, threw my toothbrush and a spare shirt into a shopping bag, and headed out again. This time I was going to Burbank airport, and after getting lost only once (the Vineland exit is actually Sunland, who knew?) made it to Atlantic Aviation in the nick of time. I have managed to obtain a SurfAir subscription, which is an interesting exercise in airline management. Subscribers pay a fixed amount for unlimited flights (while seats remain) to 15 different California destinations. Soon enough they had us ushered onto a friendly looking Pilatus, I took my seat, and off we went. Not long after we landed at San Carlos airport, I was collected by my friend S, and we spent about 2 hours examining electronics and hanging out in the Castro/Corona district of SF. We climbed the hill at Corona Heights, admired the Franciscan Chert, which had some lovely fault scarps and Slickensides. Soon after, it was time to go, so I jumped in an Uber and headed back to the airport.

After only 2 nerve-fraying jamming-on-of-brakes we arrived, I checked in ("Hi I'm Casey." "Hi Casey, take a seat, we'll be boarding in 2 minutes"), examined the snack smorgasbord with the casual expertise of a seasoned Silicon Valley startup engineer, and reboarded the flight. From my seat I could see through the cockpit windows as we taxied and flew, and on approach to LA we bumped excitingly through the inversion layer - the westerly was still blowing like crazy. Back on the ground I drove back to Pasadena, cooked an amazing dinner of citrus/spinach/tofu/rice/cashews, basked in the hot tub, and duly passed out.

I'm sure you'll agree that was an absurd weekend. I'm rather smug that all three missions, carefully defined and compartmentalized, were a success.

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