About Me

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I live in the Florida Keys. I've been in the military and worked inside the Beltway. I've had 22 technical books and two novels published. I fly, boat, dive, shoot, and swim pretty damn well.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Tying Down Your Plane

At our local EAA chapter (Marathon Ch 1241) , July is the slowest month. So, the discussion over morning coffee at the buzzard's roost (where we sit and grade landings.... a whole 'nother story) has turned to tying down airplanes. That's appropriate since we're in the potentially "windy" (AKA Hurricane) season in the Keys.
As an aside, over the years we've had more damage in Marathon to airplanes IN hangars than to those tied out. Mainly because of hangar doors collapsing onto airplanes. Also, the last "event" we had was a flood, so indoor and outdoor planes suffered equally from rising salt water.
The first thing most of us do is to install our own ropes at the tiedown spots. You can't trust those little 1/2" or 3/8" hunks of stiff rope provided by the FBO. I use the biggest rope that will go through the eyebolts on the plane. I use what we call "yacht braid" because it stays supple and, as you'll see, you can make a good knot.
Ah, the topic of knots. In this discussion we'll turn to a great source of expert and easy to understand information, the Army Field Manuals. (I kid you not. FMs explain everything (see here) and explain it well!) US Army Field Manual 5-125 explains rigging techniques. Chapter 2, (CLICK HERE) gives great descriptions of and diagrams for knots. I don't care if you are a Boy Scout or a Bosun, FM 5-125 can teach you something about knots.
Most pilots learn to use a series of half hitches to secure the ropes to the airplane in an attempt to hold down the tail and wings. But, is the half hitch good enough? As the Field Manual states, "...It will hold against the pull on the standing part of the rope;however, it is not a secure hitch." (Note the nice use of a semicolon in this Army writing!) Later, the Manual makes the point that the series of half hitches needs "constant tension on the rope" to be effective. If the airplane starts rocking, rolling, and flexing in the wind, there will not be constant tension on every rope all the time.
You can push the half hitches together and create a clove hitch. This is better, but it can still come loose and it's much harder to untie if the rope is tight. That's a pain. I think the best answer is the Fisherman's Bend.
The Fisherman's Bend requires you to put the rope through the eye twice, but that's quite possible with soft braided rope. (AKA Yacht Braid)
Then, throw a half-hitch into the end of the rope to keep it neat. This works well and you can easily untie it.

You can even print off a diagram showing how to tie the Fisherman's bend at link above. This is an efficient and effective way to tie down your airplane. Give it a try!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

A Good Gun Lock

You must have a gun lock for each gun. This is an excellent gun lock from Master Lock. You can set and re-set the combination. This is ever so much better than trying to track keys.


Our Crosman T4 BB/ Pellet pistol arrived and it’s had its first night looking for rats in the woods. It did a real fine job, but there are a few things you should know about the pistol before you order it.

The first question was, “Can a person who is far-sighted (one with “mature eyes”) use the Crosman Red Dot Sight? The answer is “Yes!”, the red dot superimposes over the image in the sight and you do not have to focus close up.

But, I will say that a Red Dot Sight works best if you learned to shoot with both eyes open as I did in the military. The one-eyed squinting shooter will take a long time to acquire the target through this site, but with two eyes it’s easy. For target shooting and plinking, the Red Dot Sight that comes with the Crosman T4 Tactical is probably better than a laser site and it beats the daylights out of open sights.

Unfortunately, this gun has a strong trigger pull. But, all of the BB pistols I’ve tried recently have strong trigger pulls. Think of it as training for real double-action shooting.

I was curious about the flat magazine system for BBs and pellets that Crosman built into the T4, but it’s very smooth. This magazine system sure beats trying to feed the BBs down a little hole and it gives you automatic feed of pellets – not one at a time. Push down on a lever and the received snaps open. Dump out the old mag, drop in a new one, snap back the slide, and you’ve got 8 rounds ready to go. Loading a magazine takes seconds, but you’d be smart to buy a spare 3-pack of magazines.

The Crosman Tactical Flashlight is a flamethrower for its size. You can use it mounted or handheld and it comes with a pressure pad actuator so you can choose to only turn it on for short intervals. I love good flashlights.

This kit, gun+sight+light, provides a lot of value. Highly recommended for punching holes in paper targets, aluminum cans, or rats.

Click Here to buy!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Flying with Pants On

The topic of an increase in speed from wheel pants has been analyzed down to the microscopic level on discussion groups such as the Grumman Gang. With a Grumman, which does not have a steerable nose wheel, the primary benefit of fairings seems to be to keep the nose wheel straight. We Zodiac 601XL drivers don't face that challenge.

Here are some some conclusions I've drawn over the years of reading about and flying with and without wheel pants:

* I note from photo archives of the Reno Air Races that if professional air racers didn't have retractable gear they had pants. I bet they tested and proved their worth.

* Not all wheel pants are created equal. For example, DMA claims their pants (for Grummans) are significantly better than any other design. That debate still rages, but clearly what can be said of one set of pants might not fit into another set of pants.

* They make the airplane look spiffy! I believe that eye-candy is their primary benefit. In my mind, any discussion of pants on a 601 is primarily about cool looks and the extra knots (or not) is the excuse.

* If you have a flat tire on landing, you can litter the runway with expensive fiberglass. And, I had a flat tire on my 3rd landing in my 601. Bad tube or bad installation? One of the other. But, the fact is that everything would have been a lot worse / expensive if I had pants on the 601

* Preflight is much harder. Checking the air / filling with air is much more difficult.

* IF you are not the "mechanic", " certificate holder" etc (depending on the class) and can't take off your own pants, then the annual is more expen$ive by an hour or more.

* They add some weight. In a 601 it's almost always about weight more than speed.

So, in my case I chose to go pantless. Yes, my 601 would look cooler with pants, but the benefits overcome the gains.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Sunset on Summer Solstice (Click pix)

Here is the sun setting over the NE end of Crane Key. With an Egret waiting for its supper.

Boating Blind in the Keys (Click on the picture to expand it)

A shot I took from the 601XL yesterday. This guy was going 30 knots up a blind channel on Tavernier Creek in the Keys. White fiberglass and red blood have floated together down this creek more than once.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Shooting Rats -- In Search of Perfection

Here in the Keys we feed squirrels, all types of "land" birds, and several types of wading birds. So, because of all the feed around, we have rats. I know that there are those who view squirrels as rats with nice fur coats, but there is a difference. Rats are destructive. I had them chew up the engine compartment of my Chevy Avalanche. It wasn't nice.

So, we kill rats.... or we TRY to kill them, anyway. Rats have very good survival skills.

My rats laugh at rat traps. The latest rat traps you buy in retail stores have big yellow plastic triggers. The triggers cause my rats great merriment. Sometimes the traps are triggered and the bait gone and sometimes the bait is simply gone and the trap is still set. We've tried peanut butter, dough balls, and chicken hearts as bait. Chicken hearts tied to the trigger with thread has had the most success -- although on a basis of traps set versus rats caught we're at about 2% overall.

So, we shoot them. I'd like to use .22 cal rounds with birdshot (so called "snake" rounds), but they'll a little loud and probably illegal. (No "firearms discharge" in the county.) We use .177 BB guns powered by CO2. Laser designators and flashlights are necessary for this nighttime sport. At night our yard looks like a scene from "The X-Files" with lasers and lights sweeping the trees.

This is our latest addition to the armory. Marlene is an avid shooter and I'm anxious to see if she can use the red dot sight. I like the "magazine" style loading. It makes it much easier to use pellets.

I wonder if this longer weapon wouldn't have been a better choice since it has better stability. However, most rat shooting is point and shoot without much time for careful aiming.

I'd be interested in hearing from anyone who has used a red dot sight. Can someone who needs reading glasses effectively use the red dot sight? Also, any other ideas for a better weapon? We'll report later.

(I'm thinking about a TV-monitored remotely controled rat trap. Kind of a roadside IED for the rat world.)

The Summer Solstice

Today, at 6:06 PM we will experience the Summer Solstice. Here in the Florida Keys we "experience" it more profoundly than people do in many other places. We can see the results in our backyard. At sunset, the sun has been marching from left to right since December. Starting tomorrow, it will start marching back the other way. I hope to get some photos tonight showing how far over it appears on our horizon over Florida Bay.

The solstice is a celebration that came way before others with religious or historical significance. After all, the position of the sun is instantly visible and quite interesting.... if you can stop to look.

This Wikipedia page does a good job of explaining (as usual) and it includes an interesting table. It's all about the tilt and wobble of the Earth.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Richard Collins "Discusses" Light Sport

In a recent issue of "FLYING" Magazine (you know, the one with the Jets on every cover) Richard Collins has a fractured and rambling column on LSA in general and my AMD-made Zenith 601XL in particular. I like Richard Collins. I have trained with videos featuring his explanations and in those videos he was a good explainer. In this column he was.... fractured.

His attitude was clearly, "This Light Sport Aviation and these airplanes are not important and maybe they are dangerous." Richard, that's over the top, but typical of what I would expect from "FLYING" Magazine (I don't subscribe, so I can't even cancel my subscription!)

He supports his attitude with the fact that a Sport Pilot might have only 20 hours of flight time. Maybe, but that seems like a weak way to indict the whole class.

Then he says that some of the airplanes come from Europe and (horrors) aren't FAA certified. And that pilots can put things anywhere they want in the cockpit and instruments anywhere they want on the panel. YES!

I owned a nice certificated airplane, a Grumman Cheetah. I loved it. But, if I wanted to replace the old steam guages with some of the slick and affordable new avionics I saw at Sun N'Fun, I couldn't do it. The wonderful Grumman Gang discussion group is full of people who would like to do neat things to their nice airplanes, but face mountains of paperwork, cost, and time.

Now, I own a brand new $80,000 airplane with really cool avionics, that was made in the USA. I had more flexibility in choice, more options, and less cost. Richard Collins apparently doesn't get the importance of that flexibility.

Richard did get a few things right, but he ruined it all with one awful comparison. The 601XL is heavier in roll than in pitch. It takes a pilot 5 minutes of flight time to become comfortable with the big elevator. The 100 HP 601 is noisier inside than my 150 HP Grumman. Yes, because it is lighter, the 601XL doesn't smooth the bumps as well as my Grumman did. The 601 has a couple of hundred pounds less payload, but it flies just as far and as fast as the Grumman.

Which, Richard, is one hell of a lot faster than a Cessna 150. That comparison Richard made between the 601 and a 150 was the most lame thing in the whole article. They have the same engine and they each can carry two people, that's the end of the valid comparison. The 601 is way roomier, faster, has better visibility, and is a lot more fun to fly.

Richard's article then wanders off to praise the ability to have a weather display in the cockpit. I have a weather display in my airplane because I can have anything I want on the panel. How many Cessna flyers can say that?

Richard, Light Sport is adding life to the industry. It is generating business in aviation. We don't all need or want turbo props or fan jets. If you can't say anything nice, then don't say anything at all.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Freeman Dyson on Global Warming

Freeman Dyson is a highly respected mathematician and physicist who has done solid work in many fields ranging from quantum physics to science fiction. (Well, okay, quantum physics isn't far from science fiction.) I've been impressed with him for decades.

He is also a trifle to the left in his politics and has shown concern over many technical and social issues. His Wikipedia bio is here. He is truly a great and smart man.

And so, it is very interesting when he analyzes "Global Warming" and the carbon dioxide load in the atmosphere. In a nut shell, he says the public and "experts" are looking at the wrong thing in the wrong way.

There are two YouTUBE videos here. You really should take advantage of this opportunity to hear a very smart man speak on an important issue. The two videos don't quite last a total of 12 minutes. Time well spent.

New Author: John Burdett

Finding a new author you can like and trust is a great experience. I highly recommend the book "Bangkok 8" written by John Burdett. It's been around a while. Published in 2004, but I just found this author. It is a cop-mystery set in (dah dum) Bangkok. The author draws many contrasts and comparisons between oriental culture and that of the US. It's insightful and fun. See more information here.

Is it fantasy, is it BS? I don't know. It is probably idealized. But, it is a good read. Highly recommended for you or for some great guy you know.

I'm in the process of reading "Bangkok Tattoo" published in 2006 and so far it's super. "Bangkok Haunts" coming out in June. Looks like I've got something to look forward to!

Monday, June 4, 2007

I Want a VHF ADF

I had an ADF in my Grumman Cheetah. I found an FCC database of AM Broadcast transmitter locations and would often dial up an AM station to backup all of the other high-tech (and subject ot instant failure) nav stuff in the airplane.

I think that a product that would sell would be a handheld transceiver for VHF / marine/ aviation / that had an ADF function. After seeing what can be done with with microelectronics today (e.g. the pinky-nail size chip that replaces tumbling gyros) I believe it can be done with bulky external antenna arrays.
There must be someone who can make a solid state phase or something detection system that would give you an arrow on an LCD screen pointing to the station you are receiving.

Gimme an ADF steer to the tower operator, the AWOS, the sinking boat, even the NOAA wx radio tower.

Yes, I know that there are transceivers that can give you a TO/FROM VOR radial, but I want a VHF ADF. Maybe one antenna on the unit and another one on a cable that can be 3-6 feet away.... or something?

Sunday, June 3, 2007

New Book - Stuart Woods - -"Fresh Disasters"

I just finished reading a new book by Stuart Woods titled "Fresh Disasters". It features Stone Barrington as the main character. You can read my full review here. It absolutely is worth buying for yourself or as a gift.

Flying Through the Smoke and Back

On a Sunday morning in May I got off the ground at Tampa Peter O. Knight at about 8:10AM. I talked to Tampa Approach when I got just past Vandenberg airport and they treated me fine. Climbed to 4500 feet and headed North. The visibility from the fires on the FL / GA line was bad at the start... and it got worse.

Because it was early, turbulence wasn't a big problem, but there certainly were times when I was flying in a grey tube. I never lost contact with the ground and the horizontal viz was okay, but there was no horizon and the sky above felt very "close."

I asked Jax Center if the Moody AFB MOAs were hot and they let me cut through the Eastern Moody MOAs. That helped a bit. Once into GA I got North of the fires and things cleared out nicely. Found Eastman, GA and landed just fine at about 10:45 AM.

The AMD factory folks jumped on my "punch list" of items. They had 3 guys working overtime. We got the Dynon EFIS software upgraded, changed the oil, checked and cleaned the plugs, put in a fuel flow sensor, and spent a lot of time on brake lines to find the reason for loss of fluid. Many other things happened such as changing out engine mount nuts with a newer design, adding a longer oil vent tube, re-routing the carb heat tube, improving the canopy lock, etc. They thought they had it knocked out at 7PM on Monday night.

The flight test on Tues morning still showed some weeping brake fluid, so they did a complete change out of the cylinders. After another test flight I got the airplane ready for a 11AM departure.

The "interesting " news was that the President was coming to Tampa and I was flying into a TFR. You CAN fly into a TFR area IF you are on a VFR or IFR flight plan and have an assigned squawk. So, I filed a VFR flight plan and took to the air. Activated the flight plan with the FSS and took a heading to the South West in an attempt to stay West of the smoke. Got flight following and a squawk from Jax Center and headed to Lakeland Regional airport as a mid-point stop.

Looking good.... except that I couldn't see much of anything ahead or above. The smoke was as bad in the West as it had been in the East. Horizontal viz was minimal. They air was hot and rough. I was swinging plus and minus 10 degrees of course and up and down 100 feet like a roller coaster. Got into Florida and discovered that my chosen Western route of flight seemingly cut across every approach control in the North end of the state. I was changing frequencies every five minutes.

Just East of Tallahassee the Tallahassee Approach controller sent me over to Jax Approach. Jax approach didn't seem much interested in looking at me so far out. Then, heading SE, I ran into clouds hidden in the smoke. Things got so bumpy that my hands were flying all over the place. Plus and minus 20 degrees heading and 300 feet altitude. Tried to climb over the clouds, but that wasn't going to happen. The front had been hidden in the smoke and the clouds were too close.

So, I told Jax Approach that I was going to do a spiraling descent in place to get under the clouds. They said, "Radar service terminated, squawk 1200, proceed VFR". Thanks for the help! So, now I had lost my squawk, the TFR was ahead of me, there was nothing but a tunnel of grey, and I was getting slammed all around the cockpit.

I managed to hit the "nearest" button on the GPS and squinted enough to see KLEE. Leesburg was about 20 miles due West. I knew Leesburg airport was North of the TFR, so after about 10 stabs at the down rocker botton and Enter on the Garmin I was able to hit GO TO and headed that way. Then I found out that the LOWER I went the less the smoke. Of course, the rougher the ride.

I landed at Leesburg after 2.7 hours flight time. Went into the FBO. (A very nice place.. highly recommended!) Drank a gallon of water and collapsed in the "Pilot Nap" room. "

About 3:45 I roused myself, put some fuel in the airplane, and began to bounce my way to Peter O. Knight. The TFR expired at 4:10. The folks in Tampa Approach (bless them) gave me 2500 feet right through the Class B all the way to Peter O. That reduced the bouncing I would have taken at 1000 feet under the Class B.
The next morning I completed my pre-flight at official sunrise and got off the ground at 7AM. Still smoky, but not bumpy. The folks at Tampa Approach (bless them yet again!) gave me 5500 feet right through the Class B out of Peter O. I followed the coast of Florida .. over Sanibell and Captiva.. .and all the way down. Ahead of me and to the right it was clear, smooth, and bright. Off to my left the offshore seabreeze was piling up the smoke and clouds on the East side of Interstate 75. A very nice 2.1 hours later I landed at Marathon.

Planning a Cockpit Layout

I made an assumption and it did make an ass of me. The great joy of buying a new plane is that you get to plan the panel layout. The folks at AMD who made my Zodiac 601XL have some nice panel planning software.
But, apparently during an attack of the "cheaps", I didn't give the person in the right seat a direct view of any type of artificial horizon. I assumed that co-pilot could just glance over and see the very large AI display on the Dynon D180 in front of the pilot. It just isn't so. And, of course, one thing you learn from flying in Florida is that the real horizon often isn't there. We call it flying "inside the milk bottle". Sea glare, clouds, moisture, smoke, and other tricks of nature all conspire to remove the horizon in Florida. I should have coughed up the bucks and put a smaller Dynon D-10A on the right side. Now, I would have to relocate the trim indicators and the ELT controls to get it in. I might squeeze in a small electric AI, but the D-10A isn't much bigger and it provides 100% backup.
Lessons learned.

Flying the Zodiac HC601XL

I own and fly a Zodiac HC601XL. This is a light sport aircraft manufactured by AMD in Eastman, GA. The picture shows my plane on display at an air show in Sebring, FL. This aircraft is a commercially manufactured version of a plane that has been popular in kit form for decades. Hundreds of them are flying.

This version it is powered by a well-proven Continental 0-200 engine. The aircraft can carry two people with a full fuel load. It isn't rated for aerobatics, but it is well known as being very sturdy. It cruises at a maximum comfortable speed of about 130 MPH. It can fly for as much as four hours with a good fuel reserve.... although this pilot probably wants to get out and move around before that!
I previously owned and flew a Grumman Cheetah. The Grummans are beautiful pilot-friendly airplanes. Unfortunately, they're getting a little old and every year they present new challenges in maintenance. The Zodiac has much less payload capacity, but otherwise it flies about the same.
Fully loaded, I can get the Zodiac off the ground in 900 feet and climb at a constant rate of about 800 feet per minute. The airplane comfortably cruises at 8500 feet, although I would want oxygen if I was going to stay any higher for more than a few minutes.
It's been a pure love affair with the AMD Zodiac. She has a big elevator, so she is sensitive in pitch, but generally she handles like a dream. I've had it back to AMD for an initial 50 hour check and they have treated me very well.
If you have questions about the Zodiac, check the 601XL page on my www.flyinflorida.com Website.

Global Warming - Hysteria for Profit

GLOBAL WARMING -- Hysteria for a Profit

As with all crazy cycles, the "Global Warming" religious-like hysteria is finally giving way to some reason. Well, at least reasonable voices are being heard.

Politicians, journalists, and environmentalists have made Global Warming into a well-paying religion using junk science.

"Oh no!" you say. "All scientists agree!" Well, let's start with Carl Wunsch, Professor of Physical Oceanography,Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a Foreign Member of the Royal Society. This piece was written in March 2006. See: http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/page.asp?id=4688&tip=1

If you really want to see the story it will take you 1 hour and 15 minutes to watch this BBC documentary. IF you pride yourself on your intellect and or your knowledge of current affairs, you should invest the time to watch this documentary. You'll see:
--BBC footage from the 1970s warning of global cooling
--Testimony that IF Global Warming is real, then the differences between the tropical areas and polar areas should be less and hurricanes should be fewer (but that view doesn't leave room for hysteria)
--Testimony from a co-founder of Greenpeace as to the importance of GW to organizations like Greenpeace
--How the whole idea of global warming came as a reaction to coal miner strikes in the UK (that's a BBC view)
--How funding for "Global Warming" research is a 10++ billion dollar annual business that has it's own momentum and is distorted by the chase for the money
--How cow farts turn out more "greenhouse gas" than all the cars and trucks in the world. (and volcanoes produce more than cow farts)
--How the UN IPCC edited the published reports on Global Warming to corrupt the peer review process and to "spin" the report to support the conclusions they wanted.
See http://littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog/?entry=24760&only
(A Tip of the Hat to James Michael Walsh for this reference)

Finally.. if you would rather get your information from books - then see Michael Crichton's book: "State of Fear" .. available from any library. Or, see this recorded interview at http://www.michaelcrichton.net/

As a minimum, please find out more before you believe anything your hear abut the impact of man on Global Warming.

Newton's Physics and Einstein's Physics

In the non-fiction portion of my Website I review several books and DVDs that deal with quantum physics or as it is also called, Einstein's physics. The difference between the two is about the same as the difference between the Mayflower and the QE2. Each one will get you around the world, but in very different style.

Unfortunately, our knowledge of quantum physics barely gets us inside the engine room and we don't really know what we're doing when we get there. But, one thing seems to work on some levels.. and that's the power of thought. (or prayer.. or attitude.. or self-image... or whatever!) See my reviews of work like "What the Bleep Do We Know?"

For more information on the differences in Newtonian and Quantum physics, see "Two Types of Physics" and "Time Travel" for some interesting comparisons.

Plato tells us that in this world change is an important part of everything in life. He also cautions that there is an eternal world of ideas that does not change. I like to examine the changes in the physical world and how they work with the world of ideas. Fortunately (for this exercise at least) the rate of change is accelerating so there is no shortage of things to talk about.