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.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The AMD Patriot LSA

During a recent trip to the AMD plant in Eastman, GA I saw the new AMD Patriot high wing LSA. I sat in it and stirred the controls. Some folks claim that it is a little easier to get in and out of than a Zodiac 601XL, but I never had a problem getting in and out of a 601! I prefer the low wing, but this high wing is set pretty far back. Here is a picture of the AMD Patriot sitting next to my pretty 601.

Invest in Semi-Auto Weapons for Appreciation!

I clearly remember sitting on my lanai above Pearl Harbor reading a column in "Car & Driver". It must have been 1974. The advice in the column was to gather $10,000 and go out and buy a Jaguar XKE V-12. New emission standards forced Jaguar to discontinue the V-12 XKE and the author urged the readers to "make an investment" in a V-12 E-Type. The bureaucrats were forcing a great piece of engineering out of existence and the writer suggested that you should grab one before they were gone because it would pay you back in the long run. Well, it sounded like a great idea to me, but my monthly gross pay in that year was about $2000, so $10K was a pretty good chunk of change!

Looking at the XKE for sale ads today, I see that the columnist was right. You could have driven a V-12 E-Type for all of those years and it would have kept up with inflation. Gas and maintenance aside, that $10K could be $110K today.

So, here is my investment advice: Buy semi-automatic weapons. The entry price is do-able, probably less than $1000 "per share", and the price is practically guaranteed to go up. They are certainly more liquid than a Jaguar and have the added benefit of being potentially life-saving.

There is a segment in the US that hates guns. It is pretty easy to see that they are rising to power. Their attacks are clever. The most recent approach is "mental health." The fact that the Virginia Tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, was in a psychiatric center before he purchased his weapons has given the anti-gun lobby another rope to throw over those who wish to own guns.

I heard an NPR interview the other day where an eldercare professional said that those who care for the elderly classify any older patient who has a gun as "potentially dangerous".

My prediction is that the next shoe to drop will be child protection. In effect, "You can own a gun. You just can't have kids if you own a gun." I predict that the bureaucracy will play that hand in the form of ADC payments, enforcing child support orders, etc.

The guns they think they can get rid of first are semi-automatic "assault weapons." Personally, I don't see much use for an AR-15 or an AK-47 around the house myself, but there are a lot of peaceful folks in less peaceful places around the world who feel that an AK is as important as the walls of the house and probably more important than a toilet in daily life. A full auto AK is part of the "spray and pray" plan for taking care of their neighbors. We could get to that point pretty quickly in the US - as New Orleans demonstrated.

The attack on "assault weapons" is coming in many forms. Lawyers attack ammunition manufacturers (because they have money) and bureaucrats attack manufacturers of clips. The Mayor of New York, Nanny Bloomberg, and even Juliani continue to work anti-gun crowds despite evidence that the strong New York City gun laws only keep law-abiding folks from having guns.

I admit that if I am somehow appointed Emperor of the US, one of the first things I'll do is to crack down on weapons. Aftr all, I don't want an armed populace coming after me!

No matter who or what the attack or restrictions, supply will dry up and prices will skyrocket. Count on it.


The questions is "What to invest in now?" The two archetypes of modern semi-automatic assault weapons are the AR-15 and AK-47. This link takes you to a photo of an AR-15 with a very large...magazine. There are more of those photos here.

AR-15s are available new for prices ranging from $599 - $925. (More for the original Armalite) Practically every one who has had military training in the US in the last 25 years has fired one for familiarity, so they will keep their demand and have some liquidity. The .223 ammo might be hard to get in quantity. I think a good AR-15 in the $700 price range would be a good investment. This link takes you to more information from Atlantic Firearms (and no, I have no commercial ties to any of these companies.)

AK-47s are available new from manufacturers in Poland, Ukraine, China, and other places. There are restrictions on import and most of the weapons that you would want to invest in have a certain number of US parts. While people in the US think an AK is a piece of 3rd world junk, that's far from the truth. Prices for good AK-47s run around $500. The question of ammunition is important. While the .223 is at least used as a sporting round, 7.62 x 65 is less common in the US. As an investment piece in the US, I'd prefer an AR-15.

The discussion of ammunition brings up other alternatives. The Vulcan H/K SP89 Style is a semi-automatic copy of the MP5. It's a more expensive investment, running into as much as $1300 new. But, because it uses 9mm pistol ammunition, the rounds will probably be easier to get and cost a lot less. There are lots of folks, including the Germans and Israelis, who thought that 9mm is effective for automatic weapons --although there are different loadings.

The machine pistol is another weapon that is difficult to justify, so I predict it will receive the wrath of the bureaucrats. It has no stock and can be fired with one hand, so it is a "pistol." Even I find that a stretch, but there are "pistols" like this available in either .223 or 9mm for under $800, so it is an interesting investment.

My investment advice is to buy two identical weapons. Stay under $1000 for each in order to get the best percentage of appreciation and preserve liquidity. Fire one weapon and preserve the other one unfired. They both will appreciate. Buy ammunition in small lots and watch for legal limits on "hoarding". Don't play around with "pre restriction" weapons that came in before certain dates. The documentation can be bogus and get you into trouble both owning and selling. NEVER own or even investigate any parts needed to make semi-auto into auto. That's asking for big Federal trouble and really not necessary from any perspective.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Something you don't want to see

The right main gear wouldn't come down despite everything Bob did. Bob got great help and brought it down safely. There is surprisingly little damage.

Navion Pilot has a Bad Day

Just a few days ago (a short way down the Blog) I showed you the pictures of my friend Bob's great looking Navion. Ooops. Hope I didn't jinx him. Practically the next day he had a forced gear up landing. This was the smart kind of gear up landing as opposed to the not-so-smart kind. Here it is in Bob's words as told on our EAA Chapter Website:

Doing what you never wanted to do: flying to a gear-up landing.

It happened on my wife Georgette?s maiden voyage in my newly purchased Navion. I had flown the plane to Marathon from Mississippi on Thursday and Friday. On Sunday morning we flew to Key West for breakfast and then back to Marathon.

It was a clear VFR summer day. The trip to KEYW and back to KMTH seemed uneventful. We turned south after departing runway 9 Key West, and after some radio difficulties, contacted Navy departure and turned east for Marathon over the ocean.

Things went sour over the 7-mile bridge. I slowed and attempted to lower the landing gear for the approach. I went through my pre-landing check list and pulled the knob actuating the hydraulic system. Pressure came up, I dropped the gear control lever, but I saw only two green lights: for the nose and left main gear indicating down and locked. The right main indicator light ( which should have been green ) was blank and a red "UNSAFE" light glowed on the panel.

I re-cycled the gear and tried again, but the same indications appeared. Then I tried the emergency procedures printed on my panel. I depressed the emergency gear release lever. The right gear would not drop. I tried manually pumping the gear down. The right would not drop. I lost count of how many times I repeated the normal and emergency procedures. Same story: the gear indication lights still showed a problem with the right main.

The next action was to dive and climb in order to induce negative G? while attempting to drop the gear?same result. Complicating things, the negative G maneuvers frightened Georgette. But, she remained bravely quiet allowing me to concentrate on flying the plane.

The folks at the Crystal Clear Aviation FBO became a great support team. When I over-flew Marathon airport at 200 feet they all piled outside and confirmed that the right gear was indeed up. I made several more attempts to lower the gear and over-flew the runway again. Same story; the right gear stubbornly remained up. Passing beneath my wing, a Cessna 172 pilot re-confirmed my problem as we flew downwind for Runway 25, left traffic.

The Delta Daily from Atlanta was due in while all this was happening, so I was asked to delay landing until a commercial flight put down. I had plenty of fuel so there was no problem complying. Circling during the next quarter hour, I came to grips with the reality that I had to perform a gear-up landing. But How?

Virginia at Crystal Clear Aviation scrambled Tony D'Auito who is an A&P, Warbird pilot, and volunteer fireman. Tony combined everything I needed in one person and he did a great job of talking me through the options on the radio. Maybe it was the innumerable touch and goes I had performed in my 500 logged hours. Maybe it was the strength and integrity of the Navion I flew. I don?t know why, but I felt strangely calm and confident. I knew and accepted that the plane would be damaged. I believed that I could safely land and that Georgette and I would walk away.

The commercial jet landed and taxied to the terminal ramp. Emergency crews gathered alongside the runway. Flying downwind for runway 7 and talking things over with Tony, I decided to land with all the gear up rather than risk a dangerous spin on the runway with a two-wheel landing.

When I asked what I could expect to happen Tony told me I would hear some terrible noises; that the plane would go straight for a while and then I would lose control of it.

We discussed the option of shutting down the engine and coming in dead stick, but we generally agreed that cutting the power would change the handling characteristics of the plane and the way it would land. My decision was to simply fly the plane to a normal landing?as if I really had landing gear.

I throttled back to landing speed and lowered flaps then I turned base for runway 7. On short final, I focused on the runway markings and a landing aim-point . We slid the canopy partially back and turned off the fuel (there was plenty of gas in a central accumulator tank to provide landing power). I forgot to turn off the master switch. Fortunately that did not matter; we had neither flames nor fire. Over the runway, I flared the plane a little early, added power to avoid a partial stall and then landed smoothly. Georgette later remarked that it felt as though we had wheels, except for the noise.

We slid down the runway, the prop clattering, striking the ground. In the last few yards, as Tony predicted, I lost control of the plane. We veered right and came to a stop half-on and half-off the runway. A puff of smoke smelling of burning rubber came into the cabin. Later we learned that the main gear on both sides had dropped slightly and that we actually had landed on the sides of the tires.

We scrambled out of the plane and fire-rescue people led us away. Next came some very important comforting words, hugs, and handshakes from the people on the ground. The police drove us to the FBO where I gave a verbal account of the incident. Ironically, I learned that when the plane was lifted off the runway, the gear dropped into place. Go figure.

Later, I reported the incident to the Airport manager, the NTSB, the FSDO, and my insurance company.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Reaper Attack Drone is Fearless!

I remember that the Ryan "Firebee" drone support guys, who kept the drones flying at Tyndall AFB when we flew F-101s against them, had bumper stickers saying "Attack Drones are Fearless". That must have been 1972.

It took the USAF fighter pilot community a while to roll over into this century. Of course, new weapons helped. I doubt that these drones "roll in" on the target, drop at 500 feet, and then pull for the sky. They drop from well above the bullets and shells and fly in the ordinance.

I will say, however, that after recently talking to USAF F-16 and F-15 pilots flying active air defense, I want human eyes in the cockpit for that job. When you are 10 feet behind a drug-laden business jet in the dark of night looking in the windows to get intel on the passengers, that's when a satellite link won't do it.

Robot Attack Squadron Bound for Iraq

Associated Press July 16, 2007 BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq - The airplane is the size of a jet fighter, powered by a turboprop engine, able to fly at 300 mph and reach 50,000 feet. It's outfitted with infrared, laser and radar targeting, and with a ton and a half of guided bombs and missiles.

The Reaper is loaded, but there's no one on board. Its pilot, as it bombs targets in Iraq, will sit at a video console 7,000 miles away in Nevada.

The arrival of these outsized U.S. "hunter-killer" drones, in aviation history's first robot attack squadron, will be a watershed moment even in an Iraq that has seen too many innovative ways to hunt and kill.

That moment, one the Air Force will likely low-key, is expected "soon," says the regional U.S. air commander. How soon? "We're still working that," Lt. Gen. Gary North said in an interview.
The Reaper's first combat deployment is expected in Afghanistan, and senior Air Force officers estimate it will land in Iraq sometime between this fall and next spring. They look forward to it.
"With more Reapers, I could send manned airplanes home," North said.

The Associated Press has learned that the Air Force is building a 400,000-square-foot expansion of the concrete ramp area now used for Predator drones here at Balad, the biggest U.S. air base in Iraq, 50 miles north of Baghdad. That new staging area could be turned over to Reapers.

It's another sign that the Air Force is planning for an extended stay in Iraq, supporting Iraqi government forces in any continuing conflict, even if U.S. ground troops are drawn down in the coming years.

The estimated two dozen or more unmanned MQ-1 Predators now doing surveillance over Iraq, as the 46th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron, have become mainstays of the U.S. war effort, offering round-the-clock airborne "eyes" watching over road convoys, tracking nighttime insurgent movements via infrared sensors, and occasionally unleashing one of their two Hellfire missiles on a target.

From about 36,000 flying hours in 2005, the Predators are expected to log 66,000 hours this year over Iraq and Afghanistan.

The MQ-9 Reaper, when compared with the 1995-vintage Predator, represents a major evolution of the unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV. At five tons gross weight, the Reaper is four times heavier than the Predator. Its size - 36 feet long, with a 66-foot wingspan - is comparable to the profile of the Air Force's workhorse A-10 attack plane. It can fly twice as fast and twice as high as the Predator. Most significantly, it carries many more weapons. While the Predator is armed with two Hellfire missiles, the Reaper can carry 14 of the air-to-ground weapons - or four Hellfires and two 500-pound bombs.

"It's not a recon squadron," Col. Joe Guasella, operations chief for the Central Command's air component, said of the Reapers. "It's an attack squadron, with a lot more kinetic ability."
"Kinetic" - Pentagon argot for destructive power - is what the Air Force had in mind when it christened its newest robot plane with a name associated with death.

"The name Reaper captures the lethal nature of this new weapon system," Gen. T. Michael Moseley, Air Force chief of staff, said in announcing the name last September. General Atomics of San Diego has built at least nine of the MQ-9s thus far, at a cost of $69 million per set of four aircraft, with ground equipment.

The Air Force's 432nd Wing, a UAV unit formally established on May 1, is to eventually fly 60 Reapers and 160 Predators. The numbers to be assigned to Iraq and Afghanistan will be classified.

The Reaper is expected to be flown as the Predator is - by a two-member team of pilot and sensor operator who work at computer control stations and video screens that display what the UAV "sees." Teams at Balad, housed in a hangar beside the runways, perform the takeoffs and landings, and similar teams at Nevada's Creech Air Force Base, linked to the aircraft via satellite, take over for the long hours of overflying the Iraqi landscape.

American ground troops, equipped with laptops that can download real-time video from UAVs overhead, "want more and more of it," said Maj. Chris Snodgrass, the Predator squadron commander here.

The Reaper's speed will help. "Our problem is speed," Snodgrass said of the 140-mph Predator. "If there are troops in contact, we may not get there fast enough. The Reaper will be faster and fly farther."

The new robot plane is expected to be able to stay aloft for 14 hours fully armed, watching an area and waiting for targets to emerge. "It's going to bring us flexibility, range, speed and persistence," said regional commander North, "such that I will be able to work lots of areas for a long, long time."

The British also are impressed with the Reaper, and are buying three for deployment in Afghanistan later this year. The Royal Air Force version will stick to the "recon" mission, however - no weapons on board.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A Navion Comes to Marathon

A Really Cool Airplane in the Keys
Lots of things make you what you are. I grew up watching and listening to Arthur Godfrey. Arthur was an amateur radio operator (there are great stories about his work with Curtis LeMay in designing the Strategic Air Command comm systems that I ran as a 2nd Lieutenant) and a pilot, so he hooked me twice. One of the planes Arthur flew and talked about was the Navion.

Later, I saw Navions at events like Sun-N-Fun and always marveled at the size, capacity, and beauty of the airplane. They were made by Ryan Aviation after WWII. Wikipedia has a nice history of the airplane.

My friend Bob Silber brought his Navion home to the Marathon airport yesterday. Sliding canopy, retractable gear, constant speed prop, tip tanks, and a big engine. It has more than you'd find in a Bonanza and it looks (way) cooler.
Bob's airplane has a modern IFR panel and a great new interior. Everything looks and smells fresh and new.

Scads of room in all seats! Storage too.
One of my favorite authors, W.E.B. Griffin, relates how Douglas MacArthur, who was 5' 11" but seemed a lot taller, had an L-17 (Navion) that he was flown around in during the Korean War period.

Ah yes, I am envious. What a great practical airplane. Congratulations, Bob!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I Bought Myself a New Knife!

I got my first Victorinox knife as a gift from the Governor of the Dutch side of the Island of St. Maartin in 1968. I carried it around the world for a couple of decades. It was about 1972 when Japanese security guards stopped me at a commercial airport and taped it shut with Scotch Tape before they let me on the flight! The Japanese respected edged weapons well before the employment of the box cutter as a WMD. The tape was... symbolic.

My next Victorinox was a gift from an investment company with whom I left great amounts of money. (Damn you Cisco stock!) I carried it until 9/11. Just after that, anyone who even contemplated a sharp instrument was in jeopardy.

But, as a private pilot, boater, and diver I don't have to worry about TSA. So, I set out to get myself an appropriate pocket knife. There are just under a zillion models of the Victorinox Swiss Army Knife. Some of them are whimpy and some of them are so chunky that they're a joke. But this one, the One-Hand Trekker, is absolutely the best gift for any guy. You can buy this as a gift and be confident that it is not under-kill or over-kill.
Forget about a cork screw. That is not a requirement for most guys. But, a toothpick sure is! Besides, most of these knives trade-off a corkscrew for a Phillips screwdriver... one or the other... and believe me, the Phillips is a LOT more useful! The saw blade can cut a rope or cut you out of a canopy. After a LOT of research, this is the one I bought and it's the one you'll want!

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Wildfire: A Book by Nelson DeMille

Nelson DeMille is rising to the top of my list of favorite authors. He is technically competent (I don't mean his writing... that's good... but I mean he uses technology in his stories in appropriate ways!) His characters display a sense of humor that I love and his stories stick together. Wild Fire is a good read for any guy. It's about an NYPD cop in a post-911 world who comes up against right-wing wackos while looking for Islamo-wackos.
I highly recommend it as a gift. And, if you are looking for more great gifts for guys, be sure to see (or have your wife see) my many recommendations at this Website.

Killing Off the Keep-Alive on My Dynon D180

Dynon Keep Alive -- Update -- 4th of July family visits kept me from making the trip to the airport. But, finally I drove the 45 minutes and soaked in the sun while removing the canopy and removing the fuse from the Dynon Keep-alive. Then I flew for 90 minutes. Sorry to report that the backup battery still didn't show any sign of charge. But, it could well need more flight time. What an excuse for flying!

Now, Why Didn't I Think of That?

This device is a stock for a pistol with a cleverly mounted mirror. Slide your favorite powerful sidearm into the stock and fire around the corner. I've seen weapons modified to shoot around corners with a bend in the barrel, but I've always thought, "What a kludge!"

Yes, the Pivoshhot is is probably tough to hold steady, but it's a lot better than sticking your head out! Mainly, you want the other guy to poke his head back in so you can use maneuver to get him. Wonder if you can see a red dot in the mirror? Okay, I don't need this to shoot rats, but it's a cool tactical device and I wish I'd have thought of it!

Water in the Fuel -- Tighten the cap!

Why is this av-gas so cloudy?

Ah yes, the value of checking your fuel every time you fly! The floating plastic piece in my fuel sampler has a specific gravity lighter than water and heavier than av gas, so if there is water in the sample, the yellow cap floats on the water. Of course, the cloudiness and absence of blue dye are two other good clues that I had a lot of water in my left tank. This sample was taken after a recent heavy rain and the water was only present in the left tank.

The cure is to simply snug up that lock nut on the bottom of the fuel cap. But, of course, you can't over-do it. In my case, it only took about 1/4 turn. If you get it too tight the flip lever won't go down and/or you won't be able to turn the key to lock it. Lock it? With fuel over $4 / gal, you betcha. Besides, locking the cap is a good way to prevent mischief.