Tuesday, August 16, 2011

ISS flyover tonight.

Got lucky, and managed to capture the ISS again with some fairly good images again.  It's kind of a hit and miss thing to get some good images.  For years I was using about 1/500th/second for shutter speed, and that was fine, but now that the station is done, and a lot brighter with all the panels, modules and spacecraft parked there it's a lot brighter now.  I've been experimenting with 1/1000th/second now and that seems to do the trick.  Faster shutter speed also means less motion blurred images.
(Click the image to see full size)

Monday, August 15, 2011

20 years in the sky.

When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.  -- Leonardo da Vinci

A different blog entry this time.  Yesterday 8/14, was the 20th anniversary of my first airplane solo flight.  I thought it would be fun to write up an essay summary of the last 20 years of my flight experience.

20 years ago this morning....
TWENTY! Yes, it's been that long since I was first kicked out of the nest (although, I didn't take much of a kick) and flew my first solo flight in the Mighty N22677 Cessna 150 at RNT airport. 15.5 hours from first lesson to solo. I would have done it in about 14, but I remember that day, I was so excited to get James out of the plane that I flew badly at PWT, so we went over to TIW to see if I would do better. Nope. I was still hopeless. Next day I had calmed down enough to empty that right seat.
I remember that I taxiied out to the runway and hard some clanking noise. Dummy! Seatbelts should be around your waist, not bashing the paint on James' plane outside the door. Three good landings, some photos, shirt cutting, and back to BFI for my triumphant return as a real PILOT!
I finished up in October, about 44 hours total over 3 months and 1 week. Total cost was right around $3200. That would probably be around $6,000+ in today's flight training dollars. Flew every weekend after that, and later in the winter I realized I had to teach myself crosswind landings after some really embarrassing sideways, tire screeching, airplane tipping landings. This IS the license to learn as we all know - and I learned!
Solo logbook entry
Back then I was was thinking maybe I would do this kind of thing for a living. My vision at the time was a color blind, 20/400 nearsighted, blinder than a one-eyed bat with a cataract (eyes were fixed with lasers in 2003, so I'm a 20/20 hawk now that can identify a Cirrus SR22 from 5 miles). Airlines may not like me, but maybe commuter or cargo would work. Of course I'm glad I stuck with a computer type job and didn't go that way, aviation just isn't what it used to be for a job.
Moving on, I got my Instrument rating, then Commercial, and finally Flight Instructor certificate. Somewhat embarrassed to say that the last check-ride I took was my CFI. Yes...I know....my pilot friends want me to get my CFII, keep kicking me, I'll get it! Maybe the CFI ride was so traumatic that I haven't done anything else yet. It was horrible! I barely passed the 3 hour oral and should have stopped for the day and did the flying the next day. Why? All I had to eat that day due to nerves, was a Coke and a Snickers bar (and I'm not all that fond of Snickers) after the oral part. Bad move Tom! I did get up and fly, and Chuck the FAA guy was very pleased that I was a totally different person in the plane (people that know me still say that) and he felt that I did have a chance. Still, I blew the steep turns, and came back and found that the landing gear had already come down (I forgot to set the auto disable) for landing. Then I proceded to try to forcefully retract the gear by bashing it into the runway. Pink slip.
Back the next day, I was lying on the FBO couch, tired from lack of sleep, and I think I did have a bowl of Rice Krispies that morning, so I had some food. Larry still laughs when I remind him of that day. I was lying on my back shaking, moaning and almost needed a cone around my neck to keep from chewing off my left paw. Finally, Chuck arrived and I proved I could do it - passed! Whew....I could now teach people to do this! (I've never been good at tests....math, history, social studies, blood tests...)
Begged, pleaded, tried to bribe, and finally got a job with the infamous Aviator's Flying Club at BFI as an instructor and office assistant. I was making $12/hour which was better pay than the guys at Wings Aloft with their white shirts and epaulets with stripes, but more pay and sandals and a t-shirt were my style!
The Aviator's was a fun club, worn out hanger office, dirty carpet, an IBM 8088 PC for flight planning, pool table, and there was a secret button on the coke machine on the lower right that you push with your left toe and beer would be dispensed. The FAA would visit us often, and they weren't there for lessons, but when we knew they were showing up, we would hide the Mooney at another airport for the day. It had a flammable interior that was never changed. We all had to visit the FAA in our finest most digified suit and ties once - with our logbooks. Seems that they wanted to check who had flown a plane that wasn't singed off as airworthy. Yes, I flew that one a few times. (paperwork issue, nothing with the plane). "Remedial training with an A&P licensed guy" was our punishment. We had lunch at the Museum of Flight for our "retraining" (mostly telling stories and bad mouthing the FAA) and one of our guys was an A&P who signed us off as "completed". Ha!
I could go on and on with stories, but I'll just list some of the memorable events and accomplishments.

In 20 years, here are some numbers, events and brief comments on things I remember.
Between 8/14/91 and 8/14/11.
  • Total flight time - 2,259.4 (just over 94 days off the ground!)
  • Landings (including the dreaded 'arrivals' and night) - 5,420
  • Takeoffs - 5,420 (notice it does match the above figure)
  • Pilot in command - 2,116.6
  • Flight instruction given - 1,949.9 (as you can see, I let other people pay for my addiction)
  • Glider time - 20
  • Most flying in a year - over 350+ hours
  • Least flying in a year - 30 (I've had my burnout years)
  • Aircraft (including gliders) flown - 29 different types.
  • Students soloed - probably around 40+
  • Students completed - around 15 (yes, what they say about student dropout is true)
  • Times CFI has expired - 0 ZERO! There have been years that I never taught, but I'd NEVER let this thing expire (read above)
  • Most rewarding student solo - 85 hours. Student had been lead along by bad instructors. I believed in her, and got her out there alone. She moved before finishing, but I hear from her now and then and she still thanks me for it!
  • Shortest solo - 11 hours. He had glider experience (and got me into it)
  • Farthest away from home plane rental - New York City. Flew around Manhattan and the WTC - 1999 when they were still there)
  • Farthest flight in a Cessna 150 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin. If you want to test out your butt and headset, try it.
  • Countries flown to - Canada. This was back when it was easy.
  • Landed at wrong airport - 1 time at night
  • NASA forms filled out - 3. Flew through TIW Class D while talking to OLM once. Fell 400 feet out of a hold at OLM, set off alarms at RNT when too low on an NDB approach. Never hurts to cover your ass if you feel guilty about something!
  • Airplanes destroyed - ZERO! (some have been lost after I flew them - not my fault)
  • Airplanes damaged - dented a wing, cracked wheel pants, dragged a wingtip trough bushes (just stained it), fortunately nothing too expensive. Even old rentals, I treat with respect.
  • Damage while next to plane - one night a fuel truck backed into an aileron destroying it, I had to drop to the ground to avoid getting hit by the tail as it swung over my head. Student and I changed planes.....fuel guy changed jobs.
  • Thunderstorms flown through - zero, but I did fly under one once briefly.
  • Thunderstorms chased - 1. Tried t chase one once with a video camera, but it got away from me. Faster than a screaming Cessna 150.
  • Biggest crosswind - about 90 degrees gusting to 25 knots at Auburn
  • Fastest in a single engine - 200 mph. I was well over red-line and it was by accident. Descending from a skydiver drop and wasn't watching speed until - whoops!
  • Most dangerous job - flying skydivers. It was a lot of fun though! Duct tape does hold planes together, and people don't jump from perfectly good airplanes.
  • Worst paying - Skydiver driver - $10/hour Tach. Came to abut $7/hour for flying 10+ hours to 12,500 feet dump the load and go back for more.
  • Highest in a single - got up to 13,000 feet with skydivers once, it was a 95 degree day too in Shelton. Didn't want to come down either. It was cool up there.
  • Lowest altitude flown - Slightly below ground - no more comments. ;-)
  • Farm sprinkler flown through - 1
  • Loops in airplane - 2. Again, another no comment item.
  • Student crash plane - 0 zero.
  • Students lost while I was on board – many!
  • Student crying – Yes. One overshot RNT completely, another was just having a bad time learning and wanted to give up since she could never get the landings right.
  • Student reassuring hugs given – Several. (they were girls, not guys!)
  • Gender of students with biggest ego – Male students. Guys, don't fool me. If you suck, just admit it. I can tell, and we'll work on that.
  • Smallest ego – Female students. They get emotional at times, need a hug, but they will always admit when something isn't right. I do find female students easier to teach at times than guys. Again, guys...you can't hide it from me!
  • Youngest student – 11 years old. This was back before kids were on video games, and his parents made him work hard for his lessons. Good kid. He later did get a license and I'm sure he's working in the aviation industry now.
  • Student fuel discount – I was flying with a guy once who worked at Galvin as a 'ramp rat'. He got a good discount on 100LL so he would fuel his car with it. Only car that I ever knew that smelled like and airplane....and I wondered at first why he shouted “Clear!” before starting his car.
  • Student I could never solo – nice guy, but he never got it. I tried over and over to get him to do emergency procedures right. I wold pull the throttle and say “now what?” He would go through stuff and as the last step he would undo his seatbelt. “Why are you doing that?”, I asked. “So I can get out quickly after we land in the field!”. I always told him he would get out quickly for sure – through the windshield and propeller if the panel didn't stop him first!
  • Student emergency landing - 1. Cessna had a carburetor problem where if you pushed it in too fast, it would sputter for a bit before full power. Student did that on takeoff once, got scared, and put it back down. Ran off runway, took out a taxiway light, tore off brake and popped a tire. He did keep flying though!
  • Multitasking – in a plane, I can talk to a student, watch airspace, listen to ATC, look for traffic and toss in a smart-ass funny remark all at the same time. But if I'm in the kitchen, don't talk to me while I'm on the the phone with someone else, I'll tend to lock up! :-|
  • Lost in airplane - 2 times. Landed at wrong airport once, and almost landed at Auburn while aiming at RNT (Eric still laughs about that one)
  • Engine failures - zero. I'll keep knocking on that wood.
  • Engine problems - several. Mostly rough running due to some minor problem.
  • Asked for 'souls on board' and do you need equipment? - 1. Coming back in to BFI with a sick sounding 172. It was running, and there wasn't question about landing.
  • Flight without transponder - one day. Skydiving plane had broken junk. Had to fly with a wingman jump plane in formation to stay near his transponder. ATC approved it.
  • Wake turbulence in air - a few times. Hit wake from SEA traffic overhead while in the pattern at BFI. That WILL wake you up!
  • Wake turbulence on final - one. Followed a little too close behind a 757 landing on the other runway at BFI. Not a fun thing. Pucker factor goes to about 9.5.
  • Near miss - 1. Confusion and lot of traffic found me too close on final with a Cherokee once. When you hear "multiple targets" LOOK OUTSIDE!
  • Near planned - about 10 feet in formation with a friend.
  • Steepest bank - 59.9 degrees. HA!!! :-)
  • Coolest plane(s) flown - T-34 Mentor/PT-19/Cirrus SR22
  • Coolest plane "flown" - Boeing 777 simulator
  • Coolest plane yet to be flown - Boeing B-17 (NEED B-17 in my logbook sometime!)
  • Glass cockpit - half hour flying a Cirrus SR22. Sweet ride....but I'll never be renting one of those. I'm too cheap.
  • Vomit in plane - 1. Student barfed.
  • Vomit in plane visible - 0 Zero. Student above who barfed - swallowed it.
  • Vomit on ramp - 1. Above student opened door just off runway and made a puddle of sick on the ramp.
  • Vomit after flight – 1. Maia held it until reaching my lawn at home, then planted carrots.
  • Myself sick - 1. Backseat of 310 on way to OSH. Didn't admit it, but later did when friend back there with me was also sick. No barf, just feeling really icky.
  • Outrun bad storm - 1. It was Easter one year where a windstorm was supposed to arrive that evening. Heading to TIW the tower said "sorry no wind reading, that instrument just blew away". Turned around and landed at RNT. 50 knot gust hit 5 minutes after we tied the plane down.
  • Last to see pilot before death - 1. Talked to a guy I knew at flying club as he was getting into plane with 2 friends. Took off, went into thunderstorm, hit mountain. All killed. That was a freaky experience. But it was his "gotta get there-itis" that killed him. Textbook example.
  • Court witness - 1. Went to court as a witness for that. Had to testify that the weather was bad that day. It was.
  • Progress on becoming an Ace - 3 kills 2 more to go! Chopped a Canadian goose in half on takeoff one night. Another night hit a bat with the windshield. Recently hit a bird and didn't realize it until later when someone reported a dent and guts on the wing. Must have been a tiny hummingbird not to hear it.
  • Strangest plane flown - Ercoupe. A proper model with no rudder pedals, just a brake. I enjoyed flying checkouts in that and looking at the face of the guy flying. They always looked slightly scared, but happy in that plane. So foolproof and easy to fly. Fly with window open and elbow on the sill. :-)
  • Most rewarding day - This was recently. I was giving rides for women and girls for their first ride in a plane for Women in Aviation 100th anniversary. Took up 33 girls on 11 flights that day. Everyone was excited and came back thrilled and smiling. I'm doing this every year now!
  • Future rewarding fights - I finally joined Angel Flight. Still need to do orientation, but then I can fly cancer patients and sick kids for treatment. Tax write off for this flying and good too help those who need a ride.
  • Friends I encouraged to learn - 1. Hard to convince friends to get into this due to cost and the "little planes are dangerous" misconception. Did act as mentor for a coworker friend and helped her get her license. (Good job EV, proud of you!)
  • Did the kid know something? - One afternoon, Eric and I were going to go up for a flight, and take his son Tristan along.  Every time we installed the kid in the backseat, he would start screaming loudly, crying and wouldn't shut up until we took him out.  After 3 tries, we decided to abort the flight since he was freaking us out with his behaviour and figured maybe it was some kind of warning.
  • Worst student experience - Flew with these two Arab guys. They didn't speak English, they only showed up half the time for lessons, the were always sweaty (and I had to touch the throttle after they did), smelled sweaty, and had a bad day once teaching one how to land. "When you get close to the runway, pull back gently" So at 5 feet he YANKS it hard! I'm pushing, he's pulling and we rollercoster down the runway, fortunately not touching the ground. Around again, "No, don't pull that hard!" Next time around he PUSHES toward the ground. I'm now pulling, he's pushing and we rollercoaster down the runway again. This was pre-9/11 but I assure you, these guys were no threat to national security.
  • Who's flying the plane moment - Was out playing with another CFI between students. We were playing "watch this!" and doing landings. We came around this one time and pancaked the plane into the runway - BAM, BOUNCE, SKID! I looked over at him and said "That REALLY sucked!" the then told me "Oh, I though you were flying the plane?!" We laughed all the way back to the tie-down as we taxied the remains of the plane across the ramp.
  • Blown tire - 1. Didn't notice until about the 3rd landing. Was playing a safer version of "watch this!" with Eric. Doing soft field landings. Let the nose touch and things started shaking all over the place as the nose looked lower than normal. Both of us were pulling back to keep the prop off the ground (there was plenty of clearance though) and taxied off the runway. I leaned out the door and saw the flat tire. "I have an idea!" I told Eric. Tower cleared me for a high speed taxi down the ramp, and I simply did wheelie down to the parking area keeping the nose in the air. Took all our strength to push that thing into parking though!

    My shorts were louder than a C-150 at full power. 

So there are some of the good, scary, and fun memories of the last 20 years. I sometimes wonder what I would be doing now if I went home to "think about it more" after that intro lesson at Flight Tech in June 1991. But I just wrote a check for $500 to start and said "ok, I want to do this. Let's schedule some lessons!". I'm sure it was a life changing thing. I'd probably be living in a different house, doing a totally different job, would definitely have done something different in school. I did quit my job once and went back to school to learn Avionics Tech, but that was a bad experience after all. One thing I know, if I didn't do it back then, I would have certainly done it later. If not, I would have still been interested in airplanes and would have looked up and thought "I wish I had learned to do that". That would have been sad.

"There are old pilots, and there are bold pilots, but no old, bold pilots"
Fly safely and always keep the greasy side down!


Landing 4,478 (just a guess)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Comet, nebula and full moon imaging.

Comet Garradd is in the eastern sky these days.  Last week it floated past the M15 globular cluster for some nice pretty views of the comet.  Kind of a near and far object in the same small chunk of sky.
At the time, this comet was about magnitude 8 when I took this.  It may go up to about 6th from what I read.  Dark sky visual target for sure.
This is just a single 4 minute image, I took about 12 of them, but still trying to figure out how to stack the comet and stars so neither of them are streaked.

The next object is the Iris nebula.  Nicely located almost straight up these days.  I took a bunch of 7 minute exposures of this one.  I always make the mistake of doing some quick processing at 2am when I come back in, I have to see what I captured! The next morning, I look at my processing and it looks terrible and work on it more - after a night's sleep.  This time they both have their good qualities I think.  I like the color in the fast process, but the "next day" processing is less noisy.  Comments?
Finally, last night was the dreaded nearly full moon (Aug. 13 is full) but the Clear Sky chart showed very nice skies.  I put on the H-Alpha filter and gave that another try.  I haven't used it a whole lot and still need practice on making things look right, but it sure is nice how it cuts through natural and man-made light pollution and pulls out small details.
This is the Eastern half of the Veil nebula.  Six frames, ISO 800, at 7 minutes each.  Dark subtracted to reduce hot pixels, but always seems to be more background crud in these.  Maybe I need to change some color balance on the camera to the red side rather than centered?
Kind of nice details in it that don't show up in visible light though.
(click on the images to see a larger view)