Oshkosh 2016

For several years now, I've been wanting to attend EAA AirVenture. AirVenture is a massive aviation convention more commonly referred to by the name of the city where it takes place each summer: Oshkosh. If you are at all interested in aviation, Oshkosh is the place you want to be. It's huge. I've been wanting to attend and I've even made plans to attend, but for some reason those plans never came to fruition. That is, until this year.

We need a bigger airplane

This summer we loaded up our trusty family magic carpet, N4WR, with our two little boys and a metric ton of gear, and set off across the country to Wisconsin. Since it's such a long trip, we decided to split it up over a couple of days and stop to smell the roses along the way.

The first day we only flew one hour, up to Truckee, CA. There we were welcomed by our friends John and Kate and we spent a lovely evening hiking around the mountains where they live. What a great place to spend our first night!

Early the next morning we launched on our full day of flying. The goal was to get as far east as Minnesota (we ended up not making it quite that far). Since I'd never been to Jackson Hole, we decided to head there first, for a lunch stop.

Jackson is one scenic airport

They have lots of elk there

The flights in and out of Jackson were absolutely stunning. We overflew part of Yellowstone on the way out. Unfortunately there were a couple of forest fires just outside the park, so we ended up flying through smoke for a while. The smoke made Max queasy and he ended up throwing up in the back seat about a half hour from our chosen destination of Pierre, SD. Max's vomit made Luke sick and he threw up as I was on my final approach to land at Pierre!

So we ended up landing in Pierre at around 9:30pm local time with an airplane full of cranky boys and barf. Luckily the FBO staff at Pierre are complete rock stars. They could not have been more helpful. They booked us a hotel while we were cleaning out the plane, brought us cleaning supplies, drove us to Wal-Mart to replenish our baby wipes, and then on to our hotel. They saved our bacon that night!

The next morning we completed our journey to OSH, navigated the complicated arrival procedure, landed, and taxied to our camping spot in the South 40. Woo!

Innumerable rows of airplanes. Everyone camps next to their plane.

We didn't waste any time once we'd arrived. We hopped on a shuttle and took a tour of the show. We got off in the warbirds area.

Luke found his favorite plane of the show: the shark plane. The Martin Mars buzzed around all week, dumping water on the airport.

After getting the lay of the land and scoping out some awesome aircraft, we went back to the plane to set up camp.

Keeping the chairs in the shade of the wing was key. Wisconsin is way too hot and humid!

Max was ready for a week of aviation

Once it cooled down a bit (did I mention it was extremely hot and humid there?), we ventured out for some evening explorations.

All the balloons setting up for a sunset "glow show", wherein they light up the evening with their bright flames. It was magical.

The boys liked the stunt planes -- in the air and on the ground

On our second day we spent most of the morning checking out some of the cool aircraft on display.

Some of the restored vintage aircraft were spectacular

The new ones were pretty cool too!

HondaJet mmmmm

Max went for a virtual ride

We also went down to KidVenture, a whole section filled with activities for the little ones. It's right next to the museum, which is air conditioned!

Max and Luke got to pilot these fun tethered airplanes. Helicopter rides constantly circled overhead.

One of the highlights of the show for me was watching the STOL competition. Those are some of my favorite aircraft and the evening atmosphere was beautiful.

Definitely on my short list of possible build projects

Something that I plan to do a lot more of on future Oshkosh trips is the workshops. Max and I took a fabric covering workshop together and it was fantastic. They have classes to learn all sorts of skills necessary to build your own aircraft, taught by experts.

Max and I covered this horizontal stabilizer. Not too shabby!

On Wednesday we hopped on the bus to the seaplane base. I highly recommend visiting the lake at Oshkosh! It was serene and beautiful.

Luke was tired

Max and I took a boat tour and decided we need a seaplane

We had to hurry back to grab our chairs and pick a good viewing spot for the most anticipated event of the week: the night air show. And it did not disappoint! Amazing.

We set up shop near the Beech 18s

It was too dark (and I was too mesmerized) during the night air show to take any photos, but trust me when I say it was spectacular. We brought snacks, the boys ran around in the grass, and we had a blast. What a great and fitting end to our few days at AirVenture!

Thursday morning we departed for the long journey home. We stopped in Utah for a couple of days to visit with some of Sophia's college friends.

New Provo city center temple

I'm not sure if it'll be an annual pilgrimage or a biannual one, but we will definitely be going back to Oshkosh as a family. We had a great time. It was definitely one of our more memorable family trips. Traveling across the country in a small aircraft is such a privilege. We live in a beautiful place. And the spirit of aviation and the aviation community is inspiring. I feel like we barely scratched the surface of the show this year, so we can't wait to go back for more!

Winter Flying

Saturday was a flying day. It was a flying day for a multitude of reasons. First of all, my flight hours have not been accumulating very rapidly the past few months, for no particular reason. So it was high time I just go flying for the sake of flying. It was a lazy holiday weekend. The air was cool and crisp. And clear. And smooth. Strapping into N4WR on a day like that, I knew he would climb out like a scalded cat. And sure enough, with just me on board, and full fuel, we launched out of PAO at 1,500 feet per minute doing a comfortable 120 knots. I pointed the nose toward the coast.

On a day like that, you can bet I wasn't the only pilot in the Bay Area with that idea. I don't have a hangar in which I can practice the time-honored tradition of "hangar flying" with my fellow airport bums, so indulge me in some "blog flying", if you will.

Within a minute of switching to Half Moon Bay Airport's CTAF, I discovered that two other planes were approaching to land, about the same distance out as me, from different directions. Right away I'm thinking, "this is gonna be fun."

There was me, in my Bonanza. A man with a European accent that I couldn't quite place, flying a Lake. And an older gentleman in a twin Cessna. We've all announced our intentions to make right traffic for 30, and we're hoping to see each other approaching the airport any minute now. Just then a woman in a 172 gets on the frequency and announces that she's taking off from runway 12.

Now, the winds were slightly favoring 30, but they were only blowing at four or five knots. Still, I wasn't surprised when the twin Cessna keyed his mic and said, "can you confirm, that was runway 1-2?"

"Affirmative."

Right away I remind myself that at a non-towered field, we can use any runway we'd like. People generally just use whichever the pilot before them used, just to keep things simple, but there's no regulation to that effect. Just because she was departing from 12 doesn't mean that the three of us shouldn't continue our approaches and land on 30, as we had planned. I was about to make an announcement to that effect over the radio, when I heard the Lake say, "Okay, I'll make left downwind for 12, then." Oh well.

The Lake was probably more than happy to switch to 12, as he was already lined up for a left downwind to 12. As it turned out, I was too, more or less. Almost immediately after his call, I spotted the Lake straight ahead of me and I informed everyone that I'd be following him on the left downwind to 12.

The twin Cessna was audibly not as pleased with this turn of events, as he sighed and announced his new plan to overfly midfield before entering left downwind for 12 on the 45.

Naturally I was rapidly closing the gap on the Lake. I decided to widen out my pattern and ended up almost passing him. Luckily he flew a pretty tight pattern, which I always appreciate. I continued out over the ocean before turning base an landed behind him. On short final I looked up to see the twin Cessna overflying the field.

There's something satisfying about working out the traffic flow with fellow pilots at a non-towered airport on a busy Saturday.

I taxied back and departed 12 straight down the coast, passing several more planes on my way to Santa Cruz. Who said general aviation is dying?

When I got to the boardwalk, I headed inland.

I wanted to go land at South County Airport in San Martin, but I wanted to get an aerial photo of my new office on the way. So I followed highway 17 up to Scotts Valley. The startup I recently started at has rented office space in Borland's old campus. It's a huge, gorgeous campus that lay completely vacant for over 10 years following Borland's bankruptcy. Like a corporate ghost town. Just last year someone bought the whole place and started cutting away the overgrowth. Now there are a few small companies renting out little isolated corners. It's still kind of creepy.

At South County I found another busy non-towered delight. This time there were two other planes entering on the 45. I let my impatience get the best of me and I cut in front of both of them by overflying midfield and entering the downwind directly. They were both pretty far out still and I knew that I would have to slow way down and fly a huge pattern to get in line behind them. One of them seemed slightly miffed, but I was clear of the runway before either of them even turned base, so it worked out well for everyone involved.

Back at PAO I got FAA permission to pull a similar stunt! There were two other planes already in the pattern when I called in, but the tower said if I was able to keep my speed up I could fly straight in to runway 31 and be #1 for landing. More than happy to comply, I gave the throttle a slight push and kept the gear tucked away a little longer than usual. On my landing rollout Palo Alto Tower gave me the familiar, "Welcome home 4WR, contact ground on the parallel."

Super Cub Fun

Last week my friend Mike invited me to ride along to Columbia Airport with him to pick up his Super Cub from its annual inspection. As a rule, I never turn down a Super Cub flight!

Someone from the shop flew to Palo Alto Airport to pick us up in a Cessna 182 and took us to Columbia. When we arrived I took a quick self-guided tour of the shop. They had several beautiful Bonanzas in there for annual inspections. That's a sure sign of a quality shop.

They were kind enough to lend us a car for the short ride into town for lunch. Columbia is a charming Old West town. Visiting downtown feels like taking a ride in a time machine. We spent Fourth of July weekend there this year and had a great time.

Back at the hangar, Mike settled his tab and collected his log books, and we walked out to the ramp to find N14314.

It's so cute

No glass cockpit here

After a quick pre-flight inspection (the Cub is a remarkably simple aircraft) we saddled up.

I haven't figured out how to smile for selfies

Taxiing feels like riding in a go kart

The Cub felt right at home on Columbia's grass strip. After a short ground roll it leapt off the turf.

It really is the perfect airplane for low and slow sight seeing flights.

It doesn't hurt that you can look straight down past the landing gear at the ground beneath you. You can even open up the whole side of the plane in flight. Or just open the top half and stick your elbow out into the airstream.

It took a while (the Cub is no speed demon) but eventually we were passing over the stinky salt ponds of Fremont and entering the traffic pattern at Palo Alto.

What a great flight! I'm not ready to trade in the Bonanza just yet, but... maybe a two plane fleet is the ticket?

Navy Parachute Team

LUNAR: Model Rockets At Moffett Field

Sophia found a local model rocketry club called LUNAR. They get together about once a month at Moffett Field and launch rockets. We decided to check it out this month.

I was just excited to be on the ramp at Moffett, in the enormous shadow of Hangar 1. Max thought it was pretty cool, too.

The crowd was huge! Much bigger than I expected for a model rocketry club, at least. Everyone had cool setups with tables, camp chairs, and toolboxes. There were a lot of parents with kids and a lot of Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.

Luke and Sophie were digging the rockets

They had five banks of five launch pads each, all of which were controlled by a central ignition system operated at Mission Control. The line to launch was very long, but it moved quickly. They definitely have the process ironed out and they move through the launches pretty efficiently. Aside from minimizing the wait times for launchers, it also keeps it fun for us spectators, because there's a steady stream of launches to watch.

Max and I spotted a fighter jet parked on the ramp, so we wandered over to get a closer look. I don't know my warbirds especially well, but I believe this is an early model F/A-18 Hornet. Unfortunately, this particular example has seen better days. It looks like NASA has been using this airframe for parts. Lots of control surfaces and other parts were missing, and the plane had been mostly gutted.

It was cool to look in the air intakes and be able to see right out the back end of the plane. From the rear it was striking how empty the plane looked with the engines missing. These things really are tiny cockpits strapped to two huge jet engines.

The Launch Director gives the countdowns for a bank of five launches

Max and I are going to spend some time in the shop before the next meeting so we have something of our own to launch.

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