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.

Mexico With The Flying Samaritans

Last year a friend I met through my favorite forum for Bonanza owners told me about The Flying Samaritans. They are a humanitarian group that organizes doctors, dentists, and pilots one weekend each month to fly to Mexico and run a volunteer clinic. Todd is a dentist, and in addition to piloting his Bonanza down to Mexico and pulling lots of teeth, he organizes the dental half of the clinic. I'd been wanting to do some charitable flying, so I decided to join Todd on his next trip down.

That trip was last September, and I enjoyed it so much that I decided to try to go two to three times per year. Unfortunately I wasn't able to return to Mexico for a while, but I made my second trip this past weekend.

Todd's friend, Charlie, met me at the airport Friday morning. Charlie is an endodontist. We took off early in the morning from Palo Alto. Todd took off from Reid-Hillview airport in San Jose around the same time. He had his mom and another dentist in his plane. We met for breakfast in Santa Monica, where we also picked up my second passenger: a UCLA student named Justin who has been flying with the Sams every other month for over 7 years. Justin was one of my passengers last September as well.

After clearing customs in Tijuana, we continued on to our destination: a small town about 180 miles south of the border called San Quintín. I snapped a couple shots of UCSD as we passed overhead.

We landed at a little dirt strip called Rancho Magaña, because the dirt strip on the farm next to the clinic is currently closed for repairs. They are actually in the process of paving it!

That crop duster was the only plane in sight when I arrived

We get to stay at a lovely hotel right on this expansive empty beach. The beach is called Sand Dollar Beach, and for good reason -- it's littered with sand dollars! The food at the hotel is delicious. Going in to town for street tacos is even tastier. The tacos are possibly my main motivation for going on these trips.

Saturday morning we headed to the clinic early to get everything set up. Todd kept us all in line.

El Jefe

One of my main jobs was to set up all the syringes with needles and anesthetic so that they'd be ready to go when the dentists needed them. I got faster at it by the end of the day. I also sterilized several batches of instruments in the autoclave throughout the day. Toward the end of the day I even assisted Charlie in doing a root canal!

It's tough to watch as four or more teeth are pulled from patients' mouths. I can only imagine the pain those teeth have been causing them, though. The little kids are the hardest to witness, especially now that I can picture Max in that chair! This little guy was especially scared of the needle.

After a successful clinic on Saturday we returned to Rancho Magaña on Sunday morning to head home.

The three Flying Sams airplanes at Rancho Magaña: mine, Todd's and Joel's

I really love the combination of aviation, service, and camaraderie on these trips. The people who volunteer their time and talents, many of whom go down every month, are wonderful. It's a pleasure to spend a couple days and share a few tacos with them. I hope to return soon!

Electronic Entertainment Expo

Back when I worked in the video games industry during college, I attended E3 a few times. The spectacle of the show always impressed me. At that time, I followed the industry closely and I was always excited to play with the latest and greatest toys.

Last year I found out that a couple of my coworkers go down to the show for one day each year. I thought it would be fun to go back, and I'm always looking for an excuse to fly N4WR, so I offered to fly them down this year.

The extent to which I've become completely out of touch with the games industry became embarrassingly apparent at the very first booth we visited. Sega had a bunch of stations set up where attendees could try out their games. I walked up to a "Sonic the Hedgehog" station, grabbed the controller, and said, "This is cool; what's this?" To which one of my coworkers replied, "That's the Wii U. It's been out for like two years." Oh well.

It was still cool to check out all the extravagant booths, the massive displays, and the crazy costumes.

My favorite display was "World of Tanks". They had a full-size tank suspended in the air with a large array of digital cameras in front of it.

This allowed people to pose and be photographed simultaneously from many angles. They then compiled the photos into videos. Some of the results were pretty cool.

The only booth that I was really looking forward to going into the show was Oculus VR. I'd played with one of their dev units once before, but I wanted to try out their newer hardware and see what kinds of games they had in the works.

I was able to play two of their games: a kind of first person shooter that allowed you to pause time and look around to dodge bullets, and an outer space dogfighting game. Neither game was very fun, and the display resolution left much to be desired, but I definitely see the potential of the technology. I really want to try it with a good flight simulator. The ability to look around is a game changer. I think other forms of entertainment besides video games will adopt it as well.

Overall, my excitement on the show floor was definitely diminished from my days working in the industry. That said, I still had a great time. And it was a great flight down and back in N4WR!

Hammock Arbor

For several years now, I've been wanting to build an arbor in the back corner of our yard and hang a hammock on it. This past week I finally decided to tackle the project.

Last Saturday I dug two of the biggest post holes I've ever dug: a little over three feet deep and a foot in diameter.

I decided to use concrete form tubes for these posts, for no particular reason. I've never used them before. Seemed like a good idea at the time!

My friend, Chris, came over on Monday and helped me mix the concrete and set the posts. The next day I backfilled the holes with a couple extra bags of concrete.

I copied the style of the other arbor in our yard, except I used larger lumber for this one. The hammock requires about a fifteen foot span and it will provide a pretty hefty side load.

I traced the design from the other arbor and used the paper template to draw on the new boards. All I had to work with was a little jig saw that wouldn't go all the way through these big timbers, so I had to trace the pattern carefully on both sides and make my cuts from both sides as well. It was a little tedious but it turned out fine in the end.

My dad came over last night to help with the hard part: hefting the big 18 foot 4x6s onto the top of the posts and securing them with massive decking screws. Luckily David Z was also there to help out. It was a three man job.

The last step was attaching the 2x2s to the top of the beams. Karen Z brought over their tall step ladder, which proved crucial. With the help of my dad and Micah H, we got it done this morning.

I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out and I couldn't wait to take it for a test spin!

I always wanted to have nice soft tall grass growing under the hammock, so when we put in our lawn a couple years ago I planted the extra sod in this corner. I'm going to have to coax it to spread under the hammock a little more, but I think it will provide a nice floor.

Sunday afternoon naps should be even better from here on out!