Archives for January 2011

Flying High

First off, let me preface this story by asserting that this never happened…  But it is a dream that I have had on several occasions, and I thought I would share it for the purpose of seeing a) if this is a dream other pilots have had, b) to get some perspective, and c) because few things are as much fun as taking a completely fictitious midair collision and ridiculing it to absurdity, which I know this group can do like no other.

In the first variety of this dream, I am paragliding in Eastern Washington somewhere, and a low flying jet plane manages to hook my wing over top of the jet engine.  My wing does not get sucked INTO the engine, but I’m sort of hanging from it, below the intake area, and bouncing around pretty fiercely underneath the wing.   It’s some kind of corporate jet, rather than a commercial jumbo-jet.  Anyway, I think about pulling my reserve, but decide against it because I am still otherwise attached to the plane.  I know that I need to detach first, so I pull out my hook-knife.

I recall hearing something about it being better to cut the risers than all the lines, so I do that.  Except that when I cut the first one, I end up hanging quite precariously sideways, and I find it quite difficult to reach up and cut the second one.  Plus, I’m still banging around on the underside of the wing having none-too-much fun.  Meanwhile, the plane has started descending rapidly for a landing, and I have no clue if they are even aware that I’m hanging on out there.  For all I know, they think they just sucked a pigeon into the engine.  I finally manage to cut the second riser, and as I’m in free-fall, I start to wonder when I should pull my reserve?

I mean, would I really have the wherewithal in that moment to be thinking that?  Probably not.  But in the dream, I’m trying to decide if I should pull right away, perhaps before I hit terminal velocity, or whether to wait until I get maybe a thousand feet or so off the ground.  It’s all moot, because I’m falling all topsy-turvy and can’t get myself into a stable position with my harness on, and when I see the ground, I know – PULL NOW!

The reserve deploys without error, and it turns out that I am right over some small airfield.  That’s when I see some corporate jet coming in for a landing with half of a paraglider wing draped over one engine, heading right towards me.  And it’s some time around here that I wake up.

In the second version of this dream, I’m flying in the Issaquah region, and I know that I am clearly VFR, and well under the 6K ceiling.  Then some small, single engine plane that is also flying VFR and under the ceiling runs into me, and my wing somehow goes over the nose, completely obscuring all the windows on the plane.  Never mind that the prop would have caught the lines and either torn them or wound me up.  This is a dream, so normal rules of physics that I’m sure people will comment on simply don’t apply.  I’m hanging well below this plane, and although I cannot see him, the pilot is probably freaking out.

Yes, I’ve just been hit by a plane, and for some reason, I’m worried about the other pilot.  Probably, that’s because he puts his plane into a steep climb, since he knows he was below the mountain peaks when he hit me.  Except that he rapidly breaks through the class Bravo, and though I know darn well that I’m not supposed to be there, I don’t think the other pilot knows that.

So we’ve got altitude, which means we have time, and I’m actually quite calm and collected at this moment.  I reach down for my radio, switch to 121.5, and ask to speak to somebody in Seatac Air Traffic Control.  They ask if they can put me on hold, and I tell them that I’m already on hold, on the underside of another aircraft, climbing through 8K now somewhere over Renton.  The ask for my call-sign, I tell them that I don’t have one, and they are about to hang up.  Wait a minute!  This is a RADIO, not a telephone!  You can’t hang up on me!

“Ma’am, this is Seatac ATC, and we serve the commercial and recreational pilot community.  I’m going to have to ask you to clear this channel.”

I try explaining my predicament to the person on the other end, but to no avail.  They simply don’t want to talk to me.  So then I ask for the frequency of the pilot with a paraglider over its windshield flying at my approximate location.

“Ma’am, what makes you think we know what frequency the other pilot is on?”

“Well, I’m pretty sure that if you stood up inside that control room of yours and asked ‘is anybody talking to a panicked VFR pilot who just lost all visibility?’ that somebody would speak up.  I need that idiot’s frequency.

So  manage to get the right frequency, switch my radio over, and find myself in the middle of a conversation with a very agitated, purely VFR pilot, and somebody else from ATC.  ATC is trying to calm this guy down, telling him that they have cleared traffic from the area, and that they will guide him down into Renton air field, but he has to level out, and then descend well below the 12K he’s flying at now, which explains why it’s so dang cold.

The ATC guy is a real professional… calm, soothing, and gets the VFR pilot’s head back on straight as he starts descending.  Part of me is thinking that I don’t want to do anything to upset this fellow, but I also still think that neither ATC, nor the VFR pilot have a clue what’s going on.  Finally, I interrupt with something innocuous like “Dude!  Are you the guy with a paraglider draped over your cockpit?”

“A what?”

“A paraglider.  It’s red, probably translucent, and depending on what part of the wing you’ve got up front, you might even see the word ‘Gin’ on your window somewhere.”

“Yes!  Yes!  So THAT’s what happened!  I hit a paraglider!  Now it makes complete sense.  How did you know?”

“Hang on for a second,” I tell him, and I somehow manage to knock on the bottom of his fuselage with my fist.  “Did you hear that knocking?”

“Yes!  What was that??”

“Good.  That was me.  It means I’m talking to the right idiot.  I’m the paraglider pilot on the other end of that wing, hanging out down here by your wheels… on the freaking OUTSIDE of your plane.”

At that point, the two of us actually start carrying on a casual conversation about the merits of each of our respective aircraft, when I get a brilliant idea.  I look down at my GPS, then direct the pilot on a course bearing 150 degrees for about 3 miles; then 0 degrees for a mile or two; then 310 degrees for a few miles.

Technically, I’m still on a paraglider flight – I launched from Tiger, and I’m still attached to my wing.  I’ve got this guy running Tiger-Tag points with me.  Let me tell you, Dave Wheeler’s gonna scream!

After raking up a few bazillion points, it dawns on me that I’ve still got to find a way to get both of us back on the ground.  I don’t actually remember the landing much, except that after we were on the ground, there was a fire truck, an ambulance, a few policemen, and more paperwork than I can describe.  Plus, I know that when the local flying club hears about this, I’m never going to hear the end of it.

By the time I get back home, it’s close to midnight, but I upload my GPS track to Leonardo and submit it for tiger-tag scoring.  Wheeler calls me first thing in the morning to say that he disqualified my flight because I broke airspace, and to point out where I could have scored a few more points.  Despite my best efforts to convince him that there was actually a working transponder and two-way communication with ATC, he simply refused to hear it.

And then I wake up.

Push-Button Child-Proofing

First off, there is no such thing as push-button baby-proofing. It’s a lot of work, and as you two get older and bigger, you continually raise the bar on what it takes to keep the two of you “safe.” This morning was no exception. Well, OK, it was an exception — because you, dear Lucas, nearly gave Mom a heart attack.

I was upstairs getting ready to go to work. Mom had your sister Anna on the changing table. You were downstairs in the “baby-proof” kitchen and living room. We heard this faint beeping noise. And when Mom came downstairs, you had managed to climb up the baby-proofed kitchen drawers onto the counter. Sure, the baby-proofing meant that you could not OPEN the drawers, but they still worked just fine as hand-holds and foot-holds as you made the 36″ ascent to the summit with your 28″ body.

But it gets worse. While sitting on the counter, you reached into the toaster and pulled out Mom’s toast. Fortunately, the toaster had already been unplugged because that’s the only way this old thing can be turned on/off. Right next to you on the counter was a wooden block full of sharp carving knives, one of which was at your side. And in the far back of the counter was the receiving end of the baby monitor, which makes noise, lights up, and thankfully has push-buttons.

Thankfully, because you, my dear Lucas, are an absolute addict when it comes to anything with buttons. Phones, remote controls, toys… if they have lights or buttons, you are as happy as can be. So of all of those hazards within reach, to say nothing of the 3′ drop-off, it was the buttons on the receiver unit that most held your attention. So in a very real way, this time, it was those push-buttons that managed to keep you safe while Mom finished changing Anna’s diaper. But we can hardly count on that being reliable. Instead, it means that we have to raise the baby-proofing bar still higher. Unfortunately, stapling your feet to the floor is not an option. Instead, we have to adjust to the fact that you are going to climb anything within reach.

Squirrels do that too, you know. Many years ago, when I was still living at home with my parents, we had a bird-feeder outside, on a thin metal pole, in our back yard. It appeared that no matter what we did, the squirrels always managed to get up the pole to eat the birdseed. Then one day, my Dad decided to cover the pole with Vaseline just before we had breakfast in the kitchen that overlooked the bird feeder. The local squirrels, well accustomed to climbing the pole for a free meal, got part way up the pole and began to slide downward. They tried more than once. They even got a running start and tried climbing ferociously toward the top. However, none of them made it past the half-way mark before sliding to the bottom like firemen on the pole to the the lower level.

But since we cannot put Vaseline over every climbing surface in the house, I figure that the next best thing is to make sure that we have something with buttons right next to anything in the house that might pose even the slightest of risks to your well being, and then you’ll be fine. Yes, my love, we are turning to push-button child-proofing after all.