Who Am I?

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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

27 November 2009

Equal-Opportunity Fun-Poking

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I'm sorry. I can't resist irreverence. Since my beloved Basic Instructions is having technical difficulties, I am forced to seek out other internet comics for my, um, entertainment.

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving, if you even celebrate such a thing. We do and I did.

25 November 2009

Formation Flying With a Good Friend

My friend Mike Nehring stopped by in his Bell 47 helicopter the other day. Well, it's not "his" ship - he just flies it on a powerline/pipeline patrol contract. It is a beautiful example of the type, done up in a military paint scheme similar to what you see in the beginning of the TV show M*A*S*H.

This day, his patrol ended someplace west of us, and his route of flight home took him right over the Brewton Airport. So he had to stop in to say hi. I love that about flying.

Mike is a great guy and a really good friend of mine who absolutely loves to fly. He's a young, struggling pilot who's just starting his career in this crazy field. As he slowly builds his flight time up, he's already done a lot of different things. Trouble is, many of the jobs in this business are seasonal or temporary. Mike is fixing to leave Pensacola (again) and head up to Oregon for another couple of months of...whatever. He'll be flying...whatever...whatever he can get his talented hands on. In a way, I admire his adventurous spirit. In another, I'm glad I don't have to do that anymore.

Plan A was for me to jump in the 47 and fly with him back to his home base, then he would drive me back to Brewton. But wouldn't you know it, my Boss had a Plan B in mind. He needed me to fly him somewhere in our helicopter.

Mike and I fired up together, and since we were going in the same direction decided to depart the airport as a "flight of two." My JetRanger cruises at 120 mph, but the 47 can only muster about 70 or so, max. I told Mike I'd stay back with him as long as I could, but I didn't want to burn my brakes out trying, har-har-har.

As I've often said, I like watching other pilots fly - especially pilots who are really good. You can tell a lot about a helicopter pilot by the way he lifts off the ground and into a hover. Some pilots just instinctively know how to make the ship levitate as if by magic. Others lurch off the ground so awkwardly that you're not sure if you're watching an accident in the making. Mike is one of the former. The smoothness with which he flies is amazing and inspiring.

A helicopter flies by tilting its rotor forward from the horizontal, directing its energy upward (lift) and rearward (thrust) at the same time. The faster you want to go, the more you have to tilt the rotor forward. If the main rotor mast is mounted perpendicular to the airframe, the whole helicopter assumes a nose-down attitude as you go faster. It can be quite uncomfortable for the pilot as well as the passengers.

In the Bell 206 JetRanger, the main rotor mast is tilted slightly forward by design. Plus there is a big stabilizer on the tail that helps "pull" the tail down (i.e. the nose up) in flight. The end result is that the 206 can fly along at 120 mph with a "fairly" level cabin attitude.

The Bell 47 is an older design, never intended to go fast.

So here is Mikey trying to keep up with me at 70 mph.

Looks comfy, doesn't it? Imagine spending hours at a time sitting leaned over like that? I wished Mike had a camera and could have gotten a picture of my ship. The difference is quite noticeable.

We only flew like that briefly. The Boss and I had to go so we increased power and sped up. Mike reduced power for a more comfortable ride (and to pull something less than full power). But it was fun flying together, even for a short time.

One of the things I love most about aviation is the camaraderie and fellowship.

15 November 2009

Camera Shopping

My rusty-trusty Canon digital camera finally bit the dust, a victim of severe photo abuse. It’s hard being without a pocket camera, so yesterday morning I went to Best Buy and bought one of those Nikon Coolpix cameras. It's exactly the same as the old Canon, only lighter (and slower - an annoying trait of these digital cameras). I paid $199 for it ($214, including tax). From doing a little research, I knew I could have sourced the camera online for around $160, saving over $40. But I decided against doing that, and here’s why.

Retailers suffer when consumers go in, look at a product and then go home and buy it online. That bothers me. It bothered me a lot even before the internet came along.

As a motorcycle rider, I’ve always needed “things” to support the habit. You know, riding gear: helmets, jackets, gloves, rainsuits, accessories…all the stuff that goes along with riding the bike. Back in the 1970’s there used to be a number of motorcycle shops that specialized in nothing but parts and accessories. But as more and more discount catalog organizations flourished, the local stores found that they couldn’t compete. The consumer asked: Why buy a helmet at full retail when you can get the exact same helmet for some nice discount from a catalog?

Well, because it helps the local economy and keeps that store in business, that’s why. It’s only gotten worse since the invention of personal computers and the ability to click-shop.

To use Best Buy (or any retailer for that matter) for my camera comparison “shopping” and then go buy it off the internet would be unfair, I think. Lots of my friends have no qualms about doing their research in stores and then buying online. And so I imagine this practice will continue if not increase.

But what happens when there are no more retailers like Best Buy? I did not count them, but there was the usual crowd of employees running around the store yesterday morning. Where will those people work? My friend Matt works in a bank. But there are “e-banks” available now with virtually all the services of a “real” bank. The downside is that there is no physical building to visit, but honestly, how often do you actually need to go into your bank nowadays? The only reason I do is because my company cannot direct-deposit my paycheck yet. But that will change, probably soon.

Having stores like Best Buy around is worth something to me. I was able to go in there and compare a whole bunch of similar cameras they had on display side by side. And the choices are many! Initially, I wasn’t married to the Nikon, but it ended up being the one I liked best. So I bought it. They had plenty in stock. I got it the same day I wanted it, not at some point in the future.

Then there’s the tax issue. If you buy online, you usually don’t have to pay Florida sales tax, although some vendors do charge it. (Whether or not they actually remit it to the state is another story.) So the $15 in tax that I paid yesterday would most likely not have gotten to the state’s treasury.

Obviously our global economy is changing as we shift more toward buying things off the internet and not from a local store. And maybe I was foolish to “waste” the $40 I could have otherwise saved. I don’t know. All I know is that I feel better for buying this little camera from a local business, even if it did cost me more.

01 November 2009

Halloween Party

Matt and Alisha came down from Atlanta for the weekend to attend the wedding of two friends out on the beach. Getting married at sunset on the beach on Halloween night? Odd, in my opinion, but hey- who am I to judge? Why be conventional? The three of us planned on meeting up afterward.

There are nights that I don’t like to go out and party. New Year’s Eve being one of them, St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween being two others. But I agreed to meet them out at Cap’n Fun on Pensacola Beach. I got there around ten, and the place was jumping. A lot of times I’m the oldest guy in places like that. But not last night! It was a nice, diverse crowd. Everyone was in a good mood and the entire huge place had a good vibe going on. Maybe 90% of the people there were wearing a costume. Of the remaining 10%, I couldn't tell if maybe half of them were supposed to be in costume or were just wearing their usual strange getup. Kids these days...

Actually it was the four of us. Matt dressed as Yankee baseball great, Joe Dimaggio. Alisha was Marilyn Monroe. Pete the pharmacist was (a very convincing) Borat. And Bob was…well, Bob doesn’t dress up on Halloween, being the stick-in-the-mud, party-pooper that he is. No, that’s not correct; I went dressed in my usual costume…as a geeky helicopter pilot. One very inebriated little girl stopped me on the way back from the bathroom, standing directly in front of me, blocking my path, sizing me up and down.

“Who are you?”
she demanded.
I am nobody, I replied.

“Well you should say you’re Mr. Rogers!”
she suggested brightly.

I looked at her closely, trying to determine if she was mocking me or just having a good time in the spirit of the night. She seemed drunkenly sincere, so I thanked her, and laughed, and left. Heh- Mr. Rogers. Good one. Come to think of it, I should've borrowed the McGruff costume from the Sheriff's Office.

There was a band playing that called themselves Monsterprty. Without the “a.” I suspect that their name once appeared on a marquee or flier that was too small to fit the entire name, so someone decided to drop a vowel for space considerations. Either that or it was a typo that stuck. Either that or they mistakenly thought it would be clever. They were a high-energy party band that had a varied repertoire that ranged from ultramodern stuff way back to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” which inexplicably has become something of a bar-band staple 'round here.

As I've mentioned before, Matt and I love live music. There is just something about the spontaneity and creativity of music being performed live. Over the years we've seen an awful lot of bands. And a lot of awful bands! They're usually at least tolerable, and we’ve only walked out on…maybe two bands since we’ve been hanging out. We both agreed that Monsterprty wasn’t bad. They weren’t good either, but they weren’t bad. At least they were in tune. Most of the time. And they were loud, I’ll give them that. Fortunately (or not), my hearing has been so damaged by a lifetime of flying noisy helicopters that I can tolerate the loudest of bar-bands now. At least I don’t have tinnitus. Yet.

After one of Monsterprty’s lively sets, the very young (maaaaayyyybe 21 year old) lead singer came down and was chatting up some girls right near where we were standing. I nudged Matt, “Go tell him!” And Matt, my ever-willing accomplice, leaned over to the boy and said, “Hey, you guys aren’t half-bad.” I couldn’t hear the singer’s response, but I saw his face light up with pleasure as he mouthed the words, “Thank you!”

It’s not that we like to be unkind. We don’t. In fact, we prefer to pass along positive feedback to bands we see. But sometimes we can’t resist messing with them just a little. Monsterprty may be a halfway decent bar-band, but they’re surely not the Next Big Thing. Not as long as they're content to be singing other people's songs. Bands like that generally don't have a very long shelf life. I hope that lead singer is putting money away for college.

Unusually for me, I didn’t drink much last night. Between ten p.m. and two a.m. I only had four overpriced, watered-down Rum and Cokes. The FAA is now taking the view that someone who gets a DWI cannot be trusted to obey all of the federal regulations that guide us pilots. So we are required to report to them such driver’s license “actions” (suspensions, etc.) within 60 days of the event. Some sort of counseling is usually required, even for a first offense. A pilot who accumulates three DWI’s will find himself no longer a pilot at all. I won’t say I’ve never driven drunk in the past when I was young(er) and stupid(er), but it’s sure not worth the risk now. I must be getting old.

I will close with this: If America is really serious about getting drunk drivers off the road, why do they let bars have parking lots? It's not like we go to bars only to ogle the girls and listen to mediocre bands. A lot of people go there to drink, too.