finem respice

Descend Clean Why Don't You?

Submitted by ep on Sun, 06/07/2009 - 07:26
looks good from the outside

A finite respite for finem respice as, though delayed for four days, I head now by small plane for the Sierras and then come right to 000 and violate the airspace of the great white north. (Coming back through the ADIZ is worse, you know).

Caution is certainly the better part of valor when dealing with rented aircraft. The damage on the Piper Seneca, patched via duct tape on the interior ceiling covering evidence of foul play, allegedly left by younger flight instructors during an impromptu game of "elevator," is superficial, if not inspiring. No critical instrumentation or systems there in any event. Try to find a decent twin to rent instead. Try to find a decent twin to rent that was never used for makeshift freight. I take what I can get. An old but workhorseish Seneca that has been the butt of flight instructor jokes from time to time will do just fine.

While in the Southwest and headed yet further West, if you feel like avoiding the Sunny MOA and the annoyingly particular airspace over portions of Grand Canyon National park, you find yourself gently prodded north until, assuming you passed Page Municipal before thinking too hard on it, the wise fuel manager in you will wonder if it might not be wise to put down a bit early and tank up before chancing the mountains. With KPGA behind you, a quick survey of the nearby oasis population will cough up KKNB, Kanab Municipal Airport. Six thousand one hundred and some feet of asphalt that look awfully appealing on screen. You will be tempted to land there. Resist. It's a trap.

A nice enough strip, certainly, but peeling off the headsets and climbing down to address the strip-side trailer that, years ago, passed for an FBO, is a bracing experience. The attendants are outgoing enough. Overly so, actually. That day their discussion veered sharply right and spiraled down quickly.

"Gerd-dem Supremes gonna give it to dem. I see it coming. Gonna give it to dem fer sure."

This from the Archie Bunker of rural Utah. Think the result of years of experimentation by Dr. Mephisto working to cross Carroll O'Connor with a cocktail of DNA from a four-assed monkey and the B-list cast of Deliverance. It takes several lines before I realize the topic is gay marriage.

"Were up to me, I'd give 'em all da needle."

He means summary capital punishment, I conclude belatedly.

His sycophant come-side-kick fails to warrant literary notice other than to acknowledge his alarmingly similar appearance (Utanian cloning experiments perhaps) and his established role as a perpetual "yes man." True, occasionally more sophisticated affirmations resembling "Dat da truff right dere!" escape him, but beyond this one misses nothing for the lack of further exposition.

For the most part, nodding in passive agreement seems to pass the time while 100 LL fills the tank (several paces away from the aircraft, since the grounding clip appears to be attached entirely to rubber on the main gear- who knew that was even possible?), that is until the focus shifts.

"Don't see many women flying alone ein deez yarts."

I think the last is "in these parts," but it is far from clear. Changing the subject seems very prudent.

"Did you say the supreme court was going to approve gay marriage?" The artifice of incredulity, or perhaps the edifice of incredulity is my fortress. We all have our ways of managing life.

"Can you believe dat?" They descend into homophobic spirals for the duration of my tank.

Looking West to sunset over the Sierras from 8,500 is beautiful, but foreshadows the terrain ahead and climbing to 10,500 and then even higher, where the thin air takes the legs out from under the normally aspirated Seneca, becomes a quick necessity. Playing with the prop pitch is a useless endeavor. The air is thin and that's all. Peaks over 14,000 in the Western distance blot out the sun early and seeing terrain becomes difficult quickly as the dark begins to consume everything.

KBIH, or Eastern Sierra Regional in Bishop, California is a tough approach from the East, even if you're just VFR. The terrain on my path peaks over 11,300 before a steep drop to the mere 4,124 field elevation at Bishop. This would be less annoying in another aircraft. The Seneca has an intensely irritating safety feature. Somewhere, some insurance actuary told Piper that gear-up landings accounted for a major portion of accidents in their airframes. Anxious to make their aircraft cheap for owners, Piper installed a feature in the Senecas whereby a loud, intensely obnoxious alarm buzzer sounds if the manifold pressure falls below a certain point and the gear is still up. Since the Seneca's gear extension maximum is 129 knots, that means tolerating a lot of noise for 5-7 minutes during a hard descent unless you want to get dirty above 10,000- or 8,000 for that matter. I don't bother to debate myself. In the darkness the amber light and the alarm horn are company in the thin air, so I don't bother to try quashing either of them.

If you can get over the steep descent, KBIH is an easy touchdown, and the Seneca feels unusually responsive at 4,000 after so much work above 8,000.

The darkest black blanket of night covers the airport and though there is not a soul in sight when I emerge from my prop-powered cocoon, there is a "crew car" sitting next to the unattended, galvanized steel building of a terminal. It is a particular feature of general aviation that tiny FBOs in the West and Southwest are a trusting lot. Keys in the car. Note reading "please fill up the tank before returning" on the passenger seat. Comically affixed "AC INOP" sticker on the climate control panel. No question of insurance, liability, or credentials. A throwback to the 1950s when everyone's uncle was ok to watch the kids for a couple of days.

I drive slowly by the local speed trap and catch a wary but knowing glance from the authority figure behind the wheel. Ah, yes. The brown Oldsmobile Delta 88 from the Airport. Hmmm, who is that? Oh, well. No ticket for that one.

No reason to stay at the Holiday Inn Express (whatever effect it may have on my flying the next morning) except that it is the most obvious and recognizable name around and probably has wireless. (Not).

A thick layer of frost (in June!) covers the Seneca the next morning. Probably not overly hindering aerodynamically, I think, but I don't really know, so I err on the side of caution and wander into the FBO to find a brush. They have no more than a broom and I am standing on one wing literally sweeping frost (or trying) off the surface. From across the tarmac a voice echos "There's a woman who knows her place." (Later I actually read the OM checklist and find "Surface Condition..... Free of Ice, Frost, Snow." in three places. Glad I bothered).

It takes me 15 minutes of careful, nursing effort to start the left engine. When it coughs to life I am as relieved as I have been in a long time.

[Art Credit: Equity Private "Piper Seneca III At Rest," Photograph (June 5, 2009), From the Author's Private Collection. Warmer beginnings pre-Sierras.]

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