Saturday, January 18, 2014

Super Red-Letter Event

The photo is of my Dad's plane a 1952-vintage Cessna 170B,  N2794D,  in hangar #10 at the McGregor (Texas) airport.  On January 16,  2014,  I had this aircraft ferried down from the Grand Prairie (Texas) airport by a pilot with a tail wheel endorsement and lots of "taildragger" experience.  He is David Wilson,  a Civil Air Patrol pilot,  a fellow member of EAA Chapter 59 at McGregor,  and a new friend.

David and I both made the ferry flight together.  Weather was beautiful.  The plane performed fine.  Once we reached the vicinity of McGregor,  I got to fly the plane some:  several turns and a few stalls,  for re-familiarization.  It's been over 15 years since I last flew anything.  I still need a lot of practice before I attempt a landing,  though.

My Dad is terminally ill and has not been able to fly for a few years now.  Aviation and this plane have been a huge part of his life.  It had sat idle in his hangar at Grand Prairie for those years,  and needed some tender loving care to be flyable again.

Both my Dad and my Mom were private pilots,  although I never got my license.  Dad rebuilt this plane from a wreck.  I bucked rivets for him down in the tail,  when I was a teenager.  For all of us,  there are a lot of memories bound up in this beautiful antique craft.

I made this craft flight-ready with the aid of Larry Birdwell,  an airline pilot and long-time family friend,  plus the aid and supervision Bob Lakey in a neighboring hangar,  a long-time aviation mechanic.  I could not have accomplished this without them,  and the help of several others who knew my Dad,  and the help of my son James and my brother-in-law Mike Coe.  Plus,  my good friend Monty Suffern (also an EAA 59 member,  but I have known him for years now),  who flew me up there to Grand Prairie for one of those trips to work on the plane.

I could not have done this without EAA 59,  either,  which I have joined.  Not only was my ferry pilot one of their members,  I found a tailwheel-qualified flight instructor among their membership,  too.  That would be Rich Hewgley,  whom I already knew at TSTC,  in the Aviation Maintenance teaching program.  My flight training with him should start soon.  And,  my friends and former colleagues Don and Diane Daunis,  drove us up there for the ferry flight.

Once I am a full-fledged private pilot,  I want to take my Dad flying again in his own plane,  before he passes on.  It'll be a race,  but I really want to do that.


Update 2-14-2014:  FAA has denied my 3rd class medical.  I am appealing.  Took them 3 months and 1 week to send me a form letter with an error-of-fact in it.

Update 4-27-2014:  I discontinued the pill that FAA objected to,  successfully,  and reported this to them in my appeal.  It took them only (!) 6 weeks to reply,  again with an error-of-fact in their letter demanding notes from my doctors.

It is my opinion that they never read my original completed application,  and still haven't,  because of those errors-of-fact.  Not to have read and understood my application is rather egregious incompetence.

Meanwhile,  I am obtaining those doctor's notes for them.  Stay tuned;  this is a classic example of bureaucratic arrogance being inversely proportional to demonstrated competence.

Update 6-24-2014:  yesterday (6-23-14) I finally received in the mail my 3rd class medical and student pilot's certificates.  I had mailed-in the items requested by the air surgeon's office on 5-21-14 with a cover letter re-summarizing my medical history.

That was to make the original application and the doctor's notes they requested more understandable.  The errors-of-fact in the two previous responses had demonstrated so very clearly that they had not understood my two prior submittals correctly.  My cover letter also explicitly demonstrated that they no longer had any grounds for denial.

Their cover letter back to me with the certificates still had an error of fact in it,  but at least they could no longer deny me the certificates.  Not to have understood the facts correctly after 3 submittals is,  in my opinion,  a demonstration of egregious incompetence.  Their very job is quite literally to understand and act on applications,  just like mine.

How can they decide fairly who is fit to fly,  when they demonstrably cannot read and understand the very application they themselves require of us?  This is a piece of the FAA that needs to be shut down and rebuilt from scratch,  with different personnel.

I started this process with an on-line application form filled out on 10-31-2013 (last Halloween) and submitted the following day.  That was nearly 8 months ago.  My Dad has become bedridden since then,  he is now far past the point where I could conceivably ever take him flying again.  The FAA medical branch's ridiculous bureaucratic delays,  slow responses,  and general ineptitude have cost us that dream.

I now fully understand why FAA medical is so vehemently hated by the community of pilots.  I do in fact agree with their attitude,  it is more-than-deserved.

Now that I can do this "street-legal",  I'll soon see you in the air!  I hope to at least solo before Dad passes.  Knowing that would make him very happy.

Update 7-3-14:

Got the call today:  the end is but days away for my Dad.  I cannot solo in time,  he is already going unresponsive.  Thank you FAA medical,  for being such unmitigated pricks!  Now my Dad will never know I got my pilot's license.  8 months delay on a 3rd class medical application is completely ridiculous.  I could have soloed with about 10 hours' instruction.  But none of it could count until I got that medical.

At least Dad and I got a bill of sale done,  to pass the airplane from him to me.  I'm just waiting for the 1950's-vintage carbon-paper form 8050-1,  something that FAA insists upon,  to arrive.  That would be so that I can file it,  the bill of sale,  and the fee,  to get the craft officially into my name in FAA's records.  Had Dad died before doing a bill of sale,  there would be all kinds of complicated nonsense to address.

I must say,  the Aircraft Registration Branch in Oklahoma City was very unresponsive to my phone calls requesting said 8050-1 aircraft registration form.  Their number was perpetually busy,  until I finally got through to a brain-dead voice-mail system,  without ever talking to a flesh-and-blood person.  I have no confidence my voice-mail request for form 8050-1 will ever be addressed.  I got the distinct impression that talking to them is about like talking to FAA medical,  which is located in the same same city at the same place.

The FSDO in Irving (serving my area) was (delightfully) very responsive!  The gal I talked to "live" said she would put two forms 8050-1 in the mail to me immediately,  and took the address,  all right there in a 3-minute phone call.  That's exactly the way it should work.  Kudos to them for being the public servants that we really need!  Not everybody in the FAA is "the enemy",  for sure.

Update 7-6-14:

The forms 8050-1 from the Irving FSDO arrived in Saturday's mail (7-5-14) in spite of the 7-4 holiday Friday.  I have them all filled out today,  and that package goes out in Monday morning's mail (7-7-14).  Congrats to the Irving FSDO!  You did good!

Update 7-11-14:

More forms 8050-1 arrived yesterday (7-10-14) from the Aircraft Registration Branch in OK City.  So they did good,  too!   My thanks to both FAA offices for being good public servants.

I sent the registration application,  bill-of-sale,  and fee to the registration branch by certified,  return-receipt mail.  According to the post office,  it should have arrived Wednesday 7-9-14.  Watch this space for a progress report.

Update: 7-20-14:

The return receipt for the registration submittal came in Friday afternoon's mail 7-11-14.  So,  I know they got it,  the bill-of-sale,  and the fee,  just about when I expected:  Wednesday 7-9-14.  That same Friday night I got the call just after 11 PM:  my Dad just passed away at home minutes earlier.  It was after midnight before the coroner got there,  so his official death date is actually Saturday 7-12-14.

Dad's funeral took place on Wednesday 7-16-14,  and was very well attended.  He had a huge impact on so many lives.  Several of us spoke,  including myself.  We laid him to rest in the DFW National Cemetery,  as he was a WW2 veteran.  He flew B-25 Mitchells for the Army Air Corps.

So,  I had no chance to earn my pilot's license before Dad died,  precisely because of that 8 month delay getting a 3rd class medical certificate.  He would have been really happy to know I had done that.  But,  he was already very happy that I have the plane down here,  and am taking good care of it.  We were both aeronautical engineers,  so he knew I could do that job very well.

Farewell,  Dad.  You will be sorely missed.  And,  I will get my license and fly your plane!

Update 11-7-14:

Fresh annual on the plane 10-29-14 shows it is in great shape.  I did a lot of the work under the supervision of IA Robert Coomes.  As part of this,  I relaced two engine gauges (not critical to airworthiness) that were not working,  and replaced an aged fuel hose.  Today,  I went up for my first flying lesson in it.  That included my first exposure to "flying just above the runway",  as prep for learning how to land.  My instructor is Aaron Dabney,  and he's quite good.

Update 1-13-15:

After 4.5 hours of instruction in the air that included approaches and low passes,  I spent another 1.3 hours today doing takeoffs and landings around the pattern,  for a total of 5.8 hours of instruction so far.  My landings and takeoffs are terrible,  as is expected for first time students.  But,  a few hours more of this,  and I will get much,  much better.  The rest of my flying is getting fairly good now.

As I said,  Aaron Dabney is very good instructor.  And the Cessna 170 is a very,  very good and forgiving airplane.  For me,  tailwheel itself isn't really a problem.  Getting the true "feel" of this stuff is,  and that's quite normal.  I know intellectually as an engineer what to do,  but there is a way of actually doing it that is new to me.

Update 2-12-15:

I made my first 3 good crosswind takeoffs,  and my first good landing,  today!!

Update 4-8-15:

I now have about a dozen hours in the air with my instructor.  Today,  I finally started making really decent takeoffs and landings.  My last landing today even my instructor deemed "good",  but we had an in-flight emergency during it.  The leaf spring supporting the tailwheel broke,  although we only knew at the time that there was a loud hardware "bang".

He took control and we went around,  then made a low pass so observers on the ground could see what happened.  That's when we found out the tailwheel was hanging by one of its chains and springs,  flopping around back there.  So,  we declared an emergency and asked for the fire trucks,  and landed in the grass alongside runway 19 at Waco Regional.

I called airspeeds as he landed 3-point in the grass,  and everything went good.  Nobody hurt,  and we did no further damage to the airplane.  There is only sheet metal damage to the left elevator and the rudder where the flopping tailwheel pounded them.

My instructor certainly earned his pay today.  And,  I now have a burned-into-the-brain lesson in going around if anything "squirrely" happens during a landing.  You have time to think and troubleshoot,  if you are away from the ground.  That,  I will never forget.

The beautiful old ship is in Texas Aero's maintenance and repair hangar,  to get new parts and a re-rig for its tailwheel,  plus the sheet metal repairs.

It could have been so much worse!

Update 6-24-16:

The old plane is now repaired,  has a fresh annual,  and is flying again.  Dave Wilson once again assisted with a short ferry flight,  back over to my hangar at McGregor airport.  For many different reasons,  this took a lot longer than expected,  and cost a pretty penny,  too.  But now I can resume flight training,  after a 14 month lapse.

Update 8-28-19:

Since returning the plane to McGregor airport,  I have suffered a series of health problems that have rendered me not capable of flying.  This began with a long-chronic nerve pinch that sometimes paralyzed my legs (for which I finally had successful back surgery),  and culminated in a mild stroke this year.  The nerve pinch thing was very serious,  in that one cannot land a taildragger without the use of one's feet.  The stroke,  while it did no damage,  was the last straw.  Reluctantly,  I have to end my flying completely,  and sell this wonderful old airplane. 

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