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On the 2016 Presidential Election

Donald Trump is President-elect of the United States of America. Regardless of the popular vote, he won the election according to the rules in the Constitution, according to the way the States have, to this point, apportioned electors to the Electoral College, and according to how the vast majority of electors have voted when the College convened in the past. Regardless, for the time being, of whether the Electoral College is an archaic artifact, it is part of our system for choosing our president.

Assuming the States and the College follow the patterns of the past, Donald Trump will be the President of the United States. And he will be my President, whether or not I voted for him, whether or not I approve of him. During my time as a voting citizen, my candidate has not always won: city council or school board, mayor or state treasurer, assembly member or member of congress, president. Still, they won the election, and that made them my councilor or board member, my mayor or treasurer, my assembly member, representative, or senator, my president.

I disapprove strongly with much of the rhetoric of the Trump campaign (and with some of that from the Clinton campaign, for that matter). The question is, then, where to from here? How do we heal the country, how do we protect those made more vulnerable by the campaign rhetoric?

Abraham Lincoln, the first Republican president of the United States, quoted from the Gospel of Mark, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” (Similar statements are in the Gospels of both Luke and Matthew.) Despite very deep divisions in this country—around race, around economics, around sovereignty, around slavery—he strove for unity. He strove for unity from before he was even nominated for the presidency. Conflict occurred only as an absolute last resort. When Lincoln forged his cabinet, he built a team not of solely like-minded people, but of those with a diverse set of views and politics. He presided over the most divisive period in our country’s history, the most deadly, the most damaging.

He tried to heal the country.

Ronald Reagan, another Republican president, delivered an impassioned address in West Berlin, at the Brandenburg Gate, in which he implored, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” He sought to bring peace, unity, and freedom to a divided nation, to a divided world, and was cheered loudly and long by those in West Berlin.

George H.W. Bush, a third Republican president, spoke of his desire for “a kinder, gentler nation,” one of compassion, understanding, and cooperation, one with acts of goodness.

Melania Trump has said she will work as First Lady to reduce online bullying. Let us hope she does, this and more.

Donald Trump campaigned on a rhetoric of anger, of mistrust. He encouraged racism and bigotry, his words were those of misogyny and prejudice.

What concerns me as much as—even more than—Mr. Trump’s election is the way so many Americans accepted Mr. Trump’s words and his tone. I have read explanations of the election result that focus on his conservative-populist economic message, on his appeal to those in this country who see globalization as a threat to their well-being, especially their economic well-being. Those explanations might be spot-on, but they don’t ameliorate my concerns over the responses to the hate-filled campaign speeches, tweets, etc.

Whereas there is little question of what a Trump executive branch can do, with no collaboration from the other two branches of the government, on issues such as the environment and immigration and trade and foreign policy, and whereas some of those can be so damaging as to be difficult at best to reverse, I am yet more concerned about what I saw in this country during the campaign: not out of Mr. Trump, but out of the American people.

Too many responded positively to the rhetoric of racism, bigotry, misogyny. Too many did not vigorously condemn these words, did not come out strongly in support of those being marginalized and demonized: women, immigrants, Muslims, Jews, people of color. Too many among the Republican leadership, especially, implicitly accepted the rhetoric of scapegoating the other by not explicitly and vigorously decrying it.

And too many people at the Trump rallies loudly supported his hate-filled rhetoric.

I think it is not hyperbole to look at the parallels of 1933 Germany, for all who can be labeled as other.

In an interview with Leslie Stahl of CBS’s 60 Minutes, Mr. Trump said, to those who committed and commit acts of violence and intolerance, especially those who do so in response to his campaign rhetoric, “Stop.” Mr. President-elect, keep it up. Keep telling those whose hate against the other was inflamed by the campaign rhetoric, “Stop.” Keep telling those whose hate against the other existed before they heard that rhetoric, “Stop.”

Mr. Trump, follow in the path of President Lincoln and recognize the country is badly bruised, that people are afraid. Help heal our country’s soul.

Mr. Trump, follow in the path of President Regan, and do not build a wall! Help build unity, and with it, freedom.

Mr. Trump, follow in the path of President Bush and strive for a kinder, gentler nation.

Mr. Trump, listen to your wife’s words and work to reduce bullying—online and offline.

Let us stand with all who are other. We can support those being bullied, marginalized, made the target of scapegoating. We can ensure they—we—never stand alone. We can put pressure on our country’s leadership—all of that leadership—to repudiate the rhetoric of the other.


The New Headset

This is a slightly long shaggy dog story about my new headset. A headset I didn’t buy, but now own.

I was planning to fly across the country again, as I did in 2014 (see The Grand Tour and its follow-on musings). This wouldn’t be quite as complicated a flight, because I was taking the northern, more direct route, more along the great circle. Still, no coast-to-coast flight is trivial, and I reviewed my notes from the previous flight to remind myself of the kind of planning I had done. (I didn’t really need much reminding, thanks in part to having delivered a few FAA Safety Seminars on my flight and the planning behind it.)

On this trip, the plan was to leave on Monday, May 23. I would stop somewhere around Colorado, Wyoming, or Nebraska for fuel, then head to Wisconsin for the night and to visit one of the people on my team from work, Marty. Tuesday would see Marty join me for a trip to Maryland, terminating at Tipton Field, Fort Meade, Maryland where we would spend a few days for work—and attend a colleague’s interment at Quantico, which was the reason for this trip’s timing. Marty would stay the weekend and a bit beyond in the D.C. area, and I would continue to Syracuse, New York to visit my mother. Monday would find me flying to Minute Man Air Field in Stow, Massachusetts for some more business, and Wednesday would begin the westward legs of the trip: an overnight stop to see a friend in the Chicago area, a couple of days in Boulder, Colorado visiting my sister-in-law and one of the people on my team, Dave. I planned to fly home on Saturday. Although the Massachusetts-Illinois leg probably wouldn’t need a fuel stop (depended on the winds), the Illinois-Colorado leg probably would (chance it wouldn’t, but I made plans both ways).

What does all this have to do with a new headset, and with a tale worthy of telling?

Around the middle of May, Lightspeed Aviation, maker of aviation headsets—including, for example, the subject of this musing—announced their Fly Me to the Moon (warning: spoiler alert at that page) contest. The contest was open to pilots flying general aviation flights that were not for compensation: no air taxis, no charters, no corporate flights, no air carrier (airline) flights. Just people, roughly like me, flying. The dates? May 23 through June 26.

May 23. May 23? I was leaving on my trip across the country on May 23! The trip would total about 5,000 nautical miles, enough that I guessed I would at least have a shot at this contest. I decided to give it a try.

The trip was pretty straightforward. I stopped for gas in Torrington, Wyoming (KTOR: easy in-and-out, friendly people, on the route, good gas prices) on my way to East Troy, Wisconsin (57C). During the fuel and lunch stop, I checked on the weather in some detail. I new a storm system was more than brewing to my east, and I wanted to get a read on it and decide weather to try flanking it to the north or to the south. I looked at a whole bunch of info available online, and talked with an FAA weather briefer; he recommended I get about halfway to that line of thunderstorms and check back to see where it was going before making my decision. I took his advice—knowing that I also had the option to overnight on the west side of the line and then cross or circumnavigate it in the morning, when the day had not yet fed it enormous amounts of thermal energy. (For the last few flights across the U.S. I’ve made, I’ve carried camping gear. The first time I did this, I planned to stop and camp overnight while en route. Later, it was for flexibility, so I could land and overnight comfortably almost anywhere. I have a tent, sleeping pad and quilt, backpacking stove, food, and water.)

Halfway to the line of storms, I decided to head north. It wasn’t a trivial flanking: I had to head further north than I expected, because the line kept growing to the north. It was the better choice, though, since it grew further and faster to the south (warmer there, so more energy to feed the hungry storms). Still, in the end, I went through a hole between that line as it grew north and another batch of storms coming down from the north. About fifteen minutes after I went through, that hole was gone. But, I successfully got past and turned southeast for 57C.

Flight path

Flight path, KTOR-57C

(A note on the weather depiction in the picture, above. I went through the gap in the storms in south-central Minnesota—and past those areas at the Minnesota-Iowa boarder and in north-central and northeast Iowa earlier than this FlightAware snapshot. I did not fly right through that weather, that’s for sure!)

The rest of the flight was, comparatively, uneventful.

Marty really enjoyed the trip down to KFME. We flew over Lake Michigan, staying close enough to the western shore that we could glide to land in case of the (very unlikely) engine failure, able to see Chicago and the O’Hare traffic, the freighters on the lake, etc. from 17,000′. The air traffic controllers were all very helpful, happily accommodating my routing requests so we could stay closer to the shoreline (rather than going direct, well out over the lake). The weather became a bit muggy as we descended for Maryland, and a bit hazy, but there were no problems afforded by the DC airspace and its Special Flight Rules Area.

2100 nm in the bag for the contest.

Mall Sunset

Sunset on the Mall, Washington, DC

While in the DC area, besides working at our office in Maryland and going to Quantico, we did a little sightseeing. Marty had booked a room right across the street from the Treasury building; from the “rooftop” bar, we could see Treasury, the White House, and the Mall from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. We took some time to walk the Mall area a little on Friday evening.

One of the highlights of the trip was my experience at Minute Man Air Field in Stow, Massachusetts. Afree my weekend stay in central New York, I went on to 6B6 in Stow. After landing at 6B6, I looked for a place to tie down (I had found no guidance in the various publications and online sources I referenced during flight planning). Seeing nothing, getting no answer to my queries on the radio (transmitting in the blind) and finding what looked like a reasonable empty tie-down, I taxied over and shut down. After I got out, two guys guiding a Cessna Skyhawk came in to a spot a couple of spaces behind me. I went over, we greeted, and I asked if they knew whether I’d chosen an okay transient parking spot. “Yeah, that’s fine,” replied one, “that’s my spot, and my plane’s in for maintenance, so you’ll be fine there.”


After they helped me push back into the parking spot, they mentioned that the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), EAA 196 was having their monthly barbecue, meeting, and safety seminar, and invited me to join them.

Wow: that sure topped heading to the hotel in Boxborough and eating in the hotel restaurant! To top it off, one of the local pilots offered me a ride to the hotel. What a wonderful community of pilots.

2600 nm in the bag.

Finger Lakes

Some of the Finger Lakes, Central New York

Heading back west, I passed a bit south of Syracuse and over the heart of the Finger Lakes area. The lakes were pretty, made all the more so because I’d never seen them well from the air before.

The biggest challenges on the flight into Illinois were a Presidential temporary flight restriction along my route, that I ended up passing before it came active, and a little weather, just clouds and rain, no thunder, no bad turbulence.

A beer and some food with my friend near Chicago (former customer from my days at NeXT), good company and conversation, and a good night’s sleep brought me to Thursday’s flight. This one had a more definite schedule than others: Dave was taking me to a Rockies game, and I wanted to arrive in plenty of time to make the game and get Dave’s tour of the ballpark. The weather looked to be fine, and I headed for Boulder (KBDU), with the only question being whether I’d need to stop for fuel.

Turned out that any way I ran the numbers, I needed gas. Looking at my route and my planning and the information I had through ForeFlight on my iPad, I changed my destination for that flight to Jim Kelly Field in Lexington, Nebraska (KLXN): looked, again, like an easy in and out, and the gas prices looked good. Otherwise, the trip was uneventful. After refueling and using the restroom, it was back in the air for a quick hop to KBDU.

4,200 nm in the bag.

Colorado Rockies

Colorado’s Rocky Mountain High Country

Unfortunately, the Rockies lost. Pretty badly. Nonetheless my visit with Dave, my stay with my sister-in-law and most enjoyable picnic where she keeps her horse, and a wonderful, leaisurely breakfast on Saturday at Lucile’s had me relaxed and ready for the final leg home.

The Rocky Mountains were lovely. They always are to me, from the ground and from the air. More than a dusting of snow on the peaks and high ridges, less than a deep blanket, lakes glistening in the sunlight. North of Eagle, south of Meeker, west into Utah and over Carbon City and Price and Delta, into the high desert country, continuing across Nevada and into California. Closer to home and just north of Mono Lake, just north of Modesto, and finally a bit of a tour of the south Bay area and into San José. No problems with weather at all on this leg, and no problems making it non-stop from Boulder.

4,964 nm in the bag.

Hmmm…how about…um…a sightseeing flight with my cousin over Yosemite, along the Sierra spine to Lake Tahoe, and back home? He likes photography, we’ve talked about flying—yup, he’s game! Unfortunately, the weather didn’t quite cooperate, so that flight turned north a bit short of Yosemite (still in sight of Half Dome, though), and the next leg wasn’t exactly along the spine. We meandered among the peaks and clouds, though, and saw some spectacular scenery, including the all-but iconic low past perpendicular to a knife-edged ridge. Pure joy in the sky.

Another 344 nm. Total now: 5308 nm. I was in first place on the leader board.

Flight track

Flight Track, KPAO-S03

A previously-planned dinner with a friend became an enjoyable aerial tour of the Bay area and dinner in Half Moon Bay. And then, a trip to Ashland, Oregon, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Great theater. We’ve been going there for decades. Of late, my wife and younger son have driven, my elder son and I have flown. It’s an easy flight straight up the Central Valley of California. Well, usually it is.

Planned cruise altitude was 16,000′. There were some clouds around, but no ice anywhere in the forecast or in the pilot reports (PIREPs). We (Joshua and I) filed and launched.

Settling in at 16,000′, happily breathing oxygen through the cannulae using the pulse-demand delivery system, I started planning ahead. And looking ahead. We would probably penetrate the clouds up ahead; a glance at the outside thermometer showed the low single digits Celsius. Above freezing, but in the danger zone for ice formation on the wings. I asked Joshua to watch for ice on his wing after we entered the cloud. He wondered about that, and I explained my reasoning. (Image to right and profile below from FlightAware.)

We hit the cloud. I noticed the airspeed had decayed a little, and looked at the wing. I called Joshua’s attention to his wing so he could see it. A very slight coating of rime ice on the leading edge. The laminar flow airfoil on a Mooney, so effective at slicing through the air easily and giving me high speed and great efficiency is known to be very susceptible to in-flight icing, and noticeably affected quickly.

I had Joshua ask ATC for higher (FL180, since, before entering the cloud, that looked to me like it would put us on top), we were cleared, and I climbed very briskly in hopes of clearing the ice. FL180 got us on top, and we changed to masks from the cannulae.

Unfortunately, FL180 didn’t keep us on top for long. So, we repeated the climb, to FL200. And again, to FL220.

FL220 kept us on top, and the ice sublimated. We stayed at FL220 until it was time to descend for Ashland. Knowing what probably awaited us in the clouds below—more ice—I had Joshua tell Seattle Center that we wanted an expedited descent to 10,000′ (in order to minimize our exposure to the ice). ATC, helpful as they almost always are, cleared us as we requested and we went down. At over 2,000 fpm. The ice was no problem.


KPAO-S03 Profile

After some wonderful theater, including Hamlet, Twelfth Night, The Wiz, Roe, VietgoneThe Yeomen of the Guard, and more, it was time to launch for home. By way of Extraordinary Desserts in San Diego. S03-KMYF was no problem, and we had wonderful desserts, and bought same for those who drove. The flight home was unremarkable.

6767 nm down.

I wanted to get night current. I also needed some gas for an upcoming flight. I decided to gas up at Byron (C83), where gas prices are pretty low (for the Bay Area). It had been a while since I’d flown a night cross-country to an airport I’d not been to lately, so I thought I’d add a full-stop landing at Oakdale (O27) to bring the total to three. Not much of an addition, but it was a fun flight, and I got some good additional experience (rust removal). Image below a screenshot from Cloud Ahoy.

Night Currency

Night Currency Flight


On a clear day, you can see, well, all the way out beyond the Farallon Islands

June 24, 6925 nm. And I was in first place on the leader board.

You probably already get the idea that I wanted to win this thing. I decided I wanted to put one more good flight in the bank, to some place fun that I’d not been, but, really, just an up and back with a fuel and pit stop. I cast around for some place about 2½-3-ish hours away. Some place with fuel and a place for a pit stop and some interesting scenery along the way.

Bandon State, Oregon. S05. Past the California North Coast and along the Oregon coast. I hit the sky not long after 8 on Saturday morning, June 25. The flight was very pretty: mostly clear—clear enough to easily see the Farallons, shown in the picture to the above right—some fog around the Arcata area (see the picture below), pretty ocean. Pretty windy for the landing, but nearly aligned with the runway.


Arcata with Fog

I took some time to eat a sandwich, refueled, used the rest room, called for my clearance (cleared as filed, with a void time), and up, up, and away.

As I approached the Bay Area, I decided to cancel IFR and enjoy the view: past Mt. Tam, over the Golden Gate and past the San Francisco Marina, then the normal low-level route from the Bay Bridge past KSFO and to Palo Alto, south and west of the Bayshore Freeway. Shortly after passing the I-280 extension, I was told to hold over the site of the old Candlestick Park. Completing my second 360, San Francisco Tower cleared me to continue. But, that was the biggest excitement of the flight (other than the scenery).

Golden Gate

Marin Headlands, the Golden Gate and bridge, Angel Island, Alcatraz, Mt. Diablo

769 nm for the morning’s fun, bringing the total to 7695 nm.

I logged my flights on Cloud Ahoy (some thought I should save them, and log them after the contest closed: we had a couple of days after the June 26 contest end to log flights), but I decided just to get the flights in.

Sunday, the contest closed. Monday, people logged a few more flights, but not much. And not long after the logging period ended, I get an email message. From Lightspeed Aviation.

I had won the contest!

SF Waterfront

San Francisco Waterfront and Skyline

A new Lightspeed Zulu PFX headset was heading my way. I was excited, and very happy indeed!

I’m writing this in late August and early September. I’ve received the headset and flown a few flights with it. My “old” headset, a Zulu.2, sounds and performs much like the first Lightspeed ANR headset I used, a Zulu. The PFX sounds very different from the Zulu.2. The noise reduction is much better, more complete. The noise reduction, in some ways, feels different.

I’m looking forward to taking the PFX up into the mid-20s.

Look for a pilot report some time in the next few weeks.

Firearms, Laws, Philosophy, and Leadership

“I’m the NRA, and I vote”—for sane, reasonable, rational control of private firearms purchase and ownership.

I’ve been a target shooter for over forty-five years. For about a dozen of those years I competed seriously, in and after college, including at the U.S. national championships and the Olympic tryouts. I’ve been coached by multi-time Olympic and World Champions. I won a half-dozen state shooting championships in three different states. I coached and taught others to shoot and to improve their shooting. For me, “gun control” means improving my ability to hit as close to the center of the paper target’s concentric rings as I can, more and more consistently.

I was in my early teens when I got my first target rifle, a .22 cal. Anschutz Model 64. Later in my teens, I became a life member of the U.S. governing body for the competitive shooting sports, the National Rifle Association. Among the NRA’s primary missions then were the promotion of competitive shooting, preservation of and continued access to open lands conducive to enjoyable and safe hunting, and firearm safety. Having come to enjoy the outdoors, thanks in large part to Scouting, I strongly supported those three missions.

Something has happened in the intervening years.

The NRA’s mission has been perverted.

Firearm safety? Where is there the promotion of firearm safety in advocating the arming of elementary school staff?

Firearm safety? Where is there the promotion of firearm safety in the insistence of allowing private ownership of magazines capable of holding 30, 40, 100 rounds of ammunition?

After the murders of children and teachers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012, the NRA had the perfect opportunity to show national leadership on the political stage. After those murders, more than any others in many years at that time, the call for change was broad, deep, and loud. After those murders, the NRA could have taken the lead and said, “It’s more than enough: it’s too much. Something must change. We must change. We, the people in the United States, must change how we think and how we talk and how we listen about private firearms ownership. We must change what we see on screen, what we glorify, what we promote, away from ever more realistic, ever more frequent depiction of violence—especially with firearms.”

Instead, only a few weeks after those murders, the NRA endorsed a new first-person shooter video game—a game that inures its players to using violence. Instead, the NRA declared that we should deploy armed guards in our schools. Instead, the NRA’s leadership dug in its collective heels and vehemently opposed any meaningful change in our discourse, our country’s laws, and even our psyche.

The dialogue must change. The tenor of the discourse must change.

It’s not that the most recent 102 more victims—49 more dead, 53 more wounded at Pulse nightclub in Orlando—were young. It’s not that the most recent 102 more victims were part of a specific community, the Latino community. It’s not that the most recent 102 more victims were part of another specific community, the LGBTQ community. It’s that the most recent 102 more victims were people: forty-nine more people who died and fifty-three more people who were wounded by a lunatic. A lunatic who used a gun.

I don’t care whether the gun was legal in Florida or not. I don’t care whether the configuration of the rifle was legal or not. I don’t care whether the murderer possessed that firearm legally or not. After all, the murderer didn’t care. Neither did the victims—or the families and friends and colleagues and communities who survive them and mourn them, or those recovering from their injuries and the trauma of the attack.

How we talk about gun violence in this country must change. How we talk about any violence in this country must change.

How should it change?

Stop glorifying violence.

Start passing and implementing further reasonable controls on private firearm ownership. Unlike what perhaps the NRA would like us to believe, there are already restrictions on private firearm ownership in the U.S. Those can be extended without impeding hunting or competition (except competitions that focus solely on those firearms). There are already restrictions on some people’s ownership of firearms in general. In fact, Franklin Orth, who was NRA Executive Vice-President during the Congressional debate on the Gun Control Act of 1968, supported a ban on mail-order sales, stating, “We do not think that any sane American, who calls himself an American, can object to placing into this bill the instrument which killed the president of the United States.” (Lee Harvey Oswald purchased the rifle he used to murder President Kennedy by mail—legally, at the time—and one of the provisions of GCA 68 banned mail-order firearms purchases.)

I think we could make similar statements about many of the firearms used in large-scale multi-victim murders.

GCA 68 has not been ruled unconstitutional. The Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, also known as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, is no longer law not because it was unconstitutional, but because of a ten-year sunset clause and Congress’s unwillingness to renew the law in 2004. (In 2004, the Republican Party held a majority in the Senate and in the House, and George W. Bush, a Republican, was president.)

Laws will not change the behavior of those who break them. It is already illegal to murder someone. A law prohibiting possession of an instrument of that murder is just one more law.

Why pass more laws, then?

Because it will begin the change we need. Legislation can be a continuing catalyst to changing the way we talk about violence and violent crime in the United States. Legislation will not be a short-term fix: there are no short-term fixes, and that’s a big part of the problem. The United States, as a nation, has a short attention span. The United States, as a nation, would rather see a quick fix that’s minimally effective than a long-term fix that actually works. But, there is no quick fix for this problem. Fixing this problem will take a generation.

A generation.

Just because we cannot fully resolve the problem does not free us from beginning the work.

Does the Second Amendment guarantee the right to private firearm ownership? The United States Supreme Court has said it does (in District of Columbia v. Heller—a split decision of 5-4). How broadly can “…shall not be infringed” be interpreted? Not beyond the limits of GCA 68. Within these bounds lies the area for discussion. Within these bounds—not at the one pole of complete prohibition of firearm ownership and confiscation of all private firearms, nor at the other pole of utterly unfettered private access to all firearms of any type—lies the area about which we must talk and listen, listen and talk.

The conversation must move from one of sides and camps and entrenchment to one of compromise. Compromise and cooperation are the only ways that we can solve this problem. Any other route will, at best, result in a small and short-term change instead of a lasting change. Along the way, the conversation must, especially, focus on our national psyche, on changing our society from one which promotes and glorifies violence to one which does not.

“I’m the NRA, and I vote”—for sane, reasonable, rational control of private firearms purchase and ownership, for sane discussion, for listening, for compromising, for reaching a viable and workable middle ground, for changing the way we talk and listen, for beginning to change our national psyche.

The Landing

Piccard (Bertrand, not Jean-Luc) came in from the west. It looked like he was setting up for a right downwind runway 14R at Moffett (KNUQ). I was a bit disappointed. Though it was certainly cool to see Solar Impulse 2 flying, it was dark (about 11:30 pm), and all I could really see where SI2’s lights—and I’d been hoping to be right under the final approach path. But, with a 14 landing, I be looking all the way down a long runway to see the landing.

Solar Impulse 2 was on its way to Moffett Federal Airfield, with Bertrand Piccard flying, was nearing completion of a truly epic leg on an epic journey. The journey: fly around the world in an airplane completely powered by electricity, generated by 17,000 solar cells atop (mostly) the wings, stored in on-board batteries to last the night (when coupled with slowly gliding down from over 25,000′). The leg: Hawai’i-California.


Single pilot.

60 hours.

I started moving to another part of the fence between us, on the sidewalk of the frontage road that runs between the US-101 highway and the light rail tracks the run past the approach end of Moffett’s runways 32, to find what I hoped would be a good vantage from which to watch the landing across the airfield. As I looked for SI2, turning base-to-final or on final approach, I saw that Piccard was not landing on either of the runways 14: he was heading for the right downwind runways 32—probably 32R, since it’s the longer, and has an ILS for additional guidance.

I got excited, and headed back to where I’d been, or near there. Solar Impulse 2 was going to fly right past me—past us, the dozens of people congregated along the frontage road—on short final!

SI2 is a remarkable airplane. It’s among the ultimate form-follows-function craft, designed with one purpose in mind: to fly for as long as a pilot can fly, using no fossil fuels, powered only by electricity generated from photovoltaic cells.

  • Wingspan: 71.9 meters (236 feet), bigger than a 747-400’s wingspan by over 7 meters, and 6½ times bigger than my Mooney’s.
  • Length: 22.4 meters (73.5 feet), just shy of three times longer than my Mooney.
  • Energy source: 17,238 PV cells, atop the wings, fuselage, and tailplane, able to generate 66 kW.
  • Energy storage: 4 batteries, each with a capacity of 41 kWh.
  • Maximum weight: 2,300 kg (5,100 pounds)
  • Power: 4 electric motors, each producing 13 kW (17.4 HP), driving propellers 4 meters in diameter.

The cockpit’s unpressurized, and unheated, to save weight. At altitude Piccard wears an oxygen mask and uses a delivery system like the one we have in the Mooney (pulse-demand, from Mountain High): it allows for much longer oxygen duration from a given volume, and also dehydrates the user much less (compared with conventional continuous-delivery systems).

The general pattern with SI2 is to take off with fully charged batteries, during the day, then slowly climb to 7,500-8,500 meters (about 25,000-28,000 feet), keeping the batteries charged. As the sun sets and the electric generation wanes, manage the power output of the motors, and the electricity needs, and slowly descend, ending up between about 1,000 and 1,500 meters (3,000-5,000 feet) as the sun rises and the PV cells begin to generate electricity again. Climb slowly and charge the batteries, and repeat as needed.

I started to get the camera ready as Piccard flew right downwind. With a ground speed of about 30 knots and the leading edges of the wings sporting 16 LED landing lights, it was very easy. Piccard completed his base leg, and turned final. I took a few pictures.

By tracking SI2’s ground track relative to me, I could tell Piccard was lining up with the runway a bit to my right (as I was facing away from the runways, watching SI2). I moved to position myself better.

It was almost eerie as Piccard flew Solar Impulse 2 just a few dozen meters, perhaps a hundred feet, above my head. I could barely hear any noise from the props as the slowly turned and Piccard descended. Passing us, above the frontage road, he turned off the two outboard motors, I expect so he’d have less thrust to contend with as SI2 entered ground effect and the drag lessened.

Then, they were down. 60 hours of flying, non-stop from Hawai’i.

Solar Impulse 2 on short final, runway 32R, Moffett (KNUQ)

Solar Impulse 2 on short final, runway 32R, Moffett (KNUQ)

On Bruckner

Friday evening, I went to the San Francisco Symphony with a good friend. On the program were Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto and Bruckner’s Third Symphony. With my friend on my left, I had a couple of women to my right: it looked to be a woman in her thirties or very early forties, and a woman older, maybe in her late sixties or early seventies, perhaps the younger woman’s mother or aunt. As sometimes happens, the younger woman, who happened to be between the older woman and me, and I struck up a bit of a conversation.

She mentioned she didn’t really know Bruckner. I commented that, though I’ve enjoyed Bruckner’s music for many years, I had recently learned a new way to approach and appreciate his music, from the “Explore the Symphony” podcast published by the NAC Orchestra of Canada. (In that podcast Marjolaine Fournier and Jean-Jacques van Vlasselaer discuss the composer and piece featured in an upcoming concert.) The episode in question was on Bruckner’s Ninth, but much of the time, van Vlasselaer and Fournier discussed the composer, and Bruckner’s work in general. Regarding Bruckner’s music, as the synopsis of the podcast explains:

Words like “epic” and “timeless” are regularly applied to Bruckner symphonies. They have a pace of their own. But let yourself get in synch with their pulse, and you’ll be richly rewarded.

During the podcast, the notion of that pace was discussed at some length. Van Vlaselaer and Fournier explained that one must be patient with Bruckner, and the conductor must understand the necessary patience. The discussed that with Bruckner, it’s as much about the spaces between the notes as about the notes themselves—not about the silences, but about the spaces.

I liken it to differentiating between a theme being built note by note, chord by chord, as opposed to being built measure by measure. Bruckner’s progression are longer than those of most composers, his themes more expansive.

I explained some of this to my seat neighbor, noting especially that one must be patient with Bruckner’s music and let it develop. She likened it to the way one must be with a cat.

That doesn’t feel right, but at the time I couldn’t come up with another analogy that worked. It’s certainly not like a typical dog, eager to please, eager to be with you, wanting your companionship as much as you want its.

Later, well after the concert, it hit me.

Listening to Bruckner is like whipping cream.

With Bruckner, you cannot be a passive listener. You have to go get the music as it comes to you. It will come at its own pace, but once there, you need to go get it—actively.

When I’ve whipped cream by hand, with a whisk, I nearly became discouraged and quit—except I needed the whipped cream for the dessert. I whipped and whipped and whipped—and nothing happened. And I whipped and whipped and whipped some more—and nothing happened. And I whipped and whipped and whipped and whipped and whipped and whipped and whipped some more—and still, nothing happened. So I whipped and whipped and whipped some more.

Voilà! Whipped cream!

Suddenly, when the cream was darn good and ready, it became whipped cream. Almost instantaneous was the transformation.

Such is Bruckner. You cannot be passive. You have to go get it, and go get it, and go get it as it comes to you. And then, almost all at once—yet lasting an hour—it’s there.

After the concert, my neighbor told me she enjoyed the piece. I hoped that my very brief explanation helped her. I, also, enjoyed Blomstedt’s conducting and the orchestra’s playing. There were many smiles in that hall, both among the audience and on stage.

Gear Down—or Not

Glideslope intercept, gear down.

Hmm…the indicator shows the barber pole, not the pretty green gear down indication. The Gear Down annunciator is dark, too. Hmm…this isn’t good.

Move the handle back to the up position, and try again.

Still no joy.

Landing gear circuit breakers? Nope: all look just fine. Okay, let’s try cycling the breakers and trying again.

Same thing. The landing gear just stayed up, in their cozy gear wells.

“Approach, 2FR has a gear problem. Going missed.”

“2FR roger, climb and maintain 4,000, fly the missed approach procedure. Say intentions.”

Darn, darn, darn. Things were looking great on this solo instrument proficiency flight. The clouds were cooperating (i.e., they were there), there were just enough bumps in the clouds to keep me from being bored, I was on centerline and glidepath, airspeed and power were just where I wanted them. This was looking to be a good exercise.

Then, it became an even better exercise.

There was no instructor aboard playing games with me. This wasn’t a simulator. This was the real thing: in the soup, in the bumps, with a bona fide landing gear problem.

“2FR, radar vectors, please, to Palo Alto.”

“Mooney 2FR, are you declaring?”

“2FR, negative at this time.” Why not declare the emergency? It wasn’t yet. I didn’t feel I needed priority treatment. I had a plan: climb, get someplace out of people’s hair (airports aren’t such places, especially when someone else wants to get in), slow below the 140 knot gear extension speed, and go through the checklist for manual gear extension.

“Mooney 2FR, roger, turn left heading 150, climb and maintain 5,000. Proceed direct Woodside when able.”

“2FR, left to 150, 5,000, direct Woodside.”

I made the turn, got the climb going, and got the navigation set up. While leveling off, I decreased the power to stabilize at about 130 knots.

Even if the gear stayed stuck in the wells—certainly possible, but I guessed that to be unlikely, and the manual extension procedure likely to be effective—an intentional gear up landing isn’t a major emergency. Keep your wits about you and you’ll scrape the belly, bend the propeller, and maybe break the engine (at least, the engine will need to be torn down for inspection: engines don’t like going from, say, 800 rpm to 0 rpm when forced to do that by the propeller!). Keep your wits about you, make a good landing, and you might skid around a bit, but you’re not going to cartwheel or do flips or explode into a ball of flaming av gas. You’ll clog the runway for a while until someone can come haul your airplane off the runway, but that’s about it.

Things got a bit busy in here, what with the turn and the climb and the navigation and the leveling off and a frequency change. I realized that some of that might have been eliminated if I’d declared an emergency. Short of that, I could always have told the controller to stand by, or asked for something different, or said “unable.” I wasn’t yet really at task saturation, though, but did recognize that the workload was—momentarily, I hoped—rather high.

With the checklist on the seat beside me, I went through the items.

  1. Airspeed: 140 KIAS or less.
  2. Landing gear actuator circuit breaker: PULL.
  3. Gear switch: DOWN.
  4. Manual extension mechanism: UNLATCH.
  5. Gear extension T-handle: PULL SLOWLY 1-2″ to engage the clutch.
  6. T-handle: PULL AND RETURN 12-20 times, until GEAR DOWN indicators are seen.
  7. Gear down indicators: CHECK.
  8. Manual extension mechanism: STOW.
  9. Landing gear actuator circuit breaker: RESET.

I was glad I had only one interruption here from the controller (a frequency change, just after I’d pulled the circuit breaker). I acknowledged, thanked the controller for her help, and contacted the next controller. That exchange was pretty routine. I returned to the checklist. Sure enough, the gear came down after 16 pulls of that handle. At least, the indicators showed the gear was down, and the airplane flew as if the gear was down. Through this all, I had the autopilot engaged, and I was monitoring it. Good way to shed workload. (I had been hand-flying the approach, for the practice. George [the autopilot] took over after I was established on that 150° heading.)

“Approach, 2FR, landing gear indicates down. I’ll continue to Palo Alto with the gear down.”

“2FR, roger. This will be radar vectors DOCAL” (for the instrument approach to Palo Alto).

“2FR, understand.”

After some maneuvering, “Mooney 2FR is 2 miles from DOCAL, cross DOCAL at 4,500, cleared GPS 31 approach.”

“Mooney 2FR, DOCAL at 4,500, cleared GPS 31 Palo Alto.”

Down the approach I went, no problems. Not long after I broke out beneath the clouds, NorCal Approach told me to contact Palo Alto Tower. I thanked the controller for his assistance, as I had his predecessor in the previous sector.

“Palo Alto Tower, Mooney 2FR, inbound on the GPS 31. Landing gear appears down. I’d like to make a low approach and have you visually check the gear, then come around to land.”

“Mooney 2FR, Palo Alto Tower. That’s approved: cleared low approach, then circle north for landing.”

“2FR, clear low approach, then I’ll fly a normal pattern to land.”

“2FR, approved.”

I flew at 75 knots about 50′ off the runway, and tower reported that the gear appeared down. Doing a go-around from 50′ and 75 knots when already in level flight is pretty straightforward, but still not trivial: I just kept flying the airplane they way I’d been taught, the way I’d trained, the way I’d flown for 30-some years. Except this time, I left the gear down during the climb-out! During that climb-out, tower cleared me to land, informing me I was #1.

Right downwind abeam, where I’d usually lower the gear, I found myself with nothing to do. Well, nothing other than to fly the airplane, and ensure I was ready for the approach—complete with a soft field landing, touching down gently just in case something was wrong with the gear.

Right downwind, 800′, about 120 knots, at the 45° point, I reduced power to 1700 rpm, let the speed decay, then brought in approach flaps (15°). Turn base. Everything looks good, turn final.

Full flaps, retrim. A touch high: speed brakes out. On airspeed, on centerline, on glidepath, slight left crosswind, corrected, aligned with the runway. Speed brakes stowed. On centerline, on glidepath, airspeed looks good, runway alignment good. Flare, keep a touch of power in. Ease down, ease down, a gentle SQUEAK-SQUEAK! Leave everything alone, keep the nose up, nose up, now fly the nose onto the runway. Gentle braking, roll it out to the end.

“Mooney 2FR, turn left on Echo, Ground 125.0 when clear.” The only acknowledge I gave immediately was a click of the mic: I was too busy. Tower could wait. Then, when I’d slowed nicely, still tracking straight and approaching the left turn onto taxiway Echo, “2FR, left on Echo, then to Ground.”

After clearing the runway, I paused a moment, then got the airplane ready to taxi. When I was ready, I called Ground. While taxiing to the hangar, I called, “Ground, 2FR, my thanks to everyone in the cab for your help today.” “2FR, roger, I’ll relay that.”

I’ll call the shop tomorrow and get them to look at the gear. My uneducated guess: a broken micro-switch, broken wire, or dead gear motor.

Thank you, Rick, Ann, Barbara, Heather, and Peter. Your good instruction helped make this a simple thing to bring to successful completion, and helped me fly the best soft-field landing I’d ever flown.