Up in the Air Again, and Down

Another entry in the Mad Jubilado series.

I had not flown in almost four years. I recalled retired folks telling me that when I retire I would find myself with too much to do. I didn’t pay much attention. Not having to work sounded like not having much to do at all. Well, they were right. It’s hard to find time to do everything you want to do if you are interested in everything and have the time to choose more than time allows.

You Can’t Do Everything, but You can Try

I’ have nearly completed final revisions for my book, “At the Edge of Illusion.” Writing does take a lot of time. I had enjoyed the time I spent writing a blog, Diary of a Mad Jubilado, on aparallelworld.org, a site designed by Alan Hoffman to bring together environmentally conscientious consumers with vendors of products with small carbon footprints. The site went down after bots and trolls destroyed its fundraising efforts. The techs thought the bots and trolls were Russian. Who knows?

Solar.Wind_ShutterstockWorking with GotSol to bring greater awareness and adoption of renewable energy in New Mexico took a lot of time too; it was personally satisfying work. We established the annual “Renewable Energy Day” at the state capitol. Woodworking takes as much time as you put into it. So does flying. After a couple of cataract surgeries, travel to Scotland, Alaska, and Mexico, and the financial drain they caused, I found I was not flying much. Oh, I’d stopped altogether!

Up in the Air Again

After my flying hiatus,  I completed the annual inspection required by the FAA for all non-commercial aircraft (commercial aircraft must be inspected every 100 hours of flight). I was shocked to realize that it had been four years since I had flown. Flying had been a passion of mine my whole life; how could I have let so much time pass without it? Mad Jubilados can get very busy…and broke, very easily. Flying ain’t cheap.

All pilots must complete a Biennial Flight Review every two years with an FAA authorized examiner. who enters an endorsement in the pilot’s logbook if demonstrated skills in the air are satisfactory. In an hour and a half or so, he signed me off, authorizing me to fly. I did so for several days straight, practicing “slow flight” (the configuration used in approaches to landing), power-on and power-off stalls, and of course, takeoffs and landings. As they say, “Every landing you walk away from is a good one.” My standards are higher than that. With consistent practice, my skills improved rapidly. I felt good.

Down Again, by Diversion

However, I was getting intermittent erratic readings on the fuel pressure indicator. Sometimes, on starting the engine, it would surge into the ‘red,’ as high as 50 psi (normal is 25 or 26), but it usually returned to the normal range. Sometimes it would surge during normal flight. I checked with my mechanic, who had no answer.

Two more flights and the ‘anomaly’ did not reappear. The next day, we packed up and began our flight to a small airstrip in the Gila National Forest for a weekend of “airplane camping” in the beautiful mountain wilderness of southern New Mexico with a dozen or so members of the New Mexico Pilots Association, their families and friends.

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TCS from the air

Within a few miles of our remote destination, I made an abrupt left turn, direct to Truth or Consequences, NM, Municipal Airport, TCS, where I made the emergency landing. The indicated fuel pressure had risen to over 100 psi. I believed that the reading was due to a defective sensor, but in mission-critical situations certainty is a necessity. Maybe the fuel pump was over-pressuring the lines. A blown fuel line in the engine compartment would have produced a fiery end to more than one flight. That was certain.

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The Answer was mounted on the Firewall.

The ‘inadvertent adventure’ continued after a safe landing at TCS, the nearest airport when I determined that an immediate landing was necessary. Finding a mechanic at this small-town airport was not easy, and was followed by several days of technical and organizational struggles, punctuated by a little recreation.

The complexity of resolving logistical problems of parts acquisition in a remote location became very apparent and required a lot of waiting time. I began to think of the relationship of “get-there-itis” to not only aviation safety but to the headlong rush of industrial society to the modernist dream of a utopian destiny fueled by impossibly endless economic growth, a future that will surely disappear in flames before we ever get there.

What To Do Now

Another Entry in the Mad Jubilado series

It is the always-present never-ending question of life. Sure, we have good intentions and sometimes they work out – as planned or not. Yet each moment is contingent. The future never arrives; it’s always out there because we are always here, in the present. We have our To-Do lists; we have our schedules. And we have our big plans. They all represent the near- and long-term future. We even have our spontaneous impulses, if we have held on to our creativity. But what to do now?

The Mad Jubilado has said many times, mostly to himself, “you could be run over by a truck tomorrow, so what are you going to do now?” It is just a reminder that life – and its length as well – is quite unpredictable and can end at any time, without notice, despite our attempts at stability through habits. So, what really is important?

Will contemplating such a core existential dilemma affect what we do now? Maybe, maybe not. What difference does the certainty of indeterminate termination make? We all know that we will not live forever, but at a certain level we push that realization out into the future far enough that it doesn’t bother us so much. That is easy enough when you are young, which is why so many die young due to feeling invincible.

Risk aversion grows with age, more or less. So grows the awareness of the certainty of death in the much nearer future for this seventy-eight year old Mad Jubilado than for the twenty-eight year old brazen base-jumper. To live well may not require taking high risks, but some risks will arise on their own whatever we do. I was about twenty-two when I barely avoided a head-on crash with a truck on a narrow bridge in central Mexico, with what seemed no more than a couple of centimeters between us as we simultaneously crossed that narrow bridge in opposite directions.

That got my attention. I realized that luck as much as skill allowed me to continue to Guadalajara and beyond to the rest of my life. Of course, I attributed survival to my own skill in “threading the needle” between the on-coming truck and the bridge abutment. Yet it shattered part of my youthful sense of being fully in control. We must play the hand we are dealt. Yet, our play may or may not be enough.

Anyone who has lived as long as this Mad Jubilado has seen others of her/his generation die; s/he usually takes notice. That has happened to me several times in recent years. Since about the time I retired, three of my university colleagues in California have died of pancreatic cancer. What is it about LA?

Then, now already three years ago, one of the most joyful life-loving women I have ever met, the wife of a close friend in Santa Fe, died too young after a shared struggle both of them endured for four years. Throughout that battle with cancer, they both lived life as fully as possible – more so than many do living in comfortable risk-averse habituated routine.

Habits can enhance stability, but they contribute little to “the hero’s journey.” It is always an honor to know people who live their lives creatively and fully. Adventure is the essence of the hero’s journey; it always involves struggle and the resulting unbounded joy in living, which should be a lesson for us all. No matter what happens, there is only one thing to do now: live!

Community: Some Fragments Remain

Little old airports near small towns have a story to tell. I have been flying since 1976. For most of that time, I flew mostly in the Southern California area, to and from small and medium sized airports surrounded near or in cities. In 2010, I flew from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to the annual airshow and fly in put on by the Experimental Aircraft Association. It is one of the biggest air meets in the world. My wife and I had decided to camp right on the airfield, where airplane camping was available in designated areas.

I took the back seats out of the Glasair Sportsman II, which I had built in 2008, and loaded it with all our camping gear. We flew from Santa Fe to Oshkosh, Wisconsin – well, almost to Oshkosh – in two legs with a stopover in Council Bluffs, Iowa. As it turned out, many of the aircraft parking areas as well as the camping areas at Oshkosh were flooded. A year’s worth of rain fell in the four or five weeks before the air show. Only about fifty miles out, I picked up the information on the radio, that they had closed the camping areas. I diverted to the nearest small airport, Dodge County, where I found that many other small aircraft had landed, diverted from Oshkosh. There I learned that airplane camping was available at Fond du Lac airport, about twenty miles from Oshkosh. We took off immediately and landed at Fond du Lac, and got one of the last available camping spots at the edge of a taxiway. The air show organizers had arranged a shuttle bus to get campers to Oshkosh each day. That camping experience is a whole other story.

On the flights between New Mexico and Wisconsin, I did my flight planning in part based on my intention to stop at small airports for refueling. I was aware that fuel prices are lower at small rural airports where rents and other costs are cheaper. I had never flown an airplane in the Midwest. When I needed fuel, I landed at more remote airports. I knew that many such small airfields were scattered among the towns and fields of “the nation’s breadbasket.” The main users of these small airfields are farmers and crop-dusters. On the way home, a storm system chased me further southeast, over Missouri, so we stayed in Springfield the first night. On that trip across the rolling green fields of the Midwest at the end of July, I noticed some distinct differences from the urban and suburban airports where I had normally landed for thirty years in California.

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Major Samuel B Cornelius Field Airport, Spearman, Texas.

First, almost no security was evident at these little airports. Even when nobody was around, the little airport office would be open along with the restrooms. At small rural airports, a “courtesy car” is often available on the airport in case a pilot and passengers want to run into town for lunch or for any other reason. It doesn’t matter. The car key is hanging in an obvious spot in the office. An unwritten rule expects guests to top off the gas tank full for the next user. The key code for the gate is always a number that would be obvious to a pilot who had landed there.

Once, at a small airport at Spearman, Texas, to be exact, access to the fuel pumps required a local credit card unless the attendant was present. As I unsuccessfully attempted to use the pump, finally figuring out the problem, a man drove up in his pickup truck and offered the use of his card if the attendant did not return by the time we got back from our lunch in town. “Here’s my business card; just call me if you need it.” It was just the neighborly thing to do. He was a farm implements dealer.

Stepping out into the parking lot at the front door of the “Cowboy Grill,” we saw a massive black cloud formation, a virtual wall, moving in from the East. We did not want to have to stay at the only motel in town that night, a dingy cinder-block structure. So, we rushed back to the airport and took off in a very strong crosswind, heading west. We outran that storm and still had plenty of fuel to reach another town ahead.

We landed at the Dalhart, Texas airport. Dalhart is a larger farming community, and the airport has an FBO (fixed base operator) supplying fuel and aircraft services. Dusk was fast approaching, so we concluded that we had had enough flying for the day. A man came out of the office to greet us and offered us space in a hangar to shelter our aircraft from the approaching storm. We accepted. He then drove us and another couple of people to the motel he recommended in town, and picked us up the next morning when we said we’d be ready to take on the next leg of our flight. He owned the aviation service business on the airport, where we re-fueled for the final leg of our journey.

On our recent aborted camping trip to a small grass-and-gravel airstrip in the middle of the Gila National Forest, we diverted from our planned flight path near our remote destination because I was getting a wildly erratic fuel pressure reading. While I believed that the problem was due to a faulty sensor, we did not want to risk a fiery crash in the trees. We landed at Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, to try to resolve a fuel-pressure problem. “T or C”, as the locals refer to it, has one of those small airports where it is more about people and flying than about economics. When Steve, the gentleman in the airport office, learned of our problem, he offered us the use of the airport courtesy car. “Well, we don’t usually give it to people overnight, but since you’re stranded until you can get your plane fixed, go ahead, that’s what it’s for.”

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Truth or Consequences Airport, New Mexico.

We had the car free of charge, for five nights while we waited for a part to be delivered to the mechanic we had tracked down on the Friday of our arrival, another interesting character with his own story. Steve called me three days into our “inadvertent adventure” to see how we were doing. I expected him to demand the car back. He never mentioned it. I thanked him profusely for its use. He simply said, “that’s what it’s for,” without reference to when we might bring it back. We had to wait until Monday to order the fuel-pressure sensor, known as a “sender,” for overnight shipment.

Overnight took two days; we got to know the community, which had the same small-town America traits we appreciated in those rural airfields and towns in the Midwest. The loss of community is one of the important effects of the endless-growth corporate economy that is destroying all that is good (other than consumer goods, of course) in communities and ecologies around the world.