Springfield Chapter Missouri Pilots Association

January 2003

Flying Journal - Sky Spectacles

You never know what will happen when you start studying the sky. Most pilots experience a gradually growing awareness and knowledge of weather and visibility factors as they build time in the air. We traveled to Madison, Wisconsin to visit my daughter, Katy, and bring her back to Springfield for the Holidays. We also visited old friends who had moved to Madison from SMSU. Their daughter had a small telescope, still in the box. We had fun putting it together, while talking about things to see in the sky.

We also had dinner with some new friends who had assisted my daughter when she was shopping to buy a telescope for me last year. Mike actually has his own observatory, complete with dome and ten-inch telescope (that's diameter of the lens-it was about six feet long!). Sadly, it was cloudy, so we couldn't try it out but those two telescope encounters really got me excited about my new hobby-again.

Jupiter and Saturn are both easily visible high in the sky this month. We got home the night before the big Christmas Eve snowstorm. I couldn't resist putting my telescope out. There were thin low clouds, but the moon was blasting through. A bright star shone through occasional wisps of cloud just below the moon. I focused on that star. I was pleased to see that it was not the twinkling point of a distant sun, but actually a disc, a small circle, therefore a planet. Then I could see at least three tiny moons hovering near it. I switched to a more powerful eyepiece, and focused carefully. The air cleared momentarily and I realized I was seeing two large bands of lighter color encircling that distant planet-Jupiter with three of its many moons.

As pilots we learn to be aware of the visibility of the atmosphere and I have learned that astronomers talk about the quality of "the seeing"-how turbulent the air is-that primarily determines how much one sees through a telescope on any given night.

Then I aimed at the moon. It was just past full and showing the 3-D effect of the shadows of mountains and craters along the light-dark border (the terminator!). The extra effects of the blowing mist gave an otherworldly aura. Another night I got some good viewing of Saturn, this winter the closest it gets to earth in its 30-year orbit, its rings slanted towards us for easy viewing.

But while I enjoyed spectacles in the sky, I created a spectacle in the sky myself (some might say I WAS a spectacle myself?) It was certainly a new aviation first for me. After all, how many pilots have actually flown Santa Claus on his appointed rounds?

Christmas shoppers in Buffalo, MO had a strange spectacle in their sky on December 14. The day had dawned clear and bright, a little cold, but a promising sun. I hadn't flown the gyroplane since August. It took a while to get it started. Santa looked a little skeptical, but game. He had to trade his Santa hat for a helmet, but retained the rest of his costume. We got the intercom hooked up. The floats and bands for the Christmas parade were gathering in the staging area just west of the airport. Santa was almost as heavy as me, but with half fuel we were safely below max gross weight and on a cool day we had respectable performance.

The morning wind was still less than 5 knots, so we could have taken off either way, but I chose the long back taxi to Runway 21. The engine had more time to warm up and we would be taking off near the staging area of the parade, for maximum effect. I knew it would be cold, so I decided to cover the parade route quickly, before we froze Santa.

It didn't take five minutes to fly the entire route, then come back on the other side, over the town square. I asked "Santa" how he was doing. He wanted me to circle around for some photos. I figured that was a good sign. After one photo pass, I checked Santa's condition. He almost whooped, he said he was having a GREAT time, so I slowed down a bit, adjusted our path to give the best photo angle and flew the route two more times, Santa alternating waving and taking over 20 pictures. I waved and flew, of course.

He was out of film, and it WAS chilly. As we entered the pattern, we could see Santa's real sleigh waiting at the fairgrounds. We landed smoothly and Santa was PUMPED for the parade. Later I gave some rides and then Roni and Joyce Burns from the Bolivar MPA joined us for lunch.

First Solo: I'd also like to report that my student, Mike Jones, safely and successfully flew his first three solo flights this month in Cherokee 180 N3964R. Congratulations Mike! Well-done, with some crosswind and even a little tailwind for good measure.

Keep exercising your right to fly, safely...


[Copyright 2002 - Earl Holmer]