Flying Journal - Whirly-sticks and Walking Sticks:
Even More Observations About Transportation Technologies!
I seem to be having trouble staying hale and hearty enough for flying. I don't suppose it could have anything to do with my age? I did get my eye infection cleared up and resumed flying. I've had several enjoyable flights with students this month, but some of my most fun flights have been in the gyroplane.
I think I wrote last year about my long flight to bring the gyroplane home from the factory in Paducah, KY. But shortly after we got home, we had some trouble with the pre-rotator "soft-start" system, which applies pre-rotation power to the rotor through an electric starter motor, and didn't fly for the winter and several months beyond.
But everything is now in tip-top shape and it keeps a lonely vigil as the only flying aircraft still hangared in the old maintenance hangar at Air Park South. I'm pleased to announce that the gyroplane's owner, Phil Horras, recently earned his Private Pilot's license for airplanes. Phil completed his training in Big Bear, CA from an instructor who is also a paraplegic. Now we will continue to work on devising hand controls for the gyro.
Meanwhile, I've been trying to fly it once every week or two as I study for my test to add the gyroplane to my instructor certifications. My potential first gyroplane student is Doug Burlison, who has had several rides with me and is beginning to get the feel of the controls.
So it was with great pleasure that Doug and I hauled ol' 63306 out of the hangar, pre-flighted, buckled our four-point belts to hold us in the open cockpit and flew to Bolivar on a lovely Tuesday evening last month. The Bolivar chapter of MPA had invited us to their meeting. We arrived a few minutes early, so we took a couple turns in the pattern, including three touch and goes on one pass down the runway. By then we had attracted a crowd on the ramp wanting to see the contraption and the fools who would fly it.
The crowd gathered around and we talked until the serving line was ready. The meal was excellent, as if home-cooked, and after the meeting we talked about gyros for a few minutes. It looked like a few people might want rides, so we headed back to the gyro on the ramp. I did three demo flights, with a different passenger on each one. I was not flying long enough on each ride to fully charge the battery for the next pre-rotation so I wouldn't have gotten too many more rides in, but the daylight was fading fast anyway.
I had to fly the gyro five hours at night as one requirement for my license and she's equipped with strobes and nav lights, but we don't have a radio yet to turn on runway lights. I knew we'd be cutting it close, but it was even later that I thought, as we departed the pattern at Bolivar just as the sun was setting.
It seemed we had a slight headwind flying to Bolivar, so I expected a little help on the way back, but that seemed a little slow, too. Of course we have all noticed the wind seems to be against us both directions more times than seems fair. At least the air was smooth. I hunkered down a little lower in my seat to get more streamlined behind the windshield. We were at redline, 90 mph indicated, for much of the flight. The golden glow of the twilight was beautiful, but fading rapidly.
The runway lights at Springfield Downtown were starting to twinkle and sparkle in the rapidly falling darkness as we flew over. Of course that was Plan B. If it was too dark to find/see/use the runway in Ozark, we'd just come back to Downtown, tie down the gyro and call for a ride.
I had no trouble finding the airport. The baseball stadium makes a great landmark. The runway was just barely a smudge in the shadow of the surrounding fields, but as we began to slow down on downwind, I knew we'd make it. On short final, I noticed a green glow on the runway on one side, red on the other, brightened every couple seconds by a brighter white flash. I remembered from my earlier night flying that the nav and strobe lights actually cast some useable illumination on a dark runway, and our first trip away for "show and tell" was a success.
I had a few more flights during the month but just when things were going well, my right foot started acting up. My arches are high and shoes never really support my feet well, so I often have small foot pains. But suddenly one morning I could hardly get to my office or the classroom because of the sharp pain from any weight on my foot. X-rays showed no break, but some damage consistent with arthritis or gout!
Anyway, I spent about four days on two crutches, about a week using one crutch, and now Bill Cheek has kindly loaned me a cane he used after his van accident. This is so ironic, since I taught a class in June where we read a group of biographies and autobiographies, of which four were by handicapped individuals. I believe I have also written of my adventures flying to Alaska in a group including two paraplegics.
But as always, there is no substitute for experience. During our travels I had my awareness raised about many issues of wheelchair access, but I hadn't given much thought to access on crutches. It ain't easy either! I hope I never have to spend much time in a wheelchair, but it would be a lot faster down the halls than crutches. The parking lot is a block and a half away and even the handicapped parking spaces are half a block.
How am I getting around? On my trusty bicycle, where else? I use bunji cords to attach my crutch or cane to a large backpack, then ride my bike, just putting the heel of my "bad" foot (oops, Bill said the physical therapist wouldn't let him call it his "bad leg-he was supposed to call it his "affected leg." Ha! That's some rhetoric for you!) Anyway, I just let my "affected foot" ride along on the right pedal while my "good foot" does all the work with the left pedal and toe clip. I know sometimes I'm quite a sight (of course that rarely stops me) but it is the only practical way. I lock my bike right outside the door nearest the elevator and I'm back at work.
As those of you who have been on crutches for a while can testify, it seems to tire you out so much faster. It was all I could do to get through my classes. But even worse than the pain and fatigue are the questions. Everyone wants to know what happened, as if it had to be some kind of incident. It would be easier to just say, "Oh, just a little airplane wreck." They'd believe me if I said I fell off my bike. Actually, I answered one student honestly-What happened? I was born in 1951, that's what happened!
But now I'm just on the crutch, had three nice flights this past weekend, including the gyro again, and plan to have some custom orthotics made for my shoes next week. It has been quite a summer to ponder the different modes of transportation.
However You Do it, Transport Yourselves Safely!
[Copyright 2001 - Earl Holmer]
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