Friends Who Fly Partial Panel

Aviation for a Friend

For the past few years, my friend Kenny has listened to me tell all manner of tales about flying. Given that he knows how deeply I enjoy flying, Kenny will, at times, look for opportunities where my skills can be of use. Over the years there have been several scenarios discussed wherein aviation might be helpful to Kenny or someone he knows.  I flew a mutual friend of ours to a nearby airport one evening; I wrote about that in,“The Plane Was Made To Be Airborne.”

Kenny is one of the busiest people I’ve ever met. He had a scheduling conflict which put him in danger of missing a family member’s wedding. Harken the aero plane! Upon hearing of his predicament, I planned a flight to see what would be involved in the two hour journey.  Initially, it appeared the weather on the way down would be pretty nice VFR. We’d stay overnight and promptly return the following dayKenny is a busy dude, and doesn’t loiter, dawdle or frolic. Well, he may frolic a bit. I’m sure he’ll let me know. The return flight home, although nice, would be IFR for the first part of the flight.

The Homebuilt, the Puking — Oh the Puking

Homebuilt Airplane and Puking

There was one little issue regarding the trip and it wasn’t weather related. This anomaly involved Kenny’s late uncle, Dale Milford, a WWII aviator, later a meteorologist, and a congressman. He even built his own plane. It’s registered as the Milford Buckaroo.

How in the great big earth could that affect our trip? Well, it involves a sick sac and that Buckaroo. When Kenny was nine, his Uncle Dale took him flying in that plane. What he remembers most is the wild and persistent vomiting. If you’ve ever experienced “wild and persistent vomiting,” it isn’t something you want to experience again — ever. According to Kenny, this involved multiple episodes of sickenss in the air and even after landing. Oh, and one small detail — Kenny hadn’t flown in a small plane since. That was 40 years ago. 

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Dale Milford and his Buckaroo

Weather Looks Great — We Fly

True to the forecast, weather for the flight down was VFR, with some perfectly pretty afternoon cumulus, as if they’d been placed in the sky simply for aesthetics.

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Kenny was doing just fine at liftoff and en route, but he got a little queasy as we turned right downwind for runway 17 at 5C1. (I have a habit of flying a pretty tight pattern at non-towered fields) Oops! He was okay though, there’d be no sick sack action. Oh, and for some reflection about traffic pattern size, this is my favorite:

courtesy of AVweb

After securing the plane at Boerne Stage Field, a brief stop at the FBO yielded a rental car for overnight. After an attempt at leaving the field, we asked a couple guys standing by a Luscombe how to get to the road. As it turned out, the taxiway doubles as the roadway on and off the private airfield. Sidebar: These days I find driving a great deal more frustrating than flying. 

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A Quintessential Texas Honkytonk

After a nice outdoor wedding ceremony, we retreated to John T. Floore’s Country Store for the reception. I highly recommend a visit if you’d like to experience a quintessential Texas honky-tonk. Our party was based in the outdoor area where the mood was appropriately garnished with a beautiful moon and that ever-present Texas Hill Country breeze. That really feels like Texas.   

and Now… Flying Partial Panel with Friends

What a difference a day makes. The next morning, Kenny and I met his cousin and her husband breakfast — my mind very much on the weather and our ensuing departure.  The sky was heavy with rain clouds. By the time we reached our breakfast destination, the rain was tremendous. After a hearty breakfast, we visited and I checked the weather. Despite the earlier downpour, a decent opening for an 11a.m. departure looked promising.  Finally a break in the conversation caused Kenny to question the time. . . he looked at me, curious about the weather. The guy who doesn’t loiter, dawdle, or frolic had lost all track of time. I told him we needed to leave soon to make the break in the heavy rain.  

We returned the rental car to the Boerne State FBO, I pre-flighted, and untied the plane. A small shower was making it’s way onto the south end of the field as we boarded. We waited for the shower to move past with doors open, staying cool and dry beneath the shelter of the high-wing Cessna.  I had filed an IFR flight plan in the hotel room that morning, so as the rain subsided, I called Flight Service who transferred my call to San Antonio Center. On the other end of the phone, it sounded like a mad house when the controller answered. He hesitated, his breathing a bit elevated as he yelled across the room to someone about my plans; then he gave me a clearance and void time pretty much matching what I had expected.

We cranked, taxied, verified all instruments and systems were operating properly.  After run-up, I declared our intentions on the CTAF and began a roll from the taxiway to runway 17. With a smooth full-forward on the throttle we were down the runway and off in a flash. In a climbing left turn toward our first fix, a 737 was just above and ahead making a turn onto the ILS at San Antonio International. Almost as soon I saw the passenger jet, San Antonio approach was calling us out to each other. Everything was working well as we settled onto our assigned heading in radar contact approaching the cloud bottoms. I did  have a momentary thought that Kenny might not adjust well to flying in the clouds. I transitioned to instruments in anticipation of the coming opacity. In moments, we were engulfed in the sweeping sheets of atmospheric obscuration. 

Into the Clouds

I had filed for 5000 feet and we leveled off there, sliding through broken buildups; the air was relatively smooth. I asked Kenny how he was doing, as he’d never been inside a cloud in a small plane before. He feigned contentment, but I sensed he might be feeling a little unsure of this unique environment.

Water rolled over the windshield as I verified our heading — heading indicator precession in this plane had always been a bit ample; I verified the compass reading and adjusted the heading indicator accordingly. There seemed to be something a little askew. Although it was pretty smooth air, I seemed to be having to chase the heading a little more than I thought normal. Onward we flew and after several passes around the instrument scan, I peeked over at the engine instruments.

Yikes! The vacuum needle lay fully dead.

Wait, what?!

Partial panelin actual!

During instrument training, partial panel is presented as an almost insurmountable monster. The great darkness. I’m not sure that’s all that wise.

My gut tightened and I switched my scan to eliminate the artificial horizon and heading indicator. Adrenaline punctuated my resolve to embody the technique I’d practiced for this very situation. I knew the bottom of clouds was about a thousand feet below, maybe less; I asked for 4000 and ATC immediately obliged.

As I dug inside my kneeboard for my inop stickers, the artificial horizon began to slide down — level but down. Several minutes passed before it finally slumped over to the left, as if in drunken defeat. At the new altitude, although bumpy, we were beneath the clouds. After about 30 more minutes we left the clouds and rain behind and entered solid VFR. Although the scenario wasn’t all that serious given the high ceiling, my focus was trying to help Kenny have an enjoyable aviation experience. Flying partial panel with a friend didn’t exactly match my intentions.

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Can you say whiskey compass?

Oh, About that Puking Thing

When we neared our home airport and lowered into the bumpier afternoon thermals, Kenny became a little queasy.  This was exacerbated by the delay of our approach, due to a commuter flight on a straight-in to a different runway.  We’d almost made the round trip without any “wild and persistent vomiting.” However, as we bounced along on an extended downwind, Kenny reached for the sick sack. 

Had we really made it this far to simply add another vomiting milestone to his experience with General Aviation. Would he really be my first passenger to get sick?

I did everything I could to soften the jolts. I also pointed out the runway.

“So close,” I said.

Finally, we were cleared to turn final and headed for the pavement and landed — the sick sack unused. Whew! I could proudly count the addition of a new chapter in Kenny’s book of aviation experiences and a few for my own. More importantly, it was a safe flight, I met some nice folks, and we had a large time. Thankfully, Kenny didn’t become my first sick passenger — and there was little to no frolicing. 

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