Pressure To Go

This story about the Challenger disaster can be applied to the go, no go decision making process pilots face every time they fly. When your aircraft is in good shape and it’s a bluebird day, no clouds, no weather, and there’s no place in particular you need to go, there’s no pressure. Fly or don’t, who cares? There are no consequences either way. But the decision gets more difficult when not going has serious ramifications, missing a family event, being late for work, costing the client or your employer lots of money, or being stuck for days in some crappy airport while your wife questions your career in aviation. I know, I know, you should never let outside forces influence your safety of flight decision. Well, welcome to the real world, especially when flying small planes over big oceans. If you wait for perfect conditions you’ll never go. Sorry, but it’s the nature of the beast.

30 Years After Explosion, Challenger Engineer Still Blames Himself

Back To Survival Mode, The PLB

Sorry for interrupting my long and boring dissertation on survival with an even longer one about my vacation but it’s over and done with now so let’s get back to business shall we?

When we last left Charles (our poor unlucky pilot) he was happily bobbing along in the North Atlantic without a care in the world. He didn’t lose his DO NOT LOSE! bag containing his PLB (personal locator beacon) Sat. phone and hand held aviation radio. Time for ET to call home.

First things first, turn on the PLB to let the everyone i.e. search and rescue forces, (SAR) know where you are and that you would like a ride, please and thank you. The PLB I carry is the ResQlink by Artex.


     It’s a simple device to use. Just extend the antenna, push the power button and it’s on. The PLB transmits a powerful 406 MHz distress signal that will be picked up by satellites anywhere in the world, even the poles. It also transmits on 121.5 that SAR can use to home in on you. One of the great features of a PLB is that imbedded in the distress signal is your current GPS location. Kind of handy when you’re bobbing around in the middle of the ocean. The damn thing even has a strobe light on it to help SAR find you at night. Pretty cool. But nothing’s perfect. The PLB does have a few drawbacks when you’re in a life raft. Number one is turning it on because the power button is tiny. There is no way you’re going activate the unit wearing any kind of gloves let alone the thick neoprene ones integrated in a survival suit. That means you have to take a glove off, if your suit has removable gloves, or pull an entire arm out if it doesn’t. I have thought about cutting a slit in the wrist of the suit to allow me to get my hand out without taking my entire arm out but that would compromise the integrity of the suit. Haven’t decided on that one yet. While I was writing this  I had a thought (yes that happens every once in a while) “Could I possibly turn the unit on with my teeth?” After a little experimenting the I concluded that the answer is, maybe. Better than no, I guess. But that’s not the biggest problem when it comes to using a PLB in a life raft. The manual says that in order for the unit to work the antenna needs to be held vertically and needs a clear view of the sky. Not under trees, not shielded by your body, not underwater, and not inside your clothes. And there’s the problem because to survive in a raft in the North Atlantic you need be in one with a cover and the cover is going to block the signal. Bummer.

So class, today’s problem to you need to overcome is how to give the PLB’s antenna a clear view of the sky while sitting in a raft with a cover. Oh I forgot to mention not only does the antenna need to have a clear view but the GPS does too. (See the little square marked “GPS Give clear view if the sky”? That thing. So just sticking the beacon antenna out of the raft won’t work.

1.  Leave the cover down or the door open. Sure, that would work but remember you’re out as sea and waiting for a boat to come and get you. This is going to take a really long time and if you leave the cover down or the door open you will freeze to death before help arrives, that is if you don’t get washed overboard first. It’s an ocean not a lake. So that’s not gonna work.

2.  Just open the door enough to stick you hand out. That way you can hold the PLB in your hand clear of the cover and not let too much cold air and water inside the raft. This would be better than option 1. but it would still require you to have an open hole in the raft cover and if you’re in rough seas it might let a lot of cold water inside. I also think you’re hand and arm would get pretty damn cold after 8, 10, 24 hours outside. If it’s wintertime you’d probably lose the hand to frostbite andI like my hand thank you very much.

3.  Attach a line to the PLB and attach it to the outside of the raft. Now we’re talking! Because once you get it tied to the raft you can zip up and stay dry and warm inside. Snug as a bug. You can wrap up in any space blankets or cheap rain ponchos to keep warm, I have both in my survival kit, have both hands free to operate the Sat. phone or radio, hang onto the sides of the raft if things get rough, play patty cake with yourself to pass the time, anything. Another benefit to having the PLB tied to the outside of the raft is that the strobe light on it would always be exposed possibly helping SAR locate you if you happen to be asleep or unconscious when they arrive. Unfortunately every plan has it’s drawbacks. The first problem would be attaching a line to the PLB itself. Mine has two thin plastic loops on the top and bottom that have a Velcro strap threaded through them. these would make good attachment points but they seem a little flimsy and when plastic gets cold it gets brittle. Hate the have them break off in heavy seas and lose the unit. Cause that would be bad. Unfortunately those loops are the only thing you could use. The rest of the unit is round and smooth. The next problem would be actually tying the PLB to the side of the raft. Where are you going to tie it to? Who knows? You can’t practice on land because the raft is packed in its container and there’s no way of knowing what tie down or ropes you could use until you’re actually in the drink. Oh, and good luck tying knots with your hands inside the survival suit gloves. Will you have to strip to the waist and lean out the open door to try and get that job done? Might get just a bit cold and damp doing that. And remember if you do a shitty job you stand a pretty good chance of losing the unit when the first big wave slams into the side of the raft. Again, bad.

4.  Tie a line onto the PLB, stick the unit outside through the door, zip the door back up and hold the PLB tight against door by pulling on the line or tying it to something inside the raft. The more I think about it, this method seems like the best one so far. You could have the line already attached before you even leave home, probably a good idea no matter what method you choose, then once you get inside the raft just pull the unit out, turn it on, or turn it on just before ditching, then just poke it through the door and voila! If you start to get pounded by really heavy seas you can easily bring it back inside for safety or to check the line. It would also be easy to bring it back inside in case rescue is taking a long time and you want to turn the unit off in order to save the battery.

I can’t think of any other way of giving the unit a clear view of the sky right now. Any of you have any other ideas?

Finish Line

Well that was a long one! (That’s what she said) We finally dragged our sorry numb rear ends back to Wisconsin and man are my arms tired! Bruddddmp! OK, that doesn’t work when you drive but you get the idea.  Final tally: 15 days,  11 States,  7 National parks,  8 beers (estimated)  3 books on tape, (Fire Starter, Deloris Claiborne and Cujo, we were on a Stephen King bender),   4914 miles driven,  87 hours on the road. It was an amazing trip made better by the fact that we had no real destination or time table, just a vague goal of camping in Death Valley and skiing in Utah (both accomplished) I’d always wanted to just hit he road, drive as long as I wanted each day with no pressure to push it, take detours based on recommendations from the locals, and just enjoy the freedom of the road.

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 9.15.36 AM

And now for the event you’ve all been waiting for THE PARKIES! Yes, I know you haven’t been waiting for this at all but I have so there you go. The PARKIES is the once in a lifetime, fake awards I made up to honor the best National Park Cathy and I visited on our road trip, it was a long drive through Nebraska and I was bored. So, without further ado and in no particular order the nominees are:

  Arches National Park  

IMG_9847Canyonlands National ParkDSC_0089

Bryce Canyon IMG_9942

Capital Reef cap


Las Vegas (Not a National Park, but it should be, or maybe a zoo)IMG_9973

Death Valley

IMG_9976Grand Canyon


And the winner is…………………………….ZION NATIONAL PARK!!!!!!!!!!


Tank you all for all for attending. It’s been a great event despite the protesters protesting the fact that no national parks east of the Mississippi were nominated. The #flatparksmatter movement has vowed to boycott next year’s awards show as well unless the nomination process is more diverse. I wouldn’t hold my breath.



Are we There yet?

Back in radio contact with the latest trip report. After leaving Sin City Team Road trip headed west into the Valley Of Death. (Into the Valley Of Death rode the three hundred?) Playing the role of boring tourists from wisconsin we first hit the Devil’s golf course, Bad Water, Devil’s corn Field, and Stove Pipe Wells. These minor distractions were minorly? distracting but were not, much to Cathy’s dismay, interesting enough to keep me from taking our, not at all 4×4, Ford Edge 12 miles up a rough dirt road into Marble Canyon to do what I’ve been trying to do for the last 10 years. Winter camp overnight in Death Valley.

Why has it taken me ten years to accomplish this seemingly minor goal you might ask? Because every year since the kids were too old to go to Disney World on Spring Break I’ve been trying to find someplace else warm to take the family. Someplace that you can drive to. Why someplace that you can drive to? Because it would be cheap. And I’m a Dad. Hence cheap. But, as you can imagine, trying to sell the wonderful wonders of camping in the beautiful barren wonderfully wonderful desert wasteland, excitingly called Death Valley, was a tough sell to two teenagers, and a not really into camping wife. (kind of got lost there) So I was forced part with many of my hard earned shekels (I’m Irish and that’s almost like being Scottish) and take the family to warn tropical islands until they had the good sense to move out and leave poor Cathy alone with me and my crazy ideas of what’s fun.

I drove our poor city dwelling not Jeep as far into the rough rocky canyon as I dared, and as far as Cathy would let me, (the high clearance of my Suburban would have definitely come in handy) found a suitable site for which to make camp and set up my trusty Kelty tent on a big flat rock. After that I cooked us up two, surprisingly good tasting, dehydrated meals opened a good box of red wine and enjoyed the total silence you can only find in the high desert. Finally made it!!




The next morning we got up, brewed some coffee, climbed small mountain, had some oatmeal then packed up camp. Cathy was surprised that she hadn’t frozen in the night, fallen down a abandoned mine shaft, or been eaten by bears but she wasn’t taking any chances. While we were packing up the car I heard a roaring sound that is unmistakeable. FIGHTERS! Looking up I was treated to the sight of three F-16s hauling the mail and dragging thick contrails behind them. This was the start of a fantastic day of jet watching. It was pretty amazing but it did make appreciating the sights of Death Valley difficult because every time Cathy was pointing out some natural wonder to me I was staring at the sky watching two F-15s claw at each other or a giant fur ball being painted in the sky as the fighters looped and dove over the desert.


I did manage to drive the 28 mile Titus? Canyon road that took us through some pretty rough roads, past two ghost towns, abandoned mines, and finally a tight squeeze before spitting us out.


After that it was time to beat feet and head east for home, you can’t stay on vacation forever after all. Plus we had about 30 some hours of driving to look forward to. I hope we brought enough books on tape.

Vegas Baby!

I’d love to give you all a complete report of our wild, crazy, decadent, out of control, party till you puke, up all night, mad cap, wild, (Oops, I said wild already) zany, call the cop, hock your wedding, night in Las Vegas but you know the whole what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas thing. It’s a state law I think. I will tell you that I was up over 375 at one point and instead of listening to my wife, who told me to cash out at that point, continued to bet and lost the whole shooting patch plus the 120 I started with. OK, I was playing the nickle slots at the time but losing $6.00 still hurt. Guess I’ll have to drink cheap beer for the rest of the trip…….Or not. Next stop, Death Valley.


Update from The Road

Skiing in Utah was fantastic, fresh snow and sore legs. Gotta work on that before my upcoming backcountry ski trip.


The Apres Ski scene was fun too. Our hosts taught us a new card game called “Asshole” which consists mainly of drinking. Before heading on to our next adventure we went to Pete’s condo to relieve him of some of his excess wine. while we were there I couldn’t help but notice a few of his new knick knacks he had laying around.


Oh, did I mention that Pete won the gold in the Reno air races again this year? Pete was flying Cory’s de Havilland Vampire and managed to squeak out victory in-spite of some major problems. Cory acquired this plane when he bought the Ogden jet Center. the plane hadn’t flown for many years so you can imagine how much work went into getting it ready to race in the open jet class in Reno. They worked on this old jet for over 2 years and on the day they had to show up for race inspection they couldn’t get the engine to light off. This was a major problem because if they couldn’t get the plane to Reno from Ogden they would be disqualified. They finally got the jet started on their very last try and pete raced full at throttle to make it to Reno just in time. When Pete flew the first qualifying heat the jet performed poorly and they only placed third. They couldn’t figure it out. The Vampire should have been much faster than that. They were left scratching their heads until on of their friends showed them a picture he’d taken  of the Vampire in  flight. When they looked closely they noticed that one of the main gear doors was hanging down just a little bit. They fixed the problem and placed first on the next qualifying heat.

Race day came and Pete was doing great. He was in first place with only two laps to go when over his headset he heard a scratchy call “Speed Speed Speed!” Pete didn’t hear anything else over the radio but took the call from his crew chief to mean that he was in danger of breaking the course speed limit. Pete backed off the power a little bit and tried to call his crew chief to confirm but got no response. He did, however, see the number two jet pass him. That was all it took. Pete punched it and with just half a lap left regained the lead and crossed the finish line just half a plane length ahead.

Vampire                         Yes, that is R2D2 in the back of the number five L39

So to the victor belong the spoils. when you win gold at Reno Breitling makes you a brand new watch especially for you.

IMG_9808                   Now I know what I want for Christmas next year.


IMG_9813            He also got this pretty cool coin from the Breitling race team.


Hanging out with two great pilots like Pete and Cory is a lot of fun, a little hard on the old liver maybe, but still a lot of fun. But Cathy and I still have a lot of adventuring to do it’s off to Moab UT for to see the sights. Stay tuned!

Road Trip!

Seeing that we have a little time to kill before skydiving season starts again I’m taking a road trip with she who must be obeyed, the better half, the o’l ball and chain. (No, she doesn’t read very many of my posts) We left on Monday and hard charged all the way out to Ogden Utah to spend a few days skiing with my buddies Cory and Pete, Yes that Cory and Pete from the Discovery show “Dangerous Flights” Neither one of them is quite as big of a TV star as I am but what ya gonna do? The plan, such as it is, is to head to sin city, Las vegas for a couple of days and then for the big goal of the trip, camping in Death Valley! That is if I can talk Cathy into sleeping in a tent in the desert, in the winter…..might be a tough sell. I’ll be giving you sporadic progress reports along the way but don’t count on too much.

KR-Super 2

Took a break from the daily grind Monday and went over to my parent’s house to help dear old dad work on the airplane he’s building. “What daily grind Kerry? You don’t hardly work at all in the winter.” Anyway, Dad’s building a KR-Super 2, The KR Super2 is an air cooled Corvair engine powered, all composite, two seat experimental aircraft modeled after the Rand Robinson KR2S.kr2

He’s been working on it for about three years and the finish line is in sight. OK, maybe it’s not in sight but at least it’s finally in the same time zone. We worked on the engine mount, trim tab wiring, and mounting the position lights. Notice I said “worked on” not finished. He’s getting ready to put the wings on and assemble the engine so hopefully we can get that thing in the air sometime this decade year. All three of us, me, Dad, and Connor, are really looking forward to getting the project done and putting a lot of hours in it but I don’t think anybody is looking forward to the plane getting done more than my mother because once the Super 2 is airworthy and sitting in a hanger, the garage, rec room, pool table, backyard, den, laundry room, and dining room will finally aircraft parts free, mostly.