Where is Noah When you need him?

The Caravan is sick, has a cold or Corona virus, or something. Symptoms? Metal in the oil. (considered bad, potentially fatal if not addressed)

So the old girl had a doctors appointment in Arkansas first thing Monday morning. Not a problem. fly jumpers all weekend, then head off for the 2.5 hour flight to Pocahontas Arkansas. We even got done a little early on Sunday so the pilot could make most of the flight in daytime. (not as scary I guess)

But no, “I’ll leave first thing in the morning” he says. I pointed out that the weather along the route was fine at that very moment, and even though the weather was supposed to be “OK” in the morning why not just go now? Why not? Well dear reader, if you are at all familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs it says humans have some very basic things that they need in life. Things like, food, safety, friends, esteem and self actualization. That is the needs list for normal people. Pilots and skydivers have a different list. It’s shorter. Beer, women and aircraft. In no particular order.

Our hero already had a plane to fly and it wasn’t Miller Time so can you guess what need he wanted to fill? Yep. “Momma always says, womens is the devil”

So instead of getting when the getting was good our fair haired put off takeoff until tghe next morning. What difference could it possibly make?

What indeed.

Before
Image may contain: sky, outdoor and water
After

To say I was grouchy about the pilot’s decision would be an understatment.

Luckily my runway drains quickly so by late afternoon there was a strip of grass that was dry enough to use. When the pilot finally showed up (GRRRRR!) I walked him out to the runway and showed him exactly where to start his run and where to head for. (my runway is very wide so a guy can get a little lost in it)

The pilot loaded up the plane with his overnight bag and a cute blonde and fired up. I decided to park myself halfway down the runway a shoot some video. You never know when something interesting is going to happen.

Somebody wasn’t paying attention when I told him what part of the runway to use.

Wisconsin Flood

What a great weekend! Tons of people wanted to jump out of reasonably good airplanes and for the first time this year nothing on said airplane broke. The weather was perfect and only two students landed in the trees. (Ok, that kind of sucked but no one got hurt so I’ll take it) It was almost like 2020 was trying to make amends for the crap it’s pulled so far.

Clouds started to roll in at the end of the day on Sunday and we had to scramble a bit to get the last load up but we got it done. The gang wrapped up the weekend by sitting in front of the building and rehashing the jumps we made over a couple of cool beverages. My daughter Claire (AKA “Super Girl”) even complemented me on my performance on the jump we made together on Saturday. (She’s WAY better than me now and I’ll take what I can get) Yep, it was the perfect end to a perfect weekend. This skydiving business is OK.

Then it started to rain. No big deal. We’d gotten everything done and the runway was getting a little dry anyway. Perfect.

Later that evening Super Girl sent me this picture of her boyfriend.

Ha! Ha! Look how rain we got!

The kids at the dropzone are standing around drinking in the rain and splashing in the puddles. So cute. Oh, to be young again.

Then I heard my phone ringing at 3:00 AM. Now whenever the phone rings late at night it’s never good news. My guess was that hail or a tornado had destroyed the airplane. (It’s parked outside) Nope, it was an extremely drunk pilot (but I repeat myself) and he was in quite a frenzy. It seemed that some of the aforementioned gang had taken advantage of the upcoming no-fly day and continued their celebrations into the wee hours. A good thing too. Because when one of them ventured into the main building to re-stock their supplies he found that things were getting just a bit moist. Very moist. Water was pouring into the building! ( ! indeed)

Cathy and I were ready to get dressed and spring into action but the drunk skydivers (again, I repeat myself) told us that they had things under control. They got all the parachutes and gear off the floor and saved what they could.

The next morning things were just a bit different out when the jumpers who live in our trailer park woke up.

Super Girl’s front porch view.

Needless to say we have our work cut out for us.

For Want of a Nail

Last week, (month? year? Things all run together for me this time of year) our jump plane had a chip detector light come on in flight. A chip detector is a small engine probe that can detect any metal that show up in the engine oil. It looks like a small spark plug and can detect even the tiniest amounts of metal in the oil.

There is supposed to be metal in the engine, NOT in the oil! Metal in the engine oil in an indication that something in the engine is coming apart. See: bad. The engine might continue to run for years or seconds. No way to know. But when that RBL (really bad light) comes on in a multi million dollar airplane full of squishy bodies the prudent pilot puts her on the ground, fast! The jumpers? They left the pilot to deal with the problem alone. That’s one of the advantages of being a skydiver.

” Anything I can do to help? No? Ok, well . . . See ya later. Good luck!”

So we got the Caravan on the ground and sent for the calvary. The man coming to the rescue in this case is Jorge “Horhay” Mechanic extrordonaire. We unbuttoned the plane and pulled the chip detector dreading what we might see.

We were hoping for a loose wire or something. What we really didn’t want to see was what Jorge called an “afro” An “Afro” in a chip detector that is full of metal and is generally considered “bad”

“We don’t likes bad, do we precious?”

We pulled the plug with baited breath and . . . . . nothing. Whew! Well, not exactly nothing. when I looked really close I could see just the smallest of black lines on the the plug.

You can’t see the metal hair because we wiped it off. Not sure you could’ve see it any any, it was that small.

There was just one tiny little hair of metal on the end of the plug. Matel. Bummer. But at least it wasn’t an afro. We reassembled the plane and ran the engine on the ground for 10 minutes and didn’t get another chip detector light so we test flew it. Still no light. The metal was probably just some tiny random sliver of metal that somehow worked it’s way loose after all these years. Probably.

So we filled the Caravan full of squishy bodies again the next day and hoped for the best.

Guess we’ll see.

Speed is Life

I’m the jumper in blue on the left

I made my first jump in 1986 and back then we thought we had it all figured out. You jump out of the plane, fly on your belly to grab your friends and then see how many formations you can make in the short time you have left before break off. For a short time jumpers sought to increase their freefall time by wearing big floppy jump suits called Balloon suits. The theory was the more drag you have the slower you go. The slower you go the more time you have to play. In practice they didn’t work very well because of the dirty air they produced. They also had a tendency to create very slow openings, which made things a little more exciting than they were looking for.

My first rig was exactly like the brown one on the right. (I’m old)

Fast forward to today, we still fly on our belly’s (sometimes) but my new favorite thing to do is what’s called angle diving. On an angle dive you chase the leader as he rockets through the sky in an almost straight down angle. It’s very challenging because you’re going almost as fast as you can go (250 mhp +) and if you make one tiny error you will be watching your friends from the cheap seats. And one of the coolest things about it is when you breakoff from each other you actually pull a lot of G’s with your body as you pull out from the steep angle and streak across the sky. It’s . . . exhilarating.

Boring

As many of you know, I own and run a skydiving school just east of Minneapolis called Skydive Twin Cities. My wife and I have owned it for 22 years and it is probably one of the most mellow and serene jobs one could imagine. NOT!

Managing a dropzone (DZ) is a crazy way to make a living. From the time I get up in the morning my day is filled with every kind of complicated challenge imaginable. There’s the normal mundane stuff that every small business owner must face. Staffing , accounting, payroll, advertising, normal boring stuff.

Then there’s the life or death decisions that I have to make every day. How’s the weather? Will someone die because the wind picks up and they get blown into the trees? Do I have to fire that jumpmaster because he isn’t good enough to save an out of control student in freefall? Or is a tandem instructor who’s landings are so bad that I’m afraid someone will get hurt? Or did they already hurt somebody on a landing but I’ve been friends with them for 30 years and just can’t bring myself to ground them? Is the plane making a funny noise? Did we run out of toilet paper? Did someone’s dog crap in the landing area? Is that line of powerful thunderstorms going to hit us and should I spend the money to fly the plane to safety or tie it down and take my chances? The list is endless.

There’s not enough room on the internet to cover every decision I’ve made this year so I’ll just give you the high points of the 2020 skydiving season so far.

Looks like and early spring. Call the company we lease the Cessna Grand Caravan jump plane from and tell them to send us the plane early. But they can’t. The plane is getting a new hot section (engine) and won’t be ready for weeks.

I was right. The snow has melted off the runway and we could have been jumping in late March. But it doesn’t matter because the COVID -19 pandemic has shut the world down.

Some of the jump staff haven’t saved enough money to live on and we have to give them advances on their pay. (beer isn’t free you know)

Wisconsin’s lockdown ends unexpectedly but we still don’t have our big 18 passenger turbine jump plane. But our little 4 passenger Cessna 182 is available. Can we start jumping? Can’t social distance by putting 5 people in a small plane. The skydivers don’t care, let’s jump!

The battery on the 182 is bad and we’re forced to jump start the plane almost every time.

The big plane is here! It’s the end of May and we’ve lost 1/3 of our season but we can start jumping. Opening day, the weather is great and the plane is filled with paying customers. We might actually survive the season!

We make it four hours before our first injury of the season. Ambulance on the runway to cart off a tandem passenger with a back injury.

Back to jumping.

Stop jumping. The pilot calls down with a flight control emergency. He has a broken elevator trim wheel and the plane is stuck in a nose down configuration. He lands safely and we discover the shaft on the trim wheel has broken. No one has ever seen that happen before. Back to the small plane. Send most of the jumpers home.

The plane is fixed! (Don’t ask me how)

Another great weather day! The dropzone is filled with jumpers again and things are looking up!

One of the instructors calls in and tells us he’s tested positive for COVID-19. Great, I tell the staff they all have to get tested. The instructor calls back. It turns out that he doesn’t have COVID-19 after all, just his girlfriend.

Last load of the day. Thunderstorms are coming and we have to hurry to get a student one last jump. I go along to make a jump just for kicks. Halfway up the pilot calls me into the cockpit. He has a chip detector warning light on the instrument panel. This warns us that there might be metal in the oil. (very serious) We all jump, leaving the pilot to deal with the potential engine out landing.

The plane is grounded.

How’s your spring going?

What’s my Favorite?

I know I’ve said in the past that Greenland is my favorite place in the world to fly. That was something of an overstatement. What I meant to say was that it is one of my favorite places to fly. Greenland is indeed beautiful. (You literally can’t take a boring picture when flying over Greenland) It is also a part of the world filled with the sense of adventure that I crave when flying. (you’re not in Kansas anymore)

But is it my favorite? Well, I don’t know. I never thought about it like that. So dear reader let’s explore this together. Over the next few days (months, years? You know how I can be) I will select a part of the world that I’ve flown over and we can examine the pros and cons together.

Dad Can Make it Safer

Transportation Safety Board of Canada Says IFR Approaches Are Confusing

King Air

Among the issues identified during a 2018 overrun investigation was, “The rules governing instrument approaches in Canada are too complex, confusing and ineffective at preventing pilots from conducting approaches that are not allowed, or banned, because they are below the minimum weather limits,” according to Canada’s Transportation Safety Board. In other parts of the world, a flight crew is not allowed to begin an instrument approach if the reported weather is below published minimums for a given approach except in Canada, where “flight crews are permitted to conduct approaches in visibility conditions that are below what is published.”

The TSB recently issued these findings as part of its report of a February 2018 accident in which a chartered Beech King Air A100 ran off the end of the runway at Havre-Saint-Pierre, Quebec. The airplane was substantially damaged but luckily all occupants escaped with only minor injuries—or none at all. As part of the report, the TSB asked Transport Canada to simplify approach and landing minima as presented in a TSB video.

The King Air A100 was conducting a charter flight under instrument flight rules, from the Sept-Îles Airport, Quebec, to the Havre St-Pierre Airport, Quebec, with two crew members and six passengers. “Prior to departure, the weather at Havre St-Pierre aerodrome indicated a visibility of 3/4 of a statute mile in light snow…enroute, the crew received updated weather, which indicated the visibility had deteriorated to just 1/4 mile in heavy snow—well below the minimum visibility allowed to conduct the approach. However, the pilot believed he could continue the approach safely.” When the pilot did manage to catch sight of a small patch of runway, he continued the landing, touching down just 700 feet before the end of the runway. The aircraft overran the end and came to a stop in a large snowbank approximately 220 feet beyond the end of the runway.

The TSB said, “Flight crews have to consult multiple reference documents and consider a variety of factors to determine if an approach is allowed. The current rules also make it difficult for ATC to determine whether an approach is authorized. As a result, ATC will clear an aircraft for an approach regardless of the published minima, leaving the ultimate decision to conduct the approach to the flight crew.” The TSB added that, “based on the pilot’s interpretation of the various factors and exceptions relating to the approach ban, the pilot incorrectly believed he was allowed to conduct the approach.”

So to recap. A couple of dumbshit pilots decide to go “take a look” Nothing wrong with that. I’m all in favor of shooting an approach where it looks doubtful but possible. I’ve made it work a few times myself. No, I didn’t go below minimums. That would be dangerous and wrong. And you can’t prove anything.

The trick is that you have to fly a nice stabilized approach. And if you don’t get lucky you got to go around. The very last thing you want to do is go trolling around for the runway when the conditions are well and truley dogshit. But no, these two clowns had to go and wreck it for everyone. Now Canada says no more. If it’s not a nice sunny day stay home and play cards. Or words to that effect. This is why we can’t have nice things.

More Oops

Ouch, That’s gotta hurt. This was sent to me from the company that we lease our jump plane from. I’m not sure exactly what happened but my guess is that someone got distracted while taxiing or they thought they had the brakes set when in fact they didn’t. Either way I can’t even imagine what the bill for that little oopsie dasiy is going to be.

If Only

I’ve lost far too many friends to skydiving and flying accidents. The current count is somewhere in the 17 – 18 range. (It hurts too much to really sit down and count) The latest was and young man who I taught to skydive. He’d decided to change his lives direction and become a helicopter pilot. It was and admirable goal as well as an expensive one to undertake as a civilian. If you think renting an airplane will hit you in the pocketbook try looking at your receipt after helicopter lessons. But he persevered and not only got his helicopter license but his commercial rating as well.

He somehow managed to actually find work as newly minted helicopter pilot with no military experience. (It can be tough to compete with Army pilots who have hundreds or thousands of hours flying the most complicated machines in the world.) The young man got hired by a helicopter company that did a little bit of everything and that’s just what he did. Powerline patrol, survey work and giving rides. He even gave a Valentines day ride to good friends of mine and spent a week with an old Army buddy surveying damage from the spring floods in Missouri last year.

His last job was flying a DNR biologist around doing raptor counts. Now I know what you’re thinking. Flying low and slow, turning tight to see what kind of hawk is in some tree is how my friend died. Nope. He died on the way home. On a beautiful sunny afternoon in western Iowa. Flying low over pool table smooth, farmland he struck a set of power lines and two lives were snuffed out in an instant.

Why was he flying so low? We’ll never know for sure but I’ll bet he thought it was fun. Right up to the end.

This is just one more case where I wish I could have been there. So many times I’ve wished I could have given a bit of advice, shouted a warning or grabbed the controls. In most cases ten seconds or less would have made all the difference. But I can’t be there. All I can do is tell my pilot friends and family of the times I did stupid things and got away with it. Because you have to learn from the mistakes of others. You’ll never live long enough to make them all yourself.

whole reason I started this post was because I read this article. I intended to just post the link but felt more needed to be said.

If Only… The Friends I’ve Lost In Airplane Accidents