Sunday, May 24, 2009

Follow-up on the Trip to Moontown Airport

Scott was pleased that I did my tour, as was I, for that matter. Of course he couldn't resist a little "follow up."


G’day Bart –

Thank you, I mean really thank you for trusting me enough to take my advice on Moontown. More like plaintive yawping, I’ll admit, but reading between your lines, as well as reading your actual lines, you truly thought it worthwhile.

Some observations on your observations:
Moontown is 3M5, which sounds like the first part of a London postal code to me, but go figure… That’s because they are out of, or are about to run out of, letters-only designations. Remember, these designations are for every airport in the world, not just the US. Little airports didn’t have IATA designations fifteen years ago, but with GPS navigation every destination needs an IATA code. It was decided that little airports, and/or those unlikely to have passenger service, would end up with numbers and letters (never 3 digits) while big airports, or little airports that already had them, have letters only. To the list beginning at Anaa Island in French Polynesia (AAA) and ending at Zanesville, Ohio (ZZV), we can now add Animas Airpark, Colorado (00C) through Weydahl, North Dakota (9Y1). There are also, of course, airports whose identifier begins with a letter and has numbers in it, beginning with Vaiden, Alabama (A08) and ending with Hillman, Michigan (Y95). An example of a big airport unlikely to see passenger service is NASA’s Shuttle runway in Titusville, Florida (X68). If you see a destination that looks like 3 digits, you’re actually looking at the letter O. I have a buddy who keeps a 1929 TravelAir and a Long-EZ at Reedley, California (O32). Four-letter codes are assigned by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). For the continental US, simply precede the ICAO code with a K. Huntsville’s IATA code is HSV; its ICAO code is KHSV. Everywhere else, the ICAO codes “make sense.” That is, each country has its own first two letters (sometimes one country has more than a single two-letter set). The last two letters are more-or-less related to the airport’s name. Amsterdam is EHAM, EH for the Netherlands, AM for Amsterdam. Sydney is YSSY, YS for New South Wales, SY for Sydney. That system’s handy for guys like me when we’re doing logistics planning. While we may not know an exact code, we at least know what country it’s in.
The upper part of the walls are festooned with cloth signs proclaiming pilot's first solo flights… It’s a tradition to have one’s shirttail snipped away upon the occasion.
a Piper PA-25-235. Most manufacturers have a name that goes with the model number. A Cessna 172 is a Skyhawk, A Beech V35 is a Bonanza, etc. The Pawnee is a crop duster, hence the big engine, external bracing for the wings, a high-sitting pilot’s seat with plenty of windows, etc. Down here they like to use an airplane’s name as opposed to model number. A DC-3, military designation C-47, is a Dakota.
a couple of low passes over the field, the first one so low and close that I
d@mn near dropped my camera… which is one of the reasons I recommended your visit to 3M5, remember? And I bet you’ll also remember the throbbing of the engines shaking right through to your very soul. I like the dancing-on-one-wheel act. It’s a trademark of that particular owner.
a little put-put plane… Putt-putt, you mean. I hope. But you can’t say those engines putt, can you? I stand corrected. Edits have been made.
Swissair, which remained neutral throughout the war. It was Switzerland that remained neutral, ja? I stand corrected, ja.
her original… probably not, but maybe. Engines can take months to overhaul, so usually you buy an overhauled one when you put yours in for overhaul so you can fly a couple of days later, not weeks and weeks later. Somebody then buys your engine when they put theirs in for overhaul, and on it goes. An airline has extra engines so they can effect a rapid change in order to keep the plane in service…
Pratt & Whitney Wasp piston engine, … Twin Wasp, engines plural, carefully maintained. Where do you find spare parts for a 70-year-old engine, anyway?... Easy, believe it or not. There were between 150K and 200K of that model produced, probably close to half still around.
On your AvWeb nose photo, note the little door that’s just inches behind the captain’s chair. Or actually, note its proximity to the #1 prop.
a double door… The cargo door was standard on all C-47s, and many DC-3s were retrofitted. It’s much easier for skydivers, I can tell you. The original door folded downwards and had the stairs built in. Access was much simpler than the double step thingy you used yesterday.
the cockpit… Look through your discard photos for the gear-retract/extend handle. If memory serves, it’s this huge thing, the track of which starts behind the right seat, moves toward the centerline, then forward. Scott is quite correct. I tripped over said handle on my way out of the cockpit.
This beast must be a pain to taxi, as you cannot look directly forward most of the time--the nose is pointed up toward the sky--leaving you only the side window to see the ground and the tail wheel and your propellors to move you in the direction you want to go… Propellers, right. The tailwheel doesn’t steer; it only casters like the wheel on an office chair. It’s locked into its fore-and-aft position for takeoff and remains that way until you’re ready to turn off of the runway after landing. Ground steering on a DC-3 is accomplished by differential thrust. You pull the throttle back on the side you want to turn towards and advance the opposite one. You can also use differential braking ((almost) all aircraft have two brake pedals, one for each side) if you need a really tight turn. Problem is, the brakes will get hot and lose their effectiveness, and this phenomenon is especially so on older aircraft. That can be exciting when you’re third in line for takeoff and would like to not bash into the plane in front of you. Third problem is that the DC-3 will taxi along right smartly with the engines at idle, so judicious use of aforementioned brakes-that-tend-to-fade is essential. Fourth problem is taxiing in a crosswind. The crosswind pushes on the vertical fin, which points the nose in the opposite direction, and the tailwheel below it casters, remember? You can lock the tailwheel when you’re doing a long, straight taxi, but have to unlock it when you want to turn.
Climbing into one that's still flying is something else… It’s also got some good smells, no? Better than what a modern airplane smells like.

Now, do you think you’ll go back and meet up with some of your new friends? Maybe offer fuel money to that David guy and do a half-day trip. >90% chance he’ll say yes. My guess is that you’ll enjoy the trip-planning as much as the flight. And once in the air you’ll enjoy looking at the instruments and having a better idea of what you and the plane are doing. I am tempted to go back and see about getting a ride in a glider...or something. It's one thing to have the window seat in a 757; it's something else again to be in the copilot's seat of something where you can feel more than just occasional turbulence. Hmmmm.

Seriously, mate; thanks again for trusting me on this. You have to admit you enjoyed yourself. Yep.


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