Friday, November 07, 2008

Annual Excursion

Once a year, airplanes like the Tiger need to undergo a full inspection, an "annual," to confirm that they are airworthy and have no conditions that affect its safety. While the plane is "in for annual," many owners take advantage of the close inspection to have mechanics replace parts that are worn or old. The result is that many airplanes are virtually "renewed" once a year, and hence last many years beyond the useful life of cars or trucks.

The Tiger's last annual expired on October 31st, so I arranged with Hortman Aviation to have them conduct the annual inspection on the Tiger. When I was shopping for an airplane, I hired Hortman to inspect a potential purchase. Hortman found, among other problems, a small crack in the engine mount. To me, that was evidence that Hortman paid exceptionally close attention and knew these planes well. And they should -- Hortman was a major Tiger dealer when the airplanes were being manufactured, and still has several available for rent.

Hortman is located at the Northeast Philadelphia airport, which is - you guessed it - northeast of Philadelphia. A friend, Gashaw, volunteered to fly another plane up to bring me back, so we set off on the afternoon of October 31st to deliver the Tiger for its annual.

I have been billing in excess of 200 hours per month the last few months, and hadn't flown in a while. The flight of an hour and fifteen minutes was beautiful and just what I needed to decompress a little. It was a gorgeous day, with clear skies, only the lightest haze, and moderate winds. I chose to go east, through the corridor of airspace between Baltimore and Washington, northeast across the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware, and up the east side of Philadelphia.

The low sun softly lit the fields and marshes with a gentle orange glow, and I kicked myself for not having a camera. Then I remembered my new iPhone, which has a camera built in. I took the photo out the side window, above, then tried to catch a snapshot out the windscreen and over the nose of the plane. For some reason, the spinning propeller created horizontal lines in the picture....

The wind was from the southeast at around 10 knots, and the control tower cleared me to land on Runway 24. As I turned into the setting sun on final approach, I was struck by the beauty of the sunset illuminating the Philadelphia skyline. A minute from touchdown, keeping one eye on my airspeed and final approach path, I fumbled with my iPhone to catch my favorite photo of the flight. (Click on the photo to see an enlargement.)

I left the keys to the Tiger with the boy at the Hortman desk, and we took off into the darkening sky in the Skyhawk Gashaw had flown up in. It felt odd to leave the Tiger there, but that feeling was quickly overshadowed by the enjoyment of the night flight with Gashaw. It was crystal clear, and I looked down on the goings-on with interest. Gashaw had offered to let me fly the Cessna home, but I wanted to be a passenger. I watched house lights come on, and observed a play or two of a football game. The players were clearly visible in their stark white uniforms, the green field lit by floodlights.

As we climbed to out initial altitude of 3,000 feet, the city of Philadelphia was just off our left wing, and a rising crescent moon was directly off our nose. It was beautiful and serene, and reminded me how much I enjoy flying at night.

We landed around 8pm and I drove home. A lot of stress had bled off while flying, and I was happy and relaxed. The flying truly had, as St. Exupery wrote, freed my mind from the "tyranny of petty things."
Epilogue: A week later, the Tiger is still at Hortman. I decided early on that I would use the annual inspection as a time to replace anything that was nearing the end of its life. "No deferred maintenance for my plane," I said. So, the mechanics at Hortman are hard at work performing several tasks -- new brake pads and rotors, some gaskets, new fuel and oil hoses, rudder springs, and so on. It will likely be ready for pickup on Monday or Tuesday, and I'm hoping to retrieve it before leaving for another business trip to Michigan on Tuesday or Wednesday.


Blogger Amy said...

I'm hoping too. I need some freedom from tyranny...

12:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

who's the tyrant?

6:42 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

From an unknown aircraft waiting in a very long takeoff queue: "I'm fn bored."

Ground Traffic Control: "Last aircraft transmitting, identify yourself immediately!"

Unknown aircraft: "I said I was fn bored, not fn stupid!"

12:21 PM  

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