It’s been about 5 years since my younger brother moved to Texas and (though he’s come to visit us) I’ve never had a chance to visit. Starting this year, I have a little more vacation time, so we decided to make that happen…
To maximize our time, we wanted to pick a holiday weekend, and figured Veteran’s Day would be quiet, before bad weather, and all around uneventful. Technically, my brother is a vet, so my conscience was clear on the matter. The TSA security lines @ PDX airport made me feel retarded, as I had a hard time keeping up with the pace of the other would-be passengers. I was worried about my radio-controlled (RC) transceiver, etc. but was cleared quickly. I had a layover in Houston, continually used my bottle of hand sanitizer, and generally gawked at every big-city thing I saw. My brother picked me up in San Antonio, and we had a great 2.5-hour chat on the way to his house.
Day 1: Our day started with ‘breakfast tacos’ from a local vendor, followed by ‘the tour.’ We drove all over the area, seeing points of interest and even took some time to peruse the cemeteries. (A morbid enjoyment we must have inherited from our mother.) My brother won the day with a tombstone dated 1896, 1914 was the oldest I could find. Dinner was Little Caesar’s (a delicacy I don’t have access to). That night, we broke out the flight simulator, and I got a few hours practice until I was able to fly reliably.
Day 2: After my jalapeño-cheddar biscuit sandwich (that’s a delicious thing, apparently) I took another spin on the simulator, and we packed the car with R/C planes. We drove out of town on some non-descript back road to avoid interference, people, etc. I flew 2 batteries through my brother’s plane, and didn’t crash once! The father-in-law wasn’t so lucky with his P51D.
While charging batteries for our next excursion, my brother started teaching me the art of building foamboard-based airplanes. While I’ve watched many videos on Youtube, they’re no match for hands-on instruction. He decided we’d build a flying wing design by Jim Collins. We could each build half and form the plane that’s currently his favorite. My brother grilled steaks for dinner, as I fiddled with the remote-shooting & exposure abilities of my new camera.
After dark, we tried a different location to employ ‘night flying.’ No manner of pictures or video will really do the experience justice. My brother has a plane outfitted with LED lights, which make it glow green on the front, and blue on the back. (There’s a little red light in the fuselage that looks like an afterburner.) This light is so brilliant, not only can you see it from a distance, but it lights the ground as it flies by. It’s like the cool feeling of watching a bug-zapper, without the twinge you may get from killing all those bugs. Anyway, it gave me a chance to try my hand at long-exposure photography!
Day 3: Monday dawned bright, illuminating my brother’s kitchen as brilliantly as he said it would. Charging through the night, we were ready for a flight first-thing. I had a sore throat for some reason, and was looking forward to more fly-time. It was a bit windier that day, but we were undeterred and even got to fly the FT-22 Raptor. I was able to take the opportunity to learn the arts of gliding, and even started to use the rudder a little. However, the main objective was to get me ‘stick time’ on the Versa Wing, in preparation for my own night flight. Unlike the ‘Jim’ we were building, the Versa has a lot more lift, and I found it to be very touchy on the controls. (Even after my brother’s tweaks of Dual-rates, expo, and other fanciness.)
We returned to charge and keep building our “Jim Jr.” At this point, we were committed to getting it in the air before I left. My brother picked up the pace at this point, as I was starting to feel ill. While I didn’t mount electronics, build the engine mount, etc. I did learn a lot, and made a very nice control rod. By 4pm, it was ready to fly! With dusk rapidly approaching, we headed out for its maiden flight.
My brother launched it and did the initial ‘trimming’ required to make it fly straight and true, then he handed it over to me. Wind was still breezy, so flying it smoothly was a challenge. This was compounded by the fact that my creeping illness was affecting my cognitive skills. Flying RC planes requires a lot of concentration, which is great, as it makes you forget everything else that’s stressing you. However, concentration is in shorter supply when I’m sick.
I made a couple loops, seemingly under control, then something went wrong! It was pulling to the left, so I compensated to the right, but when I let go, it pulled left again. (I had trained with the simulator on mostly left-hand turns.) I was losing altitude, so I tried to pull up, and then it just rolled and nose-dived right into the ground! The horror of those few seconds, felt like minutes. I surely had destroyed the brand new plane my brother and I just built! (Two dollars worth of foam, in truth.)
We took visual queues on where it had gone down, and trudged to go retrieve it. As we approached, we found ourselves lucky. Surrounded by fields of thorny brush, the plane went down adjacent to a road, with easy access. I let my brother hop the fence to retrieve it, as he was accustomed to such things.
It had hit a branch/tree/etc. on landing, effectively crumpling up the nose, and destroying the plane’s future. Fortunately, this prevented a hard impact on the battery, which could have caused a nasty LiPo fire. After my ‘walk of shame’ back to the car, we found that the aileron on one side had torn free of its paper. This caused it to not only malfunction, but also create drag on that side. While a more experienced pilot may have been able to correct and land, I was relieved to know it wasn’t all my fault.
That night, my brother got some killer Chinese food from one of those hole-in-the-wall places only locals know about. Then, with topped off batteries, we ventured back out for my night flight. Practice had proved prudent, and I did just fine, though I made my brother land it
Day4: It was a good thing I was having so much fun, because my body felt awful. My fever had broke in the night, and we had to leave by 6am to catch my flight. As I stole some Day Quill I wondered, would they let me fly? I shouldn’t, given all the outbreaks lately, but my tickets were non-refundable. If they don’t let me fly, they’ll have to let me move my ticket, and I can go back to my brother’s. Despite my best efforts, I had caught this darn thing on the way down, anyway. Otherwise, I’ll just sanitize constantly, and cough under my shirt. Apparently, the Chinese passengers with their designer masks have the right mindset, you can’t be too careful.
After a layover in Dallas, I finally made it home, catching naps along the way. Let me tell you, if you’re into severe pain, descend from 30k feet with a stuffed up head. It feels like your skull is being crushed! I retrieved my car for $50 of ‘economy’ parking, and tried to leave Portland before rush hour. I had to stop after a few hours of driving, to catch a nap at a rest area. (Hard to do, by the way.) This bought me another strained hour of driving, before I pulled off in Pendleton. At this point it was dark, below freezing, and I had 2.5 hours over the mountains between me and home. In a healthy state, I wouldn’t have had these issues, but I did the responsible thing and got a hotel room. This gave me a chance to update folks at work before passing out.
Day 5: I got home without incident, and made sure not to stop for gas, food, or supplies. (I don’t want to be the one who brought this bug home to circulate.) My one-man quarantine feels like a 5-star hotel, though. My bed never looked more inviting.
Until next time, enjoy the photos!