Ok, where do I start?
Sunday morning, 5am, I turn off the alarm and don't even know it. The night before, I looked up the wind forecast and it seemed like it'd be a good morning to go flying, so I set my alarm for pre-dawn-thirty. Now it's 5:40am and I wake up again... my alarm has all kinds of weird lights on it... I have no idea what I've been hitting. But I decide to go ahead and get up.
I've missed my opportunity for completely calm winds, but the forecast seemed to indicate that the winds would be manageable prior to about noon. So off I go on my 50 minute trek to Angleton. As usual I stop to fill my gas can, got some extra AA batteries for the GPS, and got to the hangar by 7:15am. Skies are cloudy but fairly calm. I still need to gas up my eagle, though. Having recently acquired a 55-gallon steel drum -- thanks to John! -- and a pump, I mix my gas and pour it into the drum, tighten the bung, and then pump the gas.
Up to this point, I'd had brother Jim around to help me, but this time I was solo... nary a soul at the hangar, save the little dog from down the street and he wasn't too helpful.
I had dreamed up all kinds of solutions for figuring out when the gas tank was full -- most of them VERY complicated and expensive -- but the one that won out in the end was the simplest of them all... the pinky solution. As I hold the hose in place, I also stick my little finger down the tank throat as far as it will go. As soon as I feel the gas on my finger, I stop pumping! It worked! It took me a while to primp the pump -- I'll have to work on my technique -- but once I got it flowing, it only took about a minute to fill the tank.
I push all the planes out of the way, get mine out, push all the planes back in the hangar and lock it up again. The Quicksilver starts on the 3rd pull (yeah!), I warm it up while I fiddle with all my radio cables. Radio's working, helmet is strapped up, camera around my neck, GPS is fired up, check the windsock (N-NE breeze, about 5mph), and I'm soon taxiing down the runway.
As I take off, I realize that I haven't really decided what I'm going to do. I think it was partly because I wanted to see how rough the air column was. Well, it was rough, but not TOO rough, so as I gained altitude and cleared the power lines, I decided to head for Alvin.
Up to this point in my ultralight experience, I have always taken off from Bailes, and then landed at Bailes. Today, I was going to fly up to the Alvin airport and land there... or, at least, that was what I had in mind as a plan.
The air was pretty bumpy... kind of like a prolonged, but mild, roller-coaster ride. A few sudden ups, a few sudden downs, and few sudden lefts and rights, but nothing that felt uncomfortable. Yes, I would have preferred calm air, but you often have to take the cards as they're dealt. The air was very hazy for most of the trip up to Alvin, quite a bit better on the way back (but still not crystal clear). I stayed between 500 and 850 feet for most of the trip. I didn't want to get too near those puffy white clouds that are so inviting, and yet so dangerous (or, at least, so very very rough).
Up to now, most of the areas I have flown over have been mostly deserted fields. But the trip to Alvin showed lots of small communities and subdivisions. Almost always there were at least two fields on either side of each group of houses, so I reasoned that it wasn't congested (ULs aren't supposed to fly over "congested areas"). I also knew that pilots from Alvin often flew to Bailes, and Bailes pilots went to Alvin, so it _must_ be okay! Anyway, it was different, flying over so many houses. I did make an effort to avoid as many as I could, but compared to the area southeast of Bailes where I had been doing most of my flying, this was _crowded_. It was a slow, zig-zaggy trip.
My decision to go to Alvin was pretty much spur-of-the-moment, I'll admit. However, prior to this, I had spent some time reviewing where it was and the type of airspace I was flying into, the landmarks, etc., so I wasn't totally impetuous and irresponsible... only a little. <g> Actually, my trusty GPS knew exactly where the Alvin airpark was and was doing a fine job of telling me to make minor adjustments if I started steering off track. It also told me how far, and what my ground speed was.
Ground speed? Yikes! I was cruising at about 45mph air-speed, but I was only doing about 30-32mph ground speed! Trudge, trudge, trudge. It seemed to take forever to get to Alvin, especially being over "new territory." I'll admit that I trusted that GPS 100%. But, in my defense, I could see the road (Highway 35) that would lead me back to familiar territory, so even if the GPS stopped working, I could get back to Bailes. I will also admit that without the GPS, I don't think I would have found the Alvin airpark.
But, to end the suspense that I'm sure has been mounting, yes, I did make it to the Alvin airpark, and I made my first landing at a _different_ airport. Yea!
Alvin has 3 runways, so I did a quick fly-by at 800 feet to scope out the windsock, and the wind was coming right down the longest of the 3 runways. That was okay by me.
I quickly lost some altitude and entered the pattern. I saw another plane ahead of me so I lengthened my pattern a bit to give him more time to get down. I then noticed another tiny airport, close by, with X's on its runway (meaning, don't land). As I flew by it noticed that it was being used by radio-controlled aircraft enthusiasts. They were not bashful about flying their diminutive craft around their airspace... I decided it would be bad thing -- for many reasons -- to run into one of those, so I kept high. As soon as I passed them, I came off the RPMs and pointed my Quicksilver toward the runway.
The air during the approach was fairly turbulent, but I took a very long, slow descent and found that below 100 feet it wasn't bad at all. So, the landing was smooth and uneventful... the best kind of landing there is!
It was lucky for me that another plane had just landed in front of me, so then I could see where it went, and follow it. It parked next to a couple of other plane near the main hangar. I knew it was the main hangar because that's where everyone was hanging out!
I parked, shut it down, un-entangled myself from my radio gear, walked over to the group and introduced myself. A friendlier bunch of fellows I've never seen. They were polite and asked me about my plane, and were actually thrilled that I was a new pilot, saying they were always glad to see new people enjoying their favorite pastime. I admit to being a bit surprised -- pleasantly surprised -- by that attitude. I was almost expecting the opposite. So, it was very pleasant to be standing there chatting with these fellows. After a bit, I walked around the hangar and looked at some of the aircraft there... saw an old Quicksilver 2-axis with a canard on the front! And I saw a guy whom I had seen at Bailes, someone that John had told me nothing but good things about. So we chatted a bit while he tinkered with his Rotax 912 engine (4-cycle vs. my 2-cycle, and twice the horsepower).
After 20 minutes or so, I figured I'd better be heading back, so I bid everyone adieu, and walked over to my plane. Well, these guys were so friendly, they all hopped up and followed me over there! They were chatting and talking to me, admiring my eagle (no, really! They were saying all kinds of complimentary things!), and were trying to be helpful in getting me rigged up.
I had noticed that in prior situations where I had flown my plane, landed, turned it off, then tried to restart it, it wouldn't start very easily. So I was afraid that would happen now... and it did. I tried and tried and tried, but I couldn't get it to catch. But everyone was very understanding and one guy (unfortunately I didn't catch his name) walked up with a spark-plug wrench and two new spark plugs. He said my plugs might be fouled. So we took them out and, by golly he was right! The plugs, which were fairly new, were fouled, big time. I put the two new plugs in, gave it two pulls and it started right up! Wow. I learned two things: my plugs get fouled easy, and these are some of the nicest people I've ever met!
I sat down, re-rigged my radio, waved to everyone and was going to pull out, but some guy in a golf-cart was smack-dab in my way... he was saying something, but I couldn't make it out... someone else walked over and yelled in my ear, "He said to be sure and come back soon!" Wow, again. I gave him a big smile and the thumbs-up sign, and he politely backed away. I headed for the closest runway (the wind was split between two of them, so I just taxied to the closest), powered up and took off. Not a great takeoff, but the wind was breezy at about 50 feet, now.
I turned the plane to where I figured Bailes was at, powered on the GPS and let it get a fix, and soon saw that I had picked my track perfectly... I was heading straight home.
The ground speed was now about 60mph! So I made pretty good time going back, as you can imagine. The air column was still pretty turbulent, but not really any worse than the first leg of my trip. On my trip back, I picked an almost straight line, so I was back before I knew it. I had plenty of gas, still, and considered for a moment heading for the beach, but knew I also had a little work to do on the plane, so I entered the pattern and took a gander at the windsock.
Well, like the forecast said, the wind had shifted to the East, so I had a pretty good crosswind to deal with. But my landings have really gotten better lately, and my attitude is simply to be patient and sort of let the plane straighten itself out. Of course, the plane isn't really doing that, but it kind of feels that way, so I just let it happen. Sure enough, I get down to about 10 feet and the crosswind seems to diminish, and I touch down easily.
The rest of the time at the hangar was spent repairing a broken t-bar that supports the instrument pod. But, that doesn't make for very interesting reading.
My little venture was a roaring success and one of the nicest outings I've had... no, it WAS the nicest outing yet, even better than flying along the beach! The people at Alvin made the difference. What a nice bunch of guys!