All kinds of changes

January 1, 2018

Given all the changes that have occurred in the last 10 years — both in my life and in aviation — I suddenly had the urge to wax epodic…  And, since this entry is kind of a dividing line between the “old” Texas-Flyer stories and the new ones, now is the time!

Wow, where to start?

Let me first mention how the idea of this blog entry came about.  The primary reason was simply that I’ve been having to “translate” the old Texas-Flyer site to the new one, and in doing so I ended up having to go through all the stories and photos.  I can’t help myself, but I do actually read my own stories!  They range from the year 2000 through 2008 before the long 10-year gap begins.

In those years, most of my flying was done in ultralights, back when 2-seat ultralights were legal.  My first plane, the Quicksilver, and my first gyroplane, the Gyrobee, were my only single-seat ultralights.  The Rossi trike was a 1+1, which meant someone could sit behind you, but it would not be that comfortable (for either of you).  The rest actually were designed as 2-seaters.

The last fixed-wing I owned, the Kolb MkIIIC, I had well past 2008 — in fact, I didn’t sell it until last year, 2017! — but the number of flights in it after 2008 were small, and all those flights were just around the pattern.  There were no Texas-Flyer stories written about the pattern work, even though I was still flying.  In reality, the seeming 10 year gap was only a 4-year gap.  10 years between stories but only 4 years between major contiguous flying periods.  The reasons for that gap in flying were due to several significant upheavals in my personal and work life but I won’t bore you with the details.  Most of my issues had been resolved by 2015 but in the meantime I had totally lost interest in my Kolb.   I decided to sell it.

In May 2016, not having any success in selling the Kolb, I put it in storage while I took a trip around the U.S., visiting national parks.  The following year, I again tried and, this time, I was successful in selling it….. in March 2017.   It may not have been the first time I’d been without an aircraft since I started in 2000, but it was a longer gap than the previous times.

Following up on a decades-long passion

Ever since I had flown the Gyrobee back in 2009-2011…

…I knew eventually I wanted to end up with a 2-seat gyroplane, so I set my sights on that.  Truth be told, I’ve been fascinated by gyros ever since Igor Bensen found himself on the cover of Popular Science magazine, in the 1950’s.

When shopping for my ultimate flying machine, my wife insisted on a side-by-side configuration, and she wanted it fully enclosed.  (I’m actually grateful she insisted on those features… I’m certainly enjoying them!)  But those types of gyroplanes were difficult to find.  In fact, back in 2011, they were rare as hen’s teeth.  In the years since, the Europeans had definitely upped the game by creating significant advances  in the engineering, aerodynamics and build-quality of their gyroplanes.  (Of course, the rules in Europe encouraged these kinds of advanced whereas the FAA rules were very antiquated and short-sighted… and still are.)

Last year, Lady Luck smiled broadly on me, plus I had been saving for such a plane for a while — and selling the Kolb helped — so I ended up buying a real dream machine, something that far exceeds every spec of all my other aircraft, and I couldn’t be happier.  Better yet, my wife loves it!

So, the dividing line has come about for Texas-Flyer because my personal and work life has been resolved.  And I have a new machine!  But, also, although I was metaphorically standing still for those 10 years, in the ensuing time period, aviation and technology have not been so static.

Re-reading the stories, I have been amazed at the differences between a cross-county flight then as compared to now.  There have been incremental and evolutionary changes in engineering, materials, design, engines, and other areas, but what has noticeably changed — at an almost revolutionary level — are the improvements in navigation and data handling.

The Texas-Flyer stories are rife with comments like “I don’t know where the airport is…”, or, “I’m not sure what that is…”.  Today, real-time moving maps with sectionals overlaid on them, plus the full content of the old A/FD (Airport and Facilities Directory) can now be summoned up with a touch of the screen.   There is a lot of anxiety that shows through regarding the weather, too, and modern navigation apps also provide weather that helps one plan better, and fly more safely.  Many of the apps can even let you file a flight plan directly.

With the addition of ADS-B (granted, at this time it’s not yet required, but will be in most aircraft, large and small, by 2020… only 2 years away), real-time location of other aircraft as well as en route weather will be available and constantly updated.  Even for someone in the IT industry, these improved capabilities are pretty incredible.  Now, cross-county trips are planned better and executed more exactly and safely.

Yes, there are downsides to the new navigation technology, not the least of which is more (some might say, total) reliance on GPS and loss of map-reading, pilotage and dead-reckoning skills.  Also, pilots may spend too much time with their head inside the cockpit and not enough executing ‘see and avoid’, the primary skill required of pilots.  And less conscientious pilots may take off on cross-country flights, thinking the weather information will provide them with enough data for them to avoid problems when the truth is, they never should have left the house and headed for the airport!

But all new technologies often bring new problems with them, and this isn’t any different.  The advantages do outweigh the disadvantages, and these changes are inevitable.  I’m just glad I’m still flying around and able to exploit these new technologies.  (This is more important given that I’m now flying a more long-range aircraft!)

Onward into the Future

At this point, I anticipate adding to the library of Texas-Flyer stories, and many of my flights will be much further afield.  My range has increased to more than 400 miles per day (with a fuel stop), and because my new plane is more comfortable, can fly in higher winds, and can deal better with turbulence, then I am more likely to do longer cross-country flights.

Since my navigational ability is orders of magnitude better than even the last time I flew a long cross-country (The Aventura’s Last Trip) in 2005, I’m more likely to make those long trips.  Last, because I’m now retired, I don’t have as many time-constraints as before.  If I get caught out, I can wait out the weather without the anxiety of having to get back.

Idle contemplation, though, has made me wonder if my new, comfy, capable, long-distance aircraft will reduce the tension in my stories… will it have become too easy?  Are my readers secretly waiting for me to fall — presupposing the truism of ‘everyone loves a car wreck’.  Are they cheering me on because I was fighting slim odds?  Hmmm, I don’t know.  But I hope you’re reading because you’re interested in the process of flying, the fascinating machines, the things I see, and the interesting — if off-the-beaten path — places I go.  I’d like to think you’re a pilot like me or at least maybe an arm-chair pilot, and you’re hoping I don’t have any problems as I venture out.  I may never know, really, but I’m very glad you’re still reading.  I do try to make it interesting!

Regardless of the reason, I hope you’ll continue to enjoy my stories, as much as I enjoy assembling and telling them!

— Robert

P.S.  My most ardent hope is that I hear from more of you, both in comments and in subscriptions to the blog.  I really would prefer this to be a 2-way conversation and not just a monologue.  I’d love to hear from you!


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