First, a back story. I graduated high school in 1988. The church we attended at the time threw a graduation party of sorts for me and another boy in my class. Most gifts were cash. This same church was on the same road as the local, rural airport. One of the congregants was a pilot, and we’d talked quite a bit. I had decided that I wanted to learn to fly. I used the entire amount of cash (it wasn’t a lot) to begin flight training. It took almost a year and a half, but on 01 November 1989 I passed my checkride and became a Private Pilot. I flew off and on for the next ten years, but life kept getting in the way and I stopped flying regularly in mid-1999. I had two flights each in 2000 and 2002 – both an effort to pass a flight review and get back in the air solo. Both failed, mostly due to the combination of a lack of funds and schedule conflicts. Eventually, I accepted that I’d never fly as pilot in command again.
Two weeks ago, I got to thinking and decided that maybe I could pull off another attempt. Pilot licenses never expire. There are just training, proficiency and medical requirements that must be met. I reached out to a flight school in the area and started the process of scheduling my first flight in over twenty years. I looked up doctors and scheduled my flight physical. Then my dumb ass started looking at planes for sale. I briefly owned a Cessna 150 back in 1989, but ended up selling it to one of the local pilots, on time, only to have him default less than halfway through paying me back. I got a judgement against him, but at nineteen years old, I had no idea how to actually collect so it ended up being nothing but an expensive life lesson. But I digress.
I located a Piper Tomahawk – a two-seat trainer similar to the aforementioned Cessna in north Florida. It was bordering on too-good-to-be-true, but not quite there. Dude had gotten old and was going to stop flying. I decided to drive down and look at it the next day – Monday before last. I liked it, everything seemed in order, so I put a deposit down on it and made arrangements to get it to a local mechanic that I’d already made contact with to do a pre-purchase inspection. I drove back the same night. Thirteen hours on the road was rough, but still possible even for an old man like me. I’m still waiting on the results of said inspection.
My first flight was Thursday before last. I got a green instructor and a four-seat Piper Warrior, as it was the closest the flight school had to a Tomahawk. I’ve flown other similar Pipers, mostly Cherokees, but never a Warrior. It was also a very hot day. It was overwhelming to be flying again. As I was an unknown quantity, the instructor was about three microns from the controls for the first several minutes while I sweated bullets and tried to coordinate heading, altitude, airspeed, power, attitude, and what felt like a million other things. I needed (and got) verbal coaching on the first couple landings. One later landing was very not good, but none required the instructor to take the controls. By the last one – number ten, if I remember correctly – I wasn’t doing horribly. Each circuit was better than the last. I might actually be able to pull this off.
My next flight was supposed to be this past Monday, but a low cloud ceiling forced cancellation. It’s just as well, as life got in the way again. The blower on my HVAC air handler refused to spin up that same morning. Okay, I know this dance. The start capacitor had to be bad. I’d had one go out a couple years ago, and remembered where I put the second one that I bought at that time in case of a recurrence. That time it had happened on a Friday afternoon and by the time I figured out what was wrong, the supply place was closed for the weekend and I was miserable the whole time. I popped in the new cap and it started back up. I headed over to get another one for the inevitable “next time”. A couple hours later, the blower motor started squeaking, but was still running fine. Well, shit! Looks like the motor is going bad, too. Or maybe it wasn’t the cap but the break given the motor while I replaced the cap that got it to restart. I pulled the documentation on my unit and ordered a replacement motor to be delivered Wednesday. No problem. Run it until it fails completely, and I’ll have the new motor ready for whenever that happens.
Then I went outside to mow the grass. It’s been extremely hot and dry, but we did finally get some rain over the weekend. I figured the grass would survive being mowed despite the heat and the fact that lots of it had turned brown. I noticed that one of the front tires on the tractor was a little low, but I’d already hooked up the mower deck and was ready to roll. I chose to wait and air it up afterward. On the first circuit, I stopped at the edge of the garden. All the tomato plants survived transplant and were growing like weeds. I had over twenty plants in an area that could only support about eight. I shouldn’t have planted that many in the first place, but I wasn’t expecting 100% survival. Since they did survive, I should’ve thinned them out weeks ago. Coulda, shoulda, woulda. I yanked out a majority, including a couple I didn’t mean to grab because they had started to grow together and I couldn’t tell where one plant ended and the next one began until I started pulling on them. Eventually, I got it sorted out and the remaining plants staked. Then I looked at the tractor and saw that the low tire was now unclenched from the rim.
I limped the tractor back around to the back of the house where the air compressor is, raised the front end, and got the tire bead re-seated. As soon as I stopped filling the tire with air, I could hear the air escaping. I found the general vicinity of the leak, and could feel air coming out. I couldn’t find a puncture or other visible defect, though. Since the leak was in the tread area and not the sidewall, and since Slime had successfully healed a similar problem in the other front tire last year, I headed out for a new bottle. I slimed the tire, pumped it back up, and mowed the back yard while watching for deflation. It held.
The blower motor got more and more vocal as the day wore on. When I came in from mowing, Wife told me that it had refused to start again and she’d just turned it off and was leaving it off for five minutes to see if it would come back on after a rest. It was in minute four when I walked in. It did restart, and worked normally and quietly for a few minutes. Not long afterward, though, the bearings were screaming. Not long before bedtime, it flatly refused to spin back up when the system kicked on. We turned it off and decided to tough out the night.
Wife was heading to Virginia Beach to visit Grandson for his second birthday Tuesday morning and wouldn’t be back until Friday, so she wasn’t going to be around to complain about no air conditioning. I had a business deal scheduled for Wednesday morning in the vicinity of my ex’s place an hour north, so I reached out to her to see if I could crash at her place Tuesday night so I’d have a/c while waiting for the motor to arrive on Wednesday. She agreed, so I informed Wife where I’d be and commenced ripping the old blower motor out as she left. My plan was that all I’d have to do Wednesday would be to drop the new motor in, put it all back together and go. Upon getting the old motor out, which was an exercise in frustration in itself, I noticed that the specs didn’t match what the documentation said was supposed to be there. Among other things, the book said it was a 1/4 horsepower motor. What came out was a 1/2 horsepower. I called the place where I ordered it and had them look it up. They came up with the same motor I did. Wait and see, I guess. So I left the air handler in pieces on the floor and headed north to blessed air conditioning.
I hung out with Ex for a bit once she got home from work, crashed, did my business in the area the next morning and headed back home hoping to get there about the same time that the UPS guy showed up with my new blower motor. But Murphy still had a hard-on for me. On the way back, as I was rolling into one of the small towns along my route, the bolt holding the gearshift to the frame on the Benelli fell out. No gears = no ride. Fortunately, it happened on the second downshift rolling up to a traffic light, so I knew the bolt had to be within a very small area. I started pacing up and down that stretch of road, doing my best not to get run over while searching for the bolt that might allow me to get home. If I could just find it. And if it wasn’t messed up.
After a few minutes of searching, a guy from one of the houses I’d been pacing back and forth in front of came out to find out what the fuck was going on. It turns out that he rides too, although his is a real bike and not an overgrown Chinese mini-bike. I explained my predicament while continuing my search. Then I saw it. I almost stepped out in front of a truck in my rush to get it before it disappeared, but I managed to contain myself and the bolt remained where it was. After verifying that the bolt was undamaged, I set about to reinstall it. Dude offered to get some Loctite and better tools than I had with me to make it a permanent fix rather than a limp-it-home sort of thing. I gladly accepted. Thirty minutes or so after the gearshift dropped from under my foot, I was back on the road. Did I mention that during this time I had in excess of twenty thousand dollars in cash on my person from the aforementioned deal that I concluded immediately prior to returning home?
By the time I got home, the UPS guy had come and gone. I knew within two minutes of opening the box that the motor wasn’t going to work. Swearing, I stuck the old motor in my pack, jumped on the bike and headed across town to the local supply store. They matched a motor up for me, and with the necessary mounting hardware, I spent almost exactly double what I paid for the wrong motor. But an hour later, it was back together and the system was running balls to the wall to bring the temperature down from 90 degrees.
The next Morning, Thursday, I was scheduled to fly again. It went much better this time. I was actually comfortable (again, not counting the heat) and only made one landing to be ashamed of. One was almost good. Then I headed over to get the flight physical done. He was the only one within an hour’s drive who had availability less than a month out. Motherfucker still requires face diapers. I bit my tongue. I need the damn medical certificate.
We went through the process and he told me that although everything he checked was good, he couldn’t issue the certificate. Because of my keratoconus and the corneal cross-linking procedures that were done to treat it, the FAA requires additional information from my eye doctor. And because I have sleep apnea, the FAA requires additional information from my sleep doctor including compliance records from my CPAP machine for the past 365 days. But here’s the worst part. I can’t just go get these things and bring them back to him. I have to wait for the FAA to send me an official letter telling me what I have to do, despite the doctor already knowing, already telling me, and giving me the forms that he knows they will demand. And they are still claiming a backlog due to the beer virus, so doc said it would be a month, maybe two before I even get the letter. Then it’ll be about the same amount of time again after I sent the required information back before they would process it and issue the medical. He said he had no doubt that I would get it eventually, just not any time soon. Well, shit!
I’m pretty sure my instructor was going to sign off the flight review after my next flight assuming I did at least as well as I did on Thursday. However, after the medical delay, a problem arose. He’s not willing to sign the review until I have a valid medical. The regulations state that I may not act as pilot in command without a current medical, but a flight review is considered dual instruction. Dual instruction requires no medical. The instructor is the pilot in command by default, even if he never touches the controls. There is much documented discussion on the matter, and there is even an article from Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association on the subject that supports what I just said. For those who do not know, AOPA has been around since the 1930s, and is the premier source for education, legal matters, and basically all things flying. I sent my instructor the referenced article. He still refuses to sign off a flight review under any circumstances until I can show him a current medical. He couldn’t cite a regulation to support his refusal, but was adamant nevertheless. So, I’m done flying with him or anyone else at that facility.
Yesterday (Friday) I reached out to my eye doctor and got him working on the FAA form. My sleep doctor, whom I haven’t seen in about five years because my current therapy is working, is closed on Fridays. I’ll call on Monday and make an appointment. Hopefully he won’t be an asshole about me not coming to see him every year for the past five years. I want to have everything completed and in an envelope ready to go back the same day I get the letter from the FAA telling me officially what I have to do.
And here I am at work today. Whining about all of this.