Greetings from Riyadh, in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia!
It’s been three months since our last article here. I’ve spent a month traveling on business in the US, and another two months in Europe and Asia. Carlo has been hard at work as a teacher of English Literature at the Ateneo de Manila.
Still, we have had time to fly. We flew a Cessna 172 around Pattaya and Chonburi, in Thailand. Carlo also flew not one but two check rides (doing exceedingly well both times).
I also had a chance to fly an open-cockpit biplane, in 10 degrees Celsius, in aerobatics over Sonoma. And there is a story to be written about flying a Boeing B-737 in Hong Kong. Lots to write and read about, so watch this blog!
After I joined the Club, I used to exclaim at cocktail parties that I fly from grass. Yuppies would sip their Chardonnays and look at me like I was a 1970’s hippie.
“Grass? Uh, isn’t that, uh, an illegal substance?”
“No, no! Grass runways! Takeoffs are challenging because the surface tension is higher than concrete.” But their eyes have already glazed over, and they want to rant about Willing Willie or Fukushima Dai-ichi, which are in the same catastrophic category.
I fly from the Angeles City Flying Club’s Woodland Airpark. We have a grass runway that is between 50 and 600 meters long, depending on where on the runway the resident hangar dog decides to lie down.
The problem with grass is that when you touch down, no matter how miniscule your descent rate and forward speed, you don’t get that sweet little “chirp-chirp” of tires on concrete that announces your awesomeness as a pilot-god. Since I am convinced my landings rate 12 on a scale of 1 to 10, I feel cheated.
Grass is also too forgiving. A pilot could thump down like Godzilla, leaving craters on the turf, and still claim in the clubhouse bar, “Did you see that greaser of a landing? The wheels just started rolling!” The wing spar droops in trauma and the bowlegged landing gear still shivers from fright, but the butt that can’t tell a slip from a skid was cushioned by the soft grass.
Since my son Carlo and I moved here in October, we’ve had to duck and weave through the hangars like Lara Croft in the catacombs. Wings overlap propellers, tails poke into cockpits. We look like the hangar deck of the carrier Hornet with the Doolittle Raiders.
I realize it means more membership and hangar rental business, but soon we may have to hang airplanes from the ceiling!
Then there are the busybody members. The moment you unscrew your cowling, they are all over you. Lending tools, offering advice, pointing out that your #3 intake valve pushrod looks like the McDonalds logo.
If they do that to me I’ll hide in the bathroom and hammer the pushrod straight with my fire extinguisher. What’s one stuck valve? The engine has eight of those anyway.
They all have the right tools, whereas my rubber mallet is what I use to fix any mechanical issues. I bought a ratchet wrench handle, just to look manly. I didn’t bother to get any socket wrenches, but if I twist my ratchet back and forth the racket sounds busy and purposeful.
I finally got camouflage netting for my airplane. The whole airplane disappeared, warts and all.
Then there’s the swimming pool. I’m here to fly, right? Why would I sunbathe or swim on a perfect day? Nuts. Now, if a torrential typhoon did ground me, why would I go swimming in a pool during a typhoon? Ridiculous. I say put the amphibian ultralights in the pool – that’s a way to unclog the hangars!
I realize every clubhouse needs a restaurant. But the long bar at our upstairs restaurant overlooks the approach end of the runway. You can land, but you can’t hide!
“Hey, Tonet, make sure you log all three of those landings on that last approach, hahaha! You plough up more of the field than the carabaos do! Har, har, har!”
There just isn’t any privacy here. In my old flying school, if you get a little low on your approach path, you could stop unseen on a remote taxiway, furtively pluck twigs and leaves from your tires and tail, then taxi innocently back to the ramp.
We don’t strut around calling ourselves “Captain”. Instead we use irreverent nicknames like “Herr Hauptmann” or “Sheepdog” or “Tony-you-miserable-lout-when-are-you-going-to-fill-in-the-craters-on-the-runway”. You half expect to see ‘Kommodore’ Galland or ‘Pappy’ Boyington smoking cigars in the clubhouse.
It’s all too relaxed! You can’t even tell we’re pilots. I always wear “I’m a Pilot” T-shirts, to prove my god-like qualities.
I’m a general aviation pilot. A magnet would stick to most parts of my airplane. But the other airplanes here are not even made out of airplane stuff! Nylon fabric, titanium, carbon-fiber honeycomb sandwiches, and that slick polymer that coats James Bond’s guns or the inside of frying pans. It’s all very strange.
The other day, one of our members landed with no engine. He didn’t lose his engine – he never had one to begin with. How many pilots fly 50 kilometers cross-country in a wood and fabric engineless airplane with long, slim wings sexier than Heidi Klum’s legs? He spiraled gracefully in total silence above us to lose altitude (an airplane with no engine got too high?!), then slipped in with impeccable precision, stopping right in front of a small admiring crowd.
A German glider. Comparing that to my Cessna is like stacking a Chardonnay against a Budweiser.
No engine, dead stick, zero fuel. A “genav” pilot would consider that a full-blown emergency!
It’s depraved, this Woodland fairy tale. They fly on pixie dust and happy thoughts. I need to get out. I don’t see myself staying more than 40 or 50 years here. Yesterday I waxed my airplane again, for the fifth or sixth time this year. I’m turning into one of them!
It’s the grass.
Posted from Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, May 2, 2011
This article was first published in the May newsletter of the Angeles City Flying Club
Other stories about Woodland Airfield: