The Red Nose of Courage

Posted December 2013

Most of the country is getting hit with horrible weather, but Seattle's doing just fine.

Today dawned clear and beautiful.  Only one problem:  Temperature was below freezing.

Now, I've flown in cold weather before.  This should be any different. But I stared out the window, wondering if I was *really* ready to do it again.

It's been a few years, here, since cold weather coincided with clear skies.  I'm not forty anymore, in fact, I saw fifty almost ten years ago.  Maybe this gallivanting around, flying an open-cockpit plane in freezing weather, was for the younger generation.

Heck.  Do I have the guts to do this again?

Finally decided to do it.  Donned a turtleneck sweater under my flannel shirt, grabbed the B-3, and headed to the airport.

Cripes, it's cold.  I preflight the plane in the hangar, then roll it out into the frosty sunshine.  My hands are frigid; I should have worn gloves during the preflight, and the prop was a block of ice when I tugged on it to get the plane out.

Over to the shelves, grab the ammo can with the cold-weather gear (in an ammo can; it seals and keeps the mice out).  Out comes the ski mask, pull it on.   Trail out the blue-and-white RAF scarf, wrap it around the neck under the B-3.  Grab the thick gloves, and slip them on... better to fumble with gloves on, than to risk dropping one to the cockpit floor and have to get out to retrieve it.

Out to the cockpit.  One problem with the B-3 is that it's thicker, and with the shoulder harness loose enough to buckle, the adjustment straps end up way behind my shoulders and almost impossible to get to.  Try to put them on WITHOUT loosening them, first?

Over the cockpit side, climb into the seat.  Slam!  The carefully-sculpted Temperfoam of my fancy seat is rock hard.  I'm perched atop the front roll, nearly looking over the top of the windshield.  Grab the shoulder harness.  Doesn't come too near the lap belt... but by loosening the lap belt, I'm able to connect the left harness.  Grab the right shoulder harness.  A few moments of struggle, and it's over the right-side lap belt.  Loosen the lap belt all the way, and it finally clicks together.  The lap belt is riding way too high, but I figure as the Temperfoam warms, I'll drop down and tighten it up in the right spot.

On with the helmet.  Gloved fingers fumble with the plugs, but finally get the whole thing plugged in.  Ready to start.  Lower the goggles.

Hmmmm.... the ski mask is leaving a gap outside the goggles.  Pull it over.  Ummm, can't do it with gloves, pull off the right one to tug the elastic back...

...and the glove tumbles to the cockpit floor.

#$%^#!  Lean forward.  Can't reach.  Sigh, unbuckle the seat belts. STILL can't reach.  Throw the belt off, climb out, dig out the glove, put it on.  I loosen the shoulder belts a bit to make it easier to get back on.

Climb in, don belts.  Right shoulder harness fairly loose.  Durn, it'll be fine.

Notice the headset power switch is On...and the red, "Replace Battery" light is flashing.  Damn, had I noticed that, I could have replaced the battery during the glove excursion.  Oh, well, the ANR doesn't work too well over a ski mask, anyway (bad seal).

Time to start the engine.  Mags on, three squirts of prime, "Clear," and pull the handle.  Engine pulls over slowly a few times, then catches and runs.

For fifteen seconds.  Then it stops.'s NEVER done that before.  I pull the handle and crank it over some more.  Nothing.

Flooded?  Or needing more prime?  Back when I flew in North Dakota, we practically had to use the primers as a wobble pump in cold weather. But, sheesh, it's barely freezing.

I give it another shot of prime.  It flips over, almost catches. Encouraged, I shoot another couple shots... catches, and I'm able to keep it going.

We sit in front of the hangar, idling, for five minutes, then start the long taxi to the end of the active.  Runup is normal.

Onto the runway, and slowly feed in power.  The Continental isn't too happy, but soon is cranking out 2300 RPM.  Break ground, watch the low-angle-sun shadow crawl sideways below.

Beautiful day.  Around here, you can measure the weather by counting volcanoes.  Mt. Rainier is just 50 miles off, looming huge as usual.  I see Mt. Baker, hundred miles to the north.  Pretty hazy south, can't make out St. Helens.

I realized, suddenly, that I was comfortable.  Nothing was cold.  Little of me was *warm*, in fact, but nothing was uncomfortably chilled. I rested the left elbow on the cockpit rim and settled back.

The browns and greens of a Pacific Northwest winter were spread around...the browns of the fields, the dark green of the evergreen forests.  I noticed the big puddles and ponds had a mirror-like finish.   Ice!  Dodged over to Lake Tapps, a pretty big glacier-fed lake.  Main part of the lake looked ice-free, but the areas around the shores looked like they were freezing over.  Some of the smaller inlets looked frozen, too.

Noticed my left elbow was getting a bit cold.  I'd always thought the B-3 was like a blasphemous declaration by US Navy Submariners about the steel alloy their hulls are made from...the clean part of the saying ends, "Nothing gets past HY80!"  I had previously felt that nothing would get past my B-3, either.  It fought well against that 90 MPH blast, but was obviously gradually losing.  No matter, just bring the elbow inside.

Start heading home. Pattern is actually a bit busy, with two flight-school helicopters and a Zenith running patterns.  I make my entry and turn downwind.

Now, I *know* that if I were to land on the first pattern on a chilly day, people would nod knowingly and say, "Guess Ron got cold."

Can't have THAT happen.  So I called for a touch-and-go.  I hit some clearing bursts on the throttle during final, but the Continental did NOT want to go back to work again.  I nursed it back to full power and roared off again.

Turn crosswind.  Cessna calls on 45.  I spot him, and say, "I'll follow you."

"Thanks," he replies.  "Staying warm?"

"Anytime I get cold I just fire up the espresso machine."

He chuckles, and we fly our patterns.  I call touch-and-go, and bring it around again.  This'll be the last one, I'll full-stop next time.

But...there's two figures, standing on the grass outside the airport fence.  One taller, older...but one little guy.  Watching me.

Can't stop now.  I've got an audience.

Roll the wheels, nurse the C85 back to life, call downwind on another touch and go.  This time, I hold my left arm out of the cockpit and wave.  The man sees it and waves back.  No reaction from the kid.

Around again.  Man is waving early.  The kid doesn't move.

Hmmmm... give him one more chance.  Around again, call for a full-stop.

Again, Dad (or Grampa) waves, and the kid stands stock still?

Shy?  Probably.  But maybe he's drinking it all in, and has no time for me.  Hearing the whirr of the wires through the crisp air.  The peeved mutter of the frosty Continental.  The curves of the wingtips, the arch of the fuselage, the glint of the low winter sun on the drumming fabric.

Won't really know, I guess.  Pass overhead, ease back on the stick, feel for the asphalt.  Thud-thud, we're down, and decelerating quickly on the dense air.

Leave the goggles down while taxiing's cold out there. A friend waves from his hangar. Around the corner, down the row, kill the engine, hit the seat lever, and climb on out.

As I get in the car to grab my normal glasses, I see myself in the mirror.  Bit of RAF scarf peeking from the B-3.  Nose bright and red from the cold (my ski mask doesn't cover it).

But, damn.  DAMN nice flight.  A little chilly, here and there.  But damn!  I enjoyed that.

I have a tradition...if the flight was REALLY fun, I don't take my scarf off after I stow the plane.

It stayed on today....

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