Link to Profile Semperoper, Dresden Sieg (auf dem Siegesäule), Berlin Brandenburg Tor, Berlin Skyline, Frankfurt am Main

Sunday, July 29, 2007

So Where do the Bad Girls Get Pierced?

Don't you just love small town America?

Lens Envy

Wish mine were so big!

The Show Must Go On

I never did get to see the F-22 Raptor put on its act. I finally got a chance to move my campsite away from the highway and closer to the airshow, but in the process I missed the arrival of the Raptors on Thursday while I was setting up my tent.

The next day, on Friday, when they were supposed to put on a full show, a crash of two aircraft during an air race in the early part of the daily air show shut down the runway for a couple of hours.

They managed to get a few aircraft in the air that day because, as they say, the show must go on. Nevertheless, the Air Force stayed grounded and the airshow was cut short. Unfortunately, one of the pilots involved was killed in the crash, the other injured. We don't need such reminders that this is a risky business, but we get them anyway.

I had to pull up stakes and head to Chicago to have dinner with my sister, so I'll have to see the Raptor some other time. Other than a little heavy traffic heading south, that was pretty much the extent of my "misfortune." Despite that and the thunderstorms during a couple evenings, it was all in all a good show.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Oshkosh by Gosh

I've been coming to the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) Airvention at Oshkosh since the late 1970s.

EAA is dedicated to supporting a broad array of pilots ... an experimental aircraft can be one that is built in a garage, or it can be that old World War II fighter. It can be a twenty-seater powered by a jet engine, or it can be an ultralight powered a chainsaw motor. It can be many things. The common thread among the 600,000 so people who visit the Airvention is their love of all things aviation.

I used to come just to watch one of the larger collections of old "Warbirds" still flying. There is nothing quite so impressive as the sound of a 1500+ hp Merlin on a P-51 as it speeds on by at 300+ knots. There used to be a couple dozen or so P51s at Oshkosh each year, along with an entire Air Force of other warbirds like the F-4U Corsair, the P-40, and even old bombers like the B-17, B-25, and the B-26.

In recent years, I've been tempted to build my own aircraft "in the garage." The only things stopping me are the fact that I don't have a garage, I didn't have the 2000 to 5000 hours most builders typically put into their projects, and the more annoying fact that the German regulators are not as accomodative of these things, especially by a foreign-rated pilot like yours truly.

The nice thing about Airvention is you get to see hundreds of home-builts of all shapes and sizes. You get to meet the guys (sorry girls, but I haven't met any women who have built their own who built their own, though I have hear rumors that they do exist) who built them. You get the opportunity to take in a few workshops on building techniques if you want to build your skills before you start bending expensive metal or bonding even more expensive carbon fibre.

And it is not surprising that very few homebuilders actually start from scratch. Even though I am trained as an aerospace engineer, the thought of designing and building from scratch is a romantic notion at best. I'm good, but I would prefer to start with a proven design. Not so much because my life is on the line ... I'm not an idiot, so there would be a lot of testing before my butt was in the air in anything I desinged and built, but more because designing your own adds several thousand hours to a project. So another nice thing about Airvention is you get to meet a number of kit-plane merchants who have designed and sold a wide array of homebuilt designs, and these have been flight tested by hundreds of brave souls (which they truly are, because if you have ever seen the shape they have left a breakfast bar in, you would tend to wonder ... or hope ... that their home workshops and the insides of the aircraft they have built were in better shape). Building your own is a good way to get an aircraft that meets your own flying needs. This is the place to explore what those might be.

I haven't attended every year, but many of them ... this would be number 20 for me out of 29 years. Despite that long history, I am still something of an amateur attendee.

When I lived in the US, I would fly myself to the show and pitch a tent next to my aircraft. If alone or with friends, this was a great way to do the show. They have showers and camp shops. They've even added things like camp movie theaters with feature films that have a flying theme.

Last year I brought the Partnerin, so we stayed in a hotel. This year I decided to pack a tent in a rental car and drive up. I learned that this is the least optimal way to visit, because there are thousands of people who come via surface vehicle (Car, RV, motorcycle, even bicycle) fighting over a few thousand camp spots. If you come too late in the week long show cycle, you get relegated to the camping spots next to the highway. Lesson learned.

A motorhome next to the highway is not so good, but doable ... a tent next to the highway is a waste of time. It never used to be so bad in the Airplace campground, but then I was more fanatic and came the day before the show kicked off ... the later arrivals in the aircraft campground also seem to get dumped next to the highway ... note to self, don't fly in too late in the week if you are planning to camp here).

So as I type this in a rather shabby hotel that cost me nearly $200 for the night, my poor tent sits waiting for me to come back and rescue it. I kept it there because my camping fee doubles for a somewhat more expensive parking fee (you pay a minimum of three nights camping fee, so there is no point to pulling up stakes until the third night is used).

One of the highlights of Wednesday was an demonstration by US Marine Harriers. The highlight of Thursday will be the arrival of two of the US Air Force's F-22 Raptor fighters. I published a few photos from last year, but will try to put better pics from this year, if I get some. You see, the weather is a factor in these shows. And it wouldn't be Oshkosh without an afternoon thunderstorm. More to follow.

What's Wrong with this Picture?

This was actually part of a very funny act ... funny if you have a morbid sense of humor I guess. The woman behind me in the viewing section panicked when she saw pieces of the airplane falling off. Despite all the falling parts ... aileron, tires, other things l.. it still managed to turn and bank and land. Actually, if you watched very closely, it still had a miniature aileron in the section where you think one was missing, which answered the question of the guy next to me, to wit "How does he manage to turn?"

Life is a Bowl of Cherries?

This seems to be a July pattern, me disappearing from the blogosphere. What have I been doing?

Growing cherries on my balcony, for one thing. The first crop was staggering! 14 of them in all. Two more seasons like this and the tree will have paid for itself, though the poort tree is not so likely to make it through two more seasons on the balcony. It really needs to find its way into real earth so it can spread its roots. There might be a real-life analogy in that for me, but I generally prefer to live in denial, so I'm going to ignore it.

I've been keeping moving. I have to, because on of the other things I've been doing is eating. Creme Brulee ....

and massive amounts of cookies from this seducitve little baker in Strasbourg. France is the culinary equivalent of Amsterdam, and there's this little cookie shop where the ladies thrust a sample of their wares at you. It's hard to resist, and I don't.

And I've been flying. A lot. Here's Brussels National Airport from the air. This was one of the few holes in the clouds on my last trip to London. I've been to England a couple times, but it was solid IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions ... a technical way of saying you can't see much) On my last trip, I spent two hours actually flying through clouds and another hour and a half flying around some that were building into afternoon thunderstorms ... didn't want the rough ride.

I've been to London a couple times this summer, but I didn't really see much of it from the air until my instrument approaches to the airports (Biggin Hill and Cambridge). So no nice shots of the white cliffs, but I'll head that way a few more times in the months to come. They do get sunshine in England ... just doesn't seem to be happening much this year.

Speaking of flying, I'm actually writing this from the US, where I've gone for the annual Experimental Aircraft Association "Airvention" at Oshkosh. I'll write more on that later.

I will say that there are some things I really miss about America, but there are some things that I do not. In other words, I've ranted quite a bit about the things in Germany that bug me, but now its time to turn my keyboard on my home country.

One thing I do not miss are shabby hotel rooms. Both in terms of repair as well as cleanliness. I'm not talking about the high end places, where an unclean room is unthinkable at $300+ per night. But the average places at around $100 to $150 per night ... which is still a lot of money ... are simply appalling. And it is that way all across the country.

I stayed in a EUR 40 per night "dive" in Ostend a couple weeks ago, and the room was far cleaner than the rooms I've had here in the past couple of weeks. And the breakfast was much better.

Which is another funny thing about traveling in the US these days. A number of these mid-range hotel chains have started offering what they call breakfast. At Double Tree it is "made to order," which means you can get a somewhat decent omelette. At many of these places you can oast a bagel and have a styrofoam bowl of cereal (I'll let you decide which was more foam ... the bowl or the cereal) and some juice.

The problem I have with buffets is that the average human is somewhat sloppy. The difference between breakfast buffets in Europe and the US is that in Europe they actually have a couple of staff tending to the buffet somewhat regularly so that it doesn't look like a hostpital emergency room after a major train accident. In the US, in many of these places at least, it is the harried night manager who is rushing to keep the thing stocked while answering phones. As for cleaning it up, the solution seems to be to forget about it. And he or she is usually a recent immigrant.

I keep hearing that the US needs its vast (12 to 20 Million strong and growing) pool of cheap labor to do the jobs that Americans won't do. Well, news flash, the cheap labor pool doesnt' seem to be doing those jobs so well themselves, so wake up and smell the coffee.

And finally, my fellow Americans, when there is one syrup dispenser at the waffel iron, what makes you think you can take it to your table for your private and exclusive use. There might be an analogy or parable in this for the state of affairs in the world, but I'm out of here before I really get myself in trouble.