Saturday, January 24, 2009

Sunset Flight

Yesterday evening, Jim asked if I'd like to accompany him to Taylor airfield. Never being one to refuse such a request, I gladly joined him for a splendid afternoon of some hangar flying, followed by some real flying at sunset, once the howling winds had died down.

Here's a few pics:

Jim taxiing around to the gas pump.

Lifting off from the runway.

sunset from 2000 feet.

Taylor airfield.

Jim gave me some practise at co-ordinated turns and we flew for something like 20-30 excellent minutes. Thanks Jim!

French Cheese tastic!

So my friend Jim went to Paris a few weeks ago and he takes great delight in purchasing really tacky souvenirs for his mates. Behold the gloriousness of this Eiffel tower in glass, illuminated in soft soothing colours!

Monday, January 19, 2009


The plot of land next door to us has been sold; we think it sold a couple of weeks before Christmas. On the 23rd December, we came home to the sight of diggers next door, destroying every last cedar tree on the property. Which was a bit of a shock, quite frankly.

I think it was an even bigger shock for the local bird population, most of whom were quite happy flitting about over there. So it's no great surprise that we seem to have acquired some new feathered visitors to our feeding station, as there's a lot less trees now for them to go to.

We have seen and heard these Ladder-backed Woodpeckers mostly in the distance but now they like to come right up to the house. Mrs Woodpecker (black cap) loves the suet cake and can be seen pecking away at it pretty often. She lets me get really close with the camera, too, about 5 feet away.

Her husband wears a red cap and is a little shyer. He's also either less hungry or just isn't given much of a look in to the feeder.

They make a distincive tweet and of course the odd hammering sound gives their presence away. It's good to have them around.

Unrelated but cool: We had lunch today in the very new Fiddler's Hearth Irish pub in town. They sell cod and chips, served in newspaper, as it should be! Jolly tasty they were too :-)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Building an Aeroplane

I had my first bash at helping to build a plane yesterday!

I'd been down to New Braunfels first thing in the morning, to visit their Pancake Breakfast fly-in. Winds were gusting to 30+ mph so I wasn't expecting much action and sure enough, not many planes were about. No matter, all the pilots drive in anyway and sit around in the cafe, hangar flying. I sat for a while with the pilots and another photographer, Dennis, who I see around at these things. Which was all very pleasant.

Onwards to Kingsbury, where I had to deliver some photos to Roger who owns the place. We sat for a while looking through those.

Then I asked if I could get involved in doing something. It was a work day, in which lots of volunteers show up every two weeks or so, to build planes, repair vehicles etc etc.

So, they put me to work on a Thomas Morse Scout wing which had been restored and had a loose cover of Ceconite fabric over it. They gave me an electric iron and set me to work heat-shrinking the fabric over the wooden rib structure.

Tom Gaylord kindly sent me these photos.

Here's me ironing out wrinkles under Roger's tutelage:

Once all the wrinkes were flattened, and Roger had inspected the wing, it was time to apply the first coat of nitrate dope. This is (as I understand it) a base coat to strengthen the fabric. Beyond this lies rib stitching and dope-based paint.

Here's me painting on the dope:

And (as Tom put it) the usual supervisor-to-worker ratio, or one worker; four BSers!

I probably spent 3-4 hours working on this lot. It was a lot of fun though and it felt good to be involved in doing something. Hopefully I can get down there again and do a bit more.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

A glorious morning

Or, snatching victory from the jaws of despair...

I'm a member of the local hot air ballooning club and yesterday one of the pilots asked for some crew for a flight this morning. We were to meet at Old Settler's Park in Round Rock at 06:30.

So I asked where this place was and was given a map, upon which was marked two pavilions suitable for meeting up at. Off I trot to Round Rock at 05:30 this morning. It's pitch dark still when I arrive so I just followed the road into the park where I found both pavilions but nobody else, so I parked up and waited. And waited. And waited. And called the pilot - no answer. Waited some more. Drove around a bit looking for people. Phoned again; no answer. Drove around some more - by now almost an hour had passed since our allotted meeting time - and saw a balloon in the sky. DAMNDAMNDAMN Where the hell are they then?!!! Drove out of the park to find the balloons (for there were two more) inflated and ready to go, outside the park entrance, in a parking lot right by the main road.

So I careened up, leapt out of the car and being honest, was a bit upset. I had been looking forward to crewing; wanted to hang on ropes and operate fans, and felt I'd let my pilot down by not being there. He knew I was coming because he phoned me while I was en-route. Bloody maps that point you to the wrong place.

Anyway, Joe the pilot simply told me to get in the balloon... which is very nice of him since I had totally not expected to fly today.

Joe's Burner and Envelope

We lifted off and flew right over the top of the Dell Diamond baseball park, and spent the next hour flying at about 18mph and 500 feet across to Taylor, across industrial estates and housing estates, our way marked by a trail of barking dogs. Waving at folks on the ground, at cars slowing down to have a look at us. Taking loads of pictures of the other balloon which lifted off behind us. Watching cranes fly out of creeks and cattle running away from us. Watching the chase crew following us around. Marvelling at how little people had in their back yards in Hutto, just grass and bicycles (don't people plant trees around here?).

The other balloon

Joe was on his check ride so he did a couple of touch-and-goes in a nice wide field. Most of the fields around were ploughed so the landings were a bit bobbly as we hit the furrows. We had a little bit of wind steerage - different altitudes often have winds blowing in different directions - but not quite enough to put us into Taylor airport (which would have been quite cool).

Holding the balloon upright just after landing

We landed into a field just to the North. The other balloon landed in behind us. The basket tipped over a bit and we dragged for a few yards but it was all fine. I stayed put as I'd been told to do; passengers are merely ballast after all! Eventually enough air had been released from the crown of the balloon to deflate it suffiently that it would no longer be taken by the wind, and we were properly down.


Wednesday, January 07, 2009


Hello to any of Tamzin's friends and family that might have moseyed on over here!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Holiday Round-Up

Happy new year, to anyone reading this.

So, a few random observations on the festive period...

Alan and I went to the Trail of Lights with Tamzin, Allan and their kids. We enjoyed a pleasant meal at the Green Mesquite beforehand. I've been wanting to visit the Trail each year we've been here but never quite made it. It's a 1 1/4 mile long walk through Zilker Park lined with all sorts of Christmas lighting of trees etc. We went on a bitterly cold night (yes, we do get those in Texas occasionally) which gave me my annual excuse to wear my lovely flying jacket. Here's a few pics:

Entrance, with constant stream of people:

A nice jellyfish tree next to some typically plasticky awful character-based giant diorama things which line the trail:

The exit:

Verdict: Cool for kids. For us: seen it! Will be viewing from a safe distance (like, the pub) next year. Did I mention it was heaving with people?

We held a party just before Christmas for some folks from Alan's work. It seemed to go down pretty well; people seemed to enjoy themselves. Note for the future: Salmon on rye bread doesn't disappear nearly as fast as queso and chips. However Larry brought his famous Neiman Marcus bread (DANG! that stuff'll give you a sugar rush for a week) and Tamzin and Allan inundated us with cookie-based goodness; much of it gluten-free for one of our guests.

Next up was a Gumbo and Curry evening at Micah and Brandi's house, along with other Alan-work folks (different ones this time, mostly!). Micah made the gumbo, Alan made the curry and both were delicious.

Christmas Day was spent quietly in the house. Alan cooked a very nice steak for lunch which he coated in coffee/paprika rub. We had Dauphinoise potatoes and veg; it was all very tasty.

Boxing Day (for American readers, the UK celebrates this on the 26th. Explanation.) was spent mostly at Allan and Tamzin's house, where we joined in playing on their new Rock Band game (I reprised my old drum bashing antics) and much merriment and jollity ensued. Tamzin laid out a mountain of food again which was most splendid, and I was roped in to learn how to make lentil soup. People could still eat it so I guess I didn't break anything.

On Monday 29th I went down to Kerrville with some chaps from the CAF squadron in Burnet. Unfortunately, a well known airshow display pilot and Reno racer of years past, Lefty Gardner, died on Christmas Eve and I was asked to go down and photograph the funeral tribute flypast.

This formation includes three P-51 Mustangs and one P-38 Lightning, Lefty's old plane.

New Year's Eve was spent at Allan and Tamzin's place too; they organized a party and had everyone dress in black tie (or as near as one could manage) so we met a load of their neighbours who we hadn't seen before. It was pretty good. Mountains of good food again! Nobody goes hungry when Tamzin's on the case! Fireworks rounded off the evening which was cool.

So I'll end like I started: Happy new year!