Monday, June 29, 2009

Things I have been flying in

I have been lucky enough to fly three times in the last two weekends!

Last week was Kingsbury fly-in, which is always an excellent festival of classic and WW1-era vintage aircraft and vehicles. John kindly took me up in this Meyers OTW for a few circuits:

I love flying in the Meyers, it's a great aeroplane. Not so good for taking photos from as there are so many wing wires and struts, but a nice stable yet agile flyer, it is.

Later on, we went up in this Luscombe Silvaire, which has a bit more horsepower and a nice open window. Alan took this one when we taxied in after landing:

We flew to do some air-to-air shots of this visiting Nieuport 28!:

This weekend, the balloon club decided to try and fly on Saturday morning as the winds were looking promisingly light. I was crewing for Rusty again. I was put onto the crown line this time which was cool as I've not done that before. It involves stabilizing the balloon as it inflates, with a long rope from the crown (top) of the balloon. When Rusty called me to run in towards the basket, she told me to get in; woo-hoo! So we enjoyed 30 minutes of glorious sunny morning flying across north-east Austin.

Looking up into Rusty's envelope, with the burner producing flame:

Sunny morning, shortly before landing at the UPS depot out of shot to the right:

When we landed, we found this little chap waiting for us! He was THIS BIG! No, actually he was about eight inches long. Kinda cute as snakes go. One of the other balloons found a five-foot-long viper, however, so we got off lightly!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Things that are bigger in Texas

They say everything is bigger in Texas, don't they?

Well, here we have a Stick Insect. Nice little guy. For our UK viewers, the quarter I put next to him is about the same size as a 10p piece.

And we have some weeds. Though they look like small trees, we were actually able to just pull them up like a dandelion. They have that odd root structure which makes a 90 degree bend and runs just under the surface of the earth. They came up like giant tentacles! Most bizarre. That's my black glove in the middle there, for scale.

Friday, June 19, 2009


Here's Alan's shiny new conical fermenter, in full swing during primary fermentation. It contains ten gallons of Summer Rye. Initial test pourings show promise of a lovely golden ale. Patience....

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Dad's Visit

It's been a while since the last update, mainly because I have been busy playing tour guide again - my Dad, Steve, came to visit for two weeks. Which was very splendid. So of course he needed the whistle-stop tour of Texas.

I picked him up from Austin Bergstrom airport on the afternoon of Thursday 28th, took him home, then once Alan was back we introduced him to Tex-Mex food at the Texican Cafe.

On Friday we started with Austin; went to Taco Deli for early lunch tacos, then downtown and had a mosey about. Looked in the Capitol Building. Went into the Chamber of Representatives and watched them conduct government. Here's a pic of the voting - all the green lights are votes for the motion, activated by buttons pressed by a few people who seem to run up and down empty desks, voting for those absent. It's a bit odd.

Diana had invited us to her house on Saturday for a pool party with Tamzin and the gang, so after a bit of shopping in the morning, we spent the afternoon splashing about which was good. Alan thoroughly enjoyed the water.

Sunday morning is shooting time, so we took Dad up to Capitol City Trap & Skeet where we normally shoot and met Larry for a round of sporting clays. This was (as always) a lot of fun and Dad shot pretty well, especially considering it's been years since he fired a shotgun. So here he is, obliterating a clay pigeon:

Monday morning saw us in Kerbey Lane Cafe on South Lamar, for a proper Austin breakfast. Here's Dad in the cafe:

After this, we went over to the LBJ Presidential Library to look around the museum there. This is always interesting but made more so right now as they have an exhibition relating to the space missions going on at the time of LBJ's Presidency.

We ate in Nonna Gina's Italian in Buda this night, which is one of our favourite places. The food is good, the portions sensibly sized and the place is friendly and local.

Tuesday was to be our jaunt into the Hill Country. We started at 7am in order to get over to Enchanted Rock early, before it got too hot. It takes a couple of hours to get there, so we enjoyed driving across country. The roads here stretch for miles and have almost no cars on them. It's still a place where other cars wave to you, simply because you're there.

Enchanted Rock was looking lovely. I'd been up there six weeks ago with Diane and the rock was looking very dry and barren. It had completely transformed during the intervening time, and was now covered with bright yellow flowers and lush grass in islands over the top, interspersed by rockpools with tiny creatures swimming inside. It was a beautiful day.

We spent the best part of two hours on the Rock before heading to Fredericksburg. I wanted to take Dad to the Airport Diner which is a fabulous 50's style diner, covered in chrome and colour, right at Gillespie County Airport. Unfortunately it was shut Mondays and Tuesdays. Here's an old DC-3 on the airport grounds:

So we repaired into town and got lunch in the Brewery; of course Dad took advantage of their flights of taster-size (2oz) beers so he could try them all :-)

Next up was the Admiral Nimitz Museum. This is supposed to be one of the best Pacific War museums in the country. Unfortunately they have closed off one of the biggest areas for renovation and expansion, which I'm sure will be a good thing in the long run, but meant Dad wasn't going to see their B-25 today. We did the rest of the museum though which was good and includes this Avenger:

Wednesday was forecast to be stormy but turned out into a lovely day again, which pleased me as I wanted Dad to see Kingsbury Aerodrome in the sun. This is where all the WW1-era aircraft live and Roger Freeman, who owns the place, was quite happy for us to come down and have a look around. He let us wander around the hangars so I gave Dad the tour, before Roger took us for lunch at the Chinese place in Seguin. Here's Dad outside one of the hangars:

Dad had made very good salad the night before, which we augmented with some extra veg. This was all we needed after eating well during the days.

Thursday took us down to San Antonio, as every guest has to go and see The Alamo. They don't let you leave Texas unless you've been there, you know. We stopped for breakfast on the way into town at a completely randomly-chosen Mexican cafe and had some really excellent breakfast tacos.

On we went, the Alamo has been seen and duly remembered. We then went into the Riverwalk and took a boat tour. This was quite amusing.

Next stop was on the south side of town, at Stinson Airfield. I'd not actually been to this airfield before. It is the second oldest airfield in the USA and is beautifully kept, with loads of GA aircraft about and a monument to the Stinson family who started it all. They also have a small museum at one end which was the object of our visit. Here is one of their two Curtiss Pusher aircraft, from the same era as the Wright Flyer and Bleriot:

We left there and managed to escape San Antonio before most of the rush hour traffic kicked in and got back in good time. Once Alan came home, we drove up to the Salt Lick and made sure Dad had some proper Texas barbeque while he was here.

Breakfast was taken in the Root Cellar Cafe in San Marcos on Friday. I'd spotted this place on the interweb and seen plenty of good reviews. We were not disappointed, the breakfast was really nice. This set us up for visiting San Marcos airport. This is a very nice airfield at which one may still walk on the live side amongst parked jets and turboprops without causing anyone to bat an eyelid, much to Dad's amazement and my delight. After examining the GA side, we drove round to the CAF hangar to look at the WW2 aircraft they keep inside; most of which are airworthy and appear at various shows in the region. This T-33 lives outside:

We continued south and visited the outlet mall, before going on to Gruene, a pretty town on the edge of New Braunfels.

After this, we headed back and boucned off the house to freshen up, before heading into Austin to meet Alan at the Ginger Man pub for a beer. It was very pleasant - and Dad was suitably impressed by the 150 or so beers on tap! - but it was heaving, so we walked over to Little Woodrow's where we were able to get a seat. Then it was only a short step to Hut's Hamburgers for dinner, where they serve onion rings so giant, they deserve to exist around planets.

That night, we got a huge thunderstorm in a cloud, although it didn't seem to quite reach us here. It looked good though:

Saturday was mostly spent shopping in preparation for the events of the weekend, although we did go up to Fry's Electronics via breakfast in Taco Deli North. We had been invited to a wedding on Saturday night; Phil and Renee from the balloon club got married. They held the ceremony on the front lawn at their house which was unusual but very pleasant. And then of course there was partying to be done!

We took Sunday morning slow, although we hadn't drunk a lot, but for some reason were very full. Eating catches up with you. Too bad we had to make a monster curry to feed the gang who were coming round later on! Tamzin, Diana and their families all descended on us about 3pm. Of course I had vastly underestimated the time it takes to make a curry for 12 people - I usually cook for two - so spent a lot of time having to finish that rather than be sociable, but hey ho. I made chicken tikka masala (we had marinaded the chicken the day before and Alan grilled it Sunday morning) and it turned out pretty good, everyone seemed to enjoy it.

(This photo © 2009 Steve Mitchell)

Monday was our last free day and we spent it fairly quietly; did some shopping for sports gear in Academy, looked at camping gear in REI. Alan had come home not feeling well so we came back to make sure he was OK. We did go out for tea but only locally, to the Galaxy Cafe for a light dinner. Alan went home again while Dad and I went into town, to Zilker Park, where the balloon club were doing a demo for anyone who cared to watch. Unfortunately not many general public folks turned out, and the winds were too high to properly inflate the balloons, so they were packed up again. The club tailgated but Dad and I went home to be with Alan.

Tuesday was very cool. Alan was feeling better so went off to work as normal. Dad and I met Diana and Tamzin in the Kyle HEB parking lot, before I tailed Diana down to Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio. Her brother, Col. Mike Kelley, flies F-16s for the Texas Air National Guard, and trains new F-16 pilots for the Air Force. He had invited Diana and the rest of us to the base for a visit. They got us on base and we had to wait a while during his briefing, and then we went for lunch in their BX. After this, we were bussed out to the flightline from where we could watch the F-16s taking off. There was also a huge C-5 Galaxy doing circuits. Mike flew for an hour but unfortunately we missed his landing as we were stuck in a traffic jam on base, trying to get to the other side of the airfield where the jets were parked. We had to return and have our guide grab a radio so she could drive us directly across the active runway. We arrived just in time for Mike to be walking away from his plane; he had just enough time to give us a close up look at the jets and a few quick photos before we all got on the bus with some other crew to be taken back to the squadron HQ. Thank you Col. Kelley, Diana and the 149th FW for our day out, it was fabulous!

Of course the pictures are on my main site, but here's Mike taking off:

The day was rounded off with a visit to Trattoria Lisina, a very nice Italian resturant alongside Mandola's Winery, out in Driftwood. We did the wine tasting and enjoyed a very splendid meal there.

We left on Wednesday morning at 6AM sharp, in order to drive to Houston and get to the Johnson Space Center by 10AM. This we did with no mishaps, stopping at a Whataburger for breakfast along the way (not great but it's fuel). Visits to NASA are always good. Dad enjoyed the tour greatly, in which you get to see the old control room:

Followed by the ISS training/mockup room which is huge, and finally a stop at the rocket park:

Back on site, you can wander around the spacecraft exhibits which for some reason are almost hidden behind the raucous children's area. Once inside, however, there are Mercury, Gemini and Apollo capsules to look at, spacesuits, equipment and moon rocks to examine. They have the old training simulator for Skylab which you can walk through; this is really quite big:

Following this, we drove over to the hotel. I'd chosen the same place as we stayed at when Diane was here, for the same good reason: you can walk to the Ginger Man Houston from it! This we did. Hot and humid as it was, we needed our beers by the time we got there, so plenty of Real Ale's finest Rio Blanco Pale Ale was consumed, before we left in search of food. The next block contained a very fine Vietnamese resturant in which we enjoyed a lovely meal and a TsingTao, before walking back to the hotel and one last beer (Chimay Red) before bed.

Next morning, we had breakfast at Einstein's Bagels, before I drove Dad to Houston International Airport for his flight home. It has been a wonderful two weeks.