Flying to Rarotonga

The Rarotonga International Airport (RAR) has a runway that is 7,638 feet long.

I am flew there on a 777-200. That seems like a rather short runway for a big jet. I’ve landed on longer runways myself (like San Bernardino or Ontario). Curious, I looked up the minimum runway length for a 777-200. According to the Air Cyber Alliance, it is 8,563 feet. Yes, that is longer than the Rarontonga runway. Eeek?

Minimum runway lengths are dictated by how much space the plane needs to take off (which is generally longer than the space needed to land. Yes, this means planes can land somewhere and then be unable to take off again). The minimums are calculated for the aircraft when fully loaded, at max gross weight. So one way to take off in less distance is to reduce the load – fewer passengers, less cargo, or less fuel.

According to the seat map, my return flight is nearly or completely full of passengers, so they won’t go that route. And they can’t skimp much on fuel: the flight from RAR to LAX is quite long (4,688 miles, 10 hours) and the 777-200 has a maximum range of 5,240 miles when fully fueled. Plus, you don’t just take exactly enough fuel to get there; you need extra fuel in case you have to divert or circle or otherwise go out of your way. So maybe they just reduce cargo?

I noticed that they schedule return flights to depart close to local midnight – probably trying to use the coolest part of the day to improve the plane’s performance. And by “coolest”, I mean 78 F. Challenging for flying. I want to chat with these pilots!

How strong is that sunshine?

I am heading to the Cook Islands in a few weeks to explore the island of Rarotonga. This is a tiny island, covering 26 square miles and with a population of 10,000, in the south Pacific.

To prepare for the trip, I have been monitoring the weather out there. This is their rainy season, so it’s getting pounded with thunderstorms (eek!). I’m hoping it will clear up a bit before my trip.

In addition to thunderstorms, I noticed the weather report on the UV index, which has been varying from 7 to 9 during the day. At first I thought maybe the max value was 10, but then saw it go up to 11. So I looked up what exactly the UV index is. I learned that it doesn’t have a max value! It’s a measurement of the amount of “sunburn-producing UV radiation”, so it focuses on the amount of radiation in the 295-325 nm range. It is unitless, and the range is linear (so a UV index of 10 is twice as strong as 5). It was originally designed so that 10 would correspond to typical noontime summer (max) sunlight. However, this was established in 1992, and since then, higher and higher values have been observed, up to the world record of 43 (!!!) in 2003, although that value is contested and might “only” be 26.

Wikipedia’s guidelines suggest that one should limit midday exposure if the UV index is anywhere over 3, and over 6 yields “high risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure.” If it gets over 11, “unprotected skin and eyes can burn in minutes.” So, time to break out the sunscreen and protective clothing… unless I’m stuck indoors due to thunderstorms :)

U.S. concentration camps in WWII

Did you know that the U.S. had its own concentration camps during WWII? Every time I re-encounter this fact, I am amazed anew. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order and 110,000 Japanese Americans were rounded up and placed in camps in the western U.S. By the way, almost half of the 68 civilian casualties at Pearl Harbor were Japanese Americans. (A total of 2,403 Americans died that day.)

In the 1980s, an investigation determined that the decision to put Japanese Americans in camps had little grounding in any evidence of disloyalty and was instead due to “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership” (Senate Bill 1009, 1987). This led to President Reagan signing the Civil Liberties Act in 1988 that apologized and authorized reparations for camp survivors.

Today’s debates about immigration, deportation, and refugees are held in the context of constant background fear about terrorism. Our history shows us that our country, just like any other, can be moved to acts we later regret out of fear and concerns about national security. We can claim no inherent moral superiority.

In addition to knowing facts, like how many people were groundlessly incarcerated, it is helpful to hear about individual experiences. The Densho digital archive collects stories of Japanese Americans with a particular focus on their incarceration in American concentration camps in WWII. Densho provides more than 900 video interviews as well as photos, documents, and camp newspapers. The photo at right is of the Manzanar concentration camp in California, taken by Ansel Adams.

The interviews talk about how people were rounded up, life in the camps, and the impact of that experience. As just one example, Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga talked about giving birth to her daughter while living in a camp. She was unable to persuade the camp to provide canned milk for her daughter, who was allergic to powdered milk. Yet some internees had access to art classes, or softball games as shown at left (I love this picture).

One detail of personal interest I learned is that one of the Citizen Isolation Centers (where “so-called troublemakers” were sent from the concentration camps) was located near my hometown of Moab, Utah.

These interviews are fascinating and educational. I look forward to listening to more of them. Perhaps the stories shared in this collection can help us to avoid repeating our mistakes.

Cornelia Fort and WWII

On December 7, 1941, Cornelia Fort was up on the air giving a flying lesson near Pearl Harbor when the Japanese bombed it. “I jerked the controls away from my student and jammed the throttle wide open to pull above the oncoming plane,” she wrote.

“The painted red balls on the tops of the wings shone brightly in the sun. I looked again with complete and utter disbelief. Honolulu was familiar with the emblem of the Rising Sun on passenger ships but not on airplanes.

I looked quickly at Pearl Harbor and my spine tingled when I saw billowing black smoke. Still I thought hollowly it might be some kind of coincidence or maneuvers, it might be, it must be. For surely, dear God…”

She quickly landed her plane and ran for shelter with her student while Japanese fighters strafed the area. She was 22 years old.

Cornelia survived the attack. Other civilian pilots were not as lucky. She returned to the mainland and joined the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, a precursor to the WASP program.

“We have no hopes of replacing men pilots. But we can each release a man to combat, to faster ships, to overseas work. Delivering a trainer to Texas may be as important as delivering a bomber to Africa if you take the long view.”

Tragically, she died just two years later (age 24) in a mid-air collision with another ferry pilot. She was an excellent pilot and no doubt would have gone on to do other great things. How I wish I could have known her!

Flying to Santa Barbara

Recently I flew to Santa Barbara (KSBA), my first class C airport! The seasonal Santa Ana winds were in effect, so I got to use weird runways for part of the trip.

1. From El Monte (KEMT) to Santa Monica (KSMO):
Normally our wind is from the south, and we typically use RW 19. On this morning, the winds were from 050 at 7 kts, and RW 1 was in use. The Santa Anas come from the desert, and sure enough – the temperature spread indicated a relative humidity of just 15% (dewpoint was -9 C!).

Departing on RW 1 makes my home airport feel like an alien airport. I made a left downwind departure for Santa Monica (that’s how backwards it was). Halfway there, near Dodger Stadium, I was given a vector to avoid a 737 (probably on downwind for LAX). I never saw it, so it was probably pretty far away and above me (in the LAX Bravo airspace, which I was studiously staying under). But I’m happy to get out of their way anytime 😃

KSMO told me to make left traffic for RW 3 (also not the usual runway there, and humidity was down to 9%!). I was following a small jet, so I also got “caution: wake turbulence.” It was flying a higher, wider pattern (at a higher speed as well) so it was a bit weird to be below and between it and the runway, but I kept it in sight without trouble. It landed just as I was abeam, so I had a great view of its touchdown point and was able to plan my landing accordingly. (When landing behind a jet, you want to touch down past where it did so its wake vortices don’t roll you onto your back.) I made a nice landing and taxied to the transient area to pick up Manuel.

2. From KSMO to Santa Barbara (KSBA):
Manuel took the helm, and we departed on RW 3. He was piloting and I was doing nav and comm. This is a great way to split piloting duties! Except I managed to say something like “Santa Monica Tower, Skyhawk 54678 holding short of runway 3. Requesting left crosswind departure to Santa Monica.” DOH. I meant Santa Barbara! Tower politely asked me to repeat my destination and I got it right. 😃

Manuel flew us along the coastline, which is stunning (although my pilot brain can’t quite relax due to contemplating the minimal emergency landing options). We also had a nice tailwind that had us making 130 kts ground speed!

2016-11-18-coast

When we got close, Santa Barbara Approach handed us off to the tower and that was it – we were inside class C airspace! It was kind of anticlimactic. KSBA was less busy than KCMA (class D). The only difference was that tower was giving us vectors, which actually makes your life easier. We landed on runway 15L and taxied to the Atlantic FBO. One difference was that we were told to “monitor” the ground frequency, not to “switch” to it, which apparently means “switch frequencies but don’t self-announce.” Tower had already given us taxi instructions, so we didn’t need more info from ground, but we would certainly want to be listening if they had anything more to say to us (they didn’t).

We signed in at the FBO and then walked down to the beach! There is a nice 10-15 minute walk to Goleta Pier and a cafe right there. Perfect lunch spot!

2016-11-18-goleta-beach

3. From KSBA to KSMO:
After lunch, I flew us back. A class C airport requires that you first call “clearance delivery” to make your departure request. The key pieces of information you need are summarized by the acronym “CRAFT”:

  • C: Clearance (e.g., if it’s a named procedure, or your destination)
  • R: Route (direction)
  • A: Altitude
  • F: Frequency (of departure control)
  • T: Transponder (squawk code)

We were assigned runway 15L, the same one we’d landed on. Except that the winds were now from 320 at 3 kts. I stared at that for a minute before saying, “That’s a tailwind,” in puzzlement. Manuel noted that they don’t like you to take off to the north since there is a big mountain right there. So… okay… 3-kt tailwind… but more runway than we really need, so I guess that’s okay…

[Note: that uneasy feeling is a sign that you should probably check your personal minimums and decide whether you want to proceed. This is something I am still working on. Curiously, “tailwind component” is not on the list (only “crosswind component”).]

There was also a warning for “low-level wind shear”, which is NOT a pilot’s friend. As we taxied into position, I kept glancing at the wind sock, which was swinging around. Tower announced that the wind was now from 090 at 7 kts, which was stronger, but I’d rather have that crosswind than a tailwind.

While we waited, I heard another plane being cleared to take off on runway 7 (KSBA has crossing runways). That would be a much better runway, given the winds, but maybe they only use that one for commercial traffic. Anyway, we finally got cleared to take off and “maintain runway heading.”

This makes for a breathtaking soaring climb out over the ocean. We were initially told to stay at or below 1800′, but before we reached that altitude, they canceled the restriction. I kept the heading nailed, but after a while of climbing into the big blue sky I rather wanted to turn and head for Santa Monica (and get back closer to land). Tower kept us heading out for what seemed like a really long time (we got to about 5000′) before allowing us to turn.

2016-11-18-sba-takeoff

Since we hadn’t actually asked for “flight following”, I wondered how that would work out. We had a squawk code, but in some online discussions I’ve seen cases where towers assign local codes that aren’t valid once you leave that airspace. But tower handed us off to departure, and departure to Mugu, then SoCal approach, and a couple of times we got traffic warnings, so it all seemed to work perfectly.

That same wind that had sped us over to KSBA fought against us on the way back. I had trouble getting the plane up to 100 kts ground speed (despite 120 kts indicated).

Santa Monica beach and pier:

2016-11-18-sm-pier

I got a right downwind approach to runway 21 at KSMO along with a request to “keep it tight” (someone else coming in). The approach and set-up were all fine, but at the last minute I tried to fix the sun visor (we were landing right into the sun and I don’t have sunglasses) and I think that threw me off a little – a bit of a clunk! Lesson learned: don’t mess with stuff when you’re 20 feet off the ground, even when it seems trivially easy 😃 (Yes, I already knew that. But sometimes experiencing it really shows you why!)

4. KSMO to KEMT:
After dropping Manuel off, I taxied up to take off of RW 21 for return to KEMT. I was #5 in line waiting! I got to watch a Decathlon take off (cute little tailwheel!). Then I was off and turning into a left downwind departure. Manuel got this great shot of my takeoff, including people on the observing deck.

2016-11-18-ksmo-sunset

Despite my request, I never did get flight following set up by the KSMO folks, but it’s such a short flight that I just kept my eyes peeled, stayed under the Bravo, and switched over to KEMT when I was downtown. I got a nice normal right traffic entry to RW 19 and a very nice landing near sunset. Done!

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