Friday, April 9, 2010

Aeronca Sedan: January-April 1970

I didn't pilot another plane for nearly 4 years, until Marge and I bought an  Aeronca Sedan,  registered as N1438H, in Massachusetts.   We bought that to see the March 7, 1970 eclipse over Nantucket, and fly to California.

Although I flew the plane to our home airport in Augusta, Maine safely, it needed minor repairs by Ed Williams, the experienced meticulous mechanic at the local FBO.    Five weeks layer, on the morning of the eclipse, the plane was still in pieces.  Marge and I and my 14-year-old stepson Phil hurried to help Ed put things back together, and we took off with about 30 minutes to spare.  After an emergency bathroom stop in Massachusetts there were zero minutes to spare.   As we arrived over Nantucket we could see the vast shadow sweeping over the ocean towards us at 1500 miles an hour.   It was awesome and unforgettable.  The visible world became black except for a few automatic lights below, and a brilliant sunrise-sunset marked the horizon full circle around us.  Then we saw sunlight far away apparently sweeping toward us as the umbra (shadow) sped swiftly away.

We saw only one other plane aloft in the eclipse, but as we started for Maine the Martha's Vineyard airport below was crowded with planes preparing to take off, their occupants having watched the show through telescopes.

We learned 2 things about eclipses, untimely because for most people there are few of them in their lifetime unless they travel to experience them:
* Don't bother with a still or video camera.  The results show practically nothing.   As with a first kiss, the idea is to pay attention and savor the moment forever.
* You can look safely at the image during the entire complete eclipse, because the sun is hidden.  The moment a sliver of sun starts to show, use the special eclipse glasses or just look away.

There is a strong psychological phenomena that occurs when flying over water beyond gliding distance to land, called "automatic rough".   In older planes without sophisticated engine instrumentation, one is constantly listening for a small change in the sound of the motor, which might indicate trouble.   That occurred as we flew over several miles of ocean to and from Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard.   It turned out that we didn't just "hear things".   We had an independent expert examine our engine, and he wrote a paper excoriating the dealer who had sold us the plane.  There were 3 bad cylinders.  We received that paper just as someone was about to buy our plane, so we told him, lowered the price, and sold the plane.  That looked like the end of our plan to fly our own plane to California.