Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Mother of Invention

Some of the busiest flying fields here in San Diego county aren’t airports. Although you can see them from the air or on Google’s satellite shots, most of them don’t even exist, according to the aviation bureaucracy. A couple of them are paved but the others are dirt, sod, gravel, or a dry lake bed. One is just a section of seldom traveled road. The ones that are paved usually appear on your air-nav charts but most of them aren’t on any map, their location known only to airmen or to near-by home owners, if there are any. Which can lead to some funny situations.

I’d promised to help a friend put some new tires on his notso-ultralight, hangared under an oak tree about two hours from the shop. As I loaded the tools into my bus I realized that while I’d flown into the place a time or two, I didn’t know how to get there by road. Even though I knew the location of the airfield it wasn’t shown on any of the maps I checked. I finally had to call the fellow.

The next day, following the directions I’d penciled onto my Thomas Bros., I got there a bit ahead of him, parked near his bird, poured myself a cuppa thermos coffee. Folks were flying but the strip was well away from the tie-downs. Next door, a couple of guys were working on blue & white pusher. Pretty. Nowadays there’s so many different ultralights I can’ tell one from another. My friend arrives and we set up a work-station. I don’t like doing maintenance on dirt so we put down a tarp then some cardboard.

He’s using six-inch Azusa wheels with juice brakes from that fellow in Oregon. We get the brake puck out of the way, removed the wheel and were taking it apart when the neighbors wander over to ask if we might have some spare wire. They’re trying to ring-out a wiring problem using a digital VOM as a continuity tester but the leads are too short to reach from the engine to the panel.

There’s some jumpers somewhere in my kit but I don’t want to go dig them out. Hand them my flashlight. Then have to show them how it works. Unwrap the wires from around the flashlight, unclip the alligator clips and you’ve got a continuity tester about ten feet long.

We’re starting on the other wheel when the neighbors fire up their engine, the electrical problem apparently solved. A little later they shut it down, bring back my flashlight and we chat for a while before they go off to fly. I re-wind the wires, roll the big o-ring over them to keep them in place.

It’s a little past noon when we finish the job, clean up and put the tools away. We’ve been keeping an eye on the wind because the strip is sorta east & west, the wind wasn’t and my fee is a bit of free flight time. The wind has picked up a bit but my friend decides we’re good to go so we evict the mice, pull the wing covers and go flying. We buzz over to another field about twenty minutes away where the wind is pretty much right down the middle of the strip. After bouncing the wheels a few times we decide the new tires are working okay and take the bird back home.

After slipping on the wing covers and doing the paper-work we discuss getting some covers for the wheels, probably a good idea and sure to please the little brown and white field mice that are becoming something of a problem. Then my friend asks:

“How’s that flashlight-thing work?”

I dig it out, take it apart and show him the piece of double-sided circuit board that fits under the batteries, down on top of the bed-spring. It has got to be the world’s cheapest flashlight - - one of those one-piece jobbies where you unscrew the lens and drop the batteries down the hole. To turn it into a continuity tester you thread a couple of wires through a hole you drill in the bottom. One wire is about two feet long, the other about eight. One wire is soldered to the bed-spring side of the circuit board, the other is lead though a small hole in the center of the circuit board and soldered to the top side. Turn the flashlight on, nothing happens. Unless you connect the two wires. Put a pair of alligator clips on the wires, wind the wires around the flashlight and you’ve always got a continuity tester handy.

“I’ve never seen that,” he sez.

“That’s because you’ve never been caught without a continuity tester,” I laugh, and tell him about the neat little sign in VA-214's electrical shop at Moffet Field, back when they were still flying Spads: ‘Mothers are a Necessary Invention.’ He doesn’t get it but smiles anyway. Back then we used a couple of pieces of shim brass separated by a circle of tarred cardboard from an ammo can, the usual flashlight being a one-cell jobbie salvaged from an over-age May West.

-Bob Hoover

No comments: