Machteld Smith Archive

Vertigo on the rocks

Thursday, September 25th, 2008

I am climbing a cliff in Mesa Verde, Colorado. My goal is to reach the exit gate of Balcony House before I panic and fall. The cave that accommodates Balcony House–a spectacular cliff dwelling built around 1,200 AD by Ancestral Puebloans and located about 1,000 feet below the 7,000-foot mesa top–was created by rivers and oceans eons ago. I find the façade’s first foothold (not OSHA approved) after having climbed a relatively short ladder from the “house.” While hanging on to the slightly swaying chain-link that’s anchored in the cliff at vertical spots, it dawns on me I’ve got nowhere to go but up. My husband coaches, “Look at the next step.” I am worried about hyperventilating–losing my grip. I acquire shin bruises clamping onto and leaning into the last rungs of the final ladder to safety. Then, I reach the ranger, nonchalantly sitting at the top gate, dangling his legs freely over the cliff’s ledge. It scares me to look at that. My breathing is now so loud I figure everyone can hear me.

The group stands at the cliff’s edge looking down at the path. Not me. I cower and hide low to the ground as far as possible from the ledge, shaking for the next 10 minutes. I did it! And–although proud to have ventured beyond the edge of my envelope–I will not do it again.

Just another checkride
The climbing adventure happened last week, several days after I passed my commercial multiengine checkride. With the new ticket fresh in my pocket, I felt quite boisterous, even confident about conquering my fear of heights. But when I climbed the cliff an unreasonable fear took hold of me–one I could not dispel.

Prepare and conquer?
While visiting another dwelling (Cliff Palace) the night before, I had explained my anxiety to the ranger. Would he recommend Balcony House considering my fear? “Climb this exit ladder and two-thirds up look left. How you doing?” he asked when I got there. “OK, that’s enough,” I thought while I looked into the abyss. But apparently it was not–I needed to push that personal envelope a little farther–and we both knew it.

Got similar experiences? Please share them, I’ll feel less silly and know I’m not the only pilot with this phobia.

TPA quiz

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

Someone asked me: “How do you know the pattern altitude at a given airport?” Hey that’s easy, it’s probably in AOPA’s Airport Directory.

But, the question sparked my interest and I went on to see how the government defines pattern heights at airports.

I checked the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM), which suggests that traffic pattern altitudes (TPAs) at most airports for propeller-driven aicraft generally extend from 600 feet to 1,500 feet agl. The AIM goes on to say 1,000 agl is recommended unless established otherwise.

But then I looked at the FAA Airport/Facility Directory (A/FD), which specifies patterns generally at 1,000 and sometimes at 800 agl. Interestingly many airport listings (both towered and non-towered airports) in the little green books don’t even include a TPA.

What gives? Shouldn’t the FAA publish that stuff for each airport?

Fowl play

Friday, July 18th, 2008

Recently, I noticed a large bird ahead of me on downwind. I was flying a twin and wondered if the bird could distinguish the difference between an aircraft with an engine on each wing versus an aircraft with one engine on the nose. I figured local birds get to become savvy about those things, especially flying around at our busy field (FDK).

Not trusting the bird, however, I had to think about the best strategy: Do birds dive or climb when they see an aircraft? Turned out the bird was no longer a factor by the time I concluded it might dive. Luckily I’ve never had a fowl foil my flight. I’ve seen pictures, though, of bird-strikes–not a pretty sight.

I’m curious if the bird-diving theory has been verified.

1,000 miles per hour

Wednesday, June 11th, 2008

At age six I dreamed of becoming a trapeze artist. Never got to fly around the circus tent. Wiser at 16, I was inspired by rocket launches and manned space missions, glued to the black-and-white TV screen at every blast off. You gotta start somewhere, and at last I got into the air as a stewardess on KLM’s DC-8 and DC-9 aircraft. Loved the job, but the urge to fly myself became stronger. So I became a private pilot.

But, space missions are still beckoning. Imagine being suspended high above the Earth’s surface–the ultimate thrill! To feed my space hunger, I visited NASA’s Web site and latched onto a couple of pictures:

During the Gemini 4 mission on June 3, 1965, Ed White became the first American to conduct a space walk. The space walk started on the third orbit when White opened the hatch and used a hand-held maneuvering oxygen-jet gun to push himself out of the capsule.
Image Credit: NASA

Following in the footsteps of their predecessor, Ed White, the STS-124 mission specialists Mike Fossum and Ron Garan conducted a space walk on June 3, 2008.
Image Credit: NASA

I also watched videos of the STS-124 mission shuttle launch (video might take a second to load) and space walk. I’m still awed.

Okay, I won’t get to go there myself, so I’ve done the next best thing: I am sending my name to the moon. Really! I’ve got the certificate from NASA to prove it.

We’re getting more blasé about the whole space affair. How come? When was the last time you paid attention? The launch countdown ticks away with fewer viewers and is buried by dreadful news.

But, I still get excited when the shuttle launches and lands! Do you?

P.S., the Space Shuttle Discovery undocked today from the International Space Station on its way back to Earth. The landing is planned for Saturday, June 14.

Yes, Ma’am!

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Wow, it was hot, sweltering hot. I think I’ve finally recovered.

Fly-In morning, 7 a.m., the staff van plunked me down at Hotel and Alpha intersection for a six-hour shift guiding aircraft, rolling out on Runway 23. It was not bad then…still cool…but it was lonely in the fog. I could hear other staff talking just a quarter mile away, but I couldn’t see them.

We waited for the fog to lift. Then, at the first engine drone everyone jumped to attention…incoming…get to your positions! The sun burned off the rest of the scattered muck, the tower got busy, so were we. And it got hotter by the minute. The staff van came by regularly to replenish us–lots of water, more sunscreen, and more water.

I got company in the form of two young female Civil Air Patrol cadets, who braved the heat in their uniforms. Top job! Very polite, too. “Ma’am, can we be excused for a moment to use the latrine?” “What? Oh, yes, of course,” I replied. “Thanks, Ma’am!” came the response.

It’s Monday morning, two days after the AOPA Fly-In. The grass parking area is empty, a couple of static display aircraft remain on the AOPA ramp. The tents are gone. From my office window I can see several large cooling fans awaiting pickup. Icons telling the tale of Saturday’s heat. Even now, the fan blades turn lazily when a light waft catches the right angle.

It’s still hot. Yes, Ma’am!

AOPA Fly-In 2008

Saturday, June 7th, 2008

Coming up! Our editors might catch some fly-in blogging today. Stay tuned… Meanwhile, make sure to look at our fly-in procedures here. Note that restrictions are in place for P-40 (Camp David) and the Adiz south of Frederick (FDK). Read the notams before you fly. Stay safe and have a great landing!

Tom – Tom adventures

Monday, May 19th, 2008

Well here I am (me blogy postress) posting Tom Horne’s colorful Trans-Atlantic crossing adventure as he deftly submits blogs from Quebeque, Canada, Goose Bay, Labrador, Nuuk, Greenland, and Reykjavik, Iceland.

I’m not moderating–mind you–just monitoring and looking for additional links, and embedding Google Maps and such; the stuff reserved for lowly blogy deck-hands on such a spectacular ocean voyage.

But let’s not digress. It’s not just one Tom but two Toms (Haines and Horne) who have answered the Trans-Atlantic Sirens.

Call me jealous, but, for once, I too would like to put on a Gumby suit, and sit behind the controls of a PC-12, or a TBM 700 or 850, and fly it across the Atlantic to Europe. But nooo, I’d have to start at the bottom…fly a souped-up Cessna 172 with extra fuel tanks in the cabin, shivering above the chilly waves…oh well, a girl can dream. My day may come.

Meanwhile, why not checkout “the Toms’ stories.” Don’t be envious like me–it’s really great reading. Here are the links, and bon voyage:
TBM 700
TBM 850


Friday, April 25th, 2008

That’s the answer to the question “Where in the World is Machteld from?”

Some of you guessed Austria, Yugoslavia, Pennsylvania Dutch (drop the Pennsylvania portion), and Holland. But Holland is technically not correct, it is actually the name given to two provinces in The Netherlands (Zuid Holland and Noord Holland). And then there is also Holland, Michigan, which happens to be home to many immigrants from the Netherlands. It also has a nice airport (KBIV).

I have been an American citizen for quite some time (I’ve lived in the United States since 1975), but the Dutch language will stay with me forever. So will tulips, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh.

Now, guess what my maiden name is? Half of the telephone book in Holland, Michigan, has people listed by that name…

Wing-tipping the runway?

Monday, April 21st, 2008

Folks, if you ever wondered how an airliner battles a landing in heavy crosswinds, take a look at this video. A classic “Never Again” story. What were the pilots thinking? Share your comments on this video and on AOPA Pilot editors’ crosswind stories posted here.

Cajoling the crosswind

Friday, April 18th, 2008

Once upon a time there was a pilot (me) who was getting her sign-off in a feisty taildragger. And as fate would have it, winds were perpendicular to the runway that day. “No problem,” said the good instructor. And then he added, “Just remember: Keep positive control until the plane is tied down.” And so I took a deep breath and plunged into the mighty crosswind.

My neck hurt from switching my view back and forth out the left side window (witnessing ever-growing runway numbers and end lights coming nearer) to the front windshield where trees loomed but kept their distance, thank you. The airplane’s nose steadily pointed 45 degrees to the runway’s right side, and the numbers and lights were now really getting very large in the left window, so I formed a plan of action: Get lined up with the centerline, no matter what it takes.

It was an oh-so-sweet touchdown, especially hearing, “Good job, keep her there,” from the back seat. My left hand was on the throttle while my white-knuckled right hand clamped onto the stick. Overjoyed with my glorious success that had solicited kudos from the back, I let go of the controls for just a split second. The airplane reacted immediately, and so did the good instructor. Uh oh–what was I thinking?