Cracks, Both Foreign and Domestic


Perhaps like me, you missed the big show this year. That is, they ran AirVenture without me, and I’m not sure anyone really noticed. A bit sobering, that, but confirmation none of us is indispensable and that airplanes will go on until Google releases e-Flight goggles, where you soar virtually just by stretching out your arms and thinking “up.” Kids will love it, but a lot of stuff is going to get accidentally knocked off living room tables when that happens.

What kept me away from the big blow in Wisconsin was a biz trip to the Middle Kingdom where Chairman Mao is still The Man, and the security camera is the national bird, judging from how many I saw perched on poles and the center divide of all the highways.

I was in China to cover a new automobile factory and must say it was another reminder of just how large automotive is and how minuscule our quaint aviation hobby remains. The new factory is destined to spit out mid-size SUVs like so many egg rolls, which is why it measures 2.5 million square feet. You have to admit, that would make a pretty cool hangar. Even with the boat, barbecue and Christmas decorations stored in the corner, you’d have a hard time filling that up right away. Heck, you could store the runway in there.

At least there weren’t any security cameras up in the factory, not yet anyway. But there are plenty more outside, around 200 million by last Chinese count, with 400 million more said to be on the way. Even more Orwellian, those cameras are joined with the world’s most advanced facial recognition software to hear the People’s Republic of China government tell about it. Testing has shown the system is capable of finding an individual pretty much anywhere in the country in about 7 minutes. Heck, I can’t find my car keys that fast.

Like a bunch of slowly boiled frogs, the Chinese masses—we’ll leave those free-thinkers in Hong Kong out for now—don’t seem to have much trouble with any of this, at least judging by the happy hordes visiting Tiananmen Square and The Forbidden City next door (curiously, the congressional building is not open to the public). Nor do they seem overly repressed by the draconian speed enforcement on their highways. There are vanishingly few police cars on the highway, the job being done by robotized cameras that collect the information and mail the tickets to the car’s registered owner. So complete is the coverage that urban freeway traffic flows in a gelatinous but impressively steady stream (stop and go traffic is rare thanks to the slow, steady speeds). Off-ramps are limited to 40 km/h (25 mph), and it’s rather jarring to the Western mind to be chauffeured down the highway, then have the driver pull onto a completely empty off-ramp and slow to a crawl for no apparent reason, other than the traffic camera.

Such automated law enforcement sure felt obtrusive to this round-eye. Combined with the legions of police stationed seemingly every 100 yards in public spaces, the Big Brotherism is thick enough to pick up with black-lacquered chopsticks. As expected for a dyed-in-the-wool flyboy, I didn’t like it.

I may not have liked it, but I must say theirs is a well-regulated public experience. Everything seems to move smoothly and safely in a soothing shade of gray, as if some giant corporate benefactor who abhors danger and embraces safety was running the place. Which is pretty much the case.

Clearly it differs from the throngs at AirVenture, where walking is a bit of a random activity, what with half the pedestrians looking up at the aerial displays, the other half talking to their buddies, and a few John Deere shuttles and VIP carts thrown in as bonus hazards to the truly unwary. Freedom is messy, it turns out, but I’ll take it.

In fact, after China I was so smitten by the unfetteredness of my home country that on the flight home I thought of putting an American flag decal on the Starduster’s headrest. But then I remembered I had one of those Big Brother automated tracking devices (ADS-B) to mount on my wingtip, so I’m thinking better of that sticker for now. For sure we pilots, the AOPA and the EAA have been asleep at the fourth amendment switch regarding ADS-B, but recent attention to the situation by the AOPA has given me some hope.

Stop drilling isn’t going to help this gear leg fairing anymore. Run loose for years with no more than a crack or two, this fairing was tied down tightly and exploded with several of these clearly failed areas.

Speaking of the Starduster, it’s been down for condition inspection for far too long. There’s nothing really wrong, but as the airplane ages it’s taking more little repairs to get the little buzz box airworthy each year.

This year the main attraction seems to be cracked sheet aluminum. I guess I have myself partially to blame as the parts now cracking were parts I hadn’t tied down so hard in previous years, at least until I mysteriously started tidying things up. That meant putting screws in all those empty holes where the Tinnerman nuts had long ago fluttered to earth over some remote mountain range. Somehow finally motivated to provide all the sheet metal attachment the original builder had intended—this after numerous would-be-passengers pointed out with charmingly earnest concern, “There’s a screw missing here,” and me soothingly dismissing their worry by pointing out five or six additional missing screws in close proximity—I had gotten the ’ol ’duster tighter than a tick last year. My reward was gear leg fairings cracked like the Liberty Bell. Plus a bunch of missing screws.

This is, at least, a change from last year, when dope and rag work was the theme. I spent some memorable time under the lower right wing that time around, bathing in MEK (now apparently illegal to sell in California except under an aviation exception) as I rubbed away the finish coats.

This year it’s 2024-T3 sheet and the jack handle, telephone pole, or maybe even my buddy’s sheet metal brake as I try to form radii in my new gear leg fairings. So I don’t simply prepare new offerings to the vibration sacrifice, the plan is to add weight until nothing breaks via doublers around the attach points. The idea is to see if evening the point loads where the fairings attach to the gear legs makes a difference. I’ll let you know in 38 years, as that’s how long the originals lasted.

Or maybe you’ll be able to see it for yourself on some government website.


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