Category Archives: Flying

Scud Running

If you’re a pilot, you’ll be familiar with the term “scud running.” In more formal terms, it means trying to squeeze between low clouds (scud) and the ground or minimum altitude restrictions. (That “hard deck” they’re always talking about in “Top Gun?” It’s that.) One’s often flying under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) where you’re not necessarily talking to Air Traffic Control (ATC). One might not be rated for Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). One might not want to be bothered with all of the paperwork and control and planning involved in IFR flight and want to stay in the “easier” VFR flight rules.

In more snarky terms, it means “maintaining visual contact with the ground while avoiding physical contact with it.” To be legal in most controlled airspace you need to be 500 feet away from the clouds and 1,200 feet above the ground (depending on what airspace you’re in) with three miles of visibility. But if you can get into Class G (uncontrolled) airspace it’s 500 feet from the clouds and one mile of visibility. So if you get down low and can squeeze between those hills and mountains and the ground and that lowering cloud deck…

This is dangerous. Often VERY dangerous. Legal? Probably. Sometimes. Maybe. -ish.

Lots of things can go very wrong very fast. There are more and more things like cell towers, power lines, wind turbine towers, and buildings out there to make something very hard and very bad to fly into. At such a low altitude, if anything goes wrong (like engine problems) you have very little room for error or maneuvering. Scud is often found near the edges of thunderstorms and that can mean downdrafts that just reach out and slap you out of the sky. The clouds can close in and leave you in IFR conditions, blind, close to the ground, and in a world of hurt.

Got the picture?

The same thing happens in life. You take a “small” chance and get away with it. You know better, but it’s convenient and you just need to bend the rules a little bit, not really break them. Then the next time it’s easier to do it again. And the next time you bend the rules just a little bit more. You keep getting away with it. Again, and again, and…

…and then things go pear-shaped and sideways and you’re seriously up the creek.

I think this is basically the overall story arc of “Breaking Bad.”

Admire the scud in the sunset. Avoid the scud running in a plane or in everyday life.

Just something to think about.


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Filed under Flying, Photography, Sunsets, Weather

Horizon To Horizon

One contrail, passing from horizon to horizon.

I didn’t see the plane, but looking at what was overhead on the FlightRadar24 app, it probably came from the south…

…and headed north. Probably a Southwest flight out of San Diego to Sacramento that passed by at 40,000 feet.

The twisty remains of an older contrail? Much more character, much more photogenic. It aged well.

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Filed under Flying, Photography, Sunsets, Travel

Not A Once-In-A-Lifetime Experience – January 16th

We all have heard or sometimes talk about getting to do something that’s a “once in a lifetime” (OIAL) experience. Some folks refer to these kind of things as “bucket list” items, although I prefer the term “life list.”

While there are some things that might be OIAL experiences for you, they might be everyday experiences for others. Getting to meet a favorite ballplayer or stand at home plate at Yankee Stadium might be your OIAL experience – but for someone on the training staff or grounds crew, it’s a job. Times change as well. To our grandparents, getting on a plane and going across country or to Europe or Asia might be a OIAL experience. To us, it’s just another vacation or business trip.

What got me thinking about this was a picture that popped up on a screen saver that loops through favorite photos. I got to wondering, where’s the proper middle ground for something that you consider special, exciting, a OIAL experience on the one hand, and something routine on the other? In other words, if a “life list” item is really great, why do you only do it once?

This isn’t to say that you have to do it daily or annually or whatever. But more than once would be good if it was really fun and exciting, right?

We need a name for “really cool, unique, rare, unusual, but more than ONCE in a lifetime, I really need to go do that again!” experiences. “RCURUBMTOIALIRNTGDTA!” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, I’ll have to work on that.

Meanwhile, the picture that inspired this train of thought?

March, 2010. Temecula, CA. Hot air ballooning. So much fun, so exciting.



Filed under Flying, Photography

Converging Lines

It’s really late and it’s been a really long day.

It’s raining again, but before the clouds moved in, there were two contrails, one old, one new, converging as the planes took the same route to their destination.


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Filed under Flying, Photography, Weather

Ice Crystals

I found these on the window today.

We don’t get much ice in Los Angeles, but this window was at 37,000 feet, which helps.



Filed under Flying, Photography

Across The Sky

Cooler temps, a cold front, icy clouds up high, and ideal conditions for contrails.

Someone was headed almost due west, past the sun and off over the Pacific. Dallas to Honolulu? Who knows. Something like that.

Upon closer examination, there’s a bit of iridescence in the high clouds of ice, a bit of rainbow coloring just above the center of the photo.

And just to the right of the tree, no doubt headed into BUR Rwy 8, is a Southwest 737.

That’s a really sweet shade of blue, isn’t it?

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Random Old Photos – November 21st

This would be fun! Why am I not doing this instead of all of the other things I’m doing which are less fun? Why am I not maximizing my fun to the maximum amount?

According to the N-number this is a Fleet 7B, built in 1936. (If you blow the picture up and squint, that seems to be what the logo on the tail and the lettering under it confirm as well.)

I’ve flown in open air cockpit aircraft, but I’ve never flowin in a biplane, and I’ve never piloted a tail-dragger or an open cockpit aircraft. But those shortfalls in my experience and licensing could be rectified with a few lessons.

This would be fun!


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We’ve had the two flights to and from Chicago in September for Worldcon, but that’s it for the past three years. And it’s been way, Way, WAY, WAY too long since I’ve had a flight in the left seat at the pointy end.

Looking back through the photos, there were years that had more than a dozen trips to cons, to see relatives, to weddings, to Chiefs games…

Getting back to that would be excellent.

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Filed under Flying, Photography, Travel

Racing The Sunset

Big jet. Sunset.

Very high. Very fast.

Oh, to be headed wherever they’re all going.

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Filed under Flying, Photography, Sunsets

The Same Way Bricks Don’t

It’s truly astonishing how big these jets are.

Coming out of LAX, even at over 10,000 feet and almost 300 knots, it looks freakishly large. Yet it just seems to float there, as Douglas Adams said, the same way bricks don’t.

Airbus 380. Impressive.

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Filed under Flying, Photography