Another Waste of Taxpayer Money

I knew the FAA was slow, but this is ridiculous.

I’m terrible about opening my mail. I routinely fetch it from my mailbox (which is two miles from my home) and leave it on the dashboard of whatever vehicle I’m driving. Or toss it behind the seat. Or bring it inside, but leave it in my “inbox” pile. No matter where it enters my life, it sits there for a long time. Truth be told, there’s a six-month period in early 2014 when I just stuffed it all in a box and lost it in my garage. (I honestly think there’s a black hole in there.)

This time of year, when I’m actually expecting checks, I pay a little closer attention to what comes in the mail. That’s why I noticed the letter from the FAA and opened it within two weeks of receipt. (Heck, I knew the FAA wasn’t sending a check, so why rush?)

Inside was the letter dated 5/19/2017 that you can see below.

FAA Letter
So the FAA basically waited 17 years to give me an opportunity to opt out of releasing my address to the public.

It basically says that back on April 5, 2000 (not a typo), Congress and the President — Bush 43, I guess — enacted a law that required the FAA to make pilot addresses available to the public. Fortunately, I can opt-out of this invasion of my privacy by signing the letter and sending it back to the FAA.

But I have to hurry! Even though it took them 17 years to send me this letter, I only have 90 days to respond.

Can you believe this crap?

My first thought was what a waste of taxpayer money this is. Wikipedia reports that there were 590,039 certificated pilots in the United States as of 2015 year-end. That means the FAA had to print and mail 590,039 letters just like the one I got.

Maybe that’s why it took so long? Maybe they just got up to the Ls?

So the FAA has blown through 1181 reams of paper and a similar number of boxes of envelopes. Even if they got bulk rate on mailing all those envelopes, they’ve still spent well over $100,000 on postage. Somebody had to handle the mailing — even if a machine stuffed the envelopes, someone still had to tend to that machine and get them to the post office. How many trips to the Post Office is that? Do they have trucks standing by for mass mailings like this?

So how much money have they pissed away on this so far? A quarter million? More?

And then there’s the processing. I’m not going to the website. I’m going to sign the letter and mail it back. There’s got to be some poor slob in Oklahoma City who’s sitting at a desk just waiting for envelopes with signed letters to come in. He or she has to look up each one in the system and toggle a check box to say we want our addresses kept private. And then what? Do they actually file all that paper? Stick it in filing cabinets? How many filing cabinets do they have? How many rooms does that fill? Do they have buildings filled with filing cabinets of paper?

Paper!

And for what? What gives Congress and the President the right to decide that the public is entitled to the addresses of certificated pilots? What is the benefit of such a rule? Why would they even do this?

And who the hell wouldn’t opt out?

This is stupid from start to end. it’s wallpapered with stupid.

But that’s our tax dollars at work. Imagine how many educational programs the cost of this mailing would have funded. How many Meals on Wheels dinners. How many airport improvements, for Pete’s sake.

Why are the people in Washington so damn stupid with our money?

Easy Microwave Yogurt

Quick tips for making yogurt at home.

I’ve been making my own yogurt for nearly five years now. I began in October 2012 using a recipe posted by my friend Tammy on her blog. Since those first few times, I’ve come up with a method that’s quicker and easier.

I’m a multi-tasker. That means I really can’t tolerate standing at the stove to stir a pot of milk while it heats to a certain temperature. So I heat the milk without a stove: in the microwave.

I make a half gallon of yogurt at a time. I have an 8 cup Pyrex measuring cup — which I believe every serious cook should have — and I fill that with the milk. Then I pop it in the microwave, set the timer, and start it up.

Every microwave is different — I can’t stress that enough. I set mine for 14 minutes on high and when I pull the milk out, the temperature is right around 190°F. I didn’t come up with this time by happy accident. It was a lot of incremental zapping and temperature measuring that got me there. If you want to use this technique, you’ll have to do the same thing so you know the magic number for your microwave.

Unless you have a microwave-safe thermometer, do not leave the thermometer in the milk while it’s in the microwave. (But you knew that.)

Of course, the time will vary depending on the quantity of milk. That’s one reason I almost always do a half gallon at a time.

Once the milk has heated to the right temperature, I leave the measuring cup on the countertop, normally on a rack so air can circulate around it. I leave the thermometer in it so I can check the temperature periodically. I stir it once in a while when I remember to. Room temperature will determine how quickly the milk cools.

Microwave Milk Heating for Yogurt
Heating milk in the microwave for yogurt-making is quick and easy.

When it gets to about 120°F, I whisk in about 2-3 tablespoons of unflavored yogurt. I don’t buy yogurt starter, although I do occasionally buy plain yogurt to use as starter. This ensures success, although using my own yogurt for a starter could work, too. (I honestly can’t understand why people will spend several dollars on starter for a batch of yogurt when existing yogurt works fine.) I usually mix up the yogurt with some of the milk before combining everything and whisking to ensure there’s no lumps.

Instant Pot
I love my Instant Pot.

Once that’s done, I pour the milk into four pint-sized canning jars and cap them with plastic caps. I use pint jars because that’s what fits into my Instant Pot, which I use to finish processing the yogurt. If you don’t have an Instant Pot or other yogurt maker, you should consult Tammy’s recipe to see how she uses a regular picnic cooler. That’s the way I used to do it, with quart sized jars, and it works very well. Nowadays, it’s easier to just load it in the Instant Pot than to haul up a cooler, fill it with hot water, and have it sit around for 6-8 hours.

For timing, I’ve discovered that 6 hours is just right, at least in the Instant Pot. If I let it go longer, it gets a sort of slimy consistency that I really don’t like.

Once the yogurt is done, I usually put the jars in the fridge to chill them. That gives me yogurt ready for smoothies.

Euro Cuisine Greek Yogurt Maker
The Euro Cuisine Greek Yogurt Maker is another handy gadget for yogurt or cheese makers.

But if I want Greek yogurt, I go one step further and put it into a yogurt strainer. I love the one I have, the Euro Cuisine GY50, which I also use for making certain fresh cheeses. (It’s reusable so it’s a a lot cheaper and neater than dealing with cheesecloth. Mine’s plastic, but a stainless steel version is also available.) I can fit a quart of yogurt in it and let it drain in the fridge for as long as I like. The whey collects in the bowl at the bottom. After straining out the whey, you’re left with about half the amount of yogurt you started with. So a quart of regular yogurt yields about a pint of Greek yogurt.

Lately, I’ve been straining all the yogurt I make and saving some of the whey in the fridge. Then I can use the Greek yogurt in my smoothies but add back whey to thin out the mix without adding juice or milk. If I have a lot of whey I put the excess in my chickens’ water, supplementing their diet with calcium and protein to help them make stronger eggshells.

In the past, people have asked me when I add the flavor. What flavor? I like my yogurt plain. But if you want flavor, mix in some jam or preserve when you’re ready to eat it. I like mine with granola for a good crunch.

Those are my homemade yogurt tips. If you use any of them or have your own to share, please do use the comments to let us know.

Another Pilot Who Thinks He Owns the Whole Airport

Yes, it’s another rant.

Way back in January 2009, I told the story of a flight with family from Wickenburg, AZ (where I lived at the time) to Sedona, AZ. I’d landed at one of the public pads and another helicopter pilot hadn’t been happy about where I parked. He decided to “teach me a lesson” by flying within 15 feet of my waiting passengers, showering them with dust, small pebbles, and flying debris. I reported his sorry ass to the FAA for unsafe flying.

Since then, I haven’t had any similar run ins with any pilots, in airplanes or helicopters. Generally we’re all pretty safety conscious and courteous.

Until today. Today I got a lecture and delivered one in return.

The Setup

It happened at Wenatchee Airport. I’d just dropped off three charter passengers at the jet center on the other side of the airport. I made all my radio calls and hopped across the runway to get some fuel.

Wenatchee has a self-serve fuel island. It’s southwest of the general aviation terminal, southeast of transient parking. I usually come in from the south; that day, I’d come in from the southwest.

I’ve been fueling at the airport for years now and I have an approach and landing routine. The hose is on the southeast side, so if you want to fuel, that’s where you want to park. So I usually come in from the south and hover taxi as close as I can get to the hose reel. They have a heavy JetA hose on the reel and it’s a bear to haul over to the helicopter, so the closer I can get, the better off I am. Because I have two tanks, one on each side, I normally park facing the pumps. If I think I’m going to be more than a few minutes — in other words, I’m going to take a bathroom break or chat with the mechanics or FBO guys — I’ll park a little to one side so another aircraft can get in for fuel.

I very seldom hover taxi around the northwest side of the fuel island. Normally, there are a few light planes parked right there and I’ve seen their wings rock. Besides, to get all the way around, that would mean flying with my tail facing the FBO building. And as anyone who has taken the Robinson Safety Course can tell you, putting your tail rotor facing where some people might be is never a good idea.

As I came in toward the fuel island, I could see a helicopter parked near it on the southeast side. It wasn’t near enough to get fuel — which made sense because it was a turbine (Bell 407) and JetA is not available at the fuel island. As I got closer, it saw that it was far enough from the fuel island for me to fly between it and the island so I did. I landed on the east side, facing the pump. Normally, since I didn’t expect to spend much time there, I would have parked right in front of the hose with my tail pointing away, but that would have put my tail rotor close to the Bell. So I parked to the side.

The Setup
Here’s a Google satellite image edited to show where I was parked (red) and he was parked (blue). (I have no artistic abilities, so I had to draw stick figure helicopters.) I “enhanced” the yellow tie-down lines so you can see them better. Usually, there are planes parked on the upper ones I enhanced; there was only one there today. There were no aircraft at all on the ramp behind the Bell for at least 500 feet.

The Attitude

As I started the shut down process, I saw a guy come out of the FBO building, walk to the Bell, which was now to my left, and then walk back toward the building. I assumed the Bell was the power line survey ship that I’d been talking to earlier in the area and thought the guy might be the pilot. I was right. When he shut down, he walked over. I assumed he was going to initiate a friendly chat — after all, we’d given each other position reports just an hour before — but I was wrong.

He came to tell me that it was dangerous to fly upwind from a parked helicopter. I replied that we did it all the time at the airport — we do! You should see when four of us crowd around the pumps! — and that I hadn’t given it a second thought. I honestly didn’t think it was a problem. But he did. He pointed out that his helicopter blades weren’t tied down and that his helicopter was worth $4 million.

And that’s when I realized he was talking down to the “Robbie Ranger” he saw on the ramp! To get rid of him — I really didn’t want to argue — I told him I wouldn’t do it again. Then I turned my back on him and continued with my fueling operations. He stormed off into the FBO.

As I fueled, I looked at his helicopter parked there and three things came into my mind:

  • I wasn’t that close. I’ve been a lot closer to a lot more aircraft than that — usually for fueling operations. No one has ever complained. Hell, I was closer to the fuel island than I’d ever gotten to his helicopter. Was he just cranky because of the heat or work and decided to take it out on the only other pilot around? (Extra points for talking down to a woman.)
  • If he was so damn worried about his blades, why hadn’t he tied them down? Probably because there really wasn’t much to worry about. Don’t you think they take more of a beating in flight through turbulence than they possibly could on an airplane ramp with the wind at about 6 mph? Even with a helicopter flying past?
  • Why the hell had he parked there? There were no pavement markings indicating that it was a parking space and he had the entire ramp behind him, stretching back at least 500 feet, without a single airplane or helicopter on it. He wasn’t even close to the building he’d walked into. (Hell, when I park at the airport without getting fuel, I park as close to the fence as possible so people can easily get past me without having to go around.)

I finished fueling and went inside. I asked the FBO manager to make sure that aircraft didn’t park so close to the fuel island if they weren’t refueling. I told him what had happened and he agreed that the guy shouldn’t have parked there. Then we talked about other things.

The Rebuttal

Until the pilot came out of the pilot lounge with his passenger. That’s when I told him that the next time he landed, he shouldn’t park so close to the fuel island.

And then he had the nerve to ask why I couldn’t just fly around him.

Huh? Is that the only place his helicopter can be parked? The rest of the ramp isn’t good enough for him? He has to park close enough to the fuel island to be an obstacle for anyone who comes in for fuel?

Did he think he owned the whole damn airport?

I told him that other aircraft come in for fuel and that he was in the way. That twins come in. That helicopters normally park facing the pump with their tails close to where he was.

He asked me why I was raising my voice. I don’t think I was, but at that point, who knows? I told him it was because I was trying to make him understand the situation.

He made some nasty comments about me being trained to fly but not having any courtesy. And then he left.

By that time, everyone in the FBO was watching. They pretty much agreed that he was a little asshole. (Yeah, he was a little guy. Could have been small man syndrome.) The FBO manager took down his N-number.

Setup PhotoWhen I went to get my phone, I took this picture. You can see his helicopter to the right side of the shack. There was no one parked behind him for at least 500 feet and absolutely no reason to park so closely to the business side of the fuel island.

I went out to close my passenger door, which could have blown off if he started up and moved closer to my helicopter — it did happen once before when some idiot landed right next to me while my door was open; I’m to blame though for leaving it open. I fetched my phone to make a phone call.

When I came back in, they were all watching him start up. I asked them to be witnesses if he hovered close to my helicopter. I wasn’t worried if he did because even though my blades were not tied down, they were positioned so they would not get damaged if blown. But if he did, it would be a further indication of his sucky attitude.

I made my phone call. While I was chatting, he lifted into a hover. I don’t know if he drifted any closer to my helicopter, but he did hover there for a lot longer than what should have been necessary. Then he took off into the wind past my helicopter.

Everyone seemed to breathe a sigh of relief.

I finished my call. I chatted with the FBO guys about the attitudes of helicopter pilots. I told them that people like me flying small pistons are at the bottom of the pile. Guys like that, flying small turbines, sometimes have serious attitude problems and often pick on those flying “lesser” ships. They have to take every opportunity they can to point out how much better their equipment is than ours. Then, when pilots get into mediums and heavies, they tend to be nicer to those of us on the bottom again. They’re secure in their positions and have nothing to prove so they treat us like equals.

“It’s just the guys flying small turbines who can be real dickheads sometimes,” I told them.

We all laughed.

I went outside, started up, and flew home.

And yeah: the helicopter he flies might have cost $4 million. But I own the one I fly.