Flying with the Mustache Kid

Another rides event, another opportunity to take hundreds of strangers flying.

Yesterday, a fellow cherry drying pilot named Gary and I offered helicopter rides at Wenatchee Pangborn Airport’s annual Aviation Day event. This was our third time doing this event together and I think we make a great team. I’ve also been offering rides at the annual Wenatchee Wings and Wheels event since 2012, but I’m kept a lot busier at this event now that Wings and Wheels is held in an East Wenatchee park. Airport events are always the best ones for rides. In fact, this is my best event every year and tops all the events I’ve ever done, including the big Air Fair event in Buckeye that I did for many years when I lived in Arizona.

And big is important. There’s nothing worse than setting up to give helicopter rides and then have just a few takers, leaving the aircraft sitting idle on the ground for most of the day.

Girls Can Fly

Anyone who knows me very well also knows that I don’t like gender distinctions. I’m a firm believer that a woman can do anything a man can and I’ve proven that in three (so far) male dominated fields. I don’t belong to women’s organizations for this reason. They seem to use gender as an excuse for not succeeding. You can read a lot more about my gender-related opinions here.

That said, I very much enjoy taking girls — especially pre-teen girls — for helicopter rides. In the predominately conservative areas in which I’ve lived — Arizona and now Central Washington State — I’m sad to see that people are still surprised that the pilot is a woman. And that their kids, as you might expect, are equally surprised. I make a point of reminding them that women can be pilots, too. I don’t want them to think about gender boundaries and “glass ceilings” that they later, consciously or unconsciously, might use as an excuse to fail. I want them to take on the challenges and achieve the goals they want to achieve, regardless of whether most of the people on the same path are men. I consider it a privilege to show them what’s possible by my own example, at least in the world of aviation.

Rides events are good for the community, too. They make it possible for helicopter operators to offer people without a lot of extra cash the chance to experience helicopter flight without breaking the bank*. At just $40/person, they can even take their kids for a flight. (It was my first helicopter flight at age 7 or 8 that made me interested in flying and ultimately become a helicopter pilot.) Even if kids don’t walk away wanting to become pilots, a helicopter (or airplane) flight helps expand their world. They see familiar places from a new perspective. The world of aviation — which may have been mysterious and unapproachable — is suddenly exposed to them as something that’s neither difficult nor scary. And the ones who talk to me about wanting to fly get my standard mini lecture on how important it is to pay attention in school so they learn the math, science, and geography they need to fly.

I’d estimate, based on conversations with my passengers, that about 50% of them have never been on a helicopter. A surprising percent of them — at least 10% — have never been on any kind of aircraft. And I’m not just talking about kids here; I’ve had people in their 30s and 40s tell me they’ve never been airborne. It’s an honor to be the one who takes these people flying for the first time and I do my best to make it a positive, memorable experience.

Which could explain why I have so many repeat customers. A couple who flew with me yesterday with their 3-1/2 year old son told me that this was their third time flying with me as a family. That means their son was 1-1/2 years old the first time. I asked if he remembered the flights and the dad assured me that he did and talked about it a lot.

I could go on and on all day about why I enjoy offering rides at big events like Aviation Day in Wenatchee. I could tell stories about all the passengers I remember — and there are quite a few of them. But it’s a beautiful day and I’m thinking of taking my kayak out on the river with friends. So I’ll leave you with this video I threw together yesterday evening, after sitting in the pilot seat for 8 hours with only 2 breaks.

My new GoPro camera setup shoots video footage from two vantage points. I’ve been putting them together to create picture-in-picture videos, with audio. The idea is to be able to create videos for passengers of their flight. Videos I can put on YouTube so they can share them with their friends.

Flying with the Mustache Kid
One of more than 40 flights I did yesterday.

This particular flight stood out in my mind. It was early in the afternoon and I’d been flying for more than 4 hours straight with just a 15-minute break to refuel and swallow a hot dog. I was past my first wave of tiredness, into the punchy second wind I usually get when the flying is automatic and I’m just trying to enjoy the flights with my passengers. Certain passengers really get me going when I’m like this and the kid with the neon green t-shirt and painted on mustache was definitely one of them. I have no idea how old he was, but he couldn’t have been older than 6 or 7. He was a talker — very articulate with a good vocabulary. He was also attentive, seeing and hearing far more than most passengers probably do. He sat right next to me and we talked for the entire flight.

See for yourself:

(Keep in mind that he was wearing and playing with the microphone boom on a $1,000 Bose aviation headset for the entire flight. Note to other pilots: buy cheap headsets for rides events.)

As you might be able to tell from my responsive chatter, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Mustache Kid. I’m not sure if he’ll remember this flight as well as I will, but I hope his family finds the video online — I’ll also post it on Flying M Air’s Facebook page — and shows it to him. It’s the kind of thing I think he’d enjoy showing his kids someday.

And many thanks to my companion pilot Gary, who flew even longer than I did; the ground crew (Lorri, Alex, and Nate), who did an amazing job getting passengers on and off the helicopters quickly and safely; and the folks at Pangborn Airport, especially Tina, who makes sure I get the event on my calendar every year.

For more flight videos, be sure to check out Flying M Air’s channel on Facebook. I’ll try to put together a few more videos like this one soon.


* Normally, I have a 1-hour minimum for flights. It’s just not worth it to preflight the helicopter, get it out, fly it to the airport, wait around for the passengers, do the flight, collect the money, refuel, and fly the helicopter back for a 10-minute flight. Think about it: would you be interested in spending up to 2 hours of your day and about $120 in operating costs for 10 minutes of actual revenue flight time that might get you $80 or $120? Obviously, I couldn’t survive if I did so. But gather together 50 or more people who want those short flights and take them all in one day and it becomes a profitable endeavor — and a lot of hard work.

SpaceX: Giving Me Hope for America’s Future

Maybe America can be great again.

At the risk of getting a barrage of hateful comments from people in perpetual denial about the general dumbing down of America, I need to post this.

This morning, I watched the 45-minute webcast of SpaceX’s recent history-making launch. If you haven’t seen it, check it out here:

Or better yet, do what I did: load up the YouTube channel on a Roku and watch it on a big screen TV.

There are a few things that struck me about this presentation.

  • Youth. The very first thing that stuck me is the age of the folks who were part of this event. Young people in public relations and engineering positions. Young people everywhere. This wasn’t a dreary circa 1970 NASA launch reel with too many guys in too many white shirts and ties. This was today’s youth in jeans and T-shirts and hoodies. Talking the way we all talk, using words we all understand about an amazing scientific achievement. No, not every young American is spoiled, entitled, and/or unable to think of anything beyond fashion or music or video games. Some of them are today’s rocket scientists.
  • Scientific achievement. I think we’ve become so accustomed to seeing amazing thing in movies and on television that we don’t realize how much of it is fake. So when a company like SpaceX can send a rocket booster into space and then land it successfully in an upright and vertical position on a landing pad only 282 feet in diameter, we don’t understand what a truly amazing achievement that is.
  • Media Presentation. SpaceX apparently did a live webcast of this launch. You didn’t have to tune into a television channel or have cable news access or watch countless advertisements squeezed in to maximize broadcaster revenue. You saw a series of SpaceX staff members telling you what was going on, with an informative timeline and video feeds to show what was coming up and what was actually happening. This was available all over the world — and it still is, for free, on YouTube. Heck, I was even able to embed it here to save readers the bother of searching for it online. The only excuse for not seeing this is apathy.

Rocket Booster
Do you have any idea what an achievement this is?

As I watched the video and saw actual footage from space of the first booster separating from the main rocket, I had tears in my eyes. And more tears when I saw that first booster standing upright on an old Florida launch pad, still smoking from the engine that had enabled it to softly touch down on four landing legs less than ten minutes after being in space. Then, when the chant that I was thinking of started up from the spectators: “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!” It made me feel really proud to be an American for the first time in a very long time.

When I was a kid, my mother made me stay up to watch Neil Armstrong step out of a metal capsule and walk on the moon. She said I’d be witnessing history and, at 7 years old, I really didn’t care all that much. But I watched it and I remember it and nearly 46 years later, I’m glad I did.

This morning, sitting on my sofa, I watched something almost equally amazing — but have heard only the briefest mention of it on the radio and television. Ho hum. I guess a real achievement by man can’t compete with the box office stats for the latest Star Wars movie.

Making America great again has nothing to do with immigration and war and terrorists and religion. It has everything to do with what made America great in the first place: courage, innovation, the embracing of science and technology, and the willingness to work hard to achieve great things.

When my fellow Americans can put aside their anger and hate and the other things that divide them, when they can stop denying the findings of science, when they can see that moving forward is far more important for the future than dwelling upon real or imagined slights in the past, when they can see that the differences among their fellow men can help them grow and learn and see the world in new and exciting ways — well, then America will start to be great again. Until then, spectators like me, on the downhill slope of life, will have to be satisfied with observing pockets of greatness offered by innovative American companies like SpaceX.

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Creating Time-Lapse Movies

How I do it.

I’ve been fascinated with time-lapse photography for as long as I can remember — and believe me, that’s a long time. I love the idea of compressing a series of still images into a short movie. But what I love more is the way it speeds up the process of things that happen slowly: clouds moving across the sky, shadows changing with sun angles, and things being built or moved. There are a lot of time-lapse movies on this site; click the time-lapse tag to explore them. I do want to stress that my time-lapse movies are very simple. If you want to see something amazing, look at the work of a master like Ross Ching’s Eclectic series.

I rely on certain equipment and software tools to create my time-lapse movies. Since I’ve been sharing daily time-lapse movies of the construction of my home, I thought I’d take a minute to explain how I make them.

The Camera

Hero HD
I use my old Hero HD for most time-lapse work these days.

The first thing you need to create a time-lapse movie is a camera capable of snapping an image at a regular interval. These days I use a GoPro. Although I have three of these great cameras — Hero HD, Hero 2, and Hero 3 — I tend to use the oldest (the Hero HD) for this kind of work so if it’s lost, damaged, or stolen, it’s not a huge deal.

The GoPro has an interval or time-lapse mode that I use quite often. Because the process of building my home is relatively slow, I set it to the most amount of time between images: 1 minute.

(In the past, I’ve used a Pclix intervalometer — that’s a time-lapse timer that triggers a shutter release on a camera at a preset interval — attached to an old Canon G5 digital camera. Again, the camera was old and worthless so if someone walked off with it, no big deal. Losing the intervalometer would have been worse.)

Skeleton Housing
The skeleton housing gives me access to the USB port and SD card on the GoPro.

Power is an issue when you run a camera for hours on end. I use the GoPro Skeleton housing around the camera so I can run a USB cable to it. The cable then feeds into a window on my RV where it plugs into a power source. The added benefit is that I can remove the SD card without opening the housing and changing the camera angle. I use electrical tape to cover up the two sides of the housing to keep dust and rain out.

The Camera Mount

For time-lapse photography, it’s vital that the camera be held still (or moved smoothly, if you’re going for that kind of effect). That means a tripod or camera mount.

Pedco UltraClamp
This is a must-have mount for anyone with a GoPro or lightweight digital camera.

I routinely use a Pedco UltraClamp with my GoPros. I can’t say enough things about this clamp-on camera mount. With a GoPro, all you need is a tripod mount adapter and you’re good to go.

For my construction project time-lapse movies, I clamped it onto one of my RV slide-outs, pointing at the construction site. Easy.

The Software

Okay, so the camera has been running for hours and it has collected hundreds of images. Most of my time-lapses run from 6:30 AM to 4:30 PM. That’s 10 hours with 60 shots per hour. 600 images.

The images are 2592 x1944 pixels. That’s way bigger than I need. In addition, I want a 16:9 aspect ratio, which is better suited for video projects these days. So I need to do some processing.

EasyBatchPhoto IconThe first thing I do is run the images through a program called EasyBatchPhoto. (Remember folks, I’m using a Mac.) I have the app set up to crop the image to 1920 x 1080 — that’s standard high definition. This basically crops away the edges of the image, focusing on what’s in the middle. The app also slightly sharpens the image and applies a date and time stamp watermark based on the EXIF data saved with the original file. It then saves it as a medium-high quality JPEG in a folder I specify. I do this for only the images I want to include in the movie; no reason to process them all. The rest of the images are discarded when I wipe the SD card.

EasyBatchPhoto Settings
EasyBatchPhoto can process huge batches of images at a time.

I should mention that you could probably do all this with another app. This happens to be the one I use. I’m sure some readers will share their solutions in the comments.

QuickTime Player 7 IconOnce I have the images in a folder, I open up QuickTime Player 7, which I’d updated to the Pro version years ago. This is an old version of QuickTime. The current version does not have the feature I need, which is the Open Image Sequence command. I use that command to get a dialog box prompting me to choose an image. I select the first image in the folder containing all of the images for the movie.

Choose the First Image
Use this dialog box to select the first image in the folder of images for the movie.

Image Sequence Settings
Use this dialog box to set the frame rate.

I’m then prompted to set the image sequence settings — basically the frame rate for the movie. There are a lot of options on that pop-up menu. After some experimentation, I decided on 15 frames per second for this project. That compresses 10 hours worth of images into about 40 seconds. Any faster and you miss a lot of the action. When I click OK, QuickTime makes the movie and displays it in a window. After taking a look at it, I save it to disk, usually in the same folder as the images.

Why YouTube?
I was really pissed off to discover that Viddler, the site I used years ago to host video, has made my videos unavailable for viewing. I think it’s because they expect me to pay for hosting, which just ain’t gonna happen. This screwed up a lot of embedded video on this site. Because some of the videos are very old, I can’t find the source files so those videos are gone forever. So I’ll use YouTube on a go-forward basis for all video sharing. It’s free and very easy to access.

The last thing I do is upload the movie to YouTube. I do this with the current version of QuickTime. I just double-click the movie’s icon to open QuickTime and use the share command to share it on YouTube. QuickTime prompts me for a movie description and tags. Within minutes, it’s online and available to anyone who wants to see it.

The entire software process takes about 5-7 minutes and is mostly automated.

If you make time-lapse movies and use a different set of software tools, please do use the comments to share your process. It’s always nice to learn about new software that might make things easier or just plain better.