The Gadabout

Rambling travelogs from a world traveler

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Gunner and the Allosaurus

"All bravery stands upon comparison." ~ Francis Bacon

A quick story about my grandson.  Gunther James Whisler turned two back in Nov and loves him some dinosaurs.  He’s bright, learns fast - like all two year olds and is a treasure.  He loves to watch Dinosaur story on the History Channel, has a set of plastic dinosaurs and will watch Dinotrux for hours.

So Ann and I invited Gunner and his parents to go with us to see the Minnesota Science Museum and its’ fairly extensive collection of dino fossils.  The museum is your standard airy, sunlit box of big windows sitting on the north bank of the Mississippi River in St Paul.  The main lobby is huge, probably close to half an acre and is close to 50’ high.  The exhibit designers have sited a complete Allosaurus skeleton in the classic ‘Sue’ pose – nose close to the ground, hunting – and it is oriented vaguely towards the lobby entry door from the parking lot.

The same door that we came through with a fired up Gunner.  At this point, Gunner had not really internalized how big dinos were.  Filling his world is this huge, bony apparition, full of teeth all pointed in his general direction.  Worse, behind the Allosaur is another exhibit.  It’s an Allosaur skull fitted up with a hydraulic frame that kids can operate the lever to open and close the skull’s mouth.  Which is happening as Gunner walks in.  Chomp, chomp.

This is when Gunner’s Dinosaur Paradigm shifted. 

Two seconds into the Minnesota Science Museum he has had all of the dinosaurs he wants and he’s done.  He’s making a 180 and getting the heck out of here.  And screaming.  It does not help that the adults he loves and trusts are preventing him from doing this.  Nor does the grandfatherly laughter.  (I hang my head in shame here.)

George and Brook do some magnificent parenting, get him calmed down and distracted and within 30 minutes or so Gunner is sitting on dad’s shoulders and walking around the Allosaur skeleton in rapt attention.  

Best was when he got to see the most complete Triceratops skeleton in the world.  He likes Triceratops.

Despite the scary beginning, the kid had a great time at the museum.

On that happy note, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Big Sunspot

 "Knowledge has a trick of paying off in unexpected ways." 
        ~  Poul Anderson, The Boat Of A Million Years

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

I'm going to go all astronomy geek on you again.  For the last two weeks or so, the sun has been going through a period of really big sunspots and solar flares.

Please click this and this for information.

I saw this spot on the sun with my naked eyeballs on Thursday, Oct 23. It took a fairly non standard set of events to see it.  We were sitting on the ramp on Beijing Capital International Airport, waiting for the load and refuel crews to finish before we left for Incheon, South Korea.  The latest weather observation was clear and visibility unlimited, which in Beijing means the smog gives you about a mile of visibility.  Maybe less. 

Which is the point of this story, because the smog was just thick enough that you could look at the face of the sun comfortably.  The sun is almost exactly the same relative size as the moon when looked at from Earth - which is why solar eclipses are so cool - and you could see the big sunspot those articles talk about on the lower face of the sun.  You didn't even need sunglasses.

It felt kind of ominous to me.  That thing is tossing out stupendous amounts of ionizing radiation and is just generally bad news...and it looked like it was pointing right at us.

But there was also a sense of wonder to be able to see what is usually unseen while sitting on a flight deck looking west.

It looked a lot like this picture if you imagine black sky around it replaced by gray smog. 

On that happy note, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Friday, August 1, 2014

Sunrise in the office

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

Just saw this picture on imgr.


It's a pretty nice picture.  It's why we put up sunscreens until the sun gets up pretty high and out of our eyes.

On that happy note, I remain,


ps.  There is at least one violation of the Federal Aviation Regulations in the photo....  See if you can find it.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Castrol Rocket

"There are two kinds of people, those who do the work and those who take the
credit. Try to be in the first group, there is less competition there." ~ Indira Gandhi

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

Below is the Castrol Rocket. 

Here is a picture of my son, James (Jaybo) Whisler, working on the Castrol Rocket. 


Here's the story.  I was sitting by the phone up in Anchorage, AK, on a 3-hour callout reserve.  Scheds called and said they were going to send me to Memphis to sit hotel standby.  Adventures ensued and I found myself at FedEx's Memphis SuperHub preflighting an MD-11 to fly freight out to Salt Lake City.  

This was serendipity.  Jaybo happened to be out at Bonneville Salt Flats preparing the rocket for its record breaking attempt next month.  I called him and asked if I rented a car and drove out there if he'd fit me in.  Sure.  I asked the FO if he wanted to give up some sleep to drive out there and he didn't hesitate.  So, we got to the Hilton in Salt Lake City, took a short 5 hour nap and rented a car and drove out past the Salt Lake into the desert.

Here's a map:

Here we are standing under the nice shady work area in the blazing Bonneville Salt Flat.

They got the rocket up to 215 mph yesterday.  The driver, Jason DiSalvo has a video of that run at his facebook page

This is Jason looking positive while Jaybo makes some last minute adjustments to the amplitude of the franistan.

We hung around in the blazing desert for a hour or so and finally watched them push the rocket out onto the International Raceway.  Jaybo said they were making some clutch adjustments.

At this point, it was getting late and we had to get back to Salt Lake to clean up to fly back to Memphis.

They are planning to run for the record in August.  Jaybo will be there, I won't.  Here's wishing them all the success!

On that happy note, I remain,


Thursday, June 5, 2014


 "Nobody drinks just one beer.  That's why they come in six-packs." ~  Lewis Grizzard
Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

I've written before here of our cabin in Wisconsin.  Without any further ado, I give you Wisconsin and beer:

Hey! Pass me a beer!


Hey! Pass me a beer! II

and finally, a takeoff on the greatest movie ever made.

Otto is a cheesehead.  Who knew?

On that happy note, stop calling me Shirley.

Dad / Geoff

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Unknown Rider

"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious.  It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science.   Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed." ~ Albert Einstein 

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

The other morning flying from Guanghzhou, China to Bangkok, Thailand, a small saga occurred that I think you might find interesting and maybe even funny.  It ties together current events concerning the recent disappearance of the Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, the planet Venus and an old bar story that happened years ago.

As many of my aviation stories go, this story will require some ‘splainin’.

Guanghzhou has the ICAO 4 letter Identifier of ZGGG.  (Z is the country ID label for China just like K is the ID for the US.)  Guanghzhou is difficult to type and say, so I tend to refer to it as “Ziggy”.  Ziggy is our Asian Freight Hub and we fly in and out of there frequently.

Here is a map of our route of flight.  VHHH is Hong Kong, VTBS is Bangkok.

Next comes an astronomical discussion.  The planet Venus is an inner planet and this constrains where it can appear in our night sky.  It never gets higher than 45-47 degrees above or below the sun.  If you have a telescope and look at Venus, it behaves like the moon.  It has phases and depending on its position in relation to the sun it goes from a slender crescent to a full Venus. Mercury does too.

One would think that it would be at its brightest when it is full just as the moon is, but one would be wrong.  When it is full, it is on the other side of the sun and it is very close to limb of the sun and lost in the sun’s dazzle.  When it is roughly a half Venus, it is relatively close to the earth, climbs as high in the sky as it can and is very bright.  This picture illustrates that property.

The picture is from and shows the relative position of the inner planets on the night of this story.  It shows how Venus is at max elongation right now.  When we took of from Ziggy, Venus was just rising in the east and my inner astronomy geek noted that Venus was now a morning star.  The last time I had seen it was in the west and an evening star.  

Generally, planets don't twinkle like stars do.  But when Venus is very bright and close the horizon it does "scintillate" and change colors.  It can be quite striking.  

Next, the old bar story.  Gentle Readers, if you have an impressionable young one who will read this, you might want to do some parenting here and read ahead.

Years ago when I was newly hired at FedEx we wound up on a layover somewhere in “flyover country”.  Some good ol’ boys in the bar had discovered we were FedEx pilots and had struck up a conversation with us.  As the conversation progressed, I could tell that one of the fellows had something on his mind and was working up the courage to ask. 

Finally, he said: “Geoff, you boys in FedEx fly all night, don’t cha?”  
I admitted that we did.  
“Well….I bet you boys see some shit.”

It took me a moment to realize he wanted me to tell him a UFO story.  I had to disappoint him and say that I have spent a lot time looking at the night sky from a flight deck and from the ground with the naked eye, binoculars and telescope and I have never seen anything that I can’t explain. 

So…two mornings ago, we were cruising at 34000’ above Mean Sea Level and had just entered Sanya Control airspace.  This is near the east coast of Hainan Island which in the big scheme of things is not too far from the airspace where the Malaysian 777 disappeared.  The story I am about to relate gives me the impression that people flying in that part of the world are just a little on edge.  I have never had anything like this happen to me before in my 11000+ hours of aviation.

When we checked in with Sanya Control, a new Chinese voice came on the radio.  You could tell that he had a little better command of the English language that your average Chinese controller and that he was either a little nonplussed or a little embarrassed or both. 

“FedEx, we have a report of an….unknown object.  It may be at your 9 o’clock and a little above you and about 45 kilometers away.  Do you see anything?” 

That is my side of the airplane and I turned to look.  All I saw when I looked out was Venus…which was very bright and hanging right there above the horizon.  I noted that it was as bright as I’ve ever seen it and looked kind of like an airplane’s landing light when the airplane is roughly 5 miles away or so.  And….a light bulb started to dawn in my head…..  There was no other traffic anywhere out there. 

We answered back negative visual contact with any traffic at our 9 o’clock.  Sanya said he had reports and it may move closer to us as we traveled further over Hainan Island.  We repeat “No Joy on the traffic.”

Sanya continued to insist that he had reports of an unknown traffic both to us and to other aircraft as we passed by them.  He sounded like he was growing frustrated with our inability to see whatever it was. This continued for the roughly 20 minutes it took us to fly through his airspace.  We switched over to Ho Chi Minh Control never having seen anything. 

So, using my aviation Sherlock Holmes Mystery Decoder Ring, what I surmise happened is that some previous crew flying along saw Venus low in eastern sky, maybe scintillating in multi-colors, thought it was an airliner or …gawd help me… a UFO….lighting him up with a bright landing light kind of beam and reported it to Sanya Control. 

I always thought that UFO stories being put down as Venus or Swamp Gas or Weather Ballons were funny.  Now I have my very own UFO story from the mysterious Orient.

On that happy note, I remain,

Dad / Geoff

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Different Solar Transit

  "I began to feel that I lived on a higher plane than the skeptics on the ground.  In flying, I tasted a wine of the gods of which they could know nothing.  Who valued life more highly, the aviators who spent it on the art they loved, or these misers who doled it out like pennies through their antlike days?  I decided that if I could fly for ten years before I was killed in a crash, it would be a worthwhile trade for an ordinary lifetime." ~ Charles Lindbergh

Gentle Readers and Loved Ones,

You may or may not recall my post talking about the Solar Transit of Venus from sometime back.  Click this if you want to reread it.

If you reread it, you will see down in the text a reference to seeing airplanes operating in and out of Minneapolis - St Paul Airport flying in front of the sun and how none of us were quick enough to get a picture of the event.

I was browsing around the inner toobs the other day and saw this striking photo.

 It is an MD-11 - the very same airframe I am employed to fly - crossing in front of the face of the sun.  This was the NASA Astronomy Photo of the Day (APOD) on Jan 29, 2001.  It was taken by the French astrophotographer Thierry Lagault near Paris using a small telescope and a Hydrogen Alpha Filter.  

I do not know if it was a FedEx MD-11 or some other company's hull, but this is just way cool.

On that happy note, I remain,

Dad / Geoff