We’re sitting in the library in my house. On the computer screen are a dozen snap-shots of the Plane Tales Plane. On the floor is an aluminum grid that looks like half a TV aerial. It was Adrian’s turtle-tracking antenna.
Well, how far could a tortoise possibly get in a week? I asked.
Lisa sighed, “They’re not tortoises. They’re turtles. They’re aquatic. They live in the water and swim either upstream or downstream.”
Huh. Aquatic turtles in the desert. Who knew?
“Well, that makes things easier,” said Rio. “We just have to fly up and down the river.” It’s true. We were lucky Adrian wasn’t studying bobcats or some other terrestrial creature that was free to–or inclined to–roam hither-tither across the face of the planet, because the transmitters his University had supplied him with sport a woefully short range. About a mile. Of course, I was hoping we might be able to do better from above.
But today’s meeting wasn’t really about turtle range and speed. We had met to answer one question and one question only: How the Sam Heck were we going to get Adrian’s critter-tracking gear attached to the Plane Tales Plane without damaging either?
Lisa’s first thought was to strap it to the top of the wing. I pointed out that changing the shape of an airfoil was likely to lead to one of those nasty stall, spin, crash, burn episodes, and she quickly decided she wanted no part of that.
We considered attaching the antenna to the landing gear, to the top of the cockpit, and to the bottom back of the fuselage. I squinted at another photo while Lisa and Rio munched on a King-sized Mr. Goodbar Lisa picked up while fueling up her truck on the way to our house. This would be easier, I muttered more to myself than to them, if we had the plane here with us.
“Well,” said Rio, “why don’t we just go down to the hangar?”
I groaned inwardly because it had been a long day, the airport is 45 minutes away, I was tired, plus I’d had a glass of wine with lunch–so getting in a little flight time was out. But as soon as Rio let the words out of his mouth, a childlike enthusiasm overtook both my child and my child-at-heart friend, and any resistance from me was futile.
Off we all went on a moment’s notice. (After finding sunglasses for Rio’s Nana, who came along for the ride.)
When we got to the Plane Tales Hangar, Rio had a new idea. Just place the antenna on top of the engine:
I actually liked this idea: No major impact on aerodynamics; out in front of the plane where the signal wouldn’t be blocked by the structure; located where we could keep an eye on it; plus it looked cool. But in the end there was no way to attach it in that spot without drilling holes in the Plane Tales Plane.
We also rejected attaching the antenna to the plane’s tail for the same reason, and due to the low wing, securing the antenna to the landing gear pretty much assured it would be ripped right off on the first landing.
We also learned at this point that the antenna is sometimes used horizontally and sometimes vertically.
Hmmmm…. Then, despite all our overly-complicated thinking, the solution was simple and only required six disposable Shop Towels and some electrical tape. The Telemetry Tracking Technician on the flight could simply hold the antenna out the window, holding it either horizontally on top:
Or vertically on the side:
The Shop Towels? That protects the paint from getting scratched. Only one question remained: Would the wind snatch the antenna out of the CoPilot’s hands, to be lost forever in the New Mexico wilderness?
A flying plane has two types of wind: The wind from moving through the airmass (in Tessie’s case around 100 mph) plus the wind thrown back from the spinning prop. And I honestly don’t know how much the two totals up to. Safe inside her fabulously designed cockpit with both doors open, the wind is no worse than you’d get riding a horse at a decent clip. But stick your hand out and BAM! The tornado-like gale snaps it back against the window frame behind you!
We needed to test our theory, and once again it was Rio who figured out how:
Yep, no problem holding the antenna while screaming down Route 66 at 85 miles per hour in Lisa’s white 1999 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab truck!
When the Tale Continues: Before we chase turtles in the wild, Lisa suggests a dress rehearsal.