Italy, day 2


On our second day in Italy, we visited Lake Maggiore and took a boat ride out to several famous islands in the lake. Lake Maggiore is the second largest lake in Italy and it’s surrounded by tall mountains on all sides. It’s about 30 miles in length and extends about 8 miles up into Switzerland. Silvio took us up one of the mountains near Omegna, just west of Lake Maggiore, where we had lunch at a restaurant at the summit, seemingly miles from anywhere and up a long road filled with switchbacks which would have been a great road for motorcycle riding. Silvio told us that the restaurant was a destination for many motorcycle trips that he’s taken with his friends. The meal was excellent and there was so much food that we didn’t think we’d be able to eat dinner that evening.

Isola dei Pescatori, Lake Maggiore, Italy

After our lunch we traveled over to Lake Maggiore and where we caught a boat to take us for a tour of the Borromean Islands. The Borromean Islands are a small group of islands just off the western coastline of Lake Maggiore. There are 4 islands in total, but only two are open to tourists. We first circled around Isola Madre, the largest of the islands and got to see some of its buildings and beautiful gardens. It did not appear to be open to the public although there were some people on the island. Next we stopped at the Isola dei Pescatori, the only inhabited island which is a small fishing village. Its main street was about 8 feet wide. Since it only takes a few minutes to walk the length of the village, there is no need for cars on the island. This island was home to many cats.

Palace Garden at Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore, Italy

We later got back on a boat and visited the main attraction, Isola Bella, which has a palace that from the outside looked like it might have been closed because it was very weathered looking. However, it was in fact open to the public and the interior was beautifully restored. It had many beautiful works of art and amazing furnishings. The structure was built as a summer palace by Vitaliano Borromeo in the mid 1600’s. The island was originally just barren rock but using boats to bring soil, Borreomeo built it up into a beautiful 10-terrace garden with many type of plants. The garden was absolutely breathtaking. We walked around the palace and garden for about an hour before catching a boat to return to the car

Palace at Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore, Italy

Later that evening we had dinner at Silvio’s house and took a walk through the neighborhood of Vedano and had a drink at the Kilkenny Pub, which we thought was ironic since we had just come from Kilkenny, Ireland a few days before.

Palace Garden at Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore, Italy

Italy, day 1


Our trip from Ireland to Italy was a relatively short hop, only about 1200 miles and we landed at the Linate airport near downtown Milan around 11:00 a.m.. Our friend Silvio was there to meet us and took us to his home where we’d be staying for a few days. We’d stayed with Silvio and his family on several occasions when we visited Italy previously.

I first met Silvio in 1992 while working on a product known as a ‘headspace sampler’ for HP in a division that is now part of Agilent Technologies. I was an R&D engineer for HP and Silvio worked as the chief electrical engineer for a company in Monza, Italy which had developed a headspace sampler that is an input device for Gas Chromatographs. The HP division where I worked was located in Avondale, Pennsylvania and we were looking to expand our product line by offering a new headspace sampler with an HP brand name but we didn’t want to design one from scratch. This kind of deal is quite common and often times a product will be customized and offered for sale through a company other than the one that designed it, especially if the company has better brand recognition than the OEM (original equipment manufacturer). In the case of the headspace sampler, we made some changes which included re-designing the keyboard and user interface prior to offering it as an HP product. It was a commercial success and the relationship, as far as I know, continues to this day and the product has had a number of updates over the years.

A headspace sampler is an automated sampling device that takes samples in small vials (usually about 40 ml) and incubates them at a controlled temperature to get the volatile compounds to fill the space above the sample. Then the headspace sampler pierces a rubber seal on the top of the vial with a syringe and pulls out the gas over the sample, i.e., the ‘headspace’, and injects it into a gas chromatograph. The sampler can have many vials and run the samples unattended into the gas chromatograph for days at a time. The gas chromatograph separates the compounds in the gas and analyzes them with a detector to determine the concentrations of various compounds. A headspace sampler is typically used when the substance cannot be effectively vaporized. Generally speaking, most samples are injected into a gas chromatograph as liquids and then vaporized in an injector which is at a high temperature. But not all substances will vaporize properly. Anything that contains solids is a candidate for a headspace sampler to help measure the volatile compounds it contains.

One of the more interesting parts of that program was getting to go to customer sites to see how the product was being used. I found the police lab in New Jersey quite fascinating. We installed a unit there and I talked with the chemist responsible for drug testing. Since blood cannot be vaporized because it contains cells, headspace sampling is an ideal way to check for the presence of alcohol and other drugs in blood. When I asked the lab technician how frequently he found drugs in blood, he said that almost all of the blood samples gave positive results. I guess that makes sense since a person’s blood would be unlikely to show up at a police lab without some reason.

I’ve since moved from Pennsylvania to Colorado to work on HP’s data storage products, but it’s still gratifying to know that the program we worked on together many years ago resulted in a product line that is still around. We have managed to keep in touch with each other over the years with periodic emails and visits.

Silvio and his son Davide visited us last October and we began discussing a possible trip to Italy since it had been a long time since we’d been there. I believe our last trip was around 1998. We had also promised some of my relatives in Ireland that we’d come back soon after having visiting them in 2003. So we decided to visit both countries this time and take at least 2 weeks off which turned into nearly 3 weeks. As I mentioned in a previous posting, we also planned to visit Brussels and Amsterdam on this trip.

One of the things we talked about for future visits was the possibility to do a motorcycle ride in Italy. Silvio had asked his insurance company if his coverage would apply to loaning his bike to a friend and found out that it did. Renting a high performance motorcycle in Europe can be a hassle with high daily fees and high insurance rates. It’s also impossible to adjust your schedule should poor riding weather make it impossible to take the trip at time you’ve reserved for it. They want the money in advance, too.

Shortly after arriving at Silvio’s home, he gave me a familiarization ride on his Honda VFR-800 by having me follow him through the streets of Monza while he used his son’s motorbike to visit a local store. After I got back, he decided to have us follow him for a longer ride which ended up in Lecco, which is at the southern tip of Lake Como. I quickly realized that in Italy motorcycles pass cars at every opportunity and it doesn’t seem to bother anyone. The cars will even move over to give some extra room up so you can pass. If they don’t move over, you can use the stripe down the middle of the road as your ‘passing lane’. It seemed like a very aggressive riding style to me, but like they say, “When in Rome… or in Monza… that matter… :-).

Terri rode on the back of the VFR-800 to Lecco and it was a good indoctrination to the Italian style of motorcycle riding. I was impressed with the horsepower of the VFR-800. Even though my BMW R1150RT has more a larger displacement engine (1150 cc vs. 800 cc), the VFR has neck-snapping acceleration and a very high red line that allows it to keep up with sport bikes more easily than I could with the BMW. I looked forward to putting the bike to the test when we got to climb up into the Alps… but that would have to wait for another day.



One of my goals from as early as I can recall has been to ride in the Alps on a motorcycle. Not just any motorcycle, but one with enough horsepower that it did justice to the task. Even though I live close to some of the highest mountains in the lower 48 states of the U.S., I have always wanted to scale the heights of the Alps in on a motorcycle. On several of our visits to Italy, Terri and I rented a small motorbike and got to see the back roads around Tuscany and have enjoyed their stunning views. I can recall getting lost coming back to Florence from Sienna. We were traveling around in the back country and we looked up and saw something so spectacular and breathtaking, that we had to stop and see it close up. It was the fortified medieval village of Monteriggioni.


We pulled over and looked up at it because it looked so completely surreal, seeming to float above its surroundings. We forgot about being lost for the moment and reveled in the joy of finding something like this by accident. We later learned that Monterigginoni was a source of Dante’s inspiration for the Divine Comedy where he mentioned it by name. We rode up to the village and walked around inside its walls and felt the sense of history that few tourists get to experience because it’s off the beaten path.


Next time I’ll write about the portion of the trip that picks up again in Italy…

Oshkosh 2006


I spent most of last week at Oshkosh, Wisconsin for the big annual fly-in known as Airventure sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association. I attended Oshkosh for the first time in 1990 just after getting my private pilot’s license and have made it there every year except in 1991 and 2001. So 2006 marked my 15th Oshkosh attendance. For the past 10 years, I‘ve camped out under the wing of the airplane in a tent and have endured the hot, muggy, and sometimes rainy weather that Wisconsin offers up in the summer time. But the minor inconveniences are all worth it to be immersed in the world of aviation. There’s nothing quite like being at Oshkosh during Airventure if you love aviation.

Prior to the week I left for Oshkosh, I was in China at a factory outside Shanghai for a new production startup. After eating the food there for about 4 days, I didn’t feel too well and was worried I wouldn’t feel well enough to attend Airventure. That would have been a shame. I secretly believed that my healing would require some Wisconsin brats along with pork BBQ sandwiches from the SOS brothers’ tent. It must have done the trick, because a few days after returning from China and thinking about this form of food therapy, I felt well enough to fly to Airventure for the cure-all effects of genuine Wisconsin foods.

I’ve traveled the 862 mile distance from Greeley to Oshkosh non-stop in the LongEZ before, and felt that I was up for it again so I fueled up in Greeley and hoped for some good weather that wouldn’t require too much diversion from a straight course. I was trying to arrive in Oshkosh before the afternoon airshow on Tuesday. I was off the ground at 7:15 a.m., but I’d lose an hour due to the time change so I only had about 6 hours to get there since the field would close promptly at 2:30 p.m. If I missed that arrival time, they would close down the field for 3 hours and I’d have to park the plane somewhere nearby and wait it out while everyone else in Oshkosh was enjoying the airshow. Thankfully, there were great tailwinds and minimal weather issues and about 5 hours later, I was on the ground at Oshkosh taxiing to the homebuilt camping location. I still had 2 hours of fuel left in the tanks.

With each passing year that I attend Oshkosh, I wonder when I’ll grow tired of it and decide to skip the next year. But for some reason, I have never reached that threshold. The most difficult part for me is that Terri doesn’t like to attend and after the second time we attended together, she had had enough. She doesn’t like to be around me when I’m distracted like I am at Oshkosh. In her words, “I don’t like being around you when you’re like that.” I’m sure a lot of aviation wives feel the same way.

This year Terri was scheduled to go to Singapore for the week of Oshkosh, so if I couldn’t attend, it would have been a waste since she’d be away from home anyway. She’s still in Singapore as I write this and I miss her and wish she was home.

This year’s Airventure had a number of unique events and some of the highlights included:

• Beach Boys kicking off the celebration on the first night
• F-22s aerial display
• The Blue Angels, for the first time ever at Oshkosh
• A new theater to show classic aviation movies
• A Lancaster bomber (one of only 2 flying in the world)
• The B1 bomber, including a static display followed by a fly-by
• Spaceship One dedication at the EAA museum
• Many new Light Sport Aircraft, including one from Cessna
• Several new Very Light Jets, and a certification announcement from Eclipse.

I stayed until the last day and was amazed to find that about 90% of the homebuilt planes in homebuilt camping had already departed by the time I was ready to leave. An intense thunderstorm blew through on Sunday morning around 8:00 a.m. just before I was ready to strike camp and I stayed in my tent trying to keep it from collapsing from the high winds. This was the third downpour I endured in the time I was there. A lot of damage occurred due to the high winds including several sections of a chain link fence blowing over and even the Port-a-Johns in the homebuilt camping area were lying on their sides after the storm ended. I had hoped that no one had tried to stay in any of them to escape the downpour.

After waiting a few hours for things to dry out, I decided to pack up the very wet tent and its contents and get out of Oshkosh while VFR conditions prevailed. I spent about about 30 minutes taxiing behind two L39 jets and I almost suffocated with the jet-A fumes. My eyes were stinging. That’s the last time I’ll make that mistake. I gave them at least 200 feet of clearance but the fumes were virtually overwhelming. The only bigger mistake you can make at Oshkosh, evidently, is taxiing in front of a tailwheel warbird which can chop you up because it has no forward visibility. That happened to an RV6 about 30 minutes after I left. It’s the second time I recall a tailwheel warbird running into another plane at Oshkosh causing serious injury, primarily due to having no forward visibility.

After I was in the air I found that the nice tailwinds I enjoyed coming from Colorado were now very strong headwinds. I had planned to land at Plattsmouth, NE for fuel since last year they had a great fuel price and friendly FBO. After flying for about 4 hours, I overflew the airport looking for the wind direction since no one was at the FBO to respond to my airport advisory requests. There was a very stiff wind blowing from the south. I noticed while I was landing that the runway had been extended since last year, but that the threshold had been displaced nearly 1700’ based on the markings. I generally try to land close to the end of a displaced threshold so as not to give up too much of the runway. A displaced threshold, according to its definition, is a place where you can use the runway for takeoffs, but not for landings. However, I found despite the NOTAM which declared it was a displaced threshold that it was actually a DISPLACED RUNWAY END since shortly after I landed, I saw, much to my horror, a line of barricades about 6” high strung across the runway. I added power so that I could hop across a barricade, but unfortunately caught it with my right wheel pant which exploded and severed my brake line. This meant that I had no directional control when I attempted to land because the LongEZ uses differential braking for steering.

Fortunately, the wind was a quartering headwind and the only brake I needed was the left brake to get the plane stopped and off the runway into the grass. Shortly after I stopped, a man drove out on a motorcycle to see what happened and I was relieved to find he was a fellow homebuilder. He was building an RV7 in his hangar. I pushed the plane back to his hangar and we surveyed the damage and began thinking of a repair strategy. He thought he may have had some tubing and fittings to repair the damage, but after doing a thorough search, we couldn’t find any repair parts in his hangar. We began thinking of what would be available at a Home Depot and I believed that I could get some copper tubing and fittings to construct a parallel brake line. It wouldn’t be a good long-term solution, but certainly it would be enough to get me home. I borrowed the courtesy car and drove about 15 miles to a Menard’s store which is very much like a Home Depot. I got the copper tubing and fittings and we began to install it. It was 104 degrees in the shade and I was as dehydrated as I can remember being in my life.

Kevin had some 5606 brake fluid and a brake bleeder. Otherwise, there’d be no way to do this repair. After about 4 hours, the plane was back up and running, thanks to the help, tools, and brake fluid from Kevin. I can’t say enough good things about my fellow EAA members. They are really helpful even to strangers flying plastic airplanes.

6 inch tall barricades can to a lot of damage

Kevin thought he remembered my name from somewhere. I thought perhaps it may have been from some of the Internet forums I’ve been involved in for more than 15 years and hoped that we had never had an online debate. I’ve only had a few Internet debates over the years and I still regret them, and have sworn them off completely since life is just too short to debate topics on the Internet with strangers. I haven’t engaged in an Internet debate in many years.

I took off about 8:15 p.m. from Plattsmouth and wasn’t looking forward to the headwinds or the darkness that was about to envelope me. I generally don’t fly the LongEZ at night if I can avoid it. I figured with the headwinds that I had about another 3.5 hours of flying to cover the 460 miles home which would get me to Greeley around 10:30 p.m. Afterwards I found that without the wheelpants and with the headwinds, I’d be experiencing occasional ground speeds of less than 110 kts., nearly 30 kts down from my usual cruise speed and something I hadn’t seen since I flew my Piper Colt.

Brake Line Repair

After about 3 hours, I was getting close to Greeley, and I listened to a pilot in the pattern doing night touch and go’s for about 30 minutes in a rental airplane. When I announced my intentions to land, he did a final landing and taxied the plane to its hangar. I lined up for the runway 16 which is nearly 2 miles in length and proceeded to execute a landing. Just as I was on final, the whole runway lighting system went dark. This was just the kind of extra excitement I needed for my final approach. Seven clicks on the radio brought all the lights back on. I landed without incident and put the airplane away. I was relieved to be home.

Airventure is a wonderful experience and it’s hard for me to believe I’ve been there 15 times. Each time seems like it’s something completely new, with new people to meet, new things to see and do, and many things to learn. Another attraction is the friends you get to see year after year. I can’t think of a better place to go if you’re interested in aviation. Life will never be quite the same once you’ve visited Airventure and you’ll likely find your way back there year after year.

I sent Kevin an email that night thanking him for his help and didn’t hear back from him for several days. Apparently, my email was swallowed by a spam filter. In his email he sent several days later, he explained why my name was familiar. He had spoken to me on a ham satellite nearly 6 years ago! I was his 8th contact on ham radio satellites! I still have the QSL card from the contact. It’s a very small world and I am glad for the people we get to meet like Kevin Faris.

Update 2006-08-13: I’ve since added some pictures here of Oshkosh 2006.