Today was a three-hobby day.

I'm in Seattle (well, Mercer Island) and have been for a week, visiting friends. I reconnected with another high school classmate earlier in the week and met her husband, and it turns out he's an engineer at Boeing, is also a pilot, and (dingdingding) owns a Mooney 231. And said the magic words: "Hey, want to go flying this weekend?"

Yes. Yes I do.

Today I woke up and did some writing. Hobby one. Got a few hundred words in before the kiddo I'm staying with woke up and began rocketing around the room insisting on showing me silly YouTube videos and even sillier Pokemon gear. All good.

Midday, my hosts and I saddled up and drove over to Bellevue, WA to return to the range. I continued testing carry nines; after checking out, earlier in the week, the Glock 19 Gen 4 MOS, the H&K VP9, the SIG P320 and the Smith and Wesson M&P, I tried out the FN FNS-9 and the Walther PPQ. In addition, we tried the Glock 42 (a smaller .380 Auto) and the FN Five-seveN, just for shits and giggles.

I like the VP9 and the PPQ, both. A lot. I'm probably going to need to do a shoot-off between the two of them. The others just didn't work well for me, the SIG P320 being the worst of the lot. Please understand, I'm not saying these are bad guns. Far from it. In most cases, the modern 9mm semi-automatic handgun is such a well-built, well-designed machine at this point in time that you are hard-pressed to find one that has actual legitimate problems - at least from the major manufacturers. I mean problems at the design level - everyone gets a lemon once in a while, and rental guns will of course always be highly susceptible to abuse or wear.

But at this point, especially with my eyes getting worse and my not getting nearly enough time in to shoot, any one of these guns is way way way way way WAY more accurate and consistent than I have a hope to ever be. What it comes down to in my choice is one of feel. To carry a gun, or to treat it as a usable tool versus a toy, I'll need to train with it. If I don't enjoy shooting it, I won't train with it. This will make it much less useful. More to the point, these guns do vary in their ergonomics, above all; modern striker-fired 9mms have such similar mechanics that it's almost pointless to review them based on controls, features, or even mechanisms. There are exceptions - the PPQ, for example, has a noticeably different trigger system that results in a much crisper and sharper trigger than the others in the group. It's not unique by any means - but you generally have to resort to aftermarket triggers in the other guns to achieve similar feel (I won't say performance, since it's subjective again). But in the grand scheme of things, these are all reliable and accurate firearms.

I tend to judge them heavily on how well I shoot them in the first three or four magazines after first picking them up. I want to know how well the gun matches my instinctive presentation, grip and hand. If it matches those three well, I'll generally shoot acceptably (i.e., everything on the paper at 10 yards or everything in the black, if I'm doing really well). With the Glock 19 with a red dot sight, if I aim and slow fire, I can put a 17-rd magazine into a 3-inch circle at 7 yards, which seems fine. Red dot sights are useful to me in two most immediate ways - first, because the red dot only appears if you're holding the gun relatively correctly, they're great feedback on my presentation and grip. Second, because my eyes are having trouble adjusting for distance and I now have to wear bifocals (wah), having to only worry about one element besides the target (the red dot) versus two, at different distances (front sight, rear sight) is much much easier.

Out of all of those, I shot the HK VP9 the best. The PPQ was a very close second, and felt 'more solid' in my hand - this is why I need to do a shoot-off. I was terrible with the SIG - not only did I shoot low (which could have been the sights)but my group sizes were all over the map, indicating I wasn't comfortable or consistent with the gun. The FN was not as bad as the SIG, but still scattered. The M&P I plain didn't like the grip feel of, and the trigger was noticeably squishy - one of my recurring nightmares is gun-related, and it's stupid, but I'll tell you anyway. Remember those dreams about showing up for an exam and realizing you have no pants on and no pencil? Yeah, it's that kind of fail. I dream I'm in some form of situation where I need to use a firearm, but when I pull the trigger, the trigger moves back with spring tension but then never breaks. I end up mashing the trigger several times and the gun will then fire, usually, after the fifth or sixth time, when I'm straining to pull the trigger back past some ludicrous breakpoint and it's wobbling everywhere - and then, when I next need to fire again, it just won't and I'm left straining against the back of the trigger pull. Ever use one of those old plastic Tracer Disc guns? Those would sometimes break, so that you'd pull the trigger back and load the spring, but the 'trip' would never work, and you'd end up mashing the trigger back and forth just like that, straining, with the gun refusing to fire. Exactly like that.

Anyway, the M&P trigger reminded me forcibly of that.

The Five-seveN wasn't seriously in contention - we just shot it to see how it shot. It's kind of hilarious - very little recoil and a TON OF NOISE AND LIGHT. This one's sights were off, which was problem one - problem two is that it really is a full size combat pistol, not something I could see myself carrying. The main reason to have one, as far as I can tell, is that you also have (or want) a PS90 and those are the only two guns (really) that use the 5.7x28mm cartridge, so for commonality reasons you might as well.

In any case, had a good time playing with gats. That was hobby two.

Then I jumped in a car and went north to KPAE, Paine Field, home of the Boeing Factory. I met my friend at the Regal Air gate - he was preflighting and drove over to pick me up and bring me back to his hangar. We completed the preflight, towed the Mooney 231 (M20K?) out into the sun with the hand tow bar, and closed the hangar up.

He was excited because I'm a private pilot as that meant he could practice IFR approaches under the hood, since I could act as a safety pilot. I was excited because I could log that as PIC time, and in any case he let me fly the plane for a good chunk of it. He did two approaches and a missed-to-hold practice at Paine, with me looking around for traffic. As per his instruction, I didn't mention any errors in navigation or procedure, so that ATC could chew him out for screwing up (this is practice after all) but he didn't make any errors. There was one time ATC repeated an instruction, snippily - but as I told him, I too had interpreted the first instruction the way he had, as well.

After that practice, he gave me the airplane and we headed north to have a look at NAS Whidby Island. It gives me hope for the US in these troubled times that you can still call up a Naval Air Station and ask for flight following to transit the area and have them say "Mooney 62 Delta, radar contact. You're heading to Orcas Island? Are you familiar with the area? No? Oh, no problem. Transit over the field at 3000 - pass over the F-18 Hornets on the ramp - and follow runway heading northward, see those two island peaks with the inlet between them? That's the mouth of bay, the airport is on the north end of that bay, have a good one!"

Made it to Orcas. He landed (I'm not about to try to land someone else's personal Mooney turbo on the first flight at a small runway, no sir) and we made it official cross-country time by setting down and taxiing back. After waiting for a helicopter to finish his own 'landing' and 'takeoff' (quotes because he never touched the ground, just got low enough to air taxi) we flew around the north coast of Orcas Island and east, then south back past Whidby to Paine. We logged 2:20 in the air. I got a bunch of pictures of the Puget Sound area on a gorgeous day, and got to fly a fast airplane (Mooneys cruise at approximately 170kts - at least, this one does).

Man, I wish I could own an airplane.

So. Writing, guns, airplanes. A good day.

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