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Friday, December 3, 2010

Head On!

No, it's not the annoying commercial on TV ("HEAD ON" For whatever HEAD ON is for!  That you put ON YOUR HEAD!")

I had to make a fuel run last Saturday.  I decided to do something a little different and NOT go to my usual pump at Sherman (KSWI).  Instead, I loaded a new course on my Garmin 430W and headed for Gainsville, TX.

The sky was severe clear, temps in the low 60's, winds light and variable.  I took off to the south, as is normal at McKinney, thanks to our mostly southerly surface flow, that keeps us warm in the winter and the white stuff up in Oklahoma.  The tower had me do a right turn out for a Cessna coming up from the south east.  With cooler temps and only 1 on board 49C lifted through 1,000 ft AGL as I turned northwest.

There was a little wind at altitude - the GPS ground speed was showing 130 kts, so I had a 15 kt tailwind.  I decided to try the GPS approach into Gainsville, which was reporting runway 17 in use.  On the way to Gainsville there are a couple of really tall radio towers near Pilots Point, nicely named, for the GPS pointed them out to me as we approached.  The tallest is 1,999 ft AGL, or close to 2,800 ft MSL.  I was cruising at 3,000, so I wasn't too concerned, but was reminded once more of the need for caution in that area.

I pulled out my new iPAD and loaded up the RNAV (GPS) RWY 17 approach plate.  Passing the Initial Approach Fix (IAF) called AROSE, which is right on an oxbow section of the Red River, which separates Texas from Oklahoma, I made my first call on the common UNICOM frequency.  Horrors!  I heard another aircraft (a Cherokee) announce that he was over the airport, northbound at 3,000 feet to the NDB to enter the hold on the NDB 17 approach.  Well, that would place him right where I wanted to be as I turned onto the final approach course, right at my height, and possibly right when I got there.

Nearing ILOPY, I made the executive decision to start descending early.  The chart calls for 3,000 ft to ILOPY, then 2,500 until on the glide-slope (these are all minimums).  I was already at 2,800 when I started my turn - technically busting minimums, but I decided that was better than a nose full of Cherokee.  As it happened, I was already on the glide-slope at 2,500 ft when the Cherokee went past in the opposite direction 500 ft overhead.

I landed on the runway and taxied off to get my cheap fuel.  Once ready to take off again, I noticed that runway 12-30 started close to where I was, and was already facing the in the right direction.  With no control tower to ask, it was my decision to make, so I crossed runway 17 (making the required UNICOM call) to the threshold of runway 12, and announced my intent to take off and climb to the southeast.  I ran up the engine, and accelerated.

Sometime around the liftoff speed, I heard a Cessna say he was 6 miles southeast of the airport and would descend and enter a left downwind for runway 17.  That would place him right where I was already going!  I made a call announcing my intent again so that he would know about me.  He made another position call, and I responded again.  At around 600 or 700 AGL, I saw him - head on on a collision course about a mile away.  There was little time, but fortunately I was still 200 to 300 feet below him.  So I pushed forward on the yoke to stop my climb, and 20 seconds later he went past overhead, banking right to enter the downwind.

Someone, who didn't identify himself, said "Nice!" over the air.  Was it the Cessna pilot?  Did he even know I was there?  I saw him take no action of any kind, nor did he respond to any of my broadcasts, just as the Cherokee driver plowed on regardless earlier.  Just like driving a car, you have to assume that everyone else is out to get you.  Especially on a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon in Texas, near an airport with cheap gas.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Groping For An Answer

Time to weigh in.

The following is an except from the US Constitution, as amended by the Bill of Rights: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."  (4th Amendment).

Here in the "Land Of The Free", the general populous are showing suspiciously sheep-like tendencies.  The "Home of the Brave" has been reduced to quivering mass of abject fear, willing to give up their rights and freedoms in name of spurious "safety".  Here is what one of our Founding Fathers had to say - "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety" (Ben Franklin, the only man to sign both the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution).

This week the head of the TSA went on TV to say that people should not "opt-out" of the millimeter wave body scanner (which do a virtual strip search of the body) and request an invasive groping (they call it a "pat-down", which sounds nicer") by a TSA employee, because it would slow down the security process.  WTF???  Even if the groping was not an abrogation of our rights, we are supposed to select efficient over proper?  This is the kind of logic that led to large, industrial gas chambers at Auschwitz, because shooting Jews was too slow and "inefficient".

So now, unless we submit to the New American SS, we cannot get on a plane.  This is also interfering with a right established in the 14th amendment, and upheld by the Supreme court: "The U.S. Supreme Court also dealt with the right to travel in the case of Saenz v. Roe, 526 U.S. 489 (1999). In that case, Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, held that the United States Constitution protected three separate aspects of the right to travel among the states: the right to enter one state and leave another, the right to be treated as a welcome visitor rather than a hostile stranger (protected by the "privileges and immunities" clause in Article IV, § 2), and (for those who become permanent residents of a state) the right to be treated equally to native born citizens (this is protected by the 14th Amendment's Citizenship Clause)." (Wikepedia)

 So here is the new choice as presented by the TSA - act as cattle to be slaughtered, moving peacefully and efficiently through the chutes to the end, where our constitutional rights to privacy and freedom from unwarranted official harassment will be destroyed, or demand our rights, and have our right to travel freely from state to state taken away by Men With Guns, and be branded troublemakers and malcontent by the cattle waiting behind.

The Terrorists have won.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Random Stuff

49C is back on the ramp.I flew up to Sherman (KSWI) to fill up the fuel tanks, which were very low since one was drained to fix a leaking drain point.  I pumped 45 gallons, which at $2/gallon less than at my home base in McKinney, saves enough that it is worth the 26nm each way trip.  I only get fuel from my home FBO if the level is too low to get there safely (and I define that as under 15 gallons on take off, or 90 minutes flying time), or if I don't have time to make the side trip.

On the way back, I flipped on the NAV instruments to see if they were all working - I could receive the McKinney NDB/LOC on the ground in Sherman, and both VOR/ILS receivers grabbed the localizer signal at over 20 miles.  But the DME came on for about 15 seconds, then went blank.  I pulled the circuit breaker and reset it, but nothing.  I suspect the power connection is loose.

I'd like to fly today, but we are having an untypical Texas fall day, 55 degrees and non-stop drizzly rain.  The last time this happened, I took up 49C for some IFR practice, flying to Mesquite (KHQZ) for fuel, then several approaches at KTKI.  I experienced my one and only real world missed approach - on the GPS/WAAS approach to runway 35, I flew through a solid column of rain and at the DH at 300' AGL, could not see the runway.  Of course the moment I added power and started to climb, I flew out of the rain and saw the field underneath.  It was too late, and besides, I wanted to finish with the ILS 17 approach, which I did after receiving vectors from approach.  That was when I discovered the weak ILS receivers, now fixed.

Should I get the DME fixed now?  Really with GPS onboard it's not essential, as long as I keep my GPS NAV database current, which I do.  Any waypoint that can be identified with a VOR and DME can be identified more easily with GPS, as long as I have solid RAIM signal lock.


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Down for Maintenance

My fingers are itching.  I'm antsy and restless, squinting against the light from a bright sunny Texas fall day.

I'm not sick.  I just want to go flying, and I can't.  My Sundowner is in pieces in the hangar, undergoing annual inspection.  I suppose I could rent a plane, but at current rental rates, I think I will just hold off until 49C is back in the air.

The annual, as usual, started in the the hangar next door, where I had the LORAN removed, and some weak signals from the ILS, DME and ADF systems checked out.  Since the US government turned off the LORAN signals last winter, the radio was just dead weight and the antenna extra drag.  The weak signals were as expected, poor contacts somewhere along the coax path.  My 1982 model Collins transponder just needed cleaning, not replacing as I thought might be the case.  The stuck mic issue on my Garmin 430W turned out to be a bad contact.  Nothing major, just annoying and a wallet drain.

Last week 49C was moved to A&P hangar.  I need new tires, some corroded screws replacing, an oil change and analysis, as well as the annual inspection.  Perhaps they can also solve the long standing problem where 49C just wants to turn left and dive, but I'm not holding my breath.  I hope they can fix the issue where the front wheel vibrates from side to side like a stuck wheel on a shopping cart.  Apart from the annual, none of these were enough to ground the aircraft, just niggles that built up until the annual strip down and inspection, when I also clean up my list of squawks.

But it's been 3 weeks now, and I want my plane back.  I need to fly.........

Friday, October 8, 2010

Why do I Like Texas?

Well, it's Home.  With a capital "H".  I moved here in 1982, moved away in 1999, and back in 2006.  All the time I was away, I wanted to come back.  It's Home.

"But you can't possibly like the summers!"  OK, well you got me there.  But when we lived in the North, I disliked the winters even more (at least you don't have to shovel sunshine off your driveway before going to work!).  I thought about the Northwest , in fact Sally and I nearly moved to Seattle in 1997 (the job fell through), but I do like the clear skies of North Texas.  The horizon unblemished by trees, mountains - I do miss the Big Sky when I'm away from home.

Politically I'm a Stranger in a Strange Land here, being a classical Liberal in a Deep Red state, and for those who believe the re-definition that the Republicans try to commit of the word "Liberal", which they try to convince everyone is the same as "Socialist", I say they are not.  Liberals believe in the free market for goods and services, individual freedoms and rights (the opposite of socialism, where these are subordinate to the State); however Liberals like me, also believe that the purpose of government is to govern, and to assist those who need assistance in the name of justice and fairness.  So we believe that taxes are right and proper if they serve the purpose of fair governance.  President Obama is classical Liberal in this sense.

But Texas is Libertarian/Republican Land, especially in North East Dallas/Forth-Worth where I live.  They may be wrong, but the people here are nice, for the most part, and don't really act in line with their political beliefs.  They are generous, law abiding and always polite, even to government officials.  Especially the ones carrying guns.  And the sense of individual freedom here is greater than anywhere else I have ever been.

July, August and early September are times to survive as best you can, air conditioning cranked up to 11 (nod to Spinal Tap).  But October through December, and March through June are glorious times.  The Fall skies are bright blue and severe clear.  The Spring is pretty, with flowers and trees budding everywhere.  The Winter is interesting, with everything ranging from snow, to ice, to 80 degrees and sun - sometimes all on the same day.  And you can fly year round (important to me), and cost of doing so is far more reasonable than in the old country (I grew up in England).

In North Dallas the choice of foods is outrageous - we have Southern, Tex-Mex, and Cajun, all mixed in with Western BBQ, and traditional and new American foods such as Italian, and now Indian.  We lack really, really good seafood (other than Cajun) and Chinese, but perhaps I just don't know where to look.  When I lived in New Hampshire, the seafood and Italian were to best, but I missed all the rest.

So what do I like about Texas?  The freedom, the food, the people, the space, even the weather.  Y'all come back now, y'hear?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Never Again

It was nice Texas early Fall day in 1992, just like today.  The sun was shining, the sky was steel blue, temps around 80 deg F during the day, 50 to 60 at night (that's about 25C daytime, and 15C night, for you Celsius users).

I had got my private license the previous year, with about 75 hours PIC, and a wife-to-be.  I think those two things came together as a package, because once I had a strong, settled relationship, I could find the time and interest to finish up my private license.  We thought it would be fun to fly down to San Antonio and visit some friends there, and do it in my flying school’s Cessna 152, call sign Five Kilo Alpha.

My original intent was to pick up the plane after work on Friday, and return Sunday morning (autumn Sunday afternoons in Texas are dedicated to football).  We got to Addison airport (KADS) around 5 pm, expecting to take off shortly thereafter, and to land at San Antonio International (KSAN) around nightfall.  Astute readers will note from the tense, that things did not go as planned.

The school had lost my reservation.  There was no blue and white Cessna 152 sitting waiting for us, tanks full, keys on the rack.  After some discussion, they said there was one just coming out of annual in the hangar, 38 Hotel.  I could have that one, although it was new to me.  An hour or so later, it appeared on the ramp, signature still wet in the log book.  I started pre-flight.  Step #1 - turn on the master, and check the fuel level indication.  Ooops!  no fuel.  Call the office, await truck.  I completed the rest of the pre-flight, and climbed the struts for a visual check of the fuel level after filling - ooops #2 - no fuel caps!!!  A hurried search of the hangar reveled two caps, which clicked into place with a reassuring "snap!"

7pm, and we had engine start.  I taxied out to runway 16, received take off clearance, and climbed on runway heading.  A call to DFW approach, and I had clearance through the Dallas Class B airspace, South over Love Field, and past the skyscrapers downtown, as the lights started to come on.  I should mention here that as I rotated, one of the radios started to slide out of the rack, and my fiancĂ©e, sitting in the right hand seat, pushed it back in.  She told me later.  Fortunately, she is a good sport when it comes to flying.   She isn’t interested in the mechanics of learning to fly, but she would like me to teach her enough to land if I was incapacitated.

Level at 5,000 and 20 miles south of DFW on a heading of 190, I noticed that the radio reception with DFW departure was weak, but it was (just) good enough to communicate.  We continued to San Antonio, skirting the restricted airspace around Fort Hood.  Approaching the class C airspace around San Antonio, now fully dark and near 10 pm - I couldn't raise San Antonio approach, unless I circled as close as I could get, under the outer shelf of their class C ring, and called when facing AWAY from the field.  Finally I made contact, got clearance, and made a rapid final approach (120 kts on final) with a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 close behind.  Fortunately, having started to fly at Love Field, and finishing at Addison with a lot of business jet traffic, I was fairly used to that!

We had a good time in San Antonio, dining on the River Walk and drinking margaritas and Corona beer outside the Alamo.  Sunday morning dawned wet and drizzly.  The sky was 700 to 800 overcast, with light rain, the cloud tops reaching to 3,000 feet, and extending to 30 miles North of KSAN, beyond which CAVU reigned supreme all the way to Dallas.  Having only a fresh PPL, I was grounded.  We waited in the FBO lounge, and watched the NFL on the FBO’s TV.  And waited.  And waited.

Around 3pm, the ATIS finally stated that the ceiling was 1100 feet and 5 miles visibility.  VFR!  We loaded up the Cessna, and took off, along with 3 or 4 other VFR airplanes that had also been waiting.  800 feet AGL, and we were at the cloud bases again.  Not familiar with the area, and not having GPS (no-one did in 1992), I headed North(ish).  Trying to keep 500 feet below the clouds put me uncomfortably close to the ground, climbing put me too close to the cloud base, and seeing radio towers ahead on the sectional, I decided this was not safe and started to do a 180 turn to the left.

I made a radio call to approach to let them know, but I couldn't get a response with the poor radios in 38H.  I glanced at the AI - 60 degrees of bank, and a lot of descent - a real world, honest to goodness unusual attitude in IMC!  I leveled off in some random direction, very unhappy now, somewhat scared.  I was a disoriented, low time VFR  pilot in IMC conditions, without a working radio, in class C airspace, near a large airport.  I knew this was often how accident reports began - or ended.

Finally I raised approach, and got vectors back to the airport.  A wiser pilot.  An unhappy pilot.  A pleased-to-be-on-final-approach pilot.  An alive pilot on the ground.  We called our friends, stayed an extra night, and flew home on Southwest the next day.

A week later I flew on my own using Southwest Airlines down to San Antonio, picked up 38H, and flew it back to Addison in the normal severe-clear Texas Autumn skies.  Unable to raise DFW approach, I flew around the Class B, under the Eastern-most shelf over White Rock Lake, and landed at Addison.  A few days later, I was on the ground in my normal 152, and I saw 38H on approach, with the pilot complaining that he couldn’t hear the tower, and the tower complaining that 38H wasn’t responding to his calls.  I had told the school about the radio issues, and previously I hadn’t seen bad maintenance from them.  The school went out of business soon afterwards – maybe the rot was just setting in.

Lessons learned? 
1) Get there-itus caused me to continue the flight with a sub-standard airplane at night, and again on the way back in conditions I wasn't ready for.  The fact that it was only 15 minutes to clear skies influenced my decision.  I didn’t think about the fact that 15 minutes is enough time to die. 
2) My training was good (I got out of an incipient spiral dive essentially on instruments. But my judgment was not.  I learned to stay well inside the envelope! 
3) I had never had to face a maintenance issue with an airplane I was flying before.  The school’s aircraft were generally well maintained, and I had never seen anything worse than a low tire or fuel.  The next time I didn’t like something, I would (and did) abandon the trip. 
4)  ATIS or AWOS may not tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  Presumably it happened to measure the ceiling as a higher patch went over the field. 
5) Get Instrument Rated!!!!!!!!  I stopped flying for several years due to work, young children and other things, and started again in 2006 when I bought my Beechcraft Sundowner, which used to be an instrument trainer and has 1 of everything, and 2 of some things. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Learning to fly

Not me.  Her.

I'm practicing for becoming an instructor by teaching my oldest daughter, Thing 1 how to fly.  We're only on lesson 3, and already she can climb, descend, speed up or slow down and trim, and perform level turns without gaining or loosing more than 100ft.

Next time - take offs and circuits.  Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hudson River Approach

Those of us who fly respect Captain Sullenburger, who successfully ditched his Airbus in the Hudson River last year, after a double engine flame-out caused by geese, but we do not worship him.  We realize he did what he was trained to do, with a high degree of competency, but that many other pilots could have done the same.  So we applaud the demonstration of skill, and understand the "oh shucks" attitude, mistaken for modesty by the press, as actually being a form of embarrassment at all the fuss.

In instrument flying, we use approach plates to describe the horizontal and vertical maneuvers need to end up safely in the touchdown zone - this gag version shows what would be needed to replicate Captain Sullenburger's Hudson River Approach.

BTW, has anyone else, other than me, noticed that the cause of this was CANADIAN geese?  Were they in this country illegally?  Were they Muslim suicide geese?  Why is no-one else crying "FOWL" over this?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Turn hard right, mind the trees (and the hill)

Time to leave Gaston's. 

Where I normally fly from, McKinney airport in Texas, we have a 7,000 foot concrete runway with no building or trees within 1/2 a mile of either end of the runway.  I have room to take off and land 3 times on the runway without turning, and I'm at 500 feet or more before crossing over an obstacle.  So the departure from Gaston's was a new experience.

We loaded up the airplane with all four of us, plus luggage and the fish.  With 30 gallons of fuel in the wings, the Sundowner was just under it's maximum gross take off weight, and within the center of gravity limits ( I know because I had previously run the numbers).  I did a careful check of the airplane and engine, and taxied to the end of the runway as far back as I could get.  3,000 feet on dry, short grass is plenty, but nothing is less valuable than runway behind you.

Running up to full power, with 15 degrees of flaps and brakes hard on, I checked I was getting full RPMs and let her roll.  It seemed to take a long time to get the airspeed needle alive, but finally we had 60 kts and I eased Charlie into the air.  I stayed low in ground effect to let the speed build up until I had 75kts (best climb speed), and reached for the sky.

Best climb with full gross weight was not going to clear that trees covered hill, so I started a long curve to the right, intending to get into a downwind position where I could land back on the field if anything went wrong as soon as possible.  Did I say that I'm not used to trees?  Or hills?  It was a perfectly normal take off if you are used to such things, but I felt crowded.  Simulating a short field, max climb take off and doing one for real are not the same experience at all.  But they are the same to actually execute the movements and configuration, so all was well.

Continuing the climb on the downwind, I immediately felt better - I knew I could S-turn onto the grass if I had to glide in; I was visualizing the maneuver in my head.  Non-pilots would probably be surprised at how much we think about emergencies and "what I would do now if the engine quit", but this is actually normal.  Both guys in the front of your airliner are doing the same thing - only they have more procedures.  They calculate how much runway they need to accelerate to takeoff speed and then emergency stop - and based on that they call out V1 and V2 airspeeds on the take off run - V1 means you have to go - there isn't room to stop.  I do the same, only for me I make the decision to fly just before using 50% of the runway.  And yes, I have abandoned takeoffs if something wasn't right at that point.  But not this day.

Thing 2 wanted to fly over the dam, so having more than 1,000 feet at this point, I left the field and flew over the dam, then turned on course.  Fuel was too pricey at Gaston's, and I was already near max weight, so I had checked fuel prices on, and selected Mt. Ida as my fueling stop.

Mt. Ida was just over an hours flying time away.  Fuel there was $3.85 a gallon, instead of over $5 at Gaston's, and nearer to $6 at my home airport.  It also has a 4,000 foot concrete runway, and was right where I was planning to turn to avoid the Hog MOA (Military Operation Area).  It was a Sunday, so I was sure the MOA was not active, but I don't like the high ground and lack of airports under it, so I determined to go around, expending the extra 10 minutes of so for additional safety margin (there we go again....).

After partially replenishing the fuel ( I couldn't just fill up like in a car - that would have made the airplane too heavy with all of us and our luggage), I took off from Mt. Ida heading west.  Once again it became clear that I couldn't get over the ridges with our heavy load on a straight climb out, so I made a right turn and did a spiraling climb over the airport.  Thing 1 thought we were like a big hawk looking for a large mouse!

Once above the ridges, I turned on course.  The air was becoming bumpy in the hot afternoon air, so I climbed (slowly) above the clouds to 8,500 feet where it was smooth, and slaved the autopilot to the GPS, pointing straight home.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

4 Arrived, 10 Left

The water at Gaston's Resort is COLD!  It used to be a warm water river, typical for Arkansas, until they built the dam and hydo-electric plant.  Now the water comes from deep in the lake, and it's 45 to 50 degrees year round (7 degrees C).

While bad for the native river flora and fauna, this was good for tourism, and the State of Arkansas, smelling gold, stocked the river with Brown and Rainbow trout, and the occasional Cutthroat.  Outfits like Gaston's sprang up on the shore, and the rest is history.

The cabin we rented came with a free boat - but we had to rent the motor, chain, and chairs!  We didn't hire a fishing guide, and so for the first 2 hours, we caught nothing.  After breaking for breakfast, we talked with the dock guys, and followed their advice on how to load up the hooks, and where to cast.  Perhaps it was also that the river started to run, as they opened more generators at the dam, but soon we were catching fish!  Since we declined to pay for fishing licenses, only the 2 Things could fish, but I manned the motor and Sally de-hooked our catch and put them in the wet well.  The fishing limit was 10, and we caught 11, putting the littlest one back to gain some weight.

The dock guys killed and gutted the 10 keepers, for a small tip. 4 we ate for dinner, the other 6 went into the freezer and came home with us.

Friday, July 30, 2010

First time on grass

The field is 3000 feet long, but all it has going for it. One end had tall trees and wires strung across it, the other, a 500 foot hill. We wouldn't have bothered, but for the fishing.

Two hours and 45 minutes after leaving McKinney, I caught my first sight of Gaston's in North Arkansas. Sally sat in the right seat, while Things 1 and 2 occupied the back. Gaston's is a trout fishing mecca, with a hotel and restaurant attached. Oh, and an airport. (

The strip is nominally one way, although I did see a Bonanza land the wrong way. I'd practiced the landing a few times on Microsoft Flight Simulator X, so while a bit nervous, I knew how to approach it. I flew a left downwind leg on the other side of the river, and turned onto the base leg in a normal descent. The abnormal part is that means flying straight towards a large tree covered hill.

The trick is not to fly a square pattern, but to make a curved biplane-style approach. As I continued the turn, Sally asked "where's the airport?" in a concerned tone. Well, I couldn't see it..... but I knew it was there. At least in a Sundowner, you have great visibility - normally, due to the low wing. In this case the runway was hidden by tress, until the last few seconds.

Heading for a gap in the trees, we finally saw the runway threshold, and I realized I was lower than I expected. Pulling up the nose, I let the main wheels settle onto the runway - and there was my first surprise. Grass runways are BUMPY!!! And this one has a large bump about a third of the way along where it used to end before being extended. Airborne once again, we landed the second time with a "thump!"

Slowed to walking speed, I found the tied downs, and a man in a Gaston's van drove out to meet us as I shut off the engine and prepared to tie the airplane down.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Circle and Climb

So my original plan was to do the CFI next, and then multi-engine and so on. But I have almost decided to change that, and do the multi rating next. The reason is the great deals that can be had for multi training right now.

So the new (tentative) plan is to do the multi-engine commercial rating add on this summer/fall, and finish the CFI-Airplane rating next winter/spring. I could also do the multi-engine and Instrument CFI ratings at the same time.

When airborne and lost, the proper thing is to climb and circle, to widen your perspective and find more landmarks. Or to get on the radio, admit to your mistake, and get help.

I'm doing both.....

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Certified Flight Instructor

I'm getting started (finally) on training for a "Certified Flight Instructor" rating. I passed both written tests last year, and with the Commercial license under my belt, the way is clear to get the CFI-airplane rating.

I have been flying, while under visual (VFR) conditions, from the right seat, which is a bit weird. When flying under instrument rules (IFR), I still fly from the left seat, because I don't want to be fumbling around with the wrong hand under such stringent conditions. I suppose I could get used to it.

The other thing that is new is having to create a lesson plan, and to talk through what I am doing as I do it. The second bit isn't too bad, as I developed the habit of telling what I was doing in preparation for the commercial test - so that the examiner would know that I knew what I was doing.

So to practice the development of lesson plans, I am going to teach my daughter the basics of flying - to practice giving a lesson, and also to have a second person in the plane who could take over in an emergency, or help on a cross country. My wife may also learn how to find an airport and land, but she doesn't seem all that interested.

CFI by Christmas - that's my watchword for this year.......

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Going Fast, ................Slowly

Earlier this month I flew my Sundowner from Texas to Pennsylvania and back, approx 2,000 miles. It was Mother's Day, and I was hankering for a flying challenge, so off I went.

Spring in the Central Plains and Ozarks can be rough. We have tremendous thunderstorms and even tornadoes on a regular basis. In the summer, typically Texas broils under a semi-permanent tropical "high" that keeps weather fronts off the the North, in Oklahoma or Kansas, but in May the high has not yet formed, and we get fronts coming and going, and highly variable, sometimes entertaining, sometimes dangerous, weather.

On my flight up, a cold front was sweeping down the plains, from Oklahoma to Detroit. Winds in front of a cold front tend to be strong and from the Southwest. After the front passes, they swing around to the north, then northwest. Ahead of the front, the air is warm, but usually clear. And that is what I had all the way to PA - a 40 to 50 kts tailwind, and apart from a thin layer over my departure airport, no clouds, and visibility about 10 to 15 miles. My Sundowner has NEVER covered the ground so fast - I saw ground speeds as high as 165 kts (190 mph).

I made it to PA a full hour ahead of schedule. The front caught up over the weekend, causing rain and thunderstorms.

I was planning to depart on Tuesday, but a look at the weather map convinced me to start a day earlier. A warm front was coming up the Ohio River valley, pushed by a strong cold front behind it, bringing the usual turbulent and dangerous weather. So I launched at 11:30, and by 3:20 I was on the ground in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

I can fly in warm fronts without much problem. Warm fronts tend to generate hazy, calm, muggy and rainy conditions, but without much vertical development - i.e. storms. I landed in Bowling Green in light rains and lowering ceilings. My plan was to let the thunderstorms ahead of the cold front pass by overnight, and take off in the crisp cool air behind.

Well, the front passed - to the north. Louisville, Cincinnati - they all got storms. But in Oklahoma, Missouri and Kentucky, the front just kind of stopped, spawned tornadoes that killed several people, and shuffled to the East. That meant layered clouds and the potential for thunderstorms all along my route.

It also meant I would be flying against headwinds, almost as strong as those that helped me going the other way.

I left Bowling Green at 9am. I entered the cloud at 2700 ft, and climbed to my planned cruising altitude of 6,000, still in the clouds, with moderate turbulence. I asked for, and received clearance to climb to 8,000. After almost an hour, I started to be able to see the cloud tops above me, and to break out occasionally into small patches of clear sky. I heard another aircraft say that the tops were between 10,000 and 11,000 feet. So I climbed to 10,000, where I was in the clear about 50% of the time. Somewhere over West Tennessee, battling headwinds near 40kts (so my ground speed was about 75 kts), the clouds lowered below my altitude. Passing North of Memphis I could see the FedEx planes on approach in a long string.

With the slow ground speed, I decided to change my planned fuel stop from Hot Springs, to Conway, Arkansas. The field was covered by a thick overcast clound layer from 2,500 to 6,000 feet, so I made an VOR/DME instrument approach, and landed visually once I was out of the clouds.

After refueling, I took off and climbed to 6,000 feet - just above the cloud tops. At 6,000 the head winds were a little less, and I had a ground speed of 85 kts, which slowly climbed above 90 as I passed over Oklahoma and into Texas. Just past Paris, Texas, I saw the ground for the first time, and descended into the Dallas area through patchy, hazy cloud, landing at 4:20pm.

In flying, there is usually a head wind. It's straight mathematics - imagine you are flying 1,000 miles at 100 mph. With no wind, it would take you 10 hours. Now, imagine that you have a 20 mph tailwind going one way, and the same wind going back. Now, your ground speed is 120 mph up, and 80 mph back. So the 10 hrs on the way up now drops to 8.3 hrs, but your return trip now takes 12.5, for a total of 20.83 hours, of which 40% of the time you had a headwind, and 60% of the time a headwind.

The winds are (nearly) always against you.

Monday, April 5, 2010

It's So Unfair!!

Yes, I have a teenager in the house. My Oldest Daughter (a.k.a. Thing 1) entered full teenagerhood sometime during this last school year. Complete with zits, boyfriend and meltdowns.

OMG. As they seem to say with great regularity. The moods come and go with regularity, no doubt hormone influenced. But where did the cuddly little thing that I used to have go? The new T1 is never seen, except in the morning at breakfast. The rest of the time, she is 1) listening to her iPod, 2) emailing her friends, 3) texting her friends (but rarely talking to them), 4) watching TV shows on her laptop, (and sometimes on the TV). Sometimes all at the same time.

When she is seen, she is often growling at the world, and being mean to her younger sister, Thing 2. T2 is 11, but showing signs of early readiness for teenager hood, no doubt influenced by T1. At least T2 will do her homework without complaint. I don't think I can handle 2 teenager attitudes at the same time.... but it's coming anyway.

It's Not Fair!

Friday, February 5, 2010

My Commercial Practical Test

On February 2nd, 2010, I took and passed the practical FAA examination to add commercial flight privileges to my US pilot license. What this means really are three things:

1. I understand the FAA regulations and recommended procedures well enough to pass the written test with a score of 70% or better (I got a 90%),
2. I can fly well enough to satisfy an examiner that I am able to fly to commercial pilot standards, which are more rigorous than a private pilot needs to attain, and
3. I can therefore be legally employed or hired as a professional pilot.

Thanks to various problems with sickness (not mine), airplane problems (also not mine), and weather (I didn’t cause that either), I had already been forced to postpone this test 4 times. Because the FAA requires that I log 3 hours of training during the 60 days prior to the test, and I had been delayed 3 months, I was forced to do an extra three hours of dual training. Finally, on February 2nd, the weather forecast was for broken clouds at 3,000 feet AGL, which was good enough. Most of the flying test is done relatively low, below that altitude. I figured I could do an instrument climb above the clouds to complete the airwork, and an instrument descent if needed. As it turned out, the clouds all vanished except for some very high cirrus, and it was a beautiful day.

I chose to use 2 airplanes for the test. I own my own Beechcraft Sundowner, and had booked the flying club’s Piper Arrow as well. We could do part of the test in my own airplane, but all of the take offs and landings required in the test must be in a complex airplane, one with retractable undercarriage, and a constant speed propeller. I thought about using just the Arrow, but it was cheaper to use my own as much as possible, plus I felt more comfortable in it after 200+ hours, compared to just 13 hours in the Arrow.

I got to the airport at 1 pm, and arranged with the FBO to park both airplanes next to the terminal building. I got both aircraft out, pre-flighted them, and taxied to the terminal, where I parked them both and loaded three 2.5 gallon water jugs into the back of the Arrow. The Arrow is very nose heavy, and 7.5 gallons of water weighs just over 50 lbs, which I thought would help on the short field stuff, which requires a lot of pulling on the yoke.

Norm, the Examiner arrived just before 2pm. We first sat at the FBO computer, and he reviewed my online application, and my identification documents and logbooks. Then we went into a backroom, and spent about an hour going through the Oral exam. We covered my preparation for a VFR flight plan to Memphis TN, with a fuel and comfort stop in Hot Springs, Ark. Thank goodness for flight planning web sites – I had completed the flight plan using a standard Cessna template, identified waypoints and navigation aids from a VFR sectional, and calculated distance, wind correction and times in the table provided. I also printed out airport diagrams for McKinney (KTKI), Hot Springs (KHOT) and Memphis (KMEM).

I had worked out weight and balance for both aircraft, and based on the results, confirmed from the POH that the balance was acceptable and the weight was below the maximum gross. I had both calculations printed out using MS Excel, and plotted on a photocopy from the Pilot’s Operating Handbooks (POH). I also calculated for the Arrow the takeoff distance and rotation speed, and had the figures from the POH copied and printed.

Finally I had the airport terminal weather forecast (TAF – shows clouds, winds and temperature) and regional forecast and synopsis (METAR) printed, along with the areas of icing, and surface analysis (which shows fronts, lows and highs), and Notices to Airmen (Notams).

I highly recommend doing all of this ahead of time, and bringing it all to the oral. It avoids nervous fumbling, trying to do the calculations under the examiners gaze, and sets the expectation that you are thorough and prepared. I also had my E6B calculator, rulers, pens etc on the table, but we didn’t need them, nor did we refer to the FAR/AIM, but I had it on the table in full view, again to show thoroughness. Norm asked if I was an engineer, because I was so thorough (I was once, but now I work in marketing).

We then covered the rules related to being a commercial pilot, such as what documentation is needed, what rest periods, currency and so on, and what is needed for an airplane to be considered airworthy. We covered airplane systems, aero-medical factors, and basic aerodynamics.

Finally he said “That was a satisfactory Oral”, and let’s go flying. He gave me 10 minutes to get ready, then we got into the Sundowner.

I did a careful “by the book” engine start and taxi, then the run up and pre-takeoff checklist. I got to the passenger briefing, and Norm said “take that as complete”. We did a normal take off from runway 35, and climbed to the North East. At 3,500 ft, Norm asked to perform any 2 of the four performance maneuvers required, which surprised me. I expected that he would tell me which two. I chose (of course) to do my best two, a 55 degree banked steep turn through 360 degrees to the right, followed immediately by the same to the left. I gained some altitude in the first 180 degrees, but was losing it again before going into the opposite bank, lost too much in the second, but recovered and we hit our own slipstream with a solid “thump” on the roll out. I then leveled off, and set up for a chandelle to the right, followed by a slight dive to get back up to cruise speed, then one to the left. At that point, Norm pulled back the throttle and told me that the engine was out.

I trimmed for best glide (75 kts), while looking for a field. I switched tanks, turned on the electric fuel pump, checked all the instruments and pretended to restart. Then I pretended to make a distress call, while gliding towards my chosen field. At that point I noticed the power lines on the approach end, and told Norm I was switching to another field. We arrived over the field about 2,000 ft AGL, so I did the downwind leg as a series of S-turns (I didn’t think I had enough excess altitude to risk a full 360 turn), and extended the base leg, still staying high. I did a 180, and then turned in towards the field. Still high, so I put in full flaps and a sideslip to about 100 feet AGL, at which point Norm said to go around and climb to find a place to do the 8’s.

I climbed to 1,500 ft AGL on a heading of South, and started looking good turning points. 8’s on pylons involved finding 2 turning points, about ½ mile apart, and flying a figure 8 pattern around them, keeping the lateral axis (the wing) pointed directly at the point, and adjusting the radius only by climbing or descending. The first ones I found were water towers, but as we go closer I decided there were too many buildings around, and I selected a different water tower and a road intersection. I entered the 8’s at 1500 ft. Every time the point moved ahead of the wing in a turn, I pushed on the yoke, when it moved back, I pulled. We went around twice, before Norm said that was enough and to head back to the airport to switch airplanes.

I climbed to 1800 feet, checked ATIS on radio #2, and contacted the tower for permission to land, which we got right away. After landing, I cleaned up the airplane on the taxiway, and Norm commented that we hadn’t done any slow flight or stalls. I hadn’t practiced those in the Arrow, so I debated about telling him we would take off again, but decided to take a chance. The Arrow isn’t that hard to fly, only to land softly!

We switched into the Arrow, and I again careful followed the checklist, and again Norm said to take the passenger briefing as read. I had noticed during my instrument check ride with him that he gets to a point where he thinks you are good enough, and then he is willing to cut a little slack. I think he was at that point now.

We did a normal field take off, and climbed to 3500 ft. I didn’t accelerate to cruise – I went straight into slow flight at 60 kts. Norm asked me to turn to a heading of North, then a turn to East, without changing altitude or speed. It wasn’t hard – the Arrow flies in that domain very like the Sundowner. He then asked to show an approach to landing stall first straight ahead, and then in a 30 degree turn to the right. I lowered the wheels and flaps, and did the stalls with little drama. The Arrow has a very strong pre-stall shudder, the stalls quite benignly. We then did full power climb out stalls, straight ahead and then in a left turn. Again, easy. In fact it was easier than in my own airplane. I needed less rudder, and the wing drop was more gentle. Perhaps I was just more coordinated.

Now we headed back towards the airport, I lost height in a serried of S-turns. I picked up ATIS, and called the tower, and was told to enter a right downwind for runway 35, cleared for touch and go, number 4, follow the Cessna ahead. I told the tower the sun was right ahead and I couldn’t see the traffic, so he said he would call my base turn. In the meantime I ran the GUMPS checklist, and Norm asked me to do a short field approach, over a 50 foot tree right at the threshold.

The key in the Arrow is to get set up early, so I had full flaps and 70 kts on the ASI on the base leg, and turned onto the final approach leg a shade high. I scarcely had to touch anything – full flaps, full propeller speed and gear down, 16 inches of manifold pressure at 70 kts gives a nice 400 ft/min descent, right on the glide slope. I also knew that the VASI lights were set for 50 feet over the threshold (same as the ILS glideslope), so I kept 3 white and 1 red all the way down (1 degree high).

We landed perfectly, and Norm said not to slow up, but to do a soft field take off. I set the flaps to 25 degrees, and pulled back on the yoke to lighten the nose, and added full power. I let the nose come off at 57 kts, and we climbed to just above the runway. Accelerate to 70 kts, bring in the flaps, accelerate to 87 kts before climbing and raise the gear.

He then told me the next one was to be a soft field landing, which is almost the same as a short field landing, except that you keep a little power on and try to land as softly as you can. Following that, he told me to do a short field takeoff (again, very similar to the soft field takeoff, except that you don’t raise the nose until reaching flying speed), followed by a power off 180 degree precision landing.

McKinney was flying right traffic, which put me on the side away from the runway. I asked the tower if I could fly a left traffic pattern instead, for a power off close in approach. They agreed, so I turned left, and told Norm my touchdown point would be the 1000 ft touchdown zone (TDZE) markers, the biggest, fattest stripes on the runway. I was cleared to land, and opposite the stripes I pulled the power to idle. Instantly the gear up warning siren started. I trimmed for 79 kts as I turned towards the runway, making for the very south most end. Once I was sure I had the runway made, I lowered the gear, and 2 notches of flaps. I turned to align with the runway over the numbers at about 250 ft, and threw in the final notch of flaps, and a slideslip too. I straightened out and flared over the TDZE stripes, but with a little too much speed, and we floated.

Fortunately the test standard says the touchdown has to occur within 100 feet of the selected point, and I think I used 99 of them. Bu the wheels finally touched (very softly!), and Norm said to take off again, which surprised me. I thought we were done. But off we went again, and Norm told me to set up for a normal landing, but to go around again at 100 feet. I asked for and received permission for a low approach, and set up to land with full flaps, 17 inches and 80 kts. At slightly under 100 feet (again I was using the VASI lights as guidance, and was just short of the threshold), I added power, stopped the descent and took off 1 notch of flaps. Once I had a climb, I took off the second notch, and raised the gear. Finally once I had 87 kts in a climb, I brought in the last notch. In the climb, Norm stuck his hand over and said “Congratulations! You’re a Commercial Pilot!”

I set up for a right downwind, called the tower and asked to land, and said “I passed!” (I had already told the tower operator the day before that I would be doing my commercial test). He said “congratulations!” and cleared me to land. I repeated the clearance, and added “Better not screw up this landing!” It was a normal approach and landing, although my nerves were actually tighter than during the test!