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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Year End Review

Thanks to Gary, who gave me the idea for this post.  My 2011 in review:

January: Only 1 flight, some touch and goes in the pattern to keep my hand in

February: No flying AT ALL.  But I did take Sally with me on my annual trip to Spain for Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, which made it much more fun.

March: Started looking for a bigger, faster airplane, a Bonanza, and almost instantly found one (on BeechTalk) at Addison, a 1968 model V35A.  Went for a test flight and loved it,  dropped my original plan to buy an A36 and sell a 50% partnership in favor of a less expensive, but almost as capable airplane that I can own outright.

April: Took delivery of "Bo", and started training to remove the insurance restriction requiring 10 hours of dual and 5 hours of solo before carrying passengers.  Also started a 4 week CFI course at American Flyers, flying their simulators and a C172RG.  Decided to use my Sundowner instead, which I posted for sale on the BAC site and BeechTalk.

May: Took (and passed) the CFI Instrument written and practical tests (in the Sundowner), as well as the Ground Instructor (Instrument) test.  Took a 4 week break in the middle of the American Flyers CFI course to get some regular work accomplished.  Also knocked out about half of the Bonanza time needed.

June: Finished the required hours in the Bonanza, and the American Flyers course.  Took (and passed) the CFI Airplane written and practical tests using both the Sundowner and the Bonanza, as well as the Advanced Ground Instructor license.  Started my first Student, another Sundowner pilot who wants to get his instrument rating.

July: Moved the Bonanza from TKI to T31, renting a private hangar there.  Gave a student transitioning his first high power retract instruction (he later bought his own A36 Bonanza).

August: Got laid off from work, and sold the Sundowner after completing a fresh annual inspection.  Did my first Instrument Proficiency Check (IPC) in a Mooney.

September: Flew Sally and Thing 2 to Longview TX to watch a high school football game, where Thing 1 was playing in the band.  Everyone else suffered a 3 or 4 hour drive - we enjoyed a short 45 minute VFR flight in the Bonanza and a free crew car from the FBO there.

October: Planned to fly the Bonanza to Chicago to attend 4G World and network, but instead flew commercial using miles for reliability and predicatbility.  Met the guy who became my new boss in -

November: Started my new job, and flew to Florida and the UK for on-boarding.  Over Thanksgiving, flew with Sally and both Things to Phoenix to visit relatives. getting my first experiences of mountain flying and real world icing.

December: Got settled into my new job, and hardly flew at all due to bad weather and Christmas preparations.

So, quite a year!  120 hours in the air, sold one plane and bought another.  Got 4 new ratings (CFI-A, CFI-I, AGI, IGI), and did one long cross country under new conditions.  Did my first paid-for commercial flying (as an instructor), lost one paying job and started another.  I'm hoping 2012 will be a little less "interesting"...........

Monday, December 19, 2011

New Picture

Saturday was a great, typical Central TX kind of day - Sunny and cool at 55 degrees.  On landing back at T31, I saw 3 guys taking photos from the side of the runway.  One of them sent me this......

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Leg 5 - into the storm

OK, so it wasn't really a storm, but it was something of a first for me.

After filling the Bonanza and emptying our bladders, we started up the hot engine on the second attempt, and taxied out to runway 14 for take off.  At the FBO, I had pulled up and check "file this" against the flight plan already entered, KPEQ direct T31.  The weather was VFR, but with rain clouds catching up from El Paso.

At 4,000 feet, I called Forth Worth Center - "Ft Worth Center, Bonanza 40D is out of Pecos, 4,000 climbing to 7,000, IFR to Aerocounty, T31.  Request my IFR clearance".  "Bonanza 40D, Ft Worth center. Cleared to T31 as filed, climb and maintain 9,000, squawk 1234.  Be aware there is light to moderate rain ahead near Midland".

Continuing the climb, I noted that there was cloud above, so I request to remain at 7,000 - "Ft Worth center, Bonanza 40D.  I'd like to stay at 7,000, if able".  "Bonanza 40D, Ft Worth Center.  Maintain 7,000 feet".  The 496 showed the weather ahead in splotches of light green, dark green and yellow, depicting light rain, light to moderate rain, and moderate rain.  Our flight path, which passed just south of Midland, went though one of the lightest, most narrow sections of a long line of weather reaching up into Oklahoma and down into Mexico.  By this time I was handed off to Midland Approach, which only seemed to be working 2 other aircraft, a Mexican business jet and a Southwest Airlines departure.

I asked for unrestricted maneuvering and for an altitude block from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.  I could see under the rain clouds quite well, about 10 to 15 miles.  I slowed down in case of turbulence, and entered the rain shaft.  The 496 showed that the patch just off my right side was strengthening to yellow, so I steered a few degrees left, and after a short while I saw that the sky ahead and to the right was lightening, so I steered that way, and we came out into the sunshine at 6,500.  I climbed back to 7,000, and when prodded by approach I confirmed I no longer needed the altitude block, and was cleared to maintain 7,000.

The flight under the clouds was slight bumpy, but not really any more than a clear summer day in Texas below the summer cumulus.  We were now in a clear patch, but halfway to the next layer of clouds we hit some moderate clear air turbulence, probably the actual weather front which was clearing the clouds ahead, and forming rain behind.  As the clouds were at my height, I asked for 9,000 feet, which was assigned.  As I climbed, I was handed of the Ft Worth Center again, and they asked my if I could copy a DFW arrival clearance.  "Standby", I replied, as I hand flying and wanted to get back on autopilot to free my hands and brain.  "Ready to copy".

I read back the new clearance: "Bonanza 40D direct Tuscola (TQA), V94 (again!) to Glen Rose (JEN), via the Glenn Rose 064 radial, then the Cowboy (CVE) 213 radial to Cowboy VOR, expect radar vectors to Tango 31".  Why they didn't just say after JEN, direct KNEAD intersection, direct CVE is beyond me, but that's how I entered it into the 430W.  A few minutes later, the clearance was amended to direct KNEAD, direct CVE, then after 20 more minutes, just direct KNEAD direct T31.

On reaching KNEAD, I was given a heading of 050 degrees, and told to descend to 5,000.  This put me directly in a layer of cloud as we flew over Midlothian and Ceder Hill.  I asked to descend to 4,000, but that didn't happen until we were approaching Lancaster airport.  Finally permitted to turn toward my destination, we first flew on a heading of 030 toward Mesquite, then over Richardson and Plano heading 350.  Passing over the Bush Turnpike, I cancelled IFR and flew to T31, landing on runway 35 just before 5pm.  Luckily that just left time to put away the plane and drive like Hell to the vet, and get the pets out of the pokey before they closed at 6.

Well, what a flight!  I was quite proud of myself, it stretched my experience (but not my skills).  I should have expected the icing, but it took me by surprise, and caught me without the pitot heat on. But I thought I handled the situation well, working with ATC to get to a good solution. I would not have liked to do that flight in my old Sundowner - it would have had nothing left to give at 12,000, if it could even get there.  The Bonanza could still climb at more than 500ft/min all the way to 12,000.  I still have a radio problem brought on by moisture, but in dry conditions it works just fine.  And the V35A is the fantastically capable, fast cross country machine that I was looking for.

Leg 4 - No ice for me, thanks

Time to head home, turkey and stuffing consumed, relatives visited.

Friday November 25th was a sunny day in Phoenix, high around 60, light to no wind.  I planned/hoped to take off around 9:30am, and tried to get everyone up and going on time, but to no avail.  We left the house in Mesa at 9:15, and got to CHD at 9:45.  I paid for the fuel and tie down, and taxied 40D over to the terminal at Chandler Air Service to load up.

The weather over the mountains of Southern Arizona and New Mexico was forecast to be scattered cloud, with showery rain from El Paso to mid central Texas.  Going back on V94, I expected that IFR I would be assigned 11,000 feet, and since Sally had shown some symptoms of altitude sickness at 11,000 on the way up, I decided to go VFR so I could fly at 9,500.  It also had the advantage that I could get out of the busy Phoenix area without worrying about terminal flow control and delayed IFR releases.

Bonanza's, like all high powered aircraft, can be difficult to start when the engine is hot.  This one was warm from the short taxi, and I wasn't sure which technique to use.  I decided to use the hot start technique, and start without priming, but to "goose" the electric pump as the started engaged.  This usually works well.......

The engine did not want to run.  It would fire, fire and stop.  Thinking that too little fuel was the problem, I tried again, running the pump longer, until another pilot came over waving his hands over his head, and told me that fuel was pouring out of the engine cowling.  The engine was flooded.  I shut everything down, we pushed the aircraft backwards away from the fuel puddle, and went to the Airport Cafe for a coffee while we waited for the spill to evaporate.

At 10:30, we loaded up again, and using the technique for a flooded start, I got the the engine running.  I called ground, and got taxi clearance to runway 22 Right, did my pre-flight checklist, and off we went, turning left to a course of 113, direct ITEMM.  I chose ITEMM as being a waypoint on V94 that avoided the military's airspace over the Superstition mountains, yet got onto the airway as far East as possible.

I had been watching a bank of clouds to the south East all morning.  As we drove to the airport, they were quite close, a solid overcast at what I estimated to be around 7,000 feet.  During all the faffing around at CHD, the clouds retreated southeastwards.  I assumed they would break up over the mountains, as forecast.  Now, as we turned towards the southeast, I could see that they were still a solid bank, but that we would be above them at 9,500.  VFR pilots can fly over a solid undercast of clouds, but it's wise to either know for sure that you can get down again visually somewhere ahead, or be instrument rated and have a backup plan.  I had both options available.

I called Phoenix departure and asked for VFR flight following, a halfway house where the pilot flies to VFR rules and must maintain VFR conditions (1,000 feet above, 500 feet below and 2,000 feet horizontally seperated for clouds, with 3 miles visibility), but communicates with air traffic control, who provide (on a time permitting basis) traffic reports and other assistance.  Initially, things were looking good.  The clouds topped at about 8,000 feet, and I reached ITEMM as planned, and turned toward SSO VOR.

The cloud tops kept rising, and eventually I realized I would not be able to maintain VFR.  I called ATC, and was given an IFR clearance along V94, direct SSO, direct DMN, direct EWM (Newman/El Pase) direct Pecos (PEQ).  Climb and maintain 11,000 feet (as expected), and squawk 1234.  I did so, and we cruised comfortably above the cloud base.  But it kept rising, and over Bassett Peak, we were solidly in the clouds.

"We're getting ice!" said Sally.  I looked at the wings, and said "I think it's just rain", but 30 seconds later I changed my mind, and called Albequque Center to tell them and ask for a climb to 12,000.  I got the climb right away, and Center asked me what the outside air temperature was and what type of ice.  I looked at the OAT gauge,and read back "1 degree", and not knowing much about ice (yes, I know I'm a CFI-I, but I'd never seen it for real), I said the first thing that came to mind "light rime ice".

It wasn't, and maybe center knew, because she asked me again.  I said the same thing, but I now know that rime doesn't form until 10 to 20 degrees below freezing, because once on the ground I looked it up.  This was clear ice, caused when supercooled droplets near +2 to -5 degrees hit the cold airframe and freeze on it.  Rime ice starts out already frozen, and looks milky.  The fantastic Bonanza climbed strongly to 12,000 (a new personal altitude record), where we leveled off in clear air, and the ice slowly sublimed away.  At this point I remembered to turn on my pitot heat, which should have been on before I entered any cloud at that temperature.  Learning experience!

After 5 or 10 minutes, the cloud tops reached 12,500, and we were back in clouds, with more icing.  Since we were now past the highest ground under the airway, I asked center for a lower altitude (I didn't want to go higher without oxygen, although the colder, denser air seemed quite breathable), and was assigned 9,000 feet, just as the clouds suddenly broke up and the tops fell way below us.  "40D would like to remain at 12,000 now, the cloud tops are below us".  "Bonanza 40D maintain 12,000 feet".  I asked for a clearance to deviate around the few remaining tops, and was cleared to deviate up to 30 degrees left, and right to no more than a heading of 100 degrees (to avoid the surveillance balloon near the border area with Mexico, I assume).

Just before reaching El Paso, the clouds started to break up, so I asked for 9,000 feet, and descended to pass over EWM (Newman/El Paso) VOR at 9,000.  On the Garmin 496 handheld GPS, the next challenge began to show ahead - patches of green representing light rain. ATC re-routed me over Salt Flats VOR (SFL), but that was pretty much on my direct path anyway, then they issued a heading direct Pecos, so I jumped ahead on the running flight plan on the Garmin 430W, and selected direct KPEQ.

Between us and Pecos were scattered showers, with clouds down to 6 or 7,000.  I asked for 7,000, and to deviate around weather, and was given unrestricted maneuvering - I suppose there was little other traffic on that US holiday.  After clearing the last shower and taking a few moderate bumps at maneuvering speed (130 kts in my Bonanza at gross weight), I cancelled IFR, and called Pecos unicom.  A soft female voice gave me the weather, and announced no other reported traffic.  I touched down on runway 09 at around 2pm, a nice 2.5 hr flight with an average ground speed over 200 mph.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Leg 3 - The High And The Mighty

Leg 3 - Going where I had never gone before.

After a quick meal at Chili's, I paid for the expensive gas at Cutter, and we loaded up the Mighty Machine.  I called clearance delivery, and proceeded through a comedy sequence with the controller, who started with "ATC clears 40D to Chandler.  After take off, direct MOLLY, V94 to dem----- mush mush something something."  Every time he tried to give me a clearance, someone else started talking in the background and I couldn't hear it.  This happened about 3 or 4 times, until finally he just gave me a squawk code and told me to contact ground for taxi clearance.

Receiving clearance to cross runway 26 Left, I stopped at the hold short line for Runway 08 left, and was cleared for take off - taking off on the same runway I had just landed on, but going the other way.  The Bonanza handled slightly differently at nearly 3,000 foot field altitude, but I was expecting it - a longer take off run, less sprightly initial climb and an engine that needed aggressive leaning to be happy.  I was turned left to 330 degrees and told to contact departure.  I did so, and asked that controller to repeat my clearance.  It was "Direct MOLLY, V94 to Deming VOR (DMN), San Simon (SSO) and Stanfield (TFD) VORs, then direct Chandler, climb and maintain 10,000 feet".  PHEW!  I got this all programmed into the Garmin, and engaged the autopilot, leveling at 10,000 just before reaching MOLLY.

Along the initial part of V94, the mountains west of El Paso safely below, I was advised of opposite direction traffic at 9,000 feet, which turned out to be a De Haviland Dash 8 airliner.  It went past below me with an impressive closing rate - me doing 170 kts, and him over 200.  Cool!

After San Simon, the terrain became a little sporty.  V94 crosses Bassets Peak, with it's peak at 7,666 feet - it feels much closer than 2,334 feet away, let me tell you!  I over-rode the GPS to edge a little to the right where the peak was less "peaky"......  Around this time, ATC called to change my clearance, adding "after Stanfield, V105 to PHX, then direct Chandler", then handed me off to Phoenix approach.

It was starting to get rather twilighty - not yet dark, but on the way.  I really wanted to arrive with daylight remaining - there are lots of mountains around, one of which claimed the lives of 6 people in a Turbo Commander the very next day.   I asked approach for a clearance direct to Chandler, and after a short delay they gave it to me.  So I didn't get as far as Stanfield VOR, instead I headed northwest, descending over the mountain south of Chandler, and was given a visual approach to runway 4L.  But once I was handed over to the tower, they changed my clearance to 04R for traffic, a twin that flew under us in the base to final turn.  Finally aligned with the runway, and still high and fast, I pulled the power way, way back, lifted the nose to slow, and dropped the gear to add drag.  The extra drag took care of my excess speed, and once I was slow enough, I dropped full flaps, and made a picture perfect landing on the runway just as the sun disappeared in the West.

3 legs, 5.7 hours total.  About .6 hours in IMC, all of it IFR, and my first experience of mountain flying.  Not a bad day!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Leg 2 - Avoid the Mountain!

Leg 2, and the radio problems continued.

I filed SWW direct to ELP (El Paso), and calling for clearance delivery, what I got was "cleared as filed.  After take off, enter controlled airspace on a heading of 030, climb and maintain 3,000.   Expect 9,000 feet 10 minutes after departure, contact departure on 127.2".  You get a routing like this in case of radio failure in the clouds.  Should you loose radio contact with ATC, you follow the last instructions received, or your plan as cleared, at the last altitude assigned, or the lowest allowed altitude on your route, whichever is the highest.  So I told to climb out on a northeast heading to 3,000ft, and if contact was lost, to climb on course to 9,000 ft after 10 minutes.

After take off, we re-entered the clouds at 800 feet, turning to 030.  To climb 800 feet in the Bonanza takes about 30 seconds, so it all happens quite quickly.  Gear up and with a suitable climb setting on the engine (25 inches of power and 2500 RM), I called departure, and was asked to turn right to 180 (South), and climb to 5,000 feet.  Just when I was beginning to wonder if I would ever be turned back to the West, I was cleared on course direct ELP, and climb and maintain 9,000 feet, and contact Ft. Worth Center.

Just between Midland and the New Mexico state line, the clouds cleared away, and we had our first sight of the ground, and of the Guadeloupe mountains looming in the distance.  Oil fields and circular, irrigated crop fields passed under us at 163 kts (7 kts headwind).  Nearing the mountains, center had me climb to 11,000 feet, a new height record for me as a pilot.  Getting close to the mountains, I asked for a slight deviation to the left.  I knew I had enough height to go over the mountains with plenty of clearance to spare, but I didn't see any reason to do so, when a slight deviation kept us 5 miles clear of the southern end.  Nearing the Salt Flats VOR (SFL), I turned back on course.

Shortly before being switched over to El Paso approach, Albuquerque center cleared me down to 9,000, then El Paso brought me down to 7,000 and told me to expect a visual approach to runway 26 Right, which is exactly what El Paso tower cleared me to land on.  Taxiing across runway 26 Left to Cutter, I shut down the engine at around 2pm, asking the desk to fill up the left tank only (at 6.55 a gallon, I didn't want to buy more than I had to), and for a ride to Chili's for a late lunch.

Leg 1 - Low Down and Dirty

Tuesday November 22nd, the start of a long cross country trip to Phoenix, Arizona for thanksgiving.

I planned an IFR flight from T31 (McKinney, TX) to SWW (Sweetwater, TX), with the route T31 - TTT (Maverick VOR) - ABI (Abilene VOR) direct SWW, with an ETD of 9am.  But the day before, Sally decided that Douglas, our English Springer Spaniel would be happier with one less night in the pokey (the boarding vet), so she decided she would take him there on Tuesday morning instead.  So I had to replan for a 10am take off.

Tuesday morning dawned with overcast skies at 800 feet and occasional light rain - IFR without any doubt.  After loading up Sally, Things 1 and 2 and 70 lbs of baggage, we were well under max gross weight, but toying with the rearmost center of gravity (CG) limit for my 1969 V35A Bonanza.  A quick CG calculation showed we were within limits, but only just.  The Bonanza sat on the ground with a tail low attitude.....

After calling Clearance Delivery on my cell phone, I was given a routing of direct to TTT VOR, then via the 250 radial to the 081 radial for Milsap VOR (MQP), then V66 airway to Abilene VOR (ABI), then direct SWW.  Climb to 3000 ft after take off, on a heading of 320 and contact departure on 124.3.  On the runway and ready to go, the old problem of a jammed push-to-talk switch re-surfaced.  It seems to happen only when damp or actually raining.  I did some quick troubleshooting, and after almost deciding not to take off, I got it to work properly in the isolate intercom mode.  So off we went, climbing into the grey overcast almost immediately.

In the clouds, I engaged the autopilot in heading mode set to 320 degrees, and called departure.  Reaching 3,000 feet, we emerged just above a flat layer of white, with sharp blue skies above.  Regional departure cleared us to 4,000 feet, and asked me to turn left to 260, which we did.  After about 10 or 15 minutes on this westerly course, I was cleared direct to Milsap.  Selecting direct MQP on my Garmin 430W GPS, and engaging GPSS mode on the autopilot, 40D turned slightly left, and we were on our way at 170 kts, cleared to climb to 7,000 feet.

We continued to have radio issues, I could get it to work in "all" or "crew" modes temporarily, then the stick "mic" problem would resurface, annoying all, especially Sally, whose headset would stop working temporarily each time.  But I could always go back to "isolate" mode - all the problems were on the right side of the aircraft.  One more thing to fix at the next annual.......

The low overcast was still under us at Abilene, where the approach controller told me I could have my choice of approaches to SWW.  I chose the GPS 35 approach, selected it on my GPS, and activated the approach via the hold and procedure turn at WOGUG.  SWW was reporting 800 foot overcast, 7 mile visibility and winds from 330 at 8kts.  The amazing Bonanza autopilot with GPSS turned us direct to WOGUG, did the procedure turn with aplomb, and lined up on final approach at 4,000 feet, passing JOTRA I disengaged the altitude hold and flew the glideslope down to 3,400 feet when we popped out of the overcast with runway 35 straight ahead.  A smooth landing on a wet runway was followed by the short taxi to the fuel pump, and the Bonanza got full tanks while the passengers emptied theirs.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Sounds of Silence - Part 2

This last weekend, Thing 1 was unusually free, there not being a football game scheduled (she is in the band).  We had promised Thing 2 a trip to Sea World if she scored all A's and B's throughout 6th grade, and since she delivered, we had to as well.  The stars were aligned for a trip to San Antonio.

At 3:30 Friday afternoon I arrived at the airport, and having pre-flighted the Bonanza, taxied over to the fuel pumps for a fill up.  At 4pm, Sally arrived with Thing 1 and Thing 2, and we blasted off through the muggy afternoon, IFR with a clearance via Waco and Austin VORs.  Once south of Love Field, I was cleared up to 8,000, which put us in a layer of clouds, so I requested, and was cleared to continue the climb to 10,000ft.  With a GPS ground speed of 150 kts (17 knot headwind), we landed and shut down the engine just before 6pm. The FBO (Millionaire) had the rental car on the ramp, and helped us load it up, while I made arrangements at the desk.

After spending the whole day at Sea World, we arrived back at the FBO at 6:30pm. While San Antonio had high overcast, a check with Flight Service and looking at the radar, showed a line of strong thunderstorms near Waco, and heading north east towards Dallas.  I didn't fancy single pilot IFR at night under those conditions, so we made a reservation at a local hotel, and spent the night.

Early the next morning, San Antonio was wet.  Over half an inch of rain had fallen at the airport, and the ceiling was 300 feet.  Dallas was clear, and the cloud overcast thinned out around 50 miles north.  With my clearance in hand, I taxied to the active runway and ran my checks.  I switched the tower frequency, and then I noticed that my transmit light was flickering, and the #1 radio (a Garmin 430W) was also showing "Tx", which meant I was transmitting non-stop.  I switched radios, and found that the same thing happened with radio 2 - I had a stuck microphone transmitter switch.

Of course when transmitting, you can't receive.  In a recently well publicized case, two Southwest Airline pilots had a stuck mic, and transmitted their innermost and not very flattering thoughts to the whole world.  I don't think I said anything bad, except to insist that Thing 1 should wear her headset for take off.  I may have blocked the frequency for a few minutes.

I transmitted in the blind that I had a stuck mic, and was returning to the FBO, but I actually just went to the nearest, Landmark.  There they tried to find a mechanic, but being Sunday, no-one was working and no-one answered the on-call phone number.  So I decided to rent a car and drive home that day, so that the girls would not miss school, and come back the next day.  In the meantime, I asked them to put the Bonanza inside so that it could dry out, if the rain and damp was the cause.

The next morning, I got up at 5am and drove the 5 hours to San Antonio airport.  After returning the car and paying the hangar fee, I got into the Bonanza and turning on the radios.  I found I still had the same problem, but that if I put the audio panel intercom switch into "isolate", effectively turning off everything except my own headset and mic switch, the problem went away.  So I departed VFR, and arrived at my home airport 1 hour and 45 minutes later.

Once on the ground, I set the audio panel selector to first "crew" and then "all", and had no problems with a stuck mic.  I suspect that I was correct - the heavy rain and/or 100% humidity caused either the audio panel, or the co-pilot's push-to-talk switch to short out.  Getting into the dry air and running the radio stack and cooling fans dried it out.  So it was in the end fortunate that no mechanic was available early on Sunday, I saved a lot of money.  I did have to rent a car for a day and spend money on about 10 gallons of fuel each way, but now everything and everybody is where they are supposed to be.

Any lessons here?  Not really, I had a stuck mic and I found it on the ground before it became a big problem.  I made the right call in not attempting the night IFR flight on a stormy evening.  I spent $140 on a hotel room, $30 for a car and $60 for gas, plus $50 for a hangar rental.  But the first hotel was free, thanks to frequent traveler points, and it's only money.  Better to be safe, and alive to pay the bills, than to be sorry.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

September 11th, 2011

Remember!  Remember 9/11, 2001!  That's what the media are all saying today.

You know what?  I hadn't forgotten.

9/11/2001 came early for me.  I was in San Diego attending a conference, although at the time I was living in Nashua, NH.  I got up around 6:30 am, after a largely sleepless night.  I though nothing of that, it's quite common for me sleep poorly away from home.  After showering and dressing, I left my hotel room overlooking the Dan Diego harbor, and called an elevator.  It was slightly before 7am, Pacific time.

I entered an elevator containing a somewhat bewildered woman, who asked me did I know that an airplane had hit the World Trade Center?  I didn't, and assuming it was probably a light plane doing little damage, I really didn't think any more about it until I reached the hotel dining room and took a table, waiting for another 2 people to join me - it was a business breakfast.

In the restaurant, all the TV's were on with the sound turned up, and everyone was watching, which is unusual.  I finally saw what was going on - replays of the 2nd airplane hitting the South Tower, and as I watched, it collapsed, live and on TV.  I heard about several other airplanes in the air, believed to have been hijacked (something I know a fair amount about!), and after my guests arrived, we watched the North Tower collapse as well.  I don't remember if we talked business or not.

I went back to my room, and turned on CNN, watching as the story came together - 4 airplane's destroyed, 1 in a crash and 3 crashed deliberately into buildings.  That there was another one (erroneously) thought to be in the control of the terrorists.  I looked out of the 35th floor window at the harbor and thought about how vulnerable these high-rise buildings are.  Around mid-morning I heard that the conference was canceled for that day, and soon afterwords, my TV started making a strange sound every 2 seconds or so.  After puzzling about it, I happened to look out of the window again, and just below me in the harbor was a guided missile destroyer, with its search radar turning (once every 2 seconds or so), and its anti-aircraft missiles on the launchers and ready to fire.

Strangely, I was originally intending to go from Boston to Los Angeles on the morning of September 11th.  I don't know if I was booked on American Flight 11, I do know that I looked at the departure time and worked out that with Route 3 under construction, I would have to leave at some awfully early time, and changed my plans to depart the night before, get better sleep and fit in my breakfast meeting.  I also decided to skip LA and go straight to San Diego.  It might have saved my life.

I know no-one who died, although a man from my church in Nashua was on one of the BOS-LAX flights that ended at Ground Zero, and a woman who worked for me was on a flight out to join me in CA that morning.  Her flight was recalled before taking off, but that was a close call.  For both of us.

With all the airlines grounded, I had no way to get home.  Some of my colleagues rented a car, and drove for 5 days right across the country.  They arrived the same day I did.  I rented a car, and drove to Phoenix Az, where my wife's sister lives, and stayed with them for a couple of days until I could get a flight to BOS via DFW.  The flight itself was bit tense - almost empty, but every time somebody got up to go the restroom, the whole plane would watch them, especially if they looked even slightly Mediterranean........

My car was where I had left it, which was a pleasant surprise.  I had heard that the airport had towed thousands of cars parked closer that a certain distance from a terminal.  My inability to find a good parking space saved my car from that ignominy. I arrived home Sunday evening.

I'm all for remembering.  I just don't want to be reminded to remember every second of today, the 10th anniversary.  I have never forgotten.  I also remember the Holocaust (although I wasn't alive then) and the Alamo (I live in Texas).  The only reason 10 years is anything different from 9 or 11 is that we all (mostly) have 10 fingers and count in base 10.  In Base 2, that is 1010.  In Base 4, it is 22.  The numbers *don't matter*.

I have not forgotten why we are fighting in Afghanistan, and despite being a political Liberal, I applaud what our forces are doing there, and I was very satisfied when the SEALS killed Bin Laden.  Iraq - well that was all about the Bush family using the US Armed Forces to settle a personal grudge against Saddam.  Close to 300,000 people died as a result, not just the 3,000 on 9/11, let's remember that too.

I haven't forgotten.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Cow Herding and Technology

An old cowboy was herding his herd in a remote pasture when suddenly a brand-new BMW came out of a dust cloud towards him.

The driver, a young man in a fancy suit and tie, leans out the window and asks the cowboy, "If I tell you exactly how many cows and calves you have in your herd, will you give me a calf?"

The old cowboy looks at the man, obviously a yuppie, then looks at his peacefully grazing herd and calmly answers, "Sure. Why not?"

The yuppie parks his car, whips out his Dell notebook computer, connects it to his AT&T cell phone, surfs to a NASA page on the Internet, where he calls up a GPS satellite navigation system to get an exact fix on his location which he then feeds to another NASA satellite that scans the area in an ultra-high-resolution photo. The young man then opens the digital photo in Adobe Photoshop and exports it to an image processing facility.

Within seconds, he receives an email on his Palm Pilot that the image has been processed and the data stored. He then accesses a MS-SQL database through an ODBC connected Excel spreadsheet with hundreds of complex formula He uploads all of this data via an email on his Blackberry and, after a few minutes, receives a response. Finally, he prints out a full-color, 150-page report on his hi-tech, miniaturized HP LaserJet printer and finally turns to the cowboy and says, "You have exactly 1586 cows and calves."

"That's right. Well, I guess you can take one of my calves ," says the cowboy.

He watches the young man select an animal and looks on amused as the young man stuffs it into the trunk of his car.

Then the old cowboy says to the young man, "Hey, if I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my calf?" The young man thinks about it for a second and then says, "Okay, why not?"

"You're a consultant" says the cowboy.

"Wow! That's correct," says the yuppie, "but how did you guess that?"

"No guessing required." answered the old cowboy. "You showed up here even though nobody called you; you want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked; and you don't know anything about my business...

......Now give me back my dog.

(Unfortunately, not original to me.  But I like it)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Daughters of the Remonstrance

I came to America as a teenager, after having grown up in England.  My parents emigrated during my first year of college in London, and being a minor, I was eligible for a Green Card, so I took it.  I did part of my degree in Massachusetts, but finished up and graduated back in London.  Once I was done, I came back to America, and have lived here ever since (apart from 18 months in 1999 and 2000).  I became a US citizen in 1986.

My wife's family have a different story.  While some parts of their ancestry go back to England and Germany (or Austria/Hungary), other parts are Dutch.  And some American threads go back so far that her Mother's sister is a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (D.A.R.), so Sally could become a member too, as could Thing 1 and Thing 2.  To become a DAR, you must prove that you are a direct, female descendant of someone who took part in the American Revolution (also called the War of Independence), on the revolutionaries side. 

Sally Cooper's connection goes to perhaps one of the least well-known person who signed the Declaration of Independence, John Hart of New Jersey.  John Hart was a lawyer and separatist who was elected on June 22nd 1776 by the New Jersey assembly specifically to vote for separation from the Crown, which he did.  He signed the Declaration the following month, along with the other 4 New Jersey delegates.  That job done, he returned to Hopewell, NJ, and was re-elected to the state assembly.  He died in 1779, while the war was still raging, and the people of Hopewell raised a monument to his memory,

 John Hart was himself descended from someone perhaps more influential.  His Great Grandfather was Edward Hart of Flushing New Jersey, town clerk who who authored the Flushing Remonstrance on December 27, 1657, considered the first expression of religious freedom in America.  It was during the Dutch control of New Holland, now called New York (named after the James, Duke of York, the future James II and brother of Charles I of Great Britain, not after the town of York in England).  At that time, the established church was the Dutch Reformed Church; the only established and legal church, under a decree by Governor Peter Stuyvesant.  The Flushing Remonstrance requested an exemption to his ban on Quaker worship. It is considered a precursor to the United States Constitution's provision on freedom of religion in the Bill of Rights.

As a result,  Stuyvesant had the signers arrested.  Most of them immediately recanted, but Hart and Tobias Feake refused, and were jailed and fed bread and water.  With Hart's health declining, he was released after a month, having never recanted, and Feake was held for a several more weeks until he did recant and was pardoned after being fined and banned from holding public office. The town government of Flushing was removed and Dutch replacements were appointed by Stuyvesant.

In 2007, the town of Flushing, now part of Queens NY, celebrated the 350th anniversary of the Flushing Remonstrance.  For the 300th anniversary in 1937 the US government issued a commemorative stamp as seen here.

I don't think my side of the family has anybody like these two Harts, John and Edward.   With my name originating from Northwest France (Normandy and Brittany), and before them from Vikings, it's likely I'm descended from pillagers and conquerors, not from heroes.

Friday, September 2, 2011

This Bird Has Flown

If you have read my blog back a few months, you will know that I have been trying to sell my Sundowner, N6439C, after having bought a Bonanza.  It was just a matter of finding the right buyer - someone who knew and appreciated the unique values that a Sundowner has - ruggedness, precision and comfort, even if they may be a few knots slower than a Piper.  Those few knots are used by having a stronger, more solid frame, and higher wing loading and wider cabin with 2 entry doors.  That results in more drag, better stability and a slightly lower top speed.

But 49C has a Power Flow exhaust fitted, making it one of the best performing "180 HP" Sundowners out there, and a superlative avionics suite.

So this morning, Charlie's new owner J and I met at AeroCountry, and him having wired the selling price, I handed over the keys.  J and Charlie started their new adventures right away.

The Bird Has Flown......

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Tangled Web

My new aviation business is on the World Wide Web.  But that is a busy place, full of noise and fury, the luminous and the profane, the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.

In the 1980s, Tim Berners-Lee was a software consultant at CERN when he began writing Tangle, an application to help him keep track of CERN's many scientists, projects and incompatible computers. Thousands of researchers would travel to CERN, do their experiments using their own computers (which they brought with them), and then go home to crunch the data. It was a major pain at CERN to accommodate the many incompatible computers, which also had to work with the CERN mainframe that actually ran the mammoth particle accelerators. Tim was responsible for helping everything and everyone work together. He thought it would be a whole lot simpler if the computers could swap their information directly, even though, at that time, computers didn't communicate with one another.

In March 1989, Tim proposed creating an online system that could be accessed from anywhere with an Internet connection,  that used hyperlinks to connect to information, or even to control and perform particle experiments remotely.   It took nearly 2 years to built the prototype system, and finally the Web was born, on Christmas Day, 1990.

During this time period, I was a product manager, working on a gateway product that connected IBM mainframes to the Internet, living in Dallas.  I used to have to explain to my friends and family what "the Internet" was, but nobody saw how all pervasive it would become, thanks to the Web.  I certainly didn't - I turned down an offer from a small start up in San Jose called C**co, because they were making and selling routers, and I knew that if I wanted a router, all I had to do was the start up "routed", the iprouter deamon, on a UNIX computer or an MS-DOS machine, and there you are - no special hardware required.  So who would buy a router?

But I did start to use the original browser, a free download from CERN, called "mosaic" in the summer of  1991.  There wasn't a lot to connect to at that time, CERN was still the starting point because it had links to pretty much all the world's web pages, a kind of forerunner to Yahoo.  Later came Netscape, then Internet Explorer and the lawsuits against Micros**t's little monopoly.

In the meantime I left the Internet world, and joined Nortel, working on cellular systems, which at that time were all voice.  The first systems was CDMA, used by Sprint PCS and others, then later I worked on 3G (EVDO and UMTS), and then 4G (OFDM in it's two incarnations, LTE and WiMAX).  Having left the world of the Internet for wireless mobility, the world had turned and my old and new careers merged to form the "Mobile Internet", and now people browse the Internet on little handheld devices than can also make phone calls.

Finally, when the WiMAX start up I worked for was bought by that very same C**co, Things looked great, until as described in my last post, the company shut it down.  Eventually I was also shut down and cast adrift.

The silver lining is that until I find a new job, I have all day every day to fly, and teach flying.  So tell your friends!  S&P Aviation is on the web!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Avionics Envy

This weekend I flew with a new student, I'll call him Ernie.

Ernie is a private pilot with an instrument ticket, and owns a 2007 model Mooney M20R Ovation.  That's a fast, expensive airplane (they seem to be listing for mid $300k), and his is very clean with around 400 hours on the clock.  He bought it new.  I think Ernie is a surgeon.

Ernie needed an Instrument Proficiency Check (IPC).  The FAA requires that in order to fly in instrument conditions, you must be current, and they define currency as having competed at least 6 instrument approaches during the past 6 months, along with intercepting a VOR radial and performing a hold.  After the 6 months are up you may not fly instruments, but you can still regain currency by doing the 6 approaches with a safety pilot.  After 12 months, you need an IPC with an instructor.

The IPC is essentially the same as the checkride you have to pass in order to get an instrument rating in the first place, it is just done with an instructor, instead of an FAA examiner.  It is a little more rigorous in terms of performance standards, and requires 1 hour of ground training, and also adds a few extra items to complete such as unusual attitudes.  But it only requires 3 approaches, although they must be 3 different types of approaches.

Ernie's Mooney is equipped with Garmin G-1000 avionics.  Instead of all the round gauges, all of the information is displayed on 2 large LCD displays - altitude, airspeed, attitude, rate of climb/descent and heading are all on the primary display in front of the pilot, while engine conditions, radio frequencies, traffic conflicts and navigation are all on the secondary.

After take off, I had Ernie do the Hubbard 6 DFW departure.  On the very first leg, the TCAS showed we were climbing into the path of what turned out to be a twin coming out of Greenville airport.  I told Ernie to stay at 4200 feet, and the twin passed overhead and slightly behind.  If we had kept up our climb, we would have been on a collision course.

We did the approaches and holds and so on, finishing in slightly under 1.5 hours.  I was surprised at how much traffic was shown on the TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) display, especially since I only saw a small fraction of the airplanes shown using my mark 1 eyeballs.  Even when you are flying along and all seems quiet, it isn't.  And that's a lesson learned for me, especially when flying my new Bonanza, which requires more heads down, eyes in the cockpit work, especially on take off.  I need to keep my head on a swivel, and beware the Hun In The Sun.  Just like Biggles (a British fictional ace pilot that all English boys read).

I want TCAS.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Good Job I Kept The Loot

I'm going to need it. Earlier this month I was informed by my company that much to their regret, we would be parting ways.  Well, if they really regretted it, why exactly did they go through with it?  I don't think they were being entirely truthful.

This company, C**co, which is based in Silicon Valley, had 40,000 employees, and a cash hoard of US$30 Billion, a lot more that the measly $200k I got from jacking up that Boeing 727 40 years ago.  It seemed like a lot at the time.  But thanks to the 70's and 80's poor stock markets, repeated again in the 2000's, it's not so much now.  The company didn't *have to* lay anybody off, they just wanted to.

They may regret it, but I don't.  I didn't like working for that huge company.  After they bought the start-up I worked for in 2007, it seemed like it would be fun to enjoy the resources of a big company and really go after the market.  Prior to the acquisition we had sales growth of 30% per-annum.  The year afterward, thanks to stupid go-to-market policies and bad pricing, our sales "growth" was -98%.  They destroyed our value in only 12 months, and then decided there was "no market" for the product.  So they canceled the product, and absorbed most of the people into other business units.

By this time, all of the other people in marketing had gone, fed up or laid off and gone to other companies.  I would have been gone too, but the right opportunity didn't show up.  So for 6 months I had nothing to do, except to cash the paychecks.  I asked for a new assignment, but wasn't given one.  I made almost as much for no work as in that 727 job, if you don't count inflation (you might remember I lost a fair part of the Northwest Airlines money during the parachute drop.  Some kid found it on a sandbar in the Snake River a few years later.  Or was it the Columbia River?)

Finally, last summer I was given a new assignment and transferred into a different marketing group, based in Massachusetts, but linked into Silicon Valley HQ.  It started out as fun, I market launched the new products last February.  But stupid internal politics delayed the product availability into 2013, leaving little for me to do (again).  So when the layoff rolled around, I was an easy target.  All the rest of the marketing team, including all of my management chain were one or two timezones and over 1,500 miles away.  I knew I could be cut the most easily, and I was.

Still, I hated working remotely.  It's isolating.  When I did this for another large company, it worked, because I could get on a plane regularly, and avoiding the temptation to jack those up as well (I'm retired from all that nonsense) spend time at the headquarters, getting to know people and attending planning meetings.  This company instituted a travel ban in 2009, so everything was via email and conference calls.  I hated that.  So I'm not exactly unhappy that I'm out.

But now I'm going to have to dig into that hidden cash.  I wonder if the feds track the serial numbers?  They'll get a surprise......

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

D.B. Cooper - the legend lives on

D.B. Cooper mystery endures: The FBI says DNA found on a tie left behind by the legendary hijacker doesn't match that of the latest suspect, who died in 1999.

Last week, a new name emerged to add to the literally hundreds of possible suspects that have been examined in the 40 years since a man who became known to the world as D.B. Cooper hijacked a Boeing 727 on Thanksgiving Eve 1971 and absconded, via parachute, with $200,000 in bundled 20s, never to be heard from again.

But the FBI said Monday that DNA collected from items that belonged to a man named Lynn Doyle Cooper, a logger and Korean War veteran who died in 1999, didn't match that of a partial DNA signature that the FBI pulled in 2001 from a JCPenney clip tie the man left behind on the plane.

L.D. Cooper's niece told ABC News last week that she remembers as an 8-year-old her two uncles, including L.D., planning something "mischievous" at a Thanksgiving get-together. The two disappeared, and L.D. returned later with serious injuries. Ms. Cooper recalled that her father told her in 1995 that "Uncle L.D. ... hijacked that airplane."

The FBI called the lead "most promising" and sent one of Cooper's homemade guitar straps to Quantico for tests.  But on Monday, FBI Special Agent Fred Gutt said the agency couldn't make a link between the tie and L.D. Cooper. Agent Gutt pointed out, however, that the agency has still not completely ruled out a link since the DNA found on the tie could have come from someone other than the hijacker.

Some FBI investigators believe D.B. Cooper – the name of an early suspect who was cleared, but whose moniker stuck to the case – may have died in the jump. But others believe D.B. Cooper is still out there, a living legend who beat the odds and sparked the imagination of a nation.

"The phenomenon of this case is people see who they want to see in D.B. Cooper," says Geoffrey Gray, the author of "SKYJACK: The hunt for D.B. Cooper." "The story of our lives is the story of our fears, so for somebody to do something, from a commercial airliner, from a seat we've all sat in, to just get up and jump out of a plane like that … he's become a hero even though he was a criminal. We need him, in a way."

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

While I'm Getting Cooler

These 100 degree plus days, one after the other, are getting to be a drag.  It's nice and cool about 5,000 feet (if 85 degrees can be called "cool"), but it takes between 15 and 20 minutes to get the aircraft started, taxied, checked out, airborne, and climbed to 5,000.  That is a hot 1/4 hour.  So I got myself one of these:

It's a "B-Kool" portable air cooler.  It runs off the airplane power, plugged into the cigarette lighter (the Bonanza uses 12V, just like a car.  24V versions are also available).  You load it with up to 20lbs of ice (2 bags), add a small amount of water, and turn it on.  It will run from 1.5 to 2 hours, and has a wireless remote control, so you can put it in the back, but control it from the front.  Very useful for take off, and then it can be stopped and turned on again for landing.

Check out for more details.

Now perhaps my wife and kids will want to go up and check out the new airplane.......

Monday, August 1, 2011