Follow by Email

Google+ Followers

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Night Before Christmas, with too many kids.......

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the gloom,
Not a creature was stirring - there just wasn't room;
The stockings were hanging in numbers so great,
We feared that the walls would collapse from the weight!

The children like cattle were packed off to bed,
We took a quick count - there were three-hundred head;
Not to mention the grown-ups - those hundreds of dozens
Of uncles and in laws and twice-removed cousins!

When outside the house there arose such a din!
I wanted to look, but the mob held me in;
With pushing and shoving and cursing out loud,
In forty-five minutes, I squeezed through the crowd!

Outside on the lawn, I could see a fresh snow
Had covered the people asleep down below;
And up in the sky, what should strangely appear
But an overweight sleigh pulled by countless reindeer!

They pulled and they tugged and they wheezed as they came,
And the red-suited driver called each one by name:
"Now, Dasher! Now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid! On Donner and Blitzen!"

"Now, Melvin! Now, Marvin! Now, Albert and Jasper!
On, Sidney! On, Seymour! On Harvey and Casper!
Now, Clifford! Now, Max!" - but he stopped, far from through;
Our welcoming house-top was coming in view!

Direct to our house-top the reindeer then sped
With a sleigh full of toys and St. Nick at the head;
And then like an earthquake, I heard at the roof
The clomping and pounding of each noisy hoof!

Before I could holler a warning of doom,
The whole aggregation fell into the room;
And under a mountain of plaster and brick
Mingled in-laws and reindeer and me and St. Nick.

He panted and sighed, like a man who was weary;
His shoulders were stooped and his outlook was dreary.
"I'm way behind schedule," he said with a sigh,
"And I've been on the road since the first of July!"

'Twas then that I noticed the great, monstrous sack
Which he barely could hold on his poor, creaking back.
"Confound it!" he moaned - "Though my bag's full of toys,
I'm engulfed by the birthrate of new girls and boys!"

Then, filling the stockings, he shook his sad face:
"This job is a killer! I can't take the pace!
This cluttered old world is beyond my control;
There even are millions up at the North Pole!"

"Now I'm late!" he exclaimed, "and I really must hurry -
By now I should be over Joplin, Missouri!"
But he managed to sigh as he drove out of sight:
"Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!"
(from Mad Magazine).

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

No Income, No Flying

The Bonanza is laid up in my hangar, on a battery minder, since I don't know when I will fly it next.  That's because in October I was informed that the company I worked for no longer needed my services after Halloween.  That's not actually quite true, they needed my services, and wanted my services, but had to cut somewhere and I was it.  Mandated by the board of directors.

At first it looked like I might find a new job pretty quickly - within a couple of weeks I had three interviews lined up.  But for various reasons, none of them panned out.  So now, with true unemployment ahead, it's budget cutting time in our household as well.  And 100LL Avgas is an obvious target.

Looks like I won't be flying unless acting as an instructor.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Healthcare, Education, and Socialism

So this is going to a moderately political entry, but it's just as much a personal story, appropriate given the ongoing discussion (or argument) about the role of government in American society.

I grew up in England in the 60s and 70s.  I suppose that makes me a Euro-socialist, except that in England I was clearly a conservative.  Not quite in the Maggie Thatcher "shut-down-the-evil-unions" camp, but certainly on the "unions should not be allowed to throttle free enterprise" team.  Although I studied Aeronautical Engineering at university, I also studied social sciences, mostly on the side and not for credit.  Adam Smith's "Wealth Of Nations" and his notions of the invisible hand of the free market influenced me, as did Keynes and Friedman with their concepts about government involvement in national economies to smooth the ride.  The free market is the economic engine, but monetary policy is the springs and suspension.

As such, I was for a generally smaller government than existed at the time in the UK, where about 50% of the employed population worked either directly for governments or indirectly in government owned enterprises such as Roll Royce, British Airways, or British Rail - where my Dad worked designing rolling stock.  The high inflation of the 70's (over 30% in the UK) caused the government to freeze wages in all publicly owned companies, which resulted in us becoming poorer and poorer, especially relative to our neighbors, many of whom worked for private companies which increased salaries to keep up with the high inflation rate (and fed it too).

So when my younger sister became ill in 1971, we had little money to spare.  Fortunately, the much maligned National Health Service (NHS)  provided free care to all comers (and still does, although diminished in modern Britain).  My sister had leukemia, and it eventually killed her after 3 years of hard fought battles, multiple chemotherapy sessions, relapses and emotional highs and lows.  If we have been living in the USA, it would have bankrupted my family within weeks, even with insurance.  Without insurance, I don't want to even think about what would have happened.  So I am a believer in a single payer national (or state) run health insurance that covers everyone.  It's effective, efficient, and means that no-one goes to the economic wall due to sickness.  In the USA that apparently makes me an ultra-liberal, but I think it just makes sense, instead of the miss-mash of semi-free market insurances and individual billers that we deal with everyday.

In 1976, I graduated from my high school after taking A-level exams in Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry, and started college in London.  My family was just squeaking buy economically, and within 6 months my Dad received an offer to work in the USA for 3 times what he was making at British Rail.  Once he arrived, he found out that his peers were making even more, and that the cost of living was even less.  So he prospered in the New World.

Back in the old one, I was studying hard.  Making it easier was the fact that all my tuition, all my books, all my room and board were paid for by the government.  I even got a small grant to live on, supplemented by my parents.  This year, Thing 1 is looking at colleges, and they cost between $47,000 and $18,000 per year, depending on residence status and weather they are private or state owned.  Since she is also a UK citizen through me, I looked at costs in the UK, but we would be classed as non-residents and the prices are about the same over there.  I was fortunate - it might not have been the best of times politically or economically, but my college education cost me nothing, and I think it is very unfair that we are saddling our college graduates with tens of thousands of dollars in debt from day 1, and that the cost of a 4 year degree is about the same as buying and paying for a new house.  I suspect that makes me once again a liberal, although even free market conservatives are sitting up and taking notice of this problem now that it's affecting their bank balances.

So I feel very frustrated when I hear people knocking government and saying that "Government is the problem" (Ronald Reagan), or "Government doesn't create jobs" (Mitt Romney).  I know 100% that they are wrong.  But Government shouldn't expand to own the means of products (socialism) and the power of unions must be restricted to just address issues of employment and not policy.  So what am I?  Pretty much a liberal-leaning centrist, I think.  Even though my Tea Party friends would call me a Euro-socialist.  It worked for me.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

There And Back Again

Nothing to do with Hobbits, dragons, dwarfs, elves or men.  Just an example of how owning an airplane can allow you to do something otherwise either very costly, or not even possible.

Thing 1 is now a senior in high school, here in our suburb north of Dallas.  It's time to look at colleges.  Once we get over the shock.

She's (or rather, her Mom and I are) looking at a mixture of large state schools and small liberal arts colleges.  She doesn't want to go far, and with Texas being the size it is, that means we're restricting our search to schools within "easy driving distance".  But that means 5 hours drive, or about New York City to Maine or London to Edinburgh.

One school on our list in the University of Arkansas.  It's big (around 25,000 students), but it has a strong marching band, and marching in a band is one of the few things that Thing 1 is enthusiastic over.  Band kids are universally nice, smart and always friendly.  Going to a big school with a good band will help make the experience manageable and human.  The other choice is a small school with lots of small class sizes and strong interactions.

From here to Fayetteville AR is just over 5 hours in a car, about the same as going to San Antonio or Houston.  Or just over 1.5 hours in a Bonanza.  Last Monday was a school holiday (Columbus Day), so we decided to make use of the free time to visit U of A and see what we are dealing with.

If we'd driven, it would have either been a long, long day, or a 2 day trip involving a hotel room or two.  Our booked time for a tour was 12:30pm, so rather than leave at 6am by road (or leave the night prior), we took off from McKinney at 9:30am, into a clear blue sky with no winds after a cold front came through on Saturday.  A local dentist and pilot crashed his Turbine Bonanza on Saturday, killing himself, his brother and their 2 sons from Southlake TX.  Since they were on their way to the Texas A&M football game and were involved in Southlake high school football, it's very likely they were at the opening day football game for our local high school, which was against Southlake in our new stadium.  Weather was probably the main factor, and possibly fuel exhaustion.

But not for us.  We climbed to 5,500 feet in clear skies and requested VFR flight following to KFYV (Fayetteville-Drake Airport).  The only real challenge was that with 30 or 40 miles to go we started to overfly some low clouds near a mountain lake surrounded by forest.  After a quick check with Kansas City Center who confirmed that Fayetteville was still reporting clear skies, I decided to stay VFR rather than switch to IFR in readiness for a descent through weather.  Fortunately the clouds cleared 5 to 10 miles before we reached our destination.

We were able to take a taxi to the university and get our tour, meet some of the band kids and watch a practice.  We were all quite impressed with the school, despite it's size. Around 4:30 we got a taxi back to the airport and were wheels up on the return flight about 5:15pm, landing just before 7pm.  Not only was it quicker, but by removing the need to drive up the night before and stay in a hotel and eat meals out, most likely cheaper too.  I won't claim that flying normally saves money compared to driving (or taking the airlines), but in this case it did.

Woooooooooo, Pig ! Sooie!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

What Great People Work In Aviation!

The terrific lineman at Terra Haute Hollman airport picked us up from the hotel at 8:15am, and took us to the airport the pretty way, past wide boulevards lined with Victorian houses.  Before loading and paying for the fuel,everyone stopped to watch a DC-3 in old American Airlines colors take off from runway 23, and then do a low pass before departing to New York.

I filed IFR to Walnut Ridge Arkansas (KARG - the girls call it the "pirate airport" - arg!), because the non-stop flight would have been 3.5 hours and we just weren't in a hurry.  KARG has reasonably priced fuel and a nice FBO.  We climbed and cruised at 10,000 feet, above gathering summer cumulus clouds below.  We landed at KARG at 11am, taxiied in, and asked for a fill up.

After a very quick turnaround, we piled back into the Bonanza, and I started the engine - or tried to.  The propeller blade quivered, something went click, and nothing else happened.  My battery was dead.

At first I didn't know that.  I borrowed a voltmeter, and it showed good voltage.  So I checked out the solenoids, and they all seemed OK.  After being called in, an A&P mechanic arrived, and he checked all the the ground leads.  Finally we found a load-meter, and determined that while the battery could generate good voltage, it had no current output, and hence no power.  It was dead, and the shop had no spares.  Oh, and it was Sunday morning.

However, the friendly A&P (called Jimmy) offered to let me have the battery from his aircraft, which used the same voltage.  He just asked that I sent it back him when I got home.  He also refused to let me pay him!  They sure have some nice people in Arkansas!  And Jimmy P of Brother's Aviation is one of the nicest.

Around 2pm, after getting lunch (and borrowing the FBO's free courtesy car) and replacing the battery with the borrowed one, the engine finally caught and we were off.  I had filed IFR once again at 10,000 feet to try and stay above the weather, and rain and thunderstorms were moving in, but the tops were now at 12 to 15,000.  I tried to weave my way around the building cumulus, but after 30 to 40 minutes gave up and just asked for lower (4,000 feet) to go under the clouds.  At first Little Rock approach would only give us clearance down to 5,000 feet, which put us still in the cloud bases, but I could keep the ride reasonable by only going through the older "tired" looking raggedy clouds and avoiding the building "strong" puffy ones.

Eventually we were cleared down to 4,000 feet, and once clear of the mountains Northwest of KLIT under the HOG MOA, I cancelled IFR and descended first to 3,000 and then to 2,500 to get better visibility.  The Dallas area was starting to get a few thunderstorms, but they were still 20 miles to the south when we landed at AeroCounty, just before 5pm.

A week later, I have a new battery in my Bonanza, and Jimmy's battery is in the front hall in a shipping container, along with a gift card and brochures from Cabela's Outdoor Store.  I'll ship it tomorrow.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

One Week Later

Sun bronzed and full of lobsta', time to go home.  The weather all week was gorgeous, highs near 80 and lows in the mid 60's with lots of sun.  I had it in the back of my mind to depart VFR, and go out over New York City so the girls could see some of the sights.  The class B over NY only goes up to 7,000 ft, so a West bound VFR flight at 8,500 in the sunshine should get quite a view, and it would avoid dealing with the NY approach controllers, who have a bad reputation on line for being brusque.

The night before, I slept poorly and woke early.  With everyone up and dressed, we waited for the 8am taxi - no show.  I called the taxi company, and they said they had no record of my request.  Finally one arrived, and we made it to the airport and into the Bonanza about 30 minutes behind schedule, except that I really didn't have one.  My goal was just to head South of West and land somewhere around 5pm and spend the night, no pushing for a 1 day journey against the forecast headwinds.

As we climbed over the West of of the Island, I called Cape Approach (repeatedly) until I finally got an answer, and asked for VFR advisories.  When flying with radar advisories, the controllers have you on their screens, and will help you see and avoid other airplanes.  What they will not do is give you a route to fly, or an altitude to cruise.  You should tell them what altitude you are using (although they can also see it on their scopes), and you must follow the cloud avoidance and airspace rules for visual flight.

Reaching 8,500 about the time we reached the Rhode Island coastline, I set the autopilot to take us over Groton Connecticut, then New London, then La Guadia, and Newark Airports.  Turning towards Long Island, I suddenly couldn't see anything.  We had flown straight into clouds.  I immediately told the a/p to take us back North, and after a minute of white out, we were back in the clear.  I asked NY approach to give us clearance down to 6,500 feet into their Class B airspace, expecting a rebuff, but they gave me that clearance, and we descended and turned South under the cloud layer above.

As we flew North of La Guadia airport on the North coast of Long Island, it was getting gloomier and it became clear I needed to go even lower.  I asked now for 4,500, expecting a rebuff this time for sure, but after a short delay I was cleared down to 4,500 and at that low altitude we flew West over The Bronx, with the Statue of Liberty visible on the left side through the darkening gloom, and all the skyscrapers of Lower and Mid-town Manhattan.  We left the NY area over Morristown NJ, the town where my wife was born.

Freed from the sight-seeing requirement, I asked for an IFR climb through the overcast to VFR over-the-top.  VFR pilots can legally (in the US) fly over a cloud base, they just can't fly through the clouds.  I was asking to temporarily switch to IFR rules in order to get through the clouds, and then switch back to VFR.  The NY controllers once again went out of their way to make things easy, and approved me to climb, just asking that I tell them my planned VFR altitude.  The NY area controllers are unjustly maligned.  One was a bit sharp edged, all the rest were wonderful.

We headed west at 8,500, until nearing Pittsburgh bladders and caution suggested a pit-stop for lunch, so with no breaks in the under-cast, I once again switched back to IFR, and asked for an approach into Johnstown PA, the site of a famous flood in the middle 19th century.  After a little confusion on the part of the controller, I was cleared for the RNAV/GPS approach to runway 22.  We broke out of the clouds at about 500 feet above the runway after a less-than-stellar approach on my part, but it all worked out and we got lunch nearby while the airplane was being fueled.

Prior to leaving the FBO, I checked the weather, and I found thunderstorms moving Northwards over Kansas and Kentucky, threatening our planned route.  So I filed an IFR plan to Champaign Illinois, planning to stay North and land in central Illinois for the night, and then to angle southward the next day.  Cleared Direct Champaign, we blasted off once more and climbed through the rain and clouds to 10,000 feet to stay above most of the weather in the way.

A hundred and fifty miles East of Champaign, it became clear that the weather had beaten us to it.  I compared my maps and the radar picture, and decided to divert to Terra Haute Indiana, which was at the end of long clearing like a mountain valley in the clouds, with thunderstorm peaks on the left and on the right.  After a fast descent, we landed at 5pm at Hollman Airport, and received a ride from one of the great linemen to a hotel in downtown Terra Haute where we all slept solidly following a steak dinner with a few adult beverages.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Thunderstorm Tag

It's vacation time in the Cooper household.  Searching for somewhere cooler, I rented a house on Martha's Vineyard from a friend, and Thursday morning after the July 4th fireworks, I loaded Thing 1 and Thing 2 in the back seats, 80 lbs of baggage (carefully weighed and arranged) in the baggage area, and with Sally in the right hand seat, we blasted off from Dallas only 30 minutes behind schedule.

I filed IFR to Sikeston Memorial Municipal Airport (KSIK), filing IFR starting at the Paris (PRX) VOR, with 7,000 feet planned.  The DFW arrivals controller didn't seem to understand that it is perfectly OK to file from a fix and gave me grief (he needs to re-read his controller handbook ( But after handing off to Ft Worth Center, I was given "as filed" and a transponder code - the pay off for good planning.  I filed PRX - MEEOW - LIT - KSIK, but shortly after PRX I was asked if I wanted to go direct.  Of course I did, and I asked for 9,000 as the bumpy air reached 7,000 feet.

Closing on KSIK, I heard an FAA plane checking the instrument approaches to KSIK mention to the controller that the runway at KSIK was closed.  I called up and talked with her, and she nicely checked with the airport, and confirmed yes, the runway was closed while the manager cleaned up the runway from the previous day's firework display (there was a NOTAM, but it was supposed to be open by my planned arrival time).  And the FAA plane also chimed in to say that they also had no gas at KSIK - rethink time.  I changed my destination to Paducah/Barkely Regional (KPAH), and picked up 25 gallons of overpriced 100LL there, for nearly $2 per gallon more than I had planned.

After a rapid refuel and bathroom stop, we took off again, filed IFR to Allegheny County airport in Pittsburgh PA.  I'd filed to 9,000, but on the climb out there was a layer of summer cumulus cloud starting right at 8,000, so I stayed at 7,000 for a few minutes.  But Sally had complained of feeling ill on the climb out from Dallas, so I decided to ask for and climb to 11,000 where the air was smoother, and visibility enough to go around the tallest clouds.

Nearing Cincinnati (CVG), my cockpit radar display showed severe storms over Cincinnati and stretching south over Kentucky.  ATC gave a re-route over the MXQ (Midwestern) VOR, and a small deviation right kept us in the clear.  That storm killed 2 people on the ground once it reached Tennessee.  We also went around some smaller pop-up storms trying to form, and landed at KAGC still 30 minutes behind schedule.

Checking the radar composite on the ground, I saw a line of new thunderstorms forming East of Pittsburgh, and made an IFR flight plan to go around to the north.  But I forgot to click the "file this" box, so when I asked for my clearance from the ground controller, he couldn't find a data strip.  But he did give a transponder code and set me up for VFR with flight following, which was actually even better, as it turned out.

A fuel injected Bonanza can be hard to "hot start", and mine is no exception.  If you re-start within about 10 minutes it will fire right up, but any longer and it is a bear, because the fuel in the lines evaporates.  I finally got the fires lit with a flooded start (you deliberately over prime and then slowly pull out the mixture until reaching the "just right" mixture and then it will start).  We taxied out, and were given take off clearance.  I did my usual "slow throttle push" - and the engine choked up and died on the runway.  The tower asked if I needed a tug, but since the engine was still hot and flooded, I quickly got it going again, and asked to taxi back to the run-up area.

This time I did a full power run up, and since everything checked out OK, I asked to take off again.  Slowly twisting the throttle up to full power, we took off perfectly normally, and turned on course now over an hour late.  Climbing to 7,500, I could see the storms ahead, but they looked better than the radar picture showed (the XM weather radar display can be up to 20 minutes delayed).  I went North about 10 miles, and went around the Northern edge.  The radar showed some storm patterns to the North (my left hand side), but there wasn't anything there.  An advantage of flying VFR in these conditions is that you do not need clearance to deviate or to change altitude.  A disadvantage is that you can't punch through any benign cloud, but I was able to easily remain VFR at all time.

Landing at Hartford-Brainard (KHFD) just after 8pm, I was tired, like a balloon deflating.  I felt my concentration going on the runway as I started to relax.  Pulling up my "pilot-stockings", we taxied to the FBO, and I shut down after 9 hours for actual flying, and 90 minutes on the ground.  I can see why the FAA limits commercial flying to set number of flying hours in a given 24 hours period.  I was very, very tired.  After 2 days rest staying with relatives in Hartford, we flew the last 45 minutes to Martha's Vineyard.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

First Solo!

D2 just had his first solo!  Last Saturday morning, we flew to Mesquite, because it's uncontrolled (no control tower).  After two or three touch and goes, I told D2 to take me to the fuel pumps, where I got out and told him to do two solo touch and goes and then land and pick me up.

I had my handheld radio with me, and a new headset adapter I'd just bought from Sporty's, so I was able to put on my headset and listen to his radio calls.  Apart from messing up his call sign a couple of times, he made all the calls, and made good circuits in the pattern and good landings.  I did have to get on the radio one time, when just as D2 was turning onto the downwind another pilot announced that he was entering the downwind.  I could see that they were close, so I advised the other pilot that he was very close to an aircraft being piloted on his first solo, at which point the second pilot said that he was only on his second solo!

After picking me up, we flew North to McKinney where I again got out and had D2 do another set of touch and goes, this time at a controlled (towered) field.  I called the tower, and advised them that D2 was doing his first solo, and asked him to watch out for my student and keep it simple.  Instead, the tower first gave him right traffic instead of left, then cancelled and had him do left traffic.  At one point they had him delay his crosswind for traffic, on another he had D2 turn crosswind early for sequencing.  and on yet another he had D2 extend his downwind for sequencing.  It seemed like he went OUT OF HIS WAY to make it harder!

Fortunately, D2 coped with all off this.  One time he wasn't sure what the tower wanted him to do, so he asked.  D2 is a tri-lingual Brazilian, and English isn't his first or second language,it's his third.  Combined with the normal radio-phobia of many students and unfamiliarity with ATC requests and terminology, he did very, very well.

Finally we flew back to AeroCountry where D2 keeps his Cessna.  By that time to winds were picking up, and I had to help on the landing, but I think it won't be long before D2 is signed off to solo from AeroCountry as well.

It's nice to know I really can instruct.  :)

Friday, June 8, 2012


I've been flying more as an instructor than as a private pilot this past two months.  Partly it has been because my Bonanza wasn't back (it is now), and partly because my new primary student, "D2" is anxious to advance, so we have been flying a good deal.

D2 owns his own airplane, a Cessna 172.  That permits us to fly whenever the conditions (and schedules) allow.  When he came to me, D2 had about 30 hours with 2 other instructors, and had basic aircraft control down.  He'd done take offs, steep turns, stalls, slow flight and some instrument "blind" flying, but was frustrated that neither of his previous instructors had taught him how to land.  Since I know both of those guys, I think I can understand why.

D2 is a perfectionist.  His airplane is pristine, inside and out.  It takes him 30 minutes to pre-flight his airplane, and afterwards he is still wiping it down as I leave.  I don't do anything to discourage his "anal" behavior, I'd far rather see that than the slap-dash pre-flights and flying that I've seen from some others.  I just try to arrive 20 minutes after he does, so that I can do my own double check and help push the airplane outside.  His instructors were both similar people (they might be where he learned to inspect every rivet), and I can imagine them thinking something like "that turn wasn't quite coordinated we need to make that perfect before working in the pattern".  My view is that he needs to be able to fly to private pilot standards by the time he takes his test, and with more practice which will come from flying more, those last few mistakes will go away.

I don't think that means I'm willing to accept more "sloppiness" - before he can have his test scheduled he will have to be flying to standards - I'll give him a simulated test and if he fails a task, we'll work on the parts that need work before handing him over to a DE.  But I am willing to accept that a 50 hour student can't fly to the level to perfection that a 500 hour pilot can.

So we have been going round and round, up and down at all of the local airports, towered and uncontrolled.  He can now do a complete pattern, and if the winds are not too strong, can land without help every time.  But if there's a little summer bumpiness, it seems to throw him off, and we haven't tackled crosswinds yet beyond a quick (and not very good) demonstration by me.  And he needs to be able to make all the radio calls himself, because once he solos, I won't be there to make them for him.

But we are getting close.  Just needs those radio calls, and a nice smooth morning with little wind, and he can make his first solo.  That will help his confidence tremendously, and we can build on it from there.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Fire in the Cockpit

My Bonanza finally came out of annual after 3 weeks, but not intact.  While it was in the hangar, one of the mechanics was working on some electrical issue, and turned on the avionics - at which point my Garmin 430W started to smoke and the circuit breaker popped.

Fortunately, this happened on the ground, not in the air where it would have been much more serious.  The shop took out the 430W, and sent it to the Garmin dealer at TKI, who sent it to Garmin for repair.  After 10 days or so, I got a nice surprise - Garmin repaired it for free, probably since they had just upgraded it from 430 to 430W last summer, although if they hadn't touched the power supply it might have been in a gray area from a warranty standpoint.  I will only have to pay for shipping.

So on Monday, hopefully I will get my Bonanza back intact, after a month of being down for annual.  Not quite the experience I was hoping for!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

I want my Baby Back.....

It's annual inspection time.  Once every 12 months, a privately owned aircraft in the United States must under go a detailed safety inspection, just like a car in most states.

Of course, it's a much more detailed and lengthy inspection, especially for an aircraft that the shop you choose hasn't seen before and has no history with.  That's the case with my Bonanza, which has been laid up in the hangar for 3 weeks and counting.  All the insides are outside, it's up on jacks so that the shop can test the retractable gear, and all the spark plugs are out (all 12).  The shop also has to check and make sure that all applicable FAA Airworthiness Directives (ADs) have been met, which can take some time on a 45 year old airplane.

Commercial aircraft undergo a similar check, but since they fly more, they must be inspected every 100 hours of flight.  I've flown my Bonanza nearly 80 hours since last April when I bought it - slightly higher than the average private airplane, but not much.  Airliners typically have A, B and C checks - the C check happens on the ramp and takes very little time.  The A check means putting it in a hangar for a week or two, and stripping it down, often replacing engines and other major assemblies.

The annual is also time to take care of those niggling "squawks" that you list as the year goes on - internal lights that won't work and can't be fixed simply, small brake fluid or fuel or oil leaks, things not big enough to warrant immediate attention, but that need to be fixed.  So my airplane has been "out of service" for for 22 days and counting.  Thank goodness I'm instructing, or I would have been grounded for almost a month.

But I want my baby back........

Friday, March 30, 2012


It's different from just being a pilot, or from being a student.  You would think that would be obvious and not need comment, but just as the actual fact of being married is different from your expectations, being the CFI responsible for not only the safety of flight, but also efficient transfer of knowledge, is very different from what you might think.

I've done some instructing before.  Prior to even having an instructor's license I taught my oldest daughter (Thing 1) the basics of aircraft control, and even had her able to fly a full traffic pattern and approach, everything except the final moments of touchdown on the runway.  Then she lost interest and hasn't flown since.  I have an instrument student "D", but he can already fly safely.  My responsibility is only instructional - to teach him how to fly and navigate only using instruments.

My new basic student, "D2" already has 30 hours or so, and has had 2 prior instructors.  He's not happy with how quickly they were progressing, I suspect because he is a perfectionist, and since I know the other 2 instructors, who are the same way, I can see how they would keep on polishing and polishing the same skill over and over, and not move on once it became "good enough".  In this sense, good enough means he can perform the skill to PPL standards most of the time.  I believe once we add further skills, the current stuff will become second nature and just need practice before the test.

So yesterday we started on traffic patterns and landings.  If we'd had an office space or a desk, we could have (and should have) gone over the traffic pattern procedures with him in advance, but since I hadn't flown with him before I didn't know if he was good enough yet.  Well, he is, so we did 3 circuits at Mesquite.  By the 3rd one he was picking it up, but it was starting to get dark and the cloud base was dropping. So tomorrow it's back to pattern work, but this time with a thorough pre-flight briefing since I can have a firm plan.. 

We're both learning here.

Sunday, February 5, 2012


I keep my Bonanza at a small, private field in McKinney TX, called AeroCountry (T31).  It has one runway, a strange combination of grass and concrete.  The Northern end is 1,300 feet of grass, the Southern end is 3,000 feet of concrete, for a total length 4,300 feet.  The join is pretty well done - I've landed on the grass and taxied onto the concrete and there's just a small bump.

No instrument approaches, however.  Many of the aircraft there are smaller experimental types, and some exotic aerobatic aircraft (the hangar next to mine holds a Yak 26).  Until recently, the runway was too narrow to meet the FAA requirements to have an IAP (Instrument Approach Procedure), but when a developer wanted to buy the East side of the airport and put up luxury condos and attached private hangars, part of the deal was that he would pay to re-develop the runway, making it wider.  Now we can have an IAP developed, and I'm pushing the owners council to ask the FAA to make a GPS IAP for us.  Otherwise in bad weather I have to land at Collin County Regional (KTKI), about 8 miles away.

Of course in order to fly a GPS approach, the aircraft must have a working GPS unit, certified for IFR operations.  My Bonanza has a Garmin GNS 430W, certified for precision approaches down to 300 feet AGL (or down to 200 in ILS mode), an Apollo panel mounted GPS without WAAS (for navigation and non-precision approaches, I usually just leave it turned off), and a handheld Garmin 496 in a mount, which is used for navigation, backup, and Nexrad weather radar display.

The trouble is, that they all have to receive satellite signals, and these signals come in on a variety of microwave frequencies, around 1.5 GHz.  Paradoxically, the most capable of the 3 GPS units in my Bonanza is also the most sensitive to interference - the 430W needs 5 working satellite signals to be able to support a precision approach.  The 496 only needs 3, but it can't be used for approaches.  And somewhere near T31 is an interferer that is blanking out all GPS use.

Garmin GNS 430 W

Some of the pilots thought that someone had put up a 1.5GHz base station on a nearby water tower that doubles as a cell site, having read about the issues with Lightsquared and the FCC.  Others suspected a nearby radar test range owned by Raytheon.  And a few suspected a microwave relay tower furtehr to the southwest owned by AT&T.  Since I work in wireless telecommunications and am an FAA licensed flight instructor, I know how to work with both the FAA and the FCC and have the contacts to make something happen.

Eventually the FCC agreed this was their baby, and sent out a technician to track down the source.  He drove around where the pilots said we all lost GPS, and found nothing.  So he called me, and I agreed to take up my airplane and try to narrow down the source.  I took off one Saturday with a friend in the right hand seat, and we flew all around the field at 600 to 700 feet AGL (the FAA requires at least 500 feet clearance above or laterally from any obstacle, building, person or vehicle).  We flew various legs around the field, and proved that the source was not the cell tower, the radar range, or the communications tower.  It appeared to be a circle centered near a road intersection.

Based on where we lost GPS lock, the FCC drew up a map showing the 2 circular patterns that best fit the data, and concluded that interferer is near the intersection of Westridge and Independence roads, in a newly built neighborhood.  They asked me to do some more runs from the West and South to confirm the circle's radius, but now suddenly the interferer has gone, after 4 months.  Vanished. Poof!

The FCC's best guess is that it's a bad HDTV adapter in someone's home.  It seems that some can fail in a way that radiates in the GPS bands - at least one model has been recalled, but there are still some out there.  I wish we had found it - it worries me that the GPS blank spot could come back at any time.  Unless the perpetrator knew what he was doing and realized that someone in an airplane was trying to track him or her down - Chinese spy satellite radio, anybody?  Although the usage pattern is closer to that of the TV adapter, staying on for days and weeks at a time - maybe they went out and bought an HDTV and threw out the old analog one.  Still, before we can get a GPS IAP, it needs to be resolved.

This is why your instrument instructor told you to monitor the GPS unit's satellite lock throughout an approach - it can just vanish.  Then what will you do?