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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.