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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

2014 - miles under the wings

Frequent blogger Gary just posted his year in review (, which inspired me to do likewise:

Total time in 2014 (so far) - 88 hours.

Not so hot this year, although I might make 100 hrs by December 30th.  I had planned a trip to Las Vegas in September that fell thorough, the only other long cross countries were to and from Wisconsin, and to bring back the Cessna from North Carolina.  But my total time is now pushing 900 hrs, with over 200 of those as an instructor.  I've now given more instruction time than I've received (about 150 hrs)!  Since those 200 instruction hours were paid for my others, I suppose I could claim that my own flying instruction is now fully paid for - and that's something to smile about :)

Next year, I hope to top 1,000 total hrs!  That's my goal. 

January to March
Not much to talk about.  I flew my Bonanza 10 times, and shot three instrument approaches.

April to June
Formed a new Texas LLC (S&P Aviation), and seeded it with enough cash to buy a trainer, a Cessna 150 which I bought in Asheville NC.  I had a memorable flight to bring it back to Texas, flying IFR over the Smoky Mountains at 7,000 ft Westbound. The rest of the way was low and slow over the Tennessee and Arkansas flat-lands.  As part of the deal I gave an IPC to the seller.  No other instruction.

July to September
Took on a new student "J" who is planning to start his instrument training using my 150, and prior student "D" got his 172 back in the air after a major engine overhaul.  He and I did 10 hours of high power, mostly cross country flying to get his piston rings seated properly, and after some pattern work I signed him off to solo again.  "J" and I also flew the Bonanza to Oshkosh, a first for both of us.  I planned on flying the Bonanza to Las Vegas, but weather made me fly commercial instead.  The Bonanza also got it's annual in August.

October to December
Between J continuing to build hours, and new students "R" and "A", S&P aviation actually became profitable.  I did an IPC for "T" in his Bonanza, and once "A" got his G36 Bonanza airworthy we've started flying in that.  I used my Bonanza 3 times to fly my daughter to and from college in Arkansas.  Meanwhile, student R is flying my 150 and looking for a good 182.

Fly in the ointment: All through 2012, 2013 and most of 2014 I've been my own boss, working as an independent consultant able to schedule my own time. At the beginning of December 2014, I started working as an employee of a consulting company in Dallas (my wife is happy about the benefits), so my time is not my own.  I've made arrangements with an independent CFI to share the load and have her fly with my students when I can't due to work commitments.

What I have learned is that I can create a successful flying business, as long as my expectation is just that it will pay for itself and generate a little income on the side.  I've also learned that I can create a successful consulting business, something to consider down the road a bit.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Two More

"R" works in construction.  His family own a construction business and normally live a thousand miles East of Dallas, but happen to be here for 6 months on a contract.  His previous flying experience has been piloting his family's Cessna 337 SkyMaster with instruction from his Dad, but he just bought a Cessna 182 Skylane.

"A" is a retired tennis pro from an aviation family in West Texas.  He took the compressed private course from a local part 141 school at Addison airport (KADS), and takes his test today.  He just bought a G36 Bonanza, and wants me to transition him to high performance and complex aircraft, especially the Bonanza.  Then he will decide if I'll teach him instruments, or if he'll stay with the flight school to get it done faster.  Speed is more important than cost to him.

I've been flying with R in my 150.  He wants to get his private done while he's working in the DFW area, with little to do in the evenings and weekends.  As all of his experience has been in high performance aircraft, he's having to learn about precision use of the controls.  A SkyMaster will climb at a variety of pitch attitudes and speeds, but the 150 wants 77 mph plus or minus 10, or it won't climb at all.  The SkyMaster has very little "p factor" due to the twin engines rotating in opposite directions, and has the power and speed to line up with the runway without using the rudder much.  Not so with the 150, which is very light and needs good footwork on the rudders.

Other than that, R is almost ready to solo - once he gets his student license and medical.  His family seems to play a little looser than I like with the rules.  He didn't actually need them before going solo, but I've never heard of anyone that advanced in his training not having them already.  Once he solos in my 150, we'll move over to the 182 and use that for his cross countries and preparation for taking the test.

A is a very precise pilot pilot already.  We flew in my Bonanza last Saturday, and after some pattern work which he picked up very quickly (the speed and number of checklist items can be over-whelming at first), we did emergency procedures.  He was a bit shocked at how much more violent a high performance stall is compared to a trainer, and by how poorly a heavy, high performance airplane glides, but that's the reason for the training.  You can't assume one airplane flies like any other.  The good things about him are how quickly he learns, and that he is not afraid.

"D" has been my student for over a year.  In late 2013 he was almost ready to take his private license test when the engine in his Cessna 172 Skyhawk decided it needed an overhaul.  In the late summer of this year his airplane was ready to fly again, and after a few hours I signed him off to solo.  We've done 80 hours together and he's still not ready to take the test - he is a bit fearful and learns slowly.  He's more than twice as old than either R or A, and I think that slows him down a lot. 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Breaking Through

October is a break through month.  The little Cessna 150 masquerading as a T-51, the slowest warbird on the field achieved a milestone this month, finally paying for itself thanks to new students.

J. is an 18 year old who graduated from high school last spring, and used a financial windfall to get his private pilot license over the summer.  He started at the local community college this fall, and plans to become a professional pilot.  I wish I'd had his drive and commitment at his age.

Following his PPL, J wants to start on instrument training, and use my little 150 to build time.  We did about 3.5 hours in the Cessna for transitioning into the new airplane (he learned using Piper Sport Cruisers, a Light Sport Aircraft or LSA).  The 150 is slightly too heavy to count as an LSA, but flies similarly with like speeds and performance.  I also used the 150 or my own purposes, and paid the LLC that owns it a dry rental rate.  The combined income well exceeded the costs for the month, and paid for the annual inspection and minor repairs it needed.

So it's moving to the big airport at McKinney (KTKI) next month, where although the tie down cost is more, the runways are better for students and the nice FBO more comforting and comfortable than the rat shacks at T31.  And two more students have said they'll start flying with me in November.  It looks like S&P Aviation and N61EA are lifting off!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Oshkosh - B'Gosh Part II

To follow up - this is what happened.

I flew from Dallas to Dubuque (KBDQ) with a fuel stop in Kansas City Downtown (KMKC) on Thursday 7/31, an easy 2.5 hrs plus 1.5 hrs, and stayed in a decent Holiday Inn downtown with a free shuttle ride to and from the airport.

On Friday morning, I took off from Dubuque at about 8am, and an hour later flew the RIPON/FISK VFR arrival at 2300 ft and 135 kts. The other choice was 1,800 ft and 90 kts.  I debated about which speed and altitude to use, but just ahead of me a cub on the low arrival reported he couldn't maintain 90 kts, and I decided to stay high.

Approaching FISK along the railroad tracks, the controller asked the "low wing 1/2 mile from Fisk please rock your wings", which I did, and he asked to make an immediate right turn East to follow the road. I was surprised not to be called a Bonanza with the distinctive V-tail, and I wasn't sure he was talking to me until I rocked the wings and he acknowledged.

I landed on 36R, really a taxiway, and as instructed kept my speed up to the end. With the big VAC sign printed from the online NOTAM PDF in the window, I got clear taxi guidance from the marshals, and ended up in row 68 (near the center of the field). I talked to others (including a couple from Ohio who won an award for their spotless 1958 (M35?) V-tail), and those who arrived mid week had problems getting parked, and ended up on the far south end. I was very close to the Machine Shop concessions, parked in a triangular shaped area filled with Staggerwings and Cessna taildraggers.

It took about an hour to get the tents set up and the airplane staked down (using flyties - an easy and secure product), and then I started wandering. I got back to my tie down in time for a late lunch, and watched the Friday airshow under intermittent rain and an occasional distant flash of lightening. The best parts - the V-22 Osprey and the USAF Thunderbirds.

Saturday had brilliant blue skies and hotter temps, but nothing compared to Texas. I bought a vented EAA hat with a round brim to protect against the sun, waited in line for an hour to get a ride around the grounds in a Bell 47D helicopter, and enjoyed another Thunderbirds show, this time the high show (with climbs up to 15,000 ft). The fireworks capped the day off nicely.

My plan was to stay until Monday morning, but work pressures and 50-60% likelihood of stormy weather on Monday made me decide to leave on Sunday morning. It took less than 30 minutes to get packed up ready to go, and at 10am I started the engine and joined a long line of taildraggers taxiing alongside 18R. After taking off on the left side of the wide runway, I overtook the gaggle easily, despite keeping the power down to 19" and the altitude less than 1300 ft until clear of the class D airspace.  Once clear I advanced the throttle to 100% and climbed to 8,500 ft.

My take-aways - Despite the intimating super long NOTAM, and all the war stories I hear, as long as you are on the ball Oshkosh isn't that hard to safely navigate. Thousands do each year (I kept telling myself). Study the NOTAM and make crib notes (I laminated the VFR arrival NOTAM on the backside of my "VAC" parking card for the window, and highlighted the frequencies and routes). Arrive if you can late morning - many people leave starting at 6am and by 10am departures are in full swing, and favorable parking spots will have opened up. Food choices are ample but monotonous - burgers, chicken tenders, hot dogs and fries, fries, fries. Vintage parking is close to the show, but N40 parking is closer to shops and has better bathroom and shower facilities. Taking off is easy, but once again read the NOTAM and know the routes.

You don't have to be some kind of aviation savant to safely fly into and out of Oshkosh, but you do need to be prepared and know and follow the procedures.

The flight back was interesting - bad weather over Kansas City led to a diversion to KVIH (Rolla National) in Missouri for a fuel and potty break, followed by skirting a developing line of storms on the climb out.  I was able to stay VFR (although I debated about asking for IFR), but climbed to 12,500 to stay above the developing cumulus.  After almost an hour up there I noticed a marginal deterioration in mental faculties, although not too much, despite the density altitude being almost 14,500ft.  The pulse-oxometer was showing 84%, and that seems to be about my limit, as well as being the FAA limit for extended flight..  

I'll be back at Oshkosh next year!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Oshkosh, B'gosh!

After 30 years of flying (albeit with long ground-bound periods at times), it's finally time, and I'm going to Oshkosh at the end of July.

For those who don't know, Oshkosh is the largest, busiest airshow in the world.  What makes it busy is that unlike most airshows this is one that you fly to.  The airport is littered with hundreds of private planes parked all over the place.  It started as a gathering for home builders (and still maintains some of that flavor), but grew into a celebration of all private flying.

And the sheer size or AirVenture, to give it it's proper name is daunting.  There is apparently (and I say apparently because I'm still learning this) only one visual method of arriving - you fly to a small town called Ripon in Wisconsin, follow the railroad track to Fiske, and from there follow directions radioed to you from the ground.

Because it's so busy you don't respond to the commands over the radio as is normal, and the controllers don't know your registration number call sign anyway, so they will address you as "Red Skyhawk"; "Blue RV"; or in my case "White V-tail Bonanza".  To acknowledge a command, you waggle the wings and comply.

You can arrive at one of two altitudes - a low arrival for those who can fly at 90 kts, and a higher arrival for those who fly at 130 kts.  I haven't decided yet which I'll do - my Bonanza will fly at 90 kts safely, but it's a bit uncomfortable and only 27 kts above my stall speed and at a pretty low altitude.  I think my choices are to fly the low approach with wheels down and 10 degrees of flaps to lower my stall speed, or to fly the high one at 130 kts.

Unless you book very, very early you won't get into a hotel.  So for this first visit I'm going to camp next to my airplane.  I have a 6 man tent, air mattress, sleeping bag and battery powered camping lamps.  And a solar powered charger for my cell phone.  I understand there is lots of food available, and a Kroger grocery store, so I plan to take some breakfast foods and nothing else.  And there are showers - so its not exactly roughing it........

Getting excited about it!  I plan to be there the 2nd weekend, arriving on Friday August 1st in the morning.  I plan to park in the Vintage area, which is open to all aircraft built before 1971.  Look me up if you are there!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Two Kinds of Flying

Snug as a bug

The "new" Cessna 150L is safely home at AeroCountry airport, in West McKinney.  I flew on US Airways to Asheville NC about 3 weeks ago to inspect the airplane and make final payment.  Part of the deal was that I would include an IPC for the seller "Xavier", which I was glad about, because it gave me a couple for hours to fly in the aircraft from the right hand seat before agreeing to buying and hand over the rest of the money.

Echo Alpha is a 1973 Cessna 150 model L, with super-duper avionics - a Garmin 430 with WAAS and ILS, a King KX-155 with VOR receiver and localiser, and IFR certification (which also implies an Outside Air Temperature display).  The avionics are worth about 40% of the value of the purchase.  The twin radios are solid, the only potential issue I noticed was a generator whine under certain high load conditions.  The airplane was leased to a part 141 flight school, and maintained by them as a commercial aircraft.  They used it as a cheaper alternative IFR trainer to their standard 172s.

After concluding the purchase, I flew a few touch and goes at Asheville since it had been more than 10 years since my last time at the controls of a C150/152, but my recent C172 time with a student's airplane helped a lot.   By the 3rd landing I was doing my usual "greasers", so I dropped Xavier off at the FBO, and set out on the first leg of my trip home.  In the wrong direction.

My niece, her husband and small son live near Clemson University in South Carolina, a short 40 nm away.  So my first solo flight in Echo Alpha was a quick up and over the 4,000ft Smoky Mountains into Clemson, where I bedded EA down for the night.  My original plan was to traverse northern Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, then across Arkansas and into Texas, but a storm moving up from the Gulf of Mexico changed that.  Instead a route to Chattanooga Tennessee, then south of Nashville, North of Memphis, and over Little Rock looked like a better bet - the problem was the first leg.

My original plan, since I'm scared of mountains, avoided any high ground.  The new plan involved flying over the Smokies again, with terrain up to 6,000 ft and overcast skies with rain later.  I filed IFR direct at 8,000 ft, with the intent to make a 180 degree turn and come back to Clemson if I didn't like what I saw over the peaks.  To keep my attitude right, I was actually expecting to make that retreat, with continuing on my contingency plan - rather like making an instrument approach where you plan to do the missed approach with a pleasant surprise if can actually touch down and land.  At 9am (right on schedule) the wheels lifted off runway 26, and with a wing waggle to say "goodbye" I set a course climbing (at 65 kts) as best a Cessna 150 with 100 HP can do (which isn't much).

There was 30 or 40 miles to go until I reached the highest terrain, and I needed most of it to get to 7,000 ft.  The dark and rather foreboding overcast appeared to be right around 8,000, so I asked for and got clearance to stay at 7,000.  Normally that's an Eastbound altitude, but ATC was being accommodating.  Over the highest part a little light cloud protruded down to 7,000 but I only spent about 15 minutes flying fully "blind" in IMC, and that in short 2 to 3 minute "chunks" as I flew through scattered stratus cloud.  I never felt in any doubt, and once the land started to fall away I knew I'd made it, and soon ATC asked me to either climb to 8,000 or descend to 6,000 for a Westbound altitude.  I chose to go lower.

As I descended, the headwind began to lessen, and eventually became a tailwind.  I was using my iPAD with Foreflight as a moving-map navigation aid, and at the lower attitude I could also get NEXRAD weather radar displayed through the cellular connection.  With the panel IFR GPS and a moving map display with weather, I was golden, with almost as much situational awareness as in my Bonanza.  After a quick fuel stop West of Chattanooga, I launched again, this time VFR at 3,000ft.

Navigation remained simple, and the miles slowly disappeared under the broad wing.  I can't say that I think visibility is better between the low wing and the high wing, but downwards visibility at low altitudes is certainly better in the high wing, while the ability to locate and track other aircraft is better with the low wing. They're just different with different strengths and weaknesses.

After another fuel stop north of Memphis, and I sent a text message to my daughter who goes to college in Conway Arkansas.  I told her to look up at a particular time, and I would fly overhead (thanks to the GPS I knew exactly when).  She asked me to land at the airport, and she would come out to see the new airplane, which is what happened.  So my planned last fuel stop at Hot Springs became a stop in Conway, and hug from Thing 1.  Then I did the last leg to Dallas.  At that point I noticed I was getting tired, and finding it harder to track a good straight line and stay within a 100ft of altitude.  Once clear of the Ozark "mountains" (tall hills really), I came down to 2,000 ft MSL and enjoyed the unaccustomed view from low and slow.

Go Fast, Young Man!

Which is what the title is about.  Having split my flying over the past month between the 300 HP, 170 kts complex Bonanza and the 100 HP, 90 kt simple 150, they are quite different creatures to fly.  The Bonanza is a high speed piston aircraft, for relatively high altitude (10,000 ft), comfortable IFR cross country flying.  It'll do local jaunts, but that's not what it's best at.  The 150 is great for flying around the pattern, and a few short cross countries at 3,000ft now and then, and is sufficiently well equipped for IFR flights (and training), but that's not what it's best at.  And there's the point.  Seen as tools, they are amazingly complimentary.

And now I have to fly more :)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Going Corporate

So far, I've played at being a flight instructor.  I've got over 100 hours of instruction in my logbook, got one commercial pilot thorough his checkride and a private pilot almost past the finish line.  I've done some IPCs and BFRs, and given instrument instruction to a friend at a reduced rate.  I also taught Thing 1 how to do a complete airport pattern - everything except the actual solo.

But since my Bonanza is too fast and too complex to use as a trainer, I've had to take on only students who have their own aircraft, or advanced students who need time in a complex, high performance airplane (mine).  So my pool of potential students has been quite limited, especially beginners who probably don't have their own airplane.

Still, instructing has helped me fly more hours, and subsidized my fun flying.  But I think it's time to get serious.  So this year I decided to formally incorporate my flying business and I'm in the process of converting it to a Texas Limited Liability Company (LLC).  I'm also buying a basic trainer, a Cessna 150 equipped for IFR training as well (picture from

Isn't she pretty?  Dressed as a USAF T-51
It makes economic sense.  As an instructor, I can charge the going rate in the Dallas area, about $40/hr.  If I fly in someone else's airplane, that's all I make, and I only teach on evenings and weekends about 40 to 50 hours a year - so my gross average income from my instructor business is around $2000/yr.

Assuming that gas costs around $40/hr (6 gall/hr) for the C150 and maintenance costs $20/hr ($2,000 spread over 100 hours), and that I rent the airplane to my students for the regional rate of $120/hr, about $60 of that is gross profit added to the instructor fees.  So instead of making $40/hr, I make $100/hr.

Also, perhaps I can triple my instructing hours if I can reach more students, lets say to 150 hr/yr.  So my $2000/yr goes to $15,000/yr.  And some of the costs that today I pay out of pocket become deductible, such as my hangar rent.  I also know several local CFIs who are in the same position, I think I can rent the airplane to them at a discounted rate of say $100/hr, so if it rents out for an additional 100 hrs/yr, that's an extra $4,000.
It's not enough to live on, but that's not my goal, at least not yet.  I'm just looking to supplement my income from wireless telecoms consulting, and get free flying. I'm also positioning myself to become a full time instructor in 10 years or so once I retire from my primary career.  I need to get the airplane back to TX from NC, get a certificate of operations from the FAA, and away we go..... (take off date - May 1st?)

Monday, March 3, 2014


With 800 hours in my logbook, a little quick math says I must have flown around 100,000 miles as a pilot, assuming an average speed of 125kts.  Is that reasonable - four times around the world?  Almost half of my time has been cross country, probably at around that speed - my Sundowner cruised at 115kts, my Bonanza at 160kts, and these two airplanes account for over half of my 800 hrs.  The rest was probably spent in the pattern at 80 to 90 kts, or near the airport going a little faster, say 110 - 130 depending on the airplane.

The 150 hours I spent in a Cessna 152 was spent going much slower, around 60 during climb and decent, and around 80 to 90 kts otherwise.  I did a few cross country flights in a 152, probably going 95-100kts or so.  I also have 15 hours in gliders, mostly flying at 40 to 50 kts.  That will drop the average.

Of course there's a little extra from the fact that a nautical mile is 15% longer than a statute mile, so that likely 100k nautical miles is closer to 115,000 statute miles.

On American Airlines, Delta and United, flying 100,000 miles in a year gets you special status - on American I was Executive Platinum until the end of February 2014, for having flown 100,000 miles in 2012.  I've never made it that far on United or Delta, mostly because living in Dallas where American owns 90%+ of all flights from DFW, it makes sense to concentrate your flying on one airline.  United granted me matching status for 3 months, but I don't see how I can maintain it for long.  Still, I'm off to Denver tomorrow on United, and I'll see how it goes.

Flying my own airplane for 100,000 miles also has its benefits.  You always sit up front in seats with extra leg room and a great view.  You don't get free alcoholic drinks unless you bring your own, and it's illegal to consume them anyway while acting as pilot.  No cooked meals, only what you bring on board, almost like flying Southwest except you don't even get peanuts.

The personal benefits are tremendous - a sense of achievement, having overcome many obstacles put in your way by the FAA - private license, glider rating, commercial license, instrument rating, CFI and CFI-I and sign offs for high power and complex aircraft.  The freedom to fly (almost) anywhere, at any time.  The power that comes from knowing how to use the air traffic control system to achieve my goals, the knowledge of weather and its mysteries.

And sitting in my hangar - my own gleaming, white chariot of fire, waiting for me to go and breathe life and air and flight and speed.

Thursday, February 6, 2014


What moves me?  Obviously flying and airplanes, things that have enthralled me for as long as I can remember.  My interest in aircraft goes back before my earliest memories:

Me at Heathrow airport with my Mom - and I'm looking at the airplanes
The picture above was taken at Heathrow (London) Airport in late 1958.  My Mom is smiling for the camera - I'm watching an airplane take off.  I look totally fascinated.

What are the other things that fascinate me?  What will I go miles out of my way to see?  Well, my wife Sally, for one.  After 20 years of marriage she still fascinates me.  I don't always understand her, or her me.  But I keep wanting to try and understand her, and know more about her.  The same for my two girls,Thing 1 and Thing 2, although it's different.  Sometime soon they'll fly the coop, and that will actually be a good thing - like fixing up an airplane ready for sale (although I'm not sure that's a great analogy).

I'm currently in Boulder CO on a business trip, and it struck me tonight - what is the other thing that fascinates me?  Food to a degree, but what makes me brave the extreme cold outside is BEER.  Not just any beer, but GOOD beer, well crafted, balanced beer that make you go "mmmmmmmmmmm".  I thought Boulder would have a plethora of great hand-crafted beers, but not so.  Most have been quite "blah" - generally they've been over hopped and over hyped.  But one tonight made me think about a blog devoted to beer, and that was the Irish Red at the Walnut Brewery.  I've never had an Irish Red before that made me want to do a jig before, but I have now.

Next post will have a link to my new blog - about beers I have known and loved.......

I think I'll call it "Beers 2 Go"....