Sunday, April 15, 2012

I'm Baaaaaack!

Just when you think life has settled down and you get used to a routine, something pops up to completely change things. I am living proof. In less than three years, I went from being a pilot who flew every week, to one who flys fairly rarely. Did I lose my love of flying? Absolutely not! And no, I can't really blame this on Obama and the economy, but I'd like to. It's all a matter of shifting priorities - here's what happened: In the past three years, I got divorced, rented a house, lost a job, got another job, bought a house, met the love of my life, got a different job, married the love of my life, became a father of beautiful twins (one of each), sold my house, moved to a new city and bought a house...and flew every once in a while. In earlier posts, I indicated that I have already taken the twins up in the air, but that has been quite a while ago. Now they are walking, jabbering and are much more fun to interact with - so I need to get them up again!

Part of the reason for my lack of flying and thus lack of posts was the problem created by moving from one city to another. I'm an airplane renter (but maybe not for much longer...prices are looking good!) In Jacksonville, I had several options for renting aircraft. There were two flight schools at my home airport, another school at Herlong on the far side of town, one in Fernandina Beach and one in St. Augustine. In Tallahassee, I have found one. Other than Tallahassee Regional Airport (the big one that the airlines use), the nearest airport is about 30 miles away in Quincy or 40 miles away in Thomasville, GA. What's worse is that the aircraft here are not the latest and greatest like they had at North Florida Flight Training. More about that in a minute...

So, several months after moving to Tally, I set up a check out at Eagle Aircraft at KTLH. I had planned to get checked out in one of their C-172s, but a call from the instructor the day before resulted in my releasing of my reservation so a Navy guy could use it for his check ride. I was swapped to a C-152. That didn't do me any good, because most of my flying would be in the 172. This school required that I have a checkout in the 172 in order to use it. I should have canceled my ride that day as it would have wasted my money, but I was dying to fly and I went up anyway.

Fast forward quite a few months and I'm back to trying to get the 172 - I still need to get an airport ID badge (THANKS TSA for YOUR ILLUSION OF SECURITY). I've paid the money and am waiting for the airport to call me back. Last weekend, I knocked the rust off my flying by going up in a nice 2006 Skyhawk with the NAV II option. This is such a different plane from the NAV III equiped planes. I was so spoiled with the nice, new aircraft at North Florida! The plane flew today had over 5,000 hours on its ticker and was showing its age a bit, but nearly everything worked. The checklist that was left in the airplane was substandard - it omitted quite a few critical items that are detailed in the POH like checking the release on the Auto Pilot, positioning the fuel lever on left or right when securing the plane and some other things that escape me right now. Nevertheless, the plane was airworthy and well-equipped, so I was very happy to be flying it - AND the price was much less than the price in Jacksonville.

In spite of the rust on my flying, my radio calls were surprisingly decent. I tripped over the tail number a few times (November Two Zero Three Lima Yankee just doesn't trip off the tongue yet), but I didn't miss any calls and everything seemed to go smoothly.

During my preflight, I tested the electric trim controls and they didn't work. Seems that the school pulls the breaker on the autopilot as a matter of standard practice. I told the instructor that if we just pushed the breaker they'd work, but he said that even with autopilot, they won't work. I didn't push the issue even though I was certain that they would work.

We departed runway 9 and were cleared to head South. After clearing the Class C airspace, my instructor told me to clear the area and set up for a few maneuvers. He gave me a choice of slow flight, steep turns, or whatever. I told him that we'd start with slow flight as that would be the best test of my flying. I was able to get the plane down below 40 knots indicated and we flew without incident. He said that I should migrate into a power-on stall, which I also did. These maneuvers were performed to his satisfaction, so he told me to head back to the airport. I made a 180 steep turn and we headed back to the airport.

Back in the pattern, we performed three touch-and-goes. The first two were silky smooth, but as the instructor noted later, my nose was pointed a bit crooked. The third, however, was unusual. Just after I touched down and the plane rolled out, I found myself back in the air. A gust of wind had popped us back up. I immediately added power and the instructor put his hands on his yoke and asked if I needed help. I told him that I had the airplane and I let it stabilize in the air before pulling power and letting it settle back down. Other than that, this was uneventful.

During our debriefing, my instructor noted that my stick-and-rudder skills were rusty - I was sliding through most turns. I'd start with a skid then switch to a slide. I simply need to pay more attention to the turn coordinator during my turns.

Today, I went up again, solo this time. It felt so great to be back up in complete control of the aircraft. I flew North and found my house - just outside of the Class C airspace. I practiced some basic turns focusing on turn coordination. I also tuned some radials on the VORs and couldn't seem to get the heads to respond....That's when I noticed the GPS light lit. The heads were slaved to the GPS, not the NAV. Pressing the button fixed all of that. Flying southward, I tuned in the ILS27 at KTLH and lined myself up about 20 miles out before calling Approach. They let me fly the ILS straight in. It wasn't too difficult although the crosswind provided a challenge. I was proud of being able to fly the beam without deviating more than a single dot up or sideways.

On final, an Airbus was cleared to depart so I was prepared for wake turbulence, but there was no problem. I touched down on the numbers and remembered to hold the nose off the runway until the speed dissipated.

This flight took exactly one hour - but it was a wonderful hour. It feels so great to be back in the air again. Next weekend, Christy and I will have a trip across the state. I'm really looking forward to that!

Monday, October 11, 2010

In the System from Tampa to Craig

Lately in AOPA Pilot magazine as well as in a couple of email newsletters that I receive, there has been discussion surrounding the pros and cons of flying in and out of towered airports. Non-towered airports do not have a controller to bark at you when you say something wrong, nor do you have to wait for a controller to clear you to taxi and take off. However, when flying in and out of an area where there is a fair amount of traffic and especially if that aircraft flown in that area are piloted primarily by students, having an extra set of eyes and clear communication requirements would be my preference.

Craig airport is a tower-controlled airport most of the time. Only if you fly very early or very late will you find the tower closed. In the past few years, I have not noticed any harshness directed at pilots by any of the controllers. This wasn't always the case, as there was once a controller that had a tendency to yell at almost everyone. The system has a way of weeding out these types and he is no longer found in our tower.

When flying in and out of a non-towered airport, the communication burden is placed squarely on the shoulders of the pilot. Often, pilots take this reporting responsibility with a grain of salt. Likewise, without a tower, there are many options available for approaching and departing the airport - some are encouraged by the AIM and some are not. Towered airports, on the other hand, require communication with the tower prior to entering the controlled airspace. Once communication is established, the tower provides clear instructions to the pilot for his or her approach as well as additional communications requirements. These requirements add an additional margin of safety but they do not eliminate the pilot's responsibility to see and avoid other traffic.

Learning to fly an airplane is pretty easy. Most people fly their first solo between 10 and 20 hours of flying time - and part of that logged time is actually spent taxiing. One of the more challenging lessons in flying is learning how to communicate properly over the radio. I suspect that this is the main reason for many pilots' aversion to towered airports. In a non-towered area, you talk to the thin air announcing your position and intent. You listen to other pilots for their reports, but you rarely have any one-on-one communication with another person. Contrast this with a towered environment where every communication is directed at a specific person and is expected to follow a certain protocol, be concise, and be correct. Communicating with the tower is no time to practice saying "ummmm". Yet even professional pilots have some issues when they communicate. Many begin their communication with "and". Why? To me, that is a waste of breath. "And, Tampa Approach, United 212 checking in at one-two thousand." An otherwise perfect communication marred by an unnecessary transmission. Still others use totally incorrect terminology. Radio communications, with the exception of the proper way to request an instrument clearance, are described fairly precisely in the AIM. 12,000 feet is pronounced one-two-thousand. 7,500 feet is seven-thousand-fife-hundred". Almost every time I fly, I hear an otherwise professional sounding pilot using something like, "Mooney three-bravo-alpha, out of seven point five for nine". That should have been "out of seven-thousand-fife hundred for niner-thousand". We all make mistakes, though. When it comes to communications, mistakes are expected and there is no shame in making a correction. Deliberate and consistent mistakes should always be avoided, though. In spite of mistakes, my preference is to fly in the system as much as possible. I like the added safety and professionalism.

Tampa International Airport is in Class B airspace. From a communications perspective, this is the most tightly controlled airspace. There are numerous commercial flights in and out of KTPA every hour and quick, clear communications are essential to preventing aircraft from bumping in to each other.

After my short visit with my mom, my sister, and my neices, we packed it up for the airport where I paid my bill and made my way on to the tarmac to my waiting Skyhawk. The tanks had been topped off - REALLLY topped off - I couldn't pour the sumped fuel back in to the left tank it was so full. As part of my pre-flight, I have added a check of the computerized fuel management system, so I reset the fuel system to full fuel (53 gallons). I like the precision of knowing how much fuel has been burned down to the tenth of a gallon.

I listened to the ATIS on my handheld radio before starting the plane - this saves me a few minutes of engine time. At current rates, one minute of time costs $2.68 or a tenth of an hour costs $16.05, so minimizing unnecessary idling time can save big bucks! I never used to worry so much about this, but with twins on the way, I'm counting my pennies as I pick them up off the ground!

After getting the ATIS and plugging the altimeter setting into G1000, I called for my instrument clearance, "Tampa Clearance Delivery, Skyhawk 6-2-0-0-quebec, ready to copy IFR to Jacksonville Craig".

A few seconds later, a woman's voice came back with, "Skyhawk 6-2-0-0-quebec, cleared as filed to Craig, after departure fly heading zero-siz-zero. Initial climb out to one-thousand-six-hundred, expect six-thousand in ten minutes. Departure frequency one-one-niner-point-niner, squawk seven-four-one-zero."

I wrote this clearance down as she spoke and then repeated it as, "Cleared as filed, heading zero-six-zero, climb one-thousand-six-hundred, six-thousand in ten, one-one-niner-point-niner for the frequency and seven-four-one-zero for the squawk. Zero-zero-quebec."

This is a shot from my kneeboard of the ATIS and the instrument clearance. The first part shows that I got ATIS information X-Ray, winds 230 at 6, visibility 10, few clouds at 5,500 feet, temperature 29 dewpoint 13, altimeter 30.01. Landing and departing on runway 36L. Clearance delivery on 133.6. The clearance is below that followed by my departure runway - 9 at Echo.

She answered, "Cessna zero-zero-quebec, readback correct. Current information is Xray, say your position".

I replied, "zero-zero-quebec has X-Ray, we are at Signature".

She then told me, "zero-zero-quebec, contact ground on one-two-one point seven when ready."

I acknowledged and then plugged in the frequency for ground followed by the tower frequency and then on the second radio, I entered the departure frequency. I entered my squawk code into the transponder (which is actually built in to the G1000 panel) and then I plugged KCRG as my destination in the GPS flight plan. It was nice to get a direct routing.

I called ground control and advised, "Skyhawk 6-2-0-0-Q with X-ray, ready to taxi for IFR to the northeast."

The ground controller told me that winds were 230 at 6, and asked if I could accept a departure from runway 9 at echo. I was expecting this since I knew that 18L/36R was closed and there was no direct taxiway over to 18R/36L with all of the closures. Before flying down to Tampa I had checked out the runway lengths from various intersections and knew that even with a stiff tailwind, I would be able to depart on runway 9 from the Echo intersection. I told the controller, "niner at echo would be just fine, zero-zero-quebec."

With my taxi clearance, I made my way to my assigned spot and did my runup as I rolled. I requested departure clearance and was quickly given the go signal. It felt odd having such a tailwind on the roll and the plane seemed to cover quite a bit more distance before it wanted to fly, but fly, it did! On climbout, I made my turn to 060 and that heading took me directly over Raymond James Stadium where a ball game was going on. Must not have been much of a game as there were lots of empty seats.

I flew my heading and about the time I was ready to level off at 1,600 feet, ATC handed me off to Tampa Departure who cleared me for 4,000 feet. I leveled off at 4,000 and continued my 060 heading until I was nearly out of the Class B airspace at which point, the controller cleared me for 6,000 feet and turned me to 020 before clearing me direct to Craig, which not coincidentally was on a heading of 020.

Clouds were right at 6,000 feet so I found myself in and out of them quite a bit. There was a fair amount of air traffic around Tampa and since I began this entry with a discussion about radio communications, I am compelled to relate the following interaction.

If you are flying VFR, you must contact the Class B airport's approach controller, establish two-way communication and receive permission to enter his airspace before doing so. It is usually a good idea to have "VFR Flight Following" and fly "in the system" as this will simplify contact with approach and it will provide a greater measure of safety as ATC will warn of traffic workload permitting.

I heard two problematic communications in a span of about 15 minutes. First, a VFR pilot without flight following called Tampa Approach speaking with a very thick, almost unintelligible accent, "Tampa Approach, ??? 1-2-3-6-6".

Approach responded, "V-F-R traffic calling Approach, call back in five minutes".

This elicited another call from 12366 immediately and identical to the first call. This second call was ignored by Tampa Approach. The controller was busy; he didn't have to respond the first time. The VFR pilot should have shut up. When he called back five minutes later, the controller, undoubtedly annoyed by the initial interaction, told him again to wait five minutes. Eventually he was given a squawk code and was permitted to head towards Vandenburg.

The second interaction involved a Mooney. I automatically assume that if a pilot is flying a Mooney, he knows what he is doing. Mooney's are high-performance, complex aircraft, so one would assume that a pilot of such an aircraft would have some experience. This is not a good assumption - it would be like assuming JFK,Jr. was a competent pilot. His inverted landing in Long Island Sound suggests otherwise.

So the Mooney pilot who had a tail number ending in six-zero-quebec, similar to mine, contacted approach control. Approach told him to wait and he would have his code for him shortly.

A few minutes later, the controller called "November six-zero-zero-quebec, squawk 1053".

This was not the tail number of the Mooney, but it was close. It was also close to my tail number. The Mooney pilot responded, "Approach, was that for Mooney six-zero-quebec?, if so, say again, please."

The controller sounding quite annoyed replied, "Standby".

I wasn't sure if the controller had made a mistake, so I hit the playback button on the radio. Yup, the controller screwed up.

The controller never owned up to his mistake - he probably didn't know he made one and the Mooney's subsequent conversations with ATC suggested to me that he was fairly inexperienced, so the controller would probably have assumed the pilot made an error. Eventually, they sorted this out.

The point is that pilots and controllers both make mistakes in communication and the only safe thing to do is to say "Say again" when you aren't sure what either has said.

Flying in and out of the clouds, I made my way back to Craig. About 25 miles out, I was cleared to descend to 4,000 feet at pilot's discretion. The sky was very clear and I spotted Craig field about 15 miles out. I has already listened to the ATIS and had adjusted my altimeter. I called Jacksonville Approach saying, "Approach, Skyhawk 0-0-Q has Craig in sight."

The controller replied, "November-0-0-Q, cleared for the visual to runway 5. Be aware of the tower farm on your left. Contact the tower on 1-3-2-point-1"

I acknowledge and immediately called the tower, "Craig tower, Skyhawk 0-0-Q is 10 to the south with India, full stop."

She responded, "November 0-0-Q, make 2 mile right base for 5".

I began my descent from 4000 to pattern altitude, 1000 feet and leveled off. The tower farm was about a mile to the west of me, nevertheless, the controler's alarm must have sounded as she called me with the alarm blaring in the background warning me of the towers.

I touched down gently on runway 5 and taxied to the ramp.

The flight each way took 1.5 hours with tailwinds in each direction. I encountered more IFR on the return flight, but it was clear at the destination. Another great day of flying.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Jacksonville to Tampa

I woke up early this morning so I could fly to Tampa to attend a meeting with my mother that was scheduled for 10am. I would need time to pre-flight, fly, and to get from Tampa International to mom's house, so working backwards, I thought that a 7:30 wheels up time would do the trick. Checking the weather for the trip I discovered that the METAR at Craig Airport (KCRG) had recently deterioriated according to three special issue reports. Visibility had decreased from 7 miles down to 1/4 due to fog or mist. As I drove to the airport, the sky was clear, but I could see wispy pockets of ground fog in low lying areas. Driving past runway 5-23, I could see the cloud sitting on the ground - it was only about 10 to 20 feet thick and it wasn't very dense. I took this shot of runway 14/32 as I preflighted. The fog got just a bit thicker before takeoff.

I completed my preflight quickly and found the fuel to be down about 18 or 20 gallons which was confirmed by the onboard computer, but that would still be more than enough fuel for the 1.2 hour flight. Checking the ATIS with my handheld radio, the report showed clear skies and good visibility - which was strange since there was definitely some fog obscuring the runway.

After I started the engine, I called for my instrument clearance to Tampa International. I had requested a direct route, but was cleared via radar vectors to the Ocala VOR, then V581 to the DADES intersection then direct. That would add a few minutes to the flight, but I'd rather fly in the system than VFR especially when flying in to Class B airspace, so I didn't complain.

I was cleared to taxi and I had to rev the engine a bit to clear the moisture from the windshield enough to see where I was going. I taxied to the runup area and did my run-up check using my checklist. With that completed, I taxied to runway 23 and called the tower for my clearance that came as "November 6-2-0-0-Quebec, cleared for take-off on runway 23, fly heading 140." I acknowledged the clearance and off I went. I climbed through nearly 2000 feet before the tower handed me off to JAX Departure control. Since a heading of 140 was not in the direction that I needed to go, I climbed at Vx to minimize the lateral distance traveled while climbing. I would have to make up for that distance once I was turned towards my destination. After the handoff, I was cleared direct Ocala and I eventually leveled off at 5000 feet and flew a heading around 220. Note that this is one more example of ATC assigning an altitude that is different from what the AIM recommends. This is common in Florida and is due to the fact that most travel is North-South rather than East-West. South gets odd altitudes and North gets even whereas the AIM gives even to West and odd to East headings.

About 30 minutes in to the flight, I passed over a portion of the former Cross-Florida Barge Canal - a big ditch that was originally intended to go all the way across Florida to save shipping time. Environmentalists put an end to that about half way from completion. There are locks, dams and canals near the east coast and the west coast, but not much in between. The sunlight and fog on the ground created a surreal picture as I flew over - here's one of the shots I took with my iPhone.

Shortly after taking this picture, ATC cleared me direct DADES and that made my flight just a bit shorter. I was encountering headwinds at about 8 to 10 knots for the duration of the flight and anything to shorten it was appreciated.

At Tampa International, runway 18L/36R is closed along with quite a few taxiways. I suppose that this must make commercial traffic in and out of KTPA a bit slower than usual. It also meant that runway 9/27 is about the only option for GA aircraft regardless of wind direction. Taxiing from a landing on 18R/36L would require passage through the commercial ramp as there is no open taxiway that would take you across to the GA ramp. This would be a very slow process and might create some security concerns.

I was cleared to land on runway 27 and I did so flawlessly. After securing the plane and meeting mom, the clock on the wall in the FBO showed 9:00AM, so I had timed the flight perfectly.

My visit was short, but I got to see my sister and my lovely neices at grandma's house. Here's a shot of them having lunch with one of mom's cats.

Total HOBBS time 1.5 hours, .1 hours of actual instrument time. All in all, a very nice trip.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Williston to Jacksonville: X60-KCRG

After a delicious lunch at the Ivy House in Williston that included three or four servings of raspberry tea, we headed back to the airport for our flight home. The Williston airport is small; there was no air traffic when we arrived or when we departed. The FBO is nice and clean and provides free Wi-Fi and a computer for pre-flight planning. I asked the FBO guy if I owed him anything for parking and he said, "just a thank you". So I thanked him and headed for the flight planning room.

The weather along our route had deteriorated a bit, but instead of a broad swath of rain-producing clouds, there were denser, stronger storms that filled isolated areas along the way. The weather was moving towards the west-north-west and I reasoned that we should have little trouble navigating around anything that would cause us concern. I filed for IFR for 5000 feet and 45 minutes X60-direct-KCRG. I conducted my pre-flight check and we said our goodbyes. The engine started easily and we were soon taxiing to runway 5. I ran-up the engine as we taxied and all systems were go.

I had been listening for any traffic in the area as we taxied, but heard nothing. In spite of the apparent lack of traffic, I made a careful survey of the air before announcing that I would be departing on runway 5 straight out. When I took the runway, the FBO guy called in a southern drawl typical of North Florida, "Y'all come back!" to which I replied, "Oh, we will!"

I slowly advanced the throttle, then adjusted the mixture for best power. Our density altitude was around 2000 feet, so a full rich mixture was a bit more than what we needed. The RPMs increased from about 2,350 to around 2,420 before I released the brakes and we started our takeoff run.

As we climbed, I announced my upwind position and then my pattern departure as a last call. I then contacted Jacksonville Approach who immediately answered, "Would you like to pick up your instrument clearance to Craig?" Now, that's good service!

The controller gave me my clearance for 6000 feet (again that Florida North/South instead of the usual East/West-Odd/Even altitude assignment). She called my position and cleared me direct Craig.

We encountered some cumulous clouds and a little rain on our climbout as well as along our route after leveling off, but for the most part, the flight was a bit smoother than the flight earlier in the day.

Christy and I had time to talk a bit and I took a couple of quick pictures of us with my new iPhone. She is a wonderful flying partner. She seems to enjoy looking out the window as we pass over neighborhoods sightseeing from the air. It is also nice to break the monotony with a quick kiss or just to see her smile when I look over at her. Although being pregnant with twins (20 weeks) has an effect on her comfort level, overall she seemed to enjoy the trip and even commented later that she was glad that we hadn't driven. I think that the flight was smoother than driving except for a few bumps through the clouds that somehow I don't even notice.

A short time after we were level, ATC cleared me to JEVAG, which happens to be the IAF for the ILS32 at Craig. I started receiving the ATIS from Craig about 50 miles out and was informed that the instrument approach in use was the ILS32-Circle to 5.

As we neared Orange Park, ATC decended me to 3000 feet. Then as we got closer to Jacksonville, ATC cleared me direct to Craig and said, "they are using the ILS32 Circle to 5 approach, but you might be able to get a visual on the airport - advise when you have Craig in site."

I replied, "Wilco, but right now there are clouds blocking my view of Craig."

About the time I was crossing the St. Johns, the controller, cleared me direct to JEVAG again and told me to prepare for the ILS32 Circle to 5 approach.

We were dropped down to 2000 feet and we continued to fly nearly due East towards JEVAG.

About a mile before crossing the localizer for CRG-32, ATC called, "November 62770, turn left heading 350, cleared..." and his transmission abruptly stopped. Since normally, an approach clearance is given as one long blurb, I thought he had a problem so I waited for him to finish.

He then came back with, "November 62770, did you read me?"

I responded, "I heard turn left 350 and then you stopped broadcasting, 770."

He then cleared me to "turn left 350 to intercept the localizer, maintain 2000 until established, cleared for the ILS 32 circle to 5 approach." I repeated the clearance and activated the "Activate Vector-to-Final" button on the GPS. I killed the autopilot and turned the plane to line up with the localizer.

As soon as I lined up, Jax Approach called, "November 770, you are 4 miles from ADERR (pronounced A Dare), contact Craig Tower on 132.1, good day!"

I replied, "Contacting Craig, thanks for your help, 770."

I switched the radio and listened for clear air as I descended along the ILS. I called the tower and announced my position and my intention for a full stop.
The tower told me to circle west to runway 5 and announce my circling.

I followed the ILS down to about 700 feet compensating for the easterly wind as we descended. I then executed a left turn to a heading about 230 to begin my circling approach to runway 5. By now we were through the clouds and Craig was easily visible. I called the tower and was immediately greeted with, "November 7-7-0, cleared to land on 5". I acknowledged and in a few seconds, I made my right turn for the base leg of the approach. Next came the second notch of flaps and a quick flick of the thumb on the trim adjustment to keep the nose down. Another right turn and I lined up with the runway and dropped the final notch of flaps.

Our airspeed was around 75 knots as we crossed the threshold with two red and two white lights on the PAPI. Since North Florida is at the base of the control tower, I reasoned that it would be quicker if I landed further down the runway and used the Bravo-4 taxiway turnoff rather than the Bravo-2, so about 10 feet above the runway, I advanced the throttle slightly and we leveled off above the runway just fast enough to stay aloft. As we neared my landing point, I pulled the throttle and let the speed drop off until we touched down.

I was immediately cleared to taxi to the ramp where I shut down the aircraft and secured everything in the fastest time on record. The raspberry teas were getting to me and I was about to bust!

It is flights like this that make me very glad that I have an instrument rating. Without it, there is no way we could have comfortably made the trip. We would not have been able to penetrate the clouds on our climbout and would have been forced to stay in the rough air below them. I would have been worried about cloud cover closing in on us. As it was, we had nothing to worry about. The weather was within my personal limits, and we made the trip in much less time than it would have taken us to drive. While it was a bit more expensive to travel this way, the convenience and the lack of stress make flying my preferred method of travel.

When I got home, I checked my flight plan to see what had happened with my original filing. I had used the AOPA flight planner ( and did not notice that my attempt to file the flight plan had failed. Apparently, when inputting the aircraft type and equipment, I had put C172/G and I should have just put C172 and left the G for a separate equipment field. It was my mistake and one that I will not repeat!

This flight including runup, taxi, etc. took 1.0 hours with 0.4 actual instrument time and ended with an instrument approach the ILS32-Circle to 5. This quick trip to celebrate Dad's 70th is the sort of thing that make flying worthwhile.

Happy Birthday Dad!

My father's birthday is this week - it is hard to believe that he will be 70 years old. To celebrate, Christy and I decided to fly over to his side of the state to meet him and my step-mother for lunch.

Christy hasn't flown since she got pregnant, but since she is well into the second trimester and things have been going smoothly, we decided that it would be ok to fly. The prospect of a quick flight appealed to both of us much more than a 3 hour drive...both ways.

Saturday morning was rainy and wet. The skies had opened up the night before and the winds were from the East pushing humid ocean air our way. I had planned to mow the lawn that morning, but decided against mowing wet grass. So I logged in to the AOPA website to use the flight planner to plan our flight ( This planner is very thorough and handles all aspects of flight calculations including automatically connecting to DUATS to get weather and file the flight plan. The initial weather radar images showed level 1 and 2 returns in a large blob covering our entire path. I'm not too bothered by that type of weather and the ceilings were above minimums along the route, so unless the weather deteriorated, our flight should go without any problem. I read the NOTAMS - mostly lights out on towers and some taxiway closings at airports along the way. The winds were forecast to be moderate from an easterly direction. I filed my instrument flight plan for KCRG direct X60 at 4000 feet with a flight time of 45 minutes (the calculation was for 37 minutes due to tail winds at altitude, but I always give myself some leeway).

After stopping to buy Dad a card and some water for the flight, we arrived at the airport. The plane was waiting for us and it had been flown 0.8 hours on full tanks that morning. I had already adjusted the fuel assuming that 12 gallons would have been burned and added a gallon to that for good measure, so when I filed, I indicated that we had 4 hours of fuel and used 40 gallons/240 lbs in my weight and balance calculations. I preflighted the plane and noticed nothing out of the ordinary. I then called Dad to say we were on our way so he and Nita could meet us at the Williston airport (X60).

I listened to the ATIS and adjusted the altimeter before starting the plane to save a few bucks. Then immediately after starting the engine and checking all the gauges (can we still call them gauges even though the information is presented by a PFD/MFD?) I called for our instrument clearance.

After what seemed like an eternity, the controller responded that he couldn't find our flight plan and asked me what time I had filed it for. I had filed for 16:15Z and we were about 5 minutes after that. I told him the time and advised that I had filed online via DUATS and received a confirmation. No matter, if it wasn't there, it wasn't there. He advised me to refile with flight service at 122.45.

I thought of shutting down the engine, but engines aren't always easy to restart when they are hot, so I left it idling while I called Flight Service.

"Flight Service, Skyhawk 62770 on 122.45", I called...and waited.

About a minute or so later, a voice came back, "Aircraft calling Flight Service on 122.45, say again your call sign and request".

I replied, "FLight Service on 122.45, skyhawk 6-2-7-7-0 would like to file IFR to X60, Williston."

She then proceeded to ask me each of the elements of a flight plan in pairs and I responded with the information. At the end, she said that Craig should have the flight plan immediately.

No sooner had I switched my radio back to 118.35, the clearance delivery frequency, I heard the controller asking for me, "November 62770, Are you on the line with Flight Service?"

I answered, "Negative. I just finished and she told me you would have the flight plan immediately, 7-7-0."

He responded with a laugh, "I thought so, because your flight plan just popped up, are you ready to copy?"

I said that I was and he cleared me by saying "Cleared to Xray 60 as filed, climb three-thousand, expect four-thousand in ten. Contact Jax departure on 124.9. Squawk 4-2-6-5. He then asked me where X60 was located and I told him about 20 miles southwest of Gainesville. He thanked me then advised me to go ahead with the readback which I then did.

He asked if I was ready to taxi and when I said "Affirmative" he told me to follow the Seminole and taxi to runway 5 via Bravo. I repeated the clearance and started rolling.

While we were re-filing our flight plan, another aircraft at North Florida was getting their flight plan for IFR to St. Augustine for a training flight. They had already taxied ahead of the Seminole and I could see the plane heading towards the runup area. The airport was busy with lots of training flights practicing touch and goes and at least one aircraft shooting approaches on 32. I wanted to make up for lost time, so I pulled out my checklist and went through my run-up as we taxied behind the Seminole. The Seminole bypassed the runup area that was occupied by the "company" Cessna and I followed directly behind the Seminole and switched the frequency to 132.1 for the tower. I announced, "Craig Tower, Skyhawk 6-2-7-7-0, ready to go at 5, we're number two." The controller told me to hold short of five.

We waited and waited as an small experimental plane came in hot and took about 2500 feet of runway to land...pretty rude if you ask me when there are three planes ready to depart - he should have landed properly and been able to exit the runway at the first turnoff. Next, a Tiger came in and did a nice job landing and turned off at the first turn. The Seminole was then cleared and off he went. We took our place at the hold short line and waited. We could hear lots of planes approaching the airport as well as at least two in the pattern. When one of the pattern planes announced that they were at midfield, the tower asked them to extend their downwind for a departing aircraft (me!). Next, a small low-wing plane appeared to the right and landed on five and as soon as he was clear of the runway, we were cleared to depart. I advanced the throttles and asked Christy to close her window as I closed mine. At long last, we were airborn. The tower advised me to climb to 3000 (which I had already been cleared to) and fly 280. As we climbed out, she instructed me to turn when able, so I began a standard rate turn to the left when we were through 400 feet...a bit low, but as busy as the place was, I wanted to get out of the line of fire. On climbout, another aircraft was approaching from the North and we were both advised of each other's presence. He couldn't see me, but I had him on the TIS and also got a visual on his bright landing lights. I advised the tower that I had the traffic and he would be passing behind and below me. She thanked me and then handed me off to JAX Departure.

No sooner had I switched to 124.9 and the Departure controller was calling for me - "November 6-2-7-7-0, are you up?"

I responded and he advised me to IDENT and climb to 5000. So, even though I was flying westward and ultimately would be going southwest, I would be flying at an odd altitude. ATC in Florida does this since most of our traffic is north-south, so southbound traffic flys at odd altitudes and northbound traffic flys at even altitudes.

As I climbed through 2000 feet we entered solid and bumpy clouds. We stayed in these clouds until I reached 5000 feet. I hand flew the plane through the bumpies and did my best to keep the wings level and the flight smooth, but I wasn't succeeding enough to suit my pregnant wife's tummy. I leveled off at 5,000 and set the autopilot to follow the heading bug, keep the wings level and maintain our altitude. The controller cleared me for a left turn direct to X-60. After about 10 minutes of flying in the soup, we popped out of the clouds. I was very pleased with how well I had hand-flown the plane through moderately rough instrument conditions...that's a real confidence builder.

We flew straight and level for about 20 minutes at which point we were advised to descend to 3000 and then 2000 feet. After descending through the clouds, Christy and I were both looking for the airport when she spotted it first. I advised the controller that I had the airport in sight and since there were no clouds blocking our way, I canceled our IFR flight plan. I was about 10 miles out and had been listening to the CTAF for the last 10 miles or so. I could hear traffic at Dunellon, Live Oak, Palatka, St. Mary's, and one other airport, but none at Williston. I double checked the frequency and made sure I had the right one. I made my position calls as we approached, entered the left downwind for runway 5, turned base, final, etc. The touchdown was uneventful and we had arrived.

I estimate that we had about .3 hours of actual instrument flight in this 1 hour flight including the extra time spent re-filing our flight plan.

Dad and Nita had just arrived at the airport, so we had timed it perfectly.

More about the flight home later.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Having Fun in Actual IFR Conditions

It is no secret that I love flying. In spite of this strong affection for a rather expensive hobby, my familial duties and other financial responsibilities have made it challenging to put the wind beneath my wings as often as I would like. Therefore, when I am about to fly, it is always a welcome sight to find numerous clouds in the sky without the presence of cumulonimbus and the lightning that they bring.

Monday was a holiday even though the 4th of July was on Sunday. (Gotta love working for the #1 Best Company to Work for!) When Christy suggested that I should go fly, I quickly agreed with her.

Last week, a hurricane passed through the southern Gulf of Mexico and we were still experiencing some of the farthest outer bands of precipitation and cloud cover along with light easterly winds. I did my usual thorough job of pre-flight preparation online and noticed that there would be more cloud cover inland than along the coast. As a result, I decided to fly to Gainesville rather than up or down the coast line. I filed an IFR flight plan for KCRG-VQQ-GNV-SGJ-KCRG and I intended to make use of the cloud cover to make instrument approaches at each of these airports in actual IFR conditions.

Because I don't fly as often as I used to, I am particularly careful when conducting my preflight checks. I begin by removing the yoke lock, inserting the key, and turning the fuel switch to both. Next, I turn on the auxilliary battery and once the PFD comes alive, I jot down the tach time and check the fuel gauge indications. Then, I turn on the master battery switch, extend the flaps and turn on the lights and pitot heat. I make a quick pass around the left wing, tail, right wing, across the nose then back to the pitot tube where I remove the cover and check to see that the tube is hot. As I walk around the wings and tail, I remove the tie downs and the chocks. Then it is back inside where I turn off the master, lights and pitot heat. I grab the fuel testing cup and test the five sumps on the left wing, the gas collator under the fuselage and before climbing up the wing, I check the air inlet on the side of the fuselage. I climb up the wing and return the clean fuel to the left wing. I then walk along the left wing to the tip, then back along the back side checking the ailerons and the flaps. As I walk to the tail, I check the antennae and look for wrinkles on the fuselage and double check the baggage door. Next comes the empennage where I check the elevator and rudder. I walk to the back of the right wing, check its ailerons and flaps, then out to the end, and back up the leading edge, followed by the five sumps on the right wing and the two remaining sumps beneath the fuselage. Up on top of the right wing, I carefully pour the fuel from the tester back into the tank. Hopping down, I check the oil in the crankcase, then the propeller and the alternator belt. I peek at the air filter to make sure it is clean, check the exhaust for tightness, look at the front strut for cracks and inflation then a step back to make sure the tires are inflated properly. With everything checked, I take one more walk around the entire plane looking for anything out of the ordinary. Satisfied, I open the left door and climb in.

Once inside, I plug in my headset, attach my radio holder to the windshield just behind the dashboard on the left and open the windows. I switch the PFD to report the engine status and reset the fuel available to 53 gallons, then take out two for good measure. I test my handheld radio by tuning the ATIS and copy down the numbers before I start the plane. Since the aircraft costs me $2.68 per minute that the engine is running, it makes sense to do as much as possible with the engine turned off rather than with the engine running.

Finally, with all my checks completed, I double check the checklist to ensure that I didn't miss anything. Satisfied, I run through the startup procedure and get the engine fired up. I called for and obtained my IFR clearance and plugged the squawk code and frequencies into the PFD, then switched to the ground control frequency. Radio calls are the hardest thing to master in my opinion and they are also the easiest thing to get rusty, too.

I called ground, "Craig Ground, skyhawk six-two-zero-zero-quebec with Oscar, ready to taxi for IFR".

There's the rust. I forgot to tell him where I was and at Craig, we usually do a courtesy call to ground rather than the more common request technique.

The controller responded, "Skyhawk six-two-zero-zero-quebec, where are you?"

Even though this aircraft is based at a flight school right below the tower and the controller probably gets 50 taxi calls a week from this particular plane from the same location, he isn't allowed to assume anything.

I replied, "Ground, sorry about that, zero-zero-quebec is at North Florida".

"Skyhawk zero-zero-quebec, taxi to runway five via bravo", came my clearance which I acknowledged.

Runway 5/23 and 14/32 intersect at the easternmost point of both runways and North Florida is situated just inside the vee that is formed. Taxiing to runway 5 requires that I taxi the full length of the runway, therefore I have plenty of time to go through my runup checklist on the roll as long as there isn't another aircraft right behind me. In an effort to minimize my down time, I did my runup while taxiing. Unfortunately, this was all for naught because when I arrived at runway 5, there were three planes waiting to take off and three or four in the pattern. It took about 10 minutes before I finally got my place at the hold-short line...and then I had to wait for release.

The line ahead of me

At long last I got the call, "Skyhawk zero-zero-quebec, cleared for take off on runway five fly heading 100". I repeated the clearance and taxied onto the runway and began my flight.

On climbout, I was instructed to turn to 130 for climbout and to climb to 4,000 feet. This amended my initial clearance which was for only 3,000 feet. ATC then asked me what I wanted to do. I advised that I would like to fly the VOR 9R approach at Cecil field. The controller then wanted to know if I wanted the full approach or vectors, I opted for vectors. He instructed me to go direct to the VQQ VOR then fly 270 for the approach. As I cruised along, I pulled out my IFR plates and loaded the approach into the flight plan. Eventually, I crossed the VOR and turned slightly right to my westbound heading. Straight and level and in and out of clouds for about 10 minutes, I eventually received the call to turn to 360 followed shortly by and instruction to fly 030 and maintain 2000 until established on the VOR 9-right sidestep to 9-Left (9Right is closed). I repeated the clearance and made my turns. Entering the approach in the flight plan automatically tunes the VOR, and I had previously switched the CDI to the VOR indication. The OBS was already set at 109 for me as per the approach plate. I disengaged the auto pilot and flew the intercept and the descent to minimums by hand. I was in and out of clouds as I drew closer to the airport. I had been asked to advise when I was making my sidestep, but the controller cleared me to land before I made my call so I sidestepped (which really meant that I turned from 109 to 90 just a bit early.) I lined up with the runway, dropped the flaps and made one of the smoothest touch and go landings ever. Then back into the air where I was advised by the tower controller to execute my climbout instructions and contact JAX departure.

My climbout instructions were to fly 270, climb to 2000 feet and contact approach on the previous frequency. I flew west and ATC asked me what I wanted to do. This time I advised that I would like to go to Gainesville. There was a line of rain showers between me and Gainesville and the controller asked me to verify my destination. I looked at the NEXRAD display on the MFD and there was clearly a band of rain, but it was only showing light green and dark green and the view out the window didn't look too bad, either, so I said I would like to go to Gainesville. He vectored me to avoid what he thought were the worst part of the showers. I flew right into rain storms, but other than some updrafts and downdrafts that necessitated me making some rapid adjustments to the throttle, there wasn't really any difficult weather.

Enroute to GNV, I passed Keystone

I tuned the ATIS at KGNV on the number 2 COMM and learned that they were using the ILS29 approach. JAX Approach called and informed me of the previous ATIS report that had different runways in use and asked me which approach I would like and how would my approach end. I advised that I had the ATIS at GNV and I would like the ILS-29 and would then go directly back to KCRG. Time was running out and I didn't think I could fit St. Augustine in on this flight by 1PM. The controller got the new numbers and vectored me for the ILS 29. I hand flew the entire approach - no autopilot for me. In and out of bumpy clouds...lined up perfectly on the localizer and glide slope. I did another touch and go and also set this one down very gently. Then back in the air, and a heading of 360 while climbing to 2000 feet through the clouds.

During the short time that it took to do my approach at KGNV, the line of showers between me and KCRG had intensified. ATC advised me to fly 010 to avoid the worst of them. Somehow, I heard 110 and I turned eastbound while climbing. Looking at the NEXRAD, it seemed like the showers were lined up for about 40 miles straight in front of me and I would be taking the line lengthwise. This probably wouldn't give me the best ride home. So I called ATC and asked if he had said 010 or 110 and learned that I was headed the wrong way to avoid the storms. This conversation took place right about the time that I should have been leveling off at 4,000 feet. Since I was busy changing my heading and talking on the radio, I didn't notice that I had busted altitude and this prompted ATC to politely remind me that I should be at 4,000 feet. I said "Oops" and headed back down to 4,000.

I proceded through the clouds, got tossed around a bit, but all was well. This is what instrument flying is all about!

VFR pilots are advised to avoid holes like this

Heading due east, the skies got clearer and clearer. My vectors took me on a heading of 010 directly pointed at Glen St. Mary along highway 301, then east just south of Cecil Field where I had previously landed. I took this shot from 3,000 feet. That long runway is 12,500 feet long.

KVQQ from 3,000 feet

Eventually, I was vectored to the East and direct to one of the fixes on the ILS-32 approach at Craig that I had previously requested. I was in the clouds for most of the way home until I got close to the St. Johns River. ATC dropped me down to 3,000 feet and I found myself below the cloud layer with clearing skies ahead of me - meaning no chance of an actual instrument approach. Rather than go through the motions in clear skies, I requested a straight-in for runway 5. ATC complied and I was turned to the north as I passed over the Buckman Bridge.

Passing over Hooters San Jose

I was just about to tell ATC that I had Craig in sight when she asked. I told her that I had the airport and she cleared me for the visual to 5 and warned me about the antenna farm. I advised that I had both the antennae and the airport in sight.

Descending from 3000 feet from only about 6 miles away requires a significant reduction in power and a relatively rapid descent. I pulled power, slowed the aircraft and dropped the first notch of flaps. With 2 miles to go, I was still above the glideslope. I dropped my last two notches of flaps and lined up with the runway. My speed drained off and my altitude dropped. The tower cleared N512MA to depart - that brought back memories as that is the plane I used for my instrument training and check ride. I saw another plane pull to the hold short line and I thought I would demonstrate a perfect landing on the numbers. I crossed the threshold at 65 knots indicated while pointing the nose at the numbers. I then pulled power to idle and slowed further. Just as I touched down, the stall warning sounded and the numbers slipped behind the aircraft. I held the nose off the runway for a few seconds, then applied the brakes slowing for the first taxiway, B-2.

This was a very satisfying flight. I logged two approaches in instrument conditions and made three landings total. Total flying time was 2.0 hours with about .7 or .8 in actual instrument conditions. Since KGNV is far enough from KCRG, I get to log this as cross-country time, too. All in all, a great day of flying!

Monday, May 03, 2010

Six Shots in 2.1 hours

Desparately in need of instrument approaches, I arranged for some practice time yesterday. While most people would be happy for severe clear conditions, I wanted instrument conditions to make my practice as real as possible. The only challenge the weather produced was wind that gusted to 20 knots but was only 20 or 30 degrees off of the runway. In spite of the brilliant weather, we filed an IFR flight plan for a round trip to KCRG with an interim stop at VQQ - Cecil Field.

Cecil Field is a former Naval Air Station and alternate landing site for the space shuttle. There are eight runways...or four runways depending on how you count them. 18L/36R, 18R/36L, 9R/27L and 9L/27R. 18R/36L is 12,500 feet long, so one could probably perform 4 or 5 touch and goes without ever entering the pattern!

I picked up the local ATIS at CRG on my handheld before I started the engine in order to save a few minutes. After all, at $150 per hour, two minutes spent listening to the ATIS with the engine running costs $5.00 plus tax, so every minute counts. Time really IS money when it comes to flying.

With my flight plan plugged in to the GPS, I started the engine and ran through my checklists. I requested and received my clearance, and was told to taxi to 14 via Alpha when I was ready. I acknowledged by saying I was taxing to 14 via Alpha.

Since parking at North Florida is at the southern end of 14, I had almost a mile of taxi distance before I was ready to depart. I used this time to run through my run-up checklist and was ready to go by the time I arrived at the hold short line...or so I thought. There was one little detail that I forgot along the way.

At the hold short, I asked for takeoff clearance and it was quickly given with a "fly runway heading" instruction. I acknowledged, turned on my landing lights and with a quick peek for landing traffic, I headed down the runway. Climb out was uneventful until the tower controller reminded me that I was IFR and I was supposed to be squawking 4340. That's what I forgot. I apologized and quickly plugged in the correct transponder code. Apparently, my mistake also caused the controller to forget to hand me off to JAX Departure Control, so as I neared my clearance altitude of 2000 feet, I contacted the tower to request a frequency changed. This time it was the tower controller who apologized.

I contacted JAX and requested the GPS 18L approach at Cecil. I was cleared direct to ESLAC which sounded like AFLAC when the controller said it. Fortunately, I already had my approach plate in hand for GPS 18L and found ESLAC on the chart. I pulled up the approach on the GPS and indicated that I was receiving vectors to ESLAC. That made it easy to tell the autopilot to take me direct to ESLAC. I was level at 3000 feet and it was getting hectic. I was letting the plane and the approach get ahead of me as I briefed the plate. But I quickly settled in to my routine and was up to speed long before I reached ESLAC. I tuned the ATIS for Cecil on my other radio and put the tower frequency in standby. I listened to the ATIS and adjusted my altimeter while slowing the plane to 100knots indicated to allow me some time to prepare. The tower told me to cross ESLAC at 3000 which was 1000 feet above the minimum altitude for the next fix, COTAP, that was only five mile beyond ESLAC. Crossing ESLAC, I reduced the throttle to 1,900 rpm and began a steady descent to 2000 feet. I leveled off, then began a steady turn just before COTAP. After COTAP, I descended to 1,700 feet for the trip to the Final Approach Fix (FAF), MAUGA. JAX handed me off to Cecil tower and the controller there instructed me to advise her when I was crossing MAUGA. Crossing MAUGA, I started to descend to the 500 foot minimum for this approach and called the tower. She cleared me for the option and I continued with my eyes on the controls right until the "bitchin' Betty" announced, "Minimums! Minimums!" I leveled off at 500 feet and looked up. The runway was right in line with me about a mile ahead. I waited until I crossed the threshold before punching the throttle, taking out the flaps and executing a climbing turn to 270. I then told the tower I was going missed and she handed me off to JAX departure.

I had arranged for my next approach to be the ILS 36R and the controller advised me to ammend my climbout instructions and fly a heading of 220. That would save me some time for the ILS approach. I leveled off at 2,000 feet as instructed and plugged in the ILS approach in the GPS. ATC vectored me to the southeast and then turned me to the northeast before clearing me for the approach, "November 6-2-7-7-0, fly heading 030 vectors for the localizer. Maintain 2000 until established. Cleared for the ILS 36 Right." I made the turn and lined up on the localizer at which point the controller handed me back to the tower. I called and was cleared for the option. Since there was now an 18 knot tailwind, I had no intention of attempting to land and I had to push the nose down severely to remain on the glideslope. Nevertheless, I followed the flight director's guidance and flew the ILS flawlessly to the MAP.

This was my routine for the next hour or so. GPS18L followed by ILS36R. Each time the climbout was to the West. On my second approach on 18L, I decided to touch down and enjoyed an incredibly soft landing thanks to the wind blowing straight down the runway.

For my final two approaches, I chose the ILS36R back to back. I reasoned that with the winds from the south, I would pick up the VOR14 into my home base at CRG and would probably get a shorter route if I was departing to the North. I made my intentions known to the controller and for the last approach at Cecil, I tested out the G1000's integrated autopilot using the APR key to have the autopilot fly the beam while I monitored the equipment. I was surprised to note that the autopilot did not fly the glideslope as tightly as I had expected. It deviated by more than on ball on the display which caused me to take over. It did an outstanding job of lining up with the localizer, but the glideslope gave it some trouble.

After my low approach, ATC instructed me, "...turn left heading 180 vectors for the approach." Thinking that the controller had made a mistake, I asked him if he really wanted me to go to 180 when I was planning on the VOR14 at Craig. He said he had to keep me out of another controller's airspace, so I should fly 180. Silly me.

I slowed the plane after leveling off at 3000 feet so I wouldn't fly too far to the south and out of my way. ATC soon vectored me to 090 and shortly after sent me to 020. I flew across Jacksonville with my head in the cockpit as I listened to the ATIS and plugged in the VOR 14 approach. The minimum for this approach was 800 feet. I was vectored for the final approach and instructed to maintain 3000 until established. I lined up on the radial and since I was already inside the DIXYN intersection, I descended to 1800 feet. ATC handed me off to the tower who instructed me to advise him when I was 2 miles out. Crossing ALVAS at 1800, I began a steady descent to 800 feet. At around 900 feet, the tower controller announced that he had a low altitude warning. I acknowledged and verified my altitude. That made no sense to me since I was allowed to be as low as 800 feet. I continued my approach until I was 2 miles out. I announced my position as requested and was cleared to land. The wind was showing about 12 knots from about 170 as I continued my course to the runway. I noticed a twin engine plane holding short for the runway as I came in, so I decided to get out of his way as quickly as possible. I pulled power and held my attitude as the plane approached the numbers. Then, about 10 feet above the runway and traveling about 60 knots, I pulled the nose up and let the rest of the speed drop off. The wheels touched down almost imperceptibly as the stall warning whined in the background. That was one outstanding landing!

The rest was routine. Taxi off the runway; call for ramp clearance; park and the we shut 'er down.

This was a great day of flying. Too bad the instrument time was only simulated. Nevertheless, it was a good refresher and a confidence builder. The trip took 2.1 hours with 1.5 of simulated instrument and logged 3xILS36R@VQQ, 2xGPS18L@VQQ, 1xVOR14@CRG with two landings.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Any Safety Pilots Out There?

A few months ago, my hard drive crashed causing me to lose among other things, my entire address book. I know, I know, where was my back up? I've taken care of that now...but.

So, I don't have the emails of any of my fellow pilots who have shot instrument approaches with me. So, Hank, anyone....I could use some approach time soon. Care to go up with me? Post a comment on here if you don't have my contact info. I'm also in the book and live in Deercreek.

Spring in the Air

It has been far too long since I took to the skies. My current absence has been the longest since I soloed many years ago. While my lack of flying has caused me some distress, I have been spending my time with my family and that has been worthwhile.

About a month ago, I saw something on the AOPA website about the fly-in brunch at Jumbolair (FL17), the airport where John Travolta and Kelly Preston live. The brunch, like me, has been absent for a while. I registered on the Jumbolair website and was pleased to receive an invitation for today's fly-in. The brunch was priced at $40 per person and after stuffing myself on filet mignon, numerous casseroles, delicious desserts, I'd say it was worth it. The food was terrific and abundant. We wound up arriving at the same time as a 67 member party from "The Villages Convertible Club", so the table service was initially lacking, but there was plenty of room and plenty of food. The atmosphere was friendly and the room was brightly lit with beautiful chandeliers. The building was a part of the Vanderbilt estate (geez, how many houses did these people have?!) although it was nothing like the Biltmore. We were in horse country, so there were plenty of them wandering the fields. They also arranged for free horse-drawn carriage rides from "Country Carriage Rides". After dining, Christy and I took advantage of the ride and we were ferried on a nice loop around the property. The location is shaded by ancient oak trees and is quite beautiful. After our ride, we found a swing hung beneath one of those old oaks where we sat and enjoyed the lovely spring day for a while.

About the flying...Ocala is only about a 40 minute flight from Jacksonville (at a C-172's 120 knot cruising speed). The weather was expected to be VFR, so for the first time since I got my IFR rating, I decided to fly a VFR cross-country flight. The winds at Craig (KCRG) were 060 at 15 gusting to 22, which wasn't bad. We would depart runway 5 and expect somewhat of a tailwind down to Ocala. The clouds were listed as scattered at 5,500 feet, but that's not where they turned out to be. After a very careful pre-flight and run-up, I was cleared for takeoff on 5 and we began our trip. Due to the gusts, I held the plane on the runway a bit longer, then we lept into the air and began a relatively rapid ascent. We turned right and proceeded direct to Jumbolair (aka Greystone). I leveled off at 4,500 feet and within 5 minutes, it became clear that we had plenty of company of the cumulous sort. I descended to 2,500 feet where the air was a bit bumpier, but not bad. There weren't any clouds, but there was quite a bit of VFR traffic. I quietly thanked God that we had the TIS to help us spot traffic. I made a slight deviation to the South to avoid the Camp Blanding restricted area. I suppose I could have called ATC to find out if it was active, but the diversion let us get a peek at a different part of Florida...and maybe spot a property that we might want to investigate. Soon we were entering the Jumbolair area. Since I was so low, I was unable to get the AWOS at Ocala, so I used the NEXRAD on the MFD to get the altimiter and winds. I zoomed the MFD's map to the 1.5 mile range to make traffic separation easiset as I descended to pattern altitude which I assumed would be 1,100 feet (1,000 AGL). There were no fewer than five aircraft in various stages of landing and taking off on runway 36. I began listening to the local frequency (122.7) about 15 miles out and started making position reports about 10 miles out. While I approached, a Mooney departed, something else taxied back to the parking area at the south end, and I followed a Duchess and a Diamond DA40 on landing. Both the Duchess and the Diamond made extremely long downwind legs...more than 2 miles out, something that I just couldn't understand. No traffic departed between the Duchess and the Diamond, so I don't understand why the Diamond made such a long downwind. It seemed that every call I made on the radio had the last part blocked by the Diamond. Of course, when he made his first call, he asked "is there anyone in the pattern" when he was 10 miles out. I thought he was rather stupid as if he had simply listened for 60 seconds, he could have had a good picture of what was going on. Also, since the Diamond is equiped with a TIS, he could have seen the airborn traffic just as I did. As I approached, it became apparent that the best entry would be to the left crosswind for 36 since the Diamond was approaching from the south and was making a turn into the downwind. By using a crosswind and avoiding the traffic that had already departed and was now to the North of me, I would avoid a conflict with the Diamond. I radioed that I was on final for 36 behind the Diamond. In fact, every call I made in the pattern included "behind the Diamond". Yet inexplicably, when the Diamond touched down, he announced that he would now be taxiing back on 36 in spite of the presence of the Duchess waiting patiently on the West side of the runway. Before I could say "wait a minute, Buster", the Duchess pilot reminded him that there was traffic on short final. So the Diamond took his place in line behind the Duchess and I was able to avoid a go-around. The rest of the flight was uneventful. I landed with a bit of a drop on to the numbers and could have turned my plane around in front of the Duchess and the Diamond, but I took my place and the Duchess led our procession to parking.

Since there were quite a few more clouds and I simply had having to go around them, I decided to file IFR for the return trip. In spite of a head wind, we made the trip quickly and even had a chance to chat with a controller who was interested in the brunch.

This was a great first day back in the air after much too long of an absence. Christy and I enjoyed a beautiful day, with good food, nice scenery and good flying.

1.7 hours total with about .3 in the clouds on the return.