Monday, December 20, 2004

No Day is a Perfect Day for Flying

Saturday night, Jerry Wilkey told me "If you have time to spare, go by air!" I'm sure glad Maureen didn't hear that. She would have cited that as further proof that my expensive hobby is useless.

With a front pushing through Florida, and the memory of the last time I got stuck in Ormond Beach fresh in my mind, I made my plans for the return from North Palm Beach (F45). The winds at all levels were forecast to be unfavorable for my direction of flight, although it appeared the higher I went, the worse they would be. I chose 4,500 feet as my desired altitude and the only challenge would be the forecast clouds at 4000 feet at various places along the way. I sure will be glad to get my instrument rating!

I paid my bill and checked the plane - full tanks, this time. The fuel pump was behaving oddly. Normally, it clicks rapidly when it is turned on and pressure climbs rapidly to 5 to 7 pounds. Now, it was clicking slowly and the pressure came up slowly--although it did come up. I made a mental note to keep an eye on the fuel pressure.

The engine started after eight or ten blades and I set the radios. COM 2 seemed to be working now and that was a relief. I taxied behind a nice Cherokee Six to runway 31 and following a quick run-up that showed no problems, I took the active. I departed ahead of a plane that had just turned base and I could hear him calling his turn to final as I made my takeoff roll. No problem--this was perfect timing. I climbed out and announced my intentions to leave the pattern to the north. Reaching 1000 feet, I contacted Palm Beach Approach and asked for flight following. They quickly gave me a squawk code and told me the altimeter was 29.86.

I could feel quite a bit of wind on the climb out and I knew this would be a challenging flight. Reaching 4,500 feet and lining up on the Victor 3 airway, I ran through the cruise checklist. I was turning about 14 degrees to the left of my course to account for the wind. However, the wind was not constant. I encountered frequent updrafts and down drafts and had to constantly alter my course to maintain my desired track. Even after fine tuning the course, I still drifted when the force of the wind changed. My airspeed indicator fluctuated between 115 and 95. Engine RPMs which I had set at 2400, increased and decreased due to the wind and the up/down drafts. I was really getting a workout. Maureen would have been tossing her cookies!

The clouds were almost non-existent. That was quite a relief from the forecast that had called for scattered to broken followed by overcast at some points along the route. They never reached the broken stage. I can imagine that someone on the ground looking up would have thought this was a perfect day for flying, but the way I was being bounced around, it wasn't.

As I passed the space center, I took the opportunity to snap a couple of pictures of the vehicle assembly building where they were working on the space shuttle. I couldn't resist. The sun was illuminating the site perfectly.

Passing, the airspace near the space coast, Daytona Approach announced traffic at my altitude, 8 miles, opposite direction, 12 o'clock. I looked and looked and could not see it. It was a Lake--an really cool sea plane, but I couldn't find it. Knowing that I was turned to the left to compensate for the wind, I looked in the 1 to 2 o'clock direction and just could not spot him. When ATC told us the traffic was now 4 miles, I began to get nervous. ATC then suggested that I descend to 4000 to clear the traffic, and I eagerly complied. I was releived when the other aircraft said he had me in sight. Just as I reached 4000', I saw him. Coming straight at me, 500 feet above directly through the spot I would have been in. Thank God for ATC.

A short while later, ATC announced additional traffic and once again, I could not spot him. This time, however, he was not in contact with ATC. He also should not have been at this altitude going the opposite direction, either. ATC told me to turn 30 degrees to the left and I banked the plane quickly. I never did see the other plane and within 30 seconds, the controller told me to resume navigation, the other aircraft was no longer a factor.

The skies over Craig were clear as I approached from the south. Once I spotted Craig, I called Jacksonville Approach to cancel flight following and thanked them for their assistance. I pulled out the approach plate for the ILS 32 approach to practice descended to 1900 feet and adjusted NAV2 to intercept the 139 radial of the CRG VOR. I tuned the ILS on 32 on NAV1 and turned to the north to intercept the approach. I quickly grabbed the ATIS, adjusted my altimeter, checked the heading indicator against the compass and contacted Craig Tower. The handoff from ATC to Craig must have been quite smooth, because, the controller immediately said "Make straight in for 32 and report 2 mile final. Winds 290 at 14 gusts to 20".

The winds had kept most folks grounded, so there were no other planes in the pattern. I devoted my attention to the ILS and noted that the glideslope was still out of service. At 5.3 miles, I started my descent adjusting the airspeed to account for the wind in my face while maintaining a 500 fpm rate. This put the airspeed about 100 knots. I planned to use only 2 notches of flaps because the gusts might make the plane float quite a bit.

As I neared the airport, the controller advised me that the wind was shifting back and forth and he could switch me to runway 23 if I wanted. I was a little suprised at this. I could see the wind sock and it appeared to be favoring 32. It was pointing straight out, but at an angle to the runway. I responded, "Thanks, I'll just stick to 32. I may have to go around, but this will do for now. 2-Mike-Alpha". Great, attack my confidence just before I land!

I divided my attention between the runway ahead and the CDI as practice and found that I was doing a pretty good job of maintaining the localizer heading by using a compass heading of 305 degrees. I had read an article recently that suggested it is better to choose specific headings when trying to maintain localizer and VOR headings, and that has proven to be useful advice.

The plane bounced and tilted in the wind as I drew closer to the runway. This was going to be a challenge. I progressively introduced two notches of flaps and adjusted the trim to compensate for the increased nose high attitude this tried to give me. As I neared the threshold, I shifted from a crab to a slip by dipping the left wing into the wind and using the rudder to maintain my line. Crossing the threshold, I pulled the power to idle and the plane settled down. I touched down on the left main followed by the right, then finally the nose wheel...probably in about as much time as took me to write this. Slowly, softly--I could hardly feel the touchdown. Better, yet, I was right on the centerline. This was one of my best landings ever and under stiff, variable crosswinds. I cheered for myself as the plane rolled down the runway.

Thinking about this flight, I cannot think of anything that I did wrong - usually, there's some gotcha that I forgot about or did incorrectly. Ok, so maybe I touched the transponder before I crossed the hold-short line. An maybe my altitude deviated a bit too much in the updrafts initially, but once I started to pay more attention to the VSI and the altimeter and less to the seat of my pants, that problem went away.

This was a challenging, but extremely fun flight! 2.6 hours thanks to the wind!

Saturday, December 18, 2004

December Skies in Florida

I've only been stuck due to weather twice in the past year and one of those times was last December when a front started to push through Florida and then decided to stall. I was stuck for two days and had to spend a night in the Hampton Inn in Ormond Beach.

Today, I flew from Craig (CRG) to North Palm Beach (F45) to visit my in-laws and to celebrate my nephew's 15th birthday. As it was this time last year, there is a cold front pushing through--fortunately, it does not have the force of last year's front, although it will bring freezing temperatures to the northern half of Florida.

I had planned my flight with a 105 knot airspeed and the cool air in north Florida sure helped the engine of the Piper Warrior deliver. I was showing as high as 125 knots groundspeed on my GPS and airspeed was indicating 115. Not bad for 75% power.

I climbed out of CRG at 8:45 with 3 1/2 hours fuel since the FBO failed to refuel the plane last night. That wasn't a problem since my schedule called for only 2.2 hours of flight time. And since I'm pointing out problems, ONCE AGAIN, the previous pilot recorded an innacurate Hobbs time. This has been a problem lately with the rental Warriors at Sterling. The procedure is that when any part of the next tenth of an hour indicator is showing, that next hour is the recorded time. A tenth of an hour is $8.80 plus tax, so this is not a minor deal. In this situation, at least half of the next number was showing. This has happened quite a few times in the past few months and I really am getting tired of it. I recorded the correct time in my starting entry and since the prior pilot had not been invoiced, I corrected his time, too. This guy also failed to tie down the aircraft properly using some sort of slip knot rather than the standard tie-down knot - I know there's a name for the knot, but I cannot remember it right now.

Anyway, back to the flight. I had used AOPA's flight planner to build my plan and get my briefing the night before. It called for a magnetic course of 168 on the V3 airway, but the Jacksonville Sectional Chart shows a course of 164. For some reason the AOPA planner is always off a little on the course headings. Using the VORs at CRG and St. Augustine (SGJ), I adjusted my course to intercept the 164 radial just west of St. A. With flight following from ATC and fairly clear skies, my journey was off to a quick start.

The weather called for a slight tailwind, cold air, and clouds of increasing density the further south I went. I passed the Ormond Beach VOR about 5 minutes ahead of schedule and was making 115 knots groundspeed on the average. Passing Daytona Beach, I saw a line of clouds covering my altitude and extending upwards about 1000 feet or so. I asked ATC for 2500' for 5 minutes and the controller approved. After about 10 miles, I had clear skies for another 15 or 20 miles until I encountered clouds from about 2000' up to about 3500. I asked ATC for 5500 and he said he could give me 4500 or hand me off to Orlando approach for 5500. In central Florida, the usual rules for altitudes are adjusted a bit--because there is a narrow corridor outside of the Class B airspace at ORL, we are often assigned non-conventional altitudes.

So I climbed to 4500 and proceded on course. I only had to adjust the course slightly to dodge the occasional cumulous cloud peeking above the layer. I started to get a bit nervous, though, because as I passed Melbourne, it appeared to be a solid layer of holes to duck through for my landing. I told myself not to worry--I still had 80 miles to go and clouds were forecast to be scattered at F45. So relying completely on my VOR and my GPS, I stayed the course. Things cleared a bit as I passed Fort Pierce. I tried to tune the ATIS at PBI, but couldn't get it. I could hear the HIWAS at Pahokee, though. I had tried to listen to both radios simultaneously, but that didn't work as well as it does in the new Cessnas. For a while, the radio was strangely silent, although I could hear the ident for one of the NAV radios--weird since I had neither selected on the console and I did not have the ident knob pulled on either....maybe that was the DME, I don't know. Since I hadn't heard anything from Miami Center, I called and asked, "how do you read". Very faintly and just above the background noise, I heard a reply. So he could hear me, and I couldn't hear him. Lovely. I then switched radios and the controller advised me to contact Palm Beach Approach ... I heard that loud and clear.

The pattern was full at F45 as I approached from the North. I passed over the airport at 1500, descended to pattern altitude and entered the left downwind for 31. I then proceeded to make a very soft, but crappy landing. Instead of touching down on the rears first, I did a 3 point landing, and then porpoised a little. Maintaining backpressure on the yoke, the plane settled down and I was safe. My excuse is that I've been flying the high-wing Cessna 172 lately and the touchdown attitude is different from the low-wing Warrior. The Warriors also have ground effect due to the low wing--I've got my excuses lined up!

The total trip took 2.1 hours for an average speed of 111 knots versus a calculated speed of 105 knots...Not bad at all.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

More Thanksgiving - The Time to Fly

We took off at 10:45 and got flight following at 4,500 feet. There were strong headwinds - 30 to 40 knots from 50 to 60 degrees off the right wing. The air around CRG was free of clouds, but as I reached my target altitude, I could see clouds in the distance at my altitude.

Using my handheld GPS, I activated my flight plan and at the same time, I programmed the plane's GPS for a direct to OCF. The flight was very smooth after we leveled off, but I had to maintain about 20 to 25 degrees of right deflection to maintain the desired track.

As we got closer to Ocala, I decided to program a direct to X39 - Tampa North. This would cut a little time from the flight which I had calculated at 1h30m due to the headwind and it was late enough to avoid the Palatka MOA and restricted areas. I also decided to climb to avoid the cloud layer while advising ATC of my intentions.

As the flight progressed, I started to second guess myself as the cloud layer below me appeared to get denser and denser. Finally, about 30 miles from my destination, I saw a gap in the clouds and began a comfortable descent. ATC decided that they were too busy to handle flight following, so they terminated radar coverage and I was on my own. They told me I could contact Tampa approach in a few miles and they could pick me up. As we passed beneath the cloud layer with bottoms at 2000 feet, the flight became a bit rougher. Fortunately, we were only 20 miles from our destination. I took one last look at my chart to ensure that there weren't any 2000 foot tall towers in my path. Finding none, I focused on getting weather information from the Vandenberg ASOS which was the closest to Tampa North. Afterwards, I tuned the frequency for Tampa App that Jax gave me and was told to use a different frequency. Technically, I didn't need to call them since I wouldn't be crossing within their Class B airspace, but I'd be within the Mode C veil and I always think it is better to let folks know where you are.

The rest of the flight was a bit bumpy. Passing over the airport, I saw the windsock showing stiff (15kt +) winds straight down the runway. That was a good thing. I made a midfield crosswind entry into the left downwind for 32 and planned to keep my speed about 7 to 10 kts above the standard approach speed to compensate for the winds. I also decided to use only 20 degrees of flaps. Crossing the threshold, I found swirling winds and had to work to keep the plane lined up on the 50' wide runway. Touchdown was smooth and I taxied back down the runway to the FBO.

Nobody was there, and there were no easily identified parking spots. I decided to taxi over in the grass next to an old Piper Cub. There were no storms in the forecast, so I wasn't too worried about the lack of tiedowns.

There was Mom waiting for us as we parked the plane 1 hour and 30 minutes after takeoff - just as I had calculated.

Another great flying day in a beautiful aircraft! 2.6 hours with 1.6 cross-country!

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Thanksgiving - The Time to Fly

As I watched the evening news story about how Thanksgiving is the most heavily traveled holiday in the U.S., I felt very fortunate that I would not be dealing with the hassle of airport security or battling with thousands of SUVs on our highways. I have the benefit of a private pilot certificate, and for that, I am very thankful!
Maureen and I made plans to fly to Tampa to spend the holiday with my sister's family, Mom, Dad, my Aunt & Uncle from Denver, Dad, Nita and Kathy. Unfortunately, the Warrior was down with a bad transponder which would preclude flying in Tampa's Class B airspace.

Fortunately, Sterling had a very new Cessna 172S available. What a great bunch of folks these people are! When they acquired the leaseback for the Cessna about 2 years ago, I flew the plane once with an instructor--that was the only time I had spent in a 172. In spite of this, I remembered the starting sequence for the fuel-injected Lycoming IO-320, and the Malone's agreed to allow me to take the plane as long as I did three takeoff/landings before taking passengers.

Early Thanksgiving day, I took the Skyhawk up for a familiarization flight. The weather was predicted to be stormy early followed by stiff winds with clear skies. The weatherman was right. I told Maureen to meet me at the airport at 10:30 and I left early for my practice. After a pre-flight inspection that included draining 13(!) sumps, the engine started very easily. Gotta love that fuel injection!

Taxiing, it seemed as though the nose wheel steering was non-existent. I could not steer without touching the brakes. That's a bit unusual, but I suppose the bungees could be in need of replacement.

This is one incredibly nice plane - N5280R. Nice leather interior, almost every bell and whistle except for a flight director and HSI. GPS with a color moving map...dual nav/com...AUTOPILOT!!! Whooee! And the power!!! Ok, so my car has twice as much horsepower (close to it, actually), but my car won't climb at 1,000 fpm, and it only holds two people.

I had a fairly stiff crosswind about 10 to 20 degrees from the left with a total wind of 15 knots as I made my takeoff roll. I really had to crab quit a bit to maintain the runway centerline, but boy could this plane climb!

I proceeded to climb to about 4,000 feet and headed south to the practice area. Although Hayden had said I could take the plane after three TnGs, I thought it would be a good idea to do some stalls and slow flight before attempting a landing. So I did some slow flight and found that this is an incredibly stable plane. I then did a couple of power off stalls followed by an emergency spiral descent. I really like the way this plane handles.

As I tried to tune the NAV to the CRG ILS, I discovered that the GPS/VOR button was missing and the freq swap button on NAV2 was also gone. Oh, well, can't use the ILS this time.

I did my three landings and parked the plane in front of SkyHarbor for refueling. The plane was only about half full when I took off the first time and I didn't want to go away for a holiday weekend only to discover that the FBO at my destination was closed (it was, actually).

While I waited for fuel and Maureen, I found Hayden and asked him about the GPS/VOR switch and learned that it had popped out before and had previously been replaced. That's a flaw in a 2 year old aircraft, if you ask me. A search of the floor found no missing pushbutton. Looks like I won't be using NAV1. I found that by using my pen, I could swap channels on NAV2.

Anyway, Maureen arrived right at 10:30 just as I was about to drain the sumps again and we were wheels up at 10:45.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Instrument Lessons 8 and 9

Today I spent time in both the simulator and in N84577. The jist of both lessons was to increase proficiency on VOR intercepts and tracking and to use the VOR to determine the distance from the station.

The sim time went well - better than the first sim session. However, I still do not think the handling in the PCATD is realistic. I've been flying the Piper Warrior II, but the closest thing the sim has to that is a Piper Archer. The Archer is a little heavier and has more horsepower, so it climbs faster and has a faster cruise speed. The engine controls are not at all realistic. First, you have to pull the throttle back to 1/3 before there is any noticable impact on RPM, next, using the mixture control, you cannot hear any difference in performance as the mixture is leaned. The only think it seems to do is kill the engine if you pull it to full lean. (Which is about the only realistic thing it does).

Trying to trim the simulator aircraft for level flight is very difficult. First, there is no feedback in the yoke, so I have no idea if I am removing control pressure. Second, the sim is very sensitive to control inputs. Level flight is almost like balancing a golfball on the end of a pin. The instant I began a bank for a turn, the nose drops and altitude is quickly lost. Also, I don't know if the instructor was calling for severe downdrafts or if the controls were just being finicky, but the sim could go from level flight to a 1500 fpm descent in an instant.

In spite of this, I managed to land the plane using the ILS (on the runway this time!).

After flying the sim, we went airborne in N84577 - my least favorite of the Warriors at Sterling. In this plane, there is an old, inoperative auto pilot. This means that there are servos attached to the trim control and these cause the trim wheel to be very difficult to adjust. There was once an electric trim button on the yoke, but now it just has bare metal contacts. One of the instructors told me they work, but the control is very slow. Also, the turn coordinator tends to flop about more than the other Warrior's and the VOR is iffy.

The weather presented some challenges due to up/down drafts and it was bumpier than usual, however, I still managed to perform up to standard, if just barely within limits. After maneuvering around the practice area, we headed for home. Justin vectored me as though he was enroute ATC. I had tuned the ILS for runway 32 at Craig (KCRG - 111.7) and the CDI was alive. The NAV2 cdi was also indicating properly. We heard the tower talking to a faster aircraft behind us, and we were told to keep our speed up. That's not a problem in the Warrior. It is easy to keep the airspeed high especially with a steeper decent.

The DME was showing us getting closer and closer to the airport, but the glideslope was stuck in the middle. You would expect it to indicate that we were well below glide path when we were at 1500 feet and 8 miles, but it was showing in the middle. We got closer and closer to the airport and I did a fair job of staying on the centerline using the ILS. but the slope stayed in the middle - very strange. I knew I was not making a perfect descent, but the instrument said I was.

Justin had called for a descent at 500fpm and I was maintaining that, too. We were at 1000' and 1 mile out when Justin told me to go visual and said it looks like the glideslope is not registering. We were much too high!

I immediately pulled power to idle and waited for the airspeed to drop a bit before ading the flaps one notch at a time all the way to full. I then executed a forward slip - did a nice job of that, too. At about 75' AGL, I was on the proper slope according to the PAPI so I stopped the slip, added a little power and we flared at about 55 knots followed by a smooth landing.

That made a total of 331 landings for me and somewhere north of 150 hours total time. Next week no lesson- I'm going to Vegas, baby!

The week after, I'm doing a Saturday lesson on the sim for NDBs and Thanksgiving, I'm taking N512MA to Tampa for the holiday. I'm looking forward to that!

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Instrument Lesson 6 and 7

This was a great weekend for flying. Yesterday, I went to the airshow at Jacksonville NAS. The Blue Angels were the highlight of the show. There were two ridiculous contraptions, though. The first was a biplane with both a piston engine and a jet engine. What a waste of a jet! The next was a truck with a jet engine or two. Another waste of a jet!

Today, I completed lessons 6 and 7. In this lesson, we reviewed the usual stuff including partial panel and also worked on stalls using partial panel. The events included constant rate and constant airspeed climbs and descents, constant rate turns, recovery from unusual attitudes and then partial panel stalls.

For the landing, we used the localizer to 32 and I flew it in OK, but got a little off course. Nevertheless, when I was told to go visual at about 300 feet, I was lined up with the runway and on the glideslope. Justin then told me to do a soft field landing. My approach came in at a nice, slow speed (about 65 knots) and touchdown occurred at 60 knots. I've never bounced a warrior before, and this one wasn't bad. When the main gear touched down, I maintained backpressure on the yoke to keep the nose wheel off the ground, but the plane floated. I kept the pressure on and we eventually came back down - no loss of control or go around needed.

All told, it was a good day for training and I logged an hour of dual with probably .9 in simulated instrument.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004


A combination of poor weather and a hectic business travel schedule have saved me a great deal on personal flying costs this month. I was looking through my log book the other day and realized that I had only flown once in October.

Therefore, it was with great anticipation that I drove to the airport yesterday morning. I had planned a flight down to Flagler County (X47) since that would be counted as cross-country flight due to the 56 nm distance from my home airport, Craig Municipal (KCRG). The night before, I used the AOPA real-time flight planner to plan my route, get weather data, check notams and file the flight plan for both the outbound and return flights.

The plane was in fine shape for the trip and the pre-flight inspection showed no problems at all. I brought my Sony digital camera, tripod and my remote shutter control so I could take some airborn photos through the windshield. I mounted the tripod on the passenger seat using the seatbelt to strap it in. I set the aperature to f8.0 which is the tightest setting for this camera and I set the focal distance to infinity. With the tight aperature and infinite focus, I expected that both the distant and foreground would be in focus and by leaving the shutter speed on automatic, the exposure should be bright enough. I also set the flash to fire regardless of light conditions to ensure that the cockpit would show clearly.

Calling ground control, I asked for and received flight following at 5,500 feet. Unfortunately, I had to taxi all the way to runway 14 which is the farthest from the ramp. While taxiing, I checked the instruments, flight controls, annunciator lights, set the heading indicator, confirmed the altimeter setting and set the transponder to the discrete code that the controller issued for my flight following. This left just the run-up to complete once I reached the run-up area. All systems were go as I approached the hold short line, switched to the tower frequency and asked for takeoff clearance. I I immediately received clearance and I hit the lights, turned the transponder to "alt", pointed the nose down the centerline and eased the throttle to full power. As the plane began to roll down the runway, I spun the bezel on my watch to note the takeoff time of 12:28, two minutes earlier than my flight plan forecast. Good for me!

The weather was cooler than it has been for some time - just right for a North Florida fall. This cooler than usual air improved the takeoff performance of the plane and I quickly reached 500 feet AGL where we usually begin our turns. I had previously set the OBS on the VOR to 165 degrees and I turned south to intercept the radial. I also had entered my entire flight plan into my handheld GPS as a backup to the usual instruments. As I flew south, it quickly became apparent that I would not be able to climb directly to 5,500 feet and remain in VMC, so I leveled off at 3,500. This put me approximately 500 feet below the clouds which appeared to be gaining altitude. As I passed out of Craig's class D airspace, I switched the comm over to 122.2 and called up Gainesville Radio to open my flight plan. This was handled quickly and I immediately switched over to 124.9 for the Jacksonville Approach Control and checked in. I was asked to "ident" and to advise the controller of any altitude changes. A few minutes later, I spotted a gap in the clouds that was large enough to enable me to climb to 5,500 feet while remaining legal for a VFR flight. In less than 4 minutes, I was at 5,500 and showing a ground speed of 128 kts with an indicated of 105kts. Winds aloft were performing as expected for a change.

As I passed south of Saint Augustine (KSGJ), the controller handed me off to Daytona Approach who advised me to begin my descent into Flagler at pilot's discretion. I was practicing my VOR radial tracking and was quite successful never deviating more than one dot off the course. I confirmed my position with the HSI in my GPS and both matched. When I was about 15 miles away from Flagler, my GPS announced that I had reached the vertical navigation point, so it was time to begin my descent. I called Daytona Approach and advised that I was descending and the controller asked me to advise when the airport was in sight. Although the sky over Flagler was much clearer than Craig, haze obscured my view of the airport. At 10 miles, I started to see the outline, though, so I told approach that the destination was in sight. The controller terminated radar coverage and advised me of the current traffic around the airport.

I tuned the AWOS and found no wind. Tuning the CTAF, I learned that other aircraft were landing and departing from runway 29 and traffic was in a left pattern. This meant that I would either fly over the airport above pattern altitude, or use a midfield cross-wind entry to the pattern. Since there are many students who fly from Flagler and there were three or four planes in the vicinity, I thought it would be safer to overfly at 1,500 then make a descending course reversal and a 45 degree entry to the downwind.

As I crossed the runway, a slow pokey Cessna announced they were entering the left downwind on the 45, so I joined the pattern behind her. What a slow plane! I really had to pull the throttle back and extended flaps early to avoid overtaking her. As she turned her final, I was ready to turn my base. As I turned final, I could see her crossing the threshold and drifting to the left of the centerline. She really drifted and her right wheel was to the left of the centerline when she touched down - thank God for wide runways! Fortunately, she quickly exited the runway and was clear of the active as I crossed the threshold. I made a smooth touchdown and taxiied up behind her. I could see that there was a restaurant directly in front of the aircraft tie downs, and without any other instructions, I taxiied to the last spot in front of "Hijackers" restaurant.

As I shut down the engine and the electronics, I called 1-800-Wx-BRIEF to close my flight plan.

It was a great day to sit outside and eat a $100 hamburger...I just wish I had taken a passenger with me! After lunch, I flew home.

Tuning the AWOS, I learned that winds were between 8 and 10 knots from 80 to 90 degrees - that meant that there was a good tailwind, however, there were still planes in the pattern using runway 29 and I wasn't about to try going head-to-head with them, so I planned for carrying extra speed on the takeoff roll to compensate for the tailwind. I had to wait for two planes to land before taking off. I probably could have gotten off ahead of either one, but I had time and there was no need to rush things.

This time, I did not open my flight plan, although I had filed one. Since a layer of clouds had formed a bit lower than when I arrived, I opted to remain below 3000' MSL and flew up the coast taking some nice pictures along the way. As I approached the Saint Augustine class D airspace, I contacted the tower and requested a transition along the coast which he quickly agreed to. There was a little bit of traffic, but I spotted everything before it was announced.

I thought this would be a good time to practice my approach intercepts, so I tuned 111.7 on NAV1 to get the ILS to 32 at Craig and 114.5 on the NAV 2 and 319 degrees on the OBS to give me a secondary backup. I never even looked at the GPS on the return flight. I intercepted the ILS and made the appropriate radio calls to Craig ATIS followed by the tower and was told to enter a right base to RWY 5. That's the preferred runway for my ramp since it minimizes taxi time. Unfortunately, it meant that I would eventually have to abandon the course on the ILS, but not before I intercepted the glideslope and flew that down to pattern altitude - 1000 AGL.

The approach was good although I began my turn to final a bit late and had to correct. My photos of the approach came out real nice, too. Having a remote control and a tripod made this easy. One of the instructors at Sterling was suprised that I was able to take pictures of an approach until I showed her the remote control and explained how I could do it while keeping my hands on the flight controls.

As usual, a good day for flying and I racked up 1.5 hours of cross-country day flight.

Friday, October 01, 2004


This post is not about flying.

Snuggles is gone. She was my Daschund that I have had since she was a puppy. She lived a long life by dog standards - 15 years 3 months. She died from cancer in her lungs. God was merciful and took her quickly.

She was always a happy dog. I named her Snuggles because of the way she would nuzzle her nose into my arms when she climbed in my lap. She was a beautiful black and tan standard Daschund - sort of looked like a Doberman with short legs.

She was smart and learned lots of tricks which she loved to perform.

As she grew older, her eyesight was hindered by cataracts, but that didn't slow her down. She still managed to maneuver by sniffing. If I walked into the room, she immediately would sit up or wake up as soon as she smelled me. Her tail would thump against anything that was in its way. She was a fierce tail-wagger!

Snuggles died yesterday. She was not feeling well for the past week and wasn't eating her dog food the way she usually did. I took her to the vet on Wednesday and he took x-rays of her chest. The x-rays showed tumors in her lungs and the doctor said she didn't have long to live.

They sent me home with a 30 day supply of blood pressure medicine, some pain pill and a diuretic. I took her to Home Depot to buy lumber to build her coffin and then to Petsmart to get some special dog food and more treats - she was still eating treats. When I got her home, I mixed up some of the special food and she ate an entire bowl.

Yesterday morning, Maureen said Snuggles wagged her tail at her when she left for work, but she didn't eat the treats that Maureen gave her. In spite of going to bed early, I overslept. When I went out to feed her, she was laying by the back door and was having trouble breathing. I picked her up and put her on her bed and tried to make her comfortable. Her tongue was bluish and her breathing rapid. I tried to get her to take a pain pill, but she wouldn't swallow. I bundled her in blankets and left her in her bed.

I thought I'd go to work and get my computer and then work from home so I could keep an eye on her. When I got in the car, I realized that I had not unloaded the lumber, so I opened the garage door to put the lumber inside. As soon as I walked in, Snuggles sat up, looked at me and then howled for a few seconds. She then laid down and moaned a little with each breath. I started to pet her and rub her to make her feel as comfortable as possible. As I stroked her fur, I prayed that God would end her suffering. Within five minutes, she was gone.

I built a beautiful coffin for her and made a metal plaque with her name on it. I buried her last night under a tree I planted this past spring.

These next few weeks will be difficult. She was a part of the family and has left a gaping hole in our lives. I am so grateful for the fifteen years I had with her. I will miss her so much.

Rest in Peace, Snuggles.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Instrument Lesson 6

Today's lesson was fairly uneventful. This was the first sunny day in weeks...of course, when you are taking instrument flight lessons, you kind of hope for clouds. Not today. Not a cloud in sight.

Most of my time lately has been spent in N6033H, but that plane is down for its annual inspection - maybe they'll replace the vacuum pump and/or the heading indicator. The vacuum has been reading consistently around 4.6" Hg, which is slightly below the 5" that the POH calls for. The POH even says that operation below 5" will cause the vacuum gauges to perform erratically. That would seem to describe the behavior of the H.I., since it seems to precess considerably compared to the H.I.s in the other two Warriors. The attitude indicator also has a very slight wobble and tends to indicate a slight left bank in level flight and on level ground. Perhaps that is also due to low vacuum.

With 25 year old aircraft, there are bound to be some quirks, but none of the Warriors have ever let me down - pardon the pun.

So, today I was scheduled to fly N84577, a slightly newer plane by one or two years, but it appears to have many more hours than the other Warriors. This one also has air conditioning (but it is inoperable) as well as an autopilot (also inoperable) and a GPS (with an outdated database). None of these flaws really matter, though. The only problem is that with the autopilot servos still in place, the trim wheel is significantly more difficult to adjust than that of the two planes without an AP. The turn coordinator seems to be more sensitive than in the other planes, though. very slight banks tend to send it off kilter, so maintaining a standard rate turn in mild turbulence is challenging - I can only imagine how hard it would be in rough weather.

Today's lesson included full and partial panel stalls - power on, power off, and power on with turns. It has been quite a while since I did any stalls, but I managed to handle them just fine. We also did full and partial panel recoveries from unusual attitudes. There are two basic procedures for recoveries from unusual attitudes. In each, the first step is to determine the attitude of the aircraft - nose high or nose low. The second step is always to adjust power. If nose low, power is reduced; if nose high, power is increased. The next step for nose low is to level the wings followed by up elevator to return to level flight. For nose high, you first push the nose down, then level the wings. The two things you are trying to avoid are 1. Exceeding the structural limits of the aircraft which can happen if speed is allowed to become excessive. 2. Stalling and/or spinning the aircraft which can happen if speed drops too low or angle of attack is too great.

In the first test today, the plane was turned over to me, but there was no apparent change in airspeed. Changing airspeed is the first indication of attitude, so I had to wait a second and noticed the sound of the engine - the rpms sounded like they were diminshing which would also indicate a nose high attitude. Recovery in this case was very easy since all I really needed to do was increase power slightly and level the wings.

The next few tries, Justin really shook up the plane - thought I'd lose my breakfast for a minute although that has never happened before. On all of them, I recovered according to procedure.

We also practiced partial panel turns to headings using the compass as well as timed turns. Turning to the East or West is easy - just initiate a standard rate turn until E or W shows up in the compass and you'll roll out on the right heading. Turns to northerly or southerly directions are more of a pain. For North, you have to roll out 30 degrees early and for South, you have to roll out 30 degrees late. In every case, it takes a bit for the compass to stabilize although it seems to stabilize better to the East and West. You also have trouble with errors caused by acceleration or deceleration. At any heading other than North or South, accelerating will cause a more northerly indication and decelerating will cause a more southerly indication. I really blew a turn to 120 degrees. Justin was announcing our position and when he does that his hand presses on his yoke and that usually causes the nose to drop a bit. Today, I think he really liked hearing himself talk because his calls took much longer than usual. Anyway, I noticed that I had lost too much altitude - about 150 feet which is not to standard, and I immediately pulled the nose up while I was turning. With no AI and no HI to refer to, I was left with the turn coordinator and the magnetic compass. As soon as I started to climb, the compass began to spin, We decelerated and I was already turning towards the south, so that just made the compass turn faster. I eventually leveled off and turned back to 120.

Returning to the airport, Justin gave me vectors to steer. We were initially given clearance to fly straight in for runway 32 - which would have given me an opportunity to fly the localizer, but about 3 miles out, the tower told us to enter the left base for 23. So much for the localizer. Then as I descended, Justin asked for a soft field landing. I was on a stable descent, so this was going to be easy - and it was. I nudged the throttle just before touchdown to make it as smooth as possible and then let the plane glide until touchdown. I held the front wheel off the ground as long as possible, but then had to break pretty hard to make the turnoff at Bravo-4. That meant the landing took under about 1800 feet, so that wasn't too bad.

Not a bad day - 1.2 total time and the quick runup and takeoff gave me 1.1 of simulated instrument.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Hurricane Frances

Jacksonville, Florida does not often suffer damage from hurricanes. In fact the last direct hit was in 1964, three years before I moved here. Nevertheless, it is the threat of hurricanes that has everyone worried. Usually, by the time a hurricane reaches the northeast Florida area, it has lost much of its strength and has been downgraded to a tropical storm.

Frances was different. The storm was so massive and slow moving that most of the state was continuously hammered by strong winds and torrential rains. So what if the winds are only 60 mph? When they last for 18 to 24 hours, trees, roofs, windows and everything else will suffer the consequences.

My house is only 2 1/2 years old and we have never had a problem with any sort of leakage. But, continuous wind from the East coupled by rain managed to find the finest of cracks in our window caulking. Three out of five east-facing windows leaked.

Overall, we were lucky. In Jacksonville, about 100,000 homes lost electricity at some point in time and now, two days later, there are still thousands here who have no power. Our electricity never failed.

I didn't get much sleep the past four days. With the wind howling through the trees behind our house, the creaking noises that the house made, things hitting the windows, etc., it was hard to sleep for more than an hour or so without something waking me up.

Speaking of howling, my nephew, James, is three years old and lives in Tampa. They had even more wind than we did. Apparently it howled quite a bit, too. James, his 14 month old sister and his 5 year old sister were all frightened. However, James put on a brave face and even claims to have seen the tail of the wolf that was howling outside! He must have been running away.

Dad gave me a scare. He lives in Homosassa and his home is only 9 feet above sea level. His entire area was under a mandatory evacuation, which he ignored. I talked to him Saturday morning and didn't hear from him until this evening. Websites reported that many in his county were without power or telephone service. I tried to call him repeatedly and kept getting voicemail. Finally, he called and explained that he has no car charger for his cell phone, thought the battery was charged, but it was not. Go figure.

Maureen's family in south Florida did not fare as well. Her brother and parents live in Palm Beach Gardens which took almost a direct hit. Her brother's in-laws live on Palm Beach and had to evacuate. Her brother's home leaked and they lost quite a bit of carpet. They still don't have power, so they are staying with her mother and father in their two bedroom condo. The condo lost power for about a day and a half, but it finally got power...which translates to Air Conditioning. Gotta have that in Palm Beach County.

No one in the family lost their home or their lives. We should be thankful for that.

I was talking to a neighbor from California the other day. She was complaining about how much better it is to have earthquakes than hurricanes. With earthquakes, you don't know they are coming, they last a few minutes, then they are usually done. You don't have time to prepare or to worry. If it is a really bad on, a building falls on you and you are excused from clean up duty. With hurricanes, you are never sure where it will hit, but you know it's coming. You don't know how long it will last, you only know that when the wind is howling, you wish it would stop. Cleanup can take weeks if not months. I'm starting to see her point.

I suppose hurricanes are the price we pay for living in paradise.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Say Intentions!!!

It was a typical Florida morning on Mother’s Day 2004. The temperature was warm in the high 80s and the sky had scattered clouds around 3000 feet with a little turbulence to make the ride interesting. I had flown to Tampa North from Jacksonville Craig that morning to visit my mother and my sister’s family.

I was surprised at the airport when my 19 year old and 13 year old nephews arrived to pick me up. Since my oldest nephew, Don, had never been flying with me before, I offered to take the two young men up in my Piper Warrior II and they eagerly accepted the offer.

After a quick pre-flight, we taxied the length of runway 32 and departed on runway 14 from the single strip, no taxiway airport. I was careful to demonstrate proper radio technique for the non-towered airport and announced my intentions every step of the way. There was no one in the pattern. We completed a normal takeoff and climbed through 500 feet AGL when I began a left turn to the north and announced my intention to leave the area to the north. We remained below the Class B airspace surrounding the Tampa International Airport and after a few minutes, we reached the open spaces northeast of Brooksville.

I left the radio tuned to 123.05, the CTAF for Tampa North and a few other airports within radio range. As we departed, I heard another plane announce that he was an Aircoupe and asked for airport advisories. When no one responded, I radioed back that I had departed 5 minutes earlier and the wind was favoring 14. When the pilot of the aircoupe announced that he would be entering the left downwind for 14, I radioed back that the pattern for 14 called for right traffic. I suppose he didn’t hear me because he continued to announce a left pattern. Shortly afterwards, I heard another plane announce a flyover at 1500 followed soon by his entrance to the left downwind to 14. I guess no one reads the A/FD anymore!

We continued our flight and I demonstrated a few steep turns since I know that my nephew, Tony, likes them. I even let Don take the controls briefly and he did a fine job of making a few turns. Don was able to take us to a heading to return to the airport and even managed a fairly stable descent with a little help from his uncle.

Since we were approaching the airport from the northeast, I had planned to enter the pattern via a mid-field crosswind entry as per the ASF pattern-entry documentations. At 5 miles out, I announced my position and my intentions and asked if there was anyone in the pattern. No response at this point. When I was about 2 miles out, I saw an aircraft take off. I never heard a call announcing their departure or their intentions. As the plane neared pattern altitude, I still heard no calls, so I asked for the aircraft departing Tampa North to say her intentions. No response from this aircraft, but the Aircoupe on the ground stated that he was at the FBO and offered to wait for me to land before he taxied down the length of 32 for a 14 departure. I responded by thanking him and advised that I was entering the downwind for 14. It was at this point that I noticed that the plane that had previously departed on 14 was ahead of me on the downwind. FINALLY, she announced her position as she made her base turn! Unfortunately, she made no attempt to announce her intentions and both the aircoupe and I were left to wonder. I again announced that I was abeam the numbers and had the traffic on the base leg in sight. I extended the downwind a bit to give the other aircraft time to clear the runway.

As I turned base, a fourth aircraft entered the fray announcing his position a few miles north, his intention to land, and requested traffic info. I responded by telling him and all listeners that I was turning right base for 14 and there was another craft on short final. He then asked if the pattern was to the right for 14 and I affirmed.

When I turned final, I could see that the other aircraft had landed and was slowing. I commented to my passengers, I hope she gets her butt out of the way! Suddenly, the other craft veered to the far right side of the 50’ wide runway. Astonished, I told my nephews, “She can’t even keep the darn thing on the runway.” But, little did I know…she did this maneuver intentionally—she was turning around at mid-field and had decided to taxi back!

So there I was on short final with another plane taxiing towards me on the only available runway. After she had traveled about 500’, she finally announced her intention to taxi back and then depart via 14. So, with three other pilots waiting to use the only runway…one on short final, one waiting at the far end to taxi and another entering the pattern…she thought a full stop and a taxi back was the thing to do. Perhaps she knew that if she had actually stated her intentions, there would have been three other pilots who would have objected. I can find no other reason besides incompetence for her incredibly poor use of the radio.

FAR 91.113(g) states that "Aircraft while on final approach...have the right of way over other aircraft in flight or operating on the surface..." The exception is that they "shall not take advantage of this rule to force an aircraft off the runway surface which has already landed and is attempting to make way for an aircraft on final approach." Since this dolt did not appear to be making any attempt to make way for aircraft on final, or the aircraft waiting patiently, I believe that she was in violation of this regulation.

At this point, I had no choice. I could not land. So with as much disgust as I could muster, I announced that I was going around. My passengers loved it—more time in the air…another trip around the pattern! Throughout the pattern, I announced my position trying hard to provide a good example to the idiot on the ground. It never sunk in. She only announced when she was rolling…never announced her departure or her intentions.

The trip around the pattern was uneventful. The last aircraft made a standard crossfield entry and joined the pattern behind me. Although I had announced a full stop, the other aircraft asked me if this would be a full stop. I responded that it would and that I would taxi as rapidly as possible to get out of his way--which I did. I had forgotten about the poor fellow in the Aircoupe who was still waiting patiently this whole time!

A little while later, my brother-in-law arrived with my 3 year old nephew and 5 year old niece. Naturally, I offered to take them up as well. This time, it was just a quick trip around the pattern. I was very pleased with the landing. It is easy to make smooth landings in the Warrior, but this was like butter!

When I taxied back, I parked right next to the Aircoupe. As I was securing the plane, the Aircoupe pilot walked to his plane, so I took the opportunity to thank him for his patience. I asked him if he could hear the frustration in my voice and he said he could, but I had done all that I could do. He also said, “It’s better to wait down here than up there.” With gas costing nearly four bucks a gallon, I suppose he’s right.

Crystal River at Night

One of the reasons I took up flying was that my family had scattered itself all over Florida and I hate dealing with traffic. The combination of roads crowded with tourists and an aversion to long lines of cars left me with no place to go but up.

Shortly after earning my private pilot certificate, I found myself with a beautiful December evening and nothing to do. I decided to make a flight down to Crystal River (CGC) to visit my father and stepmother and play Santa to deliver their Christmas presents a few days early. I loaded my gifts into the Piper Warrior around 4 in the afternoon and headed out from my home airport, Craig Municipal (CRG).

The skies were clear and the forecast called for more of the same. Winds were light from the Northwest, so I would have a slight headwind on my outbound trip and a slight tailwind on the return.

The trip down was uneventful. In fact, although I flew VFR, I had pulled down the instrument plates for both Crystal River and Craig and amazed myself at how easily I found my destination.

Following a nice dinner and our early Christmas, it was time for me to return home. As a new pilot, I did not have many hours flying after dark, but I had flown a similar route just a month earlier at night and was confident that I could find my way home.

I departed around 9 pm, several hours after sunset. My dad drove me right up to the plane and I used his parking lights to assist me with my preflight inspection. Using his car lights and my red-lensed flashlight, I thoroughly inspected the aircraft and found no problems. Having said my goodbyes, I got in and started the engine. Everything was normal so far. I turned on the electronics and listened for other traffic. The absence of traffic came as no surprise. I then taxied past the parked planes and made my way to Crystal River’s only runway.

Executing my run-up took little time and all systems checked out. I was especially careful to double check everything using my checklist since I knew how hard it would be to see suitable emergency landing areas at night. All systems go!

This was my first experience using the mic to control the runway lights and I was quite proud of myself when I managed to turn them on without any difficulty. Again, I carefully listened for other traffic in the area and was not surprised to find empty airspace. Announcing my intentions, I entered the runway and departed on runway 09. I made my turn towards the northeast at 1000 feet MSL (around here MSL and AGL are pretty close). Once I had established a stable climb and ran through my climb checklist, I contacted Jacksonville Approach and requested flight following back to CRG. Since the Gators had finished their football season, the skies were fairly empty. In fact, I only heard the controller speak to two additional pilots the entire flight. I received one traffic alert, but that was for a plane that was 11 miles ahead and he was rapidly crossing above me and to the South.

The skies were incredibly clear that night. Although the controller instructed me to contact him when CRG was in sight, I waited long after I made visual contact. Flying alone, I wanted the extra reassurance of the controller’s voice. I actually saw the beacon when the DME indicated 50 nm from the CRG VORTAC. That’s a clear sky!

At 20 nm out, I let the controller know I had the tower in sight and he instructed me to contact Craig Tower on 132.1 and expect runway 32. Knowing that I had plenty of time and a clear sky, I thought I would practice intercepting the ILS for 32. The intercept point is on the southeast side of town and I was entering the area from the southwest.

As I began my descent to the intercept altitude of 1900 feet I adjusted my course towards the intercept point. Having stabilized the descent, I tuned in the ATIS to get the latest numbers.

To add an extra margin of safety, I felt for the landing lights and flicked the switch. Instantly, everything inside the cabin went dark!

The only part of the dashboard that doesn’t have good lighting is the switch panel and I had mistakenly hit the master switch. I immediately turned the switch back on and experienced great relief when the lights on the dash and the radios came alive again. The GPS had to run through a power-on self-test, but I wasn’t relying on that anyway.

I then tuned Craig tower and listened to make sure my call would not walk on other broadcasters. Hearing no activity, I made my call. “Craig Tower, Warrior 6033-Hotel”. Nothing. I waited a little figuring that the controller must have gone for coffee and repeated the call. Still nothing. “Ok”, I thought, “one more try.” I made the call and started to think I had damaged the radios with my switch fumbling. Still no reply.

I then decided to remain outside of the Class D airspace while I sorted things out. I leveled the plane at 1900 feet and started to go over lost communication procedures. It occurred to me that perhaps they could hear me, but I couldn’t hear them. To test this, I switched to COM2 and the ATIS came through loud and clear. “Hmmm…maybe the problem is just COM1…” Nope. ATIS came through just fine on that radio, too.

What could the problem be?

Finally, I thought of trying to reestablish contact with Jacksonville Approach Control, so I retuned the radio to their frequency. “Jacksonville Approach, Warrior 6033-Hotel.” I was so relieved to hear the response, “Warrior 33-Hotel, Jax”. I calmly explained that I had been trying to contact Craig Tower without success and was wondering if they knew what the problem was.

“33-Hotel, how long ago did you try to contact Craig?”, the controller asked.

I immediately replied, “Well, I’ve been trying for the last five minutes without any luck”.

The controller then explained, “It’s now 10:08 pm, Craig Tower closed at 10.”

I felt quite silly at that point and I thanked the controller for his help. I guess that’s what the A/FD is for.

I managed to navigate to the intercept point for the ILS on Runway 32 and made a perfect, stabilized approach…following self-announce procedures all the way to the runway.

Sometimes a little traffic is a good thing and sometimes the reason the radios don’t seem to work is that there is no one listening…or at least I hope so.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Instrument Lesson Number 5 - Continued there we were taking off and climbing through 1000 feet, when Justin asked me to complete the climb checklist. I need to be better about making a show of the checklist--I've been flying by myself for about a year and I tend to complete the checklists in my head from memory, but FAA examiners like to see you do it, and it is a more reliable practice.

As we leveled off at 1,500 feet MSL (which around here is about the same as AGL), Justin took the controls and I donned the view obstructing device. He then transfered the controls back to me and gave me a variety of headings to take while he fiddled with the radios. After asking for clearance to transition the Class D airspace at Jax NAS, he put a napkin over my vacuum powered devices (The heading indicator and the artificial horizon) and asked me what do I do now?

We then went through the change in primary instrument references for this situation. Power is still monitored by the tachometer, pitch is still monitored by the altimeter, but bank is monitored by the turn coordinator. It was different not being able to constantly refer back to the artificial horizon and the heading indicator. You would think that with fewer instruments, one would be less likely to fixate on one instrument, but I found myself paying too much attention to the turn coordinator and as we entered the updrafts and downdrafts surrounding the rainstorms we were passing near, I allowed the plane to gain and lose too much altitude. Although I remained within the 200 foot requirement for the lesson, I wasn't real happy about my altitude control. I was also having a hard time trimming the plane - it seemed like as soon as I'd get to the desired altitude and set the trim, I'd start climbing or diving. It was very frustrating. Considering that during the entire trip from Crystal River (CGC) that I made just a few hours earlier, I never deviated from my desired altitude by more than 40 feet, I cannot explain why I was having such trouble other than we were experiencing some strong up/down drafts.

We then practiced turns to a heading relying on the whiskey compass. Following the UNOS (Undershoot North, Overshoot South) mantra, I attempted to turn to the headings designated by Justin. Overall, I think I did pretty well.

As we were crossing back from the westside of Jacksonville, Justin contacted Jax center to request vectors to CRG. We were given a discrete squawk code and headed over the river. Justin tends to talk quite a bit during our flights and it was impossible to hear anything over the radios. His mic has also lost its foam cover, so there is quite a bit of noise from wind and other noises coming from his mic. As we were crossing the river, he radioed Jax Approach to cancel our following and I heard a very faint, "Warrior 33Hotel, how do you read?" During his fiddling with the controls, he had turned the volume down on the radio to the point that we could not hear it at all! I told him we just missed a call and turned the radio up so we could hear it.

As we neared Craig airspace, we attempted to get the ATIS broadcast, but now, we really couldn't hear anything. Justin had jiggled his headset jacks and I think he may have caused a brief short in the radios--just enough to make the intercom need a reset. The volume was up, but there was no sound from either radio. It is unlikely that both COM radios would die at the same time, so we suspected the intercom. Justin killed the avionics power for a few minutes and when the power was turned back on, a very loud ATIS broadcast filled our ears.

We contacted Craig tower and they had heard from Jax approach that we were having radio difficulty, so they cleared us to land on runway 23. Justin gave me vectors to bring me into the pattern as I still had the hood on. As we got to certain points, he told me to descend to such and such an altitude. I know that the Minimum Descent Altitude for the instrument approaches to CRG is 241 (200AGL), so when he advised me to go below this altitude, I asked him if he wanted me to go visual. I had been looking only at the instruments the whole time - so I was totally relying on his vectors. As we reached 100 AGL, he advised me to go visual and there was the runway straight ahead--and we were almost over the threshold. I put in the last notch of flaps and pulled the power smoothly to idle and let the last bit of speed float off. The touchdown was fairly smooth and I braked fairly hard to enable us to exit the runway by Bravo-4 - which would take us right to Sky Harbor.

All told 1.2 hours flight time with 1.0 simulated instrument.

What did I learn? NEVER TURN THE VOLUME DOWN ON THE RADIOS. Keep my hand on the throttle during takeoff. Use my friggin' checklists. Level flight: Primary for Pitch=Altimeter, Primary for Bank=Heading Indicator, Primary for Power=Tachometer. Cross-check Pitch and bank with the AI. During vacuum failure primary for pitch is still the altimeter, primary for bank becomes the turn coordinator and tach still reports on power.

I had a ground lesson mid-week and Justin mentioned that the plane had some leaks and his jack was wet. He also told me that while sitting in the plane waiting for a rain shower to pass, he noticed quite a bit of water entering the interior. Since we had been flying in damp weather, we probably had a water-related short that caused our radio problem.

Instrument Lesson Number 5

On Sunday, after returning from visiting dad in Homosassa, I had my fifth instrument lesson. In this lesson, we focused on partial-panel. Before we got to that, my instructor had a few other tricks up his sleeve.

My pre-flight inspection determined that we would be flying with the left position light out (the red light on the left wing). Since we were taking off shortly after noon for a one hour lesson, FAR91.205 would not prevent us from flying legally.

I fired up my handheld Garmin GPS to assist with my situational awareness and stuck it up on the dash. Climbing in, I plugged in my headset, strapped on my clipboard and clicked my seatbelt. Following the checklist, I started the engine being careful not to give the already warmed up engine too much gas. After four or five blades, she caught and the oil pressure registered in the green.

Justin had previously advised me that we would be departing Craig field to the west. Our practice area is to the south, but I suppose he wanted me to fly through the Class D airspace that belongs to JAX NAS and Cecil Field. Perhaps, he saw the clouds and rain to the west and wanted to put me in realistic IFR conditions.

I radioed the ground controller and he cleared me to runway 23 at Foxtrot. This intersection departure would shorten the runway but only by a couple of hundred feet. The Piper Warrior is quite capable of taking off in far less distance than the 4,004 feet that this runway give us.

After conducting our runup and waiting for arriving traffic, I was cleared to position and hold. After just a few seconds in position, we saw the Cessna ahead of us do a touch and go and we were cleared for takeoff.

During our run-up, I briefed the instructor on the procedure I would follow for the departure, so he was aware that I would be rotating at 60 knots rather than the customary 55. I had explained to him that I had gotten more stable performance by rotating a bit later when the plane was carrying extra weight. So at 60, I pulled the nose up and we quickly left the ground and the plane accelerated to Vy, 79 knots. As we climbed out, I found myself having to pull too hard on the yoke to maintain the proper nose up attitude so I adjusted the trim. Apparently, I did not put my hand back on the throttle quickly enough, because Justin reached over an yanked it to idle and announced "your engine just quit, what are you going to do?" I immediately pushed the throttle back to full and told him, "I'm going to put the gas back in and take off". "But, if the engine really had quit, I would have landed straight ahead, hopefully." We were only about 200 feet AGL when he did this. He was trying to make the point that my hand should remain on the throttle at all times during takeoff lest the throttle friction give out. He sure made his point!

While I understand and agree with him, I have two problems with his action. First, he did not smoothly pull power to idle, he yanked it. This can result in an engine stalling. Second, we were in one of the most dangerous portions of flight and did not have sufficient altitude to return to the runway if the engine had stalled.
...more to follow...

Why do I fly?

When I was about 12 years old, my father's cousin who was an air traffic controller and a pilot, took me and my dad flying. He let me sit in the left seat of a high-wing plane, which I think must have been something like a Cessna 172. He let me take the controls and from that point on, I was hooked.
In the mid-eighties, I got my first computer - a 10mhz 8088 based PC-XT clone with a RGB screen. And the first software package that I paid for was MS Flight Simulator. Within a year, I had upgraded to the newest 386 clone with a whole megabyte of RAM and I added a joystick to the mix. I spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours "flying" all over the world. As my computers were improved, I improved the MS Flight Sim software. I currently have MS FS 2004 as well as all three Combat flight simulator packages. I still haven't bought a regular yoke, but since I spend so much time in the real thing these days, I might not buy one.

I spent years, ok decades, flying the simulator before I finally decided that I had enough time and money to learn to fly the real thing. A couple of years ago, my wife and I built a new home and when we moved in, we opted for Dish Network satellite TV rather than cable. One of the channels that I spent all my time watching was Discovery Wings. They kept running an ad for "", so one day as I was sitting in my office, I decided to hit the website. I discovered that Sterling Flight Training was right up the street practically, so I made an appointment to start my lessons. I didn't waste time doing the introductory lesson crap, I bought the books and tools and scheduled lessons for every Saturday. It took me about a year to get my Private Pilot Certificate. I'll write more about that as time goes on. Since I have work to do, I'll stop writing for now.

Getting Started

Testing my first entry in the Happy Landings Blog. I am a private pilot with a single engine land rating and this blog will chronicle my pursuit of my instrument rating.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Crystal River through the haze - Part 2

The flight proceded without incident until I was about 20 miles from Ocala. At this point, the cloud layer that I had been flying above appeared to be directly in front of me at my altitude. This was a very wide layer of clouds with only about 1000 feet of vertical development. The problem was that they were at my altitude. My choice was to either climb or descend. Since I was already at 6,500 feet for a short flight, I decided to descend to 4,500 and radioed my intentions to Jax Approach.

Everything was fine for about 5 minutes when suddenly I found myself flying in haze--I wouldn't classify this as truly a cloud - but it wasn't far from it. The strange thing was how quickly the haze appeared. Because I could not see the horizon in front of me, I decided to treat it as though I was in a cloud and I began my instrument scan followed by a roll into a standard rate turn for 180 degrees. I had planned to turn around and then descend below the clouds and then continue my flight. After only about 15 degrees of turn, I noticed that I was popping out above the haze. Therefore, I leveled the wings and began a full-power climb back to 6,500 feet where I remained until I reached my pre-planned descent point.

The flight proceded normally from this point on. As I reached the descent point, I contacted Jax Approach and advised them I was beginning my descent. The controller immediately canceled my flight following, which was a bit unusual since I did not tell him I had the destination in sight. The radio traffic was busy with calls to approach, so I imagine he canceled the following because he was rather busy.

When I was about 10 nm NE of Crystal River, I tuned the CTAF and listened for traffic. CGC and Leesburg share the same CTAF, so there was lots of chatter. I heard at least three planes in the pattern at CGC and also heard the Unicom advise that there was a non-radioed rotorcraft practicing landings in the pattern. The other planes were landing to the west and I was coming from the northeast. Normally, I would execute a midfield-crosswind entry to the pattern, but the traffic sounded like a fair amount of student activity, so I abandoned my intent to overfly the airport and opted to make a turn to the south at 4 dme, followed by a turn to the west when I was about 4 miles to the south of the airport. This enabled me to make a normal entry to the pattern at the 45 to the midfield downwind.

Since there was other traffic in the pattern, I kept my speed up right until I pulled the final notch of flaps on short final at which point I pulled the power to idle. The landing was smooth and I was able to leave the runway at the first turnoff freeing up the runway. I taxied to the FBO and was told to park in any numbered spot higher than 15. The plane was shut down and secured at 11:00 am - 1 hr 10 minutes after wheels up. Not a bad time. I could have done it faster, but I would only have saved maybe 5 minutes.

I wasn't proud of myself for failing to avoid the haze, but I was proud that I kept a cool head and immediately focused on monitoring my instruments to ensure that I did not end up like JFJ Jr. Overall, not a bad flight

Crystal River through the haze - Part 1

One of the reasons I learned to fly was to enable me to visit my family more often. My mom lives in Tampa, dad's in Homosassa, and Maureen's family is in Palm Beach County. There's no easy way to get to any of these places. All of them take from 3 to 6 hours depending on the number of tourists clogging the roads with their gas guzzling SUVs.

Getting to Tampa takes 1 hour 10 minutes in a Warrior and Crystal River (near Homosassa) takes only 55 minutes--assuming no wind. As an added bonus, there are no SUVs in the air!

Next week is my dad's birthday, so I planned a trip to Homosassa to spend some time celebrating. Since the afternoon and evening weather in Florida this time of year generally calls for thunderstorms, I planned to spend the night and fly home Sunday morning arriving in time for my instrument lesson at noon.

Friday night, I went to the Jaguar's game, but left early so I could get some sleep before my flight. I stayed up a little later than planned as I was fiddling with my flight plan and my GPS. I'm pretty meticulous in my flight preparation, and sometimes this takes me longer as a result.

Nevertheless, I got up fairly early and headed out to the airport. The sky was full of clouds that were formed by the early morning mist burning off. Winds aloft were forecast from a northerly direction, and I expected that to give me a slightly shorter flight.

My preflight showed that the tanks were nowhere near full, so I had to wait for refueling. I also discovered that the left position light was burned out, so no return at night was going to be possible--good thing I planned to spend the night! At least the strobes were working--they had not been working the last three times I flew N6033H.

I strapped in, got organized and went through the checklist. The engine caught after just a few blades and all instruments were in the green.

Whenever I go cross-country, I always get flight following. I usually file a flight plan, but I generally don't activate it. More on the reasons for that in another post. I made my call up to ground control at Craig Municipal and was greeted by a voice that I didn't recognize. It took a bit longer than usual for the ground controller to respond, so I figured he was getting a sip of coffee, or perhaps he was handling both tower and ground responsibilities. I advised him of my intent to fly to CGC at 6,500 feet and requested flight following. He took quite a while to respond and finally gave me a squawk code, but never cleared me to taxi. As I waited, a couple of other pilots requested taxi clearance, but no flight following and they were cleared to taxi to runway 32. After inputting the squawk code, I called the ground controller again and asked him what runway would he like me to taxi to. I was greeted by a more familiar voice that cleared me to 32 after a company Cessna was clear of Bravo-4.

As soon as the Cessna passed, I taxied to 32 and completed most of the pre-flight checks on the roll. This involves verifying that the flight controls work, engine gauges and flight instruments are working properly, a check of the annunciator lights, and setting the heading indicator. This meant that my runup would take less time as it would only involve checking the magnetos, alternator, vacuum, carb heat and one more check of the auxilliary fuel pump.

I approached the hold short line at 32 and announced to the tower that I was ready to go at 32 and I was immediately cleared for takeoff and left turn for my southwest departure. It was lights, camera, action, showtime at 9:50am.

With just me in the plane, she climbed at better than 700 fpm, which was nice. Using the GPS and the VOR, I maneuvered on course after reaching 500 feet. The tower then handed me off to Jacksonville Approach. Approach responded quickly and that's always nice when flying VFR. On busy days, they often ignore VFR flights and it is always better to have a controller watching out for traffic in addition to watching for yourself.

Climbout was uneventful although I had to adjust my course to avoid some clouds between 3000 and 4000 feet. I reached my climbout point precisely as I had calculated and I gave myself a mental pat on the back. Of course, if I had followed the charts in the POH, I would have missed the calculation by about 2 miles and 60 seconds. A little experience with the plane goes a long way.

---more to follow---