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This one also has air conditioning (but it is inoperable) as well as an autopilot (also inoperable) and a GPS (with an outdated database).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.