Saturday, November 26, 2005

VFR On Top

Today my friend Ken and his son Max were visiting from North Carolina, so I took them up for a flight around town. This was the third time I've taken Max up. I've let him take the controls in the past and today was no different.

The weather was not conducive for a sightseeing flight. The TAF called for broken cover at 1500, so I filed and IFR flight plan that would take us over St. Augustine and back to Craig. I had reserved one of the older Warriors since the Archers were both reserved. I did most of my instrument training in this plane, N512MA, so I'm quite familiar with its idiosyncracies, like the DME that doesn't work right and the NAV/COM#1 that always has alternator noise.

I called clearance delivery and was told that my clearance was "on request" and I should taxi to 5. Wind was 040 at 9 knots - almost right down the runway. Taxiing down Bravo, I saw two aircraft ahead of me and one coming in behind me. No rush, though.

As I started my runup, ATC announced that he had my clearance on the ground frequency and to respond when I was ready to copy. I stopped the runup and asked for the clearance. I would be cleared for 2000', expect 5000 in 10 minutes, approach on 124.9 and was given a squawk code.

Finishing the runup, I took position behind a Skyhawk from ATP that was waiting to depart and I called the tower, "Craig Tower, Warrior 512 Mike Alpha, ready to go at 5, Number two."

After the Skyhawk departed, the tower told me to position and hold, so I took my place on the runway and waited for my clearance. The clearance didn't take long and I was told to fly heading 100, cleared for takeoff. The plane began its takeoff roll and soon we were climbing into the cloudcover. At about 400', the tower advised me to turn to 080 and contact approach. That was a bit lower than I would have liked, but I could hear him dealing with lots of other traffic. I figured he was just looking out for my safety, so I complied and began my turn.

I wasn't much higher than 1000' when we entered the clouds. The tops were between 3000 and 4000 feet by my estimation. ATC called and wanted to know what my intentions were. I explained that we were just doing some sightseeing and I would appreciate vectors that would take us over St. Augustine (which is what I filed). The controller then asked if I would be canceling my IFR. I told him I would wait and see what it was like once we got above the clouds. He cleared me for 4000' and we broke out of the clouds just before reaching that altitude. Presently, he vectored me 090. We flew out over the ocean for a while. I could hear the controller dealing with quite a bit of traffic and figured I could always pick up a shorthand clearance to get us back down, therefore, I asked ATC to cancel my IFR.

Immediately, I began a climbing right turn back towards the shoreline. Once I rolled wings level, I let Max take over. For a kid who has never had flight lessons and who has only flown three times in a small plane, he does a remarkable job of controlling the aircraft. I had him level off at 5500 and make a turn to 170. We flew around making a few turns here and there. At one point, I explained the graduations on the attitude indicator and asked him to make a left turn, but to bank 30 degrees. We made a circle and rolled wings level. I had him feel how the nose wants to drop when making a turn and explained how to counteract this by pulling back on the yoke. He did a great job of maintaining altitude while turning.

Next, I had him do a steep turn using a 45 degree bank. Altitude control wavered a bit, but he never let it get ahead of him.

A check of my watch determined that it was time to come home. I tuned the ATIS and got information Delta. No change in the winds, but the ceiling was a little lower and the altimeter setting had dropped to 30.20 from 30.22. I then switched over to the Jax Approach frequency and it was clear that ATC was very busy. I called, "Jax Approach, Warrior 512Mike Alpha, with request." I got no response until my third call. I then announced, "Warrior 2 Mike Alpha, 3 miles East of St. Augustine, 5,500 feet, I'd like to get the ILS 32 into Craig." The controller asked if I wanted that VFR to which I responded negative. The controller assigned a squawk, advised me to remain VFR and ident. The controller then vectored me 010.

After a few minutes, the controller asked if I could descend to 5000' while remaining VFR. I told him I could and he said he would give my IFR clearance when I reached that altitude. While I descended, I tuned and identified the CRG ILS 32 frequency and briefed the approach. I also plugged in the time from the approach plate into my timer. Shortly after reaching 5000', the controller issued my clearance and had me descend to 3000. He also vectored me to 360 and asked me to contact approach on 124.9. I responded "Two Mike Alpha, 3000 and 360 and I'm already on 124.9." Around 4500 feet, we entered the clouds.

After just a few more minutes he advised me, "descend 2000 feet, remain at 2000 until established on the localizer, contact Craig tower 132.1". I read back the instruction and thanked the controller.

Contacting the tower, I announced, "Craig Tower, Warrior 512 Mike Alpha, 12 miles southeast on the ILS 32 with Delta to land." The tower cleared me for the appoach with circle southwest for right base for runway 5 instructions.

I did a decent job of intercepting and tracking the localizer and intercepted the glideslope about 6 miles out. When the glideslope was one dot above, I dropped the first notch of flaps and stabilized my speed at 90 knots and my descent at 500 fpm.

We broke out of the clouds at about 1200 feet, but the bases were uneven, so there was a danger of going back in. I flew the glideslope down to 700 feet and leveled off. I then began my left turn for the circling approach to 5. Turning base I could detect a bit of wind pushing me off course a bit, so I turned a bit to the right to compensate. I dropped the second notch of flaps and trimmed to compensate for the nose up tendency this would create. Turning final, I dropped the final notch and stabilized the approach right on the PAPI. With power set at 1700 rpm, maintaining the glideslope caused the speed to steadily drop from 85 knots down to 65 as I neared the runway. When it was clear that we would make the runway, I pulled power to idle and the plane increased its rate of descent. Just before touchdown, I pulled back on the yoke to flare the plane and our speed began to drop and the plane settled gently onto the runway.

Max and Ken both seemed to have a good time. We didn't get to see many sights due to the cloud cover, but the view from above the clouds was beautiful.

I logged 1.2 hours PIC and 0.5 actual instrument. Three days of flying in a row...I love it!

Friday, November 25, 2005

IFR Clearance From a Non-towered Airport

Even though today was a beautiful day for a VFR flight, I took the advice of the AIM and filed IFR. The A/FD did not list a clearance or approach frequency for X39 - Tampa North Aeropark. The KTPA entry lists several frequencies depending on which direction you were relative to the airport and I could have departed VFR and requested a clearance once airborne, but the AIM says to ask the local FSS for the procedure for your specific airport. Therefore, when I filed my flight plan, I asked the briefer for the recommended procedure for X39. He gave me the phone number for clearance delivery at St. Petersburg airport (PIE) and said they might just give me a frequency to call after departing VFR.

Bob and family picked us up at my mom's house in his Ford Expedition stretch limo. Mom had to work, so she couldn't drop us at the airport. I guess it must be nice having a limo company - no need to buy an SUV for the family...just use one of the limos.

The sun was shining bright on the tarmac as we drove out to the plane. It sure is nice being able to park the car right next to the airplane! I can only imagine what the folks who were standing out on the deck of the FBO might have thought about these people and their huge limo.

After pre-flighting, I walked into the FBO to see if I owed anything for the overnight stay. Amazingly, they said "no". I think if I saw some guy park a stretch limo in front of a nice new Archer III, I would have asked for twenty bucks just for good measure. Nice folks. I made a point of saying, "Just so you don't think I'm too ostentatious, that's my brother-in-law's limo. He owns a limo company." "Yeah, sure!" the lady from the FBO said.

After checking almost everything and saying our goodbyes, I called the number for clearance delivery. The controller who answered asked me if I wanted clearance now, or if I wanted to depart VFR and get it once airborne. I told her that I had never departed IFR from this airport, so whatever she recommended would be fine with me.

She put me on hold for a few minutes and then told me she had my clearance. Just like a normal clearance, she cleared me as filed to CRG, climb to 2000 expect 5000 in 10 and fly heading 090, squawk 3535 and contact departure on 119.9. She then added clearance void after 17 Zulu. It is now 16:54 zulu. Omigosh! I have 6 minutes to get in the plane, start, runup and depart. This is not exactly what I was expecting. Ok. Let's roll.

One last hug of the kids, goodbyes for Bob and Chrissy and we jumped in the plane. This is where a skyhawk has a tremendous advantage having two doors rather than the single door on the right side. I strapped myself in, helped Maureen with the door latches and grabbed the checklist. The engine started after just a few blades. I checked the guages and all systems were go. It took a minute for the Garming GNS430s to complete their selftest. As soon as they were ready, I checked the area and advanced the throttle to begin our taxi. For some reason, the plane wasn't moving too well. Hmmm. A little more gas. Aha! I had forgotten to remove the wheel chocks from the nose gear! Ok, full up elevator...more power...not too much and there! I'm over the small chocks and we're rolling. Announce my intentions on the CTAF. One plane announced her position 5 miles west and intended to enter the downwind for 32. Sitting at the end of the runway, I did a runup checking the mags, carb heat, alternator, controls, annunciators, etc. Okey doke, off we go. I made my radio call and noted the slight breeze from the left. Throttle to the firewall and we're moving. Climbing out through 500' the incoming plane announced her position and said she had the departing traffic in sight. I couldn't make out what her position was and I couldn't see her. At about 700', I announced that I was making my left crosswind turn and just as I started my bank, I spotted the incoming aircraft! She was already below pattern altitude and had entered the pattern straight into the downwind! Not only was she coming in lower than pattern altitude, but she was making an improper entry into the pattern. Good thing that I saw her, otherwise I would have turned directly into her path! I continued my climb and made my crosswind turn as soon as she passed. I was above and behind her on downwind and continued to climb. I announced that I would be departing the pattern to the east and switched my radio to the departure frequency.

I called departure saying, "Tampa departure, Archer 341 Papa Alpha, out of one thousand five hundred for two thousand departing Xray three niner." Approach responded, "Good afternoon Archer one papa alpha, squawk 3535 and ident" OOPS. Another thing I forgot - turn the transponder to ALT! LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION, SHOWTIME! Stupid!!!

Here's what I learned from this departure: If you are departing from a non-towered airport on an IFR flight plan, don't call for clearance until your engine is started and your are truly ready to depart. There's nothing to be gained by rushing through the runup. I probably didn't make the 17 zulu cutoff, but I may have. Considering that it would have taken me about three minutes to reach 1800 feet, and it probably took me more than that in the start and runup, I think Tampa Approach was probably being generous to me.

The rest of the flight was fairly uneventful. I was eventually cleared direct to the Ocala VOR, and before I reach Ocala, I was cleared direct Craig. I got a few traffic alerts, but only saw one passing aircraft. It was such a nice smooth flight. It was so smooth, that I think Maureen fell asleep for a bit.

Earlier in the morning, we saw a story on TV about the book that Architectural Digest was releasing about celebrity homes. They showed photos of John Travolta's house at Greystone. We passed just east of Greystone, so I pointed out the house to my celebrity watching wife. I even side slipped the plane so she could have a better look. I didn't see his 707 on the ground, though.

As we began to cross the St. Johns River, ATC told me to fly 360 for sequencing. They had already descended me from my cruising altitude of 5000' down to 3000' and my course, if unchanged, would take me directly over NAS Jax. Before we reached NAS, though, the controller instructed me to turn to 060, descend to 2,100 and advise when Craig was in sight. I repeated the instructions and told the controller that Craig was already in sight. He handed me off to Craig tower with a "good day". The Craig tower controller advised me to enter a 2 mile left base for 32, but about the time I was about 3 miles out, she advised me to enter a right base for 5 and announce my entry. I told her I was making the base turn right now and she immediately cleared me to land.

On the ground, I requested taxi clearance and heard nothing. I saw a King Air taxiing to Sky Harbor on Alpha and Bravo 4 (I was on Bravo 4, but had no crossed Alpha). I then heard her clear Archer four niner zulu to the ramp. I didn't hear a response from the aircraft and I didn't see any other planes on taxiways, so I repeated my request. I suspect that the controller called the wrong sign - we used to have an Archer by that sign at Sterling. She quickly cleared me to the ramp.

Apart from the rushed start to the flight, it proceded smoothly. I've learned my lesson about rushing to meet a clearance limit. This flight only took 1.4 hours (compared to 1.7 for the outbound leg. It might have been less if the controller had not vectored me for traffic in the Jacksonville area. Unfortunately, I can't log any actual instrument time as I didn't even see a single cloud, much less fly through one!

Total 1.4 hours of lovely cross-country time!

The Instrument Advantage

Thanksgiving always seems to be an interesting time for me and my family. Two years ago, Maureen, my sister's now ex-husband and I waited on the tarmac for the fog to lift before flying to Tampa to spend the day with my other sister. I didn't tell anyone that I had just received word that a plane had crashed about an hour earlier while trying to land at Craig airport. That would have made both of them much too nervous - I had earned my private pilot certificate only six weeks earlier.

Last year, we flew to Tampa again, but this time, while there, my sister called to announce that she and her husband were divorcing after almost seven years. Everyone loved her husband and we thought they were such a fun couple, so this was quite a shock. It is now a year later and she has met a very nice gentleman who she will be marrying in February, so alls well that ends well.

This year, the excitement was much more enjoyable. This was my first opportunity to fly with my wife on an instrument flight plan. I'm glad that I'm done with training and can focus on flying places once again. I missed visiting my family over the past year, so now, I expect that I will be making more trips to West Palm, Tampa and Crystal River. Who knows, maybe I'll be able to convince Maureen that we should fly to Atlanta or Asheville or someplace like that.

Today, the winds aloft were forecast to be quite intense. At 3000' they were forecast 280 at 41 knots and at 6000, the speed dropped to 31 knots. The speed was forecast to diminish about 10 knots the closer we got to Tampa. Direction remained unchanged, so even though I was flying a nice, fast Archer III, the headwind component would make the flight take a bit longer than normal. I was a bit concerned about the landing, too. The surface winds in the area (no ATIS, AWOS or ASOS at X39- Tampa North) were forecast to be 240 at 14 with gusts to 22 knots. Tampa north has a single runway 14-32 and it is only 50 feet wide. This would give me about an 80 degree crosswind that was slightly below the demonstrated 17 knot capability of the Archer. I was ready for the challenge and had practiced cross-wind landings often. Nevertheless, I warned mom and Maureen that there was a possibility that I would have to abort and land at Tampa International.

The surface winds at Craig were about the same as the forecast for Tampa. There was also a windshear indication due to the 41 knot winds at 3000 with about a 40 or 50 degree direction shift. Well, no one said this was going to be easy.

The preflight showed no problems and all systems were go when I called for my clearance. Instead of clearing me as filed, I was cleared via radar vectors to OCF, then via Victor-581 to DADES then X39. I had filed CRG direct OCF DADES omitting the airway. I had already programmed the plan into the GPS...which was not as simple as I had expected. It is quite different from my GPS III Pilot handheld. For climbout, I was told to fly heading 280 and climb to 2000 and expect 4000 in 10. I had filed for 6000, but 4000 should be ok, I thought.

The climb performance of the Archer was much better than usual due to the cool morning temperatures. Even though the atmospheric pressure was lower than normal for our area, the cold air made for a better running engine. Usually, our pressure is somewhere around 30.14 in the mornings. Rarely have I seen a day where it drops to the standard 29.92. But today, that's about where it was. The plane was climbing at close to 900 fpm once I stabilized the climb. This was a very bumpy climbout, though. I had some swirling crosswind as I rolled down runway 23 and that made for an interesting trip down the runway. Maureen later said that she thought I was going to have to abort - but I don't think it was ever anywhere close to that.

On the climb, I was handed off to Jax approach who cleared me to climb to 5000 and upon passing 2100, "Cleared direct Ocala VOR". I plugged the direct-to into the GPS and made a left turn towards the VOR. It occured to me that 5000 is an altitude normally reserved for flights on headings in the eastern directions, but because I am in controlled airspace, any altitude is fine as long as it is fine with ATC. As I climbed, I was getting tossed about quite a bit and I was worried about Maureen's stomach. She didn't have a problem, though. I had prepared by putting two plastic garbage bags folded neatly in the side pouches of my flight bag for easy access in the event of a regurgitation. I never needed them, and that was quite a relief.

As we neared 5000', the ride smoothed out considerably. This was a beautiful day with just some cumulous puffies building ahead of us. The GPS showed a ground speed of about 98 knots, while the indicated airspeed was just under 120 knots. About 20 miles before I reached OCF, ATC cleared me direct to DADES. GPS is a wonderful thing! I made the adjustment to the GPS and altered the course about 10 degrees to the right.

Soon, we started to encounter the cumulous clouds that had bases around 4000 and in some cases, tops as high as 6000. If I had been flying VFR, I would have been forced to alter my course to avoid these suckers --1000 feet above, 500 feet below and 2000 feed side to side. I would have had to make some significant course alterations to avoid them. I was very pleased with myself when I heard a VFR pilot on flight following announce a course deviation to avoid some weather. No deviations for me, thank you very much.

I don't think Maureen was quite as pleased, though. The cumulous clouds were building and as we entered each one, we were bounced around a little bit. It wasn't anything by my standards, but I don't have a weak stomach like Maureen does. I thought of requesting a higher altitude to get over them, but thought that I 'd just have to come down through them and we wouldn't get much benefit from a few minutes less tossing.

Pretty soon we were in range of the airport and ATC advised me to descend. This put me into a one-thousand foot thick layer that I had been flying above and it was exciting for me to pass through the layer. This was not unlike diving into a pool of milk and trying to open your eyes while swimming to the bottom of the pool.

Under the cloud layer, we were getting bounced around a bit, but the GPS showed we only had about 10 minutes to go. I had the airport in sight, so I canceled my IFR plan. X39 has no instrument approaches and no tower...and today, no traffic. What they did have was quite a bit of wind.

I switched to the advisory frequency and announced my position, intentions and requested advisories. No one was home. Overflying the airport, I searched in vain for the windsock. Since I expected the wind to be 240 at some velocity, I planned to enter the left downwind for 32 after descending to pattern altitude. It was clear that there was no one in the pattern and I confirmed the wind direction by noting the ripples on a nearby lake.

I entered the downwind at midfield, announced and reduced the throttle to 1700 RPM. I extended the first notch of flaps as I passed the threshold. I turned my base earlier than usual so I would not have as much time to get blown off course. Now the second notch and time for the turn to final. There is no VASI, PAPI or any glide slope indicator of any sort. The descent was as stable as possible considering the crosswind and gusts. As I descended to about 200 feet agl, a gust hit the plane and the stall warning went off. I held the nose down and increased power a bit. I was coming in hot by about 10 to 15 knots to account for the gusts, so I was a bit surprised to hear the stall warning. Now I finally saw the windsock. Nothing unexpected there. The sock was pointing straight out from left to right almost directly across the runway. Slight headwind - strong crosswind.

The runway continued to rise to meet me at about 400 fpm. I had my touchdown point identified and had a pretty descent side slip established to account for the crosswind. I thought about stalls that occur due to cross-control and double checked my airspeed. Ok, no danger of a stall. Crossing the fence, I reduced power to idle, maintained my side slip and waited for the speed to drop. I had the plane lined up on the center line and set the left main down gently, then the right and the nose wheel shortly thereafter. This was a pretty smooth landing especially in view of the wind.

I made my U-turn on the runway (no taxiways here except the ones that lead to private homes.) Taxiing back down the runway, I was careful to keep full nose down elevator and turned the ailerons away from the wind. It wouldn't do to have the tail lifted in the wind. Nearing the parking area, I searched for anyone to show me where I should park - the only person there was my mom waving at us from the porch of the FBO. There aren't many actual tie-downs at X39. In the past, I've parked in the grass in front of the old dilapidated hangers. This time, though, it looks like they've torn down the old hangers and that parking area is no available. New hangers are being built on the other side of the runway, but no parking there, yet. I'm always happy to see new construction at an airport! I pulled in front of the FBO and parked the plane next to a Mooney that was sitting on the tarmac just out of the way of the taxi area in front of the FBO.

I started out writing this about the "Instrument Advantage" and I don't think I've explained myself. Although the weather today was excellent for VFR, if I had been on a VFR flight plan, I would have had to dodge quite a few clouds and may have had trouble remaining VFR when the time came to descend into Tampa North Aeropark. Because I was flying IFR, the clouds were a non-issue. There were no thunderstorms in the area to worry about and the freezing levels were far to the north of Florida or much higher than I could possibly fly, so there was no danger of being torn apart by convective activity or of being iced over. I didn't have to make any deviations and flew an almost direct path to my destination. This is what I mean by the instrument advantage.

The flight took a bit longer than normal due to the strong winds and the fact that I kept the speed relatively low due to the turbulence. 1.7 hours total and about .2 hours of actual instrument time. Another adventure for the logbook!

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Single Pilot IFR

Now that I've completed my training and have my instrument rating, it's time to start flying places again. I've got a nice Archer III reserved for Thanksgiving, so I thought I'd take it up today to refamiliarize myself with the Garmin 430 GPS.

My instrument training was done in a Warrior II with no GPS...or at least no working GPS. Consequently, none of my training was on use of the GPS. I prepared myself with Garmin's free 430 simulator. Nevertheless, it still didn't seem to work the way I expected. Half the battle is learning how to control the cursor and select routes and approaches. I've mastered direct to, but I still need to understand how to activate an approach properly so that it cycles through the waypoints.

The weather today is overcast and windy - perfect for honing IFR skills. I planned a flight to X45 - Flagler which is just over 50 nm away from CRG. After checking the weather and reviewing approaches to X45, I filed a round-trip IFR flight to CRG with the ROYES intersection and X45 as waypoints.

ATC was very cooperative today and gave me exactly what I filed. I was cleared as filed, climb 2000, expect 5000 in 10 minutes. After holding for traffic, the tower cleared me for takeoff on runway 5, right turn to 100 and off I went. I was following a C172 that was remaining in the pattern, but he wasn't maintaining the runway centerline. I was gaining on him until I made my right turn to 100 as I passed 500'. The ceiling was reported at 1800, but I was in clouds before I reached 1200'.

ATC told me that I he would not be able to give me 5000 and direct ROYES because that would be in improper altitude (In controlled airspace, this shouldn't matter, but he's the boss). My original plan had me flying a heading of 178 which would have been proper for 5000, but after several minutes at 2000' heading eastward, my heading direct to ROYES was 186. I told the controller 4000' would be fine. This put me squarely in the clouds and that's what I wanted to practice - it wasn't the smoothest flight, but it was the best practice I could get.

I was then cleared to climb to 4000 and upon passing 3000 I was cleared direct ROYES. He then asked me what my intentions were and I responded that I would like the GPS6 at Flagler.

As I crossed 3000', I hit the Direct To button on the GPS and turned to follow the course. The wind was swirling and I spent most of the time in clouds bouncing up, down and side to side. Maintaining an even heading was a challenge and trimming out the plane was also difficult, but I eventually managed.

ATC handed me off to different controllers as I approached ROYES. Just before I reached ROYES, ATC handed me off again. I made the call after listening for clear air saying "Daytona Approach, Archer 341Papa-Alpha, Level at 4000, passing ROYES." The controller rogered and advised me to turn to 160 and descend to 2500. The controller asked me what my intentions were and I advised that I would like to do a touch and go. She then gave me 360, 1500' and the same frequency as my missed approach procedure.

I had already pulled out the plates for the GPS 6 approach and had briefed the approach to myself. A little while later, she gave me another heading and told me to descend to 2300. An just a little while later, she turned me to 090 and cleared me for the approach while advising me to maintain 2300 until established on the approach. I was west of JABKU by about 5 miles. I was in some thick clouds and it started to pour down rain. No problem . . . the plane was stable and I was maintaining speed and altitude. OAT was about 55 degrees, so no danger of icing.

The approach course is 060 and as I lined myself up for this course across JABKU, I descended to 1600. MDA for this approach was 540. JABKU is 4.7 miles from the airport and I started to descend from 1600 as I passed the waypoint. I broke out of the clouds at about 1400' and requested a frequency change. ATC advised that there were 4 planes in the pattern flying VFR...hmmm...sounds like some folks are not exacly staying 500' below the clouds if they are flying at pattern altitude.

I switched frequencies and listened for traffic...nothing. That was suprising since ATC said there were four planes in the pattern. I announced my position and asked if there were other aircraft in the pattern. One plane then announced he was positioning and holding...why he would hold is beyond me...probably training. I was about 2 miles out and still coming in at 90 knots. With the winds gusting to 26 knots, I was going to maintain my speed on approach. I then announced that I was on 2 mile final, straight in for 6, touch and go. There were three planes waiting to depart runway 6 and one of the pilots said something like "no, no, no...touch and goes aren't allowed at Flagler." Oops. I had pulled notams but didn't bother to check the AFD. I changed my intententions to taxi-back. I came in hot and floated for quite a while down the runway. I had to taxi off at the end. As soon as I taxied off, I announced that I was clear and the next guy had already taken the active runway.

I made a fast taxi back to runway 6 and by the time I reached the hold short, there was nobody left waiting. The plane that had departed during my approach was now on final, so I announced that I was holding short for landing traffic...not a required call, but it let the guy on final know I saw and heard him.

He cleared the runway and off I went. I turned crosswind at 500 feet, climbing through 1000, I announced I was departing to the north and continued my climb to 1500. I changed the frequency back to ATC and announced out of 1200 for 1500. ATC cleared me to 2000, expect 5000 in 10, cleared direct CRG. She also gave me a new squawk for the transponder.

Shortly ATC handed me off to JAX approach who advised me to fly heading 360. Again, I was in the clouds, but no rain this time. The controller advised me that the ILS32-circle to 5 was in use. He eventually advised me to descend to 2000. Later, he vectored me to intercept the localizer and then cleared me for the approach telling me to maintain 2000 until established. It seemed like forever before the glideslope came alive...but eventually it did. ATC also advised me to keep my speed up because there was traffic behind me. in hot again.

At about 11 miles out, I was told to countact Craig Tower. I had already pulled the ATIS, so I called up, "Craig Tower, Archer 341Papa-Alpha, 11 Miles, ILS32 Circle to 5 with Kilo, full stop".
The tower replied, "Roger Archer 1Papa Alpha, report circling southwest for runway 5.

I was still in the clouds when the localizer started to register. I was focusing on the needles and did a pretty good job of keeping them centered. I broke out of the clouds at around 1000 feet and there was the runway, right where it should be. Just a little later, I made the left turn to the southwest and called my position to the tower.

Again, I kept my speed up on the descent to account for the gusty winds. I bounced around quite a bit as I turned my base. I gave myself an extra 30 degrees to adjust for the wind and make a squared base leg. Turning final, I pulled the second notch of flaps, checked my speed and headed for the numbers. I was right on the glideslope and pulled power crossing the threshold. The plane floated a bit and my landing was not as smooth as I normally do, but nothing fell off.

I was cleared to taxi to the ramp and I parked and secured the plane.

Single pilot IFR is a challenge, but having done it, I feel much better about my flying skills. This flight was spent mostly in unstable clouds in a plane that I've only flown a few times. While it is similar to the Warrior II, the equipment is newer, there's more power and the plane weighs a bit more. This was an ugly day for GA flying, but I enjoyed every minute of it. 1.7 hours cross-country. 1.2 Actual Instrument. 2 Approaches. Gotta love it!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Hoorah! I passed!!!

Saturday was the big day - the FAA instrument check ride. I studied very hard for the oral exam and was confident in my flying skills and procedural knowledge. Nevertheless, I was nervous. My private checkride was over two years ago, but that ride was a nightmare. I had met the DPE a few times before in the waiting room at Sterling, and he seemed like a nice guy, but you never know.

We started the oral around 8:45 after a little chit-chat. The night before I pulled the DPEs credentials from the FAA website and saw the different type ratings he had, so that gave me something to ask him about. I'm always interested in hearing flying stories from experienced pilots, and I was sure he had a few. Things started smoothly and after about 2 hours of questions and discussion, he said, "Let's fly".

We discussed the flight and what we would actually do. We were going to depart VFR, do some stick and rudder work under the hood and then try to get the required three approaches. Because there was a Blue Angels airshow nearby, a TFR was issued that would prevent us from using any of the approaches at my home base. We opted to fly to St. Augustine and ask for a shorthand clearance from ATC after our stick and rudder work was done.

There were cumulous clouds covering about half the sky from around 1500 to 5000 feet, and until we were flying under an IFR plan, we would have to dodge them. Winds were 070 at 10 knots and we were cleared to depart on runway 5 with a downwind leg departure due to the TFR. Everything was in order and the climbout was smooth. As we crossed back over Atlantic Blvd heading southwest, we were finally cleared to make our southbound turn. I donned my foggles and Bob started giving me vectors to dodge the clouds. He was playing the role of ATC and cleared me direct to SGJ (St. Augustine). I tuned the OBS on VOR 1 and followed the nearest radial directly towards the airport. He then told me to intercept the 315 radial and follow that in, so I adjusted the OBS and made a right turn to intercept. I had to maintain about 10 degrees of left correction due to the wind from the ENE. The DME was not working very well - it would only tune very specific stations and at times, it would change the freq by itself. He was not at all pleased with it.

Since I had a handheld GPS, I offered to remove it from the yoke and let Bob use it to better avoid the TFR and the other controlled airspace around us. He initially declined, but after a few minutes of unsuccessful fiddling with the DME, he said he would use it.

We were level at 7500 feet heading direct to the St. Augustine VOR when he threw me a curve. He wanted me to execute a DME arc to the west at 5 DME - we were about 7 DME at that time, so I didn't have much time to figure out what I should do. At 5.2 DME, I started a 90 turn to the right and then turned the OBS to 235. OOPS! I should have turned 90 degrees to the right, then turned the OBS to 305...10 degrees off my original radial. Since I was heading the right direction, I kept an eye on my DME and although the needle had not yet started to move, I began a turn to the left to prevent drifting too far out. I must have been very flustered to botch the OBS like this. I couldn't figure out what was going on, so I tuned the NAV2 to the same VOR and identified the radial that I was on. AHA! that what I did wrong! Fortunately, he didn't bust me. After I had followed the arc (sort of) for about 10 minutes, he cleared me direct to the SGJ VOR and told me to Hold North of SGJ on the 360 radial, Left Turns. Ok, think! How do I enter this? What will the pattern look like? Where is the wind? I drew the pattern out on my clipboard. I was hoping I had written this right...NO! wait a holding course is the 360 radial...I had written it upside down. Ok, now I've got it. I'm heading about 080 to the station, so that gives me somewhat of a direct entry. I must be getting close, the needle is moving way off and I can't seem to get it back, so I must be just off to the right of the station...THERE! There's the flip. Ok, I just passed the station. Now I'm going to turn to 360...Start my Timer, TIME, TURN THROTTLE, TWIST, TALK. Twist the OBS to my inbound course - 180 so I get a TO indication on my inbound. Call the imaginary ATC and tell him I'm in the hold at StAugustine at 7500. Keep an eye on the timer...there's 60 seconds, now turn left and intercept the 360 radial. Wow! T-T-T-T-T. Wings level and start my timer. The course is way over to the left. Winds are pretty stiff up here from the East. I turned to 150...great, the needle is starting to center. Ok, 7 degrees left correction seems to hold the course. A glance at my chart and I see that the SGJ VOR is also published with a CRG DME setting - and the CRG 114.5 is one of the few settings the DME will accept, so that should help me identify the location. There's 60 seconds on the inbound and look at that, there's the flip, too. The winds are pretty much from the side. Ok, now turn to 015 - rather than 360 - I needed 7 degrees of left correction on the inbound, so outbound, I'm doubling it to the opposite direction. Good. Wings level and start the time. One more lap around...last turn inbound...Wings level and look at that, I'm right on the course.

As I crossed the VOR for the last time, Bob told me to contact ATC and explain that I need one precision and two non-precision approaches and see what they could do for me. I made the call and also interjected that this was a check ride - maybe he'd have some sympathy for me. ATC gave me a squawk code, vectored me to 090 and told me to descend to 3000 feet. He also gave me a 360 heading, 2000 feet and the same frequency for my Missed Approach.

So then I executed a descending right turn to 090. As the descent stabilized, I grabbed my approach plate for the SGJ ILS 31 approach and briefed it with Bob. I also tuned the NAV to the ILS freq, tuned NAV2 to the OMN VOR, tuned the ATIS on COM1 (the noisy radio) and tuned the tower on the standby for COM2. Next, I turned the OBS to the approach course. As I leveled off at 3000, ATC vectored me to the right a bit. Now I verified the current plate, set the HI to the mag compass, Identified both NAVs, verified the course, called out the altitudes, noted that there were no times noted and restated the alternate missed approach plan that ATC gave me. AMICEATM, done!

I listened to the ATIS and adjusted the setting in the Kollsman window on the altimeter. I'm all set. All I have to do now is shoot the approach.

ATC gave me final vectors and cleared me for the ILS - remain at 2000 until established, contact the tower. I switched the frequency and announced "St. Augustine Tower, Warrior 512MA inbound on the ILS31 with Zulu". They responded, "2Mike-Alpha, report HAMGO". "Roger, report HAMGO, 2Mike Alpha". Just as I started to say, my DME is out, the DPE said, I'll tell you when you are at HAMGO. Handheld GPS to the rescue AGAIN!

Then as I looked at the chart, I realized I could ID HAMGO based on my altitude assuming I was on the glideslope! HAMGO is 1,600'. I had those needles lined up perfectly and we made a beautiful approach.

Bob was doing a great job of role playing. He's playing the part of a passenger who wants to go to a meeting in St. Augustine. He's asking me where to look for the runway and telling me I don't see it. As I reached the DH, I gave the throttle a nudge to full power and started my missed approach. He then announces, OH! there it is right below us. I told him, too late, we'll have to catch it on the next pass. I think he was testing me to see if I would abort the missed and I didn't take the bait.

I announced to St. Augustine that I was going missed and the told me to contact Approach. I turned to 360 and tried to call approach. No luck. Not until after we had passed through 1500 feet could approach hear me.

I requested the full approach for the VOR 13 at SGJ and was told that I was cleared for the VOR 13 approach at SGJ. Upon reaching 2000 feet, cleared direct to the SGJ VOR. "Contact approach after the procedure turn." About that time, Bob put some paper over my attitude indicator and my heading indicator. Lovely. I faked a call to ATC to announce "No Gyro", completed my turn towards the VOR and got out the plate for the VOR 13.

I briefed the approach as I had done for the ILS 31 and lined up on the correct radial outbound. Passing the IAF, I started my timer and at 60 seconds, I executed the procedure turn and announced the turn to ATC. I easily lined up on the inbound course and was cleared for the approach. ATC handed me off to the tower who told me to announce 5 miles. Since the DME was out, I asked Bob to tell me when I was 5 miles.

He was still doing the role play as we got closer. I managed to keep the CDI within 1 dot of the center and descended to MDA. I also pointed out to Bob that I could have descended to 1600 during my turn, but he said, that's fine--no need to. He called five miles and I contacted the tower and requested the option. The tower cleared me for the option and I was steady as she goes. Bob, in his role as a passenger said, "Where should I look for the runway?" I said it should be straight ahead of us and angling off to the right just a bit. He replied, "I think I see it right can look up." Yup, that was it. He said, let's do a touch and go. I love doing touch and goes so I did one. Straight down the middle but just a touch firmer than I usually do - not bad though. Bob took the paper off the instruments and off I went.

Up with the flaps, then to 500 feet and a left turn to 500. The tower called, "Execute climbout and contact approach." I called reply, so I waited until we got to 1500 feet and tried again. Finally, a response. I then requested vectors for the VOR31 at SGJ. Nothing too eventful happened during this. I pulled the plates, briefed the approach and followed the vectors that I needed.

As we headed eastward, I told Bob, "I probably shouldn't ask you this until you've signed my ticket, but I'd like to know your thoughts. Justin taught me to request my IFR clearance from Clearance Delivery by saying 'Craig Clearance Delivery, Warrior 512MA - ready to copy.', and I did this for about 6 months. However, a few weeks ago, the controller at Craig chewed my but by saying, 'there's a right way and a wrong way to request a clearance, and that ain't it!'" I explained that I had searched the AIM for instructions on clearance requests and couldn't find anything specific. Bob asked if I had the AIM, so I reached behind me and grabbed it. He couldn't find anything either. After he searched, he explained that the best way is to say "Warrior 512MA, ready to copy IFR to Orlando, or wherever I filed". That way, the controller doesn't have to look too hard to find the clearance. We then discussed the lack of professionalism shown by a few of the controllers in the Craig tower and how nice the folks at St. Augustine seem to be.

As we flew along, Bob told me I can tell the controller that we'd like to get vectors back to Craig when we complete this approach. We've done everything we need to and you've done an excellent job! What a relief!

The ground and the flight took longer than I had anticipated, but I really enjoyed the experience. The flight itself took 2.2 hours, we did three instrument approaches, one visual approach, landed twice, flew a DME arc, executed a hold and intercepted numerous radials. And it was fun!

Bob Link is an excellent examiner. If I had known he was retired FAA, I probably would have been much more nervous. He has a great style that put me at ease. He also has a nice sense of humor. We didn't cut any corners and he seems to expect that everything must be done properly, which is the way it should be. However, he was very professional about everything. The bottom line is that I really enjoyed flying with him.

So now I have the Airplane Single Engine Land - Instrument Pilot rating!!! I can't wait for our trip to Tampa for Thanksgiving!

Monday, August 08, 2005

Stage 3 - Dual Cross Country - Tallahassee & Thunderstorms

Now the fun really begins. Flying cross-country is what it is all about, in my opinion. For the first year after I got my private pilot certificate, I flew a cross-country flight every weekend. As a result, I've built up more than enough x-country time to meet both the Part 61 and Part 141 cross-country requirements.

Nevertheless, part of the instrument curriculum requires some cross-country time, so last Saturday, Justin and I made plans to go to Tallahassee on an instrument flight plan. Although I suggested that we should book more than four hours for the round-trip flight, Justin though four would be enough. I've flown to Tallahassee before and four hours including a fuel stop and a diversion to Cecil Field would be cutting it close. It was do-able, but we would have to leave right on time.

With this in mind, I arrived a little early to pre-flight the airplane. N512MA must really be burning oil because once again, it was just under the 6 quart minimum. Not good. I had to walk back to the office and pick up a few quarts. Rather than adding just one quart, I decided it would be best to be close to the maximum of 8 quarts because this was going to be a hot day and the more oil, the better the enging cooling. Of course this caused me to be delayed a bit and I was just finishing my pre-flight when Justin arrived.

We briefed the flight and then got situated in the plane. The engine started without a hitch and everything appeared normal. I tuned the NAV and COM radios to the proper frequencies and put the ILS 32 for CRG in standby on NAV1. I then contacted clearance delivery and advised that I was ready to copy. Amazingly, I was cleared as filed! I was expecting to have to copy a bunch of stuff down, but my plan was to take us to Tallahassee via V198, across the Taylor, Greenville and Seminole VORTACs then get the VOR18 approach to TLH. The IAF for this approach is the Seminole VOR. We were told to climb to 2000 and expect 6000 in 10 minutes. Fly heading 270. The controller advised me to call when I am ready to taxi.

Everything was good to go, so I responded, "2 Mike-Alpha is ready to taxi with information November". We were cleared to taxi to 23 and off we went.

There was almost no wind during the taxi, so I checked the flight controls and annunciator lights to shorten the time of my run-up. Everything on runup was fine, so I taxied to the holdshort at 23 at Foxtrot and requested clearance. As expected, the tower told me to hold short for release. Within a minute, we were released and off we went down the taxiway. All systems go!

It was a nice flight into TLH. As we neared the Greenville VOR, I tuned the ATIS and learned that runways 36 and 27 were in use. We were starting to encounter some weather, so Justin suggested the ILS 27. I asked the approach controller for the ILS 27 and he told me to standby for vectors. I then pulled out the approach plate and we started to brief the approach and get the plane ready. At Greenville, we were told to turn to 220 which would put us well East of the IAF when we intercepted the localizer. We requested lower and were advised to descend to 2000. I don't know when ATC would have brought us down, but if we had waited much longer, we would have had a very steep approach. We could hear the controller busy with a VFR aircraft who was having trouble remaining in VFC. At one point a lengthy broadcast was drowned out by another radio transmission. I thought it might have been my clearance to enter the ILS27 approach, but right after the transmission, he was confirming something with the VFR pilot, so I assumed it was him.

As we crossed the localizer, I wondered if we would be given clearance. Since it was clear that ATC had its hands full, I figured he wanted me to go South of the localizer for traffice or something. A few minutes later, the controller contacted me and said I had flown past the localizer (DUH!) and I should turn to 330 to intercept, cleared ILS27 approach, contact tower.

I made the turn as instructed and we started to enter the clouds. Cool! I lined up the needles on the ILS and flew a nice, stable 90knot approach. We broke out of the clouds at about 800' MSL and there was the runway, right where it was supposed to be. Rather than land on the numbers on this 8000' runway, I decided to fly about halfway down then set the plane down. The FBO was at the far end of the runway, so this would cut about a mile off of my taxi time.

We parked right in front of the FBO and bought some drinks then turned around and headed for home. Our calculations said we would have about 2 hours and 45 minutes of fuel on board, so we didn't really need to pay $4.17 for gas! Justin preflighted while I inspected porcelain.

We hopped into the plane and picked up our clearance. This time, it was not as filed. I had filed an entrance to V198 at an intersection before the Greenville VORTAC, but I was cleared straight to the VOR. The controller also asked me a question about the stop at Cecil Field. I had put this in at the instructors request so we could get a third approach. It isn't that far out of the way. I confirmed that this would be a planned missed approach.

We were cleared to depart via 36, which was great--that was the closest runway and it put us closest to our destination on the outbound track. I turned direct for the Greenville VOR and we proceded to climb to 7000 feet for the trip home.

Before we reached the Taylor VOR, Justin suggested that we request Direct Cecil. This would cut a few minutes off the flight. Good idea. Time was getting short - Justin had a 1pm ground lesson. I asked for and received direct. I requested the VOR9R approach and was again asked if this was a planned missed approach. "Affirmative, then vectors for the localizer 32 approach at CRG. The controller advised me that missed approach would be climbing left turn to 270 at 2000'. Shortly after that, the controller advised me that the missed approach would be right to 180 and 2000. Much better! He then said he had two jets coming in behind me, so keep my speed up as long as possible. I requested and received a descent clearance and proceded to dive down to 2000'. This gave me an airspeed close to 120 knots, which isn't bad in that plane. Groundspeed as 135 knots. Nevertheless, I was told that my option clearance was canceled and was asked to execute a missed approach as soon as I could - the jets had caught up to me.

Now is when the not so much fun started...Justin decided that he could get us back to CRG faster than the controllers and canceled our instrument plan as we were deparing Cecil. Cecil tower told us to turn to 030 from our current heading of 180, and I made a steeper than usual left turn back to the North-northeast. I glanced up an noticed that there were quite a few low clouds between us and CRG...AND A HUGE STORM on top of CRG. It was at this point that we tuned the ATIS at CRG and heard "Craig is IFR, due to rapidly changing weather conditions, contact tower for current weather." Lovely. Just freakin' lovely. I'm sure I told Justin several times, "I don't know why you canceled our flight plan." I was not very pleased.

Now Justin tried to get a shorthand clearance for the ILS at CRG, but ATC kept telling us to standby. One of the controllers even said, "it would have been better if you hadn't canceled your plan in the first place".

ATC advised us to remain VFR at 2000'. That was not going to be easy. We had airspace on either side of us, the tower farm dead ahead, a descending cloud layer above. Nevertheless, we managed to find a slot and passed through the hold into clear air south of CRG - which is ironically where we would have been vectored if we had not canceled our flightplan!!!

Justin was still trying to get a clearance for the ILS - gotta get back to do the lesson. After several communications, ATC finally said, "I will not clear you for any approach at Craig. I'm getting level 3 and 4 returns from the thunder storm and reports of severe windshear. If you want to discuss this later, I'll give you the phone number, but I am not giving you clearance. What would you like to do?" At this point, it was clear to me that ATC was getting annoyed and that Justin was getting too pushy. I jumped on the mic before Justin could respond. "Jax Approach, 2 Mike Alpha, thank you. I'm sure that is the best decision and I appreciate your help. We'll divert to St. Augustine." "St. Augustine is VFR and we can see the airport. Thanks for your help."

So I turned slightly to the right and headed straight for St. Augustine. We tuned the ATIS and fortunately for us, we heard that runway 13 was in use. Meanwhile, Justin was trying to raise Sterling on the radio...I don't recall whether anyone responded. I think so, but I'm not sure. Anyway, after contacting the tower at StA, we were advised to enter a RB for 13 and in we went.

We were worried that if we spent too much time diverting and executing missed approaches, fuel would become an issue. However, after landing, we refueled and the plane only took 28 gallons. That meant that we still had 20 gallons of usable fuel on board when we landed at St. Augustine after 4.0 hours of flying including three climbouts. Flying high and leaning, really made a difference. We averaged 7 gallons per hour which is excellent...I usually figure on 10 gallons per hour.

We had a nice lunch and I filed an instrument plan for our return to CRG. The flight back was not bad. We got more instrument time since there were still lots of clouds. I was given the localizer 32 circling to 14 approach which was executed very well. Justin asked me to give it a soft field landing and again, I opted to land a bit further down the runway to cut down on our taxi time. I greased this landing and we departed the runway at the Echo intersection - almost to the end.

All told, this was quite an enjoyable flight. I was not real impressed with the decision making when our instrument plan was canceled, and Justin's push to enter a thunderstorm that looked pretty nasty to me gives me some pause. Next time, I'll be more assertive with my time requirements and will insist on handling all radio calls unless I delegate them. 4.6 hours total time, 0.9 hours actual instrument.

I'm almost done with instrument training. Justin wants one more flight before I do the final stage check. Then it is off to the FAA for the check ride!

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Instrument Stage Check #2 - continued

I was expecting this to be a very challenging flight. My instructor had grilled me on all the different things I would be expected to demonstrated. VOR holds and approaches, DME holds, ILS approaches, etc., etc. As it turned out, this was not too difficult at all.

As we climbed out, I turned to the assigned heading and was handed off to approach control. I didn't complete the climb checklist at exactly 1000 feet, but I was busy completing my turn to 270 and switching the radio. I completed it at about 1300 feet...just before the ACI was going to ask me if I was going to do it. Jax Approach asked us what we would like at Cecil. We asked for vectors for the ILS 36R and we were told to climb to 3000 feet and eventually told to turn to 200.

As we motored along, I began my approach briefing. Current plates - I had two sets somehow. Must have picked up the ACI's last week while we were doing the oral interview. I gave him the other set and we briefed the approach. HI to magnetic compass, check. Tune and ID NAVs. Can't ID the ILS from this angle. That will have to wait. Tuned the Gainesville VOR which is used for the missed approach and put that on standby. Tuned the CRG VOR to the 252 radial which is shown on the plate as being past the runway.

Set the course on the OBS - 005 degrees for the 36R. Entry? We are getting vectored. Altitudes...1800 feet at the fix. DH is 275. Time? 3:28 at 90 kts. Missed approach - ATC has instructed me to turn to 270 and climb to 2000.

As we fly along, I'm getting vectors. I tune the other radio to the ATIS and get the current weather and altimeter at CECIL - 30.16...just a bit higher than Craig. I'm now told to descend to 2000 and turn to 270. That would be a good base leg for the 36R. Prelanding checklist. Lights on, fuel pump on. Fuel on proper tank - about time to switch anyway. Doublecheck the HI.

Now I'm told to turn to 330 and cleared for the ILS36R approach. I identified the ILS on the NAV and now I can see the glideslope and the localizer are alive. The localizer is moving closer to the center now...I start a slow turn to the right when I have about two dots deviation. Now there's I'm on the localizer and my course is 005. The needle starts to drift back to the left, so I adjust course back to the left. I'm now handed off to the tower and I make my call. Oops, I'm letting the needle get too far. Turn left ... about 10 degrees should do it. Ok. Now the glideslope is centered and I pull the throttle to 1700 RPMs and nose down for a 500 fpm descent and 90 knots. The tower clears me for the option and asks what my intentions will be. She also announces traffic on a left base for 36L...sure hope the ACI is watching since I've got the hood on. Opps again...starting to drift. Although no wind is reported, it seems that I am drifting to the right of course pretty consistently. I turn to 360 and the needle recenters. Descending on the slope now while I turn to 002. This will keep the localizer needle centered.

1,275 feet MSL, I call out 1000 feet to go. Still on the localizer, I now extend one notch of flaps. Pushing the nose down to maintain the descent, I adjust the trim to keep the nose down. Now 500 feet AGL. I put out another notch of flaps and I almost lose the glideslope.

Tim now says we have the runway environment in sight and asks what can I do? I tell him I can descend to 100' above the TD, 175' MSL. Good answer. Do it. At 175' he tells me to go visual. There's the runway...perfect. I ask him if he wants me to land or do a low approach. Ok, low approach it is. I add power to full. Wait for speed to come up and remove the flaps step by step. Now at 79 knots, I pull nose up and start the climb. But now, I see the twin engine Seminole ATC called out before our approach. He's climbing out ahead and to the left. Looks like he's turning he's turning right. Ok. Now's a good time to turn left for the Missed approach. Tower returns me to approach control and we are told to climb to 3000.

After a few minutes, ATC asks us what we would like to do. We ask for a hold at the BEABE intersection - 150 radial from CRG at 5 DME. ATC turns us to 180 and instructs us to climb to 4000. He then asks if we would like to go direct to the CRG VOR or if we'd like vectors to BEABE. Vectors would be nice.

So, off we go towards BEABE. That approach went nicely. I made one mistake but I don't think the ACI caught it. Although I entered the 3:28 in my timer, I neglected to start the timer at the FAF. As we flew along, we jabbered about cars, women, flying. Lots of stuff. I pulled out the plate for the VOR32 approach at Craig and tuned the NAVs and radios. I got the ATIS - still 30.13. I tuned the OBS to 330 and 150 on the two VORs. I id's both radios. The DME was tuned, but it never IDed properly although it seemed to be receiving properly.

I noticed that the published hold at BEABE was for non-standard turns. From our position, we would have to make a parallel (pain in the ass) entry. We talked about that, but it became apparent to me that we were being brought in from the south...great. We can do a direct entry. Outstanding! ATC turned me to 300 at about 10 DME and I intercepted the 330 radial. This entry was perfect. I rolled wings level exactly as the needle centered. Ok. So which way do I turn? I was cleared to hold at BEABE at 4000' and asked to report established, but the controller did not say "As Published". This means I was supposed to make standard turns (to the right). We determined this just as I reached 5.0 dme. So, standard rate turn to the right. Timer cleared. Throttle oK, No twist. no talk yet. Wings level at 150 heading. Start the timer. Boy, that minute goes fast! Now right turn to 330. Oh man! this is a good one! I roll wings level just as the needle centers again. Now restart the timer. At 47 seconds, I hit 5 DME, so I will be adding 13 seconds to the next outbound leg.

We are ready to depart the hold and follow the VOR32 approach. Unfortunately, we now have three planes in our vicinity and we cannot descend from 3000'. ATC advises us to complete one more lap. Since I know we are being held up for traffic, I decide to pull the throttle and slow down to about 80 knots. We are told we can begin our descent as we cross the BEABE intersection. Since we are at 3000' and the airport is only 5 miles away, this means I'll need to lose altitude pretty quickly. Nose down. 1200 fpm descent. At 1000' we are only about 1.5 miles away. I pull the throttle to idle, drop full flaps and execute a forward slip down to the PAPI glideslope. Now I adjust the throttle to maintain a 70knot approach speed. When it is clear that I'll make the runway, I pull power to idle and we flare...still floats a bit longer than I like, but we still manage to touchdown gently on the aiming marks. I retract the flaps and apply the brakes. We make the first turn at A5.

Taxi back and tiedown were uneventful.

1.5 hours on a beautiful day. With 1.3 under the hood. Another great day of flying!

Instrument Stage Check #2 - I PASSED!!!

Twice, I have had to postpone my stagecheck for one reason or another. Before leaving for vacation, I had scheduled the event, but a tropical storm came close enough that there was way too much wind and far too many thunderstorms to make the stage check safe. Yes, even instrument flights have to be canceled due to weather every once in a while.

Last weekend, I had to reschedule with a different instructor because the Chief Instructor had some family business to attend to. Again, we had a problem with weather--this time it was a full fledged hurricane - Hurricane Dennis. Although Dennis passed well to the west of us, the squall lines of thunderstorms that fed the storm passed directly overhead and we had some significant weather. Nevertheless, I went to the airport and spent some time with the Assistant Chief Instructor completing the oral portion of my stage check. We decided that the weather would be challenging but would be acceptable, but by the time we were ready to go, we did not have enough time left in the session before the ACI's next student. Consequently, I had to reschedule for the following weekend - yesterday.

I'm not a morning person, but for this, I let the sun awaken me at 6:30 am (ON A SATURDAY!). I had completed my flight prep the night before and had filed an instrument flight plan for a round robin from CRG passing over VQQ, Cecil field, a former Naval Air Station.
I got to the airport about 7:30 and found two other folks waiting for the doors to open. Apparently, they didn't know that for early flights, the school leaves the flight bags in the fuel office at the adjoining FBO. I figured I could get my preflight done before the instructor arrived.

Checking with the fuel guys, I found that my bag was not there, so I conducted my preflight using the checklist that has been burned into my memory. Everything was working fine, but I still wanted to add a quart of oil. The engine had about 6 1/4 quarts according to the dipstick, but at 7:45 am, I was already dripping sweat, so having something closer to 8 quarts in the engine would aid cooling. I figured the engine could use all the help it could get.

Walking in through the hanger, I discovered that the ACI had just arrived and he let me in to the office. After a quick check of my files, we returned to the airplane and began our preparations for the flight.

I got situated with kneeboards on each leg--I know, overkill, right? I don't think so. The left board is a velcro board and I can stick my portable GPS and my Sporty's E6B on that side. This puts a nice programmable timer/flight computer at my fingertips. On the left leg, I have my scratchpad where I can write clearances and instructions, etc. It also holds charts and has a clipboard where I can stick my approach plates.

I briefed the instructor telling him to "keep his hands and feet inside the ride at all times and use his seatbelt." I also stated that in the event of a major emergency, we would use positive control handoff and I would ask him to save us as he was the more experienced pilot.

I then fired up the engine, made a few adjustments to the throttle and mixture, then activated the avionics panel. Tuning the ATIS, we got information Mike - no wind almost and 30.13" Hg. The skies were nice and clear with no adverse weather forecast until after 2pm. I then tuned and identified the ILS at CRG and the VOR. I conducted a VOR check tuning both NAVs to the CRG VOR on 114.5. All ok. I then tuned clearance delivery and announced that 512MA was ready to copy. I was given clearance as filed told to climb to 2000' and expect 4000 in 10 minutes. I was also told to contact JAX Approach on 118.0 after takeoff and squawk 5533. After receiving confirmation that my readback was correct, I tuned 118.0 as the standby frequency on one radio and tuned the ground control freq, 121.8 on the other. We could hear the clearance delivery controller giving another pilot a hard time, so that meant the same controller was running the clearance delivery and the ground control frequencies.

It seems a little odd to me that Craig Airport needs both a clearance delivery frequency and a ground control frequency since it is the same controller who usually handles both frequencies. This airport got a clearance radio a few months before the superbowl came to Jacksonville, and I'd bet that has something to do with it. I really don't think we need it. Maybe the guys who work the radios think differently.

Anyway, I made a courtesy call to the ground controller and then told him I was at Sky Harbor with Mike, and requested taxi for departure. He cleared me to taxi to 23 and off I went.

I asked the ACI if he wanted to check the brakes and he said no. So I continued my taxi on towards the runup area between the intersection of 23 and 32. As the windsock was totally limp, I didn't have to worry too much about which direction I was facing, so I pointed the tail to the grassy area that runs parallel to 23, locked the brakes and began my runup.

Following my checklist carefully, I made sure to touch every item. After I checked the magnetos, Tim asked, "what are we looking for on the magneto check?" I answered, "A drop of no more than 150 on a side and a difference of no more than 75 rpm on the tach." He said that was the answer he always gets and he doesn't know why. The corect answer is a drop of no more than 175 with a difference of no more than 50. He even pulled out the POH to show me. Ok, chalk one up for the instructor.

I had my radios tuned and was about to start, when I caught myself. I told Tim, that I neglected to mention that the turn coordinator and heading indicator were registering properly on the taxi. I also took the time to tune 118.0 on the standby frequency after the tower.

So then I pulled up towards the holdshort - Tim said I could use the Foxtrot intersection--but I usually use Charlie which is at the end of the runway since I was not specifically told to go to 23 at Foxtrot. Nevertheless, I called the tower and announced 512MA was ready to go 23 at Foxtrot. I stopped well short of the hold short, and the tower asked me to pull all the way up - there was a KingAir trying to squeeze in behind me. Aha! should have used Charlie!

The tower asked me to hold short while he pulled my clearance and after a few seconds, he cleared me for takeoff, climb to 2000 and turn to 270. Lights, camera, action and showtime--Landing lights, transponder, throttle and mark time on my watch. Off we went.

I called airspeed alive as we rolled and pulled the nose up at 55. We left the ground shortly after that and I pushed the nose down to keep us in ground effect until the airspeed reached our climbout speed of 79 knots. Then it was about 15 degrees nose up and we were off.

...the rest follows in the next post...

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

And the Progression Continues

I could have sworn that I had posted something since April...maybe not. My training has been progressing nicely. I had hoped to have my second Instrument Stage Check completed before I went on vacation, but the tropical storm put a damper on that idea. I rescheduled for this weekend, but now the chief instructor is not available and I don't really want to fly at 7am.

I had a beautiful flight on the 4th of July. Since three weeks had passed since my last flight, I wanted to practice some instrument maneuvers in anticipation of my stage check. I planned to depart CRG and follow the 115 radial out to 10 DME, then make a DME arc back to the 180 radial then proceed to the 180 Radial at 13 DME and hold south. Since this is summertime in Florida, we can count on lots of billowy clouds, so while I had planned to climb to 3000 feet and execute these maneuvers at that altitude, the clouds prevented that. (I was flying VFR as I had no instructor with me).

My preflight turned up the usual missing screws, but I was very suprised to find only 5 quarts of oil in the engine. The plane had been operated for 1 hour on the 3rd and 1 hour on the 2nd. This means one of two things. A. The aircraft is burning oil at an alarming rate. Assuming that a proper pre-flight check showed the minimum 6 quarts of oil before the flight on the third, the plane burned 1 quart of oil in only one hour! B. The previous renter did not conduct a proper pre-flight inspection and operated the aircraft with a lower than required oil level. Both of these are unnaceptable situations. I added two quarts of oil to bring the level up to 7 quarts. On these very hot days, having plenty of oil is a good way to ensure that the engine runs at the proper temperature.

By the time I had completed my preflight and got everything situated inside the airplane, I was dripping with sweat. The engine started after four or five blades, which is great. I received clearance to taxi to 23 and and the runup went without any problems.

Since there were only about 25 gallons of fuel on board and no passengers, the plane climbed very quickly and I turned out to intercept the 115 radial. The clouds in the area forced me to level off at 1500' and I headed out to 10 DME. The clouds must be afraid of the ocean because as I crossed the coastline and headed out to sea, the clouds all but disappeared. Once I found a large enough gap, I began climbing again. Reaching 10 DME, I turned 90 degrees to the right and adjusted the VOR for the 125 radial. By the time I reached the 155 radial, I had climbed to 6500 feet and I leveled off while maintaining the 10 DME arc. The wind was from the southeast and this pushed me a little inside the 10DME. I adjusted my path to regain 10 miles. Just before reaching the 180 radial, I began a left turn and intercepted the radial on a southbound heading. At 13 DME, I executed a right turn to 360 and started my timer. After 60 seconds, another right turn to 180, but the VOR showed I was left of course (due to the winds from the SE). I adjusted my course to reintercept the radial and found that my time was about 10 seconds long as I reached 13 DME. After three laps of adjustment, I was nailing the radial with no problem. My GPS later confirmed that I had some pretty consistent racetracks.

On the final intercept, I made a steep turn to the left to 090 and headed out towards the beach. Over the beach, I executed a clearing turn, then seeing no traffic, I began a spiral dive to lose altitute. Pulling power to idle and banking to 45 degrees, I started a series of turns with a slight nose down attitude that gave me about a 1500 fpm rate of descent and 105 knots airspeed. I could have descended faster using flaps, but this was fine. I periodically blipped the throttle to clear the plugs and eventually rolled out on a northerly heading at 1000'. Then I slowly progressed up the coast looking for sharks in the water and traffic in the air.

Intercepting the 140 radial from CRG, I turned to 320 and tuned the ATIS. No change really. I contacted the tower and requested touch-n-go. I was told to enter a left base for 23 and report 2 miles. There were four other planes approaching the airport and I figured I would be about 3rd in line. Since I was cruising slowly--only about 90 knots, I had plenty of time to set up.

The tower contacted me just before I got to reporting range and told me to look for a Cessna on final. It took me some time to spot him--what a long final! I announced the tally-ho and was told I was number 2 to land. As the Cessna reached short final, I was cleared to land and told to go direct to the numbers. I banked the plane to the left and lined up with the runway just as I crossed the fence. With full flaps deployed and the touchdown area reachable, I pulled power to idle. The speed bled off quickly and I prepared to flare just before the numbers. I flared a bit late and I got just a slight bit of porpoising since the nose wheel touched first. Good thing I had let so much speed dissipate. By maintaining backpressure on the yoke, the porpoising was suppressed and my rollout was smooth. I retracted the flaps, hit the power and took off again. I made a conscious effort to hold the plane in ground effect until the climbout speed of 79 knots was reached and then I pulled the nose up.

The next two landings were quite smooth. As I was abeam the numbers, another plane announced he was on the left downwind. I could see that he was exactly opposite me. The tower waited to respond to him, so I decided to make my base turn a bit early. She had told me to make a short approach while I was climbing out anyway. This landing was as smooth as silk and so was my third and final landing of the day.

I love flying! 1.1 hours of beautiful VFR.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Sun 'N Fun 2005 - The flight home

After the aerial demonstrations, Justin and I decided to grab a bite at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville which occupied a hanger on the airfield. Although it would have been nice to enjoy a beer after such a long day, we couldn't since we would both be at the controls.

My eyes were bigger than my stomach and this caused me to order shrimp, rice, a cheeseburger, a coke, fries, and vegetables. Not the best thing to do right before a flight.

Following dinner, we made the long walk across the airport back to the airplane. One of the requirements of Sun 'n Fun is that all planes must have tie-downs. Since I didn't have any, they will gladly provide three screw anchors and cheap nylon rope for $25 - and you get $10 back at the end of the day if you can find a volunteer to return the lines to. When we saw an old codger on a golfcart with a tie-down sign on the back, Justin flagged him down and hoped to hitch a ride in the cart. The old guy just wasn't in the mood or wasn't smart enough to realize Justin's intentions, and denied him the ride--just rode behind him as we walked to the plane.

By now my stomach was angry with me for filling it with all that food and I had to bolt for the portajohn.

Meanwhile, Justin preflighted the plane and got things ready to depart. I emerged from the privy in better shape than when I entered and I double checked the preflight.

Since it was still well before 7pm, we could not make use of our instrument plan that I had filed for 7:30. This meant that we needed to join the line of planes waiting to take off and make our way to the far end of the runway.

The ground controllers were very efficient and moved us along straight to the departure runway. This time, they were using 9 Right--the real runway, but they were staggering us two abreast on the runway. Instead of having tower controllers, we watched the hand signals of red-shirted controllers on the ground and monitored the departure frequency. These guys were good.

We were held short as another aircraft landed and then instructed to position and hold on the far left side of the runway. The radio crackled with the voice of the head ATC guy telling the guys on the ground to "let 'em go!" and the red shirt waved us on.

I really have to hand it to those guys--they really did an excellent job of moving the traffic.

Once airborne, Justin plugged CRG into the GPS and we plotted a direct course home. This kept us out of Orlando's class B, but only by a mile or two. It also took us directly over restricted areas and we didn't know if they were active or not. I mentioned this to him and he said we would find out when we got closer.

We got flight following on the climbout and things were shaping up for a nice flight.

As we neared the restricted area, I turned left to avoid it and made my course 010. Shortly thereafter, ATC called asking about my intentions. You could tell from the sound of his voice that he thought we were getting close to the restricted areas. I told him we were making for 010 to avoid the restricted areas and that satisfied him.

Shortly after that, we were handed off from Orlando Approach Control to Jacksonville Approach and the woman on the radio advised us that the restricted areas were cold. By that time, we were almost clear of them, so I maintained my course. This was a course that I was familiar with and the VOR at CRG would provide us with additional guidance if the GPS went down.

We cruised along at 5,500 feet until we crossed the St. Johns at which point, I advised ATC that I was beginning my descent. We were handed off to Craig tower and advised to keep our squawk code in our transponder. By now it was dark and spotting the beacon at CRG was rather difficult in all of the lights on the ground. Justin spotted it easily, though--what a difference 20 years makes!

We were instructed to enter a right base for runway 5 and relying on the GPS and the VOR, I made my way towards CRG. The lights on the runway seemed dimmer than usual and maybe that's why I didn't spot them to quickly. The first thing I saw were the REIL at the far end of 5.

I greased the landing and regretted not doing two touch and goes to reinstate my night currency.

All told, this was an excellent flying day! Good challenges with the traffic, the wind and the night were met with calm determination and we got to enjoy the fruits of our labors. What a great day!

Sun 'n Fun 2005

It has been a while since my last post. My job has me bouncing all over the place and I took a short 10 day vacation. In less than a month, I've been in 10 countries--several of them more than once.

Anyway, following a business trip to Canada, I reserved a very nice Piper Archer to go to Sun 'N Fun at Lakeland Linder Airport. This event is the second largest fly-in airshow behind the Oshkosh AirVenture. Since I knew that there would be quite a bit of traffic, I wanted to have an extra set of eyes, so I asked my instrument instructor to go with me. He had not been to this show, although he has been to Oshkosh.

The forecast called for some pretty stiff winds from the north northeast for most of the day with the peak wind around 7 or 8 pm. The skies were clear, though. We met at the airport at 8am and briefed the flight and the 27 page NOTAM that described all of the special procedures for the fly-in and listed all of the frequencies.

I had filed an instrument flight plan and had an arrival slot, although all of the departure slots for that day were already taken. This only meant that we would not be able to leave on an instrument plan until after 6:59pm. We could fly under VFR at our discretion.

We were wheels up right around 9AM as I had planned and the flight was off to a good start. I discovered one mistake very quickly during the pre-flight. Sterling has two Archers--both are rather new and are almost identical. However, one has an autopilot and the other does not. I got the non-auto plane. Oh well, no big deal.

The winds were in the 12 knot range on the surface and over 30 knots at altitude. We were cleared for 4000 feet although I had requested 6000. This put us right at the altitude of a layer of thin clouds--and that usually spells a bumpy ride. The wind bounced us a bit and I started to regret getting the plane without the auto-pilot.

Our first waypoint was Ocala and we reached that in a short while. We then turned southward and made a beeline for Lakeland. This course kept us clear of the Class B airspace at Tampa and Orlando. No sense dodging jets if you don't have to.

As we drew closer to Lakeland, we started to spot formations of aircraft going the opposite direction. Then ATC vectored us to the Lake Parker approach entry point. Based on the radio traffic, I could tell that there were quite a few planes in the area and at least three were in line behind us. ATC asked me to let him know when I had the powerplant at Lake Parker in sight at which point he canceled our instrument plan and handed us off to local traffic.

The approach procedure called for us to approach the powerplant at Lake Parker from the Northeast and fit in with other traffic. We were coming in from the Northwest, so I decided to turn East until passing the plant, then make a right turn to join the pattern. This gave me time to survey the entire area and watch out for other traffic.

We saw a gap in the traffic and turned to join the flow. The NOTAM said that the pattern speed was to be 100 knots, but there were some slow pokes ahead and we had to keep it down to around 85 to maintain separation. As I passed over the plant, ATC radioed, "Blue and white low-wing, rock your wings". That was me, so I did. He said we were fine and to follow the other aircraft single file. In the space in front of me that would normally be occupied by 1 aircraft, I counted 9 planes!

Just to add to the challenge, the wind was coming out of the North at about 10 knots, but all arriving aircraft were landing on runway 9 left. 9 Left is actually a 75' wide taxiway! Although the taxiway runs parallel to the main runway and is about 8000' long, we were instructed to land about 5000' down the taxiway to minimize the amount of taxi time. They had painted an orange dot on the taxiway and ATC instructed me to land on the dot. The Mooney in front of me had dropped in too early and had to add power to make it as far as the dot. Keeping an eye on him, my altitude and my airspeed while simultaneously maintaining a crab angle that kept me over the centerline was a challenge...but a task that I executed perfectly. Those are my tire marks directly on the orange dot - I nailed the landing.

We then taxied to the General Aviation Parking area and had to wait behind the Mooney that shut down his engine while still on the ramp--who knows why!

The show was great. There were aircraft of every vintage and type. The aerial demonstrations were excellent. The event culminated with a formation of a P51-Mustang, P38-Lightning, F4-Phantom and an F/A18 (I may have been an F16, I'll have to take a look at the pictures I took.

The flight home...

Monday, February 28, 2005

The Navy Dolt and N375LP

December 17th was a strange day on earth. The stupid law for improving US intelligence - the one that outlaws butane lighters from passenger planes - was signed by President Bush. ALSO, some yahoo from the Navy Flying Club rented N375LP and crashed this beautiful, new Skyhawk into a taxiway sign.

I simply cannot fathom how a pilot could have performed such a poor landing job.

Here's what he did. He began his flight from CRG enroute to some place on the west coast of Florida. Although he did not file a flight plan (there was no requirement to do so), his reported intention was to fly directly to some place on the west coast (I just don't remember is documented). Along the way, he decided to perform a touch-n-go landing at Lakeland Linder airport. As things turned out, I'll bet that he did this to make sure he didn't embarass himself with a poor landing at his ultimate destination.

He approached runway 9 which is an 8500' long by 150' wide runway. This is more than enough space to land a Skyhawk (Heck, a pilot who is very proficient in short field landings and who has favorable winds could probably land the plane across the runway!)

Instead of making a nice smooth landing in one of the easiest aircraft to land, he bounced the landing. This is generally caused when a pilot flares at too high an altitude or is coming in at too steep a rate of descent without flaring. Perhaps he was used to flying low wing planes and expected a cushion of air to hold him up. Whatever the cause, he botched the landing.

According to the preliminary NTSB report, at some point, he applied full power to execute a go-around. The report indicates that the plane drifted to the left of the 150' wide runway and struck a taxiway sign thereby forcing the separation of the nose gear and damaging the propeller, engine and firewall.

The pilot claims that the plane drifted left and he could not stop it drifting.

As any pilot knows, when you apply full power to a single engine Cessna, there is a natural left turning tendency that must be overcome by the application of right rudder. Even with the nosewheel off the ground, there is sufficient rudder effect to enable the plane to be effectively steered. Even if the bungees that control the nose wheel steering were ineffective, the rudder itself would have been able to control the aircraft. If the rudder control and the nose wheel steering were both out, then differential braking could have been used to effect a turn.

So, there were three ways that this yahoo could have avoided losing control of the aircraft, but he managed to lose control of an aircraft on the ground and struck a fixed object.

Perhaps I should be more sympathetic. I've made mistakes while flying - entering the downwind for the wrong runway, telling ATC I was East of the airport when I was West, turning the wrong direction on a taxiway. But none of these mistakes jeopardized lives or were related to the fundamental aspects of flying the aircraft. (And I've only made these mistakes once!)

Rumor has it that the pilot was taught to fly by the Navy Flying Club and although he had logged over 300 hours of PIC time, the rumor is that for all but about 50 hours of his logged time, he was really a radio operator and not actually the PIC.

The end result is that Sterling Flight Training which had over 50,000 hours of flying without even an incident, now has a blemished record thanks to some jerk who did not get his training from this fine flying school. They have also lost the use of a formerly excellent aircraft for over 3 months. Unfortunately for me, they are also reevaluating their rental policy and are no longer renting aircraft for more than 3 hours at a time - and that hampers me considerably.

ILS 7 to JAX and VOR 14 to CRG

For my last lesson (two weeks ago), We filed an instrument flight plan from CRG-JAX-CRG and I flew under the hood for the entire trip.

For this flight, we departed CRG and then contacted ATC at JAX. We were given radar vectors for the ILS to runway 7. The vectoring put me right on line with the localizer and when I crossed the IAF, I began a stabilized descent. I like flying the ILS better than a VOR approach because the ILS is much more sensitive than a VOR and the ILS gives a descent path. The DH for this approach is 200AGL, pretty low. As we approached the DH, Justin had me look up and there was the runway - right in front of me. I had kept the needles centered perfectly and we were in very good shape.

We made a low approach (aka go-around) and followed the missed approach procedure returning to the predetermined point that ATC had laid out for us. We then received vectors for another approach and were warned about the presence of a 737 that would be coming in on runway 13. Justin had the 737 in sight - about 1000' above and to our right and increasingly ahead of us. Knowing their position, I slowed our speed to maximize the distance between us and minimize the chance of getting caught in the jet's wake turbulence. Eventually, the jet was vectored across our path and then we were vectored for our approach.

This time, ATC, knowing that we were practicing and would be doing a missed approach, advised us to begin the missed approach before crossing the threshold to avoid the wake of the jet. Again, I kept the needles centered and at the appropriate time, Justin told me to look up-and again we were in perfect shape for the runway. I then executed a missed approach and we were vectored for the entry to the VOR 14 at CRG with circling to 5.

We began our descent at the IAF and quickly dropped to the MDH. With the runway in sight, we made a circling approach to runway 5 and executed another soft field landing.

Not Minimums, but IFC all the same

It has been a while since I last posted. I try to post the same day as a flight, but I've been busy.

On one of my lessons a month or so ago, I had the opportuntity to fly in actual instrument conditions rather than under the hood. For any readers (if there are any readers) who haven't taken instrument training, the hood is a device like a big visor that you wear when taking an instrument lesson that blocks out the view through the windows. This forces you to fly by using the instruments only and prevents visual cues from affecting your flight. There area also devices called foggles that are like safety glasses that have most of their area blocked.

For this particular lesson, I filed an instrument flight plan where we simply took off, climbed to 3000 feet and then entered the holding pattern over the CRG VOR. that kept us in an out of clouds for a while. We then went south to the BEABE intersection and held there for a while. Then we did a VOR approach...I don't remember which runway, but I'm pretty certain it was runway 5.

Through most of the approach, we were in cloud. The MDA for this approach was 460' (420AGL) and we broke out of the clouds at about 800'. Tracking the VOR is not as precise as tracking an ILS, but with the needle centered, I found that we were right on target and I made a nice soft field landing.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Cessna Crash in Orlando

Earlier this week a pilot died in a crash of a Cessna 172. This is a real tragedy and one that I think could have been avoided...we'll know more about how it could have been avoided following the FAA/NTSB investigation.

The unusual thing about this crash was that the Channel 6 news helicopter was nearby when the plane reported his mayday and was able to film the crash. I watched the video over and over to see why he crashed into a telephone pole. The idiot reporters tried to sound like they knew what they were talking about and it was clear that none of them were pilots. They made statements like "he was trying to land on the golf course fairway - that's a great place to land and something that pilots always look for in an emergency".

The video clearly shows that he was not lined up on the fairway. Although there was a golf course nearby, it appears that the pilot was attempting to land on the road in front of the golf course clubhouse. As the plane flew lower and lower, the video seems to indicate that he was lined up on the road, not over the golf course. Contrary to their written copy on the Channel 6 website, he did not crash on the golf course. The road looks like it is only two lanes wide with maybe a turn lane in the middle. There are trees on either side of the road.

The video starts with the plane about 50' AGL in a slight nose down attitude, flaps partially extended. The plane looks like it swerves to avoid trees as it comes down. There is traffic on the road moving in the same direction as the plane. You can see flaps extended, but only about one notch, certainly not full flaps. The plane banks slightly left, then quickly to the right. An SUV appears in site as the plane passes it in a hard right bank. The right wing contacts the ground, then the nose strikes a concrete power pole. The SUV then passes the plane narrowly missing it...looks like he keeps going down the road.

Perhaps the pilot was swerving to avoid the SUV. Perhaps he stalled the plane during the maneuver causing the right wing to lose lift. Who can say?

One of the pilots died in surgery following the crash.

Why didn't the pilot try to land on the golf course? Why did he swerve? What caused the engine to quit? (The video is not clear enough to determine if the propeller was windmilling or stationary.) Maybe he was lined up on the fairway, but didn't get down soon enough and then banked left to line up on the road. He crashed to the left of a putting green in front of what appears to be the clubhouse.

The link to the video is

Perhaps greater emphasis should be placed on performing short field, dead stick landings in our flight training. I think I'll do one on Saturday.

Night flight is allright!

January 4th marks the second anniversary of my first solo flight! The end of January marks the expiration of my aviation medical. For non-pilots, once you reach age 40, you must get your medical renewed every two years. Fortunately, Dr. Gaines Martin takes appointments at the airport and will meet pilots every other Wednesday evening.

I met the good doctor at the airport and he checked me out. It was pretty simple. He listened to my heart and lungs, took my blood pressure which was higher than I like, but not too bad. He then checked my eye tracking, looked into my retinas and checked my throat. This was followed by a peek into the eyeball machine. Read the smallest line, etc. In addition, he had some lights that lit to test peripheral vision. Finally, the ultimate - pee in the cup. The only thing the urine test was for was to test for protein and/or sugar. Either are indicative of malfunctioning organs.

I passed.

Since I was going to be at the airport and because I have not flown at night since July, I reserved a plane so I could make the required three landings to a full stop. This will allow me to take passengers at night for the next 90 days.

I took my time preflighting the plane and found that I would be the first pilot to rent the plane following its 100 hour inspection. Because of this, I paid particular attention to the proper functioning of the aircraft controls. From time to time, the mechanics can reverse the controls and that could be bad.

I noted that there were only about 14 gallons of fuel in the right tank and 18 gallons in the left tank...enough for about 3 hours of flight. More than I would need.

The engine started after seven or eight blades and idled nicely. The COMs and NAVs appeared to be working nicely and the VSI was spot on zero. That's a nice change since the last time I flew N512MA.

After getting the ATIS I called ground and was cleared to 14. 14 was the farthest runway from my position, but that was the active due to the prevailing winds. I taxied slowly to the run-up area, but before I reached halfway, the controller told me the wind was now 140 at 4 and runway 23 was available if I wanted it. I eagerly accepted and was cleared to 23 at foxtrot. In the runup area, I went through the checks using my bluegreen flashlight against the worn out checklist. I then continued to the foxtrot intersection and called the tower. "2 Mike-Alpha, cleared for takeoff left turn on course approved." I responded, "Cleared for take off, 2 Mike-Alpha", and slowly turned onto the runway.

I climbed to 2900' and turned left to intercept the 164 radial off the CRG VOR. That should take me straight to Saint Augustine where I hoped to get two of my three landings for the night.

I tuned the ATIS at SGJ and heard winds 150 at 6 - this favored runway 13, so I pulled the approach plate for the VOR 13 approach. Tuning the SGJ VOR and adjusting the OBS to intercept the 308 radial, I adjusted my course to 180 for about a 30 degree intercept. Judging by my groundtrack, it seemed that the winds at my altitude were much stronger than on the ground and a heading of 170 seemed to give me a 180 track.

As I neared SGJ, I heard another aircraft announce he was on final for 31. Knowing that he would have a tailwind and conditions favored 13, I suspected he was practicing the only ILS approach in the neighborhood. (This morning, a Beach KingAir went long on runway 32 at Craig and wiped out the ILS.)

A minute or so later, he announced he was making a low approach and my suspicions were confirmed.

At about 10 DME, I intercepted the 308 radial and made my turn inbound. I announced my postion and intentions on the CTAF - since the tower at SGJ closed about 5 minutes before my departure from CRG (9:05 PM).

When I was at 3 DME, I announced my position, "St Augustine traffic, Warrior 2Mike Alpha, 3 mile final for 13, this will be a stop-and-go, St Augustine".

A minute later, I heard that same other aircraft announce that they were on a 5 mile final to runway 31. Lovely. Freakin' lovely. This meant that they were on a head-on collision course for the same runway that I intended to land and stop on. I hoped he was making a low approach, but I had to plan accordingly. As soon as I heard him, I announced that I was on short final for 13 - placing emphasis on the "one-three" and then said I would clear the runway as quickly as I could. Pain in the ass...jerk never even acknowledged me.

I landed and hit the brakes hoping there would be time for a takeoff before the other plane was in range. No such luck. I could see his landing lights as I rolled down the runway. I then hear him make his call on final. A dozen things ran through my mind. I was on the was mine, dammit! He knew I was there! The winds favored landing in my direction! But, then I remembered that an aircraft on final has right-of-way over other aircraft. I then thought, safety dictates that I get the hell off the runway.

I saw the next taxiway and immediately turned left onto the alpha taxiway. I could at least taxi back. So it would take a few minutes extra...big deal.

The sunofabitch never landed. He never made another radio call. Didn't announce a low approach. Didn't say he was departing to the North. Didn't thank me for clearing out. Bastard didn't do anything except fly home to his momma. He sounded like he was one of those 12-year-olds from ATP.

I wasted all that time for nothing. Nothing but safety, that is.

I taxied back, took off, remained in the pattern for one more landing - this time I made a regular stop-and-go and then departed the pattern to the North.

I leveled off at 2,400' and tuned the CRG VOR to make a beeline to the airport. Just a few other aircraft out there now.

As I got closer, I tuned the ATIS - still the same ROMEO message.

I then tuned the tower and heard a plane being cleared for an instrument departure on 14 "Cleared for takeoff, maintain runway heading to 5,000" I was lined up on the 140 radial, so I knew he'd be coming straight for me, so angling off to the left a bit would not be a bad idea.

I tuned the OBS to the 180 radial and turned left to intercept it. This would put me well out of the way of the departing aircraft and would put me on a familiar approach course. I still was having trouble picking out the airport lights from the morass of twinkles below. At least I knew the VOR would point me in the right direction. I also had my GPS, but with no lights other than my flashlight around my neck and dim panel lights (the overhead was out), using the handheld GPS was more trouble than it was worth.

I contacted the tower and was instructed to enter the right downwind for 14, report midfield which I acknowledged. I could see the departing aircraft ahead and to my right, slightly lower than my altitude. The tower called and asked me to say my altitude. I responded, "descending through two-thousand one hundred". He was probably verifying whether I posed any hazard to the other plane. No other message, so I guessed there was no problem.

As I got closer, the tower called up and said that the wind was now 140 at 4 and runway 5 was available. Since this put me much closer to CRG and required much less maneuvering, I quickly accepted his offer. "Enter right base for 5, report 2 miles."

I was still having trouble spoting the airport lights amongst all the background clutter, but I knew where it should be. I could occasionally spot the airport beacon and knew the runway was off to the right of the beacon. I also knew that the end of runway 5 pointed right at the intersection of St. Johns Bluff Road and Atlantic Boulevard - both of which were easily identified on the ground.

When the DME said 3 miles, I told the tower "2 Mike Alpha, two miles" (the VOR is on the far end of the nearly 1 mile long runway.)

There it was! Just before it was time to turn, I spotted the runway and made the right turn to 050. Lined up and stabilized, I pulled the flaps progressively to full and touched down softly on runway.

While still rolling, the tower advised me to turn on Bravo-4 and taxi to parking. I thanked the controller and proceded to the parking area.

I was so busy navigating, I didn't have much time to enjoy the lights on the ground, nevertheless, this was a particularly enjoyable flight due to the night flight challenge, not to mention the encounter with the plane at SGJ.

It seemed like it took longer, but I only accumulated 0.9 hours time - all at night with 3 night landings to a full stop.