Sunday, December 17, 2006

Florida Winter Weather

Having lived in Florida for around 40 years, I think I've seen about every type of weather in December. I've seen the city shut down on Christmas Eve (1987) due to snow - a inch was enough to close every bridge in town. I've been water skiing or golfing throughout the winter. You never know what it will be like.

Today, I checked DUAT for the local TAF and METAR information and saw IFR or marginal VFR conditions throughout most of Northeast Florida. The current information showed 6 miles visibility and mist at Craig, but JAX and St. Augustine were much worse. At 9am, JAX was reporting 1/2 mile in mist, but at 10:10, they were at 3 miles with a scattered cover. At 9am, it was 3 miles and mist at St. Augustine. I had planned a 10 am departure, so with iffy weather, I opted to file IFR.

The drive to the airport was covered by blue skies with an increasing cloud cover as I neared the airport - but nothing as bad as the earlier METARs had indicated. I grabbed the flight bag and prepped the plane. Today, I would be flying a Cessna 172SP with the NAVII package. I've been flying one with a glass cockpit lately, so this would be different flying with the traditional six-pack of gauges.

The plane checked out although it's tanks were only half full and the previous pilot had not secured the controls. Since my flight was only going to take about an hour, 2.5 hours of fuel would be more than enough.

The engine started easily and I ran through the usual checklists. Clearance delivery cleared me as filed and told me to climb to 2000 expect 3000 in 10 minutes and she gave me my squawk and the ATC frequency. While in the runup, I double checked the VORs against each other and they were perfect.

With the wind running down runway 5, I would have just a short taxi before takeoff. I taxied out of the parking area at Sterling and stopped on taxiway Golf short of the controlled space before contacting ground control and requesting taxi to runway 5.

There was a single, older 172 in the runup area and he was turned 90 degrees to the wind for his runup - a bizarre way of doing things. I passed him and parked myself into the wind as close to the hold short as possible. The engine ran just fine in the runup. I plugged in the frequencies and the transponder code, then pulled forward and requested takeoff clearance. Although I pulled out of my parking space, I remained clear of the taxiway thinking that ATC would make me hold for clearance - I was right. The wait wasn't long, though and I was cleared for take off quickly. I was given 100 as my departure heading. I put 100 on the heading bug on the heading indicator, turned the transponder to ALT, turned on my lights and noted the time.

On thing that the glass panel aircraft does that the traditional gauges won't do is to compensate for precession on the heading indicator - you simply never have to make an adjustment, whereas with the traditional gauges, you have to stay on top of things. Therefore, once I lined up on the runway, I double checked the heading on the HI and started my takeoff roll.

I noted that I was airborne before I passed the B2 intersection - that's less than 1000' for a takeoff - and I didn't even start my roll at the very end of the runway.

Reaching 700' I turned to 100 and ATC handed me off to Departure. The departure controller had asked me what I wanted at St. Augustine, so I requested vectors for the VOR31 approach. The NOTAMS said that the ILS glideslope was still out of commission, so a VOR approach would be fine. I've been flying ILS and localizer approaches lately anyway, so a VOR approach would be a good thing to do.

On the downwind leg at 3000', I took a few shots of the St. Augustine airport with my new lens. The shots at least show some of the haze that we had, but conditions were definitely VFR.

I made a very nice touch-and-go at SGJ then headed back to Craig. Due to the good weather, I decided to cancel IFR and putter around a bit. I took a few more shots of my house, the beach, other aircraft, etc.

I then headed back to Craig flying straight up highway 9A. I listened to the ATIS that reported winds at 4 knots at 070 - light and only 20 degrees off of the runway. Craig tower advised me to enter a right base to runway 5 and report 2 miles. I followed the highway for a while, then adjusted my course to enter the assigned pattern while descending to 1000'. I slowed the plane and maintained 65 knots of airspeed for the approach. I wanted to be able to exit the runway at taxiway B2. There was a seminole holding short and I hate to make people wait for me almost as much as I hate to wait for people. B2 was the quickest way off the runway provided that I could stop the plane in time.

This time, the plane was much lighter than usual due to the reduced fuel load. I had about 20 gallons of fuel versus a full load of 56 gallons - so I was over 200 pounds lighter with no passengers or cargo. Although my approach speed was steady at 65 knots, the plane floated and just did not want to stay on the ground. The tires chirped a few times too many - I hoped that no one was watching. Nevertheless, I stopped right at the B2 turnoff and was able to clear the runway quickly for the seminole.

It was fun day to fly, but I logged no actual instrument time...passing through a few whispy clouds just doesn't count in my book. I did log an instrument approach, though. I flew 0.7 on an instrument flight plan and the remaining 0.3 hours was pure VFR. Total time for the day was 1.0 with two landings.

David West

Monday, December 04, 2006

RADAR for PDAs, Blackberries and Smartphones

When I was preparing to fly home from North Palm Beach after Thanksgiving, I thought it really would have been nice to have one last glance at the radar before hopping in the plane. Wouldn't it be nice to have been able to view current radar images on my Blackberry's display?!

When I got home, I created a website that is designed to provide a menu on the blackberry's browser that will provide quick connections to the latest National Weather Service radar and satellite images.

Currently, there are three menu items in a table - the first two provide links in order of the ICAO radar station name for long range base reflectivity and the long range base reflectivity loop. The third link provides a listing by State and City of all of the ICAO radar stations and will connect the user to the current long range base reflectivity snapshot.

I'll be adding the visible, infrared and watervapor satellite images soon. I will probably rewrite the page in cHTML (compact-html) so that it will work on most handheld browsers. This means that I cannot use any jpegs or tables.

In the event that anyone sees this post and actually tries my radar site, I would really like feedback. There is no charge for the website other than what your cell provider charges for the connection.

I hope folks find this site useful. I think I'll add a METARs and TAF site soon.

David West

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Low Clouds Aren't Always All That Low

This entry will probably be a bit long. It covers approaches and landings at three airports in the Jacksonville area when the TAFs predicted IFR conditions and METARs showed marginal VFR conditions. Overall the conditions would have been nice for a sightseeing flight - the ceiling was higher than forecast and the IFR conditions really didn't materialize. Because of the forecast, I didn't bring my camera - which I now regret.

With TAFs predicting IFR conditions for much of the local area, I thought today would be a good day to get some actual instrument time and shoot a few approaches. However, from a flying perspective, the weather was better than forecast - from a not flying viewpoint, it was just a blustery, ugly, overcast least for those on the ground.

I filed IFR for CRG-VQQ-SGJ-CRG. All three airports forecast either IFR or marginal VFR conditions. My plan remarks included "PLA" for practice low approaches. I don't like low approoaches. I would much rather drag the wheels across the runway and log an actual landing. Today, I was going to focus on landing in as little distance as possible.

After listening to the ATIS, I tuned clearance delivery and heard the controller pulling double duty. He was giving clearances and filling ground control duties simultaneously. I waited for the airwaves to clear and requested my clearance.

The controller said, "November 1463Foxtrot, cleared to Craig as filed, climb 2000, expect 4000 in ten minutes, departure on 118.0, squawk 5515."

I correctly repeated my clearance and taxied on Golf until I was on the boundary of the controlled taxiway and contacted the ground controller with a courtesy call.

After his response, I radioed, "63 Foxtrot is on Golf short of Bravo request taxi for IFR departure to the west."

Since I neglected to tell the tower that I had information echo, he cleared me to taxi to runway 5 and asked if I had information echo.

During the runup, I programmed VQQ, Cecil Field, as a direct-to in the GPS and made sure that the CRG VOR was programmed in the NAV radio. I had previously entered my squawk code and entered the approach control frequency in the standby on COM1.

Following a thorough runup, I switched to the tower frequency and requested takeoff clearance.

After being held for release, the tower announced, "November 63-Foxtrot, cleared for takeoff runway 5, left turn 280."

I acknowledged and taxied on to the runway, lined up in the center and gave it the gas.

At 55 knots, I pulled back on the yoke and the plane bounced a few times and then began a steady climb out. With only one person in the plane, I think that the trim should be set a bit higher than the takeoff position. This would cause me to use less backpressure on initial takeoff and I would be less likely to exceed the optimal climbout speed. I'll keep that in mind for future flights.

I adjusted the pitch for a steady 74 knots on the climb and after passing 700', I began my turn back to 280. During the turn, the tower handed me off to approach who cleared me to 4000'.

During my climb, I pulled the instrument approach plates for VQQ and tuned the ATIS on the second COM. The ATIS announced that winds were light and variable and runway 31R was in use.

Jax approach asked my intentions at Cecil and since 31 was in use, I requested the ILS31 approach followed by vectors to St. Augustine.

The controller gave me my climbout instructions, "November 63foxtrot, following your low approach or touch-and-go, fly heading 270, climb to 2000 feet, departure on this frequency."

I double checked the frequency and replied, "climbout on 270 to 2000 and 123.8, six-three-foxtrot."

He then gave me a heading of 230 which took me directly over JAX NAS. I leveled off and adjusted my speed for 110 knots TAS since this is what I had filed. This required a throttle setting around 2340 RPM. With the headwinds coming from the southeast, I was only making around 90 knots of ground speed.

I double checked the ATIS, adjusted the altimeter and briefed the plate for 36R. I set the autopilot to heading mode, and activated the approach in the GPS.

The controller vectored me for my downwind, then descended me to 2000'. He then gave me my base leg heading of 270, and I was starting to wonder if he had forgotten me because the localizer was starting to come alive - the needle was starting to move away from full deflection on the HSI. Just as the needle moved to 4 dots, the controller gave me a heading of 330 and advised me to maintain 2000 until established on the ILS. I immediately turned the heading bug to 330, reduced power to 2100 RPM to drop my speed down to 90 knots, and then switched the autopilot to NAV mode. This would make the autopilot intercept the localizer and get me nicely established on a proper approach course.

I watched the glideslope diamond start to descend and when it was one dot above the middle, I dropped the first notch of flaps, disengaged the autopilot and trimmed a little nose down to maintain a 500 fpm rate of descent. I had to reduce the throttle to about 1800 RPM to keep the airspeed at 90 and the descent at 500fpm. I was pleased with the way that I was maintaining my track and glideslope, but noticed that it was much easier to stay on the localizer if I used the GPS display on the multi-function display zoomed in to just a few miles. The track indicator clearly showed where I would be heading and if it ventured too far to the left or right, then I knew I would soon be off course. This was a much more responsive indicator than the localizer needle shown on the HSI.

I kept my head in the cockpit - with the traffic display, I wasn't too worried about other aircraft in the area. If decided to look up at 500' and saw the runway dead ahead. The rest of the aproach, I completed visually. I reduced speed to 65 knots - with a fully loaded plane, the approach speed for a short field landing would be 68 knots - with just me on board, I reasoned that 65 knots would be just fine. When it was clear that I would reach the runway, I reduced power to idle and kept my hand on the throttle just in case I needed a push. I flared the plane just before the numbers and then dragged rubber right across the big 36. I probably could have had the plane stopped completely within 700'. I was very pleased with this landing.

Ok, time to retract the flaps, push the throttle to full and give it some rudder to maintain the centerline. Nose up at 55, then climb out at 74. With somewhere around 11,000 feet of runway left, I had lots of room to climb. I reached 700 feet and made my left turn to 270 - I still had not reached the crossing runway! The tower controller handed me back to departure and I called, "Jax Departure, Skyhawk 1463Foxtrot out of 1,100 for 2000."

"November 1463Foxtrot, radar contact 1 mile west of Cecil, climb to 3000, after passing 2000, left turn to 130", the controller advised.

I leveled off and entered SGJ as the direct-to in the GPS. My current heading of 130 was perfect. I would go straight to St. Augustine. I set the autopilot to follow my heading bug and maintain 3000'.

When I was almost south of NAS JAX, I heard the controller talking to a Navy pilot - couldn't hear the pilot, just the controller. The controller advised the pilot that he should maintain 4000' due to skyhawk traffic four miles south of the airport heading southeast. That had to be me. ATC then told me to alter my course to 090 - there was a navy jet inbound from the south on an attack pattern. I looked all over to the south for this plane, but he must have been above the cloud layer that was right around 4000'. As I passed the river, ATC vectored me to 130 again and I never saw the Navy fighter.

I tuned the ATIS for St. Augustine and heard that they were landing on runway 31 - and also that the ILS was unmonitored and the glideslope was out of service. Visibility was 5 miles in mist and the sky was 5500 scattered with 8000 overcast. This was much higher than Craig or Cecil. The problem with the ILs has been that way for quite a while. I don't get it. The St. Augustine VOR was out of service for over a year without any explanation. Now the glideslope is OTS. With Florida weather, a fully functioning ILS is a very good thing for an airport to have.

ATC then asked for my intentions following St. Augustine and I replied that I would like to go back to Craig and get the ILS 32 approach. The controller advised me to fly 360 and climb to 2000, approach on 120.75, which I acknowledged.

Like before, I received vectors for my downwind leg. I heard ATC talking to another aircraft that reported 10 miles out on the ILS 31, but I never saw it...never even saw it on my traffic indicator. Although I was only 5 miles from the airport, he gave the other aircraft priority - he must have been much faster. He canceled his IFR clearance at 10 miles saying that the airport was in sight - I guess the 5 miles of visibility wasn't really 5 miles after all. Since it was clear to me that I was being sequenced, I reduced my speed to 85 knots - no sense in flying miles out of the way if I didn't have to.

Finally, I was given vectors to intercept - "...Fly heading 270, maintain 2000 until established on the localizer, glideslope is out of service, cleared for the ILS 31 approach."

I acknowledged saying, "63Foxtrot, 270 and 2000 until established, I understand that the glideslope is out of service and will make this a localizer approach, cleared for the ILS31."

As I turned to intercept the localizer, ATC handed me off to the tower who told me to report reaching the coastline. I began descending to 1600 as this was the minimum altitude at the FAF. Crossing the FAF at 1600, I established a 500 fpm descent at 90 knots with one notch of flaps. I reported the coastline and was cleared for the option. When I was down to 1000', I looked up and noted that even though the localizer said I was dead on and my heading was exactly what was prescribed in the plate, the runway was slightly off to the right. It was at this point that I payed more attention to the GPS display on my right and noted any deviations. At 500', I slowed the plane to 65 knots and pointed the nose at the bottom of the numbers. There are a few hundred feet of runway overrun area before the threshold, so I've got a nice concrete buffer if I land short. I progressively added the rest of the flaps and pulled power to idle. I nailed the landing on the numbers and could easily have made a very short landing. Flaps up, trim to T/O, full power and I was cruising down the runway again.

I payed careful attention to the GPS display on climb out and made sure I was perfectly lined up with the runway - the localizer was showing full deflection - which clearly told me that it is not a straight-in localizer otherwise the back course would have showed me dead on as well.

I was paying so much attention to my heading that I almost forgot to make my turn to 360. At 1000' I made my turn and the tower handed me back to departure control.

Since St. Augustine is only about 25 miles from Craig and I would be flying the ILS32 approach, I would not have much time to brief the plate and get my stuff together. ATC told me to climb to 2000and kept me on my 360 heading. I entered and identified the ILS on 111.7, punched up KCRG and selected the approach on the GPS, and then listened to ATIS information Foxtrot on COM2. Wind was 040 at 5 with 5 miles visibility, skies OVC at 060. I was told to expect the ILS32-circle to 5. So I clipped that plate to the yoke and read it over.

In no time I was very near the approach course, so I activated the approach on the GPS and set the autopilot to NAV mode. ATC cleared me for the approach when I was about 4 miles from ADERR and told me to turn left to 350 and maintain 2000 until established on the ILS. Once I was established, he handed me off to Craig tower who advised me to circle to runway 5 and turn southwest for a right base - report circling.

I followed the ILS down to 600 feet, leveled off and at 1 mile, I made my left turn. I reported my circle to the tower who cleared me to land. I slowed the plane to 75 knots and turned my base and began descending again. On the base, I dropped the second notch of flaps and then turned final. This happened pretty quickly because I had made my circle fairly close to the runway - I was making a very tight pattern. On my downwind, the GPS had indicated 17 knots of wind, but this had dropped to a 4 knot indication when I was on final. I reduced the throttle to get the speed down to 65 while dropping the last notch of flaps. I pointed the nose at the numbers and as I got closer, I reduced power to idle while pointing the nose short of the numbers. Crossing the threshold about 10 feet above the tarmac, I started pulling the nose up and the wheels made their black marks across the big 5. I kept backpressure on the yoke and then slowly dropped the nose to the ground while applying brakes. I could have stopped this very short - probably in less than 600 feet. I actually gave the plane a little gas to get me to the Bravo-2 turnoff which is right about 1000' from the end of the runway. I coasted through the turnoff and the tower told me to hold short of bravo - contact ground on point 8.

I stopped the plane on the far side of the hold short line and tuned the ground control frequency. This plane automatically turns the transponder on and off, so I didn't have to worry about that. I called ground and requested taxi clearance to Sterling which was given to me right away.

For some this might seem pretty boring or even run of the mill, but I love this stuff. Writing this, I feel like I'm right back in the cockpit - my favorite place to be. Nothing conveys a greater sense of freedom than flying thousands of feet above the earth with complete control over your destination. And nothing builds confidence like being able to stick three short field landings at three different airports in a single session.

I had hoped to encounter a great deal more weather en route than I did. On my initial climb out, I quickly entered the clouds before reaching 2000 feet even though the METAR only reported a few clouds at 600' with an overcast ceiling at 6000'. Heading towards Cecil, there were occasional patches of clouds, and I encountered IMC on my climb to the west. When I was flying Southwest over NAS JAX, I could see a band of clouds that began around Cecil and extended quite a ways to the North. On my climb out from Cecil, I encountered these clouds and hit just a few more bewteen Cecil and St. Augustine. I'm estimating that I was actually in IMC for about half an our out of a total of 1.6 hours of flying time. I flew three instrument approaches and made three short field landings. I had a great time. Single pilot IFR is not all that difficult when the low clouds aren't really that low.

David West

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Night Flight Home

After enjoying a very nice dinner at McCarthy's in Tequesta, it was time for us to fly home. I signed on to the computer, got a weather briefing and filed my instrument flight plan for an 8:30pm departure from F45 to CRG at 7000'. Knowing that my heading would be slightly West of North, the normal procedure would be to file for an even altitude as per the AIM, but having flown this route many times, I knew that ATC would assign odd altitudes to northerly flowing traffic. I didn't want to get stuck down at 5000', so rather than filing for 6000', I filed for 7000.

We loaded up and were ready to go very close to our departure time. I taxied to the runup area and contacted Palm Beach Clearance Delivery.

"Palm Beach Clearance Delivery, Skyhawk 1-4-6-3-Foxtrot, ready to copy IFR to Charlie-Romeo-Golf, holding short of runway 3-1.", I announced.


Oops, wrong frequency. I corrected the frequency and called again.

This time, the response came, "Who's calling clearance delivery?"

I repeated myself and was told that he didn't have anything for me. It seemed strange that he didn't have to spend too much time looking for my plan, so I told him I had filed about 45 minutes ago on line.

"Well, I can give you VFR flight following and you can contact the Miami Flight Service Station at 122.4 or 122.2 and refile with them."

I was sitting with my engine running and I'd have to file over the radio...lovely.

I changed the radio frequency to 122.4 and called, "Miami Radio, Skyhawk 1-4-6-3-Foxtrot."

A garbled crackle was my only response, so I called again. A near perfect duplicate of the original garbled crackle came through my headset.

"Great.", I thought to myself, "I've got an overcast ceiling and I can't file an IFR plan on the ground without shutting down and getting on the phone."

I tuned Palm Beach clearance again and called them up. The controller said he would call when my clearance comes up. This posed a dilemna for me since the only way it would come up would be if my original clearance magically appeared. I decided to avoid clearance delivery and file in the air with the FSS.

I verified that the Vero Beach VOR was my direct to in my GPS and I announced my departure on runway 31. At 500', I began my turn towards VRB and continued my climb towards 2000'. As I climbed, I heard a multi-engine aircraft announce their position to the north of F45 southbound descending for a full stop. I could see his lights in the distance.

I announced my departure to the north on the CTAF and the twin pilot called me, "Traffic departing North County, what's your position? Do you have your landing lights on?".

I responded, "I'm direct Vero out of 1,500 for 2,000. I think I've got your lights in sight. I'll flash mine for you." And I flashed the landing lights.

"Ok, I've got you in sight. I'll turn a little eastward and I'll pass you to the East.", the twin advised.

"Thanks. I see you passing. Have a nice evening", I said.

After this encounter, I called the Miami FSS saying "Miami Center, Skyhawk 1-4-6-3-Foxtrot".

As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew I called the target by the wrong name.

"This is the Miami Flight Service Station, can I help you?", announced the FSS contact.

"Sorry. That's what I meant to say. I filed an IFR plan that seems to have been lost. Can I file with you?", I humbly begged.

"Sure. What's your type of aircraft and equipment?", he asked.

We then went back and forth through the full flight plan procedure ultimately culminating with a "You're on file. If you feel like giving a PIREP, please call Flight Watch at 122.0".

I thanked the very patient controller and contacted Palm Beach Approach, "Palm Beach Approach, Skyhawk 1-4-6-3-Foxtrot, with request".

Immediately a very nice sounding lady told me that I was cleared to CRG, squawk 3734 and to climb to 7000'.

I began my climb through the overcast layer. It got a bit bumpy on the climb, but I maintained level flight throughout the climb. We broke out of the clouds around 6600' and there was a very stable layer of clouds only 400' beneath us.

A few minutes later, I was handed off to Miami Center. The center controller told me he had my clearance and I should advise when ready to copy. This seemed odd since I had received clearance from the PB controller, but considering the problems so far, I was not about to argue.

"Cleared direct MLB then Victor 3 to OMN, then V51 to CRG", he announced.

I was already direct VRB, so getting cleared beyond that made life a bit simpler. I repeated my clearance and settled in for a smooth flight.

There was almost no moon to illuminate the cloud layer that undulated below me. At times, towering cumulous clouds jutted into our path tossing the plane with surprising force. At other times, the cloud layer slowly rose in unison above our cruising altitude ever so briefly before retreating to a stable distance about 500' below us. The traffic system was alive now pointing out all traffic within 3500 feet vertically and about 10 miles horizontally. It is always fun when a controller points out traffic and I can reply, I've got him on my scope and in sight.

I tried to take a few pictures of the clouds below, but low light made them very grainy. I'll post one just to show the view...

We cruised along making about 110 knots of groundspeed with a decent headwind. True Airspeed was around 118 knots. The traffic system showed a plane 2000' below us heading in roughly the same direction at close to the same speed. He was actually several miles to the West of the airway and weaved left and right quite a bit. At one point, his altitude reported within 1500' of us. Thinking that another aircraft flying at our altitude towards the same destination might cause me some delay getting down, I decided to up the power a bit. I pushed the throttle until the engine was making 2600 RPM and readjusted the mixture. We trimmed out at 122 knots TAS and started making about 116 knots of groundspeed - give or take a knot. Through periodic gaps in the clouds I could see the aircraft below me just to the left of my course. Slowly we passed him until he disappeared from the scope altogether.

During this time, I managed to snap a photo of the lights of Orlando. There's really not much to see. The lights kind of look like lava flows to me.

With a solid layer of overcast below us, we passed over OMN. Shortly afterwards, the Daytona Approach Controller called, "November 6-3-Foxtrot, it is now clear down to 5000, you'll need to be down in about 40 miles, would you like to descend?"

I responded, "6-3-foxtrot, If it isn't a problem, I'd prefer to remain at 7000. We are in smooth air above the clouds and we still have about 65 miles to go."

"November 6-3-Foxtrot, remain at 7000 as requested", he replied.

So on we cruised in smooth air as the cloud layer below us diminished. We were almost clear of clouds when we approached St. Augustine.

Lights of St. Augustine descending from 7000' northbound.

I called Jacksonville Approach and requested lower. The controller cleared me down to 3000' and I began my descent. During the descent, I shot a few photos of St. Augustine - It's amazing what you have time to do when you establish a nice, stable descent. Most of the shots are a bit blurry. The shutter speed had to be fairly slow to get the light, so even the slightest motion resulted in blurred images. Nevertheless, I managed to get one that wasn't totally blurry.

As we approached CRG, I also shot the following picture. You can see the Blount Island lights in the center of the shot as they reflect off of the St. Johns River. The curving line that comes from the bottom left then curls back again to the left is highway 9A. The line with the hump is the Dames Point Bridge.

Craig was landing VFR on runway 5 and when we were about 12 miles out, I advised ATC that I had CRG in sight. I had listened to the ATIS on the second radio and contacted the tower when Jax Approach handed me off. I was advised to make a right base for runway 5 and I set up a steady, slow descent.

Runway 5 is the closest runway to Sterling and if I could stop by the Bravo-2 taxiway, I would cut off a significant part of my taxi time. Therefore, I set up for a short field landing. Winds were calm, so I maintained 65 knots on approach with my hand on the throttle so I could gas it should a gust cause my airspeed to drop. I aimed at the numbers and pulled the power to idle. I flared above the numbers and landed just beyond them. I maintained full backpressure on the yoke and retracted the flaps as soon as I touched down. Confident that we weren't going to bounce, I applied the brakes and we slowed to a crawl in time to make the Bravo-2 cutoff.

Upon seeing me turn off, the tower advised me to taxi to the ramp and monitor ground on "point 8", which means monitor the ground control frequency on 121.8.

I acknowledged and said good night as we taxied to our parking spot. Just before shutting down, the radio announced that the tower was closed and would reopen in the morning....It was now 11PM. Our flight had taken a little over 2 hours due to the extra time on the ground monkeying around with the flight plan. I got a fair amount of instrument time in at the beginning as most of our climbout was spent in the clouds and we popped in and out for the first hour of the ride. Overall the flight was very smooth and enjoyable.

Seven years ago, we made the same trip by car...maybe for Christmas, I don't recall exactly. We had a nearly 4 hour ride to Tampa followed by a similar ride to Palm Beach Gardens and capped off by a nearly 4 hour ride from PBG to Jacksonville. At the end of that trip I remember saying I would never spend that much time on a holiday weekend fighting traffic. Having a pilot's certificate makes a huge difference. We spent much less time in transit. Our time was spent free of traffic relaxing in the air thanks to a terrific autopilot and a wonderful aircraft. Maureen even watched TV on my IPOD during the flight - something she would never dream of doing in a car.

Life is Good!

David West

Tampa North to North Palm Beach County

I had never flown this route before although I had flown out of both Tampa North and North Palm Beach County many times in the past. I have also flown to Lakeland Linder for Sun-n-Fun twice before and this airport is along the route. There is a large MOA and Lake Okeechobee to contend with, otherwise, there are many small airports on the route in case of an emergency.

I had filed an instrument flight plan the night before. After making a quick check of the weather on the route and the updated forecast, we were ready to head out. As expected, the engine started easily. I set the altimeter so that the airport's elevation appeared. With a traditional altimeter, the barometer setting is dialed in the "Kohlsman" window. I wonder what they would call the window on this new glass panel's just a box on a computer screen.

Anyway, the winds were light but favored runway 32, so I didn't have far to taxi. There was a skyhawk just ahead of me who announced on the CTAF that he would taxi across the runway for runup. I taxied short of the runway on the near side and angled the prop wash away from the parked aircraft. I set the radios and entered the Lakeland VOR in the GPS as a direct-to. This was my first point on my flight plan and I did not expect any problem getting a clearance once I was airborn. I quickly ran through the checklist and satisfied that all was well, I announced that I would be taking runway 32. The other Skyhawk was still completing his runup while a third airplane had just pulled from his parking spot. Looked like the morning was going to be busy.

Holding the brakes, I ran the engine to full power noting that the RPM had reached 2,400. I released the brakes and we were rolling. The speed came up quickly and I nosed her into the air adjusting my attitude to maintain 74 knots. Since there is a neighborhood in the flight path, I maintained a straight-ahead path until I reached 1000' then I made my left turns which put me on an almost direct path to LAL. I leveled off at 2000' and established a heading of 130 - direct to LAL. After engaging the autopilot and setting it to follow the NAV and maintain altitude, I contacted Tampa Approach and requested my instrument clearance to F45. Approach was busy, so he gave me a transponder code and told me to stand by while he retrieved my clearance.

The controller told me that he had my clearance and asked that I tell him when I was ready to copy. I immediately replied that I was ready.

"Cleared via radar vectors to HALLR, Hotel, alpha, lima, lima, romeo; then direct ULLMN, uniform-lima-lima-mike-november; then direct Palm Beach; then direct Foxtrot-4-5." came the clearance.

I repeated the clearance and was told to fly heading 130 and climb to 5000. I switched the autopilot to heading mode and began my climb to 5000. I also entered HALLR as a direct-to in the GPS and began to enter the rest of the plan.

We passed by the Lakeland Linder airport where I shot these photos out the window.

Prior to reaching HALLR, the controller handed me off to Miami and told me I would receive my on course clearance from the Miami controller. About 10 minutes after contacting Miami center, I asked the controller if I could get my on course clearance. The controller said that he thought the prior controller cleared me and apologized. He cleared me direct to ULLMN. I tried hard to find ULLMN on my instrument chart, but it simply wasn't there. It turns out that it REALLY isn't on the L19 chart. I don't know why. Fortunately, the GPS showed me exactly where it was - in the middle of lake Okeechobee.

I updated the GPS and adjusted my course slightly to head straight for ULLMN. I was a bit nervous about flying over the big lake. If the engine died, we would be stretching our glide distance to the limit in order to make it to shore. A forced landing in the middle of the lake would satisfy a few alligators' hunger, and surviving would be a challenge if the water was deep enough for the plane to sink. Therefore, I monitored every instrument very carefully to ensure that nothing was about to go wrong. We had clear skies ahead, so weather would not be a problem. I kept a close eye on the GPS which provided an indication of the relative wind. We were getting between 9 and 11 knots of wind from our front left quarter. Knowing this, I reasoned if we were less than 2/3rds of the way across the lake, an engine problem would result in my banking to the right immediately while pitching for 69 knots to make a 120 degree turn to put the wind behind me. This would maximize our distance covered while in best glide configuration. Fortunately, we didn't need to make use of these plans as we made it across the lake safely. I took a couple of shots of the lake, but it just looks like a bunch of blue from the middle. The shots I took as we crossed the west boundary are much more interesting - here's one:

The dark spot near the bottom of the shot is a mote on my camera lens.

Near the eastern end of the lake, ATC instructed me to descend to 3000' and cleared me direct F45. With the airport in sight, I canceled IFR and made a VFR approach to runway 31 which was being used by several other planes. I came in a bit hot and landed longer than I like to, but there would have been little point in landing short as there were no turnoffs near by.

This was a great day for flying and for seeing parts of Florida that I had not seen from the air in the past. I even got a shot of the Sebring airport where they have the 12 hour endurance race every year. Here it is:

So, that gives me another 1.6 hours of cross-country flying with a measly 0.2 hours of actual instrument time. All in all, an outstanding flight.

David West

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Thanksgiving Flying with my Nephew

Tony is my 16 year old nephew who lives in Odessa, Florida. He's an intelligent and artistic young man with great potential. He is an outstanding guitarist and a wonderful big brother to his three younger siblings.

He's flown with me before and has shown himself to be a very calm flyer.

This would be his first flight in a plane with the G1000 cockpit, so I was interested in seeing how he would interface with the new instrumentation. We started the engine and I explained a few things to him. As we were completing our pre-taxi checklist, another aircraft landed and they wanted our parking spot - it was the last one with tiedowns.

"Cessna 63-Foxtrot, are you listening?" came the call from the plane that had taxied up to the small parking area.

"Affirmative. What can I do for you?", I replied.

"If you're getting ready to leave, we'll just park back in that spot", said the local.

Apparently, I had taken his spot. I replied, "We'll get out of your way. Any advice as to where we should park when we return?"

Since the FBO was closed, parking was a free-for-all. The parking areas on the grass were all taken and all of the paved areas appeared to be taken, too. The airport is building numerous new hangars, but they had to tear down some to make room for the new - consequently, parking is at a premium, especially on Thanksgiving.

The other pilot said there was a spot beyond the fuel depot or I could park on the grass anywhere.

Tony and I took off down runway 32 and headed north out from under the Class B airspace at Tampa. I handed over the controls to Tony after explaining the HSI and the altitude read outs. I had toyed with using the reversion mode on the PFD/MFD so he would have the full instrumentation directly in front of him, but this would precluded the traffic display. There were many aircraft in the area and TPA is a busy airport, so I didn't want to take unnecessary chances.

Tony did a remarkable job of flying the plane. He maintained altitude very close to the PTS standard. He was able to turn to specific headings and to maintain level flight very well once I explained the attitude indicator.

I had him turn left to 270 and we flew until we crossed the Veteran's expressway. We were at 2300 feet, well below the Class B shelf which begins at 3000 feet. Crossing the Veteran's, we flew South until we spotted landmarks that identified his neighborhood. We then circled his home and then flew straight back to Tampa North.

As we approached Tampa North, a Comanche radioed his position and intentions and I did the same. I had him on our traffic scope and I was closer to the airport. I descended to pattern altitude and advised that I was entering the left downwind for 32, full stop. The Comanche advised that he would take position behind me...but he was coming from the southeast and I was coming from the west. I could see him coming straight at me as I was on downwind. I called out to him, "Comanche, I've got you in sight. You'll pass directly overhead." It's a good thing that I had already descended below pattern altitude or we would have been on a collision course. I'm not sure why he chose this entry - he could have made a straight-in approach and we would have been safer. Instead, he entered by flying the opposite direction in the downwind - which would have been the Right Downwind for 14, but he was landing on 32.

I suppose that I could have declared that I was going to fly a straight-in for 14 which would have saved taxi time, but with other planes in the pattern, I figured standard approaches would be best. Also, other planes had been using 32 earlier and although there was little wind, what wind there was favored 32.

After touching down, I advised the Comanche that I would taxi to the end of the runway to make room for him to land - he was right behind me in the pattern and taxiing back while he was on final would have forced him to go around. He landed and then taxiied all the way to the end, too. He could have turned around mid way down the runway, but maybe his plane couldn't turn so tightly.

With collisions and crashes averted, we taxiied very rapidly to the other end of the airport and parked in the grass beyond the gas pumps.

Tony did a great job flying - maybe one day, he'll get his certificate.

0.8 hours of sightseeing with my nephew.

David West

Thanksgiving Flying

The second flight of the long weekend took me from Jacksonville's Craig Municipal Airport (KCRG) to the Tampa North Aeropark (X39). Mom was picking us up in Tampa and I had offered flights to my neices and nephews. I told her the night before that we would be there by 10:30 am, so a 9AM wheels up time would be the order of the day.

There were three or four other planes who were leaving on instrument plans at 9AM, so clearance delivery told me that my clearance was on request and he'd give it to me in the run-up area at runway 23. He also cleared me to taxi to 23.

I ran through the checklist as I taxied. Reaching the run-up area, I found another skyhawk already there, another single coming up behind me and a Mooney coming from the opposite side of the airport. I parked as close as I could to the Cessna. The controller advised me to tell him when I was ready to copy - I immediately told him I was ready.

I was cleared via radar vectors to OCF then direct DADES then X39--Climb 2000, expect 5000 in 10 given a squawk and the departure frequency. It might come as a surprise that I had filed 5000 as my altitude since this flight was to the West, but in Florida, ATC does things a little differently when dealing with altitudes. If you are in the system - whether flying IFR or using flight following on a VFR flight, ATC looks at things from a NORTH/SOUTH perspective rather than an EAST/WEST perspective in the Florida peninsula. Since we have a long, narrow state, more flying is done north/south than east/west. Traffic separation is more easily accomplished when adjustments are made with this in mind. I've seen this quite a bit on flights down the East coast - When I flew home from North Palm Beach County, I was given 7000' and oncoming Southbound traffic was generally at 6000' or 8000' - even though my heading was North by northwest which according to the AIM should receive an even altitude.

Anyway, my takeoff clearance had me turning to 280 and I was immediately handed off to Jacksonville departure control. The controller advised me to climb to 4000' and to expect on course after 3000'. Usually, I get an on course vector after 2600 - just high enough to clear the NAS JAX airspace. This time, however, the controller was very busy and I received an on course vector when I was passing 3400'. At the same time, I was told to climb to 5000'.

Shortly after that, I was cleared direct to DADES - which was great. This shortened the distance to X39 by taking the bend out of the flight that would have taken me over OCF. It also gave me some practice with the GPS making it skip entries in the flight plan.

It was a beautiful day for flying with only occasional clouds in the distance. Every once in a while, the traffic display reported another aircraft in the vicinity, but we never had a problem. Tailwinds were in abundance with the GPS showing as high as 34 knots of a right rear quartering wind. This was giving us a ground speed in excess of 140 knots and nearly 165 knots on our descent. I was babying the plane to save fuel so I was only getting 114 knots of true airspeed and burning only 7.5 gallons per hour!

There was other traffic in the pattern at Tampa North that I discovered by monitoring the CTAF on the second radio. About 25 miles out, ATC descended me to 2000'. At 12 miles, the told me the airport was 12 o'clock, which I already knew thanks to the incredible technology I had on well as the numerous prior flights I had made to this airport. ATC said I could cancel with them or with the FSS on the ground, so seeing no clouds in the area, I canceled IFR and completed the flight VFR. I overflew the airport at 1,500' and heard other aircraft landing on runway 31. This meant that I would have to land and taxi back. I made a teardrop entry and flew a tight pattern. We touched down near the numbers and I turned the plane around in the width of the narrow runway.

Parking was going to be another story. There must have been quite a few visitors in town for the holiday as I only saw one parking spot available. I pulled in front of it and then pushed back. Mom wasn't there yet, so I called and learned that she was 20 minutes away. She was bringing my 16 year old nephew, Tony, with her so he could take a flight with me.

This flight was 1.5 hours of cross-country, a very small amount of instrument time, and was about as uneventful as they come.

Tony's flight is next.

David West

Around Florida in Under 6 Hours

or...How I spent my Thanksgiving Vacation

Between Wednesday evening and Friday night, I accumulated 7.3 hours of flying time - 5.5 of that was cross-country. I encountered at least one situation that I had not encountered before and I flew in areas that I had not flown in before.

It all began Wednesday evening when I took N1463F up for a little night flying. I had previously reserved the plane from 5pm Wed through midnight Friday to give me plenty of flexibility to go to my sister's for Thanksgiving. Our plans had changed, so we decided to leave on Thursday morning. I felt bad that someone else wouldn't be using the plane, but I didn't want to take a chance on there not being adequate fuel for my flights from CRG to X39 and then to F45. Refueling would be an issue on Thanksgiving day as most places are closed and we were planning to fly from X39 to F45 first thing on Friday morning.

I filed an instrument plan for a round trip to CRG with a SGJ (St. Augustine) as a stop. The plane was not quite full of fuel, but there would be someone at Sterling to refuel until 7pm, so I should have no problems.

The weather all day at CRG was overcast with a very close temp/dewpoint spread. The engine started easily and I taxied to the departure runway after getting the ATIS and my clearance. The climb out was uneventful. I requested vectors for the ILS31 approach at St. Augustine. I listened to the ATIS at SGJ and learned that the glideslope was out of service and the ILS was unmonitored. The NOTAMs mentioned the unmonitored situation, but not the glideslope - this would have to be a localizer approach. ATC gave me vectors and cleared me for the approach - and told me about the glideslope.

I was handed off to St. Augustine tower and a very nice lady controller cleared me for the option. I had initially planned to make a low approach, but there was no traffic around and since this was night, I opted to make this one a stop and go. I flew the localizer and descended to decision height. When I was a mile out I looked up and saw the runway looming ahead of me. I touched down smoothly and braked to a halt. I then pulled the flaps, pushed the power and I was rolling again.

ATC had previously told me to fly 360 and climb to 2000 following my approach, so at 700 feet I started to make my right turn. The tower handed me back to ATC who asked my intentions at CRG. I requested the ILS32 and was told to expect the ILS 32 circle to 23.

I briefed the approach and tuned the appropriate radios, listened to the ATIS, adjusted the barometer. Since this is a G1000 panel plane, there is no turning the heading indicator to the magnetic compass which is nice - although I suspect it will create some bad habits when I fly aircraft with steam gauges.

I was cleared and handed off to Craig tower. The tower advised me to circle northeast to runway 23 and to advise of the circle. MDA for a circling is 500', so I decided that I would begin my circle at 500. I would imagine that the homes in the area don't care for that so much...but they bought houses next to a very old airport, didn't they!?

I touched down a little long and the controller told me to go all the way to Bravo-2 then taxi to the ramp - this actually saved me a bit of time as I could make an almost straight in taxi to Sterling.

This flight took exactly 1.0 hours with just a little actual instrument time at the beginning of the flight...the skies had cleared pretty quickly.

Flight #2 comes in the next post.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Alltel Stadium

From time to time I bring my camera with me to snap aerial photos. I took this shot of Alltel Stadium on September 2, 2006. The Hart bridge is in the left foreground with Alltel Stadium in the center. Downtown Jacksonville's northbank is in the upper left. We are looking west north west from about 2000'. That's the St. Johns River.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Vegas at Night

I took this shot as we flew from the East towards the Stratosphere. Kind of hard to fly the plane AND take pictures, so the blurriness is to be expected. You can see the Wynn on the far right and the single bright light on the far left is on top of the Luxor pyramid. In between you've got Caesars, The Venetian, Bally's, Bellagio, Monte Carlo, Paris, New York New York, Excalibur and many others. What a great city!

Night flight over Las Vegas

Daylight faded quickly into neon as the sun fell behind the mountains to the west of Las Vegas. Having completed my checkout with the local instructor, I ran through a quick pre-flight of N975TA, a four year old Cessna Skyhawk with about 1400 hours on the clock.

Cessna outfitted this aircraft with the NAVII option - dual nav/coms with a glideslope on the nav 1 and the Garmin 430/530 moving map GPS system. A two axis autopilot rounded out the equipment.

Remembering the instructor's words about flooding this particular plane, I tried unsuccessfully to start the engine without using the priming procedure. Mixture at ICO, throttle at 1/2 (which seems a bit aggressive to me), I turned the key to start. After about two blades, the engine caught and I pushed the mixture, but the engine didn't start. I tried several more times with a variety of throttle and mixture positions. Finally, I pushed the throttle to full, mixture at ICO and tried again. This time the engine caught, revved quickly and I increased the mixture. With RPMs ridiculously high, I pulled the throttle back to idle and things came back to some semblance of order.

I asked Matt to be my flight crew - navigator and handed him the Las Vegas sectional. I tuned the ATIS and got the numbers.

Contacting North Vegas ground, I called, "North Vegas ground, Skyhawk niner seven five tango alpha at west air with uniform, VFR to Hoover Dam and Grand Canyon at five thousand five hundred feet."

The controller replied, "Skyhawk niner seven five tango alpha, squawk 4251, taxi to and hold short of runway 7."

I read back the instructions and the controller told me the readback was correct.

As we started our taxi, ground advised that there was a Baron that would be passing on my right and I should keep an eye out. I asked if he would like me to stay put - but he said I should see the baron momentarily off to my right.

The Baron approache the runup area ahead of me, but he parked right in the middle and did not angle his propwash away from the rest of the area...brilliant. I pulled up to his right and ran through the runup checklist. I then flipped on my strobes, nav lights and taxi lights and after checking to see that the Baron was staying put, I pulled forward to the hold short on taxiway golf short of 7.

I switched the radio to the tower frequency and called, "North Vegas Tower, skyhawk niner seven five tango alpha, on golf holding short of 7."

Immediately, the tower called, "five tango alpha, cross runway seven and hold short of runway one two. Number three for departure."

I repeated the call and did as I was told.

The plane on the runway departed and the number two plane was cleared to position and hold. Shortly, he was cleared, but we had to wait for an arriving aircraft who landed long. This plane was told to taxi back on runway 12 - "Hey, we're waiting here!" I thought to myself. Finally, I was cleared for departure and assigned a heading of 220 on the climbout.

Lights, Camera, Action, Showtime - Landing lights on, transponder to ALT, off we go - time 6pm.

The sun set about 5 minutes before our departure, but Las Vegas was lit! We climbed out and I made my turn to 220. The tower quickly handed me off to Las Vegas departure. As soon as I switched to the new frequency, I heard, "Skyhawk niner seven five tango alpha, Las Vegas Departure, you up?"

Wow! that was quick. Usually, I have to switch, then wait for a break and then make my call. These guys are good.

I replied, "Approach, five tango alpha is through three thousand two hundred for five thousand five hundred".

The controller then told me to identify and I complied.

ATC then announced contact and asked me what route I wanted to the dam and the canyon. I replied that I had never flown in this area and would be happy with whatever he chose to assign to me.

He immediately told me to turn left to 080 and expedite a climb to five thousand six hundred. He cleared me through the Bravo airspace. I repeated the instructions and said I would give her everything she's got. I pitched for Vy (74 knots) and made my turn.

Our course put us right along the Las Vegas strip. I was busy flying the plane, but I'm sure that Matt had a great view of the sights below.

We leveled off at 5,600. As we traversed the bravo airspace, we received quite a few traffic calls and could see the planes loaded with gamblers. As we headed east, it became clear that we wouldn't be able to see much of the canyon in the dark.

Just prior to clearing the class bravo airspace, the tower told us we were clear, squawk VFR and fly a normal VFR altitude. I repeated the instruction, advised that I would descend to 5,500 feet and thanked the controller for the nice tour.

I plugged in the CROWE intersection into the GPS. This was the second point on my plan -we were already nearing the MEADS intersection and were high enough that the peaks below would not be a concern. As we got closer to CROWE, we really couldn't see much of anything. There was a small airport below according to the chart, but we could only see a few lights. Ahead in the distance I could see a few other lights in the area where the Grand Canyon West airport was situated - but I saw no beacon. I could make out the shapes of the mountains below and ahead of us, but they were only shadows.

I got the feeling that Matt was becoming nervous and since it was clear that we wouldn't be able to see a thing, I started thinking about turning back. I started to think about landing at an unfamiliar airport at night in the mountains - when I've never flown in the mountains. I had a choice to make - would I like to do my gambling in the air, or on the ground? Being a conservative pilot, I told Matt that we would turn around, but I wanted to check the chart to determine the height of the mountains near us, just in case a mountain would be too close to our turning path. With our flashlights and the overhead light glowing, we determined that we could turn above the nearby airport without any trouble and I made a leisurely right turn.

I turned back to the CROWE intersection and listened to the ATIS. I then called Las Vegas approach and advised that we were over CROWE at 5,500 with victor at north vegas and would like vectors for a full stop at north vegas. The controller gave me a squawk and advised me to ident when I tuned the squawk. Before I could punch in the squawk, the transponder reset to 1200...don't know why that happened. Finally I had the code input and I idented. ATC announced my position as 4 miles west of CROWE - cleared through the class bravo, fly heading 270.

We received several other vectors to avoid traffic and the lights of Las Vegas grew closer. We were advised to descend to 4,200 feet - and I double checked the mountain tops on the chart. As we passed our last mountain, Matt told me to look back if I could - I'm sure the mountain looked closer than it really was, but the vegas lights sure made it look imposing - good thing we were already past it. ATC vectored me directly to the Stratosphere tower, but it was impossible to make it out from the clutter below. The controller asked me if I could see the tower and I reluctantly admitted that I could not see it amoungst all the other lights. He told me to continue my course.

As we got closer to the strip, I finally could determine which building was the stratosphere - and I told the tower I had it in sight. He told me to fly directly to it and to descend to 3,500. There was the famous Las Vegas Strip out our left window. What a great sight. I managed to snap a few shots as we got closer - only one is usable - too much shaking with a slow shutter speed.

As we passed directly over the tower, ATC told me to turn right to 320 and advise when the north vegas airport was in sight. About 7 miles out, I spotted the airport and was about to tell ATC, when the controller asked me if I had North Vegas in sight. When I said that I did, he told me to contact the North Vegas tower and the handoff was complete.

North Vegas told us to enter a right downwind for runway seven. We were number two behind another aircraft who appeared to be wandering west of the airport. The tower questioned the other plane and made him verify that he was lining up on seven and not one-two. We saw the other plane and made our turns, but by following him, we were not exactly lined up properly - good thing we extended our downwind. We were cleared to land and touched down smoothly. I followed the other aircraft on the ground as he requested a progressive taxi to the terminal. Since I remembered that our hangar was right below the control tower, I looked for the fuel depot, found it, and with ground's permission, taxied to the hanger.

This was an exciting flight for me and Matt seemed to enjoy himself, too. It was good having a co-pilot, even if he isn't technically a pilot. Having some help with the charts takes some of the burden away from the pilot. I love flying at night, but usually my flights are in Florida where the world is flat and the coastline makes a nice line to follow. Flying in the mountains was a new experience for me. I'm looking forward to going back to 'Vegas and repeating the journey in daylight hours. Most of my tower flying is done in class C and D airspace. In fact, it is a rare situation that causes me to enter the Tampa or Orlando Class B airspace. Flying in the Las Vegas bravo was a real treat. The controllers are extremely professional and always polite. Even though I heard some other pilots blunder, the controllers never reacted in any way other than with strict professionalism. The controllers at CRG could learn a few things here. So there it was, new city, 'Vegas, night, class B - truly a special flight.

1.3 hours of night flight with 1 night landing. David West

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Vegas Baby!

I had to go to Las Vegas this week for a company-sponsored convention, Better Management Live. Since I knew I'd be arriving in town around 1pm, I made arrangements with West Air Aviation at the North Las Vegas Airport for a check ride and a rental of a 2002 Cessna 172SP.

The earliest that I could get the check out was at 4pm and they told me I would need to do a 2 hour checkout. Nevertheless, I planned to fly to the West Grand Canyon airport (1G4).

Don Ford was assigned as my instructor. He's a young guy from upstate New York. He took a quick look at my logbook and I told him about the planes that I've been flying. Since I fly nearly every weekend, he wasn't too concerned about my skills and he didn't ask me any questions about the FARs and such.

I had invited my colleague, Matt Flynn, to come along. Matt's dad flies gliders in Michigan and Matt was looking forward to the flight.

We preflighted and discussed the radio calls that we would need to make. North Vegas (KVGT) is a class D airport that is situated under the Las Vegas Class B airspace. There are special VFR transition routes that are documented on the TAC and the airspace is very busy.

Don warned me about flooding the plane as apparently this plane has a tendency to do just that. The plane was still warm from the prior flight although it had been refueled. It took a few tries for the starter to engage the flywheel, but once it grabbed, the engine started ok.

At North Vegas, the ATIS said clearance was delivered by ground control. The local controllers do not want a courtesy call and I was warned that they would be annoyed if I gave them one. Just the facts - who you are, where you are and what do you want. I called the ground controller and said, "North Vegas Ground, Skyhawk niner-seven-five-tango-alpha, at West Air with tango, taxi for northwest VFR." The controller immediately gave me a squawk and cleared me to taxi to and hold short of runway 7. Don then explained that North Vegas with its crossing runways had one of the highest incidents of runway incursions in the US last year...not good.

The runup area was to the left of the Golf taxiway, so we pulled over and went through the runup. Finding no problems, I taxiied to Golf, then advised the tower that we were holding short of 7. The tower then advised me to taxi across 7 and hold short of runway 12. He said we were number 3 for departure. I read back the instructions as we began to roll. There was a light twin waiting to depart ahead of us and another plane that had been told to position and hold. Don then explained that at North Vegas, we do not need to call the tower to say we are ready to go.

Once the twin departed, we were cleared for takeoff and told to make a right downwind departure. Departing from a density altitude of around 3400' is something I've never done in Florida. I had expected some decreased performance, but with three people in the plane, I got much more than I expected. The plane began the take off roll and as the airspeed indicator showed 55 knots, I pulled back on the yoke slightly. The nose came up, but the plane kept rolling on the runway. At about 60 knots, the plane lifted off and we began our climbout at about 600 fpm. At home in Florida, when you pull the nose up, the plane jumps into the air. This was a very different experience.

Don told me I could begin my crosswind turn at 2500' - which was only 300' AGL - a bit low by my standards, but that's the local procedure, so I didn't argue. I concentrated on making a nice smooth climbing right turn at standard rate. He instructed me to level off at 4000'. ATC called traffic for us which we both had spotted off to our left. Once we cleared the airspace, Don switched frequencies to a local practice area frequency and we spotted two other planes coming at us at our altitude. I asked him if he would like to monitor 121.5 on the COM2, but he said no. He had me make a few turns, and a climb. He seemed convinced that I could fly the plane, so he asked me to descend and fly back to the airport by following the localizer that he had just tuned for us. We were heading around 090 and the localizer was for the 12 left approach, so I waited for about 2 to 3 dots of deviation before beginning my turn to 120 - lined it up nicely.

Prior to entering the class D, we listened to the ATIS - same as when we departed. I then called the ATCT for North Vegas and requested touch-and-go. The tower advised me that they could not comply and that I was to remain outside of the class D as well - That's a first for me. I've never had a class D tower tell me not to enter his airspace...technically, two way radio com is all that is required. We made a turn back to the right and circled in the area. We were finally permitted to enter the airspace, but could not get the option. I would have once chance to show the instructor that I could land the plane.

As we approached, ATCT told me to make some S turns to maintain separation or slow it up - I was already going pretty slowly - about 80 knots. I could see another Cessna in front of me on final, but he had wandered way off to the left of the runway. His landing was very abrupt - from my vantage point, it looked like he had just dropped onto the runway and had stopped very short. I even asked Don if he thought they were ok. It looked like an impossibly short landing and I thought they had landed short - but I was apparently wrong.

I maintained 65 knots on the approach with about a 500 fpm descent rate. Before crossing the threshold, I pulled the power and let the speed bleed off. My roundout and flare were just above the numbers, but I could tell that I made Don nervous because he started to reach for the yoke. Nevertheless, the touchdown was smooth and we were never in any danger of a prop strike or anything like that. It was a good landing.

We taxied back to the hanger and chocked the wheels. Don signed me off with only 0.7 hours of flying time. His record was 0.6 which we might have beaten if we had received clearance sooner.

While we flew, we had a good view of the mountains nearby and of the desert below. Looks like a bunch of sand and cactus to me.

After filling out a little paperwork, Matt and I went back to the plane for our flight to the Grand Canyon...more on that in the next post.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Night IFR, or METARs don't always tell the story

Last night I flew night IFR in real IFR conditions. I wanted to maintain night currency which requires three night landings to a full stop in order to take passengers at night. I'm going to Las Vegas next week and want to fly over the Grand Canyon. Since I'll be arriving late in the afternoon, I'll want the freedom to come back after dark, so currency is important.

My plan was to depart around 1900 local (2300 zulu) and fly a few approaches at St. Augustine with stop and go landings. Unfortunately, the NOTAMs showed that the ILS was out of service at St. Augustine and at Craig the glideslope was out. At least there was the localizer. Consequently, I opted to plan my flight to make two approaches at Jacksonville International and request stop and goes. The short runway at JAX is 7000 feet, so there would be no problem assuming that traffic was not too intense.

Several hours before the flight, the weather had deteriorated significantly. Visibility was only 2 miles at both CRG and JAX. The Navy Jax tower was reporting even worse - 1/2 mile. Ceilings weren't too bad with Craig reporting a few clouds at 600 feet and a broken ceiling at 1,200 feet. JAX was better with layers at 1500, 4500 and a ceiling at 8000. The winds were fairly light from the southeast around 7 or 8 knots, but they had shifted from the southwest.

Arriving at the airport I noticed that my new favorite plane was still tied down - maybe I could switch from the old Warrior II with its poor lighting and no autopilot to the brand new Skyhawk SP with its G1000 glass panel instrumentation. Sure enough, the fellow who had reserved this plane canceled it. He had switched to the Diamond DA40.

After calling the FSS to switch the flight plan to the new plane, I pre-flighted and was ready to go. ATC was being staffed by one person. I knew this since there was the same voice on the clearance delivery, ground and tower frequencies.

My clearance came as "November 1463 Foxtrot, cleared to Craig as filed; climb 2000 expect 3000 in 10 minutes; departure frequency is 118.0; squawk 4222; Taxi to 14; What is you intention at JAX?"

What a mouthful! I responded, "six three Foxtrot would like to get an instrument approach to the active runway at JAX with a stop and go, if possible".

The controller responded, "Roger. I'll let 'em know."

Knowing that I hadn't yet read back my clearance, I read it back and the controller responded with a "Read back correct".

I flipped on my taxi light, eased the throttle and started my taxi run all the way around the airport to runway 14. On the roll, I ran through the preflight checklist and completed my runup. I tuned the tower on the standby frequency, and entered the approach frequency on my COM2 radio. I also punched 4222 on the transponder.

While taxiing, I heard the controller tell another departing aircraft that departure was now on 127.5, so I wrote that down expecting to get the same change.

Reaching the runup area, I parked just so I could go over my departure, pick up the METAR on the NEXRAD weather display and took a good guess as to the active approach that was in use at JAX. I pulled out the approach plate for the ILS25 approach and noticed that the clip on the yoke was busted. Good thing I have a lapboard.

I then pulled up to the hold short and announced that I was ready to go at 14.

After telling me to "standby for release" (odd because we "HOLD" for release, not standby), I was issued the following instruction:
"Six-Three-Foxtrot, cleared for takeoff on 14, left turn to 010, new departure frequency is 127.5"

This meant I needed to change the departure frequency on my radio - and this is best done before you get busy on climbout - so I immediately made the switch. I also adjusted the heading bug to 010 as a reminder. I then repeated my takeoff clearance and taxied onto the runway. Lights on, strobes on, nav lights on, note the time - 7:20 PM, the transponder is automatic in this plane, so no worries. Off I went down the dark runway lined with bright lights.

Between 300' and 400' I encountered an unreported layer of clouds that lit up like daylight when my landing lights hit them. So much glare in my eyes!

At 700', I began my turn to the left. As I made my turn, the tower handed me off to the approach controller who found me on radar as I passed through 1400 feet. He cleared me to 3000' and gave me a new vector. I leveled off and decided it would be best to use the autopilot while I briefed the approach. The autopilot makes flying so much more precise. I've reviewed my GPS track from last night and it is amazing how precise all of my turns were - even those that I flew by hand.

My first approach was great until I got down to around 1500', at which point the radios were so filled with static that I could not hear anything. The indicator showed that I was transmitting - but I knew that wasn't true. I could hear the tower sporadically. Thinking that I was having a problem with a single radio, I tuned the other radio to what I thought was the same frequency and I switched radios. The problem was that I had tuned the new radio to the approach frequency, but I had already been handed off to the tower. I was still getting static anyway. I realized my mistake when I heard someone call JAX approach on the frequency. I immediately double checked the frequency on my approach plate - 118.3! And I switched back to the proper frequency. As soon as I did, I heard the tower controller calling my sign with a radio check! I responded that I heard him loud and clear, but I had been experiencing quite a bit of static - which was true. He cleared me for my stop and go and then asked me what my intentions - I told him I wanted to do the same approach all over again, if possible, with another stop and go.

The landing was uneventful, but once on the ground, the tower asked me if I could make my climbout turn before crossing runway 13. That would give me about 9000 feet to climb and turn - so no problem. I responded that I would comply. He told me I had 757 traffic approaching 13, and I told him I had the traffic in sight. I climbed out smoothly, but I was a bit nervous making my right turn to 360 so early over pitch black pine forest. I glanced at the approach plate and didn't see anything to worry about, though.

ATC vectored me for the new approach and I heard them talking with a learjet that had some sort of emergency. The controller told me to expect to get waived off at one mile as they might not have time to clear the runway before I got there. Knowing that, I slowed down to about 90 knots hoping to buy some time for a stop and go landing. Once again, I started to get static while on final approach. I was cleared for the approach, and told to execute a low approach prior to crossing runway 13 - the missed approach point. I heard the tower talking with the emergency personnel and it sounded to me like the runway was clear. I was expecting to be cleared for a stop and go, but the static started to drown out all transmissions. Through the noise, I heard the tower call "Radio Check" and I keyed the mic saying, "JAX tower, 63Foxtrot is experiencing considerable static. I cannot clearly receive your transmission. Executing missed approach." And I began my right turn to a heading of 130 as instructed. As soon as I hit the throttle and started climbing, the static went away! The tower handed me off to departure and I got vectors for the localizer approach at Craig. I thanked the tower controller - he was very patient with my radio problems.

I'm sure the radio was being affected by the weather. Most of the flight I was in the clouds or in very hazy, foggy cloud-like conditions. Perhaps the slower moving prop and extended flaps were causing an excessive static charge on the plane and as this constantly bled off, the radio signal was completely blocked.

I proceded back to Craig via radar vectors and punched in the ILS32 approach on the GPS. I also retrieved the plate from my book of approaches. I know this one by heart, but I briefed it anyway.

The controller vectored me quite a few times - turn 130, 140, 150, then 220 then 270. Finally, I was told I was x miles from ADERR, cleared for the approach and handed off to the tower. I had pulled the METAR prior to getting to this point, so I called the tower saying, "CRAIG tower, Skyhawk 1463Foxtrot, 8 miles out on the Localizer 32 Circle to 14 approach with Sierra; Stop and Go". He told me to continue and circle to the south entering a left downwind for 14.

I flew the localizer down to 1000' then leveled off. At 3 miles out, I made a course adjustment to the right and announced that I was 3 miles out and entering the downwind. As there was no other traffic at that point, I was cleared for stop and go.

I slowed the plane, progressive extended the flaps and made my base turn. Dropped another notch of flaps and contined my descent. Then the turn to final and the final notch. Wind was reported at 150 @ 7 knots - almost straight down the runway. I maintained a steady approach speed of about 65 knots on short final and touched down at around 50 knots. It was a smooth landing, but a little long. I could have made the first taxiway - A5, I believe. I stopped, retracted the flaps and was told to stay put while another aircraft landed on runway 5. I had canceled IFR when I entered the pattern, so I double checked the transponder for 1200. Yup - I had remembered. About this point, I noticed that the altimeter was reading -40 feet. Hmmm...that's just outside of the parameters which mandate a reading within 75 feet. I checked the standby (traditional) altimeter and it reported correct altitude, so I made a mental note of the problem.

CLeared for takeoff and instructed to make left traffic, I climbed out and leveled off at 1000 feet. I concentrated on maintaining a stabilized approach and using the proper airspeed. Although I knew I could use the entire runway to save some taxi time, I wanted to prove to myself I could land this plane in minimal space. This time, I set it down quite smoothly right on the numbers, pulled the flaps, held the nose up as long as possible while applying the brakes - this was one seriously short landing! I made the first turnoff and called for taxi clearance.

Although I never went over 3000 feet on this flight, I was in the clouds amost the entire time. Where the METARs said I should have few or broken, I had solid. The METAR did not report the clouds that I encountered around 300 feet on my first take off from CRAIG, nor did the report the clouds that were solid at 500 feet on my first climb out from JAX. Checking my log, I saw that I had not flown for almost three weeks - the last time being when I took Jim, Jimmy and Paige up on a nice VFR flight. This was a real challenging flight - single pilot IFR in the soup with weather-related radio issues. I probably could have done some things differently - like making sure I had the first approach on the GPS as part of my checklist...there's an idea - Change the AMICEATM so that I plug the approach in the GPS properly.

This flight involved three full stop landings, three IFR approaches, one VFR approache, with 1 hour of NIGHT IFR and 1.6 hours total. I sure love this stuff!

Sunday, October 15, 2006

VFR Around Manhattan

The news has been full of talk about Cory Lidle's crash earlier this week into a Manhattan appartment building. I've examined the VFR sectional charts for New York and I am now convinced that it is technically impossible to conduct a VFR flight without entering the Class B airspace. Therefore, Lidle's flight, for the most part was an illegal operation.

The FARs state that the minimum safe altitude for any aircraft... (b) Over congested areas. Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.
(c) Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.

Although the FARs do not define the term, "congested area", I think the metropolitan area of New York City would certainly qualify. The VFR corridor that exists over the East River has a Ceiling of 1100'. It is approximately 2000' wide. There are numerouse buildings along the east coast of Manhattan that are well over 600' tall. So, in order to comply with the FARs, I must remain 1000' above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2000'. This means that I must remain at least 1000' above all of the buildings in Manhattan that dot the banks of the East River. If the tallest building was 100' tall, I would have to fly higher than 1,100' MSL, which puts me squarely in the Class B airspace. If I fly in the VFR corridor, then I'm flying too close to the buildings as per the FARs.

I just don't see how one could fly VFR over the East River legally without entering class B airspace. Lidle never received clearance to enter the Class B space.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Cory Lidle - Another Wealthy Athlete Dies Senselessly

Last night as I watched ESPN in my local sports bar, the topic of the day was the crash of Cory Lidle's Cirrus SR20 into a 50 story condominium in New York City. As more news has become available, we now know that his passenger was a flight instructor, Tyler Stanger. According to the FAA's certificate search, Cory obtained his private pilot certificate in February of this year (2006). Tyler held a Commercial ASEL, MSEL, Instrument, CFI-I, and was an A&P mechanic.

Although the plane was Lidle's and he was supposedly at the controls, we cannot attribute this crash to inexperience.

I've reviewed the METARs for both LGA and TEB and although ceilings were low, they weren't completely unflyable. Lidle departed TEB at around 18:21z. The weather at 1751z at TEB was overcast at 1700'. Pressure was dropping and the temperature/dewpoint spread was narrowing. However, at at 1851z the ceiling had risen to 1900'. One hour later visibility had dropped from 7 miles to 3 miles in drizzle. By then, he had already crashed, though.

LaGuardia airport is closer to the accident scene, so I also looked at its METARs. At 1751, they were reporting visibility of 9 miles, an overcast ceiling of 1800' and a stable temperature/dewpoint spread. At 1951z, they reported light rain and visibility dropped to 8 miles.

Clearly, the weather was not a beautiful fall day, but it wasn't so bad that they should have been flying so low as to strike a 50 story building. According to the CNN photos, he struck the building about 12 stories from the top. This would put him very low indeed, and much lower than the FARs allow.

Some have speculated that wind may have been a factor. Wind was easterly at a maximum of 13 knots during the time in question. Wind tends to swirl around buildings, but he was upwind of the buildings.

The path of the flight appears to have been a sightseeing tour. Although his altitude was not reported, he departed Teterboro at 1821z, made a right turn and flew down the Hudson River until he reached the statue of liberty which he circled. They then proceded north up the East River. At some point he made a left turn, possibly 180 degrees and then struck the tower from the North. He narrowly missed a taller building about 2 blocks north of the impact building.

The airspace around the NYC area is very complex, however, there is a portion of airspace below the Class B that covers the area that is cut out for VFR below 1100'. This basically gives the pilot 100 feet to work with. One must remain 1000' above obstacles, an the water is full of boats, ships, bridges, etc. If you go above 1100', you are in Class B airspace. While it is possible to get clearance to enter the Class B, I would think the controllers would have been reluctant to give clearance to a VFR sightseer. The airspace cutout ends due east of LGA, and the crash was around 72nd Street - very close to the edge. I suspect he was trying to turn around. However, the airspace covers most of Manhattan from the Ground to 7000'. He struck the building while in Class B airspace.

He did not report an emergency.

Was he instructed by ATC to turn around?
Did he have unreported engine trouble?
I've seen the Coast Guard video of the initial impact and I think we can rule out running out of fuel.

Why, then, was he illegally low?

He was very near LaGuardia. With Easterly winds, landing aircraft would have been passing somewhat near his position. The ILS-13 approach would bring aircraft in on a course of 134 with the glide slope intercept at 1900 right about where they begin to cross the East River. The approach plate shows a 600+' structure along the flight path. Could a landing aircraft have been near enough to spook him or to cause ATC to tell him to expedite a left turn?

Although Cory's pilot certificate lists a Polk County, Florida address, he is originally from California. The flight instructor's address on his certificate is also California. Was he just taking a buddy on a sightseeing trip? Was he showing off - buzzing through buildings? Who does he know in the building and the other residential buildings in the vicinity?

This is truly a shame that two pilots died in this manner. Only after we see the full report will we have some idea of what caused him to crash. Even in an emergency, crashing in the river would have been preferred to crashing into a building.

Folks, there are well defined procedures for everything that is related to aviation. The airspace around NYC is complex, but tightly controlled. Cirrus makes a very good aircraft. The weather was not pretty, but not really a factor - the coast guard video backs that up. This leaves two possibilities, pilot error and pilot intention. Time will help narrow the causes. The end result will be the same.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Garmin G1000 - Multi-function display

In the last post, I talked about the replacement of traditional instruments with the primary flight display, now, I'll talk about the multifunction display - the panel on the right.

The MFD contains a plethora of engine instruments, an incredible moving map GPS, weather information, terrain detail, and best of all, TRAFFIC.

The Garmin controls are very easy to use. I've been flying a Skyhawk with the Bendix/King GPS coupled to a KLN94 Autopilot and the Garmin GPS is significantly more intuitive and easier to use. Entering a flight plan is very similar to entering one on my old Garmin GPS Pilot III. It is a bit easier with the G1000 because of the use of knobs that don't exist on my portable. An identical set of controls is found on both the PFD and the MFD. In fact, you can enter a flight plan on either display. On the PFD, you get a small window in the lower right of the display for the flight plan. From the pilot's seat, accessing the controls of the MFD is a bit difficult because the knobs are on the far right side of the display and you have to maneuver around the co-pilot's yoke. If I had any complaints, that would be the only one. If I was a Cessna/Garmin designer, I'd move the communications controls from the narrow vertical stack between the two displays down below the two right above the autopilot, then move the co-pilot's MFD control from the right to the left between the two panels. Maybe just switching the Nav and Com controls on the MFD would do the trick. There would rarely be a case where the pilot would need to tune radios from the MFD, but there is often the need to use to controls to access weather, maps, airport info, flight plans, etc. While this would make the basic controls on the MFD exact opposites of the PFD, so what? The push-to-talk button is already reversed on most of the planes I've flown.

Anyway, the MFD shows a large moving map that contains varying levels of detail depending on what declutter setting has been applied. In addition to the map info, Approaches can be overlayed once they are selected as part of a flight plan. Nexrad weather can be selected and this can be very useful in Florida. When we left Saturday night, we immediately saw a large rainstorm approaching from the hit the airport about 30 minutes after we left. The weather was good to the north, and I could verify this by zooming out until I saw the huge line of storms running from Louisiana through Pennsylvania.

The MFD also has the ability to display traffic information provided that the controller's radar shares the information with the system...or so I suppose. South of Vero Beach, no traffic info was available going and coming. The rest of the way, we used the information to our advantage. It is not always easy to spot other aircraft. If they are lower than you, they can easily blend in with the ground. If they are higher, they can be obscured by a cloudy background. The farther away they are, the smaller they get. Even when ATC announces traffic, the direction is usually very general and I usually don't see traffic unless it is at my altitude and within a half mile. But, with the traffic system on the G1000, I usually saw traffic long before ATC called it out. The display shows the direction of the other aircraft and it's relative altitude. If it gets within 34 seconds, bitchin' betty calls "Traffic! Traffic!" in a calm but authorotative voice. It was very useful when flying home at night. Although most traffic can be spotted miles away at night due to the use of strobes, there was one Bonanza that only had a beacon - no nav lights, no strobes and worse, he was flying 500 feet below me, so the lights on the ground easily obscured him. The traffic display told me where to look, and I eventually spotted him. ATC had called the traffic at 7 miles (!), but it still took a while to spot him.

Traffic, terrain, map, etc. can also be displayed on the PFD in an inset box about 1.5 inches square on the lower left of the PFD. It is a bit small to be truly useful for traffic, but for moving map, it isn't bad.

There is a definite temptation to keep one's head inside the cockpit when flying with this remarkable equipment. With the easily programmed GPS and a very convenient auto pilot, safety is greatly enhanced. Set it and then let the equipment fly the plane while you monitor the situation inside and out. It will even get you set up on your approaches. I punched up the ILS 32 at CRG and switched the autopilot to HDG mode while ATC gave me vectors. Passing St. Augustine, I was given a course of 020, which I dialed on the heading bug, then switched the autopilot from NAV mode to HDG mode. Meanwhile, I activated the approach on the GPS. ATC told me to turn to 350 and cleared me for the approach. I turned the bug to 350 and the plane made a nice, smooth turn to the heading. Once I was established on that heading, I put the autopilot back in NAV mode and it made the turn to the approach course perfectly. After it established the approach, I killed the autopilot and flew the HSI until I intercepted the glideslope. I dropped the first notch of flaps, flew down to 700' and made my circling approach to runway 5. The high intensity beam of the halogen landing light illuminated the runway nicely. We touched down smoothly - which can be a challenge at night with many pilots flaring too high, but this one was perfect.

I loved flying the 2003 Skyhawk with the Bendix King GPS and the traditional gauges, but what an experience flying the 2005 'hawk and the incredible G1000. It was definitely worth the extra $116. I can't wait to fly again this weekend!

This was a great weekend for flying - I had 2.0 hours for the checkout, followed by 2.3 for the flight down to F45. Coming home we got an unexpected tailwind - even throttling back, I was still getting 120 knots of groundspeed and buring only 7.2 gallons per hour! The return took 2.2 hours with about .2 of actual instrument.

Flying Life is Good!

Garmin G1000 Glass panel

In the early 1980s Microsoft released Flight Simulator. This computer program was intended to make a personal computer's display resemble the instrument panel of an airplane. In the early 21st century, Garmin created the G1000 instrument panel which uses a computer display to present flight information. We've come full circle.

I flew N1464F for the first time last Friday. This 2005 Cessna Skyhawk SP is equipped with the NavIII option that replaces the traditional six-pack of instruments instruments inlcuding airspeed, turn coordinator, altimeter, heading indicator, vertical speed indicator, and attitude indicator with a computer panel. But, it does much more than that. Instead of a heading indicator, there is a horizontal situation indicator that can be linked to the integrated GPS and the two NAV radios. The gyro for this device is a solid state gyro - which means that there really isn't a spinning gyro at all, therefore there's no precession. No more matching the heading to the compass and the inherent inaccuracy of doing so. There are still back ups for the altimeter, attitude indicator and airspeed indicator, but they are mounted low on the panel beneath the autopilot and between the yokes.

Airspeed and altitude are represented by moving tapes with indicators showing the changes. For the altitude, a bug can be set to a target altitude with the setting appearing above the tape on the right side of the display. To the right of the tape is a pointer that represents the VSI. The actual vertical speed is shown inside the pointer in 50 fpm increments, but the pointer also moves up or down depending on the direction of the change. To the immediate left of the altimeter is an indicator for the glideslope for ILS approaches. There's much more space between the high and low of the glideslope and I think this will lead to more precise control of altitude during approaches.

The attitude indicator takes up the majority of the central portion of the screen and it truly resembles something from a video game. The pitch angle scrolls up and down and the bank is shown with notches across the top. This is the easiest part of the transition, in my opinion. There is no specific turn coordinator with the bank angle and ball of the traditional gauge. Instead, coordination is shown by a small bar that moves left or right at the top of the attitude indicator. It is synched with the pointer and replaces the ball. The rate of turn is shown by a magenta line that appears on the compass heading of the HSI. Two notches shows a 2 minute turn.

One of the best things about the panel is the HSI. Three separate indicators can be superimposed on the compass card to show three different navigation devices. During my flight to F45 - North Palm Beach County - I used the primary to show the GPS course, and used the two additional indicators to back up the GPS with VORs and to triangulate my position with VORs that were not on my course. Since there's a GPs involved, the boxes that appeared next to the HSI also showed the distance to the selected position. With this much navigation information, anyone who gets lost in a G1000 aircraft has absolutely no business flying.

Flying an ILS is a little different and requires a different scan. But, without the traditional six pack to scan, and a well-conceived interface, you get the same information with less mental digestion. With the traditional ILS approach, you have a single gauge that shows your position relative to a horizontal course and a vertical path. Keep the two needles centered, and you are perfectly on course. However, the other information you need, such as attitude, heading, airspeed and rate of descent are on different gauges, so you have to break your concentration momentarily to glance at the other gauges. With the G1000, the display is very different. Your horizontal course is displayed on the HSI. At a glance you get both the heading, the course and your relative position to the course from a single indicator. Now glance up and to the right slightly and you've got your altitude, rate of descent, and your glideslope from a single composite indicator. Attitude is right in the center and airspeed to the left of that. You could just keep looking in a circle and everything would be there.

I flew the ILS 32 at Craig in daylight -or at least part of it until the tower said we had to break off due to traffic. I also flew the ILS 31 at St Augustine up to 3 miles also broken off due to traffic. At Palm Beach, I flew the ILS 8R to a full stop. Coming home, I flew the ILS32 Circle to 5 at Craig at 10pm. I never deviated more than half a ball from the VSI and hardly that on the HSI. I believe these instruments will make for a much more precise flying situation.

I've spent all this time talking about the primary flight my next post, I'll talk about the multi-function display.