Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Home from Sun-n-Fun

Instrument flight training talks about CRM - Cockpit Resource Management, a.k.a. Crew Resource Management, all the while preparing you to fly single pilot IFR. On this trip, I had a co-pilot who was very helpful at times...and at other times less so.

My co-pilot and I got separated at some point in the afternoon. He went to grab a bite and shop around at the hangers and I stayed on the tarmac watching the airshow. After about an hour of watching Pitts bi-planes, Taylorcraft monoplanes --there was a very graceful demonstration...slow, but graceful -- and several other aircraft, I decided to walk back to our plane to drop off some of my purchases.

Our plane was at the far end of the 8000' runway and there was no direct path to it. The sun was shining and it was very warm. The walk to the plane took me past numerous warbirds, antiques and a wide variety of modern aircraft.

Reaching our plane, I heard jets spooling up. This piqued my interest, so I locked the plane and headed out for a closer look. At the far eastern end of the runway there was a port-o-let and a completely unobstructed view of the runway. There it was, the F-22 Raptor taxiing to the end of the runway behind, of all things, a P-51 Mustang! The Mustang took off first followed by the Raptor and shortly afterwards, an F-15. That Raptor is an incredible plane - maneuverable in the extreme, powerful and very futuristic looking.

While watching the show, I spoke to some of the ground controllers and learned that after sunset, no aircraft were going to be permitted to move on the south side of the airport. Bad news for me because I had planned to depart following the night airshow and I was parked in the General Aviation Parking on the south side! I had my choice of moving my plane to the north side...where there wasn't much to see and there would be a line of planes trying to depart or I cold leave between the day and night shows.

Back to the topic...

Since I had been in the sun all day and was quite dehydrated, tired and sunburned, I decided it would be best if we left before the 8pm show. Ashley and I walked back to the plane and conducted a preflight. I had fueled the plane just to give us a margin of safety. The gas was about $4.00 a gallon, which wasn't that bad. I also got a free t-shirt.

While Ashley walked over the expected departure path over the ground, I got a flight briefing via cell phone and filed an IFR flight plan. I was worried that I would not be able to file IFR because I didn't register for a departure slot, but the briefer told me that the slots were for arrivals only, so no problem. I filed for 25 minutes in the future - 6:45 pm.

The NOTAM said to contact LAL ground for IFR clearance and to do so at least 1 hour before departure...no way! I decided it would be better to take off VFR and get the IFR clearance once airborne.

I ran through the checklist, fired up the engine and we began our taxi to the departure end of the runway. There were orange-vested controllers at every turn guiding us to the runway. I checked to see if there were any planes behind me and finding none, I did my runup on the roll.

I asked Ashley to identify the departure frequency that I could use to get my clearance once we were clear of the LAL airspace and he identified Orlando Approach at 119.4 as the freq. I asked him to double check because we had come in tuned to 119.9, but he was sure it was 119.4. We put that in on stanby on Com 2...since com 1 seemed to be excessively noisy.

They were staging planes two at a time side by side with a slight stagger. We were instructed to pull to the number two slot on the left behind an Arrow. To our right was a T-34 followed by a light twin. First the warbird took off, then the Arrow. The controller gestured as though we were number one, but when the twin pulled up, he cleared him first. That was fine with me, as the twin would have overtaken me in no time.

Now it was my turn and I got the spool up signal. I double checked the instruments, the heading indicator, vacuum and I eased the throttle while holding the brakes to make sure I had full power, then we were on the roll. The airspeed began to climb and at 55 knots, I pulled back on the yoke. We climbed into the air slowly at first and I held the plane down in ground effect. As the airspeed rose to 79knots, I eased the nose up and began a steady climb.

Ashley and I were busy trying to look out for other planes. I saw a plane take off behind and below me to the left - either from the turf runway or from the ultralight area. The NOTAM said to continue on the runway heading for at least 3 miles before turning. I could see that the slower plane had already turned underneath me...so much for procedures. I decided to continue westward until I was outside of the LAL airspace, then make my turn to OCF. I leveled off at 2500' turned northerly and switched to the approach frequency.

I listened, didn't hear any radio traffic and called, "Tampa Approach, Archer 341 Papa Alpha".

No reply.

I listened again and heard someone say, "Orlando".

Aha! This wasn't Tampa Approach after all. Maybe if I call them by the right name...

"Orlando Approach, Archer 341 Papa-Alpha".

"341 Papa-Alpha, Orlando, go ahead", came the reply.

"Orlando, 1 Papa-Alpha is 8 Northwest of Lakeland at two-thousand five hundred. I'd like to get my IFR clearance to Charlie-Romeo-Golf, please", I announced.

"1 Papa Alpha, standby", the controller responded.

After about 30 seconds, the controller called, "Archer 1 Papa Alpha, you'll need to contact Tampa Approach on 119.9 for your clearance, your in his airspace."

"Roger that. 119.9, Sorry to bother you. Good evening."

Ashley had been listening and quickly entered 119.9 on the radio and switched the freqency for me. It was about this time, that he decided to start fiddling with the radios...

I listened for a break in the chatter, then heard, "Archer 341 Papa Alpha, are you with me?"

Orlando must have alerted Tampa to expect me.

I told the controller that I was listening and he replied "1 Papa Alpha, we're looking for your clearance, what route did you file?"

As I started to reply, Ashley hit the ABSOLUTE WRONG BUTTON on the com. Now my headset was filled with noise. But over the noise, I responded,
"Approach, Direct oscar-charlie-foxtrot, direct charlie-romeo-golf at six-thousand".

Still noisy, but I could hear the controller say, "Roger, we'll have that for you shortly. Maintain VFR below 3000 and fly own navigation."

"Roger, VFR below 3 thousand."

A few minutes later Tampa Approach told me, "Archer 1 Papa Alpha, cleared oscar charlie foxtrot via radar vectors, then direct charlie romeo golf as filed, climb four thousand, squawk 3525" which I repeated back.

"Readback correct, Tampa Altimiter two niner niner niner."

"Copy, 1 Papa Alpha", I replied.

And on we went. Now I could address the radio problem.

Ashley explained that his headset was much too loud. I told him that there is a volume control on each ear and one on the com panel for the copilot. Meanwhile, I found that he had turned the squelch on the intercom all the way down in his attempt to turn down the volume. That's what was causing the noise. I adjusted his squelch and then adjusted his volume control. I also discovered that the volume control on my Bose Aviation Headset X was not turned up all the way, so I adjusted that and this allowed me to turn down my volume and the volume on the com. That seemed to fix the problem for Ashley.

As we flew north, it seemed that every time the controller would make a call, Ashley would start to talk. I know this was not deliberate, just very bad timing. Although there was one situation where I had just been handed off to the next controller and was waiting to check in and he started talking just as I hit the PTT.

This situation became increasingly pronounced - Ashley is a talker...

We were making 137 knots of groundspeed with a nice tailwind and the sun was starting to set off the left wing. Long before we reached OCF, we were cleared direct CRG - gotta love flying slash golf! (Flying an aircraft equiped with a GPS).

About 40 miles out, I tuned the ATIS and got the weather at Craig. They were using runway 23 which meant I would probably be told to enter the left Downwind for 23. The altimiter had dropped to 29.94 - not unusual since the sun was now setting. Winds were at 8 from 210.

We passed almost directly over Palatka and were told to descend to 3000'. We gained quite a bit of speed on the short descent - over 145 knots GS. At this point, I told ashley that we should maintain a sterile cockpit until touchdown - don't say anything unless it is a safety issue.

I eased the throttle back - no sense in getting home too soon and missing an opportunity for a night landing.

Jax approach was busy with some P3 traffic heading in to NAS JAX (NIP) and I was vectored to 090 for traffic. That was a significant turn of about 70 degrees or more to the right. I waited for a while before calling ATC and saying, "Jax Approach, 1 Papa alpha has CRAIG in sight and we have Echo".

The controller cleared me to fly VFR to Craig and to expect runway 23. It wasn't clear if he was handing me off and he didn't tell me to squawk VFR.

I waited until I was about 2 miles outside the Craig airspace and then asked the controller if I could contact the tower. He cleared me for the runway 23 approach and we said good night.

We had previously entered the Craig tower freq in the com on standby. I hit the swap and listened for radio traffic. Hearing nothing I called, "Craig Tower, Archer 341 PaPa Alpha is 6 miles to the south with Mike, full stop."

The tower told me to enter the left downwind for 23 and report midfield. A minute or so later, he asked me to slow it up - I would be following company sierra traffic that was just over the beach at the same distance. This meant that the Beech Sierra that Sterling also operated was coming in and I should look for him. It was now dusk and the aerodrome beacon was lit.

As I dropped down to 1041' - pattern altitude for CRG, I spotted the Sierra a few miles away on its base leg. I though to myself that if I had kept my speed up, I would have reached the runway before him...oh well. No big deal. I told the tower that I had the traffic in sight and I was midfield. Ashley said he didn't see it and didn't realize that I did. I pointed it out, but I'm not sure that he saw it. The plane was just above the horizon and the light was getting dim.

The wind seemed to be a bit more than 8 knots as I turned my base leg behind the Sierra. I watched the Sierra float a bit past the numbers and the touch down. I put out the final notch of flaps on final and stabilized the approach. We were right on the glidepath and at 75 knots. Perfect...except the headwind we now had was causing us to go below the glide path. I gave the throttle a nudge and we got back on slope.

We were cleared to land and I touched down just past the numbers. Not a greaser, but not bad.

The tower cleared us to taxi to the ramp and monitor ground on "point eight".

The flight back took a brief 1.6 hours with .3 of night and not a bit of actual IFR. Our flight down took 2.2...also with no actual IFR. Lots of headwinds kept our ground speed down compared to the return. This was a great flying day. Ashley was a good copilot--he was very helpful with the radio switching. I let him take the controls for a while between Orlando and Palatka. He said he hadn't flown in a while and was not night current. He flew fine although we drifted to the right of our course a bit. Probably due to his lack of familiarity with the aircraft, and the fact that he was in the right seat.

1.6 hours of cross-country and a great, but long day!!!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Sun-n-Fun 2006

I just got back from Sun-n-Fun at Lakeland Linder airport in Lakeland, Florida. Like last year, this was quite an experience. The aircraft ranged from raggedy Piper Cubs and cub-clones to the F-22 Raptor. I'm tired and sunburned, but my smile goes from ear to ear.

This year I had reserved a Piper Archer III for the trip. I had wanted to get the Skyhawk that has been spoiling me for the past few months with its Bendix-King GPS stack, its two-axis auto pilot and its smooth running fuel-injected 180 HP engine, but someone beat me to the reservation.

This Archer has just over 2000 hours on the Hobbs and almost 1800 on the tach, so it will be due for an overhaul in the not too distant future. It's got a very nice Garmin GPS setup with dual nav/com radios built in to the GPS, but the number 1 Com was giving us lots of noise and no amount of squelch adjustment would get rid of it. Fortunately Com 2 was fine.

A friend of one of my former flight instructors called me a week ago to see if I had room for the trip. He is a commercially certificated pilot, but had never flown in to Sun-n-Fun. I really wanted another set of eyes and having someone to share the cost of the trip (about $400) made a nice difference.

I had reserved an IFR arrival slot for an 11 AM arrival which meant that we should be wheels up by 9:21 based on the winds and I think we just barely made it. Back before I had my instrument rating, I had so many situations where I had to navigate around clouds, stay on the ground, etc. Now that I have the rating, I seem to get nothing but clear skies. I'd at least like a few clouds. Nothing doing, though. We saw some whispy cirrus, but not even a hint of a cumulus cloud anywhere. Nevertheless, I prefer to fly in the system, so I always file IFR for cross country flights and today was no exception.

I had filed for the T-211 RNAV route from CRG to OCF, but I just don't think that the controllers in NE Florida know that this route has been published. This route takes you around the MOAs and restricted areas south of Jacksonville and puts you on course for Ocala. I didn't want to fly through the very busy Orlando airspace, so I planned to fly to the west of the Orlando Class B. We had to wait a while for our takeoff clearance, and once we were cleared, I was told to head 280. That was 90 degrees right of the course for T-211! It was clear from all the radio traffic that there were lots of flights in the air, so I didn't argue and toughed it out through our climb. As we passed through 4000' the controller cleared me direct to OCF - which took T-211 out of the picture. We were well above the NAS JAX airspace, too. We were getting headwinds at our assigned altitute of 5000', but I had expecte them. Our groundspeed was showing between 107 and 109 knots while our airspeed indicator was showing 120.

A word about the IFR altitudes as they relate to the airplane's course: Lately, ATC seems to be assigning altitudes that are contrary to the AIM. When the course is 0 to 179, the altitude for IFR should be an odd thousand. Otherwise it is an even thousand. Our on course heading was 220 and the AIM says we should fly an even thousand. I was assigned 5000'. I don't know if this is something ATC is doing to help them separate controlled aircraft from non-controlled planes, but I'd sure like to know. Coming back, they did the same thing. Course was about 010, but we were given 4000'.

Anyway, we heard lots of radio traffic and had conflicting traffic called out to us by ATC several times, but we never saw it.

About 30 miles out from LAL, Tampa approach told us to descend to 3000 and reminded me that we would need to cancel IFR for the Lake Parker VFR arrival. He also asked if I was familiar with the special procedures. I explained that I had flown the arrival last year, had the current NOTAM with me and had thoroughly read it and would comply. A little time went by and I could see Lake Parker in the distance. At about 20 miles, ATC vectored me towards Lake Parker and I canceled IFR.

We then tuned and listened to the arrival ATIS and then tuned to the approach freq. They were holding planes at Lake Parker. This means that planes must circle the lake in single file around and around until the controller on the ground starts pulling them off for the final approach. I descended to the published pattern altitude of 1200 feet as this would make the other traffic that was presumably at the correct pattern altitude easier to see. I turned the plane so I would arrive East of the power plant and adjusted my speed down to the 100 knots specified in the notam. As we closed on Lake Parker, I could see many planes in the holding pattern. What a mess! I saw the line of planes all nose to tail and picked my spot at the end of the line. ATC called for a yellow high wing to continue westward and follow the procedure. He then pulled a Mooney out of the hold. This was the plane directly in front of me. ATC then said, "Blue, low-wing following the Mooney, rock your wings. I rocked them with gusto and was pleased to hear, "Continue westward behind the Mooney. You're number three to land!" Timing is everything!

I followed the Mooney who was following the Cub. Neither aircraft was following the publishe procedure that called for following I-4 after crossing Lake Parker. They were going due west until they saw the towers, turned left and headed to the airport. The Cub was lost. Not only could he not maintain the specified 100 knots, he didn't even make his downwind turn when ATC told him to. The Mooney started out about 300 feet above pattern altitude and then descended well below patter. We were both having a hard time following the Cub. He was too slow and I had to put out two notches of flaps to be slow enough not to overtake him. Even so, I needed to make S turns to keep from overtaking the Mooney.

This time they were landing planes to the west - the opposite of last years pattern. I followed the Mooney who turned downwind when instructed. The cub continued to the runway. I was told to follow the Mooney.

As I made my base turn, ATC had managed to route the CUB into my path again, but this time he was behind the Mooney. The Cub was instructed to land on the Green dot, but this yahoo clearly had not read the NOTAM. He was going to land well before, but ATC caught him and he managed to make a decent landing. I was told to land on the Orange dot - about 1000' closer than the Green dot. No problem, greased another landing!

The departure was another interesting situation. More about that in my next post.