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!!!

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