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.