Sunday, December 30, 2007

Christmas Night IFR

Before heading to my sister's house for Christmas dinner, I checked the forecast for the flight home that I was planning to make later that evening. The weather along the route provided no obstacles, but the ceiling at Craig was forecast to drop from its current 1200 feet overcast to 400 feet overcast with layers later that night. 400 feet is just a little more than the minimum 241 feet for the ILS approach and was below minimums for all of the non-precision approaches. I wasn't worried, but this would be as big a challenge as the prior day's approach to Tampa North with no instrument approaches and 1,600 foot ceilings.

After a wonderful meal and lots of time with my neices and nephews, I called 1-800-WX-BRIEF and got a standard briefing for the flight home. The weather in the Tampa area had cleared somewhat from the morning's broken skies and it now appeared that I could depart VFR and pick up my clearance once airborne. The alternative was to try to raise ATC on the ground or call the Lockheed-Martin 800 number for clearance. This could result in having to wait on the ground for a while until ATC had cleared the sky around me and with a busy Tampa International nearby, the big jets always get priority.

Arriving at the airport, we had calm winds and few clouds. I completed my preflight and set the altimeter to the airport elevation of 68 feet. I set the local CTAF on the radio and tuned 119.9 in the standby frequency for Tampa Approach. I then entered my route in the GPS: X39 direct OCF direct Craig. Runup showed no problems, so I announced my intentions on the CTAF and departed on runway 32 just as the sun was setting.

Climbing through 1000 feet, I completed the climb checklist, announced a departure to the north and turned the plane direct to Ocala. Then switching the radio to the ATC frequency, I listened for traffic and called, "Tampa Approach, Skyhawk 7-2-1 Victor Alpha".

The controller instructed an airliner to slow to 170, waited for his response, then acknowledged me by saying, "Skyhawk 7-2-1 Victor Alpha, Tampa Approach".

I requested my instrument clearance, "Approach, 1-Victor Alpha has just departed Xray three niner. IFR on file for Charlie Romeo Golf. I'd like to pick up my clearance, please."

The controller gave me a squawk code for the transponder which I acknowledged and entered into the device.

A minute later, the controller radioed, "November 1-Victor-Alpha, radar contact three miles north of the Tampa North Aeropark. Cleared to Craig as filed, climb to 6000 feet." I repeated the clearance and altitude then set 6000 as the warning in the autopilot and as the bug on the altimeter.

I leveled off at 6000 feet and before I reached Ocala, the controller cleared me direct to Craig.

Just past Ocala, I could see a cloud layer building ahead of us. It looked like a thin layer that covered a wide area ahead. Eventually, the horizon disappeared and I was completely on instruments.

There weren't many aircraft flying this evening so the radio was quiet except for the occasional frequency change to accommodate handoffs to different controllers.

I could see the lights of towns and cities below causing bright spots in the cloud layer, but the ground was otherwise completely obscured.

I listened to the ATIS for Craig and learned that CRG was landing on runway 32 and was IFR with a ceiling of 009 broken. I pulled up the plate for the ILS 32 approach, briefed it, loaded it into the GPS and followed ATC's instructions for descent to 2000 feet into the clouds.

I slowed the plane to 90 knots for the approach and was vectored by ATC to the final course.

The controller cleared me for the ILS 32 approach which I repeated. I activated the vector-to-final in the GPS and set up the auto pilot to line me up which it did wonderfully. Once established inbound, ATC handed me off to the tower.

I called, "Craig Tower, Skyhawk 7-2-1- Victor Alpha, 4.9 miles from runway 32 on the ILS with whiskey, full stop. The tower immediately cleared me to land and I continued to hand fly the approach. We popped out of the clouds at 800 feet with the approach lighting directly ahead of us. I greased the landing - a very smooth landing especially considering it was at night.

I made the turnoff and was advised by the tower to taxi to the ramp and monitor ground on point-8. I thanked the tower and then advised him that the ceiling was now down to 800 feet.

Flying in IMC is a pleasure for me. I get a great sense of satisfaction from flying an approach through the clouds and navigating directly to the runway. Popping out of the clouds to see the runway right where I expect it makes me just a bit proud.

1.6 hours of Night cross-country with 0.7 in actual IMC and one instrument approach...a good day of flying by any measure!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Down through the clouds - without an instrument approach

My trip from Craig Airport (KCRG) to the Tampa North Aeropark (X39) on Christmas Eve, started with a hitch and got more complicated as the flight neared completion. The aircraft was far from ready when I arrived at the airport. It had been flown two days earlier for 3.5 hours and was left without refueling. When I arrived at the airport, only a skeleton crew was available and they were focused on repairing both of the air charter jets that were down for unscheduled maintenance.

The engine gave me fits trying to start, which is surprising for a fuel injected aircraft. Finally, I got it started and taxied over to the fuel depot for refueling. The end result was a departure that was about 40 minutes behind schedule.

The weather at Craig was clear with few clouds. But prior to departure, I checked the METARs for Brooksville, Vandenburg and Tampa International to get some idea what the weather was like at Tampa North. Nothing looked promising. Brooksville was reporting 900 feet and overcast, Tampa was 1400 and Vandenburg was about the same. The past few hours of METARs showed increases in the ceiling and that was promising and the TAFs suggested there would be some clearing later in the day, so I expected that we'd eventually be able to land.

I picked up my IFR clearance and ran through the runup. The winds favored runway 32 for departure and I picked up my clearance and a departure heading of 280. The tower handed me off to JAX approach who cleared me to 5000 feet and cleared me direct to OCF once I had passed 2000 feet.

Headwinds slowed our progress somewhat, but it wasn't too bad. About 20 minutes into the flight, I came upon a solid white layer of clouds below me that reached up to envelope the aircraft from time to time. Using the NEXRAD capabilities of the G1000, I kept tabs on the nearby airports as I flew along. The situation had not improved much.

Closer to the destination, the clouds near our altitude thinned out only to reveal a solid layer further below. South of Ocala, ATC dropped me down to 2000 feet and that put me in and out of clouds. Tampa Approach asked me for my flight conditions and I had to tell him that I was in and out of IMC.

ATC then said, "November one-victor-alpha, cleared direct Xray-three-niner, if you aren't already direct". A few minutes later, I received clearance to descend to 1600, then minimum altitude that the controller could give me. Unfortunately, I was still in the clouds and there was no instrument approach into this airport.

The controller asked me for the conditions, and this time I told him that I was getting glimpses of the ground, but I had zero forward visibility. He asked me what I would like to do if I can't see the airport when I arrive and I replied, "I'll divert to Crystal River, Charlie-Golf-Charlie". There is a single, non-precision approach to Crystal River, but more importantly, that's just a few miles from my Dad's house and if he handn't already left for my sister's house, I could catch a ride with him.

A few minutes later, the controller asked me if he could make a suggestion. I told him that I would love to hear any suggestion that he might have. His idea he had really surprised me - it was a great idea and definitely not something that was ever taught in flight training.

The controller suggested that I fly the ILS to Vandenburg, but once I was safely below the cloud layer, I could go missed, cancel IFR and fly VFR back to Tampa North. He could not legally give me an altitude below 1600 feet on and IFR plan, and I couldn't cancel IFR when I was still in the clouds, so the key was to find a legal way to get below the clouds. With the ceiling at 1600 feet and 1600 feet being the minimum altitude, we had a challenge that the controller found a very creative way of overcoming.

I could legally decend below the clouds on the Vandenburg approach and since the ceiling was at 1600 feet, I could legally fly at 1100 feet - still 500 feet below the clouds and over 1000 feet above obstacles on the ground.

As I flew along, I reduced speed to 85 knots to give myself lots of time to spot the airport. ATC called me to say that they were showing me at 1700 feet - but my altimeter showed 1640. I dropped down to 1560 to take advantage of the apparent fudge factor. But, the greatest advantage I had was the GPS.

The GPS took me directly over the airport and just as I passed the airport, ATC told me that I was passing it and asked me what I wanted to do. I had just spotted the airport's new hangers as I flew over, so I immediately told ATC that I had the airport in sight, was dropping lower and canceled IFR.

I dropped the 500 feet to pattern altitude very quickly made a quick pass to see if I could spot a wind sock, then lined up for the downwind for 32. I never spotted the sock, but the winds at Brooksville would have favored runway 32, so I assumed that this was the case. Crossing the fence, my engine was pulled to idle, but there was about an 8 to 10 knot tailwind, so I sailed along wasting runway as I finally greased the landing.

This was a unique flight in that I learned a new trick from the air traffic controller. The flight took about 1.6 hours with .6 of that in solid and challenging IMC...all cross country.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


It is now 1:35pm and I still have not seen the sun today.

Craig field was reporting a ceiling of 600 feet overcast with mist. Visibility was ranging from 1 3/4 miles to 2 1/2 miles. The minimums for the ILS32-CRG are 241 feet MSL. So a 600 foot ceiling would make for some fun flying.

I filed IFR for CRG-VQQ-CRG with PLA in the notes section (Practice Low Approaches). After getting my clearance and performing a quick runup, I pulled up to runway 5 and announced that I was ready to go. After about 60 seconds, the tower cleared me and told me to make a left turn to 280.

Just as the METAR indicated, I entered clouds at 600 feet and executed my climbing left turn to 2000 feet. The tower handed me off to Jax Approach who gave me 3000 feet as my final altitude and asked for my intentions. I asked for the ILS 36 Right at VQQ and was vectored to the southwest. Level at 3000 feet, I tuned the ATIS for Cecil on my second radio. Once I had it I told Jax Approach that I had information Sierra.

The winds at 2000 and 3000 feet were varying between 29 and 36 knots from 070 according to my GPS. At the surface they shifted to 020. At no time did I break out of the clouds.

I loaded the approach on the GPS and clipped the plate to the yoke. Reading through it I noted the minimum altitudes, headings, etc.

Shortly, ATC dropped me to 2000 feet and vectored my base leg.

I turned off the autopilot and hand flew the approach. The winds required wind correction angles of as much as 25 degrees as I lined up on the localizer. I flew the plane lower and lower...still deep in the clouds. Finally, the ground began to appear beneath me...and then later ahead of me. At about 500 feet, I could see the rabbit directly ahead of me followed shortly by the rest of the runway environment. I leveled off about 50 feet above the runway, pushed full power, retracted flaps, then pitched nose up for my climb out.

I announced to the tower that I was executing my missed approach and turned the plane to 270 as instructed. Almost immediately I was in the clouds again.

Once the tower handed me back to JAX, I requested the VOR9R approach and was told to continue on 270 at 2000 feet. I loaded the approach in the GPS, tuned NAV1 to the VQQ VOR and read over the approach plate that I had clipped to the yoke.

In this case, the approach vector is 109 degrees for a runway that is 90 degrees. At some point, the controller asked how this approach would terminate and I told him perhaps a bit too verbosely that on the last approach I broke out at 600 feet, and that the minimums for this approach were 640 feet, so I expected to have to go missed.

I was cleared for the approach and lined up on the VOR with help from the GPS. Heading steadily towards the airport I descended to just above the MDA of 640 feet. I was in and out of clouds bouncing along for 4 miles at this altitude. I held the plane steady as I flew peering out of the window to spot the runway. The tower asked me to tell him when I could see the runway...but I didn't see it yet. Just then, the controller told me to advise when going missed - a silly instruction since that is the normal procedure. As soon as he called me, I spotted the runway below me. I could drop right down to the runway. I then executed the missed and headed back to the west...and immediately found myself back in the clouds.

ATC asked my intentions this time and I asked for the ILS 32 at Craig.

The controller turned me to a heading of 105 (first time I didn't have an even heading like 100 or 110). I leveled off at 3000 feet and headed 105. Because the wind was so stiff in my face - 36 knots, I pushed the power to 2600 RPM and fought the wind a bit. Still in the clouds, I pressed on towards CRG and loaded the approach. I checked the ATIS, but it was still Quebec.

Several minutes later, I heard ATC tell another aircraft that Romeo would be current soon at CRG, so I tuned COM2 to the ATIS and got the latest weather. The barometer had dropped to 30.14, and the wind was stronger with gusts, but the ceiling was still 600 feet.

As I approached the ADERR fix, I could see another aircraft approaching from my right. ATC called the traffic for me and said that he was bringing me in behind a Cirrus what was twice as fast as me - a bit of an exaggeration, but fine.

I told the controller that I had the Cirrus on my scope showing 900 feet above my altitude to my right, but I was in IMC and could not see it.

He held the Cirrus at 3000 feet and brought him onto the ILS above me. I slowed the plane down considerably to ensure adequate distance between us.

It looked like I was going to overshoot the localizer when ATC turned me to a heading of 300 to intercept. I executed the turn, but because of the wind, I never crossed the localizer and would not have intercepted it on that heading, so I made my own adjustments. Again I was having to keep about 25 degrees of wind correction to stay lined up. The wind on the ground favored runway 5 - the only one without an instrument approach. Consequently, the instructions were to fly 32 with a circle to 5.

ATC advised that it appeared that I was lined up with the localizer (I was) and cleared me for the approach. I repeated the clearance and added that the GPS was showing winds around 30 knots from 070 and he thanked me for the info.

I continued the approach down to 500 feet, breaking out of the clouds at 600 feet. There was the runway out the left side of the windshield - all that wind correction had me crabbing severely.

I made my circling turn and greased the landing - well before the first turnoff, as usual.

An OUTSTANDING FLIGHT! 1.4 hours total with nearly all of that in solid IFR. Three excellent approaches, too. There are few things that can build confidence like flying an approach to near minimums as a single pilot!

Jacksonville Craig Municipal Airport

A few weeks ago, someone who read this blog commented to me about the controllers at Craig saying that they were the meanest controllers. He also said he flew every day at Craig.

While I have encountered some less then congenial controllers here and at other airports, I think for the most part, the controllers at Craig are professional and very easy to deal with.

A few weeks ago, I was completing my FAA wings program and had been getting some recurring instrument training with an instructor from Sterling Flight Training. We had flown approaches at Cecil Field (VQQ) and were coming in on the ILS32 at CRG. The winds were from the east, so this would be a good time to practice crosswind technique. There were several planes in the pattern including helicopters doing flight training exercises and a banner tow pick-up getting ready to go. When I was handed off from Jax Approach to Craig Tower, I was on the ILS32 with a circle to 5. I asked the tower if I could continue and execute a touch and go on 32 to practice cross winds, then cancel IFR and remain in the pattern.

Considering that by the time I was on short final, there were five aircraft in the pattern for runway 5, I fully expected to be told to circle, but the controller was very kind and allowed me to land on 32. His hands were full with student pilots in both fixed and rotary aircraft, yet he was nice enough to accommodate me.

We made 7 landings that day since the Wings training requires a total of 3 hours of instruction. We practiced every imaginable type of landing - short, soft, no flap, partial flap. I managed to stop the plane inside of 500 feet on one landing and most were excellent landings.

In one instance, I had to side step the runway and go around because a student had landed way long and could not get off the runway in the first 2500 feet! In this case, we were told to make right traffic for that lap around the pattern.

In another instance, the banner tow plane cut across the pattern while climbing beneath me. I climbed to 1400 feet to give myself ample margin as he flew beneath me across my path. In this case, the controller didn't warn me about the banner tow, so I advised him that I had the tow plane in sight.

It was a great afternoon of flying with 2.0 hours total time with a good portion of that under simulated IMC. This gave me my FAA Wings qualifications in lieu of a BFR, so I'm good for two more years!

Response to Vegas & Grand Canyon West Question

The round trip time was 2.0 hours. It could be done much faster as the straight line distance is only around 75 nm. But, this was a sightseeing tour, so I followed the river once I got out of the Class B around McCarran. I also flew at 55% power so I could see everything.

As for the altitude, I flew at 9,500 feet based on the recommendation of the check ride instructor from WestAir Aviation. There are many sightseeing aircraft flying lower. Lots of helicopters and twin engine tour planes. Most of the tour planes are flown by low time commercial pilots - translation: 20 somethings who take too many chances. To provide a margin of safety, I flew well above them until I had to land at the Grand Canyon West airport.

When I departed, I flew west over the canyon on climbout up to 8,500 feet and got an excellent view of the features.

If you are going to rent a plane, plan on about 2 hours for a check out beforehand. I've done checkouts in .6 hours and this one took about 1.0 hours, but there is paperwork and preflight work that must be done.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Perfect Landing

According to some pilots, a good landing is any one that you can walk away from. But, what is a perfect landing? Is it one that your passengers don't feel the transition from the air to the ground? Is it one that greases in smoothly with just slight chirps from each wheel? Or, maybe it's one that enables you to stop the aircraft in less distance than the distance shown in the POH. Most pilots recognize that the POH figures are based on optimal conditions and are produced by well-trained, highly experienced test pilots in very new aircraft. Meeting the POH figures for take-offs and landings can be quite a challenge. Meeting them in adverse conditions is almost unheard of.

Of course I wouldn't be writing this unless I had a particularly noteworthy experience. So, today, my destination was the North Palm Beach County airport (F45). I departed CRG just ahead of a nasty front after getting one last pre-flight briefing. The weather along the route was not terrible...a few bumps and quite a bit of cloud cover for the first hour or so. Conditions cleared south of Melbourne. I flew hot at maximum power for the altitude to overcome the 26 to 35 knot winds that were blowing from about a 60 degree angle off the right side. This knocked my TAS of 131 down to a groundspeed around 119 knots. Still, the trip only took 2.3 hours including runup.

There wasn't too much activity at the airport on arrival. Just an Arrow departing to the South who I heard on the Palm Beach Approach frequency, a helo coming in from the East, and a twin waiting to depart runway 13. He must have been waiting for instrument clearance since he held on the ground until long after I landed.

With so little traffic and wind from 180 at 12, I chose to land straight in on runway 13. I kept it hot on the approach until 4 miles out at which point I leveled off at 1000 feet MSL, reduced power to 1700 RPM and waited for the airspeed to drop below 105 knots. I dropped the first notch of flaps as I lined up on the VASI and began a steady descent. Flaps were deployed progressively and my speed dropped off steadily until I crossed the fence at 65 knots. I reduce power further and held the approach slope ultimately pulling power to idle when I knew I had the runway made. The wheels touched down smoothly right on the numbers and I immediately retracted the flaps, pulled hard on the elevators and began steady braking.

The plane was stopped in time to make the turnoff indicated in the attached photo - At the temperature and standard pressure, the POH calls for stopping in 585 feet. I managed to stop short of that! I was pretty proud of myself. This was one of the best landings I've made - nice and smooth, right on the numbers and as good or better than the POH!

As a pilot, I continually challenge myself to do things better. Landings are one area that I continue to work on. Who knows maybe I've got bush pilot in my future.

Total hours for the flight 2.3 with .4 actual instrument, all cross-country.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Vegas & Grand Canyon West

It makes no sense to me why Chicago is called the windy city with Las Vegas on the map. The wind here has been terrible. Yesterday, I had to cancel my flight because the wind was 20 knots with 30 knot gusts. Today, it wasn't nearly as bad. Still, it was bumpy and gusts made smooth landings a challenge.

For the past year, I've been flying amost nothing but glass panel G1000 aircraft. Since West Air Aviation requires a 4 hour ground school in order to fly their G1000, and their plane is much more expensive to rent than a plane with traditional instrumentation, I opted to fly the cheaper plane. My check ride went well. The instructor, John Romero, was very thorough putting me through power-on and power-off stalls, slow flight and three landings with varying degrees of flap deployment. After the flight, I took the plane to the Grand Canyon West (1G4) airport.

The flight over from North Las Vegas (KVGT) was great, but the destination was a bit of a disappointment. After I was clear of the Class B airspace, I was free to fly as I saw fit. On John's advice, I climbed to 9,500 to stay above the canyon tour traffic. I followed the river into Lake Mead, then up the Colorado into the Canyon from the west, then over to 1G4.

Looking at Google Earth, the airport appears to be situated right next to the Grand Canyon and is only 2 miles South of the glass walkway that the local native American tribe has built. My plan was to land a the airport, then hike up to the lookout point and take lots of neat pictures. The trouble with this plan is that the local tribe won't let you off of the airport parking lot unless you are in one of their tour buses. The tours start at $49.95. However, the glass walkway takes an additional $25. And to make matters worse, you can't take cameras or binoculars on the walkway.

According to the folks in Vegas, the landing fee was a steep $100. After I landed, I found out that if you take a tour, there is no fee. I told the guy at the desk that I wanted to hike around and take some photos, so he said there would be no landing fee. That was a relief. I had expected to hike to a place to grab some food, but there was no place nearby - and they wouldn't let me off the property anyway.

I managed to wander to the southern end of the runway and took some shots of the canyon as well as the runway, but a security guard caught up with me and told me I wasn't supposed to be walking where I was. He was nice and offered me a ride back, but I declined saying I'd walk back and take more pictures.

There are tons of helicopter and tour plane operations at this airport. There is no taxiway, so you have to use the runway to taxi. After I started my engine, I patiently waited on one private plane and one tour plane both of which had departed on runway 35. The wind was favoring 35 and judging by the wind sock, it was gusting to 15 knots from about 320 degrees. After the tour plane took off, I took runway 35, and that upset another tour plane that was lining up on runway 17 for some unknown reason. The wind didn't favor this runway and the last three operations were on 35. The pilot said something unintelligible and then said he couldn't land with me on the end of the runway. I continued to taxi to the end of the runway - no place else for me to go. I noticed the windsock was showing some strong activity that would make anyone with any sense want to use runway 35 rather than 17, so I advised the tour pilot that he'd have a strong tailwind if he landed on 17. I took off and saw the tour plane in an extended base leg for 17. I turned crosswind and got the heck out of there.

The flight back to North Vegas was nice, too. I was eventually told to overfly the airport at no lower than 3500 and to make right traffic for 12 Right. The wind was from 070 at 6 with some gusts that I felt on short final. I managed to get her down safely and had a great time doing it.

I only recommend going to 1G4 for the experience of landing at an interesting airport, no so much for the tours. All told, this was a great day of VFR flying in severe clear weather. 2.0 hours of cross country with two take offs and two landings other than the three that I did for the check ride.

Pictures will be posted once I get back...didn't bring the camera's cable with me.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Early Childhood Memories

Young children don't think the way adults do. Sometimes it's easy to forget that. Talking to kids in terms that adults understand - especially when it comes to numbers - can have unfortunate outcomes.

When I was about three or four years old, I had made a mess in our basement. All of my cars, trucks and tractors were scattered all over the basement floor. My father was upset about the mess and wanted me to clean it up. I had a very nice toybox that my great-grandfather had made. (I still have it in my office.) It would have been a simple matter of picking up the toys and putting them in the toybox and probably would have taken no more than ten minutes.

My father was angry and yelled, "David, you have one hour to clean up this mess! When I come back down here, I will stomp on any toys that are left on the floor!" And he turned and walked up the stairs.

I was mortified! At this young age, I could barely count to ten and I had no idea what an hour was. I thought that it was impossible to pick up all my toys in only one of those hour things. So like most children frustrated by an impossible task, I sat on the stairs and cried.

My father came back downstairs an hour later and saw that I had not picked up any of my toys. He lectured me briefly as I cried. Then, as promised, he walked around the room stomping on every one of my toys, breaking each one, one at a time. These were toys that he bought with his hard earned money. Money was tight and I am sure it pained him to keep his promise both from a financial perspective and because of the pain it would cause me. One by one, my toys disappeared in to rubble.

The most difficult toy for dad to dispose of was my John Deere tractor. My father and grandfather worked at Deere at the time and our blood was green and yellow. The family was proud to be associated with Deere & Co. and grandpa even had a gold-plated tractor hanging on the wall in his basement. I wish we still had that.

Several years later, my father gave me a nice new toy tractor and told me that he thought I was old enough to take care of it. We both remembered that horrible day when all my toys were crushed.

The lesson to be learned from this is to be careful in how you speak to your children. They don't have a full grasp of the language and abstract concepts like time and numbers can be baffling. At my young age, I knew that "one" was singular - there wasn't much to one of anything. I didn't understand the concept of an hour or how much could be done in an hour.

I believe that if my father had told me that I would have sixty minutes to complete the task, things might have turned out very differently. Although I couldn't count to sixty at the time, I remember thinking that kids who were ten were much, much older and my twenty-seven year old mother was quite old. Sixty minutes would have sounded like quite a bit of time to me. I probably would have played for a while before picking up my toys and this story would never have been remembered. So, be careful how you talk to your kids.

As a side note, I still have the John Deere toys that my parents gave me after this house cleaning.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

A little more weather flying - NEXRAD isn't all it is cracked up to be.

Craig field was IFR when we departed this morning bound for Crystal River (KCGC) on a 1 hour IFR flight plan. I was cleared to depart runway 32 and instructed to fly heading 280 on climbout. I entered the clouds at 500 feet and didn't break through them until about 2500 feet. Craig tower quickly handed me off to Jacksonville Departure Control who offered to give me a direct clearance to Crystal River which I eagerly accepted. The controller cleared me direct upon reaching 2,100 feet, but when I was only through 1800, he gave me direct. I found myself turning and climbing through the clouds - a great experience and most IFR training is simulated and most of my actual IFR experience has been either in stable descents, climbs or level flight - not much turning. Since I had never done any instrument training on the Garmin G1000, this instrument time enhanced my experience and increased my confidence. We periodically found ourselves popping in and out of clouds throughout the flight which we made at 5000 feet MSL.

Nearing Crystal River, I was instructed to descend to 2000' which put me solidly in IMC for a while. Even when I was level at 2000 feet, the overcast layer had a bottom that ranged from about 2100' to 1800', so I was in and out of the soup until I was only about 5 miles from our destination.

The conditions at Crystal River were reasonably clear and I found four other aircraft on the Traffic Information System in the vicinity of the airport. I reported to ATC that I had the airport in sight and I closed my IFR flight plan while still in the air. I overflew the airport while descending to pattern altitude and entered the left base for 270. The landing was smooth and we were quickly parked and unloaded. The flight took only 55 minutes wheels up to shut down.

I had hoped to leave Crystal River around 4pm, but the weather had other plans. I checked the RADAR images on my blackberry and saw developing storms all along our path back to Craig. I did not want to subject my passenger to the turbulence that the radar suggested as I knew that her stomach couldn't take it, so I endured nasty looks and an "I told you so" attitude for several hours until I was convinced that we could safely fly home to Craig.

After my usual thorough preflight, I started the engine and set up the radios. I tried to raise Jacksonville Departure so I could get my clearance before I took off, but I could not hear their replies, if there were any. I departed VFR on runway 9 and tried to contact departure twice on the climbout without success. The second try produced a garbled response, so I waited until I had passed through 2000 feet before trying again. This time I was successful and I informed the controller that I had left Crystal River five minutes earlier and asked for my IFR clearance to CRG. The controller cleared me direct to CRG and assigned 4000 feet as my altitude.

I continued my climb and passed through a few clouds, but nothing significant. The NEXRAD showed a band of moderate rain across our path near Ocala that was about 10 miles thick and 50 miles wide. I constantly watched the skies and the NEXRAD display, but we never found rain. We were right in the middle of what NEXRAD was calling moderate rain, but we were below the overcast ceiling and in clear air. This was remarkably smooth flying compared to what I had expected. I finally entered clouds about 30 minutes in to the flight. The sun was setting behind us and we found the clouds all around us before we even saw them in front of us. I held the plane steady as we trudged along. It is precisely this sort of IMC that causes problems for VFR-only pilots. I could not see the clouds in my path and I was deep in them before I could do much of anything. Fortunately, I'm instrument rated, was on an instrument flight plan and simply kept my eyes on the instruments making sure I stuck to my course, altitude and kept the wings level. We were making good speed along the ground - about 127 knots ground speed and over 140 knots when ATC descended me to 2,100 feet.

I used the auto pilot to maintain altitude and heading while I set up for the approach to Craig. I pressed the OBS button on the G1000 and specified a 050 heading in to Craig. This would plot a straight line from the CRG VOR at a 050 heading and that would line me right up with runway 050. ATC handed me off to the tower and I was instructed to fly straight in to runway 050.

By now the sun had set and picking CRG out of the field of lights was a challenge, however, I quickly spotted the runway dead ahead. As I crossed the tower farm with its 1100 feet towers only 5 miles from the end of runway 050, I slowed the engine to 2100 RPM and began a steady descent. I was still carrying a little too much altitude when the tower cleared me to land, so I pulled power to idle and progressively extended flaps while descending at a fairly steep rate - about 1300 fpm. Once the PAPI lights showed I was on the glideslope, I steadied my descent by pulling up the nose and stabilized the engine at 1700 RPM. I kept the plane lined up with the runway and pointed the nose at the numbers. I flared the plane as I crossed the threshold and made an incredibly smooth landing touching down on both mains then lowering the nose gently. This was one of my best night landings ever.

The NEXRAD was showing weather that was much worse than it turned out to be. We hardly encountered a single bump and never got any rain. As we left the airport, I could tell that there would soon be some ground fog developing, so we timed our arrival pretty well.

Except for my passenger's discontent, this was a very enjoyable day of flying and a great day with my dad and step-mom. I logged a total of 2.4 hours of cross country flight, 30 minutes of night, an hour of actual instrument and had two very smooth landings.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Weather Flying

How any pilot can fly without a current instrument rating is beyond my comprehension. Prior to getting my rating, there were so many instances where I had to stay on the ground due to weather. I've had it for two years now and many of my cross-country flights would have been canceled without it. This weekend was one of those times.

Every year for the past seven or eight years, I have traveled to Myrtle Beach for a weekend golf tournament with a bunch of guys who are loosely associated with my former employer. A drive from Jacksonville to Myrtle Beach can take as much as six or seven hours depending on traffic and weather. In optimal weather (no wind) the trip should take 2 hours 15 minutes in the Skyhawk. This weekend, we did not have optimal weather.

The trip up produced about 30 minutes of actual instrument time with most of that coming as we approached Myrtle Beach. We flew to the Grand Strand airport since it was closer to our first and last rounds for the weekend. Last year we flew to KMYR and it was so far south of our final round that it took us about an hour just to get to the plane.

The FBO at Grand Strand is a model for all FBOs. My golf partner told me that they made him feel like a rich man with the way we were treated. After landing, the tower cleared us to the ramp and told us to monitor ground. We were greeted by a follow-me cart that showed us exactly where to park. We were then greeted by a helpful gentleman who brought our rental car up to the plane and all we had to do was get in. Great treatment!

Sunday morning took us to the Thistle Golf Course north of Myrtle Beach. Throughout the morning's round, we saw towering cumulous and at one point, we heard lots of thunder, but never saw lightning. After the round, we drove straight to the airport and loaded up. I got my briefing from a weatherman in St. Pete who seemed intent on talking me out of the flight. I had a radar display in front of me and I could see a front that had recently passed the Appalachians and was heading our way. If I waited too long, we could be on the ground for quite a while. The sky was clear at the airport and there were no storms showing until Savannah. I figured if I had to, I could request a direct heading before I reached Savannah to avoid the storms. There were also storms around Brunswick and a group of storms in Central Florida that appeared to be heading towards my destination. I figured I could always put the plane down someplace on the way if necessary.

I filed an IFR flight plan with the FSS and completed my preflight. In the FBO, I asked the locals for the local procedure for getting an instrument clearance since there is no clearance delivery frequency. They told me they call for clearance on the ground frequency and we determined that courtesy calls were the order of the day. The AOPA website has some horror stories about one tower controller who I have now learned is the supervisor for the tower and is named Steve. The locals warned me about him and how he chews up pilots who make errors. I made absolutely certain that my ducks were in a row when I made my initial calls.

"Grand Strand Ground, Skyhawk 1-4-6-3-Foxtrot", I called on 121.8.

"Skyhawk 1463Foxtrot, cleared to Craig as filed, climb 2000 expect 6000 in ten minutes, approach control on 119.2; squawk 4220".

That was asking me what I want.

I repeated the clearance.

"Skyhawk 6-3-Foxtrot, readback correct, advise when ready to taxi and when you have the numbers." Came his acknowledgement.

"63Foxtrot, has Oscar and is ready to taxi." I replied.

"Taxi to 23" was his immediate response.

We were off. I taxied down the long taxiway to the end and was cleared for departure. There were no problems with this controller at all...must not have been the bad guy.

The Nexrad display was a wonderful aid to this flight. I constantly monitored conditions along the route and frequently checked METARs for airports in my path. The climbout was slow due to the weight of my passenger and all of our luggage as well as the very hot, humid temperatures. We finally reached our cruising altitude of 6000 feet and I slaved the autopilot to the GPS. Near Charleston, I was handed off from Beaufort Marine approach to Jacksonville Center and I immediately requested Direct to Brunswick (SSI). This would enable me to avoid the building storms over Savannah that I could see through the windshield as well as on the NEXRAD. The controller cooperated and I revised my course in the GPS.

As we neared Brunswick, it was clear that we would have to deviate. There were some big red blotches on the NEXRAD, the SAV HIWAS was describing an area of thunderstorms with little movement ahead, and I could see some big, dark clouds that did not look like they wanted me to fly through them. ATC advised me that commercial flights were deviating 20 or 30 miles to the west and then headed direct to JAX. I told the controller that sounded good to me, but he didn't vector me.

I was almost on SSI when I decided it was time for me to tell the controller what I was going to do rather than wait for him to tell me what to do. I called JAX Center and requested a heading of 270 to avoid storms and my request was immediately granted. I flew along confidently for a while noting the very large black cloud ahead and to the left of my path. My course seemed to be taking me too close to a strong return on the NEXRAD, so I altered my course to 280. I slowed the plane to maneuvering speed - 105 knots and shortly afterwards, we entered a large, dark, towering cumulous cloud. It wasn't very bumpy at first, but the calm didn't last long. We started to get moderate rain and then came the turbulence. I was glad that I had used a seatbelt to secure the luggage in the back seat, because anthing that wasn't tied down got jostled around quite a bit. At one point, I lost about 300 feet in about 10 seconds and the engine went from 2300 rpm to nearly redline. I gained about 30 knots of airspeed almost instantly. I reduced the throttle until the rpms came back to something manageable and relied on the autopilot to keep the wings level. We quickly returned to our assigned altitude and things stabilized a bit. After about 10 or 15 minutes of this, we emerged from the cloud and found a huge valley in the sky - no clouds in front of us for quite a while. I chose this opportunity to make my left turn towards Jacksonville and on we went. Craig was reporting calm winds and visual approaches to 32. Since I was coming from the north northwest, I plugged in the VOR14 approach in case the weather turned. At 13 miles out, I reported the airport in sight and ATC handed me over to the tower. The tower controller advised that the winds were calm and I could have runway 23 if I wanted. I accepted the offer and I flew the VOR14 approach with a circle to 23.

On approach, I noticed that the GPS was indicating a 6 knot tailwind when I had turned final for 23. I flew the approach right on the numbers and set the plane down for one of the most gentle landings I've ever had. This one was one heck of a flight. There's no way we would have made it without an instrument rating. The rating gave me the confidence to fly into challenging conditions, but to only do it with as much information as possible - prepared for the worst. Because of headwinds the entire way and our deviation due to weather, this flight took 3.1 hours with .8 of actual instrument.

Monday, July 30, 2007

My First Casualty...of sorts

Saturday started out as a beautiful day in North Florida. There were blue skies with few clouds light breezes and enough heat to cook an egg on the sidewalk. Typical July weather for us.

When I arrived at the airport, the jet was on the tarmac ready to load up. There was a group of teenage girls taking a charter to the Bahamas and their parents were there to give them a nice send off. After the jet departed, they towed the KingAir B200 into position. Mike Smithers, the chief instructor and KingAir pilot offered to give me a quick tour of the plane. There was also a young boy about 9 or 10 hanging around, so I told him to come on up, too. It's a very nice piece of equipment. The dash is so high and loaded with gauges, it would be difficult to see out the front window to land, I think.

The boy was there because he was dropping off his sister for the Bahamas trip. I'm sure he felt a little left out if his big sister gets to go on a private jet to the islands and he has to stay behind.

I caught up with his parents who were talking with the air charter's owner, Hayden. I offered to take the family up for a sightseeing tour and after asking their son if he was interested, they quickly accepted the offer.

I introduced myself as I preflighted the plane and learned that my passengers would be Brian (dad), Alissa (mom) and Gage (son). Since mom and dad were in good shape and weren't very tall, I did some quick calculations and found that I could have Gage sit in front and not have a problem with weight and balance. As we boarded, Alissa asked if she should get a bag in case Gage got sick. "No need." I responded. "I've got two right her in my flight bag." And I handed one to her and put one in the pouch where Gage would be sitting. I mentioned that the wind was calm, so we shouldn't have too much trouble.

I listened to the ATIS and got taxi clearance for 23 at foxtrot. I did the runup while explaining everything that I did. I then called for takeoff clearance and we were airborn in no time.

The climbout was smooth and I made a southerly turn that followed highway 9A. The family told me that they lived on the river in Fleming Island, so I pointed the plane in that general direction. Dad could see our location on the moving map display and pointed out Julington Creek to his son and told him to look for Clark's fishcamp. We circled Clark's and then headed across the river to circle their house.

I asked Gage if he wanted to take the controls and he immediately shook his head no. I then explained that it was like a video game - pull back to go up, push forward to go down, etc. That was enough and he took the controls and did a nice job of handling the plane. He had a tendency to pull on the yoke and we climbed a bit, but he was able to point us a black creek with no trouble.

There was quite a bit of traffic flying very low - two or three planes that were clearly below 1000' AGL. I stayed at 2000' to avoid them and kept one eye on the traffic monitor and one outside. We found their house and I circled it to the right several times so they could get a good look.

When I asked Gage where he went to school, I learned that he was at my alma mater, St. Johns Country Day School. Ok, next stop SJCDS. I pointed the plane across Doctor's Lake and headed for the school. They are very close to the NAS JAX and Cecil Field class D airspace, so I made a tight turn to avoid it.

As we left the area of the school, I decided it was time for some negative G maneuvers, so I warned my passengers and said we would try this one time. If they wanted to do it again, we could. I then pulled back on the yoke to put us in climb, then pushed the nose over rapidly in order to generate a weightless feeling. No problem so far...but no calls for "Do it again!"

Next, we headed across the river and flew over the World Golf Village with Gage at the controls. He seemed to be doing fine. Then we arrived at the ocean and flew North for a short distance. Gage then asked what time it was and I should have taken that as a subtle hint that he wasn't feeling well.

Since it was about time to head back, I demonstrated the GPS direct function and we pointed the nose directly at Craig field. I was instructed by ATC to enter a left base for runway 5 - the controller must have recognized my call sign. They were landing other planes on 32, but runway 5 would give me the shortest taxi distance. I really appreciate it when the controllers watch out for us like that.

As we descended, it became much warmer in the plane. There were a few bumps on final, but the landing was nice and smooth - Alissa even commented on it. I braked hard to make the first turnoff. We were cleared to taxi to Sterling and off I went. As we taxied, I saw Gage grab the barf bag and opened it up. Just as I said, "you won't be needing that, will you?" he answered my question with a yaaaak. Poor fellow.

So, that was my first casualty. In 400 hours of flying, I never had a passenger get ill. And technically, we were already on the ground, so I don't count that.

In spite of the passenger difficulty, this was a fun flight and my passengers were very appreciative. This one was just 1.0 hours in pure VFR.

David West

Danger on the Ground

Saw this snake at lunch today. It is a young water moccasin. About 2 1/2 feet long.

Monday, July 23, 2007

My Hairiest Landing Ever!

I had spent the weekend in Palm Beach Gardens and was a little concerned about the weather for the return flight. I planned a 10 am departure and that would put me at my home field around noon. The TAFs along the way were calling for thunderstorms after 1pm local, so any delay would put me in the middle of the mess. Departing at 10 would also put me in the developing cumulous clouds which would make for a bumpy ride.

The prior day, I flew down on an IFR flight plan at 6000 feet and stayed above the tops of most of the clouds only rarely passing through a growing cumulous cloud.

I don't think I'll ever understand why controllers do what they do. Based on my past experience, I filed for direct OMN then the airway to MLB, then PHK. This seems to be the routing I always get. But, my clearance was to OMN via radar vectors, then V3 to v492 to PBI then direct. V492 takes me off the coast, then back to PBI which is further south of my destination, then I would have to backtrack to F45. So much for anticipating ATC.

Our descent into the airport put me in the middle of a cloud layer near Lake Okeechobee, but it wasn't too bumpy and I was able to fly south of the airport and entered a left downwind for runway 26. There were three aircraft in the vicinity as I flew the pattern. One was coming from the North, one from the South and another had just departed. I turned my base leg and announced my intentions and position. While on base, I heard the pilot from the North state that he was going to enter the left downwind for 27. There is no runway 27 at F45, so I knew he was not familiar with the airport.

As I turned final, another aircraft took the runway. No call.

I announced that I was on short final for 26 left and told myself - "get off the runway, idiot!"

He began his takeoff roll. No call.

He began to climb on his upwind. Still no call.

I landed and turned off at the first taxiway since I knew there was another plane coming in behind me. I announced that I was clear of 26 Left and then called, "Aircraft on upwind for 26 Left, is your radio working?"

I was more concerned for other aircraft since I knew there were several others in the area who he would potentially conflict with.

He lied, "Yeah, we called our departure. We're departing the pattern to the south."

Bull hockey. He never called when he took the runway and he never announced his position.

Nevertheless, I replied, "OK then. I never heard any of your calls. Sorry."

So, fast forward to Sunday. I was concerned about the weather and filed IFR at 7000 feet. I planned to pick up clearance once airborne so as to avoid waiting for ATC to clear the area overhead. Doing this would also give me more direct routing home. I filed that I would pick up V3 at the MORGA intersection...not technically proper, but with GPS all things are possible.

I had plugged in my flight plan into the GPS, completed the runup and we were on the roll. I climbed out and made a right turn to the North and plotted my course directly for MORGA.

As I left the airport area, I called Palm Beach Approach and requested my clearance. I was cleared direct to VRB then as filed.

At 7000 feet we were above most of the clouds although there was an intermittent overcast layer well above us. This would have been inconsequential except that it interfered with the satellite reception for the NEXRAD weather downlink. I periodically checked the weather along our route and it looked like we were very safe until we neared St. Augustine.

Around OMN, the controller advised that I could fly straight through the rain or he could give me a vector that would take me around most of the weather. I told him I'd take the vector. He pointed me to the ROYES intersection and then cleared my via V267 to CRG. A few miles before ROYES, he called back to tell me that the weather was building and I should fly due North. That took us right into the rainstorms and we got tossed around a bit. I slowed the plane to maneuvering speed to ensure that we didn't have a problem with strong up and down drafts. This would hurt our time, but we'd be safer.

We encountered some heavy rain from time to time, but we were ok. Then ATC dropped me down to 5000 feet and I should have requested that we stay high, but I didn't. I flew right through the heart of the clouds and rain. Throughout this process, ATC periodically asked me how I was doing. This was a nice touch. We were fine. No problems.

We passed out of the clouds near St. Augustine and ATC handed me off to JAX approach. JAX dropped me to 3000, but the controller didn't receive my acknowldegement - three times.

After he repeated his instruction three times and I responded three times, it was clear that he didn't hear my response, so I hit the IDENT button to let him know I was there. He acknowledged that he saw my IDENT and repeated his instructions. I then switched to the second radio and called again. He heard me that time. The strange thing is that I heard him perfectly while he couldn't hear me. I think the problem was with the PTT button as even when you push it, the TX indicator doesn't always show.

The METAR at CRAIG showed wind at 060 and 16 knots. Landing on runway 5. When I descended to 1000', the GPS showed wind at 27 knots from the East. On final for 5, the controller advised that wind was 100 at 16, then 110 at 16. That would make for a killer crosswind. I was following another Skyhawk and was cleared to land.

I watched the aircraft ahead of me and it was clear that he was having trouble with the approach. He aborted the landing and climbed. For some unknown reason, he asked ATC if he could make a right 360 to gain altitude. This makes no sense to me. ATC was sending him over to runway 14. All he needed to do was to turn 90 degrees left and climb into the left downwind for 14 and fly a normal pattern.

The final was bumpy, but I maintained a steady approach. I crossed the threshold and the plane started to drop rapidly. I was getting considerable windshear going from 27 knot winds from 090 to 16 knot winds at 110. When the plane dropped so rapidly, I made the decision that runway 14 was the place to be, so I gave the plane full power and retracted the flaps to 20 degrees. I called the tower and advised that I was going around. He did not acknowledge. I then started climbing out and retracted the flaps fully. I asked the controller, "How do your read" and he replied somewhat snottily that he had heard me announce my go around." I then explained that I had encountered some difficulty with my radios earlier and just wanted to make sure he heard me.

At 350 feet, the controller told me to begin my crosswind turn, so I turned left and continued to climb. The wind was fierce and kept me close to the runway. I stopped my climb at only 700 feet as I was in position to make my base turn followed by by final. All the while the student and instructor in the plane that was doing circles at the end of the runway were saying they were going to do another circle for spacing and were bitching about me being in front of them.

"Well genius, if you had just flown a normal pattern instead of looping around in silly circles, you would have been ahead of me.", I thought to myself.

This approach was still hairy - the wind was gusty and about 30 to 40 degrees off of the runway. Nevertheless, I was able to set the plane down relatively smoothly and quickly exited the runway.

This was a challenge and it was the first time in nearly 500 hours that I have felt obligated to execute a go-around.

I mentioned that to Hayden in the office later and he said that he wished other folks would do that rather than breaking his airplanes...guess I did the right thing.

Good weekend of IFR flying. 4.6 hours total time with about .8 hours of actual instrument.

David West

Charlotte IFR through Class B Airspace

To assist my old friend Jim in celebrating the purchase of his first house, I flew to Charlotte for a long weekend with my other friend of the same first name. We loaded our golf clubs and luggage in to the back of the Skyhawk and headed North for our three hour flight.

We flew North past Brunswick, Savannah and Columbia before reaching Charlotte. Along the way, ATC shaved some time off of the flight by clearing me direct to Columbia rather than forcing me to follow the victor airways from VOR to VOR. GPS is a wonderful thing.

It was nearly sunset as we arrived and the low overcast and haze made spotting the Concord Regional Airport a bit difficult. ATC vectored me for the ILS approach, but offered to give me a visual approach. Since I had never flown in to this airport, and visibility was less than ideal, I opted to fly the precision approach. The approach and landing were uneventful and the ground controller directed me to park at the base of the control tower.

After a nice weekend of golf and a great party, we headed out first thing on Sunday - Father's day. Jim had to get home because his kids had something planned for his day.

I filed IFR as usual and called for my clearance. The controller gave me a DP - departure procedure and unfortunately I did not have a complete set of instrument plates for this region. Consequently, I had to rely on the DP that was stored in the GPS...but which version should I choose? I hacked around with the GPS until I found something that seemed to take me towards Columbia. As it turned out, this was completely unnecessary. The clearance was issued to ensure that if I had a communication problem, I would go to an expected location. In this case, it was the Charlotte VORTAC.

We taxied to the departure runway. I positioned myself at the hold short line and called for takeoff clearance. We waited much longer than I had ever waited before, so I called the tower to remind the controller, "Concord tower, Skyhawk 1463Foxtrot holding short of runway two-zero."

The controller didn't care for this and with a little venom in his voice, he replied, "November 6-3-Foxtrot, you are on an IFR flight plane and are being held for release."

About five minutes later, I was finally cleared for departure and was told to fly a heading of 180. Then as I climbed to 3000 feet, I was turned to 140. I was given many headings and it seemed that every time I leveled off and trimmed up the plane, I was cleared another one or two thousand feet higher. We had filed for 6000 feet as our final, but ATC asked me if I could accept 8000. I advised that I could and we were cleared to 8000. I think the optimal performance from this particular aircraft is around 7000 feet, so we weren't getting the best airspeed, but we were moving pretty quickly around 123 knots TAS. We were eventually given a southwesterly vector and told to join the airway between Charlotte and Columbia - I forget which one. Throughout this time, I was hand flying the airplane. This was good practice and while it would have been easier to simply use the auto pilot and steer by turning a knob, I don't want to become too dependent on an auto pilot.

The rest of the flight was uneventful and we arrived home about 3 hours after takeoff. The total logged time for the weekend was 6.3 hours with over an hour of IFR and one approach. It was a great weekend for flying.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Florida on fire - the return

I checked the weather for CRG and noted that my destination was currently IFR. The temperature and dewpoint were close and wind was light and variable, signalling little change. The ceiling was reported a 800 and broken and the METARs showed several special issues in the prior hour showing different RVRs. The TAF called for scattered thunderstorms and rain. This was going to be interesting. On the way down the GDL69A - the NEXRAD weather radio had malfunctioned. I had hoped that it would magically fix itself.

There was haze at North Palm Beach County airport as we loaded the plane, but the ceiling was high and I probably could have departed VFR. My preference is to fly in the system, though, so VFR was out of the question. This proved to be the right decision as I would later discover.

"Good Morning, Palm Beach clearance delivery, Skyhawk 1-4-6-3-foxtrot is at foxtrot 4-5, ready to copy IFR to Charlie-Romeo-Golf", I called.

A reply came quickly, Skyhawk 1-4-6-3-foxtrot, cleared to Vero via radar vectors, then as filed, climb 2000 expect 7000 in 10 minutes, contact palm beach departure on 123.8 before entering controlled airspace, squawk 4415, How soon before you are ready to depart?"

I responded, "Clearance, Skyhawk 6-3-foxtrot is number one at 2-6-Left and ready to go" and I repeated the clearance.

The controller cleared my departure and instructed me to head 340 on departure and switch to advisory. I eased the throttle and taxied on to the runway. The plane accelerated down the runway and lifted off smoothly. I announced, "north county traffic, skyhawk 6-3 foxtrot upwind on 2-6-left departing IFR turning to 340, last call, north county".

I turned to 340 and switched the radio to palm beach departure's frequency. I was progressively cleared to 3000', then 5000 and finally 7000. I encountered solid IMC about the time I passed through 1500'. We flew in smooth, but obscured conditions until somewhere around Daytona.

Passing Ormond, the air took on a distinct smoky smell.

I noted several bogeys on the traffic information system and ATC advized me to head 360. About five minutes later, he advised me to descend to 5000'. I was nearing 6000' when the controller called back and advised me to climb back to 7000 and said he thought I was landing at St. Augustine. He also cleared me direct CRG.

Throughout the flight, I checked the METAR for CRG using the weather data interface - the GDL69A had miraculously repaired itself. The weather was still reporting an 800' ceiling with 3sm visibility. I pulled out the plate for the ILS32 and briefed it as I've done many times before. ATC authorized a descent to 2000' and gave me vectors for the ILS. We found ourselves in and out of clouds with a broken layer below us. I was cleared for the approach and handed off to Craig tower. I announced that I was 10 miles out on the ILS32 with Hotel, full stop. The controller asked me to report 2 mile final. I flew the beam and we broke out of the clouds at 1200'. Not quite minimums, but it was still fun. There was another plane in the pattern - flying VFR, illegally in my opinion as he was flying the pattern at 1000' and the ceiling was clearly less than 500 ' above him. The tower advised me that I was number two following a skyhawk turning final and asked if I had him in sight. I replied that I had him, but he looked rather high - he was turning final, but was still at pattern altitude through his base leg. I continued my approach and watched as the other pilot dove down and eventually touched down about halfway down the 4000' runway. He completed his touch and go and I continued down, slowing the aircraft gradually touching down near the numbers and turned off on the A4 taxiway.

The flight took a bit longer for the return due to headwinds and my more conservative use of power. I logged 2.2 hours with one full hour in actual instrument. Another Great Weekend for Flying!

Florida on Fire - Mother's Day Weekend 2007

Friday was my last day at SAS. I spent most of the day tieing up loose ends and packing up my office. I bolted for home at 3:30 in the hope that we could leave immediately for the airport and make the 4:00 IFR slot that I had filed.

We almost made it, but the plane wasn't ready. A photog from the Times-Union had hired one of the Sterling pilots to take him up for shots of the fires that are plaguing North Florida these days. Unfortunately, the pilot paid no attention to the time and returned the plane 30 minutes late. I was not pleased and probably was a bit harsher to the nice people at Sterling than I should have been...but this was the second time in a row that the plane was returned late by an inconsiderate pilot who blamed his tardiness on ATC.

We finally took off and headed south. Almost immediately, we found ourselves enveloped in haze as the ground disappeared beneath us. I departed runway 5 and was given a heading of 100 for departure. The plane's climb performance was miserable - I was only getting about 600 fpm. The air was hot, hazy and smoky, so I think there must have been lower O2 content. ATC turned me to a southeast heading, but shortly after, he asked me to expedite my climb. I replied that I was givin' it all she had. The controller turned me back to the east - probably to avoid the blimp that was orbiting the TPC Sawgrass for the big golf tournament. Once I had reached 5000', I was cleared direct to Ormond then on course.

We found ourselves in and out of IMC throughout the flight. Passing Melbourne, I was handed off to Miami Center who changed my clearance to Pahokee, as I had expected. I punched in PHK in the flight plan and turned to the southwest. I could see some large dark clouds ahead and I warned Maureen that it might get bumpy. I even dug out my plastic garbage bags just in case her Bonine didn't do the trick. The ceiling was barely VFR, so when I was asked if I wanted the ILS 8R, I replied in the affirmative.

There was no traffic in the pattern when ATC handed me over to advisory. I called, "North County traffic, Skyhawk 6-3-foxtrot, 4 mile final for 8 right, north county." Another voice asked if I was flying straight in, so I replied, "I'm straight in on the ILS 8 right, full stop."

Coming in, I slowed the plane to 65 knots and made a very nice touch down on the runway. I braked and turned off to the left at the first taxiway, then proceded to the ramp. The flight had taken a scant 2.0 hours and I logged .5 hours of actual instrument.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Sun-n-fun 2007...or Read the Friggin' NOTAM First!

I made the trek to Lakeland for the EAA's annual fly-in for the third time this year. Each year, this event brings thousands of aircraft from all over the US to a single place for a week or so of air shows, parts swaps, sunshine and good clean fun. (It has to be clean fun if you expect to meet the 8 hours bottle to throttle requirements of the FAA!)
Here's a nice shot of one of the P-51 Mustangs that flew in the show.

This year, I brought a fellow pilot from Sterling with me and we flew a G1000 equipped Skyhawk. I'm really falling in love with this aircraft. The glass panel instrumentation provides much clearer information and the combination of an outstanding GPS with a highly effective autopilot make this an excellent plane for instrument conditions.

I reserved an instrument arrival slot several days before the flight and scheduled a 10:30 arrival. We expected a wheels-up time of 9:00. I arrived at the airport around 8:15 and Matt was already there making sure the aircraft was completely fueled.

With our pre-flight completed, I started the engine and called for my instrument clearance. Although I had filed for CRG-ORL-LAL, a route that would take us through the Orlando Class B airspace, ATC wasn't cooperative. They cleared me to OCF (Ocala) via radar vectors, then direct LAL. This was the route that I've flown many times before and the leg to Ocala is the same that I fly when going to either Tampa or to Crystal River.

There were a few low clouds on climbout, but nothing that warranted logging instrument time. Our cruising altitude was 5000' as assigned by ATC. Above the clouds we found considerable haze from the forest fires in north Florida and south Georgia. There was plenty of air traffic around us, too and this made me appreciate the Traffic Avoidance System that is integrated with the moving map GPS. We usually found traffic before ATC announced it to us...but not always.

As we neared Lakeland, ATC descended us to 3000 directly in front of another aircraft that was flying the same basic route, but who was flying VFR without flight following and was not in contact with ATC. I saw the plane flying along our path about the same speed, so I increased power a bit to give us a little distance. When ATC finally called the traffic, I could see them behind my left wing about a quarter mile away at most. I could tell that it was a v-tail Bonanza and he was now at my altitude and approximate airspeed. He finally pushed his throttle and passed us on the left while ATC advised us to follow.

Throughout the flight so far it was clear that ATC was getting very frustrated with many of the pilots. We heard so many blunders from pilots who clearly don't fly very often. It was almost comical to hear the Tampa approach controller tell one of the pilots that he "didn't need his life story - just tell me who you are and what you want".

ATC asked us if we were familiar with the Lake Parker arrival procedure and he was pleased when I advised him that I had done it before. The controller asked me to advise when I had the lake in sight. I had to wait quite a while for a break in the calls to announce that I had the lake in sight and as soon as I did, ATC asked if I would like to cancel IFR, which I quickly did. We headed to lake from the northwest and expected to make a right turn then back to the west over the power plant. As I headed closer to the lake, I saw another Skyhawk moving eastward almost directly over the powerplant and that gave me pause. Thinking that I might have missed something in the ATIS about a change in the pattern direction around the lake, I opted to remain a few miles out while listening to the ATIS a second time. This gave the other plane time to straighten himself out - he was much too close to the lake to be heading east.

I found a gap in the pattern and joined the flow behind a yellow Piper Cub.

The NOTAM states that the pattern altitude is 1200 feet around lake Parker and the airspeed in the pattern should be 100 knots. After flying over the power plant we were to proceed westward until reaching I-4, then follow I-4 to the two unique water towers. Then, proceed due south between the water towers towards the terminal building at which point we would turn east or west depending on which way we were landing. This is a pretty simple procedure and it really aggravates me when pilots cannot follow simple instructions.

The first problem came with the five or six aircraft in front of me who decided that 1200 feet was too high and decided to fly around 1000'. The second problem came from the pilot of the Cub who must have thought that 100 knots was just too fast for a Cub. I slowed to 75 knots and made S-turns to avoid overtaking him without any luck. There I was at 1200 feet making dangerous S-turns only slightly above stall speed to avoid overtaking this yahoo in his wannabe airplane going much too slowly. To further compound the problem, this dummy was not following I-4 - he was about a quarter mile south of the highway. His last mistake actually helped me as I finally gave up on the S-turns and passed him on the right - but never had to fly outside of the proper pattern since he was so far off course.

By now, the four aircraft ahead of the Cub were about a mile away and I could see them in the distance...but they were beyond the turning point. Like lemmings, the were following each other - duplicating each other's errors. I slowed the plane and dropped a notch of flaps while the over shooting planes finally made their turns back to towards the terminal building. ATC called our turns to base and to final one after the other. As I approached my turn to final, my co-pilot urgently pointed out a bi-plane that was heading straight for us. I wasn't worried since I knew the grass runway on which he would be landing was parallel to the taxiway on which we would land and he would be turning his final soon - but I still kept a close eye on him. Sure enough, he turned and dropped in on the grass while we were told to fly long to the orange dot that was painted on the taxiway cum runway. I kept the speed up and flew straight along the taxiway finally pulling power in time to touchdown across the big dot.

The day was filled with aircraft and airshow. At the end of the airshow, there was a mad dash for the runway as hundreds of aircraft rushed to depart. It was madness - like a regular traffic jam, but with spinning propellers instead of bumpers.

The walk to the plane was long across what seemed like miles of grass. But, this worked in our favor as we walked past numerous aircraft with engines running and I'm certain that we took off long before most of them did. We preflighted and fired up the mill. Taxiing required that we make a hard right turn in the grass and this was made more difficult by the weak dampers in the nose gear - there was no way to make the plane turn without using differential braking and that's a no-no in soft field situations. I had no choice. When I hit the taxiway, there were only five or six planes in the line ahead of me - but there were hundreds waiting in other lines.

The weather was looking a bit cloudy and I wondered if I would make it to the HYZER intersection in VFR conditions. We took off and flew according to the NOTAM - due west until at least 3 miles beyond the airport before turning. At this point, I took the transponder off of standby and keyed direct HYZER into the GPS.

About 20 miles south of HYZER, we began to receive pilots calling ATC trying to pick up their instrument clearances. We were at 3,500 feet headed towards some clouds when we finally started to hear ATC responding to these calls. The controller said he had about 16 pilots waiting on clearances and he would get to us one at a time. He then asked us to give our full call signs and nothing more. After listing to five or six planes who announced their call signs, I heard a short gap, so I announced mine as well. Even though I had not previously called, I figured this was just as good a time as any. A few minutes later, ATC started giving clearances or asking for clarifications. When it came to me, the controller asked for my position which I initially reported as 10 miles north of HYZER...upon reflection, I corrected myself and annouced that I was 10 miles south of HYZER. The controller told me to call back when I was at HYZER as he could not see me on radar.

I figured it would be easier for him to see me if I climbed, so I changed my altitude to 5,500. Before reaching HYZER, ATC gave me a squawk code and told me to ident. He then advised me to climb to 6000' and cleared me direct to CRG once I reached 6000.

We were above a solid layer of clouds and smoke and I looked forward to getting some actual instrument time. As we neared Palatka, ATC descended me to 4000 through the clouds. We were in and out of clouds for much of the rest of the flight and were advised to expect the ILS32 circling to 5 approach at CRG as other pilots had had some difficulty. Fine with me.

I was then descended to 3000', but could go no further due to another plane below that appeared to be maneuvering. We couldn't see the actual plane, but we could see him on the TAS. He appeared to be maneuvering because he really was. It turns out that he was the other Skyhawk pilot from Sterling who was trying hard to remain VFR. He was not an instrument rated pilot and he later told me they had to fly below 2000 feet in windy, bumpy conditions the entire way home. He also described the problems he had landing with the wind gusts - wind was reported at 14 knots with gusts to 24 knots, but it was fairly close to blowing straight down the runway. I asked him if he was able to make the Bravo 2 taxiway and he said he used the entire runway. (This actually made me feel great since I was able to land the plane softly before Bravo 2...much less than 1000').

We flew the approach and circled to land on runway 5. I noted the windsock sticking straight out and brought the plane in straight over the numbers.

What a great day! 3.9 hours of cross-country time with .5 actual instrument.

Lastly, today I learned that someone besides me actually reads these entries - so Hi to Felissa! The next time you're in Jacksonville or you find yourself at the same conference, let me know and we'll go flying!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Future of Democracy in America

Sir Alex Fraser Tytler theorized that "a democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largess of the public treasury. From that time on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury, with the results that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy, always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's great civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through this sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependency; from dependency back again to bondage."

He lived between 1742 and 1813. The U.S. has existed as a sovereign nation for a little over 200 years, so should we be happy that our government has outlived its life expectancy? That would make us complacent.

I agree with Sir Alex's hypothesis, however, I do not believe that society as a whole progresses smoothly from each of his nine steps. In the case of the U.S., Canada, and much of twenty first century western civilization, I think that certain segments of the population reach the various stages differently and therefore the overall population my have elements of some if not all of the phases simultaneously.

It is quite clear from the voting patterns in the U.S. that a significant portion of the population is either complacent or apathetic since such a large portion of the population fails to vote. Of those who do vote, their re-election of pork-barrell politicians for decades suggests that they are adhering to Sir Alex's initial hypothesis - they are voting themselves largess of the public treasury.

Early in our nation's history, we were a devout, god-fearing society with strong spiritual faith. Indeed, one of the major principals of our government is the freedom to worship whichever god we choose in the manner we desire. With our belief in God and the help of the French, we fought the tyranny of George III and created a nation of liberty.

Over the decades, our liberty brought prosperity that was marred only briefly by our Civil War. That which does not kill us makes us stronger, and we emerged from the war as a strong nation. The industrial revolution brought abundance which we enjoyed even as most of Europe was embroiled in a horrible war. The selfishness of isolationists in our government blocked our entry into World War I until very late. We continue to show signs of this selfishness unless our economic interests are threatened. Somalia, Serbia-Croatia, Palestine/Israel, and Taiwan are all examples where we failed to take a visible and active role in serving the common good until very late. Yet we deposed the dictators of Panama and Iraq quickly and with great force due to their impact on our economy.

The government is a reflection of the ugliest parts of the society that it governs. Our people have grown complacent in their selection of elected officials and we sit idly by while our leaders lie, cheat and steal...and possibly worse. We remained largely apathetic when our President molested a 21 year old office worker - in the White House, then lied about it. Whether one believes that two adults have the right to do what they want behind closed doors is immaterial. By engaging in these activities, Bill Clinton put himself in a position where he could easily have been blackmailed. This lapse in judgement and more importantly his bold-faced lies about it and his feeble attempt to mince words should have resulted in his immediate dismissal. Imagine if ANY of our corporate leaders had been caught getting a blow job from a 21 year old secretary in their long do you think they would keep their jobs? The same standard should have been applied to Clinton. The apathy and complacency of the governed allowed him to remain in office.

A significant portion of our population is completely dependent on the government - and the taxes I pay - for their very survival. Their dependence knows no bounds. The flooding from Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed New Orleans. Yet the locals resorted to thievery and murder while holding out their hands DEMANDING that the rest of the nation help them. These people have been dependent on the government for so long that they were incapable of escaping a storm that everyone knew was headed their way. The flooding took three days to destroy New Orleans. It was neither sudden nor unexpected. Yet these people sat by waiting for the government to help them instead of helping themselves and each other. Even worse, their local government proved their incompetence by also showing their dependence on the Federal Government. There are those who would say that the response to the problem in New Orleans was a result of the race of the people most affected by the disaster. Hogwash! If the majority of the population had been some other race that sat idly by - demanding help, the response would have been no different. Self-reliance is key and the people of New Orleans who stayed behind had absolutely no self-reliance whatsoever. They have placed their entire existence in the hands of the government. It is precisely this type of dependence that will return us to bondage and dictatorship. Some of us are already there.

David West

Monday, February 19, 2007

Which slows a flight more? ATC or Headwinds???

...or what happens when you experience both?!

This weekend I flew to F45 (North Palm Beach County, aka North County) from Craig (CRG). With a cruise speed of 120 knots TAS, the no-wind time for such a flight should be 1.75 hours. The forecast for Saturday called for a slight tailwind component that should add 5 knots to our cruise speed. But, as anyone who has ever flown can tell you, the winds never obey predictions. Once I climbed to my crusing altitude of 6000 feet for the flight down, the GPS was clearly showing some strong winds off of the right wing with about a 3 or 4 knot reduction in ground speed.

Nevertheless, the sky was clear and the flight was smooth. I had a great view of the Cape as we flew past the shuttle landing area, the assembly building and all of the rocket launchers.

I was a bit disappointed in ATC because they did not clear me as filed, instead, once I reached MLB I was to depart the V3 airway and join the V492 airway which would take me a few miles off shore before turning back towards PBI - which was farther south than I needed to go.

Before passing MLB, I had plugged in the ANGEE intersection which would define the V492 route. As we passed the VOR, the plane made its turn towards the southeast and we continued merrily along for about 10 miles when ATC called, "November 6-3-Foxtrot, cleared to Pahokee, then direct Foxtrot 45". That provided marginal relief as Pahokee was not farther south than our destination - just quite a bit farther west. I quickly punched in the modification and the plane headed in the right direction. About 25 miles from PHK, I was cleared direct to F45, so that shaved a little time off of the clock.

The end result for this trip was a total time of 2.1 hours. Figure .2 for ground work and the net result of the wind and routing was about a .4 hour increase in flying time.

The trip home was much worse.

First, the winds a 3000, 6000, and 9000 were not conducive to a northerly flight path. At 9000, the forecast called for winds in the 45 to 50 knot range. At 6000, they were in the 28 knot range, but at 3000, they were in the 35 knot range and would be dead in my face. I opted to file for 5000 feet and planned the flight based on interpolated winds at that altitude. This would cause our planned time to require 2h30m wheels up to wheels down at 120 knots. Not good.

The winds at PBI were reported at 300 at 20 with gusts to 30. Challenging conditions - to say the least. I flew in some tough winds a few weeks ago when I went to X39, so I was somewhat comfortable. Still, I spent some time reviewing crosswind procedures, high wind landing procedures, etc. before heading out to the airport. The local, unofficial, weather radio was reporting diminishing winds - first call had them at 300 at 18 and they dropped to 13 by the time I stopped listening. As we walked to the plane, I watched as another 172 climbed and it didn't appear to be tossed around at all, so that made me a bit more relieved.

I had filed IFR, but figured that it would be better to take off VFR and pick up my clearance once airborne. This would prevent the ATC from having to keep the airspace over F45 clear while they waited for me to take off. It would also avoid my having to sit on the ground waiting for release.

So, I departed on Runway 31 and made left turns in the pattern as I climbed steadily. I had plugged in the MORGA intersection as my first waypoint as this would keep me out of the Gwinn airspace. I flew over the airport and headed for MORGA as I leveled off at 2,500 feet. I contacted Palm Beach Approach and requested my clearance. The controller gave me a squawk and handed me to a different controller for the clearance. I was cleared via vectors to VRB, then as filed - That's a surprise! ATC advised me to climb to 5000 feet and procede direct VRB, which I did.

Leveling off at 5000 feet, the GPS clearly showed that the wind was greater than forecast - about 34 knots and directly in our face. As I passed Ft. Pierce, I called Miami Flightwatch on 122.0 and filed a pirep noting the clear skies, higher than forecast wind and smoother than forecast conditions.

Shortly after passing Vero, Orlando approach advised me that due to the procedures in effect for the Daytona 500, I could expect to be routed over Orlando International, then Ocala, then Gainesville. That should add some time to the trip, but I replied to the controller that this sounded like fun.

I plugged MCO, OCF and GNV into the flightplan in place of MLB and OMN. This would add about 15 minutes to the flying time if we flew the entire route.

As expected, ATC advised me to descend to 4000 feet and turn to a heading of 290. I made the necessary adjustments by switching the autopilot from Nav to Heading mode and dialed the heading on the HSI. I made a 1000 FPM descent to 4000 and was pleased to note a 5 knot increase in our groundspeed once I leveled off - we were no longer flying directly into the wind.

As we neared the Orlando Class B airspace, the controller gave me more and more heading changes. Usually no more than 10 degrees right or left, but I made sure that I flew these headings precisely. I was surprised by how many different course changes he gave me. Ultimately, I flew just past the Orlando International Airport over the southern end of the multiple runways. Of course, I took some photos.

On the west side of Orlando, ATC vectored me to OCF and cleared me direct to OCF. He then asked if I was landing at OCF, which worried me - OCF was not even on my flight plan, so landing there was not my intention at all. I responded, "Negative, Our destination is Craig - Charlie-Romeo-Golf, 6-3-Foxtrot."

Passing out of the Class B, we flew directly over Leesburg. I double checked my map and saw that a direct line from Leesburg to Craig would put us well outside of the Daytona airspace. Orlando Approach handed me off to Jacksonville Approach. I called, "Jax Approach, Skyhawk 1463Foxtrot level at 4000, with request." The controller asked me for my request and I asked for Direct Craig. He told me that once I was clear of the Orlando airspace, he would give me direct. (I was already outside of the technical Class B airspace.) A few minutes later, I was cleared direct and I headed home.

I got a great view of the sunset from the air and took quite a few photos. As I neared Jacksonville, another plane joined me 500 feet above - a VFR flight in an Aztec a Piper twin engine plane. I was surprised that he was not catching up to me very quickly, but I may have been pushing it a bit, too. I was told to descend to 3000, then was handed off to Jax Approach on 118.0. Unfortunately, at 3000 southwest of the river and 30 miles from CRG, I could not hear the controller, but I could hear other pilots calling him. I waited five or six miles and called in again and asked how he heard me. All was OK, we could hear each other now. The Aztec was only about 2 miles behind me and was still at 4500 feet. He radioed that he had Craig in sight and ATC advised that he had another aircraft in front. (that was me!) He said he no longer had me in sight, but had me on his TCAS. I seriously doubt that he has a TCAS - probably just a TIS, big difference as a TCAS will actually issue instructions for avoiding other aircraft and a TIS is just traffic information based on radar downlink data. Nevertheless, he had me on his scope and I had him on mine.

I announced that I also had Craig in sight and that I had the Aztec on my display as well.

ATC cleared me for the visual 32 and then shortly handed me off to the tower. The Aztec joined the tower shortly afterwards and was immediately told to turn 10 degrees to the right as he was getting too close to me. The piper pilot had a choice to make. He could slow up and land behind me - which was the smart thing to do, or he could fly fast and try to get around me - a bit more dangerous and obnoxious, but if I was in a faster twin-engine plane, I probably would have done the same.

I was told to follow a Citation jet in the pattern and the Aztec was told to follow me by the tower controller. I advised the controller, that I would be happy to slow down and let the Aztec pass since he was a faster aircraft. The controller thanked me and vectored me to 090 as I slowed down. He then asked if I saw the other aircraft and of course I did. I followed behind the Aztec and made an awful landing. The approach lights were out and I bounced the plane as I tried to land. There was a fair amount of wind, but a bad landing is still the pilot's fault. It wasn't a bad bounce, but it wasn't my usual smooth flare.

Anyway all of this flying around did not add appreciably to the calculated time of 2.5 hours. All told this flight required 2.8 hours and none of the time was spent in cloud.

I've recalculated the no-wind times for the original flight plan, the expected modification and the actual course and found that my original plan would have been 1h52 minutes without wind. The rerouting over Orlando to OCF to GNV to CRG would have increased the flying time to 2:17 - an increase of 25 minutes. The actual route flown (an approximation due to the numerous heading changes) is estimated at 2:04. It still took us 2:30 wheels up to wheels down - so the combination of wind and ATC resulted in an additional 38 minutes of flying time. ATC only accounted for 12 minutes of that, so the severe headwinds produced a whopping 26 minutes of delay.

David West

Thursday, February 01, 2007

To Go Around or Not Go Around

Christmas was over a month ago and I still had presents for my sister's family and my mother sitting at home in Jacksonville. Since I had a free Sunday, I made plans to fly over to Tampa to play Santa.

The forecast called for a front to push through bringing gusty conditions during the mid-day period. The worst part would be during the afternoon after I had already landed in Tampa, so I wasn't too worried. The winds aloft were forecast from the west-northwest at anywhere from 35 to 49 knots. This would give me a bit of a headwind for the first part of my flight with a slight tailwind after I passed Ocala.

During preflight, I discovered that some yahoo had removed the checklist from the aircraft, so I had to go back to the hanger to get another. I think this is the third time in just a few months that the checklist has gone missing. It's a bit aggravating, but I know I made the mistake once when I was a student.

During the preflight, the plane was shaking quite a bit in the wind. I made a mental note to pay close attention to the wind direction and yoke position lest the wind flip the plane. When taxiing to the controlled ground area, the plane kept trying to weathervane into the wind. There was a very steady 15 knot wind from my right rear quarter.

I called for my IFR clearance and went through the runup without incident. The wind was from 280 at 14 knots according to the ATIS and I would be departing runway 32. This would give me a fair amount of crosswind to contend with. The weather was chilly, too, so the engine performance should be good.

On climbout, I saw around 1100 fpm climb rate, which is much better than the POH calls for at STP at sea level. With only me in the plane, I was well below max weight. This fact combined with the favorable temperature and pressure accounted for the excellent performance.

The flight to X39 was fairly uneventful. I flew over at 5000' as instructed by ATC - even though I was flying southwest and the AIM calls for even altitudes. ATC does things differently in Florida since most traffic runs north and south rather than east-west. There was a cloud layer at 4000' that I flew through, but the air was surprisingly smooth. For much of the flight, the GPS showed a 45 knot wind blowing from my right. Fortunately, it was such that my ground speed matched my TAS, so the wind wasn't really slowing me down. I was showing 128 knots TAS.

About 20 miles out, ATC called, "November 6-3-Foxtrot, traffic 11 o'clock 7 miles, two-thousand-three-hundred-feet, maneuvering, type unknown."

I replied, "6-3-Foxtrot, negative contact, and I don't see it on my display yet either. I'm looking".

ATC then descended me to 1600 feet. This struck me as kind of odd since the MEA for the airway I was on was 2000 feet. It was a relatively clear day, so 1600 did not pose any problems.

A few minutes later, ATC announced, "November 6-3-foxtrot, traffic now at your 10 o'clock, seven miles".

I answered, "Approach, 6-3-foxtrot, I do not have the traffic in sight, but I have three bogeys on my scope. I'll keep my eyes out."

The traffic display showed that the traffic was now only two aircraft and it was now heading straight for me 500 feet higher and only a few miles away. ATC called the traffic again at 1 mile and I told the controller that I had the traffic in sight. Meanwhile, I was monitoring the frequency for X39 and heard no one announcing any positions. We were close enought to that airport that I had expected to hear this other pilot on the air, but I had no such luck.

I kept my eye on the other aircraft as he flew directly over head - I never knew if he actually saw me or not.

As I got closer to the airport, I listened to the weather at Vandenberg and Brooksville and a few other airports along the way. My destination airport does not have an ATIS or AWOS. The wind was generally from the Northwest at around 10 or 12 knots and I expected this airport to show the same. With the airport in sight, I canceled my IFR clearance and thanked the controller.

I announced my intentions and flew directly over the field noting that the windsock next to the runway was fully extended and pointing roughly straight down runway 32. The sock on top of the hanger, though was pointing about 30 degrees off indicating that the wind may either be swirling or I would be getting some cross wind from the left as I landed on 32. Crossing over the runway, I descended to 1000' and made a right teardrop turn to enter the left downwind for 32. There was no traffic around at all.

Since the wind was so stiff - the GPS was now showing 23 knots at pattern altitude, I expected some shear and possibly gusts, so I decided that I would only use 2 notches of flaps and would keep my speed up a bit to compensate for any sudden changes in the wind. What happened next was not what I had expected.

I lined up on final and as I reached the runway, I pulled the power and let the plane settle before flaring. The mains touched down and I traveled about 100 feet down the center of the runway when a gust of wind lifted the plane about 10 or 15 feet into the air. I immediately gave the plane a little bit of throttle and let it stabilize. The plane started to drift right, so I banked slightly to the left and realigned with the center of the narrow runway. Back in the center, I reduced power and let the plane settle to the runway and immediately retracted the flaps. I stopped and announced my intention to taxi back on the runway. I carefully taxied with full nose down elevators and found a parking spot.

I've never had a plane lifted into the air in the past, but maybe I've never had such gusts. I once had a Cessna 152 fall out of the sky due to a sudden windshift when I was still a student, but even that didn't just caused my instructor to say something about charging me for her chiropractor bills.

Maybe next time, I would use only one notch of flaps in such gusty conditions, but the problem is that I just didn't know there were gusts - the two closest airports were not reporting gusts. I could have opted to give the plane full power and execute a go-around, but I didn't feel like I had let the situation deteriorate to the point that I couldn't land the plane safely. I still had the plane under control, I had 15 feet of altitude and enough speed to maintain the altitude - and several thousand feet of runway remaining. All in all, I think I made a good decision. I'm just glad I didn't have any passengers or witnesses on the ground to comment on the poor first attempt.

Anyway, I got 1.6 hours of cross-country with about 0.2 of actual instrument time. Another fun flight. I returned that night - that flight will be the subject of my next post.

David West