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!

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous5:05 PM EST

    "This is a pretty simple procedure and it really aggravates me when pilots cannot follow simple instructions."

    All too often I believe they don't even read the NOTAM. I have flown into Sun'N Fun 12 tiems and it seems there is always at least one person on the frequency that has to have individual attention to make it from Lake Parker to LAL.
    Last year it was two TSA Blackhawk Helicopters that had not read the NOTAM nor did they have the tower frequencies.
    Gilber Pierce