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.