Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Renter Beware

The economic woes that afflict our country do not discriminate between wealthy or poor. The political rhetoric of late would have one believing that the rich are always getting richer, but nothing could be further from the truth.

As evidence of this, take a gander at the following story. A newly minted private pilot reserved a plane so that he could fly to Atlanta for the weekend. This was to be his first long cross-country after getting his certificate and I'm sure he was very excited. Unfortunately, a few days before the planned flight, he received a call from the flight school telling him that the plane was no longer available for rental because the owner had taken it off of lease-back. That wasn't quite true.

What has now been revealed to me is that another renter took the plane to South Florida. While tied down at the out-of-town airport, Cessna Finance repossessed the plane. Apparently, the owner had not been keeping up his payments. This left the renter stranded and my friend without a plane for the weekend.

What I find amazing about this is that the owner made no attempt to sell the plane and Cessna Finance hasn't attempted to put the plane on lease-back to the flight school that was using the plane on a daily basis. Seems like both Cessna Finance and the owner are not the most brilliant businessmen.

So renters, beware. I don't know what the answer to this problem would be. At least with a Skyhawk like N2469U, you could lock the cabin and the ignition requires a key. But what about all those Warriors and Archers that don't need a key to start. A repo-man could easily fly off with the plane. Should you take a length of chain to lock the plane to a tiedown? And perhaps a set of bolt cutters would be in order to free your plane from a lock installed by a repossessor.

It is too bad that Cessna Finance chose to behave in this manner. They could have easily repossessed the aircraft at its home base. It seems rather vindictive for them to repo the plane far from its home. Unfortunately for the renter, he became the victim of the finance company's vindication. I'll bet this even sticks in his mind should he ever decide to purchase an aircraft in the future.

If I learn more details, I'll be sure to post them here.

Monday, October 27, 2008

One Trip Made All The Training Worth While

Growing up in Florida in the '60s and '70s, there was only one baseball team nearby (sort of) to root for. As a result, I was raised on Hank Aaron and the Atlanta Braves. Several times as a kid, Dad drove the family up to Atlanta to watch the Braves play in Fulton County Stadium. These were great times and the trips were always fun.

Fast forward to today...Dad and I are quite a bit older and Floridians have two teams to choose from. Dad now lives on the Gulf coast of Florida and I'm still in Jacksonville. This year the Tampa Bay Rays made it to the World Series! I used StubHub.com to find a couple of tickets to game 2 in St. Petersburg and asked Dad if he wanted to go. It isn't every day that you get to take your dad to the World Series.

The plane that I've been flying for the past year, N2469U, a Skyhawk with the Garmin G1000 panel was not available. The only plane that had enough open time was N341PA, a Piper Archer III that is showing some wear. This meant that I was back to flying on steam gauges and with no autopilot. The forecast was not good. Definitely not a VFR opportunity, so I'd be hand flying single pilot IFR in low conditions.

I got my briefing and filed two Instrument flight plans, one for CRG-CGC to pick up Dad and one for CGC-PIE to get to the game. The winds were fierce and gusty on the ground, but I would have a tailwind on the way down. Craig's beacon was lit signifying IFR conditions. After fueling the plane, I picked up clearance and departed Craig on schedule. Almost immediately after takeoff, I found myself in the clouds bouncing all over the place. Since I hadn't flown an Archer in over a year, I paid very careful attention to my checklist. ATC vectored me around the restricted area that was established over NAS Jacksonville for the airshow. As soon as I was past the restricted area, I was cleared direct to Crystal River. Most of the flight was conducted in instrument conditions, but the clouds thinned out a bit as I neared Crystal River. ATC was giving me vectors for the GPS approach to CGC and I entered that in the GPS. About 4 miles out, I started to pick out the airport through the clouds. ATC dropped me down to 2000 feet and I was able to cancel IFR and landed VFR. The skies were scattered at 1,300 feet with an OVC ceiling around 2,500 feet. The winds were light and variable, and there was no traffic in the pattern, so I entered a left downwind for runway 9 and landed.

Dad and I loaded up and I took off again this time headed for KPIE. I attempted to raise JAX approach on 118.6 several times and they never acknowledged me. As I flew closer to the Class B airspace around Tampa, I began to get aggravated. I could hear ATC, and I could hear other aircraft, but ATC never responded to me. Another pilot tried to relay for me, but the controller was ignoring me for some reason. Frustrated, I had to circle outside the Class B at 3000 feet waiting for clearance. I called Tampa Approach and was told that they couldn't get my clearance and was instructed to contact JAX on 118.6 - but that was the frequency that was not responding to me. The Tampa controller then told me to contact St. Pete. the St. Pete controller was able to pull up my clearance and told me it was on request - thinking I was on the ground. It advised the controller that I was over a particular intersection (I forgot which one) at 3000 feet and he then gave me my clearance and squawk. I was then instructed to intercept the localizer for 17L at PIE and I flew the ILS in.

The game was great and we had fun time. The next day, dad and I flew back to CGC and I flew on to CRG. This time the weather was also pretty cruddy. After getting my clearance at KPIE, ground control instructed me to taxi to 17L via taxiway Alpha. I taxied on alpha and crossed 9/27 and then found myself at the end of 35L. Thinking that I had missed a turn, I called ground control and asked if I had made a mistake. The controller told me that 35L was the continuation of alpha and it was not used as a runway currently. I was fine. I completed my runup as I taxied and was ready to go when I reached the end of 17L. The tower cleared me and told me to fly heading 270 on climbout. Passing through 700 feet, I turned right and was cleared to 4000 feet. Eventually we were turned to the north and we proceded to Crystal River. About 15 miles south of the airport, I was about to request a lower altitude and ATC handed me off to Jax approach. Approach told me to expect the GPS approach and said that they had no weather information at CGC. I advised that I had the numbers for CGC and that they were reporting 1300 feet scattered. ATC gave me vectors for the approach and I spotted the airport off my left wing. When I advised ATC that I had the airport in sight, ATC cleared me for the visual approach and I made a left turn to base - but I was still way to high to land. I advised ATC that I would be back in the air in about 10 minutes after I dropped off my passenger. The controller advised me to contact him on 118.6 when I was airborn and gave me a new squawk code for the next flight. This was a far cry better than the previous day's situation. I canceled IFR and I began a steep turn and a descent to lose altitude until I was low enough for a safe approach. There was no other traffic in the area and I flew straight in on runway 27. I dropped dad off and was back in the air shortly.

Once I was away from the pattern, I contacted ATC and was cleared to 6000 feet and direct Craig. I entered cloud layers around 2000 feet, passed through one layer and entered another layer around 5,500 and flew in clouds almost the entire way home. Craig was IFR and landing using either the VOR14 or the GPS14 approach. Winds were at 18 knots gusting to 26 from a heading of 130. Nearing the Jacksonville area, ATC advised that she could save me some time if I could fly the ILS32-Circle to 14 which I eagerly accepted. She vectored me around the airshow's restricted area - although I seriously doubt that there was any airshow practice going on in this weather. ATC brought me down to 3000 feet and then dropped me to 2000, turned me to 350 and told me to maintain 2000 until established on the localizer. I passed through some cloud layers and found myself in the clouds until about 1000 feet. Craig tower advised me to circle to the west, so I made a slight left turn off of the localizer about 2 miles from the departure end of 32 and flew a tight pattern at 600 feet. At this altitude, I was bounced up and down quite a bit and I was thankful I didn't have a passenger with a weak stomach. I landed and parked the plane just as the rain began again.

There is no way that I could have made this flight without an instrument rating. To borrow from the MasterCard commercials - flight lessons $12,000; World Series tickets $700; Taking Dad to the World Series in style, PRICELESS!

Lots of instrument time on these flights. 3.9 hours total time. Two instrument approaches. An absolutely terrific trip!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

A Good Pilot Is Always Learning

Recently I had the pleasure of flying with a student pilot shortly before he earned his wings. I had never met the pilot in person - we had corresponded when he was researching flight schools and came across this blog.

We made arrangements to get a $300 hamburger (inflation took its toll) at HighJackers at the Flagler Airport (KXFL). I've flown down there many times and like the food and the atmosphere, so I thought it would be a good place to take him. The weather was fine for an instrument rated pilot, but marginal VFR conditions prevailed. I filed an instrument flight plan and we jointly preflighted the plane. This was also the first time that Hank had flown in a G1000 cockpit. I took the left seat - I'm not an instructor and I have very rarely flown in the right seat. With a student in the plane, I didn't want to take any chances.

I got the clearance, taxied and after a short wait, we were cleared to depart on runway 5 and were told to fly heading 100. We encountered a few clouds on the climbout and during cruise. I demonstrated the autopilot, the GPS and explained the basics of the G1000 PFD and MFD. I also hit the reversionary mode button so my copilot would have the exact same display that I had.

During the flight we talked about Hank's training. He described a situation where his instructor had him flying in what he described as instrument conditions without an IFR flight plan. Further discussion revealed that these were not actual instrument conditions but hazy conditions that obscured the horizon. He also explained that he had an actual engine out condition that his instructor deliberately caused. They were over a non-towered airport and pulled power to idle. The instructor apparently had him pull back on the throttle until the prop stopped windmilling. Once it stopped, he pushed the nose over but the engine did not restart. They went through the emergency procedures and were able to restart. I found the situation quite disturbing and unnecessarily risky. It is a potential violation of FAR 91.113 and I told Hank as much.

Nearing the airport, ATC instructed me to descend to 2,600 feet - but I heard it as 2,000 feet and I repeated the same. ATC did not correct me and neither did my co-pilot who later said he heard it correctly. In level flight at 2,000, ATC told me, "fly 2,600 as assigned". Oops. Busted altitude. I replied that I was climbing back to 2,600.

As we approached Flagler, we could see a few aircraft on the Traffic Information System and I heard several talking to ATC. One was a Cirrus on instruments that was going to cause us a bit of a delay. ATC told me I could cancel IFR in the air and avoid the delay. Unfortunately, the airport was obscured by clouds and we were in and out of clouds at our altitude. I explained the situation to ATC who vectored me to the East where there were fewer clouds and he dropped me down. Clear of the clouds and low enough to stay below them, I canceled IFR and entered the pattern to make a landing to the East.

After a nice meal served by an attractive waitress who bore a striking resemblance to Sarah Palin...maybe hotter, I filed IFR for the return.

We taxied to runway 6 and were number 3 behind a Warrior and a Cirrus. The Warrior departed and the Cirrus taxied to the hold short. An aircraft in the pattern announced he was turning base and the Cirrus decided to wait. I don't know why. The Cessna that was on base was flying a very wide pattern and took a full five minutes to land. The Cirrus waited quite a while after the Cessna landed and executed a touch-and-go. As soon as I saw the Cessna airborne, I called on the radio, "Be advised that touch-and-gos are prohibited at Flagler". I felt like telling the pilot to read his A/FD, but my co-pilot had confided that he had done the same thing a few weeks earlier without noting the A/FD's warning, so I cut him some slack.

After the Cirrus' inexplicable delay that caused quite a back up of traffic behind me, I taxied onto the runway and watched as the Cirrus aborted his take off. He turned off of the runway quite a way down and as soon as he was clear, I departed. As I passed through pattern altitude, I leveled off below the clouds and contacted Daytona Approach to pick up my instrument clearance. We were cleared Direct to Craig as filed but we were assigned 6,000 feet as our cruising altitude. On climbout, I turned over the controls to hank. We encountered clouds on climbout and he did a pretty good job of handling the plane in spite of the unfamiliar display and right seat. He leveled off ok, but had a little difficulty trimming it. Encountering clouds, he busted altitude a few times and when focused on altitude, he drifted off of his heading, however he did an overall good job of handling the plane.

During the flight, we encountered some VFR traffic that was reported at 500 feet below us in the opposite direction. ATC announced the traffic and we spotted it on our scope. Since we were barely above the broken cloud layer, I advised ATC that we did not have traffic in sight and it was probably in and out of clouds. I then heard ATC instruct the traffic to remain VFR - so I suspect that someone was violating VFR. I see that quite a bit especially with the students flying planes with tail numbers that end in Echo-Romeo - YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE. This is dangerous and unacceptable behavior. What happens when two ERAU pilots encounter each other in a cloud and neither is talking to ATC? Not a good situation at all. The FARs were mostly created in response to some tragedy and are intended to protect all of us. Follow the damn rules guys!

The conditions at Craig required that we fly the ILS-32 Circle to 5 approach . I took the controls when ATC told us to descend and I flew the approach.

Hank had to postpone his check ride that was scheduled for Tuesday because the aircraft was down for maintenance. I got an email last Friday announcing that he got his ticket punched. I think he'll make a great pilot. Congratulations Hank!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Far Reaching Effects of Tropical Storm Fay

Get-there-itis is an affliction normally reserved for the impatient or foolish, but I think I may have had just a touch of it last month when I flew to Tampa for the Jaguars-Bucs game. Tropical storm Fay had just crossed the state bringing huge volumes of rain, wind damage and general inconvenience. But the outer bands of the storm were still hundreds of miles from its center.

The plan was to fly from Jacksonville to Tampa international on Saturday morning, go to the game then fly home the next day. The flight usually takes about 1.5 hours from startup to shutdown. I got a briefing and checked the weather forecast and it looked a little ugly, but not so bad that I couldn't make the trip and I really didn't want to drive the 4 hours. I filed IFR and headed took off about an hour behind schedule because I was waiting for the local weather to clear up a little. The problem was the winds were pretty severe at 18 knots with gusts at 26 knots as I recall. I held the plane on the ground a little longer than normal so I would have plenty of speed for the climbout should the wind suddenly shift on me. I reached my cruising altitude without covering much distance at all.

After leveling off, I activated the auto pilot and set it to NAV and ALT. This would make the plane follow the flightplan that I entered in the GPS and it would maintain a steady altitude. About 30 seconds after activating the auto pilot, I noticed that the altitude had not stabilized and the aircraft was climbing. I checked the breakers, made sure everything was set properly, but the darn thing would not hold altitude. Then I noticed the red "P" on the face of the auto pilot. This meant that the pitch control was inoperable. Great. Flying into crappy weather without an auto pilot - not the best thing to do. But heck, pilots have done that for years.

I trimmed the plane and hand flew it monitoring the HSI, GPS and altimeter to make sure I was always on course and at my assigned altitude. As I got closer to Ocala, ATC advised me that there was a squall line extending from south of Tampa to Ocala and she suggested that I deviate to the south or maybe land at Ocala and wait it out. I opted for the deviation. About 5 minutes later, the controller told me that the deviation wouldn't work and I should deviate to the west. She gave me a westward heading and with her help, I began to navigate around the worst of the storms. The real problem was the wind. The winds aloft in my briefing were expected to be in the low 30knot range at 6000' and less at 9000'. I was cruising at 7000' but the winds varied from 36 to 41 knots according to the G1000. Groundspeed was pretty dismal as a result. I trudged along accepting course changes from ATC to vector me around the storms. I was getting tossed around quite a bit and flew in clouds for about an hour straight. At one point I started climbing rapidly and I had to reduce power and push the nose down. I had gained 500 feet and was pointing 20 degrees nose down with the engine idling...and I was still climbing. That was some serious updraft. ATC kept giving me instructions like 10 degrees left, 20 degrees right as she steered me clear of the worst of the storms. Eventually, I passed through the clouds, but I could see a solid line of towering cumulous off my left wing in the direction that I needed to go. The coast appeared ahead of me. I was near Cross City north of Cedar Key when I crossed the coastline. Finally, ATC turned me to the south.

I was cleared direct to TPA and I loaded the ILS 18L into the computer. I started receiving the localizer about 30 miles out and although ATC hadn't pointed me to it, I adjusted my course a few degrees to the left to intercept. Meanwhile, I tuned the ATIS and got the numbers on the second radio. Jax Center handed me off to TPA who started bringing me down. I entered clouds around 3000 feet and was eventually cleared for the ILS 18L approach. With the strong headwinds, I kept my speed at 120 knots so I wouldn't slow down the commercial traffic any more than was necessary. I popped out of the clouds about 900 feet above the ground and I saw the runway ahead of me. I reduced the throttle to idle and progressively extended the flaps. I landed a little long on purpose so I would be closer to the first taxiway and could clear the runway as quickly as possible.

Ground control cleared me across 9-27 to the ramp. I looked for a "follow-me" cart, but nothing appeared. I taxied to parking and the ground handler appeared. No sooner had he chocked my left wheel then the sky began to fall. Man, that was some strong rain pouring down on me. I had made it just in time. I sat in the plane feeling the wind rocking it while it sat on the ground. Eventually, the FBO drove the rental car up to my wing and I managed to stay dry as I loaded up.

The combination of the weather vectors and the strong headwinds turned a 1.5 hour trip into a 2.5 hour run with over an hour of actual instrument time. Quite an adventure!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Congested Area - Definition

I just published a comment from a reader that suggested that a congested area is any yellow colored portion of a VFR sectional chart. Neither the FAR nor the AIM define congested area and the key on the sectional does not state that yellow areas define congested. There have been recent enforcement actions described on the AOPA website where the FAA has punished pilots for flying too low over congested areas that would not have been identified in yellow on the chart.

I live in a neighborhood that has about 200 homes. There are about 3 to 4 homes per acre plus lots of streets. Adjacent to our neighborhood are several condominium complexes. There are thousands of cars and thousands of people. Any reasonable person flying over the area would think of this as a congested area. The Jacksonville sectional does not identify my area in yellow.

The key point is that the FAA does not clearly define "congested area" and the VFR charts cannot be used to reliably identify congested areas. Furthermore, the FAA's enforcement actions have lacked the consistency necessary to draw any conclusions about their definition of "congested". Consequently, common sense is the order of the day for defining congested areas.

The AOPA's member website has several discussions about minimum safe altitudes, FAR 91.13 and 91.119. "The FAA does not define congested area in the FARs or in the Aeronautical Information Manual. And, FAA interpretations and decisions issued by the National Transportation Safety Board in low-flight enforcement cases are not consistent for purposes of drafting a precise definition. Such a determination is usually decided on a case-by-case basis, and in the cases that we've seen, "congested" has been interpreted rather broadly. For example, a highway with moderate traffic was found to be "congested," as was a seaside area where 200 to 300 persons were sitting on the beach or bathing in the water. "

The bottom line is good judgement should be used in determining minimum safe altitudes and the only sure way to avoid an enforcement action is to err on the side of caution. Whether you think it is a congested area or not, that girl floating in her pool below you probably doesn't want you buzzing her only 500 feet above.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

10.5 Hours Around Vegas & The Grand Canyon

In mid-May, I had a conference to attend in Las Vegas and decided to go out early so I could get some flying in around the Grand Canyon. Last November, I had flown to the Grand Canyon West airport and I wanted to fly to the airport at the Grand Canyon National Park this time (KGCN).

I rented a Skyhawk with steam gauges and no auto pilot from Westair Aviation. I've rented from this flight school in the past and have found their planes to be well maintained and the staff to be very friendly. My scheduled instructor for the check-out ride was a no-show, though. One of the instructors reviewed my log book and saw that I was current, instrument rated and had plenty of time in type plus rentals from this school in November, so he waived their 90 rental rule and signed off on my rental.

I departed the North Vegas airport around noon VFR and followed ATC's instructions through the Class B airspace. They vectored me over Nellis Air Force Base and the Las Vegas Motor Speedway. The weather was windy, but there were few clouds. I flew to the Peach Springs VOR, then headed to GCN. The flying time was almost 2 hours due to winds.

The wind passing over the mountains and canyons created very bumpy conditions and the lack of an autopilot forced me to rely on my stick and rudder skills to remain straight and level. I've been spoiled by the two-axis auto pilot in the Skyhawk that I fly at home...and I have been flying G1000 equiped aircraft almost exclusively, so going back to steam gauges was quite a change. Nevertheless, I flew over incredibly beautiful scenery and made it to GCN without incident.

Along the way, I managed to take a few shots looking North to the Canyon. There are numerous canyons that feed into the Grand Canyon and I was able to fly directly above them as I traveled eastward at 9,500 feet.The FAA regulations don't permit general aviation aircraft to fly directly over the canyon except in four narrow corridors that are 4 miles wide and that cross the canyon or nearly cross it North and South, but these are fairly far to the east or they only come down from the North rim making it very time consuming to get to them from Las Vegas. Nevertheless, I was able to get a good view of the canyon as I flew South of it. Once at GCN, I caught a cab from the airport to the national park. For $16, I received transportation and admission to the park which I thought was very reasonable. I spent the afternoon hiking and taking pictures. I hiked down the Bright Angel trail for about an hour wondering why the rangers thought it was so difficult to hike down and back in a single day. After hiking down for an hour, I turned back and it was quickly apparent why the rangers issued their warnings. It took me two hours to get back up and I only went a fraction of the way down the trail.
The winds in the area of the Canyon are notorious and challenging to pilots of small planes. I paid particular attention to wind direction as I taxied for my departure. The ride was bumpy and required my full attention because the wind direction would frequently change causing my airspeed, engine speed and altitude to change every few minutes.
As I approached the Las Vegas Class B airspace, I was asked if I was familiar with the area, and I told the controller I had flown there twice before. He asked if I knew the Cortez arrival route and I responded that it was on the TAC but I had not flown it before. The controller then dropped me down to 6,500 feet and cleared me for the Cortez Arrival and cleared me into the Class B airspace. I was bouncing around in the plane quite a bit as I attempted to fly the route. At one point, the controller asked if I was flying the route, and I told him that I thought that I was. After about 10 minutes, the controller informed me that the route was supposed to be flown at 3,500 feet. The trouble was that the route only mentioned 3,500 once in small print that I never noticed as the chart bounced in front of me. I apologized and the controller said it wasn't a problem and gave me vectors for North Vegas.
The next day, an old friend of mine arrived and I flew the same route all over again, just a bit later in the day. The wind was fierce and we bounced all over, but this time I had a Skyhawk with an autopilot. When we departed Grand Canyon, the wind was nearly straight down the runway at 19 knots with gusts to 28 knots...pretty fierce, but the direction was steady. The climbout was easy and quick and the flight was bumpy but uneventful.
The next day, I took another friend up. I had met Lynn through work and had encouraged her to come sightseeing with me. The weather was overcast and windy, but the clouds were high and this would not prevent us from flying. We received vectors from ATC to fly directly to Hoover Dam and even had a controller say, "Enjoy your dam tour!"
I handed my camera to Lynn and she demonstrated her skill as a photographer by taking these shots of the dam.
And another shot by Lynn:
After passing the dam, we flew around a mountain ridge that extended to the southeast then flew north back towards Lake Mead. We followed the lake to the North then ultimately flew along the North rim of the canyon remaining outside the restricted areas. The chart showed an airstrip in a canyon, but I couldn't spot it. After turning around, I spotted this very narrow runway situated deep in a valley near the north rim. I can only imagine the challenges that landing in a windy valley like this would present.

We followed lake Mead back and I called ATC for clearance back through the Class B. They vectored me towards Nellis where we were finding challenges trying to remain clear of clouds. Ultimately, we were caught in some virga followed by severe turbulence that made me just a bit nervous. I slowed the plane down to minimize the stress on the airframe and we made it through the mess. As we were getting tossed around, Lynn asked, "Are you going to get us down from here?" and I responded, "One way or another, we'll get down". Her nuckles were white as she gripped the door handle and she grabbed my shoulder each time we hit a bump. I felt so bad for her, but I was never really in danger. We landed without further incident with 2.5 hours on the Hobbs meter. I was amazed that we had flown that long. It felt like only an hour.

The first two days took up about 4 hours of flying time each and this one generated 2.5 for a total of 10.5 hours of flying over three days. What a great trip!

Monday, June 02, 2008

What Not To Do

I had flown to Tampa for the weekend and was prepared to head back IFR flying through the towering cumulous clouds that are typical for this time of year in Florida. It was early evening and I had received my IFR clearance to DADES-V581-OCF-direct-CRG. The controller gave me a squawk code, frequencies told me to fly 060 on climb out to 1600 feet expect 8000 in 10 minutes. I ran through the runup checklist as I taxied to 36-Right as instructed. There was no traffic on the tarmac behind me or anywhere near the taxiway, so I felt safe in doing the runup on the roll.

Part of a runup is the run the engine at 1800 RPM, then turn off one magneto, then turn it back on, then the other magneto and turn it back on, then reduce the throttle to idle and verify that the engine would not die. I executed this procedure, or so I thought.

I had to wait for traffic to depart including a Boeing 737 which the controller referred to as an Airbus. I knew it was a 737 from the non-circular shape of the turbine intakes, but I didn't think it would be good to correct a controller for this minor detail.

I was eventually cleared for takeoff and I taxied onto the runway and gave the engine full throttle. The plane seemed to accelerate normally but as I climbed, I noted that I was barely getting 500 fpm for the rate of climb. I attributed this to the very hot day and high density altitude due to the heat and humidity.

I eventually leveled off at 8000 feet but was concerned when my speed was barely 107 TAS. I normally get about 124 knots and the engine was maxed out at 2400 RPM. I thought that maybe I had fouled a plug with the long wait on the tarmac, so I leaned the engine considerably until it ran rough. That didn't work.

I kept a close eye on the gauges and nothing was abnormal. What could be causing the problem?

Finally, I decided to run through my mental cruise checklist. This involves looking at each piece of equipment from top to bottom and left to right verifying that everything is as it should be. I started with the top left of the panel - all normal. Then moved downward. All circuit breakers were fine. But wait! There it was! Somehow, the start switch had flipped to the right magneto only position. It could have been because I had my whole keychain attached to the key or maybe I just didn't switch it far enough when I did the run up. I turned the switch to the both position and the engine instantly gained 300 rpm! Problem solved.

1.6 hours of cross-country flying with about .5 in actual IFR conditions.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

More Fun With The Weather

I looked at my calendar and it came as a shock that I hadn't taken the controls of an aircraft in two whole weeks. No wonder I was drooling as I looked from my first row seat of the Airbus A320 into the open cockpit door. I pulled out my blackberry and reserved a plane for the next day.

I was awakened by the sound of rain beating on my roof Saturday morning. Checking the forecast, conditions did not look good for the day. Mostly IFR conditions throughout the day but with fairly calm winds at the surface. So with my coffee in my hand, I got a briefing for an 11am departure flying over to Cecil Field. The ceiling at Cecil was showing much better than Craig - Overcast at 900 feet while Craig was overcast at 400. Visibility was reported at 3 miles, but it was diminishing with light rain and mist. These are the METAR strips for the time that I was up yesterday:
KCRG 261653Z 00000KT 2 1/2SM BR OVC004 09/08 A3025 RMK AO2 RAB02E50 SLP242 P0000 T00940083 $
KCRG 261641Z 15006KT 1 1/2SM -RA BR OVC004 09/08 A3024 RMK AO2 RAB02 P0000 $
KCRG 261618Z 14007KT 2SM -RA BR OVC004 08/07 A3027 RMK AO2 RAB02 PRESFR P0000 $
KCRG 261553Z 00000KT 3SM BR OVC004 08/07 A3032 RMK AO2 RAE38 PRESFR SLP267 P0001 T00780072 $

KVQQ 261750Z VRB03KT 2 1/2SM BR BKN004 OVC010 A3022
KVQQ 261650Z VRB04KT 2 1/2SM BR BKN005 OVC010 A3026
KVQQ 261550Z 00000KT 2SM BR OVC009 A3034

The interesting thing to note is that the barometer was dropping pretty rapidly during this time period and that doesn't spell good weather.

Arriving at the airport I learned that a new VFR pilot had taken the plane that I reserved to St. Simons Island the night before and due to obvious reasons, he could not make it back. I think the chief instructor needs to take another look at this fellow's credentials. The weather on Friday Night was exactly as forecast, so there was no reason for him to expect that he could make it back VFR.

Fortunately, a new Skyhawk was on the line - fueled and ready for me. With the weather conditions looking miserable, I verified if the plane was reserved for later just in case I needed to land at an alternate. Sure enough, it was reserved at 2, but I expected to return by 1, so no problem.

I called a briefer and entered a new flight plan since my tail number had changed and then preflighted the plane. Since I hadn't flown it several weeks, I was very careful about the preflight - didn't want to miss anything.

Taxi, runup and departure were uneventful and I was cleared to depart on runway 5 and instructed to turn to 280 on climbout. The plane accelerated down the runway and I was airborne. The cold air's effects on the engine's performance and the wing's lift were quite noticeable as I was climbing more than 1000 feet per minute with full fuel. In no time I was in the clouds. I made my turn to 280 and was handed off to JAX Approach.

Approach assigned me 4000 feet as my final altitude. I leveled off and set the autopilot to follow the heading bug. I then loaded the approach into the GPS and clipped the approach plate to my yoke. I read the plate and then tuned the ATIS for Cecil.

I was flying between layers of clouds above and below me. ATC turned me to 190 for the downwind leg for the ILS 36-R approach to Cecil. Just prior to turning me for the base leg, the controller dropped me to 2000 feet and I found myself in the clouds once again. ATC turned me to 270 followed shortly by a turn to 320 and an approach clearance, "November- 2-4-6-niner-uniform, fly heading 320, maintain 2000 until established, cleared for the ILS 36-right approach to Cecil." I repeated the clearance as I adjusted my course and activated the vector-to-final. On the downwind, I had identified the localizer at Cecil, and the green bar and the diamond were showing on my G1000 PFD. ATC handed me off to the tower who I contacted and I was given clearance for the option on 36R. I hit the APR button on the autopilot and it subsequently lined me up perfectly with the localizer. Prior to reaching the fix, I slowed my speed to 95 knots. As the glideslope neared my current altitude, I dropped the first notch of flaps and waited as the autopilot stabilized the aircraft with the warning, "Trim In Motion". I was maintaining a descent of about 450 fpm when I disconnected the autopilot so I could hand fly the rest of the approach.

I was in solid IMC when the tower controller asked me to give him a base report once I broke through and I said that I would.

The ground finally appeared when I passed through 400 feet. The runway was dead ahead. Since I had the option, I touched the wheels to the runway and then took off all over again.

My climbout instructions were fore 270 and 2000 feet on the same ATC frequency. My touch and go had used less than a quarter of the very long runway (12,500 feet). The tower handed me back to ATC and I was quickly turned to 190 again for a left downwind for the same approach.

I was flying at on ly 90 knots when I heard ATC talking to a Seminole advising them that he might have to turn them for spacing. Recognizing that I might be the cause of the potential delay, I called ATC and offered to fly faster. ATC thanked me for that and I pushed the throttle for more speed. I accelerated to 125 knots IAS and set up the plane for the next approach.

I maintained my speed until 1 mile from the FAF receiving turning instructions from ATC as I lined up for the next approach. ATC asked my intentions and I said following this approach, I would return to Craig for a full stop. He ammended my climbout instructions to 360 and 3000.

I wanted to practice an emergency procedure - nothing in the book, though. Since I carry a spare radio that can tune and indicate the localizer, I decided to use this for navigation simulating an emergency where I lost the nav radios. This time, I hand flew the entire approach. I found myself wandering across the beam a bit more than usual and the handheld radio had a bit more variability than the regular equipment. I emerged from the clouds at 400 feet and about 20 feet from the center line pointed about 10 degrees to the right of the center. But the fact is that I was pretty close to being lined up and had no difficulty reaching the runway.

Following this, I headed back to Craig where I flew the ILS 32 approach. The weather had grown worse - lower ceilings and less visibility. The ceiling was reported at 400 feet and that is lower than every approach requires except for the ILS. I did the usual - ATIS, Radios, Approach Plate, GPS, etc. I entered clouds at about 2800 feet and was solidly in IMC as I was handed off to the tower. I made my call and was told that I could expect to emerge at 300 feet...wow - that's damn close to minimums - 241'. A circling approach would not be possible. Fortunately the wind was light so I should have no trouble landing on 32.

I popped out of the clouds at 300 feet as expected, but I couldn't see the far end of the runway. Visibility was only about 1.5 miles, if that.

The runway was precisely where it was supposed to be as I emerged from the clouds.

Flying in such poor conditions and being able to make three successful landings without crashing was a very satisfying experience.

1.4 hours, 3 TO, 3 Landings, 3 Instrument Approaches, 0.9 hours in actual IMC.

Inexperienced? Maybe...but a damned fool? Absolutely not.

A while back I wrote an entry where I described getting a clearance for an IFR departure from a non-towered airport and explained that I was given a very short window to take off. I had called Tampa Departure Control - the controlling agency for the clearance. The airport that I was departing is beneath the Class-B airspace for Tampa International and is fairly close to the approach patterns for this busy airport. An anonymous writer was harshly critical of my comments and said that my acceptance of a 6 minute clearance was indicative of my inexperience. The anonymous pilot explained that he has been a corporate pilot for 20 years and frequently gets clearances for 20 minutes for zero-zero departures from non-towered airports. Bully for him.

First, I'm flying a Skyhawk and will not depart an airport that I cannot immediately return to should I have a problem on departure, therefore a zero-zero for me translates to zero airspeed, zero RPM. Second, his experience may tell him to demand longer clearances, but I won't be flying with him if he opts to depart in such conditions. He won't get a 20 minute clearance window departing from the Tampa North Aeropark in his corporate jet...oh, yeah, that big lump of aluminum can't land or take off from there anyway.

Third, I never claimed to be a 20 year corporate pilot. However, I have more experience than many of the instructors who are teaching new pilots...and most of my instrument experience is in IMC, not under the hood. Still, I recognize that I do not have the experience of many pilots and I am constantly learning.

It is extremely unlikely that Tampa Departure would give anyone a 20 minute window that would cause them to block a section of busy class B airspace. Perhaps they do things differently in the Great Lakes.

So, if anyone cares to comment on my entries - please feel free. Just keep the chest pounding to yourself. It serves no useful purpose. And if you've never flown from the place I described, try not to use irrelavent experience as the basis for criticism. Lastly, if you expect me to post critical notes that lack signatures, forget it. Anonymous notes will garner nothing more than my own response...if that.