Monday, December 21, 2009

FAA Wings Program

Max Trescott wrote a comment in response to my recent entry about my flight review that pointed out some of the benefits of the FAA Wings program. He wrote, "I'm glad the instructor didn't spin your plane! That would be a violation of the FARs unless:
1) You were both wearing parachutes or
2) You were receiving flight instruction for a certificate or rating which requires a spin demonstrate (which would be only the CFI rating).
An alternative to a Flight Review is the FAA Wings program, which eliminates the 1 hour of ground, saving you time and money. Details are at".

As I pointed out in the prior entry, I used the FAA Wings program two years ago in lieu of a BFR. The program has changed slightly since then, but it still requires three flight instruction "credits". In the past, it required three hours of dual instruction. Now it requires three flight instruction "credits". It also requires three knowledge credits of instruction which the AOPA says can be fulfilled by using their online ASF Safety courses (yet another benefit of AOPA membership!)

The FAA believes that "the most significant incentive to participating pilots is the added level of safety and professionalism that is obtained through adoption of a consistent recurrent training program." (Quoted from the website.

I agree with the FAA. Although Max suggests that another benefit is that FAA Wings is that it saves you time and money. I don't see it that way. While there is no charge for the online courses from the AOPA, there is certainly a time requirement. Furthermore, the three flight instruction credits will undoubtedly take more than the minimum one hour of flight time required for a flight review. Therefore, I do not think the benefits of FAA Wings are financial.

The FAA encourages pilots to use the Wings program to maintain an ongoing personal proficiency program rather than simply conducting a flight review every 24 calendar months. In the past, I flew every week, but these days, it is more like every month - and maintaining my instrument currency is a challenge, but I manage to do it. Engaging in a one hour flight instruction every three or four months would be a good way to earn my next level of FAA Wings while maintaining my flying skill.

Thanks for your comment, Max.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Is it Flight Review Time Again?

As a skilled and knowledgeable pilot, I really shouldn't worry about getting a biennial flight review, but I do. The last actual BFR that I had was four years ago as I used the FAA Wings Program two years ago in lieu of a BFR. Four years ago, I was finishing up my instrument rating, but I couldn't get the practical completed in time, so I had to do a BFR only two weeks before my instrument practical. Consequently, I couldn't take advantage of the F.A.R.'s provision for using a rating in place of a BFR. As I recall, during that BFR, my instructor asked me all sorts of questions about the regulations, airspace, etc. He focused on the typical things that would have been in the oral portion of a private pilot examination.

With that distant event in my mind, I prepared for this BFR by reviewing my private pilot exam preparation manual. As it turned out, I didn't need to.

The instructor that I flew with was a fairly young CFII with the usual aspirations of flying for the airlines. Before we flew, he explained that the BFR required one hour of ground instruction plus one hour in the air. He told me that for the ground, he would go over some changes to the FARs. He then sent me out to preflight.

The ground portion was exactly as he described. He talked about some changes including changes to VFR sectional charts in the colors that are used to describe certain types of airspace. He also explained that some of the charity flight requirements had also changed. Lastly, he explained that the medical certification time frames had changed for some people, but since I'm 47, the changes don't benefit me - my 2nd class medical must be redone every twenty-four calendar months. That was about it for the ground school other than a few hanger stories.

Like everyone else at North Florida, he was aware of my jackass maneuver back in July when I allowed the wingtip to encounter the corner of a hanger while taxiing causing minor damage. He had heard an incorrect rumor that the FAA had wanted to reexamine me and wanted to know the details of that. I explained that it wasn't me although the owner of the flight school had expressed interest in checking out my flying, but we had not been able to connect.

Then it was time to fly. We started out by going over a very detailed emergency procedure. If we lost power before 500 feet, we would try to land on the nearest flat place straight ahead such as highway 9-A or St. Johns Bluff Road. If we had passed 700 feet MSL (which is close to 700 feet AGL), then we would attempt to turn around and land, we would also attempt to restart the aircraft if time permitted. He was very concerned about safety and it was refreshing to go over the exact details of what we would do in an emergency.

It was a beautiful VFR day with light winds. We departed to the southeast and made a left turn to the south. There were four or five other aircraft nearby according to the TIS and we maneuvered to avoid them. After leaving Craig's class D airspace, we turned east towards the beach. He instructed me to make a couple of clearing turns, we picked out an emergency landing area and he asked me to make a steep turn to the right and one to the left. I haven't practiced this maneuver in about five or six months, but I used to be very good at it. This time, though, I had a bit of trouble maintaining altitude. He then took the controls and showed me that I should immediately add some nose up trim and a little power as I roll in to the 45 degree bank. So we did that a few more times with acceptable results.

Next he had me do a power off stall and that worked out fine although I didn't give the plane full power in the recovery. We did another and that, too, was fine. He asked me if I had ever had spins demonstrated to me. I knew that in this Cessna 172SP, spins were only permitted when operating in utility weight and balance category. With full fuel, there was no way we would be in utility category. So I explained to him that during my private pilot training years ago, a seasoned instructor had demonstrated spins. I also told him that there was an incident at Sterling within the past year where an instructor was teaching a CFI candidate and they had entered a spin and almost could not break the spin. Both the instructor and student were terrified. I believe that it is likely that the plane was either overweight for utility category or had a rearward center of gravity, or both. Although Cessna's are extremely stable aircraft, a cg that is too far back will make a spin difficult to break. I suspect that the instructor wanted to demonstrate a spin, but I probably spoiled his fun.

Next, he had me demonstrate a power on stall, which I did. He then told me that the FAA had been telling instructors that the problem with power on stalls is that they usually occur in a turn rather than in a straight climb. So he described what he was doing as he took the controls and showed a power on stall in a turn. I was required to demonstrate this when I got my private pilot certificate, although it was something that I had never received training on prior to that time. One critical aspect of all stalls is that you MUST maintain coordinated flight. No skids or slips should be indicated. If flight is not coordinated, there is a good possibility that the plane will spin when one wing stalls before the other. I noticed as he demonstrated that the turn coordinator was not at all centered and I commented on it. I almost added the proper rudder control when he finally centered the ball (or the triangle that takes the place of the ball in the G1000 panel). We made it through that stall without incident and he decided it was time for pattern work.

I got the ATIS report and made the appropriate adjustments to the altimeter setting and we headed back to Craig. We began by making a standard landing, but we were tangled up with three or four other aircraft at various stages of landing. I was instructed to enter a left downwind for runway 14 as we approached from the southeast. About 3 miles out, the tower controller advised me to make a right 360 right were I was so he could get the aircraft spaced out. I did my turn and then entered the left downwind for 14. We were cleared for the option behind two other aircraft. I touched down softly, held the nose off until the speed dropped a bit, lowered the nose, retracted the flaps, adjusted the trim and gave full power and we were airborn for our next try.

On subsequent trips around the pattern, we executed four additional landings and one go-around. We did a dead stick landing from pattern altitude that required me to turn to the numbers, then execute a forward slip to lose altitude until we were close enough to the ground.

My instructor was watching the clock closely and once we had the minimum time requirement satisfied, we landed and taxied to the ramp.

The end result is that I'm good for another twenty-four calendar months.

One hour of ground one hour of air instruction. Good flying!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Thanksgiving and Fog

Downtown Jacksonville around 8:30am on 11/26/2009

Every year since I got my private pilot certificate, I have found myself at the airport on Thanksgiving morning preparing to fly somewhere to celebrate the holiday with family. I cannot remember a Thanksgiving morning that did not begin with fog and this year, things were no different.

Our plan was to leave as early as possible and fly from my home base at Jacksonville's Craig Municipal airport (KCRG) to Tallahassee Regional (KTLH) to pick up my mother-in-law, then the four of us would continue our journey to Tampa International (KTPA). We had a rental car waiting for us in Tampa and dinner was supposed to start at 1pm. I had warned the family ahead of time, that weather might delay us in spite of my instrument rating, but we all crossed our fingers.

The weather at my house South of Jacksonville was fairly clear as I loaded up the car. It wasn't until we neared the airport on highway 9-A that we started to see the lazy clouds still resting on the ground. We arrived at the airport around 7:45 am and the beacon was still lit indicating instrument conditions. As I pre-flighted the plane, I tried to determine how far down the runway I could see. I estimated that I could see nearly the full 4000', so visibility was around 3/4 of a mile. Looking up, I could see blue sky, so it was probably a thin layer of fog covering the airport. I listened to the weather on my handheld radio and the report said visibility was 1/4 mile with a ceiling at 300 feet. Since I could see much more than 1/4 mile and estimated the visibility as being much closer to 1 mile and the ceiling was 300 feet - more than 100 feet above minimums, I decided that we could safely depart. The weather was updated repeatedly during that time period - here are the METARS around that time period:

SPECI KCRG 261215Z 26003KT 3SM BR FEW005 10/09 A2999 RMK AO2
SPECI KCRG 261227Z 26003KT 2 1/2SM BR BKN005 10/09 A2999 RMK AO2
SPECI KCRG 261231Z 27003KT 1 3/4SM BR BKN003 10/09 A2999 RMK AO2
SPECI KCRG 261236Z 27003KT 1/2SM FG BKN003 10/09 A2999 RMK AO2 CIG 001V005
SPECI KCRG 261248Z 28003KT 1/4SM FG OVC003 10/10 A2999 RMK AO2
METAR KCRG 261253Z 27004KT 1/4SM FG OVC003 10/10 A2999 RMK AO2 SLP156 T01000100
SPECI KCRG 261300Z 28003KT 1/2SM FG VV001 11/11 A3000 RMK AO2
SPECI KCRG 261314Z 28004KT 1/4SM FG VV001 11/11 A3000 RMK AO2
SPECI KCRG 261327Z 29005KT 3/4SM BR VV001 11/11 A3000 RMK AO2
SPECI KCRG 261335Z 30006KT 1SM BR OVC001 11/11 A3000 RMK AO2
METAR KCRG 261353Z 31004KT 3SM BR OVC001 11/11 A3000 RMK AO2 SLP156 T01110111
SPECI KCRG 261403Z 30004KT 5SM BR OVC003 12/11 A3000 RMK

My plans for the trip required that we have no more than 33 gallons of fuel on board when we took off from Tallahassee in order not to exceed the maximum weight capacity of the Cessna 172. I was careful to reset the onboard computer to indicate a full load of 53 gallons prior to engine start. When I preflighted, I noted that the tanks were not quite filled to the top - perhaps one gallon was missing from each tank. That would give us a slight margin of safety. I would have to burn 20 gallons of fuel between engine start and our takeoff in Tallahassee.

There was one other aircraft operating at the airport and I heard it receive its clearance before I got mine. Nevertheless, my instrument clearance was given almost immediately. "November 62770, cleared as filed to Tallahassee Regional, climb to two thousand, expect six thousand in ten. Jax Departure frequency 124 point niner, squawk 4273.", came the clearance.

I repeated the clearance, received confirmation and then tuned ground control. I also plugged in the squawk code and tuned the second radio to 124.9.

I called ground announcing that I had information Quebec and wanted to taxi for westbound IFR.

Winds were from the west-north-west, so it was no surprise that we were departing on runway 32. North Florida Aviation is situated very close to the runup area for 32/23, so in no time we were completing our runup checklist. I took my time to carefully check every aspect of the airplane and was pleased that everything was working perfectly. I entered my flight plan in the GPS and also entered the frequency for the ILS-32 in case we needed to make a hasty return to the airport. With a 300 foot ceiling, the ILS would be the only approach available to us. I've landed closer to minimums before, but never in an usual, I said a little prayer to myself before I requested takeoff clearance.

We were cleared to take off on runway 32 at intersection echo. I announced our clearance to Christy and Melissa and pulled on the the runway. I could see straight down the runway as I advanced the throttle. I called out "airspeed is alive" as the tape on the left of my primary function display began to roll numbers. As our speed came up past 55 knots, I began to gently pull back on the yoke and our nosewheel left the ground. Almost immediately, the entire plane climbed into the air. I stabilized the climb at 74 knots by adjusting the trim using the buttons under my left thumb. I glanced up and noticed that we were already in the clouds although we were only about 200 feet off of the ground. Our climb continued and soon we found ourselves above the clouds.

The tower called, "November 770 on heading 280, contact approach".

This meant that as I climbed to my assigned altitude of 2,000 feet and flew heading 280, I should contact Jacksonville departure.

I flew my heading, switched radios and listened for other radio traffic before calling, "JAX Departure, Skyhawk 62770 out of one thousand one hundred for two thousand."

The controller came back with, "November 62770, radar contact three miles west of Craig, climb six thousand".
I replied, "Six thousand for 7-7-0", and I turned the altitude bug to 6000 feet.

We were climbing above a white sea with no discernable features until we got closer to downtown Jacksonville. Puncturing the cloud layer was the very tall radio tower that is adjacent to the Jaguars Stadium. Then further west, we could see the tops of a few of our taller buildings jutting above the white.

Modis and Bank of America buildings in downtown Jacksonville 11/26/2009.

We eventually leveled out at 6000 feet and had a smooth flight to Tallahassee. I monitored fuel consumption closely as I needed to be sure to burn 20 gallons for the trip. When we landed, the fuel computer on the multifunction display indicated that we had 34 gallons on board. With taxi fuel burn at 1.1 gallons we would have no problems. I also built about 20 pounds of fudge factor into my weight and balance calculations to ensure that we would not be overweight.

The landing in Tallahassee was smooth and without worry on runway 27.

Runway 27 at TLH on Final Approach

Runway 27 at TLH from about 6 miles out.

This leg of our trip accounted for 1.7 hours of time on the HOBBS meter. Over the next day and a half, we would add another 5 hours some of which was spent fighting headwinds over the Gulf of Mexico. Any weekend that I get to fly is a good weekend. I haven't been doing enough of that lately. I'm looking forward to spending more time in 2010 finding new places to fly to with my wife, Christy. Even in the short time that we've been together, I've taken four of her family members up in the air. I'm sure there will be many more opportunities to have our family fly "Air Dave".

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Hundred Dollar Hamburger Revisited

Ever since my father's birthday at the end of August, my weekends have been filled with chores, football games and other responsibilities that have kept me on the ground. When Christy pointed out that the Gator game this past Saturday was at night and the Jaguars had a bye week, it started to look like we might have some time to get airborn! Nevertheless, I spent much of Saturday pressure washing our house in Glen St. Mary (anyone want to buy a beautiful home on 2 acres of rural waterfront?) But Sunday came and I found myself filing a flight plan. Since I haven't flown in about 6 weeks (the longest absence from the air since I got my private pilot certificate in 2003), I needed to shoot some instrument approaches in order to keep my currency. Since Christy is not a pilot, I couldn't use her as a safety pilot, therefore, to log the approaches, I would have to find someplace with instrument conditions. The weather looked beautiful, though. I planned my flight down to Flagler County KXFL. I calculated that the entire flight should take about 30 minutes.

We preflighted N13312 and found that the tanks were not full, but each had about 17 gallons, so we had better than 3 hours of fuel - more than enough. Once on board, I got out my checklist and ran through the pre-flight and startup procedures. The auxilliary battery was just a bit low, registering 23.8 volts (it should be above 24 volts), but everything else seemed ok.

I yelled out the window, "Clear!", toggled the master power switch and turned the key. The propeller spun and the engine groaned, but it did not start.

Christy commented, "Isn't this the plane that had this same problem last time?"

She was correct, we had had some difficulty starting this plane that night that I executed my jackass maneuver. So for the next attempt, I twisted the key and then slowly increased the misture from idle cutoff to full and the engine roared to life.

I checked the engine systems, turned on the electronics buss and tuned the radio to 125.4 to listen to the ATIS. The recording indicated that the winds were light and runway 32 was in use. I called clearance delivery and was told that nothing came up for me. I didn't understand why nothing appeared - I filed for an 11:15 am departure. Since the weather was clear, the controller told me that if I wanted to depart VFR, the frequency for JAX Departure was 124.9 and I could request clearance once in the air. Since he was pulling double duty, he cleared me to taxi to runway 23 at Foxtrot via Bravo.

We pulled up to the runup area and I ran through the checklist. When I switched to the right magneto, the engine ran rough although the RPM drop was within tolerances. I switched back to both mags and leaned out the engine until it ran rough, then advanced the throttle to generate 2000 RPM. I then enriched the mixture and the RPM came up. I left it lean for about 30 seconds to burn off the carbon on the plugs then tested the mags again and found no roughness.

I started to pull up to the hold short for runway 23 at Foxtrot and the controller told me to take 32 at Echo instead. I had to make a hard left turn, but we made it ok. He had other traffic that was landing on runway 5. I lined up the plane on 32, advanced the throttle, leaned for best power (just a little) and we were on the roll. The plane climbed quickly in the cool air.

As we climbed out, I noticed that there were three or four other planes in various stages of approach, so I delayed my left turn until I was about 800 feet and then delayed my turn to the south until I was outside of the usual traffic pattern. I didn't want to take a chance on bumping in to one of the other planes coming in.

Once I reached 3,500 feet, I leveled off and set the autopilot to follow the heading bug while maintaining altitude. We flew past our neighborhood and spotted the trail that our cat took when he ran away a while ago (Pookey was returned to us).

I then began reviewing the brand new instrument plates that I had picked up on my way out of the FBO. I started by looking for Flagler. Nothing.

Then I looked for Bunnell, since the Flagler Airport used to be listed under Bunnell. Still nothing.

I couldn't imagine that this airport had eliminated all instrument approaches, so I looked in the table of contents. It seems like the nouveau riche folks living in Palm Coast decided to claim the Flagler Airport as their own - it was renamed Palm Coast!

I then listened to the AWOS at the airport and it sounded like the winds were favoring runway 6. I contacted Jax Departure and requested instrument clearance.

"Jax Departure, Skyhawk 13312", I announced.

"November 13312, Jax Departure", the controller replied.

"Skyhawk 312 is over the UDUZO intersection at 3,500 feet, would like clearance to shoot the GPS 6 approach at Flagler", I requested.

After clarifying the intersection, the controller was silent for a minute or two. He then called, "Novermber 312, squawk 4246".

I repeated the squawk code and plugged it in. After a minute, the controller announced, "Skyhawk 312, radar contact 5 miles west of St. Augustine, climb to 4,000 feet, cleared direct Flagler."

I repeated the instruction and gave the plane full power for the short climb from 3,500. I proceded to select the approach in the GPS. The controller then told me that runway 29 was in use, so I requested the GPS 29 approach. I advised that the approach would be missed followed by another one.

ATC said, "November 312, fly heading 140 vectors for the approach."

Shortly aftwards, I was handed off to Daytona approach control who I contacted by saying, "Daytona Approach, Skyhawk 13312, level at 4,000".

The controller acknowledged by saying, "Roger 312, Daytona altimiter 3-0-0-0, say your heading".

I told him we were heading 1-4-0 and we continued. We were above a solid layer of clouds and couldn't see the ground. I heard the controllers talking with VFR pilots who were trying to find holes to drop through so they could land at Flagler. The layer of clouds was about 1,500 feet thick starting about 1,500 to 1,600 feet. When the controller descended us, I hand flew the plane through the clouds until we leveled off at 1,600 feet. We could see the ocean below us peeking in and out of the clouds. The controller turned us to 160, then a hard turn to 270.

"November 312, you are 4 miles from HAGAV, maintain 1,600 until established, cleared for the GPS 29 approach." said the controller.

I acknowledged by repeating the call, then activated the vector-to-final in the GPS. I disengaged the autopilot and lined up on the approach line. Crossing HAGAV, I began my descent to 560 feet as I slowed the plane. Daytona approach then handed me off saying, "November 312, contact Ormond Tower on 118.95."

This instruction surprised me in two ways. First, I was not landing at Ormond, so contacting Ormond tower made no sense. Second, in all of my prior flights to Flagler, I never saw a tower, the instrument approach plate didn't show a tower, and I didn't see any notam advising that a tower was now in operation. I questioned the controller saying, "Did you mean Flagler tower, 3-1-2".

The controller said "Correction, November 312, contact Flagler tower on 118.95". I repeated the call and contacted Flagler.

The tower controller instructed me to report passing the final approach fix, but I was already about a mile past it. I guess Daytona was a little late handing me off, but that was probably due to traffic in the area. She amended her instructions and asked me what my DME was from the runway and then told me to report 2 miles.

I continued the approach and leveled off at 560 feet. When the GPS said that I had reached the runway, I applied full power and turned right to 360 while climbing to 1,500 feet as instructed by the Daytona approach controller. As I turned, I advised the tower that I was going missed. She handed me off to Daytona Approach and told me there was no traffic in the area. I thanked her and advised that I was showing two aircraft behind me on my scope.

Daytona Approach turned me from 360 to 090 and advised me to climb to 1,600 feet. I continued out over the ocean and was turned to 140, 160 and finally to 270 at which point I was given a clearance that was similar to the prior clearance. Approach handed me off almost immediately to Flagler tower.

This time, I was able to contact the tower about 3 miles before the FAF. I called, "Flagler Tower, Skyhawk 13312 is 7 miles out on the GPS 29 approach, full stop." She again advised me to report 2 miles. At 2 miles, I contacted the tower and was cleared to land. I slowed the plane by pulling power to 1,700 RPM checked that my lights were on and mixture was full rich. As the speed dropped below 105, I added the first notch of flaps and pushed the nose down to counteract the motion induced by the dropping of the flaps. The wind buffeted the plane and it tried to blow me to the left. I adjusted my approach for this by tipping my right wing into the wind and applying just enough rudder to stay lined up with the runway. I began my flare a bit high and made a few adjustments as we got closer to the ground. The wind continued to gust and our approach was not as stable as I would have liked. I pulled the nose up and the plane dropped to the runway a bit more firmly than usual landing on the right main gear, but I held it steady and the nose dropped as our speed dropped.

We taxied off the runway and I asked the tower if there was a ground control frequency. She replied that there was and gave me the freq, but advised, "Taxi to the ramp, remain on this frequency."

We had a very nice lunch at HighJackers - mine was a mushroom and swiss burger and Christy had a beef tip sandwich. Fully stuffed, we headed back to the plane with barely enough time to make it home by 2pm.

I listened to the AWOS and adjusted the altimeter setting noting that it had dropped slightly since the last report. I then tuned the tower and asked for the ground frequency again. I thought I had written it down, but I couldn't find it. I requested taxi clearance for northbound VFR and was advised to taxi to runway 29 via Alpha.

We taxied from our parking space and made a right turn towards the departure end of runway 29. Once I was past the parking area, conducted my runup check on the roll. Arriving at the hold short line, I switched to the tower frequency and called, "Flagler tower, Skyhawk 13312 ready to go 2-9 at Alpha." and the tower cleared me for take off.

I climbed out and leveled off at 1,200 feet to remain below the clouds. Noting inbound traffic on the TCAS, I adjusted my path to avoid them and then advised the tower when I was clear of the class delta airspace.

Once I was outside class Delta, I found a hole in the clouds and I climbed up to 3,500 and headed towards the beach. As we cruised along the beach, I gave the controls to Christy after demonstrating how to turn left and right and climb or dive. She was doing great although we were climbing a bit. After passing St. Augustine, I asked her to descend and I gave some nose down trim - this surprised Christy and she decided that I should fly the plane.

I listened to the ATIS at Craig and then contacted approach to request a straight in on the ILS 32. ATC granted my request and we leveled off at 1,900 as instructed. We got the hand off to Craig about 8 miles out and I contacted the tower announcing my intention for a full stop. There was one plane in the pattern ahead of us and one coming up behind. I adjusted my speed to give the plane ahead enough time to clear the runway. I pulled the power about 100 feet before crossing the threshold and the plane descended smoothly to the runway. Pulling back on the yoke, I flared the plane and it floated just a bit. I pushed the nose down slightly and the wheels gently touched down on the runway with an almost imperceptable squeak.

It was a great day to fly and we encountered a good mix of VFR and IFR conditions. The flight South took 1.2 hours, but the flight home took only half that. I logged about 40 minutes of actual IFR on the approaches. It was so good to be back in the air again spending $300 to have a good hamburger!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Lenox, Georgia and Why it Sucks! I-75 Hazard

Sorry folks, but this entry is not about flying. It is about the abuses that an unjust government commits against people passing through its jurisdiction.

Lenox, Georgia is a small town of about 900 people in rural southern Georgia. It isn't a particularly attractive town and it contrasts sharply with the beautiful homes and central town areas of Adel and Hahira just a few miles to the South. It appears that the bulk of the town's business centers on the production of cotton or watermelons although there is a BASF factory just south of town. This is a very poor town.

Just to the west of Lenox is the town's moneymaker, I-75. In December 2005, the town annexed just enough land to include the I-75 overpass at Exit 49. From about 10 miles north of Lenox to 5 miles south, construction barriers have been set up for the apparent widening of I-75. Throughout the construction area, the speed limit is reduced to 60 miles per hour. As I learned in court yesterday, the construction company that is performing the work sets the speed limit. For the entire duration of the construction zone, the speed limit is 60 mph...EXCEPT for Lenox. For the small little bit of I-75 that passes through Lenox, the construction company changes to a Lenox-based company. It seems that the workers for the SCRUGGS CONSTRUCTION COMPANY are just a bit dumber than the rest of the I-75 concrete contractors because they need the speed limit reduced to an absurd 50 MPH.

In court yesterday, I witnessed numerous people, many of whom were unemployed and most of whom were obviously poor testifying before a redneck judge all with the same outcome. All of the speeders were caught using laser. The speeding tickets were for between 74/50 and 84/50. In each case, the judge reduced the speed to 64/50 which prevents points from being assessed against the offender's license. However, the speeding fine is still double the usual amount. In every case, the fine was $550. Yesterday amounted to at least a $10,000 take for the small town, and that doesn't include the people who simply sent in their checks. Unlike Florida where a plea of no lo contendere will generally result in the waiving of the fine and an assessment of court costs, this judge gives no quarter. He assesses the full and excessive fine.

The only good thing about the town is that the police officers are very polite.

Scruggs Construction set the speed limit at 50 MPH. I suppose that once Lenox collects enough tickets, they might actually build a proper courthouse. When that happens, I bet that Scruggs is chosen to build it.

Even though these people were speeding, the punishment does not fit the crime, and furthermore, the creation of a blatant speed trap with very little warning is damn close to entrapment.

Coming from the north, the speed limit drops from 60 to 50 in less than half a mile. The city limit only extends 2/3 of a mile north of the Exit 49 bridge and about a tenth of a mile before the actual off ramp. In my case, I never saw a 50 mph sign until after I was pulled over. Sure I was speeding. But I was driving a reasonable and prudent speed going with the flow of traffic on the interstate. There was no construction going on in the area. Unlike Florida where speeding fines are doubled When Workers are Present, the fines are doubled through the entire 15 mile long construction zone.

The bottom line, Lenox, Georgia is a terrible speed trap. It should be examined by the Justice department for abuse of power and entrapment. Avoid it like the plague that it is. Lenox, Georgia simply sucks!

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Another one bites the dust

It is often said that doctors have a god complex. There are those who believe or at least act as though they are more powerful than God. Put such a person behind the yoke of an aircraft and people will get hurt.

Yesterday, another doctor-pilot died unnecessarily and he took four innocent people with him. Even though the news is sketchy, a few details are clear. First, the weather was not VFR...or even close. Here are the METARs for the morning of the accident.

KTUL 051753Z 36006KT 10SM BKN016 26/20 A3009 RMK AO2 SLP181 T02560200 10256 20194 58004
KTUL 051730Z VRB04KT 10SM BKN016 26/19 A3009 RMK AO2
KTUL 051653Z 35005KT 6SM HZ OVC010 23/19 A3010 RMK AO2 SLP185 T02330189
KTUL 051639Z 02004KT 6SM HZ OVC010 23/19 A3011 RMK AO2 CIG 008V014
KTUL 051553Z 02004KT 4SM HZ OVC006 22/19 A3011 RMK AO2 SLP190 T02170189
KTUL 051526Z 06005KT 4SM BR OVC005 21/18 A3011 RMK AO2
KTUL 051453Z 05005KT 2 1/2SM BR OVC004 21/18 A3010 RMK AO2 SLP186 T02060183 51021
KTUL 051353Z 05007KT 2 1/2SM BR OVC003 20/18 A3008 RMK AO2 SLP180 T02000183
KTUL 051321Z 06003KT 2SM BR OVC003 20/19 A3007 RMK AO2
KTUL 051253Z 01004KT 1SM BR OVC003 20/19 A3006 RMK AO2 SLP172 T02000189
KTUL 051233Z 02004KT 1 1/2SM BR OVC003 20/19 A3005 RMK AO2
KTUL 051216Z 02004KT 2SM BR OVC003 20/18 A3004 RMK AO2
KTUL 051153Z 01004KT 3SM BR OVC003 19/18 A3004 RMK AO2 SLP164 60002 70026 T01940183 10217 20194 53006
KTUL 051125Z 34004KT 5SM BR BKN003 BKN050 19/18 A3002 RMK AO2

The crash occured when the aircraft collided with the guy wires supporting a tower that stood approximately 200 feet tall. The article described the weather as foggy which is supported by the METARs for the Tulsa airport that was nearby.

Note that the tower was ONLY 200 feet tall. The aircraft had to be flying dangerously and illegally low to the ground in order to strike a tower 200 feet tall. The FARs require us to fly at least 1000' above obstacles that are within 2000' horizontally if we are flying in a congested area. The plane crashed near a ball park and one can argue that this was a congested area.

So why was the pilot flying so low? Looking at the METARs, one might conclude that he wanted to avoid flying in to low clouds. He was flying in conditions that were below VFR minimums...and not very good for IFR, either. So why wouldn't this pilot whose pilot certificate was issued in 1987 simply penetrate the clouds and fly IFR? Simple, he did not have an instrument rating and had absolutely no business flying in the conditions that he found himself in.

Looking at the METARs, this isn't a case of VFR flight into instrument conditions. It appears that he departed in IFR or at best marginal VFR conditions. He was flying in fog and flying too low when he should have kept his plane in the hanger. To make matters worse, his actions resulted in four additional deaths.

So, if you are not instrument rated, stay out of the clouds. If you are not in the system flying on an instrument flight plan, STAY OUT OF THE CLOUDS. If you happen to stray, watch your instruments. Keep the wings level. Maintain your altitude. Communicate with ATC - they can't keep you from hitting other planes if you aren't talking with them. Better yet, GET YOUR INSTRUMENT RATING!

This reminds me of something that happened last Saturday. There was a nice overcast that was reported to be around 1500 feet all over the Jacksonville area. I had decided to do some basic flight work to keep my skills up. I stayed in the pattern doing touch-and-goes on runway 23 for a while before departing the pattern to the South. I flew along highway 9a at 1100 feet noting the broken ceiling above me. It appeared to be about 500 to 800 feet above my altitude. This were good conditions for single pilot IFR practice, so I called ATC and asked for a clearance to fly the ILS 32 at Craig. I climbed into the clouds to 1900 feet as instructed and was vectored to the East to intercept the localizer. Once established on the approach, I followed the pink diamond down lower and lower. I also kept an eye on the eastbound aircraft that was flying at about 1500 feet - just beneath the clouds. This plane was not in contact with ATC and he was flying much too close to the clouds to be in compliance with the FARs. I don't know if he had a TIS on board, but I'm glad that I did. He was operating just outside the CRG airspace and the controllers didn't have contact. What would have happened if I popped out of the clouds on my LEGAL IFR flight into the path of his illegal VFR flight? Or what if he had appeared directly in front of me when I popped out of the clouds? I continued my descent on the glideslope and was cleared for a straight in to 32. The other plane passed above me and behind me.

The lesson here is just because you aren't entering the clouds doesn't mean you are flying VFR. 500 feet below, 1000 feet above, 2000 feet laterally - those are the requirements. We weren't operating in Class B where clear of clouds is the rule. The FARs were generally written in response to some unfortunate incident - they make good sense. If you aren't flying on an IFR flight plane, please follow the Visual Flight Rules. The life you save could be mine.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Jackasses are contagious.

I have always been harshly critical of pilots who make stupid mistakes. Perhaps a bit too critical. I've made mistakes in the past and I have always caught them, and learned from them. Now I've made a jackass style mistake and am very grateful that I added the non-owned aircraft coverage to my renter's policy.

Last Monday, Christy and I thought it would be a nice idea to take Melissa and a friend of her choosing to dinner someplace by plane. I booked an aircraft that I knew would have been flying that day so it would not have full fuel and we planned a flight up to Savannah. When we arrived at the airport, I had to switch aircraft from the one that I had filed our IFR flight plan with, so I called for an updated briefing. The current weather showed thunderstorms and rain all along the route to Savannah...after about 10 minutes of getting lots of detail from the briefer and wandering over to the radar display to see the uckumpucky in the sky, I changed the plan to go to Daytona instead. This proved to be both a good choice and a bad choice for reasons that will become evident.

For my preflight inspection, I added a dipping of the fuel to determine more precisely how much weight we had as flying with four souls aboard a Skyhawk can never be done with full fuel. I had calculated my weight and balance based on 40 gallons of fuel - which would be enough to almost reach the bottom of the filler neck in each tank. Of course the tanks weren't filled to the same level, so the fuel dipper showed us how many gallons were in each tank. Fortunately we were at 40 gallons on the dot, and that would give me a whopping 5 pounds of additional capacity.

After preflighting and loading everyone on board, I ran through the checklists and tried to start the plane. The damn thing just wouldn't start. After trying five or six times, I got out to see if there was fuel dripping as an indication that I had flooded the engine. Nope, no drips. I got back in and re-primed the engine. Two more tries and nothing. The last time, I advanced the throttle to about half and then slowly advanced the mixture from idle cutoff to full rich and the engine finally started. I immediately reduced the throttle and leaned the mixture as I suspected there might be a fouled plug or two. Looking to the North, we could see a nasty storm headed our way and I wanted to be out of there ASAP.

I dialed the ATIS, then called for my IFR clearance. The controller advised me to contact the TOWER for taxi clearance, so I tuned 132.1 as the active frequency and called for clearance. I was cleared to runway 14 via Alpha. I flipped on the taxi light, released the brakes and we were rolling. When my back seat passengers had boarded, the nose tilted high eliciting a "Whoa!" from my wife. The nose was still high, so I tested the brakes and the nose came back down where it belonged. Because of the threatening storm and the nearly 1 mile distance to the departure end of runway 14, I completed the runup on the roll. I also entered the departure frequency in the standby, plugged in the transponder code and entered OMN as the first point on the flight plan in the GPS. I was relieved to find no problem with the sparkplugs and everything checked out ok although I noted an intermittent fault in the fuel reading from the right tank. An occasional red X appeared where the fuel reading should have been, but it was only intermittent and the fuel display showed most of the time. Also, our flight was expected to be about 45 minutes and we had about 4 hours of fuel on board.

As I approached the runway 14 hold short line, I called for take off clearance which came very shortly. Bobby was my copilot (his first flight) and I told him to close the window as I closed mine. We were cleared to take off on 14 and turn left to 090 while climbing to 3000 feet. and that's exactly what we did. The reason for the turn away from our destination was that there were several planes trying to get in to KCRG on the ILS-32 and this heading would put us clear of them.

Eventually we were cleared to turn direct to OMN and off we went. Our final altitude was 4000' which made for nice viewing of the beaches below without the bumps of the air close to the ground. Once I had the plane leveled off and trimmed, I offered the controls to Bobby with some minimal instruction. This was his first flight in a small aircraft and he did an outstanding job. He was prone to a little instrument fixation and I tried to get him to focus outside the plane and use the instruments as a check on his altitude and heading. He's a natural - may be a pilot's certificate in his future.

We arrived in Daytona and were cleared to land straight in on 16. I have flown practice approaches here but never actually landed so this was an unfamiliar airport to say the least. After landing, we made a turn to the right on taxiway W-3 and that's were the fun begins.

I contacted ground and asked for clearance to taxi to the general aviation ramp. The tower advised me that there were three FBOs, but Sheltair was directly in front of me. I told her that would be fine and she told me to taxi "straight ahead to Sheltair". I taxied past the hold short in to the ramp area between two long rows of aircraft which were full. After slowly taxiing past about 3/4 of the planes, the follow-me cart appeared. He pulled from between the aircraft parked on my right, across my path and then stopped abeam my left wing. The handler walked up to my plane and I opened the window. He yelled, "You can park on the front line next to the LearJet." I said that would be great. This was three rows to the north of me and I was taxiing roughly to the West into the sun. He got back in to his cart and disappeared behind me. (Jackass maneuver number one). I taxied to the end of the parked planes which were parked even beyond the tiedowns on my right. Once I was past the last plane, I began my right turn slowly, but not carefully enough. About the time I completed the turn and was safely beyond the parked plane on my right, the sun was removed from my eyes just in time for me to hear CRUNCH!!! My left wingtip had just barely contacted the corner of the hanger. "SHIT!" I muttered into the mic. (Jackass Maneuver #2) Well, we were past the hanger now and I could see where I was going. I pulled up next to the jet and shut down the plane. The handler finally arrived and asked if I had hit the hanger.

"Yeah, I suppose so." I answered dejectedly. I was angry. I was angry with myself as this was a bonehead move. I was angry with the handler for not doing his damn job. I was angry with myself for not insisting that the handler do his job properly...but I didn't do my job properly, either. I have reached the conclusion that Jackasses are bad for flying.

I examined the wingtip and fortunately only the plexiglass cover over the left position light was cracked and the metal flash shroud on the strobe was damaged. I saw no damage to the wingtip and both lights were still functioning.

I went inside the FBO after taking a picture of the damage to the hanger - which was very minor. I completed paperwork and explained what had happened to the boss. Amazingly, the FBO was kind enough to offer me the use of their crew car - a newish PT Cruiser with a fake surfboard bolted to the roof as advertising.

The four of us piled in the car and headed to Ponce Inlet for a very nice dinner on the water. I was a bit upset, but we still had fun.

We flew back that evening after a thorough re-examination of the wingtip. Satisfied that there were no problems that would adversely impact the airworthiness of the plane, we departed. The night flight home was beautiful and uneventful. I let Bobby take the controls again and he did an even better job this time. We were arriving at KCRG just at closing time. I was handed off to the tower who advised me to enter a left base on 23. I kept my speed up on the approach as the controller also said they were closing in 2 minutes. I acknowledged the instructions and realizing that I would probably require more than the 2 minutes left, I told the controller to have a nice night. About a mile out, the controller told me that the winds were 280 at 4 and I could have 32 if I wanted. That would put me straight in and I advised him that's what I would do. On final, I heard a twin advising that he would be departing on 32. I called my position and advised that I was on short final for 32. I landed and cleared the runway quickly. Announcing that I was clear of the runway, I taxied to North Florida.

I called North Florida ( that night and left a message and called them again the next morning. They were able to repair the plane the same day by swapping a wingtip from a plane that was down for its annual inspection. According to Erik, only one flight was missed that day, and I was happy to hear that. I also called the AOPA Insurance Agency and filed my claim. The adjuster contacted me later that same day and they seem to be handling the claim effectively.

So, that's the tale of my first plane stupid as it was. I was embarassed and my ego was severely bruised. All told, 1.8 hours with about .3 actual instrument and 0.9 night. The flying was exciting, fun and overall the trip was a blast. I'm still coming to grips with my stupid mistake and I am fortunate that the damage wasn't any worse than it was.

Monday, June 29, 2009

42 Years In Florida, But Never A Trip To Key West...UNTIL NOW!

The weak economy caused me to reconsider the long-term prospects of working for a firm that is supported by venture capital with the end result being a job change in April. Consequently, when I married the love of my life on June 14th, I didn't have much vacation time to take to enjoy a real honeymoon. My new boss is an incredibly understanding person and an all-round great guy and he allowed me to take a couple of days off (off the record). So the day after Christy and I got married, we loaded up a nice new Cessna 172 from North Florida Flight Training ( and headed for Key West.

We had some last minute details to take care of before leaving, so we didn't go wheels up until around 1 pm. That time of day in June in Florida generally results in towering cumulous and the occasional cumulonimbus throughout the sky and June 15th was no different. I filed IFR and we flew down at 7000 feet. (As I have noted before in prior blog entries, ATC in Florida handles altitudes a bit differently than the AIM specifies. Flying southward generally results in an odd altitude assignment, so even though my heading was towards the western hemisphere, I filed for and got 7,000 feet. This put us above most of the clouds, but an occasional fluffy one towered above us.

Our route took us from Craig to the Ocala VOR, then Lakeland, then down the west coast until we went off shore somewhere south of Naples. We avoided the class B airspace at Tampa, Orlando and Miami and every so often, ATC changed our course to avoid more severe weather. Nevertheless, we found ourselves popping in and out of clouds, bouncing around and getting rained on. It made the flying that much more interesting and I was never worried.

Christy slept as we got further south and didn't wake up until we were about 20 miles away from land. All that we could see in the hazy conditions was bluegreen ocean and a few clouds in the sky. No land was evident. I used the GPS's NRST function to constantly point us at the closest airport in the unlikely event that our engine would conk out. (Or should that be CONCH out - since we would be in the keys?) At one point, we were 39 nm from the nearest airport...and that was behind us. Eventually the NRST position was Key West NAS, and then the Key West International. About 35 nm out, ATC started us down. It would have been fine with me if they kept me at 7ooo until I reached the airport with no experience over large spans of water other than Lake Okeechobe, I liked having more glide range. Nevertheless, I was able to descend at 700 fpm and enjoyed the increased airspeed that the steady descent gave me.

About 15 miles out, ATC asked if I had the airport in sight. I told him that I could see the NAS, but had never been to Key West and couldn't pick it out just yet. About 10 miles out, I spotted the runway running perpendicular to our path and I told ATC that I saw it. I had previously listened to the ATIS and had set my kollsman to the local barometer setting. ATC handed me off to the tower and I was advised to enter a left base for 9. We dropped down lower and lower and the colors in the water became more apparent. I was amazed at how much development had gone on and how little undeveloped land was there. I lined up with the runway and was cleared to land. We touched down nicely, but I think I have developed a nasty habbit in the G1000 - I tend to look at the TAS rather than IAS. AS a result, my speed was too high and the plane did not want to settle down right away. No matter, the landing was smooth and we landed without a problem. The controller asked me where I wanted to park and I told him the local FBO would be fine. He directed me to turn on Alpha 6 and look for the ground handler.

This was a pretty straight-forward flight. I was excited about going to the Keys and since my AME had recommened the trip, I can't wait to tell him all about it. The flight down was 3.2 hours with about a full hour in the soup. The return was more eventful - we had to return suddenly due to a family situation and our arrival happened to coincide with the arrival of thunderstorms just as we were lining up on final...nothing like a disappearing runway to justify a diversion! More on that later.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

More from Class Bravo

While Christy and I approached runway 18L, the traffic information system (TIS) constantly announced, "traffic! traffic!". But we knew that. We could see the steady stream of jets lined up for 18R and the other stream of jets lined up for 23. Although the tower had asked me to keep my speed up on approach because of jet traffic behind me, the TIS showed no on lined up on 18L who was within 3 miles of me. As we sat waiting to be cleared to cross runway 23, Christy started to worry about traffic landing on top of us. I wasn't worried, though. The jet that landed on 23 startled her, but we were perfectly safe. Shortly after the jet passed, the tower cleared me to cross the runway.

The controller asked, "Cessna 7-7-0, are you familiar with the Charlotte airport".

I replied, "Only as a passenger, 7-7-0".

He then told me to taxi straight ahead on 18L and turn left on Delta-4 and that would take me straight to WilsonAir. He also told me to contact ground on "point 9", meaning contact ground control on 121.9.

Flying home was equally as exciting. After loading and preflighting, I called for clearance. I'm used to receiving clearances that are different from what I filed; usually I'll be assigned "radar vectors to XYZ" - when I file direct to XYZ. That's no big deal. This time it was different. I was cleared to depart via the HUGO-8 departure, then as filed. He did not assign a transition route, which made it difficult to plug in to the GPS as it expects a transition. That didn't matter though because as soon as I departed, the tower had me turn to a heading of 270 - completely off course for the HUGO-8 departure from 18L. I'm sure that they just wanted me out of the way of the jets that were departing from 18C.

Before all that happened, though, we had to taxi. After being cleared to taxi to 18L intersection Alpha, I was told there would be a three minute delay after the DeHavilland Dash-8 departed before me. I completed the run-up on the roll and stopped at the hold short line. When I announced that I was ready to go, the tower reiterated the 3 minute wait, to which I replied, "Understood, 7-7-0". We were cleared for take off and I responded, "Skyhawk 7-7-0, cleared for takeoff on 1-8-Left" and we began to roll.

Once we were airborn, the controllers had a field day vectoring me left and right. Finally I was told to resume own navigation and I flew direct to Columbia. We had awful headwinds for this trip. The briefing showed that we would encounter 20 to 24 knot winds almost directly in our face no matter what altitude we flew at.

The rest of the trip was uneventful although we began to encounter clouds the further south we went. We bounced through them without shaking any vital parts loose. Christy slept for much of the trip.

For the landing we were cleared for the visual to 14 and the winds were reported to be 100 at 12. The were a bit gusty and the plane just didn't want to stay on the ground. After initial contact, the plane became airborne again and I held the nose up and she dropped to the ground again. I still managed to make the first turnoff.

The flying this weekend was great. Flying in and out of Class B airspace without any miscues is particularly satisfying. I logged 2.9 hours CRG-CLT with about 0.2 instrument and 3.1 CLT-CRG with .4 instrument.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Safety at Flight Schools

Recently, someone who read this blog wanted more details about what I apparently described as unsafe practices at a local flight school. The purpose of this blog is not to bash any particular business. Therefore, I won't mention the name of the company at this point. A few examples of the operational practices that I think should be eliminated or improved on are the following:

1. During a lesson, immediately after take off - when I was still less than 200 feet above the ground, my instructor pulled the aircraft's throttle to idle and said "you just lost power, now what do you do?" I immediately pushed the throttle back in (PA-28/161) and said, "Don't ever do that on take off." He wanted to teach me to keep my hand on the throttle until the plane was 1000 feet above the ground. I had removed my hand from the throttle to adjust the manual trim.

2. A friend who was taking a lesson flew to the Palatka airport with his instructor. While in the pattern, he pulled the power to idle and asked the student if he knew what a windmilling propeller looked like. When the student said no, the instructor pulled the mixture to idle cut off and killed the engine. He then attempted to restart the engine by diving to accelerate and adding mixture. Although the attempt to restart was successful, the fact that they did this in the patter of an airport that is usually busy with student traffic and the fact that killing the engine was totally unnecessary suggest to me that this was an unsafe risk.

3. On numerous occasions I have witnessed instructors from this school violate Visual Flight Rules by either flying directly through or too close to clouds while operating under VFR. The practice area for this and other flight schools in the area overlaps the approach for the ILS 32 at Craig as well as several approaches at NAS-Jacksonville. Flying through clouds could result in a collision with similar training flights or with legitimate aircraft on instrument approaches. It is simply foolish.

4. Also on numerous occasions I have witnessed (and confirmed via handheld radio) instructors taking students much too low over congested areas such as my own neighborhood. 700+ homes in my neighborhood, the golf course and the nearby mall would seem to make the a congested area and flying lower than 1000' AGL is simply foolish.

5. Frequently the aircraft used by this company have squawks that take weeks to repair. Often these are minor such as a burned out bulb on the anti-collision lights or a landing light. But other problems include aircraft that sit for days with their fuel tanks in need of fuel. Leaving empty tanks invites water into the fuel and although this is not mandatory, it is a good practice.

6. Instructors do not enforce the use of proper check lists. For example, the Cessnas never have their fuel valve set to one or the other tank as prescribed in the POH. During runup, instructors do not test the trim controls as the tests that are shown in the POH are not shown on the checklist. Instructors do not check behind their students after tie down. Aircraft are left unlocked. Pitot covers are often lost or left in the plane. Control locks are not installed. Tiedown ropes are generally in a state of disrepair.

7. When renting aircraft, frequently, the aircraft were not refueled and ready even though they had been parked overnight.

8. The aircraft are generally not very clean. Oil streaks are found on the fuselages and a peek under the hood shows dirt an oil. The cowlings rarely are reinstalled after their 100 hour inspections in a proper way. They are generally misaligned.

Any one of these issues by itself would be minor and correctable. However, taken holistically, they suggest a pattern of operation that is in dire need of improvement. This doesn't even begin to touch on the customer service problems that I have experienced. For the most part, the people who work at this place are very kind and easy to deal with. However, when they think it is OK to call me the morning of an evening trip and tell me that I cannot take the plane that I had reserved weeks in advance simply because they wanted to use it for training flights, that is not acceptable. I understand that their primary goal is to be a flight school. Fine. But that doesn't allow canceling a flight and forcing a seven year customer to do a check ride in a more expensive plane at his expense. That is unconscionable. And trying to make up for that by giving me a free chart is not adequate. If I had been given adequate notice, I might think a bit differently, but that act was the straw that broke the camel's back. It was that incident that caused me to look elsewhere. And what I found was a selection of top notch aircraft for the same price. The competitor's aircraft were clean and have always been ready for me each time I have needed them.

So that's all I'll say on this topic. It saddens me each time I think about it and I don't care to hash it out again.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Class Bravo - B is for BUSY!

Last Friday, Christy and I flew to Charlotte Douglas Airport from Craig so that we could go to my 25th Davidson College reunion. The flight up was fairly uneventful. We planned to leave at 2pm, but didn't depart until 4:15 - that's one of the advantages of flying private planes - no schedule to adhere to.

I've flown through the Class B at CLT before, but this was the first time that I have landed there. It was quite an experience.

About 40 miles south of CLT, ATC began to give me vectors for my approach. They turned me to the northeast and then every few minutes turned me 10 degrees more and more easterly. We were dropped down to 4000 feet before entering the class B. Initially, I was told to expect runway 23, but after being vectored for the downwind to 23 and pushed further and further northeast of the airport, I was subsequently told that I was being switched to 18 Left. A steady stream of heavy jets were lined up for 23 and for 18 Right. The were being brought in below me and I was eventually vectored for a base leg to 18 that took me across the path for 23 above the stream of jets. The controller gave me rapid and frequent instructions - turn to 360, then 340 then back to 360 then decend ... bang bang bang... one right after the other. Finally I was handed off to the tower and was cleared to land on 18L but I was asked to keep my speed up as much as possible. I dropped in at 140 knots and pulled power at 2 miles out, leveled until the speed dropped below flap extension speed. I progressively added flaps to full and brought her down on the numbers. As I rolled out, the tower asked if I could stop before runway 23. I said that I could and I stopped the plane. Christy was wide-eyed with all the activity around us. She wondered if a plane would be coming in behind us, but the TIS showed nothing lined up for our runway. After sitting for about 30 seconds, a large jet landed from left to right on runway 23.

It was very exciting for both of us.

More details to follow...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Diamond Check Out

Since North Florida Aviation's aircraft were booked for the weekend, I was left with a choice between taking Sterling's Diamond DA-40 or driving to/from Tampa. I hate driving long distances, so I had to go for a check ride in the Diamond.

Christy wanted to go with me and was not dissuaded by my warnings about stalls and steep turns, so we arrived together at the airport. I met the instructor, Mike, and we discussed the plane. I grabbed a checklist and discovered that it was somewhat similar to the Cessna G1000 checklist although the Diamond had a controllable pitch propeller. I had never flown a controllable pitch prop before.

We loaded up in the plane and I started the engine. First the prop is set to max RPM and the mixture to idle cutoff. The throttle is set to about half. The master power switch is turned on then the fuel pump is turned on while the mixture is advanced to full rich for a few seconds then back to lean. Then the key is turned to start and the engine fired up while I advanced the mixture to full rich.

After listening to the ATIS, we taxied to runway 5 and did the runup. About the only difference between the DA40 runup and the Cessna was the prop. The throttle was advanced to make the engine turn 2000 RPM, then the prop lever is pulled back until the RPM and oil pressure drop, then it is put back to max rpm. This is done three times. After that, a check of the magnetos is done and the idle is verified.

With everything ok, I taxied to runway 5 and called, "Craig Tower, Cess--, uh, Ddd-diamond star 7-5-6-Delta Sierra ready to go at 5". To which the tower replied "Are you sure?"

We all got a kick out of the smarty pants, and I quipped, "Sorry, this is my first time flying this plane. I'm ready."

We were cleared for takeoff and I taxied onto the runway. The plane tended to fishtail a bit as I accelerated. The nosewheel is not steerable, so at low speeds, the brakes do the steering and at higher speeds, it is done by the rudder. I managed to keep the nose reasonably straight and pulled her up at around 55 knots.

The best rate of climb is achieved at only 70 knots, but at that low a speed and high angle of attack, the stall warning is constantly blaring, so a slightly higher speed is recommended. With three adults in the plane, we were climbing around 900 feet per minute.

We leveled off at 3800 feet and began our maneuvers. First it was a few turns at 30 degrees, then a couple of back to back steep turns at 45 degrees to get the feel of the plane. We followed that with some slow flight and a couple of stalls. The plane really won't stall. It just sits in the buffet but no actual stall occurs. I peeked in back at Christy and she had a huge smile on her face.

By this time, the cloud layer below us had thickened and the instructor got us an instrument clearance and I flew the ILS 32 at Craig with a circle to 5. There are only three flap settings, up, first and second notch. As I pass the threshold, we had slowed to below 108 and the first notch of flaps extended. I pitched nose down to generate a 500 fpm descent and adjusted the throttle to slow us a bit. Turning base, I extended the next notch. Then on final, I pushed the prop to max rpm and pulled the throttle back further. The instructor said to keep the speed to more than 70 knots to ensure a smooth landing. He explained that the plane has a tendency to drop hard below 70. I managed to set the plane down reasonably well and the set her up for climbout - Flaps to the first notch for take off, full power and out we went. Left turns around the pattern were met with a similar landing and takeoff. We made one final landing - this time a soft field landing. I glided long with a bit of power and finally set her down smoothly. We then taxied back and parked.

Christy loved the touch-and-go landings, she later told me. It was a blast flying the new plane, but I'm still not happy with the situation that brought about its use. This flight was wonderful though and I was particularly pleased that Christy liked it.

1.0 hours of dual with .2 Actual instrument and one instrument landing.

Friday, March 20, 2009

End of a Flying Relationship

Since 2001 I have been renting aircraft from Sterling Flight Training. I fly nearly every week and spend thousands of dollars each year with this flight school at Craig Municipal Airport. That relationship is about to end and this makes me sad.

For several weeks I have had a Skyhawk reserved so I could fly to Tampa to take my new fiancee and her daughter to meet my family. This morning, I received a call from Sterling's chief instructor telling me that I couldn't have the plane because they wanted to use it for training. I would have to take their Diamond DA40, an aircraft that I have never flown. To do this, I would have to get a check ride at some point in the next 24 hours. Because of their last minute change, I did not have an option to rent an aircraft from North Florida Flight Training which is also at the same airport - their planes were already booked.

I called Irene Malone, a very nice lady and the wife of the school's owner to discuss the situation. She took my number and said Jay Lawrence, the new Chief Instructor would call. I told her that actions like this were going to lose her a customer. Jay and I discussed the situation and he finally agreed to let me take the plane for this weekend, but I would have to make alternative arrangements for the following weekend. This was acceptable because I had already arranged with North Florida to have a plane for the weekend.

About an hour later, Jay called me back and advised me that I couldn't have the plane because Scott Malone, Irene's dimwitted son, told him that he could not allow the plane to be gone this weekend regardless of reservations. Scott is a former US Airways Express pilot who quit the airline to fly charters at Malone Air. Although I have been flying with his family for 7 years, I seriously doubt that he has the faintest clue about who I am. He probably has no idea that I spend between $7,000 and $8,000 per year with Sterling Flight Training on aircraft rental. Heck, he's never even greeted me when I walked in the place. It is bonehead maneuvers like Scott's that will cost Sterling Flight Training their business. This weekend will be the last time I rent a plane from them.

The Diamond has a G1000 panel like the Skyhawk, but it lacks the autopilot and cargo capacity. It takes much longer to take off and to land. It is faster, but not fast enough to justify the $180 per hour (versus $150 - an increase from the $120 that had been the rate for the 'Hawk.)

I'm sure that the Diamond is a great plane, but the problem is that they let me reserve the plane for weeks and then dropped me from the schedule with less than 24 hours notice. That's a poor business practice. Combine that business practice with the stunts that some of their instructors have pulled (see prior entries) as well as the accident rate for their aircraft and I think this place is a recipe for disaster. So maybe I'm better off with a better aircraft provider. Perhaps North Florida will value my business more than Sterling does. I have referred numerous students and renters to Sterling over the years. It is unfortunate that I can no longer do so.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Back in the Air!

When I went for my medical in January, I indicated that I had had a kidney stone in March of 2008. Consequently, the doctor rejected my application. I followed the instructions on the AOPA website for kidney stones, but they missed a few things. I had to go to a urologist, have an ultrasound and x-rays of my kidneys, ureters and bladder, then two different blood tests. My doctor then had to write a letter stating that I was had no stones present and was not likely to have another. This documentation was sent to the FAA and several weeks later, I received my second class medical with no restrictions.

So, yesterday, Christy and I flew in N512MA, an old, tired Piper Warrior II. This plane is a far cry from the G1000 Skyhawks that have spoiled me lately. Due to some last minute problems at home, we were late arriving at the airport and we didn't get the engine started until shortly before 2pm. The weather was perfect for VFR flight with a 7 knot breeze, few clouds and lots of blue sky.

We departed Craig to the west and I tuned the 290 radial from the CRG VORTAC so I could have an indication that would keep me out of the JAX class C airspace. I climbed to 4,500 feet and we followed interstate 10 westward towards Glen St. Mary. Christy appeared to be thrilled by the view and was pointing out landmarks that she knew. We eventually flew over her small town and circled her house a few times after dropping down to 1,200 feet. Then I tuned the VOR for Cecil Field and we climbed to 3,500 feet and overflew Cecil. From Cecil it was eastbound to my neighborhood and we circled my house at about 1,500 feet. I noticed that my Dad had arrived at my house, so we headed back to the airport.

I listened to information Charlie at Craig then called the tower. I was instructed to enter a right downwind for 14 and report midfield. We descended to 1000 feet and I pointed at the airport. When I reached midfield, the tower cleared me to land. I reduced power to 1,700 RPM and put in the first notch of flaps. I trimmed for a nose down attitude and began a 500 fpm descent. I turned base and dropped the second notch. Then a turn to final and the final notch of flaps. I dropped a little below the glideslope and pulled the nose up. The plane slowed nicely. Low wing planes tend to float a bit especially if you come in hot, but I came in just right. As the speed dropped, I held the nose high and the wheels touched down gently on the numbers. I was particularly pleased with the landing especially considering that I had not flown since Christmas and it had been quite some time since I had flown a Warrior.

We had a beautiful flight and a wonderful time. 1.1 hours of VFR flight.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Grounded. Dammit!

Once again the Libertarian in me is screaming for the government to get the hell out of my life. But, my wails fall on deaf ears. Here's the situation: Almost a year ago, I was awakened by a pain in my back. The pain was getting stronger and stronger and I recognized it as being caused by a kidney stone. I had one about 9 years earlier and it is hard to forget that intense pain.

I got out of bed, drank a bottle of water and hoped that it would pass. When it became apparent that the pain was getting worse, I asked my wife to drive me to the hospital. (I'm not married any longer, but it has nothing to do with a kidney stone). The first time I had a kidney stone, I drove myself to the hospital after experiencing pain for 4 days.

The E.R. doctor gave me some saline and a flomax injection. Flomax is usually for urinary trouble resulting from an enlarged prostate, however, it also helps people pass kidney stones. I was x-rayed and they confirmed that I had a stone and that it had already moved down the ureter. I asked the doctor for some coffee and orange juice because I still didn't seem to have an ability to urinate. Finally, the beverages had the expected effect. I passed the stone - it sounded like a b-b hitting the urinal, but it was actually very small.

I left the hospital, went to the airport and caught a flight to Boston - I had missed my earlier flight.

The point of all this detail is that although kidney stones can cause debilitating pain, in every situation, I have managed to deal with it and I am certain that if I had one in flight, I would have no trouble landing the plane.

The FAA doesn't see it that way. Apparently, I was supposed to tell them as soon as I had the stone. I didn't realize that. When I went for my bi-annual medical review, the doctor told me that I would have to obtain the records from my hospital event, visit a urologist and then send the results of this to the FAA. According to the doctor, I should be able to fly by March.

I haven't gone a month without flying since I took my first lesson. I was told that I could go up with an instructor, so that would be ok, but more expensive. Oh well. I just have to jump through the bureaucratic hoops if I want to fly.

Staying Current

Staying instrument current can be a challenge in a place like Florida where we have so much sunshine. I would much rather fly in actual IFR than in simulated and arranging for a safety pilot can be a hassle at times.

This time of year, we tend to have a few days of low ceilings and fog and a few Saturdays ago, the sky was cooperating. The ceiling had risen to 300' overcast by the time I got to the airport. I would be flying the Archer again and that would give me good steam gauge practice...and I wouldn't be spoiled by any autopilot.

I wondered how thick the cloud layer would be when I took off and my question was answered suprisingly quickly. I was out of the clouds by 1000'. This was perfect IFR weather. It wasn't too windy or stormy - just a layer of fog that had risen to slightly above minimums.

I filed for a round-trip to CRG and departed on runway 5. ATC turned me to a heading of 080 at first and then progressively gave me 160 in 20 degree increments it seemed. There was a decent wind above the clouds and I think the controller wanted to get a feel for the amount of drift I would experience. I advised the controller that I would like the ILS32 approach at CRG and would follow that with more of the same. He gave me a 100 heading for my climbout on missed and assigned 2000 as my clearance altitude. I flew along above the solid layer of clouds until I moved off shore where the clouds nearly disappeared. ATC turned me for my base leg about 5 miles southeast of the ADERR intersection. Then about half a mile east of the localizer, I was turned to 300 and told to maintain 2000 until established on the approach. I had previously obtained the ATIS weather information for CRG and the plane was set up for the approach. As the needle began to close in , started my turn to line up on the localizer. Just south of ADERR the glideslope needle reached one dot above center and I pulled the first notch of flaps. I was maintaining 90 knots in my steady descent now and the clouds were solid in front of me. Focused on the needles, I made small adjustments to the trim and to my heading in order to keep the needles centered. I entered the clouds and it was solid white around me. Nothing to do but maintain my instrument scan and pay close attention to the altitude. I called out 500 feet to myself and still couldn't see the runway. The tower cleared me for the low approach and I continued lower. About 300 feet, I popped out of the clouds and there was the runway right ahead of me. I felt ver proud that I had executed this instrument approach so flawlessly.

As I crossed the threshold, I pushed the throttle, began to climb and retracted the flaps. I then told the tower that I was going missed and he handed me off to Jax Approach. I turned the plane to 100, continued my climb and called Jax. Two more approaches followed similar paths, however, by the last approach, it was clear that the clouds were burning off quickly and I decided against flying a fourth approach.

That was such a fun flight due to the moderate challenge of the cloud layer. Single pilot IFR is a great confidence builder provided that you don't crash.

I logged .6 hours of IFR with three approaches and a total of 1.1 hours.