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.