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".