Friday, September 2, 2016

Meeting Emry: Day 1

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: 40I-UNV-IPT
Weather - 40I: Scattered clouds, 76 degrees, wind 060 degrees at 10 knots
Weather - UNV: Scattered clouds, 70 degrees, wind 040 degrees at 5 knots
Weather - IPT: Clear, 68 degrees, wind calm

Gina's brother and his wife had their first baby (and our first nephew!) earlier this week. We planned on visiting as soon as he was born but we also knew it would obviously be quite last-minute when the word came. When it did, commercial tickets were honestly just as expensive as flying ourselves and the 172 was miraculously available all of Labor Day weekend - plus, a long cross-country trip is clearly more fun for me! So we reserved our trusty aerial traveling companion, I got busy flight planning, and we both looked forward to meeting Emry.

Highlights (lots of ATC chatter) from today's leg of the trip - 4.3 hours condensed into 0.2!

I do have to note here that, as a VFR pilot, this weekend's long-term weather forecast was truly about as good as you can ever hope for, with high pressure basically blanketing the eastern half of the country for five straight days. Hurricane Hermine is slowly making her way up the east coast and is a concern I've been closely monitoring. However, it's clear the worst impact it will have on our trip is forcing a return home starting Sunday instead of Monday.

All fueled up and ready to go

I left work about 2:30 and headed straight to the airport to get everything untied, loaded, set up, preflighted, and fueled. Gina would meet me there as soon as possible when she left school, ideally in time for us to be in the air by 4:00. Thanks to unusual easterly headwinds (from the aforementioned hurricane) along the entire route, we'd have to stay on schedule to make our planned overnight stop of Williamsport, PA before dark. 

One nice thing about long trips is being able to leave (most) everything in the plane. In order to record videos, hold my iPad, and utilize the remote antennas for my new ADS-B box, it does require a not-entirely-insignificant amount of time to set all that up prior to starting the engine. On a multi-day trip, most of that is spared on the middle days... which I know Gina appreciates.

We needed every ounce possible so I filled both tanks to the very top, squeezing as much 100LL as they would hold. I had the plane ready and waiting on the fuel pad when Gina pulled into the parking lot. She ran into some traffic on her way to Stewart but we left nearly on time. After a quick stop in the office, she hopped in and I started the engine at 4:00; we took off on Runway 8 just a few minutes later at 4:05.

Cruising eastward at 5,500 feet

I leveled at 5,500 feet, which worked out quite well. Not only was it the altitude with the smallest headwind (though it was still 10+  knots) but the scattered cloud bases were hovering around 6,000 - so I was able to remain there and fly legally below them all the way to Pennsylvania. North of Wilmington, I called Columbus Approach for flight following and they got us a squawk code for the entire journey.

The former Longaberger Basket headquarters building in Newark, OH

Ohio River looking north at the OH/WV border towards Toronto, OH

Looking south at Steubenville, OH nestled alongside the Ohio River

Columbus Approach handed us off to Cleveland Center, who then sent us over to Pittsburgh Approach. I'm always a little saddened to see formerly busy airports reduced to shells of their former selves - we see that locally with CVG. However, one perk as a GA pilot is that the relative lack of traffic often begets better service and less detours around arrival and departure corridors.

Today was no exception as Pittsburgh Approach cleared us into the Class Bravo airspace and we directly overflew PIT. While west of the field, an American Eagle ERJ flew 500-1,000 feet underneath us while being vectored onto final. We also saw a few Southwest 737s depart and quickly climb above us.

AA ERJ flying under us on approach into PIT

Approaching Pittsburgh International Airport from the west

Overflying PIT - downtown Pittsburgh is visible in the distance

The Ohio River leads towards downtown Pittsburgh 

The views were great as you can see above - I think we both spent quite a bit of time sightseeing in all directions. As we continued east Pittsburgh Approach eventually handed me off to Johnstown Approach. I had obviously been monitoring our fuel consumption and flight time closely and it was around here that I decided a fuel stop was in order.

During my trip planning earlier in the week, I'd settled on University Park Airport (UNV) in State College, PA as the best choice for such a stop. Their Avgas was cheap, they were staffed and open 24/7, and it was a towered airport. That may seem like an odd choice to some GA pilots but to me it was logical. I figured, traffic permitting, a typical straight-in approach would shave a few minutes off the arrival - and it did.

I told the Johnstown controller we'd be making at stop at UNV and, when he asked why, I told him the diversion was for fuel. Prior to arriving in State College he handed us off to New York Center; they cut me loose ("squawk VFR, contact tower, good day") about 15 miles out when I told them I had the airport in sight. Tower told me to report a straight-in but spotted us before the reporting point and cleared us to land on Runway 6.

Rolling hills of western PA in the golden evening light

I really appreciate the terrain features in hillier-than-Ohio spots!

We touched town very softly at 7:25 and I taxied to the FBO. Engine off, I asked the line guys to top the plane off while we ran inside for a quick bathroom break. We chatted with the very friendly staff inside for a couple minutes while they finished fueling the Skyhawk, then I paid the bill and headed back out to the airplane. I contacted ground and we were cleared to taxi back to Runway 6; we were moving again at 7:41.

Another note - I've obviously flown 2814L quite a bit and on many trips over the years. In doing so I've learned how she burns fuel and have entered those numbers in whatever flight planning software I happen to be using at the moment. In today's case, the plane took 29.2 gal and ForeFlight estimated we'd used 30.1; personally I'm very happy with that kind of accuracy!

Taxiing for departure at UNV just past sunset

Tower cleared us for takeoff and we were in the air again at 7:45 for the short flight to Williamsport. This is where I have to point out that I was quite thankful (and little bit lucky) for how the FAA classifies nighttime flying and night currency. Officially, for passenger-carrying purposes, it begins one hour after sunset. We were estimated to arrive at IPT at 8:20 and sunset there was at 7:40 tonight. In other words, we'd be there with 20 minutes to spare before I legally couldn't have Gina on board with me.

Level again at 5,500 feet (not something I'd usually do for a 30 minute flight but the headwinds and terrain made it the best choice in my mind) the clock now became my main point of focus. Everything looked to be fine but I'd obviously have to land elsewhere (likely Lock Haven, PA) if winds were stronger than expected and I didn't think we'd make Williamsport in time. I'll happily admit that I cut it a little close - but I had a diversion plan and, despite the terrain in the area, was landing at a towered airport with visual glideslope references. Ultimately, while not officially night current, I was quite comfortable making a legal visual approach in the dwindling twilight.

Turns out everything worked as planned. We touched down right on schedule at 8:20 and were parked at the FBO by 8:25. As I commented to Gina after shutting down, it's obvious why the FAA mandates the one hour post-sunset rule for all takeoffs and landings that count towards night currency - they want it to be really, truly dark out, which of course makes sense when we're talking about night flying!

Straight-in final for Runway 9 at IPT

Despite the rather annoying (but expected and planned) headwinds and a fuel stop, we still made it to our intended destination this evening. The extremely nice guy at the FBO called the Holiday Inn, who sent their van to pick us up. Gina and I then walked the few blocks over to Bullfrog Brewery and indulged in some seriously tasty food and brews before crashing back at the hotel for some much-needed rest before tomorrow's leg to Boston.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 4.3 hours
Total Time: 361.9 hours

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Lunch with the in-laws, assisted by ADS-B

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: 40I-S24-MGY-40I
Weather - 40I: Few clouds, 88 degrees, wind 040 degrees at 3 knots
Weather - S24: Few clouds, 88 degrees, wind light and variable
Weather - MGY: Scattered clouds and thunderstorms, 78 degrees, wind 150 degrees at 8 knots

My travel schedule hasn't calmed down one bit (I just spent most of the week in South Dakota) but we actually were home this entire weekend - something of a rarity these days. Accordingly, I couldn't just stay in Dayton; we decided to fly north to meet the in-laws for lunch! The weather forecast wasn't perfect and called for some afternoon pop-up thunderstorms in the humid summer air but it looked totally flyable. It would also be the perfect opportunity to test out my new FlightBox ADS-B before embarking on longer cross-country trips.

It was a straight shot there with a few deviations on the way home

I researched restaurants and airports that were a reasonable distance for both us via 172 and the in-laws driving down from the Detroit area. We narrowed it down to a few spots near Port Clinton (PCW) until I got a briefing and discovered there was a TFR for their annual airshow. Preflight planning, folks - it's important! :) So I did a little more searching and found a little spot in Clyde, OH. It's a small town along US-20 that we used to always drive through on our way to my grandparents' when I was a kid, so I thought it would be neat to return by air.

This dude was chilling on the right wing throughout my preflight

We took off from Stewart around 1:45 for the roughly 1:15 flight north. As I leveled off at 5,500 feet it was rather neat to see all the traffic around us in ForeFlight. I also pulled up the NEXRAD radar and used it to keep close tabs on a line of storms moving slowly towards our destination. It appeared we'd arrive in plenty of time but I planned to divert to an airport along the way (likely Seneca County / 16G in Tiffin) if the window started closing.

Sidenote - I spent the better part of the past month playing around with every EFB application that supports Stratux devices. At this point I've tried FlyQ, WingX, Aerovie, FltPlan Go, iFly GPS, and Garmin Pilot. I intentionally avoided ForeFlight at the beginning since I'm not fond of their lack of official open-source support, nor their pricing model, even though it's clearly favored by many pilots. Aerovie has some of the best weather and planning tools I've come across but it's just not quite as polished as ForeFlight - for now, at least. So, in the end, I'll openly admit that I've found ForeFlight to be the most polished, easiest to use EFB in the cockpit - and they've earned my dollars and support.

Traffic in the area after departing from Stewart

Ok, back to today's trip... we descended towards the airport and I called in on the CTAF between 5 and 10 miles out. Another plane was departing and I spotted him both out the window and on the iPad's screen thanks to the ADS-B traffic display. I entered the pattern and landed quite smoothly on Runway 24. The in-laws were waiting by the door to the FBO; we waved, tied down the plane (the aforementioned storms were approaching), and headed in to say hello.

Lunch was at a TripAdvisor / Yelp recommendation - the Blue Collar Bistro. Unfortunately, their air conditioning wasn't working and it was nearly 90 degrees outside so we got the food to go. We took it back to the airport and all enjoyed catching up and stuffing our faces in their convenient kitchen area while the winds picked up and it briefly rained outside. Everything was delicious - salad, wings, sandwiches, brisket, pizza, and their take on a parfait that's a mishmash of mashed potatoes, chicken, cheese, and homemade BBQ sauce. 

I had been keeping a close eye on the weather and decided it was probably best we get going before more cells flared up along the route home. The cell that passed over Clyde was long gone, the temperature had dropped 10 degrees, and we had CAVU blue skies when I began my preflight sometime after 5:00. We departed on Runway 6 and I waved the wings goodbye as we climbed straight out before turning right on course.

I was quite glad to have in-cockpit radar for the return!

Elliot's Landing (O74) - still need to stop in for some grub at the Plaza Inn

Gina has a habit of taking a nap at cruise altitudes :)

While the radar I posted above may look ominous, visibility was great and the cells were easily visible from at least 20-40 miles away. They weren't moving particularly fast and we were able to fly direct Stewart until well inside Dayton's (well, technically, Columbus Approach's) airspace. I was receiving flight following and the controller and I were talking about the severe cell over Stewart for quite a while. Both he and I thought it would be well east by the time we arrived.

Skirting east of a buildup forming north of Dayton

Another favorite local $100 hamburger destination - Urbana Grimes (I74)

Wright Patterson Air Force Base

US Air Force Museum with WPAFB in the background

However, it just sat there... and sat there... and sat there. From the ForeFlight screenshots alone you can see it was essentially in place for at at least 45 minutes based on the timestamps and the fact that it was still there when we landed at Wright Brothers. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The controller turned me slightly SW to avoid Dayton's departures and keep me away from the storm. Then he suggested I fly east (even though the cell was moving very slowly east) to come around from the south where it was clear. I didn't like that plan and instead told him I'd continue west where it was already clear; we'd head towards Wright Brothers and land there if necessary.

There was still quite a storm SW of Dayton

We flew west of the storm - there was visible lightning coming out of this cloud

The cell refused to move, so we diverted to MGY

Turning to enter the pattern at Dayton - Wright Brothers (MGY)

The same controller came back a few minutes later and noted (not that this wasn't obvious outside our windows!) that the cell was still over Stewart and asked what I would like to do. I told him that Wright Brothers was in the clear and in sight, so he told us to squawk VFR, I thanked him for the help, and we continued our descent towards MGY.

As we descended I spotted some large lightning bolts on the west edge of the cell - and quickly turned right to put a little more space between us and the electricity. We hit a few bumps as we continued down, quite mild really, but that got me mentally formulating Plan C. I decided to fly further west and level at 2,000 feet (pattern altitude) before turning back east to enter the pattern. The AWOS was indicating 9-11 knot winds and the storm was clearly past the airport, but I decided that I would immediately abort landing and fly to Middletown (MWO) if we encountered any strange gusts, bumps, or shear as I came in to land.

Turns out the AWOS wasn't lying; as I entered on the 45 for Runway 2, turned downwind, and descended on short final, I didn't run into any unanticipated winds - not even the anticipated usual burbles over the trees. We taxied over to ASI and the friendly line staff came out to see if we needed anything. I said we were just waiting out the storm and they said no problem. We went inside to relax in their lounge for a few as I continued to watch the weather.

At least it was a scenic wait on the ground

Conveniently, pilot friends Tommy and Sarah were at Stewart this evening and they texted me weather updates. Shortly after they told me it finally cleared up we climbed back into 14L and I taxied out, this time to Runway 20. In those 30 minutes on the ground, the wind had completely shifted - as it often does when a storm passes by.

Back on the ground at Stewart after the storm finally pushed east

In under 10 minutes, we were on the ground again, landing on Runway 8. I didn't fly a normal pattern but instead entered on a long left base, staying well clear of the weather that still wasn't all that far east of the airport. I should note here that those figures in your POH about landing on wet grass are no joke - it was extremely noticeable how much longer it took the 172 to slow down after we touched down immediately after a heavy rainfall.

This was a great day of knocking much mental rust off. I've finally flown enough this year, with enough recently, that I feel pretty much back to normal in the mechanics of flight department. But having to make weather decisions, diversions, and being able to utilize in-cockpit traffic and weather definitely upped my cranial competency.

Flying to meet the in-laws for a nice lunch is always cool, too!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 3.1 hours
Total Time: 357.6 hours

Monday, August 8, 2016

Aviating over Upstate NY in Chris' Cherokee

Plane: Piper Cherokee
Weather: Clear, 78 degrees, wind 050 degrees at 4 knots

One of the best things about traveling so much is the ability to meet up with friends all over the country... all over the world, for that matter. I've flown into his home 'drome (Williamson-Sodus) before with Gina but never had the chance to take to the sky in his right seat. Tonight, after arriving via AA mid-afternoon for a week of work in Rochester, we finally corrected that and spent a fall-like, totally beautiful evening in the sky.

Don't mind me shamelessly reusing Chris' photo here

Read more on Chris' blog:

Sunday, July 31, 2016

First flights for a former coworker's niece and nephews

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: 40I-I68-40I
Weather: Scattered clouds, 84 degrees, wind 280 degrees at 7 knots

Late last year Ted, a former coworker, reached out to me and asked if I'd be willing to take his nephews flying; he wanted to surprise them as a Christmas present. As I said five years ago when I took another one of his nephews flying, I think most pilots would jump at the opportunity! My crazy travel schedule and their own activities led to many months of figuring out when we'd all be in the same place at the same time. Turns out today was that day.

The video's long but I suspect they'll enjoy being able to re-watch much of the flight

We all met at Stewart a bit before 1 pm - I was already preflighting the 172 when they walked up and said hello. I topped off the tanks and we filled out the requisite Young Eagles forms, then I got Anthony situated onboard. Joe, the younger brother, is particularly into airplanes, so he hopped in front.

After taking off to the west, I orbited over their house; they were quite excited when they spotted it from above. I then flew down towards King's Island, which always seems to delight passengers from above. From there, I entered the pattern at John Lane Field / Lebanon-Warren County Airport (I68) so the boys could switch places.

We made two flights around the local area this afternoon

I departed I68 and we flew over Caesar Creek Lake, then returned to Stewart. Back on the ground, Anthony hopped out and their sister, Isabella, hopped in - she decided she wanted a ride prior to the original departure and I was glad to take her up! We didn't have as much time so we again circled over their house and school before flying north over I-675. I pointed out the local malls and some roads and then we again made our way back to Stewart.

Upon returning, all three kids certainly seemed to really enjoy the experience. We talked for a few minutes and I filled out their certificates and logbooks and said our goodbyes. While I obviously haven't flown too much this year, it's nice to make the most of the little bit I have - and taking kids on their first flights is a great way to do so!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.5 hours
Total Time: 354.5 hours

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Cubbin' with Garrett on his overnight layover

Plane: Cub, 85 hp 
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Few clouds, 83 degrees, wind light and variable

As seems typical of the aviation community, I know Garrett via numerous small-world connections. We met through my best friend Rob (who's an aviation fanatic and has flown with me many times) but he also graduated from WMU with us. On top of that, he also knows pilot friend Chris from growing up near Kalamazoo and volunteering at the Air Zoo. Today he flies CRJs for a regional airline and occasionally manages to schedule overnights at DAY so we can say hello. This time he was in town long enough for a Cub flight, so that's what we did. Obviously.

Everyone's always smiling in a Cub

To back up a little bit, we went out for a beer last night shortly after he got into town. Their brews speak for themselves (sidenote - Dayton has quite a number of really good local breweries these days) and I love their location, but I partially took him to Warped Wing just for the great aviation references. It was nice to catch up and, well, mostly talk aviation and airplanes.

Back to this morning... I drove downtown, picked him up from his hotel, and we arrived at Stewart around 9:00. Summer is out in force and it was already quite muggy. But we were about to climb into a Cub. And fly around with the door open. Problem solved.

Preflight complete, he performed the necessary contortions to climb in front, I slid into the back seat, and we got the requisite hand-prop to start the fan turning. I departed on Runway 26 and turned south, pointing out the river, valley, kayakers, and bike trail below. Eventually we made our way over towards Kings Island before turning around and following I-71 back northeast.

Flying over the eastern edge of Caesar Creek Lake

I flew over the lake as I often do while sightseeing and, even at this relatively early hour, it was replete with boaters out avoiding the humidity in their own preferred fashion. We then headed north past Waynesville and circled around one of the more ridiculously large estates in the area. Not sure why, but it seems like half the time I forget exactly where to find it. I suppose that may be why they built it there!

No doubt we could've spent all day flying low and slow but Mr. Airline Pilot did have a job to get to on time. So I entered the pattern on a crosswind entry from the north to land back on Runway 26. The touchdown wasn't my absolute best (pro pilot pressure?!) but Garrett seemed satisfied.

We headed back downtown, grabbing Gina on the way, in search of a quick bite for breakfast. Tank's - a local institution - was the plan but they were busy as usual, so we ended up with a nice light meal at differently, but equally, delicious Ghostlight Coffee. Then we dropped him back at his hotel, in time for work and everything! While I'm usually the one visiting pilot friends while traveling, it's just as nice spending the morning committing aviation with friends in my town.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.0 hours
Total Time: 353.0 hours