Friday, May 15, 2015

To fly or not to die

Plane: Cessna 172 
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Broken clouds, 78 degrees, wind 180-240 degrees at 8-12 knots

Pardon the sensationalist headline; I promise I haven't been watching that much CNN lately. But this was one of those days that required a serious go / no-go decision. For those of you who aren't pilots, a) the title pays slight homage to the media's usual inability to cover anything aviation-related without resorting to sky is falling tactics (I'm sure doctors harbor similar thoughts when anchors wax poetic about viral outbreaks, teachers when they discuss standardized testing, etc.) and b) while departing today certainly would not have led to imminent death, it could have been a very bad first decision in an accident chain by the end of the weekend. Read on.

Ok, tangential discussion aside, back to the decision that did not involve LeBron. We were supposed to fly to Syracuse this weekend for Gina's cousins' graduation party. Flying was really the only option since it's a 10 hour drive or a 4 hour flight and Gina has to work Sunday afternoon (strike one - time and schedule pressure). I've been closely monitoring the forecasts; the trip went from seeming feasible earlier in the week to looking quite iffy by this morning (strike two - forecasts trending in the wrong direction). Nearing our planned departure time, it was obvious a Sunday return would not work due to forecast low ceilings and visibility, but I momentarily considered returning Saturday afternoon before further analysis of the forecast (strike three - VFR pilot flying 400 nm across a stationary front and possible embedded thunderstorms). So, in what I can only label a good no-go decision, we cancelled the trip.

But I was already at the airport. And - an isolated thunderstorm having passed by a half hour prior - the weather was currently quite conducive to flying. Good enough reason to at least putter around the pattern before heading back home.

I loaded far less baggage than lie under my hatchback's hatch into the 172 - just myself, my GPS logger, and my headset. N2814L had flown just prior to my arrival so the engine quickly roared to life with one small shot of primer. I taxied over to the fuel pump and topped off the tanks.

As you can see, the wind picked up at times

Gusty winds had come and gone throughout the day and remained in the forecast but it was rather calm when I first departed. The Skyhawk took to the sky without much fuss under the relatively light load. One of the jump planes on the field departed behind me with a load of meat missiles so I made sure to wait to turn crosswind until passing abeam the jump zone. Though the winds at this point were steady the heat kicked up some decent thermals and I was constantly adjusting the power on short final; I touched down rather smoothly just past the threshold.

The second lap was decent and the third was great - total greaser on the landing in spite of winds that now were a gusting, almost direct crosswind. I was tempted to call it quits right there but I wanted to keep flying. On the fourth time around, I pulled the power abeam the numbers on downwind and negotiated a mostly-successful power-off 180, slowly adding flaps until I had all 40 degrees out right before touchdown. I landed slightly long with a solid thump but it wasn't too bad given the conditions. My final lap was nearly as good as the third with a smooth rotation into a crab on takeoff, culminating in a smooth crosswind landing in the gusty winds.

It's always disappointing to cancel a trip, especially last-minute, but I sure as hell don't intend to be the kind of pilot who doesn't learn from his own past experience. Having discussed the trip with a few more experienced pilots (including Upstate NY local Chris) I'm honestly not even sure we would have launched if I had my instrument rating. But it wouldn't have been remotely logical to make a go of it as a VFR-only pilot. It's better to be down here wishing we were up there, than up there wishing we were down here, as the saying goes.

Hindsight

As you may expect, I couldn't help but check the conditions along our planned route numerous times throughout the weekend. While it may have been clear enough along the Lake Erie shoreline (in lieu of flying the direct, more inland route over western PA/NY) at times, the overall reality was marginal at best. To hit flyable conditions would likely have required near-psychic timing, too, as I saw much more IFR or very marginal VFR both days.

Saturday mid-afternoon radar

Saturday early evening lowest reported ceilings

Saturday early evening TAFs (red = below my minimums)

Even locally I never saw a break in the weather on Saturday (we ended up running errands and driving around the area all afternoon) that I think we would have easily made it home through, had we left earlier. So, now with the benefit of hindsight, initial no-go decision confirmed. Flying to NY was definitely the right thing not to do.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 0.7 hours
Total Time: 328.5 hours

Thursday, May 7, 2015

First door-open Cubbin' of the year

Plane: Cub, 65 hp 
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Clear, 80 degrees, wind 120 degrees at 7 knots

It's been too long. Since I flew a Cub with the door wide open. Since I flew in general, really.

Since my last flight, I've spent nearly two weeks out of the country for work in Canada and Switzerland. Not that I'm complaining - I do love to travel, after all. Work's been kind of hectic besides the travel, too. We're also still in the middle of a kitchen remodel. Needless to say, the flying has been rather sporadic thus far in 2015.

Tonight was absolute perfection in terms of flying, however. Relatively calm winds, great visibility, and plenty of warmth to facilitate said door-ajar aviating. Gina and I headed down to Stewart after I got home from work for our first flight together since the first day of the year.

She's relatively well-versed in Cubs and tailwheel procedures by now, so she sat in front at the controls while I hand-propped the 65 hp Continental to life. Propeller-turner turning, I climbed in the back seat and ran through my preflight. We taxied to the end of Runway 8, did a run-up, and I pushed the throttle in.  We were soon rolling down the soft grass and quickly airborne.

Circling back around, I made a landing to check my level of rust. Initial reports came back negative, as I completely greased it. Don't worry, I don't always achieve such aerial prowess; read on. We took off again and I flew east to check out the lake and do a little sightseeing.

I swear she enjoyed tonight's flight more than this photo appears to indicate

Flying over the northwest edge of Caesar Creek Lake

As I mentioned after both the New Year's flight and in March, they've drained Caesar Creek Lake in order to build a new marina. It seemed even lower tonight as I was able to spot more remnants of its before-it-was-a-lake past. We spotted a couple old roads and even an old bridge that normally lie well beneath the water's surface. The old road / old infrastructure geek in me was quite satisfied with these findings.

Crossing over OH-73 in the middle of the lake

Old roads and a bridge that usually lie under the water

They've clearly brought in some fill dirt to help construct the new marina

Leaving the lake behind and flying west, I made a low pass over the gliderport, then briefly flew down the valley before climbing up to 2,500 feet. I did two 720-degree steep turns, one to the left and another to the right. Neither were perfect but I held altitude within 100 feet and speed within 5 knots, so I was relatively satisfied. I think Gina was more than ready to be done at that point, too, so I didn't attempt any further refinement.

Heading south down the valley after sightseeing over the lake

We descended into the pattern behind the 150 and I came in for a normal landing. Not having followed my standard "thou shalt cease all flying after a greaser" philosophy, I promptly flared too high and the wings decided they were done flying about one foot above the ground. Thud. Yep, that was more of an arrival than a landing.

I came back around one more time and gave a better performance for the nonexistent airport bums. Going for a power-off 180, I went full right rudder and left aileron to make a turning forward slip from downwind all the way to landing. I lost the altitude perfectly but rolled out with about 5-10 knots of extra airspeed. We touched down smoothly but bounced slightly as the wings weren't quite ready to stop flying. Sort of the opposite of landing numero dos, I suppose.

All in all, having not flown a Cub in two months (!!) it was a successful evening behind the stick. If my travel schedule and free time stop conspiring against my logbook, I certainly hope to fly much more in the near future. Either way, both of us sure as heck enjoyed the warm breeze through the open door at 1,500 feet this evening.

Cubbin' is the way to go. Especially when it's warm out. Trust me.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 0.8 hours
Total Time: 327.8 hours

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Squishy solo time in the Skyhawk

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: 40I-MGY-40I
Weather: Clear, 58 degrees, wind light and variable

The grass was plenty mushy thanks to some hearty spring rains over the past week, but thankfully it was still firm enough to allow for a little aviating this evening. Gina was working in the office so I took the Skyhawk up solo for another practice session. Warm temperatures made for a quick start of the O-300 after two shots of primer. I ran through most of my pre-takeoff checks on the concrete pads; once I pushed the throttle and started rolling, I never stopped to avoid getting stuck in the soft, muddy turf.

Turning east while climbing to head north of the airport for practice

I climbed straight out to pattern altitude before turning east and climbing up to around 3,500 feet. First I did a couple steep turns in each direction at 45. and then 60 degrees of bank. I held all the numbers pretty well and was satisfied so on went the carb heat, throttle back, slow into the white arc, and gradually add in 30 degrees of flaps. Chugging along in slow flight with the stall horn chirping, I pulled the throttle to idle, yoke all the way back into my chest, and managed three or four clean power-off stall breaks.

Everything was going quite well as I cleaned the airplane up, then raised the nose and pushed in full power while climbing at about 80 MPH. Keep pulling the yoke back, back, back... this thing ends up pretty nose-high before it stalls with one occupant and light fuel! I got a pretty hefty break with a noticeable drop of the left wing. Hmm, try again with more rudder - same result. It was much the same on the third try. All perfectly within limits, but I think I need to go up and do a little more power-on stall work in the 172. Wanting to get in a few landings before sunset, I quickly steep spiraled the 1,500 or 2,000 feet down to pattern altitude.

Everything's greening up quite nicely these days!

Given the field conditions, I ventured over to Wright Brothers to touch the wheels to pavement. Both circuits around the pattern were thoroughly successful. Neither landing was a total greaser but the stall horn was blaring when the mains touched and everything felt nice and smooth. Calm winds led to two of those wonderfully smooth "have we even left the ground?" takeoffs, too.

The sun was nearing the horizon as I returned to Stewart

I went around on my first landing - not because anything was wrong but because Gina was driving a golf cart alongside the runway putting out lanterns for a night flight and I thought it would be nice to say hello. Coming back around, I set the plane down softly past the threshold with a little power left in and successfully avoided the ruts marked by cones off to the side. Lots of power was required to taxi through a few particularly squishy spots but the airplane and I made it back to the tiedown unscathed. It sure is nice to be flying on warm evenings again!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 0.9 hours
Total Time: 327.0 hours

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Welcoming spring with some soft field practice

Plane: Cub, 85 hp 
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Clear, 47 degrees, wind 330 degrees at 7 knots

Flying time is always hard to come by in the winter and my weekly agenda thus far in 2015 hasn't made it easier than usual. I was finally home with time to spare this morning and the springlike air was reason enough to brave mushy grass for some stick time. Emerson and I chatted about the field conditions upon my arrival, which were typical for March at Stewart - land a few hundred feet past the marked threshold, hug the south side of the runway next to the cones, and avoid the west end of the field.

He propped me and I launched into true soft field mode; once moving, I never stopped while I was on the soft, muddy turf. I did my run-up while taxiing to the runway and soon pushed in full throttle and launched skyward. With a decent wind nearly on the nose, cool temperatures, and being solo in the rear seat, the big Cub climbed fast. I leveled off at pattern altitude (1,800 feet) before turning crosswind each time around.


I had to knock off a little rust but I was satisfied with every landing. I made three laps around the pattern before flying east over the lake for a little sightseeing. Even with the snow melt, the water was still low and you could see some old foundations like we spotted in January. I climbed up to about 2,500 feet and did some steep turns, then flew back north of the airport and quickly descended back to pattern altitude with a steep spiral.

Wanting to check the other end of the field, I made a low pass and circled back around for my final landing. Coming in over the trees with a bit of power, I flared and touched extremely softly for a perfect three-pointer. That sure felt good.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 0.8 hours
Total Time: 326.1 hours

Monday, March 2, 2015

Cub vs Champ

As someone who has spent significant time behind the sticks of both Cubs and Champs, this video really piqued my interest. It's a great comparison of the two classic trainers, both of which qualify under the Light Sport category. If you're new to flying or simply haven't had the opportunity to fly an old taildragger this is a perfect, quick way to learn more about the venerable J-3 and 7AC.


From my own perspective, the differences between the two planes are most apparent on takeoff and landing. Champs love to float and you need to manage your airspeed to avoid scooting well down the runway in ground effect; the Cub's boxier fuselage seems to bleed airspeed more quickly. On takeoff, they're spot-on in the video about how fast you can bring the Cub's tail up with moderate forward stick. I think the Champ spins a tad easier, too, but that's not exactly a standard (intentional) maneuver for most pilots...

Apologies for the lack of, well, anything on here in quite some time. I've been on the road for work a ton - the better part of three weeks and over 17,000 miles via the airlines since I last flew the Cub myself in January! With the return of Daylight Savings Time this weekend I hope my schedule will again permit regular stick time soon.