Sunday, October 19, 2014

Colors and currency in the Cub

Plane: Cub, 85 hp 
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Clear, 54 degrees, wind 250 degrees at 8 knots

We were blessed with a gorgeous fall afternoon. Gina was working at the airport in the morning and I drove down to meet her near the end of her shift. With a Cub open and peak colors all around, the only logical way thing to do was to take it all in from above!

First, however, I took the venerable taildragger around the pattern solo. I originally planned to make two trips but Gina was still finishing up in the office and two became four. With a strong wind almost directly down the runway, I was off and climbing quickly every takeoff. Due to the skydivers sharing the pattern, I climbed straight out and leveled off at pattern altitude just past the end of the runway before turning crosswind and downwind.

It didn't take long to run through the full gamut - normal, short, and soft field takeoffs and landings, plus a couple power-off 180s for good measure. I was really feeling it this afternoon; the first landing was a perfect greaser and the next three were nearly as good. Holding the brakes on takeoff, I was off the ground in less than the distance between two sets of cones. Flying solo in a Cub with a healthy wind down the runway never gets old.

Gina wandered over and climbed in the front after my fourth landing. Once she was buckled, I handed her the camera and rolled back onto Runway 26. I climbed west before turning north, slowly making our way past Waynesville before turning towards Caesar Creek Lake. I opened the window (a chilly proposition!) so she could get some unobstructed shots of the great scenery.

OH-73 heading east towards Waynesville

Not a foliage shot - I just like Cub strut photos!

US-42 winds south past Waynesville towards Lebanon

We flew low and slow, making our way south with a detour east around Harveysburg to peek at the Ohio Renaissance Festival. It seems like the trees surrounding the lake are full of color every fall and this year was no exception. Numerous boaters were out enjoying the CAVU day, too.

The southwest end of Caesar Creek Lake and the dam that created it

The colors on these trees next to Caesar Creek Lake were spectacular

We flew past the Ohio Renaissance Festival in Harveysburg - it was packed!

Crossing I-71 we spotted some vivid patches of color a few miles further south; I pointed the nose in that direction and Gina snapped more photos. Before long, it was quarter of three and I had to head towards Stewart to return the plane in time for the next lesson. We flew up the Little Miami River valley - another wonderfully scenic area, year after year.

I-71 just east of the Jeremiah Morrow Bridge between Cincinnati and Columbus

I've come to the conclusion that I land the Cub better solo. Every landing before Gina climbed on board was great. Feeling good, I elected to make one more power-off 180 upon our return. Rolling out of a full forward slip about 50 feet up, I flared a tad too high. The mains touched and we bounced off the grass. Not very high, but it just didn't feel right, so I immediately firewalled the throttle and went around. We came back around, power off again, and this time touched down safely... but still with far less finesse than my first four of the day.

A friend was doing spin training in the Champ - he landed just after we tied down

Still, it was a perfect day for an aerial color tour. Gina and I both enjoyed the view; the near-constant bumps didn't ruin it one bit. Given how much I've been traveling lately, I'm quite glad we managed to squeeze in our annual foliage flight before the trees went bare!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.2 hours
Total Time: 322.6 hours

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Cruising home and crossing 100 hours in the Skyhawk

Plane: Cessna 172 
Route: OZW-40I 
Weather - OZW: Broken clouds, 63 degrees, wind 180 degrees at 11 knots
Weather - 40I: Clear, 63 degrees, wind calm

After a couple more days in Michigan tending to some family business, it was time to head home. I originally thought we might be able to head home yesterday but low clouds hung around longer than originally forecast. But things finally improved today and by lunchtime the forecasts made it clear we could safely fly home mid-afternoon.

My dad's neighbor very kindly drove us to the airport. She's never flown in a small airplane and was curious; I showed her around and answered her questions while doing my preflight. I owe her a flight! I settled the fuel bill at the FBO (making a phone call to have your tanks topped off with 100LL never gets old!) and we said goodbye. We had to back-taxi down the runway due to some paving activity on the taxiway. A few minutes later, we were airborne off Runway 13 and I waved the wings to say goodbye as we climbed straight out before turning south on course.

Proof that, while clearly rusty, I still know how to call FSS and give a PIREP!

A final pre-takeoff check of the METARs and TAFs enroute indicated broken clouds remained near home. So I leveled off at 2,500 feet and contacted Detroit Approach for flight following. About a half hour in, after a handoff to Toledo Approach, it became clear the weather was quickly changing. I pulled up the METARs again on my phone and, low and behold, everything ahead was in the clear. I told Toledo we were climbing and went on up to 6,500 feet. Once I leveled off, we'd gained 10-15 knots thanks to a slight tailwind. I even did my pilot's civic duty and called Cleveland Radio with a PIREP confirming the sudden clear skies near Findlay.

Everything smoothed out above the (former) cloud tops and we had a very comfortable remainder of the trip. We were making 115-125 knots across the ground and quickly ticked off the remaining miles. Columbus Approach stepped me down as we neared Dayton and I essentially maintained a constant descent all the way to pattern altitude. After a very minor deviation over Kettering so Gina could take a photo of the high school where she teaches, I entered the pattern at Stewart. We touched down softly on Runway 26 under clear blue skies.

Our full trip up and back, which consumed just under two calendar days

The trip home today also included a new logbook milestone. I crossed 100 hours in a single airframe for the first time! As of today, I have in 101.9 hours N2814L. We came quite close on the way up; when I shut down Monday night the Hobbs had me sitting at 99.9 hours. It used to seem certain that I'd first cross the milestone in N60338, but I just don't fly the 150 that often anymore. I'll likely check it off before too long, however, since I'm only 5.1 hours away in her.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 2.0 hours
Total Time: 321.4 hours

Monday, September 29, 2014

Back up to Michigan - at night!

Plane: Cessna 172 
Route: 40I-OZW
Weather - 40I: Clear, 80 degrees, wind 290 degrees at 5 knots
Weather - OZW: Clear, 67 degrees, wind calm

It's getting to the point that 40I-OZW is a route I can traverse without a map. We had to head back up to Howell again to tend to my dad. Gina and I both worked all day so we planned a (partial) night flight. Good thing I've managed to maintain my currency most of this year!

There are reason one does the preflight inspection. Today I realized the landing light wasn't working. While not absolutely required, it seemed prudent to have one at my disposal for my first night landing at OZW. So our departure was delayed by a few minutes while Emerson grabbed a new bulb from the hangar and kindly installed it in the port wing.

Night flights don't produce much to see until short final... but the sunset sure was spectacular!

We were in the air by 6:30 and I quickly turned on course. The skies were CAVU near home, though a cold front was slowly moving southeast across Michigan. I knew from the forecasts that we'd make it up there with no issues. But I wasn't 100% sure if any clouds would necessitate an early descent from our 5,500 foot cruise altitude.

You could easily see 50 miles - away from the sun, at least

The evening haze was more apparent looking west at downtown Dayton

It was certainly a beautiful evening to fly. Night flying is wonderful - not just due to the sparkling view of towns and cities below, nor the ease of spotting traffic, but especially because of the smooth air. Trimmed out, I was able to fly mostly hands-off and enjoy the view of sun dipping below the horizon as we cruised northward.

That view and she's on her Nexus?! The pilot in me shakes his head... :)

By the time we crossed the Michigan-Ohio border, it was quite dark outside. I saw some clouds to the northwest accented against the last gasps of daylight; they were still safely above our altitude. Before long, however, it was time to begin our scheduled descent. I slowly let down to 2,000 feet at around 300 fpm.

I spotted Livingston County's rotating beacon 20-25 miles out and notified Detroit Approach. They cut me loose with a friendly "squawk VFR"  about 10 miles later. The pattern was empty and - at least at a somewhat unfamiliar airport - I prefer a slightly longer final at night, so I flew towards the final approach fix on the approach plate for Runway 31. That put me on a roughly two mile left base. I turned final, maintained the glideslope with the PAPI, and touched down really, really softly with nary a squeak precisely two hours after takeoff.

Since my sister was still on her way to pick us up and - admittedly, my primary reason - I try and take advantage of any opportunity to extend my night currency, we made three more circuits around the pattern. None of those landings were quite as good as the first one (quit while you're ahead and whatnot...) but all went well and, within minutes, I was  legal to carry passengers at night for another 90 days. Heavy rain moved in a few hours later as promised, but by then we were comfortably relaxing indoors. 

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 2.6 hours
Total Time: 319.4 hours

Friday, September 26, 2014

Certified in the small Cub again

Plane: Cub, 65 hp 
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Clear, 77 degrees, wind 060 degrees at 6 knots

I've needed to get checked out in the little Cub again for months. They changed the trim wheel (during its last annual, I think) and it operates a bit differently than the old one. So everyone has been required to fly it with an instructor before they can fly it again solo.

Since I was at the airport all day - helping a friend prepare for a private airshow - and the weather was beyond perfect, I snagged CFI Dave and N77500 for a few minutes to finally check the checkout off my to-do list. I hadn't flown with him in over two years! Flying aside, it was great to hop back in the cockpit with a familiar face.

0.3 on the Hobbs doesn't consume much map real estate!

He had me climb straight out to 2,500 feet, make a turn, roll in full nose up trim, and let go of the stick. The nose quickly rose through the horizon - which was the point of the lesson. The old trim couldn't apply anywhere near as much force. I pulled on the carb heat, held the stick back against my chest, and did a couple power-off stalls. Dave kicked in a bit of left rudder but I countered and we avoided a full spin.

That was all he needed to see, so we turned back towards Stewart. Abeam the numbers I pulled the throttle to idle and he told me to land at the third set of cones. I pushed in full rudder, a bunch of left stick, and turned from downwind to final in a full slip. We touched down maybe 10 feet before the cones. That wouldn't have met every FAA requirement, but Dave was satisfied with my total greaser. I was, too.

Total time from decision to fly to engine shutdown: 30 minutes, tops. Gotta love Stewart.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 0.3 hours
Total Time: 316.8 hours

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Flying from few to solid overcast on the way home

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: OZW-40I
Weather - OZW: Few clouds, 64 degrees, wind 300 degrees at 7 knots
Weather - 40I: Overcast, 60 degrees, wind 330 degrees at 5 knots

After a couple days in Howell, it was time to head home this afternoon. I'd been tracking the forecast since I flew up and, with each update, the clouds in Ohio were expected to clear later and later. But the weather was still VFR and I knew I'd make it. The trip just required slightly more advance mental planning, which ended up working out great.

My sister dropped me off at Livingston County Airport just past 3:00. I wheeled my bag out to the 172, loaded everything in the baggage compartment, untied the tie-downs, and did a thorough preflight. All checked out so - since I'd topped off the tanks upon arrival - I started the engine and taxied down to the end of Runway 31.

You can definitely observe the changes in cloud cover at 8x actual speed

There were a few other planes inbound and one called a few miles out, planning to land on Runway 13. Traffic had been using 31 and I was sitting at that end, so I made my "taking off on Runway 31" call. He came back on the radio asking what runway was in use, I said the wind was mostly down 31 but I'd be out of there in a minute. In the end, he changed his mind and entered the pattern for 31.

The sky was nearly clear in Michigan so I decided to climb to 4,500 feet, knowing I'd likely have to descend partway home. I knew there was better radar coverage up there, which would facilitate the handoff from Toledo Approach to Indy Center - should I be able to remain high enough, long enough. On the way up at 3,500 feet, Columbus Approach couldn't hand me off to Indy and I had to call Toledo and restart flight following from scratch.

Interstate 94 west of Ann Arbor

Crossing over the Maumee River southwest of Toledo

While there were some bumps, the air was smoother than Sunday. I hit some good pockets of rising and cooling air along the way but overall spent far less time correcting my heading and altitude. Visibility was again spectacular, easily 50+ miles for the first half of the flight.

Clouds were still scattered at this point

Near Lima the clouds began to increase in coverage and their bases began to drop. Thankfully, I was able to hold 4,500 feet just long enough to get the handoff to Columbus Approach. As soon as I checked in with them I began a slow descent to 2,500 feet. It's always nice when you plan ahead and it works out in the air.

Columbus vectored me east towards Springfield to avoid Dayton's arrivals/departures and C-17s practicing approaches at Wright-Patt. I got a nice view of the behemoths turning in the pattern as I made my way south. Roughly abeam the Air Force base they turned me back on course. Visibility was still fine, probably 20-30 miles, but the clouds had become a solid overcast. And that's why I descended earlier!

Now underneath a broken layer somewhere east of Sidney

A familiar landmark for Dayton locals - Young's Jersey Dairy

I called Stewart in sight a bit over 10 miles out. Approach cut me loose, I squawked VFR, and made my final descent to pattern altitude. There was only a Cub in the pattern as I crossed midfield and turned downwind for Runway 26. The wind was light and I managed one of those awesome 172 landings where I had the yoke all the way back, stall horn blaring, right as the mains touched the grass. Not a bad way to end a trip.

Even factoring in my time on the ground in MI and my drive home, I still saved 45 minutes compared to driving. And there was far less traffic. On a related note, this was another good example of a flight where an instrument rating would've been quite handy. Instead of the mid-flight descent, I could've flown all the way at 8,500 feet to take advantage of a (slightly) better tailwind before descending through the clouds near Dayton. Oh well, it'll happen. In due time.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 2.0 hours
Total Time: 316.5 hours