Sunday, June 5, 2016

A little Deutschland flying in a Mooney

Plane: Mooney M20
Route: EDLN, Local 
Weather: Haze, 81 degrees, wind 350 degrees at 5 knots

After ten days of crazy work leading up to and kicking off the big trade show, it's time for vacation. Gina flew over a couple days ago and this afternoon - after spending a few hours seeing the show as tourists - Rainer, a coworker and fellow pilot, took us up in his Mooney. He and I have talked airplanes and aviation plenty of times when he's in the US; it was great to finally experience general aviation in Germany.

Our route over North Rhine-Westphalia

He shares his Mooney with four other pilots. They base it at Düsseldorf Mönchengladbach Airport, which is about 10 miles outside the city. Today the airport serves purely GA traffic, however it has been served by some commuter and budget airlines in the past. It's towered and the security reminds me of air carrier airports in the US as key cards and badges are required to access the tarmac through the terminal.

Mooneys, Mooneys everywhere (and some other planes, too)

The now-unused passenger terminal at Mönchengladbach Airport

No moving your own airplane - have to wait for the FBO staff with the tug

Rainer finishing his preflight

Rainer called the FBO while we were driving to the airport to request that the airplane be pulled out of the hangar. As you can see above, they're rather expertly arranged inside. In fact, owners aren't even allowed to move their airplanes until they're outside.

Once the preflight was complete we all climbed onboard. He got the ATIS and we got situated, then he started the engine and things proceeded much as they do on this side of the Atlantic. The whole international standardization of aviation is quite handy at times. The tower controller cleared us to taxi to the end of Runway 31.

Lots of nice electronic goodies in the cockpit

Taxiing to the runway

Although Rainer is a CFI, I was still a little surprised when he asked if I wanted to take off and fly for a bit. Obviously most of us pilot folk don't turn down a chance to pilot an airplane. Once I reminded him I don't do much complex flying (i.e. none) and he still thought I was capable, that was that. I taxied us to the runway and - cleared for takeoff - I advanced the throttle and soon lifted off and into the blue German sky. He managed the propeller and I believe I retracted the gear upon his instruction, though I honestly don't recall the latter.

Takeoff - not bad for my first in a retract, if I do say so myself

There's a surprising amount of farmland not that far outside of town

There's a specific departure route to avoid the airspace and arrivals at Düsseldorf Int'l. While on the ground he had pointed it out on the map and the controller gave further instructions. Once airborne, I followed it by essentially following a freeway and remaining below a specific altitude until we were about 5 miles west of the airport.

Once in more open airspace and leveled off, he helped me trim out the airplane (the electric trim is on the pilot's yoke) and pointed out some local sights. They have a radar datalink on one of the screens; he updated that to keep tabs on some developing storm cells to our southwest. I did my best to keep us reasonably level while taking in the view.

Looking at the latest radar on the panel, I believe

The trees along the road here caught my eye

As we flew away from the city we ran into some showers...

...eventually turning around to avoid this thunderstorm to our southwest

Eventually, with the weather continuing to trend towards the iffy category, I turned around and we headed back towards Düsseldorf. The visible cloud-to-ground lightning bolts may have also contributed to the decision. Now, it really was just a pop-up cell, but it was in our way (Rainer had hoped for us to fly further that direction, towards the mountains and better scenery) and going around it wasn't a great option. So instead we headed back northeast.

We saw plenty of windmills as you may expect 

Cologne from 20 miles out - you can spot the famous cathedral if you look carefully

Düsseldorf from the south, with the main airport visible in the distance

The Rhine River snaking southward from Düsseldorf 

Seems like all large German cities have a tall tower with a restaurant on top

The terrain becomes more hilly as you continue eastward 

One final view of Düsseldorf before we turned back to land

We flew past the city on the south side, enjoying seeing all the spots I've spent the better part of the past ten days - the Altstadt, the parks along the Rhine, and the Messe - from above. Cologne (where we'll be heading tomorrow) was also visible from 20-25 miles away through the summer haze.

As we made one final 180 to head back to the airport, Rainer requested a practice approach, which the controller granted. He engaged the autopilot, which precisely flew the approach back to Runway 31. Disengaging on final, he brought us down for a very soft landing after about 45 minutes in the air.

Once everything was shut down and packed up, we wandered back through the mostly-deserted terminal and Rainer drove us back to our hotel. Obviously our thanks go out to him for the awesome airplane ride; I seriously owe him a Cub ride next time he's in Dayton! It was really fun and interesting to compare how things work at home versus overseas - and to see a foreign city from a familiar perspective. User fees aside, everything honestly felt just about the same. Well I suppose we speak a tad less German to the line guys, too.

Thanks as always to Gina putting up with me sitting up front while she takes photos in the rear! :)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Eight years later

Plane: Cub, 65 hp 
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Clear, 68 degrees, wind 010 degrees at 9 knots

As I started my flight training in 2008, I was just about to embark on my first trip to Germany. I was on my way to Düsseldorf for drupa, the biggest printing trade show in the world. I often call it the Olympics of printing, as historically it's been held every four years. Most of you know I work for Kodak in inkjet printing (I was in R&D at the time) and that was the reason for the trip.

Eight years later, I'm once again packing my bags in preparation for drupa; it begins next week. My career has certainly progressed and my involvement in many things has increased. Long hours and significant travel - nearly all related to the trade show - are much of the reason I simply haven't had much time to fly thus far in 2016.

I've certainly flown plenty this year, just on American Airlines. The statistics have continued to skew in favor of the airlines since my last flight. As of this evening my total hours / miles this year are 2.4 / 114 PIC and 161.8 / 59,884 as a ticketed passenger. Quite the dichotomy.

Prior Years: 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015

So, while the pilot portion of my life was unquestionably somewhat lacking over the past year, life itself was again full of many memorable experiences:
  • Gina and I took a bucket list of a vacation last summer, spending five incredible weeks in Australia, New Zealand, and Bora Bora
  • Tons of other travel - 15 states and 8 countries (first visits to Australia, Belgium, China, French Polynesia, Luxembourg, and New Zealand)
  • I got to fly on the Wright B Flyer!
  • Taking a few coworkers up for the first time on a beautiful fall evening
  • Bringing my friend and ringer (Chris' term!) up Cubbin' for some great aerial camerawork
  • Going hang gliding for the first time in New Zealand
  • We even managed one overnight flying trip to Kalamazoo for a weekend of WMU football
Unfortunately, albeit for only the second time in these eight years, the weather on my actual birthday was not flyable. Showers and low ceilings moved in mid-afternoon and by the time I was able to leave work there was clearly no Cubbin' to be had. Gina and I hit up a couple great local breweries for birthday drinks and made plans to squeeze the flight in over the weekend.

Looking out over the farmland east of the airport just after takeoff

Today's weather was perfect, save for gusty winds from the north most of the day. I mowed, went for a run, and took care of some other trip preparations until the wind calmed down in the evening. We climbed into the Cub a little past 7:30 pm, got a prop from (owner) Cub, and were soon sailing through the extremely clear, blue sky.

Still plenty thankful to have a wife who enjoys the front seat of a Cub! :)

There's something about taking off with zero plans in a Cub that both a) perfectly clears one's mind and b) just feels right. Originally I was thinking about flying around downtown but it's still mid-May and, while quite comfy on the ground, it was honestly a tad chilly with the door open (as it should be - it's a Cub, people). So instead I just sort of flew around the lake and enjoyed the view of both the boats on the water and the extremely green foliage passing 1,000 feet below.

The new marina at Caesar Creek Lake is up and running

Over the lake and heading back towards the airport

We re-entered the pattern maybe 20 minutes later behind the other Cub. Having flown so little this year, I absolutely wanted to get in my three takeoffs and landings to extend my currency another 90 days. With a strong but steady direct crosswind I managed a solid landing on the first try. I thought it was worse at first but eventually I realized the giant lawn roller was sitting next to the tractor for a reason - the field's rather bumpy at the moment!

The next two laps around the pattern were not significantly different. Not my best takeoffs or landings, but more than serviceable given the crosswind and my personal rustiness. I taxied back to the hangar and we pushed the venerable J-3 inside as the sun decided to touch the horizon.

The sun was setting by the time we'd pushed the Cub back in the hangar

I certainly realize this blog (along with many other things on my to-do list) has fallen victim to my relatively insane schedule this year. Like it or not, there are things I need to do and things I want to do. Flying has taken a little bit of a back seat although I have every intention of jumping right back in as soon as possible. In fact, we're really hoping to take at least a couple trips before the summer's over. Here's hoping things calm down a bit after drupa.

Until then, safe flying everyone!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 0.8 hours
Total Time: 349.9 hours

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Stewart from the sky

While I may not be flying myself much right now I'm glad to see others are enjoying the magic of Red Stewart Airfield. I've said for a long time that there just aren't many places like it anywhere. A little grass strip, full of taildraggers, owned by the same family for 70 years.

It's definitely the kind of place hangar flying and vintage aviation came to exist.

Hope you enjoy this great video someone captured of the airfield - it really gives you a true feeling what the place is all about.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

I flew myself for a change!

Plane: Cub, 85 hp 
Instructor: Tommy
Route: 40I-MGY-40I 
Weather: Clear, 40 degrees, wind 130 degrees at 7 knots

So that whole New Year's goal of working on the IR is somewhere off in the weeds at the moment. It's a drupa year at work, which in the printing world means we're all working crazy hours preparing for the big show. That's also led to a significant uptick in my travel schedule.

Although many to-do list items may be pushed aside at the moment, I'm sure as heck not going to stop flying completely! My statistics are significantly skewed towards the commercial variety at the moment - about 36.3 hours in aluminum tubes (and soon to be many more) compared to 1.6 hours PIC. Fortunately this evening was a rare spring combination of good weather and me actually being in Dayton, so I jumped at the opportunity to get Cub current again.

It's been so long since my last Cub excursion that I had to go up with an instructor! Thankfully friend-who-happens-to-be-a-great-CFI Tommy was available. We topped the fuel tank with 7.7 gallons of 100LL and launched off Runway 8 in the evening twilight.

Sunset from the pattern before my final landing

I first made two landings at Stewart, both pretty decent and the second after a simulated engine-out. Tommy then suggested we fly over to Wright Brothers. Considering I can't even recall the last time I landed a taildragger on pavement it was certainly good practice!

The result both times was something in between a wheel and three-point landing. Hindsight suggests I should have held it off a little longer (if going for the full-stall variety) to get the stick full back upon touchdown for better tailwheel control. As it was, it took a couple seconds after touching down before I really felt the tailwheel come alive on the pedals. All in all, not bad.

With the sun low on the horizon I flew back towards Stewart, quickly circling over the lake to check on the progress of the new marina. Then I entered the pattern and attempted a power-off 180 that ended in a few inglorious bounces on the turf. Tommy and I think alike - "that sucked, can't end like that, let's go around the pattern one more time!" I opted for a more standard approach; the second and final attempt was much better.

Tonight's route over SW Ohio

At this point it's hard to promise frequent flying updates. I certainly intend to fly as much as possible but the "possible" part is hard to define right now. However, daylight hours are longer again and I can usually find someone who wants to carve up the sky in a Cub. Especially once we're flying with the door wide open. I'll see what I can do.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.0 hours
Total Time: 349.1 hours

Friday, February 5, 2016

A squishy first flight of the year

Plane: Cessna 172 
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Clear, 40 degrees, wind 200 degrees at 10 knots

Thus far the new year is much like 2015 in that I've been quite busy with work and travel. We've also had some rather windy days that kept me on the ground. So today, after a few long nights at work earlier in the week, I left work early to take advantage of a nice afternoon and climb back into the cockpit.

I had hoped to fly a Cub but both were booked solid; we pilots do think alike sometimes. The 172 was wide open, however. After a thorough preflight (I hadn't flown 2814L in a while!) I started the engine and prepared myself for some soft field work. It's certainly not unusual to find the field soggy early in the year but even I was surprised how much muck I encountered upon arrival.

I can still carve nice rectangles into the sky!

The turf was muddy enough that I knew this would be one of those constant-movement days; from the time I taxiied off the tiedown until I returned and shut down the engine the tires never stopped rolling. Surprisingly, all my takeoffs and landings were pretty damn good today. I held the yoke back against my chest to get the plane off the ground as quick as possible and accelerate in ground effect. I kept in a little power during the roundout and flare and the mains touched lightly on all three landings.

Where I could spot the rust was in my actions around the pattern. Not flying the rectangle itself but in how I went through the flow of everything from takeoff to landing. I wasn't behind the plane yet I certainly wasn't very ahead of the plane, either. Everything - leveling off, trimming, lowering the flaps, reducing power - just felt a bit jerky, not smooth like it is when humming along in full, comfortable currency.

Things improved by the third lap and I finished with a very soft and relatively short landing. All things considered it was a great, brief afternoon in the sky. Knocked off a little rust and kept my soft field skills sharp. With the days getting longer I hope to spend more time flying and less time simply hanging onto currency by a thin string in the coming months!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 0.6 hours
Total Time: 348.1 hours