Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Thanks to all of you who read this blog, comment, and otherwise share in our common love of aviation. I'm thankful for all this year provided and am looking forward to another great year of travel, flying, and fun myself. I hope each and every one of you have a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!



Please share any thoughts/feedback/suggestions you have about the blog by leaving a comment on this post or sending me an email - I'm always looking to improve the content and better engage you readers.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

This Cub's got a little Captain in it

Although I've never seen this live, it's one of the greatest airshow performances I've ever seen. The comedy is good but it's the incredible flying skill that seals the deal. I sure want to see Kyle Franklin do this with my own Mark I eyeballs some day because this man is one hell of a pilot.



Hope you enjoyed it as much as me!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Seattle Mileage Run

While I haven't been doing much flying lately, I have in fact been doing a lot of flying in airplanes. In the first 10 days of November alone I flew almost 9,400 miles to bring my total for the year to about 21,700 miles. But even with this crazy end-of-year increase in my flying, I haven't been in the skies anywhere near as much as in 2008. Last year, with plenty of help from trips to Germany/Austria and Japan, I flew over 52,500 miles.

So what does that mean to most of you reading this? Probably not too much, other than it may sound like I fly commercial too much. On the other hand, to at least a few fellow frequent flyers out there, this probably seems like a ripe opportunity for a mileage run. What's a mileage run? To put it simply, it's when you book a trip to get as many miles as possible and - in many cases - to get yourself over the hump to the next status level for your frequent flyer program.

With over 50K miles flown last year I'm currently a Gold Medallion on Delta. If you travel even semi-frequently it's wonderful for all the eliminated fees, priority boarding and (of course) the free upgrades to first class. Anyway, I needed to get to at least 25K miles by December 31st to make Silver Medallion and my one remaining business trip wasn't going to put me over the magic number. So I searched long and hard and found a dirt-cheap fare ($244 w/taxes) from Dayton to Seattle and back this past Saturday, then worked the routing to fly as many miles as possible.

When all was said and done, I managed to accumulate 6,309 MQMs (those are the miles that count towards elite levels) and - thanks to bonuses and other promotions - ended up with 19,241 total miles out of the trip. That comes out to 1.27 cents/mile, which is quite a bargain in the land of mileage running. If you're still curious, continue on below as I recap the adventure segment-by-segment.

A slideshow of my photos from the entire mileage run


DAY-MSP | NW5085 | CRJ | Seat 3A, Coach Class | 2h 19m

And so it began. I departed Dayton just past 7:00 am on Saturday the 5th, a bit tired having only slept about 4 hours the night before. Bad idea when you're embarking on a 24 hour journey across the country and back, in case you're wondering. I managed to read a couple magazines and snapped a few photos enroute. We picked up some time on our way and landed about 15 minutes early.

Also I need to note that it was one of the Gate Agents in Dayton that was able to switch my itinerary to add the extra MSP-CMH segment. Originally, I had booked DAY-MSP-DTW-SEA for the outbound but I knew from my online route planning that I could add in an additional leg since I had 2-hour layovers in both Minneapolis and Detroit. Yes, most folks would think it's odd to add a fourth segment but that netted me an extra 598 miles. Woo-hoo!

MSP-CMH | NW7226 | DC-9 | Seat 4A, First Class | 1h 50m

Due to adding the aforementioned segment, this was my shortest connection of the entire trip at only thirty minutes. Since I was (intentionally) sitting near the front of the plane from Dayton, I quickly deplaned, caught the tram, and was at the gate across the terminal within ten minutes. Boarding was already underway so I walked straight on to the plane and took my seat. I felt a built guilty starting this early but, given the journey ahead, didn't care too much and had the flight attendant bring me an Irish Coffee.

Departing Minneapolis - St. Paul

We pushed back about five minutes ahead of schedule and had a quick taxi to Runway 17. Once airborne I got a great view of the airport as we climbed out before we soon were on top of an overcast. A small section of clouds broke and I was able to see the Lake Michigan shoreline just North of Chicago down below while I enjoyed another Irish Coffee. We passed by South Bend (I recognized the airport from above) and made our arrival into Columbus from the North. Touchdown was again a few minutes early and I spent my hour or so in the terminal checking the Internet on my iPod and wandering around the concourse.

CMH-DTW | NW3745 | CRJ | Seat 7A, Coach Class | 1h 9m

The shortest hop of the day, in the always-delightful CRJ... cough, ahem, cough. They're honestly not terrible but it is nice to be able to get out of your seat without smashing your head into something and that's usually not possible in these little spam cans. Then again, considering I usually fly a 150, who am I to complain?

It was overcast most of the way in but I did catch a brief glimpse of Cedar Point as we passed overhead on arrival into Detroit. We skimmed the tops of the clouds for a couple minutes and I was able to take some photos and video. Our arrival into Detroit was one I've made countless times so I was able to sight-see a bit as we headed down the chute. Once again, we landed early and I soon found myself wandering through my fourth airport of the day.

Three flights under my belt and I was only 200 miles from home. In a normal scenario? Crazy. During a mileage run? Great planning and routing! :)

Aircraft on the ramp at Detroit Metro

DTW-SEA | NW2269 | 757-200 | Seat 4A, First Class | 5h 14m

I took some more photos inside the McNamara Terminal and then called my Grandma on the phone. It's become a bit of a tradition that I always call her when I'm headed off somewhere on an airplane - to the tune that she now instinctively asks, "so where are you at now?" every time she picks up. We were able to catch up and talked for around 20 minutes before it was time to board and I hopped on the airplane.

Shortly after takeoff the flight attendants came around to take our dinner orders and I also asked for a margarita. While I'm still not a big fan of the Northwest/Delta merger (I was a loyal NW guy) I do have to hand it to them on the drink front - the switch to Coke from Pepsi and the Signature Cocktails (one of which is currently the margarita) are two major steps up in the cabin. The hot towels came about 15 minutes later, followed shortly by dinner. I ordered the barbecue chicken and it came with salad, potatoes, vegetables, and a delicious slice of pumpkin cheesecake. I also had a glass of white wine with the meal.

Throughout the flight, I talked a bit with the lady seated next to me. She was from Seattle but travels to Detroit semi-frequently on business. We talked about work, the airlines, Christmas decorations, and other random stuff and she also gave me a couple little tips for my very brief stay in Seattle. I was able to get through two more magazines (seriously, the only time I read anymore is when I'm on an airplane) on the flight before I turned my light off and napped for about an hour.

I really do tend to have good luck on most of my flights (knock on wood) and today proved to continue that streak as we made it to SeaTac about a half hour ahead of schedule. Aside from the fact that it's always nice to be early, it was especially helpful to me since I was able to catch an earlier bus downtown from the airport. I only had about three hours before I needed to be back at the airport so an extra half hour in the city was rather substantial. While waiting for the bus, a couple folks asked where I was coming from and (since most people get confused when you say you came from Dayton and are on your way to Dayton) they were quite amused by my mileage run and wished me luck.

Seattle

What do you do for three hours in a city you have never set foot in before? Well I hate to be a stereotypical tourist but I decided that a visit to the Space Needle seemed like a logical choice. The bus from the airport dropped me right downtown and I decided it would be easy enough (and good exercise) to walk the 10ish blocks to Seattle Center. I brought my tripod along for the journey, as I figured a fun way to spend my limited time in the city doing would be to take some neat photos.

I made it to the Needle, stopping a couple times en route to snap a shot from different vantage points. When I finally made it to the entrance at around 7:00 pm I saw a sign that said there was a private party so the observation deck would be unavailable after 6:00. Seriously?!? I just flew across the country and it's closed?!? Just my luck... and I'd even checked their website a couple days in advance to be sure it was open. Oh well, I honestly wasn't that annoyed and instead took some more exterior shots. It did mean I wouldn't be able to take any photos of the downtown skyline but I could live with that. Not like I won't make it back to Seattle sooner or later.

My first shot of the Space Needle

Taken from the lawn in front

I just like how this one turned out

Afterward I stopped for dinner at Golden Singha, a Thai restaurant I noticed on my earlier walk over from downtown. The place looked nice and busy so I figured it couldn't be too terrible, plus I expected at least half-decent Thai being on the West coast and all. I ordered the Chicken Pad Thai and the food was on the table in record time. It seemed to be a little family-owned place and I can attest that the noodles and chicken were very tasty. Perfect meal to fill me up and tide me over until breakfast the next morning - which really wasn't that far away since it was already about 11:30 Eastern time.

Westlake Ave / 5th Ave / Olive Way

I continued on back towards downtown and stopped to take some photos at an intersection along the way. Having the tripod on hand, I was able to play around with the shutter speed and aperture to get some nice exposures with all the traffic whizzing by. Then I walked one more block to Westlake Park and spent about 30 minutes photographing all the Christmas decorations and people wandering around downtown. There was a band playing Christmas music outside and the whole place was wonderfully festive. I hung around and enjoyed the vibe of the city for a few more minutes before it was time to head back to the airport. My total cost for the trip to/from the airport was a whopping $4.00 - I love good public transportation!

Christmas Decorations at Westlake Park

Seattle's downtown Christmas tree

The vibe sure made it feel like the most wonderful time of the year


Traffic and pedestrians at Pike St & 5th Ave

SEA-ATL | DL1060 | 757-200 | Seat 6D, First Class | 4h 38m

I had just settled into my seat when another guy about my age sat down next to me. We got to talking and it turns out he was also in Seattle on a mileage run; he was headed back home to Atlanta after about six hours on the left coast. Given the obvious connection we spent a whole boatload of time talking about various airline/travel stuff. Turns out we both use the FlyerTalk website (home of crazed frequent flyers like ourselves) so we got into discussing some of the tricks of the trade we've learned from others on there.

Since this was a red-eye flight, both of us wanted to get to sleep. I had a glass of red wine and a margarita and he had the same. Except neither of us was tired and we ended up talking a bit longer. So we had another margarita, and then another. The flight attendant was in a cheerful mood and kept bringing drinks to us so who were we to complain? After one more glass of red wine, I was definitely set for the night and we only had about 1.5 hours left before reaching Atlanta. Like I said earlier, there are definitely some perks to the whole elite thing. ;-)

Of course, I was setting myself up to be rather exhausted, since one hour of sleep doesn't do much for the body. We landed in Atlanta about 6:00 am (I think it was a little early again, but my mind wasn't exactly sharp at this point) and I went to the Gate Agent to see if I could go ATL-DTW-DAY instead of my direct ATL-DAY routing. Always gotta try for those extra miles! Unfortunately, it wasn't possible so I was stuck waiting around for about two hours until my scheduled flight. I wasn't all that keen on falling asleep and possibly missing my flight so I read a bit and grabbed a egg and sausage wrap for breakfast all while running on very limited sleep.


ATL-DAY | DL2088 | MD-80 | Seat 2D, First Class | 1h 36m

After what felt like forever waiting in the terminal, we boarded the airplane and I tried to fall asleep right away. I nodded in and out but never truly fell asleep as we were stuck in a looooooong line to be de-iced and the Captain kept coming on the PA with updates. We waited, and waited, and waited, and waited... let's just say I definitely had the true Atlanta experience. Finally, about 45 minutes behind schedule, our plane was de-iced and we headed out to the runway and departed.

I managed probably another 30 minutes of shut-eye on the way home until we were approaching the Ohio/Kentucky border. Looking out the window I saw many familiar sights and was able to take quite a few photos. One of the most interesting things to me was the smoke from a power plant being blown North by the prevailing winds - that plume must have traveled 75 miles out and I could still see where it was dispersing when we were almost to Dayton. It's kind of disgusting to think about all the things like that in our air, honestly!

Mmm, look at that delicious smoke pouring from the powerplant...

After a very scenic approach into the airport (we passed over downtown and the Air Force Base) we touched down about 45 minutes late. I really couldn't complain though, considering that 5/6 of my flights within the past 24 hours were early. Then I caught the first shuttle back to the parking lot, hopped in my car, drove home, and went straight to bed for an hour and a half. Enough to get some rest but not enough to screw up my sleep later that night. And come Sunday evening, I went to bed at 9:00 pm and slept for a good 10 hours straight until it was time to get up for work the next morning.

Back home in Dayton, the Birthplace of Aviation!

So was I completely crazy to go on this here mileage run? To some extent, yes, as it is definitely a physically draining experience. But overall I'd still say no way! How often do you get to wake up on a Saturday morning, bounce around the country on airplanes, have dinner in Seattle, and be back home in your own bed the next morning? Aside from the obvious reward in the form of miles, that sort of experience is simply hard to beat.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File

Monday, November 30, 2009

USAF Museum Series: Part 1

In lieu of my own flying tales, this post will serve as the first in a series. It's inspired by a request from blog reader Mr. Michael that he left in the comments earlier this month. Since I live all-but-next-door to the National Museum of the United States Air Force (technically speaking, though I and many others simply call it the Air Force Museum) he asked if I would be kind to visit and shoot some video. Considering that those of you reading this live all around the world, that's quite a reasonable request and I'm happy to oblige!

While today's post doesn't contain any video, I'm going to share two photos I've taken in prior visits to the museum. Over the upcoming winter season I will do my best to make a couple trips up there to record some video and take more photos. It will be a good way to keep the content flowing on here when it's hard to get airborne as often.

A few of the aircraft in the incredible R&D Hangar

Bell P-59B Airacomet, the first US jet fighter

In terms of my flying, I should mention that I crossed over the one year anniversary of passing my checkride last week on November 22nd. I was unable to get in the air that day to celebrate so my next flight will have to take the honor. As I've said on here before, it's very hard for me to get up much right now since I'm relegated to weekend-only flying. The joys of driving to and from work when it's dark... I have also been out of town roughly 8 of the past 10 weekends. Naturally, I'm getting quite restless having been on the ground for over three weeks and can't wait to get back in the sky!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Operation Raincheck at Cleveland Center

I have to put up a short post about the event I attended tonight at Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) in Oberlin, Ohio. Reason being it's probably the best little seminar I've attended in my two-ish years of attending such things. Not only was it extremely well organized but I also gained some amazing insight into the life behind the radar scope. Plus, I met up with blogging pilto friend Dave who was also there for the tour.

In today's security climate you don't often have the opportunity to go inside an ATC facility so I was quite fortunate to be able to do so. Ever since September 11th, visitor access to ATC locations has been severely limited at best. However, many ARTCCs throughout the country are beginning to revive programs aimed at teaching pilots about the Center environment - collectively, they're known as Operation Raincheck.

We started out with an hour-long presentation about the history of ATC and the specific breakdown of Cleveland's airspace. Then we split into three groups (four people each, with a controller escort) and toured the different areas inside the building. My group first went to the simulator room, then to the Traffic Management area, spoke with the meterologist, and finished up in the actual radar room listening in and watching controllers work live traffic.

Speaking with the Traffic Management folks really cleared up the whole reasoning behind how they coordinate with other ARTCCs to sequence traffic into the arrivals to major airports. We were able to view all the traffic across the country on monitors and see breakdowns of how they were being set up to flow perfectly into the arrival sequences. Even though this is an area I really don't deal with as a simple VFR pilot, it was really interesting to me.

Perhaps my favorite moment was seeing how the large display in Area 8 (the Southeast corner of Cleveland's airspace) was set up to color-code air traffic into major airports on the East coast. You may be as amused as we all were to learn they went by the colors of the local NFL teams - Philly was green, Dulles and Reagan were maroon and yellow, Baltimore was purple, etc. Good to see they find ways to keep things light in an environment that can be quite stressful. It goes without saying that this was an awesome experience and gave me a whole new perspective of the voices on the other side of the microphone!

Check the event listings on FAASafety.gov to see if your local ARTCC is scheduling any Operation Raincheck events. They tend to fill up quickly (at Cleveland they only have 15 slots on any given date) so be sure to check often if you're interested.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

AOPA Summit 2009

I made the trek down to Tampa last week to attend the first-ever AOPA Summit. While I've been to plenty of conferences for work before, this was the first time I've ever ventured off to one for fun. Just about everyone would probably agree that it's no Oshkosh but I still had a great time soaking up all things aviation for three days. There were plenty of highlights and I'm going to do my best to share them below in a somewhat organized fashion. But before I do that, a few general thoughts.

Downtown Tampa

There really is something special about the pilot community as a whole, even if you can't put your finger on any specific thing. I feel privledged to be a part of it and have enjoyed meeting so many great people over the past few years. As many of you know - or know me from - I spend a decent amount of time on the AOPA Forums. In spending time on any online community like that, you come to know people even if you've never met face to face. So it's great to attend an event like this where many of these folks come together. I had the opportunity to spend some time with MartyB again (I flew up to Wapakoneta for BBQ with him last month) along with meeting Dr. Bruce, Cap'n Ron, and Lou Betti for the first time. In addition, one of Ron's former students ran into us when we were out having a beer and I ended up going out to dinner with him and his friend and talking plenty of flying.

Every modern aviator knows John and Martha!

I was also fortunate to spend a couple minutes talking to John & Martha King (if you fly, you know who they are) after their seminar on Saturday. Having seen them on video I don't know how many times, I can say that they're exactly the same in person - helpful, great educators, and passionate about aviation. On top of that, I ran into Rod Machado later that day and had a nice five minute conversation with him about his Private Pilot Handbook (which I used and highly recommend, it's a great training resource) and my own experience flying. He was just as kind and funny as I would have expected and it was an honor to be able to tell him in person just how much I've enjoyed his work.

Looking out over the water from the Convention Center

Sunset on Thursday evening

As far as the event itself was concerned, the Tampa Convention Center was a pretty good location. Easy to get to (I stayed by the airport and took a local bus in every day - saved a TON of money buy doing it that way) and a very clean, nice facility. The only negative was their obscene food prices - I realize you get overcharged in any place like that, but it was insane. An apple danish and a bottle of Vitamin Water cost me $8.50! Needless to say, that's the only time I ate in there. Peter O. Knight Airport was a good choice for a local airport to hold the Airportfest part of the Summit. It would have been nice if the GA parking for folks that flew in was accessible from the static display area; other than that, there was ample space and lots to see. Without further adieu, here's the nitty gritty...

Thursday
  • Max Trescott, Night Flying - This was the first seminar I attended and Max provided lots of good tips for flying at night. I don't do much flying past sunset since I can't land back at Stewart solo (airport rule, and a logical one since it's unlit) so I'm always trying to learn more about it on the ground. Max is also a fellow blogger whose site I frequent so I was glad to be able to introduce myself and spend a couple minutes talking with him after the presentation.
  • Doug Ritter, 406 MHz ELTs & PLBs - Lots of great knowledge here by one of the foremost experts in survival. He explained the technology behind today's digital PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons) and ELTs (Emergency Locator Transmitters) and also gave in-depth information about the models currently available. Oh, and I won an ELT worth around $1K (per the MSRP) as a door prize so that was nice! ;-) Seeing as I don't own an airplane, I now have a brand-new EBC 406AP available if anyone's interested.
  • Beyond the $100 Hamburger: Public Benefit Flying - Another great seminar about all the ways pilots can take part in volunteer work. From organizations like Pilots N Paws and Veterans Airlift Command to discussions about offering to take local news reporters and politicians up in the air, I gathered a lot of useful information. I really would love to get more involved in these sort of things so hopefully I can act on some of the ideas and figure out ways to start volunteering.
  • Eat Well, Fly Well with Montel Williams - I never had known Montel's story before, just knew him from the tv show like most of us. Turns out he achieved many significant firsts (one of 4 out of 100 original cadets, if I recall correctly) early on in his life. He has nearly graduated into service as a fighter pilot before him and 100 other cadets accidentally received a 50x dose of the polio vaccination and he went blind in one eye. It was a very inspiring talk about how we can remain in control of who we want to be and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Caught a nice, shiny Cirrus arriving at Peter O. Knight

Friday
  • Rod Machado, Aviation Humor - Aside from his textbooks, Rod's well-known for his funny aviation writing and talks. I've seen videos online before but this was the first time I saw him in person and he certainly didn't disappoint. Sure, it only makes sense to us pilots, but had the whole room in tears a few times as he recounted some hilarious stories.
  • GA at the Movies luncheon - This was a separate event from the Summit and required an extra ticket, but I think it was worth it. We had a delicious three-course lunch and I ended up meeting some other pilots at my table (one from North Dakota, another from the Netherlands) and take part in the requisite hangar flying. The program included a short speech from Rep. Vernon Ehlers, one of the founders of the General Aviation Caucus in the House, along with clips and discussion with people involved in two aviation movies - A Pilot's Story and Amelia. It really was an enjoyable time and I learned a few new things to boot.
  • Brian Shul, Speed of Life - This was downright incredible, honestly worth the trip to Tampa in and of itself. Brian's a former SR-71 pilot who has, in his own words, lived two lives - the second beginning after he was badly burned and nearly died following a T-28 crash in the 70s. In later years, he wrote what is considered to be the best book ever written about the magnificent spyplane - Sled Driver. He gave one of the most inspiring talks I've ever had the pleasure to attend and his rare collection of Blackbird photographs (the world's largest set) shown on the screen was just icing on the cake. If you ever have the opportunity to see Brian speak, don't let it pass you by!
  • Tips from Controllers - More useful piloting information, especially for a lowly VFR guy like myself. I love learning everything I can about ATC and sessions like these - where all sorts of questions are posed by other pilots in the audience - provide so much value and insight into that side of the microphone.
The Lockheed Electra used in the filming of the movie Amelia

This might be my favorite shot of all...

What a beautiful aircraft - need I say more?

Now that's a nice 182 on floats

Saturday
  • John & Martha King, Risk Management - So as I said above, pretty much every pilot knows the Kings. Their status as aviation educators is legendary and you either love or hate their corny humor. For the record, I'm in the love camp. Anyway, this was an excellent seminar about how we can all work to manage risks every flight since failure in doing so is the cause of most aircraft accidents. They capped the hour off with a story about a terrifying flight many years ago where they almost lost their own lives due to not managing risks properly. I won't give it away for those who haven't heard them tell the story, but this is another one of those things I highly recommend you attend if you ever have the opportunity.
The next three sections go into detail about some of the other things I managed to do at the Summit. I spent about 4 hours total at Airportfest, looking at the aircraft on display and talking with the manufacturers. I'll also talk about the vendors I spent some in-depth time with as well as the ones I missed. Same goes for the seminars I wasn't able to attend; often times two or more seminars I was interested in were scheduled at exactly the same time.

There were upwards of 100 aircraft on static display

This little 3/4 scale Mustang was very cool

There's the Piper Jet in the middle

Airportfest
  • Cessna 162 Skycatcher - Not going to lie, I'm not a big fan. I didn't give it a thorough evaluation but in peering inside and around the outside the whole thing just felt a little cheap to me. It just didn't have the look and feel of something I can imagine spending $112,000 on. For that kind of money, there's lots of other LSAa (Light Sport Aircraft) out there.
  • Remos Aircraft - Speaking of other LSAs, they have some very well-built aircraft that are hard not to like. Again, I didn't fly in one or actually sit inside, but man was the fit and finish top-notch. Seeing as how one is the AOPA Sweepstakes plane for 2010, maybe I'll get the chance to have my own soon? :)
  • Velocity Aircraft - It's got a canard, it's got a big engine, it cruises at 270 knots. Well outside the range of anything I'll likely ever be able to own but wow, what an aircraft.
  • American Legend & Cubcrafters - The taildragger pilot in me gets way too excited when I see things of beauty like their Cubs. Sure, it's hard to imagine dropping over $100K for a Cub and I doubt I'll ever be able to... but man were these amazing machines. Ok, so the panel-mounted Garmin 696 felt a bit sacrilegious to me as well.
I'd kill to own one of these Cubs - FUNtastic, indeed

This is EAA's new sweepstakes plane - look at those tundra tires
!

They had some really cool cars at Airportfest on Saturday...

...so I couldn't help but take a few photos

Vendors
  • DTC DUAT - I use their service all the time for weather briefings (including on my cell phone, a feature I love) and filing the occasional flight plan and spent some time looking through new features they've implemented. They've got some great new graphical forecast products available now and it sounds like a few other new things are in the works. I also learned about a few things I've clicked past a hundred times but never knew were in there.
  • Frasca - Ok, so this was interesting... they had a Cirrus simulator there that was quite realistic, from the wrap-around 180 degree screen to the full cockpit with instrumentation and controls - you could even pop the BRS! Needless to say, I waited in line and when it was my turn I had only one thing I wanted to try, spins! Well, come to find out from the instructor sitting there controlling the thing, due to legal reasons the thing's programmed so that it can't spin! Apparently they don't want people trying spins in a sim, then later suing Cirrus for saying it can't recover from a spin because they were able to in the simulator. Or something like that. Not that I didn't try anyway! :) At the stall break I kicked in full rudder and the plane sort of flipped inverted like during an incipient spin, but the second I moved any control it righted itself. Clearly some funky software stuff going on there. Lame, I say!
  • Goodyear Aviation - Nothing much to report except they had a replica of the new moon tire they designed for future moon landings in a glass case, and it was pretty sweet looking.
  • Jeppesen - Another brief report, as the only thing I picked up was a free little airplane that lights up and spins its prop when you plug it into a USB port. Need I even tell you that it will be on my desk at work shortly?
  • Brightline Bags - You may recall I got one last Christmas and reviewed it on here earlier this year. Well, they've made a couple minor tweaks that I spoke with the owner about along with thanking him for such a great product. The updated bag has been enlarged slightly so foreign charts will fit inside, one of the front main pockets has additional fabric sewn to the sides so it won't flip open and let the contents spill out, and the zipper pulls have been changed to a much more solid plastic. I still love my bag and highly recommend anyone looking for a flight bag at least take a look over at the Brightline website.
Things I Missed
  • Seminars - Ditching and Water Survival, Buying Your First Airplane, Reducing the Cost of Aircraft Ownership, Mastering Takeoffs and Landings
  • Vendors - VirtualHUD (incredible technology - I'm still kicking myself for forgetting to go check it out) and Pilot Getaways Magazine
It was a bit windy, but at least it was right down the runway

Well there you have it, my overly detailed report on the AOPA Summit. I honestly didn't even realize just how much I crammed into three days until I sat down to quickly write this recap and have now spent three or four hours organizing my thoughts into something I feel fit to post. For those of you I saw down there, it was great to see/meet you in person! For those who didn't get the chance to go, I hope this gives you a good idea of the various things that were available. Finally, for everyone reading this, best wishes for clear skies and tailwinds!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Just me and the airplane

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I-MGY-40I
Weather: Clear, 67 degrees, wind 200 degrees at 8 knots

Apparently the fall weather got mixed up this year, since October was way more like November and November is currently doing its best October impression. Clear skies and 70 degree post-Election Day temperatures in these parts mean you darn well better try and get airborne. Thankfully, I reserved the 150 a couple weeks ago since I knew my travels would preclude me from doing tons of piloting this month. I arrived at Stewart shortly before noon, pre-flighted, and topped off the tanks - in shorts, no less!

Over 110 miles covered without ever leaving sight of home
While I had originally hoped to go somewhere today, the lack of recent flying time changed the mission to local practice for currency. I made four laps around the pattern at Stewart first, alternating normal and short field takeoffs and landings. My speed got a tad low for my liking a couple times on short final but three of the four landings felt good and my second two takeoffs were great. Not a bad start and I had a 60-degree crosswind to work with, too. Then I flew over to Wright Brothers and knocked out four more laps around the pattern in similar fashion. My first two landings were iffy as I got a tad slow again on short final, losing too much energy, and set down rather abruptly. On the bright side, the direct headwind made for some fun short field takeoffs with a minimal ground run. I also made one no-flap approach and landing along with an early crosswind-to-downwind turn following my third takeoff to clear the way for a departing jet.

A quick climb up to 3,500 feet or so and I was ready to practice maneuvers. I went through a series of Dutch Rolls, then transitioned into slow flight. I made a 180 to a heading of 200 to point directly into the headwind and see how slow I could get my ground speed. Then I pulled the power and made a few power-off stalls. All were coordinated and uneventful so I climbed up to 4,000 and did three power-on stalls. The first was good, the second nothing to write home about, and the third really good where the nose dropped without any roll of the wings at all. I still am a bit apprehensive about practicing power-on stalls in the 150 (since it loves to drop that wing in a heartbeat) but I forced myself to do a few and am glad I did. More practice is still in order - I absolutely need to feel totally comfortable doing them, in my own humble opinion.

Since I was up plenty high, I figured that would be a good time to practice forward slips. I didn't see any traffic (admittedly I didn't do a full series of clearing turns - more on that in a second) and pointed towards Stewart as I alternated left and right slips. About thirty seconds in, I saw something white out of the corner of my eye as I was in a left (meaning left wing low, right rudder fully deflected) slip and immediately released the controls to level off. Sure enough, I looked to the right and about three seconds later saw a Cherokee flying perpendicular to my path about 500 feet below. It's a see-and-avoid situation and I take total responsibility for not seeing the plane and performing additional clearing maneuvers. For the record, I don't think the other plane ever saw me even though they were a low-wing and should have had me in view. I also realize that having my left wing so low left me almost blind to traffic coming from that side. Needless to say, that's why a midair collision is perhaps my most feared thing about flying - even if you do everything right you still might never see the other plane until it's too late.

After checking very thoroughly for any more traffic, I continued my descent and decided to take a quick spin around the lake. There were a few boats out so I stayed around 600 agl to maintain legal separation but remain low enough to really enjoy the view. I circled around the East side of the lake, flew over the beach, rocked my wings to the folks below, and then pointed towards Stewart. I quickly realized I was passing close to the glider port (no traffic was in the air but I was still too close) and maneuvered to the right to avoid their pattern before heading back to the left so I could swing around to enter the pattern at Stewart. This time I came in for a short field landing and set the plane down smoothly on the grass.

My main issue with my performance today was situational awareness - primarily in navigating around the traffic pattern near the glider port as well as the close traffic during the forward slips. I always look for an area to improve upon next time out and there's no question where my weak spots were today. On the bright side, both the plane and I are fit to fly another day so I can carve a couple more notches into my experience tree. But that doesn't mean I'm satisfied with what happened and I can only strive to do better in the future.

I'm traveling like a mad man right now (Tampa, New York, and Oregon within ten days) so I haven't had much time to write. But I just wanted to let you all know I'm working on my post recapping my time at the AOPA Summit and hope to get it up here in the next day or two.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.8 hours
Total Time: 140.1 hours

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Heading to Tampa

Sorry for the recent lack of updates on here - I haven't flown in a couple weeks for a multitude of reasons. The weather hasn't been great, I've been out of town on the weekends, and now this past week and a half I've been working obscene hours due to a critical project. Needless to say, it's been a perfect storm that's kept me on the ground. I do at least have a 150 reserved this coming Sunday so I hope the weather cooperates!

Anyway, I just wanted to give a quick update since I'm headed down to Tampa tomorrow for the AOPA Summit. I've really been looking forward to it for months now, mainly to attend a bunch of the seminars and meet up with fellow pilots. For those of you I know through the blog or the AOPA Forums, let me know if you'll be at the Summit! Send me an email (steve [dot] dilullo [at] gmail [dot] com) or call me on my cell and hopefully we're able to meet up at some point. I'll be in town for the whole event, Thursday thru Saturday.

I also should mention that the Indianapolis ARTCC Town Hall I attended a couple weeks ago was a great session. Not only did I pick up some useful tidbits of information, I also had a great discussion with a controller after the formal program ended. You all should take advantage of the opportunity to meet and interact with ATC folks if there are sessions in your area. Check out FAASafety.gov for event listings near you.

One last thing and that's a comment and question to you readers about the state of the blog in general. First I want to mention that I've got some posts in mind for the upcoming months when I'll likely be on the ground more often. My plan is to write about books/courses/materials I've used and recommend, review some more items I've picked up over the past year, and create a section for new readers. Second is an open call to all of you who read the blog... is there anything you want me to write about? Do you have any general comments, questions, or concerns? Please send in everything and anything that comes to mind - either as a comment to this post or via email. Thanks in advance for the feedback, I appreciate every bit of it!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fall colors and knocking the rust off

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: High overcast, 62 degrees, wind 190 degrees at 4 knots

Wednesdays are bowling league at work, but when I woke up to blue skies and a forecast of light winds and 70 degree temperatures in the middle of October I knew I needed to find a sub. By the time I squared that away and called Stewart I realized most other pilots had the same idea. Neither Cub was available after work (I was hoping to get in some J-3 time) so I ended up reserving the 150. Better in the sky in a Cessna than on the ground wanting to be piloting a Cub!

Gina met me enroute to the airport and we arrived just before 5:30. The sky wasn't blue anymore - a high overcast had blanketed the region - but it was still warm and surface winds were light. I took the runway and made a normal takeoff with a straight-out departure to the West. Gina wanted to see the field with the corn art I last flew over back in August so I took us over that way. I circled overhead while she took a few photos then moved on to the next order of business. It's been a month since I really went up and practiced, as my last two logbook entries were cross-countries with a 'get there and get back' mission, so that was the plan for the rest of the flight.

Crop art from the North side of the farm...

...aaand now from the South

Anyway, I climbed up to 3,000 and made two steep turns. I held altitude spot on both times and hit my wake exiting the second, so that was a good start. Then I wanted to descend quickly to work on some ground reference maneuvers (it had been forever since I practiced these) so carb heat in, throttle to idle, and into a forward slip to quickly lose 1,000 feet. With a relatively strong wind aloft (about 15-20 knots even at 1,000 feet above the ground) the conditions were perfect to knock my rust off S-Turns and Turns Around a Point. I can't say I was satisfied with my S-Turns; they weren't very smooth and I didn't hold altitude that well. On the other hand, my Turns Around a Point (a water tower, if you're curious) were great and my GPS track sure confirmed that feeling.

What rust? Red is the slowest ground speed and blue is the fastest.

I then headed off to the airport for some takeoff and landing practice. Each lap around the pattern I used a different configuration - normal, soft field, and short field. My soft field takeoff wasn't the best at first, as the full back elevator lowered the tail right into the grass when enough airflow started moving over the control surfaces. I instantly relaxed the pressure and made an otherwise smooth soft field departure. I'd rate all my landings good, although I did come down a tad bit hard on the short field. The mains touched smoothly but I let the nose wheel drop way too fast and it hit hard. On my final lap, I pulled the power abeam the numbers to simulate an engine out. I turned back towards the runway a little too soon as I sometimes do and ended up dumping in all 40 degrees of flaps to touch down about 600 feet past the threshold. Not that it affected the landing, as my flare was perfect and the landing the smoothest of the day.

It's too bad the camera batteries ran out shortly after takeoff since the colors were quite vivid in many locations down below. Gina was kind of tired from a long day at school (they started a new quarter today, which means three classes full of new students) so she wasn't able to enjoy things as much as usual. Then again, given all the ground reference maneuvers and pattern work I did, all she really had to do was stare out the window anyway. Good practice all around as far as I'm concerned and it was nice to get up and spend some time on the basics. Tomorrow night I'm headed to Indianapolis for a town hall with Indy Center - hopefully it's a great session with ATC. Let me know if you're going to be attending!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.1 hours
Total Time: 138.3 hours

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Visiting family and friends near Akron for the day

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: 40I-1G3-15G-40I
Weather: Scattered to high clouds, 48 degrees, wind 010 degrees at 5 knots

Sure it's expensive sometimes, but flying is nearly always better than driving (yes, I admit I may be biased...) and today was no exception. Gina and I had been planning to take a day trip up to Akron to visit my grandma and other relatives. Unfortunately, my grandma fell and broke her hip last week so it turned into a trip to visit her into the hospital. She's doing just fine, though, just waiting to start on physical therapy. Anyway, I've driven the route enough to know it would require at least 7-8 hours by car. Hop in a 172 and flight plan to take advantage of the winds, however, and we were able to make the trip (plus a stop to visit fellow blogging pilot Dave) in 3.9 total on the Hobbs. And we got a waaay better view of all the fall foliage down below!

I had originally scheduled 60338 for the whole day a couple weeks back but it was still in for annual. I got a phone call from Stewart on Thursday informing me of that fact and they helped out by getting the person that had 2814L reserved at noon move his slot so we could have the plane for most of the day. Of course, we still left a good two hours later than I would have liked but at least the extra speed of the 172 helped make up for some of the lost time. It's been quite cold here lately (in the 30s at night) so, once all the pre-takeoff checks were complete and we rolled onto the runway, we climbed out at a nice clip on our way to 7,500 feet to take advantage of 15-20 knot tailwinds.

Fall colors down below just after departing Stewart

Emerson was up in the Citabria with a student as we climbed away from Stewart

I tried to contact Dayton Approach to get flight following, but it was clear they were understaffed on this Sunday morning. There was way more traffic than usual on 118.85 so I assume they had combined sectors. Needless to say, I never got a reply to my three calls and ended up contacting Columbus Approach a couple minutes later in their airspace. They sounded just as busy but I did get a response and a squawk code. While it my altitude read correct on the transponder readout (it was indicating 7,400 feet) apparently my Mode C was off about 500 feet and they had me turn it off. The only traffic we saw was a Northwest CRJ that passed a couple miles behind us. I heard ATC vector him around us - nice to know I'm getting even with Delta (sorry but I hate the NW/DL merger) one small step at a time! :-P

Flying over top of the Columbus Zoo

Northwest jet (in Delta colors) that passed behind us North of CMH

Somewhere around this point I noticed I still had the fuel selector on Both even though I should have switched it to Left or Right once we climbed above 5,000 feet. It had only been 10-15 minutes since we had done so, but that was a stupid oversight on my part... especially since I had reminded myself about the switching tanks numerous times while planning and briefing for the flight. This is where the only real negative I feel about my training at Stewart pops up, which is the use of checklists in flight.

Don't get me wrong, I was trained on the use of checklists and religiously use them on the ground for all pre-flight and pre-takeoff checks. Yet - and maybe it's partially because they just don't really exist for some of the older planes like the Cub and Champ - we never used them much in flight itself. I purchased a Checkmate Checklist for the 150 last year (and intend to get one for the 172 now that I'm flying it more) but have trouble remembering to actually use it once airborne. It's a personal sticking point that I'm constantly striving to improve upon. As far as today's flight is concerned, I certainly would have caught the fuel selector oversight sooner had I been using a checklist.

Thankfully there were no adverse affects from not changing the selector. I believe the reason it's required above 5,000 feet is because there is a slight imbalance in fuel tank pressure that can cause vapor lock if left on Both for extended periods. When I caught my oversight I saw the right tank was slightly fuller so I noted the time (to be able to switch Left/Right every 30 minutes) and flipped the selector to Left. It was less than a half hour later that we went below 5,000 during our descent so I switched back to Both without ever having to switch to Right.

Scattered clouds and fall foliage around Williams Lake

Passing by some scattered clouds enroute

The Goodyear Blimp was flying near Akron - about 15 miles away

We passed over top of a scattered cloud layer between Columbus and Akron that appeared to be at about 6,000 feet. The prevailing winds were pushing it Eastward and the skies were mostly clear with high cirrus by the time I was ready to begin our descent. We went from Columbus to Mansfield to Akron/Canton Approach and I had to call fresh each time since they never provided a hand-off. Not a major hassle and certainly never a reason to avoid picking up flight following. I also recycled the Mode C and left it on after leaving Columbus' airspace, never hearing a peep from ATC about it again.

The ride had been incredibly smooth up to this point as we enjoyed the beautiful fall foliage down below. Yet as soon as I began descending, things started to get bumpier. Hard to tell if it was due to windshear or thermals, but we definitely had a couple solid jolts on the way down. The kind where you're reminded just why you wear a seatbelt... that's so you don't hit your head on the ceiling, in case you're wondering. I throttled back to slow down below maneuvering speed to try and reduce the bumpiness while descending but we pretty much got tossed around all the way down.

No traffic was in the pattern at Kent State (1G3) and when I dialed in the AWOS at Akron Fulton (the closest to Kent) the winds were reporting light and variable. I was pretty sure I remembered reading Runway 19 was the preferred runway (although I can't find that in the A/FD as I write this after the fact) so I made a crosswind entry into a left downwind for 19. Just as I did so, someone starting up on the ground called Unicom for an airport advisory and they said Runway 01 was in use.

D'oh - another thing I need to remember to take advantage of is Unicom. We don't have it at Stewart and I've honestly just never used it much so I didn't think to ask for an advisory. It would have been the logical thing to do considering they don't have an AWOS/ASOS on the field. Either way, I was still PIC and I had my choice of runway with no other planes in the pattern but I figured there was no reason to buck the trend and turned crosswind over the end of the runway to enter a left downwind for 01. Turns out my aunts and cousins on the ground who were waiting to pick us up thought I was circling for them. Sure, that's what we were doing... ;-)

As I went around the pattern there were thermals all over and we were still getting tossed around a bit. On to short final, everything looked pretty good but the winds were a little shifty and I ended up in a crab right as we touched down. I was trying to correct with rudder and straighten things out but the wheels hit the runway firmly with a slight side load when I thought we were still a foot or two above the surface. Not good and definitely far from my best, but we got down safely. Chalk it up to me still needing more landing practice in general in the 172 as well as not being proactive enough on the controls. In hindsight, a go-around would have been a wise choice once we were about 5 feet up and I hadn't really stabilized with the nose pointing down the centerline. There's nothing wrong with going around!

In the pattern at Kent State

Short final into Kent State


This would be me just before shutting down at Kent State

After I taxied into a tiedown and shut down, I walked over to the fence to say hi to my two aunts and two cousins that came to pick us up. I stopped in the airport office to register as a transient aircraft and asked them to top off the tanks while we were on the ground. Very handy! My cousins wanted to see the airplane so I carefully walked everyone over to the plane and pointed things out for 5-10 minutes. They got in the seat and took a few photos, etc. I'll add a few of the photos to the blog once they email them to me.

My one aunt took Gina and me to the hospital where we got to spend a half hour or so with my grandma. For just having had screws put into her hip, she looked remarkably good for her 89 years. Her usual wit and stubbornness were in full display (she definitely wanted her Polydent and hated whatever the hell the hospital gave her) so we could tell she's going to be just fine after some physical therapy. I'm glad we got to stop in and say hi and it sounded like she was quite excited we flew in to see her.

After the hospital we had some delicious home-cooked Italian food (got to love the relatives - you certainly never leave hungry) and visited with everyone. Then we met up with two of Gina's family friends over coffee at Panera for about 45 minutes before going back to the airport. Some more cousins of mine met us back at Kent State and I showed them the airplane and they also took some photos.

We would have loved to spend more time with everyone but the clock was ticking and we needed to head over to Wadsworth to visit Dave and get on home before dark. I pre-flighted, checked the fuel tanks to be sure they were full, and we launched into the air off Runway 01. As soon as we were climbing you could see the Cleveland skyline against Lake Erie off in the distance. Having visited the Akron area who-knows-how-many times in my lifetime and seen many places from the ground, it was really cool to see some of them from the air as we departed.

Westbound departure from Kent State - downtown Cleveland's out on the horizon

Zoomed-in view of downtown Cleveland from about 25 miles away

Cuyahoga Falls and the never-completed Humbard Tower

Weltzien Skypark (15G) is about 20 miles from Kent State so I only climbed up to 2,500 feet for the quick hop. They were having their (annual?) Fall Foliage tour, with dozens of pilots taking people on short flights around the area and then landing back at the airport. Accordingly, the CTAF was abuzz with pilots making calls. I knew where the airport was thanks to the Sectional and my GPS but I'll be darned if I could find the place. I did see planes departing so I was able to circle around from the North, descend to pattern altitude, and head in the approximate direction on an extended 45.

Finally, I spotted the airport about 3-4 miles out and made it around the pattern to short final for the (very narrow!) runway. I've got to say that I was quite proud of my short field landing. Set her down just past the numbers and turned off onto the taxiway in under 1,000 feet. Now, it might not be as awesome as Dave said it was (thanks for the kind review, tho!) but I was quite satisfied. Especially after the horrendous landing back at Kent. He was even kind enough to take a short video and email it to me, which I didn't know about until we got back home - thanks, Dave!

Dave shot video of our landing and takeoff at 15G
video

I finally got the chance to meet with fellow blogging pilot Dave!

Gina and me in front of 2814L before heading home

Dave was there on the ramp to help me get parked and we quickly shut down and hopped out to say hello. Most readers of the blog know how much I enjoy meeting folks through it so I was excited to finally shake Dave's hand and say hi. He took me and Gina on a short tour of the place and I've got to say it's downright awesome. Whether you read articles or watch videos about the Skypark, there's no way to avoid the love people have for the place. One stop and I'd already call it my second-favorite place after Stewart. Everyone there lives and breathes aviation and, hey, come on - how many other airports have two hot tubs, a movie theater, and a tiki bar? 'Nuff said.

Dave took a photo of us waiting in line for departure

Weltzien Skypark (15G) just after departing and turning on course

We talked with Dave and his girlfriend Toni for about 15 minutes but had to launch again quickly to head back home. I really hate how short the days are growing! Luckily we'll get to spend more time together next month as he's joining me on a tour of the Cleveland ARTCC. Looking at the flight plan and nav log, I estimated we would get back to Stewart a little past sunset. Unfortunately we were stuck on the ground at the Skypark for about 5 minutes while people getting rides loaded and unloaded and I didn't figure this into the time needed to get back. Shortly after takeoff, I contacted Akron/Canton Approach and they told me I was leaving their airspace and to contact Mansfield Approach. I did just that and we remained on flight following (with hand-offs this time) all the way through to Dayton Approach until we were within 10 miles of Stewart.

Rolling hills near Loudonville about 30 minutes before sunset


Some beautiful clouds on our way home shortly before sunset

Sunset and more pretty clouds - I love flying!

It was getting dark quickly and I realized we'd be landing a few minutes later than I had planned. I figured it would still be light out enough to land at Stewart - remember, it's an unlit grass strip - but already was planning to divert to Wright Brothers if needed. Thankfully I made up a little time in our descent from 4,500 to pattern altitude and was able to use the sky reflecting off Caesar Creek Lake as a nice waypoint from over 20 miles out until I had the lights of Waynesville in sight. By now it was quite dark but I could still see the field and the cones as I entered the pattern at Stewart.

On short final, I was a little high so I went to idle and dropped in all 40 degrees of flaps as the landing light became increasingly visible on the grass. We landed just past the hump on Runway 8 and I've got to say it was a real nice one - smooth and stable and only a hair more forceful than I desired due to the runway sloping down on the far side of the hump. I taxied over to the tiedowns and was glad I double-checked my flight bag for my two flashlights before we left this morning as they were needed to grab all our stuff from the back seat! From being able to visit so many people in one day to the continued learning experiences I'm having as a pilot flying long cross-country flights, today was great. I was far from perfect in some of the piloting aspects but the important thing is we made it safely home and I've got a few more things to think about next time.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 3.9 hours
Total Time: 137.2 hours