Monday, February 23, 2009

Please help save GA... write to the TSA!

This isn't a normal post from me, but this also isn't a normal situation. Well the TSA may want it to become the norm but doing so could literally put an end to aviation as we know it. What am I talking about? Basically, the Transportation Security Administration is proposing a major rule change - the Large Aircraft Security Program. It would require all operators of aircraft 12,500 pounds or heavier to undergo significantly increased security and regulation due to a perceived security threat.

However, I and the majority of pilots in this country realize that this is little more than an exaggerated response to an unfounded threat. The reality is that these regulations would likely do little more than severely impact general aviation in a very negative manner. And, more importantly, it would set a dangerous precedent for government oversight that could easily trickle down into regulations affecting the small aircraft I and most of the readers of this blog fly.

The fact of the matter is most general aviation aircraft pose no security threat. Their size and payload simply aren't sufficient for any sort of significant act of terror. The TSA is proposing that operators of these aircraft undergo extensive criminal history checks, security screening of baggage, checking passengers for matches against the no-fly list, and paying for sanctioned audits to ensure compliance with these regulations. Put simply, the only real effects this will have on aviation are out-of-control costs and a marked impact on the convenience and utility of GA.

As pilots and, most critically, citizens of the United States we can't just let the government take away more and more of our rights. I'm absolutely not condoning doing anything that puts us more at risk of a terrorist attack or otherwise threatens our security. However, needless regulations and an increasingly restrictive attitude towards general aviation do nothing of the sort. We must put a stop to this nonsense and ensure that aviation in fact lives on. As Benjamin Franklin once said, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

So what am I asking of you?

1) Please, please, please submit your comments to the TSA opposing this proposed regulation. You can enter them through their online submission form, just click the yellow icon under Add Comments to the right of TSA-2008-0021-0001. This must be done by February 27th!

2) Write your representatives in Congress with the same message you send to the TSA. If you don't know who they are, click the following links for the House and the Senate.

For more information on this situation, visit Max Trescott's (2008 National Flight Instructor of the Year) website for a great post with many more details. You can also find more commentary on this issue at AOPA's Advocacy page for GA Security.

UPDATE: If you even remotely care about this issue, I urge you to read Capt. Steve Tupper's letter to the TSA about this issue. It's one of the most eloquent, pointed, and scathing responses I've ever read.
"You’ll note that I’ve largely neglected the TSA’s disingenuously-phrased specific requests for comments. But I’ll be happy to directly address one, namely the weight cutoff for the LASP.

"If I were the TSA, I’d avoid the neighborhood of 12,100 pounds. There’s a hornet’s nest of public outcry waiting for you at 12,100 pounds. About 1,375 of those pounds consist of a Merlin engine. That engine and the rest of the airplane constitute a large part of the reason that you hold the jobs that you do and that you have promulgated the NPRM in English instead of German or Japanese."
Well played, sir.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I-TZR-40I
Weather: Broken clouds, 35 degrees, wind 320 degrees at 8 knots

Ceilings of 3,000+ feet, light winds, and visibilities of 10 miles are a rare occasion these days. So I took the opportunity to fly a short XC over to Bolton Field in Columbus and meet up with a friend. The engine was still a little warm when I climbed in and 60338 fired right up - no fun with fire today. Full of fuel and checks complete, I taxied on to the runway and made a smooth soft field takeoff. Within a few hundred feet of the ground I had already been tossed around a good deal more than I would have expected on what looked to be a smooth day. Turns out all those broken clouds had some decent updrafts and downdrafts and I ended up with a bumpy flight all the way.

Video from today's hop to Columbus and back...

For the first time in what felt like forever, I called Dayton Approach and requested flight following. Uneventful as usual and I never received a single call about traffic. The handoff to Columbus wasn't so smooth (I had to pass along some extra info. and they didn't seem to know who I was at first) and things sure sounded a lot busier once I changed freqs. Maybe they were understaffed or something, because it was surprisingly talkative for a Sunday afternoon. Still, I kept chugging along doing my best to hold altitude in the bumps (I was +/- 150 feet the whole way there) and spotted Bolton about 10 miles out. Canceled flight following and switched to Bolton Tower and was cleared for a straight-in and asked to report 3 miles. Another Cessna (looked like a 172) was approaching from the East and Tower asked him to report a 2 mile right base. As you can imagine, he goes faster than me in the rinky-dink 150 so he ended up having to fly around me to get in position even though I kept that thing firewalled until about a mile on final.

The landing was smooth and felt good with the 60ish degree crosswind, although I touched down left of centerline. I kept some power in to hurry down to the next turnoff so the guy behind me didn't have to go around. Parked and shut down, I went into the terminal and talked to the girl at the counter for a couple until my friend arrived. Then we headed next door to grab a bite to eat at JP's Barbeque. Numerous pilots have told me it's a great place to eat and I've been wanting to try it out. Overall, I was quite satisfied - not the best ribs I've ever had, but $12 for a 1/2 slab, 1/4 chicken, 2 sides, and a roll is hard to beat. If you're in the area, be sure to try it out!

We took our time eating and then I took Gabe out to the 150 on the tarmac to show him what it's like. He's never been in such a small plane and it was cool for him to climb in while I explained what all the instruments do. I would have taken him up for a short flight but I felt it was just too bumpy for someone's first time in a small plane. Maybe next time. We then went back inside and talked for a short while before I headed back out to preflight the plane. Everything looked good so I started her up, called Ground for taxi clearance, and made my way down to the end of Runway 4. Cleared for takeoff, I smoothly rolled onto the runway and made one of the smoothest crosswind takeoffs in my short flying career. Don't believe me? Watch the video!

By the way, I could quickly tell it's been a while since I've used the radio for anything other than calls in the pattern at uncontrolled fields. Not that I didn't know what to say or do, but I felt a step behind in keeping up with ATC when things got fast. Plus, I just said some stupid things that didn't make much sense. Such as, "Cleared to land 4, uh, Bolton, uh, 338." Alright, that's not the most egregious of errors to ever occur over the airwaves but it's the one I'm remembering right now. Rest assured, there were plenty of others.

While we're on the topic of the radio, I think I was given a sign. You see, I called Columbus Approach for flight following on the way back home and they seemed to ignore my call. Maybe they just never heard it, but the frequency was sort of busy and I didn't worry about it. Visibility was decent and other than a Cessna that came directly at me about 500 feet above (I assume he was IFR cruising Eastbound at 3,000 feet) I didn't see any traffic until I was almost back to Waynesville.

Anyway, about half way between Columbus and home the radio in the panel suddenly died. It got quiet (I had been tuned in to Dayton Approach) and after a noticeable time between transmissions I looked over and saw the display was blank. I cycled the power and it didn't revive itself, and after being unable to pull the fuse out I left it alone. Good thing I hadn't been on flight following, or I would have got to finally try out squawking 7600. But seeing as I wasn't talking to anyone and wasn't flying to a field where I would even be using the radio, I left the transponder on 1200 and onward I went. I did pull out the handheld (I knew it would come to the rescue some day!) to dial in the AWOS at nearby Wright Brothers Airport to check the winds about 10 miles from Stewart.

I flew about a mile North of the field before turning in to enter the pattern, just to be clear in case someone had decided to land Runway 8 as I saw a plane doing this morning. But nobody was around other than a tractor rolling out the grass on the runway. Coming around on final I was a little low (good thing the engine was working properly) and added power until clear of the trees. Obstruction clear, I chopped the power and set her down slightly right-wing-low for one of my best crosswind landings in a long time. Taxied back, tied the plane up, and marked off another 1.8 hours of PIC cross-country time towards the 50 required for my Instrument Rating.

Flight Track: I don't know what's wrong with the thing - it's not recording my tracks!
Today's Flight: 1.8 hours
Total Time: 88.6 hours

Sunday, February 8, 2009

True Soft Field Practice

Plane: Cessna 150
Instructor: Damon
Route: 40I-I68-40I
Weather: Haze, 45 degrees, wind 320 degrees at 4 knots

What do you get when a foot of snow and ice melt in the span of three days? On asphalt, a puddle here and there. On a grass strip, lots and lots and lots of muddy turf. As you know, our airport is of the latter type so today turned out to be a great day to practice.

It was so soft that they weren't allowing solo flight, so I went up with CFI Damon for the first time today. He does a lot of IR training so there's a good chance we'll fly together again in the future. Wow, that sounds strangely sentimental... but I digress. I told him I wanted to practice the obvious (soft field) along with some emergencies and general stuff to keep current.

We climbed into trusty ol' 60338 and, with a good deal of the throttle pushed in, taxied out of her spot and over to the fuel pumps. Then it was a taxi (gotta make sure you don't stop) up to the top of the hill for my preflight checks and a turn around (don't use the brakes!) to check the pattern before we continued the taxi right onto the runway without stopping for a soft field departure. It wasn't too bad, but I climbed up a little too high to build up speed and therefore didn't do my best at taking advantage of ground effect. The skies looked clear from the ground but it was quickly obvious that the haze made the reported 7-10 miles of visibility a rather optimistic figure.

Damon suggested we fly to Lebanon Warren County Airport (I68) for some landing practice. I was happy to fly there as it's the only really close airport to Stewart (all of 6 miles away) that I had somehow managed to not yet fly to. They have right traffic for Runway 1 due to skydiving operations and I entered on a 45 to the right downwind. Numerous planes were in the pattern and the guy in front of us apparently took the scenic route so we had to extend our downwind to about 3 miles away from the airport to sequence in behind him. The PAPI at I68 seems to have a higher glideslope (like 4 degrees) because it sure as heck put me what felt like way high when I held two whites and two reds.

We first made a soft field landing and, while a little left of centerline, I touched down pretty smoothly while adding in a little throttle to hold off the nosewheel. We taxied back for takeoff and had to hold a minute for landing traffic and another plane waiting for departure. I made a short field takeoff this time but pulled up a little too steeply and Damon corrected - nothing major, just could have left ground effect a second too soon. Otherwise it was another uneventful (and extended, due to traffic) trip around the pattern. I brought it in for a short field landing but floated some because I tried to follow the PAPI too long instead of focusing enough on the threshold. We landed fine but it could have been better, so we made another lap around the pattern and I set it down just past the threshold and got on the brakes in time to take the quick turnoff onto the taxiway.

Back at the departure end, Damon asked for a normal takeoff. There's nothing like gently leaping to the sky from a smooth patch of pavement and this one was no exception as we smoothly lifted into the sky. On downwind, he pulled the power to simulate an engine-out and I brought it around great but we would have landed a little shore of the displaced threshold. He noticed I turned a little late but that was partially because another plane was on final when he pulled the power. Once I knew he was clear of the runway I headed straight for the end. In a real emergency, I'd have made it and would have turned even sooner. Anyway, in went the throttle and we executed a go-around. Good to see I'm still sharp on those emergency procedures.

We climbed up to 2,800 and did some steep turns - a 360 to the left and then two 360s to the right. On the second to the right, he watched for traffic and had me do it solely by reference to the instruments. That one was spot on and it was good to pay better attention to the attitude indicator in keeping my altitude in check. We then climbed a little more and did a smooth and uneventful power-off stall before continuing with a power-on at 2,000 RPM, which I recovered from gently. The final task was a full-power-on stall (2,600 RPM) that took forever to coax a break out of thanks to the cool temperatures. When it finally nosed over it tried to rotate towards a spin but I caught it instinctively with rudder, reduced the throttle, and pulled us out without much altitude loss. I was very happy to see I made all the right moves pretty much completely by reflex during the stall practice.

Damon said I was flying really well all day and I found it great to get some feedback from a new instructor. He pointed out that some instructors might think some of my climbing turns in the pattern are a little too steep and I'll absolutely try and be more cognizant of that in the future. Nothing unsafe, he said, but just something to take note of. At this point we were descending and a plane appeared quite suddenly less than a mile in front of us, possibly departing from Stewart. I maneuvered well clear as we were entering the pattern but it's always a good lesson on a hazy day to be reminded how fast things can appear. I brought us down for a soft field landing and touched down pretty gently (not my best ever) but didn't remember to hold aileron into the mild crosswind. Overall, there were some little hiccups here and there but it was great to see I haven't picked up all that much rust while spending the last couple of weeks on the ground.

I've got one of these in my name now...

Oh yeah, my permanent certificate arrived in the mail on Saturday - woohoo! It took 77 days from passing the checkride until I had the certificate in my hands. Wow, hard to believe it's been 77 days (well 78 now) since I got my ticket - sheesh. Anyway, it's awesome to have a piece of plastic with the Wright Brothers' portraits on the back and my name on the front!

Today's Flight: 1.3 hours
Total Time: 86.8 hours