Monday, August 31, 2009

Finally flying a 172 all on my own

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: 40I-I66-40I
Weather: Clear, 65 degrees, wind 020 degrees at 5 knots

Although I've been up in the 172 three times with Dave now, those being a checkout, re-checkout, and re-re-checkout, I've never flown one solo. That's the goal of course, but between all the time I spend in the Cubs and 150s there just hasn't been enough time for me to stay current in the 172. But it is something I intend to do, especially since it's a great bird for longer cross-country flights. The weather in these parts has been fall-like (i.e. the best flying weather of the year) for the last week and promises to continue until at least Labor Day so I took advantage and went flying with Gina tonight.

Heading East across Caesar Creek Lake

I was extra thorough during my preflight due to my unfamiliarity with the 172 and all checked out well. Fuel measured out around 23 gallons, which is about 2 1/2 hours including reserves. Since it would be dark within an hour and a half I decided this was more than enough, especially since we were just staying in the area. So I started the smooth six-cylinder O-300 and taxied down to the end of Runway 8. Winds were generally light and out of the East all day but I noticed the windsock at Stewart was being a bit shifty when we arrived. As we accelerated down the runway, I kept in a little left aileron to counter a slight crosswind. We were quickly climbing straight out at around 700 fpm as I held in a fair amount of right rudder. Just like when I last flew the 172 a month ago, it's very noticeable how much more right rudder you need to counter the torque of that engine up front than in the 150 or Cub.

The reflection of the panel on the window's kinda neat

Thanks to the horsepower and our light weight, we were at 3,500 feet in no time. After some clearing turns, I set up and did two sets of steep turns. I felt that I did pretty good as my altitude and airspeed remained steady. We even blasted through our own wake when transitioning from a left turn to a right turn the second time around. Then I transitioned into slow flight and made some gentle turns with 20 degrees of flaps hanging out. I had to throttle pretty far back (around 1,800 rpm if I recall) to hold altitude as our light weight made 2814L want to keep climbing.

Next I pulled the throttle to idle and did a couple very smooth power-off stalls. After this, I cleaned the airplane up, pulled the carb heat back out, and reduced power to slow down to about 65 knots. Once slowed down, I pushed in the carb heat and throttled up to full power for some power-on stalls. Again, with us being so light that airplane did not want to stall. I gained about 500 feet and we were still climbing on the edge of stall at around 45 knots. Finally, I really yanked on the yoke and got the nose to drop gently. Compared to the 150, the 172 is sooo much more docile.

Just some random Ohio scenery

More random Ohioey-ness

By this point we were up around 4,500 feet so I pulled the carb heat out and throttled back to idle. We were headed to Clinton County Airport, which was only about 5 miles South of us. What better way to fall out of the sky fast than a forward slip? Well, yes, I know there are steep spirals and whatnot, but I digress. I pushed in full right rudder while adding in a significant amount of left aileron and we were soon descending at around 2,000 fpm. Partway down, I switched over to a right forward slip (that's just using the opposite control inputs for the non-pilot readers) before leveling out around 2,500 feet. Then I turned towards the airport while descending the final 500 feet to pattern altitude.

Forward slips are fun - look at us drop!

A plane we saw while maneuvering - it's over the silos

Even though it's only 12 nautical miles from Stewart, I'd never landed at Clinton County (I66) before. I love to add new airports to my ever-growing map over there on the right side of the blog so that's enough of an excuse for me to go somewhere new. Plus, the winds meant we'd be using Runway 3 and our location set us up for an easy 45 degree entry to the pattern. So that's what I did, entering on to the left downwind and bringing us in for a normal landing. Everything went smooth as silk until that last foot above the ground, where I promptly showed Gina what a nice "thud" feels like.

I had figured that, since there's rarely much traffic at I66, it would be a good place to get in a bunch of takeoffs and landings. As you can imagine, Mr. Murphy must have known I was thinking that and stuck another three airplanes in the pattern. Not that I have a problem with traffic, mind you, but since you have to back-taxi about 500 feet to reach the departure end of Runway 3 that tends to force you to sit longer when others are in the pattern. Anyway, I was able to get in two more takeoffs and landings before it was time to leave. The takeoffs were super-smooth but neither landing was anything to write home about.

On the ground at Clinton County Airport

After all my time in the 150, the heavier control forces in the 172 definitely take some getting used to. I had the same issue last time I flew, although I figured it was at least in part due to the fact I was flying at night. Long story short - nope, it was just my crummy piloting and needing to carry a little more energy into the flare. On my second or third landing, I added a touch of throttle on short final to try and smooth things out. While it did help, I'm still not satisfied with any of my landings in the bigger bird... I think an afternoon in the pattern might be in order.

Climbing away from Clinton County after our third takeoff, the sun was sitting near the horizon as I turned to the West and pointed the nose towards Caesar Creek Lake. Visibility was excellent and even with the low sun I was able to spot Stewart almost immediately after takeoff. As we approached, I could see the Stearman over top of the airport practicing an aerobatic routine for their annual airshow this coming Saturday. With my landing light and strobes on, they saw me and broke off as I entered on a 45 to the downwind. Again, my pattern was smooth and the plane felt real stable but my landing wouldn't have won any awards. It was the best of the evening since I made corrections based on the earlier ones, but still not great in my book.

Sunset as we headed back to Stewart across Caesar Creek Lake

Seeing as how you can't pass up great flying weather, I'm glad we were able to head up tonight and take in the scenery along with me having time to practice maneuvers. Continuing on the 'take advantage of the weather' theme, I scheduled the 85 hp Cub for tomorrow evening. That's actually what I wanted to fly tonight but it was booked and I'm glad I was able to go up and spend some time in the 172 as the only pilot on board. Nonetheless, there's nothing better than a Cub down low with the door wide open and that's exactly what I'll be partaking in maƱana.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.3 hours
Total Time: 124.2 hours

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Flying with Shaun from Australia

You may remember that I flew with Shaun, a friend I met through this blog who lives in Australia, when he came to Stewart for some tailwheel training last month. He took some photos and video during our flight and I promised that I'd share it on here. It might take a little while for him to edit the video and get it from his computer to me, half way around the world, but I'll post that in the future as well.

Happily putzing along with Shaun in the cozy 150

He's safely back Down Under now after an awesome experience up at Oshkosh. I am still so happy that we were able to meet up and spend some time in the air together. There's nothing better than meeting fellow pilots - it's such a wonderful community of folks worldwide. As he comes to the US every so often, I'm already looking forward to the next time I get to see Shaun and embark on another flying adventure.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Flying with my dad

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I-MGY-40I
Weather: Overcast, 65 degrees, wind 320 degrees at 6 knots

My dad came down from Michigan for the weekend to go with me and Gina to a Dayton Dragons game sponsored through my work. If you recall, he and my sister came down to visit back in June for a similar game. That last time they visited I was able to take my sister flying but he didn't want to go up. Now I'm never one to force flying upon anyone but I casually asked him if he wanted to fly this morning and he said yes. I called Stewart and they said 3718J was available, so we quickly hopped in the car and headed to the airport.

My dad took video of the flight and I edited it together - enjoy!


I went through the entire preflight with my dad, explaining exactly what I was looking at and what things were for. We pushed the 150 down to the fuel pump, filled up, and then I showed him how to get in. No way around it, climbing into the tiny two-seater is a squeeze for most people the first time they try. But he managed to get in and I showed him the seatbelt, how to open the window and door, and then walked around and got in the left seat. Engine started (well, after I remembered to turn the key on - this plane has a pull starter instead of the key starter I usually use in 60338) and preflight checks complete, I taxied on to Runway 26 and off we went.

Anyone who has read this blog for some time is well-aware of my usual sightseeing route right now. If you're new, just click on the 'Passengers' tag at the bottom of this post or under 'Categories' over in the right-side navigation to find similar flights. After we were out of the pattern we flew over the lake, down the valley to the bridge, and then headed direct MGY at 3,000 feet. My dad asked to land there and to fly over my house so I passed by the airport and circled over the house before flying towards Moraine Air Park and beginning a descent to 2,000 feet. We entered the pattern at Wright Brothers behind a Cessna that flew a pattern a Boeing Captain would be proud of, so I ended up extending my downwind much more than usual. It did at least make for good video as you could see the runway for a long time on final. The landing was relatively smooth but I've done better.

After a quick taxi and takeoff I turned back towards Stewart and asked if he wanted to do a few steep turns. He said yeah (since he likes rollercoasters, in his words) so I climbed back up to 3,000 and made one to the left followed immediately by another 360 back to the right. Honestly I thought they sucked so I did another one to the left that felt a good deal better. Note to self - time to go up and practice the basics again! We were over the lake and I went into a forward slip to bring us down to 2,500 feet in a heartbeat and show him how to make a quick descent. Then I flew us back to Stewart, setting us up for a short field landing. The winds were shifty the last ten feet above the ground so my feet were all over the pedals right before touchdown to keep 18J straight. I set us down firmly but I'd still call it smooth given the conditions.

Today's flight - Google Earth style

So what did my dad think of the experience? He had a great time and even said my landings were good, so I must have done something right! Back in college he and some friends went up and it was real bumpy so he was hesitant about going up at first. Thankfully today's conditions were good and even though there were some light bumps as we passed beneath the clouds he thought it was really smooth - especially given the size of the plane. While it was overcast the visibility was still great; we could see the Columbus skyline at the edge of the horizon, over 50 miles away. I'm really glad we had the chance to fly together and that he had a fun time taking in the sights and using my camera to record the great video that's included in this post.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.3 hours
Total Time: 122.9 hours

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Put In Bay and fun with flaps

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: Y47-3W2-PCW-16G-40I
Weather: Partly cloudy, 84 degrees, wind 060 degrees at 5 knots

This post is about the second leg of our overnight journey. To read about Friday's trip from Stewart to Michigan, click here.

After a nice evening spent with some of Gina's old friends, we rested up and headed to the airport around 9:30 this morning. We loaded up our stuff and she helped by removing the tiedowns while I went thru my preflight. Then I started the plane up and taxied over to the fuel pump to fill the tanks. Let's just say I'm still a novice with self-serve fuel pumps since 98% of my fueling experience is with the very familiar pump at Stewart. Note to any other inexperienced renters out there - not all fuel pumps automatically shut off when the tank is full. Anyway, other than a slight overflow of 100LL that quickly evaporated off the left wing, the plane was ready to go and we said our goodbyes.

Gina and her parents on the ground in New Hudson with 60338

We buckled in and taxied down to the runup area at the end of Runway 26. I didn't get a drop as expected when I switched mags so I leaned out the mixture and went to full throttle to try and clean off the plugs in case they were fouled. That seemed to do the trick, as the RPM drop was normal when I re-checked both mags. As I pointed out last night, the runway at Oakland Southwest is hemmed in by trees on all sides. Accordingly, a short field takeoff was the only option in my book. I positioned on the end of the runway, went to full throttle, and released the brakes. Once we were at about 50 knots, I yanked back and pulled us sharply off the ground. Climbing away at about 55 knots it still took a couple seconds until I was getting enough of a climb rate that I felt better about the approaching trees.

Video highlights from all today's flying

Given that we were experiencing the famously anemic climb rate of a 150, I made a gentle climbing right turn and crossed over top of the airport at 2,500 feet before proceeding on course towards Ann Arbor. Gina spotted about three different planes within a minute of crossing over top of Y47 so I wasted no time in contacting Detroit Approach for Flight Following. I've heard before from some pilots that Detroit can be a bit cranky and isn't very keen about letting us VFR folks stray near the Bravo. So I was quite surprised when a controller came on, asked how I was going to proceed to Put In Bay (I said we were going to go to Toledo and then follow the coastline), and cleared me into the Bravo to cut a few minutes off the flight. It was also my first time ever in Class Bravo airspace, so that was kind of neat. All without me even asking!

Our route from the Detroit area to Put In Bay

Downtown Toledo and the Maumee River

Looking out the back while flying over the edge of Lake Erie

Houses on the lake near Toledo

A large oil refinery on the lake just outside the city

I turned about 10 degrees left to fly direct to where Lake Erie meets Toledo, which was barely visible in the distance through the haze. Approach called out one aircraft at 12 o'clock about 700 feet above us and 3 miles that we never saw. There were honestly lots of aircraft all the way and I was more than glad to have ATC watching over us with an extra set of eyeballs. We were handed off to Toledo Approach around Monroe and they kept up with the advisories all the way until we were told to Squawk VFR with Put In Bay in sight. Since I'm on a 'say nice things about ATC' kick today, let me just say that the folks at Toledo are top-notch. They're always friendly and super helpful in pointing out things like the big tower farm and even a NOTAM for balloon activity (which I did read when flight planning!) on the way up yesterday. Sure, I've only talked to them like four times now, but it's still worth noting.

Passing over the campground at Maumee Bay State Park

Cedar Point National Wildlife Refuge

Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station

Back to the flying, I followed the coastline from Toledo just inland to avoid some hot Restricted areas. Something about live artillery goes on in there so I'm pretty sure that's best worth staying clear of. We also passed by the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant on the way... sooo I did my darndest to hold the plane straight and level for a few miles there. Sure I was talking to ATC but I'd rather not do anything to upset the TSA or USAF or whoever keeps suspiscous planes away from such objects "in the interest of national security" as it says on the Sectional. Once clear of all the Restricted airspace and with a couple nearby planes in sight, I proceeded over the lake towards South Bass Island. It's only about four or five miles across at the narrowest point, but it's still interesting to look down and see nothing but water.

Traffic landing Put In Bay was using Runway 3 per the radio calls, so I flew East and then made a smooth turn to align myself on a 45 degree entry into a right downwind. I spotted one plane in front of me on downwind so I just followed them in. As I turned final I lowered the flaps all the way to 40 degrees to set up a short field landing. The runway here isn't as short as it was up in Michigan but there are still trees on both ends and displaced thresholds. I set us down pretty softly with plenty of room to spare.

I flipped the switch to raise the flaps as I always do when we were rolling out. As I turned off the runway, however, I looked over and saw that the flaps were still partially down. "Hmm, did I bump the switch accidentally?" I pushed it back down and they lowered all the way and then flipped it back up. Nothing. "Well this isn't good." I parked and shut the plane down and then took a closer look. The switch was still running the motor when you flipped it to down and the fuse looked good, so my only guess was that we had a bad switch. Thinking back on it after the fact, it's a good thing I didn't have to go around on my approach... hmm, yeah that would not have been good.

Of course there's no FBO on the island (there's not even any fuel available) so there wasn't much we could do about it right then. I thought maybe the electric flap motor could have overheated or something and decided to leave it while we went into town to grab a bite to eat since we were starving. Lenny from Great Lakes Pilots and his friend Andrew pulled up in a golf cart and we all headed into town together.

Looking out over the harbor towards Perry's Monument

Old fish hatchery - there's actually some interesting info. in there

We had lunch at the Chicken Patio. I've eaten there every time I've been to the island. You get 1/2 a grilled bbq chicken, an ear of corn on the cob, potato salad, and a roll for about $11. They've got an outdoor grill that's like 6 feet wide by 20 feet long where they're grilling all day. It's certainly not gourmet but it's still tasty and I was keeping up tradition if nothing else.

After filling up, we just drove around the island for a few on the golf cart. We stopped in at the old fish hatchery where they have some displays talking about the history of the island with commercial fishing on Lake Erie. Then we went to the South end of the island to visit the lighthouse as well as stopping at a cafe for some cool drinks and ice cream. It wasn't unbearably hot out but the humidity was up and even with a breeze off the lake I needed plenty of water to stay hydrated. We also spent a little time in the visitor center at Perry's Monument. Officially, it's Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial and it was built in 1912 to commemorate the greatest naval victory during the War of 1812 on Lake Erie. We didn't go to the top since it's not as cool when you fly in over top of the thing - the view was definitely a better attraction when coming to the island by boat.

No trip to the island is complete without a photo of the monument

There's a neat (tho very small) vintage car museum

Requisiste photos of us on Put In Bay (like my new sunglasses?)


All told, we spent a little time on the island eating and relaxing before heading back to the airport. Gina had an alright time although she was somewhat dissapointed overall. I think too many people have hyped it up for her when, in reality, it's essentially a giant spring break sort of party island most of the time. Not that you can do any of that when you've got a plane to fly home. Still, it was a great excuse to fly to a new place and meet up with another pilot friend.

It was around 4:30 when we got back to the airport to sort out the flap situation. Unfortunately, the problem was exactly the same as when I tried the switch after landing. Lenny looked things over and called a few pilot friends of his to try and help out while I put a call into Stewart and they got someone to call me back. There's no manual retract for the electric Cessna flaps so we were going to have to find some way reverse the motor and raise them. After talking with the friendly folks at Stewart (specifically, an A&P-IA there) they had me remove a couple access panels (the Leatherman I keep in my flight bag sure saved the day...) and try and twist the motor coupling to bring the flaps up. I tried for about five minutes but only succeeded at covering my right hand and arm in lots of airplane grease. My fingers were on the coupling and I could spin it, but it wasn't moving anything in the linkage to the flaps.

Coming to the conclusion that this wasn't going anywhere, we discussed over the phone trying to reverse the polarity of the wires so we could use the working 'down' position on the switch to spin the motor and raise the flaps. The wires leading to the flap motor, along with a quick connector, were hanging from the same access panel I had pulled off so it would be easy. Lenny quickly helped me switch the two wires and reverse the polarity. We'd reached the moment of truth as I flipped the Master on and pushed down on the flap switch... and the motor started turning as the flaps retracted completely! I definitely didn't expect to become a temporary airplane mechanic over the weekend, but man was I glad we figured out a way to solve the problem.

I dug up some electrical tape in a hangar down by the office and covered the connection just to be safe. Then I pulled the fuse for the flaps from the panel and stored it in the glove box. That would make sure there was no chance any electricity could accidentally flow through the connector and short out against the skin of the plane. I called Stewart back and informed them we were able to raise the flaps (they were happy - and relieved - that it worked) and thanked Lenny again for hanging around to help me out. As I told everyone while I was screwing the access panels back in place, that's officially the most thorough preflight I've ever done!

Gina and I secured everything, made a quick stop in the restroom, and then hopped in to get on our way. It was now about 6:00 and I wanted to get going so we would be home before sunset. Should we get behind schedule I planned to stop somewhere while it was still light out, but obviously that's not the first choice if it can be avoided. I performed a short field takeoff, making a right turn at about 200' agl to steer well clear of the monument since it's straight off the extended centerline.

Put In Bay to Port Clinton with my teardrop entry

My planned fuel stop was Port Clinton, just about 10 miles across the lake. I had looked in advance and AirNav said they were open until 6pm but my A/FD said they were open until 2300 Zulu - which is 7pm local this time of year. Nobody answered on Unicom so I flew 500' over pattern altitude and made a teardrop entry to a 45 to downwind for Runway 27. This was a no flap landing, so I approached at 70 knots and held the plane off to bleed airspeed before touching down. Turns out AirNav was right as nobody was around and there was no self-service fuel pump. In hindsight, I should have just continued on to an alternate fuel stop instead of losing 10-15 minutes on the ground when you factor in taxi time and such. But chalk that up as a lesson learned. I pulled out my A/FD again and saw the next airport along our route with 24-hr fuel was Seneca County Airport, only 30 miles South. We departed Port Clinton behind a Champ on Runway 9 and turned on course.

Passing over a Service Plaza on the Ohio Turnpike

A helicopter flying under us (it's over the highway - click to zoom)

The runway at Seneca County Airport was perfectly aligned for a quick fuel stop. I could see the pumps were on the East end of the field as we got close, so I entered a left downwind for Runway 6. I was too fast on short final without flaps so I used a mild forward slip to knock about 10 knots off and set the plane down softly as we rolled out to the opposite end. A quick refueling (you can bet I didn't expect the pump to shut itself off when full this time...) and I was back in the plane ready to depart. Since the winds were calm, I departed on Runway 6 and turned left shortly after takeoff to resume on course while climbing up to 4,500. We were able to get Flight Following from Toledo Approach as well, a huge help since the haze was pretty bad at this point (at least when looking West) with the sun lowering in the sky.

On the other hand, there was barely any traffic still flying if you can base it on what I heard over the very quiet radio. I think we got maybe one call for traffic all the way home, whereas we got at least ten on the way to Put In Bay earlier in the day. The route home took us over top of Elliots Landing (O74), a grass strip that supposedly has an awesome restaurant (the Plaza Inn) on the field. It's on my list of airports I need to check out still. Continuing towards home, we passed directly over top of Urbana Grimes - a favorite destination of mine, as any regular reader of the blog knows. From this point, I felt pretty comfortable since I am very familiar with the route and area.

Our route home took us right past Urbana Grimes

The sun was nearing the horizon and the haze wasn't making it too easy to see. Don't get me wrong, it was still VFR and I knew where I was but had I been headed to a new destination I would likely have landed at that point. But we were now only 10 miles from Stewart as I began descending from 4,500 to 2,000. Dayton Approach also canceled our Flight Following at this point. I could see Waynesville off in the distance - there was a baseball game going on at the local park and the lights made it easy to spot. My head was on a swivel as we approached Stewart but I didn't see any traffic as I entered the pattern to land on Runway 8.

Again, this would be without any flaps so I kept my speed up around 70 as I turned base to final and found myself in a slight crab to counter a light crosswind. About 50 feet up I transitioned from the crab to a sideslip and held the plane off until I set down softly on the upwind wheel. I've got to tell you, I was quite proud of that last landing. You can see it all on the video - right up to the point where my camera mount came loose and you get a nice shot of me reaching up to grab it!

So there you have my first-ever overnight trip in an airplane as well as my longest cross-country flight to date. And then there's the whole flap situation. Clearly it was a learning experience in more way than one and I'm quite thankful for that, as crazy as some of it probably sounds. We flew over 500 miles in a little over 24 hours and returned home safely so what else can you ask for? The only negative (for my bank account, at least) is that more travel like this will REALLY get me thinking about ownership/partnership in the future...

And if you actually read this whole entry, well wow and congrats and thanks! :)

Flight Track: Detroit to Put In Bay / Put in Bay to Stewart
Today's Flight: 3.6 hours
Total Time: 121.6 hours

Friday, August 14, 2009

An overnight trip to Michigan

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I-Y47
Weather: Scattered clouds, 82 degrees, wind 170 degrees at 7 knots

This post is about the first leg of our overnight journey. To read about Saturday's trip from Michigan to Put In Bay and back to Stewart, click here.

Gina and I had been planning to take a day trip via airplane to Put In Bay to meet up with some other members of the Great Lakes Pilots group. Then she found out some old friends of hers were having an engagement party on Friday night. Since she had to work until about 4:30 there was no way we could have made it (and then flown to Put In Bay the next morning) had we driven. A perfect opportunity to showcase the utility of General Aviation, I say!

Our route, just about due North up to the Detroit area

I arrived at the airport around 4:30 in time to load the plane (all 55 pounds of luggage and gear I can carry with both of us and full fuel in the 150) and complete all my preflight checks. The right brake didn't feel right so I had someone come out and look at it. He just added a little brake fluid and all was well. Once Gina had arrived and we both strapped in, I went over my last checks. Then I taxied down to the very end of Runway 26, pushed in the throttle, and held the brakes so the engine could spool up before I began my takeoff roll. We were off about halfway down the 3,000 foot runway and slowly climbed away. Between the density altitude and being just under gross, it took that little 150 a few minutes to show a respectable climb rate.

After turning on course North of Stewart, I continued my climb to 5,500 and contacted Dayton Approach for Flight Following. It's been too long since I talked to ATC (which I blame on a lack of really going anywhere) and I did a decent job with my first few calls. This trip was definitely worth it if for no other reason than I spent a lot of time on the radio and felt much more on my game by the time all was said and done. As we approached Dayton International, I spotted an AirTran jet climbing quickly away just before ATC called the traffic. They told me to turn 90 degrees right but then immediately gave me a "cleared to resume on course" once I said I had the traffic in sight.

Video of our departure from Stewart and arrival at New Hudson


The route we took was quite similar to the route I took for my long solo cross-country flight last fall. My first destination that day was Bowling Green, just south of Toledo. Tonight we flew slightly West of that course and passed right over top of Toledo Express Airport (TOL). From there I went direct Ann Arbor (ARB) before turning towards Oakland Southwest (Y47) to remain clear of Detroit's Class Bravo airspace.

While there was still a fair amount of haze obstructing visibility, it did subside a bit as we flew into Michigan. I'm not sure if it was due to different weather or the air cooling as sunset approached - probably a little bit of both. As we flew over Ann Arbor, I began my descent. Having grown up in the area (I lived about 15 miles north of Ann Arbor from age four until I moved to Ohio two years ago) I could tell exactly where we were, even though it was my first time flying in that specific location. Detroit Approach pointed out one final plane before they told me to Squawk VFR and I went over to the CTAF. I made one 360 while descending to get all the way down to pattern altitude before getting any closer to the field. It was funny how low 2,000 feet felt to me after being at 5,500 for two hours.

Even though I knew exactly where the airport should be, it took me a while to find it. The runway is buried in amongst trees that line all four sides so it's not the most visible thing from the air. I ended up seeing all the hangars first and then made a smooth 45 degree entry to a left downwind for Runway 26. The wind was calm and we had the pattern to ourselves, so I opted for the quickest way in. Since the runway is a tad short (when you factor in a 900' displaced threshold for Runway 26 - it's 1,300' when landing on 8) and narrow, I set up for a short field landing.

Once I turned from base to final, I brought in all 40 degrees of flaps and slowed to about 50 knots. Then I managed the throttle to stay on my glide path and aimed right for the numbers. I was able to set us down smoothly just a few feet from the threshold and applied light brakes to hit the next turnoff. From there, it was a quick taxi up to the tiedowns where we met Gina's parents. The airport is only about 10 minutes from their house so they drove over to pick us up. Gina's mom, upon sight of the plane, somewhat unnervingly yelled out "it looks like a mosquito!" which I'm sure Cessna will take note of and use in future marketing campaigns.

Spaciousness of the trusty 150 aside, the flight was great. I got in some much-needed time talking to ATC and brushed up on my navigation skills. It was also the first trip where I really put my Lowrance 600c GPS to use. I even discovered a neat Vertical Navigation feature that pops up a message when you need to begin descending to be at pattern altitude before reaching the airport. And it was awesome to realize the utility of GA while racking up some cross-country hours. What would have been a 4 hour drive (from Stewart up to New Hudson) took about 2:15 from engine start to securing the tiedowns. Not bad... especially for a mosquito.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 2.3 hours
Total Time: 118.0 hours

Friday, August 7, 2009

We're gonna party like it's 1945

Plane: Cub, 65 hp
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Clear, 68 degrees, wind 070 degrees at 3 knots

Today was just too cool, and I'll get to that shortly. Gina's parents came down to visit for a couple days so I got the chance to take her dad flying this morning. He's been up in small planes before (Cessnas mainly) but never in a taildragger. Given the gorgeous summer morning the only option in my mind was a Cub with the door wide open. So we headed down to Stewart and I was able to get into the 65 hp yellow beauty for an hour.

The grass was still wet with dew as we rolled down the turf and softly launched into the sky. He didn't have any preferences as far as where to fly, so I first went down the valley on my usual sightseeing route. Flying about 1,000 feet above the trees as we paralleled the valley in the early morning air provided some spectacular views. I pointed out Cincinnati off in the haze as well as Kings Island, where he and Gina spent all day yesterday.

As I turned back to the North, I saw what appeared to be a plane of decent size out over the lake. Now I knew that the Collings Foundation had brought their Wings of Freedom Tour to Wright Brothers Airport this week, so I had a feeling that's what I was seeing in the distance. After a minute, I was all but certain that I was looking at a beautiful B-17 bomber circling around Caesar Creek Lake. Knowing they were likely on one of their flying tours (which run a tidy $425 per person that would be worth every penny, in my opinion - it's on my bucket list) I flew us over towards Wright Brothers in hopes of catching another glimpse.

This morning's route over the Ohio countryside

On the way we flew over a farm that I first passed by last summer on my second solo flight in the Champ. They've got an awesome piece of art carved into their crops. You can see the photo I took last year by clicking here. This time, I was able to circle around for a better view and there's actually a waypoint marked in the GPS track (link at the bottom of the post) if you open it in Google Earth. In case you're wondering, it's a french horn with 'Music the Universal Language' written around the design. Pretty cool.

So here's where it just gets plain awesome. I'd been keeping my eyes peeled for traffic and suddenly saw a P-51 climbing and nearly at my altitude (I was flying 1,000 over pattern altitude since I was so close to MGY) at my 2 o'clock. He was headed away and apparently staying in the pattern, as he made a big circle around to join downwind. But the best thing was when I turned my head, looked down, and saw the B-17 crossing midfield to enter downwind ahead of the Mustang. So there we were, cruising along on a clear blue summer morning in a 1946 Cub with the door off, as a Flying Fortress and P-51 were flying 1,000 to 1,500 feet below us.

I kept the runway just off our right wing to keep the best view out the open door. While my head was on a crazy swivel at this point, I couldn't help but follow along as Nine O Nine turned base to final right beneath us. For those of you who have seen the documentary One Six Right (and if you haven't seen it, go buy it - it's incredible) I was treated to a sight that reminded me of the closing sequence of the DC-3 landing on 16R at VNY. Right as we were flying 2,000 feet over the airport the B-17 crossed the threshold of Runway 20 and softly settled back down on the concrete. It was an incredible sight and I wish we'd have brought the camera to capture it on video. Then again, maybe it's one of those moments just meant to be relished in the mind for years to come.

Nothing could top that, but the Mustang did follow shortly behind and I caught a quick view as it landed as well. Over top of Wright Brothers, I rocked my wings back and forth to wave at all the folks below. A few seconds later we were over our house, which I pointed out and Gina's dad quickly spotted. Then I turned back towards Waynesville, descending along the way and passing just outside of town as I turned onto a 45 for my downwind. At pattern altitude, only 800 feet of air separated us from the trees as the lush greenery passed below us. Turning final I was a little high but pulled the power and the Cub quickly sank down as I held her off for a very soft landing on the still-wet blades of grass.

First solos, checkrides, and other milestones certainly stand out in any pilot's mind - and it's not hard to understand why. But I've got to tell you that this morning's has to rank up there in my Top 5 flights, if not higher. Just to be in the air in a plane from the WWII era, with some of the most important aircraft from that war in the skies below, felt so incredibly... right. And, most importantly, Gina's dad had a great time up there with me. Always gotta keep the passengers happy. ;-)

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 0.7 hours
Total Time: 115.7 hours

Monday, August 3, 2009

Soloversary!

Plane: Cub, 85 hp
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Clear, 77 degrees, wind 190 degrees at 8 knots

Hard to believe but it's been exactly one year since my first solo in the Champ. I'll never forget that night, just as I suspect no other pilot will forget his or her own. Luckily the weather tonight was quite conducive for a commemorative flight so up I went.

As you might recall from my last post, there's a 90-day currency rule and it's been much longer than three months since I last flew the Champ. That meant it wasn't a true one-year-later flight as I had to take the Cub up instead. Not that I'm complaining, as the 85 hp Cub has to be the most fun you can have solo for $61 per hour.

Driving to the airport I was thinking about what I should do in honor of my first complete year of solo aviating and I decided some good ol' fun was what the doctor ordered. I climbed out of the pattern and up to about 3,000 feet and did a bunch of steep turns, steep descents, and pushed the nose over a bit for some weightlessness. Then I climbed up to 3,500 and flew over the pattern at Wright Brothers and circled above our house.

It was more of the same on the way back as I did some more steep turns, both of the 360-degree variety and some other random ones where I just yanked over and turned the plane on a dime. I even hit my wake a couple times when flying a complete circle. Basically I spent a good portion of the evening doing all the fun stuff you don't usually do when there's a passenger on board.

Once back in the pattern at Stewart, the Stearman was flying around and overhead as they were practicing wing walking. Cub, one of the Stewarts - not a plane, is doing the flying and a couple different girls are standing out on the wires. I first saw some photos a few weeks ago - I believe the plan is to eventually perform at air shows. Definitely fun to watch even if it still looks a bit crazy.

I made three landings, getting progressively better each time. The first two I rounded out about two feet too high and set the plane down a little hard. I didn't bounce at all but they still weren't nice greasers. The final time around the pattern I pulled the power abeam the numbers and circled around for a simulated engine out landing. A bit high and fast on short final, I transitioned in and out of a forward slip and touched down very gently about 1/4 of the way down the runway.

Again, it's amazing that a whole year has passed since my first solo. I've certainly had many awesome flights and milestones since then, but this one's definitely special to me. Even better is the upcoming trip I have planned - a flight to Put-In-Bay, a small island in Lake Erie just off the Ohio coast - on Saturday the 15th. It's going to be my first real cross-country 'destination' flight and I'll get to meet some fellow pilots who belong to the Great Lakes Pilots group. If you're in flying range, come join us!

Today's Flight: 1.0 hours
Total Time: 115.0 hours