Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Dinner down by the river

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: 40I-LUK-40I
Weather: Haze, 87 degrees, wind 210 degrees at 8 knots

After having to cancel a couple months ago due to weather, I was happy to have the chance to take a friend and coworker flying this evening. Joe was down from Rochester for a few days and I had booked the 172 with the intent of grabbing a $100 burger. We've continued our late-August-in-June weather pattern around here and it was about 88 degrees when we arrived at Stewart.

Since we were early I showed him around the airport for a bit. He couldn't believe how basic the Champ and Cub were and was amused when I showed him how I leave the door wide open when taking the Cub up. Once the 172 landed (it had been out with a CFI and student) we headed over to the tiedown and I hopped in, started the engine back up, and taxied it over to the fuel pumps. Due to the temperatures and the short flight I only added enough fuel to give us 10 gallons per side.

Highlights from tonight's hazy flight to Cincy - click the YouTube logo to view in full HD

I made sure Joe was comfortably and securely seated, buckled myself up, and quickly started the engine started back up to get some air moving in the cabin. All the pre-takeoff checks were good so I taxied on to Runway 26 and we lifted smoothly off the grass. Joe was enjoying the perspective from the air about as soon as we started climbing. Too bad it was so hazy (visibility was being reported as 8 miles everywhere but I think it was more on the lines of 5-7 miles, especially when headed towards the sun) or it would have been a spectacular flight. I turned on course and climbed to 2,500 feet for the short flight down to Cincinnati.

Given the visibility I wanted to get on radar, but had no success in getting a response from Cincinnati Approach. There's a chance we were too low for them to receive our transmission. However, it was such a short flight (28 miles) that I soon after got the ATIS and then contacted Lunken Tower. They asked me to report 5 miles straight-in for Runway 21L. Due to the haze I thought the airport was about 10 degrees left of the actual position and Tower asked me to turn West to get on the extended centerline when we were around 10 miles away. Obviously they have radar there and I'm glad they did because it was quite helpful.

One thing I love about towered fields is straight-in approaches. I don't do them often since I'm usually in a traffic pattern at non-towered fields but they are neat - kind of makes you feel like an airliner coming down the chute! I had the red over white on the VASI all the way down final and we touched down softly on the right main in the slight crosswind. Ground have us instructions to cross Runways 25 and 21R on our way to the terminal.

Dinner was at the Sky Galley, which is located in the old terminal building. Lunken is located right at a bend in the Ohio River just east of downtown. It's quite a historic place and was the original commercial airport in Cincinnati. Charles Lindbergh even stopped here on his way to New York for his famous Atlantic crossing! We both enjoyed the food and our meal very much. I had the pulled pork sandwich and Joe had a sirloin steak that he said was much better than he would have expected. Service was a little slow but I really enjoyed the ambiance and will definitely be back again in the future.

We had a slight hassle as we left the restaurant and tried to get back to the airplane. Being a larger airport and near the city, they have a secured fence that you have to buzz through. We pushed the button and a lady answered and said she'd be right there so we waited, and waited, and waited. After nearly 10 minutes Joe went into the restaurant and thankfully the manager had a key card to open the gate for us. He said this happens about twice a week (what lucky timing we have, eh?) and bid us farewell as we said thanks.

It was now about 8:45pm and we needed to get back to Stewart by dark. Thankfully, there was on heck of a tailwind we would be enjoying for this short hop. I pre-flighted, hopped in and checked the ATIS, then started the engine and called Ground. We did the runup while holding short of Runway 25 and then I called Tower and they cleared us for takeoff on Runway 21L. We climbed straight out until gaining enough altitude (there's hills that are probably 300 feet above the airport to the left of the runway) and then made a 180 left turn on course.

You could see it was still very hazy as we climbed away and I was extra vigilant in paying attention to the visibility and my instruments. I could see the ground and we were certainly above VFR visibility requirements but I paid more attention to the attitude indicator just to be on the safe side. We climbed to 3,500 feet and were zooming along with a ground speed of 130 to 140 knots. I don't think it even took 15 minutes after takeoff to be in the pattern at Stewart - I saw my GPS indicating 145 knots at one point on descent.

The wind was so strong that I made my downwind too close to the runway so even though I made a continuous downwind-base-final turn, we were still way to the right of the runway. I know enough to not force it over so I made a gentle bank and got lined up with the runway just before we crossed the trees. Had it not looked good at that point I would have gone around but I felt safe in salvaging the approach since we were the only ones in the pattern and I had 3,000 feet of very wide grass in front of me. Touchdown was very soft and I taxied back to the tiedown, shut off the engine, packed up my equipment, and tied the plane up.

Another happy passenger on the way to his first $100 Hamburger!

Joe said he really enjoyed the whole experience and had a big smile on his face. That's really all the validation any pilot needs! I will say that it was a great flight for other reasons, though. Kind of like when I flew up to Wapakoneta last October it was a night with some adverse weather I had to consider. Haze and high humidity can certainly place you in a bad situation if you're not careful and conscious of the weather conditions and I'm always glad to add something to my experience folder. I'm hoping that we have a much clearer day next time Joe's in town so I can take him up and he'll actually be able to see stuff and take some photos!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.1 hours
Total Time: 157.5 hours

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Lunch in Muncie with the family

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: 40I-MGY-MIE-40I
Weather: Scattered clouds, 81 degrees, wind 290 degrees at 10-15 knots

My dad and sister came down to visit for the weekend and I wanted to take them flying with me and Gina. It was sort of a combined Father's Day and birthday present as Lauren turned 21 last week. They've both flown with me before - my sister last June and my dad last August - but they were just short sightseeing flights. I wanted to introduce them to something we as pilots have come to love, the $100 hamburger!

A line of heavy storms pushed through late last night and it was still raining under a low overcast when I woke up at 8am. I had the 172 reserved at 9am but I knew that wasn't happening. Checking the radar, it looked like the weather might push out but I really wasn't sure. I called Stewart and told them I was checking the weather constantly and would be making a go/no-go decision by 10am. Almost as if on cue, I could see the ceiling rising and patches of blue sky when I looked northwest out our kitchen window 55 minutes later. One final check of the radar and METARs enroute indicated things were looking good so I called Stewart and told them I was on my way.

By the time I arrived at the airport I couldn't believe how quickly the weather was improving. The sky was almost completely blue to the west and there were just a few wispy clouds down low, probably due to the humid air rising off the fields. My plan was to get the plane ready and fly over to Wright Brothers (MGY) to pick everyone up. Warm temperatures with a high density altitude and wet grass in a 172 within 50 lbs of gross was outside what I would call my safety margin. Plus, our house is only a mile from MGY and they wouldn't have to stand outside in the muggy air as I completed my preflight and hooked up all the headsets and stuff inside the plane.

Video from the flight to Muncie - click the YouTube logo to view it in full HD

I departed Runway 26 with a left crosswind and made the very short flight to pick up the passengers. Time elapsed from taxiing onto the runway at Stewart to pulling off the taxiway at Wright Brothers was under 11 minutes. There were a ton if Cirri on the ground (one taxiway was even closed and converted to parking) because the Cirrus Owners & Pilots Association Migration is being held there this weekend. I shut down on the ramp and saw Gina, my sister, and my dad standing outside the terminal building. The lineman asked if I needed anything and I told him, "nope, just picking up these folks." Everyone got in, I checked that my portable intercom was working properly with all our headsets, and then I ran the checklist and got the fan turning as fast as I could - it was muggy out!

Takeoff from Wright Brothers was smooth and our ground roll wasn't more than 1,000 feet but I was still glad to have all that concrete in front of me. We climbed at about 500 fpm and I turned west towards Muncie and called Dayton Approach for VFR Advisories. We flew level at 4,500 feet for a while but I had to descend to 3,500 feet about 25 miles from Muncie to remain clear of a scattered layer. Muncie Tower instructed me to report a 5 mile final for Runway 32. There was a field with a NOTAM for model rocket activity about 5 miles out on the Muncie 140 radial - basically right where I was supposed to be when I called straight-in. We all spotted the field off to my left and kept our eyes open but never saw any activity.

Due to the passing front, the wind was now a left crosswind out of the west. I got us aligned with the centerline with a swift kick on the rudder right before touching down smoothly. Tower gave us taxi instructions and I parked at the GA ramp and shut down. EAA's Ford Tri-Motor was in Muncie giving rides and they were taxiing out right when I turned the fan off. As I stepped away from the plane another pilot came over and introduced himself - it was Jim from the Great Lakes Pilots forum. He and his wife flew in because we had a thread on there about meeting in Muncie today.

We went inside the terminal and got a window seat at Kacy J's. It's a relatively new restaurant run by two pilots. Long-time readers might recall that Gina and I flew with another pilot to Muncie over two years ago to breakfast; it was a different restaurant at the time. Today the four of us had sandwiches for lunch - I had the grilled steak and Gina had the pulled pork. The food was quite tasty (I preferred my steak to the pork) although the service was a little slow. However, it was a nice meal and we got to watch the Tri-Motor make three takeoffs and landings through the wall of windows.

Video from the flight back from Muncie - click the YouTube logo to view it in full HD

I went out and did the preflight while they finished up lunch in the air conditioned restaurant. Everyone then strapped back in, I started the engine and ran through my pre-takeoff checks, and then called Ground for taxi clearance. I performed my run-up at the edge of the ramp and then held short of Runway 32 before switching to Tower. He cleared us for takeoff and we departed with a moderate left crosswind and a right turnout on course.

The clouds were still at about 4,500 feet and I wanted to climb above them both for the smoother, cooler air and to take advantage of the tailwind. I had to make a few gentle turns as we climbed to remain clear of the clouds and then turned on course once we were 1,000 feet above them. I then called Dayton Approach and requested VFR Advisories - for those of you skimming this post, here's where things get fun.

Roughly 25 miles away from Stewart I had started our descent from 7,500 feet through an large break in the clouds when ATC called out traffic 6 miles ahead, below us, 1 o'clock to 12 o'clock. Then he advised they were beginning a slow climb - we were looking like hawks but he was still hidden below the scattered layer. About 20 seconds later the controller came back and said the traffic was now climbing fast and recommended an immediate left or right 90 degree turn.

It's interesting in hindsight to think about how the brain works. Obviously the standard procedure is a right turn for head-on collision avoidance. However, I had not yet spotted the traffic and it's pretty obvious to me watching it back on video that as soon as I heard "immediate left..." I was cranking over on the yoke into a 45-ish degree bank to the left. First in, first out I suppose. As soon as I was in the left bank I spotted the traffic, a twin at about 11 o'clock, 1/2 mile away, and 300 or so feet below. Again, it was an instant reaction as I immediately rolled back to the right in another 45-ish degree bank before leveling out back on course. My eyes were on the traffic as he continued past us off the left wing.

The good news is ATC saved our bacon because there just wasn't much time to spot traffic popping out of the clouds. Talk about a great lesson as to why they have that 1,000 foot above clouds VFR minimum! The other good news is that everyone in the plane with me thought it was neat and didn't get sick. Obviously I was in 100% crank-and-bank mode once ATC issued a traffic alert and all "keep the passengers comfy" flying gets thrown out the window. The whole episode, from the first traffic call-out, didn't last more than two minutes and I thanked ATC for the help as I resumed our descent. The entire sequence was captured on video - so be sure to watch the embedded clip above (it starts at about 3:30) if you'd like to see it in real-time!

Since the open space in the clouds was now closer due to the traffic avoidance situation, I increased our rate of descent to about 1,000 fpm to safely drop down below the scattered layer. I could see Stewart as soon as we got under the white fluffy things and pointed us in the right direction for a midfield crosswind entry. Checking the AWOS at Wright Brothers I knew the winds were at 10+ knots out of the west so I was almost positive Runway 26 was in use. Nonetheless, I had my head on a quick swivel as we approached Stewart (most of the traffic there is NORDO, after all) and finally spotted a Pawnee that had been towing a glider on a left base for Runway 26.

Turning base to final I could see we were slightly high so I put in all 40 degrees of flaps to increase the sink rate. Rounding out over the soft grass, I held it off for a very soft touchdown about 150 feet past the threshold. As soon as I turned off the runway I popped my window back open to get some air moving around in the very toasty cabin. I pulled into the 172's tiedown spot, shut down, and we all hopped out after a great day of nearly-summer flying!

Our return leg - the outbound track didn't record for some reason

Both videos were recorded using my new Kodak Zi8 pocket video camera attached to the windshield with a RAM mount. I bought it mainly for recording flying videos because it has an external mic input that I can hook into the intercom and it records in HD. Obviously it was picking up the propeller sync quite a bit. I think it might be so noticeable because I was recording at 720p/60fps. Next time I think I'll try 720p/30fps (especially since YouTube downsamples everything to 30fps anyway) and see if that reduces the visibility of the prop in the video. It uses the H.264 codec to compress the video and while it's not HDTV quality I'm still pretty impressed with the results. What do you all think?

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 2.5 hours
Total Time: 156.4 hours

Monday, June 7, 2010

Friends and BBQ at the Red Pig Inn

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I-OWX-40I
Weather: Scattered clouds, 71 degrees, wind variable at 3-5 knots

Gina got a call from some friends of ours on Friday as we were driving up I-75 to Michigan letting us know they'd be in Ohio on Monday. One friend got a new job and had training for three days in Delphos, which is a little over two hours north of us. They were curious if we wanted to meet up for dinner somewhere. I looked at her and said, "we could fly up and meet them if a plane's available!" and called Stewart to check. The 172 was reserved until 6pm so I took the 150 instead - slightly longer flying time but it would get us there all the same.

I left work just past 4pm and Gina met me at the airport about 30 minutes later. She helped me clean the windshield once I completed the preflight, then I taxied over to the fuel pump and topped off the tanks after the Stearman pulled away. All systems were good to go as I rolled onto the grass and pushed the throttle in to quickly launch into the sky. It was a bit warm and we weren't too far under gross so the 150 took her time in climbing. Winds aloft were out of the north so I elected to fly at 3,500 feet where we had the minimal headwind. A scattered cloud layer was up around 6,000 feet so we had light bumps most of the way.

Tuning to Dayton Approach on 118.55 quickly made it clear they were working a lot of traffic today, probably as much as I've ever heard on that frequency. I made two calls and heard nothing back. We were nearing WPAFB's Class D airspace as well as the outer ring of Dayton's Class C and I started a turn to the east so we would remain clear since I had not been able to establish two-way communication. About that time, Dayton finally was able to contact me but it still took a minute to square things away because people kept stepping on the controller's transmissions. We finally cleared up my callsign and destination and they gave me a squawk for flight following; I turned back on course and proceeded into the Charlie airspace.

Our flight track overlaid on a Sectional chart

There's not much other than farms once you pass downtown but it was a pretty day to fly nonetheless, with the green terrain slowly passing by. Dayton gave me a new squawk and handed me off to Indy Center as we left their airspace - somewhat of a rarity that I definitely appreciated. Every other time I've left Dayton's airspace to the north they've cut me loose and I had to contact Indy on my own. I was flying a VOR course (with my GPS and Sectional as backups) since the straight-line path took us almost directly over top the Rosewood and Allen Co VORs anyway. Gina and I both enjoyed trying to spot and then seeing the little white cones pass underneath us. We continued past Lima and were handed off to Toledo Approach, but they couldn't see us on radar yet and said to call back in five minutes.

By the time I was ready to contact Toledo, I was only 12 miles away from our destination so I advised ATC we could cancel as the airport was close by. They had me squawk VFR and I began our descent shortly thereafter. It was hard to spot the airport even though my GPS said it was right in front of us. I was pretty sure I saw an airport but I'd say we were only four or five miles away before I could confirm that I did indeed have Putnam County in sight. A biplane was departing Runway 27 as we entered the pattern on a 45 but he turned right just after takeoff and flew at what looked like 200 feet AGL over farm fields.

On final there was a light crosswind from the right so I transitioned into a sideslip. I had a brief brain disconnect on short final when we were right of the centerline and left rudder wasn't lining us back up. After what felt like too long, I realized that I needed to reduce my aileron and brought us back over the center of the runway for a soft touchdown. We turned off, taxied to the tiedowns, and shut down as we saw our friends waiting for us at the airport fence.

They drove us all into town to the Red Pig Inn, about five miles away. I had found out about the restaurant on Adventure Pilot and we were all in the mood for some BBQ. Needless to say, I understand why they've won so many awards. I had the ribs (1/3 rack) and brisket combo with baked beans and cheddar mashed potatoes. Gina had the pulled pork sandwiches with homemade chips. The food was simply delicious, with a perfect hickory flavor from the smoker. I even read that the restaurant will come pick you up from the airport if you call when you land. Suffice it so say that we'll definitely stop by again in the future!

Given our somewhat tight schedule (no lights at Stewart, so you have to be back by sunset) we managed to be in and out of the restaurant in 45 minutes. It was about 7:45pm when we arrived back at the airport and I went to preflighting the 150 while Gina packed up some wedding/bridal magazines her friend had brought for her. We got everything loaded into the airplane, started the engine, and I ran through the final checks as we back-taxied to the end of Runway 27. The wheels were off the ground a couple minutes after 8:00pm and I waved our wings at our friends as we climbed away from the airport.

Most of the clouds had dissipated and I wanted to take advantage of the now-tailwind so I climbed up to 6,500 feet. The air was much smoother as well and I trimmed us for hands-off flight. Somewhere past Lima we were approaching a scattered layer that looked to be at about 7,000 feet. I wanted to maintain cloud clearance and couldn't tell at that point how far the layer stretched so I descended to 4,500. Ground speed was hovering around 90 to 95 knots as we made our way south. I hadn't called for flight following from Toledo or Indy and instead waited until we were closer to home and called Dayton Approach. The controller was really friendly and I only ever heard three or four other airplanes on the frequency - a marked difference from the earlier congestion.

He cleared us to descend at pilot's discretion when we were about 15 miles from Stewart but called out traffic shortly after at 12:30 and five miles at 2,500 feet. I didn't want to descend into anyone and Gina was the first to spot the white airplane crossing right-to-left in front of us. Traffic now in sight, I began our descent and advised ATC we had Stewart in sight. He canceled flight following and bid us a good evening and I said the same to him in return. That controller's a familiar voice to me and he's a really nice guy.

The wind was still light out of the north, so a direct crosswind for either runway. Given our arrival path I entered on a 45 for Runway 8. No traffic was in the pattern and I wanted to land long to shorten the taxi, so I pulled the power to idle abeam the hump in the runway - about 500 feet past the threshold. I made the simulated engine-out descent and brought in the flaps slowly, reaching all 40 degrees when I was established on a short final. We touched down softly on the grass past the hump with the stall horn blaring.

This was another one of those fun evenings flying that showcase the utility aspect of general aviation. Even in a lowly 150, we made what would have been a nearly 2:30 drive each way (from Stewart) in about 1:15 outbound and 1:00 on the return. Had we driven to meet them from my office we would have arrived in Ottawa around the same time we landed but wouldn't have pulled in the garage at home until after 10:00pm. Add in the delicious barbeque and seeing some friends we don't often see and it was an excellent trip. Sorry, no photos or video because the camera batteries died!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 2.5 hours
Total Time: 153.9 hours