Thursday, June 14, 2018

One thousand and one

Plane: Cessna 182 RG 
Route: MGY, Local 
Weather: Clear, 80 degrees, wind 340 degrees at 5 knots

Time moves quickly. After a couple busy weeks that included my little sister's wedding and a work trip to San Antonio, I was itching to get back in the air. We're planning a nice little day trip for Father's Day this coming weekend but I wanted to get in a little air time first. Especially so I could have an opportunity to give the new avionics a trial run.

The club just installed a nice Appareo ESG transponder so the plane meets the ADS-B mandate. It includes a hard-wired Stratus 2i so we now have ADS-B In on aircraft power. For the non-pilots, that basically means we have a little device permanently mounted in the plane that allows me to see real-time traffic, weather, NOTAMs, and such on my iPad in the cockpit... so I don't have to worry about bringing my own when flying 7YG anymore. Quite convenient.

It was too nice a night not to fly

I got to the airport about 7:45 and had the propeller spinning just before 8:00. I taxied down to the end of Runway 2, completed did my run-up, and taxied onto the runway. With quarter-full fuel tanks (which is still 1.5+ hours of flight time in this plane) and only myself on board, the plane leapt into the air in no time.

In the pattern at Wright Brothers

The air was remarkably clear for a reasonably warm summer evening. Visibility was truly unrestricted. Had I climbed up to 3,500 or 4,000 feet I have no doubt I'd have seen the Columbus skyline 65-70 miles away. Instead I stayed in the pattern and brought the plane in for a smooth landing in the nearly still evening air. I taxied back and launched into the sky again, this time really trying to let the plane fly itself off the runway when it was ready to cheat gravity.

Looking south towards MGY over I-675 and Yankee St

Dayton Mall and the I-675 / I-75 interchange

My next landing was a bit of an aviation milestone - my 1000th, if I've managed to log them all correctly over the years. Thankfully it was very smooth. Wouldn't want to ruin the moment.

I taxied back one more time but, after takeoff, turned east and climbed up out of the pattern for a very short scenic flight around the area. Even with the power reduced to 15" of MP my ground speed was over 120 knots; I do continue to enjoy this plane's ability to go places. I flew a gentle circle east of Wright Brothers then flew west along I-675 while descending, gently turning again west of the field over Miamisburg to re-enter the pattern.

My final approach and landing (which, full disclosure, I thought was my 1000th) were the best of the night. I didn't need to touch the power from the time I reduced it abeam the numbers and everything was stabilized all the way through to the flare, where I reduced the power to idle and gently touched the mains with the stall horn blaring. A fitting end to a fine evening flight.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 0.6 hours
Total Time: 397.1 hours

Monday, May 28, 2018

Taking a new coworker Cubbin'

Plane: Cub, 65 hp
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Few clouds, 87 degrees, wind 040 degrees at 5 knots

I've known Roberto for a little while now; through a nice little small-world coincidence, his wife took Gina's amazing maternity and newborn photos and then I realized he worked at the same company I joined back in December. Unsurprisingly, it didn't take much chatting to realize he's a fellow aviation nut. So much so he's even started his own flying lessons at Stewart!

It's not often I end up with a photo of myself fueling a Cub

Even without his student pilot status, we've been talking flying together for a while. Having finally gotten Cub current again, I asked if he wanted to up with me this morning. I know he's so busy learning as a student that he probably doesn't have much time to just enjoy the view from above. The goal today was to give him that opportunity!

I'd say he enjoyed the front seat nearly as much as the pilot's perch

We left the pattern and flew south along the valley towards I-71 at about 2,000 feet. I pointed out the bridges over the interstate then turned southwest towards Mason. As I often do with passengers, we circled King's Island - it never disappoints. Then I turned north towards Dayton.

It's always fun to see an amusement park from the air

Originally I planned to fly around downtown Dayton but I didn't want to have to hurry to get back. Instead, we flew over Wright Brothers and Roberto's house at about 3,000 feet to remain clear of the traffic pattern. Then, seeing some widely scattered, puffy clouds in between us and Stewart, I climbed up to 5,000 feet so he could enjoy that always-amazing pilot's-eye view.

Passing just west of Wright Brothers Airport

Always enjoyable - seeing your house from the sky

It was much cooler a few thousand feet up, which was most appreciated on this very muggy morning. I handed the controls over for a few minutes after we leveled off; Roberto did an expert job making noticeably coordinated turns around the blue sky. You'd never know he's only had a few lessons!

Relaxing in back while Roberto navigates through the morning sky

It was a very beautiful morning over southwest Ohio

Widely scattered clouds made for a perfect Cub experience

Flying around the puffy white clouds

I did a couple steep turns then showed him a semi-steep spiral to quickly lose altitude and return to the airport. As we descended the few thousand feet, it almost instantly warmed back up. Before long, we were on our way back into the traffic pattern.

Approaching Stewart on a 45 to a left downwind for Runway 8

As I did throughout the flight, I talked through what I was doing. I reduced the throttle abeam the numbers on downwind and set up for a normal landing. He was apparently interested enough in my approach that he filmed the entire thing - which I've posted below. It's really neat to see one of my landings from a (pilot) passenger's perspective!

Landing on Runway 8 from Roberto's perspective

I touched down reasonably softly and we taxied back to the hangar. Roberto was all grins; I'm really glad we finally got to fly together and especially happy he enjoyed it so much. As he continues with his training, I very much hope to do my part to keep him motivated and be as helpful as possible - including more flights together.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.2 hours
Total Time: 396.5 hours

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Ten years later

Plane: Cub, 65 hp 
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Clear, 79 degrees, wind 060 degrees at 4 knots

Compared to the past couple years, I've been on a downright tear in 2018. Less than six months in, my hours are already more than double what I flew last year! And I'm actually on track to fly more than I did in 2016, 2015, or 2014. Life isn't much less crazy for me these days, but I think I've finally managed to strike a balance that ensures I get to spend enough time in the cockpit.

Prior Years: 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016 | 2017

This is also quite the milestone. I've now been writing this blog for a decade, which is honestly a bit hard to even wrap my head around. Of course, that also means I've now been flying for a decade. My first lesson was on May 20, 2008 in N98686 - the same plane I flew this evening.

Now for technicalities. I did actually fly on my birthday a few days ago, and I suppose that should be the official "ten years later" flight. But the tradition has really always been about flying the Cub on or soon after my birthday, so I'm counting tonight's flight. Deal with it. :)

So what was particularly special from this most recent trip around the sun?
  • Our daughter has grown from a newborn to a walking, talking, generally super happy and incredibly lovable little toddler that we love more than anything in the world (bonus points for her loving to fly so far)
  • I joined a flying club with a Cessna 182 RG, which has led to most of my recent uptick in flight time - and has added Complex and High Performance sign-offs to my logbook
  • Gina and I took a wonderful trip to Barcelona (where we got engaged, if you recall) over the holidays and celebrated New Year's Eve there
  • Back in December, I started a new job after a decade at Kodak - it's a great opportunity to do something new and I'm enjoying it thus far
Despite all the recent flying, my grass field vintage airplane stick time has been nil since last summer. But with the Skylane checkout complete, I wanted to get current in the Cub again ASAP. In my opinion, there's still no better way to experience the pure joy of flying, especially over the summer months.

There's just something special about a Cub in an old hangar...

There's also just something special about a Cub on grass

Tommy was kind enough to squeeze me in before his first student tonight. I got to the airport early, pre-flighted the plane, and topped it off with 100LL so I was ready to go the second he arrived. He propped the now-65 horse engine to life (they had to replace 98286's engine and they didn't have another 85 hp available, so the Big Cub is now Big in name only) and I taxied down to the end of Runway 8.

Similar to last year's flight after a long hiatus, it seems you really don't forget how to fly a Cub. I was a little worried about re-calibrating my sight picture after 15 straight hours in the 182 but it all just sort of came right back to me. My first takeoff and landing weren't great; I trimmed too far forward on takeoff and I didn't get the stick all the way back on landing, so we bounced a little. But the second time around was much better. Tommy was satisfied, so he hopped out and I taxied back for one final solo lap around the pattern.

Flying over the very green farmland on downwind for Runway 8

Pointing south on a left base for Runway 8

Takeoff was smooth and I reached pattern altitude much quicker sans Tommy. I did take a couple moments to just look around to enjoy the view and the warm evening air blowing in my face through the open door. Abeam the numbers, I reduced the throttle and began a gradual descent from 1,800 feet.

I intentionally held in some power to land a little long for a shorter taxi. Moving along in ground effect about halfway down the runway, I reduced the throttle to idle and gently touched down on the green grass. Everything felt right back at home.

So I'm officially Cub current again. Still, considering how little I've flown them over the past couple years, I'm going to try to go up on my own again soon to practice takeoffs and landings, stalls, slow flight, steep turns, etc. I think once I've done that it'll finally feel like I'm permitted back in the camp of truly current pilots.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 0.5 hours
Total Time: 395.3 hours

Sunday, May 20, 2018

It's my birthday and I'll fly if I want to

Plane: Cessna 182 RG 
Route: BFA-MGY
Weather - BFA: Broken clouds, 47 degrees, wind variable at 5 knots
Weather - MGY: Few clouds, 77 degrees, wind variable at 3 knots

Today was one of those days in the sky where you make some tough decisions and learn a few things. After a great weekend in Boyne golfing with my future brother-in-law, it was time to head home. I'd been checking the forecasts all weekend and I knew the weather wouldn't be perfect. The question was whether it would be good enough to get out and get home.

It was overcast when I woke up, so obviously I wasn't going anywhere right away. But the ceiling and visibility forecasts looked flyable by lunchtime. There was also a line of storms crossing Lake Michigan that would be over the middle of the state by early afternoon. Thus we arrive at my main conundrum - could I safely depart Boyne in time to fly the length of Michigan in VFR conditions ahead of the incoming line of storms?

On the ground in Boyne waiting for the clouds to break

I was at the plane around 8:30 so I loaded my golf clubs and suitcase and did my pre-flight. Then I waited and kept checking the weather. The clouds began breaking and there were many holes forming with plenty of space to safely take off and climb through them. PIREPs reported the clouds were less than 1,500 feet thick and it was clear above.

Aerovie's Vertical Weather Profile for my route

Here's where I must mention a wonderful resource - Aerovie. I think it has perhaps the best weather planning tools of any aviation app. Their Vertical Weather Profile is especially stellar. Basically, it uses the weather balloon soundings that are used to create Skew-T diagrams to overlay and visualize forecast conditions along your route. For under $50/year (if you're an EAA member) it truly is a great tool.

In conjunction with the standard ceiling/visibility forecasts, general weather prog charts, and radar, it was a great help this morning. Essentially it showed that there would be a sizeable vertical chunk of space between the low overcast and high altitude clouds over my entire route. In order to beat the weather moving across the lake I would have fly VFR on top for a portion of the flight, which is not without its risks. But I knew I'd be flying in VFR conditions towards improving weather in Ohio.

So where did that leave me decision-wise?
  1. Get in the air soon, climb well above the overcast settled over much of lower Michigan, beat the storms moving in from the west, and make it home
  2. Wait it out for VFR conditions along the majority of my route - which would likely mean staying another night
I did know it was totally clear just south of Dayton and was forecast to remain that way all day, so my backup plan was to fly to Lunken or Clermont County (or somewhere in northern Kentucky if needed) if the weather in Dayton wasn't good enough by the time I arrived.

It would be ~2.5 hours home and I had over 5 hours of fuel onboard so I was comfortable with remaining airborne even if I had to divert south. The real tough decision was the 100% legal but still potentially dicey plan to fly VFR on top as a non-instrument rated pilot. I'd be lying if I didn't say having an autopilot, multiple navigation sources, and a Stormscope on board gave me a bit of extra comfort in making the "go" decision.

It was a long trip home, made quick by the Skylane RG

Once I decided I was going to fly home, I quickly got settled in the left seat, started the engine, and completed my pre-takeoff checks. As I finished up at the end of the runway, a King Air called in four miles out on final and I quickly spotted him well under the cloud deck. That meant the cloud bases had risen higher. Good news.

After he landed I asked the pilot over the radio what the cloud tops were and he said they were around 4,000 feet. I thanked him for the information and turned on to Runway 35. Within seconds I was off the ground, quickly climbing into the crisp, clear morning sky. The clouds remained broken with much blue sky visible above; I turned southwest and climbed through a large hole then turned on course while climbing up to 5,500 feet.

Climbing out with Boyne Mountain off the left wing

Deer Lake and the golf clubhouse and driving range

The Alpine and Monument golf courses

The clouds were scattered over the area just after takeoff

Overflying Grayling Army Airfield

For the first 30-35 minutes of the flight, the clouds below remained broken and I could still see the ground. Then the holes began to close up as forecast; before long, I was flying over a solid layer. Although the tops were still well below me, I elected to climb up to 7,500 feet for a little added margin of safety.

I called Saginaw Approach for flight following. As you may expect, the frequency was rather quiet. Not too much VFR traffic on an overcast Sunday morning.

You could clearly see darker areas in the sky to the west where the storms were moving in from across Lake Michigan. While they were many, many miles away I elected to deviate east towards Saginaw. From there, I could basically fly due south all the way home. At 155+ knots, I knew I'd be well south of the weather before it made it this far across the state.

Closer to Bay City, the sky below turned to solid overcast

Avoiding some weather moving in from the west

Patches of broken clouds over mid-Michigan, near Owosso

Saginaw handed me off to Lansing Approach. That sector was just as quiet. For a brief period between Flint and Lansing, the clouds broke up a bit and I could see the ground again. I made a mental note and figured I would turn back and make it through one of the large openings in the clouds to land at the airport in Owosso should something happen.

Around this time I also encountered a small rain shower. Visibility decreased, though it remained at least 10 miles, and I again turned slightly to track towards a brighter spot on the horizon. A few minutes later, the rain stopped and blue sky and sunlight filled the windshield.

The clouds began to slowly break southwest of Toledo

My ground speed remained good and it wasn't long before I crossed into Ohio. As I passed over the Maumee River between Toledo and Fort Wayne, I again started to see the ground - except this time it would remain visible for the remainder of the flight. The clouds went from broken to scattered to few to essentially nonexistent by the time I was within 30 minutes of home.

It was nearly clear by the time I reached Lima

Flying over I-75 south of Wapakoneta (home of Neil Armstrong!)

One of the most interesting things was seeing the stationary front that has been hanging out north of Dayton for much of the past week. As I approached the area, a haze seemed to suddenly appear in every direction. Visibility decreased from 30+ miles to 10 at best and I felt the warmth and humidity increase. It may have been in the 40s in northern Michigan just 90 minutes earlier but now it was in the 70s and muggy!

It became quite hazy as I approached Dayton Int'l

Downtown Dayton was also somewhat obscured by haze

By this time, I was talking to Columbus Approach. They instructed me to descend to 6,500 and then 4,500 feet. Just west of downtown Dayton they cut me loose and I tuned in the CTAF at Wright Brothers. It really was hazy - I didn't spot the airport until I was maybe 8 miles away.

Still descending, my ground speed was close to 175 knots so I reduced throttle to slow a bit. Leveling off, I dropped below 140 knots and lowered the gear to help me slow down some more. I entered the pattern in a long 45 to a left downwind for Runway 2. My approach was smooth but the rising air over the hot asphalt caused me to float more than anticipated in the flare; I added a touch of power as the plane rose slightly at the last moment to prevent a carrier landing. The mains squeaked onto the runway reasonably softly and I taxied back to the hangar.

It was way warmer and more humid than where I was just a couple hours prior. Add that to the "lessons learned from a fast new airplane" list - always dress for weather and temperature changes! I pulled off my sweatshirt as soon as I climbed out of the plane; by the time I finished loading my car I was still nearly soaked through my t-shirt.

Debriefing the trip here now with myself, I returned home safely without any issues, so it obviously worked out just fine. At no point do I feel today's trip was as dicey as what I still look back on as my diciest flight weather-wise. Still... this is yet another superb exhibit as to why I need to get my instrument rating ASAP!

With the added speed, range, and overall capability of the Skylane RG comes the added chance of encountering adverse conditions along the (extended) route. I feel reasonably good about my decision-making today but I also certainly felt a little lonely and uneasy by myself on top of a sea of white. There's no doubt additional training and ratings are the clear next step for me.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 2.5 hours
Total Time: 394.8 hours

Friday, May 18, 2018

A beautiful morning to fly up north

Plane: Cessna 182 RG 
Route: OZW-BFA 
Weather - OZW: Clear, 63 degrees, wind 070 degrees at 11 knots gusting to 14
Weather - BFA: Clear, 60 degrees, wind 110 degrees at 10 knots gusting to 17

After getting out of Dayton ahead of some weather last night, I awoke to a beautiful morning in Michigan. I had breakfast and talked with my dad for a bit, took a shower, and then he drove me down the road to the airport. Once the plane was loaded and I completed my pre-flight, we said goodbye and I taxied over to the fuel pumps.

First learning of the day. It's seemingly obvious, but I didn't actually think about how much longer it takes to fill up the Skylane! For the most part, I've flown the 172 and have never had to pump more than about 30 gallons. Well the 182 holds 88 gallons and I took off half-full last night; she took 61 gallons this morning.

It was a little windy and gusty on the field as I taxied to the end of Runway 13. I did my runup and the final pre-takeoff checks, then taxied onto the runway. Full throttle applied and I was quickly accelerating down the concrete at 10:23.

Second learning of the day. I raised the nose into the sky and was gaining altitude when all of a sudden I noticed the airspeed indicator was precipitously slow and going lower. But I was still gaining altitude quickly and the engine gauges looked normal. Fly the airplane. I did lower the nose a bit (out of instinct, I'd say) as I tried to figure out what was going on. Within about 15 seconds I realized the alternate static source knob didn't lock in position when I checked it before takeoff; I closed and secured it and the airspeed indicator immediately jumped back up over 100 knots, about 15-20 knots faster than my normal climb speed. With everything back to normal, I raised the gear and flaps and turned on course.

Comfortably cruising up north at 155 knots

A big wind farm just west of Midland

I leveled at 4,500 feet as the winds were less favorable any higher. On course for Boyne, I contacted Detroit Approach for flight following. They almost immediately handed me off to Flint, who later handed me off to Saginaw. Instead of passing me along to Minneapolis Center, the controller just cut me loose somewhere north of Midland / Bay City.

Houghton Lake - Roscommon County Airport (HTL) is on the east side

Higgins Lake had incredible color today

It didn't take long to cover the ~160 nautical miles to Boyne. The winds were even gustier up north but thankfully they weren't a direct crosswind. As I descended and approached the airport, the only other traffic in the pattern was a Chinook, presumably from the nearby Camp Grayling.

In the pattern at Boyne - you can see the whole resort behind the runway

As I turned final, the plane was getting tossed around a bit. That increased more on short final due to, I assume, the wind blowing over the mountain next to the airport. I wrestled the plane down just fine, however, and touched down smoothly on Runway 17 around 11:30.

It only took a minute to taxi to the corner of the tarmac, shut the plane down, and secure it for the next couple nights. Scott's friend Paul, who organized the bachelor party, picked me up right at the airplane, we loaded my clubs into his car, and we were on the golf course by noon.

Once again, GA turned an otherwise long trip into a quick, enjoyable flight. Slightly over an hour in the air compared to 3 1/2 by road. Sure, I left a day early and stayed overnight on the way, but I still maintain it's a great way to travel!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.2 hours
Total Time: 392.3 hours