Saturday, August 26, 2017

We're now officially a flying family

Plane: Cessna 172 
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Clear, 69 degrees, wind 070 degrees at 5 knots

I've been hinting at this for a while now. Of course, I wanted to feel 100% current and fully in possession of all my flying faculties prior to taking our little girl flying. Parenthood has a way of shining the spotlight on conscientiousness and responsibility.

She was all decked out in appropriate attire

Mariella was in a rather good mood this evening (per usual - we really did get lucky as she's quite the happy baby) as we got her changed into a proper first flight outfit. Gina and her said hello to everyone in the office while I preflighted the airplane. Once everything was ready, I carried her over to the 172 and buckled her car seat into the back of the plane. She fell asleep not long after.

Strapped in and sound asleep

Gina buckled herself up next to Mariella in the back and I ran through my checklist and started the engine. Apparently the little one perked up with the noise of the engine but quickly nodded off again. Gina ended up cutting down some regular ear plugs for Mariella's tiny ears, since the baby headset I bought is too wide on her head when she's wedged into the infant car seat.

Her reactions on short final and landing are priceless (about 1:10 and 1:35 in the video)

Once I was completely sure the plane and passengers were all ready to go, I taxied onto Runway 8 and we took off into the calm evening sky. Mariella was awake at this point and stared at Gina while chewing on her hand - a favorite pastime - as we climbed out. She seemed pretty content.

A happy family together at 2,500 feet

I made very shallow turns and leveled at about 2,500 feet. It was already late in the evening so I anticipated a short flight from the start. Nonetheless, I heard a few cries behind me as we flew down the valley so I turned gently back towards Stewart about five minutes after takeoff. Turns out someone decided to convert the clean diaper to the non-clean variety; that usually results in notable crankiness.

Passing by the lake on our way back to Stewart

A great sunset for moving into our next chapter of flying

We were on short final about ten reasonably good minutes later. Mariella was still a little fussy, as expected, but she really did quite good overall. Gina gave her a pacifier and that kept her calm for the most part. She made some pretty good bug eyes when the main wheels touched the bumpy turf, too.

So, as the title of this post says, we're now officially a flying family! We'll be flying commercially next week so we'll see how that goes - but I think it goes without saying that I couldn't let Delta have the honor of providing my daughter's first flight. I was pretty impressed with the little squish on her first aerial experience. Here's hoping this is just the start of a long, long tradition of family flying adventures.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 0.4 hours
Total Time: 379.1 hours

Friday, August 25, 2017

Flight: Reviewed

Plane: Cessna 172 
Instructor: Tommy
Route: 40I-I19-40I
Weather: Scattered clouds, 71 degrees, wind 070 degrees at 4 knots

At some point in the past month, I received one of those handy email currency reminders from my electronic logbook. But I've finally been flying again and I know I've made more than enough takeoffs and landings for currency purposes, so I thought it must be an error? Turns out, when you don't fly for the better part of a year, those two years between BFRs sneak up on you.

I have taken a variety of courses to earn FAA WINGS credit, so the knowledge portion of my currency is, uh, current. However, for what I hope are obvious reasons, the FAA likes pilots to go up in the air and actually prove they can still fly with a CFI. I planned to do so a week ago but I was sick (food poisoning is no fun) and had to reschedule. Tommy thankfully had enough free time this evening to fit me in, so we met after work and got to it.

A checkride's worth of maneuvers in one GPS track

The long and short of tonight's flying is that it was a much-needed and very good review. Despite my recent logbook additions, I am clearly still rusty in some areas. Overall, I am just nowhere near as smooth and fluid as I can be when I'm notching regular time in the left seat. Tommy did a great job running me through a whole bunch of maneuvers and offering important reminders and tips.

We started off with a soft field takeoff, during which I climbed out of ground effect too quickly. It feels strange to push the nose over so much after rotation to fly level along the ground (and it doesn't help that the ground quickly slopes downhill ~15 feet on Runway 8 at Stewart) but that's what you're supposed to do; we tried this again later. Next, we flew east and I successfully demonstrated steep turns, slow flight, and power-off/on stalls.

Tommy suggested going to Greene County; the winds were calm but he spotted a plane waiting to take off near the end of Runway 7 so I crossed midfield and entered the pattern. He asked for a short field landing so I used all 40 degrees of flaps and touched down within 200 feet of the numbers. It wasn't my best, though, and improved speed control and a touch less power on short final would've let me perfectly plant it. While taxiing back for takeoff, he asked me what I would do if my elevator jammed and we discussed that scenario for a few minutes...

Back in the pattern, he informed me that my elevator was now jammed (courtesy of him holding the yoke to prevent me from pushing or pulling it) and I needed to land. I explained my plan, which was to use the trim and power while flying a longer final approach to help ensure things were as stabilized as possible. I throttled back, slowly lowered the flaps as I made my way around, and hit the stop on the trim while on final. On very short final, I tested kicking in a burst of power to raise the nose and it seemed to work, so that was my plan in the flare. We crossed the numbers in a roughly level attitude at about 65 mph. Entering ground effect, I pushed in throttle for a second or so, and the extra power slightly raised the nose so the mains touched just before the nose wheel. The landing was honestly pretty smooth - yes, we planted it on the runway, but it wasn't a total carrier landing. Most importantly, I actually landed the airplane without using my elevator!

I really want to thank Tommy for the simulated elevator jam exercise. I've certainly thought about what would happen if I lost a control before but never tried to actually simulate it in flight. He said one of his old instructors did the same thing and I absolutely agree it's great practice.

After taking off again, I put on the hood and we did a little simulated instrument work. It's been way too long since I last did that so it was also great practice. Sidenote - training for my instrument rating is finally in my near-term plans. My skills are crude at best but I managed to turn to headings and climb/descend per his instructions. Then he gave me a few unusual attitudes to recover from and I successfully did so.

Before long, we were back at Stewart. Tommy pulled the power on me abeam the numbers and I made a safe simulated engine-out landing. The next time around, after doing a better job with the soft field takeoff, I attempted a soft field landing. I leveled off a tad too high and didn't add enough power to achieve a perfectly soft touchdown, but I held the nosewheel off and it was good enough to call it a day.

Currency and proficiency are more important to me than ever now that I'm responsible for our entire growing family whenever we fly. Beyond simply having a calmer work schedule that should allow more flying, I really hope to finally start training for more advanced ratings. But regardless of when that commences, tonight was a great refresher that left me legally current for the next 24 months.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.1 hours
Total Time: 378.7 hours

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Currency, Part 2: Cub time is the best time

Plane: Cub, 65 hp 
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Scattered clouds 76 degrees, wind 270 degrees at 8 knots

After running myself through the ringer with takeoffs and landings in the 172, I opted for a bit more fun in the venerable Cub. With time to spare there was no reason to skip some fun in the air. She'd flown earlier so, after pulling the plane out of the hangar and completing my preflight, it only took one pull of the blade to hand-prop the old Continental to life.

I first headed off over the lake for a little practice. My steep turns were better than when I did them with Jamie last month; I think I even caught my wake once. Then I slowed down, pulled on the carb heat, and did a bit of slow flight to see how slow I could move across the ground. It's been too long since I did any stalls solo, so I brought the throttle to idle, pointed the nose higher, and held back on the stick as the nose broke earthward. I was actually a bit surprised how well the stalls went after such a long break; I must've been well-coordinated as the nose didn't roll at all.

You don't need much more than this to have a good time

Feeling comfortably current in my stick and rudder skills, it was time to put them to use attacking everyone's favorite sanitary substrate (old yet requisite disclaimer here). I climbed up to 5,500 feet, slowed down, tossed the roll out the door, and set up to begin my series of passes. At first, I was quite effective and cut the white streamer with ease. Then I somehow completely lost track of it; it took 45-60 seconds and a series of wide turns before I finally spotted it again. I pulled the throttle to idle, pointed the nose down, and clipped it again as my airspeed built up. With the target acquired, I made a couple more passes and caught the shortening streamer once more before I had to call it off due to altitude.

By this point, I'd been flying for about 30 minutes and I wanted to get in some takeoffs and landings before my time with the plane was up. It took roughly 10 minutes to get back into the pattern at Stewart. My plan, as usual, was to make three laps around the pattern to extend my tailwheel currency.

I made five laps.

My first, second, and fifth landings were great. However, I had to add power on the third after I flared too high. The next time around I pulled the stick back a touch too far in the flare and the tailwheel hit the ground before the mains. Neither landing was terrible but I really hate ending a practice flight on a bad note, so I kept going and nailed it on the fifth.

So, for the first time in essentially a year, I'm decently competent at flying both the Cub and the Skyhawk again. One can of course always practice and improve but I think I've removed most of the rust acquired over the past twelve months. Now I've just got to get the little one up for her first airplane ride!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.2 hours
Total Time: 377.6 hours

Currency, Part 1: Taking the 172 all over town

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: 40I-I73-I44-3I7-I62-MGY-40I
Weather: Scattered clouds, 75 degrees, wind 260 degrees at 8-12 knots

What do you do when mom and baby are out of town for the day? You fly, of course. Couple that with a list of local airports you've never landed at despite being a pilot for over eight years and you've got yourself a mission!

It's already been over a month since I last flew. Much better than earlier this year, but still more of a gap than I'd like. So this seemed like a good way break up the takeoff ans landing practice with a (tiny) bit of pilotage and navigation.

I popped into about half the airports around Dayton today

I departed Stewart and first landed at Moraine Airpark (I73) for the first time since 2009. Coming over the levee on very short final, the rising air caused me to briefly float down the runway before touching down relatively softly. Takeoff was smooth and I climbed straight out to 1,700 feet (per the A/FD and sign at the end of the runway) before turning north.

The first new airport was Dahio Trotwood (I44), a notably run down strip that's so desolate it's a tad hard to spot from the air at first. The runway is so cracked that I deemed it smart to first do a low approach and check for any obvious problems or obstructions. I didn't see anything that would preclude a landing so I circled back around and landed on Runway 22. It's an interesting place - corn rises up on both sides so you can't see much of anything once settled on the as-bumpy-as-expected runway. I back-taxied and departed on the same runway without ever seeing any signs of life.

Next up was Phillipsburg (3I7), which was acquired by a local business owner a few years ago to prevent closure of the airport. It's not the busiest place but here there were clear signs of life; a Cherokee called in 10 miles away when I was in the pattern and landed after me. The runway is pretty narrow (reminds me a little of 45G in Brighton, MI) and the shifting winds during my roundout led to probably the worst landing of the day. Again, I back-taxied after the Cherokee was clear and took off again on the shortest leg of the day.

My final new airport was Brookville Air-Park (I62) and it's only a very short 3.4 nm flight from Phillipsburg. This is another unique, lightly used local strip. The runway and airport are actually separated by a road; to cross you pull up to a gate that opens and there are stop signs to remind you to yield to the cars driving by. You also pass quite close to some tall trees off your left wing when landing on Runway 27. The pavement is somewhat bumpy but my touchdown was reasonably smooth; again, I back-taxied down the runway and took off to continue my little local adventure.

Since I'd be passing right by Wright Brothers (MGY) and haven't landed there in nearly a year, I planned it as my final stop on the way home. It's 19 nm from Brookville so I had a few minutes of level cruise to just enjoy the view and relax. The pattern was busy as usual; I crossed midfield behind two other planes in the pattern to land on Runway 20. I landed a tad firm in the slight crosswind. Seeing two or three other planes lined up on the taxiway while I was in the pattern, I'd decided not to wait in line. As soon as the flaps were raised up, I pushed full throttle back in and was soon flying the final leg back to Stewart.

Before long, I was back in Waynesville. I spotted one of the jump planes quickly descending and called him on the radio to say I had him in sight and would follow him in - they have a way of zooming thru the pattern like rockets. I turned slightly right, then circled back to enter a 45 for a left downwind to Runway 26. With the wind almost directly down the runway, my final approach was stable and smooth and I touched down smoothly a few hundred feet past the threshold.

This was a lot of fun. I've been meaning to pop into some of these airports for years and I'm glad to finally have done so. I still want to try out the road-crossing at Brookville so I'll have to land there again some day. Just as exciting and important, I could feel the rust coming off the more I threw myself into both new and familiar situations. I think I'm now current enough in the 172 that Mariella's first flight will soon be in the cards...

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.4 hours
Total Time: 376.4 hours

Monday, July 3, 2017

Finally notching some Skyhawk time

Plane: Cessna 172
Instructor: Jamie
Route: 40I-I19-40I
Weather: Scattered clouds, 84 degrees, wind light and variable

It's been some time since I sat in the left seat of the Skyhawk, nearly 10 months in fact. Our return flight from Boston via Albany last year is the last time I was behind 14L's controls. Aside from the general lack of currency, I'd like to take Mariella for her first flight soon - and to do that, I need to be able to competently fly the 172 again.

Jamie texted me the other day to let me know he had an opening, as we've been trying to set this up for a couple weeks. I did a thorough preflight while we chatted on the ground. There was more than two hours of fuel onboard so once I fired up the O-300 we were ready to fly.

It was another great summer afternoon for aviating

I took off on Runway 26 and made two laps around the pattern. I came in a little low on the first one but managed to finish the approach with a smooth landing. The next time around was more stable and the landing was again quite soft. We then departed the pattern to the east, climbing up over the lake to do a few steep turns. While all were borderline acceptable, they were far from my finest. I'll have to put in a bit more time working on maneuvers next time I'm up in the sky practicing solo.

Today's vaguely triangular route across the countryside

Wanting to practice on pavement and having not been there in a while (the logbook says May 2013 when we met pilot friend Samuel there, in fact!) we decided to land at Greene County. I came in a tad fast and landed long but the touchdown was smooth. Lifting off again on Runway 25 on the subsequent takeoff, Jamie pulled the power and I touched back down on the pavement during the simulated engine failure. I departed again sans instructor shenanigans and climbed back to 2,000 feet and headed straight for Waynesville.

My final landing was probably the best of the bunch, with my speeds on target and a soft touchdown followed by the shortest rollout of the day. Similar to the Cub, it's crazy just how much flying the 172 is like riding a bike... it came right back to me even after a lengthy break. Obviously there's more than stick and rudder skills when it comes to currency but I'm looking forward to getting up again soon.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.1 hours
Total Time: 375.0 hours