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

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Bugging out of Dayton to beat the weather

Plane: Cessna 182 RG 
Route: MGY-OZW
Weather - MGY: Broken clouds, 80 degrees, wind 070 degrees at 8 knots
Weather - OZW: Clear, 70 degrees, wind 040 degrees at 9 knots gusting to 16

I'm heading up to Boyne Mountain, MI this weekend for my future brother-in-law's bachelor party. The plan had been to fly up tomorrow in one simple straight shot. But I made the very last-minute call to bug out this afternoon, and I'm glad I did.

All week I've been watching the weather remain strange and somewhat uncooperative - a weak front has hung in the region for days, with regular scattered storms and hot, humid air. This weekend more moisture is pushing in and, over the past day, the forecast visibilities and ceilings have seriously deteriorated for tomorrow. Then I saw storms forming late this afternoon and decided at about 15:30 that I needed to leave right away if I wanted to fly at all.

So I finished packing, headed to the airport, loaded the plane, gave it a thorough pre-flight, pulled it out of the hangar, parked my car in the hangar, closed up the hanger, and started the engine. I was in the air off Runway 2 by 16:45. A thunderstorm was over the airport by 17:15.

Flying over Dayton Int'l - note the storms I was avoiding to the southeast

I called Columbus Approach for flight following right away so I could enter Dayton's airspace. I initially leveled at 4,500 feet to stay below the clouds (and that's the altitude the controller gave me) and the air was reasonably smooth considering thunderstorms were in the area. I hit a few good bumps, but all in all had no issues. Originally I flew a bit west of course to stay behind a cell that was moving west and remain far in front of the larger cell moving in from the east. By the time I was over DAY all the significant weather was behind me; I climbed up to my cruise altitude of 5,500 feet and turned back on course to OZW.

Nothing but clear, storm-free skies ahead!

Looking back towards the nasty weather I beat out of town

The line of storms I successfully beat out of town

Still learning the new plane, I decided to experiment with a few different power settings that are in the POH. I settled on 2100 RPM and 23" of manifold pressure this evening as a pretty good balance between speed, noise, and fuel burn. Despite a 20+ knot headwind for much of the trip, I was still seeing 140-145 knots over the ground.

Making 141 knots at 2100 RPM and 23" MP

Passing about 10 miles east of Grand Lake St. Marys

The sky was totally clear after about Lima, just a little haze in the distance but that was well beyond 25 miles in any direction. Columbus handed me off to Toledo Approach. He didn't sound too busy so I have him a PIREP at one point, mostly because I thought it would be nice to confirm the winds aloft as calculated by the Garmin 430 were pretty close to the forecast I was seeing in ForeFlight via ADS-B. And, well, I know that meteorologists like to receive every data point they can!

My first winds aloft calculation, west of Findlay

 These were about the strongest I calculated, southwest of Toledo

The winds began to subside (just as forecast) after I crossed into MI

Toledo Approach handed me off to Detroit Approach, which was a little busier but still relatively quiet on this Thursday evening. I passed over the Chrysler Proving Grounds near Chelsea and began my descent down to 2,000 feet. About 10 miles away from Livingston County I let Detroit know I had the airport in sight and they cut me loose.

There was one other plane, a Diamond, in the pattern when I approached, and he was using Runway 13. Had he not been there, I probably would have picked Runway 31 as I was already positioned to enter the left downwind; instead I crossed midfield to follow the Diamond. The winds were directly across the runway and gusty, certainly the strongest crosswind I've landed the Skylane in to date.

I'm happy to report all the training has paid off - controlling the plane through a few good bumps and burbles on short final, I touched down softly just past 18:00 on the left main, then the right, and then the nose wheel. It was honestly one of my better landings in the plane so far, period. After a quick taxi I pulled into a tiedown and shut down the engine. It was only 1.5 clock hours after I pulled the plane out of the hangar and started the engine at Wright Brothers.

Safely parked and tied down at Livingston County Airport in Howell, MI

My dad picked me up and we grabbed a sandwich for dinner. He lives nearby - you may recall my last couple flights to OZW were to see him. It's certainly handy to have a free place to stay near an airport that doubles as a good mid-trip stopover!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.5 hours
Total Time: 391.1 hours

Saturday, May 12, 2018

We're a flying family, part (one eighty) deux

Plane: Cessna 182 RG 
Route: MGY, Local 
Weather: Broken clouds, 82 degrees, wind 270 degrees at 6 knots

After spending much of the day enjoying the warm, almost-summer weather (and weeding and mowing the lawn) it appeared the forecast scattered storms were scattering away from the area. So I decided it would be the perfect opportunity to take the whole family up in the new plane for the first time! It was the first time we all flew together since Mariella's first flight last August.

She was happy before we even left the ground

One additional perk of the new club airplane is its proximity to home; we were at the airport about five minutes after leaving our house. Nobody had flown the plane since I flew her yesterday but I still did a thorough pre-flight before pulling 7YG out of the hangar. There was some rain to the west but I checked the radar on my phone again before we all climbed on board - it was no factor and we'd be back on the ground long before it arrived.

She's clearly my child given her affinity for the window seat 

I took off on Runway 20 then turned east, flying up towards Bellbrook. With no plans to fly far, I leveled at 2,500 and reduced the power to 2200 RPM and about 22" MP for a quieter, slower flight. Mariella is quite the squirmer and Gina had her hands full with her. That aside, she was quite happy and was really enjoying looking out the window.

The only thing she didn't approve of were her earmuffs. Since it was only a short flight, I wasn't too concerned. But we'll have to try using some foam earplugs (and keeping her in her carseat so it's harder for her to pull them out) on our next trip for ear protection from the engine noise.

Totally engrossed in the view from above

I'd say she was enjoying the flight

Being a complete ham as she so often is

Requisite family photo, now taken sitting above retractable gear

The sky was quite calm but I did still know some rain was off to the west. We'd only been up maybe 15 minutes as I turned south and made a quick turn over top of Stewart. Then it was direct back to Wright Brothers, which only takes a few minutes at 140 knots. I commented to Gina, and she agreed, that it's nice how much more stable the 182 is - it'll be great on trips.

Passing over my familiar turf aerodrome

We were soon on the ground after a very soft landing; the stall horn sounded just as the mains touched. I think I'm getting the hang of flying this Skylane! Within a couple minutes, we had shut down, Mariella was in her car seat in the car, and Gina helped me push the plane back into the hangar. It was really nice to take a quick family flight tonight. With this milestone out of the way, we're ready to take some trips that really take advantage of the 182's speed and range.

Today's Flight: 0.5 hours
Total Time: 389.6 hours

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Sky(lane) is all mine to explore!

Plane: Cessna 182 RG 
Route: MGY-USW-HTW-LUK-MGY 
Instructor: Matt
Weather - MGY: Clear, 68-79 degrees, wind variable at 5-8 knots
Weather - HTW: Clear, 78 degrees, wind light and variable
Weather - LUK: Partly cloudy, 82 degrees, wind 250 degrees at 5 knots

Today started with one goal - fly enough hours to complete my checkout in the club Skylane RG. At this point, it's all about making the insurance company happy, as Matt has said he's confident I can fly the airplane. I'm happy to report we did just that today; I'm now signed off to fly the plane whenever and wherever I please!

We passed over Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky this morning

We didn't have a specific plan and the weather to the north was not particularly conducive to small airplane flight; there were a ton of storms in the northern part of Ohio and Michigan. I've been watching the weather for the past day and it seemed the best option would be to fly south or east. It seems Matt had the same idea - he suggested we fly to Spencer, WV.

After loading the flight plan (with an intermediate fix to avoid the hot Buckeye MOA southeast of Dayton) I departed on Runway 2 and turned east. After leveling off, we chatted about avionics and ADS-B for a while. The air was calm and cool at 5,500 feet and it was a beautiful morning to fly. We loaded the RNAV Runway 10 approach and let the autopilot fly the heading while I managed our altitude. Matt talked me through some of the nuances of instrument approaches and staying ahead of this fast airplane.

I didn't slow down early enough - this is definitely something I'm still getting a feel for - so I didn't maintain the most stabilized approach into Boggs Field Airport (USW). There was another plane operating NORDO in the pattern so I braked moderately after a carrier landing to turn off midfield (there's no taxiway) and get out of his way. We shut the plane down and wandered around the empty airport for a few minutes.

We had Boggs Field Airport all to ourselves this morning

A hangar was open but the airport was otherwise deserted

The winds were still light and variable so, with the engine turning again, I taxied for departure on Runway 28. Matt made the very good point that there aren't many places to go if your engine quits in hilly West Virginia. Accordingly, I circled the field while climbing and we turned on course towards Huntingtion after we'd reached about 3,000 feet.

Boggs Field Airport, just north of Spencer, WV, after our departure

The flight down to Huntington wasn't long and the skies were still clear, if a bit hazy. We planned to land at Lawrence County Airpark, which is located just across the Ohio River from Huntington. It has a relatively short (3,000 feet) runway in fair condition (which may be a generous assessment) so it would be a good opportunity to use short field techniques.

There was a bit of haze from the hot, humid air

Landing options in an emergency became a point of discussion again as we approached Huntington. With rising hills on both sides of the river and development in between, you're in a bit of a pickle as you approach to land at HTW. At some point, you obviously have to descend, but that leaves you with very few options besides the river should something go awry. There really is no one correct answer and it was a good discussion to have.

Huntington, WV on the left bank of the Ohio River

I crossed midfield to enter a left downwind for Runway 28. With the previous discussion in mind, I remained a bit higher than usual, lowering all my flaps and managing my descent and speed by reducing power on final. I touched down not too far past the threshold and was easily able to stop in about 1,500 feet with moderate braking.

We back-taxied and departed again on Runway 28. I used a typical short field technique - full power holding the brakes, then release, keep the nose on the ground, and then rotate and climb at about 60 knots until clear of the trees on the opposite end of the runway. Clear of the obstacles, I raised the gear and flaps and Matt took the controls.

It's not every day you find an asphalt runway that needs to be mowed

Matt had me put on my hood just after takeoff. He flew the plane for a few minutes while I got that adjusted and took a look at some approach charts. We planned to fly direct FGX (Fleming-Mason Airport in Kentucky) and then to Lunken Airport in Cincinnati for a practice approach. But it became so incredibly bumpy (a bunch of clouds were suddenly forming in the hot, humid air rising over the low hills) that he instead just decided we should proceed directly to LUK.

I used the autopilot at first but started hand-flying as we were handed off to Cincinnati Approach and the controller was about to begin providing vectors for the ILS Runway 21L approach at Lunken. He turned us north, then west, and then we intercepted the ILS and began our track towards the airport. Clearly I have a long way to go before I'm a remotely competent instrument pilot, but our preparation did seem to help me on this approach.

For the most part, I didn't excessively overcorrect at any point. We crossed the initial approach fix (an ADF) and I already had the plane slow and stable enough that I could basically just start to follow the ILS down towards the runway. Near the very end I overcorrected and turned slightly off course but seconds later Matt told me to remove my hood; I lost our excess airspeed and landed smoothly on Runway 21L.

We taxied off the runway and Lunken Tower soon cleared us for takeoff in the opposite direction from Runway 3L back to Wright Brothers. It only took about 15 minutes to get back - certainly beats the hour drive. This final landing was by far my best of the day, very smooth and right on the centerline. A fitting way to end the whole long checkout process.

At the same time, I still have much to learn. While I'm far more comfortable in 7YG than I was a month ago, I know it will take some time for things to become second nature. Take for example the cowl flaps - I've never flown a plane with them before and, for the life of me, I still struggle to remember when to open and close them.

I don't think it's a shock to report I'm thrilled to be done with the checkout. Now I can take the family, friends, and coworkers flying. With a plane closer to home, in a hangar, at an airport with a paved runway and lights, the utility factor just increased a great deal. Toss in the fact it's 50% faster than anything I've flown before, she's quite the bird.

Here's to many great trips in the sky in the Skylane RG.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 4.0 hours
Total Time: 389.1 hours