Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sightseeing and practice on a very windy day

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I-I19-40I
Weather: Clear, 40 degrees, wind 250 degrees at 13 knots gusting to 20

The skies were finally clear after what felt like days upon days of precip, but a front was still moving through leaving behind some very gusty winds. I had hoped to fly down to Portsmouth (PMH) with Gina for a $100 lunch but we had to sit on the ground for a bit until the wind calmed down so that plan got scrubbed. Even though CFI Joe came in with a student from a lesson in the 172 and said it was pretty smooth, I went up solo for two laps around the pattern to check it out for myself before sticking anyone in the seat next to me. Aside from a few bumps it was indeed a decent day up there so I picked Gina up and we took to the sky for an hour and a half.

Seeing as how it was now about 2:30 in the afternoon (I had originally planned to take off around 1:00) there wasn't time to fly over to Portsmouth. While the strong tailwind aloft (around 30 knots) would have pushed us there in record time for the 150, we wouldn't have had time to eat and make the return trip. So in place of the XC hours I had hoped to log today, we just did some sightseeing around the local area and I got in some practice to boot. We departed Stewart and then flew over to Greene County Airport (I19) for a couple landings. I was waaay high on the second one (over-compensated for the winds and turned base too soon) so I kicked in 40 degrees of flaps and pulled the throttle to idle and showed Gina just how quickly that little 150 can descend when you want it to. I actually had to add in some throttle as we approached the threshold and I brought it in for a soft landing.

That's about 32 mph ground speed where the track is yellow!

After that we flew over top of my apartment and then over towards Caesar Creek Lake. She was curious what a stall was like so I climbed up to 3,500 and did a power-off stall. Her response was "wheeee!" which actually made my heart jump a second since I'm not used to hearing anyone say much when the nose pitches over, unless it's Dave yelling at me about something. But she thought it was fun and we did two more over the next couple of minutes along with some steep turns. I also chugged along in slow flight pointed directly into the wind for some fun - and it completely looked like we were hovering when you looked down on the ground below. Thanks to my new GPS (UPDATE: my review is here) I saw that I managed to get our ground speed down to a scorching 28 knots. Oh the things we pilots do for fun. In case you're curious, I also pulled 108 knots groundspeed in level flight flying with a direct tailwind. Not bad for a 1969 Cessna that cruises at 80 knots indicated. I then flew us back to Stewart and set up for a short field landing and had us stopped in under 300 feet once I touched down on the threshold. Chalk up another good flight - and my last of 2008. Certainly has been quite the year for me aviation-wise!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.5 hours
Total Time: 81.8 hours

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Cessna + Champ + Clouds = Currency

Plane: Cessna 150
Instructor: (None) / Dave
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Low ceilings, overcast, 29 degrees, wind 080 degrees at 8 knots

Given the weather of late, I was more than happy simply to get airborne this afternoon. My friend Mike and I had been hoping to take a cross-country over to Columbus (TZR) or down to Portsmouth (PMH) for a bite to eat like we did last weekend. Checking the TAFs and METARs when I rolled out of bed it was obvious the skies were nowhere close to allowing for any sort of trip today. Nonetheless, I drove down to Stewart figuring I might at least be able to stay in the pattern and keep my skills as fresh as possible. The ceiling was low (between 600 and 800 agl) but high enough to stay out of the clouds while flying circles around the airport. It was actually rather similar to the weather Dave and I encountered during a lesson back in September.

Cubs flying in formation with another one on final


We pushed the plane out of the hangar and I was about to start it up when Emerson (one of the owners of the place) knocked on the window. I had pushed us right over some gravel and he pointed out that could damage the prop if I started it there. He also had to test fly it since they had just done a 100-hour inspection. So that made me feel like a bit of a moron, although he certainly wasn't upset or anything. I wouldn't have known about the test flight part (I got the book so they thought it was ok to fly in the office) but I know better than to start over gravel. Anyway, lesson learned and I'll likely never do that again.

Mike wanted to tag along after his first lesson in the Champ and I figured an extra pair of eyes never hurts. The pattern was surprisingly busy considering the low ceilings. At one point there were 5 planes in the pattern: three Cubs, the Champ, and us in the 150. I just worked on all sorts of takeoffs and landings - short and soft field, normal, engine-out, and even a go around. All were smooth aside from my first engine-out, where I let it get a few knots slow about 20 feet up and cheated by adding power so we came in smooth instead of dropping in hard. No reason to beat up the plane for the sake of practice when there's a perfectly good engine up front. Overall though I felt quite sharp for not having flown in two weeks.

Short final in the 150 (courtesy of Mike)


When I arrived at the airport I saw that one of Dave's students had canceled so I asked if he'd mind sticking me in the slot for an hour in the Champ. If you recall, I did not feel very comfortable flying solo the last time I went an extended period without flying the taildragger. Even though I won't likely be flying the Cubs or Champ much all winter, I want to at least try and maintain a semblance of currency in them. The ceilings were still low (and lowered some more as the lesson went on) but good enough for us to make five or six laps around the pattern. I felt right at home and other than coming in slightly fast (about five knots, which translates to plenty of floating in the Champ) on about half my landings everything was smooth and coordinated. The last landing was pretty much a three-point greaser as we slowed down to around 50 mph in a short field technique.

I'm very, very glad the weather let me get up today as I don't want to go any longer than two weeks between flights if at all possible. Hopefully we have a stretch of nicer days in the weeks ahead so the time I've booked actually turns into some cross-country $100 hamburger runs. I'm even debating taking the 150 up to Michigan overnight in a couple weekends. Since I won't be up again before the holiday, let me send my sincere thanks to everyone who reads this blog and wish you all a wonderful and Merry Christmas!

Today's Flights: 0.7 hours / 0.8 hours
Total Time: 80.3 hours

Sunday, December 7, 2008

First $100 hamburger

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I-I74-40I
Weather: Scattered clouds, 22 degrees, wind 250 degrees at 7 knots

Yesterday morning my friend Mike (he's a student pilot - we both work at Kodak and went to the same ground school last year) and I drove down to Blue Ash Airport near Cincinnati for a seminar put on by the FAA Safety Team on glass cockpits. The plan had been to fly but it was snowing heavily and definitely not a VFR day. So I scheduled the plane for this morning in hopes of better weather. We lucked out with a beautiful winter morning for our flight up to Grimes Field in Urbana. When I arrived at Stewart, they already had pulled 338 into the hangar to melt off the snow and had the heater set up to warm the engine block. I completed my preflight inside (that was a nice treat) and then we towed her out and taxied over to the gas pump.

Flying from Waynesville to Urbana, about 35 minutes each way

Mike was excited to get up as he's put a hold on his own training and has been itching to get back into the air. He asked a lot of questions as I went through my checks and I explained everything I was doing and showed him how to fuel the plane. After re-starting the engine and allowing the oil to warm up, I asked if he was ready and heard a happy "yes" over the intercom. There were just a few wispy clouds as we climbed into the cold, smooth air. This being the first time I flew with snow on the ground, I was surprised how different (and harder to spot, had I not known where to look) the airport looked from above. We flew out over the lake and did a tiny bit of sightseeing before turning North towards Springfield.

800 feet above Caesar Creek Lake in the winter

The flight up was very smooth at 3,500 feet and I climbed up to 3,900 for a couple minutes to go over a few scattered clouds that were in the way. We flew right over Springfield-Beckley airport and the town of Springfield and I spotted Urbana when we were 20 miles out... not bad for having never been there before! With a moderate wind out of the West and a North-South runway, I knew I'd be making a landing with a direct crosswind. Entering the pattern, I extended my downwind slightly to allow me more time to stabilize on final. I transitioned from a crab to a sideslip about 50 feet above the ground and made a remarkably smooth landing with the right wing lowered into the wind. Yup, they're always like that Mike.

Mike enjoying the whole arrival-by-plane experience

I taxied us over to the transient ramp, shut down, and we hopped out and walked over to the terminal and took a seat in the Airport Cafe. This would be a good time to explain the $100 hamburger title to the non-pilots out there. Basically it's poking fun at the fact that we fly somewhere to eat and in the process spend $95 for the fuel/airplane and $5 for the actual food. It actually cost $140 for the rental today and $15 for the food (which Mike picked up - thanks!) but it was completely worth it. The other interesting new experience was how everyone in the restaurant was clearly looking at us, having seen us arrive by plane. A guy sitting behind us actually asked a bunch of questions about how to start taking lessons and we gladly provided him with plenty of information. Oh, and the food was delicious - I had an Airport Sandwich (turkey, ham, bacon, etc.) and Mike had an actual hamburger.

Ok, can't say I didn't enjoy arriving by plane either!

Happily fed and done staring at the bulletin board, we headed back outside and preflighted the 150. Nobody was in the pattern (I pulled out my handheld radio to monitor to the CTAF while preflighting) and since it was still a 90-degree crosswind that didn't favor either runway, I elected to depart on Runway 20 since we were headed South. The takeoff was smooth and the plane weathervaned into a nice 10-20 degree crab once off the ground. A few more planes were inbound as we departed and I saw one (a Cherokee, I think) pass about a mile off the left wing as they entered the pattern. A bunch of clouds had formed in the hour we were on the ground, so I ended up leveling off at 3,000 feet for the flight home. It made for some beautiful sights as we passed 500-1,000 feet below the fluffy clouds with sunlight shining through. On the way back, we also flew through some light snow showers that looked pretty cool from the air.

Flying home from Urbana beneath the clouds

Approaching the lake on the way home

I entered the pattern and saw a Cub on its takeoff roll; they passed right below us while climbing out as I crossed midfield to enter the downwind for Runway 26. Down we glided as I approached the field and I rounded out and made a very comfy landing with a short rollout thanks to the snow. Honestly, I cannot believe how soft the landings felt with the snow on the grass. While I'd love to say I just was kicking ass at landing the plane yesterday, I'm pretty sure that snow had something to do with it. Anyway, Mike said we could go have a little more fun so I took back off and flew some turns around a point over by the lake before heading back to Stewart. This time, I made a short field landing (minus any use of the brakes since the field was most definitely soft) and we dropped in nice and slow over the treeline and landed right on the threshold. Mike really liked the feel of the short field approach and I enjoyed the practice.

Champ taking off shortly after we landed

So there's my first $100 hamburger run. It was a blast and I'm glad Mike enjoyed it as much as I did. Just taking someone up is tons of fun for me but to help someone get back into flying made it even better. Grimes was a cool destination as well, with the great restaurant and all. They even have a B-17 restoration going on up there if you're in the area. I might fly up towards South Bend this weekend with Gina for a friend's birthday party so that'll make for some good cross-country time. Otherwise, I'm just going to keep finding good places to visit like Grimes as I spread my new wings!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 2.1 hours
Total Time: 78.8 hours