Friday, July 31, 2009

Up in the night sky

Plane: Cessna 172
Instructor: Dave
Route: 40I-MWO-OXD-I19-MGY-40I
Weather: Clear, 66 degrees, wind calm

Stewart has a 90-day rule on aircraft currency, basically meaning if you haven't flown an aircraft in the past three months you have to go up again with an instructor before you can fly solo. I was past that mark in the 172 and I also wanted some experience flying it near gross before I try flying it full of myself and three pax. Seeing as I had to go up with a CFI and you can't fly out of Stewart solo at night I figured what the heck, why not do both?

Night flight is one of my favorite things about General Aviation, especially when the moon's half full and the sky is completely clear as it was tonight. Air that's smooth as glass and the lights twinkling below make for a spectacular time aloft. Gina also hadn't ever flown at night so I was excited for her to come up with me and Dave. Add in a backpack I filled with 30 pounds of paper and some extra flight gear in the back seat and we had a mostly-full 172.

I ended up at work until around 7:00 so I was glad to still make it down to the airport in time to do my preflight before the sun went down. Everything checked out as Dave drove the golf cart alongside the runway to put out the lanterns. Once the sun had set, we all hopped in and I taxied over to the fuel pump to top off the tanks. He told me we'd use most of the runway so I took us to the very end of the grass before beginning my takeoff roll. I quickly noticed the most pronounced difference of flying near gross, which was the significant amount of back force I needed on the yoke to get the nose off the ground.

Soon we were climbing into the dark night sky (with me holding in a considerable amount of right rudder - another definite difference from the 150) headed West. I first took us over to Middletown, circling around to enter a right downwind for Runway 23. My landing was about as smooth as you could ever ask for, so I knew it was all downhill from there. Sure enough, it was the best landing of the night. Anyway, I taxied us back and went around the pattern again to set up for a short field landing. This time I really planted us down good, which - while acceptable in a short field situation - was more a result of me succumbing to the illusion of being lower than I realized due to the runway lights.

Turning near Middletown with the moon in full view

Then it was off to Oxford, an airport I flew past while on a solo cross-country flight last year but never had touched down at. We couldn't spot it for the longest time so I keyed the lights on the CTAF and it appeared out of thin air a few miles in front of us. Due to the complete lack of traffic and calm winds, I landed on Runway 23 and then made a 180 and departed on Runway 5. The landing was decent but my favorite thing at OXD were the houses next door with red obstruction lights on their roofs. I want that! We quickly climbed away and headed back East towards Dayton, as I used the tall television towers (they're about 1,200 feet AGL) for some easy visual navigation.

We were about 5 miles south of downtown but got a great view of the skyline and streets all lit up below. Staying just South of the radio towers kept us out of Dayton's Class Charlie airspace and I headed further East so we could land at Greene County Airport. There was some high traffic about 5 miles Northeast of us and descending so we kept an eye out until it was clear they had turned away. As I turned base for Runway 25 we could see they were racing at Kil Kare Speedway that's a mile or so from the airport and Gina and Dave got a nice view of the action below. Again, the landing was decent if not super smooth and we taxied down and I departed Runway 7 for another view of the race on the way out. Turns out someone hit someone or something, as all we saw were flashing yellow lights.

I climbed back up to 2,500 and flew off towards Wright Brothers. Gina wanted to fly over our house at night and an approach to Runway 20 provides exactly that. Headed towards the airport, I knew exactly where it should be from all the landmarks on the ground. Nonetheless, I couldn't find the damn airport for the life of me and didn't even see the beacon. I didn't let Dave tell me for a while until he finally pointed right where I was looking and somehow this time I caught the beacon. Maybe it was the old 'use your perhipheral vision at night' trick we all learned about back in our primary training.

Another plane was in the pattern and I had heard him on the radio making calls as he approached from the West. Since I wanted to use Runway 20 and he was in the pattern for Runway 2, I made a couple 360s a few miles out to give us some spacing before entering the pattern. My first landing actually had us turning base to final before the house and it was again somewhat firm. I taxied back and elected to stay in the pattern and set up for a short field this time as that would result in a longer final. We went right over the house (Gina reports our landscape lighting shining up into the trees looks very cool from above) and I set it down just past the threshold and got on the brakes for a very short landing.

A nice view of the lights shimmering underneath the wing

While it did not feel like that long since the first takeoff, we'd already been up over two hours so I took off and turned towards Stewart. I asked Dave if there were any other things I should practice before flying a full airplane and he simply pointed out the increased control forces (elevator on takeoff and right rudder when climbing) that I noted earlier and said I was doing a good job flying. I'm definitely glad I elected to first fly a full plane with an instructor on board but at this point I think I just need to get out there and fly and gain some experience.

Contrary to my experience at Wright Brothers minutes earlier, I managed to spot the lanterns lining the runway at Stewart at least five miles out. Go figure, I miss the high-intensity instrument landing lights but spot the oil lanterns. I turned base perhaps a hair too early and was quickly reminded of the illusions of Stewart at night as I ended up far too high on final. Luckily our 172 is of the older variety, so idle power and all 40 degrees of flaps gave me plenty of sink and I touched down a few hundred feet past the threshold.

Forgive the lengthy post, but even what was essentially a flight in a big circle left me with a lot of thoughts after 2 1/2 hours aloft. Gina took a few photos that I included in the post - they came out alright considering the lack of light. I'm so glad I was able to finally get in some more night hours, as it's such a wonderful time to be in the air. I know they'll let me go park a 150 at Wright Brothers overnight and fly it back to Stewart in the morning, so I really need to take advantage of that to keep up my currency. All told, tonight was one of those low-key flights that reminds you how special this whole flying thing can be.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 2.5 hours
Total Time: 114.0 hours

Friday, July 24, 2009

A quick flight before heading to the campground

Plane: Cub, 85 hp
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Partly cloudy, 80 degrees, wind 280 degrees at 6 knots

Quick post, as I'm writing about this a week later at this point. The weather last Friday made for one of those days when you feel guilty if you don't make it up in an airplane. We were headed down towards Portsmouth, Ohio to spend the weekend camping at Shawnee State Park and drove right past Stewart on the way. Sure, we only spent a half hour in the air but I'm not one to complain.

It was a simple flight, just rolling off the turf in the Cub with the doors hanging wide open. I took us out over the tip of the lake and over the beach, rocking the wings to wave to all below. Part of me likes to think there's always at least one kid looking up and waving - not that I could ever tell from the cockpit at 1,000 feet. Then it was a quick descent back into the pattern at Stewart, where I set us down for possibly my best landing ever - definitely the best in a Cub. Total three point greaser where you just suddenly find yourself back on the grass.

Unfortunately, some severe storms rolled through on Saturday so we had to cut the camping trip short by a night. There's not much fun in being trapped inside a wet tent when you can't even go outside and start a campfire. It was a great park in some beautiful, hilly terrain though so we'll be headed back down sometime for a second go at it. On the bright side, at least we were able to make some S'mores in our fire pit back at home on Sunday!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 0.5 hours
Total Time: 111.5 hours

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Meeting a friend of the blog from Down Under

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I-SGH-40I
Weather: Hazy, 75 degrees, wind calm

Update - I've posted a photo from our flight here.

I'm always amazed by the people I meet and emails I receive completely as a result of this blog. While it all began as a way to chronicle my flying lessons and share the experience with friends and other students, it's become a wonderful window into the camaraderie and general goodness that define the pilot community worldwide. I truly appreciate all the emails you readers send me, questions you ask me, thoughts and experiences you share with me, and comments you contribute to every discussion and post. Keep it up!

So on that note, I had a wonderful opportunity today to meet a friend I came to know through this blog. His name is Shaun and he's a certificated pilot from Australia. The short story is that he's read the blog for a while, was coming to the U.S. this summer, and wanted to do some flying since it's ridiculously more affordable than back home. Apparently my words about Stewart were a solid recommendation, as he decided to come here for his tailwheel endorsement and other additional training. Over the past couple months, we've talked via email and I actually mailed him training manuals and aeronautical charts to help him prepare. That the internet made such a thing possible is just plain awesome to me and I'm so glad we were able to meet up today.

After returning from my short flight in the Cub, I was hand-propping the same Cub for a student when Shaun walked over. We ended up talking with CFI Joe about the usual random flying nonsense for about a half hour. Differences between some things here compared to Australia, as well as some more general non-flying stuff. He's amazed at the plethora of Wal-Marts over here, by the way. Apparently they don't exist down there in the Southern Hemisphere. Who knew? Anyway, Shaun has been training and flying his tail off over the past week - heck, he even went up in the Stearman and did some wing-overs. I've still gotta get up in that gorgeous plane...

Great discussion aside, we decided to hop in the 150 and take a short flight together. He's been bouncing around many of the local airports so I wanted to go somewhere new. Turns out he'd driven over to Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport this afternoon to watch planes and take some photos. They've got an Air National Guard base there with F-16s so it's definitely a good choice when it comes to airplane-watching. But what's the fun of driving to an airport when you can land a plane at that airport? Plus, I'd never actually landed there yet myself so we'd both get to add it to our airport list.

The air was smooth as glass, one of those nights where you can just about fly without ever touching the yoke. I took us up to 3,000 and we headed straight there without ever seeing any other traffic aside from a C-5 that was in the pattern over at Wright Patterson AFB. Our heading allowed for a very smooth entry into the pattern for Runway 24 on a 45 degree entry to downwind. Seeing as they have military fighters based there, the runway is quite long - the longest I've ever landed on, in fact, at 9,000 feet.

With more than enough runway and no traffic, I simply stopped after landing to reconfigure and then pushed in the throttle and rotated back off the concrete. Shaun was up for a little fun so I made CFI Dave's famous F-150 takeoff by holding us about 20 feet off the runway as we accelerated to 90 knots then pulled up sharply. Of course, it's still a 150 so we only gained about 200 feet before I pushed over to continue the climb at 65 knots.

On the way home, we saw some more traffic. A plane called 10 miles South of Greene County when we were about 3 miles South headed in the opposite direction so I asked their altitude over the radio to check for a conflict. Shaun spotted them when they were a couple miles away and below us to the right. Another plane came closer and appeared pretty quickly off to my side of the plane, about a half mile away and a couple hundred feet below us. Neither was too close, but they were still close enough to warrant extra attention.

Approaching the pattern at Stewart, I saw the Stearman a few thousand feet above us. Not where you usually expect to see it, especially with the sun quickly setting. Let's just say I had a feeling they were about to do something fun. Sure enough, the next thing I knew they were in a spin directly above the field and I was about to turn downwind. I had no idea if they spotted me so I started to make a 360 as Shaun looked for them and spotted the plane level and still above us. I quickly turned across the field onto downwind as he helped keep the Stearman in sight. I dumped in all 40 degrees of flaps to get on the ground quickly just to clear the airspace and managed a decently smooth landing on the grass.

Back at the tiedown and safely shut down, we hopped out and watched the Stearman put on a bit more of a show. Loops, rolls, and generally cool aerobatic fun for about five minutes before they turned final and touched down. Then it was time to pack 60338 up as Shaun had scheduled a night flight with Joe. Over in Australia, you don't receive a night certification with your Private - it's separate training.

It really was great to go fly with another pilot, let alone one from halfway around the world. He took some photos and video tonight as well - I'll update the post when he can send them to me. We had a great discussion while enroute from Stewart to Springfield and back in addition to all the airplane talk on the ground. He's headed up to Oshkosh on Friday (yes, I'm jealous) but the plan is to fly over to Bolton Field in Columbus for some yummy BBQ on Thursday evening. At least for now, the weather looks like it will cooperate so hopefully we're able to make the trip. Even if we have to cancel, I'll definitely go down to Stewart to wish Shaun safe travels before he leaves Dayton and heads back home.

One last completely random thing that caught my attention tonight... this flight gives me exactly 111 total hours and the bill for the day (Cub + 150) was $111.03. Interesting, eh?

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 0.8 hours
Total Time: 111.0 hours

Quite the climbing Cub

Plane: Cub, 85 hp
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Haze, 79 degrees, wind 120 degrees at 4 knots

You have no idea how much I needed to get in the air tonight. Sure I was looking forward to it as I drove towards Waynesville, but the peace once I took off and flew around the pattern was exactly what the doctor ordered. Work's been completely insane for the past week since I returned from vacation/furlough and I've all but lived there. Add in another 21 hours in the office over the weekend and I was certainly ready to get the heck out and go fly.

I hadn't scheduled a plane and just drove down to Stewart, figuring there's always at least one plane open. Sure enough, the 85 hp Cub was available for an hour and I got the keys and went out to preflight. Winds were light out of the East as I took the end of Runway 8 and added in full power. All that horsepower (hey, 85 is a lot when the plane weighs like 900 pounds) had me off the ground within a couple hundred feet and climbing away like a rocked. I nearly turned crosswind a couple times before crossing US-42, which sits at the end of the aforementioned runway.

Other than my first landing attempt, where I bounced and immediately added full power to go around, the flying was quite smooth. That big engine had me climbing quickly to pattern altitude and I saw from my watch that it was only taking me about 5-6 minutes between each takeoff. It had been too long since I flew a taildragger and it was great to hop back in and brush up on my currency. Plus, there's still nothing better than flying a Cub on a warm summer day with the door hanging wide open.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 0.8 hours
Total Time: 110.2 hours

About that carb heat

I told you I'd update about the suspicious carburetor heat that caused me to cut my last flight short once I knew more. Today I made it down to Waynesville for some flying, so I asked them and here's the update as promised...

Turns out my suspicions were correct. Something had come loose in the connection between the carb heat knob inside the cockpit and the carburetor itself. In layman's terms, the carb heat was indeed not working. It was a quick fix and 60338's back in service (in fact I flew her tonight) but I was glad to confirm my diagnosis from that last flight.

So my takeaway from this to the many fellow pilots who read this is simple - if anything doesn't seem normal or feels unusual, get the plane on the ground and don't take any unnecessary chances!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Finally back flying, but not for long

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I-I19-40I
Weather: Clear, 79 degrees, wind 330 degrees at 6 knots

This will be quick since tonight's flight was so quick. I had intended to go up and visit a few nearby airports while working on takeoffs and landings to keep myself current. Tonight's the last night of 2+ weeks off work and I hadn't yet made it into the sky, which I'm quite ashamed to admit. Needless to say I couldn't have such a long break and never even hop into an airplane. Plus, it had been over 3 weeks since my last flight and that's nearing the limit of my self-imposed comfortable margin of time between flights.

Background nonsense aside, the weather was great tonight with some very high clouds to go with the comfortable temperature and light winds. I called Stewart to reserve my favorite bird, 60338, this afternoon and got to the airport around 18:00. Today was also the first time Gina was able to go up since she got out of the hospital so it was great to have her in the right seat. Anyway, I ran through my pre-takeoff checks and the carb heat seemed slightly slow to respond but I figured there was a chance a little ice had formed while idling on the ground. After a second thorough check, it appeared to be working properly so we departed 40I and headed directly to Greene County Airport for my first planned stop of the night.

I brought us in for a slightly shaky (the winds at the end of Runway 25 at I19 can be fun and, along with the slight crosswind, I had to make a real fast correction right as we touched down to straighten the nose out) but otherwise safe and effective landing. Wanting to check the carb heat again just to be sure, I pulled into the runup area and had to pull it out twice before I got an RPM drop. However, it did work so I took off and said I would check it once more in the air before I decided whether or not to land at Greene County again. Up at pattern altitude, I tried the carb heat and couldn't get any drop in the RPMs after fiddling with it a few times.

I'm certainly not going to take any chances and end up with a carb full of ice, so I immediately left the pattern and headed directly to Stewart. At this point, I couldn't even tell if the carb heat was on or off even though I had it pulled full on - and I left it in the full on position all the way home. My mostly uneducated guess is that the the wire running from the carb may have come loose from the control knob.

We circled in over the lake and I entered on a 45 from the South to land on Runway 26. We were in front of a Cub and this time I set us down for a really smooth crosswind landing. Unfortunately the flight wasn't too exciting, but given the circumstances that's probably for the better. Safety first, indeed. They're going to check the plane out so I'll have to ask if they found anything wrong with the carb heat next time I'm down there. Other than tooling around in the pattern, I've been itching to take a real (i.e. spending at least 3 hours in the air) cross-country flight so I'm going to try and do so here in the next couple of weeks.

Today's Flight: 0.8 hours
Total Time: 109.4 hours