Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fall colors and knocking the rust off

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: High overcast, 62 degrees, wind 190 degrees at 4 knots

Wednesdays are bowling league at work, but when I woke up to blue skies and a forecast of light winds and 70 degree temperatures in the middle of October I knew I needed to find a sub. By the time I squared that away and called Stewart I realized most other pilots had the same idea. Neither Cub was available after work (I was hoping to get in some J-3 time) so I ended up reserving the 150. Better in the sky in a Cessna than on the ground wanting to be piloting a Cub!

Gina met me enroute to the airport and we arrived just before 5:30. The sky wasn't blue anymore - a high overcast had blanketed the region - but it was still warm and surface winds were light. I took the runway and made a normal takeoff with a straight-out departure to the West. Gina wanted to see the field with the corn art I last flew over back in August so I took us over that way. I circled overhead while she took a few photos then moved on to the next order of business. It's been a month since I really went up and practiced, as my last two logbook entries were cross-countries with a 'get there and get back' mission, so that was the plan for the rest of the flight.

Crop art from the North side of the farm...

...aaand now from the South

Anyway, I climbed up to 3,000 and made two steep turns. I held altitude spot on both times and hit my wake exiting the second, so that was a good start. Then I wanted to descend quickly to work on some ground reference maneuvers (it had been forever since I practiced these) so carb heat in, throttle to idle, and into a forward slip to quickly lose 1,000 feet. With a relatively strong wind aloft (about 15-20 knots even at 1,000 feet above the ground) the conditions were perfect to knock my rust off S-Turns and Turns Around a Point. I can't say I was satisfied with my S-Turns; they weren't very smooth and I didn't hold altitude that well. On the other hand, my Turns Around a Point (a water tower, if you're curious) were great and my GPS track sure confirmed that feeling.

What rust? Red is the slowest ground speed and blue is the fastest.

I then headed off to the airport for some takeoff and landing practice. Each lap around the pattern I used a different configuration - normal, soft field, and short field. My soft field takeoff wasn't the best at first, as the full back elevator lowered the tail right into the grass when enough airflow started moving over the control surfaces. I instantly relaxed the pressure and made an otherwise smooth soft field departure. I'd rate all my landings good, although I did come down a tad bit hard on the short field. The mains touched smoothly but I let the nose wheel drop way too fast and it hit hard. On my final lap, I pulled the power abeam the numbers to simulate an engine out. I turned back towards the runway a little too soon as I sometimes do and ended up dumping in all 40 degrees of flaps to touch down about 600 feet past the threshold. Not that it affected the landing, as my flare was perfect and the landing the smoothest of the day.

It's too bad the camera batteries ran out shortly after takeoff since the colors were quite vivid in many locations down below. Gina was kind of tired from a long day at school (they started a new quarter today, which means three classes full of new students) so she wasn't able to enjoy things as much as usual. Then again, given all the ground reference maneuvers and pattern work I did, all she really had to do was stare out the window anyway. Good practice all around as far as I'm concerned and it was nice to get up and spend some time on the basics. Tomorrow night I'm headed to Indianapolis for a town hall with Indy Center - hopefully it's a great session with ATC. Let me know if you're going to be attending!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.1 hours
Total Time: 138.3 hours

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Visiting family and friends near Akron for the day

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: 40I-1G3-15G-40I
Weather: Scattered to high clouds, 48 degrees, wind 010 degrees at 5 knots

Sure it's expensive sometimes, but flying is nearly always better than driving (yes, I admit I may be biased...) and today was no exception. Gina and I had been planning to take a day trip up to Akron to visit my grandma and other relatives. Unfortunately, my grandma fell and broke her hip last week so it turned into a trip to visit her into the hospital. She's doing just fine, though, just waiting to start on physical therapy. Anyway, I've driven the route enough to know it would require at least 7-8 hours by car. Hop in a 172 and flight plan to take advantage of the winds, however, and we were able to make the trip (plus a stop to visit fellow blogging pilot Dave) in 3.9 total on the Hobbs. And we got a waaay better view of all the fall foliage down below!

I had originally scheduled 60338 for the whole day a couple weeks back but it was still in for annual. I got a phone call from Stewart on Thursday informing me of that fact and they helped out by getting the person that had 2814L reserved at noon move his slot so we could have the plane for most of the day. Of course, we still left a good two hours later than I would have liked but at least the extra speed of the 172 helped make up for some of the lost time. It's been quite cold here lately (in the 30s at night) so, once all the pre-takeoff checks were complete and we rolled onto the runway, we climbed out at a nice clip on our way to 7,500 feet to take advantage of 15-20 knot tailwinds.

Fall colors down below just after departing Stewart

Emerson was up in the Citabria with a student as we climbed away from Stewart

I tried to contact Dayton Approach to get flight following, but it was clear they were understaffed on this Sunday morning. There was way more traffic than usual on 118.85 so I assume they had combined sectors. Needless to say, I never got a reply to my three calls and ended up contacting Columbus Approach a couple minutes later in their airspace. They sounded just as busy but I did get a response and a squawk code. While it my altitude read correct on the transponder readout (it was indicating 7,400 feet) apparently my Mode C was off about 500 feet and they had me turn it off. The only traffic we saw was a Northwest CRJ that passed a couple miles behind us. I heard ATC vector him around us - nice to know I'm getting even with Delta (sorry but I hate the NW/DL merger) one small step at a time! :-P

Flying over top of the Columbus Zoo

Northwest jet (in Delta colors) that passed behind us North of CMH

Somewhere around this point I noticed I still had the fuel selector on Both even though I should have switched it to Left or Right once we climbed above 5,000 feet. It had only been 10-15 minutes since we had done so, but that was a stupid oversight on my part... especially since I had reminded myself about the switching tanks numerous times while planning and briefing for the flight. This is where the only real negative I feel about my training at Stewart pops up, which is the use of checklists in flight.

Don't get me wrong, I was trained on the use of checklists and religiously use them on the ground for all pre-flight and pre-takeoff checks. Yet - and maybe it's partially because they just don't really exist for some of the older planes like the Cub and Champ - we never used them much in flight itself. I purchased a Checkmate Checklist for the 150 last year (and intend to get one for the 172 now that I'm flying it more) but have trouble remembering to actually use it once airborne. It's a personal sticking point that I'm constantly striving to improve upon. As far as today's flight is concerned, I certainly would have caught the fuel selector oversight sooner had I been using a checklist.

Thankfully there were no adverse affects from not changing the selector. I believe the reason it's required above 5,000 feet is because there is a slight imbalance in fuel tank pressure that can cause vapor lock if left on Both for extended periods. When I caught my oversight I saw the right tank was slightly fuller so I noted the time (to be able to switch Left/Right every 30 minutes) and flipped the selector to Left. It was less than a half hour later that we went below 5,000 during our descent so I switched back to Both without ever having to switch to Right.

Scattered clouds and fall foliage around Williams Lake

Passing by some scattered clouds enroute

The Goodyear Blimp was flying near Akron - about 15 miles away

We passed over top of a scattered cloud layer between Columbus and Akron that appeared to be at about 6,000 feet. The prevailing winds were pushing it Eastward and the skies were mostly clear with high cirrus by the time I was ready to begin our descent. We went from Columbus to Mansfield to Akron/Canton Approach and I had to call fresh each time since they never provided a hand-off. Not a major hassle and certainly never a reason to avoid picking up flight following. I also recycled the Mode C and left it on after leaving Columbus' airspace, never hearing a peep from ATC about it again.

The ride had been incredibly smooth up to this point as we enjoyed the beautiful fall foliage down below. Yet as soon as I began descending, things started to get bumpier. Hard to tell if it was due to windshear or thermals, but we definitely had a couple solid jolts on the way down. The kind where you're reminded just why you wear a seatbelt... that's so you don't hit your head on the ceiling, in case you're wondering. I throttled back to slow down below maneuvering speed to try and reduce the bumpiness while descending but we pretty much got tossed around all the way down.

No traffic was in the pattern at Kent State (1G3) and when I dialed in the AWOS at Akron Fulton (the closest to Kent) the winds were reporting light and variable. I was pretty sure I remembered reading Runway 19 was the preferred runway (although I can't find that in the A/FD as I write this after the fact) so I made a crosswind entry into a left downwind for 19. Just as I did so, someone starting up on the ground called Unicom for an airport advisory and they said Runway 01 was in use.

D'oh - another thing I need to remember to take advantage of is Unicom. We don't have it at Stewart and I've honestly just never used it much so I didn't think to ask for an advisory. It would have been the logical thing to do considering they don't have an AWOS/ASOS on the field. Either way, I was still PIC and I had my choice of runway with no other planes in the pattern but I figured there was no reason to buck the trend and turned crosswind over the end of the runway to enter a left downwind for 01. Turns out my aunts and cousins on the ground who were waiting to pick us up thought I was circling for them. Sure, that's what we were doing... ;-)

As I went around the pattern there were thermals all over and we were still getting tossed around a bit. On to short final, everything looked pretty good but the winds were a little shifty and I ended up in a crab right as we touched down. I was trying to correct with rudder and straighten things out but the wheels hit the runway firmly with a slight side load when I thought we were still a foot or two above the surface. Not good and definitely far from my best, but we got down safely. Chalk it up to me still needing more landing practice in general in the 172 as well as not being proactive enough on the controls. In hindsight, a go-around would have been a wise choice once we were about 5 feet up and I hadn't really stabilized with the nose pointing down the centerline. There's nothing wrong with going around!

In the pattern at Kent State

Short final into Kent State

This would be me just before shutting down at Kent State

After I taxied into a tiedown and shut down, I walked over to the fence to say hi to my two aunts and two cousins that came to pick us up. I stopped in the airport office to register as a transient aircraft and asked them to top off the tanks while we were on the ground. Very handy! My cousins wanted to see the airplane so I carefully walked everyone over to the plane and pointed things out for 5-10 minutes. They got in the seat and took a few photos, etc. I'll add a few of the photos to the blog once they email them to me.

My one aunt took Gina and me to the hospital where we got to spend a half hour or so with my grandma. For just having had screws put into her hip, she looked remarkably good for her 89 years. Her usual wit and stubbornness were in full display (she definitely wanted her Polydent and hated whatever the hell the hospital gave her) so we could tell she's going to be just fine after some physical therapy. I'm glad we got to stop in and say hi and it sounded like she was quite excited we flew in to see her.

After the hospital we had some delicious home-cooked Italian food (got to love the relatives - you certainly never leave hungry) and visited with everyone. Then we met up with two of Gina's family friends over coffee at Panera for about 45 minutes before going back to the airport. Some more cousins of mine met us back at Kent State and I showed them the airplane and they also took some photos.

We would have loved to spend more time with everyone but the clock was ticking and we needed to head over to Wadsworth to visit Dave and get on home before dark. I pre-flighted, checked the fuel tanks to be sure they were full, and we launched into the air off Runway 01. As soon as we were climbing you could see the Cleveland skyline against Lake Erie off in the distance. Having visited the Akron area who-knows-how-many times in my lifetime and seen many places from the ground, it was really cool to see some of them from the air as we departed.

Westbound departure from Kent State - downtown Cleveland's out on the horizon

Zoomed-in view of downtown Cleveland from about 25 miles away

Cuyahoga Falls and the never-completed Humbard Tower

Weltzien Skypark (15G) is about 20 miles from Kent State so I only climbed up to 2,500 feet for the quick hop. They were having their (annual?) Fall Foliage tour, with dozens of pilots taking people on short flights around the area and then landing back at the airport. Accordingly, the CTAF was abuzz with pilots making calls. I knew where the airport was thanks to the Sectional and my GPS but I'll be darned if I could find the place. I did see planes departing so I was able to circle around from the North, descend to pattern altitude, and head in the approximate direction on an extended 45.

Finally, I spotted the airport about 3-4 miles out and made it around the pattern to short final for the (very narrow!) runway. I've got to say that I was quite proud of my short field landing. Set her down just past the numbers and turned off onto the taxiway in under 1,000 feet. Now, it might not be as awesome as Dave said it was (thanks for the kind review, tho!) but I was quite satisfied. Especially after the horrendous landing back at Kent. He was even kind enough to take a short video and email it to me, which I didn't know about until we got back home - thanks, Dave!

Dave shot video of our landing and takeoff at 15G

I finally got the chance to meet with fellow blogging pilot Dave!

Gina and me in front of 2814L before heading home

Dave was there on the ramp to help me get parked and we quickly shut down and hopped out to say hello. Most readers of the blog know how much I enjoy meeting folks through it so I was excited to finally shake Dave's hand and say hi. He took me and Gina on a short tour of the place and I've got to say it's downright awesome. Whether you read articles or watch videos about the Skypark, there's no way to avoid the love people have for the place. One stop and I'd already call it my second-favorite place after Stewart. Everyone there lives and breathes aviation and, hey, come on - how many other airports have two hot tubs, a movie theater, and a tiki bar? 'Nuff said.

Dave took a photo of us waiting in line for departure

Weltzien Skypark (15G) just after departing and turning on course

We talked with Dave and his girlfriend Toni for about 15 minutes but had to launch again quickly to head back home. I really hate how short the days are growing! Luckily we'll get to spend more time together next month as he's joining me on a tour of the Cleveland ARTCC. Looking at the flight plan and nav log, I estimated we would get back to Stewart a little past sunset. Unfortunately we were stuck on the ground at the Skypark for about 5 minutes while people getting rides loaded and unloaded and I didn't figure this into the time needed to get back. Shortly after takeoff, I contacted Akron/Canton Approach and they told me I was leaving their airspace and to contact Mansfield Approach. I did just that and we remained on flight following (with hand-offs this time) all the way through to Dayton Approach until we were within 10 miles of Stewart.

Rolling hills near Loudonville about 30 minutes before sunset

Some beautiful clouds on our way home shortly before sunset

Sunset and more pretty clouds - I love flying!

It was getting dark quickly and I realized we'd be landing a few minutes later than I had planned. I figured it would still be light out enough to land at Stewart - remember, it's an unlit grass strip - but already was planning to divert to Wright Brothers if needed. Thankfully I made up a little time in our descent from 4,500 to pattern altitude and was able to use the sky reflecting off Caesar Creek Lake as a nice waypoint from over 20 miles out until I had the lights of Waynesville in sight. By now it was quite dark but I could still see the field and the cones as I entered the pattern at Stewart.

On short final, I was a little high so I went to idle and dropped in all 40 degrees of flaps as the landing light became increasingly visible on the grass. We landed just past the hump on Runway 8 and I've got to say it was a real nice one - smooth and stable and only a hair more forceful than I desired due to the runway sloping down on the far side of the hump. I taxied over to the tiedowns and was glad I double-checked my flight bag for my two flashlights before we left this morning as they were needed to grab all our stuff from the back seat! From being able to visit so many people in one day to the continued learning experiences I'm having as a pilot flying long cross-country flights, today was great. I was far from perfect in some of the piloting aspects but the important thing is we made it safely home and I've got a few more things to think about next time.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 3.9 hours
Total Time: 137.2 hours

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Meeting Marty for some grub on a rainy Fall day

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I-AXV-40I
Weather: Overcast, light rain showers, 59 degrees, wind 200 degrees at 5 knots

I'll be honest up front - this was one of those flights where I really had to use my judgement in evaluating the weather throughout the day before making the go/no-go decision. As recent as yesterday, I looked at today's forecast and saw clear skies. Mother Nature clearly had other plans and the front moved a lot faster, bringing overcast skies and light rain showers. I was checking AWOS reports all afternoon and visibilities were still reporting 10+ miles with ceilings no lower than 8,000 feet. But I held off making the final decision until I called Flight Service on the way to the airport. The briefer confirmed that even though there were light rain showers, visibility remained good and there should be VFR weather during the time I'd be in the sky.

Not only was the decision-making process a good bit of experience to file away in my head, but the weather itself made this a really rewarding flight. I do recall bad visibility and haze on my first solo cross-country as well as some serious haze when we came back from Put-In-Bay last month, but I don't think I've ever flown in rain for an entire flight. Sure it was VFR the whole way and a lot of folks have flown in much worse weather, but - at least at this point in my aviating life - today was a good balance between challenging myself and keeping a margin of safety.

Pretty straight lines from following a Sectional if I do say so myself!

So where was I headed in the first place, you ask? Up to Neil Armstrong Airport in Wapakoneta. Actually it's 8 miles Southwest in New Knoxville but the Man Who First Walked on the Moon is from Wapakoneta so I suppose politics may have been involved during the naming, but I digress. Why the heck would I want to fly up there, you ask? To meet a friend and CFII that I know from the AOPA Forums (seems I meet a lot of folks on there, eh?) who has a flight training business on the field. And, most importantly, he and a bunch of other pilots at the airport have a little barbecue every Thurday night. Free burgers and brats? I'm in!

Visibility off to the East on the way up

Weather-wise, the flight up to Neil Armstrong was better than the return. Upon departing Stewart I turned on course, just a couple degrees left of due North. As I was climbing up to 4,500 I contacted Dayton Approach for flight following. The radio on 18J is a bit of a pain (I've mentioned this on here before) because it blows your eardrums out every time you hit the Push-to-Talk (PTT) switch. So the workaround is to quickly push the volume sliders on my headset all the way down when I hit the PTT, say what I need to say, then quickly push the volume back up so I can hear ATC's response. At the same time, I try to write down the frequency, squawk code, or whatever else it is they want me to do.

Long story short, between doing all that and flying the plane (aviate, navigate, communicate!) I jumbled up a few of my calls and definitely wouldn't call it my best day on the radio. I had to ask them to repeat my squawk code once because I forgot to write it down and instead went right into the above 'slide-talk-slide' sequence to make my callback. Now you see why it's smart to write everything down when you hear it. The radio behavior is more of a pain than anything (and they're supposed to be fixing it when the plane goes in for annual in a couple weeks - but it's hard to diagnose because it only occurs in the air; everything always seems fine when you test it on the ground) but that's not much of an excuse. Quite simply, I wasn't thinking before I spoke every time.

Dayton had me climb to 5,500 - presumably for traffic - and I passed right over top of the airport, which allowed me a great view and the chance to take some photos. Sure beats the usual view out a 6-inch window on a cramped airliner. The clouds were at least 2,500 feet above me the remainder of the short trip and I flew in and out of some very light rain showers. Visibility never dropped below 10 miles and I spotted the airport from 10-15 miles out, cancelled flight following, and made my approach.

Passing right over top of Dayton International on my way North

Raindrops on the windshield as I cruise at 5,500 feet

Passing by Lake Loramie while inbound and descending to pattern altitude

Neil Armstrong Airport from about 7 miles out

As I made my first radio call while inbound, Marty came back on Unicom with an airport advisory and a "hi Steve!" so I was already feeling welcome before I even touched down. I made an easy lap around the pattern and set down on the left main first for a nice and soft crosswind landing. Taxiing over towards the ramp, Marty appeared and marshalled me into a parking spot on the concrete.

It was great to spend time with him and some other pilots, even if I only was on the ground for about an hour. Marty introduced me to a bunch of pilot friends from the area and we all talked about... well, do I even need to tell you what we talked about? One guy has a beautiful biplane that he spent something like 13 years building in his basement - it was impeccable. I had a burger, some scalloped potatoes, and pumpkin spice cookies and all were delicious. About an hour had passed since I landed when I started the engine back up after a quick preflight just as it was starting to rain on the field. Daylight hours are quickly fading so I had to be wheels-up by 6:30 at the latest to get home before sunset. As I left the ground and started to climb, I saw Marty waving down below and rocked my wings in return.

Visibility to the West on the flight back home - slightly lower than earlier

The rain came down with a bit more intensity throughout the flight home. However, I was easily able to navigate from town to town with the help of the Sectional as I made my way Southbound. Visibility was still more than adequate, but I'd estimate it got down to around 7 miles at times. As I passed by Dayton International the rain picked up slightly more and remained that way until I was a few miles beyond downtown. I spotted a C-5 off to the East in the pattern at Wright-Patt and heard him talking to Dayton Approach on the same frequency I was on for flight following. Other than that, the radio was pretty quiet.

Rain picking up and visibility lowering slightly as I approached DAY

...aaaand passing by Dayton once again

The high school where Gina teaches is in the middle of the photo

Passing over downtown Dayton - the fountains at Riverscape were on

USAF Museum in the foreground with Wright-Patt AFB off in the distance

About 10 miles from Stewart the rain lightened up and I could see the clouds were lifting to the West. ATC canceled flight following with me just about the time I was going to call them and do the same, as I had the airport in sight. I descended down from 3,500 feet to pattern altitude and heard someone else in the pattern make a radio call on the CTAF so I announced my position as well. It's quite rare to hear anyone on the radio at Stewart since at least half the traffic is NORDO so it was quite random to hear someone else talking on a day when very few folks were flying. Anyway, I continued on all the way to final where I intentionally landed long to be closer to parking. For whatever reason, however, I really ballooned at first and even though I eventually set 18J down softly it definitely wasn't a great landing by any means.

I'm really glad I had the chance to finally meet another pilot friend. And, you know what? Come to think of it, this may have been my first actual $100 hamburger if you want to be really technical. Either way, the food was tasty and the company was nice. Add to that everything I said earlier about getting experience flying in less-than-ideal weather conditions and I'll write this evening off as one heck of a successful flight in my logbook.

One last thing... if anyone's in the area, I'll probably be at Sporty's this Saturday from 12-1 or so for their usual grill out!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.8 hours
Total Time: 133.3 hours