Friday, August 27, 2010

Getting Mike back into the air

Plane: Cub, 85 hp
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Clear, 78 degrees, wind 100 degrees at 4 knots

I know I've already said this a couple times since the calendar rolled over to 2010, but I'll be darned if this wasn't the most beautiful day of the year. We've had nothing but heat and humidity for the better part of the past month so today's nearly calm winds, unlimited visibility, and comfortable, non-humid warmth was downright perfect for some Cub time. Of course, Mr. Murphy stepped in (pun not intended - you'll see...) to try and keep me on the ground when I smashed our front door into my big toe last night. Blood and pain ensued but I'll leave the gory details aside. There was still no way I wasn't going to try and get in the air, especially since I'm only feeling pain when walking.

I called Stewart and found out both Cubs were open (on a day like today? what's wrong with people?!?) so I had them hold the big one for me. Gina was already up flying with CFI Dave in the small Cub so I would have had to wait an extra half hour and the additional 20 hp really bump up the fun factor anyway. I'm digressing here but the key thing (IMSAFE checklist, everyone!) is I climbed in the cockpit as soon as I arrived to be sure there was no pain and no restriction in movement with the rudders due to my toe. Thankfully, it appears that the aviation gods trump Mr. Murphy because I was pain-free and determined that I was fit to fly.

In light of the amazing weather, I had sent a text message to some pilot friends as I left the office that said something random about how we should all be flying on a day like today. My friend Mike called me in response as I was driving to the airport and said he was free, so I told him to get the heck on down to Waynesville so we could go flying! I ran through the entire preflight and had everything ready so we simply had to hop in and get propped once he arrived.

We headed straight out at about 1,500 feet and then I turned south to follow the valley for a few miles. There's nothing quite like enjoying the trees and terrain passing below the open door of a yellow Piper Cub on a summer evening. I broke off that route and turned back towards Caesar Creek Lake, which we flew over on a similar sightseeing mission. Contrary to what the GPS track shows, we did not fly underwater. Seems that thing gets the hiccups from time to time when it comes to recording altitude.

I climbed up to about 2,800 feet after we passed the beach and waved the wings at the people down below. There were a couple planes that I spotted while doing my clearing turns so I held off doing any maneuvering until I could tell they were safely clear of the airspace I'd be using. Then I asked Mike if he wanted to have some fun (the response was, unsurprisingly, an enthusiastic yes) and cranked the Cub over into a steep turn to the left. My scan still showed us to be clear of any traffic as we completed the 360 so I rolled immediately into a steep turn to the right.

At that point there was another plane approaching us - although he was well below our altitude (I think he was copying our earlier sightseeing idea) I didn't want to be losing track of him in the middle of steep turns. I waited for a little bit, then banked the plane around for one or two 90 degree turns before deciding it was time to head back. We were plenty high so I pulled the carb heat on, throttle to idle, left rudder to the stop, and lots of right aileron. Throwing those barn-door flat sides of the Cub against the wind in a forward slip always does a good job in ridding you of altitude.

The pattern at Stewart was semi-busy and I saw a plane turning crosswind so I turned my downwind earlier than normal to be sure we didn't cut him off. This put me about 1/4 mile farther from the airport than normal but I still wanted to try an engine-out approach. The hindsight, short-story version is I probably should have turned towards the runway about 5 seconds sooner. I was banked about 25 feet above the ground to line up with the runway when I added power to arrest the sink rate; I pulled it back to idle two seconds later when lined up and made a smooth three-point landing. Had it been a real emergency I would have made it back to the runway but there's no reason to brush that closely against the safety margin when practicing!

As I explained to Mike, I always like to knock out three takeoffs and landings when flying the taildraggers to ensure I extend my passenger-carrying currency. I decided to salvage my reputation (that's the first time I've ever had to add power during a simulated engine-out since I was a student pilot) and attempt another power-off landing the next time around. This one went perfectly as I turned back plenty early, used a moderate forward slip to lose altitude when I had the runway made, and touched down smoothly enough that the airplane was still usable. The final approach was made normally until I added about 300 RPM as I began to flare and flew the airplane just off the grass about 1,500 feet down the runway until I pulled the power and the wheels touched.

It was good to get Mike back in the skies (he's in the midst of a four month break in his own training and is itching to get back at the controls) and to have someone to tag along. He said my turns were really good and I always appreciate passengers that try and pad the pilot ego! ;-) Seriously though, it was great to bring someone up in the Cub that can appreciate what I'd label a rare perfect flying day. I had the video camera mounted in the cockpit and recorded part of the flight but I honesty haven't had time to do anything with the footage. At this rate, I think I'll end up posting a video of a giant assortment of random flying clips on here eventually!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 0.9 hours
Total Time: 173.8 hours

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Oshkosh 2010 Video

Someone posted a link to this on the AOPA Forums last week and I knew I had to share it. Even if - like me - you weren't able to make it to Oshkosh this year, you can see much of what Airventure offered in this video. Hope you enjoy it!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Three quick laps around the pattern

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Clear, 87 degrees, wind 140 degrees at 8 knots

I drove down to Stewart after work (could there possibly be a better Friday activity?) so I could to pick up a polo shirt for Gary. It also just happened to work out that Gina was scheduled to go flying with CFI Dave from 5:30 to 6:30. Do you actually think I could sit on the ground after driving to the airport on a clear summer evening? I had hoped that a Cub would be open but they were both flying (Gina and Dave in one of them) so I got the keys to the 150.

My patterns were more quadrilateral-like than rectangular today

On my way down to the end of the runway I passed by Gina and waved to her and Dave. She took off (it looked quite good from my perspective!) while I did my runup and then I followed them into the pattern with a normal takeoff. I debated heading over to Wright Brothers but her lesson was almost over so I elected to just circle around Stewart a few times. Three quick laps with a normal, short field, and soft field takeoff. It's obvious to me how much more I've been flying the 172 lately (after logging 12.6 hours on our huge trip last month) because I keep using way too much right rudder on climbout.

I attempted a power-off 180 accuracy landing but landed a bit long. My final landing was intentionally long as I added power and flew about a foot over the runway to touch down closer to the tiedowns. My logbook confirms that this was my shortest flight ever, just 0.4 hours on the Hobbs. Not that I'm complaining - I still got to fly!

After chatting in the office for a while, Gina and I headed off to Der Dutchman for dinner in downtown Waynesville. It's a big, Amish-style restaurant with chicken, loads of homemade side dishes, and whatnot. We both opted for the buffet and stuffed ourselves silly. It was delicious and I can't believe I've been flying out of Stewart for about 2 1/2 years and just now finally made it there for dinner - you can bet we'll be back again.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 0.4 hours
Total Time: 172.9 hours

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Serious stall practice in the 150

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: High overcast, 79 degrees, wind 080 degrees at 4 knots

Yesterday was one of the most beautiful days of the summer but someone had the 150 out on a cross-country. Alas, I reserved the plane for this evening and the weather was still quite pleasant except for a high overcast that obscured the blue sky. I thought my 90 day currency in the plane was close to expiring (upon further inspection, I had until September 7th) so I wanted to take her up and run myself through a thorough practice session.

I filled both tanks to the top since the FuelHawk only indicated 9 gallons total remaining. Since I added 11 gallons and the plane holds 26, it appears I actually had about 15 gallons left in the two tanks. The wind was light out of the east so I taxied down to the west end of the field, ran through all my pre-takeoff checks, and then started rolling down the grass for a very smooth takeoff.

The view below was great as I departed the pattern and climbed to gain enough altitude to practice maneuvers. Scanning all over for traffic, I enjoyed watching the ground pass below as I made my way up to 3,500 feet. I first made two steep turns to the right and did an absolutely horrible job holding altitude - I actually gained between 100 and 200 feet each time. After realizing I was using a bad reference point on the cowling (can you tell I get used to sitting centerline in a tandem plane like the Cub?) I made a couple steep turns to the left and my performance was much better, even catching my wake once or twice. I made one final steep turn to the right and held altitude within about 25 feet.

This is where I must admit that I'm still apprehensive about doing stalls at times. There's really no good reason, especially since I've had plenty of spin training and know what to do if I really screw things up. I had decided in advance that I was going to do a bunch of them this evening. Since the 150 loves to drop a wing in a power-on stall configuration I knew I would have to do things right if I was going to be satisfied with my performance.

After leveling back off at about 3,800 feet I placed the plane into a slow flight configuration. With the power set just enough to hold altitude and 20 degrees of flaps, I was flying along at just about 35 knots indicated with the stall horn chirping. I made a couple slow turns while checking for traffic and then pulled the throttle to idle, yoke back into my stomach, kept the nose straight with the rudder, and the plane responded with a clean, wings-level stall break. That sure wasn't too bad! In total, I did five power-off stalls and they were all quite tame and I always managed to keep the wings level with my feet and lost 50 feet of altitude or less.

Next came the part that generally causes the apprehension but I was up for the challenge. I pulled the throttle back to about 2,000 RPM and let the plane slow down, then pulled back on the yoke while pushing the throttle back in for full power. Back, back, back on the yoke until it feels like we're flying to the moon and I finally got a stall break. I didn't yank back hard enough so it was relatively tame but I caught the slight wing drop with the rudder. I did another four or five power-on stalls and progressively brought the stick back more quickly once I firewalled the throttle. I caused a sizeable wing drop a couple times but corrected automatically with rudder to bring the plane back to wings-level in a slight descent to regain airspeed. Overall I have to say I am very happy with my performance and I'm glad to have gone up and made myself do a ton of stalls.

I climbed up to practice steep turns and stalls and then spent some time in the pattern

Since I was at 4,000 feet I figured the best way to get down would be to practice forward slips. They're second-nature in the Cub but not something I do as often in the Cessnas so I pulled the carb heat out, throttle to idle, rudder to the stop, and opposite aileron until I was headed down in a 1,500 fpm descent. I switched direction halfway through to a right slip with extra aileron to turn 90 degrees while slipping and head west towards the airport.

Back in the pattern, I ran myself through a series of takeoffs and landings. All the landings were acceptable with a gentle touchdown although I didn't have the yoke all the way back when the wheels touched every time. My first short field takeoff wasn't as fluid as I would like so I went short field the next time around and the result was much better; building up airspeed and then yanking the plane off the ground and climbing at a little over 50 knots.

I made two short field landings as well, one with a long stabilized approach and another where I dropped the flaps to 40 degrees on short final. Both times I had the plane stopped in 500-600 feet after the wheels touched down. The final two landings were made following power-off 180 accuracy approaches. I think my first one was better; the wheels had to have touched within 100 feet of my "abeam the numbers" pull of the throttle to idle. My aim point was halfway down the runway on the second landing (to shorten my taxi) and I landed about 50 feet short. All in all, a great day of practice and I definitely feel a lot sharper having pushed myself through so many maneuvers in about an hour of flying time!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 1.1 hours
Total Time: 172.5 hours

Thursday, August 12, 2010

GPS tracks and converting to Google Earth format

One of the most frequent questions I receive over email from blog visitors is how I use my AMOD 3080 GPS Logger to create Google Earth tracks. I'm always glad to help out and send along the settings I use to convert the log files using GPS Visualizer's web interface. However, I am very long overdue in placing a permanent set of instructions on the blog.

Click here for a PDF with information about the device and instructions on converting GPS log files to Google Earth format.

You can use the link above to download a PDF and I'm also placing a permanent link to this post over on the right-hand navigation. If you have any questions about the document or would like to suggest any changes or improvements, please comment on this post or send me an email. Hope this helps all of you who want to log your flights!

In addition, if you'd like to enable overlays of Sectional and Terminal Area Charts in Google Earth (so your tracks are plotted on top of the charts in 3D) there are instructions on how to do just that here.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Cub time and Gina's flying lessons

Plane: Cub, 65 hp
Route: 40I, Local
Weather: Partly cloudy, 83 degrees, wind 060 degrees at 4 knots

Wow, it's been 10 days since this flight (it's August 11th right now) and I haven't even had a chance to write about it yet! Work was insane over the past week and a half (52 hours in four days, etc.) and then we were in Chicago for a wedding. Gina and I used the Zi8 in flight to capture some video but I simply haven't been able to edit it into anything, so that will have to wait for now. As to the flight itself...

Since I didn't have a chance to fly when Gary and Rob visited on Saturday, I wanted to get up the following afternoon. Ever since our giant flying adventure I have not gone up much. That's due to both a lack of free time and a seriously depleted flying fund. This wasn't going to be a flight with any purpose other than knocking out some takeoffs and landings to keep the rust from forming.

The sun was shining, the temperature quite pleasant, and the winds light as we got propped and taxied down to the end of Runway 8. I made three takeoffs and landings - short field, simulated engine out, and a power-off 180 accuracy approach. On that 180 approach I was able to land within 100 feet of my aiming point. We took off for the third time and I headed out towards the lake to enjoy the warm breeze blowing through the Cub's open door.

Gina took the controls for a few minutes and flew us around the lake. I haven't mentioned it on here before, but she's been taking flying lessons. Her goal is just to learn how to land the plane in case something happens to me. She's gone up in the 65 hp Cub three times now with CFI Dave and still doesn't want to work towards a Sport or Private certificate; maybe that will change in the future. Her stick and rudder skills have definitely progressed and she did a great job keeping the plane level at 2,100 feet while following the shoreline. It was nice to be able to just enjoy the view, watch for traffic, and record a couple short videos with her doing the flying.

I had her fly us into a 45 degree entry to the pattern. As we approached I saw another plane turning downwind and she turned away for spacing. I took the controls back and brought us around for an intentionally long landing. Adding power as I started to flare, I flew us about one foot off the ground until touching down roughly 1000 feet down the runway. Not much else to report - just another nice summer day in the Cub!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File
Today's Flight: 0.8 hours
Total Time: 171.4 hours