Saturday, June 29, 2013

Checked out in the T-Craft

Plane: Taylorcraft
Instructor: Jamie
Route: 40I-2OH9-40I
Weather: Partly cloudy, 75 degrees, wind 240 degrees at 5 knots

After last week's first flight filled with flying (how's that for some alliteration?) maneuvers it was time for my second flight that would permit me to add a new airplane to my rental stable. Jamie and I took the T-Craft up in between this afternoon's lines of storms. Seems like the darn things have been ever-present for weeks at this point! There were heavy thunderstorms north near Dayton and a line was visible to the south but we had more than enough room in between. Heck, the sun was shining for the whole flight!

S-Turns and a bunch of landings - just the good ol' basics

We went around the pattern at Stewart a couple times and then hopped over the gliderport for a couple more landings. The goal was a power-off 180 but I was having some trouble losing enough altitude and speed and landed long pretty much every time. Unlike the Cub, the T-Craft does not adopt the aerodynamics of a brick when you put her into a full slip - at least not at slower airspeeds. Jamie showed me that by pushing forward on the yoke and picking up another 20 mph the plane manages to drop quite impressively.

I put that trick to the test on my final approach to Stewart. Although I didn't manage to hit my spot perfectly I did touch down just a little further down the turf. It's just going to take a bit longer to get a feel for the controls. I'm sure I'll be able to plant the T-Craft wherever I want some day, when I have 50+ hours in it too!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.0 hours
Total Time: 274.2 hours

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A little left-seat right-seat

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Scattered clouds, 85 degrees, wind 270 degrees at 9 knots gusting to 18

Jamie needed to shoot a few approaches and holds to maintain his instrument currency and I was up for the task, so we decided to go flying this evening. I beat him to the airport (he had to drop his son off at practice) so I preflighted the plane, fueled up, and - since he still wasn't there - took it around the patch once before he hopped onboard. With strong winds right down the runway, I set up for a short field landing with all 40 degrees of flaps and was stopped roughly 600 feet after touching down on the grass. Not bad!

Back to the safety piloting... Jamie climbed onboard and into the right seat. He's a CFI and he decided to do all the hood work from that side of the instrument panel. I took off and headed west as he put on the hood and flipped through his charts. Or whatever the equivalent of "flipping through" is called on an iPad.

We exchanged controls and he went to work - shooting approaches into both runways at Wright Brothers and then doing some holds over top of Stewart. The GPS in the 172 has been a bit flaky as of late. I've never had issues with it on an XC but it loses signal or otherwise fails intermittently when an approach is active. Obviously that wouldn't be so hot in actual instrument conditions. They're aware of it and the plane shall be visiting the avionics shop soon.

Hood work complete, Jamie handed the controls back to me over the airport and I flew south, did a steep spiral to very quickly descend from 2,500 to 1,800 feet, and entered the pattern. I pulled the power abeam the numbers for a simulated engine-out landing. The touchdown was nice and smooth, one of my better recent attempts in the Skyhawk. Whether as student or co-pilot, it's always nice to fly with Jamie and tonight was no exception.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.5 hours
Total Time: 273.2 hours

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Time to fly the Taylorcraft

Plane: Taylorcraft
Instructor: Jamie
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Scattered clouds, 85 degrees, wind 210 degrees at 7 knots

It may not be instrument training (I know, I'm slacking...) but today's bit of flight instruction let me check off another goal. The Taylorcraft found a home on the rental line last summer. For many years prior she was on floats and the Stewarts kept her up in Michigan during the summers, if I'm recalling the story correctly. Down here in Ohio the floats are no more (well, they're in the hangar) and I've been thinking about flying her for quite a while. Today I finally did.

This afternoon's trusty aerial steed, the Taylorcraft BC-12D

Jamie and I talked about some of the basics while standing under the wing - the preflight isn't all that different than the Cub or Champ, save for a couple things in different places. The biggest difference is that this lovely taildragger has both an electrical system and a starter. No hand-propping and there's even a radio. That's downright luxurious!

We went over the panel in detail (the cabin heat, carb heat, and fuel shutoffs are all next to each other and have nearly identical knobs - what could possibly go wrong?!) and then started the engine. It fired right up after a couple blades and I confirmed we had fuel pressure. With everything in the green, I taxied over to the end of Runway 26. The gear uses bungees like the Cub but it felt like we were wallowing around much more as we rolled over the turf.

Airplane and instructor on the soft grass field

Lined up on the runway, I gently advanced the throttle and a firm push on the yoke brought the tail up off the ground. Soon we were climbing out - quickly. I've heard that Mr. Taylor built a plane that squeezed all the possible performance out of an 85 hp Continental; you won't hear me arguing that point. It was a hot, humid summer afternoon and we climbed at 500+ feet per minute all the way up to around 4,000 feet. Impressive.

I trimmed the plane for cruise and tried some dutch rolls to get a feel for the controls. Because of the way the yoke is shaped, I found it easy to inadvertently push or pull while trying to quickly deflect the ailerons. It took a minute but eventually I managed some relatively yaw-free rolls.

After that I did a couple steep turns in each direction, hitting my wake every time. That's always fun. Then I did a couple power-off stalls; the wing has a tendency to drop more than you see in a Cub, but it's not too bad. Work the rudders, stay coordinated, and you get a clean break with minimal roll. Jamie asked for some slow flight so I slowed down to 45-50 mph and made gentle 90-degree turns with the rudder.

Climbing into the tight cockpit requires some fun anatomical maneuvering

We were already rather nose-high so I pushed in the throttle, held the yoke back, and was rewarded with a very gentle power-on stall. Unlike the Cub, which just kind of suddenly stops flying, there was a noticeable buffet as we approached the stall. Relaxing the stick at that first indication resulted in essentially no altitude loss. I did another and held back longer; the break was still quite gentle.

Need to lose a couple thousand feet? Time for some forward slips. Full rudder to the stops, opposite aileron, and down we went. Not spectacularly fast, however. The airframe is quite streamlined; we never could exceed about -1,400 feet per minute in our descent. There's no vertical speed indicator in the Cub so I can't make a definitive comparison but it certainly seems to drop much faster. I wouldn't be surprised if a J-3 can drop at a clip of -2,000 feet per minute or better in a full-on, to-the-stops slip.

A tad more sophisticated than what you'll find in a Cub!

On my way back to the airport I practiced one turn around a point. It had been a while since I last did any and I spotted a water tower that I've used for similar practice many times before. So I rolled into a gentle turn and held it in position under the left wing. As I said to Jamie, when you've got a GPS logger, even something as simple as flying in a circle can be a little fun...

Google Earth don't lie - I've still got it! ;-)

We entered the pattern and I flew a rather stabilized approach. I knew the sight picture would be different (you sit higher than in the Cub) so I would have a tendency to flare late. To compensate, I added power on short final with the intention of holding the plane off the ground - and we soon touched, ever so softly. Jamie said some nice things and my ego felt good but I'm honest at heart. I told him that it was mostly pure luck - I thought we were higher and it was only that soft because I had added power our descent rate was basically zero.

New sight picture starting to register, we went around twice more. The second landing wasn't anything to write home about. Like I said, that first one was more luck than anything. The third was much better, however, quite gentle if not a perfect three-pointer. At that point, we taxied over to the fuel pump and topped the tanks with nine gallons of 100LL.

Jamie asked if I wanted to fly the pattern solo a couple times. After all, why just taxi back when you're already at the end of the runway and the tiedown is in the middle of the field? I said he'd better stay in that right seat. Not that I thought I'd bend any metal... but I figured it was the smart thing to do.

So I took off for one final lap around the pattern and proved that to be a wise call. Not because I flubbed the landing, mind you. Au contraire - I managed a beautiful, three-point, total greaser where all the wheels gracefully kissed the grass right as I brought the stick all the way back into my chest! Had it been solo you could've dismissed all this as haughty pilot bloggery. But no, now I have a witness. Game, set, match.

My first impression is that the BC-12D certainly is a nice little airplane. It goes faster than the Cub on the same horsepower and feels a tad more stable in cruise once you trim it out. The climb rate is certainly better, too. In short, it would be much more comfortable to take on a trip. In terms of pure fun, however, the Cub's still at the top of my list. The controls are far more responsive (they feel downright sluggish in the T-Craft) and everything just feels sportier in a J-3.

And you can fly it with the door open. Checkmate.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.6 hours
Total Time: 271.7 hours

Friday, June 21, 2013

Back in the sky after a trip across the pond

Plane: Cub, 65 hp 
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Clear, 81 degrees, wind 180 degrees at 6 knots

For those who didn't know, I spent almost two weeks in Europe earlier this month - Sweden primarily, with briefer stops in Denmark and the Netherlands. Then we were out of town for Father's Day. Before I knew it, nearly a month had passed since my last flight. Tonight was a perfect first evening of summer. Gina and I took advantage with some time in the little Cub.

Looking back towards Stewart while departing the pattern

Covered bridge over the Little Miami River

They're currently busy installing a new pipeline in the area, the ATEX Express Pipeline to be precise. It's not a rare occurrence in these parts. There's a major hub in Lebanon, near Stewart, and I actually flew over miles upon miles of pipeline being laid a few years ago when the Rockies Express Pipeline was expanded. This latest one will carry ethane or natural gas from Texas to Pennsylvania when complete.

I must say that watching them install literally hundreds of miles of pipeline in a few months is impressive - especially from the air. They had just started clearing the right-of-way the last couple times I flew and now there's a very deep trench with the large pipeline sitting next to it, ready to be buried. The very straight path being carved across the landscape stands in such stark contrast to natural features.

We flew over Caesar Creek Lake, which was as busy as you'd expect on the first Friday of summer.  Tons of boats and jet skis criss-crossed the lake as we circled over, enjoying the view. Then I turned south and climbed to 4,000 feet. Already slow with full throttle, I kept pulling back and did a couple power-on stalls. Then I did four steep turns and hit my wake every time. And this was after two laps around the pattern before immediately after takeoff that resulted in greasers! Who said anything about rust after a month off?

Lots of boats on the lake tonight

A local produce farm where Gina's shopped before

I crossed the airport heading north, then pulled on the carb heat, throttle to idle, did a power-off stall, and then rolled into a steep spiral and quickly descended from about 4,000 feet down to Stewart's 1,800 foot pattern altitude. As we entered the pattern from the north, we looked west and saw more hot air balloons than I've ever seen up at the same time. I counted eleven.

Hot air balloons off to the west of the airport, just above the horizon

The pipeline parallels the runway on the north side of the airport

One more shot of the pipeline from my base leg for Runway 8

Power to idle abeam the numbers, turn in towards the runway, right rudder to the stop, left aileron to keep the plane turning in a full-on slip. I rolled out about 25 feet up, kept the stick coming back, all the way, and kissed the soft grass in a perfect three-point landing. Talk about a rare treat of a day - three total greasers. Not gonna beat that for a while.

Today's Flight: 1.0 hours
Total Time: 270.1 hours

Friday, June 14, 2013

Book Review: Viper Pilot by Dan Hampton

Longtime blog readers may have noticed I haven't reviewed a book on here in a long time - over 2 1/2 years, to be precise. I just don't have the time to read nearly as much as I'd like to. So I very much enjoyed being able to plow through Viper Pilot: A Memoir of Air Combat by Dan Hampton last month. To cut straight to the point... it's an awesome, compelling read.

Lt. Col. Hampton flew F-16s in the US Air Force for 20 years. He saw combat in both Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. As a member of the infamous Wild Weasels, it was his job to fly in first, attract the enemy's attention, avoid getting shot down, and destroy their air defense systems. The book covers his entire career in gripping detail - from initial training through deployments to, finally, retirement.

Perhaps the strongest praise I can bestow is also the most general - and that is that I absolutely love Lt. Col. Hampton's style of writing. It was detailed, wonderfully so, to the point that I maintained a constant mental picture as I read. I pictured myself in the cockpit of his F-16 and could envision the SAMs streaking up into the sky from the drab desert terrain. Yet it was also so well-explained and nuanced that you were never confused by what you were reading. He perfectly threads the fine line between legible-to-the-layman and total-fighter-pilot-speak.

The stories themselves are great, full of detail and accurate, true-to-form dialogue. Which is to say all the language is decidedly not PG. But it shouldn't be. It reads just like the words you'd expect to hear coming out of a fighter pilot's mouth. I loved it. A brief sample...

"The problem with a hole in the clouds was that everything on the ground that could shoot was generally aimed up through the hole. Waiting. Waiting for some fighter pilot with more balls than brains to try and sneak down through it. A sucker.
"Everyone in Baghdad was awake now and looking up at the two American fighter jets who were insane enough to come down low over their capital city and basically flip the bird to every SAM and anti-aircraft gun on the ground. I think it really pissed them off. 
"Down...down...down. The fighter was shuddering from the speed and the weight of the cluster bombs under my wings. Five hundred and twenty knots now... 600 miles per hour. What a way to spend a birthday. Today I was thirty-nine, and I'd really rather be on a beach with a pitcher of margaritas."

Beyond the words themselves, every story is very well-formed and completely engrossing. From simple training exercises to losing an engine (the only engine, mind you) on takeoff to the throes of near-death combat, every one drew me in to the point that I couldn't put the book down until the end of the chapter. And then I still wanted to keep reading.

If you enjoy military aviation or just like a good ol' flying story... then I think this is a great book for you. The writing is detailed, biting, hilarious at times, and altogether excellent. It's a perfect match for the amazing stories that come from twenty years' experience in the cockpit of an F-16. If you're looking for an entertaining, captivating read I highly recommend Viper Pilot.

Rating: 5/5 Cubs

Full disclosure - I was contacted by the publisher last summer and was offered a free review copy of the book. All thoughts and opinions are 100% my own.

If you decide to purchase this book based upon my review, I would appreciate if you do so by clicking on one of the Amazon links in this post. It really helps support the blog. Thanks! -Steve

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Adjusting My Weight & Balance - Month 27

So, about that whole weight-loss plan I first wrote about back in 2011. Uhh, whoops? Needless to say, I win zero awards for blog posting follow-through.

Since then we've gotten married, traveled a bit, and I've certainly done plenty of flying. What I haven't done - at least until recently - is stick to much of a workout schedule. Hopefully this post is the (second) first of many. I certainly don't want to go 27 months between updates again! Oof.

On a much more positive note, I have made real progress this year. I'm down over 15 lbs since I wrote that post two years ago; I've actually lost over 10 lbs since mid-April! That means I have another 15 lbs to go to reach my ultimate goal - but it's not too far off.

I'm not using the gym much now that the weather's nice. Instead, I've been riding my bike a ton more. Since I started tracking my rides last summer with Endomondo (it's an awesome, free service - totally recommend it!) I've logged over 300 miles. I rode 58 miles in April and managed 74 miles in May despite an insanely hectic schedule.

I've always hated running (plus I'm flat-footed, so it's not very comfy) but I love a good bike ride. Our house is relatively close to the area's absolutely awesome trail system. It's just over 10 miles round-trip to/from the closest point on the trail. From there, I can ride almost anywhere, though I usually go 5-10 miles further towards the nearest towns. My next step is to get a hitch/bike rack for my car so I can hop on the trails at other points.

Beyond the exercise, the biggest thing that's helped me is tracking my food intake. It's so obvious, yet always seemed like it would be a pain in the ass. Turns out it's really not that bad. I've been using MyFitnessPal, which has both an app for my phone and a web interface. Just like with personal finance and budgeting, awareness truly is key. Recording what I eat and keeping it in front of me on a daily basis has absolutely made a difference. MFP is another free service I can't recommend highly enough.

So that's where things currently stand. I presume nobody cares too much, since I didn't get any crap for the lack of updates after that initial post, but maybe I underestimate my readers... ;-)