Thursday, July 25, 2013

338 is back!

Plane: Cessna 150
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Clear, 76 degrees, wind 070 degrees at 6 knots

It was another beautiful summer day so flying was certainly on the to-do list. Couple that with the fact that I could fly my most-flown airplane again and it was a perfect evening to take to the sky. Why so long since I last flew N60338? She got damaged while tied down when that massive derecho moved through the area last summer. But the plane's back on the line and flying great. It looks like I'll finally be able to accomplish my goal of 100+ hours underneath her wings!

My time was limited so I just hung around the pattern

We're headed to California for a weekend in Napa tomorrow so I had to mind the clock. I went around the pattern six times, then headed home to mow the lawn before flying across the country. I mixed up the takeoffs and landings to get in a bit of practice with everything - normal, short field, soft field, and simulated engine-out. I've forgotten how good that plane makes me look sometimes; it seemed like every landing was silky smooth.

Oh yeah - I've already bested 2011's dismal hours total!

The only thing I noticed was that the airspeed indicator appears a tad inaccurate at high angles of attack. It was showing me quite slow (below the white arc) as I began my flare - even though I clearly had more airspeed to bleed off before the stall. Not that it's unusual for an airspeed indicator to require some sort of calibration.

Either way, fly the airplane, and being light and solo it does land a little slower. After over a year, I'm still totally at home in 338's left seat. Now it's time to cross that 100 hour mark.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 0.8 hours
Total Time: 279.1 hours

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Breakfast in Columbus (the other one)

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: MGY-BAK-40I
Weather- MGY: Clear, 81 degrees, wind 150 degrees at 6 knots
Weather - BAK: Few clouds, 84 degrees, wind 140 degrees at 7 knots
Weather - 40I: Broken clouds, 85 degrees, wind 160 degrees at 8 knots

If last night was about the "let's have fun in an airplane" side of general aviation, today was more of a "yes, there is some practicality in it!" demonstration. I decided to finally make the often-considered but haven't-yet-attempted flight to a new $100 pancake destination: Blackerby's Hangar 5 in Columbus, IN. The restaurant gets rave reviews from pilots and locals alike. Best of all, instead of a two-plus hour drive, it's only a 45 minute flight.

Today's two takeoffs and landings plus a bit of ATC chatter

My sister, her boyfriend, and I all drove over to Wright Brothers around 10:00. Gina wasn't feeling great this morning so she unfortunately had to pass on the flight. The three of us climbed into 2814L and soon I had us at the end of Runway 20, ready for takeoff. A minute later we were climbing out at a good clip, 500 to 700 feet per minute, in mostly smooth air.

Heading west after takeoff from Wright Brothers

Although I nearly always call for flight following on cross-country flights, I didn't do so this morning. No real reason - it was just nice to fly along VFR and we were occasionally chatting as I pointed out things on the ground and Lauren took some photos. We were level at 4,500 feet under nearly clear skies. I never did see more than an airplane or two.

Passing over Oxford, OH and Miami University's main campus

Greensburg Municipal Airport - a solo cross country destination five years ago!

Base to final for Runway 14 at Columbus Municipal Airport

Columbus Municipal Airport (BAK) doesn't have an ATIS; I tuned in the AWOS and called the tower about 10 miles out, descending, and said I had the weather. The controller told me to report a left downwind for Runway 14. As I'd spotted the airport roughly five miles prior, I already had a mental picture of my approach.

Until I got about three miles out, saw a plane lift off from Runway 14, and realized I was setting up to enter a left downwind for Runway 5. Sheesh! This isn't the first time I've made such a mistake in the cockpit. Although I've caught it well in time on both occasions I still need to do a better job staring at the airport diagram when I'm dealing with multiple crossing runways!

Fortunately, I was still in a perfectly good position when I caught the error - I made a gentle turn to the left, then banked right and was on the left downwind for Runway 14 as instructed. I called the controller and was cleared to land. We touched down, turned off on the first taxiway, and shut down on the ramp.

The food most certainly did not disappoint

The meal was excellent. All those reviewers on Adventure Pilot, Yelp, Urbanspoon, and TripAdvisor certainly don't lie - Hangar 5 cooks a mean breakfast. We actually had to wait about 10 minutes to be seated when we arrived. I don't think I've ever had to wait for a seat on a $100 hamburger flight before!

I had the Skyhawk Pie - sausage, green peppers, onions and cheese covered in sausage gravy. Healthy? Oh heck no. But it sure was delicious. Besides, I flew there in a Skyhawk, so I had to order it... right?

Lauren and Scott enjoyed their meals as well. Prices were very reasonable (check out their menu) and the service was relatively quick once we were seated. We spent about an hour on the ground in total and were back in the air a little past 12:30.

Heading east with full stomachs shortly after takeoff

There were far more clouds on the way home!

As the tailwinds were (slightly) more favorable the higher we went, I climbed up to 5,500 feet and leveled off. Within 10 minutes it became obvious that the clouds were starting to get a bit closer together. I dialed up the AWOS at Wright Brothers and it was reporting a ceiling of broken clouds somewhere between 4,500 and 5,500 feet.

The skies had been almost totally clear on the way there; less then two hours later, they were quickly filling with clouds. Nothing like a hot, humid summer afternoon to condense moisture into white puffy things! I immediately started descending down to 3,500 feet. It would be bumpier, but I wouldn't be forced to try and find a hole closer to home.

I wondered about my decision for a while - the skies remained scattered for the next 30 or 40 miles - but soon enough I knew I'd made the right choice. Looking up as we descended towards Stewart, the clouds were definitely broken. There were a few holes but I'm quite sure it wouldn't have been fun to find the right one from above.

Brookville Lake - a nice visual checkpoint near the Ohio/Indiana border

Coming in from the west, I angled slightly north of the field, then turned southwest to enter the pattern on the 45 for Runway 8. There was a glider off our left wing as I pulled the power abeam the numbers. He popped his spoilers and landed on the north taxiway as I was turning final. Like usual, I landed intentionally long over the hump and we were soon parked on the concrete pads, engine off, hopping out of the 172.

All three of us really enjoyed breakfast and the flight. We pilots all know how much fun a $100 hamburger - or pancake, in this case - can be. It's always fun to take others along for the ride!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 2.2 hours
Total Time: 278.3 hours

Saturday, July 13, 2013

First solo night flight!

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: 40I-MGY
Weather: Clear, 75 degrees, wind 080 degrees at 5 knots

Might as well just come right out and say it - only took five years!

Yup, that's what happens when you fly out of a grass strip with no lights. The standard procedure during training is to line the runway with oil lanterns (it works better than you might suspect) so you can find it upon your return. Assuming the wind hasn't blown them out, at least. As you may imagine, Stewart's rule is that one can only land at night with a CFI on board.

For years I've said that some day I'll take a plane over to Wright Brothers before dark, do my takeoffs and landings to get night current, and then fly back in the morning. Reality has proven that to be a bit of a hassle. Not that it's time-consuming (the flight's less than five minutes) but it just hadn't been necessary. I don't usually have much of a reason to fly at night, so why go to all the trouble?

But tonight, approaching five years since my checkride, it actually made sense. We're flying to breakfast in the morning and I don't like taking off from the grass in a fully-fueled 172 with four adults, even if the performance charts say it should be just fine. And I was already at Stewart with my sister in the Cub, so I might as well just fly the plane to MGY tonight instead of driving back in the morning. And if it's already at MGY after sunset...

Plan in place, I departed Stewart just after sunset and was soon crossing midfield to enter a left downwind for Runway 2. I felt a tad behind the plane for some reason, taking a second to get on speed and configure everything as I throttled back abeam the numbers. However, it all came together and I made what was very likely my best-ever landing in the 172. I'm talking about a super-soft, kiss-the-pavement, are-we-still-flying, yoke way back landing. It was a beauty.

I took one more trip around the pattern and was well ahead of the airplane the whole time. The landing was again very good, if not a full 10/10. I taxied to the ramp and shut down. The airport was empty and I had some time to kill before I could make my, "three takeoffs and landings to a full stop during the period beginning 1 hour after sunset and ending 1 hour before sunrise." So I pulled out the POH and read through the whole thing; it seemed like timely study material!

Lined up for takeoff on Runway 2 at Wright Brothers

It was now quite dark out as I climbed back into the airplane and started the engine, just past 10:00 pm. By the time I was lined up on the runway, I was safely into my "one hour past" period. Throttle smoothly in and we're rolling, runway lights flashing by faster and faster. Smooth pull back on the yoke at 60 mph (per that POH!) and I was soon climbing into the cool, smooth night sky. Man, I'd nearly forgotten how beautiful night flying can be.

Coming around for the first landing, I noticed a few fireworks displays. Perhaps rescheduled from the 4th after last week's ridiculously rainy weather? I continued around the pattern, cross-checking everything on the dimly-let gauges. Turning final, the PAPI came into view, red and white, you're alright - right on the proper glidepath. I added a little power that came off after crossing the threshold. You learn to expect to flare high due to the lights and I figured I'd slightly drop it in - but was instead rewarded with another very soft touchdown.

Four year hiatus? What four year hiatus?

I made two more trips around the pattern and caught myself before I made a stupid mistake. Prior to takeoff, I always say "lights, camera, action" to remind me to check the lights, transponder, and mixture/carb heat/flaps. Perhaps due in part to the dim lighting, I looked at the flaps gauge when I said "action" but didn't verify what it was indicating. However, as I turned my head to check the wing (another habit, I guess) before taxiing onto the runway, I saw the flaps were still at 30 degrees. I raised them and continued on - after making myself repeat the entire checklist, thoroughly this time. Checklists exist for a reason, to check things!

My patterns were relatively consistent, given the lack of the usual references

The other two landings were again smooth and stable. Nothing topped that first landing but they were all surprisingly good. I cranked the lights up to high one time as I thought it would be good practice but lowered them on short final before touching down; they were freakin' bright! When I shut down - for good this time - I'd logged 1.2 hours, 0.6 of which were at night.

Believe it or not, due primarily to the reasons mentioned earlier, this was my first solo night flight. Ever. It went perfectly and I'm glad to have my night currency back even if it gets no use and expires in 90 days. Not saying I'd launch on a 500 mile night cross-country now but I do feel like I'd be just fine landing someplace after sunset again.

VFR flight at night is a beautiful thing. Maybe I'll at least grab the 172, fly to MGY, and take some people up so they can experience it themselves in the coming months. Sure beats sitting at home in front of the computer.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.2 hours
Total Time: 276.1 hours

My sister's first Cub experience

Plane: Cub, 85 hp 
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Few clouds, 81 degrees, wind 100 degrees at 6 knots

My sister and her boyfriend drove down from Michigan yesterday to visit for the weekend. She's flown with me a couple times before - in the 150 and 172 - but never in a Cub. I believe she actually requested a Cub ride. Smart little sister, she is.

We drove down to the airport after a nice afternoon. It was perhaps the most beautiful day since spring - warm but not hot, almost totally clear skies, light winds. No better evening for a flight in a J-3 with the door wide open!

Assuming the typical pilot/passenger positions

Fun in the Cub - no further explanation required

Jamie propped us - which took a few extra tries, as the big Cub is prone to do when the engine's hot - and I taxied down to the end of Runway 8. Joe was in the other Cub with a student; it appeared to be a new student, as he was busy explaining something. I taxied around them and we were soon climbing briskly away from the grass.

Passing over Caesar Creek Lake and Harveysburg

Preparing for some fun...

Rolling shutter artifact aside, this is a great shot!

Lauren's always up for some fun so I wasn't in super-gentle-airline-pilot-like mode. I did a steep turn and nailed it; we bumped across the wake with a solid thump as I rolled out on my original heading. Then I sliced through an unfurling roll of toilet paper (usual disclaimer here) dropped from 5,000 feet a few times as we made our way back towards the ground.

Scott (who I took up in the Cub three years ago) elected to get in nine holes of golf while we flew. Incidentally, the golf course is literally across the street from the airport. We passed overhead and actually spotted him on the green.

My sister's other half was across the street at Holly Hills

Flying over the Little Miami River valley

I made a low pass over the runway at the gliderport. The pattern was empty since they'd long stopped flying but a couple old-timers were sitting under the pavilion, waving as we flew past. I returned the hello, waving our wings at them and then climbed away to enter the pattern at Stewart. Skydivers had been jumping but they were back on the ground so I crossed midfield and entered a left downwind for Runway 8.

The sun was getting lower on the horizon as we flew back to Stewart

Landing with the sun at our back (tongue out = concentrating)

Short final from the front seat

Once clear of the road and power lines, I descended low and skimmed over the corn right before the start of the runway. I held the plane there, making a low approach, and then climbed up and circled back around to land. Coming in high to land intentionally long, I held the plane off, off, off... and touched down very softly (a solid 9.5/10!) well down the runway. After a short taxi, I turned the plane around, shut down the engine, pushed her into the tiedown, and buttoned everything up.

Walking back to the office after our flight

As with most Cub flights, there was no plan tonight. Just take off, have fun, and enjoy the view of the everything below through the open door. Lauren had a blast (and took all the great photos in this post) and I think she now understands why I love these little yellow airplanes so much.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 0.7 hours
Total Time: 274.9 hours