Sunday, May 24, 2015

Crossing the century mark with friends and family in the Cub

Plane: Cub, 85 hp 
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Clear, 81 degrees, wind 180 degrees at 11 knots gusting to 17

As I had one of those milestone celebrations of my day of birth this year, quite a few friends and family came together to celebrate. Gina organized an awesome, surprise brewery crawl yesterday - in total, I think we visited 8 of the 12 breweries in the Dayton area. Tons of fun.

Rob and Abby and my sister came down from Michigan to stay with us and, as all are unabashed fans of Piper Cubs (as one should be), we headed to Stewart for some aerial adventures this afternoon. Abby hopped in front first and we set off on a short sightseeing run, her first J-3 time in just over two years. We flew over the lake again, though not backwards this time.

I pointed out the low lake levels, circling around some of the old foundations that are usually submerged, as I've been doing quite often this year. We passed by the glider port, then re-entered the pattern and I managed a rather good landing. It took a few flights but I think I've regained my touch with passengers on board.

Rob hopped in next and we followed a similar route. I think it was at some point during with him in front that I crossed the 100 hour mark - that's 100 hours of tailwheel time. It's a logbook milestone that I've been inching towards for quite some time when you consider many of my Cub flights are of the 0.7 hour variety. Nonetheless, between the Cub, Champ, and T-Craft all those entries now add up to three digits!

After we landed, my sister hopped in for the final flight of the afternoon. She's always up for vintage aviating and doesn't mind a steep turn or three - so we did the sightseeing thing along with some fun zigs and zags along the way. It was a tad windy but I brought us back in for one final nice touchdown on the soft grass.

All told, everyone had a good time in the little yellow airplane with the door wide open. Definitely my kind of late spring / early summer flight. Added to yesterday's fun, it was a perfect birthday weekend. It's certainly fair to say I'm starting this decade of life off on a very good note.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.5 hours
Total Time: 330.6 hours

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Seven years later

Plane: Cub, 65 hp 
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Overcast, 56 degrees, wind 050 degrees at 5 knots

While it required a last-minute schedule change I managed to spend yet another birthday evening behind the stick of a Cub. Weather was moving in a bit faster than expected this afternoon so we bumped up my reservation - and, in the process, swapped from the big Cub to the little one. I left work around 4:45 to arrive at Stewart in time to fly at 5:30.

Prior Years: 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014

Much has occurred during my most recent trip around the sun:
The radar actually showed precipitation very close but a scan of the regional METARs appeared to indicate none of it was falling to the surface at the leading edge of the front; this turned out to be correct - the skies didn't open up until about 15 minutes after landing. Gina hopped in front and I propped the 65 hp Continental to life.

We were soon airborne, without any plan for what to see, really. So I flew north. 

Looking north where Wilmington Pike and I-675 met

Looking east over the new development 

Up in Centerville they've turned the historic Dille Farm into a Costco, amongst other things. It's a bit of a sore subject around here, as "saving many trees" on the property apparently meant they saved a corner with about 25 of them. I drive past every day on the way to/from work but was curious to see what progress looks like from above, so we circled overhead to take a look.

Before and after - looks almost the same, right? Or not.

Development concerns aside, it is interesting to see such transformations from above. I took some photos (as you can see above) and then flew back south towards the airport. We didn't have a ton of time before the rain moved in and I wanted to log the usual three landings to extend my Cub currency.

She puts up with my extra time in the pattern like a Champ (ha!)

I made two normal landings before coming a final power-off approach. Needless to say, I can tell that I've spent more time flying solo this year; the wings consistently were done flying when I still had the wheels about 6" above the grass. Cubs do float less with someone up front! I never did get it quite right, though I improved by the final landing - a rudder-to-the-stop turning full slip from downwind directly to touchdown. 

At this point, it's quite satisfying to have managed to keep this tradition alive for so long. Only one year has been postponed due to weather. Today's weather was probably the closest I can recall to my first flight at Stewart back in 2008, unseasonably cool and cloudy for mid-May. But no matter, as it's always a good day when you're in the back seat of a J-3.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 0.6 hours
Total Time: 329.1 hours

Friday, May 15, 2015

To fly or not to die

Plane: Cessna 172 
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Broken clouds, 78 degrees, wind 180-240 degrees at 8-12 knots

Pardon the sensationalist headline; I promise I haven't been watching that much CNN lately. But this was one of those days that required a serious go / no-go decision. For those of you who aren't pilots, a) the title pays slight homage to the media's usual inability to cover anything aviation-related without resorting to sky is falling tactics (I'm sure doctors harbor similar thoughts when anchors wax poetic about viral outbreaks, teachers when they discuss standardized testing, etc.) and b) while departing today certainly would not have led to imminent death, it could have been a very bad first decision in an accident chain by the end of the weekend. Read on.

Ok, tangential discussion aside, back to the decision that did not involve LeBron. We were supposed to fly to Syracuse this weekend for Gina's cousins' graduation party. Flying was really the only option since it's a 10 hour drive or a 4 hour flight and Gina has to work Sunday afternoon (strike one - time and schedule pressure). I've been closely monitoring the forecasts; the trip went from seeming feasible earlier in the week to looking quite iffy by this morning (strike two - forecasts trending in the wrong direction). Nearing our planned departure time, it was obvious a Sunday return would not work due to forecast low ceilings and visibility, but I momentarily considered returning Saturday afternoon before further analysis of the forecast (strike three - VFR pilot flying 400 nm across a stationary front and possible embedded thunderstorms). So, in what I can only label a good no-go decision, we cancelled the trip.

But I was already at the airport. And - an isolated thunderstorm having passed by a half hour prior - the weather was currently quite conducive to flying. Good enough reason to at least putter around the pattern before heading back home.

I loaded far less baggage than lie under my hatchback's hatch into the 172 - just myself, my GPS logger, and my headset. N2814L had flown just prior to my arrival so the engine quickly roared to life with one small shot of primer. I taxied over to the fuel pump and topped off the tanks.

As you can see, the wind picked up at times

Gusty winds had come and gone throughout the day and remained in the forecast but it was rather calm when I first departed. The Skyhawk took to the sky without much fuss under the relatively light load. One of the jump planes on the field departed behind me with a load of meat missiles so I made sure to wait to turn crosswind until passing abeam the jump zone. Though the winds at this point were steady the heat kicked up some decent thermals and I was constantly adjusting the power on short final; I touched down rather smoothly just past the threshold.

The second lap was decent and the third was great - total greaser on the landing in spite of winds that now were a gusting, almost direct crosswind. I was tempted to call it quits right there but I wanted to keep flying. On the fourth time around, I pulled the power abeam the numbers on downwind and negotiated a mostly-successful power-off 180, slowly adding flaps until I had all 40 degrees out right before touchdown. I landed slightly long with a solid thump but it wasn't too bad given the conditions. My final lap was nearly as good as the third with a smooth rotation into a crab on takeoff, culminating in a smooth crosswind landing in the gusty winds.

It's always disappointing to cancel a trip, especially last-minute, but I sure as hell don't intend to be the kind of pilot who doesn't learn from his own past experience. Having discussed the trip with a few more experienced pilots (including Upstate NY local Chris) I'm honestly not even sure we would have launched if I had my instrument rating. But it wouldn't have been remotely logical to make a go of it as a VFR-only pilot. It's better to be down here wishing we were up there, than up there wishing we were down here, as the saying goes.


As you may expect, I couldn't help but check the conditions along our planned route numerous times throughout the weekend. While it may have been clear enough along the Lake Erie shoreline (in lieu of flying the direct, more inland route over western PA/NY) at times, the overall reality was marginal at best. To hit flyable conditions would likely have required near-psychic timing, too, as I saw much more IFR or very marginal VFR both days.

Saturday mid-afternoon radar

Saturday early evening lowest reported ceilings

Saturday early evening TAFs (red = below my minimums)

Even locally I never saw a break in the weather on Saturday (we ended up running errands and driving around the area all afternoon) that I think we would have easily made it home through, had we left earlier. So, now with the benefit of hindsight, initial no-go decision confirmed. Flying to NY was definitely the right thing not to do.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 0.7 hours
Total Time: 328.5 hours

Thursday, May 7, 2015

First door-open Cubbin' of the year

Plane: Cub, 65 hp 
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Clear, 80 degrees, wind 120 degrees at 7 knots

It's been too long. Since I flew a Cub with the door wide open. Since I flew in general, really.

Since my last flight, I've spent nearly two weeks out of the country for work in Canada and Switzerland. Not that I'm complaining - I do love to travel, after all. Work's been kind of hectic besides the travel, too. We're also still in the middle of a kitchen remodel. Needless to say, the flying has been rather sporadic thus far in 2015.

Tonight was absolute perfection in terms of flying, however. Relatively calm winds, great visibility, and plenty of warmth to facilitate said door-ajar aviating. Gina and I headed down to Stewart after I got home from work for our first flight together since the first day of the year.

She's relatively well-versed in Cubs and tailwheel procedures by now, so she sat in front at the controls while I hand-propped the 65 hp Continental to life. Propeller-turner turning, I climbed in the back seat and ran through my preflight. We taxied to the end of Runway 8, did a run-up, and I pushed the throttle in.  We were soon rolling down the soft grass and quickly airborne.

Circling back around, I made a landing to check my level of rust. Initial reports came back negative, as I completely greased it. Don't worry, I don't always achieve such aerial prowess; read on. We took off again and I flew east to check out the lake and do a little sightseeing.

I swear she enjoyed tonight's flight more than this photo appears to indicate

Flying over the northwest edge of Caesar Creek Lake

As I mentioned after both the New Year's flight and in March, they've drained Caesar Creek Lake in order to build a new marina. It seemed even lower tonight as I was able to spot more remnants of its before-it-was-a-lake past. We spotted a couple old roads and even an old bridge that normally lie well beneath the water's surface. The old road / old infrastructure geek in me was quite satisfied with these findings.

Crossing over OH-73 in the middle of the lake

Old roads and a bridge that usually lie under the water

They've clearly brought in some fill dirt to help construct the new marina

Leaving the lake behind and flying west, I made a low pass over the gliderport, then briefly flew down the valley before climbing up to 2,500 feet. I did two 720-degree steep turns, one to the left and another to the right. Neither were perfect but I held altitude within 100 feet and speed within 5 knots, so I was relatively satisfied. I think Gina was more than ready to be done at that point, too, so I didn't attempt any further refinement.

Heading south down the valley after sightseeing over the lake

We descended into the pattern behind the 150 and I came in for a normal landing. Not having followed my standard "thou shalt cease all flying after a greaser" philosophy, I promptly flared too high and the wings decided they were done flying about one foot above the ground. Thud. Yep, that was more of an arrival than a landing.

I came back around one more time and gave a better performance for the nonexistent airport bums. Going for a power-off 180, I went full right rudder and left aileron to make a turning forward slip from downwind all the way to landing. I lost the altitude perfectly but rolled out with about 5-10 knots of extra airspeed. We touched down smoothly but bounced slightly as the wings weren't quite ready to stop flying. Sort of the opposite of landing numero dos, I suppose.

All in all, having not flown a Cub in two months (!!) it was a successful evening behind the stick. If my travel schedule and free time stop conspiring against my logbook, I certainly hope to fly much more in the near future. Either way, both of us sure as heck enjoyed the warm breeze through the open door at 1,500 feet this evening.

Cubbin' is the way to go. Especially when it's warm out. Trust me.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 0.8 hours
Total Time: 327.8 hours