Saturday, August 26, 2017

We're now officially a flying family

Plane: Cessna 172 
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Clear, 69 degrees, wind 070 degrees at 5 knots

I've been hinting at this for a while now. Of course, I wanted to feel 100% current and fully in possession of all my flying faculties prior to taking our little girl flying. Parenthood has a way of shining the spotlight on conscientiousness and responsibility.

She was all decked out in appropriate attire

Mariella was in a rather good mood this evening (per usual - we really did get lucky as she's quite the happy baby) as we got her changed into a proper first flight outfit. Gina and her said hello to everyone in the office while I preflighted the airplane. Once everything was ready, I carried her over to the 172 and buckled her car seat into the back of the plane. She fell asleep not long after.

Strapped in and sound asleep

Gina buckled herself up next to Mariella in the back and I ran through my checklist and started the engine. Apparently the little one perked up with the noise of the engine but quickly nodded off again. Gina ended up cutting down some regular ear plugs for Mariella's tiny ears, since the baby headset I bought is too wide on her head when she's wedged into the infant car seat.

Her reactions on short final and landing are priceless (about 1:10 and 1:35 in the video)

Once I was completely sure the plane and passengers were all ready to go, I taxied onto Runway 8 and we took off into the calm evening sky. Mariella was awake at this point and stared at Gina while chewing on her hand - a favorite pastime - as we climbed out. She seemed pretty content.

A happy family together at 2,500 feet

I made very shallow turns and leveled at about 2,500 feet. It was already late in the evening so I anticipated a short flight from the start. Nonetheless, I heard a few cries behind me as we flew down the valley so I turned gently back towards Stewart about five minutes after takeoff. Turns out someone decided to convert the clean diaper to the non-clean variety; that usually results in notable crankiness.

Passing by the lake on our way back to Stewart

A great sunset for moving into our next chapter of flying

We were on short final about ten reasonably good minutes later. Mariella was still a little fussy, as expected, but she really did quite good overall. Gina gave her a pacifier and that kept her calm for the most part. She made some pretty good bug eyes when the main wheels touched the bumpy turf, too.

So, as the title of this post says, we're now officially a flying family! We'll be flying commercially next week so we'll see how that goes - but I think it goes without saying that I couldn't let Delta have the honor of providing my daughter's first flight. I was pretty impressed with the little squish on her first aerial experience. Here's hoping this is just the start of a long, long tradition of family flying adventures.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 0.4 hours
Total Time: 379.1 hours

Friday, August 25, 2017

Flight: Reviewed

Plane: Cessna 172 
Instructor: Tommy
Route: 40I-I19-40I
Weather: Scattered clouds, 71 degrees, wind 070 degrees at 4 knots

At some point in the past month, I received one of those handy email currency reminders from my electronic logbook. But I've finally been flying again and I know I've made more than enough takeoffs and landings for currency purposes, so I thought it must be an error? Turns out, when you don't fly for the better part of a year, those two years between BFRs sneak up on you.

I have taken a variety of courses to earn FAA WINGS credit, so the knowledge portion of my currency is, uh, current. However, for what I hope are obvious reasons, the FAA likes pilots to go up in the air and actually prove they can still fly with a CFI. I planned to do so a week ago but I was sick (food poisoning is no fun) and had to reschedule. Tommy thankfully had enough free time this evening to fit me in, so we met after work and got to it.

A checkride's worth of maneuvers in one GPS track

The long and short of tonight's flying is that it was a much-needed and very good review. Despite my recent logbook additions, I am clearly still rusty in some areas. Overall, I am just nowhere near as smooth and fluid as I can be when I'm notching regular time in the left seat. Tommy did a great job running me through a whole bunch of maneuvers and offering important reminders and tips.

We started off with a soft field takeoff, during which I climbed out of ground effect too quickly. It feels strange to push the nose over so much after rotation to fly level along the ground (and it doesn't help that the ground quickly slopes downhill ~15 feet on Runway 8 at Stewart) but that's what you're supposed to do; we tried this again later. Next, we flew east and I successfully demonstrated steep turns, slow flight, and power-off/on stalls.

Tommy suggested going to Greene County; the winds were calm but he spotted a plane waiting to take off near the end of Runway 7 so I crossed midfield and entered the pattern. He asked for a short field landing so I used all 40 degrees of flaps and touched down within 200 feet of the numbers. It wasn't my best, though, and improved speed control and a touch less power on short final would've let me perfectly plant it. While taxiing back for takeoff, he asked me what I would do if my elevator jammed and we discussed that scenario for a few minutes...

Back in the pattern, he informed me that my elevator was now jammed (courtesy of him holding the yoke to prevent me from pushing or pulling it) and I needed to land. I explained my plan, which was to use the trim and power while flying a longer final approach to help ensure things were as stabilized as possible. I throttled back, slowly lowered the flaps as I made my way around, and hit the stop on the trim while on final. On very short final, I tested kicking in a burst of power to raise the nose and it seemed to work, so that was my plan in the flare. We crossed the numbers in a roughly level attitude at about 65 mph. Entering ground effect, I pushed in throttle for a second or so, and the extra power slightly raised the nose so the mains touched just before the nose wheel. The landing was honestly pretty smooth - yes, we planted it on the runway, but it wasn't a total carrier landing. Most importantly, I actually landed the airplane without using my elevator!

I really want to thank Tommy for the simulated elevator jam exercise. I've certainly thought about what would happen if I lost a control before but never tried to actually simulate it in flight. He said one of his old instructors did the same thing and I absolutely agree it's great practice.

After taking off again, I put on the hood and we did a little simulated instrument work. It's been way too long since I last did that so it was also great practice. Sidenote - training for my instrument rating is finally in my near-term plans. My skills are crude at best but I managed to turn to headings and climb/descend per his instructions. Then he gave me a few unusual attitudes to recover from and I successfully did so.

Before long, we were back at Stewart. Tommy pulled the power on me abeam the numbers and I made a safe simulated engine-out landing. The next time around, after doing a better job with the soft field takeoff, I attempted a soft field landing. I leveled off a tad too high and didn't add enough power to achieve a perfectly soft touchdown, but I held the nosewheel off and it was good enough to call it a day.

Currency and proficiency are more important to me than ever now that I'm responsible for our entire growing family whenever we fly. Beyond simply having a calmer work schedule that should allow more flying, I really hope to finally start training for more advanced ratings. But regardless of when that commences, tonight was a great refresher that left me legally current for the next 24 months.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.1 hours
Total Time: 378.7 hours

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Currency, Part 2: Cub time is the best time

Plane: Cub, 65 hp 
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Scattered clouds 76 degrees, wind 270 degrees at 8 knots

After running myself through the ringer with takeoffs and landings in the 172, I opted for a bit more fun in the venerable Cub. With time to spare there was no reason to skip some fun in the air. She'd flown earlier so, after pulling the plane out of the hangar and completing my preflight, it only took one pull of the blade to hand-prop the old Continental to life.

I first headed off over the lake for a little practice. My steep turns were better than when I did them with Jamie last month; I think I even caught my wake once. Then I slowed down, pulled on the carb heat, and did a bit of slow flight to see how slow I could move across the ground. It's been too long since I did any stalls solo, so I brought the throttle to idle, pointed the nose higher, and held back on the stick as the nose broke earthward. I was actually a bit surprised how well the stalls went after such a long break; I must've been well-coordinated as the nose didn't roll at all.

You don't need much more than this to have a good time

Feeling comfortably current in my stick and rudder skills, it was time to put them to use attacking everyone's favorite sanitary substrate (old yet requisite disclaimer here). I climbed up to 5,500 feet, slowed down, tossed the roll out the door, and set up to begin my series of passes. At first, I was quite effective and cut the white streamer with ease. Then I somehow completely lost track of it; it took 45-60 seconds and a series of wide turns before I finally spotted it again. I pulled the throttle to idle, pointed the nose down, and clipped it again as my airspeed built up. With the target acquired, I made a couple more passes and caught the shortening streamer once more before I had to call it off due to altitude.

By this point, I'd been flying for about 30 minutes and I wanted to get in some takeoffs and landings before my time with the plane was up. It took roughly 10 minutes to get back into the pattern at Stewart. My plan, as usual, was to make three laps around the pattern to extend my tailwheel currency.

I made five laps.

My first, second, and fifth landings were great. However, I had to add power on the third after I flared too high. The next time around I pulled the stick back a touch too far in the flare and the tailwheel hit the ground before the mains. Neither landing was terrible but I really hate ending a practice flight on a bad note, so I kept going and nailed it on the fifth.

So, for the first time in essentially a year, I'm decently competent at flying both the Cub and the Skyhawk again. One can of course always practice and improve but I think I've removed most of the rust acquired over the past twelve months. Now I've just got to get the little one up for her first airplane ride!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.2 hours
Total Time: 377.6 hours

Currency, Part 1: Taking the 172 all over town

Plane: Cessna 172
Route: 40I-I73-I44-3I7-I62-MGY-40I
Weather: Scattered clouds, 75 degrees, wind 260 degrees at 8-12 knots

What do you do when mom and baby are out of town for the day? You fly, of course. Couple that with a list of local airports you've never landed at despite being a pilot for over eight years and you've got yourself a mission!

It's already been over a month since I last flew. Much better than earlier this year, but still more of a gap than I'd like. So this seemed like a good way break up the takeoff ans landing practice with a (tiny) bit of pilotage and navigation.

I popped into about half the airports around Dayton today

I departed Stewart and first landed at Moraine Airpark (I73) for the first time since 2009. Coming over the levee on very short final, the rising air caused me to briefly float down the runway before touching down relatively softly. Takeoff was smooth and I climbed straight out to 1,700 feet (per the A/FD and sign at the end of the runway) before turning north.

The first new airport was Dahio Trotwood (I44), a notably run down strip that's so desolate it's a tad hard to spot from the air at first. The runway is so cracked that I deemed it smart to first do a low approach and check for any obvious problems or obstructions. I didn't see anything that would preclude a landing so I circled back around and landed on Runway 22. It's an interesting place - corn rises up on both sides so you can't see much of anything once settled on the as-bumpy-as-expected runway. I back-taxied and departed on the same runway without ever seeing any signs of life.

Next up was Phillipsburg (3I7), which was acquired by a local business owner a few years ago to prevent closure of the airport. It's not the busiest place but here there were clear signs of life; a Cherokee called in 10 miles away when I was in the pattern and landed after me. The runway is pretty narrow (reminds me a little of 45G in Brighton, MI) and the shifting winds during my roundout led to probably the worst landing of the day. Again, I back-taxied after the Cherokee was clear and took off again on the shortest leg of the day.

My final new airport was Brookville Air-Park (I62) and it's only a very short 3.4 nm flight from Phillipsburg. This is another unique, lightly used local strip. The runway and airport are actually separated by a road; to cross you pull up to a gate that opens and there are stop signs to remind you to yield to the cars driving by. You also pass quite close to some tall trees off your left wing when landing on Runway 27. The pavement is somewhat bumpy but my touchdown was reasonably smooth; again, I back-taxied down the runway and took off to continue my little local adventure.

Since I'd be passing right by Wright Brothers (MGY) and haven't landed there in nearly a year, I planned it as my final stop on the way home. It's 19 nm from Brookville so I had a few minutes of level cruise to just enjoy the view and relax. The pattern was busy as usual; I crossed midfield behind two other planes in the pattern to land on Runway 20. I landed a tad firm in the slight crosswind. Seeing two or three other planes lined up on the taxiway while I was in the pattern, I'd decided not to wait in line. As soon as the flaps were raised up, I pushed full throttle back in and was soon flying the final leg back to Stewart.

Before long, I was back in Waynesville. I spotted one of the jump planes quickly descending and called him on the radio to say I had him in sight and would follow him in - they have a way of zooming thru the pattern like rockets. I turned slightly right, then circled back to enter a 45 for a left downwind to Runway 26. With the wind almost directly down the runway, my final approach was stable and smooth and I touched down smoothly a few hundred feet past the threshold.

This was a lot of fun. I've been meaning to pop into some of these airports for years and I'm glad to finally have done so. I still want to try out the road-crossing at Brookville so I'll have to land there again some day. Just as exciting and important, I could feel the rust coming off the more I threw myself into both new and familiar situations. I think I'm now current enough in the 172 that Mariella's first flight will soon be in the cards...

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.4 hours
Total Time: 376.4 hours

Monday, July 3, 2017

Finally notching some Skyhawk time

Plane: Cessna 172
Instructor: Jamie
Route: 40I-I19-40I
Weather: Scattered clouds, 84 degrees, wind light and variable

It's been some time since I sat in the left seat of the Skyhawk, nearly 10 months in fact. Our return flight from Boston via Albany last year is the last time I was behind 14L's controls. Aside from the general lack of currency, I'd like to take Mariella for her first flight soon - and to do that, I need to be able to competently fly the 172 again.

Jamie texted me the other day to let me know he had an opening, as we've been trying to set this up for a couple weeks. I did a thorough preflight while we chatted on the ground. There was more than two hours of fuel onboard so once I fired up the O-300 we were ready to fly.

It was another great summer afternoon for aviating

I took off on Runway 26 and made two laps around the pattern. I came in a little low on the first one but managed to finish the approach with a smooth landing. The next time around was more stable and the landing was again quite soft. We then departed the pattern to the east, climbing up over the lake to do a few steep turns. While all were borderline acceptable, they were far from my finest. I'll have to put in a bit more time working on maneuvers next time I'm up in the sky practicing solo.

Today's vaguely triangular route across the countryside

Wanting to practice on pavement and having not been there in a while (the logbook says May 2013 when we met pilot friend Samuel there, in fact!) we decided to land at Greene County. I came in a tad fast and landed long but the touchdown was smooth. Lifting off again on Runway 25 on the subsequent takeoff, Jamie pulled the power and I touched back down on the pavement during the simulated engine failure. I departed again sans instructor shenanigans and climbed back to 2,000 feet and headed straight for Waynesville.

My final landing was probably the best of the bunch, with my speeds on target and a soft touchdown followed by the shortest rollout of the day. Similar to the Cub, it's crazy just how much flying the 172 is like riding a bike... it came right back to me even after a lengthy break. Obviously there's more than stick and rudder skills when it comes to currency but I'm looking forward to getting up again soon.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.1 hours
Total Time: 375.0 hours

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Nine years (and one month) later

Plane: Cub, 65 hp 
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Scattered clouds, 81 degrees, wind 260 degrees at 8 knots

When it comes to the overarching purpose behind this blog - flying - this past year has clearly been underwhelming. But life - and, alas, flying - is nothing if not a constant struggle to find and maintain equilibrium between opposing forces. So it's in that vein that this past year has also been overwhelmingly joyful and momentous on a personal level with the birth of our first child.

Prior Years: 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016

So what did the past year thirteen months entail?
  • As is often the case, a bunch of travel - mostly for work, but also a few vacations with Gina (to Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, and the Dominican Republic)
  • Getting to go flying with a coworker in Germany on the aforementioned trip last summer
  • Work has generally been quite fulfilling as I've taken on some new projects with more responsibilities, interacting with more customers and partners all over the world
  • Flying up to meet the in-laws for lunch (and to tell them we were pregnant)
  • Our only - but large - real flying trip, when we flew the 172 to Boston and back to meet our first nephew last Labor Day weekend
  • A very belated but welcomed first flight in pilot and blogger friend Chris' beautiful Warrior late last summer
  • Still managing to squeeze in one Young Eagles flight; it's always rewarding to be able to take kids up in a small airplane for the first time
Given my extreme lack of currency that I only recently remedied, this is the first year I've truly missed my annual birthday flight. And with an infant at home, it's also the first time I've ever flown it solo. However, I'll be damned if I completely break the tradition, so getting up in the Cub one month late this evening absolutely kept it alive in my book.

You couldn't have scripted much better weather

Door wide open, enjoying the lush scenery in every direction

The winds decided to get gusty (to 15-16 knots) just as I arrived at Stewart around 6 pm. So I ended up hanging around on the ground for a little while until they calmed back down. In an unusual move for the 65 hp Cub, it did not want to start this evening. However, after probably ten minutes of hand-propping and cycling through a combination of settings, it finally fired up without a care in the world. These old engines certainly have minds of their own at times.

With a still-decent wind blowing almost directly down the runway, my takeoff roll was short and I was quickly climbing westward. Between the light plane and good headwind aloft, I was at pattern altitude (800 feet AGL) before I was even able to turn crosswind on all but one takeoff. I threw in one short field takeoff for fun good practice and was airborne in less than the distance between one set of runway cones.

I know it sounds improbably full of horse manure, but my landings were darn near perfect every time around the pattern. Honestly. Other than the one time I made a simulated engine-out and bounced slightly, every touchdown was a true three-point greaser. Maybe the headwind helped but my stick and rudder skills in the roundout and flare were on point tonight.

Turning towards Caesar Creek Lake

After four takeoffs and landings, I flew north of the airport and passed over a friends' house. Unlike most times I pass over, I saw someone outside, so I circled around and heartily waved the wings before I flew away. Texting them later to ask if they saw me they said yes, their daughter saw the airplane and ran inside to get them to come out and wave. It's the small things... :)

The shadows were getting longer as the sun was getting lower

More lush greenery along the Little Miami River

Before what seemed like very long, it was time to get back to the airport as my reserved block of time was almost up. I'd been flying just about an hour as I entered the pattern for the final time. Keeping with the prior performance, the wheels softly touched down on the green grass; a short rollout and taxi later, I was pushing the plane back into the hangar.

If I didn't have to work for a living, this would be the perfect life

Tradition-keeping and flying practice aside, tonight was a very nice and much-needed mental reprieve. Work has been kind of insane and, while we're lucky that Mariella's truly a very calm and easy baby as babies go, any parent who doesn't admit to needing a little "me time" on occasion is probably lying. Getting up in the sky solo is perhaps still the only way for me to cut everything out and completely focus on something I love for an hour or two.

I did of course rush right home afterwards to see the adorable little girl waiting for her daddy.

Mariella Margaret is already looking skyward, it seems

Next up is getting current in the 172 so we can take this future aviatrix on her first flight. While I do plan on introducing her to the venerable Piper Cub when she's ready, I'd prefer we start out in the safety of a car seat. This new father certainly wants to protect his precious little girl!

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 1.0 hours
Total Time: 373.9 hours

Thursday, June 8, 2017

This father can still fly an airplane

Plane: Cub, 85 hp 
Instructor: Jamie
Route: 40I, Local 
Weather: Few clouds, 73 degrees, wind 350 degrees at 5 knots

I can still fly an airplane! I mean, yes, you're technically always a pilot once you receive your certificate. And I didn't exactly think I'd forgotten how to fly. Nonetheless, after 8 months (by far the longest hiatus since my checkride) without flying and nearly 10 months since my last Cub excursion I finally got back in the cockpit this evening. I didn't even break anything.

Why such a lack of flying? Well, as I mentioned in my sole post thus far this year, we had a baby on the way. Well, she was on the way - our daughter Mariella was born back in April and is adorable, healthy, and altogether a pretty darn good baby if I do say so myself. We hope to take her on her first flight sooner than later! Anyway, between the major life changes, work, and my usual downturn in flying during the cold, dark winter months it simply took a while to get myself back down to Stewart.

Could tonight have been any more perfect for Cubbin? I vote no.

Given the painfully long gap in aviating, I of course needed to fly with an instructor. Jamie was available and he met me a bit past 7:30. By the time he walked over to the hangar, I'd already completed a very thorough preflight and pushed the plane out onto the soft, green, almost-summer grass.

We chatted for a few then I climbed in, he hand-propped the engine, and I taxied over to top off the fuel tank. Propeller turning again, I ran through my pre-takeoff checklist then pulled onto Runway 26 and managed a pretty soft and smooth takeoff to the west. Jamie had me climb out over the lake and we first went through some turns. Then he just let me fly around for a bit and do some sightseeing before eventually re-entering the pattern.

Landings are usually where rust is most apparent, at least for me. I reminded (warned?) Jamie that, in my experience, I usually either grease the landings or totally muck them up after an extended break. He, in turn, said he'd be happy to laugh at me if I really screwed the pooch.

Fittingly, the first approach and landing were exceptionally smooth. Jamie said he was upset he didn't have a chance to laugh. Nice guy. I was cautiously optimistic. Two more laps around the pattern fortunately did nothing to temper the optimism; I nailed all three landings and my takeoffs became smoother each time.

Cubs, grass, and blue sky just belong together, don't they?

Maybe the giant break served to erase my mental sight picture so well that, with the luck of nailing it that first time, I had no bad habits and instantly re-established good ones. Or maybe it's just that Cubs are easy to fly. Either way, there's still nothing better than a Cub with the door open on a warm evening.

Well, except perhaps being able to fly a Cub solo with the door open on a warm evening again.

Flight Track: Google Earth KMZ File 
Today's Flight: 0.9 hours
Total Time: 372.9 hours

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy New Year!

So yeah... I didn't exactly close 2016 out strong, despite somewhat miraculously logging more total hours than I did in 2015. The little bit of flying I did do last year was quite enjoyable, though. I am hopeful this coming year calms down enough to give me more cockpit time.

However, we've got a baby on the way! While I'm obviously very excited about our growing family, something tells me that won't exactly leave me with more free time in 2017. :)

Prior Recaps: 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016

Sadly I haven't flown myself since our awesome trip to Boston to meet our new nephew over Labor Day weekend. In the four months just since that trip, I've been to Michigan (six times), San Francisco, South Dakota, Boston (again), Chicago, Minneapolis (twice), Wisconsin (thrice), Kentucky, Charlotte, South Carolina, Indianapolis, Dallas, Germany, and the Dominican Republic. In total, I visited 18 states, nine countries, and flew over 115,000 miles on 118 commercial flights that had me aloft for 323 hours in 2016. So while I hate to continue making excuses for my lack of personal flying and blog updates, I think the travel statistics speak for themselves.

Probably 75% of my travel is work-related and I do expect that will be somewhat reduced this year, which leaves me hopeful that I'll be able to do more flying on my own terms. I am also considering joining a flying club of some sort for access to better - and faster - planes, especially as we anticipate more frequent visits to Boston for the cousins (and their parents!) to hang out.

Total Hours: 24.5 | Solo: 2.4 | XC: 17.5 | Dual: 1.0 | Night: None | Landings: 39

Aircraft Flown: C172, Cub

New Airports: S24, UNV, IPT, OWD, ALB, TSO

New States: Massachusetts

First Flights: 4 (Garrett and Anthony + Joseph + Isabella)

People Flown: 6 (above, plus Tommy and Gina)

$100 Burgers: 1 (we met the in-laws to the deliver the incoming baby news in August)

Fly-Ins: None

What I'll Remember: Gina and I having the awesome opportunity to go flying in a coworker's Mooney in Germany in July. Finally taking to the sky with pilot friend and blogger, fellow former Kalamazoo resident, and awesome photographer Chris. Cubbin' with another former Kalamazoo resident and pilot friend Garrett. Avoiding storms with my first taste of ADS-B in August. Stretching my wings and flying the furthest I've been yet, from Ohio to Boston, to meet our new nephew; it was full of great experience including a diversion for extra fuel and an extra overnight on the way home.

2016 Goals: I'm still out of excuses on the glider front. Pilot friend Tommy even offered me a free glider ride for my birthday - I need to set that up ASAP! A few of us pilot bloggers have discussed a meet-up and I hope we can coordinate that later this year.

After a complete false start three years ago, I again hope to start and finish my Instrument rating this year. That plan ran into a couple walls, financial and otherwise, but Gina graduated with her Master's in December (which we're done paying for!) so it seems doable this time around. Of course, that may change if I fall back into last year's travel patterns - time will tell.

^ Well, as mentioned earlier, I fell back into said travel patterns... and then upped them by 50% for good measure. So that put a damper on most of the planned activities.

2017 Goals: Given my lack of goal achievement these past couple years, part of me feels like I should change them up. That said, I still really would love to experience a glider flight sooner than later. In a similar vein, although it's probably pretty unlikely with a newborn coming in May, it would be nice to start work on the IR. I think the most realistic goal is my complex checkout, especially if I am able to join the local club some friends of mine are in.