Saturday, August 8, 2015

It was Bound to Happen...

I have been dragging my feet about writing this post.  I wanted to write about my first major trip in the "new" Bonanza, but I just can't.  Not yet. 

Minding my Own Business at the Range

On the afternoon of July 3, I was at my local driving range hitting golf balls for the first time in years.  I have not played a round of golf since shortly after my son was born eight years ago, and a few years ago my wife gave me a gift card in order to entice me to a cheaper hobby.  I had been there for about an hour, and pulled my phone out to take a picture and post a snarky Facebook comment about not having lost my ability to slice it fifty yards off course.  
As I opened my Facebook app, I noticed the following image and news story posted in a local aviation forum:

Small plane crashes in Bartlett
Taken from - Click here to view story

I saw the story of a single-engine plane crashing in a forest preserve in Bartlett, Illinois, which is located about five miles north of the airport out of which I fly (KDPA).  My first response was that it was just awful to lose another fellow aviator, and to start to anticipate the questions that I was no doubt going to be asked by friends.  That didn't last long.  

That Uneasy Feeling

The news of the above distracted me from my original purpose for opening Facebook in the first place, and I returned to hitting golf balls.  After a few swings, my mind started to wander back to this image above and it stopped me in my tracks.  If one looks very closely, one can tell that this was probably a white Skyhawk, and very close examination reveals parts of the tail number that could have belonged to my flying club.  Was this N62681?  A flurry of text messages with three fellow officers began immediately in order to mobilize and gather information.  
It was.  I will confess now that given that I am an officer in the flying club I know a lot more about what probably happened than is publicly available, but I will be sticking to what anyone could learn from the NTSB and media at this time.

The Short Version

The private pilot departed KDPA and conducted some practice landings at nearby Schaumburg airport (06C).  Upon return to DuPage, he called up the tower and stated that he was having a "rudder problem."  The aircraft disappeared from radar and radio communication could not be established, and eventually the aircraft was found in a nearby forest preserve after having impacted the terrain in a nose- and left-wing-down attitude.  The pilot was killed as a result of injuries he sustained in the crash.  

You can listen to the ATC recording here, and the preliminary report from the NTSB can be found here.  

When the probable cause report is released, I will say more about the above.  At this point, I will refrain from adding any information not reported or suggesting any causes of this accident.  I will say that upon learning that it was in fact our plane, I headed out to the scene.  For the one and only time I can remember, I was thankful that Friday traffic kept me from getting where I wanted to go in any reasonable amount of time.  By the time I reached the scene, our club president had essentially answered all the investigator's questions and there was nothing else for the club to do.   I never saw the accident scene in person, and instead we met at a local Buffalo Wild Wings for food and a few beers instead.  

Risks Become Real

If we are honest with ourselves, we really do not like to think about the reality that this kind of thing can happen to us. We never expect to be highlighted on the evening news or an NTSB report.  But the uncomfortable truth is that it does happen, and it can happen to any of us.  We have to maintain enough awareness of this so that we remain vigilant and sharp so that we do our part to avoid the headlines.  We need to work to eliminate the number one cause of aircraft accidents: pilots. 

In this case, we are talking about a plane that I have flown.  Without looking in the logbook, I'd speculate that I have roughly eight or nine hours in this plane.  While I never did a formal write up, I did reference this plane as the one I took on my at that time longest cross-country flight from  KDPA to Burke Lakefront in Cleveland.  I also rode right seat in it a month or two before to go and pick up our club Arrow from maintenance.  I really did not like this plane and as it approached TBO believed that the club would be better off selling it.  This was not the way for her to go.  

I was also scheduled to go flying the next morning with my friend to fly the Bonanza for a few more hours before I could carry passengers, and I wanted to work on flying instruments with steam gauges.  As you might imagine, Mrs. Dr. Flying Shrink was not too keen on this given what had just happened.  I anticipated this, and simply stayed home that day.  It brought the reality of what can happen to the forefront.  

Finally, I'd be remiss not to point out that this is the first time I have known a pilot killed in a plane crash.  I had not had very many interactions with this particular man, so it's not like we were flying buddies or anything.  I think that this is what hit me the hardest, though.  Yes, death is a fact of life and we accept a small increase in risk when we choose to be pilots.  When the person killed is someone you know, it takes the "out there" and makes it "in here."  Under such conditions, it is far harder to avoid unpleasant existential realities.  This incident has certainly sparked some reflection amongst my fellow club members, and this is a very good thing.  I just wish it did not take such drastic circumstances to spur such honest reflection so that we can do our part to reduce our flying risks.  

Blue Skies, fellow aviator.  And fly safe, my friends. 

Friday, June 12, 2015


Milestone: a term we use to connote an accomplishment or passage of some significant event or marker.  Recently, I had two such happenings that seem worth sharing. 

Call me "Captain."

If you've been reading anything my posts in the last year, then you know that I have been working on my commercial certificate.  The logbook entry from June 2, 2015 says that I successfully completed the commercial practical test.  It was a doozy!  

We actually conducted the oral examination on the Saturday prior, but the weather was not going to permit any VFR flying.  Great instrument day, and I really wished I could go out and shoot approaches.  It would have honestly been more fun as I can say I was not as well prepared for this thing as I thought I was.  My previous experiences with check rides were that I presented myself fairly well, knew things pretty well, learned a few things that I didn't know, and the like.  This time, the ante had been seriously raised and I did not totally appreciate that.  

When my examiner put in his instructions that he was expecting a presentation, I think he may have literally meant a powerpoint or something.  I did use the PAVE model to formulate my discussion of the flight I was asked to prepare, but some of the things I needed to talk about I did not for two reasons.  First, I got nervous and just forgot to talk about some things such safety equipment and terrain over the flight path.  Second, I had in my head that this flight would really go off IFR since it was pretty much IMC for most of the projected flight I did not discuss things like flight plans and flight following - I mean, if it's an IFR flight those things come with the package.  I also think that because I have expressed interest in pursuing the CFI, the examiner was giving me some push for my edification.  It became hard for me to know where was I not doing well as a commercial applicant and where was I being shown I had work to do for CFI.  

Sometimes it was just packaging and I could tell that.  For example, we discussed my chosen altitude.  I explained my reasoning, which can be (and from his view should have been) encapsulated in legality, safety and efficiency - in that order.  I'd argue that I caught all of those things but didn't quite say it that way. 

Needless to say, I was very happy that I was not going to fly on Saturday.  I was not feeling good about my performance, and I was pretty tired.  The examiner and I agreed on Friday as the day to fly.  

After I got home, I looked over the weather and things did not look good for Friday.  The plane became available on Tuesday, and we negotiated an earlier day to fly.  It was a beautiful day.  

The schedule was pretty tight because I needed to drop my kids off at school at 9, drive 75 minutes to the airport, preflight and fly to meet the examiner all by 11 am.  The examiner wanted to start earlier as he had a phone meeting at 1 pm, but I really could not get there much earlier.  Making matters worse, KDPA was full of NOTAMed taxiway and runway closures.  I ended up with a nearly 2 mile taxi and wanting for 15 minutes after announcing ready to depart.  

I made best speed to KUGN in the Arrow (25 squared, baby) and cut as close to ORD as the airspace and my low altitude tolerance would allow.  Three miles out I was cleared to land runway 5.  From 2500 feet and 130 KIAS, I pulled power to 15 inches, dropped the gear once below Vlo, ran the pre-landing flow and BAL-GUMPS checklist (boost pump on; autopilot off, landing light on; and the usual GUMPS features... and you know, Gear down, Undercarriage down, Make sure the gear is down, Put the gear down, See if the gear is down).  I then started applying flaps once below Vfe.  At three-quarters of a mile I was on airspeed and on glide slope - and was rewarded with touchdown on the 500 foot markers as planned.  "LIKE A GLOVE!" 

I shut down and deplaned, and the examiner met me on the ramp.  We looked the plane over, he asked a few questions to make sure I knew what those scoops and such were, and we got ready to go.  My inner Ace Ventura was silenced as the damn plane would not start.  "Isn't there a hot-start procedure for this plane?"  Yes, yes there is.  It's essentially the same as the typical one and we got the POH out to have a look.  After a solid 8 minutes of trying to start the plane, it FINALLY fired up.  Not a good start..... 

As expected, the flight began with demonstrating that I could use pilotage and ded reckoning.  This went well as I was pretty much on course and on time... despite the fact that I almost NEVER do this with any precision.  I follow the charts along my course line, but I don't do much ded reckoning.  Confidence returning. 

Next we went through several of the maneuvers.  Steep turns were fine once I stopped losing altitude.  I didn't bust PTS, but I was on the margin.  Slow flight and stalls went well.  Chandelles were nice.  Lazy Eights - my nemesis - were passable.  I was a bit high and fast (how the hell does that combination happen, anyway) on my last 180, but still within limits.  Emergency descent was good, steep spiral was nice.  I was just recovering from the steep spiral at 1400 feet AGL when the examiner decided that this was the time for an engine failure.  Sigh.  Well, I took a bit longer to get with it than I had hoped, and turned in to land too quickly.  Without enough time to circle back, I called an audible and said that I'd land in the field ahead of me, dropped the gear and flaps, and slipped to demonstrate that I could do that.  I said how I'd secure the aircraft, and then said, "well, I'd like to go around any time."  

Lastly were performance landings.  My heart sunk as the examiner said that we should go to Westosha (5K6) to do a short field landing.  I HATE this airport.  The approach sucks in either direction (over trees to runway 3, and over a drop off for 21), the runway is like 38 feet wide, and is chewed up.  Did I mention pattern altitude is like 650 feet AGL?  I bounced hard and went around.  He asked me what happened, and I said that I was never stabilized and should have gone around sooner.  Second attempt went just fine.  Relief.  

Back to Waukegan to finish up performance landings.  A solid soft-field landing and take off, then the moment of truth.  The dreaded 180-degree power-off landing.  For the uninitiated, this maneuver requires cutting the power on downwind abeam the agreed-upon target and gliding it onto that spot... +200/-0 feet.  The Arrow has the glide ratio of a truck, though I have practiced this many times and usually get it right.  This day, I flared at the right spot and then ballooned on flare.  I still got it there, but not in a pretty way.  

Checkride passed.  Temporary Commercial certificate issued.  Sweet. 

Mom, You're Going to be a Grandmother... Again.

There comes a time in every aviator's life where he figures out that what he wants cannot be had without drastic measures.  I have been salivating over the thought of co-owing an airplane, and driving my wife crazy with such discussions.  
I really love my flying club.  Fox Flying Club is a great group of aviators with four really nice planes.  Ok, I have decided I hate Skyhawks but there are two nice Pipers from which to choose.  And honestly, almost all missions that I fly are adequately accomplished in any of our aircraft.  But not all.  Sometimes, I need a plane that goes faster or a plane that has a better useful load.  We were working on a program where a Bonanza became available on leaseback, but this took a lot of work and eventually fell through. 

Then a few months ago I went to breakfast with a man who owns a Bonanza and a club instructor with whom I needed to fly for my semi-annual checkout.  Turns out the instructor and another man were talking about partnering in a Bonanza, and I got interested.  So did the owner referenced above.  The short version is that the four of us have partnered in the V35A Bonanza that the first guy owns.  

"Mom, you're going to be a grandmother again." 


"Yeah, but not in the way that you think."  

"Explain, please."  

"You have a grand-plane."  ;-)

Hi, Grandma!!!

N2458A is a Beechcraft V35A.  Yes, a Vee-tail and it's immaculate.  The good thing is that one of the partners has owned the plane for the last 18 months, and we therefore know it's most recent history.  He did an amazing job searching down information and making sure that what he purchased was solid.  Thus, we all feel pretty confident that we probably don't have too many big, expensive surprises waiting for it.  Yeah, can happen and it sucks to split that bill four ways instead of 60 ways. 

I am stoked, but the transition training is going slower than I'd like.  I have completed the online portion of the Beechcraft Pilot Proficiency Program, but I have not gotten much time in the plane yet.  We need to have the dual yoke we rented installed so that we can take instruction in the plane, and then one of the partners will get me going with a high performance endorsement and initial transition training.  I'll then make an appointment with the Bonanza-Sensei up at Poplar Grove (C77) to do the flying portion of the BPPP.  

But overall, this is sweet.  One of the partners took the plane to the east coast this past week, and made it from the western suburbs of Chicago to Frederick, Maryland in just under 3.5 hours.  Nice! 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Where are you?

Busy.  That's where I am.  I will have more to say, but life has just been nuts and of course writing about flying has not taken the highest priority. 

Almost done with that commercial certificate - just trying to make those lazy 8s work out.  I think I've figured out what I'm doing wrong, but I have not had the chance to go up and try out my theories. 

Finally, I finally flew some instrument approaches.  Two hours of actual and three approaches showed me what happens when your proficiency decreases.  I need to fly more approaches...

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Landing on a Cloud that Flies?

Recently, I was able to accomplish the long cross country required for the commercial certificate.  It was a LONG day. 

As a reminder, this requirement means that you must be the only occupant of the airplane, that you land at a minimum of three points, and that there be at least 250 nautical miles separating two of those three points.  Of course, when one is actually going somewhere would be the best time to accomplish these tasks, but alas that was not to be for me. 

My trip for the day included a flight to Flying Cloud Airport in Minneapolis, Minnesota (KFCM), a return to Rochelle, IL (KRPJ) and then finally back to home base at DuPage (KDPA).  On the day of the flight, an AIRMET-T was issued for turbulence below about FL010 until about 50 miles west of my departure airport.  To make matters more interesting, the headwinds were out of the west at a solid 40 knots.  FUN!

To Flying Cloud

I took off from DuPage in VMC but on an IFR flight plan.  It was VERY cold that day, so I had no intention of spending much time in the clouds if I could avoid it.  Because the headwinds were a solid 20 knots faster 2000 feet higher, I filed for 4000 for the trip to Minneapolis.  In retrospect, I'm not sure I gained much.  That AIRMET should have extended to just short of the border of Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and the bumps were so big that I slowed to maneuvering speed.  I think that climbing and taking the additional headwinds would have been a wash with respect to ground speed, but far more pleasant a trip.  

The views of course were beautiful as I approached the Mississippi River:

These views never get old.  However, they do come close when your ground speed barely breaks 90 knots on a TAS of 120.  Just saying.  

As expected, Flying Cloud was severe clear and very cold.  I was initially cleared to land on 20L, but then was switched to 20R.  Turned out that 20R had a bit of ice and such on it, but I had a nice smooth landing just past the numbers (as expected).  Reminded myself to stay off the breaks and slowly increase elevator pressure to break.  

Total flight time: 3 hours and 25 minutes.  No wind time would have been 2 hours 15 minutes.  Sigh.  

Bet They're Not Jumping Today

I initially planned to park the plane and head to nearby Punch Pizza, a favorite of me and my psychology department colleagues for their AWESOME wood-fired pizza.  It's really my favorite place to get pizza, but time was ticking.  Instead, I taxied back to 20R and picked up my clearance to Rochelle.  I was off shortly thereafter and on my way to more enjoyable flight conditions and a rockin' ground speed.  

As you can see from the Aspen panel, level at 7000 at 65% power settings, I had a true airspeed of 135 and a ground speed of 170.  It hit 181 at one point with no intervention from me.  This was much more like it, and sort of made me feel better about my trip up. 

When I find myself off doing these kinds of things, I usually try to land at new places.  However, I have been to Rochelle a number of times as the Flight Deck is a favorite $100 hamburger stop for members of my flying club.  I needed to stop by as they were kind enough to donate a gift card for our flying club's holiday party raffle.  They have quite a large skydiving operation on the field, and I started to plan a strategy for dealing with this given that I was going to be landing on 25.  It would have been a beautiful day for skydiving... except that it was about 10 degrees outside.

I doubt they are jumping today.  A pretty quiet CTAF supported my conclusion.  A smooth landing and taxi over to the ramp. 

By the time I shut down the engine, I had been in the plane for about 5 hours and 45 minutes or so.  I was so ready to stand.  I got out of the plane and stretched, and then "Oh, crap!  That's cold!!!."  I was not happy about the walk over to the Flight Deck, but a kind man from the FBO drove me over there in a very warm car.

I was getting hungry, but it was also getting late.  This stop took longer than expected as there was a communication SNAFU that needed to be resolved.

Back to Base... in the Dark

By the time I was ready to return to DuPage, the sun had set and it was getting dark.  I back taxied to 25 and blasted off for home.  Although not exactly smooth, the worst of the bumps had died off.  Given that the short distance and KORD's Bravo airspace demanded a cruising altitude of 3000, I was grateful for that.  I dialed up DeKalb traffic as I would be passing just south of the field, and it was a good thing as it was a pretty busy pattern.  There were two planes departing and two more in the pattern when I went by.  I had to do some maneuvering as it seemed that at least one of those two departing aircraft was going to hit me.  One of them ended up behind me and I could no longer see it, which honestly was a bit unnerving because he seemed to be going the same direction and had one more engine than me.  That is unnerving, and I could not see him on Foreflight/Stratus either.  

I approached DPA and was cleared to land on 28, and I executed a very nice landing.  Couldn't really ask for better.  And since it was after dark, I could take a night landing.  Since I needed one more at a controlled airport this worked out well.  

Total flight time today: 6.3 hours.  Miles flown?  Roughly 580.  

Lessons and Training Status

I think the first lesson learned is that when things are pretty bumpy, it might be worth it to go ahead and request a climb for smoother air.  The trade offs might be worth it.  In this case, my need to slow to maneuvering speed may have made the difference in ground speed due to stronger headwinds at higher altitudes a wash.  I certainly would have been less tired from the bumps.  
Second, maybe it was not the best day for this flight.  I had a bit of "git 'er done-itis," and while that really didn't compromise safety in this case it did affect my comfort and a need to abort plans for a nice lunch.  I need to pay attention to this for when safety does matter.  

Finally, it's good to keep track of the fuel burn.  I was confident that I could make it on full tanks, and found myself marking where I was in my tank switching.  Upon landing, I figured I burned about 54 gallons.  Fuel truck to tabs plus the remaining capacity was 54.8.  Not bad.  

Not so much a lesson, but flying a plane without traffic really stinks.  I really don't understand why the FAA will not give any pilot with a portable ADS-B solution access to traffic information.  It is STUPID.  No, having that on board does not really absolve the pilot of see-and-avoid responsibility.  But it sure would help to have that information in those situations where the traffic has moved behind you. and improve situational awareness.  I sure would like more available to me than "I pray that guy sees me!"  

As for training toward the commercial, I'm getting close.  Updating from a few posts ago:

So, what's left?
- Tighten up all maneuvers
- Day VFR XC with instructor on board (at least 100 miles between two landing points)
- Night VFR XC with instructor on board (at least 100 miles between two landing points)
- Long solo XC as detailed above.  Sigh.  Would have been nice to knock that out last weekend.  
- 1 more solo night landing at a controlled field.  
- Study for the oral. 

Given the weather, I'm not sure that I can wrap this up before year's end.  It would be challenging.  However, I have made significant progress in some of the hardest maneuvers: Eights on Pylons, Lazy 8's and Chandelles are all to PTS or pretty darn close.  Steep spirals are close.  Stalls are all fine.  Need to tune steep turns, I think.  I tend to lose some altitude as I figure out just how much power to add.  Performance maneuvers are all pretty good.  I need to go fly the Arrow some more to tighten them up - particularly the 180-degree power-off accuracy landing.  

Soon, very soon.  

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Getting Some Cloud Time

Yesterday I actually got out to do a little flying in actual instrument conditions.  As Ms. Dr. Flying Shrink will tell you, this makes me giddy. I was definitely happy to get some time in a soup warm enough in which to fly before our long and no-doubt cold winter sets in. 

I was scheduled to take our club's Arrow out for a stroll, but unfortunately it remains down for the annual inspection that seems like it will never end.  I guess this is the joy of the club having an older plane that seems to need some TLC. It's gotten a lot of love, and so it should be leveling out soon.  I'm told that one can spend a year or two with undetected gremlins.  I was going to scrap the whole thing, but cloud time sent me to the schedule to find that our very capable Archer was available. 

I blasted off from DuPage (KDPA) around 10:45 into marginal VFR conditions, and before long was chugging along in the clag at 3000 until I was clear of O'Hare's arrival stream.  Up to 6000 and eventually heading toward Illinois Valley (KVYS), I continued to run mostly into and occasionally out of clouds.  I briefed the RNAV 18 approach and made said request to Chicago Center (nice to have those folks back up and running).  I allowed the auto-pilot to do its work while I briefed and set up, and then took over hand flying as I arrived at the initial approach fix.  I kept the needles relatively pegged the whole way down to the minimum descent altitude (despite having vertical guidance, this was an LNAV+V approach and therefore non-precision).  Sweet.

Although I had the runway clearly in sight, I executed the published missed as communicated to Center.  Flying the missed approach gave me the chance to enter a hold that conveniently served as the procedure turn for the RNAV 36 back in.  Two currency birds with one stone. 

While flying the missed, there was a helicopter on approach to 36 and then some other traffic, so I was sent to 5000 MSL despite a holding pattern of 2500.  That made things "fun" later.  While I got myself turned around and fully prepared to do a few laps around the holding pattern, I was instructed to descend and start inbound.  This gave me about 6 miles to get down 2800 feet, but since the Archer flies like a rock that was not too much of a problem.  I don't like idle descents, and fortunately this was avoided. 

I was again on my way inbound and the needles were pretty close to pegged.  Breaking out about 1500 feet AGL, I went ahead and executed the dreaded downwind landing (5 knot wind) as sometimes you just don't get a choice, and these are of course different.  Landing at 75 knots ground speed verses 60 is quite a difference in picture and performance.

After taxiing to the ramp, I attempted to call Chicago Center and Kankakee Radio to obtain my IFR clearance back to DuPage.  After no success, I elected to take off and obtain my clearance in the air. I was about to regret that. 

An Expensive Lesson

I departed 18 and headed south since there were rain showers directly to the east that didn't look like fun trying to punch through VFR.  I called up Chicago center, and after making radar contact asked me if I could maintain visibility and avoid hitting anything until I was at or above 3000.  


Yeah, so that's the wrong answer.  Turns out that this whole blasting off without an instrument clearance in marginal conditions - or at least with ceilings below the minimum vectoring altitude - will result in hanging one's cowl in shame as he returns to the airport.  I don't recall learning that at any point in my instrument training; only that one had to be able to fly VFR or out of controlled airspace and obtain a clearance before entering controlled airspace or IMC.  

I wonder if I had a growl in my voice as I announced my positions in the pattern.  

After I returned and taxiied to the ramp, I called up IFR Clearance Delivery.  I spent about 10 minutes on the phone with them - 7 of that was on hold.  Don't they know the hobbs meter is running?  This is one of two reasons why I don't like calling on the ground.  The other is waiting for release when someone has not cancelled IFR. 

Return Trip

With clearance now firmly in hand, I again took off from VYS and turned on course toward PLANO.  It was a different controller on the Center frequency, so I was glad that I could avoid reliving my embarrassment.  Motoring along at 5000, I took a few pics of my view out the wind screen.

Somewhere over Ottawa, Illinois

Conditions were very marginal at DPA due to low ceilings and light rain, and I was vectored for the ILS 10 approach.  I was told to expect a circle to 2R, which made no sense to me given that the winds were 110 at 8 according to the ATIS.  However, I figured I would take that up with the tower.  A King Air was vectored in front of me... I can't imagine why.  They could fly the approach at 90 knots to clear out the stall horn, right?  

Again I was pleased with my flying of the approach as I was always within 1 dot and I broke out looking at the runway right where my needles said it should be.  It's a very comforting feeling.  

At about 2 miles from touchdown and just before breaking out, the tower asked me to pick my speed up.  I was miffed by this because I am set up stable at 90 knots and preparing to slow once I have the runway in sight.  I said I'd keep my speed up and probably waited until about a mile out before slowing the the Vref of 66 knots.  I have a bad habit of getting high once I break out,  but other than this I was pleased with the approach and landing.  

2.6 in the log book along with 2.0 actual, a hold and three approaches.  Not bad.  

Now, if I could ever get that long cross country in... 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Do you even fly?

It has been a strange year.  As of this writing, I have less than 70 hours in the log book for the year.  This is pitiful.

Most recently, I was scheduled to fly from DuPage/Chicago (KDPA) to Burke Lakefront (KBKL) in Cleveland for my sister's wedding.  Depending on timing, I was planning to use one direction of this trip to satisfy the long cross-country requirement for the commercial certificate.  This requires the pilot to be the sole occupant of the aircraft, for there to be at least three points of landing, and the straight-line distance between two of those points has to be at least 250 nautical miles.  I have a number of flights where I am missing just one of these requirements, including this one where the straight line distance between KPWK and KISZ was 239 nm (GRRR). In this case, though I was planning to just jog south and then to destination. 

Well, except for the weather.  Since I had been watching the forecasts all week, it was no great shock to me on Friday morning that I was going to be driving.  DuPage was IFR and raining, but flyable.  Burke was forecast to have winds 20 gusting 35 from 70 degrees off the runway.  In case that was not enough, a very long and wicked line of thunderstorms and other convective nastiness was strung from Kentucky to Canada.  I flew the Sonata instead.

You mentioned Commercial?

Yes, yes I did. 
Always more to learn...
If you've used Gleim, you know that you'll be doing a lot of reading.  I finished the ground school months ago, and passed the written exam with a 95%.  Acceptable, but the perfectionist in me is not satisfied.  Chris over at Photographic Logbook totally understands, I'm sure.  

On to the flying.  This is coming along, and though surprisingly weather has not been a factor in my training, life and travel have.  Between work, travel in the summer with the family, and my instructor off to OSH, this has gone more slowly than I would have liked.  I have done all of the maneuvers, and it's now just about tightening to PTS.  Oh, and there are a few cross countries that have to be wrapped up.  And, I think one more solo night landing at a controlled airfield.  That last part just floors me... what difference does it make, anyway?  I think it's harder at uncontrolled fields to be honest.  

I did have a mock check ride, and the oral was actually relatively strong.  A few areas for me to work on include better understanding of the controllable pitch propeller, better presentation of information overall, and high altitude operations (beyond the Ox regulations).  Flying?  Well, it was ok.  Actually, it was about what I expected.  The navigation portion was actually pretty good, but some maneuvers - maneuvers that I had not performed for awhile - were not really there.

The owner of the school where I'm training really questioned me about why I'd transition to and fly the 182-RG that they have on the line when I have access to a perfectly good Piper Arrow (in which I have just shy of 100 hours in type).  Apparently the retractable Skylane is a PITA to land, and even the very experienced chief pilot informed me that it took him a solid 50 hours before he felt comfortable landing it.  Hmmm... and I need to be down in 100-200 feet of the agreed touchdown spot?  So, I took our club's Arrow to a nearby uncontrolled field and performed all the performance take offs and landings and 180 degree power off, and I'd say that it all seemed to be within PTS or darn close.  I guess when I said that I could get in the Arrow that day and be pretty close I was not really blowing smoke.  I think a few more hours of practice with these maneuvers will be sufficient. 

Have I mentioned that Skip at Skill Aviation is a very honest guy, and if you're in the Chicago area and considering training then you should talk with him.  He has been quite generous to me with his time and knowledge.  It says something when a person makes a recommendation clearly not in line with his financial interests.  

So, what's left?

- Tighten up all maneuvers
- Day VFR XC with instructor on board (at least 100 miles between two landing points)
- Night VFR XC with instructor on board (at least 100 miles between two landing points)
- Long solo XC as detailed above.  Sigh.  Would have been nice to knock that out last weekend.  
- 1 more solo night landing at a controlled field.  
- Study for the oral.  

I hope to have this wrapped up by the end of the year, but we will see.  It's not like I'm up against it for a BFR or anything or that a job depends on it.  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Summer Adentures in a "New" Arrow

In late July, the family and I took another pilgrimage to Pennsylvania in our club's "new" Arrow-III.  What an adventure...

Will this Damn Thing Ever Be Ready?

Our Arrow has been plagued with problems since we got it.  After having an Aspen panel installed, the plane suffered an engine out/fuel starvation emergency at 400' AGL that resulted in a collapsed nose gear.  It seemed like it took forever to completely rebuild the engine and otherwise repair the damage, only to have new problems creep up.  Electrical gremlins turn out to be quite stubborn.  

This caused me no shortage of consternation.  For months, I had been scheduled to take this aircraft to Pennsylvania July 18-25.  I spent about two weeks before looking into alternatives that would accommodate my needs.  Of course, the first option (a 182RG) also suffered a gear-up landing and remains unavailable for flight at this time.  It was not until July 15th that I was checked out in the aircraft and flew off the last 3 tach hours of engine break-in.  This in and of itself deserves its own diversion.  

The Checkout and Break-in

Brad, one of our trusted CFIs met me at KDPA where we carefully preflighted the plane.  Unlike our previous Arrow, this plane had the auto-extend feature that required a bit of ground time before heading off for the flight.  Although this was placarded as inoperative, it was still important to understand how this system works, under what circumstances it should deploy and when I should use the override feature.  I will be glad I knew this later.
There were scattered rain showers in the area, and we avoided them religiously as it seemed imprudent to take a plane going through an engine break-in into the soup if one could reasonably avoid it.  We went from KDPA to Morris (C09) for a quick flight to demonstrate how the auto-extend should work and to show I'd remember to put the gear down.  

After returning to DuPage, I dropped Brad off and took off for a VFR flight down to Decatur (KDEC) to burn off the remaining break-in time.  I confess to appreciating free flight time.  I worked my way between rain showers to stay comfortably VFR the entire way.  As I was on my descent to enter the pattern, I noticed some very odd lights... and a very high tower... and then another one!  What the &^%$?  I leveled off and gained a bit of altitude while I reviewed the chart on ForeFlight.  Sure enough...  there are towers ranging from 1015 feet AGL to 1351 AGL.  Good to know.  Not exactly the best placement, if you ask me.  Landing on runway 36 was uneventful and smooth . I quickly turned around and headed back to KDPA.  

The sun had set and I was technically accruing night flight at this point, and I was thinking about those rain showers I avoided just southwest of the Chicagoland area.  But first, a sold turn to the right to avoid those aforementioned towers.  As blackness settled in around me I kept a sharp eye out the window and on the radar.  I was also on flight following as I gave up the "big sky" theory a long time ago.  As I passed Pontiac, I noticed an extra dark area that was devoid of ground lights.  Sure enough, there was rain ahead and no obvious way around it.  Observations in the area suggested that there was plenty of safe passage to be had at a lower altitude, and thus I advised Chicago Center of my descent.  I was informed that they were seeing showers ahead but thought I would pass between them.  

Pitch black... that how I'd describe entering a rain cloud well after sunset.  My first thought was to be sure I was controlling the aircraft, and my second was to request a pop-up IFR clearance.  I was cleared to climb and maintain 5000 MSL, direct PLANO when able then direct KDPA.  No problem.  After getting the GPS all happy and pointing me in the right direction, I considered what this experience would have been like had I not been instrument rated.  I got a real glimpse of just how quickly one could kill one's self on such a night.  

And that's not all... oh, no.  As I turned at PLANO inbound toward DuPage, I lost the ability to transmit.  Whizza-Whazza?  It worked fine a second ago!  I can hear them just fine!  I quickly moved my headset to the right seat, but continued to have the same problem.  7600 on the box, and the use of IDENT to verify I had heard the instruction I was given.  Another pilot informed center that I was transmitting VERY weakly.  

In all the commotion to identify and fix the problem, I flew right over the airport with no safe recovery to land on 20R as cleared.  I asked to land on 28, but of course no one heard me.  The controller informed me that I was still cleared to land 20R, and I maneuvered for a very smooth landing.  Did I mention I checked the gear down about 4 times more than I usually do?  

On the ground, I recalled the microphone in the plane.  That worked beautifully.  Turns out that it was a problem with my sexy and relatively new Clarity Aloft headset, a replacement for which arrived at my home sometime today.  Sporty's is a class act in my book.

One Shot Wonder?

Since making this trip last year, I've learned a few important things.  One is that the instrument rated pilot can expect to spend a lot of time flying far out of his or her way.  A typical IFR clearance from DuPage toward areas east of Chicago are going to be routed over the Peotone (EON) VOR, which often works out just fine.  However, when you have a family that thinks that stuff about the journey is tripe it is best to find a more direct routing.  I have also learned that a stop along the way adds far more time to the trip.  Finally, I have learned that one need not begin one's IFR route at one's airport of departure.  I put all of this to good use by departing DPA and skimming under O'Hare's Bravo and outside Midway's Charlie and along the lake, and picked up my clearance at INKEN just south of South Bend.  Time saved: at least 20 minutes.  

We departed DuPage at max gross weight with what I [correctly] believed to be plenty of fuel to arrive at DuBois-Jefferson County (KDUJ).  It turns out that Piper Arrows are not big fans of climbing out on hot days at max gross weight.  Who knew? 

The Banana served as a very cute co-pilot who did a good job of calling out B737s and RJs heading into MDW. Approaching INKEN near South Bend, I picked up my very favorable IFR clearance [VWV then Direct, climb and maintain 7000] and scooted along at 135 KTAS.  A slight headwind would keep us from making completely awesome time, and we got some time above and in the clouds until we got to the other side of Youngstown.  Approach and landing ant KDUJ was a visual to 7 with a landing that was a bit harder than I would have liked.  Flared too high as I've been spending a lot of time in Skyhawks [but that's another post].

Somewhere over Fort Wayne

Somewhere over Fort Wayne, Indiana

N31401 on the ramp at KDUJ. 

In this case, it seemed that my scheme worked out.  Start up to shut down was 3.9 hours, and we still have 15 gallons in the tank.  I spent a lot of time thinking about fuel as I knew that I "should" have plenty.  I really wish fuel gauges were more reliable.  Figuring an 11 gallon per hour fuel burn and 4.25 hours of flight time, I should have needed 46.75 gallons.  I took off with 60 gallons, so figured I'd have plenty of reserve.  Turns out that those fuel burn charts and basic math work out well.  In terms of time, it's hard to know exactly what we saved without the fuel stop half way since we spent a lot of time in Clarion to avoid thunderstorms on our last trip

To Queen City

After having our fill of Shrink's Mama's french toast and fresh fruit, Mrs. Dr. Flying Shrink and I headed back to DUJ and off to Queen City (KXLL) to spend several days with friends.  The kids were very excited to have a week of "Camp Grandparent;" an excitement that grew as they heard the schedule.  

The morning of our flight, KDUJ was reporting winds calm and overcast at 400-600.  Nice.  401 was well rested after her long voyage the day before, and after paying the bill for the top off we loaded up and set out for Allentown. 

Our clearance was as filed [SEG, ETX, DIRECT at 7000], and we blasted off into the clouds.  As I was 400 feet off the ground, I became a bit miffed that the gear was not extending as expected.  "Fly the plane.. it will fly just fine with the gear down and you're too high to hit anything."  I accelerated to 90 kias and the gear happily retracted.  Hmmm... 

After about 8-10 minutes in the soup, we emerged into quite a beautiful site...

Between layers near Clearfield, PA (KFIG) at 7000. 

Between layers near Clearfield, PA (KFIG) at 7000
...yes, this is a major reason why I fly.  We had a few trips into the clouds and of course a descent through them.  All was well and I had been cleared for a visual approach to Queen City.  I was listening to the weather at this point, and apparently I didn't hear them trying to call me so that I could be turned for traffic (I still had a few clouds through which to descend).  Oops.

Our landing on 15 was very reasonable.  As I looked straight ahead of me, I can see why IFR departures are not authorized off of 15.  There is one large mountain that is a bit hard to get over, and to the left of the extended center line there are very high and nasty looking towers.  I remembered them from my last trip, but this was a different perspective.

A First Flight

Fortunately for me, 401 was not going to get all of those days off.  My friend Phil was again bugging me to take him flying.  Since I was feeling good, we found a night that worked, borrowed a friend's car (whose father is a pilot, so she totally understood! - Thanks, Angela), and headed out to the airport.  Phil was full of 1000 questions, which was fine.  Satisfied that our plane was ready, we hopped in and carried out the pre-takeoff rituals on our way over to 15.  

Remember that mountain?  It was still there.  I elected to do a short-field take off even though I did not really need to (or so I thought).  Following the checklist, I engaged the gear auto-extend override so that the gear would retract when I asked it to.  And it would have, too had I remembered to retract the gear once we got a bit off the ground.  While I am confessing, I might as well say that short field take offs work better when you fully brief the procedure.  Everything was fine, except that rotation and initial climb speeds are 10 knots less than a normal take off.  Oh, and of course gear retraction should happen earlier as well.  I'm glad I practiced this, though... I would need it later in the week.  

Once we leveled off, I let Phil fly the plane under very close supervision and coaching.  The grin was ear to ear, and he commented on how gently I make control inputs.  We flew down to Lancaster (KLNS - a new airport for me) where I had a beautiful flare over the numbers and down within commercial PTS [that's been on my mind a lot lately].  We turned back, and after leveling off Phil wanted me to demonstrate some maneuvers. A flow and airspeed check, and then I rolled into a 50 degree bank steep turn.  It was progressing quite nicely and well within PTS, but Phil was quite uncomfortable with the "6-7 G's" he was convinced we were pulling. 

"Well it was more like 1.6 or so."

"No way, I thought the wings were going to come off."  

Next, I took him through a lazy 8.  He then asked to see a stall.  I chose a power-off clean configuration because it is a bit less intimidating and clean would have us stalling faster.  Just as things were starting to get interesting and we crossed about 75 knots, the *^&% gear dropped.  "What the hell is it doing?"  Not a welcome exclamation, but as I recovered and accelerated the gear again retracted.  Now, I thought that gear auto-extend was broken?!?!  That's what the placard says.  This lesson was excellently timed - better here at safe altitude then when I REALLY need the darn thing to go up.  This might also explain why the gear did not want to retract a few days earlier when I left KDUJ. 

Phil and I returned back to Queen City for a rather steep approach to 15.  Not my finest approach, but a nice landing still.  We parked and tied down, and then I answered more questions.  Phil was stoked. 

 Cherry Ridge

Since Mrs. Dr. Flying Shrink and I were approaching our 15-year anniversary in a few weeks, we decided that we were going to take a few days to relax and play.  After much deliberation and exploration, we elected to spend some time in the Pocono Mountains.  Our hotel was in Hawley, PA, which made the closest airport Cherry Ridge (N30).  This particular airport provided a number of challenges for me.  The runway is just under 3000 feet long, which would normally be fine out here in the Midwest.  However, hills and very tall trees that seem much higher than the mythical 50-foot obstacle surrounded this airport.  Further, the runway is only 50 feet wide.  Although I can do that (at Galt field 10C, the runway is only 36 feet wide!), it is not my favorite situation.  I feel like I'm coming in very hot, so an airspeed check always happens within 100 feet of the runway.  My confession is that I always do that, but with runways between 75-150 feet wide I am much more familiar with the site picture. 

The morning of our departure would also present us with the additional challenge of an IFR flight and the need to fly an instrument approach.  There are only two at Cherry Ridge, and both are circling approaches.  Although the GPS approach was somewhat closely aligned with 36, our clearance made the VOR/DME-A the best choice.  The ceilings were relatively high and would have us breaking out of the clouds 1400 feet AGL or so, and thus this was the plan. 

Turns out that approaching from the west at near pattern altitude makes the field hard to find until you're practically on top of it.  There was an Arrow doing pattern work for which we were watching quite carefully.  I was just about to climb up when I found the airport and could safety enter the left downwind for 36.  That Arrow was on the ground as we approached, so he was no factor.  

I  need more practice with these types of approaches to airports like this.  Not because I did anything wrong.  I turned final a bit high but was able to recover from that fairly quickly.  It felt like I was going 40 knots fast, but that check of the airspeed indicator confirmed that I was at the very appropriate 75 knots.  There was no headwind component - all crosswind and some shifting between slight headwind and slight tailwind, but even that was negligible.  A flare just before the displaced threshold marker, the stripe between the mains and a soft touchdown confirmed that I've landed a plane before.  But, my anxiety was way too high - not so high that I was unable to  contemplate a go around as I checked airspeed, but high enough to get my passenger's attention.  

We had a great time in the Poconos.  We spent the day we got to the area exploring Hawley and walking about a few areas.  The next day we drove to Milford, where it was "death by chachke shop" and a nice walk out to the Grey Towers.  I did come across one of those white oval car stickers with MILF written in it.  I laughed and said to my wife this does not mean what they think it means (I work with porn addicts, what can I say?).  We stayed at the Settler's Inn, which was a very nice place.  We enjoyed the grounds very much, and the breakfasts and one dinner we ate there were fantastic.  Top notch place.

The Voyage Home

I was very curious to see how our flight time would be different from last year given that we again planned not to stop between DuBois and DuPage.  I expected a very reasonable comparison as our initial departure points were about the same distance from DUJ.  We got everything packed up, I added a quart of oil, and PULLED (yes, pulled) the airplane over the the self-serve pump.  No truck at N30, and I could not justify starting the plane for all the longer it would take me to taxi over.  I topped off the tanks and pushed the plane back around the corner so that we could start up.  

Preparing for takeoff, I set up for a short field take off (and set that gear auto-extend override!).  We accelerated down the runway - again with no real headwind - and rotated at 60 knots.  Lift off, gear up, climb out at 65 knots.  We cleared those very tall trees with a few hundred feet to spare, and I said that this is why we have short-field take off procedures.  What I didn't say out loud but wore into my experience bank account is that this is why we brief the checklist procedure.  

I turned toward the Wilkes-Barre VOR and contacted approach for flight following and to pick up my IFR clearance.  As expected based on the response from Foreflight, I received a direct routing.  A nice flight to KDUJ and smooth landing on 25 ended our "Kinder-Free" time as they ran out onto the ramp when the engine shut down. Of course, they were pretty happy to see us.  I guess I missed them, too. 

After a bit of lunch at Pilot Pete's and getting all of their stuff in the plane, we took off for home.  I had spent considerable time during lunch reviewing the weather as we were expecting some nasty thunderstorms to enter the Chicago area at some point that day, and when they did we could expect things to be shut down for several hours.  It might make passage impossible.  I explained this to my family, and laid out the options where we could comfortably divert for the night.  My kids were cheering for a diversion so that we could stay in a hotel with a pool.  I guess that this is a great reframe.  Considering PAVE, this did eliminate the external pressures of the family but not the pressure of the guy who wanted the plane the next day for his own cross country flight. 

Above when I was noting lessons regarding IFR flight, I forgot to mention that one can spend a lot of time burning fuel waiting on a release.  While this is often no a big deal at rural airports, KDUJ has service to Cleveland.  Last year, I waited 15 minutes before I could finally take off.  Another very good reason to depart VFR and pick up a clearance in flight if able.  

As we were in our climb, I called Cleveland center and received my clearance as filed.  I should have known better.  I dealt with what I expected from the Chicago area, but Cleveland gave me a re-route (but made Youngstown the barer of bad news).  It's not that the routing itself was terrible, but had I known about it sooner I could have saved a few minutes.  My instrument DPE stated that he burned a lot of unnecessary fuel in IFR flying, and I think I have a more full understanding of this now.  

We had another pretty minor reroute, but nothing all that unusual.  I had hoped to cancel IFR and again skirt along Midway's airspace, but this was not an option as the ceilings and visibility were marginal.  As we motored along at 8000, we popped out of a cloud only to see a very ominous looking rain cloud ahead.  It was dark, puffy with some "nice" vertical development and looked pretty bumpy.  I requested a descent to 6000, but was denied for traffic.  I was informed that I could have 7000, and I agreed to this.  Knowing what I was in for, I slowed to maneuvering speed and I called out for the family to hold on as I expected bumps.  

And it was bumpy.  I was in a 400-foot-per-minute descent from 8 to 7000 , and immediately was shot back up to 8000.  And then a drop.  After about 10 minutes of this enjoyment, we came out the other side of this cloud and all was calm again.  At the same time, I was thinking about fuel management.  I was not sure if I was going to have to fly an approach, but if I did that would add a solid 30 minutes because we were coming from the southeast ,and a strong wind was coming from the southwest.  Fortunately, that was not required as I broke out to about 6 miles visibility but below the ceiling.  I entered the pattern and had a nice touchdown on 20L.  

Total time N30-KDUJ-KDPA: 5.8 hours
Last year time KXLL-KDUJ-1G0-KDPA - 7.4 hours.  

Thus, it seems I probably saved some time by avoiding the stop.  However, some of the time difference must be attributed to rather unfavorable headwinds on our trip last year.   As for fuel management, all was well.  I landed with about 1.75 hours of fuel remaining.

Summary of Lessons Learned or Reinforced

As with any flight or series of flights, there are always lessons to be learned or that are reinforced.  
1.  It is often better to depart VFR when able and pick up a clearance in flight (if at all).  Time can often be reduced, whether by avoiding unfavorable routing or not waiting for an aircraft that's been on the ground for 10 or 15 minutes from cancelling.  

2.  When something that can affect the flight characteristics of your aircraft is placarded inoperative (e.g., gear auto-extend), fly the plane as if it works so as to avoid unpleasant surprises.  
3.  Make sure to brief procedures that either you do not use that often or when you fly multiple aircraft.  We have checklists and Flight Information Manuals for a reason.  

4.  Seek out those anxiety-provoking but otherwise perfectly safe situations to develop comfort.  It will not only keep you thinking about the flight, but it will make it easier to detect a real problem.  

5.  Fly the plane.  It flies just fine with the flaps in take-off or the gear down or a dead headset or whatever.   

6.  Anticipate problems with weather or whatever and account for them in one's planning.  

7.  When flying to an unfamiliar airport, do your research.  I did this with N30 and to a lesser extent with KLNR.  However, my decision to fly to KDEC was pretty spontaneous as I was not sure how much time I'd need to fly off before parking.  I wish I had known to be on the look out for those towers rather than being surprised by them.  "Oh, there they are" verses "what the hell are those doing there" really lends itself to more enjoyable flying.