Friday, June 29, 2012

Mrs. Dr. Flying Shrink Goes Flying... briefly

Mrs. Dr. Flying Shrink (also a clinical psychologist) got her first flight today.  While all ended well, it was not exactly the fight I would have hoped we would have. 

I have been excited about sharing my passion for flying with her actually in the cockpit for quite some time, and it was finally here.  Of course, she has heard me droning on about flying for over a year, but this is just not the same thing.  The original plan was that we would take off from Chicago Executive (KPWK) and follow the Chicago shoreline down to KVPZ, where we would tie down and head to a local restaurant that my instructor tells me is pretty good and best known for its turkey.  Mrs. Shrink had managed to clear her schedule for today's flight, and so we were all ago.  Or so I thought: 

Flying rule #2: if there is a 30% chance of thunderstorms and you rented a plane, that means there is a 99% chance of thunderstorms.  

The forecast for the greater Chicago area has been calling for thunderstorms for much of the weekend, and as I typically do for short hops I decided I would take a "watch and wait" approach.  Things had been looking good for our trip despite some boomers on Thursday night.  I went to bed last night with flight planning completed and a pretty good forecast. 

HA!  I got up this morning and the forecast showed an increased chance of thunderstorms after 3 pm.  Because we had to be back by 3 pm to retrieve the Boy and the Banana, I decided that we'd just fly straight back and have lunch near KPWK.  Things looked great for this plan until I was just about done with my preflight, when I looked up to see that the sky had really gotten dark to the west.  I checked the weather again and all still looked safe and VFR, so we fired up.  The ground controller told another pilot that the storm I saw brewing was not supposed to be close for another two hours. 

I had already decided that we were not going to make it KVPZ, and that instead I would fly out to the shoreline and turn back abeam the Sears Tower.  That was my plan on takeoff.  Mrs. Shrink seemed to like being up high and seeing things from a different perspective.  We flew over our house but I really didn't spend much time trying to find it: I was at 1600 MSL with a 1900 MSL Bravo ceiling and not interested in practicing CFIT, and I was getting increasingly nervous about that brewing storm.  These tight altitude tolerances and worries about the storm really curbed my enthusiasm especially because I heard a pilot report that he could see lightening out in the distance just as we approached the shoreline. 

"We need to go back."  Gosh, saying those words sucked because I was really looking forward to showing off the shoreline and getting a few landings in.  I am of course trying to build cross-country PIC time as well in preparation for an instrument rating, so this was quite disappointing.  I had considered continuing the flight and the diverting to KVPZ, KGYY or even KUGN until the storm passed, but given our need to be home returning to KPWK was the best logical solution.  Mrs. Shrink already knew that I was concerned about this and did not fuss.  She did get to see downtown from the air, Ba'hai temple and the area around our home.  My landing was adequate but a bit bouncy because I landed fast as usual. 

So, a meager 0.5 was entered into the log book today, with at least 0.2 of that being on the ground waiting to depart.  But my decision to return showed itself to be an overall good one as the boomers hit about 20 minutes after leaving the airport. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Three "First Flights"

I guess it's good that I'm too busy to write much in this blog because it means that I have some money to go flying!!!!

Since my last entry, I've taken three different passengers up with me.  The first is a friend with whom I study Hapkido (my other passion).  John Paul has flown in a light sport aircraft not long ago, so the Skyhawk seems absolutely luxurious to him.  We set out from Chicago Executive to Rockford (KRFD), and the air was a lot like glass once we cleared Chicago's Bravo airspace.  While I had planned to take a couple of laps around the patch once arriving in Rockford, there looked to be some rather nefarious weather headed our direction - weather that was certainly not forecast.  Thus, I opted for just a touch and go and back to PWK.  The landing was rather sweet if not a bit off the center line to the left (of course).  On the way back, I was able to point out my office to John Paul.  I had never really noticed it before that day.

Last Saturday, my nearly five year-old son got his first flight.  As the time for this flight approached, I realized that I really had two sets of minimums.  I have more tolerance for crosswinds and gusts when it is just me in the plane because I know that I'm working diligently to have pretty good landings most of the time even under those conditions.  However, with another person in the plane - particularly one of my children - I am less tolerant of such things.  The winds had been screwing around all day long because of a stupid low pressure system moving through Canada.  But we worked our way out there, and "the Boy" had his first flight.  It was simply magic to hear him yelling "wow!" as I advanced the throttle on the Skyhawk and we became airborne.  He was very happy to see one of his favorite places - Lake Geneva - from the air.  Unfortunately, he was unhappy that we didn't make time for a swim and sulked all the way home.  As we approached PWK, the pattern was NUTS.  There were so many aircraft that the tower was actually sending people away for five or ten minutes.  I think I was number 10 for the field at one point.  I was so distracted by keeping an eye out for traffic (there was plenty), comforting my now melting-down son, and listening to the craziness of the radio that I came within a razor's edge of busting the bravo.  I would estimate my altitude was 1899 feet MSL with a 1900 shelf... would have taught my son a potty word but he had taken off his headset.  A serviceable landing with winds that were about at those "alone" minimums since they deteriorated after we left.  Lesson: if the winds are toying with your minimums, the flying gods will see to it that you're challenged for making a go decision. The good news is that a week later he "loved" it and wants to go again soon.

Today, "the Banana" (my seven year-old daughter) got her first flight, though in the DA-20 Eclipse that I had not flown for two months because I was focused on developing proficiency in the Cessna.  She had 100 questions for me the whole time, which was actually very fun for me.  We headed up to KUGN where we would depart out toward Lake Geneva (they love this place), and then we visited Watertown, Wisconsin (KRYV).  As I advanced the throttle, she too made plenty of music with her excitement.  She said "cool!" at least 20 times as we flew around, and she was interested in how high we were.  She was disappointed that I would not go higher than 6500 MSL because it just didn't make any sense given the distances.  After I slowed down and did a few steep turns over Lake Geneva so she could see things, we turned toward Watertown.  It was "her airplane" for about two minutes... well, at least she thought so.  She kept telling me that she didn't think that she was allowed to fly the plane.  She gently banked the plane, but I figured out that after about 45 degrees there was no stopping in sight for her.  I said I didn't think it would be a very comfortable ride if we kept turning, and "helped" her back to level.  It was fun to watch her.  Took a few laps around Watertown's pattern with a few nice landings.  That Diamond is a heck of a lot easier to land than the Skyhawk.  The Banana was a bit unhappy that her ears plugged up, but we got that fixed.  We were on our way back to KUGN, and the Banana helped me look for traffic.  As we entered the pattern at Waukegan, the Banana was again chattering away and I had to keep reminding her that this was a time to be very quiet.  Two more squeakers made me very happy, and the Banana could hardly wait to get out of the plane and tell her mother what an awesome time she had.

Note: I started this post on June 8, but got pretty busy and was not able to finish it.  So these things all happened a bit ago.