Saturday, November 30, 2013

L'Dor V'Dor (From Generation to Generation)

On November 26, I had a very interesting and unique opportunity: to take both my father and maternal grandfather for their first flights in a small airplane.  Unfortunately, this had to be done in two separate flights because we all take up more of a share of the weight limitations of the planes I can fly than any of us would like.  On the bright side, I got to fly more... ok, I guess that makes up for it.  Since the plan was to fly along the Chicago shoreline, the clouds just had to be "high enough."  Despite a 3500 foot overcast, the ride was quite smooth. 


Ever since I was a young child, I have called my grandfather "Killer."  The story goes that when I first met him (they lived a long way away), I kept asking him what his name was.  Apparently, I was smart enough to question his answer of "Killer."  However, the playful name has always stuck.  Tuesday morning, Killer and I got in the car and headed for Waukegan (KUGN) to load up in one of Skill Aviation's Skyhawks.  On the drive up, we talked about a number of things - possibly more than he and I have ever sat and discussed.  We talked about his transition to being a widower (I talked about my flight home to bury my grandmother here), his move into a smaller apartment in an assisted living facility, and his experience with small aircraft.  Turns out his last trips in small aircraft included helicopters, large munitions, and Korea.  I explained that I did not expect any anti-aircraft fire on today's flight.  

We arrived at Skill, and after the pre-flight we loaded up 97VA, a G1000-equipped model that would serve as our trusty steed for the day.

"Killer" and the Flying Shrink preparing to depart Waukegan (KUGN)
Getting Killer into this plane was a challenge, but it would have been impossible for him to crawl into the Diamond Star.  Although Killer is pretty stoic overall, even he was having a hard time containing his excitement.  The pre-flight briefing was delivered, and we lit the fires and prepared for departure.
We lifted off of Runway 23 and headed south toward Gary, Indiana (KGYY).  Normally, I would hand fly this trip, but today I used the auto-pilot more than I might have otherwise because I really wanted to show Killer the sites (I'd say it was a 65/35 split).  He had not seen it before, and honestly may not get a chance to see it again.  He is 82 and not in the best of health.  As I would glance over at him, he was still having a hard time containing his smile. 

As we approached Gary, I explained the normal traffic pattern as I expected this to feel quite unusual to him.  After initially being cleared to land on 20 (essentially a right base to final turn coming from the north), the clearance was changed to enter right traffic for 30 for conflicting traffic.  Now, that was a mighty large jet that touched down ahead of me for not receiving a warning about wake turbulence.  However, I made my own correction and all was well.

We taxied back to 30 and I sent a text message to my mother that they should leave "now."  I thought that was pretty unambiguous, but as we shall see it caused confusion.  Lifting off again we were enroute to Chicago Executive (KPWK) as this airfield is the closest to my home.  The plan was that we would land there, have lunch, and then I'd give my second first flight of the day.  As we worked our way in from the shoreline, I continued pointing out landmarks such as my house and things near my home.  "Man, we are awful close to the ground."  Indeed, we were at 1700' MSL, which is just around 1000' AGL.  I explained that the jet traffic into O'Hare does not appreciate us in their way, and that getting too much higher would result in an uncomfortable conversation with the FAA.

Touchdown on 34 at PWK was not exactly a greeser, but it was good enough and got the approval of the passenger.  Perhaps I'm too hard on myself.   As I got into Signature, I sent another message to my mother wondering where they were.  Just leaving?!?!?!?!  Sigh.  I guess we will have a cup of coffee and wait for them.  Killer said several times that he really enjoyed our flight, which of course made me smile. 

Snow what?

 As we waited for my parents to arrive, I of course took the opportunity to check the weather.  I noticed in flight that things to the northwest did not appear as advertised, and some time with Foreflight confirmed this.  The overcast layer was getting lower, some visibility challenges were occuring that direction, and the snow and associated IFR conditions were expected around 3 pm.  It was going to be after 1 when they got to the airport, and a 2 pm departure was very optimistic.  No lunch for me... a granola bar would have to hold me until returning the plane to KUGN.  By the time my parents arrived, I had determined that my father and I could fly down the shoreline as planned and turn around abeam Soldier Field.  This should get us in well before the expected snow, though I was mentally prepared to fly the ILS 23 approach if things got crazy.  Of course, it was COLD complete with an Icing AIRMET so the clouds were about the last place I wanted to be.  If I had to fly an approach, visibility was going to be my problem.  

The Old Marine

Truth is, I come from a line of Marines.  My father, both my grandfathers and other family members were all Marines.  My uncle went to the Air Force, and we're still not sure how that happened.  You also have to understand that in my family the Navy is part of the Marine Corps and not the other way around.  We just have to let the Navy feel better about itself.  My father, a Vietnam vet who worked on F-4 Phantoms and talks about his "low power" license for run-ups and maintenance checks, really was not excited when I agreed to meet with the Marine recruiter before my senior year of high school.  My ASVAB scores were apparently really high, and the recruiter said that normally he has to look at the different types of jobs available in the Marines and cross out what is not available based on those scores.  But there was only one thing he had to scratch off for me... pilot.  Apparently, one must have perfect vision to fly in the Corps.  He never said so, but I don't think the Old Marine wanted me to go into the military.  He would have supported me, but he never encouraged me in this direction.  Perhaps he knows my penchant for not liking orders. 

The Old Marine had never actually flown in a small aircraft before, but some of his accommodations between the States and Vietnam make the Skyhawk seem luxurious.  

The Old Marine and the Flying Shrink prepare to depart KPWK
I explained the weather situation to the Old Marine, and we agreed that it was best to get on with it.  After liftoff, we headed quite directly to the shoreline.  I contacted approach control so that I was already on frequency and set up with a squawk code in case that pop-up IFR clearance was required.  The Old Marine also had questions and we talked about the sites, about flying and other matters.

As we reached Soldier Field, things to my east did not look friendly.  I turned slightly east and then warned the Old Marine that we were going to have a pretty tight turn to avoid overflying buildings and such.  Personally, 30 degrees of bank is not all that much but it seemed prudent to warn him so he didn't worry that we'd go for a swim.

Turned out that the ugly weather never materialized, and we made a nice stable straight-in for 32.  The winds had certainly picked up and were gusty but right down the runway.  As we are about 800' AGL, my father points out that he would not mind having a tree stand about where we were to aid his deer hunting efforts.  I forgot to mention that sterile cockpit thing to him, but said something after I chuckled.  Smooth touchdown and roll out along with a taxi back to Skill rounded out our flying. The Old Marine had a good time as well - a pretty big smile.  I got some grief from the fine folks as Skill for bringing back a different person than the one I left with.

The Old Marine and I were hungry, so we headed to an Irish pub for a late lunch.  Since the flying was over, the Guinness was flowing.  See how that worked? 

Friday, October 11, 2013

There But for the Grace of God...

Recently, one of our club planes was involved in an incident/accident.  This occurred at night, and I learned about it from a Chicago-area aviators Facebook page the next day.  My exclamation of "oh my Lord!" got my wife's attention, and that was less than ideal given that I would like her to fly with me once in awhile.  But honestly I could not contain my concern for the pilot. 

Throughout the morning after the incident, I was able to gather the most important information - that the pilot was unhurt except for his pride, and I have a reasonable picture of the basic facts.  It would be imprudent to share them at this time, but suffice it to say that it has led me to think about how we as pilots deal with incidents and accidents.

In the last 12 months, we have seen a few major accidents from major carriers that have garnered national news and what seems like too many GA accidents in my area.  We've had a surgeon and his wife killed in a Cirrus near Clow (1C5), a fuel-exhaustion accident on approach to Chicago Executive (KPWK), and an emergency landing of an experimental aircraft on Lake Shore Drive in downtown Chicago.  In the last two, no one was seriously injured. 

In each of these incidents, I sought as much information as I could about what occurred so that I could learn from these incidents.  I confess that I sometimes have to fight back some judgment and righteous indignation about what happens.  If the comments of some pilots on discussion boards and Facebook groups are any indication, not only am I not alone but some of us are completely unconcerned about it.  I pray I never lose sight of pride going before the fall.   

But I really have a hard time understanding how one can run out of fuel... until I put myself in the situation of having plenty of fuel for my trip but due to storms making such broad deviations that all my reserves are burned up.  I can relate to this.

And I can't understand how a father with two of his three kids and the friend of one of them on board can continue flying in IMC despite not being instrument rated and ATC trying to help him land.  The Air Safety Institute put a program together from this fatal accident, and it was hard not to well up as I listened to the pilot's communications with ATC.  Honestly, I can hear the fear in his voice.  Yet, his decision making was very poor as his not wanting to be weathered in overrode getting him and his passengers on the group.  But suppose you really have to be somewhere and you are already in the air.  I can relate to this optimism that things will just work out ok.  

And I can't really understand how one can let one's airspeed decay to such a level that there is a stall/spin accident.  That is, I can't until I put myself there with my kids yelling despite the fact that I've explained to them the need for a sterile cockpit 100 times.  Or I remember that time I went around from a botched landing, and while watching other traffic in the pattern my own airspeed dropped below the green arc.  This is one reason I am frequently cross-checking my airspeed since I do not trust my butt to tell me I'm in trouble. 

Not so clever now, are you?

This incident the other night was different.  No, I do not feel judgment about what happened.  I can place myself in that cockpit; in that aircraft and approaching that very same runway.  I've probably done just that within the last 90 days.  I know this pilot.  Not well, but he has been a member of the club for a long time and I do not know a single person who would have said that they would not fly with him.  I would have flown with him that night had that worked out. [And let me be clear - I am not in this forum attempting to say that this was pilot error or any other cause at this point in time]. 

We can all make mistakes.

I HAVE made mistakes, and even caused some minor damage to an airplane (this does not need rehashed here... but it is the original reason for the "CURSES" tag).   

And I have made mistakes that did not result in an incident.  During the flight I wrote about last week, I did not run the pre-landing checklist.  Yes, I did a "GUMPS" check as I crossed the final approach fix (even with a fixed gear since I now fly a retractable).  But I never turned on the taxi and landing lights.  Minor... and I was distracted by flying the approach.  I have forgotten to put the mixture full rich before takeoff TWICE... once with my kids in the plane.  It was this moment that I decided that I was not too good for checklists, and disabused myself of the false belief that I was smart enough to remember everything I needed to do in each phase of flight.      

I think that we as pilots can look at incidents and accidents with a bit of smugness thinking that we would never do the things that lead to them.  But this is a mistake.   It is in this reflection that the true meaning of "it can happen to me" in the face of invincibility comes to life.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Out to Pasture - The Chanute Air Museum

I have been looking forward to the chance to take a flight down to Rantoul, Illinois (KTIP) in order to visit the Chanute Air Museum.  This airport was the site of Chanute Air Force Base from 1917 to 1993, and the museum memorializes the history of the base and the city.  Most interesting to me, it has a number of military aircraft (and even a few nuclear missile silos!) on display.  While it was fascinating to learn about all that the museum has to offer, it was also disheartening to see all the aircraft that had clearly seen better days.  Faded paint, corrosion, flattened tires, bird deterrents, and painted glass to protect the cockpits corrupted planes that were far from their prime.  To the staff's credit, there are active efforts to restore these planes so that they can be seen in their former glory.

However, this P-51 Mustang was absolutely awesome!  There was no one to ask if this aircraft was airworthy, but she sure is beautiful.

This F-4 Phantom II peaked my interest as my father was a mechanic on these while serving in the Marines in Vietnam (although this is the Air Force version).  He does not tell many stories about the war itself (common amongst veterans, as it turns out), but he does talk about the thrill of running one of these bad boys up to make sure that everything was operating properly after maintenance.  He also mentioned a few shenanigans about "re-assigning" parts from Navy planes.  

This F-15 is in need of some restoration, but I remember dreaming about flying one of these or an F-14 Tom Cat (thanks, Top Gun) when I was about 12.  Honestly, I still do.

The museum also has a T-6 Texan and a B-25 Mitchell Bomber that are in the midst of restoration, a Skymaster, a number of other fighters,  a C-130, many other vintage aircraft, and even a room full of old Frasca simulators.  The entire list can be viewed here, thought honestly I don't recall seeing all of these aircraft.  Makes me wonder if I missed part of of the museum.  Eh, guess I'll just have to go back. 

Over the City and Above the Woods

I was accompanied on this flight by my mother, who flew with me several months ago along the Chicago shoreline.  This day we would be flying in that Diamond Star DA-40 that I wrote about a few weeks ago.   I initially planned to take the school's G1000-equipped Skyhawk since I knew that she could get in and out with little problem (and I have around 70 hours in type), but because of bad weather Thursday morning it did not fly and thus had too much fuel on board.  I really need to work on my contribution to weight and balance.

I picked up my IFR clearance: cleared from Waukegan (KUGN) to Rantoul (KTIP) via vectors JORJO - BACEN - BLOKR - RBS - DIRECT.  Some of these are points on the JORJO1.RBS departure procedure.  This took us over the metropolitan Chicago area just west of O'Hare (KORD).  We saw plenty of aircraft coming and going from KORD and KMDW.  

Departing runway 5, I was turned on headings that essentially took me along the shore line of Lake Michigan until I was turned southwest.  Before long, we had broken through the clouds and were skimming along at 7000.  This was the first time my mother had the experience of going through clouds and being essentially VFR on top (except that there were more clouds and the overcast layer hardly made for a good horizon).  

As we began our descent into Rantoul, we had to fly an approach in order to come down through the scattered to broken layer.  Smooth sailing and a very gentle touchdown on runway 18 earned some accolades from the very satisfied passenger.  

Great Hosts

The folks at KTIP were great.  They set us up in a courtesy car, and suggested a nice little home-cookin' Mexican place called Sol Azteca.  The food was very good; seemed very authentic, tasty, fast and very reasonably priced.  I'd highly recommend checking this place out if you are out that way.  

After lunch and visiting the museum, we needed to spend a little time at the FBO while we waited out some storms that were passing through the Chicago area.  Soon, we were off and on our way back to UGN... maybe.  

The Pink Dot

Picking up my IFR clearance, we were cleared to KUGN via PNT - PLANO - OBK - DIRECT.  We had more time above and through the clouds as we motored along at 8000 MSL.  Based on my weather check at the FBO, I knew that I was going to need to fly an approach into Waukegan, and that I'd expect Runway 5.  I was all set up for that and briefing the approach by the time I crossed PLANO, and as I checked the ForeFlight weather from the Stratus I see the... dreaded... pink... dot.  UGN had gone LIFR due to fog with 200 foot overcast  However, I was flying a non-WAAS aircraft and there is only an RNAV approach into runway 5.  There was no point in flying this approach as the non-precision minimums were far higher than the weather.

I began considering my options when ATC advised me that two jets had just gone missed from KUGN.  Having checked the weather at other reporting stations, I decided to fly the ILS 16 approach into Chicago Executive (KPWK).  Although I had only flown this particular approach in a simulator, I am very familiar with this airport since I did my private training primarily from this location.  My approach and landing were quite solid, and we taxied to Signature and shut down to enjoy their very comfortable accommodations while I sorted out what I was going to do next.    


Sitting on the ground at PWK, I started to review options.  The organization from which I had rented this plane recently stopped operations at PWK, so this removed one option.  It was a 45 minute cab ride home, and I could have taken my wife's car and my mother to retrieve my car from UGN.  I finally got a hold of the owner of the school, who said that he had just come in not long ago on the ILS 23 approach with a slight tailwind but no problems, except that it was right down to minimums.  "Do you think you can do it?"  

I thought this over for 20 minutes, and decided that the two-axis autopilot that I had been using all day because of my low time in the plane could fly the approach - it didn't know it was dark and down to minimums, after all.  Though I had hand-flown the other two approaches, this seemed to be the time to allow the computer to earn its keep. 

Earning a Manhattan

We loaded up in the Diamond Star and were cleared vectors to UGN.  I briefed the approach on the ground because it is a VERY short flight (it was all of 16 minutes according to my track at Flight Aware), and I just wanted to hit the highlights for review in the air.  I had everything loaded up and ready to go when I was cleared for takeoff.  

I was a bit worried because PWK had been marginal VFR and then went IFR with a 600 foot overcast as I was preparing to leave.  There was a guy who really wanted to depart VFR to the east out over the lake, and the controllers were really trying to talk him out of it.  I hope they did because that would have been pretty high risk.  But I hoped that these changes did not reflect further deterioration at my hoped-for destination.  

Here was the METAR from my weather briefing: 

KUGN 042252Z 02004KT 4SM BR OVC002 18/18 A2996 RMK AO2 SLP138 P0001 T01780178

Now doesn't that look like fun?  I know some of you are jealous.  

As I am passed off to the departure controller, it occurs to me that I am flying in pretty solid IMC in the dark and flying my first night approach in actual IMC (although I have flown quite a few approaches to minimums in simulated conditions during night flight).  I saw myself as focused, but my mother informs me that she knew I was a bit nervous.  She was thrilled by the whole thing and really enjoyed the entire day of flying, but I had to tell her that I was pretty focused and needed a sterile cockpit until we were on the ground.  She understood and was quiet.  

"419AM, turn left heading 260 to intercept the localizer.  Cleared ILS 23 approach, maintain 2500 until established."  It's on, and I'm in the soup past my eyeballs.  Two miles from the final approach fix, I am passed off to tower and am cleared to land.  I peak up and see only clouds through the windscreen, but I am on path and glideslope, but a bit fast.  

Descending through 1600 for 930, I am able to see the ground.  At 1100, I am very happy break out and see the runway.  The controller then states that "things are clearing here if you'd like to circle to land on runway 5, that's approved."  Was this guy crazy?  It was pitch black out, I just broke out and he thinks I might like to circle to land.  Umm... no.  I'll take that five knot tailwind when I have a plane that can be stopped in well under 1500 feet and I have 6000 feet of runway.  "9-Alpha-Mike will stay with 23."  

Although I floated a bit because I was a bit fast, I had my third gentle and on-centerline touchdown of the day.  "Oh, yeah!" I failed to mention to my mother that this was the first time I had flown an approach at night in actual instrument conditions.  I did offer to send her home in a cab and I'd go by myself, but she insisted on going with me.  However, she claims to have not been worried the whole time.


I have to say that I would have been far less anxious had I been flying my club's Arrow or Archer because I am so much more familiar and comfortable in them. The only part of the flight I've really spent time reflecting on was my decision to fly the short flight and approach into Waukegan.  It worked out well, and the flight was never in any risk beyond the typical risks of flying in these conditions.  But was we know, night IFR is the riskiest flight in which most GA pilots will ever engage.  Add to this that I was flying a pretty new-to-me aircraft and I had a passenger, and it seems that it was "pretty interesting" to say the least.  

However, I had been using the auto pilot all day because I was not yet totally confident in my ability to hold altitude solid in this plane.  I always use it while briefing an approach or doing some other task with high cognitive demands.  So although I prefer to hand fly most of the time, this last flight was not the time to decide to give it a go (although as I mentioned above I hand-flew the other two approaches).  It obviously worked out just fine, and fortunately I was overall pretty well practiced in approaches and night current.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

New Certificate Received

Yesterday, I received my shiny new pilot certificate from the FAA that shows the added instrument rating.  Looks nice in the pocket on my flight bag...

PIREP: A Shrink Flying in the sky with a Diamond (Apologies to the Beatles)

On September 6 and 13, I went up to KUGN to spend some time with one of the fine instructors at Skill Aviation in order to do some transition training with the Diamond Star DA-40.  All told, I spent about 4 hours in the airplane and about another three in ground school discussion of the aircraft.  Flying consisted of the usual suspects - steep turns, slow flight, stalls and take offs and landings.  I made sure to slip in a trip around the patch from the grass strip at Burlington (KBUU) as well as three approaches and a hold to demonstrate IFR competency and G1000 practice.  I always learn a ton from Jim when I fly with him, so it was definitely a good time. 

The Diamond Star is an interesting plane.  As you may know from my previous posts, I did nearly all of my private pilot training in the DA40's 2-seat little brother.  I expected this one to be far roomier, but I am not sure I'd endorse that conclusion.  It does afford the pilot and front-seat passenger a bit more elbow and knee room, but I think I need a few more hours in the plane before I can say that I feel comfortable with it.  The Arrow is more comfortable for my tastes, but I confess that this could be familiarity.  The control stick is always fun, though! 

One of the nice things that Skill puts together is a nice packet of "aircraft profiles" in order to help the pilot memorize how to set up the aircraft for various maneuvers or phases of flight.  Because I did my initial training here, this way of organizing information is quite familiar to me.  The Diamond Star's prop and manifold pressure settings are pretty different from the Arrow's (and from every other aircraft I've ever flown), so I continue to work these into my head.  I am used to dropping the MP to 17 inches to begin a descent in the pattern, but really the Diamond needs more like 11 or 12, and likes 13-17 for approaches - depending on the type of approach.  Of course, individual results vary depending on all those external variables that affect ground speed.

This particular plane is equipped with a non-WAAS G1000.  I have poured over the Sporty's video training on the G1000, have done a VFR transition previously in another aircraft, and even having solid knowledge of the Garmin 430 is very helpful.  The last bit helps with understanding the logic of how the system works, though it still takes time to figure out where one should hunt and peck.

So, how does it fly?

The DA40 is a very docile plane.  Strangely, one needs to rotate and get the plane flying much earlier than Vx, and one can expect some swearing from the stall horn.  I can't bring myself to get out of ground effect earlier, which is of course fine.  It is very responsive to control inputs and power changes, and will drop like a rock with full flaps and idle power... and like a bolder if one includes the forward slip.  I am still working on altitude hold in this plane - I would just get it set up and then my tasks or needs would change.  I had just gotten nice and stable, and Jim instructed me to remove my foggles so he could "do something."  Yeah... that something was another simulated engine failure.  We'd have lived each time, but even practice raises my pulse considerably. 

Other than feeling a tad cramped, there are two big gripes I have with the Diamond Star.

First, I really dislike the steering system.  It is a free caster-type system (just like the DA-20) and can be hard to keep moving straight.  One must be going fast enough for the rudder to be effective, but even that felt a bit unruly.  I was taxiing with proper crosswind corrections and full right rudder applied, and the darn plane still wanted to go to the left.  It took awhile to get used to that. 

The final gripe is how easy it can be to tail strike the aircraft.  Jim commented on my solid approaches to landing, which is because I work to find my target airspeed and a reasonable decent rate.  It comes from working through all the bouncy-trouncy Tigger landings I've experienced.  No, I didn't strike the tail.  On the ground, Jim pushed the tail to the ground. I was shocked to see that the attitude was only 10 degrees nose-high.  I guess I could flare a bit more as I tend to be a tad flat, but touchdowns were overall pretty gentle.

I am looking forward to taking this plane out for a little trip at some point to see how she flies on a short cross country.  It's about the most expensive plane I can fly at this juncture, so I must admit that it won't be my first choice to fly somewhere. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

First IFR Cross Country: A Wealth of Experience

As you know if you've seen my postings recently, I passed my instrument check ride on July 19.  On July 22, I loaded up the family in our club's Piper Arrow for a bit of vacation in what turned out to be a daunting but gratifying experience.  Our first destination was to be in western Pennsylvania so that the Banana and the Boy could get some time with grandma and grandpa. 

Earning my Keep

As is my custom when I intend to fly, I was nearly obsessively checking the weather for days prior to our departure.  The forecasts for that day called for a nice cloud layer I could punch through as we departed KDPA, and marginal VFR due to precipitation and low ceilings through Ohio and Pennsylvania.  There was a general risk of isolated thunderstorms, but that has been true just about every day in July.  Seemed like it was a good thing I had that instrument ticket after all.  So, off to the airport we went. 

After loading up and all the careful rituals to increase the safety of the flight, we were ready to depart runway 10.  Cleared for takeoff, I started my roll with a bit of excitement as the family was going to get to see some clouds.  Then, the noise: the sound of air as if the window was open.  I knew exactly what this was, so I brought the throttle to idle and announced an aborted takeoff due to an open door.  Despite all my ritual, I forgot to secure the door.  This was not the way to engender confidence in my newly expanded piloting skills.  After securing the door properly and assuring the Banana (who was holding down the right seat) that she would not have fallen out had the door opened, we again departed runway 10. 

As we began our initial climb to 3000 and switched to departure control, we were stepped up eventually to 7000.  Climbing through the clouds resulted in the sounds of wonder and excitement from the Banana and the Boy that I had been anxiously anticipating.  "This is COOL!" said the Banana.  "Wow!" yelled the Boy.  Mrs. Dr. Flying Shrink was not too sure about all of this, and read her book until we were on top of the cloud layer as trucking along toward Peotone VOR. 

Soon, we were turned eastbound and direct to our first stop: Wood County (1G0) in Bowling Green, Ohio.  It's a nice half-way point, and my previous experience with them was excellent.  Things were getting darker with a bit more rain as we passed over Fort Wayne.  By 30 miles out I had the weather, which was reported as relatively calm winds with five miles visibility and 600 scattered/2500 overcast.  By the time I was handed off to Toledo approach, I had the RNAV 10 approach loaded into the Garmin, the plate open in Foreflight, the radios all tuned, and a full brief completed.  Flying the approach, I broke out of the overcast layer about as advertised, but there remained additional clouds with which I needed to contend.  "Keep Calm and Fly the Approach." 

You see, this was far more excitement than I really wanted for my first real IMC flight as single pilot with my family on board.  It was not dangerous, just a mite unnerving.  At 400 feet from minimums the needles were pegged, but there was a cloud in my way.  I could see the taxiway just to the right of the cloud, but I am not sure that counts as having the runway environment in site.  Fortunately, the cloud was small and by 250 feet above minimums the runway was clearly in site.  Our first leg concluded with a gentle touchdown.

"Good job, Papa" came from the back seat as Mrs. Dr. Shrink expressed her relief.  I confess that this felt pretty good.

After taking on fuel, stretching, and making sure all the bladders had been emptied successfully, we were back in 81898 and preparing to depart.  An update of the weather suggested that we would continue to have marginal VFR weather for the same reasons, and that there were some building cumulonimbus clouds out there.  As I was cleared to depart, clearance delivery told me to climb and maintain 3000 and fly heading 090.  We were soon airborne once again, and we were cleared to 7000... but never turned on course direct to Clearfield-Lawrence Township (KFIG).  I flew this for quite some time, actually.  As I looked at the radar images on the iPad courtesy of that awesome Stratus that I had purchased just a month earlier, I could see that some pretty intense storms had unleashed, and that my heading was going to steer me north of them.  I hesitated to ask questions because I thought perhaps ATC new that I'd need to deviate around this anyway, and were just being proactive. 

As we approached Cleveland, the sky was dark, visibility at 7000 was maybe five miles (but looked like grey nothing with no real horizon), and we had clouds below us that were on the border between scattered and broken.  I could see the ground or the lake quite often, but I also flew over, under and through a lot of clouds.  Just as I was about to start asking questions, the controller asks "Arrow 81898, please confirm that you are direct FIG."  I confirmed this was the plan, but that I had been instructed to fly 090 upon departure and was just preparing to ask him about when that was going to change.  "That's a great question.  I don't know why you were given that, but you are cleared direct Clearfield."  After altering course, I checked the radar picture again and saw that I would be well clear of that storm. 

All was going well, and I was handed off to Youngstown.  I had the approach plate open for Clearfield for the RNAV 12 approach since the winds were fairly calm but favoring 12.  The METAR from Foreflight suggested that ceilings were plenty high for me to circle to 30 if that made more sense, but of course I was going to burn less gas going into 12.  Then, I zoomed out to see the remainder of my flight path.  "Oh, crap."  This was not the most welcomed expression in the cockpit. 

The radar picture showed a small but quite mighty thunderstorm right over top of DuBois, which was directly in our flight path.  There was another cell to the south as well.  I had just gotten the updated picture, so I started reviewing my options.  Clarion County (KAXQ) was about 25 miles away, and would require some aggressive set up.  I wanted to see a refreshed picture before I made a final decision.  While I waited,  I got the weather, selected an approach, set up the radios, and briefed the approach.  I did not like the new picture any more than I liked the old one, and I advised Cleveland Center that I wanted to divert to Clarion due to en-route thunderstorms and that I wanted to fly the RNAV 6 approach. 

Our decent was aggressive and I was flying much faster than usual, but I had done this many times before with my instructor on board.  I instructed Ms. Dr. Flying Shrink to text my mother to let her know that we had to divert and that I would explain on the ground.  I also let her know that everything was fine except for storms.  At the intermediate approach fix, I configured the plane for a 90 knot approach speed - gear down, flaps 1, full RPM and 22 inches, lights, fuel pump.  By the final approach fix, we were ready for our smooth decent and gentle touchdown on a somewhat wet surface. 

Two hours.  We sat around and tried to entertain the kids for two hours while the storms passed and eventually dissipated.  The lone soul at the FBO was a kind man who stayed way past when he was supposed to go home so that we had a dry place to rest while the weather cleared. 

Though the rain continued, the storms were gone and we were high tailing it because another storm was 90 miles away from our route again.  The flight to KFIG from there was uneventful.  I was high on the RNAV 12 approach as it was a series of step-down fixes rather than an LPV, and I underestimated how quickly I had to descend.  No matter.  The Arrow does great with the chop and drop method, and by 1  mile final was on glide path, on airspeed, and stable - with the airport in site.  5.4 in the log book for that day, plenty of actual instrument time, and three approaches.  Not too shabby.

The Next Day

The next day, Mrs. Dr. Flying Shrink and I headed off to Princeton, New Jersey (39N) for a day of rest and alone time before going to meet friends.  The weather was Marginal VFR (like barely) at KFIG, and was better in Princeton.  After snuggling the Banana and the Boy for a few more minutes, we were off and airborne.  It was not long before we were working our way up through the clouds.  We broke out and had a nice clear ride for much of the way.  We had some clouds to fly through that turned out to be somewhat turbulent.  Just as I was entering one of them, I was given a frequency change.  That was some fun multitasking - aviate first, tune radios later.  About 10 minutes later, I was given a route change and needed to copy and program the GPS.  This time, I told the controller to standby because I was in a bumpy cloud.  Autopilot engaged, which reduced the workload a little. 

I was sent to the Solberg VOR, which completely screwed my my approach plans.  Recalling that there was a VOR-A approach from the north into 39N, I pulled it up and to my pleasure found that it originated at this VOR.  Perfect.  I tuned radios, identified the VOR, and briefed the approach so that when I was handed off to New York I would be ready.  I was flying through the clouds, so an approach was required.  I was pleased with how I flew this approach, but was easier than the day before as I broke out 1800 feet above the ground and a few miles from the field.  I did require a go around because I was too high and figured discretion was the better part of valor here. 

Queen City

After a nice day walking around the university area and staying at an Inn located in a house built in the 1760s, we were back to the airport.  A check of the weather showed forecasts that suggested a VFR flight was possible for our travel to Allentown -Queen City (KXLL).  "But I'm instrument rated and CAN file an IFR flight plan, so I will."  I complained bitterly about the route was given, and the goofy change made that my GPS programming skills did not like.  Just as I was questioning the wisdom of the IFR plan, I noticed just how low the cloud layer really was.  It turned out that I had even more cloud time and had to fly an approach into XLL was well.  The bummer about this was that the only approaches into Queen City are from the west. 

Winds were gusty and favoring 33, but there was a note that circling south of runway 7 was not authorized.  "Well, why ever not?"   As I finally broke out of the clouds, I could see why - a sizable hill with towers to the south and west of the field.  "Oh, that."  However, I leveled off at pattern altitude and flew a normal pattern entry and landing on 33.  I suppose that one could argue that this was technically circling, but I argue that ceiling and visibility were such that flying VFR and a normal pattern made complete sense but I needed to fly an approach to get down from above the overcast layer.  At 700 feet AGL, it did not make sense.  

The Long Journey Home

Sunday morning, we got up and KXLL was solid IFR.  That was not a surprise to me but I wanted to see things open up a bit before taking off.  Always study those alternative minimums.  Winds were favoring departure on 15, which was not authorized.  It would have to be runway 7, but there was a specific departure procedure about which I took notes so as to remember - there were those nasty towers out there, remember?  

I decided I wanted to climb out at best angle, which took some getting used to and monitoring.  I got a bit slow, which raised my pulse considerably.  Reduce the pitch angle, man.  It was solid IFR for quite awhile until we broke out above the overcast layer.  An approach to DuBois might not have been needed had I been able to get down to the MEA.  Flying the approach to 25, the tail was skimming the bottom of the clouds by the intermediate fix.  

We picked up the kids and had some lunch before departing to Wood County.  I figured out why it is so important to cancel your IFR flight plan.  I sat for 10 minutes with the engine running while I waited to depart because there was a flight out there that should have landed but had not cancelled.  I called for this aircraft on the CTAF, but no joy.  However, it was the United commuter that I had seen land and taxi to the terminal building.  Sigh...  

We were finally off, and things were pretty bumpy.  Things were calm at 5000 and the controller allowed us to stay there, but eventually we were moved down to 4000.  It was a trade off as the clouds were a bit turbulent and we were not going to get above them comfortably.  Things were a bit turbulent at 4000 as well. 

A visual approach into Wood County and a smooth landing.  We had to wait a bit as the fuel pumps were a happening place with some folks on the field and some transient traffic flying a Cub or Cub-a-like aircraft to Oshkosh.  They ended up departing ahead of us.  Now, that had me worried because that thing motors along at about 80 knots and I would hit 130.  Since it had no transponder, I knew that ATC was not going to see them.  I tried to raise them on the radio (they had a portable) but that did not happen.  I watched like a hawk for about 15 miles, and was then satisfied that I was now past them.  

The flight to KDPA was relatively uneventful, but I can say that I was VERY happy to touch down on 28.  It had been about 614 nautical miles and just over 7 hours flight time.  We had some nasty head winds that gave us a ground speed of about 100 knots on a TAS of 130.   My longest day and distance of flying to date.

Important lessons taken away from these flights

1.  The experience of being dumped on an approach or executing them in a rapid-fire succession is very good practice, but it is not how I found myself operating on any of these flights.  I took my time, set things up as early as possible, and briefed approaches twice as I usually had that luxury. 

2.  If something seems strange from the controller or an instruction that results in you getting back on course is not forthcoming, ask questions.

3.  It is hard to sit here after diverting and second guessing my decision, but I think that a review of my decision making is in order.  First, it was a perfectly reasonable and acceptable decision to land and sort it out on the ground, even though that meant sitting around for over two hours.  Few people have died from making the very conservative decision.  However, I wish I had discussed my situation with the controller or had a conversation with Flight Watch before diverting.  My thought process was that I had storms in my way. diversion south was out, and under no circumstances could I justify trying to thread that needle with ADS-B weather.  But I might have been able to go north, and even perhaps go far enough east to fly an approach to 30 and circle if an approach to 12 was not an option.  If it was good enough to circle going into 12, then it was probably good enough to circle from 30.  While I might have gotten confirmation that my decision was the right one, I might have had another option that I did not consider.

4.  I have this idea that I should just fly through clouds because I'm a rated and current pilot on an instrument flight plan.  While true, some clouds are fun and others... not so much.  It really is ok to request a deviation.

5.  Things just take longer than you plan them to.  

6.  I want to use the autopilot less.  I found myself using it quite a bit particularly in the clouds to add a margin of safety.  I can't say that this is bad, but I want to keep my skills sharp and sharpening.  I try to use the autopilot only when I need to reduce my workload as I prepare for an approach.   

7.  Communicating with my family is helpful.  I received feedback that I get a very intense look on my face at certain points: landing, flying an approach, or in the clouds.  It's hard for my family to know if I am just needing this much focus (yes!) or if something is wrong.  I suppose that means "managing anxiety" comes with being pilot in command. 

On a final note, with this flight I crossed over 100 hours for the year.  I was stoked about that because I already met my yearly goal, and it was only the end of July.  Good thing... December is coming. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Instrument Rated

Yesterday morning around 7 am, I departed from DuPage (KDPA) for a short flight up to Janesville, Wisconsin (KJVL) to take my instrument check ride.  Boy, what a day. 

I slept terribly.  I went to bed after 11, and was awake by 4.  I had planned to wake at 5:30 to be gone by 6, but 4 it was.  After 45 minutes of trying to go back to sleep, I concluded that it was moot.  So, I left early and figured that I'd be less anxious sitting at the JVL Jet Center waiting for my test than if I zoomed in after red lining it all the way up there. 

The flight up was very quiet and relaxing, and I nailed altitude to plus or minus 50 feet the whole way there.  Not bad, right?  Despite some interesting wind conditions, I had a very nice landing on 18.  "Today's gonna be a good day" (in my best Ice Cube voice). 

After hanging out at the Jet Center for about an hour and catching up with the kind gentleman working the fueling work on the latest airport gossip (why did they close Kealy's, anyway?!?!), the examiner and I got started on this test.  We went through all that obligatory paperwork at first, and then got to it. 

Oral:  I can say that I felt I did pretty well on this.  There were a few holes in my practical knowledge that became evident, but the examiner seemed to think that this was more a problem with how certain unnamed ground school offerings address the problems.  For example, I could nearly quote the regulation about what to do with lost communications in IFR conditions.  I clearly understood what the FAA expects me to do... or did I?  Suppose you get to your clearance limit of the airport, and then it's time to land.  How do you actually start the approach?  But overall, I felt this was the stronger part of the test.

Practical test:  Oi vey.  First, my takeoff was fun.  The winds had picked up and were gusting in anticipation of the cold front moving through.  Joys.  Despite proper corrections my plane wanted to weather vane into the wind, which was not exactly making for a smooth take off.  (where did you go, Ice Cube?!?!).  The examiner had given me a clearance, and it was not long before he basically dumped me on a hold.  But, it was right on the airway I was flying and a direct entry and hold right on the airway.  Perfect.  I got this.  Well, it was REALLY bumpy at 3000 feet, and staying on altitude was not going well.  I certainly busted the PTS multiple times, but I knew this and said I was correcting and did so.  Trim?  I was using it - honest!  Another funny thing.. I double tapped the OBS button on the Garmin 430, so it did not start using my intersection like a VOR.  I didn't realize it right away but it explained why I flew past my waypoint each time.  I could not just hit it again because the system already sequenced to my next way point. 

Approach 1: "Asiana 214 crashed" at my destination, and I needed to "divert."  Since I was near Rockford (KRFD), I listened in and chose the RNAV 25 approach.  I didn't do so bad on this one and had a good landing.  I REALLY needed to take a deep breath because I kept waiting for that dreaded "let's go back to the airport and talk this over" statement.

Approach 2: We departed toward the JVL VOR as the IAF for a VOR-A approach into Beloit (44C).  This was to be the dreaded partial panel, and the examiner kept dealing with trying to cover the Aspen panel.  This was REALLY distracting and I blew past the VOR and had to get back to it in order to do the procedure turn.  Upon reflection, I should have offered to turn it off as this is what my instructor does all the time.  I got south of course, then north, then south and then north and then eventually on the course.  I did NOT bust MDA.  If I was going to go down, this was not going to be the reason.

Interesting thing about Beloit.  If one is going to circle to 25, one must deal with some very poorly lit silos right on the approach end and some hills to the south.  The examiner was teaching me an important lesson about circles especially at night by taking me here.  He suggested using Google Earth or Maps to check an area out.  Take a look at Beloit, WI airport and you'll see what he was showing me.  

Going around, he took the airplane.  I had not done anything wrong at this point, but my honest reaction was "now we're going back to the airport."  Instructed to look down, I was quickly handed back a plane that was in a turning dive to the ground.  "Holy s*^&!!!" was the only thing I could think.  I mean, I recovered just fine, but that was downright frightening.  "And that's how it's going to happen, too," the examiner assured me.  I assured him that this scared the bejeezus out of me.  One more unusual attitude, then we were preparing for the last approach.

Approach 3: ILS 32 back into Janesville.  I flew this one pretty well, but it was a dumper.  It was the second time that a full and careful brief of the approach was not possible, so I had to prioritize.  I was doing just fine and landed without incident. 

That was a long taxi.  Not literally of course, but I was asking myself I I passed.  I mean, as you can see from my description above, it's not like I just nailed it.  On the other hand, he never said we should go back to the airport and I flew the ILS just fine. 

After shutting down, we opened the door and talked for a solid 10 minutes about some things that will certainly help me fly better.  They were not correcting me, but only helping me anticipate some things better.  It was the biggest sigh of relief when he congratulated me on the successful completion of my check ride. 

After we completed the paperwork, we talked for a bit more about flying and things that I wanted to make sure I understood from his feedback.  I learned that I rely in pictures a lot, yet when I had one available during the partial panel but with GPS working, I didn't use it.  I should have as it would have helped a lot.  The examiner did not say that, but it just hit me as I sit here processing this experience. 

After taking a bit of time to relax, eat a cookie, and stretch, I filed my first IFR flight plan back to DuPage.  Would you believe that I held altitude within 50 feet again?  Flew through a very small cloud (I don't think 10 seconds is really enough to qualify as "actual" instrument time), but I enjoyed the fact that I could. 

Then... the dreaded ATIS.  How does 250 at 22 gusting 31 sound to you?  Did I mention the runways are 20R, 20L, and 28?  I checked Foreflight for what I already suspected - 20R and 20L despite being the wider runways were past the crosswind component for the Arrow.  Sigh. 

Descent was fun - I had about a 35 knot tailwind component, and hit 175kts groundspeed on 140 IAS.  That was not even to yellow line.

As I approached the airport, the wind check was 240 with the same speeds.  Seeing that things were the same and above my comfort level anyway, I figured I'd take 20R as it's wide and nice and long.  Just as I was flaring, the wind picked up and blew me left enough that I could no longer touch down without bending the airplane.  Go around, which was sliding all over the place as I had to stay in ground effect to speed up.  When I was comfortable again, I called the tower and said "898 is doing a dosie doe and a go around."  The controller gave a new wind check and asked if I wanted 28.  The winds were now favoring that, so I requested it.  Let's just say that I am not at all unhappy with a less-than-gentle touchdown that was on center line.  My instructor for my private told me more than once that sometimes the winds are such that a squeaker is not a very constructive goal. 

"Good job, 898."  What a way to end the day. 

Here is my flight track back to DuPage from Fight Aware... cleared route was interesting.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Initial Thoughts on Asiana 214

I am getting increasingly annoyed with the coverage of the Asiana 214 crash in San Fransisco.  Every pilot I know - including myself - would want the benefit of the full findings of the investigation before being beaten and bruised in the media.  On one level, I understand that there is an interest to know what happened.  However, the media is trying to wrap this up before covering the next Obama family vacation and cannot wait the long time that the NTSB will take. 

Instead, we are going to talk about the "inexperience" of the pilots [if they were clear, it is relative inexperience in type - but at least the captain was a very experienced pilot], there is the focus on the alleged lack of safety in a "visual approach" [completely absurd - EVERY pilot first learns how to make visual approaches, and may later learn instrument approaches.  All airline pilots are instrument rated], talking about the problem with a nose-up landing attitude [if you didn't put the nose up, the nose gear would touch down first and damage the plane... and it might make the landing VERY eventful], and even a language barrier [FAA and JAA requirements state that one must be proficient in English to conduct international flights - at least those coming or going from the United States - I listened to the tapes, and while accented the English seemed fine]. 

What is actually known at this point is that the the plane struck the ocean barrier short of the runway touch down zone, and that it was the tail plane that hit first.  This means that the aircraft was not in a "landing attitude" but something more pitched up than this.  There is also apparently some information from the flight data recorders suggesting that the aircraft was well below the speed at which it was supposed to cross the runway threshold (Vref).  I have seen reports that the aircraft "stalled," meaning that the wings stopped producing sufficient lift to sustain flight.  While pilot error is certainly a possibility (and perhaps if we were gambling the one I would bet on), there are also some other potential explanations for what went wrong.  We should wait to rule them out. 

One thing that has not gotten much discussion that I would be interesting in learning more about is the "human factors" or the psychology of what has gone wrong.  This flight was about 10 hours, which is a long time to be flying an aircraft.  It will be interesting to learn more about what their days were like prior to getting into the cockpit.  I'm not passing judgment, but it is well known that the human systems aspects of flying contribute to incidents and accidents.  This is why from early in training we are taught to look at ourselves with the "I'M SAFE" checklist - Illness, Medications, Stress, Alcohol and other drugs, Fatigue, and Eating.

But all of these things interact with the mission and the aircraft.  Being a little tired from getting up early and hungry from not eating because you're going to your favorite $100 pancake breakfast at a familiar airport may require a different go/no go decision than if you're flying to an unfamiliar airport in a relatively new to you aircraft all while in hard-IFR.  As my DPE for my private ticket said in our conversation about these things, "it's difficult and not really desirable to have hard and fast rules, but rather than you've asked yourself if you're really up for this flight." 

Friday, June 28, 2013

2013 Half-Way Point: How Go the Goals?

At the start of 2013, I sent out a few goals.  The half-way point of the years seems like a good time to review how things are going. 

    As of this writing, I have72.9 hours of piloting time (1.5 was in a simulator).  Jeez!  No wonder I don't have time to write. 

    • Fly at least 15 hours at night
    I've actually flown 4.6 hours at night.  Guess I have to be behind somewhere!  
    • Fly at least 70 cross-country hours
    I've logged 43 hours of cross-country time.  I've even managed to see a few new airports - Champaign, IL (KCMI); Boscobel, WI (KOVS); Dubuque, IA (KDBQ), Wood County, OH (1G0), Findlay, OH (KFDY), DuBois, PA (KDUJ), and Lebanon - Warren County, OH (I68) to name the most memorable.  
    • Complete my instrument rating.  
    Mrs. Dr. Flying Shrink is so ready for this to be done, and I am too.  As of this writing, I have completed 61 approaches and have a total of 41.8 hours of instrument time (10.5 actual; 1.5 of the remaining time came in a simulator... you know, it turns out the simulator is pretty darn hard to fly after all).  Things are clicking now, and it's just a matter of doing a bit more tightening.  I've been really working on altitude hold since that is one of things that would result in the pink slip.  My last few flights have been pretty tight.  The written exam is also checked off (93%, which is pretty good but still offends my perfectionistic sensibilities). I can see this being done in the next few weeks.     
    • Complete Complex Endorsement and required transition training in our club's Arrow.

     A few additional milestones. 

    On Saturday 6/22, I crossed 200 hours total piloting time.  As of today, I have 203.9 hours.  Nice. 

    First Flight: Flying Shrink's Mama

    At the end of last month, my mother decided to pay a visit to the grandchildren as a change of scenery,  On May 31, I took her on a short flight along the Chicago shoreline.  I expected it to be a somewhat bumpy day given the weather - gusty winds and somewhat low ceilings (although just fine given all the higher we could get to avoid KORD's Bravo airspace) for example.  My mother likes roller coasters, but I was not sure how she'd feel about the flight.  "If you say it's safe, then it's up to you."  She knew what she was getting into. 

    She watched as I carefully pre-flighted our G1000-equipped Skyhawk, and she had a few questions as we light the fires and taxied out to Runway 23 at KUGN.  She also took my request that she tell me know about traffic just a bit too seriously.  Soon we were off and climbing out to our final altitude of 2500 MSL. 

    It was fun to point out so many of the sights - Baha'i temple, Northwestern University, the mall near my home, the high school my kids will attend, the Hancock Building, Sears Tower, Navy Pier, University of Chicago, and of course the area once called Meigs field.  Unfortunately, the filthy windscreen made for lousy pictures. 

    We landed at Gary KGYY, and I shut down long enough to clean the windshield for our return flight.  We were off once again and looked at our sights again (along with some different ones).  As we entered the downwind for 23, I was looking for the Diamond in which I had done a lot of my training.  The winds were quite squirrley, so I was thinking that the instructor on board that plane was about to have some fun.  Not a bad landing overall. 

    So, mom enjoyed her first flight in a small plane and is looking forward to her next adventure. 

    Sunday, June 9, 2013

    First Trip with the Family

    Over Memorial Day Weekend, my family packed up the club's 172SP and headed for a little getaway to the Cincinnati area.  Mrs. Dr. Flying Shrink and I earned our doctoral degrees from the University of Cincinnati, and during our time there we made a number of friends that we have not seen in quite some time.  It was time to show why we fly... it's more than just buzzing around and eating pancakes (though that is fun, too).

    The first interesting change was my need to dictate strict requirements on what could be taken into the plane.  Usually it seems that we are packing for a mid-sized platoon, but this time we had to keep it reasonable.  There is only so much physical space back there, and then of course we had weight and balance issues.

    Speaking of weight and balance; I figured this based on the Skyhawk fueled to "tabs."  We were well under max gross and were good to go with a more aft than usual C.G., but comfortably within the envelope.  Despite the club rules about filling to tabs unless the next pilot specifically requests otherwise, someone filled the darn thing completely.  This put us about 10 pounds overweight, but by the time the long taxi and run-up were completed we should be fine.

    Trimmed for "take off," I start the roll... and the plane lifts off at about 45 knots.  Ummm... that's not supposed to happen.  There are certain words and phrases that are unwelcome when flying with one's family, but one of those slipped out.  Nose down elevator, fix the trim, accelerate in ground effect and then away we go.  3SP was now behaving herself, thank goodness.

    "Are we there yet?"  "How much longer?"  Yeah, I heard these two questions repeatedly from about 15 minutes from take off until 10 minutes before touchdown.  But, the flight down was absolutely beautiful in nice, smooth air until about 15 miles from Warren County Airport (I68).  Just got a bit bumpy as we made our descent.  We had some interesting winds - gusty and shifting direction, but my touchdown was smooth and on center line.

    We got tied down and I asked for fuel to those tabs.... sigh.  More on that in a minute.  Our time in Cincinnati was nice - visiting some old haunts and enjoying old friends.  Of course, we had to have Graeter's Ice Cream.  If you've not had it, you need to get to that area and get some.  We are able to get it in pints here in the Chicago area, but it's not the same as being dipped out at the store.

    Saturday had me periodically checking the weather because some nasty convective activity was forecast for our scheduled return time.  By 9 pm, I announced that we were leaving by 9 am so that we could make it home.  When the alarm went off, Ms. Shrink asked if we had to leave so early.  "Honey, we have two choices.  We can leave early, or we might not get home today.  Looking at Monday and Tuesday, we might not get back then either."  Since my mother was coming in for a visit with the grandchildren the following day, sitting in Cincinnati until Wednesday just did not see prudent. In fairness, this was merely token resistance.  Ms. Shrink has come to understand and appreciate PIC authority and responsibility. 

    Pre-flight.  Everything looks fine, except... full fuel.  I am 97% sure I asked for the tabs but it didn't really matter now.  I set the trim much more nose down for the takeoff roll, and the plane still popped up early.  But, at least it was rotate speed this time.  A little nose-down elevator until Vx and then away we went.

    Are we there yet?  No.

    I was watching as nasty things seem to be brewing to the west and somewhat south of our position.  Although I was talking to ATC, I also continually checked the weather observations (on the radios the old fashioned way) to make sure that the observations matched what I was seeing in my direction of flight.  As I dialed up Kankakee (KIKK; about 35 miles from my destination), I heard a few terms that I did not like - lightening strikes southeast of the field.  As I checked to Flight Watch for a more formal update, someone else was getting the same information and going to the same destination - and things looked good.

    Landed without incident or problematic weather.  Within several hours, the picture changed substantially.  Leaving early was a good call.

    Seems the family is starting to see the benefits of being able to fly places, which is great.  My children complain much more in the plane because there is far less entertainment available (e.g., DVD player not on board). 

    Sunday, May 12, 2013

    A Sad Trip... and an IFR training update.

    A Sad Flight...

    As some of you may know, I have been itching to fly to DuBois-Jefferson County (KDUJ) because it was built on my paternal grandmother's parents' farm.  April 27 provided me the opportunity, but unfortunately flying was the only saving grace of the trip.  My maternal grandmother died a few days before, and it was her funeral that prompted the trip.

    Initially, I had planned to depart on Sunday April 28.  However, the forecast weather between Chicago and there was forecast to be MVFR to IFR pretty much the entire day.  After scurrying about, securing an aircraft, and reworking my flight planning, I was airborne and hugging the Chicago shoreline by 1745z a day early.  Once clear of Chicago's Bravo airspace - a place into which few VFR aircraft are permitted to tread - I climbed to 7500 MSL and settled in for the next few hours in the Skyhawk.  Only the foolish do not talk to Chicago departure on this route as it is very near Midway's (KMDW) approach/departure path.  My flight was uneventful to Wood County (1G0), although that pattern was very busy with Bowling Green flight students and favoring the shorter runway 18.  Sweet landing with a flair over the numbers.  The young gentleman who worked my plane was very helpful, and I can't say enough positive about this airport.

    After addressing all the issues that necessitate a stop along with a few text messages to family updating my projected arrival time, I was back aloft and smoothly cruising about at 7500.  Hearing "cleared through the bravo airspace" is such a strange phrase to me since it never happens in Chicago, but was welcome since it meant no deviations around Cleveland.  I crossed just about 5 miles south of Hopkins (KCLE), which was interesting.

    Approaching KDUJ, I began listening to the weather only to be reminded why I hate airports with only one slab of concrete or well-tended turf.  The winds were shifting between 80-degrees off favoring runway 7 and 80-degrees off favoring 25, and were 12 gusting 17.  Great.  If landing half-way down the runway is good, then I did great.  Not my finest hour and was seconds from the go-around when the mains touched down with plenty of room to slow (along with the wicked upslope on the departure end).  Got myself out of the way with just a few minutes to spare for a United commuter to come in.

    Coming back to Chicago on Tuesday turned out to take a lot longer than I hoped for.  I sat under marginal VFR weather most of the day.  I had made provisions for leaving a day later if that was required, though my family was certainly ready for me to be home.  At 3 pm ET, the weather seemed ok and my mother took me to the airport post haste.  I saddled up and was airborne by 4:15.  I had to plan a bit south because there was some nasty, stormy, convective crapola over Detroit, and I was not interested in flying through it.  I also took quite a while to get to 4500 because of the clouds.  I actually tried to climb over them because they were scattered and I could see the clearing, but at 6500 I still was not quite high enough.  Back down...  About 1:45 to Findley (KFDY), where I touched down beautifully at about 6:15.

    Findley was deserted.  Not a soul in sight.  Valuable lesson - if you're going to select a stop, make sure that there are either self-serve pumps or someone there to fill your tanks.  Since I was totally full upon leaving KDUJ, I knew that I would make it home with about 90 minutes of fuel to spare.  Legs stretched and bladder emptied, I was again en-route to KPWK.  As I turned toward the west in my climb, I was totally blinded by the sun.  Not to panic... got enough instrument training to work though this temporary problem.  Then, I noticed something... my rate-of-turn coordinator was inoperative.  I can't say when that happened, but I can sheepishly admit I did not pre-flight it either coming or going. Bad instrument student and I'll never do that again.  Fortunately, I have done some partial-panel work and knew about how much bank I needed to complete a standard rate turn.

    As I approached the Chicago shoreline, I expected South Bend to hand me off to Chicago approach for the last few minutes of my flight.  Another quirk of Chicago is that they do not like to accept VFR flight-following hand-offs, and I was reminded of that with the ever-popular "squawk VFR" instruction.  However, calling up approach quickly reestablished flight following.

    Approaching Chicago Executive was "entertaining."  It was unexpectedly busy for 7:30 in the evening, and the winds were "delightful."  Although I touched down a bit harder despite than I would have liked, the gusty, squirrely cross-winds made this a few notches above acceptable

    This qualifies as my longest cross-country to date: 411 nm PWK-10G-DUJ

    4-27  C-172SP N378MA  KPWK - 1G0-KDUJ  4.5 hours
    4-30  C-172SP N378MA  KDUJ - KFDY - KPWK  4.1 hours

    IFR Training Update

    I have also been trying to get solid IFR training and other hood time ever since the weather became "good enough," with my most recent flight being this morning.  A few thoughts on this:

    • I have 17.5 hours simulated and 1.5 hours actual instrument time
    • 17 instrument approaches
    • I am told we have covered everything in the syllabus except DME archs - Flight planning, holds, approaches, flying with and without the autopilot, precision and non-precision approaches, radio work, partial panel and other things to be sure. 
    • I have been oscillating between our club's Archer and Arrow, though I am hoping to just fly the Arrow from now until the check ride.  This has made some things rather interesting - like I have a heck of a time holding proper altitude in the Arrow.  These two planes are somewhat similar, but switching out the the Arrow after it's trips to the Bahamas, the avionics shop for a sexy Aspen, and an annual has been an adjustment.  Since this is a complex plane, it requires some additional thinking that I'm not used to.  
    • Critique of today: not bad.  We had some bumpy, gusty nonsense but I flew three approaches and two different holds relatively well.  My last approach (ILS 2L at KDPA) was quite nice overall, although when my instructor removed my foggles to announce I had in fact found the runway, I lost the glideslope as a transitioned to visual.  I am told this problem is common.  I was pleased that I was doing a lot more multitasking (e.g., pretty good hand-flying and briefing approaches) and just need to keep working to sharpen, tighten, build fluidity, and drum the 5 T's into my head.  Staying above the MDA would also be a good idea...
    • King ground school complete and I'm studying for the written.  I'm a recovering graduate student, and perfectionism is an important personality trait when pursuing a doctorate. 

    Thursday, March 28, 2013

    Letter to the Editor: Flight Training Magazine

    In response to a few articles in a recent issue of Flight Training, I wrote the following letter to the editor.  I did receive a warm response from Ian Twombly, but only the first two paragraphs were printed in the most recent edition.  I wanted to post the entire letter here.

    Dear Editor;

    Despite fulfilling my dream of earning my pilot certificate nearly a  year ago, I continue to enjoy reading *Flight Training* as a source of continued learning and development.  In this issue, two things came up that really caught my attention.

    First, I was very pleased to see an article that talked about how clinical psychology can have a positive impact on the aviation industry in general and pilot training in particular.  My only quibble was to note that if a person has a true phobia of stalls, he or she will evidence panic attacks when exposed to this feared situation.  This is far beyond what we typically think of as fear and apprehension, but instead can be paralyzing.  However, the general principles of graduated exposure (or finding ways to expose the student to stalls in a fashion that moves from least to "most" threatening) and combating irrational fears with real information *and *experience is a way that any flight instructor could help that person who has a general fear.  But please leave the treatment of the true phobias to the licensed mental health professionals.  This boundary was implied in the article, but not clear. But thank you for showing that plenty of psychology is involved in pilot
    training.  This segues nicely into my next point.

    I was also very happy to see the articles about women in aviation, and I think it highlighted a number of learning differences that are probably relevant to both men and women.  The stereotype put forward in the article is that women need to know why things work and not just how to do things, but many men are the same way.  It was not until I understood *why* a stall and its subsequent recovery worked that I was less fearful of doing them.  In fact, I suspect that I would have driven many instructors crazy with all the questions with which I peppered my instructor.  He also took my fear of stalls seriously, and what is in violation of the injunction to "man  up" did many of the things suggested in the article referenced above.

    In a very male-dominated community where "manning up" is the expectation lest one lose status by admitting a weakness, I suspect many women *and* men are dissuaded from asking questions or expressing fears that are blocking their progress.  My hope is that we might look at how our group culture might negatively impact our interests in growing the female and male pilot population.  I bet that is why GIFT [note: a training center that is geared toward the needs of women specifically referenced by the author] is so successful.

    I appreciate these women who are paving the way for people like my daughter, a young lady who is not at all afraid of stalls.  When I took her on her first flight, she simply could not contain her excitement and exclamations of "cool" and "this is awesome."   As we taxied back to the
    ramp after our flight, she asked something that was music to my ears:

    "Daddy, can I learn to fly an airplane?"

    Yes, honey.  Yes you can.


    Saturday, March 16, 2013

    The Rain, the Cold, and the Presidential TFR

    Yesterday, I attempted to take a little fight for myself in our club's Archer.  You know, the weather gods are just not being very kind to me these days. 

    I was hoping to be wheels up by 11 am, but marginal VFR weather that was scheduled to clear up before another system worked its way into the area late afternoon pushed back my departure time.  Adding to my joys was a campaign stop of the president to push for green energy technology, and apparently Argonne labs was the place this had to be accomplished.  So much for sequestration, right?

    Finally getting more clear weather (or so I thought given the weather observations), I pulled out the plane and was finally wheels up with my unique squawk code and heading southwest toward Illinois Valley Regional (KVYS) where I intended to so some landings, some air work, and then a return to DuPage.  I had a few extra stops on my flight plan just in case the humor was on me. 

    As I lifted off of 20R at DuPage, I immediately noticed complete CRAP to the west.  As I leveled off at 3500 (4500 would have put me in Bravo airspace) and started to get trimmed out for the ride, the next piece of bad news hit... rain on the windscreen.  Now, I've never really flown in rain before and they were light showers.  Had it been 50 degrees outside and getting stuck somewhere was not a big deal, this could have been a fun experiment.  But the icing SIGMET and near freezing temperatures at the surface really got my attention.  Just as Aurora Municipal (KARR) was passing under the nose of the aircraft, I asked the center controller about the weather en-route or to see if I needed to go off frequency to get it.  He informed me that I would be in rain showers all the way there but that my destination was reporting decent VFR weather.  The controller was probably kind enough to help me out because I transmitted in the blind for him to a helicopter that was out of communication. 

    After another few minutes, I decided that this trip was just not worth the risk of continuing into IMC or becoming a test pilot with iced wings.  It was still wet rain that was just sliding off the plane, but who knows what I would have flown into.  On a normal day as a VFR pilot, I could just make a 180 and return to my departure airport with no problem.  When flying under a presidential TFR, it is always best to get a clearance for such things so that there are no unpleasant surprises waiting for you on the ground. 

    With my clearance on the tape, I completed a 180 and returned direct KDPA.  Winds were calm so I was given my choice of runway.  Since I had to put fuel in the plane before putting her to bed, the best choice would have been 15/33 or 10.  But because I could not see that well, I wanted the one with the brightest lights and chose 2R, or 2L, or whatever... It got questions from the controller and changed, and probably sounded like a complete idiot as I clarified that I was cleared to land 2L.  Well, I knew it had a 2 in it.  I said to the controller, "better to sound silly and land on the right piece of concrete."  His reply was "roger, that." 

    So, here we are again.  Complaining about winter and early spring flying weather.  I got all of .6 in the logbook with one landing (that was nice, flare on the numbers and on center line) rather than what I had planned for.  I also got weathered out of an instrument lesson on Tuesday, though I did fly with another club member last Saturday and got four practice approaches and other hood time in. 

    Will this lousy winter NEVER end? 

    Tuesday, March 5, 2013

    Flying? What's that?

    I intended to take a short flight today, so of course we are getting slammed with a nasty snow storm.  Such has been my luck since December.  So, I might as well talk about a few flights that I did manage to get in despite the weather. 

    2013 opened with my first instrument training flight, which doubled as a transition to our club's Archer.  Since I had all of six tenths of an hour in any Piper as of that morning, this was an interesting challenge. 

    First, some thoughts on the Archer.  As anyone who flies both Skyhawks and Archers will tell you, these planes just fly differently.  If the Skyhawk feels like a truck compared to the Diamond DA-20, the Archer is like a cement truck.  It just feels heavier and tighter in the cockpit.  Things just work a bit differently, and approach to landing just felt like I was going to slam it into the ground.  Flaps work pretty differently as well.  I don't like that lever. 

    Instrument flying that day consisted of developing a good scan, being able to track navigation aids and compass turns.  Given that this was a new-to-me plane, I think I actually managed these tasks fairly well.  I felt like I was doing ok with these, and got a few challenges tossed at me as a result - like a simulated circling approach.  My first and second Archer landings were not so bad - it felt rough but it was still respectable. 

    Then, a bunch of scrubbed flights ensued along with many of the club planes being down for upgrades, annuals, or a trip to the Bahamas (that is our club Arrow, so I'm not flying that one yet... soon.  Very soon).  I think if I could have 1 hour in the log book for every scrubbed flight, I'd have a solid 15 hours. 

    Then, I took a little currency maintenance flight in a Skill plane from KUGN to KJVL.  You can see that my ground speed was awesome with an IAS of 118 kts on my way back to Waukegan, but you know what that means for my flight there. 

    I was over the Illinois/Wisconsin border, and this is a shot of Lake Geneva looking from the south.  It's a nice little place that many Chicagoans sneak away to in order to relax.

    It was bitter cold that day, and there is a restriction on pattern work when it's that cold.  I sneaked in an extra trip around the pattern at JVL.  Three greased landings. 

    The following week, I took my children on a flight from KUGN to KMSN to the Jet Room.  Whether had been forecast to be marginal all week, and I was scheduled to fly in the G1000-equipped Skyhawk.  So, I decided that I would plan a flight to a familiar place to increase our chances of going.  But we had a BEAUTIFUL day.  The Jet Room was again a big hit - in the picture below I already lost my sausage

    There was a sweet jet that taxied up as we were getting ready to depart, which increased my already pretty sexy curb appeal. 

    The Banana enjoyed her time with "her airplane" on the way up to MSN, but the Boy chose to sleep.  He was asleep before takeoff, I think.  Things had been good, but about 20 feet AGL the Banana let out a blood-curdling squeal because her ears were hurting thanks to a cold.  Fly the plane.  Fly the plane.  Fly the plane.  We had a great day, but mine was not over. 

    After taking my children home, I went and had my second flight of the day.  Only a month and a half later do I finally get to have my second instrument/Archer-transition lesson.  New plane, slow flight under the hood, stall recovery under the hood, a few flurries, long time since last flight, and night time all conspired to make it an interesting trip.  I did ok with my scan and tracking, and had some ok landings at DKB.  Most fun was on my last approach I was about to touch down and the instructor told me to go around.  But slow flight felt like a disaster... I simply could not hold altitude.  I know that I got so focused on holding altitude and not losing airspeed that I let everything else go to hell, and of course I could not hold altitude either.  I didn't like the power setting I was told, but what do I know?  I flew the ILS to runway 10 at KDPA, but then circled to land for 2L.  I was low on my glide path the whole time, which was really starting to agitate me.  Still had a nice landing despite this, so that's good.  Yeah, I'm a little focused on landings because I have struggled with them so much that I'm pleased that I feel like I'm improving in this area. 

    So I have been trying to get out and do some solo flight in the Archer so that I could work on maneuvers, stalls, steep turns, and slow flight under VFR.  Landing practice would be good, too.  But here we are again back to complaints about the weather. 

    Maybe Friday, or the fly-out to KMIE on Saturday.