Sunday, June 1, 2014

AOPA Fly-In at Indianapolis

So, Where Have You Been?

Sad... it's been about three months since I've rolled through these parts, with my last post being a brief one regarding pilot mental health.  Really, one should go to the article to which I linked and review some of the comments that were left.  As a clinical psychologist with specialized interest in working with men in therapy, I have heard just about all of that before.  It still bothers me, though. 

I have not had much to write about recently.  We will not soon forget the horrific winter we had that seemed to never want to end, which resulted in quite a few scrubbed missions.  I even had to cancel a flight for practice approaches and other fun at the beginning of May because of an icing threat at 2000 feet MSL.  Really?  In May?  As of this writing I have a whopping 26.9 hours for the year, with 4.3 of that coming within the last few days.  Most of what I have been able to do has been fun, but not really qualifying as adventure or anything like that.  

Off to Hoosier-land

I have been looking forward to the AOPA Fly-In in Indianapolis since these were announced months ago.  I have had a plane reserved for months to make sure that I had a seat for some stick time for this event.  I have wanted to partake in the fly-in experience for some time, and this provided a great opportunity.  I was one of the major instigators for a club fly-out to the event, though our fleet was rather small this time as illness, unexpected commitments, and the "NOTAM-W" (W for "wife" - a dreadful combination of AIRMETs Tango and Zulu coupled with communication malfunctions) for at least one member left us with just one club plane going and another member flying down in his own plane. 

Based on experience and comfort, it was decided that I would fly from DuPage (KDPA) to Indianapolis Regional (KMQJ).  I was jazzed, and preparations commenced.  

Flight Planning, Preparation, and Getting Night Current

AOPA released a NOTAM and other instructions, and both my flying partner and I put the waypoints in ForeFlight to ease our transition through the airspace.  We both had studied the published procedures so that we were not caught off guard by any instructions we were given.  It unsurprisingly amazing just how much easier the whole thing is when you know what to expect.  Despite these preparations, I still filed an IFR flight plan.  As we will see later, this was rather moot.  

As part of the preparations, I needed to get night current.  My flying partner for the Fly-In is not instrument rated, and though we expected very nice weather and his flying the route back, one just never can be too prepared.  I had several flights where my currency would have been updated get canceled due to weather, and thus my currency lapsed.  Even Tuesday before the flight out we got Thunderstorm threats and IFR conditions.  The man I was to fly with is instrument rated... in helicopters.  But the weather was poor and neither of us likes to fly in thunderstorms, we scrubbed.  That left flying Friday night before leaving Saturday morning.

Val and I hopped in our club's Archer N41598 and he flew us over to Rochelle (KRPJ), where we enjoyed a nice dinner and conversation about life, the club, flying and whatever.  We had never flown together before or had much time to talk, so it was nice.  I was particularly interested in his experiences flying helicopters in the military.  After sunset, Val headed out to the plane and took three laps around the patch to reinstate his own night currency.

After he shut down, we switched places (him the bench outside the FBO, and me the left seat).  I then took my own three laps.  As I turned final for runway 7, I noticed one of the things I really hate about landing at night at small airports... the dreaded black hole illusion.  I really dislike that feeling and the inability to judge distance from the ground.  There is no visual glide slope at RPJ, which of course exacerbates the problem.  There is an LPV RNAV procedure, but I don't think I was going out far enough to pick up its glideslope either.  That means I have a tendency to come in high, which of course is better than the alternative.  Lesson #1 from my first attempt: how about a flare?  I rounded out but landed flat and with a lot more feeling than I would have preferred (hard enough to wonder how many bolts I shook loose).  

I thought that over as I back-taxied on 7 (there are no taxiways at Rochelle), and reconfigured the plane for my next attempt.  Lap number 2 went much more smoothly as I flared over the numbers and on the mains just like the plane prefers.  Lap number 3 was similarly pretty good.  After taxiing over to pick up Val, we headed back for DuPage.  Landing number 4 for the evening was a bit long, but still passable and no bolts were shaken loose.  

The time was now 10:30 pm, and I had to be back at the airport at 6:30 am to leave for Indianapolis.  With an hour-plus drive each way, I had already rented a hotel room so that I was better rested for the day.  

Off to Indianapolis...

The next morning, Stan and I met and prepared our Archer for departure (see what I did there... I promise I did it without planning).  He was wondering why someone left their Halos in the plane.  "Because I knew I was going to be flying it again this morning" was my answer.  A good chuckle.  As with the previous evening, this was the first time I have ever flown with Stan.  It was another good chance to expand my relationships with members of the club and add to my list of flying buddies. 

I had filed EON then direct, but I got a mostly reasonable clearance of EARND ELANR EMMLY JAKKS VHP then direct.  I say mostly because the Brickyard VOR (VHP) is on the west side of Indianapolis near.. you guessed it, the Speedway.  We were cleared for takeoff and on a 180 heading for quite a while, then we were cleared direct JAKKS.  I was hearing a lot of that intersection, and it became clear that this was just how Indy Approach was routing everyone in.  

As we flew south of Lafayette (KLAF), Grissom Approach informed us that they were no longer accepting traffic at MQJ because it was full.  We advised Grissom that we wanted to go to our planned alternate Indianapolis Metropolitan (KUMP).  We were then advised that no IFR traffic was being accepted into this airport unless it had been previously filed.  Rather than arguing that it was my planned alternate, we canceled IFR and asked for flight following in.  Stan and I got to work on devising an alternate alternate since it seemed from what the controller was saying that we could have a hard time getting to UMP.   There were a few other machinations here, but the short version is that it was not that the field was full but that something apparently happened and that the holding patterns got stacked up.  By the time we arrived at Morse Reservoir, things had cleared up and we could still get to Indy Regional.  

Traffic was NUTS.  There were a lot of planes, one had to be very quick on the radio to get a word in, but the controllers at Indianapolis Approach all deserve a big raise.  They handled some craziness like champs.  The VFR procedure was well planned, worked pretty well in my view, and touchdown on runway 7 was pretty smooth.  With the guidance of the volunteers, we got ourselves to a parking spot along the taxiway parallel to 16/34.  

A Brief Public Service Announcement

My fellow aviators, can we please talk about radio discipline for just a minute?  Seriously, some of the things I heard yesterday really bothered me.  Of course we hear these things all the time, but I think for me hearing them all repeatedly and in such a compressed time it really got my goat.  

First, where specifically in the Pilot/Controller Glossary do we find such entries as "Tally ho" and "Here we go?"  While I am not the radio master and I surely could be more "correct," these phrases are confusing and honestly make you sound like a cowboy.  I don't want to share airspace with cowboys.  I realize that this is neither a necessary nor sufficient condition to earn the label of cowboy, but I have found it to be a pretty reliable indicator.  

Second, read the damn NOTAM.  There was at least one person who clearly did not know what he was doing.  He was insisting to go direct MQJ, but the controller sternly informed him that this was not going to happen.  When asked if he had read the NOTAM and procedures, he insisted that he had.  Based on the questions this pilot was asking, the controller clearly did not believe him.  I didn't either.  

Third, if you are going around for the third time and you've decided that you've had enough, by all means state your intention to depart and how you're going to do that.  But do not give us a commentary on the CTAF about how dangerous it is.  Based on what I was hearing on the radio, part of the problem might have been poor separation at times (which might not be that particular pilot's fault).  There was also a disabled aircraft off the south side of the runway, which was plenty clear but may have made some people nervous. 

Speaking of poor separation, do not push pilots to depart sooner than they are comfortable given the traffic situation.  More on that in a minute.  

I hope that some of these pilots went to the radio communications safety seminar that was given by some folks from the Air Safety Institute.  

A Few Words About the Fly-In

I'm bad.  I partook of very little of the offerings.  I did walk around the exhibits where I ran into an instructor who flew with me a few times during my private training.  He is now a jet jockey and is preparing to go to "Phenom school" in a week or so (jealous a bit).  It was nice to catch up with him and get a glimpse of the Eclipse he was showing off .  He told me that they have a hard time keeping pilots, and that anyone with ATP minimums would get strong consideration for a position. 

I also had a chat with a friend from college that is involved in maintaining a Harpoon.  It was nice to see him and talk about how things have been for us since college.  We know about each other's doing from social media, but in person is always better.  

Our club president and I attended a seminar given by Mark Epner, who is president and one of the founders of Leading Edge Flying Club at KPWK.  He gave a very nice presentation on how LEFC does things, and they have a very strong membership at an airport where AvGas is very expensive.  Yet they make it work and have aircraft that have a lot of the gizmos that I appreciate as a pilot.  I seriously considered joining them when I was shopping for a club.  Both of us got some very good ideas to help us think about things regarding our flying club and how we can work to make it stronger. 

The airshow was interesting if brief.  Plus EAA had their B-17 there and people were getting flights.  I showed a picture to my daughter, and she smiled big as she remembered our visit to the bomber as well.

We did not get there in time for the breakfast I paid for, but we did get lunch with a HUGE pork tenderloin.  I've never had one of these outside of the Hoosier state, but I'm sure they exist other places.  


It was time to depart, and Stan and I headed over to the plane to make our way out of there.  It was his turn to fly and I would help out as he asked.  We had already decided that I would request flight following at the appropriate time.  Of course, there was a line to depart.  One of the most frustrating things about this was the pressure that pilots were exerting on each other to hurry up and take off.  Someone claiming to be a CFI stated that this was pilot controlled, that there was no hold-short line and that multiple aircraft could be on the runway at the same time.  So, as one plane began the takeoff roll, another would taxi into position and follow.  At times, the separation was well under 1000 feet.  Feeling this pressure but not flying, I said to Stan that he should start his takeoff roll when he felt it to be safe and appropriate and not a minute before - no matter what others are saying.  I don't know if what that CFI was saying was accurate, but legal is not always the same as safe.  

I confess to really watching that all checklist items were done because it was a higher pressure situation, and having two people checking things out couldn't hurt.  I know that Stan appreciated this, and had I been flying I would have as well.  As one might imagine, the traffic advisory was going crazy.  We had a plane pass underneath us; I can only assume he departed right behind us and passed underneath to get by us.  Really?  

As we crossed pattern altitude and got a little ways from the airport, I called Indy Approach to request flight following.  Unfortunately, we got dropped with the handoff to Grissom.  Then Grissom dropped us instead of handing us off to Chicago Center.  Approach never accepts VFR flight following hand offs, so that was expected.  I don't know what was going on, except that apparently workload did not allow for coordination between sectors.  

The flight back was a bit more bumpy, but all in all things went well.  We made it back to DuPage and Stan got us on the ground safety even in the face of some interesting winds.  

Final Thoughts and Milestone

This was a great time.  We had a lot of good flying that was full of challenges that were handled competently, saw some interesting things and otherwise just had a good time.  The three of us from the club who were there spent a lot time discussing flying,  the club and life in general.  I also enjoyed getting to know members with whom I have had very little interaction.  
I also hit an aviation milestone.  When I shut the engine down at MQJ, I hit the 300 hour mark... literally.  I have exactly 300.0 hours, with 239.9 PIC.  Once I cross 250 hours PIC, I hope to get connected with Lifeline Pilots down in Peoria to do some charity flying for those needing non-emergency medical transport.   That will be another great excuse to fly.

The Flying Shrink and N41598 pose for a picture at KMQJ before we departed


  1. Glad I decided to skip the flyin. I was thinking of taking a friend of mine down and the closer the event came, the more I thought this was going to be just like you described it.

  2. Fair. It's not for everyone, but I don't regret going. For me it was as much about a new experience and challenge.

  3. Fair. It's not for everyone, but I don't regret going. For me it was as much about a new experience and challenge.

  4. To all pilots. Don't stop finding new places to fly into. That is why we got a license to fly. Just be sure to do your homework and talk to other pilots who have been there to get some free advice. All pilots that I know always want to help pilots with little to no experience flying into new airports or fly in's. So this was some good lessons on say flying into Oshkosh for the EAA fly in. At the end of July. Just remember to not try it in the afternoon. Go into the airport in the morning or late evening. Oshkosh is very well know for fast moving thunderstorms throughout the area in the early afternoon. Good luck and safe flying to all who want to attend. It is worth all the effort to get there. Later, wxbriefrs.

  5. Good post, thanks for sharing. I have flown into a lot of fly-ins, but I confess that I have not flown into any BIG fly-ins. It strikes me as the sort of thing that, depending on the outcome, could either be a huge confidence builder or an event sufficient to make you swear off fly-ins for a long time to come. I'm glad your experience fell into the former category.

    Also, I thought it was pretty cool that your blog post was featured on AOPA's Aviation eBrief on Monday! Way cool.

    1. Wait, what? I totally missed that. Sweet.

      Thanks for checking stopping by. Yes it was a great confidence builder and I had a great time. Would totally go again.

      I see your pancake adventures... The bear has grown so much even since I have been reading your blog. Man... they are like bad weeds.

    2. Weeds that love pancakes! :-)

  6. Indeed. Mine love them, too.

    I dropped a note to the editor of eBrief thanking her for including this post. I am pretty jazzed about that. Thanks for telling me. It may not be a publication that will get me tenure, but it was certainly more fun to write. The research lab was a great experience. :)

  7. Man, that sounds like some serious craziness. Or, alternatively, a typical fly-in! ;-)

    Can't say I've witnessed much different at similar, busy regional fly-ins over the years. You're spot on about some folks on the radio and regarding the lack of planning / reading NOTAMs... well, people still keep flying into the SFRA, don't they? Oof. We continue to be our own worst enemy sometimes.

    Glad you had a good time. Certainly looks like it was good practice!

  8. Fly-ins are always a lot of fun and usually a good time is had by all.

    Its always good to find new (and more challenging) places to fly to - keeps us sharp!

    Always be careful though and protect your eyes with a good pair of aviator sunglasses because those nasty uv rays can raise cain with your eyes!