Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Summer Adentures in a "New" Arrow

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

Will this Damn Thing Ever Be Ready?

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

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

The Checkout and Break-in

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Shot Wonder?

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

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

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

Somewhere over Fort Wayne

Somewhere over Fort Wayne, Indiana

N31401 on the ramp at KDUJ. 

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

To Queen City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A First Flight

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

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

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

"Well it was more like 1.6 or so."

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

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

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

 Cherry Ridge


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

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

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

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

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

The Voyage Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary of Lessons Learned or Reinforced

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 comments:

  1. You've certainly racked up a ton of great experience over the past few flights/trips you've blogged about! Glad the IR is still proving its worth and you guys had a nice family trip.

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    1. Thanks, Steve - I wish I had time to write more. The IR is certainly worth the time and money, and I recommend you get 'er done! ;-)

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    2. Oh, it's absolutely at the top of the "as soon as time and money allow" to-do list!

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  2. Great write up and, to echo Steve, you really have accumulated some great experience. You roamed some familiar territory for me in this trip. Is the restaurant at Cherry Ridge still open? I have not been in there in years, but the last time, the food was quite good and it was hard to beat the view of the runway. It seems like the winds were always a little goofy whenever we went in there owing to the terrain. I've also been into Queen City once and thought it was a fine facility. At the time, there was a lot of pressure on the airport to close or shrink - I hope they're surviving OK over there.

    Certainly, some of your lessons learned resonate for me, too. For leaving non-towered fields, I have almost always departed VFR and asked for clearance in the air. Knowing the expected clearance in advance certainly helps manage the workload of programming a lengthy clearance in the air (particularly important for me because I don't have an autopilot). And when it comes to unfamiliar fields, I am fond of reviewing satellite photos in advance to get the lay of the land and identify landmarks. Like your experience with Cherry Ridge, I seem to have a knack for approaching perpendicular to single strip airports. When practical, I like to change my trajectory so as to line up on a runway some distance out to better locate the airport.

    Glad the family is enjoying the rides. We're finding that, after ten years of VFR only flight, my wife is completely unnerved by going through those white puffy things that we spent so many years avoiding.

    Good stuff..thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks, Chris.

      I was thinking about you as I breezed along through the northern part of PA knowing that you've been through many of those places as well. N30 still has great views and the restaurant is open on the field. We didn't partake because of our logistics, and we were there at a fairly odd time so no one was in there but the staff. Still gets great reviews, though. I always feel a bit guilty about not eating something at these little strips because I know it has to be a tough business.

      I like your lesson about figuring out how to line up with the runway as soon as possible. Since I was on an instrument approach that brought me in that way, it was hard to break off too soon. I did get satellite images as well so I had some idea of what I was looking for and hoping to avoid surprises. I'd say I was pretty much prepared on that score and you're right - it helps a lot.

      Since I am instrument rated, I have figured I needed to file because "well, I can!" It took some time for me to get that on VMC days I really could depart VFR and pick up a clearance en route or even transect airspace in a way that suits my needs best and no one bats an eye about it, and in fact it makes my life easier as I don't have to sit on the ground and wait.

      One other lesson I learned was to cancel in the air if I can. Ok, I almost always do when that's practical (e.g., if I have to go around I can fly a normal pattern instead of a missed approach). That was true the day flying to Cherry Ridge, but I was so focused on finding the airport that I forgot. I called flight service to cancel, and sat on the phone for 10 minutes until someone came on who could take my cancellation. In the meantime, FSS called the field to see if I landed and I was chided by the guy to cancel my flight plan. It was blistering hot and I was sweating on the ramp, so it took some energy to just say "I've been on hold almost 10 minutes trying to do just that."

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    2. I have been in the habit of cancelling in the air most of the time. This has been easy to do because I have not really needed to fly many approaches at my destinations. In fact, the only time I have cancelled on the ground by phone was on my IFR cross country when we flew an approach to get back into the home field. I'm actually a little worried that I'll forget to cancel by phone one of these days because I have gotten so used to cancelling in the air or landing at towered fields.

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