Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Landing on a Cloud that Flies?

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

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

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

To Flying Cloud

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

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

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

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

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

Bet They're Not Jumping Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to Base... in the Dark

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

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

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

Lessons and Training Status

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

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

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

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

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

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

Soon, very soon.  

1 comment:

  1. Nice progress and certainly sounds like some good lessons learned in the process. I think we've all had at least one very good instance of schedules impacting our desire to fly and there's nothing wrong with learning to deal with it when safety isn't affected. Good luck on the rest of the COMM!