Sunday, September 27, 2015

Tower?!? Umm... Ok.

The downside of having only three partners in an airplane is that it is often hard to align schedules so that I can work on IFR proficiency and currency.  Recently, the stars aligned and one of my partners was able to go up for awhile.  On the particular day, the weather created some pressures.  A cold front was expected to bring through some thunderstorms, and this limited our options.  The entire day was marked by marginal VFR to IFR weather due to low ceilings.  Awesome - REAL IMC. 

I checked over all the weather and other pertinent information, including NOTAMS for where we were going to go... I thought.  The plan was that I would make the very short flight from KDPA to KLOT (Lewis University) to pick him up, then we would fly to Lake in the Hills (3CK) to return some keys to the shop that worked on our plane, and then we would determine things from there.

Say What? 

Even at a quite reduced power setting, Lewis University is just about 10 minutes away.  Because the ceilings required flying an instrument approach, I had set everything up on the ground at DuPage in order to reduce my workload in flight.  Everything checks out, and eventually I am cleared for departure on runway 10.  After switching to approach, I immediately informed the controller that I wanted to fly the RNAV 20 approach and was cleared direct BEPKE.  If one were to look and notice that the DPA VOR is 5 miles west of the DuPage airport, you'd see how fast this all happened. 

Cleared for the approach, and get myself established inbound.  Still in the clouds, I receive the most odd instruction.  "Bonanza 2458A, contact Lockport Tower now on 120.3."  My head froze for just a second - TOWER?!?!  What bloody tower are they talking about?  Lewis is an uncontrolled field!  Of course, I didn't dispute this with the controller.  I simply acknowledged the instruction like I was expecting it, tuned the unexpected frequency, and called up this tower as if someone would answer me.

And they did.  Alright, then.  I was cleared to land and had a smooth touchdown.  On final, I noticed an awful lot of biz jets on the ramp.

"58A, contact ground now."

"Contact ground - could you remind me of the frequency, please?"

They did, and I taxied to the ramp without further incident.  But what happened here?  Turns out that I SAW the NOTAM.  I READ the NOTAM.  But that this NOTAM applied to my flight TODAY did not register in my head.  Turns out that there was a NASCAR race in Joliet, and a temporary tower and Class D airspace was established around KLOT - guess all that extra business jet traffic required some extra TLC... or ATC if you prefer.  I'm very glad that it was a very marginal VFR to IFR day if for no other reason than I didn't bust airspace that I would not have known existed.  I'd have made all my happy radio calls on CTAF and wondering why it was so quiet at an airport with a university aviation program.  Then I'd have gotten that number to call.

A Few More Flights

I picked up my friend from Lewis, and we agreed that we would go ahead and fly up to Lake in the Hills a relatively short distance away to return these keys we somehow acquired and plan from there.  The flight up was almost entirely IMC, which made me quite happy.  However, as I was getting established on the RNAV 8 approach (to circle to 26) I was issued a descent.  Instead of hitting the yoke button to disconnect the altitude hold, I disconnected the autopilot.  In about 15 seconds, I noticed that we were in a descending turn to the left and accelerating.  I had a flash where I thought - well this is just how fast it would happen.  I corrected and got set back up on course in a more usual and customary attitude.  The rest of the approach and landing came off without incident.  

After reviewing the weather, I decided that it made the most sense to return to Lewis since the thunderstorm was about 80 miles or so away.  We filed, hopped in the plane, and were on our way back. Nice and smooth but again a lot of IMC.  

After arrival at Lewis, my friend hopped out and I returned back to DuPage.  I somehow got myself off frequency, so I sat for 10 minutes waiting for a clearance while ground control tried to talk to me.  Oops.  Got ahead of myself getting set up.  Soon, I was back on my way with a take off on Runway 2 and an immediate left turn to 270.  As I came on frequency, I had been cleared to Bomer Intersection on the ILS 2L approach at the same time I was handed off.   When I checked on, the controller just said I should fly a heading "for now."  I could hear I was number three for the approach, and then a Medivac came up and took priority.  This left me and the second aircraft being vectored around a bit while the Medivac got established inbound.  

At this point, I am in solid IMC complete with dark black clouds and a NEXRAD image 15 miles away that made me shutter.  The controller issues me a left turn of about 220 degrees in order to vector me onto the approach.  He apologized about the delay, and I acknowledged but did voice my desire to stay away from the thunderstorms.  I flew  nice path down the localizer but was a bit high.  I have not yet gotten the hang of flying the Bonanza on an approach.  Supposedly if I am all trimmed out for 105 knots and I drop the gear at the FAF, I should only have to make small power adjustments to keep on glidepath.  Yeah... well, the Bonanza is a slipper lady and I have work to do here.  

Touchdown, taxi, and self-serve fueling all occurred without incident or rain drops.  The skies opened about 10 minutes after I shut the hanger door.  Sweet.  


As you can see, one of the things that prompted me to write this up was that I somehow managed to completely miss that I had a major NOTAM that applied to me.  It's not like I was getting there and finding out a taxiway was closed and I'd need to adapt.  This one would have resulted in an uncomfortable phone call at least.  I learned here that my discipline about fully considering NOTAMs needs to be improved.  

Another major issue for me is that I know I need to focus on hand flying in simulated instrument conditions.  I was not happy about how much I used the autopilot during this flight.  However, several things have contributed to me feeling less proficient.  First, I did not do much instrument flying during the time I was training for my commercial certificate.  Second, I am transitioning to full steam gauges from an Aspen panel.  Third, the Bonanza is a lot less stable than the Arrow and can therefore get squirrely much more quickly.   Not only am I out of practice, but I am also needing a wider and more focused scan to capture the six pack as well as the navigational information that I need.  I really need practice on this.  In fairness to myself, I did hand fly the final approach course on three of the four approaches I flew (not the first since I knew I was going to be overloaded) and did so reasonably well. 

On a related note, I need to be careful about what buttons I'm actually punching.  I accidentally disconnected the autopilot and found myself in the early stages of an unusual attitude. Fortunately I caught it very early and corrected.  I do not think that the deviations from level descending flight would have occurred had I known what I did as I would not have over-focused on altitude and power.    

But it was still a good day to fly and left me feeling a bit more confident in this airplane.  I've not moved my personal minimums as a result of this flight, but I am more comfortable that I have them set in the proper fairly conservative place for now.   

Saturday, August 8, 2015

It was Bound to Happen...

I have been dragging my feet about writing this post.  I wanted to write about my first major trip in the "new" Bonanza, but I just can't.  Not yet. 

Minding my Own Business at the Range

On the afternoon of July 3, I was at my local driving range hitting golf balls for the first time in years.  I have not played a round of golf since shortly after my son was born eight years ago, and a few years ago my wife gave me a gift card in order to entice me to a cheaper hobby.  I had been there for about an hour, and pulled my phone out to take a picture and post a snarky Facebook comment about not having lost my ability to slice it fifty yards off course.  
As I opened my Facebook app, I noticed the following image and news story posted in a local aviation forum:

Small plane crashes in Bartlett
Taken from - Click here to view story

I saw the story of a single-engine plane crashing in a forest preserve in Bartlett, Illinois, which is located about five miles north of the airport out of which I fly (KDPA).  My first response was that it was just awful to lose another fellow aviator, and to start to anticipate the questions that I was no doubt going to be asked by friends.  That didn't last long.  

That Uneasy Feeling

The news of the above distracted me from my original purpose for opening Facebook in the first place, and I returned to hitting golf balls.  After a few swings, my mind started to wander back to this image above and it stopped me in my tracks.  If one looks very closely, one can tell that this was probably a white Skyhawk, and very close examination reveals parts of the tail number that could have belonged to my flying club.  Was this N62681?  A flurry of text messages with three fellow officers began immediately in order to mobilize and gather information.  
It was.  I will confess now that given that I am an officer in the flying club I know a lot more about what probably happened than is publicly available, but I will be sticking to what anyone could learn from the NTSB and media at this time.

The Short Version

The private pilot departed KDPA and conducted some practice landings at nearby Schaumburg airport (06C).  Upon return to DuPage, he called up the tower and stated that he was having a "rudder problem."  The aircraft disappeared from radar and radio communication could not be established, and eventually the aircraft was found in a nearby forest preserve after having impacted the terrain in a nose- and left-wing-down attitude.  The pilot was killed as a result of injuries he sustained in the crash.  

You can listen to the ATC recording here, and the preliminary report from the NTSB can be found here.  

When the probable cause report is released, I will say more about the above.  At this point, I will refrain from adding any information not reported or suggesting any causes of this accident.  I will say that upon learning that it was in fact our plane, I headed out to the scene.  For the one and only time I can remember, I was thankful that Friday traffic kept me from getting where I wanted to go in any reasonable amount of time.  By the time I reached the scene, our club president had essentially answered all the investigator's questions and there was nothing else for the club to do.   I never saw the accident scene in person, and instead we met at a local Buffalo Wild Wings for food and a few beers instead.  

Risks Become Real

If we are honest with ourselves, we really do not like to think about the reality that this kind of thing can happen to us. We never expect to be highlighted on the evening news or an NTSB report.  But the uncomfortable truth is that it does happen, and it can happen to any of us.  We have to maintain enough awareness of this so that we remain vigilant and sharp so that we do our part to avoid the headlines.  We need to work to eliminate the number one cause of aircraft accidents: pilots. 

In this case, we are talking about a plane that I have flown.  Without looking in the logbook, I'd speculate that I have roughly eight or nine hours in this plane.  While I never did a formal write up, I did reference this plane as the one I took on my at that time longest cross-country flight from  KDPA to Burke Lakefront in Cleveland.  I also rode right seat in it a month or two before to go and pick up our club Arrow from maintenance.  I really did not like this plane and as it approached TBO believed that the club would be better off selling it.  This was not the way for her to go.  

I was also scheduled to go flying the next morning with my friend to fly the Bonanza for a few more hours before I could carry passengers, and I wanted to work on flying instruments with steam gauges.  As you might imagine, Mrs. Dr. Flying Shrink was not too keen on this given what had just happened.  I anticipated this, and simply stayed home that day.  It brought the reality of what can happen to the forefront.  

Finally, I'd be remiss not to point out that this is the first time I have known a pilot killed in a plane crash.  I had not had very many interactions with this particular man, so it's not like we were flying buddies or anything.  I think that this is what hit me the hardest, though.  Yes, death is a fact of life and we accept a small increase in risk when we choose to be pilots.  When the person killed is someone you know, it takes the "out there" and makes it "in here."  Under such conditions, it is far harder to avoid unpleasant existential realities.  This incident has certainly sparked some reflection amongst my fellow club members, and this is a very good thing.  I just wish it did not take such drastic circumstances to spur such honest reflection so that we can do our part to reduce our flying risks.  

Blue Skies, fellow aviator.  And fly safe, my friends. 

Friday, June 12, 2015


Milestone: a term we use to connote an accomplishment or passage of some significant event or marker.  Recently, I had two such happenings that seem worth sharing. 

Call me "Captain."

If you've been reading anything my posts in the last year, then you know that I have been working on my commercial certificate.  The logbook entry from June 2, 2015 says that I successfully completed the commercial practical test.  It was a doozy!  

We actually conducted the oral examination on the Saturday prior, but the weather was not going to permit any VFR flying.  Great instrument day, and I really wished I could go out and shoot approaches.  It would have honestly been more fun as I can say I was not as well prepared for this thing as I thought I was.  My previous experiences with check rides were that I presented myself fairly well, knew things pretty well, learned a few things that I didn't know, and the like.  This time, the ante had been seriously raised and I did not totally appreciate that.  

When my examiner put in his instructions that he was expecting a presentation, I think he may have literally meant a powerpoint or something.  I did use the PAVE model to formulate my discussion of the flight I was asked to prepare, but some of the things I needed to talk about I did not for two reasons.  First, I got nervous and just forgot to talk about some things such safety equipment and terrain over the flight path.  Second, I had in my head that this flight would really go off IFR since it was pretty much IMC for most of the projected flight I did not discuss things like flight plans and flight following - I mean, if it's an IFR flight those things come with the package.  I also think that because I have expressed interest in pursuing the CFI, the examiner was giving me some push for my edification.  It became hard for me to know where was I not doing well as a commercial applicant and where was I being shown I had work to do for CFI.  

Sometimes it was just packaging and I could tell that.  For example, we discussed my chosen altitude.  I explained my reasoning, which can be (and from his view should have been) encapsulated in legality, safety and efficiency - in that order.  I'd argue that I caught all of those things but didn't quite say it that way. 

Needless to say, I was very happy that I was not going to fly on Saturday.  I was not feeling good about my performance, and I was pretty tired.  The examiner and I agreed on Friday as the day to fly.  

After I got home, I looked over the weather and things did not look good for Friday.  The plane became available on Tuesday, and we negotiated an earlier day to fly.  It was a beautiful day.  

The schedule was pretty tight because I needed to drop my kids off at school at 9, drive 75 minutes to the airport, preflight and fly to meet the examiner all by 11 am.  The examiner wanted to start earlier as he had a phone meeting at 1 pm, but I really could not get there much earlier.  Making matters worse, KDPA was full of NOTAMed taxiway and runway closures.  I ended up with a nearly 2 mile taxi and wanting for 15 minutes after announcing ready to depart.  

I made best speed to KUGN in the Arrow (25 squared, baby) and cut as close to ORD as the airspace and my low altitude tolerance would allow.  Three miles out I was cleared to land runway 5.  From 2500 feet and 130 KIAS, I pulled power to 15 inches, dropped the gear once below Vlo, ran the pre-landing flow and BAL-GUMPS checklist (boost pump on; autopilot off, landing light on; and the usual GUMPS features... and you know, Gear down, Undercarriage down, Make sure the gear is down, Put the gear down, See if the gear is down).  I then started applying flaps once below Vfe.  At three-quarters of a mile I was on airspeed and on glide slope - and was rewarded with touchdown on the 500 foot markers as planned.  "LIKE A GLOVE!" 

I shut down and deplaned, and the examiner met me on the ramp.  We looked the plane over, he asked a few questions to make sure I knew what those scoops and such were, and we got ready to go.  My inner Ace Ventura was silenced as the damn plane would not start.  "Isn't there a hot-start procedure for this plane?"  Yes, yes there is.  It's essentially the same as the typical one and we got the POH out to have a look.  After a solid 8 minutes of trying to start the plane, it FINALLY fired up.  Not a good start..... 

As expected, the flight began with demonstrating that I could use pilotage and ded reckoning.  This went well as I was pretty much on course and on time... despite the fact that I almost NEVER do this with any precision.  I follow the charts along my course line, but I don't do much ded reckoning.  Confidence returning. 

Next we went through several of the maneuvers.  Steep turns were fine once I stopped losing altitude.  I didn't bust PTS, but I was on the margin.  Slow flight and stalls went well.  Chandelles were nice.  Lazy Eights - my nemesis - were passable.  I was a bit high and fast (how the hell does that combination happen, anyway) on my last 180, but still within limits.  Emergency descent was good, steep spiral was nice.  I was just recovering from the steep spiral at 1400 feet AGL when the examiner decided that this was the time for an engine failure.  Sigh.  Well, I took a bit longer to get with it than I had hoped, and turned in to land too quickly.  Without enough time to circle back, I called an audible and said that I'd land in the field ahead of me, dropped the gear and flaps, and slipped to demonstrate that I could do that.  I said how I'd secure the aircraft, and then said, "well, I'd like to go around any time."  

Lastly were performance landings.  My heart sunk as the examiner said that we should go to Westosha (5K6) to do a short field landing.  I HATE this airport.  The approach sucks in either direction (over trees to runway 3, and over a drop off for 21), the runway is like 38 feet wide, and is chewed up.  Did I mention pattern altitude is like 650 feet AGL?  I bounced hard and went around.  He asked me what happened, and I said that I was never stabilized and should have gone around sooner.  Second attempt went just fine.  Relief.  

Back to Waukegan to finish up performance landings.  A solid soft-field landing and take off, then the moment of truth.  The dreaded 180-degree power-off landing.  For the uninitiated, this maneuver requires cutting the power on downwind abeam the agreed-upon target and gliding it onto that spot... +200/-0 feet.  The Arrow has the glide ratio of a truck, though I have practiced this many times and usually get it right.  This day, I flared at the right spot and then ballooned on flare.  I still got it there, but not in a pretty way.  

Checkride passed.  Temporary Commercial certificate issued.  Sweet. 

Mom, You're Going to be a Grandmother... Again.

There comes a time in every aviator's life where he figures out that what he wants cannot be had without drastic measures.  I have been salivating over the thought of co-owing an airplane, and driving my wife crazy with such discussions.  
I really love my flying club.  Fox Flying Club is a great group of aviators with four really nice planes.  Ok, I have decided I hate Skyhawks but there are two nice Pipers from which to choose.  And honestly, almost all missions that I fly are adequately accomplished in any of our aircraft.  But not all.  Sometimes, I need a plane that goes faster or a plane that has a better useful load.  We were working on a program where a Bonanza became available on leaseback, but this took a lot of work and eventually fell through. 

Then a few months ago I went to breakfast with a man who owns a Bonanza and a club instructor with whom I needed to fly for my semi-annual checkout.  Turns out the instructor and another man were talking about partnering in a Bonanza, and I got interested.  So did the owner referenced above.  The short version is that the four of us have partnered in the V35A Bonanza that the first guy owns.  

"Mom, you're going to be a grandmother again." 


"Yeah, but not in the way that you think."  

"Explain, please."  

"You have a grand-plane."  ;-)

Hi, Grandma!!!

N2458A is a Beechcraft V35A.  Yes, a Vee-tail and it's immaculate.  The good thing is that one of the partners has owned the plane for the last 18 months, and we therefore know it's most recent history.  He did an amazing job searching down information and making sure that what he purchased was solid.  Thus, we all feel pretty confident that we probably don't have too many big, expensive surprises waiting for it.  Yeah, can happen and it sucks to split that bill four ways instead of 60 ways. 

I am stoked, but the transition training is going slower than I'd like.  I have completed the online portion of the Beechcraft Pilot Proficiency Program, but I have not gotten much time in the plane yet.  We need to have the dual yoke we rented installed so that we can take instruction in the plane, and then one of the partners will get me going with a high performance endorsement and initial transition training.  I'll then make an appointment with the Bonanza-Sensei up at Poplar Grove (C77) to do the flying portion of the BPPP.  

But overall, this is sweet.  One of the partners took the plane to the east coast this past week, and made it from the western suburbs of Chicago to Frederick, Maryland in just under 3.5 hours.  Nice! 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Where are you?

Busy.  That's where I am.  I will have more to say, but life has just been nuts and of course writing about flying has not taken the highest priority. 

Almost done with that commercial certificate - just trying to make those lazy 8s work out.  I think I've figured out what I'm doing wrong, but I have not had the chance to go up and try out my theories. 

Finally, I finally flew some instrument approaches.  Two hours of actual and three approaches showed me what happens when your proficiency decreases.  I need to fly more approaches...