Wednesday, December 16, 2009

787 first flight - congratulations to Boeing!

Congratulations are in order to Boeing for getting the new 787 off of the ground. Looking forward to flying in one someday!

Coincidentally, a day before the Wright Bros. first flight anniversary. Must be something about the month of December...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Glamorous Glennis

I can't let the anniversary of Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 slip by with out giving a shout-out. Thank you for your bravery Chuck.

On a side note, General Yeager is still flying and appears to enjoy performing supersonic flybys at airshows. He will make an appearance this Saturday at Edwards Air Force Base.

image courtesy of NASA

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

WSJ: Some Frequent Travelers Prefer to Be in Cockpit

The Wall Street Journal posted a very evenhanded and informative article on small business use of a general aviation aircraft. The comments to the article are also very helpful and informative.

Monday, September 28, 2009

AOPA defends community airports

In response to an incredibly short-sided and poorly researched article written by the USA Today

they did give Craig Fuller, CEO of AOPA a chance to rebut. I wish he had made an even stronger case, as he could have mentioned the many ways in which municipal airports server their community, but at least he had a chance to set the record straight.

update 9/30/2009:
“It’s very disturbing when a major newspaper like that does not bother to take the time to get the facts straight before they write a major article like this, especially with their nationwide circulation,” Ehlers (Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.)) said during the hearing. “I think we have to speak up against that and make them aware of the situation.”

Friday, September 18, 2009

Trip to Dayton to see the National Museum of the United States Air Force

I usually like to post about trips right after we get back but this time everything transpired to get in the way of writing, but at least now I have to time to write, I'm going to put it down as well as my memory will serve me. A balmy, gorgeous September morning, Charlie and I drove to the airport to meet our friend and fellow pilot, Ben Kramer. Today was a special day. We were all going to fly together from Zelienople to Dayton to visit the National Museum of the US Air Force in near Dayton, OH. The plan was to fly to I19 - Greene County-Lewis A. Jackson Regional and then hope to snag the crew car for the 15 minute ride to the museum.

Of course Charlie and I arrived late and by the time we arrived Ben had already pulled out our 1971 Piper Arrow II and had it preflighted and ready to go. The remaining job was to jam Charlie's car seat into the rather tight back seats of the Arrow and then jam 6' 5" Ben into the left seat. All was well though and soon we were doing the run up on the 200 hp IO 360 and departing for I19. We climbed to 4500 and settled in for the cruise with Ben at the controls. Ben called Pittsburgh approach for flight following, which we received, and then Ben and I dialed in the cruise power settings. Charlie kicked back and took in the view, happy as a clam as long as there was gum around.

Soon we were passing directly over Columbus Intl, and Ben was a master at dialing in the handoff frequencies for flight following ahead of time (Ben is also a turbine pilot for a local charter outfit nearby). After a smooth and uneventful 1 1/2 hour flight (notwithstanding a flaky transponder) we saw our destination airport and Ben and configured the airplane and soon had the Arrow down with a nice landing.

The FBO had the crew car available as promised and I got Charlie's seat out of the airplane and into the car. Soon enough we arrived at the USAF Museum and Charlie's head was on a swivel looking at the giant aircraft parked outside. Once we parked and we were inside the museum, we grabbed a quick lunch at the well equipped cafeteria (I recommend the baked potatoes) and then we went downstairs to the main lobby to try to orient ourselves. The museum is by all accounts enormous and one could easily take a couple of days to go through the exhibits in detail. Many of my favorite aircraft happened to be in one hangar called the "Cold War Gallery", and having limited time on our hands, that was where we went.

We were greeted upon entering the hanger nose to nose with the truly massive and awe-inspiring B-2 bomber. Apparently, it is the world's only permanent public display of a B-2 stealth bomber. After walking for almost a minute I realized that we were still underneath it's gargantuan wing. Right after that impressive site, we gazed upon one of my all-time favorites, the Lockheed SR-71A. The SR-71 they had on display was special in that it made the first operational sortie by an SR-71. It was flown to the museum upon cancellation of the SR-71 program in March 1990 after flying 257 operation missions in its' 20+ year career.

We then moved on to another personal favorite, the A-10 Thunderbolt, AKA the Warthog.
The one was interesting in that you could climb a scaffold to look in the cockpit. Charlie really got a kick out of that. Another massive aircraft we saw was the Convair B-36J Peacemaker, the predecessor to the B52 bomber. All in all it took us hours to look at all of the 60+ aircraft in the exhibit. Charlie was starting to drag from running from airplane to airplane and we decided we should hit the road anyhow. We hopped back in the car and got to the airport where the extremely courteous FBO had the Arrow fueled and pulled it right up to the door! Very nice.

The flight back, with me in the left seat this time was another very enjoyable one. I put on the foggles to get about an hour of hood time, so I left it to Ben and Charlie to soak in the views.
After removing the foggles because we were needing to dodge a few building cumulus along the way, we headed back into Zeli. It had been a fantastic day and Charlie had been just amazing. He had endured 1 1/2 flight down, a 20 minute car ride, a 2 hour museum stay, another car ride, and almost 2 hour return flight with a smile and nary a peep. I'm hoping to get back to the museum again sometime and hopefully stay for an entire day, perhaps an overnight. It would be well worth it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Congratulations NASA on your 40th anniversary of the moon landing

A proud time to be an American, thank you NASA and the brave astronauts who accomplished the mission goals.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

CBS News comments on stimulus funds for GA airports

Sad to see such a biased and unbelievably un-researched "news report" such as this. If anything it truly smacks of just plain laziness on the "reporters" part. It is heartening to see that the comments at the bottom of the article are heavily weighted in favor of general aviation and highlight many of the ways smaller airports benefit society. Please comment on the article as well!

update 7/16/09:
sage reply to the CBS article from the Anchorage press

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Electric Airplanes

I'm all for this trend. One of the biggest obvious hurdles is battery capacity/storage of electricity. I do love the fact that electrics motors are just really, really reliable. No gas to explode in the event of an accident either (though a lithium fire would be interesting...)

Updated 8-20-09

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A call for more needless "security"

Wow. It is never ceases to amaze me to see the scare mongering tactics people use to get attention and to try to take more and more freedoms from us. Here's an excerpt from an article by a Stanford, "professor" I suppose, Lawrence M. Wein.

"What about attack by a small plane? Given the impracticality of shooting down a tiny aircraft before it could detonate a bomb from the air, the best approach is to begin screening all domestic departures of small airplanes. This effort should be folded into the Securing the Cities Initiative."

That is just brilliant. This "idea" imposes yet more restrictions on law abiding citizens to make life and liberty more difficult to achieve for us, and does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to stop a terrorist. Think about it, the challenge of screening the MILLIONS of GA aircraft departures and all a terrorist would have to do, if they wanted to even pursue this impractical attack vector, would be take off from an unimproved grass strip or field somewhere not even charted on a map. Speaking of grass strips and other small airports, how do you propose we deal with the challenges of managing the departure at the thousands of those types of airports across the country, not to mention the ridiculously prohibitive cost of doing so? Thanks for the thought Larry, go home please.

here's the link in case you want to read this drivel.

Edit 6/22/2009:
Looks like some people who are much closer to the situation the Professor Wein is are in agreement with me on this one. Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Homeland Security states in a recent report this past May of 2009:

"We determined that general aviation presents only limited and mostly hypothetical threats to security. We also determined that the steps general aviation airport owners and managers have taken to enhance security are positive and effective. Transportation Security Administration guidelines, communication forums, and alert mechanisms, coupled with voluntary measures taken by the owners and operators of aircraft and facilities, provide baseline security for aircraft based at general aviation sites. Significant regulation of the industry would require considerable federal funding."

link here:

Edit 6/23/2009:
Henry Ogrodzinski, President and Chief Executive of the National Association of State Aviation Officials puts it much more kindly and eloquently than me.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Nice new site from Air Safety Foundation

The ASF has produced a new product called AskATC designed to allow pilots to ask an air traffic controller those questions you always wondered about. I just read through the initial questions, and they are all pretty interesting reads. Here's the site (again AOPA members only) and here is AOPA's official word:

"New resource answers your ATC questions

From newly minted aviators to seasoned veterans, most pilots have questions about air traffic control. When speaking to ATC, should you use local or Zulu time? What is “standard separation”? If you bust airspace or an altitude, what really happens? The AOPA Air Safety Foundation put these and many other common questions directly to controllers, who provided no-nonsense, real-world answers for pilots. The result is a valuable new Web r

esource, Ask ATC, developed in cooperation with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. Question categories include VFR, IFR, and more. Don't see your question listed? An interactive feature allows you to submit queries of your own."

Also, if you're interested in learning more about communicating with ATC, Bob Gardner's book, Say Again, Please: Guide to Radio Communicationsis a great resource.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Stupid pilot tricks

One of the things I get sick of hearing about are GA crashes resulting from pilots doing things they shouldn't be doing, either because it doesn't suit the type of airplane they are flying (eg aerobatics in a Baron), it is illegal (buzzing your buddy's house), or simply beyond their abilities (use your imagination).

I love this quote from Aviation Safety Foundation chief Bruce Bruce Landsberg; his litmus test if something you are about to do is a good idea or not:

"Try this on your passengers the next time you take to the sky: 'OK, gang, I'm about to try a maneuver that I haven't practiced and have had no training in. The aircraft is prohibited from this type of maneuver, and it's never been tested by the manufacturer." (Depending on the type of maneuver, you can add, "We're going to fly really close to the ground and well below legal limits.") Then say, "There's also a good chance that we could all die if I mess this up, but if I pull it off it will be way cool! So, are you in?'"

or as I've heard Jeb Burnside from Aviation Safety Magazine say (paraphrased):
"Before you decide on a certain action that may jeopardize the safety of the flight, think about how you will explain your actions and thought process to the NTSB investigator (if you survive to do that)"

this is what I'm talking about. Obviously, it goes without saying that I do not know all of the circumstances, but here is a news story regarding a crash of a Cirrus, where before take off the pilot states to the briefer in his abbreviated briefing that he was, "hoping to slide underneath it then climb out."

Some of the NTSB reports findings: It was nighttime, wind gusts to 22 kts, he was going fast, and flying at 100' AGL. As well, AIRMETs for IFR conditions and turbulence were in effect at the time of the accident. The NTSB's summary?

"Spatial disorientation experienced by the pilot, due to a lack of visual references, and a failure to maintain altitude. Contributing factors were the pilot's improper decision to attempt flight into marginal VFR conditions, his inadvertent flight into instrument meteorological conditions, the low lighting condition (night) and the trees."

I'd have to say that would seem to me to be 100% pilot error, not the fault at all of the manufacturer or school. Of course it had NOTHING to do with the fact he should not have been flying that day, and EVERYTHING to do with the manufacturer not holding his hand. It is this seeming belief in the U.S. that no one should be held accountable for their own actions that boils my blood. Now this lawsuit will result in adding to the yet ever spiraling liability costs of flying, all due to someone trying to take advantage of an opportunity, and, for some reason I can not figure out, why here in America, it is so hard for someone to say, "Yeah, I screwed up and it is my fault".

Here are the NTSB reports in their entirety:

Bruce Landsberg from the Air Safety Foundation commented on this as well:

On this day in aviation history

This person had guts if nothing else...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Stories that fly

This is a VERY cool website, from Kent State University in Ohio. The School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the College of Technology’s Aeronautics Program have joined together to build the website, "Stories that Fly". It is designed as a web-based magazine that "promises to take journalism to new heights, while telling the story of aviation and the legions of people involved in its pursuit".

see it at

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Too funny not to post

Overheard in IFR Magazine's "On the Air"

Heard on descent, about 100 miles north of Sacramento, California:

Cessna 12345:
"Oakland Center, Cessna Four Five Six. Am I still getting flight following? I was looking at my chart and might have missed a call."

Oakland Center:
"Cessna Four Five Six, you're still on my radar and receiving flight following."

Cessna 12345:
"Thank you, ma'am. I just hadn't had a call for a while."

Oakland Center:
"Flight following is like a marriage. The less I talk to you, the better off we are."

Norm Champ
via e-mail

Say you're sorry

Many of you probably know about NASA's Aviation Safety Reporting System. Some pilots call it a "get out of jail free card". Here's what NASA has to say:

"The ASRS is a small but important facet of the continuing effort by government, industry, and individuals to maintain and improve aviation safety. The ASRS collects voluntarily submitted aviation safety incident/situation reports from pilots, controllers, and others"

The important language in AC 00-46D:

5. Prohibition Against the Use of Reports for Enforcement Purposes
  • Section 91.25 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) (14 CFR 91.25) prohibits the use of any reports submitted to NASA under the ASRS (or information derived therefrom) in any disciplinary action, except information concerning criminal offenses or accidents which are covered under paragraphs 7a(1) and 7a(2).
  • When violation of the FAR comes to the attention of the FAA from a source other than a report filed with NASA under the ASRS, appropriate action will be taken. See paragraph 9.
  • The NASA ASRS security system is designed and operated by NASA to ensure confidentiality and anonymity of the reporter and all other parties involved in a reported occurrence or incident. The FAA will not seek, and NASA will not release or make available to the FAA, any report filed with NASA under the ASRS or any other information that might reveal the identity of any party involved in an occurrence or incident reported under the ASRS. There has been no breach of confidentiality in more than 30 years of the ASRS under NASA management.
and FAR 91.2:

Prohibition Against Use of Report for Enforcement Purposes

The Administrator of the FAA will not use reports submitted to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration under the Aviation Safety Reporting Program (or information derived therefrom) in any enforcement action, except information concerning accidents or criminal offenses which are wholly excluded from the program.

the other cool feature is that it can be totally paperless:

Monday, May 18, 2009

AOPA does it again

AOPA, once again doing great things for pilots, particularly on the technology side, follows up their amazing Internet Flight Planner, with a new iPhone/iPod touch application to mobilize AOPA awesome online airport facilities directory. If you have an iPhone or iPod touch, just search for "AOPA" in the app store and you will find it. Organization is well done, and there are quite a few airports across the nation that are covered. It is possible to add airports to a "Favorites" section as well as keeps track of the recent airports looked at for easy access. In addition, they are providing updates as they come out of NACO. The product was developed in conjuction with ForeFlight. I could see this as being a valuable addition to the flight bag, in-flight and on the ground. Kudos AOPA!

eAPIS - Electronic Advance Passenger Information System

Just got this email from our local FAA guy, passing it on in case it is helpful and since it goes into effect tomorrow. Sweet acronym!

"Attention Private Flyers: The Advance Information on Private Aircraft Arriving and Departing the United States Final Rule requires that pilots of private aircraft (or their designees) transmit notices of arrival and/or departure and traveler manifest information to CBP electronically a minimum of 60 minutes prior to departure through eAPIS or another CBP-approved electronic data interchange system.

The new regulations are in effect with a voluntary compliance period
ending on May 18, 2009. On this date, electronic transmissions become

Have fun out there.

if you are an AOPA member (which every pilot should be), you can take this helpful flash course on eAPIS:

one more edit:
great summary of steps to take for flying to Canada (for AOPA members only, and if you're not, what in the world are you waiting for!)

and Bruce Landsberg talks about a recent international trip

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

GA makes Wired magazine

A sign that the plight of GA may have jumped the shark? regardless, it's a reasonably balanced article: My concern is less to do with whether a CEO gets to fly in a cushy jet, but more with respect to what happens to all of the GA centric airports that start to receive less traffic. Repurchasing a corporate jet is much easier than reviving an airport, which, as AOPA would attest to, is nearly impossible once a community decides to close theirs down.

this just in, we're saved, Oprah says it's "great" to own a private aircraft!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Passed the IFR written

I was hoping to achieve the same level of proficiency as the last time, but this will suffice to reach the end goal.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

General Aviation Serves America campaign

learn more about how important General Aviation is to the United States at:

similar article on CBS news:

UPDATE 7/17/2009
Pilot/actor Morgan Freeman is joining Harrison Ford as a spokesman for the GA Serves America campaign to educate the public and decision makers about the important role GA plays in the national economy and transportation system.

More on this here

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


A 17-year-old Sully with his first flight instructor, L.T. Cook, Jr. , in Sherman, Texas, 1968.

"One of the big differences in flying heavy jets versus flying lighter, smaller aircraft is energy management—always knowing at any part of the flight what the most desirable flight path is, then trying to attain that in an elegant way with the minimum thrust, so that you never are too high or too low or too fast or too slow. I’ve always paid attention to that, and I think that more than anything else helped me." Capt. Sullenberger

I would say, this is excellent advice to those of us flying small airplanes too. As we can see from the picture above, we all start at the same place. What matters is where we end up.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

FRZ Thaw

I recently came across an article about one man's journey to obtain clearance to fly into the FRZ, the Flight Restricted Zone around our nation's capitol, AKA the "Freeze". It was inspirational and disheartening at the same time. Inspirational in that it was the impetus and information that myself and a friend of mine needed to push us over the edge to want to obtain the clearance. Disheartening in that our country has changed so much in such a short period of time. One can literally see our freedoms slipping away one by one at the hands of so many lawyers, hiding behind the guise of a politician. This aside, the fact that there remains an avenue to fly to a general aviation airport close to our nations capital is a small triumph of a few determined people navigating the political maze of irrationality.

The FRZ is roughly a 13-15 nm ring around the DCA vortac (look here on the bottom of page 2 for a detailed explaination of the ring boundaries) and is a highly restricted area of flight to purported by the TSA as necessary protect many of the strategic buildings. Needless to say the necessity of this "protective zone" has been debated, and outright ridiculed, by many in the aviation industry with some arguing that you can still rent a truck, pack it with -name-your-choice-of-explosive- and park it in front of any of these buildings. In spite of this, the truck rental business have seen no regulation or oversight at all. However this post is not put forth to continue that debate, rather it seeks to inform pilots who are willing to jump through the TSA's hoops and play their game in order to gain access to the three, still operational, airports inside the ring, AKA the DC-3.

The DC-3 are comprised of Potomac, Hyde Field, and College Park. All are with in an easy drive to downtown DC (notwithstanding the traffic) and the train into DC is within a 2 minute walk from College Park (the train ride taking another 10-15 minutes). College Park has the distinction of being the world's oldest continually operated airport. My understanding of the history of letting GA flyers gain access back to these venerable airports stems in large part to the efforts of Potomac's Dave Wartofsky. I do not know what strings were pulled or governmental bearucratic mazes he and others navigated, however, speaking for myself and possibly on behalf of all other GA pilots who enjoy flying to the DC area, a heartfelt thank you.

So I suppose the real question is, why. Why would anyone subject themselves to FAA and TSA scrutiny only for the privilege of being able to fly into the FRZ and land at one of the three airports? Well for one reason, they are all really, really close to DC. College Park in particular, you can literally, land, walk about 2 minutes across the road to the metro station, and take the train right into the heart of DC, about a 10 minute ride for about $7. Pretty convenient. Also, I suppose there is the opportunity to see some pretty cool sights from the air as long as you stay clear of the myriad of restricted and prohibited areas. My understanding is that fuel is very reasonably priced at these airports as well.

At any rate, with a good sense of the process, much of it gleaned from the article mentioned above and the College Park website, a good friend and fellow pilot, Greg, and I decided to take the FRZ challenge, drive to DC, and obtain our super secret decoder ring pin codes. The College Park website is a real treat and literally walks you through all of the steps to take including things like which hallway to walk down at National, when to turn left, what door to walk through, etc. Armed with the information, our pilot certificates, medicals, logbooks, passports, driver licenses, checkbooks, filled out PIN code request forms, and anything else we could think of that might be requested, we saddled up in my old pickup, and headed East.

First stop was the FAA's Baltimore Flight Standards District Office (FSDO). Greg has wisely called ahead an set up an appointment to meet with a gentleman who could take a look at our paper work. The office is located in a non-descript office park just off of route 97. We walked into the "lobby", a small 5'x10' room and rang the bell. After waiting a few minutes a our contact opened the side door and introduced himself. After a bit of small talk he disappeared with our driver licenses, logbooks and pilot certificates. He came back about 5 minutes later and said we were good to go and that he had entered our data in "the computer", and that his role was just to verify that we were in reality, pilots.

Next stop was the TSA where we were to be fingerprinted. What we ended up doing was driving from the FSDO office to College Park, talking to the guys at College Park a bit, and then taking the train to the station closest to Reagon National. This travel plan was Greg's idea and I have to say it worked out quite well. It is quite easy as there is only one transfer, and then train takes you right to the airport. Simply put you take the Green line from College Park-U of Maryland to L'Enfant Plaza and transfer the the Yellow line and go three stops to Reagan National.

Once at Reagan, we followed College Park's fantastic step-by-step directions to the TSA office for fingerprinting. It just so happened that at the TSA fingerprinting office their electronic fingerprinting machine was down. That literally could have ended our escapade however the lady running the office that day was a real champ and called the local police department to ask them if they could fingerprint us the old fashioned ink and paper way. They obliged and off we treked for about 15 minutes including a short bus ride to the other side of the airport to get fingerprinted. Once we located the office, the person who did the fingerprinting for the local police there got us in and out in about 1/2 hour or so. Back at the TSA office, the nice lady there took our fingerprint forms from the police station, put her magic mark on the pin issuance form told us where to pay our $27 and that was pretty much it.

We then had a quick lunch at the Reagan airport and hopped on the metro again to go back to College Park to give them our completed form and proof of payment. After that step, and poking around College Park airport a bit, we were done. We got back in the car and jammed on home back to Pittsburgh just beating the notorious DC beltway traffic. About a week or so later I got a phone call from College Park where they gave me my super secret password to file to fly into the FRZ. All in all a pretty quick and painless process. It's sad that we have to go through this at all, but a least the good folks at the DC-3 have figured out a way to visit their wonderful airports again.

Below are some helpful links for getting through the process:

College Park
Washington Executive - Hyde Field

If you will be flying into College Park, there is the direct link to their instructions:

Here's a link to Hyde Field's step-by-step instructions:

AOPA's official writeup:

Into the Deep FRZ article

Application for PIN issuance - Maryland Three Airports

FAA Issues DC Special Flight Rules Area Final Rule
On December 16, 2008, FAA issued a final rule converting the Washington,
DC, Metropolitan Area Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) into the Washington, DC, Metropolitan Area Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA). The rule became effective on February 17, 2009. The rule requires all pilots who operate within 60 nautical miles (nm) of the DC SFRA to receive special awareness training, which is available online at If you have already taken the training you will not have to take it again. The rule states that it is a one-time requirement. However, FAA strongly recommends that pilots operating under VFR within 60 nm of the DCA VOR/DME review the online course from time to time. The course will be updated to be consistent with the Special Flight Rules Area final rule. The final rule may be viewed at

Thursday, March 12, 2009

IFR Long Cross Country

One of the things I've been looking forward to with flying is using the airplane for personal travel. So far, the longest trip I have taken was my dual-cross country to Gettysburg. Mike and I now had a chance to do something really fun, and useful, with IFR training while fulfilling the requirement of the 250nm distance with 3 different types of approaches. We would do the trip and incorporate it into a visit to my parents in South Carolina.

The trip down to SC was to be a total of 515nm with a fuel stop in Danville, VA (KDAN). Part of the fun was planning the trip and learning how to create and file an IFR flight plan. Mike showed me how to use the IFR Low Altitude Planning charts to come up with a viable plan to get us from PJC to DAN and then on the Beaufort, SC (KARW).

Once we had the trip planned it was time to start intensely watching the weather. Of course I was hoping for some actual along the way (I got most of my "wish" on the way back). I started looking at the forecast 10 days out, which I know is useless but what the heck, anticipation. The Thursday before we were to leave, conditions were looking pretty good, even for a VFR trip. Looking at the forecast conditions in the morning for the afternoon on Friday, the time of our planned departure, however, were looking not so good with high winds, and widespread moderate turbulence from 20,000 feet to the surface, all the way to Danville. Mike and I were not looking forward to a 2 1/2 hour flight of getting tossed around in a 172. Luckily, after a call to the briefer he gave us a pirep from a Piper Cherokee reporting smooth air at 8,000 feet along the route of our flight, and we decided to give it a go.

Mike, the intrepid and trusty CFII

After a thorough preflight of our venerable 172, we were off from Zelienople (KPJC) and were soon talking to Pittsburgh approach. We picked up our clearance and were cleared into class Bravo at PIT. I received my first taste of actual at about 6,000 feet and I'll remember it forever. There's nothing like flying into a cloud in a light aircraft with the cloud rushing toward you and then suddenly all around you. After exiting the brief layer, I then donned the foggles for the rest of the trip. We were on course and at altitude and lo-and-behold, the conditions were nothing like that forecast in the airmet Tango, but were exactly like that of the pirep, smooth. Right then I learned the true value of pireps and we were diligent about paying back the favor with our pireps, hoping it would help other pilots make that go decision if they could.

The flight to Danville was uneventful, Mike showed me how to talk with ATC, and what the proper phraseology should be. Flying IFR is very nice, I must say, very methodical. Coming into KDAN, ATC asked us if we would like to be vectored to final, but this was a training trip so we did the full approach, VOR RWY 20.

At this point it was pretty turbulent, and we were getting bumped around, which made tackling the approach a bit more interesting. I could see how single pilot IFR could be very difficult, particularly if the conditions were worse such as rain and/or at night. Once established at the MDA, Mike let me take the foggles off, and there was the runway a bit off to the left of the nose, in part due the crab to take care of the wind out of the west. After landing, the line crew was right there with the fuel truck and we were soon talking to the "good ole boys" in the FBO lounge (they had a remotely controlled fart noise making machine in the men's room...oh yeah). One was a spitting image of the assistant coach in the movie "Waterboy". Good people!

Altitude:check, heading:check, needle: centered, engine gauges:nominal - hey IFR is easy...!

There was not much time to waste as we really wanted to get going. Since we had departed about 4PM from Zelienople, we know we would be landing in the dark at Beaufort no matter what, but we still wanted to have as much daylight for the trip as possible. I called the briefer in the lounge to receive the weather for the next leg, and filed our next flight plan with him. I happened to get a very chatty briefer and received one of the most through briefings I ever had, at least 10 minutes long. Soon we were back in the airplane and we received our clearance from delivery and we were on our way again.

Foggles:Check, View out the window:Negative...Doh!

I wish I could say I really enjoyed the view, but we were pretty diligent about keeping the foggles on. This is training after all. I could definitely see how one could get very complacent flying IFR with ATC watching your back. As we neared our destination. ATC vectored us a bit off of our route and has us fly almost directly over the approach end of runway 15 at Charleston Intl. It was now dusk and the airport was all lit up.

We saw a commercial airliner on final go underneath us. The air was now much calmer with a 20 knot wind out of the west, but no turbulence at all. I looked up to see the sun setting in the west, very cool. We were vectored along the coast line of South Carolina and it was now getting very dark. ATC informed us that Beaufort would be directly to our 12 and we strained our eyes through the darkness looking for a beacon. We were also acutely aware that were were now about 1000' above mostly desolate marsh and swamp land, probably a place you would not want to lose your engine.

Finally we had the airport in sight, we canceled IFR and prepared for a straight in landing on runway 25. I was also now noticed that even though were on final approach speed, our ground speed was at a crawl. The winds had picked up a bit and we were creeping into the airport as we were now headed right into the westerly winds. Mike suggested adding power to get our asses to the airport as we did not want to hang out over these swamps for longer than we needed to... We landed about 9:30PM, taxied onto the ramp, and my dad came up to greet us. What a fun and fantastic way to get down to South Carolina!

Backyard view at Brays

The next day we gave Mike the Brays Island royal treatment taking him sporting clays shooting in the morning and a nice lunch at the golf club house. In the afternoon, Mike and I did a scouting trip to another potential good airport to land, Ridgeland, and it turned out to be a very good potential place to land next trip. Afterwards we went back and relaxed on the dock with a couple of beers and then put together an amazing steak dinner. A perfect saturday. After dinner I planned the route back home, with a plan to land at Roanoke, VA via the localizer approach for runway 33 for the fuel stop, and a touch-and-go at Butler airport using the ILS approach for runway 8.

Dad drove us back to the Beaufort airport Sunday morning. It was so great not to have to worry about getting to the airport on time to make a scheduled flight. There was no stress about parking, getting through security and getting to the gate and hour before the flight. I didn't even have to take off my shoes and my "carry on" had bottles of liquid over 8oz. It was a beautiful day in South Carolina with weather in Pittsburgh showing overcast skys at 3-4000 feet and rain at the time of our arrival. Perfect.

We climbed out of KARW, picked up our clearance, and were treated to amazing views of the coastline, with the ocean glimmering in the morning sunlight. Before we knew it we were in Roanoke and ATC let us down from 7,000 to 4,000 to get us ready for the LOC RWY33 approach circle to land runway 24.

At 4,000 we encountered what Mike called moderate turbulence. Roanoke is interesting in that it is literally in a bowl made of mountains, ok hills, on all sides. The air spilling over the mountains from the west was tumbling with eddys and currents, and made the approach, challenging to say the least. Mike helped me out with the let downs by calling out altitudes. Once at pattern altitude, the tower had us circle to land to land on the prevailing runway 24. After pulling up to the FBO, they fueled us up, gave us the keys to the crew car and in no time we were chowing down at an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet close by.

Climbing out of Beaufort, SC - a rare moment without the foggles. South Carolina intercoastal waterway in the background

Soon we found ourselves back in the cockpit after the usual weather briefing and preflight, ready to go. We picked up our clearance on the ground this time, and taxied to the end of runway 24 for takeoff. We climbed out via the SID DIXXY 5 departure which helps deal with the quickly rising terrain to the west and north. We turned on course and leveled at 8,000 and were treated to some wild rides with turbulence again created from the westerly winds rushing over the terrain. It was bad enough that Mike asked for higher, which ATC kindly gave us and things smoothed out a bit. As Mike said though, this was flying in March.

Snowshoe ski resort in West Virginia

About midway through West Virginia, we finally got into some actual and I got my first real taste of keeping an airplane wings level, in turbulence, with zero visibility in a cloud. Flying in the cloud, particularly with turbulence, is a wholly different experience than flying with foggles on. I'm amazed it is even legal to get an instrument rating without any actual actual so-to-speak. It was definitely a challenge, and one I'm sure you could get comfortable with practice, but I was glad Mike was there. After almost an hour in the clouds, ATC let us down to about 4,000 nearing Allegheny County Airport. North of downtown Pittsburgh, the ceiling was beginning to drop and we realized that it may not be a touch and go at Butler, but a landing "to stay".

As we neared Butler, it was clear that this would be an ILS approach in actual, not simulated conditions. We executed the ILS RWY 8 approach and broke out about 400' above the ground with the runway magically appearing before us.

I have to say, that was an impressive display of technology to see how an ILS actually puts you where you should be when flying blind in the soup. We canceled IFR, landed, and called Mike's father to come pick us up in the car and shuttle us back to Zeli.

The whole trip was just a fantastic learning experience all the way from planning the route, to making go/no-go decisions, communicating with ATC and executing various approaches. I learned that the air traffic controllers are just amazing people who are really out there trying to help the pilots to the best of their abilities. Most importantly gaining the actual experience of flying in the clouds and doing an ILS approach to almost minimums was just invaluable. Mike is a great instructor and it was just a real pleasure to do that trip with him.

As a side note, I came back the next day and snagged one of our other instructors to fly over to retrieve the airplane. It was a short hop from Zeli to Butler and we did the ILS 8 approach again, this time in MUCH better conditions. I picked up the 172, and in less than 2/10s on the hobbs, was back on the ground again at PJC.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

In-Flight fires

One of my favorite blogs to read, Aviation Mentor, has just put out a good post on dealing with in-flight fires. You can see the post here.

edit: he also has a great follow-up post on electrical systems and their causing in-flight fires as well.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Learn to Fly

Mike Woods, my instructor, has just posted a cliff notes of learning to fly on eHow. Check it out here and forward it on.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Mini adventures

I’ve been doing enough flying to keep current but not been able to fly much beyond that with the weather. In order to get my instrument rating, one of the boxes I need to check is 50 hours of cross-country time (a trip farther than 50 nautical miles) as Pilot in Command (PIC). Right now I have 16 so I need to do a fair number of trips in the coming months. So towards that end I recently took a fun trip to an little airport in Ohio called New Philadelphia. On the way back from New Philly I had to answer a call of nature so I landed at a little country airport called Carroll County, I had heard there was a restaurant on the field. On final approach you go right over an old red barn before touching down, pretty cool. I taxied in and parked the plane at the transient lot. I went into the restaurant next to the field and upon going into the restaurant I noticed they had homemade pie and ice cream. So of course I had to order a slice of Black Raspberry, it was nothing short of phenomenal. I love that about GA, the mini adventures. Next time I go, I'll have to check out the Bluebird Farm, apparently just a 10 minute walk from the airport.
*image of Carroll County Airport from AirNav

Friday, January 9, 2009

Icon Aircraft

This article has quite a bit of misinformation about general aviation but it does highlight an exciting company and trend in GA, that being the light sport aircraft (LSA) category and industry. No company is garnering more of the LSA spotlight than Icon, and for good reason, they have one really, really cool aircraft. I recently had an email exchange with the founder and CEO, Kirk Hawkins saying that the support for their cause is extremely strong and they receive emails daily from all over the world encouraging them to keep moving forward. I, for one, hope that the company becomes a success as GA and the industry can certainly use the shot in the arm.

NASA says, use your checklists

Below is a study from NASA on commercial flights on errors made and how the efficient use of a checklist could help avoid those errors. While the content is geared towards commercial flying there is a lot of information and take-aways from this presentation that is relevant to GA flight as well.