Thursday, June 06, 2013

First post in three years

Time flies when you don't post anything.  Three years since my last blog post?  Really?  Yes, really.  So, what made me suddenly decide to post something after a two year absence?  While I'd love to say it was because I was transition training to a Boeing Business Jet, truth be told, meeting a future student pilot.

By "future student pilot", I mean someone intent on learning how to fly, who is in the research phase of things.  So, technically, not yet a student pilot but someone who will be at some point in the near future.  A very cool aspect here is that I may be able to pass along some of my experiences which I hope provides useful info. to an aspiring pilot.  I wonder if it will also be like trying to help someone with Algebra or Calculus when it's been years since having to work through such problems.  Nah, trying to remember student pilot stuff will be way better than any math class I took in college :-)

One of the bits of information I forwarded to this aspiring pilot was a link to my blog.  When I saw the date of my last entry, I was both surprised and not surprised.  Surprised at it being two years since posting yet not surprised as so many things compete for attention in life that other things just don't get done.

Will I post more often?  Good question.  I suppose it depends on whether or not I feel like I have things worth saying.  Oh, and that I actually make the time to do so.  We'll see what happens.

Flying has been good the past two years though I haven't been doing quite as much of it, less than 50 hours/year.  My goal for 2013 is to complete the last page of logbook #1 and I have something like 10-11 more entries on that last page.

Highlights over the past couple of years include 0.l right seat time in a Citation (CJ1), a tour of a Boeing Business Jet, and something like 0.5 right seat time in Pilatus PC12.  Flights to/from Oshkosh for the past two years has been via the Southwest aluminum tube so, while Oshkosh was fun and exciting, the trips to/from don't quite peg the fun meter.  Speaking of Oshkosh, I'll be heading there again this year, via Southwest.  2013 marks my 11th straight, "AirVenture", as the proper name of the event.

Perhaps I can use my CJ1, BBJ, and PC12 experiences as topics to post about.  Will save that for a later date.

Monday, April 19, 2010

500 nm cross country from AZ to CA

Jack's trip report re: Prescott, AZ back to Lincoln CA via Furnace Creek CA to retrieve the Arrow. Quality bedtime reading!

Initially when planning this trip, I considered the more typical route of heading towards Lancaster, CA and crossing over the Tehachapi’s. Having been that route a couple of times though, I looked at the alternative of coming up the Eastern side of the Sierras and perhaps crossing over them at Yosemite. BIG rocks there, stuff in the 12,500 range so not something to consider lightly. I figured I could stop for gas at Furnace Creek in Death Valley then had the option of crossing the Sierras at Yosemite or the more familiar area around Lake Tahoe. Overall distance was very close between these two options.

I could file/fly IFR to Furnace creek but definitely not beyond that due to high MEAs. I filed essentially direct from Prescott to Furnace creek. Technically, via Kingman, AZ but it's on a straight line between the two. I could have requested a route on the airways to Las Vegas but figured I'd leverage /G capabilities and go direct (hence the straight line Eric). Requested 12000 and my clearance contained those wonderful words "as filed". The only change came when a LAS approach controller asked if I "was able higher". I figured I could possibly squeak out 14,000 but having never tried before, wasn't sure. The controller informs me that their MVA in that area is 14,000 so I reply with "I'll give it a try". Terrain avoidance wasn't much of an issue on my route at 12,000 so it must have to do with radar coverage. Much to my surprise, the Arrow made 400 fpm all the way up to 14,000. Nice...and boy am I glad I have oxygen. I'd planned on using it during the entire flight home anyway. Groundspeed at 12,000 was in the 130-135 range but when I got to 14,000, it dropped to 113 which sucked.

Prior to departure, the last check of my time enroute for the entire trip came out at 03:40 so I thought I'd see how things went to Furnace Creek and possibly not stop for gas but continue home (max I'll fly with full tanks is 4:30..but I don't like to). I'd already punched in the rest of my route and had been watching ETA times on the 430. About an hour into the flight, ETA at LHM was really going to result in more than a 4 hour trip so even before climbing to 14,000 and losing groundspeed, I'd decided to stop at Furnace Creek. Slowing to 113 kts GS more than sealed that deal.

About 35 minutes out of Furnace Creek, I start wondering when ATC will be able to have me descend. I have a lot more altitude to lose than normal. I ask for lower but am told they can't issue an IFR descent but I can cancel if I want...and I do. I start descending and in about four minutes, they lose me on radar and tell me to go away and squawk 1200. Now it’s just a matter of staying outside of the MOA until I’m under 3000 MSL. Landed at Furnace Creek and was lucky enough to catch the fuel guy at the pumps. It’s run by a gas station about a half mile away, cell service is non-existent, so it would have been a hike to get someone to come to the airport for fuel. Temp was a comfortable 78 degrees.

Depart, parallel the MOA for many miles (there was one in particular I wanted to avoid as it had a 300 AGL floor) climbing climbing climbing up to 12,500. Tried contacting flight service to open a VFR flight plan but couldn’t get in touch with them until I was almost over the top of Bishop, CA. By now, I’m staring at the wall of snow covered cumulo Granite, probably 35 nm away and I decide that 14,500 is a nicer altitude so up I go.

Now the fun/exciting/semi-uh-oh part. Having been in up/down drafts many times and this being my first time attempting to cross the Sierras near Yosemite, I’m watching very closely for up/down draft. As I’m maybe 4 nm away from the first set of snow covered pointy rocks near Mono Lake, the altimeter starts unwinding and the VSI goes from 0 to 500 fpm down in a heartbeat. Ok, we’re already at full power so prop to climb, pitch the time it took to do just those two things, the VSI now reads 1000 fpm down. Without hesitation, I started a 180 degree turn to my right. I’m sinking all the way through the turn but as I roll out, the descent rate is back to 400-500 fpm. At about the 120 degree point of the turn, I glanced back over my left shoulder and despite the rocks being a good 4000-5000 ft. below me, I could sense the dramatic descent rate and it was pretty freaky. I knew I was going to be ok since *much* lower terrain was ahead and less than one minute prior, I was in an area of no downdraft...but still, it was a weird site picture and served to confirm that I’d just done the right thing. I also wondered how high above the terrain Steve Fossett had been before he encountered downdrafts (somewhere in the same general area from what I recall).

Time to execute Sierra crossing plan-B so I continue my present heading away from said big pointy snow covered rocks for maybe 10-12 nm then turn left and head direct to South Lake Tahoe. By now, I’ve recovered my lost altitude and am once again cruising at 14,500...then...going up! Hit a good updraft that took me up at 1000 fpm. I pushed forward a bit to keep the ascent rate lower but figured I’d take another 2000 ft. if mother nature wanted to give it to me. More altitude margin for attempting to cross the Sierras at Lake Tahoe would be just fine with me.

Approximately 30 nm South of Lake Tahoe, I decided to turn left and head direct to Lincoln, my home airport. I’m at 17K and change, watching the altimeter and VSI like a hawk. First ~20 nm or so go by and I’m still above 17K, no downdrafts, life is good. Then, a steady 200 fpm downdraft. Ok, pitch up, climb setting on the prop, and...*still*, 200 fpm descent. Ok, not good but not as immediate of a “fix it now” situation as near Yosemite. I was probably 3500-4000 ft. above a scattered to broken layer over the Sierras, I could see Lake Tahoe and the valley to the East where Minden NV lies (these were my Plan-C options, should my current Plan-B option not work. I’m passing through ~17,000 and figure I could keep up the 200 fpm descent for maybe 15-20 minutes before needing to execute Plan-C. Also, the second the descent rate increases beyond ~300 fpm, I’d do another 180 then head direct to Tahoe or Minden. My groundspeed absolutely sucked at 60-70 kts but the descent never went beyond 200 fpm. I experimented with the prop pitch, going from current 2500 RPM up to 2700, down to 2200 and spots in between to see if anything helped. Reason for trying the lower end of the RPM range is that I’d just read an FAA bulletin re: using a lower airspeed to maintain altitude during a prop over speed condition. I figured since my IAS was already way low (75-80 mph), I’d try the upper range, beyond normal 2500 climb setting. I also figured I’d try the lower end of the spectrum and places in the middle. There were short periods where ~2200 RPM and ~2700 RPM helped a in, stopped the descent but it didn’t last more than a minute so I went back to 2500 RPM climb setting. After 10-15 minutes of this nonsense, the downdraft stopped and I was able to climb so I eked my way back to 16,500 so I’d be at a recommended VFR cruising altitude. By now, I’m ~55 nm from home and it’s still looking like I’ll have to get a clearance for an ILS. Oh, forgot to mention that part. I’d been monitoring weather at Lincoln during the first leg and on the current leg. Conditions in the valley were broken at 6000 so I’d already been prepared to get a popup clearance into Lincoln.

I try for the second time to get in touch with Rancho Radio so I can close my VFR flight plan and this time they answer. I’ve already started my descent and it’s obvious that I’m going to arrive at Lincoln with several thousand feet to lose. Conditions went from broken to scattered so no cloud entry required today. By the time I’m 5 nm away and approximately on the 45 for left traffic to runway 15, I’m still at 9000 ft circling down through the scattered clouds. Lower the landing gear helps but I still do a BIG 360 descending at 1500 fpm (by now my ears are talking to me). Roll back out on the 45 at ~3000 and call it good. Land and make the first taxiway, skip refueling the plane, leave lots of stuff in it, and call it a day.

Lessons learned and things reinforced in my head:

1) It’s always good to have a plan-B and Plan-C when crossing pointy rocks (snow covered or not).

2) It’s always good to know exactly where/when you’d execute plan-B/C when crossing said pointy rocks. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, fix it *now*!

3) Supplemental O2 rocks, especially when you’re trying (or not) to set altitude records in your airplane.

4) When the Arrow isn’t at max gross, it can indeed cruise at 14,000 and does so rather nicely. Refer to previous point re: supplemental O2.

5) Gas at -210 ft MSL is expensive but if you’re visiting Furnace Creek, do so this time of year when it’s ~78F vs. summertime when it’s 125F

6) Our Davtron chronometer does indeed register double digit negative temps in Celsius!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Questions asked, required flight maneuvers, and reflections from my commercial check ride

A list of what I can remember having to answer and do for my commercial check ride last week, in no particular order. I know I don't remember everything...but here's what I do recall:

Oral Exam:

  1. Logbook review. Had to show required day/night VFR cross country, long solo cross country.
  2. Prove that the aircraft is airworthy. Reviewed current airframe, engine, and propeller logs, discussed our current recurring airworthiness directives, showed examiner the binder of all airframe ADs for our plane that I'd compiled.
  3. What documents are required to be in the aircraft?
  4. Reviewed my cross country flight plan and weight & balance calculations, asked to show where were were in the CG envelope
  5. Has me review the weather information I'd printed out for the simulated cross country flight.
  6. If we were farther forward in the CG envelope, would we fly faster or slower? Why?
  7. What are the required VFR day instruments?
  8. One of you required VFR day instruments isn't working. Can you fly? How?
  9. What holds the landing gear up in your airplane? What holds it down?
  10. Is the automatic gear extension system in your aircraft functional (vs. overridden)? How does it work?
  11. What is trim used for?
  12. What type of electrical system does your aircraft have? 12 volt or 24 volt?
  13. How does a constant speed propeller work? What happens when you increase the throttle setting? What happens when you decrease the throttle setting?
  14. What type of oil do you use?
  15. If the governor failed, how would you deal with it?
  16. What is the maximum altitude of Class E airspace?
  17. Sectional questions: What does the shaded magenta area mean? What about the shaded blue area? What about the area enclosed by this thing that looks like a zipper? Points to a MOA and asks "what is this?". Same thing with a restricted area. Asks how to find hours of operations for MOA and restricted areas. Asks"Can you fly through a MOA? What about a restricted area?" Asks if the hours of operation for MOA/restricted areas are local or zulu. Points to class E airport and asks what dashed magenta circle means.
  18. Class C airspace: What are the visibility and cloud clearance requirements. Do you need a transponder? What are the entry requirements? Same set of questions for Class B airspace
  19. Points to an airport, says it's a 90 degree day and asks if can we take off or not.
  20. What is density altitude?
  21. What is pressure altitude?
  22. What happens if you fly high enough long enough without oxygen?
  23. What are the oxygen requirements for crew and passengers?
  24. You mentioned having an oxygen bottle, what type is it?
  25. Have you ever flown someone that experienced motion sickness? How would you handle it?
  26. What would you do if you thought you had carbon monoxide in the cabin?
  27. You have an engine fire in flight, what are you going to do?
  28. How long can an ELT battery be used before you are required to replace it?
  29. Draws a taxiway/runway intersection, asks what is the sign you'd see on the right side as you face the runway. What would be on the other side of this sign?
  30. If ground control clears you to taxi to a runway, what does that mean if the route takes you across other runways?
  31. Draws a runway with numbers 30 and 12. If runway 30 is right traffic, where is downwind, base, and final. If runway 12 is left traffic, same questions.
  32. Light gun signals. What does flashing red mean? Solid red? Flashing green? Solid green? Red/Green?
  33. Points to a METAR from my cross country weather information, has me decode it
  34. What is an airmet? What is a sigmet? What is a convective sigmet?
  35. What does a prog chart tell you?
  36. What two things are required in order for an aircraft to enter a spin?
  37. How do you recover from a spin?
  38. There had to be more questions I was asked...I just can't remember them right now :-)

  1. Regular takeoff, short field takeoff, soft field takeoff.
  2. Short field landing, soft field landing, power off 180 spot landing.
  3. Simulated cross country flight to first checkpoint then says "Our ground speed is x and we're y miles from our destination, how long will it take us to get there?.
  4. Diversion. Examiner says "The destination for your cross country flight is fogged in, where are you going to go, how far away is it, how long will it take us to get there, and how much fuel will we burn? Oh, and the GPS just died".
  5. Chandelles, one each direction.
  6. Lazy 8s (one)
  7. Steep turns, one each direction. I was given the option of rolling from one to the next or stopping between them.
  8. Power on stall, clean configuration while turning (in this case left, simulating departure stall while turning crosswind).
  9. Power off stall, gear down, full flaps while turning (in this case left, simulating base to final stall).
  10. Slow flight. Maintain specific heading, turn to specified heading while maintaining specified altitude and airspeed.
  11. Simulated engine failure/forced landing (from 2000 ft, chose a road with a field next to it, would have taken the field had this been for real)
  12. 8s on pylons, about 3/4 of one complete maneuver. 180 degrees into the second half of the 8, examiner said "That's good enough"
Things that I felt made a positive impression on the examiner. These were not required but went a long way to convey how I approach flying and maintaining my airplane:
  1. Showed my binder of all airframe ADs and explained that this was a work in progress with a goal of having all ADs for our plane in one place and a note referencing where in the logs any terminating actions had been taken. Examiner commented that this was an ambitious project and agreed that it is an excellent way to learn more about my plane.
  2. Had printed diagrams of a constant speed prop and governor with my notes on how they both work. When asked how they work, I replied "I have a couple of diagrams that I can speak to" to which he responded "I thought you might".
  3. Wherever possible, I stressed safety as a top priority in the decision making process.
  4. I related as many personal flying experiences as possible into my answers. For example, when asked about density altitude, I related how I handled a 9600 ft. DA takeoff from Rawlins Wyoming, what were the conditions, book numbers, and how if this had been on a much shorter runway, I'd have spent the night in Rawlins. In another example, I related how I spent the night in Lancaster during my long solo cross country flight, due to poor weather over the mountains.
  5. Showed my homemade checklist, emergency procedures, light gun signals, transponder codes, etc. This is several laminated pages that are on my kneeboard.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


After four scheduling attempts, I passed my commercial pilot check ride today. In so doing, I exchanged my private pilot certificate for a commercial pilot certificate. I can now (almost) get paid to fly. There is the matter of obtaining a second class medical certificate vs. my current third class medical certificate.

Started at 4:00 am this morning in order to print out the weather information required for my simulated cross country flight, fill in the navigation log for said cross country flight, make sure I had everything I'd need for the day, and fly for a bit before the check ride.

Arrived at the airport around 8:00 where the temperature was a balmy -1c. With such cold temps (ok, cold for Northern CA) I saw 2000 feet/minute climb rate for the first time. Impressive for a 200 HP Arrow.

The oral exam went well and took a bit over three hours to complete. Nothing really unexpected and very much conversational vs. being asked question after question. I had several opportunities to relate my answers to real world flying experiences. As expected, I had to look up a couple of items in the FARs and the FAA Pilot's Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge. As with my private pilot check ride and instrument rating check ride, things were no different in that if you didn't know an answer but knew where to find it, life was good.

A quick break for lunch and we launched on the flying portion of the check ride. This took 1.8 hours. We started with the simulated cross country and shortly after hitting the first check point, the examiner had me perform the diversion. Unfortunately, I miscalculated my heading based on a position error where I thought we were. Mistake #1, completely my fault and I've since determined what I'd do differently next time.

Next up was air work. Conditions were pretty hazy so visual landmarks like mountain peaks, etc. were not as easy to see as usual. This bit me during the first steep turn as I rolled out on the incorrect peak in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Fortunately, altitude and airspeed were right on for this steep turn (to the left) so the examiner had me do one to the right and I nailed the proper heading when rolling out. Had to repeat the first chandelle as I didn't hold constant pitch during the last 90 degrees of the turn. Did one to the right and another one to the left than it was on to lazy 8s. These had been giving me fits and I've found them to be the most difficult of the maneuvers. I managed to perform one each direction within tolerances though. Next was slow flight and turning power on and power off stalls which went well. Descended to 2500 ft for a simulated engine failure/forced landing. Next was 8s on pylons which went fine. By this time, it's near sunset so we headed back to the airport for landings. Short field landing, short field takeoff, soft field landing, taxi back for soft field takeoff, then the power 0ff 180 spot landing then heard those wonderful words "If you can taxi back to parking without hitting anything, you can have your commercial certificate". Phew, done.

I'm spent...and for some reason, don't feel like flying for a bit. Go figure :-)

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Almost a check ride

Another time lapse since posting anything, especially about the commercial certificate.

Two sentence summary: I've spent the better part of the past two months working with a CFI on my commercial certificate. Flying twice a week, I've managed to complete the training requirements and am apparently performing maneuvers and answering questions well enough that I'm endorsed to take my check ride.

You're now up to speed and hopefully this post will make more sense.

Three weeks ago, my CFI drops those wonderful words "Let's see about scheduling you check ride" on me. I casually reply with "Sure, sounds good, let's look at the calendar" while panicking inside and realizing that the next three weeks mean more time hitting the books and working on the flight maneuvers.

I spent the last three weeks doing the following:

- Finished going through the oral exam guide, making copious notes of things I need to review, print out, read, memorize, know where to find in the regulations, etc.

- Re-learning the finer points of old school flight planning via pencil lines on a sectional, plotter, and a whiz wheel. Re-familiarized myself with my electronic whiz wheel.

- Actually followed the instructions on the sectional for plotting a course from one side of the chart to the other. Ah, fond memories of figuring that out the first time I did it several years ago.

- Hand calculating weight and balance numbers. Ok, so I used a spreadsheet to check my math, liked it so much that I made it look like the old school example from the Piper weight and balance form that is part of the aircraft flight manual. Is that bad? :-)

- Replaced the starter in our '99 Corolla. A subject worthy of its own post and has absolutely nothing to do with commercial certificate check ride preparations other than the fact that I had to divert time and attention to it. Hey, "diversion", that all makes sense, never mind, I digress.

- Made a long/ever growing list of things I'd think of that I didn't quite know off the top of my head.

- Printed out the recurring Airworthiness Directives for our plane and was reminded of always learning something new. For one AD, I discovered that I can perform the inspection. For another AD, found that our aircraft serial number isn't listed. For a third AD, found that the one listed in our logbooks has been superseded by a new AD (doesn't change anything for our plane, more of a bookkeeping thing to reference the new AD number). Note to self: run all of this this by our mechanic the next time I see him.

- Read, fly, fly, read. Read some more, fly some more. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I took yesterday off from work so I could study and fly. Did ok on the flying maneuvers but visibility limited things enough that I had to cut flying short. Came home and studied more and finished up as much of the required mock cross country flight plan as I could. Earned bonus points by actually using the wind side of the manual whiz wheel. Thankfully, my private pilot book has illustrated examples. I also discovered U-Tube videos on the subject. Figures.

Got up at 5:00 am this morning, printed out weather, punched wind information into my electronic whiz wheel and cranked out the final information for the mock cross country flight plan and arrival weight and balance numbers. Double and triple checked that I had everything I needed. Aircraft logs, flying gear, books, lunch...check, check, check...ok, off to the airport only 30 minutes after I'd planned. My goal was to fly for an hour and a half or so, refuel, then fly to my flight school (located at a different airport than my plane).

It was a great morning to fly. Great visibility and a horizon to use for steep turns, lazy 8s and chandelles, not something that I've had all the time lately. I was fairly pleased with all of my maneuvers but didn't have as much time as I would have liked for practicing some of the landings. I land and when I turn on my phone....beep, new message. I call, it's the examiner saying he has to cancel as he's not feeling well.

Just like that, my day is changed. It's slightly disappointing that I'd prepared and couldn't get a chance to take the check ride but on the other hand, the examiner made the right decision to cancel. It's no different than a cancellation due to weather (as yesterday would have been). In the end, no worries as I figure I have a bit more time to review things like CG weight shift formulas, weather theory and think of even more things I don't know off the top of my head. So now I spend another couple weeks in the seemingly infinite read, fly, fly, read loop. I really can't complain, there are far worse fates in life.

To be continued...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

T-minus two days until launching for Oshkosh

Yea, it's that time of the year again. In two days I start the annual migration/pilgrimage/whatever you want to call it to Oshkosh. No aluminum tube travel this year. Nope, we go the proper way, via my plane. It really is the only way to go when it comes to flying to Oshkosh. Commercial travel is faster and cheaper but you miss out on so many things. No airport dogs/cats to pet, no meeting the wonderful folks who work at and run our nation's little known airports and, most important, no experiencing the Oshkosh arrival. There is really nothing like flying yourself into the busiest airport in the world when Airventure is going on. It truly is an experience most pilots should put in the logbook.

This year, we travel the Southern route with stops in AZ, NM, TX, and IA. Well, that's at least the plan, we'll see what transpires due to weather. Speaking of weather, this is my first year traveling this distance with on board XM weather. Having watched some stationary thunderstorms in the AZ/NM area over the weekend, I know this will be an invaluable addition to the avionics suite for the ~35 hours of flying from/to the Left Coast.

For a preview of what's going on this year, visit

Sunday, May 10, 2009


I've finally started working on the flying portion of my commercial pilot certificate.  It's been a long time coming (passed the CP written test more than a year ago) but now that nice flying weather is here, it's time to dust off the Gleim maneuvers manual and get to work.  So far:
  • Steep turns: Tons of fun.  More challenging at the minimum 50% bank, doing two back to back/one each direction.  Need to keep working on them.
  • 180 degree power off spot landings in the Arrow (with the glide ratio of a streamlined brick):  Combination of fun and interesting.  Gear down, power to idle abeam the 1000 ft. touch down marks, *turn now*, flaps when the landing is assured (or you know you're way too high...rare in my plane), cheat and pull the prop back the instant you think you might be short....oh yeah, fun fun fun.  The interesting thing is that I tend to land them 100 ft. longer than allowed.  More practice needed.
  • Chandelles: Fun but I've only tried them once.  Need to work on the proper pitch attitude to establish then hold.  Nice way to gain altitude for the steep spirals though.
  • Steep Spirals: Have only done one.  Nice way to lose all that altitude gained doing chandelles.
  • Slow flight: So far, this is the easiest part of the airwork.  It's also the least exciting.  It does have the distint advantage, however, of consuming less fuel so it's not all bad :-)
Not much ground covered in the past couple of weeks but it's a start.  My plan is to get out at least once a week, more if possible, and work on all of the maneuvers until I have them dialed in.  Oh, and poke/prod/beg/cajole my instructor friend into getting current in the ranks of the CFI world so I can log the necessary dual instruction.