Blog Archive 2006

Blog Archive
['10, '09, '08, '07, '06, '05]

January 1 - Bad Start to the New Year
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Today was supposed to be a memorable day in my flight training, it turned into a nightmare. I had completed all of my requirements save for .5 solo time. I had been planning a cross country flight for some time down to First Flight airfield which sits adjacent to the Wright Brothers Monuments in North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The weather looked great and decided this flight would be an awesome way to finish up my requirements. My CFI reviewed my flight plan and I headed to the airport around 0800 this morning. I pre-flighted the plane, filed my flight plan, and waited a few extra minutes for all the frost to melt off the wings. I requested flight following, activated my flight plan, and was wheels up at 0900. My flight plan called for two stop and go’s at Elizabeth City (ECG) a 7219ftx150ft runway. I did this for two reasons: 1) to get the first landing jitters out of the way before heading down to First Flight’s smaller runway, 3000x60 (I have landed at airfields with similar specs without issue before) 2) to ensure the flight counted as cross country in case winds at FFA suddenly exceeded my personal max and I needed to scrub.

The flight down to ECG was uneventful, the radio was pretty quiet and VOR tracking went perfectly. ECG ASOS reported winds at 320 at 5kts. ECG’s tower was off for the holiday so I began my self announcement sequence as I positioned myself for final on runway 28. The place was a ghost town. Final approach went down by the numbers, a very stabilized approach with a slight crab to the right. I crossed the numbers at 60kts, rounded out. Then everything went to hell in a hand basket. I kicked out the crab to align the axis of the aircraft with the runway and was suddenly drifting left. The side loaded landing was not fun for me or airplane. Then I started to swerve left then right. The left wing dipped and the right wheel came off the ground as I swerved right. All I could think of at the time was “I can’t believe I am going to wreck this rental plane. I am so screwed.” Somehow, someway I got the plane under control and back on the centerline. I could not believe what had just happened. I thought it was a fluke thing and decided to try another landing and rebuild my very shaken confidence.

Second approach, just as good as the first. No drift so no crab. I round out and then land flat and bounce three times. On the third bounce I decide I better go around and firewall the throttle. The plane starts to ground loop again! I retard the throttle and get on the brakes to stop the plane. At this point I am as rattled as bad as my first solo back in August (if you remember that post). I decided First Flight was out of the question at this point and head back to Newport News with zero confidence in my flying ability and just a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Had this happened at First Flight I would have gone off the runway. I land uneventfully at Newport News, just happy to be back on the ground in one piece.

So a week away from my check ride and I totally question my abilities. Looking back I made so many mistakes, not once but twice! I called my CFI and canceled my check ride and instead scheduled landing training. So it’s a not so Happy New Year here. I hope this does not set the tone for my flying in 06.

On the bright side I have officially completed all requirements to take the check ride at 46 hours.

January 5 - Plan of Attack
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With this weekend’s check ride now on hold until further notice. My CFI have decided to revisit landings this Saturday. The plan is to train on crosswind landings using slip, go around procedures, and no flap landings. This week I have put away all things dealing with flying in an attempt to clear my mind and approach the training fresh. Depending on the outcome of this remedial training will determine if I will schedule the check ride for the following weekend.

January 7 - Remedial Landing Training
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The weather all week was crappy, but today it was perfect. Except there was no wind, so much for cross wind landing training. We practiced in the pattern for 1.3 hours. We did short field landing, short field takeoffs, soft field takeoffs, soft field landings, go arounds, regular landings. My CFI said everything looked good to him, but I am still just not happy with my landing consistency. If it is not on the centerline and it's not a greaser than it sucks as far as I am concerned. I decided to go for the check ride, and just continue to work landings. Are you ever truly ready for a check ride? If everything needs to be perfect I will never be ready. Learning will continue long after I am a licensed pilot so why not go for it?

My check ride is scheduled for next Saturday. This week I will eat, sleep aviation knowledge in prep for my oral. Wish me luck!

January 14 - Check ride Part I      
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I have been watching the weather all week to see how it would pan out for my check ride on Saturday. It did not look good, first 30% showers and gusty winds then 50% showers and winds to 20mph. Saturday morning arrived just as a nasty front moved thru the area. A small window of broken clouds and low intensity winds presented itself so we decided to fly down to the check ride airport in North Carolina about 61 miles from Newport News. My CFI decided to come with me, this would save me later in the day. We reviewed my log book, aircraft log, engine log, and flight plans.

I preflighted the plane and taxied down to the run up area. As I started to apply the brakes I noticed the left brake pedal almost went to the floor before breaking. This uneven response caused the plane to veer right. I told my CFI to check it out. He tried and noticed the same. We called ground and returned to the FBO. In my head I thought this was strike two, after the less than desirable weather forecast. The FBO called the mechanic at home and he was in within 15 minutes. He bled the breaks and fixed the problem and we were off again, but now running behind for our appointment. The original plan called for practicing maneuvers on the way down, but that was all out the window at this point.

The cloud ceiling was closing in and my CFI filed an IFR flight plan in route, allowing me to get some actual instrument time in. He worked the radios while I concentrated on flying the plane. As we neared Tri-County airport the winds had really picked up. I entered the pattern and forward slipped in for a landing. It took all my concentration but I actually did a fairly good crosswind landing, boosting my lagging confidence after the Elizabeth City experience.

We taxied in, secured the aircraft and met the DE. After taking care of some IACRA paperwork we headed back to a conference room for the oral exam. Within one hour I was complete, and I never had to say "I don't know" one time. I was kind of amazed at how easy it was and shocked when he got up and said "let's go fly."

The weather had gotten worse since the landing. With dark low clouds off to the north and the trees swaying from what was now a direct crosswind. I preflighted the plane and listened to the ASOS. Gusts were now up to 17kts. As I worked thru the pre-flight I got myself use to the idea of telling the DE that today was not the day. By the end of the pre-flight I was comfortable with my decision and knew it was the right one even though it was going to cost me a few hundred dollars in extra flight time.

I walked back into the terminal. The DE gave me several options for trying to complete all or a portion of the check ride. I told him I did not want to attempt any of it with the current conditions. He said OK and we picked Monday for the next attempt.

I gathered my things, thanked him for his time and climbed back into the plane with my CFI, happy that my oral was out of the way. We taxied out and thought some cross wind training at the field would be a good idea. We attempted a short field takeoff which in hindsight was really stupid considering the crosswind and that a short field takeoff rotates at 55 and has you at 60 for the climb out. Not the best conditions in a stiff crosswind. After being blown all over the place during the takeoff we decided to just head on home and cut our losses. By now the weather had closed in on us. With showers to our front and heavy overcast down to 2000ft it was going to be a long trip home. We opened an IFR plan and I concentrated on the flying while my CFI worked the radios. I flipped on the autopilot which lessened my workload of keeping the plane level and allowed my to concentrate on altitude. We got into some really thick clouds, nothing but a solid wall of white. I did pretty well flying by instruments but could imagine if I had to juggle that with talking to ATC. My house of cards would have come tumbling down pretty quick.

My home airport was socked in with heavy rain and clouds down to 800ft. Norfolk ATC started talking convective SIGMENT somewhere out there, and that caught my ear. I mentioned it to my CFI but he said ATC would not allow us to get anywhere near convective activity. I could only think of that AOPA on-line flight safety course where ATC sent a GA pilot into the middle of a wicked thunderstorm because their radar could not pick up the activity. His plane ended up in little pieces scattered across the countryside.

Rain just plastered the windshield as ATC vectored us on a wide downwind to intercept the ILS. I kept glancing at the wing and the outside temp gauge hoping ice would not add to the drama. The temp hovered around 38 degrees. I started to notice a very gradual decrease in my RPMs, yet I had not changed the throttle from 2300RPMs. I added power and pulled carb heat...3 seconds later the engine surged to 2500 RPMs. Next to passing my oral, this incident made my day. I had applied my book knowledge in a real world situation and corrected the problem! The carb ice was far from the text book example: we were not descending, the throttle was not closed or even 50%, the engine never ran rough, and the slow decline in RPM was very subtle. But I had identified the problem, picked the correct course of action, and ultimately corrected the problem.

We got on the glide slope and I told my CFI I was done and was ready to enjoy HIS landing. I read off the altitude until we broke thru the clouds at 800ft. I then started to read off airspeed. My CFI was a real pro, no flaps and 90 knots. This Cessna was about to be flown onto the runway like a Boeing 737. He greased the landing at about 80 kts with a nasty crosswind.

We made it!!! It was a successful day. I passed my oral, and got one hour of actual instrument time. Time to start getting ready for my check ride on Monday!

January 16- Check ride Part II                          
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What a perfect day for a check ride. I flew with my CFI down to the location and we got in some last minute practice along the way. The wind was 130 @ 5 kts and I got to use my new found skills of slipping to land which of course works every time (imagine that).

The DE showed up right behind us. We talked for a bit and then went out to the plane. Just as I was about to launch into my passenger pre-brief the DE said “passenger brief complete.” Great!

First up was a short field takeoff. I confidently announced that this particular model of the Cessna 172 called for zero flaps for short field takeoffs in the POH. The DE said “Oh really?” and promptly pulled out the aircrafts on-board POH and pointed to the short field checklist. It said 10 degrees of flaps. Come to find out the FBO had sold me a 1978 172N POH and the plane was a 1979 172N. Doh! This was not a good start, but it only got better after that. We completed the short field and headed for my first checkpoint which I crossed on the money one minute early. The foggles came on and I flew different headings, did a climbing turn, and then put my head down, closed my eyes and tried to do another climbing left turn. It turned into an unusual attitude (down and left) which I recovered from. The foggles came off. We did one steep turn to the left which went very well.

Next was slow flight with flaps and turns, then into a power off stall. We then completed a power on stall in which I released the back pressure a little too much allowing the plane’s nose to drop below the horizon. Got a quick lesson from the DE on that one. We then did emergency engine out procedures. I wanted to fly to a field a mile away, and the DE said “what is wrong with the field directly under you?” I said “Oh, yeah, I am going to land there.” We came in a little high so I tried to slip, but with the rudder to the floor not a whole lot of slipping was happening, but the field network was so large that I just had to turn and pick up an adjacent field. At this point the DE said “OK” but I just kept flying her down for a landing. Around 500 ft the DE said “OK! LET’S GO! WE ARE NOT LANDING!” and hit the throttle full open. Again feeling a little embarrassed I apologized for the misunderstanding.

We climbed to 700 feet and performed one S turn sequence, climbed back to 2000ft and headed to the airport for a straight in short field landing. No problems with that. Next we did a soft field takeoff followed by a soft field landing. I rolled out with a wheelie for as long as I could hold it. The DE directed me back to the terminal where I secured the aircraft as he promptly walked into the building. With no feedback I walked inside and my CFI asked “well did you pass?” I said I don’t know and asked the DE. He said “Well I did not say that you failed.” Oh thank God, I passed! The whole ride lasted about 45 minutes.

We flew back to Newport News with a beautiful sunset behind us. The perfect end to a very memorable day.

It is hard to believe that it has been seven months since I first climbed into the cockpit of the Cessna. I am thankful I found this board early on in my training. It has served so many purposes for me – learning from others experience, seeking advice from seasoned pilots, post flight therapy on those inevitable bad days, and a few good laughs along the way. While I have never personally met anyone on this board, I count all of you as good friends who would lend a helping hand without a second thought.

Where to now? I am going to curtail my flying to a few hours a month until I can recharge the finances and will probably spend Saturday mornings sleeping in and enjoying time with my family instead of being at the airport. This summer I plan on sharing the experience of flight with my wife and children by taking them on a few short cross country trips. Maybe in a few years I will go for that instrument rating but there is no rush, plenty of time for that down the road and so much still to learn about basic VFR flying.
 

February 3 - Joining the Langley AF Aero Club
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Today I joined my first Aero Club. Mountains of paperwork and lots of written exams. Just because you're a Private Pilot does not mean you get to go fly anywhere when you want. You have to prove your competent at every turn. I have to take a written exam similar to the FAA Written Exam, a make and model exam, and then get checked out in flight not once but twice! The club has very strict operating standards. Pretty much take the FAA rules and make them twice as strict. Why join? The 172Rs are 2004 models, the rental rate is cheaper, I am forced to go to a safety meeting every month, and while they may not make it easy for me to fly; all of these rules can't help but make me a BETTER pilot and that's why I joined.

February 4 - Rained Out
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Today I was supposed to check out in a Cessna 152 but weather scrubbed the flight.  I took the time to present my CFI with a plaque showing my appreciation for his effort in helping me get my private pilot’s license.  Next weekend, if the weather cooperates, I will be taking my first passengers for a short cross country trip to Emporia.

February 21- Cessna 152 Checkout                
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First time back in an airplane since my check ride last month.  Decided to kill a few birds with one stone: get checked out in the FBO Cessna 152 and update my day/night recency.  It was a little daunting trying to get back in the swing of flying, getting use to a new aircraft, and flying at night to top it all off, but before long I was right at home and happy to be back in the air.  The instrument arrangement in the 152 is different from the 172, same stuff just different locations.  For some odd reason they put the tach on the passenger side of the plane so you pick up a scan that goes from one side of the cockpit to the other.  The controls are a little more sensitive in the 152 as well.  I noticed very little torque in the takeoff roll which required hardly any right rudder to compensate.  As a matter of fact I had so much right rudder on takeoff that the plane was pointed 45 degrees of the centerline on climb out.  We did four full stop landings with no one else in the pattern.  All the landings were pretty good considering all the new variables I had to deal with.  The 152 feels really light and I look forward to spending some time on solo cross countries with it.  Oh, did I mention it's $25 cheaper to rent per hour?

March 11- Second Attempt at First Flight Visit         
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Mission:
  Fly a Cessna 152 cross-country to First Flight Airport (Wright Brother's Monument)
Required Tasks:  Plan cross country flight, analyze weather briefing, submit, open & close flight plan, utilize ATC flight following service, GPS navigation, cross wind landings
Summary: The wind finally had been forecasted to go below 10 kts on Saturday so I thought it was a perfect opportunity to get in some flight time and make a second crack at visiting First Flight Airport (KFFA).  My first attempt at KFFA earlier this year did not go so well (see 1 JAN 06 entry).  I got to the airport around 0730 and preflighted the FBO's Cessna 152.  Winds had already started to pick up beyond the forecast.  The weather briefing was still showing ground fog around the Virginia/North Carolina border, but visibility was good at FFA.  I requested flight following, taxied to runway seven, completed my run up and activated my flight plan with Leesburg FSS.  Took off and climbed to 2000 ft before being handed off to Norfolk Approach for radar service.  Was cleared to climb to 3500 feet and proceeded on course.  By the time I was 15 miles from the North Carolina border advection fog formed by warm moist air moving off the Atlantic onto the colder coastal land stretched as far as I could see to the west.  Over Chesapeake Regional Airport I changed course and headed for the coast.  I was handed off to Oceana Approach.  As I neared the coast the fog was not as dense below and I could clearly make out the shore line.  I proceeded south along the coast.  Oceana tried to hand me off to Washington Center but I was unable to make radio contact and advised Oceana that I was terminating radar services.  About 15 miles out of First Flight I started my descent to 1000 feet.  While descending I tuned to KFFA's ASOS transmitter to get current wind information.  After several minutes with no reception of the ASOS broadcast, I climbed back to 2500 ft and decided to over fly First Flight and visually ID what the windsock was doing.  The windsock was showing the wind blowing from vicinity of 330.  I overflew the field once more and began self-announcing for a landing on runway 2.  During this process a Coast Guard C-130 passed no more than 2 miles abeam of my starboard side at the same altitude.  I entered the pattern and proceeded onto final aborting the first landing because I was too high and not stabilized.   The second attempt was better, but as I descended below the tree line and started my round out the plane began to be tossed around more than I was comfortable with, I decided to abort this landing as well.  On the climb out I decided that the conditions were not as favorable as I had hoped and that a third visit to First Flight would have to be the charm.  I climbed to 4500 feet for the long trip back.  I contacted Raleigh FSS and canceled the flight plan then picked up flight following from Oceana.  I landed on runway 7 back at Newport News with a 12 kt cross wind out of 100 and an AirTrans Boeing regional jet hot on my tail.  All in all no regrets, I logged a nice chunk of time, got more familiar with the 152, worked out on the radio, and realized going around when it just does not look right is not so hard after all.  While the wind got above my personal minimum (10kts) I was still able to safely land in a cross wind.
Lesson's Learned:  Go arounds keep you out of trouble, ground fog and mist can be deceptive to depth perception, always keep your head on a swivel when looking for traffic

March 28 - Langley Aero Club Checkout Part I  
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Started the process of getting checked out in the clubs 172N today.  Spent an hour plus going over all of the club rules on safety and dispatching of the club's aircraft since everything is done by the members.  The Air Force has all of its own special rules when it comes to club aircraft flying.  As I mentioned earlier, many of the FAA rules are stricter at the club.  No flying below 1000 feet, currency to be PIC is 60 days instead of 90, weather mins are 3 miles visibility and 1500 feet ceiling, file a flight plan for every single flight.  After the review we went out to the aircraft.  This 172N (N738AN) was by far the most ragged out aircraft I had flown, holes in the cowling, torn carpets and upholstery, empty holes in the dashboard for who knows what.  I was a little surprised since most of the aircraft are in very good cosmetic condition in the club.  Guess this was the only plane the instructor could reserve with a week’s notice.  Never the less it got me up and back with no problem.  The wind had slowly been picking up speed all morning and was gusting to 16 kts by the time we taxied out for takeoff.  Takeoff was uneventful but we started getting tossed around from that point on and holding heading and altitude was a constant struggle throughout the flight.  We flew out to the maneuver area did some clearing turns and then proceeded to work it out.  I did a 360 left turn and 30 degree bank then went into slow flight with flaps, next was a power off stall in landing configuration then a power on stall.  This time I did not push the nose forward to recover as I had done on my check ride, instead I eased off the yoke pressure and let the nose dip just below the horizon.  It was much more graceful and not as startling.  After that I put on the foggles for instrument flight and maintained level flight on a heading, climbs and descents.  We then did unusual attitudes.  The instrument work was pretty well executed but I could see that I had grown somewhat rusty with steep turns and slow flight, something to work next time I am on my own.  That concluded the training and we headed back to Langley being cleared to enter a right hand pattern for runway 26.  At this point my instructor took control of the aircraft to show me some of the nuances of Langley's runway.  With a 40 degree 16kts crosswind, new airplane, and new airport I was more than happy to observe the landing.  The biggest thing to watch for at Langley is the 2 inch thick arresting cable that lies 1000 feet past the runway threshold.  Landing before this cable and hitting it in a Cessna could make for a bad day.  Landing beyond it is not a problem since the total runway length is 10,000 feet.  Three F-22 Raptors were preparing to take the runway as we crossed the threshold on final.  We landed and cleared the runway.  After returning to the ramp I got to refuel the airplane (a first) and move it back to the parking area using a tow bar (also a first).  I think the instructor was pretty happy with my flying overall as he said we only had to do landings and cross country planning before I was approved to fly the club's planes.
Lesson's Learned:  Leaning an engine prior to taxi does not hurt the engine and can avoid having to burn off residue on fouled plugs in the run-up area, fueling an airplane

March 29 - Langley Aero Club Checkout Part II  
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Flew down to Hampton Roads Executive Airport today for some takeoff and landing practice in N738AN.  My first visit to the busiest GA only airport in the area.  Three planes were in the pattern with multiple helicopters.  The place was happening so the head was on a swivel looking for traffic.  Flying between 1400 ft antennas to get to the airport also makes for exciting flying.  The instructor did the first landing, then I did a short field takeoff, short field landing, soft field takeoff and finally soft field landing.  The wind was gusting and changing direction making me work hard for every landing.  This Cessna 172 had 40 degree flaps which we call the "barn doors" because they create so much drag on the aircraft.  The last thing you really want to do when landing in a crosswind with winds over 10kts is fly down the runway low and slow with the "barn doors" out.  You are just asking the wind to put you in an attitude you really don't want to be in.  Anyway, I had to show my proficiency with all landing types so we did them and headed back to Langley, but not before watching a student pilot almost put a Cessna in the trees on final approach.  He saved the day by adding power and going around but I'd have to say he might be picking branches out of the gear tonight.  Langley had us land on runway 8 which requires you to land long and I mean LONG if you don't want to spend 5 minutes taxiing to the North Ramp taxiway.  I must have flown 3000 feet past the threshold before landing and still had to taxi for what felt like days.  My instructor was kind enough to mention that I must have had a good instructor for my license because I was a proficient pilot.  Friday is the final check out.  I will plan a cross country flight, brief it, and start the flight and then divert to another airport.

March 31 - Langley Aero Club Checkout Final 
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Today I was graded on my ability to plan a flight and navigate cross country.  I made a flight plan for Langley to First Flight since I was familiar with the route.  The CFI was impressed with the level of detail in my flight plan.  I prefer to absolutely minimize on the fly thinking once in the air so my ground planning can be meticulous.  I think this will be beneficial when I go for my instrument rating.  We took off runway 26 and proceeded to the first checkpoint, picked up the Elizabeth VOR and DME and just started riding the radial with some wind correction.  We made it to the second checkpoint with no problems and the CFI asked me to divert to Suffolk airport.  I checked the map for a FROM radial off of Norfolk, intersected it and turned to ride the radial to Suffolk.  After the airport was in sight we went back to the training area for a second iteration of engine out procedures.  On day one we had practiced a simulated engine failure/off airport landing which I completed without a problem, but the CFI did not like the way I set up the landing by flying a wide pattern around the field.  He recommended before the flight today that I head directly for my landing site, circle over the field to lose altitude and then at a 1000 feet start a traffic pattern for landing.  This sounded like a very good procedure to me since it takes all the guesswork out of making the field.  I executed today's engine out landing just as the CFI described it to me and it worked like a charm, definitely the technique I will use if ever in the situation.  After that we climbed back to 2500 feet and headed to Langley landing on runway 26 with another 12kt crosswind to keep things interesting.  The CFI was very happy with my performance and signed me off to fly the club's planes as well as signing my log book for a biennial flight review.  It was the end of a good week of flying, refreshing and getting a different perspective on flying techniques.  I am looking forward to flying at the Aero Club.

 

April 16 - First Passenger Flight                                           
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Easter Sunday was just the absolute perfect day for flying and I decided I would make it a memorable one by exercising for the first time one of the great privileges of a private pilot, flying passengers.  My sister in law was down for the weekend so I invited her along with my two children along for the flight.  My wife is not quite ready to go up and she gave me much grief about taking both kids.  It was a big vote of confidence, but I'll earn her trust before the summer is out.  I planned a short but scenic flight from Newport News.  The flight would last just under 30 minutes in the air flying across Mobjack Bay out to New Point Comfort Lighthouse and then along the coastline north for 10 miles before turning around for the return flight.  The pre-flight inspection of N737GR was a little too long for my son who was constantly asking "when are we going to take off?".  Why I ever thought it would be any different than driving in the car with him is a question I keep asking myself.  I started to get flash backs of task saturation as I now not only had to worry about the plane and the radios but also all the tasks associated with passengers along with the distractions that they bring.  I instructed everyone to remain quite during the takeoff and landing sequence, but my son must have missed those instructions because he always wanted to talk when the tower was transmitting on the radio.  I had performed a weight and balance before the flight and we were well within the envelope but this was still the heaviest flight I had taken with the 172 and could tell some difference in the takeoff climb as I had a shallower climb to reach 75 kts.  The flight was uneventful and everyone enjoyed the view.  I was surprised that the shallow 180 degree turn and descents were a little surprising to my daughter.  She picked up on every little movement of the plane, something that I think I have already tuned out after only flying for a short time.  We returned to the airport entering a left downwind for runway 7.  I left a little power in for the landing to compensate for extra weight and touched down just after the numbers.  It was a memorable day for me and I hope it has left a lasting memory with my very special passengers.

May 25 - Staying Proficient is Tough!          
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I planned a flight today to stay current with the Aero Club (you must do 3 landings every 60 days to fly the club's planes) and work PTS maneuvers to stay proficient having only logged .9 hours in the last 60 days.  I would fly to Emporia which is 60 miles from Langley via the Franklin VOR, with GPS as backup.  So the flight would count as cross country time and I would get some VOR tracking in.  After Franklin I had a laundry list of PTS maneuvers I wanted to accomplish.  As I started my takeoff roll out of Langley I started my standard instrument scan as the aircraft accelerated, Tach RPMs: good, airspeed: ALIVE, Oil temp: green, Oil Pressure: almost redline!  This caught my attention quickly and I stayed glued to the gauge, I had never seen the oil pressure gauge go this far right.  I had checked the oil during preflight and read 5 quarts on the stick so I knew it was not a matter of quantity.  I kept an eye on it and lifted off, climbing to 2500ft and easing the throttle back to 2300 RPMs got the oil pressure back in the green.  While it is easy to talk about aborting takeoffs if everything is not right, you would be surprised just how strong the urge is to fly when you find yourself in that situation. 

Flying out over the James River I was skeptical that visibility was 10 miles, the haze was thick, but there were very few clouds.  I tracked the Franklin VOR without issue and identified the antenna facility on the ground.  After the VOR I started working the PTS maneuvers, first I went into slow flight.  I was able to execute this maneuver without a hitch, turning into the wind I was able to slow my groundspeed (checked via GPS) to an incredible 23 kts.  I was practically standing still in the air!  While remaining in slow flight with flaps I changed heading left and right and did a climb and descent.  From slow flight I went into a power off stall which I recovered from just at the brink of the stall.  From there I went into a few medium bank turns and then steep turns to the right.  The first two were OK, but the third one I nailed from start to finish.  From there I went into an engine out/off airport landing, while I got all of the controls set correctly my positioning for the field I had chosen was awful.  I would have overshot by a country mile if I would have had to land in that field.  I climbed back up to 1000ft and started looking for a straight road to do S-turns, but the only suitable road had 1000ft towers every few miles so I decided to delay this maneuver until my return flight.  At this point I was 10 miles from Emporia and I called the UNICOM for field advisories.  I was told r/w 15 was in use and that crop-dusting operations were on-going vicinity of the field.  About that time I looked to the right of my aircraft and caught an aircraft pass under me by a few hundred feet going in the opposite direction.  A reminder to keep my head on a swivel!  I approached Emporia and entered a left downwind for runway 15.  First landing went pretty smooth.  I executed a short field takeoff and remained in the pattern for another go.  On my second final approach a crop duster comes out of nowhere from my left front at tree top level and turns onto the runway for landing.  I had been self-announcing position reports the entire time, but the crop-duster made no calls.  I called a go-around watching as the crop-duster taxied to the end of the runway to get refilled by some type of ground vehicle.  I made a second landing with a minor balloon, realizing on the ground I had not used carb heat.  My third landing was not up to par either with several balloons and once again no carb heat.  All landings were under 2000 feet in length.  I realized that I had some work to do and that not flying very often has taken a toll on my proficiency. 

I departed Emporia to the east.  The haze had grown worse and now small clouds pocked the sky at 2800ft.  I passed under one and got some nice turbulence.  With tailwind I was making 125 knots.  I decided I needed to head back to LFI direct and complete the PTS maneuvers another day.  Langley cleared me for runway 25 with winds 210 at 10kts.  I came in with a good 45 degree crab to the left from the wind and only 20deg of flaps.  I transitioned to a slip as I rounded out and am certain the upwind wheel made contact with the runway first which was nice but I was well left of the centerline (too much slip!).  I immediately threw in full aileron deflection on the roll out, but need to do a better job of holding that nose wheel off as long as possible.  I will say that crosswind landings have gotten a lot better from my student days.   It was 2.2 hours of hard work, but I have noted the weaknesses and am going to start flying weekly to work off the rust.  Next week is the BIG cross country to Reading, PA, may get in a twilight flight before that day, work landings, and additional PTS.

 

May 30 - Landing Practice                                                   
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Shot three touch and go's in a new plane today N733AG.  All landings were well executed thanks to very little wind.  I am taking 733AG on my longest cross country to date this weekend and I wanted to be familiar with the airplane before my flight.  Check out the fly-by of a Boeing 717 (aka DC-9) as I hold short of runway 7 awaiting clearance for takeoff.

 

June 4 - "Traffic 9 o'clock Boeing B-17"                          
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Took off from PHF at 7:20AM with no wind and no clouds and climbed to 5500feet, proceeded on my normal route across the Chesapeake Bay and up the Delmarva Peninsula past Salisbury and then Dover.  After the Smyrna VOR I turned to the northeast and started a descent to 4500feet.  I ran into cloud cover near the PA border and had to descend to 2500ft.  Visibility was excellent but the ceiling was solid at 3000ft.  I contacted Reading Approach (set up specifically for the air show traffic) 15 miles out and was provided a traffic advisory soon afterwards. "733AG you have traffic 9 o'clock, 3 miles out."  I replied "3AG looking for traffic."  Approach responded "You report traffic in sight?", "Negative", "Traffic at 9 o'clock is a Boeing B-17".  I looked again and sure enough off to my left was a beautiful B-17 bomber straight out of 1945.  "3AG has the traffic in sight!".  The B-17 passed off to my stern.  I was cleared for a left base onto runway 31.  I passed over the city of Reading and lined up for approach.  I landed at 09:48AM.  Total en-route time was 2 hours 28 minutes.  My flight plan calculations the night prior using forecasted winds aloft was 2 hours and 11 minutes, pretty close for a flight of 223 nautical miles.  After landing I taxied to Tower Aviation and refueled.   What was even more amazing was my fuel burn calculation for the trip was EXACTLY right, 17 gallons.  After the show I departed on runway 36 and headed south at 2500 feet.  Rain clouds were moving east across the Chesapeake Bay causing me to land in Salisbury, MD just as it started to rain.  I hung out at Bay Aviation FBO with a few other pilots seeking shelter from the weather until things cleared up about an hour later.  I filed a new flight plan and took off again.  Climbing to 4500 feet and crossing the Chesapeake Bay making a bee line for Newport News while skirting the boundary of Patuxant's restricted airspace, something that would not have been possible without GPS.  While EENT was not until 2051, it got dark a whole lot quicker with the cloud cover.  I ended up landing at Newport News four minutes prior to EENT, but for all purposes it was a night landing.  Total trip was over 400 nautical miles and 5+ hours in the air.  I learned a tremendous amount on this trip, but do not think I will make another x-country of this length anytime again in the near future. 

 

June 5 - Virginia Aviation Safety Seminar
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Went to the Virginia Air and Space Museum to hear my favorite aviation author Rod Machado speak for about two hours.  It was very informative and entertaining.  Rod's book "Private Pilot Handbook" has been my bible for aviation knowledge since the day I decided to become a pilot.  Rod was kind enough to sign my well-worn copy of his book ("To Tim, May you always land as soft as a butterfly with sore feet! Your friend Rod" and pose for a photo.

June 23 - Vacuum Pump Failure at Night in MVFR     
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Did I mention that I was in a simulator when this happened?  Mercury Aviation out of Hampton Roads Executive Airport was kind enough to offer free simulator time as part of Virginia's Aviation Safety Week.  I took them up on the offer and got to experience a vacuum pump failure during a very dark night in marginal VFR.  I was told to turn to a heading of 075 as I started into my turn I noticed the DI stopped moving so I banked harder, the AI showed me in a 30 degree right hand turn.  The only thing that saved me was glimpsing the horizon and realizing I was in a steep right turn.  It was then I realized my vac pump had failed locking the DI and causing the AI to slowing and very deceptively spool down, fooling me into to believing what it was displaying.  By the time I got things figured out I was on a heading of 300 degrees.  Using my turn coordinator, VSI, and wet compass I was able to get the plane turned around and headed back to Norfolk, out of MVFR, and down on the runway.  Great experience to have under my belt.  I understand now how subtle the attitude indicator will fail after the vac pump goes out and the gyro slowly winds down.  It is very easy to not no what is happening until your already out of control!

 

July 9 - Flying the Pattern                              
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Gorgeous morning, 10 miles visibility, calm air, had to get out and fly.  Stayed in the pattern for three stop and go's.  Mounted a miniature camera to the right wheel strut to get some interesting feedback on just how well I am flaring and holding the nose wheel off in the roll out.  I had a small bounce on the first landing and then greased the next two.  With currency out of the way I left the pattern for some dead reckoning to AKQ, 25 miles to the west.  Found the airport with no problem, circled and headed back to PHF for a landing on runway 20.

September 9 - 172-R Checkout                          
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Today marks the kickoff of my Fall flying season.  My goal is to fly 30 hours (mostly cross country) by the end of the year and go over the 100 hr total flight time milestone.  I checked out in a Cessna 172 R model today that is only two years old.  Let me just say "wow, what a difference."  I think my days of flying 30 year old beaters just came to an end.  This aircraft is sweet!  I flew N429FF which had the KAP140 autopilot, KLN94 GPS, and an HSI.  The controls were firm, the interior clean and new, just a great airplane all around.  My checkout lasted about three hours with one hour on the ground discussing differences between the N and R model and about 1.7 hours of flying.  I had spent a lot of time preparing for today to ensure success.  I have the Flight 1 172R add on for Microsoft Flight Sim 2004 which accurately depicts the avionics stack and all other features of the 172R.  I reviewed the POH and supplements and fiddled around on the simulator for many hours, so by the check ride I had read about and manipulated the myriad of new equipment that the 172R has when compared to an old 172N (circa 1976) beater.  Everything the CFI went over I had already been exposed to.  We flew out to Wakefield, an uncontrolled field west of Newport News to do landing work.  On the way I demonstrated a power off and power on stall.  We arrived at Wakefield and over flew the field at 2000 feet.  A Piper Cub was taking runway 2 even though the wind favored 20.  This should have been my first indication that the Cub pilot was going to be trouble.  I executed a tear drop maneuver to bring my in on a 45 degree entry to the downwind.  The Cub was about a mile ahead in the pattern and I was gaining on him fast.  I transitioned to slow flight to try to maintain separation but the Cub was so slow it was almost impossible to not gain on him.  We never heard a single radio transmission from him and can only assume he had no radio.  He turned base and we continued downwind to regain separation.  Once the Cub was over the threshold I started my base leg turn and then onto final.  The Cub landed and back taxied as we came in on final announcing on the radio at every turn.  Of course I had to execute a go-around flying upwind off set to the right to keep a visual on the Cub. As we came abeam of him he looked to start his take off run which was a little disconcerting to say the least since we were in a very vulnerable position being above and to his right.  He looked to abort his take off as we made a crosswind turn to avoid tangling with him had he decided to roll.  We went on to practice short field takeoff and landing and soft field takeoff and landing.  The Cub stayed in the pattern forcing us to use runway 2 which had about a 5kt tailwind.  This was my first time landing with a tailwind and even at 5kts it made a huge difference.  You could really feel the increased speed of the approach and the a/c did not settle as gently as landing into the wind.  Not something you really want to do.  On the return flight to Langley we played with the autopilot in heading and altitude mode.  Once set it was hands off flying.  I am looking forward to utilizing the autopilot on some upcoming cross country trips, it really reduces pilot workload and can even capture localizer and glide slope for precision approaches down to 200ft.

September 17 - Airport Hopping                                              
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Another great day for flying so I took my time and enjoyed my flight in N429FF.  Several objectives for this day: recon Dinwiddie airport for the upcoming EAA fly in, work landings at unfamiliar fields, work out the KAP140 Autopilot using the NAV-1 system.   I launched out of KLFI and tracked the Lewisburg VOR after crossing the James River.  I worked the ROL, HDG, and NAV modes of the KAP-140, observing how the aircraft reacted to each mode.  Setting the HSI for the VOR and then activating NAV mode causes the plane to bird dog to the VOR with no further input from the pilot, very nice!  As I continued west I flew by two gliders soaring around 2000 ft, there was no airfield for miles so I am not too sure where they were going.  Continuing on I started to work the altitude functions on the KAP-140.  First maintaining altitude with the ALT feature and then setting new altitudes and arming the VS (vertical speed) function to have the aircraft climb/descend to capture the altitude.  The KAP-140 is an incredible tool for the pilot allowing for hands free flying.  While it frees up pilot work load and allows greater concentration on other tasks it is very important to continually check the ASI and throttle settings to ensure you do not get in an over speed or stall situation as the KAP-140 does not control the throttle.  After feeling very comfortable with the KAP I turned to Dinwiddie Airport.

Dinwiddie was a ghost town (just the way I like it!).  The ASOS reported calm winds but I over flew the field twice to get eyes on the windsock as I never trust the ASOS.  The socks were limp, great day for flying!  I entered a left downwind for runway 23 and executed an uneventful landing.  Taxied to the main terminal and shut down.  Closed my flight plan and spoke with the attendant about the fly-in trying to gather as much intel as possible as far as what to expect.  Dinwiddie has a really nice terminal with a pilot lounge and flight planning section with telephone and weather computer.

I headed back out to the flight line and taxied for takeoff.  I conducted a normal takeoff, a normal landing, a short field takeoff then a soft field landing, taxied to the end and finally a soft field takeoff from runway 5.

Heading over to Franklin-Rose Airport I climbed to 5500 feet to get above the scattered cloud layer at 4000 feet.  Staying within the VFR limits and flying above and around clouds is always fun and gives you the real sense of flying.  At 5500 feet it was only 55F which helped cool down the cockpit.

I landed at Franklin-Rose (which was also a ghost town) around 5PM.  I shut down and got a stamp for my VA aviation passport from the airport operator at the main terminal.  I noticed a neglected B-25 bomber at the edge of the tarmac and snooped around.  Interesting what you find at some of these country airports!

I filed a new flight plan back to Langley and tried to use the GCO (Ground Control Outlet) freq to activate.  I have never used GCO before and was interested to see how it works.  Well it did not work as advertised and I ended up activating my flight plan once in the air.  It was a short trip back to Langley and clearance to land on runway 8.

September 22 - Third Times a Charm   
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The weather was finally right for a return to Kitty Hawk and a third attempt at landing on the 3000x60 runway nestled among the trees just north of the Wright Brothers monument (I believe it took the Wright Brothers three trips to Kitty Hawk before they actually succeeded in achieving powered flight).  The flight plan called for taking off from LFI and heading to Dare Co Regional Airport, a non-towered field only a few miles from First Flight.  There I would work on short field landings and get accustomed to whatever wind was present before making the short hop over to First Flight.  Winds were light and variable at Langley when I arrived to pre-flight 429FF.  The field closed for half an hour while an F-15 put on a performance demo for VIPs.  It was like having my own private air show as the F15 rocketed over the field at a few hundred feet and then zooming vertically.  After the show I was complete with the pre-flight and ready to go.  I taxied out onto r/w 26 and took off.  I had filed for radar flight following so I was immediately handed off to Norfolk Approach who picked up my discrete transponder code and began tracking my aircraft. 

Flight following is a great tool in the VFR pilot's toolkit.  ATC will track the aircraft and provide traffic advisories to the pilot if other aircraft become a possible collision hazard.  The controller will provide a clock direction and distance to the target.  If I am unable to visually ID the aircraft ATC will recommend vectors to avoid the aircraft.  So essentially you have a second set of eyes in the cockpit with you.  This service came in handy during my very first cross country trip to Elizabeth City with my instructor back in September 2005.  We were flying along and ATC advised that another aircraft was five miles out to our 11 o'clock at the same altitude.  We started looking, but could not ID the aircraft.  The controller came back with four miles, then three, then two, we still could not see the airplane.  He advised us to climb and gave us a vector to turn to.  We did it immediately and then saw the airplane pass under us at about 200 feet.  Our radar targets on the controllers screen must have merged as this happened as he sounded relieved when we transmitted that we had avoided the aircraft and thanked him for the assist.  The other pilot never took any evasive action and my instructor commented that he probably had his head buried in the cockpit GPS not to mention he was flying at the wrong altitude for his westerly heading.  But I digress! 

As I traveled south I must have been handed off to no less than three controllers before finally being handed off to Washington Center for the rest of the flight.  I climbed to 3500 feet and put the plane on autopilot while working with the KN94 GPS and applying some of the procedures I had learned from reading the manual during the past week.  I starting my descent down to 2000ft as I crossed over Albemarle Sound.   I over flew Manteo to take a look at the airport layout and see if the windsock agreed with the ASOS recording.  With the wind at 5kt from 080 I picked r/w 5 for landing.  Crossing over the field once again I entered in a left downwind for 5.  The approach for 5 is completely over Croatan Sound which makes for smooth air.  The first approach was a little high but I was able to salvage it through idle throttle and 30 degrees of flaps.  At these settings you can practically point the 172's nose at the ground and not gain airspeed.  But for First Flight with its short runway I would need to drag the plane onto the runway in true short field landing fashion.  So I went around again and found myself still too high at short final.  I went around again and finally nailed it on the third try having to add power on short final and "drag" the plane onto the runway.  I was ready now to continue on to First Flight. 

I climbed to 1000 feet for the quick six mile trip to First Flight.  With the wind still light and favoring runway 2 I entered a left downwind.  I think I cleared the trees at the edge of the clearing by about 30 feet, and had to add power passing over a road a few hundred feet from the threshold at 50 feet.  I was wheels down and breaking after only 400ft of runway.  It was a classic short field landing.  I did a victory roll for the next 2500 feet in order to get to the turnaround point and return to parking.  I parked next to Stearmen Biplane and got to watch them start the engine by hand propping.  After closing my flight plan I checked out the Pilot Facility donated by AOPA to National Park Service on the 100 year anniversary of the Wright’s first powered flight.  The facility has computers, charts, telephones, and other resources critical to flight planning.  Afterwards I climbed to the summit of the dune that is crowned by the Wright Memorial.  Another Stearmen flew overhead.  From there I visited the recreated hanger and living quarters of the Wright’s during their stays at Kitty Hawk.  Before heading back to the plane I hit the gift shop for a few items for the kids.  After returning to the plane, preflighting, and filing a flight plan via DUATS I took off from runway 2 and headed over the beach, following the coast line as I climbed to altitude and snapping a few more pictures.

The flight back at 4500 feet was uneventful, but it sure was enjoyable to see the Friday evening traffic jams far below.  I contacted Langley tower and advised that I was inbound for landing.  Winds were 7kts at 110.  The controller instructed me to fly a left base from r/w 26.  Hmmmm.  Why in the world would he give me 26 with winds out of 110.  That was almost a direct tailwind.  Never mind the runway is 10,000 feet long, landing in a tailwind is just not prudent.  There was no other traffic is in the area so I ask for an extended right base for r/w 8.  After a brief pause the controller clears me for 8.  I venture to guess that Langley AFB runs a training tower which pairs young inexperienced airmen who hold the ATC MOS with more experienced controllers.  As in any learning experience sometimes they get it wrong.  I hoped he learned something from the experience I know I learned that what ATC directs is not always the final decision.  The pilot is responsible for the safety of the flight and he always gets a vote!

October 1 - Virginia EAA Fly-In 
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Attended the Virginia EAA Fly-In at Dinwiddie Airport today.  On Friday I was contacted by the Aero Club and asked to fly N428FF, sister ship to N429FF, which had just come out of 100 hour service at Newport News.  They wanted me to fly the plane from KPHF to KPTB and then bring her home to KLFI to save them the cost of ferrying the plane back.  I said no problem realizing later that from Newport News, KPTB was just under 50 miles so the flight out would not count for x-country (from KLFI it's 52 miles) and of course I am trying to build my x-country time. Oh well.  I got to the airport around 0830 and waited until the weather cleared as the residual of a front moved through the area.  After the rain ended I launched out of KPHF and worked my way across the James River en-route to the town of Dinwiddie.  On the way out I noticed the KAP140 autopilot was inop, and the aircraft’s rudder was out of trim causing the plane to yaw right unless constant left rudder pressure was applied.  Holding constant but slight rudder pressure for the entire flight was not fun and kind of annoying.  As I closed on the town of Dinwiddie I could hear other aircraft queuing up for runway 23 over the common traffic advisory freq (CTAF).  A Stearmen decided to do a low pass over the field which caused further congestion.  I meandered a little on my way until things quieted down and then started my approach up RT85.  Another aircraft fell in behind me.  I landed with a good cross wind on r/w 23 and taxied to parking.  The fly-in was not as big as I envisioned with a fair amount of aircraft but few vendors and no aerial demonstration.  I grabbed a few obligatory T-shirts, checked out some of the aircraft, and sat in on a lecture by the Richmond FAA office on controlled flight into terrain (CFIA).  After about two hours I had seen everything there was to see and prepared to head back.  The flight back was uneventful, but a little bumpy.  I landed back at Langley on r/w 26 with a three bouncer, how embarrassing!   I think mastering landings will be a lifelong endeavor!  As I put 428FF to bed a shiny P-51 Mustang over flew the field, all decked out in invasion strips. Cool!

October 26 - Mountain Flying/Fall Foliage                                     
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Luray Caverns has been on my to-do list for some time.  With the weather cooling and the leaves changing colors I thought now would be the perfect time for this flight.  The window for the flight was rather short due to the peak foliage.  I planned out the trip but had to scrub three times over the course of ten days due to high winds.  October 26 presented itself as the last opportunity; winds were forecasted to be calm in the mountains and visibility clear with showers off the southwest moving in later in the evening.  I arrived at the Aero Club to find the winds at 10kts, with gust up to 15kts.  I contemplated scrubbing the flight again as I pre-flighted the airplane, N429FF.  Winds further inland were still reporting less than 5 kts and winds at Langley for my return were forecasted as the same so I decided the flight was still a go.  I departed Langley to the northeast, flying over Mobjack Bay and Gloucester before turning to the northwest and climbing to 6500 feet.  Headwinds slowed my progress to about 88 knots groundspeed.  I passed Richmond’s Class C airspace to the north and continued towards Louisa, Virginia (KLKU), my first stop.  I flew south of Louisa and listened to the ASOS for wind information.  The winds varied between 6 knots and calm favoring runway 27.  I announced my position and started towards the airport.  I got bounced around pretty good on the descent, I assume from a low level temperature inversion.  At the same time another pilot coming from the west announced his position and made a direct approach into runway nine.  Direct approaches and landing in a tailwind are not the smartest things to do and I resolved that this individual was not going to dictate my runway.  By the time I entered the pattern no other traffic was in the area.  I made a very nice landing and the first in over 25 days.  I taxied over to the FBO, received a stamp in my aviation passport and topped off my fuel tanks which take a total of 52 gallons for the 172R.  By this time it was already 3:30 PM and time was running short to get to Luray and then get back to Langley before sunset.  I originally planned for several touch and go’s at Louisa but that had to be scrapped due to time.  As I taxied for takeoff the pattern had gotten a little busier with two aircraft in the pattern.  After waiting for two Cessna’s to land I departed from runway 27 for Luray.  The mountains were easily viewable in the distance and I started my climb to 4500 ft in preparation for the crossing of the mountain range that guarded Luray.  This was my first experience with mountains and Luray is the perfect trip for such as the mountains are not very high and the overall elevation at the airport is only 1000 feet.  During pre-flight prep I picked the lowest point on the mountain ridge to cross allowing for a good 1000 feet clearance.  I also set up my GPS to provide terrain warnings.  The GPS will display all terrain that is within 800ft of the aircraft in yellow and 100ft separation in red.  If the GPS detects an impact point two minutes ahead of the plane’s projected flight path it will warn the pilot in enough time to take action.  I will say it is a little unnerving to see the ground coming up to meet me even though I was holding steady at 4500 feet.  The winds were fairly benign so I did not experience any turbulence or updraft or downdrafts as I crossed over the mountain ridge.  Entering into the valley was a real treat.  Mostly green farmland and a meandering river marked the valley floor.   Ten miles out I called on the Unicom freq for wind and traffic advisories as Luray has no automated weather systems.  The operator came back with winds favoring runway four and asked if I needed any services.  I told him no thanks and self-announced a right downwind entry to runway four just as another plane departed Luray from runway 4.  Winds were calm and the approach and landing were smooth and almost textbook.  I made the turnoff to the FBO which was just a small building.  The door was unlocked but no one was to be found just a note on the desk that said “sodas are in the fridge, help yourself to whatever you need, if you need fuel please call me at….”  These mom and pop airport operators never cease to amaze me; many I have visited in the Virginia countryside are just like Luray.  They are a time capsule of an America that has for the most part passed many years ago.   People are personal, unique, and very friendly.   I have even seen unattended self-serve fuel points that just ask you to leave your address in a drop box so that you can be billed by mail.  The only thing I really needed was a stamp in my Virginia Aviation Passport.  Feeling a little sheepish for snooping around for the stamp I leaned over the counter and found what I was looking for on the first try!  I self-stamped my book, took a few pictures and headed back to the plane.  By this time it was already 4:45 and I knew I was going to be cutting it close to get back to Langley before sunset.  The airfield was still quite as I back taxied on runway 4 for immediate departure to the south.  Upon takeoff I climbed to 4500 as I paralleled the ridgeline on my right..  At 4500ft I punched in a direct route to KLFI on the GPS and turned east for the flight home as I continued to climb to 5500 feet.  I cleared the mountains and continued east at a blistering 140 knots ground speed (IAS was 115).  I think this was the fastest GS I have ever achieved.  Did I mention before how much I love autopilot?  I punch in my heading and altitude and the plane flies itself allowing me to concentrate on other pilot duties.   I cross the 100+ miles in an hour and soon found myself over the York River with the sun low on the horizon.  I had just completed a descent to 3500 feet when a twin engine aircraft crossed my front from left to right at about 1.5 miles and 500 feet above me.  At first I thought the pilot was on an IFR flight plan heading to Norfolk which would have put him at that altitude, but thinking about it later I realized an IFR flight plan on a heading of 190 magnetic should have put this fellow at 3000 or 5000 feet not 4000 ft.  A very nice landing at KLFI as the sunset with winds calm capped a great cross country experience and another 3.7 hours for the logbook!

November 19 - X-Country to Mecklenburg                   
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A pretty uneventful trip out to Mecklenburg-Brunswick Regional Airport today in N429FF.  My first time to the airport located 90 miles away in South Hill, VA.  After shutting down and visiting the terminal I practiced a few stop and go's.  I headed back around 4 PM and landed at Langley just as the sun was setting.  The days are getting short now.

November 30 - VA Beach AOPA Town Hall Meeting
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Got to see Phil Boyer, President of AOPA, give a presentation on the gov't plans to attempt to implement user fees on the current air transportation system.  The plan if implemented would probably make flying too expensive for a lot of GA pilots, including myself.  Let's hope the plan gets canned!

December 10 - Six Airports, Three States, One Day   
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Today’s flight objectives were ambitious to say the least.  The plan called for a flight to Salisbury, MD to drop off my son, refuel, then a round robin to four other airports, a return to Salisbury, and then the flight back to Langley with a stop at Tangier Island.  Along the way I wanted to test out my new electronic flight bag (EFB) with in flight weather and practice a few PTS maneuvers.

 We arrived at the Aero Club Sunday morning with the wind picking up to around 10 kts and the temperature hovering around 40 F.  The forecast called for clear skies all day.  I pulled out the engine pre-heater and shoved the heater hose into the front cowling of 428FF while I conducted my pre-flight.  With the cylinders warmed we fired the engine up and taxied out to runway 26.  After launching we picked up Norfolk Approach for flight following and executed a 180 turn to pick up the Cape Charles VOR while climbing to 5500 feet for the 14 mile crossing of the Chesapeake Bay.  Carson was very nonchalant about the whole take off and climb, which was very surprising since he has only flown with me once before.  I guess it take a lot more to wow the new generation.

 Salisbury tower put us in a right downwind for 23 while we worked around a tower frequency that was being hot miked by some rogue ground based radio operator.  After landing we taxied over to Bayland Aviation, dropped off Carson and refueled the plane.  I closed and filed a flight plan, hooked up my EFB equipment and taxied back out to 23 for takeoff.

 My first destination on the round robin flight was Ocean City (OXB), Maryland which is a quick 10 minute flight from Salisbury.  The approach to runway 32 is over the ocean and I had hopped the winds would favor that runway but as luck would have it the winds favored 20.  Runway 20s left hand pattern required me to fly south of the field, overfly Assateague National Seashore, out to the ocean and then back in to pick up the pattern at a 45 degree entry.  After landing on 20 I had a long taxi back to 20 for takeoff and a short wait as another pilot was working his way into 20.  I departed OC and flew north along the coast at 3500 feet passing Ocean City proper, Fenwick Island, Bethany Beach, Rehoboth Beach and finally Cape Henlopen before turning northeast toward Cape May.  The mouth of the Delaware Bay is about 10 miles wide at the point I crossed but visibility was excellent and I could make out the shore of Cape May before I starting my turn.  As I neared the NJ shore line I observed another Cessna making a low pass on the Cape May Point light house.  He must have been 300 feet off the deck.  Winds were at 10+ kts.  The Cape May CTAF was alive with chatter from other aircraft in and around the Cape May airport.  This would be typical for all the airports I would visit the rest of the day.  It was an excellent day for flying and pilots were taking advantage of it.  I had no problem squeezing into the pattern and landing on runway 28 without delay.  My plan was to make a short stop for lunch at the field restaurant and check out the aviation museum.  I taxied over to Big Sky Aviation and was met by a lineman who choked my aircraft.  After uncoiling out of the aircraft I asked about the location of the museum.  “Sorry, it’s closed today” was the reply.  “Ahh, that is too bad, well where is the restaurant?, I want to get a bite to eat?”  “Sorry that’s closed too.”  At this point I am batting a thousand.  “Hmmm….I guess you can pull the chokes because I won’t be staying.”   While it would have been nice to see the museum it was probable all for the better as it was already 1:15 and I still had two more airport to visit before heading back to Salisbury.  By the time I taxied back to the hold short line for r/w 28 the pattern had three aircraft in it.  I had to wait for two landing aircraft before I could get out.  Climbing back up to 4500 and heading almost due east towards Easton, Maryland.  Headwinds from the west were strong enough to check my groundspeed to 90 kts making for a slow go.   Once over Delaware I practiced a few steep turns.  The first turn to the right was a little ragged with an altitude gain of 150 ft but the next three went flawless.  Next up was slow flight with flaps.  I was able to get the ground speed down to 41 kts as I teetered on the edge of a stall with the horn blaring and the feel of the pre stall buffeting.  I made a few heading changes and a climb before coming out of slow flight and continuing on to Easton. 

Easton’s pattern was also stacked with aircraft but what made it a little more interesting was the fact that planes were doing touch and go’s on two intersecting runways!  Easton is a non-towered airport and I found this situation to be a little out of the ordinary if not downright unsafe.  Winds favored r/w 22 but a lone aircraft was working r/w 33 I can only assume for cross wind training.  R/w 22 had a right hand pattern to avoid over flight of the local trailer park along RT 50.  Coming from the northeast I had to swing north and then west of the airport in order to set up for a downwind entry on the 45.  This is where the EFB came in handy for the first time.  A very small TFR is located over the town of St Michaels to protect the home of the Vice President.  As I maneuvered into position I kept checking the EFB moving map to ensure I did not encroach on the TFR.  Once on the entry for the downwind my head was on a swivel with a constant eye on the lone aircraft flying the pattern for r/w 33.  I was able to get into Easton without delay but again had a wait at the hold short line for two aircraft landing and two taking off.  I climbed out of Easton happy to get away from the herd, but soon found them all following me to Cambridge!  The Eastern Shore has some very busy airspace!  It makes me appreciate all of the nice airports in the Virginia countryside that are a lot less crowded.

After a short stop at Cambridge I returned to Salisbury by 3PM and picked up Carson.  Tangier Island was on the itinerary for the flight home but had to be scrapped because of approaching nightfall.  We climbed to 4500 ft, activated the flight plan and picked up flight following from Patuxent Approach.  Carson fell asleep as we droned across the Eastern Shore of Virginia.  We crossed the Chesapeake Bay at the Cape Charles VOR.  The bay is about 20 miles wide at this point.  About mid-way across a small Coast Guard business jet passed under us just as I started my descent.  It's very important to keep the scan going out to the 3 and 9 o clock position.  I think every aircraft that has snuck up on me has been from the flank and never head on.  With the sun setting directly in my face I put 8FF down onto Langley's r/w 26.  The 172R has a fantastic sun visor, made of tinted plastic it covers the entire forward view and allows you to fly directly into the sun while maintaining the ability to see objects in front of you.  Carson woke up just as I shut the engine down at the gas pump, he looked over at me and I smiled and said "We're home!"

December 17 - Hatteras Seashore X-Country
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Today marks the 103rd anniversary of powered flight.  I knew the anniversary was close but did not realize it was today until reviewing the NOTAMs for my flight and noticing that demonstration aircraft would be at or below 2000 feet around First Flight Airport.  Today's flight was made in N428FF, a C-172R.  One note on the value of checklists.  After engine start I was running through my checklist and came to the Ampere.  I noticed the gauge was reporting a very slight negative draw.  I checked all of my circuit breakers.  All were good.  I checked the master switch and found that I had only switched on the battery master and not the alternator master.  Flipping the alternator switch on the gauge immediately showed a positive charge on the battery.  Thanks to the checklist I saved myself from a full electrical failure in flight.

With winds blowing 240 @ 10kts Langley tower tried to give me r/w 8 for takeoff.  I asked for and was granted r/w 26.  My route to Hatteras from Langley was southeast to the coastline climbing through Norfolk’s Class C with flight following to level off at 5500ft. I directly over flew Norfolk watching a Boeing 717 take off directly below me. “American XYZ caution wake turbulence Cessna 172 heavy directly above.” OK, that transmission never occurred but I digress. I hit the coastline around Pine Island heading south. I over flew Kitty Hawk on the anniversary of the Wright’s historic flight. NOTAMs had warned of events in the area up until 11:30, but by the time I flew over everything had wrapped up. Once south of Kitty Hawk you really have to be aware of the airspace. You cannot go direct from First Flight (FFA) or Manteo (MQI) to Billy Mitchell. Restricted area 5313 blocks the path. I chose to follow the cape. Your minimum altitude is 2000 ft due to the wildlife refuge and national seashore (which goes the entire length of the cape) and your ceiling is 8000ft due to the Pamlico MOA (which was active while I was there). Don’t really see the MOA as an issue considering most folks want to sightsee at lower altitudes and you are legally able to venture into the MOA if you want. I came down to 2500ft ten miles out and went direct from Avon crossing the Pamlico Sound. Once below 3000ft Washington Center lost radar contact with me. Before terminating I asked if he had any radar contacts between me and the airport, he said he did not but also stated that overall radar coverage of the cape is not good to begin with. I caught a glimpse of the light house at the south eastern tip of Cape Hatteras (on the sectional it says CG). It may be worth checking out from the air if you go.

Billy Mitchell airport (KHSE) is a 3000x75 landing strip only a few hundred yards from the surf of the Atlantic Ocean. I really wanted to land on runway 7 with the ocean approach.  The weather gods granted my wish with winds 110 at 4 knots. No one else was in the pattern so I descended down to pattern altitude and entered a left downwind for 7. Touching down I taxied to the turnaround point and back taxi’d to the ramp. The runway was amazingly clear of sand and was in good condition. The place was a ghost town with only a few planes on the ramp. The terminal building is nothing more than overhead cover with a few benches. Bathrooms consist of two port-a-lets. No fuel or other services are available. I don’t recall if there was a pay phone but cell phone coverage is pretty good. The weather on this mid-December day was incredible, 65 deg F. I crossed the airstrip climbed the dunes to find an incredible view of the Atlantic Ocean. There were only a few souls on the beach, one man had pulled his truck up and was surf fishing. I took it all in enjoying the moment before hunting for some shells to take back to the kids. While on the beach a few planes flew over the airfield but no one returned to land.  KHSE has an ASOS unlike Ocracoke. The wind sock is about midfield on the north side and easy to spot from the air. The town is within walking distance but I did not explore because I was on a schedule. There is an RCO to Raleigh FSS on the field and it does work.

From HSE I took off runway 7 and made a left 180 to begin heading to Ocracoke Island (W95).  W95 has a 2999x60 asphalt runway also only a few hundred feet from the Atlantic surf.  Being 2999ft placed W95 as the shortest runway I have landed at to date.  I followed the coastline at 2500ft and began self-announcing 10 miles out.  Ocracoke has no ASOS or AWOS so I decided to over fly the field and visually ID the windsock.  An aircraft behind me also began reporting his position for landing at Ocracoke so I thought I would let him go in first.  I over flew the field and could not ID a single windsock per the locations identified on the field layout.  I dialed back into HSE’s ASOS and found the winds light and variable so I decided to stay with r/w 6.  The aircraft that was behind me had descended into the pattern as I went upwind swinging around wide to the left over the ocean to come into a left downwind from the 45.  As I started into my downwind I heard the call from the other aircraft that he was starting his base.  I visually identified him ahead and reported that I had him in sight and that I would be number 2 for r/w 6.  No acknowledgment from the other a/c.  As the other a/c crossed the threshold I was already at my base turn point.  Because Ocracoke requires a back taxi on the runway to get back to the ramp located at the threshold of runway 6 I announced that I would extend my downwind to allow the a/c the opportunity to back taxi without having to wait for me at one of the turnaround points.  Again no acknowledgement from the other pilot.  As I turned left base the other pilot reported he was clear of r/w 6 as he moved through the turnaround point.  Then without stopping or announcing he back taxi’s onto runway 6 back to the ramp.  I could not help but blurt out “you are an idiot!” this time thankful I did not press the PTT button.  But if I had he probably would not have acknowledged anyway.

After landing and taxing back (after announcing my intention to back taxi) to the ramp I shut down to do some paperwork.  While fast filing my return flight plan by phone a small Robinson helicopter hovered in over the ramp and landed catty corner to me.  Out of this little contraption comes two adults and two kids, how they all piled into this little helicopter is beyond me.  W95 facilities are not much different from HSE but don’t quote me on this as I did not physically check them out, only eye balling them from my parking spot on the ramp.  Just before engine start I get a call on my cell phone from Raleigh FSS. "Sir we were about to call Hatteras 911 service to ramp check HSE because you are 40 minutes overdue. We have already contacted all of the towered airports within the area looking for you. Did you close your flight plan?" I told the gentlemen that I had called Leesburg but was told no flight plan existed and that a "note was made in the computer that I was safe on the ground at HSE." I apologized for the mix up but explained I had tried to do the right thing. In addition to all of this Raleigh did not have my cell phone number from the original flight plan and was only able to contact me based on the incoming fast file flight plan. Ocracoke has marginally half a bar cell coverage and I shudder to think what would have happened had I not called in a flight plan for the return trip. The HSE ramp check would have come up empty and it would have been another two hours before I landed back at my home airport and things got sorted out after creating a whole lot of work for many other people.

Taking off from Ocracoke I set off northwest across the Pamlico Sound with the intention of flying an inland route for the return trip to Langley.  I opened my flight plan with Raleigh FSS using the Hatteras RCO.  Cherry Point Approach picked me up for flight following and cleared me through restricted area R-5314 which allowed me to go direct to Langley and cut off about 10 minutes of flight time.  I was handed off to Washington Center which advised me to steer clear of R-5302 which was not much of a detour.  After a few more hand offs I finally made it back to Langley with a bounced landing onto r/w 26.  Another cross country in the log book!

This was my last flight for 2006.  For the year I flew a total of 53 hours and learned a tremendous amount about flying.  While the year started on a low note (see 1 Jan 06 entry) it ended on a high note with this memorable cross country.  I am looking forward to the new year and the many flying experiences yet to come.  Happy holidays!


 

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