Documenting My Journey to Professional Pilot Since 2005

Blog Archive 2011

[December 31, 2011]
500 Hour Milestone & Year in Review                              2.1

The weather these last three days has been gorgeous in Arizona.  A high pressure has brought blue skies, no wind, and 70 degree temps, absolutely perfect flying weather.  I flew up to Tucson again this morning for CFI training.  With only .3 hours to go for the big 500 milestone I wanted to ensure I reached it before the New Year.  While the flight to Tucson takes only 30 minutes the overall time required when you factor in the drive to the airport, pre-flight, and run-up is almost exactly the same as driving, 1 hour and 20 minutes. But why drive when you can fly!  2011 is in the books, happy New Year!

At the end of 2010 I set the following goals for 2011:

1.   1. Glider certification
Instrument Ground Instructor certification
Complete CFI training and pass the checkride
Achieve FAA Wings Advanced and Master levels
Attend the Reno Air Races
Land a plane in 8 new states
Log 50 hours of flight time and exceed 400 hours total time mark

The year began with completion of my final FAA written exam for Instrument Ground Instructor.  I moved on to glider training in February at Shebley Aviation.  The school was a disappointment but the glider experience was amazing and the ultimate goal of receiving my private pilot glider certificate was achieved over the course of four days.  At the end of the course the school owner allowed me to fly his North American Navion to Needles, California.  It was my first new state of the year.

March was a flurry of flying activity and new adventures.  The month started with my annual CAP Form 5 checkout followed by attendance at the Airline Transport Orientation Program (ATOP) hosted at Continental’s training facility in Houston, Texas.  My ATOP class would be one of the last to train at the Continental facility as the legacy carrier would merge with United later in the year and cease to exist.  I logged time flying the Boeing 737-800 simulator on an instrument approach to KSFO and picked up my high altitude endorsement during the weekend course.  While in Texas I also rented a Cessna 172 allowing me to add Texas to states I have landed a plane.  A few weeks later I was in Tampa, Florida for a grand cross country adventure.  Renting a Cessna 172 in Tampa I flew to Key West with Christina and on to the Bahamas for probably the biggest flying adventure to date.  My new GoPro HD camera captured stunning flying footage of the many exotic airstrips we visited.

Flying activities slowed after the Florida trip with little activity of note through the start of June.  About that time I decided to return to school.  Graduate school was not even on the radar scope at the end of 2010 but that would change mid way into 2011 after attending my wife’s college graduation (18 years after starting school, no fault of her own just the result of marrying a soldier and constantly moving).  The event provided one of those moments of internal reflection about continuing my own education.  If aviation was going to be my second career it would probably be a good idea to enhance my resume with an aviation degree from the country’s premiere aviation university, Embry-Riddle.  With an extended campus presence on Fort Huachuca and tuition assistance available from the Army it appeared to be the perfect opportunity to exploit.  I started school in May and by December had completed five courses and 15 credit hours.  The classes have really expanded my aviation knowledge in simulations, human factors, and Part 121 and 135 operations.  My only regret is not having started school earlier.

Civil Air Patrol flying really started to pick up around this time with range clearing missions, equipment ferry flights, and NORAD exercises.  Many of the range clearing missions would last 5+ hours allowing me to bank a large number of flight hours.  On one such mission I was retasked for a real world search and rescue.  We would ultimately locate and direct US Border Patrol ground units to 11 illegal aliens lost in the desert and without water.

I was introduced to the world of aerobatic flight in July, attending a three day course in Chandler, AZ flying the Great Lakes Biplane (which has since gone back into production by Waco).  The first family X-country occurred in July with a flight in a glass DA-40 to Las Vegas for the holiday weekend.  I specifically chose the DA-40 for another new airplane experience.  It was also a good time to get reacquainted with the Garmin G1000.

Attending the Reno Air Races was on the To-Do list for September but a conflict with a work related trip to Europe required me to defer the trip to 2012.  It turned out to be a fortunate decision as Reno would experience a tremendous tragic event with Jimmy Leeward’s P-51 crashing into spectators and killing 11.  As of today the 2012 Reno Air Race will go on and I intend on being there.

As fall arrived new opportunities presented themselves for sharing use in a Piper TriPacer.  This opportunity greatly reduced the cost of flying at just the right time.  The CAP aircraft went into maintenance in September and never came back out due to multiple issues.  On November 11th I embarked on an ambitious solo cross-country to Monument Valley.  Logging a total of nine hours I covered four states and landed at over 11 airports.

The year ended with the beginning of accelerated CFI training and specialized spin training.  I would ultimately achieve 3 ½ of the 7 goals by year end with a total of five achieved with in the opening weeks of 2012. 

While I did not visit eight new states I was able to add five states to the list including California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and Texas.  In addition the Bahamas became my first new country.

The more conservative flight time goal was smashed with over 145 hours logged.  The 400 hour total time milestone was passed in June and the 500 hour mark was achieved on the last day of the year.  The busiest flight month was July with 19.6 hours logged.  August and December were close behind with 19.4 and 19.5 hours respectively. 

2011 was a year of many new aircraft experiences.  New aircraft flown in 2011 included the Schweizer 2-33A glider, the Ryan Navion L-17, the Great Lakes 2T-1A-2 biplane, Diamond DA-40 Diamond Star, Piper TriPacer, and the Super Decathlon.

The biggest flying cross-country adventures of the year were Key West/Bahamas in March, Las Vegas/Grand Canyon in July, and Monument Valley in October.

Looking forward to 2012 it is becoming harder and harder to top the previous year’s accomplishments.  For the most part all of my training is complete.  The focus now turns to expanding the experiences and maybe flying further than before.  Other goals include working on school and realizing a dream I have had for some time, creating a non-profit part 61 school to teach active duty war veterans how to fly.

Goals for 2012:

1. 1. Establish Veterans 2 Aviators non-profit Part 61 flight school
2. Finish five ERAU graduate classes
Fly to Oshkosh and AirVenture 2012
Land a plane in five new states
Attend Reno Air Races
Expand my glider flight experience

[December 30, 2011]
Rough Day                                                                           3.0

I flew up to Tucson for CFI training today.  The training starts with a flight in the Arrow 28-200R.  We practice Chandelles, Lazy Eights, and Eight on Pylons.  Not my day, every maneuver is off in one way or another.  It was one of those flights where you just wish it would end.  On the positive side, flying from the right seat is feeling much more comfortable.  I am surprised that it only took a few hours of flying for this to occur.   After the flight we spend about six hours reviewing technical subject areas.  The amount of material that must be learned is daunting.  On top of that my teaching skills stink.  CFI training is tough!  I arrived home around 4:30PM and have four new technical areas to study before returning at 7:30 in the morning.  There is just not enough time in the day.

[December 17-18, 27, 2011]
Spin Training & Endorsement                                            3.0

Spin Training Videos

When I prepared for CFI training the last thing I wanted was a "check the block" approach toward the spin endorsement.  In aviation what you don't know WILL kill you, spins are a perfect example.  I remember at Shebley when a CFI candidate lacked a spin endorsement it was remedied with a quick flight in the 172.  I'm certain the CFI to-be learned nothing from the experience.  Talking with experienced CFIs the general consensus is that this is typical for the industry.  I did not want to be one of those CFIs.  If you recall back in June-July of this year I went up to Chandler Aviation with the intention of getting the spin endorsement but was told that they would not provide the training and endorsement unless I was 75% of the way through CFI training.  I instead took their introduction to aerobatics course of which spinning was a staple.  We spun the Great-Lakes Biplane every which way except inverted so the mystery behind spins was removed.  I am not scared of them but they sure make me feel ill in short order.  Fast forward to this month, my CFI has out-sourced me to Marcus Paine of Unusual Attitudes based out of Marana.  Marcus is an airshow performer and Alaskan bush pilot.  I spent a total of three days with Marcus discussing stalls and spins in extreme detail.  The bottom line is a spin is nothing more than one wing being more deeply stalled than the other, a lateral imbalance, created by yaw.  What develops is a dog chasing his tail with one wing trying to fly its way out while the other wing holds it back.  It is autorotation for airplanes and can become a very stabilized state (all the way to the ground :( ) once fully developed.  We dissect every aspect of the aerodynamics of stalls and spins and then go out and experience them first hand in Marcus' Super Decathlon.   The Decathlon is an awesome tail dragger.  After not having flown a tail wheel aircraft since my endorsement in a J-3 Cub back in 2009 I was very apprehensive that my skills would not be up to par but I quickly found the Decathlon much more stable than the J-3 in landing and takeoff.  You still need to have "happy feet" but the tail is not going to switch ends with the nose if your skills are not perfect.  On the first sortie Marcus introduces me to the falling leaf exercise.  The exercise is designed to teach recovery from an incipient spin by using rudder to lift the down wing.  The engrained response of lifting the wing with the aileron has to be trained out of the pilot as this response only increases the AOA on the more deeply stalled wing and just aggravates the situation.  In the falling leaf exercise I stall the aircraft, induce yaw to drop a wing and then stop the roll with opposite rudder.  On subsequent sorties Marcus has me create a spin and then recover 180 and 360 degrees before the spin fully develops.  Recovery from a spin is a simple affair.  Power to idle.  Opposite rudder, stick to neutral.  Pull out.  That's all to it.  On the final sortie Marcus talks me through aggravation of the spin by making all the wrong corrections.  I place the aircraft in a fully developed spin and then add power, push the stick forward and try to lift the wing.  The spin wraps up really tight and the rotation rate becomes twice that of the vanilla spin but the recovery process works as advertised.  The final step is talking Marcus through a stall, spin and recovery.  This is the first hint that getting my CFI is going to be challenging.  While I know all the right terms and concepts in my head they don't come out quite as polished.  I struggle my way through but realize this is an area that I am going to have to work at.  After the final flight Marcus provides me with the spin endorsement required of all CFI candidates.  While the training was expensive I believe it was money well spent, after all it could someday save my life as well as the life of my student.

NOTE 10JAN12:  While watching the 31DEC episode of Flying Wild Alaska I had Tivo'd and was surprised to see Marcus featured on the show providing spin training in a Super Cub to one of the female pilots assigned to Era.

[December 20, 2011]
Flight Instructor Training Begins

Today was my first of nine sessions with Double Eagle Aviation in Tucson Arizona.  I am taking another accelerated course, this time for Flight Instructor.  Almost all of the national courses I have investigated are 30 days or more in length, with a full time career I just can’t afford to step away that long.  My instructor, Sam, comes highly recommended by the Chief Instructor from my commercial training at Cochise College.  The course syllabus is broken down into the sections and tasks of the CFI PTS manual.  Since section 1 of the PTS of mostly concerned with knowledge and section 2 is focused on flight skills Sam has designed the course to tackle both sections simultaneously.    Each day starts with a flight in the school’s complex aircraft, a Piper Arrow 28R-200, an aircraft I have flown before (Nov 2009).  The focus of the flight is to perform the maneuvers in section 2 of the PTS.  I fly from the right seat which is a totally new experience for me.  Sam allows me to perform the maneuvers which are both private and commercial PTS to gauge my level of skill.  I have not performed many of the maneuvers since commercial training back in the early part of 2010 but they are not new and after a brief refresher I am quickly back in the saddle albeit from the right seat.  The flights typically last about 1.5 hours in which time we cover about 8 to 10 maneuvers. 

After the flight we debrief and then begin to review the tasks in section 1 of the PTS.  Sam has provided me with student’s lesson plans for section 1 so that I do not have to make my own.  I find out early on that the provided lesson plans are not much different than Gleim’s outline in their practical test prep manual (which I highly recommend purchasing).  I study the tasks the night prior and Sam quizzes me using the PTS to determine my comprehension.  These sessions last about 3-4 hours and cover 4 to 5 tasks.  Training starts promptly at 0730 each day (requiring me to leave the house at 5AM) and wraps up around 1 to 2 in the afternoon on most days.  After class I make the hour and half drive home and then spend the rest of the day studying for the next day.  I sent Chris and the kids back east to visit with the family during the holidays which gives me a quite house free from distractions to concentrate on the task at hand.  There is a lot of material to cover, much of it is not new but the depth of comprehension required is much greater than previous certificates.  Fundamentals of flight covers aerodynamics and I imagine this is a major stumbling block for most candidates.  This is an area where you really have to come to a firm understanding of the forces acting on the aircraft because it is an essential foundation for describing what is happening to the aircraft in every maneuver you perform with a student.  I had plenty of “ah-ha” moments as I worked through this section.   Some material like endorsements and recreational pilot requirements is completely new.  While my FAR/AIM is well tabbed out I am introduced to a plethora of Advisory Circulars that amplify many areas of the regulations.  The days are long but I am happy to have finally embarked on achieving the goal of becoming an instructor.  While 500 hours of flight experience is relatively miniscule for one to believe they have the wisdom to teach the art of flying to others, I feel the quality of the flight time I have amassed in six years is top notch.  My goal from day one has been to expose myself to as many different experiences as possible and I believe I have achieved this from additional ratings and endorsements to over half of my total time being cross-country flying.  To quote Horace, “remember that you are mortal, so seize the day.” To translate this for pilots: get out of that local airport traffic pattern and make every flight hour count! 

[December 18, 2011]
Still Dumb After All These Hours                                     1.0

I took Carson up for a short one hour flight.  There were some widely scattered cumulus which we flirted with before flying on the edge of some virga.  Returning to the airport I decided to do a touch and go on the shorter runway, 21.  We touched down briefly before climbing back up.  All seemed normal until about 250 ft up.  The aircraft just stopped climbing.  I was at every bit of 80 MPH yet the climb was lethargic and almost nil.  I enriched the mixture to no avail, the RPM stuck at 2100.  We were flying into rising terrain so while I was holding altitude on the altimeter in all actuality I was descending.  At this point my heart rate began to accelerate.  I put in half flaps to lower the stall speed and to hopefully provide additional lift.  I glanced back at the airport and started a gradual right turn ensuring I did not get any slower.  I could make runway 8 if I could hold the altitude I still had.  Carson picked up on what was going on and exclaimed “hey we are not climbing.”  As we came through a heading of 270 for the downwind I realized my error, carburetor heat.  I had failed to turn off the carb heat on the climb out, robbing the engine of the needed climb horsepower.  With the heat off the engine surged to 2500 RPM and we climbed up to a safe altitude.  Afterwards I kicked myself for one, not following the troubleshooting flow for such an incident and two, taking so long to figure out just what had gone wrong.  Had I not climbed as high as I did I would not have had the luxury of time to finally come to the realization of what was wrong.  The flow had it been executed would have revealed the problem in a matter of seconds.  So even after 500 hours of experience I am still making dumb newbie mistakes!

[December 16, 2011]
Schools Out!

After what was a grueling nine week term I have managed to successfully finish three Embry-Riddle grad classes with a perfect 4.0.  Not a feat I want to repeat any time soon as my life became one of just work and school, zero free time.  I think two courses is the max I will take from this point on.  This term's classes included air carrier operations (part 121), corporate aviation, and the US air transportation system.  The courses have helped tremendously with giving me a better understanding of Part 121 and 135 operations.  Before I started the corporate aviation course I was pretty clueless on business jets.  I could not tell the difference between a Cessna Citation and Falcon 50.  Not anymore, as a matter of fact if you gave me your mission requirements and price point I could gin up an in-depth analysis of which aircraft would best meet all of your needs.  Since starting ERAU in May I have completed five courses with seven remaining.  Almost to the half way point.  Grad school goes on the back burner for a few months now as I turn my attention to completing my CFI certificate.  Tomorrow is spin endorsement training in a Decathlon.  More to follow....

[December 7, 2011]
Night Currency                                                                  3.0

Tonight was my first night flight in the TriPacer.  The evening was clear and calm with illumination better than 75%.  The objectives for the flight were to regain night currency, conduct additional flight testing, and run at least one fuel tank dry in order to calibrate a new universal fuel stick I had recently purchased.  I flew down to Ryan field west of Tucson to make the night flight count as x-country time.  After only an hour of flying I had completed my three landings and was heading back to Sierra-Vista.  The night was too nice to end the flight so quickly so I headed down to Douglas-Bisbee for some additional training.  Enroute I conducted additional flight testing with pitch-power settings.  I still needed to determine power and trim settings for instrument approaches.  My findings were as follows for the PA-22-160:

1.  Approach level/Holding - 100MPH, 0FPM         = 2200RPM, 0 FLAPS, TRIM -2
2.  Precision Approach       - 103MPH, -500FPM    = 1900RPM, 0 FLAPS, TRIM -2
3.  Non-Precis Approach     - 103MPH, -800FPM    = 1500RPM, 0 FLAPS, TRIM -2

Douglas-Bisbee has a VOR located on the field so I took the opportunity to practice holds which I found myself to be extremely rusty at.  After about five laps in the hold I conducted another full stop landing before heading home.  At the fuel pump I found the right fuel tank bone dry which was exactly what I needed in order to calibrate the new universal fuel stick.  The process was to add five gallons, take a reading with the stick, add five more gallons, and repeat until topped off.  The fuel stick is a J-Air Inc Product and can be purchased from Aircraft Spruce as part number 13-00439 for $10.95.  I have uploaded a copy of my completed calibration chart here to save fellow TriPacer owners the trouble of calibration.

[December 4, 2011]
Maintenance Flight                                                        1.0

TriPacer had the mixture control replaced last week.  Today I took the plane up to ensure everything was working as it should.  I orbited a few miles north of the airport at 3000 AGL and gave the mixture control a thorough workout, no surprises.  One hour of flying cost me $33 in gas.  You can't beat that!  Looking to regain night currency this Wednesday.

[November 11, 2011]
The Ultimate X-Country                                                  9.2

Photos | Monument Valley Flyby

Pushing hard to reach the 500 hour mark before the end of the year I decided to go on a x-country that has been in the back of my mind for a long time.  This x-country took me across four states, landing at 11 new airports and covering over 800 nautical miles. 

The primary purpose and highlight of the trip was to visit Monument Valley on the border of Arizona and Utah.  Of course with most trips I began to determine what I could do and see enroot to my objective and on the return.  I decided I wanted to land at as many airports along the way as possible along with marking two more states off of my to-do list, Utah and Colorado.  With the limited range of the Tri-Pacer (36 gallons of fuel) I knew that frequent fuel stop would be required so I planned to break up the flight into four 2.5 hour legs.  Using AirNav I was able to research fuel prices and find some real bargains on avgas.  Those locations became mandatory fuel stops.

This was going to be a long trip for only one day so I got an early start at 0630 in the morning.  The weather called for overcast over the entire region but winds would be almost nil.  The first leg of 2.3 hours took me to Whiteriver, Show Low, and Taylor, AZ before a full stop landing at Holbrook, AZ where fuel was $4.80 a gallon.  From Holbrook I continued north where the terrain started to become extremely colorful.  I was soon climbing into the higher elevations of the Black Mesa which had smatterings of snow.  Ten miles south of Kayenta, AZ the Black Mesa drops off very dramatically.  I continued north paralleling the rim of the Black Mesa above my left wing.   As you come off of the Black Mesa Agathla Peak is already prominent on the horizon many miles to the north.  Agathla Peak rises to 7100ft and is just as impressive as Shiprock in my opinion.  Monument Valley comes up on you pretty quick after Kayenta.  I figured it would take me a half hour to fly around and see everything but flying at 110 knots I was able to tour the entire valley in a matter of six minutes.  Monument Valley is not designated a special conservation area like a national park or wildlife refuge so there is no minimum altitude restrictions allowing one to get up close with the rock formations (in a safe manner).  The only FAR requirement is to not fly closer than 500 feet to any person or man-made structure.  Unlike the Grand Canyon there is no designated com freq for air-to-air. I used an MRX PCAS to alert me of any traffic in the area. None was detected but it was a weekday, overcast weather and the off season.  After watching a few videos on You Tube of people who visited Monument Valley at ground level I realized the best way to visit by the air.

As I flew from Monument Valley to the small strip at Bluff, Utah I crossed terrain that was no less amazing and unique.  It reminded me of the layered colored sand bottles.  Bluff (66V) airstrip has a 3000x45 runway sitting just north of the San Juan River.  On the approach to runway 3 for a touch-n-go I could see a rafting expedition working the river eastward.  The landing in Utah was my first in the state.  From Bluff it was on to Cortez, Colorado, 52NM to the east.  Cortez at an elevation 6,000ft sits at the western edge of the Rocky Mountains which dominate the horizon miles from the airport.  Shear cliff face dominates the view just east of the airport rising over 1,000ft.  Another first state landing becoming the 19th state I have visited by plane.  My x-country almost ended at Cortez due to a broken mixture cable but after some field repair I was back in the air.


[November 9, 2011]
The Best Airline Commercial of All Time!


[November 5, 2011]
Tri-Pacer X-C with Family                                                 4.8

First family outing in the Tri-Pacer.  Loaded the whole family up and headed to Sedona.  The TriPacer has an amazing useful load for a 160hp airplane.  The fact that the airplane is rag and tube helps keep the empty weight down to 1100lbs conserving hauling capacity for the things that really matter..people.

[November 5, 2011]
World's first manned flight with an electric multicopter

I believe this short flight has as much significance to the future of flight as the Wright Brother's first powered flight.  I know that is a huge statement but think about it for a minute: simple, affordable, personal, electric flight for the masses.  Electronics and gyro stabilization make flight a simple manner of manipulating a joystick up, down, left, right, forward, and back.  Mark my words this is the start of a revolution.

[October 29-30, 2011]
Tri-Pacer Solo                                                                    3.9

Time to get to know this airplane one on one.  With a two page "to-do" list I headed out to the practice area to feel out the aircraft.  Stalls were first.  I had read the plane is difficult to stall and I found this to be true, as a matter of fact I could not stall the airplane.  With the yoke back in my lap the aircraft just mushed down at 70MPH and a descent of 500FPM.  With full flaps, same thing just slower at 65MPH.  Pitch/power/trim settings were determined for initial climb, cruise climb, cruise level, approach and glide.  Using a pencil I marked the trim point for each making it much easier to just dial in.  Cruise speed was found to be 118MPH at 2500RPM.  I also conducted some phugoid test to confirm the rock solid stability of this aircraft.  The results of those test were:

Test#1: 10 Pitch Up, zero flaps, 2100 RPM, 91MPH Indicated
#  Up/Down FPM
1 - 1000/500
2 - 500/250
3 - 300/0
Time to complete 1:15

Test#2:Level flight, 95 MPH, flaps to half
1 - 1000/325
2 - 525/200
3 - 400/0
4 - 250/0
5 - 200/0
Stabilized at 150FPM climb / 79MPH
Time to complete: 01:35

[October 22, 2011]
Copperstate Fly-In                                                             3.1

Photos | Beech-18 (C-45) Right Seat Video | Copperstate Arrival Video

Flew the Tri-Pacer up to KGCZ this morning for the annual Copperstate Fly-In held near Casa Grande, Arizona just south of Phoenix.  The Tri-Pacer had just come out of annual with a clean bill of health, though we found the mixture knob very difficult to manipulate (not an issue when it went into annual) which will require a second look.

Copperstate is a big enough fly-in to warrant a temporary air traffic control tower and publication of a multi-page NOTAM.  Reminds me of Oshkosh.  Copperstate is held over a three day period that spans Thursday to Saturday.  Because of this I anticipated heavy arrival traffic to the single runway on Saturday morning.  In prep for the flight I had read and reviewed the NOTAM arrival procedures and used to print a one page sectional “cheat sheet” of the airport area.  I drew the arrival route and freqs directly on the print out to give me everything I needed at a glance, flew the approaches in Flight Sim and also did a recon using Google Earth.   I felt very comfortable with the procedures; the other traffic is what worried me.  For insurance I packed the MRX PCAS in the flight bag for an extra set of electronic eyes.

When we were in range of approach control I monitored the net to get an idea on the flow and density of arriving traffic.  At 0730 there were only a few aircraft arriving, by 0800 it was non-stop.  When we joined the “conga line” as I called it, it was obvious that some pilots did not read the NOTAM or failed to catch the finer details such as fly the arrival at 2,500 ft.  We noted a majority of aircraft flying at much lower altitudes.  I monitored one RV pilot request an overhead break to landing.  Seriously?  First you are not a fighter pilot, second this is a fly-in with aircraft lined up all the way back to Phoenix trying to land in a safe and orderly fashion, third did you read the freaking NOTAM, and fourth it’s all about you, right?  Fortunately the tower responded “Overhead break?  How about flying a left downwind?”  Outstanding!  I had a good laugh.  Another issue was pilot’s wanting to hear themselves talk on the radio.  When you have a large volume of aircraft trying to land the best thing you can do is keep quiet or just respond with your tail number.   Anyone who has spent a day at Oshkosh knows this.   At Oshkosh a response by the pilot is the exception not the rule, if the tower wants an acknowledgement they tell you to rock your wings.  Copperstate tower controllers were not as draconian with enforcement but the NOTAM did state not to acknowledge transmissions.  I played by the rules.

The runway 5 arrival consisted of flying south down I-10 to the HWY 387 interchange, following HWY 387 south to the airport before entering a left downwind.  As I approached short final to RW5, two other aircraft had landed and were still taxiing down the runway.  You need a waiver to do arrivals like this.  No yellow or green dots on the runway, just land and get the hell out of the way as fast as you can!

We were escorted to show parking by a FOLLOW ME golf cart.  Nice to be flying a vintage rag and tube airplane.  The Cessna 172s were told to park in the back with the rest of the modern cookie cutter planes.  After shutdown we set up a tri-pod and mounted a display board I had put together on the Tri-Pacer specifications, history, V-speeds, as well as a nostalgic Piper brochure I had found on the Internet.  The short wing mafia showed up and gave us a ride to the main building to register the aircraft for judging.  I was really surprised how much interest the Tri-Pacer garnered during our time at Copperstate.  A lot of folks are enamored with the flying milk stool.  Of course 19D is probably one of the best looking Tri-Pacers around!

CAF had flown their B-17, B-25, C-45, SNJ (T-6), and Aeronca down from Mesa.  I had signed up for the C-45 ride and was delighted to get the right seat in the cockpit.  The C-45 is nothing more than a militarized version of the Beech 18.  I was provided a headset and giving the checklist to assist the pilot.  The pilot asked me about my flight background and said I would be a good candidate for CAF.  Unfortunately the closest CAF Wing is in Tempe, three hours from where I live.  Fortunately that particular wing has a museum and owns quite a few flying aircraft.  Long-term, should I retire in the Phoenix area as planned I very much intend to join CAF and work my way up to a flying position in one of the old birds!

The C-45 is a real airplane and by that I mean the cockpit has got knobs and levers all over the place.  It is like being in a mini-DC-3!  It has got the smell of nostalgia and the golden age of flying.  Throw in a couple radial engines right outside your window that give off that throaty rumble making even the Harley guys jealous and you feel like an aviator.  Taking off from RW5 we turned south and overflew Casa Grande proper, returning for a right base to RW 5.  Total flight time was about 10 minutes.  The approach was very shallow, with a three point stance to landing and then a quick push forward to keep the aircraft on two wheels for the roll out and final tail fade back to three points.  The pilot had the yoke firmly planted in his gut with both hands.  He told me “ignore it for a second and she will get away from you.”

While Copperstate had a great selection of individual and unique aircraft it lacked a large selection of vendors, food outlets, and no real airshow.  It did have several tents set up for workshops and presentations but they were small and not on the caliber of the Oshkosh offerings (probably not a fair comparison).  The one in flight highlight was a demonstration by a BD-5.  That was worth the price of admission watching this little jet with wings come screaming down the centerline at 100 feet.  I have the Iris FSX BD-5 for Flight Sim and it is a real hoot to fly.

We did not win or place in the aircraft judging but it was cool to fly a unique enough airplane to warrant entry into the competition.  The flight back was uneventful, we were able to get out of Case Grande with no wait and little hassle.  Half way home the right tank started running dry and the engine began to die, unlike my first experience with running a tank dry I was prepared and non-startled by the event this go around.

[October 17, 2011]
Pilot Shortage Looming?

Many have said that that the FAA's decision to extend pilot mandatory retirement age from 60 to 65 during the pilot shortage of 2008 only delayed the inevitable....they may be right.  Some interesting quotes out of the latest edition of NAFI's Mentor magazine:  "The past year has seen forecast of pilot shortages.  A significant amount of hiring is being done by regional airlines and corporate operators - who are scooping up experienced flight instructors.  The fact that the FAA lists more than 97,000 CFIs with current not representative [of those] 'actively instructing.'...[NAFI] found that of the 97,000 CFIs, just more than 32,000...signed a student off for a rating or certificate since 2006."  Good news for those of us looking to become professional flight instructors!

Flight Tip: How to determine the wind.  If no windsock or other obvious methods of determining wind direction are available, you can fly across the runway maintaining a heading 90 degrees to your intended landing path and observe the drift.  Cows, horses, sheep and deer like to stand back to the wind.  Birds like to stand beak into the wind.

[October 10, 2011]
Another Graduate Class Completed

Another ERAU graduate class completed with an 'A'.  This time Human Factors in Aviation.  Very interesting and insightful class.  My term paper was titled “Pilot Fixation as a Human Factor in Aviation Accidents.”  Next term is going to be a challenge.  I am attempting to complete three classes to take final advantage of the Army’s tuition assistance program (not the GI Bill).  Use of TA requires a two year service obligation.  After December I will be within two years of retirement and will no longer be able to use TA.  My short term goal is to buckle down and focus on the grad program through December.  At that point I will have 15 credits and close to the half way point.  In January I switch gears and focus on knocking out my flight instructor certificate before returning back to ERAU.

[September 29, 2011]
The Cross Country From Hell                                              5.1

Some days you should just stay in bed, those days where absolutely nothing goes right, that was today's cross-country flight with my friend in the Tri-Pacer.  In all fairness we did not crash, we did not die, I logged 5.1 hours of PIC time in the Tri-Pacer finishing out my insurance requirement for 10 hours, and we all have days where everything just goes right, but that was not today.

The plan called for flying to Las Cruces to try out the Crosswinds Grill which had received high marks in "$100 Hamburger" and other on-line reviews.  From there it was going to be a short hop to Dona Ana County airport and the War Eagles Aviation Museum and then back home.  I had done my on-line research and knew operating hours, cost, etc.  I thought I had the pre-flight planning nailed down pretty tight....NOT.

We met at the airport at 0830, did a preflight, topped off the tanks and got airborne at 0922, about 22 minutes behind schedule, no problem or so I thought.  The first sign of trouble was a headwind that slowed our forward progress to 90 knots ground speed.  This turned into a 2:15 flight to Las Cruces.  We landed on runway 8 and taxied in to the ramp to find an entourage of about 10 people waiting for us at the ramp.

What was this all about?  The group approached us after we shut down.  I am naively thinking that these folks are interested in my friends Tri-Pacer....nope it is Homeland Security and the Border Patrol and they want to ramp check us.  They ask for my pilot certificate, look at it for two seconds and then hand it back, a drug dog gives the plane a good once over.  I then spend about 10 minutes talking to the agents about the Tri-Pacer and radio control airplanes...your tax dollars at work!  I ask the lineman where the Crosswinds Grill is located.  Here comes strike two for the day, he tells me the restaurant went out of business "a few years ago."  Great!  So my brand new Flight Guide is out of date along with everything else I read on the Internet.  Another Tri-Pacer owner approaches us and begs us to come take a look at his Tri-Pacer.  This excursion eats up another thirty minutes.  By the time we get loaded back up and start the engine it is 12:17.  No problem we will fly to the museum and get a bite to eat there...NOT.

It takes about 30 minutes to fly out to Santa Teresa (5T6) and land on runway 10.  We taxi up to the museum and thankfully find it open but they quickly break the news that there is no restaurant on the field and the FBO is a half mile up the way, the museum attendant tells us to try the FBO for a courtesy car to a local eating establishment.  No problem, it is only 1PM and the museum closes at 4.  Plenty of time to get a bite and come back.  We clamber back into the Piper and taxi up to the FBO.

They top us off and give us the courtesy car, oh by the way the closest place to eat is 13 miles away in Texas!  Ah, no prob we will get a quick bite and get on back.  As I climb into the courtesy car the dash reads 2PM, oh wonderful we crossed time zones and lost an hour, now we are totally screwed!  It takes twenty minutes to drive to a restaurant and another hour to eat, so much for the museum!  I went to the museum last year on the way back from AirSHO so I did not miss out but my buddy did.  By the time we returned to the FBO it was almost 4PM.  We turned the car in and had no option but to launch for home.

This time we had a good tail wind and made good time.  The ATIS at KFHU was reporting thunderstorms in the vicinity and winds forecast to gust to 35 knots in the the not too distant future.  Great!  The last kick in the groin for the day came about 20 miles from landing.  The Tri-Pacer fuel selector has left and right tanks, unlike a Cessna there is no selector to draw fuel from both tanks.  We do the run-up and takeoff on the left tank, after takeoff and attaining a safe altitude we switch to the right tank.  There is 18 gallons in each wing tank which should give you two hours flight time per tank.  When the right tank runs dry, you switch to the left tank and know you have two hours to find an airfield with fuel service.  We took off at 3:39PM (AZ TIME) and switched to the right tank at 3:44PM.  As I was working through the descent checklist 20 miles from landing the engine sputtered and started losing power.  I about crapped my pants before realizing the tank was almost dry at an

1:45 minutes.  I guess that is why the right fuel gauge is placarded with "when tank is below 1/3 use in level flight only."  I must have banked the aircraft and unported the fuel intake.  I quickly switched to the left tank and the engine came alive, disaster averted!  We landed on runway 26 without issue.  The Tri-Pacer is rock solid on descent and approach, you thrown in full flaps, set the power, and dial in the trim and she holds 80 MPH without issue.  Just fly it right onto the runway.

So a great landing to cap off an otherwise crappy day.  We gave old 19D a much needed wash afterwards (it has been 2 years since the plane was last cleaned) and she looked spectacular.  I am looking forward to spending some alone time solo with the ole' gal in the coming months now that I have been "checked out" but truthfully I should have just stayed in bed this morning.

[September 24, 2011]
Young Eagles Flight and Landing Incident                          1.4

I took a co-worker's son up for his first small plane flight today.  It is always fun to provide a young person with their first general aviation flying experience.  These are usually events not soon forgotten if ever.  At the least these short flights plant a seed that may someday lead to a desire to pursue pilot certification.  We flew in the local rental 172 that is stationed at the field.  Afterwards I met my friend at his hangar to put some time in flying the Tri-Pacer around the pattern.  We encountered some intercom/radio issues on the first lap around the pattern so I decided to pack it in after the first landing.  Some days things just don't go your way and it's best not to fight them and just wait to fly another day.  We taxied back to the hangar.  The rental 172 landed a few minutes behind us.  Glancing back towards the runway the 172 appeared at an odd angle off the runway.  I monitored the CTAF and overheard the pilot requesting assistance.  His right tire had blown on landing and he had swerved off the runway.  We tucked the Tri-Pacer into the hangar and jumped in the truck to go assist.  The pilot and plane were okay but the tire had almost completely come off the rim.  The valve stem was gone, there was no flat spot visible on the tire and the tire had not come apart.  I can only speculate that the brake was being held on landing causing the tire to rotate around the rim on contact with the runway and the valve stem to be sheared off deflating the tire.  The tower manager came out and decided the best course of action was to tow the aircraft into the grass far enough from the runway edge as to not be a hazard.  Attempting to tow the aircraft back to the ramp would have caused more damage to the rim and brake disk.  We hooked a tow bar up to the nose wheel and secured a tow rope to my friend's truck before gingerly hauling the aircraft into the grass right of runway 26.  With the aircraft secured the runway was reopened and I called it a day.  It was an interesting one to say the least.

[September 23, 2011]
Maintenance Ferry Flight to Payson                                    2.0

[September 21, 2011]
Highbird Mission                                                                   3.1

Another highbird mission for CAP today.  This was a combined NORAD, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and CAP exercise.  Essentially just an airborne retrans station between mission base in Tucson and the target aircraft which was operating in the mountains east of Douglass.  This mission went down similar to others; air defense radar picks up an unidentified aircraft and scrambles F-16s out of Davis-Monthan to visually intercept.  As highbird we picked up a hold off the San Simon VORTAC at 10,500ft and just orbited for about an hour and a half pushing reports to mission base and monitoring Albuquerque center and simulated guard freq.  In this scenario we had two target aircraft, the other aircraft operating south of Tucson and having its own highbird assigned.  The Tucson AC failed to come up on the mission net or centers freq for almost an hour.  Everyone was starting to get a little worried as the pilot of the AC was very seasoned and reliable.   Eventually I was relieved to monitor an intercept transmission from a CBP aircraft over the simulated guard freq.  The air defense radar had picked up the stray CAP bird and vectored the CBP aircraft for the intercept.  I think this is the third highbird mission I have flown.  My squadron has yet to get the more exciting tasking of being the target aircraft that is intercepted by the F-16s.  I guess it is all about who you know….   

[September 16, 2011]
Reno Tragedy!

Afterburner with Bill Whittle: Live Free or Die -

I had just landed back at Tucson from my return flight from Munich, Germany this evening only to hear on the radio about the tragedy at the Reno Air Races this afternoon.  Had it not been for this business trip I had all intentions of being at Reno this year with Carson (see bucket list).  The race has been canceled, it's future now in doubt.  What a God awful year it has been for aviation!

[September 9-10, 2011]
Flying in the World's Largest Airliner - the Airbus A380

Photos | Takeoff Video | Landing Video

Finally got my chance to fly as a passenger in the world’s largest airliner, the Airbus A380.  Lufthansa began flying daily scheduled flights from San Francisco to Frankfurt using the A380 on May 10, 2011.  Exactly four months later I was scheduled for the flight.  The opportunity was almost missed thanks to mechanical problems with my United CRJ flight from Tucson to San Francisco.  The Tucson flight landed at KSFO at 2:15PM which was my scheduled departure time on the A380.  I sprinted from one end of the airport to the international terminal and made the connection.  Fortunately for me the Lufthansa flight ended up departing an hour late.  Boy was I lucky on that one.

So I had walked through the prototype A380 at Oshkosh in 2009 but that plane was a bare bones test bed aircraft with water ballast tanks for “passengers” and exposed wire races throughout.  Now I got to see what a finished aircraft looked like up close and personal.  There is something very odd about walking past a six foot wide staircase leading to a second floor.  The plane is massive.  With Lufthansa first and business class have the top floor as their exclusive domain.  The ground floor is completely economy class which is where I was seated.  Seat configuration is three-four-three for a total of 10 across.  I was disappointed to find that the world’s biggest airliner gave you the least amount of seat space, very surprising when compared to most other Airbus models I have flown.  When the passenger in front of me reclined I really started feeling a little claustrophobic.  I was seated in a window seat which usually allows for placing my pillow against the fuselage, no luck with the A380.  There is about a foot of space between the window seat and the fuselage.  The window opening on the interior side is three times that of a normal airliners window however it telescopes down to the size of a standard window in the space of about 12 inches.  There is no control for air in the overhead panel which is probably twice the distance from the passenger seat.  About the neatest thing I could find on the A380 was the entertainment center which had some very neat options with regards to flight information.  The Airbus has three cameras installed on the airframe, one sits facing forward in the top of the vertical stabilizer, one sits in the nose, and one is positioned facing up in the spine of the fuselage.  In addition a flight simulator like display is provided of an A380 cockpit with an actual simulated terrain depiction of the aircrafts current position.

I found the vertical stab camera an awesome vantage point from which to watch takeoff and landing.  From my seat in the right forward section of the aircraft, I could only glimpse the intake of the engines from the window behind me.

Takeoff was unlike in other airliner I have flown in, which is pretty much is all of them.  We lined up on KSFOs longest runway 28R which is just shy of 12,000 feet.  The engines make a very distinctive whine and acceleration is very slow.  We still felt slow when we rotated and started to climb away.  Analyzing the video and a taxi diagram of KSFO I determined that we rotated just after passing 19R and taxiway E and became airborne a few hundred feet prior to passing taxiway D.  This distance is about 6,500 feet.  Climb out was quite shallow and we still felt really slow.  We flew straight out to the ocean and then turned north to the follow the coast giving us a great view of the city and a partially obscured Golden Gate Bridge. 

About 12 hours later we arrived over Frankfurt.  Once again the landing felt as if in slow motion.  The pilot made an excellent landing.  Very impressive for the size of the A380.  I imagine it must be like controlling a boat when the aircraft has slowed for landing…you provide a control input and two minutes later the effects of that control input are felt.  We taxied in and that was it, my A380 experience was over as quick as it had begun.  I am glad to have had the chance to fly in the 380 but will not be disappointed if I never do it again at least in economy seating.  It is ashame how uncomfortable the experience can be especially for an Airbus and a foreign carrier.  I am scheduled to fly business class in a United 777 on the way home once I am done with business here in Germany.  Looking forward to the unlimited Jack and Cokes!

[September 3-5, 2011]
Big Las Vegas X-Country in a Glass DA-40                                  4.9              
Photos    Google Earth Flight Track

Landing Henderson
Landing Scottsdale
Overflying the Grand Canyon (west)
Overflying Hoover Dam

The Las Vegas X-country by all accounts was a major undertaking.  Planning started back in July with determining where to rent a plane in Phoenix or Tucson and what type of plane to fly.  I settled on the Diamond Star DA-40 because it was a plane I had never flown before, the rental rate was reasonable, it has a glass cockpit, and it is fast.  You have read the checkout process in previous blog entries so I will not repeat the learning experience here but it was fairly steep.

For flight planning I had spent a few hours studying the sectionals and the Phoenix and Las Vegas TACs to figure out the best routes especially coming into Henderson Executive (HND) which lies underneath the Vegas Class B airspace.  I also studied the Grand Canyon VFR chart to determine the best route and altitude for exploring the canyon.  A great web site came in handy for printing specific areas of the charts that I could then mark up with highlighted routes, these one page prints were much easier to work with while flying.  I printed charts for my route through the Grand Canyon and for the entry and exit to KHND.  Once I had my route planned on paper I flew it multiple times in MS Flight Simulator using MegaEarth scenery which provides real satellite imagery of the terrain.  I made notes on my flight plan as I vetted the plan.

The weather on the morning of September 3rd was absolutely perfect, not a cloud in the sky and calm winds.  When the family first saw the Diamond Star they were impressed.  It was nothing like the Cessna’s they had become accustomed to.  My daughter commented that the aircraft looked like a spaceship.  My wife liked the bucket seats and the reclined angle of the back seats.  My son was all over the plane amazed at the G1000 cockpit and the half bubble canopy that flipped forward for front seat access.  I know when he is excited because he does not stop talking, I think he talked the entire trip non-stop.  We loaded all of our gear and cleaned the windows for the best possible picture taking.

The takeoff from RW 21 was a little squirrelier than I would have liked.  Enough of a swerve to get back on the centerline to get my passenger’s attention, but we were soon off and climbing away to the north.  We were within one hundred pounds of max gross but the plane performed well.  Another interesting note about the DA-40 is the feeling of acceleration that occurs when you bring up the takeoff flaps.  The sudden loss of all that drag makes it feel as if someone just stomped on the gas.  We stepped climbed to 6500ft to remain under Phoenix Class B.  Once clear to the north we climbed up to our final cruise altitude of 8500ft.  We overflew Prescott and made our way to the Peach Springs VOR before heading into the Grand Canyon.  While I had never actually flown the route it had a touch of familiarity thanks to the simulated flights.   I can’t say enough about how valuable Flight Simulator can be as a mission rehearsal tool! 

We could see the southern rim of the Grand Canyon at least 20 miles out.  The DA-40 was cruising easily at 140 knots over the ground, outstanding for a 180HP aircraft.  While Grand Canyon West is not as impressive as the eastern portion of the canyon it still has a definite wow factor from the air.   Having flown the eastern canyon last year I had a point of reference, but for the family this was their first time and they were amazed.  We entered the canyon in the Diamond Creek Sector and flew north remaining on the east side of the Colorado River.  We overflew the Twin Peaks checkpoint and then made a wide left hand turn to the south, this time on the west side of the Colorado.  Cameras never do the Grand Canyon justice and I had a heck of a time trying to get a picture that captured the vibrant colors of the canyon.  I ended up with a bunch of washed out photos.  Maybe some post editing can fix it. 

We crossed over the Sanup Plateau at 9000ft to stay above the Sanup Flight Free Zone before following the river northwest in the Pearce Ferry Sector towards Lake Meade.  As we flew just north of Grand Canyon West (1G4) airport we spotted the Grand Canyon Skywalk jutting over the southern rim cliff face.  I think our view from 8500ft was way better than anything the tourist trap below could offer.  Just past 1G4 the canyon opens up into Lake Meade.  From here it was time to start descending down to 4000ft.  We had spent a total of about 30 minutes in the Grand Canyon and it seemed to be about the right amount of time, everyone was ready for something else.  As we descended down the temperature in the airplane rose considerably.  We overflew Lake Meade before heading south towards the Hoover Dam.  I was monitoring the GC CTAF which was packed with air tour traffic, both fixed wing and heli flying into and out of the Grand Canyon and over the Hoover Dam.  Despite the amount of traffic we never had an issue.  The skyline of Las Vegas was clearly visible far in the distance to the west.

Hoover Dam is really tucked in tight to the high canyon walls requiring you to fly almost directly over the dam for a good view.  The DA-40’s low wing config blocked the best views in straight and level flight so we had to do a few circuits around the dam to get a real good look at it.  This was done at 4000ft MSL.  Last time I had visited the Hoover Dam from ground level was in 2005.  At that time the new bypass bridge was still under construction.    Now complete it impressively spans the chasm south of the dam providing motorist with a great view of the engineering marvel.

As we overflew the dam we were already  underneath the Las Vegas Class B airspace which starts at 8000ft.  From Hoover I flew a southwest course staying east of the Boulder City Airport (BVU) and remaining below the outer portion of the Class B.  I climbed up to 4800ft in preparation for clearing “the ridge” about 10 miles southeast of Henderson.    I did not go directly to Henderson in order to remain clear of the Class B and not overfly the houses to the east of the airport which is noted in HND’s noise abatement procedures.  The ridge is a reporting point for inbound traffic to KHND.  As soon as I cleared the terrain I started a descent down to 3500ft, the TPA.  HND gave me a straight in to runway 35L which greatly expedited the landing.   The Vegas sky line sure looked a ways out from HND.  The urban sprawl of the city was just reaching the outskirts of the airport.   The G1000 started beeping a low fuel warning to me on short final, what a distraction (still had an hour in the other tank).  We had a near perfect landing, probably the best in the DA-40 I had up to this point.  The landing was my first in Nevada, state number 17.  A great way to kick off the Vegas weekend!  Total flight time was 2 hours 25 minutes.

There was plenty of transient parking available and the FBO was awesome.  A van came out and picked up our luggage, gave us some bottled water, and shuttled us over to the GA terminal.  The lady at the counter took our fuel order and called a taxi for us.  The ride from HND to the hotel downtown was expensive, about $45 for a 10 minute ride.  Flying into McCarren International would have been closer but I was warned that it was not a good idea due to airline traffic and cost.  The family enjoyed the flight in the DA-40.  They said the seats were very comfortable, it was roomy, and the view was great.  Unfortunately Carson could not see over the control panel even with his seat cushion because of the angle at which you sit in the front seats so he logged little stick time enroute.

Once settled into our hotel we had an excellent view of McCarren International (LAS) including the Area 51 terminal and fleet of generically painted white and red stripped Boeing 737s which are purported to shuttle Area 51 employees back and forth.  I put the 300mm lens on my Canon SLR and took some great close ups.  Check out the pics here.

After a quick two days in Las Vegas it was time to return home.  The return trip called for a stop in Sedona for lunch.  Weather on the morning of our departure was not typical.  The skies were overcast, there were rain showers along the route, and the winds were blowing.  I was a little nervous and decided to cancel the excursion to Sedona and just go directly back to Scottsdale.  Once again we got lucky with runway assignments by getting runway 17R which lined us up perfectly for a straight out egress from the Las Vegas Class B.  The overcast ceiling was still pretty high so we had plenty of room to work with.  We climbed up to 4800ft and remained there until crossing highway 95 15 miles south of Henderson.  Due to rain showers we were unable to fly a direct path back to Phoenix and instead skirted around the easily identifiable darker clouds.  We passed through a few short periods of rain and some very minor turbulence.  Everyone on board handled it well.  As we closed on Phoenix the weather cleared up with the typical blue skies we had become accustomed to. 

We started the engine at 0940 and shut down at 1152, a total of 2 hours and 12 minutes.  Not bad for a trip that would have taken five hours by car.  I never spoke to any Class B controllers the entire trip thanks to a pre-planned and detailed vertical flight profile.  It was a positive experience for the family as they realized that an airplane can have some utility and sure makes the world a lot smaller, especially at 142 knots true.  I am already mulling over where to take the next family flight excursion!

[September 2, 2011]
Final DA-40 Familiarization                                                           .8              

"There isn't any women and there isn't any horse, nor any before nor any after, that is lovely as a great airplane..." - Ernest Hemingway

Today was my Diamond Star re-familiarization just prior to taking the plane to Vegas with my entire family in tow.  What a small world it is.  Talking to the owner of the flight school I found out that he had grown up in Brooklyn, NY and graduated from the same high school my father had attended.  Crazy!  While I had been checked out back in July after only less than 1.5 hours of flying I knew the prudent thing to do was confirm I was still safe with an instructor next to me.  I sat down with the CFI and we reviewed the pattern flow, V speeds, the G1000, and he answered several questions I had written down from my studies.  I had done my homework studying the POH, studying cockpit photos, chair flying the procedures, and watching the Sporty’s G1000 sim video and utilizing the G1000 simulator.  I had the books down so I asked the CFI to fly along and only intervene if I did something wrong or unsafe.  I wanted to remain in the pattern and really focus on takeoffs and landings since cruise flight is really a no-brainer.  We ended up doing about 7 touch and go’s and found that I was much better prepared to respond to the quirks of the DA-40 that I had discovered during my previous flight.  I was prepared this time for lots of right rudder on the takeoff roll.   I now tracked the centerline on landing.  I could taxi fluidly with the differential braking. 

During the flight I did not hear much from my CFI which meant I was not screwing up.  As I stated in the July 18 blog entry the newness was gone and the discovery process had been completed, now familiarity had set in and real learning was occurring.  There were a couple of quirks that continued to challenge me with the DA-40.  Maintaining approach speed is very difficult with the DA-40, she is difficult to slow down because of the low-drag profile when you are too fast and will shoot through the target airspeed if power is applied too quickly.  Applying power in the DA-40 reminds me of a turbine, you apply power and 3 seconds later you see results.  When you are conditioned to a reciprocating engine you expect instant results, when you do not get those results you make larger throttle adjustments.  In the DA-40 this is a recipe for going from 70KIAS to 90KIAS on short final, not what you want to do considering the plane will float all the way down the runway if the speed is not managed closely.  At the end of the short session I felt comfortable with the airplane and that was objective.  The things that had bothered me the most from the first flight had been tamed.  I was ready for Vegas!

[August 24, 2011]
RIP - Todd Green and Bryan Jensen  
Two airshow acts I have seen personally over the last few years met with tragedy this past weekend.  Wing walker Todd Green fell 200ft from John Mohr's Stearman while attempting a midair transfer to a Schweitzer helicopter skid.  I watched Todd's stunt in stunned amazement back at the NAS Oceana Airshow in October 2009 and was so blown away by it that I posted a You Tube video of the act and titled it "The Craziest Airshow Act I have Ever Seen."

Bryan Jensen and his amazing Pitts Model 12 "The Beast" also perished in a spectacular fireball crash in front of airshow spectators when in my opinion he entered an accelerated stall after performing a Lomcovak maneuver. I had a chance to get an up close look at "The Beast" at Oshkosh 2010.  Photos here.

My sincerest condolences go out to the families of both men.

[August 22-27, 2011]
Heading West to go East - Singapore Trip  

Just returned from my first business trip to the Far East.  Spent the last week in Singapore to observe a communication interoperability exercise between the US and twenty or so Pacific allies all to be better prepared to work together in the event of humanitarian assistance/disaster relief event commonly known as HADR.  My commercial flight took me from Los Angeles on a United 777 to Narita Airport (RJAA) near Tokyo, Japan where I caught a flight on All Nippon Airways 767 to Singapore's Changi Airport (WSSS).  The return flight was via United 747 to the new Hong Kong Chep Lap Kok airport (VHHH) (replaced the famous Kai Tak airport in 1998).  Lap Kok is a remarkable airport having been constructed on a manmade island specifically built for the airport.  It is an engineering marvel that has been lauded as one of the notable engineering feats of the 20th century.  At the time of opening VHHH boasted having the largest terminal building in the world.  From Hong Kong it was back onto a United 747 bound for San Francisco.

[August 21, 2011]
Tri-Pacer X-Country                                                              3.8

Third trip to Sedona this time in the Tri-pacer in an effort to build up the required 10 hours to be added to the owner's insurance policy.  Once I have 10 hours I will be able to fly the Tri-Pacer solo whenever I want, something I am looking forward to since it will be a very cost effective solution to flying the family.  The Tri-pacer sips fuel at only 8 gallons an hour.  I was able to fly for two hours on the right tank and still did not run it dry.  The FBO folks in Sedona are real friendly and allowed us free use of a crew car just for buying 10+ gallons of fuel.  For the first time in three visits we headed into town to grab a bite to eat.  We found our way to Tlaquepaque Village and the Oak Creek Brewery and Grill for some fantastic $100 hamburgers.  I even picked up a nice collector glass growler of freshly brewed beer to take home for enjoyment after the flight (just had a glass and it is fantastic!).  Highly recommend this establishment if you fly in to Sedona.  I got my first taste of the left seat for the flight back home and really started to feel comfortable in the plane.  We just beat an approaching thunderstorm into the airport and I found the sweet-spot for a stabilized 80mph approach with a very pleasing touchdown.  Since I was attempting to build time to use the airplane I paid for all the gas and lunch on this trip.  I was able to log 3.8 hours controlling the aircraft out of the 5 hour flight.  Dividing the total cost of the trip by just my 3.8 hours gave me a "rental rate" of only $73/hour.  That is a bargain with a growler of beer to boot!  Once I am on my own I will be paying just $60 or so an hour.

[August 20, 2011]
More Range Clearing                                                            4.7

[August 19, 2011]
Happy National Aviation Day!

Found out I won first place in the ERAU writing contest.  My prize is a CH-47 Chinook R/C helicopterThe entry will be published in the Arizona Airports Association (AzAA) newsletter.

[August 16, 2011]
ERAU National Aviation Day (AUG 19th) Writing Contest

The local ERAU campus is hosting a writing contest asking students to describe their most memorable aviation experience.  The winner will be announced on National Aviation Day this Friday.  This is my entry:

When I attempted to determine my most memorable flight experience I just couldn’t do it because there are just too many aviation experiences that are all equally memorable.   There is just no way I could ever distill it down to just one.  What is truly amazing is that I am not talking about experiences gained over the course of a lifetime but memories created in just six short years of flying.  For me aviation has provided a stage on which so many magical and wonderful events have played out.

Which experience is most memorable to me?  Maybe it was time as a newly minted private pilot I took my wife and children for their first small plane flight over the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, sharing in their unbridled excitement and amazement as we soared effortlessly above the waves.  Or maybe it was the time I landed at a short narrow airstrip in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina to walk the hallowed grounds of aviation’s birthplace and pay homage to the two men who started it all back in 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright.

Could my most memorable experience have been the time I flew a float equipped Piper Super Cub along the Chowan River of North Carolina, never flying above 500 feet, executing one splash and go after another?  Or maybe it was learning to fly a Piper J-3 Cub during the waning days of autumn in the wooded hills of Andover, New Jersey.  The simplicity of the Cub captured the essence of stick and rudder flying while the vibrant colors of fall and the crispness of the cool air provided an amazing backdrop.  It was one of those moments that you realize is absolutely perfect and fleeting so you savor it as much as you can.

Or was my most memorable experience my first flight in a warbird, a North American T-6 Texan? Strapping into the cockpit I imaged myself as a young Army Air Force aviator in 1942 training to go to war.  My senses were overwhelmed by the deafening rumble of the Texan’s enormous radial engine, the sweet smell of oil and exhaust gas, and the responsiveness of the controls under my command.  As brutish as the Texan was it handled as nimble as a butterfly in flight. 

Maybe my most memorable experience was my first solo glider flight, hearing the distinctive “click” of the tow release mechanism and the shot of adrenalin as my Schweizer 2-33 glider was suddenly free from the tow plane.  By myself, this time with no engine, soaring like an eagle over the Arizona desert.  Almost six years after soloing an airplane that magical mixture of excitement and yes just a tinge of fear all came back to me like it was the first time.  I found myself repeating aloud “I can do this!”

High on my list of possible candidates for most memorable could be a cross country flight with my son to Payson, Arizona to spend the weekend camping on the airport.  The trip was capped off by a short flight over to Sedona to share a seat in a ruby red Waco biplane flying around the famous red rocks.  The expression of joy on my son’s face was priceless and I know this special father and son weekend shared through our mutual love for aviation will hold a vivid place in his memory for the rest of his life. 

I could go on and on about more wonderful experiences, but it would be pointless as they all hold equal significance in my life.  There is no one “most memorable moment” but instead an aggregate of all these magnificent events that has become my personal aviation experience interwoven tightly into the fabric of my being.  My life is no doubt richer because of aviation.  It has provided me with so many delightful and vivid experiences.  Every flight is a learning experience and so many are memorable.  If six short years can provide so many memories I can’t imagine what awaits in my remaining lifetime.  One thing is for sure, it will be blue skies!

[August 11, 2011]
Flying the Piper PA-22 Tri-Pacer                                      0.5

Went for a pancake run with a friend from CAP today in his vintage Piper Tri-Pacer.  I don't think the Tri-Pacer ever won a beauty contest for its ramp appeal being a very short and stubby tri-cycle airplane (see photo here) but I got to give it to the 'ole gal she flies nice and very responsive unlike the truck of a Cessna I usually drive.  The PA-22 is a very straight forward little aircraft.  The manual is all of 20 pages, about as short as the Schweitzer 2-33 glider manual.  It obvious this plane was built in the pre-litigation days of aviation.  The flaps are controlled by a Johnson bar on the floor and elevator trim is set using a handle on the ceiling just like the older Piper Cherokees.  The owner's manual states that the flaps have three settings "up, one-half down, and full down," classic!  The most unique control I found on the Tri-Pacer is the hand operated wheel brakes.  This was a new one for me.  Seating is side by side and rather cramped like a Cessna 152. 

I was able to get in .5 of stick time from the right seat including a landing in the pattern at Nogales.  Flew that pattern at about 90MPH with a final of 80MPH.  Trying to get at the Johnson bar in cramped quarters was a little awkward.  Landing from the right seat was a new experience for me, add to that a new airplane, I landed well right of the center line with a nice thud and found myself pushing really hard on the rudder pedal for brakes that were just not there.  Even after pulling on the hand brakes I still felt my feet pushing on the rudder pedals due to the years of mental conditioning to do so.  The landing gear is rather beefy and looks like it can handle a lot of abuse.  I logged some additional time on the flight back before handing the controls back to my friend for a landing on runway 30 just ahead of an approaching thunderstorm.

You can check out a video of my friend landing at Nogales by clicking on the "Video" link in the title line above.

Resources:   Piper Tri-Pacer Owner's Manual, Checkmate Tri-Pacer Checklist

[August 8, 2011]
CAP Range Clearing Mission                                            4.7

Couple of forgettable landings today, need to get out and practice some more on a windy day.

[August 6, 2011]
Night Currency Flight                                                        1.4

I conducted five stop and go's this evening to maintain night currency.  Also experienced the initial indicators of horizontal stab "blanking" when you slip a Cessna with full flaps.  On the Cessna 172 there is a warning in the POH that reads "steep slips should be avoided with flap settings greater than 20 degrees due to a slight tendency for the elevator to oscillate under certain combinations of airspeed, sideslip angle, and center of gravity loadings."  In the Cessna 182R manual there is no mention of this warning, however the issue deals with the high wing design and flap displacement of the C172 so the C182 is just as susceptible.  From my understanding the flaps deflect the relative air away from the horizontal tail surfaces creating an area of disturbed and turbulent air.  I have forward slipped the 182 during final approach on many occasions and never experienced any oscillations.  This evening I was descending out of altitude and decided to forward slip at full flaps to get down a little quicker.  Airspeed was around 70KIAS.  After about 5 seconds of establishing the slip I began to feel vibrations in the yoke that became more pronounced if the aircraft was held in the slip.  It was as if the aircraft was equipped with a stick shaker.  Yoke movement was on longitudinal axis with travel about .5 inches at each end.  As soon as I allowed the aircraft out of the slip the oscillations disappeared.  I was able to recreate the shaking consistently several times never maintaining it for more than a few seconds.  The flight path of the aircraft did not appear to be affected by the oscillations.  I feel confident that the oscillations would have grown quickly in frequency and amplitude had I held the slip.  I would think this could lead to structural damage or failure much like flutter.  Having never intended on this flight to create these elevator oscillations it is helpful to have experienced the oscillations first hand and know exactly how they present to the pilot.

[August 2, 2011]
First Grad Class Finished

Just received a final grade of 'A' for my first Embry-Riddle graduate class, ASCI515 Aviation Simulation Systems.  My 15-page term paper topic was on the lack of simulator usage in Part 61 primary pilot training.  The next 9-week term starts on 9 August.  I will be taking two classes this time around, ASCI604 Human Factors in the Aviation Industry and ASCI 620 Air Carrier Operations.

Last month I logged an astonishing 19.6 hours of flight time, the busiest flying month since October 2009.

[July 31, 2011]
Smithsonian Air & Space - Dulles Annex / Wall of Honor

[July 18, 2011]
Diamond Star DA-40 Checkout                                           1.4

    The last event on my long aviation weekend was to head over to Scottsdale Airport (SDL) to check out in a Diamond Star DA-40.  I am planning a family cross-country flight from Scottsdale to Las Vegas at the beginning of September and wanted to make the flight in something a little more exciting than the standard Cessna 1X2.  The FBO at Scottsdale rents Garmin G-1000 equipped (aka glass cockpit) DA-40s for a reasonable hourly rate.  Talking with the owner on the phone a few weeks back I was able to reach an agreement with him allowing me to utilize the plane for three days as long as I completed a standard check out prior.  Not knowing me from Adam and having no time in a DA-40 and only about six hours of G-1000 experience (see blog entry 12 SEP 09) he was really placing a lot of trust in my abilities and I have great appreciation for him doing that.

    I linked up with one of the senior flight instructors and we spent about an hour discussing the nuances of the aircraft and the G-1000.  I had done my homework before hand studying the DA-40 POH, dusting off my G1000 manuals, watching the Sporty's intro to the G1000 and tinkering with Garmin's G1000 PC simulator.  I also had found high definition photos of the DA-40 cockpit which I printed and labeled for familiarization.  And of course I found a pretty good FSX replica of the DA-40 from Iris which I installed and conducted several simulated flights in.  One note about Diamond's POHs, unlike many manufactures who charge ridiculous prices for hard copies of their POH, Diamond post all of their POHs in PDF format on the web.  Garmin has done the same with their G1000 manuals.  Kudos to both Diamond and Garmin!  Loading the POH on my Ipad2 negated the need to even waste one sheet of printer paper. I have one flight experience in a DA-20 Katana a few years back so I at least had a limited Diamond aircraft background to reference (see blog entry 12 JAN 07).  The DA-40 is just a larger 4-seat, up engine version of the DA-20.  The things that stick out most in my mind from the DA-20 flight were the difficulty of ground handling with a castoring nose wheel and differential braking, how the airplane almost levitated off the runway in a very flat pitch, and how it would just glide for days on landing if you did not manage the speed well.  All of these characteristics presented themselves in the DA-40.

    We conducted a pre-flight of the aircraft and I was introduced to probably the most unique device I have ever seen for determining the amount of fuel in the tanks.  Talk about over complicating things.  The Diamond fuel measuring devices attaches to the leading edge of the wing, connected to a long fuel tube is a probe that must be forcibly inserted into the sump port on the underside of the wing.  Fuel travels through the line and into the measuring device which looks like a giant thermometer.  Full tanks will cause the fuel to shoot out of the top of the device and onto the person taking the measurement.  Very strange. The DA-40 is an all composite airframe, smooth lines with no rivets. The wings on the DA-40 are narrow in width and long (39ft) with the tips angled up to reduce drag.  Stark indicators on the aircrafts motor glider heritage.  After the bulbous cockpit the empennage is very slender ending in a T-tail configuration.  Overall It's a pretty cool looking airplane. 

    We strapped in and fired up the 180HP Lycoming.  I felt pretty comfortable with the G1000 after all of the study prep and simulator usage and knew what buttons to press and where to look for key engine and flight information.  Just like the DA-20 I struggled with the differential braking and castoring nose wheel on the taxi to the run-up area.  What came as a real eye opener was the amount of right rudder required on takeoff to maintain the centerline.  Unlike a Cessna the Diamond relies completely on the rudder to maintain directional control during ground roll due to the inability to steer the nose wheel, I was not prepared for this and quickly found myself well left of the centerline. Fortunately Scottsdale's runway is 100ft in width giving me a wide margin for error.  Struggling with finding the right amount of rudder pressure we were soon at Vr and much like the DA-20 we levitated off the runway in a flat climb.  Pitching up into a 75KIAS climb the stall horn intermittently barked as the speed tape on the G1000 bounced around from turbulent air.  It was a typical blistering afternoon in Phoenix making the air rather turbulent from all the convective heating of the concrete jungle below.

     We climbed out to the northeast of the field to conduct the standard air work for the check out.  At 500ft AGL we set 25 square on the MP/prop and turned off the fuel pump and landing light.   Arriving in the practice area I completed several steep turns, slow flight and power on/off stalls.  The instructor showed me just how forgiving the DA-40 is in a stall by keeping the stick held aft as the aircraft just trembled and mushed without dropping a wing.  After conducting a simulated engine out landing we headed back to the airport for a few touch and go's.  My instructor had an annoying habit of placing pressure on the stick or prompting me to do something.  This was not conducive to learning and got in the middle of my thought process.  It would get to the point where I was just executing whatever he prompted.

    We did several touch and go's in a very busy pattern at Scottsdale.  The CFI advised 17" of MP and speeds of 90 downwind, 80 base, and 75 for final.  He had me come over the threshold at 75KIAS which is way above the speed we should have been at for the A/Cs weight (65 would have been appropriate).  As expected we floated for what seemed an eternity down the runway.  I found myself tending to flare a little high in the DA-40. We would touch down at least halfway down the 8000+ft runway, reconfigure the aircraft, and then go full throttle.  The lack of right rudder got me every time, swerving us left of centerline, before big corrections back to the right.  I must have looked like a real amateur to the tower folks as I swerved down the runway.  The layout of the rudder and toe brakes on the DA-40 also lended themselves to my frustration.  You have to place your feet to the sides of the rudder pedal to keep from accidentally applying the toe brakes.  On several takeoff rolls as I tried to increase right rudder pressure I would inadvertently apply right break as well, this of course had the unintended benefit of assisting my attempt to get back to the right but it also slowed acceleration and lengthened the takeoff distance. Between the heat, my struggles with the rudder/brakes, and an instructor constantly prompting and grabbing the stick I was real close to calling it quits but I stuck it out until the instructor was satisfied I was competent in the plane.

    It can be real challenging to learn when exposed to so many new things at once, in this case a new airplane, new avionics (for the most part), and a new and very busy airport.  While I certainly became a master of nothing on this day I accomplished something very important, I removed the unknowns and the "newness" of it all.  This discovery process is over, there is a certain bit of familiarity now and that frees up immense amounts of cognitive brain power on future flights.  I also now have an experience that can be reviewed and digested in my mind many times over, mining those important nuggets that may have escaped me at the time.  In addition newly acquired practical experience may clarify and illuminate certain portions of the POH as I review it a second time. With a month break between the checkout and the actual Vegas trip I scheduled one more familiarization flight with another instructor the day prior to our trip.  This final flight review will allow me to apply all the lessons learned on my first flight and  ensure I did not forget something important.  The DA-40 is a solid and forgiving airplane that is fun to fly once you are accustomed to its quirks.   What I like most about the DA-40 is the view afforded by the bubble canopy, the luxury car interior, and the speed at which such a slick airframe can be pulled through the air on only 180 horses (140KIAS cruise).  Oh did I mention it also looks like a poor-man's Cirrus?

 [July 16-18, 2011]
Aerobatic Training                                                               4.3

Following through with my intentions stated back on May 28, 2011 in this blog I headed up to Chandler, AZ to attend a three- day aerobatic training course with Chandler Air Service (CAS).  Chandler is a suburb of Phoenix and sits on the south side of Phoenix.  The growth of the city is checked to the south by Indian Reservations.  This works well for the airport by allowing only a short five minute flight south to get out over uninhabited desert and remove us from the busy Class B airspace to the northwest.  This lent itself well to meeting one of the many prereqs required by the FAR in order to practice aerobatics.

I arrived bright and early at 0730 Saturday morning.  Being July in Phoenix the temps were already in the high 80’s and heading north quick.  My instructor on the first day was Matt.  We spent about an hour in ground school discussing aerobatics in general, the FAR requirements on where you can perform aerobatics and parachute requirements as well as the first few maneuvers we would perform on the first sortie.

Matt introduced me to the aircraft we would be flying, the Great Lakes 2T-1A-2 biplane and walked me through the preflight routine.  The Great Lakes is a wood and fabric airplane which requires greater attention to the condition of the aircraft skin as you make your rounds checking individual items.  A firm attempt at twisting the top wing tip provides instant feedback as to the overall condition of the spar and ribs beneath the fabric.  Dual ailerons on both the top and bottom wing are connected by a single bar.  There are a number of castle nuts and cotter pins to check on the more complicated bracing structure of the dual wings than found on a conventional single wing aircraft. 

With parachute attached I climb into the cockpit.  Even as a small guy it was a tight fight wiggling into the cockpit, can’t imagine the difficulty for someone over 200 pounds.  Once in you feel like part of the airplane.  Using the Hooker harness I strap myself in.  The Hooker harness has two shoulder straps, and center leg strap and two lap straps connecting together with two quick release levers in the crouch area.  A ratchet mechanism allows you to firmly plant your rear in the seat cushion.  Having no reference as to what “secure” should feel like I strap myself in.  Matt sits in the front seat which has even fewer instruments than the front.

The first thing I noticed wiggling into the rear cockpit of the Great Lakes was just how confined the space was when compared to the only other biplane I have flown in, the Waco.  The instrument panel and wind screen are right up in your face.   Aircraft control is via traditional center mounted stick and floor mounted rudder pedals.  The brakes are sort of odd, small squares offset to the inside of the rudder pedals they require you to angle the heels of your feet to the inside at an uncomfortable angle in order to engage.  The angle makes it very difficult to control the pressure applied with any great accuracy.  Matt warns me to go easy on the brakes as the aircraft will go over on its nose without much hesitation.  According to Matt the majority of Great Lakes accidents can be attributed to misuse of the brakes.  Great!   The throttle, prop, and mixture controls are mounted on the left side of the cockpit just forward of an electrical switch bank controlling the master power, alternator, fuel pump, and avionics.  On the instrument panel is a wet compass, G-meter, VSI, altimeter, airspeed (in mph), turn and bank indicator, split gauge with manifold pressure and fuel flow, RPM, oil pressure and oil temp.  A transponder and radio are mounted under the panel.

Matt allows me to taxi the aircraft out to the run-up area.  I am no stranger to taxiing a tailwheel but getting the nuances down of the Great Lakes takes a few minutes.  Because of the clockwise spinning prop it is very easy to go left, not so much if attempting to go right.  It is kind of like trying to get a stubborn mule to follow you, you got to yank on the reigns a few times before he comes along.  Correct taxiing is all about timing.  As we cross over the taxi centerline at a 45 degree angle to the left it takes a long hold of the right rudder to begin turning right.  Once the turn begins it’s off the right rudder, as the nose of the plane prepares to reintersect the centerline at 45 degrees to the right a quick stab at the left rudder neutralizes the turn and keeps the aircraft straight until it is time to reverse the process.  This is a great exercise in thinking ahead of the aircraft as the inputs must be done a few seconds before the aircraft actually responds, much like a boat.  After the flight I realized how much time was wasted taxiing around and was glad to offload the duty to the instructor for subsequent flights since I was here to learn aerobatics and not taxiing.

Takeoff is pretty straightforward with the Great Lakes.  We go full rich on the mixture and firewall the throttle.  The stick remains back for about three seconds and then gently brought forward to just past the neutral position to raise the tail and provide a better forward view.  Even with the tail up the view from the rear seat is very limited.  Working the rudder in short jabs I use my view of the runway edges to remain on the centerline.  At about 75 (I never really confirmed the rotation speed by visually checking the ASI, just waited for the instructor to tell me when) a little back pressure is applied to the stick and the aircraft lift smoothly off the runway.  We climb at 80mph.  At 1000 feet the throttle goes back to 25” followed by the prop to 2500RPM, or “25 squared.”  Mixture is set to 12 GPH.  At this point it’s a matter of maintaining pressure on the right rudder and continuing to move the throttle forward to maintain 25” as we climb up to 3500 feet.

It takes less than 10 minutes to fly to the training box.  We jump right into the training with aileron rolls, probably the simplest of the maneuvers but one of the three fundamental maneuvers upon which all other maneuvers are based.  We start with left rolls as they are the quickest thanks to the torque of the engine.  The instructions are simple enough, back stick to 30 degrees of pitch then full left stick and full left rudder.  The newbie mistakes are not enough left stick and easing of the stick while in the roll.  Full deflection of any flight control is something I am not used to unless you count aileron deflection on a crosswind takeoff or rollout.  I vow not to make the newbie mistakes but break that vow on my first attempt.  I push the stick over to what I believe is full deflection; it feels awkward even more so as we roll to the knife edge and I slide into the throttle.  My Hooker harness is not as tight as it should be, instead of remaining immobile in my seat I slide from side to side as we roll inverted and then back up.

Now with a better understanding of what “secure” means I ratchet my Hooker harness firmly down, I am now immobile and the pressure on my hips is reassuring.  My instructor demonstrates an aileron roll and I feel the stick firmly planted against my left thigh, ah so this is what full deflection looks/feels like.  He also instructs me to keep my hand open when fully deflecting the stick this makes the motion much easier than firmly gripping the stick.  My second attempt is much better, I keep the stick pushed against my leg and I am staying in the center of my seat.  I go all the way around for the ride, never feeling like I would fall out of the aircraft while inverted.  After several more iterations the instructor has me release left rudder as we roll into 90 degrees and then reintroduce it at the 270 degree point.  The rolls become crisper and tighter.  So far so good.

The next maneuver I am introduced to is the hammerhead or stall turn, another fundamental maneuver.  In this maneuver we accelerate in a shallow dive to 130, come level and then pull into a vertical climb.  We reference vertical by looking at the device on the edge of the wings to ensure it is level with the horizon.  Airspeed bleeds off quite quickly and right rudder is needed to remain perfectly straight.  Before all airspeed is gone we briskly input left rudder to pivot the plane around.  As the outside right wing arcs around it creates lift and some right aileron must be used to check the role so that we do not end up on our backs.   Now vertical and pointed directly down we look for our road as the nose prepares to pass the road from right to left we apply full right rudder to stop the yaw then go neutral on all controls for a brief moment before pulling back on the stick into level flight.  One trick the instructor has sown me to get clean vertical climbs is to over grip the stick so that the knuckles point forward, this technique allows for a clean pull backward of the stick.  With a normal grip of the stick the tendency is to pull back and slightly right introducing right aileron in the climb which can really mess things up.

At first I was not pulling hard enough into the vertical climb which results in bleeding more airspeed and makes the vertical ascent short and less distinct.  The pivots went surprisingly well but I often felt as if we were slightly on our back in the vertical down line, I never did get a clear answer on what was causing this, my instructor seemed to think it was fine.  Pulling out of the vertical down line was also tricky and was the first time I experienced the onset of an accelerated stall proving that you can stall an airplane at any speed and any attitude.  Pulling too many G’s would start a buffeting that if not checked would result in a stall.

The third and final staple maneuver is the loop.  This maneuver is a lot of phone and initially appears very simple to do but really takes some practice in order to determine the correct amount of stick force to create a perfect circle and not an oval.  As with all of the maneuvers the instructor would demonstrate while I ghosted on the controls.  While this technique provides information on control movements it provides absolutely no information to the student on the amount of force to apply to the control.  This must be learned by doing and much practice.  The maneuver is entered just like the others by a dive to pick up speed, then level flight for a brief moment, and then pull and pull hard because the aircraft is moving quickly, as we climb past the vertical back stick is slowly relaxed, airspeed diminishes and we “float over the top” inverted.  Pulling too hard on the stick at this point will create an ugly oval so back stick is reintroduced in a linear fashion with the build up of airspeed on the descent inverted.  The loop is a lot of fun and the instructor helped me get through them by telling me when to apply more of less back stick.

So on that first sortie I got a taste of all three fundamental maneuvers.  At this point I started feeling nauseous probably from having no breakfast.  I let the instructor know and he broke off the training and had me point the plane back to the airfield.  After a few minutes of level flying I could feel the cold sweats coming on and really did not feel like flying anymore.  I asked the instructor to take over and he flew us back to Chandler.  Fortunately I never chucked.  Once back on the ground I started to feel better.  By not trying to push through the onset of motion sickness I probably saved myself from making a mess.  To my relief the second sortie of the day was not until 2PM.  I had time to go get something to eat and get a little rest at the hotel.  I ended up taking a nap and never slept so good.  Pulling Gs really does a number on the body, it’s hard work.  No more than two sorties a day of aerobatics is recommended for a student not use to the physical regime.

Feeling 100% better I returned to the airport and completed a second sortie reviewing the basic maneuvers.   This time I was chewing peppermint gum, a retired naval aviator at work gave me the tip AND IT WORKED!  I got through the sortie without issue.  On the ground my instructor told me he was concerned that the motion sickness was going to be a continuing problem and was relieved that I appeared to be past it.  I would have no further issues during the rest of the training.

Day two dawned just as gorgeous as the first which is usually the case in Phoenix.  Back down to the airport at 0730 I met my second instructor Justin.  Familiar with the check out process I grabbed the keys and clipboard before heading out to preflight the airplane.  Two sorties were planned for day two. 

Today’s focus was reinforcing the fundamental maneuvers and introduction to slow rolls and stall/spins.  Slow rolls is where you learn the “left stick, right rudder.”  Makes no sense to a normal “greasy side” down pilot but all the sense in the world to an aerobatic pilot who constantly finds himself inverted.  The reason for this is once the aircraft is inverted the rudder acts in reverse to counteract adverse yaw from the raised right aileron therefore the opposite rudder is required to keep the aircraft coordinated.  This reverses as the aircraft passes through 220 degrees.  So the slow roll is a busy maneuver for the pilot with every control being utilized through the course of execution.  Unlike most maneuvers there is no time consuming altitude reset at the end of an iteration so I was able to do 10 slow rolls in the just over  5 minutes.

From slow rolls we went into inverted flight.  The instructor had mentioned that the Great Lakes could fly inverted for like two minutes and 30 seconds, which was 2 minutes and 20 seconds longer than he liked.  I did not care for inverted flight either.  Dropping down into the shoulder harnesses and feeling negative G’s as I pushed the stick forward to keep the angle of attack high enough for level flight were not enjoyable feelings.

After inverted flight it was time for spins, strategically placed at the end of the sortie in case of air sickness.  We only did four spins, just enough to get a taste before really focusing in on them during sortie number 2.  Before heading back in the instructor demonstrated a half Cuban eight and a barrel roll.  The barrel roll is a 1G maneuver all the way around so once inverted there is no dropping into the shoulder harness, your butt remains in the seat as if you were right side up.  A very comfortable maneuver.

Day three was the final day of training and consisted of only one sortie.  Justin was again my instructor.  The sortie was a review of everything I had learned and placing these individual maneuvers into a sequence.

All in all aerobatic training was a blast.  Money well spent.  I got to step into the deep end of the pool, explore new boundaries.  Learning to operate at the edge of the aircrafts envelope, becoming comfortable with the full deflection of controls – to the stops, experiencing so many spins and becoming comfortable with them. 

Chandler is a first rate flight school.  The front office runs a very orderly and squared away operation.  The instructors are professional and really know their stuff.  I highly recommend Chandler Air Services for any flight training requirement, and they do it all up to ATP.

If you’re in a rut with your flying and you need to put the FUN back in flying try aerobatics.  You will not be disappointed.

Aerobatics – Neil Williams
Basic Aerobatics – Geza Szurovy & Mike Goulian

Note: These books were picked up on Amazon used for just a few bucks, both books are excellent reads and will prepare you well for training.  Unfortunately I did not purchase them until AFTER the training, but I found myself nodding in agreement with Neil Williams’ (RIP) comments on newbie mistakes and perceptions.

[July 15, 2011]
Even More Range Clearing                                                   4.5

[July 10, 2011]
More Range Clearing                                                            4.5

[July 3, 2011]
Real World Search and Rescue - 11 "Saves"                        4.9

Article from Desert Wings - Summer 2011 Edition

Today was planned to be another routine range clearing mission up at BMGR.  I was flying as the Mission Pilot for CAP225 and training a relatively new Mission Observer.  We were conducting a contour search of a mountain ridge within the AOR when the call came to change mission.  Below is from the post mission report:

While conducting a routine clearing search of BMGR AOR C CAP225 was contacted by RedRock3 on White Tanks at 0728L and advised of up to 10 individuals located within the range complex without water and requesting immediate assistance by cell phone.  A decimal lat/long coordinate of the target was provided.  CAP225 terminated range clearance operations and began heading in the general direction of the target while awaiting conversion of the lat/long to min/sec.  RedRock 308, MRO for Barrel Cactus, converted the location and provided it to the crew of 225.

At 0744L Redrock3 advised CAP225 that the target had seen and heard the aircraft.  Redrock instructed CAP225 to execute a 180 turn.    CAP225 completed a 360 degree racetrack pattern before continuing west bound at 0747L.  At 0753L Redrock3 instructed CAP225 to reverse course.  CAP225 continued on this track until Redrock3 transmitted that the target had reported being over flown by the aircraft.  CAP 225 began circling the area at 1000 AGL until visually identifying two personnel running and waving at the aircraft.  CAP225 reported target identification to Redrock 3 and 308.  The aircraft rocked its wings to acknowledge contact with the ground targets and began to circle while a Border Patrol vehicle several miles to the north closed in on the position.  Once the BP vehicle was in visual range of the ground targets they began moving toward it.  Once all personnel were collected by Border Patrol CAP 225 broke station at 0810L and RTB to KFHU.

Border Patrol Agent Andy Zeoric reports that 11 people were picked up from the desert and had it not been for CAP it may have been hours before they were found. Temperatures reported to be in the 115 degree range. Agent Zeoric advised CAP probably saved the lives of these individuals and three or four required immediate medical assistance.

[June 30, 2011]
Maiden Flight - Pulse XT

It took a year and a half but I finally got serious about building the Hangar 9 Pulse XT last month, as I try to reintroduce myself into the R/C hobby.  The plane has been finished for a few weeks now but multiple issues during engine run up and taxi test along with high winds has delayed the maiden flight until today.  The Pulse XT sports a .91 4-stroke engine, my first experience with a 4-stroke.  What a joy this plane is to fly.  It is stable as can be, even inverted, the CG is absolutely perfect.  The 4-stroke sounds so cool on the low passes, sounds like a real airplane.

[June 26, 2011]
Flying down Low                                                4.0

Bombing range clearing mission for CAP this morning.  Flew out to the Barry Goldwater Range south of Gila Bend at 0530 to look for people and vehicles that may have wandered onto the range.  The Air Force funds these missions throughout the summer months providing CAP pilots with an opportunity to rack up some flight hours.  For our squadron it's a 1.0 commute to the range.  We didn't find anything but I got a chance to hone the stick and rudder skills flying around the small foothills of the range.  Completed a touch and go at Gila-Bend airport for the first time which I later realized became the milestone 100th airport that I have landed a plane.

[June 25, 2011]
Range Clearing, O2 Testing, and Monument Fire               

I sat right seat as a Mission Observer for a fellow CAP pilot today.  The flight allowed me the opportunity to play with my newest gadget, a pulse oximeter.   The device allows you to check your blood-oxygen saturation and pulse-rate levels, very important when you are flying at high altitude and risk hypoxia.  I got a great deal on an oximeter from a website called Ultranebs, only cost me $30.  You can pick one up by visiting the link here. 
I live at an altitude of 5,000ft so I have a little more conditioning for high altitude than those who live at sea level.  At home my O2 saturation level is 99%.  During our mission we flew as high as 13,500ft.  I took multiple readings on oximeter as we stepped climb to the 13.5.  At 9,500ft my O2 saturation level was 95%.  At 10,500ft it dropped to 92%.  At 11,500ft I was hovering at 90%.  At 13,500ft, which you can legally remain at for less than 30 minutes without supplemental O2, my saturation level was 89%.  Experts disagree on when you become dangerously impaired from the effects of hypoxia, but from my research 85% or less is dangerous.  Additionally, every human differs on ability and how they display symptoms.  Age, smoking, fitness, and the altitude at which you live all have a dramatic effect on ability.
There has been much discussion of hypoxia in the aviation magazines recently.  The chart below was scanned from a recent article in Flying magazine.  The chart depicts saturation levels for a "standard person" with legal O2 requirements from the FAR plotted on the curve.


[June 16, 2011]
B-17 Liberty Belle Lost               

The B-17 Liberty Belle owned by the Liberty Foundation was forced to make an emergency landing in a field southeast of the Aurora, Illinois, Municipal Airport Monday morning at around 9:30 CDT when an in-flight fire occurred shortly after take-off. All seven people on-board the non-revenue flight escaped the aircraft, but the airplane was destroyed when it became engulfed in flames.

The below link is an AMAZING 360 panorama inside multiple locations of the B-17 Liberty Belle.  First pano is the front office, but make sure to click the more pano icon at the bottom for additional panos of the aircraft.

[June 11, 2011]
Welcome to 400                                                  3.1               

Just logged my 400th hour of flight time, leaning forward for the big 5 0 0 by early next year.

[June 7, 2011]
CAP Mission - NORAD Exercise                          2.2               

[June 6, 2011]
Night Flight to KDUG                                          1.0               

Completed a sortie out to Douglass this evening to practice instrument flight.  The flight was a completely legal night VFR flight and required no safety pilot, but with zero illumination and the fact that KDUG sits in the middle of the desert where far from any civilization its pitch black you literally have to rely on instruments to safely make the flight.  I executed the VOR approach to runway 17 down to mins then activated the pilot controlled lightning to find the runway just off to my left.  As I came in to the flare with a brisk right crosswind I thought it was awfully dark on the runway and I felt as if I was sinking into the abyss.  It was not until roll out that I realized I had failed to turn on the landing light.  So much for the landing checklist!

[June 5, 2011]
CAP Mission - O2 Pickup                                    4.3               

[June 1, 2011]
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Graduate Program               

After much deliberation I decided it was high time to return to school.  Many thanks to my sister and wife for setting personal examples that served as the underlying motivation for this decision (my sister just finished her second masters).  I have been formally accepted into the graduate program at ERAU in pursuit of the Masters of Aeronautical Science with specialization in aviation/aerospace operations.  Last night I started my first class, ASCI 515 Aviation/Aerospace Simulations Systems.  As currently planned my course load is light and spread across two and a half years with projected graduation coinciding nicely with my retirement from the Army.  It's always tough standing at the starting point of any major endeavor and trying to imagine ever making it to the goal whether that is a 15 month deployment to Iraq or a 26 mile marathon (6 completed), but I'll tackle this challenge like every one before it, one step at a time.  Blue skies!

[May 28, 2011]
Night Current and New Plans                              .6                

Three up and three down to maintain night currency this evening as I close in on the 400hr milestone.  Moonrise was not until 12:30am so I decided to launch into zero illum at 11:00pm.  Continental's run hot but I don't recall the oil temp being as high as it was tonight.  While still in the green it was pretty close to 240F.  I've flown so little in the past three months I can't remember if that temp is normal for the aircraft or not.  The CHT has always been up near max ON THE CAP 182R which on my first flight shocked me after training in Lycoming equipped 182RGs where the CHT needle hovers around the mid-point on the scale.  Regardless this was a cool night, I don't see how the engine will stay in the green when summer daytime temps soar above 100F.

Well after a quick start out of the blocks for 2011 I am now in a lull with mid year quickly approaching.  Time to do something, anything to keep moving forward, to keep learning and growing.  A review of my bucket list gave me a few ideas.  I think it is high time to go do some aerobatics!  I found an FBO, Chandler Air Service, up in Phoenix that provides a long menu of aerobatic training in Great Lakes 2T-1A-2 Bi-planes.  I've decided to schedule training in July that will focus on upset/unusual attitude recovery as well as spins (required for CFI).  If I like the school I'll go back in the Fall for more aerobatic training and maybe even check out in a Bi-plane.  This should keep things exciting for awhile.

On other fronts, I've decided not to pursue aircraft ownership instead opting for membership in a flying club.  For the number of x-country trips I want to make this is a much more economical move.  I've submitted my application to a club in Tucson which owns a 182, 182RG, and 172.  Currently there is a waiting list for new members so I am on hold for the foreseeable future but with the high probability of being stationed here in Sierra Vista for another two and a half years I can afford to wait it out.

By the way, winds are gusting to 40mph today.......

[May 23, 2011]
Mountain Flying                                                  1.0                

Flew the CAP 182 this evening around the south side of the Huachuca Mountains (elev 9466).  Found a nice lake on the backside that no one has every really talked about.  May have to drive out to investigate further.  At 7500ft I found a passage through the mountains that provided for some stunning views.  On this flight I mounted the GoPro HD camera on the wing strut facing back towards the fuselage for a new view point.  You can check out the video here.  Winds were light this evening so flying on the leeward side close to the mountains did not present any problems.  Not much traffic this evening save for a departing 172 and a P-3 fire bomber that has been working some wild fires to the east of Sierra Vista.  I ended the day with four takeoff/landings to maintain currency.  

[May 13, 2011]
Local Aviation News                                                               

Some very interesting aviation related developments have occurred in my small corner of the world this past month that are worth sharing.

First, Sierra Vista is home for one of the many USAF’s Aerostats along the Mexican border.  The aerostat is a tethered balloon that carries sophisticated radar equipment to help combat cross-border drug smuggling.  A permanent restricted area (R-2312 on the Phoenix sectional) keeps local pilots away from “plane eater.”  As you know from previous blog entries the winds have just been unceasing for months in this part of Arizona.  Normally the aerostat is brought down during high winds.  I assume that at some point the USAF conducted a risk assessment and decided to fly the balloon in higher winds.  If this decision had not been made the aerostat would have been down more than up again due to the consecutive number of days of high winds.  On Tuesday, 10MAY11, the aerostat was flying at an altitude of 2500ft in surface winds gusting to 47mph.  I imagine at altitude it was much stronger, in addition the aerostat is tucked in on the leeward side of the Huachuca Mountains.  One can assume the air is quite turbulent at this location especially with such high winds.  Shortly after 1PM the aerostat’s internal structure collapsed and the balloon and debris rained down on local neighborhoods.  You can imagine it was quite the story in little Sierra Vista.  You can read more and see photos at the link below:

 Northrop says Firebird went from concept to construction in one year, and that the propeller-driven plane will undergo demonstration tests for the military during upcoming exercises in Arizona.

On Sunday 8 May I headed down to the local airport to assist in washing the CAP plane.  I assumed airplane washing would be like car washing, it’s not.  It’s a lot tougher and the grime and grit from the engine is very difficult to remove.  I recommend a good degreasing agent for anyone attempting to wash a plane for the first time…you have been warned.  Anywho as we were leaving the tarmac we noted a twin boom, composite, pusher aircraft being rolled out of the hangar area.  This was like no production plane I had ever seen and looked like a scaled composite creation.  We queried some of the support staff, standing next to a security guard for the plane (now my curiosity is really peaked).  The plane was in fact a Scaled Composite design under a Northrop-Grumman program to build a intelligence collection platform for the Army that could be utilized in a man piloted or unmanned aerial system (UAS) role.  The project had been a corporate secret up until two weeks ago.  Now this revolutionary airplane/UAS hybrid was at my local airport.  The aircraft is known as the Firebird and will take part in a joint exercise on Fort Huachuca from 23 May – 2 June.  I hope to get some close up photos later this month.

You can read more about the Firebird here:

[May 1, 2011]
Typical Arizona Spring                                        .6                

You probably have noticed I have not logged any flight time in over a month now.  The Arizona spring is partially to blame for this, almost every day since the end of March has seen winds gusting up to 25-30 mph.  Today winds were 15 sustained gusting to 20.  I decided to give it a go with Carson since he has not flown with me in a very long time.  I warned him it could be a little bumpy but nothing that could not be safely handled.  His anxiety level was heading north after one circuit in the pattern so I decided to leave the pattern for some straight and level flight.  We were getting some light chop which a year ago would have not been a problem for Carson but today was too much.  We headed back to the airport for a full stop.  Final approach was pretty smooth until about 100ft from touchdown then it was as if a giant hand just grabbed the plane and gave us a good shake, we yawed right, then left, then rolled left.  I've been tossed around on final before but this one took the cake.  Just as I was ready to abort and go around the ride smoothed out and we landed without incident.  Carson talked about the final minutes of our flight all the way home, telling his Mom on the cell phone that we almost "flipped over and ran off the runway." was not that bad.

[April 20, 2011]
Interesting Videos and Dryden Web Link                

Collings Foundation A-4 and F-4 from INVERSION on Vimeo.      Last Flight of the C-133 Cargomaster from INVERSION on Vimeo.

Dryden Photo Gallery
This collection contains photos of many of the unique research aircraft flown at NASA Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards, California. These images date from the 1940s to the present.


[March 14-20, 2011]
Changing Latitudes  - Key West & Bahamas                     12.5                 

Photos, videos, and useful links are now available from trip here.

Preparation for the Bahamas X-Country officially started back in January 2010 when I ordered the Bahamas Pilot Guide and a flight map of the islands.  In July of ‘10 while at Oshkosh AirVenture I stopped by the Bahamas booth to collect additional information.  I met a guy by the name of Bill Garghill, Customer Support Director for Banyan Air out of Fort Lauderdale, who was super helpful.  After Oshkosh Bill sent me a large packet of information and forms that ending up being indispensable in my planning.  Additional preparation included registering for eAPIS and taking the AOPA online training course to become familiar with the process, purchasing an up to date Miami sectional and Tampa terminal area chart, finding an FBO to rent a plane from, and assembling a survival kit.  The latter was important due to the fact that we would be flying over a lot of water and uninhabited terrain.  Quite frankly it’s something that has been long overdue especially flying in Arizona.  The survival kit was contained in a dry bag that I had purchased on our last trip to Key West.  I attached a karabiner to the bag so I could keep it attached to me in flight for easy access if we had to make a quick exit.  Contents of the survival kit included a thermal blanket, head lamp, multi-tool, whistle, signal mirror, strobe light, lighter, first aid kit and my aviation radio.  The bag was small enough not to be cumbersome but packed with enough resources to be extremely useful if the time ever came to use it.  The biggest purchase in preparation for the trip was buying the MRX PCAS device.  The MRX is a passive collision avoidance device that provides alerts when other aircraft with transponders close within a certain distance and altitude from your aircraft.  Florida has a very active GA population and some very busy airspace, in addition flying the unregulated airspace in the Bahamas was going to present a higher than normal risk for mid-airs,  I felt the MRX was a good way to mitigate that risk.  I have some past experience with the MRX in 2009.  I really liked it but could not justify keeping it at that time.  Now that becoming a CFI is right around the corner I can justify its continued utilization and practicality.  Mid air collision during flight instruction in and around busy airports is a real danger.  Before leaving this discussion on flight prep I can’t forget to mention the utility of using Flight Simulator for preparing for this trip.  I purchased actual satellite overlays of the Tampa area to install into FSX which allowed me to become very familiar with Peter Knight Airport and the surrounding area.  In addition I flew the actual flight plan to the Bahamas multiple times to become familiar with the islands and the layout of the individual airstrips. 

Originally the Bahamas X-Country was intended as a stand alone vacation, flying into Fort Lauderdale, renting a plane, and hopping to a new island each day with an overnight at the island’s local resort.  When I started looking at buying a plane last summer the plan changed to flying myself to Florida, linking up with the wife traveling by commercial air, and then island hopping for multiple days.  The final plan was a compromise.  Christina really wanted to go back to Key West so I made the Bahamas flight a day excursion nested inside a multi day stay in Key West.  Work threw a curve ball by volunteering me to provide a presentation at a conference in Tampa during the same week.  We ended up compressing the vacation down to four days immediately following the conference.  The conference presentation turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it got me to Florida for free and put us up in the Marriott right downtown on the water.  Chris joined me at no cost using my one of my frequent flier tickets.  In the end we got two vacations for the price of one.  The FBO I ended up finding a plane to rent from was Atlas Aviation out at Peter Knight Airport on Davis Island.  The plane was a 180HP 2001 Cessna 172 SP with two GPS systems.  It was a little pricey at $140/hr wet but reasonably for the area and the quality of the plane. 

Monday, 14 MAR 11

We arrived in Tampa late Saturday night.  On Monday afternoon we headed over to Peter Knight to complete the aircraft checkout, a standard requirement before any FBO will rent you a plane.  My instructor, Chris, was a young 23 year old transplant from Tennessee, looking to build time for an airline job.  He was a real likeable, easy going guy with a very southern accent.  I asked if Christina could go along for the ride and he agreed.  We headed out for the preflight and I found the 172SP to be essentially the same as my old friend from Langley, the 172R.  The only difference was the SP had a 180HP engine as opposed to the 172R’s 160HP.  This was a good thing as it gave us about 200 more pounds of max gross weight.  Peter Knight sits well within and under the expansive Tampa Class B airspace.  The floor of the Class B sits only 1200 feet above KTPK.  I fully expected that we would contact Clearance Delivery and Departure Control in order to get anywhere but Chris briefed a plan to fly at 1000ft until crossing into the next layer of airspace that raised the floor to 3000ft.  From there we could maneuver at 2500ft.  We departed off runway 22, climbed up to 1000ft and headed to the southeast.  Once in the practice area Chris ran me through the standard maneuvers, first steep turns then slow flight.  He asked Christina if she had ever experienced a stall and if she was ready.  She had no idea what she was agreeing to since I had never stalled the plane with her in it.  Chris had me execute a power off stall from slow flight.  It was a benign stall with a quick recovery but Christina let out a holler from the back seat protesting that we not do that again.  Up front we had a good laugh.  In Christina’s defense I am sure the sensation of a stall from the back seat is more pronounced and dramatic than from the front, I’ve never experienced one myself from the back seat.  Everything so far had been to commercial standards so Chris said he was happy and directed me to head back to the airport to shoot a few landings.  On the way back he related the typical CFI horror stories of pilots who come to checkout a plane and find their skills a little rusty to the point of being unsafe.  On occasion these pilots are professional airline captains who just have not been inside a small airplane in a long time.

We returned to Peter Knight to find the pattern active with one other plane and a Robinson helicopter.  We entered a left hand pattern for 22 and conducted two uneventful landings.  The approach to runway 22 is over a shipping channel that leads north to the port for cruise ships visiting Tampa.  On our second lap around the pattern we saw a massive Carnival Cruise Line ship making its way south.  By the time we were on the downwind for our third circuit the cruise ship was quickly closing in on the approach path to RW 22.  As we turned base it was clear that we could not safely attempt to land on 22 without flying within feet of the ship’s bridge.  The threshold of RW 22 sits a mere 100 feet from the edge of the channel.  Chris quickly devised a safe alternative by making my base into a left downwind for RW 18.  We paralleled the ship, turned base behind his stern and made an approach with forward slip to landing giving the folks on the stern of the ship quite an aerial demonstration.  We full stopped on that landing with just .8 logged, Chris was satisfied I was not going to bend Atlas’ airplane.  A very short checkout but probably my most memorable thanks to Carnival and having Christina along.  It’s not everyday you have to dodge massive moving structures to land.

Thursday, 17 MAR 11

 Thursday morning was our planned departure from Tampa for Key West.  Every morning prior to Thursday had been clear, calm, and beautiful.  The forecast for the rest of the week was also perfect.  This morning a heavy fog blanketed the entire Tampa area, what luck!  We dropped our rental car off at Tampa International and caught a taxi back to KTPF.  We arrived by 0800, our original planned departure time, but the heavy fog still persisted.  I loaded and pre-flighted the plane but the fog was still hanging on.  Not until 0950, almost two hours behind schedule, were we able to start the engine and begin the trek south.  We departed the Bravo airspace in much the same manner as the Monday checkout by staying below the floor.  We climbed above broken stratus clouds to 5500ft tracking towards the Punta VOR.  The clouds gradually thinned out to widely scattered as we continued south.  Interestingly the clouds created narrow parallel strips running east/west.  It looked a lot like the perfectly spaced rows of a farmer’s field.  I am not sure what would cause such a phenomenon.  The aircraft did have one annoying quirk flying with the ball displaced to the left requiring me to fly with constant pressure on the left rudder pedal; this became very tiring over time. 

Approaching Fort Meyers Class C airspace we picked up flight following all the way into Marco Island (MKY).  Marco Island had caught my eye as an interesting airport to land at the last time I had flown down to Key West in 2009 and now was going to be added to my Airport Landing list as #87.  As is usually the case the quiet Marco Island CTAF suddenly burst to life with inbound traffic as soon as we approached.  We approached the airport high from the northeast which was good because we would have tangled with another Cessna who passed beneath us entering the downwind for 35.  We were talking to him beforehand and the MRX was blasting a warning but we just could not find him until he was passing directly below us.  I headed east dropped some altitude to enter the right downwind for 35, meanwhile a foreign flight student in a Cessna 152 was getting blasted on the radio by the Unicom operator for flying a left downwind for 35.  Apparently this guy had not done his preflight homework else he would have known 35 was a non-standard pattern.  Right hand patterns are a common practice when the airport operators want to keep the noise down on the residential side of the airport.  Anywho one more loose cannon flying around that I had to keep my eyes out for as I shot a bumpy approach into Marco’s 35.  We pulled into the ramp area at the north end to let the 152 do a low pass and go on his way.  A Robinson helicopter (the second of several we would encounter on this trip) was not far behind him making an approach to 35.  When I broadcast that I was holding short waiting for him he was kind enough to move off to the east and let me depart from 17 heading back to the south.  It was a quick ten minute hop to our next stop, X01, Everglades Airpark (#88). 

X01 is the last airfield on the western shore of mainland Florida heading south.  It also happens to have some really cheap AVGAS relatively speaking.  With Key West charging $6.70/gal for AVGAS (and Atlas only reimbursing me at $4.50) it made economic sense to fill up at X01 for $4.30/gal.  It also happens to have a neat approach over the muddy waters of the Everglades.  Topped off we started our final leg to Key West.  50 minutes later we were lining up for runway 9 at EYW.  It felt as if we had never left.  Knowing the drill was helpful too, Island City Flying Service has a pretty good system, almost like valet parking, you just pull up to the FBO right behind the last airplane that landed, shut down, unload your stuff, and a guy with a motorized tug hooks up your plane and pulls it off to a parking spot.  Total flight time from Tampa was 2.7 on the Hobbs, about right when you factored in the two landing excursions.

Friday, 18MAR11

We arrived at the airport before sunrise in preparation for our day excursion to the Bahamas.  Earlier I had called Flight Service to file an international flight plan.  The briefer was very helpful with assisting me through the process and providing additional information since flying internationally was all new to me.  We filed flight plans for both outbound and return legs.  The international flight plan is essentially the same information as the domestic flight plan with the exception of describing the safety gear on board the aircraft such as number and color of life vests and life rafts.  In the event of an emergency over water we carried two life vest and a life raft that was rented from the FBO.  The raft container was large and heavy, not sure we would ever have been able to pull it out of the backseat if we had to ditch in the ocean.  I also carried my home grown survival kit carabineered to me. 

On startup I was surprised to find the radio’s digital displays almost unreadable, not sure if it was the moisture or what but after about 15 minutes they cleared up.  The airport was quiet at this time in the morning and we were quickly cleared for takeoff.  The windshield of the Cessna had a light coating of moisture which I had forgotten to wipe down during the preflight.  I figured it would be blown clear during the run-up.  Unfortunately this was not the case and when we taxied into position for takeoff the moisture in conjunction with the glare of the rising sun to our front made it impossible to see out the front of the aircraft.  I made a safety call and aborted the takeoff asking the tower to return to the run-up area.  There Chris held the brakes while I stepped outside to give the windshield a quick rub down.  With a clear view and the sun a little higher on the horizon we lifted off RW 9, international destination: the Bahamas.  We took off at 0800, about 40 minutes behind the original plan. 

The flight out to Congo Town (MYAK) was uneventful, it took some time to climb up to my planned crossing altitude of 9,500ft.  The typical easterly headwind also slowed us down by about 15 knots.  I chose 9,500ft because it gave me about 15 miles of glide distance in case of engine failure.  To minimize the time we would be over open water and out of gliding distance of land I planned the flight route to parallel the eastern shore of the Keys and then to Orange Cay before turning towards the western tip of Andros Island.  Even with this route there was at least an hour of flight time where we were out in the ocean far from any land. 

There were scattered clouds at 5,000 feet along most of the route to the Bahamas but visibility was excellent.  The shadows cast by the clouds can deceptively appear as land masses on the clear water below.  I was able to see the western coast of Andros 50+ miles away.  As we closed on the island the water turned from dark blue to a light aqua which is an indicator of land nearby.  We found additional cloud cover over Andros and picked our way around them as we descended for the approach to Congo Town.  It was obvious that winds were gusting out of the northeast as we bounced around on approach for RW 10.  Each time we encountered a shear you could hear the prop load and unload.  I had to pick up a substantial left crab to maintain the runway heading.  Congo Town airport has a fairly large runway (5,500’x100’) but surface condition is rather poor and there are no runway markings or numbers.  I battled the wind all the way down the runway with a few balloons as the gust would come and go before finally touching down.  Total flight time was 2.5 hours, my original calculations had been for two hours.  The head winds had slowed our progress substantially and increased the fuel burn.

With the exception of a Cessna Caravan unloading passengers we were the only visitors on the ramp. Clearing customs at Congo Town was a straightforward process.  I provided the agent with our passports, declarations, and cruising permit, which he stamped and marked up before giving me copies.  A blue pilot courtesy phone allowed me to call Freeport FSS to close my international flight plan.  That was all to it.  Customs cleared us to cruise the islands at our leisure.  We climbed back into the Skyhawk with the windsock taunt from the strong northeast wind.  Takeoff was a rather nasty affair. I don’t recall working the rudders as hard since tailwheel training.  It took a lot of quick sharp jabs of the pedals to keep things under control, even still we skipped a few times before crabbing hard into the wind.  Crossing over the coastline I placed the aircraft into a gentle climbing right bank up to 2,500 feet.  At altitude we crossed the east coast of the Andros and headed for the Exuma chain of islands some 70 miles away.  The water was fairly shallow along the route with widely scattered sand bars so I saw no reason to climb up to a higher altitude.

Flying in the Bahamas is truly simple.  Only Nassau and Freeport have control towers all other fields are uncontrolled.  Pilots monitor the global CTAF on 122.8, advising position and intentions.  Left traffic patterns are used, pattern altitude is 1,000 AGL.  When flying along island chains you always stay on the right side. 

We arrived over Farmer’s Cay, scoped it out for any windsock or signs of life.  With nothing observed I self announced on 122.8  descended down to 1000ft and entered an extended right base for RW 36.  This was an over water approach with the runway being flush to the shoreline.  Farmer’s Cay is a smaller field just 2,500’x50’.  The sword fight commenced on final and I kept the power in all the way to the threshold.  We landed with plenty of room to spare and back taxied to the ramp which was only feet from a beautiful white sandy beach.  This was and will probably always be the most beautiful place I have ever set an airplane down.  Being the only plane at the field we had this paradise all to ourselves.  It was gorgeous; I wish I could have just spent the day there relaxing on the beach but the schedule I had set left little time for enjoyment.  We walked the beach, dipped our toes in the clear water, collected up some sand and shells, and where back in the plane for our next destination.  At this point fuel was becoming a concern.  There are very few places in the Bahamas were fuel is available so I had planned the trip to allow for a 1.5hr reserve by the time we reached Nassau for refueling.  The headwinds encountered up to this point had extended my enroute times costing me more fuel than planned.  By Farmer’s Cay I was down to 11 gallons per wing.  I contemplated aborting my planned landings along the Exumas and flying direct to Nassau, which was an hour away, but opted to take a more frugal approach to fuel management that ended up working out really well. 

The remaining flight plan called for several stop and go landings at a few of the fields that dot the Exuma island chain.  Before departing Farmer’s Cay I mounted the GoPro HD camera to the landing gear and let it run.  On takeoff I climbed up to 500ft at full power and then pulled back the throttle to 2300 RPM and leaned for 25 rich of peak.  At this power setting I was still easily able to climb up to 1000ft while sipping only 7gph.  At 1000ft I pulled power back further to 2100 RPM, fuel consumption dropped to 5gph.  Using this technique I was able to extend my endurance substantially.

My next landing was at Black Point (2,500x80) only a few minutes north of Farmer’s Cay.  We flew downwind over a beautiful aqua bay dotted with sailboats before turning base and final to the small field nestled among the crag and scrub brush.  Another cross wind landing was executed without a hitch and we were soon lifting off using the fuel saving technique describer earlier.  I flew on north staying to the right of the islands to avoid any southbound traffic.  We shot another beautiful overwater approach to Staniel Cay (3,030x75).  Departing Staniel Cay we maintained 500 feet to really enjoy the beauty of the Exumas as we headed to our final field, Norman’s Cay (3,000x60).  I will tell you that it can not possibly get any better than flying the Bahamas.  The view was simply amazing and the videos can only convey that to a point.  As we closed in on Norman’s Cay from the south we officially entered into the infamous Bermuda Triangle.  During my time flying the Bermuda Triangle I never observed in anomalies with my compass or flight instruments, guess I was one of the lucky ones ;)

Norman’s Cay like the other fields was an over water approach to RW 3.  But unlike the other fields tall trees closely line both sides of the runway.  Landing at Norman’s Cay is like landing in a narrow alleyway.  The runway was the least maintained of the bunch and made for a very bumpy roll out.  I was unsure if I had landed at the right field until I came to the turn around point at midfield and spotted a small sign stating “Welcome to Norman’s Cay.”  Taking off out of the “alleyway” was just as exciting as landing if not more so.  I had to crab the aircraft into the wind and keep it perfectly over the runway on climb out else risk picking tree branches out of the wings.  Norman’s Cay was unfortunately the last of the small exotic strips on this flight.  The next destination was the largest airport in the Bahamas, Nassau.

Entering the controlled airspace just north of Norman’s Cay I contacted Nassau Approach.  They provided a squawk code and asked where I had departed from.  This appears to be standard on all call ups to Nassau, you must identify where you had departed from.  Not sure if this has to do with alerting customs or not.  With about an hour of fuel left in the tanks I took up a direct course for Nassau.  With the island in sight approach provided a vector of 270 and we were soon flying parallel to the southern shore of the island.  After some time we were flying away from the island and I was getting antsy with the fuel situation.  After what felt like an eternity we were vectored north onto the approach path with RW 9.  Most of the jet traffic was utilizing runway 14.  I kept the speed up as we crossed the shoreline on an extended approach.  I was a little confused as to why we had been vectored so far around the airport and then placed on such a long final essentially tying up RW 9 for any fast moving traffic.  Two miles out I slowed the 172 and dropped the flaps.  The landing was forgettable, I could log at least two landings at Nassau that day, it felt as if I wheel barrowed for a moment which was a little scary.  Looking back at the external video footage I cannot detect a wheel barrow but it sure felt like one.

The Nassau tower controller sounded like she barely had control of the situation stumbling over call signs and directions causing some confusion and a lack of confidence from the pilots.  I was routed over to Executive Services FBO and left to find my way once clear of the taxiway as no one from the FBO could be raised on the radio.  Finally a lineman signaled me to follow him.  My little Cessna was parked among the private jets and turbo props.  The FBO was bustling with activity and we found no one willing to help us.  After a long wait I finally got the attention of an attendant at the desk who worked through my paperwork while juggling several other task.  The hundred mile hour pace of Nassau stood in stark contrast to the slow pace of the out islands.  I was already regretting my decision to come to Nassau.  Fuel at Executive was reasonable considering that they pretty much got you.  There are a lot of fees that must be paid.  We had to pay $45 in ramp fees, and an additional $20 per person for the mandatory departure tax.  It was now past 2PM and only a few hours were available to visit downtown Nassau.  We found downtown to be a disappointment and not worth the $50 in taxi/bus fees.

After returning from downtown and preparing to depart I called Customs at Key West and advised of our expected time of return, being a Friday night Customs did not seem too happy to have to wait for us.  There are two ADIZ borders depicted on the Miami Sectional and this confused me until today.  The closer of the two ADIZ boundaries is used for flights leaving US airspace.  The further out ADIZ is used for aircraft entering US airspace.  The outbound ADIZ is only 15 miles from the US coast, while the inbound ADIZ must be three times that.  I speculate that this additional buffer provides time for fighters to scramble and intercept an aircraft before it can reach the mainland after penetrating the ADIZ without authorization.  It took the better part of 20 minutes to taxi and takeoff from Nassau due to waiting on other traffic.  I contacted Miami Radio to confirm my flight plan was active and to receive my ADIZ transponder code.  This discrete code tells ATC I’m authorized to cross the ADIZ even if I am not talking to them.  We made good time on the way back averaging 130 knots with the tailwind.

We were able to make up a lot of the lost time on the flight back and entered a right downwind for RW 9 at Key West just as the sun was setting.  After landing we taxied to Customs for final processing.  Clearing Customs was as simple as providing the standard declaration form and passports.  We turned in the thankfully unused life jackets and life raft to the FBO and put 3552C to bed after some seven hours of flying.  We were exhausted but it had been a very memorable day.

Landing Nassau 1356L Runway 09
MYNN 181800Z 04011KT 9999 FEW018 25/13 A3021

Takeoff Nassau 1740L Runway 09
MYNN 182100Z 04009KT 9999 FEW025 25/14 A3016

Landing Key West – 1930L Runway 09
KEYW 182253Z AUTO 10013KT 10SM CLR 24/16 A3018 RMK AO2 SLP220 T02390161 TSNO 

Sunday, 20 MAR 11

We blasted off from Key West destination Tampa exactly on schedule at 1200.  The airport was very busy with everyone trying to head home.  We departed on RW 9 and held to 1000ft until clearing Navy Departure’s airspace.  We climbed up to 6,500 feet and made a B-line for Tampa skirting as close to the ADIZ as possible.  This was a non-stop flight.  The ride was smooth until starting our descent into Tampa.  It was a breezy day across Florida and we got bounced around all the way into Peter Knight.  Thankfully the last landing on RW 4, the one that you always remember, was nice.  The trip took the anticipated two hours to complete.  We pulled up to the FBO just a little behind our planned 1400 return time.  It was a good thing too as no sooner had we downloaded the plane then it was refueled and turned over to student & instructor for a training flight.  There was no rest for N3552C.  I ended up logging 12.5 hours on the Hobbs about 2.5 hours more than planned.  With the exception of landing at Marathon all of my planned objectives had been met.  Many new experiences with this adventure, flying internationally, clearing customs, eAPIS, international flight plans, long overwater flight planning, island hopping, and landing at small exotic airstrips.  I’ve done the flight to Key West twice now and feel that the newness and adventure of it have run its course; I’m content to be a passenger on future visits.  The Bahamas was amazing and only wetted my appetite for a future and longer visit.  I have watched the HD videos shot with my GoPro camera many times over already and the wow factor has not worn off. 

[ March 4-6, 2011]

This has been one long weekend.  It started at 0600 Friday morning and concluded at 0330 Monday morning.  In the space of those 70 hours I completed my CAP Form 5 annual checkride in Tucson, caught a commercial flight out of Tucson to Houston, attended 12 hours of Boeing 737 ground school at Continentals Pilot Training facility, logged 1.4 hours and 2 ILS approaches to San Francisco (KSFO) in a B737-800 full motion simulator, received my high altitude endorsement, drove to Galveston to visit the Lone Start Flight Museum, drove back to Houston to visit the 1940 Air Terminal Museum at Hobby Airport, made a quick pit stop at Houston Southwest Airport to log an instrument approach and three landings in a Cessna 172 and finally back to the Houston Airport to catch a Continental 737-900 back home.   It all happened in a blur.  Now with some free time I'll attempt to recap each event.

[ March 6, 2011 4:30PM]
Lone Star State Added to Places I Have Landed a Plane     .9                                        

I arrived at Dutch Wings, located at Houston-Southwest Airport (KAXH), to link up with a brand new 22 year old CFI and wasting no time we headed out to the airplane to preflight.  This particular 172, N172BJ, was the dirtiest airplane I have ever seen.  There were places where the dirt, oil and grime were caked on.  I hoped this was no indicator of the maintenance support for the airplane.  The inspection did not turn up any missing or broken parts so I said a quick prayer and jumped in the left seat.  We taxied out only to be called by maintenance that our right tire looked low.  We taxied back to the ramp, shut down and inspected the tire.  The tire was much lower than when I had conducted the inspection but the FBOs quick fix was just add air and off we went.

It has been a little while since I flew the 172 so a few circuits in the pattern got me reacquainted with the speeds to fly and power settings to use.  KAXH has a single 5000x100 runway 9-27.  My first landing in Texas made it officially state number 16 on the US state landings to-do list and AXH became airport number 85.  This was the second new state this year, six more to go for the 2011 goal. 

After the touch and go's it was time to fly an approach to finish up the last of my six approach requirement for instrument currency.  I selected the LOC/DME RWY 9 approach plate and asked for the hood.  The CFI did not have a hood so I improvised by taking two pieces of paper and folding them into a makeshift hood held down by my headset.  This was a trick I picked up reading William Kershner's Flight Instructor's Manual and it worked great.  Thanks Bill, RIP.  The CFI gave me vectors to intercept the localizer and ended up having me intercept inside the FAF which is a no-no.  Fortunately with this non-precision approach the FAF to MAP is 5.2 miles and the altitude to lose is only 1600 feet.  I was down to the MDA with time to spare and ended up "breaking out" at the MAP with runway 9 directly in front of me.  We rejoined the pattern and completed a full stop on the next landing.   After parking the plane, I paid for the .9, made the log book entry and was back on the road to Houston.

The icing on this incredible weekend was flying home in a Continental Boeing 737-900.  Very similar to the 800 I had flown in the simulator.

As much as I wanted to stay awake in case the flight attendant made the announcement we as pilots all dream about "Ladies and Gentlemen the pilot and first officer have become incapacitated, is there anyone aboard who is a pilot that can fly the plane?"  I was just too exhausted from the long day and was asleep before we even left the gate.  Of course the call never came and I made it home uneventfully. 

[ March 6, 2011 2:30PM]
1940 Air Terminal Museum, Hobby Airport - Houston, TX                                        


This little museum is a real gem, especially if you are into the history of the American airlines.  Located at Hobby Airport the museum is in the original Houston terminal building.  The building is a beautiful classic example of 1930-40s architecture.  Not many examples of the early terminals still exist in the United States.  The museum displays tell the story of Houston Airport and the many carriers that were based at or operated from the field including big names like Eastern Airlines, Braniff, Continental, Pioneer, Texas Airways, and Southwest.  The museum holds tons of memorabilia from the airlines.


[ March 6, 2011 12:00PM]
Lone Star Flight Museum - Galveston, TX                                        


[ March 5&6, 2011 6:30AM]
Flying the Boeing 737-800 & High Altitude Endorsement     1.4                                     

Photos   Video - KSFO ILS 28R   Video - The Box

Wayne Phillips has been running a program called Airline Training Orientation Program (ATOP) for about 18 years now.  ATOP is conducted at Continental’s Houston Pilot Training Center and focuses on the Boeing 737-800.  Wayne writes for AOPA’s Flight Training magazine and works as an FAA inspector.  I’ve seen the ATOP ads in Flight Training magazine since I was a student pilot and often thought it would be cool to attend the training.  When I found out United and Continental were merging I knew ATOP would probably be coming to an end and decided to try reserving a training seat.  I contacted Wayne at the end of November 2010 and received a response back that all training slots were booked out to the end of May 2011 after which the program would terminate.  I kicked myself for waiting so long and allowing such a great opportunity to slip by.  As luck would have it I received an E-mail from Wayne a few weeks later stating that one additional ATOP class would be scheduled for March 5-6.  I could not believe my luck and jumped at the opportunity.

Fast forward to this weekend.  Saturday morning my ATOP class of nine students assembled for ground school at Continental’s Pilot Training Facility.  Wayne is a great teacher and very entertaining.  He kept the seven plus hours of ground school exciting.  We methodically covered every square inch of the Boeing 737-800 flight deck panels.  As Wayne discussed a panel that controlled a system such as hydraulics, pneumatics, or engines we would focus on the system and how it operated using provided reference diagrams.  It was a very smooth and seamless way of covering the entire airplane in a logical manner.  Of course in seven hours you cannot go into great depth on any particular system but I found the amount of information about right.  I think it was very helpful to have studied the systems previously providing a foundation for the additional information Wayne provided.  As you may already be aware I am fascinated with engines and turbines in particular.  Rolls Royce has an outstanding book "The Jet Engine" that I highly recommend.  Additional resources I recommend include ASA's "The Turbine Pilot's Flight Manual", "Aircraft Powerplants" by Bent/McKinley, and "The Aircraft Gas Turbine Engine and its Operation" by Pratt & Whitney Aircraft (published 1960).

Ground school also included rudimentary system troubleshooting and emergency procedures which may have been overly ambitious objective for seven hours of ground school.  Boeing aircraft and system panels are set up for what is called a “flow”.  Flows are completed from top to bottom and left to right.  Flows are done from memory and then verified with a checklist not a “do-list” as used in most general aviation aircraft.  All switches in the 737 are activated by “throwing towards the windshield,” so on the overhead panel the switches go down, on the center panel they go up.  All status lights are color coded.  Orange and red are bad, blue means “I am here if you need me”, and green is good to go.  A quick scan of the panels for an orange light makes it very easy for the pilots to spot a problem after they are notified by the Master Caution light positioned directly in front of them.

After ground school we went down to the Procedure Trainer to work through the next day’s flight scenarios.  The PT is a less sophisticated simulator with a fully operational cockpit but no flight motion and no outside visuals.  The PT allowed us to dry run call outs and all the switch flipping and knob turning required when flying the 737.  We finished up around 7PM pretty well smoked after drinking from the fire hose of knowledge.  I went back to the hotel and reviewed the procedures a few more times before calling it a day.

Sunday was simulator flight training and started bright and early at 5AM.  I got to sit in the jump seat for the first flight.  The scenario was the same for each flight crew iteration: we were positioned on runway 28R at San Francisco International just before sunrise, skies were clear and winds were calm.  We conducted a normal takeoff, climbed to 4000 feet, went on the auto throttles, turned base, and turned downwind.  On downwind we descended down to 2000ft and configured the aircraft for 170 knots and 5 degrees of flaps.  We were vectored onto the ILS for 28R, intercepted the localizer and then configured the aircraft for landing by dropping the gear, reducing speed to 155 KIAS, dropping 15 then 30 degrees of flaps, and setting the speed brakes to armed.  At 200ft we disengaged the auto throttle, crossed the threshold at 100ft and pitched up to landing attitude while reducing throttles slowly all the way to touchdown.  The first landing was a touch and go so we quickly stowed the speed brakes, set flaps to 15, and rotated at 140 KIAS.  Wayne then had us level off and reset the sim for a short ILS approach to 28R with weather conditions down to minimums.

On my flight as Captain of the 737-800, Wayne gave me a little bonus by failing the primary flight controls on the downwind.  With the loss of hydraulic pressure to the controls I had to man handle the yoke and make liberal use of the trim to keep the plane under control.  The amount of force required was tremendous but I was able to keep the nose above the horizon and the greasy side down until Wayne reset the malfunction on the trainer’s station.

Flying the 737 I found the simulator to be very convincing.  The simulator is so realistic that 737 pilots will receive their type ratings for the aircraft without ever setting foot in the real airplane.  The first time a new Continental pilot lands the 737 for real there are passengers in the back. 

I found I had a tendency to put the aircraft in a slight left bank by unconsciously pulling on the yoke.  I also found it very easy to pilot induce banking oscillations due to the delayed response of the aircraft when compared to a small training plane.  Of course the time in the simulator went very quick and I had to concentrate so hard on flying the plane and remembering the next procedure that there was little time to actually enjoy the ride.

All in all it was a very unique experience.  I was able to fly as both First Officer and Captain and logged over 1.4 hours of sim time along with two ILS approaches.  After the full motion training we received some additional high altitude ground school before heading to the Procedure Trainer to run a simulated rapid decompression drill.  Cruising along at 29,000ft we suddenly experienced a rapid decompression due to a hatch departing the aircraft.  The master caution light came on and the horn began to blare.  We immediately don our oxygen mask and take stock of the situation.  The First Officer silences the alarms and I call for the emergency depressurization checklist.  We go through all the steps and then declare an emergency and ask ATC for emergency descent to 12,000ft.  Approved I call for the emergency descent checklist.  We dial in 12,000ft into the MCP, 300KIAS for the auto throttle, and deploy the speed brakes.  Finally I hit the level change button on the MCP which puts the aircraft into a wicked descent – vomit comet style.  At this point we are along for the ride.  Time to notify the passengers, I pick up the intercom and calmly broadcast “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your captain speaking, we seem to have a small pressurization problem and will be descending down to 12,000ft.  So for now please sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.”  Down at 12,000ft we can breathe without the O2 mask, securing the mask, we configure the aircraft for level flight.  The drill is complete and we receive the coveted “High Altitude” endorsement in our log books from Wayne.  This feature alone makes ATOP a great deal.

With the sim and high altitude training behind us we wrap up training with logbook endorsements and final words from Wayne.  As a parting gift Wayne gives each of us a matted black and white drawing of a Continental 737-800.  As quickly as it began ATOP is over, but I will relive the experience in my mind hundreds of time for the foreseeable future, it’s mine to keep and savor for as long as I want.  I’ve gotten a small taste of what it is like to be an Airline Captain.  I’m motivated to fire up the PMDG 737-800 in the flight simulator back home and burn some holes in the sky.

You can find out more information on ATOP by visiting their web site at

[ March 4, 2011]
CAP Form 5 Annual Checkride                                         2.5

Video - Landing on Runway 21 at Tucson International, AZ

Completed my annual CAP Form 5 checkride this morning.  The test was conducted from Tucson which required a repositioning flight from Sierra Vista.  I could not have asked for better weather on this day, cloudless skies and low winds.  Last year’s Form 5 was more typical of spring in Arizona, gusting winds up to 25knots. 

The only fly in the ointment was how crazy busy Tucson and Ryan were on this Friday morning.  The typical regional morning push along with the perpetual AZ National Guard F-16 flight training (I swear the AZ ANG must have a limitless operating budget, they train non-stop, this is no exaggeration, if Arizona is ever invaded by Mexico have complete faith in the AZ ANG to defend the state) was further aggravated by only 11L being available for use (11R is normally used for GA) and higher than usual GA training flights, much of which was foreign students (and we all know how those tower-pilot exchanges go).

So it was into this situation in which I thrust myself with my trusty stead, the Cessna 182 Skylane.  Approach gave me the right downwind for 11L.  I executed my standard trademark “extended slam dunk” approach which features an altitude for airspeed transition that usually gives me a blistering 140 knot downwind, followed by a rapid transition to about 80 knots when abeam and then the standard approach profile to landing.  In my mind the controllers probably appreciate this technique because it gets the slow Cessna down and out of their hair quickly.  On this day however the game plan changed abeam of the touchdown point and I was given instruction to fly a right downwind for runway 21.  In the end this worked better for a quick taxi to my parking spot at the base of the tower.

Unlike the previous year’s FORM 5 my oral was quick and painless.  More time spent going through paperwork than anything else.  In no time we were strapped in to the airplane and heading out to the practice area.  Every time I fly with an instructor or experienced pilot I learn something new.  Today was no different and the tip I was given may save my life some day and is worth sharing here. 

If the engine ever quits in a carbureted airplane, one of the immediate checks you make is to ensure the primer is in and locked.  Instead you may want to unlock and pump the primer handle, this may provide enough fuel to the cylinders to keep the engine alive.  Why this works: the primer is upstream from the carburetor and can thus provide fuel, albeit very rich, to the engine when a malfunction or blockage has occurred in the carburetor.

My instructor used this technique to keep an engine alive long enough to land safely.

We performed the standard set of PTS maneuvers out in the training area before heading back to Ryan for landings.  Ryan was just as busy as Tucson with multiple GA training aircraft inbound or established in the pattern.  Radio work kept me very busy as I executed short field and soft field landings before departing back to Tucson for a full stop.

At this point Tucson traffic was reaching a fever pitch.  It was to the point where you could hear the stress in the controller’s voice.  Many of you know what I am talking about.  For the first time in my short flying career I was told to hold over a visual report point at 4,500ft.  Another GA aircraft was instructed to hold below me on the same point at 4,000ft.  We were stacked two high holding until a break in the arriving traffic at Tucson allowed the controller to peal me off the stack for a straight in to RW 03. 

Somewhere only final approach I got so distracted I failed to realize the displaced threshold and landed on it.  It was not until my debrief that the instructor told me what I had done; fortunately she did not flunk me for this major mistake.  It was really the only issue she observed on the flight.  It feels good to have the Form 5 behind me for another year.  I’m ready for the aviation adventure weekend that starts now….

[ February 27, 2011]
Night Currency/Instrument Approaches/Safety Pilot       3.1


[ February 21, 2011]
Prep for Annual CAP Form 5                                             1.1

Went up this morning to practice slow flight, steep turns, short fields, soft fields and engine out 180s.  Video of short field takeVideo of 180 engine out.

[ February 14, 2011]
Flying the Navion L-17                                                           .5

Following the glider checkride I had one more adventure in store for me before driving the seven hours across the desert back to Sierra Vista.  The school owner had agreed to let me fly his Navion L-17 with my instructor along.  This was a real treat!  The Navion built by North American is a beefy airplane.  She has a very high three point stance on some seriously over engineered retractable landing gear.  The engine is a six banger generating 230 horses.  This Navion is decked out in WWII paint scheme with US markings and invasion stripes.  Looking at the Navion from the rear reminds you of a P-51 Mustang (I’m dead serious here!) all the way up until the bulging side by side cockpit.  The wing dihedral is pronounced and the most I have seen on any GA aircraft.

[ February 14, 2011]
Glider Checkride PASSED!                                                      .4

Update: All glider videos have been uploaded to You Tube and are available here.

I spent last night studying as much as I could for today’s checkride.  I was thankful that the Schweizer 2-33A POH is all of ten pages but I read it from cover to cover several times spending extra time on weight and balance and what powered pilots would call the V speeds.

The DE flew up from Phoenix in an amphibian around 9am.  We did the standard paperwork, credentials, and IACRA drills before starting in on the oral exam.  The DE was very professional and thorough during the exam.  The oral lasted about an hour.  My knowledge of gliders was all of about an 1/8 of an inch thick so any probing or follow on questions in certain areas left me confessing that I just did not know.  Fortunately this did not occur very often.  Only in the area of types of variometers was I truly clueless.  More familiar topics like weather, cloud types, effects of terrain on wind, airspace, oxygen requirements, required inspections, airports, parachutes, compass errors, and SCUBA diving (huh? pilots have to know how long one should wait after SCUBA diving before flying so they or their passengers don’t get the bends.) were more familiar and comfortable topics.  With the oral complete it was time to go flying.  We discussed the sequence of events for the practical, positive exchange of controls, and the fact that I was PIC and the DE was just along for the ride (legal protection for the DE).

I conducted a preflight inspection of the glider and we loaded up for what would be a very short flight.  The Pawnee lined up on the taxiway facing south and we were connected to the tow rope.  I gave a thumbs up to my wing runner and wagged my rudder signaling to the tug pilot we were ready to go.  The initial tow was rough and we hit a bump in the taxiway that momentarily had us airborne.  I got things under control and we climbed out uneventfully.  I remembered to make the 200ft call out as we climbed through 900ft MSL.  The tug circled to the left and climbed as we headed to the west.  Around 2000ft the tug started into a left 360 then a right 360.  Towards the end I got a little out to sync, climbing and diving in an attempt to get the Pawnee’s wheels back on the horizon.  There were no comments from the DE as I worked hard to get back into position.

Once again level on the tow the DE asked me to box the wake.  This maneuver went very well.  The DE then induced slack in the tow line and asked me to take it out.  This required just yawing the nose of the glider to the outside.  At 4000ft he then told me to release from the tow.  I moved off to the right wing, climbed slightly, then lowered the nose into a shallow dive.  As the tow rope slacked I pulled the release and banked right.  The tow plane banked off to the left.  We stabilized and took up a heading to the south.  I was told to execute a slow flight and a straight stall which was simple enough.  He then asked for a turning stall to the left.  I put the glider into a bank and stalled it, the DE was not happy.  I was confused, this is how I had been trained.  The DE said “I wanted a shallow 15 degree bank turning stall not aerobatics, that was about 30 degrees bank.”  He told me to do it again, I executed a very shallow bank and stall, he was much happier.  After the stalls came left and right steep turns.  No problems here.  That was it for the maneuvers we headed back to the pattern.  Still well above traffic pattern I dropped the dive breaks to get us down quickly to 1700ft MSL.

At this point I had two task left to complete, I had to perform a forward slip to landing and finally land within 200ft of a designated point without going past the point.  I started to slip on the base leg and got yelled at by the DE.  Turning final and high I went back into the forward slip with right wing down and gobs of left rudder.  Over the fence I dropped the slip and applied full dive breaks with the airspeed at 60 mph.  On round out I relaxed the dive breaks for a gentle landing.  The DE told me to keep rolling to the designated point.  I kept the glider balanced on its single wheel as we rolled up to the designated point.  With most of the energy gone and short tap of the brakes had us stopped within feet of the landing point.  All done!  The DE congratulated me on the flight and landing and headed off to print my temporary certificate.  That had to be the shortest checkride ever, maybe .4 if we were lucky.  There is not a whole lot to the Private – Glider, but what a great experience.  I never once during the training missed having that fan thing we call an engine on the front of airplanes, for me it was easy to transition to thinking in terms of energy management.  If I have altitude I have energy.  I really enjoyed flying the glider and I know my limited experience does not even begin to scratch the surface of the true possibilities and experience of soaring.  I want to pursue this glider thing further, maybe join a club.  I have to believe the experience has made me a better pilot and that after all was the intent from the beginning.

 [ February 13, 2011]
Glider Training Day 3 - Fine Tuning                                    1.4                                         

Back at the airport this morning at 0800 for final dual training and mock checkride.  My ground instructor was my flight instructor this time and the school owner flew the Pawnee.  We conduct a 2000ft AGL release and come in to land on 18.  The owner has set up cones marking 400ft on the dirt between the runway and taxi way.  It is a commercial glider requirement to land between the cones.  My instructor is on the controls with me which is slightly annoying after solo yesterday.  We fly more his approach then mine and end up landing pretty long.  I get razzed about the landing by the owner and vow to fly my approach on the second sortie.  We go up again and this time I fly a wider pattern and plant the glider right inside the cones.  Third sortie is a 200ft tow cable break simulation.  I'm a little nervous about this one because it's going to be all me.  We take off and I make the call out "200ft."  The instructor releases the tow cable and we are free.  I bank aggressively to the right holding 70 mph while conducting a 200 degree turn back to runway 36.  We make it with plenty of energy in reserve and I fly in ground effect all the way back to the cones for another smooth landing.  Wish I had video of that one!  With three sorties left my instructor and the owner swap out.  We go up and practice turns on tow and boxing the wake.  I can feel his hands on the stick and fight against his control pressure during the entire maneuver which again can be really annoying.  After release I execute stalls and steep turns.  The owner asks for a few lazy eights which are not private requirements but what the heck we are having fun.  We fly back to the airport where I essentially go along for the landing as he is all over the stick.  He apologizes afterward explaining it is a habit from sea plane training where one wrong move by the student could spell disaster.  We complete two more sorties before calling it a day.  My log book is given all the proper endorsements for tomorrow's check ride.  Total logged time is 4.3 hours with 1.7 hours being solo/PIC.  I've completed all the pre-requisites for a glider add-on which include three hours of flight instruction and 10 solo flights.  Time to hit the books and study for the oral.

[ February 12, 2011]
Glider Training Day 2 - Solo!                                               2.9                                   

Winds were calm this morning as I headed down to the airport before sunrise.  I arrived just before 7AM as requested but had to wait another 30 minutes for my instructor to show up.  The school was busy today and by 8AM three or four students were already firing up the training aircraft for sorties.  My ground instructor was the only pilot who could fly the tow plane, a Piper PA-23 Pawnee, so I was handed over to the senior flight instructor of the younger CFIs for the dual instruction.  He took me over the pre-flight inspection of the 2-33A pointing out what to look for.  Pretty standard pre-flight stuff, ensuring nuts are on, safety pins in place, no damage to the glider's metal and fabric skin, push rods and cables are operational and not damaged, etc.  He discussed tow rope inspection and demonstrated how to tie knots to the tow ring.  Afterward we positioned the glider on the taxiway facing south and prepared for my first dual flight.  Things came at me fast and furious from that point on.  I was glad to have my Hero HDPro camera with head harness for this training because it allowed me to review the video/audio after training and catch a lot of instruction that I had missed due to the sheer volume of new information and experiences being absorbed in such a short amount of time.

The Pawnee pulled us into flight in very straight order from the taxiway in only a few hundred feet.  The instructor flew and I shadowed his stick movements with just a light touch.   It took quite a bit of forward stick to keep the glider from climbing out as we accelerated to 75 mph.  We were hauled up to 4000AGL while my instructor pointed out the correct tow position and sight picture.  Essentially you want the tow plane wheels to rest on the horizon.  Position corrections are done with only slight movements of the stick and rudder.  The sound of rushing air in the cockpit was louder than I had expected.  After leveling off we conducted an exercise called "boxing the wake."  This exercise consists of descending through the tow planes wake and then flying a box pattern in a clockwise direction before climbing back through the wake to the standard tow position.  The instructor demonstrated how to remove slack from the tow line by simply yawing the glider to the outside.  By now we were at release height, we slid off to the right of the Pawnee, conducted a slight climb and then dove to slack the tow rope before pulling the big yellow knob on the center of the instrument panel which released the tow rope from the hook underneath the glider. The Pawnee turned left and we turned right to gain separation as quickly as possible.  We were now on our own, gliding.  The sounds of rushing air subsided substantially as our airspeed decreased to 55 mph but it was by no means the silence I had expected.  My instructor went into demonstrations of the standard maneuvers, slow flight, steep turns, straight stalls, and turning stalls.  I made mental notes of the sight pictures required not only for the banks but also for the speeds.  Using the pitot/static tube, which protrudes about a foot vertically just in front of the cockpit, I could set my speed very accurately by placing points on the tube level with the horizon.  A yaw string attached to the pitot tube gave me instant feedback if I failed to stay coordinated during a turn.  We did the maneuvers several times before circling down just west of the traffic pattern for a left downwind entry to landing on the dirt between the taxiway and runway 36.  While the winds were calm on the ground there was a very distinctive wind aloft from the north, a sign of things to come later in the day.

We conducted two more dual flights.  Each flight the instructor gave me more control over the glider.  First the takeoff, then following the tow plane, then release, and then landings.  Everything came together rather quickly.  On the fourth dual sortie we executed a simulated tow rope break at 200ft.  200ft AGL is the minimum altitude to attempt a return to the airport, anything lower and you need to land straight ahead.  This stands in stark contrast to a powered training airplane where you would not begin to think about turning around below 800ft.  This is known as the “impossible turn” and has killed many pilots who attempt the turn to steeply and too slow causing a stall-spin into the ground.  The instructor had the controls for this demonstration and he immediately put us into a steep right 200 degree turn to get us back to the airport.  We maintained 70 mph all the way into ground effect, floating a ways before coming to a rumbling stop on the dirt strip.  The demonstration was pretty intense but to my instructor’s credit he had warned me before hand.  You can see the video here.

My instructor mentioned it had been awhile since he solo’d someone after four flights but he was confident I was ready to go out on my own.  I was not as confident as him and I felt very apprehensive much like that first powered solo back in August 2005.  It was not the gliding or the landing that really worried me, just the takeoff in tow.  This portion of the flight was squirrely to say the least.  First you got to get the glider wings level, then you have to balance the aircraft on its single belly wheel, then you have to keep it on the ground until its ready to fly, and then most important you must not let it climb once off the ground or you risk pulling the tow plane’s tail up nosing it over.  To make things even more interesting the winds were picking up. 

KIFP 121815Z AUTO 01020G26KT 10SM CLR 17/M06 A3036 RMK AO2
KIFP 121755Z AUTO 01018G24KT 10SM CLR 16/M07 A3037 RMK AO2
KIFP 121735Z AUTO 01017G26KT 10SM CLR 15/M07 A3037 RMK AO2
KIFP 121715Z AUTO 01017G23KT 10SM CLR 15/M07 A3037 RMK AO2

The takeoff ended up being uneventful and I made it into the air with a sigh of relief.  It takes a tremendous amount of forward stick to keep the glider from climbing while on the tow.  There is no way to trim this out so you just gotta keep the pressure on.  When I get nervous flying a plane I start to say checklist and confirmations out loud, it tends to have a calming and focusing effect.  This flight was no different.  I was calling out the altitude and airspeeds every 15-30 seconds along with the phrase “All OK!” as if I were Alan Shepard flying the Redstone rocket Freedom 7 into space. 

At 4700 MSL I released from the tow, banked right, and for the first time in my life was alone, high above the earth, and without a source of power.  It was an incredible feeling.  I can assure you that there was plenty of hooting and hollering going on in the cockpit.  I started back towards the airport working each of the maneuvers learned earlier in the day.  I really just wanted to stay up for as long as possible and enjoy flying but accelerated courses are more about work than having fun so I knew I had to get back.  Arriving just west of the airport some 2000ft above pattern altitude I deployed the speed breaks and spiraled down to 1000ft AGL, entering a left pattern for 36.  Using the speed brakes and a forward slip allowed me to correct for a high approach.  I kept the approach speed pegged on 60 mph.  Once in ground effect I had a few slight balloons before reconnecting with Mother Earth.  After a short rollout I activated the wheel brakes by pulling the speed brake handle full aft.  The glider nosed forward onto its skid and shuddered to a halt on the rocky dirt, dropping its right wing at the end as if to say “all done.”  More akin to a controlled crash than any powered aircraft landing I have made.  What a great feeling, it was like soloing for the first time.  Following the flight I was dutifully marched over to an old bathtub full of cold water and sticking with tradition tossed in!  It was February but at least it was Arizona.

After drying out we went back to work, I flew solo nine more times (FARs require 10 solo flights prior to checkride).  It was up and down, hook back up to the tow plane and do it again, it was all work no play.  We released at 2000ft AGL.  Sometimes I would almost beat the tow plane back to the airport.  All the while the wind continued to build.  By the last few flights winds were gusting to 25 knots.  Waiting for my tow I could level the wings with the ailerons alone and balance on the belly wheel.  A few of the takeoffs were squirrelly and required full deflections on the controls to keep things in check, once in the air everything became infinitely easier.  With the solo requirements behind me we called it a day with a plan to finish off all dual requirements the next morning.

[ February 11, 2011]
Glider Training Day 1 - Ground School                                                                          

Yesterday I drove seven hours from Sierra Vista to Bullhead City, Arizona a small desert town right on the border with Nevada and California.  I've come here to complete training for the private pilot glider certificate, another item on my bucket list.  The part 61 training outfit is family owned and operated Sheble Aviation.  This is my third attempt to schedule and conduct glider training since December of last year.  Previous scheduling in both December and January fell through due to the inability of the school to locate a designated examiner for the checkride.  I'm staying at the Avi Casino and Resort which is six miles from the airport in nearby Laughlin, Nevada.  Since it is the off season the hotel rate is only $22 a night making this an excellent cost saving benefit for this particular training site. 

The weather in this part of the southwest is mostly CAVU year round making it an excellent location for flight training.  This morning looked like a beautiful cloudless day except for one thing, the wind: 

KIFP 111815Z AUTO 36025G35KT 10SM CLR 15/M10 A3028 RMK AO2

Driving out to the airport I could see the sage brush swaying in the wind more so than normal.  By the time I arrived at the airport the winds were gusting consistently over 30 knots.  I knew this was not going to bode well for any type of flight training, let alone glider.  The airport, Sun Valley (A20), just to the east of town, leaves something to be desired upon first sight.  Rather dilapidated and unkept the runway is so narrow (3700'x42') and close to airpark houses that it is hard to discern there actually is a runway.  The school appears to be the only tenant dominating the entire hangar area and ramp space out front.  Rows of Cessna 172s and Beechcraft Travelair twins twist and strain against their tie down chains in a wind so strong that the windsock pole is bending backwards.  I know that 15 knots will cause a windsock to stand erect, I'm not sure what calibrated wind speed will cause the supporting pole to bend backwards, but I imagine it's fairly high!

I entered the small office/lounge to find two Japanese students lounging on the couch and my instructor banging away at a computer terminal nearby.  The office was pretty shabby.  My instructor introduced himself and immediately broke the bad news that there would be no flying today, but we would conduct plenty of ground school.  The next hour was spent processing paperwork and photo copying all of my required documents.  I don't know much about my instructor because he really never told me his background during introductions.  I gathered throughout the day talking with my him that he had been working for this school for the last 15 years.  He had owned several airplanes and gliders and was originally from Montana.  I was given a 10 page photocopy of the Schweizer 2-33A POH and charged 10 bucks for what cost the school 10 cents and was a copyright infringement.  Afterwards we began what the instructor termed "ground school."  This consisted of going over a three page question and answer sheet that contained the most common questions asked by the DE during the oral exam.  He would ask me a question, I would try to answer it, and then we would discuss.  This routine was commonly interrupted or side tracked by the instructor yawning, quick dashes to the UNICOM radio for wind advisories, people coming in and out, side bars with his wife who works as the secretary, weird personal stories, and occasional cursing.  Three or four young guys came in and out of the office and I ascertained that they were the rest of the CFI training cadre.  They looked to be the time building type.  A little later into the training the owner and his son returned from Valle, AZ where the owner had just finished checking out in a Ford Tri-Motor.  The owner's son was also a DE and went immediately to work prepping the Japanese students for their commercial checkride but not before a litany of cursing and claiming that the school would close on Sunday because everyone needed a day off.  I guess to hell with me and the other students who were here for scheduled training.  From there my ground school devolved into the instructor reading the questions and the answers which was of little value to me.  Luckily I have been reading "Gliding" by Derek Piggott which helped fill in a lot of the blanks.  We did have a few transient pilots come through the office and amazingly each one of them mentioned how the wind was fairly tame everywhere but Sun Valley, just my luck!

Afterward the instructor took me to the hangar to look at a Schweizer 1-23 undergoing reskining of the control surfaces which were all fabric.  We walked outside to the tarmac to look at the Schweizer 2-33 that we will eventually fly.  The wind was blowing so hard that the airspeed on the glider was registering 20-30 KIAS.  The 2-33 is a simple flying machine.  It is a two place glider with all metal wings and fabric covered fuselage and control surfaces.  The 2-33 also has spoilers/air brakes with a single large landing wheel recessed half way into the fuselage.  From 1967 to the late 80's the 2-33 was the primary training glider used in North America.  After the tour we called it a day and agreed to meet back at the airport at 0700 on Saturday morning.  My instructor has warned me to be ready to fly from sun up to sun down for the next two days.  I'm ready as long as Mother Nature decides to cooperate.  Regardless I'm staying here until this is done.

[ February 9, 2011]
FAA WINGS Advanced Phase I Completed                                                                             

[ February 3, 2011]
Passed FAA Instrument Ground Instructor Test                                                                             

Finished up the whole ground instructor certificate experience today with completion of the Instrument Ground Instructor (IGI) written test.  IGI is 50 questions from the instrument rating test question bank.  2.5 hours is allocated for completion. 

I think I got pretty lucky with drawing some of the easiest questions from the 950+ question bank.  I finished in about an hour with a 98%.  Once again my strategy was Gleim test prep and King school videos.  Of course this time around the material was not new but there were more than a few areas that I had to relearn since taking the instrument test a few years ago.

One more trip to the FSDO before a nice six month or so break before going for the CFI practical.  It took approx a month from my first visit to the FSDO to receiving my permanent instructor certificate in the mail.

So to summarize and close out the thread, it took about 3 1/2 months from start to finish to study for and take four FAA written exams.  These included:

FOI - Fundamentals of Instructing (prereq for both ground and flight certs)
AGI - Advanced Ground Instructor (FAA Instructor certificate issued upon passing w/FOI)
FIA - Flight Instructor Airplane (Prereq for taking CFI practical) (Same questions as AGI)
IGI - Instrument Ground Instructor (FAA Instructor certificate issued upon passing w/FOI or AGI)

[ January 9, 2011]
Testing a New Video Camera                                                  1.1                              

Since my Kodak V1073 went on the fritz months back I have been in search of a good replacement for my in-flight videos.  This week I received my new GoPro Hero HD camera from Amazon.  Today was the first opportunity to test the Hero out.  Shooting at 720p/30fps I shot video using the camera's head mount and also shot some external video mounting the camera to the plane's landing gear support.  I headed over to P29 just east of my home airport conducting a few steep turns before heading to P29 (Tombstone) for a few stop and go's.  A quick halt to remount the camera externally.  And then some additional stop and go's before heading back to KFHU for a flat landing on runway 26, all captured by the Hero.

The example video links below are both internal and external mounts. The Hero I have comes with a head harness which I thought would be kind of cool but after watching the video it seems somewhat distracting and a little nauseating. I think I am going to stick with my g-force suction mount but for reasons unknown to me the HERO comes with 5 different mounts none of which are your standard threaded tripod mount. I had to order it separately.

The video quality is excellent and I am very satisfied with clarity and color. I purchased the less expensive version of the camera which shoots up to 960p. A worthy successor to the V1073.

Make sure when you view these videos that you select 720p. You Tube defaults at 320 low res.

All videos below shot at 720p = 1280x720 pixels (16:9), 30 fps, 8 Mbit/s data rate

Link to camera specs:

Video on my camera and mounting set-up:

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