A Blog Documenting The Journey from Student Pilot to Airline Transport Pilot
2005 - 2015

Blog Archive

['16, '15, '14, '13, '12, '11, '10, '09, '08, '07, '06, '05]

[December 30, 2015]
Stratux - DIY low Cost ADS-B/WX

Flew down to Tucson today to take another flight in the Cirrus SR20.  It was the final flight for 3131J for 2015.  This year’s flight time on the Cessna 150 was 124 hours, for an average of just over 10 hours a month.  That would have equated to about $14,000 if I had rented a plane.  Ball park operational cost for me to log that number of hours on the 150 was about $7000, this includes fuel, maintenance, hangar, and insurance.  Fortunately the unforecasted maintenance issue with the stuck valve cost me a very minimal amount of money this time around.    About 1/3 of that flight time was logged instructional time for Carson which would have cost about $6200 on the outside so that alone has made the airplane a very good investment along with my CFI ticket.  The aircraft now has 219 hours on it SMOH with a TBO of 1800.  Tons of flying still left on the engine.  Arriving at Tucson we landed on runway 21 with some six F-16s waiting to takeoff after us.  Carson said one of the F-16 pilots waved to him as we passed just in front of him during our round out and flare.

For today’s Cirrus flight we went over to Marana, just west of Tucson, to shoot some touch-no-go’s .  The Cirrus is such an easy plane to fly and is easy to land.  Most of my landings at Marana were greasers, not until my last landing at Tucson where I came in too high and had to slip the airplane down did I get a little bounce which required some back pressure on the stick to keep under control.  Unfortunately I found out afterwards that the rental price on the Cirrus, which was such a bargain, had gone up substantially since I had last flown the plane in August.  It does not appear that I will be renting this plane for any x-countries at this point.  The days of dropping hundreds of dollars for a few hour aircraft rental are behind me at this point.

Now let’s get to the primary reason for this post, the Stratux.  I came across the Stratux just by chance reading a Wing X customer e-mailing.  At the end of the e-mail it mentioned a do-it-yourself ADS-B solution WITH AHRS for under $200.  This peaked my interest since I already own a Stratus-1S which cost me $500 and provides no AHRS capability for my Foreflight or Wing-X Pro.  For that you need the Stratus-2S which will set you back $900.  Stratus is manufactured by Appareo.  Appareo and I go way back.  I was a beta tester for them back in 2006 for their revolutionary product, AS Flight Lite.  This was the first flight data recorder years before Cloud Ahoy and Google Earth.  Much like EFBs and video recording of flights I was dabbling in these areas long before they became mainstream.  I Goggled Stratux and soon discovered the original build thread on REDDIT.  All the instructions were right there including a purchase list from Amazon and an image file with all the required software.  I placed an order with Amazon for $116 and a few days later the hardware arrived.  The unit consists of nothing more than a Raspberry Pi computer, a USB radio receiver, and a large battery pack.  Assembly took about 5 minutes and installation of the software another 15.  I powered it up connected it easily to ForeFlight and soon had ADS-B traffic and WX displayed on my moving map.  Simplistic genius!  I’m now ordering the parts for a second unit so I have one for school and one that will remain in my airplane.  Will probably sell my original Stratus and pocket the $300 I saved with this great little Stratux!  Check out the original build thread here and start enjoying the benefits of NexGen now!

[December 27, 2015]
Beech Debonair Insurance Checkout
Just finished a 10 hour insurance checkout and complex endorsement with an individual who purchased a 1961 Beech Debonair with the 260hp upgrade to the IO-470N engine.  I am always impressed with the solid quality of the Beech aircraft, from the Baron to the Bonanzas and even the Sierra (which I almost owned twice!).  Its easy to see the heritage of the Baron when in the Debonair, everything pretty much the same except only one set of engine controls.  While I love the build quality and performance of the Beech this '61 Debonair did have some things I did not like from a safety and pilot ergonomics stand point.  First, the gear handle is tiny and sits to the right of the monolithic yoke handle making it very difficult for the pilot to find it without actively searching (maybe that is a good thing?).  To make matters worse the gear up/down lights are about the size of a ball point pin tip and very dim, they too are on the PNF's side.  So all of this leads to a lot of head down work in very critical phases of flight such as climbing out after takeoff and in the pattern for landing.  The flap handle is about the same size as the gear handle but it is on the pilot's side.  Unfortunately you have to hold it down to actuate the flaps and then look outside and behind you to see the actual flap degree markings on the flap itself.  Geeze I though the flap indicator above my door in the Cessna 150 was bad.  Fuel gauges also leave something to be desired.  I can understand sharing gauge indicators in the more complex Baron but Beech also did it with the Deb, one gauge is all you get requiring you to manually flip a switch for right or left tank indications.  This is a fuel starvation accident waiting to happen.  Beyond those minor gripes the 260HP Bo is a beast.  She rotates with authority at 70MPH and will climb like a home sick angel at 85 in a very pronounced 10degree plus attitude.  At 5000 ft the normally aspirated engine peaks out on manifold pressure and begins to decrease but that does not stop the B35-33A from continuing to climb at 1000fpm+ all the way past 10,000ft at 130mph indicated.  We were seeing true airspeeds of 165mph with settings of 18"MP/2300RPM.  This plane will get you places in a hurry with the added benefit of cashing in all that altitude at the end of your journey taking the airplane right up to yellow line at 185mph.  Beech aircraft remind me of Grumman WW2 fighters, they are built like tanks and able to handle 4.4Gs, flying around in one and you think you could fly through a brick wall unscathed (please don't try this.).  She is super stable in flight as well and while in turns she does display some degree of lateral instability it is no where near as pronounced as the Baron.  Stalls were not too exciting with a slight wing drop easily recovered from.  All Bonanzas have the NACA 23000 series airfoil (developed in the 1930s) which if you have ever looked at the Lift coefficient/AOA graph you noticed the abrupt cliff face drop off when reaching the critical alpha.  Very unlike your typical Piper or Cessna which has a gentler hump.  With each Beech behaving a little different you have to tip toe into the deep end to determine how your aircraft will behave in the stall.  We started with clean power off stalls and progressed into various configurations from there.  Landings usually require carrying a little bit of power into the flare like a twin.  The Bo will drop quite rapidly if power is pulled on final and at 80knots you may not have the energy required to arrest the descent.  Beech calls for a power off approach at 92mph to give the tail the authority it needs to keep you from slamming into the runway.  For those interested in purchasing or flying Bonanzas, I highly recommend joining the American Bonanza Society, they have a trememdous amount of information and resources available to their members including online training, POHs, and free technical support.  Another excellent resource for those flying Bonanzas is John Eckalbar's book "Flying the Beech Bonanza."  John's an engineer and he gets deep into the woods with performance calculations and real world testing with numbers that you will not find anywhere else.  Finally, check out this link for a copy of the Beech owner's manual - lots of numbers and procedures you will no longer find in the lawyer approved POHs.

[December 25, 2015]
Happy Holidays


[December 21, 2015]
Super Cub Flight

Trying to get checked out in a tail dragger I drove an hour to a flight school which will go unnamed in the south end of the valley.  I had been to this school previously for aerobatic training and the instructors were pretty good guys.  Today, not so much.  The chief flight instructor took me out to the Piper Super Cub for a pre-flight inspection and to talk about the nuances of the plane, yeah it’s a Super Cub but as far as sophistication goes it’s not much different than a J-3, it’s a simple machine, but you do get to sit up front as the student and during solo!  I tried to make a little small talk but Mr Personality was having none of that this Monday morning.  He told me there was no room in the plane for me to mount my GoPro which was untrue and a real bummer, I like to have something to remember my $100 excursions.

After the preflight we jumped in, fired up the Cub, and taxied out for the run-up.  The Super Cub has great visibility on the ground especially since you get to sit in the front seat, no need to s-turn this plane in the taxi.  It does have heel brakes, like the Great Lakes, which I can’t stand, but thankfully you don’t have to use them much.  The instructor did not have much to say during the run-up, giving me takeoff instructions as we were rolling.  After three seconds you have to push the nose over pretty hard for the takeoff attitude.  Later when we leveled off I realized the sight picture at level almost looks like negative AOA.  The nose if far below the horizon, probably a result of sitting so high in the airplane.  It took some getting used to for sure.  Not a whole lot of speeds to remember with this basic bird, climb out was at 70, cruise was 2400 RPM, glide was 60, pattern was 65 final 60.  The instructor took me through the unusual air work, stalls, slow flight, turns, emergency.  I was pretty proud of my rudder work in the turns, no slipping or skidding.  We did some turning stalls and I got  a descent wing drop which I raised with opposite rudder.  I may have moved the stick an inch from engrained instincts to lift the wing, before my training kicked in and stopped my wrist movement.  The instructor was obviously hopping I would make that common mistake because he was all over me about lifting the wing with aileron even though I had about pushed the rudder through the firewall to stop the roll.  I was not making many mistakes on this flight, but I felt as if he wanted to prove I was rusty.  We headed back to the airport to do some touch-no-go’s which is what I really wanted to do anyway.  On downwind the instructor said "make it a full stop I have another student."  Uh okay, I just drove an hour, made my appointment three weeks ago, and showed up early but apparently the schedules too packed to give me an hour in the Cub.  I think this was what finally turned me off to this guy.  I flew down at full flaps, and 60 indicated to put down on a nice three pointer. The flight lasted all of a 0.7.  Love this airplane, this time back in a tail dragger was nowhere near as difficult as previous reunions.  Do not love this instructor.  Afterwards he asked if I wanted to make another flight appointment.  “I’ll make one later when I check my schedule” I replied, this is pilot code for “Hell no, I’ll call back in a month and ask for another instructor.” 

Today was also the first day of mandatory FAA Drone Registration.  As a dutiful citizen I waited anxiously to be first in line when the web site went live to get my "N" number for my 15+ model aircraft I own.  I kinda hoped I would get registration number 000001 or something close on this historic aviation occasion.  No such luck!  I ended up with FA34XFCXER, huh?  Now this 10 character registration needs to be placarded on every model I own.  Hope it does not need to be 12" inches high.

[December 20, 2015]
The Last Blood Run

My sixth flight this year for Flights for Life keeps me as an active pilot.  Destination was Show Low, AZ 100 miles to the east in the high desert.  I had scrubbed a mission to Show Low a few weeks back due to snow showers and low ceilings, it was looking like more of the same this morning.  The TAF was showing a general trend towards VFR by afternoon so I pushed my ETA to 1130.  The route to Show Low is over rugged terrain most of the way once passing the high ridge on the eastern edge of Phoenix, which today was shrouded in clouds.  By 1030 I was gassed up and ready to go, the box of blood platelet was loaded as far aft in my cargo compartment as possible.  The aft weight would give me an aft cg, less tail down force and better cruise.  A final look at the WX and now Show Low was IFR.  Fortunately one of my students lives there so I contacted him and he reported broken skies, a very different report.  Just 25NM to the east is Springerville and they were reporting VFR, it was a good alternate so I launched.  I climbed initially to 8000 to get over the pass and above the clouds, a strong tail wind gave me 110 over the ground. Over the ridge I found a strange parting of the clouds that literally showed the way to Show Low.  Despite that I continued to climb to get above the clouds in case the path closed suddenly.   Eventually I ended up at 11000 ft, an incredible altitude for a 150, zipping along at 125 knots.  At 15 miles the clouds closed below me, but there were still a few holes. The wind atKSOW was reported to be 220 16G20 perfect for RW 21.  I overflew the airport at 11500 found a hole and steep spiraled to get below shooting an uneventful landing on 21.  It was a quick turn, drop off the blood, pick up return blood, get some fuel.  The wind was battering 31J, her control surfaces getting deflected from side to side.  I should have parked into the wind, especially when I started fueling, but I did not want to block the Pilatus parked on the ramp! The wind chill was in the negatives I quickly lost feeling in my hands and wished I had brought gloves and a jacket.  My student came out to say hello and help me with the fueling.  I made a quick turn and soon found myself battling brutal headwinds on the way home, I stayed low as long as I could but this led to a bumpy ride over the rugged terrain.  Eventually I climbed above the clouds and passed just to the north side of a snow covered 7903ft Mazatzal Peak, descended back into the safety of the valley and made it safely home.

[December 18, 2015]
Fall Semester Round Up

I just completed my fourth semester with the college.  This semester I finished up two instrument pilots, created one commercial pilot, one CFI, and one CFII.  I also had to step in and take over the commercial pilot ground school about a month into the semester.  My four ground students scored very well on the commercial knowledge test.  It was the first semester teaching in the new diesel Redbird Redhawks (C172).  There were certainly some growing pains with the new airplanes, specifically standardizing and documenting our procedures.  I also moved into the more elevated role of check airmen, responsible for conducting stage checks with private, instrument, and commercial students.  In addition on had a seat on the hiring board for new flight instructors, it really opened my eyes to the wide variety of styles and knowledge out there.  The CRJ simulator sat dormant for the semester and there was no multi engine ground school or multi engine flying, the Baron never came out of its annual from May.  Still tweaking all my lesson plans, applying everything I am learning from this experience.  The learning never stops that is certain.

[December 5, 2015]
Finally! My Own Pilot Cave

After sitting on the hangar waiting list for five months my number finally came up.  Moved into a spacious T-hangar today and finally feel I have arrived in airplane ownership.  A place where all of my aviation things collected over 10+ years can now be assembled under one roof.  No more shuttling everything I need to and from the airport each time I fly.  All those aviation posters collected here and there now able to be displayed and appreciated.  A 150 is not a big plane so there is plenty of room for other things, a desk, a computer, some shelves.  I spent the weekend moving everything in, assembling, and organizing.  The hangar is not only a shelter for your plane, but a hangout as well.  I put a small fridge in the corner, stocked it with Dr Pepper for Carson and threw a couple of camp chairs for just relaxing and talking aviation when we are not flying.  I am looking forward to spending some good times in my new pilot cave.

[December 4, 2015]
My Son the Student Pilot

It’s finally official, Carson is a student pilot according to the FAA.  To me Carson has been a student pilot since he was eight years old, peering over the panel of my flight simulator. Now with over 80+ dual flight training hours officially logged Carson is well on his way to a head start on his aviation education.  He has been working on his glider training for almost a year now, the solo is getting close according to his instructor.  I knew we needed to head down to the FSDO in Scottsdale and get the student pilot certificate taken care of.  Since Carson does not require a medical we did not need to see an AME to get the combined student cert/3rd class medical.  Instead I created him an IACRA account and submitted an 8710.  Took about 10 minutes at the FSDO to walk out with the student cert.  Now I just need to get him into the Wings program!


The beginning.  This picture was taken on February 21, 2004 in front of a Piper Cherokee Six at KFHU.  It was the first GA airplane flight either of us had ever taken.  I was 33 at the time, Carson was 2 1/2.  The flight was part of a fund raising event by the Shriners.  I think I donated $25 so that we could go on the flight around the Sierra Vista airport.  Interestingly Carson is wearing an Oshkosh sweatshirt.  I had no clue of the significance of Oshkosh at the time.  Sixteen months later I would start flight training.


[December 2-4, 2015]
Giving Spin Instruction

The school asked me to bring 31J back to spin endorse the latest batch of CFI students.  I enjoy this part of my job and took the opportunity to enhance my spin training lesson material.  The students are always so apprehensive of the flight.  This time around I had video from the previous spin training with CFI students so I showed it them to try and make them a little more comfortable.   I also showed them the video of a student putting us into an inadvertent spin while practicing power on stalls.  I try to give them the most useful training possible even though the TCO calls for only the minimal requirement.  I demonstrate a two turn incipient spin.  They practice spins to both the left and right, recovering after the second rotation.  This time around I stressed to the students to be careful about what to take away from their experience.  Because we recover in the incipient phase of the spin there are a few differences than would be experienced in the fully developed spin.  First, because the plane is pointed almost straight down the rudder has an incredible amount of authority compared to what it would have in the fully developed phase due to horizontal stabilizer blanking.  Full deflection of the rudder in the incipient phase causes the airplane to stop rotating instantly, even half deflection has the same effect.  In the fully developed phase the rudder would not perform remotely as well, and a half hearted deflection may have no effect at all.  I always end my training by telling the student to spend the money and get some professional upset recovery or aerobatic training, after all it may someday save their life.  Remember this: if you ever get into a spin, you have the rest of your aviation life to figure out how to get out of it.

Carson has been talking about spins for some time, I think they intrigue him....the unknown.  He has spun a few planes in the simulator, watched some videos online and hinted at wanting to do them.  After returning from the spin training at school I decided to take him out to let him experience spinning first hand.  Like the students he voiced his apprehension as we climbed up to a safe altitude out by Lake Pleasant.  Completely normal, we all fear what we don’t know.  I demonstrated a spin to the left and recovered.  I spouted out the procedures for entering and recovery.  Carson said “slow down, say that again.”  He did not have the benefit of a detailed explanation and Powerpoint presentation that the students had.  Instead I was just throwing him into the deep end of the pool and saying swim!  My bad.  Despite the lack of formal training he was able to get the airplane into a spin and more importantly get it back out within two turns.  Now more comfortable he did another one and recovered.  A final spin and he had it down, nothing to it!  The unknown had become the known, fear had been replaced by confidence, and another block in this pilot's foundation had been laid.



[November 25, 2015]
Passing on being a Freight Dog

A few weeks ago I sent my resume to Ameriflight, the largest 135 cargo operator in the country.  The company has a base at Phoenix Sky Harbor, not far from my home.  A couple days later I received a call from a recruiter asking to do a phone interview.  The phone interview went on for about 45 minutes, after a while the questions started to resemble some of the in person interviews I had done with Embry-Ridlle and CTI.  Towards the end of the interview it is sounding like I am going to be offered a job flying the Piper PA-31 Navajo out of Phoenix.  The recruiter says “make my Friday and accept this offer.”  I’m stunned, what I thought was just a screening interview turned into a job offer, flying out of PHX.  I gladly accept the offer.  I’m told to fill out a bunch of paperwork on line, get a drug screen, and report to Dallas for training on 6 December.  The down side, train through the holidays.  That sucks, but okay.

As the excitement wore off I started thinking about just how easy it was to land this new flying job.  Man those cargo carriers must really be feeling the pilot shortage in a bad way.  The pay was not nearly what I am making now but twice that of what a first officer makes at the regionals.  My responsibility would now be just getting myself and an airplane from point A to B and then back again.  It sounded great, at least at first.  The recruiter said training would last for three weeks and then on to line training in Albuquerque or Portland for two weeks.  After that I would be on my own back in Phoenix.  The typical day would consist of arriving early at base, flying to an out site, spending the day hanging out until the cargo showed up later in the day, load the airplane and then fly back to base.  Sounded straight forward.  It appeared I would be sleeping at home every night and spending more time with the family, after all that is what prompted me to reach out to Ameriflight in the first place.

As the weeks passed I finished the drug test, worked on the paperwork pile and received a Jetpubs manual and cockpit diagrams of the PA-31.  I was wrapping my mind around finally being a freight dog.  I started doing some deeper research on-line about 135 ops and Ameriflight.  My rosy  picture of a freight dog life started to change.  I would have to be at the plane at o’dark thirty in the morning and probably returning to base after seven in the evening, making it home by eight.  While I would be sleeping in my own bed that would be about the only thing I would have time to do.  I would also be working an additional day.  When I started racking and stacking my time at home in my current job and what I estimated my time home with Ameriflight would be things did not look as attractive.  I started second guessing my decision.  Meanwhile my current employer was looking for ways to keep me.  They knew I wanted more time with the family.  They finally made me an offer that did just that.  It was enough to make me decisively decide that Ameriflight was not the right move for me.  And with that my career as a freight dog came to an end before it even began.  At least for now.

[November 24, 2015]
Cross Country to Cali

Went out to California for the second time this month as part of a student’s commercial seven hour cross country.  Landed at a couple of airports that have been on my to-do list for some time including Big Bear Lake and Santa Monica.  Revisited Van Nuys and this time got to land on 16R despite initially being cleared for 16R and then switched to 16L.  A nice request got me the approval for the runway I wanted in the end.  We had also wanted to land at Catalina Island but the marine layer put the airport under low IFR conditions making it a little too risky for me.  If you can’t see how cool the visual approach is to this airport then what’s the point.  (I had landed at AVX in the 150 during the Summer of 2013). 

Big Bear Lake (L35) sits in a mountain bowl at an elevation of 6,752.  It has been years since I last visited while stationed at Fort Irwin an hour or so north.  We approached from the east side starting at 10,500 to clear the eastern ridge as we dropped down we were hit by some very sudden shots of turbulence coming off the ski ridges just to our south.  We slowed the 182RG and tightened the seatbelts.  There was just enough room in the bowl for us to get enough spacing to enter into a 45 left downwind for runway 26.  I warned my student about the possibility of the plane getting squirrelly as we decided below the tips of the tall pine trees which surrounded the airport but the landing ended up uneventful f or the most part.  Large clumps of plowed snow lay on the edges of the runway.  Big Bear has just gotten her first snow not too long ago.

The takeoff on RW26 took us over Big Bear Lake for a beautiful departure.  Many of the home that dotted the hills around the lake are built in the Bavarian style.  It took me back to my days in Germany.  Once over the ridge line to the west it was all downhill into Los Angeles.  We passed just south of Lake Arrowhead.  Entering into the LA basin was crazy town on the radio.  I had to get my head wrapped around SoCal Approach and how they own all the airspace minus the towers in the congested airspace.  I believe LA Center owns 10,000ft and above.  Everything below is SoCal regardless of the airport you are going to.  This of course is different than most every place in the country with a few exceptions.  But if you have not seen those exceptions you just don’t know. 

We went to Santa Monica near the coast first.  Santa Monica had been under the threat of closure so I definitely wanted to visit it before it closed.  As of this writing I think it is safe at least for the near term.  The airport is shoe horned into the town, with houses encroaching right up to the fence.  We were flying by office building in down town on our right base for the runway.  Short final has you crossing over the Freeway at tree top level before entering the safe confines of the airport.  On departure we headed for the coast line a few miles away.  A Navy helicopter was doing some low level work directly in our flight path but the tower never mentioned it.  We flew over the top of him and made a right turn to follow the coast, crossing directly over the famous Santa Monica Pier with its iconic Ferris wheel.

Our final stop was Chino for lunch at Flo’s Café and an opportunity for my students to check out Planes of Fame.  While they did that I requested a refueling from an FBO called Flying Tigers.  The girl on the phone asked how much fuel I needed, which I though was a little strange.  It made sense when she showed up in the world’s smallest fuel truck.  It was a little 4 wheel Gator with maybe a 50 gallon container on the back.  Took forever to fill up and we took on way more fuel than I had calculated we burned.  Despite our leaning efforts the plane had burned at a rate of 3 gallons higher than normal.  Never trust your fuel gauges, that’s what you’re taught.  By my lesson on this day was go with whatever is lower, if your calculation say you have fuel and the gauges don’t, believe the gauges.  If the fuel calcs say you don’t have fuel and the gauges do, believe the calcs.  We dodged a bullet on this one, good thing Catalina was socked in or we might have been swimming!  I caught a ride back to the Flying Tigers office, absolutely coolest FBO out there.  Lots of Flying Tigers memorabilia sprinkled throughout the building.  1940s music and radio broadcast could be heard.  Very nostalgic.  I walked back to the plane and checked out a row of barn style hangars nearby.  Tucked behind a hangar owned by Cal-Aero Flight Academy was a beautiful Lockheed Electra.  In another hangar guys were restoring a B-25.  Lots of cool things going on at Chino.  By now the winds were really starting to pick up, I could see lennys forming over the mountains to the east.  Fortunately it was going to be a great tail wind for us.  We climbed up to 11,500 and caught about 35 knots making the flight all the way back to Douglas in 2 ½ hours, a distance of 430NM.


[November 15, 2015]
The Hardest Part is Behind Him

A few weeks ago I flew with Carson in the 150 over to Glendale to shoot some landings.  I was stunned at how well he landed the little airplane.  A few months ago we flew a Cherokee and he completely mastered the airplane in the pattern.  I chalked it up to the superior training platform that the Cherokee is (sorry Cessna).  Its heavier, very stable (relatively speaking), and forgiving on landings.  The 150 is none of those things and I believe takes a higher skill level to land.  Carson rounded the 150 out gracefully just above the runway, excellent depth perception.  He then worked the little plane into the flare careful to not pull too quickly, sensing the energy state of the airplane and letting it kiss the runway.  Okay maybe that was luck, but then he did it again and again and again.  I can only assume the glider training has taught him these critical skills.  I told him the hardest part of learning to flying is over.  I tell you if he was legal to solo an airplane, I would solo him today, he is that good.  He still has almost two years to go before he will be able to do that but I am so looking forward to that day and being the one who signs him off.

[November 12, 2015]
31J Returns Home

31J went down for a stuck valve on September 10.  Twenty days later after completing repairs she was moved to Benson for further work.  Compression checks showed a strong engine and my mechanic was hesitant to really do any further work.  New baffling was installed to hopefully address the high temps I had been seeing prior to the failure.  I had read that running too rich or running too hot can both lead to stuck valves, maybe the high temps is what ultimately lead to the valve sticking.  We also replaced all the Lord mounts on the cowling since much of the rubber bushings had deteriorated quite badly in the dry Arizona climate..  A couple of test flights showed the engine to be strong and temperatures to be back in the normal range.  It was time to return 31J home two months after the original incident.  While I had been using TCP to keep the lead from building up I think I will be making the switch to Marvels to see if I fair any better with these maintenance issues in the future.

[November 4, 2015]
AOPA Flight Training Excellence Award

AOPA released their Flight Training Excellence Awards today.  I was able to garner a spot on the CFI Honor Roll thanks to positive surveys submitted by my students.  This is the fourth year AOPA has conducted the flight training poll.  The press release follows:

AOPA’s Flight Training Excellence Awards were created to highlight the best flight training the industry has to offer. “All of us here at AOPA are proud and excited to recognize this year's winners,” said Chris Moser, AOPA’s manager of flight training initiatives. “The Flight Training Excellence Awards were created to recognize best practices in flight training—excellent customer service, quality education, community development, and sharing knowledge. The feedback from this year's poll makes it clear that the winners are providing high quality and effective training for their students.”

The 2015 awards were drawn from flight students and pilots who voluntarily reviewed their flight training experience last summer through an AOPA online poll. The process yielded an evaluation of 788 different flight schools and 1,533 individual flight instructors.

[November 2-7, 2015]
SAFECON Region 2 Competition

[October 23, 2015]
Flying Magazine Changes....Again
Flying magazine has its third new editor in as many years as Bonnier Corp, owner of the magazine, appears to continue to be shaking things up over there.  The magazine is expected to have another makeover in the very near future.  Reading  the new editor Stephen Pope's comments an airport name jumped out at me and rang familiar.  Pope was reflecting on his aviation upbringing and specifically learning to fly in a Piper Cub.  The airport where he flew the Piper was a 1900ft grass strip called Trinca in northern New Jersey.  Trinca sounded awfully familiar so I jumped on skyvector.com to look it up.  In a few minutes I knew why.  Just northeast of Trinca sits Aeroflex Andover, the place where I learned to fly a Piper Cub in a beautiful fall setting back in 2009.  While the Piper was based out of Andover we did the majority of our training at Trinca.  It was the first grass strip I had ever landed at.  So once again only six degrees separates every aviator.  Both I and Stephen Pope share wonderful memories of flying an iconic aircraft at an airport that could essentially be the Norman Rockwell painting of an American grass strip airport.

[October 17, 2015]
Red Bull Air Races - Las Vegas

We missed the Reno Air Races this year, so to make up for it in a little way I drove Carson out to Las Vegas for Red Bull.  First time out to the races wanted to see what they are all about.  The event was held at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.  First, this is not Reno, not even close, but if you have an air race itch this will definitely scratch it for you.  The pits are very sterile and about as close as you can get to the planes is 50ft.  All the planes were cowled, no tools out, busted knuckles, greasy overalls.  No the pits here had more of a European F1 Formula racing air to them instead of the NASCAR USofA like atmosphere of Reno.  The runway was just a short strip nestled on the in field of the speedway.  The organizers had to take light poles down just so the pilots could make the approach back into the raceway.  A very challenging approach which actually caused one pilot to land so hard he damaged the his composite prop severely and had to drop out of the competition.  I will say that the actually race is way more exciting than Reno even though only one racer is on the course at a time.  All the action remains inside the raceway and includes knife edge turns, high G maneuvers, and high vertical reentry. The pilots are a mix of young and old.  I was a little surprised at how empty the grandstands were for this event.  The Red Bull races garner much larger crowds in Europe than they do in the US.  Not sure how Red Bull could be making any money on this event.  The race was carried by Fox One Sports.  The weather threatened rain the entire day but it never interrupted the event.  The race concluded with Yoshihide Muroya posting the best qualifying time of 0:48.618.


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[October 12, 2015]
Sold! - First Home Simulator Satisfied Customer

A friend of mine really admired my flight simulator set up and had approached me with the suggestion of building him one.  The idea sat tabled for a few months and then in August I decided to take on the job.  As most jobs it was much more labor intensive then I had imagined taking about 2 1/2 months to complete but in the end I was very happy with the finished product.  I had started with my original design and improved on it.  My carpentry skills have vastly improved since my first build as well as the amount of tools and equipment available to me.  This resulted in a higher quality desk/panel in both fit and finish.  The addition of the glare shield with LED lighting also really adds tremendously to the realism. I am toying with the idea of selling simulators as a side business.  I might throw a couple of the pics from this build on Craig's List and see if I generate any interest.

[October 10, 2015]
Country Music & Aviation
I love country music almost as much as I love aviation.  A few of my favorite country music artist have released aviation themed songs or videos that I want to share with everyone here.  The first is Kenny Chesney's Save it for a Rainy Day video which sports a beautiful Piper Cub on floats.  Kenny loves the Conch Republic almost as much as we do so he gets bonus points.  The next video is by Dierks Bently, Drunk on a Plane, this one is pretty hilarious and I swear if I ever start a Part 135 operation it will be named Riser Air.  That's probably inviting extra oversight by the FAA but the what the hell!  The last video is my wife's boy Jason Aldean and Fly Over States.  Enjoy!


[October 2, 2015]
Domain name back in my possession

My apologies for the disappearance of this blog for several weeks.  The company which hosts my site encountered some technical difficulties with the auto renew of my domain name.  It took several weeks of back and forth to resolve the issues but as of today we are back up and operational.  Plenty of posts need to be uploaded as to keep everyone up to date on the maintenance issues that have befallen my once trusty Cessna 150 31J.

[September 30, 2015]
31J patched up and repositioned

Proud of myself this evening, under supervision of the mechanics here over the last few weeks: I removed the cylinder, got the valve unstuck (after a lot of effort), reamed the valve guide, lapped the valve, cleaned and checked all my plugs, and reassembled the cylinder.  Total cost: zero. On run up the airplane started right up and ran smooth.  Taking a very conservative flight path I flew her the 40 miles to Benson where my mechanic is located.  In a few weeks we will start the process of an entire top overhaul, addressing the issue of blow-by by replacing rings, rehonning the cylinders, and checking all valve guides, valves, and springs.  I've got some other squawks I want to address as well so now is the time.

[September 20, 2015]
Milestone 1,000,000 Views - Tim's Aviation on You Tube

[September 13, 2015]
Carson likes the Cherokee
We did not go to the glider club this weekend so I let Carson fly the Cherokee at our home airport.  I don't think I ever touched the controls once in the five takeoffs and landings that Carson conducted.  At this point I think Carson could solo an airplane without a problem, too bad he has another two years to wait.  He felt right at home in the unfamiliar airplane after only one lap in the pattern.  He came away with a very positive impression of the Cherokee as a fantastic trainer more so than the little Cessna 150.  This flight also convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Piper is a far superior training plane than anything that Cessna makes.  And this is from someone who did all of their primary training in Cessna's and happens to own one as well.

[September 10, 2015]
Here we go again, 3131J goes down for stuck valve

I am absolutely stunned, the same exact issue that occurred with 51044 when I tried to return from Michigan last July has struck 31J, a stuck exhaust valve.  I had flown down to school this week as part of a plan to keep my plane exercised throughout the month.  At 4:30 I went out to the plane, did a quick preflight, and attempted to start her up.  The first try was unsuccessful which is out of the norm for an aircraft that usually starts up instantly.  The second attempt was successful and I did not notice anything out of the norm as I allowed the airplane to warm up.  On taxi I noticed some roughness and wondered if it was just air loading of the prop from the wind which was gusting to about 15 knots.  In the run up area I attempted to increase the RPMs and instantly knew something was not right.  The whole plane shook and the engine was indeed rough.  On idle the plane would almost quit.  I headed back to the ramp, I had a good idea of what was going on.  Thankfully one of our school mechanics was still around, everyone else had left for the weekend.  I explained the problem to him and told him I thought it was a stuck valve.  He recommended a compression check so I pulled the cowling.  We got through three cylinders without a problem, but on the last cylinder we got zero compression.  Problem found.  I removed the rocker cover and the problem was immediately evident.  The exhaust valve was stuck completely open.  We gave it a tap with a mallet, but the valve was stuck fast.  31J was going nowhere fast.  I spent the night and decided fixing the problem was going to take more than a couple of hours.  Spending my precious weekends away from home was not smart, I could work on the plane during the week after work.  A fellow instructor was kind enough to allow me to use his plane to fly home for the weekend.  I buttoned 31J back up and put her on the ramp.  I was stunned that I had now experienced the same exact issue with my previous plane.  The only common dominator between the two incidents was me.  Had I done something wrong?  I don't think so.  I always lean my plane when I fly, my exhaust stacks are always a nice gray color, never black which denotes running too rich a mixture.  I had also started using TCP additive with 31J specifically to avoid another situation like I had with 044.  TCP is suppose to remove the lead from AVGAS which has been known to foul valve guides.  O-200 Continentals are known for sticking valves so it could very well not be me, but my hunch is that blow-by is the culprit and the fact that I may have let my plane sit a little too long without exercise.  Engines want to be operated often, when they sit bad things happen.  After the GAXC-2 I let 31J sit for 6 weeks without flying her, I think this was a bad idea.  Fortunately this time, unlike the Michigan incident, I am close to home, close to my mechanic, and not up against any time crunch.  I can go slow and methodically, ensuring I don't spend anymore money than I absolutely have to.  That said, the stuck valve is only a symptom of a greater underlying problem.  I'll fix the valve but I am also going to fix the real problem.

[September 4, 2015]
Gold Seal Flight Instructor

An 80% pass rate and an Advanced Ground Instructor certificate is all one needs to get their Gold Seal on their flight instructor certificate.  Once you have the gold seal it is for life.  Applying for the gold seal via an 8710 also acts as a renewal for your CFI certificate, giving you another two years.  When your new CFI certificate arrives in the mail the little DOT emblem in the right corner is gold, looks more like yellow to me, instead of black.  For me it was one of several goals I wanted to achieve as a CFI.  Mark this one as complete.

[August 28, 2015]
Electrical failure at night in Class B Airspace

First time flying 31J since the GAXC-2.  She was really hard to start and I drained the battery pretty good in my attempts. Finally the engine roared to life.  Carson was with me, this was to be his first night flight experience, and it ended up being one he will not soon forget.  During the run up I checked the magnetos.  The source of the hard start was discovered.  The bottom plugs were fouled probably from oil collecting at the bottom of the cylinders from sitting for so long.  I attempted to burn the gunk off by running the engine up and leaning past peak.  After a minute of this I tried the mag check again and found everything to be operating normally.  After takeoff we climbed out and sitting in the right seat I glanced at the Amp meter almost directly in front of me.  It was showing a slight discharge, I thought it was odd but did not think much more of it.  We continued south, I wanted to just circumnavigate the Phoenix metro area and then shoot a couple of night landings.  When we got abeam of the extended centerline of Sky Harbor airport, below the Class B airspace, the planes GPS cut off, then the radio started to fade out.  Carson pointed it out.  In a few seconds I realized what was happening.  We were on battery power and the battery was starting to fade away.  The transponder was still working but the interrogation light was starting to get dimmer and dimmer.  I immediately checked the breakers and found the alternator had been tripped.  Oh, easy fix, just reset the breaker and we would be back in business, or so I thought.  I reset the breaker and everything came instantly back to life.  Problem solved.  I glanced at the amp meter, it was not fully deflected to the positive.  The battery was nearly drained and was now demanding a serious charge from the alternator.  In less than two minutes the breaker popped again.  The breaker logic detected the full deflection and figured the voltage regulator was running out of control.  Now we had a real problem.  We started to shed all unnecessary electrical equipment.  I turned off the radios, the GPS, the strobes, and the cockpit lighting.  I dug into my flight bag for the headlamp I had thrown in the car for the night flight.  It wasn't in the bag, it was still in the car!  At least I had brought my handheld aviation radio, that would come in handy later.  The two minutes of alternator charge had put a little more life in the battery, enough to run the transponder at least.  I told Carson to start flying south towards the edge of the Class B mode C veil as quickly as possible.  I continued to work the problem.  I found that I could reset the breaker for a few minutes and provide enough of a charge to the battery for it to run the transponder.  The breaker needed to cool a few minutes before it could reset again.  I decided to fly to an non-towered airport outside of the mode c veil.  We could leave the plane there and get a ride home.  When we approached the airport it was busy with student and military night traffic.  We called on the handheld and told folks we needed priority and to watch out for us.  On final approach I reset the breaker so we could extend the flaps, and turn our landing light on.  We landed without issue and taxied to the deserted ramp.  On closer examination with the engine at idle I found that if I turned everything on and kept the engine RPM below 1500 the amp meter would not deflect more than half scale and the breaker would not pop.  We spent about 15 minutes in this configuration to charge the battery up.  We were going to make an attempt at returning home.  I could not maintain altitude at 1500 rpm but if I shut everything down after takeoff to conserve the battery I could climb up to a high enough altitude that would allow me to cross the mode c veil and descend slowly down until I reached my home airport.  If the breaker popped again I would just keep the transponder on and save using the radio until I was just outside my own airports Class D.  We started our climb up and I noticed a new problem, higher than normal oil temps, not red but high green.  This created a new challenge as I tried to climb but still keep the engine cool.  We decided to stay within gliding distance of the airport as I did this.  We eventually climbed high enough to start for home.  Thankfully I had chosen a night with a full moon and the desert was lit practically as if in daylight.  At the limit of the veil we pulled power and started a slow descent the 20 or so miles to our home airport.  The breaker held.  We held our breath, then the breaker popped again.  We cycled every two minutes, only using the least amount of electricity as possible.  We closed to within 10 miles, I powered up the radio and made my call to tower.  We only need just a few minutes of juice now to make it.  I tried to reset the breaker, it would not.  I instructed Carson to reset the breaker on my command when we turned final, then we would deploy the flaps and turn the landing light on.  Short final he reset the breaker and we lit up like a Christmas tree.  On touch down we both let out a collective sigh of relief.  We had made it.  Not the experience you really want on your first night flight but I bet it will be one that will not be forgotten, with plenty of excellent lessons.

[August 20, 2015]
NAV CANADA Bill Arrives

Last month we flew into Canada as part of the GAXC2.  Today the bill arrived.  Thank God we don't have users fees in the US, yet.  For my short time in Canadian airspace I owed $17.85 CAN which equated to $13.48 US. This included contacting Victoria Approach, making a full stop landing at Victoria International, filing an international flight plan, departing Victoria and getting handed off to the good 'ole US of A!  Oh well I am a glutton for punishment, we are going back to Canada next year and it is going to be for a lot longer than this year's trip.  That's right, spoiler alert, next years cross country will be renamed as "The Great North American Cross Country" (GNA-XC3)  We are crossing the border and we are going deep north.  Stay tuned!

[August 13, 2015]
Checking out the Cirrus SR20

Paid a visit to my former CFI student in Tucson today.  He is working at a local flight school which rents an older Cirrus SR20.  They were offering a very good deal on a discovery flight so I decided to take advantage of it.

I had some serious concerns that flying with a side stick was going to be very difficult to master, but those concerns diminished as I pitched for a climb out attitude and found the plane very responsive while still very stable.  It was not pitchy at all and the dead zone within the side stick was perfectly balanced so that the aircraft only responded when you wanted it to respond.  It did take a fair amount of right rudder to keep the aircraft tracking straight, the 230hp engine creates a lot of torque.  Takeoffs are done with 50% flaps.  As soon as the flaps are retracted the aircraft accelerates very quickly.  The pitch on initial takeoff is relatively flat much like the Diamond aircraft.  Prop control is done automatically similar to a FADEC type system.

We flew over to the local training area where I took the Cirrus through its paces to feel the plane out.  I did a few steeps turns, some dutch rolls, and a lazy eight.  The responsiveness of the Cirrus in roll was a real delight, completely different from the sluggish roll rates of most Cessna and Piper training aircraft.  A quick flick of the wrist would cause the Cirrus to quickly roll into a 30 degree bank.  The long ailerons, extending to the tips of the wing, must be the reason for this excellent responsiveness.  The panel is somewhat of a hybrid, part primary steam, part glass cockpit with an Avidyne multi function display off to the right side.  We did not do any stalls but Kyle told me the SR20 would typically drop a wing.

We returned for a few landings.  It was a very straight forward approach.  You normally will carry power on the approach, despite looking as if it can glide the Cirrus will come down very rapidly with full flaps and no power.  Flying in onto the runway in a relatively flatter pitch results in a much smoother landings than trying to full stall the airplane.  Below 70 knots controls become noticeably less responsive and the aircraft tends to waddle like a Beech.  Keeping the airspeed on target and carrying some power results in a very stabilized approach right to the numbers.  I was able to make very good landings right from the start, the side stick did not cause any difficulties in rounding out and flaring.  Once you touch down you only have the rudder and differential braking to control the roll out with the former diminishing quite quickly as airspeed decays.  We did two touch-and-gos before a final full stop landing.  Kyle was still trying to determine the best flap profile for close circuit training.  We tried keeping the flaps at 50% through the climb and downwind and then tried with flaps retracted at 500ft.  The retraction seemed to give the best climb rate and made maintaining speed in the climbing turns not so difficult.

Overall I was very impressed with the first generation Cirrus.  I had heard lots of bad things about the Cirrus and came to the discovery flight with a negative bias.  Post flight I am totally a Cirrus fan, really impressed with the aircraft overall.  It has a lot of power, extremely stable while still very maneuverable.  The ergonomics of the cockpit and side stick make it a fantastic cross country machine.  I could see flying this plane for hours without feeling fatigued.  I plan on returning sometime in the future to finish a checkout and take the Cirrus solo.


[August 3, 2015]
F-16 Crash Site

Back on June 24, only a few days after school let out for the summer, an F-16 crashed in the desert only 10 miles from the college.  The F-16 was piloted by an Iraqi Air Force pilot who was receiving training on the aircraft from the Air National Guard F-16 school located in Tucson, Arizona.  I am not clear on the details of exactly what happened but the accident occurred at night, the pilot was killed, and the aircraft totally destroyed.  I have never seen an aircraft crash site up close and personal so I thought it would be interesting to go see the site.  The crash site is easily accessible by well graded dirt roads and sits only a few miles east of the Douglas International Airport (KDUG).  When we arrived on scene I was totally blown away.  The impact crater had been filled in with fresh dirt probably because jet fuel had contaminated most of the initial impact area but it was obvious from the lack of vegetation that the crater was quite large.  From the initial impact point parts of the F-16 were strewn in a west direction for over 500 yards.  The impact had been so violent that the biggest piece we could find was maybe a foot long.  There were thousands of tiny pieces everywhere you looked.  The energy in the crash and subsequent explosion was so violent that every part we found was twisted, mangled, and contorted in impossible ways.  I can’t even wrap my head around how an airplane can be dismantled into such tiny little bits.  We must have spent over an hour combing the site for interesting pieces.  I wanted to find something that I could identify as part of the cockpit, maybe a knob, switch, or button, but we found nothing we could positively identify with the exception of a burnt and crumpled piece of a checklist that dealt with in-air refueling procedures.  At the end of the day I collected about half a bag of F-16 parts that appeared interesting.  You can view these parts by clicking on the Shutterfly link below.

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[August 1, 2015]
Weekend Project: Glareshield Mod for Simulator

Spent some time this weekend building a long overdue mod for my simulator.  A leather wrapped glare shield has been on my to-do list for a long time.  Now that I have it installed I am wondering why I waited so long.  It really creates a polished look for the panel and the addition of an LED light strip creates an awesome and immersive night flying experience.  I am currently developing a flight simulator for a friend which will cost around $2500.  If all goes well I plan on marketing and selling the systems in the Phoenix-Tucson area.  If you are interested in purchasing one please contact me via e-mail using the link on the left side of the screen.

[July 30, 2015]
Back to School

Second week back at the college and it has been a busy one as most starts to a new semester are. This week I had to create a new weight and balance and performance worksheet for the Redhawk 172s. I also reviewed the schools cross country planning procedures and integrated changes to reflect the addition of the Redhawks to our fleet. Working my way through the performance charts for the Redhawk uncovered discrepancies that I had to sort out and which should have been done by Redbird. Since the Redhawk is a Cessna 172 with a diesel engine it has a supplemental POH for its engine STC. Unfortunately the Sup only addresses certain performance charts and refers you back to the original 172 POH for anything not included. Our converted 172s are both N and P models. The P model came from the factory with a gross weight of 2400lbs the N did not. It grossed at 2300lbs. Redbird applied another STC to the N models to boost gross to 2400lbs and limit flap extension to 30 versus original 40. That’s all fine and dandy but the Supp POH does not take into account the weight STC for the N Model so you find charts for 2300lbs and 2400lbs. This is the slippery slope you go down when you start mixing multiple STCs, and that is just from the paperwork side. An STC is approved by the FAA as a stand alone mod on a vanilla base model factory aircraft. The FAA cannot possibly test an aircraft with the infinite variations possible by mixing and matching STCs available for that particular aircraft. So you do take risk when you begin to add more and more STC mods to an aircraft because no one really knows what negative interactions can potentially occur between the mods. I believe there was an accident not too long ago for that very reason. Essentially you are flying a one off experimental aircraft if you have more than 3-4 STCs on your plane. Anywho I got all of that sorted out and printed. My Chief liked the W&B worksheets so much she asked me to reformat the W&B worksheets for all of our existing aircraft models.

We also instituted a new orientation course this semester so that students get generic certain information from a single source right up front, hopefully saving them time and frustration later. I was tasked with presenting information on IACRA, DUATS II (DTC lost the DUATS contract ),GPS, CloudAhoy, Foreflight and our new G500 and GTN650 Garmin systems. I think I put everyone to sleep.

On top of all this our CRJ (Canadair Regional Jet) 700 simulator finally showed up after multiple delays. The CRJ700 is a 70pax regional twin turbine jet that most people have flown if they have ever connected on flights from a major hub to their hometown airport. We were supposed to receive system training on the CRJ last week which ended up trickling into this week, which made a hectic week even crazier. The system training was less than stellar and my opinion of the company providing the simulator and training is marginal at best and for now I will keep them nameless. I have been chosen to be an instructor for our new Jet Transition course so I should gain quite a bit of experience with the CRJ over the next few months. I am hopeful that they will send us to pick up our type rating for the jet. Years of flight simulator flying has made me pretty knowledgeable with regards to the various systems and techniques unique to civilian passenger jets. The systems training was more of a review of subjects and topics I have already been exposed to. Next week, hopefully, we will start training in the simulator and I’ll write more on the fidelity of the simulator.

Regardless I’m going to be very busy this semester with a full load of six students. Two privates, one instrument, two instrument finish ups who will then move right to commercial, and one CFI. It’s a good mix and it should keep me challenged. I just might break the 2,000 hour mark by the end of the year. No mention of multi engine training and the Baron has been down for its annual for months now. I’ve got to get this ATP done before my written runs out next Summer! Oh and if all of this is not enough I’ve asked to bring back and coach the school’s flight team using the Redhawks. My goal: beat Embry Riddle in Ohio next May!

[July 10, 2015]
Grants Pass, OR to Phoenix, AZ - We Made It!                             10.5

Click here to TrackMyTour!

The Great American Cross Country II At A Glance (Phoenix to Victoria, Canada to Phoenix):
Distance Covered: 1,277 NM (One Way) 2,800 (Total)
Total Hobbs Time: 16.9 hours (One Way) 35 hours (Total)
Total Fuel stops: 6 North Bound
Amount of Fuel Consumed:  84.77 Gallons North Bound
Average miles covered per Hobbs hour:  76 NM
Average fuel consumed per Hobbs hour:  5.01 Gallons
Average Miles flown per Gallon of Fuel:  15 NM

Distance in Nautical Miles if driven by car: 1,600 statute miles
Mapquest calculated driving time: 28 hours

“Of all the places an airplane can take us, probably the most meaningful is home.” 

Woke up to dreary overcast skies with mountain obscuration. Time to go home! We headed back to Grants Pass airport, fueled the plane with expensive AVGAS to avoid the tie down fee, and launched into questionable skies at 0830. Climbing out we found a hole and got on top of the overcast, continuing our climb to 7500ft to clear not only clouds but also the Cumulus Granite (I.e. mountains that now stood in our way). The clouds were scattered in the mountains and solid in the valleys, we picked our way south just thankful that there was no vertical development occurring in the clouds. We flew over Medford, then over Phoenix (just not our Phoenix) and Ashland following Interstate 5 through the valley. We crossed from Oregon into California at 0914, we were making progress. Our route took us within miles of Mount Shasta with its towering peak of 14,162 feet and smaller Black Butte which passed under us but had almost a lenticular cloud formation on its crater peak. When we finally made it into the Sacramento Valley the undercast broke up and we found it relatively clear with clouds lining both the east and west edges of the wide valley. South of Redding a new overcast layer appeared, this one was higher and at our altitude. With the mountains behind us and flat valley below us I decided to descend below the clouds. It made sense since we were nearing the flight range of the aircraft. We headed for Lincoln, which was a bee hive of activity. On the way I almost cut the corner of Beale Air Force Bases Class C airspace, The tops of the outer ring sat at 4100 and I was above that. Instead I skirted the edge, good thing I did, I found out after landing that a TFR had been placed over the entire Class C up to 8000ft for a secret military exercise. I overflew the field at LHM and tear dropped for the 45 left downwind for R/W 15. While a little breezy on the ground the landing was uneventful. At the fuel pumps sat two Nanchang CJ-6 Chinese trainers painted up in military livery. Pulling up behind us in the fuel line was a miniature P-51. We had no idea we would have an air show at Lincoln. While we fueled a couple of ramp rats noticed our cowling GAXC2 logo and asked if we were still on our trip. No autographs please!

Upon departure we found the Nanchang just 5 miles south of the airport conducting aerobatics maneuvers at 2000ft, probably not the best place to be doing such things. Fortunately my MRX PCAS alerted me to their presence and we were able to see and avoid despite their erratic maneuvers. Who knows if they ever saw us. Continuing south and pretty bored with the flat landscape Carson and I found ways to entertain ourselves. We realized that we could pitch the 150 just by bending slightly forward or arching our backs. So much for trimming the airplane for hands off if it is that sensitive to minor shifts in CG. But the 150 really isn't a hands off plane to fly anyway, there is just not enough mass there to resist even the slightest breeze. You are constantly flying this plane, though sometimes I feel more like I am dragging the plane around on its prop, more just holding on to my altitude and letting the mass of air take me where it wants to go. I guess in a sense it is like flying a balloon. The winds aloft were not doing us any favors on this day, even though a low pressure in central California should have been giving us a tailwind, we droned along at a ground speed of 80-85 knots.

We flew on the eastern side of the valley paralleling the Sierra Nevada Mountains off our left wing. South of Fresno we passed into the drier landscape of the San Joaquin Valley. As we neared our next fuel stop at Porterville Carson was doing a great job flying. I told him this landing would be all him from pattern entry to taxi and shutdown. I would talk but I would not touch the controls unless I felt it was absolutely necessary for safety reasons. Carson descended us down to pattern altitude, identified the 45 entry for a left downwind to runway 30, flew a parallel downwind to the runway and began his approach abeam of the numbers. I talked and he did. We were a little high on the final approach but it was good given the strong headwind down the runway and the fact that it would allow Carson to pull the power to idle on short final and just concentrate on gliding to a landing at 65-70 knots. He did a fantastic round out and shifted his focus down the runway to allow for depth perception in the flare. He was working the yoke like a pro feeling for the runway, being patient with the little plane, letting it settle. A gust of wind caused a slight ballooning but Carson remained focused and undeterred. 31J settled back in and plopped down on the runway. Carson had done it! He had landed the airplane by himself, I never touched the controls and never was the landing ever in doubt. He not only landed by himself he did it in conditions that were much more demanding than the normal no wind day that you take a student into when you want to teach landings. I gave out some very well deserved praise to Carson, I was very proud of him. I guard my praise closely and only give it out when it is well earned so that it means something to the recipient, whether its one of my students or my family. Carson knows this better than anyone. When I watched the cockpit video of the landing later I saw Carson turn his head to the side and smile after I told him what a great landing he did. I know he didn't want Dad to see just how much it really meant to him. He is a good kid and he will be a great pilot someday.

Porterville was pretty quiet on this hot Friday afternoon. No one was around. About the only thing of note were the fire bomber aircraft on the south side of the field. The coolest being an OV-10 Bronco. I know Patty Wagstaff once flew a Bronco for Cal Fire. I wonder if this is where she was based. We found ourselves airborne once again at 1500. We still had a ways to go. By Bakersfield a short time later we had rejoined our original outbound path and began backtracking to Phoenix. Clouds along the ridge line separating the Central Valley from the High Desert tried to block our path but we were able to coax 31J up to 8000 to get past them. Familiar landmarks from the previous Saturday started to pass below us. We passed over Victorville a place Christina and I had frequented quite often when we were newlyweds and stationed at Fort Irwin. It was the place we would go each weekend to get back to civilization, shop at the mall, catch a movie, and go to dinner before heading back to the isolation of the fort. I detoured a little further south to Big Bear to catch a glimpse of the high altitude runway and the pristine lake. When we needed a “tree fix” while stationed at Fort Irwin we would drive up to Big Bear for the weekend and enjoy the tall pines and cooler air. Those were fun times. I still have landing at Big Bear on my To Do List. Our final fuel stop was Twenty Nine Palms. Once again completely deserted and blistering hot even at 1730. A stiff crosswind kept me on my toes for landing straight in on R/W 8. The last leg while only a little over two hours was the longest. The adrenaline was gone and the toll of being on the go for seven days was catching up with us. Just as the last remnants of day light faded from the Arizona sky we set up for our final approach into Deer Valley. We had traveled over 850 miles in one day and 31J never missed a beat. Carson had logged over 20 hours of x-c flight time, that alone would pay for the cost of the trip. We unloaded our things and put 31J to bed. Before leaving I walked over to her and gave her a pat on the cowling, “thanks for taking care of us this week. You deserve a rest.” GAXC2 was now just a memory for a father and his son, a great memory that I will enjoy for years! The only left to do.....plan next years GAXC3!


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[July 9, 2015]
Puyallup, WA to Grants Pass, OR - Evergreen Aviation Museum            4.1

With the aircraft packed and topped off we launched right on schedule this morning for the start of the journey back to Arizona.  31J started without a hint of protest, life was good.  It was still hazy with scattered clouds in the area.  Washington weather was not going to stay perfect indefinitely; glad it had done so for our entire trip.  Before long we were flying VFR over top.  The plan was to get to McMinnville, Oregon (KMMV) 120 miles to south by 0900 so that we could visit the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum as soon as they opened.  On the way we did a touch and go at Starks Twin Oakes (7S3).  Another beautiful little paved strip nestled in the Oregon countryside.  7S3 is one of the small strips that aviators dream about just flying a J-3 Cub lazily around in the pattern, its pure grass-roots general aviation. 

Landing at MMV we made the trek across the highway and through a wheat field to get to the museum.  A 747 stood guard in the field, without engines.  A second 747 sat on top of the waterpark building with waterslides coming out of the cargo doors on the side of the plane…that was interesting!  The Evergreen Museum is a great aviation museum but it is extremely expensive, $25 for an adult.  The ticket price did however include an IMAX movie.  The crown jewel of the museum’s collection is the Hughes H-4 Hercules, better known as the Spruce Goose.  A friend had mentioned it was $75 to get into the cockpit so I totally wrote off investigating further.  This came back to haunt me just as we were about to leave the museum.  I realized that you could get inside the cargo hold of the H-4 without a fee.  We walked up inside and I was amazed at how small the cargo area actually was.  A museum guide started talking to me about the plane, we saw the actual log book that documented the historic flight Hughes took in ground effect during what was supposed to be only a high speed taxi test (why do so many high speed taxi tests end up being oops I didn’t mean to take off?).  As the gentleman was talking to me I noticed a sign that read “cockpit photos for up to 4 people, $25.”  I asked the guide if that was $25 a person.  “No, $25 for a group of up to 4 and you get a nice picture.”  Well $25 was peanuts to sit in the same seat as Howard Hughes in such an iconic plane.  I turned to Carson, “you want to do it?”  Carson replied “sure” which meant “heck yeah!”  The guide directed us to the museum ticket office.  We were excited as we hurried over to the ticket desk.  “We want to go in the cockpit of the Herc!” I said to the lady at the desk.  “No problem” she replied.  We are thinking “yes!”  “The next available tour is 3:30” she said.  Our hearts dropped, our minds screamed “Nooooooooo!”  It was already 12PM, we had to get back in the air, to get to Tillamook and then start working our way south before daylight ran out.  A golden once in a lifetime opportunity was lost.  Carson was so disappointed.  Had we checked out the tour when we arrived at 9am we would have gotten in without a problem, but I had assumed the information that was given to me was right so I never investigated further.  It was crushing to think “what if?”  Carson and I joked that we had once again been hosed by the aviation gods.

Another disappointment at the museum was IMAX.  The newest IMAX release is Living in the Age of Airplanes.  It was directed by Brian J. Terwilliger,the same guy who shot One Six Right, which was an excellent documentary with awesome flight sequences.  I had high expectations for Age of Airplanes.  I was sorely disappointed as I have been with 90% of the IMAX movies I have seen.  The aviation sequences in the 45 minute movie could be distilled down to about 5-10 minutes.  I think I have seen my last IMAX movie.  The only take away from the movie was a great quote, “Of all the places an airplane can take us, probably the most meaningful is home.”  31J was doing that for us today.

We left the Evergreen around noon and started the flight NW to Tillamook avoiding glider pilots releasing from aero tows in the area.   The weather was clear in the area but climbing to altitude I quickly spotted our old enemy, marine layer held at bay from inland encroachment, at least temporarily, by the coastal mountains along the coast.  Tillamook had been over flown on the second day due to being behind schedule.  It appeared that once again it would not be possible to pay the museum there a visit.  The aviation god’s had hosed us once again.  With no alternatives we started the long trek south and homeward.  We stopped into the very picturesque airport of Cottage Grove along the way.  It was never planned, just happened to be the most convenient place to grab some fuel.  A fantastic approach across a river brings you into runway 15.  We pulled up to the fuel shack and I noticed a sign nearby that had a picture of the famous Hughes H-1 Racer at the top.  The sign read "Jim Wright Field."  I put two and two together and realized this was the home airport of the man who had built an exact replica of the H-1 back in early 2000.  He had first test flew the airplane at Cottage Grove, this was his home field.    Unfortunately Jim Wright was killed in 2003 when his H-1 threw a propeller counterweight over Yellowstone National Park while returning from a trip to Oshkosh.  Wow, you just never know what you might find when you land at an airport no matter how big or how small.  You can view Jim's first public flight in the H-1 at Cottage Grove by going to this link: H-1 Public Flight

As we continued south in the mid afternoon new problems now arose.  Convective activity was popping up all over the radar.  We were going to get sandwiched between western moving storm cells further inland and marine layer along the coast.  I was not about to take the fool’s bait and allow myself to continue to fly southwestward until I found myself being pushed out into the Pacific with no real options.  If I could make the 100 mile flight through the highlands I would be in California’s Central Valley with flat terrain and plenty of options if the weather turned bad.  Unfortunately the cells were creating an impenetrable wall south of Medford, with its SW flank almost to the coast.  I looked at options, and Plan B’s in case I went too far south and had to retreat north for safe harbor.  Interestingly airport options were scarce in the area and the few airports that were available all had at least one cell with 20 miles and moving in the direction of the airport.  If I passed an airport more than likely I would not have an option to return to it.  With this in mind I decided to not push my luck.  Grants Pass, Oregon looked like the best option to land and wait and see what the weather would do.  We flew over the top of the airport above pattern altitude to check the wind sock.  No ASOS/AWOS capability showed on the Foreflight sectional.  As we went over the top I noticed the roof of one hangar had large letters “CARSON.”  Carson’s name on the top of the hangar, what a coincidence, maybe this was a sign that we needed to stop here?  Just off to the northeast an angry thunderstorm was brewing just behind the mountains.  We needed to get down now, the storm was already well within 20 miles.  I set up for a left hand pattern to R/W 31 and landed uneventfully just after 3PM.  We made sure 31J was chained tightly down for the coming storm.  A local pilot came out to meet us in front of the FBO and said it was a good idea we landed, storms were coming.  I asked if the weather would dissipate, he said normally the thunderstorms would stick around until dusk.  We were done flying for the day.  I was not about to launch into the mountains at night in a Cessna 150.  A gate sign showed the airport had Super ASOS, a system that is gaining popularity.  It shares the same frequency as the CTAF.  To activate it you click you mike 2 times.  Unfortunately for transient pilots there is really no way of knowing that superASOS exist by looking at the sectional or the AFD.  There is no mention of the capability.  As I searched for a hotel for the night with the help of the friendly FBO folks the storm started with a fury, hard rain, lightning, and thunder.  I was glad to we were on the ground.  We had not made as much progress as I would have liked, but had we gone to Tillamook we would have gotten stuck even further north.  It was still possible to reach Phoenix by Friday night but we would be doing a lot of flying the next day.  The go-go tempo of the last week was starting to wear me down, I needed to sleep, we would play it by ear tomorrow.  We caught a taxi to the hotel in a very hard and driving rain, glad to be on the ground wishing we were in the air rather than in the air wishing we were on the ground.

METAR KMFR 092153Z COR 00000KT 10SM SCT060 BKN110 30/12 A2967
           RMK AO2 LTG DSNT ALQDS RAB19E34 SLP036 P0000 T03000122=
METAR KMFR 092253Z 16017G23KT 10SM SCT060 BKN110 29/14 A2967
           RMK AO2 LTG DSNT ALQDS SLP036 T02940144=



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[July 8, 2015]
San Juan Islands, On to Canada!                                                        5.9

The flight into Canada today required some prior planning and coordination that began the night before.  Tuesday evening I called CANPASS and gave them notification that we would be flying into Canada the next day.  They asked several questions about me, the plane, and my passengers.  Straightforward and simple.  I then logged into US Customs and Border Protections automated eAPIS system to submit my departure and arrival manifests.  I had also read that when traveling with children to ensure you had a power of attorney or at least some sort of documentation that your spouse had authorized you to travel outside the country with the child.  Several sources stated that the paperwork should be notarized but I had not realized the requirement until the night prior to leaving Phoenix so I just had my wife sign a letter with a copy of her driver’s license.  I later found an official Canadian source that stated no notarization was required.  Since we were only going just over the border I did not need to purchase a Canadian sectional, the Seattle sectional covered the area.   That was about the extent of my preparation. 

The next day we blasted off from Thun (PLU) and crossed over the port of Tacoma heading across Puget Sound and over Vashon Island.  Below a lingering mist hung low over the island.  As we made our way north I thought about the day’s itinerary.  I was excited about seeing the small airstrips of the San Juan Islands.  As a simulation pilot Friday Harbor holds a special place, it is the default airport in Microsoft Flight Simulator X.  I’ve virtually flown over the airport and the islands so many times I was sure I could navigate the area like I had lived there my entire life.  Prior to MS FSX the default airport had been Meigs Field in Chicago, but that airport had passed into history when Mayor Daley bulldozed it over in the middle of the night to make a park.

The original flight plan for the day called for shooting landings at both Lopez Island and Friday Harbor before continuing to Orcas Island and then into Canada.  The ground fog grew thicker as we closed on the San Juan Islands.  Listening to the common traffic frequency which covers all airports located in the San Juan Islands it became apparent that Friday Harbor and Lopez were both in IMC.  I quickly modified the plan to go directly to Orcas Island and visit the other airports later when the fog had burned off.  Orcas, sitting on the north end of the island chain, was still VMC.  The winds were out of the south allowing us to do an over water approach to RW 34, the threshold was set back from the shoreline by only a few hundred feet.  It was still early and no one was stirring at the picturesque little field.  We helped ourselves to the fuel pump and then pulled 31J into a transient parking spot.  A small terminal sits on the east side of the field.  Two small counters provided air service by San Juan Airlines and Kenmore Air.  We found a pilot lounge tucked away in the back room where I called flight service to file my international flight plan to Canada and receive my discrete squawk.  I found a local pilot rummaging through some things in an adjacent room and picked his brain about the border crossing. 

Since we arrived early we had some time to burn before our scheduled arrival in Canada.  I had read on AirNav that bicycles were available for free use near the fuel pump.  We went back to check them out and found a couple of old bikes still in good enough shape to take us exploring.  For the next 20 minutes Carson and I had a grand time riding our rickety bikes to Eastsound on the south side of the island.  A bike path took us through a wooded area that was so dense it created an organic tunnel that we sped through.  When we reached the rocky shore line Carson walked down an embankment to feel the water.  He said it was warm, it looked cold to me.  He grabbed a smooth stone from the beech as a souvenir of Orcas Island and placed in his shorts pocket for safe keeping.  The morning air was cool but not uncomfortable, it was really almost perfect.  We rode back the way we came hoping the old bikes would not give up the ghost before delivering us back to the airport.

We departed Orcas Island about 20 minutes before our scheduled arrival in Canada.  It was only going to be a short hop to Victoria International even for the 150.  Taking off from RW34 we climbed above the tall pines, crossed a saddle and into the basin of East Sound.  The rocky beach that Carson had taken the stone from passed quickly below us.  At least we knew if we had to ditch the water wasn’t cold.

I checked in with FSS by radio, activated my flight plan, and squawked my border crossing code heading toward Roche Harbor.  At Roche I contacted Victoria Intl tower.  They told me to expect the Stuart Island arrival which I told them I was not familiar with.  They explained the procedure and I quickly began to comply.  For the most part not much was different.  They did refer to runway 9 as “zero nine” where in the US we just call it “nine.”  I was put on a left downwind while a King Air was on a long final.  I slowed down to stay in close proximity of the airport when they called my base.  As the King Air passed abeam I was cleared to land.  I had done my homework and knew exactly where I needed to go upon arrival.  Ground knew I was US transient and was very helpful and kind ensuring we got to where we needed to go.  In Canada VFR flight plans are closed automatically.  We pulled up to the Shell FBO to find no one around, no parking markings, just a lone PC-12 Pilatus on the tarmac.  I called the FBO on the radio and asked for guidance.  “Just pull up next to the Pilatus” was the response.  We parked, waited in the airplane a few minutes thinking customs would arrive but did not.  I called CANPASS on my cell phone (international rates apply).  “Hi this is N3131J, we are parked at Shell FBO in Victoria” I said.  The lady on the other end said “Great, has any of the information changed from what you gave us last night?”  “Nope” I replied.  “Good, here is your report number….have a great day.”  I said “that’s it?”  “Yes that’s it” was her reply.  Wow, talk about easy.  In comparison to Mexico this was nothing.  I laughed thinking about how I almost canceled going to Canada because I was intimidated by the paperwork and doing something wrong.  Carson was disappointed that he would not get a stamp in his brand new passport.  It was the first time he had been out of the country and it was a big deal to him.  I think the last time I was in Canada was probably when I was younger than him on a family trip to Niagara Falls.

We did not spend very long in Canada, which I regretted after I saw the tourist brochure kiosk inside the FBO.  There were so many cool things to do in and around Victoria including flying in a float plan for a short scenic tour.  Well at least I know for next time!  We walked out of the FBO and over to the Victoria Flying Club where most people were enjoying brunch in the club’s restaurant, it all had an air of Europe more than the US.  When I called Canadian Flight Service to file my outbound flight plan the guy laughed and asked if I did not enjoy Canada since I was leaving so soon after arriving.  I explained we had just done the flight to say we landed in Canada, not so much to really see anything.  The briefer provided us with a squawk code and told us to squawk as soon as we taxied because tower would not allow an aircraft to depart without a discrete code.  Next I called US Customs at Bellingham to give them the required one hour notice of our arrival back in the states.

After running up next to RW 9 we held short as a WestJet 737 landed.  We headed back to Stuart Island and then direct to our port of entry.  After landing at Bellingham we taxied into the penalty box and waited for customs.  The female agent came out, checked our CBP sticker on the plane and escorted us back to the office.  No drug sniffing dog this time like when we returned from Mexico.  The agent checked our passports and declaration form and we were done, super simple.  We refueled and taxied out.  Ground let us know on the radio that we forgot to close our flight plan, thanks!  Holding short behind a flock of Cessnas we got to enjoy a touch and go by a Navy P-3 Orion.  P-3’s are passing into history as they are being replaced by P-8 Poseidon manufactured by Boeing.  The P-3 is another great looking Lockheed creation, I enjoyed the time I got to spend in one flying over Iraq one long night in 2008.  After we were cleared for takeoff tower had us turn 10 degree left to make room for the P-3 coming up on our tail fast.  We were treated to a fly-by off our starboard wing.

It was early afternoon by now and the morning fog had all burned off over the San Juan Islands.  We headed back to Lopez Island (S31) for a quick touch and go that Carson performed; it took less than a minute to shoot over to Friday Harbor (FHR) for another landing.  Now we could say we had been here.  We taxied for a bit but could not find anything interesting so we left heading east back to the mainland.  We crossed the shoreline and were soon working our way into mountainous terrain as we followed the Skagit River towards another ORBX FSX famous airport; Mears (3W5) better known by the name of the closest town, Concrete.  The mountains quickly rose to 5000ft on both sides of us.  The landscape below and the aqua colored river snaking through the valley were absolutely beautiful.  Mears has a 2600ft runway with tall trees on both ends of the runway making it a challenging airport.  A well-known podcaster trimmed the top of the trees on takeoff at Mears in a Beech Bonanza not too long ago.  The close call was caught on video and posted to YouTube.  I had no intentions of doing a full stop at Mears but I had no doubt 31J could handle a touch-n-go. With no automated weather we initially did a low pass on runway 7.  I gauged the wind, spied the windsock at midfield and decided 25 was the better option, we reset and started the approach.  The base leg was right over the Skagit River.  The winds were behaving so while the tall trees were intimidating I did not feel concerned being so close to their tops.  The final approach to the runway is literally through a clearing between the trees.  We touched down just past the numbers, the power came back in, Carson secured the flaps and we climbed easily over the trees at the departure end.

From Concrete we continued through the valley which turns south following the river.  Further east the mountains quickly rise to 10,000ft with Glacier Peak topping out at 10,560 feet.  It only took 15 minutes to get to our next destination, Darrington (1S2) a 2500ft paved strip.  By now winds were picking up and a direct crosswind was blowing over the runway.  Darrington is lined by tall pines on the north side and a patch of tall pines just beyond the departure end of runway 28 not far off the centerline.  A cemetery also sits on the end of the runway, a grim reminder of the consequences of making a mistake.  Winds can do some really strange things when they mix with trees, especially when the trees create walls.  At the least they create eddies that can cause enough turbulence to upset an airplane on approach or climb out.  I was not comfortable flying down this green canyon and trying to climb back out especially with the crop of trees at the end of the runway.  I decided a low pass would be the closest we would come to Darrington’s pavement. 

Now heading back west we flew out of the valley into the lowlands of the coastal area  The final airport on our to-do list was Paine Field.  It was the home of the Boeing factory we had visited the day before and while not a challenging airport it would give us nice bragging rights, after all this is where the first 747 took flight, a plane that changed the world.  When I tuned in to the tower frequency it was so congested with GA traffic that I almost decided it was not worth the trouble to shoot a touch-n-go.  Fortunately I decided to continue on and I was finally able to shoe horn my way onto the frequency to get sequenced into the airplane conga line.  The tower controller was a real pro, handling the insane amount of traffic without missing a beat.  By now the unseasonable afternoon heat was creating a haze that limited visibility to 10 miles, not too bad unless you live in Arizona and have 100 miles of visibility most days.  We were cleared for a touch-n-go on 34R which is the smaller runway, not the primary runway but perfectly aligned with the Boeing factory to the north.  On final I could see three planes holding short, this place was happening.  Carson suggested flying through the massive open doors of the Boeing Plant.  It elicited visions of James Bond flying the BD-5 jet through the open hangar in the movie Octopussy.  We had a good laugh and I promised to show him the clip when we got home.  (ED NOTE: Jim Bede, the designer of the BD-5 passed away the day after this blog post at the age of 82).

The last leg of our whirlwind adventure retraced our steps from the previous day, while it took 3 hours by car thanks to traffic in the Cessna it only took 45 minutes to return to our start point at Pierce County which we had departed from 8 hours earlier.  Another typical day on the Great American slash Canadian Cross Country. 


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[July 7, 2015]
The Boeing Plant and Paine Field

Another day of no flying, which was okay, we and 31J needed the break.  Today we were heading further north to Paine Field and the Future of Flight Museum which was also the start point for the Boeing Factory tour.  We arrived at the Future of Flight building early, it is the start point for the Boeing factory tour.  The museum itself does not have much to see with the exception of a Boeing 727 cockpit that you can sit in and manipulate the controls and push buttons.  I apparently was getting a little too carried away pretending like we were on a treacherous CAT III approach to minimums with both engines on fire because Carson told me to knock it off.  I can help myself when I am in a vintage cockpit, too many knobs to turn, buttons to push, switches to flip and throttle quads with reversers to man handle.  For a moment in time I was Joe Patroni (George Kennedy) in the 1970s drama Airport, then Carson brought me back to reality and said it was getting close to our tour time.

We milled around by the gift shop with about 30 other people (from the four corners of the earth) waiting to be called for our tour.  We wondered why an aviation museum was selling perfumes in their gift shop.  “Totally inappropriate merchandise” Carson commented, I had to agree.  We were finally ushered into a small theatre were our tour guide, who was pretty funny, told us absolutely no cell phones or cameras of any type were allowed on the tour.  Something about trade secrets and not dropping stuff on the workers below.  A menacing security guard stood by the guide.  These guys were serious; we did not take any chances…unfortunately.  We watched a short video about Boeing and the factory as a stage setter for what was to come.  The video was a little dated, talking about the eventual completion of the 787, which has already been plying the skies for some years now.  We were herded onto a bus and driven the mile or so to the other side of the airport where the “worlds largest building by volume” was located, they must have told us that 100 times by the end of the tour.  A fact that they are very proud of, even expanding the building a few years ago to retain the title.  We pulled up to the massive mural that covers the south side of the building.  I think this is also the largest of its type in the world.  We went down some stairs and found ourselves in a wide tunnel that ran the width of the factory, I could not see the other end it was so long.  A service elevator took us to an observation platform above the factory floor, from there the shear aw of this building becomes evident.  Six to seven 737s are on the factory floor being assembled, all in various states of completion.  We are looking at only one quarter of the entire building!  Wow!  Can I please have my camera?  The process is repeated several more times, the most impressive assembly line sports the 747-8i, just massive, and they got four of them in the building.  Workers mill around below us, doing whatever they do.  Some of the aircraft are actually moving, or more descriptively creeping along the factory floor.  A massive gantry crane moves a wing from one side of the factory to the other.  Its almost too big too really absorb.  The final line we see are the 787s, no green pain on these fuselages, they are all composite.  Parts are brought in from all over the globe and finally assembly occurs at Everett.  We are impressed, but disappointed we only have our mental images to take home with us.  Regardless this tour was worth every penny.  The tour ends back at the museum, conveniently dumping us off at the far end of the Boeing gift store.  I can’t make it to the far exit without dropping about $50 on Boeing paraphernalia.  Give me my “If it ain’t Boeing, I ain’t going!” sticker.  Did I mention I’ve flown on every Airbus from the A319 to A380?  Not important, should probably keep that to myself while I am in Everett.

With plenty of time still left in the day we decided to see what else Paine offered.  There are several other smaller aviation museums on Paine Field.  We could not go to them all so we had to pick one.  I picked the Flying Heritage Collection, it was a very good choice.  FHC is Paul Allen’s (Microsoft zillionaire/SpaceShipOne backer) personal collection.  And what make it stand out are the rare birds.  Yes he has the basic starter set of war birds that everyone has (his just happen to be immaculate and flying), but he also has planes that you just never see like a Soviet Ilyushin II-2M3 Shturmovik and Polikarpov U-2/Po-2.  As we are checking out the main hangar the loud rumble of an aircraft starting gets our attention, we look out the open hangar door to see an ME-109 with cowling off going through an engine run up.  Is this for real, somebody pinch me!  I would have paid the admission just to watch this little show.  As the plane is runup a line guy inches his way under the plane to spray water directly on the air coolers, man this is cool!  After that little show we head to hangar two and much to my surprise we see the original White Knight (SpaceShipOne launch aircraft) suspended from the ceiling.  Despite repeated hosings on the trip, today the aviation gods smiled on us and threw us a little bone!  Thanks aviation gods!  Then the traffic gods tortured us all the way back to Puyallup, about 30 minutes by plane, and 3 hours by car.  We love you Seattle but you can keep the traffic!

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[July 6, 2015]
The Museum of Flight

Our first day without flying.  We headed over to the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field just north of Seattle.  Pulling into the parking lot I was instantly impressed by the Super Constellation standing guard of the front entrance to the museum along with a B-47 Strato Fortress.  Wow, I’ve seen some Connie’s before and they are beautiful but the Super Constellation is huge and it is gorgeous, especially when it has been immaculately maintained.  This was a good sign of things to come.

The museum lived up to expectation, it has a massive open area with planes from all eras and all areas of aviation, all heading in the same direction.  You feel as if you have just found yourself on a busy skyway with planes whizzing by you.  The effect gives the feel of motion and is very convincing and lends itself well to the immersion in the experience.

The museum has an excellent collection of some real gems.  I highly recommend this museum to anyone even remotely interested in aviation, and remember I have been to a lot of aviation museums all over the world.  A few of the planes that caught my attention included Steve Fosset's high altitude record breaking glider, a Boeing Tri-motor, a Fly Baby, an Aero Car and a Boeing mail plane among others.

The original Boeing Red Barn has also been incorporated almost seamlessly into the museum.  The barn houses Tex Johnson’s cowboy boots and helmet, among other aviation artifacts. An outside display contained a B-29 (still in shrink wrap), a B-17, a Concorde, an Air Force One 707, and the original prototype 787.  We got to walk through each of the airplanes.  The most impressive was the 787. Across the street is an additional annex to the museum which houses much of the space exhibits.  It is accessed by a covered walkway over the highway.  We were not much interested in space but we were interested in two planes that sat on the tarmac just outside the space annex.  The first Boeing 747 and 737 are ramped here.  Unfortunately due to construction they were not accessible, big disappointment.  We had to content ourselves with peaking at the planes from behind the construction fence.  The 747 had been repainted to its original paint scheme from the inaugural roll out.

For lunch we headed to Randy’s Dinner, probably the best example of a airport greasy spoon on the planet.  The obligatory aviation nick knacks were everywhere, including the plastic models hanging from the ceiling and the signed photos of famous people and airplanes.  I was sure that this place had to be famous givens it proximity to the Boeing plant.  Boeing Field is hallowed ground for aviation enthusiast.  So many first have occurred here, including the first flights of many of the Boeing aircraft.  While much of the flight efforts have moved north to the less congested airspace of Paine Field, flight testing still continues here.  While we were there a 757 landed sporting “eco demonstrator” and modified with a support stand of some sort on the top of the fuselage. We spent the entire day at the museum, it was not hard to do.

That night we went to downtown Seattle to check out the Space Needle.  It had been 25 years since I was last in Seattle, but I remember it as a very friendly and inviting city.  The first time I ever saw a fast food restaurant accept credit card payments was a McDonald's in Seattle.  At the time I though it was the strangest thing, my how times have changed.    I was excited to see it again.  We headed down to the water front to check out the piers and find something to eat.  It was getting late but the sun was still up, deceiving us as to just how late it was.  I coaxed Carson into walking quite a ways.  He was a real trooper, these were very long days, getting up early, a lot of walking, but he never complained even though I knew he was tired and sore.  If my feet hurt I knew his did even more.  The pier had plenty of seafood restaurants but nothing Carson would like.  We headed uphill to the Fish Market trying to find a Pizza restaurant.  We got there and it was closed, it was already 9PM and it was still not dark.  Hungry and a long walk from the car I felt really bad for dragging Carson all over the city, but he kept a good attitude and we trudged on.  The famous Fish Market was closed, all of the vendors long gone, only the ice and the cleaning crew remained.  Ugh, another disappointment.  We started the long walk back to the car determined to eat at the first open place we found.  We finally found a hole in the wall pizza place with some very overpriced and forgettable pizza, but it was food and some time off of our feet.  Carson liked the pizza so that is all that really mattered.  By the time we got back to the hotel in Redlands we were exhausted, but there would be no sleeping-in the next morning.  Vacation is hard work!


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[July 5, 2015]
Petaluma, CA to Puyallup, WA                                                                 6.9

As I had anticipated, based on watching the weather patterns in Petaluma before our trip, I awoke this morning to a solid marine layer across the entire valley. The ceiling sat at about 1200ft. At 2500ft there was sunshine and VFR we just had to get there. I was expecting to make it to Seattle by days end. I waited to see if it would clear but by 10AM there was no change so we switched to plan B and filed an IFR flight plan. I filed via Foreflight, got my expected routing and called FSS to pick up my clearance. The departure procedure called for a climb on runway heading to 1500ft and then a climbing left turn to 3000ft back to the Scaggs Island VOR which was 12 NM southeast of the airport. We climbed into the clag at 800ft and went on the gauges. It was Carson’s first experience in real IMC and my first time flying IFR in 31J. I stayed steady on the instruments for the slow climb up. At 2000ft we broke out into clear blue skies just as Oakland Center was asking if we were up on frequency. We checked in, continued our climb to 3000 heading toward the VOR, and decided we could cancel our IFR flight plan and expedite our progress northward in VFR. We stayed on top of the solid marine layer until it finally gave way to clear skies north of Sonoma. The plan called for following the coast line and shooting a few touch and go’s at some of the more picturesque airports along the shore like Shelter Cove (0Q5). The marine layer was not going to cooperate; it retained its firm grasp on about the first ½ mile of the coast inland, occasionally breaking up but never in an area where we needed it to. More hosing. After two and half hours of flying we approached our planned fuel stop at Crescent City. We were in luck, even though KCEC sits on the water the marine layer was broken in the area making a visual approach possible. But in the end it was just a trap set by mother nature. We were about to get hosed again. I studied the airport layout on Foreflight and put together my game plan. We overflew the airport and got a couple of surprises, the primary runway was closed and the runways had been renumbered, neither reflected in the latest Foreflight update. We passed over the field and studied the low scattered clouds looking for the best way to pick our way through and get a clear approach. I passed to the north descended down and circled through a clearing off shore which put us at about 800ft just below the clouds. I had to fly an angled approach to the runway in order to stay out of the clouds. We made a visual approach and landing on R/W 11. I wasn’t sure how long the airport would remain in VFR so I planned for a quick turn. Once again this was not to be, we could not get the self-serve fuel pump to come on and it was not because we could not find the START switch which most aviation fuel dispenser manufactures seem to have a sadistic satisfaction in hiding so that pilots lose their mind trying to figure out why the fuel will not dispense. The FBO personnel couldn’t get it to work either. All the while the marine layer was quietly creeping in. By the time we got the fuel pump sorted out we were socked in, pea soup, low IFR. Once again a short turn around became a 1.5 hour stop as I studied weather and filed another IFR flight plan to get us back on top. This time the departure would be a little more interesting due to a large rock formation that jutted out of the ocean just 1700ft right of the extended centerline and a half mile from the departure end of the runway, rising to 285’ MSL. I knew if everything went well it would be no problem for the little 150. 31J was performing very well up until this point, we were enjoying the increased performance that came with being at sea level. My main concern was what if something went wrong, what would be my plan B to stay clear of the rocks and get back to the airport? I walked outside to look down the runway, the rock formation was barely visible in the haze and it sure looked a lot closer than a ½ mile. Plan B became making a decision to abort the takeoff if by halfway down the runway everything was not performing perfectly and we were at least 200ft AGL and climbing strong.

In the end 31J climbed out at near max gross without a problem and we were well above the rock outcropping by the time we arrived over it, in solid IFR. I caught a glimpse of the peak passing below us as we turned to the west and out to the safety (at least obstacle wise) of the sea. After a few thousand feet we were once again in the clear on top. I retained my IFR clearance and continued to climb but could not climb fast enough for Seattle Center so IFR was canceled in favor of the freedom afforded to do what we wanted with VFR. Even though we were on the coastline the MEAs are much higher than one would expect due to the coastal mountains. I did not feel the need to climb up to 8000ft and the time cost associated with such a climb in my low performance aircraft. By now we were well behind schedule in our progress north. The aggressive schedule and hopes of multiple T&Gs and a few museum visits along the way was starting to fade from possibility. We were afforded the opportunity to shoot a touch and go at Siletz Bay (S45) in Oregon. S45 is well represented in Microsoft FSX by the Orbx design team which has created exacting models of interesting airports throughout the northwest. One of our goals during the GAXC2 was to land at many of the ORBX airports we had visited virtually through FSX. Siletz Bay sits just off and parallel to the coastline. Tall pines guard the airport and block the strong x-wind from the sea. But the pines also mix the air and create eddys and turbulence which can play havoc on small planes as they descend below the tree line. And that is exactly what we experienced as we made the approach to RW17, one minute everything is going swimmingly and the next we are bouncing all over the place. We wrestled the 150 down and immediately put the power back in. Carson retracted the flaps. I looked down the runway and was intimidated by the tallness of the pines which must have been over 100ft tall and not far off the runway threshold. Siletz’ single runway is 3,300ft long, so it’s not short but it is definitely not long either. I braced myself for once again transitioning the tree line and the associated turbulence. It was easier on the way up then on the way down.

The late start in the morning and the unplanned delay at Crescent City really threw a monkey wrench in the plan to visit Tillamook Aviation Museum and the Evergreen Aviation Museum outside of Portland. By the time we arrived over Tillamook it was 1600, too late to visit the museum which closes at 1700 so we decided to reschedule our visit for the return leg on Thursday. We had to climb up to 4,000’ to cross the coastal mountains as we altered course inland to the northeast breaking out into the Columbia River Valley. We headed for Scappoose (SPB) northwest of Portland to make our final refuel stop for the day. Scappoose, which I did not know until I landed, happens to be the home of Sherpa Aircraft and Oregon Aero. Foreflight showed self-serve fuel available and it was the least expensive in the area. We must have taxied two miles trying to find the fuel pumps which were hidden on the northeast end of the airport on a secluded ramp area. A young guy emerged from a nearby hangar and approached the plane, it was past 5PM now and I was surprised to see anyone. It was fortunate that there was an attendant because self-serve fuel was not an option and we were down to our reserve. I asked the guy when they closed, he told me at sunset which happened to be almost 9PM this time of year. A lucky break for us.

Our final flight leg was short and took us into Washington and our first glimpse of some terrific mountains. First Mount Adams loomed in the distance, then Mt St Helens, and finally Mount Rainer. The smog and haze did not diminish the size and scale of the mountains. I told Carson the story behind Mt St Helens which he found very fascinating. Later we would watch some documentaries on YouTube of the day Helens erupted back in the 1980s. We touched down at Pierce County airport (PLU) in the town of Puyallup, 15 miles south of Seattle just after 6PM. There was still plenty of daylight left. The airplane had performed flawlessly. The weather, with the exception of the marine layer, had been perfect and was forecast to remain so throughout our stay. Carson had flown the majority of the legs and had logged a good amount of flight time, he was really getting comfortable flying the 150. Seattle was hot, they were going through a heat wave, and even coming from Arizona it was hot to us with a touch of humidity but nothing like the east coast. We had traveled 590 NM miles in 6.9 hours of flying. We would take a break from flying for the next two days as we traveled by car to visit attractions in the area. We used Uber for the first time to get to our hotel four miles away. I will never use a taxi again, the Uber experience is fantastic, folks are nice, the Iphone app is awesome and its a lot cheaper than a taxi.

Petaluma METAR

Takeoff METAR KO69 051655Z AUTO 34005KT 10SM OVC014 17/15 A3000 RMK
           AO1=  (actual ceiling 1200')

Crescent City METAR

Landing METAR KCEC 051956Z AUTO 19009KT 4SM HZ SCT004 OVC010 16/13
           A2997 RMK AO2 SLP151 T01610133=
Takeoff METAR KCEC 052056Z AUTO 18010KT 10SM OVC004 16/13 A2998 RMK
           AO2 CIG 003V008 SLP154 T01610133 51011=

[July 4, 2015]
The Great American X-C II Begins Today                                                    8.0

Today we began the first leg of the Great American Cross Country Two or GAXC2 for short. A 1200NM journey that would cross the United States from border to border this time south to north. We took off very close to our planned departure time of 0730 this morning and headed west. Carson made a picture perfect takeoff, rotating smoothly and climbing out right on target airspeed. He has grown enough in the last year that he no longer need a cushion in his seat to see over the glare shield. His long skinny legs can now easily reach the rudder pedals, though he still likes me to work the rudder on the takeoff roll and climb. Partly cloudy skies with isolated rain showers made for an enjoyable first leg of the trip. We washed the plane in one rain shower and found a 1000ft per minute down draft within the rain chute. We quickly exited the shower to arrest our descent in sinking air and continued westward. Carson did most of the flying on this first leg which was just fine with me. He gets to log x-c time and hone his skills, and I can focus on the planning and navigating. We made our first fuel stop at Apple Valley, California as planned. It was the longest I had flown the Cessna 150 on one leg, a total of 3.3 on the Hobbs, yet I only took on 16 gallons of fuel. Apple Valley was very hot, almost 100F. Carson checked out a unique golf cart while I fueled the plane. The golf cart had been retrofitted with a cowling and propeller on the front. When the owner saw Carson taking a picture of his ride he offered to start up the “engine.” The propeller started turning. It never surprises me what you might see at an airport. With the heat and a schedule to keep I did not want to stick around and we were soon heading northwest again.

We flew south of Edwards Air Force Base and could make out the long runway on the Muroc dry lake bed. I had been to Edwards 20 some years ago when I was stationed at Fort Irwin near Barstow. I remember seeing the gantry used to place the Space Shuttle on top of the Boeing 747 ferry plane that would transport the shuttle back to Florida. I also remembering see the B-2 Stealth Bomber fly over me while riding my motorcycle on the long stretch of highway that connects Ft Irwin to Barstow. It was the first time I had ever seen the B-2 and it was impressive. We crossed over the ridge line separating the high desert from California’s central valley at 7,000ft, the valley opened up below us and we flew on to Bakersfield. Not much to see as we continued on. The San Joaquin Valley is essentially desert that has been greened up by man. Plenty of agricultural fields but few trees or indigenous vegetation. The weather was great, clear skies and calm winds blessed us. Our second fuel stop was at Los Banos, California. While further north Los Banos offered us no relief from the stifling hot temps. Los Banos was pushing 100F as well, at least it was almost at sea level altitude. Another fuel up and we were off for the Pacific coast on the final leg of the day.

Mountains reemerged as an obstacle as we crossed over a 25 mile stretch passing over the Lick Observatory on our way to San Jose. We could now see marine layer in the distance to the south and north, the ocean had to be near. Far to the northwest I could make out the skyline of San Francisco. I had to be careful as I picked my way toward the coast staying above San Jose Class C and below San Fran Class B. Over San Jose we could see the massive blimp hangars at Moffett Field. We were heading directly west for the coast line and then planned to fly up the coast for a touch and go at Half Moon Bay. It was not to be, I had planned to arrive in San Francisco long after the morning marine layer had burned off but what I did not take into account is that the marine layer starts working its way back inland by mid-afternoon. Warm temperatures inland create rising air and low pressure which sucks the cooler and moist ocean air inland. The marine layer had already encroached at least a half mile in land along the coast, Half Moon Bay was reporting 600ft ceilings, we flew right over the top of it and never saw it. We flew north along the coast descending down to 1900ft to remain under the San Fran Class B. The marine layer appeared to be only 500ft below us. It was a little unsettling to be flying over the open ocean with a solid blanket of white below us. Approaching the Golden Gate Bridge we noticed the top of a large television tower off our right wing. The tower was sticking out of the clouds, the map showed its height at 1800’, just a hundred feet below us. We arrived at the Golden Gate Bridge just as the marine layer was engulfing it, thirty minutes earlier we would have had a great view, now we had only a partial view of the north portion of the bridge. Nothing like the view I had when I departed San Fran in the Airbus A380 on my way to Germany a few years ago. We flew into the bay to get a better camera angle, arriving at the leading edge of the marine layer we found some turbulence with the mixing of the two air masses. We also wanted to over fly Alcatraz Island but the prison was already completely obscured by cloud. With no real options it was time to continue north to our final stop for the day. Carson was disappointed, but it was the first of many “hosings,” as we jokingly referred to such unlucky events, that we would receive on our trip. The plan called for Petaluma to be our final destination. Petaluma sits in an inland valley only 35 miles north of San Francisco and on the southern edge of wine country. Petaluma was our first respite from the heat, it was a pleasant 70F. Putting 31J to bed for the night we got to watch a Scout pick up a banner from the airport’s midfield. There was quite a delay between catching the banner with the Scout’s tow hook and actually pulling it aloft. From the taxi cab we could see the the Scout buzzing the town. He was still flying around when we left Applebee’s a few hours later. It was the 4th of July, fireworks were planned for downtown but we were too tired to stay up and watch. We contented ourselves with watching a marathon of Fat Guys in the Woods on the Weather Channel until we drifted off to sleep.  Day one of the GAXC2 was in the books. We had made our target destination for the day. The plane was running solid and the weather for the most part was cooperating. We had traveled 630 NM miles in 8.0 hours of flying.

[July 1, 2015]
Owner Assisted Annual

Spent the last two days conducting an owner-assisted annual on 31J in preparation for the Great American Cross Country II, slated to kick off on July 4th.  No major surprises this time around (only my second annual, went through just one with my first plane and that turned out to be disaster, see entry from December 2013).  I went back to my original mechanic who I trusted when I lived in Sierra Vista, no more big shops. 

The daytime temps in Arizona are breaking one hundred now so the days were long and uncomfortably hot but I was still able to learn a thing or two about my airplane.  Mushy brakes were one of several squawks I wanted to address on this annual.  We had totally rebuilt the master cylinders about six months ago in an attempt to fix the problem, but within hours the problem had returned.  We were on the verge of replacing the master cylinder this time around but thankfully it did not come to that, instead while we were removing the left wheel to repack the bearings we found that the wheel had a tremendous amount of lateral play in it once the landing strut was jacked up.  The wheel nut had not been properly reinstalled on the last annual, this caused the brake puck to move beyond its normal limits to take up the play in the wheel resulting in brakes that could be charged with pumping but soon returned to being mushy.  When the wheel was properly installed the brakes held pressure perfectly, problem solved without additional cost!  Next we tried to find the source of an oil leak that was making a real mess inside the cowling.  We power washed the engine and threw some dye in the oil, unfortunately the power wash and liberal use of degreasing agents caused a lot of extra problems and a lot more labor in the end.  The high-pressure water wrecked havoc on the magnetos, which led to a rough running engine, which led to inspection, and cleaning of both magnetos and replacement of my wiring harness, and two spark plugs.  Degreasing agent on my cowling led to paint damage, which led to lots of buffing and more buffing of the paint.  The old wiring harness was pretty tired so it was probably a good thing to replace it with brand new Champion harnesses sporting bright red wires which look great against my gloss black Continental Engine.

With those created issues resolved we searched for the source of the oil leak and soon found the culprit, an oil plug on the front of the engine.  The plug was removed, caulking applied to the threads, and reinstalled, leak fixed and another potential costly repair avoided.  The moment of most anxiety was the compression checks.  I had noticed a lot of oil coming out of the breather tube over the past few months and oil consumption rising along with darker oil.  To me it showed all the signs of blow by, yet engine power had not shown degradation.  Fortunately the compression numbers were not bad, but the sound of rushing air in the crankcase confirmed my original diagnosis of blow by.  It appears the piston rings never seated properly in the original break in.  One hundred operating hours and almost 20 years since the overhaul (yes you read correctly my engine only has 100 hours on it since overhaul) we are going to attempt to make them seat properly by putting an additive in the oil and running the engine hard for the next 25 hours.  In hindsight we probably should have switched to mineral oil but that is still an option to try after we see what happens during the next 25 hours.  Worst-case scenario we may be pulling jugs this winter to address the problem completely.

We moved on to servicing the shimmy dampener, which had started to lose its damping ability a few weeks ago.  I removed all the inspection plates on the outside of the aircraft and pulled the seats out, removed the plastic panels and carpeting from the interior which allowed me to get at more inspection panels on the floor of the aircraft.  The mechanic followed behind me inspecting pulleys, push rods, cable tensions, and lubricating each.  He found a huge mud dauber nest in the tail cone of the aircraft.  Lord knows how long that nest had been hauled around in the aircraft.  The Cessna 150 has an AD for the stall horn, which requires checking before each flight, we addressed this AD permentely by replacing the stall horn with a newer improved model.  In addition to the typical annual checks I also wanted to get a convenience outlet reinstalled in the plane after the school had removed it.  Not having a power outlet was a real problem especially given all the electronic gadgets I use in my plane like the Stratus, IPAD, IPhone, and MRX traffic alerter.  On long cross-country flights you need external power to keep these devices operating all day long.  The installation was simple and straightforward, taking less than 15 minutes to complete.

31J is now running great and she is ready for her big adventure.  We will be taking TCP along on this trip to add to the fuel so that we don’t get a repeat of last year’s stuck valve fiasco with 044.   I’ve finally seen everything there is to see in a Cessna 150 with this assisted annual experience.  It’s a simple airplane, everything is straightforward, no computers required to diagnose a problem.  Its basic wholesome 1967 technology, what you see is what you get. Time to fly this time machine into the future!  In three days the grand adventure north will begin.

[June 12, 2015]
Interview with CTC Aviation

[June 11, 2015]
The Six Degrees of Aviation - We are all connected closer than you might think

This story blows my mind and illustrates just how close our aviation community really is.  You might recall the Ercoupe story I recounted back in July of last year, coming full circle at the College Park Aviation Museum.  Well little did I know that another plane hanging in the museum would later reveal its secrets to me.  The plane was a Stearman biplane.  At the time I had no idea of this planes particular significance.  Today I found out.  I have been working with a gentlemen out of Sierra Vista helping him learn his new glass avionics package centered around an Aspen 1000 and Garmin 430W and get him back up to speed with his instrument proficiency.  He holds a very unique distinction.  He has flown a Cessna 182 to the North Pole.  He did it in support of Gus McLeod who flew a Stearman to the North Pole.  Yes, the Stearman at College Park is the plane that went to the North Pole.  Steve asked me if I remembered seeing the plane, I said yes and found a few pictures to prove it.  He asked if I had pictures of the bottom of the wing, I told him I did not think so.  He told me the wing had a patch on it, a patch Steve had to create in the field during the epic journey in order to keep the flight on track.  At the time Gus was not worried about the aesthetics of the field repair, who would see it?  Little did Gus realize that one day the plane would hang from the ceiling of the museum with its underside fully exposed to visitors for inspection.  I went through my digital pictures from my visits to the museum in 2009 and again last year.  In 2009 I took a picture of the airplane from the observation deck, a nice shot of the whole airplane from above, but no underside shots.  In 2014 I did not take a single picture of the Stearman being more focused on the new Ercoupe display.  But then I found one picture of the Ercoupe display that had a tiny portion of the underside of the Stearman wing just on the edge of the photo.  Low and behold there it was, the patch that Steve had made.  The patch that kept the journey to the top of the world alive.  An entire story was just above my head in 2009 and again in 2014, it waited silently and patiently to reveal itself to me today.

[June 4, 2015]
Making My First Flight Instructor

My first CFI student completed his check ride today, first time go!  What a great experience for both of us.  I think I may have learned as much as he did as we went on this six month journey.  Compared to the two week crash course I received for my own CFI the amount of training we provide our candidates is sure to turn out a very polished product.

I focused on building a solid foundation through fundamentals.  We delved about as deep as I have ever on the fundamentals of aerodynamics and attitude flying.  I felt if he had these building blocks down cold he could solve any aerodynamic problem thrown at him even if he had never seen it before.  I came to this realization talking to commercial pilots and realizing that many of them did not understand the basic dynamics of what was occurring during typical maneuvers and different phases of flight.  This approach apparently paid off today.  With fresh temporary certificate in hand he starts teaching at a school in Tucson on Monday.

One more flight pass before my gold seal!

[May 27, 2015]
Giving Spin Training and Spin Endorsements

The school sub-contracted my Cessna 150 to conduct the spin training and endorsements of our CFI candidates.  I conducted the training, the first time I had given such training.  We spent about an hour in the classroom discussing spins in-depth.  My own spin training was conducted over three days by a professional aerobatic and air-show pilot using a Decathlon, it was expensive but money well spent.  I was determined to give the CFI students the best possible training given the limited resources and time allotted by the TCO, after all it could one day save their life.  For the flight portion we climbed up to 9,000ft where I demonstrated a one and half turn spin to the left.  I then had the student complete a spin to the left and recover.  Typically the student does not hold the required inputs (max left rudder, full aft elevator) to allow the spin to develop and this was the case at least initially with my students.  What I found remarkable is that neither student had any problem recovering by pushing the yoke forward even though they were looking straight down.  I then had the student do a spin to the right, this can be a little more difficult to get into because of engine torque to the left.  The little 150 rolled over to the right, inverted and then straight down, two turns and then recovery, followed by a zoom climb in order to recover the lost altitude.  We flew back to the college and completed another left spin while the student attempted to recover the dropped wing with full opposite aileron, a typical response by a student pilot.  This just aggravates the stalled wing even more.  Each CFI candidate got to see this first hand.  The final spin was again to the left and was a full three turns before recovery was initiated. 

While initially both students were a little nervous about the training, by the end they wanted to do more.  The unknown was now known and the fear of the spin had been diminished.  While not three days of spin training, the student got to experience at least five spins of various lengths and explore an area of the performance envelope they had not seen before.  I feel confident that if they were to get into an inadvertent spin, they could get themselves out of it in short order.  I urged them to get aerobatic or upset training at some point in the future so they can provide someday provide quality spin training to others and grow further as a pilot.

 [May 21, 2015]
What is Wrong with Embry-Riddle

On a whim I applied for Embry-Riddle Prescott Campus flight instructor position.  The pay was a joke but I figured it would be good experience to get back in the interview process and maybe catch an inside glimpse of operations at ERAU.  I was contacted the next day by the flight department recruiter and asked if I would also be interested in applying for a training manager position based on my extensive management/leadership experience while in the Army.  I looked up the position description and found that training managers are mid-tier managers who also dual hat as assistant chief flight instructors.  Prescott has a chief instructor and three training managers.  Each manager has 10 flight instructors and each instructor has five students.  The Prescott program typically has 150 flight students at any given time.  I felt like the TM position was a perfect match for me and maybe had a reasonable chance of descent pay.  I applied for both positions.  A month later I got my chance to head up to Prescott for an in-person interview…on my own dime.  Not a big deal coming from Phoenix but this should have been my first warning sign that ERAU is not serious about attracting professional aviation educators.  Any serious employer is going to compensate one for their travel cost associated with an interview, not ERAU.  I’m certain this severely limits the pool of potential candidates’ right from the start.  

The interview process consisted first of a five person board interview.  The board consisted of an HR rep, Chief Instructor, both Training Managers and an administrative manager.  Each took a turn asking me a question.  The interview lasted about an hour.  The HR person asked the typical questions that HR people ask, if you Google search interview questions you will find the typical script that they read from.  “Why did you pick ERAU?” “Where do you see yourself in five years?”  “How do you keep students passionate about aviation?”  The Chief and other flight department managers asked a lot of scenario based questions dealing with typical flight department issues like burned out instructors, instructor/student conflicts, disgruntled parents, etc.  One manager asked me to describe the procedures for a steep turn.  No one wanted to see my log books, my medical, or any other substantiation for what I put in my resume…interesting.  The Chief was a nice guy about my age, he has moved over from a small local FBO where he had been chief.  For some reason I figured a school as prestigious as ERAU would have a former test pilot/astronaut as the chief instructor, guess not.

After the interview I met up with one of the senior flight instructors to go for a flight in one of the school’s Cessna 172 G1000 equipped aircraft.  Just prior to our flight the school’s competition team arrived en’masse from a x-country trip back from Michigan, two Cessna 150-150’s and a couple 172s.  I took a look inside the 150s and found the panels to be extremely dated.  I also had a chance to see the maintenance bay where one of the schools Diamond DA-42s was being worked on by the mechanics.  The DA-42 has some real hangar presence!  By this time it was 1000 and the May winds were blowing pretty well.  I was not concerned given the conditions I normally fly in.  The ERAU instructor flew from the left seat I acted as instructor, I instructed him on a x-wind takeoff, straight and level attitude flying and then steep turns.  I took control and demonstrated slow flight, we came back and I did a soft field/x-wind landing and then had him do a x-wind landing.  It took about a .8 to complete.  After the flight the Chief took me over to the simulator building where I got to see several models of static simulators for the 172 and DA42, not sure who the sim manufacture was.  One really cool feature of the DA42 simulator is it allows you to simulate smoke in the cockpit with a fog machine, not sure why you would have smoke in the cockpit in a multi-engine airplane but still a cool feature.

After the flight I went to lunch with the chief and the TMs.  I thought we all jelled pretty well.  After lunch I took a written exam which was probably one of the harder aviation exams I have taken, the material covered was nothing new given that I am a full time instructor already.  It covered Part 61, 91, and AIM topics, stuff I teach everyday, but the test was designed in the worst possible way.  The dreaded “all answers correct” and “no correct answer” were selections on almost every question.  Many questions had just minor variations between answers.  I took my time and reviewed each question thoroughly before turning it in.  I felt I did pretty good.

Afterward I went up to the chief’s office.  He and the TMs have large offices overlooking the flight line on the second floor of the operations building.  The flight instructors are crammed in groups into large rooms with older hutch style desks side by side, a far cry from the nice individual office accommodations I have at my present job.  Briefings with students are conducted on the first floor in small rooms with a table and two chairs.  These brief rooms reminded me of police interrogation rooms, not that I have ever been in one!  I let the Chief know I was complete with the test, he asked me to send him three references and told me he hoped to have a decision by the end of the following week, we said goodbye and I headed home.  My impression was that the whole interview went very well.  The next Thursday I received a call from the Chief.  He said he had some follow up questions for me.  One, did I plan on moving to Prescott, two, how early could I start and three, what was my salary requirement.  The move question was based on me being an assistant chief instructor.  When the chief is away the assistant chief fills in.  All training managers are assistant chiefs.  The follow up call leads me to believe I was under serious consideration for the position and that I had passed the interview, flight and written tests the previous week.  Ultimately I did not get the training manager position, I was contacted the following Tuesday and was offered a flight instructor position instead which I declined.  In retrospect I think it was the fact that I did not want to move to Prescott that sunk my chances or maybe it was the pay.  I’ll chalk the whole experience up to what I originally intended from the outset, good job interview practice and a peek into another organization’s flight program.   What I envisioned ERAUs program to be like and what I actually found it to be where two completely different things.  I have to say I was a little disappointed.

What is wrong with Embry-Riddle’s flight program?

Don’t take this write up the wrong way, it is not a tit-for-tat because Embry-Riddle did not offer me the management position.  It is my observation and opinion which I would hold regardless of the outcome of the interview process.

Based on my brief contact time with the organization I was a little shocked to see that ERAU does not use a professional cadre of flight instructors, the vast majority of instructors are recent products of the organization’s own flight department who’s only motivation is to build time and move on to the airlines.  These individuals lack any real world experience in flying period.  This leads to a high turnover rate with instructors which the chief instructor acknowledged to me in our discussions.  Just like my experience in the Army an organization never gets really good at what it does when you have people constantly coming and going, this drains resources by constantly requiring staff training and hurts students by a lack of continuity in instruction.  Young instructors make poor mentors for young students, they are more peers than anything.  This goes directly against what ERAU is espousing in its literature on leadership, professionalism, and mentoring within its aviation program. 

If ERAU was serious about what it touts the salary it pays instructors would reflect this.  It does not.  Pay for instructors is designed to exploit young CFIs who need flight hours, not established professional aviation educators who should be compensated accordingly for their experience and credentials.  Having been in contact with several other major flight training establishments within the Phoenix metro area this appears to be the status quo. While Embry-Riddle is touted as the “Harvard of the Sky” the reality is that its instructor quality is no better than any other pilot-mill in the country.  Students pay an incredible premium to get the training but little of it is invested in the instructor corps.  Personally, my son may attend ERAU for his degree but all of his flight training will be done by me.

So what is next up?  Maybe some interviews with the airlines.  I’ve already had Republic and Air Wisconsin contact me several times to interview for a First Officer position.  I think I just might see how that process works and report back to you on what I find.  Hopefully this information will be helpful to others.

As a matter of fact I believe there is wide spread age discrimination occurring across the flight training industry.  I have applied to several flight training organizations where I was over qualified and received no call.  I reviewed my resume for some hint as to why and noticed in my objective statement I had stated “retired senior army officer”.  Now I am only in my early 40s but this statement might have given the impression I was considerably older than I am.  When I removed this statement I started to receive more call backs.  But even 40 is too old for those in the primary flight training industry. 

[May 18, 2015]
Legal Eagle Plans Arrive

It has been a dream of mine for some time to build my own plane.  I took one step closer to realizing that dream last week when I ordered build plans for a Legal Eagle.  The Legal Eagle is an ultralight airplane that looks more like a traditional plane than an ultralight.  The Legal Eagle is really only a test bed for building something more substantial like an RV-8.  I figure I can learn and practice all of the skills that will be necessary to build something more complicated down the road.  More importantly the project will motivate me to begin seeking out and building relationships with people that can help me acquire the skills I need in order to become an airplane builder.  Once again I stand at the beginning of what will be a long journey, it appears very daunting at the least but I know one day I will read these words and marvel at how quickly the time passed.

[May 5, 2015]
College's First Redhawk Makes Cover of Flying Magazine

We took delivery of our first Redhawk, N99329, about six weeks ago.  This month the aircraft is featured on the cover of Flying magazine.  We do not yet have the infrastructure to support the aircraft, i.e. - jet fuel, but I believe or at least I hope something is in the works.  No training with the flight instructor staff has occurred, but it will eventually be conducted in house and not by Redbird.  Continental did come down for about a week to train our maintenance personnel on feed and caring of the water cooled diesel CD-135 engine.  The company rep told out mechanics that we have the largest fleet of the CD-135s in the country and that they will be closely watching how the engine performs once it is pressed into full time service.  I believe the current TBR for the engine is 1800 hours but Continental would like to see that number go as high as 3000 once more field data is collected.  This makes sense since the engine must be replaced not overhauled at its total time, a very expensive proposition which almost negates the fuel cost savings at least at 1800 hours.  The CD-135 has no less than five different fluids running through its veins, any observed leak whatsoever now takes on a whole new meaning.

[April 24, 2015]
Heading South of the Border - Mexico

Finally headed to Mexico today in a two plane flight with a few fellow instructors from work.  The objective was only to crack the code on the procedures for crossing into Mexico and then returning to the US.  There is a staggering amount of partial and misinformation on the internet about the process.  With my Iphone, paper, and a pen I was determined to document every last detail to smooth over future international flights and maybe help out other pilots contemplating making the journey.  Glad we set aside an entire day for the journey because it took the whole day just to cross 20 miles into Mexico.  I'll post the documentation on this website once I have it finalized.  We used Nogales, US as are jumping off point.  FSS was the first agency to give us wrong information telling me over the phone I needed an ICAO flight plan when what I ended really needing was a DVFR flight plan.  The fact that the FSS I was connected to was in North Carolina probably did not help.  The flight from Nogales, USA to Nogales, Mexico took about 15 minutes.  I activated my flight plan with FSS for the ADIZ penetration and asked if I needed to close it with US FSS on the other end.  I was told nope, it was transferred to Mexico and Mexico Customs would close it.  Wrong!  Once in Mexico US FSS called the airport looking for me, said I did not close my flight plan.  Yep, because you told me I didn't have to!

Arriving at MMNG we self announced our arrival....on the wrong frequency.  A bored looking Mexican soldier greeted our airplane and my spanish speaking passenger provided him with the info on our group.  The next two hours was bureaucracy at its best.  We purchased Multi-Entry passes from the airport manager which allow us to enter Mexico as often as we want for the rest of the calendar year.  There were 5-6 forms we had to fill out in triplicate.  Then we had to go see the customs officer for a stamp, then the border control guy, then the airport operations folks, on and on.  We had to fill out an arrival report, another flight plan, a departure report...sign here, pay this fee, pay that fee, cash only.  I forgot a document in my plane and had to go through essentially the security procedure of a commercial airport to get back to my plane.  This little sleepy airport with no activity save for us had three security personnel manning the access door.  Not sure why were concerned with locking up our planes, this place made the TSA look like mall security.  Other than the utter administrative avalanche everyone at the airport was extremely helpful and very nice to us.  Unfortunately none of our cell phones worked and there was no internet connectivity what so ever at the airport.  We could not call CBP to tell them we would not make our original ETA back to the States.  When we finally did get a hold of them they were not happy.  Lesson learned we need pre-paid Mexican cell phones.

We departed around 3PM to head east along the border to return to the US at Douglas.  The winds had really picked up but fortunately it was on our tail.  We traveled about 80 miles paralleling the border on the Mexico side.  I looked for all the dirt strips that dotted the Mexican sectional chart which I had envisioned visiting on later flights, I could not find a single one from the air, so much for that idea.  We called US FSS to air file a flight plan so that we could cross back over since we had no phone coms on the ground.  The FSS gal gave us a hard time saying that we needed to call an hour prior so they could notify customs, okay note to self.  She gave us a squawk code for ADIZ penetration and we came back across without getting shot down so that was good.  We landed at Douglas and went to the penalty box, a big yellow circle where we waited in our planes until customs showed up with the drug sniffing dog to make sure we were not smuggling anything back across.  We filled out a couple forms and that was it.  Not so bad, now that we plowed our way to the actual correct procedures and we did it without incurring a $5000 CBP fine which is a good thing.  With our multi-entry pass the next time we clear Mexican Customs will be much easier and quicker.  We got big plans for heading to Rocky Point and Hotel Serenaded on the Baja Peninsula.  Looking forward to a little change in latitude.


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[April 11, 2015]
Tragic Day at Glider Club

Carson and I did not go to the glider field today because both of our instructors had notified us that they would not be there.  Unfortunately for those who did decide to go to the field a tragedy unfolded around 3PM when a club Cirrus glider was being towed aloft by the winch.  From preliminary reports the pilot lost control of the aircraft and crashed into the ground destroying the glider and instantly killing the pilot.   The pilot was Robert Bauman a gentlemen who I had met on my first day at the club and who was kind enough to give up his launch slot to Carson on one visit so that Carson could get two training flights in.  This is the first fatality the club has ever had after operating for many years.  Its a real shot in the gut as this is the first time I have experienced losing a fellow pilot who I knew personally over the last 10 years.  The NTSB is investigating the accident and in the mean time the glider club is on a safety stand down. Rest in peace Robert.

"Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds -
and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of -
wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence.
Hovering there I've chased the shouting wind along
and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.
"Up, up the long delirious burning blue
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
where never lark, or even eagle, flew;
and, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
the high untrespassed sanctity of space,
put out my hand and touched the face of God."

High Flight
By John Gillespie Magee, Jr.

[April 4, 2015]
First Glider Winch Launch


[March 31, 2015]
Douglas, AZ Aviation Museum


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[March 12-14, 2015]
Spring Break - Canyonlands, Utah Adventure

Today we set out on a three day x-country adventure to Moab, Utah.  I’ve flown in Utah a few times but only scratched the surface of the southeastern portion of the state an area that is known for its bush airstrips and rugged terrain.  Having read Galen Hanselman’s outback guide and watched Todd Peterson’s videos I have been itching to get a little piece of the action.  This trip was designed as more of a reconnaissance than an all out bush flying adventure.  Skies were overcast at 10,000 feet, but visibility was excellent and blue skies were forecast to prevail through Friday and Saturday.  Flight planning called for a fuel stop at Cal Black Memorial just across the Utah border.  The Cessna 150 can fly for about three hours before you need to start looking for a place to land and refuel.  I planned the trip for 90 knots which gave a total flight time of 3 hours and 49 minutes.  Heading north the weather remained overcast.  As we passed Flagstaff snow showers appeared on the NEXTRAD courtesy of my Stratus receiver, Humphrey’s Peak was covered in snow at the lower elevations with the peak completely obscured by clouds.  The terrain flattened out from Flagstaff to the Utah border where Navajo Mountain was a prominent and easy landmark on which to gain our bearing.  We were into Utah after about 2:21 hours of flying.  We did a low pass over Nokai Dome airstrip south of Cal Black.  I had originally planned to do several T&Gs at airstrips along our route but the fact that we were close to max gross weight at a high elevation maybe abandon that idea.  A low pass would have to suffice for now.  Cal Black was only a little further north, set alone in the desert with no nearby town anywhere on the horizon, only a marina a few miles west on the banks of Lake Powell.  Carson enjoyed the company of several hunting dogs and a little puppy with huge paws while I worked on securing us more avgas.

 North of Cal Black the terrain gets pretty rough. In fact it is probably the roughest and most unforgiving non-mountainous terrain I have ever flown over.  It is also extremely diverse in its rock formations.  If you have not seen it just imagine flying over the Grand Canyon for a solid hour.  Southeastern Utah is very much intimidating.  No matter what I did to try to mitigate the risk of flying over such terrain in a single engine airplane, flying at a higher altitude, looking for a route which provided even the smallest patches of possible landing areas, the majority of the hour flight was spent in a position where if the engine failed we had no chance of finding a place to put the plane down safely.  I must be getting old because I felt nervous the whole time, maybe it was because Carson was with me.  I did not feel this nervous even when I flew over open ocean for 75 miles on the way to the Bahamas, but even then I knew I could ditch and still have a pretty descent chance of surviving.  I felt there would be zero chance of survival if I had to crash land in this part of Utah.  It would weigh on my mind the entire time we were in Moab because I dreaded having to cross this ground again.  After what felt like an eternity Canyonlands Airport appeared in the distance.  Canyonlands airport sits some 16 miles north of Moab in the middle of nowhere. We landed on RW3 with little other traffic in the area save for a Cessna skydiving plane.  The airport is serviced by Skywest and a Brazilian turboprop followed shortly behind us.  We grabbed a rental car from Enterprise in the terminal, loaded up all of our gear and headed for Canyonlands National Park. 

 We spent two days camping in Canyonlands exploring the park as well as Arches National Park down the road.  Of the two parks Arches is by far the best.  Canyonlands is mostly a series of scenic overlooks and can be done in a half day but Arches has so much more to see which each attraction unique.  We only scratched the surface at Arches, but we did see the Delicate Arch which adorns the Utah license plate.  The other downside of Canyonlands is that it is a 30 mile drive to get into and out of the park.  Arches sits just outside the town of Moab.  The camping requires reservations and is booked months in advance.  A recon of the campground quickly uncovered why, the views from the campsites are million dollar views.  Amazing!

 We took a break from flying until Saturday morning.  With all of our gear out of the plane and only partial fuel I determined we would have the performance needed to shoot some touch and go’s and surrounding bush strips.  We used Galen Hanselmen’s guide to pick out a few less challenging strips.  One strip that I wanted to see was Mexican Mountain.  This strip is hailed as the ultimate Utah bush strip.  Steep canyon walls on both sides, a small winding river, and 15ft trees encroaching on the strip’s eroded boundary.  But before Mexican Mountain our first stop was White Wash Sand Dunes just west of Canyonlands, an 1800ft dirt strip sitting at 5381 ft.  The winds were light, the sky clear, and the air still cool, perfect conditions.  We made a short field approach to RW4, just kissed the rough ground and poured on the coals staying in ground effect until going off into a shallow canyon at the departure end of the strip.  We climbed back up to 1000ft and headed further northwest to Green River which has a newly paved runway.  A touch and go using a short field approach made me realize that our reduced weight even a 60mph approach was too fast and ended in floating past our touchdown mark.  It was on to the crown jewel of bush strips, Mexican Mountain.  We crossed over the San Rafael Reef at 7000 feet, well above the towering canyon walls.  We switched to 122.9 on the radio, used for most bush strips in Utah, and heard the radio calls of a Maul scoping out the strip.  I spotted him below us and alerted him to our position.  We did a few orbits over the strip to snap some photos and get familiar with the layout.  15 ft Tamarisk guarded the approaches to both ends of the strip.  This would make a climb out in the 150 questionable considering the strip was only 1400ft long (on a good day) and at an elevation of 4461ft.  The Maule determined that the best approach would be for RW 29 and began a counterclockwise approach around Mexican Mountain.  We advised that we would be leaving our high orbit to follow him in with a good 3 mile trail.

   As we came around Mexican Mountain we headed for the east canyon wall.  It’s a weird feeling to see your entire windscreen filled with solid rock.  When I could not stand it anymore I turned to follow the canyon north toward the strip.  The winds were behaving themselves with no downdrafts or shear inside the canyon.  The Maule landed without incident and pulled off to the left of the strip.  As the airstrip came into sight Carson voiced his concern about attempting a landing and I concured, we would just do a low pass, a T&G, if even possible in the 150, would have to wait for another day.  We decided further to keep a healthy speed to provide energy for the climb out.  The runway was narrow and the tamarisk encroached on both sides, they looked a lot taller than 15 feet.  We zoomed past the Maule and started a climb out trading our kinetic energy for altitude.  Even so the trees felt close and the climb slow.  We continued around Mexican Mountain slowly climbing back up to altitude that would allow us to cross the San Rafael Reef and return to the relative flat terrain to the east.

 Our last strip was Horseshoe Canyon.  We set up for an approach on RW 2.   The approach speed was once again too fast and we floated for what felt like an eternity, fortunately the strip is 3600ft long.  The original strip was partially overgrown with only a truck trail in the center of the strip to land on.  We touched down and I could feel the soft sand grab the tires and quickly start to decelerate the airplane.  I held the yoke back not dare letting the nose wheel touch down.  The power went to full and we quickly extracted the Cessna from the grasp of the earth.  A drop off into the canyon at the end of the runway provided a safe escape and time to climb back up.  And with that our short outback excursion was over and we headed back to Canyonlands Airport.  We drove back to town to scarf another delicious hamburger and milkshake at Milt’s (since 1956!) before returning to the airport to pack up the bird, top off the tanks and start the journey home.

Not wanting to traverse the same terrain on the way home as on the way up I searched for a safer passage from Canyonlands to the Arizona border.  While partially successful the flight still had many moments where there were just no good or viable options if the engine failed.  Short of flying at 12,000ft (which is not even really an option for us) there is going to be some elevated risk assumed with flying a single to Moab from the south.  We pushed on to Monument Valley, my third trip to the area.  After Canyonlands, Monument Valley did not quite hold the same fascination it once had, it is really only a small taste of what a traveler could see if they just ventured further north.  After a quick refuel at Winslow we made a beeline for Phoenix.  Carson spotted a very interesting aerial direction sign just north of Payson.  In a meadow set in a heavily forested area was “PHX 75” with an arrow.  (After some research and a few e-mails I discovered that the sign was created by the RAF during WWII.  The RAF trained air force cadets at Falcon Field in Phoenix.  Several cadets became lost while on cross country flights in the high country to the north so several aerial signs were created to help the cadets find their way back to the airfield.)  We touched down at KDVT just as the terminator was fading in the western sky.  Tired and dirty we were ready for a hot shower and a soft bed, or at least I was.  Carson loves camping and could probably stay out for weeks if given the opportunity.  Just as during my time in the army, I only need to stay in the field long enough to re-appreciate all the luxuries of home.



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[March 17, 2015]
The GoPro Killer

SJCAM SJ4000 Action Camera (Black)

Over the last month I have been searching for an inexpensive GoPro clone to better document my aviation adventures.  To my surprise I found a camera that is not only far better than the GoPro but also very inexpensive.  I can’t say enough good things about SJCAM’s SJ4000 camera.  It is a true clone in that the form factor is almost the same as a GoPro, but that is about the extent of the cloning from that point the SJ4000 exceeds the GoPro in every area.  For starters it includes a small LCD screen so you can actually frame up your shot.  The camera comes with a ton of different mounts and is backward compatible with most existing GoPro mounts.  The quality of the video is crisp and clear at 1080P, field of view is 170 degrees, perfect for aviation applications.  Best of all the camera cost only $70.  You could buy two for the same price as just one base model GoPro.  All my external Utah videos were shot with the SJ4000, in fact the new title bar for the web site was a frame capture from the video feed.  Beware of SJ4000 clones (a clone of the clone) they are far inferior in workmanship and video quality.  Be safe, purchase from a reputable dealer.  I buy mine from B&H, see link below. 



[March 11, 2015]
Arizona's 79 Public Use Airports

It took a little over five years but I have managed to land at every single one of Arizona's 79 public use airports, from big to small, from concrete to dirt, the state offers a unique variety of landing areas to put an airplane down on.  I am now turning my attention to the state's private airports as well as exploring north into Utah.  The adventure continues.....

[March 8, 2015]
Window Rock, AZ X-Country


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[March 6, 2015]
Top 10 Most Beautiful Aircraft
This is a working list, I am going to throw out what is sitting on the top of my mind right now and add to/modify this list over the coming week.  The list is in no particular order.

1.  Lockheed Constellation
2.  Douglas DC-3
3.  Aerospatiale-BAC Concorde
4.  Lockheed Electra 10
5.  Boeing 314 Clipper
6.  Beechcraft Staggerwing
7.  Boeing 747-100
8.  Cessna 195
9.  North American T-6 Texan
10.  Cessna 150.........JK :)

[March 4, 2015]
Multiengine Solo

Hard to believe up until today I had 1500+ hours under my belt, 30 hours of twin time, and have never soloed a multi-engine airplane.  Well that streak came to an end today in a very uneventful flight in the Baron B55...by myself.  Could not think of a better twin to do it in either.  I remember back to 2005 as a student pilot who was also getting into flight simulation to augment my training.  The first multi-engine add on I purchased for the simulator was the Baron 58.  I just though it was such a cool looking airplane.  Fast forward ten years and I am flying it, and soon will be instructing in it.  I went out and felt the airplane out by doing a few steep turns, stalls, slow flight, and checking all my pitch/power settings for climb, cruise, descent, and approaches.  Its a beefy/stout airplane like pretty much all the Beech products.  I am looking forward to training students in it.

[March 2, 2015]
A Safer CO Detector Alternative

Recently I was reading an article by Mike Busch in EAA's Sport Flyer magazine the other day.  I really respect Mike opinion and rank him as one of the most knowledgeable A&Ps out there.  Mike's article was on CO detectors for aircraft.  He believes that the credit card CO detectors which everyone carries in their planes is pretty much worthless.  That came as a real surprise to me.  Guess I have been drinking the Kool-Aid with everyone else on this one.  Besides being a passive device that requires you to actually check it to see if there is a problem, Mike explained that the shelf life for the detectors is very short compared to the 12 months advertised by the suppliers.  He goes on to explain that the ability for these devices to provide positive detection is abysmal.  As I am reading this I start thinking about buying a cheap home CO detector, about that same time Mike explains that home CO detectors are designed (per UL standards) not to alert until after four hours of detecting elevated levels of CO.  This was demanded by fire fighting organizations due to the number of false alarm calls.  Well so much for that idea, or maybe not.  Of course an aviation branded CO detector will cost you north of $250, so all of us poor aviators are pretty much hosed, or maybe not.  I decided to check out home CO detectors on Amazon anyway and I am glad I did.  I ended up finding a CO detector that is actually cheaper than a worthless card CO detector and 100 times better.  This inexpensive CO detector is not UL listed and therefore does not conform to the 4 hour alert minimum described earlier, it will alert as quickly as 3-10 minutes.  In addition it has an LCD display that provide a readout of CO parts per million (PPM).  For $10 I had nothing to lose, so I ordered it and two days later took it in the airplane to give it a try.  Sure enough during the runup the display showed a positive CO reading of 33ppm, not enough to to be unsafe or to provide an alert but at least I knew it was working.  Once in flight the circulation of air in the cabin reduced CO to >5ppm.  So the cheapo detector works and gives real piece of mind.  It will become a permanent fixture in my aircraft from now on.  And that card CO detector, well I think I will burn it and see if it detects its own demise.

You can check out the detector yourself at Amazon by clicking here.

[February 17, 2015]
NAFI Associate Master Flight Instructor Awarded

With over 500 hours of flight instruction under my belt I decided to put together a packet for the Associate Master Flight Instructor designation.  To be a true Master Flight Instructor you must have 1000 hours of instruction (this however can include simulator time which the Associate Master cannot).  The packet that must be assembled is not based purely on number of hours you have instructed but a wide spectrum of areas that demonstrate that an applicant is truly dedicated to the profession of aviation educator.  Each area requires the applicant to earn a minimum number of points through various activities and accomplishments.  Areas include service to the aviation community, personal development, and educator activities.  Only activities and accomplishments from the last 24 months can be submitted for credit.  The complete packet took some time to put together and was submitted in early January.  It took NAFI about a month to review and vet the package before informing me that I had been approved.  Feels good to have the designation but there can be no resting on one's laurels as the designation is only good for 24 months which provides great motivation to keep involved and always learning and growing.

[February 15, 2015]
Arizona Backcountry Flying & Close Call

Finishing up my visitation of every public airport in the state of Arizona took me north today in my Cessna 150.  First stop was Flagstaff to drop off a box of blood platelets for Flights for Life then a short hop over to my first destination Clark Memorial.  Clark was deserted and pretty typical as far as public airports go, the airports after it were going to anything but typical.  After topping the tanks it was off to Grand Canyon Caverns, a dirt strip that I had been to before but was worth a repeat visit in my 150.  Heading north I soon crossed over the south rim of the Grand Canyon heading for a small paved strip called Bar Ten.  Bar Ten is in the canyon and requires a little maneuvering if you must approach from the north which is what I had to do.  The nice thing about this approach is that you takeoff downhill and into lowering terrain even though you have to climb up to extract yourself from the canyon.  From Bar Ten it was over to Pierce Ferry, which was bar far the coolest strip to land at as it sits on top of a butte with the runway ending in shear cliff face.  It appears daunting but is actually an easy strip to land on as long as the winds are calm which they were by the time I arrived.  The video I shot of this strip does way more justice than word ever could so check it out.  I headed further toward Las Vegas and Lake Meade landing at Temple Bar before heading north into Nevada to stop at Perkins for fuel before skirting the north border of Arizona shooting a touch-n-go at Colorado City Muni.  By now the wind had picked up substantially.  The ride was getting bumpy.  Only two airports to go.  The next one would be the most interesting, Marble Canyon.  The medium length (3715x35) paved strip at Marble Canyon sits inside Marble Canyon which is a rugged piece of terrain, the floor of the canyon crisscrossed by deep gorges.  On a calm wind day landing there is probably uneventful, but if the wind is blowing it can be anyone's guess as to what those winds will do inside the canyon.  What made this airstrip even more complex and dangerous is its proximity to the canyon walls.  If feels a little strange to be approaching an airport and having a solid wall of rock dominating the entire left side of your airplane.  I flew over the canyon, surveyed the area at altitude and then dropped down for my approach to runway 3.  It all felt right until short/short final then I had to start putting in a left crab, BOOM I suddenly get rolled hard right, I counter with heavy left aileron attempting to get back on centerline.  I'm hit by a second gust that rolls me left into a bank of 30 degrees, I counter again.  I'm over the threshold trying to salvage the landing that is anything but stabilized, not the best idea.  The wind abates and I manage a touch-n-go but claw for altitude at low airspeed.  I'm praying that in my vulnerable state that a downdraft from the canyon walls does not push me into one of the deep gorges.  Its a tense few minutes as I slowly climb up to an altitude that provides a cushion.  I make a climbing right turn to the south and head down the canyon just trying to climb the 3000 feet needed to see out of the canyon and into the surrounding terrain.  In the end I made it but it was probably the most harrowing of some 3000+ landings I have made.  GoPro video of the landing just does not do the reality of it all justice.  It was scary to say the least.  With enough excitement for one day I landed at Page, gassed up, and headed south for home stopping at Tuba City to mark the final airport off my list.

http://youtu.be/VukPZycgoxw  - Marble Canyon
http://youtu.be/039noQUtWxw - Pierce Ferry
http://youtu.be/X-Vi6J4zLzY - Bar Ten


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[February 3, 2015]
AOPA's Tornado Husky Bites the Dust at Red Creek

Interesting article I came across last night in AOPA's Pilot magazine.  Apparently AOPA's 2013 Sweepstakes Husky crashed on takeoff from Red Creek in the Fall of 2013 (news to me).  As you recall I flew a Cessna 150 (with wheel pants) into and out of Red Creek last Spring (you can check out the landing and takeoff videos here).  While it was certainly challenging for my little underpowered plane, I would think a tail dragging bush plane would have no problems.  Guess I was wrong.  What floors me about this accident, besides the fact that the plane was certainly up to the task, is that the pilot was a "military trained, ATP airline captain." 

The AOPA 2013 Sweepstakes Tornado Husky’s fateful flight took place on a perfect autumn day in the Arizona mountains. The wind was calm beneath a cloudless blue sky, the airplane was in top mechanical condition.The pilot, David Dunteman, a military-trained airline captain and ATP who had logged more than 100 tailwheel hours during the preceding 12 months—was superbly qualified.

His plan to fly to the Red Creek Airstrip, a narrow, 1,200-foot dirt strip, was carefully researched. He familiarized himself with the place on Google Earth and visualized landmarks, abort points, and contingencies. He brought a highly experienced backcountry pilot with him who had been to Red Creek many times, and they overflew the strip at low altitude to check its condition before landing.

“I had anticipated that the landing would be the most difficult part of the flight,” he said. “It went according to plan, and I was elated. This was exactly the kind of flying I had looked forward to when I bought the Tornado Husky.”

After a morning hike in the Tonto National Forest, Dunteman and his passenger got back in the airplane for the flight home. On the takeoff roll, the airplane’s 26-inch tires fell into ruts that pulled the airplane to the left side of the dirt strip. Then the left tire became fouled in brush, and the left wing struck a mesquite tree. The airplane veered into rough terrain and scrub that knocked out the main landing gear, destroyed the three-blade MT propeller, and severely damaged both wings.

The pilots were unhurt, but the well-known Husky, which got its name from a close encounter with the March 2011 Sun ’n Fun tornado, was a total loss. The pilots were stranded at a remote strip where there was no cellphone coverage, and they hadn’t filed a flight plan. Fortunately, they had told friends and family members where they were going, and when they failed to return, those people notified authorities. A rescue helicopter retrieved them before the sun went down.

Dunteman faults himself for failing to devote as much attention to the departure from Red Creek as he had to the arrival. If he had carefully considered the takeoff, he said, he might have accounted for the deep ruts in the uneven surface and avoided them. Also, he had removed his survival gear (water, first-aid kit, sleeping bag, and satellite messenger) he usually keeps in the airplane. “I figured it was a local trip so I wouldn’t need all that,” he said.

Dunteman was concerned the incident would result in certificate action. His formerly spotless military, airline, and GA record was now marred. But there were no repercussions from the FAA, his airline employer, or insurance company. “I made the required notifications and was completely candid,” he said. “The system worked the way it’s supposed to, and everyone I talked to was professional, cooperative, and understanding.”

Dunteman talks to aviation groups about his Husky mishap and the things he learned from it, and he calls his presentation “Lessons from My Beloved Dog.” It’s at times surprising, funny, insightful, and poignant.

Dunteman takes aviation culture to task for a code of secrecy and reluctance among pilots to fess up to errors that peers can learn from. His openness is meant to provide an example of what he hopes will become a more safety-oriented flying culture in which pilots evaluate their preparations and qualifications for every flight in a clear-eyed way, and share lessons learned without fear of judgment.

After his talks, other pilots seek him out to confess their own lapses—most of which he suspects they’ve never spoken openly about. “I learned some painful lessons,” he said. “But if I can help other pilots avoid repeating them, I’m happy to do it.”

[January 29, 2015]
Welcome to 1500 Hours!

[January 24, 2015]
Maintenance and Backcountry Fun

[January 18, 2015]
Carson's First Glider Lesson


[January 17, 2015]
Radio Control Warbirds Airshow


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[January 15, 2015]
Flying the Baron


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