A Blog Documenting My Journey from Student Pilot to Airline Transport Pilot And Now My Son's Same Journey
2005 - 2016

Blog Archive
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[December 31, 2016]
New Year's Eve Approach into PHX

The last day 2016 started out pretty marginal weather wise.  We departed on a training flight at 0800 and I sat in the back which I didn’t mind because it allowed me to see all the mistakes made by the other pilot and I made notes not to make those same mistakes.  Today was emergency day so the instructor threw in an engine fire during taxi, engine fire in flight, engine failure in flight, single engine approach to landing, and a hydraulic leak for good measure.  The weather got progressively worse and by the time we were heading back to base we were scud running in some pretty nasty stuff.  As we rolled out and made the three minute taxi back to the hangar the rain, turned to flurries which turned to heavy snow.  By the time the fuel truck had finished with us we had a good inch of snow on the airplane.  Flight training was done.  The plane was placed back in the hangar which is kept at 50+ F and the snow allowed to melt.

Before leaving the airport I was notified that a real world mission had come in and I could ride in the right seat, but then that got cancelled because an additional rider was going to be on the flight.  And the only available seat is the co-pilot position.  I was then told I would ride with are other aircraft which was repositioning to our base.  That plan also got nixed when we realized that aircraft was going to Phoenix and not Tucson.  It looked like the possibility of me flying on this day was marginal like the weather.  But as luck would have another mission came in at 8PM.  I was going to fly along on a transport to Phoenix Sky Harbor and then be allowed to fly the return leg.

On the flight to PHX we flew at 11,000 which put us in the middle of a thin layer of stratus cloud, we picked up some rime ice pretty well which required continual use of the ice boots.  The Turbo Commander is old school with its boots.  Activation must be done manually by the pilot.  An auto cycle consists of one inflation for six seconds.  Additional cycles requires you to press the rocker switch on the overhead panel,  very tedious.  Sitting in the right seat I observed the fuel vent on the right wing picking up a descent amount of rime ice, this should not have happened because the vent is heated.  It appeared as though the vent was also spraying fuel.  We made a note to check the heat when we got on the ground .  We landed in Phoenix around 11:30PM, I could see sporadic fireworks from early celebrators in the neighborhoods surrounding the airport.  Fireworks are interesting to see from the perspective of looking down on them just as long as they are not pointed at me.

The FBO was a ghost town, at midnight as the new year 2017 rolled in we were sitting at a computer typing in a flight plan for the return home.

I flew the leg home trying to be a little quicker with my flows.  We got a straightforward IFR clearance back to base and I entered in to the same clouds that we had picked up ice on the way in.  It was really good practice to deal with the ice.

[December 30, 2016]
Excursion to Scottsdale

We met at noon today, I came in early to run through my flows.  The training plan changed as usual, the new plan was to fly with the chief pilot to Scottsdale to pick up one of our other planes that has been in maintenance for months.  I got to back seat on the way in to Scottsdale.  I did not put my headset on and boy was it loud in the back of that Turbo Commander.  I ended up putting on my Zulus to protect my hearing.  I was starting to get flashbacks of the Ford Tri-Motor, no it was not really that painful but I certainly could not believe this was once a corporate aircraft, I was practically yelling at my instructor who was in the back with me.  At Scottsdale we pulled in to the maintenance facility.  Three Turbo Commanders in various states of repair where inside the main hangar.  There were private jets of all sorts parked on the ramp due to the Fiesta Bowl being played in Phoenix.  I explored the hangar and took lots of pictures of the innards and guts of other Turbo Commanders, it was a real petting zoo.  All that systems training was paying off because I knew exactly what I was looking at.  When you stick your head in the wheel well, you smell jet fuel mixed with hydraulic fluid.  The smell teleports me back to my military days, way back to M1 Abrams tank I commanded as a lieutenant.  The M1 has a turbine running on jet fuel and that’s what it reminded me of.

So the plan was for my instructor and the other pilot to go on a maintenance check out with the plane.  If everything went well, me and the chief would fly the other TC back to Show Low.  We waited for about 30 minutes and then decided to get going.  We departed SDL and started back at 6500ft.  About 25 miles out of SDL we found out are other TC was heading back in to SDL.  Time to turn around.

After discussing the maintenance issues with the company rep we all loaded into the original TC and I got the PIC the flight over to Whiteriver, a smaller airport shoe horned into some mountainous areas south of Show Low.  Weather was starting to move in and we had to climb above some cloud decks before dropping below another deck.  I completed the landing at Whiteriver just as twilight was dwindling.  We hot swapped pilots and once again I was in the back.

We ended up landing at Safford and dropping off the Chief.  Time to head back to Show Low, I’m back in the pilot seat.  We blast off and I climb for altitude, we encounter a cloud deck and I pick up rime ice on the leading edge.  It’s my first encounter with ice in the TC and it gives me an opportunity to try out all of the ice protection on the plane.  I’ve got an arsenal of weapons against ice, but before I employ them I need to place the ignitors on.  If ice gets ingested into the engine I could experience a flame out, recalling that a jet engine once lit is normally self-sustaining so the igniters will turn off.  Ingested ice could certainly snuff that flame out.

[December 29, 2016]
More Classroom Study

No flying today, back in the classroom to finish up systems.

[December 28, 2016]
Flying the Turbo Commander

Back in the airplane today.  I arrived early to do my pre flight inspection and practice flows.  Flows are the way to go with more complex airplanes, its fast and you will not miss anything.  Our checklist is completely out of sync with our flows however and this can be a bit frustrating.  The other pilot in training gets to fly first so I sit in the back and position myself between the two pilots to observe and try to ensure I don’t make the same mistakes he does.  We fly to Flagstaff VFR and shoot two approaches on the ILS 21.  After landing we refuel and it is my turn to fly.  I get myself buckled in and begin with the start flows, first the overhead panel which is full of rocker switches, then down to the bottom panel and the throttle quadrant, bleeds off, gear down, power levels to flight idle, condition levers to low, flaps up, circuit breakers are in, I end with the main panel ensuring the HP gauge reads 700, its max indication, reset the fuel totalizer and ensure the ITT gauge reads below 300 C for both engines.  Now it is time to start the engine, we will start the left first in order to rotate the sequence.  The sequence is simple, master battery on, engage the NTS Test switch and hold (I’ll talk about this system for in depth in a later blog), engine control to FUEL, check the fuel pressure gauge for at least 15 PSI, engine control to air start, NTS light out, engine control to GRND start and release, the free hand now goes up to the horsepower limiter switch as the start sequence initiates.  My scan goes first to the oil pressure gauge to ensure positive pressure then to the ITT and RPM gauges where it remains for the rest of the sequence.  The ITT should and cannot go above 1100 C during the sequence or you will cook the engine.  It operates normally around 900 but will usually go higher during starts.  If the needle is moving quickly past 900 I will press the HP limiter switch and hold it, this robs fuel from the engine and will usually stop any upward temp trends.  On this start the ITT goes past 900 to 1000, I engage the limited but it does not check the temp increase.  The instructor grabs the condition lever, brings it over the stops and into feather/fuel shutoff.  I turn the engine control to off.  I have just experienced my first potential hot start of the TPE 331-5.  With one hand on the HP limiter and the other on the NTS switch on the overhead panel I don’t have a third hand to quickly reach the condition lever.  I make a mental note to myself that I will need to practice that procedure so I am ready the next time this situation occurs.

We then attempt to start the right engine which starts without incident and then back to the left which lights with no problem this time.  I taxi out and am starting to feel much more comfortable with the quirky ground handling of the Turbo Commander.  No one suffers whip lash from inadvertent brake application.

The Turbo Commander accelerates quickly, faster than anything I have ever flown, when the power levers come up.  We set temp at 850 initially and then slowly increase to 900C, you can torque out or temp out but it is usually the latter so that is the initial focus on takeoff power setting.   Rotation is not until 100 knots at which time we are screaming down the runway.  The Commander lifts off without too much coaxing at that speed and then wants to rocket skyward, a pitch of 7 degree usually will give a 150+ KIAS with over 1500feet per minute vertical velocity.

Once at 11,000ft I pull power back to 300HP which keeps the plane trucking at 170 KIAS.  I load the overlay approach into the Garmin 530W and brief the plate.  The first approach will be coupled to the autopilot which is a very basic system.

The second approach is hand flown.

On the way back to base I practice three types of stalls, enroute, approach and takeoff configuration.  The first one he has me take all the way to the break.  The horn sounds, and the buffet and break occur simultaneously and violently.  I release the pressure on the yoke and the plane drops the right wing some 50+ degrees.  I smash the left rudder to the floor and mentally stop myself from using ailerons.

My last approach is the RNAV 24, the same approach I flew on my ride along.  The step downs come fast and furious and I realize that slowing the airplane down and maxing out my non-precision descent rates at 1000FPM is the way to go.  If you arrive at the MDA and stop the descent for only a second you will get too high in a hurry.  I land on the centerline but the subsequent roll out has me well off centerline.  I’ve got to get this corrected on future flights.  Overall the comfort level has increased with this third flight.  I’ve seen most of the systems in action at this point with exception of ice protection.

[December 26, 2016]
Back to Training

Happy birthday, 46 years old today, and I am on my way back to Show Low after they had a white Christmas.  Today we began covering systems of the Turbo Commander using the Flight Safety documentation which is really outstanding.

[December 25, 2016]


Image result for airberlin home for christmas

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!


[December 21, 2016]
Ride Along

Got to ride along on an actual medical flight from Show Low to Springerville and then into Phoenix-Gateway with the DO.  On the way to Phoenix we encountered a pressurization issue.  Cabin pressure began fluctuating +1000/-1000 before finally the cabin pressure dumped.  That was a little painful on the ears considering we were at 12,000 ft when it occurred.  He let me fly the Part 91 return leg back to Show Low.  The weather was pretty crappy with low ceilings.  It was only the second time I have shot an approach in actual conditions and only my third landing in the Turbo Commander.

[December 19, 2016]
First Day of Training - Medevac Pilot

It took about three hours to make the drive from the valley up to Show Low some 180 miles northeast of Phoenix.  It was bitter cold when I arrived by Arizona standards, just 14F, tall pine trees dominate the landscape on this side of the Mogollon Rim.

The offices of Sunrise where small but inviting.  I met our trainer as well as the Director of Operations.  Everyone was extremely friendly.  The DO loaded me and my training partner up with company hats, beanies, jackets and shirts.  High quality stuff.  We turned in our admin paperwork and began to review company documents.  At lunch we were sent to do our DOT drug screening test across town.  After lunch we discussed hazmat, HIPPA, and more company paperwork.  Late in the afternoon we headed to the airport for an orientation on the hangar and the aircraft.  My training partner John has experience with turbine aircraft so I let him take the first flight.  The headset jacks in the back were inop so I was not able to listen in on the training.  We only spent 30 minutes in the air as the sun had already set.  John struggled with the notoriously difficult steering system on the Turbo Commander.  We taxied down to the runway 23 with epileptic fits and starts as he inadvertently applied the brakes now and then.  The Turbo Commander pedals allow for about an inch of travel for use with nose wheel steering, if you push farther than that you employ the very sensitive brakes,

We finished up around 7PM after which I headed back to the crew house to eat and study for the next day. 

[December 15, 2016]
So Long Cochise College!
The semester ended today, I have completed all my work here and I have turned in my resignation.  Three great years with the college, but time to expand my horizons.  I'm heading to a new job on Monday, Medevac Pilot!

[December 1, 2016]
Semester Winds Down

My sixth semester at the school is winding down.  I only had two students this semester since taking on the position of Assistant Chief.  My last student just finished his CFI checkride with the Chief and passed.  My commercial student passed his checkride with an outside examiner last week.  Two for two this semester.  Actually I still have one left, I’m working with another student to finish her CFII before school ends on the 15th.  Almost three years has gone by.  Private pilot ground school had 18 students this semester along with creating the lesson material from scratch kept me very busy but I did enjoy it and will miss being able to refine the material.

[November 23, 2016]
Back to Safford

After finishing work today I flew 31J the hour north to Safford to meet up with Rick and hopefully get another flight in the Turbo Commander.  The flight did not happen but we got to spend time in the cockpit discussing the gauges and turbine systems like the NTS (negative torque system) which is a distinct feature of the geared Garret turbo prop engines.  We got a bite to eat and then returned to the airport around 9:30PM.  I decided to head home since Thanksgiving was the next day.  It was a moonless night a very dark.  Safford sits in a valley with Mount Graham dominating the landscape to the south of the town.  I climbed slowly up following the highway westward and along the valley floor into utter blackness.  There is very little civilization in this part of Arizona.  By 9000 feet I was feeling about as comfortable as you can feel flying a single engine airplane at night in mountainous terrain.  The glow of Phoenix a hundred miles west could not move closer fast enough.  Clearing the last ridge I descended down into the Phoenix metro area and the welcome lights of civilization.  The flight only took about an hour and a half, not a bad commute if I should decide to fly to work but I certainly will not make flying this route at night a habit.  I was home by midnight and then right back to the airport the following morning at 6AM to fly a blood run to Flagstaff.  Later that day I went down to Glendale airport to meet a client who owns a Beech C35.  We had been trying several times to fly his recently purchased plane so that he could get a high performance / complex checkout.  Maintenance issues had scrubbed two previous flights and on this day we scrubbed a third time for low oil pressure and high oil temps along with fouled plugs.  A very busy 10 days of aviation activity had finally come to an end when I settled down for my turkey dinner that night, thankful for my family and thankful for so many aviation adventures.

[November 21, 2016]
Spins & Opportunity Knocks

[November 20, 2016]
From High to Low, Look Out Below!

[November 19, 2016]
First Day as a Charter Pilot

[November 17, 2016]
Logging my first hour of Turbine Time

[November 13, 2016]
Christmas Airlift to the Navajo Nation

The airlift was something I had heard of and wanted to do for many years.  This year I finally participated.  We flew blood first to Show Low and then continued on to Gallup.  We were definitely maxed out on weight....to be continued.


[November 7, 2016]
Second Master CFI Award


[November 6, 2016]
Every Airplane has a Story - N3131J - 50 Years of Flying!

     Every airplane has a story to tell.  My airplane is no different.  As a tenant of Deer Valley Airport I own a modest airplane, the ubiquitous Cessna 150.  In October 2014 I sold my previous 150 and purchased another, N3131J, from Cochise College in Douglas, Arizona.  After owning 31J for a little over a year I ordered a copy of all aircraft records from the FAA more out of curiosity than anything else.  A CD from the FAA arrived in the mail a few weeks later.  After examining the documentation I discovered something surprising and realized I had actually known very little about the history of my airplane.

     N3131J, a 150 G model, was born in Wichita, Kansas like so many thousands of her siblings on December 10, 1966.  I was surprised to find out that her first home was of all places Deer Valley Airport as part of the Sawyer School of Aviation.  Sawyer purchased the new aircraft for just $8280.  The flight training business at KDVT must have been pretty good in the late 1960s as 31J quickly amassed 1800 hours in just one and a half years.  After Sawyer 31J would change ownership ten times before she found me.  The longest she was held by an owner was 28 years, the shortest 11 months.  The plane moved from Phoenix to Tucson to Winkleman back to Tucson then down to Douglas, but never did it ever leave the state of Arizona.  On December 7, 2014 I returned 3131J to Deer Valley Airport to be permanently based there for the first time since 1968.

     Now with over 5,300 hours on the airframe it’s hard to determine just how many pilots 3131J has had a hand in creating.  Today I still utilize her occasionally for flight training with my son and teaching CFI students the art of the spin and more importantly how to get out of one.  In June 2015 she flew to Mexico and later that same year flew the Continental US from the southern border to Canada with my then 13 year old son, Carson, flying most of the 28 hour round trip.  This past summer we flew to 11 states with 31J including stops at Yellowstone National Park and the Black Hills of South Dakota.

     We all know our airplanes have souls, and it’s easy to imagine that 31J is happy to be back home at KDVT flying regularly doing what she was designed to do over 50 years ago…teaching future aviators and making $100 hamburger runs.  Airplanes were meant to be flown and flown regularly, not sit in a hangar neglected rarely ever seeing the sky that they were created to embrace.  While general aviation has changed greatly since the heady days of the late 1960s, 31J has changed little.  She may have gotten along in age now but she still starts up on the first try…most days.  Her mission in life of making pilots is far from over.  On September 2, 2017 31J will be front and center for a very important event for our family.  She will take to the sky once again with Carson, as he solos 31J on his 16th Birthday.


Billboard for Sawyer Aviation in the 1960s

[November 5, 2016]
Part 135 Checkride - Passed!

Just successfully completed my first Part 135 checkride in a Cessna 207 Staionair for Westwind Air Service based out of Deer Valley, my home airport.  The checkride followed just two flight training sessions, one which ended early when the propeller governor failed and we had to nurse the plane back from the training area which just about 18" of manifold pressure.  This was just enough power to keep us flying level without overspeeding the prop.  The Cessna 207 is easy enough to fly and is not much different than a larger 182.  The view out front is a little more limited by the much longer cowling housing the much larger Continental O-520.  You don't even realize your carting around that extra three feet of tail.  The Westwind Cessna 207 is set up for passenger service, both charter and aerial tour.  Seating for six including the pilot.  This was my first turbo charged airplane so I had to get used to not coming fully in with the throttle on takeoff.  It is very easy to overboost the engine if you treat it like a non turbo charged engine.  The checkride itself consisted on an hour oral discussing aircraft systems and Part 135 regulations along with the OPSPECs for this particular 135 carrier.  The flight lasted about 1.5 hours and consisted of typical air maneuvers along, emergency procedures and a precision and non-precision approach.  So I am now officially a charter pilot starting in the Cessna 207.  The company also owns Cessna 208 Caravans which I hope to upgrade into sooner than later.  I will be flying predominately aerial tours of the Grand Canyon and Lake Powell on a part time basis on weekends while I continue my primary instructor job at the college.  The idea is to get to the PT6 turbine powered 208s and log some turbine time so I can become qualified for other flying jobs that operate more sophisticated aircraft.

[November 4, 2016]
Flying Young Eagles

It has been two years too long since I last flew Young Eagles and I was reminded again today just how much fun these events are for both pilot and passengers.  The school donated the flight time to the event which allowed us to take three airplanes over to the event held a KFHU in Sierra Vista.  The kids are always so excited to fly and this excitement is infectious for pilots as well.  I hauled about 13 kids of various ages around a 15 minute course.  The day was not without excitement however.  It was Friday so the joint use field’s tower was open and things were busy between the Young Eagle flights and the military traffic which was composed of C-12’s, A-10s, and F-16s all vying for time on runway 26.  On my second sortie I was told to stay south of the approach to runway 26.  Two F16s passed us about a ½ a mile abeam.  Two miles out we were told to switch to runway 30.  I executed a right base, turned final, and could see a Young Eagles plane lined up on 26 ready for takeoff.  I was cleared to land which was followed almost instantly by cleared to take off for the plane on 26.  The speed and pitch of the controllers voice was rising quickly and you could sense that she was starting to lose control of the situation.  The aircraft on 26 started rolling, I continued my approach to 30 which intersected 26 at about 2000ft……to be continued.

[November 3, 2016]
Martha McSally Visits

[October 29, 2016]
Part 135 Flight Training

First flight training in the Cessna 206 today at Westwind.  Training ended abruptly when the propeller governor, which had recently been worked on, failed while out in the Luke AFB training area 10 miles from Deer Valley.  To keep from overspeeding the prop we had to pull the manifold pressure back to 18", which kept the plane aloft but slowed us considerably.  We limped back to KDVT and made an uneventful landing.

[October 25, 2016]
Bob Hoover Goes West

The greatest stick and rudder man passed away today, a very sad day for aviation but the fact that he died at 92 of old age and not from an aircraft accident is a testament to just how great a pilot he was.  I feel very very fortunate to say that both I and Carson met this man and that his signature resides in my logbook.  I first learned of Bob Hoover when I read his fantastic book Forever Flying back in 2008.  At Oshkosh 2009 I heard him speak and wanted to meet him but decided against him when he was packed by crowds, I really regretted that decision because I was sure the opportunity would never present itself again but fortunately it did three years later and I did not make the same mistake twice.  At Oshkosh 2012 Bob was signing books at the gift shop, Carson and I waited happily for an hour in line to meet the legend face to face.

[October 1, 2016]
AOPA Prescott Regional Fly-In

[September 21, 2016]
Sergei Sikorsky Presents at AAHS

[September 19, 2016]
Air - 2 - Air Photo Shoot

[September 8, 2016]
31J Returns From Annual

[August 30, 2016]
Another Start at Building - Aerodrome Airplanes DVIII

[August 8-10, 2016]
Part 135 Ground School

My first actual step toward moving out of flight instruction was taken this week with attendance at Westwind Air Services ground school for prospective Part 135 pilots.

[July 30, 2016]
Ferry Flight for 3131J

Took 31J down to Sierra Vista this morning for a well deserved annual.  Just me and my plane today, that does not happen very often anymore.  She didn't give me in problems on the way down.  A loud flight flying with my very first headset, Sigtronics.  My Lightspeeds are back at the factory for maintenance, third time but still under warranty.  You don't realize how good you got it with ANR until you have to fly without it.   We checked compression numbers before pulling the alternator and man they were good.  That engine is solid for sure, all 78-79s.

[July 13, 2016]
Joining LightHawk Conservation Flying

[July 11-14, 2016]
Aviation is Everywhere

I took a mini vacation with the wife this week to San Diego, California.  This was not supposed to be an even remotely aviation related trip but aviation would permeate every aspect of the trip.  Being retired military we had made reservations at the Inns of the Marine Corps on MCAS Miramar.  I think the last time we stayed at Miramar was 1995 and at that time it was still Naval Air Station (NAS) Miramar under the Navy.  Most folks will remember that Miramar was the primary training base of the Navy’s Fighter Weapons School and made famous in the 1986 movie Top Gun.  A movie that had a tremendous impact on me when I saw it at age 15.  I remember going home and playing Sublogic’s Jet (a spin off of Flight Simulator) and Microprose’s F-15 Strike Eagle on my Commodore 64 for many months after the movie fantasizing that I was Maverick.  The Marine Corps has taken good care of Miramar.  Most of the buildings look new and all the facilities are first rate including the Inn. 

Miramar is also home of the Flying Leatherneck Aviation Museum.  This museum is on the grounds of the MCAS but must be accessed from a public entrance side.  There is no entrance from within the air station.  The majority of the museum is located outside with only a small building housing a few displays, very few if any have any real historical significance.  The outside display is not bad with about 20-25 aircraft including fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft from WW2 up to modern day.  A recent acquisition from 2014 is an EA-6B which sits next to an A-6.  The difference in size of the two aircraft is quite remarkable.  Also of interest is the last A-4 Skyhawk produced.  There are actually four versions of the “Scooter” on display.  You can check out pictures of all fixed wing aircraft on display at the museum.

Our first day in San Diego was spent on the beach at Coronado Island.  The public beach sits on the approach end of North Island NAS.  We saw the usual suspects fly over, a C-130, an F-18, a C-2 Greyhound and then a real surprise, the USAF Thunderbirds.  The whole team came over, did an overhead break, and then flew right over top of us on the beach.  The unmistakable thunderbird paint scheme on the belly and the characteristic whine of the F-16 gear actuating as it locked into place.  I’m wondering why in the world are the Thunderbirds landing at a Navy base?  My Iphone soon supplied the answer, the MLB All Star game was being hosted by San Diego.  The Thunderbirds were going to do the National Anthem fly over.  This prompted my next question, why would the Thunderbirds do the overflight in a staunchly Navy town like San Diego?  Why not the Blue Angels?  I was not able to find the answer to that one.  Not sure if the fatal BA accident last month had anything to do with it.

We ended up just outside the stadium for the All-Star Game.  It was very cool that the outfield had streaming jets painted into the grass.  Merchandise also displayed streaming jets on hats, shirts, mugs, and pins.  Score one for aviation being front and center at this high visibility sporting event!  Of course I had to purchase some of that aviation merchandise and I’m not even that big on baseball.

Another great coincidence was stumbling across a sign advertising that May 30th was the 30th anniversary of the release of Top Gun, the greatest aviation movie of all time in my humble opinion.  The sign was outside Kansas City BBQ in downtown San Diego.  A little more investigating uncovered that this restaurant was where some of the most memorable scenes from the movie were shot including the piano scene with Goose and Mav singing “Great Balls of Fire.”  We had some good pulled pork sandwiches at a table where one scene was shot, close to the Juke Box.  The place has plenty of ambiance with tons of memorabilia, despite the fact that the restaurant suffered a fire in 2008.  The original piano from the movie is still there and almost takes on the aura of a shrine in the corner of the restaurant where fans of the movie snap pictures.  Of course I had to get mine.  I even touched the piano like I was touchy the Holy Grail, forever now connected with the iconic movie and its primary characters.

So this little va-ca proved to me one thing, even when I am not actively pursuing aviation, it’s always out there lurking, and sometimes it pursues me!


[June 19-27, 2016]
Great American X-C 3



The Great American Cross Country III At A Glance:
Distance Flown: 2,266 Nautical Miles
States Visited:10
Total Hobbs Time: 31.3
Total Fuel stops: 13
Amount of Fuel Consumed:  158.76 Gallons
Average miles covered per Hobbs hour:  72.39 NM
Average fuel consumed per Hobbs hour:  5.07 Gallons
Average Miles flown per Gallon of Fuel:  14 NM

GAXC-3 PHOTO ALBUM LINK                            GAXC-3 VIDEOS LINK


Click here to TrackMyTour!


[June 27, 2016]
Day 9 - Final Push For Home

This was it, the final day. Would the plane hold on for just one more day? Could we make it home? We returned to KPUB to find the pattern extremely busy with Air Force Cadets flying the Diamond DA-40s with Doss Aviation. I had applied with them when I first retired from the Army, glad that did not work out, Pueblo’s a little too far from home. 31J started up without a problem once again, it was going to be a good day. We took off and headed south. I tried the alternator but this time it was on its way out, it just was not supplying enough of a charge. We were going on battery power from this point on, we turned everything off that we did not need including the intercom which made for a quiet trip save for the occasional shouting over the engine noise. Being in the sticks with no complex airspace even remotely close was a blessing. The tail wind from the previous day was still with us and now even stronger thankfully. This was immensely helpful in speeding us homeward.

Our first stop was Las Vegas, NM where we made a quick fuel pit stop. The second leg took us westward, north of Albuquerque, into the lava fields of the El Malpais National Conservation Area, through Navajo land and and finally into Arizona. We were getting close now. Our final stop, St Johns finally came into view after almost two hours of flying. It was almost noon and cumulus clouds were now forming with some vertical development and the temperature outside was getting hot. I opted for a no flap landing to conserve the battery. We refueled and prepared for our final engine start of the trip. This is the last one we needed, but the battery just could not turn the prop over. An attempt at hand propping proved futile. I asked the attendant for suggestions. Fortunately he had a battery charger on site. We hooked it up and then took the crew car into town to grab a bite to eat while the charger did its thing. When we returned I could see vapor coming out of the battery, we were boiling it with the fast charge! I quickly turned the charger off and inspected the battery, hopeful we had not done any damage. We attempted a second start and the engine came to life, we were going home! We did have a plan B, if we ended up losing all electrical power we would divert to Pleasant Valley, a gravel strip just north of the Class B and close to home. From there we could keep the plane until the maintenance issues were sorted out to get the plane the short distance back to KDVT. I was really regretting leaving my hand held radio home as a weight saving measure. Which I would have left the Stratux behind instead, it never worked properly the entire trip.

Of all the takeoffs and the concerns about density altitude and max gross weight during this trip I did not think it would be the last takeoff that would be the most difficult and harrowing. St John sits at an elevation of 5,737ft above the sea. The METAR at St John was 13014G24KT 10SM CLR 34/04 A3026 just prior to takeoff. This put the density altitude at 8,858ft. The wind favored runway 14 which was fortunately was the longest at 5322 ft. While the density altitude was high we had a really good head wind. I had only taken a partial load of fuel in order to keep the aircraft below its max gross takeoff weight. Given the previous performance of the plane I determined we had a safe margin. This would turn out to be the most challenging high density takeoff I have ever experienced. We were airborne in 1700ft. I quickly pulled out of ground effect to ensure we could climb for real which we did. At the end of the runway we were at 170ft AGL, then the climb ceased. I gently pointed the plane into the wind for the best possible climb gradient. I was using every bit of Vx airspeed to get a climb. We were barely at 300ft AGL when we hit sink and our climb was erased, I was trying to work my way out of the town. A mile and a half from the airport I was still only at 500ft. That’s when we hit a slight thermal and my glider experience really came in handy. I immediately turned into the slight turbulence that lifted my right wing. Flying so slowly it was easy to recenter myself in the eye of the thermal which resulted in a 500FPM+ climb. Carson kept an eye on the airspeed indicator alerting me when it got too low. It only took a turn and a half to gain another 1000ft of altitude. We were out of the woods. We pointed the plane westward and coaxed her higher.

On the way home a line of thunderstorms flanked us to the north the entire way. You could see the solid chutes of rain coming out of the angry grey clouds. Fortunately it was clear skies to our front. An hour and a half later Phoenix was finally in sight. We stayed north of the Class B as long as possible before turning the essential electrical equipment back on. It only took eight minutes to cover the distance from the Mode C veil to Deer Valley’s airspace. I advised the tower my alternator was now dead and I was on battery power. Tower told me to look for the light gun signals if we lost contact. I was cleared straight in to 25R. The battery held all the way, with enough juice to allow for the use of flaps. We had made it! Despite all of the obstacles thrown in our way we had overcome each and made it home on schedule. It is much more desirable to address maintenance issues when your back is not up against the wall due to time and location constraints. After getting the cowl off and inspecting the engine closer it became apparent that the rocker cover oil leak assisted by the baffling had sprayed a fine mist of oil throughout the engine compartment, some of this oil went into the alternator which gummed up the works over time leading to its failure. Fortunately the rocker cover leak is an easy fix with a brand new silicone gasket. The alternator too looks like it can actually be saved as well with a good overhaul and cleaning which is infinitely less expensive than buying a brand new one.

Overall the Great American Cross Country 3 was a major success. The weather could not have been more perfect. We achieved all of our objectives for the trip and while we encountered many challenges during the second half of the journey, we overcame each. This is probably the last GAXC so it is fitting that it was the most memorable. And while it only lasted nine days the great memories created will certainly last both of our lifetimes.


[June 26, 2016]
Day 8 - The Adventure Really Begins

We woke up early to clear skies, broke camp and headed to the airport. Up until this point in the trip everything had gone according to plan. We were well overdue for a hosing from the aviation gods. They would not disappoint. This is the part of the trip where it became a real adventure. We found the plane in one piece, it had weathered the winds just fine. After loading our gear, adding some oil, and topping off the tanks we fired 31J without issue. Carson turned on the radio and it sounded like the squelch was turned off, lots of noise. Was the radio going out? Was this our first maintenance problem of the trip? I switched to ASOS and heard it crystal clear, okay the radio still works, that’s good. We got our taxi clearance and headed to the run up area. The ammeter was still showing a discharge, I started putting two and two together. We might have an electrical issue. As soon as I started the run up I could see there was no positive charge on the ammeter. We definitely had an electrical problem. I pulled the alternator breaker and the radio noise disappeared. I reset the breaker and the noise returned. Here we go. A regional jet had started to taxi down taxiway A, the only taxiway for the runway. I called ground and advised them of the issue and that I needed to return to the ramp. They had me taxi onto A6 to allow the regional to pass.

It was Sunday morning and there was no activity on the ramp, everything was closed with the exception of WestJet. I went to the front desk and asked for a mechanic, they had to call one in, this was going to be expensive. When the mechanic arrived he tested the alternator and confirmed what we thought, it was generating juice, just not enough. So it was dying, but it was not dead yet. He recommended replacing the alternator and quoted me over $1000 for the part that would have to be ordered. This is not the position you want to be in when you have a maintenance problem, back up against the wall, few options, and looking at an extended stay in a tourist town. I needed to get the airplane back home. With no chance of repair, I asked the mechanic to charge up the battery. We would see if the alternator would resume normal operations on a full power. The bill for three hours of the mechanics time was a whopping $400 and absolutely nothing was fixed. That hurt.

By the time we were ready to start the engine it was already 1100, we were far behind schedule. The plane started without issue on the first attempt and we went off to a less congested part of the ramp to do our runup. On the mag check the plane ran very rough on the right mags. Are you kidding me? I ran the engine up and leaned it out for 15 seconds in the hope of burning off any carbon deposits. I checked the mag again, and again it was rough. I was seconds away from shutting the plane down and throwing in the towel when I decided to do the burn off procedure again but this time to be patient and do it for an entire minute. I did and it worked, the mags were fine. We called ground and taxied out. Just as we arrived at the hold short line Carson noticed he did not have his cell phone. I was almost out of my mind at this point. We would have to return to the ramp a second time and once again a BAE-146 fire bomber and a regional jet where already on the single taxiway heading in our direction. We were told to taxi onto the runway and exit at taxiway A5 to avoid the impending traffic jam. I taxied back to the FBO, Carson jumped out and ran inside quickly re-emerging with his phone. This time we were leaving for good. The alternator actually started charging as if normal, it appeared after that ordeal we were going to be alright. Off we went, flying southwest we caught a glimpse of Mount Rushmore some 10 miles off in the distance. The weather looked good, despite the numerous thunderstorms I had seen to the south on the radar the previous two days. Cooler temps had descended on the area and we actually had a wind out of the north helping us along.

We flew into western Nebraska which looks nothing like the farmland dominated eastern part of the state. This area was more rugged and rolling like South Dakota. Half way through the state we made a 360 around Chimney Rock just south of the North Platte River. Rising nearly 300 feet (91 m) above the surrounding North Platte River valley, the peak of Chimney Rock is 4,226 feet (1,288 m) above sea level. During the middle 19th century it served as a landmark along the Oregon Trail, the California Trail, and the Mormon Trail, which ran along the north side of the rock. It is visible for many miles from the east along U.S. Route 26. Our only enroute fuel stop for this day was KIBM, Kimball Municipal. This was our first ever landing in Nebraska, state number 38. By now it was 1:16 PM. Kimball was deserted, we filled up on some cheap gas. We would push on for Colorado.

It was windy when we landed at KPUB in Pueblo, Colorado around 4PM (KPUB 262153Z 13014KT 10SM CLR 34/11 A3012). A side excursion enroute over the Air Force Academy was scrapped due to thunderstorms brewing on the east side of the Rockies. The fuel was cheap but the ramp had no tie down chains. What kind of overnight parking set up was this? Once again we had to MacGyver the situation. We looked around the nearby hangars for rope, no luck. We hiked a mile a way to a convenience store and found nothing. A little further down the road we found an old barbed wire fence. Using the Gerber from the survival kit we cut two long strands of wire, rolled it up and proceeded back to the plane. It was not pretty but it worked: tie downs made of barbed wire. The trip home was certainly living up to its adventure billing now. During our unplanned hike we discovered that Pueblo has an aviation museum on the field. It was closed by the time we arrived but a very dilapidated B-47 was on display outside. In the end we made the right decision to get out of Rapid City. Even though I was out $400 it could have been a lot worse. After the whole ordeal we were still on schedule. Only six more hours of flying stood between us and home.

[June 25, 2016]
Day 7 - Museums, Sturgis & Deadwood

Today we made an unplanned trip 60 miles east of town to the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. The site consists of a visitor center, an unmanned missile silo, and a launch control facility (LCF). Unlike the Titan Missile facility in Tucson, the Minuteman was a solid fuel rocket allowing for less maintenance and less manpower. Ten minuteman missile silos would be managed by a single centrally located LCF. The small visitor center was about ten miles from the missile silo. The exhibits in the center are very well done, unfortunately we could not tour the LCF because tour times are very limited. We did a self guided tour of the Delta-09 missile site. From there we headed back to Rapid City to check out the South Dakota Air & Space Museum, which sits outside the gate of Ellsworth Air Force Base. Ellsworth was also the headquarters for the Minuteman units sprinkled across the Dakotas. While the indoor exhibits were lacking and disjointed the outside static display aircraft were very well maintained. A B-29, “Legal Eagle II”, appears to have been recently repainted in a black Korean War paint scheme. The museum has several displays documenting when B-36 Peacemakers were stationed there but no B-36 on display. Today Ellsworth is the home of the B-1 which is proudly displayed as the centerpiece to the entrance of the museum.

From Ellsworth we headed north up Highway 90 to Sturgis, home of the famous motorcycle rally that occur every August. Even without the rally going on there were plenty of motorcycles on the road. I can understand why the cyclist like the area, plenty of windy scenic roads to enjoy riding on. We drove outside of town to check out Sturgis Airport and stumbled on Buffalo Chip along the way. BC is where all the big concerts occur during Bike Week. We snapped some pictures on a static Harley with ape hangers in front of a 30ft tall V-Twin engine. Not really much to see at Sturgis Airport. We headed back into town and stumbled upon a Camaro Rally on the main drag. We got there just in time to watch a burnout competition which was deafening on the ears but absolutely entertaining. Smoke from burning rubber choked the crowd. One poor guy did some serious damage to his practically brand new Camaro attempting a burnout. They had to push the car off the road it was in such sorry shape.

Our last stop of the day was Deadwood. Deadwood was a real disappointment, mostly just cheap tourist souvenir shops and gambling establishments. We did get to watch re enactors have a gun fight on the street and later went over to Mt. Moriah cemetery to see the grave sites of James “Wild Bill” Hickok and Calamity Jane. Hickok was murdered in Deadwood in 1876 while playing cards. With some historical context in my pocket I now I have to go back and watch HBO’s Deadwood series again. That evening we had a big dinner at Texas Roadhouse to celebrate the success of our third Great American X-C. Everything up until this point has gone according to plan. If anything were to go wrong now at least we had completed everything we had set out to do.

[June 24, 2016]
Day 6 - The Black Hills & Crazy Winds

Today we visited Mt Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park and drove Needles Highway.  Custer State Park was teeming with buffalo, prairie dogs, deer, and wild burros.  We had a good hike into the mountains to get a close up look at the Needle’s Eye.  We made several VR360 videos of this picturesque area.  On the way back into town we drove up on to the scenic overlook and visited Dinosaur Park, the site of seven concrete dinosaurs built in the 1930s. A nice view of Rapid City from here.  Listening to the radio on the drive to the campground the weathermen said 40 MPH winds were expected late in the evening.  This got my attention and concern since we had a very lacking tie down situation at the airport.  I highly doubted the current set up could withstand 40 MPH winds and the Cessna 150 could easily start flying at those speeds.

After checking in to the KOA campground we hastily made our way into a local Ace hardware store and purchased some nuts and bolts.  We had to get a little McGiver’ish to make a gust lock, purchasing a long bolt, a couple of plastic bucket lids and some pipe insulation.  We went down to the airport and bolted the multiple pieces of chain together. The gust luck idea did not pan out so we just shoved the pipe insulation between the fuselage and the control cables so that there was little play in the rudder.  Hope this will be enough.  The $16 we spent was worth the “portable piece of mind.” Later that evening as if on schedule our tent was battered by high winds.  Here is the actual METAR from the time:   KRAP 250852Z AUTO 33028G38KT 10SM CLR 17/09 A2987 I was very glad we had taken the time to bolster our tie down set up.  I was confident we would not find 31J upside down when we returned to the airport on Sunday.

[June 23, 2016]
Day 5 - Eastward to the Dakotas!

Time to say goodbye to Yellowstone.  Glad we put aside two days for this place, I feel it gave us adequate time to see and do what we had planned.  We packed up our camp, loaded the plane and blasted off into cool and still air just before 8AM.  Our initial route took us over the park which we were able to traverse from gate to gate in only 30 minutes, It had taken almost 2.5 hours by car the day before.  All the geothermal hot spots were readily apparent from 2000ft AGL with steam rising high into the still air.  Crossing Yellowstone Lake we climbed up to 10,000ft in preparation for crossing the Sylvan Pass to the east.  We had a decent tailwind, but the winds aloft were not strong enough to make the passage through the high mountains dangerous.  31J’s oil temps held in the normal range, a nice relief from days earlier.  As we came through the pass we encountered a little bit of turbulence but nothing to be concerned with and no down drafts on the lee side of the pass.  From the east gate to the outskirts of Cody is some really beautiful terrain.  We followed the Shoshone River.  I enjoyed seeing it from the air as much as from the surface yesterday.  Buffalo Bill Reservoir came into view which signaled the end of the passage.  From here we headed northeast.  We were through probably the most dangerous portion of the X-C at this point.  

The terrain now started to lower in elevation and flattened out.  Our first fuel stop was Powell where Carson did a picture perfect approach to runway 31 which is just short of a cliff face.  Made for a cool approach.  The airport manager Debbie met us on the ramp and was super helpful in supplying us with local information as well as fueling and fresh cold water bottles.  She took a picture of us for the airport’s Facebook page.  The second leg was the longest of the day and the most uneventful save for a side excursion over the Little Big Horn River and the site of Custer’s Last Stand.  I had wanted to ensure this excursion had some contexts for Carson so we had watched a couple of documentaries on the battle the night before.  From 2000ft we circled the hill where the soldiers had fallen.  Even from this altitude the numerous tombstone markers were clearly visible.  From there we headed for our fuel stop at Bowman, North Dakota.   Montana stretched for miles in all directions.  Bowman was selected as the closest airport in the state of North Dakota that we could land at and not go too far out of our way to our final destination, Rapid City.  We had to mark North Dakota off our bucket list of states we have landed an airplane.  Bowman was an interesting stop because we met a couple of pilots from UND.  One pilot I ran into in the terminal had just moved from our town of Anthem only a few years ago, what are the chances of that?  The pilots were flying seeding aircraft.  These planes caught my eye on the ramp because there wing tips had what appeared to be rockets attached to them.  Behind the trailing edge was a set up that looked like an aerial sprayer.  Instead they were mounts for road flares that could be ignited from inside the plane and released chemicals into the air.  I spoke with one of the pilots, a sophomore at UND, and he told me how they would fly into the inflow area of a thunderstorm and release the particulates which rose inside the TS and caused water to condense and fall before it became hail and damaged crops.  The rockets on the wings pretty much did the same thing but on a much larger scale.  An interesting niche flying job for sure.

Next we flew 100 miles south, slightly backtracking west, to see Devil’s Tower.  I remember this iconic landmark from the Close Encounters movie.  You could make it out on the hazy horizon from over 30 miles away.  We circled around the ancient cinder cone, trying to maintain the distances requested on the sectional.  It was impressive, but like Chevy Chase in Vacation, we took a minute or two to look at it and then we were moving on.  We passed through some serious smoke, but could not locate its source.  I nervously kept checking Foreflight waiting to see a firefighting TFR pop up over our location but it never did and we were soon back in the clear (Ed note: A TFR would be published the next day near the town of Sundance).  We flew near Bear Butte and over the town of Sturgis before heading south into a heavy headwind.  The last 20 miles to Rapid City took forever.  I hope this is not a sign of things to come when we start the return journey home.
Rapid City was reporting 15 knot winds gusting to 25 but they were right down runway 14.  I let Carson fly the approach which he did very well.  We kept the flaps to 20 which always makes for easier landings in gusty or crosswind conditions.  We found free parking in a grassy area behind a line of hangars.  Unfortunately most of the chains used for tie downs were broken.  I had to scrounge chains from adjacent tie down and knot them together which is never a very good solution.  Total flight time today was over seven hours with 550+ miles covered.  The next two days will have no flying, we will be land based checking out Mount Rushmore and the other many sights of the Black Hills.  I am definitely starting to feel the strain of the high tempo of this trip.  Looking forward to a hotel room bed this evening.


[June 22, 2016]
Day 4 - The Grand Tetons & Cody, Wyoming

This morning I awoke to the temperature just at the freezing level.  The weather was once again beautiful and today the winds were calm.  We planned a morning aerial excursion to the Grand Tetons, just 50 miles to the southeast.  When French fur trappers saw the majestic peaks they named them the “Tetons.”  Get a good laugh by looking up this French word.  My first real awareness of these peaks came from the soaring documentary “Cloudstreets” just last year.  Being so close to Yellowstone I thought it would be a good sightseeing flight and beat the $300 cost of such a flight from the commercial operators located at nearby Driggs-Reed.

We came in from the north-east side over Jackson Lake.  Winds aloft were over 20 knots from the west so I had Carson keep a respectable distance from the mountains to ensure we did not get wrapped up in a downdraft or worse a rotor cloud.  The east side is mostly valley allowing you to tuck up close to the range without climbing too high.  We flew at 10,000 ft.  The peaks were still snow capped and very jagged.  They towered well above the height of the aircraft.  Jackson Hole airport came into sight and we listened in on the tower frequency.  A Delta Airbus A319 taxied out for takeoff on runway 19.  Further north a bright yellow hot air balloon drifted lazily over the lush green valley floor.  We continued along the range to the south looking for the Teton Pass which would allow access to the west passing Jackson Hole Mountain Resort a premiere ski location.  On the west side we were back in the flats.  We overflew Driggs on the way back to Yellowstone where Carson did the landing on runway 1 so that he could mark Montana off his list of states he has landed a plane.

We spent the rest of the day traveling across Yellowstone park enroute to Cody, Wyoming.  We stopped at Yellowstone Lake, the largest freshwater lake above 7,000ft in North America, to dip our feet in the frigid water.  From there we scouted the Sylvan Pass to the east entrance of Yellowstone.  This is the Pass we would fly through the next day, it was intimidating for sure.  As you exit Yellowstone you enter Shoshone National Forest which is just as impressive.  The rough running Shoshone River follows the middle of the valley which is rugged and adventurous before finally opening up to the Buffalo Bill Reservoir.  Stunning country!  We pulled in to Cody with no real game plan after having driven more than three hours.  We found a local pizza joint where we finished off a whole pizza between the two of us before heading over to the Buffalo Bill Center of the West complex.  BBC houses five museums in total.  Our main focus was the Cody Firearms Museum which claims to house the largest collection of American firearms in the world.  I am a believer after seeing this impressive stockpile of every gun imaginable.  We had some spare time to check out the William “Buffalo Bill” Cody exhibit which also did not disappoint before starting the long trek back to camp. 


[June 21, 2016]
Day 3 - Yellowstone, God's Country

Our first day of no flying.  We spent the day visiting Yellowstone National Park.  I felt like I was in a movie the scenery was so breathtaking.  We visited Old Faithful and many other geysers who names escape me right now.  It does not get dark until well after 9PM here so we made sure we used the entire day.  The park is so massive we could only scratch the surface on the first day, not going beyond Canyon Village to the north.  It was a good day not to fly because the winds were blowing fierce.  Many of the geothermal areas were littered with the hats of tourists.  Carson got to see his first waterfall at Lower Falls and it did not disappoint.  The hike to the observation point was well worth the trip.

The airport campground is really the best kept secret.  The campground is located in a well wooded area just off the north end of the parking ramp so you can have your plane within 200ft of you.  The campground has water, a heated shower trailer, free firewood, and bikes, and a toilet.  Everything you need to enjoy your stay in relative comfort.  Thank you Montana State Aviation Department!  We brought a lightweight two man tent, sleeping bags, and foam sleeping matts.  Just the absolute bare essentials to have a place to sleep at night.  Carson and I rode the complimentary bikes the two miles into town following a snow mobile trail.  Reminded me of our excursion on Orcas Island during last year’s GAXC.  We enjoyed a couple of milkshakes before heading back.  There were a group of pilots staying in the campground and surprisingly they were from Chandler, AZ.  Just 45 minutes south of my home airport.  Aviation is a small community for sure.

[June 20, 2016]
Day 2 - Salt Lake City to West Yellowstone

We arrived back at South Valley right on schedule this morning.  31J started up without a hitch, it was going to be a good day.  It was cooler this morning and the oil temperatures looked about normal which was a good sign.  We flew out to Antelope Island just 1000 ft AGL looking for Bison.  We had to go almost completely around the island before Carson finally spotted them on the southeast side.  We flew over low and slow as the herd was thundering down from the high ground to the water’s edge.  Carson enjoyed the low contact flying that was required.  From Antelope we headed into Ogden.  It had been four years since I was last here but nothing appeared to have changed.  We caught an Uber ride over to the Hill Aerospace Museum just down the road.  The museum had a pretty good collection of aircraft including an SR-71, a B-47, a B-1, an F-111 (which I was surprised to learn was actually a turbo fan equipped aircraft), and a Douglas C-124 Globemaster which is impressive by its sheer size.

From Ogden we launched northwest over the Great Salt Lake and on to Promontory Point where the transcontinental railroad was completed.  Heading into Idaho the scenery began to change with large stretches of rolling hills, farms and grasslands.  At American Falls, Idaho we picked up the Snake River north bound.  I had expected to see a waterfall at American Falls since we had passed just east of Shoshone Falls, but I had made a grave Google search error during my research.  Google showed a majestic waterfall in its search results, but I had failed to read further.  If I had I would have realized that American Falls is part of Niagara Falls, whoops.  The only thing to see in American Falls was the dam which was not worth much of a look at all from our altitude.  Carson was sure not to let me forget this mistake for many days (ed. Note: we later saw an awesome waterfall at Yosemite). Clouds had begun to form and green splashes showed on the NEXRAD overlay on Foreflight.  We landed in Blackfoot, Idaho to take on a full load of cheap AVGAS (relatively speaking).  This runway was 4300ft long and at an altitude of 4400ft.  It was 80 F but we had a descent headwind so I knew we could easily depart from this field.  None the less we executed a shortfield takeoff technique and found that we had cleared the 30-40ft tree line to the right of the runway by the 3000 ft mark.  U02 was our last fuel stop prior to West Yellowstone only a 100 miles further north.

We climbed up into a wonderful tailwind that netted us 20 knots of extra groundspeed.  I soon noticed ancient lava flows that broke up the farm fields below.  This must have once been volcano country.  Next we came across several sand dunes that just appeared completely out of place.  Carson wondered aloud when the pine trees would appear.  Fifty miles off to the east the Grand Tetons appeared on the horizon.  They were capped in snow and dominated the surrounding landscape.  When we were about 30 miles from Yellowstone the terrain rather quickly transitioned from flat grasslands to tall pine forest.  The terrain rose another 1000 ft and we were soon flying at 8000ft closing quickly on West Yellowstone airport.  The groundspeed now read 125 knots.  I think this is the record in this airplane.

We contacted UNICOM and told them we were inbound for the campground.  They reported winds 220 gusting to 25.  We picked runway 19.  West Yellowstone’s runway is 8500 ft long and surrounded by tall pines.  I took this into account, knowing that the wind does some weird things just at treeline height.  I keep my base short knowing the stiff head wind would lead to a steep descent gradient.  I also kept my power up to penetrate upwind.  I did not need much runway so I would play it safe and keep some altitude insurance until I was well over asphalt.  We got rolled left and right as expected as we descended below the pines.  I kept the energy level up for safety until things calmed down closer to the ground and we touched down without a hitch.  A regional Delta jet was waiting on the taxiway, I asked if he was holding for me to exit which he replied in the affirmative.  I taxied nose to nose with the regional on the way to the ramp.  The airline captain transmitted “you want to play chicken?” which I responded with a laugh and “thanks for the cool picture.”  The FBO folks met us at the ramp and marshaled me to the camping area for tie down.  We chained the plane up and made a B-line for the Skyjumper Café on the other side of the passenger terminal which was closing in 30 minutes.  We enjoyed some awesome burgers and a Montana local brew called Moose Drool.  I’m not a big fan of dark beers but this stuff was pretty darn good.  Afterwards we returned to download our gear from 31J and head to the camp site.  West Yellowstone offers free camping for pilots which is an awesome deal considering the cost of lodging in this area during the tourist season.  The campsite is among the pines just off the north side of the ramp and includes all the amenities one would need for even long term camping.  We will stay the night and pick up our rental car from the terminal in the morning.  Today we covered a total of 260 NM and logged  four hours on the Hobbs.

[June 19, 2016]
Day 1 - Phoenix to Salt Lake City

GAXC3 officially got underway at 0715 as we lifted off uneventfully in an already warm Phoenix morning.  All of my concerns of weight evaporated as 31J easily lifted off the runway with full fuel tanks and max cargo capacity.  After climbing out a new concern began to preoccupy me, oil temps were climbing higher than I had seen them in the past.  We leveled off, reduced power, and even enriched the mixture.  The combination appeared to halt the needle just still barely inside the green arc’s right limit.  As we burned fuel and lightened up we climbed slowly but surely to higher altitudes and cooler temps.  This was akin to step climbing, a process the airlines use to climb to higher altitude after burning off performance killing fuel weight.  It was a long process that did not complete until we were over Prescott.  This issue and a north head wind slowed our progress substantially.  It was clear to me that the original flight plan was becoming obsolete quickly.  We would not make it to Cedar City, Utah on one tank of gas, instead we would have to land a St George, UT and refuel.  By the Grand Canyon the oil temps were almost back to normal levels, the change in course to the northwest also helped with the headwind which soon became a tailwind giving us groundspeeds near 100 knots (this is fast for the 150!).

We landed at St George with the loss of an additional hour due to a time change.  It was blistering hot already with 100F on the ramp.  We only took on 12 gallons of fuel to lessen the load and because cheaper fuel was available at the next stop in Delta.  St George sits at an elevation of 2884ft but this along with the high temp did not seem to bother 31J in the climb out.  Once again oil temps climbed and we had to be judicious in how we climbed.  We skirted east of a few TFRs for firefighting however we never saw any smoke or any firefighting activity in the area.  We followed the western border of Zion National Park and were amazed at the beauty of the towering red rock formations.  I made a mental note to one day come back and visit the park for a few days.  We overflew Cedar City, our original planned fuel stop, a nice airport with substantial fire attack facilities located at the airport.  A C-130 stood on the ramp at the reload area where the red slurry is pumped into the belly of the aircraft for later dropping on forest fires.

This part of Utah was part desert, part farmland, part mountain, part dry lake bed.  It was just interesting enough to hold your attention.  We landed at Delta, UT just after 1PM.  It was like many typical GA airports, no activity to be found.  Delta was hot as well with an elevation of 4759 ft.  Cheap fuel meant a top off of the tanks.  Now we would see what 31J really could do.  A Super Cub with tundra tires pulled in just after we had finished fueling, shortly afterward an old timer just appeared out of thin air to talk airplanes.  I wondered where this guy had come from and glanced out at the empty parking lot.  A car had appeared, apparently the guy had seen some activity and decided to come over and have a look.  This guy had owned a few 150s in his day and we got to talking.  He told me about a fuel injected O-200 that had 120 HP and was actually lighter than the stock engine.  “If it was not for the high cost of certification you could get one of those engines but the manufacture just won’t pay for the cost of the STC” he drawled.  Well that was rather interesting information.  A 120HP O-200 would surely make the 150 a fantastic performer.  He started talking about density altitude and how anemic the 150 would perform on hot days like today.  I agreed and said I was about to find out shortly.  Delta’s runway was 5500ft, it was hot, we were heavy and there was little wind.  I was not too concerned given that the surrounding terrain was flat as a pancake.  I needed to get some more real world data on performance, as we are heading to even higher airports in the coming days.  The Koch chart said this was certainly doable.  This time the takeoff roll was longer, we got airborne, and I immediately went to test the waters outside of ground effect while we still had some runway left if we needed it.  The plane climbed but it was miniscule at best, maybe 50-100ft depending on when we hit some warm air.  We had at least 100ft by the end of the runway so any trees would have been cleared with some wiggle room to spare.  We made a lazy left turn trying not to spill any of our precious vertical component of lift from the wings.  I coaxed 31J higher, slowly, methodically before turning the reins over to Carson for the final leg of the flight into Salt Lake City.

The desert finally gave way to greenery, then lakes with actual water, then sparse population followed by dense population. The towering snowcapped Wasatch Range began to dominate the horizon to the east.   We descended down to 5600ft to stay under the SLC B airspace. As we came into Salt Lake City we passed restricted area 6412.  Looking into the restricted area I saw a series of rather large buildings.  I later found out that this is NSA’s data storage facility for all intercepted telephone calls going into and out of the United States.  Not long after South Valley Regional came into view, our destination for day one.  Carson made a straight in landing that was a greaser.  We covered 438NM today.  It took 5.9 hours on the Hobbs.  The plane performed well but the oil temps concern me, they were in the green, but it was just not the normal position that I am used to seeing.  It was certainly a hot day and the plane was working harder than it usually has to so I can’t say for certain that this is abnormal at this point.  Something to keep an eye on.

[June 17, 2016]
Final Preparations

Final preparations are underway for GAXC3.  This GAXC will be especially challenging given the high altitude environments we will be operating in and the increased payload due to camping supplies and Carson’s continued growth, now 112 lbs.  These were not issues in past GAXC trips but the margins we used to enjoy have now all but evaporated.   Keeping under the 1600lbs max takeoff weight is a challenge.  Everything is being weighted and scrutinized, do we absolutely have to have this item for the trip?  I’ve decided to only take half the cloths needed for the trip, opting to hit a laundry matt at the half way point.  Every ounce counts this time.

Final prep of the plane is also ongoing; Monday we took 31J for an hour flight to ensure all systems are operating as they should.  Today we did compression checks on all four cylinders, replaced the air filter, checked tire pressure, and topped off the oil.  The battery tender was hooked up today to ensure a fully charged battery for Sunday.

I’ve been watching the Smithsonian Channel’s Aerial America series on each of the states we will be visiting and I must say it has got me fired up for this trip.  With the exception of Alaska we will be visiting the last few states in the US that I have not been to in one form or fashion.  I must say we have saved the best for last.

The route, nine legs total, has been planned, replanned, and planned again.  Strategically picking enroute fuel stops not only reduce flight time but can also save as much as $100 in fuel cost over the course of the trip.  Tomorrow will be a final weather check for the week, the preliminary outlook is fantastic.

[May 30, 2016]
The Next Big Thing - 360 Video

You heard it here first, Go Pros are obsolete.  The future of in flight video is 360 degree VR cameras.  I picked up a first generation camera last week and shot the below video.  The camera is an LG 360 CAM and it retails for $200.  Being first generation the video quality is definitely lacking.  So much so I don't think I will be an early adopter, instead I'll return the camera and wait for something better to come along.  That said this video gives you a glimpse of the future and what is to come and it is fascinating!

These two videos gives you an idea of just how good 360 can be with the right equipment and the massive potential it holds.

[April 30, 2016]
Planes of Fame - Chino Air Show

After many years of wishing I had gone to the Planes of Fame airshow in Chino, this year I finally did it.  Carson and I loaded up 31J and made the three hour and some change flight out to Redlands with a brief fuel stop at Twentynine Palms.  We spent Friday night in a hotel and woke to low ceilings and rain Saturday morning.  It certainly did not look promising but after some breakfast at IHOP and the 45 minute drive down to Chino the weather conditions had improved dramatically.  While not the biggest air show you will find the content is all top shelf.  Warbirds are of course the staple and many of the museum’s collection are rare indeed.  Of particular interest for me was getting to see the Northrop Flying Wing in flight along with the Boeing Peashooter.  Neither flew today which was a disappointment but we did get to see a German FW190 take to the overcast skies along with five P-40 Warhawks and too many P-51s to keep count.  The only original airframe, original engine A6M Zero flew, along with a P-39 Airacobra, and a Skyraider along with gobs of other warbirds.  What I liked most about the show was the multiple passes the aircraft would make in close proximity to the crowd.  It allowed me to snap some great close ups with my 300mm lens on the Canon.  After each flight the aircraft would taxi right by us.  A TBM Avenger finished his routine, taxied by and swung around to face the crowd, he then cycled the stowing and deployment of the wings.  This was defiantly a bonus and the pilot received heavy applause from the audience.   One airshow act I had not seen before was Bud and Ross Granley in their Russian Yak-55 and Yak-18.  The Granley brothers put on a pretty good show with that was impressive in planes that you don’t see every day.  Mooney was also present with a static display of their yet to be certified M10J.  For the first time in public they flew the M10T which is to be geared for the training market.  To me both planes appear lacking in fit and finish.  They lack ramp appeal with landing gear that don’t look like they even belong on the plane.  This may be due to the prototype state of the aircraft I guess time will tell.  I certainly find the legacy Mooney much more attractive then these new aircraft.  That said my hats off to Mooney for forging ahead with certification of a new aircraft that may compete with Cirrus and the Cessna Corvalis.  The show ended with an F-16 demonstration, always a crowd pleaser, followed by a heritage flight of three P-40 Warhawks and the F-16. Another first.  I’m glad we finally got to see the Planes of Fame show, it ranks up there with one of the most unique, at least within the US.

On Sunday morning we drove down to Flabob Airport to grab some breakfast at the famous airport café.  The last time Carson and I flew into Flabob the café was under full scale renovation.  We would not be denied!  Now three years later we are back.  It’s small inside and for a Sunday morning surprisingly not very busy.  Carson gobbles down three massive pancakes before taking a walk around the quiet airport.  The hangars are all closed up and absent of any activity save for a small paint booth shoe horned between two hangars.  The fuselage of a Cessna 152 absent of its wings is getting a new coat of paint.  After inspecting a wingless Beech 18 fuselage we head back to Redlands for the flight home.  This time we are non-stop and we make it make to Deer Valley in about three hours.  31J gave a solid performance on this trip until the very end when the glove compartment magnet bracket broke causing the hatch to flop open.  A trip to Home Depot and $1 later it was fixed.

[April 26, 2016]
Promotion - Assistant Chief Instructor

Just finished my official FAA checkride to become a Part 141 Assistant Chief Flight Instructor.  Any time a Part 141 school appoints a new Chief or Assistant Chief the local FSDO has to send down the school's POI to give what is essentially a practical test which includes an oral portion and a flight portion.  The flight portion is done in every make and model of aircraft that the school provides instruction in.  In my case that meant I had to fly the Piper PA-28, the Cessna 172, the Cessna 182 and the Baron.  All in one day!  Today was not actually the greatest day to be flying with precision, 20 knots gusting to 26 knots.  Luckily we have a very down to earth PIO so this made the process a little more relaxed.  He asked me questions about my duties and responsibilities as well as questions dealing with part 141 of the FAR.  There is not a lot of material in part 141 but there are plenty of details that have to be committed to memory.  I made myself little cutsheets for each of the courses we teach which runs from private all the way to ATP.  The cutsheets showed the Part 141 requirement, the Part 61 requirements, and then the colleges requirements based on our Training Course Outlines.  Our requirements usually exceeded the FAA part 141 requirements, but usually not by much.  I put together an Asst Chief binder in which I placed the cutsheets and the first few pages of each TCO which outlines the objective, standards, and required hours for each course.  This binder was pretty helpful during the meeting with the Feds as he asked quite a few questions about the different training courses we have and how they differed from part 61.  I personally completed all of my training part 61, about the only advantage to be gained through part 141 is the commercial pilot certificate which literally cuts the total flight time requirement by some 60 hours.  The private and instrument ticket training times are only reduced by 5 hours over part 61.  It’s unlikely that any money would be saved going 141 versus 61 on these courses.

The practical portion of the checkride started with the PA-28.  The students I am teaching now are pursuing instrument ratings or flight instructor certificates so they already know how to fly.  This means I don’t get to touch the controls very much in any of our planes.  About the only plane I actively fly is my own, the Cessna 150.  So having to fly all of the maneuvers when I rarely practice them was going to be challenging I knew and trying to keep four separate set of numbers and procedures straight was going to be even more challenging.  We took off in a pretty good cross wind and headed north where the examiner had me do steep turns, stalls, and slow flight.  Slow flight on days like today are an exercise in frustration, the air is so dynamic that you do everything you can to just keep the plane from stalling.  Thermals and sinkers just have their way with the plane.  Despite being bounced all over the place I kept the plane within parameters or at least I think I did, the airspeed and altimeter needles were bouncing around so much they looked to be vibrating.  I just tried to keep the midpoint of the needle’s oscillations on the assigned altitude and airspeed.  The examiner took the controls and did a steep turn.  He asked me how it was and I told him they were fine but that he needed to look outside when doing the maneuver as it was a visual maneuver and not an instrument maneuver.  He told me I was the first instructor that ever told him that and that I was exactly right.  We then simulated an engine fire in which I did an emergency descent followed by turns around a point.  We went back and I did a soft field landing that was crap mostly because the wind gusts made anything other than an arrival next to impossible.  After the Piper we jumped into the Cessna 172 for an instrument approach.  If the Cherokee is getting bounced around you can guarantee the ride in the Cessna 172 is going to be ten times worse.  The 172 does not have nearly the lateral stability of the Piper.  This time up I had to shoot an approach.  I’ve done the VOR/DME to KDUG so many times I could probably shoot the whole approach from memory.  Of course it was still challenging due to the turbulent air which made anchoring my fingers around the bezel of the GTN650 GPS and pushing buttons with my thumb even more important.  This is a great technique to use when you are dealing with touch screen avionics in turbulence.  Trying to work a touch screen with your pointer finger is like throwing darts at the carnival balloons.  Pure luck.  You trying typing KDUG and you end up with DUDU.

After the approach was broken off just prior to the MAP we went into commercial maneuvers.  He had me do a chandelle first.  Since we don’t use the Cessna 172 for commercial training I had never done a chandelle in the plane, but I ended up nailing it without a problem.  The examiner then took the controls and did a few lazy eights with high bank angles.  I mentioned that the lazy eights were good but that our school did shallower bank angles.  This started a pretty good conversation on lazy eights between us.  He mentioned how he originally did them very mechanically, I told him I did the same and that my philosophy of the subject was the amount of numbers we throw at a student when we initially describe the maneuver is the real culprit behind this.  We tell them bank angles and reference points, 45 degree, 90 degrees, 135 degrees, 15 degrees of bank, blah, blah, blah.  So the student goes (usually just out of instrument training) out and tries to fly all of these numbers precisely using his attitude indicator like he is back in the instrument course and this is not what the maneuver is about.  The result is a big shit sandwich which then takes many iterations of practice to get the student weaned off the gauges, looking outside and just feeling the state of his plane throughout the maneuver.  You can’t distill a lazy eight down to a bunch of numbers, well I guess you can but it is just a recipe for sure student frustration.  Flying very gentle lazy eights also makes it difficult to comprehend the maneuver.  My belief is that the more you amplify and exaggerate a maneuver for more you tease out the fundamental skills you are trying to train the pilot on, and the easier they are for the student to see them and have that “ah-ha” moment.  A building block to the complex maneuver like the lazy eight in the wing over.  For me a wing over at 50 degrees or more of bank is way easier to perform than some gentle over the top 30 degree bank.  Decouple a complex task into smaller simple task, train the fundamentals of the simple task, THEN bring everything together to perform the complex task.  Any instructor who tries to have a student perform a lazy eight after a quick demonstration probably should not be a flight instructor and does not understand how people learn.  If your instructor does this with maneuvers you should probably find another instructor.  So any who that whole conversation was a great one and I really felt like the examiner was speaking the same language as me as far as how we viewed and approached flight training.

The last flight of the day was in the Cessna 182 RG (the Baron is down for maintenance so that flight will be conducted sometime in the future).  I was happy to get in a little heavier airplane that was not going to be tossed about like a rag doll in the winds that were just growing in intensity.  This was a short hop in the pattern.  Suck up the gear and ten seconds later put it back down because it’s time to land.  I came back around for an uneventful landing and I was finally done.  Relief.  I spent about ten times longer studying for this checkride then it actually took to complete, but better the overestimate the difficulty then to go in and get body slammed due to lack of preparation.  I’m certainly not a fan of making things harder than they need to be but I don’t like embarrassing myself either so I’ll continue to error on the side of caution.  Now it’s time to get down to the business of being an Assistant Chief, oh I forgot I still have four students and one ground school class I have to teach every day.  Can someone please add another twelve hours to the day?

[April 16, 2016]
ADS-B & EFB for less than $150

I posted about the great Stratux project back in December, well it just keeps getting better and better.  I would never believe that you could have ADS-B and an EFB for under $150, but now you can and here is how.  Now the entire Stratux in a turn key package can be had on Amazon for just $84.  This includes the software already preloaded on the mini-SD card.  Order a GPS module for $12 bucks more from E-bay and you have everything you need for the ADS-B portion.  Now about the EFB.  First we need a tablet.  Amazon sells the Fire 7 for just $50, but if you are thrifty you can pick up a slightly used one for about $30.  Now the only thing we need is the software.  FltPlan.com gives away an awesome full featured EFB, the FltPlan Go, rivaling ForeFlight for free.  Load this on to your Fire, sync it with Stratux and you have current weather information in the cockpit for peanuts.

Lets compare that with the old set-up I had.  I purchased an ADS-B receiver from Appaero for $500.  My IPAD cost about $600.  And my Fore Flight subscription sets me back another $150 every year.  That is a total of $1250!  You can now have the same capability for less than a tenth of that!  Go to stratux.me for more details.

[April 2, 2016]
Luke AFB Air Show

[March 25-27, 2016]
Changing Times - Valle Airport and Grand Canyon

[March 15, 2016]
Homeward Bound

After a very restless sleep I am wide awake by 3AM and just want to get started home.  I have been here over a week now and should have been home last Thursday.  I pack my things, load up the car, and leave Benton in the rear view mirror.  The ten hour drive back to Albuquerque is monotonous.  By mid-morning I am on the west side of Oklahoma and the winds are raging.  I make a brief pit stop in Moriarty, New Mexico to visit the Southwest Soaring Museum.  Being the only visitor at the time I get a personal tour by one of the volunteers.  The museum is a large hangar and houses a collection of some 30 or so gliders.  Many of the gliders are one offs.  There are several kit gliders from the 1970s and wonder aloud as to why kit built gliders have fallen by the wayside in this century given the popularity of home built airplanes.  The volunteer does not really have an answer for that.  On the way out I check out the little gift shop and find a stack of used books for sale.  I found a few ancient FAA handbooks from the 1960s that catch my interest.  The illustrations of key aerodynamic concepts are fantastic in the original Pilot Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge, so much better than today’s text.  I decided to grab it.  I laugh out loud at the 1973 FAR which is pamphlet sized compared to today’s one inch thick tome.  I grab that too, more for entertainment than anything else.

After dropping off the rental at Albuquerque I make my way back to Double Eagle via Uber.  Even though I pick up a full top off of fuel Bode hits me with eight days of ramp fees.  Ugh!  The winds are pretty stiff out of the west, the trip home will be slow.  Just how slow I totally underestimated.  After an hour of flying I am just over Grant, NM.  I try everything to make better ground speed, I turn more south, I descend to 700ft AGL, but nothing brings relief from the head winds.  I glance at the Hobbs meter and realize it is not moving.  It has broken during the eight day stay in New Mexico.  As the sun lowers into the western sky I make very slow progress across a mostly desolate landscape between ABQ and Show Low, Arizona.  The only landmarks of note are ancient volcanoes and lava fields that dot the area.  The area is known as the Land of Fire & Ice.  I just happen upon one of the most famous, the Bandera Volcano.  I snap a few pictures and don’t realize the geological significance until after I get home and do a little research. 

By the time I arrive over Show Low I have been flying for more than two hours.  The sun is starting to set.  I decided to refuel.  I’m not excited about the next leg of my flight over rugged terrain at night but I certainly will feel a little better knowing I have plenty of fuel in my tanks.  I blast off from Show Low in the evening twilight and begin clawing for altitude as I head into no man’s land.  About the only risk mitigation I will have is altitude and I try to get as much of it as possible before the lights go out.  At 8500ft darkness falls and I begin the calculations of how far I have to go before I am within gliding distance of suitable landing terrain.  The countdown begins and I am on edge the whole way, my eyes scan the engine instruments for even the slightest hint of a problem.  Flying a single engine airplane over uninhabited rugged terrain at night is not something you want to get in the habit of doing if you want to live a long and prosperous life.  I’m certainly taking some risk here and my only mitigation is flying high.  I breathe a sigh of relief as I make it to the Tonto Basin, I’m in the clear, the lights of civilization.  I follow the lights of the highway below which leads me back to Phoenix and home.  I land just before 8PM back at KDVT, the journey by car and plane has taken 19 hours, but it has finally come to an end.  I achieved what I set out to do some nine days ago, and while the trials and tribulations will fade from memory one thing will not….. that little certificate in my flight bag from the FAA that states, Timothy Timmons, Airline Transport Pilot.

[March 14, 2016]
Making it to the summit - Airline Transport Pilot (ATP)

Another morning of dense fog arrives.  Today will be the day if the winds don’t get to blowing too hard.  They are forecast to get up to 25 knots but almost straight out of the south which is perfect for the approaches.

I study in the morning and go over my air work drills to ensure I am ready.  Around 11AM we go up for a grueling three hour mock checkride training flight. 

At 3PM the examiner shows up. The oral takes about an hour, it was one of the easier ones I have had.  We talked about some very basic things like wake turbulence, LAHSO, and then systems on the Apache, I don’t really run in to any issues.  He has me compute the weight and balance and some performance numbers then it’s time to go fly.  We take off and simulate a low visibility IFR takeoff.  He gives me several vectors around before we settle in for the air work.  I start with steep turns under the hood which are perfect, then a series of stalls nothing like the way Herb set them up, then unusual attitudes (no runaway trim stalls).

Time to start the approaches, the first is an ILS with both engines, then missed, into the hold, then a single engine ILS to a full stop.  Next we take off and head to Stearman for the RNAV 17 approach, I go missed again.  He then vectors me to Jabarra where I shoot a straight in on the VOR-A, breaking out about a mile before the missed, I circle to land on runway 18 and make a full stop.  From here I am home free.

By 7PM as the sun is setting as we touch down for the last time in N76HK, it’s a greaser.  The examiner turns to me and says “well it appears you are now an ATP.”  I’m thankful but tired it’s been a long day and I’m just ready to go home.  The whole checkride was a non-event, it was so much easier than the training I had to endure.  I am certain I could have completed the checkride in half the training time, actually the advertised training time of eight hours.

An eleven year odyssey has finally concluded.  The training and checkride are over, I've got the ATP certificate in hand. Tomorrow I drive the 10 hours back to ABQ and fly 31J the final three hours home.  It will be a long day for sure.

[March 13, 2016]
Low Ceilings and Rain

Sunday morning arrives with low ceilings and rain.  I drive Mike to Dwight D. Eisenhower airport (formally Mid-Continent) to catch a jump seat ride on a United flight bound for Denver and then home to Alaska.  Only Mark and I now remain at Herb’s place.  Mark is a young French pilot who has come to the states to add additional certificates and ratings as well as work on his English.  Mark’s dad flies for Air France on the Embraer 190.  I glance at the weather still thinking that Monday will be nice, now I see that the winds will be 20-30 knots on Monday.  I am starting to wonder if I will ever get done with this.  I let my boss know I will not be returning to work on Monday.  I had warned everyone at the college before I left that I would not return from Kansas until I was an ATP.

[March 12, 2016]
Exploring the local Museums

Woke up to low level fog this morning, thick as pea soup, there would be no flying and no checkride today.  My partner in crime, Mike, has been here just as long as I have trying to get his multi-engine add on completed.  The weather today has run him out of time to complete his rating, he needs to return to Alaska by Monday.  Mike has been a great guy to have around over the last week.  Mike has well over 6000 hours of flight time and has been flying the Alaskan skies long before his current gig flying the Cessna Caravan.  He was an Alaskan state trooper prior to that and had amassed some 2000 hours in tailwheels, skies, and floats.  Mike is a real stick and rudder pilot.

With the day shot for flying we head out to visit a couple museums in the area.  Our first stop is the Wichita Aviation Museum.  The museum is only open on weekends which I guess one positive aspect to being here so long.  It is located next to McConnell Air Force Base in the old terminal building for the Wichita Municipal Airport.  The terminal was completed in 1935 and has some art deco components to it in much the same style as the Hobby, TX terminal building I visited a few years back.  The collection is not massive but the museum does hold a large amount of history on Cessna, Beechcraft and Boeing.  Not many artifacts and the aircraft collection is small with most aircraft exposed to the elements to the rear of the building.  Many of these aircraft are in very poor condition with physical damage evident in addition to faded and peeling paint.  I did enjoy seeing a B-47 and a Beech Starship up close.  Inside a pristine Stearman 4D and a Mooney Mite were also rare birds worth seeing up close.  The main floor contains a small collection of various engines, some rare.  I took lots of pictures in hopes of adding them to my soon to be released photo book containing all the aircraft engines I have photographed at the numerous museums I have visited over the last decade.

From Wichita we headed west to Hutchison, Kansas some 45 minutes’ drive.  The Cosmosphere is a space centric museum in the heart of the town.  In the lobby is a SR-71 mounted impressively pitched nose down and banked over.  The lobby actually had to be built around the plane.  The presentation really allows you to appreciate the size of this awesome aircraft.  I found out during my visit that the plane was actually the RS-71 but President Johnson mistakenly referred to it as the SR-71.  The Air Force changed the designation in order not to embarrass the President.

The rarest artifact in the museum’s collection is the Liberty Bell 7,  Gus Grisom’s Mercury capsule that sank to the bottom of the ocean after the hatch accidently blew during recovery.  The museum actually paid for the expedition to recover the capsule.  They have restored the capsule and its contents which was absolutely magnificent, just as it had been that day that it sank from view.  The museum also has several Russian space capsules which are rare finds in US museums.

[March 11, 2016]
Finally Flying the Stearman

This morning we flew another training sortie in the Apache.  This time we headed over to Newton to shoot the ILS first with both engines and then single engine.  Its bumpy today and I have to engage in a sword fight to maintain the needles but I am able to fly both approaches to ATP standards.  The training is working.  We head over the Jabarra and shoot the VOR approach.  A biz jet has blown a tire on the runway and has closed the field for landings.  We had already seen the NOTAM but are advised again on the radio when we make our inbound call.  We acknowledge that we only intend to do a low approach.  That approach also goes well.  I head back to Stearman and shoot the RNAV to runway 17.  The winds are strong out of the east today so every approach and landing is in a firm x-wind. 

With the ATP training complete for the day I get to refocus on the Stearman flight.  Just like when I did my sea plane training in the middle of my instrument training, I need some airplane fun to break the monotony of working on the ATP.  I’m once again picked up at Herb’s place by Sam Gemar.  This time the Stearman starts on the first try.  The roar of the radial engine excites the senses.  We taxi over to the sod strip that parallels the primary runway.  Sam demonstrates the first takeoff and flight in the pattern.  Then he had me do a takeoff, I added power, accelerated, kept it straight with rudder, and then let the tail come up, once the nose was down it was not too hard to keep her tracking straight, when the speed felt right I gently added back pressure and we gently liifted off the grass strip.

We climbed out at 75 knots to 2500ft and then leveled off at with a power of 1750 RPM.  It was easy to get the right sight picture and hold the altitude.  The day was absolutely beautiful 70F, blue skies, a typical for Kansas in early March.  I could smell the smoke of a nearby controlled burn from the open cockpit.  The flat Kansas countryside stretched for miles in all directions.  I tried to absorb it all but I was very much in sensory overload.  The big continental radial engine hummed rhythmically which just a slight vibration traveling through the airframe into my cockpit seat.  This was real flying and I don’t get to experience it very often.  This was like eating Mom’s homemade apple pie versus eating the prepackaged super market one, no comparison.  I did a few turns while Sam pointed out the various sites around eastern Wichita.  He then did a demo of a lazy eight.  I knew I would screw this one up with rudder but let me give it a shot.  I level at 3000, reduced the throttle to 1750 RPM, went into a slight dive to pick up 110 knots and then pitched and rolled left, came down through 110 knots and pitched and rolled right.  The slices looked nice but I could see I had definitely bungled the rudder work on the downside which usually requires some left rudder.  My brain and feet are just not quite wired as they should.  It was pretty cool regardless.  Next he had me do a power off stall which was pretty much a non-event, the plane did not really want to stall instead mushing more than anything.  I added power, dropped the nose and flew out of it.  We returned to Stearman Field where Sam let me attempt to land the plane, really?  Today the winds have been out of the east, a direct crosswind.  Further adding to the difficulty was the line of two story buildings that have been built very close to the runway (within 200 feet) on the east side of the field making the finally descent extremely squirrely.  Hey if you want to let me give it a try I am up for that!  The first attempt I chop power abeam of the grass strip threshold and do a 180 around, I slip and we lose altitude quicker than I anticipated, I come in a little low and lose some energy, before I can get it down Sam takes the controls and lands it.  He said afterward that it looked like the nose was getting a little too far left in the flare.  I get to perform another takeoff which is not as good as my first one but I still am able to fly it off on my own.  The next landing attempt I carry a little power through the base and come in on a better approach.  The wheels just kiss the ground ever so gently, I think I am still on the ground but apparently I am flying again so Sam has me do a go-around.  Okay last try, I really want to land this bird on my own.  This time the approach looks great, I bleed a little airspeed just above the sod and then she plants and I stick the tailwheel.  Happy feet, work those rudders, keep her tracking straight, stick back and into the wind.  She bobbles down the sod finally come to a halt.  I did it!  I landed a Stearman, life is complete!  Sam taxies us back to our parking spot in front of the restaurant and shuts the big radial down.  Wow, what an experience.  I can tell you it was worth the wait, it did not disappoint.  The entire flight was tapped on the GoPro and cockpit audio captured.  The video will be posted on my YouTube page.

[March 10, 2016]
Meeting a Shuttle Astronaut

There are thirteen Stearman biplanes based here at Stearman Field.  Of course Wichita was the home of Stearman, Beech, and Cessna so the iconic Stearman Model 75 Kaydet was built in the thousands not far from here.  Of course the Stearman is near and dear to my aviation history buff heart as it is iconic bird in American aviation history, training thousands of WW2 pilots in primary flight training.  I have always wanted to fly one and almost got that chance in 2009 when I was in New Jersey with Dale DelGaizo picking up my tailwheel endorsement.  Dale owned a nice Stearman but the weather unfortunately conspired to not allow time to fly the bird after my tailwheel endorsement had been completed.  So now a second opportunity existed so I snagged it this morning.  Sam Gemar is part owner of one of the Stearmans and runs an outfit called Vintage Flyers Inc, providing  flights to anyone interested.  Sam is a retired Army LTC but also a Space Shuttle Astronaut having flown on the shuttle three times and orbited the earth 385 times.   Sam is an awesome guy and so modest he does not even mention his astronaut background, I find his background out from Herb’s wife.  Sam met me at Herbs place and drove me in his golf cart to his aircraft.  Sam’s plane is painted in US Air Corps livery and it is a beaut!  I figured I was just going to be along for the ride which was perfectly fine with me until Sam asked if I had a tailwheel endorsement.  Yes I do!  Okay well you are going to do the taxi, takeoff, flight, and landing.  About now I was getting pretty excited.  I was very glad I had been recently refreshing my tailwheel training in the Super Cub, great timing.  The instructions were pretty simple, climb out at 75 and then cruise at 2500ft with 1750 RPM set.  We would take whatever airspeed that gave us.  I got strapped in in the front seat, Sam ran the prop through a few times, primed the engine from the left front of the radial and hopped back in.  Here we go!  Or so I thought.  Sam cranked the engine, nothing, not even a pop, he cranked again, and again, and again until I thought the starter would certainly burn out.  I saw the throttle get exercised furiously to provide that squirt in the carburetor, nothing.  He dismounted, reprimed, and tried again but nothing would awake the big radial from its slumber.  “Well Tim I’m really sorry, this has never happened before, we are going to have to cancel this flight.”  Ah it was the typical aviation curse I live under, it takes three attempts to get anything done (except checkrides thankfully!).  I told Sam it was most certainly the Timmons Aviation Curse and that he should not be concerned in the least, as the plane would most certainly start without the slightest hint of protest as soon as I departed the area. 

After the aborted Stearmen flight I went back to Herb’s and flew a morning sortie in the Apache.  We went over the air work required for the ATP.  This included instrument steep turns, unusual attitudes, and stall in various configurations both straight ahead and turning.  Herb complemented me on my rudder skills which was quite shocking.  Guess that glider and tailwheel experience paid off.  We ended with a left engine shutdown and an emergency descent.

Thursday late afternoon was perfect with calm winds and a beautiful sunset.  The airport was very active with all sorts of aircraft.  Being private I could walk right up to the runway and perched myself on some hangar building materials stacked nearby.  First a Conquest landed, and then a homebuilt biplane, two Stearmans took off, followed by none other than Sam’s Stearman from this morning.  The Stearmans made several low passes.  A Jeep began pulling a brand new Cessna Citation down the runway to a hangar on the south end.  Herb tells me that the aircraft manufactures in Wichita frequently fly brand new aircraft to adjacent airports as soon as they are built to mark them as delivered even though it could be some time before the owner actually receives them.  This explains why there are so many hangars being built at Stearman Field.  I enjoyed my evening private airshow.

That evening we flew another training sortie in the Apache.  I did three ILS approaches at nearby airports, two being single engine approaches.  Things really seem to be coming together at this point.  Herb said pretty much the same thing.  I’m flying as precise as I ever have and the procedures feel almost second nature now.  Herb’s rantings have diminished substantially, though I still get yelled at every now and then.  The trick is not to do too much at once, that’s when things get out of control (with such tight tolerances for this checkride “out of control” is very much a relative term.)  I still have no idea when the checkride will be but weather is moving in on Saturday so I hope it is soon.

[March 9, 2016]
Training to Time or Standards?

Wednesday I fly two more sorties.  We fly the same approaches at Newton, Jabara, and Stearman.  These are the most likely approaches that I will get during the checkride.  I feel much more comfortable in the Apache now and with the Jepp plates.  I can fly the plane very precisely, it is a steady platform.  We spend time practicing holds as well.  I have no issues with holding and can fly them fine, always picking the correct entry and easily correcting for leg timing and wind correction, yet we continue to spend time holding.  I find this an enormous waste of valuable and expensive training time.  I get the sense that we are training to time and not to standard, each sortie is almost exactly two hours long.  I am tracking the flights on Cloud Ahoy which gives me an idea of just how much flight time I have had.  Herb still has not filled out my log book for any of the previous flights but I realize that we have flown almost eight hours in the last two days and there has been no talk of scheduling a checkride at all.  PAS advertises their ATP package as eight hours for a set price, that is what I have budgeted for.  Herb makes no mention to me about going over the allotted package time or price.  I assume he will but am frustrated and confused as to why he has not.  Further compounding my frustration is that I had planned on being complete by Thursday.  At this point the end is nowhere in sight.  I look over the ATP PTS and realize we have not even practiced half of the required tasks.

[March 8, 2016]
ATP Flight Training Begins

It’s Tuesday morning, day two, and no one is stirring in the house at 0830.  The skies are overcast and grey but at least there is no wind.  Not sure when training will commence, but the military inside of me is screaming “we are wasting daylight!”  Herb tells me he likes to wake up without an alarm clock so flight training during the traditionally best part of the day is out.  We finally get started on ground school at 10AM and go until about noon.  Herb is certainly a vast repository of aviation information and I learn a lot from the ground training.

After ground school I head over to the local airport restaurant with Mike and Billy, another of Herb’s students.  The place is very impressive.  A huge round table in the middle of the restaurant has a massive radial engine underneath the glass.  The bar has a fabric covered wing hanging above it with the ribs exposed underneath to hang glasses.  Very cool.  My kind of bar!  Model airplanes and aviation memorabilia hang from the ceiling and walls.  I ordered the Steraman burger which is fantastic especially with the jalapenos sprinkled on top.  We talk about the looming deadline approaching for the ATP checkride and wonder aloud how many unscrupulous pilots will make hundreds of “parker pen rides” to fill their log books with bogus total time and multi time.  I wonder how many pilots flying for the major airlines are guilty of such.  I believe the number is much higher than anyone thinks.  At the end of the day you’re the one who has to live with being a fraud, hopefully no one else will get hurt because of it.  I’m glad all my flight time has been legitimate and feel very fortunate that my timing has worked out so perfectly to get the required flying experience within the time available before the rule changes. 

Returning back to Herb’s place, despite gray and cloudy skies he says were flying, sweet!  We load up into the Apache and immediately fire things up and head out.  I get zero familiarization time in the new aircraft, after climbing to 400 feet I am under the hood.  New plane, new panel, new procedures, new area and I am under the hood heading for the ILS at Newton, talk about overload.  Instructions are coming fast and furious from Herb and I am doing everything I can to just stay afloat which I think I did relatively well given the circumstances.  Herb demands the use of Jeppesen plates during the training.  I’m sure Jepp is far superior to NACO plates but when you have never used them before there is quite a learning curve and this is detrimental to moving quickly forward with your training.  Herb has some interesting techniques for procedure turns, holds, and various other IFR things.  I like them but could never use them in my own teaching because we are so regimented in our procedures, but certainly they may find some usefulness in my personal instrument flying, at least the ones that seem legal.  My favorite is his procedure turn technique.  So say we have an east wind and we are tracking 350 degrees outbound, the wind is blowing the plane to the left of track, we fly the heading and take the wind drift, then instead of turning upwind for one minute we just hang an immediate right turn, intercept the inbound course and fly inbound.  Sounded good in theory but worked like a charm in reality as well.

We shoot the ILS 17 approach at Newton to a miss, proceed to the missed, hold, and then shoot the ILS again to a landing.  My first landing is a perfect greaser, must be beginners luck.  We will see.  We depart and head over to Colonel Jabara (AAO), there we shoot the ILS 18.  An exec jet lines up for take-off on 35 after hearing us report a five mile final.  Is this guy for real?  Herb’s not concerned so I relax my own concerns.  He starts his takeoff roll and then aborts.  No idea why maybe he saw us on short final?  He knew we were there so that was not on us.  We go missed again and someone else gets on the CTAF and asks what our intentions are as if we caused the conflict.  Herb says we are departing the area.  Hey I’m under the hood, this is Herb’s show.

Herb finally has me do the RNAV back into Benton.  Easy as pie compared to what we just did.  Winds favor 35 so I break out at circle mins and finally get to fly a pattern visually; I have not even seen what the sight picture looks like for level flight after two hours of flying so it takes me a minute to get the visual attitude flying picture correct.  It’s still very grey, clouds are low and rain rivulets stream off the windscreen.  I come in for a no flap landing and grease a second landing, got to be something other than luck now.  Herb tells me to stand on the breaks, really?  I get on them and like the Cherokee you can’t lock them up but that nose moving downward surely makes you feel like you’re going to collapse the nose gear at any moment.  I just drank from the ATP fire hose of knowledge and survived my first flight, it can only get better from here, or so I thought.

That evening we head over to Wichita and shoot some six ILS approaches to runway 1R.  I fly a perfect approach all the way to within 200 feet of the DH and then lose the glide slope.  This sends Herb over the deep end, tapping madly on my HSI and raising his voice in frustration.  I’m frustrated at myself, I don’t need his behavior on top of that.  We determine I’m not reducing MP as I descend down so the power is increasing, causing me to go faster and require a steeper descent.  We come back around again, I’m now feeling the fatigue of concentrating intensely for some two hours.  I slide down the glide slope and reduce MP with 1000 ft to go.  I hang on to the GS for dear life on the last 200 feet.  I’m rewarded with the hood being removed which is the signal that I am allowed to land.  I do a touch and go and we head back to Stearman.  For the first time during this flight I am allowed to enjoy the city lights of Wichita at night.  I fly visually back to the field and close out my first day of flight training.  I estimate about four hours of flight training today, but Herb does not fill out my log book so it keeps me wondering.

[March 7, 2016]
First Day of Training

Monday dawned grey, overcast and very windy.  I was in Oklahoma some sixty miles south of my final destination.  And made the final hour drive into Kansas, through Wichita, and east of the city to the small town of Benton.  I arrive at Praieri Air Services, a home located on Stearman Field around 0900.  Herb, my instructor and owner of PAS, meets me at the door with a phone in his hand talking to another client.  I wait at the foyer for him to finish and admire a shadow box of Luftwaffe pilot medals, apparently Herb is related to a WW2 German fighter pilot, very cool.  No time for formalities, Herb appears hurried and trying to accomplish several things at once.  He takes me through the rather large house to a separate wing in the house dedicated to training and boarding of visiting pilots.  I meet Mike another pilot looking to add a multi-engine rating to his certificate.  I’m a little surprised there are other pilots here, Herb is a one man show and I am expecting to get my ATP knocked out as quickly as possible.  How is he going to train multiple pilots?  I would soon find out.  The phone rings again and Herb is talking to a Delta pilot who wants to get his daughter a multi-engine rating.  Herb says the best he can do is November.  Business must be good and it makes me thankful I called back in November to set up my ATP training.  Those who have waited until this point to schedule ATP training are going to find themselves in trouble if they plan on making the July 31st cut-off date.  For those who don’t know the new ATP rules became effective on August 1, 2014.  These rules require ATP candidates to take the CTP course first before even taking the written.  If you had taken the written prior to 1 August for the ATP you had 24 months to take the legacy ATP checkride, thus the sudden training rush that is occurring now.  I wanted to get way out in front of the rush and it appears I have…barely.

The skies are still overcast and the wind is now howling outside.  There will be no flying today, reminds me of so many other scheduled flight training events in the past.  The weather rarely cooperates.  This is the METAR at the nearest weather station:

KEQA 071555Z AUTO 19024G28KT 10SM OVC021 20/13 A2968 RMK AO2

Herb leaves again and I am left to explore.  I go out to the hangar attached to the house and find a very tired looking Piper Apache, N76HK.  Not quite as pristine as the photos show on the PAS website, paint is peeling off the nose, dirt and grime cover the nacelles.  A substantial oil leak in the right engine has covered the entire right side of the plane with dirty oil.  I peek behind the pilot seat and see a pile of papers strewn across the floor along with trash and an overflowing waste basket.  Not particularly impressive.  This plane has made more than its share of multi-engine and ATP pilots I’m sure, but its best days are certainly well behind it.  I hope it can stay airworthy just a little bit longer.

Around noon we get started with ground school.  I’m paired up with Mike from Alaska.  Mike is a pilot and check airmen for what used to be known as Era Alaska now Ravn Alaska.  Ravn is footing the bill for his training. Most folks know Era from the show Flying Wild Alaska on the Discovery channel.  Mike knows all the folks from the show personally and was even featured in one episode.  We sat in the cockpit of HK for about two hours discussing the various gauges, dials, knobs, and avionics.  There is a lot in this airplane and Herb has personally designed this panel so it is a one off.    Some stuff is ancient like the LORAN that has never been removed, other stuff is more recent like the Garmin 400, essentially a 430 without the COM/NAV radio function.  HK is not too terribly different from the Apache I received my initial multi training in.  There is an HSI which will help with the heavy instrument emphasis of this ticket unfortunately the HSI has no tie in to the GPS, that requires looking at a different CDI. 

After cockpit familiarization we go back into the “classroom” for another couple of hours talking about systems specific to the Apache.  Herb has several of the major system parts on a shelf which I find very helpful in better understanding the Piper specific systems especially the hydraulic reservoir and filter system.  Most of what we cover I have heard before but there are a few interesting tidbits sprinkled in that keep it interesting, for example did you know that “bus” is a Latin word meaning “for all?”  That is the reason an electronic bus is called a bus, because it is electricity for all.  I now finally understand how an augmenter tube works!  Herb is a retired Cessna engineer so he breaks down systems to a detail level I had not previously been.  I now better understand octane, what breakers actually protect (the wire), how the voltage regulator works to keep the alternator current steady despite changes in RPM, how a shuttle valve works, and what jet fuel will truly do to a reciprocating engine.  It was a lot to digest on day one.  Hopefully tomorrow will bring better weather.  I’m staying on the premise during my time here so each night we all meet in the dining room for a good home cooked meal by Herb’s wife Kathy.  In my room the window is cracked open to let in the cool night air, all I can hear is a dog barking in the distance and the steady chorus of frogs.  It has been so long since I heard that sound, it reminds me of camping trips as a boy.  Good times.

[March 6, 2016]
Heading to Kansas for ATP Training

My travel to Benton, Kansas for ATP training was a mix of airplane and rental car.  The most indirect road route was from Phoenix to Albuquerque, New Mexico so I opted to take my plane and save about 3 to 4 hours of driving.  I flew to Double Eagle (KAEG) just northwest of the Albuquerque.  Despite AIRMETS for turbulence below 14,000 feet the ride was silky smooth.  I attempted to contact FSS to report this fact in a PIREP but was never able to make contact despite trying several different frequencies near the town of Show Low.  About 30 miles out I tuned AEG in and heard an incoming plane talking to tower, whoops I did not even realize there was a tower.  Talk about confirmation bias, I had looked at the sectional many times and the fact that the airport was in blue with a Class D ring did not even register because in my mind I had already decided the airport was non-towered.  Arriving over the VFR reporting point I called in to the tower “Double Eagle Tower, Cessna 3131J north of the casino, 5,500, with sierra, full stop.”  The tower responded “3131J we have a lot of casinos in this area, which one are you near.”  Now normally if this was an error on my part I would take the admonishment but this was the only casino VFR reporting point on the entire sectional so I was not in the mood to take credit for the tower’s mistake.  “Tower, 31J is over the only casino that is a VFR reporting point just west of your location.”  Touche’; the tower returned with “make left or right downwind for 21, your choice.”  The winds were starting to pick up but they were almost down the runway so the landing was uneventful.  I pulled into Bode Aviation and found the lady at the desk very helpful, unfortunately there was no rental car.  I had a hint of a problem when Avis called me up while enroute asking where I was going to pick up the car.  The reservation made through AIRNAV specifically showed Double Eagle as the pick up point.  On the ground the Avis manager called me and explained there would be a $150 delivery charge to bring the car from ABQ to Double Eagle.  Despite my protest to the manager and Avis customer service about the fact that my reservation stated pick up at AEG and the specific terms “no delivery charge for this service” they would not budge.  Instead I caught an Uber ride to ABQ for $25.  I was not happy especially since the whole fiasco cost me about two hours in time as well.  I drove for some 10 hours across New Mexico, Texas, and Oklahoma.  Eventually I could drive no more.  I would end up not making it to Benton that night which incurred additional cost in getting a hotel room.  Little did I know the day’s frustrations were just a hint of what lay ahead on this trip.

[February 28, 2016]
Soaring Solo

Glider Sunday as we now call it. A one hour drive up Route 17 takes us from the Phoenix Valley into the high country of northern Arizona and the Prescott Valley. Temperatures this week have been unseasonably warm with every day this month reaching over 70F. I'm still trying to get my winch endorsement and Carson is working on building his solo time. Carson also wanted to try out his new RC glider from Park Zone. It's a scale model of the German KA-8, unlike my Fox glider this one has no propulsion on board instead you use a winch to launch it up to about 400 feet. That's right, it uses a miniature winch made up of a ground stake, about 200 feet of surgical grade rubber, another 200 feet of string, and a miniature drogue chute. As far as the basic concept it is literally a replica of the winch we use on the real glider. Now in this case the potential energy is stored in the extended surgical tubing which is pulled an additional 120 feet prior to launch. A CG hook on the glider is open ended allowing for an automatic release when the glider arrives high over the ground stake. We were a little apprehensive about the launch having never done anything like this with an RC aircraft. Even more apprehensive after a less than stellar hand launch test the previous week when we attempted to confirm the CG. The botched launch resulted in cosmetic damage to the nose and wing. If the CG was not right this time the glider would be 400 feet in the air and probably uncontrollable.

Carson took the controls and I stretched the winch, hooked it to the CG hook and gave a mighty heave skyward. The glider soared vertical then made a graceful arc across the sky before releasing the tow. Success!! The height was not great but launch release and subsequent glide were flawless, the CG was spot on. Carson made a short flight and brought the KA-8 in for a gentle landing. Subsequent launches just got better and better, we pulled the line back further and got a substantial increases in altitude as our familiarity with the winch and the glider’s behaviour on tow grew.

When our turn finally arrived in the real thing I went up first for just a quick up and down, my instructor telling me I just needed a simulated line break and I will be ready for my endorsement, finally! Carson went next, his third solo. This time he was looking to log some time aloft, he found the lift a few minutes into his flight. Before long he had gained another 2,000 then 3,000 feet and beyond. He was soaring and he continued to do so for some 40 minutes. A hawk came close and began soaring with him, so close he could see every detail of the bird. He followed another hawk and found more lift. The birds know exactly where to find it because unlike us they can feel it, feel the winds slight burbles, feel the small changes in temperatures between one air mass and another. Our cockpits isolate us from our environment so we need instruments and yaw strings to tell us what is going on beyond the plexiglass. There is something to be said for open cockpits, like the gyro copter from a few weeks ago. Carson’s thermal took him downwind, I asked him on the radio to return closer to the field which he did. He found some more lift in the area before finally returning for a landing. It was a pretty extraordinary flight given that no one else had found lift prior to his flight. Once he had found it to other pilots launched and went directly to Carson’s thermal. Next time Carson is intent on staying up for his entire allotted hour. One hour of solo for $12 will make the two hour drive round trip to the club well worth it.


[February 12, 2016]
Milestone - 2000 Hours
Just completed the flight hour tally in my log book and discovered that I logged my 2000th flight hour while of all places flying the gyro copter.  Just shows that the depth and breadth of aviation can keep things new for more than one lifetime.  Reminds me of a quote I heard a few weeks ago, "there are pilots who fly the same hour a thousand times, and there are pilots with a thousand hours."  Which is really saying its not the quantity of hours that builds experience but the quality of those hours.  I like to think I have maximized every hour of flight time that I have had control over to learn and grow. A quick computation tells me that I have been aloft for over 83 days during the past  10 1/2 years.

[February 12, 2016]
More Tailwheel Time and Flying a Gyro Copter

Today was all about flying. I flew 31J the short hop over to Chandler to continue working on my tailwheel checkout in the Super Cub. I had a new instructor today and he was absolutely fantastic. We practiced landings for the entire .9 and he really gave me a workout. This time I brought the head mount for my Gopro and I got some great footage that I will share on youtube with you. We practiced both three pointers and wheeler landings. I think this was the first time I had tried a wheeler landing since my tailwheel endorsement back in 2009. He was pretty tough on me admonishing me if I looked at the instruments too long, didn't have my head outside, or looked at the flaps when I reached for the Johnson bar. With each subsequent lap in the pattern I got better, he wanted to see good old stick and rudder skills and visual attitude flying. On the turns he wanted me to roll and pull, “fly it like you stole it” he said. Okay I can do that, high deflection stick movements with coordinated rudder movement. He demanded tight disciplined patterns with power off approaches. I was soon in the zone but my centerline control could have been better so we did a little skill developing drill. After landing he would take the throttle and we would high speed taxi down the runway. I would lift the tail and “pin it” as he said, working those happy feet on the rudder, small and quick jabs, not long pronounced rudder pressure which would send the Cub careening off the runway as the rearward center of gravity moved to a point of no return. In the Cub you sit pretty far forward so your legs are bent at almost 90 degrees, this makes rudder movements a little more difficult. In addition I had the rudder bars below the balls of my feet which was a big no-go. The first time we did the high speed taxi practice I was all over the place because I just did not have the fidelity I needed with my leg and foot placement. While I could not change the angle of my legs I was able to slide my feet down so the balls of my feet rested on the rudder bars. This made for much better execution on subsequent high speed taxi drills. By the end of the point nine of was smoked but I felt that my skills had been tuned up substantially. I’m really looking forward to my next session in the Cub now that I am starting to feel comfortable with her.

After Chandler I hopped back in 31J and continued my journey southeast to San Manuel a small quiet airport halfway between Tucson and Phoenix. San Manuel was where I first soloed an Ercoupe and today is the site of a gyrocopter training establishment. I had received the instructors card from my mechanic last July during my plane’s annual and after several failed scheduling attempts finally found a time that worked for both of us. I have no experience with gyrocopters save for my Embry Riddle rotorcraft grad class and a paper I wrote on gyrocopters. I also have an RC gyrocopter that has been sitting in a box in the garage unassembled for years.

Click here to view these pictures larger

We started with about an hour of ground which went into a level of detail which was probably too much for a discovery flight but was the none the less interesting even if I would probably forget most of it. The one thing I took away was never ever push the stick forward quickly. If you do that in a gyrocopter it unloads the blades and immediately stops flying and the worst part there is no recovery from it, period. Note to self, don’t do that. We went out to the Gyro for an orientation. This thing looked like a spaceship, open cockpit, tandem seating, beautiful dark blue paint, and a rotax engine in a pusher configuration. The actual make and model of this gyro is an AUTO GYRO MTOSport. For this flight I sat in the back and was told subsequent flights would have me up front. I was not allowed to GoPro the flight which was a real bummer, she was afraid it would fly into the pusher prop. We rolled out to the hold short line and engaged the prerotor which gets the usually free spinning rotor a nice headstart. Rolling onto the runway we disengaged the pre rotor and began our takeoff roll, now the air was going to keep those blades turning, faster and faster. We came off the ground easily and started climbing away. I’m actually afraid of heights but have never really had any issue while in an aircraft but this open cockpit and slow speed really gave the impression of standing on top of a building. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to do this but fortunately the feeling subsided before we had even completed one pattern.

Well I've seen a slip/skid indicator on planes, a yaw string on gliders, I never have I actually felt the relative wind on me. Today I did. If you feel the wind step in it was what my instructor told me. Sure enough a deflection of the pedals was met by a very strong wind on the opposite shoulder. Wow, this was being one with the environment. I've often told me students to visualize the air as water in a river. Today I felt the wind first hand , with so little mass every gust, shear, and even rolling like riding a wave at the ocean was felt. It was a level of connection with the outside air that I have never experienced before. We did a touch-n-go and then headed out to the practice area where we practiced straight and level, turns, descents, climbs, and even turns around the point. She demonstrated a vertical descent with zero airspeed, it was like riding an invisible elevator to the ground.This was a very different experience in flying for me and brought back the wow factor that has somewhat faded with the years. Returning to the field the instructor demonstrated a couple of power off 180s before finally completing a full stop.

After the experience I'm on the fence if this is something I want to pursue. I might head out to El Mirage in September for the annual fly-in and see what it is all about. Unlike helicopters this is actually doable for having some fun a used gyro is relatively inexpensive and a sport gyro endorsement can be had in as little as 20 hours. The timing is not right for now but maybe later. I have the ATP training next month and then glider commercial and CFI-G on the front burner but I always want to be learning and growing so maybe after all that it will fit the schedule.

[February 8, 2016]
Santa Monica and Catalina Island

Another 7 hour x-c with a commercial student and we are headed back to Southern California in a Cessna 182RG, my third trip in almost as many months. This time we file IFR so to avoid the headache of the busy LA airspace. We get cleared for the for approach without issue but it's a CAVU day and the visual is much easier for landing on RW21. Unlike my last visit here, this time we perform a full stop, my student wants to see the beach and the Santa Monica pier. This works for me as I have never been to the pier. We park at American Flyers, the flight school, they have cheap self serve gas and no ramp fee. Uber gets us to the pier where we buy some overpriced snacks and hit the beach. Yes it's February but the temperature is unseasonably high, mid 80’s. The seagulls are so aggressive they steal the funonions out of my student’s backpack.

Our next stop will be Catalina Island, looking at the sectional I can't find a descent route that will keep us out of the nearby LAX Class B airspace. I ask one of the local pilots for help and he briefs me on the Santa Monica “mini route.” This departure involves taking off RW21 making a slight left turn 10 degrees, then flying over the golf course (the same one Harrison Ford crashed landed on in his PT-22), direct to the shore line and then wide right 270 degree turn over the pier and back over the Santa Monica VOR at 2500 feet then direct to LUM where LA tower picks you up for a transition over LAX from north to south over the east end of the runways. We certainly had our hands full with this one. My student concentrated on flying and I worked the radios. We executed it without issue and got a real treat while crossing over the top of LAX. An Airbus A380 was on takeoff from runway 25L and we were in the perfect position to watch this behemoth of the air take flight. I kicked myself for not bringing the 300mm lens and my Cannon camera. Past LAX we were out of class B airspace so LA dumped us and we scrambled to pick up flight following from whoever would have us, first Hawthorne tower then SoCal approach. We headed east out over the pacific climbing to 6500 feet. I had brought a couple life preservers just to be on the safe side but fortunately we never needed them. Absolute perfect weather dominated the area unlike the last visit when low marine layer caused a visit to Catalina to be out of the question. This was my second flight into Catalina, Carson and I had made the trip in 044 on what was really the precursor to the Great American Cross Countries back in 2013. With no reported traffic in the area we started a right downwind for 22. The fact that the runway sits on the top of a mountain played a part in causing my student to fly a too high approach which created a need to slip which was too fast which lead to floating, the landing was so long I had contemplated making him go around but he got it down and I got on the brakes hard. I had no plans of going off the other end. I don't consider Avalon a short runway but short is a relative term to a student who has only landed at 5000+ runways. There was no wind today so the approach path should have been normal at about 3 degrees, in a stiffer wind I would advocate coming in slightly high to avoid any downdrafts at the threshold but even a short field landing can be done at a high approach angle as long as the energy level is closely managed. After some overpriced burgers and me buying at least two or three things that had an airplane on it from the gift shop we loaded up for the long almost four hour drone back to Douglas, AZ.

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[February 7, 2016]
Carson's First Solo

Today was a super Sunday not for the fact that it was the Super Bowl but because it was the day that Carson completed his first solo flight in a glider.  At 14 years he has completed this major milestone in any budding aviators life at the minimum age allowed by the FAA.  It was one year in the making and should have actually occurred two weeks ago had the weather cooperated.  We had joined the glider club back in January 2015 but it took almost six months before Carson was able to train with his instructor on a consistent basis.  Since I don’t hold a CFI-G (yet) I could not be involved in his flight training.  Since last December training picked up in pace dramatically with over 12 flights in a two month span.  Carson’s instructor could see he had command over his ship, a Schweizer 2-33, good winch launches, efficient glides, and beautiful landings.  The time had come and there was no doubt in anyone's mind of this fact.

We arrived early at the field to ensure Carson would be first on the tow list.  The orange Schweizer was in the coral so we busied ourselves with pulling off its many protective covers and preflighting which consisted of verifying all the castles bolts and cotter pins were in place, the cotter pins ensure no possibility of a bolt backing out.  The Schweizer is over 40 years old and she showed every bit of her age having to bear the Arizona sun for so many years.  Her orange paint was faded, chipped and cracked in various places with unpainted repair work creating unsightly blotches across her fuselage.  Despite cosmetic defects this glider was airworthy and stout, Schweizer had built the 2-33 like a tank, over engineered with beefy lift struts and a tubular frame covered in fabric.  While the fuselage was fabric the wings are metal.  All control arms and torque rods are thick and strong.  I could trust this aircraft with my son.  I inspected the aircraft closer than usual looking for any hint of something being out of place or just not right, but I found nothing.  If the 2-33 could talk it would have probably told us of the many days like today when it had taken its rider up for a noteworthy and memorable flights whether that was a first solo or a check ride for a new certificate.  It stood ready for the task at hand as long as it's rider showed skill and finesse with its stick and rudders.  Carson had plenty of time to think about this day having been delayed by two weeks.  If he was nervous he did not show it or at least admit to it.  I was nervous, the emotions are mixed, excitement for him, nervous and bit scared about allowing him to go into harm's way, after all there is some level of risk involved every time we take flight.  Flight is about harnessing energy and energy is not the friend of human beings when we lose control of it.

His first flight would be with his instructor, just to make sure nothing had been forgotten in two weeks. If all looked well he would go up on his own.  The winch launch went off without issue.  Carson circled and then returned for a landing on runway three.  It was show time.  I mounted a couple of gopros in the cockpit, the days of just remembering your first solo are long gone.  Carson would be able to relive this flight in high definition many many times over.  I told him no matter what happened to fall back on his training, gave him a kiss on the forehead and told him I loved him.  Christina kept her distance, anxious, excited, and worried all in one.  I took up position on the tail, his instructor hooked up the winch cable to the glider.  At this point the glider is a loaded gun, if the winch starts the glider is going regardless of if the pilot is ready or anything lies in its path.  Carson radios the winch operator “2-33 is wings level, area is clear, one on board, ready for tow at 55.”  Five five was the airspeed he would be towed at.
The winch came back over the radio with a crackle “okay no delay.”  The tow line snapped taut and with a mighty lurch the glider began to accelerate quickly from a stand still to 55.  Carson was airborne in only a few hundred feet, he pitched for a shallow climb angle allowing the glider to accelerate to a safe speed while climbing slowly and safely to 200 hundred feet.  At  200 feet he has the energy, both kinetic and potential, to recover from a line break and can now increase his climb angle dramatically. The line holds steady and the climb increases quickly, the most dangerous portion of the flight is now behind him.  At the top of the climb the winch operator should prompt Carson to level off, at this point he will push the nose of the glider over and release the tow line, but the radio call never comes.  Carson feels the glider slowing as he goes over the top of the winch, a sudden “ping” is heard as the safety mechanism does its job and releases the tow automatically.  He pulls the release for good measure and starts a slow turn to the right to identify the drogue parachute.   With the single abnormality behind him he now just needs to get back down and he is the only one who can do that.  He positions himself abeam of runway three and does one perfectly circular turn to the left before beginning his approach.  Seeing he is high he deploys the spoilers and starts a forward slip.  The altitude is shedded quickly, with plenty of runway still in front of him he secures the spoilers and flys the glider just a foot off the ground for what seems like a mile.

Now much closer to his start point he puts the glider down on its single centerline wheel and balances it skillfully with stick and rudder.  The Schweizer noses forward onto the skid creating a cacophony within the confines of the cockpit and Carson brings it to a halt only a hundred feet from where he started.  This makes for an easy recovery for the ground crew.  I'm the first to congratulate him but he gives the appearance that it was not a big deal.  I guess when you have logged over a hundred hours of dual flight time finally getting to prove you know how to fly by yourself is a non-event, but I know this is a massive milestone and the first of many successes to come for him.  We talk about the incident with the winch operator and radio outage. He tells me he knew something was not right but heard the tow release automatically.  We head back to the glider shack where his instructor performs the long observed tradition of cutting the shirt tail.  It's all in a day's flying for Carson, his mind is already on bigger and better things and he can't wait to start building his solo time.  I'm proud of his flying skills, gliders are the absolute best for learning the art and essence of flying.  He has such a solid flying foundation in stick and rudder that little if anything from the training syllabus for private to CFI will be a challenge for him.  I think he will gravitate toward aerobatics eventually to keep himself challenged.  You may think I am getting a little ahead of myself, absolutely not, I've trained enough to people to know the indicators of success and Carson has them all in spades. I may not achieve my flying dreams but Carson will and I will do whatever I have to to ensure his success.


[January 26, 2016]
Multi-engine Current Again

The Baron is finally out of the shop after what felt like forever.  I decided to use my proficiency hour to regain currency and take a quick solo cross country flight out to Wilcox and back.  I was able to travel the 50 miles, shoot a full stop landing, and return in less than 45 minutes, clocking ground speeds of over 200 knots.  This gave me some time to shoot a few more landings.  While I was behind the aircraft in the first half of the flight I was right back in the saddle the second half which is a good thing considering my ATP checkride is quickly approaching.  The Baron is not intimidating to me as it initial once was, after all its just another airplane.  I'll be flying the Baron a few more times before March.  I've been tagged to teach the multi-engine ground school this semester, and for the first time since I have been here we actually have a multi-engine student.  I'm not the one teaching him but I understand we have several more students who want the training so the chances of me exercising my MEI are increasing rapidly.  I look forward to that new challenge if it should occur.

[January 1, 2016]
A Look Back at 2015

2015 has slipped into history and it is time to reflect. This year marked ten years of flying for me, a decade has gone by and fortunately I have no regrets. I feel I have made as much of that ten years as can be reasonably expected, my only regret will be not getting started earlier in life, thought 35 was certainly not late. So what did I get accomplished in 2015? The year started off with joining the Prescott Soaring Society with the specific intent of starting Carson’s glider training in preparation for his quickly approaching 14th birthday. Integration into the club was slow with starts and stops and then the tragic accident of one of its members. By the Fall however the kinks were worked out and Carson was logging double digit launches by December. 2015 was also the year Carson would have his “ah-ha” moment with flying, probably due to his glider training, he would be consistently handling any powered airplane you put in front of him with a landing consistency rarely seen in student pilots. Early in the year I passed the 1500 hour milestone and came very close to the 2000 hour mark by the end of the year. With nearly four years of flight instruction experience under my belt 2015 became the year of acknowledgement as to my arrival in the profession. I earned NAFI’s Associate Master Instructor accreditation in February, the FAA’s Gold Seal Instructor designation in September and AOPA’s Flight Instructor Honor Roll award in October.

The year was also my first attempt at exploring other employment opportunities within aviation. I interviewed with Embry-Riddle, CTC, and Ameriflight. Two of the three employers wanted me but I would inevitably pass on the opportunities for various reasons. The experience did give me invaluable insight into the industry and its hiring practices. I sometimes wonder if I am Richard Dreyfuss in the movie “Mr Holland’s Opus” each day I allow to pass in my current position. Is this my calling? This job certainly impacts the lives of other pilots hopefully enabling them to achieve their own dreams and aspirations. It’s important to remind ourselves that it is not all about us, what we do for others is truly our lasting legacy.

I added a few new states and two new countries to my “landed” list this year. GAXC 2 was the crown jewel of the year as it has been for the last two. With GAXC 2 as the driver Carson and I landed in Oregon, Washington, and Canada for the first time. Mexico was added to the list during the Spring. A great spring break excursion to Utah allowed for some fantastic back country flying in 31J. 31J was not without her issues, in September a stuck valve grounded the aircraft for over a month but unlike the last time this occurred I dodged a financial bullet and came out of the whole experience with more knowledge in aircraft maintenance and only a few hundred dollars expended. On the upside I moved into a hangar and finally feel I have arrived in the whole airplane ownership experience. Nothing like seeing your plane as clean as you left it from the last flight.

So to wrap it up, when I look at 2015 as a whole what do I see? I see the beginning of the passing of the torch. Carson came in to his own during this year as an aviator. I see more of my own efforts transitioning from expanding my own experiences to enabling his. I still sit on the fence as to if I want to be a professional instructor or a professional pilot, but to be truthful with you that fire that burned so bright to fly has noticeably dimmed this year, probably a result of age, maybe over exposure? I am realizing that age dims passion, it sounds so disagreeable but we know it is the truth.

Looking forward to 2016. The year will once again center around GAXC-3, this time we are heading to the center of the country and into Canada. I plan on finally achieving the doctorate of flying, the Airline Transport Pilot certificate. I would love to start working on a home built in 2016 but I think I have said that before, so we will see. Carson will solo a glider for the first and I will hopefully add a commercial and instructor certificate to my existing glider private certificate. So ten years under the belt, if Tim circa 1980, could meet me now he would be completely blown away with what has been achieved and that it was conceivable and achievable. All because one day something suddenly clicked and I said, “I’m going to do this.” When I would hear the cliché “follow your dreams and you will achieve them,” I would think "yeah right," but it is very much true. If you dedicate yourself to your goal, all of yourself, you will achieve that goal. Don’t believe me? Just try it. Ten years goes by quicker than you think.


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