A Blog Documenting My Journey from Student Pilot to Airline Transport Pilot And Now My Son's Same Journey
2005 - 2018
['17, '16, '15, '14, '13, '12, '11, '10, '09, '08, '07, '06, '05]
[August 14, 2018]
Safford's Biggest Monsoon Thunderstorm of the Year
Unlike last year the monsoon shows no sign of letting up in August and is in fact intensifying. Today I flew over to Falcon Field in Phoenix for what looked like a milk run since most of the thunderstorm activity was north and around Tucson. In a matter of a few moments Foreflight showed a massive thunderstorm develop directly over Safford. By the time my crew returned from the hospital Safford was under torrential rain and hail. We waited and watched the radar hoping the storm would exhaust itself or move away. It did move slowly west and by 6:30PM thunderstorms were starting to develop in and around Phoenix. I wanted to get flying while we still had daylight and before we were trapped in Phoenix so I picked a couple of alternate airports in case we could not get into Safford and launched eastward. Within 30 miles of Safford the epic size of the storms was visible even in the last light of day. Lightning was everywhere and we passed to the north of it as close as comfortably possible. I slowed down after a few jolts of turbulence. It was now dark and hard to see the perimeter of the storm, I had to now rely on my radar picture. Almost due 15 miles due north of the airport I found my opening and headed directly for the field. A new unanticipated cell had started moving in from the south, it was going to be a race. Lightning was everywhere. Ten miles out I spotted the lights of the airport and started a rapid descent flying directly over the field to start a very close pattern in the flat terrain of the valley. We touched down on a wet runway but avoided almost all the turbulence and precip. The wind was blowing pretty good but that was manageable and almost down the runway. The storm was the worst Safford had seen this year, several roads were washed out and I almost wrecked my car on the way back to the crew house running through rock strewn roads with running water. Everywhere was flooded. I was glad to be on the ground.
Payson Training Retreat
Carson and I retreated to the cooler confines of Payson to spend time preparing for his upcoming checkride. We just beat a thunderstorm to the Payson Airport on the trip out, getting our tent established at the airport camp ground right before rain began to fall. The weather was in the 70s and very comfortable. It has been eight years since we last camped at Payson, just amazing how fast time goes by. That night several major thunderstorms moved through the area but our little tent was able to weather the storms. We flew several training sorties over the course of two days practicing many of the maneuvers that will be required on the checkride. Carson was able to pick them up pretty quick despite not having performed many of them for quite some time. We went down to Grapevine and flew a couple of patterns practicing soft field takeoffs and landings.
[August 7, 2018]
Overheating Problems Solved
For months I have been struggling with high oil temperatures making it next to impossible to use the plane in any temperatures above 90F. I could not figure out the solution. The baffling looked good, I increased oil quantity, I tried the Airwolf Air Chiller, I rerouted the blast tube to the oil filter, nothing worked. I just kept thinking about it and thinking about it until I remembered an article I had read about oversized spinners and oil cooling issues with Cessna 150s. My spinner has been on my plane since I owned it and never been a problem before, how could it be a problem now? The answer was a change that occurred in December last year. That is when the cylinders were changed to Millennium cylinders, these cylinders run hotter and make a little more power. Sure enough my spinner blocked the two small cowl openings by 50%, this along with hotter cylinders was enough to take the oil temp from 210F to 230F and redline the oil. Today we removed the spinner and the problem was solved, that simple. Unfortunately 31J does not look as good without a spinner though legal so I will have to track down the correct size spinner at some point down the line. For now I'm just happy that I can use my plane again and that the fix cost me nothing!
[July 9, 2018]
Arizona monsoon 2018: Dust storm in Phoenix was definitely epic, maybe historic
This occurred on the last day of my shift. I was working nights but Rick the day pilot at our base accepted a flight that took him to Phoenix. He actually flew through to cells from the storm and emerged on the west side just in time to land at Phoenix Sky Harbor. He took this photo.
Story from the local paper:
The massive dust storm that blew through Phoenix on Monday was unquestionably epic, and it may even have been historic.
The haboob at times towered about a mile high and traveled nearly 200 miles, carving a path from the Arizona desert into southeastern California. The average dust storm usually dies out after about 25 or 50 miles. "From what I've heard, it's probably in the top two," National Weather Service meteorologist Bianca Hernandez said. "The storm chasers were saying it was similar to the big one in 2011." Hernandez was referring to the much talked about, massive July 5, 2011, dust storm that seemed to swallow the city. However, she could not say whether Monday's dust storm, which fizzled out near Imperial, Calif., set a record. The dust storm kept going because outflow winds from monsoon thunderstorms kept pushing it along. As thunderstorms die and collapse, downburst winds become outflow winds that push up clouds of dust in the desert. These outflow winds also help new storms develop. Meteorologists were able to track Monday's storm through images of outflow winds on radar. "The storms kept redeveloping," Hernandez said. "They kept producing more downburst winds and more outflows behind it so (the dust storm) kept going."
[June 25-July 4, 2018]
Great American X-C V: The New England States
[June 22, 2018]
First Turbo Commander "Reimagined" Completed
I finally got to test fly our new panel overhauled Turbo Commander this afternoon. After five months in the avionics shop this new panel set up is going to make flying in weather and at night a whole lot easier.
[June 13, 2018]
Private Pilot Airplane Knowledge Test Passed
After dedicating a lot of time studying Carson took and passed his airplane knowledge exam with flying colors today at the Westwind test center in Deer Valley. The ASA book was used exclusively for the prep in taking the test. This one was completed two and a half months before his checkride which will greatly alleviate some pressure in the lead up to final preparations. With the exception of instrument flight time, all of the flight training requirements are completed. We only need to focus on the maneuvers. 31J has been taken out of service for a bit while I try to figure out if high oil temps are just a sign of our blistering summer heat or something engine/baffle related.
[June 7, 2018]
Heat Wave & Arrival of the Monsoons?
Blistering summer temps got an early start this year with day time temps in Safford already at a steady 105F. Yesterday we got our first thunderstorms about ten days early for the official start of Monsoon season. Early yesterday morning Carson took 31J for a local solo flight, today he flew another solo cross country to San Carlos Apache (P13), about 60 miles east of here. On Saturday he will fly 80 miles south to Douglas International. This will wrap up his solo cross country work until the checkride. He completed seven solo cross country flights during his training, well above the two required by the FAA. He has a good mastery of navigation and the flight planning process at this point. Today's flight legs were within a few minutes of the calculated ETAs. We have really been hitting the knowledge exam prep hard this week.
[June 1, 2018]
More First for Carson
A very eventful day for Carson, he started the day early by heading down to Glendale where he completed his three towered solo takeoff and landings. His patterns were tight, the landings perfectly two pointed in the exact same spot every time. He makes it looks easy. Even though we got an early start the sun was blistering already at 8 AM. We chose Glendale over our home airport of Deer Valley because it is pretty quiet compared to the insanity of training traffic at Deer Valley. While Carson was doing his patterns only one aircraft departed. Standing on the ramp I noticed an old friend parked near by, Ercoupe 6139C. I had not seen her since leaving Sierra Vista in the Summer of 2013. She has since passed to two different owners, the latest being a student pilot out of Sun City. What a small world. The airport layout at Glendale is also super simple which keeps the anxiety level to a minimum. Later in the day we headed down to Estrella Sailport where Carson flew the 1-26 for about an hour. The thermal energy is incredible now with daytime temps at a 110F already. It is going to be a record breaking summer I'm sure. After the 1-26 flight Carson received a briefing on the Schweitzer 1-36, a single place high performance glider of which there are only 44 ever made. He took the 1-36 up and stayed aloft for over an hour and 20 minutes, enjoying the improved performance on the slick T-tailed ship. This is the second single place glider that he has flown with a ground briefing only and now is his new favorite.
[April 29, 2018]
The week of 10-17 April was one of the busiest flying weeks in the Turbo Commander in a long time. I logged 11.9 hours. The Spring winds have started up a little early this year maybe as a result of a very dry winter but there are few clouds to be had and I'm thankful the ice threat is gone until the end of the year. Several TFRs have popped up around the state for wildfires and I wonder how bad it will be this year as dry as it has been. The fire attack base opened up on the 29th with the arrival of two turbo AgCats. We are still waiting on the completion of our first aircraft to receive a full avionics upgrade. The project which was to take six weeks has stretched into months now. At this rate it will take over a year to upgrade our entire fleet. Mysterious damage to our primary aircraft has us down to just one aircraft in service and me with an entire week of no flying. You have to find ways to pass the time, I did it by planning for the Great American Cross Country which is only a few months away now.
[April 2, 2018]
RC Glider Tow Experiment
I've done a few really cool things with RC aircraft but I think today's experiment which has been 2-3 months in the making was the coolest, aero tow and release of a glider. With me controlling the nitro powered Mach 2 and Carson piloting the KA-8 unpowered glider, I towed him behind about 50 ft of nylon string up to a few hundred feet of altitude. The learning curve was a little steep and exciting at times but by the end of a two day period we had it down and Carson flew the glider for over 15 minutes after releasing on the final flight. The other cool RC projects? Creating an RC White Knight and launching a SpaceShip One rocket while in flight, scratch building the Flying Witch, and releasing parachute soldiers from a Slowstick.
[March 30, 2018]
Final Long X-C, SAD-LSB-P33-SAD
The PP-ASEL requirements call for 5 hours of solo X-C with one X-C of at least 150NM total distance and landings at three airports. Today Carson embarked on this final X-C requirement, re-covering yesterday's flight path he landed at Lordsburg and then headed back west to Cochise County before returning back to Safford. It went down like clock work, no surprises. Carson has racked up over 10 hours in solo X-C alone, double the requirement. His total PIC time between gliders and airplanes is over 20 hours now. He knows his way around a flight plan now and understands well how the winds aloft affect his flight path and navigation. We are now five months away from the checkride. With Spring winds around the corner powered flight training will take a rest as we switch back to glider flying at Estrella. I definitely want to work cross wind landings on a day when winds are just ridiculous, it is important to build Carson's confidence in this essential pilot skill. Surface winds should be respected but not intimidating to an aviator.
[March 29, 2018]
Fourth Solo Cross Country, SAD to LSB
Carson is spending his spring break with me in Safford this week. The plan is to finish up the cross country requirements for the PP-ASEL cert. and hopefully get some flights in the Turbo Commander. Today is his fourth solo X-C, essentially a dress rehearsal and reconnaissance for his long X-C tomorrow. The weather is cooperating, the Spring winds have not yet arrived in force. His flight took him from Safford to Bowie then eastward along Interstate 10 and into New Mexico where he landed at Lordsburg Muni which we now know is the FIRST municipal airport in the state of New Mexico. From there he retraced his steps back to Safford. His pilotage and map reading skills have really sharpened over the last few months. He is comfortable with a paper map and able to orient himself and identify land marks. I doubt many if any of his peers could do the same in this age of GPS. While he had created a flight plan with courses, he could quickly determine if he was on course just by pilotage alone. I'm always amazed at how precise the flight plans can be with forecasted winds. Carson's flight plan ATAs were within a minute or two of his calculated ETAs. He has learned his way around a manual E6B but his desire for absolute precise solutions has forced me to purchase him an electronic E6B, the ASA CX-3. I'm okay with that as long as he can still find his way around the manual E6B. There is something to be said for learning the old school ways, I've never had my metal E6B overheat or run out of battery juice.
[March 28, 2018]
FAA Written Prep Commences
Tonight we started Carson's prep for the Private Pilot Airplane FAA written. We are using the same tried and true procedure we used to ace (98%) his Private Pilot Glider written. Many of the questions from the glider exam are repeated so progress should be quick. We are targeting the beginning of May to take the test. Carson really wants to achieve a perfect score this time around. I hope he does.
[March 24-26, 2018]
Ski Trip to Brian Head, Utah
After stumbling upon Brian Head during last year's trip to southern Utah we vowed to return and ski the place. Now we are back! The Weather God's smiled on us for this trip, a wonderful 15+ kt tailwind had us landing in Cedar City only two and half hours after departing Phoenix. Non-stop service, nice! We had to deal with some ridiculous surface winds on landing but they were almost down the runway so we could not complain. While the Arizona winter was unusually mild, Utah appeared to fare better. There was plenty of natural snow on the mountain and we did some night skiing on Saturday and skied most of the day on Sunday. We were actually able to fit Carson's skis inside the Cessna 150, amazing airplane. Sunday night at the hotel I was channel surfing and just happened to stumble on the premiere of Kingpin on the History Channel. What were the chances? This was the documentary which had purchased about 8 seconds of in-flight video footage I had shot while flying in the Bahamas just a few months ago. As a matter of fact my Bahamas video footage has made quite a bit of money for me. After watching the show for an hour the video footage came up, wow, I'm famous! It snowed Sunday night and was below freezing still at 11AM on Monday, our planned departure. We stopped at Walmart and bought a dust broom, some black trash bags, and towel for deicing the plane. The plane had about an inch of snow on it, fortunately there was no ice below and it was easy to brush off and dry with the towel. There was no need for the trash bags to melt any ice. We got just as lucky on the flight home with a wind shift now blowing out of the north, not as fast as the trip up but still non-stop.
[March 10, 2018]
Third Solo Cross Country, E63 to P08
With four hours of solo x-c time under his belt Carson departed on his third solo cross country today. This one was a basic straight shot from Gila Bend to Coolidge but it provided a change in scenery and a little bit busier airspace. On the way down to Gila Bend we continued to whittle away at the instrument training requirement with today's focus recovery from unusual attitudes. One of the things I observed during my time as a full time instructor was the student's inability make full control wheel deflections when the situation required them, such as an unusual attitude. As I dug deeper into this phenomena I realized this was a result of the students training. The training envelope is so small and so padded from the edges that a student comes to believe that anything beyond a slight control wheel deflection is in fact full control wheel deflection. They have never been to the stops in their training so in a real world emergency they will only deflect to the limits of their training which sadly will not be nearly enough leading to loss of control. There are plenty of documented cases of this especially with wake turbulence encounters where full deflection would have saved the day. Instructors are primarily to blame for this. I have observed instructors put students in unusual attitudes so benign that really no control action would result in a recovery. This only reinforces to the student that slight deflections will always be enough to save the day. I have also found this an issue in spin training where an incipient spin only requires slight rudder deflection to stop the rotation where as a fully developed spin will require full deflection. I make it very clear to the student that rudder to the stops should always be the input required. This issue is another reason why I always highly recommend that every pilot take an intro aerobatics course to explore the edges of the envelope and break the muscle memory of slight control deflection. The other issue with UA training is that it is done at altitude for obvious safety reasons but the student comes away from the training thinking they have plenty of time to level those wings and pull out of that dive. When a student pulls me out of a nose low UA and I don't feel any G loading, they are doing it wrong and wasting precious altitude that may be the difference between living and lawn darting. What must be made very clear to them is that UAs can occur close to the ground, if you lose control in the clouds most likely your coming out of them at low altitude pointed directly at the ground. Every second and every foot counts. You have two choices: 100% crash or roll the dice, potentially over G the airplane pulling out and live or rip the wings off and crash anyway. Well I personally am going to roll the dice on those odds. So in my training you get a real UA set up 20-30 degree of nose up or down pitch and 45-50 of bank. If you are nose down that control stick better go to the stops to roll the planes wings level because you can't start pulling until that has been achieved. Once wings are level the pull better be hard enough to experience at least 2Gs in the seat. For a student who has never experienced more than 1G, 2G can be uncomfortable but it is enough to get the point across and safe enough to be well within the load limits of a GA aircraft. And again the instructor must make clear that in a real world situation you may have to pull well beyond the load limit of the aircraft and end up somewhere between the POH limit and the ultimate load limit. I'd rather have a bent airplane that now belongs to the insurance company than a dead pilot. They made 24,000 Cessna 150-152s, they only made one of you. The plane can be replaced, you can't, pull like your life depends on it.
[March 8, 2018]
Making the Switch to MOGAS
Finding a source of ethanol free gas has been the only thing holding me back from switching to MOGAS. Well I finally found a station that sells 87 octane "clear gas" 70 miles from the house and decided it was time to pull the trigger on purchasing the STC.
[February 25, 2018]
Second Solo Cross Country, E63 to E25
[February 24, 2018]
First Solo Cross Country, E63 to E25
[February 9, 2018]
Night Cross Country Training
In my training syllabus I like to complete the night X-C prior to sending a student on their first solo X-C because it gives them one more iteration to practice the tasks required to be successful. Some instructors will save night training for after the solo X-Cs are completed. As I see it, if the student can be successful completing a X-C in the more demanding and difficult night environment than a day X-C will be a cinch. Our night X-C was planned to depart Deer Valley, navigate the VFR fly way south past Phoenix Sky Harbor, fly southeast to Tucson, conduct pattern work at Tucson, a towered Class C airport, head to nearby Ryan to experience a "black hole" airport and then return to Deer Valley using the VFR transition over Sky Harbor. A long list of tasks and lots of new experiences especially with ATC.
While the weather was perfect for the flight, no clouds, light winds, there would be no moon illumination, pitch black. So as far as night experience this would be graduate work. Minus inclement weather night flying it does not get harder. A full moon in Arizona is like flying in the day time, the desert illuminates that well. Since there is no solo night flight time required prior to achieving the pilot certificate I advise my students to "tip toe into the deep end" of the night flying experience when they first venture out on their own. This is my same advice for first time instrument pilots. First time out, go at dusk when there is a full moon. Later flights, go out when the moon is 50% over well lit terrain. As the experience bucket fills go out in less and less illum until you achieve total darkness. Your instrument skills should be well practiced before launching into pitch black over featureless unlit terrain. In many countries an instrument rating is required to fly at night regardless of the weather. No matter how great the conditions there is increased risk with flying single engine airplanes at night. I have many tools for mitigating this risk to almost daytime levels if one is willing to sacrifice time for the added convenience night flight provides.
Arriving at Tucson we found ourselves flying a simultaneous approach to parallel runways with a Boeing 737. Carson was sure to start his base to final turn early so as not to spook the 73 pilots. I notice they tend to get a little edgy when they see small planes in the pattern, especially when on base to a parallel runway. We got three good landings in before leaving the brightly lit environ of Tucson for the blackness of Ryan only some 20 miles to the west. Ryan has two runways as well and they were being worked out by a couple of military helicopters. I like to take students to Ryan because it is a close representation of a black hole airport. Very few lights around the airport just the lit outline of a runway floating in the inky darkness. In my observation of students at night they almost always fly too low of an approach at night. Not what you want to do when you can't see what is out there to bite you. If anything you want a high approach and land long if you have to. And you NEVER want to fly a straight in approach as this will almost always lead to being too low. I had explained this to Carson in ground school and he must have vowed it would not happen to him as he started his base to final in close and high. Fully configured with flaps at 30 he started the elevator descent down to the runway and touched down at the 1000' ft mark without even slipping. There could have been a 100 foot building at the edge of the runway and he would have cleared it by a country mile. Just fantastic, I was impressed. I always found it amusing that no matter how many times you pre-warned a student about typical mistakes made during a maneuver they would inevitably make the same mistakes, even though you warned them! Not Carson, nope! He listens carefully and mentally tags the important stuff to be utilized performing a task he has no prior experience with, a great skill for an aviator to have.
[January 28, 2018]
More Solo Pattern Work
Today Carson flew solo at Wickenburg the other airport in his upcoming first solo cross country. Wickenburg is a little more challenging than Gila Bend. It had a sloped runway, with the upslope heading right into a hill. This set-up could easily trap an unwary aviator who visits the airport on a high density altitude day. This is an airport where I would land uphill and takeoff downhill it up to a 10kt tailwind. Carson runs through three laps with almost textbook two point landing attitudes, the nosewheel held well above the runway on touchdown and then gently lowered.
[January 25, 2018]
Solo Once Again
Carson renewed his solo endorsement today at Gila Bend and did three laps in the pattern. It was close to sunset by the time we had finished our dual flight and he was ready to go. The weather was perfect, the winds calm. Just the absolute perfect conditions for a student to fly solo in or for anyone to take flight and truly enjoy the experience. We completed a dual instruction night flight over the bright lights of metro Phoenix on our way back to our home drome of Deer Valley. An excellent prelude into our next phase of training, the night cross country.
[January 20, 2018]
X-Country Training Begins
I spent Saturday kicking off X-C training with Carson in 31J. His first short X-C will be from Wickenburg to Gila Bend so we got familiar with the two airports and the terrain in between. The main focus was on pilotage and dead reckoning. The GPS was turned off for the flight. We did a little bit of electronic navigation with a VOR to back up the other two forms of navigation. It was Carson's first flight in 31J in four and a half months and he needed to get reacquainted with the plane after such a long layoff. He did a really good job flying headings and altitudes and before long he was back in the rhythm of flying patterns and shooting landings. Next week we will do some more ground school on x-c planning and then head back to Wickenburg for more pattern work and local solo time.
[January 8, 2018]
Amazing Weather, Little Flying
Since the beginning of October the weather has been nothing short of beautiful in Arizona. Little wind, no rain, and few clouds over a stretch of three months. Unfortunately there has been little flying of the Turbo Commander and until recently no flying in the 150 due to all the maintenance issues being resolved. Only 14 hours in October, six in November, and ten in October. I'll go days without a flight and have even gone entire weeks without a call. I believe it is my lowest three-month hourly flying total since 2009. What a shame. With the lull I have returned in a big way to RC flying. I just purchased a beautiful PT-17 from Eflite that I have been enjoying lately. I have also worked out all the gremlins in Carson's two year old A6M Zero and it is a sweet ride. We are also starting to dabble in the world of FPV which stands for First Person Video. An onboard camera and VR glasses let you fly the plane as if you were in it. Carson really enjoys this. You can check out photos of all our planes by clicking on the RC link in the left navigation window on this site.
[January 4, 2018]
Back to the Shop
31J went back to the shop today for work on some additional squawks, none having to do with her new engine. The list includes new motor mounts, new tachometer, nose wheel rebuild, and a replacement transponder. Some of the work that needs to be done was addressed by other mechanics previously last year. This is frustrating when you pay to have something fixed and its not fixed properly. It is really hard to find a good aircraft mechanic these days. I'm sticking with the one I have now forever.
[December 31, 2017]
2017 Year In Review
Happy New Year. Time is running away from me. My work schedule of seven on, seven off seems to accelerate life. With more time on my hands than ever I have no excuse for the limited number of blog posts made during 2017. It was not from a lack of experiences that is for sure. I'll try to do 2017 a little more justice as I take a moment to look back at the year in review.
2017 was many things, it was certainly a year of change, it had some real high points, and a few lows. It was the year I finally achieved my goal of flying professionally in a non-instructional role as a MEDEVAC pilot flying the Rockwell Turbo Commander 690B. This job alone had a steep learning curve relative to my flying experiences up to that point. It was the year Carson became a certificated pilot, which alone would have made the year a major success. It was the year of serious maintenance struggles with 31J, and despite these issues we were still able to complete several cross country adventures trouble free. It was the year where I finally decided that building my own airplane was not for me. So let's go back into 2017 one more time and close this chapter in my life and determine what goals should be made for the future and 2018.
Just after leaving flight instruction full time I achieved the pinnacle of my endeavors as an instructor by being named the FAA Flight Instructor of the Year for Arizona. It felt like the culmination of all my efforts over the previous three years. This proved to me that it was time to go find a new challenge, which my new flying job certainly was going to keep that growth as a pilot going.
The year started with a brand new job flying the Turbo Commander as a MEDEVAC pilot based out of Safford. I entered this job with no turbine time experience and very little weather flying experience. I entered into the world of single pilot IFR operations in the dead of a fairly active Arizona winter and the experience was stressful. Again this is all relative to my experience, I'm not saying Arizona winters are tough compared to say Montana or Colorado, but when you are flying in ice filled clouds and shooting approaches at night in snow it is extremely nerve racking if you have never done it before. Unlike instructing the decision not to fly due to weather was no longer black and white. If you declined a flight it would have to be for very good reasons such as snow storm, 40 knot surface winds, etc. These conditions did occur but often times they were not to that level meaning you had better go. It was a long winter that felt like it lasted forever, finally giving way to Spring in March and the ridiculous winds that are the hallmark of Spring in Arizona. Of course I'll take winds over ice and low ceilings any day. The monsoon season was another stressful period but thankfully it was a very mild monsoon allowing me to gain experience dealing with thunderstorms. The fall was absolutely incredible this year, beautiful weather, light winds, blue skies, cool temps and very little flying both personal and professional. I watched many pilots come and go in my first year in the job. The other pilot in my training class left in August. Every pilot at my base left but two came back. One new hire only lasted a few months. I hung in there and persevered, slowly gaining experience and confidence. I quickly moved up the seniority ladder with so many personnel movements and became the base lead pilot by mid-year. We had a few pilots hired during the year who came from the regional airlines. I spoke with them about their experience and none of it was good. These conversations were enough for me to finally decide to lay to rest the idea of one day being an airline pilot. I had missed the window of opportunity for such a flying career; it would be too difficult to take so many steps backward as far as lifestyle and pay at this point in my life. My future in flying became clearer throughout the year, starting my own flight school was probably the way I needed to go. By the end of the year I was feeling pretty confortable. The amount of hours I flew dropped off from previous years but that was to be expected.
Maintenance issues plagued 31J all year long. From my calculations the plane was down almost 50% of the year. It started in January with tail noise heard during run-up. It turned out to be loose bolts on the tail attach points. It was "repaired" in March and we were able to fly it to Utah and up to San Francisco as well as Carsonís first solo during the intervening months before it went into annual at the end of September. This year's annual was the worst experience Iíve had since 044ís annual in Chandler. I tried a new mechanic but it turned out to be a bad decision. He approached the annual as a restoration with money as no issue. Two months later I had to get a ferry permit to get the airplane back to a trusted mechanic. But the damage had been done and an entire top overhaul was required. Even more frustrating was repairs completed during the year including the tail attach bolts all had to be re-repaired. Unforecasted maintenance is frustrating, but even more frustrating is paying for repairs that are not completed correctly and having to have it redone. It was not until the end of December that 31J was back and I must say it felt like a new airplane. After an hour of flying I realized that 31J original engine had been a poor performer for as long as I could remember. The best I could get in indicated cruise was usually 90 MPH with a slight one or two degree nose up attitude just to maintain altitude. Climbs were always anemic at 100-200fpm. Now I was indicating 105mph with powerful 500fpm climbs. The close call in Show Low on takeoff back in February and the struggle to maintain altitude on the way home from Utah in April made total sense now. The hours flown on 31J were more as a mode of transportation to and from work this year than excursions as in previous years. There was very little flying for fun as in previous years which I regret. Despite all of the maintenance down time I was still able to fly 115 hours in the little 150.
Cross countries this year included, Utah and northern California. This year's GAXC was not as ambitious as previous years but just as fun taking me and Carson to Northern California for a week. The airplane performed flawlessly, the weather perfect, and we finally got to fly over San Fran Bay Bridge. The next month we were off to Oshkosh and camping on the grounds, something we had not done on past visits. Despite the anticipation Oshkosh was not quite as fun as previous years and while I canít put a figure on why Carson thought it was the camping. I donít foresee returning to Oshkosh any time in the near future. In October we vacationed in Oahu and I get a second chance to fly around the island in a Cessna 172.
I tried my hand for a third time at building an airplane in 2017. This was the most serious attempt after two other aborted attempts. With a master builder on the field at Safford I had the time, the equipment, and the mentor to make this run a success. I started building an RV-8, my dream airplane in April. Learning the skills took some time but by the beginning of June I had completed the vertical stabilizer, by August the rudder, and by the end of September the horizontal stab. In October I came to the realization that building an airplane felt more like work than fun. I started dreading going to the workshop each morning and spent some time thinking hard about if this was something I really wanted to do. The nail in the coffin of course was money and when I realized my estimate to complete the build was $40,000 less than what the master builder estimated. I knew this experience was coming to an end. I paid the builder to finish my elevators and took delivery at the beginning of November. I have no regrets with the whole experience. I learned a tremendous amount about building airplanes and made many new friends along the way. I have something very tangible to show for all the work, a nice set of RV-8 tail feathers. Who knows maybe someday Carson will pick up the ball and run with it and those tail feathers will fly on his RV-8.
The real focus of 2017 was on Carson. He would turn 16 this year and that meant he was eligible to solo an airplane and earn his private pilot glider certificate. We got serious about his glider training in May finally settling on Estrella in south Phoenix as his flight school. In August we buckled down hard on preparing for the written which Carson aced with a 98%. On his birthday he passed his checkride and received his pilot certificate, a few hours later he soloed 31J. Later in the month he took me up in the 2-33 as his first passenger. It would be one of the most memorable and enjoyable flights of my life as we soared side by side with hawks. Carson soloed the SGS 1-26, a single seat glider and one of Neil Armstrongís favorites, for the first time later in the month. 31J went down for maintenance at the end of September which ended any chance of getting Carson more solo time logged before the end of the year.
So in the end 2017 was a success despite some maintenance setbacks. My overall focus on 2018 is on Carson and positioning him as best I can for success in his future by continuing to solidify the foundation that we have been building for many years. We will focus on preparing for passing his ASEL private pilot checkride and building lots of solo PIC time. I would also very much like to get back to weekend x-c flights around the state in 31J. Those have fallen off in recent years. I want to get checked out in a glider at Estrella so I can soar side by side with Carson next Summer. Hopefully flying at work will pick up and I will achieve 250 hours of twin turbine time. GAXC5 planning is also in the works, destination: northeast United States. This will give us a chance to mark off a few more states that we have landed a plane in. Finally itís time to start growing my own flight instruction business, Flying Wild AZ. Long term I would love to have a father and son flight instruction/ferry/charter business with a small fleet of aircraft including good Ďole 31J, maybe a J-3 Cub for tailwheel, a Piper Apache for multi/ATP, a Super Cub with fat tires for bush training with a set of floats stashed nearby for sea plane training. Our local airport transportation will be a beautifully restored red 1950ís red Chevy pickup and a Willys Jeep decked out in WW2 markings. Next door will be a little diner we will call the Greasy Spoon serving all the black coffee you can stomach and juicy hamburgers and fries that will literally make your heart stop. The inside of our office display all of our flying posters we have collected over the years and Carsonís impressive collection of model planes. I can see it clear as day in my mindÖ..now just to make it a reality. On my desk sits a Christmas gift from my daughter, itís a Disney figure and on the bottom it reads ďIf you can dream it, you can do it.Ē
[December 21, 2017]
Reunited and it Feels so Good!
I finally received the call that 31J was out of annual and the top overhaul and ready for flight. Boy was I excited to see her again. Iím no stranger to breaking in new cylinders. I had to do it with 044 when she had to have two jugs overhauled for stuck valves. The key is you have to run the piss out of the engine until the rings seat. Baby the airplane and you may have end up creating a giant oil pump. With so much work done on the airplane the chance of something going wrong was higher than normal so the plan of attack was to takeoff and climb over the airport and fly circuits for an hour within gliding distance. If the engine decided to come apart than I had a way out. On takeoff CHT temps were high, probably about 450F and this was expected. Lots of metal on metal as the rings wore against the cylinder walls. What was astonishing was the difference in performance, she was climbing at 500FPM and cruising at 110MPH. I had never seen anything like this on the chrome jugs, ever. I was lucky to get 200fpm and 90mph in cruise. I flew for an hour uneventfully which was good and came back for a landing. I observed no traffic and heard no traffic on the CTAF. As I rolled out on landing I was shocked to see a Cessna 172 flying directly at me. He was about 15 feet off the runway. He sidestepped to my left and flew by me as I called him on the radio. No answer. Wow, that was scary. I never saw this guy coming even though I looked directly down the runway on landing. He never did come up on the radio. Crazy. After shutting down we opened up the cowl and inspected the engine, no leaks, everything in place, things looked good. The next step was to put five more hours on the engine before an oil change and new mineral oil. Most of the metal we were making was going to happen in the first hours so an oil change would keep that level down as we completed the 25 hour break in. I flew 31J back to Safford with just a big smile on my face, I got half a new airplane and it was AWESOME!
[December 17, 2017]
Flightdeck Boeing 737 Experience
We are in Southern California this week making our annual pilgrimage to Disneyland. It was the perfect opportunity to give Carson an early Christmas present by surprising him with a trip to Flightdeck in Anaheim. Flightdeck's web site describes the company as follows: The flight is simulated. The experience is real. EXPERIENCE the thrill of aerial maneuvers at 600 knots and air-to-air combat in an authentic military flight simulator. FEEL what itís like to take the controls of a commercial airliner in our Boeing 737 flight simulator. Guests who are not flying can relax in our Officers Club and watch all the aerial action on large LCD screens. No experience required. Classroom training and in-flight instruction are provided to ensure a challenging aviation-themed adventure that you wonít forget. Open to the general public with special programs for corporate events, team building, private events and parties. Consistently voted as one of the top 10 things to do in Anaheim and Orange County and only 2 miles from DisneylandÖFor Carson I purchased the 30 minute Boeing 737 experience, which would end up lasting almost an hour with a very knowledgeable instructor. The simulator is static, no motion, but the fidelity of the simulation is so good it tricks your mind into thinking you are moving. Carson opted to fly from Princess Juliana Airport down in St Martin and he did a fantastic job taking off, landing, and even flying an approach. Having flown the real Boeing 737 simulator at Continental back in 2012 I can tell you this simulator was on par with its multi-million dollar cousin.
[November 24, 2017]
Very Bad News
So the new annual has not gone well, 31J is very sick, two cylinders are a mess and according to my mechanic the other two are not far behind. These are chrome cylinders which while once all the rage have been mostly abandoned due to issues with quality control in the chroming process. Iíve weighed the options and decided Iím going all in with 31J. She is going to be sticking around for the foreseeable future and Iím investing big time. Iíve decided to purchase four brand new cylinders. A plane upgrade will have to be set aside for now.
[November 1, 2017]
The annual inspection has devolved into a nightmare. I've finally decided on the nuclear option and instructed the mechanic to button up my airplane and certify it safe for a reposition flight to another shop. Getting a ferry permit was not nearly the hassle I imagined it would be. The Scottsdale FSDO was super helpful and needed very little information in order to issue the permit which I had via email in just a few days. Now the hardest and most dangerous part was moving the airplane. The mechanic certified the plane safe for the 40 minute flight but I had very little trust in him. I was going to be prepared for anything. The route of flight was safe for the most part, once out of the valley that the airport was located in I could follow a highway in mostly flat desert all the way to my destination. The trick was getting safely to altitude. I studied Google satellite maps of the departure ends of each runway and identified the safest places to land if I lost the engine after takeoff. Some people will find this funny but I was not taking any chances. I packed leather gloves, a leather jacket, and a motorcycle helmet in my gear. If I crashed I was not going to be knocked unconscious and I was not going to burn. The pick-up of the plane was cordial and civilized despite all of the tension over the previous month. I just wanted to get the airplane out of there. As I rolled for takeoff I anticipated an engine failure so as not to be surprised if it did happen, fortunately it did not happen and the flight over was uneventful. 31J was delivered to a trusted mechanic and the annual inspection process, after a month of wasted effort and resources, was started anew.
[October 30, 2017]
Why Learning to Glide First is the Way to Go
After I added the glider rating to my pilot certificate in 2011 (Feb 2011 Blog link) I became convinced that learning to fly a glider before learning to fly a powered airplane was the most logical progression for a budding aviator. After watching my own son, Carson, progress through training as a glider pilot and the subsequent large improvements in his powered flying I am left with little doubt that gliders are the way to go if you want to be an aviator who is a cut above the common unwashed pilot masses. Here are just a few reasons why getting your glider pilot certificate will make you a far superior pilot all around.
1. Gliding/soaring is the essence of flying. No messy engine to add an infinite number of variables that only block the learning process and mask true aerodynamics. If you want to be trained in the classical sense, gliders are your Bach and Mozart.
2. Gliding teaches you to get in touch with your surrounding environment. You learn how to read where the thermals are, to feel your aircraft, understand the dynamics of wind and its interaction with terrain. You VISUALIZE the ocean of air that your aircraft is traveling through. In over a 1,000 hours of flight instruction I have never seen this skill in powered aircraft students. Do I really need this skill as a powered pilot? I can tell you it has served me incredibly well flying underpowered aircraft in high & hot environments when even maximization of aircraft performance needs a boost from Mother Nature. It has saved my bacon more than once. Charles Lindbergh won air races repeatedly by finding ridge lift to quickly get to altitude while his competition was just slogging along in a brute force climb.
3. Gliders give you a subconscious pitch/attitude awareness at all times. A glider pilot is always aware of his ENERGY state. With no engine you quickly realize that airspeed is controlled by pitch in a glider, gravity is your thrust. This skill translates into a subconscious ability to always ensure the craft's angle of attack is well clear of critical. I've had so many incidents of powered students getting way to slow on the turn from base to final, the dreaded stall/spin zone, that I have lost count. I never see that problem in Carson's flying.
4. Gliding desensitizes you to landing on non-paved runways. One of the great benefits of Carson's glider training is that he has routinely landed on rutty narrow dirt roads and gravel runways. It's no big deal to him. Soft/short field flying in the powered world is a lost art. Very few pilots will ever actually fly into a dirt/grass strip in their flying careers. The first time I took a powered student pilot (commercial student by the way) to a dirt runway to apply soft/short field flying techniques the set-up, approach and attempt at a landing were horrible. I took other students to the strip with the same results. These students were very capable I flying a soft field approach at a paved runway but when it came time to practical application in the real world, the dirt got the better of them. It got into their head and beat them before they even began the approach. Because they had never experienced dirt before, it was unknown to them, there was an element of fear and it affected their flying. So who cares and why does it matter? It matters because some day that fan on the front of the plane may quit and when it does you may have to put your plane down on a narrow dirt road or grass field. If you have never done it before it will be very intimidating and the probability of a positive outcome will be miniscule.
5. While Gliding you are conditioned to always have a landing location picked out. The chances of you landing out are very real all of the time in gliders, especially on a cross country, and with glider pilots "landing out" is really not a big deal. We teach this in the powered world as well but I can assure you that 95% of powered pilots do not do this. So why don't powered pilots always have a landing location on tap? It's due to a thing called NORMALCY BIAS. Our brains our hardwired to assume that things will be predictable and normal all the time. In airplanes that type of thinking will KILL YOU. You have to expect the unexpected. Whenever I'm over water or mountains I'm looking for my way out and if there are no options I try to minimize my exposure time over these environments to the absolute minimum.
6. Glider pilots know what rudder pedals are for and how to use them. Like a J-3 Cub, gliders with their long ailerons are extremely unforgiving on pilots with poor rudder skills. That little yaw string on the front of the canopy quickly teaches new glider pilots that we fly with our hands AND OUR FEET.
7. Glider pilots are experts at forward slips. Again like the J-3 Cub, most gliders do not have flaps. This results in a lot of forward slipping to lose altitude on final approach. The usefulness of a well executed forward slip in a pilot's tool bag of skills cannot be overemphasized.
8. When a powered plane's engine quits glider pilots are in their element not out of it like a non-powered pilot. Successful outcomes are a result of training and preparation. Actively gliding in addition to your powered flight activities is like constant emergency training. A powered pilot who practices an emergency landing once every two years during his/her flight review has very little probability actually pulling one off for real when the shit hits the fan.
I hope these eight points has convinced readers who are contemplating getting into aviation to go the glider route first. If you are already a powered pilot, it's not too late, go get that glider add-on. I guarantee it will make you a better and SAFER pilot all around! Oh by the way, there is one bad habit that you pick up as a glider pilot....you never decide to go around.
[October 10, 2017]
Fall is Here
Morning temperatures are now cool enough to require a jacket in Safford, the best flying season in Arizona has arrived for but a few brief months.
[October 3-7, 2017]
Back to Oahu, Hawaii
[September 25, 2017]
31J into Annual
Flew 31J out to Kearney today so that Roger from Little Flyers can conduct the annual. I'm thinking about pulling the trigger on upgrading to ADS-B after my Narco transponder has been giving me problems recently. The weather is definitely starting to turn to the cooler side now. Mornings in Phoenix are very pleasant.
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