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]
[November 28, 2018]
Carson's High Performance Endorsement
[November 21, 2018]
Exciting Announcements for 2019
Very excited to announce that we will have two Aviation X-C Adventures in 2019.
The Great American X-C 6 will actually occur during Carson's Spring Break next
year. Tentative dates are 16-24 March. We will be flying from
Arizona to Winter Haven, Florida along a southern route in our Cessna 150G,
N3131J. In Winter Haven Carson will be completing his Single Engine
Airplane Float Plane training as well as picking up a tailwheel endorsement.
He will be flying the Piper J-3 Cub for both training events. We also plan
on visiting the Pensacola Naval Aviation Museum along the way. This trip
will allow Carson to build up his PIC X-C time for both his commercial
certificate and instrument rating as well as allow us to pick up the only four
remaining states in the southern US that we have not yet landed an airplane.
Next year will also be the first ever Great European X-C Adventure. We will be heading to Great Britain, France, Germany and a few other countries in July. We will be attending the Flying Legends Air Show at Duxford from 13-14 July. We hope to meet up with our many European fans at this event! More details on this event will be posted at a later time.
For Carson 2019 will be another milestone year, he will adding not only commercial certificates to for airplane but glider as well. He also be adding the instrument rating to his certificate.
Finally 2019 will be the year we launch our own aviation business which will be a "flight training experience" like nothing on the planet. We are not letting the cat out of the bag at this point as far as details, but trust me we are going to be delivering on a very unique aviation adventure for both certificated pilots and those who wish they could fly. Marketing will be on a global scale and we anticipate potential customers will travel from around the world to have this flight experience.
[November 15-19, 2018]
Carson's Commercial Night Training
[October 21-22, 2018]
New Mexico X-C
After having had this trip on the back burner for over a year we finally got to it. Carson needed to build PIC and XC time for his commercial and instrument ratings so what better way to do it. It was a little of a whirlwind trip as it only lasted two days with a single overnight in Albuquerque. Weather was forecast to be pretty nice for the two days, despite all of the activity that had been occurring during this month from Baja hurricanes. We left out of DVT early Sunday and picked up cheap gas in St Johns before heading east to Moriarty, NM just on the east side of Albuquerque. Along the way we got Carson some hood time and even simulated a GPS approach. At Moriarty we had a glider fly just over the top of us as we were on downwind to land. He never spoke on the radio so I assume he didn't have one. Carson spotted the glider by its shadow on the ground. By the time he pointed it out it was flying directly over the top of us. After landing we went over to Sundance Aviation to get Carson a tow and flight in the Grob 103. Moriarty is pretty famous in glider/soaring circles for its great soaring weather. It was featured in the movie Cloud Streets and Rick, the instructor who flew with Carson in the Grob, was the tow pilot for the flight sequences in the movie. From Moriarty we flew back across Albuquerque's Class C to Double Eagle where we would park the plane overnight. That night we saw the movie First Man which chronicled Neil Armstrong's life from the X-15 to the moon landing. While the flight and space sequences were well done the movie was forgettable and a disappointment.
Sunday we drove to the Southwest Soaring Museum which houses the second largest collection of gliders behind the National Soaring Museum in Elmira, NY. It was Carson's first time to the museum and we had the place to ourselves with a private tour by one of the docents. The collection is quite large with more than a few unique gliders and sailplanes. After the museum we started are slow trip westward back to Phoenix. Along the way we had planned a stop at Grant-Milan Airport, about 40 miles west of ABQ. This airport is home to the Western New Mexico Aviation Heritage Museum. The museum includes a fully restored 1929 airway beacon and associated support structures, as well as a concrete arrow. These facilities were the very first airways in the United States, predating even the four course radio range. This particular site was part of the Los Angeles-Amarillo Airway. Once again we had a private tour as I had made special arrangements prior to our visit. Unfortunately our visit had to be cut short because of an approaching thunderstorm. Despite forecast to the contrary one particularly isolated but very large thunderstorm was bearing down on Grant-Milan. Just our luck. When I did not think we could wait any longer we ended our visit and raced back to the plane. The thunderstorm was just a few miles away on the ridgeline to the southwest. As we taxied out rain droplets started to collect on the windscreen of our plane. This was going to be close. Fortunately we had a stiff headwind for takeoff, unfortunately the runway was almost pointed straight into the storm. We had great climb out despite the high altitude of the airport (6500 ft) which allowed us to turn sooner than later and escape the grasp of the storm flying north. We had to fly almost all the way to Gallup to do an end run on the storms and start working our way southwest. Strong headwinds slowed are progress at time to less than 60 knots. Slowly droning our way back home I put Carson under the hood for some instrument flight time. After about 25 minutes the plane started to roll into a bank to the right, I looked over at Carson and he was almost asleep! "Wake up!" I said. He asked me to take the flight controls. I refused and said "what if I were not here, what would you do then, you can't rest your eyes for a second when you are flying!" "I would rest at the FBO if I were by myself" he snapped back. I had him take off the foggles and continue visually to Taylor Airport just north of Show Low. From Grant to Taylor took over two hours of flying. We refueled in Taylor with gas that was $4.30 a gallon, cheap is a relative term. On the last leg home I let Carson take a cat nap before having him fly the descent into Phoenix and the landing at Deer Valley. We were wheels down before sunset. In just two days Carson had logged some ten hours of PIC/X-C time with quite a few neat aviation distractions in between. Now where to next?
[October 8, 2018]
Exploring the Volcano on the Big Island of Hawaii
[October 1, 2018]
Passing 3000 Hours
Today I surpassed the 3000 hour mark flying the Turbo Commander from Safford to Taylor and then on to Phoenix Sky Harbor. It took 31 months (Feb 2016) to gain 1000 hours, much slower pace than back when I was instructing full time.
[October 1-23, 2018]
Hurricane Season Is Here!
So as if we did not have a bad enough monsoon season this year, we have been continued pummeled in the month of October with residual hurricane fall out from the Baja. This has made the usually enjoyable month of October an absolute stressful nightmare. So not only do we have to deal with thunderstorms but also ice field stratus clouds. I worked a nine day week and I believe it was soggy and overcast for eight of the nine days. Just relentless. We must have broken a rain fall record this year for sure. There was even snow on top of Mount Graham before mid-October this year. Up north near Sunrise and Show Low the first snow fell during the first week of the month. Unheard of. I wonder if this means we are in for a hard winter?
[September 11, 2018]
Monsoon is Over!
I'm back at work this week for the day shift and it appears the monsoon is finally over. The best flying weather season all year is about to begin. While I got over last year with a rather short monsoon season, this year made up for it. Rainfall levels were well above normal with some locations seeing rainfall totals third highest in recorded history. We had multiple haboobs and dust storms as well as some very angry thunderstorms. The largest thunderstorm line stretched from Flagstaff to Tucson. With a little more experience under my belt, this year was not nearly as stressful as last year but there were certainly times of aw and respect for mother nature, okay let me just admit it, it can get downright scary. I'm glad it is over for another year, I'll take ice over thunderstorms any day.
[September 1-2, 2018]
Carson Passes the ASEL Checkride
Very proud of Carson today, took and passed his checkride to add ASEL to his Private Pilot - Glider certificate on his 17th birthday. We spent Saturday out at Marana fine tuning his maneuvers despite very turbulent conditions and an afternoon thunderstorm which we barely made it back to the airport to avoid. We had not spent a lot of time working on short field takeoff and landings much but it only took one demonstration for him to grasp the technique and turn around and fly perfect and beautiful short field approaches that preserved a normal 3 degree approach profile while managing his energy state by flying the wing at a higher angle of attack and using power to manage the descent profile. In my opinion about 80% of pilots do not know how to fly a short field approach. Dragging a plane in at 5 ft above the ground 100 yards before the touch down point is not proper short field technique yet I see it all the time. If I were a DE I would make every short field approach over a 50ft obstacle at the threshold. I've landed at plenty of short fields and I can tell you most will not allow a drag in approach. While I'm bragging on my boy let me just state for the record that he performed his first diversion in flight better than any student I have seen and I've taught quite a few. We had practiced doing them first as a map exercise and then while flying the simulator. The simulator plane was notoriously unstable which required a lot of attention just to keep the greasy side down while trying to work through the worksheet. If you think a diversion is just punching DIRECT TO in the GPS you would be severely mistaken. It is a no GPS, paper chart, worksheet, E6B exercise. It takes time and during that time the plane needs to remain under control, maintaining altitude and situational awareness of current location. The simulator was much more difficult than the real airplane so when Carson did it for the first time in the real plane it was actually easier for him. This demonstration of multi tasking bodes well for Carson's instrument training where multi-tasking is the essential skill required to be mastered. Carson's checkride kicked off at 0630 on Sunday morning and the weather could not have been more perfect. Marana traffic was uncharacteristically light for the day which also was helpful for Carson considering this was an airport he was not super familiar with. So now we are building the road map for the next 18 months, there is so much to be accomplished. You gotta have a plan.
[August 23-24, 2018]
Cirrus Vision Training Center
Feeling a little sheepish today, I fell for a bait and switch from Cirrus of all companies! Back in July I received an email from Cirrus stating they were looking for Vision Jet flight instructors at their training center in Knoxville, Kentucky. I met all of the minimum requirements of flight experience so I sent in my resume. How cool would it be to teach in the Cirrus Vision Jet, really the first successful VLJ? I had first seen the Vision Jet in its prototype state at Oshkosh in 2009. I had written a paper in Embry Riddle about the VLJs. This was a pioneering aircraft, I wanted to be a part of that legacy for GA.
A week later I received a call from the Lead Jet Instructor. We spoke for about 30 minutes on the phone. This lead to a second phone interview with the head of flight training at Cirrus. That interview went very well and I was invited out to Knoxville for an in-person interview on Cirrus' dime. I flew out to Knoxville on Wednesday and was put up in the Hilton which sits next to the Cirrus Vision Training Center at KTYS, McGhee Tyson Airport. The next morning I was in the Cirrus Vision Training Center for my in person interview, which consisted of the Lead Jet Instructor, the Director of Training, and two jet instructors. The interview lasted at least two hours with the Director of Training asking most of the questions. Towards the end of the interview, Rob Haig, the Chief Pilot for Cirrus came in and ask me a few questions. I thought the interview went pretty well. Having done about five interviews before and been on interview boards at Cochise College I had done my homework and was prepared for almost any question asked. Rarely do you get a question that is not on the top 25 list. We had a catered lunch in the lobby of the Vision Center. Afterward I had a flight evaluation in an SR22T G5 with the lead SR22 flight instructor. This is when spidy senses started detecting something was rotten in Denmark. If I am interviewing to be a jet instructor why am I taking an evaluation flight in the SR22, a piston powered airplane? Furthermore, if Cirrus has SR22 instructors in house why are they not just taking those senior instructors to fill their jet instructor vacancies? I know those instructors were probably chomping at the bit to fly the jet. Cirrus has a Level D Cirrus Vision Jet simulator at the center, but I was only given a brief tour of that device. No evaluation in the simulator or the actual jet even though the original telephone discussion hinted that my flight evaluation would be in the jet. I had no experience in the SR22T, only the SR20 so I really had to do some serious homework prep to be ready for that airplane. I spent plenty of time in the sim with Carenado's SR22 to prepare, flying around KTYS and Knoxville. The prep paid off I felt comfortable in a plane I had never flown before in airspace I had never been in before. The eval flight was weird, we took off did some slow flight and then returned to the airport. There was no demonstration of instruction, no approaches, no real maneuvers. As I'm flying the SR22 I'm thinking why are the 22 instructors not trying to get into the jet instructor program (why you should always listen to your own inner voice, right?)? I had a beautiful first time landing in the SR22, it is an awesome aircraft for sure. After the flight, I get a debrief and then get told by the Lead Jet Trainer that I did great and that I needed to start looking for a place to live. A realtor called me later that night at the hotel, Cirrus HR had given him my number. So this is telling me I'm in for sure, right?
The next day I meet with the Lead Jet Instructor again and he is telling me you got this, we are going to make sure you get the salary you want, find a place to live and we will see you in November. He tells me to talk with the family over the weekend and call him on Monday with my decision if I want to work for Cirrus. I fly back to Phoenix Friday night convinced I'm going to be a Cirrus Vision Jet Instructor. On Monday I call the Lead Jet Instructor, he does not answer and texts me back saying he is in the simulator. I text him back and tell him I am on board to come to Cirrus. I don't hear back on Tuesday, On Wednesday morning I get a text to call him. I call him, he explains that he wants me but the "higher ups are concerned you don't have recent flight instructor experience in the last year, we want to bring you on board but we are going to need to start you teaching in the SR22 and then move you to the jet. Would you be interested in doing that?" Now it all became crystal clear to me in that instant. Cirrus did not need Vision Jet instructors, they needed back fill instructors for their piston aircraft. Knoxville, TN probably is not a hot bed for flight instructor talent. Cirrus figured out that attracting talent meant holding out a carrot in the form of the jet and then switching these folks to the piston planes so they could promote from within the ranks to the jet. I will say that at least Cirrus told me up front and did not try to screw me after I already moved to Tennessee, which would have really pissed me off. Of course I balked at that whole offer, "if I want to teach in piston Cirrus aircraft I can do that right here in Scottsdale, down the street from my house" was my response. So the old bait and switch was a disappointment for sure, but I will say it was pretty cool that Cirrus spent about a grand on flying me out to Knoxville, putting me up in a fancy hotel, giving me over an hour of flight time in a very nice SR22T G5, and letting me tour the Vision Center facility. It was a great experience regardless, and I would probably do it again given the opportunity. The only one who lost on this deal was Cirrus.
[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 27, 2018]
Aerobatic Fox Flight
[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."
[July 7, 2018]
Inadvertent Thunderstorm Encounter
Monsoon season showed up late this year but its here now. I've been flying night shift non-stop because we are down to one plane at our three bases. I got called out again in the first hour of my shift as I have in the last three days. Flew up to Show Low to pick up the med crew and patient for transport to Phoenix. You could see a dust storm moving across the south west corner of Phoenix as the sun was just going down when we landed on 7R after a very short approach from the downwind. The weather for the return to Show Low did not look that bad, isolated low intensity thunderstorms where in the area. With no moonlight they were impossible to see with the eye. Between my NEXTRAD WX and radar I still somehow flew through a newly building thunderstorm as a bolt of air to air lightning cut straight across the front of the aircraft so close I could touch it, there was some heavy rain for a moment and some moderate turbulence before we were through it and suddenly the air cleared and there was the airport. It was a scary situation where I just held my breath waiting for the hammer to drop. I flew all night for a total of nine legs and six flight hours over a 14 hour shift. Later the next day while reading Tex Searle's "The Golden Years of Flying" I came across this interesting passage..." if disengagement [from a thunderstorm] is not possible you charge into the vacated black hole caused by the recent lightning discharge before it has a chance to reload. Some of the old ferry crews during WWII practiced this procedure when ambushed by thunderstorms in the mid Pacific, and through the years some even lived to tell about it."
[June 25-July 4, 2018]
Great American X-C V: The New England States
[July 3-4, 2018]
GAXC5 Day 8/9 - Johnson Space Center
Before heading back to Phoenix we did make one additional museum visit to the Johnson Space Center in Greenbelt, MD. It has probably been over 30 years since I last visited the JSC but I remember back in those day, the early 1980s, the center had a heavy Apollo emphasis. It had a huge impact on me as a kid and I recall having a postcard of the Apollo 11 astronauts purchased at the gift store that I kept in the NASA bag for years. I would go home after a visit inspired to build my own rocket and try for the moon. I even designed my own mission patch for the endeavor. It is really amazing how such small life experiences can have such a long and lasting impression on youth. This is why it is so important to share the experience of aviation to as many young people as possible. I can't convey how strong the urge was to fly back then but the closest I ever came was books, museums, and airshows. Unfortunately JSC has completely shed its manned space exploration roots, focusing on satellites and earth science technology. I don't think if I had visited JSC today as a young boy that I would go home inspired to reach for the moon.
With that, GAXC5 was a wrap. Another very successful adventure! So what do we do to follow up on this? Well most likely our next trip will be the Great European X-C! Yes we are going to head to the Old World to explore the many aviation adventures that await! Stay tuned.
[July 2, 2018]
GAXC5 Day 7 - Elmira & National Soaring Museum
Today was all about gliders and soaring. We are in Elmira, NY, essentially the birthplace of soaring in the United States. From NSM web site:
Regarded as the "Soaring Capital of America," in part because of soaring's central role for over 80 years in the social and economic history of the region. The prominence of soaring in Elmira was established with the first thirteen national soaring contests, held here from 1930 to 1946. The Schweizer Aircraft Corporation, headquartered in Elmira, produced over half of all American sailplanes built in the 20th century. At the outbreak of World War II, Elmira was the first site chosen to develop a glider program and train pilots for the war effort. During the 1930s, 40s, and 50s the SSA at times maintained its headquarters in Elmira. The Museum now serves as the official repository of SSA Archives, and the U.S. Soaring Hall of Fame.
We started our visit with a flight in an ASK-21 for Carson. The Harris Hill Soaring Society is an active club with training and glider rides available. Launching from Harris Hill RW 34 the ground falls away very quickly. The towered airport of Elmira Regional can be seen not far off to the northeast. It was another beautiful day and Carson hit it off well with the pilot who was not much older than him. Carson flew the ASK-21 for a few minutes but turned controls back over to the pilot just so he good enjoy the scenery of the rolling green New York countryside.
The museum is not large but it does hold an impressive collection of aircraft. Because of the prominent role that the Schweizer brothers played in Elmira a large amount of space is dedicated to their aircraft which essentially dominated the US market until the advent of glass ships. Because Carson is currently flying Schweizer 1-26 and 1-36 ships, this area of the museum was of particular interest to him. Carson was adamant that we take our time in the museum and read every description. Since this was the only site we were to visit on this day I was happy to oblige him.
On the way out of Elmira we paid a visit to the local cemetery where the famous American write Mark Twain is buried. In front of his headstone visitors had planted several dozen pens and pencils of various sorts as a sign of respect to the famous writer. This brought an end to our time in New York and we started the long drive back to Maryland.
[July 1, 2018]
GAXC5 Day 6 - Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome
The Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome has been on my Bucket List for a long time. The Aerodrome is one of the most unique aviation attractions in the United States. From the Aerodrome website:
"Our founder, Cole Palen, grew up next to a great 1930's Hudson Valley airport dreaming that he would own and fly the machines he saw overhead and spent the rest of his life bringing the vision alive. Starting with six derelict WWI planes, Cole made the Aerodrome into America's first flying museum of antique aircraft and replicas, achieving worldwide fame. He believed, "It isn't an airplane if it doesn't fly," and the non-profit Rhinebeck Aerodrome Museum continues his work of collecting, restoring and exhibiting more than 60 aircraft of the Pioneer, WWI and Golden Ages of aviation. Cole also believed in having fun and presenting his treasures in an accessible way and we continue this tradition. We've been flying, educating and entertaining for six decades." Cole passed away in 1993 but the aerodrome has continued on thanks to the help of many aviation enthusiast.
The Aerodrome is located in Red Hook, NY, not far from our base of operation in Newburgh. The aerodrome consists of four hangars (only one actually climate controlled) of static aircraft and an airfield with several hangars to store the working aircraft. On weekends during the summer the aerodrome puts on an airshow that's absolutely first class. We visited on a Sunday so we got to see the original WWI act. The static display hangars were full of very old and unique aircraft. On this day New York was experiencing a heat wave and the temperature hovered around 100 with an oppressive humidity. The hangars had the smell of airplanes, that oil, leather, and gasoline smell. Most of the aircraft were replicas but even they had aged so much they looked original. Some of the more unique aircraft we saw included A Santos Demont 1909 Demoiselle, a Morane Saulnier "N", Aeronca C-3 Flying Bathtub, lots of old engines (my favorite), Charles Nungesser's original Nieuport 10, Siemens-Schuckert D-III.
Of course the highlight of the trip was the airshow. Harking back to a simpler time this was an airshow in the tradition of the barnstorming days of the 1930s and it absolutely blew away every other airshow I have seen. I saw so many aircraft fly that I had only previously ever seen sitting in a museum. A Curtis Jenny, a Fokker Tri-Plane, an absolutely beautiful German Albatross in blue and white checkerboard Bavarian livery, a Tiger moth. We were even treated to a short hop by a vintage 1910 Hanriot wing warping flyer.
A great documentary on the airfield was released last year called "Destined to Fly." The film does a great job in capturing the magic of this unique aviation attraction. After Rhinebeck we headed east for the four hour drive to Elmira, NY, home of the National Soaring Museum.
[June 30, 2018]
GAXC5 Day 5 - DA-20 X-C Day 2 New York City
The next morning we hiked the mile back to the airport to find skydiving operations in full swing. We quietly made our way back to the Diamond and fired up hopeful that airport management would not notice us as Rhode Island charges both landing and ramp fees at all of their airports. We were airborne exactly at 0900. By the time we were exiting the downwind four different airplanes were taking off or landing at Newport. We had just beat the rush.
We pointed the plane at the Claiborne Pell Newport Bridge which connected Newport to Jamestown Island. Overflying the Naval War College we took up a course to the southwest, destination Block Island. Carson spotted a Mylar balloon heading right for the aircraft and took evasive action. I've encountered balloons like this quite a few times in only 3000 hours of flying so much for big sky little airplane theory. We overflew Narragansett Bay enjoying the same view Charles Lindbergh had 91 years prior at the beginning of his epic transatlantic flight and like him headed into the vast Atlantic Ocean. Unlike Lindbergh we were just going 13 miles off the coast to visit Block Island, RI (KBID). The Carson was now very comfortable with the Diamond and enjoyed flying it so much he said he did not really ever want to go back to the little old 150, but then Carson has never met a plane he didn't like.
Block Island became interesting as we prepared to enter the pattern for RW 10, there was multiple landing and departing traffic. The wind was only three knots but favored RW 28. A Trinidad pilot came up on the CTAF and reported nearing the island intending to land. His radio transmissions became more and more confusing. He began reporting that he would land on runway 1, which did not exist. Then he reported he would enter for right traffic, which the field was designated left traffic. After landing a local Norman Islander taxied out to RW 28. The Trinidad by this time had been corrected on the traffic pattern but continued to call for landing on RW 1. We got behind the Islander and quickly took off on RW 28 before the Trinidad could cause us anymore grief. On the climb out I could see him turning base off at our 3 o'clock despite a Cessna taking off on RW 10 behind us. I warned the Cessna to watch out and then turned my attention to watch out for other inbound traffic. This guy had no business flying if he did not want to do even the basic homework required for visiting a new airfield like studying the airport diagram and knowing the traffic pattern.
From Block Island it was back to the mainland where we did a T&G at the towered field Groton, Connecticut (KGON) on RW 5. Connecticut became the XX state on my landing list. It took only a few minutes to fly to Fishers Island, NY where we did an ocean approach to RW30 at Elizabeth Field (0B8). The runway threshold was less than a hundred yards from the shoreline. We took off from RW 25 which was only 1792 ft long. This was Carson's shortest runway takeoff to date. The runway was a straight trajectory to a low altitude fly-by of Race Rock Lighthouse which looks more like a medieval fortress than a lighthouse.
We now headed to the northeastern tip of Long Island for the 70 mile flight to Farmingdale. My Aunt had lived in North Babylon on Long Island and I spent a few summers there growing up but I had no idea until now just how long of an island it is. The eastern end of the island is sparsely populated and must take hours to get to by car. We flew along the north shore line with Long Island Sound off to our right. The Diamond was cruising along at 130 knots true just 2000ft up. At Northpoint we turned south and contacted Republic tower. They cleared us to land on RW 32. A British Airways Airbus A380 flew high above us on its way to one of the several New York international airports. As we taxied to the FBO we could see the B-29 FiFi running up her big radial engines at the end of RW 19. We chose to visit Republic Airport for its historical significance as well as the American Airpower Museum. The timing of our visit was perfect as the Commerative Air Force was in town for a WWII weekend.
Republic Airport was developed by Sherman Fairchild as the Fairchild Flying Field in East Farmingdale on Long Island, NY in late 1927. Grumman Aircraft Engineering built planes at the airport from 1932 until the spring of 1937. Seversky Aircraft moved there in January 1935 and became Republic Aviation in 1939. Republic built more than 9,000 P-47 Thunderbolts in Farmingdale during World War II and produced over 800 F-105 Thunderchief fighter bombers during the Vietnam Era. Republic Aviation was acquired by the Fairchild-Hiller Corp in 1965. Fairchild went out of business in 1987, and much of its historic Fairchild-Republic factory complex was sold and developed as the Airport Plaza shopping mall.
The museum was only one hangar worth of artifacts. At the back was a C-47 that stills gives rides, a lot of stuff on the Republic and Fairchild manufacturing days. Outside was an A-10, a TBM Avenger, a P-51 and a B-25 along with FiFi and Bucket of Bolts, a C-45 Twin Beech. We got to tour the inside of FiFi. I swear this plane is stalking me. I drove half way across the country to see FiFi fly back in 2010, I thought it might be a once in a lifetime opportunity, boy was I mistaken. After that I ran into FiFi on the ramp at Gateway in Phoenix, at Prescott, at Henderson in Las Vegas and also got to watch her fly with the B-29 Doc at Oshkosh 2017.
It was now time for the main event, flying the Hudson corridor past Manhattan. But before we could we had to answer the question of if it was even going to be possible. The Presidential TFR had made me flip flop my original game plan of flying the corridor from north to south. This actually made way more sense as it would take us closer to our ultimate destination instead of further away. The TFR wording made it clear that flying under the Bravo Airspace was still authorized, what I was unsure of was if I could still fly the VFR transition route which was inside the Bravo Airspace and required an ATC clearance. I had studied the procedures for the transition thoroughly and even practiced flying it in the simulator before the trip, I had not done that for the SFRA exclusion zone. In addition there is no radar services provided in the exclusion zone, you are mixing it up with helicopters and other fixed wing traffic purely using see and avoid. A mid-air collision had occurred a few years ago between two aircraft in the corridor. I wanted to avoid this additional risk by being in the Bravo Airspace under positive control. I wanted to get clarification that we could do this before we launched but it was next to impossible. I called New York TRACON, no answer. I called JFK Tower, no answer. I called Newark Tower, number out of service. Finally I called Flight Service Station and asked the briefer but his answer was clear as mud. Frustrated I looked at Carson and said "we will just have to go out there and ask JFK tower in flight and see what they say, if they say no we will just turn around."
We held short of runway 19 as a P-51 Mustang did a semi-low pass across the field for the museum crowd. Afterward we were cleared for takeoff just before 2PM and headed south towards Jones Beach. We flew at low altitude over the water staying under JFKs Class B airspace. I contacted JFK Tower and asked about flying the transition. The controller was not 100% sure of the procedure but thought aircraft had to be on a flight plan. I said we were not on a flight plan and that we would turn back. I was disappointed. But at that moment the controller told me to hold on a moment while he checked for additional information. We waited, there might just be a chance. He came back and said we would certainly be able to do the exclusion zone flight below Class B, but he was still not sure if the transition route would be available without a flight plan. I decided to continue even though I was not real comfortable with the below Class B route, this was a one-time shot I had to take it. I'm not sure I would ever have this opportunity again. The fact that small private airplanes can fly within a few hundred feet of Manhattan skyscrapers after the events of 9/11 is just amazing to me. The fact that a presidential TFR over the same area also had made an exception to allow pilots to utilize the Hudson Corridor just about floored me. We still live in a great country! The controller with his New York accent was very helpful and accommodating, nothing like the horror stories you hear of New York air traffic controllers. We continued towards the Verrazano Bridge.
The Verrazano Bridge is a staple memory of my childhood. Whenever we would visit my grandmother in Brooklyn we would cross the Verrazano. It was the gateway to a very different world from my suburban Maryland home. I was now approaching it from a very different viewpoint, 1000ft above. I remember watching the Blue Angels perform off Coney Island with my Aunt, now here I was in the same airspace. The moment of truth had arrived, JFK handed me off to Newark Tower. Newark Tower responded with a "cleared north transition." Carson and I let out a collective sigh of relief. We were going to do it!
There was no other traffic in the corridor despite it being a Saturday. I guess the POTUS TFR had scared everyone off. Not us! We flew along the east bank of the Hudson, past the Statue of Liberty, and almost at eye level with the top of Freedom Tower. We flew so close to Freedom Tower (as we were suppose to) that it made Carson nervous. Carson flew the plane, I worked the radios and the cameras. This was a once in a lifetime event, I wanted to ensure it was well documented. We had a GoPro mounted on one wing and a 360 degree virtual reality camera on the other. Heading north we passed Trump Towers, Central Park and Yankee Stadium before overflying the George Washington Bridge. And just as fast as it had begun it was over and we were clear of the Class B heading into much more wooded country north of the city.
On the way back to Orange Co we made a stop at Sullivan County so Carson could mark New Jersey off his state list and to get some less expensive gas. The approach into Sullivan was one of more unique I have seen. Flying around a hill that is just off the extended centerline you start the descent with the hill above you and the trees slipping by just below you. A displaced threshold keeps you above the treeline and powerlines on a road just short of the airport boundary fence.
We landed back at Orange County around 4PM. The flight had been a smashing success. We had achieved every objective, the weather had been perfect, the plane performed flawlessly and every challenge had been overcome in our favor. The trip summary included 665 Nautical Miles flown, eight states visited and 17 airports landed and taken off from. Total HOBBS time was 8.9 hours.
[June 29, 2018]
GAXC5 Day 4 - DA-20 X-C Day 1
We awoke Friday morning in Poughkeepsie to a shallow fog. The weather forecast was for almost perfect conditions, this must be an anomaly. Driving back across the Hudson the fog dissipated and we breathed a collective sigh of relief. It took about 45 minutes to get back to Orange County Airport where we arrived exactly at 0800. The office was open the plane was ready, a good start indeed. We lifted off at 0830 heading north towards the foothills of the Indian Head Wilderness. There were some very scattered clouds at 3500ft, but nothing of concern. Carson took the controls from the right seat and settled down to feeling out the new plane.
Our first stop was just down the road. We were still in New York but I wanted to switch seats with Carson since he would be doing almost all of the flying. It also gave us a chance to affix our GAXC5 logo to the nose of the plane and get the recording cameras positioned. This has been a custom since our very first GAXC flight, with each iteration becoming a little more sophisticated in design. This however was not our airplane so we needed something smaller and less permanent. Now the trip could begin in earnest. We launched northward. The terrain started to rise with gradually increasing hills and valleys.
Our second state to visit was Vermont and interestingly enough the two closest airports on the southern edge of the state were closed. Fortunately I had learned my lesson from Tracy, California on the previous year's GAXC trip and made sure to check NOTAMS before the trip. This is when I discovered the closures but not before we had our logo printed, for this reason DDH (Bennington, VT) appears on the logo as the only airport we did not actually land at. Instead we traveled another 42 NM and landed at KVSF (Hartness State). This required us to fly further north into Vermont than originally planned. The effect on the overall timeline was minimal as our next destination, Concord, New Hampshire was almost on the same latitude as VSF. After Concorde the terrain started to flatten as we moved closer to the coast and the Atlantic Ocean. Maine was the furthest north we would travel and in an effort at efficiency we were landing at the southernmost airport that had fuel and that was Sanford Seaside Regional. By this time it was 11:30 and we had flown for about two and a half hours. With 24 gallon tanks and the engine burning an estimated six gallons an hour this put us just under half a tank, the longest planned leg of our trip. We took on 13.83 gallons of 100LL, not too bad a burn rate. Relatively speaking the boring part of the trip was over, no more flying over forested expanses. Now we would be along the coast, over the Atlantic, and island hopping from here on out. Two yellow inflatable life vests sat behind our heads ready to grab if needed along with a waterproof bag containing our survival kit.
It only took a few minutes after departing SFM to make it to the Atlantic. We now followed the coast line southward at 2500ft. We skirted the east edge of Portsmouth's Class D airspace headed for a tiny airport called Plum Island which is not actually an island but a few miles inland from the coast near the town of Newburyport in Massachusetts. When we were about to start inbound for the field we made a radio call and were advised that model airplanes were flying in the pattern at the airport and would land immediately. This caught me by surprise and so I had Carson fly a left 360 degree turn in order to buy time for the modelers to get their planes back on the ground before we arrived. Plum Island is interesting because runway 28 has been displaced a 1,000ft or more from its original threshold. This was apparently done when the adjacent land was purchased by an individual who did not care for airplanes because he had erected a fence on the property line right across the old runway and had parked various miscellaneous vehicles including a tractor and a bus on the crumbling concrete. Needless to say this would make a very interesting approach for Carson. The other attractive thing about Plum Island was it had a grass cross runway. I wanted Carson to experience taking off on a grass strip before he actually landed on one. The winds worked perfectly in our favor to land on 28 and takeoff on grass runway 14. All the obstacles did not phase Carson and he swooped over the fence clearing it by 10 feet before touching down on RW 28. We taxied over to RW 14, passing a man on a riding mower cutting the grass of the taxiway. I pointed at the runway and gave a thumbs up to ask if the runway was firm and okay to use, he returned the thumbs up, we were good to go. We taxied to the very edge of the runway which was 2300ft long, held the brakes, gave full power, put the stick as far back as it would go and released. The Diamond trundled along, picking up speed much more slowly than when on pavement. The nose wheel finally came up and shortly thereafter we were airborne. Climbing slowly to clear the 30ft trees that sat at the end of the runway. We were once again heading southward.
We flew over Ipswich Bay and the town of Gloucester before heading out over Massachusetts Bay for the longest over water leg of our trip. Boston's Class B made for a potentially large detour southward so we opted to head out over the Atlantic below the 3000ft shelf of the Bravo. It was 40NM transit with the closest land some 12 NM away. Of course this is when you listen to the rhythm of the engine closer than you have ever listened to it before, tuned to just the smallest change in cadence that might indicate and impending engine failure. I only two other times have I had the same experience, while flying to Catalina Island and flying to the Bahamas from Key West. We were headed for the distant north shore of Cape Cod. Far off to the west you could see the skyline of Boston. The sky was blue, , the air smooth and little haziness usually associated with a hot east coast summer day, it was a perfect day for flying.
The shore line of Cape Cod came into view more than 25 miles out. A welcome sight. Our destination was Provincetown, a non-towered field located near the shoreline. The few clouds in the sky centered over the warm land on the Cape just like the Bahamas. As we flew a right downwind parallel to the shoreline a fish spotter flew a few hundred feet over us. He said he was looking for sharks. You could see right down into the clear greenish water below, no shark was going to hide. Fishing boats trolled along the coast line. A quick touch and go on RW 25 with a right crosswind. We fly over Race Point Lighthouse before turning southeast pointing directly at the 250ft granite Pilgrim monument marking the spot where the Pilgrims first landed back in 1620. We follow the Cape to its southern end where we do a landing and takeoff at Chatham, another non-towered field. It's 1:15 PM and time to head out over the water once again to our first real excursion of the day, Nantucket and to get some much needed lunch.
Nantucket is towered and very busy on this Friday afternoon. We make contact with the tower over Great Point Lighthouse and are given a straight in to RW 24. There are at least three planes holding short and the parking area is packed with as many private jets as either of us has ever seen. After searching on foot for the bicycle rental shop which ends up just being a desk behind a hotel we have transportation to get us to the town a few miles away. We had lunch at the Crosswinds Resteraunt located on the airport. This is another tradition of GAXC, eat at least one airport resteraunt. Biking has become somewhat of a tradition on GAXC trips, we did it at Orcas Island and Yellowstone. Fortunately the island has good paved bike paths which keep us away from the congested auto traffic. I had heard that the ferry ride to the island is some three hours. In town we visit the Whaling Museum and dip our feet in the water by the Brant Point lighthouse. I scoop up some sand and shells as is customary anytime I found myself far from home. My collection of sand/dirt bottles in my office spans the northern hemisphere of the globe.
We arrived back at the airport shortly before 6PM and were airborne by 6:30PM despite what appeared to be a mad dash by many aircraft to depart Nantucket. The sun was starting to get lower in the western sky but there was still plenty of daylight, the sun not officially setting until 8:24PM. We were quickly back over water headed for Martha's Vineyard. I wanted Carson to do his first grass landing at a small airfield on the southeastern end of the island called Katama. Katama had a nice little restaurant on the field which sports three grass strips but unfortunately they closed at 2PM on weekdays so there was no way to actually make it work with our schedule. That was probably a good thing because the airfield can be quite busy when the restaurant is open. At this time of the day is was completely quite, we had the place to ourselves. We flew over the field to survey the layout and try to determine the wind. The runways are not much wider than the taxiways so it is difficult with no clearly visible marking to figure out which runway is which. We finally decided on runway 24 which was 2700ft long by 50ft wide. We flew back east over Katama Bay and started a long final approach. Not until we cleared a hedgerow on very short final could we make out the markings that we were in fact lined up with runway 24 and not a taxiway. Carson made an absolutely perfect two point landing, protecting the nose wheel by keeping it off the turf until we had decelerated. The runway was very bumpy as we bounced our way to the end of the runway for back taxiing to the end of 24 for a soft field takeoff takeoff, flying low along the runway before zoom climbing over the shoreline where trucks were parked on the beach. With it being Friday evening I really expected Martha's Vineyard towered airport (KMVY) to be as busy as Nantucket, but it was the exact opposite. Only a solitary departure before our arrival. The tower cleared us for a touch and go on RW 24. We flew past the ramp where there were three large private jets parked but not much else. Maybe Martha's Vineyard is a little more exclusive than Nantucket. MVY was our last airport of the Cape Cod excursion in Massachusetts.
We were now headed back to the main land and our next new state Newport, Rhode Island. Newport would be our final stop for the day. We landed around 7:20PM, no one was around, the main airport office closed. We self-fueled in order to save time in the morning, finding a parking spot was difficult as the ramp was full and every spot had RESERVED or a tail number stenciled on the pavement. We decided to take our chances on an empty RESERVED spot figuring whoever owned it was probably not coming back tonight and would not be back by the time we left in the morning. Pushing the plane we backed it into its parking spot. Just as we were about to stop pushing the plane settled into a seam in the pavement with a thump. I didn't think much of it and felt the plane was far enough into the parking spot that we could keep it there. As I came around to the side of the plane I glanced at the main wheels and mentioned to Carson that they almost looked flat. The seam the plane had settled in was tar, when Carson saw this he instantly recalled a YouTube video of a similar situation where a plane actually had become completely stuck because the soft warm tar cooled overnight and locked the tires to the pavement. Oh this was not good. I knelt down and pushed into the tar with my finger, sure enough it was soft and malleable from the summer sun. We had to get the plane out of this rut but both of us pushing on the plane could not free it. The tires were sinking into the tar giving the appearance that they were going flat. The situation reminded me of a time when me and Carson had flown the Tri-Pacer to Grand Canyon Caverns and got the plane stuck in a small ditch while trying to hand tow it into a small dilapidated hangar. I decided to try starting the plane up and taxi it out of the hole it was sinking into but even at full power I could not extract the plane from the grips of the tar. I was starting to get nervous now, there was no one around who could help us and dealing with the issue in the morning was going to throw our tight schedule into the toilet. I decided to try to use the tail as a lever and try rotating the plane to free one tire which would then allow me to rotate in the opposite direction to free the other tire. Thankfully this worked and a major disaster was averted. We had to hike about a mile (which Carson was not real happy about) to get to a very overpriced Travellodge, but that was a result of our last minute itinerary changes and the fact that it was a Friday night in Newport, a popular tourist destination.
[June 28, 2018]
GAXC5 Day 3 - Wurtsboro and West Point
Thursday dawned rainy and dreary as forecasted almost a week prior. We however were not going to let the day go to waste sitting in our hotel room. We may not be able to fly but we could certainly explore the local attractions in the area. I had researched Randall Field the night before on the internet and found that they gave glider rides only on the weekend however Wurtsboro also gave rides and they were open seven days a week. Very local to our location was Orange County Choppers, made popular by the Discovery Channel reality show that has been on for years. We decided to check out this attraction first. We signed up for the factory tour which gives visitors a behind the scenes look at the fabrication facilities at OC Chopper. Must have been a slow day because Carson and I are the only two on the tour. We get really lucky when Paul Sr emerges from his office to shake our hand and pose for a couple photos. That really made my day.
Afterward we head along country back roads to Wurtsboro Airport. The airport is nestled in a valley, a single paved runway oriented east-west but at least three other turf runways not easily discernable. The weather is marginal at best with virga easily visible in the surrounding hills. The airport looks quite so we head to a small office near the parking lot. Nobody around. In a few minutes a lady appears followed by another gentlemen. We ask about glider flights but the man says no flights today. Bummer. Our fortunes change about 10 minutes later when the man reappears and asks who wants to go flying. I point to Carson and ask for an instructional flight instead of the standard sightseeing flight so that Carson can manipulate the controls and log the flight time in the ASK-21. It's Carson's first flight in the ASK-21, a modern high performance glass ship but best of all he is being towed aloft by a Bird Dog L-19 all painted up in military livery with a shark mouth on the nose. We were able to mount a camera behind Carson's head to record the flight, another bonus. Short of staff I become the wing runner for the launch which goes flawless. Just as they climb away it begins to rain, got off just in time! Carson spends about 40 minutes soaring around the surrounding country side. In and out of light showers and even, thermaling with bald eagles. I pass the time talking to the tow pilot Rachael under the cover of the dilapidated hangar. Rain showers visit the airfield several times while Carson is away, but when he finally returns it abates just long enough to let him land.
From Wurtsboro we head back east to the Hudson and West Point the home of the US Military Academy. High on the west bank of the Hudson USMA's sprawling campus commands all approaches to the river. It was originally a fortress created for that very purpose. School is out for the summer so there are very few cadets out and about. We find ourselves right by the parade ground flag pole just in time for retreat. Unlike most military posts at the end of my career, everyone and everything stops when the cannon fires and retreat is played. At its conclusion everyone picks up where they left off. We wander the academy cemetery where we find a monument to LT Selfridge, a West Point alumni, who had the dubious distinction of being the first person to die in an aircraft accident when a Wright Flyer crashed at Fort Myer in 1908 (he is actually buried at Arlington). Also buried in the cemetery is George A. Custer. From West Point we head north along the banks of the Hudson to the town of Newburgh. Here we find another historical site, the headquarters of Gen Washington during the American Revolution from 1782 to 1783. At the front of the headquarters is a statue of a Minuteman. It almost exactly matches the Minuteman depicted on our GAXC5 logo. What a coincidence and another example of why this day just went to perfectly.
The fact that this additional day was never planned actually worked very much in our favor as the original schedule would never have allowed the time to explore all the places we did today.
[June 27, 2018]
GAXC5 Day 2 - North to New York & DA-20 Checkout
We headed north for New York this morning by car. It was a long five hour drive with cloudy skies and occasional rain. My checkout in the DA-20 at Take Flight was scheduled for today and as we neared our destination it was certainly looking iffy as to if we could get it done. It was critical that we get the checkout done prior to the X-C else the entire timeline which was tight would be thrown off. About 40 miles out from Montgomery the flight instructor, Steve, called me and discussed scrubbing the check-out flight. Fortunately I was able to convince him that we at least needed to try to get it done. I arrived at Orange County Airport just before 4 PM. It was cloudy and gray but ceilings were just high enough to make a flight possible. The DA-20-C1, N223DC, we were renting was a nice airplane with a Garmin G5 attitude indicator and a Garmin GTN750 GPS. I had flown the DA-20 before but it had been over 10 years ago so I had to reacquaint a little bit in the pre-flight. Fortunately I had studied the POH in the months prior to the flight as the C1 is a little different than the original Katana. This airplane has a 125 HP Continental with fixed pitch prop instead of the Rotax. Ultimately it is a simple airplane. The castoring nose wheel which had given me so many problems when I first flew the plane back in Virginia was no problem at all this time probably from my Turbo Commander experience with its similar steering. Steve had me fly out to the practice area where I did a few steep turns and some stalls. Rain was falling all around the airport and the hills to the north of the airport were obscured in low clouds. It was definitely marginal VFR but we were getting it done. I had practiced flying in the simulator with satellite image scenery of the surrounding area so I had a pretty good sense of my surroundings during the check ride. We came back to the airport and shot three takeoff and landings. The DA-20 short approach speed is 55 knots, any faster and this sleek glider like airplane will float down the runway, getting it to slow to this speed was not hard however. The fact that you takeoff with half flaps did take a little getting used to, especially remembering to retract them on climb out. I mention to Steve that we had passed Randall Airport on the way into Montgomery and had noticed a number of gliders on the field. He tells me about an airport called Wurtsboro which is a big glider field, I make a note to check out this place on the internet later that night. With that the checkout was complete and we were green lighted to launch first thing Friday morning. The weather for Friday and Saturday were looking absolutely perfect. This was going to be a great adventure.
[June 26, 2018]
GAXC5 Day 1 - Smithsonian Air & Space Dulles
We visited the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum at Dulles today. This is such a great museum but after so many visits there is not much new to discover. We did see a new IMAX movie, Aircraft Carrier. It had so much potential but unfortunately was a disappointment as so many IMAX movies have been in recent years. One unique exhibit was the Horton Ho 229 flying wing which had been moved out of the restoration area into the main exhibit area. The Ho 229 was in pretty bad shape being made of plywood and left in a shed by the museum for over 20 years. Another German WWII plane that caught my attention was the Heinkel HE 219. This twin engine night fighter has been disassembled for display. The construction of this aircraft appears so advanced and refined that it is hard to believe it was built in the early 1940s. Bill Kershner's Cessna 152 Aerobat has also found a place in the museum. This is the plane that Bill taught 435 students how to spin. I think I have taught about ten students how to spin in my 150. I love Kershner's books especially his CFI book as it walks you through each lesson and most importantly what mistakes you can expect from the students.
[June 25, 2018]
Heading East for the start of GAXC5
Early morning wakeup at 3AM to be at the airport to catch our flight at 5AM. We fly American Airlines under a new fare called Basic Economy. This was a big mistake, the new fare does not allow overhead bin use and no early check in. I have to pay extra just to ensure I have a seat next to Carson on the flight to Charlotte. We fly in a newish Airbus A320. The leg room is spacious and the seats are wide. More comfortable than many other planes I have been in. I'm so tired from three hours of sleep the previous night that I sleep most of the way. The weather forecast still remains bad for Thursday. I have decided to slide our flight right by one day if Take Flight can accommodate the change. I am relieved to find that the change in schedule is not a problem. A flurry of reservation cancellations for hotels is required but in the end the schedule is able to absorb the changes and it appears we can still achieve everything we want to do on this very ambitious GAXC-5.
[June 23, 2018]
Final Prep for GAXC5
Final preparations are being completed for GAXC5, slated to kick off in two days. I'm closely monitoring the weather forecast closely for later in the week when we fly the DA-20. This year has seen a tremendous amount of rainy weather on the east coast. The previous four years of GAXC trips we have been blessed with perfect weather. Is it time for our luck to run out? We are scheduled to rent the plane Thursday and Friday but the forecast shows bad weather over all of New England on Thursday and then thankfully clearing the rest of the week. The DA-20 is certified for VFR flying only. Time to start working up an alternate course of action should the forecast holds. Monday will be a decision point, I'll look at the forecast again and if it is still bad we will execute an alternate course of action.
[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
We are back in Gila Bend again today so that Carson can repeat his solo cross country. This time around he is happy with his navigation log. Hid dead reckoning headings based on winds aloft and estimated times work perfectly. With two trips on this route under his belt it is time to look at additional x-c solo routes for him to fly.
[February 24, 2018]
First Solo Cross Country, E63 to E25
Carson left the confines of the airport environment for the first time on his own today, headed to Wickenburg from Gila Bend. The flight went off without a hitch but on his return he was not happy with his navigation log so he asked to do it again the following day.
[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.
['17, '16, '15, '14, '13, '12, '11, '10, '09, '08, '07, '06, '05]