Friday, December 31, 2010

Last Angel Flight of the year

With year end fast approaching, I have been wondering if there was time to squeeze in one last Angel Flight in this year...

Then late last week, while scouring the AFSE website, I "found" one that was just right. (Shorter than my usual Angel Flight, but very convenient from a schedule perspective.)

The mission was to transport a teenager, named Sean, who just finished his latest round of treatment at Shriner's Children's Hospital in Tampa, back home to the East Coast of FL.  Like every Angel Flight passenger I have taken, Sean had a great attitude despite having to overcome some pretty major physical challenges.  He leads a totally normal high school freshman life and seems to take things in stride.
For me, this mission was a simple trip from my home base Tampa Executive airport to Lantana airport in West Palm Beach, FL.  This was a very short trip of ~ 150 miles, which is usually under an hour, as long as traffic, ATC and weather cooperate.

Today the weather was somewhat strange.  Visibility was great... There was no precip between Tampa and West Palm Beach.  However, there was a solid cloud deck between 5k-6k FT.  So, I filed IFR under the Angel Flight call sign for 7000 FT.  I didn't realize at the time what a perfect altitude 7K was.  After climbing to 7000, we literally skimmed the cloud tops the whole way along our relatively direct route.  See for yourself:

It was quite scenic.  Around Lake Okeechobee, ATC cleared us down to 3000.  After breaking through the cloud deck we canceled IFR ~ 20 miles out.  Winds were favoring runway 15 and the traffic pattern was surprisingly busy with 3 other planes practicing in the pattern.  You can see how we squeezed into this pattern in the video below:

As you may notice, I am still experimenting with good spots in the plane to mount the camera... Much like flying, I am noticing that taking good aerial photos/videos also takes practice.

Hope everyone has a Happy New Year!

== T.J.==

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Night Currency

The FAA has a bunch of currency requirements for all US pilots. 
The basics are as follows:
  • For VFR Private Pilots: 3 takeoffs/landings every 90 days
  • For Instrument rating: 6 instrument approaches (+ intercepting/tracking/holding) every 6 months

There are more detailed nuances... But, I won't bore you with the details.

Since I am a very active pilot, I usually don't even think about the currency requirements listed above.

However,"night currency" is a different story.  While I have plenty of daytime hours, I have rather little night experience.  To stay night legal/current to carry passengers, the FAA requires 3 takeoffs and full stop landings at night, which is defined as sunset + 1 hour within the prior 90 days.  I go out of my way to ensure that I stay current @ night. Candidly, it is the only currency requirement that I need to actively go out of my way to maintain.

Tonight was a beautiful, clear night with sunset being @ 5:43 PM.  This made for perfect timing for a night currency flight.

Here I am preparing for takeoff (all by myself  ~5:30 PM waiting for the "right" time to takeoff):
Notice the landing light and my flashlight R both working!!

While I was waiting for the "right" time to take off,  I went to check out the Met Life Blimp, which is probably in town for the Outback Bowl on Saturday.
With so many blimps coming to Tampa lately, I feel like a connoisseur.  This one was MUCH smaller than last week's DirecTV blimp and (even seemed to have half the support staff). One of these days, I am going to find a way to get a ride on one!

Finally, it was time for departure (6:43PM that is).  The plan was simple... First fly to Lakeland, which is the home of Sun N Fun, and a perfect place for routine training/practice.  They have a control tower, a giant 9000 FT runway and a variety of instrument approaches that would keep any instructor entertained.  Best of all, other than the 2 weeks around Sun N Fun, this a sleepy, little airport the rest of the year.  The tower controllers are usually bored and seem downright excited when there is traffic in the area.  While I didn't need to do any approaches tonight, I decided to shoot the GPS 27 anyway on the first landing.  You can never fly enough approaches.  I find that it hones your piloting skills to have the little triangles on the screen act as almost a scorecard.  First landing was decent ... You can see for yourself here:

After a full stop and taxi back, I planned to head VFR northbound ; Do the second landing @ Zephyr Hills, then the final landing back home @ Tampa Exec.)
Unfortunately, the camera was running low on battery after the first landing... So I wasn't able to capture the rest of the filight.  Overall, with my new Mac, I am learning how to edit video better... But obviously I have not learned how to keep the camera charged! ;-)

== T.J.==

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cruising in a Cardinal

I recently got a chance to fly right seat in my friend Anupam's Cardinal RG (N29LK).   His home base is the Plant City Airport, which I had not been to in a long time.  In fact, the last time was years ago as a student pilot to practice landings.Here is a picture of the plane:

I immediately noticed a couple of cool things about the plane...
1. A spiffy, new paint job, which made it look sharp
2. On this model, there are NO wing struts, which made for some great views.
3. It has retractable gear! 
and finally 4. The cockpit, which started out life as a standard 6-pack had been upgraded to include a Garmin 530, and a GTX 330 transponder.  In addition, Anupam's standard procedures also included his Garmin 496 handheld attached to the yoke for weather and the iPad strapped to his knee-board for most everything else!

Here we are right before takeoff.  The picture was taken by Goga, who is a friend visiting from Ohio that is also a student pilot.  Today he was sitting in the back seat scrutinizing every detail (and probably taking mental notes of the 2 crazy pilots in the front seats). 

This was  a beautiful day to fly in FL (not a cloud in the sky anywhere.)  The plan was to do some airwork, fly over to Venice Airport for breakfast and then a leisurely trip back to Plant City.
Being in the right seat gave me a chance to experiment with some photo and video equipment techniques. 

During takeoff, I used an app called Flyvie on my iPhone4.  This product sounds promising... According to their website, the app captures video from the iPhone4 as well as corresponding GPS data at the time of recording.  This data can then be viewed or shared with their viewer.  In theory it sounds great.  Unfortunately, I was not able to get their software to work.  I will keep tinkering with it and post an update if I get it figured out.  To be fair, it might be user error ;-)
On to Venice,  where Anupam, who just passed his instrument check-ride, did a nice job in shooting the RNAV GPS 31 approach.  See for yourself:

After a quick bite at the Suncoast Cafe, we took a leisurely route back to Plant City.

We all had a great time and discussed the next adventure, which might be "formation flying".  Not really sure how to do it yet.  But stay tuned... When I figure it out, I will explain it to you.

== T.J.==

Monday, December 20, 2010

Instrument Approach during training

After flight training with Jason Schappert of this past Saturday, I just saw the video of our last approach that he edited and put on his site ... Check it out... (That's my finger! ... I feel downright famous!!):

This video was actually the 2nd attempt to land @ Winter Haven airport after a wild, weather day!  (You can read more about that training day in this post).

== T.J.==

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Skywriting Results

The weather was slightly better today.  But still not good enough for regular VFR flying.  The ATIS showed Winds 310 @ 8, Overcast layer @ 300 FT.  The only good news was that the fog and low clouds were expected to burn off later in the day.  We reviewed the plan and waited for some weather improvement. Our improvised flight plan was as follows:

We had every turn mapped out and by the time we were ready to go, the weather had improved to 500 Overcast.  Since that was still not that great, I filed IFR and we took off northbound.  After breaking out on top of the clouds between 5000 and 6000FT we canceled IFR and began to get in position, which was ~ 10 miles west of Crystal River @ 6500 FT on a heading of 090.
My copilot Joe did a great job of calling out headings and distances.  I was trying to focus on making steep coordinated turns with the R9 Vector mode.  My R9/STEC 's configuration tends to make roughly standard rate turns.  However, for this exercise, we needed much sharper turns.  So I made the turns by hand at ~ 45 degrees of bank and then used the R9 vector mode to hold my heading in order to get straight lines.  This was particular challenging due to the 23 knot winds from the west.

Soooo.... Here is the resulting GPS track:

View GPS Skywriting (First Attempt) in a larger map

As you can see, we made a couple of mistakes (the top of the "T" and the bottom of the "J").  In hindsight, we realized that these were errors in planning rather than errors in flying.  In addition, I am still learning how to import/embed Google Maps, which is is why the last period is shown in a different format on the map.  But overall, we were satisfied and it was time to head home. 

Unfortunately, mother nature would not give us a break.  The cloud deck below us was absolutely solid.  We had to get an IFR clearance and fly the GPS 23 Approach @ Tampa Executive Airport down to within 100 FT of minimums!  This was the first time Joe got to experience a real approach in IMC and he seemed quite relieved when we landed. 

So while it was not exactly as intended, we still declared "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED"!

== T.J.==

PS- Now I am on the lookout for the next cool flight exercise/experience.  Send me any suggestions you have.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ugly Weather (Perfect Day to Fly!!)

Today was expected to be a dreary weather day in the whole state of Florida due to a large "cold front" that was passing through.  Today was definitely NOT a skywriting day.  But what a great day for some recurrent flight training in actual IMC!

I had planned a training day with Jason Schappert of MzeroA and was seriously considering cancelling it yesterday and also this morning ~ 730 AM.  While there was absolutely NO sun to be found in the sunshine state, the ceilings weren't that low and winds were tame.  I felt confident I could make the IFR journey to Dunellon, FL to meet Jason.  Then with comfort and security of a CFII in the right seat, I thought I could get some real IMC experience/training.
So off I went to the airport.  As I watched the pouring rain from the car (and looming clouds in the distance), I was getting cold feet.  Here is what I saw out the car window:

I was trying to recall the dozen or so takeoffs/landings I have had in the rain and tried hard to convince myself of the merit's of getting more actual IMC time.  While I was on the ground @ Tampa Executive airport, the weather looked as ugly on the screen as it did out the window:
I checked the weather (again) and verified that I had the legal takeoff minimums.  Then I finally made the decision to GO.
As expected, the first leg of the journey was filled with clouds/rain and a whole lot of staring at screens.  But surprisingly, it was rather smooth.  There was hardly any turbulence!  After landing in Dunellon to pickup Jason, I checked my actual route on Flightaware and this is what it showed:
Jason and I did a bit of ground prep and planned to do the following:
1. Go IFR to Daytona Beach (doing instrument work and practice approaches on the way)
2. Continue IFR to Orlando-Sanford (some more approach work)
3. Continue IFR to Winter Haven (for a lunch stop and debrief)
4. Work our way back to Dunellon while doing a bunch of stick and rudder/commercial maneuvers.

Shortly after we launched, not only did we encounter lots of rain/clouds, but we also experienced some rather weak ATC performance.  This was very surprising to me.  I have the utmost respect for the ATC controllers in FL.  But today, they seemed "off their game".  In fact, the Daytona approach controllers, called us by the wrong tail # on 4 separate occasions.  In addition, we had multiple approach clearance changes along the way (with no apparent reason).  Eventually, they seemed bored with us and even broke off our approach before the final approach fix to GPS 16 @KDAB.  We managed to take it in stride and just moved on to Orlando.  Here too, the ATC controller wasn't very cooperative.  After several attempts, we eventually managed to "negotiate" a clearance to the RNAV/GPS 9L.  We did a "squeaky clean" touch and go and were off to Winter Haven.
The arrival into Winter Haven was quite cool!  The weather was near minimums and on the first attempt, we got down to 500 FT MSL with NO runway in sight.  This was the first time I truly "needed" to abort a landing!  Sooo.... It was flaps up, full power, heading 210, climb to 2000 FT and back to Tampa Approach.  We asked to try the same approach again and had better results the second time.  According to FlightAware, this was our actual track on this journey:
 After a quick lunch at Cafe 92, we are off again.  The weather had improved slightly.  We were able to take off VFR and begun all the stick and rudder work.  No more "luxury, laptop flying"... Now it was ALL by hand!  Jason did a great job teaching me some commercial maneuvers like chandelles, lazy 8s, 8s on Pylons, etc.  After dropping off Jason to his home base in Dunellon, I was able to fly home VFR in the improved weather conditions.  As I got close to home, I had one last encounter with weather as you can see below:

Luckily, I managed to land and put the plane in the hanger with ~ 15 mins to spare before that giant red cell arrived at the airport with a huge downpour!

Now with today's new found skill/confidence (and a total of ~ 5 hours on the hobbs), I think I am ready for skywriting tomorrow morning.  Stay Tuned...

== T.J.==

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Planing for a First Attempt at Skywriting

After reading several of Steve Dilullo's posts, I feel inspired to try something a bit different this weekend.  His post about ribbon cutting has quite cool.  But I fly a Cirrus and I can't "just open the window" to try ribbon cutting.  However, his post about skywriting really got me thinking.  I wanted to give skywriting a try and see just how hard it really was.

First, I had to figure out the equipment needed to log the GPS track.  This part should be EZ.  But there were several ways I could think of to do it:

Plan A was to use the basic features of the Avidyne R9 that allow you to download flight details (including GPS data) to a USB stick.  This data (in KML format) can then be pulled into Google Earth.
Plan B was to use the free "GPS Tracker" app on the iPhone.  I have never tried this before.  But it sounds promising.  Allegedly, this app monitors your GPS track, including altitude, at user defined intervals (10 seconds, 20 seconds, etc) and creates a regular interactive Google map of the track.
Plan C was to have my buddy Joe bring along an external hand held GPS tracker.  This would also result in a KML file that can be pulled into Google Earth.
I will probably try all three plans and check out the results.  However, Plan B seems the most appealing to me.  With an interactive Google map, you can easily embed that anywhere.  Unfortunately, Google Earth doesn't let you do that...  Or at least I don't know how ;-)

Next, on to planning the route itself.  Unlike the Merry Christmas track in Steve's post, for my first attempt, I wanted to try a much simpler version.  Instead of big words in cursive, I was planning to try just a couple of letters in capital, bubble letters.  The planning was harder than I thought.  I needed to find an airspace that was not crowded, had no Class B,C,Ds, or MOAs, of which there are many in FL.  I decided to go just north of the Tampa Class B, around Crystal River, FL. Since I didn't know how well the iPhone GPS would work at higher altitudes, I decided to stay relatively low 3500 FT, where the reception should be pretty good.
Here is what I came up with:
The picture shows straight lines and edges instead of bubble letters... Obviously, the real thing will be rounded edges on the actual GPS track and the result should be real bubble letters.   

As far as "how" to fly the route, I needed to get creative.  If I simply flew it by hand, I suspect the finished product would be a bit sloppy.  My Excel planning file, shows me just how precise I need to fly this to have a successful finished product.  So I decided to use the "Vector" Mode of the R9 combined with my STEC autopilot to help me out. 

As some of you know, Avidyne's new digital autopilot the DFC100 is now available and I am planning to have it installed next month (Can't wait).  The DFC100 would be even better for this exercise.  For kicks, I may try to repeat this exact exercise next month with the new autopilot and post a side by side comparison. 

But for this weekend, I will try it with the STEC first.  "Vector" Mode is the key (I think)... If you haven't seen vector mode in action, Avidyne has a gr8  YouTube video that explains it well.

So that's the plan ... This weekend, I will try it for real and see how close I come to the plans.  Regardless of how it turns out (good, bad or ugly), I plan to post the resulting GPS track on Sunday night!

Stay tuned...
== T.J.==

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Surprises on the way home

The trip home was slightly different than my usual IFR trip.  An instructor I had long ago told me to avoid flying "the same hour" repeatedly.  Since then, I have tried to take that advice to heart.  I had flown the majority of this route before.  So this time I planned to do it a little differently (entirely VFR).  The plan was to go from TX to Gulfport, which I have heard is a "scenic" fuel stop then directly to Tampa.  The planned route was quite simple:

What I wasn't planning for, was the drama along the way.  The first leg was uneventful.  The skies were clear and the airspace was "empty" compared to the east coast congestion that I am accustomed to.  As I crossed the Mississippi River, I witnessed some great sights.  The Mississippi River looks like a fairly straight line on a map.  But in reality from 11500 FT, you can truly appreciate all of the twists and turns along the way.  The picture below is around Natchez, MS

As I got closer to Gulfport, the winds seemed to be favoring runway 32 or 36.  But the GPS approach to runway 36 seemed to call my name!  The majority of the approach path was over water, which I thought would make it very scenic.  In addition, I was really enjoying the ATC service in Louisiana.  The controllers were very accommodating in their southern drawl and approved every request I made.  (Even when I asked to fly some "funny routes" just to get some pix.)
When I eventually got onto the final approach course, the winds were very gusty and I was forced to make MANY power adjustments just to maintain a suitable airspeed.  Luckily, the airport was not busy at all.  In fact, I was the ONLY plane in the pattern and it felt like the tower controller was happy to have something to do.  When I landed, I realized that the main FBO was operating out of a temporary trailer because some hurricane had damaged the main hanger/terminal building.  Even though the facilities were spartan, the staff was wonderful!  They were putting up Xmas decorations and everyone just seemed so cheerful... After some food/fuel, it was time to move on.  The VFR theme continued on the next leg.

My original plan was to climb to 17.5k.  But then the surprises kicked in.  When I reached ~ 9500 FT, I noticed a strange anomaly on the engine page of the R9. Normally, when in cruise, the Manifold Pressure (MAP) should be ~ 26" and % Power should be ~ 75%.  On this flight, I got very concerned when I saw the following:

At first, I thought OMG!!  I was getting ready to pull up emergency checklists on the screen ... But then I told myself "Calm Down... Breathe... Time to figure this out!"  I stared at the gauges some more and realized that while MAP was fluctuating wildly, RPM, Fuel Flow and the general sound/feel of the engine all seemed normal.

The % Power was also fluctuating.  But that is one of those contrived glass panel indicators that is calculated from the manifold pressure and RPM and perhaps other things.  So I was NOT worried about % power at all.  I told myself that manifold pressure was the MAIN area of concern and monitored that VERY closely. 

Given the engine anomalies, I also decided I should fly along the coast instead of over the gulf.  I think I checked the "Nearest Airport" screen every few minutes to keep my options fresh in my mind.  I flew over Panama City, then the usual HEVVN intersection and then direct destination.

Other than disrupting my normally peaceful, music filled journey, everything turned out to be fine.  When I landed, I parked the plane directly in front of the maintenance hanger and talked to my buddies @ Leading Edge.  It turned out to be nothing serious... Just a sensor.  (I was very relieved!)

So in the end, I did NOT really have an emergency or incident ; But I did get to a bit of a scare and an excuse to contemplate how I would handle a real emergency.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The next state (OK) - State # 33

The states are now getting further (and harder) .... But that's OK ... Today was a beautiful day to fly... My intended destination was Dallas.  But I was compelled to make a slight detour to land in a new state(Oklahoma).  The route is shown below:

The weather forecast showed a little bit of IFR along my route ... But nothing scary.

When I got to the airport, I found the DirecTV blimp was in town for the Bucs game today. When blimps visit, they park right next to my hanger.  Check it out:

Since I needed to do a bunch of Chart/GPS updates anyway, I set the updates running and went to chat with the blimp crew.  Unfortunately, I didn't plug the plane into external power and apparently I spent too much time gabbing.  By the time I returned, the battery had discharged enough that I couldn't start the plane normally!  I called the line crew for help and luckily Jose was able to give me a jump start.
After everything was sorted out, I was finally ready to go (total delay ~ 55 minutes).  The delay was not concerning ;  But the fast approaching showers were.  By the time I did my run-up and was really ready to depart, it was raining and the ceilings were dropping fast.  So I picked up my IFR clearance from the ground and took off in the rain.  Here is what the screen looked like right after takeoff:

After bumping along in the rain for a few minutes, I broke out on top of the clouds and it was smooth sailing from that point on direct to HEVVN (pronounced "Heaven")@ 16k feet. 

The HEVVN intersection is a common nav aid that I use over the Gulf of Mexico.  By using this fix, I can stay clear of the international warning areas over the gulf and at the same time stay close enough to land for safety reasons.  Besides it just sounds cool when ATC instructs you to "go direct Heaven"!

As I got closer to my fuel stop in Meridian, I heard a bunch of military traffic on the radio.  There is a lot of military training done around Meridian.  So you usually get to see some cool airplanes in this area.  In particular, today there were 2 T-38s flying formation very close to the traffic pattern.  After I got cleared to land on runway 1, the T-38s asked for permission to do a low pass alongside runway 1.  I was shocked to hear the controller say "approved as requested"!  Seconds after I touched down, the 2 T38s zoomed overhead @ ~ 30 feet AGL and ~100 feet left of centerline.  After passing the runway, they did a near vertical climb and circled around for a full stop on the same runway.

They parked right next to me and I even got to meet them!  I couldn't get a picture during their low pass, but here they are parked on the tarmac (the 2 gray ones):
They even let me climb up to the cockpit!  See for yourself:
Doesn't look to hard... Does it??

Believe it or not, on the other side of where I parked was an F-18!

After a quick lunch, it was time to move on ... I still needed to land in Durant, OK and then get to Dallas.
Rest of the trip was rather uneventful, except for the 60-70 knot headwinds, which seemed like Mother Nature's way of tormenting me on both legs today!  See for yourself:

Despite true airspeeds in excess of 190 knots, I was frequently traveling at ground speeds a slow as  ~ 120-130 knots. 

The stop in Durant, OK was really quite interesting... The airport is right next door to the Choctaw Casino and the FBO is quite memorable... (But it is getting late now and I will have to save that story for another time.)

For now, I am HOPING to ride some huge tailwinds on the home!

== T.J.==

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Last Minute Angel Flight

Normally, my Angel Flights are scheduled well in advance.  Usually, I have to juggle a whole bunch of things (both work and personal).  But late yesterday I got a message from the "Angel Flight Mission Control" about a particularly compelling flight today (Wednesday b4 Thanksgiving) that was in jeopardy of being canceled.  The patient, who lives in Jacksonville, FL, was undergoing treatment in Houston for "Metastatic Adrenocortial Carcinoma to liver, lungs & kidney" ... Wow isn't that a mouthful!

I had to work today + it was last minute + my kids were out of school, and on, and on, and on.  There were a dozen reasons to ignore the plea for pilots on this mission.  But something inside me said I should make the effort on this one.  The alternative for the patient was to fly commercial on the busiest travel day of the year right after enduring a grueling cancer treatment.  So late yesterday, I decided to sign up and do this!

Another pilot transported the patient from Houston to Destin, FL.  That's where I was supposed to pick him up and fly him home to Jacksonville. 

In order to do that and still make it to work, I had to get a little creative.  As many of you know, I work for IBM and have the privilege (and burden) of working entirely remote.  I don't normally go to an office.  Instead, I work from wherever my laptop and I happen to be.  So late last night I made a plan... I would get up as early as I could and fly from Tampa > Destin.  Then I would "go to work" from the pilot's lounge @ Miracle Strip Aviation in Destin.  Then late in the afternoon, I would meet up with the patient and take him to Jacksonville.  Finally, after dropping the patient off, I would do a night flight home to Tampa.  The flight plan was "almost" a lap of FL.  See for yourself:
When I woke up this morning @ zero dark 30, I was a bit grumpy but dragged myself out of bed anyway.  When I got the airport I had an uneventful pre-flight and takeoff.  I always enjoy taking off before the FBO opens.  (Makes me feel like I am ahead of the day!)

At that hour, the skies were empty and the ATC frequencies were totally silent.  I had a smooth, peaceful ride and really enjoyed the music enroute.  The "Pulse" station on the satellite radio seemed to read my mind about what song I would enjoy next.  During the whole flight, I don't even recall changing the channel once, which is quite a rarity for me. 

About the time I reached my cruise altitude of 16k, I noticed the engine was running a little hotter than normal on cylinder 4.  I monitored it VERY closely and made frequent mixture setting changes to keep it under control.  I took all sorts of notes and was planning to ask the "turbo gurus" on the COPA website about it after I landed. 

When I was about 100 miles out, I started to check the weather.  (This is a cool feature on the Avidyne R9 that allows you to "see" the Automated Weather on screen even before you are within radio range to hear it).  Unfortunately, I didn't like what it said! The visibility was 1/4 mile, rain and mulitiple cloud layers with the lowest one being @ 100 FT.  This was was below the published minimums for the airport.  But I was 100 miles away ... Hopefully, it would improve as I got closer (plus I had plenty of fuel/options if it didn't).
Despite what the automated weather said, I was also comforted by the unofficial "out the window" forecast, which looked great!  See for yourself:

By now I was checking engine temps and weather every couple of minutes.  Luckily the automated weather was improving rapidly.  (From 1/4 mile vis + rain, it eventually got to 3 miles mist and the lowest clouds were a scattered layer @ 100 FT.  Not great... But good enough for me to land!   Here is what the approach looked like from the cockpit:

When I landed in Destin, the FBO crew @ Miracle Strip was very accommodating as always.  I got settled in to the lounge and "went to work".  Other than the few colleagues that follow this blog, most of my colleagues would never guess where I am when I take their calls/pings :-)

After an uneventful day of work, the patient (Mark) arrived in the late afternoon.  I chatted a bit with the connecting pilot, whose name was Sherif (pronounced "sha-reef" not "cher-iff").  He was an interesting guy!  He was a far more seasoned pilot than me and one of the few Cessna 177 pilots I know that does LONG X-Country trips with his plane.  In fact, during this mission, he is "sort of" working his way back to the east coast from California!

Mark was so grateful for being spared the grueling journey home on Southwest.  The original plan was to take Mark to Craig Field, which is a small GA airport outside of Jacksonville.  But then he told me his car was at Jacksonville International Airport.  (He was concerned that a small plane couldn't take him directly there.)  But I reassured him and wanted to simplify his journey as much as possible.  So we flew to JAX!  I had never landed @ JAX before.  But since I had landed @ ATL, TPA, and MCO, I was pretty comfortable flying directly there and was even excited about the prospect of a new airport for my log.
The trip itself was "smooth as glass".  The weather was perfect and the engine temps were behaving normally again.  (Believe me I was watching it VERY closely).

When we landed @ JAX, the Sheltair crew immediately greeted our plane and were extremely helpful. Mark and I said our goodbyes and the crew took Mark and his luggage directly to his car on the other side of the airport.  I got a top off and was ready to go right around sunset:

The short "night" flight home was beautiful.  Unfortunately, I haven't figured out how to take good pictures @ night.  Hopefully, one of my blog buddies will help me with that soon...

Now as I sit in my home office at the end of the day, I realize how lucky I am, what a great day I had, and most importantly how much I have to be thankful for!

Happy Thanksgiving,
== T.J.==

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Lazy Weekend Flight around FL

With a quiet weekend and not much going on, it was the perfect time to do some flightseeing and some air photography experimenting this weekend.  As many of you know, I just got my first Mac this weekend and I was looking for some photos/videos to experiment with.  Being a bit of an IT Geek and a PC user since forever, it was quite a traumatic decision to get a Mac. 

But I am relieved to say that it was really painless.  Within no time, it just "felt" natural.  So this is my first post from the new machine.  But hopefully, as I explore some of the Mac tools like iPhoto, iMovie, etc, you will notice an improvement in the quality of my blog entries soon.

So let me tell you about today's flight...

Today was a beautiful day in general.  But there were a couple of "less than ideal" conditions.  First, it was windy.  The ATIS @ VDF announced winds 110@11 gusting to 16.  Second, there were multiple scattered and broken cloud decks.  While I was on the ground, these didn't concern me much.  But, once airborne, it was a different story.  I took off on runway 5, headed east (as I have done hundreds of times before).  I climbed to ~ 2500 FT, then turned around and called Tampa Approach to request a clearance into Class B airspace.  I wanted to get some pictures of Tampa International and downtown Tampa.  I got cleared to 3500 and was supposed to overfly the east/west runway.  This is a standard clearance that Tampa Approach often issues, so it was not a surprise.  
However, as I began to climb, the clouds didn't really cooperate and I quickly realized I would be unable to maintain VFR legally.  So I called ATC and asked them for an IFR clearance.  They were happy to oblige and gave me something they called a "local IFR" clearance.  I had never heard of a "local IFR" clearance... But was thrilled to get one!! The controller was not very busy today and was VERY cooperative.  
So I overflew TPA airport and passed downtown entirely in the clouds.  (So much for those pictures!)  Shortly after I passed the airport westbound, the clouds totally cleared and I was greeted by a fantastic view of Clearwater Beach.  As soon as I cleared the clouds, ATC offered to cancel my IFR and continue with VFR flight following.  I happily accepted, turned on the Sirius radio, and enjoyed the view the rest of the way to Venice.  From that point on, I started taking pictures. You can see some of the pix for yourself in the Picasa web album at the end of this post.  

As I got close to Venice, I was surprised to hear that I was SLOWEST airplane in the vicinity.  This often happens when I go to a big airport.  But rarely, when I go to an uncontrolled field.  On this day, there was a Citation X jet directly in front of me on the GPS 13 approach, a Meridian waiting to takeoff, and 2 other King Airs nearby.  :-(   In fact, one of the planes even referred to me as the "little, bitty Cirrus" on final.  Venice was also a bit windy.  But luckily the wind was lined up nicely to runway 13.  I videoed the landing and plan to do some editing tricks on the new Mac later this week b4 posting on Youtube later this week.  After a bite at the always entertaining Honoluana Grill, it was time to head home.  On the way home, the clouds cooperated a bit more and I was even able to get those pix of TPA and Tampa downtown!

Hope you enjoy the pix! 

== T.J.==

Friday, November 19, 2010

Lunch in Ocala with Stephan

I went on a short excursion today for lunch with a friend of mine (Stephan).  I have been threatening to take him flying for some time now... Today the weather and both our schedules finally cooperated.  It was a great time to grab a bite at the Tailwind Cafe @ Ocala Airport.

Since it was a quick lunch excursion, I asked the line guys @ VDF to pull my plane out in front of the terminal.  When we arrived, a routine pre-flight showed everything in order and we were ready to go.  I gave Stephan a quick briefing on our route and what to expect in flight.  This was the first time Stephan was flying with me.  

Hmmm... does he look nervous?

I later learned that he has been in a Citation jet and also somehow finagled a ride on the "Shell Aero" team plane.  (How incredible that his only prior experience with general aviation was in such amazing aircraft.)
After takeoff, the flight was a little bumpy but the view was great.  In fact, we took a little detour on the way to do a 360 over his house.  (Of course at a legal altitude so as not to scare the neighbors).  See for yourself:

I was planning to let him try his hand at the flight controls after we got to cruise altitude.  But then we got chatting and we both forgot.

When we arrived at Ocala, the airport was surprisingly quiet... We seemed to have the tower frequency to ourselves.  In addition, the ramp was not crowded at all.  We easily found a parking spot right in front of the restaurant. After a quick lunch and little airplane gawking, it was time to call the tower and head out.

On the way back I remembered to give Stephan the flight controls.  While we are in a steady 900 fpm climb @ 3800 FT, I asked him to maintain our present heading, climb to 4500 then level off.  

Here he is with a look of total confidence while flying:

He did great! But after about 2 minutes, he started to look a little stressed ;-) So I gave him a reprieve.  Besides, we were already so close to Tampa and we needed to get ready to land.

We landed in a pretty strong crosswind... But luckily no gusts.  We pulled up right to the terminal and both needed to depart to get back to work :-(

In hindsight, maybe instead of lunch we should have gone for a night flight and gone to a bar afterward.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Weekend with zero Hobbs

This past weekend, I logged a total of ZERO hours on the hobbs.  But had a really good reason...  A close family friend got married this weekend in Cancun and I couldn't miss it.  It was the first "destination wedding" that I ever attended.... (I am SO GLAD I WENT)
Unfortunately, I flew Continental (instead of in the cockpit):
I flew commercial not because of the distance/time or schedule.  But rather, I was simply uncomfortable dealing with the complexities of international flight into Mexico. (Perhaps next time). The plane was a 737-900 with a relatively new interior and even had individual seat videos in coach!

Upon arrival in Cancun, the party atmosphere of Cancun was totally evident.  Other than the slot machines in the Las Vegas airport, there are few other airports that I can think of that embody the spirit of the location as this:
After an incredible weekend and 7 wedding related events (gotta love those Indian weddings even in Mexico), I flew home to the typical overflowing inbox. 

Now (end of day Tuesday and finally caught up), I am back home and start to wonder ... How hard can it be to fly to Mexico?  (Would a gulf crossing be appropriate/safe??) What do u think???

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Short Trip to Orlando

Today, I needed to meet with a colleague in Orlando.  While I could have done this meeting on the phone, the weather in FL today was just beautiful and it was a good excuse to go flying.  Since  the kids (and Anita) had plans tonight with their Aunt Kim, it was also a good excuse to go late in the day and do some landing practice on the way back.
So off I went to Orlando (actually Kissimmee Airport) to do the meeting in person...  The flight was a very short flight (maybe 20 mins)... But it was an unusual flight... I had a very friendly Orlando Approach controller, who let me fly right through the "Disney restricted airspace".  This allowed me to get some really good pix of some very well known Disney attractions. A couple of them are shown here:

After flying the GPS15 approach into Kissimmee (and trying hard NOT to get distracted by all of the sights), I arrived at the Signature FBO.  This FBO had a rather cool building layout,which you see here:

You pull your plane right up under their giant portico and line guys quickly appear to help you out... So nice to get in the shade on a hot FL day.

I ended up wrapping up work a bit earlier than I expected.  Just in time for a sunset departure and quick trip home. The ride home was totally smooth and peaceful.  I tried to "swing by" Disney for some more pix... But ATC was a bit busier and less cooperative this time.  However, I did get a couple of good sunset pix.  See for yourself:

The trip was so short, that before I knew it, it was time to get ready for final approach and landing.  It was a bit unusual because there was a "putt-putt Cessna" (as described by the pilot) in front of me.  As a result, I had to fly the slowest approach I have ever attempted.  When I realized it would not be my typical approach, I decided to video the landing... See for yourself:

Friday, November 5, 2010

Things u "find" at an airport

I was just planning a simple, local joyride.  With camera in hand (or at least in my pocket), I started to pull the Cirrus out of the hanger. The entrance and parking lot were both empty.  Even the ramp, which I could see from the road "looked" empty.  However, the ramp was definitely NOT empty.

Check out the slide show below to see what I "found" on the ramp instead.

After sufficiently gawking at the B-17, and of course BSing with a couple of loitering pilots, I did manage to squeeze in a short flight.  The mission on this day was to try videoing the R9 cockpit during a GPS approach. Unfortunately, the lighting did not cooperate.  There was a huge glare directly on the screen.  While it looked fine to me from the left seat with my sunglasses on, the camera just didn't like it.  It was a real shame... because I flew the GPS 36 @ Zephyr Hills exactly as published and even pressed every R9 button "just right" for the camera.  (Oh well, I will have to retry soon)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

East Coast Journey (Going Home)

Seven new states, and 5 IMC hours later, it was time to go home.  The journey home involved a stop in Frederick, MD (state #32).  Here is what the final route flown looked like:

Since I needed to stop in MD, it was only natural to stop @ FDK.  I was hoping to squeeze in visit to the AOPA headquarters and also meet a fellow pilot, whose blog I really enjoy.

But getting to FDK was NOT an ez task.  There was a pesky 40-50 knot headwind the whole way there!
Note the 43 knot headwind @ 10000 FT
 But it was a good excuse to use the the new GPS Z approach to runway 23.  I had read about GPS Z approaches, which are the latest/greatest precision WAAS approaches with LPV.  But I had not seen one in person.
Surprisingly, the missed approach goes into the DCADIZ
So that approach led to another soggy landing (and the 4th landing in the rain during this trip!) Here is a litttle video clip of the landing:

But the stop was definitely worth it!  I did get to meet up with a fellow pilot blogger, Toriaflys  If you haven't checked out her blog yet, I suggest you take a peek (it's really quite good).
While at Frederick, I also took a tour of the AOPA headquarters.  I already knew what a great organization AOPA was.  However, Silvana Cannon, one of the AOPA staffers, showed me some of the behind the scenes "machinery" that makes this organization tick.  Now I am even more impressed!
After FDK, the trip home should have been rather uneventful.  The weather forecast was very good and hopefully all that IMC was behind me.  I donned the cannula and was cleared up to 16k (where the really good views are)... See for yourself:
 The plan was a quick fuel stop @ Homerville, GA and a short final leg back to Tampa.  Unfortunately, the city of Homerville (and it's mayor) has truly ignored it's airport.  When I arrived it was an absolute ghost town.  There was not a single person or plane there and they didn't even have fuel!!  Apparently, the fuel pumps were out of order.  Even the runway was in shabby condition.  But being the eternal optimist that I am, I made "lemonade" out of this lemon stop.  Even though it was deserted and locked, their wireless worked from my Iphone on their front porch.  As a result, I was at least able to catch up on calls/emails in relative comfort.  Then I took a quick 20 mile flight to Valdosta, where I was able to satisfy both the plane's thirst and my hunger.  Then finally a quick VFR trip home to Tampa:
Mission accomplished! Just in time for dinner!!
Overall, the journey has really put my piloting skills to the test (both in the air and even on the ground).  Can't wait to start planning the next batch of states!!!

Monday, October 25, 2010

East Coast Journey (Day 3)

Today was the most varied (and most intense) day of flying I have ever had!  The day began as a leisurely morning sightseeing flight with Avanni (and her Daddy).
Avanni and her parents (Ronak and Sapna)
As you can see, Ronak got the hang of aerial photography pretty quickly as we flew over Patriots stadium down to Rhode Island and back:

After dropping them back home in Norwood, the drama began.  The first leg was up to Sanford, ME, which was mostly in IMC and light rain.  This landing was state # 29, and involved a GPS approach down to within 300 FT of minimums.
After a quick stop at the cockpit cafe and another weather briefing, I realized I needed to change my route entirely.  Instead of Sanford > Lebanon > Rutland, I ended up going Sanford > Concord > Montpelier.  Weather really forces you to be flexible!  Enroute, was more light rain and total IMC.  This was the view most of the way:
The landing at Concord was another instrument approach to within ~ 300 FT of minimums.  I felt so proud of myself.  (Little did I know what was coming on the next leg!!)
After fuel and another weather briefing, it was time to go Concord > Montpelier.  This involved a flight, where I entered the clouds shortly after takeoff and didn't see the ground till I was on my final descent.  Aside from being the largest continuous segment of IMC I have done, it also involved an flying an LPV approach all the way down to the published min!  This is what it looked like when I finally broke out of the clouds:
I was sooo happy to see the runway!

Other than sunny FL training  days, I have NEVER before flown an approach like that.  (As I result, I know believe that there really is no substitute for "actual IMC")

The actual route flown so far is shown below:

Upto 31 states now!!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

East Coast Journey (Day 2)

Day 2 has a rather simple day of flying... But it did include 3 new states, unusual ATC interactions, and best of all some awesome sites.

The day began in Raleigh, with another good weather forecast.  I filed IFR RDU > LVL > WWD (Wildwood, NJ) Very simple routing that avoided the Washington DC Special Flight Rules Area.  There were a few cool sites shortly after takeoff:
Some patchy fog in Raleigh during takeoff.
Between VA and MD
Webster Naval base
Then it was time for lunch in Wildwood, NJ (Woohoo state # 26!!!)  Now the ATC excitement begins, I filed an IFR flight plan with what should have been a "preferred" route.  But when I contacted Atlantic City Clearance Delivery, they gave a wild clearance with over 10 fixes and even merging into Victor airways.  The only good news was that the routing was over JFK, which led to some great views of Newark and New York City.
Statue of Liberty (through a bunch of low haze)
New York City from 7000 feet near JFK
Directly overflying JFK @ 7000 FT
So after navigating the crazy routing and airways, I tried to do something tricky with ATC.  I asked them if I could do a full stop landing in Westerly, RI, keep my squawk code and immediately take off to Norwood, MA.  While ATC was being very cooperative, they asked me "If I knew the Norwood airport was closed?"

I thought "Yikes" ... Better check into it on the ground before showing up.  So after I landed at Westerly, I called the FBO @ Norwood to find out what was going on.  Turns out that they were doing construction on one of the other runways and the airport would reopen with a single runway in operation @ 5PM.  Since I was 30 minutes flight away, I decided to get back in the air and do some sightseeing.  Found a couple of cool airports, which are shown below:
Elizabeth Field on Fishers Island, NY (looks like an aircraft carrier to me!)
Montauk Airport (the very end of Long Island)
After a few good pics (~ 430), I activated an IFR flight plan and headed direct to Norwood.  The timing worked out perfectly, I landed @ 5:03 PM at Norwood, right as they opened!!
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