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)
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