Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dreary Flight Home


After perfect weather on the way up the east coast, I had the entirely opposite experience on the way home from NYC.  My typical online weather briefing on Flightaware and Aviation Weather showed solid IMC along the entire route and there was icing forecast above 13k FT.  In addition, I called Flight Service to get the PIREPs.  Unfortunately, there were multiple reports of icing @13k FT, 17k FT, and FL230.  Between the Pireps and the TBM icing accident in NJ this week, I was a bit concerned.  But I decided it would be safe if I stayed below the freezing level.  So I filed @ 10k FT and verified that the TKS fluid was full.  
When I was ready for departure @ Morristown, the airport had a 400 FT overcast layer and light rain!  Needless to say, it was not very pleasant pre-flight.  
When I took off, I followed the Morristown 6 departure procedure, and was in the clouds within minutes.  During the entire flight, there was only one brief time that I was not "in the soup".  As luck would have it, these few minutes between cloud layers had a neat surprise in store for me.

I was level @ 5000 FT when New York Departure called out a traffic alert to me as follows:

"Cirrus 6TJ, traffic @ your 8 o'clock is a United 737 climbing out of four thousand for one-seven thousand ; caution wake turbulence"

Yikes! For the first time ever I got to see an airliner "up close and personal" from above!!

Obviously, that didn't last long.  He passed me like I was standing still.  But I did get a gr8  view of his climbout!

A few minutes later I was back in the clouds (level @10k FT) and didn't see the ground again until I was near my destination.  

After more than an hour bumping along in light to moderate turbulence, I started checking out my intended destination,  which was Duplin County, NC, and realized it was not looking good.  The map, which you can see below, looked OK, but the ATIS was below minimums and I knew I needed a plan B...

So I called Washington Center and requested an  IFR divert to Kinston, which had slightly better weather.  The FBO @ Kinston is nowhere near as hospitable as Duplin County.  However, the ATIS showed 800 Ft ceilings, which was a comfortable 300+ FT above minimums.  With only light rain and 300 FT above mins, this was easily within my comfort zone.  You can see the landing below:

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Skydiver Sighting


This week I had a rather routine flight up the East Coast.  I needed to be in New York and with near perfect weather, it was a gr8 excuse to practice some "NY big city" flying.  The first leg was the totally uneventful.  From a pilot's perspective, "uneventful" is usually good.  But this flight was"excessively peaceful"!

The routing was direct @17k FT.  The skies were clear and I didn't even see a single cloud!  In addition, there was very little traffic in the air, which meant even the usual  ATC chatter was mostly silence. In fact, the biggest excitement during the whole flight was changing radio stations! 

I stopped @ Triangle North, which is a cool, little  airport just outside of Raleigh.  What makes it cool you ask? 

That would be the skydivers that were landing between the windsock and the runway I was landing on!

As soon as I was clear of the active runway, I stopped on a taxiway just in time to catch one of them landing in this video clip:

Seeing these skydivers in action, as well as the King Air "bus" that took them up, brought back some very fond college memories for me when I did a bunch of jumps in NJ & PA.  

Hmmm... Wonder if my Contour camera would survive a jump? Wait! Scratch that!!   What am I thinking ... Still way more adventures on my bucket list from the cockpit!!!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Shaking Off The Rust / Test Flight

Last week I returned from China and was planning to go a for a joyride with a fellow pilot named Ron, who was visiting town from Atlanta.

This flight was a multi-purpose mission:
First, and most important, I wanted to "shake off the rust" after 2 1/2 weeks of zero hours in the logbook.
Second, it is always fun to go for a joyride over Tampa Bay with a fellow pilot.  I was planning to fly over Clearwater Beach and shoot some approaches @ Sarasota and St Petersburg.
Third, I wanted to test out the new Lopresti "Ice-Skates".

No ... the "Ice-Skates" don't let me land on ice... However, they allegedly add a "few" knots to your cruise speed and they also provide a cool little door that lets you get access to your tires.  This is such a simple modification, I have always been surprised that Cirrus didn't make this a standard feature of all SR22s.  You can see the finished product (sans decals) below:


Ron and I got to the airport shortly after lunch.  I called from the car to have the line guys pull the plane out and have it ready right in front of the terminal.  (I know that sounds lazy... But I usually do this when I have passengers)  When we arrived, the first important task was to update the R9 charts/GPS.  While that was running,  I conducted the usual preflight.  Everything looked in order and we climbed in ready to go...

Unfortunately, "Murphy" had other ideas!  The plane simply would not start!!

Ugg... The only good thing was that I was at home base and Jonathan from Leading Edge was able to come over and quickly diagnose that I had a bad Mag :-(

So my test flight was delayed for a couple of days... :-( 

A few days later, I finally got to take the test flight.  This time I was alone and being even more cautious than usual.  On the ground, I did 2 full mag checks and everything checked out perfectly.  Then after a simple take off, I climbed north of Zephyr Hills and leveled off @ 3500 FT.  Winds were 210@22 and I decided to do an in-flight mag check, which also checked out fine!

Confident that the plane was in good working order, I decided to check out the Ice Skate performance.  I climbed up to ~ 11,500 FT and leveled off at a typical cruise configuration.  Usually, this would yield between 175 - 180 knots.  However, the winds were now 240 @ 34.  Given the winds, I couldn't figure out if the Ice Skates really helped or not.  So I guess that will need to be another test flight on a calm wind day.

With all tests complete, it was time to practice a little... I did a couple of 360s, slow flight and then did a couple of GPS approaches into Lakeland.  This time I wanted to play with the GPS features of the Contour camera and I think I have finally figured it out!  Haven't had to time to edit the video yet... But hopefully in the next couple of days.

Cheers,


Monday, November 7, 2011

Grounded for a couple of weeks

You are probably wondering why I haven't posted anything recently.... Well I am sort of grounded for a couple of weeks.

No.... I didn't get some type of suspension from the FAA!

Actually, I have been in Beijing for work and spending most of my time in this funky looking building:


This building is right next to the "bird's nest", which the world saw during the olympics:

While the history and architecture of the city is amazing, I have felt grounded/punished for a couple of reasons:
1. Facebook is blocked here 
2. Twitter is blocked here
3. Youtube is blocked here
4. Google blogger seems to be blocked sometimes... (Still haven't figured out why .. But since it is working now, I thought I would quickly toss up a post)

I am told that there are temporary workarounds to these issues, which are common knowledge, but it is still hugely inconvenient!

While I have been here, I have been playing with the nflightcam+ and think I have it finally figured out.  So when I get home next week, I plan to go on a "training" flight to shake off some rust and try my hand at making a new type of video.

Cheers,
== T.J.==

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tough Start To A VERY EZ Journey

This week's mission was to go from Tampa,FL to Danbury, CT, which is a perfect mission for an SR22 with one fuel stop.  

Surprisingly, the weather forecast was beautiful everywhere along the route except Florida.  Usually, it is the other way around.  So I was expecting a takeoff in moderate / heavy rain, which is OK.  (I don't mind rainy takeoffs.)  But I was dreading the preflight in the rain.  

I left the plane in the hanger while I did all the usual checks.  At this point, one of the Tampa Exec line guys (Nathan), really went out of his way to help me and made the preflight as good as it could have gotten under the circumstances. 

After fuel and oil, Nathan towed me out of the hanger with me sitting nice and dry in the cockpit! Just when I thought the service couldn't get any better,  Nathan parked my car in the hanger, closed the hanger door and brought me my keys!!!

As I sat in the cockpit getting ready to startup, I was feeling really spoiled. 

Then a dose of reality struck...

While trying to start up, I must have used a bit too much primer and flooded the engine.  Ugh!!

As I have mentioned before, starting an SR22 is a bit of an art.  Even after a 1000 Cirrus hours, I still feel my starts are less than elegant.  Usually, it is only tricky with hot starts....But for the first time, I screwed up a perfectly normal, cold start.

After waiting ~ 20 mins, I tried again with much better results.  The plane growled and came to life right away!

The takeoff was exactly as advertised on the ATIS, which meant heavy rain, low ceilings and a generally bumpy climb out. 

Since I already posted a very similar YouTube video of a rainy takeoff, I didn't even bother setting up the video equipment this time.

During the climb-out, the weather onscreen looked awful:


But by the time I leveled off @ 17000 FT, I was above all the rain and clouds.  The rest of the trip to NC was totally smooth with not a single cloud or bump!  In fact, ATC was so quiet, I did a few radio checks just to make sure the radios were working.  I could have really used a flight attendant serving drinks and an in flight movie ;-)



As I approached Duplin County, the Wilmington Approach ATC controller also went out of his way to help me.  He asked " Where was I going after getting fuel @ KDPL? And did I want an onward clearance?"

This shocked me! He gave me a full clearance, including a squawk code and a frequency for my second leg.  I thanked him, cancelled my flight plan, and made a very easy landing in NC in calm winds and 10 miles visibility.

After fuel and a quick turn, my next leg was even smoother and in clear, blue skies.


Washington center laughed at my direct routing and gave me  a typical Northeast clearance with 3 victor airways and 6 fixes.  Luckily it was close to a direct routing and the weather was so nice, I didn't notice the time go by.

Cape May, NJ
As I was on final approach into Danbury, I got some great views of the Hudson River and even the IBM office in Somers, NY, which you can see below:
Hudson River
IBM Somers Office
So what started out as a tough journey ended up being extremely easy!

The weather forecast does not look as promising for the trip home ... 

Hmmm... Might need to take a creative detour home!


Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Homeward Bound Despite ATC and Weather


I was hoping for a leisurely journey home from NJ on Sunday.  But The ATC radio work around NY was quite a workout. When I was on the ground @ Morristown airport, I was ready for departure ~ 35 minutes prior to my filed flight plan.  I called Clearance Delivery but they were not ready for me.  Rather than wait for a half hour on the ground, I decided to take off without a flight plan and pick up IFR in the air.  In most parts of the country, this technique works just fine.  However, NY is a different world!

The takeoff was uneventful.  But when I tried to call NY Approach from the air, the frequency was  simply too congested for me break in.

At this point, I knew that asking for a clearance on this frequency would have been impractical and perhaps even rude.  Instead, I asked for flight following in the fastest radio voice I could manage.  The controller responded in an even faster radio voice.  He gave me a squawk code, a heading, and told me he would get back to me "when he could".  After ~ 10  minutes of listening, I was amazed at how this controller managed to avoid chaos while talking to more than half a dozen planes!

He never gave me the magic words ("radar contact").  But he did give me a handoff to Philly approach, who eventually gave me a proper clearance.



This clearance worked out well.  It kept me right between an area of heavy rain and the Washington Special airspace:
But I never saw the ground because there seemed to be solid cloud deck below me the whole way.  When it was time to land in Duplin County airport, the view as I descended was rather cool and I managed to touchdown right on centerline!! You can see for yourself in the clip below:

After a wonderful, authentic Carolina BBQ, it was time for the last leg.


Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate on the last leg. The R9 screen seemed to be filled with nasty colors the whole time.


When I was getting close to the FL/GA border, the controller the said "Heavy to extreme precipitation @ your 12... I don't have a an obvious way to avoid it ... Let me know when you need to deviate and your intentions."

Between that radio call and the glowing red R9 screen, I knew I needed to get ready for for a bumpy ride.  So I put the iPad away, secured everything in the cabin, and tightened my seat belt as much as I could.



As expected, the ride between Jacksonville and Ocala was rough. There was moderate turbulence plus enough rain to make it feel like nighttime.  

Luckily, the turbulence didn't last long.  When I eventually broke out of the rain/clouds, the view was totally majestic (or maybe I was just relieved):


At that point, I found a great routing that seemed to avoid all the rain and even have a normal, dry landing in Tampa.


Thursday, September 22, 2011

X-Country to NJ

After my trip to Texas over the gulf, I unexpectedly had a short trip to Beijing for work last week, which meant I have been "grounded" for a few days.

But I made up for it this week with a rather challenging X-Country to NJ.  This time no fuel drama!  In fact, it started with an uneventful first leg from Tampa, FL > Duplin County, NC for the usual cheap gas and gr8 hospitality. The weather was excellent in Florida with clear blue skies.  Luckily all the nasty weather was off to my right, which you can see in the screenshot below:



The second leg is where it started to get interesting.

In the past, I have found that dealing with ATC anywhere near NY is usually an intense experience filled with rapid radio work and frequent "changes".  Some "changes" are welcome ... But most are just frustrating.  So I prepared myself mentally for this leg.

As far as a flight plan, I didn't even bother trying to pick any specific route.  Using  FlightAware, I filed a simple IFR flight plan, which showed direct KDPL > KMMU, with 2 hours ETE @ 15000 FT. The weather in NJ didn't look too bad (calm winds and  ~ 2500 FT ceiling) and I was hoping to land before dark.

Once airborne, I was quickly cleared up to 15 thousand ; direct SBY.  Once I leveled off, I was pleasantly surprised to find a 20 kt tailwind!

As expected, Washington Center gave me a reroute within minutes of reaching 15k FT.

By northeast standards, it was a very simple reroute (only 2 fixes & 2 victor airways).  You can see how easy entering this type of change into R9 is in the video clip below:

 



As I got close to Philadelphia, I was vectored lower and directly over the airport, which resulted in some great views
Philly Airport
Some Cool looking bridge near PHL
After I finished gawking at the scenery in Philly, I realized it was starting to get darker and cloudier... So much for my simple flight!

I was looking forward to flying the Route 80 Visual Approach because it flew directly over my old high school!  Instead, I flew the  last 75 miles in solid IMC and ended up flying the ILS23 into a night landing at MMU!

For some reason I was way left of centerline... But luckily the enormous runway, which usually caters to jets, was quite forgiving!  Some people only post their "greasers".  


But I am happy to share my "less than graceful" landing in the clip below:


 

As some of you know, I have been experimenting with new camera equipment.  On this approach, I had my usual 2 Canon cameras (which I love!) + the new "NFlightcam+" (which I am undecided on).  Unfortunately, I couldn't make the  story teller software work.  So the video above is from my old equipment.

I have high hopes of wrestling with the Nflightcam software soon.  To be fair, it is probably "pilot error".

But I will keep u posted on how that goes...

Monday, September 19, 2011

Fuel planning Over The Gulf

Last weekend was a perfect example of why you must "get good" at flight planning while enroute.

I planned a simple direct flight over the gulf at 16000 FT from Tampa, FL to Galveston, TX.

Conventional wisdom says you do your flight planning on the ground and then simply execute in the cockpit.  It sounds simple ... But that rarely seems to work for me.  There are frequently "surprises" enroute that I never seem to be able to predict in advance.

The flight planning on the ground looked quite promising.  The weather was clear and the winds aloft were quite tame along the route (210@10kts)  According to my calculations, the flight should have taken 4hours 9 mins.  This would allow me to land with comfortably more than 1 hour and 51 minutes of fuel to spare, which is about 30 gallons.

Since the weather and fuel looked good, I began my usual preflight.  However, because  this was a flight over the Gulf of Mexico, I took a couple of extra precautions.  First, I made sure my lifejacket was within easy reach. Second, I made sure my Personal locator beacon (PLB) was in my pocket and ready to go.

Shortly after takeoff, things started to change.  Tampa approach was dealing with a lot of traffic in the class B. As a result, my clearance was a bit inconvenient with a heading of 090, followed by several painfully slow heading changes before I was heading westbound. After I leveled off @ 16k FT, I rechecked the fuel projections on R9 and found it predicting 25 gals @ destination.

No problem... (My personal minimum is anything greater than 20) ... So far so good ...

Then Miami center said the dreaded words "We have an amendment to your routing, advise when ready to copy".

Uggg... The new routing was direct Seminole (SZW), direct Crestview (CEW) direct destination.

After refreshing the fuel calcs in the R9, it showed 19gals @ destination... This was not good! I have read so many accident/incident reports where pilots "stretched" personal minimums only to realize later that this was part of the accident chain.

I decided if it didn't improve above 20 by 1 hour from destination, I would divert.  But I still had plenty of time.  In the meantime, I reduced power to 65% to try to conserve fuel.

After about 20 mins, I found myself in and out of a thin cloud deck and facing increased headwinds (240@33).  No immediate danger... But fuel status was now getting worse and the R9 was now predicting 14 gals @ destination.

So I pulled up Foreflight on the iPad and started looking for a place to divert in Louisiana. In addition, I reduced power further to 60% to conserve even more fuel.

I also tried to be clever and "use ATC's help" to conserve fuel.  Every time I got handed off to a new ATC controller, I asked for "a shortcut of 10 to 20 degrees.  This worked remarkably well.  Before I knew it, the R9 was predicting 21 gals@ destination!

But my optimism was short-lived.  The headwinds picked up to 244@42kts.

Now the R9 showed 18 gals @ destination :-(

That did it, time to divert... Houma,Louisiana looked like a good spot.  I told myself 50 miles from Houma would be the decision point to change my IFR flight and start a descent.

Miraculously the winds died down before then and I was able to press on to my destination.

When I landed in Galveston, the R9 reported 20.7 gallons remaining! phew!!

I parked right next to a beautiful Citation CJ2 and a friendly lineman, named Eric, rolled out the red carpet for me!

After a wonderful flight, I am more convinced than ever, that flight planning enroute is an even more important skill than planning on the ground.

Thank goodness that there are cockpit gadgets that let us do that!

Unfortunately, with all the fretting over fuel, I forgot to take pictures!!

(Have to make up for that on my next flight)

Friday, September 2, 2011

Ribbon Cutting Flight in a Cub

On the way home from Lansing, I decided to make a pit stop @ Dayton Wright Brothers airport.  Partly out of necessity (because I needed one fuel stop between Lansing and Tampa).  But more significantly, it was a great excuse to meetup with a fellow pilot blogger named Steve from the Mile of Runway blog.

As often happens when pilots get together, we found an excuse to go for a joyride in "his" Piper Cub.  


I say "his" because it is one of several planes that he rents regularly and the one that I was most intrigued by.  This particular plane was a 1946 Piper Cub (NC98286) with 85HP and the most spartan panel I had ever seen! 

When I saw this, I was excited to try a pure "stick and rudder" experience in this vintage airplane.  There was no paved runway, no radio, no transponder, no electrical system.  We even wore earplugs instead of headsets!As you can see, I sat in the front seat because the pilot in command typically sits in the back in a cub. 


Shortly after takeoff, Steve performed a number of maneuvers that I found rather impressive since he was doing it from the backseat and probably couldn't even see the instruments.  He later told me "... In a Cub the instruments are not that important because you feel your way around"!

As we were cruising along at 60-70 knots @ low altitude, I felt like I was enjoying the raw essence of flight in much the same way barnstormers did decades ago.  Then out of the blue, Steve gave me quite a surprise, which you can see in the pic below:



He held up a roll of Toilet paper and said "Wanna try ribbon cutting?". I enthusiastically yelled "YES" Since we didn't have headsets, I also gave  him 2 thumbs up in case he didn't hear me.  We then climbed up to ~ 3000 Ft and he tossed the roll out the door, which had been wide open for the whole flight.


We then did a very smooth, spiraling dive to the left and clipped what looked like a white streamer with the right wing! It was more cool than I could possibly describe in words and something I could never do in a Cirrus!!

After that, we made our way back to Red Stewart airfield for a wild landing . I say wild because with no radio and no ATIS, we did (well... really Steve did) a mid field left downwind entry followed by a very steep forward slip to a nice, smooth landing on the turf.  It was wild for me... But Steve later told me that it was a rather typical approach in the cub.

You can see the video of the "ribbon cutting" and the landing below:

 



Overall, a wonderful flight experience and one that makes it onto my Top 10 list!



Monday, August 15, 2011

Heading home after Migration

After a packed few days in Colorado Springs, it was time to head home on Sunday.  However, this time no scenic route ... (Direct Colorado Springs to Tampa Executive with a quick turn at one of my regular fuel stops in Tallulah, LA)

Migration was a great way for me to meet (and reacquaint with) fellow cirrus pilots from around the country. Of course, there were also a few cool, new products to see as well.

While I definitely learned a few things, the highlight of the trip was a flight that I took with Trip Taylor.  His plane was outfitted with the new R9 synthetic vision and he was gracious enough to allow me to tag along on one of his demo flights.  The R9 "Syn Vis" is not yet certified, but Trip's plane has been reclassified as "experimental" in order to keep the plane flying legally.

Because of all the terrain nearby, Colorado Springs was a perfect place to demo "Syn Vis".

The flight was a bit bumpy ... But I was able to put a short video clip together, which you can see below:


Overall, I was very impressed with how seamless the "Syn Vis" was incorporated into the R9 platform.  Much to my surprise, it was not distracting at all!  As soon as it gets certified, I am eager to load up the  software on my plane.
After this journey, I am now @ 48 states!  (Only New Mexico and Hawaii left)


I have also started to think about what comes after the 50th state... (Maybe Canadian Provinces, Caribbean islands, or possibly other types of aircraft/ratings)  


Let me know if you have any suggestions??

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Migration 9 Trip Summary

I have finally arrived in Colorado Springs and the journey was quite amazing!

It is hard to summarize a 4200 mile trip.   (But here goes...)

Some of it what was "as expected " ; Some of it reinforced how flexible you need to be on a journey like this. 
Between weather, customs formalities, spotty radar, icing, even the exact route was not as planned.  You can see the "planned vs actual" route below:


The blue line was the planned route.  The magenta line was the actual route.  As you can see, I tried to follow my plan.  But needed to make lots of adjustments along the way.

On my first leg from Tampa to Hopkinsville, KY, the weather in the picture below forced me to do an enroute diversion to Shelbyville,TN:

I landed and topped off minutes before it started pouring!


After the storm passed, I continued to Sioux Falls, SD where I did my first overnight.
The next day started mostly as planned Sioux Falls,SD > Bismarck, ND > Glasgow, MT.


As I made my final Preparations to enter Canadian airspace, the Canadian authorities (Canpass) informed me that the Kamloops customs was "Closed for the day" So I had to pick an alternate destination and chose Kelowna, British Columbia.

With a new destination, I entered Canadian airspace for the first time to find more surprises. While crossing the Rockies, Edmonton ATC informed me that radar coverage would be "lost over the
 Rockies", which was not very comforting!  They gave me a frequency and told me to "try calling Vancouver" in ~ 30-45 minutes.


Luckily, the weather was good and of course the view over the Rockies was breathtaking.
(I am still trying to sort through the pix to make a Picassa album.)



Kelowna turned out to be a wonderful destination.  The  airport is rather  unique due to the terrain.  It is in a valley, which causes you to fly an unusual approach with a fairly steep descent. (Still working on editing that video)


The next day I flew to Ketchikan, Alaska, which was a very challenging flight.   Canadian ATC instructions/phraseology is just a little different than the US.  But I managed several surprise instructions and even a last minute approach change and had an incredible landing, which is shown in the video below:




After that landing (and enjoying Alaskan hospitality and seafood), I thought that Ketchikan would be the highlight of the journey.  But after a couple of more states, the real highlight of the trip materialized in Leadville, CO.  Lake County Airport in Leadville, CO is the highest airport in North America @ 9927 MSL.  I landed there on a precision approach with a "circle to land" into an 18 KT headwind Gusting to 28 KTs, (Perhaps NOTmy most elegant landing... But certainly  one of the most difficult and satisfying landings I had done in a long time.  


As you can see from the pic below, they really do issue certificates for landing there!!
After Leadville, a short 20 minute flight to Colorado Springs and I was warmly greeted by the staff of Colorado Jet Center.  So after this incredible journey, I am now ready for the main event (Migration 9), which is scheduled to start tomorrow morning.


Cheers,


Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Scenic Route to M9

As some of you know, this  week is the 9th annual Cirrus migration, known as M9.  While not as big as Osh Kosh or Sun N Fun, it is the biggest Cirrus event of the year.  This year, M9 is being held in Colorado Springs.  Cirrus pilots from around the country (and even a few from other countries) will be by flying their aircraft into KCOS for the event.

I wanted to make the journey to M9 memorable by taking a scenic route to get there.  In addition, this was a great excuse to work on my 50 state quest.  You can see my planned route in the video clip below:


It might be a bit ambitious... But this route should include stops in 7 new states and even a FIRST venture into Canadian airspace!

But every experienced pilot I spoke to about it, warned me that a trip like this requires a few things:
1. Detailed planning about routes, alternate routes, procedures, etc
2. A well maintained and prepared aircraft.
3. Flexibility DURING the flight


As a result, I've been planning for weeks...  Looking at lots of charts... Making sure the plane was in perfect shape in terms of maintenance.  Much to the surprise of the line crew in Tampa, I even  made sure the TKS de-ice fluid was full while  it was 95 degrees on the ramp in Tampa!


I am really trying to follow the advice .... We will see at the end of the week how it goes...

You can follow along in near real time on Flight Aware .... Or just wait till later this week to see my next post...(Hopefully I should be able to get some cool pix along the way.)



Cheers,

Saturday, July 30, 2011

White Plains & NYC Skyline

I spent this week in NY, specifically in White Plains, which is just on the northern edge of the New York Class B airspace frenzy.  But more importantly, it is also the home of IBM Flight Operations.  The IBM fleet consists of a number of aircraft, including Gulfstream 550s, Falcon 200s and even helicopters.  As you can imagine, they have an enormous hanger to house this little fleet.

As you can see above, I was lucky in enough to arrange a tiny corner of the hanger to call home for the week.  In the photo below, you can see me with the CEO's G550 in the background.
Actually, the G550 is such an enormous and impressive plane, that my Cirrus could have fit under the wing.

Even more than the aircraft, the IBM Flight Operations staff are really impressive!  They have several dozen staff on the crew and they run a "mini airline" with everything from full maintenance, avionics work, to catering, planning, dispatch etc.  The entire crew showed me some incredible hospitality this week, which I truly appreciate!

The night before my trip home, I wanted to do a "fly-by" of the NYC skyline along the Hudson River.  I had read about this scenic route in numerous magazines and was eager to experience it firsthand.  There is an FAA procedure that has been established for this route that is very simple to follow.

Even though the procedure is not complicated, I went with a friend (Steve), who is a local pilot.  This gave me a safety pilot on board.  In addition, it gave me an extra set of eyes for traffic and another photographer on board.

You can see a couple of the pix below:

In addition, I setup a video camera on the left side which captured some good shots of the skyline.  (You can see for yourself in the video clip below:

If you have the opportunity to try the Hudson Corridor, I highly recommend it... The camera simply doesn't do it justice!

Cheers,

Friday, July 29, 2011

The Art of Flying IFR

This week was another long  x-country that got me thinking about the "art of flying IFR".
The route is shown below.  

The map is not zoomed in enough to tell... But this routes goes through LOTS of  special use airspace along the way, including military operating areas, restricted areas, the dreaded Washington DC SFRA, and perhaps worst of all, the very congested New York airspace.  


Since  getting my instrument ticket, approximately  75% of my flying is in the IFR system ; another 20% with some type of VFR ATC services and the rest is just random joyrides.

However, what I learned during my instrument training was focused on the mechanics and legalities.  It didn't cover the nuances of using the IFR system well.  Today's flight was a perfect example of these nuances.

When I left Tampa, the weather was perfect (winds calm,  clear below 12000).  The first leg was heading to Farmville, VA, where the weather was also looking good.  But in between, most of South Carolina had lots of ugly weather.

So I knew I would need IFR... But not right away.  Instead of filing from Tampa to Farmville, I filed from Ocala to Orange County, VA with a departure time of ~  30 minutes after my real departure time.

I took off VFR from Tampa and headed northbound direct to my destination at a leisurely 400 fpm climb.  According to the R9 FMS, that would keep me under the Tampa class B.  After passing the class B, I increased the climb rate to ~ 900 fpm and called Jacksonville Approach to pick up my IFR.  This little trick avoided the usual eastbound, step climb that Tampa usually assigns when getting clearance from the ground.

After leveling off at 17000 FT, I was listening intently for other aircraft heading northbound to try visualize the deviations they were making.

As I approached the weather in south Carolina, I couldn't see any "good" route on the R9.   As you can see below, it simply looked daunting, including 2 convective sigmets and lots of "red".


Since the frequency was not busy, I called Jax center and openly asked for "help" navigating the weather.  The controller was fantastic!  In response, he offered me pireps of other aircraft that just flew through this weather and offered a routing that was smooth IMC 10 minutes prior.  While this is no guarantee, it is truly the safest, best advice you can get.

I happily accepted the amended clearance and had an uneventful crossing directly through the weather that was painted on my screen.

After a quick fuel stop, I departed for New York but realized that I had forgotten to return a couple of important phone calls.  


No problem.....


While inside the Washington DC SFRA, I called Potomac Approach and asked to divert to Frederick, MD.  As usual, the controller was very cooperative and quickly gave me the vectors that I needed.


After another quick stop and a couple of calls, I departed for White Plains.  This time I got multiple reroutes from NY Approach.  At first I couldn't understand why.  Then the map cleared it up for me.


ATC was rerouting me (and a bunch of other planes) around some storm cells!  They did this even before I asked!!


So my conclusion about IFR, is that what your Instructor teaches you will keep you legal.  But to really keep yourself safe and get better at this craft, you need to focus more on the nuances of the art of flying and make optimal use of ATC by openly asking for the help you need and being flexible on what you get!

Cheers,

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Long X-Country, Weather, & State # 38 (AZ)

This weekend I had a long cross country flight planned.  The destination was Sedona, AZ, which is a very famous airport for pilots.

According to the Sedona Airport website, they claim to be "America's Most Scenic Airport".  It is also sometimes referred to as the "USS Sedona" because it feels like landing on an aircraft carrier.  This is due to the fact that the airport is situated on a Mesa with a 500 FT dropoff on both ends of the runway.

To add further drama, Sedona is home to a number of "spiritual vortexes", which are clearly identified on tourist maps.  In fact, one of them is right on the Airport access road.  Some say that it may even contribute to the bizarre wind patterns that pilots wrestle with on final.

The route I planned was fairly simple, which you can see below:

The first leg from Tampa to Shreveport was a grueling battle with weather.  You can see from the screen shot below why I had diversion clearances of 20 degrees right or left most of the way.

Luckily after Shreveport, there was no more rain to contend with.  The next stop was supposed to be Truth or Consequences, NM.  I thought the name was unique, and their runway layout even more unique.  But as I was flying over West Texas, I needed a break.  So I pulled out the iPad and found a great little airport in Snyder, TX that was only 40 miles from my position and had cheap fuel, internet and a crew car!

Since I was on an IFR flight plan, I called ATC and told (not asked) to divert to Winston airport (KSNK).  Their immediate response was "WHY???".  I replied "NO emergency... Just change in plans".  Then I did a couple of 360s to get down from 16,000 FT and had an uneventful landing.  The crew at KSNK (Ray and Danny) were extremely friendly and helpful.  After a bite and a bunch of "hanger flying" with the crew, I was ready for departure.

However, it was 95 degrees out and I struggled with the hot start.  After 2 failed attempts, I pulled up Alex Wolf's YouTube video on SR22 hot starts and that did the trick. (Thanks Alex!!)

Now I was finally direct Sedona.  As I approached, I instantly understood why this airport has so much hype. The views were breathtaking!  I tried to capture some of it on video, which you can see below:

So Arizona is now officially state # 38 and because of my little detour, I will try to hit New Mexico on the way home.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Holding pattern without a shuttle view

As everyone knows, today was the day for the space shuttle's last mission.  I didn't have tickets to see the launch in person.  But I really wanted to see it.

So I came up with what I thought was a clever plan.  I would fly the Cirrus upto 17,000 FT and go into a holding pattern "near" the launch site.  Of course, "near" meant I had to stay clear of the TFR (temporary flight restriction), which was a 30 mile ring around the launch site.  That would still give me a memorable view and hopefully even some pictures/video.

Unfortunately, this plan didn't quite work as I had hoped...

The weather in FL was lousy today!  Not as bad as a hurricane or a convective sigmet.  But plenty of clouds, rain and lots of dreary overcast.

Ever the optimist, I filed an IFR flight plan and decided to try it anyway.  I was hoping to get above the clouds where I could get a view.

When I filed the IFR flight plan, I wrote "Training flight: practicing holding patterns @ COKES" in the remarks section.  COKES is an intersection just off the FL east coast near Flagler County airport that was just outside of the TFR.

When I arrived at the airport, I did my preflight inspection under some very nasty looking clouds, which you can see below:
As luck would have it, as soon as I finished my preflight and closed the door, it started raining!
As I waited for my IFR clearance, I watched another Cirrus land in the rain.  I checked all of the avionics one more time and then was ready for takeoff.  Taking off in the rain is bit unusual because there is really not much to see out the window and you have totally rely on instruments moments after rotation.  You can see the conditions for yourself in the clip below:

After I was airborne, the next hurdle was ATC.  They were quite busy today due to the weather and several other aircraft maneuvering to do the same thing as me.  Initially, they only cleared me to 5,000 FT, which was right in the middle of a cloud layer.  Aside from the training/practice value, this was rather unsatisfying.  There was absolutely no view and it was so bumpy I couldn't even play with any camera equipment.  I asked 3 different controllers for a higher altitude.  Each one told me to "standby" then later said "unable" due to traffic or some other excuse. 

Finally, I got handed off to the Daytona Approach control, where I encountered a much more cooperative controller.  Despite my "disguised" flight plan, he knew exactly what I was doing and was eager to help. 

He gave me a clearance to 10,000 FT and told me to hold over Ormand Beach Airport.  I happily complied and setup my cameras.  Unfortunately, even @ 10,000 FT, there were too many clouds to see anything.  ATC was unable to clear me any higher due to "inbound international arrivals".

So after all the effort, I didn't see or even hear the launch!

But the trip was definitely not over.  I still needed to fly home and the weather continued to add drama to the trip.  You can see both the TFR (with the RED ring) and the weather in Tampa on the screen shot below.
The rain was fairly heavy and I flew the GPS23 all the way down to 450 FT before I could even see the runway!  As I got to the runway numbers, I realized I was a little high.  Since the runway was longer than I needed, I just floated a little and landed slightly long.... You can see for yourself in the video below:

After I got home, I finally watched the launch on CNN...  Even though I didn't see it live, I got some great weather flying experience today!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

State #37 (NE) and Missouri River Flooding

On the way back from Sioux Falls, the weather once again played a factor in my route.  I needed to leave SD before the storms arrived and I was also hoping to hit one more state on the way. 

I was heading to Lexington, KY and found a routing through Omaha that worked perfectly:
On the way to Omaha, I noticed a very unusually shaped TFR (temporary flight restriction), which is the red outlined area in the picture below:
At first I wasn't sure what to make of this .... Then I realized that this TFR was over the sections of the Missouri River that were experiencing some major flooding.  The TFR was surface to 4000 FT.  I overflew most of it and saw how just how bad it was first hand:


Omaha, which is right on the Missouri River near the Iowa border, was also affected by the floods.  The airport was still open despite flooded areas adjacent to several taxiways.
You can even see some of the devastating floods on the approach.  What looks like a giant lake in the approach video below is actually a flooded area:

Not sure if you can tell from the video... This was another tough, gusty landing (winds were 100@ 15 knots gusting to 21 knots).

After landing (and taking a deep breath), I jumped into a crew car and headed to the Hollywood Diner.  It was simple, regular diner food.  But it did have some unusual decor.  The whole place is decorated like a 1950s diner with tinsel town memorabilia in every wall, ceiling and corner.
The final leg of the journey was from Omaha to Lexington.  This part of the journey was smooth and uneventful.  Even had a moderate tailwind most of the way.
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