Sunday, February 20, 2011

Photo Opps and Dodging Airspace

Today was one of those traditional $100 hamburger days. An IBM colleague of mine (Richard) was visiting from Spain. He has heard me rave about flying for years and I thought today was the perfect day to show him firsthand.

The plan was either to fly to Key West or Palm Beach, both of which are gr8 $100 Hamburger destinations. When Richard learned that Disney was right on the way to Palm Beach, the decision was clear. He had just bought a new camera and was eager to try it out en route over Disney. However, I warned him that there is a temporary flight restriction (TFR) over Disney, which may hamper the photo opportunities.

Interestingly, the Disney TFR is not so temporary. In fact, it seems to be a permanent restriction that prohibits all aircraft from surface to 3000 FT. (I guess Mickey doesn’t want anybody buzzing Cinderella’s Castle).

But I had a trick up my sleeve that I was hoping would result in a legal way to get into that TFR airspace.

When we were ready for takeoff at Tampa Executive there was a broken cloud layer @ ~ 5000 FT. We climbed through a nice big whole in the clouds @ ~ 1000 FT/min and enjoyed a smooth ride at 5500.
Now it was time to setup for my TFR trick. The Kissimmee Airport has an instrument approach procedure (RNAV GPS 15), which cuts right through Disney's TFR!  As long you get the appropriate clearances from ATC, you can get low enough to get some gr8 views of Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Downtown Disney.  We got cleared down to 2300 FT, which was comfortably below the clouds and enabled Richard to put his new camera to the test.
After our Disney flyby, we went missed approach on the procedure and continued direct to Flagler County Airport , where we had lunch @ Hijackers.  On the way back, we had more airspace to deal with.  The restricted area just north of Orlando was active and the Orlando approach frequency was too busy for us to pick up flight following or even a clearance into class B.  As a result, we climbed through another  "whole in the clouds" to get on top of the class B @ 10,500 FT.  After clearing the Orlando airspace, we needed to descend and fortunately found another nice big whole in the clouds.  In order to maintain VFR, we needed to do some steep turns and 360s to make it through the whole.
Then moments later, we actually saw a skydiver near Zephyr Hills under a bright red canopy!
So in the end, Richard still needs a lot of practice with his new camera.  But as you can see, overall mission accomplished for today!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Formation Flight Enroute to a Fly-In

Today was one of my best flying days ever!

It was a day of firsts!  ... Today was "My first Fly-In" and "My First Formation Flight"!!

Both were significant ... But can u guess which one made this one of my best flying days ever?

It all started as a routine flight.  Joe and I arrived at the airport ~ 8 AM and made all the typical pre-flight checks.  While Joe is not actually a pilot, his enthusiasm for aviation and his overall attitude has made him one of my "regular co-pilots".   When we were ready, we called Anupam so that he could time his departure in N-29LK and we could "meet" in the air ~ 2500 FT above Winter Haven airport.  Anupam and I had briefed the flight in advance (last night and again this morning). We had a pretty clear idea of what we would do and had some contingencies and emergency procedures worked out.

We made radio contact on 122.75 about 20 miles from Winter Haven and I found it surprisingly easy to "meet up" in the air.  We started with a 500 FT difference in altitude with the high wing Cardinal @ 2500 FT and my low wing Cirrus @ 2000 FT.  After we saw each other, the cardinal flew a heading of 180 and roughly 120 KTs.  I then gradually closed the gap in altitude and got closer with very cautious use of rudder.  The pictures came out awesome!  You can click on Picasa album below to see for yourself:

After we got the hang of it and took a bunch of pictures, Anupam had a great idea... He wanted to slow down and lower his landing gear.  We were able to position ourselves just right and video the whole thing.

I made a recap video of the flight for Youtube, which you can see below:

After reaching the east coast of Florida, we found a bunch of traffic in the vicinity of Vero Beach, which you can see below:
Apparently, many other pilots thought of going to the same air show.  When I was ~ 15 miles from destination, I was jockeying for position with 8 other planes in addition to N-29LK !

Despite the traffic, it was definitely worth the trip, we saw a number of really, cool aircraft.  But my personal favorite, was this velocity:
After getting our fill of planes and "pilots with war stories", we traded co-pilots and headed home.  On the way home we did some more formation flying.  Now that we were experienced, it seemed even easier!

Overall, the fly-in was good.  But the experience of formation flight, was priceless!


Friday, February 11, 2011

Annual Done! Cleared for Takeoff!!

As promised, the guys at Leading Edge came through and finished the annual today right on schedule! Reminds me of the old A-Team quote "I love it when a plan comes together" ;-)

So now it is time to turn my attention to planning the next journey.  Tomorrow, I am planning to go to the EAA Fly-In in Vero Beach, FL with a couple of friends.  While Fly-Ins are always fun, this one has a special twist.

My friend Anupam, who is a pilot and Cardinal owner, is also going to the same fly-in.  So we have decided to attempt a brief formation flight.  (Not a true formation flight... More of an aerial photo shoot)

My route is shown below:
This is a very short 113 nautical mile trip... (But that does not count the detour for formation work.)

Anupam's Cardinal is based in Plant City Airport.  So we can't do a true formation takeoff.  Instead, my plan is to rendezvous with N-29LK in a holding pattern over the Winter Haven Airport.  Why there you ask... First, it is sort of on the way.   Second, it is clearly between Tampa and Orlando's class B airspaces, which means we won't need to worry about ATC clearances.  Third, it is in a scenic area with lots of lakes that should make for a good photo opp.

I read up on formation flying and found that there were surprisingly few rules constraining this activity.  The basics are laid out in FAR 91.111.  However, there is a bunch of training material available about how to do it well and do it safely. 

Our plan is rather simple.  We will fly at prearranged altitudes (with 500 FT separation) until we can see each other.  Then establish radio contact on the 122.75 frequency.  I used to think that 123.45 was the appropriate air-to-air frequency.  But it is NOT.  While 123.45 is usually quiet, it is definitely NOT designated for this type of conversation. The correct frequency is either 122.75 or 122.85.

After we have established visual and radio contact, then we will proceed "together" to Vero Beach (of course with a few maneuvers for the camera)

Hopefully, I will be able to post some cool photos and/or videos tomorrow.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Annual Drama

After last week's "heavy flying" week, this was a no flying week (except for JetBlue).  I needed to be in New York for some IBM business.  As usual, I felt the urge to multi-task and decided that this was the perfect week to get the annual inspection done on the Cirrus.  The annual is not due till next month ... But since I was out of town anyway, I thought it was the perfect timing.  Besides... I would feel much more comfortable going to the WFIF event next month with a fresh annual.

Luckily, the folks at Leading Edge were able to accommodate my last minute request and said they "hoped" to finish by Friday "depending on what they find".  Like many aircraft owners, the annual inspection usually strikes fear in my heart.  While the plane has no known squawks, who knows what they will find when they start taking things apart.  Worse yet, who knows how much will it cost!

So when I returned home to Tampa today, I called the folks at Leading Edge to see how it was going...
This is what they showed me:
While the picture was downright painful for me to see, they told me some gr8 news!!  After the complete annual inspection, the only material item that needed attention was the left main tire, which needed to be replaced.  As you can see, they were almost done with that today:
By tomorrow, they tell me that it will be washed and back in my hanger.

That is absolutely perfect timing.... On Saturday, I am planning to go to the EAA fly-in in Vero Beach and on Sunday I am planning to do an Angel Flight from Pensacola to Miami for 2 year old boy that needs to get to Miami Children's Hospital.

So overall, my anxiety is greatly relieved and I can happily say ... "Another year's annual drama done!!"

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Angel Flight in IMC

This was a busy flying week indeed... After coming back from Miami, I managed to squeeze in an Angel Flight.  I was a little nervous about this one because it was my first Angel Flight in IMC.  The ceilings in Tampa were ~ 1000 FT and recent PIREPS showed even lower in the area.  In addition to the cloud cover in Tampa, the radar showed an ugly line of RED/YELLOW/GREEN about halfway along our route.  The only good news on the weather was that the PIREPS near Cross City reported smooth air near the altitude I was planning.

The patient (Chris) was a cancer patient, who lives in Panama City, FL and is participating in a clinical trial at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.  She was so grateful for the 1.5 hour flight home, which meant she could avoid the grueling 8 hour drive.  I warned her that due to the weather, it may get a bit bumpy and we will likely be in the clouds the majority of the time.  She was not concerned.  She had been on many small planes before and knew generally what to expect.
So we picked up our IFR clearance on the ground and took off into "the soup".  Shortly after takeoff, we "found just the right altitude" thanks to a cooperative ATC controller.  We were able to enjoy a smooth ride between layers of clouds.

As we passed Cross City, I noticed that the line of storms I was worried about had moved East faster than expected!  That meant we were able to easily dodge the rest of the clouds with just a couple of minor deviations:

Luckily, the radar picture looked far less scary in the plane than on the ground.  Best of all, after another 15 minutes all the weather was behind us.  Then it was just sightseeing and photos:

As we approached Panama City, the weather was no factor.  But I wanted to practice some more video editing.  So I setup the camera and shot the GPS 34 approach onto their enormous 10000 FT runway.  Just for kicks, I even did a "short field" landing on the first 2000 FT.  You can see the approach and landing on my Youtube channel below:

After we landed, the folks at the SheltAir FBO took very good care of us. While this "new" Panama City airport still feels like it is under construction, they are definitely OPEN for business!


Friday, February 4, 2011

Revolving Squawk Codes

As you may have guessed from the timing of this post, I did indeed stay in Miami on Wednesday(not only for dinner but overnight)... The trip home on Thursday should have been a quick, simple trip home... But as often happens, I tried to get too clever and mother nature "corrected" me.  First, I tried to avoid dealing with the crowded Miami airspace. No IFR flight plan, no departure procedures, just good old fashioned hand flying... Well, as "old-fashioned" as can be done in a Cirrus.

I was planning to do the short 180 nautical mile trip entirely on squawk code 1200 and with near "radio silence"... Instead, the short 1 hour trip ended up with numerous squawk code changes, nearly continuous radio communications and I was even too busy for any music!  Here is how it happened.

Squawk code # 1 - 1200: Simple call to Tamiami Ground "Request taxi to 9L ; VFR Northwest bound with information Delta."   Then I taxied to runway 9L, where I was immediately cleared for takeoff (into a clear, blue sky).

I carefully dodged around (and below) the Miami class B airspace and was heading direct to the CURVE intersection and then direct Tampa.  This routing manages to avoid all MOAs, Class Bs, and all that "funky" FL airspace.  After the reaching CURVE @ 2800 FT, I started climbing to 10,500 FT because it just didn't feel like an oxygen day.

As I passed through ~ 9,000 FT, I noticed a cloud layer forming (or maybe appearing) below me.

Hmmm... Didn't like that ; I was planning to stay VFR the whole way.  But if there was a solid cloud deck below. So there was no way to legally make a VFR descent.  So that led to the next squawk code.  I was still 113 miles away from the destination.  I checked the Tampa ATIS using the R9 Info page and found the following:
Notice the Cloud Cover @ 600 FT Overcast
I knew I had to switch to IFR.  But switching VFR to IFR enroute is not something u do everyday.  I decided the easiest way would be to pick up VFR Flight Following and then ask them to "convert" me to IFR.  (Not sure if controllers are supposed to do this... But I have had friendly controllers do this for me before).

Squawk Code # 2 - 0714: Miami Center said the magic words "Radar Contact"... But unfortunately followed it quickly with "heading 270 for traffic"  (So much for the quiet direct VFR route home).  If you have never flown this area, you should know that it is one of the busiest airspaces on the East Coast.  The controllers talk fast and have little patience for pilots without strong radio skills.  After the radio calmed down, I eventually asked for IFR.  The controller politely told me NO... He suggested I file a flight plan with Miami FSS.  Miami canceled my flight following.  So that lead to squawk # 3.

Squawk Code # 3 - 1200(again): Now I went through the painfully slow process of filing an IFR flight plan with Miami FSS. By this time I was already less than 100 miles from destination and the clouds were approaching fast.  So I stayed at 10,500 FT but filed a flight plan for a lower altitude (6000), which would give me time to get "radar contact" from Fort Myers Approach.

Squawk # 4 - 4714: I heard the magic words again "Radar Contact" this time from Fort Myers.  Surprisingly, they immediately changed my squawk code again and gave me a vector for traffic and a descent to 6000.

Squawk # 5 - xxxx (I don't even remember what the # was): I descended to 6000, where I was firmly "in the soup".  I got cleared to Lakeland (LAL) then JUVAS, which was the Initial approach fix on the GPS 23 approach.

After passing Lakeland and descending to 2000, I felt like I was "almost home"... The only problem was that I still could not see anything outside.  Luckily, the winds were tame and the ATIS had improved slightly with OVC 800 and 2 miles visibility.  On most of my IFR flights, I typically cancel IFR services when I am ~ 20 miles from the destination.  But on this flight, I told the controller I would "call him from the ground to cancel".  He "read between the lines" and promptly gave me alternate missed approach instructions.  As I continued my descent, I broke out of the clouds "as advertised on the ATIS", which was at ~ 700-800 FT.  The video is a bit shaky (not sure why) ... But you can see for yourself:

So in the end, the short, silent 1 hour hop ended up feeling like a grueling training session (without the comfort of a CFI sitting right seat).

Phew! Good to be home!!

== T.J.==

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Early Morning Commute

Normally, I work from home... But today was different.  A number of my IBM colleagues were in Miami today.  Since they were "in the neighborhood", I felt compelled to go work from Miami for the day.

In typical IBM fashion, I have grown accustomed to collaborating with colleagues from around the world, who I rarely ever meet face to face.  So today was truly a rare treat!

I arrived at the Tampa Executive Airport early (even before the line guys were there) and began to do a pre-flight inspection.

Doing a Preflight in the dark is a bit of a challenge.  I walk around with a small flashlight and try to be extra careful.  After a clean checklist, it was time to taxi out

Since the ATIS reported clear skies and tame wind, I took off VFR.  Takeoffs in the dark are a little like takeoffs in IMC, which is not that difficult.  But you have to be "on the instruments"!  Shortly after takeoff I picked up IFR with Tampa approach and they gave me a fairly direct routing to Kendall-Tamiami Airport @ 7000FT.  While enroute, the sun came up just left of the nose.  I tried hard to capture the sunrise on camera:

I landed a few mins before 730... Just in time for my friend Reinaldo to pick me up and get to the office in time for our first meeting!  Luckily the runway was not lined up directly to the sun... See for yourself:

After a packed day filled with meetings, I now have a major dilemma.  Do I fly home right after work or stay for dinner and do a really late night flight home?  Hmmm...What a tough choice...

Any suggestions?

== T.J.==
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