Monday, May 30, 2011

Breakfast with the Boys

With a day off from school (for my sons) and work (for me), we were determined to make the most of the long weekend.  So between pool, bowling, swimming and a bunch of other activities, it felt like quite a marathon.  Of course no long weekend is complete without a flight.  So this morning, on our last day off, we decided to fly to Ocala for boys only breakfast.  

We got to the airport ~ 8AM and it was already starting to get hot.  I knew the afternoon would be scorching hot on the tarmac.  But I didn't realize how hot it would be this early in the day.

As I conducted my preflight, with varying levels of interest from the boys, I found it interesting how my three sons approached the preflight with such different attitudes.  

Jackson (my soon to be 8 yo) was mostly uninterested.  In fact, he even made sure I called the airport in advance so that the line crew would pull the plane out of the hanger and in front of the terminal.  Apparently, he finds the hanger (and even the preflight) a waste of his valuable time. Hmmm, not sure how to overcome that with him...

Preston (my soon to be 7 yo) was much more interested and followed me around the plane like my shadow.  I was quite impressed when he reminded to check the "flappers" so that "we could land safely".  

Colin (my youngest @ 4 yo) was mostly interested in riding around in a golf cart to go look for unusual airplanes. Guess I can't blame him... I like doing that too!!

After preflight and the "debate" over who should sit in the front, we finally took off with the older 2 boys in the back. 
As you can see they didn't mind (especially after they realized the A/C works nicely back there).
We all cruised along trying to outdo each other with who could take the best (and goofiest) pictures.
But Colin seem to be the most pleased since he got to be my copilot.  With the booster seat, he can see perfectly and is always very involved in helping me find the runway and looking for traffic.
Colin also wanted to make sure I posted his "best" picture, which you can see below.  It is our "Good Luck Gecko"

After we landed at Ocala, I realized that the on field restaurant, the Tailwinds Cafe was closed due to the holiday!!  But luckily, Cindy @ Landmark Aviation saved the day and gave us crew car.  After a quick IHOP stop, we were back to the airport and ready to head home.  But before we left, I had to take one last picture with the Ocala jockeys that are about Colin's height.
Notice the jet in the background that both father and sons were drooling over!

By that time we were ready for departure, my 4 yo copilot was exhausted and more than happy to snooze in the back seat for the ride home.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Scenic trip to Cedar Key

This morning I woke up and  looked outside to find typical weather for FL.  Sunshine as far you could see ; Clear blue sky ; AND a perfect day to go flying!  After my recent CPPP training, I have been sufficiently brainwashed into treating every flight as an opportunity to practice something.

So this morning, I decided to practice short field landings @ Cedar Key Airport, which is a small island airport just west of Ocala.  For a civilian pilot like me, who will likely never get to land on an aircraft carrier, this is as close as I will get.  As you can see in the Google map below, the sole runway  5/23 has water on both ends!

In addition to having a 2300 FT runway, which is short 4 me, they also have NO instrument approaches!  As many of you know, my comfort zone is IFR in Class B airport environments.  So going to Cedar Key was perfect for today!  This gave me a scenic place to fly and gave me some practice outside of my normal comfort zone.

After an uneventful preflight, I departed VFR @ ~ 9AM.  With the music on, I stayed under Tampa's class B airspace and flew westbound first till I got to the coast.  Then, miraculously without GPS,  I followed the coastline northbound and didn't get lost!  During the entire journey, I didn't even talk to ATC!! 

Before attempting Cedar Key, I wanted to practice a landing first on a longer runway.  So I did a "stop and go" @ Crystal River Airport.  The runway there was about double the length of Cedar Key.  Since I handled that with no problem, I felt ready for Cedar Key.

I easily found Cedar Key Airport but felt almost distracted as I approached for landing.  I was trying to concentrate on airspeed and attitude, while I kept getting distracted by sights out the window.  But other than the distractions, the landing was quite easy with calm winds and no surprises. You can see the landing for yourself in the video below:

After I landed and found a place to park, I realized how small the place was.  There is no fuel, no services and only about half a dozen parking spots on the tarmac and a another half dozen in the grass.  I didn't even see an FBO terminal.  Instead of an FBO, I was greeted on the radio when I was about 5 miles out by a very friendly cab driver/ tour guide named Judy.  She drove her car right up the taxiway and picked me up next to my plane. 

She showed me around the island a bit, which only takes a few minutes because it is so small.  Then suggested a quaint little place for brunch.  After a quick bite, I took off again and circled around the island to get some more pictures before going home.

You can see a few of them, in the slide show below:


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Training Mission Accomplished !

This past weekend was fun, educational and downright grueling!  As expected, the ground portion of the CPPP covered some specific topics, like in-flight weather, engine management and aviation safety.  The stats around Cirrus accidents and parachute deploys were quite a surprise to me.  However, the flight training was the really significant part for me this year.

The instructor I was assigned (named Cliff) was a former military pilot and a very seasoned instructor. I had met Cliff a few months ago.  But never had the opportunity to fly with him before.

The plan was to cover VFR work on Saturday, such as stalls, slow flight, unusual attitudes, emergencies etc and IFR work on Sunday, such as procedures, holds, precision flight etc.  Sounds simple right??.  (That's what I thought)

From the beginning, Cliff's military background was blatantly obvious. After he carefully watched me do the entire pre-flight, we taxied out to runway 27.  Seconds after we started to move, Cliff noticed I was a few inches off of centerline and ~ 1200 RPM.  He immediately insisted that I get "exactly on centerline" and "exactly @ 1000 RPM".  That was just a hint of the level of precision that Cliff demanded of his students.  After the run up, he gave me the instructions for the flight and we were quickly cleared for takeoff.

After departure I was to join V97 as soon as practical and track to the Rome VOR using NO GPS and NO AutoPilot.  The "no auto pilot", I expected... But the "No GPS" hurt.  I felt like I couldn't use any R9 magic and I don't remember the last time I tracked a radial to an old fashioned VOR!

After I eventually got to the Rome VOR, we did some slow flight, stalls and unusual attitudes. Again, I thought to myself "Simple enough". However, I didn't realize the level of precision he required.  As a result, it took me 4 attempts to do one of the maneuvers until I did it "well enough" for him.  Even his technique for simulating emergencies was a bit interesting.  He pretended to be a panicked passenger repeatedly yelling "Smoke in the Cabin" when we were ~ 5 miles from landing.  I had to retrieve the right checklist and stay focused despite his distractions. After surviving Saturday, I was looking forward to Sunday's IFR flight because that is more of my comfort zone.

On Sunday morning, I was prepared to spend the entire flight under the hood.  Luckily (or unluckily) the weather was not very good and most of the flight was in actual IMC. 

My level of precision was more to Cliff's liking on Sunday ;-)  I was doing great and feeling rather proud of myself for flying so well in the clouds.     Then Cliff decided to change everything!

1. First, he blanked out my PFD, which is the left IFD screen on the R9 ... (No problem... I just flew while looking at the right screen.) 
2. Then he pulled the autopilot circuit breaker... (No problem... I just flew by hand..)
3. Then he pulled the circuit breaker on FMS keyboard ... (No problem.  This was the first time I flew with this many things "failed" at the same time... But I did reasonably well)
4. Then he told me I had to fly the ILS27 back to McCollum Field in this condition... Yikes!  Just flying straight and level in this condition was OK.  But flying an ILS in actual IMC with 3 items failed, really pushed me!!!  I struggled to keep up with the radios and frequency changes using only backup instruments.

Fortunately,both Cliff and I survived!  Here is what the resulting GPS track looked like on Flightaware:

After a short break, I flew home and finished the weekend with ~ 10 hours on hobbs and a huge feeling of accomplishment!  Hopefully, I wont have to experience any of those emergencies for real.  But if I do, I now feel just a little more "ready".


Friday, May 13, 2011

Off to Training in Atlanta

It's that time of year again.  Like most pilots, my insurance company "requires" (or should I say "financially encourages") me to take annual recurrent training.  The first few years of plane ownership, I would simply follow the basic FAA Wings program and do some 1-1 training with a local flight instructor.  This was enough to satisfy the insurance company and the FAA.  However, I rarely found it to be very significant.

Last year, I found a much better approach.  The Cirrus Owners and Pilots Association (COPA) sponsors a 2 day program called the Cirrus Pilot Proficiency Program (CPPP).  I attended one in Lakeland, FL last year and found it to be very worthwhile.  The program entails about 10 hours of ground school and 6 hours of flight school.  This weekend there is a CPPP in Atlanta.

So this morning I flew from Tampa to Cobb County McCollum Airport on the north side of Atlanta. The flight was uneventful until I got close to Atlanta Hartsfield's Class B airspace.  Then it got interesting!

The ATL Approach controller was busy orchestrating ~ 8 different aircraft and seemed a bit grumpy.  Every plane on the frequency seemed to be in the wrong position.  For about 10 minutes, there was not a single break on the radio with every transmission being rapid-fire instructions for heading and altitude changes.  When he finally got around to me, he seemed in a hurry to get rid of me.  He gave me a heading change, an altitude change, the Turbo 2 Arrival Procedure and a frequency change!  I repeated the whole thing back and was happy to change frequencies.  Thankfully, the next controller and frequency seemed to be much calmer.

I then tried to pull up the Turbo 2 procedure chart only to realize that it didn't exist!  However, there was a TRBOW 8 procedure.   I confirmed with the controller, who laughed and told me (in his southern drawl) "there's only one Turbo procedure 'round here and it's Turbo 8"  As you can probably tell, not only was this frequency calmer, the controller was much friendlier.  In fact, when he gave frequency changes, it was often accompanied with "Good Day Y'All" 

After he vectored me to a straight in RNAV GPS 27 approach, I flew a rather good approach but the landing wasn't great.  It was smooth but a little left of centerline.  Luckily, the long, wide runway was quite forgiving.  The line crew @ Preferred Jet Center towed me into a parking space next to 4 other Cirrus planes.  Made for a cool picture today:

By the time "school" starts tomorrow, there should be 2 dozen more Cirrus planes on the ramp.  Hopefully, I can get an even cooler picture and some videos sometime this weekend.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Cirrus CDM Seminar in Hilton Head

The Cirrus Owners & Pilots Association periodically hosts a seminar called the Critical Decision Making (CDM).  I had heard of them before... But today I attended my first one!

The seminar was held in Hilton Head, which I flew to just a couple of weeks ago.  I usually don't go back to the same destination that often.  However, I have come to the conclusion that flying along the east coast is so scenic that it never gets boring! In addition, since this was a safety seminar, it was also worth the journey.

The program started at 10 AM and I had high hopes of getting there a bit early (~9-9:30AM).  Unfortunately, that didn't exactly happen.

After my trip to California this week, I guess I was recovering from a bit of jet lag and couldn't resist hitting the snooze bar a couple of times.  After a late start, and some unexpected ATC vectoring,  I leveled off at 16k FT and realized that something didn't feel right.  I quickly realized that the right door was slightly ajar!!  You can see for yourself in the clip below:

While this was really no big deal, I did find it quite ironic that I had a situation that required some decision making en-route to a safety seminar about decision making!

Eventually, I arrived at Hilton Head @ 10:05AM and was marshaled into a primo parking spot right in front of the building where the seminar was held.  There were a couple of dozen other Cirrus pilots, several of whom I knew through the COPA website but never met in person.  It is always interesting meeting someone in person who you already sort of "know" through their writing/posts/web presence.

The actual seminar was fantastic!  Trip Taylor did an excellent job (as usual) as the moderator.  I learned several very insightful tidbits from Trip as well as the other attendees and didn't even notice the 4 hours go by! 

In a way it felt like a warm up for next weekend, which is the CPPP (Cirrus Pilot Proficiency Program) in Atlanta.  The CPPP is an intensive, full weekend recurrent training program that I have decided to make an annual tradition.

As part of CPPP, I am planning to video some of my flight training.  Not sure exactly how that will go... But stay tuned to find out!!

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