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!

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