Tuesday, October 26, 2010

East Coast Journey (Going Home)

Seven new states, and 5 IMC hours later, it was time to go home.  The journey home involved a stop in Frederick, MD (state #32).  Here is what the final route flown looked like:

Since I needed to stop in MD, it was only natural to stop @ FDK.  I was hoping to squeeze in visit to the AOPA headquarters and also meet a fellow pilot, whose blog I really enjoy.

But getting to FDK was NOT an ez task.  There was a pesky 40-50 knot headwind the whole way there!
Note the 43 knot headwind @ 10000 FT
 But it was a good excuse to use the the new GPS Z approach to runway 23.  I had read about GPS Z approaches, which are the latest/greatest precision WAAS approaches with LPV.  But I had not seen one in person.
Surprisingly, the missed approach goes into the DCADIZ
So that approach led to another soggy landing (and the 4th landing in the rain during this trip!) 

But the stop was definitely worth it!  I did get to meet up with a fellow pilot blogger, Toriaflys  If you haven't checked out her blog yet, I suggest you take a peek (it's really quite good).

While at Frederick, I also took a tour of the AOPA headquarters.  I already knew what a great organization AOPA was.  However, Silvana Cannon, one of the AOPA staffers, showed me some of the behind the scenes "machinery" that makes this organization tick.  Now I am even more impressed!

After FDK, the trip home should have been rather uneventful.  The weather forecast was very good and hopefully all that IMC was behind me.  I donned the cannula and was cleared up to 16k (where the really good views are)... See for yourself:

 The plan was a quick fuel stop @ Homerville, GA and a short final leg back to Tampa.  Unfortunately, the city of Homerville (and it's mayor) has truly ignored it's airport.  When I arrived it was an absolute ghost town.  There was not a single person or plane there and they didn't even have fuel!!  Apparently, the fuel pumps were out of order.  Even the runway was in shabby condition.  But being the eternal optimist that I am, I made "lemonade" out of this lemon stop.  Even though it was deserted and locked, their wireless worked from my Iphone on their front porch.  As a result, I was at least able to catch up on calls/emails in relative comfort.  Then I took a quick 20 mile flight to Valdosta, where I was able to satisfy both the plane's thirst and my hunger.  Then finally a quick VFR trip home to Tampa:
Mission accomplished! Just in time for dinner!!
Overall, the journey has really put my piloting skills to the test (both in the air and even on the ground).  Can't wait to start planning the next batch of states!!!

Monday, October 25, 2010

East Coast Journey (Day 3)

Today was the most varied (and most intense) day of flying I have ever had!  The day began as a leisurely morning sightseeing flight with Avanni (and her Daddy).
Avanni and her parents (Ronak and Sapna)
As you can see, Ronak got the hang of aerial photography pretty quickly as we flew over Patriots stadium down to Rhode Island and back:

After dropping them back home in Norwood, the drama began.  The first leg was up to Sanford, ME, which was mostly in IMC and light rain.  This landing was state # 29, and involved a GPS approach down to within 300 FT of minimums.
After a quick stop at the cockpit cafe and another weather briefing, I realized I needed to change my route entirely.  Instead of Sanford > Lebanon > Rutland, I ended up going Sanford > Concord > Montpelier.  Weather really forces you to be flexible!  Enroute, was more light rain and total IMC.  This was the view most of the way:
The landing at Concord was another instrument approach to within ~ 300 FT of minimums.  I felt so proud of myself.  (Little did I know what was coming on the next leg!!)
After fuel and another weather briefing, it was time to go Concord > Montpelier.  This involved a flight, where I entered the clouds shortly after takeoff and didn't see the ground till I was on my final descent.  Aside from being the largest continuous segment of IMC I have done, it also involved an flying an LPV approach all the way down to the published min!  This is what it looked like when I finally broke out of the clouds:
I was sooo happy to see the runway!

Other than sunny FL training  days, I have NEVER before flown an approach like that.  (As I result, I know believe that there really is no substitute for "actual IMC")

The actual route flown so far is shown below:

Upto 31 states now!!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

East Coast Journey (Day 2)

Day 2 was a rather simple day of flying... But it did include 3 new states, unusual ATC interactions, and best of all some awesome sites.

The day began in Raleigh, with another good weather forecast.  I filed IFR RDU > LVL > WWD (Wildwood, NJ) Very simple routing that avoided the Washington DC Special Flight Rules Area.  There were a few cool sites shortly after takeoff:
Some patchy fog in Raleigh during takeoff.
Between VA and MD
Webster Naval base
Then it was time for lunch in Wildwood, NJ (Woohoo state # 26!!!)  Now the ATC excitement begins, I filed an IFR flight plan with what should have been a "preferred" route.  But when I contacted Atlantic City Clearance Delivery, they gave a wild clearance with over 10 fixes and even merging into Victor airways.  The only good news was that the routing was over JFK, which led to some great views of Newark and New York City.
Statue of Liberty (through a bunch of low haze)
New York City from 7000 feet near JFK
Directly overflying JFK @ 7000 FT
So after navigating the crazy routing and airways, I tried to do something tricky with ATC.  I asked them if I could do a full stop landing in Westerly, RI, keep my squawk code and immediately take off to Norwood, MA.  While ATC was being very cooperative, they asked me "If I knew the Norwood airport was closed?"

I thought "Yikes" ... Better check into it on the ground before showing up.  So after I landed at Westerly, I called the FBO @ Norwood to find out what was going on.  Turns out that they were doing construction on one of the other runways and the airport would reopen with a single runway in operation @ 5PM.  Since I was 30 minutes flight away, I decided to get back in the air and do some sightseeing.  Found a couple of cool airports, which are shown below:
Elizabeth Field on Fishers Island, NY (looks like an aircraft carrier to me!)
Montauk Airport (the very end of Long Island)
After a few good pics (~ 430), I activated an IFR flight plan and headed direct to Norwood.  The timing worked out perfectly, I landed @ 5:03 PM at Norwood, right as they opened!!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

East Coast Journey (Day 1)

Day 1 went off "almost" as planned.   I was so excited to begin my journey.  I arrived a couple of hours early to the airport so that I could do a thorough pre-flight and still have time to "correct" anything that may have needed attention.  Luckily everything checked out OK and after a whole bunch of work calls/emails, I was ready to go.
Can u tell the look of eager anticipation?
After taking off VFR, I contacted Tampa Approach to pick up my IFR flight plan.  Despite the "cleared as filed" clearance I received, ATC seemed to have other plans for me! After numerous "scenic" vectors, finally I was cleared to Taylor (TAY) > Waycross (AYS)>direct destination.  I didn't mind at all, because this new routing has even better (more direct) than what I originally filed and kept me clear of some pesky military airspace.
I got cleared to 16000 FT pretty quickly and eventually to 17000 FT.  At that altitude the ride was sooo smooth!
After playing with the sat radio and camera for a while, I decided to try my hand at taking a couple of in flight videos.  Haven't had time to edit them yet. But hopefully I can get them cleaned up on YouTube later this week.   

After a couple of quick hours, I landed in Duplin County Airport (KDPL), which is one my favorite fuel stops.  (Didn't really need to stop there... I could have easily kept going to RDU... But I needed a break and it was a good excuse to stop at Andy's Burgers, which is a little greasy spoon, with a cool 50s style atmosphere right next to the airport.

After a little break (and some calls/emails, etc) it was on to the final, short leg to RDU.

As the weather forecast had predicted, there was a lot of low level turbulence and gusty winds, which really made for tough landing.  But by that time, I was motivated to get down on the ground.

Karishma and Arjun (and of course their Dad) were there to greet me.

Here is Karishma posing on the plane:

Here is Arjun pulling back on the side stick (trying to takeoff):

Had a great evening in Raleigh!  No new states yet.. But I am recharged for Day 2 where I will hopefully land in 3 new ones!!
So far, here is the progress on the trip:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

East Coast Journey (Day 0)

So tomorrow is really day 1 of the journey.  But tonight, was time for the flight planning.  My general sequence is usually as follows:
1 Weather 2 Route Selection 3 Airport/FBO selection

Then if time permits 4 Lodging 5 Ground Transport.  But if time doesn't permit getting to 4 or 5, I am usually happy to figure that out on the spot upon arrival.

1 Weather: The weather looks great!  I used to check weather using the ADDS.  But recently I started using the new AOPA Weather site, which I find a little better... (only wish it was available via iPhone app)

The weather is good but looks like it will be bumpy as I near the destination.  I will probably file IFR.  But the weather is good enough that I don't need to tomorrow + going VFR usually gives me better pictures... I will do one more check before departure and make the final VFR/IFR call tomorrow.

2. Route:  Tomorrow's route will be a short, easy one that I have flown many times:
KVDF > OCF > V441 > SSI > KRDU

Assuming no surprises, I should get there in time for dinner with family...

In addition, I hope to try making some R9 avionics video clips along the way.  (It will be "take 1"... So who knows how good it will turn out.)

3. Airport/FBO: Raleigh has 2 major FBOs, which is rather common at bigger airports.  Both are full service FBOs with all the amenities.  I think I will use TAC Air.  (Not any particular reason... I just had a good experience at the TAC Air in Lexington, KY a few weeks ago... thought I would give this one a try.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Short Angel Flight tonight

It is rare that I sign up for midweek Angel flight.  But today was different.  The passenger today was a brave, young woman who was participating in a clinical trial at Moffitt Cancer Hospital.  If you haven't heard of Moffitt, it is one of the best cancer hospitals in the country.  In addition to standard treatments, they also do a lot of cutting edge research and clinical trials.  As a result, there are many Angel Flights that begin or end in Tampa.  This one was a short hop from my home base late in the day. So I was able to do it after work and best of all the patient got to avoid a 4 hour drive, which was her alternative.

As usual, I got my paperwork and planning in order before leaving the house.  Then while driving to the airport, I talked to a Lockheed briefer for one last check on weather, NOTAMs, TFRs, etc.  Everything looked good except for the Lake Placid MOA, which was active today.  This caused a slightly less than direct routing on the way there.  But no worries, it was a typical beautiful day in FL.  Here is the routing, I ended up getting:

On the way home, I flew basically the same route.  However, this time the weather was not as cooperative.  Palm Beach Approach cleared me to 7000 ft.  But that was just NOT the right altitude.

As you can see, that was right in the middle of the cloud deck.  After asking for altitude changes multiple times with no luck, I came to the conclusion that both Palm Beach Approach and Miami Center were just too busy today.

After 10 minutes of getting used to flying entirely on instruments, the clouds passed (or should I say were just lower than me) and it was beautiful once again.  See for yourself:
From then on, it just got clearer and clearer and then I had time to play with my new toy:
This little gorillapod tripod, is my latest gadget.

This is what it looks like in the cockpit

Watch out! ... I sense you will see a bunch of landing videos soon! 

== T.J.==

Friday, October 8, 2010

Sunrise Flight to Miami

While I am not a huge fan of night flying, I do love departing in the dark and being airborne for sunrise.  The ride is usually smooth, clear and best of all, so "empty" that ATC will usually grant any "crazy" routing I come up with.

Today was no exception.  After an uneventful pre-flight (in the dark with a flashlight), I departed my home base @ Tampa Executive Airport (KVDF) and flew mostly direct to Opa-Locka Executive Airport (KOPF).  (Yeah I know it is a funny name for an airport... But this airport is just 8 miles away from Miami International and MUCH easier to get in and out for a little plane like mine.)

When flying alone, I typically fly most flights IFR @ 16k or 17k.  But today just felt like a VFR,  "no oxygen" day.  So after reaching my cruising altitude of 9,500, I witnessed an amazing sunrise! Unfortunately, I don't have a good enough camera to capture it.  (Or maybe I am not a good enough photographer to capture it)... But here is my attempt: 

The picture doesn't do it justice!  I tried a dozen times to get a good picture without much success.

Between the view and the music on the sat radio, I really didn't want the flight to end.  But before I knew it, I was getting close and had to begin my descent.  By that time (~ 7AM), the Miami airspace is starting to get busy and I had to really concentrate on the rapid fire heading/altitude changes from ATC.  I was so proud of myself for two reasons.  First, I "nailed" every instruction just right.  Second (and more satisfying), I was the only "little GA" airplane on the frequency.  Every other aircraft on the frequency was some airline or another. 

So after a simple, visual landing, I followed the line guy to a parking spot and "went to work".  After a full day of back to back meetings, it was time to go home.  I decided to take a slightly scenic route and flew up the east coast of FL to Ft Peirce, then Vero Beach before turning west.  The weather was beautiful and the sights were downright artistic.  Here are couple of shots along the way home:

Ft Peirce (along the East coast of FL just north of Miami)

Aside from the view, one of the great things about flying on the east coast of FL is that the air traffic controllers are "world class".  After Vero Beach I was planning to dodge and weave around the military airspace in the middle of the state, when a VERY friendly ATC controller helped me out.  Here is the scenario:

The photo above was my planned route of flight.  The Blue lines represent the edge of Orlando Class B airspace.  The thin red lines are a military restricted airspace and the thin yellow lines are a military operations area (MOA).  

Then a Miami Center controller noticed what I was doing and offered a direct clearance through a restricted area.  I quickly thanked him and accepted the clearance.  Here is what my amended route looked like:
While the amended route only shaved a couple of minutes off of my trip, I was more impressed than appreciative.  This controller was already handling 6 planes (that I heard on the frequency), THEN anticipated what I was doing, and THEN proactively tried to help.  That type of behavior just reinforces my belief in how well trained and professional these ATC controllers are!
Last picture I wanted to share from this trip was near Lakeland:
Now you can see why it is called Lakeland, FL

Friday, October 1, 2010

Avidyne R9 Upgrade Process

Many people have asked me about what was involved in doing my Avidyne R9 retrofit.  So I have finally gotten around to describing it.

First a little background/context....

Last year, I was the happy, proud owner of N-514TJ, which is a Cirrus SR-20, well equipped with the Avidyne R7 avionics suite. This was the first plane I owned and I was EXTREMELY happy with it.  However, it was missing a couple of features that got me thinking about upgrading.

My SR20 had dual Garmin 430s (but NO WAAS).  Being an IT guy this was perhaps the primary motivation for me to start to explore.  Since, upgrading to WAAS is a significant expense, I also considered "trading up" on the plane itself.
Here is pic of my "old" plane
When I started to look for the "next" plane, I naturally looked at a new Cirrus SR22 w/perspective.   When I first took a demo flight in this plane, my initial reaction was WOW! ... This plane is amazing.  (I didn't really understand everything on the screen.  But the demo pilot/salesman that accompanied me assured me that was "normal" and with a little training, I would become proficient very quickly.)  At that point, I had heard of the Avidyne R9.  However, I had not seen it in person.  Then, by pure luck, Avidyne had a sales presentation at my home airport.  The salesman was a very charismatic guy, who showed me how to fly a typical FL flight, that is to say with DPs/STARs, enroute diversions, holds, etc on R9.  I was sooo impressed, I decided that day that R9 was for me.  I left a sizable deposit on R9, even though I didn't have a plane that I wanted to put it in!

In my opinion, the R9 blows away the Garmin Perspective because it is so intuitive that after my demo flight, I felt like I knew how to use 75% of the system.  In contrast, after my demo flight with Perspective, I felt like I knew how to use 25% of the system.  Being a private pilot who typically flies once a week, this really appealed to me!

So I decided, I wouldn't upgrade the SR20 with WAAS.  Instead, I would "find" an SR22 w/ WAAS and then do an R9 upgrade.

Then, with the help of the Jeff Ellston @ Leading Edge in Tampa, I found N-914AL.  This plane was the "perfect" canvas to put R9 onto.  It was a GTS Turbo with Air (a must in FL) + WAAS + Deice + Built in Oxygen, etc

Here is what I looked like when I bought it:

This is the "before" picture of the exterior

This is the "before" picture of the cockpit
Then the R9 upgrade began... Perhaps I was a bit naive... I had envisioned 2 screens come out ; 2 bigger better screens go in ... Poof it is done.

The reality is not quite that easy.  In fact, it is major surgery.  The pix below show some of the work in progress.

This is the "during surgery" view
Believe it or not, this is "almost" done
The entire process takes 4-6 weeks and it is one that you do NOT want to rush. I visited the work in progress several times a week.  In my opinion, the folks at Leading Edge Aviation and Sarasota Avionics, really went out of their way to do a gr8 job.  (I am extremely pleased with the finished product)

Here is what it looks like now:
I couldn't resist vanity and "had" to change the tail # to N346TJ
This is the "after" view of the cockpit.

 The finished product has totally exceeded my expectations!  Now that I have over 100 hours on R9, I plan to write some other posts soon that demonstrate what I love about this system .  But perhaps the "big picture win" for me is that I have a plane that is "better" than what comes off of the Cirrus production line for ~ $100k less.

== T.J.==