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,



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!

Cheers,
== T.J.==

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)

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".

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??

Cheers,
== T.J.==

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,
== T.J.==

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.

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

Cheers,
== T.J.==

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,
== T.J.==

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. 

After landing, 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.

Cheers,
== T.J.==

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Angel Flight "on the way home"

It has been quite a while since my last Angel Flight.  Over the past month, I checked the AF website each week for a suitable mission that would fit into my schedule.  Nothing came even close.


But this week I found one that worked!  It was sort of "on the way".  I was in Tennessee on business and I was heading home to Tampa.  The mission was to transport a cancer patient who lived near Knoxville to the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville for treatment.  You can see the route home on the left.

The patient was a young lady named Kristin, who was fighting a rare form of cancer called carcinoid cancer.  She needed some very specialized care that is only available in a few places in the country.


After a brief introduction and preflight on the ground, we took off from Knoxville Airport into some beautiful weather.  Knoxville has mountains directly to the southeast.  While the mountains are not very big, they are certainly enough to affect your flight path.  As a result, ATC cleared us for an initial climb heading southwest.  After we got to our cruising altitude of 11000 FT, we were cleared direct to our destination.  The altitude was just perfect.  There were occasional clouds below us and around us.  But we had a smooth ride and some great views along the way.

While Kristin has taken Angel flights before, this was her first time sitting in the copilot seat.  As you can see from the picture below, she was "drinking in the scenery".  

On a couple of occasions, we flew through some very light clouds, which she seemed to particularly enjoy.  

After a "quick turn" @ Sky Harbor Aviation, the last 150NM leg was a fairly straight shot (except for those pesky military airspaces that I had to fly around).  Overall, it was a very smooth trip and really "on my way home"!

Hopefully, I can find more missions that are "on the way" soon!

Cheers,
== T.J.==

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".

Cheers,
== T.J.==

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.

Cheers,
== T.J.==

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bahamas Practice Flight

My international radio license arrived yesterday in the mail. Earlier in the week, I saw online that it had been approved. But didn't get the official paper in the mail till yesterday.

That meant that today was the day for the long overdue Bahamas flight!! 

It was really perfect timing because the plane is going down for a "good type of maintenance" tomorrow. (Will tell you more about that in a separate post later this week.)

Back to today's plans...

Before doing this flight with family or friends, I wanted to try it solo first.  So the plan was simply to fly there, maybe grab a bite, and fly back.  Not a terribly interesting trip... I just wanted to practice the legal/aviation parts without alarming or inconveniencing any passengers.  Once I felt comfortable doing this type of flight (without getting arrested, fined or meeting F-16s enroute), then I would be ready to do it again with passengers.

While I could have easily flown direct from Tampa Executive (KVDF) to Grand Bahama (MYGF), I chose not to.  Instead, I decided to stop @ Fort Peirce (KFPR) to make sure I had everything in order (paperwork, fuel, lifejacket,etc). On the return trip, I would have had to stop somewhere for customs clearance anyway, and I have heard through the grapevine that the FBO and customs office in KFPR is excellent.  So I thought it would be a good idea to stop there and check out whatever local procedures they may have.

In hindsight, it was totally not needed!  After I landed in Ft Peirce, the staff at the FBO confirmed that I indeed had everything in order.  After a top off and a rather easy "hot start", I took off and pointed the nose straight to the water.  After climbing to 7000 FT, the next ~ 100 miles was directly over water and the view was consistently like this:

This was the first time I was over water for this long.  As you can see, I had my lifejacket handy (just in case)

Happily, I didn't even need to open the packaging.

After about 80 miles over the water, I finally caught my first glimpse of land and it was spectacular:

As I got closer to Freeport, Bahamas, the Bahamas ATC controllers cleared me for the VOR DME 24 procedure!  This took me quite by surprise.  Other than initial instrument training, I had NOT flown a real DME arc in a VERY long time.
I keyed it into the R9, which happily complied, and I saw the following screen:

The screen looked odd to me and I felt like I was operating slightly out of my comfort zone.  I flew halfway through the 12 DME Arc at 4000 FT.  Then the ATC controller broke off my approach and cleared me to land with an "expedited" descent.  I am not sure why... But suddenly, he seemed to be in a hurry.  I did my best to comply and did a 1000 FT/min descent and fought a 15 KT crosswind on final.  When I was finally on the ground, I breathed a sigh of relief and really felt like I "earned" that landing!

I wasn't sure what kind of ground operations to expect.  At this point, I must admit, I was a little nervous.  But it turned out to be quick and painless.  One of the line crew marshaled me into a parking spot and I was immediately greeted at the plane. They escorted me to a small building where they checked my passport and my paperwork.  The whole process took no more than 5 minutes!!  I was so impressed at how professional and efficient they were.

With similar ease, I filed my flight plan for the return trip and waited an hour to depart as required.  I landed back at Ft Peirce and cleared customs, which was totally painless and also took less than 5 minutes!

Overall, it was so easy, I really didn't need a practice run.  But now I am even more excited to go back there with passengers and stay for awhile!!

Cheers,
== T.J.==

Monday, March 7, 2011

Back to Normal IFR (Sort of)

The past 2 weeks have been quite an unusual flight pattern for me.  No X-Countries, No IFR or VFR flight plans, not even enough altitude to require oxygen!

No the plane was NOT grounded...  In fact, I had numerous flights.  But they were all short "flight-seeing" journeys that gave me the chance to share the experience of flight with several of my friends and colleagues visiting Tampa from around the world.  In a way, it felt like a "warm-up" for the WFIF event next Saturday.  I realized that sharing the experience of flight was as cool for me as it was for the passenger, who got to "see the runway" for the first time.

But yesterday (Sunday's) journey was supposed to be a bit more "normal" for me.  I was planning an IFR trip from Tampa, FL to Frederick, MD, which is just outside of DC.

When I checked the weather Saturday night, it didn't look very friendly:
I checked again on Sunday morning and even called Lockheed FSS to get a thorough briefing.  After listening to the 'laundry list" of AIRMETs, SIGMETs, and PIREPs, my conclusion was that it was a go!  However, I was prepared for a lot of heavy IMC flying with as many diversions as needed along the way.

While this trip is "barely possible" non-stop in my plane... It is a bit too close for my comfort.  So I planned a quick fuel stop in Duplin County, NC.

The first leg was the easier of the two.  Going from Tampa Executive Airport to Duplin County Airport, is almost a comfort flight for me.  I have flown this route a dozen times and even know when to expect ATC quirks along the way.

What I wasn't really expecting was the impact of the winds aloft.  My route was fairly straightforward, as shown below:

When I was ~ 20 miles south of Gainseville, I was level at 17K FT and first noticed the winds.  As you can see from the picture below, it was a direct 90 degree crosswind @ 62 knots!

While I have flown in strong winds before, this was the first time I flew in that strong a direct cross wind.  Even with a healthy crab angle, I could feel the auto-pilot straining to maintain the ground track.

Luckily, I was following V441 which soon turned to the right and made this X-wind turn into a VERY helpful tailwind that allowed me to reach a ground speed of 241 KTs, which is the highest I have recorded in this plane!

After riding that tailwind as long as I could, I made the quick fuel stop @ Duplin County and then filed to Frederick direct.

Shortly after takeoff, the radar images looked even uglier!

As I approached Frederick, the weather was simply NOT cooperating and no amount of deviation seemed to help.  The rain was getting heavier and the ATIS declared conditions barely above the minimums for the GPS23 Z approach. 

Luckily, this airport has a nice long 5000+ FT runway and a low LPV approach that still made it possible to land.  I have landed in light rain and mist before.  But never anything like this!  In addition, to the heavy rain, there was a strong gusty wind about 20-40 degrees off from runway heading.  After reaching the FAF (final approach fix), I disengaged the autopilot and "fought" the winds all the way down to the runway.  

While this was supposed to be a normal IFR flight, the weather (as often happens) made it anything but normal!

Cheers,
== T.J.==

Tail Number Change & Grounded

I am grounded this weekend for a bunch of reasons (weather, good maintenance  and bad maintenance) :-( First we are having a snowstorm in ...