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.==

Friday, July 8, 2011

Holding Pattern Without a Shuttle View

As everyone knows, today was the day for the space shuttle's last mission.  I didn't have tickets to see the launch in person.  But I really wanted to see it.

So I came up with what I thought was a clever plan.  I would fly the Cirrus upto 17,000 FT and go into a holding pattern "near" the launch site.  Of course, "near" meant I had to stay clear of the TFR (temporary flight restriction), which was a 30 mile ring around the launch site.  That would still give me a memorable view and hopefully even some pictures/video.

Unfortunately, this plan didn't quite work as I had hoped...

The weather in FL was lousy today!  Not as bad as a hurricane or a convective sigmet.  But plenty of clouds, rain and lots of dreary overcast.

Ever the optimist, I filed an IFR flight plan and decided to try it anyway.  I was hoping to get above the clouds where I could get a view.

When I filed the IFR flight plan, I wrote "Training flight: practicing holding patterns @ COKES" in the remarks section.  COKES is an intersection just off the FL east coast near Flagler County airport that was just outside of the TFR.

When I arrived at the airport, I did my preflight inspection under some very nasty looking clouds, which you can see below:
As luck would have it, as soon as I finished my preflight and closed the door, it started raining!
As I waited for my IFR clearance, I watched another Cirrus land in the rain.  I checked all of the avionics one more time and then was ready for takeoff.  Taking off in the rain is bit unusual because there is really not much to see out the window and you have totally rely on instruments moments after rotation.

After I was airborne, the next hurdle was ATC.  They were quite busy today due to the weather and several other aircraft maneuvering to do the same thing as me.  Initially, they only cleared me to 5,000 FT, which was right in the middle of a cloud layer.  Aside from the training/practice value, this was rather unsatisfying.  There was absolutely no view and it was so bumpy I couldn't even play with any camera equipment.  I asked 3 different controllers for a higher altitude.  Each one told me to "standby" then later said "unable" due to traffic or some other excuse. 

Finally, I got handed off to the Daytona Approach control, where I encountered a much more cooperative controller.  Despite my "disguised" flight plan, he knew exactly what I was doing and was eager to help.  

He gave me a clearance to 10,000 FT and told me to hold over Ormand Beach Airport.  I happily complied and setup my cameras.  Unfortunately, even @ 10,000 FT, there were too many clouds to see anything.  ATC was unable to clear me any higher due to "inbound international arrivals".

So after all the effort, I didn't see or even hear the launch!

But the trip was definitely not over.  I still needed to fly home and the weather continued to add drama to the trip.  You can see both the TFR (with the RED ring) and the weather in Tampa on the screen shot below.
The rain was fairly heavy and I flew the GPS23 all the way down to 450 FT before I could even see the runway!  As I got to the runway numbers, I realized I was a little high.  Since the runway was longer than I needed, I just floated a little and landed slightly long.... You can see for yourself in the video below:

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After I got home, I finally watched the launch on CNN...  Even though I didn't see it live, I got some great weather flying experience today!


Cheers,

== T.J.==