Westover ARB Air Show

Our friend Heather Panic who is a rated but not current pilot and PhD student at Brandeis emailed us to ask if we wanted to go to the air show at Westover Air Base with her and her husband Sacha. Unfortunately Abby is in Florida this weekend at a conference but I was available Sunday. Looking at the website for the air show I discovered you can fly in and called the phone number. You can park on the south ramp and then there is a shuttle. No charge for parking, and he suggested that if possible
I “fuel through”. I hadn’t heard this term before but I gathered that it meant they would be busy refueling air show aircraft and they’d rather not have to sell me fuel (although the price was reasonable).

On my early morning drive to the airport it was quite foggy in spots. I filed an IFR flight plan when I arrived although the sky was actually starting to clear especially towards the west which is the direction we would be headed. The IFR clearance was quite simple “Cleared to Westover via Radar Vectors Gardner, then Direct, climb and maintain 3000 expected 6000 5 minutes after departure”. Runway 14 was in use at Nashua. Although when we departed it was clear above the airport we were climbing towards and then above a receding stratus deck off the ocean. We were in VMC the whole way.

Our IFR trip from Nashua to Westover in the morning.

Our IFR trip from Nashua to Westover in the morning.

Not long after passing Gardner we descended and then slowed for some other traffic ahead. The controller instructed us to intercept the localizer and I showed Heather how to pull up the plate on Foreflight and enter the localizer frequency. Following traffic ahead I landed on runway 23. I should have landed long since the south pad taxiway is alll the way at the end! But, you get to roll past the whole airshow on your way down the runway.

Approaching Westover/CEF, photo by Sacha Panic.

Approaching Westover/CEF, photo by Sacha Panic.

Once parked I put out some chocks and set the control lock. There were a bunch of airplanes parked out on the south ramp already and more arriving in trail. It was just a few minutes before the air show TFR started at 8:45 (although I noticed on Flightaware a few aircraft arrived IFR just after 8:45, aircraft under control of ATC are excepted). Now we were on the ground until the Blue Angels finished at around 5PM!

We rode the shuttle bus to a metal detector/bag search area and then a quick walk past a number of HUGE hangars to the main apron and the airshow. Westover is home to the 337th Airlift Squadron flying the massive C-5 Galaxy. There were a few C-5s out on the ramp along with fighters, bombers and cargo planes. Two of the huge C-5s and the C-17 were open so you could walk through inside and see where cargo sits.

C17 Globemaster.

C17 Globemaster.

Walking further down the ramp there was an area of older historic aircraft mostly from the WWII era. It’s pretty incredible to look up close at a flying B-17 that flew during WWII. While we were checking out this area there were a few warbirds flying in formation that eventually taxied in with a deep rumble.

We walked back to find lunch and a spot of out of the sun under the wing of a C5 to watch various aerial displayed by Nashua’s own Rob Holland, Sean Tucker, the Canadian Snowbirds, the F-22 Raptor which flew in formation with a P-51 mustang, and finally the Blue Angels. It was a great show!

I made it on the second bus back to the south pad and Heather and Sacha on the next one so I could get a head start on the preflight. Similar but much smaller to the queue of cars leaving there were now planes lining up on the taxiway leading to runway 5. With 11,500 feet of runway available and a light crosswind under 10 knots this was now conveniently the runway in use. The queue was a bit smaller by the time my companions arrived and we started up and did a quick run up as we got into the short line. To keep things simple, everyone is departing VFR.

After takeoff I leveled off at 3000 feet and handed the airplane over the Heather for the trip back. It’s bit a while since she has flown but despite the now bumpy afternoon air she had no problems taking us to Nashua. She handed it back over to me for the descent. Runway 14 was still in use and after calling tower I was set up for a right base to 14. ATIS declared winds to be gusting to 19 knots but I didn’t feel that was accurate at the time of my landing.

After taxiing to my parking spot and getting out to push the plane back we spotted Rob Holland’s custom MXS airplane in front of his hangar which is not far away. I guess he managed to take off a bit before us when departing the air show! He might’ve been a bit faster, too…

Wings and Wheels Fly-In at Parlin Field

Last week when I was at Parlin Field for fuel I picked up a flyer for the “Wings and Wheels” fly-in which was yesterday. The event promised a bit of a car show with hot rods, a half chicken BBQ for $7, and airplanes from all over. What’s not to love? It’s also another great opportunity to visit Parlin.

The winds were a bit different today with light winds out of the south. Nashua was using runway 14 which is the opposite direction from the typical arrangement. When I arrived in the vicinity of Parlin aircraft were using Runway 18 which is the opposite direction from what I used last week. Parlin also has a turf field, but it was not being used today.

When approaching an uncontrolled field like Parlin you are generally required to make a “left traffic pattern” meaning that you make all turns to the left as you visually approach and land at the airport. The pattern is a rectangular shape with a downwind leg parallel to the runway in the opposite direction, “base” leg, and final approach segments. Approaching Parlin from the south to land on runway 18 would normally dictate a left traffic pattern but due to terrain the chart and airport facility directory information indicates that a right traffic pattern is used for runway 18.

Even using right traffic for 18 leaves an interesting approach! On the downwind leg you are over terrain which is definitely higher than the airport although still well below the normal pattern altitude of 1000 feet above ground. Once turning base and final it is notable that there is a hill in the way between your position and the airport! A shallow approach will not do here. The trick is just to remember your short field/obstructed field technique from private pilot training. I put in full flaps after turning final. I stayed high during the first part of the final leg until crossing the hill with plenty of altitude margin. Once the hill is cleared I reduce power to idle. Pitch for 62 knots. If you’re too high, the aiming point will move downwards: slip a little bit. If you’re too low, the aiming point will move upwards: add some power. Ideally you don’t have to add any more power and the engine will remain at idle until you turn off the runway.

With the gear and full flaps out, power out, the Cardinal is a drag machine. The prop at engine idle is even in a high drag configuration with the blades angled perpendicular (flat) to the airflow. The result is a nice steep approach at a minimum airspeed. Without aggressive braking I was stopped in about 1500 feet from the displaced threshold (aiming point for landings due to the terrain on final).

The Cardinal parked on the grass at Parlin, tail-to-tail with a biplane.

The Cardinal parked on the grass at Parlin, tail-to-tail with a biplane. A bit further beyond note the hill.

On the landing rollout the locals on the radio suggested turning left onto the grass next to the taxiway if I was able. This is fine even in the Cardinal RG, and while I have not operated on turf runways yet I know others have with success. In this case for taxiing on grass and uneven surfaces another private pilot lesson is recalled and I turned onto the turf with the yoke pulled all the way back to help keep the nose wheel strut extended. This is the weakest part of the landing gear and also the part that if it fails you’re going to ding the prop. So you want to make sure the prop is given the maximum possible clearance. Then you’re taxiing just requires more power, and no brakes.

Lots more airplanes on the grass.  Great turn out for the fly in!

Lots more airplanes on the grass. Great turn out for the fly in!

I was marshalled into the alleyway between two areas of grass with airplanes parked and shut down, then several volunteers helped push the Cardinal backwards into a spot tail-to-tail with a biplane. I chocked my wheels with the set of small chocks I keep in the plane (although most planes I looked at weren’t chocked – grass is an effective brake when winds are light).

Cessna 195, built by Cessna between 1947 and 1954.

Cessna 195, built by Cessna between 1947 and 1954.

A gorgeous Cessna 195 was parked on the grass. Cessna built these planes between 1947 and 1954. They have a round radial engine with seven cylinders arranged around the outside. You can see this in the picture above. Radial engines are known for their oil consumption. The engine in this plane likely consumes around 2 quarts of oil (and 16 of fuel) per hour!

Another rare aircraft type was a Call Air A-3. Just 15 of this type were ever built! This aircraft has a wood and fabric low wing that is braced with struts from above. Lots of people are familiar with the high wing strut supported 172 and 182 designs from Cessna but it’s also possible to strut brace a low wing from above. In these aircraft the strut is under tension when on the ground (supporting the weight of the wing) and in the air when the wing is supporting the aircraft the strut is under tension. My understanding is this design is strong but has a lot of parasitic drag, making it best for stout low speed aircraft (the Piper Pawnee is another example). Many of these have been used for agricultural flying, including the Call Air models.

A CallAir A-3 built in 1947.  Only 15 of this type were built!

A CallAir A-3 built in 1947. Only 15 of this type were built!

Next I paid my $7 and waited in line for chicken. The deal was for half a BBQ chicken. Nobody thought about sides, clearly this was an Atkins meal. But there was delicious sauce of several different flavors. The chicken was quite good.

I sat down at a table with several generations of a family. The grandfather flies a Van’s RV-6 aircraft that he built himself from a kit. His plane was in the hangar in the back, a beautiful aircraft. He said it took him 5000 hours in 5 years to complete. His daughter and two granddaughters had driven up from Sudbury, MA to visit the grandparents and the fly in. Also present was a man who flies out of his own backyard in Chester, NH with a 1740 x 28 ft grass strip (a private airport called Heaton).

Half a BBQ chicken for $7. Yum.

Half a BBQ chicken for $7. Yum.

Another neat aircraft arrived while I was eating my BBQ chicken. It’s a bulbous twin engined flying boat that looks like it shouldn’t possibly fly: A Grumman Widgeon. The Widgeon is quite big and it looked impressive coming in. It is quite a weird craft. Fun fact I just learned? Jimmy Buffet owned a Widgeon and crashed it in 1994.

Grumman Widgeon

Grumman Widgeon flying boat.

Just six days ago last Sunday I flew past Crotched Mountain ski area and spotted a bit of snow. Crotched Mountain last week. This week I once again flew past since I was flying the same approximate route. There is still just a bit of snow but quite a lot has disappeared since last week! I think it will all be gone in another week.

Crotched  Mountain snow, one week later.

Crotched Mountain snow, one week later.

From 6 days ago, for comparison.

From 6 days ago, for comparison.

Coming in from the north-northwest put me on a long final for runway 14 at Nashua and I was following another aircraft that was flying an ILS from about 6 miles out. This turned out to be a bit of a frustration flying VFR. Initially I had about a 30 knot overtake on the other aircraft and put the gear down and flaps out sooner then I would otherwise have done in order to slow down. Even after slowing down to match the speed of that aircraft I made another interesting observation. They were not doing a very good job of holding the runway centerline! Since this aircraft was flying a practice ILS approach most likely the pilot is an instrument student. The ILS is quite sensitive especially close in and it is easy to “chase the needles” and overcorrect left and right. It’s one of the things you learn how to do when you’re an instrument student. In this case the meandering course made it just a bit harder to follow the aircraft at a reasonable distance since they were going left and then right. So I just concentrated on following them down to the threshold.

The Nashua tower controller gave me a bit of a scare on short final, saying “Cardinal 667 your traffic is over the approach lights” since *I* was on short final, just passing over the approach lights. I was already cleared to land. It quickly became apparent that this traffic call was in fact for the airplane following me. Aviate, Navigate, Communicate, above all always keep flying the airplane. I made a fine landing and cranked the windows open for the taxi to parking. Summer is almost here!

Cheap fuel at Parlin Field, Virga

After a day of yard work yesterday I decided to go for a short flight today. The weather has been excellent and warm although I don’t have quite the itch for a whole day of flying having spent last weekend on a very long XC trip. Since I was down below half a tank of fuel after the 3 hours of flying from Newport News, VA to Nashua I decided to make a quick round trip to Parlin Field in Newport, NH which is a sleepy little short strip nestled in the hills around Lake Sunapee. They have fuel for only $4.25 which is in fact a bargain for Avgas.

Cruising along over Southern NH.  I am not great at selfies.

Cruising along over Southern NH. I am not great at selfies.

After getting up to the airport I did a bit of “hangar flying” which is just a fancy term for talking to other people about aviation at an airport! In this case I got a chance to catch up with my regular CFII Doug Gale about my instrument flying on the trip to and from South Carolina. Doug has been a great instructor and while I didn’t mention it in my previous post I think his attitudes towards teaching IFR in real conditions have really prepared me for real weather flying.

After some chatting I started up and took off from Runway 14 at Nashua. This is the more uncommon runway at Nashua but today the winds at the surface in Nashua were out of the southeast and this leaves Runway 14 as the ideal runway. Looking to the east from the ground revealed perfect blue skies, to the west showed a midlevel broken cumulus cloud deck with a bunch of Virga.

Most of the precip was virga.  But this area of about a mile or two in diameter was getting a shower.

Most of the precip was virga. But this area of about a mile or two in diameter was getting a shower.

Virga is precipitation that evaporates before it gets a chance to hit the ground. In today’s case some portions of the broken cumulus clouds had sufficient lift to get tops above the freezing level into the snow growth region where snow formed. Then as the snow fell through around 7-8000 feet it melted into rain. But the air near the surface beneath the cloud bases was so dry that in almost all of the cases the rain had completely evaporated before any drops hit the ground!

In just a few spots the showers were of sufficient strength to continue all the way through to the ground. But even in the spots where the precipitation was evaporating at 3000 feet it was still raining. So once again I found myself flying through a bit of rain although in this case it was under Visual Flight Rules and with rain light enough to obscure the visibility only slightly.

A good rule for flying through rain shafts VFR is that if you can see all of the way through the area of rain to clearly discernible land/terrain behind it, it’s OK to fly through VFR. If you can’t see through the area of rain to the other side it’s either too large or too heavy to fly through visually.

Virga can bring it’s own set of aviation hazards, but these are predominantly found in Virga falling under thunderstorms in very hot and dry climates. A dissipating thunderstorm has a large core of very heavy precipitation falling in a downdraft. If this heavy precipitation falls into very warm dry air the raindrops will evaporate forming virga. This process of evaporation causes evaporative cooling of the air which then becomes much cooler than the surrounding air mass and sinks rapidly. This can be the source of dangerous turbulence and downdrafts! So if you are in a dry desert area and you see a storm dropping heavy rain that evaporates before hitting the ground, beware.

Crotched Mountain Ski Area is looking a bit, uh, crotchety this time of year.

Crotched Mountain Ski Area is looking a bit, uh, crotchety this time of year.

There is almost no snow still visible, although I passed close by Crotched Mountain Ski Area which still had a bit of snow. I didn’t snap a picture of it but Lake Sunapee ski area had substantially more. I saw no snow except for ski areas. If I went a bit further east into the White Mountains there would certainly be some snow on the high summits.

Finding no traffic at Parlin field and light winds aloft out of the north-northwest I opted for a straight-in approach to Runway 36. Parlin is a shorter field at 3,400 feet compared to Nashua’s 6000 feet. While it is well within the capabilities of the Cardinal it requires a bit of extra care. In this case I opted for a full flaps (30 degrees) power out approach where flaps 20 would be my standard on a longer runway. The results in a somewhat lower approach speed and steeper approach over any obstacles, and a low landing speed means less energy rolling out on the short runway. With minimal braking I had no trouble turning off at the midfield taxiway which is about 2,100 feet.

Cheap fuel.  This covers me from Newport News to Nashua, and then the half hour trip to Parlin field.

Cheap fuel. 33.6 gallons used on the trip from Newport News to Nashua, plus the half hour trip to Parlin field.

Is it worth it to fly to Parlin just for the low fuel price? Well, with the ability to take on 33.6 gallons I saved about $42 over the price at Nashua. This is just about exactly enough to cover the one hour round trip from Nashua to Parlin (at Parlin’s fuel price). So, it’s a break even, which means the round trip for fuel is effectively a free hour of flying. Woohoo! But, I need to pump at least 30 gallons for the math to work out. That said, It’s not like I need any excuse to fly to Parlin. The airport is in a beautiful spot with friendly folks and just a bit of a flying challenge to keep those skills sharp.

Hour Count

  • Total time: 377 hours
  • Last 12 months: 99 hours
  • Time in the Cardinal: 287 hours
  • Landings: 544 (330 in the Cardinal)
  • Instrument approaches: 69
  • Actual instrument: 22 hours

Flying home from Charleston, SC

I have been neglecting this blog for some time despite tons of flying. After a long XC flight yesterday I woke up with a desire to write about it so here we go! For the first time this year all of the various complexities aligned and I was finally able to fly the Cardinal down to Charleston, SC for our yearly vacation with my family in Folly Beach. The flight down with Abby was great too but I’ll start blogging again with my solo flight back (Abby flew back commercial midweek).

My plan was to fly back on Saturday with the available room to change the plan to fly back on either Friday or Sunday. It’s always good to be a bit flexible when flying a light general aviation aircraft especially over such a long distance where it is likely you’ll pass through at least some interesting weather somewhere along the way. While I do have my instrument rating and I wouldn’t make this trip without it the IR still doesn’t help the Cardinal in the face of thunderstorms or icing below minimum enroute altitudes.

As usual I began looking at synoptic scale forecasts several days out. The forecast called for a warm front to lift through the Carolinas bringing unstable air and the potential for widespread thunderstorms by the afternoon hours. In the morning rain was predicted, but this rain was associated with stable warm moist air “over-running” the surface warm front, not rain associated with convection (thunderstorms). Because of this forecast the biggest change to my ideal plan was to push my planned departure towards the earlier end of the morning and I made plans to be off by 10AM. On the plus side the push of northward moving air associated with the front would give me a nice tailwind leaving the south.

The total trip from Charleston Executive (JZI) back home to Nashua (ASH) is just a bit long for a single leg without a fuel stop. So I planned a fuel stop a bit before halfway in Newport News, VA (PHF). This stop location had two benefits, one practical and one silly: 1) Choosing a towered airport for the “tech stop” makes dealing with IFR clearance easier and quicker, and 2) I hadn’t landed in Virginia yet, so Newport News would let me check Virginia off of the visited states map!

For the first leg of the journey between JZI and PHF I filed an off-airway routing at 5000 feet using a few VORs that were within a few miles of the direct route: LBT (Lumberton, NC) TYI (Tar River, NC) and FKN (Franklin, VA). There is very little terrain in this area and 5000 feet is well above any obstacles. With the expected tailwind the total time was a bit over two hours.

Flying along coastal SC in light rain.

Flying along coastal SC in light rain.

After loading up all of the baggage (including my folding bike, a box of kitchen supplies, and Abby’s suitcase that she didn’t need to take back with her) I departed Charleston Executive at 10AM. There were high clouds with no rain quite yet but rain had already started along the first part of the route and at my destination. Since Charleston Executive is an untowered airport but I was able to depart in VFR conditions I departed VFR and then called up Charleston Approach for my IFR clearance. Cleared to the Newport News airport As Filed, climb and maintain 5000, then a vector for traffic which I spotted passing off the left wing as the light rain started.

Soon I was in steady light rain that continued for a bit more than an hour. The Cardinal has a minor leaking problem along the doors in heavier rain, not uncommon among Cardinals with original 1970s door seals. I used the small hand towel I carry in the seat back pockets to periodically wipe along the door frame and stayed mostly dry. Eventually what was still visible of the ground disappeared beneath me as I slipped between rolling stratus cloud layers. Finally well into North Carolina I popped back into the clear exactly where my ADS-B weather radar showed the precip ending.

Smoke from agricultural burning in NC demonstrates the tailwind.

Smoke from agricultural burning in NC demonstrates the tailwind.

Now I was out of the clouds in hazy air with farmland below. Many years in the past I’ve driven this same trip down I-95 and I was amused to find that the clearer weather coincided exactly with the part of the routing that intersected I-95 around Rocky Mount, NC – a spot we’ve often stopped at for breakfast after a long night of driving. The tailwind continued pushing me along with ground speeds between 150 and 160 knots!

My ADS-B radar display continued to show another area of steady light rain around Newport News. You can also look up METARs (current weather conditions) using the ADS-B weather data broadcast. At this point I couldn’t receive the ATIS broadcast from Newport News yet but the METAR retrieved indicate high cloud bases and light rain. An instrument approach would be useful to find the airport in the lowered visibility of the rain but it wouldn’t have to be anywhere near minimums.

After picking up the ATIS I briefed the ILS Runway 7 and was cleared direct to JAWES intersection by Norfolk approach. I was out of the clouds but didn’t spot the runway until a bit inside the final approach fix because of the rain. The wind was straight down runway 7 as I landed and turned off. No problems getting stopped on the wet runway. I taxied to Rick Aviation which is the independent FBO with a cheaper fuel price and asked for a quick turn top off while I went inside to stretch my legs.

Light rain in Newport News, Virginia where I stopped for fuel and to change my shorts for pants.

Light rain in Newport News, Virginia where I stopped for fuel and to change my shorts for pants.

In addition to fuel my other mission at my stopover point was to change my shorts for pants. Especially with the rain it was quite chilly in Newport News and I changed and grabbed a snack and water while the plane was refueled. Rick Aviation was a great place to stop and soon I was on my way again.

For the next leg simpler routings are unlikely since there are numerous restricted and military operating areas in the vicinity of the Patuxent River, New Jersey near McGuire AFB, and of course the complicated New York City airspace. So instead I filed an airway routing which was CCV V1 GRAYM. Victor 1 is a low altitude airway that traverses several bends up the edge of the Delmarva peninsula, over Delaware Bay, and then avoids the restricted areas near McGuire before passing over Kennedy VOR (JFK airport). I filed for 5000 knowing that going higher could be an issue for icing and that the minimum enroute altitudes on V1 were considerably lower leaving plenty of room for an “out” in the event I encountered any icing conditions.

Joint base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (the airport visible from far left, and two closer airports), and associated restricted area.

Joint base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (the airport visible from far left, and two closer airports), and associated restricted area.

I was pleasantly surprised to be cleared as filed. As I completed my preflight two F22s from Langley AFB streaked directly overhead in a knife edge turn. This area is very busy with military jets! It was a very cool sight.

After departure I was cleared to join V1 at JAMIE – a slight shortcut – and to climb to 5000 feet. Conditions were IMC in light-moderate rain but below the cloud bases. Of course, as soon as I leveled off at 5000 feet I immediately checked the outside air temp gauge knowing that now I was in the cold north. It was only about 2 degrees celsius! OK, now inserting the temp gauge into my scan and looking at the left and right wing leading edges for any sign of icing. Slowly the temperature gauge dropped below 0 to read about -2 without any signs of ice accretion on the wings. I was spring loaded to demand a lower altitude as soon as I saw any accumulation.

I was somewhat surprised by how long it took to start, but eventually I did get a trace of light clear icing on the leading edge of the wing. I detected no discernible loss in airspeed but immediately radio’d Patuxent Approach and reported “667 just started picking up a trace of clear ice, temperature -2, we need to descend”. The response was immediate “Cardinal 667 descend and maintain 4000″. About a minute after reaching 4000 feet the ice began rapidly shedding from the leading edge of the wing. I reported to the controller that temperatures were positive and all the ice was shed and thanked him.

At this point I was nearing the northern edge of the precipitation depicted on my ADS-B RADAR. At 4000 feet the rain continued, then turned to light snow, and then stopped as I burst out into the clear with only high clouds and blue sky visible ahead. A classic warm front event! The clear icing was due to snow falling through above freezing air and melting into rain, then a shallow below freezing layer was present at 5000 feet. I probably could have escaped the icing by climbing as well, which would have also put me into the warmer temps that must have existing to melt the snow into rain. Eventually the shallow area of above freezing temps was no longer present above 4000 feet and as a result the precipitation was falling as snow there.

It's tough to see in this photo since it's streaking by.  But it was snowing!

It’s tough to see in this photo since it’s streaking by. But it was snowing! Welcome back to the north!

Once I was in the clear and out of the IMC I contacted the controller to let them know I was out of it and could climb back to 5000 feet. Colder temperatures were certainly to be found as I got further north but no clouds or precipitation was forecast or depicted along the planned route.

Atlantic City, NJ off the right wing.

Atlantic City, NJ off the right wing.

Once I was talking to Atlantic City McGuire Approach apparently wanted me at 7000. OK, fine, I’m out of the weather and the efficiency will be a bit better up there anyway. I climbed to 7000. The conditions were beautiful now! Completely clear blue skies from the southern tip of New Jersey until southern CT. Once I was actually talking to McGuire Approach I got another IFR treat: the in-flight reroute. I guess my planned V1 routing wasn’t so good after all. In this case, the reroute was “after JFK, cleared via V229 GDM(Gardner) V106 MHT(Manchester) Direct”. This is a bit of a strange routing since it goes over the top of Nashua and then back, and complicated the routing around NYC. Ultimately it added about 10 minutes to my ETA.

I set to work twisting knobs and pushing buttons to program the revised route into the Garmin 430 and soon I was approaching New York with a gorgeous view of Manhattan off to the left and Long Island to the right. This is very busy airspace and there were numerous airliners visible departing and approaching JFK as I passed overhead.

Kennedy (JFK) Airport from 7000 feet.

Kennedy (JFK) Airport from 7000 feet.

As is usual with these complicated ATC routings some shortcuts were coming. Just before crossing the Kennedy VOR the somewhat frazzled controller quizzed me and some other aircraft about their indicated airspeeds and then gave me direct PUGGS… then Direct Bridgeport… then finally “you know what, Direct Hartford.” I suppose all of this was about coordinating me and another different speed aircraft both flying the same airway routing at the same altitude.

ATC Reroute via V229, with the various direct shortcuts highlighted.

ATC Reroute via V229, with the various direct shortcuts highlighted.

It wasn’t long before I crossed over Long Island sound and into southern Connecticut leaving New York’s airspace. Once I was switched over to talking to Bradley Approach I asked if I could get direct destination. They were unable to grant this clearance but instead offered CLOWW Direct, which is a familiar routing from many trips I made to Islip, NY last year. Since I was just skimming the cloud bases at 7000 feet I knew it would be an easy setup for a visual approach to Runway 32 at Nashua since the routing via CLOWW sets you on a wide downwind pattern entry. I made a fine landing and set upon the lengthy task of unloading everything we brought with us on this weeklong trip!

View of downtown Hartford, CT.

View of downtown Hartford, CT.

The time logged for the trip home ended up 2.4 and 3.4 hours, with 2.1 actual instrument conditions. All hand flying. Great experience, my first inadvertent icing encounter, and beautiful views over New York city. And I left Charleston at 10AM and arrived home in Nashua just after 4PM. Pretty impressive!

2013 in Review

I haven’t made anywhere near as many blog posts as I would have liked so many of my devoted readers may be wondering if I’ve been flying. In fact, 2013 has been a fantastic year for aviation. I’ve flown 103.8 hours in 2013, more than ever before.

As some may remember I had a number of goals for aviation in 2013, and I managed to accomplish most of them. Here is the list of goals from my review of 2012. I did pretty well.

  • Obtain my instrument rating. I have about 20 hours to go to meet the minimum requirement and take the check ride. I also still need to pass my instrument written. Done! I got my instrument rating in August.
  • Fly more than 100 hours. I would easily have done this in 2012 if it weren’t for the lengthy annual so I think I will easily meet this goal. Done! I flew 103.8 hours in 2013.
  • Fly to San Antonio, Texas for Lone Star Con. I want to make a long cross country trip. Lone Star Con (around Labor day weekend next year) is the perfect opportunity to do this with an overnight stop in a different city in each direction. The straight line distance is just over 1500 nautical miles. I did it!
  • Fly to Canada. My sister in law is in Toronto and Quebec would be a great destination too. Nope! There was an opportunity to visit them in the late fall when Abby was flying commercial to attend a conference. However, there were instrument conditions forecast along the route and with the time of year icing was definitely a concern and I could not make the trip.
  • Take some flying videos. I made a few when I was flying the rental 172 but haven’t yet in the Cardinal. Did one…

Getting my instrument rating was certainly my biggest achievement of 2013. Detailed in a bunch of blog posts I had already made significant progress towards my rating in 2012. But I didn’t dig into my instrument rating again until late Spring at which point I went all out and completed it. Getting the rating was a lot of fun and really improved my flying precision and finesse.

I had no problems passing my instrument checkride and the DPE complimented my extensively on my flying and comfort with the airplane. I credit the extensive experience and familiarity you get with an airplane you own with this. The examiner told me I would have no problem accomplishing any further ratings. So maybe in 2014 or 2015 I will go through the work of obtaining a commercial certificate for fun.

Soon after getting my instrument rating I set off on the most epic aviation journey I’ve done yet (and one of my goals from above). I hope to write up a bit more soon about this but don’t hold your breath since this has been waiting since Labor Day weekend! My epic journey was halfway across the United States from East to West and almost all the way down to the South from Nashua, NH to San Antonio, TX for the World Science Fiction convention.

While I volunteered for the convention I deliberately did not assign myself any tasks ahead of time so that I had no time pressure. My wife traveled separately on commercial flights both to avoid time pressure and because the long duration of the flight would probably be uncomfortable for her. So my journey was solo in both directions. It was a blast!

I filed IFR for every leg. I did an actual instrument approach (an ILS) in Johnstown, PA. Then I dodged some convective weather on my way from there to Danville, KY where I did a GPS approach due to haze. Finally I finished out the day with a sunset visual approach into Memphis, TN.

On my second day I flew from Memphis to Shreveport, LA with a visual approach. The final leg from Shreveport to San Antonio I climbed to 10,000 to mostly stay above a broken stratocumulus layer. I ended up getting another good dose of actual as I had to penetrate some of this deck as it rose up getting towards the southern parts of Texas.

On the way back I took a different route to Russelville, AR then St. Louis, MO on the first day and Muncie, IN, and Franklin, PA stops on the way back. The trip back was almost completely visual conditions with no clouds and severe clear under high pressure with a tailwind. You can’t ask for better aviating weather!

I posted some pictures from this trip, unfortunately not annotated with any captions. You can take a look. I still hope to write up a bit more about the trip with the pictures…

More random highlights from 2013:

  • Flew to Philadelphia (VFR) for our anniversary and stayed at the Philly International airport.
  • Landed in squirrely 27 knot wind gusts in Bethel, ME
  • Went to the Cape/Islands several times including for the Arisia Relaxacon
  • Experienced night IFR conditions

Finally, my new goals for 2014.

  • Fly to Charleston, SC. My sister leaves here and every year there is a family gathering in Folly Beach, SC. I was hoping to fly down in 2013 but I didn’t have my instrument rating in time.
  • Fly to Toronto. I missed this last year but hope to do it this in 2014!
  • Gain more actual instrument experience.
  • Obtain a new rating? The Commercial Certificate is obviously the next step in the normal progression. Though I’m not up for my BFR until August 2015 the Commercial Certificate requires a relatively small amount of instructor time so it wouldn’t be too costly.
  • Finally… blog! I was fantastic about updating the blog in 2012 and really blew it in 2013. I hope that I can get back to writing this coming year! I know many of my readers have enjoyed hearing about all of the Cardinal adventures.

The Cardinal is currently in Fitchburg undergoing its annual inspection (ideally timed for the depth of winter!). Hopefully this will be resolved soon and I will be flying again soon. And even more important to readers of this blog I am resolving to write some proper blog entries in 2014! See you then!

Video: Pattern flying in the Cardinal RG

Here is a video I took back in March with a GoPro camera. It demonstrates the before takeoff run up flow and then includes two trips around the pattern in the Cardinal. I added some explanatory subtitles about what I’m doing.

GUMPS is: Gas, Undercarriage, Mixture, Prop, Seatbelts. This is a mnemonic for the before landing check: Fuel selector both, gear down/green light/in window&mirror, mixture rich, prop set for go-around, seatbelts and shoulder harnesses fastened.

Notice all of the snow on the ground! It was shot March 3rd. The ground is no longer snowy!

Back to blogging! Gusty winds in New Bedford

So as I’m sure readers of this blog have noticed I have been slacking on my write-ups! I have been flying but between busyness in my work life and some of the various frustrations of flying in the winter weather we’ve had this year I haven’t managed to blog about the times I have been able to go flying. So I resolved that this weekend would be different and a blog entry would be posted. Watch for some back issues later. If I have time I might try to fill in some of the interesting experiences from earlier this year.

Despite my resolution to blog this weekend did not get off to a good start. I planned to go up to the airport on Saturday by myself and do some solo flying. The weather was lingering unpleasant on Saturday morning but I headed up to the airport after it began to clear.

As soon as I drove up to the airplane it was immediately clear that the right side main gear tire was as flat as it could be. This was the only tire&tube combination to not be changed out at the annual but the tread was in excellent shape. I borrowed some air from the Air Direct hangar and tried pumping the tire back up to see if it would hold any pressure. With the tire up at the normal 68 PSI I could hear a hissing sound. The valve stem on the tire tube was definitely leaking right where it attaches to the tube. There was no way this tire would hold enough pressure to remain airworthy.

I headed back into the Air Direct Airways office and discussed the problem with my CFII Doug. The Air Direct A&P would not be around until tomorrow and if they had a new tube the plane could be airworthy again for a Sunday flight. Doug also mentioned that several planes on the ramp had recently experienced flat tires – perhaps the springtime temperature change was to blame. I crossed my fingers that a tube would be available and headed home.

On Sunday morning I got a text around 10AM that the plane was ready! This was welcome news. The weather was once again proving to be a bit slow to clear and in particular Burlington, VT, a destination that Abby and I had previously discussed, was sketchy VFR with terrain in the clouds around. Instead, I suggested we head to the south towards New Bedford, MA. There is an airport restaurant there and I hadn’t been there before so it would be a new destination.

The tire looked better today when we pulled up. I paid for the replacement tube and labor and thanked the folks at Air Direct. Fortunately the tire tread itself was in excellent shape and so only the tube needed to be replaced. This made me wonder if the tread was previously replaced without the tube. The logbook entry was not specific enough to determine with certainty.

The weather was brisk and chilly with winds gusting out of the northwest, aligned with Nashua’s runway 32. Lift off was rapid and even with two people on board and more than half fuel load I was much higher than usual when I passed my tie down spot, because of the headwind. The ride was definitely bumpy in the climbout but nothing too serious (I’d call it “light”).

Since there were some lingering lower clouds over the middle part of the trip I only climbed to 3500 feet. True airspeeds are a bit slower down there but we weren’t going that far. I had flight following from Boston Approach and after being handed off to the 124.4 sector I knew to ask for a Bravo airspace clearance which was immediately issued “direct New Bedford, 3500″. Traffic was relatively light although a Citation did pass beneath us between Mansfield and Taunton.

Lately I’ve done a lot of solo flying and it was nice to have Abby as copilot. She will handle switching radio frequencies and getting the ATIS using the Garmin audio panel’s split com feature. New Bedford runway 32 was in use (just like Nashua) and the winds were more or less straight down the runway but shifting back and forth and gusting somewhat. I flew a right downwind pattern for runway 32. I decided to go a few knots faster on the approach because of the gusts and this worked well. With a slight balloon in a wind gust I added a bit of power to cushion the touchdown and still turned off easily at the first taxiway. Higher winds are a mixed blessing!

I pulled up to Sandpiper Air and we were marshaled in by the manager. I asked for a top up and inquired if they had a crew car. They had a solid old Dodge Caravan. This was my first time using the crew car phenomenon. Airport FBOs will often have a car they will lend out to visiting pilots who buy fuel or pay for services, anything from a beat up Crown Victoria to a brand new Mercedes depending on the airport and FBO.

Since I’d done the flying Abby gave up her driver’s license for photocopy and took the keys to the crew car. We got directions to the New Bedford Whaling Museum and a recommendation for a dining spot nearby. Despite getting slightly lost on the way we soon pulled onto cobble stoned streets and found the restaurant called “Freestones” and the Whaling Museum.

The whaling museum had a charge for admission so we decided to save it for some time when we had more free time. Instead we walked through the historic part of the city and checked out the pier where many fishing boats were docked. There are nice displays throughout the historic area highlighting information about the whaling era.

Finally we headed back to Freestones and had a nice lunch before driving back to Sandpiper Air. The plane was fully fueled when we got back and after paying I did a quick preflight while Abby stayed warm in the plane. I’d deliberately reinserted the cowl plugs to try and keep the engine warm in the brisk wind and I did a very short prime then did a regular hot start procedure. The engine started up nice and quickly.

Departure was as quick as Nashua had been and soon we were fighting headwinds and cleared into the Boston Class Bravo direct to Nashua at 4500 feet. The trip was mostly quiet but around Bedford/Hanscom airport there was a fair amount of business jet traffic and we were again treated to the sight of a small jet crossing just below. Always a very cool view!

Abby retrieved Nashua’s ATIS via the split com while I continued descending. The winds were straight down the runway at 10 gusting 20 knots. On initial contact the tower told me to report a four mile final and so I maneuvered slightly to meet up with the Merrimack river then dropped flaps 10 and the landing gear as I approached the point where I would turn final. This is definitely a longer final approach compared to a typical full pattern and I just used the PAPI to keep myself on a 3 degree glidepath, slowly reducing airspeed down to just a hair under 70 knots with flaps 20. This higher airspeed and lower flap setting is good for gusty conditions, giving some extra margin if the headwind dies off suddenly.

I worked the throttle and controls the whole way down. For the most part the wind was straight down the runway but there was definitely turbulence rocking my wings. I kept the power in a bit longer than I normally do then pulled it back crossing the threshold and made a very nice touchdown, one of my best landings in the last few months. Of course, I’m sure the 10-20 knot headwind didn’t hurt!

2012 in Review

Readers of this blog may be wondering what happened with no posts in several months! Unfortunately the answer is that I have been suffering through the airplane owner’s ritual of the Annual Inspection and resulting maintenance. Between parts sent out for overhaul, additional parts needing to be ordered, and the holidays it has taken a long time to get the Cardinal back to airworthy state. The good news is that the airplane is now in great shape.

While everything was apart for the annual inspection two new upgrades would be installed. The first was a Reiff engine preheater. This is an electric cylinder and oil heater that plugs in to preheat the engine for winter flying. This will make for much easier winter starts and greatly reduce the wear seen in a cold start.

The second upgrade was installation of a Rosen Sunvisor kit. The old visors in the Cardinal were in terrible shape and frequently flopped down and hit the pilot and copilot in the head! Plus, some velcro had been previously used to try and stick the visors to the ceiling and it was a gooey, sticky, not adhesive enough mess. Unfortunately the Rosen sunvisors turned out to be a bit more of a project than expected because much of the plastic trim pieces were very brittle. Now there are fresh plastic pieces which look very nice along with the sunvisors.

Several issues were discovered during the annual inspection. The several big items were the discovery of loose baffles (by borescope inspection) in both left and right mufflers. This required sending the exhaust off for refabrication. The new exhaust is nice and shiny and should last many years.

Another major surprise was the discovery that an airworthiness directive on the Prop governor oil line was previously not properly complied with. The AD calls for a specific type of hose that must be replaced at engine overhaul. The hose type was not correct and the fittings were also not compliant. By replacing the rubber hose with a stainless steel line the AD is permanently complied with, so it is now resolved.

The left hand aileron bearing was becoming seized. I hadn’t noticed much control stiffness but in retrospect the ailerons were getting a bit stiff. I had assumed this was related to lubrication that would be refreshed at the annual but it turned out to be the bearing where the aileron attaches to the wing. There is not much difference in cruise due to the higher aerodynamic forces but in slow flight and landing and taxiing the ailerons move much smoother now. This might help my landings too!

And, considerable work was done on the landing gear to make sure it was in the best shape. The left hand main and nosegear tires were very worn and were replaced. The nose gear actuator was leaking slightly and was rebuilt. The nose gear strut was leaking at the seal, and after opening it up the steering bearing inside was found to be rusted and freezing up. In fact, this can be lubricated with a grease fitting (and should be at each annual) but it had not been done in some time. During the process of replacing the tire a crack was seen in the wheel halves. This was due to a previous mechanic over tightening the wheel bolts which stretched the bolt hole and cracked it! A good lesson in why you use a torque wrench. Fortunately the shop was able to find a pair of servicable used wheel halves.

On the engine a few small oil leaks were fixed and some hairline cracks were observed in fuel injector lines. The old style lines are susceptible to cracking like this. Two lines were previously replaced with the new style lines and now all lines are the new style. Compressions, oil filter cut open, and oil analysis all showed excellent results.

Finally, faced with the need to install a doubler plate around the ADF antenna in the belly I elected to remove the ADF entirely. It didn’t work anyway and technically if it’s in the plane it is supposed to work. Especially with my instrument rating checkride presumably in the next year I would prefer not to have to deal with questions about the nonworking ADF. Perhaps a knot of cruise airspeed will be gained with the removal of the long wire ADF antenna up top and a bit over 6 pounds of useful load was increased by removing the ADF and antennas!

Overall I’m very pleased with the quality of the inspection by Twin City Airmotive in Fitchburg, MA. The work did take a long time to complete and that is my one regret. From what I have seen the quality of the work they have done is meticulous and I definitely feel safer in the airplane knowing it has just had this work done. And, because the annual is due one year from the logbook sign off then the next annual inspect won’t be due until January 2014!

I’ve only flown 0.4 in the plane so far, ferrying it back from Fitchburg. Mark from Twin City Airmotive flew his Piper Cherokee 140 up from Fitchburg to Nashua to meet me so I didn’t have to deal with car shuffling. It was weird to sit right seat and also this was my first time in a low wing (other than big jets). Mark let me fly for a bit and while I didn’t log it I suppose I have about 10 minutes of Cherokee time! The good news is that the Cardinal flew great and despite almost two and a half months of hiatus I actually made an excellent smooth landing in Nashua.

2012 in Review

I flew 2.9 total in two flights in a Cessna Cutlass (172RG) in January. Then, after closing on the Cardinal in March I flew 88.1 hours in N52667. That means 91 hours flown in 2012. My total time at the end of 2012 was 175.9. This compares to 77.8 hours flown in 2011.

My aviation goals for 2013 include:

  • Obtain my instrument rating. I have about 20 hours to go to meet the minimum requirement and take the check ride. I also still need to pass my instrument written.
  • Fly more than 100 hours. I would easily have done this in 2012 if it weren’t for the lengthy annual so I think I will easily meet this goal.
  • Fly to San Antonio, Texas for Lone Star Con. I want to make a long cross country trip. Lone Star Con (around Labor day weekend next year) is the perfect opportunity to do this with an overnight stop in a different city in each direction. The straight line distance is just over 1500 nautical miles.
  • Fly to Canada. My sister in law is in Toronto and Quebec would be a great destination too.
  • Take some flying videos. I made a few when I was flying the rental 172 but haven’t yet in the Cardinal.

It’s been a great year and I’ve developed tremendously as a pilot. The ability to fly on a whim and the other benefits of ownership were definitely a big factor. Overnight XC trips have led me to experience more various weather conditions. I’m sure 2013 will bring even more fun and new experiences.

New York Sheep and Wool Festival

One of my wife’s hobbies is knitting and this means the New York Sheep and Wool Festival in Rhinebeck, NY is worth the trek. In the past she has gone by bus but of course traveling by airplane is much nicer. And late October is the perfect time to travel to the Hudson river valley. Some time ago Abby’s friend and ultimate frisbee team mate was at a party and I found out she was a knitter and planning to go to Rhinebeck too. Once I suggested flying to Rhinebeck a plan was hatched!

With myself and three knitters – Abby, her mother, and Genevieve LG – we headed to Kingston-Ulster airport in Kingston, NY on Sunday to attend the festival. As usual for a big trip I checked the weather obsessively starting several days out and the biggest issue appeared to be the possibility for some high winds. Winds aloft were in the 30-40 knot range. We were going to get a nice early start on Sunday anyway and this would help as the winds would be strongest on the surface in the middle of the day. High winds are simply a fact of life in fall and winter flying!

Gen took this picture of me doing my preflight inspection (actually I think in this picture I am cleaning the windshield!).

Abby and I got to the airport a bit early so I could preflight and then she headed out to the gate to meet Gen and Jonie. This was my first time flying with four people in the Cardinal. I carefully calculated the Weight and Balance ahead of time and determined I could carry up to 40 gallons of fuel on the first leg. I ended up getting a bit of fuel from the FBO at Nashua during my preflight but less than my full capacity. Even with strong headwinds aloft our journey to Kingston-Ulster would be around an hour and a half which is substantially shorter than a full fuel load. It is typical to find a tradeoff between fuel carrying capacity and cabin loading in most “long legged” airplanes but this trade off gives the pilot good flexibility rather than restriction.

The Quabbin Reservoir (by Gen).

I started our cruising at 4,500 and soon moved to 6,500 to clear the tops of a scattered cloud deck. After passing west of the Connecticut river valley the cloud deck was closing in to broken and while it was clear to the south I decided to take this opportunity to duck down through a suitable hole in the cloud layer. I think in retrospect it would have been better to continue above the layer since it ended up being just scattered again at Kingston but the reality of VFR flying is it is always hard to tell.

The ride above the clouds was very smooth but it got quite bumpy below the cloud deck. There was plenty of clearance with the bases around 4000-4500 feet. Our groundspeed was a bit worse under the deck too but there wasn’t much distance more to cover. After finally crossing a ridge line near Sheffield, MA the bumps dissipated a bit and we could spot the Hudson and the bridge near Kingston airport (The Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge).

Above the broken layer.

The Kingston airport has a nonstandard surface observation system where three clicks on the radio brings up the wind conditions. But the limitations of the system were clear on the busy CTAF channel as other aircraft transmissions frequently blocked the AWOS transmission. It was clear other traffic was using runway 15. Winds aloft were out of the northwest so this seems a bit odd to me but when I finally got the AWOS it did confirm that winds somewhat favored runway 15 on the surface. I entered the pattern following another aircraft and set up for the approach.

I did feel like the final approach was giving me a tailwind even below pattern altitudes but maybe I’m just making excuses. On short final I decided I was way too high and fast and pushed the throttle forward for a go-around. Unfortunate with headwinds already lengthening our flight but the go-around was nicely executed and gave us a nice view of the bridge as I made left traffic and came back around to runway 15. This time my approach was slower and on altitude although I did bring in full flaps and used a fairly steep approach angle. The touchdown was smooth and I rolled out to the end of the runway before turning off.

Farmlands and foliage.

I wasn’t sure exactly where to park and initially the person answering queries on Unicom was busy with an aircraft that landed before us. I found a spot next to a Cirrus and verified this was OK then parked there and tied down. The woman working at the airport came over in a golf cart and asked if we wanted a taxi. We asked for a taxi to the Duchess County fairgrounds and walked over to the FBO building.

Also waiting for a taxi outside the FBO was another group who had just arrived in a Cherokee Six from Philadelphia (Brandywine). It turns out they were going to the Sheep and Wool festival too! I had a nice conversation with the pilot and I believe there was some knitting discussion between our passengers. The pilot said that he had considered buying a Cardinal RG many years ago and always admired them.

Unfortunately due to a mix-up with the taxi company they only called one taxi for us and the other group which left us waiting a while longer. Finally we made it to the fairgrounds. There was much joking about Weight and Balance and the impact of fair food, purchased yarn (it doesn’t weigh that much), sheep (those weigh a bit more), and spinning wheels. Fortunately we managed to escape with just purchased yarn. As for the fair food I’m pretty sure the artichoke french, bratwurst, apple crisp, and lamb ravioli did not add too much to my conservatively calculated weight!

We’d prenegotiated a taxi to meet us at the fairgrounds gate at 4:30 and the taxi was just a few minutes late this time. I dipsticked the fuel tanks and noted 2.3 hours of fuel remaining. With tailwinds the return trip was predicted to run just one hour. This left more than an hour reserve which I was happy with. Based on retrieved weather information I could make the whole trip at 5,500 under the clouds. We departed and head back towards Nashua.

Rays of sunlight under the cloud deck.

On the way back the sun formed beautiful angled beams ending in circles on the ground as it shone through the broken cloud layer. Pictures cannot do the extend of this sight justice! The ride was bumpy but smoothed out a bit as we climbed up and passed the ridgeline near Sheffield, MA.

Me flying with Abby, Jonie, and Gen on our way home from Kingston-Ulster airport.

The trip back passed quickly with the quartering tailwind. I still had a significant wind correction in to the left and I was getting ground speeds around 160 knots (184 mph) over the ground! The cloud layer above me seemed to be created some updrafts as well and while the choppiness had smoothed out there were some periods where I was clearly experiencing an updraft and airspeed and ground speed climbed as I maintained altitude.

My awesome copilot Abby.

It felt like almost no time at all before I began to descend towards Nashua. After getting the ATIS and advising approach I contacted tower right as the biggest bump of the day hit us. My head nearly hit the ceiling and there may have been a dropped stitch in the back but nobody seemed too concerned. It is nice to have awesome passengers :)

Winds at Nashua were reported as 300 at 9 knots. I entered the empty pattern in a left downwind and flew a very nice pattern. The nice approach ended in a great landing. This one was perfectly on the centerline and very smooth. I’m sure the wind helped a bit but it was nice to get it so right after having to go around at Kingston!

The whole day was a load of fun and going by air was a great experience. Fall is a fantastic time to fly. The weather can get a bit exciting but the view from the sky is amazing. Between an hour and a half out and an hour back I ended up flying 2.5. This brings my total time above 175 hours! I am eagerly awaiting the 200 hour milestone and I hope to pass it around the new year. With 87.6 hours in N52667 there is no doubt that I will pass the hundred hours of Cardinal flying mark before the end of 2012.