Three instrument approaches in actual

One of the simple facts about flying for practice or currency is that you only get the weather nature throws at you. I’ve been eager to do some practice instrument approaches on a day when there is actual instrument weather but the last few weeks have been beautiful instead. It’s hard to complain about beautiful VFR weather but this Saturday I was happy to have some Marginal VFR weather with ceilings in the 1000-1500 foot range to do some practice approaches in.

I planned to do three approaches in close proximity at Concord, NH, Manchester, NH, and of course an approach would be required back at Nashua. One nice things about all of the airports in the northeast is that you don’t have to go very far to do approaches into several different airports. I could accumulate some more hours by going to further away airports but doing multiple approaches into the close together airports is actually a good additional challenge with lots of maneuvering in the clouds.

To do practice approaches like this in actual instrument the usual technique is to file an IFR flight plan with Nashua as both the departure point and the destination. In the route field you put “KCON KMHT” and in Remarks just say “appchs at CON MHT”. The clearance you get is a bit weird since it’ll be “Cleared to the Nashua airport via radar vectors Concord, then as filed.” So, if you lose comms in the clouds, you’re cleared all the way back to Nashua via the route that takes you over Concord and Manchester!

Cruising in between layers at 4000 feet looking east.

Cruising in between layers at 4000 feet looking east.

Departing Nashua I was in the clouds after about 1300 feet of climb and popped out on top a bit before leveling off at 4000 feet. Here I was between layers, 200-300 feet above the rolling hills of the stratus cloud deck top and below a high overcast. This can be a deceptive situation as you’re not in a cloud itself but there is no discernible horizon and worse the “rolling hills” can provide a false horizon.

First into Concord the approach would be the RNAV (GPS) approach to Runway 17. I was cleared directly to the KERSY waypoint. The controller had me climb up above 4000 briefly to begin the approach and then after turning onto the final approach course you can descend down to 2500 feet. Once passing the final approach fix descent continues down to the minimum descent altitude of 1020 feet. I took the approach down to 1100 feet where the runway was easily visible and went missed without landing. I started the published miss which is a climbing right turn to 4400 direct INKOW waypoint.

Next I asked to do the ILS 17 into Manchester. Unlike the GPS approach the ILS is a precision approach which means it provides vertical and lateral guidance down to a lower minimum altitude (just 200 feet above the ground). ATC had me level off at 3000 feet and fly a vector for the ILS. I started trying to brief the approach but it would have been too fast and I asked for a delay vector which was immediately granted. This is always a good idea when hand flying single pilot IFR and things are happening fast. Flying a heading is one of the easiest things you can do and this will give you time to properly brief and setup for the approach.

I had a bit of trouble getting laterally stabilized with some of the winds aloft but after a bit of time along the approach everything was looking really nice with the needles perfectly centered. The Course Deviation Indicator displays with needles for lateral and vertical displacement. If they form a plus sign you are right along the ILS glide slope and localizer.

After breaking out about a thousand feet above minimums I continued the approach and did a stop-and-go on the 8,900 feet of runway 17. Doing a stop-and-go will take a bit more runway than a touch-and-go but gives a bit more time to make sure everything is set for the takeoff. Flaps back to 10 degrees, trims reset, mixture-prop-throttle forward. No sense in going heads down on the cockpit rolling down the runway single pilot. On departure ATC gave alternate climb out instructions which were a right turn to 270 and climb to 3000 feet.

Cruising along at 4000 feet in between layers looking west.

Cruising along at 4000 feet in between layers looking west.

Finally, I did the ILS 14 back into Nashua. Winds aloft were increasingly strong from the southeast and the intercept required a shallow angle. Once established I popped out at 1600 feet and spotted the traffic ahead which was a commercial student from my local flight school practicing short approaches in the Cessna Cutlass I did my complex training in. Their nice tight pattern kept them well ahead of me and I was able to keep the speed up around 100 knots until under a mile final. The winds seemed to be strongest right at 500-1000 feet making for an interesting approach but the landing was good with the windsock pointed almost directly across the runway. Great practice!

Conditions were relatively smooth and free of turbulence in the clouds today. In some ways I think this made me get “the leans” a bit worse than usual since you’re not getting bounced around. An important part of instrument flying is recognizing the dissonance between your vestibular system and reality. At one point in the clouds I was in a long standard rate left hand turn and realized that my vestibular system was convinced I was straight and level. Recognizing this led me to be extra prepared for the next bit of dissonance after rolling out of the turn and my inner ear tells me I’m now turning in the opposite direction!

400 hours

This entry wraps up two flights in one. Last weekend I did a solo local VFR flight on Sunday morning. I practiced steep turns and slow flight then took a look over at the road construction going on near our house. I dropped down to 1500 feet and circled the interchange between MA Route 2 and Interstate 495.

Railroad bridge construction at the top, Rt 2/495 interchange in the middle, Taylor St bridge at the bottom.

Railroad bridge construction at the top, Rt 2/495 interchange in the middle, Taylor St bridge at the bottom.

As you can see in the picture there are three interconnected construction sites. A bridge has been replaced where 495 crosses MA Route 2. They are preparing to demolish the old bridge. There is also construction going on where 495 crosses over the MBTA commuter rail. For this construction site they have been redirecting one direction of 495 over a temporary bridge constructed between the two permanent bridges. Then they are doing extensive work on the permanent bridge side with no traffic. Now the northbound side is going over the temporary bridge. Finally, the Taylor St bridge over 495 is being replaced.

After taking a few pictures of the construction site I climbed up a bit higher and headed back to Nashua. I practiced a steep power off approach with full flaps into Nashua. When I pushed the plane back I chatted for a bit with a flight instructor and his student from the local flight school. They were using the Cardinal’s different tail design to demonstrate the balance of forces acting on the airplane. Since the Cardinal places the front seats further forward relative to the wing (compared to a 172) the tail needs to be able to push down with greater force to balance the aircraft.

This Sunday I went flying again. I needed just 1.5 more hours to reach a big milestone: 400 hours. Abby and I had a delicious lunch at Midfield Cafe and then headed out. The original plan was to go to Rochester, NH (DAW) for some cheap fuel and then visit the big airport in Portland, ME and back to Nashua. We ended up cutting it a bit short after refueling and didn’t go to Portland after all. It was just too hot and we wanted to get back home to do some furniture shopping.

Abby took this picture from the shade while I refueled the plane.

Abby took this picture from the shade while I refueled the plane.

The weather was hazy, hot, and humid and it was definitely hot out on the ramp while refueling. The price was quite good at $4.45 and I pumped about 41 gallons into the tanks to give just shy of a full fuel load. We departed and climbed up high to try to find cooler air. It was a bit cooler higher up but I think we would have had to go to 7 or 8 thousand to find something reasonable. With the altitude under us we headed just offshore to circle the Isles of Shoals off the coast of NH and then headed back to Nashua.

The flight was still long enough to put my logbook exactly at the 400 mark, with 106 of them in the last 12 months. I’m looking forward to the next hundred and more!

2015 Air Direct Poker Run

My local flight school, Air Direct Airways, has been running a Poker Run event for the past few years. I wrote about this event once before, 2012 Poker Run. This year Abby and I did the poker run with our friends Nathan and Allie. I bought in a $25 hand for each person. The proceeds of this event go to Homes for our Troops which is a charity that builds specially adapted homes for disabled veterans. This year as in the past few years the Poker Run has been to NH airports Keene (EEN), Concord (CON), Laconia (LCI), Rochester (DAW), and Biddeford, Maine (B19).


Nashua-Keene-Concord-Laconia-Biddeford-Nashua. Click for huge.

We got started around 10AM and went to KEEN first. The last time I fueled up (in Turners Falls) I almost filled the tanks. We hadn’t originally planned to take on extra passengers for the poker run so I didn’t consider limiting the fuel load. Fortunately, Nate and Allie plus the very limited baggage and 50 gallons of fuel I measured when I arrived at the airport put us 50 pounds under gross. No need to drain fuel, thankfully. We would probably burn about 200 pounds of fuel during the poker run, with an hour and a half remaining. The shorter runways of Biddeford and Rochester would be towards the end of the trip, and the weather was sufficiently cool that a gross weight takeoff would not be a problem on any of the runways.

Winds were relatively light with runway 14 in use at Nashua. The visibility was good for June with some haze and fair weather cumulus. For this trip of lots of small hops the highest we would get was 3000 feet MSL, VFR flying down low. Approaching the ridge line flying across the NH 101 gap we could see an airplane doing aerobatics far off to the left. Soon we weaved right to pass around Mt. Monadnock and descended. Several airplanes were joining the pattern and departing. The winds were calm and we overflew the field and entered a downwind for runway 02 which is the designated calm wind runway.

I landed long and then taxied under power to the end of the runway turning left at the end onto the taxiway that goes right to the FBO. Somehow Keene was momentarily quiet and nobody else was there from the Poker Run. We picked our cards and then headed back out. After climbing straight out to get above the terrain around Keene we turned right towards Concord cruising at 3000 feet. This time Allie was in the right seat up front and she tried a bit of straight and level flying. One of the cool things about doing the poker run with four people is that with lots of stops you can mix up who sits up front.

Approaching Concord there was a banner tow aircraft departing which actually turned out to be Air Direct’s Citabria. They were clear of the area by the time we arrived. We followed another aircraft into a downwind for runway 35. With yet another airplane following behind me I turned left at the first taxiway and we headed over to the FBO. Here we ran into Dave, an instructor from Air Direct, and some students in one of their rental 172s.

The next leg was a quick one, just 23 nautical miles to Laconia. We flew at 2,500 feet with Nathan in the right seat. This is less than 15 minutes of flying even counting time to climb and maneuver to land. Once arriving in the vicinity of Laconia runway 08 was in use (approaching from the west). There was the Air Direct banner tow aircraft again flying low and slow away from the airport, no factor. There was also a Falcon business jet approaching calling a 16 mile final. That’s a long way out but the jet is going fast. To maneuver into a downwind for runway 08 I needed to overfly the field and I did this about 1500 feet about the airport (500 feet above normal pattern altitude). I gave position reports back to the Falcon jet as they approached the airport and let them know I had them in sight. We passed over the airport as they were a few miles off the left wing. My only concern was that this was a poor position to be in if the jet initiated a go-around. But, there was mutual visual contact with the traffic at all times and if they performed a low altitude go-around I would be sufficiently north of the airport and maneuvering onto the downwind by that point.

As I turned left to enter the downwind we had a nice view of the Falcon jet’s final approach and I flew a somewhat extended downwind to ensure any wake vortices were dissipated before turning base and then final. I turned off the runway at the first taxiway and encountered the jet which was turning right to enter the overflow parking area. The FBO had previously informed some folks over the radio to go to the overflow parking area for the poker run and they would bring the cards. The overflow parking area was quite busy with the arriving Falcon jet and another larger business jet preparing to depart. We parked next to a Piper Commanche that had a very nice dog that Allie immediately became friends with.

We picked more cards and marked off our sheets. Another nice thing about having four people was having four hands, and some of us were actually getting some reasonable combinations. We also ran into Dave again, plus another Air Direct rental aircraft 42G, and another familiar looking Cessna Skyhawk from Nashua.

We departed for Biddeford behind another charter light jet that had dropped people off in Laconia. The climb out is a gorgeous view over Lake Winnepesauke and soon we leveled off at 2,500 feet. We passed to the right and a bit under the familiar looking green Skyhawk as we began descending towards Biddeford. There was banner activity here and this banner tow aircraft was picking up and dropping off banners in the grass next to the airport.

I was first in the conga line of three airplanes that were approaching the airport and I flew a tight visual pattern for runway 6 which is much shorter at 3000 feet. Still, this is easily do-able. I landed with full flaps and turned left at the midfield taxiway. We picked our cards and relaxed for a bit while 42G, Dave, the green Skyhawk, the Commanche with the friendly dog, and a Cherokee showed up. Lots of airplanes were doing the poker run!

When we were ready to go the banner airplane was still flying and we got to see them drop off one banner and pick up the next as we were walking over to the airplane. They made a low approach to runway 6, dropped the first banner, departed, looped around and made a diving low approach for 24 (the opposite direction). There is a banner hook trailing the aircraft and once it hooked the banner the plane climbs VERY steeply in a zoom climb “peeling” the banner up off the grass (you don’t want to drag it). Once the banner is lifted up the nose is pushed down to climb at best angle. It was very cool to see this up close, right in front of us!

We back-taxied in the fortunate lull in arrivals and then took off on runway 6 (there is no parallel taxiway at Biddeford). The shorter runway was no issue and after climbing out we turned left towards Rochester “Skyhaven” airport. The green Skyhawk had departed Biddeford before us and they were entering their downwind for runway 15 as I slowed to follow them.

The green Skyhawk touched down shortly after I turned final. One quirky thing about Rochester airport is that if you land on runway 15 your taxiway options are either 1000 feet from the threshold (that’s a short landing or a back taxi) or to roll all the way down to the end (4200 feet). Watching the Skyhawk roll out it looked like they were keeping some speed up to roll down to the end but then slowed and began to back taxi, announcing on the radio. At this point I was still at more than 500 feet above ground so it was an easy decision to go around and make the approach again. Fortunately no other airplanes had arrived in the meantime and I flew the pattern and landed with full flaps. I gave myself a bit of a workout and turned right at the first taxiway without back taxiing. The pilot from the Skyhawk was inside getting his cards and was very apologetic about making me go-around. No big deal, a go around from that altitude is a non-issue and good practice too.

Others were arriving as we left and we watched as we climbed away from Rochester on course to Nashua followed by another airplane. I called up Boston Approach to transit the Class C airspace above Manchester airport at 3000 feet. They had us fly a heading for a bit for Cessna Caravan traffic departing Manchester which we soon spotted. Runway 14 was still in use at Nashua. Unlike all of the other airports we visited today Nashua is towered. That’s another thing the poker run is good practice for: uncontrolled field ops. It’s an area I’m less experienced in since I trained at and do a lot of flying at a towered field.

After pushing the plane back we enjoyed hamburgers and hotdogs, and ice cream provided by Midfield Cafe. One by one the green Skyhawk, the Commanche with the friendly dog, the two Air Direct rental airplanes arrived in. We also got to watch as aerobatic pilot Rob Holland flew overhead in formation with an amhib float plan, and a Piper cub. They broke off the formation one by one and landed. It was really cool.

Apparently bringing four people along is also good luck (perhaps just probability math). Once all the hands were back at 3PM they were totaled up. Unlike every Poker Run we’ve ever done we actually won something! This was thanks to Allie’s hand, although we got to keep the prize since I bought in all the hands. We won a gift certificate to Midfield Cafe which will buy a bunch of delicious pre-flying breakfasts.

2.9 hours flying total, 6 landings, great VFR flying! The poker run is great fun and also exercises lots of piloting skills. Each of the 6 airports in the poker run have different runway lengths, widths, and directions and different terrain around them. Winds are different each year. This year one of the areas of gaining experience is lots of takeoffs and landings near gross weight. I haven’t made that many heavy weight landings in the Cardinal since it’s rare to fly with all four seats filled. Recently including my trip to Baltimore I have flown closer to gross weight but this is still rare. In this case some of these were full flap landings on shorter runways. As always, the poker run is a great experience builder.

Summer Flying, landing practice

Here are some videos from last Saturday when I did some VFR flying and landings at Gardner, MA, Turners Falls, MA, Keene, NH. I actually brought my GoPro and managed to shoot video of the flight between Turners Falls and Keene, and the landing back at Nashua. Enjoy.

Arisia Relaxacon on the Cape

Another week another convention! Friday evening Abby and I set off the for the Arisia Relaxacon which is an event for Arisia staff and volunteers. We’ve been to the Relaxacon in the past and for several years in a row I’ve flown. In the past I’ve flown down with other attendees and met Abby who had to drive down earlier. This year Abby didn’t have to arrive early and so it was just the two of us on the trip to Hyannis airport.

The weather forecast looked quite mild. I called the fuel truck once we got up to Infinity and ordered 20 gallons of fuel. The previous long trip had left 15 gallons of fuel (1.5 hours) in the tanks – a very comfortable margin. The plane will climb a bit better with a lower weight and 3.5 hours of fuel is more than enough for our short trip so I didn’t top it off. Abby packed the baggage compartment while the plane was fueled and I filed a flight plan to Hyannis. Visual conditions were forecast at Hyannis with some IFR possible but only much later. Briefing I noticed that BOS (Logan International) was reporting low visibility in fog. So, there must be some coastal fog.

Stratus fog rolling in off the bay, ending just inland.

Stratus fog rolling in off the bay, ending just inland.

Our routing was MHT BOS V141 DUNKK direct. This has been the routing every time I have flown to Hyannis IFR. The routing via MHT is a bit weird but as soon as we are in the air off of runway 14 the departure controller gave me a climb vector that bypassed the MHT VOR and cut the corner soon cleared direct Boston. This first controller also gave me the climb to 7000 although I had filed for 5000 feet. I kept the climb going and waited until the handoff to the next controller when I asked “Is there any way we could have 5000 as our final altitude?”. He said “Well, as a matter of fact there is, maintain 5000″. This controller was the one actually working the north sector over the airport and in my experience they are more likely to approve such a request. We did have to take a vector or two for traffic over the city but the additional time to climb to 7000 would have cost us a bit more time and fuel on such a short leg.

An airliner on the ILS 4R at Logan Airport.  You can see the wake vortices as it starts to skim the top of the clouds.

An airliner on the ILS 4R at Logan Airport. You can see the wake vortices as it starts to skim the top of the clouds.

We saw a lot of airline traffic crossing over the city including a airliner descending into the low stratus layer on an ILS approach. The controller called out the touchdown RVR (visual range) at more than 6000 feet for the touchdown, and 2500 feet for the rollout. So as expected the fog was thicker right off the water, and was already dissipating by the approach end of the airport.

Leaving the immediate environment of the city we were cleared direct Hyannis and soon descended to 3000 feet approaching the airport. The airport was directly ahead and my heading direct to the airport is almost perfectly aligned as a very long final approach for runway 15 which was conveniently the runway in use. With the airport in sight I was cleared for the visual approach to 15 and continued my descent towards the runway.

Abby snapped this picture of salt marshes once we had the gear out on final approach.

Abby snapped this picture of salt marshes once we had the gear out on final approach.

I landed and taxied to the usual FBO I’ve gone to at Hyannis (Rectrix). They have a nice facility and the fuel is reasonably priced. The trip down ended up being just 0.9 hours logged, quite a lot less than the 2.6 of my last trip! I’d arranged for a rental car that ended up being free with some Hertz points and so we loaded it up with our luggage and some cooking supplies we brought.

Relaxacon was great. The weather was interesting and by midnight Hyannis had gone below IFR minimums with low fog that was rolling in off of Nantucket Sound. You could actually see the misty fog billowing past in the steady wind off the water, and swirling around the buildings. In the morning on Saturday there were some periods where it was sunny and many times where it was very foggy with the wind always coming off of the water. On Saturday afternoon I did some kite flying with a gorgeous rainbow kite one of the other Relaxacon attendees had bought from a kite shop in Provincetown.



When it came time for the return flight the weather was a bit less cooperative. The forecast called for a strong cold front dropping down from the north bringing showers and maybe isolated thunderstorms along and ahead of the cold front. Showers are OK, thunderstorms are not. Several knowns about the meteorological setup help me to forecast that convective activity may include showers but probably not thunderstorms along our route of flight which follows the coastline where cooler, stable marine air has influence.

Someone else from Relaxacon was looking for a ride back and asked if we still had room. I cautioned him that it could be a bumpy trip and the sightseeing might be limited. He was OK with that and the weight was not an issue so we all headed off the the airport. We managed to get all fueled and packed and started up by 1PM.

I filed FREDO BOS at 6000 feet, another familiar routing from previous trips to Hyannis. The RADAR showed an area of heavy precipitation that I would want to avoid just southeast of Nashua but slowly moving east. The direct routing would take me through it but I can deviate west if it hasn’t moved east enough by the time I get there. Winds are also fierce at Hyannis, from the south-southwest gusting to 28 knots. Nashua had MVFR ceilings, 3 mile visibility in rain. I filed Hanscom (BED) as an alternate as their forecast met the requirements.

After a sporty takeoff in the stiff winds we were given some vectors and then cleared direct Boston. We passed a few low clouds departing Hyannis and then we were in the clear. During the climb we had a very dramatic demonstration of the effect of wind correction angle with winds across the course. A look out the window showed us moving substantially sideways relative to the ground.

After getting handed off to Boston approach we got a few different headings to fly for traffic, taking us a bit further west. This was fine since is kept us out of the weather and though I was staring into a wall of cloudiness with no real horizon we weren’t yet inside of clouds for most of the journey. Abby helped me brief the RNAV Runway 32 approach into Nashua. Winds were from the north, gusting again. Notable is the difference in wind direction between Hyannis and Nashua. The surface cold front is positioned somewhere in between.

RNAV (GPS) Runway 32 Nashua.

RNAV (GPS) Runway 32 Nashua.

Nashua’s ATIS changed a few times in a short span with ceilings around the 1000 foot range. Minimums for the RNAV runway 32 with the equipment I have in the plane (non-WAAS Garmin 430) are 620 feet MSL and one mile visibility. That’s 427 above ground so a 1000 foot ceiling means breaking out 573 feet above the minimums. The ATIS reports visibility 3 miles in light rain. This is a non-precision approach which means it does not have vertical guidance. You step down your minimum descent altitude at several waypoints ELIRY, CORNY, and ESICU.

There is still an area of precipitation ahead although moderate and based on intensity on our onboard weather OK to fly through. This was an extension of the same area of precipitation running east from the airport and the eastern section towards the Andover area looked much worse. After descending to 4000 feet we entered the clouds and I was glad I’d already briefed the approach because it was pretty turbulent right away with some periods of pretty heavy rain and up and downdrafts.

Cold front position around the time we landed with the flight path highlighted.  Note the temperature contrasts and directly opposing side speed barbs on either side of the front.

Cold front position around the time we landed with the flight path highlighted. Note the temperature contrasts and directly opposing side speed barbs on either side of the front.

Now cleared to 3000 feet in the clouds with heavier rain starting, flying a set of controller vectors to intercept the final approach course between CORNY and ELIRY. It was a bit of a sloppy intercept with what was definitely a north wind of at least 20 knots aloft at this point. I put the gear down and flaps 10 crossing CORNY and contacted Nashua tower. Between CORNY and ESICU I can go down to 1,220 feet, and then down to 620 feet.

At this point I’m a bit left of course and struggling with chasing the needles a bit. I realized later that this is likely not helped by wind shear as the winds aloft are changing a fair bit as I descend. I was about a tenth of a mile left of course and 2 miles out when we popped out of the bottom of the clouds at 900 MSL (about 700 feet above ground). I kept the runway in sight and stayed above the MDA as I corrected back to the extended centerline. The runway was surprisingly shiny and wet looking, it was unusual. Just after this point I also put out flaps 20 although in retrospect this was premature. I should have held it at flaps 10 and kept the approach a bit faster until crossing the fence.

It was raining fairly hard as we touched down on the runway. After we taxied to the parking spot and shut down the engine we decided to sit in the plane for a bit and hope that the rain subsided. It got a tiny bit better and we ran the car around to unload the baggage to get at the tow bar which was buried. The airport was pretty deserted. We all got soaked as we transferred baggage, pushed the plane back, and tossed the cover on.

This was my lowest non-precision approach yet. The conditions were quite challenging. Flying an instrument approach in smooth stratus clouds in light winds is easy compared to flying an instrument approach in the bases of cumulus clouds in moderate rain, with strong winds and wind shear aloft. Either way, it’s always a great feeling to break out and see the runway.


Balticon is a medium sized science fiction convention run by the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. Abby and I are involved with a broad group of volunteers around the US known as “techno-fandom” which does technical theatre (stage, lighting, sound) work for these conventions. A bit over a week ago a friend of ours was looking for a way to get to Balticon. We were on the fence about making it to Balticon but this was a great excuse and I quickly researched where the nearest airport was and offered a ride. Plans were made and a ride arranged from Martin State airport to the hotel in Hunt Valley.

Soon another friend was looking for a possible ride to Balticon. I don’t often travel with all four seats filled. The Cardinal (specifically, N52667) has a useful load of just a hair over 1000 pounds. From this useful load budget you must account for all baggage including the pilot(s) and human cargo, plus the fuel in the tanks. A full fuel load is 360 pounds which is a fairly large amount of weight! When trying to answer the question “can you fill four seats” what you need to know is that fuel in cruise is 60 pounds an hour. In this case the required fuel would be roughly 2.5 hours, plus required IFR reserves of 45 minutes, and perhaps an alternate. For planning purposes I will run the calculations with 4 hours total on board which gives me just enough to carry all four passengers and a generous baggage weight in the back plus about half an hour of extra fuel capacity. Like all long legged airplanes the Cardinal can be flown at a compromise of capacity and range.

Loading graph for our trip to Baltimore.

Loading graph for our trip to Baltimore.

So, we ended up as four and all converged on Nashua airport around 6PM on Friday. The weather turned out to be quite clear which was nice especially since the flight would involve a sunset although there was an AIRMET for moderate turbulence below 10,000 feet and a headwind predicted. No IFR alternate was required (although BWI was just 6 minutes away at cruising speed). Even with the predicted headwind and some allowance for a potential ATC reroute we were predicted to have a flying time under 3 hours. After arriving at the airport I checked what I had in the tanks and then called up a very specific fuel order to end up with 45 gallons (or 270 pounds) of fuel on board. This would allow an hour and a half of reserve fuel which is more than twice the legally required amount and more than sufficient for this flight.

I had filed my flight plan earlier in the afternoon with the routing of GDM (Gardner, MA) NELIE BRISS V419 MXE (Modena, PA) V378 BELAY. This looked like a reasonable routing but was not a previously cleared route. While quite direct it goes just east of NYC and some very busy airspace. Once we called clearance delivery there was in fact a revised routing: EEN (Keene, NH) T295 LRP (Lancaster, PA) V499 TRISH. This route would take us a good bit west of New York and cost us about 15 minutes. Oh well – still plenty of fuel and no need for a “tech stop”.

We took off from runway 32 at Nashua and were soon on our way. After checking in with Bradley approach the controller asked if I had time for a question. He asked if I flew this route often, and suggested filing to join T295 at WHATE which will be accepted by ATC’s computer and is a bit of a shortcut. T295 seems to be one of the common ways I am routed going west of NYC airspace towards points southwest, so this was definitely helpful advice.

Soon we did get a few direct route shortcuts although our route was destined to swing way west of NYC. It was mostly smooth enroute and very clear and cold – below freezing at 6000 feet – with just two or three instances of a sudden bout of moderate turbulence followed by more smooth air. We watched a gorgeous sunset over southern NY and passed south into Pennsylvania talking to Wilkes-Barre approach then Allentown and Harrisburg before the final handoff to Potomac Approach. Conditions were clear and we spotted the airport beacon dead ahead about 10 miles out and were cleared for a visual approach into runway 33.

Sunset over upstate New York.  Picture by Kat Dutton.

Sunset over upstate New York. Picture by Kat Dutton.

It was definitely fully night by the time we landed and I flew a pattern being mindful of the large restricted area northeast of Martin State airport (the Army’s Aberdeen Proving Grounds). Night landings are definitely quite different from day landings and in this case I also got to experience something new in the form of a “Pulsating VASI”. This is a different version of the typical colored lights that indicate your vertical position relative to a safe and ideal approach angle. It’s a huge help especially on a night approach into an airport where the final approach course is over water with few lights. This can cause a “black hole approach” visual illusion where the temptation is to descend too low early on. I had done my homework and knew how to properly read the PVASI and made a fine approach followed by a firm touchdown. After taxiing to the FBO we were met by a friend who gave us a ride to the convention.

My faithful copilot in life and aviation loads our cleared flight plan into the Garmin 430.  Photo by Kat Dutton.

My awesome copilot in life and aviation loads our cleared flight plan into the Garmin 430. Photo by Kat Dutton.

The convention itself was fantastic. We got a ride back to the airport on Monday afternoon and I put in another carefully calculated fuel order after checking what remained in the tanks. This time nature was nice and gave us a bit of wind power for the ride home. I filed BELAY V378 MXE (Modena, PA) V419 CMK (Carmel, NY) HFD (Hartford, CT) V229 GDM (Gardner, MA) at 5000 feet which is an airway routing that is fairly close to the direct routing. Foreflight indicated that at least one aircraft was previously cleared on this route between MTN and Nashua so it seems reasonable. I was still pleased to hear “cleared as filed”.

Pennsylvania ridges and valleys, plus a water gap.  Photo by Kat Dutton.

Pennsylvania ridges and valleys, plus a water gap. Photo by Kat Dutton.

Of course, all good things must end and not that long after getting “cleared direct Modena” Philly approach came back with a reroute for us to copy. It was back to the western route again with a rerouting of FJC (Allentown, PA) V149 LAAYK T216 IGN (Kingston, NY) GDM. This once again took me quite far west to the LAAYK intersection just north of Scranton, PA. I suspect this is also a rerouting due to heavy traffic in the NYC area. While it seems like a long way out of the way it doesn’t really add that much to the route when you are at cruising speed with a tailwind.

Cruising along at 7000 feet in visual conditions with tired passengers.  Photo by Kat Dutton.

Cruising along at 7000 feet in visual conditions with tired passengers and copilot. Photo by Kat Dutton.

Over eastern Pennsylvania it was pretty bumpy and I asked for 7000 which was granted in steps. It was marginally smoother at 7000 feet, cooler, and still below the bases of the few cumulus clouds that were about. The other nice thing is that at the higher altitude we were soon in Boston Center’s territory and they gave us “cleared direct Nashua”. OK! Now I just had to fly the last hour straight to Nashua with my sleep deprived passengers dropping like flies.

Level 7000 feet, groundspeed 165 knots (about 190 mph).

Level 7000 feet, groundspeed 165 knots (about 190 mph).

During the initial descent in visual conditions I usually nose over and leave the power in while letting the airspeed go to an appropriate point for the level of turbulence expected. With the tailwind, higher true airspeeds at 7000 feet, and plenty of potential energy we quickly reached 191 knot ground speeds in the descent. That’s about 220 mph over the ground. Abby and I both spotted Nashua and we were cleared for a visual approach to runway 14. With the extra speed due to the tailwind I was a bit high and fast when reaching the final approach but pulled power and stuck with flaps 20 anticipating some wind shear.

Winds aloft were strong but Nashua’s ATIS reported just “variable at 2″. But it didn’t feel like variable at 2, and the wind shifted and dissipated dramatically while I descended. I made a nice landing but the approach was definitely the sort you work all the way down with a few power adjustments. After pulling off the runway the tower controller announced the updated ATIS which indicated the wind was gusting to 19 knots.

One of the nice things about filling all four seats in the plane is that the marginal cost per person can be surprisingly low. In this case the cost of fuel for our trip was roughly $240 round trip which comes out to just $60 round trip per person. That’s less than a bus ticket!

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