Monthly Archives: March 2012

Solo practice

Today I made another attempt at a flight after work to finish up my insurance required solo hours. The conditions were a bit gusty this afternoon but things had calmed down by the time I got to the airport around 17:30. Since I’d only flown 1.1 back from refueling in Danbury I didn’t need additional fuel and my preflight oil check showed right around 6 quarts. I will probably be adding oil for the next flight but for a local flight this fine. At 7 quarts the engine will blow a bunch of it out the crankcase breather pretty quick. So far it likes to stabilize around 6.5. The fuel tank samples were nice and dry which is a sign that the cap seals are in good shape.

I decided that I would fly to Keene, NH and do a landing there rather than just practicing landings at Nashua. Keene is about a 15 minute flight from Nashua with some cool views of Mount Monadnock as you fly past. While I taxied to the run-up area in Nashua I got to see a Pitts Special biplane landing on the runway just to my left. Very cool.

The worst part about flying to Keene is that the sun was directly ahead. I weaved a bit along the route to keep the sun out of my eyes. One area that 52667 is definitely lacking is in the area of sun visors. The current one is basically useless. Some day I would really like to upgrade to the Rosen Sunvisors which are 10×12″ darkly shaded panels which can be positioned at various points on the windshield.

Initially I was going to try making a straight in approach to Runway 32 at Keene which winds were favoring. Approaching the airport after passing Mt. Monadnock there was a Hawker business jet ready to take off from the longer Runway 2 and I decided to overfly the airport above pattern altitude and make a full pattern approach rather than delay them. The approach was good. I was bang on my level off at pattern altitude despite juggling the flaps, gear, and descending in the turn. The good approach turned into an excellent landing with flaps 30. My flare was a lot more shallow than some of my past landings where I ballooned a bunch. The landing was a squeaker. Runway 32 also features a displaced threshold due to terrain which means that the available distance for landing was only 2,900 feet – plenty to land the Cardinal.

After landing I taxied back to runway 32 for departure (for takeoff, the full length of 4000 feet can be used). Some day I will explore the self service Avgas here since they have a cheaper price than Nashua. The takeoff was uneventful and this time I went around Monadnock to the south heading back towards Nashua.

While in the old “practice area” between the Pack Monadnock ridgeline and Lake Potanipo I did some maneuvering, exploring the handling of the airplane some more and checking out some spots on the ground. The Cardinal handles very nicely and the ground visibility is unparalleled. Coming back into Nashua the tower controller calls out as traffic the first Cessna I ever flew and the one I took my private pilot checkride in – N7242G – departing Nashua.

The pattern entry and first landing was very nice. This time the approach was a bit slower, I was right on the centerline, and my flare was good. The mains kissed with the nosewheel held off perfectly. I tell the Tower controller I’d like to taxi back for some touch and goes (they always end up telling me to taxi to parking first…). I did three more good landings until I decided to head back to the tie-down.

Total logged time was 1.3 with 4 landings. The landings are looking very nice. As of now I have 15.4 Cardinal hours (including 5.4 solo) which means I can carry passengers. Sadly, my wife is about to head off to Chicago for a conference and I’d really like her to be first so I will probably be doing a bit more solo flying first. Oh well, more time to practice those landings!

March is the windiest month

My primary instructor told me this when I was getting ready to solo in March and kept ending up with days where the winds were gusting over 20 knots. Is it really true? A quick googling does confirm that the general rule is true for the northeast US with some geographic exceptions. March is a time when the sun is present for more of the day yet there are still very strong temperature gradients between northern and southern air masses which ultimately results in higher pressure gradients and strong winds.

I had hoped to do some solo landing practice after work today but the winds have been brutal. Yesterday peak wind gusts were in the 30-40 knot range. They winds were lower today and were forecast to diminish towards this evening so I figured I’d try and get in some evening practice landings. Other than the winds the weather has been severe clear all day today. I checked the METAR before heading up and it was 15 knots straight down the runway. I headed up to the airport only to change my mind about the flight after hearing the new ATIS and seeing the windsock. The new ATIS reported 15 gusting 24 knots with a low level wind shear warning.

None of these would be huge obstacles in the 172 I learned to fly in, but I have a lot more experience with that airplane. Right now I want to be flying in conditions where if I balloon a bit on landing I know whether it was my control inputs or just a wind gust. The reaction is the same but since I am trying to practice landings I want to know whether I am nailing them or making it worse. I think I could even be comfortable making a landing in these conditions now, I just don’t find them good for practice.

In about 10-15 hours and a hundred landings or so I will be actively searching out days like today for practice. One of the biggest frustrations of training in an airplane is that the only way to change the weather conditions is to wait. Some days you want a nice calm day. Some days you want the challenge of a gusty crosswind or low ceilings. Hopefully soon a calm evening or weekend will present itself.

Hobbs

I saw this quote in a forum sig:

Student Pilot’s Prayer; “Dear Lord, if we must have an instrument failure today, please let it be the Hobbs Meter.”

For those who don’t already know the Hobbs meter is an hour meter which measures hours and tenths of engine running time. When you rent an airplane usually you are billed by Hobbs time and the ending Hobbs time minus starting Hobbs time is also what you log in your logbook. The exact mechanism varies but usually the meter is tied to an oil pressure switch or similar so when the engine starts the meter starts running.

When you own an airplane the Hobbs meter isn’t so important. The tachometer also contains an hour meter which is scaled relative to the engine RPM. It is designed so that it advances in real time if you are at a cruise RPM. This means that ground operations and lower RPM operations count less on the tach hour meter. The tach hour meter is useful for maintenance intervals like oil changes because it is a reasonable proxy for accumulated load on the engine.

All of this is good because the Hobbs meter in N52667 doesn’t work. Before departing Statesville we wrote it down along with the current time as backup for determining the flight time for logbooks. However, upon arriving in Hagerstown the Hobbs meter definitely hadn’t budged. A bit more math is required to figure out your flight time to log when you just have two absolute times to subtract (and decimalize the result) but it isn’t too much of a pain.

The quote reminded me of my hate of the Hobbs. If you are a renter pilot the worst case scenario is slow ground operations. On a nice weekend especially in the spring or fall Nashua can get very busy. There might be a few planes chasing each other around the pattern and numerous planes arriving and departing. When I was working on my Complex Endorsement in the rental Cessna 172RG we were number six in line leaving the run up pad and there was an arrival for practically every departure. All this time you are waiting in line to take off going nowhere the Hobbs meter is clicking over, $2/minute. Of course with ‘667 at the end of the day I still need to pay the gas bill but during ground operations a piston engine airplane is burning a lot less gas than in flight.

Since my Hobbs appears to be inoperative I could fix it. Hobbs meters aren’t particularly expensive – Aircraft Spruce has one similar to mine for $26. Right now it isn’t a necessity since as long as I write down the start time and stop time and do the clock math right I can get my hours from that for my logbook. Having a Hobbs meter would make that easier. So maybe some day I will replace the Hobbs meter but for now I am happy to be rid of it.

Solo cross country hours

With beautiful warm high pressure building into the area and the low overcast that kept things ugly yesterday vanquished today was a perfect day for some long solo hours in the airplane. I decided to take a XC to two different airports in Pennsylvania and Connecticut. I haven’t landed in either of these states yet and doing a XC trip to some different airports widened my experience nicely.

The Hudson River looking north.

My original plan was to try and make it to Reading, PA for lunch at the restaurant there. Ultimately this didn’t end up happening. The airport was forecast to be under the low coastal stratus deck until 13:00 with “low confidence on the timing”. I would still try for Reading, but I ate ahead of time instead and brought some snacks if I had to divert.

The Hudson River looking south. You can see how the NY area fades into poor visibility due to mist and eventually the low stratus.

It was completely clear in Nashua but over Connecticut you could see the edge of the stratus deck slowly receding towards the coast. I was well above any of it at 8500 feet. As it turns out starting somewhere over southern NY I was able to receive the ATIS from Reading. Visibility 7, 1200 Overcast. OK, I could still try for it but from the appearance of the stratus deck it didn’t look likely. To the north it was completely clear, a few puffy cumulus to the west. I checked the ATIS for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (AVP) and while visibility was slightly restricted by the humid air the sky was clear and visibility was 8. I was receiving flight following with NY Approach at the time that I would be diverting the Wilkes-Barre and starting my descent.

I was handed off to Wilkes-Barre approach for advisories. The airport is behind a ridgeline if you are coming in from the west and I mucked up the descent planning a bit which made it more difficult to spot than it would otherwise be. Just before crossing the ridgeline I had the airport in sight and approach handed me over to tower with a left base entry for runway 22. I ended up flying basically level a good bit above pattern altitude for a while to clear the ridgeline then dropped flaps 10, gear and descended to pattern altitude steeper than I’d like.

By the time I turned final I was ready for flaps 20. There was a bit of crosswind from the right. The approach was good although my crosswind correction was a bit sloppy once I got into the flare. Still getting used to it. Runway 22 is nice and wide at 150 feet (and 7500 long) so it was no problem that I landed towards the left half of the runway! The only issue was I had the taxi of shame past the airline terminal.

The FBO there is nice enough to charge no fees for “training” flights so I stopped there for a few minutes to hit the bathroom and grab a soda. The weather direct to Danbury, CT (DXR) was good, skirting the low overcast stratus deck well to the north. Why Danbury? The airport is in a bit of a bowl making for a challenging steep approach and they was relatively inexpensive full serve fuel at .

I ended up waiting a bit to depart Wilkes-Barre due to an airliner which had received an IFR clearance they were unable to handle (“Uhhh… we need to run the numbers to find out if we have to get more fuel”) and a departing Eclipse jet in front of me. The climb out was as bumpy as the approach with a thin cumulus layer I needed to weave through around 6000 feet. Above that things smoothed out.

The last of the puffy cumulus clouds to my left, departing Wilkes-Barre. The highway you see is Interstate 84.

For Danbury the tower instruction was to enter a right downwind for runway 26. As I said, the airport is nestled amongst hills and you definitely turn base and final for runway 26 before the downhill begins. It reminds me a bit of the approach into runway 18 at Parlin Field (2B3). Because of this steep approach I used flaps 30. The winds were light and variable and the landing was good.

Reliant Air is situated at the approach end of runway 26 so while the plane was being fueled I had a good view of approaching and departing aircraft. It was very cool to see the steep approach into runway 26 in action. Reliant also did a great job of getting me refueled and back on my way – it only took around 15 minutes.

On the journey home I spotted a few neat sights. Near Hartford, CT flying over the Connecticut River I could see a spot where a darker lower flow river joined the very silty Connecticut river. You can see the darker flow mixing in with the waters of the Connecticut. You can click on the picture to zoom it.

Look just to the right of the left bridge across the Connecticut (click for full size).

This route also gave a very cool view of the Quabbin Reservoir. This is the water supply for the city of Boston and was created by flooding the Swift River in 1938. In the picture you can see the two dams that created the reservoir with the expanse of the reservoir behind.

Dams creating the Quabbin Reservoir.

Finally while descending into Nashua I passed the Mt. Wachusett Ski Area. I can see the back side of this mountain from work on a clear day. I just grabbed a quick shot since I was getting ready for the approach into Nashua. I couldn’t tell if anyone was skiing when I was looking out the right window but upon closer inspection of the picture there are many cars in the parking lot. So maybe the skiing is still good!

Mt. Wachusett Ski Area.

After landing at Nashua the total comes to 4.1 hours. So that accomplishes the bulk of hours required for insurance. I am good and consistent with the gear, complex airplane operation, and descent and approach. Landings need some more practice before they are consistent enough that I am really happy with them and I think the remaining of my solo hours will likely be in the pattern at Nashua. With the sun setting later now I may even be able to do this after work during the week.

Putting these flights into my logbook also brings me to another milestone. As of the end of today I have 101.9 hours total time. I passed through 100 hours somewhere around Pennsylvania. Next stop 200!

2.4 Hours of Dual

Since my insurance requirement was 10 hours of dual time with CFIs, then 5 hours solo prior to carrying passengers and I returned to Nashua with 7.6 hours dual in the Cardinal I needed 2.4 hours more dual. Until this morning. The weather wasn’t perfect but with a local CFI I went through 2.4 hours of pattern work at Nashua, Fitchburg (FIT), and one landing at Gardner (GDM).

Right now we still have the crappy weather, a relatively low thin that just won’t burn off. Ceiling were high enough for Gardner but just barely and we needed to do some weaving to get around a scattered layer coming into Nashua. I’m hoping the weather will be better tomorrow. At least the winds were light and it was relatively smooth air. Runway 14 was in use at Nashua which is unusual.

My landings are coming together nicely. Gardner is a much shorter strip at 3000 feet and neither Fitchburg nor Gardner has a visual approach slope guidance system like Nashua does. This didn’t present much of an issue (although I would want the VASI/PAPI approach guidance at night). The flare is still a bit tricky with the Cardinal’s big stabilator. Most of the landings were a bit bumpy but this will improve with time. I did 14 landings today which means I have 28 total in the Cardinal compared to 219 in 172s/RG. They will be quite nice and consistent after 150-200 Cardinal landings and I will be searching out challenging winds for practice.

Next I need to satisfy the five hours of solo time requirement. I hope to accomplish this with a few hours of XC with flights to different airports. If the weather cooperates I might end up doing this tomorrow. I’ll probably do the rest of the solo time on shorter flights (I might even be able to do one after work) with landing practice. I also would like to do the (at least) three solo night takeoffs and landings required to carry passengers at night. I’m quite eager to get these hours behind me so I can share the flight!

Pleasant surprises

There are some features I didn’t know N51667 had when we decided to buy it.

  • Brand new windshield. All of the plexiglass was replaced in the past year, with a STC’d thicker replacement. The cockpit is very quiet in cruise. I suspect the thicker plexi helps there.
  • Skytech starter. This is a lighter weight, better designed replacement for the original starter. This changes the Weight and Balance to bring useful load to 992.22 pounds from 983 pounds.
  • Gear mirror. A common STC modification is to add a mirror out on the right wing so the pilot can verify the main gear are down.
  • A corkscrew tie down kit, three lower quality passive headsets, and around half a case of Exxon Elite.

Training and flying home

As I posted before, the original goal was to train yesterday (Monday) and my CFI from Nashua would fly down and meet me Monday and we could spend all day Tuesday flying the airplane home. Of course, weather will interfere with all well made plans and sure enough on Monday the wind was very intense in the Charlotte/Statesville area with gusts to 30 knots. The wind was potentially flyable with experience but it was just not a good day to begin transition training to learn to land a new type of aircraft.

Instead, I spent a considerable part of the day in the hangar getting to know the plane and going through the ground parts of the training. Then I went back to my hotel room with all of the logbooks, documentation, and Pilot’s Operating Handbook to further familiarize myself with the plane.

With this morning predicted to be calm and clear, perfect for flight training, we got an early start. The goal was to squeeze in as much flight training as we could do before heading home. Meanwhile, my Nashua CFI napped in the pilot lounge at the airport. For training we departed Statesville and climbed to 4,500′ to explore the airplane a bit then did some maneuvers. Standard turns, steep turns, power on and power off stalls, and a cross-controlled stall (from a slip). N52667 stalls very nicely. We got it into a nice deep stall and held it there “falling leaf” style, and also played around with holding the airplane right at the buffet.

After this we returned to the airport for the real meat of the training – landings. The Cardinal has substantially different sight picture than the Cessna 172 I am familiar with. This is primarily due to the angle of incidence of the wing chord (relative to the fuselage). The sight picture is much more nose down than the 172. The second challenge is the very powerful stabilator (full moving horizontal tail surface). If you push forward during the landing flare the very effective stabilator can push the nose gear into the ground, potentially collapsing it and causing a very sad and expensive prop strike. So both the approach and the flare have differences.

It would have been nice to do some more advanced training, but after 3 hours dual time logged I was doing pretty well with the landings. We headed in, grabbed some lunch, and packed and refueled the plane. Finally at 13:30 it was time to depart the Statesville area!

With a High Pressure system in control from the Carolinas to Maine I decided to take the route via Hagerstown, MD. Our departure was good with a smooth climb to 7500 feet. The airplane flies beautifully hands off. In cruise we settled in at 137-140 knot true air speeds.

Panel in flight at 7500 and 140 knots.

The direct route to Hagerstown soon follows Interstate 81 and the beautiful Shenandoah Valley up the western edge of Virginia. The wide, relatively flat valley is filled with farmland and on the west side are Ridges and Valleys Appalachians, on the east side is the Blue Ridge Mountains.

The view west as we traveled up the Shenandoah Valley.

The view east as we traveled up the Shenandoah Valley.

About 70 nautical miles out from Hagerstown we began a slight descent at 250 feet per minute. This gradual descent is more comfortable on the ears plus it is efficient. Leaving the engine at the cruise power setting and pitching down for 250 fpm descent brings our speed up to around 160 knots for the last 30 minutes of the leg.

Upon arrival in Hagerstown the runway in use had an 8 knot or so crosswind. The landing was solid and without much drift. We stopped at Rider Jet Center and got some fuel and hit the bathrooms and the snack room at the FBO. The airplane took 20.6 gallons to top off so our first leg at 2.1 hours averaged 9.8 gph including the climb to 7,500 feet (assuming the top off leaving Statesville was completely filled). Not bad for a 140 knot airplane.

Refueling in Hagerstown, MD.

After departure from Hagerstown we navigated carefully to avoid P-40 (Camp David). Our route (once again at 7,500 feet) soon took us over Harrisburg, PA complete with a view of the 3 Mile Island Nuclear Plant and the numerous bridges of the Susquehanna river in Harrisburg.

Bridges over the Susquehanna, Harrisburg, PA

The real downside to our later than originally planned departure is that by the time we reached the northeastern Pennsylvania, northern New Jersey, New York intersection the sun was definitely setting. The sunlight was beautiful, but I would have preferred not to make my second landing on this trip at night. However, nature prevailed and from crossing the Hudson to Nashua we were definitely in night.

The moon was full which helped. Again a nice gradual 250 fpm descent begun over over the Springfield, MA area brought us to pattern altitude upon reaching Nashua. The landing here was OK, by all means a safe landing, but my first night landing was (unsurprisingly) a bit sloppy. The approach was good but instead of a nice smooth landing it was definitely a solid “thump” arrival. Fortunately I didn’t have any passengers to apologize to, only a fellow understanding pilot! As long as the nose gear is safe the landing is good enough.

We arrived at around 19:00 for 4.6 hours flight time enroute and around 5:30 total travel time counting the stop in Hagerstown. This means counting the training this morning I flew an incredible 7.6 hours today! The bad news is that I do still need to get 2.4 hours of dual time because of the insurance requirement. But ultimately everything worked out, the plane is in Nashua, and we couldn’t have had better weather for the journey.