Monthly Archives: April 2012

Two after work flights

With Spring well underway it is light out into the evening and I can get some good practice in after work. Sunset is at 7:45 and getting later every day. So last Thursday and today I went up to Nashua to fly after work.

On Thursday I started by heading out to the practice area. It has been a while since I have done maneuvers in the Cardinal so I wanted to start with that before doing any landings. I did some turns medium (30 degree) and steep (45 degree) bank. Then I set up for some slow flight, bringing out the flaps and gear.

The purpose of practicing slow flight is to gain additional practice with the regime of flight you are in near the landing and takeoff phases. The control feel is significantly more “sloppy” as the airplane gets slow and simultaneously less pressure is required on the controls and you need to move them further to get the same effect. This is because at slower airspeeds less air is moving over the control surfaces themselves.

I’m a big believer in practicing slow flight right down to the stall. To maintain level flight at slower airspeeds you need to add a lot more power because at slow airspeeds the wing angle of attack is a high drag configuration (gear and flaps add even more drag). So eventually things are nicely stabilized, level flight, and the stall warning horn is right at the point where it bounces on and off. With fingertip control the goal is to fly around and turn to various headings right at the edge of the stall.

From this point I brought the power out and maintained altitude bringing the airplane into a full power off stall. The recovery procedure is simple: release control pressure to lower the angle of attack and add full power. From the stall recovery I set up for a power off glide to simulate the landing approach then finally went to full power and climbed pulling up the flaps and gear simulating a go-around. One trick is that the power off glide (and final landing approach) want full nose up or almost all the way nose up trim. When you apply full power for the go around you need to be ready to PUSH on the yoke hard to keep the nose down (and keep from stalling) until you can roll the trim forward with your right hand.

The weather was looking cloudier and dark by the time I got back to Nashua so on Thursday I only did two landings. They were both on Runway 14 which is landing opposite the typical prevailing winds. Due to construction the visual glidepath aid is also not present which did not present a big problem. Total time was 0.7.

Today I wanted to concentrate on landings. The wind was once again favoring runway 14 with winds of 10-12 knots almost straight down the runway and steady. With a high overcast and evening approaching the air was very smooth.

During my preflight I discovered some brake fluid near the left gear well. I was able to get the left brake fluid reservoir topped off and a mechanic will be looking for the leak later this week. The right gear swivel was replaced by the seller when we bought N52667 so it was not a great surprise to see the left one seeping a bit as well. Since the airplane had likely sat for a month or two plus experienced a drastic temperature change I was really not surprised.

With the brake issue fixed at least temporarily I decided to stay in the pattern and just do landings. I was in the zone. They were all very nice, I focused on everything I needed to do, I was nicely on pattern altitude with every level off, and the approaches were right where I wanted them to be. I ended up doing 7 touch and goes.

The pattern was busy, with several interesting types departing. A Cessna Skymaster (twin with engines mounted back and front instead of on each wing). A Gulfstream business jet. What looked to me to be a Cessna 421 (piston engine pressurized twin). And also some aircraft practicing the ILS instrument approach into runway 14 at Nashua. Total time ended up being 0.9 hours.

Admittedly conditions were very favorable but I was very happy with the landings. These were all squeakers with flaps 20 and 30 degrees. The next challenge will be to seek out a day with a nice steady crosswind and do the same thing!

Finally, a passenger!

Finally this weekend the free time and the weather aligned and finally Abby got a chance to be a passenger in the Cardinal! This is my first time carrying passengers in N52667. I didn’t decide where we would go until this morning. Initially I was thinking of heading up towards an airport near the White Mountains but I figured I’d save that for a perfectly clear CAVU day. Instead Abby suggested a tour of the NH Seacoast which was perfect. Then, we could follow it up with lunch at the airport restaurant at Westfield-Barnes (I visited the airport last time, but not the restaurant).

We used to live in Newmarket, NH while attending UNH so this area is quite familiar. Pease Airport is also there. I figured we could get in a landing at Pease or just head straight to Westfield depending on how hungry we were. Weather was forecast with some scattered clouds at 5-6000 feet and while the visibility wasn’t perfect it was plenty good for the seacoast tour.

Since I was departing Nashua to the northeast I got a transponder code on the ground to transit the Manchester Class C airspace. Abby knows how to set the transponder which was handy since the winds were a bit shifty on the ground, reported as variable. After departure Boston Approach gave us two vectors for the climb to avoid arriving and departing traffic at Manchester. Soon we were leveling off at 5,500 with a relatively smooth ride and no clouds below the flight levels.

Pease is extremely easy to spot with a runway over 2 miles and the massive Great Bay surrounding it. I had it in sight by the top of my climb and soon I informed Boston Approach of my intentions to overfly Pease at my cruising altitude and proceed down the coast. Pease’s runway is long enough that flying directly over it can put one end in the left window and one end in the right!

Passing over Great Bay we could also see our old town of Newmarket and even out old apartment complex up on the hill. After turning to follow the beach you could see the Seacoast Science Center where Abby used to work, the Isles of Shoals, and the Seabrook nuclear power station. The whole area around Seabrook is a marsh which looked fascinating from the air.

At this point I asked Abby if she was hungry or if she wanted to land at Pease and we decided we’d go direct to Barnes. This was around Plum Island, south of the NH/MA border. I again advised Boston Approach of my intentions and did the climb flow for a climb up to 6,500 (opposite direction of travel). The climb flow starts on the floor with the fuel selector (“both”), cowl flaps (“open”), mixture (“enrich”), prop (“rpm high”), throttle, trim, then back to the rudder trim as needed.

Soon we were into a pretty serious headwind, only making 120 knots ground speed going towards Barnes. The direct route did take me close but not into the Boston class Bravo and presented a good opportunity for using pilotage to verify that I remained outside. Instead of using Foreflight we stuck to the paper chart which was nice for a change. I also inquired of the controller whether not the Fort Devens restricted area was hot or not. The area was supposedly active although my altitude was well above the restricted area. The restricted area is for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle testing and I did look to see if I could see anything but I did not.

Coming into Barnes I descended around the ridgeline near Westover to maneuver around some clouds and ended up set up for a straight in final for runway 20. The winds weren’t bad but my approach was sloppy and fast. It is harder to judge the straight in approach without the process of the traffic pattern and I have a lot more experience with the pattern. The end result was a late and inadequate flare and a bit of a bounce. I think having someone in the right seat again did change the Weight and Balance somewhat and that change the flare somewhat. I was displeased but the airplane was fine and Abby seemed to think it was a perfectly good landing.

The restaurant was quite nice and with the weather in the 80s we ate outside on the observation deck watching various jets, Cessnas, Pipers, a Mooney, and some Air National Guard helicopters come and go. The Massachusetts Air National Guard F-15s weren’t practicing today although there was one on the ramp on the far side of the runway. I decided to have Airflyte top off the tanks again because at $5.40 full serve they are a relative bargain in this area. The nice part about airplane full serve is you can tell them to fill it up then go and eat at the restaurant everything is all set (the fuel is still sampled for quality and quantity before departure, of course).

Runway 20 is 9000 feet and so we did an intersection departure which is commonplace at BAF. This was nice since it prevented a lengthy taxi down to the runway. After takeoff the left hand turn on course took us over the ridge line and at this point turbulence from the ridge was definitely felt. Initially the climb rate was a bit lower than normal followed by an extended period of 1500 feet per minute or more. I kept double checking the airspeed but this climb was entirely due to lift off of the ridge. It probably took a few minutes off of our climb!

The headwind was also now a tailwind and initially I saw 160 knot ground speeds before I elected to power back a bit to use less fuel. The most efficient thing to do is to spend more time in the tailwind, so a faster airspeed in headwinds and slower airspeed in tailwinds is an efficiency goal. Unfortunately at these altitudes it is necessary to reduce power by using the throttle. It is more efficient to achieve the same effect by climbing into thinner air. In this case the flight was so short that climbing to 7500 did not make sense. I would be there or higher on a longer leg but Westfield to Nashua is less than 45 minutes from engine start to stop.

The approach and landing at Nashua was good. ATIS reported winds gusting to 18 knots, but when I was cleared to land the tower controller confirmed that winds had been variable at 6 knots most recently. A gust hit as I flare and we ballooned a bit but a bit of power cushioned it back into a good landing.

I now have over 20 hours in the Cardinal, over 30 hours complex, and 108.6 total. Upcoming, a night currency flight? Burlington? Philadelphia? Delaware?

Fuel at Westfield-Barnes (BAF)

This morning I decided to go to an airport I haven’t been before for some fuel. Barnes airport in Westfield, MA has fuel for roughly 60 cents cheaper than I can get at Nashua. It isn’t the cheapest fuel around but with 45 gallons pumped it does add up to something substantial. The savings still isn’t enough to pay for the round trip but of course that doesn’t really matter because I’d be flying anyway!

The weather was forecast to be VFR with relatively high ceilings at 6-7000 feet. There was a low probability of some very isolated and low impact precipitation. This is ample weather for VFR (Visual Flight Rules) flight although I do usually prefer to cruise at a higher altitude when I can.

For about a week now we’ve had gusty winds almost every day. So today I was working with winds gusting up to 20 knots at both Nashua and Barnes. And this was tame compared to the past few days with gusts of 25-35 knots! The good news was the gusty winds were out of the northwest and thus pretty close to straight down the runway in both cases. The bad news is these strong winds aloft meant for a bumpy ride.

Not long after departing Nashua I could see that there were some areas of snow showers. Most seemed to be off to my right in the Monadnock region, but there were some snow showers ahead too. I could see through them which is a good indicator that VFR flight through them is fine. There is no risk of structural icing (the really scary kind that the Cardinal is not design to handle) in this case because the precipitation is already frozen solid and will not adhere. In light snow showers like this I do turn on the pitot heat which protects the protruding pitot tube which measures airspeed from the very unlikely scenario of becoming clogged with snow. In this case the snow was much too light for this and thus it was just a precaution.

The coolest thing about the snow showers is that they were snow at my altitude of 4500 feet, rain below, and in most cases were completely evaporated by the time they reached the ground. The air here has been very dry! Sadly, I did not bring my camera and the ride was really way too bumpy to try and get something with my cell phone.

The approach into Barnes was pretty turbulent. I made a right base entry for runway 33. The showers were finished by about the Quabbin Reservoir crossing and looking to the west from the Barnes area it looked like fewer clouds and clearer skies. Winds were gusty but straight down the runway. The base leg for 33 was a bit weird as there is a ridge of terrain that hides the airport until you crossed it (similar to my trip to AVP).

I didn’t make any prior arrangements with the Airflyte FBO but as I taxied into the ramp area there was someone from there marshaling me into a spot next to a Bonanza. After shutting down he set chocks and I asked him to top off the plane. There are actually two competing FBOs and a restaurant at Barnes in a very sleek looking building with an observation deck (reportedly the restaurant operates tables up there in the summer). The restaurant was doing an Easter buffet brunch and so it was packed with locals in Easter Sunday outfits. Many of them were going up to check out the observation deck.

All in all I spent about 20 minutes on the ground wandering around the terminal while the plane was fueled. With the bill settled I headed back out to the airplane. The controller at Barnes was able to arrange for flight following on the ground which is always nice especially with the Class D airspace tangle of Barnes and nearby Westover Air Base (don’t go there without permission!).

The snow showers were a bit more intense on the way back but still nothing of concern. Because of direction/cruising altitude rules I was at 5,500 feet this time and thus closer to the cloud bases. The ride was definitely bumpier as a result and there were a few moments of what I’d call moderate turbulence.

Nashua was deserted when I arrived and there was no traffic to follow so I was cleared to land midfield downwind. I asked the tower for an up to date wind check and they reported “occasional gusts to 22″ (22 knots). Winds were definitely strong on the approach and I had considerable wind correction in on my base leg. Turning final the crosswind became a headwind. With a gusty headwind I used more power on the approach, still taking it fully out just before the threshold. With the ground speed reduced by the headwind the touchdown was very smooth.

I was amused that the controller asked me where I was parking as I was rolling out. They were always familiar with where the rental planes were going because they see these tail numbers all the time. But my tail number isn’t familiar yet. I told her “Electric ramp.” They ask this because with no one behind they will tell you to go further down the runway to a taxiway exit closer to the parking spot. Probably eventually they will remember the tail number!

Flight to Sanford, ME (SFM)

This was not the original plan. Since Abby is still out of town and the morning was forecast to be nice I figured I would fly to a breakfast destination. I was planning on making this Glens Falls (upstate NY) which has a very nice diner on the field. However, some weather is moving in from the west today so going to the east looked like a nicer flight. I decided to go to Sanford, ME. I hadn’t been there before and there is a restaurant called the Cockpit Cafe where I could grab my intended breakfast.

Before this flight I took the time to clean the windshield off with Plexus plexiglass cleaner. This combined with a microfiber wipe did a really great job of cleaning and polishing the windscreen. During my last flight it was pretty dirty, seemingly mostly from dirt kicked up in rain and dried on.

I also brought my SLR camera with me for this flight. It is a bit trickier to deal with than the cell cam but the results are better. Unfortunately especially on the return journey the flight was pretty bumpy so I didn’t take too many photos. As always you can click on them to get the high resolution version.

Manchester airport. If you look close you can see at least one Southwest 737 at the gate.

After departure the route to Sanford goes just south of Manchester airport through Manchester’s Class C airspace. Fortunately Nashua tower is able to coordinate getting a transponder code for you while you taxi and you simply contact the Class C controller after takeoff. This saves you time and also reduces all of the things you need to tell Approach on initial contact because they already know your tail number, type, location, destination, and intended cruising altitude. Not all towered airports can/will do this for you but you can always ask the ground controller as you taxi.

The view over the nose headed for Sanford. Almost completely clear.

The weather was almost completely clear at this point. A few fair weather cumulus clouds were just a bit above my altitude but quite far laterally, with blue sky and good visibility. The ride wasn’t too bad although I’m sure it would have been smoother if I’d climbed a few thousand feet.

Because of the very short distance of this flight (51 nautical miles) I did not do my usual descent planning of starting 250 fpm descent at 10 times the thousands of feet to descent nautical miles out (start descent at 60 miles out if 6000 feet must be lost). So my descent was closer to 500-700 feet per minute and leveling at pattern altitude as I entered a downwind for runway 25. During the whole descent things were pretty bumpy and I throttled back more than I would have in smooth air to lessen the bump impact.

My flight following was cut loose with “numerous aircraft in the vicinity of Sanford” so my head was on a swivel looking for traffic as I came in. There was traffic ahead of me and behind me but the traffic I was following was on a short final as I entered my downwind so it wasn’t too crazy. As could be expected from the turbulence on the approach the wind was gusty and a right crosswind. The landing was firm but that is what it should be in conditions like this since you want to get firmly planted in gusts.

The Cockpit Cafe is quite good although they close at noon on weekends so plan accordingly (also, they only take cash). There were quite a few people at the restaurant who had obviously flown in like a guy in a Piper shirt, along with locals. The food is basic diner food at great prices.

Winds had already shifted enough after eating that runway 14 was now in use. The airport was again busy, I was waiting in line to take off behind another Cessna who was waiting for a landing aircraft. Unlike Nashua Sanford is a pilot controlled or non-towered airport. There is no ATC controlling the airport. Each pilot makes position announcements on the radio and everyone keeps their eyes open. So instead of waiting for a controller to tell us when to take the runway for departure each pilot uses their judgement. A landing aircraft on final approach always has right of way over others. Once the landing aircraft had cleared the runway the Cessna in front of me took the runway and announced a straight out departure. Once they were on their takeoff roll I confirmed the final approach to my right was clear then took the runway behind them. I was comfortable beginning my takeoff roll shortly after they actually took off. In this case there are no wake turbulence concerns and I could easily maintain visual contact with them as I departed, plus, I would be turning right after climbing to a safe altitude and they would be continuing straight.

Sure enough, after pulling up the gear and flaps I began to gain on them in both climb rate and speed. I was able to begin my turn to the right before they were ever a factor but it was a neat view as our flight paths converged then diverged. Once I was well above pattern altitude I made a final call on Sanford’s advisory frequency then contacted Boston Approach for advisories and to transit the Manchester Class C on the way back to Nashua. This time my altitude was 4500 feet.

Portsmouth, Great Bay, and the New Hampshire Seacoast. The airport visible to the right is Pease.

To the left were some pretty nice views of the Gulf of Maine, Portsmouth, Great Bay, and Pease airport. I have landed at Pease before, but only at night. It was a lot cloudier at the point and the air was quite turbulent. I took these photos and then set the camera on the back seat because it was pretty wild. I suspect the lower altitude was one factor but the clouds and the atmospheric conditions meant that turbulence was more likely now. I was probably 1000-1500 feet below the bases of the clouds and at times a powerful updraft could be felt.

Great Bay and Pease airport. The view is almost directly down the over two mile long runway 16.

As I passed south of Manchester the controller instructed me to turn 20 degrees left, a vector around the Manchester departure corridor. They had also switched from runway 35 to 17 as winds were shifting. Nashua’s ATIS indicated variable winds and landing runway 14 (I took off in the opposite direction, runway 32). Sure enough the winds were somewhat shifty although not too strong and just after I landed at least one of the windsocks seemed to indicate a tailwind.

Just after tying down at Nashua I took a step back and this photo. Note the almost complete overcast (6000 feet) by now!

The total flight time was 1.5. While it wasn’t my intended destination it worked out perfectly well. One thing I saw and didn’t manage to get a photo of was Mt. Washington which was visible just under the cloud deck to the north west as I approached Sanford. I was already well into my descent and couldn’t grab the camera, but I also suspect the haze meant that the photo would be tricky to see. For my eye the visibility was definitely good enough. You could see the snowy peak quite clearly. Very cool!