Monthly Archives: July 2012

Meeting a commercial flight

My wife found some quite cheap commercial flight tickets to visit a friend out in Madison, WI. The only downside was that she flew out from Boston and back into Providence, RI. I told her that was no problem, and depending on the weather I would pick her up in either the plane or by car. Fortunately the weather cooperated. Her flight was originally scheduled to arrive in Providence at just after 6PM on Tuesday. I figured I’d leave work a bit early and head down. I called the FBO there ahead of time and verified that they could give a ride between the commercial terminal and the FBO.

In fact, my sister and her family were up visiting this week because my niece is looking at Boston area colleges. My sister is nervous even on bigger planes but my niece was quite keen to accompany me down to Providence to pick up Abby. Since her college visiting schedule was too late to get her up to meet me in Nashua I decided instead to fly to Norwood (OWD) airport and pick her up and then make the very short flight from there to Providence. It would mean meeting Abby a bit later than 6PM but not a big deal.

On the way up to Nashua I learned that Abby’s flight (Delta Connection/ExpressJet from Detroit) was delayed. This was not due to weather but the fact that apparently the nose wheel tire had to be replaced on the CRJ. This worked out well for me – her ETA was revised to 8PM. I advised my niece to grab food in Norwood with her parents and grabbed some food for myself before heading south to Norwood.

I’ve been to Norwood once before for my Pilots N Paws flight with Doodle the poodle. Norwood is a nice airport with a control tower and great views of Boston on the way in. I did talk to Boston Approach for advisories but my descent path kept me clear of the Boston Bravo air space. After a fairly tight pattern I made a good landing on runway 28 (the opposite direction from my Pilots N Paws flight).

As I taxied up to the ramp and shut down I noticed that my relatives were already waiting at the gate and had watched me come in. Hoping to avoid any FBO fees I hurried my niece through the gate and gave a passenger briefing and a quick walk around. Some line guys showed up to chock the plane but I waved them off because I was already ready to start up and depart.

Upon departure I noticed a small mechanical issue. I’ve observed this on one or two occasions before. The ammeter blips to full discharge deflection briefly. This is known to be an issue with the gear pump cycling on briefly to pump the pressure back up and once an hour it was doing it more often than that. It stopped blipping and I made a note to check the hydraulic fluid level in the gear pump before departure. If the fluid level is fine then the likely cause is an internal leak down across an o-ring in one or more of the hydraulic actuators.

My niece was pretty excited about being in the air and the views of Boston and Providence. With the trip so short – only 30 nautical miles or around 15 minutes – I cruised at only 2500 feet. I was cleared to land pretty far our for straight in runway 23 and made an excellent landing. As I taxied to the ramp I heard Abby’s flight – Acey 4988 – cleared to land behind me and saw the CRJ land just as I pulled up to the ramp.

The ramp itself was quite busy with both UPS and FedEx 757s loading. The FBO itself was quiet and I parked out front. I explained I wouldn’t be there for long and I’d called ahead to ask about going over to the passenger terminal. He said he’d give us a ride over to pick her up. It was only 10 gallons total to waive the ramp fee but I figured I’d get 10 per side to be nice since the FBO was doing me a favor. The airport itself charged $5 for landing which is reasonable for a Class C airport.

As Mike the line guy was finishing up fueling Abby called to say she was ready and waiting at the arrivals area. Mike gave us a ride over and picked Abby up at the courtesy van area in front of the passenger terminal. Then we drove back around the perimeter road to the FBO. I gave a tip – always nice to thank folks for going out of their way.

As I checked and sumped the fuel tank and the hydraulic fluid level in the reservoir the UPS 757 pushed back and started up behind us! Obviously it won the race against FedEx. It was getting pretty hot and windy on the ramp as I finished up my preflight. The good news is the hydraulic fluid reservoir was completely full indicating no external leak (the bad kind).

Parked at PVD with much bigger neighbors pushing back and starting up behind me!

We watched UPS depart then departure required only a short taxi back to the approach end of runway 23. I had to wait a short minute for departure clearance then received “turn right heading 300 maintain 2500 or below”. Cleared for takeoff I was wheels up and a climbing right turn to 300 as the sunset peaked. Almost immediately after contacting departure I was cleared on course with no altitude restriction.

Soon the gear pump was definitely acting up again and with the blip happening several times a minute and no signed of abating I told my wife I’d pull the gear pump circuit breaker to keep it from wearing out the pump. This caused the gear to hang down awkwardly (like a wounded bird!) and took some knots off of our cruise speed but on this trip of such a short duration that wasn’t a big deal. Upon arrival I could use the handle to pump it down if the pump was balky but first I’d try pushing the breaker back in and using the pump.

Sure enough pulling the circuit breaker confirmed that the cause of the ammeter blip was unquestionably the hydraulic leakdown issue. It was getting dark as we approached Nashua and once in range I popped the circuit breaker back in. As expected initially it ran to suck the gear back up. Then I cycled the handle and the gear came down, green light, and I could see the main gear in the window. Good stuff. I didn’t even need to pump it down.

With the gear down I concentrated on the night landing. The tower was closed since it was after 9PM and winds were calm with no one else in the area so I flew left traffic for Runway 32. Due to construction the runway threshold is temporarily displaced 1000 feet and the VASI is out but the displaced threshold is well marked. I had no trouble making a good night landing and taxied back to my tie-down. The worst part of a night landing this time of year is all the bugs swarming as you attempt to push the plane back into the parking spot!

So, I left the plane in the capable hands of my A&P this weekend to diagnose the hydraulic problem. Hopefully it will be fixed soon. Good timing – my two instrument lessons this weekend were in a Frasca simulator working some hardcore instrument scanning skills!

High altitude

A little while back I obtained a Mountain High Oxygen system. This was primarily motivated by having a very bad headache after a long day of flying at 8500 feet. I also like flying at night and while this time of year nightfall comes quite late once we get into the fall there will be more night flying. Your night vision degrades above 5000 feet without supplemental oxygen and I often like to cruise above that point so a portable O2 system makes sense (especially for a flatlander like me).

I haven’t had a chance to try out the system yet since most of my recent trips have been short legs. I had the evening to myself tonight and so I decided I’d take the Cardinal up to a higher altitude and test out the O2 system. Armed with a pulse oximeter to verify my blood oxygen saturation I took off from Nashua and climbed out VFR on a west heading.

Climbing out near Gardner, MA.

I put the oxygen system into “Night mode” which means it will immediately start delivering O2 rather than waiting until a preset altitude. This system is a pulsed-demand controller which means that on each breath in it delivers a meters pulse of gas through a canula (or a mask above 18,000 feet) instead of continuous flow. This is a bit more sophisticated but conserves oxygen so a smaller bottle is needed. As you climb the pulse of gas at the beginning of each inhalation gets longer.

Sipping O2 with the canula.

I stayed on the west heading and kept the climb speed relatively high to keep the engine happy in the thinner air. With a normally aspirated (not turbocharged) engine the amount of power the engine makes is reduced as it climbs. This is offset by reduced drag in the thinner air but eventually a ceiling is hit and you cannot climb any higher. While temps in the climb are more of a concern in a turbocharged engine that can make more power higher up I was still monitoring closely. Soon I was well above altitude of the lower few clouds and you could see the raked evening sunlight hitting the tops of the clouds and making them pink.

Sunlight kissing the clouds above Gardner, MA.

The outside air temperate had dropped considerable and around 11,000 feet it was below freezing outside. The air temperature didn’t drop too much after this point. At this altitude the engine manifold pressure (vacuum) with the throttle wide open was around 16″ – barely above a power setting I would normally use for descending on final approach!

Below freezing outside.

As I got close to 15,500 feet I was struggling to maintain more than a few hundred feet per minute of climb. I decided to head back down. Since I was still maintaining an airspeed somewhat above “best climb” I could have climbed higher but I didn’t want to slow down and be rough on my engine. I leveled off briefly at 15,500 feet, let the engine temperatures stabilize, and turned back.

The big hand is on the 1, the medium hand is on the 5, and the little hand is on the 5…

I had a headwind on me west heading and so as I turned back the headwind turned into a tailwind. This gave me almost 200 knots of ground speed in the descent! Since this was just an out and back I had to make a few turns to avoid overshooting Nashua without an ear bending descent rate. If I was cruising at 15,500 on a real XC trip to take advantage of tailwinds proper descent planning is quite important. A descent starting a hundred miles out would be a more optimum profile.

Almost 200 knots of ground speed in the descent.

As I descended (and did a circle or two to burn off some altitude) the sunset was simply fantastic. Words cannot do the pictures justice so I will just show you them…

Sunset over the Adirondacks.

Sunset over the Adirondacks and Mt. Monadnock.

Sunset over the Adirondacks and Mt. Monadnock.

I managed to avoid being distracted by the sunset in front of me and executed and reasonable nice landing back at Nashua. You can view the full set of photos and larger versions over on my photo site. Enjoy!

Evening flight to MHT and CON

On Monday my wife was busy and I didn’t need to pick her up at the train station so I decided to do some flying after work. I had a few goals. The primary goal was to test out the Glideslope needle on the Course Deviation Indicator attached to my Garmin 430. As mentioned in my previous entry the glideslope needle gave us trouble during the automated Garmin self test at start up. I would start out the flight with some steep turns in the practice area and finish up by landing at Concord, NH. I haven’t been there before and they have self service fuel at only $5.49 (which, sadly, is actually a relatively cheap price).

Of course, during the Garmin self test just after engine start up the glideslope needle showed half up deflection just like it should. Well, OK, I will still fly the ILS 35 VFR and verify it is operating as it should be. Due to the construction at Nashua, I also got my first taste of the old runway’s final configuration: the thresholds are displaced 1000 feet at each end to provide a safety area for construction work.

It has been a while since I’ve flown solo. I had a relatively light fuel load too, and the takeoff was smooth and the climb out quite fast relative to what I have been used to. It reminded me of the first time I flew Skyhawk N7242G solo and how it flew with only my weight in it.

Once in the practice area I did a clearing turn to the left then began some steep turns to the left and right. They were great until around half way around the full circle. At that point I would start to release some of my back pressure and lose some altitude. I need to work on this maneuver. I think my mental resistance to using two hands on the yoke might need to be overcome for steep turns because I felt like the biggest issue was I was getting tired holding the control pressure (or I could trim in the steep turns, but that seems strange to me).

At this point I called up Boston Approach and asked to fly the ILS Runway 35 approach VFR. The controller provided vectors as I tuned the ILS frequency into the 430. He asked my intentions and I requested a stop and go at Manchester followed by a departure towards Concord.

Once I was vectored onto the final approach course it was obvious my glideslope receiver and needle on the CFI was functioning fine. This leaves the failed self test on Sunday a mystery. From some quick and dirty reading on the internet I am suspicious that with the lower idle speed on the ground the glideslope self test may have been affected. Hopefully I won’t have to replace the CDI.

I followed the glideslope needle down to a nice landing at Manchester. Boston approach had previously given me my departure instructions to fly runway heading 2500 feet and below. After thanking the tower for their help and calling approach back they asked if I wanted to fly the ILS 35 at Concord too. No need for that especially since I was just flying these approaches visually with backup from the ILS.

A full or nearly full moon rising as the sun sets. The self serve has a nicely lit sign.

Sunset was hitting just as I landed at Concord. The self serve pump is easy to find and well lit. The procedure is to ground the aircraft, swipe your card and authorize a maximum amount, then pump. A ladder is conveniently provided for high wing aircraft like the Cardinal. The only downside was that the pump was relatively slow and as the sunset got beautiful the bugs got much hungrier! I did have an image of trying to slap away a mosquito and falling off the ladder with fuel spraying everywhere but fortunately this did not happen.

Pumping fuel at sunset.

The sunset was waning as I departed Concord and headed back to Nashua. It was just after 9PM and a bit later than I’d intended. Nashua tower closes at 9PM but the field simply becomes pilot controlled with standard self announce protocols after then (the tower reopens at 7AM). With no tower in operation I needed to overfly the field for a standard left traffic pattern and there was no other traffic in sight as I flew my pattern and set up for a night landing on runway 32 with the displaced threshold. There was still some twilight and moonlight so it wasn’t a full night landing but good practice – it was a nice smooth landing too!

Instrument lesson!

Well, I flew a bunch this past weekend and Monday and got behind on blog entries. So I will be doing these out of order. First comes Sunday’s flight: my first instrument lesson in the Cardinal! Of course, for my private pilot I needed to do three hours of instrument flight training and this was in a 172. But it has been over a year since that time. I also picked up 0.7 of simulated instrument time in a Cessna Cutlass (172RG) after obtaining my complex endorsement but this was more of a quick refresher of the basic instrument skills learned during primary training than a real instrument lesson.

I scheduled two hours on Sunday morning with Air Direct Airways CFII Doug Gale. I haven’t flown with Doug before but I know he has a lot of experience including Mooneys. I don’t think he had been in a Cardinal before and I also got to show off some of the unique features like the excellent wide doors and good visibility. Independent of the instrument lesson it was nice to fly with a different instructor. It has been around 40 hours since I last flew with an instructor and it was also a good validation that I haven’t been developing any bad habits.

First I met with Doug upstairs for some briefing. We discussed the general progression of instrument training and some resources to read up on. For a view limited device I brought my own pair of Blockalls which I received for Christmas last year. These are a bit different from the “foggle” style in that the blocking portion is dark. I like this a bit better since my eyes are pretty light sensitive and in bright sunlight you cannot easily wear sunglasses on top/under the foggles. They also feature an offset viewable portion which works better for someone in the left seat.

Demonstrating the Blockalls (at home in a self picture).

Doug also quizzed me on the various instruments which I was fully familiar with. As we went outside and completed the preflight inspection Doug showed me some additional critical things to check before any IFR flight including the pitot heat. When we checked the Garmin 430’s self test screen there was one problem to note. The self test is supposed to show the glideslope needle halfway deflected up but it was not deflected. I’ll be looking into this before we get to any ILS approaches.

It was brutally hot as we taxied out although fortunately the humidity was low – temperature 29, dewpoint 14! This is very dry for summer. With the dry air there were no clouds to block the sun from hitting the ground and it was quite bumpy as we climbed and I put on my blockalls. Doug had me continue the climb up to 4500 feet and I leveled there. The bumps got worse including one that would definitely be categorized as “moderate” turbulence – Doug hit his head lightly on the ceiling, I strained against the seat belt, and his headset slipped off his head a bit. Flying on instruments in this was definitely going to be a workout!

At least it was cooler higher up, a comfortable 65 degrees Fahrenheit outside. Sweating under the Blockalls I started with straight and level then turns to various headings and a 360 degrees turn. Next came climbs to 5000 feet then descending back down to 4500. The updrafts and downdrafts we kept moving in and out of made it difficult, but Doug said I was doing great. Altitudes were within 200 feet and headings within 5 or 10 degrees typically. This is actually pretty good for someone with my level of instrument experience, and Doug said he thinks I will not have any big problems working towards more instrument flying.

We ended with unusual attitude recovery under the hood. The involves me closing my eyes while the instructor pilot puts the plane into an unusual attitude – for example, nose high and turning left, or nose low and turning. Eventually he tells me to open my eyes and recover. The goal is to recover to straight and level flight without any reference to the outside world. For a nose high attitude the procedure is to got to full power, pitch down, level the wings. For a nose low attitude the procedure is to go to idle power, level the wings, THEN pitch up. This prevents a dangerous spiral if you pull to attempt to stop the dive without leveling the wings.

Between the heat and the bumps I let Doug know I was ready to be done after the unusual attitude recovery and he directly me back towards Nashua. I finally took the Blockalls off for a visual approach in to Nashua. Unfortunately due to the weather the winds were a crosswind gusting to 18 knots. With that wind and being stressed, overheated, and tired from the instrument flying I made a landing that I was less than overjoyed about but was safe and remarkably close to the center line.

We pushed the plane back (after taxiing back with Doug holding his door open) and headed in to do a post flight briefing. Doug was impressed with my instrument flying skills for someone who has had little above the bare minimum required for the private pilot primary training. He noted that my instrument flying was well within the standards required on the private pilot practical test indicating my skills hadn’t deteriorated much at all in the past year. Doug thinks this will be a relatively easy rating for me especially since I have a lot of experience dealing with ATC in the Boston Bravo airspace and using flight following. The biggest thing to work on will be speeding up my scan, keeping it consistent, and avoiding fixation.

Before taking this instrument lesson I admit I was a bit nervous about the instrument rating. You can’t easily practice instrument flying by yourself (you need a safety pilot to look outside at the minimum). But I’ve tried to be disciplined about staying on headings and altitudes in the Cardinal flying VFR and I think this has translated nicely.

In other news, this lesson marked my 50th hour of flying time in N52667. It has been a joy seeing my flying skills improve during this time and I am excited to take my flying to the next level of safety and capability with the instrument rating. Wish me luck!