Monthly Archives: October 2012

New York Sheep and Wool Festival

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

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

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

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

The Quabbin Reservoir (by Gen).

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

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

Above the broken layer.

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

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

Farmlands and foliage.

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

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

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

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

Rays of sunlight under the cloud deck.

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

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

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

My awesome copilot Abby.

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

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

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

Saturday flying

I had two goals for a flight this weekend. My instrument instructor was not available but lately with all of the instrument training my landings have been suffering. So I wanted to do a number of solo landings when the weather was gusty in the middle of the day. Towards the evening I’d come back with Abby and do some sightseeing and enjoy the clear October air and fall foliage.

On my first solo flight winds were straight down the runway at 10 gusting 20 knots when I departed. The combination of cold dry air, surface high pressure, headwind and solo occupancy meant that the airplane was very eager to fly and I was over five hundred feet AGL by the time I crossed the departure end of the runway. I headed towards Keene airport for the first landing doing some pure VFR maneuvering in the practice area along the way.

There were some other aircraft in the pattern as I approached but they were all on the ground by the time I arrived above the airport and maneuvered to enter a downwind for runway 02. There was a slight crosswind from the left and the landing was smooth. I did the landing full stop and taxied back to depart again.

Next I headed for Manchester airport and called Boston Approach 20 miles out. I was instructed to make a left base for runway 35. As I was about 4 miles out a Southwest Jet departed runway 35 in front of me. Southwest has a very recognizable paint scheme! The winds were a bit squirrely at the surface (or perhaps it was some lingering turbulence from the departing 737) but a reasonable landing was made. Once again I exited the runway and taxied back to runway 35.

Since I’d previously been challenged by making a reasonable circling approach from the low altitude pattern the VOR-A brings you into I told Manchester clearance that I wanted to fly the VOR-A after departure. I would be flying it entirely VFR this time so it wouldn’t be a loggable approach for IFR training purposes but it would give me a good idea of what the approach looks like visually and allow me to enter and fly the pattern at 900 feet.

After departing Manchester I received vectors to the east then intercepted the final approach course outside of the Manchester VOR. This time I was looking outside as I crossed the airport and began a circle to land on runway 32. One problem I’ve had before with this approach is that starting from a lower altitude the power settings end up being different. Things worked out differently this time and while I still had a bit too much speed crossing the threshold I made a reasonable flare and did a touch and go and continued in the pattern.

I made one more touch and go and continued around the pattern. This time the winds shifted and gusted as I was in the flare and I elected to do a go-around. The go-around was solid and I continued around and made a good landing this time.

I went home for a bit and picked up Abby. I had no definitely plans except to head north towards Lebanon, NH and look for interesting scenery. With the sun slowly sinking in the sky we flew north and located Lake Sunapee and Mount Cardigan where we will be in a few weeks.

Abby took this phone cam picture of us in flight.

We circled above Mount Cardigan for a bit and found the AMC Cardigan Lodge in the valley. Next we headed east. In the distance you could see Mount Washington which was completely snow capped already. I climbed up to 5,500 for our direction of flight and to give plenty of clearance above the lower Southern peaks.

Mount Cardigan and fire tower.

At this point it was getting quite cold outside and I asked Abby if she wanted to fly a bit so I could put on my sweater. Once I had the sweater on I asked if she wanted to continue flying and take us back to Nashua. She kept flying and I told her to start with a descent down to 4,500 now that we were headed in the other direction. Leveled back at 4,500 and headed direct for Nashua passing Laconia, NH I called Boston approach and asked for following and class C transit to Nashua.

Abby continued doing the flying through the descent until we were entering the pattern at Nashua. I took the yoke back at this point but talked her through the final approach and landing. At this point surface winds were completely calm at Nashua and the landing was nice and smooth and my flare point well calculated. It was the perfect end to a beautiful fall sunset flight!

More instrument training in Actual, Filing IFR

Monday was Columbus Day which meant a company wide day off from work. But since my CFII is available on Tuesdays instead I worked on Monday and took off Tuesday in lieu. This was nice for commute traffic reasons as well and as it turns out three other people from engineering did the same thing. Even better the weather on Tuesday was forecast to have some light rain and clouds at 2000 feet and the freezing levels were up at 5000 feet giving some room to experience some more actual instrument conditions.

Doug and I met up in the morning, discussed the weather and approaches, and decided that we would do the ILS 35 into MHT (Manchester, NH), the VOR 23 into LWM (Lawrence, MA), and the VOR-A approach back into Nashua. Nashua is still recovering from the runway construction and thus all other instrument approaches are out of service. But the weather was sufficient for the circling VOR-A approach so there would be no issue. Unlike last time we filed IFR ahead of time (using Doug’s information) and we would be on an IFR clearance for our entire flight. With the flight plan filed it was the perfect time for an early lunch so we walked over to the Midfield Cafe and grabbed a quick lunch before heading out.

Since this was an IFR departure from Nashua the procedure was a bit different. When I called up ground ready to taxi I said we were “IFR to Nashua” and the controller came back with the taxi instructions and then the clearance. The clearance was “N52667 is cleared to the Nashua airport via Radar Vectors, direct Manchester, then as filed. Climb and maintain 3000, squawk 1234, departure frequency 124.9.” I copied the clearance down correctly onto my kneeboard as the controller read it off but when I read it back to him my brain automatically stuck “five hundred” on the end of the altitude since I am used to reading off standard VFR altitudes! Doug laughed at me since he could see I’d correctly written down the altitude and made the freudian slip on the read back. The controller corrected my error and I taxied to the run-up area.

Once my normal run-up procedure was complete we did a few more IFR specific things including setting up the avionics stack (communication and navigation radios and GPS) for our expected route and pre-briefing the ILS 35 approach before leaving the ground. With all final checks completed I contacted the tower controller for our IFR release and waited while they coordinated our release with Boston approach. The final instructions included an initial heading “Cardinal 52667, after takeoff fly heading 180, cleared for takeoff runway 32″.

Climbing through 1000 feet I put on my blockalls instrument goggles. But by 2000 feet Doug told me to take them off since we were in and out of a broken layer. You could catch intermittent glimpses of the ground but no discernible horizon as Boston approach vectored us around for the ILS approach. Some other aircraft were doing practice approaches including a C-130 from the Rhode Island national guard with the call sign “Roady 38″.

After intercepting the glideslope and starting the descent eventually we broke out of the clouds and I had put the foggles back on. I did a reasonably good job on the ILS although it was hard work. Around 50 feet above minimums Doug had me look up and pull the foggles off and sure enough the runway was just a bit to our left. It would have been landable, but instead we executed the missed approach procedure. ATC had assigned an alternate missed approach procedure with a vector to fly, climb and maintain 3000 and by the time we were back up in the clouds again we were direct to the Lawrence VOR for the VOR-23 approach.

This time I briefed the approach in the air as we were in and out of the clouds. The view out of the window was never sufficient to maintain control without reference to the instruments. Unlike the Manchester ILS approach where ATC vectored us onto the final approach course for the VOR 23 we requested a “full approach”. This is done by flying to the Lawrence VOR, flying outbound on a particular radial from the VOR, performing a “procedure turn” to reverse course and rejoin that radial now flying towards the airport. We chose the VOR 23 for practice because the VOR itself is very near the airport but not exactly at it (you pass over the VOR about a mile and a half from the runway). Since the VOR signal gets squirrely directly over the VOR you need to be stabilized on a heading and wind correction in and continue flying that heading to reach the airport.

Flying the full procedure was a lot of work and I felt a bit rushed but the approach itself was well executed. Despite the VOR being close to the airport I held the course and when I looked up we were nicely aligned with the runway. The VOR 23 was not actually a good approach for landing since we had somewhat of a tailwind but it was the best VOR approach around. Since we weren’t planning on landing we advised the Lawrence Tower of our missed approach and climbed back up into the clouds once more.

Back with Boston approach I flew assigned vectors to the final approach course. The vectors took us west of the Manchester VOR first then intercepted the inbound course. The VOR-A is getting familiar now. Approaching the VOR we are cleared for the approach. Passing the VOR I put flaps 10 and gear down and begin the descent towards the minimum descent altitude of 900 feet. For a nonprecision approach like the VOR-A the descent is selected such that the MDA is reached prior to the airport and I increased the power and leveled off for the last part of the approach. Overhead the airport is the missed approach point and at this point I looked up and began the circling maneuver to Runway 32.

Unlike my last attempts at the circling maneuver this one was a bit nicer. The landing was a bit hard but tolerable. I’ll continue working on the transition between close focused instrument work and looking outside and focusing in the distance for the visual landings. Doug says many students have problems with the transition from Visual to Instrument flight in both directions, but my problem is primarily the instrument to visual transition.

With the plane tied down we went inside and debriefed. With some time left in the day but the weather a bit crummier I decided to spend some time in the Frasca Sim doing some approaches we don’t have easy access to. There aren’t many DME Arc approaches in our area. But an old approach plate from the 90s into Manchester features a DME ARC to the ILS 35. One other nice thing about the sim is that you can see the overhead and vertical profile of the approach. The DME arc looked very nice and the approach was right on the glideslope.

The other nice thing about the sim is it makes it easy to practice entering a nonpublished hold from several directions. Doing this in real conditions requires negotiating the hold with ATC (or asking them to make something up) which is extra workload for them. With Doug playing ATC I did several hold entries which looked nice on the overview.

My instrument training is coming along very nicely. I probably won’t get back to training until after the plane’s annual inspection is completed at the beginning of November. The break will set me back a bit but I am on track and after a few more lessons of approaches and holds we’ll do the instrument cross country required for the rating. Now I have 1.2 of actual instrument time and 9.7 simulated. I also get to count my time in the sim. Still, there is plenty more training before I am ready for the instrument checkride.

Actual IFR Flying

I am once again behind on the blog updates. On Saturday I went for another IFR training flight. The goal was to do more practice with holds and to fly both an ILS and two VOR approaches. On my previous flights I didn’t have the opportunity to practice an intersection hold so that would be one of the goals. Just like the last time I was doing holds for real the winds aloft were fierce – up to 30 knots.

After departing Nashua we proceeded direct to the KHRIS intersection which is defined by the intersection of the 060 Radial off the Manchester (MHT) VOR and the 154 Radial off the Concord (CON) VOR. The hold itself is along the 154 Radial, right turns, 1 minute legs. The first step was to fly direct to KHRIS. I began by navigating using the Manchester VOR while Doug dialed KHRIS into the Garmin 430 GPS to navigate direct. On the way I setup my two NAV radios for the Concord and Manchester VORs. About three minutes from KHRIS I began slowing the airplane down for the hold by reducing power and holding altitude. With the power setting I’ve chosen for holding the airspeed drops down to around 90 knots in the clean configuration (landing gear and flaps up).

There are multiple ways to enter a hold depending on which direction you come from relative to the hold. These entries are called “Direct”, “Parallel” and “Teardrop”. If you approach a hold such that you do not need to make a sharp turn to enter the hold after passing the holding fix then a direct entry is appropriate. Otherwise you need to choose between the Parallel and Teardrop course reversals. The important part is that you remain on the holding side of the VOR radial since the airspace on the other side is not protected (ATC could put other airplanes there). To enter the hold at KHRIS I used a parallel entry although a teardrop would have worked as well.

Once passing the KHRIS entry and turning to a 334 heading the wind became a direct crosswind. I applied a substantial amount of wind correction to the left and started my timer for the one minute parallel leg. With one minute up I turned more than 180 degrees to the left and back in on a course to re-intercept the 154 radial off of Concord (the inbound holding course). Once this was reintercepted I tracked that radial, adjusting for wind, until the KHRIS interception was indicated by the second NAV radio’s CDI centering the needles. At this point I reported to ATC that we were established in the hold at 3500 feet and began my first right turn around the hold.

After several rounds around the hold at KHRIS without major issues we decided to depart for the Concord VOR. This would give me the opportunity to practice another hold entry and also provide a transition point to do the ILS 17 approach at Manchester. I increased the power back to a cruise setting and headed for the Concord VOR. I don’t remember what entry I used here but it was either parallel or teardrop again. I settled into the hold reasonably well although the crosswind was challenging.

Soon ATC reported: “To your west about 8 miles an area of moderate precipitation, moving east quite rapidly… A jet departing reported moderate turbulence, moderate chop.” Of course, by this point I have been flying for almost an hour and a half without being able to see outside. I asked Doug how it looked outside and he said it was looking much hazier and there was rain off to the left. We could either head straight back to Nashua or call ATC and request a pop up IFR clearance to continue holding at the Concord VOR. It did not take me long to answer!

I requested the IFR clearance and got ready to copy it down while still flying the airplane. It took a few moments to get the clearance and soon the controller came back with “Cardinal 52667 you are cleared to the Concord VOR via… continued holding, maintain 3500, expect further clearance 20:00, let me know whenever you want to continue and do an approach”. Now we were legally on an IFR clearance and I continued to hold.

It was not Doug told me to take the foggles off and sure enough we were headed in and out of clouds and light rain. There was certainly no discernible horizon. I focused on the gauges and glanced up occasionally to experience the view of IMC. The rain soon got much heavier, definitely moderate precipitation. Each time I circled the hold I went in and out of the cloud and the area of moderate precip. In the cloud there were some fairly intense updrafts and I would suddenly find myself climbing a few hundred feet per minute and have to push on the yoke to remain level then the opposite would happen as I passed through the weather.

Soon we decided to advise ATC that we wanted to fly the ILS 17 at Manchester. I was immediately cleared to the Manchester airport via the Concord transition ILS 17 approach. I proceeded following the approach plate from the Concord VOR to intercept the runway 17 Localizer at the ROCKR waypoint. Along the way Doug flew the airplane while I briefed the approach and set up the radios. Visbility had improved but I stayed focused on the gauges. We planned to fly the ILS down to the Decision Altitude of 429 feet (200 above ground).

Soon I was back to flying the airplane and got my approach clearance which I read back “6 miles from KIMBR, maintain 2100 ’til established, cleared ILS 17 approach Cardinal 52667″. Intercepting the glideslope at 2100 feet I put the gear down and flaps 10 and began descending at 500 feet per minute to follow the glideslope needle. Once again, it was a direct crosswind! I focused on the approach and flew it down to 450 feet and looked up to see the runway in position. Doug asked me if I was prepared to land and I said I felt I could have landing it and he said “OK, go missed!”

Missed approach: Full power, climb pitch, gear up, flaps up, cowl flaps open. For the ILS 17 at Manchester, a climb to 800 feet straight ahead then climb to 2000 feet direct to the Manchester VOR unless advised by ATC. Tower advised me to proceed direct to the VOR, and contact approach again. Back on with approach we requested the VOR-A approach into Nashua (currently the only approach)

I grabbed the plate to quickly brief the approach while climbing towards the VOR since we didn’t have much time before reaching it. IFR is all about multitasking. This time the approach was not as cleanly flown as last time but I still ended up over the airport within a very reasonable tolerance.

There was no traffic to follow and with the airport now in sight and my foggles off I entered a left pattern for runway 14 and was cleared to land. Unfortunately what followed as a disappointing landing. While I was in a great position to land at Manchester at Nashua the circling approach combined with all of the close focused panel work meant that my sight picture was all messed up and I flared way too high. It wasn’t too bad, and I ended the flight with 0.5 of actual instrument time.

All in all the flight was a great confidence boost and a good reminder of why I have been doing the IFR training. When we debriefed the biggest thing to work on is transition from instrument flight back to visual for the landing. My instructor said that for many people transition into instrument flight is tricky but I didn’t have a problem with that. I’m excited for the next actual instrument experience with a better landing at the end!