Monthly Archives: May 2015


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

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

Loading graph for our trip to Baltimore.

Loading graph for our trip to Baltimore.

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

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

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

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

Sunset over upstate New York.  Picture by Kat Dutton.

Sunset over upstate New York. Picture by Kat Dutton.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Westover ARB Air Show

Our friend Heather Panic who is a rated but not current pilot and PhD student at Brandeis emailed us to ask if we wanted to go to the air show at Westover Air Base with her and her husband Sacha. Unfortunately Abby is in Florida this weekend at a conference but I was available Sunday. Looking at the website for the air show I discovered you can fly in and called the phone number. You can park on the south ramp and then there is a shuttle. No charge for parking, and he suggested that if possible
I “fuel through”. I hadn’t heard this term before but I gathered that it meant they would be busy refueling air show aircraft and they’d rather not have to sell me fuel (although the price was reasonable).

On my early morning drive to the airport it was quite foggy in spots. I filed an IFR flight plan when I arrived although the sky was actually starting to clear especially towards the west which is the direction we would be headed. The IFR clearance was quite simple “Cleared to Westover via Radar Vectors Gardner, then Direct, climb and maintain 3000 expected 6000 5 minutes after departure”. Runway 14 was in use at Nashua. Although when we departed it was clear above the airport we were climbing towards and then above a receding stratus deck off the ocean. We were in VMC the whole way.

Our IFR trip from Nashua to Westover in the morning.

Our IFR trip from Nashua to Westover in the morning.

Not long after passing Gardner we descended and then slowed for some other traffic ahead. The controller instructed us to intercept the localizer and I showed Heather how to pull up the plate on Foreflight and enter the localizer frequency. Following traffic ahead I landed on runway 23. I should have landed long since the south pad taxiway is alll the way at the end! But, you get to roll past the whole airshow on your way down the runway.

Approaching Westover/CEF, photo by Sacha Panic.

Approaching Westover/CEF, photo by Sacha Panic.

Once parked I put out some chocks and set the control lock. There were a bunch of airplanes parked out on the south ramp already and more arriving in trail. It was just a few minutes before the air show TFR started at 8:45 (although I noticed on Flightaware a few aircraft arrived IFR just after 8:45, aircraft under control of ATC are excepted). Now we were on the ground until the Blue Angels finished at around 5PM!

We rode the shuttle bus to a metal detector/bag search area and then a quick walk past a number of HUGE hangars to the main apron and the airshow. Westover is home to the 337th Airlift Squadron flying the massive C-5 Galaxy. There were a few C-5s out on the ramp along with fighters, bombers and cargo planes. Two of the huge C-5s and the C-17 were open so you could walk through inside and see where cargo sits.

C17 Globemaster.

C17 Globemaster.

Walking further down the ramp there was an area of older historic aircraft mostly from the WWII era. It’s pretty incredible to look up close at a flying B-17 that flew during WWII. While we were checking out this area there were a few warbirds flying in formation that eventually taxied in with a deep rumble.

We walked back to find lunch and a spot of out of the sun under the wing of a C5 to watch various aerial displayed by Nashua’s own Rob Holland, Sean Tucker, the Canadian Snowbirds, the F-22 Raptor which flew in formation with a P-51 mustang, and finally the Blue Angels. It was a great show!

I made it on the second bus back to the south pad and Heather and Sacha on the next one so I could get a head start on the preflight. Similar but much smaller to the queue of cars leaving there were now planes lining up on the taxiway leading to runway 5. With 11,500 feet of runway available and a light crosswind under 10 knots this was now conveniently the runway in use. The queue was a bit smaller by the time my companions arrived and we started up and did a quick run up as we got into the short line. To keep things simple, everyone is departing VFR.

After takeoff I leveled off at 3000 feet and handed the airplane over the Heather for the trip back. It’s bit a while since she has flown but despite the now bumpy afternoon air she had no problems taking us to Nashua. She handed it back over to me for the descent. Runway 14 was still in use and after calling tower I was set up for a right base to 14. ATIS declared winds to be gusting to 19 knots but I didn’t feel that was accurate at the time of my landing.

After taxiing to my parking spot and getting out to push the plane back we spotted Rob Holland’s custom MXS airplane in front of his hangar which is not far away. I guess he managed to take off a bit before us when departing the air show! He might’ve been a bit faster, too…

Wings and Wheels Fly-In at Parlin Field

Last week when I was at Parlin Field for fuel I picked up a flyer for the “Wings and Wheels” fly-in which was yesterday. The event promised a bit of a car show with hot rods, a half chicken BBQ for $7, and airplanes from all over. What’s not to love? It’s also another great opportunity to visit Parlin.

The winds were a bit different today with light winds out of the south. Nashua was using runway 14 which is the opposite direction from the typical arrangement. When I arrived in the vicinity of Parlin aircraft were using Runway 18 which is the opposite direction from what I used last week. Parlin also has a turf field, but it was not being used today.

When approaching an uncontrolled field like Parlin you are generally required to make a “left traffic pattern” meaning that you make all turns to the left as you visually approach and land at the airport. The pattern is a rectangular shape with a downwind leg parallel to the runway in the opposite direction, “base” leg, and final approach segments. Approaching Parlin from the south to land on runway 18 would normally dictate a left traffic pattern but due to terrain the chart and airport facility directory information indicates that a right traffic pattern is used for runway 18.

Even using right traffic for 18 leaves an interesting approach! On the downwind leg you are over terrain which is definitely higher than the airport although still well below the normal pattern altitude of 1000 feet above ground. Once turning base and final it is notable that there is a hill in the way between your position and the airport! A shallow approach will not do here. The trick is just to remember your short field/obstructed field technique from private pilot training. I put in full flaps after turning final. I stayed high during the first part of the final leg until crossing the hill with plenty of altitude margin. Once the hill is cleared I reduce power to idle. Pitch for 62 knots. If you’re too high, the aiming point will move downwards: slip a little bit. If you’re too low, the aiming point will move upwards: add some power. Ideally you don’t have to add any more power and the engine will remain at idle until you turn off the runway.

With the gear and full flaps out, power out, the Cardinal is a drag machine. The prop at engine idle is even in a high drag configuration with the blades angled perpendicular (flat) to the airflow. The result is a nice steep approach at a minimum airspeed. Without aggressive braking I was stopped in about 1500 feet from the displaced threshold (aiming point for landings due to the terrain on final).

The Cardinal parked on the grass at Parlin, tail-to-tail with a biplane.

The Cardinal parked on the grass at Parlin, tail-to-tail with a biplane. A bit further beyond note the hill.

On the landing rollout the locals on the radio suggested turning left onto the grass next to the taxiway if I was able. This is fine even in the Cardinal RG, and while I have not operated on turf runways yet I know others have with success. In this case for taxiing on grass and uneven surfaces another private pilot lesson is recalled and I turned onto the turf with the yoke pulled all the way back to help keep the nose wheel strut extended. This is the weakest part of the landing gear and also the part that if it fails you’re going to ding the prop. So you want to make sure the prop is given the maximum possible clearance. Then you’re taxiing just requires more power, and no brakes.

Lots more airplanes on the grass.  Great turn out for the fly in!

Lots more airplanes on the grass. Great turn out for the fly in!

I was marshalled into the alleyway between two areas of grass with airplanes parked and shut down, then several volunteers helped push the Cardinal backwards into a spot tail-to-tail with a biplane. I chocked my wheels with the set of small chocks I keep in the plane (although most planes I looked at weren’t chocked – grass is an effective brake when winds are light).

Cessna 195, built by Cessna between 1947 and 1954.

Cessna 195, built by Cessna between 1947 and 1954.

A gorgeous Cessna 195 was parked on the grass. Cessna built these planes between 1947 and 1954. They have a round radial engine with seven cylinders arranged around the outside. You can see this in the picture above. Radial engines are known for their oil consumption. The engine in this plane likely consumes around 2 quarts of oil (and 16 of fuel) per hour!

Another rare aircraft type was a Call Air A-3. Just 15 of this type were ever built! This aircraft has a wood and fabric low wing that is braced with struts from above. Lots of people are familiar with the high wing strut supported 172 and 182 designs from Cessna but it’s also possible to strut brace a low wing from above. In these aircraft the strut is under tension when on the ground (supporting the weight of the wing) and in the air when the wing is supporting the aircraft the strut is under tension. My understanding is this design is strong but has a lot of parasitic drag, making it best for stout low speed aircraft (the Piper Pawnee is another example). Many of these have been used for agricultural flying, including the Call Air models.

A CallAir A-3 built in 1947.  Only 15 of this type were built!

A CallAir A-3 built in 1947. Only 15 of this type were built!

Next I paid my $7 and waited in line for chicken. The deal was for half a BBQ chicken. Nobody thought about sides, clearly this was an Atkins meal. But there was delicious sauce of several different flavors. The chicken was quite good.

I sat down at a table with several generations of a family. The grandfather flies a Van’s RV-6 aircraft that he built himself from a kit. His plane was in the hangar in the back, a beautiful aircraft. He said it took him 5000 hours in 5 years to complete. His daughter and two granddaughters had driven up from Sudbury, MA to visit the grandparents and the fly in. Also present was a man who flies out of his own backyard in Chester, NH with a 1740 x 28 ft grass strip (a private airport called Heaton).

Half a BBQ chicken for $7. Yum.

Half a BBQ chicken for $7. Yum.

Another neat aircraft arrived while I was eating my BBQ chicken. It’s a bulbous twin engined flying boat that looks like it shouldn’t possibly fly: A Grumman Widgeon. The Widgeon is quite big and it looked impressive coming in. It is quite a weird craft. Fun fact I just learned? Jimmy Buffet owned a Widgeon and crashed it in 1994.

Grumman Widgeon

Grumman Widgeon flying boat.

Just six days ago last Sunday I flew past Crotched Mountain ski area and spotted a bit of snow. Crotched Mountain last week. This week I once again flew past since I was flying the same approximate route. There is still just a bit of snow but quite a lot has disappeared since last week! I think it will all be gone in another week.

Crotched  Mountain snow, one week later.

Crotched Mountain snow, one week later.

From 6 days ago, for comparison.

From 6 days ago, for comparison.

Coming in from the north-northwest put me on a long final for runway 14 at Nashua and I was following another aircraft that was flying an ILS from about 6 miles out. This turned out to be a bit of a frustration flying VFR. Initially I had about a 30 knot overtake on the other aircraft and put the gear down and flaps out sooner then I would otherwise have done in order to slow down. Even after slowing down to match the speed of that aircraft I made another interesting observation. They were not doing a very good job of holding the runway centerline! Since this aircraft was flying a practice ILS approach most likely the pilot is an instrument student. The ILS is quite sensitive especially close in and it is easy to “chase the needles” and overcorrect left and right. It’s one of the things you learn how to do when you’re an instrument student. In this case the meandering course made it just a bit harder to follow the aircraft at a reasonable distance since they were going left and then right. So I just concentrated on following them down to the threshold.

The Nashua tower controller gave me a bit of a scare on short final, saying “Cardinal 667 your traffic is over the approach lights” since *I* was on short final, just passing over the approach lights. I was already cleared to land. It quickly became apparent that this traffic call was in fact for the airplane following me. Aviate, Navigate, Communicate, above all always keep flying the airplane. I made a fine landing and cranked the windows open for the taxi to parking. Summer is almost here!

Cheap fuel at Parlin Field, Virga

After a day of yard work yesterday I decided to go for a short flight today. The weather has been excellent and warm although I don’t have quite the itch for a whole day of flying having spent last weekend on a very long XC trip. Since I was down below half a tank of fuel after the 3 hours of flying from Newport News, VA to Nashua I decided to make a quick round trip to Parlin Field in Newport, NH which is a sleepy little short strip nestled in the hills around Lake Sunapee. They have fuel for only $4.25 which is in fact a bargain for Avgas.

Cruising along over Southern NH.  I am not great at selfies.

Cruising along over Southern NH. I am not great at selfies.

After getting up to the airport I did a bit of “hangar flying” which is just a fancy term for talking to other people about aviation at an airport! In this case I got a chance to catch up with my regular CFII Doug Gale about my instrument flying on the trip to and from South Carolina. Doug has been a great instructor and while I didn’t mention it in my previous post I think his attitudes towards teaching IFR in real conditions have really prepared me for real weather flying.

After some chatting I started up and took off from Runway 14 at Nashua. This is the more uncommon runway at Nashua but today the winds at the surface in Nashua were out of the southeast and this leaves Runway 14 as the ideal runway. Looking to the east from the ground revealed perfect blue skies, to the west showed a midlevel broken cumulus cloud deck with a bunch of Virga.

Most of the precip was virga.  But this area of about a mile or two in diameter was getting a shower.

Most of the precip was virga. But this area of about a mile or two in diameter was getting a shower.

Virga is precipitation that evaporates before it gets a chance to hit the ground. In today’s case some portions of the broken cumulus clouds had sufficient lift to get tops above the freezing level into the snow growth region where snow formed. Then as the snow fell through around 7-8000 feet it melted into rain. But the air near the surface beneath the cloud bases was so dry that in almost all of the cases the rain had completely evaporated before any drops hit the ground!

In just a few spots the showers were of sufficient strength to continue all the way through to the ground. But even in the spots where the precipitation was evaporating at 3000 feet it was still raining. So once again I found myself flying through a bit of rain although in this case it was under Visual Flight Rules and with rain light enough to obscure the visibility only slightly.

A good rule for flying through rain shafts VFR is that if you can see all of the way through the area of rain to clearly discernible land/terrain behind it, it’s OK to fly through VFR. If you can’t see through the area of rain to the other side it’s either too large or too heavy to fly through visually.

Virga can bring it’s own set of aviation hazards, but these are predominantly found in Virga falling under thunderstorms in very hot and dry climates. A dissipating thunderstorm has a large core of very heavy precipitation falling in a downdraft. If this heavy precipitation falls into very warm dry air the raindrops will evaporate forming virga. This process of evaporation causes evaporative cooling of the air which then becomes much cooler than the surrounding air mass and sinks rapidly. This can be the source of dangerous turbulence and downdrafts! So if you are in a dry desert area and you see a storm dropping heavy rain that evaporates before hitting the ground, beware.

Crotched Mountain Ski Area is looking a bit, uh, crotchety this time of year.

Crotched Mountain Ski Area is looking a bit, uh, crotchety this time of year.

There is almost no snow still visible, although I passed close by Crotched Mountain Ski Area which still had a bit of snow. I didn’t snap a picture of it but Lake Sunapee ski area had substantially more. I saw no snow except for ski areas. If I went a bit further east into the White Mountains there would certainly be some snow on the high summits.

Finding no traffic at Parlin field and light winds aloft out of the north-northwest I opted for a straight-in approach to Runway 36. Parlin is a shorter field at 3,400 feet compared to Nashua’s 6000 feet. While it is well within the capabilities of the Cardinal it requires a bit of extra care. In this case I opted for a full flaps (30 degrees) power out approach where flaps 20 would be my standard on a longer runway. The results in a somewhat lower approach speed and steeper approach over any obstacles, and a low landing speed means less energy rolling out on the short runway. With minimal braking I had no trouble turning off at the midfield taxiway which is about 2,100 feet.

Cheap fuel.  This covers me from Newport News to Nashua, and then the half hour trip to Parlin field.

Cheap fuel. 33.6 gallons used on the trip from Newport News to Nashua, plus the half hour trip to Parlin field.

Is it worth it to fly to Parlin just for the low fuel price? Well, with the ability to take on 33.6 gallons I saved about $42 over the price at Nashua. This is just about exactly enough to cover the one hour round trip from Nashua to Parlin (at Parlin’s fuel price). So, it’s a break even, which means the round trip for fuel is effectively a free hour of flying. Woohoo! But, I need to pump at least 30 gallons for the math to work out. That said, It’s not like I need any excuse to fly to Parlin. The airport is in a beautiful spot with friendly folks and just a bit of a flying challenge to keep those skills sharp.