Monthly Archives: June 2015

2015 Air Direct Poker Run

My local flight school, Air Direct Airways, has been running a Poker Run event for the past few years. I wrote about this event once before, 2012 Poker Run. This year Abby and I did the poker run with our friends Nathan and Allie. I bought in a $25 hand for each person. The proceeds of this event go to Homes for our Troops which is a charity that builds specially adapted homes for disabled veterans. This year as in the past few years the Poker Run has been to NH airports Keene (EEN), Concord (CON), Laconia (LCI), Rochester (DAW), and Biddeford, Maine (B19).


Nashua-Keene-Concord-Laconia-Biddeford-Nashua. Click for huge.

We got started around 10AM and went to KEEN first. The last time I fueled up (in Turners Falls) I almost filled the tanks. We hadn’t originally planned to take on extra passengers for the poker run so I didn’t consider limiting the fuel load. Fortunately, Nate and Allie plus the very limited baggage and 50 gallons of fuel I measured when I arrived at the airport put us 50 pounds under gross. No need to drain fuel, thankfully. We would probably burn about 200 pounds of fuel during the poker run, with an hour and a half remaining. The shorter runways of Biddeford and Rochester would be towards the end of the trip, and the weather was sufficiently cool that a gross weight takeoff would not be a problem on any of the runways.

Winds were relatively light with runway 14 in use at Nashua. The visibility was good for June with some haze and fair weather cumulus. For this trip of lots of small hops the highest we would get was 3000 feet MSL, VFR flying down low. Approaching the ridge line flying across the NH 101 gap we could see an airplane doing aerobatics far off to the left. Soon we weaved right to pass around Mt. Monadnock and descended. Several airplanes were joining the pattern and departing. The winds were calm and we overflew the field and entered a downwind for runway 02 which is the designated calm wind runway.

I landed long and then taxied under power to the end of the runway turning left at the end onto the taxiway that goes right to the FBO. Somehow Keene was momentarily quiet and nobody else was there from the Poker Run. We picked our cards and then headed back out. After climbing straight out to get above the terrain around Keene we turned right towards Concord cruising at 3000 feet. This time Allie was in the right seat up front and she tried a bit of straight and level flying. One of the cool things about doing the poker run with four people is that with lots of stops you can mix up who sits up front.

Approaching Concord there was a banner tow aircraft departing which actually turned out to be Air Direct’s Citabria. They were clear of the area by the time we arrived. We followed another aircraft into a downwind for runway 35. With yet another airplane following behind me I turned left at the first taxiway and we headed over to the FBO. Here we ran into Dave, an instructor from Air Direct, and some students in one of their rental 172s.

The next leg was a quick one, just 23 nautical miles to Laconia. We flew at 2,500 feet with Nathan in the right seat. This is less than 15 minutes of flying even counting time to climb and maneuver to land. Once arriving in the vicinity of Laconia runway 08 was in use (approaching from the west). There was the Air Direct banner tow aircraft again flying low and slow away from the airport, no factor. There was also a Falcon business jet approaching calling a 16 mile final. That’s a long way out but the jet is going fast. To maneuver into a downwind for runway 08 I needed to overfly the field and I did this about 1500 feet about the airport (500 feet above normal pattern altitude). I gave position reports back to the Falcon jet as they approached the airport and let them know I had them in sight. We passed over the airport as they were a few miles off the left wing. My only concern was that this was a poor position to be in if the jet initiated a go-around. But, there was mutual visual contact with the traffic at all times and if they performed a low altitude go-around I would be sufficiently north of the airport and maneuvering onto the downwind by that point.

As I turned left to enter the downwind we had a nice view of the Falcon jet’s final approach and I flew a somewhat extended downwind to ensure any wake vortices were dissipated before turning base and then final. I turned off the runway at the first taxiway and encountered the jet which was turning right to enter the overflow parking area. The FBO had previously informed some folks over the radio to go to the overflow parking area for the poker run and they would bring the cards. The overflow parking area was quite busy with the arriving Falcon jet and another larger business jet preparing to depart. We parked next to a Piper Commanche that had a very nice dog that Allie immediately became friends with.

We picked more cards and marked off our sheets. Another nice thing about having four people was having four hands, and some of us were actually getting some reasonable combinations. We also ran into Dave again, plus another Air Direct rental aircraft 42G, and another familiar looking Cessna Skyhawk from Nashua.

We departed for Biddeford behind another charter light jet that had dropped people off in Laconia. The climb out is a gorgeous view over Lake Winnepesauke and soon we leveled off at 2,500 feet. We passed to the right and a bit under the familiar looking green Skyhawk as we began descending towards Biddeford. There was banner activity here and this banner tow aircraft was picking up and dropping off banners in the grass next to the airport.

I was first in the conga line of three airplanes that were approaching the airport and I flew a tight visual pattern for runway 6 which is much shorter at 3000 feet. Still, this is easily do-able. I landed with full flaps and turned left at the midfield taxiway. We picked our cards and relaxed for a bit while 42G, Dave, the green Skyhawk, the Commanche with the friendly dog, and a Cherokee showed up. Lots of airplanes were doing the poker run!

When we were ready to go the banner airplane was still flying and we got to see them drop off one banner and pick up the next as we were walking over to the airplane. They made a low approach to runway 6, dropped the first banner, departed, looped around and made a diving low approach for 24 (the opposite direction). There is a banner hook trailing the aircraft and once it hooked the banner the plane climbs VERY steeply in a zoom climb “peeling” the banner up off the grass (you don’t want to drag it). Once the banner is lifted up the nose is pushed down to climb at best angle. It was very cool to see this up close, right in front of us!

We back-taxied in the fortunate lull in arrivals and then took off on runway 6 (there is no parallel taxiway at Biddeford). The shorter runway was no issue and after climbing out we turned left towards Rochester “Skyhaven” airport. The green Skyhawk had departed Biddeford before us and they were entering their downwind for runway 15 as I slowed to follow them.

The green Skyhawk touched down shortly after I turned final. One quirky thing about Rochester airport is that if you land on runway 15 your taxiway options are either 1000 feet from the threshold (that’s a short landing or a back taxi) or to roll all the way down to the end (4200 feet). Watching the Skyhawk roll out it looked like they were keeping some speed up to roll down to the end but then slowed and began to back taxi, announcing on the radio. At this point I was still at more than 500 feet above ground so it was an easy decision to go around and make the approach again. Fortunately no other airplanes had arrived in the meantime and I flew the pattern and landed with full flaps. I gave myself a bit of a workout and turned right at the first taxiway without back taxiing. The pilot from the Skyhawk was inside getting his cards and was very apologetic about making me go-around. No big deal, a go around from that altitude is a non-issue and good practice too.

Others were arriving as we left and we watched as we climbed away from Rochester on course to Nashua followed by another airplane. I called up Boston Approach to transit the Class C airspace above Manchester airport at 3000 feet. They had us fly a heading for a bit for Cessna Caravan traffic departing Manchester which we soon spotted. Runway 14 was still in use at Nashua. Unlike all of the other airports we visited today Nashua is towered. That’s another thing the poker run is good practice for: uncontrolled field ops. It’s an area I’m less experienced in since I trained at and do a lot of flying at a towered field.

After pushing the plane back we enjoyed hamburgers and hotdogs, and ice cream provided by Midfield Cafe. One by one the green Skyhawk, the Commanche with the friendly dog, the two Air Direct rental airplanes arrived in. We also got to watch as aerobatic pilot Rob Holland flew overhead in formation with an amhib float plan, and a Piper cub. They broke off the formation one by one and landed. It was really cool.

Apparently bringing four people along is also good luck (perhaps just probability math). Once all the hands were back at 3PM they were totaled up. Unlike every Poker Run we’ve ever done we actually won something! This was thanks to Allie’s hand, although we got to keep the prize since I bought in all the hands. We won a gift certificate to Midfield Cafe which will buy a bunch of delicious pre-flying breakfasts.

2.9 hours flying total, 6 landings, great VFR flying! The poker run is great fun and also exercises lots of piloting skills. Each of the 6 airports in the poker run have different runway lengths, widths, and directions and different terrain around them. Winds are different each year. This year one of the areas of gaining experience is lots of takeoffs and landings near gross weight. I haven’t made that many heavy weight landings in the Cardinal since it’s rare to fly with all four seats filled. Recently including my trip to Baltimore I have flown closer to gross weight but this is still rare. In this case some of these were full flap landings on shorter runways. As always, the poker run is a great experience builder.

Summer Flying, landing practice

Here are some videos from last Saturday when I did some VFR flying and landings at Gardner, MA, Turners Falls, MA, Keene, NH. I actually brought my GoPro and managed to shoot video of the flight between Turners Falls and Keene, and the landing back at Nashua. Enjoy.

Arisia Relaxacon on the Cape

Another week another convention! Friday evening Abby and I set off the for the Arisia Relaxacon which is an event for Arisia staff and volunteers. We’ve been to the Relaxacon in the past and for several years in a row I’ve flown. In the past I’ve flown down with other attendees and met Abby who had to drive down earlier. This year Abby didn’t have to arrive early and so it was just the two of us on the trip to Hyannis airport.

The weather forecast looked quite mild. I called the fuel truck once we got up to Infinity and ordered 20 gallons of fuel. The previous long trip had left 15 gallons of fuel (1.5 hours) in the tanks – a very comfortable margin. The plane will climb a bit better with a lower weight and 3.5 hours of fuel is more than enough for our short trip so I didn’t top it off. Abby packed the baggage compartment while the plane was fueled and I filed a flight plan to Hyannis. Visual conditions were forecast at Hyannis with some IFR possible but only much later. Briefing I noticed that BOS (Logan International) was reporting low visibility in fog. So, there must be some coastal fog.

Stratus fog rolling in off the bay, ending just inland.

Stratus fog rolling in off the bay, ending just inland.

Our routing was MHT BOS V141 DUNKK direct. This has been the routing every time I have flown to Hyannis IFR. The routing via MHT is a bit weird but as soon as we are in the air off of runway 14 the departure controller gave me a climb vector that bypassed the MHT VOR and cut the corner soon cleared direct Boston. This first controller also gave me the climb to 7000 although I had filed for 5000 feet. I kept the climb going and waited until the handoff to the next controller when I asked “Is there any way we could have 5000 as our final altitude?”. He said “Well, as a matter of fact there is, maintain 5000″. This controller was the one actually working the north sector over the airport and in my experience they are more likely to approve such a request. We did have to take a vector or two for traffic over the city but the additional time to climb to 7000 would have cost us a bit more time and fuel on such a short leg.

An airliner on the ILS 4R at Logan Airport.  You can see the wake vortices as it starts to skim the top of the clouds.

An airliner on the ILS 4R at Logan Airport. You can see the wake vortices as it starts to skim the top of the clouds.

We saw a lot of airline traffic crossing over the city including a airliner descending into the low stratus layer on an ILS approach. The controller called out the touchdown RVR (visual range) at more than 6000 feet for the touchdown, and 2500 feet for the rollout. So as expected the fog was thicker right off the water, and was already dissipating by the approach end of the airport.

Leaving the immediate environment of the city we were cleared direct Hyannis and soon descended to 3000 feet approaching the airport. The airport was directly ahead and my heading direct to the airport is almost perfectly aligned as a very long final approach for runway 15 which was conveniently the runway in use. With the airport in sight I was cleared for the visual approach to 15 and continued my descent towards the runway.

Abby snapped this picture of salt marshes once we had the gear out on final approach.

Abby snapped this picture of salt marshes once we had the gear out on final approach.

I landed and taxied to the usual FBO I’ve gone to at Hyannis (Rectrix). They have a nice facility and the fuel is reasonably priced. The trip down ended up being just 0.9 hours logged, quite a lot less than the 2.6 of my last trip! I’d arranged for a rental car that ended up being free with some Hertz points and so we loaded it up with our luggage and some cooking supplies we brought.

Relaxacon was great. The weather was interesting and by midnight Hyannis had gone below IFR minimums with low fog that was rolling in off of Nantucket Sound. You could actually see the misty fog billowing past in the steady wind off the water, and swirling around the buildings. In the morning on Saturday there were some periods where it was sunny and many times where it was very foggy with the wind always coming off of the water. On Saturday afternoon I did some kite flying with a gorgeous rainbow kite one of the other Relaxacon attendees had bought from a kite shop in Provincetown.



When it came time for the return flight the weather was a bit less cooperative. The forecast called for a strong cold front dropping down from the north bringing showers and maybe isolated thunderstorms along and ahead of the cold front. Showers are OK, thunderstorms are not. Several knowns about the meteorological setup help me to forecast that convective activity may include showers but probably not thunderstorms along our route of flight which follows the coastline where cooler, stable marine air has influence.

Someone else from Relaxacon was looking for a ride back and asked if we still had room. I cautioned him that it could be a bumpy trip and the sightseeing might be limited. He was OK with that and the weight was not an issue so we all headed off the the airport. We managed to get all fueled and packed and started up by 1PM.

I filed FREDO BOS at 6000 feet, another familiar routing from previous trips to Hyannis. The RADAR showed an area of heavy precipitation that I would want to avoid just southeast of Nashua but slowly moving east. The direct routing would take me through it but I can deviate west if it hasn’t moved east enough by the time I get there. Winds are also fierce at Hyannis, from the south-southwest gusting to 28 knots. Nashua had MVFR ceilings, 3 mile visibility in rain. I filed Hanscom (BED) as an alternate as their forecast met the requirements.

After a sporty takeoff in the stiff winds we were given some vectors and then cleared direct Boston. We passed a few low clouds departing Hyannis and then we were in the clear. During the climb we had a very dramatic demonstration of the effect of wind correction angle with winds across the course. A look out the window showed us moving substantially sideways relative to the ground.

After getting handed off to Boston approach we got a few different headings to fly for traffic, taking us a bit further west. This was fine since is kept us out of the weather and though I was staring into a wall of cloudiness with no real horizon we weren’t yet inside of clouds for most of the journey. Abby helped me brief the RNAV Runway 32 approach into Nashua. Winds were from the north, gusting again. Notable is the difference in wind direction between Hyannis and Nashua. The surface cold front is positioned somewhere in between.

RNAV (GPS) Runway 32 Nashua.

RNAV (GPS) Runway 32 Nashua.

Nashua’s ATIS changed a few times in a short span with ceilings around the 1000 foot range. Minimums for the RNAV runway 32 with the equipment I have in the plane (non-WAAS Garmin 430) are 620 feet MSL and one mile visibility. That’s 427 above ground so a 1000 foot ceiling means breaking out 573 feet above the minimums. The ATIS reports visibility 3 miles in light rain. This is a non-precision approach which means it does not have vertical guidance. You step down your minimum descent altitude at several waypoints ELIRY, CORNY, and ESICU.

There is still an area of precipitation ahead although moderate and based on intensity on our onboard weather OK to fly through. This was an extension of the same area of precipitation running east from the airport and the eastern section towards the Andover area looked much worse. After descending to 4000 feet we entered the clouds and I was glad I’d already briefed the approach because it was pretty turbulent right away with some periods of pretty heavy rain and up and downdrafts.

Cold front position around the time we landed with the flight path highlighted.  Note the temperature contrasts and directly opposing side speed barbs on either side of the front.

Cold front position around the time we landed with the flight path highlighted. Note the temperature contrasts and directly opposing side speed barbs on either side of the front.

Now cleared to 3000 feet in the clouds with heavier rain starting, flying a set of controller vectors to intercept the final approach course between CORNY and ELIRY. It was a bit of a sloppy intercept with what was definitely a north wind of at least 20 knots aloft at this point. I put the gear down and flaps 10 crossing CORNY and contacted Nashua tower. Between CORNY and ESICU I can go down to 1,220 feet, and then down to 620 feet.

At this point I’m a bit left of course and struggling with chasing the needles a bit. I realized later that this is likely not helped by wind shear as the winds aloft are changing a fair bit as I descend. I was about a tenth of a mile left of course and 2 miles out when we popped out of the bottom of the clouds at 900 MSL (about 700 feet above ground). I kept the runway in sight and stayed above the MDA as I corrected back to the extended centerline. The runway was surprisingly shiny and wet looking, it was unusual. Just after this point I also put out flaps 20 although in retrospect this was premature. I should have held it at flaps 10 and kept the approach a bit faster until crossing the fence.

It was raining fairly hard as we touched down on the runway. After we taxied to the parking spot and shut down the engine we decided to sit in the plane for a bit and hope that the rain subsided. It got a tiny bit better and we ran the car around to unload the baggage to get at the tow bar which was buried. The airport was pretty deserted. We all got soaked as we transferred baggage, pushed the plane back, and tossed the cover on.

This was my lowest non-precision approach yet. The conditions were quite challenging. Flying an instrument approach in smooth stratus clouds in light winds is easy compared to flying an instrument approach in the bases of cumulus clouds in moderate rain, with strong winds and wind shear aloft. Either way, it’s always a great feeling to break out and see the runway.