Category Archives: ownership

400 hours

This entry wraps up two flights in one. Last weekend I did a solo local VFR flight on Sunday morning. I practiced steep turns and slow flight then took a look over at the road construction going on near our house. I dropped down to 1500 feet and circled the interchange between MA Route 2 and Interstate 495.

Railroad bridge construction at the top, Rt 2/495 interchange in the middle, Taylor St bridge at the bottom.

Railroad bridge construction at the top, Rt 2/495 interchange in the middle, Taylor St bridge at the bottom.

As you can see in the picture there are three interconnected construction sites. A bridge has been replaced where 495 crosses MA Route 2. They are preparing to demolish the old bridge. There is also construction going on where 495 crosses over the MBTA commuter rail. For this construction site they have been redirecting one direction of 495 over a temporary bridge constructed between the two permanent bridges. Then they are doing extensive work on the permanent bridge side with no traffic. Now the northbound side is going over the temporary bridge. Finally, the Taylor St bridge over 495 is being replaced.

After taking a few pictures of the construction site I climbed up a bit higher and headed back to Nashua. I practiced a steep power off approach with full flaps into Nashua. When I pushed the plane back I chatted for a bit with a flight instructor and his student from the local flight school. They were using the Cardinal’s different tail design to demonstrate the balance of forces acting on the airplane. Since the Cardinal places the front seats further forward relative to the wing (compared to a 172) the tail needs to be able to push down with greater force to balance the aircraft.

This Sunday I went flying again. I needed just 1.5 more hours to reach a big milestone: 400 hours. Abby and I had a delicious lunch at Midfield Cafe and then headed out. The original plan was to go to Rochester, NH (DAW) for some cheap fuel and then visit the big airport in Portland, ME and back to Nashua. We ended up cutting it a bit short after refueling and didn’t go to Portland after all. It was just too hot and we wanted to get back home to do some furniture shopping.

Abby took this picture from the shade while I refueled the plane.

Abby took this picture from the shade while I refueled the plane.

The weather was hazy, hot, and humid and it was definitely hot out on the ramp while refueling. The price was quite good at $4.45 and I pumped about 41 gallons into the tanks to give just shy of a full fuel load. We departed and climbed up high to try to find cooler air. It was a bit cooler higher up but I think we would have had to go to 7 or 8 thousand to find something reasonable. With the altitude under us we headed just offshore to circle the Isles of Shoals off the coast of NH and then headed back to Nashua.

The flight was still long enough to put my logbook exactly at the 400 mark, with 106 of them in the last 12 months. I’m looking forward to the next hundred and more!

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.

Hour Count

  • Total time: 377 hours
  • Last 12 months: 99 hours
  • Time in the Cardinal: 287 hours
  • Landings: 544 (330 in the Cardinal)
  • Instrument approaches: 69
  • Actual instrument: 22 hours

2013 in Review

I haven’t made anywhere near as many blog posts as I would have liked so many of my devoted readers may be wondering if I’ve been flying. In fact, 2013 has been a fantastic year for aviation. I’ve flown 103.8 hours in 2013, more than ever before.

As some may remember I had a number of goals for aviation in 2013, and I managed to accomplish most of them. Here is the list of goals from my review of 2012. I did pretty well.

  • Obtain my instrument rating. I have about 20 hours to go to meet the minimum requirement and take the check ride. I also still need to pass my instrument written. Done! I got my instrument rating in August.
  • Fly more than 100 hours. I would easily have done this in 2012 if it weren’t for the lengthy annual so I think I will easily meet this goal. Done! I flew 103.8 hours in 2013.
  • Fly to San Antonio, Texas for Lone Star Con. I want to make a long cross country trip. Lone Star Con (around Labor day weekend next year) is the perfect opportunity to do this with an overnight stop in a different city in each direction. The straight line distance is just over 1500 nautical miles. I did it!
  • Fly to Canada. My sister in law is in Toronto and Quebec would be a great destination too. Nope! There was an opportunity to visit them in the late fall when Abby was flying commercial to attend a conference. However, there were instrument conditions forecast along the route and with the time of year icing was definitely a concern and I could not make the trip.
  • Take some flying videos. I made a few when I was flying the rental 172 but haven’t yet in the Cardinal. Did one…

Getting my instrument rating was certainly my biggest achievement of 2013. Detailed in a bunch of blog posts I had already made significant progress towards my rating in 2012. But I didn’t dig into my instrument rating again until late Spring at which point I went all out and completed it. Getting the rating was a lot of fun and really improved my flying precision and finesse.

I had no problems passing my instrument checkride and the DPE complimented my extensively on my flying and comfort with the airplane. I credit the extensive experience and familiarity you get with an airplane you own with this. The examiner told me I would have no problem accomplishing any further ratings. So maybe in 2014 or 2015 I will go through the work of obtaining a commercial certificate for fun.

Soon after getting my instrument rating I set off on the most epic aviation journey I’ve done yet (and one of my goals from above). I hope to write up a bit more soon about this but don’t hold your breath since this has been waiting since Labor Day weekend! My epic journey was halfway across the United States from East to West and almost all the way down to the South from Nashua, NH to San Antonio, TX for the World Science Fiction convention.

While I volunteered for the convention I deliberately did not assign myself any tasks ahead of time so that I had no time pressure. My wife traveled separately on commercial flights both to avoid time pressure and because the long duration of the flight would probably be uncomfortable for her. So my journey was solo in both directions. It was a blast!

I filed IFR for every leg. I did an actual instrument approach (an ILS) in Johnstown, PA. Then I dodged some convective weather on my way from there to Danville, KY where I did a GPS approach due to haze. Finally I finished out the day with a sunset visual approach into Memphis, TN.

On my second day I flew from Memphis to Shreveport, LA with a visual approach. The final leg from Shreveport to San Antonio I climbed to 10,000 to mostly stay above a broken stratocumulus layer. I ended up getting another good dose of actual as I had to penetrate some of this deck as it rose up getting towards the southern parts of Texas.

On the way back I took a different route to Russelville, AR then St. Louis, MO on the first day and Muncie, IN, and Franklin, PA stops on the way back. The trip back was almost completely visual conditions with no clouds and severe clear under high pressure with a tailwind. You can’t ask for better aviating weather!

I posted some pictures from this trip, unfortunately not annotated with any captions. You can take a look. I still hope to write up a bit more about the trip with the pictures…

More random highlights from 2013:

  • Flew to Philadelphia (VFR) for our anniversary and stayed at the Philly International airport.
  • Landed in squirrely 27 knot wind gusts in Bethel, ME
  • Went to the Cape/Islands several times including for the Arisia Relaxacon
  • Experienced night IFR conditions

Finally, my new goals for 2014.

  • Fly to Charleston, SC. My sister leaves here and every year there is a family gathering in Folly Beach, SC. I was hoping to fly down in 2013 but I didn’t have my instrument rating in time.
  • Fly to Toronto. I missed this last year but hope to do it this in 2014!
  • Gain more actual instrument experience.
  • Obtain a new rating? The Commercial Certificate is obviously the next step in the normal progression. Though I’m not up for my BFR until August 2015 the Commercial Certificate requires a relatively small amount of instructor time so it wouldn’t be too costly.
  • Finally… blog! I was fantastic about updating the blog in 2012 and really blew it in 2013. I hope that I can get back to writing this coming year! I know many of my readers have enjoyed hearing about all of the Cardinal adventures.

The Cardinal is currently in Fitchburg undergoing its annual inspection (ideally timed for the depth of winter!). Hopefully this will be resolved soon and I will be flying again soon. And even more important to readers of this blog I am resolving to write some proper blog entries in 2014! See you then!

2012 in Review

Readers of this blog may be wondering what happened with no posts in several months! Unfortunately the answer is that I have been suffering through the airplane owner’s ritual of the Annual Inspection and resulting maintenance. Between parts sent out for overhaul, additional parts needing to be ordered, and the holidays it has taken a long time to get the Cardinal back to airworthy state. The good news is that the airplane is now in great shape.

While everything was apart for the annual inspection two new upgrades would be installed. The first was a Reiff engine preheater. This is an electric cylinder and oil heater that plugs in to preheat the engine for winter flying. This will make for much easier winter starts and greatly reduce the wear seen in a cold start.

The second upgrade was installation of a Rosen Sunvisor kit. The old visors in the Cardinal were in terrible shape and frequently flopped down and hit the pilot and copilot in the head! Plus, some velcro had been previously used to try and stick the visors to the ceiling and it was a gooey, sticky, not adhesive enough mess. Unfortunately the Rosen sunvisors turned out to be a bit more of a project than expected because much of the plastic trim pieces were very brittle. Now there are fresh plastic pieces which look very nice along with the sunvisors.

Several issues were discovered during the annual inspection. The several big items were the discovery of loose baffles (by borescope inspection) in both left and right mufflers. This required sending the exhaust off for refabrication. The new exhaust is nice and shiny and should last many years.

Another major surprise was the discovery that an airworthiness directive on the Prop governor oil line was previously not properly complied with. The AD calls for a specific type of hose that must be replaced at engine overhaul. The hose type was not correct and the fittings were also not compliant. By replacing the rubber hose with a stainless steel line the AD is permanently complied with, so it is now resolved.

The left hand aileron bearing was becoming seized. I hadn’t noticed much control stiffness but in retrospect the ailerons were getting a bit stiff. I had assumed this was related to lubrication that would be refreshed at the annual but it turned out to be the bearing where the aileron attaches to the wing. There is not much difference in cruise due to the higher aerodynamic forces but in slow flight and landing and taxiing the ailerons move much smoother now. This might help my landings too!

And, considerable work was done on the landing gear to make sure it was in the best shape. The left hand main and nosegear tires were very worn and were replaced. The nose gear actuator was leaking slightly and was rebuilt. The nose gear strut was leaking at the seal, and after opening it up the steering bearing inside was found to be rusted and freezing up. In fact, this can be lubricated with a grease fitting (and should be at each annual) but it had not been done in some time. During the process of replacing the tire a crack was seen in the wheel halves. This was due to a previous mechanic over tightening the wheel bolts which stretched the bolt hole and cracked it! A good lesson in why you use a torque wrench. Fortunately the shop was able to find a pair of servicable used wheel halves.

On the engine a few small oil leaks were fixed and some hairline cracks were observed in fuel injector lines. The old style lines are susceptible to cracking like this. Two lines were previously replaced with the new style lines and now all lines are the new style. Compressions, oil filter cut open, and oil analysis all showed excellent results.

Finally, faced with the need to install a doubler plate around the ADF antenna in the belly I elected to remove the ADF entirely. It didn’t work anyway and technically if it’s in the plane it is supposed to work. Especially with my instrument rating checkride presumably in the next year I would prefer not to have to deal with questions about the nonworking ADF. Perhaps a knot of cruise airspeed will be gained with the removal of the long wire ADF antenna up top and a bit over 6 pounds of useful load was increased by removing the ADF and antennas!

Overall I’m very pleased with the quality of the inspection by Twin City Airmotive in Fitchburg, MA. The work did take a long time to complete and that is my one regret. From what I have seen the quality of the work they have done is meticulous and I definitely feel safer in the airplane knowing it has just had this work done. And, because the annual is due one year from the logbook sign off then the next annual inspect won’t be due until January 2014!

I’ve only flown 0.4 in the plane so far, ferrying it back from Fitchburg. Mark from Twin City Airmotive flew his Piper Cherokee 140 up from Fitchburg to Nashua to meet me so I didn’t have to deal with car shuffling. It was weird to sit right seat and also this was my first time in a low wing (other than big jets). Mark let me fly for a bit and while I didn’t log it I suppose I have about 10 minutes of Cherokee time! The good news is that the Cardinal flew great and despite almost two and a half months of hiatus I actually made an excellent smooth landing in Nashua.

2012 in Review

I flew 2.9 total in two flights in a Cessna Cutlass (172RG) in January. Then, after closing on the Cardinal in March I flew 88.1 hours in N52667. That means 91 hours flown in 2012. My total time at the end of 2012 was 175.9. This compares to 77.8 hours flown in 2011.

My aviation goals for 2013 include:

  • Obtain my instrument rating. I have about 20 hours to go to meet the minimum requirement and take the check ride. I also still need to pass my instrument written.
  • Fly more than 100 hours. I would easily have done this in 2012 if it weren’t for the lengthy annual so I think I will easily meet this goal.
  • Fly to San Antonio, Texas for Lone Star Con. I want to make a long cross country trip. Lone Star Con (around Labor day weekend next year) is the perfect opportunity to do this with an overnight stop in a different city in each direction. The straight line distance is just over 1500 nautical miles.
  • Fly to Canada. My sister in law is in Toronto and Quebec would be a great destination too.
  • Take some flying videos. I made a few when I was flying the rental 172 but haven’t yet in the Cardinal.

It’s been a great year and I’ve developed tremendously as a pilot. The ability to fly on a whim and the other benefits of ownership were definitely a big factor. Overnight XC trips have led me to experience more various weather conditions. I’m sure 2013 will bring even more fun and new experiences.

Starting the Lycoming IO-360

Starting an airplane engine is not like starting a modern car. The engine in the Cardinal is a fuel injected Lycoming IO-360. Unlike automotive engines fuel injected aircraft engines are actually often harder to start than their carbureted cousins – especially when the engine is already warm.

The cooling airflow on an aircraft engine flows into the cowling above the engine, down past cooling fins, and out the bottom. This means that during flight the coolest part of the cowling is above the engine. Of course, once parked with a hot engine the top of the cowling is the hottest part because heat rises. Since it is more important to avoid any issues with vapor lock in flight than on the ground the fuel injector lines are positioned above the engine. This eliminates any issues with vaporize fuel in the lines in flight.

On the ground with the engine warm this is an impediment. As heat rises off of the engine first the fuel expands and some of it that remains in the lines dribbles out of the injectors into the intake manifold. This leaves the mixture in the manifold too rich to start. And of course this also leaves vapor in the lines. So there is a different procedure to follow in the Cardinal for warm and cold starts after confirming that the fuel selector is on both and the cowl flaps are open.

For a cold start: Move the mixture handle and throttle full forward (mixture rich, throttle full open). Turn on the master switch then operate the electric boost pump for several seconds. I choose a time varying between 3 and 5 seconds depending on the outdoor temperature. Then move the mixture to idle cut-off and the throttle to approximately a quarter of an inch. With hand on the throttle crank until the engine starts then slowly advance the mixture after adjusting the throttle as needed.

For a warm start: No priming! The intake manifold already has a rich mixture in it. Instead, move the mixture to idle cut off and throttle a quarter of an inch. Start cranking for a few seconds. If the engine has not started start slowly advancing the throttle to search for the mixture point where it will light off. Once it starts, pull the throttle back to 1200 RPM and advance the mixture forward. It will take several more blades (rotations of the prop) for the engine to start but that is normal for a warm start.

After starting pull the mixture back to lean for all ground operations to prevent any issues with plug fouling. This can be done quite aggressively and many advocate a lean point where even advancing the throttle for take off will cause the engine to stumble and quit. This also eliminates the chance that you will accidentally take off with a mixture that is too lean.

As you can see starting a fuel injected aircraft engine takes three hands! You’ll learn the techniques that work best for your particular aircraft. But most Lycoming fuel injected engines start similar to this. It isn’t anything to be afraid of and after a few starts you will be an expert. Make sure you don’t over prime, especially when warm!

Home away from home

On Monday Nashua closes the existing runway 14-32 for construction. This leaves Nashua with no runway until the new Runway 14-32 opens, scheduled for September 3. It will be open for helicopter operations but obviously doesn’t help me. Thankfully nearby Fitchburg airport (FIT) has offered free tie-downs for the month to anyone displaced by the Nashua construction.

Since I will be busy this weekend I moved the Cardinal from Nashua to Fitchburg this evening. I was able to get a ride from work up to Nashua and had a chance to do some “hangar flying” with my A&P and a renter at the flight school where I have been training. Finally I headed off to Fitchburg.

It’s a quick hop – just 24 minutes from engine start to engine stop even with a slight headwind. Fitchburg was quiet when I came in and I elected to use Runway 14 which had a light but almost direct crosswind at 5 knots. Soon after I landed another aircraft did some pattern work on 32. In retrospect the airport notes say “surface winds less than 5 knots use runway 32″. Since it was exactly 5 knots I did use 14 but 32 would have worked fine too – there is plenty of runway for me at Fitchburg.

My pattern was well executed and the final approach was very nice. I felt much more ahead of the airplane than when I flew on Saturday. I flared a bit early and aggressively which is probably a combination of old 172 flying habits and the fact that the plane was light with just me and 20 gallons of fuel (the difference between that and a full fuel load is 240 pounds). But the landing was still fine. The plane that was doing touch and goes after I landed had a few ugly ones too!

N52667 on the ramp at Fitchburg.

I picked an available tie-down spot and checked in at the desk. Now I have tie-down #80 at Fitchburg for the next three and a half weeks. Thanks again to the airport – I will definitely be buying fuel before Nashua is back open!

Finally, back in the air!

Forgive me, it has been 3 weeks since I have been flying! My last post ended with a gear hydraulic pump problem and this has been the primary reason. In fact, there were two problems with the gear. The hydraulic actuator for the main gear had an ancient O-ring which essentially disintegrated when my A&P removed it from the actuator. Obviously a problem! However, even after reassembling the hydraulic actuator the gear pump continued to run rapidly indicating an internal leak and had to be sent off to be rebuilt.

Unfortunately this meant that Abby and I couldn’t fly up to Burlington, VT last weekend for our anniversary. We drove instead. Turning a 1 hour flight into a three and and half hour drive is a nice reminder of the utility of flying. But my disappointment turned out to be somewhat moot as the weather (while beautiful in Burlington) was IFR or marginal at home all weekend. More motivation to work on my instrument rating!

Finally I got the call I was waiting for and the pump was back in, the gear swing checked out on the jacks, and everything looked good. I went up to the airport on Saturday morning and chatted for a bit before taking the Cardinal for a test flight. I planned to do three trips around the pattern and if everything looked good I’d stop back at the shop and settle the bill.

Well, after a month of not flying I have to say the plane was flying better than I was! Nothing too bad but the greaser landings I was getting used to were nowhere to be found. All three landings were fine but I was just a hair behind the plane and the approaches were on speed but required more fiddling with power than I like. Each one was a bit better than the last. The only blip to the alternator needle was the typical tiny pulse as the rotating beacon goes on and off.

I taxied back and paid the bill, then headed off to Fitchburg (FIT). Adding to my anxiety about getting the plane back is the fact that Nashua airport will be closing a week from Monday for three weeks due to construction. For many months now they have been constructing a new long, wider runway next to the old runway. The goal is to have a new longer runway which has greater taxiway separation required by standards for larger jets. The existing parallel taxiway Alpha will remain in the same location and the old runway will be removed. Right now the new runway is essentially done but unmarked and has no taxiway connections. In the next three weeks both runways will be closed as the old runway is demolished to extend taxiways to the new runway before it opens on September 3rd.

Fitchburg airport has been kind enough to offer free tie down space for the month to “refugees” from Nashua (along with Manchester airport). I’ll buy fuel from them and otherwise support the airport so this is a mutually beneficial deal. Fitchburg is about the same distance from home for me so this arrangement is great. But I needed to stop by the airport and sign some paperwork and make arrangements so Saturday was perfect.

The gear pump didn’t run at all (except when I wanted it too :) on the way over to Fitchburg. The pattern was busy with several planes approaching the airport so I kept my head on a swivel. Most of the traffic was following in behind me and a helicopter just west of the airport had me in sight (and I had them in sight) so I made my pattern. The landing was fine but still not a “greaser”. Fitchburg’s runway and taxiway surfaces are not as smooth as even the old runway at Nashua so that adds to the roughness.

I taxied up to a spot in front of the building which contains the airport operations office and a small restaurant. I chatted for a bit with the person at the desk there, signed my paperwork, and arranged to bring the Cardinal into its temporary home on Wednesday evening. I also got a temporary card to let me in the gate at Fitchburg. Now I just need to figure out the logistics for getting my to Nashua airport and my wife to Fitchburg to pick me up Wednesday evening!

Since it was noon time I checked out the restaurant and got a tasty bacon cheeseburger with swiss cheese and grilled onions. Friendly folks and a typical airport restaurant with several groups of pilots flying in. I’m sure they will get some additional business from other pilots displaced from Nashua for the month.

My flight back to Nashua was quick and bumpy with cumulus towers building. No gear issues. Still not a super smooth landing but this time with the winds reported as 6 knots gusting to 12 I can at least attempt blame the wind! I suspect it will not take long before I am back to making those greasers.

Weekend trip to Cape Cod

So I flew my first weekend trip this weekend. I never did it as a renter because of all of the complications but owning the Cardinal makes this easy. The destination was Dennisport, MA on Cape Cod for a relaxing gathering of staff for a science fiction convention I volunteer for called Arisia. My wife was co-running the “Relaxacon” event so she had to drive down earlier. Another attendee was able to pick me up at the Hyannis airport so I didn’t even need to rent a car for the weekend.

I had two passengers for this trip, friends of mine who were also attending the Relaxcon. Neither have flown with me before but have expressed interest in flying before so it seemed perfect. They had to work on Friday so I headed up to the airport a bit early and did my preflight then met them as they got to the airport. One of my friends brought a big tub of board games. Unfortunately due to the “hump” in the middle of the RG’s baggage compartment (the space where the main gear wheels retract into) the entire bin couldn’t go in so we loaded up individual games. I weighed baggage with a little baggage scale and estimated things like a bag from the liquor store and the board games (light). Weight and balance would have been fine with full fuel and I had less than a full fuel load so everything was good to go.

One of my two passengers took a bunch of good photos, but he is still going through them. So I’ll update this post later and add his photos.

The takeoff roll was fine, the weather nice, and a beacon code had already been obtained from Nashua ground for the eventual Bravo transit. But when I retracted the flaps after takeoff there was a sudden whooshing sound as the baggage door popped open. Whoops. The latch was flakey and this time the full baggage compartment meant things were pressed against the door. Training kicked in and my thought was “fly the airplane”. Remembering what I read on CFO about the baggage door latch I extended flaps 10 again and nosed over just a little bit to increase air flow down wash in the vicinity of the baggage door. The door immediately slammed closed. I called Nashua tower and told them we had a baggage door problem and would be returning. I kept flaps 10 in the whole time and asked my rear seat passenger if anything had fallen out. He said no, we didn’t lose any the liquor store bag or any board games! Oh good. I gave quick reassurances that we would just return to secure the door and my passengers were not alarmed.

Nashua tower asked me to squawk VFR on downwind. I probably should have said “standby” or “unable” since the extra workload delayed my gear extension and it was when I did my turning final gear check that I actually put the gear down. Typically I put it down midfield downwind. With flaps 20 I made a perfectly good landing and asked to taxi to the ramp. I just parked on the corner of the ramp where I could pull through and shut off the engine then got out and securely closed the baggage door moving some things away from it. Nothing fell out but the Royalite plastic panel on the back of the door was quite chewed up (it was already somewhat cracked as the 35 year old stuff is very brittle). A replacement baggage latch has been ordered as well as a replacement plastic panel!

The delay was only about 15 minutes and we were assigned a new squawk code for Boston Approach. Fortunately my passengers were totally unconcerned. The second time around everything went smoothly. Our desired cruising altitude of 5500 was modified by Boston approach upon clearance to enter the Bravo at 3500 and that would be our final altitude (of course we could climb higher after leaving the bravo but there was little point). The controllers gave a few vectors 10 degrees left or right as the direct path between Nashua and Hyannis goes right over the heart of Boston and right over the approach end of Runway 04L/R at Logan Airport. It was very cool to watch jets on short final and taking off beneath us!

After exiting the Bravo Boston Approach passed us off to Cape Approach who sounded a bit more bored than the rapid fire instructions everyone was getting from Boston Approach. He told me to contact tower 15 miles out and I made a straight in for runway 15. This was almost exactly aligned with my course line. It was a few minutes after sunset and I made an excellent greaser landing and held the nosewheel off for quite a good distance.

I had previously contacted Rectrix (FBO at Hyannis) to ask about the charges to stay two nights. The email response was that all fees including the two nights would be waived with a modest fuel purchase. Plus the fuel price was better than it is at home! With them expecting us they parked the Cardinal right out front and brought out a baggage card, even helped unload all of the board games. I highly recommend this FBO if you are going to the Cape.

My original plan was to take some friends from the Relaxacon on Saturday and do a sightseeing tour of Cape Cod. Alas, mother nature did not approve and Friday night a fairly strong Nor’easter weather event began to hit the Cape. I knew this was coming and the weather was forecast to improve for at least a period on Sunday. I don’t have work this week so worst case I would get stuck on the Cape for longer than expect, oh no!

The weather was indeed wild on Saturday with gusts to 30 knots and constant IFR conditions, heavy rain, and our beachfront spot was getting pounded with surf all day Saturday. Fortunately there was plenty of board gaming, chatting, and all sorts of fun stuff. By Sunday morning it was remarkably calm with low ceilings. I suspect the calm winds were because the low pressure center was almost exactly on top of us and this appeared to be corroborated by looking at the HPC surface analysis chart. As the day went on and I nervously checked TAFs it did improve to MVFR then VFR conditions but winds picked up more than expected and it appeared that the ride back would be quite bumpy and might not take me all the way back to Nashua. So my passengers for the way back decided to hitch a ride by car which worked perfectly well and eliminated external pressures on me which was good.

I hitched a ride back to Rectrix and asked them to top off the tank. Unfortunately the fueler who also handles another FBO on the field was quite busy and it took a little while. No matter, the conditions were still improving slowly and although the winds were quite gusty at Hyannis they were straight down the runway and the winds at Nashua were reasonable. Looking at METARs and satellite photos revealed that it would be best to climb through some of the now reasonable large holes in a scattered layer of clouds and travel above the deck in the environment of the Cape Code canal and southeast Massachusetts because it cleared up almost completely around the I-495 belt.

It was quite tricky to do the preflight because the winds were so strong. Finally I had completed it and taxied out for takeoff. ATIS reported winds at 16 gusting to 26 knots, straight down the runway! This was a very short takeoff roll followed by a bucking bronco climb!! When I started my flight training this would have had me puking before reaching pattern altitude (slight exaggeration). Now I just go “woohoo!” and hang on.

There was a nice big hole to climb through off the departure end of the runway which was also basically the heading directly to Nashua (winds had shifted 180 degrees after the passage of the low). So I pitched up into a Vx climb with a few small turns to slip through the hole. Maintaining Class E legal VFR was no problem. I climbed to 6500 and headed left of the direct course to avoid the Boston Class Bravo. Since I was not guaranteed the ability to get back down below the layer closer to Nashua my plan was to turn more towards the west where I knew it was clear (from the satellite photo as well as an informal PIREP from a pilot arriving into Hyannis in a Beech Baron from NJ).

Climbing to 6500 was good, plenty of clearance above the layer. It was smooth there and clear enough to see where there were a few anvil shaped Cb clouds far west, over western Massachusetts. Soon I was to the point where I wanted to descend again and found a suitable hole to duck through the scattered layer. The area I had flown over was a complete overcast at times but on my northwest heading it was clearing up completely. At this point I descent below the clouds and began to follow the I495 corridor around to maintain clear of the Boston Class Bravo. Since I had to get pretty low to maintain VFR below this scattered/broken layer around 2500-3000 feet I decided to pick my way around the Bravo instead of needing to deviate a lot for clouds. Unfortunately below the deck it was pretty turbulent and at times I was getting beat up pretty hard – definitely moderate. I rolled the prop RPM back to reduce power and fly a few knots slower. Thanks to the low’s passage I also got to enjoy headwinds both ways, ugh!

The route I took picking around clouds and Boston's Class Bravo.

Once passing the western point of the Bravo around Framingham I proceeding on course direct to Nashua with a few sprinkles on the windshield, no factor. Arriving in to Nashua on a left base for Runway 32 I found that the crosswind from about 30 degrees off the runway was quite gusty. On my first approach I didn’t carry enough extra speed and the winds died down considerable as I was flaring leading to a sudden drop and a bounce and a drift in the bounce as I wasn’t fast enough to get the correction out. I decided to cram it and do a go-around, full throttle, flaps to 10, climbing again. Following the advice of my transition training instructor I specifically did not raise the gear for this go-around. The rationale here is that the gear cycle time is long, the time going around the pattern is short, and the likelihood of forgetting the gear while stressed about the conditions that warranted the go-around is high.

The second approach was better. I carried a bit of extra speed. Of course this time the wind picked up as I flared to land and I drifted left a bit. I corrected in time to stop any side load as the wheels touched down but I didn’t make it back to the centerline and landed on the left half of the runway (it’s also normal for a gust to move the wind farther to the right). I need to do some good crosswind practice, these are probably the highest winds I have flown in the Cardinal and the aileron response is different enough to require some training away from what I’m used to for the 172.

The whole trip was 2.4 hours logged. This trip ended up being a great motivation to get my instrument rating. While I was able to make the trip back VFR an instrument rating would have significantly decreased my stress level and need to constantly refresh weather information and forecaster discussions on Saturday. It would also have allowed me to remain at a cruising altitude in smooth air above the clouds on Sunday and would likely have shortened the trip by eliminating the need to find clearer areas. I’ve updated the Jepp database in my 430 and I am doing some background studying so I can launch into instrument training soon.

Impromptu Flying

Abby and I were in Nashua this afternoon to meet with someone at a bank. Things wrapped up around 16:30 and since the weather was nice I suggested we drop by the airport and fly for a bit. I believe my initial request was a “coupla laps around the pattern” but we did a bit more than that.

This is truly the benefit of ownership. I had my flight bag and everything needed in the back of the car since I knew we were going to be up in Nashua. By the time I got to the airport my typical renter FBO was already wrapped up for the day and there was no way I could have rented a plane on such short notice. But I was able to head over to the airport and fly an hour without arranging anything in advance.

I decided to start with two laps in the pattern. By the time I finished my run-up and pulled up to the hold short line there was a business jet waiting behind me. So why not stay in the pattern and get to see them takeoff? I did two nice landings in the pattern following a Civil Air Patrol plane then told Nashua tower we’d like to depart to the West.

Abby’s parents live in Hollis, NH which neighbors Nashua to the west. Many times I’ve flown over the general vicinity approaching the airport but generally I don’t have the extra mental energy to look around for the house during that phase of flight. This time I specifically requested from Tower to maneuver in the Hollis area at 2000 feet and this was readily approved (the house is well within Nashua’s class Delta airspace).

Abby spotted the house and then we headed out to the west. There was an area of VFR rain showers to the south and I stuck relatively low – around 2500 feet – and asked Abby if she wanted to do some flying. Everything was nicely trimmed for level flight so I introduced her to turns with rudder coordination and adding the appropriate amount of back pressure for a level turn. With some turn practice in and a few drops on the windshield I turned away for one last demonstration. I told Abby to look forward at the sight picture and then do whatever she needed to do to keep us flying straight and level. At that point I began to roll in nose down trim. Once she felt what it was like to fight against the trim I had her continue to fly straight and level while she adjusted the trim and she did a good job.

I tried to keep Abby with me on the controls to feel my inputs as we headed back to the airport but once we got close I was concentrating on the landing and she was back to being a passenger. Afterwards I suggested that next time we should try some “slow flight” in the practice area with flaps and gear down to see how different things feel in this configuration. Teaching is fun!