Category Archives: trips

Anniversary Trip to Burlington, VT

Abby and I traveled to Burlington, VT for our anniversary July 24. We’d been to Burlington once before and for the same reason, but that time we couldn’t fly. At the time I didn’t have my instrument rating and was a much greener pilot. Burlington is definitely within the sweet spot for flying, it takes around 3 hours to drive but just an hour enroute to fly.

We left work a bit early on Friday and headed up to the airport. Widely scattered thunderstorms were forecast over southern NH and MA and some had already cropped up. As is often the case with summer storms the activity was predicted to wane as the sun got lower in the sky. Widely scattered storms are also easy to avoid. Even when flying under instrument flight rules you want to remain where you can have continuous visual contact with convective weather like thunderstorms. We also have onboard weather information included RADAR data relayed from ground stations thanks to the Foreflight Stratus box. This data isn’t real time, so it’s best to use it for strategic decisions and use the “Mark 1 Eyeball” for primary thunderstorm avoidance.

After departure we turned on course towards Lebanon, NH. Soon our flight path was headed between two developing thunderstorm cells. We worked with ATC to deviate our path slightly and shot the gap with 15-20 miles on either side between us and each storm. The whole time we had excellent visual and at 6000 feet just skimmed the very bottom of a thin cloud layer.

Thunderstorm from a distance. The sharp edge of precipitation is a hallmark of convective weather. Arcus cloud formed from outflow air.

Thunderstorm from a distance. The sharp edge of precipitation is a hallmark of convective weather. Arcus cloud formed from outflow air.

The nice part about being a good safe distance from a thunderstorm is the view. In this case there wasn’t obvious lightning but the area of extreme heavy rain contrasted sharply with clear air around it. Soon we were leaving the pair of dying thunderstorms in our six o’clock and back on course direct to the Lebanon VOR.

Gorgeous calm and sunset after the storm.

Gorgeous calm and sunset after the storm.

Eventually we climbed to 8000 feet to clear terrain southeast of Burlington and then were cleared for descent. Conditions were gorgeous and calm coming in with high clouds reflecting golden light. Runway 33 was in use which was about a 16 mile visual final approach starting at 7000 feet because of the terrain. It’s a good exercise in energy and speed management. I kept the speed up most of the way and then dumped it within about a mile of the runway.

All the many amenities at Heritage Aviation in Burlington.

All the many amenities at Heritage Aviation in Burlington.

Heritage Aviation in Burlington is one of the nicest FBOs I’ve ever been to. The entire building is LEED Gold certified and they have a solar panel installation and even a wind turbine nearby. The roof of the building is a “green roof” with grass and vegetation which improves building temperature regulation. We explored some of the FBO building while waiting for the courtesy shuttle from our hotel.

One of the nice things about Burlington is that it’s a very walkable and accessible city without a car. We stayed at the Hilton downtown and with the hotel courtesy shuttle there wasn’t even any need to rent a car or taxi. We just walked around the city all weekend enjoying food and drink.

Abby had plans Sunday afternoon so we headed back in the morning on Sunday. I called ahead to have the plane fueled and ready and we loaded bags and did a preflight check. When we arrived back at the FBO I was very amused to hear the folks at the front desk alert the line guys that “the crew from 52667 is here”. Given that there are only two of us this was a particularly funny phrasing. I guess we are both the crew!

After departure we climbed into the clouds on a heading almost straight out. It’s always disconcerting knowing there are mountains ahead you can’t see. But we were well above the terrain when we crossed. Leveling off at 7000 feet we were just in and out of the tops of the clouds. ATC gave a short vector for traffic then on course, again routed via LEB.

Soon we emerged from the higher clouds and were cruising along at 7000 feet far above an extensive overcast deck. My preflight briefing had revealed that we would probably need to fly an instrument approach into runway 14 at Nashua, and also that the vertical guidance portion of the ILS (instrument landing system) was out of service. Fortunately we can fall back on the RNAV/GPS runway 14 approach. With the equipment I have in the plane this approach does not have minimums quite as low as the ILS, but ceilings were around 1000 feet which is sufficient for the RNAV approach.

I managed to get the approach briefed before heading into the clouds. We followed ATC vectors to join the final approach course and then were cleared for the approach. With an RNAV approach this means you can descend according to a schedule of waypoints until finally descending to 700 feet (500 above the surface).

Excerpt from RNAV 14 approach plate, minimums 700 MSL and 1/2 visibility.  Nashua is at 200 feet.  I do not have equipment to fly LPV or VNAV.

Excerpt from RNAV 14 approach plate, minimums 700 MSL and 1/2 mile visibility. Nashua is at 200 feet. I do not have equipment to fly LPV or VNAV.

After Approach told us to contact tower Abby asked me if I wanted her to make the radio call. She is not a rated pilot but knows her way around the radio. Good single pilot/crew resource management suggest to use all available resources to further the safety of the flight and this is a perfect example. Hand flying in IMC is a serious task that requires a lot of concentration. In an two pilot airline cockpit the pilot not flying the airplane would be the one making all of the radio calls.

Abby called up the tower to report us inbound on the RNAV 14 at NORIY and we were cleared to land. I continued the approach and broke out into good visibility around 1000 above ground. At this point with the runway in sight I continued and made a nice landing. One hour from Burlington to Nashua including the time taken to fly an instrument approach!

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.

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.

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.

Relaxacon.

Relaxacon.

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.

Balticon

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!

Flying home from Charleston, SC

I have been neglecting this blog for some time despite tons of flying. After a long XC flight yesterday I woke up with a desire to write about it so here we go! For the first time this year all of the various complexities aligned and I was finally able to fly the Cardinal down to Charleston, SC for our yearly vacation with my family in Folly Beach. The flight down with Abby was great too but I’ll start blogging again with my solo flight back (Abby flew back commercial midweek).

My plan was to fly back on Saturday with the available room to change the plan to fly back on either Friday or Sunday. It’s always good to be a bit flexible when flying a light general aviation aircraft especially over such a long distance where it is likely you’ll pass through at least some interesting weather somewhere along the way. While I do have my instrument rating and I wouldn’t make this trip without it the IR still doesn’t help the Cardinal in the face of thunderstorms or icing below minimum enroute altitudes.

As usual I began looking at synoptic scale forecasts several days out. The forecast called for a warm front to lift through the Carolinas bringing unstable air and the potential for widespread thunderstorms by the afternoon hours. In the morning rain was predicted, but this rain was associated with stable warm moist air “over-running” the surface warm front, not rain associated with convection (thunderstorms). Because of this forecast the biggest change to my ideal plan was to push my planned departure towards the earlier end of the morning and I made plans to be off by 10AM. On the plus side the push of northward moving air associated with the front would give me a nice tailwind leaving the south.

The total trip from Charleston Executive (JZI) back home to Nashua (ASH) is just a bit long for a single leg without a fuel stop. So I planned a fuel stop a bit before halfway in Newport News, VA (PHF). This stop location had two benefits, one practical and one silly: 1) Choosing a towered airport for the “tech stop” makes dealing with IFR clearance easier and quicker, and 2) I hadn’t landed in Virginia yet, so Newport News would let me check Virginia off of the visited states map!

For the first leg of the journey between JZI and PHF I filed an off-airway routing at 5000 feet using a few VORs that were within a few miles of the direct route: LBT (Lumberton, NC) TYI (Tar River, NC) and FKN (Franklin, VA). There is very little terrain in this area and 5000 feet is well above any obstacles. With the expected tailwind the total time was a bit over two hours.

Flying along coastal SC in light rain.

Flying along coastal SC in light rain.

After loading up all of the baggage (including my folding bike, a box of kitchen supplies, and Abby’s suitcase that she didn’t need to take back with her) I departed Charleston Executive at 10AM. There were high clouds with no rain quite yet but rain had already started along the first part of the route and at my destination. Since Charleston Executive is an untowered airport but I was able to depart in VFR conditions I departed VFR and then called up Charleston Approach for my IFR clearance. Cleared to the Newport News airport As Filed, climb and maintain 5000, then a vector for traffic which I spotted passing off the left wing as the light rain started.

Soon I was in steady light rain that continued for a bit more than an hour. The Cardinal has a minor leaking problem along the doors in heavier rain, not uncommon among Cardinals with original 1970s door seals. I used the small hand towel I carry in the seat back pockets to periodically wipe along the door frame and stayed mostly dry. Eventually what was still visible of the ground disappeared beneath me as I slipped between rolling stratus cloud layers. Finally well into North Carolina I popped back into the clear exactly where my ADS-B weather radar showed the precip ending.

Smoke from agricultural burning in NC demonstrates the tailwind.

Smoke from agricultural burning in NC demonstrates the tailwind.

Now I was out of the clouds in hazy air with farmland below. Many years in the past I’ve driven this same trip down I-95 and I was amused to find that the clearer weather coincided exactly with the part of the routing that intersected I-95 around Rocky Mount, NC – a spot we’ve often stopped at for breakfast after a long night of driving. The tailwind continued pushing me along with ground speeds between 150 and 160 knots!

My ADS-B radar display continued to show another area of steady light rain around Newport News. You can also look up METARs (current weather conditions) using the ADS-B weather data broadcast. At this point I couldn’t receive the ATIS broadcast from Newport News yet but the METAR retrieved indicate high cloud bases and light rain. An instrument approach would be useful to find the airport in the lowered visibility of the rain but it wouldn’t have to be anywhere near minimums.

After picking up the ATIS I briefed the ILS Runway 7 and was cleared direct to JAWES intersection by Norfolk approach. I was out of the clouds but didn’t spot the runway until a bit inside the final approach fix because of the rain. The wind was straight down runway 7 as I landed and turned off. No problems getting stopped on the wet runway. I taxied to Rick Aviation which is the independent FBO with a cheaper fuel price and asked for a quick turn top off while I went inside to stretch my legs.

Light rain in Newport News, Virginia where I stopped for fuel and to change my shorts for pants.

Light rain in Newport News, Virginia where I stopped for fuel and to change my shorts for pants.

In addition to fuel my other mission at my stopover point was to change my shorts for pants. Especially with the rain it was quite chilly in Newport News and I changed and grabbed a snack and water while the plane was refueled. Rick Aviation was a great place to stop and soon I was on my way again.

For the next leg simpler routings are unlikely since there are numerous restricted and military operating areas in the vicinity of the Patuxent River, New Jersey near McGuire AFB, and of course the complicated New York City airspace. So instead I filed an airway routing which was CCV V1 GRAYM. Victor 1 is a low altitude airway that traverses several bends up the edge of the Delmarva peninsula, over Delaware Bay, and then avoids the restricted areas near McGuire before passing over Kennedy VOR (JFK airport). I filed for 5000 knowing that going higher could be an issue for icing and that the minimum enroute altitudes on V1 were considerably lower leaving plenty of room for an “out” in the event I encountered any icing conditions.

Joint base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (the airport visible from far left, and two closer airports), and associated restricted area.

Joint base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst (the airport visible from far left, and two closer airports), and associated restricted area.

I was pleasantly surprised to be cleared as filed. As I completed my preflight two F22s from Langley AFB streaked directly overhead in a knife edge turn. This area is very busy with military jets! It was a very cool sight.

After departure I was cleared to join V1 at JAMIE – a slight shortcut – and to climb to 5000 feet. Conditions were IMC in light-moderate rain but below the cloud bases. Of course, as soon as I leveled off at 5000 feet I immediately checked the outside air temp gauge knowing that now I was in the cold north. It was only about 2 degrees celsius! OK, now inserting the temp gauge into my scan and looking at the left and right wing leading edges for any sign of icing. Slowly the temperature gauge dropped below 0 to read about -2 without any signs of ice accretion on the wings. I was spring loaded to demand a lower altitude as soon as I saw any accumulation.

I was somewhat surprised by how long it took to start, but eventually I did get a trace of light clear icing on the leading edge of the wing. I detected no discernible loss in airspeed but immediately radio’d Patuxent Approach and reported “667 just started picking up a trace of clear ice, temperature -2, we need to descend”. The response was immediate “Cardinal 667 descend and maintain 4000″. About a minute after reaching 4000 feet the ice began rapidly shedding from the leading edge of the wing. I reported to the controller that temperatures were positive and all the ice was shed and thanked him.

At this point I was nearing the northern edge of the precipitation depicted on my ADS-B RADAR. At 4000 feet the rain continued, then turned to light snow, and then stopped as I burst out into the clear with only high clouds and blue sky visible ahead. A classic warm front event! The clear icing was due to snow falling through above freezing air and melting into rain, then a shallow below freezing layer was present at 5000 feet. I probably could have escaped the icing by climbing as well, which would have also put me into the warmer temps that must have existing to melt the snow into rain. Eventually the shallow area of above freezing temps was no longer present above 4000 feet and as a result the precipitation was falling as snow there.

It's tough to see in this photo since it's streaking by.  But it was snowing!

It’s tough to see in this photo since it’s streaking by. But it was snowing! Welcome back to the north!

Once I was in the clear and out of the IMC I contacted the controller to let them know I was out of it and could climb back to 5000 feet. Colder temperatures were certainly to be found as I got further north but no clouds or precipitation was forecast or depicted along the planned route.

Atlantic City, NJ off the right wing.

Atlantic City, NJ off the right wing.

Once I was talking to Atlantic City McGuire Approach apparently wanted me at 7000. OK, fine, I’m out of the weather and the efficiency will be a bit better up there anyway. I climbed to 7000. The conditions were beautiful now! Completely clear blue skies from the southern tip of New Jersey until southern CT. Once I was actually talking to McGuire Approach I got another IFR treat: the in-flight reroute. I guess my planned V1 routing wasn’t so good after all. In this case, the reroute was “after JFK, cleared via V229 GDM(Gardner) V106 MHT(Manchester) Direct”. This is a bit of a strange routing since it goes over the top of Nashua and then back, and complicated the routing around NYC. Ultimately it added about 10 minutes to my ETA.

I set to work twisting knobs and pushing buttons to program the revised route into the Garmin 430 and soon I was approaching New York with a gorgeous view of Manhattan off to the left and Long Island to the right. This is very busy airspace and there were numerous airliners visible departing and approaching JFK as I passed overhead.

Kennedy (JFK) Airport from 7000 feet.

Kennedy (JFK) Airport from 7000 feet.

As is usual with these complicated ATC routings some shortcuts were coming. Just before crossing the Kennedy VOR the somewhat frazzled controller quizzed me and some other aircraft about their indicated airspeeds and then gave me direct PUGGS… then Direct Bridgeport… then finally “you know what, Direct Hartford.” I suppose all of this was about coordinating me and another different speed aircraft both flying the same airway routing at the same altitude.

ATC Reroute via V229, with the various direct shortcuts highlighted.

ATC Reroute via V229, with the various direct shortcuts highlighted.

It wasn’t long before I crossed over Long Island sound and into southern Connecticut leaving New York’s airspace. Once I was switched over to talking to Bradley Approach I asked if I could get direct destination. They were unable to grant this clearance but instead offered CLOWW Direct, which is a familiar routing from many trips I made to Islip, NY last year. Since I was just skimming the cloud bases at 7000 feet I knew it would be an easy setup for a visual approach to Runway 32 at Nashua since the routing via CLOWW sets you on a wide downwind pattern entry. I made a fine landing and set upon the lengthy task of unloading everything we brought with us on this weeklong trip!

View of downtown Hartford, CT.

View of downtown Hartford, CT.

The time logged for the trip home ended up 2.4 and 3.4 hours, with 2.1 actual instrument conditions. All hand flying. Great experience, my first inadvertent icing encounter, and beautiful views over New York city. And I left Charleston at 10AM and arrived home in Nashua just after 4PM. Pretty impressive!

Back to blogging! Gusty winds in New Bedford

So as I’m sure readers of this blog have noticed I have been slacking on my write-ups! I have been flying but between busyness in my work life and some of the various frustrations of flying in the winter weather we’ve had this year I haven’t managed to blog about the times I have been able to go flying. So I resolved that this weekend would be different and a blog entry would be posted. Watch for some back issues later. If I have time I might try to fill in some of the interesting experiences from earlier this year.

Despite my resolution to blog this weekend did not get off to a good start. I planned to go up to the airport on Saturday by myself and do some solo flying. The weather was lingering unpleasant on Saturday morning but I headed up to the airport after it began to clear.

As soon as I drove up to the airplane it was immediately clear that the right side main gear tire was as flat as it could be. This was the only tire&tube combination to not be changed out at the annual but the tread was in excellent shape. I borrowed some air from the Air Direct hangar and tried pumping the tire back up to see if it would hold any pressure. With the tire up at the normal 68 PSI I could hear a hissing sound. The valve stem on the tire tube was definitely leaking right where it attaches to the tube. There was no way this tire would hold enough pressure to remain airworthy.

I headed back into the Air Direct Airways office and discussed the problem with my CFII Doug. The Air Direct A&P would not be around until tomorrow and if they had a new tube the plane could be airworthy again for a Sunday flight. Doug also mentioned that several planes on the ramp had recently experienced flat tires – perhaps the springtime temperature change was to blame. I crossed my fingers that a tube would be available and headed home.

On Sunday morning I got a text around 10AM that the plane was ready! This was welcome news. The weather was once again proving to be a bit slow to clear and in particular Burlington, VT, a destination that Abby and I had previously discussed, was sketchy VFR with terrain in the clouds around. Instead, I suggested we head to the south towards New Bedford, MA. There is an airport restaurant there and I hadn’t been there before so it would be a new destination.

The tire looked better today when we pulled up. I paid for the replacement tube and labor and thanked the folks at Air Direct. Fortunately the tire tread itself was in excellent shape and so only the tube needed to be replaced. This made me wonder if the tread was previously replaced without the tube. The logbook entry was not specific enough to determine with certainty.

The weather was brisk and chilly with winds gusting out of the northwest, aligned with Nashua’s runway 32. Lift off was rapid and even with two people on board and more than half fuel load I was much higher than usual when I passed my tie down spot, because of the headwind. The ride was definitely bumpy in the climbout but nothing too serious (I’d call it “light”).

Since there were some lingering lower clouds over the middle part of the trip I only climbed to 3500 feet. True airspeeds are a bit slower down there but we weren’t going that far. I had flight following from Boston Approach and after being handed off to the 124.4 sector I knew to ask for a Bravo airspace clearance which was immediately issued “direct New Bedford, 3500″. Traffic was relatively light although a Citation did pass beneath us between Mansfield and Taunton.

Lately I’ve done a lot of solo flying and it was nice to have Abby as copilot. She will handle switching radio frequencies and getting the ATIS using the Garmin audio panel’s split com feature. New Bedford runway 32 was in use (just like Nashua) and the winds were more or less straight down the runway but shifting back and forth and gusting somewhat. I flew a right downwind pattern for runway 32. I decided to go a few knots faster on the approach because of the gusts and this worked well. With a slight balloon in a wind gust I added a bit of power to cushion the touchdown and still turned off easily at the first taxiway. Higher winds are a mixed blessing!

I pulled up to Sandpiper Air and we were marshaled in by the manager. I asked for a top up and inquired if they had a crew car. They had a solid old Dodge Caravan. This was my first time using the crew car phenomenon. Airport FBOs will often have a car they will lend out to visiting pilots who buy fuel or pay for services, anything from a beat up Crown Victoria to a brand new Mercedes depending on the airport and FBO.

Since I’d done the flying Abby gave up her driver’s license for photocopy and took the keys to the crew car. We got directions to the New Bedford Whaling Museum and a recommendation for a dining spot nearby. Despite getting slightly lost on the way we soon pulled onto cobble stoned streets and found the restaurant called “Freestones” and the Whaling Museum.

The whaling museum had a charge for admission so we decided to save it for some time when we had more free time. Instead we walked through the historic part of the city and checked out the pier where many fishing boats were docked. There are nice displays throughout the historic area highlighting information about the whaling era.

Finally we headed back to Freestones and had a nice lunch before driving back to Sandpiper Air. The plane was fully fueled when we got back and after paying I did a quick preflight while Abby stayed warm in the plane. I’d deliberately reinserted the cowl plugs to try and keep the engine warm in the brisk wind and I did a very short prime then did a regular hot start procedure. The engine started up nice and quickly.

Departure was as quick as Nashua had been and soon we were fighting headwinds and cleared into the Boston Class Bravo direct to Nashua at 4500 feet. The trip was mostly quiet but around Bedford/Hanscom airport there was a fair amount of business jet traffic and we were again treated to the sight of a small jet crossing just below. Always a very cool view!

Abby retrieved Nashua’s ATIS via the split com while I continued descending. The winds were straight down the runway at 10 gusting 20 knots. On initial contact the tower told me to report a four mile final and so I maneuvered slightly to meet up with the Merrimack river then dropped flaps 10 and the landing gear as I approached the point where I would turn final. This is definitely a longer final approach compared to a typical full pattern and I just used the PAPI to keep myself on a 3 degree glidepath, slowly reducing airspeed down to just a hair under 70 knots with flaps 20. This higher airspeed and lower flap setting is good for gusty conditions, giving some extra margin if the headwind dies off suddenly.

I worked the throttle and controls the whole way down. For the most part the wind was straight down the runway but there was definitely turbulence rocking my wings. I kept the power in a bit longer than I normally do then pulled it back crossing the threshold and made a very nice touchdown, one of my best landings in the last few months. Of course, I’m sure the 10-20 knot headwind didn’t hurt!

New York Sheep and Wool Festival

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

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

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

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

The Quabbin Reservoir (by Gen).

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

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

Above the broken layer.

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

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

Farmlands and foliage.

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

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

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

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

Rays of sunlight under the cloud deck.

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

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

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

My awesome copilot Abby.

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

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

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

Saturday flying

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abby took this phone cam picture of us in flight.

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

Mount Cardigan and fire tower.

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

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