Category Archives: trips

High School Reunion

No IFR training this weekend. Instead, Abby and I flew down to Long Island for my 10 year High School reunion. I grew up in Port Jefferson which is on the north shore of Long Island. The trip home is pretty lengthy: It’s a four hour trip including a ferry trip that costs $70 each way for a car with driver and passenger. So this sort of trip is perfect for replacing with a flight. With no winds the flight is just a bit over an hour and this is is around $60 in avgas each way. Since my mom and her husband could meet us at the airport in Islip, NY it was perfect.

I was initially worried about the weather but updated my mom on Friday indicating we would likely be flying. The forecast was for some weather overnight on Friday night, clearing on Saturday, and a cold front moving through Saturday night leaving perfect weather for the return on Sunday. With the weather predicted to be ideal for a return on Sunday and high forecaster confidence on that transition most of my weather anxiety was alleviated. I planned an early departure around 11:30 from Nashua to avoid any signs of the approaching cold front.

However, once we woke up on Saturday morning the Friday night weather was lingering with a low stratus layer leaving IFR ceilings across most of New England. The forecaster discussions pointed to a high confidence on eventual clearing with the stratus layer lingering longer than originally anticipated. The cold front was predicted to hold off until much later in the evening so it would be no worry. Abby and I headed up to Nashua but entered a “holding pattern” at Bagel Alley to kill some time.

When we left Bagel Alley the skies were still a solid overcast. The satellite weather data showed completely clear skies just a bit to the west and even from the appearance you could tell the stratus layer was very thin. I called my mother to report that we might be delayed a bit but not to be concerned. We still had several hours before we had to make a solid call and drive instead. We headed up to the airport.

By the time we got to the airport the sky was completely clear! Nashua’s ATIS still reported 1200 overcast but the layer had broken up completely to “few” within a span of around ten or fifteen minutes. Satellite showed clear skies and KISP reported good VFR weather with scattered clouds predicted to improve. We headed straight for the ramp so I could preflight and get some fuel from Infinity aviation. I requested five gallons per side to give me a safe margin and still leave some room for a sizable top off at Islip. I’d inquired about staying overnight at the Hawthorne FBO at Islips and they reported no fees for the Cardinal if I took on fuel. Especially since their price was reasonable I decided to leave some room for fuel and support their business.

The flight down was smooth and mostly free of clouds beneath me. There were a few low clouds and I was well above them cruising at 6500. Abby fell asleep on the journey down which I suppose I should take as a compliment! My routing to Islip is to fly from Nashua to the Bridgeport VOR then turn direct towards Islip. This shortens the over water distance crossing the Long Island Sound to be within gliding range of shore at my typical altitudes.

About 20 miles from the Bridgeport VOR I found the scattered cloud deck beneath me was turning to broken/overcast. I decided to turn direct to Islip at this point. This left me passing over New Haven and still within gliding range over the sound. I began my descent planning to go through the cloud deck around Rocky Point, NY then once over the island turn direct Islip. This required a steeper descent than usual (around 1100 feet per minute versus a typical 250 to 500 feet per minute) and I warned Abby but she was fine. Ears reliably popped we were beneath the cloud deck level at around 1500 feet and I was instructed to make an extended left base for runway 15 Right. This might actually have been my first time landing on a “Right/Left” runway although I have taken off on them before! The last time I came into Islip I landed on runway 24.

After calling the tower I was told I would receive my landing clearance shortly and continued my left base for 15 right. Winds were to the right of the runway with reasonably strong gusts. I called the tower announcing I was a three mile left base and they cleared me to land. Flaps and gear out, slowing down, I made a slow turn to final. I could have made it crisper but it was fine. Concentrating on the crosswind I made a nice smooth landing just a bit to the left of the centerline.

The Hawthorne FBO is at the approach end of runway 15R so my taxi instructions were to exit to the right and follow the parallel taxiway Bravo back to the ramp. Upon arriving I was met by a nice lineman who marshaled us in to a spot right in front of the hangar. I was very pleased with the service! Mom and Richard came out on the ramp to help us with the small amount of luggage we had and admired the Cardinal.

The reunion itself was a lot of fun. Facebook has changed the nature of High School reunions for sure and many people immediately asked me about flying since they have seen all of my photos and status updates. Still, it was great to catch up with folks. I had a blast.

Thanks to the late night and hard partying our departure was later in the afternoon. We got back to the airport around four with our luggage and a nicely wrapped slice of pie. The FBO had all of the fueling paperwork all set when I arrived at the airport and I all had to do was sign the slip while the line guy pulled the chocks and cones marking the wings off. Have I mentioned that this was an excellent and very reasonably priced FBO? I will be back!

With the cold front rolling through overnight the winds had shifted from the south to the northwest and this meant takeoff on runway 33 Left, the opposite direction from my landing. Mom and Richard had ducked back instead due to the windy chilly weather but as I took off looking out the left window I saw that they had come outside to watch my takeoff! This FBO also offers a good view of departures from runway 33L!

After departure I was instructed to turn 30 degrees right (likely for a departing regional airline turboprop behind me) and then proceed on course. I advised New York approach of my intention to proceed to the Bridgeport VOR then direct to Nashua. My cruising altitude was 7500 which kept us a safe distance above the occasional clouds.

Unlike Saturday’s journey the air was clear and visibility was excellent with no haze. After departure we could see all the way to New York City’s skyline almost 70 miles away. Eventually we could see Boston and Providence too from quite a distance. Over southern CT we were called out as traffic to a JetBlue flight into Bradley airport and eventually we could see the JetBlue aircraft pass behind us and turn to the right, a very cool sight!

The clouds were widely scattered and I had no trouble descending straight on course to avoid them. I moved left of the direct course slightly to avoid the Pepperell airport where skydiving activity is ongoing and reported Nashua in sight, ended flight following, and contacted Nashua Tower. Some traffic was pointed out and a helicopter in the pattern was assigned to follow us. After a left pattern I made a nice landing. ATIS indicated winds a bit gusty but mostly down the runway and I didn’t think it was too bad. The landing was quite smooth.

The loggable time ended up being 1.5 on the way down and 1.4 on the way back (a nontrivial part of that is taxi and run-up). There was definitely more of a headwind on the way down although the cold front’s passage meant that there was a headwind in both directions. Next weekend I will be back to the Instrument training but for this weekend I am proud of 2.9 logged doing practical (and maybe even cost effective) aviation transport!

Pioneer Valley Sightseeing

My original plan for labor day was to go flying with my dad (for the first time) on Sunday then fly again on Labor Day Monday. As it turns out I had a pretty serious cold and congestion on Sunday which is a bad combination with flying due to the pressure changes. I postponed my plans to meet up with Dad and rested up. Thankfully by Monday I was feeling well enough to fly, especially since with the runway construction finally completed at Nashua I also needed to ferry the airplane back there from Fitchburg.

A grand plan was hatched: Since my dad was staying in Deerfield, MA Abby and I would fly west from Fitchburg and meet him at the small airport in Turner’s Falls (0B5). From there we could fly around for a bit in the Pioneer Valley. After dropping my dad back at Turner’s Falls Abby and I could fly back to Fitchburg and leave her to drive to Nashua and meet me there to complete the ferry trip.

With plenty of time to spare Abby and I got lunch at the airport restaurant in Fitchburg. I’m very appreciative of the fact that the airport in Fitchburg provided free tie downs for the month to displaced Nashua aircraft and eating at the airport diner is one of several ways I’ve paid that back in kind. Thanks again.

Just after starting up at Fitchburg something didn’t sound right. Abby spotted some foreign object on the ramp and I shut down the engine to check it out. It turns out some plastic packing material had blown across the ramp and some of it caught on the tip of the prop. As soon as the prop stopped it fell to the ground. I took some time to carefully inspect the prop, intake, and peeked in the cowling for any remnants before convincing myself I had all of the material. After restarting the engine everything ran smoothly.

The trip to Turner’s Falls was not very far. I carefully skirted north of Orange airport and tuned in their CTAF to confirm that there was no skydiving activity. Much to my surprise on such a beautiful clear day there didn’t seem to be any. Soon I spotted Turner’s Falls and entered the downwind for runway 16. Winds were from the west at a near direct crosswind but relatively light. My landing was a bit left of centerline but otherwise fine and my worst mistake was forgetting that the parallel taxiway doesn’t go all the way down at Turner’s. A sheepish back taxi later and I was chocked in the deserted parking area and waiting for dad to arrive.

Abby and me at Turner’s Falls (picture by John Noé)

Soon dad arrived and I gave the usual passenger briefing before starting up and taxiing out to do a run-up and depart runway 16 at Turner’s Falls. The straight out departure goes towards some higher terrain and while I would have cleared it without issue I turned to the right after takeoff to follow the lower terrain towards the river. We circled for a bit after reaching Sunderland to orient ourselves with the river, Mt. Toby (with a prominent fire tower), and Mt. Sugarloaf to spot the approximate location of my sister’s house.

Starting a fuel injected airplane always involves a juggle of both hands – especially when it is hot! (picture by John Noé)

My dad had been nervous about turbulence and bumpy conditions (and came already equipped with wrist bands and ginger gum!). But despite the occasional thermal turbulence due to solar heating he had no issues. He was certainly having fun spotting things from the air, including the hotel he stayed in the previous night (“the red roof in really does have a red roof!”). I think the Cardinal’s good visibility outside helps passengers feel comfortable in the bumps.

Soon we were over Northampton and I suggested we head for Westfield-Barnes to get the experience of landing at a bigger airport (and to grab some relatively cheap fuel). Of course Barnes isn’t a super big airport but it does give passengers a perspective compared to an untowered small airport like Turner’s Falls. I already had Barnes in sight and called up the ATIS. Runway 20 was in use which put me a few miles to the left of a long 10 mile final. As expected the Tower controller instructed me to make a straight in approach and call 3 mile final.

Landing gear finishing its transit in the mirror. (picture by John Noé)

During my month off while the landing gear was repair I clearly got sloppy about being right on the centerline because once again I was lining up to the left of center. I didn’t land side loading and the landing was otherwise reasonably smooth but definitely left of center. Looking at the photos my dad took is a good reminder that I can be better about getting on the centerline early! Always fly the airplane, be assertive, don’t be a passenger!

The runway at Westfield-Barnes is long and wide. Beyond the thousand foot markers you can see an arresting wire rig. The sombrero shaped thingy is a VOR transmitter. (picture by John Noé)

As I taxied towards the Airflyte FBO there was a big business jet leaving. It is always fun to take the parking spot of a Dassault Falcon 50 three engine jet! My dad was previously around when I refueled self serve at Northampton so he was surprised to realize that they drive the truck right up to the airplane to refuel. We wandered inside the FBO and “terminal building”. The normally busy airport restaurant was closed presumably due to the labor day holiday.

Next to me on the ramp: A Beechcraft King Air 200. Clearly the Cardinal is bringing down the neighborhood values! (picture by John Noé)

Soon the airplane was fully fueled and I did my usual post fueling preflight ritual of sumping the tanks and gascolator into the GATS jar and then dumping the jar into the tanks, checking the level and caps along the way. It’s always important to be careful before takeoff.

Our departure from was from Runway 20 intersection Alpha which leaves more than the length of Turner’s Falls runway remaining. With a Cirrus departing straight out behind me I turned right on departure as instructed to head north out of Westfield Tower’s airspace and back up the Connecticut River valley. My dad was keen to spot an oxbow lake formed in the river near Holyoke which you can see from I-91 and he soon did.

Oxbow Lake. (picture by John Noé)

I followed the highway (Interstate 91) out my left window with the river out the right window at 3500 feet towards Brattleboro, VT. The air was a bit bumpier now and I checked in a few times but dad was fine with the motion. Brattleboro was reached in a short while and after finding the spot where a smaller river reaches the CT I turned around and we headed back for Turner’s Falls.

Foreflight does take away some of the fun of paper charts, like having a passenger find where we are. Cruising slower plus some headwind makes for better sightseeing. (picture by John Noé)

I navigated back to Turner’s Falls with river following pilotage and entered a downwind for runway 16. This time the approach was pretty nice. I did fly more of a dogleg than I like but the slow roll out onto final put me onto the runway centerline and the landing had good crosswind correction and good speeds with the stall horn beeping at the end and a smooth touchdown. This time I remembered I shouldn’t taxi down to the far end and taxied back just past the taxiway.

Rolling out on final. At this point on the left side of the runway extended center line but I am still slowly rolling out the turn. (picture by John Noé)

After saying goodbye to dad all that remained was to fly back to Fitchburg then Nashua! After takeoff I turned to the left, cleaned up and trimmed the airplane, confirmed that we were good to clear all terrain, and asked Abby if she wanted to fly. She took the airplane for a bit and flew towards Fitchburg including the descent and only handed it back to me when it was clear there were other aircraft in the pattern at Fitchburg.

My approach to runway 14 was high when I rolled out onto final and after going to full flaps with power out Abby asked if I was going to go around. I told her I would try a slip first and demonstrated the slip to add drag. This steepens the approach angle without adding airspeed and while I did use more runway I still landed within the first third. I should practice more slips as this is an excellent trick to have in the bag.

The engine was only shut down for about two minutes before I started back up again and headed off to Nashua with Abby racing me in the car. Unsurprisingly she lost that race. Total time to Nashua was 23 minutes, engine start to stop. And I spend some time waiting to take off.

The new runway at Nashua is wide, black, smooth and long. With the winds today I landed on 14. It was nice to hear a familiar controller’s voice and I managed to avoid being confused by the changed taxiway layout too much. Fortunately enough other airplanes have been moved back already that I did not have any trouble finding my row of tie downs either! It’s good to be back. Total time ended up being 2.8 which was an excellent day’s flying.

Hazy trip to West Virginia

My original plans for Saturday included a Pilots n Paws trip to Delaware. However, this didn’t end up happening because there were no pilots to fly the earlier legs. I still had the day free and I was eager to stretch my wings and go for a longer trip in the Cardinal. West Virginia is one state I haven’t been to yet and represents a nice big area on the map. Plus, I’d previously learned about the Chesapeake and Ohio Towpath Trail which is accessible from the Greater Cumberland Regional Airport (which is conveniently actually in Wiley Ford, WV!).

I was watching the weather carefully because while it looked good for flying in some direction I wasn’t certain I would be able to make the journey to Cumberland. Upon waking up on Saturday the TAFs looked good for airports along the route and while it was forecast to be hazy the conditions were forecast to be VFR with the exception of potential sub-VFR haze in Harrisburg, PA which I would be traveling west of. I decided I would try and make the journey knowing with full fuel I had the flexibility to return to clearer skies in New England if cloud layers increased and got me stuck on top. I brought my camera, and the full set of pictures can be found on my photo site.

I’m still at Fitchburg due to construction at Nashua. I had line service top off the tanks there then completed my preflight and departed runway 32 in calm winds and with the visibility around 10 miles. 10 miles is the limit of most automated weather measurements, but in this case the reported 10 miles visibility represented an actual visibility of 10 miles. The air was definitely hazy. While there were few clouds above Fitchburg the haze made a view straight up into the sky look white like there was an overcast. I climbed to 6,500 and headed direct to Cumberland, calling Boston Center to request flight following.

The atmosphere was actually a lot clearer at 6,500 with the bulk of the haze beneath me. Forward visibility was good and well above VFR minimums but at cruise altitude it can be tough to see the horizon on days with even 10 miles visibility in haze. There were a few small clouds at and below my cruising altitude but for the most part the air was clear. The clouds were scattered enough that my route almost never required lateral dodging of them to remain VFR.

View south along the Hudson River, the Hudson Highlands.

Soon I was crossing the Hudson River. Boston Center called out traffic ahead for me (which I saw) then gave another traffic call out “A 757, in your 6, you won’t see them but passing overhead, restricted above you”. This was a good opportunity to grab the camera! You can’t spot traffic behind you easily in a plane but the advisory was nice since I would have been surprised otherwise. Soon the 757 passed overhead, looking quite big! They were descending and had been restricted to descend to 7000, lower after passing me. I suspect they were going into Newark airport. I wonder if passengers on board could spot me below?

United 757 passing overhead.

The direct routing doesn’t spend much time over New York and after about an hour enroute I was passing into Pennsylvania with New Jersey’s Highest Point (High Point, NJ) visible off to the left and the Delaware River ahead. Soon the famous Delaware Water Gap was off to the left, barely there through the haze.

High Point Monument, High Point, NJ

The terrain around Eastern PA is fascinating. This is the northern end of the Ridges and Valleys Appalachians. It looks like corduroy from above. The big rivers like the Delaware and Susquehanna flow right through ridge after ridge in “water gaps” which are geological evidence that the rivers are older than the mountains were uplifted.

The Delaware River, looking south from around the PA/NY state line.

At one point I spotted a pair of ridges with a deep gorge and a river and high running up the valley. A set of power lines dramatically crosses the gorge far above the base. The power line cut seems to disappear then reappear when viewed from above. If you look at the big version of the picture you can even see the power lines.

Powerlines crossing between two ridges with river and highway beneath.

Of course, it wouldn’t be Pennsylvania without mineral mining and of course there is a lot of evidence of this seen from the air. Evidence of changes in energy extraction methods are apparent near Shenandoah, PA where right next to the open mining you can see a line of wind turbines lining the ridgeline. Personally I find that wind power is much more visually attractive than open pit mining!

Wind Power and mining in PA.

The air began to get hazier as I approach Harrisburg, PA, as forecast. Lines of corduroy ridges disappeared into the haze to my left. To the right the air was clearer with puffy clouds. After passing Harrisburg the cumulus clouds started to get heavier pushing up into my altitude and I had to make several minor diversions left or right to dodge them.

Ridges and Valleys disappearing into the haze.

With about 60 miles of flying left to reach Cumberland I decided that it was time to duck below the clouds and began a descent timed to get below the bases before the next heavy batch of cumulus clouds. Unfortunately this soon put me below the altitude where I could reliably receive Harrisburg Approach or be seen on radar while I had plenty of altitude above the hills I had to drop flight following. I was only about 15 minutes from Cumberland at this point although sadly it was a lot bumpier at this altitude below the cloud deck. Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and soon after passing below the batch of clouds the sky opened up again with blue sky above. I could have gone around or over that set of clouds too.

Looking south towards Harrisburg… lots of haze.

I had my hands full with the bumpy ride but soon spotted Cumberland and the airport. Winds were reported pretty close down runway 05. Due to terrain around the airport Runway 5 is right traffic which means opposite direction from the standard airport traffic pattern which is left turns. Runway 5 was almost exactly the opposite direction I was coming from so I set up for a long downwind to the left of the runway. No one else was in the pattern. Two right turns brought me to a close in short final, full flaps to descend after clearing all terrain, and I made a reasonable landing. I was a bit left of center line which I chalk up to being less familiar with right traffic operations although the wind was gusting around a bit as well.

On the ground at Cumberland airport. There is a fancy terminal building but no airline service right now. Hills rise all around.

As I taxied off the runway line service called to ask if I needed any services. I asked for parking for a short while and a top off. I parked right out in front of the terminal building. There is a fancy building here including baggage claim, security, and ticket counters but it is all closed. According to Wikipedia this airport has not had commercial service from a major airline since 2001 and all airline service ended in 2003. Cumberland is one of the poorest metropolitan areas in the US and it is not surprising that the past ten years have not seen a revitalization of air service. I was happy to put some money into the local economy especially with a very reasonable fuel price. The top off took 25.7 gallons which was what it took to get here from Fitchburg.

Topped off at Cumberland Regional airport by a friendly line guy.

I had brought my folding bike to check out the C&O Towpath and after confirming the location of the airport restaurant (in a separate building across the parking lot) I took off on the bike down a hill towards the Potomac. After crossing the river on a highway bridge you are actually in Cumberland, Maryland. The entrance to the Towpath National Historic Park is just to the right after crossing the bridge.

The towpath itself is unpaved with just gravel but well graded and relatively flat. At various points along the length I biked down there are obvious signs of the original canal even where it has been filled in or turned into forested sections. The Potomac itself can be seen through the trees to the right at times. I didn’t go too far since I was hungry for a late lunch and knew that I had to bike back up the big hill to get to the airport! Next time I will explore further.

The Chesapeake and Ohio canal (now filled in here) and towpath is down the hill and across the Potomac (in Cumberland, MD).

I had a quick sit down Philly Cheese Steak at Louie Louie’s airport diner. More money into the local economy (and I left a big tip). I did a quick weather briefing at the computer in the terminal’s pilot’s lounge since my iPad didn’t get any Verizon data service at all. No rain, no thunderstorms, and VFR all the way. After preflight I was ready to depart. I climbed straight out direct on course planning 7,500. I checked in with Johnstown Approach after clearing all of the terrain around the airport and got flight following to Fitchburg.

Heading back. Some bigger cumulus buildups to the west (might turn into very isolated tstorms).

The clouds had definitely built up higher but still scattered and my altitude of 7,500 kept me above all of it. Off to the west you could see some big clusters of buildups reaching well above my altitude and well off to the east over southern NJ there looked like there might be an area of convective rain clouds although I didn’t see any lightning.

Angrier clouds to the east over NJ.

While it was clear, cool, and excellent visibility at my altitude the haze below was definitely bad. The picture below shows how you can’t really see the horizon with the haze like this. This is legal VFR and doesn’t require an instrument rating but in some sense is instrument conditions because reference to the instruments is needed in order to remain oriented. At no point did it feel unsafe and when there was other traffic I saw it with many miles of margin indicating that flight visibility was more than adequate for visual flight. The air was perfectly smooth with not even a ripple of turbulence. Headwinds were around 9-10 knots.

The haze was very extreme over PA here. Hills poke up out of the haze layer well beneath me (I am at 7,5000 feet). It is clear, smooth, cool, and visibility is good and legal VFR at my altitude.

Eventually I encountered a knot of clouds southeast of Wilkes-Barre, PA that would require substantial diversion to the left and decided to climb to 9,500 instead. This would let me clear the clouds with plenty of margin and reduce the chances of another diversion. It turned out that the clouds soon dissipated almost entirely but there was no major issue with 9,500 as a cruising altitude. The temperate was quite cool up there – close to 40 degrees – and I turned on the heat and dialed the vents back a bit.

As I entered the NY area I was talking to Boston Center (due to my higher altitude). Several regional airlines were being instructed to hold at various altitudes underneath and above me due to congestion coming into Newark. I caught one of them proceeding on course just after exiting the hold beneath me – a Colgan Air (United Express) Dash-8 turboprop.

Dash-8 (Colgan Airlines) traffic beneath me. They have just exited holding due to congestion at Newark.

Soon I was crossing the Hudson River into quieter airspace and began planning the descent. Descending out of 9,500 feet does require a good bit of planning. I have learned two rules of thumb depending on how fast you want to descend. In VFR you can descend at 250 feet per minute and plan 10 miles for every thousand feet you need to lose. In the IFR environment 500 foot per minute descents are the norm so plan 5 miles per thousand feet. Adjusted for the slight headwind I headed down starting over the northwest corner of Connecticut. For power in the descent I will generally let the airspeed pick up and reduce power as needed to keep airspeed in the green arc.

Looking back towards NY with sunlight glinting off of the Hudson River.

I snapped a final picture looking back towards the through the clouds and glinting off of the Hudson river then stowed the camera and got the weather at Fitchburg. With the winds now favoring runway 14 I planned to overfly the field about 500 feet above pattern altitude (1500 feet above ground) then circle around to enter left traffic for runway 14 behind traffic that was already in the pattern. This time the landing was very nice and right on the center line. I taxied back to my home away from home tie down in Fitchburg and put the plane to bed.

The logged flight time (engine start to stop) was 2.9 hours for the way down and 3.1 for the way back making for 6.0 hours round trip flying. This also marks 153.9 hours of total flying time so I passed 150 hours on my way down. The trip ended up being a great addition to my experience with the weather, ATC communications, and long cross country. Next up, getting back to more instrument training!

Meeting a commercial flight

My wife found some quite cheap commercial flight tickets to visit a friend out in Madison, WI. The only downside was that she flew out from Boston and back into Providence, RI. I told her that was no problem, and depending on the weather I would pick her up in either the plane or by car. Fortunately the weather cooperated. Her flight was originally scheduled to arrive in Providence at just after 6PM on Tuesday. I figured I’d leave work a bit early and head down. I called the FBO there ahead of time and verified that they could give a ride between the commercial terminal and the FBO.

In fact, my sister and her family were up visiting this week because my niece is looking at Boston area colleges. My sister is nervous even on bigger planes but my niece was quite keen to accompany me down to Providence to pick up Abby. Since her college visiting schedule was too late to get her up to meet me in Nashua I decided instead to fly to Norwood (OWD) airport and pick her up and then make the very short flight from there to Providence. It would mean meeting Abby a bit later than 6PM but not a big deal.

On the way up to Nashua I learned that Abby’s flight (Delta Connection/ExpressJet from Detroit) was delayed. This was not due to weather but the fact that apparently the nose wheel tire had to be replaced on the CRJ. This worked out well for me – her ETA was revised to 8PM. I advised my niece to grab food in Norwood with her parents and grabbed some food for myself before heading south to Norwood.

I’ve been to Norwood once before for my Pilots N Paws flight with Doodle the poodle. Norwood is a nice airport with a control tower and great views of Boston on the way in. I did talk to Boston Approach for advisories but my descent path kept me clear of the Boston Bravo air space. After a fairly tight pattern I made a good landing on runway 28 (the opposite direction from my Pilots N Paws flight).

As I taxied up to the ramp and shut down I noticed that my relatives were already waiting at the gate and had watched me come in. Hoping to avoid any FBO fees I hurried my niece through the gate and gave a passenger briefing and a quick walk around. Some line guys showed up to chock the plane but I waved them off because I was already ready to start up and depart.

Upon departure I noticed a small mechanical issue. I’ve observed this on one or two occasions before. The ammeter blips to full discharge deflection briefly. This is known to be an issue with the gear pump cycling on briefly to pump the pressure back up and once an hour it was doing it more often than that. It stopped blipping and I made a note to check the hydraulic fluid level in the gear pump before departure. If the fluid level is fine then the likely cause is an internal leak down across an o-ring in one or more of the hydraulic actuators.

My niece was pretty excited about being in the air and the views of Boston and Providence. With the trip so short – only 30 nautical miles or around 15 minutes – I cruised at only 2500 feet. I was cleared to land pretty far our for straight in runway 23 and made an excellent landing. As I taxied to the ramp I heard Abby’s flight – Acey 4988 – cleared to land behind me and saw the CRJ land just as I pulled up to the ramp.

The ramp itself was quite busy with both UPS and FedEx 757s loading. The FBO itself was quiet and I parked out front. I explained I wouldn’t be there for long and I’d called ahead to ask about going over to the passenger terminal. He said he’d give us a ride over to pick her up. It was only 10 gallons total to waive the ramp fee but I figured I’d get 10 per side to be nice since the FBO was doing me a favor. The airport itself charged $5 for landing which is reasonable for a Class C airport.

As Mike the line guy was finishing up fueling Abby called to say she was ready and waiting at the arrivals area. Mike gave us a ride over and picked Abby up at the courtesy van area in front of the passenger terminal. Then we drove back around the perimeter road to the FBO. I gave a tip – always nice to thank folks for going out of their way.

As I checked and sumped the fuel tank and the hydraulic fluid level in the reservoir the UPS 757 pushed back and started up behind us! Obviously it won the race against FedEx. It was getting pretty hot and windy on the ramp as I finished up my preflight. The good news is the hydraulic fluid reservoir was completely full indicating no external leak (the bad kind).

Parked at PVD with much bigger neighbors pushing back and starting up behind me!

We watched UPS depart then departure required only a short taxi back to the approach end of runway 23. I had to wait a short minute for departure clearance then received “turn right heading 300 maintain 2500 or below”. Cleared for takeoff I was wheels up and a climbing right turn to 300 as the sunset peaked. Almost immediately after contacting departure I was cleared on course with no altitude restriction.

Soon the gear pump was definitely acting up again and with the blip happening several times a minute and no signed of abating I told my wife I’d pull the gear pump circuit breaker to keep it from wearing out the pump. This caused the gear to hang down awkwardly (like a wounded bird!) and took some knots off of our cruise speed but on this trip of such a short duration that wasn’t a big deal. Upon arrival I could use the handle to pump it down if the pump was balky but first I’d try pushing the breaker back in and using the pump.

Sure enough pulling the circuit breaker confirmed that the cause of the ammeter blip was unquestionably the hydraulic leakdown issue. It was getting dark as we approached Nashua and once in range I popped the circuit breaker back in. As expected initially it ran to suck the gear back up. Then I cycled the handle and the gear came down, green light, and I could see the main gear in the window. Good stuff. I didn’t even need to pump it down.

With the gear down I concentrated on the night landing. The tower was closed since it was after 9PM and winds were calm with no one else in the area so I flew left traffic for Runway 32. Due to construction the runway threshold is temporarily displaced 1000 feet and the VASI is out but the displaced threshold is well marked. I had no trouble making a good night landing and taxied back to my tie-down. The worst part of a night landing this time of year is all the bugs swarming as you attempt to push the plane back into the parking spot!

So, I left the plane in the capable hands of my A&P this weekend to diagnose the hydraulic problem. Hopefully it will be fixed soon. Good timing – my two instrument lessons this weekend were in a Frasca simulator working some hardcore instrument scanning skills!

High altitude

A little while back I obtained a Mountain High Oxygen system. This was primarily motivated by having a very bad headache after a long day of flying at 8500 feet. I also like flying at night and while this time of year nightfall comes quite late once we get into the fall there will be more night flying. Your night vision degrades above 5000 feet without supplemental oxygen and I often like to cruise above that point so a portable O2 system makes sense (especially for a flatlander like me).

I haven’t had a chance to try out the system yet since most of my recent trips have been short legs. I had the evening to myself tonight and so I decided I’d take the Cardinal up to a higher altitude and test out the O2 system. Armed with a pulse oximeter to verify my blood oxygen saturation I took off from Nashua and climbed out VFR on a west heading.

Climbing out near Gardner, MA.

I put the oxygen system into “Night mode” which means it will immediately start delivering O2 rather than waiting until a preset altitude. This system is a pulsed-demand controller which means that on each breath in it delivers a meters pulse of gas through a canula (or a mask above 18,000 feet) instead of continuous flow. This is a bit more sophisticated but conserves oxygen so a smaller bottle is needed. As you climb the pulse of gas at the beginning of each inhalation gets longer.

Sipping O2 with the canula.

I stayed on the west heading and kept the climb speed relatively high to keep the engine happy in the thinner air. With a normally aspirated (not turbocharged) engine the amount of power the engine makes is reduced as it climbs. This is offset by reduced drag in the thinner air but eventually a ceiling is hit and you cannot climb any higher. While temps in the climb are more of a concern in a turbocharged engine that can make more power higher up I was still monitoring closely. Soon I was well above altitude of the lower few clouds and you could see the raked evening sunlight hitting the tops of the clouds and making them pink.

Sunlight kissing the clouds above Gardner, MA.

The outside air temperate had dropped considerable and around 11,000 feet it was below freezing outside. The air temperature didn’t drop too much after this point. At this altitude the engine manifold pressure (vacuum) with the throttle wide open was around 16″ – barely above a power setting I would normally use for descending on final approach!

Below freezing outside.

As I got close to 15,500 feet I was struggling to maintain more than a few hundred feet per minute of climb. I decided to head back down. Since I was still maintaining an airspeed somewhat above “best climb” I could have climbed higher but I didn’t want to slow down and be rough on my engine. I leveled off briefly at 15,500 feet, let the engine temperatures stabilize, and turned back.

The big hand is on the 1, the medium hand is on the 5, and the little hand is on the 5…

I had a headwind on me west heading and so as I turned back the headwind turned into a tailwind. This gave me almost 200 knots of ground speed in the descent! Since this was just an out and back I had to make a few turns to avoid overshooting Nashua without an ear bending descent rate. If I was cruising at 15,500 on a real XC trip to take advantage of tailwinds proper descent planning is quite important. A descent starting a hundred miles out would be a more optimum profile.

Almost 200 knots of ground speed in the descent.

As I descended (and did a circle or two to burn off some altitude) the sunset was simply fantastic. Words cannot do the pictures justice so I will just show you them…

Sunset over the Adirondacks.

Sunset over the Adirondacks and Mt. Monadnock.

Sunset over the Adirondacks and Mt. Monadnock.

I managed to avoid being distracted by the sunset in front of me and executed and reasonable nice landing back at Nashua. You can view the full set of photos and larger versions over on my photo site. Enjoy!

Back to the Cape for a weekend

I seem to be making a habit of trips out to the Cape. Looking back at my logbook I’ve made three trips down to Cape Cod in June. When I arrived at the Rectrix FBO in Hyannis on Saturday the line guy marshaled me in and said “Welcome back!” when I opened the door.

This time the goal of the trip was to spend some time with friends at a house in Eastham, MA. While Chatham or Provincetown would have been slightly closer Hyannis has a nice FBO which doesn’t charge for overnight fuel and sells fuel cheaper than home. Plus I’ve noticed that Hyannis is somewhat less likely to be affected by fog and low ceilings and there was a possibility of that on Saturday morning for our arrival.

Despite the forecast of 1500 broken in the morning over Cape Cod the weather was nice and clear. The direct route from Nashua to Hyannis goes directly over the city of Boston. I cruised at 5,500 and requested a Bravo clearance. Unlike last time I did not receive vectors from Boston Approach but my Bravo clearance was “maintain 5,500 direct Boston”. No problem, my wife was already reaching forward to hit “direct-to” on the Garmin 430 as I turned left a bit towards BOS. We passed directly over the airport then received a vector. Initially I was a bit alarmed as the vector took me directly out over Massachusetts Bay. But soon traffic passed in front of us through out altitude and with them in sight I was cleared to proceed direct to Hyannis. While passing over the top of Logan airport we could see a Delta heavy passing below on approach to one of the Runway 4s (I couldn’t tell if they were landing 4L or 4R).

Things were pretty busy coming into Hyannis. Upon my initial contact to Hyannis Tower I was told my traffic was on a left base and “you’ve got 30 knots on them.” After slowing we had them in sight although a few times I was second guessing that it was the correct traffic. I was number three to follow this traffic although the tower modified this sequence and had me extend my downwind to slip a Cessna 402 in front of me.

Thanks to the wide pattern and extended downwind my landing was sloppy. I let myself get a bit too slow on the approach and ultimately in the flare I plopped it on with a solid arrival. It wasn’t too bad but I felt the need to apologize to Abby. Taxiing into the FBO I was greeted by the friendly lineman who recognized me from last time and was also able to get a look at the traffic that I was 30 knots faster than – a cool little Flight Design CTsw Light Sport aircraft.

My friends met me at the airport and we headed off to Eastham. We were staying at a cool spot near Sunken Meadow beach. This is on the Bay side of Cape Cod and when the tide goes out there are flats extended out a long ways. We had great fun, and even managed to finish up our grilling just in time as a fairly strong thunderstorm rolled across the bay with winds gusting to 30 knots.

On Sunday afternoon I invited anyone who was interested for a Cape tour. The weather was fantastic with light winds and no clouds in the sky. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to take everyone who wanted to go in one trip and Abby and I needed to get back so some had to take a rain check. If I hadn’t already asked to be fueled when I arrived I could have filled all the seats, something to keep in mind for next time.

Derek and Maria accompanied me on the Cape Tour while Abby hung out in the lounge at Rectrix. The tour ended up being around an hour start to stop, mostly just cruising around the Cape at 2500 feet and 65% power. The air was mostly smooth with just a few bumps where the winds swirled. We went past the house in Eastham and out to Provincetown then back past the house. I checked to make sure my passengers would be OK with a steeper turn then cranked it over around 40 degrees to make a left turn 90 degrees back towards the shoreline.

At this point I headed back to Hyannis, lined up for a straight in to Runway 24. Once again the airport was busy! I slowed it up and turned to the right a bit to fall in behind some traffic on base about to turn final. There was a slight crosswind from the left and the landing was perfect – stall horn beeping, left wheel touching first, and smooth. Abby reported Derek and Maria came back into the FBO all smiles.

Once again the friendly line staff at Rectrix helped us load our bags into the plane for departure and soon Abby and I were headed back to Nashua. Cape approach was very busy with IFR traffic and VFR requests and although we eventually managed to get flight following we were soon handed off to an even busier Boston approach controller. On initially contact with Boston approach I gave a typically terse “Boston approach Cardinal 52667 level 6500 request Bravo.” This time I got a “roger” but no Bravo clearance. He was dealing with arrivals into Boston including one airliner who was obviously behind the ball on the approach and kept missing read backs.

Soon I did receive one acknowledgement the controller still remembered me. I could see an airliner approach from the left about to cross in front of us and sure enough a rapid fire traffic call out came “Cardinal 667 traffic 11:00 two miles an Embraer” which I was able to quickly respond with “Traffic in sight 667″. Told to maintain visual separation we watched the Embraer passed quite close in front of us, unmistakably a JetBlue livery! Very cool to watch.

Still no Bravo clearance and Abby and I watched and waited until we were close and with no Bravo clearance forthcoming with about a minute to go I cranked it over to the left again and headed around the outside of the airspace. Soon there was a break in the Boston arrivals and it turns out the controller did remember me – unsolicited he finally gave the desired “Cleared into the Boston Bravo airspace maintain 6500 fly heading 320″. Good enough. The next controller’s sector was eerily quiet and shortly after contacting them we were cleared to proceed direct to Nashua.

I recently switched jobs and my new job is software engineering at a startup in a building located just off the approach end of Runway 5 at Hanscom field. The building is distinctively triangular and I managed to snap a quick cell cam picture as we descended over Hanscom.

From this directly I received a left base pattern entry from Nashua tower. A familiar airplane was on downwind and received us as traffic called out – Skyhawk 7242G, the airplane I did my primary training and soloed in. My landing was very nice and smooth although I dropped the power a bit early and ended up landing just past the threshold rather than further down which can be nice at Nashua since I park towards the end.

As we were tying down N52667 my old friend 42G pulled in and it was a flight instructor from Air Direct with a female student. There is definitely a gender imbalance in aviation and I am always extra happy to see fresh blood especially when it increases the diversity of the rather exclusive community of pilots. I stopped in the office briefly to chat with the student and instructor Doug Gale. The student was around 6-7 hours along and getting into the meat of landing practice. I wanted to inquire of Doug about something else related to training… his availability for instrument instruction! I’m hoping I might be able to start some of that this weekend!

New Hampshire Poker Run

On Saturday the flight school where I did my primary training – Air Direct Airways – held a Poker Run to benefit Homes for our Troops, a charity that builds specially adapted homes for disabled veterans. A Poker Run is an event where for a particular buy-in ($25 in this case, all of which went to charity) you get a sheet where your “hand” will be marked. There are five remote airports throughout New Hampshire each with a deck of cards. You fly to each of these airports in no predetermined order and pick a card at each (the decks are at the FBO which is the business that provides passenger services and fuel at airports). An employee at each location marks your sheet with the cards you draw. At the end everyone returned back to Nashua and each “hand” was compared against the others to determine the winners of several donated prizes.

I did the Poker Run with Abby and we each got a hand. Unfortunately we got a bit of a late start. This was my fault – I failed to estimate exactly how long it would take on the ground at each airport. Our initial destination would be Keene. It was pretty bumpy! Winds aloft were pretty stiff and blowing over the mountains and ridges of Vermont not to mention Mt. Monadnock near Keene. Fighting the bumps and the headwinds I maneuevered around Mt. Monadnock then overflew Keene to enter a left downwind for runway 02 – the designated light wind runway. There was some other traffic in the area and I followed them in. I was nicely positioned on approach to drop the power out and trim nose up and the landing was pretty good.

Finding the proper FBO building was not so easy. Foreflight’s mini airport diagram depicted it in the wrong place and unfortunately I had already shut down by the time we realized this. It ended up being the first good fuel injection hot start practice of the day and soon we were taxied across the runway to the proper terminal building. Our cards weren’t too big but Keene is a lovely little spot and we were welcomed to the airport by a man and his son playing catch out front. Nashua to Keene: 0.6 hours.

Next was Lebanon. This meant even more bumps! It was pretty wild. I had been intending to suggest that Abby try some of the cruise flying but I quickly changed my mind. I needed to be concentrating on flying to take my mind off the bumps. Getting close to Lebanon the ATIS reported that they were landing runway 36 and taking off runway 7. Before departing Ron at Air Direct had warned me that Lebanon might be very busy because it was Dartmouth’s graduation week. If they were unable to take us at the FBO or the airport we could just move on and draw the final card back at Nashua.

My course was already well aligned for runway 36 and on initial call up the tower asked me to make straight in and report several distances in and to keep my speed up to slip in before a following business jet (they go a lot faster and can’t slow down!). I figured I’d give it a try – worst thing it would mean a go-around and I had a passenger so there were two brains thinking about getting the gear down before landing. In fact I had no trouble remembering the gear since I intended to use it as a speed brake.

I held around 135 knots until passing through a mile and a half then pulled the power to idle and leveled off to get me down into the speed range for the first notch of flaps. With the plane still pitched for level flight and power out 10 degrees of flaps gets you into the gear speed range in several seconds. Gear down, the nose gear door flops out and acts like a huge speed brake. Setting the propeller RPM high is yet another speed brake as that big prop flattens out and causes more drag. I went to full flaps and set up the power off glide at around 68 knots. Approach speed was stable and I put it down just past the bars on the nice long runway. I was clear long before the business jet and barely beat them to parking. It is always good to know I can do this sort of “busy field approach” when requested by ATC. Keene to Lebanon: 0.6 hours.

Next up was Laconia. I went here during my night flight as a student and during my long student XC. Laconia was reporting a gusty crosswind with peak gusts of 18 knots! Fortunately there is a nice, wide, long, runway at Laconia. As I approached the airport a Citation business jet approached and made a clear example of atrocious radio work at a pilot controlled field like Laconia. The proper approach is to make a position report on a common traffic advisory report and state your intentions. other relevant traffic will respond with their position. Instead this hot shot jet pilot gave poor position reports and ended every call with the lengthy and useless “any traffic in the area please advise” on a crowded frequency. Of course, they also stated their intentions to land on runway 8 instead of 26 which the winds favored and others in the area had used. Sigh.

When I turned final for runway 26 (like everybody else) I could tell it was going to be an interesting landing because I had a *lot* of crab angle in for crosswind correction. Fortunately the winds did seem to die down marginally closer to the ground and as I transitioned into the sideslip for landing it didn’t look so extreme. The wind was gusty and it was a perfectly safe landing but no greaser. The nice part is I held it there on one wheel in the crosswind gust with the proper crosswind correctly to track straight ahead. Lebanon to Laconia: 0.5 hours.

Departing Laconia on 26 I turned left and climbed over the terrain with some pretty intense bumps. I slowed a bit until getting well past the terrain where it smoothed out marginally. By that time it was time to descend towards Skyhaven/Rochester, NH which was visible from quite far away. My course heading left me almost perfectly lined up with runway 15 but winds favored 33. The standard traffic pattern for 33 is right turns (versus the usual left turns) so I side stepped to the left and flew downwind then a nice approach. We didn’t spend too much time on the ground, getting our cards and letting the local FBO take a picture of us. Laconia to Rochester: 0.4 hours.

Since it was already getting late and we were hungry we elected to skip the stop at Concord and head directly back to Nashua. This time I called up Boston Approach for advisories and to pass through the Manchester Class C airspace. Before handing me over to Nashua Tower the controller advised me of “numerous aircraft in the vicinity of Nashua”. He wasn’t kidding, great weather on a Saturday brings folks out at Nashua. We were number four in line to land and on a very extended downwind. Things were stacked up pretty tight too and the traffic in front of me elected to go around. This left the runway clear for me to make one of the nicest landings of the day and taxi back to parking. Right in the flare a gust hit and we ballooned up. I gave just the right shot of power to keep the total energy reasonable and nailed the approach pitch attitude, doing a second flare. The touchdown was smooth and slow, a bit long but that was perfect since I park towards the end The final leg was 0.6 which brought the total to 2.7 hours logged and five landings.

Unfortunately we didn’t win anything and our hands kinda sucked! Good thing it is for a good cause. And there was food and drink generously donated by the Midfield Cafe at Nashua. The winners were announced with much fan fare.

Landing at 5 different airports in 2.7 hours is experience expanding. Every airport is different. Different runway lengths at widths present a different sight picture during landing and you need to adjust. Picking airports out of the surrounding terrain is a very valuable skill as well. Finally thanks to clear skies and beautiful June weather the sun hitting the ground made it quite bumpy and gusty. Every airport I went to had a different wind angle and speed. Every landing is different and every bit of practice helps me get more consistent.

Back to Cape Cod: The Old Colony Rail Trail

Since I didn’t have work on Friday I decided to take advantage of the free time and head down to Cape Cod. A friend from the gathering last week in Dennisport had explored various parts of the Cape Cod Rail Trail network and told me that one part of the trail went right past the Chatham airport. I have a Dynamic Sidekick 8 folding bicycle which fits neatly on the rear set of the Cardinal so this was perfect.

My transport sits on the backseat: The Dynamic Sidekick 8.

The weather was predicted to be clear with scattered afternoon thunderstorms. This didn’t concern me too much. With plenty of fuel and no time pressure I had plenty of ability to deviate around any weather or to divert to another airport and wait it out. One nice thing about thunderstorm weather in this kind of air mass is that they are isolated or scattered and very easy to see and avoid when you are flying under visual flight rules. Even if a thunderstorm cell is directly over your destination airport a wait of just 30 minutes to an hour maximum will generally bring it back to good flying weather.

The direct route to Chatham or anywhere on Cape Cod from Nashua goes straight over the city of Boston. Fortunately Boston Approach is very accommodating and I was cleared into their airspace at 5,500 feet. The air was very smooth at this altitude and I had no trouble maintaining the altitude with a needle width. Much like the trip to Hyannis I did receive some vectors (turn 10 degrees right) around arrival and departure corridors but once I was perhaps 10 or 15 miles south of Boston Logan airport I was cleared on course. The direct route would have taken me a fair distance over the bay so I followed the shoreline for a curved course heading towards Chatham.

My clearance was to maintain 5500 in the Boston Class B airspace. Exactly on it in smooth air. Top CDI indicates we are right of course due to ATC vectors around Logan airport arrival and departure corridors.

Eventually I could receive the automated weather report from Chatham and was dismayed to hear it reported a 300 foot overcast ceiling! This was not forecast. In fact, the entire rest of the Cape was in complete clear with not a cloud visible. Visibility was perhaps 50 or more miles. I was still talking to Cape Approach and so I told them I would take a tour down to Provincetown and back at 2500 and see if it improved.

Boston city center and Logan airport.

The weather was nice and clear over most of the Cape and perfect for sightseeing. I followed the shoreline around the Cape and checked out a few spots. There were some interesting round pounds which I assume are glacial in origin.

Some round ponds on the eastern side of the "vertical" part of the Cape.

By this time Chatham was reporting “Ceiling 500 broken variable between 500 and 700.” I decided to at least check it out and heading back towards Chatham. In fact, the bank of clouds that was causing these readings was rolling in off the ocean on the breeze. As soon as it got above land the rising warm air would completely vaporize the clouds and it was completely clear. In fact the reason why the automated weather was reported a variable broken ceiling is because the clouds (the layer itself only a few hundred feet thick) were dissipating right over the top of the airport. The approach end of runway 24 was completely in the clear. Since Chatham airport’s airspace is only controlled down to 700 feet above ground I was able to utilize “Class G” airspace VFR requirements which are 1 mile visibility (reported visibility was 10 miles) and clear of clouds. The terrain around Chatham is very flat and unobstructed which made this a good opportunity to get in VFR. With a slightly irregular pattern and a number of radio calls I maneuvered around the areas of cloud and made a very nice landing on runway 24. In honor of one of my previous CFIs who has gone off to Alaska to give people float plane instruction I dub this an “Alaska VFR Approach”!

Parked at Chatham. Weather a bit ugly but meets "Class G" airspace VFR minimums. One side of the airport is almost in fog, the other side was clear above visibility unlimited!

There is no charge to park at Chatham for the day. Sign the guest book and exit the gate right onto the bike trail. I decided to head towards Dennisport so the first step was to cross the street then you are on the old rail bed portion. As train tracks often are the trail is very straight and any grades are very mild. The folding bike was perfect for this.

The Cape Cod Rail Trail (Old Colony line). Rail trails are so straight!

The trail goes past houses and some land managed for drinking water aquifer recharge. Eventually I started to get hungry as I reached Harwich and as if by magic I came to a road where there was the word “Cafe” written in chalk on the pavement with an arrow! Clearly I was in for an adventure and began to follow these cafe arrows eventually landing at The Dancing Spoon Cooking Company. This location is off to the side of the center of town but worth searching out. The food was excellent and fast and I could put my bike in a bike rack right out front and sit outside eating it. I highly recommend it.

The unfolded Dynamic Sidekick.

After eating lunch I headed back to Chatham. As I got close I started to get worried – the clouds were obviously worse, not better, and in fact there were some areas of obvious fog! Arriving at the airport I found that the cloudy side (runway 6 approach end) had gotten cloudier with a 300 foot overcast and visibility 5 miles in mist. Of course, the runway 24 approach end was still completely in the clear. Winds were around 8 knots and favoring runway 24.

I waited for a bit to see if the weather would improve. No signs of this happening. I went out to the plane, grabbed my the POH (Pilot’s Operating Handbook) and flipped to the performance tables section. Normally one would not try to take off with a tailwind, but with considerable “fudge factor” added to the calculations I determined that despite the only 3000 feet of runway at Chatham I could take off with a tailwind and be able to clear a 50 foot obstacle several hundred feet before the end of the runway. Fortunately I did not take on fuel in Chatham and ate a light lunch!

I was happy with the performance figures and after a careful run up and pre-takeoff check I turned onto runway 6, looked straight ahead at the beautiful blue sky, and stood on the brakes bringing the power up to full for proper short field procedure. Releasing the brakes brought the speed up fast and the takeoff definitely felt fast over the ground! Sure enough, I hit flying speed with plenty of margin before reaching my planned abort point halfway down the runway as promised by the performance calculations. I climbed at best angle climb speed until I was absolutely sure I was clear of any obstacles and turned to climb away from any of the cloud bank before calling Cape Approach and asking for advisories back past Boston.

Hyannis - my destination last weekend - in the clear. Nantucket behind is solidly IFR in low stratus fog!

I didn’t get a good picture of the stratus cloud deck just south of Chatham but you can see Nantucket in that picture. Well actually you can’t – it was similarly covered in low stratus clouds. The entire width of the Cape was clear near Hyannis and the Cape Cod Canal. Again I followed the shoreline back and began to look off to the right for the thunderstorm reported by Cape Approach as being near Boston.

Passing to the east of scuddy clouds south of Boston.

Soon the thunderstorm was quite visible off to my right. I received a Bravo clearance at 6500 feet and a heading that would take me towards the west. Boston Approach is very helpful and will work with you to help you pick your way around weather (especially if they know you do not have on board weather RADAR like the big jets do). They were very busy with IFR traffic deviating left and right around the cells and yet still helped me by relaying a pilot report from someone who got into Nashua by going around the storm to the west around Fitchburg. I headed for this area and visually navigated around the areas of heavy rain and clouds. This is a case where the flexibility of VFR flight is very good – you can go around these big thunderstorms IF you can see them. You can’t if you’re flying around in a cloud.

Shooting the gap - diverting west out to a line between Framingham and Fitchburg to get far from the thunderstorm over Boston. After this point it got too turbulent and the autopilot couldn't fly anymore so I put the camera down for good :)

I got my wings a bit wet at the edge of some of the showers (no problem) and the turbulence was “continuous light chop” at times. Nothing too bad, but continuously bumpy the whole way around the outside of the cell. Sometimes you could see lighting arc up the side of the cloud about 20 miles off the right side! Not dangerous, but the pucker factor was there.

Soon after passing over the top of Fitchburg airport Nashua was visible in the clear blue skies behind the back edge of the storm. I gave the rain shafts a nice healthy margin and headed for Nashua. There was a crosswind but it was steady. Just the experience I needed and the result was a very nice smooth crosswind landing on one wheel right on the center line! A great ending to an excellent experience broadening day.

(Bigger versions and some more photos can be found on my photo site. Unfortunately I bumped my camera and didn’t notice I’d set the ISO to 400 so they are grainier than normal.)

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.

Pilots N Paws

I’ve wanted to do a rescue flight for Pilots N Paws for a while now. Earlier this week I saw a listing for a 6 pound toy poodle coming from Columbus, OH to Norwood, MA and figured that a leg of that journey with such a small dog would be an excellent introduction to doing the animal rescue flights. For this particular journey three pilots were participating with a leg from Ohio State University airport in Columbus to Johnstown, PA followed by a leg which we met in Bridgeport.

With my on the journey was my wife Abby and my father in law Bill. Bill has done some flying in the past and many years ago his father flew a Bonanza. I haven’t been flying with him yet but this was a good opportunity. With just one 6 pound dog (and about 50 pounds of accompanying dog stuff) there weren’t any serious W&B issues with three adults in the plane so on the Bridgeport to Norwood leg Abby could be in the back with the dog and Bill could sit up front.

Since Abby prefers to follow along on paper charts instead of Foreflight I spent some time last night marking up our course lines on the New York Sectional chart and the Boston Terminal Area Chart. She sat up front. The weather was hazy like yesterday but not quite as bad. I elected to cruise at 6500 which meant I had to descend a bit at times to stay legal below a few thin cumulus clouds. The hazy scud layer obviously terminated just above my cruising altitude and if this was a longer journey I would certainly have been up at 8500 in the cooler, smoother, clearer air.

Our arrival at Bridgeport was a bit later than expected due to a headwind and leaving Nashua a bit later than anticipated. This turned out to be OK since the arriving flight had to pick its way around some isolated thunderstorms west of New York City. I was prepared for the possibility that we’d need to do some similar diversions around convective activity but it was not a factor.

Bridgeport was busy and I picked up traffic to follow. The tower controller sounded a bit overwhelmed with the amount of traffic and I don’t think there was a separate controller working the ground frequency. After arriving he gave me taxi instructions to the Atlantic FBO where we would be meeting the pilot of the previous leg and Doodle, the 6 pound rescue poodle. As it turns out Doodle was relaxing in the posh pilot lounge with the clerk at Atlantic while the pilot gathered up the bundle of extra stuff traveling with the dog – a heavy bag and soft sided crate.

Abby at Bridgeport after meeting Doodle. We found Doodle relaxing in the posh pilot lounge at Atlantic Aviation, and connected with the pilot of the previous leg from Johnstown, PA. We are the third airplane to transport Doodle today, with the first leg originating in Columbus, OH.

With everything loaded I redid the weight and balance calculations with the heavy bag in the back. A 6 pound dog is not much of a factor but the cargo could be, and I’d told Atlantic to go ahead and top off the plane to waive the ramp fees! Fortunately everything was confirmed to be within the proper weight and balance envelope.

Abby and Doodle in the back seat of the Cardinal (shot from outside the door).

The Cardinal performed well on the takeoff despite being near gross weight on a relatively hot day. We had plenty of runway, a safe altitude crossing the departure end of the runway, and a good rate of climb once the gear and flaps were up. The RG definitely isn’t as good as I understand the 182 to be in hot/heavy/high situations but with the 200HP injection engine it has a good bit more power than the fixed gear Cardinal.

Bill followed along with the charts, input frequencies into the radio and transponder codes as we talked to Approach, and retrieved and wrote down the ATIS for me. I do usually fly VFR cross countries with the destination “Direct To” in the 430 but I love verifying my position using the chart and pilotage. I also have a Garmin GMA340 audio panel with the excellent Split 1/2 comm feature which means the copilot position headset can get the ATIS while the pilot position continues listening to Approach. On a busy frequency it can sometimes be quite difficult to hear the ATIS and flying solo it can often take a few repeats before I’ve gotten all of it. In this case I had a knowledgeable non-pilot passenger write it down perfectly organized!

We were below the shelf of the Boston class Bravo by the time we reached it and Boston Approach terminated radar services 10 miles out. Upon contacting Norwood Tower some traffic ahead of us was pointed out to follow. We are number three with the first plane on short final. It was pretty close to straight in and initially I was following the traffic with the airport barely visible in the haze. I think the final approach course was about 20 degrees right from the heading I was on following the other airplane.

The Blue Hill observatory from Norwood. You can't really see the observatory so I guess it is just a Blue Hill!

Norwood ground asked if I was familiar with the airport and then gave very good progressive taxi instructions to the FBO. It turns out in the hubbub of loading the extra bag I’d forgotten to give our ETA to the recipient of dog who was meeting us in Norwood and she called me just after we shut down. Fortunately she was nearby so we didn’t have to wait long. The FBO was kind enough to waive any fees since we were flying for Pilots N Paws.

Abby at Norwood, Doodle exploring the grass.

There was a nice grassy area with some families watching planes come and go just outside the ground side of the FBO. It was the perfect place to wait for Sue from Toy Poodle Rescue and let the dog stretch its legs on something nicer than an airport ramp (though that Atlantic FBO lounge was pretty nice too!). It didn’t take long for Sue to show up

Sue from Toy Poodle Rescue with Doodle.

Departing Norwood I asked Ground to enter our information into the System for flight following and a Bravo clearance, Nashua, 4500 feet. They’ll give you a transponder code on the ground just like an IFR flight and after departure on initial call up with Boston approach I get “Cleared to climb into the Boston Class Bravo 4500 direct Nashua” before I even have to slow my climb. I do love working with Boston Approach – he also gave me “altitude your discretion” just before I wanted to start descending!

The total flying ended up being 2.9 hours. Flying for Pilots N Paws was rewarding and it went off without any major hitches. I also think that today was a valuable experience booster in that I explored the weight and balance envelope of the Cardinal, experienced a near gross weight takeoff on a hot day, flew in weather that while legal VFR was often hazy enough to make the horizon hard to discern at altitude, and made my first flight with a non human passenger!