Hour Count

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

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!

2013 in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More random highlights from 2013:

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

Finally, my new goals for 2014.

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

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

Video: Pattern flying in the Cardinal RG

Here is a video I took back in March with a GoPro camera. It demonstrates the before takeoff run up flow and then includes two trips around the pattern in the Cardinal. I added some explanatory subtitles about what I’m doing.

GUMPS is: Gas, Undercarriage, Mixture, Prop, Seatbelts. This is a mnemonic for the before landing check: Fuel selector both, gear down/green light/in window&mirror, mixture rich, prop set for go-around, seatbelts and shoulder harnesses fastened.

Notice all of the snow on the ground! It was shot March 3rd. The ground is no longer snowy!

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!

2012 in Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012 in Review

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

My aviation goals for 2013 include:

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

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

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!

More instrument training in Actual, Filing IFR

Monday was Columbus Day which meant a company wide day off from work. But since my CFII is available on Tuesdays instead I worked on Monday and took off Tuesday in lieu. This was nice for commute traffic reasons as well and as it turns out three other people from engineering did the same thing. Even better the weather on Tuesday was forecast to have some light rain and clouds at 2000 feet and the freezing levels were up at 5000 feet giving some room to experience some more actual instrument conditions.

Doug and I met up in the morning, discussed the weather and approaches, and decided that we would do the ILS 35 into MHT (Manchester, NH), the VOR 23 into LWM (Lawrence, MA), and the VOR-A approach back into Nashua. Nashua is still recovering from the runway construction and thus all other instrument approaches are out of service. But the weather was sufficient for the circling VOR-A approach so there would be no issue. Unlike last time we filed IFR ahead of time (using Doug’s information) and we would be on an IFR clearance for our entire flight. With the flight plan filed it was the perfect time for an early lunch so we walked over to the Midfield Cafe and grabbed a quick lunch before heading out.

Since this was an IFR departure from Nashua the procedure was a bit different. When I called up ground ready to taxi I said we were “IFR to Nashua” and the controller came back with the taxi instructions and then the clearance. The clearance was “N52667 is cleared to the Nashua airport via Radar Vectors, direct Manchester, then as filed. Climb and maintain 3000, squawk 1234, departure frequency 124.9.” I copied the clearance down correctly onto my kneeboard as the controller read it off but when I read it back to him my brain automatically stuck “five hundred” on the end of the altitude since I am used to reading off standard VFR altitudes! Doug laughed at me since he could see I’d correctly written down the altitude and made the freudian slip on the read back. The controller corrected my error and I taxied to the run-up area.

Once my normal run-up procedure was complete we did a few more IFR specific things including setting up the avionics stack (communication and navigation radios and GPS) for our expected route and pre-briefing the ILS 35 approach before leaving the ground. With all final checks completed I contacted the tower controller for our IFR release and waited while they coordinated our release with Boston approach. The final instructions included an initial heading “Cardinal 52667, after takeoff fly heading 180, cleared for takeoff runway 32″.

Climbing through 1000 feet I put on my blockalls instrument goggles. But by 2000 feet Doug told me to take them off since we were in and out of a broken layer. You could catch intermittent glimpses of the ground but no discernible horizon as Boston approach vectored us around for the ILS approach. Some other aircraft were doing practice approaches including a C-130 from the Rhode Island national guard with the call sign “Roady 38″.

After intercepting the glideslope and starting the descent eventually we broke out of the clouds and I had put the foggles back on. I did a reasonably good job on the ILS although it was hard work. Around 50 feet above minimums Doug had me look up and pull the foggles off and sure enough the runway was just a bit to our left. It would have been landable, but instead we executed the missed approach procedure. ATC had assigned an alternate missed approach procedure with a vector to fly, climb and maintain 3000 and by the time we were back up in the clouds again we were direct to the Lawrence VOR for the VOR-23 approach.

This time I briefed the approach in the air as we were in and out of the clouds. The view out of the window was never sufficient to maintain control without reference to the instruments. Unlike the Manchester ILS approach where ATC vectored us onto the final approach course for the VOR 23 we requested a “full approach”. This is done by flying to the Lawrence VOR, flying outbound on a particular radial from the VOR, performing a “procedure turn” to reverse course and rejoin that radial now flying towards the airport. We chose the VOR 23 for practice because the VOR itself is very near the airport but not exactly at it (you pass over the VOR about a mile and a half from the runway). Since the VOR signal gets squirrely directly over the VOR you need to be stabilized on a heading and wind correction in and continue flying that heading to reach the airport.

Flying the full procedure was a lot of work and I felt a bit rushed but the approach itself was well executed. Despite the VOR being close to the airport I held the course and when I looked up we were nicely aligned with the runway. The VOR 23 was not actually a good approach for landing since we had somewhat of a tailwind but it was the best VOR approach around. Since we weren’t planning on landing we advised the Lawrence Tower of our missed approach and climbed back up into the clouds once more.

Back with Boston approach I flew assigned vectors to the final approach course. The vectors took us west of the Manchester VOR first then intercepted the inbound course. The VOR-A is getting familiar now. Approaching the VOR we are cleared for the approach. Passing the VOR I put flaps 10 and gear down and begin the descent towards the minimum descent altitude of 900 feet. For a nonprecision approach like the VOR-A the descent is selected such that the MDA is reached prior to the airport and I increased the power and leveled off for the last part of the approach. Overhead the airport is the missed approach point and at this point I looked up and began the circling maneuver to Runway 32.

Unlike my last attempts at the circling maneuver this one was a bit nicer. The landing was a bit hard but tolerable. I’ll continue working on the transition between close focused instrument work and looking outside and focusing in the distance for the visual landings. Doug says many students have problems with the transition from Visual to Instrument flight in both directions, but my problem is primarily the instrument to visual transition.

With the plane tied down we went inside and debriefed. With some time left in the day but the weather a bit crummier I decided to spend some time in the Frasca Sim doing some approaches we don’t have easy access to. There aren’t many DME Arc approaches in our area. But an old approach plate from the 90s into Manchester features a DME ARC to the ILS 35. One other nice thing about the sim is that you can see the overhead and vertical profile of the approach. The DME arc looked very nice and the approach was right on the glideslope.

The other nice thing about the sim is it makes it easy to practice entering a nonpublished hold from several directions. Doing this in real conditions requires negotiating the hold with ATC (or asking them to make something up) which is extra workload for them. With Doug playing ATC I did several hold entries which looked nice on the overview.

My instrument training is coming along very nicely. I probably won’t get back to training until after the plane’s annual inspection is completed at the beginning of November. The break will set me back a bit but I am on track and after a few more lessons of approaches and holds we’ll do the instrument cross country required for the rating. Now I have 1.2 of actual instrument time and 9.7 simulated. I also get to count my time in the sim. Still, there is plenty more training before I am ready for the instrument checkride.

Actual IFR Flying

I am once again behind on the blog updates. On Saturday I went for another IFR training flight. The goal was to do more practice with holds and to fly both an ILS and two VOR approaches. On my previous flights I didn’t have the opportunity to practice an intersection hold so that would be one of the goals. Just like the last time I was doing holds for real the winds aloft were fierce – up to 30 knots.

After departing Nashua we proceeded direct to the KHRIS intersection which is defined by the intersection of the 060 Radial off the Manchester (MHT) VOR and the 154 Radial off the Concord (CON) VOR. The hold itself is along the 154 Radial, right turns, 1 minute legs. The first step was to fly direct to KHRIS. I began by navigating using the Manchester VOR while Doug dialed KHRIS into the Garmin 430 GPS to navigate direct. On the way I setup my two NAV radios for the Concord and Manchester VORs. About three minutes from KHRIS I began slowing the airplane down for the hold by reducing power and holding altitude. With the power setting I’ve chosen for holding the airspeed drops down to around 90 knots in the clean configuration (landing gear and flaps up).

There are multiple ways to enter a hold depending on which direction you come from relative to the hold. These entries are called “Direct”, “Parallel” and “Teardrop”. If you approach a hold such that you do not need to make a sharp turn to enter the hold after passing the holding fix then a direct entry is appropriate. Otherwise you need to choose between the Parallel and Teardrop course reversals. The important part is that you remain on the holding side of the VOR radial since the airspace on the other side is not protected (ATC could put other airplanes there). To enter the hold at KHRIS I used a parallel entry although a teardrop would have worked as well.

Once passing the KHRIS entry and turning to a 334 heading the wind became a direct crosswind. I applied a substantial amount of wind correction to the left and started my timer for the one minute parallel leg. With one minute up I turned more than 180 degrees to the left and back in on a course to re-intercept the 154 radial off of Concord (the inbound holding course). Once this was reintercepted I tracked that radial, adjusting for wind, until the KHRIS interception was indicated by the second NAV radio’s CDI centering the needles. At this point I reported to ATC that we were established in the hold at 3500 feet and began my first right turn around the hold.

After several rounds around the hold at KHRIS without major issues we decided to depart for the Concord VOR. This would give me the opportunity to practice another hold entry and also provide a transition point to do the ILS 17 approach at Manchester. I increased the power back to a cruise setting and headed for the Concord VOR. I don’t remember what entry I used here but it was either parallel or teardrop again. I settled into the hold reasonably well although the crosswind was challenging.

Soon ATC reported: “To your west about 8 miles an area of moderate precipitation, moving east quite rapidly… A jet departing reported moderate turbulence, moderate chop.” Of course, by this point I have been flying for almost an hour and a half without being able to see outside. I asked Doug how it looked outside and he said it was looking much hazier and there was rain off to the left. We could either head straight back to Nashua or call ATC and request a pop up IFR clearance to continue holding at the Concord VOR. It did not take me long to answer!

I requested the IFR clearance and got ready to copy it down while still flying the airplane. It took a few moments to get the clearance and soon the controller came back with “Cardinal 52667 you are cleared to the Concord VOR via… continued holding, maintain 3500, expect further clearance 20:00, let me know whenever you want to continue and do an approach”. Now we were legally on an IFR clearance and I continued to hold.

It was not Doug told me to take the foggles off and sure enough we were headed in and out of clouds and light rain. There was certainly no discernible horizon. I focused on the gauges and glanced up occasionally to experience the view of IMC. The rain soon got much heavier, definitely moderate precipitation. Each time I circled the hold I went in and out of the cloud and the area of moderate precip. In the cloud there were some fairly intense updrafts and I would suddenly find myself climbing a few hundred feet per minute and have to push on the yoke to remain level then the opposite would happen as I passed through the weather.

Soon we decided to advise ATC that we wanted to fly the ILS 17 at Manchester. I was immediately cleared to the Manchester airport via the Concord transition ILS 17 approach. I proceeded following the approach plate from the Concord VOR to intercept the runway 17 Localizer at the ROCKR waypoint. Along the way Doug flew the airplane while I briefed the approach and set up the radios. Visbility had improved but I stayed focused on the gauges. We planned to fly the ILS down to the Decision Altitude of 429 feet (200 above ground).

Soon I was back to flying the airplane and got my approach clearance which I read back “6 miles from KIMBR, maintain 2100 ’til established, cleared ILS 17 approach Cardinal 52667″. Intercepting the glideslope at 2100 feet I put the gear down and flaps 10 and began descending at 500 feet per minute to follow the glideslope needle. Once again, it was a direct crosswind! I focused on the approach and flew it down to 450 feet and looked up to see the runway in position. Doug asked me if I was prepared to land and I said I felt I could have landing it and he said “OK, go missed!”

Missed approach: Full power, climb pitch, gear up, flaps up, cowl flaps open. For the ILS 17 at Manchester, a climb to 800 feet straight ahead then climb to 2000 feet direct to the Manchester VOR unless advised by ATC. Tower advised me to proceed direct to the VOR, and contact approach again. Back on with approach we requested the VOR-A approach into Nashua (currently the only approach)

I grabbed the plate to quickly brief the approach while climbing towards the VOR since we didn’t have much time before reaching it. IFR is all about multitasking. This time the approach was not as cleanly flown as last time but I still ended up over the airport within a very reasonable tolerance.

There was no traffic to follow and with the airport now in sight and my foggles off I entered a left pattern for runway 14 and was cleared to land. Unfortunately what followed as a disappointing landing. While I was in a great position to land at Manchester at Nashua the circling approach combined with all of the close focused panel work meant that my sight picture was all messed up and I flared way too high. It wasn’t too bad, and I ended the flight with 0.5 of actual instrument time.

All in all the flight was a great confidence boost and a good reminder of why I have been doing the IFR training. When we debriefed the biggest thing to work on is transition from instrument flight back to visual for the landing. My instructor said that for many people transition into instrument flight is tricky but I didn’t have a problem with that. I’m excited for the next actual instrument experience with a better landing at the end!