Sunday, August 30, 2009

Auburn - Firstair - Auburn / Cessna 152 (N708YL) / VFR

For some reason, I never seem to be able to get into the cockpit before late afternoon or sunset. This two-leg flight was no exception, as I began it only a short time before sundown, and it was getting pretty dark by the time I finished it.

In my crusty little Cessna 152, I left Auburn and climbed to a mere 2000 feet (less than 3000 AGL, VFR). Having plotted out my route in advance, I started out on a heading of 018 towards Lake Youngs, which I easily spotted after take-off. From there, I turned to 357 towards the south end of Lake Sammamish. I had to make a tiny detour between the two low mountains that separate Renton from Issaquah, then back towards the lake. I followed the lake north and finally intercepted the SEA006 radial, which I followed up to Firstair. It was a short flight and quite pleasant.

The return flight, which I began right at sunset, went equally well. Again I stayed at 2000, and I retraced my initial route to get back to Auburn. No problems encountered. I held my heading and altitude quite well both ways.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Soldotna - Merle K. (Mudhole) Smith / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N704TL) / VFR-IFR

Inspired by a story about a helicopter pilot who went down in weather in this area some years ago, I decided to try a flight from Soldotna, Alaska, to Cordova. They are about 160 nm apart.

I filed and started out VFR, but there were clouds east of my departure airport that I just couldn't get around, so I obtained a pop-up IFR clearance to my destination. By then I was at 11500 trying to get over the clouds, but I requested and got 9000 after being cleared.

Unlike the flight of the helicopter pilot that inspired me, my flight was uneventful—but my weather was pretty bad, too. It deteriorated as I continued east, with solid cloud layers above and below me and mostly a lot of mist ahead of me. I couldn't really see anything useful, although occasionally I did catch the vague outline of land and water below me. Fortunately, my Barons have all those fancy avionics and are certified for entry into icing conditions, so I was good. And I did pick up a little bit of ice, but nothing serious.

The flight was practically a straight line from Soldotna to Cordova, although I had filed BROIL.NOWEL.JOH. Part of this was off-airway, which was no big deal for VFR but a bit more of a concern for IFR. I just checked the quadrant altitudes on the en-route chart to make sure I was clear of terrain before requesting an altitude. Actually, 7500 would have been fine, but 9000 was even more fine, giving me almost three thousand feet above the highest terrain.

I was very happy on this flight because I executed a superb IFR approach to runway 27 at Cordova. I didn't have ATC online, so I had to fly the approach myself. Once over Prince William Sound, I requested 5000 and flew along until I was just southwest of the airport. I then turned northeast until I had GIPRE at a bearing of 092, just like the plate says. I turned to 092, descending to cross GIPRE at 4700, then descended per the plate while making a procedure turn to come back. All in all, every step was properly executed; as I rolled out of my procedure turn, I was already aligned with the ILS and just beneath the glide slope. I made most of the approach from there on autopilot, but I got the field visually a few miles out and turned off the automation to fly in by hand in nearly-calm winds. Touchdown and taxi to the gate were fine.

I parked just before sunset, although at this latitude in summer, “just before sunset” lasts for quite a long time.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Santa Monica - Phoenix / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N705TL) / IFR

Time for some more cross-country IFR.

I'm a creature of habit, so I chose KSMO to KPHX (yes, as a matter of fact, I do insist on using ICAO airport codes!). This was a night flight, but flying my Barons SPIFR at night doesn't bother me, with all the fancy avionics I have in them.

I filed a departure and arrival, too, which is exceptional for my small GA aircraft. I took the PEVEE1.TRM departure out of Santa Monica, and the BLH4.BLH arrival into Phoenix Sky Harbor. All of the en-route portion of the flight was at 11000, since I had to be there to get over the mountains and the BLH4 (intended for jets and turboprops) also specified a recommended altitude of 11000 at the gate.

All went well. On the way out of SMO I was surprised to hear ATC conducting a PAR approach. It brought back memories of the old movie Airport, in which the heroes ask for a PAR approach for some strange reason (I guess a PAR provides more exciting dialogue and more suspense than an ILS).

ATC was offline in ZAB, so I cleared myself for a Freeway visual approach. Only problem here is that I had no ATC to assign altitudes. After ARLIN, where I'd normally get vectors, I vectored myself northeast to intercept the localizer for 7L (even though I planned a visual approach, I like having back-up), and cleared myself down to 3100 from 5000. That was a bit iffy because there are a few spots in the terrain that reach up past 3100, but I know the area pretty well and I have TAWS on board so I wasn't too worried. At one point I did see terrain below me in the darkness, scattered trees and stuff, but the radar altimeter said I was 2000 feet above and the TAWS showed no terrain problems ahead so I continued on.

The weather was very clear, hot, and calm at Sky Harbor (something about that name—Sky Harbor—sounds appealing to me … I picture little planes tied up to cloud banks in a sky-high version of a pleasure harbor). I let the autopilot line me up until I was 11 miles out or so, then switched it off and flew the rest by hand. Landing was smooth and without incident, and I taxied across 7R and over to Cutter, my favorite FBO (probably because they have the old Phoenix tower from the 1950s as decoration). They've also been in Phoenix for as long as I can remember.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Santa Paula - Santa Ynez / Cessna 152 (N702YL) / VFR

I try to find short flights for the 152, since it is so incredibly slow. This evening I flew from Santa Paula to Santa Ynez, a distance of only about 59 nautical miles. It still took nearly an hour.

The flight went perfectly in every respect. I flew at 4500 feet all the way. The only problem—there's always something!—was that I had the sun blazing into my eyes almost every single step of the way. So it was hard to admire the scenery. All I could do was squint through sunglasses. Why do I always seem to have the sun in my eyes? But other than that, it was perfect.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Montgomery Field - Santa Monica / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N705TL) / IFR

It was time for a little IFR practice, so I fired up one of my Barons at Montgomery Field, and flew to Santa Monica with some virtual passengers. I flew the TEC route SANN9 at 6000.

The main problem with this flight was a change in the location of POPPR, one of the waypoints on the TEC route. It used to be northwest of SLI, now it is southeast. Unfortunately, my aging GPS database still has it northwest, which I only discovered while reviewing the route after take-off, so I had to define a user waypoint with the new location.

This illustrates a problem with simulation for the moment: it's not always possible to have updated navigation databases on the sim, which makes using updated, current procedures potentially difficult. Most waypoints and stations don't move, but some do, and procedures get updated, deleted, or added in other ways. There's no way to update the basic sim database, and the GPS units I use (Garmin units implemented by Reality XP) have proprietary databases that Garmin doesn't update. So with time, inevitably things drift.

I managed to complete the flight, though. After I redefined POPPR in the GPS unit, I was cleared direct ELMOO and then for the VOR approach to runway 21 at Santa Monica. All went well and I landed at KSMO without incident.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Corona - Oceanside / Piper Dakota (N9706W) / VFR

After resting a bit in Corona, I decided to make a quick flight to Oceanside. It only took about half an hour. The descent into Oceanside was rather steep, but the landing was pretty smooth.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Santa Paula - Corona / Piper Dakota (N9706W) / VFR

So I was standing around at Santa Paula again, debating which aircraft I should take up for a spin among the several of my fleet that are sitting here at the airport. Suddenly, a man runs up to me, whom I recognize as famed Dr. Clayton Forrester of Pacific Tech, and asks me to take him to Corona, which somehow doesn't surprise me. That gives me an excuse to fly, and we hop into one of my Piper Dakotas, N9706W, sitting on the ramp.

I'm getting to know V186 by heart, and I quickly set up a route to the Fillmore VOR and then along V186 to PDZ, at which point we'd slip over the Class C and drop down to land at Corona.

The night is very clear, and we take off without incident, making a left downwind departure and then direct to FIM. Night operations are prohibited at Santa Paula (the runway isn't even lit), but with someone as renowned as Dr. Forrester, it was easy to get an exception made. I find it puzzling that KSZP has a left-handed pattern for runway 22, because there are mountains south of the field, whereas none to the north. I guess noise abatement is more important than safety of life. It's always a challenge to clear those hills, and in this case I had to pull up substantially when I realized that they were right in front of me (maybe that's another reason why the airport doesn't allow night operations?).

After that, it was just a matter of cruising along V186, which we did at 5500 feet, high enough to keep us out of the Class C airspaces at Burbank and Ontario. When we got do PDZ, I turned to 130 degrees and flew clear of the Class C below us, then descended briskly to to 2500 feet and turned around towards Corona. I looked for Lake Matthews to help me orient myself, but I couldn't see it in the darkness … however, I could see Interstate 15 and the Riverside Freeway, which I knew intersected just southeast of Corona Municipal, and that helped me get my bearings. There's also a dry wash of sorts east of the field (I don't know if it has a name), and I could see the darkness of the wash to help me.

Anyway, the beacon at the airport was easy to spot, and we landed without incident. Dr. Forrester hitched a ride to the Puente Mall to deal with those pesky Martians, and I decided to dematerialize here for the night.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Big Bear - Santa Paula / Cessna 152 (N709YL) / VFR

Since I practically have the Big Bear - Santa Paula route memorized, I figured I could risk an evening flight in the extremely Spartan Cessna 152. I survived, but I still messed it all up.

With no DME and only one VOR, navigation is a challenge in the evening. I started out at sundown, so I still had light at Big Bear. I made my take-off and took note of my anemic climb rate, but that wasn't a problem because I was over the lake, with plenty of room to gain altitude. Passing over the dam, I turned into the valley through which Bear Creek runs. It was misty and only marginally VFR, but I know the way out of the mountains, so I did okay. So far, so good.

I entered the valley below the mountains and had my one-and-only VOR set to the 258 radial inbound to Pomona (which is on V16). I had a terrible time stabilizing my altitude, even though I've done well in some previous flights; there must have been some turbulence or updrafts. I finally got that sorted out, and I held my course reasonably well, given that there was a substantial wind and I was drifting significantly.

Beyond Pomona I experienced my first period of confusion. I'm not used to the slow speed of the 152, and I seemed to be flying forever after crossing POM. I was sure that I had busted the Class B at some points. I set my VOR to the 275 radial inbound to VNY after POM, and for good measure, I set the ADF to El Monte. Everything checked out, but I still felt that I was too far west, and the thought of getting into trouble for wandering into the Bravo worried me. The needles didn't seem to move for a long time, even as I flew ever west. I told myself that the instruments don't lie, so if they say I'm clear of the Bravo, I'm clear of the Bravo—assuming I wasn't messing up in the way I was using them, of course, which was still an open question in my mind.

Finally, finally, the needles started to move. The ADF had been pointing resolutely west without any obvious motion for quite some time, but finally it started to turn. And the needle on the VOR finally started to ease its way towards the center. This was quite a relief since it proved that I really was still east of the Bravo and out of harm's way. It took ages for the needles to move far enough to where I was ready to turn onto V186, but they finally did. My speed was only about 85 KIAS, very modest compared even to, say, one of my Dakotas (140 KIAS) or even one of my 172s (120 KIAS).

I got myself centered on V186 and proceeded to VNY. But here again, I encountered the same problem I had with POM: How do I know how far I am from the VOR? The rate at which the needle moves is one indication, but it doesn't change much until you're practically on top of the VOR. When you lose the VOR, you know you're passing over it, although it might be a little late to make plans by then. It was frustrating.

My workaround was to find some NDBs and tune the ADF to locate them. I used El Monte while passing POM. On the way to VNY, I used Pacoima. By watching the changing angles on both the VOR and ADF, I could get a fair idea of where I was in relation to the VOR, roughly. This helped warn me of my pending overflight of VNY, so I could prepare for the next station (Fillmore). The switch to Fillmore went well.

I had started my flight at about 7500 feet, only about 1000 feet AGL. As soon as I cleared the mountains, I started a descent to 6500. I stayed there until I crossed VNY, then I started a 500-fpm descent as I continued on to Fillmore. I know from the chart that there's nothing above 3000 feet on the way to FIM, so I could descend 3500 feet on the way, and I need to descend because Santa Paula is practically at sea level. My plan was to fly to FIM, then outbound on the 267 radial for about 6 miles (roughly 5 minutes of flight), then turn to 220 to head to KSZP. But I started messing up on the way to FIM.

It was the same problem that confused me: How far was I from FIM? It was dark, so it was hard to see landmarks. No DME, of course … and this time, no friendly NDB to cross-check with. Again, it seemed to take forever to reach the VOR. I flew and flew, gradually descending, and starting wondering just what was going on. At about four miles from the VOR (although I didn't know my distance at the time), I foolishly thought that maybe I'd better turn. Like an idiot, I turned to 220, thinking I'd be heading to KSZP. In fact, I was still 10 nm southeast of KSZP.

I flew and flew, with increasing anxiety because nothing looked familiar. There were dark spots among the lights, which could be the airport (KSZP has no beacon or runway lights). There were bigger dark spots that were probably rising terrain. This didn't reassure me. I found something that looked like the airport, but as I approached it, I realized that wasn't it. I kept looking in all directions for something familiar, and finally I realized that I was lost.

I tried setting the VOR for the 250 radial out of FIM, which crosses the airport, but I couldn't seem to get on the radial (here again, it was the slow speed of the aircraft that tricked me into believing that I was doing something wrong—had I just flown longer, I would ended up on the radial).

After a while, I gave up on that radial, and groped back and forth a bit trying to see something that looked like an airport. Finally I did see a fairly large airport (too large to be Santa Paula), and realized that I was looking at Camarillo. So now I knew roughly where I was. I tuned the Ventura VOR, and headed for the 344 radial, which crossed Santa Paula. This time I tried to be patient, flying doggedly west, reasoning that I had to hit the radial sooner or later. Sure enough, I did. When I reached it I turned carefully north to 344.

There were hills in front of me that made it hard to determine if I was going in the right direction for a time, but I recalled that Santa Paula is just north of some hills. The chart said that some of them peaked at 2700, and I was somewhat below that, so I climbed to 3500 or so. The mountains were mostly dark silhouettes, but I could see city lights beyond, and I remembered that the spot ahead of me that remains stationary in my visual field is the spot towards which I'm flying, so I put some lights at that point to be sure I'd clear terrain. At one point, I could vaguely see trees below lit by my landing light, so I was only clearing terrain by a few hundred feet, but that was enough. After I got past the hill, I could see the two dark riverbeds that merged just southeast of KSZP, and I figured I was nearly home.

Sure enough, the closer I got, the more everything fell into place, and this time I was certain that I was approaching KSZP. I made a left base approach to the airport, kind of messy and crooked, but I landed very smoothly at very low speed. From there I parked on the ramp.

The lessons learned here were that I should not yield to speculation and not assume that I've messed up if nothing in the instruments indicates that I have. The slow speed of the aircraft made me worry, but the instruments always showed which way I was going, and so, for that matter, did the landmarks outside the window. In the future I'll try to be more patient in the 152, and more confident in my navigation, and not assume that I'm lost when I'm actually not (since assuming I'm lost may lead to me getting lost!).

Carty's - Beluga - Falcon Lake / Cessna 152 (N708YL) / VFR

Breaking out of my recent rut in terms of route selection, I decided to do some flying in Alaska today, with a brand-new Cessna 152 that materialized at Carty's Airstrip, a private field nine nautical miles north of Kenai Municipal Airport in Alaska. (I hope the virtual version of the owner, Mr. Carty, didn't mind.)

The weather was cool (thank goodness) as I set out for Beluga Airport, a mere 29 nm to the north, almost all of it over the waters of the Gompertz Channel. The flight and landing went perfectly. I managed to hold course and altitude very precisely. I carried a virtual passenger with me across the water, as flying to Beluga saves having to drive all the way around the water (I don't think there is any kind of ferry service).

Encouraged by this, I shortly thereafter set out for Falcon Lake, near Anchorage. That went well too, until it came down to actually finding the airport. There are a couple of very small fields within a few miles of each other in the area, and I finally landed at what I thought was Falcon Lake. I think I was actually at the field next-door, on another farm. They are both scarcely more than flat strips, but Flyway is east-west and that's how I landed, so I think that's where I am. The airstrips are only about a mile apart.

Maybe I'm choosing airports that are too small. It's hard to tell sometimes on the chart. Still, I'm within a mile of where I expected to be, which is pretty good in an area the size of Alaska.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Big Bear - Santa Paula / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N3862S) / VFR

For relaxation, I decided to fly a Baron out of Big Bear, on a route sufficiently familiar that I couldn't mess it up too much.

The Baron has a very nice Sandel TAWS, making flight through the mountains much easier and safer. After departure on runway 26, I used the TAWS during this night flight to help verify that I was following my chosen route, which leads along Bear Creek through the valley below the dam towards the Los Angeles area. That went pretty well.

The rest of the flight went very well, up to landing at Santa Paula. Once again, I came in faster and higher than I should have. My descent left something to be desired, and I landed with a single slight bounce, but that's significant on such a short runway. Something about the approach to Santa Paula makes it difficult, at least in a fast aircraft like the Baron. But nothing broke and I got down all right.

Beatty - Tonopah / Piper Dakota (N9702W) / VFR

I almost got it right on this flight, which was a very simple flight, difficult to mess up.

I proceeded to LIDAT after take-off. I used the GPS and HSI to aim for it, in addition to the heading I had calculated from the chart (I couldn't fly direct to TPH because of restricted airspace). At LIDAT, I turned to 350 to go north. From there, I planned to intercept the 206 radial inbound to the Tonopah VOR.

I messed up as I headed north. I was going north, all right, but I had the VORs mistuned—again. So I was chasing needles that were pointing the wrong way, again. I finally discovered that I had not swapped frequencies for VOR1 just as I crossed the radial that was supposed to lead me to TPH. Fortunately, I was only about twelve miles from the field by then, and I actually had it in sight, just north of the VOR. I was well positioned for a left base, so I made that into the airport.

Tonopah had fuel, which was good because I was running low after hopping from one tiny airport to the next. This was also one of the rare airports in the area with instrument approaches, although fortunately I didn't need those.

Another job not-so-well done.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Big Bear - Ludlow - Shoshone - Beatty / Piper Dakoa (N9702W) / VFR

I made multiple stops at several tiny airports during this evening flight, conducted not long before sunset.

I started at Big Bear, where I had finished a previous flight in one of my Piper Dakotas. My first leg took me from Big Bear to a private strip called Ludlow via the Hector VOR. That went pretty much without incident.

My next leg took me to Shoshone, via Baker (both are small airports). I plotted my course with the aid of VORs, but I confused the frequencies for Daggett and Hector and ended up flying too far east for a while. Comparison of the terrain outside the window with the charts made it clear that I was going the wrong way. I eventually managed to overfly Baker, and then going up to Shoshone went a little better.

After landing at Shoshone, I had just enough light outside to make another flight to Beatty. That involved simply flying roughly northwest (a heading of about 310) until I intercepted the 126 radial from Beatty, and then to the VOR and the field. It went okay.

It was getting pretty dark by the time I reached Beatty, so I stopped there. None of these destination airports seems to have any fuel, so I'll need to fly somewhere and fill up, soon.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Santa Paula - Big Bear City / Piper Dakota (N9702W) / VFR

Off to Big Bear in yet another Piper from the same Santa Paula airport. There's something soothing about flying familiar routes.

SoCal was busy this evening. I actually saw traffic out the window, which is unusual by day unless it's something big. It's true that I was at 7500, which would put me closer to other heavy traffic than I would be at 3500. I was flying without flight following and I tried to keep my eyes open, and I monitored SoCal Approach (at least) to help.

All went well for most of the flight. This Dakota has more gadgets than the Cessna 182, particularly a more functional autopilot, two-axis with a connection to the installed GPS 430, so I can automate a lot of the flight, which is handy when the airspace is crowded (you don't want to wander off your planned route too much).

There was a bit of heightened concern as I turned north from REANS to go over the mountains. By that time, the sun had set, and the mountains were just looming dark silhouettes against a darkening sky. I tend to get mixed up in situations like this, so I stared at the chart a lot to make sure I'd be following the right path through the mountains to the lake. It's only a short distance, but that doesn't make it any less hazardous.

I knew that a heading of 003 from REANS would help me through the mountains, but I had no way to navigate this with instruments, so I had to estimate by looking out the window. I anticipated and made my turn, only to realize that I was a bit too far west, so I turned slightly east. After peering into the darkness without much result for a while, I finally realized that there was a mountain directly ahead, and so I turned sharply west and got back into the Bear Creek valley that I was looking for.

In addition to this, I was at only 7500 feet, which is enough to clear terrain, but only if you follow the right path (you clear Big Bear Dam about about 700 feet). So I had a few minutes of nervousness finding my way up the valley (it didn't help that a Cessna crashed here back in February of this year, although nobody was hurt). Once I got back into the valley, it only was a minute or two before I saw the lake on my right, and after that, the approach over the lake and the landing were easy.

Saba - Sint Maarten - St. Barth / Cessna 152 (N707YL) / VFR

Saba, the smallest island in the Netherlands Antilles portion of the Caribbean, measures only five square miles, and yet it has an airport—a very tiny airport. I decided to fly out of this airport today in one of my Cessna 152s.

The airport's name—Saba-Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport—is longer than its tiny runway, which measures only about 1300 feet. I was just able to get off the ground about ten feet before the end of the runway during my departure to Princess Juliana Airport on Sint Maarten, 28 miles to the north. The runway ends in a cliff, so you always have some open air in which to pick up speed if you don't make it, but I don't find that reassuring.

Nevertheless, I managed to get to Sint Maarten easily enough. Even in a Cessna 152, the flight was short. I didn't have time to climb very high, which meant that I wasn't within gliding distance of land, but I was surrounded by populated islands so I would not be far from help if I had to ditch (even so, I'm not sure I would have flown with this aircraft in real life).

Not having any fancy avionics, and not having any charts for this region, either, I just set my one nav radio to PJM and headed for that, dodging clouds periodically. About half-way there, I spotted Sint Maarten, and from then on it was easy to visually approach the island and enter a right base for runway 10. Landing was very smooth—the 152 is so slow that it's hard to make any mistakes.

I parked in a quiet corner of the field and took a break, then taxied back out to runway 10 and took off again, this time heading towards St. Bart's.

By now it was nighttime, and I can't recall having tried to land at St. Bart's at night before. I found the island easily enough, but I got disoriented again and flew past the field before I spotted it below and turned around. I crossed the field and then entered a left base for runway 10. It was a bit challenging to make the necessary rapid descent in the darkness, although I could see just enough to know where I was going. Landing was good. I didn't want to fly any more in the darkness in the 152, so I taxied over to a quiet corner and parked.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Waimea - Dillingham / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2735W) / VFR

I filed a flight plan for this flight that kept me as close as possible to land, although I wasn't necessarily within gliding distance of land at all times. The flight was scenic and the weather was so-so, although I had to swerve to avoid clouds now and then. All went well except for a brief bust of the Class B around Honolulu when I failed to start my descent from 8500 quickly enough; fortunately I was not given a telephone number to call. Landing was smooth even though I landed with a slight tailwind.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Arnold - Panola County / Beechcraft Bonanza A36 (N7418F) / VFR

I picked another pair of tiny airports around Memphis for this night flight, and this went so-so. It's really dark at night! I'm glad the terrain is fairly flat.

My original flight plan took me from the airport to the Holly Springs VOR, beneath the Memphis Class B, at just 2500 feet. After starting out, though, the little bit of mostly rural terrain I could see in the darkness looked too close for comfort, so I turned to get out from beneath the Class B and climbed to 3500. After HLI I started descending again, since the destination airport had an elevation of only 221 feet, and I landed smoothly and uneventfully. Apart from my rather jagged path and frequent altitude changes, all went well. It still makes me nervous to fly in the dark without lots of expensive avionics, though.

Tunica - Mc Neely / Piper Dakota (N9706W) / VFR

This night flight from the tiny airport of Tunica (not to be confused with Tunica Muni, which is right next-door) to the even tinier airport of Mc Neely went reasonably well, until it was time to land.

Right about where I felt I should start looking for the destination airport, I spotted a lit runway where I expected to see Mc Neely, so I landed there … only to discover that I was at Bernard, another private strip. Bernard has runway lights; Mc Neely doesn't. I was further confused by the chart, which shows Mc Neely with just one runway, when in fact it has two. I had seen these two strips in the darkness, barely, before landing, but I figured the single lighted strip was the right place.

Upon realizing my error, I turned around, took off, and landed at Mc Neely, which was only a mile or two away. The landing at Mc Neely was rough. The runway I picked was turf and barely visible in the darkness. I got down okay, but I don't consider this a very successful flight.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Pauma Valley Air Park - Warner Springs Gliderport / Piper Dakota (N9704W) / VFR

Just seventeen miles to cover, and I still messed things up.

I looked at the chart, and decided to make a very brief hop to the Warner Springs Gliderport, on the other side of Lake Henshaw. It was very easy: all I had to do was follow the San Luis Rey River through a small valley and then turn over the lake. But somehow I still got disoriented.

I took off to the west, and made a left downwind departure. I knew from my planning that I should head due east, 090, out of the airport, and follow the valley. But once I was in the air, I saw several things that looked like valleys, and I wasn't sure which was right. After flying for a minute or two in what looked like the right valley, I decided it was the wrong valley, and made a U-turn back towards the airport. Crossing the airport, I carefully headed out on exactly 090. This time I saw a river, a highway, and some power lines, just like the chart showed. And sure enough, after flying for a while (at only 3500 feet, then 4000 feet as the terrain rose a bit), I saw the lake appear behind the hills, and I turned towards it.

Even then, I was going towards the wrong shore. I looked at the GPS and the chart again, and turned further to the left, and finally I spotted runway lights in the distance. Thereafter I managed to land without incident.

Once again, the engine died after I set it to idle, but I was at only 2800 feet this time. I still haven't figured that out. And I forgot to squawk Mode C during the trip, even though I was just inside the Mode C veil. Oh well.

I considered another flight, but the sun was setting and I don't feel good about flying this aircraft through the mountains in the dark.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Big Bear - Pauma Valley / Piper Dakota (N9704W) / VFR

Tired of shuttling between Santa Paula and Big Bear, I decided to fly down to some other tiny airport in SoCal, and I picked Pauma Valley Air Park on the chart. This is a tiny private field owned by a country club. I obtained permission to land there (permission is always granted in the world of virtual flight), and I was off, making my usual sharp turn through the mountains at the west end of Big Bear Lake, then to REANS, then over Hemet and French Valley airports, then to Pauma Valley.

My destination airport is tiny and I had never been here before, so I almost missed it, but I finally spotted the field. At the time of my flight, I didn't realize that the field had a golf course right next to it (duh!), or that would have made it easy to find. I was confused by what looked like another, even smaller strip, but I picked the one aligned with my heading (because the chart showed that Pauma would be aligned with me). I couldn't find the other strip on the charts, if that's what it was.

By the time I found the field, I was quite high. I turned to base and final in one 180-degree turn, slipping at the same time to get down to a reasonable altitude (I started at around 5500 and the field is at around 750). I aligned fine with the runway, but I came in quite fast and floated for a while in ground effect again. I finally touched down and stood on the brakes, and came to a full stop just inches from the end of the runway (see my photo). I'm not sure if that's good or bad in terms of airmanship!

Santa Paula - Big Bear / Piper Dakota (N9704W) / VFR

I've discovered some things about the HSI, but I'm having other trouble with the Dakota.

I tried the flight from Santa Paula again. As before, the HSI was pointing any old way when I climbed into the cockpit. I turned on battery power and the HDG warning flag immediately disappeared, even before the gyros spun up. Still more mysteriously, the HSI failed to align itself automatically, even though the slaving switch was set to slave. This seems to be a possible discrepancy between the sim and real life; I need to investigate more.

I aligned the HSI by hand after switching to free mode, then set it back to slave.

The flight to Big Bear was uneventful. Landing was very smooth. Managed to stay clear of terrain with no problem in the late afternoon, with good visibility.

Another mystery has come up, though. The engine dies after I set it to idle after touchdown. I tried playing with the mixture control but that doesn't seem to help. I'm not sure what the problem is. True, I'm at nearly 7000 feet MSL at Big Bear, but still … I don't have this problem with other aircraft. So I have to look into that, too. I got around it by not setting the throttle to idle, but that wasn't very elegant.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Santa Paula - Big Bear City - Santa Paula / Piper Dakota (N9704W) / VFR

I'm still getting used to Piper's answer to the Cessna 182. I have a better avionics suite in this Dakota than I have in the 182, but in many ways they do seem to be similar. This was my first logged flight online, after a number of test flights conducted offline.

I did pretty well. I've been spoiled by that nice Sandel EHSI in the Baron and Bonanza, and while the Dakota has a Garmin 430, too, it doesn't have the EHSI, so I'm still trying to get used to using a more traditional instrument to fly with a GPS.

The trip over to Big Bear was pretty easy. After a short break up in the mountains, around sunset, I set back out to return to Santa Paula.

That, too, was moderately successful, except for one mystery: Somehow, my DG got off—way off—during this leg.

I first noticed it coming out of the mountains. I knew I was heading west, but the DG said 330. Hmm. It's the kind of DG that doesn't need to be corrected by hand constantly, supposedly. I double checked the magnetic compass, and it said 221, which sounded right and was nowhere near where the DG was. I couldn't figure out what was going on.

Finally I switched the DG to FREE and aligned it myself, then switched it back. It seemed okay for the rest of the flight, but I really need to find out what happened. While I was fooling with it, I was all over the place in terms of heading and altitude. Fortunately I was VFR and didn't really stray into any airspace that would get me into trouble—and that's not easy in SoCal. When I finally realigned the DG, I was way south of Pomona, way off course, and I had to turn northeast to get back to POM and over to V186.

After that, things went smoothly. Some questionable visibility descending towards FIM, but I did okay. The landing was problematic, and I came in too fast and floating in ground effect for a long time, and ran off the end of the runway slightly. No harm done to the aircraft, but quite embarrassing.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Avalon - French Valley / Cessna 172 (N9828W) / VFR

Despite the usual mistiness over the water, I was able to fly VFR from Avalon back to the mainland, ending up at French Valley (Temecula). The route was extremely simple: I just followed the 063 radial from SXC at 5500 feet, until I had the field in sight. It took a good 40 minutes or so. Both take-off and landing were extremely smooth.

Santa Paula - Avalon / Cessna 172 (N9828W) / VFR

For once the weather was completely clear out to Catalina, so I flew one of my little Cessna 172s from Santa Paula out to the island. I flew to FIM and then directly to SMO, then through the SFRA and out to the island. All went well, and the landing at Avalon was pretty well executed in clear weather. I did a lot of the flight visually (except for the SFRA), and I know where the airport is on the island so I could just steer towards that without the need to use navaids.

Grass Valley - Los Angeles / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2754W) / IFR

Grass Valley is a town in California with a tiny airport, Nevada County Airpark, from which I started this flight to Los Angeles. I know it best as the birthplace of the Grass Valley Group, a company that was formerly very well known for its video equipment (it's not quite so famous now as it used to be, probably thanks to multiple acquisitions).

This flight was very pleasant, over green hills most of the way, and just west of Yosemite. Lots of fluffy white clouds that didn't cause any troubles. The landing at Los Angeles was also smooth and uneventful, although I wasn't very graceful about maintaining altitude while intercepting the localizer.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Escalante - Los Angeles / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2751W) / IFR

Having landed in the tiny town of Escalante and having rapidly exhausted the novelty thereof, I undertook a return trip to civilization, namely, Los Angeles. I filed IFR from CABER to LAX (Escalante has no instrument departure procedures, so I picked up the clearance after I was in the air and approaching CABER).

This flight was a bit disjointed, because I interrupted it shortly after beginning in order to sleep in real life (I was up late, as usual). If I were a total purist, I would have landed, but I was getting sleepy and I didn't want to go to the trouble of starting a whole new trip, so I just paused it and went to bed, just a bit east of Las Vegas.

I picked it up again the next morning. Even so, the break disturbed my situational awareness a bit and it took a while to get back into the swing of the flight. Since I interrupted the flight, I was offline and had no ATC, so I was on my own. I had initially climbed to 11000, the MEA at CABER, and then shortly thereafter to 14000 to meet some MEAs later on the route. After passing over Sin City, though, I was able to descend to 12000, although I kept the oxygen flowing. I briefly descended to 8000 but then had to climb to 12000 again for another MEA east of Pomona. On crossing Pomona I descended to 6000, then to 4000, and by that time I was east of LAX and almost aligned with my chosen runway (25R), I descended again to 2000.

The landing was very smooth and I taxied over to my favorite parking spot, which I think belongs to Landmark or Mercury (I haven't been able to find out for sure).

Phoenix - Escalante, UT / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2751W) / VFR

Inspired by a Facebook wall post, I decided to try flying up to Escalante, a tiny town in Utah that happens to have a small municipal airport.

I filed VFR via a couple of waypoints that would take me up over Prescott and through the Dragon Corridor over the Grand Canyon in the Grand Canyon SFRA before taking me to Escalante. The distance was about the same as a flight from Phoenix to San Diego, but I do PHX-SAN all the time and I was looking for variety.

All went well. Cleared into the Bravo and departing from runway 26, I immediately turned north, climbing to 4500 initially and then more gradually up to 8500 as I left the Bravo, for terrain. Unfortunately I found myself heading right into a cloud layer, so for a while I bounced between altitudes looking for clear skies, going from 8500 to 12500 and back down again at various intermediate altitudes. Finally I just made a wide swing around the clouds, ultimately rejoining my filed route at KACEE. As I approached BISOP I climbed again to 11500 to pass through the Dragon Corridor of the Grand Canyon SFRA. (The name of the corridor sounds a bit ominous, but it's just named after a specific landmark in the corridor.) I went direct CABER, descending after I was clear of the Paria Plateau, and then down to Escalante at 5744 feet, swinging slightly east to stay clear of Canaan Peak.

The landing was very smooth, weather was good, and it was a nice change of pace.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

San Diego - Phoenix / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N2751W) / VFR

This evening I decided to fly back to Phoenix in the Baron I had parked at Jimsair in San Diego. I filed BARET IPL BZA MOHAK GBN ALLIS at 7500 VFR. I was given no restrictions in my clearance into the Bravo on departure, only a squawk, which was odd but I had no problem with it.

I flew almost entirely on autopilot (my Barons are chock full of cool avionics), and I nearly dozed off during the uneventful night flight. Flying the Baron is such a breeze after having to do everything by hand in a 152! For landing I was given a left downwind to 25L, which conveniently put me right next to Cutter, where I parked. The landing was a bit harder than I would have preferred, but still acceptable, and no harm done.

Wickenburg - Phoenix / Cessna 152 (N706YL) / VFR

It dawned on me while looking at a chart that Grand Avenue, a diagonal street that runs northwest from central Phoenix, turns into a highway that leads all the way up to Wickenburg—so I decided to fly from Wickenburg to Phoenix just by following this highway/street. It worked pretty well. It took a while—everything seems to take a while in a 152—but it worked out okay. I eventually came in over Sun City West and Sun City, and had a bit of trouble spotting the transition from highway to Grand Avenue, but I eventually had to turn east, anyway, in order to make my downwind for runway 26. Landing was without incident, and I parked at Cutter, my favorite FBO (even though I've never been there in real life!).

Monday, August 3, 2009

Gila Bend - Wickenburg / Cessna 152 (N706YL) / VFR

I don't know what it is about Gila Bend, but I seem to find myself going to or from its little airport an awful lot. The city is a hellhole, like most tiny towns in the deserts of the Great American Southwest. It's often the hottest spot in the State of Arizona (just as Hawley Lake is often the coldest). It's a place you pass through without stopping while driving between Phoenix and San Diego.

I guess the airport is convenient for me, and it's in a geographic area that I know only too well. Plus, I can fly to and from the city in a sim without suffering the extreme discomfort of 115° F temperatures. In real life, this might well be too much of an ordeal to endure.

The town is named after a bend in the nearby Gila River (which usually has only about a quart of water flowing through it), and the first word in the name is pronounced “heelah,” although many out-of-towners in aviation don't know this. There's a waypoint and an arrival named GEELA into Phoenix, which makes me think that the person naming it didn't know about the customary local pronunciation of Gila Bend (and the Gila River), or perhaps didn't want to risk confusing people unfamiliar with the local pronunciation (pilots flying in from other cities most likely wouldn't know about the peculiarity of pronunciation).

Anyway … where was I? … oh, yes, I left Gila Bend in one of my clunky little 152s and headed for Wickenburg. The distance between them was 62 nautical miles, and at the lame speeds of the 152, that meant about 40 minutes in the air. I headed for the Buckeye VOR, then headed back out on the 349 radial and found the airport easily enough. There wasn't much wind and the weather was very clear. I did encounter some turbulence near Wickenburg, though.

It was 110° F in Wickenburg when I landed, with gusting winds, and the landing was a bit rough because of the gusts.

Wickenburg is a dump, too. Sorry, but it is. I'm glad I'm only landing there, not visiting there. However, Wickenburg does have one redeeming quality: the Hassayampa River flows through it. Unlike the Gila River, this river has water in it, but it flows mostly underground (!). It comes above ground in Wickenburg and flows gently through the town. That still doesn't compensate for high temperatures, though, and the airport is several miles from the river.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Avalon - Santa Monica / Cessna 152 (N705YL) / VFR

After verifying that the weather was VFR (it was marginal VFR), I teleported one of my Cessna 152s to Avalon Airport, on Catalina Island, and flew to Santa Monica. The trip is about 43 nautical miles, half of that over water. I don't know that I'd feel comfortable flying a 152 over the ocean in real life, but in simulation, where failures occur only when you allow them to, there was no risk.

Take-off was to the west, as usual, and I made a downwind departure towards the mainland. On my single VOR I tuned Seal Beach, and flew towards that for a while, trying to avoid clouds. The weather cleared as I neared the mainland, and I turned roughly towards FERMY after reaching the breakwater before the Queen's Gate reporting point. I had been as low as 2000 feet (not good, I know, but there's no way I'd get high enough quickly enough to glide to the mainland while over the water, anyway), and climbed to 3500 as I came in over the mainland, in part to avoid the Class D airspaces at Torrance and Long Beach, and in part to prepare for my transition through the LAX SFRA, which requires 3500 feet northbound. EDIT: No, that's not right, I should have been at 4500 northbound! Aarrgh, huge mistake! I have a telephone number to call. — AA

I happened to land almost exactly on the SMO312 radial, which is the required radial for the SFRA, so I just followed it in. No need to worry about being below 140 KIAS for the SFRA in this aircraft, since I can barely get to 100 KIAS. I switched the transponder to 1201 as I silently sailed over LAX, then switched it back for my dramatic descent into KSMO. Santa Monica is just north of LAX and I was at 3500 feet, so I descended with a slight slip in order to get down to pattern altitude as quickly as I could, after being approved for a left downwind entry (the pattern was empty, anyway).

The landing was very smooth. I was surprised at how well it went. I guess it's hard to make too many mistakes at only 50 knots. The weather was nice and clear in Santa Monica (although it's now low IFR as I write this, several hours later). Getting lost wasn't much of a risk here as I know the SoCal airspace and geography quite well.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Black Diamond - Harvey / Cessna 152 (N707YL) / VFR

I flubbed up another exercise in pilotage with this flight.

The plan was simple: fly from Black Diamond airport (95WA) to Harvey (S43), below the Seattle Class B. It's practically a straight line north, but I still messed it up. All I had to do was stick to a course of 337 until I got to the Snoqualmie River, then turn slightly to around 321 and proceed to Harvey. The whole trip was only a measly 36 nautical miles, over land that is only a few feet above sea level. The weather was very clear and I could see for dozens of miles, it seemed. I was never at more than 2500 feet, so I had a good view of the ground.

Nevertheless, I lost my way. Take a look at the track of my flight here. Not exactly ruler-straight, is it? I did well enough up along Lake Sammamish, in part because I had that big lake as a reference point. But then, as I continued north, I got confused. At first I thought I was too far south, then too far north, then too far west, and so on. I saw rivers and highways and other features that I thought I recognized, but I still got confused.

I tried working with VORs. The 152 has only a single VOR receiver. I used SEA initially then switched to PAE. I knew that Harvey was on the 080 radial from the chart, but I couldn't seem to get to the radial. It felt like it was taking too long to get there, so I turned around, and then turned around again.

All in all, this was a pretty sorry performance. And this was under good conditions. I'm not sure how I finally managed to locate the airport. Thank goodness the weather was good and I departed with full tanks, and I was in an area with lots of airports and flat terrain.

Spokane - Seattle / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N3861S) / IFR

Sitting in the cockpit of one of my Barons feels like riding in a limousine after flying tiny Cessnas for the past few days. Today I filed IFR from Spokane to Seattle. The weather was excellent, but it can change unpredictably around Seattle, so I thought IFR would be more prudent.

All went quite smoothly. I navigated with instruments, so I didn't have to worry too much about terrain below. The only glitch came on the arrival (EPH.EPH6). I was at 8000, knowing that I'd have to climb before I reached the mountains to at least 12000. On several occasions, I requested 12000 from ATC, but I never got a reply. I ended up flying over a few mountains at only 600 feet AGL, counting the squirrels in the trees. The weather was clear and the air was smooth, so I could afford to cut it closer. Nevertheless, in real life, I would have climbed on my own and advised ATC (“leaving 8000 climbing 12000 for terrain”), but I let it ride here, and fortunately I survived.

ATC finally did remember that I was there, in time to hand me off to Seattle Approach. Thereafter ATC was more attentive. In fairness to controllers, though, this was in the middle of a VATSIM “Friday Night Ops” event, and the skies were very crowded.

In fact, Seattle was extremely crowded when I arrived, with aircraft everywhere. I had to wait quite a while just to taxi from my holding position just off 16L to the ramp (I like to park on the cargo ramp north of the tower). There was even a helicopter idling on the ground near my preferred parking place.

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