September 21, 2012

Gaston's Fly Out Adventure

troutfishing.jpgI have never been much of a fisherman and frankly I am not all that fond of eating fish. So why would I find myself at The #1 Trout Fishing Resort in the country this weekend? Because their 79 cabins are wedged between the picturesque White River and a well maintained turf runway.

A few weeks ago, I signed up to join some fellow pilots and Leading Edge Flying Club members on a fly-out adventure from Chicago to Lakeview, Arkansas. Six pilots in two airplanes made the journey. Al Waterloo and Travis Ammon, Flight Instructors at Leading Edge Flight Club and Founders of SimpleFlight.net, organized this fly-out trip to Gaston's White River Resort as an excuse to go have fun with airplanes. Travis and Al are preachers of a similar message I have believed in for some time: Aviation is supposed to be fun and not much is more fun than a long cross-country overnight fly-out.

They had devised an itinerary that attempted to offer a wide variety of flying experiences including flying under Class B shelves, into a Class B airport, over a Class C airport and into a back country grass strip. As luck would have it as the weekend approached, the only place rain was developing was in the southern Midwest right over Arkansas. Rather than scrub because of rain we selected an alternate airport we could use if the weather prevented landing at the resort. We figured those of us without Instrument Ratings could get a good learning experience from the flight and those with Instrument Ratings could log some actual IFR and show off their skills.

I drew the first leg which was from Chicago Executive (KPWK) to Lambert Field (KSTL), a Class B airport. After calling flight service for my weather briefing I learned the busy St. Louis arrival and departure traffic would be funneling through just one of their four runways due to some construction work planned for the day. Despite only having one runway available they were more than happy to work us into their flow that afternoon.

I learned to fly at a small uncontrolled airport, so there was a time I was concerned about going into busier controlled environments. However, my experiences in flying in and around Chicago have helped me hone my air traffic control communications and helped make flying into a Class B airport a non-event. And while it was not too challenging it was a lot of fun. It is neat to share airspace, runways, and taxiways with the commercial pilots and aircraft.

Not only was this my first flight into a Class B airspace it was my first flight in the club's Piper Dakota which I fell in love with during the flight. It comfortably fit four pilots and our bags as well as 50 gallons of fuel which was plenty to make the first leg of this flight.

Once at St. Louis we checked the weather and confirmed that it would prevent us from making it to the Gaston's airstrip. So we filed to the nearest airport with instrument approaches, Baxter County Airport (KBPK). I moved from the front to the back of the plane for the next leg and I enjoyed watching Steve and Al fly on instruments the majority of the 2.1 hours of the second leg. The leg was capped off with a perfect instrument approach to minimums at Mountain Home Airport (see video below). I have only flown along on a few IFR flights but continue to enjoy the experience and am further motivated to seek my instrument rating.

thecrew.jpgWe enjoyed a great 24 hours in Gaston's. Most of our non-flying itinerary centered on great meals that included BBQ, catfish, and a delicious brunch at the Gaston's resort. I enjoyed spending some of our down time walking the trails within the Bull Shoals State Park. Some photos from the weekend can be found in the photo player below. The main dining room at Gaston's offers a scenic view of the White River out their massive windows and a look back at history within the restaurant with a collection of old motors, bikes and typewriters that would make the guys from American Pickers salivate.

We had hoped weather would improve so we could bring the plane over to Gaston's later in the weekend for some turf landings but the stationary front lived up to its name and cloud cover barely ever rose above a few hundred feet. I moved back to the front of the cockpit for the first leg home. Travis flew us on instruments out of Baxter County Airport and I had the best seat in the house as we climbed through the clouds up to the beautiful clear skies above the rain. He tossed me controls after a while and I enjoyed flying in and out of the clouds and even logged 0.8 hours of actual Instrument Flight enroute to Champaign, Illinois. Although the Dakota is a dream to fly, I am still figuring out how to land her right. Al has given me some good tips that I need to bring to my next flight in the Dakota.

I returned to the spacious back seat of the Dakota for the last leg as we cruised back to Chicago using pilotage and flying at 2,500 feet. We capped the flight off by flying over the top of Midway then taking the 290 corridor west to skirt around O'Hare before turning north to Palwaukee. We logged just over eight and a half hours on the Dakota which sure would have beaten the 20 hours it would have taken in the car. But, who are we kidding. We did not fly so we would not have to drive. Instead we made this trip as an excuse to fly.

What a great trip it was. We saw neat places, took in some great flying experiences, enjoyed some great conversations and, most importantly, I learned a lot from flying with and watching other pilots. Not a bad way to spend a weekend.

Here are some photos from the weekend.





August 10, 2012

Flying the T-6 Texan Cross Country: Day Two - I Follow Roads

avgas.jpgThe sun was just starting to rise over the eastern horizon when we arrived at Hutchinson County Airport in Borger, TX to continue our journey to Chino. After 7.0 hours of flying the previous day, we were nearly halfway there, and the weather continued to make us optimistic that we would make our final destination before sundown.

Normally a refinery does not make for the most picturesque sight but with the sun rising in the background and knowing it was producing the juice that would make our bird fly, it was a magical sight for me that morning. Before we strapped into our parachutes and climbed aboard the Texan I had to check out some airplane relics we saw while driving into the airport. Turns out there were nine Mig-23 carcases sitting on the tarmac. According to Ronnie, the Lineman at Hutchinson County Airport, they were bought more than seven years ago by a local who had a dream of refurbishing them. This morning it was obvious that dream had faded and these shells would remain stationary for years to come.

Our plan for Day Two was to fly mainly IFR, but not to be confused with Instrument Flight Rules, we were instead flying by the I Follow Roads (IFR) mantra. Borger is just north of Historic Route 66 (now Interstate 40 West of Oklahoma City) so shortly after departing we intercepted the highway and put it midway off our right wing where it would sit for much of the remainder of the day.

t-6_fingers.jpgFellow pilot, blogger and friend, Al Waterloo of SimpleFlight.net, says if he could teach students only one thing it would be to fly an airplane with two finger tips. He rightfully believes a plane should not be manhandled but instead gently guided which usually means becoming good friends with the trim wheel. On the first day I fought with the trim wheel and would put the plane through alternating parabolic curves as I tried to use the sensitive trim wheel to fly straight and level. It was somewhere over New Mexico that I finally think I figured out how to fly the T-6 Texan with two fingers.

As we approached Albuquerque we started to see our first mountains and true elevation growth. The Sandia Mountains just east of Albuquerque have peaks just under 10,000 feet high and provided for a great backdrop for some photos. When we arrived at Double Eagle II Airport, just west of Albuquerque, we landed at 5,808 feet, nearly 2,500 feet higher than the field elevation at Borger. As a result it was significantly cooler than it was in Texas which was a relief.

As we continued our journey westward we reached higher altitudes. On the first day 6,500 feet worked out real well for us. On our first leg of Day two, 8,500 worked fairly well but we then moved up to 10,500 feet as we progressed towards Flagstaff, AZ where the field elevation was 7,014 ft and with mountain tops were well above that. Flagstaff is home to Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona at 12,633 feet, just 10 miles north of Flagstaff. Again I found myself giving Mike the plane so I could open my canopy open and start firing off shots from my Canon.

When flying to general aviation airports it is not uncommon to run into someone famous at an FBO as they await to depart on a private plane. That was the case at Flagstaff where I noticed six unusually large men who had to be professional football players. Although the Cardinals have their training camp in Flagstaff I did not recognize them so I could not confirm they were football players until Cardinal star wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald arrived. I must have been gawking because he walked right over and gave me a fist bump and then agreed to a photo (sadly it came out blurry). I thought they were going to board one of the jets on the tarmac but instead they squeezed these guys into a King Air which proved its performance capabilities when it effortlessly lifted these huge guys off the runway with ease.

Our second encounter with weather was a small cell of thunderstorms just a few miles west of Flagstaff along our route of flight. We monitored them and then decided we could deviate just south, then return to our intended course. As we skirted past the storms we saw a few strikes of lightning but were safely distant from the storm. At this higher elevation in the west the plane took its time climbing but Mike put his glider experience to work and found a thermal that helped us go from a 500 foot per minute climb to a 1,000 FPM climb with no additional strain on the 600HP Pratt & Whitney R-1340-AN-1 Wasp radial engine.

On the final leg from Flagstaff to Chino we overflew Kingman Airport which has an airplane boneyard on field mostly comprised of old DHL Aircraft. It was wild seeing the bright yellow planes lining the airport. I am not sure why but I am enamored by airplane boneyards and touring one is definitely on my bucket list.

t-6_post_flight_small.jpgAs we continued southwesterly from Kingman we received the benefit of a strong tailwind, giving us nearly a 160kt ground speed. I realized I was secretly hoping the winds would die down as I was sad that the flight was coming to an end. As we approached Chino we again enjoyed majestic mountains with the Santa Ana mountains to our south and the Chino Hills mountain range to our north. We split them following highway 15 into Chino. What surprised me most was the odor when we opened the canopy over Chino. It was as if I was transported to Wisconsin as the smell of a farm was evident. When I looked down I learned that Chino is home to many cattle farms, not what I was anticipating.

Upon touchdown at Chino Airport, I looked out the window to see an L-39 Albatros roaring down the parallel runway. Seemed a good bookend to the trip since the first plane I saw in the Gauntlet Warbirds hangar the previous morning was an L-39.

We left the T-6 in the good hands of Encore Jet Service who would keep an eye on the plane for a few days until Greg Morris of Gauntlet Warbirds arrived later in the week to transport the plane up to Edwards Air Force Base where he will spend a few weeks instructing U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School students in the plane.

I thought the adventure was over but then learned that Planes of Fame one of two museums on the airport were offering a special talk on Saturday about the use of long range escort aircraft in World War II. After spending two days flying cross country in a WWII trainer I had an even greater respect for the brave men who flew in WWII. On Saturday we were able to hear two WWII pilots give their first hand account about their experiences flying over the European battlefields and the role that escort fighters planned in winning air supremacy.

It took us two days and 14.7 hours on the tachometer and 380 gallons of avgas to cover 1,600 miles from Chicago to Chino. The return flight on a Southwest 737 was just under four hours but I would take the low and slow route in the T-6 Texan anytime!


August 8, 2012

Flying the T-6 Texan Cross Country: Day One

Blog_t-6_Texan2.jpgLast Thursday I kicked off my longest cross country since earning my private pilot's license in 2004. I joined fellow pilot Mike Meister at Gauntlet Warbirds at Aurora Airport, just outside of Chicago, where we launched in a T-6 Texan (SNJ-5) for a flight to Chino, CA.

The Gauntlet Warbirds hangar was a beautiful sight when I arrived. An L-39 Albatros, P-51 Mustang, SBD-Dauntless and a few T-6 Texan's in this hangar made it a pilots paradise. I looked in awe at the beautiful P-51 and though of a quote from Wilson "Connie" Edwards, an EAA Warbirds of America Hall of Fame inductee, who said "Start out in a Bearcat, transition to the P-51, and then you're ready for the T-6." The Texan has often been referred to as the Pilot Maker for its role in training such a large percentage of pilots from the Greatest Generation. I was honored and excited to get a chance to finally log some time in this plane.

After loading our route into Foreflight (see route) and checking the weather we were optimistic we could make the flight in two days. We originally allotted four days in case weather became an issue. Mike gave me a brief tour of the plane and discussed the internal and external pre-flight. We then donned parachutes, which would serve as our padding on the hard metal seats of the T-6, climbed in, and fired up the engine for departure.

Shortly after takeoff Mike gave me control of the airplane and I started to figure her out. Not long into the trip we crossed over the Mississippi River, a first for me in a General Aviation capacity. Our first stop for fuel and to stretch our legs was Rolla National Airport in Rolla, Missouri. This former U.S. Army Airfield still has a few aviation relics located on the tarmac including a former Army DC-3. Our visit there was brief as there were some storms approaching from the west, in fact a light rain started during our departure. Mike had brought along a Sporty's Stratus that provided in-flight weather updates to our iPad Glass Panels by way of Foreflight. Although these storms were rather isolated and small it was comforting knowing we had visual weather updates at our fingertips.

The next leg was a quiet one in which we did not encounter any traffic. The view below our wings showed a countryside that has suffered a double whammy of drought and higher than normal temperatures. Our next stop was Claremore, Oklahoma which was equally quiet until a Cessna 172 arrived from Wyoming. It was so nice to see others taking advantage of general aviation to see the country. It was hot on the ground at Claremore so we took our break in the air conditioned FBO.

Each time we checked in with air traffic control for flight following we would announce that we were a North American T-6. Turns out they don't encounter T-6s in the system often as each time the aircraft type would confuse the controllers who would ask again what type of aircraft we were sometimes several times. However, not long after departing Claremore and climbing past Tulsa International Airport, we were surprised to hear another T-6 on the frequency. Turns out it was a T-6A Texan II, the newer version of primary trainer, based out of Vance Air Force Base. They called us up on the frequency and asked if we were one of theirs to which Mike responded, "No ours comes with a tailwheel," which they seemed to get a kick out of.

Our last stop of the day was at Hutchinson County Airport in Borger, TX the home of a Conoco Phillips avgas refinery. It seemed appropriate that after burning nearly 200 gallons of fuel that we would land next to an avgas refinery. We had toyed with the idea of flying on to Albuquerque but since it was 106 degrees at Borger, and we would be flying into the sun on the next leg we decided to call it a night. Ronnie, the FBO Lineman, took great care of us with hotel recommendation and providing us with one of their crew cars for the night.

After my first seven hours of flying in the Texan I was thankful for the ability to crack the canopy. We would crack it below 3,000 feet during take-off and landing in case we needed to bail from the plane. But often even above that we would crack the canopy a little bit to keep the plane cool. Otherwise the glass cockpit would have served as an oven for much of the flight. I imagine our experience was not that different then the cross country flight this aircraft would have experienced when it was first delivered to the Navy in 1943, except maybe that we cheated a bit flying with the assistance of our Foreflight-enabled iPads and with the support of Sporty's Stratus, but who's keeping score?

I slept well after this long day but woke early in anticipation of our next leg of the flight. I will post updates from our second day of flying shortly. In the meantime enjoy the photos below from the first day of flight.


August 1, 2012

Flying the T-6 Texan to California

t-6_texan.jpgWhen I was learning to fly and would mentioned to friends and family that I was going to log cross country time they often were confused that I was flying just 50 nautical miles away. The FAA requires that a flight between two airports be 50 NM or more for it to count towards various certificates or ratings so the majority of my cross country time is in the 50NM to 100NM range.

However, tomorrow I am embarking on a flight that is more in line with the term Cross Country. I will be flying a T-6 Texan from Aurora Airport (KARR) just outside of Chicago to Chino, California.

Last year I had the opportunity to do aerobatics in a L-39 Albatros with Greg Morris of Gauntlet Warbirds. When I learned he needed to ferry the Gauntlet Warbirds T-6 Texan to California to be used for instruction at the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School I decided I needed to find a way into one of it's tandem seats for that flight.

Here I am on the eve of the flight. During the flight which we are estimating will be approximately 12 hours of flight time, I will log dual instruction in an aircraft that helped train pilots from the greatest generation. The airplane I will be flying is actually the Navy version of the plane referred to as the SNJ and this particular aircraft was delivered to the Navy in 1944.

I have limited experience in the T-6 Texan. I rode along for aerobatic demonstrations with Aeroshell Aerobatic Team a few times and also was able to fly Bill Leff's T-6 Texan briefly prior to the 2008 Chicago Air & Water Show. However, this will be the first time I log time in the airplane in my logbook and I might not sleep much tonight in anticipation of this flight. This is an aircraft I have been in awe with since I was a kid. Stay tuned for updates on the flight in the coming days or follow along on Twitter.

Special thanks to Flickr user wxjeremy for allowing me to use his beautiful photo of the actual T-6 Texan I will be flying tomorrow.

June 15, 2011

Instrument Flight Rules Flight Spurs Interest in Instrument Rating

IFR_Flight.jpg
Flying by visual flight references (VFR) into instrument meteorological conditions (IMC) often results in an accident and sadly these preventable accidents usually result in the loss of life. The 2010 Nall Report states that 62% of weather related accidents were fatal and that 86% of VFR into IMC accidents were fatal. As a Private Pilot with just a handful of simulated instrument hours more than required to earn my private pilots license, I spend most of my flight time trying to avoid clouds and poor weather conditions.

IFR_Chart.jpgSo when an opportunity to fly through the clouds on an instrument flight plan with an instrument rated pilot presents itself I jump on it. This past weekend my flight club, Leading Edge Flying Club, had planned a trip to Oshkosh. On the morning of the weather was not looking so promising with conditions below the personal minimums of even our instrument rated pilots. However, a few hours later the weather improved enough for us to fly on an instrument flight plan. As we lost a few hours we decided to go to Madison, WI instead of Oshkosh, WI.

On the outbound leg I flew in the back seat and enjoyed watching the pilot, Marc Epner and right seat pilot Al Carrino work the flight plan, radios and prepare for a flight into IMC. Less than a minute after starting our takeoff role we were in the clouds. I expected an uncomfortable feeling or some disorientation going into the clouds, but luckily it felt quite normal, in fact it was beautiful. Even more amazing was climbing through the first layer of clouds and popping on top of the foaming clouds.

I enjoyed watching the procedures for loading the approach into the Avidyne flight system and watching Marc fly the approach. A few miles out we sank below the clouds perfectly aligned for our landing at Madison.

On the return flight I switched with Al and took over the right seat and helped with the radios including copying down my first IFR flightplan read-back. I thought maybe sitting up front I might experience some disorientation but again felt quite alright in the clouds. Much of the time we were free of the clouds and I logged some time flying an Cirrus SR 22 for the first time. I loved the plane except for its extremely sensitive trim which I think might take a few hours to master.

I have been excited for a while about the endeavor of seeking the Instrument Rating, and this flight only stoked my interest. As a result I have registered for the Sporty's Online Instrument Rating Course and am working on a plan to earn the Instrument Rating. I look forward to sharing my progress.

October 7, 2010

VFR Sectional Chart: My Love Hate Relationship

skysectionals.jpgAs a cost cutting measure I have forgone my time in the G1000 and been flying the steam gauges as of late. Several of my flights were even without the luxuries of any GPS (oh mercy me). Whether you call it cheap, old school, or more authentic flying does not matter. What matters is I have enjoyed these recent flights without all the bells and whistles and spending more time with my head out the window looking for landmarks (don't worry G1000 I will return to you soon enough).

One of the things I have rediscovered is my love-hate relationship with the VFR sectional chart. Often when flying in the G1000 enabled Cessna my sectional chart plays a supporting role which finds it left folded in my flight bag. Recently however, I have been pulling out and referencing the sectional chart on a more regular basis. I forgot how much I enjoy the sectional. Preflight, I can spend hours looking at sectionals and dreaming of all the cool places to fly, choosing routes and spots to fly over, plus I like the smell of sectionals even more than a magic marker.

On the other hand inflight, I feel like I need to have trained under an origami ninja to fold the charts into a useful shape that allows me to fly safely without being distracted by this cloud of a five foot by four foot map covering my windshield. How often have you asked your co pilot to take the plane while you wrestle with an uncooperative sectional? Happens to me too often.

I guess I was not the only pilot frustrated with sectionals, enter Eric Boles and SkySectionals. SkySectionals are downloadable, print on demand sectionals (also available for TACs & Enroute charts) broken into letter-sized panels meant to a more manageable chart solution. Eric was kind enough to share with me a sample of his product for a recent flight in Northern Wisconsin.

Here are the pros and cons of SkySectionals:
Pros:


  • I liked being able to make notes on the printouts without worrying about using a pencil, erasable highlighter or destroying a sectional.

  • I was flying a short cross country so I was able to print just the panels I intended to use (packed a few extra neighboring panels to be safe)

  • It was convenient to download on demand and print prior to flight. I have at times intended to buy a sectional at the airport only to have them be out of stock.


Cons:

  • I can only imagine how much ink I am burning through printing these off (Not much good in black and white)

  • The flight I was on was a short cross country but due to the location of the airports in relationship to breaks on the page required me to flip between four different panels which was unwieldy causing it to be as inefficient if not more inefficient than pulling out my chart.

All in all I think it is a creative solution and for the uber-organized it is probable a gift from above. I think for my needs I will likely stick with the standard sectional, something about the smell of them I just can't live without.

May 11, 2009

A Mother's Day Brush with Get-There-Itis

flyingwithdad.jpgThis weekend I had my first opportunity to confront one of the leading killer of pilots, Get-There-itis. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association say "The determination to reach a destination, combined with hazardous weather, claims the lives of dozens of pilots and their passengers yearly." For weeks I have been planning a cross-country flight to Indianapolis. The plan was for my Dad and I to fly from Chicago to Indy to visit my Grandmother (my Dad's mother) and also enjoy the first day of time trials for the Indy 500 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

As the flight date drew closer, the weather in the 10 day forecast continued to improve, only to disappoint the day prior to the trip. The night before our Saturday morning departure the forecast called for rain, low ceilings and high winds. When I awoke, I was encouraged by the look outside but that did not last long. A combination of online weather through AOPA's website and a call to Flight Service for a weather briefing proved that it would not be a great day for the flight. At my destination there was a direct crosswind of 18 knots, gusting to 25 with forecast for no change in winds. Additionally, at airports near Chicago there were deteriorating ceilings and reports of turbulence and wind shear. I made the executive decision to scrub the flight.

Luckily the weather looked like it would improve overnight. So I adjusted plans for a Sunday roundtrip. I woke up Sunday morning to a nearly windless blue sky. I picked up my Dad and we headed out to Chicago Executive. and before too long we were airborne and flying along the Chicago skyline enroute to Indianapolis. It was a quiet morning in the skies so we had no trouble getting flight following from Chicago Approach and throughout the flight. I enjoyed showing my Dad the the intricacies of the G1000. Having been raised in Indiana he seemed to enjoy viewing towns from above that previously he had only been accustomed to seeing from the ground level.

toddandgrandma.jpgAfter arriving at Eagle Creek Airpark we drove out to visit with my Grandmother. We decided to go back towards the airport for a Mother's Day brunch. We ate at Rick's Boatyard a favorite destination for pilots. I had to sample the Boatyard burger since it was rated in the Top 10 $100 Hamburgers of 2009 earlier this year. The burger lived up to its rating. Even better was the company. It was great sharing the flight with my Dad then enjoying a Mother's Day brunch with my Grandmother (one of my loyal readers, Thanks Grandma) and my Dad.

After the enjoyable meal I re-checked the weather. According to the briefer it looked like we would have lower ceilings but fine VFR flying weather, so we fired up the trusty Cessna and rolled down the runway for departure. Again we were able to pick-up flight following, though as we approached Chicago the controllers were getting busier and busier and finally canceled our flight following. We also noticed visibility diminishing a bit as we approached Lake Michigan and a light rain started to fall on the windshield. As we passed Gary, IN the rain increased and it became apparent that there was a storm ahead in the Chicago area.

Although we were anxious to get home to enjoy a Mother's Day dinner with my mother I knew the right call was to divert. During flight training instructors often have their students practice unexpected diversions. A pilot on my shoulder reminded me of all the horror stories about pilots flying into instrument meteorological conditions(IMC). Since earning my license I have not had a real reason to divert but found the decision came easy. I always figured I would not be one of those pigheaded pilots who suffer from Get-There-Itis, and was glad to see I could resist that urge!

I called up Gary and re-routed for landing at Gary International. My Dad and I sat back in the leather chairs at the Gary JetCenter and watched part of the Cubs game while I periodically checked in on the patchy storms working their way through Chicago. After about a forty-five minute break the weather had cleared and we were back on our way. The storm had cleared out the General Aviation traffic and we were able to pick-up flight following again for the bumpy return flight up the lakefront.

Often people ask what I love about flying. I can say that this weekend's flights was one of the best reasons to fly. I was able to spend a great day with my Dad while surprising my Grandmother for Mother's Day and enjoying her company for the day. I look forward to making this flight again sometime soon. Weather permitting, of course.

April 18, 2009

Spring Flying in Chicago

flying 030_1.JPGSpring has arrived in Chicago, well atleast for a day it has. I enjoyed waking this morning to a nice cool breeze coming through the bedroom window and new it would be a great day to fly. I pulled up AOPA's online flight planner to get updated weather and added the weather data to my NAVLog for the flight from Chicago Executive to Porter County Municipal Airport and back.

I did a quick visual check out the window and it confirmed what I saw on my computer monitor, it was going to be a wonderful day for flying. Chicago Executive was reporting few clouds at 5,500 but everywhere else along the route was reporting clear below 12,000 and greater than 10 miles visibility.

After completing my pre-flight I contacted Chicago Executive Ground. They said I could choose any runway as there was not much traffic yet and the winds were calm, so I selected the nearest runway. As soon as I was airborne I turned Eastbound to head towards the lakefront. After clearing Chicago Executive airspace I tuned in Chicago Approach, things sounded slow so I made my VFR request for flight following which was granted. As I approached the Chicago skyline I received a single traffic advisory for a plane off my 11 o'clock reporting the same altitude. After searching for a few seconds I saw the aircraft which was about a mile away and no factor. Other than that I had the Chicago Skyline airspace all to myself.

After clearing the Chicago O'Hare Class B airspace I climbed to 3,500 feet to put me above the airspace for Gary International and turned further Eastbound toward Valparaiso. This was my first flight to Porter Country but as I neared the airport I realized I had flown out of here once before as a passenger on a B-17 Bomber, definitely a found aviation memory of mine.

I overflew the airport and entered a left downwind for runway 27 and made a smooth landing. As I began to taxi back several other airplanes entered the pattern. I did a 360 on the taxiway to view the traffic, I noticed there was a Piper Cub flying a low and tight traffic pattern and he had not been using radios, or was not equipped with them. Both the Cub and the Cessna turned base at the same time, though the Cub's base was much tighter than the Cessna's. Iannounced to the Cessna that the Cub was there as I don't think he had seen the Cub flying a lower and tighter but nearly identical pattern. The Cessna thanked me for the alert and ended up opting for a go around while the cub flew nearly the full length of the 7,000 foot runway before setting down for landing, I guess his hangar must have been on the far end of the airport.

The return flight was uneventful. Though, when I called Chicago Approach for flight following they asked me to to standby as the were busy with commercial traffic. They never did have capacity to offer me flight following services on the return leg. Though, it worked out alright as I did not encounter any traffic on the way back which surprised me on such a beautiful morning.

I logged another 1.8 hours of cross country time which will come in handy when I am ready to start pursuing an instrument rating, something I am thinking about more and more seriously this Spring.

March 16, 2009

Spring Weather Brings Crowded Skies

weekendflight.jpgThe mercury is on the rise in thermometers throughout the Midwest and pilots are finding their way back to the airport. I could not resist the call and reserved a plane for a weekend afternoon flight, my first in over a month. While enjoying the first jacketless pre-flight of the year I noticed all the empty spots on the tarmac and realized I was not the only one with the great idea of going flying.

After engine start-up and taking down ATIS notes I had to be patient to wait for a break in all the radio chatter to make my initial call-up to Chicago Executive ground control. I informed them that after departing their airspace I would be interested in flight following for my flight to Waukesha (KUES). Sometimes getting flight following in the Chicago airspace can be hit or miss and I worried that I might not get flight following as I figured the controllers would be busy. I was right about them being busy but they were able to support my request.

As I departed the Chicago Executive airspace I counted more than seven airplanes on the G1000 MFD. I felt confident I would have safe separation from the aircraft with the combination of my visual scan, the G1000 traffic advisories and updates from the air traffic controllers.

The weather was ideal for flying with light and variable winds, unrestricted visibility and no sign of a ceiling in any direction. After a nice 40 minute flight I arrived at a busy Waukesha airport. There were several planes performing their pre-flight run-up and three planes in addition to mine that were communicating to the tour while heading inbound for landings. I made a nice smooth landing and taxied to the terminal for a short break.

When I was ready to depart for the return leg I had the airwaves and airport to myself. On the return flight I again requested and received flight following. At one point the controller pointed out traffic to my two o'clock position eastbound and also a plane at eleven o'clock northwestbound both at ~3,000 feet I watched from a few thousand feet above and a mile or so away as these two airplanes crossed paths much closer than I would have preferred as one of the pilots. I don't believe either was taking advantage of flight following services as I never heard the controller give either of them traffic advisories.

I highly recommend pilots take advantage of flight following whenever they can on a VFR flight. When I trained my instructors never spent much time teaching me how to request flight following and how to use the service. I found this PDF to be a valuable resource for detailing how flight following works.

I enjoyed adding another new airport to my list of airports visited while also building more time and experience in the G1000 enabled Cessna 172SP. I will be publishing a few posts in the coming week outlining some of the tools I have used in the past few weeks to continue to learn all the great features of the G1000.

February 1, 2009

Cleared to Fly the Glass Cockpit

gpsmap200.jpgOn Saturday I went for my second familiarization flight in the G1000 enabled Cessna. On my first flight last week we spent most the time reviewing the basic functionality of the G1000 system. Saturday's focus was on how to handle failures and also how to use some of the advanced options such as flight planning and working with the autopilot.

I planned a 120NM cross country flight from Chicago Executive to Rockford (KRFD), De Kalb (KDKB), Schaumburg (06C) and then back to Chicago Executive. After firing up the Cessna my CFI showed me how to enter the entire flightplan into the G1000. We used two GPS waypoints and each airport to set our course. It took only a few minutes to get the hang of it and get the entire flight entered into the system.

My preflight briefing with Flight Service warned me of some light to moderate chop along the route and also some stiff winds. Sure enough as we climbed out of Chicago Executive we got tossed around a bit until we climbed above 2,500 feet at which point the ride became smoother. As I turned the plane west for Rockford we took on a direct 53 knot headwind slowing our forward progression to a measly 52 knots. I felt like I was back in my trusty Cessna 152 I used to train in. I did not mine the slow progression though as we had a beautiful view of the snow-covered farm lands below. It also allowed some time for me to learn how to use the autopilot feature. I was able to engage the autopilot to maintain our flightplan path and to maintain our altitude. It made for a very relaxing flight to Rockford.

snowyflighblog.jpgAs we approached Rockford we learned we would be following in a Boeing 767 which was cool. I have on shared runways with the big tin when flying into Midway. After making a nice landing at Rockford we taxied around to depart on their westbound runway. We had a beautiful view as I lined the airplane up on the centerline the setting sun was directly in front of us. I regret now not snapping a photo before departing. It has been a long time since I have been airborne during a sunset and forgot what a wonderful way it is to enjoy the end of a day.

From Rockford we headed southeast to De Kalb which allowed us to partially benefit from the strong winds from the West. It was after departing De Kalb that we started flying east and now enjoyed the 53 knots of wind as a tailwind. All of a sudden we were cruising along at a ground speed of just over 170 knots.

As we approached Schaumburg it became apparent we were going to have an extremely strong direct crosswind so we decided not to make an landing. Instead we continued on to Chicago Executive for my first night landing in nearly two years. I forgot how your perspective changes at night and flared earlier than I should have and our landing was not nearly as smooth as I would have liked. Though, not even a less than stellar landing could dampen my mood. I love flying this 2 year old Cessna with the G1000. I am now signed off to fly it and look forward to enjoying flights in this plan in 2009!