October 21, 2009

Sky High after Mountain Flying Experience

mountainflying1.jpgThis past weekend I had an wonderful opportunity to fly over and through the Rocky Mountain Region west of Denver. Since all of my flight time to date has been over the relatively safe landscape of the Midwest I contacted some local experts at the Aspen Flying Club to give me an overview on Mountain Flying.

Prior to the flight I took advantage of a variety of resources online to learn more about the challenges of Mountain Flying. I encourage anyone interested in flying over mountainous terrain to check out some of these great resources:

On Saturday I met Matt Beckman who would be my CFI for this flight experience. Matt has been flying since he was nine years old and grew up flying in the mountains so I knew I would be able to learn a lot from him. We spent more time than usual doing a preflight briefing, discussing some important points for the upcoming flight including density altitude, handling mountain winds, crossing over mountain ridges, emergency maneuvers, radio communications in the mountains and the effects of hypoxia. Many of these topics were well covered in the online courses and articles I had reviewed prior to the flight, but talking to Matt helped me ensure I understood each topic clearly.

We filled our flight plan then fired up the G1000 Cessna 172 and took off for an amazing flight over the Rocky Mountains. Flying in the Midwest, there is almost always a safe place to set the plane down if you encounter an engine failure. Fifteen minutes into this flight we crossed over our first mountain ridge and finding suitable places to land started to become a serious challenge. During our flight we were continuously looking for and calling out our next suitable place to land should an emergency arise.

Often the G1000 flat panels are blamed for keeping pilots' eyes inside the cockpit looking at the pretty monitors. That was definitely not the case on this flight where the mountains provided a majestic backdrop that was hard to keep your eyes off of.

The altitude in Denver is 5280 (also the name of their beautifully designed city magazine) after departing Centennial we needed to stay underneath the Denver International Airport airspace for the first few miles before then climbing up to 10,500 feet to clear the Tarryall & Kenosha mountains of Pike National Forest that ranged in height from 8,000 to 11,000 feet. After clearing the first ridge we flew over a valley enroute to Buena Vista and Central Colorado Regional Airport (KAEJ). We made two landings here including one in which we simulated a short field landing.

From there we departed northward up a valley that would lead us to Leadville, CO home of North America's highest airport, Lake County Airport (KLXV), with an altitude of 9,927. It is strange to look at your altimeter and see 10,900 as you are entering downwind for landing. Even odder for Midwest pilot was the sluggish climb we made out of Leadville as the plane labored to produce lift as we rolled down the runway at nearly 10,000 feet above sea level.

mountainflying2.jpgThe FAA requires that all pilots flying aircraft above 12,500 feet for more than 30 minutes must use supplemental oxygen. This is to prevent the effects of hypoxia. However to climb over many of the mountains in the area we needed to climb above 12,500 to 13,500 feet. We watched the clock to ensure we were not above the 12.5K mark for more than thirty minutes. Even at 13,500 feet there were a few mountain peaks that were higher than we were flying which was an amazing sight.

After crossing over a large mountain range we descended back down under 10,000 feet so we could practice a simulated emergency turn to avoid a terrain collision. I pointed the plane at a mountain and as we approached I pitched back to climb. On this cooler day we likely could have climbed over the mountain but for practice initiated the turn. I pulled power and set the flaps to full then turned at a 30° bank and let the nose roll over a bit allowing the plane to make a tight 180° turn banking us away from the danger.

After that we turned East and headed out of the mountains and back to the safety of flatland below. Although the plane descended, my spirits remained sky high from this amazing experience. I would strongly encourage any pilot to enjoy applying their flying skills to this challenging and beautiful area. If you are in the Denver area reach out the folks at The Aspen Flying Club and tell them I sent you.

The video below was shot with a cockpit mounted video camera and a hand held camera. In addition to the video I shot some photos which can be seen on Flickr.

August 30, 2009

Flying with Aviation Entrepreneurs

flyingwithrodandcharlene.jpgLast weekend I had the opportunity to fly with two friends and aviation entrepreneurs. Rod Rakic is the founder of MyTransponder, a growing aviation social network. He had a last minute cancellation and instead of flying alone decided to invite some fellow Chicago pilots to join him for a flight on a beautiful summer evening. I jumped at the offer as did Charlene Gervais. Charlene is the founder of Aviation Vacations, a new company offering flying tours of North America.

When Rod is not flying for the Civil Air Patrol he prefers to fly the Diamond Star. I have several hours of PIC of the smaller DA20 but have never flown in the DA40 so I was looking forward to the experience. I was also looking forward to just my second flight out of Midway. There is something special about landing and departing with all the commercial air traffic at Midway.

I have known Rod for several years and although we have tried we have never gone flying together. As a pilot who is fairly particular about who I fly with I was immediately put at ease when Rod provided a very detailed pre-departure briefing which included how we would handle emergencies and setting up guidelines for a sterile cockpit during the departure and arrivals. My CFI taught me such great habits early on in my training and I am always surprised to see that many pilots hop in their plane and depart without a briefing for passengers or other pilots on board.

Once airborne we had a short and smooth flight over to Lansing where we landed and took just enough time for Charlene and I to trade seats before getting airborne for the return trip. As we returned to Midway the sun started to drop offering a beautiful display of colors and a nice view of the lit Chicago skyline. It was nice spending a few hours with some fellow pilots and sharing stories and enjoying a beautiful summer flight. I shot a few little clips of video during the flight and have posted the video below.




Posted at 4:40 PM | Post Category: Diamond Star, Flight Experiences | Comments (8) | Save & Share This Story

July 30, 2009

Celebrating Five Years as a Private Pilot

ChicagoAirandWaterShow2008_t-6.jpgI spent much of my childhood and adult life looking up at the sky and dreaming of flying. In April of 2004 I decided to stop dreaming and making learning to fly a reality. Ninety-five days after taking my first introductory flight and after logging 47.2 hours I earned my Private Pilots license on August 1, 2004.

On Saturday, I celebrate five great years enjoying the benefits of my license including all the great places I have flown and experiences I have gained. To honor this milestone I am heading to Oshkosh, I can think of no more appropriate way to enjoy this achievement then a weekend of aviation fun at AirVenture.

In addition to my own personal flying experiences through this blog and the wonderful people I have met I have enjoyed some amazing flying experiences. Below are links to some of my favorite flights, experiences and lessons from the past five years.

Enjoy, I know I have:



Posted at 12:06 AM | Post Category: Flight Experiences | Comments (6) | Save & Share This Story

January 25, 2009

Addicted to the G1000 Cessna After a Brief Taste

CessnaPreHeat.jpgMother Nature was kind enough to let me go flying this weekend. Although she kept the snow and high winds away, I did have a chilly 8° pre-flight experience. After a 15-minute pre-heat of the engine the plane was ready to fly. Yesterday's flight was a fun learning experience for me. It was only my second flight in a glass cockpit equipped airplane. With all the other Cessnas booked for the weekend I had the choice to see another weekend go by without flying or check out the 47TN and its G1000 Glass Cockpit.

In order to better prepare for this flight I downloaded Sporty's Flying Glass Cockpit video. This helped me learn the ins and outs of the G1000 glass cockpit. I highly recommend the video to anyone looking to fly in a glass cockpit. On top of that video, when I arrived at the airport the CFI I was flying with sat me down and walked me through a computer-based demo of the G1000. The combination of the video and software tutorial made me feel much more comfortable in the G1000 cockpit.

GlassPanelG1000.jpgI can see how it is often said that the biggest problem with the G1000 is remembering to look outside the cockpit. The combination of great data, traffic advisories and weather information could be construed as information overload. But I think it provides information that can make your flying more precise and safe if used properly. One of my favorite features was the last call playback. After being advised by the Kenosha tower with instructions for entering the pattern and runway to use my instructor showed me that if I forgot or misunderstood the last call I could hit the playback button and hear it again. This is wonderful as it allows me to double check what I was cleared for without me having to clutter up the airways with a repeat of the call.

I realize now that my FBO is acting like a drug dealer. Giving me just a taste of the G1000 knowing now I will not want to go back to my standard Cessna 172 with its antiquated steam gauges. This plane 47TN is only two years old and even offered seat belts that included air bags (I had no idea these even existed). This is a long way from the Cessna 152 I took on my introductory flight over five years ago that had more duct tape than seat fabric inside the cockpit.

I plan on taking one more flight with a CFI next weekend so that I am checked out to fly the G1000 Cessna 172 whenever I want. On the next flight we will review the flight planning functionality the G1000 offers and also how to deal with screen failures or other emergency situations in relation to the G1000.

November 25, 2008

My First International Flight Scrubbed Due to Weather

versailles.jpgI recently returned from a wonderful trip to France. I spent several days for work in the south of France then met my wife in Paris for several days of exploring Paris.

As soon as I learned I would be going to France I started thinking about trying to fit in a flight while visiting. I was excited about the opportunity to see Versailles and the sites of Paris from above.

I had troubles locating fixed based operators or flight schools. So, I contacted PlasticPilot who is based in Germany for some advice. He suggested Air & Compagnie based at the Toussus le Noble airport near Versaille about 30 minutes from Paris.

I reserved a safety pilot and a Cessna 172SP for an afternoon during my visit. My wife and I planned to tour the Palace of Versaille in the morning then fly in the afternoon. Unfortunately, the morning of our day trip to Versaille we woke up to a terentual downpour. But, as all pilots learn to do I did my best to not focus on the weather hoping it would clear in time for the flight.

eiffeltower.jpgSure enough while walking the grounds of Versaille the rain stopped and the closed began to clear. I started to think we would fit the flight in. Although we had a high enough ceiling and visibility the winds were in the 20 - 30 knot range and with 10 knot gusts. The problem is that the Toussus le Noble airport has two runways but they are parrellel to each other and the winds were directly perpindicular to the runways.

I waited another 30 minutes after the initial flight time but the weather did not improve so I had to scrub the flight. I often say one of the hardest parts about being a general aviation pilot is the let down of having to scrub a flight. I look forward to visiting France again and will be sure to look up the friendly folks at Air & Compagnie. For now a flight in Microsoft Flight Simulator X will have to do.


Posted at 8:57 PM | Post Category: Flight Experiences, General | Comments (8) | Save & Share This Story

August 31, 2008

Building Cross Country Time

8D1_crosscountry.jpgThis year has turned out to be a great year for flying for me. I have flown more total hours, solo hours and cross country hours since the year I earned my ticket (2004). I am slowly building up more cross-country experience, something that will come in handy if I begin to pursue an instrument rating. Yesterday, I logged another 1.7 of cross country time.

I knew I had the plane for about two hours so I unfolded the sectional and looked for airports that were more than 50NM miles from Sturgeon Bay Cherryland Airport but also not too far that would prevent me from getting a preflight completed and get to my destination and back in the two hour time slot. The airport that best met those criteria was New Holstein Municipal Airport in New Holstein, Wisconsin. The airport is just over 60NM from Cherryland just a few miles to the East of Lake Winnebago.

Shortly after departing from Cherryland Airport I tuned into Green Bay Approach and as expected it sounded pretty quiet so I figured they would have capacity to provide me with flight following. I hit the transmit button and said "Green Bay Approach, Cessna 378MJ". After their response I responded with "378MJ, Cessna 172 is 10 miles southwest of Cherryland KSUE at 4,500 requesting flight following, direct to New Holstein". They provided me a squawk code then verified my radar contact. From that point forward I only heard from the two more times. The first was to point out traffic at my 10 o'clock which was no factor and the second time was to terminate flight following as I approached my destination. Although, they did not provide much support I always prefer to take advantage of flight following to provide an extra layer of safety.

Although, the airplane was GPS enabled I planned the flight the old fashion way with dead reckoning. I noted small towns, windmill fields, a river and a racetrack as several good landmarks for the flight. I arrived at each checkpoint close to my planned time of arrival and almost directly on target. Any easy task yesterday as the winds aloft were very light.

RSS_Crops.jpgThere was no activity at New Holstein when I arrived. Since they don't have an automated weather system I overflew the field to check out the windsock. I found the windsock to be limp. New Holstein has both an asphalt and a turf runway. It appeared from the windtee and the way the limp windsock was situated and based on weather from a neighboring airport that runway 32, the paved runway, would be my best option. I flew through the pattern and landed smoothly then back taxied for to the end of the runway for departure.
The return flight was a little quicker due to a slightly better support from the winds aloft. I again leveraged the support of ATC for flight following.

Flying over a vast area of farmland I saw some interesting shapes cut into the corn fields and other crops below. Designs that you would miss if passing these areas by car. I saw one design that looked familiar then I realized it was because it reminded me of the RSS feed icon. In the end it was another fun afternoon of flying over Wisconsin in the Cessna 172.

August 30, 2008

Friends Let Friends Fly

skydive.jpgDo you remember the first time you flew an airplane? I remember it well. I have been an aviation enthusiast for as long as I can remember. But, it was not until high school that I had the opportunity to go flying in a Cessna. Unfortunately, I was one of two guests flying with the pilot and being the smallest of the guests I had to sit in the back of the plane. I remember feeling tortured getting to finally fly in a small plane but having to do it from the back seat.

Then, when I went to college, one of the first people I met, Chad, turned out to be a private pilot. We hit it off well and ended up being roommates for many years, business partners, and we also jumped out of a plane together (though not one we were flying luckily). To this day we are still best of friends, and It was Chad who gave me my first flight in the front of a Cessna. I remember enjoying the great aerial view of the college campus and the excitement of watching him fly the plane and was ecstatic when he let me fly the plane for a few minutes. This flight just continued to add fuel to the fire that would eventually energize me to "go for it" and earn my private pilots license.

Chad, like a large number of pilots nowadays, no longer actively flies. So this weekend when he and a few other friends decided to join me in Northern Wisconsin I made sure to find a way to fit aviation into the trip. On the day of his arrival I rented the Cessna 172 from Orion Flight Service in Sturgeon Bay for the short flight to Austin Straubel International Airport (KGRB) in Green Bay. I parked the plane at one of the two local FBOs then went into the main terminal to await his arrival. From there we loaded his bag into the back of the plane for the flight back to Sturgeon Bay.

For me this was a special flight. When I went on that first flight behind the yoke I still dreamed of learning to fly. It was fun to now be the pilot in command and be reminded again how lucky I am to have pursued this dream. I was sure to return the favor and let him fly the plane for a while as well. I noticed it took him about two seconds to take me up on the offer. I guess you can never really take the pilot out of someone.


Posted at 8:28 AM | Post Category: Cessna 172, Flight Experiences | Comments (3) | Save & Share This Story

August 14, 2008

Riding Shotgun in the T-6 Texan

ChicagoAirandWaterShow2008_t-6.jpgThe 2008 Chicago Air & Water Show roared into town today. Military and civilian aircraft from all over the country began arriving this morning at the Gary International Airport where most of them will be based throughout the airshow.

Today at the airshow media day I had the opportunity to take a sneak peek at many of the acts, speak with some of the pilots, go for some rides and best of all fly the T-6 Texan! As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, one of the acts I am most excited about this year is Bill Leff's Night Airshow. His T-6 Texan is specially equipped with pyrotechnics so he can put on a thrilling unique night time airshow experience. In meeting Bill I learned that he is from Dayton, Ohio. I shared with him that I learned to fly in the Cincinnati and Dayton areas. After learning I was a pilot, Bill offered to let me fly the T-6 Texan when we went for a flight.

I had flown in a T-6 with the AeroShell team previously, though since they fly in tight formations there was no opportunity for me to fly. Shortly after getting airborne Bill told me the plane was mine. I flew us out to the practice area and performed a few turns and climbs. Once at the practice area he took over the aircraft to perform some aerobatics. We flew a variety of maneuvers but my favorites were the barrel roll and the loop. I love the power of the T-6! On the way back to Gary he gave me the plane back and had me fly us back until we were on short final where he took over the plane for landing. I had a great time talking to Bill and flying with him and am really looking forward to watching him perform on Friday night. If you are in the Chicago Area stop by the lakefront tomorrow night to see him perform.

2008ChicagoAirandWaterShow_limalima.jpgAs we parked the plane the Lima Lima Flight Team returned from a press flight. Sitting in the back seat of the lead plane was Florence Henderson (AKA Carol Brady from the Brady Bunch). Henderson will be singing the national anthem each day of the airshow. She was kind enough to take a photo with me (Available in slideshow below).

While standing there I learned there was a spare seat in one of Lima Lima's T-34s for their next sortie, so I jumped on that. Rick "Knuckles" Nichols took great care of me and gave a very enjoyable flight. We were in the seventh plane in an eight plane formation. During they show they will perform as a six-plane team, Nichols will serve as the team announcer during the show. Be sure not to miss Lima Lima's performances this weekend.

Throughout the day the Blue Angels were coming and going to do spot checks and practice flights over Chicago. I did not get to see a preview of their Chicago Show but did enjoy seeing a few maneuvers back at Gary. I guess it gives me something to look forward to during the next few days.



Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

May 31, 2008

The $150 Eggs and Toast - A Visit to Kealy's Kafe

KealysKafe.jpgOver at ReportingPoints, the AOPAPilot Blog, Nate Ferguson recently wrote a post asking whether the $100 hamburger should be renamed the $200 hamburger due to the rising cost of aviation fuel. For non-pilots, the $100 hamburger is slang for a flight in which a pilot is looking for an excuse to fly so he or she takes a short flight to a neighboring airport for a bite to eat, the cost of the flight and the burger were said to be about $100. There is even a book dedicated to the best places to get the proverbial $100 hamburger.

Since I had the Cessna booked for a morning flight I opted to go in search of some breakfast. John Keating had written about a brunch destination, Kealy's Kafe, on FlyingChicago.com so I decided to check it out. The cafe is located in the terminal building at Janesville Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport. Janesville is just over 50NM miles away which means that the flight time could be logged as cross-country time that could be used towards the cross-country requirements for an instrument rating, something I would like to pursue in the future.

I was excited, but also a little apprehensive about the flight. When I checked in with the Flight Service Station to get the weather I learned that I would encounter gusting crosswinds at both Janesville and upon my return to Chicago Executive. Luckily both airports have multiple runways, allowing me to select the runways that would minimize the crosswind factor of the winds.

Enroute, I flew over Dacy Airport which offers two turf runways. Not far from Dacy Airport is Twin Garden Farms. They sell the best corn I have ever had, Mirai Corn. Each year in late Summer my parents drive out and pick up bushels of corn for the family. Seeing that it only took about 20 minutes to fly to Dacy, I might have to look into flying there this year and bring back some corn for the whole family.

After a turbulent-at-times flight, I arrived at Janesville. The flight took about 45 minutes from takeoff to engine shutdown. When I arrived there was only one other airplane parked outside the restaurant. I seemed to have arrived at the right time, for pilots in the area getting there by 10am is the way to go. After my arrival a flight of seven Van's Aircrafts came in together. Following them were three other planes that arrived for brunch. I ordered two eggs and toast which was served promptly and were quite good.

On the flight back I had a tailwind that allowed me to cut ten minutes off the return leg. The return flight went smoothly though I was a little worried to hear that Chicago Executive was reporting crosswinds and windgusts of 20kts and adding to that was a report of low level windshear. The main concern is that as you are preparing to land if there is a major change in wind direction you can immediately lose lift and therefore lose altitude rapidly. To counter the crosswinds and the concerns of windshear I opted to use only 20° (instead of 30°) and also flew a faster approach speed then normal. The plane bounced around a bunch on final but I was able to put the upwind wheel down first and then settle the plane safely on the runway.

In the end the $4.95 eggs came out to be closer to the $150 eggs when you factor in the cost of the plane and fuel. So, I agree with Nathan at AOPA that it might be time to increase the cost of the $100 Hamburger. I think $150 - $200 might be more accurate in our current economy.

July 27, 2007

The B-17 Flying Fortress Flight Experience

2007_28_2007_b17angle.jpgI had the amazing opportunity to ride along in a B-17 Flying Fortress flying as part of the Wings of Freedom tour, made its way from Porter County Municipal Airport in Valparaiso, IN to Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling, Illinois. The Wing of Freedom Tour is currently made up of three planes that served as the backbone to Allied air attacks in World War II, the B-17 Flying Fortress, B-24 Liberator and B-25 Mitchell.

When I arrived at the airport there was a nice crowd of people taking tours of the three planes. Visitors can tour the planes for $10 ($5 for children under 12). Though standing out from the crowd were several veterans that seemed content sitting and looking at these historic aircraft that many had flown in during the Second World War.

As the Collings Foundation, founded to help preserve living history, started breaking down the sales tables and preparing the planes for flight I was filled with anticipation for the flight. As we boarded I found my seat a spot on the floor on a pad leaning against the wall right next to the left tail gun. We received a short briefing explaining that we should remained belted in until airborne at which point we could have the freedom to move about the aircraft providing we did not get in the way of the pilots, lean on any doors that might not be completely secure or put our hands on the wires running through the inside of the fuselage that are responsible for moving the control surfaces.

07_28_2007_B17overChicago.jpgA few minutes later the engines made a magnificent noise as they roared to life. We rolled down the runway and smoothly lifted into the air. There were ten of us aboard like there would have been for a combat mission. For us the flight would be all enjoyment for the crew that flew during the war it was much different. A typical crew of a B-17 aircraft included a Bombardier, Navigator, Pilot, Co-Pilot, Flight Engineer, Radio Operator, Ball Turret, Left & Right Waist Gunners and Tail Gunner. I started off the flight enjoying the view from the tail of the plane from the waist gunner's vantage point. Then as the flight progressed made my way to the Radio Room which had a section of the roof opened up providing a nice breeze. After that I checked out one of the better vantage points on the plane, from the Flight Engineers turret at the top of the plane. This gave a clear view 360 degrees around from the top of the plane. As beautiful a view as it was it was nothing compared to that provided from the Bombardier's space at the nose of the plane.

WingsofFreedom 123a.jpgI climbed down below the pilots and crawled to the front into the Bombardier nose section of the plane to the best view in the house. The nose is made of plexiglass giving a wonderful view from the very front of the plane. I enjoyed watching the Chicago skyline go by from this great vantage point.

Also on board for this flight was former B-17 Pilot Dave Weinberg who flew 28 missions in the B-17. He was joined by his Son-in-Law and Grandson on his first flight in a B-17 since the war. I am sure this was a memorable flight for them all. I had previously heard legendary stories of this planes ability to take a beating but still bring the crew home safely. Weinberg shared a story to support the legend commenting that the B-17 had about the same ability to glide as a brick yet during one of his missions he lost three of the four engines but was still able to bring the plane home safely.

It was special to hear a few short stories of his about the war and specifically the B-17. That is part of why it is so special that these planes fly on allowing those stories to continue to be told and shared with generation after generation. Despite nearly 12,000 B-17 being built there are now only 9 still in flying condition in the United States. This aircraft is an amazing aircraft but not nearly as amazing as the young men that flew it to preserve freedom. Check out the Collings Foundation website and see when this aircraft will be visiting an airfield near you. I guarantee you will not regret taking the time to visit with it and the people that share the love for it.

I have also uploaded some photos of the flight to Flickr and a few short video clips to YouTube for viewing.


Posted at 10:23 PM | Post Category: B-17 Flying Fortress, Flight Experiences | Save & Share This Story