November 2, 2008

myTransponder Fall Fly-In

janesvilleflyin_breakfast.jpgIn my previous post I mentioned the new social network for aviators, myTransponder. Although, I have met pilots from all over the country through the site I noticed there was an abundance of Midwest based pilots on myTransponder. About a month ago I decided it would be fun to meet the Midwest pilots in person. I used the myTransponder "Events" functionality to schedule a fly-in for Janesville, WI as it seemed to be centrally located for many of the pilots. Janesville also has a restaurant on the tarmac, Kealy's Kafe where we could enjoy a good meal among pilots. I was delighted that moments after scheduling the event several pilots had already replied that they were planning to attend. My only concern was if the weather would cooperate.

Sure enough the date arrived and the weather worked out in our favor. I was joined by my friend and AOPA Project Pilot Mentee, Peter. We had a nice smooth flight to Janesville that took just over 40 minutes. The only difficulty on the flight was that the Bendix Traffic Advisory system was malfunctioning and giving us incorrect warnings indicating there was airplane traffic right below us. We ended up turning off the system for much of the flight as it is very nerve wracking hearing that alarm go off in your headset even though we were confident the system was incorrect.

When we arrived at Janesville I recognized the White Cherokee that belonged to Robbie one of the myTransponder members. He had flown in from Waukegan (KUGN) and was joined by his four year old son who seemed to enjoy the flight in. We reserved a table for seven figuring we would be lucky if that many people ended up actually attending. I was amazed when more and more people started to arrive. In all we had 15 people that flew in from three different states and seven different airports.

janesvillemap450.jpg

janesvilleflyin_group.jpgSeveral blogs, podcasts and aviation websites were represented at the event including, myTransponder, Jetwhine, Flying in Chicago, Pilotcast and of course MyFlightBlog.com. We had an enjoyable meal and conversation. Special thanks to Rod from myTransponder for picking up the check. After breakfast we checked out a few of the planes on the tarmac. Those that had not yet departed posed for a photo in front of Greg Bockelman's beautiful Cessna 195.

While we preflighted the Cessna for the return trip Peter decided to wipe down the Bendix antenna to see if that would fix the false traffic alerts. Sure enough it did. I have made a mental note to add checking that the antenna is not just securely attached but also clean during future pre-flight checks. The flight back was as smooth as the flight there. We arrived back to a busy Chicago Executive Airport where we made another smooth touchdown. It was fun flying with Peter and great meeting all those fellow pilots. I am looking forward to our next fly-in!

October 10, 2008

Fall Flightseeing, Turf Landings and GPS Tracking

fall08flying.jpgMy wife and I picked the perfect weekend to escape the city and spend some time in the country. Here in Northern Wisconsin, we are treated to a beautiful show of colors as the trees put on their annual fall foliage show. Although the view is amazing driving down winding country roads, I know one place that offers an even better vantage point. So, I drove over to Cherryland Airport for some time in their Cessna 172. I flew north from Sturgeon Bay flying along the bay side of the peninsula as it narrows. Along the way I had a spectacular aerial view of the vast array of colors on the forests below.

Close to the northern tip of the peninsula is one of my favorite airports, the quaint Ephraim-Gibraltar Airport. It is a small two-runway airport nestled in the woods on a ridge just south and east of the town of Ephraim. After overflying the field to check the windsock that sat mostly limp I selected runway 32 which at 2,700 x 60 feet is the larger of the two runways and the only paved runway at Ephraim. I made a nice smooth landing then rolled off slowly to the end of the runway straight onto the grass. I wanted to taxi down the turf runway to ensure it was in safe enough condition to use for landings and takeoffs.

Sure enough, the turf runway was in great shape with only a few minor bumps. I followed turf procedures and turned the airplane around at the end but kept them plane rolling. I tossed in 10° of flaps and kept pulling back on the yoke to lighten the pressure on the nose wheel. Out the cockpit window was a sight every pilot must love, a well maintained turf runway with some distant trees glowing in a mixture of yellow, orange and red leaves signaling the end of the runway. As the airspeed increased I lifted the plane into ground effect just feet off the ground and let the speed continue to pick-up before pulling further back on the yoke and climbing safely over the trees and then out over the bay.

ksue-3d2-ksue_thumb.jpgOn departure I noticed a Maule in the vicinity so I flew a wider pattern to ensure we had plenty of separation. As I turned on final I picked a spot to aim for and focused on bringing the plane in nice and slow for a soft turf landing. I flared a few feet above the ground and listened to the stall horn sound then moments later the main gear settled softly onto the turf. I continued to apply back pressure until finally the front wheel also touched down. This was by far my favorite landing of the year. After that I flew back to Sturgeon Bay. On the return flight I pulled out the camera to snap a few photos. Unfortunately, the photos don't do justice to Mother Nature's show.

I brought along my GPS Data Logger on this flight. Thanks to some advice from Peter and from Jayson I was able to successfully track the flight and then overlay that track on a Google Map. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy the device was to use. You can click on the photo of the track to see a larger scale version of the flight track. You can be sure that I will be bringing the GPS Data Logger along for future flights.

September 30, 2008

Start of the Fall Flying Season

septemberflight.jpgThis weekend I celebrated the end of summer and the start of the Fall flying season with a short cross-country flight. The combination of beautiful views of the fall foliage from above, smoother air and fewer concerns of a weather related flight cancellations makes Fall my favorite time to fly. The only downside of the start of Fall is we start rapidly losing daylight flight time.

I blocked a Cessna 172 for a few hours on Saturday afternoon. The weather was nearly perfect with cool temperatures and winds reported as light and variable at my home base airport, Chicago Executive (PWK), and at my destination Beloit (44C). The only negative to the weather was a layer of haze that degraded my visibility a bit as I flew towards the sun on the first westward bound leg.

Beloit is just over 50NM miles making it probably the closest airport to Chicago Executive that you can fly to and still log the time as Cross Country time. Beloit Airport is on of those quiet country airports. It has a single paved runway that is 3,300 feet long and only 50 feet wide and no taxiway.

The flight to Beloit came in right around 35 minutes. From looking at my sectional I had seen a reference to frequent glider activity in the area. When I arrived in the area though I appeared to be the only aircraft in the area. On the ground sure enough there were 20-30 gliders resting on the lawn. With light winds landing on the centerline of the narrow and short runway was not a problem. As there did not appear to be any activity or people to speak with I simply back taxied down the runway and turned around for the return flight.

I had an equally uneventful flight home. Without the sunlight fighting its way through the haze I had much better visibility. As I arrived back at Chicago Executive I noticed a familiar voice on the radios. Turns out John of FlyingChicago.com was in his Mooney following me into Chicago Executive. I caught up with him later in the weekend. Turns out he had flown by Beloit during the day while visiting Dubuque (KDBQ) and Cassville (C74). Looking for somewhere to fly this fall? Check out John's site at FlyingChicago.com.

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 11, 2008

Flying in Class C Airspace

kgrb.jpgWhile visiting Northern Wisconsin this weekend I was able to fit in a flight. I wanted to re-familiarize myself with flying to an airport within Class C airspace. I decided to fly to Green Bay's Austin Straubel International Airport (KGRB) which is in Class C airspace and is just a short 37 mile flight from Door County's Cherryland Airport where I often rent from.

Class C Airspace typically surrounds airports in mid-size towns like Green Bay, Dayton or Milwaukee. Airplanes that wish to operate within Class C Airspace must have a Mode C Transponder that allows ATC to track the airplanes altitude. Class C Airspace also has a 200 knot airspeed restriction below 2,500 feet but that of course is not an issue in the Cessna 172.

Unlike the stricter Class B airspace pilots are not required to receive permission to enter Class C airspace but must achieve radio communications with ATC. Once ATC has replied back to your request you can enter the space, unless they specifically request you stay clear of the airspace. From the point of contact forward the pilot is to comply with any ATC instructions as long as they don't pose a threat to the flight.

When I was twenty miles from the Green Bay Airport I contacted Green Bay Approach and explained I was 20NM to the Northeast and was inbound for landing. Approach control gave asked me to Squawk 0324 and verify my altitude at which point they were able to make a positive identification of my plane on their radar. They asked me to proceed inbound and to expect right traffic for runway 36. As I closed in on the airport they gave me vectors that would put me into a right base for runway 36 behind a commercial CRJ flight that was on final. There was plenty of separation between the CRJ and I which meant wake turbulence would not be an issue.

Runway 36 at KGRB is a mammoth runway that is 150 feet wide and over 8,700 feet long, nearly three times as long as most runways I typically use. I landed close to the numbers which meant a long slow taxi to Executive Air a nice FBO which is situated at the other end of the runway. I popped in there quickly before preparing for the return leg. Just a week earlier this tarmac had been filled with reporters when Brett Favre made a quick return to Green Bay before being traded to the N.Y. Jets.

When departing I was offered the ability to depart from the midway point of runway 36. Turning onto runway 36 I still had more than 4,000 feet of usable runway and was airborne quickly.

Upon departing the airport I had a nice view of Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers. From there it was a short twenty five minute flight back to the quiet Door County Cherryland Airport. During the flight back I had my eye on an storm that looked to be approaching the Cherryland Airport. The storm waited for me to land and shut down the engine before releasing it's rain. Another fun flight in the books!


Posted at 6:18 PM | Post Category: Cessna 172, Flight Time | Comments (8) | Save & Share This Story

July 4, 2008

A Private Pilots View

MoonlightBay_Aerial.jpgOne of the things I love most about being a pilot is to be able to see the world from a unique perspective. We live in a world of beautiful sites. Yet, there are limits to what can be seen without the ability to get airborne. Whenever I fly commercially I love sitting in a window seat so I can check out amazing landscapes and look for sights that might otherwise be missed by those on the ground.

Since learning to fly I have enjoyed on several occasions discovering something from above that I would surely have missed or been unable to see from the ground. Things like corn mazes, shipwrecks and Civil War Munitions Factory.

While enjoying the Fourth of July holiday in Door County, WI; My wife and I decided to spend an afternoon flying. It was during this flight that we enjoyed checking out another beautiful view that we would have missed without the aid of the airplane. We overflew Moonlight Bay, from the ground it is just another beautiful bay along the Door County Peninsula. But, from above it was an amazing mixture of colors. The bay had a rust color close to shore that then melted into the deep blue of Lake Michigan. We circled the bay and snapped a few photos to share with the family. Cynthia and I have been by Moonlight Bay before while visiting nearby Cana Island Lighthouse. But, had no idea how drastically different it looked from the sky. You can view a wonderful ground level photo of Moonlight Bay on Flickr that shows how drastically different it looks from the ground.

todd_cynthia_flying.jpgThis was just one of many highlights during the flight. When we arrived at Ephraim we thought we were the only airplane in the area as the radios had been silent and no one responded to any of my calls to the Ephraim CTAF. As we started to enter the pattern for the asphalt runway their I spotted a tail dragger taking off from the turf runway. Shortly after taking off he abruptly cut into the pattern for the asphalt runway and proceeded to land, completely oblivious to my presence, despite my frequent radio calls. I made a few more radio calls without a response from that plane. It was apparent they were not equipped with radios or simply were not using them. I decided to circle and setup for a new entry into the pattern to ensure there was plenty of separation between me and this plane. Just about then another airplane chimed in that they were inbound for landings at Ephraim and commented they would follow us in the pattern.

As I was about to turn on to final approach to land, I noticed that the radio-less plane decided not to clear the runway and wait at the end before back taxiing and started to slowly back-taxi on the active runway. So, I decided to perform a go-around. I gave the inbound airplane and update on the situation. From that point forward the two of use would share updates with each other about what this other plane was doing. After another ride around the pattern we landed at Ephraim.

There we were met by my older brother and two of his three kids. They were in the area and knowing we were planning to land there decided to stop in to watch. I enjoyed showing the kids the plane and letting them sit in the cockpit. While we were on the ground the airport traffic picked up and four or five planes arrived while we were enjoying our time on the tarmac. The pilot that had shared the pattern with me, the one that I had been in frequent communication with on the radios, stopped over and introduced himself and thanked me for the updates. It was nice meeting the pilot and putting a face to the voice on the radio.

On the flight back to Sturgeon Bay we had an aerial view of the 2008 Door County corn maze and also checked out a 1,000 foot ship leaving dock in Sturgeon Bay and heading out into Green Bay. All in all it was a fun afternoon of flying!

June 25, 2008

A Rain Shortened Rental Checkout Ride

n378mj.jpgI just returned from a relaxing extended weekend in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Through a combination of long weekends and if I am lucky a full week vacation I usually enjoy 10-20 days up in Northern Wisconsin. So each year I get checked out to rent a Cessna 172 from Orion Flight Service at the Sturgeon Bay Cherryland Airport.

I had an abbreviated rental checkout ride this weekend with Orion. When I arrived at the airport it was obvious that the weather would prevent the CFI and I from spending too much time in the plane. I reviewed my past flying experiences with him, during which he took note of the fact that I have been flying somewhat consistently as of late and had also recently passed a biennial flight review. I think the combination of the recent flight experiences and his comfort with my pre-flight and first trip around the pattern convinced him we could do a brief rental checkout ride in lieu of the inbound storms.

So we decided to simply conduct a few landings. I performed both short field and soft field takeoffs and landings in addition to performing a simulated power out landing. It was at that point that we decided it would be best to end the flight before the storm got any closer. As we made our last trip around the pattern the rain started and by the time we began tying down the airplane a full fledge downpour had started.

I wished the storm had not abbreviated the flight as I would have preferred to fly north to Ephraim to perform real soft landings on the turf runway rather than simulating them on the asphalt. I guess that leaves me something to do on my next trip up north. Speaking of flights up north, I am planning to book a plane at Chicago Executive well in advance late in the summer in hopes of a weekend with great weather so I can make my first VFR weekend trip up to Sturgeon Bay.


Posted at 10:58 PM | Post Category: Cessna 172, Flight Time | Comments (2) | Save & Share This Story

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.

May 10, 2008

Confidence Sky-High After Successful Cross-Country Flight

kcmi.jpgPilot and author Rod Machado published a great article, "Keeping your head in the game" in the May issue of AOPAPilot. In it he writes, "Currency is what the regulations require to remain legal to fly; proficiency is what pilots require to remain confident." I read the article a week or two ago and it really resonated with me. In the article he explains that pilots can take a year or more away from flying and not see a large degradation of their core piloting skills. The biggest loss is to their confidence. He states that if a pilot has not flown enough to be confident they start asking themselves questions like "Will I be able to keep up with the ATC? Can I handle any crosswinds during landing? What if I have an emergency?"

I think this is exactly where I found myself going into 2008. I had not flown in several months; throughout most of the winter. Although I felt like my flying skills were still well intact, I saw my confidence diminish. So I set out a plan for myself to take several flights this spring with a CFI to bring back currency, proficiency and most importantly, confidence. The goal was to work towards a biennial flight review. I completed the biennial flight review just a few weeks ago and was thrilled to feel after that flight like my confidence was as high as it was when I was flying three days a week when I was earning my license.

The only aspect of flight I still had a little apprehension around was flying a cross-country from Chicago Executive that would require me to fly around the busy airspace of Chicago. It had been a long while since I had planned a cross-county flight, filed a flight plan and flown a cross-country flight. So I scheduled one more flight with my CFI. I decided to fly from Chicago Executive south of the busy Chicago airspace to Champaign's University of Illinois-Willard Airport.

After departing Chicago Executive Airport I called up the Flight Service Station to open my flightplan then switched over to Chicago Approach and requested and received VFR Flight Following. Whenever I fly along the lakeshore I find it very valuable to use the flight following services if they have capacity to support it, which provides just another level of safety in avoiding air traffic.

After flying by a beautiful view of the Chicago skyline I headed towards Lansing airport before turning southwest and heading away from Chicago. About fifteen minutes after passing Lansing I had the skies to myself. I don't think I saw another plane until I was within 20 miles of our destination. The arrival into Champaign was uneventful, I was proud that after pulling off the taxiway and logging my arrival time that I flew the flight within five minutes of my calculations for my flightplan.

My CFI graduated from the University of Illinois just last year. He was kind enough to give me a brief tour while we were there. We borrowed a courtesy car from the FBO and journeyed into town. We enjoyed a $100 hamburger at Murphy's in the heart of the U of I campus. After lunch, on the way back to the airport, I called up the Flight Service Station to get an updated weather report so I could finalize the return flight navigation log. Champaign's main runway, 14L/32R, is a massive runway that is over 8,100 feet in length. With little traffic at the airport the tower was kind enough to save us time burning expensive fuel taxing to the end of the runway. Instead I turned the plane onto the runway at the midway point and still had 4,000 feet of runway ahead of me.

The flight back was uneventful right up until we arrived back at Chicago Executive. As we approached the airport I found where all the airplanes in Illinois were hiding. The controller was masterfully directing at least six or seven planes that were within a few miles of the airport and also managing the five airplanes waiting to depart. I had to slow my downwind leg then fly a 360 degree turn to allow for additional spacing between planes before landing.

Since moving to Chicago a few years back I am at the height of my flying confidence, proficiency and currency. I am looking forward to flying some fun cross-country flights this summer and building up my cross-country time and possibly pursuing an instrument rating in the near future.


Posted at 6:45 PM | Post Category: Cessna 172 SP, Flight Time | Comments (4) | Save & Share This Story

April 20, 2008

Completing Another Biennial Flight Review

BFR Flash CardsOn Saturday the rain cleared and the clouds rose high enough to allow me to go flying. I was flying with a CFI performing my Biennial Flight Review. When you earn a private pilots license there is no expiration on it. Though to fly as pilot in command you need to periodically prove you still know what you are doing. There are several ways to satisfy the FAA including earning a new certificate, participating in the FAA Wings - Pilot Proficiency Program or completing a Biennial Flight Review.

Since I needed to perform a check out ride anyways to rent aircraft from Windy City Flyers I decided to make it a BFR as well to fulfill that requirement in advance of my deadline later this year. We flew up to Lake in the Hills where we performed a wide variety of takeoff and landings including: short field, soft field and a simulated engine out emergency landing.

After that I performed many of the maneuvers on the private pilot check ride like an simulated off field emergency landing and stalls. The flight went smoothly. We also did a review of aviation knowledge. To prepare for that portion of the BFR I used Biennial Flight Review Flash Cards by James Spudich. They were very thorough and great for refreshing my knowledge.

At the end of the day I had passed my second BFR.