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.

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 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 (4) | 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!

Posted at 5:45 PM | Post Category: Cessna 172, Door County, Flight Time | Comments (5) | Save & Share This Story

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

September 6, 2007

Door County Peninsula Flight

door_county_lighthouse.jpgI was back up in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin over Labor Day weekend. We were blessed with three days of perfect weather with temperatures in the low 80s, light winds and clear skies. I rented the Orion Flight Service Cessna 172 for a flight along the Door Peninsula.

Surprisingly, their was not much activity at the airport despite the beautiful weather. A Civil Air Patrol flight departed as I was doing my pre-flight but was the only other airplane I encountered at Cherryland Airport. I flew northeast from the airport along the lakeside of the peninsula taking in beautiful views of lighthouses and the shoreline. I turned south as I reached the Northern most tip of the peninsula where I had a nice few to the left of the peninsula and a few islands off to my right.

From there I flew south to Ephraim all the way to the tip of the peninsula with a few islands and over-flew the Ephraim airport. I watched an aircraft takeoff and depart to the north as I entered the downwind leg for landing. Other than the departing traffic the airport was all mine. I decided on the asphalt runway due to the wind direction and because I was not sure how much rain the area had recently received that might have made the turf runway a bad option. I made on full stop landing and taxied back along the runway.

After that I flew back to Cherryland Airport this time enjoying the view of the bay side of the peninsula. I logged 1.1 hours of flight time during the flight bringing me just over 99 hours of flight time. I had hoped to break the 100 hour mark by taking my Dad flying on Monday morning. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the airport I learned that the latch on pilot side door of the plane had broken and needed to be replaced so we had to cancel the flight.

Posted at 6:56 AM | Post Category: Cessna 172, Door County, Flight Time | Comments (6) | Save & Share This Story

July 8, 2007

Fourth of July Solo Flight over Door County

SturgeonBay.jpgI spent a wonderful Fourth of July holiday in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. On my last visit to the Door County Peninsula I flew a checkout ride with Orion Flight Services clearing me to rent their Cessna 172 throughout the summer. On the Fourth of July I was able to find a large enough pocket of nice weather between two storms to get in a flight over Door County.

It had been over a year since I had flown solo, when my Dad and I took in a flight from the very same airport. Since that time I have bounced around FBOs in Chicago trying to find a place to fly and am currently checking out with Windy City Flyers.

I took off from runway 28 and was airborne after a short roll due to the wind coming straight down the centerline of the shorter of two runways at Cherryland Airport (KSUE). From their I flew northeast over the town of Sturgeon Bay then out over Lake Michigan taking in a view of the Sturgeon Bay Coast Guard Station and an aerial view of "The City of Glasgow" a sunken ship off the coast of Lake Michigan.

SB_Cornmaze.jpgDuring the flight I also flew over one of my favorite golf courses, Cherry Hills Golf Course, which looked like it could benefit from the distant storm that was slowly approaching the area. I also enjoyed flying over the Dairy View Corn Maze. A pirate ship had been mowed into the crop which, surely kept maze goers lost for hours trying to navigate their way through.

I returned to Cherryland and made a single full stop landing which was one of my best landing in months. I logged 1.3 hours of solo flight and had a great time. After taxing back to the tarmac I saw an Extra 300, an plane designed for aerobatic flight, on the tarmac. The pilot was in town for a family reunion and was taking members of the family up for flights in which he performed barrel rolls and loops. So, I stayed at the airport for 15 minutes to enjoy a free airshow. All in all a great day at the airport!

You can view a few of my photos that I took during the flight on Flickr.

Posted at 1:33 PM | Post Category: Cessna 172, Door County, Flight Time | Comments (2) | Save & Share This Story

June 19, 2007

Flying Over Sturgeon Bay

I checked out to fly the Cessna 172 with Orion Flight Service in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin this past weekend. My wife and I traveled up there for a four day weekend to relax on the lake and teach Tally, our golden retriever to swim. While up there I took the time to perform the checkout flight so on subsequent trips north to Door County this summer I can rent their Cessna.

I flew with Chris who manages the FBO at Cherryland Airport. Friday's flight was much shorter than that previous time I flew with Chris when he came along on a cross-country flight from Cherryland to Oshkosh last summer. Cherryland Airport is one of my favorite airports and a great example of a general aviation airport. It has two runways both of adequate length it always seems to have some activity but is never too busy. Plus it has a great location situated on a peninsula between Green Bay and Lake Michigan with a state park at one end of the airport making for great scenery for flying.

This time we flew north east of the airport and performed several common check-out maneuvers including stalls, steep turns, slow flight and and reviewing emergency landing procedures. After that we returned to Cherryland Airport for four landings. I was happy with all four as was Chris. He signed me off to rent for the rest of the summer with Orion Flight Service. I am looking forward to checking out some neighboring airports this summer.

Posted at 11:00 PM | Post Category: Cessna 172, Door County, Flight Time | Save & Share This Story

May 14, 2007

GA Incidents Hit Close to Home

On Friday night I was made aware of two aviation incidents both of which hit close to home. The first was a multiple fatality accident that involved two planes in a midair collision in which they clipped wings just north of Blue Ash Airport in Cincinnati, Ohio. Blue Ash Airport was my home airport for a few years and where I earned my license.

I was relieved to learn it did not involve anyone I knew but scary none the less. Martha Lunken a retired inspector for the FAA was interviewed by the Cincinnati Enquirerand stated it was a classic situation - "It's within five miles of the airport on a nice sunny day...that's where airplanes congregate." I recall that on beautiful days the traffic around Blue Ash could get very busy and it required all the pilots near the uncontrolled field to fly defensively and to over communicate.

The second incident was here in Chicago in which a Piper Cherokee ran out of gas and needed to make an emergency landing on a highway. The plane clipped a power line and a car but landed without any injuries to the pilot or those on the ground. I don't know all the details of this incident but do wonder how it is pilots continually make the mistake of running out of gas. Incidents like these are scary and sad but would be a further waste if other pilots did not learn from them.

So, when I arrived at the airport on Saturday to fly on another beautiful day in Chicago I had those incidents in the back of my head. I flew with a CFI as I continue to work back to a level of proficiency that I had a year or so ago when I was flying more regularly. We decided to delay our flight for 10 minutes so we could top off with fuel, seemed to us to be well worth the time to ensure we had plenty of fuel for our flight.

As I flew northwest from Chicago Executive there was plenty of traffic and I ensured that I was doing a good job of scanning the horizon and working to avoid traffic. I also changed my checklist habits to ensure I could spend more time looking for traffic. In a recent episode of The Finer Points podcast Jason Miller talked about holding up your checklist so you are not having to divert your eyes so much to see it. So I clipped the checklist to a yoke clip so I would not have to look down as much as I did when using the lapboard.

After ensuring we found a safe area with little traffic around I performed a simulated engine failure. I was able to select a suitable place to land if it were needed and guided the plane down without power to the point it was obvious we could have landed there if necessary at which point we powered off and climbed away.

We finished the day with a series of crosswind landings at Dupage airport including one without flaps, simulating a flap failure. I continue to perform safe but somewhat sloppy crosswinds and am looking forward to flying more frequently so I can iron them out.

Posted at 7:32 AM | Post Category: Cessna 172, Flight Time | Save & Share This Story