Wednesday, November 4, 2015

A Real Cross Country Flight

The Opportunity.
My new company is based in San Francisco and I am based in Birmingham, Alabama, so I now get the opportunity to visit this beautiful California city more often than in the past.   This opportunity was the company user conference.    I would need to be out there for 3-4 days.

My gracious company.
Some companies are a bit skittish about letting their employees fly themselves around, but these guys seem to be cool with it.   The companies that do not allow employees the freedom and flexibility to fly themselves places are just a little in the dark about this wonderful opportunity.   That age old story of being afraid of what they don't understand.

The dream.
Every pilot I know dreams of doing the real cross country flight.   I had lots of guys, some that I really didn't even know, asking to come along.   I have been flying for 30 years and accumulated over 4000 hours of flying time, but I have never ventured west of the Mississippi river in my own plane.   To actually venture out of my back yard and take myself all the way across the country and to see this marvelous nation from my own perch is just very exciting.

The weather
This will be a really long flight and generally there is some sort of weather system or other working its way across the map, but there was really nothing major going on either on the way out to California or the return trip.    We had XM weather in the cockpit via our Garmin GPS to keep us clear of any bad weather.   The worst we saw was a little rain.

The airspace
There are a bunch of restricted areas and complicated airspaces out in Nevada and California, but we had a collection of GPS's and iPads, all with up to date databases, to keep us out of trouble.   It also helps to have a good navigator with you the first time.   The technology that we have today at our finger tips is really phenomenal and it makes keeping the airplane in the right place and me out of trouble.

The Density Altitude
Living and flying in Alabama we have a few obstacles that may reach a little over 3000 feet.    By the time we got about half way to our destination KROW Roswell, NM which lies at 3600 Feet.   Out there the runways get longer, the temps get hotter, the density altitudes get higher.    Roswell has a 13000 foot runway and short 9000 foot runway, because it needs them.   Our next stop was Winslow, AZ which was at 4900 feet with a 7000 foot runway.   With the plane full of fuel, people, and luggage for a week our Piper Twin Comanche took an impressive amount of runway.   With altitude and heat there is less air for the plane to use for lift and less air for the engine to use for power, so the runways need to be longer and pilots need to do the math before take off to ensure that there is enough runway and performance to actually get airborne and climb.

My parents took me on a cross country drive when I was 15 and I remember only a little of it, but mostly you take in very little of the country at a given time from the perch of a car.   At best

As it was, one of my best friends, a fellow pilot, and co-worker decided to come along and actually encouraged the trip.   It was one of his life long goals as well.   My 16 year old daughter decided to come as well.    This was a real treat, since it is generally hard to get to spend time with her these days.    So we were off on this great adventure.

I planned the trip on my iPad using ForeFlight and the weather really looked pretty good.   I decided to take a southerly route around the bottom of the Sierra Nevadas to avoid the higher peaks up north.

The Adventure
We made it there and back.    We took 2 days to get there and 1 to get back.   We saw millions of acres of desert.    We would fly for hours and only see on house.    There are many many canyons aside from the big one, which by the way, you cannot comprehend by standing one the edge and looking down on it, or even taking a chopper flight through it.    We flew beside it for hours on end at 160 knots.   It really is  grand and amazing.    Our weather remained VFR for the entire trip.    I had good quality time with my buddy and my daughter.

Will I do it again.  
I am planning to do a helicopter or cub version of this adventure next time.     It will take longer, but isn't the flying why we do all this.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

What is so cool about a J3 Cub

These little airplanes have been around since the early days of flying. They are made of simple steel bicycle type framing tubes, wrapped in cloth, and painted. The engine is a dirt simple design that dates to the 30s and could most be likened to the engine of an original VW Beatle. This little airplane has the bare minimums of equipment and instrumentation for flight. It is not a particularly sexy design and the cabin cannot be called comfortable or ergonomic. So why was it so popular then and why is it still the sought after lovable plane that it is today.

I think it is because it is so good at being a basic fun to fly airplane.

1. The open door and windows.
The view out the open window is just about as good as it gets. The wind rushing past the opening and the ability to stick your hand outside in the windstream while actually flying in an airplane seems like you are breaking a rule. Didn't our parents, and every sign at the amuzement park harp about keeping our hands inside the vehicle at all times. How can THIS be okay? And once you stick your hand out there you are free to pretend that your hand is a wing and play with the different shapes and angles of attach. It is just plain good fun.

2. It is a real airplane.
It has an engine and wings and a tail. It has all the basic airplane parts that a Boeing 747 has and it operates on the same principles. Thrust, Drag, Lift, and Gravity. The 747 may be a bit more complex and powerful but they are both basically airplanes and they fly. This one happens to only burn 5 gallons an hour and go about 80 miles an hour.

3. The cub is about flying. It is not really serious about getting anywhere. When I go to fly the twin comanche I feel like I need a mission. I need to get somewhere or teach somebody something or get current. The cub is perfect for just going out to the airport and taking a 30 minute spin in the sky.

4. The cub is about learning. It was conceived to be a training airplane and it does that very well. It is certainly not the hardest or most complicated airplane to fly, but by the same token it can teach humility in a hurry if you get complacent with it. Learning to fly a taildragger like the cub will make ANY pilot a better pilot. I feel like a get a little better every time I fly it and I always feel like I have more to learn.

5. The cub is about low and slow flying. The view out the open windows and door has to be experienced to be appreciated. I've noticed all kinds of cool things on the ground near my airport that I have been flying over for years. In the spring you can smell fresh cut hay and grass, jasmine, cows, and a thousand other things that get missed in a closed airplane.

6. The cub is unassuming. It is a plane that just about anyone can afford if you get a few guys together to share it. Even the name the name is unassuming. They could originally be had for $1200 bucks, which was a decent chunk of change in the 30's Guys that own and fly cubs do it because they love flying and not showing off how fast or flashy their aircraft is.

So...  Go out and fly a cub.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Your tax dollars at work.

We have all joked about wasteful government spending. There is plenty. We all pay taxes and grimace when we give a huge percentage of our hard earned paychecks to the Federal government. Sometimes we forget that we really are the luckiest people on the planet. We live in a country where we have opportunities and freedoms unlike anywhere else in the world.

Every time I get into an aircraft and get to fly over this great land I try to appreciate the sacrifices of people that I will never know that allow us these freedoms.

At WaterWings I often have the privilege of training some of our military personnel in the art of seaplane flying. This is a particular thrill. I have trained students from Maxwell AFB, Columbus AFB, Fort Rucker and many other fine installations. I have had students who fly T-6s, Black Hawks, Comanches, Apaches, C-130s, C-17s, CH-47s, F-16s, F-18s, and this weekend I got to know an F22 pilot.

These pilots are always consummate professionals. I can show them how to perform a maneuver and they can do it as well or better than me in just a few tries. I get to hear stories about their training and some of their adventures, and I am humbled, amazed and honored to share seaplane flying with them. These are guys that are flying amazing equipment and have been trained by the best to be the best, and it shows. And we, at WaterWings, get to actually show them something new. They get great joy in driving my Cessna 150 with the ungainly pontoons around Lake Martin.

I get to fly my little airplane around the state of Alabama and beyond freely and without fear-- because these brave, highly skilled, highly trained aviators are equipped with truly extraordinary aircraft. All of this takes money, but more so it takes the dedication of our armed forces who are willing to put themselves in harm's way so that we can be as fortunate as we are.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Technology at our fingertips

My profession is computers, but my flying is really more of a religion to me. Generally I believe that simpler is better. The Piper Cub is evidence of how wonderful flight can be with just the simple things. It was built in 1939 and has survived 71 years of bouncing around the sky and runways with very little technology. Much of the time technology makes the cockpit more complicated as is evident by the extra training required to fly a technically advanced aircraft.

I have just added an Apple IPAD to the items that I carry in the cockpit, becauseI do believe that this will simplify my flying. I always have a scramble before a flight getting all the charts and plates that we should all have when flying cross-country. None of the local FBOs carry all the charts needed, so I must think ahead to order them, and then pay for shipping. Still some charts are often back-ordered, leaving me in a lurch.

With the ForeFlight app on the IPAD I can have ALL the charts in the country for about $50 a year--IFR, VFR, and approach plates. The PowerPilot app gives me free AFDs for the entire country. I also use Dropbox which gives me easy access to scanned material like POHs, W/B, and PTSs for training and checkrides. There are a billion more apps out there. The IPAD is very daylight viewable. I was able to read it sitting on my dock last Saturday with late afternoon sun, also last week in the cockpit, and the battery is reported to last for 10 hours of continuous use. I have yet to see the battery last that long, but a full charge should last a flight.

All that being said, the IPAD could potentially be one more distraction--one that can keep our eyes inside the cockpit instead of outside looking for traffic and flying the airplane. However, used responsibly as a tool to get the charts we need and are dealing with anyway in the cockpit, the IPAD rocks.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Protecting the seaplane from insects

Dirt daubers and wasps are my biggest trouble makers.



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mud_dauber

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wasp




Both of these guys can crawl into remarkably small holes and build nests. Tbe dirt daubers are generally harmless except for two things. They look a lot like wasps, which to the uninitiated can cause screaming, and they build nests out of mud and clay. Dirt daubers have just a couple of yellow stripes while wasps will have many yellow stripes down their stingers.




There is an unlimited supply of clay around our lake and there is an almost unlimited number of holes for dirt daubers to sneak into your plane to make a nest. These nests are mostly just heavy, thus reducing your payload. Your best bet for protection is to put steel wool in any large openings and put screen over the smaller ones that you can get to. I do an annual purge of the nests after the spring nesting season.




Wasps make a more paper-like nest. These are light and don't really cause much of an issue, but the wasps themselves CAN cause havoc in the cockpit. Many people have severe or even fatal reactions to a wasp sting, so these guys are not to be trifled with. Prevention using the same method as dealing with dirt daubers is your best bet, and if you get a wasp loose in the cockpit, don't panic, just let your training step in and FLY THE PLANE.

Protecting the seaplane from birds

We have three kinds of critters that attack our plane. We will take them on one at a time.




Birds like planes. They have lots of places to perch. Planes have many orifices in which build nests. Planes are generally tougher for bird predators to get into. Birds are experts at building nests. They pick a spot and they start bringing in materials. In our neck of the woods, pine straw is the chosen building material.




Hangar doors are pretty good at keeping out most birds, assuming that they are closed and attached to a fairly secure hangar. The next best bet is a set of cowl plugs. I purchased a set from Bruce's Custom Covers http://www.aircraftcovers.com/ for less than $100. These are nicely made to fit your plane and generally have your N-Number embroidered into the cover. They even have little idiot flags that stick up beyond the cowling to signal that you should not start the engine with them installed. I imagine the spinner would catch on the string that holds the plugs together and it would rip them out and toss them aside, before they could let the aircooled engine cook itself, but I know of instances where pilots have taken off with the plugs intalled only to cook the engine. So use these during a post flight and don't forget to remove them during the preflight.




I have still had one bird nest problem even when using the plugs. The bird went in through the hole in the bottom of the cowling where the hot air gets out of the engine and the nose wheel would protrude, if I had one. I am very happy with my plugs and I use them religously. My only issue with them now is they matched the old paint scheme and they have the old N-Number on them. I can live with it. The plugs that came with my plane were just cut out pieces of foam that someone drilled a hole in for the rope that tied them together. The vinyl covered plugs are much nicer and neater to work with. Do a thorough preflight. Look for telltale pieces of pine straw around and on the plane. If you find some, investigate thoroughly.

The other problem planes have with birds is the droppings. These are corrosive to aluminum and at best they can stain your paint. I had bird stain all over the wings of my Cub from where the previous owner let this happen and did not clean the droppings off quickly enough. I have not found a solution for fixing the paint. Statues and blow up representations of predatory birds and snakes in the vicinity of your plane will help scare off some of these intruders. If you have droppings on your paint, deal with them immediately. Damage can start in 24 hours.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sun-N-Fun

My wife and I made our annual pilgrimage to Sun-N-Fun, in Lakeland, Florida last week. This is a fly-in of significant proportions. They were expecting 170,000 aviation enthusiasts. I don't actually know the total for this year. There are literally thousands of airplanes that fly into the event which lasts almost a week. There are airplanes and airplane people as far as the eye can see. The weather was nearly perfect except for a wind that kept blowing our caps off, but kept things nice and cool in the Florida sun. For such a massive event it is amazingly well organized and pleasant. Everything is clean and the people you meet are very friendly. As you can imagine, we all have aviation in common, so the conversation is easy. We always end up running into people we know from home.

There is something for everyone who likes planes. There are warbirds, ultralights, helicopters, antiques (which most of our planes qualify), military, experimental, and of course seaplanes.

On Thursday they have a splash in at Fantasy of Flight about 20 miles northeast of the main fly-in. This really is a treat. There are seaplanes continually landing and taking off from the lake in front of hundreds of seaplane enthusiasts as well as plenty of planes to look at on the beach and amphibians in the field. We could have stayed there all day, but we had to head home to Birmingham.

We left out of Clearwater Airpark in our Piper Twin Comanche, loaded with four people and gear for the 2.5 hour trip home. It was a just about perfect and bump free flight. We even had a little tail wind.