Thursday, October 26, 2000

Peaceful Easy Feeling (Solo Practice)

I looked at the weather and decided I better fly sooner rather than later – took off at 1 pm and went to ORH for my first solo out of the pattern.  It was great!  I really enjoyed being up there on my own, and though I did try a few steep turns and a bit of slow flight, I mostly just flew around, looked at the scenery, and then flew back home.  This was my first taste of the “freedom of flight” and it was quite nice!  Flying solo in the pattern is work, as is flying with Mario – enjoyable work sometimes, useful work, but work nonetheless.  This solo was really fun!

I checked the ORH ATIS and also called the ASOS at Orange airport to get a reading on the Quabbin area where I planned to fly.  It was sky clear, visibility 10 miles, light winds.  Real VFR, though when I finally got up there, it was actually quite hazy (but certainly 10 SM or more).  Getting up there took a little work.  First I had to have the tanks topped off in 69L, and discuss the solo endorsement issue with Mario (turns out he didn’t change anything except the wind allowances on the previous solo endorsement, even though it specified traffic pattern!).  Then I pre-flighted the plane, got in, started it up, and as I went to change frequency for ATIS, the fractional frequency knob fell off!  So I had to shut down and ask Jim if he could fix it (he had been fixing it on Tuesday!).  But there’s a lesson here:

•    Carry some tools!  Something that could be used to turn a metal dial shaft if the knob came off in flight!  And get a flashlight back in there too.

Actually I had a small screwdriver tool with variable heads that I bought in a dollar store recently.  I found that one of the socket attachments would rotate the radio knob with some effort.  GET SOME SMALL PLIARS FOR THE FLIGHT BAG.  Now I see why flight bags get so heavy after a while!  This was quite an eye-opener for me, the idea that I could be in a no-radio situation due to something as stupid as a plastic knob!

Jim fixed the knob and I was off, right at about the same time Mario taxied out in 661 for its first flight test with the new engine (he got permission for a special request to orbit over the airport at 3000 feet for 30-45 minutes to break in the engine within glide range of ORH).  I requested a straight-out departure to the west, took off, spotted Spencer Airport off the right nose at 2500 feet (as usual).  I was more aware than usual of the need to look for emergency landing spots and to know what to do (the ABCDE thing) in case I lost my engine.  I got up to around 3500 feet and headed for the Quabbin, keeping a careful eye out for traffic, but once I got to level cruise, I also got out the GPS.  It was not tracking (it had been on inside my flight bag), so I finally cycled the power and punched in a GOTO for ORH, giving me a continuous readout of distance and bearing to the airport, though I didn’t really follow this (I did check the heading indicator against it – I mainly wanted to see that it worked on a flight away from the airport, and it did fine).

I got to the NE Quabbin area and did some clearing turns, followed by some steep turns, maybe 3 in each direction.  A couple were pretty good, the others gained or lost more than 100 feet.  Practice!  That’s the name of the game.  I also did a little slow flight, though I was careful not to stall – not that I can’t recover, but on the off-chance of a spin… well, let’s not go there!  I will practice stalls on future solo flights, and I will also do a little touring around to approach the airport from different directions.  This time I just looked at the chart and where I was w/r/t the Quabbin, estimating a course of 135 deg. back to ORH.  When I got part way there, I tuned in ATIS and got “kilo.”  When I had ORH in sight, I realized it was less than an hour, so I did a couple of 360 deg. turns just west of Spencer, then realized this may have been in ORH’s Class D already (4 NM radius), so maybe I shouldn’t have been doing maneuvers there (this was not a steep turn, maybe 30 deg.).  So I cruised over to Spencer (town) and made my call, “Worcester Tower, Cessna 4669L, over the town of Spencer, inbound for landing with information kilo.”  Tower told me to report left downwind entry.  I entered the downwind at 45 deg. as I have done several times, descending from 3000 feet to 2000 feet (TPA) along the way.  The pattern was good (OK, I got a bit slow on turn to base, DUH), but the flare was a bit late and I bounced pretty hard, but kept the nose up and kept good control.  Taxied back to Amity and secured the airplane – done!  Very cool to take an airplane out by myself like that!

Note: the picture here shows the town of Spencer but not on this day - this was fall 2004 when I was doing some Piper Cub lessons. More on that some other day!

Tuesday, October 24, 2000

Good Lesson!

Finally some good weather and a good lesson!  I took the morning off for this, and yesterday’s wonderful weather thankfully continued into today.  There was a little snag when I started preflighting 69L before Mario arrived – the mechanic (Jim) was fixing a knob on the radio and putting a placard on the pilot’s door, “no push” – need to open window and unlatch from the outside!  No biggy, but when I opened the door, I felt something drip on my head.  It was fuel from the wing tank, right near the drainage port.  I called Jim back to check it, and he said it was a real leak, and we couldn’t fly 69L!  The good news: since it was a weekday, 261 was available (and 661 is finally back on line with its new engine).  So we flew 261, even though it made a horrible grinding noise when the flaps were lowered to 30 degrees (we decided to fly and not use more than 20 degrees of flaps).

Takeoff and climbout were uneventful – I held the centerline quite well.  I decided to go out to the practice area and do some steep turns and other maneuvers visually, for review, then do some more under the foggles.  This worked out pretty well, though I lost over 100 feet on 2 of 3 steep turns.  Need to practice!  But now I can practice on my own, since Mario says I can solo to the practice area, in part because I did well today.  He did hear some “hangar talk” about my little ATC problem on the last solo lesson, but it was distorted – Bill told him that I said I had the traffic (on base) in sight, then flew right past them – this was not the case.  I told the tower 2 or 3 times that I had the landing traffic in sight and was looking for the turning traffic, understanding I was #3 for landing, but I never saw #2 – they ended up doing a 360 and letting me land ahead of them.  I think the tower should have handled the spacing better in this case, or I could have asked to do a right 360 myself for spacing.  I was maybe a little fast on downwind, but I didn’t do anything wrong.  Today we had close following traffic again, reporting mid-field left downwind at about the same time as me!  It was a Cessna 310 twin, very fast.  He must have slowed down or extended his downwind after I turned base – he landed after us.

Anyway, the maneuvers went pretty well, though my altitude control on the steep turns was mediocre, and I did much more than 90 degrees on my clearing turns.  I did much better under the foggles this time, keeping up a reasonable scan and not letting anything get too out of whack.  A couple of my climbing turns to headings were dead-nuts – this is where you climb 500 feet while turning to a specified heading, wanting to arrive at the heading and altitude simultaneously.  I ended up with 0.4 hours of IFR this time, and felt pretty good about it, though at the end I did start to have this mismatch between the attitude indicator showing a slight bank and my brain saying nope, this is level!  Have to remember that in case of engine failure above clouds, the non-vacuum turn and bank indicator is my friend, NOT that attitude indicator, which will tumble when you lose vacuum!  Partial panel!  Yikes!

Speaking of loss of power, Mario pulled this on me near the Quabbin, and I did very well, establishing best glide, picking out a nice farmer’s field, judging the wind, entering base, and turning for line-up and doing a forward slip to kill some altitude.  Only thing I forgot was my ABCDE emergency procedures list – airspeed, best place to land, checklist (for possible restart or errors), D I forget now (DISTRESS!), and E for exit preparations (turn off fuel and mags, but leave master switch on until flaps are out, and also unlatch doors).  I did this OK, and I also navigated back to ORH pretty well.

All in all, a nice lesson, with nice weather to boot!  Mario got laser eye surgery so he is now 20/15 uncorrected – cool!  $4000 for that!

Saturday, October 21, 2000

No-Fly for P-51 at Chino!

This is a "supplemental" post about two non-lesson flights that didn't happen, alas. In 2000, I was a member of the Chino Air Museum ("Planes of Fame") in the Los Angeles area, mainly so I could qualify for some war bird flights (you still had to pay, but members got some priority or something - hard to remember as I write this in fall 2009). I was in LA on business, added some weekend time for flying as I sometimes did even for lessons, and booked demo flights in both an AT-6 and a P-51 Mustang! I was psyched! But unfortunately even Southern California can have crappy weather ...

This week I've been in Los Angeles on business, and we've had some of the ugliest non-winter weather I’ve ever seen in LA — I went to Chino and hung around for 4 hours (looking at airplanes, not so bad), but my P-51 and AT-6 flights were canceled because it never got beyond about 2000 foot ceiling and 4 miles visibility.  You don’t want to zoom around at 300 mph if you can’t see better than that.  Bummer!  At least I got to sit in the cockpits for some photos and talk to some of the pilots at Fighter Rebuilders.  These lucky guys fly these war birds all the time, and work on restoring them the rest of the time.  John Hinton was going to be my P-51 pilot, and Matt Nightingale the AT-6 pilot (he’s been working at FR since he was 12!).

I looked over their German Me-109 which is in their shop — Steve Hinton (John’s brother), the head honcho, had the Me-109 in England for a Battle of Britain commemoration, and he lost one of his brake lines on a landing — he ground looped it to avoid running off the end of the runway, damaging the wings pretty badly, but he was not hurt.  It’s so cool the airplanes they have just sitting there, almost all flyable.  On the ramp today were the P-51D, TBM Avenger, P-47B (razorback version), B-25, AT-6, L-5 Sentinel, and Japanese Zero!  In the active hangar just behind the ramp there were two Hellcats, two Wildcats, a Corsair, a Skyraider, another P-51D, P-40, and some I forgot.  Just awesome.  They sent a number of aircraft to Hawaii recently to fly in a new Disney film about Pearl Harbor.  They were shrink-wrapped in plastic and put on a “garbage scow” for a slow two week cruise to Honolulu.  I think the film will be out soon (so this must have been last year).

Sitting in the planes was actually a lot of fun, and I got a few good photos of myself in the planes (and other plane photos too, of course).  The AT-6 has original instruments, while the P-51 has been upgraded to a more modern panel.  I had to be careful climbing in and out of the Mustang not to catch my foot on the landing gear lever—that would have been embarassing to collapse the gear on the ramp—I don’t think I can put a P-51 on my American Express!  So I went zero for five on flights this week—these rides and three C152 lessons I had scheduled at EMT with Bryon.  Oh well—I’ll be in LA again in the next few months.

Tonight I’ve been hanging around the hotel (packing for early UAL flight tomorrow) and feeling sort of overwhelmed about the near future – trying to keep everything in balance with family, work, travel, and flying.  If I don’t make flying a priority, it just won’t happen – weather and travel and kid-scheduling just wipe out most of the chances to fly.  Sometimes it feels like such a rat-race, but a lot of the time it’s fun, and I just have to remember how lucky I am to have all that I do have and to be able to fly at all.