Saturday, 31 August 2013

Finesse.

Good flight today, I’m really happy with it. Not just the technical aspect of the flying but with my attitude. The slow flight didn’t faze me, the stalls didn’t scare me. My heart rate probably the lowest it’s ever been in flight. 

This doesn’t mean that everything is perfect, not by a long shot. Bob still has plenty to say, that’s for sure*. Another person might think he’s being picky, correcting for corrections sake. Another person might get disheartened that despite the fact that they are flying so well, that there’s still a regular stream of suggestions and “room for improvements”.
But I get it, 100%. I completely understand what is going on. I’ve always bemoaned the fact that RTH is a smooth pilot and I’m not.

Well that’s what Bob is trying to get me to be. He’s trying to file off the rough edges; now that he’s convinced I’m safe, he’s going for the finer points, the finesse.
We are totally on the same page at the moment.


* It is true though that solo flight is a chance to escape the nagging!
 

Friday, 30 August 2013

Take a picture

Every year at the start of school, I’m forced to sit through the “welcome back” meeting for all staff and faculty, part of which is an inevitable slide show montage of what everyone has been up to over the summer.

Sounds nice, right? And I guess it kind of is but it always causes a bit of friction between Faculty and Staff. Faculty get a good 8 weeks off over the summer. Staff do not. Many of us are lucky to take a few days, if anything. It gets a bit much constantly answering the “so what did you get up to this summer?’ question with “I was here.” And still keep a smile on your face.
Anyways the idea is that we are all meant to submit a photo that sums up what we did over the summer*. This year I have decided to contribute. I wanted to show something flying related.

The trouble is, I have no pictures that show me actually flying the plane, this is mostly because it is hard to fly a plane and photograph yourself!! So I hunted through my pictures and videos looking for a shot that shows a nice view of the city and is fairly obvious that it was taken from a small aircraft.
I finally settled on this shot.
Take off from City Airport


It’s a nice view of the city and although it obviously shows that you are in a small plane , it doesn’t have too much in the way of prop artifacting in it.

 

* pictures showing nothing but a large bottle of alcohol (mostly empty) are frowned upon!

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Guest post from “D”

A bit of an intro first. I think D and I found each other through someone else’s blog. We quickly discovered that we flew from the same airport and had many things in common. We meet occasionally for some “in person” hanger talk and exchange frequent emails. D has many interesting tales. Recently he went off to do something rather cool and I asked him if he’d be interested in a guest post.

In his own words “I sat down at a keyboard, and this is what came out….”
 
I'm a Canadian pilot who did all of his training at WMAP's airport in the Great Lakes. I'm used to flat horizons, long-range radio reception, and climbing with the mixture full rich.

In mid-August I attended a technical conference in Logan, Utah and had the opportunity to do some very different flying. Logan (KLGU) is a pleasant little airport in Cache Valley, Utah. Its main strip is 9,000' long, at 4,475' above sea level. It is a "no-tower" (i.e. uncontrolled) airport, despite the physical presence of two towers.

I knew that the procedure for joining the circuit was different in the USA than in Canada. Americans are supposed to join mid-downwind, at 45 degrees. It seemed, however, that I was the only one doing this. Other pilots using the airport would join however was most convenient, including long straight-in approaches.

The biggest challenge for a sea-level pilot is the density altitude. Logan isn't just high, it's hot. In the afternoon it might be +30C, and a 4,500' pressure altitude turns into a 7,000' density altitude. The mountains that delineate Cache Valley rise to 9500' ASL or more, with density altitude 12,000'. The service ceiling of a C172N is listed as 14,200', letting us clear the ridges with 2,200' -- just enough for comfort.

My first adjustment was in the use of the mixture control. At sea level the mixture is run full-rich while climbing and descending, and after an engine check (prior to landing, stalls, etc.). The mixture is leaned only during cruise, and there it is set to 25-50 RPM lean of peak. In the mountains, the mixture is adjusted to one turn rich of peak at all times. This is done prior to takeoff as part of the runup, to ensure maximum takeoff power. During the climb it is necessary to continually adjust. Using the correct mixture setting is good practice during the landing approach so that maximum power is immediately available in the event of a go-around.

I have always found mixture setting via the tachometer to be an imprecise science. I worked mostly by ear, leaning until the engine sounds unhappy and then enriching a turn or so. Long descents at low power involved a series of mixture nudges every 1000' or so. The decreased aircraft performance also takes some getting used to. At 12,000' density altitude the engine's maximum horsepower is 60% of the sea-level value. The throttle spends most of its time at or near the firewall. Even so, there is almost no danger of overspeeding the propeller in straight-and-level flight. The engine just doesn't have the oomph.

On my initial check-ride the instructor asked for a full-power stall. This worried me, until I realized just how little power it was. On my second flight I had three adults in the aircraft and was unable to climb above 9,500' -- at full throttle and Vy the altimeter just would not move. For my third flight I summoned up the courage to make a run over the mountains. With just one adult passenger and a half-load of fuel we attempted to 9,250' pass leading to Bear Lake, Idaho. At these altitudes hypoxia begins to be a concern.

Thankfully humans are mammals, with constant temperature and humidity lungs, and so we are only affected by pressure altitude and not density altitude. Even so, the law limits the crew to no more than 30 minutes above 10,000', and not to exceed 13,000', unless supplemental oxygen is available. As we climbed towards the pass and reached 10,000' the stop-watch was started, and we knew we had only half an hour to get down into the valley on the far side. As it happened we reached a peak altitude of 11,700' (my new personal record) and cleared the ridge without incident.

As always, it was illuminating to talk to my fellow pilots at the FBO. While I was awed by the possibilities and dangers of mountain flying, many of these folks expressed wonder and concern about low altitudes. Some wanted to take trips to sea-level, just to see what peak aircraft performance is really like. I'm very glad to have flown in both regimes, and look forward to getting back into the mountains next summer.
 


 

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Building confidence

Although my solo flying is a little scrappy at the moment and more than a little nerve-wracking it is playing an important role in boosting my confidence, and so is Bob. It’s amazing how he can give me that confidence without actually being there.

Some of it comes from the preflight briefing, even casual throw away comments like “so just remember to make your position calls, but you won’t have a problem with that. Your radio work is good and just keep a listen out for other traffic, again not a problem for you and yeah just have fun!”
The fact that Bob isn’t concerned makes me feel that I shouldn’t be either. He also asks good questions about the flight afterwards. I’m very quick to give him the low down on the stuff I didn’t do or found tricky. Bob’s quick to ask me about the stuff that went well.

For instance today I was having problems with slow flight. It was a little bumpy over Claremont, the chop made trimming for slow flight tricky. I kind of managed it but the stall horn wasn’t really kicking in too much “maybe more medium than slow flight” I confessed to Bob. He asked me about the trip out and back “how was the navigation?”
I looked at him for a moment, not really understanding why he was asking this. “Fine” I said dismissively “I can get to Claremont and back, no problems.” And then I realised what I’d just said. It is totally true. In three flights I’ve gone from stressing about losing my way to navigating there and back without a second thought.

Jeez that’s massive! Seriously.
 

 

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Where everyone knows your name

Solo flight to Claremont today. As I lined up at the hold short line, I saw another plane in the circuit in the downwind. Just as I was debating whether to push my luck and try and get a quick call in to ATC to sneak out in front, I noticed that they were on a really slanted approach. Before I could make sense of what I was seeing I heard them being cleared for a stop and go on 26. Light bulb moment, they must have been doing a simulated engine failure.

I waited until the “go” bit of their stop and go and then let ATC know I was there. As I got my takeoff clearance I was told to follow HZL as they were going local east also. I kept them in sight and took my climbout and crosswind a little wider to compensate for the fact that they were a little slower than me. I was amazed by the way I easily managed to keep them in sight while my hands and feet seemingly acted of their own accord to fly the plane.
As we reached downwind ATC split us, sending HZL south of the stacks and me north. This bothered me a little. I prefer the slightly less direct route to Claremont and suspected that HZL would be cutting across. I was careful to keep them in sight and ended up not being unduly concerned. 

Again though, the situational awareness is coming thick and fast now, the moment ATC told me that we were both going local east, I started thinking about our likely flight paths, the fact that they are slower, that maybe we would be taking slightly different routes and mapping out in my head how that would work.
Once I was near to Claremont I started scoping out my little space in the sky. Some radio chatter but not many people in the practice area. I heard HZL making some calls, they obviously heard me. We exchanged some radio calls; they were established at roughly the same height as me and were also doing upper air work.  HZL is one of our flying school’s C150s and I recognised the instructor’s voice. A good, solid steady guy who I’d be happy to fly with. I made a radio call confirming that I’d stay to the east of Claremont if they stayed to the west. They acknowledged this by saying “It’s Okay WMAP, we got ya!”

I dunno why this made me smile. Maybe it was the casual acknowledgement that I was out there and was Ok. That I belonged there. Or maybe I felt reassured that someone was looking out for me.
Maybe it’s just so cool that the local flying community knows my name! Hard to explain but meaningful all the same.

 

Monday, 26 August 2013

Close encounters of the scary kind.

It is a big sky out there and usually its big enough for everyone out there, occasionally though traffic gets a little close for comfort.

I was solo out to the practice area, dutifully making my position calls and doing my best to decipher the radio calls going on around me. I was reasonably happy with what was going on around me. I knew that HZL was west of me but we’d negotiated our respective areas. There was a lot of chatter coming from the north, a few planes over Lake Simcoe, Meat bombs waaaaay to the north. I was content that I wasn’t in anyone’s way.
And then this happened.

The camera actually makes it look further away than it was! I had made a position call about a minute beforehand and genuinely don’t recall hearing from any other traffic in the area. I don’t even know if that other pilot ever saw me.
That was just a little too close for my liking. A couple of factors may have contributed to this, I hesitate to use the word but it was a, near miss. First of all I suspect that my lookout scan isn’t exactly even. I’m used to not being able to see so well around Bob, so possibly I rely on him to spot traffic on his side. That would explain the plane suddenly appearing from my right hand side.

The other issue is that the practice area has its own discrete frequency of 122.9 that we broadcast on. Most uncontrolled airspace is covered by a general frequency of 126.7. If you are unfamiliar with the area and don’t have the VTA chart, you can just blunder through oblivious to what’s going on around you. Ditto if you are on flight following (133.4).
I definitely should work on my lookout scan to ensure I’m looking in all directions equally. Maybe I should monitor 126.7 while I’m in the Claremont area. Maybe the other pilot was just being a dick and no amount of action on my part could have changed what happened. I dunno.

I do know that a couple of months ago that incident would have shaken me up to the very core. Now I’m confident enough to put it to the back of my mind while I concentrate on the flight in hand and then take the time to reflect on it at my leisure. It certainly hasn’t put my off flying at all. Just heightened my awareness of the other traffic and what I need to do about it.
Valuable lesson but it is a big sky out there after all.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Milestones

Some are bigger than others, but all are nerve wracking and all are worth mentioning. Despite the fact that I’m not learning anything “new” per se, every lesson still seems to have enough memorable and milestone marking stuff to keep the adrenaline flowing. My legs were distinctly shaky after today’s flight.

Milestone number one, the first time that I’ve gone out solo without doing some “tester” circuits first with Bob. Today it was just hand over the keys and away you go. A little nerve wracking that’s for sure.
Milestone number two, first time doing slow flight and stalls solo. Even RTH admitted it took him a little while to get up the nerve to do stalls on his own. I was determined that I was going to try.

And I did, two power off stalls without flaps. Stalls and their recovery are not hard. The hardest part for me is actually stalling the plane. This time I am 100% confident that I did indeed stall that plane, both times. It was easy. So easy. I can’t believe I’m actually saying that. When I got back and reported on the flight I could tell that RTH was genuinely impressed that I'd actually got up the courage to do them.
The truth is though, the flight was a little bumpy and doing some of the stuff was hard, like maintaining slow flight (or even my altitude for that matter). Stalls are simple. After all most of the time you are actively trying to stop the plane falling out of the sky, with stalls you actually want it to!

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Another one for the collection…

“What the hell have you done to yourself?” Asks RTH, seemingly out of nowhere one evening.

We are sitting on the couch, watching TV. I was sitting with my legs pulled up on the seat.
I look down to where he’s pointing. Sure enough I have a bruise the size of a baseball on the outside of my left thigh.

Hmm, I ponder it for a moment. It is multi coloured, so a couple of days old at least. It is probably flying related. I’ve been sat at a desk the last few days at work so doubt I did it there.....
....Oh yeah, I remember now. My usual clumsy self. I recall exactly how I did it, but am too embarrassed to share!

Friday, 23 August 2013

Sometimes it pays to be stupid.

Following on from this post  about RTH’s reaction to the VOR session.

Well at the time in the simulator I could tell that RTH was having a harder time with it than I was. And I knew exactly why as well.
RTH was attempting to think. I wasn’t.

RTH was attempting to visualise what was going on, where he was spatially, what the info from the needle was actually telling him.
I wasn’t. As far as I am concerned Bob has given me a set of rules which work. A set of step by step instructions.  A handy aide memoire that will ensure that we are never the dreaded 180 degree off course.

For me that’s enough at the moment.  I’m happy with that. RTH feels (probably quite rightly) the need for a deeper understanding and that’s proving challenging at the moment.
I have no doubt that eventually he will have his Eureka moment and it will all click into place, but for now at least I know what I’m meant to be dialling in where and which way the needle should point!

 

 

 

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Are we insane?

As you can tell from the multitude of “battle planning” posts, our trip to Massachusetts has taken on a life of its own. Truly epic.

After a reasonably gruelling session in the simulator (not helped by the controls being ridiculously sensitive) RTH and I came to the conclusion that what we are about to attempt is totally and utterly crazy.
And then we both agreed it was the best thing we have ever decided to do!

Every time we look at the planning we discover something else that we need to take into consideration, or some subtle nuance that has escaped us before. It is becoming a Herculean task!
The fantastic thing though is, we are more interested in the journey than the destination, if we don’t end up making it to our final destination, we don’t actually care! And it is this casual attitude that is taking all the stress away.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

It’s all about the numbers

After my last slow flight and stalls lesson I was feeling pretty confident about things. So much so that I badgered Bob for a solo lesson pretty much straight after. I wanted to get out there and have a go on my own. We arranged for a flight on Monday evening, slotting it in before a VOR review lesson and sim flight for RTH.

The predicted conditions looked perfect 6 knots right down runway 26. Yes, perfect light winds down my favourite runway; no chance of a 15 minute orbit there, straight in is the standard approach for 26.
I was fairly busy at work and didn’t really stop to look at the weather again for a while. I pulled up the NOTAMS and saw that there wasn’t anything to worry about and got on with my day. I scooted out of work a tad early to ensure I didn’t get snarled up in the massive construction that has ripped up half the transit system and then I pulled up the live runway data.

Hmm, that’s not good.  A steady 10 knot crosswind (almost at 90 degrees). I monitored the situation carefully and struggled to recall what the school’s limits for solo student flights were. By the time I got to the ferry I was looking at a steady crosswind component of anywhere from 9-13 knots with gusts up to 17. The bizarre thing was that the TAF was still calling for a gentle 6 or so knots*.
Bob arrived back with his previous student and we chatted for a while, the three of us. Then we got down to the business of discussing the flight plan.  We looked over the wind data and came to the inevitable “challenging but not impossible” conclusion.

I hate being in this position, numbers on a screen don’t mean much to me. I don’t have the experience to match the numbers up to actual flying conditions. Conscious of a number of facts I tried to make a decision.  Would I get out to the practice area and not be able to get back (my biggest fear at the moment)? Was I being overly cautious (again a large concern of mine)? I struggled to decide, the problem is that Bob’s role really isn’t to make these decisions for me anymore. He was very careful not to decide for me. As PIC I need to start making these decisions myself. I need to establish my own personal limits and I need to realise that my personal limits will probably change as I gain more experience and confidence.
Eventually Bob summed up the conditions for me as about an 8.5** out of 10 challenge wise.  Eventually we agreed to do some dual circuits with the possibility of me doing a solo flight to Claremont afterwards if I felt up to it.

Long story short, I threw it around a few times, felt how challenging it was. Coped, not my prettiest landings but salvageable for sure.  Decided not to go solo but maximise the use of the crosswind time to really get some good solid experience in. I noticed a few things, we switched between runway 24 and 26. That 20 degrees made all the difference, the landing was noticeably easier on 24 than 26. The problem is that 24 has a tricky approach, that requires you to avoid drifting sideways into the financial core of downtown.  I don’t like it but I usually manage ok. Before this flight I’d a tendency to avoid it (despite having done my first solo on it), perhaps now I realise just how much difference those 20 degrees can make.
It was worth it and I don’t regret my decision. Not like last time where I chickened out and knew it. This time I think I made the right call. I even questioned RTH about it on the way home. I asked “if it was only your third time out to the practice area and the winds were doing that, what would you have done?”

He reassured me that he would have come to exactly the same decision that I had. I still wasn’t convinced, “but you’re so confident,” I said “all through our trip to St Catharines. I was worried about the visibility and the gusting winds. You knew it would be fine. You knew you could handle it. I’m never going to be that confident.”
His answer surprised me a little and forms the basis for my next post “let me put it this way; all that stuff with the VOR navigation. You were Ok with it, what we were doing, yes?”

I replied that yes indeed I was, “I wasn’t.” he replied. And that's a story for another time.

 

 

* Of course, within an hour of me landing. That’s exactly what the damn winds did!

** 8.5 out of 10 on the challenge scale equalled about a 8.5 on the Richter scale for several of my landings as well.

 

 

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The battle wages on…

The battle planning continues, last night was a VOR theory ground brief and simulator session with Bob. I suspect the former was more for my benefit than RTH’s, I’m fairly certain he actually understands more about this VOR stuff than I do.

Theoretically we could just have read some books, maybe a few YouTube videos and tried to figure it out ourselves but I was more interested in the actual practicalities. Where is the VOR equipment actually located in the plane? What buttons do you press? When do you press them? And so on.
This is where Bob really helps. He’s flown cross country flights, with his wife. He not only understands how to manage the flying part but he understands and has tips for managing the person in the other seat.  We went through our planned route from VOR beacon to VOR beacon, he was able to talk us through it; “Ok WMAP at this point you’d have this beacon on NAV1 and this on NAV 2. RTH you’re going to be looking for the point when the needle centres, then WMAP you’re going to switch to this beacon.”

He also suggested that I have a “recipe sheet” done up in advance, so for each leg of the trip I know exactly what beacon I should have on each radio. This sounds like an excellent idea to me, as well as making life easier for RTH it also makes me feel useful. A useful part of the trip rather than baggage in the front seat.
Over to the simulator next; RTH in the left seat, Bob in the right and me standing at the back offering helpful comments like “which button launches the missiles then?” The beauty of a simulator is that you can freeze it while you talk over what is going on, that was my actual role. I had my finger on the pause button.

RTH did some basic locate your position by getting a bearing from two VOR beacons. That seemed easy enough and lets me add another trick to my “what if I get lost” basket. Then he moved onto intercepting various radials from a local VOR.
To me it seemed simple enough. RTH seemed to be having a moment about some of it though. More about that in another post.  Although it had been a long day and I will admit I had a headache by the end of it (it was my first day back at work after an extended break and I’d flown a reasonably challenging crosswind flight beforehand as well) it was incredibly useful and has left me feeling a whole lot better about our plan to navigate this way.

 

 

Monday, 19 August 2013

Of cephalopods and time machines

Many strange things happen when you get so far along in your flight training. Your ability to distort the space time continuum is but one of them.

Let me explain, part of the problem when you are first starting out is that you simply don’t have enough time, hands or capacity to do everything when you need to. Eventually you start to gain extra time from somewhere and possibly extra hands as well. It really is a shame that the octopus and the time machine don’t make an appearance at the start when you really need them!
Today we were doing simple power off stalls, both with and without flaps. Previously something which has caused me to complain most vociferously at being forced to carry out. Today it just didn’t seem to faze me, at all. I just kinda blocked the irritating whine of the stall horn and did what I needed to do. I’m confident now that I am actually stalling the plane. Today I felt the stall occur and noticed that Bob’s hands were nowhere near the controls, meaning that he’s not having to help me along*.

I realised today that a lot of my troubles with stalls and steep turns actually comes from my posture. I naturally tend to lean forwards; this is true if I’m at my desk at work, or watching TV at home. When flying this means that I have a tendency to push the nose down, especially during manoeuvres. I have to really make sure that I’m relaxing back in my seat. Of course the easier the flying is becoming, the more relaxed I am; this becomes a whole lot easier.
Bob complimented me on the fact that I recover easily and gently from these power off stalls, I don’t bring the nose down too much and dive the plane. The truth is it is easy to get the nose down just right. All I need to do is bring my body back to my natural sitting position and the nose dips just enough to break the stall.  Simple!

I honestly don’t know where the time is coming from, during the whole recovery process I was sitting there waiting for the airspeed to come up enough to get a positive rate of climb and thus bring the flaps from 20 to 10 degrees.

WAITING for god’s sake, how the heck did that happen? Where was that damn time machine when I needed it a year ago?
 
 
* I have a tendency to fight the back pressure and not actually stall the plane, today I seemed to be doing okay.

 

 

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Is that it?

I was both looking forward to and dreading today’s lesson. I haven’t flown for a couple of weeks and was desperate to get back behind the controls. It’s been beautiful flying weather and I’ve had to put up with hearing someone else flying JES.

I was mildly apprehensive though because I knew that we were going to be revisiting slow flight and stalls. I do not like those, one bit, as I may have mentioned a few thousand times before. I think it came across a little in the pre-flight briefing. I’m so easy to read, when I start exhaling loudly and laughing nervously, then yeah I’m a little out of my comfort zone. Bob was quick to reassure “It’ll be so different now; you know what you’re doing. The plane will feel different, you’ll do fine.”
I decided to put it to the back of my mind and concentrate on getting the flight out to Claremont right, proving that I haven’t picked up any bad habits since my last trips out there solo and just consolidating my navigation skills. That bit went quite well, I kept up a reasonable commentary, letting Bob know what I was planning. Reassuring him that I was comfortably ahead of the plane.

Eventually we scoped out our little corner of the sky and I carried out my HASEL* checks and started getting us into slow flight. Initially I wasn’t sure I could recall the sequence of actions needed, power back first then flaps, I think? I overcooked it a little, heading more to a stall than slow flight but got her stabilised at roughly 5 knots above stall speed, the stall horn bleating intermittently.
Bob looked on slightly bemused as I simultaneously added power to stop the descent and argued with the stall horn; “yeah yeah! Screech screech screech!”

I added the power, following Bob’s advice to not be too timid with it. A good 500 rpm stopped any height loss. I took stock of my surroundings. I was at the correct speed, not losing any height with the stall horn cutting in and out. I looked over at Bob, slightly confused, “Is that it?” I asked.
“Yes, you’re in slow flight, try a turn to the left please”

So I did, gently, keeping in some rudder to coordinate “What the hell was I getting stressed about?” I ask, perhaps Bob, perhaps the world in general.
I honestly have no idea. It was fine, seriously fine. The mere sound of the stall horn used to send my heart rate sky high, now I find it a minor nuisance noise.

The plane does exactly what I want it to do and exactly what I expect it to do. No surprises, no stress, no hassles. I may be convinced that I can do these things solo.
No sweat.


*More on what those are in another post

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Battle plans part 3

I’m reasonably happy with the first leg of our trip, getting out of Canada. I think I’m OK with the landing in the US side of it as well. Just got to remember the cardinal rules of dealing with any border crossing; don’t move unless you are told to, don’t speak until you are asked a question and only offer the information you are asked for.

After this though, it gets messy because we are out of the realm of my experience. It all started to look a bit messy once we pulled out the charts. US sectionals are different to Canadian VNCs. It took a while to get our heads round the different colours and markings used, as well as the sheer scale. I attempted to take a picture of the entire sectional. I couldn’t get it all in shot. I commented to RTH that “ this may be a sign that this is a BAD idea!”

 
 Zoomed in you can also see what prompted my initial comment of “ughh, it just looks like a lot of purple amoebas doing rude things to each other!”

The reason I’m a little nervous about the US legs (we are planning a couple of stops, the idea is that each leg is no more than about 2 hours, we are in no hurry) is that RTH is planning on using VOR beacons for navigation. Something of which I have ZERO experience. To the uninitiated VOR beacons are like radio lighthouses in the sky. They send out a revolving radio signal (two actually) that is picked up by equipment in your plane. Due to some clever geometry and math (which I do actually understand!) you can calculate what radial you are flying on (so in effect what your heading is) and if you are flying TO or AWAY from the beacon.  You don’t actually have to do the math, you fly the needle on the display.
RTH assures me that it is a simple method of flying a course. My limited knowledge and reading on the subject tells me that it would be very easy to be 180 degrees off course. RTH has planned a VOR nav refresher lesson with Bob before we go. I plan on sitting in the back and getting an idea of what is going on and what is going to be expected of me as designated “radio minion” on this flight.
My only sense of relief comes from the fact there are a lot of airfields in the US, chances are we can make it to one of them, even if it isn’t where we initially planned to be!

Friday, 16 August 2013

Battle plans part 2

The scope of what we are attempting finally hit me when we got our delivery of US sectional charts. Once we cross the border into the US we are literally flying from one edge of the chart to the other.

I repeat, GULP!
Taking it one step at a time, we start off by looking at the initial Canada to US stage. The navigation here is not too onerous, basically following the shoreline around. Our first stop is in a town called Waterton, in New York State. Chosen because it has an airport(!) and is just over the border.

Flying into the USA is perfectly doable, it just requires some preplanning and paperwork. A month or so ago RTH did a flight with his instructor to Buffalo, NY in order to get some experience of the process. I’m probably forgetting half the stuff but here is what I remember

1)      Your plane has to have a US customs Decal – this means we are taking GSAR as it is the only one that currently has one.

2)      You have to clear customs at your first point of landing – this is why we picked Waterton (ART), as it has full US customs. You should clear customs ASAP after crossing the border, in case you have to make an unexpected landing

3)      You need to file a flight plan, with Both Canada and USA, giving the time and point where you will be crossing over

4)      You have to fill in something called eAPIS, stands for something like Advance Passenger Information System. You can do this online. You create an account with your profile and just submit it whenever you fly crossborder.

5)      You need to let US customs know you are coming.

On paper it looks like a lot but I’m reliably informed by both Bob and RTH that it isn’t. The most important thing to remember is that once you land in the US, you stay in the plane until they tell you otherwise!
Getting as far as the US border, as I’ve said, isn’t going to be a major navigational feat. We’ll file a flight plan and pick up flight following as soon as we are airborne, our rough route is marked in green in the picture. The only potential hiccup is around Trenton, ON.

Trenton is both a good and a bad place for General Aviation. It is where the Joint Search and Rescue facilities are based; if you go down (or forget to close your flight plan) this is where the action starts! It is also military restricted airspace. Depending on what’s going on at the time it is possible they may just clear us through their airspace; otherwise there are two standard routings you might get given. These are marked in blue on our chart.

I’ve taken the time to study our route carefully and I think I’m fairly OK with this leg as far as Waterton.

The next phase is going to be far more interesting!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Battle plans part 1.

Traditionally the end of summer is marked by a public holiday called “Labour Day” in North America. Like many immigrants I have no concept of the history behind it, I just happily accept the paid day off of work.

To me Labour Day weekend marks a special anniversary, it was the weekend we moved into our new home in Toronto, a condo which has everything that I dreamed of when we were still back in the UK and still planning our move overseas. I think it says a lot that initially we only planned on being here a year until we figured out where we wanted to be and we stayed. It would have to be a very special place for me to want to move from here.
Labour Day also marks the weekend of the Toronto Airshow, a fact of which we were unaware until I looked up from cleaning our new kitchen and saw the Snowbirds about level with my window in tight formation, blasting past! That was one hell of a welcome.

From a flying perspective the airshow closes down the airspace around here for a large chunk of the weekend. Last year I managed to squeeze a flight in the morning and ended up following a group of 7 Harvards in to land. While the airshow is great for spectators, it sucks for the flight school. The planes are pretty much grounded for the long weekend.

Or are they?
The owner likes to encourage people to take the planes out of the closed airspace and do something with them. In a moment of insanity RTH and I have decided to do exactly that. Our longest trip EVER, by a long shot.

We are going to the States; Plymouth, Massachusetts to be exact. A trip that Google informs me, by road is about 940Km.
Gulp!

There are so many things to consider, we have to cross an international border and so have to plan where we can land that is a Port of Entry. We have to plan fuel stops, comfort stops. We have to look at refueling prices, tie down availability. We have to navigate totally unfamiliar airspace in a country that handily uses totally different airspace classifications. We’ve had to order new charts for the US, their version of the CFS and a guide to US Radio comms.
Slowly but surely we are breaking the planning down into stages and looking at figuring this whole shebang out. I don’t know whether to be excited beyond belief or scared beyond recognition.

This is what planning central (aka our dining room table) looks like at the moment.


 Note that the Cessna may not be to scale and yes the mugs of tea are an integral part of the planning process!

 

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

My stomping grounds part 4

Once you’ve gotten to Claremont without busting Pearson’s airspace or Buttonville’s control zone, the next trick is not hitting anyone else who is also heading to Claremont for exactly the same reason you are. There are a lot of airports and therefore a lot of flying schools around, lots of traffic all heading for the same space.

We tend to work in the area outlined in blue. Unofficially we divide the area up into quadrants, working NE,NW, SE or SW of Claremont. I usually end up SW because it is the closest area. None of the areas are ideal. To the SE you have to watch out for Oshawa, to the SW Buttonville. To the north the land starts to rise a little giving you less room to work with if you are doing upper airwork.

Still we make do with what we’ve got and do our best not to get in each other’s way. Just out of the scope of my VTA there’s a VOR navigation beacon, so a reasonable bit of traffic uses that to practice radio nav work.
The red box is something I’ve marked on my chart, the highway crosses railroad tracks. Go much further west than this and you’re back in Buttonville’s space. The yellow box is a transformer station. Lots of power lines going in and coming out. I marked it on for various reasons.

If I’m taking the short route then you check your position relative to it. It is also a good point to make position calls, most people know where it is. The power lines also lead you straight back to City, especially useful in the winter when they cut a path straight through the snow covered ground.
Just south of Claremont is a village called Brougham. You need to be careful round here as there are winch launched gliders kicking around. The cable could happily slice off your wing. That’s why we climb to above 2500ft when overhead.

So you can see that is a LOT of information to process just to get out to do some maneuvers, let alone actually doing any stalls or whatever. Seeing it split up into 4 posts like this has made me realise just how much I’ve actually managed to take in. 
So much to consider, so many dimensions to deal with, but Bob trusts me to do this all on my own and that, is freakin awesome!!!!!

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

My stomping grounds part 3

The point I’m trying to make with these posts is that no one likes you doing stalls, forced approaches and the like in controlled airspace. You have to go a ways before you get to somewhere where all you are scaring are cows. In my neck of the woods prime cattle confusing territory is centred around a small, barely visible from the air, town called Claremont. I have no idea if the residents of this town are aware of this. Surely they must notice the very low flying aircraft buzzing the livestock?

Right, picture time. The chart below starts just as City’s zone is ending. Even I can manage to follow the shoreline along until I see a very obviously large water treatment plant (just in case I drew it on my chart). Once you get here ATC clear you enroute (sometimes they forget and you remind them that you are exiting the zone) and you look for your next landmark, Bluffers Park.

This is a large Marina that juts out, visible even in the winter. It’s a good navigation point, especially on the way back where it marks the point where you should make your initial call to politely ask ATC to let you back in. Class C airspace needs permission to enter.
Beyond that there are two large, white towers that mark the edge of one ring of the wedding cake (marked with a red cross here). Beyond this point I can climb from 2500ft to 3500ft. From here I also have a choice. Claremont is boxed in red, you can see that it nestles in between Buttonville’s zone (purple) and Oshawa’s (pink).

I can either steer a course of roughly 030 degrees from Bluffers and cut across to get to Claremont (solid yellow line), or I can carry on along the shoreline until I see Pickering. Pickering is a large nuclear power station, with a conveniently placed wind turbine and a road leading directly to it, the infamous Brock Road. From there you can follow Brock road up to Claremont.
I usually follow the latter and slightly longer route (dashed yellow), it is easier and you don’t risk inadvertently nipping into Buttonville’s space.

Enough for now, more next time.