Thursday, April 14, 2016


It was only Wednesday but had already been a difficult week. I was ready to exit the "real world" for a few hours to enjoy a vacation in the sky.

The weather was good. A weak cold front had stalled in northern Florida which had the potential of bringing clouds and rain later in the day, but when I arrived at KVDF I was welcomed with blue skies and light winds. The preflight went well, she burped with less than twenty pulls. I'm still learning how to start using the new ignition modules.  As I waited for her to warm up two Cessnas, one belonging to C.A.P. joined me in the runup area. I let them go first while I waited for 122°F. When it was my turn I got the low oil pressure and low fuel pressure alerts when I added take off power. The engine sounded great, gave no other indications so I continued.  CAP announced he would stay in the pattern and I saw him on downwind as I departed to the east. When I leveled at 1500' all engine indications were normal.

Sally and I explored the area just east of the airport for awhile. First we traveled over to see Plant City (KPCM) but stayed clear of the area and didn't land there. Next we went south to see Wimauma, a private grass strip. We passed east of the five giant TV towers south of Riverview. They scare me. At 1500' I was still looking up at them and on a hazy humid day they could be all but invisible. It would not be good to wander too close.

Next we flew down to Parrish to overfly the housing development we currently live in and see the surrounding community. It always looks different from the air. The SRQ Class C airport has a shelf  with a base at 1200' so we went down a bit to enjoy the view. There are a lot of houses being built in Florida. We returned north by following Rt 301 and staying under the 3000' shelf of the Tampa Class B. Sally reported low pressure problems only a few times during our travels, and immediately recovered without any additional indications.

We did about 5 turns in the pattern. Again with a few low pressure annunciations but no other adverse indications. I am convinced we need a new oil pressure sensor.

Video Notes: I inadvertently left previous video on the chip and ran out of space to record this flight. Too bad as I had made meticulous audio notes of each indication whenever we had a low pressure annunciation. So instead, I offer this video from US Sport Aircraft: Takeoff

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Lakeland 2016

2016 Sun 'n Fun
The thundering roar of an old warbird. Everything else stops as heads turn toward the sound. I couldn't see anything until slowly the beautiful beast climbed above the viewers tents. A B17 was taking off. WOW! Throughout the day we would be awed by P51s, F4Us, P39, B25 and some others I couldn't identify. But the sound, the thunder, had me turn my head every time.

Best looking planes at the show
Later in the day came the new guys. F22 is an old friend, but this was the first time I had seen a demonstration flight. I didn't see the F35 but it was there. Neither of the big military demonstration teams performed, but the Golden Knights opened each morning by bringing in the Flag. (My friend Duane told me that about half the crowd understood the phrase "Remove your covers" on opening day.)
Nose art...on the tail
Former training squadron

The aircraft displays were great. To spend the day just walking around new airplanes and equipment is a real pleasure. But as often been said, the real joy is the people. These shows are in fact, Homecomings.  While 90% of the conversation is centered around things that fly, talk of family and work and health also occasionally crept in. Off limits this year was any discussion about politics. The aerobatic performers and the numerous formation teams were all spectacular. But for me the best was the final act of the day. A flyby of a P51 with an F4U in tight formation. Breathtaking.

I'm told this show isn't as big as Oshkosh. We'll see.

Video Notes: Lakeland Departure

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Lake Parker Arrival

I got started later then planned, but was still airborne before 10:00am. The weather was clear blue skies but gusty. A cold front was predicted for the evening. I would have to pay attention to the weather to insure I wouldn't be spending the night in Lakeland.

Sally still has some sensor issues. It seems if running at a high RPM (>5200) she starts to report out of limit readings. It is nerve wracking, but I'm convinced its a gremlin and not a real reading. Still, getting a low oil pressure annunciation gets immediate attention!

Lakeland (KLAL) is only about 18 miles from Tampa Executive (KVDF) so the flight is relatively short. This would be a busy flight as I had to understand and follow the NOTAM for the Lake Parker Arrival. Inbound, the beautiful clear sky made it easy to pick out traffic. As I turned in toward the power station on the northeast corner of the lake I spotted a number of airplanes starting their procedure.  I took interval behind a "high wing" and was happy to "Rock my Wings" over the power station for positive identification. I maintained a westerly heading at 1200' and 100KTS but strong winds from the east increased my groundspeed by about 20KTS. It was fun looking for the landmarks along the way.

The controllers did an outstanding job keeping everyone informed and the tower was just great handling the huge amount of traffic. The key to flying into an event like this is to study the procedure, listen to what is being said, and respond to the commands. There simply isn't any bandwidth available for chatter.

The only problem I had was spotting my intended point of landing. I didn't see the "orange dot" until well down the runway, but I understood that this was a heavy traffic situation and the tower wanted me out of the way and off the runway as soon as possible. (I misjudged the gusty winds and landed just short of the dot, argh!)

The ground crew and linesman did a superb job of getting me to my parking spot. After shut down a linesman came by to remind me to double check my "Master -Off" and asked if I need tie downs. After the episode a few years ago, tie downs are mandatory. (I brought my own...The Claw)

Once I was sure she was secure, I took the L O N G walk to the display area and immediately found some old friends.

Video Notes: Lake Parker Approach

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Heads will fall, tails will rise

I had a student interested in learning about the VOR. (VHF Omni Directional Radio Range). Sally was providing false sensor alerts but I felt comfortable taking her up for this kind of lesson.

I dug into my old flight bag and found a set of "Foggles" to use as a vision limiting device. I decided to use LAL and SRQ for our practice stations which would keep us clear of the Tampa Class B airspace.

First we went directly to LAL and upon station passage (cone of silence, when the VOR needle disappears on the Horizontal Situation Indicator) I told him about the 6 "T's".

  1. Time: for groundspeed calculations,not used much now that we have GPS
  2. Twist: The Course Deviation Indicator to the desired course
  3. Turn: to the Desired course
  4. Time: for outbound holding (seldom used now) or approach timing.
  5. Transition: climb, descend, change configuration for an approach.
  6. Talk: to the controlling agency (if necessary)
 Next we talked about intercepting courses. The head of the needle always falls, the tail always rises. So you pick a heading that will allow the head to fall to the desired course. The head points to the station, the tail indicates the radial you are on. Upon intercepting, the 6T's boil down to Twist and Turn.

I've always felt that the test questions were designed to be tricky and intentionally confusing. Actually seeing it used in the airplane seems to help eliminate that confusion.

  • Track: A path along which something moves; a course:  The line you draw on the sectional is the track. The magenta line the GPS depicts is a track.
  • Course: the route or direction followed by a ship, aircraft, road, or river. Course is the direction over the ground along which the plane is currently moving.
  • Heading: The heading is the direction to which the "nose" of the object is pointing, its orientation. The angle between heading and track is known as the drift angle.
  • Bearing: Angular direction measured from one position to another using geographical or celestial reference lines. Relative bearing refers to the angle between the plane's forward direction, and the location of another object (like a VOR station.)
Reference:  Training Video (Pilot Training Solutions)

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Night Lights

Night means the time between the end of evening civil twilight and the beginning of morning civil twilight, as published in the Air Almanac, converted to local time.
Air Almanac = 6:58pm local person may act as pilot in command of an aircraft carrying passengers during the period beginning 1 hour after sunset and ending 1 hour before sunrise, unless within the preceding 90 days that person has made at least three takeoffs and three landings to a full stop during the period beginning 1 hour after sunset and ending 1 hour before sunrise...
Air Almanac = Sunset at 6:34pm local

How many clicks?
 I got out to the airport a little after 6:00pm local time. I wanted to do the preflight in daylight. I double checked my flashlight(s) and all of the aircraft lighting. Sally looked good. As we taxied to RWY 05 the sun was just setting. By the time the runup was complete we were passing the "End of Civil Twilight".

It was a beautiful night to fly. The traffic on I4 and I75 was still pretty heavy as people were rushing home after their work day. The lights from the city were coming on. I always think the runway environment at night is spectacular. Runway 05 was in use:
  1. Precision Approach Path Indicator
  2. Runway End Identifier Lights
  3. Night, or civil twilight?
  4. Medium Intensity Runway Lights
More information can be found here. FAA Aeronautical Charts 

With all of these lights it was easy to establish the runway environment on final. But the last landing of the night had a little extra challenge.  This is something I practice (occasionally) but I had no intention of doing it for this landing. The exciting part comes in the flare. No landing light. 

Friday, March 4, 2016

Check Flight

Sally's back.
I took extra time with the preflight. The upper cowl was off and I looked for that one telltale oil droplet. A smudge on the exhaust, a drip on the nose wheel pant, or just anything "not right". She looked good. So I buttoned her up and climbed in to fly the 30 minutes down to Sebring. Elrod and Joe were there to meet me. Sally was pulled close to the tools in the hangar and the search for fluctuating oil pressure continued. The inspection took about 45 minutes, the verdict was the loose pin. Solid oil pressure for the entire trip. Sally seems to be healthy.

But there is that nagging voice, that little loss of confidence that makes me wonder if she is really fixed. Did we miss something? Time for another check flight.

A front came through on Wednesday bringing low ceilings to the local area. Thursday was perfect! Another extended preflight with the same results, I was airborne by 11:00am heading east. We climbed to 1500' and stayed north of the high cell towers near Brandon (1667FT). I used different power settings, did some simple climbs and descents and generally gave the engine a light workout. I was convinced she was solid so headed over to Lakeland-Linder Airport (KLAL), home of Sun 'N Fun. A brief stay there then back to Tampa Exec for some landing practice.

All systems are nominal. Its great to have Sally back!

Video Notes: To Lakeland, From Lakeland

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Fluctuating Oil Pressure

Original Plan to KFFC

We had a very busy Friday night so missed our start time on Saturday. We were in the plane heading for the run-up by 10:30. It was a beautiful day, clear skies and light winds. We took off on Rwy36 and departed to the north, picked up Flight Following through the busy Tampa airspace and climbed to 4500ft. I completed the climb/cruise checklist and settled in for the 2+ hour flight to our fuel stop at KMGR. Tampa cancelled Flight Following just north of the Class B. We were just above the haze layer and found headwinds at about 25-30kts but smooth air. After about 45 minutes I saw the flicker. Oil pressure dropped into the yellow but immediately recovered to nominal in the green. I thought about all of the work that had just been completed. For the next five minutes it fluctuated about 10psi but stayed green. I relaxed a bit, but made my contingency plan. Where are the airports along this route? Then another dip into the yellow. Any vibration? Any other indications? Any changes in engine temperatures? Any visible oil film? All answers were "no".

Then she dropped into the red. "We are aborting the flight", I told Kathy. I immediately clicked off the autopilot and turned right. Crystal River was slightly south and doable. Oil Pressure went back to green. Went through my checks again. Was there ANY other indication? No. "I think we'll go home". With the tail winds it should be about 30 minutes. Back in the red, reading 0, then 2 psi, for just a second then green. Still no other indications. Then back in the red for 5 seconds.

The closest airport with the longest runway was Brooksville (KBKV). Kathy asked if she could help, she could see I was busy. I told her my intentions to land at Brooksville about 15 miles ahead of us. I love my 696. I dialed up tower and told them I had fluctuating oil pressure, and gave my position. The Tower guys were GREAT!. He asked me to call a 3 mile base for Rwy9 and he worked on clearing traffic out of my way. A C130 was in the pattern doing parachute drops, and a few other planes were vectored out of our way. I came in high (intentionally) and started to slip her in once on final. Nice to have a 7000ft runway. We turned off at the first taxiway and made our way over to the FBO.

GA Knights.
It's a Saturday morning and you need a professional mechanic. Say you're at home and need a plumber or an electrician or whatever. You know it is not going to be a good experience. But this is General Aviation. We walked into the FBO and were treated like friends. No mechanic on duty but there is a group of guys working on their airplane in one of the hangars. He is an A&P and may be able to help. Within 10 minutes Nathan, Chris and James come driving up in a golf cart. James is A/P I/A but hasn't any experience with ROTAX Engines. But he CAN trouble shoot some common problems.  After some time to scrutinize the systems he takes a look at the oil pressure sending unit. One of the pins in the connector is loose. Maybe the smoking gun? He puts it all back together and we do a run up. All good. He cautions that there might be something more serious but without doing more in depth analysis he couldn't be sure. I thanked him for the help and asked what I owed. "Nothing, just glad to help."

I also called Patrick at US SPORT for his advice. He was out flying, but when he returned immediately called back and left a message. From the description I provided he suspected the sensor.

I put the cowling back on and told Kathy to wait in the FBO while I went for a test run. The test flight was all good. I picked Kathy up at the FBO and flew the 10 minutes back to Tampa Executive. I'll take her back down to Sebring for a "more in depth analysis".

We all gripe about the costs of flying, the over regulation, and all of the annoyances we face each time we go out to fly. We don't talk enough about the wonderful community that we have. Complete strangers treating us like family. What a privilege it is to be a part of GA.