Thursday, November 16, 2017

Flying Season

6 Turns in the pattern at KVDF.
61°F fog at 7:00am EST. I look out the window and can barely see my neighbor's house just a few yards away due to the dense fog. Welcome to central Florida. But it isn't time to go back to bed. I start the coffee pot and go look at weather briefings on the computer. By 9:00am it should be in the high 60°s and beautiful blue skies. I get myself ready, grab my gear and head out to Tampa Executive.

The weather looks great by the time I finish the preflight. One last check to insure I have everything before I pull her out of the hangar.  "Hello Sally" as I start the prestart checklist. I use the choke now as it's cold enough to make a difference. The oil pressure was a bit higher, about 80psi. OAT read about 20°C. I closed the canopy for taxi over to the FBO.

I've been doing training flights. I enjoy the work. The wonderful Florida climate makes it a joy to fly this time of year.

After a Discovery Flight
We were coming back from a Discovery Flight just south of Plant City, 15 miles east of the field. The active runway at KVDF was 05 and there were no planes in the pattern at my initial call. I opted for a crosswind entry and headed for I75 where it passes north of the runway. Nearing the departure end of 05 I heard a position call from a Cessna "Upwind Rwy 05". I looked over my left shoulder for the traffic. Nope. You know that "itchy feeling" on the back of your neck? Where is this guy? His next report was crosswind Rwy 05. There he is, just in front, right off my nose. "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." There is a difference in the nomenclature. The Departure leg is an extension of the runway centerline. The upwind leg is offset from, and parallel to the runway. We called crosswind, #2, traffic in sight.  (BTW, he flew a lousy pattern.)

Be safe out there.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Deland 2nd LSA Showcase

The weather at Tampa Executive was foggy. This time of year the temperature and dew point meet at about 60°F and the high humidity condenses into a thick fog or mist (BR). I waited until the sun warmed the earth enough to get VFR conditions then took off to the north east. Deland is about 85 miles away, very close to Daytona Beach. The trip would take about an hour. Along the way I was vectored around the parachutes at Zephyr Hills and  cleared through the Tampa
Class B and later, the Orlando Class B. Flight following alerted me to numerous targets and I was able to visually confirm most of them.

Sally's numbers were good.
  • 5400 RPM
  • 5.6 gph
  • 113 kts TAS
  • 3500 ft and 20°C
When I switched to the temporary tower at KDED I was instructed to make a straight in approach for runway 5 and call a 6 mile final. Soon a Mooney came in behind me at 8 miles. I was asked to keep my speed up. So I came down the glideslope at about 115kts (indicated) with the trailing traffic closing at about 160kts. The trick was to transition to a "normal" approach speed. I made the no flap landing, touched down long and made the exit just before the Mooney landed. All of the controllers at the field did a great job as ATC.

The show was just a little bigger than last year. Some of the majors were there including Bristell and CTLS. All brands of Auto Gyro were there and constantly providing demonstration flights. I did not see Icon but their competition was there and I spent some time in the booths talking about amphibians. But the "foot traffic" was very slow for a Saturday afternoon. Sebring draws a much bigger crowd.

The weather that had given us morning fog now changed to afternoon cumulus. The bottoms were right about 3500'. R2910 was active. We were given a vector of 220° but that was driving me right into the clouds. So I asked for higher and was given 4500'.  That gave us a smooth ride. The view was fantastic.

The trip home was uneventful.

video notes: Deland2

Friday, October 20, 2017

Going to Work

Bruce asked if we could get an earlier start. He would be checking in at work and wanted to get as much time in as feasible before going into the office. I set my alarm for 0dark-thirty and got up to do the preflight planning. The weather looked good for early morning but winds would be picking up later in the day. It was a good decision to go early. As I scanned the NOTAMS I found one a bit different for Plant City. I'll watch out for that.

The flight went well. We accomplished everything on my agenda and headed back to KVDF to take a break. Bruce was ready for more so I planned to give him an introduction to the landing pattern. Bad decision. Those gusty winds came in sooner than anticipated and made all of the local airports unusable for pattern practice. However it was an opportunity to review procedures and radio calls. We departed VDF and went over to PCM and did a 45° entry.  All of his calls were good and he did a nice job with the pattern, although it wasn't fair to have him turn on final with winds gusting to 18kts. We "shared" the landing and taxied back for takeoff. We bounced a bit on the departure and made our way back home. Another opportunity to practice procedures in the pattern ended with a full stop landing. Good effort today.

I still had the intermittent GPS problem. So after the debrief I brought Sally back to the hangar for some trouble shooting. After a few tightened connectors and some strategically placed tie-wraps I got the purple GPS needle back on the HSI.

Just maybe I got it fixed. Bruce and I are scheduled for an early flight tomorrow, I can check it again in the morning.*

*Saturday Morning Update: It works! After a short flight with a number of landings the GPS interface to the Dynon Smart Aviation Bus (DSAB) stayed strong and consistent.

Reference: User guide

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Trouble Shooting the GPS

On Final
Saturday: Just canceled. It would have been high work, steep turns, slow flight, stalls, etc. When I left my house it was still dense fog, most local stations reporting IFR in mist or fog. I was betting that the fog/mist would clear to blue sky, unfortunately, it just lifted the base up about 1000'. VDF was still reporting IFR by the time I got home, and PCM had wind gusts up to 14kts. Rain showers predicted for the afternoon.

So it was a good call.

Wednesday: I drove out to the airport to prepare for a short maintenance hop. The Dynon (D100) HSI and autopilot are not capturing GPS data from the Garmin 696. Everything seems to work fine on the ground but one airborne the HSI needle goes away and the autopilot will not activate the "Nav" mode. (The VOR works fine.) I hate intermittent problems. 

So I suspect a loose connection somewhere. I removed the pilot side panel to get a good look at the back of the EFIS, nothing found except a possibly loose ground wire. I pulled the 696 out of it's mount and checked the connections. Possibly a loose antenna connection. All of the version levels of software are good. So I put everything back together and prepare for a maintenance check flight. 

I decided to go north for a change and dialed in Zephyr Hills (KZPH).  Everything looked great during taxi and runup. An Icon A5 was in the pattern for touch and goes.The purple needle held strong on the HSI without flicker or fluctuation. We taxied to the hold short line and waited for arriving traffic. I watched the CHT start to climb as the second airplane (twin Beech) announced his turn from base to final.  I waited for him to clear as the CHT nudged up to 250°. I took the runway in front of a plane on a 3 mile final and departed to the north. We cooled down immediately. The purple needle was gone.

The clear blue sky had begun its Florida summer weather cycle. Puffy clouds had started to form at about 2000' so we climbed to get above them. The Tampa Class B has a shelf out here that starts at 3000' and goes up to 6000' so not much headroom to use today. I decided to go back down to 1500' to stay clear. It was beautiful trip up and down, dancing with the clouds.

The pattern at ZPH had a Cessna and an Autogyro practicing landings. I entered behind the Cessna on downwind. The landing was good and we turned off at the first taxiway. No purple needle. I taxied back, waited for a plane to depart, the Cessna to land and the Gyro to land, then made my departure to the east. This time I stayed below the puffy cumulous clouds that were continuing to build skyward.

We passed just under a bird.

The pattern was still busy at KVDF. I got in line behind a Civil Air Patrol (CAP) Cessna. A normal approach to a 5 Star landing. (The kind when it just "rolls" onto the runway.) 

Now, back to that GPS. Worked great once I taxied clear of RWY 5. 

Notes: I changed the camera setting to "wide" from "ultra zoom" and like the effect. Upgraded the firmware on the Virb cameras. I have the latest version of Camtasia and Virb Edit installed. 

Video notes: Happy

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Flight South

Paul bought a new plane. It had less than 200 hours on the Hobbs. But it was up in Wisconsin, Paul lives in Florida. It was my job to help him get it home. We planned the trip a few times. Weather made us cancel. It is really difficult to find a weather window that will allow VFR flight across the whole country. And then Irma got in the way.

But the weather window did finally open up. I flew United into O'Hare, John met me with the big ugly Suburban and we drove over to General Mitchel International to get Todd, then waited for a later flight to get Paul. We had dinner, made some plans and decided to get up before the crack of dawn to start flying his airplane home. Along the way I would act as safety pilot and provide some instruction on the SportCruiser.

Thursday September 28th.
The way home.

When the dawn came we were climbing into the plane. 0720 CDT, we took off into the sunrise and headed south. I was glad to find that Paul had a nice touch for the airplane already, gently holding the stick and punching the buttons for the electric trim as we headed toward Chicago. We climbed to 7500ft and found smooth air and...a tailwind. Just a few knots, but still helping us move along. Wow.

First stop was Mount Vernon, Illinois,  a nice airport and very friendly FBO. They host the Midwest LSA show and always welcome Light Sport Airplanes. We listened to the CTAF chatter as we approached counting at least three other airplanes in the pattern. The GPS said we coming up quickly but no field in sight. Ten miles, five miles, oops, right in front of us. How did that happen? Still 1000ft above pattern altitude we circled out to come back in,which forced us to be high and fast. Paul handled it well. Once he got slow enough to drop the flaps, he made the base turn, then when on final applied a slip. Round out and flare led to a nice landing. A great salvage to a horrible entry. We asked to top off the tanks, made a quick rest stop and got airborne again at 10:30 CDT.

The next stop was Auburn, Alabama, home of the War Eagle, the Plainsmen and Aubie the Tiger. This trip would take us through the controlled airspace (MOA) of Fort Campbell, the home to the only Air Assault Division in the world. The Dynon system gave us an alert that the MOA was hot and highlighted the airspace in orange. Soon after the controller asked us if we wanted to proceed east or west around the restricted airspace. Paul decided to go west and we were given a heading to stay clear. (Pushed the button to change the autopilot to Heading mode and adjusted 10° right. Just that easy.) Once clear of the airspace we were handed back to Memphis Center, and eventually over to Atlanta.  As we approached Auburn we started to see a lot of "black dots" on the Dynon SkyView display. The controller told us "multiple targets, squawk VFR, frequency change approved" and let us fight it out for ourselves. I think there were probably 6-10 "dots" in the pattern with more on the entry. We picked out one on downwind and Paul followed him around. He landed a bit long, but got us off at the right exit and promptly cleared the runway. Nice job. We asked to top off the tanks, made a quick rest stop and got airborne again at 2:25 CDT.

Preflighting a new airplane.
The final stop of the day was Tampa Executive Airport, Florida. Home. This trip had us encounter our first headwinds. Not bad, only a few knots, but enough to slow us down. Visibility was poor due to haze but smooth air made for enjoyable flying conditions. As we snuck below the Tampa Class B we cancelled Flight Following and made our way into the airport. Surprisingly, there were 2 or 3 in the pattern here, including a Piper Cub. Another safe landing and we taxied in toward the FBO. It was 6:45 EDT. We tied her down and headed home for some rest. Time for the trip was about 9.4 hours. A good days work.

Friday September 29th

I met Paul at the hotel and drove him to the airport. We did some preflight planning and found the weather was "marginal". A tropical disturbance in the Florida straights was sending crud (meteorological term) up into southern Florida. But we both decided that it was worth a "look see" and he departed about 10:00EDT heading south. I would get a text message later that he had diverted into Stuart (KSUA) to wait out some of the bad parts of the storm. (Good headwork.) He got his airplane home to Pompano (KPMP) by 1:00EDT.

What an Excellent learning experience!

So, we had a lot of time in a cockpit together. We talked about a lot of things, mostly aviation. We avoided politics. I'm delighted to have a new friend.

Not Sally.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Aftermath: Irma

We were fortunate. Being on the west side of the storm meant we didn't get nearly the damage those towns to the east got. Our electricity came back on in less than a day. While the power companies did a fantastic job, some places were without power or water for days. The keys were devastated.

It all looks good from 1500'.
On Tuesday, I drove north on Dover Road and found a few spots where water was rushing over the street about 10" deep. The traffic lights in Dover and Seffner on MLK were out. (Treat as a 4x stop and the guy on the right has priority) Lots of minor debris and a few mighty oaks were chain sawed out of the way. Lots of standing water on the side of the road. The road back to the airport is "rustic" and I was pleasantly surprised to find it clear. The airport was still in "lockdown mode" due to loss of electrical power. (Generators for essentials only. Hangar doors and security gates were down.) They assured me that no damage or flooding occurred on site. I'll feel better once I see Sally, but am comforted by the fact that the hangar was still there. The FBO promised me they would notify me when the power came back on.

I got the phone message Friday morning. This time all of the traffic lights worked on my trip to the airport. The major debris was piled on the side of the road and traffic was moving along normally. It was quiet at the airport as I pulled up in front of the hangar. I held my breath as I opened the door and turned on the lights.  All was well. I did a thorough preflight in the hangar and then pulled her out into the sunlight to get a better look. We were indeed fortunate.

There wasn't much traffic today. I heard nothing on the radios while I taxied out to RWY23. All ground operations were normal. After takeoff I headed southeast to overfly my house and planned to take pictures of the surrounding neighborhood. As I leveled at 1500' I saw a red lined running horizontally across the 696GPS. A pop up TFR? It ran right along Rt60 going out toward Lakeland. I hadn't seen this during my preflight planning. When I scrolled over the area the text said from surface to 18,000'. No neighborhood video today. I flew north instead.

I ran through a systems check and found that the autopilot wasn't capturing the GPS track. A few more checks found the GPS was intermittent on the HSI as well. I did a DSAB configuration check but it didn't clear the fault. Switching source to VOR did work correctly. I suspect a loose cable. A gripe to check during my next "Hangar Day"

The areas I flew over didn't look to be impacted by the storm. The view from 1500' can mask a lot of problems. I knew that there were some folks down there sweltering in hot homes without water. We were indeed fortunate this time.

Video: Aftermath

Wednesday, September 13, 2017


We watched in horror at the devastation Harvey brought to Texas. While the winds were brutal the flooding was the real killer. At first reports, Irma wasn't going to develop into a major storm and its track probably wouldn't impact the United States. It would NOT be another Harvey. The forecast soon began to change. It would grow to be a major storm and would probably hit Florida, and it would become one of the strongest storms in the state's history.
After the storm formed, it intensified quickly. In the span of 24 hours, Irma became a hurricane with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph. The storm then idled as it moved west across the Atlantic — before warmer waters gave it another growth spurt.

On Monday, Sept. 4, Irma's sustained winds were 120 mph. On Sept. 5, they were 185 mph, with gusts of 213 mph. When it finally hit land, it devastated Barbuda, St. Martin and other Leeward islands with direct hits, and brought massive flooding to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Reference here
We had to make a decision. What options to consider:

  1. Bug out. We have family in Atlanta so we could "batten down the hatches", leave Florida until the crisis passed, staying safe away from the storm.
  2. Stay in place. It would greatly depend on where this beast was going. If it stayed on the Atlantic side of the Florida peninsula the likely damage to us would be minimal. 
  3. Sally is in a hangar. I've seen too many pictures of beautiful airplanes trapped in collapsed hangars. The FBO assured me that my hangar could withstand a Category 3 storm. This monster would become a Category 5! I could fly her far away from the storm, up to Atlanta and wait it out there. No hangar available so she would need to be securely tied down on the line.
We watched the news. We gathered recommendations.
Dave, if you have a chance to get away from the storm, take it. I stayed through a cat 3 because of staying for the hospital. But never again. I would stay for a cat 1, but even that is not very smart. We ended up with 7 feet of water in the house. In the process of cleaning up now. ~ My friend Duane from Texas
Take your plane and get the hell out of Dodge. Head up to Auburn, Ala at least. ~ My friend JW 
I would strongly advise, get out of Fl. Not the storm I worry about, the aftermath and lack of infrastructure. ~ My friend Todd
The news was uncertain so we made our plans on the best available forecast. On Wednesday Sept 6th  I wrote this note:

It is still too early to tell what this monster is going to do. Earlier this morning we had some "positive" news that the forecast projected (spaghetti models) an eastward track to go up the Atlantic side of the state. However, this is still only a guess. We continue to monitor the weather stations and will have a better sense of reality Thursday evening.

Our plans, given current best guess:

1.) Stay in Tampa. Fuel the cars, buy all groceries and plan for power outages. We will remove all debris from outside and move Kathy's car into the garage. The truck will weather the storm. Sally is in a hangar. I do not plan to relocate her. Should the hangar fail the insurance company will buy a 2010 PiperSport. 
2.) After Thursday, if the forecast dictates that we must leave, we will evacuate to Atlanta. In that case, I expect massive prolonged power outages and chaos in Florida. We will monitor conditions until it is safe for us to return.
But the forecast was still uncertain on Friday morning.

"For 10 days, computer-forecast models had struggled with how the high was going to push Irma around and when it was going to stop, said Peter Sousounis, director of meteorology at AIR Worldwide. “I have never watched a forecast more carefully than Irma. I was very surprised not by how one model was going back and forth -- but by how all the models were going back and forth.”  Reference here

Evidently, the science of forecasting isn't as robust as we thought it was. The models continued to move the forecast west. Mandatory evacuations for south Florida put millions of cars on the Interstates going north. Traffic was crawling at 5 mph in many places. Gas became a problem.

We could still fly Sally to get away, but where? The forecast didn't help. I could take her out of a safe hangar only to tie her down in the direct path of the storm. This was a very difficult Go/No Go decision.

No Go. We "hunkered down" and waited out Hurricane Irma. She arrived on Sunday, September 10th.
Close miss. We live about 5 miles west of the track.
    Reference: "Again, it could have been a lot worse than it was. I think Harvey, the impact Harvey had on Texas was probably worse than Irma. But you know, these disasters, there's nothing you can do about them." Joe Bastardi. See video here