Thursday, November 14, 2019

Learning to Land a PiperSport

Fog. Low ceilings. Gusty wind. Broken Airplane.Student unavailable. CFI unavailable. All of these "reason codes" kept me on the ground for a month. Finally, we had a "Go" day.

It was a "BIS" (Back In the Saddle") Flight so I wanted to make it an easy flight for the student to recover the feel of the airplane. Skip had previously been based at Peter O. Knight (KTPF) just south of Tampa and north of MacDill AFB. So I decided to let him fly me to a familiar airport.

Peter O. Knight Airport is an airport on Davis Islands, five minutes from downtown Tampa, Florida. Built as a Works Progress Administration project, it was Tampa's main airport from 1935 to 1945, and is still used by general aviation operators today because of its proximity to the central city. The airport was named for prominent attorney and businessman Peter O. Knight, namesake of Holland & Knight.
Tampa's annual Gasparilla Pirate Fest- a Mardi Gras-like festival held in January, includes a Pirate Flotilla that sails up the channel into Tampa - the symbolic beginning of the Pirate's reign over the city. The flotilla passes directly alongside the airport, making the airport an ideal viewing area for this event.

The winds were from the south so we took off already heading in the right direction. I told him to stay to the east side of I75 until we were ready to cross the bay. Since we would be under the Class B shelf I reminded him to stay under 1200Ft.

I learned something. I thought you had to be in contact with ATC to be tracked on FlightAware. Nope. We went from one "uncontrolled" airport to another and only made our normal position reports. No ATC. I was surprised to find this:
Be careful out there. Don't bust any airspace. Somebody IS watching!

We did a few landings then departed to the west toward Plant City. We practiced a Simulated engine failure (3Ps) then headed for home. A VERY nice landing back at home plate.

He's gettin' it.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Quality time with Sally

The student was "No-Show". He had looked at the weather and decided there was no way I would let him fly with Tropical Storm Nester bearing down on us. His text message failed and I assumed he was on his way to the airport. Never assume.

So the preflight was done. I had a good hour of useable fuel. The winds were light out of the north and the cold front had dropped our Florida Autumn Temperatures by about 10 degrees. I taxied from the ramp to the run-up area for RWY5 then waited my turn to get into the pattern.

Two busy flight schools keep the airport busy. Add in some Police helicopters and a few corporate jets and the pattern can get downright interesting.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Spongy Brakes

One of my more advanced students started to complain about weak brakes as we taxied back in after a flight. I took the airplane, checked brake pressure and found nothing abnormal. Later, another student lodged the same complaint. We had practiced simulated aborted takeoffs and I attributed the problem to hot brakes. Again, when I took the airplane there seemed to be nothing wrong. When another student complained I knew I was missing something. I took the LEFT seat to taxi back to the hangar after the debrief and found out the right brake was spongy.
I learned that the two independent brake systems have their master cylinders behind the rudder pedals on the pilot side (#1 & #2).  This means the reservoir can get low on the pilot's side before I notice a problem in the right seat. There isn't a common brake reservoir to simply add fluid. Fluid must be pumped in from the low spot in the system.

I needed to assemble some parts to make a kit to add fluid to the right brake system. The first step was to get some kind of a "pressure pot" to push the fluid into the system from the lowest point. Certus lent me theirs, a sophisticated version of a garden pump sprayer. ACE Hardware had everything else.

Problem:  As I tried to loosen the valve it wouldn't budge. More pressure started to loosen the entire fitting so I held that in place with another wrench. I applied more pressure and it gave. Unfortunately, it sheared the valve off.
Fortunately, it was broken in the shut position but I now had to get another valve. Ace Hardware doesn't carry them. Certus does. FedEx delivered it this morning.

The replacement was easy. The original fitting replaced, I tested the valve to insure it worked properly and was relieved to see a drop of fluid when I loosened the valve.

The trick is to get the fluid started into the system then check the brake reservoir to see it get filled. I lined the cockpit floor with rags, opened the valve and stood by the cockpit watching bubbles come out of the vent hole on top of the cylinder. In a few moments, I had a steady stream of fluid spilling over on my rags so shut the valve.

I sat in the left seat and pushed on the toe brake. Good.

I cleaned everything up and did a thorough preflight. I pulled Sally out and checked the right brake for any drips. The taxi test went well. I did a full runup without issue. Then taxied back to the hangar and checked again. No runs, no leaks, no errors.

I put Sally back on the flight schedule.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Check Ride

The weather hasn't been good. While that's bad for all students it's particularly difficult for students nearing the end of their training. These students need to keep a particularly sharp edge and cancellations allow some rust to set in.  Last week we canceled once but did a Mock Check Ride stressing the Oral Exam. This week we canceled Tuesday, canceled Thursday and flew early Friday before the "reverse flow" thunderstorms hit. We practiced a few maneuvers and got a solid landing in. Saturday we finished the preflight and weather briefing and waited for the mist to dissipate delaying our 8:00 AM take off. We called the Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) to let him know we would wait for VFR then be on our way.

It was less than an hour's flight up to Marion County. Low clouds along the way kept us at 1500' and we made a few course corrections to avoid the virga. There was some traffic in the pattern already as we listened on CTAF. Bruce made a normal pattern entry and a nice landing on RWY23. Troy was waiting at the FBO as we taxied up. Bruce secured the airplane and I shook his hand, wished him luck as he exited the airplane. The start of another adventure.

Troy toured us through the small building then gathered the necessary paperwork and talked with us as he pecked away at the computer. He explained the process then invited me to wait in the Pilot's Lounge as he closed the door behind me. The Oral Exam started at 9:00 AM.

As I waited alone in the lounge I thought about what we had done together. He had some prior time in a Cessna but we essentially started from scratch. An overview of my syllabus is:

  1. Introduction/high work. Ground procedures. Basics of flight, slow flight and stalls, steep turns.
  2. Low work. Ground reference maneuvers
  3. Landing pattern. Circuits and emergencies. Ground school complete, Knowledge test taken
  4. Solo
  5. Cross Country. Planning, diversions, soft field, short field techniques. More emergencies
  6. Night Flight. Even for Light Sport guys, this is an important awareness.
  7. Final requirements. Mock Check Ride flight(s).
  8. Check Ride
They came out of the room at 10:30 AM. Thumbs up. The clouds were rolling in. Bruce did a weather check, it was still VFR. Troy was willing to go. They went out to preflight Sally. For me waiting in the lounge, it took forever. The engine started at 10:50 AM.

The weather channel was on TV. The flight home could be interesting. Outside the broken clouds were building into monsters. It was hot. It was humid. I was sure that Bruce was roasting. Finally, I could see Sally in the pattern. I couldn't see the runway but they obviously did a go-around. Was that good or bad? I waited. A long wait and they taxied back in. Engine shut down at 12:10 PM.

The debrief was concise. Bruce had done well. I asked the new Aviator to check the weather and asked Troy for feedback. Bruce had no weakness with the oral. He mentioned two things that I could stress in my syllabus:

  1. S-turns: Bruce was rusty but did well once he got set up. I should review all PTS information on the low work (my #2) before the check-ride.
  2. Short Field Takeoff (my #5): He wanted to see the transition from ground effect to Vx to Vy more clearly.
I can do that.

We all agreed that we should be having fun doing this. It is hard work, expensive, and on days like this very stressful. But it should always be fun.

The flight home had us maneuver around some strong rain cells but was otherwise uneventful. I got in some SIC time.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

A Solo X-Country Flight

Requirement: 1 solo cross country flight of at least 150nm total distance with full-stop landings at 3 points and one segment of at least 50nm between T/O and landings

We got up an hour early to avoid the tempermental Florida weather. The weather "Guessers" had said we could expect a "reverse flow" today, which means the thunderstorms start in the morning instead of the afternoons. At 5:00 AM everything looked good, but there was some convection offshore in the gulf. TAFs said not to expect them until afternoon. I gave the "Go" and planned for an 8:00 AM departure.

Preflight Completed.
Sally was in good shape. I added just a bit of oil to bring it up to 3/4s, cleaned the canopy and added 5 gallons to bring it up to about 25 gallons total. Leo arrived at about 7:00 AM. We briefed the flight and let him loose. He was airborne at 8:00 AM.

I listened to my handheld radio while sitting in my truck. I enjoyed a hot cup of coffee and snacked on Belvetta crackers. I checked the weather on my phone. Checked the time. Checked the weather. Mostly flight school planes in the pattern today. Hmmm, little puffy low cumulus clouds were starting to form over Tampa. His enroute weather still looked good. Metars and TAFs were still good. What time is it? More coffee.

Then he reported in just 5 miles south. (Ahead of schedule.) I got to watch my student complete a MAJOR accomplishment in my airplane.

The debrief was great. The excitement just popping as he told the stories of his adventure. General Aviation at its best. Not a perfect flight, but a good one. Experience gained, lessons learned.

Good job Leo. Good job Sally.

Today was the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, the longest cross country that was ever done by mankind. "Pilots take no special joy in walking. Pilots like flying." Neil Armstrong

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Albert Whitted Airport

The airport is named for Lieutenant James Albert Whitted, USNR, a St. Petersburg native. Albert was one of the U.S. Navy's first 250 Naval Aviators, commissioned at age 24 just as the United States entered World War I in 1917. He served as chief instructor of advanced flying at NAS Pensacola, Florida and was later assigned to Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Leaving active duty, he returned home in 1919 and introduced the people of St. Petersburg to flying. Albert would take people up in the "Bluebird", a plane he designed and built. He never charged for the flights. Albert's aerial maneuvers always left spectators in awe. Albert also designed and built the "Falcon". The Falcon and Bluebird were used in a commercial flying business he had with his brother, Clarence. On August 19, 1923, James Albert Whitted and four passengers were killed during a flight near Pensacola aboard the Falcon when the propeller broke off. The city's airport, known until then as Cook-Springstead tracks, was renamed Albert Whitted Airport on 12 October 1928. ~ Wikipedia

I usually get to the airport about an hour or before flight time to do the preflight and make sure I have any materials I need for the training flight. Then I pull Sally out, put the truck in the hangar, close the doors and taxi over to the FBO to meet with the student. During the taxi today two airplanes were in the runup area for RWY05, a Seneca and a C712. The Cessna asked to go first and went out to the hold short line. The Seneca alerted him that a seat belt was hanging out the (pilot side) door. How does that happen?

The weather was supposed to be perfect. It wasn't. By 9:00 AM the low scud was already moving across the bay and soon the scattered layer would turn to broken. The visibility was less than 10 miles, my guess would be no more than 7. No horizon. We took off to the north and climbed to about 1000ft. Then traveled south from KVDF by VFR reference to the ground staying east of I75 and well clear of my "nightmare towers" (1667ft). We crossed the bay near the smokestacks at Apollo Beach and couldn't see the other side. It's about 10 miles across at that point. Leo contacted the tower at KSPG and was given a heading of 270°. We could hear some other fliers out today but we didn't see any of them. At 4 miles Tower asked if we could see the lake (Maggiore) at our 2 o'clock? We were directed to fly over that lake and use it as a right base for RWY07.

I wish I had my cameras on because the final provides a beautiful shot of downtown Tampa. It's a little intimating to see that the runway ends at the bay. Don't land long. Leo did well.

The return trip was uneventful until we got to the pattern at home field. It was a training morning and a lot of students were learning to fly. Wide and long. I wanted to tell them to tighten it up but didn't. We did two go-arounds before we were finally done for the day.

A good day for flying.

Friday, June 14, 2019

We went Flying today!

Maybe the title of this post doesn't mean much to you but for me, it was a big deal. Let me explain. Two weeks ago I made my normal 6:30 AM checks for a 9:00 AM Flight Lesson. Weather was marginal but Bruce is an advanced student and I was sure we could accomplish what I had planned. Something came up so he couldn't make it. The plane was ready, I was ready so I took the slot for my self.

Ducati Voltage Rectifier
The flight up to Zephyrhills was good. A bit choppy under the low clouds and visibility was about 7-8 miles in mist. Winds were light and southerly so the landing was on RWY23 (RH Pattern). Meat Missiles were in the air so I did a 360° before entering on the 45°. I landed in front of an Autogyro and watched him make a simulted engine failure landing as I taxied back. Looked like fun. As I approached the hold short line, the jump plane called on short final to land on RWY01. I had a front-row seat to the airshow today!

Sally and I departed to the south to head back to KVDF. As I began to set up my entry to RWY23 the winds changed to northerly so we switched to RWY05. Light traffic at home field allowed for easy pattern work. As I announced my exit Sally alerted me to low voltage.

Aaah, Leo had told me that he had experienced low voltage indications during his last solo. I suspected that the voltage rectifier was failing. I taxied back to the south hangars and put Sally away. It was 95°F at noon.

I ordered a new voltage rectifier from Certus. It would be my 5th replacement since new. A better device is available but hasn't been approved by Czech Sport Aviation for use in their S-LSA fleet. Too bad.

The next day the low-pressure system arrived. It had a cold/warm/stationary front and trough attached to it that made weather on the Florida west coast unflyable. The normal afternoon showers arrived offshore at sunrise with low cumulus clouds that would build into thunderstorms by mid-morning. Individual cells would roam the peninsula until sunset. Two weeks of flights were canceled. I replaced the part, cleaned up the new canopy guides, polished the paint and did other chores waiting for the weather to improve.

Today I got to fly with Joe on his first lesson. The weather wasn't great but we were able to get in some practice on the fundamentals and a little bit of taxi practice after landing.

He did well. I felt great. Sally was happy with her voltage.