Monday, January 25, 2016

Sebring - 2016

2016 US Sport Aviation Expo
The shuttle van took a few minutes to transport me from the transient ramp to the entrance of the show. I sat in the front seat and talked about Florida living with the driver. He had come down to enjoy to the longer tennis season. We all have our reasons.

It was a $20 entrance fee for the day, discounted if you are an AOPA or EAA member. The Welcome Booth sits just inside that gate and the volunteers were smiling and happy to give out brochures. The sun was shining and the temperatures were in the mid 60s, just perfect for an airshow.

I walked past the yellow re-imagined C150 and the SeaRey, noticed the mockup for the M.V.P. amphib on the other side of the ramp and made my way down to US Sport Aircraft. Patrick had 2 airplanes on display and one in the demonstration area. Sally has some beautiful sisters. The tail feathers are a little different, the nose strut has been improved, but the real change is the Dynon Skyview system.  I met Oscar, a Facebook friend and we had a chance to talk about life and flying for awhile. I also had a chance to talk with Jim and his very successful flight school in NJ. He has picked up some Sport Pilots from eastern PA since I left.

I had my SportCruiser T-Shirt on so it was assumed I could answer questions, so I did. "I've looked at The Evector SportStar, and The BRM Aero Bristelle. Why should I buy this airplane?" "Well," I said, "they are all good airplanes designed by the same person. Each a low wing, all metal aircraft with a high visibility bubble canopy. They have similar weights and speeds. Prices are different but they are all good value for the dollar. I would say the real difference is SUPPORT. While I can't speak for the other companies, US Sport Aircraft has always treated me well and I would not hesitate recommending them to any prospective LSA buyer." He thanked me and as he was leaving I said, "but regardless of your choice, go flying. The longer you wait making a decision, the more time you've wasted on the ground."

I left to go over to the FBO to make arrangements for fuel. Volo Aviation was charging $4/gal, a good price for 100LL. I also noted where the Lockwood Aviation hangar was located so that when I make arrangements for my 500 hour rubber replacement I'll have an idea where I'm going. Then I walked back to the display area and over to the hangars to listen to some lectures. These are always helpful and provide a wealth of information, but along the way I found Dr Seti. I had some CFI questions and needed his sage advice again.

Next I walked through the exhibit hall, and though tempted was able to keep my wallet in my pocket. By this time I was hungry so passed by the Gyro cart and went to the food shack for a chicken sandwich and sweet tea for lunch. ($10) I sat at a picnic table with members of The Villages Flying Club. Flying out of different local airports, the club of over 300 meets once a month to plan Florida excursions. Most are "Snowbirds", so we did talk about the poor devils suffering with snow storm Jonas.

N674PS on Final
A few more airplanes to look at. A few more Facebook friends to meet. On my way to the exit gate I made a stop to say hello to Jamie. He was securing his tie downs anticipating the foul weather approaching. It was time to go.

Sally started easily. We had an uneventful departure and easy flight home. We arrived at KVDF in time to watch a pretty sunset.

Video Notes: KSEF Departure

*We chose a good day to attend. Friday and Saturday were bad weather days. We got the southern tip of the front that was driving Jonas and it delivered high gusty winds and an abundance of cold driving rain.

Expo Notes: Thursday and Beyond

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Lake Jackson Arrival - Sebring

2016 Expo
I chose poorly. I thought the early morning rush hour traffic northbound on I75 would be bad so decided to take US301. This worked well to get out of the Parrish vicinity, but soon I was trapped behind a school bus. It probably added 15 minutes to my commute.

When I got to the airport it was marginal VFR conditions. No wind, no ceiling, just 7 miles visibility in haze. I checked my smartphone to see if the conditions persisted along my route. They did. I started my preflight.

I'm glad I had given Sally a good cleaning. She still looks good for her age. It takes a little extra time to remove all of the plugs and covers but they really help to keep her healthy. (I do miss having a hangar.) The preflight went well.

I checked the weather again and most of the local airports were "green", indicating VFR conditions. It took a few extra cranks to get her started but she quickly smoothed out and ran fine. Winds were calm but traffic was calling for RWY23. The taxi would give us time to warm up the engine. The runup was normal. I set Lake Jackson in my 696 as my first waypoint, followed by Sebring as my final destination. A King Air and a Seneca landed as I was holding short. The take off had me flying toward the City of Tampa and the beautiful bay beyond. Visibility was just fine. It was a very good day to fly.

NOTAM for arrival
We leveled at 1500'. I did my checklist, pushed the button and let Sally fly for awhile. Other than a few high cell towers Florida is pretty flat. After awhile I tuned in the frequency to start listening for the Lake Jackson arrival as specified in the NOTAM. Florida has an abundance of lakes so it could be easy to get confused (and some pilots were) about which lake was Jackson. It was easy for us thanks to the modern technology.
Approaching the water tower

When it was my turn I followed the western shore line around to the water tower. But there was some confusion about which of the two airplanes was Sally. "Rock your wings." I love that. We were in the lead and headed for Sebring.

We flew directly over the airport for a right downwind and tower called our base turn. Tight and short, I immediately put in full left rudder and started my slip. Sally scolded me on it for the high sink rate. (She also let me know that the fuel had sloshed away in the left tank.) It resulted with a beautiful landing on centerline. As directed we took the first right and looked for the large ""X". Then we taxied to the east ramp, which may have been in a different county. There were about a dozen planes parked on the ramp.

The golf cart came by to transport me to the shuttle van.. "That sure is a pretty airplane!"

Video Notes: Lake Jackson Arrival

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

A Small Triangle

Mid January, bitter cold temperatures but time to go flying. "Bitter cold" is a relative term. It dropped into the high 40's overnight, but was nearly 60 °F at 10:00am as I drove to the airport. No frozen hangar doors to worry about, I wore a light sweatshirt instead of a heavy coat. Snow and ice are not in our forecast.

Sunshine Skyway Bridge
The weather looked good for the entire route. There were some scattered low clouds to the east but I anticipated they would be gone by the time I got airborne. I've added a new weather site to my standard briefing. Just by chance, I heard a weather advisory for the Skyway Bridge. In addition to small craft advisory for boats, this seems like a good review for surface winds in the local area.

I noticed that Wawa is selling ethanol free gas. Unfortunately it is only the "Plus" octane. I'll keep checking to see if they bump it up to premium.

Sally looked good but somewhat dirty. I'm really glad to have all of the plugs and covers to protect her from the elements. The birds seem to use her wings for target practice, much like they did in the hangar at Butter Valley. I'll have to think about some kind of wing covers. The nasty part of the preflight today was cleaning away all of the spider webs. I wrapped my hand in a used Walmart bag and brushed away the webs from the tie down ropes, the prop covers and engine cowling. Then I pulled her into the sun to do the rest of the preflight. No problems found.

This would be a simple flight. Just a small "round robin" to get me away from KVDF and see some nearby airports. However this is complicated airspace. The Tampa Class "B" is very irregular with many steps and the coverage is far from being circular. In addition there are numerous Class "D" airports that go over 2500'. I opted not to use Flight Following. I'm thankful for my 696.

She started easily and for the first time this year I taxied out to the runway at our new home. We drove over to the run up area for Rwy05 and waited for the oil temperature to rise to the minimum. It was turning into a beautiful day and as we waited a Cessna Citation called to announce his intent to taxi from the FBO. I responded as number two behind him so as not delay his departure. Besides, I had a front row seat to watch a beautiful airplane take off. He was gone in an instant and probably passing 10,000' by the time I took the runway. Mindful of wake turbulence I took off a bit early and drifted to the upwind side of the runway immediately. No issues, I did my checklist after leveling at 1500' for my short flight over to Zephyrhills.
This airport has a long history of skydiving, possibly the longest continuous history of skydiving at any U.S. airport. Skydive City, Inc., founded in 1990, operates a skydiving center, or drop zone, on the southeast side of the airport.
A small triangle
 "Jumpers Away". I would be joining two other airplanes in the pattern as well as the jump plane using a separate runway. I came in wide to give myself a good long 45° entry and took the number two position behind a Cessna 172. While keeping interval on him, I watched the jumpers come in for their landings. The visibility from the PiperSport (and her sister SportCruisers) is amazing, and at a busy airport with jumpers it really helps with situation awareness. This is a busy little field. I like it.

I very nice landing! (I think the water landings helped.) We taxied back and held number two behind another LSA. I had the opportunity to watch another band of skydivers make their landings on the other side of the field. We took off and departed to the east enroute to Winter Haven. 1500' felt very comfortable. I enjoyed seeing the familiar sights along I4, including the "Fantasy of Flight" museum.
Winter Haven's Gilbert Airport is a city-owned, public-use airport located three nautical miles (6 km) northwest of the central business district of Winter Haven, a city in Polk County, Florida, United States. It is owned by the City of Winter Haven.[1] It is also known as Winter Haven Municipal Airport or Gilbert Field. Jack Browns Seaplane Base is located adjacent to the airport, connected by a taxiway.
Enjoying the view
The pattern took us right over Jack Brown's Seaplane Base. I enjoyed it seeing again, even if from a different perspective. I immediately looked at the surface of the lake to determine wind direction then refocused on my pattern at KGIF.  Another nice landing and immediate taxi back for takeoff. This time we would climb up high, 2800' to stay clear for the Lakeland Class "D" airspace.

The trip home was uneventful except for the scenery.  Florida is beautiful. Lakes and waterways are everywhere, cities rise up to decorate the horizon and even at low altitudes you can see forever. I really like landing on RWY36. Right next to a canal, the downwind points right at metropolitan Tampa. This is a wonderful place to fly.

Video Notes: Zephyrhills

Thursday, December 17, 2015

I nailed the glassy

I left Sally at her comfortable covered tie down spot in Tampa and drove the 70 miles to Winterhaven, Florida. I arrived before sunset, checked into the hotel and then immediately drove the ten minutes over to the seaplane base. I wanted to be sure I knew the way to insure I wouldn't be late for my ground school class starting at 7:30 am the next morning. The sun was setting behind a Piper Cub on floats. This was paradise.

First let me stress that his is NOT a trivial undertaking. There are many new complex ideas to be understood, lots of new terminology, and a totally new airplane to be learned. I was back in the student role once again and climbing the learning curve at my age just isn't as easy as it once was. Fortunately, Jon Brown has put together an excellent organization and his instructors and staff are all top notch. It was a fantastic experience.

The iconic Piper Cub is just a joy to fly. My first challenge was to climb into the machine. Although I got better at it, there is just no graceful way to get into the back seat. Once the instructor climbs in the forward visibility is gone. The student is left with some triangular slices of windscreen on either side of the instructors head, the tachometer on the left and altimeter on the right. Quite a change from the plethora of colorful information provided from Sally's panel. But it is enough. Look outside. Pick reference points. Look at the relationship of the wing to the horizon. Vx, Vy, V anything is 60kts. VSI is your gut. Inclinometer is your butt. Glorious. I love this plane.

The airport is nearly any lake you can see, and there are thousands of lakes in Florida. The runway is now a "Lane" and it can be in any direction. You land into the wind. Simple, but not easy. Gone is your primary reference, the asphalt runway with centerline and numbers. How do you determine the wind? How do you fly a good downwind? How do you handle different surface conditions?

The most challenging landing for me was the "Glassy Surface". When the water is smooth you lose all depth perception. The closest analogy is landing at night without a landing light, but even this comparison fails because the runway lights are there for peripheral vision. This is truly flying on faith into a black hole. The technique used is to set a pitch and power configuration at an "LVR" (Last Visual Reference) and wait (patiently) for the airplane to land. My brief summary makes it sound simple, it isn't.

I still get "check-itis". Sitting down in the office with Jon and taking the oral exam is an experience in itself. Fair but firm, he probed each area to insure I had at least the minimum amount of knowledge. I was worried that too many times my response was "I don't know", but finally he said let's go fly.

He wasted no time. One maneuver to the next in rapid succession. Some went well, some others didn't. My crosswind landing was lousy. When we walked back in I didn't know and he gave no indication. "Let's debrief in my office." It was an acceptable flight. He said I was safe. "...and you nailed the glassy."

So now I am a Single Engine Seaplane pilot with a license to learn.

Jack Brown's Seaplane Base

Friday, December 4, 2015

Monday, November 2, 2015


Nearly a month since we had flown. Too long. I stopped by the FBO to get the pin to access the south gate, then drove out to the line to park near Sally. She looked lonely baking in the Florida sun, but I would take care of that today.

Localization 1: to become familiar with the local airport, its normal operations, ground procedures, and traffic patterns. I had printed out the Airport Directory page from AOPA and studied it before turning the key. The winds were out of the south east, a "fielders choice"  between RWY 18 or RWY 5. Sally started easily. A ROTAX likes to be warm. No one was currently in the pattern so I chose 18 and announced I would leave the ramp area and take taxiway Alpha to get there.  I noticed tents were up on the other side of the canal and wondered what event was taking place. Before I locked the canopy I heard cheers from the crowd.

Sally was running great with well over 4900RPM static check. We lifted off and corrected left for about 8kts of crosswind. I looked down at the canal and found a Regatta taking place; sculls racing along the waterway. A beautiful sight,  I turned crosswind once over the interstate. Field elevation is only 20ft, so I leveled at 1000ft for my downwind leg. There is a special kind of joy that comes with flying the landing pattern at a new home field, and I love the new sights from this airport. I'm anxious to explore but today was devoted to learning this airport.

A float plane announced his entry and said the crosswind was a bit stiff for him and would take RWY 5 instead. No problem, I adjusted my pattern to enter midfield for RWY5 and practice some landings with the winds from my right.

It was a great workout. I logged 6 and all felt good. (Two were great!, one was too high and I had to slip her in.) I taxied back to our new tie down the shade. Not a hangar but at least protected from the sun. (and the snow won't be much of a problem.) A good sized lock box allows me to store cleaning supplies and other essentials. I like it.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Home Coming

I wanted to get some more flights in but my travel schedule, the Pennsylvania weather and finally a visit by the Pope kept me on the ground. I really regret not getting one more flight in with Mark. He'll do well with another instructor. All of my students will.

My plan was to fly to the SportCruiser/PiperSport Home Coming in Addison on October 2nd, then travel to Tampa from there the following week. Hurricane Joaquin changed my plans. The foul weather wasn't directly associated with Joaquin, but the low pressure system over Pennsylvania was locked in place until the hurricane moved out to sea. Winds for the weekend were forecast to hit 40 mph. Mike found me a hangar and I spent the weekend warm and dry.

A direct route would take me down the east coast into what was left of the storms, and South Carolina, which was really hit hard  by the never ending rains, would not be a very good host. I decided to stay west of the Appalachians and travel south as soon as feasible. The original plan looked like:

UKT - USW - RVN - HQU - X60 - VDF

About 8:00am Monday morning, preflight complete and looking at beautiful blue skies I turned the crank. hmmm. Turned the crank. Rested, checked everything and turned the crank again. The blades spun but no pop. First time ever, I flooded her. After 20 minutes or so I tried again (choke off) and after a sputter she came to life. ahhhh.

A late start but I got a pleasant surprise at 6500ft, a tailwind. Passing Harrisburg I started recalculating my destination. After notifying Flight Following that I would change my destination I settled in to reset the GPS. Browsing the AOPA directory I found that my new fuel stop didn't have any fuel. Back to inflight flight planning. Another airport chosen, but this time I checked first, again no fuel. One more time and I found Lonesome Pine.

A beautiful airport in the extreme southwestern corner of Virginia, it is primarily a corporate airfield used by the coal industry as a place to check on local mining operations. A single engine piston is kind of a rarity. They treated me as something special. As I checked on the weather further south I was disappointed to find IFR conditions all the way to Tampa. I might get another hundred miles but it would be marginal. At Klnp the airport manager offered me a crew car, helped with reservations at a local hotel and offered free hangar space. I stayed the night.

I woke up to fog. I took a leisurely breakfast, put some gas in the Jeep and headed back to the airport. By the time I got there it was blue sky with wispy mist laying on the farmers fields. The weather briefer said I could get down into Georgia but after that there would be low clouds. Not advisable for VFR. I decided to travel as far south as Atlanta then stop and take a look.

The clouds filled the valleys of  Tennessee and brushed up against the mountains around Asheville. I wondered if I was Sport Pilot legal? I had good ground reference with the peaks but directly below was a solid undercast. The controller lost me for awhile and asked or a position report. I love my 696. NRST/VOR immediately gave the radial and distance to the nearest VOR. I was advised to stay clear of the Asheville Class C and did so with a minor track correction to the west. By the time I crossed the Georgia border the clouds had disappeared and it seemed to be turning into a nice VFR kind of day. I took on fuel at Milledgeville.

The weather there was great. Tampa showed 3500ft broken and improving, but in between was a solid low layer of clouds. I would be VFR on Top, a Private Pilot once again. With full tanks I had over 2 hours reserve but I get that "twinge" flying above a solid deck knowing that Sally and I are not IFR current should I need to get down. Passing Gainesville I started to see some holes again, and by the time we reached Ocala it was time to descend to avoid the tops that were reaching up to touch us. Florida is flat. I was comfortable at 2500ft for the final leg of the trip. I prepared for the arrival at KVDF.

"N674PS if you can hear me turn NOW!" I over powered the autopilot and turned sharply to the right. I must have missed his first call. Another plane at the same altitude on opposite heading got the controllers attention. I looked back through the little window and watched him pass by. Thank you Flight Following.

A very nice landing at Tampa Executive (I need to find out about the history...recently called Vandenberg) and as I pulled into the visitors tie down space the linesman asked how long I intended to stay. "Oh, about ten years." Welcome home, Sally.