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

    Sunday, September 3, 2017

    Behind the Power Curve


    I've heard about this one since the time I started flying. "Don't get behind the power curve." Every airplane has a power curve. And every power curve has a backside. It's an area of the performance envelope in which induced drag rises dramatically, necessitating considerably more power to maintain a given airspeed and altitude.

    So what?

    I've been following a post by Rod Machado on Facebook in which he has taken issue with the FAA for changing the test requirements for flying at minimum controllable airspeed.
    Isn't it ironic that the FAA wants all pilots to have better stick-and-rudder skills while, at the same time, it dumbs down the flying skills required to obtain a pilot certificate? In case you've been in the Himalayas practicing chants with the Maharaji for the past year, the private pilot ACS no longer requires a demonstration of flight at minimum controllable airspeed. Same with the commercial ACS, but the FAA goes a bit further in dumbing down pilot skills in this document. The link is here.

    Which brings us back to the Power Curve.

    My airplane doesn't have a stall warning claxon. The pilot must figure out (on his own) if she is getting into a situation where she might stall. It is pretty obvious with a PiperSport. As I reduce airspeed (by reducing power), the controls become mushy, the wind noise increases and she desperately wants to descend. Unless you forcefully increase the Angle of Attack she'll just mush along in a slow descent. If she does stall it is a very gentle nose over, seldom dropping one wing or the other. Recovery is to let the nose drop and add power.

    But what if I held my altitude by adding power as I raised the nose? At high enough AoA I could fly at a slower speed by increasing power. See how the red line on the graph starts to bend up on the left as you get close to minimum airspeed? Flying slower by increasing power. That's the "back side of the curve".

    So what?
    You’re on final, and see you’re losing altitude. The VASI lights are all red. The trees are getting closer. It’s clear that on your present approach path you’re on target to land well short of the runway. In an attempt to arrest the descent and set things right, you add power and raise the nose.

    Bad move. You’re still sinking, even though you’ve gone to full power in what is now a desperate effort to climb. Welcome to what’s commonly known as the back side of the power curve, or the “region of reversed command.” It’s not a happy place, and it’s worth a review of some basics in order to avoid it. These basics have to do with the relationship between drag and power. The link is here.
    Finally a break in the weather pattern for central Florida. Sally really need some exercise and I wanted to experiment with the power curve. After takeoff we flew over to the training area near Kidney Lake. Smooth air and good visibility and all of the instruments were green. I always like to start with a few steep turns (45°) and use them for clearing turns.

    This "back side power theory" seems to work. Try it for yourself, just not on final.

    Video: The Backside of the Power Curve.

    Friday, August 18, 2017

    48X - Airport Manatee

    Florida summer weather, I woke just before the sun came up to check the computer for my daily forecast. Blue sky in the morning, clouds developing by noon, thunderstorms later in the day, the same forecast I've seen all summer long. One variable was mist or fog in the early hours, which we had today. It would burn off by our ETD of 9:00am. Marcel called as I was on my in to the airport. I had started the commute early to get ahead of the school buses and wanted to get a jump on the preflight. I confirmed that it was a "Go".

    He arrived before the preflight was completed. Already knowledgeable about the Rotax 912 ULS, I took some time to point out some of it's idiosyncrasies including letting him experience the infamous "burp". We pulled her out, parked our cars and climbed in.

    All ground operations were normal. Marcel made a nice takeoff from RWY23 and we picked up the highway to the fly the 30 minutes south to Airport Manatee. The trip required good airmanship because we were sandwiched under the 1200' shelf of the Tampa Class B and near to cell phone towers reaching well above 1000'. Marcel has a light touch and did a very nice job of controlling Sally while picking out landmarks along the way.

    Runway Information

    Runway 7/25

    Dimensions: 3120 x 100 ft. / 951 x 30 m
    Surface: turf, in good condition
    Runway edge lights: low intensity
    Latitude: 27-38.496667N27-38.615000N
    Longitude: 082-31.476667W082-30.913333W
    Traffic pattern: rightleft
    Obstructions: 32 ft. trees, 729 ft. from runway, 110 ft. left of centerline, 23:1 slope to clear
    15 ft. brush, 364 ft. from runway, 80 ft. right of centerline, 25:1 slope to clear

    Marcel made a good landing and I took the plane back to taxi over to the FBO. This a nice little airport! About 50 airplanes of all types on the field in hangars and covered tie downs. Great fuel prices, this place is a gem. As we walked the line I met Shayne, a Facebook friend who was working on a beautiful Jabiru. The four place airplane has the rear seats removed to allow it to be LSA compliant. This one was already has ADSB in/out installed.

    After our visit we took off and followed I75 north again staying below the Class B. I did a little demo but mostly we just chatted about aviation and enjoyed being in the air. I talked Marcel though the landing checklist and watched him make a beautiful landing back at KVDF. 

    What a wonderful way to spend a summer morning.

    Video Notes: 48X

    "Landing on grass is like walking in comfortable slippers" ~ Marcel Rivard

    Saturday, August 12, 2017

    Punta Gorda: KPGD

    No Go.

    I hate that. Sally was ready. We had an interesting event to go to. I had a pilot who had never flown in an LSA to fly with me. Less than an hour away. But the weather was "iffy". At 8:00am the thunderstorms were already crossing the coast up to the north. Many cells were popping up east of us. Tampa was fine, Punta Gorda was fine, but in-between blotches of heavy rain were starting to show up on radar. And it was forecast to get worse as the day wore on.

    No Go.

    I told my passenger we would try another day. I decided to drive the hour and a half down I75 South. I double guessed my decision the whole way down. I could see blue skies and to the west quickly building cumulous monsters. To the east mostly blue with a thin low scud layer. I could have done it. Only a thirty minute flight. But I have learned to abide by my decisions. Make it then put it behind you. I arrived just in time for the session.

    LSA Sport Pilot Flight Instruction
    This presentation will familiarize Flight Instructors with Light-Sport Aircraft (LSA) and Sport Pilots. Upon completion, participants will have knowledge of this subject and directions to rules and other sources of important information. Light Sport Aviation continues to grow and it is essential that the nation’s certified flight instructors and other aviation professionals become involved.

    About 30 CFIs and pilots were provided a good presentation by Dick Solar, a CFI and Sport Pilot Examiner. I'm sure I will be able to use him a future resource.

    So Sally stayed in the barn this time. I had her out yesterday to get some exercise and insure she was ready for the trip today. All systems are working well. My updates haven't caused any unforeseen compatibility issues. 

    And it's nice to have her in a dry hangar out of the Florida sun and rain. It was raining really hard by the time I got home.

    Friday, July 21, 2017

    Nuts, Bolts and Screws

    Last week I Flew down to KFMY to give a demo flight. Scud and mist delayed an early morning takeoff from KVDF, but once south of Tampa the tops were below me at 1500'. Around Punta Gorda the low stuff cleared and I had smooth weather into Page Field. The FBO at Page is one of the nicest I've seen. A P51 hangs in the two story lobby and takes your breath away as you enter the place. The trip took just about an hour in my PiperSport. The demo flight went  well and the prospect enjoyed the LSA.

    We discussed "share", lease and purchase options. II talked about the positive aspects of ownership and my personal use of the airplane. This was the first time in a light sport airplane. This was his first time flying a glass panel. I briefed him on the safety features and the technology as well as the Rotax engine. We discussed cost of ownership. I allowed him to make the takeoff and departure.  We spent 0.6 over the islands close to the gulf. I demo'd autopilot, gps and the various screens available on Dynon. He made the landing back at KMFY (very nice). We debriefed as I got fuel.

    I left by 1200 to avoid the afternoon thunderstorms and it was good that I did. The "big uglies" were just a few minutes away by the time I put Sally in her hangar. 

    Yesterday was a maintenance day. I find it takes about one day a month as a "Stand Down" to go over the plane from spinner to tail and go beyond the preflight for an overall health check. The screws on the rudder cap showed corrosion.  I found a missing screw on the left wheel pant. The temperature probe on the belly was dirty with light corrosion. Two of the nuts on the flap mechanism had light corrosion. Both steps had some minor corrosion. etc.

    I replaced about a dozen screws. A couple of clean rags got dirty. I used Corrosion X everywhere. I gave the upper surfaces another coat of wax. Preflight complete I was ready to fly! About that time I heard the first sound of thunder. The sea breeze was pushing in from the gulf sooner than normal. Not flying today.

    Ah, Florida weather!

    Wednesday, June 28, 2017

    A little high and fast

    I always check the winds before going out to the airport. My personal limit is 18kts for students or pleasure flying. I may make an exception for a cross country flight if I'm flying into improving weather, but 24kts is always a firm "No Go". So when the reported winds were light and variable I was anxious to go out for some landing practice.

    I routinely teach "power off" approaches. The throttle is pulled to idle abeam the numbers and the airplane is allowed to slow below 75kts when the full flaps are lowered. Speed continues to slow to 60-65kts while maintaining pattern altitude.  That transition is usually sufficient to provide interval for the base leg. I like to stabilize the approach trimmed hands off for 60kts by the mid point on the base leg. This is a good point to evaluate the glideslope and make a power adjustment if low. I want to be fully stabilized following the base to final turn. Raising the nose to slow to 55kts over the fence followed by minor power adjustment to control the rate of descent is done until the field is made, then power off into the round out and flare. Usually two turns in the pattern is enough for me to calibrate my pattern to adjust for winds such that I can keep the power at idle for the entire approach. Not today.

    "Light and variable", is not to be confused with "no wind". I listened to the AWOS then to other pilots already in the pattern and the preferred runway this morning was RWY5. The windsock hung limp on its post on the other side of the runway. Two C172s landed as I did the runup, each landed a bit long which is normal in light wind situations. All systems were good so I took the runway once the last plane cleared at the end. Temperature was in the mid 80°F but the climb out was very good. I reached pattern altitude before turning downwind. The wind vector arrow on the SkyView showed a 5kt westerly crosswind and I adjusted my heading to fly parallel to the runway on the downwind leg. I hit my point "abeam" just right, made the transition but turned in a bit early. At the mid point on base I was high and when I stabilized on final I was high and fast. So I raised the nose to get my airspeed and found my touch down point would take me far beyond the numbers. I could settle for that, or I could go around. But I had a third option: Slip.
    A slip is an aerodynamic state where an aircraft is moving somewhat sideways as well as forward relative to the oncoming airflow or relative wind. In other words, for a conventional aircraft, the nose will be pointing in the opposite direction to the bank of the wing(s). Reference: Mastering the forward Slip
    I default to full right rudder, but in practice you should bank into the wind and use full opposite rudder. Today, with light winds, it didn't make mush difference. (However I did land right of centerline.)  Some cautions must be noted:
    • A slip is not a skid. A skid is an uncoordinated turn in the direction of bank. Here's a common scenario: You're turning left base to final, but you're going to overshoot the runway. What do you do? Here's what you absolutely shouldn't do: You add left rudder to tighten the turn, but you don't keep the bank and rudder coordinated - putting the airplane into a skid. As the inside wing exceeds the critical angle of attack, it stalls and drops. The deflected aileron on the low wing is still generating drag, which pulls the aircraft's nose further into the turn. And, the aircraft is still yawing into the turn from the rudder, which accelerates the roll. The result is a quick roll into the turn, and your entry into an incipient spin. That is why CFI's get nervous  during the base-to-final turn.
    • Speed is key. You changed the speed "vector" (from normal glide path) to increase vertical speed. When you take the slip out be very cautious that vertical speed doesn't translate into excess approach speed.
    • Always be ready to go around. Neutralized the controls BEFORE applying power.
    In this case I landed a little long and had to take the second taxiway. Time to try another. But I was disappointed once again. Too high, too fast. This time I executed a "go around" (wave off). The wind vector on the SkyView showed "LT". I extended my transition deeper but when I turned final I was still too high. My speed was right on so I continued with the approach and allowed myself to land long. What the heck was going on?!?

    I checked the sock. I had been landing with a tailwind. Not much, but with a Light Sport Airplane it doesn't take much. I switched to RWY 23.

    The next two circuits made more sense. With the light winds I still landed a bit long but both were acceptable. I can always use more practice and felt this session was very valuable. Always respect the winds, even the little ones.

    Video Notes: Comparison