Tuesday, October 30, 2012


A little airplane over a Grand Canyon.
Is this Mars?
I use Google Reader to keep me updated on the various blogs and aviation forums. One of my favorites has been http://sportpilottalk.com/ probably because it is devoted to Light Sport Flying. When planning this trip Roger Lee posted an invitation to attend the 6th Annual CT Fly-in at Page, AZ. He provided links to previous events which included beautiful videos showing CT's flying over phenomenal landscapes. Of course the problem is I don't fly a CT. So I called him to ask if this was really an exclusive event. On the contrary, he repeatedly assured me that not only would we be welcomed but we would considered a part of the Light Sport family! He was so sincere I decided to give it a try.

The flight from Sedona took about 2 hours in choppy headwinds. We passed to the right Humphrey's peak and saw portions of the painted desert, along with other wonderful scenery. This land might as well be a different planet for all of the differences compared to the east coast. Words can not describe it, it must be experienced.

Beautiful places to fly.
Ron & Jan's CT
We arrived at Page and were hosted by Classic Aviation. Dan was running the desk and couldn't have been more hospitable. I was stating to feel comfortable when another pilot looked at my PiperSport T-shirt and said, "You know you're the enemy don't you." Well, I come in peace. Fortunately we shared a van to the hotel and confirmed that he was joking and we were indeed welcome. phew.

Wonderful host
After check-in there was an informal congregation in the lobby. Pilots were discussing plans for the next day's (pre event) fly out and most were interested in Monument Valley. Ron and Jan wanted to do the Grand Canyon which was the top of my list, so we arranged to meet in the morning for a briefing. Ron was prepared with charts and frequencies, I was not. He became the flight leader. He became my friend.

This was a flight of a lifetime.  Imagine flying your own plane, in formation with another, over the Grand Canyon. About 2 hours is all it took. I can't think of any superlatives to give it justice. His pictures are wonderful but honestly fall well short of reality.

As great as this was there was something else here, more subtle going on. We had a group dinner that night as "the official kick off" for the event. 60+ people in a room all enthusiastic about Light Sport Aviation. Mostly gray hair, but a few younger folks as well. Pilots from all over the country here, just to enjoy flying. It is not a fly-in like the others. You can't buy headsets or Ipad apps or the latest aviation gadget here. You come here to fly. Thanks Roger.

 *Our schedule just didn't line up properly. We had to be back in Scottsdale Friday evening for other appointments. As we were leaving the FBO a pilot came in wearing a cap with Navy Wings. Turns out he is a former P3 Pilot and flew out Jacksonville.  We traded stories about times past. Small world.

Sunday, October 28, 2012


Sedona. This was not a major stop on my list while visiting Arizona. It should have been.

KSEZ in the distance (see it?)
We departed KSDL on our way up to Page (KPGA) to attend the (CT)Light Sport Fly. KSEZ was merely a mid point rest stop along the way to another interesting destination. The climb out was normal for the area, trying to reach 8,500' to work our way around some mountains. The landscape is phenomenal, desert, mountains, mesas, gulches and all in beautiful earthy colors. As we wound through the passes south of Flagstaff we found a valley of sorts, speckled with towering rock formations. The GPS told me the airport was close but I couldn't pick it out. Kathy suggested it was a 'white' area ahead but I couldn't believe it. She was right. Who was the guy that thought of putting an airport there?

I admit that the approach is intimidating. First you weave your way through the towering rocks, then turn downwind over a deep valley to end up on final with a very steep drop off just before the threshold. When Sally called 500' on base I couldn't believe it. Surely we were higher, but she was programmed for the the runway height not the surrounding terrain. So I ended up fast. Not my best landing. Fortunately we had light winds to go along with the long runway.

Just past this rock and turn right on downwind.
I'll post about our trip to Page later, but after the great fly-in we returned to KSEZ on our way back to Scottsdale. Finding the airport when coming from the north wasn't as challenging but perhaps even more spectacular. How often have you made a visual approach looking UP at rock formations as you descend between them approaching the runway? This time I was more prepared and made a very nice landing. We decided to stop and make a day trip out of it and visit the nearby village. Car rental was $10/hour or $30 a day. What a bargain!

Depart just to the right

Looking up at the rocks
We toured Tlaquepaque, a beautiful shopping plaza down from the airport. Enjoyed a delicious light lunch at "The Hidden Garden" and casually drove around the tourist spots.

The Holy Cross Chapel is built right into the rock face offering wonderful architecture and more amazing views.

The words don't match the experience. The pictures don't quite capture it. Kathy and I have been changed by the beauty of the this country. Take the opportunity to visit, you won't be disappointed.

Video: here

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Painted Desert

 Since we drove to the Balloon Fiesta we had the opportunity to drive through the Petrified National Forrest on the way home. It is impossible to describe in words, and even the photos don't do justice. Fantastic views on every turn of the winding road. There is so much more in the desert than we were taught in school...or thought we knew from watching old westerns. Here are just a few of the XXXs we took.

News Paper Rock - Glyphs

Petrified Forrest

Petrified Log

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Albuquerque, New Mexico

It rains in the deset. Heavy thunderstorms passed through during the night offering a fantastic light show. The system was moving east, between us and the Balloon Fiesta. Sally would not be going.

I called Landmark Aviation at KSDL and asked about a rental car. The helpful people at GO Car Rental set us up and we were on our way for the six hour drive. Beautiful lanscape, mountains, desert, cactus, nothing at all like Pennsylvania.

The Ballon Fiesta is the most photographed event in the WORLD! Here are some of mine:

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

to Scottsdale

I awoke Saturday morning in time to see a beautiful sunrise. The temperatures were still warm and the sky was mostly clear. I was optimistic but knew that bad weather was due to arrive from the west sometime in the afternoon. Maybe I could get out, perhaps to Johnstown, wait for the weather to pass and resume my trip. Johnstown was flagged Red = Limited IFR. The NEXRAD composite behind the cold front was just ugly. A southern route wasn't much better. No Go again on Saturday.

Sunday brought low ceilings gray sky, much colder temperatures and limited visibility. The maps had local airports flagged mostly Blue = Marginal VFR. However west, out near Pittsburgh it was improving and the little airport symbols were Green. I packed my overnight bag, poured some coffee in a Chinet cup and headed out to the airport. Go - IF the local weather stayed VFR.

I put the oil cooler baffles on anticipating the colder temperature and was glad to have them. Heat started to come into the plane as the oil warmed up. All ground operations were normal. The 696 showed nothing awful along my route of flight. The engine purred. I pushed the trip reset button on the timer and advanced the throttle. We were off.

Well, at least up to 2500'. Enough to clear the nearby mountains but not where I had intended to cruise. I dialed up Allentown for Flight Following and wen I stated my altitude he asked if I intended to climb. "As soon as the weather would let me." I diverted around some showers over Reading which showed as yellow blotches on my 696.  We were able to climb up another 1000' just before the next ridge line and stayed there until descending for the fuel stop south of Pittsburgh.

A quick turn and off again heading west. By now the ceilings were a bit higher so we leveled off at 4500'. All systems were normal so I settled in for a nice cruise. The skies were still gray and after awhile we started the scratch the bottoms so I told ATC we would drop down 1000'. That worked well for most of Ohio, until it started SNOWING! Truly beautiful but not good for VFR flying. Visibility was deteriorating rapidly and I advised ATC that I would go down another 1000'. He cautioned me that we might lose radar contact. I weighed the options and decided that Sally was a VFR kind of girl, we went lower. Approaching Wright-Patt most of the snow showers were behind us and we climbed back up to 4500'. Smooth sailing into our first overnight stop at KMTO.

*A beater of a crew car (and thankful to have it), Hampton Inn honored a Military Discount. It was a good stop.

Frost. Monday morning and Sally is encased in a block of frost. Fortunately there were clear blue skies overhead and the temperatures were rising quickly. Time enough for some more great FBO coffee and hangar talk with the guy sitting behind the desk. I waited about an hour before my soft squeegee could remove all of the frost from the airplane.

We had an easy climb up to 6500' and settled in for the next leg. Smooth air over very flat country. Crossed the Mississippi near St Louis and had a nice conversation with the controller about LSA flying.It was starting to get warm, OAT read 10C and rising. Two hours out and the next rest stop came into view.

Another quick turn and another uneventful climb to 6500'.  Still flat country, but getting warmer all the time. I took my lightweight sweater off and closed the heater vent. We were heading back into Summertime. The oil temperature showed that as well as we were now running on the high side of the green arc. Not a full fledged worry but something to keep my eye on. I pulled out my tablet and opened PILOT to look at fuel prices. Eureka, Kansas had some MOGAS so I asked ATC to change my destination and we headed there. Winds were picking up and airports in the area were posting gusts in the twenties, 13K had the winds pretty much straight down the runway which gave me another reason to divert.

The MOGAS was only 87 octane, not good for Sally. We went with Avgas instead. There was a drop of oil on her nose wheel pant. Argh. All of the work Harry had done came into my mind. Did something come loose? Cowling came off and everything was dry, except the oil reservoir overflow. The oil had to expand due to the heat (baffles still on). It was below the flat on the oil stick so I added a little and removed the baffles in the blowing (but warm) wind. Triple checked everything and off again.

Climbed back up to 6500" and everything was solid. Oil Temperature and Pressure were solid and steady, and blew a sigh of relief. After awhile my next overnight came into view. KWWR was great! A Cadillac crew car, good prices and wonderful hospitality. (Hampton Inn was unable to honor the military discount this time.)

The landscape changed again in Oklahoma with the ground becoming more scarred with gullies and washes. The ground was rising up to meet me.  Lots of cattle pens and brown open spaces. Two fuel stops later I was wearing a T-shirt and the air vents were wide open. This time I climbed to 8500' and battled head winds approaching the mountains. Soon I learned something. Sally was trying to maintain altitude and was struggling with it. I advanced the throttle to full, slowed to Vy and still descended at 200 FPM. Crossing the next plateau we climbed at over 1000 FPM and I had the throttle near idle. It didn't take too many cycles to learn that altitude hold wasn't going to work out here in these windy conditions. So I pushed the buttons to give me GPS track mode and hand flew the altitude. Around Los Vegas, New Mexico I decided that getting beat up by the turbulence wasn't fun anymore and took her up to 10,500', which meant higher head winds but somewhat smoother air.

KGNT: last fuel stop. I wove down through the mesa and valleys looking for this tiny airport. I wasn't sure if it would be near a town or on top of one of the Mesa flats. Neither, it out of town near I40. Self serve, full tanks and taxied out. Altimeter read 6500' on the ground! I clicked the CTAF frequency and mentioned that and the FBO came back with the Density Altitude of 8,300'. Visions of that now infamous YouTube video came to mind. I let her accelerate a long time before easing back on the stick. Slowly, slowly she climbed. I turned back to climb up over the airport before turning on course over the mountains to the southwest.

I was thirsty and had already downed my two water bottles. Should I dare to open a can of Coke Zero at 10,000 ft? I thought better of it and munched on some nuts instead.

I also learned that a magenta GPS track may go straight over a peak that is higher than current altitude. Heading mode to divert around the big ones, then Direct/Enter/Enter when clear. Many times I was pitch up, full power and could barely maintain altitude. Mountain flying is just a bit different. My six hour day turned into a long 8 hours as I passed the last range into Phoenix airspace.

By now the Sun was low on the horizon, the glare was painful and the haze was unbelievable. I told the tower I was three miles from the field and still couldn't make out the airport. A vector to downwind helped and soon the long runway was in front of me. Smooth landing, off at Alpha 10 and a kind ground control gave me some help to get over to Landmark Aviation.

I shut her down and checked the trip time at 22:26.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Maintenance Check Flight

Cell phone technology is truly amazing, but it doesn't always work. Thursday I got my coffee and went into the office to check email and found I had missed a call from Harry. I called him immediately. Sally was back together but needed some tuning. Twenty minutes later I was sitting in the airplane ready to start.

It was a rough start. So he adjusted, I cooperated and together we worked through the morning to get her running smoothly again. But the weather was lousy with low ceilings and poor visibility. So I waited. By mid afternoon it had improved enough to take a lap around the field and all indications were good, except...High idle. Sally likes to land with no power and even a little throttle cause her to float. I think I must have bent the throttle arm trying to pull the power off, but a good slip and a little patience got us down at Butter Valley safely. Harry said that would be an easy adjustment. Now I wanted to do some more testing.

Friday was perfect. If she had been ready I would have started the trip, but I still had some questions. Preflight complete (looking very carefully at every hose, wire and engine component) I pulled her out of the hangar, climbed in and turned the key.  Smooth.  Next we taxied over to the little asphalt pad for an extensive run up. Nice. Next I sat on the runway and added full power while holding the breaks, which seemed like eternity but was really only thirty seconds. Power was good everything else normal. Once released she rolled down the runway and was ready to fly before the dip and hill, sooner than normal. So far so good.

Speed check. 6500' and 5450 RPM yielded 115 kts. Not as good as new but consistent with previous tests. I was satisfied that she passed that test. Altitude check. Up to 8500' at cruise climb speed (~75 kts), no problems noted. I was convinced she could go higher if I wanted to, but this was good. I was satisfied that she passed that test. Next I descended down and joined the pattern at N47. Idle still high I extended a bit and made a 'floater' but safe landing, then taxied over to pumps to top them off. I can count on one hand the number of times I've actually flown with a full fuel load.

Endurance check. I picked 4N1 as a way point which is just under an hour's flight north. I wanted to do a normal cruise, check all systems to be sure I didn't have any unexpected problems (like a  malfunctioning autopilot) and to make sure that running the engine under normal flight conditions didn't uncover any new issues. It was a pretty day, smooth air and the engine just hummed. I was satisfied that she passed that test.

So the only thing left to adjust was the idle. I put her back in the barn, pulled the cowling and checked everything. Clean and dry. I called Harry but he said he would be unavailable until Monday. Rats. I went home for lunch. Did I mention how great cell phone technology is? Harry called and said if I flew up to Slatington (69N ~ 20 minutes north) he would adjust the idle for me. Gee, that would mean I would have to fly twice in one day. Done deal.

It was a bit more than just a 'simple adjustment' but after a few trips around the pattern the idle was perfect. Harry suggested I get up to 4500' on the trip home to insure that the auto adjusting carbs still worked properly. I did, and they did. I was satisfied that she passed that test.

We were ready to go. Now if only the weather would cooperate. It didn't.