Saturday, March 23, 2013

Two Laps in the Pattern

It's not Spring yet. "Ohio prosecutor seeks death penalty for Punxsutawney Phil after bad forecast"
As I looked at the weather it showed cold blustery winds in the afternoon, barely above freezing. If I had any chance at all it would have to be in the morning. It would be a narrow window of opportunity sandwiched between too cold in the early morning and too windy by early afternoon. I got to the airport about 9:00 and sat in the warm car for a few minutes watching the windsock. Nearly a direct cross wind from left to right. The sock and the flags on the golf course were already fluttering.

I checked Foreflight weather on my phone. All local reporting points still showed gusts less than 18 knots, my personal limit. (Maximum take off limit is 12 knots of cross wind, 24 knots down the runway.) I went to the hangar to start my preflight. It was cold. Sally burped in just a few turns and the rest of the checks all were satisfactory. I pulled her out into the sunshine as soon as possible, got in and closed the canopy to be out of the wind. I sat for a moment, concerned about starting knowing that I had a low voltage battery.  The prop spun a few extra turns but caught and stabilized quickly. So far so good.

Two Laps in the Pattern
Ground checks and run up were all good. The amperage fluctuated from +9 to -6 and the voltage started at 11 but quickly started sinking lower by the time we took the runway. The windsock showed a left quartering headwind nearly fully extended, winds were picking up. With over 5000 RPM I released the breaks and was airborne well before the dip and the hill. I danced on the rudder peddles to keep us between the trees. She climbed quickly but I was too busy to check the VSI. It was bumpy.

The first pattern was a bit tight and I corrected it downwind before my reference point. Sally was really bouncing in the breeze. I looked out of the right side of the canopy to get myself lined up on final and held the crab just prior to landing. No squeak, but no float either.  We were on the center line just short of my intended landing point.

On final at Butter Valley
The next pattern was easier because I knew what corrections were needed. Downwind checks were good, but I noticed that voltage was at the bottom of the scale. Base and final were a roller coaster ride and even more left crab was needed to stay lined up. As we crossed the field prior to the threshold she started sinking quickly. A little power, a little more power, right rudder and ....smooth. All things considered, I was satisfied. Back to the barn.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


The Allentown Airport Authority has jurisdiction over three airports: Lehigh Valley International(?) Airport, Queen City and Braden Airpark. A few years ago the Authority wanted to expand a runway at LVIA and used Eminent Domain to secure the intended land from a local developer. He sued, they lost and are now looking for $15 million to settle the suite. They first thought that selling Queen City would bring in enough revenue to settle the debt, but FAA restrictions on the lease killed that idea. So now they decided to sell Braden. I decided to fly over there before a big "X" was painted on the runway.

The direct flight from Butter Valley would take me through the ABE Class "C" airspace, so I decided to fly the tangents around the controlled area. I went on the the AOPA Flight Planner as I usually do for short local flights, to find it had been "improved" and was now unusable. After playing with the settings for awhile, I closed the browser and went to METARs, TFRs and NOTAMs all looked fine, so I went to Sunoco to get ten gallons of premium and out to the airport to start the preflight.

Sally is doing fine. I'm pleased with the procedure of burping the Rotax after each flight instead of prior to the next one. Normal start and ground operations and windsock showed a southerly breeze so we back taxied on runway 16 for takeoff. I like taking off from the turf, it feels 'rustic'.

Cruise checks were all normal and I planned to stay at 2500' for the trip. After a few good bumps the plan changed and we went up another 1000'. It was smooth there and the views were great. I headed east toward the Delaware River then took a left to find Braden just off the nose. We made an upwind entry and were the only plane in the pattern on this gorgeous Saturday morning.  As we turned base Sally started yelling at me about an obstacle alert. A cell phone tower off to the right got her attention and gave me scare. A normal landing and quick taxi through the ramp area (lots of NICE planes in the open hangars) and I made my way back to the hold short line. I back taxied on runway 36 and noticed teams of girls playing Lacrosse in a nearby field.  Girls with sticks launching projectiles at each other, not something Sally and I wanted to participate in so we departed quickly.

This time we took the northern route around the controlled airspace, crossing over the mountain ridge near the ski resort, heading west toward Slatington. From there it was a straight shot back to Butter Valley, a beautiful morning to fly.

When I got home I reconsidered my flight planning and tried out Garmin Pilot on my Android tablet. A much better, more complete solution and a nice user interface.  That will become my planning tool of choice.

Sunday was another beautiful day and I decided to join the Pilots of America at Sky Manor (N40) for a brunch. All procedures were normal and I settled in for the 25 minute trip at 2500'. The low voltage light was on. This will occasionally happen in the pattern at low RPMs but never in cruise. I turned off all nonessential equipment (amps -6 well in the green) and let her run that way for awhile.When we reached our destination the low voltage still read 10.5, she wasn't charging the battery. Not wanting a start problem away from home we departed the pattern and headed back to Butter Valley.

A beautiful smooth flight, we landed without any additional distractions and I put her back in the barn. Post flight showed nothing unusual,  I suspect the battery. A new one is on order.

In other related news: I passed my 2nd Class Medical! (As you get older more experienced these routine exams become more exciting. I'm glad to have that one behind me.)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


 A snow storm is predicted to hit tomorrow and last for the next few days. The local weather was good today, above freezing, winds blow 15 knots and a scattered layer above 5000'. I took the opportunity to fly down to New Garden, Pennsylvania.

Just a short flight over Pennsylvania country side. My path followed RT 100 down past Exton, old stomping grounds. It was a little bumpy but I elected to stay low and traveled most of the way at 2500'. At ten miles I made my initial call and was pleasantly surprised to get a response. The person manning the CTAF was friendly, acknowledged my call and provided wind and recommended runway. Wow! That doesn't happen very often.

At five miles my traffic was a 172 entering the pattern crossing at midfield. I took interval, told him I had him in sight and extended my downwind. He reported clear and I announced it would be a touch and go.

The runway is fair, a little bumpy. The facilities and hangars look nice and you can't beat the hospitality. I noticed a few planes on the ramp and left with a favorable impression. I departed to the north and made my way home the same way I had come. At about midway I sighted traffic off to my left, maybe 4 or 5 miles at my altitude. Just to be safe I climbed 100', but the traffic really was no factor. We made a normal entry and landing back at Butter Valley.

There were two firsts on this short flight. 1) First time to N57. 2) I flew without a medical. My latest medication required some additional test to be submitted to the Medical Examiner and I hadn't planned on the extra time needed to get the test done. (Completed it today.) So I exercised by LSA privileges and flew (legally) without a medical certificate in my pocket. The sky didn't fall.