Saturday, January 19, 2013

Soft Field Take Off

Its wintertime, so its cold. Yesterday the dismal gray clouds finally parted but we were still grounded by the frigid blustery winds. The Saturday morning forecast looked like flying might be possible if Sally and I got out before the sun started to warm the earth. Friday afternoon I stopped by the Sunoco station and got five gallons of 93 octane and drove out to 7N8 to give Sally another hour of fuel. I took the time to do a quick preflight and a little cleanup just to insure I would have no surprises in the morning.

Its hard to get up when its still dark outside. When the alarm rang I just pushed the button and rolled over. Not yet. Minutes later I focused my right eye on the display and read 30 degrees and sunshine. Not bad, but my old body was feeling every day of its age. I slumped back on the pillow until the sunrise glowed in the curtains. I reminded myself that there simply won't be many good winter flying days so I need to take advantage of the weather when I can. My heart just wasn't in it.

I started the coffee and sat down at the computer to do the planning. Not bad, actually pretty good. Southerly winds at 5kts, clear skies and temperatures just above freezing. Airmet for moderate turbulence, no TFRs or NOTAMS, nothing that would hinder a short flight. I heard a "pop pop pop" in the distance and realized someone was making venison. I poured some coffee in a stainless steel travel mug and headed out.

The hangar doors seemed heavy. Sally felt cold as I ran my fingers over the control surfaces and did the other preflight checks. I noticed ice on the pond during my F.O.D. walk down. Geese were honking as I pulled her out of the hangar and I thought they might be a hazard during my pattern work. I put the mug in the cup holder and climbed in. My disposition changed. Although cold, I was comfortable. I shouted "Clear" and quickly closed the canopy. I apologized to Sally before turning the key as I knew cranking that cold Rotax was going to hurt. Five props and she started, ran roughly for a few seconds then smoothed out. We waited for the oil temp and I took the time to complete my cockpit checks. I appreciated the coffee and the bubble canopy to help warm me up.

We taxied down past the old silo, out onto the turf to go over to our run up spot. The engine was humming smoothly and all checks were good. The windsock showed a direct crosswind tending from the south so we back taxied to use runway one six. That end has an extended turf threshold. I decided to do a soft filed take off and use a maximum angle of climb airspeed, treating the geese on the pond as a possible fifty foot obstacle. There was frost on the grass.

After the checklist was complete I added full power, got over 4900RPM and although breaks were applied started to slide. I kept her straight with differential braking and set the take off attitude immediately to get into ground effect. We were airborne before the asphalt and accelerated quickly to 60kts. Nose up, positive rate of climb, flaps up, we were climbing quickly. The geese were not a factor.

Ahhhh. That feeling. How fortunate I am to be flying this airplane on a crisp beautiful morning. Sally is at 2500' in no time. Recheck flaps, fuel pump, and landing light, set the throttle for under 5 gal/hr and stabilize cruise. I took another sip of coffee and we headed south towards Pottstown Muni.

The radio was quiet. The nuclear windsock showed winds from the southwest so I chose runway two six and called traffic at five miles out. The crosswind entry was bumpy. The downwind was bumpy and when I checked the windsock it confirmed my choice of runway. I turned on final a bit high so did a shallow slip to lose excess altitude. (Sally told me to beware of sink rate.) Gusts were from the left so I crabbed a bit in that direction before kicking her straight before touchdown. Nice. I looked down the runway to see three beautiful bucks waiting patiently just off the runway for me to make my exit.  Once I called clear they crossed over and ran down the runway.  I watched until they were out of sight. wow.

We did one more circuit and departed to the north. It was getting bumpy and my 696 showed that local METARs had winds picking up as well. We headed for home. The bright new windsock showed almost a direct crosswind so I decided to use one six for landing. Sally doesn't like that runway very much and constantly reminds me about the terrain just north of the field. We turned base over the power lines and planned our touch down point on the turf, well before the asphalt strip. (The runway goes downhill at that point so planning to land on the asphalt won't work.)  An easy touch down and we were almost at taxi speed when we transitioned to the hard surface. When we passed the windsock it was pointing straight out. Time to call it a day.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Slow Flight

Winter does allow the time to review magazines, blogs and forums. One of the common topics lately has been high work, discussing stalls, steep turns and ground reference maneuvers and how glass panels and advanced avionics have distracted pilots from practicing basic skills.

Yesterday was a rare winter's day. The Sun was out, winds were mild and temperatures were 'moderate' (above freezing). Planning indicated it would be a good day to fly so I finished work a bit early and headed out to the airport. Kathy had surprised me by putting some decorations on the prop (my Christmas present this year). Less than ten pulls to get the burp. The ten gallons of gas I put in last week week sumped clean and Sally's condition looked great. She started easily. I moved her up past the old silo to get out of the shade and we sat on the concrete apron as the oil warmed up.

Butter Valley was busy! David had his Rans Airaile up doing some pattern work and a Cessna stopped by to try our little airfield out for size. It was fun sitting in my airplane, warmed by the sun, just watching the show. Just as David had finished my Rotax reached 122F so I taxied out to take his place. After my run up the Cessna was ready for his takeoff so I waited while he was on the roll, then announced my intent to 'line up and wait'. (Don't get to say that very often at this airport.)

We took off and departed to the east, climbed to 3500' and trimmed for level flight at about 5 gal/hr. The steep turn to the left was easy and I was pleased with my control. I rolled out 5 degrees late and decided to account for that for the turn to the right. The point of reference is very different for right turns and it took me awhile to stabilize. Within the PTS but not at all pleased, I decided to do the series again. I got that satisfying burble when I passed through my own wake.

Next I lined up on a cardinal heading and transitioned to slow flight. My feet danced a bit but I was happy with heading and altitude control. Once trimmed I brought the power to idle and waited for the stall. Sally flies slow! Right around 32 knots she broke clean ahead, recovery was easy and adding power was very effective. We did that exercise one more time and I'm comfortable with the exercise. Time to go home.

I made my radio calls but I was the only one in the pattern now. A normal landing (very nice) in almost zero wind conditions. We back taxied, took off and departed again to the east, and I gave myself an engine failure. I extended the turn to final, lined up and dropped the flaps when the field was made. Nice.

Two more turns in the pattern and I was done for the day. Just over an hour of Fun.

Back in the barn I did a brief post flight and burped her again. (Less than 30 pulls). Covers and chocks, and I pulled the hangar doors closed. I don't know when the weather will let me do this again.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

A little Winter Workout.

The weather radio said partly cloudy, low temperatures below freezing with the highs slightly above. I peaked through the bedroom curtains to see a bright red sunrise. Patches of snow and ice are still in the shady parts of the yard, still in the gulleys where the high winds of the past few days haven't been able to scrape it off the grass. Winter in Pennsylvania is not good for flying.

The backyard weather station was only indicating five to ten knots and the noise of wind buffeting the house was gone. By noon the clouds had thinned out and we had almost reached 0C. Planning indicated no TFRs and nothing really bad with the weather so I decided to go see how Sally was doing. It had been over two weeks since we were out together.

Harry's door was open so I stopped in to chat. He has a 182 in for an annual, the little home built "kite" is ready for some more test flights and the refinishing project is still on schedule. He is happily keeping busy. We discussed the legal actions Pennsylvania has taken against the NCAA and agreed that any and all due process is a good thing. He advised me to be careful of the ice patches on the taxi way, to make sure I had plenty of room to maneuver. I wished him a Happy New Year and drove up the little hill to the Hangar. (It was slippery.)

Sally looked good. A little dust on the canopy is all that was apparent from the awful weather we've been having. Just so much better than being out on the line. I'm really fortunate to have her protected now. It took just ten pulls for the burp. I like doing this procedure AFTER each flight as it makes the preflight so much easier. I carefully pulled her out and did the remaining checks. It was cold.

Five seconds and no start. Wait five seconds, check everything again, and turn the ignition. Three props and shes going, oil pressure is good. Slowly advance the choke, set the throttle for 2500 RPM and wait for the oil to warm up. I pulled on the cabin heater but most of the warmth came from the sun shining through the large bubble canopy. There is comfort in the sound of a smooth running engine. After awhile the oil temperature finally got up to 122F and we taxied out across the turf to the run up area. All was good. The new windsock showed a slight left to right cross wind. RPM well over 4900 and all engine instruments looked good. I released the brakes and she jumped into the air. Rate of climb well over 1000FPM, I had to concentrate on keeping the nose up higher than normal to maintain best rate of climb. Airplanes love the cold winter temperatures (even if their pilots don't.)

We departed to the west, flew over some interesting landmarks and just enjoyed being airborne. At 2000' the OAT was -6C, but the cockpit was comfortable. I haven't put the new canopy seal in yet but the old "home improvement" weather stripping is doing its job. I didn't notice any drafts. We flew over Bally Spring Farm (PA35) and headed back to Butter Valley. A nice little crosswind made the three landing challenging. Just less than an hour on the Hobbs. A good first flight of 2013.