Friday, September 29, 2017

The Flight South

Paul bought a new plane. It had less than 200 hours on the Hobbs. But it was up in Wisconsin, Paul lives in Florida. It was my job to help him get it home. We planned the trip a few times. Weather made us cancel. It is really difficult to find a weather window that will allow VFR flight across the whole country. And then Irma got in the way.

But the weather window did finally open up. I flew United into O'Hare, John met me with the big ugly Suburban and we drove over to General Mitchel International to get Todd, then waited for a later flight to get Paul. We had dinner, made some plans and decided to get up before the crack of dawn to start flying his airplane home. Along the way I would act as safety pilot and provide some instruction on the SportCruiser.

Thursday September 28th.
The way home.

When the dawn came we were climbing into the plane. 0720 CDT, we took off into the sunrise and headed south. I was glad to find that Paul had a nice touch for the airplane already, gently holding the stick and punching the buttons for the electric trim as we headed toward Chicago. We climbed to 7500ft and found smooth air and...a tailwind. Just a few knots, but still helping us move along. Wow.

First stop was Mount Vernon, Illinois,  a nice airport and very friendly FBO. They host the Midwest LSA show and always welcome Light Sport Airplanes. We listened to the CTAF chatter as we approached counting at least three other airplanes in the pattern. The GPS said we coming up quickly but no field in sight. Ten miles, five miles, oops, right in front of us. How did that happen? Still 1000ft above pattern altitude we circled out to come back in,which forced us to be high and fast. Paul handled it well. Once he got slow enough to drop the flaps, he made the base turn, then when on final applied a slip. Round out and flare led to a nice landing. A great salvage to a horrible entry. We asked to top off the tanks, made a quick rest stop and got airborne again at 10:30 CDT.

The next stop was Auburn, Alabama, home of the War Eagle, the Plainsmen and Aubie the Tiger. This trip would take us through the controlled airspace (MOA) of Fort Campbell, the home to the only Air Assault Division in the world. The Dynon system gave us an alert that the MOA was hot and highlighted the airspace in orange. Soon after the controller asked us if we wanted to proceed east or west around the restricted airspace. Paul decided to go west and we were given a heading to stay clear. (Pushed the button to change the autopilot to Heading mode and adjusted 10° right. Just that easy.) Once clear of the airspace we were handed back to Memphis Center, and eventually over to Atlanta.  As we approached Auburn we started to see a lot of "black dots" on the Dynon SkyView display. The controller told us "multiple targets, squawk VFR, frequency change approved" and let us fight it out for ourselves. I think there were probably 6-10 "dots" in the pattern with more on the entry. We picked out one on downwind and Paul followed him around. He landed a bit long, but got us off at the right exit and promptly cleared the runway. Nice job. We asked to top off the tanks, made a quick rest stop and got airborne again at 2:25 CDT.

Preflighting a new airplane.
The final stop of the day was Tampa Executive Airport, Florida. Home. This trip had us encounter our first headwinds. Not bad, only a few knots, but enough to slow us down. Visibility was poor due to haze but smooth air made for enjoyable flying conditions. As we snuck below the Tampa Class B we cancelled Flight Following and made our way into the airport. Surprisingly, there were 2 or 3 in the pattern here, including a Piper Cub. Another safe landing and we taxied in toward the FBO. It was 6:45 EDT. We tied her down and headed home for some rest. Time for the trip was about 9.4 hours. A good days work.

Friday September 29th

I met Paul at the hotel and drove him to the airport. We did some preflight planning and found the weather was "marginal". A tropical disturbance in the Florida straights was sending crud (meteorological term) up into southern Florida. But we both decided that it was worth a "look see" and he departed about 10:00EDT heading south. I would get a text message later that he had diverted into Stuart (KSUA) to wait out some of the bad parts of the storm. (Good headwork.) He got his airplane home to Pompano (KPMP) by 1:00EDT.

What an Excellent learning experience!

So, we had a lot of time in a cockpit together. We talked about a lot of things, mostly aviation. We avoided politics. I'm delighted to have a new friend.

Not Sally.

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.