Monday, November 17, 2008

Back in the Saddle!

There are many ways one can do in light of a bad experience. Some choose to avoid anything remotely related to it. Others choose to learn from it and get right back in the saddle. I'm usually the later, at least once I've analyzed it enough. (See previous blog as to what happened that flight).

I've since taken a detailed course on the G1000 systems, beyond the "how to use" that I was given in training. Even more strange, was this information was available on a CD-course at the FBO! Why didn't the CFI mention it? Armed with that knowledge, I would have realized the G1000 errors all spewed from the ACD section, and the AHRS (pitoh systems) where fine. At that point I probably would have been less stressed and simply performed the re-set of the system, which may have brought it all back on line. Lessoned learned.
Still, my confidence in my abilities were still shaken. I was anxious to regain that and my spirits. So instead of jumping back in a DA-40, I opted for my 'ol friend 223DC. As I appreciate CRM more and more, I asked Emil if he cared to come along! He looked and smiled, and I didn't even need to hear his reply.

We arrived at the airport 15 min early, as I often do. The plane was gone...uh oh..what now! Ah but no worries, the instructor took it up for a brief demo flight. As I waited, checked the weather again, and little had changed. Still light winds and clear skies. We went out to the DA40, and I explained in more detail how the control surfaces control the airplane. The 20 arrived shortly thereafter.

We preflighted and waited for fuel. I was still a little aprehensive about how my landing performance would be. Last time it was nothing close to smooth in the 40 with all my nerves on end. Had I lost my landing art? Today I found my worries unfounded. It was pretty busy, for PGV anyway, with two other planes coming in. We kept a good eye on them as we left terra firma. I went through all the pattern steps with Emil, which actually helped calm me greatly. I was nailing my airspeeds and altitudes with little thought. My first landing ended up being right on and smooth. Yes, I hadn't lost it after all! Relieved, I did two more landings, with only one with a bit more float than I like, but still smooth.

We took off to take in the Greenville sights. We headed west, drivin' the 264 beltline at 2000'. As we neared the exit, I prepped for nice and quick steep turn! With a smooth and quick command she banked through and I began to smile. I was finding my love again. It had left me for a week, but with open wings it took me back in. We flew all over the city, laughing at those stuck in traffic below. We were free. Our last fly over would be the ECU stadium. I kept my airspeed a little higher and preceeded to give Emil his first 60° bank experience. "Whoa, your pullin' it!" Yes, 2G's in fact. As we entered it Emil took the pic above. Ah classic.

With a grin on my face we headed back to kiss terra firma. As I did, I had one more manuever to put Emil through. I turned base sooner to be high, so I could perform a slip. I know the first time a CFI did this to me, It was freaky! Instead of looking through the nose to the ground, your looking out the side and pointed to the ground. He freaked for a second, and grabbed the panel cover as we slipped on down. "OMG" as we neared the runway and I pulled out of the slip..."don't do that again!" heh heh no problem.

Today would be a mere 0.7 hour flight, but I was in glee. It was a fun flight that brought back my confidence and love for flight...and I didn't even leave the area. Flight around Greenville $86, Smile & pride on my face, Priceless.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Trouble happens in Threes!

In my life, the number 3 has been rather mystical, because everytime something goes wrong, two other things always follow. This sunday was certainly no exception. All pilots seem to experience glitches or other problems eventually in their flights, and I'd already had my share. This one, though, got my nerves frayed.

The DA-20 was still out of service, so we'd go up in the good 'ol DA-40. Although, as the day went on, I had a few "new" names I gave her, non of which should be repeated. I get out to preflight her, and the first thing I usually check is the fuel level. I saw the left wing at 30%, and the right near FULL.... urgh. I love it when people forget to alternate the tanks to keep the plane evenly balanced. Still I had 25gal of fuel, so I didn't worry about getting the left wing capped off. The pre-flight went well otherwise, and with Maggie situated in the front seat, she roared to life.

Everything came up fine, and I made my radio comm check. No one responded. Hmm ok, well it's a sunday and I don't see anyone around. Volume was set ok, and I could hear ATIS and Maggie just fine. So I continued and made my way to the runway. I had completed my runup and everything continued to appear ok. I checked for traffic and announced my departure. I began past the hold line upon which has another 100y until it turns left to the rwy. Just then my eyes spot a jet just turning final! OMG! I put on the brakes, and radio "Pitt-Greenville Traffic, Diamond 537MA has final traffic in sight, state your intentions..." Now I realize what a stupid thing to ask, as they obviously intend to land. I'm out of the way, and just hold as I wait for a response...nada, nothing at all comes through the headphones. Strike ONE, I KNEW they must be making announcments on the comm, and the fault must be on my end. I turn around and head back to the FBO. I was in shock that I came close to causing a runway incursion, and mad that I hadn't been more diligent testing the comms. On the way back, I was checking fuses, volume/squelch knobs, etc... still I heard no one.

As I parked and shut her down, I decided to check comm2, which I used to get ATIS earlier. I called out and Hallelujah, someone answered! I thanked her much, and mentioned I must have a Comm1 failure. With that Comm verified, I started her back up and taxied back to the runway. I should have ended the flight right there, KNOWING inside, problems come in threes!

We'd just turned to my calculated heading, when I activated the GPS to Tarboro. Strike 2 -Nothing happened...the lovely pink line that usually appears, with heading and distance information failed to come up. Again I had to remind myself "fly the airplane first" instead of spending too much time inside trying to troubleshoot. I hit the alerts button which told me "GPS receiver not detecting GPS signal" Ok, ok fine, I'll just use pilotage, and followed my way points, and constantly verified my position on the sectional. It ended up being more fun that way, that is, if my nerves werent already getting fried.

We reach Tarboro (ECT) and I'm high on final, no problem as I slip on down. I found the narrow runway affected my visual height perception a little, and the landing was hard but didn't bounce. Dang...Looks like nothing is going right today.

As we back taxi and take off, suddenly the PFD is flashing a big red "X" in place of the attitude indicator. Strike 3! Again, I noticed I was paying to much attention to it, trying to figure out what was going on. I forced my head back outside and continued to fly the airplane. As I did, the attitude indicator came back up. THAT's it! I'm ignoring the PFD, using my back ups, and heading back immediatly to PGV. In reality, I should've not flown at all, knowing my luck. Still, the aircraft still flew fine, flaps worked ok, etc... It's just the G1000 that was going nuts today. It was almost like being in a sim, where these things were programmed to fail on you.

Back near PGV, the CRJ that landed when I had comm problems, was now taxxing out. In attempt to ease what happened earlier, I told them I'd extend downwind etc, so they could clear the area before I land. They crossed the runway, and I was then clear to set up for final. My last landing of the day, I flared to soon to high off the ground... I'll chock it up to my nerves and landing at narrower fields all day in which I flared to late. Still a hard but no bounce landing. I quickly taxi back to the FBO, and shut her down.

For the first time in a while, I was happy to be out of the airplane. I was furious at the airplane, and myself for continuing on. Though the actual flight was never in jeopardy, my nerves and therefor ability as a pilot, were critical. I was frazzled and should've just sat this one out. I'm gonna head back over there today (Monday) and see what the heck was wrong...was it something I did wrong, or was the equipment just going haywire!?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Coastal NC Tour!

The point of going somewhere, is not the destination, but the journey itself. I'm not sure who first coined that phrase, but it certainly holds true in my book! You certainly don't have to twist my arm to fly either!

This go round, I wanted to fly along the beautifull NC coast, and take in sights. As I rarely like going it alone, I had my amigo Emil, and daughter Maggie along with me! Emil had mentioned he really hadn't been to any museums, so First Flight (Kill Devil Hills) would certainly be the first stop! After that we'd take off down the coast, as pass over several light houses, including the most infamous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse! So there are some GREAT pics in this blog! (BTW you can click for the big versions!)

Initially I planned to take the two seater DA-20, but they called and said there had been a "prop" incident. Before my mind could imagine possible horrors, they immediatly said it involved digging into a soft field! Oh my, don't they know an airplane is a horrible lawnmower?
They said the DA-40 was available, and would let me rent it at the DA-20 prices! REALLY! Awesome! That meant more people could join in the fun! Unfortunetly, they filled up both tanks (40 gallons! OMG!) and that meant 3 adults and one child would be 50lbs over gross! Dang. When I called them back to try and get the tanks drained, they said they were heading out to repair the DA-20 and wouldn't be around. Well, looks like someone was staying behind, and that ended up being Meg. Shoot...I really wanted everyone to go, but Meg was still feeling sick anyhow.

At a cool 65° I headed out to the airport. It was 2:45 when Emil arrived, and witnessed the last of the pre-flight. "Nice plane" he chipped. I couldn't agree more! I pointed out the control surfaces, and gave him a quick overview of their function. He'd never been in a small GA plane before, yet he didn't look nervous at all! Hmmm we'll see :P.

The preflight was done, and right as I said "All we have to wait for now is Mag..." there they were at the gate. Right on time! I helped Maggie get situated. They really don't make visibility good for the little ones. I had to have her sit on her backpack. Putting on her headset, I was happy to see she was exited. I was worried that after doing this once, that she'd not be as interested. Emil hoped in, and I was reminded how the few inches of side-to-side space really make a difference. Meg watches on as I bring down the rear side canopy and hop in myself. Winds were favoring 26, so I knew she wouldn't get to see us take-off.

What sometimes takes a while, ok seems forever, is the rest of the stuff between starting her up, and actually flying. The DA-40 has more things to check out than it's little brother. Still we're through the run-up, called and activated the flight plan, and we're set for flight!

We're about 300' up when Emil gives his characteristic "Woah!" followed by "this is nice!" Flaps up, prop to 2400RPM, and we're off on the first leg of our journey to FFA (First Flight). By the time we get to 5500', we're behind by a mere 2 minutes. No problem, this puppy can cruise around 130k (though I recal 135-140?). Not allot to see untill we reach the edge of of Albemarle Sound. No autopilot in this one, so Emil handles taking the shots.

The next leg hangs out on the right land side of the sound, and offers up a great view. I snap a picture of the glass cockpit right before I change headings. The winds gave a light tailwind and virtually free of turbulence! YAY High Pressure! With things all trimed up I take a few shots of my fellow crew!

Crew : Maggie Crowell aka "Trooper"

Responsibilities: Identify and relay all ground visuals to the PIC. Also reads stories after the sun goes down. Reminds the PIC that he could be making better time, as we're hardly ever "there yet."

Favorite Manuever: The "rollercoaster", a steep climb pullin a few G's, followed by an immediate -G dive. She can't get enough of 'em!

Crew: Emil Sanchez

Responsibilities: Enjoy the view, not get sick, remind the PIC he needs a G1000 refresher as it's apparent I don't know but 1/4 of it's features! (Still don't know how to get XM radio working!) Finally learn how to fly this here airplane!

Favorite Manuever: The "rollercoaster" of course!

Now back to the trip commentary. We were around 30 NM away from the coastline, and we could see it quite clearly. A mere 15 minutes and we'll be there. Flying, IMHO, is hugely enjoyable...then adding to the fact that you don't have snake and wind through roads to get to your destination. A drive that took 2hrs 15min, will take us 40min tops. I begin throttling down, and setting the prop back to decend back down to 1500'.

We arrive at FFA and while I'm used to seeing a decent amount of traffic, there was none. Winds were again calm, so go with the historical wind data, and setup for RWY 20. As we turn into the downwind leg, Emil takes a GREAT shot of the monument.

I'm still getting used to operating a constant speed prop, versus the fixed pitch I'm used to. Transitioning back to full prop (rpm) takes a little more time, and I'm not quite "ahead" of the airplane. Once I slow her down, and do all that, I'm usually back on track. Landings usually make first time passengers a little nervous, as their not used to pearing down at the runway. Still, Emil showed no concern, and I give my lovely crew a nice squeky landing! Always a good thing, especially when in a plane I don't fly as much.

We taxi up to the parking area, and find two powered gliders prepping their gliders for flight. While I certainly think their neat, I just wouldn't want to go up in one. Not enough, um, frame around me I guess. Though I'm sure that's the whole point. We were half-way up the monument walk when one took off. From my point of view they were pitching pretty darn high for a while, I was quite impressed actually.

We took in the sites, and ended up diverting to the museum, as it was closing at 5PM. We had 15 minutes, but it gave me enough time to buy some trinkets for Maggie and the Misses. WOOT! Refrigerator magnets, she'll love those! LOL Hmm maybe I should get a T-Shirt too! Maggie picked out a book and a magnet, and we went to catch up with Emil.

We check out the Wright Flyer replica, which never gets old. Emil mentioned they had some serious cahones (sp?), to do what they did. Indeed, as what goes up, must come one comes down can mean another day, or sadly meeting one's maker. Thankfully neither of them met any demise that December day, and gave us all wings. To this day, I always remember, Take-offs are optional, landings are mandatory. (Rule #2 on the W.A.R. list :)

Sadly the park begins to close, but that doesn't stop Maggie from running down the first three landing points. It'd be nice to have her energy. It's a long walk back, and one of the park rangers try and tell us we need to go the other way. "We flew in Sir!" "Oh, ok...nevermind" You'd think they'd be more used to that.

Back in the plane! "da plane, da plane!" This time, after a quick review with Emil, we plan for his first Take off! Always a cool moment! I man the rudder and throttle, and do a short field launch. I give him the word and he begins lightly pulling back! WOOT! We're smoothly off the ground, and as he notices, he pulls back more quickly. I quickly tell him to push forward, get the nose down, and make sure he doesn't pull back more. After he lets it down, I remind him I did the same thing my first time. Ahhh it seems so long ago. As my instructor did, I tell him to keep the nose at the horizon, and we continue to climb. (NOTE to those picky pilots out there: It's understood Vy is such that requires a higher pitch, and keeping it at horizon creates airspeed > than Vy, but it's a good first training method). I ask him to give me a turn to the right...oh ok my other right is fine too! It was all good. I'll have to ask him to put his 2c on the whole thing for us!

Next we fly over coastal shores, at a mere 2000' feet. I'd love to fly lower, but much of the area is protected national seashore parks. (FAA requires overflying of parks to be 2000' above ground level.) The view was fantastic, as I skate back and forth of each side of the islands. We come up on our first lighthouse on Bodie Island. Smartley enough, it carries the same name of the island. Even from 5 miles away we can see it's distinctive and straight black & white stripes.

On our way to Cape Hatteras, I asked Maggie if she was ready for a "roller coaster!" She squelled with a prompt "Yes daddie, I want roller coaster ride!" I turn to Emil, and you could tell he was a little concerned about this manuever! I turn to him and tell him to pucker up and get ready. I get the plane set up for manuevers, and woosh, full throttle as I pitch up. You feel the G-forces plant you in the seat, and then I pitch over, and pull the feel your stomach move up as your dair'iar becomes light. "Weee, that was fun daddie! Do it again!" I look at Emil "That was wild man!" I do another one, pitching up a little harder, and down a little more. Maggie's just squeling with joy! I give everyone's body a chance to recover, and the plane as well. I must be getting more consistent with it, as she was back to cruise airspeed and altitue quickly. I ask everyone if they're ready for a real good one. Emil laughs and says "uh, sure". "Ok, now this one's really gonna get yur butt off the seat. I smoothly pull up to high pitch, and push over harder and faster, keeping the throttle in a little longer. Wooosh, up our butts go feeling some good negative Gs. Even the keys float up! Emil's eyes were wider than I've ever seen as he grabs the dash! The last one for the night, leaves everyone happy!

Finally, the cou'de gra, Cape Hatteras! Still at 2000' I did a slow 360° manuever around it. Smartly using the zoom, Emil grabbed a fantastic shot of it's new home. The last time I saw it, it was still on the beach front! I think that was back in '97! I think they began moving it, amazingly so, back in '99 and took them just a few weeks to do it!

It was getting late, and the sun began to set. While initialy we wanted to get back earlier so we could have a nice view of the land, it gave us the most beautiful view of all. As it softly set, you could really see it reflect off the ocean. It was a really cool unique way to see the day end.

After the sun set, it was relatively quiet, and the air was really cool. I had to turn on the heat for the first time! Within 20 minutes we're overflying washington, and decending down for Greenville. I click on the lights, and enter downwind for 20. I notice the lights seem "dimmer" than I'm used to. I usually turn them down to medium on final, but they were still dim. The runway seemed much less visible, as I flare late and WEE a bounce...AIEEEE DANG! I get the nose level, then reset the flare, and land firmly. (After shutdown, I realized what my problem was, I had left my sunglasses on! DOH! Hmm, must add that to landing checklist..take off stupid sunglasses!)

We taxi back, and perform the sad duty of shutting down the plane. 2.6 hours of x-c flight time added to the log, and a buckefull of memories to go along with it. The journey never fails to do that! We took some video too, so hopefully I'll have something put together early next week! Thanks again to my awesome and willing crew; Emil & Maggie! I hope you had as much fun as I did!