Monday, December 15, 2008

Friends, Food, & Flight...what more do you need?

During our training, we'd always hear about the immortalized 100$ Cheeseburger. This, of course, is referring to flying to some remote airport, and enjoying a tasty treat. The burger is a few bucks, but getting there...priceless! I'd been dying to do this very thing with my work mates since beginning my training. Last week we finally got the chance to do just that!

Our plan was fly to Beaufort, a nice little coastal town near Moorehead City. We heard the "Sandbar" was a good pick and close by. Originally set for Friday lunch, the weather simply didn't clear out in time. Sooo we postponed to Saturday and the weather was clear and perfect!

Up for the short hop & promising seafood were Emil & Ty.

Profile: Emil "I don't do crazy" Sanchez
-Emil's always up for a fun trip, as long as it doesn't envolve a gas station!
Duties - Eat food, have fun, take pictures, nuff said...

Favorite Manuever - The "rollercoaster"!

Profile: Ty "No touchscreen" Riser
-Ty's recently been biten by the flight bug!
- I have a funny feeling he wants a touchscreen phone from Santa (T-mobile letting him down).
Duties - Eat Food, have fun, help fly dis hear airplane, and test PIC's skills with (or rather without) flaps.
Favorite Manuever - No flaps landings

Weather was cool & fantastic, and we'd have a tailwind going down. It would be a quick 28min flight once airborne. The route (PGV-MRH) promised a nice view going over the huge Nuese River, along with overflying New Bern, Cherry point, and of course the NC coast at Beaufort. We soon found it didn't dissappoint!

Our vehicle of choice would be the Diamond DA-40 today. Ty flew in the DA-20 with friend Bob, and now he'd get to experience the big brother with a glass cockpit. The usual preflight succesfully completed, and the fuel was plentifull but not past the 35g for weight & balance limits. I headed back inside to find Emil & Ty ready to go. Inside, the engine roared to life of the things the DA-40 does far better than the 20 on a cold day. (They spent 10 min trying to get the 20 started during my preflight). Moments later we were departing RWY 02.

I've noticed this plane really wants to get off the ground...which is usually normal in the colder months, but for the 40 it's occuring too soon airspeed wise! I have to force her to stay on the ground, else if I let her come right up, the stall horn immediatly goes off, and I have to perform the 'ol soft field method of holding her in ground effect. (So now that's just what I do each time).Other than that she's flying just fine.

We have a bit of low level chop, that hangs around even at 3500'. I get flight following, and the sightseeing begins. The landscape is the typical shades of winter, but you won't find any white stuff here. We might see a white Christmas once in a 12 year span. Soon we find ourselves nearing the river, and close to New Bern. Ah, a much nicer view than the dreary landscape before. We can see plenty of people tooling around on their boats, enjoying the non-typical 53°F warmth.

We soon see a huge highway clover and bridge system. I don't even wanna think how much that cost the taxpayers. Still it looks quite nice from up here. By now most of the light turbulence subsided, and cherry point was kindly pointing out the occasional traffic.

10 NM from Beaufort, Cherry Point gave us clearance to decend through their airspace. Though we didn't get a pic going in, we have a nice one of Cherry Point going out. MRH airport reminds me allot of Manteo, in that it looms on the edge of land stretching out to the sea (or sound). It's never really intimidated me to see the edge of the runway so close to the water. (A good pic comes later).

An Aztec is on long final for 08, which wouldn't have been my first pick (winds varied from 340 to 020). Still winds are light, so I don't mind a slight crosswind. I'm blown closer to the runway in the downwind than I'd like, so I abandon the square base to final, and circle it around. I don't compensate enough for the wind, and I'm a bit right on final. No problem, as I get her back on track (I remeber not to correct to much and too quickly.) I had flaps to T/O and give Ty the word to "give me full flaps". Normally I'd handle that duty directly, but uh, Ty has long legs and it's between then on the panel! I feel the plane settle, which was strange...I didn't know if the wind had changed or what. I increased power to stabilize the decent. I notice my airspeed...100k! WHOA, WTH! At this bank, with those flaps, I shouldn't be PICKING UP SPEED! Yet I was. "Crud I'm way to fast" I announce over the comm. Near the threshold throtlle cut, I was still at 90k...15k too fast. I simply hold her off...slowly bleeding airspeed, and at half the runway I touchdown. Somewhat firm, but not bad. It's then I go to retract flaps, and notice the problem during approach...they were fully up! I had failed to visually check the flap position...normally I look right after I set them. In this case, my flow didn't happen, because I asked for it to be done. I cannot fault Ty for my lack of proper flap instructions, but he indeed cleaned up the flaps instead of switching to full. OMG I couldn't believe I just did a no flaps landing! Even with crosswind I at least have the first stage of flaps (T/O - 15°). It certainly explained the excessive speed!

Whilst I was getting over that, the FBO was ready for me and guided us to the parking. We'd pick up 10gal of fuel to avoid the 15$ landing fee. We get instructions on how to walk to the Sandbar Restaurant, and we quickly realize...this isn't the short walk he mentioned over the phone. It takes us 25min to walk there, most of which involves walking around the airport. A few stray dogs tagged along, hoping for a treat. After passing a lot of huge sailing vessels, the sign for the Sandbar looms.

They obviously have an artist in the family, as the sign, ceiling, bathroom doors, etc...were all painted in vivid colors. Almost with an aggressive brush, paintings of everything from the sea life, to tiki images loomed. This place certainly had character, but was the food as good as our buddy Dave said it would be? Ah indeed it was. Ty ordered a couple rounds of oysters as appetizers. I had to refrain, as my stomach & head remembered the last time I chugged down oysters. Ty & Emil were lovin' 'em though!

We had a very nice view of the harbour as sat. We all ordered some form of seafood platter, and the waiter, whom also looked like the owner, was very quick and friendly. The winds had changed and now the planes approach took them right over and beside the restaurant. Apart from the roar of planes to and fro, it was a very quiet scene. Our dishes arrived quickly, and the food...awesome! Dave didn't let us down! I could barely eat all my shrimp and scallops! Thumbs up from all the guys! Ty ended up being sneaky, and grabbin' the tab inside! Someone get this guy a touchscreen phone! He deserves it!

Alas, time to head out. After dismissing the long wait for a taxi, we walked back. On our way around the airport taxiways, one guy in a mooney was zooming around! He must have been in a major hurry...any faster, and he could have lifted off the taxiway!

I grabbed the fuel receipt, checked the fuel (which didn't seem like they added the 5gal to the right wing). I dismissed it, as we still had 28gal total. Soon after we were up in the wild blue again. Before turning home, I decided to climb and go out over the coast and check out the view. It was really a nice site. Emil, as always, snapped some nice pics!

<--(Up the Nuese River) (A nice view of Beaufort & the Airport)-->

Flying back at 4500' was far smoother. Ty has some helo flight experience, so after a quick breafing on the G1000, controls, and the trim was set, I handed over the controls. After a few minutes of getting the feel for her, he was flying pretty well. Altitude was maintained well, and if he was getting off the GPS track, he'd intercept nicely.

Soon we were near PGV and a few other Diamonds were buzzing around. I came in nicely, ensuring that the flaps were correct this time around. I was after a nice greaser, and ended up being about a foot off the runway when she began to stall. Dang, not what I was hoping for...a minor hop. Ah well. I put it out of my mind as I still make the first turn-off back to the FBO. I always mourn pulling up to the parking...the time was short 1.4 hour on the tach, 1.7 on the hobbs. As always, it's not a question of when do I WANT to fly again, but when do I have the FUNDS to fly again. In this case, much thanks go to Emil & Ty for helping pay their share of flight costs!!

Everyone seems to leave happy, as Ty talks of flyin' to Fayetteville. It's always nice to leave with smiles, and talks of them beginning their journey to become pilots themselves!

(Photos courtesy of Emil Sanchez! Thanks man!)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sometimes the wind doesn't play nice.

This trip would be no exception, in fact it was nearly scrubbed altogether. Winds at PGV were 31015G24 (310° 15knots, gusts to 24k). Winds aloft were 320 @ 30k! The most notable runways are 02/20 and 08/26, and thus promised a crosswind of 50° to 70°. Even with the gusts, they are well within the DA20s limits, but I don't like to get anywhere near those. So I was about to scrub it, when one of the instructors reminded me that 33 was open! At 2700', it would be a nice short field T/O! I looked again at the winds at our Wilmington destination (ILM), and they were high but steady. So off we go!

I was quickly reminded of how much it sucks to pre-flight a plane in 4°C wheather, with the wind laughing in your face! I kept Maggie in the lounge so she'd stay warm. After a grueling 10 minutes, she was ready to go.

Inside, it was marvelous to put the top down...ahhhh a shield from the bitter windchill. Aparently, the DA20 had it's own reservations, as she refused to start! It must have taken 5 minutes of coaxing, and figuring out how long to prime & how much throttle to get her to spring to life. The battery was now in the red with no success. I gave it a minute, and tried again, 6 sec of priming, and closed throttle, and she FINALLY roared to life. I always feel like an idiot when it takes so many tries to start! When the heck are planes gonna get TRUE fuel injection, dang it!

Taxing was certainly an interesting event, as I recalled the elevator & aileron positions for the wind. I kept hard rudder most of the time, just to stay straight! The gusts were enough to shake anyone's resolve! Still, she was running good, and I pushed on. As I did my short field take-off, I realized I completely forgot to activate the flight plan! DOH! Ah well...

I contacted Washington Ctr, and got flight following. I'd been nervous about this trip, as it's to a class D area, that really operates like a class C. A regular class D is super easy to me, but not class C or B. Allot more communication to keep up with, including monitoring the comm and picking up the ATIS Info. With flight following, at least I knew I would be handed off exactly when needed, and thus one less thing to worry about.

I was informed an Tango Airmet was announced, to which I muttered "no duh!." This had been one of the shakiest rides I've ever had. Seeing the altimeter go immediatly 100' above, then 100' below, then back to 4500' was even testing MY stomach. Poor maggie was trying to read a book, combined with the turbulence, was starting to affect her tummy! I had her focus on outside, gave her some direct air, and she felt better. For me, the trim was darn near useless, and had to go with the punches for the most part, and correct when things settled. I was skidding 15 degrees to stay on my desired ground track! I was starting to fear the upcoming landing at ILM!

Fortunately the comm was smooth, as Wash Ctr handed me off to Seymour Johnson...from there, a huge 40 miles out from ILM, Seymour transferred me to ILM Approach. oooooh boy, here we go. I wasn't expecting to be transferred so soon, and hadn't had the ATIS info yet. I think they understood, as they said "223DC, maintain hdg to ILM VOR, right base rwy 35, advise when you have information Echo." I radio back the instructions, and then grab the ATIS on comm 2. Winds are 320° 15k Gusting to 22k, rwy 35 in use. *smirk* ooh boy, a slight xwind and gusts, this will be interesting!

About 9 miles away, I'm long since wondering when they're gonna give me my clearance to decend. "3DC turn hdg 160" Ok now they're at least vectoring me around. A few minutes later, I get an instruction I hadn't heard before "3DC cancel hdg 160, setup right base for 35, contact tower on 119.9" I repeat it all, unsure of why it was worded as such. Now I'm further away from ILM and beside 35, yet still at 4500'! I start to turn to give me a 45 right entry into the downwind, and begin decending. The tower gives me my clearance to which my mind says "sure, be there in 10 minutes lol"

I want to really get down, but I can't. I don't want to cold shock the engine, and she's already borderline on the cold side. I slow her way down, while keeping the decent limited to 1000' per minute, and I leave the mixture at a leaner setting. It seems to work, and I enter the downwind, still high at 1500'. I feel the wind pushing me SE, and have to keep around 10° of right bank to stay straight. It's always a weird feeling when skidding or slidding, to see the plane pointed one way, yet going another.

Since I'm worried about the crosswind, I keep my speed up. Unfortunetly on final, with so much wind, I couldn't get her slowed down to pull full flaps. They say you shouldn't use full flaps anyway in high crosswind. I cross the threshold and I'm doing 75k...way faster than the 60-65 I'm used to. The wind is gusting me, causing me to balloon. I get her pointed down, and the gust dissappears...this goes on for a bit as I bleed the airspeed. I'm workin' the rudders like crazy to maintain the centerline. I was getting real worried about the alignment at touchdown. Either skill or luck (most likely the latter), I had the plane nice and straight, with the left wing a bit low, and the left wheel chirped, shortly followed by the others. Whew! I was more than glad that was over. I used up 3000' of a 7400' runway when it was over...a rediculously huge number when being used to a typical 1200-1600' Still I turn off on taxiway Hotel, and pick up ground. A left on Alpha, followed by a right on Charlie, and I spot the desired Air Wilmington FBO. The nice fellow leads me to my space and I shut her down.

I sat and thought...that was the most challenging flight of my life! Still we arrived safely, with our tummies a little less happy. We had run late, and so had my folks coming to pick us up.

After visiting for a few hours, it was time to head home. I had no desire to practice xwind landings at night. Winds were back to normal, and the Tango Airmet was gone. Tim snapped a few shots of us getting ready to go at ILM.

The trip back was slow, now against the NNW winds, giving us a 95-105k Ground speed. Still I was happy that the turbulence, for the most part, was gone. I was able to snap some pics and videos of our journey home that I'll post later.

It was dusk when we arrived at PGV, much darker than I hoped it would be. With only 02/20 being lighted, I would have to do my biggest xwind landing yet. I setup for what was dominant for current traffic (02).
As I pulled the throttle at the numbers, the wind literally drug me suddenly toward the runway. I added power and got into a 20° right bank...watching as the hospital slide off my right... Crud, I'm gonna be way to close. I threwout the square pattern and made and direct 180 to final. It worked in that I didn't overshoot, which I would've if I'd tried to stay square and fight the wind. Unfortunetly, it meant I didn't go through my step down in speed, and I was on final at 90k. WAY to fast, to the point I was ready to go around if I couldn't get it to slow down. Throttle was cut, and I pitch back to slow down, but the best I could do was 80k. Over the threshold, again fighting the x-wind, and I'm much faster than I like. I get it to 75k and throwin full landing flaps. Almost immediatly she begins to behave nicely...I just hold her off a little longer... A firm landing, but no bounce.

In all the main thing I realized today, is I was often behind the airplane when doing the x-wind landings. I hadn't done them for a while, and while I did keep my speed higher, it was likely TOO high. I wasn't used to burning up so much runway either, and having to be moving so quickly on the rudder! At least I remembered the basics, and kept the wind side wing down, and landed on the correct wheel first. I'm gonna dedicate some time to work on x-wind landings solo, so I'm not so behind next time!