Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Love those Pics!

Since it's a slow time of year for my flying (too much bad weather, too much time spent making pretty and tasty holiday cookies, and too much time in general merriment...), I thought I might post some backlogged pictures from our trip to Nashville at Thanksgiving.

The river coming into Nashvile-- with the dam visible.

Niece G met us with her father, B, at the plane when we landed. We haven't taken her up yet-- her mom wants her to be a little older-- but I have a feeling she'd make a good pilot some day!

Husband and Brother J took a little excursion (via the plane) to J's home in Chattanooga. While there, J showed Husband around their new house, the farm that he manages, and around town. The picture on the left is stacks of shitake mushrooms growing! They brought back a ton of them for us to take home. Yummy! (I'm glad I didn't have to figure out if this is ok to take through security-- also glad I didn't have to think about whether the pumpkin cheesecake I took down to Nashville counted as a gel!). The picture on the right is J showing off his gasoline engine-powered bike. Yup, you read that correctly. J attached a small weedeater engine to a bike in order to provide easy and quick transportation around the farm that he manages. Crazy!

Here we are back at the airport, preflighting for our trip home. As you can tell-- Flyer (the dog) is all ready to hop in the plane. B, G, and Nephew H are taking a few minutes to look at the planes and the equipment around the airport.

And here's a nice group shot of Husband, his mom, and G and H before we loaded up and took off. Maybe one of these days we'll convince Husband's mom to go up with us!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

And It Rains Some More.

Rain, rain go away,
Come again another day...

But not on a day I want to fly! Weather in the area is keeping all the birds on the ground. I hope it lifts before Christmas! (For the first time ever, I'm NOT dreaming of a white Christmas!)

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Ambassador of the Skies

Virginia has an aviation ambassador program: the goal is to fly to every public airport in the state and get a stamp in a little book (your aviation "passport", attend a few aviation-related events, and you receive a leather jacket as a prize. Husband and I discovered this a few months back when we went to Williamsburg, but had only gotten stamps for two airports. We decided last weekend that we really should take advantage of this cool program... so we're officially on the hunt!

So, when the weekend rolled around and we started discussing where to fly, we decided we should try to get a few more airports in our passports. Saturday was gorgeous-- clear blue skies with great visibility and lighter winds than predicted. Weather wise, we could go just about anywhere! We picked a line out of JYO to the southwest, and identified a few airports along the route. Our thinking was to land at different airports and get as far as we could by 4pm, and then to start heading back so we were sure to make it back to JYO before dark. We also made the pledge to not just rush in and out of each airport (sort of like leaving the car idling), but instead to take the time to look around each airport and discover each ones personality. Oh-- and we also decided it would be fun to take a picture of the plane at each airport-- something that captured the essence of the airport. I'm not a great photographer, so we'll see just how well that idea turns out! But for now, we'll give it a go!

After our trip to Nashville, we totalled up our logbooks. We found that Husband has around 130 hours and I have roughly 175... which is a pretty big difference. The delta in our hours is completely explicable-- I got my license a month before Husband-- and therefore flew him all over during that month; I tend to fly and he navigates if we're uncertain where we're going or think we'll need to closely watch weather; and Husband just enjoys looking out the window more while I really enjoy flying the plane! But-- I realized I need to be more purposeful in giving him more PIC time- so Husband was PIC for the whole flight instead of switching seats like we usually do.

Our first airport of the day Front Royal. Front Royal is basically just on the other side of the ridge-- so we've both flown over it many times (probably at least 25). In fact, I can remember my early pilotage attempts with M occasionally ended up with me hopelessly lost over Front Royal, thinking I was over Wincester or Charlestown or somewhere. Despite it's proximity, neither of us had ever had a reason to fly there. So we were pleasantly surprised to find a nice little airport. Our practice is to give each other "airport" briefings before we approach an airport--we go over the elevation, traffic pattern altitude, runway length and width, frequencies, and any unusual characteristics of the airport or area. For FRR, I noticed that the chart showed a right traffic pattern -- but instead of a runway number, it had an asterisk. In the AFD, I found the explanation: right traffic is only for gliders, ultralights, and gyrocopters. Yup, we were going to be mixing in glider airspace! Knowing how windy it was supposed to have been, I figured we wouldn't see any ultralights, but sure enough, when we tuned in CTAF, there were gliders in the pattern.

It took a few radio calls and a lot of looking (those things are hard to spot!), but we finally figured out where both gliders and the tow plane were... and Husband took us down for a nice landing. As we taxied in, one of the gliders came in and landed-- a very cool sight! Even cooler, as we walked toward the FBO, the tow plane took off with another glider. It was amazing how quickly they both got off the ground and in the air-- and by this point, it wasn't really even that windy.

Inside the FBO, they had a display of all sorts of miscellaneous military equipment-- most of it aviation related. We talked to the guys who were coordinating the glider activity and learned that they are out there most weekends between March and November. You can buy a sort of pass (I think it's actually a club membership) and then pay a fee for instructor and glider time. Husband wants to come try it some weekend. I might even try it-- though I tried hang-gliding once-- the kind where you're towed behind a plane up to altitude... and didn't like that at all!

Our next airport was 8W2-- New Market. It was only a short hop, so I had my hands full trying to find the frequencies and get the radios and airport briefing set up. After a little discussion as to which way to enter the pattern-- and which runway to use (no AWOS), Husband got us set up for a nice landing. When we got out of the plane, we could hear some music playing over the loudspeaker... but didn't see anyone around. We peered through the windows of the FBO and were about to declare our hunt for a stamp a bust, when we saw the stamp in the window of the FBO. I decided to try the door just in case-- and sure enough, the door to the FBO was unlocked. So we let ourselves in and got our stamp! For this picture-- we didn't see much that would be of interest to others... but I did spot what appeared to be big chicken houses right next to the runway! (My mother's father raised chickens, among other agricultural pursuits, so we have something of a family legend about chicken houses and coops.) So of course, the picture above shows the chicken houses under the left wing. It's always a little surprising to me that GA airports seem to often be in bucolic places!

Our last airport of the day was VBW-- Bridgewater. Husband did a great job of getting us into this airport. We still haven't done that many real-world short field landings... so I get a little nervous with fields shorter than around 2800 or 3000 feet (I know that this would not be short to many 172 pilots-- but JYO's 5500 foot runway has spoiled us!). Husband has more confidence on these (maybe because of my experience landing on a 2500 foot runway with a tailwind and wet pavement... not so smart!), and he did very well with the 2600 and 2700 foot runways that day.
As we taxied off the runway, we were surprised to see rows of King Airs and other larger aircraft-- including the DC3 in the picture above. Most looked to be in flying order, though they were in varying stages of repair. What we couldn't figure out-- how had they gotten into this little strip?
In any case, as we got out of the airplane, a security guard in a little cart drove over towards us. We waited for him to drive up-- worried that maybe we had missed a NOTAM or something! But when we told him that we were hoping to get a stamp, he told us to hop on and drove us over to the office. He took us in and gave us the stamp. As we walked with him, we asked about the planes out on the ramp. Apparently, there's an aircraft restoration business at the airport-- which explains all the old airplanes! We asked if we could take a picture of our plane with the DC3-- and he said sure. Then, after hesitating for a moment, he also told us to come with him and took us to the door of a hangar attached to the office. There, in the hangar, was a beautifully restored/maintained T-6 Texan! Our jaws dropped! I asked if I could take a picture-- but he was worried he might get in trouble (I hope I don't get him in trouble for writing about this-- he didn't let us loose in there or anything, just showed us from the door). Still, it was awesome to see in the hangar.
After ogling all the planes again, Husband taxied our plane over across the little gravel strip and positioned it so I could get a picture with the DC3, and then we started back out. BTW-- the picture at the top of this post was the sky behind the airport as we departed. This is a beautiful picture-- but it doesn't even begin to do justice to the sight. Though it seemed really early and still very light, I knew that the sun would soon be setting-- and our plane would eventually turn into a pumpkin. So despite Husband's desire to go to just one more airport, he turned us toward home and we headed back to JYO.
We were rewarded with a great sunset as we entered the pattern. It's tough to tale a good sunset picture-- especially from a plane! But this gives you an idea.
I must say-- we started the day not knowing what to expect, but ready for the adventure of exploring new airports. It was really cool to see the different personalities of each airport along the route-- and all were within 75 miles of JYO. It really gave us an appreciation for what GA has to offer... and made us wish, not for the first time, that JYO weren't within the ADIZ and could have a little more of a relaxed atmosphere. But then, that's what make JYO unique!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Homeward Bound-- Part 4 of the Long Journey

I realize that it probably seems like I've spent a lot of posts talking about one trip. But we learned so much on each leg, that it felt right to devote a post to each leg. So we've finally made it to the trip home (though I have another post started about a side trip that Husband took with one of his brothers while we were in Nashville... but I'll save that for another time).

We had planned to depart on Sunday-- but were keeping an eye on the weather, knowing that we might need to leave early to make it back. Saturday, we double-checked the weather and decided that though the forecast showed clouds, it looked reasonable for getting home. By Saturday night, though, the forecast had worsened. We decided that our best chance to get out of Nashville and back home was to leave as soon as it was light on Sunday. So we set the alarm for 5:45, warned B that we'd be waking him early to take us to the airport, and went to bed. Husband woke up Sunday morning and checked the forecast. The 6am forecast (put out around 20 minutes before 6) showed that contrary to prior forecasts, the clouds would be at a nice high height of 8000 feet for the whole morning. After a quick (and admittedly sleepy) conversation, we decided to sleep another hour and then get up and go.

Of course, delaying our departure by an hour meant that the family was up and about before we left... so it was really delaying the departure for two hours. Just before we left, Husband checked the weather again. Oh no! Soon after we checked the 6am, forecast, they issued a special (codeword: speci) forecast. This new forecast showed the ceiling was dropping by the minute! We started going double time to get packed up and out of there.

By then time we were ready to go, almost everyone decided to join us at the airport for a sendoff (that was really nice!). So we bundled up G and H, B's two kids who are 4 and 2, and Husband's mom, S, and B, and headed for the airport. The fun part of this is that we got to drive one of the cars out onto the field to load the plane. I know that sounds silly, but it was still cool! :)

We got a little more fuel, did a preflight, and took a few pictures of the gang with the plane (I'll publish them as soon as I get them off the camera!). One more look at the forecast seemed to be in order. We didn't like what we saw, but decided to give it a try. We looked at the minimum safe altitudes in the area and decided that if we were able to get up over around 2000 feet, we'd continue. If we couldn't make it to 2000, we'd turn around and land again. After hurried goodbyes, we got in and taxied out to the runway for departure, with me flying and Husband in the right seat. As we roared down the runway (can a Cessna roar?!), Husband waved to the family watching us. We were off... but not for long. We knew that there were towers not too far off the end of the runway, so were prepared to turn a bit early to stay well clear. We made the turn to the East, and just seconds later-- at around 1700 feet, ran straight into a layer of clouds. We were both a little surprised-- we'd had brushes with clouds on the trip down, but had always had a bit of warning beforehand. This time, there was no warning. I think the difference was that the clouds on the other day were puffy cumulus types. The clouds on this day were stratus- thick layers of clouds. After a moment of breathlessness, I had the plane in a turn and descending back to pattern altitude. But I was pretty worried because I knew from studying the chart-- and looking at the screen in front of us, that there were some other towers I needed to avoid. Unfortunately, on the other side was a TFR that I needed to avoid. So I told Husband to keep an eye on those towers-- both on the map and on the screen, and let me know if I started to come anywhere near them.

After a minute, we were clear of the clouds, the towers, and headed back to the now familiar JWN pattern for runway 02. We landed without incident and as we taxied off the runway, Husband's phone began to vibrate. His brother was calling to see what was happening-- they had all watched us and saw that we had quickly entered a cloud. We reassured him that we were ok, and that we were going to go take another look at the weather and decide what to do.

Looking at the weather and the charts, it was pretty clear that weather north of Nashville was reasonable for VFR flight, but weather south, east, and west was not. So we knew our only chance was if we could get north. The question was whether or not to try for it. Husband started calling AWOS for various airports to see if we could get more accurate information for what was happening. I headed out to talk to some pilots who had just landed to see if they had information on conditions north of the field. They had actually just flown in (IFR) from West Virginia-- pretty much exactly the route we wanted to go. They confirmed that if we could make it out of the immediate area, conditions were much better elsewhere. We also determined that the weather was likely to deteriorate throughout the day, so it was basically now or "never". Talk about pressure!

Here's where the fun begins. We had to decide what to do-- take off again and take another chance on the clouds? Or hang it up and wait for better weather? Or find another way home-- which likely meant leaving the plane, the dog, or both in Nashville. What would you do?

At first, I said no. This is the sort of thing that gets pilots killed. Husband was willing to acquiesce and leave it at that. But we decided to think about things with the idea being that we should not go-- which meant that instead of thinking of why we shouldn't, we were thinking about why we should. What we decided is that:
  1. we could change our path and head straight north instead of going east first
  2. we could airport hop-- fly from airport to airport as opposed to a straight line. This approach would give us more options in case weather was worse than anticipated, and would encourage us to make the smart decision in case the weather was worse (hey! the airport's right there!)
  3. we reevaluated the minimum safe altitude, and realized that with the exception of the one group of towers that we could see from the airport, the msa was actually much lower-- around 1600 feet... meaning we could fly a little lower and still be safe.

With all of these things in mind, we decided to give it another shot. As we walked back out on the ramp, we also realized that it was much brighter outside than before and that the clouds seemed a little higher and more promising. We talked briefly about switching up our pilot flying/pilot not flying, but decided that it was working pretty well and stuck with that arrangement. So we climbed back in and headed out for try number two.

This time, we had success. We kept a very close eye on the altitude-- Husband calling out towers and constantly tuning different AWOS and ATIS frequencies so we could get an idea of weather. We did about 3 zigzags back and forth (over different airports), and finally felt like we were out of the worst of it about 30-40 minutes after departure. Clouds were still a little low, but we were consistently able to stay several hundred feet over minimum altitude and around 500 feet below the clouds. Of course, just as we started to get comfortable with our situation, I started to get uncomfortable with human factors! I had to go! Luckily, Husband was very nice about all of this, and we prepared to land at the next closest airport, 6I2. We landed no problem (I was worried my human factor need might disrupt my concentration!) and taxied over to the fuel pumps. No sense landing without getting fuel! After a quick stop to fuel, grab some snacks, and take care of the human factors... we were on our way again. This is how a quick stop is supposed to work!

As we took off this time, we found that we were able to get much higher. Going a little at a time (I was still concerned about ending up in clouds), we made it up to 5500 feet. I can't tell you how good that felt! We picked flight following as we bypassed the Lexington airspace. Now that the weather had cleared and we were headed home with a 24 knot tailwind (drastic change from the trip out!), things were good-- and I remembered something. I love flying!

We only had two other obstacles to maneuver. The route we had picked to travel home meant that we would cross the mountains at the end of the trip, more or less going straight across them West to East. When we approached the mountains, we could see a lower layer of clouds developing over them. At the same time, we wanted to climb a bit to get above the highest peaks. So, we started to pick our way through-- which confused ATC a bit as it meant we deviated slightly from our course. After we told them that we were "deviating to avoid the mountains and the clouds", they were happy and just told us to let them know when we had decided on an altitude and a course.

After zigzagging around the mountains a bit (boy, is that terrain avoidance handy!), we saw what looked to be a break in the clouds ahead of us. I pointed the plane towards the break hoping it would be big enough to get through. After making it this far, I didn't want to have to turn around! We sailed past big puffy clouds, deceiving in their beauty, and thankfully far enough away to still be safe and legal. The mountains were just below us. Husband kept asking if we were far enough above. They were deceiving in their scale: they looked close enough to touch... until you looked at the houses and cars and realized that actually we were well above them. As the mountains started to get smaller below us, we breathed a sigh of relief. We made it past!

Now, we had to figure out the second piece... we hadn't filed a flight plan back into JYO because we had thought we'd need to stop again... but looking at the fuel gauge, we would reach JYO just after we entered our hour of reserve. Knowing that we were flying back into familiar territory with good weather, we felt fine with this... so we pressed on. We thought about asking the controller to help us file one, but decided she sounded busy, and since we were back in our stomping ground, Husband cancelled flight following and filed a flight plan with Leesburg FSS (Leesburg Radio). He also agreed that it was fine to turn off the autopilot and hand fly the rest of the trip. We had decided that flying over mountains and with crazy weather conditions was safer with the autopilot keeping us straight and level and on-course. All of our maneuvering was done by putting the autopilot in heading mode and adjusting our heading to get us around.

In any case, we made it back to JYO, safe and sound, after only a little over 4 hours in the air... and that was with our non-direct route. What a difference winds make! It felt so good to know that we had made this long trip-- all on our own. It also made us realize we really need to get our acts together and get our IFR ratings so that we have more options. And it made us want a faster plane in the future!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Joyriding with the Brothers

After our adventures, it was nice to walk into the warm familiarity of my mother-in-law's (S) house. I usually spend a lot of time cooking while I'm there-- partly because I'm really into cooking, partly because it's my established role, and partly because it's something to give structure and pass the time. It's been somehow easier to get to know each new sister-in-law (there are two others, now) if I have a spoon or a whisk in my hand. And early on, I started the tradition of providing tasty things to Husband's brothers to win them over. But this trip, I had something even better! A nice new-ish plane and a nice new-ish pilot's license!

So, to break up the days this trip, instead of the usual home improvement project that the brothers undertake for S, we decided to take a few trips out to the airfield. Friday was cloudy in the morning, but by the time we got underway, the clouds had started to lift enough for us to go give it a try. All four of us-- B, J, Husband and I went out to the airport, even though we knew only three of us would fly. I offered to let Husband go, but he thought they would be quite pleased if I took them.

The first challenge at the airport was getting fuel. The line guy had told us that self serve was $.80 less per gallon... which makes a big difference when you're buying 30 gallons or so! But this was our first experience with self serve. We talked about using the self serve when we flew to Bay Bridge-- until we found out that self serve there is $.25 MORE than full service. We managed to get the plane in the right spot, and get the ground placed correctly, and even figured out the trick to getting the fuel flow to start. It was pretty cool!

After fueling up, B, J, and I climbed back in and taxied out for departure. We put in a sort of zig-zag route into the GPS-- just so that we would have some sort of plan to follow... but really, we were just flying east, avoiding the TFR and the Charlie shelves... After takeoff, I extended out a ways to avoid these crazy tall towers (one of them was close to 2000 feet tall!) before turning right back towards our course. That took us right over Old Hickory Lake. This is one of the few times I've ever flown without a plan. Usually, we fly to go somewhere-- even if it's just to go check out another airport, or get lunch at some bad airport cafe. But there's almost always a real purpose to the flight-- even if we had to invent it ourselves. This was different. Though we had picked out an airport where we could land (ostensibly so B and J could switch seats), this was more just flying for the fun of it. So we sort of meandered along at about 1500 feet off the ground. We flew over the neighborhood where J's wife's parents live. And we flew over B & J's old boy scout camp. We went and looked at some sailboats, and B & J had me fly over a certain spot so they could see the "Crab"-- I'm still not sure what it was, but apparently it's some building that is built with all sorts of funny angles. After a little while, we decided to head back to the airport. I couldn't tell at that point if they were enjoying the experience-- they were both very quiet through all of this, but they both later affirmed that they had a great time.

The return to JWN was the most exciting part of the trip! JWN is right on the tip of BNA's airspace... and since we had been flying along the outside of the airspace, I figured we'd continue that arc and then turn back to make a 45 entry to the pattern for landing on 02. This was going reasonably well until a plane took off just as we were cross the extended centerline of the runway. Still shouldn't have been a problem-- if that plane had bothered to make any consistent calls or follow the proper pattern procedures. But no, that plane was an aerobatic plane (we assume, anyway), and it proceeded to make very sudden sharp turns in all directions-- including straight up-- all within 2 miles of the airport! Luckily, B and J were quite good at spotting traffic, and helped me keep tabs on the guy... but it was crazy! Every time I'd get established, he'd all of a sudden turn toward me, or cross my path, or something. The traffic warning was freaking out by this point-- trying to keep up with all the changes. And it was clear that this other plane was a lot faster than mine, too. Thankfully, we finally shook that plane (after calling out our position every 30 seconds or so- we had NO idea if he saw us!). There was another plane in the pattern as well-- that had come from the opposite direction. After a slight moment of panic when I thought we were on a 2 mile 45, but there was no runway in front of me, I readjusted my mental map to the right and entered a left downwind and managed to fly a nice pattern and land.

I was worried B and J might think I was a bad pilot because of all the craziness with the other guy. But I needn't have been-- the first thing they told Husband when he walked up was about this crazy aerobatics guy that was doing loops around our plane! Maybe a little embellishment, but hey, isn't that flying (fish) tales are all about?! :)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

One Night in Somerset-- Part 3 of the Long Journey

After checking in and getting Flyer (the dog) settled in the room, we ignored the "Do Not Leave Pets Alone in Room" sign and headed across the street to the Somerset Mall for some food. We were both starving after a long morning of frantically packing, checking the weather, getting to the airport and in the plane, and a stressful flight due to the weather uncertainty. I can't imagine what it would have been like to have tried this trip without the G1000. In fact, I felt a little silly for causing such a production and delaying for weather when the sky still looked okay, and there was just a little wind. I kept telling myself to trust the data we were getting from the points ahead of us on the journey, and that it was better to be on the ground, wishing to be in the air than to be in the air, wishing to be on the ground.

We had an *interesting* meal at the Somerset Tumbleweed Inn and thought about exploring the mall, but just as we left the restaurant, the rain came tumbling down. I have to admit feeling a little vindicated. Husband caught the look in my eyes and called me on it. We laughed, wondering if the kid who had brought us over the hotel was now thinking, "Oh.... That's the storm they were talking about!" After the rain came, we felt pretty at peace with our decision to hole up for the night, and made the best of it. We had both prepared for this sort of contingency and pulled out our laptops to get some work done. We even indulged and ordered pizza from Papa Johns for dinner. Hard to believe how quickly pizza comes when you're in a small town-- and it's the night before Thanksgiving.

After a good night sleep, a little workout on the hotel's treadmill, and a quick breakfast, we jumped in a taxi to head back over the airport. We had continued to monitor the weather through the night, assessing and reassessing our decision to land and overnight. So we thought everything was looking good for a 10am departure (we had waited to give the fog time to lift). On the drive to the airport, we talked to the taxi driver about the town. Apparently it's some sort of tourist town because of a nearby lake. We both lifted our eyebrows at that-- but didn't say anything (it looked like any other southern town to us!).

We climbed out of the taxi at the airport, and the sky did not seem to match our expectations. After preflighting, we were thankful to leave Flyer in the plane and go inside the warm FBO to figure out our options. Luckily, the FBO opened for a Gulfstream that had just come in, otherwise, we would have been sitting outside in the cold! For anyone looking for a quick fuel stop, I can highly recommend SME! They were so friendly, had a nice place to sit, decent computer access, and even had snacks out for us. At one point, they even offered to let us borrow the crew car to drive down to Nashville. We decided to wait and watch for a gap in the clouds that would let us out.

Watching the clouds rolls through and looking for a large enough opening reminded me a bit of being a little girl and trying to get the rhythm of the jump rope down so I could join a game of double dutch. While we waited for our 'jump rope game' to start, we wandered around looking at the airport. It was a nice little airport-- though they were chock-a-block with visiting planes. Another Gulfstream had landed the evening before-- and was still sitting there on the apron. Apparently the taxiway for the airport had recently been moved (perhaps to allow for an extension of a runway? or to provide more space for the airplane mechanic school based there?)-- and this had reduced the apron to the point that the staff weren't quite sure how they were going to turn the Gulfstreams around for departure. We ended up not seeing what they did-- fairly soon after the Gulfstream started its engines, we saw the opening we wanted, and made a dash for it, again with me flying and Husband navigating.

It was nice to be in the air again. We had to stay pretty low because of the clouds-- especially for the first few minutes. But we mainly stayed 100-200 feet above the VFR minimum safe altitude-- so we felt pretty good. Visibility (when we weren't in a cloud!) was pretty good-- and we could mostly see where the clouds were and appropriately ascend or descend as needed, so we only nicked a cloud once or twice. Departing the SME area, we flew right over the lakes the taxi driver mentioned. They were pretty cool! But it was a little alarming to fly so low over a body of water, especially when it seemed to be completely surrounded by state forest-- not a single good landing site around! We talked about what we would do if the engine quit on us right then. We both thought that trying to land in the treetops offered a better chance of survival than ditching in the lake, though maybe that had something to do with how cold we were right then!

Though it was a little strange to go so far 1500 feet above the ground, it was also kind of refreshing. We kept track of our route both on the chart and on the G1000, noting towers in our path. The terrain avoidance definitely gave us a little peace of mind as the landscape was mostly flat, but had little peaks interrupting the flatness from time to time. By this point, we felt very sure that we had made the right decision to wait out the weather, and the tension was measurably less in the cockpit. We both started to enjoy the flight and the sightseeing we were able to do along the way. All too soon, Husband started to notice landmarks that he recognized, and we were entering the edge of Nashville's airspace. We had decided to just fly along under the Charlie airspace (2400 feet), being careful to avoid the stadium TFR on our approach to John Tun airport (JWN).

We managed to get over the airport and into the pattern in the correct direction. The wind was really blowing hard across the plane as we flew downwind. I over-banked a tad turning final and Husband squawked a bit, especially since just as I started to roll out and simultaneously add flaps, the wind gusted preventing me from rolling out and instead keeping me turned steeply to the left. After getting that straightened out, and turning onto final, I was still having a little trouble getting a stable attitude and altitude-- but was relieved to see a four-light PAPI. The ground surface on this end of the runway was all over the place-- ridges, ravines, trees, wires, etc.

We settled out and floated out over the runway. Just as I thought the wheels would come down the last little bit, a big gust blew us up. I added a little power so that we wouldn't come back down too hard. Then, because it was an unfamiliar runway and I felt a little hesitation, I added power and did a go-around. Husband was pretty surprised-- he had been watching the wheels and knew I was only a few feet off the ground. We were both surprised when I took out a notch of flaps and we sank-- we both realized at the same time that I had only put in 20 degrees of flaps to begin with, so I was taking away important lift at a critical moment! Thankfully, the airspeed quickly started moving more to the green, and the stall horn stopped sounding, and the ground started floating away from us instead of toward us. This time around, I was nice and stable, so after a somewhat dramatic go-around, managed to get us on the ground in a respectable manner. We both let out a few "whoops" as we cleaned up the flaps and trim and started our taxi for the apron.

By the time we got the plane unloaded and all our bits and pieces stored, we saw Husband's brother B walk through the terminal and out onto the apron. After 6.5 hours of flying, 29 hours away from home, and a few unplanned detours, we made it safely to Nashville-- our first flying family vacation!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Unexpected Circumstances- Part Two of the Long Journey

After dipping the tanks to see how much fuel we needed to add, and requesting this from the line guy who met us, we scurried off to the FBO at HTS. (Side note: fuel was CRAZY expensive here-- over $6 a gallon!!!)

After taking care of a few personal needs, we settled down to take another look at the weather. Even though we have XM weather and all manner of gadgets in the plane, we always still like to take a look on the ground... just in case something new pops out at us. Besides-- it's a lot easier to consider your options and play with different scenarios when you're still on the ground. We confirmed at this point that we would not be making it to our final destination (Nashville) today. The line of storms that indicated the frontal line was already arriving in Nashville. Though Husband's mom had cheerfully told us in a voicemail a little earlier that the sun was shining and it was looking to be "a beautiful day" there, we knew that if the greens, yellows, and reds were showing up over the radar there, there was no way we'd be able to get past that line in the sky. Especially not in a 172 with only a VFR license!

So we considered the options. We could go south to Tri-Cities (TN), west toward Lexington (KY), or southwest to Somerset (KY). With all of these options, we would then be able to reassess in the air just how far we would then make it towards Nashville and adjust the plan accordingly. The idea was to get as far as we could, then land and find someplace to bed down for the night, letting the front pass over us while we were safely on the ground. We ruled out Tri-Cities pretty quickly. Though we have personal connections there-- family ties to the area-- this was also the furthest west of our options, making it less likely that the front would get past in time for us to then make it on to Nashville in time for the big turkey dinner Husband's mom was planning. While there was appeal to going straight west to Lexington (or even Louisville) as we were pretty certain the storms would be past the area in time for us to depart, we were concerned about the wind that preceeds a cold front. Winds not only slow us down while up in the air, they can make landing safely pretty tricky if encountered near the ground. Especially if gusts are involved (and they usually are with fronts). So, we opted for going toward Somerset.

With this decided, we gave the dog a little rest break of his own, and then hopped back in the plane for the second leg of the day. This time, Husband was PIC and I was on the radios and charts. As we flew towards the south and the west, the skies got grayer and the clouds got lower... and the winds got higher. We probably could have made it another 20 miles or so to the next airport, but we decided to play it safe. If we got down there and the winds were too strong for landing (the runway there was 5000 ft long, but only 40 feet wide!)... we would have to turn back towards the east-- going further away from our destination. Besides, Somerset had a nice-sized yellow splotch on the map that promised better options for lodging.

We felt like quite the pioneers as we came into Somerset. Husband had a great landing, and we talked to Unicom and let them know that we wished to stay the night. Some really nice guys helped us tie down and refuel so that we'd be ready to go the next day. Then we all went inside to try and figure out lodging for the night. Luckily, there was a list of nearby hotels and we only had to call two to find one that had availability and allowed dogs. The next step was to arrange transportation to the Comfort Inn. We again got lucky as one of the guys working there offered to drive us over in the FBO's crew car. Ten minutes later, we were standing in the lobby of the Comfort Inn, checking in. I've always thought that folks associated with general aviation were nice people... this experience really proved that thinking!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

When the Rain Comes-- Part 1 of the Long Journey

After a night of restless sleep wondering what the weather would be, morning finally came. Mist and low visibility prevented a really early departure, but we were wheels up around half past 8. We were still a little apprehensive about where we'd run into the frontal line that was sweeping across the country, but decided that we'd get as far south and west as we could.

It was, as usual, beautiful flying across the Shenandoah. I actually took a minute to enjoy the Fall foliage (it's really late this year in the Washington area, so it was in full swing). In our typical arrangement, I was the pilot flying and Husband was the pilot not flying, since we thought there would be some twiddling with the G1000 required to stay clear of storms. Flyer was asleep in the back seat, with his head resting on the flight bag.

The first part of the trip was pretty familiar-- we headed out towards Cumberland and Deep Creek Lake... but then, instead of stopping there, we continued on toward the EKN VOR. As we left the lower foothills behind us and got into the taller ridges, we encountered our first moments of uncertainty. The clouds were lower than forecast, and the ridges were rising higher. Husband stayed busy with the charts and the terrain feature on the G1000. I kept my attention outside the plane, eyes peeled for traffic and monitoring our distance from clouds and mountain peaks. We had decided that flying with the autopilot on would be the safest way to go-- to make sure I didn't get distracted and get us too close to the mountain below.

We were thankful that we had picked up flight following-- several times, they alerted us to passing traffic. We were also able to hear what other pilots were seeing in the area. We were especially glad for the extra feeling of safety the few times that we nicked the clouds. Though I do have some time in actual instruments conditions, neither of us are instrument rated, so it was important that we stay clear of those clouds-- and, of course, the ground.

We breathed a huge sigh of relief when we left the mountains mostly behind us. Now, we at least had a few thousand feet between us and the ground. Our first stop was planned for Huntington, WV-- HTS, very close to the halfway point in the trip. As we neared HTS, we started to have another concern. In planning the trip, we expected the entire journey-- JYO to JWN to take around 4.5 hours. We knew with the dog, our luggage, and us, we would only be able to go with fuel to the tabs, so we had planned a fuel stop halfway through, thinking this would be a good break, and give us lots of fuel on either side. What we had not predicted was how strong the headwinds would be. Even with our updated flight plan (you gotta love AOPA's flight planner!), our calculations on headwinds were wrong. Thirty knots of wind, right up the nose is a lot to overcome. Luckily, we always plan 60 minutes of reserve fuel, instead of the usual 30. It's a flight school rule-- and it just makes a lot of sense. Our dilemma became, do we break into our reserve by a few minutes and continue on to our planned stop of HTS, or do we land early at an airport that we haven't studied? The decision was made more challenging because we realized that an early landing would reduce our chance of being able to make it to our final destination without another fuel stop.

We decided to reduce our RPM (and our airspeed) by about 100 RPM so that we were travelling a little slower-- which then reduced the fuel we were burning per hour. As we made these changes, we watched the fuel ring expand ever so slightly (the G1000 has a nice feature allowing you to set how much fuel you have on board, and it calculates how far you can travel, taking into account current fuel burn, winds, etc.). The added distance wasn't much-- but it meant we would only eat into our hour of reserves by about 10 minutes. With 3 or 4 other airports within easy range, we felt good with this. Tower cleared us to land when we were still about 8 nm out, so then all I had to do was concentrate on the landing.

This was my longest single leg of flying since Husband and I did our cross-countries together back in March. I was very aware of this as I came in on final. I was shaking as I touched down (not a bad landing at all!) and taxied past the hold short. Tower was nice enough to direct us to the FBO so that we could fuel up and get ready for the next leg of the trip. I was very glad to climb out into the surprisingly warm air.

... more later... time for breakfast now!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Even When I'm "Not" Thinking About Flying, I'm Thinking About Flying...

So we're trying to do our first flight to a big family holiday event. Yes, I know, all the warnings about "get-there-itis"... and the pressure of trying to make a specific deadline. We're trying to do all the right things to make it a successful trip.

  • We've done the flight planning. (Lots of it. Two routes, in fact. M would be proud.)
  • We've studied the weather.
  • We've done the "no rain and no wind" dances.
  • We've booked ourselves backup, refundable commercial air tickets.
  • We've made backup plans (and backups for the backup plans-- no kidding) for our dog- in case we have to fly commercial and can't take him along.
  • We've come up with a bigger window during which we can travel (now about 28 hours, as opposed to the original 8) and still be on time.
  • We've talked about what our go-no-go criteria are (and still haven't completely decided).

And now... we just have to wait. The plane is back from another multi-day trip tonight. We can depart as early as tomorrow morning (though now we ponder the need to rearrange other commitments for tomorrow). We wonder... will that 10 gusting to 18 predicted wind really be that strong? Or will it be stronger? Will the rainshowers hold off for another few hours past when predicted? Or will they come early? What if we have to land and wait it out somewhere. Would we get far enough that we could then make it on to our family on Thanksgiving? Or would we end up stuck somewhere having Thanksgiving dinner in a roadside (air side?) diner?

These are the things that my mind wants to think about. Not the proposal in front of me that needs to be finished before I can leave. Not the client that just sent an email and wants to know why he hasn't gotten his web-based training module yet. And not even the fun home improvement project waiting at home. No. My mind just wants to fly. It wants to feel the ground fall away beneath us. And the sky open up in front of us. The colors of the trees and mountains below you. Then to feel the plane purr as the runway comes into view below you. That moment when you pull the throttle to idle and it's quiet except for your instructor's voice whispering the steps to land in your head. Then the nice, small chirp that more hear than feel when the tires meet the runway.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I was hoping to continue the good flying this past weekend, but home improvement projects prevailed. Saturday was foggy and yucky (technical term!), so our plane was stuck at another airport after its 100 hour. Sunday promised nice weather for flying-- and our plane made it back home, but we were already knee deep in our home improvement project. So I spent the day learning how to wire electrical outlets and standing on ladders installing lights. I was sad to miss flying-- but I know I'll enjoy our newly redone basement once it is finished!

So I thought I might head out for a little midweek flying. I have a client meeting that ends at a time that would allow me to make it to the airport (the client site is closer to the airport than my office)... but alas, these are the METARs and TAF (terminal area forecast) that I found when I looked online to guage my chances for flying.

KJYO 141540Z AUTO 18008KT 2SM BR OVC002 13/13 A2991 RMK AO2

KIAD 141612Z 18004KT 1SM R01R/P6000FT BR BKN003 OVC005 13/12 A2989 RMK AO2

KIAD 141613Z 141612 18005KT 1SM BR BKN003
FM1700 19006KT 3SM BR BKN015
FM1800 20007KT P6SM BKN015
PROB30 0306 5SM -RA OVC050
FM0600 21007KT 2SM -RA BR OVC025
FM1000 30008KT P6SM -RA OVC050

For those not used to reading these... basically, the top line tells me what the weather is currently at JYO, the second line tells me what it is at IAD, and then the bottom section of lines tell me the forecast for IAD over a 24 hour period. So, the weather at JYO pretty cruddy. Two miles of visibility, mist, overcast at 200 feet-- not at all flying conditions. (Minimum visual conditions are 3 miles visibility and 1000 ft AGL ceilings-- in most cases.) However, the thing that caught my eye here is the METAR for IAD (the second line).

KIAD 141612Z 18004KT
The first part of the line just tells me that the wind at Dulles on the 14th at 11:12am EST was out of the south at 4 knots. That part's fine.

1SM R01R/P6000FT
This second piece gets more interesting. 1 SM means one statute mile of visibility (really not good-- I don't fly VFR with less than about 6 or 7-- and that's with a G1000!). R01R/P6000FT means that the runway visual range for runway 01 right is about 6000 ft. That's not much considering the runway is 11,500 ft long. So when you get to the end of it, you can see about halfway down it. But approaching it (which is when you really care where it is since once you're actually over it and landing, you better be on target!)... you can only see the very tip of it as you are on short final. Crazy. I bet the big boys are having fun today.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Living the Life...

Sunday turned out to be a lot cloudier than anticipated, but our adventures more than made up for that.

Husband invited a colleague from work, J, to join us for our flight. J is also a pilot-- and has been one for 25-30 years. J has done some really cool flying things-- he's flown a P-51, attended a top gun school, and flown all sorts of planes. He has the perfect personality for flying, too-- friendly, laid back, and intelligent. Husband and J spent Friday together at a work function, and cooked up a plan to fly to Nemacolin Woodlands for lunch. I was happy to be invited along!

Nemacolin Woodlands, for those who don't know, is an amazing resort about 90 minutes from Pittsburgh (very near Seven Springs, for those who know Western Pennsylvania). When we lived in Pittsburgh, Husband's company used to do a lot of staff retreats and planning meetings there-- and I was always jealous. The resort is huge, and has just about every activity you can imagine. There's championship golf, horses and ponies, a driving academy (picture big 4x4s and a lot of mud), mini golf, huge swimming pools, tennis, shooting, a spa, and even 10 ski runs. To top it off, Nemacolin has its own private airstrip-- right next to the main lodge. For months, we have talked about flying to Nemacolin and playing a round of golf. Well, we seem to have missed the golf season, but there's still plenty of fun to be had!

We were set to meet at 10am on Sunday at JYO. We had the plane reserved-- and figured we'd be a little late getting off as there was another lesson on the schedule for the plane before ours (7-10am). Sure enough, we get to JYO right at 10am, and there's no plane. No problem, we're easy, we'll just enjoy the atmosphere and wait. We had a great time talking to a few friends we made at the open house a few months back, and hearing about J's great flying adventures. Still no plane. Not wanting to be complainers, we wait some more. And some more. Finally, we start getting antsy and trying harder to figure out what's going on. Turns out the previous flight was late leaving, had massive headwinds, and was really late. We were giving up and leaving the airport when we found out they were 5 miles out. At this point it was almost 1pm. So, 3 hours late, we depart JYO.

The good news about our late departure was that the weather had actually improved a little! Still pretty cloudy, but a little sun peaking through. We had a nice flight over. It was the first time we couldn't just enter the airport name in the G1000 and follow the pink line, though. (We couldn't find the airport listed in the system... and couldn't figure out how to enter the GPS coordinates. I guess we have a little homework to do!) I was sitting right seat, so had the task of figuring out how to get us there. I finally realized that the airport was almost exactly halfway between two other airports-- so I entered those as our waypoints. As a backup, I dialed up the VOR DME info so that we could track it that way. (I know, I know, I sound incredibly spoiled-- but I was happy to know that I could figure out how to get there in several different ways!)

In the end, we didn't really need the VOR DME info-- we had no trouble spotting the resort (how many golf courses are in the mountains?!), and then it was reasonably easy to pinpoint the airport from there. Though, at first, I wasn't sure if we had correctly identified the field because the runway was so narrow, it looked like a road! We had called the day before to secure permission to fly in, so we followed the directions they had given and made the appropriate calls. They didn't say anything about announcing our position in the pattern, so I made those calls as well. I think they weren't used to that, because the person at the resort kept responding to each of my position calls. Does anyone know what the etiquette is for communicating during an approach to a private airport?

Later, we learned that they only have about 5-7 planes land there each week... so I guess there's not much traffic to worry about! As we landed, I was a little grateful that Husband was flying because the runway was sooo narrow! And it dropped off about halfway down-- so you could see what lay beyond and weren't sure if you were out of runway or not! We followed the signs to "aircraft parking"-- where we found a shuttle bus waiting for us! Is that service or what?! They helped us get the plane tied down and then we all loaded in the bus for the short (5 minute) drive to the main lodge.

Because we were so late, we missed brunch, so we ate at The Tavern. It was great. Good food, good atmosphere, good conversation. Like I said, the resort itself was amazing. I took a few pictures to show how cool it was. Definitely different than our usual $100 hamburger stop!

There was an ice cream parlor!

This huge aquarium was in the middle of the space where our table was. Not the same as watching planes taking off and land-- but very cool!

Husband and J in the hotel lobby... again, a little different than the normal airport stop.

After lunch and a brief stroll around, we walked back over to the airstrip. We did a quick preflight, checked the windsock, and took off for JYO with me in the left seat. On the way back, we flew right over Savage River Lodge-- where Husband and I occasionally go for a weekend away (I blogged about it a few months back). Turns out that J has also been to Savage River... so maybe we'll all go for a weekend sometime. After a circle over the lodge, we headed on back to JYO. We got back to the area just as the sun was starting to set. The winds had calmed while we were out, and planes were using 17. So we came in over the white water tower, then turned over the blue water tower for the quarries. As we flew over the quarry and turned for the 45, we got a great view of the sunset on the horizon. A nice squeaker (no greaser, but definitely a few chirps!), and we were back on the ground. What a great day!

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Back to the Sky!

What a great weekend! I finally got back to flying. It had been 5 weeks since I last flew, though I did join Husband last weekend for a flight (but I was still sick, so he had to do all of the flying). And talk about pressure, my first flight back was with my boss. Normally, that wouldn't be a big deal-- but my boss is also a pilot and instructor. He hasn't been current for about 15 years or so, but he goes faithfully to the workshops to keep his CFI going. He's generally very laid back, so I figured we'd have a great time. And we did.

He met me at the airport-- I thought I'd get there early and get the plane set up and be ready for him... but he beat me there! I walked in and saw him standing next to the windows watching the planes take off. He was bundled up with a baseball cap and a big grin. We finished up filing and getting the paperwork together and went out to the plane. I preflighted-- feeling a little self-conscious. Then we loaded up and headed out.

It was a gorgeous day, a little windy, but a clear blue sky; orange, red, and yellow leaves; and lots of sun to warm the Fall air. I picked SHD for our destination. It's south of JYO, and you fly over the Shenandoah mountains to get there. It looked like winds would be calmer than to the north (thanks to the hurricane making its way up the East Coast), and I thought that would be good for my first landing in 5 weeks.

We took off and headed out to Purcellville-- my normal route for heading south. Because of the likelihood of planes coming back into JYO at that point (most of the other side of the airport is taken up by IAD's bravo airspace), I typically fly out to the Purcellville water tower and then head south on my route. Since the change in ADIZ procedures, our practice area has changed to be before the mountain ridge that denotes the edge of the bravo airspace instead of after it. So I still haven't quite figured out the best way to avoid this traffic while exiting the area. On Saturday, we had three different traffic warnings from the TIS within the first 20 minutes of the flight (and they were the only warnings we got that day). Boss just laughed at my stress over avoiding the unseen targets. I made him promise: no performance reviews while in the air!

My excitement over flying again after so long, and finally getting to take Boss along meant that of course I talked way too much. I was a little worried because Boss was so quiet. So I finally asked: are you quiet because you're busy soaking it all in or because something's wrong? His expression when he answered was all the reassurance that I needed-- the big, slow smile told me that he was just really enjoying being back in the plane. I offered to let him fly, but he declined.

Sure enough, the winds were nice and calm at SHD, and I managed a decent landing. Whew! We parked, got out, walked the few feet to the terminal and got some lunch. The cafe at SHD is actually in the commercial terminal, so you have to enter the GA terminal and walk across a small grassy spot to get to the other terminal. But it's worth it. The airport is clean and bright. The space where the restaurant is also nice and sunny-- with floor to ceiling windows looking out on the airport. The food is ok-- we both had cheeseburgers that weren't bad. The seasoned fries were pretty good, too. It was so nice a space (if a little bland in personality), that we sat and talked (mostly about work) entirely too long! We joked that if we had brought along the other member of our management team (who also used to fly), we could have had an official staff meeting!

After lunch, Boss asked if he could fly a little ... including the take off. I think he thought I'd say no, but I said no problem. Of course, my fingers were centimeters from the yoke (I think I actually kept the tips of my fingers on the yoke till I realized it might make him nervous). He did a pretty good job on takeoff, though it was a little steeper climbout than I usually do. He seemed to pick it back up really quickly, though he said switching to the use the AHRS as his primary instruments was really hard. I kept up my scan-- just like I would have if I were flying, so of course noticed his deviations from altitude. I wasn't sure what to say at first-- I didn't want to embarrass him, but we were flying over mountains, and it is my plane, and I was PIC. So, when got more than 200 feet off altitude, I'd just say: check your altitude. He'd laugh, and adjust. He took us a little bit off our route (maybe 5 miles or so) to show me a peak that he's climbed a bunch-- Old Rag. It was really cool looking. It's in a national park, and has a little stream at the top. I made a mental note that Husband and I should go back with Flyer and hike it some time.

All too soon, we were entering the airspace under the bravo and configuring the plane for landing. He gave back controls when we got to the edge of the airspace, and I got us set up for landing. The winds were still pretty gusty, so I was relieved to again make a passable landing. It wasn't a greaser, but it was 3 distinct chirps of the tires hitting the pavement (what you want in a crosswind)-- and we didn't bounce or hit too hard. The only bad part about the return was that we were over 30 minutes late-- and someone was waiting for the plane. I felt really bad as I had thought that Husband had it reserved and didn't mind making him wait, but didn't mean to inconvenience someone else. (Sorry, Husband!)

Boss' parting comment as we walked out to our cars was: Well, I guess glass does really have some good and useful features. (This is a lot coming from an old-school pilot!) In retrospect, I probably should have shown him more of the functionality available in the glass, but I guess he picked up more than I thought.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Lions, Leopards, and Penguins!

Where can you go to see lions, leopards, and penguins... all in one country (and not in a zoo)? South Africa! Husband and I spent two weeks in Africa-- visiting friends, relaxing in the bush, and seeing the sights of the Cape. We lived in South Africa for about a year at one point... and this was our first trip back since we moved back to the States. It was really great to see all of the friends that we made while we lived in Pretoria. We didn't quite see EVERYONE, but we did see a lot! It was fun to get to visit them and catch up on what's been happening in their lives since we last saw them. Turns out one of our friends was recently in the States-- of all crazy things-- going to Oshkosh! We actually considered going this year, but didn't because we had just been to Sun-n-Fun. Wouldn't that have been funny... running into a friend from South Africa at Oshkosh!

After a few days in Pretoria, we headed north to a private game reserve that is open to the Kruger National Park. To get there, we took this:

A Beech 1900. I think it's like what Teller flies ( http://www.journeyinflight.blogspot.com/). It was pretty cool. We were hoping for a Caravan... but this was still cool. JIA was completely socked in the morning of our departure (as you can see in the picture above). We were pretty glad when the weather cleared enough to take off. The cool thing about flying here... no closed cockpit rule! So you can see everything the pilots are doing. And they did a great shortfield landing into Skukuza (and a nice shortfield take off, too!).

The game reserve was pretty awesome. We went to a place called Lion Sands. For those who have never been to one, basically, you get up really early (like around 5-- not my typical idea of a good vacation!) in the morning to go on "game drives" where you look for different animals. You stop after a few hours and have some tea and coffee. Then when you get back around 9am, you get a big breakfast. After a few hours of relaxing in your room, by the pool, or at the river side bar (where you can see things like monkeys, buffalo, hippos, etc.), you have lunch. Then another nap and tea. Then you leave for afternoon game drive... stop for sundowners half way through, and then return for a full, gourmet dinner around 8:30. As you can tell, it's a lot of eating, relaxing, and seeing some really cool animals!

Our tracker, Ray, is taunting the buffalo behind him!

Stopping for sundowners! Note the landrover in the background. Those are our "wheels"!

Hungry, hungry hippos!

Lots of elephants!

Great view of a hyena.
We had a special "treehouse" breakfast one morning.

Lion Sands had lots of lions.

And lots of leopards!

After our time in the bush, we headed to Cape Town for Husband's conference. Isn't the coast beautiful?!
A little whale watching in Hermannus.

We went to Boulders Beach... where the penguins hang out!
Husband went on a helicopter ride after I left to come back to the states. he got some really nice pics of the helicopter-- and from the helicopter.Oh-- and one last flying thing. We flew over on South African Airways on an A-340. Definitely a step up in comfort from their old 747s. The in-flight entertainment was really great-- especially for the 16 hour flight (non-stop) over from IAD to JIA. The return trip is even crazier-- 18 hours... but JIA is at a high enough elevation that they can't take on enough fuel to go non-stop, so there's a stopover in Dakar. Actually, the agent told me that they always do the IAD-JIA flight with empty seats because otherwise, they have to stop for fuel. Of course, she went into great detail. I tried to tell her I understood weight and balance... but she didn't get it.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles!

Apologies for the long absence! I've been traveling-- with sporatic email access. The first part of the journey was to New York... we took the Acella up for a company event for Husband. Thus, the "trains" portion of the title.

The second part-- really, a second journey-- was to someplace very different! In this place, we saw lions, elephants, whales, and penguins (and a whole lot more!)... and we weren't in a zoo! Any guesses as to where we were? (and no, family members who already know can't guess!) :)

I'll post more later-- with pics-- but need to get my sick PC sorted out first!

Monday, October 1, 2007

What's the G1000 Discrepancy? Here's a Hint...

Here's the cake...

And here's a picture of the real thing.

Non-Aviation Fun!

A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to do something pretty cool. I won two seats at a local radio station's morning show-- on Fridays, this station invites in about 8-10 listeners to sit in on the morning show. For this, the listeners usually get some give-aways and the opportunity to win a few additional prizes! This is not something I would normally ever even consider doing-- I'm usually way too shy for it. But, for some reason, I decided it would be fun. So I called my friend J (I blogged about flying to CBE with her a while ago) and invited her along. She's one of the most outgoing people I know, so I figured she'd help me get into the experience. So, after waking up at 4am to make it to the station by 5am, we sat in on the show from about 5:30 till around 9am.

We had a blast! The show hosts were really cool. They told us a bunch about how things work and how they decide what to play, etc. And I played their "Agree, Disagree" game on the air... and won tickets to the Nationals game! So, Husband and I got to go see the Nationals play their last game in RFK Stadium. Pretty cool!

Oh-- and the special in-studio guest that day was Caroline Rhea. She was really funny- and she was really nice. Here's a picture of my friend and I with Caroline. I'm pretty sure she just rolled out of bed and came in to the studio-- but she was a great sport about it all.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Open House at the Flight School

So we had a little shin-dig at the airport this past weekend. We teamed up with the other Cessna G1000 owner and our flight school to throw a little open house. We had the two airplanes on display, and available for discovery flights. We also had a caterer provide BBQ for everyone. We set up a big tent, had door prizes every hour, and talked to a lot of pilots. It was an awesome day.

Husband and I went out in the morning before the event to help with setup and stayed all day. Given how sick Husband has been, I didn't think he'd make it the whole day, but he did. We had a lot of fun talking to different people, and we heard a bunch of flying stories. All-in-all, a great day in the sun! I did take a few other (better) pictures, but I haven't succeeded in getting them from the camera to the computer yet. I'll post them when I do.

One thing that I had the most fun with was making the cake. I volunteered to provide the dessert for the event (in addition to flying, I love to bake and cook). I figured since we were trying to build interest in the G1000 and get more people flying our planes... that I should do something related to the plane. So I decided to replicate the G1000... in cake. If you've ever seen Ace of Cakes... that's kind of what I tried to do. It turned out pretty well. People seemed pretty blown away. A few didn't realize it was a cake at first. One of the instructors asked if which airport was showing on the MDF. (It was sort of JYO... but I didn't use a chart when I drew it, so it's an abstract version!) I was pretty pleased with the cake. I even resisted pointing out its inaccuracy to everyone. I'll see if anyone can spot it from the picture! Husband did, but I think only after I told him I had made a mistake.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Pax Briefing

In response to Flyaway's comment,
"a while back my instructor emphasized the passenger briefing portion of the
checklist. i didn't realize what all that involved until i read the FAR more carefully"

I thought I'd post the passenger briefing method that Husband's first instructor taught him. Husband passed it on to me, and I always use it to make sure I cover everything.

S- Seatbelts... they work like the ones in a car and are required for takeoff and touchdown
A- Air vents... two are located directly above you. Turn to the right to close, turn left to open.
F- Fire extinguisher is located between the seats. Lift up on the handle to release.
E- Exit-- through the door. Lift up on the handle to unlock and lift up more to open.
S- Survival kit. We have one in the baggage compartment of the plane, should we need one!
T- Traffic and Talk. Your big job is to point out traffic to me either by pointing or telling me. Talking- if I hold up my hand, then that means I need to focus on something-- either what ATC is saying or the task at hand, etc.

I think it's pretty interesting that one of the things that we're taught as student pilots is how to talk to passengers about the flight. At first I didn't understand it-- and I felt pretty silly saying it to my instructor; after all, he knows everything in the briefing! He made us say it every lesson for a long time. After a while, I think he realized that I knew it cold, so he stopped making me say it. But the first time I had a passenger, I was pretty glad I had practiced it so much.

Keep the shiny side up!

Girl Power!

I flew my first passenger this past weekend without having another pilot in the plane. I've flown with passengers before-- but always with either Husband (who is a pilot) or an instructor in the plane with me.

Husband was out of town-- he and a friend flew out (commercial, of course) to Reno, Nevada for the Reno Air Races. They apparently had a blast-- though the festivities were a bit more somber this year because of all the crashes. I was invited... but opted to not be the tag-along wife, and instead thought I'd get a nice relaxing weekend at home alone. The best of intentions...

We discovered a few weeks back that we have a water problem in our basement... and decided last week to do something about it. So I spent my weekend torn between writing a proposal and clearing out our basement-- which has basically been a storage space since we moved in. In fact, I almost canceled our flight on Sunday... too much work! But I decided that I definitely needed a break. All that work just made it that much more fun to fly!

The weather was gorgeous. I think this time of year is the best for flying in our area. Cool nights, warm days, clear and haze-free skies, what more could a girl ask for?! I picked up my friend, J, around noon and we headed out to the airport. I think she was pretty excited. I know I was... she asked a ton of great questions-- which I like because I ask a lot of questions, too. Besides, that way I know she's not bored to tears!

The new ADIZ procedures are still a little foreign to me, but we made it out ok. We had decided to fly to CBE for lunch. That takes us over a bunch of small- to medium-sized mountain ridges that are really beautiful (the main reason I picked that destination). Unfortunately, the scattered clouds (all little puffy ones-- they looked like a sea of cotton balls) were a little lower than predicted, so we decided to climb above them for the way out. It was awesome! J really seemed to like getting up above the clouds.

Coming into CBE, we heard a tow-pilot making calls out of CBE. As we got close, we saw him take off with a glider in tow off of runway 11. That was more first real encounter with a glider in the area-- so I wanted to make sure we stayed well clear of him as we maneuvered for our approach. J was a natural at helping me spot traffic -- she saw a lot of it before I did! I told her I'd take her as a copilot any time! We finally determined that the tow and glider were well away for the airport and were able to turn for our downwind and base for 23. Then, just as we turned on final, we heard the tow pilot call that he had released the glider and was on base for landing on 11! 11 and 23 intersect, so I told J to keep looking for the tow plane while I concentrated on landing. I was so focused on where he was, I didn't realize how close we were to the runway. All of a sudden I felt one wheel touch... which kind of surprised me. Luckily, it was a very soft touch, so I just brought the rest of them down and told her not to worry, we had landed. She hadn't even felt it! OF course, I played it off like I meant to land that way (and I did... I just didn't know that it would be right then!). :)

We had lunch on the field at the little diner place. It's recently changed hands, so we spent a few minutes talking to the new owner. She was pretty funny-- she's never owned or run a restaurant before, so she's having to learn quickly. She said she was going to try and start going to some of the other airports in the area so she could see where all the pilots were coming from... but she's scared of flying, so she'll have to drive to them!

We had two separate "Traffic" encounters during the flight. Both times we had seen the traffic on the TIS, but had trouble locating it in the air because it was hidden behind our wing. The first time, the other plane was showing only a few hundred feet above us. Since I didn't have it in sight, and it looked like the traffic would pass right over us, I grabbed the controls, killed the autopilot, and dove down and away. J's seat wasn't locked in place (mental note: add to my briefing!), and she slid pretty violently towards the controls-- which freaked her out a little. After a couple of seconds, we saw the plane pass by. I could tell that the plane was IFR traffic, headed the opposite direction to us... and the altitude would have been enough separation, but I can't help wondering what would happen if either of our altimeters was off-- or what if the TIS altimeter is off. I'm never sure if that is 'overreacting', or if that is 'good instincts'! The second traffic incident was similar-- except that the avoidance was a little less dramatic!

We had another pilot take a few pics of us with the plane when we returned to JYO. I'm hoping J will share so I can post...

I'm also hoping to work in a flight in the next few days with our old instructor, M. He passed his checkrides at the airlines! Yay! He's on vacation right now, but should be starting next week with his IOE.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Fantastic Weather

Last Sunday was one of those beautiful days that makes a pilot want to take to the sky. Our plane finally (hopefully!) fixed, we had flown to CXY to visit some friends for the night. We've actually been trying to connect the dots to go for a few months now. Some other friends drove down with their kids from Delaware to join the fun as well, so we had a little house party!

On the way to Cap City, I flew and Husband navigated. It had been two weeks since my last flight-- and I had only been flying about once a week for a few weeks before that. Add to that forgetting to get a snack and a full day of activity beforehand, and I was feeling a bit disoriented. I actually had to USE the checklist to remember everything (and not just doublecheck that I did stuff)... but Husband's help, we finally got off the ground and in the air. It took me a few minutes to relax and be able to enjoy being in the sky again... but then it was great! How easily we forget the joys of flying. The flight was over way too soon-- but it was great to see our friends. The ones we were visiting have had twins since we last saw them-- so they now have 3 boys under the age of 2! Talk about craziness!

Sunday, as I said before was gorgeous. The other husbands were going golfing-- but as others had the plane reserved at noon, Husband couldn't join in the fun, so instead we decided to do a bit of flight-seeing before heading back. We flew down the river (not sure what river) from Cap City to 0W3. We originally thought we might land there, but then discovered that though there were 3 runways, they were all 2000' or less and two were turf! So, we quickly scrapped that plan. Somehow, even though we did not request it, we ended up with flight following (the second time that's happened lately). It was nice to have a little extra assurance that we weren't going to have a mid-air... but also a little limiting for really being able to be relaxed. We finally were "cleared" to change frequency at OW3, and then took it on our own from there. (We had an interesting discussion on how we would have asked to be released from flight following-- since we had never requested it-- something to ask A next time we have a lesson.)

Though the skies were clear and beautiful over JYO, there were scattered clouds over OW3. We had gone above them thinking that we'd then just around or through the get down for the approach over OW3 (we weren't landing-- but figured we'd at least overfly the airport). They definitely made for an interesting descent as we had to zigzag our way through. We then discovered they went a lot lower than anticipated, and it was even more interesting zigzagging our way back up when we headed back towards JYO. I think we'll give a little wider berth to clouds in the future!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

I'm Still Here!

I promise, I'm not dead! And I haven't given up flying! Our flying activities have been somewhat limited over the past few weeks for a variety of reasons. One-- it's typical late summer weather, which means if it's not hazy, then it's probably raining (and lightening)!Two-- our plane has had a few ups and downs.

Besides the usual hundred hour, etc., we had an intermittent problem with the PFD and MFD. Basically, for about 2 weeks, when we started up, we got red x's through all of the engine indicating information on the PFD. Then-- once we started the avionics and got the MFD up, the red x's would disappear. Until one day, when they didn't. Lots of head scratching ensued (including expensive head scratching by the mechanics we were paying to fix the plane!). Through some of this, we were still able to fly the plane--VFR-- but it eventually gave out completely and couldn't fly. So, after 3 and a half weeks of on-again, off-again problems, they *think* they have it figured out-- a bent pin on the back of one of the screens-- where lots of stuff gets plugged into it. That bent pin was preventing everything from getting the right information to the right place. Who knows if we'll ever find out what caused a pin deep in the plane's guts to get bent!

We learned a few lessons from all of this...
1) Ask as many questions as you can. Don't just assume something is being taken care of!
2) Cessna doesn't like to share things like wiring diagrams with mechanics who aren't part of their system (even if the plane is not airworthy-- and can't go to another shop!).

The amazing thing-- even with all the ups and downs (the month also included lots of bad weather and our flight school getting a second, very shiny and new, C-172 with G1000-- which, of course, is going to initially take away some of our customers), we still should pass the cut-off of having enough hours to make it "cheaper" to own our plane than to rent. Of course, once all of those mechanics bills come in, we might feel differently!

Up next-- we're hoping to do a really fun trip this weekend to see my parents! (weather permitting) So-- cross your fingers that the weather holds and we can get down there tomorrow! I'll definitely post something about it as it will be our longest trip to date-- and we'll get pretty close to the Appalachians.