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.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Arcs through the Sky

For something that is known for being able to get you from point A to point B using a "straight line", flying sure has a lot of circles in it. To begin with, because of the earth's curvature, a straight line isn't really the best way to think about long cross-country flights. In fact, flight planning software usually calls point-to-point travel something like the great circle route. Navigation aids are typically circular in their coverage area. As a new student pilot, you learn to do circles over the ground in ground reference maneuvers. Compasses and heading indications indicate degrees (a circular concept); and of course, some of the favorite aerobatic maneuvers are circles (loops, barrel rolls, etc.). Oh-- and airports are typically shown as circles on the sectional! :)

Friday night, in our second instrument flight lesson, we practiced yet another kind of aeronautical circle: DME arcs. They were pretty cool. They remind me of these paper circles that you use in cooking (this is why I started thinking about aviation circles!). In addition to my love of flying, I also love to cook and bake. In some situations in the kitchen (like with braising), you need a kind of cover for a pot to keep the moisture inside and the heat nice and even-- but you don't want to use (or don't have) an actual pot lid. In these cases, you take a piece of parchment and fold it in half, then half again, and then start folding it into triangles-- keeping a folded point at one end, and the open edges at the other. When you get it nice and narrow, then you estimate the radius of the pot you want to cover, measure that off on your triangle, and use your knife to cut the open end at that point. When you unfold the paper, then you have something that resembles a circle-- though you used straight lines to make it.

That's kind of like DME arcs. You use straight lines to create the arc-- flying from one VOR radial to the next, keeping the same distance (measured through DME) away from the VOR station. In other words, say you start at 10 miles out on the 360 radial of a VOR. Your plane is turned perpendicular to the radial-- so that the VOR CDI shows horizontal on your HSI. You fly until the CDI comes together in one line, and then you twist the course knob to the next 10 degree radial for the VOR. At the same time, you turn 10 degrees in the same direction. And you just keep repeating, correcting for wind as you go. It's really quite elegant-- much more so than my description!

I was worried that I might have a hard time catching all of the technical nuances of instrument flying… but I’m finding that I really love the precision of it!

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Did I Say Headwind? I Meant Tailwind!

I finally spotted the airport (or at least what I hoped was the airport) off the left wing-- thank goodness for GPS and following the little pink line! I knew we didn't have much time if we wanted to make it out of there before the storm blocked our path to Cumberland. I was picking up Husband from Annapolis and we were on our way to Cumberland for a little weekend fun. I had been delayed out of JYO while I waited for a line of storms to clear through, so I knew Husband was already down there waiting for me.

There isn't an AWOS (automated weather observation service) for Annapolis, so I was hoping that the weather I had pulled from the College Park AWOS (a few miles from Annapolis) would be accurate. I entered a left downwind for the runway and got myself lined up. After turning base, and then final, I found myself high and trying to drop altitude fast because I knew runway was only 2600-- the shortest I've ever landed on by about 400 feet. Over the threshhold, still way high, and encountering a few unexpected gusts, I decided to go around. Power up, drag flap out, and I started climbing. There was a stand of trees right off the other end of the runway... so I had to really climb fast. Clearing the trees, I turned for another attempt.

I was still pretty high as I approached short final-- high enough that I decided to do a little forward slip to lose some altitude. To make matters worse, I encountered a few crazy wind gusts (a few minutes later that CTAF advisory noted windshear possible). But I kept coming, and managed to get it just above the runway. I felt my wheels touch, but they didn't grab the ground like I'm used to feeling. Instead, they seemed to skate above the surface. Somehow, I managed to get all of the wheels on the ground. As I skated closer and closer to the end of the runway, I thought... I know I'll be okay, but I really don't want to have one of those "I learned about flying from this" stories to tell after this landing! Thankfully, I managed to slow it down and come to a stop just as I reached the last turn off-- at the very end of the runway. Shaking, and soaking wet with sweat, I taxied to where I saw Husband waving at me. Later, I learned that I had landed with as much as a 6 knot tailwind. Wowsers.

I managed to get myself composed, and we loaded back up to try and make it between the two lines of storms that seemed to be converging over DC in a very short amount of time. With the exception of a very small deviation around a building cell right on the edge of the ADIZ, we didn't see a bit of rain-- and the air was nice and smooth. Strangely enough, my backtracing to Annapolis, and then our more northerly route to Cumberland let us sneak right through all of the bright colors on the radar.

We spent the weekend at an awesome lodge in western Maryland (Savage River Lodge), an early anniversary celebration. What an amazing place. We had our own cabin in the woods-- and even got to bring our dog, Flyer, along for the fun. Saturday was beautiful, and we did a 16 mile bike ride through the Great Allegheny Path (or something like that!). I especially enjoyed the last 7 miles as they were almost entirey downhill! We also played in the river with Flyer, and enjoyed wonderful food on the outside deck. We had so much fun that we didn't think to check the weather until around 8am on Sunday morning. We were a little shocked to find that a warm front was quickly closing in on the area. We had been planning one last hike and brunch before heading to the airport. But, with that kind of mess headed our way, we decided to forego the hike and the brunch, and head home. Luckily, we made it out about 30 minutes before the weather moved into Cumberland. We kept Nexrad up on the MFD (multi-function display) the whole way home. If we kept the map zoomed in tight on the little plane that symbolize us, then it looked great. If we zoomed out, even a little bit, we could see the whole front coming in behind us. But we made it back now worse for the wear... and we learned a few things along the way.

1) Always ask for an airport advisory if you don't have some key piece of information (like weather!) for an airport
2) Always call for an outlook briefing the night before your departure so you know what's coming.
3) Hurrah for XM weather that gives great satellite pictures to help with weather decision making!