Sunday, May 18, 2008

Birthday Wings

I finally got my birthday flight... and it was awesome! Last year, I tried to go for a birthday flight with my dad and my instructor, M, but the plane was over-fueled and we were too heavy. This year, though, Husband was in town and we had a great birthday flight!

Since it was my birthday, Husband let me fly both legs. I've been (as usual) hogging all the flight time recently, so he was sweet to think of that. We just did a simple flight out to Frederick. It was nice to be up in the sky in the middle of the week.

After landing at Frederick, we parked at the FBO and walked out the door to the airport restaurant. It's just a little cafe, and was filled with locals having an early Wednesday night dinner. Husband had a soft shell crab sandwich, and I had a cheese steak... yum. When we finished eating, we decided to walk around a bit to work off some of the food we had just consumed. We walked over and looked at the AOPA building. I have a secret fantasy of working for AOPA... working in the aviation field, for an organization that helps others, with other pilots. Oh-- and getting to fly to work if I wanted! What could be better! Hmmm, I wonder if they need management consultants for anything.

After living in the fantasy for a few minutes, we walked back across to gape at the Goodyear Blimp tied down in the grass. While there, one of the blimp's crew (I think he was the guy that drives the 18 wheeler that accompanies the blimp) came over to talk to us. He was really interesting to talk to. The blimp itself is basically buoyant-- and depending on it's load, travels with +/-200 lbs weight. The blimp travels with it's own tie down-- a big post that gets staked to the ground. The blimp has one big wheel that is turned perpendicular to the tie down so that the blimp rotates around the post freely. While we stood talking, it moved back and forth about 10-15 feet. We also learned that the blimp travels at about 35-50 knots in flight, and usually travels about 8 hours a day when on the go.

After our heads were full of blimp trivia, we walked back over to our non-buoyant, but very fun airplane and loaded up to head back home. We had a nice, uneventful flight home. What a great birthday!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Good Day for Crosswind Landings...

Looks like a good day for a few crosswind landings! Husband and I are taking off a little early this evening to fly over to FDK for dinner. A few years ago, when asked what I wanted to do for my birthday, I probably would have voted for the nice dinner out with friends, or something similar. Now, I can think of nothing better than to take an evening flight with Husband to a nearby airport with a diner. And hey-- he may even let me do a few crosswind landings for fun! :)

Aviation Digital Data Service (ADDS)Output produced by METARs form (1440 UTC 14 May 2008)found at

KIAD 141129Z 141212 24005KT P6SM SCT250
FM1800 21008G15KT P6SM SCT150 BKN250
FM0300 20004KT P6SM OVC100
FM0900 21003KT P6SM OVC050

KMRB 141129Z 141212 18004KT P6SM SCT250
FM1800 18008G15KT P6SM SCT150 BKN250
FM0200 19007KT P6SM OVC100
FM0600 22003KT P6SM OVC050
FM0900 26003KT P6SM OVC025

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Making Mom's Day

Sunday was Mother's Day (which you probably already knew unless you're under a rock or you live outside of the US). I can't remember the last time that I spent Mother's Day with my mom... We just usually aren't in the same place at the same time. So a few weeks back, a little idea popped into my head. "Why don't you fly down and see her?"

I thought about it for a few days, and then asked Husband. We've been trying to get a bunch done on our house lately, so I didn't think it would be a good time to go for the whole weekend... but he was up for a quick trip. I thought about trying to surprise her, but Mom isn't big on surprises. She likes to anticipate and to plan... and sometimes, to anticipate the planning. (Sometimes, I'm very aware of how much I'm like my mom!) So I decided to mention the idea to her about a week out... once I had seen the 7 day forecast and thought we had a small chance of actually making it happen. She seemed interested-- and by a few days later was definitely excited. In the meantime, I'd also mentioned to Dad that he could hitch a ride if he wanted. He wasn't planning to go home that weekend as he had commitments here in DC, but immediately accepted the offer.

So, we spent the end of last week carefully watching the weather. We only had the plane reserved for Saturday afternoon through Sunday afternoon. The plan was to fly down late Sat afternoon, meet Mom, have dinner, spend the night, have breakfast (or brunch, if we were lucky), and fly back. We got lucky, and the skies cleared just in time for us to launch.

With the three of us in the plane (Flyer got an overnight at daycare), we were a little heavy, and I could feel it in the controls as we slowly lifted off the runway. But, the flight down went relatively smoothly. We flew into Horace Williams, a little airport owned by UNC. Apparently, the state is trying to get rid of the airport to make room for more campus buildings, but it's still there for now. Our landing was a little more exciting than I like. The winds were gusting across the runway as we landed, and didn't die down at all as we came below the tree line. I was surprised by this, and had to use all my focus to fight the gusts to get us on the ground. I was embarrassed by the two big bounces (and I think Dad was a little worried), but all of us were pleased to be safely on the ground given the strength of the wind. In hind sight, I have to wonder if we encountered a bit of tailwind, too. The wind measurement on the ASOS was knocked out of service by a storm the night before, so we relied on information from RDU and the airport advisory given by someone on the ground at IGX.

We had a great evening- Mom seemed to really enjoy us being there, and we had dinner out on her deck. The next morning, Husband and I both slept longer than intended. As soon as we were up, we checked the weather. Uh oh. The front coming across the state was arriving a bit faster than expected. So we nixed the idea of breakfast, and headed out to the airport. The first drops started falling as we drove up. We tried to preflight and get loaded up as quickly as possible-- debating our go-no-go the entire time, but by the time we taxied up to the runway, the visibility had dropped to 2.5 miles and the ceiling to about 2000', and there was no longer a decision to make. We were no longer in VFR conditions.

After a minutes of looking at the Nexrad, we taxied back to the FBO and fueled up. We went inside to get warm and dry, and were able to take a look at the radar as we waited. We saw a break looming, and started discussing the possibility of getting out then. We could tell that after that break, another wave was coming, and the airport would be IFR for the remainder of the day. Around that time, a crew came in who had just flown down from Philly. They confirmed our hunch that if we could get up and out about 10-15 miles, we would be in the clear and able to get home. So, once we saw the visibility go up to around 4-5, and the ceilings up to around 2500, we ran for the plane. We taxied out, did a quick runup to make sure all was good, and went over our procedures. In addition to our normal departure briefing (anything happens on the runway, pull to idle and brake; in the air below traffic pattern, ...), we added what we would do if we encountered low clouds or low vis, Husband would engage the autopilot, I would stay focused on the instruments, and we would use the head indicator to do a 180 and return to the airport.

It was pretty hazy when we first took off-- and there were a few low wisps of clouds, but we had both seen similar conditions at one time or another, so we stayed calm. After a few minutes of visibility around 5 miles, the sky suddenly opened up and we realized we could see at least 15 miles. From there on home, we had a nice, smooth flight. We slowly climbed to about 3500'-- leveling out every 500 feet to make sure we didn't inadvertently enter clouds. We used flight following-- and heard lots of other pilots asking questions about the weather. And we again had deep appreciation for the G1000!

We reviewed our decision making when we got home, and were pretty pleased with it. On the one hand, we were prepared to postpone, cancel, or divert if we needed, but on the other hand, we were able to safely complete the trip. It ended up being very nice flying weather, once we left the initial haze. If we had been a few minutes earlier to the airport, we might have made it out before the visibility dropped the first time, but studying the weather maps and resources for a few extra minutes gave us more confidence on what we would find. Dad must have been relaxed-- he sat in the back and worked the whole flight home!

In the end, I don't know if we made Mom's day, but I think it made our day to expand our flying horizons!

Friday, May 2, 2008

Flight in a Trike

Husband and I did an ultralight flight a few years on the the east coast of South Africa. That was back before I had any interest in learning to fly-- though Husband was already crazy for anything aviation. Some friends that we were staying with knew about the ultralights-- and so a big group of us went out to the coast to check them out. All the men were going up-- but none of the women. Husband had to talk me into to going... and I finally relented with the promise that if I freaked out, the pilot would just circle around and land again (I remember the comfort that gave me whenever I take someone up in our plane who's never been up before). Of course, as soon as we were airborne, I loved it!

So when I discovered the option to take an ultralight tour in Kauai, I immediately penciled it into our schedule! The day of our flight was beautiful. A few clouds at around 4500-5500 feet, but otherwise blue skies. While waiting for the two trikes to return from the previous flight, we suited up in flight suits provided by Birds of Paradise, our flight school for the day. After waiting a few minutes (remember my post on Aviation Time?), the woman helping us told us to look up. It took a minute, but then we saw and finally heard the trikes approaching the field. They seemed to drop effortlessly onto the runway, and then screeched onto the pads laid out on the grass as a sort of makeshift "ramp".

I got buckled in behind Dan and Nathan behind Tim, and then we quickly rolled out to the runway for the takeoff roll. I heard both pilots make the appropriate calls, and then we were airborne. The runway is right on the tip of Kauai-- running crosswise on a piece of land jutting out into the ocean, so that both ends of the runway are out over the ocean. We immediately flew out over the ocean and stayed just off the beach, flying over the water. The pilots flew us in and out of a few quick turns. I'm not sure what it would look like from below, but I imagined us dancing through the air on our large kites. Luckily there are no strings to get tangled! Dan started to show me how to maneuver the little craft-- and explained the basic principles of a weight-shift airplane. He let me take the controls after a few minutes. Though I was seated directly behind him-- his arm resting against my knees if not on the controls-- I could reach up to the giant bar that ran across in front of him and bent upward on either side of him. With that bar, I could control our pitch and roll movements. Unlike in conventional aircraft, pulling the bar back toward us made the nose pitch down, and pushing it away made it pitch up. It took me most of the flight to get used to the sensation as it is the exact opposite of our airplane. To turn, you moved the whole bar to the left or right. Of course, Dan had rudders and much of the usual flight controls in front of him.

I flew four or five times during the flight, each time for a few minutes. Most of the 90 minutes, though, I just enjoyed the sights and feeling of the wind whipping around us. In such a small craft, we could maneuver easily around and get very close to the cliff faces. We flew down to the water-- and leveled off only about 10-20 feet above to see some sea life (dolphins, sea turtles, etc.). Husband said that he and Tim flew down to about 5 feet off the water! They were definitely much more daring in their flight!

Once we made it around to the west side of the island, we turned inland and flew across part of Waimea Canyon. Spectacular! Then we flew along the Na Pali Coast, zigging and zagging along the valleys that open out to the sea. Most of this coastline is not accessible except from the sea, so it was beautiful and untouched. We watched kayakers cut through the water below, and saw a few sea caves where the water rushed in and out. Then we came up to Hanalei and Princeville, and we flew over our hotel, the Princeville Resort. I waved to the people on the beach, but I doubt anyone saw me as we were quite high at that point! We flew over Queen's Bath and I saw the water rush in and splash high over the edge. After a bit, we turned inland and flew over the saddle of the mountains, coming across the middle of the island.

We flew along side each other and a few helicopters, in and out of the craters and canyons. Everyone seems to fly clockwise around the island-- nice to know for safety! Once we came close to Lihue (where the big airport is), we turned south, and headed back out to sea, flying over the Sheraton, where we stayed for the first four nights. All too soon, we were flying over the coffee fields on the south side of the island, and we knew this amazing flight was coming to an end. Both Tim and Dan did dead-stick landings, cutting the power on downwind, just abeam the end of the field. Two other ultralights came in just as we did, all of us taxiing back across to the makeshift ramp. We learned later that one of the others was flown by the guy that edited/authored the guidebook we used while on the island. If only we'd known, we would have thanked him for all his suggestions!