Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Oshkosh... Ohskosh... Oshkosh...

(Can you hear the chanting?)

Things have reached a frenzied state in the Good Dog residence (well, actually, virtual residence as I'm at work for a few more hours). How do I know we've achieved that frenetic level of activity? Well...
  • Husband has been obsessively checking the aircraft parking and camping status. I think he's up to about one call an hour now!
  • I went so far as to put together a complete notebook for our journey-- with special color-coded tabs and clear folder pockets to hold all of our necessary paperwork. This includes a carefully noted and tabbed version of the NOTAM for Oshkosh, kneeboard airport info for potential overnight spots on our route, our tickets for the "Convention", shopping list for groceries once we arrive, weight and balance sheet with notations on all of the gear we are bringing, airport alternates, frequently used frequencies, and a whole load of reference information.
  • Husband had a 25 item checklist of things he needed to do this morning after he got up... and was already ticking through them when I pulled myself out of bed at 6am.
  • Our route of flight is marked on three sectionals (marked OSH 1, 2, and 3) , two WACs (OSH WAC 1 and 2), and is noted for entry into the G1000...
  • We are anxiously awaiting the 2pm forecast and my stomach has been doing flipflops since last night.
  • We now have contingency plans for our contingency plans... I think.

Our biggest concern now is weather. They are predicting evening TS here, and there is a big line off the west edge of PA... We keep reminding ourselves that even if we only make it an hour or so out of town, that is an hour closer to OSH! I think we might actually be ready... perhaps in spite of our preparations!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Camping Gear... Packed

Our camping gear is all packed, weighed and recorded, and stacked ready to put in the car and take to the airport. It took us much of Saturday to finalize our gear. We ended up going shopping for a third time... but hopefully we will be properly outfitted for the trip, and properly balanced for the flight. Lots of weighing things and adding up weights. Husband still needs to do the final balance check to make sure how we plan to load the plane will work ok. I won't divulge how much of the weight is fuel vs. gear vs. us... but will say that we will be starting out pretty much at gross weight.

We're hoping headwinds will be light, as then we'll be able to make the trip with only one stop (which will coincide with an overnight), though we are trying to allow time for a second stop if needed. Our biggest concern is having enough fuel to be able to deal with any holding or diverting time that we might need on approach to Oshkosh-- but also to be well within our weight and balance limitations to be able to go low, slow, and make unexpected maneuvers if necessary.

We flew up to Lancaster yesterday to the Joe Pilot Shop (Airways) on the field. It seemed a little silly to go right before we go to the biggest gathering of aviation vendors in the US... but we needed tie downs, and it seemed simplest to have them on the plane when we land in Osh... self-contained. We decided to go for the Sunday brunch on the field at Florentino's, and then head over to the Pilot Shop. After a leisurely brunch and a relaxed stroll through the shop, we checked weather again before heading out to the plane. But... not so fast! Out of nowhere, a whole grouping of convective cells had popped up, unpredicted! Yikes! Within a few minutes, several pilots filled the lounge-- all had been forced to divert (or delay) for the storms. At one point, there was even a tornado warning a few miles from the airport.

We took the opportunity to pull out our charts and start our route planning. Three hours later, the storms had mostly cleared, and our route was marked on the 2 wide area charts (WACs) the 2 of the 3 sectionals that we'll need. A big part of the discussion was whether to overfly Lake Michigan to get there, or to go around the long way. We've decided to try and cut straight across the lake-- but only if we think we'll be able to fly at 8500 feet to allow ourselves to be within gliding distance of terra firma the whole way. We even picked a few potential overnight locations (Toledo is one, I forget the other) along each route. We want to be far enough along that we only have about 2-2.5 hours left for Thursday morning.

After a lengthy debate over how we will get propane for our little grill and single burner stove, we finally discovered that there is a camping store at Oshkosh-- in the Camp Scholler section of the grounds-- so hopefully that last hurdle is resolved. Now, I just have to get our clothes and toiletries packed up. I'm hoping to be able to keep those within 25-30 lbs... but that may require a miracle!

At this point, even though we don't depart until Wed night, it is very hard to force myself to concentrate on reviewing client deliverables!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

One Week and Counting!

Till our arrival at Osh (hopefully!).

The plans are starting to come together. Husband is as excited as I am. I can tell because he took time yesterday to duck into Hudson's Outfitters-- ostensibly to look at whether it would make sense to buy a new, lighter weight tent... and he came home with:

2 new chairs (actually 1 each of two kinds-- so we can choose a kind, and then buy the second)
new sleeping mat-thing... kind of like an air mattress
1 new tent
2 new sleeping bags
1 bar of weatherproof chocolate

We had fun trying everything out. I don't know if we'll keep it all, though. I need to do the calculations to see if the pricetag on the new sleeping bags and sleeping mats makes sense given the increase in available useful load.

Saturday, we'll finish getting the gear together and start making a pile of stuff that needs to go. I may even (gasp) pack the suitcases early! We're hoping to get in the air late on Wed afternoon so that we can fly halfway that evening. Husband is planning to load up and fly up toward my office to fetch me so we can get underway sooner. Then we'll fly about halfway, stop somewhere for the night, and get an early morning start on Thursday. We're hoping to bypass the worst of the traffic in the approach that way... and we're hoping it help ensures we can get a campsite before the weekend rush!

I'm getting excited!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Fun Picture

Didn't fly this past weekend... but have been doing a lot of thinking about flying lately! We're getting close to halfway through the King School lessons for our IFR written exams. So far, nothing is too hard. Hopefully it stays that way!
I hope to have some exciting new flying news soon... well, at least exciting for me! More details on that as I get things ironed out.
In lieu of a post today, I'll leave you with a picture or two...
Husband took this one at the Red Bull Air Races... you can almost hear the engine and smell the exhaust:

Looking down on final at Philadelphia International. The SW Jet landed on the intersecting runaway seconds earlier.

A few weeks back we took Flyer hiking on Roosevelt Island-- an island in the middle of the Potomac River. We had no idea there'd be such great views of the planes landing at National! Some of them were so low they startled us.

While we watched the planes, Flyer hung out in the shade of the bench. (It was HOT that day!)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Convective Activities

Any pilot flying in the US knows that there is a high potential for convective activity (i.e. thunderstorms) late in the afternoon on most days in the summertime. Our flight down to Georgia provided more evidence of that phenomenon.

We tried to leave early for our flight down. Our goal had been to be off the ground around 7am as we knew it was a minimum of 5:15 flying time. Of course, after all the last minute chores were done, we finally made it wheels up around 8:45. The first stretch of the flight was great. There was only a little haze and the sky was clear, smooth, and cool. In fact, once we got established in cruise, Husband set the autopilot and it was almost boring! We had planned a fuel stop for Salisbury, NC. I was pretty glad when we made it on the ground uneventfully-- as I needed a rest stop as well! In planning for the trip, I had even checked fuel prices and knew to tell Husband that if he was willing to pump the gas, we could save over a dollar a gallon, and get the fuel price down to a very reasonable $4.80 a gallon. Not bad for 100LL.

The FBO was nice-- though no food except for a vending machine. We made use of that and bought a few packs of peanut butter crackers to tide us over. I was looking forward to good, home-cooked Southern food, so had put myself on somewhat of a fast in preparation! After only about 30 minutes on the ground, we were ready to take to the sky again.

What a difference that 30 minutes made. The second half was my leg to fly, and it was immediately clear that this half of the flight would be very different from the first. The air had, in that short time on the ground, become very choppy, and we were constantly bounced around in our seats. It had also gotten quite warm, which doesn't mix well with the bumps! We signed on with ATC for flight following, and after some initial vectoring, we were actually cleared through the Charlotte Class Bravo airspace. I still find that exciting as it so rarely happens in DC!

During the entire flight, we were keeping on eye on the weather down south. Even from early in the morning, there were buildups about 50-75 miles south of Douglas, our destination. We hoped they would stay south so that we could get in without issue. By the time we approached the Bulldog MOA, we realized that we were going to have to deviate to avoid some weather. At that point, the question became: which way to deviate, east or west? We ultimately decided to go west-- though that took us more out of our way, it meant we could go behind the storms as opposed to trying to run in front of them. Of course we kept in communication with ATC as we deviated, and noted that others in the area were having to deviate as well. Just as we got abeam the storm cell, ATC notified us that the MOA had gone active, and we could either go all the way around the MOA (and stay with ATC), or we could go through the MOA-- but they would terminate our flight following. We of course chose to go around the MOA.

Once around the end of the MOA, we called and informed ATC that we'd turn south. We thought about then trying to slot between two small cells, but I decided against it when the Nexrad showed that both cells were building. Instead, we picked our way around the west side of that cell, and headed straight south to Douglas. From the Nexrad, we could tell that the storms were buiding a few miles on the other side of the airport. They also loomed large and gray in the windscreen. We decided to go ahead and try landing, knowing that if it didn't work out on the first try, we'd probably need to go ahead and deviate to our alternate airport because we were now starting to eek into our fuel reserves. Thankfully, the storms stayed on the other side of the airport, and we made it down without an additional excitement.

After orienting ourselves with the airport layout, we headed over to Harless Aviation where we were scheduled to get an oil change. Even though we were an hour late, the mechanic was still there, and helped us get fueled and in the hangar. He showed us around and agreed to let us park the plane in the hangar for the next few nights-- which saved us a parking fee!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Good Dog Goes to Georgia

We flew down to Douglas, Georgia last Thursday for a family reunion. Although, I should really call it a family celebration as we reflected on where we had come from, celebrated who we are now, and looked forward to who we will be as the next generation takes form.

What a blast! Many people don't think of family reunions as fun-- but I had been looking forward to this for several months now. The cool thing-- it even surpassed my expectations! My mother's entire family gathered in Douglas for the holiday, and we had the official reunion on Saturday afternoon, with close to 50 people in attendance.

We had all kinds of things to keep us busy while we were there. Lots of stories to tell and hear, food to prepare and eat, kids to play with, and fireworks to watch. Saturday, Husband and I made 8 flights, and took a total of 17 people up in the plane to fly over the farm, many of whom had never flown before in a small plane. I think I can safely say everyone had fun! I know I did!

As we flew home on Sunday, Husband asked me what my favorite part of the weekend had been. I had a hard time picking just one... Instead, it's almost like I see the weekend through snapshots of memories. Some of the highlights:

1) Hearing my Aunt L exclaim in delight as we flew over the family farm.

2) Taking off with my two great aunts (86 and 87 years old).

3) Laughing as my Aunt M broke open the pinata after all the great-grandchildren had tried.

4) Listening to (and telling) stories about my grandparents after a family dinner.

5) Walking back across the road to the farmhouse, seeing (and hearing) the kids playing softball, groups of family sitting under the carport talking, and the shadows of others in the house talking, and knowing that I belong to all of these people, and that they belong to me.

The whole weekend made me remember what it was like to be a kid and go to the farm to visit Granny and Grandpa. There was nothing like that feeling of contentment and safety to tromp around the farm with my cousins, building forts in the hay, eating ice-cold watermelon on a hot afternoon, and gathering around the table for a blessing with the whole family for a meal. I'm glad that my niece, nephews, and all of my cousins will know this feeling, too. That's what summer should be.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

When the Pattern is NOT a Pattern!

A few weeks back, Husband and I were returning to JYO from somewhere up north (I forget where, exactly), headed for runway 17 (based on previous traffic calls and the clear preference based on winds).

As background, JYO has a bit of a strange pattern when landing on 17- it's up against Class Bravo airspace for Dulles on the east-- as well having to pay attention where you are with regard to the ADIZ airspace. When approaching from the south or west, we usually fly the long way around, going fairly far north of the field, then using a few visual landmarks to turn back just before the approaching airspace, and come in for a very 45 entry to the downwind. Flyaway blogged about this issue here. When we come in from the north or northeast, though, we can abbreviate that approach by flying in straight over the same visual landmarks, making the 45 turn to downwind, etc. Of course- if things are really quiet, you could also then do a straight in.

On this particular day, we talked about doing a straight in, but decided to be safe, and do the normal entry from the north. No problem. Only, as we are on downwind (past midfield, getting very close to base), an aircraft calls that it is departing 35 and headed straight out to the north! Hmmm... now what. We made a quick call to confirm what we were hearing, and we also took a look at the windsock to confirm that 35 would mean a tailwind-- and it would. Because the airplane was a bigger faster one, we did some mental math and figured if we extended downwind a bit, it should be able get out first and allow us to then turn behind it and come in to land.

In retrospect, I would have made a different decision (we did have right of way given that we were in the air, and he was on the ground). In any case, we told him of our plan, and I slowed down as much as I could. Then we waited... and waited, and waited. Bod did he take his sweet time! The frustrating thing-- he only communicated if we asked him a question directly-- no sense of hey- you're waiting for me, so I'll give you a heads up of when I'm off, when I'm turning, etc. We *finally* saw him pass us when we were probably 2-3 miles past the airport again. By this point, I was worried we were going to screw up the whole ADIZ entry by accidentally leaving the ADIZ and then having to reenter it! Once he finally was past, we turned back and tried to do a straight in. Of course-- we had drifted as we flew out, and turning base to final, we had to do a series of turns to get back on course again. We did finally land uneventfully.

In the future, though, if anyone says that are departing on a runway opposite to the one I am in the pattern for landing... I'll gently remind them that I have the right of way.