Would You Believe 3 Check Rides?

The weather here hasn’t been very nice this week, but forecasts for today look favorable. I head out to play ultimate optimistic that things will work out pretty well.

The game was fun, though perhaps a bit sad also. A lot of our crew has been playing together for nearly a decade and we have a blast getting together and running out some of the workday tensions. One of our longtime players is leaving the lab and going into industry. I made this move myself nearly seven years ago, but managed to work close enough that I could still get out for most games. Since his job is downtown Chicago and in finance, he’s not going to have that luxury. We’ll miss him.

Getting back home the cleaning ladies are working, so I sit in my office venting my post-workout odors into the air and talking with some folks at client site over skype. I also notice that the weather isn’t improving as much as I hoped it would. It’s still flyable, 2,200 foot ceilings, but we won’t be able to do stalls if that remains the case. When I spoke with my flight instructor a few days ago he mentioned wanting to do some stalls. I did just finish my instrument rating, perhaps he’ll be fine without doing that.

I arrive at the airport and look down the ramp only to see a guy that looks a lot like my flight instructor getting out of a car way down the flight line. Looking quizzically at our hanger I notice that the club lock is missing and realize that perhaps this plan has been moved since last I flew it. So I jump back in the car and drive down the ramp to see what’s up. Sure enough, we’ve moved again.

Sometime last summer the hanger this plane used to be in got badly wind damaged and the airport authority moved us to another location. I’m not sure what precipitated the latest move. The new hanger looks identical to the one in which we had occupied. Echo 3. Now I need to remember we are in Echo 3. 3SP is in Echo 3. The 3′s should make it easier to remember.

We open the hanger door and I do a pre-flight. As usual everything is right with the plane. We have a great club and members leave things in good shape without exception. When we took this plane for three weeks last summer it took us a couple hours to clean things up when we were done, but we left things at least as clean as we found them at the end of the day.

I start the engine and we’re off.

This is my third check ride in four flights. The first was to get my instrument rating. Then Beth, my mom and I flew down to Macomb to visit Sarah at university. I had another check ride in Addison, TX in order to be able to rent planes from the FBO in the area. If I pass, this flight will give me the right to use club planes for another six months. Look, I know the expression is “a good pilot is always learning”, but really. At some point I need a chance to use the training somehow other than just convincing people that I’m not going to bend their planes.

Being the pioneers we are, we head west. Well, I suppose it’s a combination of the pioneering spirit and that heading east would have us flying over O’Hare.

We fumble our way through the GPS and approaches. I’m convinced that the GPS and the autopilot are feuding spouses. I’ve tried everything I can think of to get the autopilot to follow the magenta line, but nothing has thus far worked. Without that working we rotate the heading bug around and sort of convince things to work. The plane initially turns to the heading bug, then realizes that’s not where it wants to be and turns back toward the GPS track. I will put out a request for help on the club Facebook page when I get back.

Then the fun begins. The winds today are brisk from 290 at 14 gusting 20. I’m on approach for runway 20. This is good because it makes the math easy. 29-20 = 9. So the winds are exactly 90 degrees across the runway. The 14 number is measured at the ground, in the air it looks like the winds are more like 30. Which is to say the plane is significantly crabbed in order to stay on the centerline of the runway.

Runway 20 has a little farmhouse at the approach end. It’s weird. There isn’t a lot else out there, it’s almost like the owner of the farm and the airport designer were enemies, so the designer decided to put the flight path directly over the farmers house. I fly over the house in a 25 degree crab and right on the approach path. At that point we’re probably about 300 feet above the house. Power is low and things are quiet. I can imagine sitting at the window watching the planes come in. When the wind is coming from the north and people are flying over at full power as they take off it might be less entertaining.

As we descend the gusts become more obvious. They weren’t really that apparent in the air, so perhaps it is really only gusting in the bottom 100 feet. I start to slide the power out, but catch the airspeed falling more quickly than usual and add a bit back in. We coast in a bit lower over the threshold than I might have preferred and hit a little rise as we do so. I edge the power the rest of the way out and we slowly sink onto the runway for a firm touchdown.

Then it’s flaps up, power up and we’re off into the sky again.

On the way back my flight instructor does the standard “oops, looks like your engine failed” as he retards the throttle.

Ok, this one is easy. I run this drill all the time as I fly. I learned it as the ABCDs.

A: Airspeed for best glide.
B: Best field for a landing.
C: Engine fail checklist. In this plane we check the fuel tanks, check the mix, check the throttle, check the mags.
D: Declare an emergency. 7700 on the transponder and talk to tower. If they don’t respond try 121.5.
s: Secure the airplane on final approach. We open the doors, turn off the fuel and power down the electronics.

Done working the list we’re a bit high on our approach. This is a good place to be. It’s always possible to lose altitude in a hurry, but without an engine you can’t get it back. So, I add a bit of a slip to put the brakes on and we descend to a freshly plowed field with the grooves pointing into the wind. CFI says he’s happy, so I’m happy. Full power, remove the flaps and we’re climbing once again.

I fly us east for a while and soon enough we’re parked on the ramp and I’m signed off for another six months.

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Touch And Go Not Advised

I need to get checked out at the FBO at ADS so I can rent a plane tomorrow.

I start with dinner.

I’m thinking I would like to have Da Won later, but I want to eat something now and I really don’t need to have two evening meals. Stopping by the hotel restaurant and seeing “jimmy the low key bartender” briefly I decide I can just get an appetizer. That’s really all the calories I need, given that I haven’t worked out in two days, and half price appetizers during happy hour means I can eat for $3.00.

A quick stop in my room to exchange my laptop for aviation headset and iPad full of charts and I’m ready to go play navigation system roulette and see how it takes me to the airport. This time it decides that the tollway is the way to go. If I had any sense of direction I might argue, but I don’t. I’m stuck following the directions of the disembodied british female who lives in my phone.

After a few false starts I arrive at the FBO and introduce myself. As is typical, the flight instructors there are kids who are building hours while they pursue a career in aviation. Also as usual, they are really nice guys who seem to love what they do.

A check out is a flight one does with a flight instructor representing the FBO from which you are trying to rent. They ask when the last time was that you flew, how many total hours you have and about currency for night and other flying. On the basis of this, they then figure out how much they need to see you fly before letting you take their airplanes alone.

I last flew 72 hours ago. I have about 200 hours total time, which isn’t very much but is well past the initial learning phase. I’m current at night and I just finished my instrument rating. On the basis of this, my CFI decides that we can do an abbreviated check out. His is thinking that we will fly for a while, do some stalls and engine failures and then come back.

I preflight the plane and find that the strobes and a taxi light are burnt out. We decide to go ahead and launch anyway as it’s still daytime and we’re just going to stay in the pattern. The airport is a bit different than anyplace else I’ve flow. They are geographically constrained so I theorize that it’s that which has forced the buildings and taxiways into such a weird configuration. Taxiing out to the runway feels more like driving through a neighborhood than taxiing at an airport.

We emerge from the subdivision and arrive at the airport proper. They have a single runway nestled underneath the airspace of DFW and a lot of airplanes based here. Right now there is some construction underway, so the runway is 2,000 feet shorter than usual. That still leaves 5,000 feet, or 4,000 feet more than this little Cessna needs to take flight.

On the taxi down to the departure end of the runway my flight instructor takes the rado and asks if we can do a touch and go. He had told me we would fly for 30-45 minutes, instead he just wants to take off, fly around the pattern, do a touch and go, fly around the pattern one more time and land. All of this means that my flight just got a lot less expensive.

Usually ADS is much to busy for this, but it’s later in the evening and things have quieted down. After getting the request approved by his supervisor, we are cleared for the touch and go with a stern warning, “we cannot tell you that you can’t do a touch and go, but be aware that the runway is 2,000 feet shorter and we strongly advice against.”

“Roger, clear for the touch and go.”

I honestly don’t know if that was a CYA or if he really thought we didn’t have enough space. Either way, a 5,000 foot runway is plenty of room for touch and goes with a Cessna 172, so that’s what we’re going to do.

GMC: Gas is both. Mix is full. Carb heat doesn’t exist because we a fuel injected.

Throttle comes out and the first flaps goes in. The plane is slowing down nicely as we approach the turn to base.

“Cessna 8TW, notice rabbit reported runway 15 intersection whiskey, clear to land runway 15″

“Clear to land runway 15. 8TW”

We turn base and add the second flaps.

My CFI says, “Notice you have a displaced threshold here”

A displaced threshold is a paved portion of the runway (shown here as the portion above the 15 with arrows on it) that is available for takeoff rolls, but is not durable enough to withstand the force of a landing. I mean, of course everything would be fine in this little 172, but these rules are made for everyone.

I add a bit of power because, in all honesty, I hadn’t yet noticed the displaced threshold. 200 RPM additional adds enough float to bring us to the right touchdown point on the runway and a landing.

Then the action begins, flaps up, trim to take-off, full throttle and off we go. With, easily, 2,000 feet left before the construction zone on the runway.

Tower comes back on the radio sounding clearly impressed, “8TW, yeah, you did have plenty of room. I guess not starting from zero makes a big difference.”

“Yep, we figured in this plane we had nothing to worry about”

“Ok, 8TW you are clear to do as many touch and goes as you need”

But we didn’t need any. On the basis of that landing my recent instrument rating my CFI is ready to sign me off. I fly us once more around the patch and we’re done.

I just hope the weather tomorrow holds up. It’s supposed to be a bit windy, but if we make it, it’s going to be a fun flight…

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We’ve been in Belize for six days now and have exhausted all the restaurants nearby. There is one a bit further into town, but it’s only open Fri/Sat/Sun so we haven’t been able to try it out yet. After almost a week of the same stuff, we’re ready to try some BBQ.

We hang out around the pool for a while, just reading and relaxing. There are some folks from Canada that have just arrived, so we talk with them and have a couple Belikin. Belikin seems to have a stranglehold on beer in Belize. They make Belikin, Lighthouse and are the local bottler for Guinness. Those are the only three beers we’ve seen anywhere.

The Canadians are understandably happy to be in Belize. They’ve had a long snowy winter. Everyone back home is concerned about the spring thaw and hoping it will come slowly, otherwise flooding is going to be a major concern. For a couple weeks though, they are replacing that concern with making sure they don’t get too sunburned.

We leave and start to walk down the beach.

The beaches here are eclectic. The ones in front of unimproved property are littered with a stew of plastic (allegedly garbage dumped into the sea by Honduras) and seagrass. Walking along we see soda bottles, five gallon buckets and doll parts decomposing slowly in the unforgiving tropical sun. The flipside is that in this kind of an unmaintained environment, we also see dozens of kinds of birds, crustaceans and plants. A mix that we would never see if things had been “improved”.

Intermixed we see lots of properties in various states of improvement. It’s kind of a neat to see a mix of single family homes and mid-sized resorts along the beach. It’s still possible to buy a small home in town for $130K and on the beach for $300K. Prices go through the roof if a just finished 6 bedroom house is what you’re looking for, but there are still a lot of options.

Finally we arrive at our destination. We’ve read about The Lazy Croc on a bunch of websites, but are pretty skeptical. I mean, really, we’re not exactly in BBQ central. As we walk up things start to look like they are going to work out fine. About a hundred yards down the road we catch our first scent of the smoker. And a fine, fine scent it is.

Arriving at the property itself, we see the typical house dog (seems like every property has a house dog here) lounging out front welcoming guests. We follow the signs around the side of the building and past the smoker. It’s legit. Not some weird central american approximation of a smoker. The smoker is well used, just the right size and obviously well loved.

We get to the back of the building and find three picnic tables and a bar. That’s the entire restaurant. Out the back is a lagoon in which the namesake crocs live. This is either going to be really good or a train wreck.

Inspecting the menu there doesn’t seem to be any particular specialty, so we get the three meat plate to split. Pulled pork, chicken and beef ribs are the meats. We get mac and cheese, beans, potato salad and cole slaw as side dishes. And a couple Belikins to wash everything down.

I start with the pulled pork. One of my favorite dishes of all time and one that I use to compare BBQ joints. Lazy Croc was shockingly good. Astonishingly good. Top three I’ve ever had. The meat was slow roasted within an inch of it life, and tender, but without losing texture nor drying out. This ribs were also fantastic, falling off the bone but still full of flavor. Chicken is chicken, but the sauce at Lazy Croc was delicious.

Occasionally a croc bubbles up for a breath in the lagoon. Everyone jumps up and runs to the rail to see. The croc goes back down. Everyone returns to eating. It’s an afternoon well spent.

And with that we wander home and contemplate what to do with the evening. Perhaps a chicken drop.

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Winds And Changes Of Plans

I get up and start checking the weather. The other end of the flight isn’t looking good. Our only option for approaches requires about 600 foot ceilings and the clouds are currently at 300 feet. Things aren’t much better locally. Clouds at 400 feet.

Weather reports say that the worst of it will be moving through pretty soon. In any case, Beth is off to the airport to pick up Mom at the moment so we’re not quite ready to go.

The clouds jump up to 600. Then down to 400. Then 500. Then 200. But it’s clear that in 30-45 minutes the tail end of the front will be coming through and it will be clear below 12,000 for the rest of the day.

The drive to the airport is a short one, just head down to route 64 and point the car at a 270 heading. When I get there I find that, as usual, the airport authority has failed to grant me access through the gates I need. I haven’t flow the plane of the day in at least six months and it moved to another part of the airport. It wouldn’t be a hassle but it I’m sitting at the gate waiting 15 minutes for someone to come let us through and the airport management seems to go out of there way to continually demonstrate that our flying club isn’t one of their core considerations.

Eventually we get through and find the plane. Yes, it was a bit of a quest. I don’t exactly know which hanger we are in so we drive around a little while, but we track it down and figure out how to operate the doors.

Then Mom realizes that she’s left her headset back at the house. Off we go to protect her hearing.

We get back to the airport and the predictable happens, another 15 minute wait for someone to let us through a gate. They can’t just update my badge, because that’s a Monday through Friday kind of an activity.

Feeling very safe and secure we get through the gate and and take off. We filed IFR and zoom through some thin clouds into glass smooth air between layers. This is the stuff.

We are vectored west for a while before being able to head south toward clearer skies. An hour and 45 minutes later we are in Macomb.

As the evening wears on the forecast for the next day gets worse and worse. We had hoped to be able to stick around until noon and be able to attend the brunch the next morning, but that isn’t looking good. The predicted winds are going to gust up into the 40s in the afternoon, so we need to get going in the morning.

I get up and start checking the weather. Opposite of yesterday it still seems like the sooner we get going the better. Forecast is now up to 45 knot gusts in the afternoon, the long we wait the greater the probability of turbulence so off we go.

We take off westbound on runway 27 and turn back to a northeasterly heading toward Chicago. We climb slowly to 3,500 feet — clearly the strong climbs of winter are already behind us — and level off. We are flying this leg VFR since conditions were completely clear on both ends. That let’s us go direct between the airports and really exploit that strong tailwind, blowing right down the magenta line.

As the plane settles into level flight the airspeed and groundspeed both increase quickly. Once established on course our groundspeed finally averages a bit over 160 knots on 108 knots airspeed. Airport to airport time: 58 minutes, nearly twice as fast as the trip down.

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Three flight plans to Macomb

As I told you a few days ago, I’m excited to be planning my first instrument flight this weekend to Macomb, IL (KMQB). Flying instrument opens up a lot of possibilities for completing missions that otherwise wouldn’t get flown, but it also adds another layer of complexity.

At a high level the planning process is to look at preferred procedures out of your departure area, preferred procedures into your destination and the route in between wherever those leave you off. For this flight it’s pretty easy to get that mapped out. We fly west out of the O’Hare (KORD) airspace then south to Peoria (PIA) and finally west again into Macomb.

The next thing to check is what approaches are available into Macomb. The prevailing winds in the midwest are from the west and Peoria is east of the field, so it looks like LOC 27 will be a good choice.

The approach starts at PIA and continues southwest until capturing the localizer and turning inbound to Macomb. We can descend to 1900 feet once on the localizer and before we get to our final approach fix at JZY.

But wait, JZY is an NDB (Non-Directional Beacon). And, looking at the header it says “ADF REQUIRED”. Well, that’s no good. The airplane I have on Saturday doesn’t have an ADF (Automatic Direction Finder), the receiver for an NDB signal, so we can’t use this one.

The next approach to look at then becomes GPS 27. The course then gets adjusted to add LOGOS to the flight plan. Ok, good to go again. LOGOS is our feeder into the GPS approach, that keeps us in victor airways until close to Macomb, and then we fly to ZUPOK and the rest of the approach.

Unfortunately, we again run into trouble because I’ve forgotten that the same downgrade in aircraft that took us into one without an ADF also means that we’ve lost GPS. So, this approach is completely out of the question.

The problem with losing those approaches is that they are the ones that get us down to 300 feet above the ground. If we lose them then we do still have one option. This one only gets us 600 feet above the ground, a difference that can be significant in many IFR circumstances. The only other option is to fly VFR, which is a heck of a lot worse.

That final approach is a VOR/DME-A or an approach into the area for circling rather than to a specific runway. Once you get to a certain altitude (573 feet above the ground in this case) you can’t go any lower because the procedure covers a wide area and has to give you protection from obstacles the whole way. So in this case you fly to BRL thence southeast for 12 miles. Once 12 miles away from BRL it’s safe to descend to 1280 above sea level (573 above the ground) and hope you are out of the clouds.

At this point, finally I catch a break and after initially thinking the plane I’ve got reserved doesn’t have a DME I get word that it really does. Looks like we’re good to go!

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