Archive for the ‘blogbook’ Category

Things That Go Bump On The Runway

Monday, August 20th, 2012

I have been very lucky so far with the things that have gone wrong in my flying career.  Most of the things that have gone wrong for me have (knock wood) been small.  I had another small one go wrong this weekend.  I blew a tire rolling out on a landing at Santa Monica.

I was out with Marc Zorn flying approaches for instrument currency.  We were actually delayed departing Santa Monica because the nose wheel tire was low.  American Flyers helped us out and filled that tire.  I always check the tires during my walk around, but because the nose had been low and because I’d recently had the left main tire filled, I double checked the mains when the lineman came over.  No sense asking him to come back.  I was surer than usual that everything was properly inflated.

Marc and I shot approaches into Riverside and Chino that went pretty well.  We scoped out the various interesting planes on the ground at Chino and had lunch at Flo’s Diner.

From there we filed back to Santa Monica and took off.  In retrospect, the roll out was my first clue something was up.  Just as we were lifting off, I felt a sharp jerk to the left that  didn’t feel like a wind gust.  I even joked to Marc that I hoped we still had three wheels down there, but I wasn’t positive it was anything  more than a crosswind gust on takeoff.  If I hadn’t had the confirmation of tire failure on landing, I might have forgotten the incident.  Now I know what a tire blowing feels like.  I think.

Anyway, we landed pretty uneventfully at SMO, until we had cleared the runway (and, I later found out, cleared the runway safety area).  As the plane slowed, it began pulling to the left and felt like a blown tire on a car.  I got as far clear of the runway as possible and told the tower I thought I’d blown a tire.  Sure enough, I had.

The blown left main

The airport police towed us off the apron after removing the fairing that protects the wheel, and made an incident report.  The responding officer also gave us a lift back to our car.  The officer – whose name I unfortunately forgot – was really excellent.  He helped us get the plane safely out of harms way before collecting the information he needed for his report.  He was polite and helpful in every way.

I contacted my mechanics the next day and they towed the plane back to my parking spot and put a new tire on.

I’ve been thinking about whether I should have declared emergency or handled it differently.  I think I did OK knowing what I knew then.  The takeoff at Chino was abnormal, but it was abnormal in a new way and only slightly so.  With only that evidence, I don’t think that I had enough indication of trouble to declare emergency.  I thought my joke to Marc was a joke. And honestly, I don’t know that the tire blew on takeoff.   It may have been fine at Chino.  Beyond getting as far clear of the Santa Monica runway as possible once I had the problem, there wasn’t much else to do.

But, I will take a similar abnormal takeoff more seriously in the future.

Hopefully I won’t have to deal with tire trouble again for another 1600 hours.

Hesperia (CA)

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

I thought I’d written about flying to Hesperia Airport before, but it seems like I didn’t.  I flew there again today, so I’ll write about it now.

Hesperia is the airport in a fairly small desert town north of the Inland Empire.  The town is north of Lake Arrowhead and sort of along the way to Barstow.  It was growing pretty rapidly during the housing boom.  The airport is used primarily by the Mercy Air air ambulance folks, but there are hangars and some based planes there as well.  There is also an inexpensive fuel pit and a restaurant.  The restaurant is what drew me in there, of course.

I’d been out to Hesperia once many years ago looking for a restaurant that I’d heard of, but it was closed.  The fellow working the local FBO offered to share his sandwich with me, which was kind, but I didn’t take him up on it.  I saw from our friends at AirNav that there was indeed a new restaurant there, and tried it out.

The restaurant itself is a classic airport cafe: sandwiches, burgers, and breakfasts.  Everything I’ve had there is really tasty and the staff is very friendly and helpful.  It’s a good fly-in joint.

The field itself is kind of small.  There’s ample runway length, but it’s kind of tucked away and there’s not a lot around the airport.  It feels very close to the houses and highway nearby. It’s also in the high desert, so it can be windy and is higher than it might seem.  When I was there today, the density altitude was in the 6000′ range, and it was very noticeable on takeoff.  The wind was gusty though only 10 knots or so.

I took a few pictures.  I love the airport restaurant sign, and found a Cessna labeled with “Realtor.”  I have no idea why you’d need to label a plane with that, but there must be a reason.  For someone.

Lunch and Inspiration

Monday, July 5th, 2010

The June gloom in LA has extended itself to July, and I was hoping to take advantage of it and get some time in the clouds today.  As usual, as soon as I went up, the clouds began their retreat, but I did get a tiny touch of actual in and grab lunch at Riverside Municipal.  The flight out was a good refresher for IFR procedures even though I didn’t spend more than a minute or two in the clouds climbing out.  Juggling the radios, GPS, and other navigation aids is always good practice, even when I’ve cleared the layer.

The flight out wasn’t very eventful for me, but a Delta flight crew was having a pretty tough time of it, to the point where they managed to tick off an Approach Controller.  Everyone’s had a bad day, but when you hear someone having theirs, it makes you determined not to have one of yours at the same time.  Fortunately, my number wasn’t up; my flight was routine.

Riverside Municipal is a nice little towered airport with an old school diner on the premises.  I enjoyed a patty melt with my Pacific Flyer. I took a couple pictures of the airport and the planes, including the apparent Texan who’s modified the Bible verse on his horizontal stabilizer.

After lunch and pictures, it was back to Santa Monica under instrument rules, but without any clouds.


Sunday, June 20th, 2010

My sister was in town last week, and she and her family invited us up to see a practice round of the US Open up in Pebble Beach.  I was in Berkeley on Monday for a work commitment and flew down to Salinas to meet them as they drove up from LA.  It was a nice flight, and I got to spend a few minutes bumming around the ramp at Salinas before they caught up with me.  Imagine my surprise to see Arnold Palmer’s Citation on the ramp next to me.  (Palmer’s registration – N1AP – is well known among pilots for some reason).

Anyway I took a few pictures, including one with N32169 in the same frame.

Back to Bakersfield (L45)

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

I finally had some time this weekend to go out and play in the plane a little. I’ve been meaning to check Bakersfield Municipal out more thoroughly since I stopped by on my last uncontrolled field tour. Today was the day.

The flight out was pretty, but hazy.  Honestly I was surprised at how little traffic was out.  Usually the basin is hopping on the weekends, but there were a couple times today when the radio was quiet long enough that I thought I might have lost comms.  No such luck, though – just quiet.

The other bummer is that I’ve had a cold this week and between climbing over the Gorman pass and descending back into the Central Valley my ears filled right up with phlegm.  Yes, I know this is a charming fact to share with you all.  It hurt a little, but mostly it took me a few minutes to clear them back out so I could hear normally again.

Anyway, Bakersfield is a really well kept-up field.  All the landscaping is pretty and the runway and taxiway surfaces have all been well maintained and, as far as I can tell, recently repaved.  It’s a very pleasant surprise to see such a beautiful little airport.

I actually had trouble finding the restaurant.  Despite the fact that the field is really well marked, I missed the building that held the place.  I stopped off on the FBO and a couple folks outside gave me great directions.  Should you ever be looking for the restaurant at Bakersfield, taxi all the way to the departure end of runway 14 and take a left.

The restaurant itself was unique and interesting.  It wasn’t so much a cafe as a bar with food, but it was a large, well lighted sports bar with a definite bias toward motor sports.  There was plenty of racing gear on display and for sale, and when I sat down the Speed Channel was on.

However, the place didn’t give off the vibe of being a pure sports bar.  It was pretty early in the day when I was there – around 11 – but there were a couple tables of families there and quite a few older couples and groups.  I got much more the feeling of a neighborhood haunt than the young men’s hangout that sports bars often seem to be.

I had a good turkey sandwich, but I probably should have aimed at the burgers, which seem to be a specialty.

Overall it was an excellent experience, and the place could easily become a favorite.  Recommended.

Uncontrolled Field Tour II

Friday, December 4th, 2009

As part of tuning up to go east this Christmas, I went out Sunday and did one of my favorite training exercises: an uncontrolled field tour.  An uncontrolled filed is one with no tower to direct traffic, and often no weather information available beyond a windsock at the field (though others have full automated weather broadcast continuously).  While an uncontrolled field is usually less busy than a towered one, they do force the pilot to pay more attention to the world outside the window, knowing that no tower controller will provide another pair of eyes.  Air Traffic Control is also not going to provide traffic advisories or the like in the pattern at an uncontrolled field.  The runways are often shorter and narrower, too.

I did my first tour several years ago when I was feeling uncomfortable about my uncontrolled field radio and pattern entry work, and I reprised it last weekend just to polish that corner of my skill set.  Basically, I go up into the central valley and hop between 8 fields.  Once I’m in the valley, I don’t get flight following, and stay down around 2500′ feet between airports.  I operate primarily by pilotage, and drill those skills as well as pattern entries and uncontrolled radios.

It was a lot easier this time than last.  I think my approach and landing skills have gotten a lot better.  I was much more comfortable getting on and off even the shorter fields in the mix this time.  Here’s a quick recap.

The first field I wanted to hit was a new one for me: Bakersfield Municipal, near the south edge of Bakersfield.  I flew through the Gorman pass and went through some strong up and down drafts.  I lost a couple hundred feet of altitude on more than one occasion by encountering a downdraft that I couldn’t out climb.  I reported them to ATC, but all they can do is warn people.  Once in the Central Valley, the winds eased off, and operations were straightforward.

Bakersfield Municipal from the tiedowns

Bakersfield Municipal from the tiedowns

I didn’t stop long at most of the fields, but I did take a picture or two at most.  I took most of them from the cockpit with the plane stopped and the engine running, so the quality isn’t great.  That’s a V-tail Bonanza landing at Bakersfield after I got there.  He was headed for the airport restaurant.  I haven’t been there, but I’ll be back.  The field looks clean and well kept up.

From Bakersfield it was up to Shafter-Minter airport, which I found by following some railroad tracks.  The other times I’ve been to Shafter I’ve seen biplanes in the pattern, including a couple low passes; no such luck today.  You can see some interesting aircraft on the ramp in the picture, though.

The ramp from Runway 12/30 at MIT

The ramp from Runway 12/30 at MIT

From Shafter, more railroad tracks brought me over to Wasco Airport.  This is a little field used primarily by crop dusters, it looks like.  I was pleasantly surprised to hear someone come into the field as I was leaving the area.  It sounded like a student on a cross country.  Here are a few planes on the ramp at Wasco:

Crop Dusters at Wasco

Crop Dusters at Wasco

A Cessna at Wasco

A Cessna at Wasco

From Wasco, it was a short hop over to Delano Municipal, which had a long runway, continuous weather reporting, and a restaurant and helicopter repair shop on the field.  No one was around over there, though, so I made a landing, snapped a shot of a bunch of helicopter fuselages at the repair shop and set out again.

Helos in for repairs at Delano

Helos in for repairs at Delano

The next stop, Porterville, is a favorite airport.  It’s somewhat out of the way, but the food at the restaurant is good, though it has changed hands a couple times.  I planned a stop here for food and gas, but was disappointed.  The restaurant was closed, though I did fuel up, and watch an old Bell helicopter taking some landing practice.

Helicopter practice at Porterville

Helicopter practice at Porterville

Restaurant and Terminal at Porterville

Restaurant and Terminal at Porterville

From Porterville, I started across the valley to Corcoran, a small field used primarily for crop dusting.  It was narrower than most of the fields I hit that day, and very utilitarian.  I always feel like I’m intruding on someone’s workplace when they’ve just stepped out when I come in and out of there, so I didn’t stay long.  As I turned around to leave, I snapped this shot of the AgTractors at rest.

The usual denizens at Corcoran

The usual denizens at Corcoran

The next field on my list was the unattended strip at Lost Hills.  There’s remarkably little at Lost hills, except for a runway and a few tie downs.  I think this is primarily used to bring equipment in and out of the oil drilling sites in the region.  It was easy enough to find from Corcoran by following the 5.  Here’s the windsock (and segmented circle).  As you can see, the sun’s going down, and I really like this picture.  I like how the windsock marks this a point of civilization but feels far from home.

The lonely windsock at Lost Hills

The lonely windsock at Lost Hills

From here, my last stop was Buttonwillow airport, another unattended strip just down the canal from Lost Hills.  I like Buttonwillow much more than I should, partially because I’ve had some cool experiences there.  Today as I was approaching from the north, I heard another aircraft approaching to land, which always surprises me; I always think I’m the only one who knows about Buttonwillow.  It turned out to be a Luscombe, who was straight in.  I let him in ahead of me and took a shot of the setting sun, the Luscombe (the nose is cut off in the thumbnail, but not the full shot), and the runway, which is really getting overgrown a bit.  I really like the runway shot because it again captures the out-of-the way feel of the place.  Try to ignore all the bugs on the windshield.

Sunset at Buttonwillow

Sunset at Buttonwillow

Another pilot at Buttonwillow

Another pilot at Buttonwillow

Runway 11/29 at Buttonwillow

Runway 11/29 at Buttonwillow

From here it was back to SMO in the fading light for a night landing that didn’t count toward currency.  I imagine that this wouldn’t be much fun for most passengers, but I enjoyed a day of picking my way along at a low altitude, getting into and out of small fields and generally just flying.

Instrument Practice

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

How instrument pilots practice their skills can be confusing to non-pilots (or even to VFR-only pilots).  In mid-October Marc Zorn and I went up and did some practice approaches, and Marc took some great pictures that may help make the process easier to understand.  Here’s a short description of what we did.

First to set the stage, the whole LA basin was under an overcast layer with bases at between 1,000′-1,500′ and with tops between 2,500′-3,000′.  Visibility above and below the layer was excellent.  This means we were on IFR clearances all day, but much of our flying was in VFR conditions.  In fact, when we were above the clouds things looked like this:

Flying above the cloud layer

Flying above the cloud layer

As you can see, as far as keeping the aircraft right side up, these conditions are (almost) as good as a clear day with no clouds at all.  I say “almost” because there are some differences between the cloud deck and a real horizon – a sloped cloud deck can lead to the illusion that the plane’s level when it’s really banked – and because it’s a lot harder to see where the airports are.  In order to practice controlling the plane without reference to the outside clues, the training pilot wears a view-limiting device – usually called a hood – that restricts what he or she can see.  Generally a hood restricts the pilot’s vision to stop at the top of the glareshield (dashboard on a car).  Here I am wearing a hood:

Me under the hood

Me under the hood

While Marc is enjoying that gorgeous view, I’m seeing instruments and gray plastic. But, because I can’t see other airplanes Marc is acting as a safety pilot for me.  That means he’s looking out for other aircraft and letting me know if there’s a situation where I should remove the hood and take action.  Of course if there’s an emergency that happens so fast that it’s safest for him to take control of the airplane, he can do that as well.  We talk through the parameters of that on the ground.  A safety pilot needs to be qualified to fly the aircraft, of course.

While we’re above and below the clouds, I’m under the hood and Marc’s looking around (and taking the occasional picture).  Today we have some time when we’re in real instrument conditions – inside clouds.  When that happens, Marc lets me know and I take the hood off.  Here are a couple shots inside a cloud:

Flying inside a cloud

Flying inside a cloud

The wing in a cloud

The wing in a cloud

That picture inside the plane isn’t photoshopped.  There’s nothing but white outside, and the plane is being controlled entirely by instruments (and me).  You can see the wings, as the second image shows, but without a horizon to reference, that isn’t much help.

For those of you familiar with the LA airspace, the picture inside the plane was taken just as we were joining the localizer for the ILS approach into Oxnard.  The ILS provides vertical and lateral guidance to the airport – that is it tells the pilot what direction to fly to get to the airport and how high to be at any point on the approach.  It’s a precise system. It can guide a plane to within 200′ (altitude) of the runway threshold, from which point you land by eye.  Today the ceilings were much higher, but after breaking out of the clouds I went back under the hood until the 200′ mark.  Inside the clouds the view looks like this (the blur is the propeller):

Looking out the front in a cloud

Looking out the front in a cloud

At around 1000′, we break out and it looks like this:

Breaking out at Oxnard

Breaking out at Oxnard

The runway is the black strip right above the curl in the cowling between the propeller and the oil door.  It’s much easier to see on the larger image.

If we’re flying the approach in real life, we transition mostly to visual flying at this point; while training I go back under the hood.  We land at Oxnard and then filed a flight plan to another airport and do it all again.  Sometimes pilots intentionally miss an approach (in coordination with ATC) to get more approaches in, but I wanted to practice the transition to visual flying through to a landing today.

So that’s a little bit about how instrument training goes.  Marc took all the pictures in this entry, and I downscaled them somewhat, so distortions are my fault.

Lunch at Corona

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

It looks like Brenda and I will be flying East this year for the holidays, which means I’ll be finding extra excuses to go out flying this month.  Today’s excuse was a trip out to Corona, a small uncontrolled field out near Chino and Ontario.  Corona strikes me as a good community airfield and it’s usually a good trip, though it does get busy there.

The flight out through the LAX special flight rules corridor was pretty uneventful.  The Inland Empire had some haze in place, but nothing too bad.  I heard some people land at Corona ahead of me, but as I came in, I had the pattern to myself.

I tied down and moseyed over toward the restaurant, and spotted this cool Ercoupe on the way.

Ercoupe at AJO

There are so many cool Ercoupes running around these days that there must be some kind of Ercoupe hot rodder’s club or something.

Anyway, I like Corona because it’s the kind of little field where you can see the planes along the town’s roads near the airport.

Main road at AJO

Of all the things at Corona that I liked in the past, the restaurant made the least impression on me.  It was fine, but I don’t remember it fondly.  And now I’ll have to remember it. A new place has opened up in the old restaurant’s place, called Bobby A’s.  I talked briefly with Bobby when I was there and he says he’s only been open since mid-September.  He should stay open for a while – the food is good and priced reasonably and the place feels like it’s run by people who care.  It’s pretty much a 50’s diner, but there were vegetarian options, and the breakfasts looked good.  I’ll definitely be back.

Bobby A's

On the way out I passed this little vehicle outside the airport security office.  I don’t think I’d mess with a security guard riding it.

Gator Board

As I walked up to the place to move on, I saw this gorgeous Stearman running up and departing.  Boy do I love the old biplanes.

Stearman running up

As I was getting untied and ready to go, I’m pretty sure I saw two planes almost meet in the middle.  A Cessna was in the pattern doing touch and goes arriving behind me and going into the wind.  I saw him land and heard an engine run up, which I assumed was the Cessna following through.  I looked up, though and saw an airplane that was coming toward me and turning right to the downwind. Then I saw the Cessna follow through.

I’m pretty sure they were headed right at each other, though they were never very close.

Not a good thing.

Anyway, I cruised over to Chino and got some landing practice in.  I was going to do a few at Corona, but honestly the pattern was pretty busy, and though some people were ignoring it, there was a sign saying no touch-and-goes on the weekends.  I try to be a good neighbor, so I flew the 2 miles over to Chino.

After a few trips around the patch, I filed an instrument flight plan back to Santa Monica just for the chance to drill procedures and practice working in the system.  The trip back went very well.

I’m looking forward to a few more before the big trip in December.

Landings and a Brush File

Sunday, July 5th, 2009

In my continuing effort to sharpen back up before I head off to Seattle, I tooled out to do some landings and take-offs. There aren’t that many airports that let you do touch-and-goes on the weekends, but Whiteman and El Monte do. I planned to hit them both today. I like to practice at other airports, because they’re unfamiliar enough that landings feel different from the zillion I’ve done at Santa Monica.

Image of a brushfire behind WHP (color enhanced)

Image of a brushfire behind WHP (color enhanced)

The first interesting thing was that there was a smoke plume coming from out Whiteman way. The briefer hadn’t mentioned any closures or fire, so I figured I’d creep out that way and see if WHP was still open. It turns out it was, but the fire was close enough that I felt like I was in the way. They were conducting normal ops, though. I saw a banner tow pick up a banner and head out.

I did break one of my usual rules and take a picture of the smoke plume from near the coast in flight. From WHP you could see the flames.

After getting only 2 landings in at WHP, I went over to EMT for a few more. Overall these were OK, with little improvements, but I bounced the last one, so I decided to do a few more at SMO. I also aborted one takeoff on a touch-and-go because there was a big pack of birds on the runway milling about ominously.

Back at SMO the landings were decent. There was a good deal of gusty wind, which didn’t simplify anything, but still, one likes to do better. I did close out the session with a very nice short approach if I do say so myself.

Overall I’m feeling much less rusty.


Saturday, July 4th, 2009

We had the day off Friday, and I’d finally gotten my medical renewed (it was delayed by a combination of a loss of a flight surgeon and a lot of travel), so I decided to get up and shake some rust off.

I’d originally planned to go out to California City, a favorite desert spot, but I realized that Mojave’s tower would be open today, and the idea of adding a new airport to my list was attractive. Mojave Air and Space Port is famous for being the home of Scaled Composites, Dick Rutan’s company that built SpaceShip One and the Rutan Voyager. It’s also a facility for mothballing (and cannibalizing) airliners that aren’t in use. Importantly, there’s also a restaurant there – specifically one run by the same folks who run the restaurant at William J. Fox field (and California City).

Santa Monica was reporting a scattered layer at 800 feet, which at Santa Monica usually means that there’s a marine layer on the south end of the field, which was the case when I got there. I departed runway 3 (with a significant tailwind, but it’s a long runway by Archer standards) and had to kind of thread my way past a couple aircraft getting out. There was a combination of the layer, some close airspace, a burst of traffic, and a new controller in the tower than made it more cramped than I would have liked, but no big deal.

The actual flight out to Mojave was pretty uneventful. Fairly smooth air and little traffic. The air was clear, but not crystal.

On the way in, I heard another aircraft heading for Mojave, one calling “heavy” after its callsign. That’s an indication of not only an airliner, but a big one. Sure enough, when I got there the mothball facility was taking in a brand new Boeing (looked to me like a 767, but I’m lousy at this). I’m sure that was fun to land in a 20kt crosswind without an ILS.

Um, yeah, there was some wind. And some heat. When I got there they were reporting 12kts, with gusts to 21, and 34 degrees Celsius. As a result I landed on the narrow, short (relative standards – the runway was nearly as long as the one at SMO) runway 22. With all the gusts and the high density altitude, the landing a good challenge, but uneventful. I taxied up to the restaurant and took some pictures.

The food was good, as expected, and it was nice to be out of the hot, dry wind. As an airport restaurant, they’re required to have a bunch of airplane stuff on the wall, but the local boys do particularly well here. My menu was signed by Dick Rutan (and I suspect that most were) and there were plenty of pictures of him and his crew around. It had the vibe of supporting the airport family and was a nice one to pick up.

Getting ready to leave, it was time to address density altitude and gusts again. After leaning out for altitude, I took the longer, more convenient runway 26 for departure. The takeoff was a pretty good crosswind takeoff, but you could definitely feel the wind as you got off the ground. There was some turbulence, even at a low level, and work to do to keep everything straight and safe. It worked out well, though and I began putt-putting for home. And the putt-putting indicated that there was a pretty good headwind going back. I was seeing speeds in the low 90’s when I was indicating 110 or so, meaning 20 kts of headwind.

On the way back I got to relay a message for ATC to an aircraft that wasn’t hearing the transmitter. It’s just a little thing, but I always feel helpful doing it.

As I closed in on SMO, the field went IFR – the marine layer had walked back over the airport. While I had other choices, I figured the easiest thing to do was to get an IFR clearance. I’d gotten the weather before the controller, but he set me right up with the clearance.

The approach itself was one I’m used to being based at SMO. I wasn’t ever in the clouds, had the field in sight the whole way, but the regulations say no VFR (though special VFR was a choice). Still there are nuances. As I contacted SMO tower the same new voice from earlier was on the frequency. He asked me to report the field in sight, and I did immediately. He started to clear me for a visual approach, but I heard a familiar voice in the background say “<bzzzt> Wrong. Continue approach,” which he instructed me to do. I’m assuming that because I couldn’t go around in VFR conditions that they couldn’t issue me a visual approach clearance. And by “assuming” I mean that I’ll be looking it up…

I caught a little gust low, which made my landing less than beautiful, but it was still a good day.