Flying with a glider pilot

I have been a track coach with the local Special Olympics group for eight years now. At a recent track meet, I found out that one of the fathers is also a pilot and has spent most of his time in recent years in gliders.

He probably cringed at my power management today, but in my defense, it was cross-wind every time and just a small bit gusty. Still, I’ll chalk today up as a learning experience.

Our flight out of KOSU went around Ohio Stadium then downtown Columbus. After that I gave Larry the controls and had him take us over to Grimes-Urbana (I74) and then we did a full-stop landing.

Short final at Grimes-Urbana airport, I74

Why a full stop? Because today was the first time I was testing my suction-cup GoPro mount and somehow I forgot to turn the damned thing on. So we stopped at Grimes-Urbana and turned it on. There’s a video of the flight back to KOSU below.

When flying in to I74, there was a lot of traffic. They happen to have a very popular diner there. We came into the pattern on the downwind for runway 20 then turned for final.

Larry got a great shot of the planes lined up and waiting for us to land and get off the runway.

Short final, I74. 3 planes waiting to take off.

Crosswinds gave us an approach some would call “unstable” but honestly, in a light sport, any uneven wind gives you an unstable approach. The damned thing weighs 700 lbs empty and blows around like a leaf. It’s a good thing the control surfaces are so large.

Anyway, we came down pretty smooth. The only real complaint I had about the landing (besides the power management on approach) was the fact that we gave the gear a bit more side-load than I normally do.

I won’t write home to mom about this landing.

Oh. And the centerline. Ugh.

Anyway, we stopped for a moment, stretched our legs, determined that the GoPro was still suction-cupped to the airplane (and actually started the recording this time) and went back to KOSU.

Here’s the video!

A trip down to Southern Ohio for some sim-IFR training

I’ve got a Private Pilot License which allows me to fly just about anything, anywhere, at any time. But a lot of pilots call the PPL only half of the license because the major restriction is that you must always remain clear of clouds. That means that a pilot is often grounded when he doesn’t want to be.

The instrument rating is a rating added to your license that allows you to fly under Instrument Flight Rules and therefore fly through clouds. But there’s a lot of flying that has to be done first before you can take your Instrument test:

My current progress towards my Instrument Rating.

The first two are complete or nearly so. The last two are easy enough to knock out with an instructor when I get close to the exam time. It’s the middle requirement that takes a lot of time & money.

40 hours of time is as much as you need for the entire Private Pilot License, and this rating needs another 40 of actual instrument time or simulated instrument time. Actual instrument time is time spent in clouds. Since I’m not allowed to do that yet, I would need to pay for an instructor to go up with me for all those hours. Simulated time means wearing some “foggles” that attempt to limit your vision to only inside the airplane. You don’t need an instructor for simulated time, but you do need another licensed pilot to act as a safety pilot while you are wearing your blinders.

So I’ve found a new friend & safety pilot to fly with lately and we’ve been taking short flights to build the Sim time. I fly with the foggles on the way out, and he flys with them on the way back. For a 1 hour destination, we each get about an hour of Sim time, an hour of cross-country time, and due to some weird glitch in the FAA matrix, we get to double-up on Pilot-in-Command time while someone is wearing the foggles.

This trip we went down to Portsmouth, Ohio (KPMH). It was my first time flying due South and it was kind of nice to see something a little different than endless Ohio farmland.

Southern Ohio hills covered in haze.

But we did also see plenty of farmland too of course:

Wet farms in Southern Ohio.

And on departure we did something a little different than we normally do, we flew under the Columbus class C shelf at a little under 2,000 feet.

At that altitude we were actually dodging radio towers.

Columbus from under 2,000 feet.

It was a good flight and it’s always nice to see a new airport. Looking forward to returning to Portsmouth again!

A Sightseeing Tour

I took my friend Denny up in the plane today. He was a flight attendant in a previous career so he was no stranger to airplanes but this happened to be his first time in a small airplane.

It was a bit windy, 16 knots gusting to 24 from the southwest. KOSU made that just extra easy by having a nice runway heading the same direction.

KOSU Airport Diagram

We took off from runway 23 and proceeded to meander our way around northwest Columbus before contacting ATC to coordinate a little sight seeing over campus and downtown.

The Oval, Ohio State, 4/15/2017

Denny got a nice shot of the Oval and a piece of high street.

Since we were right in the way of departing traffic from the big airport, we scurried south a bit to take a loop around downtown Columbus.

Columbus, Ohio 4/15/2017

This is a shot Denny took from just west of the city. The Scioto River is the beautiful brown waterway running through the shot.

After playing around the city, it was time to get out of the path of departing traffic and play around with the clouds.

Clouds were at around 10,000 feet today so we spent about 15 minutes climbing to that height over Delaware, Ohio.

10,000 feet in the air. Level with the clouds.

Then it was time to let Denny have the controls. As an ex flight-attendant, he was a natural. No fear of the plane. Just comfortably put us in a few unusual attitudes on accident that I had to correct so we didn’t die.

If you know what body of water that is… let me know!

Sun was setting. Time to get home. Wind was coming down just a little bit but still a bit gusty. Since the plane is so small and gets kicked around by even relatively light winds, we did a no-flap landing at a little faster speed in order to have a little more rudder authority.

Fun day in the plane!

Louisville for Lunch

My brother lives in Louisville, KY and I’ve been intending on making the flight down there at some point. We had a wind from the SW so the trip down took about an hour and fifty minutes. The return trip was brisk though at only about an hour fifteen.

I’ve never actually had an opportunity or reason to cut through some Class-B airspace (the blue rings around Cincinnati) so this was a first for me. As it turned out, it was also completely non-eventful. Cleared through, minor vector’s around the actual airport but no major re-directs.

Downtown Cincinnati
Descending into Bowman field (KLOU)
Bumpy landing. Totally not my fault. A little windy near the ground that day.

After landing, it was a nice lunch with brother at the local BBQ smokehouse. Then a quick trip back to Columbus with my first real tailwind I’ve ever had on a cross-country flight.

I feel the need, the need for speed!

So the plane I fly most of the time is what’s known in the aviation world as, um, “slow”. Lightweight, responsive as fighter jet, plenty of cargo room, but slow. 110 knots (~125mph) is about the top speed you can run it at for a long trip. Still, since you don’t have to follow roads, you can get somewhere in about 1/2 the time as you would in a car. Which is nice.

However, 110 airspeed could mean a lot of things in terms of ground speed.  With a strong enough headwind, you can even fly backwards!

Flying 5.5 knots backwards!

 

In this picture, look in the blue circle to determine the direction the plane is facing, which says 313. That’s north-ish. (0 = North, 90 = East, 180 = South, 270 = West, 360 = North again). This is a magnetic compass.

In the red circle, there is the GPS track. This is the direction that the GPS is tracking the plane. It clearly has a southerly route at a leisurely 5 knots. While the plane is flying forward through the air, the air is fast enough that I am actually flying backwards over the ground.

Anyway, the fastest submitted ground speed (at http://GroundSpeedRecords.com) for this particular type of plane was 155 knots. We went up today to beat that record.

Here’s a shot of us at 161 knots over the ground. We were cruising along at about 115 knots through the air.

161 knots over the ground for the new GroundSpeedRecords.com record (we have 163 in video).

Who was I flying with? Well my flight instructor! Someone had to hold the controls while I took pictures!

This is what the clouds looked like:

Cloudy day

And finally a cool shot where you can see the snow path. In the foreground are all the farms with natural colors, then a snow storm path with snow over the fields, and in the background, you can see the natural colors again!

Snow path

Snowy Horseshoe

Took a new passenger up in the plane a bit before Christmas. We only had an hour or so to kill so I did my standard “new passenger” flight which is a short sight-seeing loop around Columbus.

The Columbus airport is due east of the stadium as you can see on this google map cutout:

Stadium circled on left. Airport highlighted on right.

This means that this particular area of sky can be very busy or completely clear depending on the wind direction.

Planes, as you likely know, take off and land into the wind. Around the stadium, I can ignore planes taking off. They climb fast enough that they are well above me by the time they get to this part of the sky. It’s the landing planes that have a long shallow descent and tend to interrupt photography sessions.

So as long as the wind is out of the west, which it usually is around here, this is pretty easy airspace to navigate. Except for the helicopters.

The Shoe in snow, Dec. 15, 2016

Return trip from St. James to Columbus

After the baby baptism my intention was to stay the rest of that day and take off the next morning but weather was getting in the way. I had clear weather that afternoon (albeit a bit windy) but it was potentially going to be cloudy the next day. That would have potentially stranded me for a few days. Between having good weather for sure and chancing it 18 hours later, I took off that afternoon.

I passed directly over Harper’s Ferry, IA again.

Harper’s Ferry, IA on the Mississippi River

A little later, I followed a section of the Wisconsin River

Section of Wisconsin River between Mississippi and Madison.

Then Madison. It was tough to get a decent picture or even a half-decent picture as the light began to get a little dimmer. Here’s the best I managed.

Madison, Wisconsin

I had to stop for fuel as it got darker and made a pit-stop at KENW. Then it was time for one of the reasons for the trip in general: The fly-by of Chicago at night. As I discussed briefly in a previous post, to stay out of Chicago’s airspace, you need to fly low and over the water. If you don’t, you risk having Air Traffic Control vector you half-way across America to keep you out of the way.

Chicago, IL at night from over Lake Michigan

The remainder of the flight was quiet and smooth as I flew over Indiana and Ohio farmland before arriving at my home airport.

After getting a strong head-wind the entire flight back, it felt great to get out of the airplane and stretch my legs.

Saint James, Minnesota

I’ve wanted to fly to Saint James since I got my pilot license. It was so nice to skip the commercial flight and rental car and land within 5 minutes of my destination. Having the whole in-law family plus some to see me land and pick me up at the airport was an extra treat.

St. James water tower

As long as I had the plane in Saint James and the weather was clear, it was a good idea to take a short tour of the town from the air. I went begging for a bit to find someone willing to climb into the right seat of the airplane but eventually convinced an only slightly worried sister-in-law to be designated photographer.

Grandma-in-law’s place on St. James lake.

St. James high school

We did a quick fly-by of the in-law’s home and they even came out to wave.

My wife’s childhood home and parents waving from the street.
St. James airport (KJYG) short-final runway 15.

It was a short circuit around the town but it was a lot of fun to see it from the air.

Ohio to Minnesota

So 0 year-old daughter and wife went to wife’s Minnesota hometown of Saint James to visit parents and our daughter’s great-grandmother. Since my wife is on maternity leave and I was working that week, she left a few days earlier than I did and I caught up for the weekend. The weather forecasts looked good enough that I felt confident flying private rather than commercial.

Weather forecasts are bullsh*t. Columbus, sunny all day. I had to find a hole through THIS to even get going.

Heavy cloud
Heavy clouds at approximately 6,000 feet. I’m at 8,500 feet.

But, after a 2 hour delay, I found an opening worth going for and climbed through it to get over the top of the cloud layer. Unending clouds is just about what I saw for nearly an hour as I worked my way northwest.

My direct route crossed through Chicago airspace. Some of the busiest airspace in the world. Since I needed to re-fuel anyway, I stopped in Gary, Indiana and topped off the tanks before skirting Northwest along the coastline and under Chicago’s class-B airspace. This allowed a nice daytime shot of the Chicago Skyline:

Chicago, November 4, 2016
Chicago, November 4, 2016

Saw quite a few other planes in the area. Everyone staying below the Chicago airports’ control space.

Once north of Chicago I turned west again towards St. James. It wasn’t long before I crossed over Harper’s Ferry, Iowa and got a great shot of the Mississippi.

Harper's Ferry (with an apostrophe), Iowa
Harper’s Ferry (with an apostrophe), Iowa

You might be thinking, is that THE Harper’s Ferry I read about in the history books? Nope. That one is in West Virginia. But if you want to know something really weird, here’s a piece of trivia you won’t find anywhere else:

Harper’s Ferry, IA (on the Mississippi) started out as Harpers Ferry (no apostrophe). The apostrophe was later added.

Harpers Ferry, WV (famous, no apostrophe) started out as Harper’s Ferry. The apostrophe was later removed.

Anyway, started to get a little closer to St. James and the sun also started to set.

Albert Lea Lake, MN
Albert Lea Lake, MN

And then just a short while later I was there with all the in-law family to greet me. It was one great welcoming.

St. James Airport
St. James Airport

Flight Planning to Minnesota

There’s a lot that goes into planning a long cross-country flight but the vast majority of the planning is really just contingency in case something goes awry. If everything goes smoothly, the reality of cross-country aviation is simply hopping in the plane, pointing it in the right direction, and when you need gas, pull into the nearest airport and fuel up. Not much different than driving a car down the highway except there’s less stuff to run into.

Anyway, my wife is on maternity leave and is using some of the time off to take the baby back to her home town for a week to let the grandparents dote on her and to introduce the baby to her great-grandmother who doesn’t travel as well as she used to. Four generations of women all together is a rare feat. My wife will be flying commercial.

I, without any maternity leave, will be flying up just for the weekend. Now here’s the thing about getting to rural town in southern Minnesota from Ohio: Flying commercial takes two hours to get to Minneapolis. Then you have to hike over to the car rental counter, deal with that nonsense, and then drive for another two and a half hours to get into town. Add in airport time like waiting at the gate, or waiting for baggage claim, shuttle to and from parking and you’re looking at six to seven hours of total travel time; or, I can fly a plane myself which I like to do anyway, and land 5 minutes outside of town in five and a half hours.

So the first thing I have to do is look at my route: It’s 560 nautical miles. That’s about five and a half hours of flight. I can carry about six hours of fuel. That cuts things a little tight, especially if there is a headwind on the day I travel. So I need to re-fuel somewhere along the way.

Next thing I see is that I’ll be going directly over Chicago. Since that airspace is some of the busiest in the world, it’s unlikely I’ll be cleared through so I’ll probably have to go around it anyway. Might as well use that diversion as a fuel stop.

diversion

The class B airspace (blue rings) starts at 3,000 feet above sea level at its lowest point along my route, so as long as I stay under that, I can skirt along the Chicago coast and get some great pictures of the city. Once I get north of the more restrictive airspace, I’ll land at Kenosha Regional airport and re-fuel.

So that’s my intended route. It’s very possible that weather over the lake will make that plan impossible though so I’ll plan some back-up airports to the south I can use too.

Next, I’ll make sure that I have radio frequencies for all of my intended destinations written down. The plane has the information on its gps, and I have my phone as backup, but it’s always nice to have a hard copy just in case.

Since I’ll have a short stretch of flight over water, I’ll throw a life jacket in the passenger seat just in case.

That’s about all the planning I need to do besides choosing what snacks I want to bring and what podcast I might listen to.

All that’s left is to hope that the weather is good enough for the flight when the weekend comes around! Hopefully I’ll be posting some pictures of the Chicago skyline soon.