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It was a beautiful morning at the small gliderport just outside of Middletown, California. A faint mist was rising from the ground as the sun warmed the dew-covered grass. I was a student pilot learning to fly in gliders and had only a few hours under my belt. My instructor that morning was Jim Indrebo, CFI, DPE, and champion glider pilot. He and his wife Connie, also an instructor, own and operate Crazy Creek Air Adventures in Southern Lake County.

"So, what's our best-glide speed in this glider?" asked Jim.

"At our weight today, 52 knots," I answered.

"And our stall speed?"

"38 knots."

"OK, good. What would you do if you had a rope break on takeoff below 200 feet?" Jim asked.

"I'd land straight ahead in that field across the road."

"How about above 200 feet?"

"I'd get the nose down, make a steep teardrop turn into the crosswind, and land back on the runway."

Jim asked several more questions until he was satisfied I'd done my homework. Then he supervised my pre-flight and we went flying. We stuck close to the field, practicing aerotow launches and pattern work. Aerotow is essentially formation flying with someone pulling on your nose, so it's a great way to develop a feeling for the controls. With all the adverse yaw produced by ailerons at the ends of those long, skinny wings, you really learn what your feet are for.

As the lesson went on, Jim said less and less, allowing me to do more and more by myself. On one launch, Jim asked me to "steer" the tow pilot back over the field and release at 1,500 feet AGL. I started the steering turn by maneuvering the glider from its position directly behind the tow plane off to one side, signaling the tow pilot that I wanted a turn in the opposite direction. Then I followed his turn, moving back in behind him when I was ready to stop turning. It's a challenging maneuver but it went well, without a word from Jim in the back seat. I released the tow rope at 1,500 feet and basked in the glow of my accomplishment as I took in the gorgeous view.

"Do I have the best job in the world or what?" Jim said with obvious delight in his voice. A few seconds passed.

"Now do you have a plan?" Jim asked, his voice turning serious.

"Uh, well, I was going to circle around here and set up to enter the pattern," I replied hesitantly. Honestly, I hadn't given much thought to what I was going to do next, and when your only fuel is altitude, that's not a winning strategy. Jim's pointed question made clear that the left brain always needs to be taking care of business even while the right brain is enjoying the scenery.

As I progressed through my glider training, I flew less with Jim and more with his other instructors. Eventually, I understood his reasoning. Come the checkride, as designated pilot examiner, he wanted to evaluate my flying with fresh eyes, as objectively as possible. When the day finally came, Jim was very thorough and exacting, but completely fair. When the ride was finished, I felt like I'd been through a ringer, but I also knew I was finally ready for my "license to learn"—the Private Pilot certificate.

I haven't flown gliders in years, focusing instead on flying my club's airplanes, but that early training honed my stick-and-rudder skills and provided a solid foundation that I appreciate more and more as time goes on. The principle of primacy says that we learn best what we learn first. I'm very grateful for the many lessons I learned from Jim, Connie, and all the instructors at Crazy Creek, but a couple in particular stand out:

Always have a plan.

And don't forget to enjoy the view.

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"Wind 320 at 12. Peak gusts 18," intoned the automated weather broadcast at Little River airport on the North coast of California. I was flying with my wife Janet and Eddie Pippin, Canine Aviator in our club's Cessna 172, and we were approaching from the Southeast, intending to land on runway 29. The wind and the surrounding terrain at Little River always make the approach a bit squirrely, but it's usually blowing pretty much straight down the runway. I thought about the Airmet for strong surface winds in effect for Northern California coastal waters and did the math out loud.

"That's 30 degrees off runway heading, so the crosswind component is about 6 gusting to 9. I'm OK with that. I'll just limit flaps to 20 degrees and be prepared to go around if it doesn't feel right."

"OK," Janet answered. As we got closer, I checked the automated weather again.

"Wind 340 at 14. Peak gusts 22. Crosswind," it said.

"Hmm…," I said. "Well, let's see how it goes."

As we got lower, we started to feel some bumps. I checked the weather again.

"Wind variable between 310 and 350 at 18. Peak gusts 26. Crosswind. Caution: wind shear." I noted our large crab angle as we approached the airport more or less on runway heading. We were heavily loaded, so go-around performance would be limited. My spidey sense was seriously tingling.

Janet saw the look of concentration on my face. "Are you thinking Boonville?" she asked.

"Yep," I replied. "I think that's the better part of valor at this point." I started a climb and a 180-degree turn back towards the inland airport we'd passed about 15 miles back. Boonville is our usual alternate when visiting the North Coast because Little River is often socked in with fog.

"Thanks for not succumbing to get-there-itis!" Janet said as we entered the pattern at Boonville.

I smiled. "You're welcome!" I replied. While I was tying the airplane down, Janet called my parents letting them know where we were, and we settled in to wait for them. I sat on a fresh bale of hay next to my wife with the furball dog on my lap. It was a gorgeous day in a beautiful place. The sun was warm and the breeze was cool. The surrounding hills, with their golden grasses, oak trees, and grapevines, were vivid in the clear air. We watched a blackbird watching us from its perch on a nearby hay bale. Janet, a rock hound, picked through the variety of colorful rocks on the ground in front of us.

"Hey, this is jasper!" she said, handing me a small, red stone. I was reminded of the old aviation adage, "Time to spare? Go by air!" I chuckled to myself as I realized that our door-to-door travel time would be about the same as if we had gone by car. But it wouldn't have been flying!

Finally, my parents picked us up and we made the hour-long drive to their house in Fort Bragg. We spent a relaxing and very enjoyable Fourth of July weekend visiting with them and my childhood friend Molly. As we were getting ready to leave on Monday morning I checked the weather and saw that the forecast high temperature for Boonville was 94 degrees Fahrenheit.

"That's well over 30 degrees Celsius," I thought to myself. We would be heavily loaded and the terrain surrounding Boonville rises steeply all around. Our Cessna is an elderly M model with a 150 horsepower engine.

"We might have a problem with the heat," I told Janet. We started talking about contingency plans. I thought about flying the airplane by myself from Boonville to Little River, where the cool temperatures and 5,000 foot runway would allow us to load up and take off safely, but it turned out Little River was fogged in. "We could go to Ukiah instead. It'll be just as hot, but it has 5,000 feet of runway and friendlier terrain."

"If worse comes to worst, I can just stay behind with all my stuff," Janet offered. "The weather's supposed to cool off later in the week. You can come pick me up then."

"It might come to that," I told her. "Let's pack everything up anyway, just in case."

As it happened, by the time we got to Boonville, the sea breeze had pushed well onshore and the temperature had dropped considerably, so we were able to take off safely with me, Janet, the furball, and all our baggage. The contingency planning had been good practice, though.

In bed that evening, I reflected on the weekend's flying. Just as I was drifting off to sleep, I was struck by an insight: the old "time to spare" adage isn't just a wry joke. It's a checklist item! What can prevent me from carelessly rushing through my flight planning? What can keep me from trying to land in dangerous winds? What can minimize the temptation to launch from too short a runway in a heavy airplane in hot conditions? Time to spare! From now on, I'm adding it to my pre-flight checklist.

"Time to spare? Check. Let's consider going by air."

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I sat in my venerable, elderly Miata with the top down, waiting for the security gate to close behind me. The stars were out in the Summer sky as the dusk deepened. I was feeling content, having just completed my biennial flight review in our club's A36 Bonanza with my instructor and fellow club member Debby, a very experienced CFII and commercial pilot.

I hadn't flown that airplane in quite a while, so I'd spent a couple of hours reviewing the pilot's operating handbook and filling out an aircraft checkout form that Debby and our club President Anders had prepared. It was a really valuable review.

"The form asks for the recommended short-field procedure, but the POH doesn't say much about it," I said to Debby.

"You're right, there's not much in there," she replied. "Tell me about what you usually do."

"Well, on takeoff, Rick taught me to leave the flaps up, line up on the runway and hold the brakes while going to full throttle. Then lean the mixture for the density altitude using the fuel flow gauge, do the usual takeoff-roll instrument scan, and if everything looks good, release the brakes and go," I said. "On landing, he recommended full flaps and 80mph on final and firm braking once all the wheels are on the ground."

"OK, sounds good," Debby said. "That's pretty much what I do."

We went on to review emergency topics, including engine failures, glide ratios with the propeller in both low and high pitch, and gear position and pre-landing checklist items for off-field landings.

After completing the pre-flight inspection, we were ready to fly. The biggest challenge for me was just remembering where all the instruments and switches are on the panel. It would be really useful to take a photo and make a poster to help me review my procedures on the ground.

"I'm going to be really methodical with the checklist today," I told Debby.

"Good," she said. "Take your time."

Sitting in the runup area, I reviewed the takeoff-roll instrument scan.

"Manifold pressure, fuel flow, RPM, oil pressure, oil temperature, EGT, airspeed. OK, I'm ready."

The flight went pretty smoothly. We did steep turns, slow flight, recognition stalls, and other airwork, and then some takeoffs and landings at nearby Hollister airport.

"Gear down, 19 inches of manifold pressure, trim for level flight," I called out as we entered the pattern. "That should give me about 110 mph." It was pretty close. The pitch, power, and configuration changes in the pattern all felt natural, and the takeoffs and landings were pretty good.

I was surprised how quickly I got comfortable with the Bonanza again, despite a long period of flying only our club's Cessna 172, a much simpler airplane. I think it's because I'd already developed and practiced consistent procedures in the A36, including performance profiles, and because I reviewed and mentally rehearsed them before the flight. Especially in the Bonanza, where everything happens a lot faster than in a 172, having approximate numbers in mind for pitch trim, manifold pressure, propeller RPM, and fuel flow is a must. As it was, because the airplane was even lighter than usual, I found I needed more than the usual 12-15 degrees up on the pitch trim to maintain 90 mph on final, but starting with 12 degrees gave me about 100 mph and it was easy to adjust from there.

The flight brought home for me that a big part of legitimate confidence in the cockpit is just having solid, reliable procedures.

"All right, you're all signed off," Debby said, handing me my logbook. "Good work!"

"Thanks!" I said. "I had a great time!"

"Me too!" she said as she got into her car. I locked up the hangar and headed out. Driving home under the stars in the cool breeze, I reflected on the evening. I was still enjoying the flight!

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Staggerwing

1943 Beech D17S Staggerwing

Snow-capped Mount Hood towered off our left wing as we passed over the green fields and farms of the Deschutes River Valley. I was flying our club's Cessna 172 with my buddy Michael in the right seat and his daughter Heather in the back. We were bumping along gently at 6,500 feet riding the up- and down-drafts under scattered, puffy cumulus clouds. Our fellow club members Hal and Anders had gone on ahead in our club's A36 Bonanza. We'd all participated in this year's Hayward Air Rally to Bend, Oregon the day before and now we were on our way to visit the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum (WAAAM) in Hood River, a small town on the Southern bank of the Columbia River, a little over 90 nautical miles North of Bend.

"How'd you find out about this place?" I asked Michael.

Pierce Arrow

1931 Pierce Arrow Model 41 Limousine

"I went to Google and typed in 'Oregon Air Museums' and it came right up" he answered. "It looks really interesting."

The terrain between us and Hood River wasn't going to allow my usual 500 feet-per-minute descent from altitude. We were only 10 miles from the airport when it finally emerged from behind the last ridge and we had 5,000 feet to lose.

"Looks like we'll be circling to descend," I said as I throttled back and started down. As it was, I only needed to make one circle before we were ready to enter the pattern. As I turned final, it was obvious we were quite high, so I went around for a second try. This time I was still a bit high turning final, but a gentle slip was enough to get us down without difficulty.

Cord

1936 Cord 810 Westchester Sedan

"The terrain off the approach end is quite a bit higher than field elevation," Michael observed. "I think that's what threw you."

"Yeah, I think you're right," I said as we tied down the airplane. Every new airport is a new adventure, and as we soon learned, Hood River and its museum make for a better adventure than most.

"This is an amazing collection!" I said to Hal as we wandered through the cavernous hangar looking at the dozens of meticulously restored and maintained aircraft and automobiles. There were cars dating back to 1899 and airplanes to the teens, almost all in stunning condition and most of them operational. Because it was the second Saturday of the month, museum volunteers had fired up several of the vintage machines and were giving people rides.

Stanley Steamer

1918 Stanley Steamer

One of the stars of the show was a 1918 Stanley Steamer, literally fired up using kerosene to boil water. It took quite a while to get up to operating pressure.

"How much longer?" Michael asked the man tending the steamer.

"Well, we're only up to fifty pounds," he answered.

"What's running pressure?"

"Five hundred," he said with a smile. About an hour later, though, the Steamer was ready to roll and several of us piled in for a ride.

"It's so quiet!" Heather marveled as we got underway. The most noticeable sound was the creak of the wooden wheel spokes, which were dry and a little loose because of the low humidity.

Travel Air

1931 Curtiss Wright Travel Air 12-W

"This thing picks up pretty well," Michael said to our driver.

"Yes, it was fast for its time," he replied. "The earlier models were even quicker because they only weighed about half as much."

We spent another hour or so wandering around and enjoying the beautiful machines. When I looked at my watch, it was mid-afternoon. The Rally awards banquet in Bend started at 5:30, so we needed to leave soon.

"Well, I'm not leaving without getting a ride in the Steamer!" Hal said and headed off to join the short line of people waiting their turn. Heather joined him for another couple of spins around the block in that weird, wonderful, eerily quiet vehicle.

We swapped airplanes for the return flight and Heather asked for the right seat in the Bonanza so she could get some "stick time." I happily piled in the back. As we approached 7,500 feet, we were still below the scattered cloud base and it was bumpy.

"I vote for 9,500," I opined from the back seat.

"Sure, we can go to nine five," Michael replied.

"But I like the bumps!" Heather protested.

I chuckled and said, "Most pilots don't."

"Nine five is fine," Michael said with a smile. When we leveled, he asked Heather if she wanted to take the yoke for a while.

"Can I do whoopdedoos?" she asked.

"No whoopdedoos," her dad told her. "Just keep it straight and level, OK?"

She did a fine job. I have no doubt she'll be doing whoopdedoos on her own before we know it!

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I glanced at the message on the GPS: "RAIM not available. Cross check position."

This came as no surprise. The GPS had been unreliable lately and the message was all too familiar. Fortunately, I'd anticipated this and had prepared a paper navigation log and the sectional charts I needed for my route. Two days earlier, my buddy Anders and I had found our way to Bend, Oregon flying in the "traditional class" in the Hayward Air Rally with the GPS turned off and papered over, so navigating by pilotage and dead reckoning back home would present no problem.

"Aim for Mount Shasta and miss," I chuckled to myself as I followed US Highway 97 South. Anders had joined our fellow club members Hal and Mike and Mike's daughter Heather in our A36 Bonanza for the return flight to San Jose so that I could stop off overnight on the Northern California Coast to visit my parents and retrieve my wife Janet who had been staying with them. I had the sky to myself.

The sky was incredibly clear. I didn't see a single cloud during my three-hour flight. Surprisingly for such a clear day, the air was also silky smooth at 10,500 feet as I approached Crater Lake. I saw a snowy peak that had to be the Eastern rim of the crater, but I didn't see the lake yet. Then suddenly it registered in my awareness: a mirror-like, crystalline surface that perfectly reflected the snow-covered cinder cone called Wizard Island set like a jewel in the almost perfectly round crater. My jaw dropped. Every time I see Crater Lake it's just as stunning as it was the first time I saw it as a young boy. "Oh, that's incredible," I thought to myself as the magnificent lake slipped slowly by on my right side.

A little farther South, I passed along the Western edge of Upper Klamath Lake as I crossed a low spot in the Cascade Range heading towards Weed, California. Majestic Mount Shasta loomed larger ahead and to my left. Some of the lower peaks still had snow on their tops in mid-June because of the unusually cool Spring. After riding out a few little bumps as I crossed the ridge, the air smoothed out again.

Passing abeam Weed, where US Highway 97 intersects Interstate 5, I marvelled at how small Black Butte appeared from my altitude. From the highway it rises quite steeply several thousand feet above the road and it seems quite imposing, rivaling Shasta itself. The view from aloft put that illusion to rest as I passed four thousand feet above its peak and gazed up at Mount Shasta towering another fourth thousand feet above me less than ten miles off my left wing.

Now flying a Southeasterly heading, I descended to 9,500 feet as I followed I-5 through the Siskiyou mountains toward California's Sacramento Valley. The terrain dropped sharply away as I approached Lake Shasta and the town of Redding. I'd chosen Benton airport as my jumping-off point for crossing the Mendocino range on my way to the coast. Turning the chart so its orientation matched the terrain below, I saw that Benton would be just South of a sharp Eastward bend in the Sacramento River. Sure enough, as I got closer, that river bend was obvious, and Benton airport appeared just beyond it. As a cross-check, I noticed that Whiskeytown Lake was off to my right.

"Yup, that's Benton," I thought to myself. Passing overhead, I could see the airport name painted on the runway far below. I turned Southwest and began a climb back to 10,500 feet. I was punching a dead reckoning heading for Round Valley airport and the town of Covelo. I chose Round Valley because from the chart, it appeared to be quite distinctive, a very low, round valley surrounded by high peaks.

Sure enough, when I got there, it was unmistakable: a tiny, green oasis of farmland with orderly roads laid out in a grid. Looking South, I saw another town in a long valley. Looking at the chart, I decided it must be Willits. Looking again, I saw Willits airport up on a ridge Northwest of town. Almost due West of there, standing out clearly from the redwood forest and rugged coastline, was my home town of Fort Bragg. From my perspective high above Highway 101, I looked directly down Oak Street towards the ocean over 20 nautical miles away. I smiled as I recalled the hour's drive from Fort Bragg to Willits over State Highway 20.

Descending now from my lofty 10,500 feet, I was preparing to enter the traffic pattern at Little River airport, a 20 minute drive South of Fort Bragg. I had flown into Little River many times before but had never approached it from the North as I was doing now.

"Little River traffic, Skyhawk 80377 one zero miles to the North descending through 4,500. Will cross overhead the field at 2,000 feet and enter left traffic for runway 29, Little River," I called on the common traffic advisory frequency. Another Cessna doing touch-and-goes in the pattern acknowledged my presence and extended his upwind leg to allow me to enter on a left 45. Minutes later, I taxied to a stop and parked the airplane.

"There he is!" shouted Janet, stepping out of the little airport office. "How was your flight?"

"Oh, it was stunning!" I replied.

"Tell me about it!" she said.

As I described the trip, I was struck yet again by the utterly unique perspective that is my privilege as the pilot of a small airplane. A famous quote by T.S. Eliot came to mind:

"We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time."

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