It’s been a while since the last post, so let’s catch up. Where I last left off, I’d come back from what was my longest trip to date — to Prescott, AZ, for the AOPA fly-in. It’s still my longest flight. However, boy, has a bunch of stuff been happening.
The rest of 2016 progressed nicely. I continued flying with friends — one of the flights ended up with a nice set of photos and videos.
The latter is using Spectacles, which I’d just finished shipping over at Snap. Funny enough, our club has two Cessna 172s — both of the early 1970s vintage — and we all sign up for maintaining one of them (or one of the 182s). For one reason or another, I ended up flying mostly the airplane that I didn’t help maintain. Go figure. Other notable time was a few hours in a Piper Arrow on a flight with a friend and our kids to Chino.
In the first part of 2017, I flew fairly little. The most notable flight was to Carlsbad, to pick up a kid from Legoland — while Linda and the other kid drove home after a few days at the hotel & theme park there. I also spent a few hours towards checkout on my club’s 182RG (needed 10 hours there, and finished up that checkout in early 2018), and an hour with an instructor in an SR20 to get a feel for it.
The first big new thing happened in August 2017. A former club member had perished in a helicopter accident a few months prior, and his estate was selling his airplane, a Mooney M20G. One of our other club members put out a call to bring together a few people to buy the airplane from the estate, and — seeing this as a pretty low-risk way of getting an airplane — I joined four others in doing so. For those unfamiliar, the M20G is the slowest of the Mooneys — it sits between a 172 and a 182 in terms of performance, on a 200HP Lycoming. It doesn’t climb well, but it’ll almost keep up with a 182 in cruise. And, well, it’s a vintage airframe.
Some things to know when purchasing a 1968 airframe that’s been sitting on the ramp for many months. First, it’ll need a good wash. Second, it might surprise you and be in a great shape.
We ended up purchasing this for less than what it costs — for a variety of reasons, such as the estate wanting to get rid of it quickly. The owner-assisted inspection took a long time to arrange and complete, but allowed us to get familiar with the airplane inside and out. Everything that’s safety of flight related worked well, and even a lot of the little things were in a good shape. We ran into a problem with the stall/gear warning bell, which wouldn’t ring correctly and whose replacement was threatening to be $2,500 due to the ancientness of the parts and non-existence of sub-components. In the end, we resolved the problem by “upgrading” to a newer Mooney’s warning horn, certified for the older planes too. On the nicer side, our plane has a Garmin GTX 345 installed, so we’ve got ADS-B In / Out and can follow along in ForeFlight. And there was a pneumatic wing leveler (“positive control”, as Mooney calls it), with a heading coupler. Basically, a nice single-axis autopilot of sorts.
On the other hand, it’s a vintage plane. Sometimes that just means quaint approaches to how it works: flaps are hydraulic with a hand-pump handle; the gear is mechanical with a big Johnson bar that takes a fair amount of force to lift. Some stuff breaks easily — the interior looks good, but is pretty fragile. We had a broken NAV unit. The radios are… well, old, and sometimes temperamental. Starting was a problem at times. Carb heat was overly aggressive. Still, every airplane has some gremlins. We got reasonably-priced insurance and started getting all of us checked out on the plane.
Having partners sounds like a great idea, and sometimes it is. But sometimes one ends up having conflicts about scheduling, or different ideas about how to maintain the plane. I ended up using the airplane far less than I thought I would — only flying 17 hours total over the following 8 months. Some of that was due to weather or personal schedules, but a good chunk was due to maintenance, communication between owners, etc. Indeed, I wasn’t the only one — the airplane would stand idle for a couple of weeks here and there despite having 5 owners.
I did use the plane well at least twice. First, to visit my company’s office in Palo Alto — my longest solo trip — which was very pleasant. And second, to go to Apple Valley to help me with big thing number three.
Before that, let’s talk about big thing number two. Which was that in March 2018 I found myself with a lot of time on my hands, and immediately called up my instructor to start working on an instrument rating. I’d wanted to do it for a while, but it’s a commitment of time and brainpower, and so I wanted to make it a project for when I had a few months to spend all at once. Which was then.
The first couple of months, I spent training in a club Skyhawk (the same one towards the top of this post). It’s got a minimal IFR panel — dual VOR, with localizer and glideslope — and being slower than even a slow Mooney it’s easier for learning fundamentals. As of now, I find myself with everything other than the full 40 hours of training in place.
Flying approaches in the LA basin leads to some interesting conversations with air traffic control. Things like “Unable RNAV approach, no GPS”, and “Unable direct intersection XXXXX, no GPS”, despite filing flight plans with a clear /U suffix. On the other hand, it teaches one resilience and needle-tracking skills really well. But… well, I don’t think I want to fly my family (or friends) in that Skyhawk in the clouds, if I can help it. It’s a nice airplane, but it’s not built for long-distance traveling.
So big thing number three being that in May, I finalized the purchase of a 2007 (borderline 2008) Diamond Star DA40, from a seller in Apple Valley. And since that’s been done, I’d continued my instrument training in that airplane, learning more about G1000 than I’d known before, and finally learning all about the joys and tears of airplane ownership.
Joys: it’s an awesome looking airplane. It’s a fantastic flying airplane, and one that I’ve loved ever since I found out about them. I’d gotten a few hours of DA40 training a few years back, and mostly found it awesome except the free-castering nosewheel and the heat in the summer, but those were compromises I was willing to make for the performance and fit for me. Tears: It’s not a perfect airplane by any means: this particular airframe was a flight school plane in the past and so has lots of hours and some dings in the paint around the composite structure. Joys: It’s got fantastic avionics, and is comfortable in the front and back. Tears: it has rather crappy weight and balance issues where I can’t load it with four adults and remain within CG limits, or weight limits with any reasonable amount of fuel. Even with two adults and two kids I have to fly with partial tanks (basically with 4 hours of fuel instead of the nearly 5 I could normally take). Joys: I have a parking place for it in Santa Monica. Tears: I’ve had to pay for inspections, little things that needed fixing, database updates, etc, and can see the trajectory of this. Joys: it’s mine! Tears: actually it belongs to an LLC that’s owned by me and I now have to deal with a corporate entity. Joys: I get to wash it and make it clean and sparkly. Tears: I have to wash it, or it gets dirty and grimy.
I’ve already built up a few dozen hours on the airplane. My longest trip in it so far was to Auburn (KAUN), about 10 minutes north of Sacramento, and that went well enough other than needing to divert to Van Nuys on the way back due to clouds (joys & tears galore, especially the FBO overnight fees).
So let’s see if I can get back to posting here more. I don’t think I want to document every flight, but rather cover significant events, trips, and themes.