Father’s Day in Santa Barbara

May 2015 -- Mateo's first flight with me.
May 2015 — Mateo’s first flight with me.

Sometime last year, after he turned 6 years old, I took Mateo to fly with me. I felt he was responsible enough not to mess anything up, and old enough to follow instructions, while I was experienced enough in taking passengers that I didn’t feel scared about taking a youngster. Mateo had the biggest smile I ever remember him having — one of those childhood whole face smiles of wonder that give you the impression of a profound happiness.

It’s been at least a year, if not more, since that time, and I’d been thinking of taking Mateo flying. However, it’s Father’s Day and so I wanted to spend some time flying. I had a trip in mind (off to the Salton Sea), and an alternative (up to Harris Ranch), or a yet another alternative (Catalina), but literally nobody to go with me. Some friends were busy, others were still a bit scared, and generally it was just last minute. I went to the airport and continued trying to think of friends who might want to come, or places to go without them. Somehow I was not feeling happy with creating a mission for myself around training (yet again), nor did I want to fly a long distance all by myself this time. A conundrum.

I got to the airport, started preflighting for my Salton Sea flight by myself (because, damn it, I don’t need others in the plane to enjoy aviation), but I guess I just couldn’t get it out of my head that I really wanted to be sharing aviation with others. So, I called Linda and had her pitch to Mateo that we go on a flight together! He agreed, and so we made a plane.

I preflighted, and took off from Hawthorne, and landed in Santa Monica. Then parked at the observation deck, and waited for Mateo to come. Then, we both went to Santa Barbara for lunch!

mateo-in-plane
June 2016 — Mateo’s second flight with me.

It was a great flight. On the way there, we flew north remaining just a bit west of Van Nuys’ airspace, and climbed to 8,500 (slowly, since the airplane is only 160hp). The weather was great, and even though the sun was shining, it was pretty cozy at altitude. We followed the 101, flew over Camarillo and Oxnard, and looked around a lot. I let Mateo fly for a little bit (pitch and bank), which I think he enjoyed. We talked about some gauges and what my plan was — even though it took an hour, I think that I kept his interest. We landed at KSBA at 15L, parked over at Atlantic, and then walked to lunch. I think this leg of the flight went without any problems, other than me filing but not properly activating the flight plan. I remained in contact with ATC the entire way, but it is worth double-checking that you’ve got all the protection that you intend to have, always. About the only issue was that I recently bought a Kore Audio KA-1 headset for use by passengers (since the club’s headsets just suck), but the headset kept generating noise. This meant that it was harder to hear each other and ATC over the constant white noise, and was harder to tolerate over time. I need to email them to sort this out.

When we got back from lunch, Mateo was a bit more tired. We took the coastal route — cruising at 5,500ft this time, from Oxnard to Pt. Mugu to Malibu to Santa Monica, then taking the mini-route back to Hawthorne. Landed, refueled. What a nice and successful Father’s Day!

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Father’s Day in Santa Barbara

Landings

I had a short flight scheduled, and figured I’d go somewhere for lunch and come back. Maybe half an hour there, and half an hour back. However, I show up and the plane I have reserved is sitting there on the ramp with its cowling off. Apparently, there was something during the previous flight that required a bunch of attention — the scheduling software showed it as resolved, but the cowling suggested something else entirely. Since the problem was loss of electrical power, I didn’t want to presume it had been fixed.

So, I was bummed. I checked the schedule and the other plane was taken by someone else, and only the 182s were available. I am not checked out in them, so no-go. Just as I’m about to leave though, I see the other person going for the 172. He sees me all sad, and offers to switch: he can take one of the 182s while I take the remaining 172. He’s only planning to do an hour of pattern work, anyways.

Of course while we do all that switching and deciding, my time is ticking down. So by the time I take off, I only have enough time to spend doing an hour of landings. It had actually been a long time since I’ve done nothing but landing practice! I did some soft field takeoffs, attempted a short field landing, did a go-around. Also, for the first time since my PPL, I did a no-flap landing — partly inspired by the very real situation the person who flew that other cowling-off 172 had experienced the other day. There are times that the pipers with their Johnson bar have it right.

All in all, an hour of pattern work got me 6 landings and a go-around, which was great practice. Not every landing was as good as I wanted them to be, but none of it left me feeling unsafe or upset at myself. All in all, a good day.

Landings

Flying with Linda

Linda and I finally got to go on our flight. She has been nervous about going (both for the
kids’ sake in case anything went seriously wrong, as well as due to a dislike of flying in general), but she gave me a coupon for an hour of flying in December.

We took off mid-day, got flight following, and went around Palos Verdes at 2,500ft. At one point Linda saw what looked like a whale, so we circled to get a better look at it — unfortunately I couldn’t see it, and it dove deeper, so we continued on. We went up the river at Long Beach, got a look at our old condo there, and then continued on around Downtown LA.

Around Griffith, two unusual things happened. First, I told ATC I was going to climb back up to 2,000ft (I had dropped down to 1,500 to stay out of the Bravo), and they asked me if I was going to stay out of the Bravo. I told them I believed the Bravo started at 5,000ft where I was, and they said that they were aware and were offering to let me into the Bravo to make it easier. Since I had no need to be higher I said “no, thanks” basically. In retrospect I should have accepted: they handed me off to Burbank’s ATC, who told me to make an immediate 180 and then continued vectoring me with few details for a few minutes, querying my intent, etc, and being rather curt before allowing me to proceed towards Santa Monica.

We hugged the foothills, went almost to the coast, and then took the mini route home for a nice landing back at Hawthorne. All in all, it was a nice trip: I am not sure how much Linda enjoyed it and how much she tolerated it, but I think it went just fine. The weather was predicting LLWS and turbulence but none materialized.

All in all, I think there were only a few things I didn’t do right. I didn’t perform an in-cruise checklist (because I gave my checklist to Linda to hold during takeoff, to make her feel less anxious, and didn’t take it back until descent). I didn’t turn the landing light off after take-off — I keep forgetting about this step.

Totals: 1.2 hr in a C172.

Flying with Linda

Scrubbed

I was going to take Linda on a flight this afternoon. I need a flight this month as per club rules, and have been wanting to take her flying for a while, and she had agreed to, and this was a relatively easy to schedule afternoon for both of us.

Unfortunately, weather had another plan. Very gusty winds gave me some pause, though they were OK for my personal minimums. But there was some persistent moderate turbulence in the area for a couple of days, originating due to mountain waves etc, and that would have made for a miserable first flight for her, and a not super pleasant one for me. The TAF showed winds dying down around 7pm, which was also a few minutes before sunset (and I’m not night current, which would have kept me from flying with Linda for longer than about 30min, based on my need to also get to SMO from HHR to pick her up).

So, I shook my fist at the sky, and scrubbed the flight after waiting out the weather a bit. Alas.

Scrubbed

Need / Want

I suspect that every pilots needs and wants certain things. Everyone needs a medical certificate, and thus needs good health. Everyone needs a flight review. Everyone (well, except the rare masochist) needs a headset. Maybe not everyone, but a great number of people would want a personal TBM 900, if they could have one. Alas, most of us temper our wants, and make do with mostly the needs.

Here are some other things I want. They’re are not a Cirrus SR22T GTS, but smaller, incremental things to make me safer, happier, and maybe a tad cooler as a pilot. So, mostly things that I haven’t been able to move into the “need” category, but could if it came to it.

Safety Equipment

Personal Flotation Device (or two)

41gq5wracvlThere is a fair amount of water around here, and some of these life jackets come in tiny packs and are a pretty good insurance for those who can’t swim well. I can’t swim that well. They have a water-activated beacon light, and can be inflated with CO2 or manually. As most reviews say, these are fantastic and yet nobody wants to be in a position to have to use one.

Personal Locator Beacon

51vlpgnlizl-_sl1000_There are also a fair number of mountains around here, and in the event of an off-airport landing, a PLB is probably a great alternative to a cellphone that might be well out of reach of any towers. They are surprisingly pricy for a single-function item you hope to never have to use, but having one might mean getting found in hours rather than days.

Portable Transceiver

41a2jly-ivlI have a receiver, which I don’t carry with me, and which is surprisingly difficult to use. It’s strange how actual aviation transceivers are not very cheap, though. I have not yet had any reason to want to use them, though I have had a radio fail on me once or twice, and if it wasn’t for the second radio then I would be squawking 7600.

Thermal Blanket

51xzkruhowlFor survival, this is probably a must. These are pretty small, very inexpensive, and supposedly “reflect and retain 90% of your body heat”. Given that I fly in Southern California, usually, I would imagine that they mainly need to help with a SoCal winter night and not actual negative temperatures

Software and Electronics

Foreflight Pro Plus

For those of us with iPads, a Foreflight subscription is a fantastic aid. It’s pretty lb-full-luniversally acknowledged that Foreflight beats all other consumer flying software. While I have the Basic subscription, and would continue to pay for it, there is some allure in the Pro Plus plan as well. Log book, weight and balance, etc are great, but also the additional hazard avoidance and synthetic vision features would make night flying a lot safer. Perhaps the value of the Pro Plus will be greater when I become IFR-rated, but even now it’s enticing for these smaller, helpful features.

Stratus 2S

stratus2s-in-handNo discussion of Foreflight, or for that matter safety equipment, can be complete without a consideration of ADS-B and the Stratus 2S. I’ve been involved in the Stratux project, which aims to build a Stratus-compatible ADS-B In receiver, and it works — but there’s no denying that a professionally-built piece of hardware is better and easier to work with than a home-brew kit. This becomes especially important if one moves from merely exploring the concept of what an ADS-B In receiver can do, and on to changing one’s personal procedures to reflect the additional information available on one’s iPad.

In the Cockpit

iPad Yoke Mount

This may be unnecessary — I love my iPro Aviator/M kneeboard. It’s sturdy, offers a way 11-11250to hide my iPad from the sun, provides a surface to write on, etc. However, it’s a bit distracting to keep staring down into your lap to look something up on the map. In any sort of poor-visibility conditions this could lead to unnecessary disorientation. I’ve not wanted a yoke mount because they seem strange to have with impermanence (constantly mounting and unmounting them), plus I’m not a fan of having my map tilt every time I deflect the flight control even slightly. But it’s undeniably closer to one’s line of sight during straight-and-level flight, and probably much cooler when there’s a lot of sun on your lap.

Another Headset

61oggcrjydl-_sl1009_Flying with friends? Go borrow a headset from the club. That’s all fine, but the last time I did so, the choice of headsets was poor and the best of the bunch didn’t look that comfortable. At some point it would be quite useful to get my own headset for passengers. There are many kinds out there, from used Lightspeed Sierras to passive David Clarks to brand new Bose A20s. At the end of they day, they just need to be decent enough to not break, and to be comfortable to wear for a few hours.

Child Headset (or two)

The one time I flew with my older kid, I put an adult headset on him. Itwas pretty pa-1151uncomfortable-looking, and kept slipping — which meant that half the time I couldn’t hear him, half the time he couldn’t hear me, and the entire time he probably heard the roar of the engine. Child headsets exist, and are not very expensive either, though they have pretty poor quality and durability. The main thing standing in the way of getting those then is that I just don’t fly with my kids, yet. I wonder whether getting a child headset would actually influence this.

Foggles

940I am not training for an instrument rating, but I probably will at some point. In addition, I do end up getting checked out by CFIs from time to time — in new planes, for recurrence, for the flight review, etc. Infrequently, I just have another pilot with me. It would be helpful to have ready access to a view-limiting device to keep me current in controlling the aircraft without outside reference.

Fuel Tester

I don’t know why this is necessary, but apparently every pilot carries 13-18464a fuel tester with them. I’ve been in exactly one airplane before that didn’t have a fuel tester on board (usually a GATS jar, but sometimes the thinner one with a screwdriver at the end), and in that case the rental place was kind of embarrassed and someone went to find one for me. But maybe the other pilots know more than I do.

multitoolMultitool

Because why not? Every self-respecting person should have a piece of metal that can turn, pry, twist, cut, and bend other pieces of metal.

Need / Want

Grumman Tiger

After a couple of months of trying to get this arranged, I went flying with a pilot who owns a Grumman Tiger (to be more precise, an American General AG-5B Tiger). I had been a fan of the Tigers ever since I discovered they existed — from its cockpit to its shape to its performance, this seemed like a fantastic airplane worth checking out. I asked on Reddit for anyone willing to let me ride in one, and then saw Tiger parked at a repair shop. One bout of public-records stalking later and I had contacted the owner via Facebook and arranged a flight.

tiger-spiro-photo
Not the plane that we flew, but one just like it.

I met the pilot at the airport as she was finishing the preflight. She said she’d wanted to go over to Chino for fuel, and wanted to make it an instrument flight, so I’d act as her safety pilot. I was happy to oblige. With a flight plan pre-filed, we took off and she flipped on her foggles, though not before I got a chance to perform a climbing turn. It’s hard to tell from a few seconds with the yoke, but the plane seemed a bit more responsive than Pipers (my only other significant low-wing experience) though more stable than the Cessnas.

Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 22.16.26
Our track from KHHR to KCNO

Apart from looking out of the airplanes for traffic, I spent my time just looking outside (the cockpit provides fantastic visibility while at the same time balancing it well with keeping things cool inside), asking questions about the instruments (there were a few strange decisions made by the original owner), and generally observing the flight. I’ve never been on an instrument flight (for what it’s worth, this was my second right-seat flight ever), and so a lot of the ways one conducts the flight were new to me. Having not had instrument training, I am not familiar with how to read approach plates or anything like that: vectors and altitudes and clearances are easy enough, but the details of how to execute the flight are not. There certainly seemed to be a lot of work required, and one needed to always be ahead of the airplane, knowing what they will tell you next and preparing for the next phase of flight. Surprisingly the pilot was pretty relaxed about it all, and though she was flying with foggles she was still able to chat with me, even before she got enabled the autopilot. I say surprisingly because I always assumed that instrument flight under the hood would take close to 100% of one’s concentration.

The flight overall went fairly smoothly. We got to Chino, filled up, and then flew pretty much directly back to Hawthorne (with a partially open cockpit, whee). In all, a pleasant flight with a friendly and very competent pilot in a fantastic plane.

Not loggable, but total: around 1.5 hrs in an American General Tiger.

Grumman Tiger

Flight Review and club checkout

It’s come time for my 6-month club checkout flight with a CFI — and, incidentally, next month was the expiration date for my flight review, so I decided to just combine the two and scheduled a morning with one of our club’s instructors.

We met early in the morning, and spent an hour on questions about FARs. The instructor had a list of about 40 questions, ranging from fairly straightforward checkride-like ones (“what causes a stall? what are the entry requirements into a Class B airpsace?”) to trickier ones that were either exceptions to the general rule worth remembering, or something not clearly specified and thus requiring discussion. I didn’t know what to expect — this being my first flight review — but I enjoyed the session quite a bit. It was at once a refresher on some topics that I haven’t thought about in a while, as well as a chance to learn a few things in some of those tricky areas.

We then took off from Hawthorne and headed off to do some air work. On takeoff we flew towards Torrance and the instructor handed me a pair of foggles. 940I think it’s been a full two years since I’ve worn a view-limiting device, so it was actually pretty challenging to transition into flying on instruments alone. The instructor gave me some heading changes, and we flew like that for a number of minutes. I think that this is probably one of the better aspects of the flight review: a low-pressure but forced instruction on a variety of topics you may be out of practice on.

The instructor then had me do slow flight in a clean configuration, something that I rarely do (I show off slow flight to my friends from time to time, both to show that a plane can fly slow as well as to practice slow flight, but I always do it with flaps down). A power-off stall came next, and I kept power in for so long that it made the plane hard to stall. Then some steep turns, which I do from time to time, followed by an emergency descent, which I practice so infrequently as to not remember how to set myself up right away. I should aim to practice this more often.

We then headed back, but the instructor set up a scenario for a simulated control cable break where the yoke became inoperable. I then proceeded to fly on throttle and rudder alone. While obviously the airplane normally has some amount of positive stability and allows you to take your hands away from the controls for a while, it was altogether a different thing to spent 10 minutes of flight without ailerons or an elevator, and have to go through altitude and heading changes. I’ve read before of people landing with controls inoperative and this scenario was a pretty good indication of how that could be possible. It’s now to say that yaw + power makes for a very smoothly controllable airplane, but between the dihedral wing and other factors, it can work in a pinch.

Came back to Hawthorne, did a full stop landing, then taxied back, did a mostly-soft-field takeoff, landed again, and called it done. Flight review good for another two years, and club checkout accomplished!

Some takeaways:

  • Either get serious about a case for the Stratux, or get a real Stratus. It’s very helpful in the basin.
  • Finish making my own printed checklist. Consider approach plate inserts instead of lamination.
  • Develop a pre-takeoff checklist, especially to help with mixture, flaps, and trim after a taxi-back.
  • Acquire an inflatable flotation device. They’re small and yet give you peace of mind over water. And there’s lots of water around LA.
  • The second-to-last page of the Advisory Circular AC91-67 contains a useful flowchart to follow when determining if broken equipment should ground a flight or not.

Totals: 1.1 hr in C172.

Flight Review and club checkout