Bartow

Today I finally succeeded in my efforts of trying to wake up early at the weekend. Actually it was a good reason to do it: much more chances to fly cross-country wherever you want before thunderstorm activity. Today I was going to Bartow. It is an airport in about 70 miles to the South-East. Close enough to have a breakfast and go back before significant weather activity.

Today it was a typical Florida summer day near the Gulf of Mexico: after about 11 am the South would be closed by some thunderstorms lines or at least isolated thunderstorms. So, I was going to Bartow. It is a controlled airport in a class D airspace. I was expecting practicing my communications. I checked tower working hours, and everything seemed OK. With that weather and my working hours I was able to fly South-East not very frequently.

I decided to ask for a flight following: good practice for IFR flight communications (of course, not exactly, but close enough). And it is a good idea to get a traffic information in that area. Climbing to 5500. The air is calm and cool, today was a perfect summer weather. No clouds, so nothing prevented me to climb to that altitude.

About 15 miles to the destination it’s better to get ASOS information: the weather and a runway in use at the destination airport. Apart from that, I heard something like “the restaurant is closed”. Oh, it seems that I have no breakfast today.

Landing, vacating the runway. I am asking for a clearance for taxiing to the FBO. Taxiing to something that I supposed to be the FBO, but… “N7692U, FBO is in another direction!”. “Request progressive taxi…” How can I know that the FBO is the small building with a 4-plane parking? I thought that it is a group of hangars and 100-plane parking nearby… No signs at the airport, no markings on the airport diagram. BTW, thank you very much for understanding!

The airport itself was a cozy place: there were an interesting small museum and a free cup of coffee available. Very friendly tower controller ๐Ÿ˜‰

So, it’s time to go back. The weather still looked good, and I was done with my coffee.

On the way back I decided to ask for a flight following again: there were some clouds on the way, and it was a good idea to have traffic advisories. I fly a VFR-only airplane, which means that I cannot enter the clouds under any circumstances, and possibly I even could not manage to go direct. In that case flight following can be a good advantage.

I requested 4500, but the controller asked me for 3500. OK, why not. After some time I have been seeing clouds straight ahead. OK, asking 4500. Clouds were still somewhere in front of me and were getting closer. 6500. No way, still below the tops somewhere in front of me. Damn, I supposed that those tops should be at about 4000-5000! I had absolutely no wish to try to go through that labyrinth. So, I should either try to go higher, or descend and proceed below them. OK, descending back to the summer hot. I was not able to continue direct, I didn’t want to go back, so I had to make 360s, like a spiral. 6000, 5000, 4000, 3000. Still almost at the cloud base. 2000. OK, at least here I am well below. I can proceed to my destination, and it is easy to find aย labyrinth path when you are below it.

After about 10 miles the clouds became something between few and scattered. Oh, every day in that place I can see almost the same. Two more hours, and there will be thunderstorms here. But at that moment it was still good.

What a nice weekend! =)

FAA CPL Written Exam

Today I passed my CPL written exam. It was relatively easy after all that preparation.

I was going to buy Sheppard Air as the best available question bank, but finally I had chosen ASA Prepware, Gleim and AviationExam since they are cheaper and have an one-month subscription option. From my opinion, AviationExam is the best out of these three providers, but anyway on the real exam I met about 30-40% questions I haven’t seen in these questions banks.

In fact, it is not a problem if you really understand the subject. Sometimes the wording is not very clear, and I had to pick a “more correct” answer out of two or even three “almost correct” ones. To be honest, there is only a few questions of that kind.

As a result, I got 90%. My ambitions are not satisfied by that value, but I passed anyway, and I am quite happy =)

The Thunderstorm

Thunderstorms and shower rain started today from the early morning. I took my time and slept: sometimes our body requires some rest.

The weather in Florida is very varied though: after 2 pm the rain stopped, and from about 4 pm the clouds started to dissipate, and the weather finally became flyable.

I found some new puddles at the airport which looked more like lakes, but the runway and taxiways were clean, and the wind reduced to zero. The only problem was that I had to step in a large puddle while untying the airplane.

Calm winds and no turbulence is perfect for practicing different kind of landings: normal landing, short field, engine out, sideslips.

Now I know that Cessna 150 is definitely able to take-off or land from/to a 1000-feet runway. I used runway threshold and aiming points to determine the distance. Our runway is suitable for instrument non-precision approach, which means that it has threshold and aiming point markings. The distance between a runway edge and aiming point is exactly 1000 feet. Something like that:

I suppose that with Cessna 172 takeoff and landing roll distances will be larger, and it will be useful to practice in that kind of weather to better know the airplane capabilities.

Gainesville

Flight time building is a great period, especially its cross country part: you just enjoy flying and have fun. Of course, it’s a big deal of planning, preparation and studying, but it is a great possibility to explore new places while gaining more experience.

Summer in Florida is challenging. It is not only sun and clear skies as we can see in flight school brochures, but also frequent violent thunderstorms and gusty winds in the afternoon. But today the weather was great, so I could plan one more cross country flight.

I had just returned from my previous flight to Palatka when I was told that Cessna 150 is back to service. So, it looks like I will have a flight without GPS ๐Ÿ™‚ Actually, I even don’t need a paper map for flying North-East since I know that route pretty well, so GPS is not an issue at all.

At about 10 miles before Gainesville I got ATIS information: wind 310 (North-West), 10 knots, gusts 15 knots, runway 29 in use. Gainesville Regional airport is inside class D airspace, so I contacted tower and reported my intention to land. The controller gave me runway 25, which means that I will have some crosswind.

Runway 29 was rather busy at that time: one jet was taking off there, and two more were in line.

Landing with a gusty crosswind requires some more attention and concentration, but it is a good practice. Here in Florida there are usually more than one runway in a lot of airports, and crosswind takeoff and landing is not a skill that we practise every day. There are two basic techniques: “crabbing” and “one wing down”, and it is better to know both.

This flight was a very good exercise!

Palatka

Today I planned to use a small Cessna 150 for the trip, but it is still in maintenance: there were some problems with a compass and landing lights. I prefer to use this plane since it is much less expensive, but it is the only Cessna 150 in our school, so if I want to fly today, I should book a Cessna 172.

As I said, Cessna 172 is about 1.5x expensive, but it is an IFR-approved plane, so it makes sense to file an IFR flight plan!

I was going to fly to Palatka airport, 28J: that trip allows to fly before usual midday weather deterioration. I planned a VFR flight, so now I lost some time to prepare an IFR flight plan. Anyway I will fly in VMC (Visual Meteorological Conditions), but I’d like to practice communications and log some IFR time (it is not FAA Instrument time, but for EASA it counts).

I was taking off from an uncontrolled airport, and I activated my flight plan in the air. The controller asked whether I’d like to fly VFR, but I was going to practice IFR, so I requested IFR and got the instructions to climb to 4000 feet and expect vectors.

At 4000 feet I was almost at the cloud base, where the air was a little bumpy. But nevermind, the clouds were cumulus and not dangerous, so it was just some practice of flying straight and level in bumpy conditions.

The landing was challenging with gusts up to 17 kts, so it was better to have some additional speed and power: the runway was very long, so the only problem was stability.

On the way back the clouds were dissipating, and the weather became less turbulent. My assigned altitude was 5000 feet, and that leg was smoother.

It was very nice to fly IFR, that practice is valuable.

Long Cross-Country

Every FAA CPL candidate should have at least one long cross-country flight with one 250+ nautical miles leg, as stated in 14 CFR ยง 61.129.

Today I had this long cross-country flight: KCGC-KMTH-KIMM-KCGC, more than 6 flight hours with one refueling.

The first 30-40 miles the ceiling was at about 1500 feet, going higher upon moving further to the South. After about 70-80 miles a relatively wide clear area have been found for being able to climb to 5500. The air was very calm at this altitude, and the scenery was spectacular.

There were no clouds above KMTH at all. Some scary (but beautiful) cumulus clouds sat somewhere around Miami, but they were too far.

The wind was steady and weak, so the landing was easy.

On the way back the weather was nice and shiny, except for about 30 miles around our school airport: the ceiling was still relatively low.

Anyway, one more task is accomplished. This long cross-country is a bit challenging: the weather should be fine along the route for at least 6-7 hours, and you have to book the airplane in advance for the entire day. As a result, some students have to wait some weeks for their long cross-countries.

A TOMATO FLAMES

Before every flight we have perform a preflight check, and for flying VFR (visual flight rules) during daytime there is list of equipment which must exist and must be operational. The entire list is stated in ยง 91.205, and there is an acronym for simplify our lives: A TOMATO FLAMES. Once filled out it looks like this:

A โ€“ airspeed indicator;
T โ€“ tachometer for each engine;
O โ€“ oil pressure gauge for each engine using pressure system;
M โ€“ manifold pressure gauge for each altitude engine;
A โ€“ altimeter;
T โ€“ temperature gauge for each liquid-cooled engine;
O โ€“ oil temperature gauge for each air-cooled engine;
F โ€“ fuel gauge indicating the quantity of fuel in each tank;
L โ€“ landing gear position indicator (for airplanes with a retractable gear);
A โ€“ anticollision lights (for aircraft certificated after March 11, 1996);
M โ€“ magnetic direction indicator (e. g. magnetic compass);
E โ€“ ELT (emergency locator transmitter);
S โ€“ safety belts.

Today I was going to fly commercial maneuvers: chandelles, eights-on-pylons, lazy eights, steep spirals. Constant practice is required for mastering them.

After the first climbing turn the magnetic compass attachment cracked, and the compass hanged on the wires. Actually it is not a big dear near the airport in a good weather, and that particular compass is a total mess with non-reliable indications and blurry glass, but legally this device is compulsory for flying. And anyway it is not safe at all to fly with a heavy metal device hanging in front of your face.

It looks like the airplane will be grounded at least for some hours, so it’s time to study.

Nice Box

Currently I am mainly flying the airplane without GPS, so I decided to order some things for better situation awareness.

First of all, I ordered an iPad for using it with foreflight (which works only on apple tablets/phones). At the end I’ve chosen FltPlan Go instead, but anyway flying with EFB is easier: I can read METARs, use airport diagrams for VFR and approach plates for IFR. I still prepare paper charts for every flight, but now they become my backup source of information.

BTW, FltPlan Go is not available in some local App Store versions (for example, it is not available in Russian App Store).

I also bought stratux: it is an ADS-B device combined with AHRS and GPS. As a result, I see the weather and traffic data, and have a backup attitude indicator. It is not a primary source of information, but one more safety measure.

Summer Florida brings a lot of thunderstorms, they are forming quickly, and typically there are more than one cell. In case of thunderstorms we can see “VCTS” in the METAR: it means “thunderstorms in the vicinity”. We see that sign almost every day after about 2pm, but before 1pm it is usually safe, and the sky is clear.

I have planned to fly North-East and back before large cumulus and cumulonimbus clouds would start to form, but today it happened earlier, and I saw some towering clouds from the destination airport. They were still rather far to the North-East from me, and South-West direction was still clear, so I took off and turned to the South-West.

After about 15-20 minutes some cumulus clouds ahead turned into small thunderstorm cells, so it was better to deviate. After some more minutes I saw a really large dark cloud of about 6000 feet height in about 25 miles, and some more not so big cumulonimbus clouds.

I was looking for aerodromes nearby all along my route just in case if the situation becomes worse, but fortunately thunderstorm cells did not form a long line, so flying about 10 miles straight to the South did the job to safely avoid them.

It was a bumpy ride anyway, and wind gusts became about 16 knots according to our weather station.

In about 1 hour after landing thunderstorm cells formed a continuous wall almost along the shoreline with about 10-15 miles shift to the East. The wind became stronger, but those cells was not moving: moist air from the ocean fed them. Further to the East the clouds were dissipating, occasionally forming some new not so strong cells. And all this lasted for some hours.

That kind of weather is typical for summer Florida. It’s true that almost every day is flyable, but in summer it’s better to be on the ground after about 2 pm.

Tailwheel II

I am continuing with my tailwheel training.

I found out that taxiing in citabria is not so difficult at the end, but just requires very precise pedals manipulation.

There are two different landing methods: the first is when you keep nose-high attitude and let the tail wheel to touch down, and then apply even more pull force to slow down until the main wheels become on the ground too. The second is when you keep the airplane’s nose relatively low, and very gently and precisely let the main wheels to contact the ground while still keeping the tail wheel in the air.

The second way is much more challenging, and requires very low vertical speed at the touch down moment. Moreover, it is a little counterintuitive: you have to push the stick then the wheels are on the ground, the reflexes force to do the opposite.

Flying and landing a tailwheel airplane is really interesting. It improves visual flying skills (especially directional control and landings), so if you are a pilot (or thinking to become a pilot), I strongly advice to have this experience.