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 😉

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 a 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! =)

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 § 91.205, and there is an acronym for simplify our lives: A TOMATO FLAMES. Once filled out it looks like this:

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