At the Controls Again

It’s been quite a long time I did not fly: my previous flight was in Warsaw in October. I was studying ATPL subjects since then and did not practise at all.

Today I made a flight to renew my SEP (Single Engine Piston) VFR rating. We used Cessna 152, and I remembered the feeling of acceleration with 2 people on board on a grass runway – it seemed way too slow.

The weather was not perfect, but nothing critical, so we performed all required maneuvers. It’s so good to feel the flight controls again!

The bird
The weather does not look so good

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 thunderstorm lines or at least isolated thunderstorms. So, I decided to go 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: it’s a 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. I climbed to 5500. The air was calm and cool there, the weather was perfect. Today there were 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.

I landed and vacated the runway, then asked for a clearance for taxiing to the FBO. I mean taxiing to something that I supposed to be the FBO, but… “N7692U, the 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 a large airplane parking area 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: I found an interesting small museum and a free cup of coffee available. The tower controller was also very friendly πŸ˜‰

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 had 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, then 4500 could be a good choice. 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 them. I could proceed to my destination, and it was easy to find aΒ labyrinth path when you are below it.

After about 10 miles the clouds became something between few and scattered. 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! =)

Lake-City

At the weekends I used to fly from the early morning, but this Saturday I decided to sleep some more: it is not a good idea to fly if you’re tired.

Today the weather was good, so it was possible to fly to Lake-City. So, why that place? First of all, the weather is much better for northbound routes, and that airport has the ATC – it’s always good to practice. The weather in Florida is the most critical factor in summer: for example, today it is not a good idea to fly more than 100 miles from the airport, because after about 4 hours there is some possibility of thunderstorms here.

As I said, the weather was good, but not perfect. The cloud ceiling was at about 2500-2700 feet, and I had to maintain about 1500 feet for about 20 minutes from the home base. I had to avoid large cumulus clouds too: they are dangerous, and it’s better to change a course a little than fly directly under them.

I suppose that almost everyone who flew in Florida heard about KCDK. It is a small airport at the shoreline with a concrete 1500-feet runway. Our school policy prohibits to fly there (as many others do), but the weather there is usually good even in summer, so at the very worst case it still can serve as an alternate. But it’s better not to count on that. 1500 feet is not so bad, but psychologically can be surprising after all of wide luxury concrete runways in Florida. Most of them are usually at least 4000-feet long.

After about 30 min of flight the cloud base became higher, and the clouds almost disappeared.

The route itself is very easy: it’s enough to follow the road.

While on weekdays the airport is controlled, on the weekends there is no ATC there, so I should act like at uncontrolled airport. I landed and vacated the runway. There were some Airbus on a taxiway, but I did not see a single person in the cockpit or around.

On the way back the weather became even better, and I was able to fly directly to the airport without avoiding clouds. A very nice day.

Spin Training

Spin Training is a part of the flight instructor course, but I suppose that this training is useful for all pilots. Of course it’s better to recognize approaching spin in advance, but sometimes shit happens anyway, and it’s good to know what to do in that case.

In theory the process is not very hard: we should put the ailerons in a netral position, stop the rotation with a rudder, and then act like in a situation with an unusual attitude.

In practice we set the engine to idle, then slow flight without flaps, and then pull the yoke, simultaneously stepping on one of the pedals. And the airplane starts to spin. It feels like we’re falling. The Earth is just in front of us while it should be somewhere below. It’s really scary! So we are seting the ailerons to a neutral position, then eliminating the rotation with the rudder, and waiting. After some time the rotation should stop, and we can recover by pushing the yoke and maintaining the direction.

The attitude indicator is useless in this situation, we should use mainly external references and probably a turn coordinator (with some precaution).

The feeling is unforgettable. But the main outcome is that now I know what to do not only in theory – it’s a completely different experience.

Our C150 spins relatively easily, and recovers also very well. But it’s better to act quickly: one rotation takes more than 300 feet, and the recovery is becoming more difficult with more rotations.

Fly-in Breakfast

Today we had a fly-in breakfast at one of the airports nearby, in about 1h of flight. This airport does not have a communication frequency, so in these cases in Florida we should use either 122.9 or 122.75. In our case it was 122.9.

In spite of arriving rather early, we heard a lot of traffic on the frequency: about 3 or 4 airplanes nearby and 2 airplanes in a circuit.

The airport had a long concrete runway, but almost no clearway: there were some trees pretty close to the runway, so the effective takeoff and landing distances are limited by those trees.

There were no FBO there, but there were some nice houses and a cafe. Some walking paths are painted as runways πŸ™‚

The event attracted some interesting airplanes and even one gyroplane.

On the way back ceiling became lower (still acceptable for VFR flight below the clouds), and I wished I had taken our C172 instead of non-IFR C150 to fly higher πŸ™‚

Apopka Airport

The weather in Florida is challenging in summer. Today I managed to fly early morning, when there is no turbulent clouds or thunderstorms. Visibility was worse than it would be at the afternoon, but still acceptable.

I adore early morning flights: the air is calm, it is not so hot, and it’s possible to takeoff from any runway.

Apopka airport is beautiful: one asphalt runway along the railway, and a large highway nearby. It looks nice from above.

Florida is almost perfect for navigation, it is impossible to get lost there: a lot of landmarks almost everywhere, and even if you managed to get lost somehow, you can just fly to the West until you see a shoreline.

The “Crystal River – Apopka” route is one of the easiest routes to navigate. Firstly you see an airport with a large concrete runway, then a lake, a highway, and then one more lake. That’s it. Even if you’re really bad with a paper map navigation, you will manage to find a route, and I am pretty good with no-gps flying πŸ™‚

Even at the early morning there was some traffic. For example, a lot of radio communication at the Winter Haven frequency. It seems that I am not the only one who takes advantage of calm morning flights πŸ™‚

Sightseeing Flight

Today I decided to relax and have a sightseeing flight. After departure I climbed to 5500 feet and flew along the shoreline. The landscapes were astonishing, it definitely worth to see them from above.

The air was calm, especially at that altitude. I saw some cumulus clouds, but they were far, so I did not feel any turbulence. And as usual the clouds were very beautiful.

My tablet cam is a little better than the one on my phone, but still not perfect. Probably later it makes sense to buy something better, but today I wanted just relax and enjoy the scenery.

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 πŸ™‚ 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!

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 Β§ 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.