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 😉

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 a 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.

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 🙂

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 🙂

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 § 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.

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.

Night flight

During my previous visit here I completed almost all commercial requirements related to night hours except one 2-hour cross-country. I wanted to fly it, but some circumstances prevented that flight.

This time this flight seemed to happen. I checked the airplane in advance, ensured that we had full tanks and enough oil. Ensured that nobody would fly the airplane since that check.

The airplane just came from maintenance, and we were going to fly with my instructor.

So, here we go. We checked everything one more time, read necessary checklists. Everything was OK, and we started taxiing to the runway.

During the take-off roll the airspeed was raising, but suspiciously slow. It was more than 500 ft, but we still had 45. 45, 47… The runway is long, but still not endless, so it was better to abort the take-off. We safely stopped well before the runway threshold, but I think that the real speed was more than 70 when the decision was made.

Some system malfunction is not a pleasant case. To be honest, I was slightly scared.

We taxied back, but I still wanted to fly if possible: the weather was good, and it was not the only available airplane in the school. So we still could fly!

The flight was good. I thought that it’s hard to see clouds at night, but actually it is not, and we were able to keep us well below them.

We flew to KVNC, and requested flight following. For some reason the controller diverted us along the shoreline, around class B airspace.

Return flight was also around class B airspace, but on the East side. Firstly because of the weather avoidance, and secondly because it’s fun to fly a different route.

I like night flying 🙂

Jacksonville

Today I made one more cross-country flight to Jacksonville Executive. Our route crossed a restricted area: when it is active, I cannot fly there in specified altitude range. That area can be active during specified hours, or by NOTAM. If it is active, I should avoid it or choose an altitude out of the area range.

During the briefing I found out that the area is inactive. The weather is good. Let’s fly!

It is the first time when I asked for flight following: ATC could see me on the radar and potentially warn about some close traffic or a potentially bad weather. The communications in that case are similar to any IFR flight, but it is still VFR, and you must be in VMC.

At about 10 miles before entering the restricted area I asked the controller about the area status, just in case. Everything was OK, and the controller gave me some additional information about adjacent areas.

Flight following is a very useful thing, especially because I don’t have neither TCAS nor ADS-B equipment, and traffic information can be useful in busy areas.

I also plan some flights with IFR flight plan in a good weather to maintain my communication skills and shoot some approaches. I have to be proficient in it before entering real IMC.

Air Taxi

Usually our school students from abroad use Tampa International airport for arrival or departure. It’s about 100 km from here, and the most common way to go there is Uber. But we are flight school students! From my opinion, we should use airplanes! Anyway a lot of us need more flight time, so why not to do something useful?

Actually large international airports require some experience, and it’s also better to have a special endorsement from the instructor, and book a slot. But in the US there are a lot of airports, including small satellite airports around the major ones. For Tampa the most obvious option is Tampa Executive (KVDF).

Tomorrow I am returning home, so I asked one of my friends to fly with me to Tampa Executive and return the airplane back to the school. Yes, the fuel and airplane renting costs are almost the same as Uber, but it’s a valuable flight time! And it’s fun!

Lakeland

Today I decided to fly to Lakeland for some more VOR practice. Anyway it will be a VFR flight, but our Cessna has a VOR, and it’s better to refresh my skills.

Today the airspace here was very busy. A lot of small light aircrafts, some turboprops, and even a jet… The radio communications are rather intense. It was a good experience: the ATC gave me instructions to extend downwind, then to orbit for giving a way to some faster airplane. The controller was extremely nice and even apologized on final for the delay 🙂

Cross City

The route from Crystal River to Cross City is considered rather simple, and a lot of students from our school fly there almost every day. I’ve been there only once, and even that time I wore ‘foggles’, so I’ve seen almost nothing. So today I planned to visit that airport.

The route is really easy: it lays almost along the shoreline, and it’s really impossible to get lost. The airport itself is very nice: large concrete runways, predictable winds, no traffic. It was a very nice trip!

KCTY
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