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.

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!

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Winter Haven

Winter Haven (KGIF) is an extremely beautiful place. There are two concrete runways and one water runway. Some day I will try it out too in a seaplane, but now I am flying an ASEL (Airplane Single Engine Land) so I have to use concrete or grass runways 🙂

Flying without GPS is amazing. This airplane has a VOR, but I am trying to stick with a compass, clock and paper maps. Today I am not flying along a coastline, so it is a bit more challenging.

Actually there is one area along the route where there are no landmarks at all: it’s a large forest area. Basically I use my clock and fly the calculated course, and after finding some clear landmark (after some time) I am trying to figure out where I am and how far I am from my route. It’s fun! After about 10 minutes of flight I was about 1 mile off-track. Not so bad for a visual flight and plain magnetic compass.

I am attaching some photos for showing the beauty of the area 🙂

VFR Again

The next logical step for Instrument Rating holder is a Commercial License. Finally I can fly without ‘foggles’ or ‘hood’! It’s so beautiful outside!

I decided that it does not make sense to follow 141 route for my commercial course. I already have some flight time under my belt above private+IR course minimums, so at the end of 141 course I would have about 250 hours anyway, which equals part 61 requirements. But for 141 due to my school policy I should fly the entire course in Cessna 172 (of course excluding complex and ME hours), and for part 61 I can use Cessna 150, which is way less expensive.

So now I am flying VFR-only Cessna 150 without GPS. It seems much lighter than 172. For flying alone I had to pass a check flight with one of the instructors and sign renter’s agreement.

It’s a bit unusual to fly visually again, and even more unusual to fly without GPS. It was hard to find an unfamiliar runway again. But it’s totally amazing to try flying with paper maps, compass, clock and my eyes.

Visual flying in Florida is easy: ocean coast to the west, ocean coast far to the east, straight wide North-South and East-West highways and a lot of landmarks. Even Czech Republic is not so straightforward for navigation!

This airplane cruise speed is just a little less than C172’s, but the rate of climb is much slower. Fuel consumption is less too, but due to smaller tanks we still have only about 4h of endurance. And I love this model: I started my PPL in that airplane.

This C150 has only one comm without other frequency monitoring possibility, so it’s better to quickly grasp ATIS messages and return to the active frequency ASAP. Probably that’s how our grandfathers flied: pure VFR with minimum of instruments. Even all Czech school airplanes had GPS and 2 radios, but basically the compass, clock and paper maps are enough, so I enjoy this experience 🙂

Aircraft Maintenance

As you know, now I am flying for meeting flight time minimums (and for fun, of course). That means that it does not matter a lot where to fly, so today I have a really useful task: I should fly the airplane to the mechanics for a scheduled maintenance.

While reading my preflight checklist I figured out that the flaps do not deploy. OK, let’s think: take-off is not a problem at all (long concrete runway), but what about landing? We have an 1.2 km runway at the destination. Aircraft weight is OK: I am alone, I don’t have any bags and I still didn’t have breakfast. So landing should be totally OK, I will even have some safety margin, and technicians will have more chances to find the problem. I called the flight school boss and explained the situation. He agreed that it is not a big deal, so I could fly.

It’s so cool to takeoff from some gloomy place and then enter a sunny area!

Flaps magically got back to normal upon arrival, so it was just normal landing. Technicians could not find anything wrong with them as well. Just in case I made 3 additional circuits, and everything was OK.

I flew to another school base (LKRO), and then back to the home base. Flaps worked as they should.

Today I gained my first 100 flight hours!

Strong Winds

I supposed to fly early in the morning, but it did not happen: the airplane did not have enough fuel, and the fuel service is usually available only in the afternoon. Anyway I needed some more sleep.

I took off in the afternoon. During the flight I noticed that the ground speed is way less that the airspeed. It means that I had a strong headwind, which means that I would fly faster on my way back. Today I chose a direct route from one point to another.

I found one more abandoned aerodrome on my way and made some photos.

The wind was strong, but there were not so much crosswind and no gusts as well, so the landing was smooth.

Today was really hot. I suppose that it was up to 40 degrees celsius in a sunny areas, so I experienced a longer takeoff run and a slower climb: hot air really affects the airplane performance.

On the way back I landed on some airfield where I owed a landing fee previous time, and finally paid it today. I felt some gusts, so it was safer to approach with a higher speed: the airplane was more stable.

When I returned to the home base the wind became almost calm, and the landing was very easy and smooth. Very nice flight!

Circle Around Prague

Every pilot should have some minimum flight time before taking an exam. For the modular commercial pilot program in Europe it should be 200 hours (total time). Now I am continuing gaining these flight hours.

Today I decided to go to the North-West where I found a nice aerodrome with a concrete runway. I already mentioned that I like them some more than grass runways.

It was supposed to be a sort of circle: to the West of Prague on the way forward and to the East on the way back. It’s more interesting, and the route distance is almost the same.

I am still a little nervous about controlled airspaces and talking with ATC, so it’s better to avoid crowded CTRs for now and practice somewhere else, for example, in Karlovy Vary.

In summer there are usually some thunderstorms around. I found one cell to the west of my route, but not so close to be dangerous, so I just took some photos.

Czech is really beautiful for sightseeing, especially from the air. I photographed a nice golf-club and an old windmill on the route.

I used to empty aerodromes. Small aerodromes in Czech are usually uncontrolled, and nobody is there, especially after 6 pm. Today it was different, and somebody answered on the radio. I was some unexpected communications practice 🙂

On the way back some clouds started to form. Not the turbulent ones, but it is still not so good if they are low. Of course I checked the weather before departure, and nothing seemed wrong, but it’s always better to check one more time if needed. I asked the controller, and he confirmed that nothing special is expected enroute, which was really good, because I am not allowed to fly at night yet. If the weather becomes bad, I could get stuck until morning.

I landed about an hour before twilight. One more outstanding day!

Sorry for the rubbish on the windshield 🙂