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! =)

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 🙂

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 🙂 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 § 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 🙂