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! =)

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!

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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 🙂