Monday, January 30, 2012

When to Say When

I mentioned in my previous post I did two flights last weekend. Sunday's flight I was passenger. Sunday's flight was much more of an adventure. It shouldn't have been, it should have been a routine trip for the proverbial $200 hamburger. But that's not how it turned out.

Jeff and I wanted to fly together because he would be busy and unable to fly for a month or so. I was still tired from the prior day's flight and getting up early to run Sunday morning. We didn't head down to the airport until 3PM. We knew we would be flying back at night, which we both enjoyed. Since I was going to be passenger I decided not to bring my flight bag. I just brought my headset. Jeff had his flight bag but it didn't have any charts in it. Those were in my flight bag. We realized that about half way down the mountain and decided that was OK. We would get all of the info we needed for Harris Ranch online before we took off. We had a good GPS in the plane we would fly and Jeff had flown that route a dozen times before. No problem.

We got to the plane and spent some time chatting with some other pilots that were there either preparing to take off or just getting back from a trip. I got the info we needed for Harris Ranch saved in my phone and made sure it had plenty of battery. By the time we were ready to start up the plane the sun was about to set.  We made sure all of the lights were working on the plane. They were. Then I realized I didn't have my flashlight (it was in my flight bag) and Jeff didn't carry one. All of the lights in the plane worked and we had our phones that could double as flashlights in case of emergency. So we decided to go ahead. (I made up my mind to buy a flashlight from the gas station at Harris Ranch before we headed back).

We were in a bit of a hurry then and I felt naked without a kneeboard so I put Jeff's on my knee, then I thought I had sat on the seat belt in the plane. We were flying a Beech Bonanza (not my usual 172) so I didn't know the plane quite as well. Jeff went through the checklists to start up the plane and I knew I needed to have my seat belt on before taxi. So I did. The plane started up strong and we were off.

When Jeff took off he noticed how much more quickly this plane wanted to take off than the Bonanza he took for a test flight the day before. He commented about that as we climbed out. Then the tower notified us the transponder wasn't reporting altitude as we turned downwind. So we reset the transponder and that fixed that problem. I noticed ever time I turned my head to the right my brand new headset was making a loud noise. I couldn't pinpoint the source of the problem though.

I remembered Jeff talking about how the landing gear light in the Bonanza he flew the day before failed on the last leg of the flight and I looked at the landing gear light on this Bonanza. That was strange, it indicated gear down.. we'd been climbing for over a minute after resetting the transponder. I asked him if he retracted the gear - the light was still on. What a coincidence if the gear light failed on this plane too. Nope, he had forgotten to retract the gear in the distraction over the differences between this Bonanza and the one he just flew and then the distraction from the tower. No problem, he retracted the gear and we continued on the climb. Gaining airspeed now that the gear was up.

That annoying noise was getting louder. I kept turning my head to identify the source. Finally I saw it. The source was an 1/8" gap where the door was sucking out a bit. I had closed but didn't latch the door when I got into the plane. I was distracted by the kneeboard and the seatbelt. "The door is open," I said. My blood ran a little cold at that. I've read and even heard ATC tower recordings of people that have crashed their planes over open doors. Not because the door caused issues, no. Because the pilots panicked or did abnormal things to try to get the doors closed.  In spite of what people might think, in an unpressurized plane at 3500 feet open/unlatched doors are not an emergency, just something you have to deal with or decide to live with. In a Bonanza like the one we were flying it is impossible to close/latch the door as you fly, the airflow prevents it. So the options are to continue flying with the door open and live with the noise or land and close the door.

Jeff decided to land at South County for my sake. Being the person by the unlatched door I appreciated his decision. I had the weather and CTAF frequencies for South County memorized.  Jeff had a little brochure on South County procedures in his kneeboard too. He slowed down the plane, we got weather, did the appropriate radio calls and checklists and landed uneventfully at South County... except...Jeff decided he wanted to see how short he could land the plane, so he did a short field landing. The plane landed with a thunk (as it should) and when he taxied off the runway it felt like it was handling strange.

He taxied the plane to transient and shut it down. We got out of the plane and checked the gear, and control surfaces, everything seemed fine. At this point I was starting to feel like maybe we should just call it a night and go back to RHV. Too many little things were forgotten or happening. The "little voice" was saying we could get food somewhere in town. We didn't need to go to Harris Ranch. We talked about it and decided to take off and fly towards Hollister for a bit and think. We had some trouble restarting the engine but eventually it did restart.

The plane took off like a dream and this time the gear was retracted at the end of the runway. We headed towards Hollister and thought a bit. With the door closed the plane was quiet and hummed through the air smoothly. It was so much nicer than the 172 trainer I spent almost 6 hours in the day before. Part of me really wanted to keep on flying, but another part said we didn't need to push it that day. Jeff left the decision up to me, as any smart husband knows, an unhappy or nervous wife makes for a very bad dinner. I finally said we should just go home.

We taxied back to the plane's shelter just 0.9 hours after engine start. The pilot we talked with earlier was still there. He commented we must have put a turbo on the plane to get to Harris Ranch and back that fast. We laughed and told him the whole silly story. We hung out and chatted for another half hour or so and then headed back towards home. We had some excellent BBQ pretty close to our house and laughed a bit about our mistakes and our adventure. On this trip we learned when to say when...

Sometimes flying is like that... easy trips become hard, hard trips are easy. You never know what you're going to get when you fly.

An 800 Dollar Chicken Taco

I took to the air in two flights last weekend. One was Saturday. It took 5.8 hours and over 500 NM (nautical miles) from San Jose (RHV) to Healdsburgh (HES) in the Napa Valley and then down to Santa Maria (SMX) which is south of San Luis Obispo and just north of Santa Barbara. This was a solo trip in a Cessna 172N that I used to build up my cross country time and meet one of the requirements for a commercial license. [Commercial license requires a solo cross country flight with one leg over 250NM straight line distance. HES to SMX is 253NM.]  The second flight was Sunday with my husband as PIC in the Bonanza we've been renting. We were going to fly to Harris Ranch for dinner and back. That's it. One would assume the very long cross country would be an adventure and the short flight to dinner would be rather routine.

In the end, the very long solo cross country was mostly routine. It was a gorgeous day for flying. Crystal clear skies, calm winds, warm but not too warm. Being a Saturday and a good weather weekend day in the winter I knew the airport would be very busy very quick. So I took off as close to 10AM as I could to avoid the crowds at RHV. The flight up to HES was smooth and beautiful. I got fuel at HES, met some nice people that helped me drag the plane up to the fuel pumps, etc. HES was very busy... people were flying in from all over to get the cheaper gas... and, I think, it was just a great excuse to fly.

Then I took off from HES towards San Francisco, I asked for, and got, a Class Bravo transition through SFO airspace. I was able to fly along the San Francisco Penninsula ridge line on the most beautiful day I've seen in a while. The Golden Gate Bridge shown in the sun, planes were flying around the Bay, flying to Half Moon Bay for lunch, etc. The ocean was beautiful and blue. I flew right over my town, Boulder Creek, before heading towards Monterey Bay and the Salinas Valley, down over Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo, over the dunes of Pismo Beach to land at Santa Maria Airport.  I listened to music and talked with ATC on the way.

I stopped at Santa Maria and fueled up the plane and my body. It was after 3 PM by the time I got to Santa Maria. Santa Maria was a strange airport, two runways well maintained, tower, ground and empty. The airports all around the area were hopping, but not this one. It had a huge GA ramp but only 3 planes on it. My 172, a 152 and a Mooney. Every door was locked, including the GA "terminal" building and the Raddison Inn. I was planning on eating at the Inn, but the restaurant was closed. So I walked with the two kids that arrived in the 152 towards the Commercial Terminal.  We finally got to the one gate we could go out. At which point we found we would have to call either the police or the fuel company to get re-admitted to the ramp. The kids in the 152 opted to call the police to get back to their plane. I went to the Mexican restaurant in the terminal and had a $12 chicken taco (actually a $800 chicken taco if you count the full cost of the trip - rental and fuel).  At lunch I discovered the commercial terminal didn't have wireless. So I got my return trip weather briefing via phone instead of my wireless only iPad.

It was getting late. I called the fuel company to refuel the plane and let me back on to the ramp. Fueled up and I was off again. Up til this point I was carefully flying the plan I planned. But now... I wanted to get home. I had a GPS that worked perfectly, I knew visually the route I needed to fly. Instead of going over Oceano I headed straight for San Luis Obispo, then a bee line for Paso Robles, a quick jog to the side to the BRALY GPS waypoint to ensure I got nowhere near the restricted areas and then up the Salinas valley to King City. The sun was setting slowly and I was listening to music, watching the shadows of the coastal range slip up the edges of the Pinnacles (the remains of an extinct volcano) as I cruised at 6500 feet.

Sunset at 3500 feet or so. Coming back to RHV.
My flight plan was to go up to Salinas then over to Hollister. After I got past the Pinnacles I decided to head straight for Hollister instead, saving myself maybe 10 minutes of flying. It was fun to fly the magenta line to Hollister over the central range.  My flight training focused on pilotage, dead reckoning and using VORs for navigation. GPS sure made things easier. Knowing where I was and how I would go if the GPS failed made me feel much better about the process. After Hollister I started my long (for a 172) descent towards RHV. I requested a switch to RHV tower from NorCal and made my 10 mile call. "Make straight in 31Right". So I did. I landed, taxied back and I was done.

I tied my plane down in the dark and went into the club where my hubby was waiting. I was exhausted and happy. It wasn't an exciting trip... it was mellow and smooth and good. Looking back at where I was six months ago to where I am now... I am very pleased with my progress and looking forward to more mellow and exciting trips in the future.

You may have heard the saying that flying frees the mind from the tyranny of petty things. It does. I have many stresses at work and family with problems that I cannot help. For those 5.8 hours I was in the plane with the engine running .. my work stresses and fears for my family didn't cross my mind. I flew. I monitored. I adjusted and maintained airspeed, heading and altitude. I practiced making minute changes and watching how the plane reacted. I looked for traffic. I talked to ATC. I laughed with other pilots. I watched the world go by. I was free. Next time I'm bringing friends so they can be free too :)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Short Flight Fun

After two days of cross countries, I expected yesterday's flight to be relatively boring. My flight was to fly my hubby up to Livermore Airport (LVK) so he use the gift certificate for an hour of aerobatic flying I gave him for his birthday. Livermore is relatively close to Reid-Hillview (RHV) and I was expecting a very brief and uneventful flight for myself. I was wrong.

The weather was perfect for flying and, being Saturday, everybody wanted to get into the action. RHV was hopping. There were five airplanes in the run up area for 31R, three planes behind me on Zulu and another two planes on Yankee. The planes in the run up were pointed all kinds of directions and there was limited room. After about 15 minutes of waiting and jockeying for position we got through our run up and cleared to take off.

Less than 10 minutes later I made my call to Livermore tower over the Sunol Golf Course. The skies were very busy there too. There was a Grumman about 500' overhead inbound for LVK and another plane off our 3 o'clock at the same altitude. The tower told me to maneuver to follow the Grumman for 25L. I immediately slowed the plane down to about 85 knots. Jeff suggested I should fly S-turns as well to give the Grumman more space. I'd never done S-turns before but I quickly got the hang of it.  I was told I was #3 for 25L (out of 5 planes coming in for the same runway).  My S-turns and slow flying worked and the Grumman had plenty of room to land and taxi clear of the runway before I was on short final.

After we taxied over to Attitude Aviation where Jeff's lesson was going to be held I was really happy. Dealing with the busy confusion at RHV and then the congestion coming in to LVK was a lot of fun for me. I remembered how much fun I had one time coming back to RHV with my CFI when things got so busy for the tower they told all other aircraft to just stay out of the airspace. This experience was very similar.

Jeff had a blast doing his acrobatic flight in a Great Lakes bi-plane. I got to wander around Attitude Aviation's hangars and check out the cool planes they had there. These guys definitely had some great toys.

On the way back to RHV things were still pretty busy. As we turned towards Calaveras and home we heard the following conversation on the radios:

Livermore Tower: N123, traffic 2 o'clock, same altitude.
N123: Traffic in sight, what should I do? 
Livermore Tower: It's a big sky, N123. Just don't hit that traffic. 

Jeff and I laughed and laughed. Yes, it is a big sky... sometimes it can get a little crowded though :)

A Brief Visit to Mariposa

I took the day after my birthday off too... that gave me a 5 day weekend! More flying for me!

The destination for this flight was Mariposa-Yosemite Airport (MPI). Far enough away to qualify as cross country, not too far, simple route and some interesting stuff to see on the other end. I rented 93K, the 172N I trained in the majority of my primary training. It is cheaper than the 172SP I have been flying and I didn't want to get too used to any one plane. No passenger this time and nothing else scheduled for the day so I thought I would fly there, get lunch at a motel bar and grill about 1/4 mile away from the airport and then fly up and take a peek at Yosemite from the air. No time pressures, just an opportunity to explore.

On the approach to Mariposa I had a bit of trouble finding the airport. The airport elevation was 2200 feet, I was cruising at 5500 feet. I thought I could see where it should be, but I didn't see the town that was supposed to be near. So I used the big picture skills I learned, recognized the granite formations of Yosemite proper, the layout of the ridges and the lakes in the area and decided what I thought was the airport should be the airport. Sure enough, it was.

I didn't like coming into this airport's environment. There were hills all around the airport which in turn lead me to not fly a good pattern. I got distracted trying not to fly close to the hills. I don't think I was actually close to the hills at any time but I was uncomfortable. I turned final and pitched for 65 and looked at the runway. The view down the cowling of the plane lead me to think I was aimed almost straight down at the runway! Like the proverbial lawn dart. I thought I was high too. I did a go around.

As I turned downwind I gave the runway a close look and realized it sloped down at the approach end and then back up again relatively steeply, similar to an elongated bowl. Ah ha! I was dealing with an optical illusion. I knew how to handle that. My method for handling runway optical illusions is to focus on the numbers and use that as my visual cue for when and how high to round out, all other visual information becomes secondary. That worked good... I came in on final, rounded out and then kept the plane just off the runway as long as I could. The landing was a little bit harder than normal, I think because I landed into the up slope of the runway, but I landed on the mains and under control.

I taxied up to the transient parking in front of the airport office, pleased with my identification and handling of the optical illusion. It would have been even better to figure it out on the first pass, but I was still happy. As I pulled up to transient parking I saw two King Airs parked there. They looked very new and shiny. I parked my little 172 next to one of them and took a picture. Then I checked my voice mail and found out my daughter hurt her hand and needed to go to the doctor. In spite of being over 100 miles away, it would be quicker for me to fly back and pick her up than my husband finish work and get her. So I had to cancel my lunch and sight seeing plans.

I still needed to eat something and went into the airport office to see if they had any snacks available. They had some chips, candy bars, water and sodas. I talked briefly with the woman who ran the office. She was really friendly and gave me a free bag of chips. She also said they have a crew car and a couple bikes to make it easy for people to get into town and get food when they have time.

I chatted a bit with the First Officer of one of the King Airs as I munched on chips. He pointed out I was eating the standard "lunch of pilots". He was a younger guy and still enthusiastic about flying. The Captain was a "grey hair" just as my CFI described. Obviously experienced and less enthusiastic about hanging around waiting for their clients who were late. I found out how much runway a King Air needs to take off typically loaded and fully loaded. The FO talked about flying a contact approach into RHV once in the plane I saw on the ramp. He made it sound pretty hairy... I'll have to look up what a contact approach is.

It was time to go so I said goodbye to all and promised to return and spend more time there. I did a quick preflight of the plane, took off,  and pointed our nose to the west for the return trip. On the return I plugged my iPod into the audio jack of my new headset and turned on some music. The headset has a feature that automatically mutes audio to ensure all radio comms are heard clearly and that worked great. I was also still able to hear the hum of the engine.

On the flight back I reflected on how nice it was to get out of the plane and explore even a little bit. I decided to try to get out and meet people on the other end of these trips more often. I've had a long life of road trips where I've focused on enjoying the journey. I think its time for me to allow the destination to add its part of the adventure.

One day, five airports, lots of fun

Last week I took my birthday off from work. Who wants to work on their birthday? not me! So I went to play in the air instead :) 

My mission for my birthday flight was to get more used to landing at different airports. I realized a couple things in my recent flying. One is if I could do cross country flights without landing, I'd do it. I prefer to be in the air. Two, I'm not comfortable with approaching and landing at airports I'm not familiar with. The best way I know to get over something I'm not comfortable with in flying is to do it more often. I was fortunate to have a new friend, a tail wheel and glider pilot, who wanted to see what like to land in a tricycle gear aircraft. I described my plan to her, lots of landings in a C172, and asked if she'd like to ride along. She was happy to join me on the flight.

The basic plan was to fly to Gustine (3O1), Los Banos (KLSN) and Firebaugh (F34) airports. Firebaugh because it was far enough away to qualify the flight as a cross country. Los Banos because the last time I landed there among the worst landings and training flights of my primary training. Gustine because it was nearby and for some reason I wanted three airports. I had to add to the route South County (E16) to pick up and drop off my friend. That made four airports. And finally, I had to take off and land at my home airport (KRHV). And then there were five.

The route of the flight. - I landed at the airports marked with blue stars.

South County (E16)
 I took off from RHV and requested a downwind departure. Then a quick flight to South County. Entered on a right 45 for runway 32 and landed just fine there. South County is one of the airports I've trained at before so this one didn't bother me.

I picked up my friend by Magnum Aviation at the north end of the field. We got her new headset plugged in and taxied back to the runway. Immediately she commented about how professional I sounded on the radios. It is very nice to get compliments from other pilots.

I announced we were taking the runway for a downwind departure and off we went! She volunteered to help with navigation so I showed her how to set waypoints on the GPS. She also held the chart and helped look up information and find big picture landmarks to identify our targets. I had printed out pictures of each airport and the weather and CTAF frequencies for each which I kept on my knee board.

Our next waypoint was Frasier Lake. This is a grass airstrip with a water "strip" next to it where people can land sea planes. We used that as a visual checkpoint before turning East over the low mountains and heading into the central valley and Gustine.

Gustine (3O1)
Gustine was hard to find at first. It was very hazy in the valley. We used the GPS to help us get a general idea of where it should be and I had my calculated flight plan as backup, but we mostly used pilotage to find it. We saw the town of Gustine in the haze and looked for the runway, we both thought the runway was in one location but she spotted the actual runway in another location. As you can see in the picture to the right, it doesn't LOOK paved, but it is.

By the time we spotted the airport we were too close to enter the pattern normally, so I turned away and flew away a little bit, then turned back to the airport and tried to enter a normal pattern. I failed. I was still to close to the airport and I couldn't get set up correctly. When I turned base I knew this was a losing proposition so I announced a go around and flew out and away from the airport again. This time I did the approach right and flew a better pattern and landed. My friend was impressed with the landing and started asking questions about how I land the plane... I explained about landing on the mains first, then the nose wheel.. but I also explained I wasn't exactly sure how it worked but what I did was try not to land, and the landing went well.

Los Banos Muni (KLSN)
We taxied back to the take off end of the runway and announced another downwind departure. I planned the route we flew in order to have relatively simple pattern entry and downwind departures between airports assuming the winds would be from the northwest, which they were.

Los Banos was easier for me to find. I'd landed there before and I've used that particular airport as a checkpoint for cross countries as well. My last landing at Los Banos with me at the controls was rough. I didn't pay attention to the crosswinds and my CFI had to take the controls. I think that was the last time he had to do that. So this time I was determined to be on top of any crosswinds. As we approached the winds were relatively light and right down the runway. I flew a proper pattern entry and pattern, looked before I turned base and made a very nice landing. As we taxied off the runway I said, "Now that's the way it should be done." I felt like I redeemed myself for that rough day so long ago.

Firebaugh (F34)
On to Firebaugh. This airport was a bit further away so we had more time to chat as we flew. It was great to have another pilot to fly with who was just as enthusiastic about flying as I am. She said she was happy to just be in the air, no matter what we were doing. She said when she was learning how to fly she did garage sales and bake sales just to raise enough money to pay for flight lessons. That's dedication! She asked what it was like to fly through Class Bravo airspace (she saw my Bay Tour video). I told her the same thing my CFI told and showed me, it really is easy. We discussed the radio work required and how to "get in" and then we were nearing Firebaugh.

We used the canals and roads to help us find that airport in the haze (with the GPS as a backup). We found it south east of the town like it should be. I did the radio calls as we approached, the winds were right down the runway again. I flew another good pattern and landing. Hmmm... this new airport stuff isn't so bad.  A quick taxi back and we were off again. I had been flying for a bit more than two hours now and was ready to be done.

Back to South County we went. We flew back to Los Banos and then turned towards Frasier Lake, using the GPS and landmarks to guide us. Once we were over the hills between the central and coastal valleys I started my descent. We got bounced a bit but my friend liked that. She said those bounces were signs to the glider pilot that thermals were available.  As we came back in to South County airspace I did another 45 entry to the pattern for 32. We could have done a straight in, but after seeing a near miss near South County recently I wanted to come in at pattern altitude and join the flow. I asked my friend to keep an extra sharp eye out for planes coming directly over the hills and diving for the airport. I've seen that happen many times too.

Another good pattern and landing. I was happy. I dropped off my friend and waved good bye.  Only one more take off and landing to do and I'd be done. I got back to Reid-Hillview in what seemed like minutes with no problems. I taxied to parking and shut down the engine. 3.1 hours on the hobbs. That trip took much longer than I thought it would. I had plenty of fuel (5 hours on board) but it gave me more appreciation for the amount of time it takes to fly a pattern, land, roll out, taxi back, take off and depart at airport after airport. Eventually I'm sure I'll start doing touch and gos but for me right now the rollout and directional control on rollout is an important part of my practice.

In the end I had a ton of fun flying and chatting with my friend, much more than I expected to. I know most people would wonder what could be fun about flying to five airports. I sure would have had a question about the sanity of someone who claimed that was fun before I started flying :). I also have much more respect for what my CFI and his brother did when they landed at 35 airports in one day. It must have been an exhausting day... I was tired after five airports!

The best thing was I was successful in my mission. The trip built my confidence quite a bit. All I have to do is what I was trained to do. Be willing to go around if it isn't right, and it works out well.  I was even happier about how the first attempted pattern at Gustine didn't bother me a bit. In my flight training I struggled mightily with the way I would get upset at the smallest mistake and it would color my whole day. Not any more.  Happy Birthday to me :) 

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

San Francisco Bay Tour

Video from my last flight of 2011. 
It was a beautiful day for a flight over the San Francisco Bay. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Winds Aloft

Text Based Winds and Temps Data from NOAA
"Winds and temps aloft" are things you learn about as you start doing cross country flight planning. I did a good job on my cross country flight planning in training and flying my plan. However, now, I don't think I really understood in my gut the full extent of what these winds do, or how I may use them.

In my recent flying experience I've gained a greater awareness of these winds beyond simply using that data to calculate ground speed and heading. I finally started to understand the other uses of those winds. I am also starting to understand how winds that you aren't expecting can cause major problems for a long flight, even if they don't cause turbulence.

An excellent case in point is the flight my husband and I did last night. I got a weather briefing that told me the winds at 6000 feet (only 500 feet over the planned cruise altitude to our destination) would be a 22 knot headwind. Not only a 22 knot headwind, but the pireps the briefer had said there was moderate turbulence all the way down to 6000 feet - and that was a big jet reporting moderate turbulence, not just a little plane like we fly. However, the winds at 3000 feet were forecast to be light and variable. On the basis of that information we decided to fly southeast at 3500 feet instead of 5500 feet.

On the flight out the winds were as forecast at 3500 feet, light and not a factor at all. On the way back we had a couple options, we could climb to 4500 feet as a legal VFR cruise altitude for a northwest route and stay in the calm air, or we could go up to 6500 feet. 6500 was also a legal altitude but that would put us into the 22 knot winds. My husband decided to go on up to 6500 feet to take advantage of the winds if he could without encountering moderate turbulence. It worked. We gained 15 MPH ground speed from the winds. A nice example of how the winds can help and how knowing what the winds are above and below your planned cruise altitude is very helpful. You can avoid winds slowing you down and use winds pushing you along sometimes just by climbing or descending 2000 feet.

On the flip side, if the headwinds are stronger than planned and you do not change your cruise altitude to other levels that better match the winds you planned (sometimes you can, sometimes you can't), you will take longer to get where you're going than you planned. While in a car its not a huge issue if it takes you 1 or 2 hours to travel those 60 miles, in a plane it can be a life or death matter. Cars measure fuel burn in MPG (miles per gallon) the distance you travel is the largest factor in determining if you will get where you're going on the fuel you have. You will burn a bit more fuel for the same distance if you are sitting in traffic, but most of the time the difference is not significant. In planes the situation is different.

In a plane your fuel burn is measured in GPH (gallons per hour). You know approximately how many gallons your plane will burn per hour of cruise flight. You know how much fuel you're carrying and you know how long your flight should take. You are even required to carry reserve fuel (30 minutes for day, 45 minutes for night). However, if you take off with just enough fuel to get where you're going plus a 30 minute reserve AND you run into a stronger than expected headwind for an extended portion of your flight, you could easily run out of fuel. This is considered a very Bad Thing in aviation. That mistake doesn't strand you on the side of the road thumbing for a ride. That mistake results in a forced landing at best and a crumpled airplane and loss of life or limb at worst.

Some obvious things come into mind to prevent this situation... for one thing, carry a lot more than 30 minutes of extra fuel. Many pilots always plan to land with an hour of extra fuel. Another thing is to carefully observe the winds as you fly. Determine if they seem to be stronger or lighter than forecast for each major section of your flight. If they are stronger than forecast/planned, land and get extra fuel before you run out of fuel and options. Or find a different altitude with more favorable winds, a tail wind or a lighter headwind.

For myself, I understood all of the above intellectually a long time ago. Now, however, I am starting to understand this in my gut. This understanding is changing how I think about cross country flight planning and the sort of information I want to have available and consider not only before I take off but en route. This is good. It will help me be a better, more efficient and safer pilot.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Sunset on Wing

Pictures taken from 6500 feet in the Bonanza, on the way home from Paso Robles. I love sunsets from the air. 
Happy New Year!