Saturday, March 3, 2012

Just Point the Plane at Mt. Diablo

A nice day for a flight

I took my hubby for a flight to Auburn today (KAUN) for a late lunch. The weather in Northern California was perfect for flying, crystal clear skies, light winds, warm but not too warm. Just like what you'd expect in spring, not what you'd expect for the beginning of March but I'll take it :)

We flew 5093K, the 172N I flew during most of my flight training. I wanted to fly a 172SP but that plane was reserved before I thought of it. So 93K it was. I started my Instrument Training in a simulator this week, so I wanted to practice my instrument scan and using the VOR instead of GPS. My husband acted as safety pilot and kept his eyes outside the plane as I kept my eyes inside the plane on the instruments. I found my CFI was right, as usual, it is much easier to fly a plane than the simulator we use. After a while we were getting hungry and decided to head direct to Auburn via GPS. The Sierras were topped by snow for what seemed like the first time in a very long time.

We landed at Auburn and arrived at our real destination, The Wings Cafe & Espresso Bar. As we walked to the door we saw a CLOSED sign, but the patio was full of people eating their lunches. We went in and asked if they could seat us as we just flew in. They took pity on us and seated us. The wait staff were extremely friendly in spite of the time. There was a strong smell of bacon in the air so I asked for a side of bacon with my sandwich. The portions of food were very large and very yummy. We sat together and went over "the numbers" around buying a share in an airplane and watched planes in the pattern at the airport. There was a yellow C152 that was practicing PPL PTS maneuvers, short field take off, soft field take off and the like. Reminded me of my endless hours in the pattern. I'm so glad I'm able to go places now.

Pure Pilotage

Auburn is situated in the foothills of the Sierras. Reid-Hillview is situated South East of the San Francisco Bay. Between Auburn and Reid-Hillview is the central valley and an obvious peak, Mt. Diablo. This mountain can usually be depended upon to poke up above any haze in the central valley. From Mt. Diablo it is easy to identify Calaveras Reservoir and from there, pop into the Bay Area and spot Reid-Hillview. Normally, when flying with GPS, VOR and all of the other navigation equipment, these facts of geography are not necessarily top of mind. They quickly became top of mind on the way home from Auburn on this flight.

We finished our lunch and started up 93K, did the run-up and took off. Everything seemed normal. However, shortly after take off my husband said, "There's something I don't like." He pointed at the ammeter. The low voltage light was flashing every time the plane's beacon lit up. I had dealt with this particular issue before, I kept flying the plane and reset the alternator. The low voltage light went off for 30 seconds or so, then came back on. Well, I'd dealt with that before too. I reset the alternator again, and again, and again. The last time this happened it took 7 resets to resolve the issue. I had discussed the issue with the club owner and he said they'd look at it. This time, I lost count of the number of resets but let's just say, the resets didn't work. We checked the plane's POH but it didn't have anything additional to offer to resolve the issue.

Time to shut down non-essential electronics. We shut down the GPS and kept COM2 and NAV2 on, using a VOR to track towards Sacramento. I had trouble tracking to the VOR and my husband kept trying to help. I started tracking to it but got frustrated with the constant adjustments. Finally I just looked out the window and said, "Any reason we shouldn't just head straight to Mt. Diablo?" There it was, sticking out over the slight haze. We both felt a bit stupid at that point. Why track from VOR to VOR when we could just go "direct" towards Mt. Diablo? We shut down the COM2/NAV2 radio at that point and cruised towards Mt. Diablo at full rental power. Jeff double checked the airspace between us and our destination and ensured we'd not violate any airspace. I was careful to maintain the appropriate VFR altitude and kept my eyes scanning for traffic.

It was fun to fly purely by pilotage... we didn't need to use the compass or VOR or GPS to get there, just point the plane at Mt. Diablo and go. Then the low range between the bay and the central valley came into view we were able to discern the dip in the hills held Calaveras Reservoir. At that point I adjusted our course direct to Calaveras. We were very close to home. When we got over Calaveras the low voltage light came on and stayed on.

When we were over Calaveras I turned COM2 back on and called Reid-Hillview Tower for landing. After receiving clearance for 31R I informed the tower our alternator wasn't working so we could go NORDO before we landed. Jeff asked for the light gun codes from my knee board so we'd know what the light gun meant if we lost communications completely. The tower called me a couple minutes later and asked what the status of the alternator was again. My mind drew a blank, I radioed back and said "the alternator isn't ... ummm... alternating... ummmm. Its INOP." "Roger" the tower said.

We were cleared for landing shortly and repeated back the clearance. Abeam the numbers I put in the flaps and was happy to see them still working. I flew a slightly lower than normal approach with power so I would be able to easily "get down" if I had to, even if the flaps stopped working. Thinking now, I should have stayed on a normal higher approach, I could slip if I had to. The flaps worked fine all the way down but I was distracted by wondering if the flaps would keep working. It wasn't my smoothest landing, but we were down and safe. We taxied back to the club and shut down the plane. Another minor adventure over... Jeff and I handled it well as a team. 

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