May 22, 2015

Get The Bloody Job Done

"Huey" EMU 309 UH-1H at Hayward Airport Open Day

Hayward Airport (KHWD) Open Day, again — another wonderful couple of hours of strolling and exploring odd and interesting airplanes and helicopters at my home airport in the company of my two little nephews Simon and Alex (five and seven years old respectively). This isn't really an airshow (although on nice days there's a bit of flying, which has to be tempered by the fact that Hayward's right under the ILS for Oakland's runway 30, some six nautical miles to the west) — it's much more of (as it says) an open day, where locals, pilots, aviation associations, clubs, businesses, etc., get to see each other and interact.

We get there fairly early — just after the 10am opening — and spend the next ninety minutes exploring the insides and cockpit of the Moffet-based California Air National Guard C130 parked there (the insides are layered and packed with an astonishing array of 1960's and 1970's-era gear and wiring; the cockpit's a classic steam gauge ensemble (see below)); sitting in and exploring the Huey Vets EMU Huey (above — this has special resonance for me given both the RAN connection and the fact that Hueys (we called them "Iroquois") were such a visible (and very audible) part of my childhood in Australia); watching the Hayward Police Department showing off its little robot (the star of the show for the seven-year-old); the classic cars; the gleamingly-polished and nicely done up old four-engined JetStar business jet that I mentioned in a previous posting; watching the old EAA Ford Trimotor start up, taxi past, and depart; visiting the California Airways booth; and just generally strolling around looking at all the various small planes parked on the tarmac.

One of the things I like most about the Open Day is that it's so obviously full of locals. It's a diverse crowd in every way, and seeing all the local kids clambering over the C-130 or Huey or asking questions about the HPD's little robot or lining up for a short free flight in a small GA plane gives me some sort of hope for the world.

Highly recommended if you get the chance to go next time!

Alex at the controls of the California ANG C-130

EAA Ford Trimotor Taxiing Past

April 18, 2015

Just Another Bay Tour

Bay Tours are never routine for me — they're always full of wonderful sights, they're fun flying (if sometimes a little stressful with all that dodging other sightseeing planes and keeping out of the Class B airspace just above us), and the person or people I'm with usually enjoy it immensely. And so it is today, with my friend RS, who's never flown in a light plane before but is game to try it.

We depart Hayward (KHWD) in perfect cloudless VFR in one of the club's DA-40s, and she seems surprised by how much she enjoys it. She loves the steep(ish) turns, and keeps talking later about how pleasantly-surreal it all felt. She has trouble with the stick when I hand over control to her — she gives up after less than two minutes because she says she has no mental model of how it should work — but doesn’t seem fazed by that. We try to do the classic East Bay-based Bay Tour, but the Golden Gate is completely covered in incoming stratus, and after a few turns around Alcatraz and Angel Island we head off towards Napa (KAPC), where we land and wander across the apron into the terminal, hanging around for a few minutes watching the 1% go by in their shiny corporate jets (actually, pretty much nothing moved on the ramp the entire time we were there).

We get back in and head over towards Livermore (KLVK), doing a fly-by of Crockett (she has connections there), and doing a bunch of touch-and-goes at Livermore (because I can…) before returning via a detour over the Altamont windfarm and back over the hills to Hayward.

She's converted. She asks a lot of good questions about flying procedures (why did you fly at that specific altitude? How do you approach an airport? What happens when the control tower is closed? What are the pedals for if you turn using the stick? etc.) but definitely isn’t interested in being a pilot herself.

Just another Bay Tour? I don't think it's ever just another Bay Tour....

March 29, 2015

"I Didn't Know It Would Be THIS AWESOME!!"

My little five-year-old nephew Simon looks at me from the back seat of one of the club's DA-40s and says loudly into his headset mic "WOW!! I didn't know it would be THIS AWESOME!!" (he speaks A LOT in UPPER CASE). We're 2,500' over the Golden Gate, circling the bridge, in smooth perfect VMC, and besides Simon there's also Alex (seven), and their mother Annette in the plane. Alex and Annette and I have flown a couple of times before — the last time being just over a year ago — but this is the first time for Simon, and I was worried he wouldn't like it (he's been a lot more apprehensive than Alex about doing things like this — Alex has always just plowed straight in…).

As with Alex's first time, I needn't have worried — Simon's an enthusiastic passenger and spends much of the time pointing out things on the ground, taking photos with Annette's iPhone, and asking me to circle anything interesting (like ships or little islands). Alex is similarly enthusiastic, and given that they're both pretty voluble, I discover just how useful the Garmin panel's pilot isolation switch can be — there's just no way you can easily stop two brothers, five and seven, from arguing or talking loudly about what they're seeing, etc., regardless of what you tell them before you fly. I always find their chatter amusing, but when you're trying to talk to NorCal Approach on flight following as you maneuver around and over the Golden Gate and the rest of the Bay, isolation really comes in handy. I've never actually used that feature before, I think.

* * *

We start a little earlier on the ground at Hayward (KHWD), with both kids really liking the "bubble" canopy (they just call it the bubble) and the general shape of the DA-40; we watch a couple of smaller helicopters taking off, and a rather large one landing, and both kids ask if we could do that. Sadly, no, but we do get to taxi slowly past several interesting planes — an old Stinson (I think), painted in black and white zebra stripes, really took their interest, as did the ancient four-engined JetStar business jet that's been sitting on the tarmac for ages now, looking gleamingly-Modern in an ancient sort of way (think James Bond and "Goldfinger"). Simon asks "what's a business jet?", and I get into a long disquisition about business people and travel and stuff, then realize he doesn't really know what a "business" is. Oh well — Annette takes over the explaining as I do the runup.

After the runup, we take off on 28L for the Oakland transition up over Interstate-880, with views of their home in Alameda off to our left (and my place somewhere below us). The view's wonderful, the air smooth, and the kids are entertained and enjoying things a lot as we head off towards the Golden Gate. They chatter on about the voices on what they call "Mission Control" (they're great NASA and space travel fans); I was worried that the standard headsets I borrowed from CalAir would be too big or uncomfortable, but both kids love wearing the headsets and talking into the microphones, and not for the first time I'm glad there's no push-to-talk in the back of the plane.

It's a busy day, and there are a whole lot of other planes around us, both over the Golden Gate and further afield, and both on-frequency and not. NorCal calls a never-ending stream of traffic for us as I look out as paranoidly as I can; at one stage one of the old local sightseeing seaplanes (a Beaver, I suspect) goes well below us over the Bridge and then up towards Sausalito. Both kids excitedly swear it went under the bridge, but that ain't true (I was watching it like a hawk). After a few times around the Bridge and a pass over Alcatraz and Angel Island, we head off towards San Pablo Bay, where we do the inevitable little roller-coaster(ish) push-over / pull-up that Alex liked so much the last time; this time they both love it and keep asking for more, but Annette's turning green and I decide to head back via the Diablo Valley, where the kids spot all sorts of things on the ground.

Coming back over the hills towards Hayward (with the inevitable "report Cal State Hayward" causing me to do my usual internal eye-rolling) we have some sort of mild audio issues, but I suspect that the combination of four headsets and kids and stuff may explain a lot of that, and the problem clears up after Hayward Tower pings me several times about the quality our transmissions. Oh well — no flight's ever perfect, I guess. But this one was pretty damn good, and the kids tell me they're going to tell their respective classes at school all about it tomorrow. And maybe in another year's time we'll do it again, if not sooner.

And, finally, here's the obligatory formation flying photo my regular readers will probably expect: :-)

March 23, 2015

Recalculating... At The Next Cloud, Turn Left

I recently mentioned to a techie work colleague that the planes I fly typically have GPS. He was quite surprised that airplanes used GPS, and stood there and said in a very authentic GPS voice "recalculating… at the next cloud, turn left!", which amused us both, probably for rather different reasons... (he may well end up flying with me sometime soon).

All of which is to distract you from the fact that I didn't fly for nearly three months after injuring my shoulder (not too badly, but irritatingly) in a bicycle accident (like John, I ride a bike pretty much daily to get to and from work; unlike him, I do it all at a relatively leisurely pace, and I don't ride nearly as far…), and when I did get back in the saddle (with John in the right seat ensuring I didn't fly too badly), I ended up being unable to blog it in detail because I got sent elsewhere in the United States for work (as I often am) and promptly forgot to blog it.

So what do I remember of the flight? It was supposed to be both a club refresher and a preparation for a potential instrument proficiency check some time in the ever-receding future, but due to some mild instrument issues it turned into a shorter club VFR refresher only. Still an enjoyable flight — in Arpad M's nice new-to-the-club DA-40 (above) — and at least I'm now legal to fly with the club again. I plan to fly a bit more in the next few weeks; we shall see….

December 15, 2014

Boring Airport Photos

As all three of my regular readers probably already know, I spend a lot of time traveling on commercial airlines for work (I'm one of those techies who's actually trusted to go to my company's client sites and talk directly to these clients without a chaperone; I'm even trusted with a knife and fork in front of clients!).

So I spend a lot of time in airports… taking boring airport photos with my iPhone while waiting in (say) Burbank for a flight back to Oakland, or while stuck for six hours in the bursting-at-the-seams Southwest gate area at La Guardia for a long-delayed flight to Chicago Midway, or while waiting in Minneapolis airport for tornadoes to subside before flying to Phoenix (I'm sure that all sounds so glamourous).

All of which is to excuse the fact that I haven't been flying much lately (and won't be flying much for some time) except in the back of Airbuses and 737's, and to introduce to a wider world my Boring Airport Photos gallery. Yes, there is such a thing: see the writeup for an explanation if you want the usual wordy exegesis, otherwise go straight to the gallery….

Just another (confused, visual) look at the realities of flying for me, I guess.

November 29, 2014

Twin Star

This was supposed to have been another of my tediously-long and wordy postings, this time about my introductory flight with John in the Diamond DA-42 Twin Star out of Hayward (KHWD) a couple of weeks ago, but life got in the way, and this is all you'll get. Sorry.

Summary? A really addictively enjoyable — and scarily expensive — hour and half of airwork, engine out exercises, landings at Rio Vista (O88) and Hayward, and a lot of fun just flying around doing 140 KTAS at 11GPH (total!). I don't end up killing anyone or damaging anything, the DA-42 is a joy to fly, and John doesn't swear off instructing as a result of anything I did (well, at least as far as he's told me).

Is there serious multi-engine training in my future? I don't know — I can barely afford single-engined planes — but I've been eyeing a multi add-on for a decade. We shall see, as I always seem to be saying….

You're not supposed to laugh when the critical engine stops…

November 02, 2014

Blimey, It's Circular!

A few hundred feet above Hayward (KHWD), immediately after departing VFR for Concord (KCCR) on an IFR (re)training flight, I look at the panel in front of me to check my altitude. We're in a Class D airspace (KHWD) under a Class C airspace (KOAK) which is itself under a Class B airspace (KSFO), and I need to keep below 1,500' for the next few miles to avoid blundering into the overlying airspaces. Par for the course, of course, if you fly out of Hayward, but when I look at the altimeter it looks so… weird. I point at it and blurt out something like "Blimey! It's circular!" to John who's in the right seat. John laughs.

This is your brain on steam, I guess. All those circular electro-mechanical steam gauges in front of me — I remember them! — and it's even got an ADF! Mesmerizing, in its own sort of way. Quite a shock to this jaded G1000-spoiled techie, but what did I expect?!  I'm in one of the club's C172's instead of the usual DA-40, and this is obviously going to be an exercise in old-school IFR flying. Flying the way it was when I got my instrument rating a decade ago. Some pilots get nostalgic for this sort of thing, but not me — I'm just a bit bemused and rather apprehensive. It's not just the old steam gauges — can I also cope with being under the hood again after all this time? Can I keep on top of the process and ahead of things on an approach?

* * *

This wasn't really supposed to be about steam gauges or Cessna 172's — it was just supposed to be a way back into IFR flying for me. Which is why I'm flying with John today — to start the long process of getting IFR current and proficient again after a two+ year break from instrument flying. But the DA-40 and John weren't available at the same time for a while, and I thought it might actually be fun to fly the old 172 — and remember or relearn how to program the KLN 94 GPS or use an old-style heading indicator (HI) or an ADF. So I arranged things for today, and — as usual — set myself some easy targets. If I can get through the flight without upsetting the plane or making too many egregious mistakes, I'll feel confident enough to start working on the formal instrument proficiency check (IPC) that I need to get IFR current again.

This is actually the first non-G1000 (i.e. non-glass) panel I've flown PIC in (I think) more than seven years. It's also the first time I've flown a C172 in more than two years, and the first attempt at IFR since around that time as well. At least I have Foreflight on my iPad with me as a safety blanket. And the panel's not quite as bare as the one I started with all those billions of years ago, even if it does still look a little, uh, Twentieth Century.

* * *

Right from the start, this flight's just one damn thing after another, in so many unexpected ways. I'm not talking about the actual flying (more of which later), but about the broken nav light I find on pre-flight (meaning we have to be back earlier than I'd like), or the paper oil funnel that I lose in the cowl necessitating some deft work by John to retrieve it, or the way my headset starts a high-pitched screeching oscillation as we taxi to the runway (meaning I have to dig out a rarely-used second pair from my flight bag), or the total pilot-side audio system failure at the start of the LDA RWY 19R approach into Concord (basically meaning John has to handle the radios from that point on as I get plugged into the rear passenger intercom without PTT), or the ADF that doesn't actually work properly, or the … well, I'll stop there, because I'm making it sound like some sort of trial or annoying chore. It wasn't — this was actually a really enjoyable flight, and although I'll probably never fly this particular aircraft IFR (except maybe to get through a thin benign summer stratus layer back into Hayward or something), it's definitely fun to sit in the left seat of a 172 again and play old-time Real IFR pilot.

Predictably, my instruments skills are rusty, my instrument flying rough. The first time around the practice LDA 19R into Concord (with full pilot nav) is an endless procession of missed cues and my looking blankly at the KLN 94 GPS wondering how the hell I should set it up for the procedure turn or the next leg, etc. And I'm not even under the Cone Of Stupidity for this first time around — and I'm using the autopilot, for at least some of the way (before I ditch it and hand-fly for the rest of the flight — much more satisfying).

And when I do go under the hood, while my actual flying isn't terrible, it's hardly going to impress anyone. What does make me feel good, though, is just how quickly I internalize what the tiny attitude indicator (AI) and other instruments are telling me when I'm under the hood — I think that was my biggest worry, steam gauges or not, but it turns out it's not much of a problem at all. I feel gratifyingly comfortable mentally integrating all the needles, planes, and numbers the entire flight in ways that are simultaneously quite different from my way of working with the G1000 in detail but fundamentally the same with the big (mental) picture. Probably the thing that most flummoxes me during the flight is the inscrutable interface on the KLN 94 (an interface I once actually knew really well); I basically have to get John to prompt me every time I reprogram it or set it up for another approach. I have a few blank moments with the simple OBS as well — mostly, though, to do with how it relates to the KLN 94 rather than what it's telling me or how it works in general. So I start feeling good about things, despite the roughness and puzzled moments.

I manage to blot my copybook, though, with one monumental blunder — on the start of the circle-to-32R maneuver at 700' I confuse Concord's runway 01L with the intended landing runway 32R, which is something I haven't done since my student days, I think. I'd probably have caught it fairly quickly and not caused some sort of international incident (I always check with the HI), but it was still a sobering thing to do. Thank god John caught the error early on and I could get away with a normal landing on the correct runway as though I knew what I was really doing. The landing (a touch and go) itself was also pretty rough — all that time away from the 172 is definitely showing.

The second time around the LDA 19R approach — this time entirely under the hood and hand-flown — is smoother and better-executed, but still not precise or particularly inspiring; John still has to quietly prompt me here and there. And I'm definitely helped by having John have to do the radios for me; I'd probably be flying a lot worse without that help. And I've intermittently got the old death grip again on the yoke, something I thought I'd been cured of years ago. But as I tell John, at least I haven't killed anyone (yet), and it's definitely turning into a really enjoyable flight.

We go missed again at Concord and head south for the ILS 28R into Oakland (KOAK), an approach I think I've said a million times that I could probably do in my sleep. But I'm actually wide awake right now, and I wonder how this one's going to turn out — it's one thing to be able to remember all the fixes and waypoints off the top of your head (and I can), it's another to be able to dredge up the muscle memories that let you make those small smooth adjustments on the way down the glideslope to keep you falling off the localiser. We shall see.

As we're heading towards the ILS with NorCal Approach, John makes gentle fun of my accent and then admits he can't do an Australian accent to save himself. I taunt him with the observation that my first instructor Dave Montoya (RIP) could do a wicked good imitation of my accent, especially on-air, and that in any case, I don't really have an Australian accent any more — it's actually always been some sort of weird Anglo-Australian, and really never was truly Australian (I have three nationalities, and was born in in a country that really doesn't exist any more). John tries a few phrases, but he'll need a lot of coaching before he'll pass as an Aussie; I suspect it's easier for me to get IFR current and proficient again than John learning my accent. I'll do the funny accents on this flight if he'll do the radios, I guess.

The ILS goes surprisingly well — John gets me to fly the AI so that the top of the AI plane's wings are just touching the bottom of the horizon bars, which works wonderfully — and I nail the approach, looking up at about 500' feeling pretty good at seeing the runway dead ahead. Woohoo!

We go missed (well, you don't really go missed at Oakland, you just terminate the approach) and depart for Hayward, where I (finally!) land smoothly and gracefully. Mission accomplished, I think.

* * *

So how serious am I about getting IFR-current and proficient again? Fairly serious, is probably the best answer — I definitely miss the challenges and fun of doing approaches, and the ability to get back in when the nearly omnipresent stratus layer comes in over Hayward or Oakland in the non-winter, but the cost of staying current can still be prohibitive. I'll probably book another instrument flight with John fairly soon, this time in the DA-40 (or some sort of G1000-equipped airplane), and if that also goes well, I'll try a full instrument proficiency check with him after that.

We shall see, as I always say.

October 28, 2014

Night Flight

I carefully clear the airspace and start a steep(ish) 360 in the night sky somewhere west of Concord (KCCR) at 4,500', and one quadrant of the cockpit canopy fills with the lights on the ground. It's a great sight, and around we go. After rolling out on the 360 mark I hand JT the controls again, and tell her to try it herself this time. And so she does — she steers us around in her own 360, much shallower than mine, but pretty damn good for someone who's never been in a small GA plane before. She's already spent the past ten minutes flying us here from a few miles out of Livermore (KLVK) under my supervision, and she's kept us right-side-up and pretty much within a hundred feet of the target altitude all that time. I'm impressed; and she seems to be enjoying it a lot. As always with newcomers to small-plane GA flying, I'm really most relieved that she's not screaming "we're all going to die!!" or something while curled up on the floor. No one's ever done that yet, but that possibility is something I always keep in mind when I size someone up before taking them flying. I guess we've both passed this test.

* * *

JT's yet another acquaintance of mine willing to brave a flight with me, and here she is, climbing into the club's DA-40 with me on a cool October evening for a night VFR flight to Livermore for a bit of landing practice (my landings, that is, not JT's...) and then up to San Pablo Bay and back down the line of the hills to Hayward. I'd originally planned this flight for yesterday evening, and on my own, but someone (I know who you are!! :-)) forgot to leave the DA-40's keys and paperwork in the after-hours dropbox and I couldn't fly. And then on a moment's notice it turns out that JT would like to come along, and since these sorts of flights are always much more enjoyable with someone who actually likes flying coming along with you, I jumped at the chance, and rebooked for this evening. And so here we are….

After the impromptu 360's we fly on up and out over a dark-looking San Pablo Bay and back down over Richmond, Berkeley, and Oakland to Hayward (KHWD), where we land in that video game way I love with night flying. It's a beautiful clear night, and the traffic is minimal, and (once again) it's a reminder of why I keep flying.

October 13, 2014

Just Another Airport Sunrise...

7am, Hayward Executive Airport (KHWD). I currently work a lot on New York time, so I'm used to being at work this early, but it's still a slightly weird experience looking forward to a flight in the club's DA-40 as a passenger — I've never been in the right seat of a DA-40 before. I watch the sunlight hit the only clouds in the sky and the news guys warming up the helicopters just down the line. A wonderful sight; and the weather's perfect for what we're about to do.

I'm waiting for Arpad M., another club member, who's going to pilot us up to Obsidian Ridge (near Clear Lake and Lampson Field, 1O2) and then back via Napa to do some aerial photography of the two vineyards he co-owns. I'm not too sure we'll get any useful images, for several reasons: firstly, most of my aerial photography experience has either been air-to-air or has been done with a full window removed on a 172, and the DA-40's tiny opening side windows probably won't cut it (they're more like small vents than windows); and, secondly, it's probably a little too late in the year, and the sun will be too low and in the wrong place. But it's worth a try if Arpad's up for it, and it surely can't hurt. I've brought along my two main DSLRs — a Nikon D800 and my old D300, with a bunch of assorted lenses.

Arpad arrives and pre-flights the plane. We discuss the goals and the problems a bit, and end up with an informal plan that amounts to, well, "let's see what works..." once we're over the vineyards. Which works for me, but I'm a pessimist at heart.

Once in the air heading north(ish) over the East Bay it becomes obvious my original plan of sticking the lens a little way out the window on my side and using the cameras' live view screens to frame and focus (etc.) just isn't going to work. And neither is just looking directly through the viewfinders — in both cases the angles are too difficult (I'm not a contortionist) and the live screen view is too small and washed out by the light in the cockpit. I should have known — and I even have a separate much larger properly-shaded screen I use for live viewing of video work with the D800 that I could have hooked up and used. Oh well, next time.

In the meantime, we fly on up through the clear early morning air towards Obsidian Ridge; Arpad's a good pilot, better on the details than I am, and it's enjoyable just being able to look out without worrying too much about altitude or airspeed. I have to admit I didn't know where Obsidian Ridge actually is until now, and even flying up there I still had only a hazy idea of the lay of the land around it — this isn't a familiar part of the world for me, unlike the coast to the west or the Central Valley to the east, both of which I know well from the ground and the air. I do know where Clear Lake and Mt Konocti are, though, which is better than nothing — Obsidian Ridge is near enough to the latter that I could find it if I had to. It's beautiful, rugged country up there, and there's a bunch of new age and hippy settlements down in the forests along with the vineyards and small farms dotted around the area.

Once we get to Obsidian Ridge, I start taking photos in earnest. We fly around the vineyard — clearly visible on the slopes beneath us, surrounded by forest and one or two other settlements —a bunch of times and I quickly get the lay of the land and start taking photos. Unfortunately, as predicted, the sun's a little too low and southerly now, and although the air's pretty clear, having to shoot through the canopy degrades the image a lot, both with internal reflections and with the poor visual quality of the plastic. I try a few randomly-aimed shots out the side vents but they don't work too well either. Oh well, once again. We circle around several times looking for different angles, etc., and I get a lot of shots, but I'm pessimistic whether any of them will turn out well. But I can see what Arpad's aiming for — the vineyard surrounded by forests with the quiet drama of the Mayacamas mountains as a backdrop.

After I get maybe a hundred shots of wildly-differing quality and viewpoint, we head on back south(ish) towards Napa. Our next photo point is Poseidon vineyards, Napa Carneros, and I recognize it fairly easily from the air from some distance out. It's down near the bridge across the river, in Napa Airport's airspace, and as we approach Arpad calls up Napa (KAPC) and advises them we'll be circling here doing photography for a while.

And so we do — but I still have the same problems with aiming the cameras and the glare from the cockpit canopy, and after another hundred or so shots, I have to basically admit defeat. There's probably a couple of good(ish) shots, but I'm really not pleased by the way they're turning out in general.

We head off back towards Hayward after a while, and land at about 9am. It's been an enjoyable flight
— some wonderful landscapes and sights — but I can't get over how irritated I am by the likely poor results. Next time I'll try the external monitor for (at least) framing and let the camera do its own focusing and exposure.

A lot of lessons learned, but expensively (sorry Arpad!). But hell, it was an enjoyable ninety minutes or so of flying, even if I was in the right seat.

September 17, 2014


It's a beautiful warm cloudless California day. I do what I think is a nice smooth landing on San Luis Obispo's runway 29 in the DA-40, slow down, and turn towards the taxiway. Tower tells me to contact Ground on 121.6, and as I switch frequencies there's an ear-splitting ELT (emergency locator transmitter) going off on frequency. I very quickly suspect it's me, even though I landed without a bump, and they're only supposed to go off automatically like that after a severe accident.

I'm rattled enough by this — and by trying to debug it on-the-fly — that I stop before the hold short line while exiting the runway, and try to contact ground over the noise. Ground responds, then admonishes me severely for not pulling over the hold-short line (it takes two tries for me to hear Ground properly over the noise). And he tells me my ELT is going off. Guilty as charged on all counts, I think, but my brain's lost forty points of IQ because of the noise and the sudden stress of the ELT going off, and I just forgot. I taxi to the transient parking in front of the Jet Center, and a guy comes out and marshals me in. I shut down the engine and avionics, and realise I don't know how to turn this particular ELT off. It doesn't take long to find the reset switch, but it's mortifying a) to have the ELT go off; and, b) to not be able to turn it off for several minutes.

Even worse was the knowledge that I did not handle the whole thing well at all. I should have just ignored the ELT until I was parked (it's not like it's a long taxi at that point); and I should have immediately reset the bloody thing instead of wondering where the hell the reset actually was. Instead of looking for the panel, I tried to find it in the manual. Not the sharpest tool in the toolshed, am I? Amazingly, perhaps, this is the first time I've ever been in an aircraft when the ELT's gone off.

Still, as far as I know, no people or cute furry animals were harmed in this episode, and I survived to depart KSBP a few hours later… only to have the bloody thing go off again at least twice in mid-air. But that's for later.

* * *
I've planned a trip to San Luis Obispo for several months, mostly to visit John at his new place down there, but also just as a good excuse for lunch and a day's getaway from Oakland. Life kept getting in the way, of course (work especially — I travel a lot for work, often with only a few days' notice, and planning more than a few days ahead can be a frustrating experience). But here I am with a day off and several weeks without being sent to New York or Minneapolis or Los Angeles or wherever, so it's off to San Luis for the Billion Dollar Hamburger (or so it sometimes seems with the cost of flying).

I arrive at the California Airways office around 9am, hoping the eternal summer stratus layer will burn off early. But it's officially OVC 1,400 (overcast at 1400 feet), and forecast to stay that way until at least 10am, so I can't depart VFR for a while. Not for the first time in the last year or two I rue the fact that I'm no longer IFR current; this is exactly one of the sort of situations I got the instrument rating for in the first place. Oh well, maybe one day I'll get around to doing the full proficiency check; maybe not. We shall see. In the meantime I wander off to the local Starbucks (not my kind of place, but hey...).

But there's also a more interesting weather issue on the horizon: an unusual Pacific storm system coming down the coast promising light rain and maybe even thunderstorms later today. Rain at this time of the year around here is unusual, to put it mildly; plus we're in a prolonged drought. So it feels ironic that the only day I'm likely to be flying for a while may end up being pre-empted by the sort of unusual weather we desperately need. At the very least I'm going to have to come back earlier than I'd like, to get in before the storm.

In any case it starts clearing by 10am, and I depart Hayward (KHWD) at 10.45, destination San Luis Obispo (KSBP), my tentative VFR route KHWD, VPEMB (the Embassy Suites, a local landmark and VFR reporting point), KRHV, E16, KSNS, KKIC, BRALY, KPRB, KSBP. Not necessarily the shortest or most direct route, but it keeps me out of a restricted area, keeps me away from some sharp terrain that often generates unpleasant turbulence, and keeps me close to a bunch of airports in case of trouble. This is a route I've done with minor variations a bunch of times in the last fifteen years.

Hayward Tower hands me off to NorCal on the downwind, and I quickly get cleared into the Class B at 5,500', my cruise altitude all the way to San Luis. I climb in the face of a steady stream of 737s and bizjets arriving for Oakland and Hayward, and get vectored several times for traffic — just the usual for this sort of departure. At 5,500' I level off and notice that the forecast 30 knot headwind for much of my journey is real — it wasn't an exaggeration or a pessimistic prediction. So for the next forty minutes or so — until well clear of King City — I have a TAS of something like 130 knots giving me a ground speed of about 100 knots. I'm not dumb enough to believe this will work for me coming the other way, and, sure enough, hours later on the return trip I have little more than a 5 knot tailwind for most of the trip back. The rest of the trip down is pleasant and uneventful until the ELT Incident; the landscape below me is typically Californian, rugged, mostly parched, and very familiar to me both from the air and from the ground.

After landing, parking, and resetting the ELT, I meet John at the Jet Center, and we go off to lunch. We go to Taste on Broad, a nice grownup-Hip sort of place with excellent food (I ordered the three sliders special which nicely did the trick), and friendly staff. John and I talk about instructing, flying, work, etc., down here, and SLO life in general (it's different from life in Berkeley or Oakland, that's for sure). He's covered most of the printable things in his blogs so I won't repeat them here, but it's an animated and very pleasant conversation. It's good to see John again.

After lunch we drive the short distance to John's place and down some strong home-made espresso over more enjoyable talk and gossip, but then I have to leave so I don't get caught in the promised storm. On the San Luis ramp in front of the Jet Center there's a rather odd-looking white-and-orange Navy Cessna 337 with only a rear engine, and instead of the forward engine, a long, thin, extended nose probably full of weirdo surveillance gear. Two crew-cut guys in business casual are walking towards it when I'm passing it, so I think twice about taking its photo. A few minutes later it's climbing out of San Luis just behind me.

I depart with flight following back to Hayward; the route back is basically just the route down to KSBP, reversed. Not much to report about the flight back except (as noted above) the strong headwind coming down turned into a pathetic tailwind going back, there seemed to be a lot more turbulence this time (too much for the autopilot), and the ELT goes off twice in quick succession somewhere abeam Salinas, in smooth, calm air. This time I'm prepared for it and immediately reset the ELT as soon as I hear it, but still, it's worrying.

The only other thing I took much notice of was that I had a weird hand-off between NorCal Approach sectors somewhere around Fremont. I usually check in on hand-offs with something like "NorCal Approach, Diamond Star N392MA, level at 5,500" or similar, and the controller typically just responds with an altimeter setting for a nearby city, and that's that. This time the controller responds to my checkin call with a gruff set of questions about where I'm going, whether I'm VFR or IFR, etc. All this despite having been on flight following continuously since arranging it with KSBP tower, and having one of the previous NorCal controllers asking me unprompted whether I wanted the Moffet / Dumbarton route back to Hayward (I'd replied with something like I'll take Reid-Hillview and up the hills, which satisfied him). I give my details to the new controller, who ends the exchange with  something along the line of "Next time, it'd help if you tell me where you're going, whether you're VFR, your altitude, etc.". OK, if you say so…. A dropped hand-off? I don't know, but only a mild irritation in any case.

Closer to Hayward I can see some interesting-looking clouds over the North Bay as the system rolls south towards us — the layered lenticulars in particular look kinda threatening and out-of-place in this most benign of all weather worlds. I'm sort of glad I got back early, but I'm betting the storm will be pretty dismal, rain-wise [later: yes, a little bit of warm drizzle only].

I park the plane back on the Green Ramp, then go back to California Airways to squawk the ELT problem. Not a bad day's flying, really.

August 26, 2014

Around and Around

Some sort of relaxation with an impromptu 1 hour flight in the California Airways DA-40 from Hayward (KHWD) to Livermore (KLVK) and back for touch and goes, and a side excursion over Brushy Peak and the windfarm, all on my own. There’s really nothing relaxed about getting to Livermore from Hayward — dodging the Oakland Class C and the SF Class B airspaces, trying to miss the hills, keeping a paranoid eye out for conflicting traffic coming in to Hayward and Oakland and the Peninsula across the hills, and trying to contact Livermore tower early enough for comfort — but I always enjoy it, and the touch and goes are hypnotically fun. I get better (more precise with things like MP and airspeed) with each landing, which is gratifying. I’d do this more often if it weren’t so bloody expensive….

July 06, 2014

Mercy Hot Springs

At 5,500' over Interstate 5 in the Central Valley, the outside air temperature (OAT) is reading 25C. That means it's hot down there (especially for Bay Area coastal types like me for whom a summer temperature above 20C is unexpectedly warm). The hills to our right as we fly south in the CalAir DA-40 are covered with that beautiful shimmering golden-brown that envelopes California in the dry season; the sky's California Blue, with a few high cirrus here and there. Mesmerizing.

J.'s sitting in the right seat, looking out at California passing below us. Suddenly she says "Mercy Hot Springs is around here somewhere, isn't it?!" It is —in fact it's maybe thirty nautical miles away if we head slightly to our right across those golden hills and keep going (a little local knowledge goes a long way here — I've driven past Mercy Hot Springs (a.k.a. "Mercey Hot Springs") a bunch of times on photo trips along the West Side, and I can easily recognize the hills and roads from the air). I ask J. if she wants to see it from above — "of course!". It turns out that it's one of her favourite hot springs (there's a lot of hot springs in California), and of course she's interested in seeing what it looks like from a few thousand feet up.

So we head off cross country, and maybe fifteen minutes later we're over the springs, a tiny set of green trees, brown buildings, and a grey parking lot just off the country two-lane blacktop that goes past it on towards Panoche. She looks down, totally absorbed, then says wow, I didn't realize how isolated it is — seeing it from up here makes it look like it's in the middle of nowhere. Well, Mercy Hot Springs is in the middle of nowhere — that's why people go there — but she's right, there's really nothing around it except for parched golden hills. It's beautiful, enticingly isolated; I could be persuaded to go there sometime myself. There's even a narrow dirt strip there, but I doubt that I'd be allowed to land the DA-40 there even if I wanted to (see this article for someone who has landed there). Maybe when I'm rich and famous and own my own nice little Husky… (ha!).

After a slow fly-by a few thousand feet AGL, I ask where she wants to go now? I don't know, she says, I just enjoy watching it all from up here. So I turn west towards Salinas (KSNS), and climb to get over the mountains between here and there. We're kind of making this up as we go along, which isn't my usual style, but it's a good day for it, and it's familiar territory, both from the ground and from up here.

* * *

This was supposed to be a flight up the coast to Shelter Cove (0Q5), but (as so often with a  California summer), the weather didn't cooperate, and there's a shallow stratus (fog) layer all the way north of about Point Reyes, meaning both Shelter Cove and Mendocino (Little River, KLLR) are IFR. Plan B was Monterey (KMRY), but if Mendocino's fogged in, it's likely Monterey is too — and, of course, it is. So I suggest we fly to Salinas the long way (via the Central Valley) and if Monterey is clear by the time we get there, great; if not, well, we'll go somewhere (or do something) else. Maybe we'll be able to fly back up the coast; maybe not.

* * *

Salinas airport is — as always nowadays, as far as I can tell — quiet. We call up Salinas tower from some distance to the east, and make a long straight-in to runway 26; there's one other plane on frequency. We taxi to the terminal, park, and wander in. It's actually cool and sunny down here: 21C OAT, presumably from the marine layer coming in from Monterey and the coast a few miles away. Very, very pleasant. We retrieve the lunch cooler and water from the plane, and sit outside in the shade at the picnic table in front of the rather classic little old GA terminal. It's a leisurely lunch — the three-hundred dollar hamburger, except we're Californian, so it's a lot of salad and healthy stuff rather than a hamburger (we did bring along enough chocolate to keep me from complaining; but I forgot to bring any coffee, though, which was a major mistake). I was sneakily hoping the restaurant at the airport would be open, but it's closed on Sundays, so no coffee (or hamburgers) there. At least there is still a restaurant at the airport — for some time there wasn't really anything open at all, if I remember correctly.

We get to see a few helicopters and one or two planes arrive or depart; probably more than I expected, but it's a holiday weekend, I guess. There's briefly one other person in the terminal, but he disappears quickly. At one point a Citation lands on runway 31, then taxis slowly back towards runway 26, stops for a while with its engines still running on one of the taxiways, then departs on 26 to wherever it's going. Not the usual behaviour for a Citation, but whatever. Perhaps Monterey was full.

After lunch we stroll around the apron taking photos of the Calstar Eurocopter (that's its fenestron above) and a small old bubble-canopied ag helicopter with a massive spraying attachment. A reminder that Salinas is agricultural, for sure. We get back in to the DA-40, and a few minutes later we're on our way back to Hayward (KHWD). We can see that the coast north of about Santa Cruz is foggy, so we go back the long way, out over Hollister and back into the Central Valley. Those hills and mountains are way more attractive than going the short way up over San Jose, and we've got the plane for another couple of hours. This time, on contacting Hayward tower, we get "Report Cal State" and I can't make fun of the FAA for referencing a non-existent landmark any more. Oh well — the little things really matter in flying.

Back in Hayward it's cool and pleasant. We've logged just under 3 hours (Hobbs), and we take on about 20 gallons of fuel after landing. Not bad.