March 16, 2014

Taking a Six Year Old Flying

(The latest pic in a certain theme...)

I haven't taken my little nephew Alex flying since he was nearly four, and now he's six and a half (going on seven), and he's been bugging me about it for a year. So here we are, on Hayward's Green Ramp, pre-flighting 2MA, CalAir's DA-40 in bright morning sunshine. I had to cancel this flight a few weeks ago due to rain, but this time the weather's perfect. I get Alex to help with the pre-flight — moving the chocks, unchaining the wings, etc., while he watches business jets, little Cessnas, a helicopter, etc., taxi around us or take off and land. He asks all sorts of questions about ... well, everything... of course, and I can't always answer them, but he learns what each bit of the plane is called, and how to drain and check the fuel sumps. He won't remember it all, but it's a start, I guess. He particularly likes the way 2MA looks — it has the sort of sleek modern style that seven-year(ish) old boys think is cool — more so than the C172 which he in flew last time, anyway.

We climb in — Alex's mother Annette sits in the right front seat — and close the bubble (as Alex calls it). Alex loves his headset (which he's been wearing continuously since we finished the pre-flight) and I thank god that the back seats have no push-to-talk (he's not exactly the most taciturn of kids). We start up and I tell Ground we'll be doing the VFR Bay Tour transitioning through Oakland Tower's airspace, then taxi to 28L (I chose this runway rather than the smaller and closer 28R because I want Alex to see a big runway from the ground). I get a running "are we taking off yet? are we taking off yet?" from the back seat, which is pretty funny, especially when I have to patiently explain things like taxiing and the runup (I'm such a killjoy). I keep wondering when he's going to ask where the triggers are; sure enough, he points to the red autopilot disengage button on the stick and asks whether that's for the missiles. I wish, is all I say.

After a successful runup we taxi forward to the hold short line at Alpha, then get cleared for the usual takeoff and departure towards Lake Chabot below the Oakland Class C. And off we go... with Alex sitting quietly in the back as instructed, looking out intently at the world going by. We get handed off to Oakland Tower, then do the 880 transition up to the Bay Bridge, passing Alameda (where Alex lives) and Jingletown (where I live) to our left. Annette points out Alex's school for him, and he spots the various bridges across the Estuary, and then the Bay Bridge. He keeps saying things like "Coooool!" or "that's FANTASTIC!!!", which (of course) makes it so enjoyable.

(I live in the industrial area at the bottom centre of the photo above; Alameda's the island just across the Estuary from where I live).

We fly past the Bay Bridge toll plaza then head for Alcatraz. I circle it at 2,500' so Alex can look at it; he said the other day he wanted to see a jail, so here it is. Sometime soon I guess we'll take him on a boat to see Alcatraz up close, but right now it's wreathed in a loose tongue of fog coming in from the Golden Gate — which itself is picture perfect, with the fog coming in from the Pacific and bright sunlight above it all. We head for the Golden Gate, circling it a couple of times in each direction for photos and to give Alex a good view.

(An accidentally arty pic of the Golden Gate today).

We go back down the shoreline in front of San Francisco, then head across to Angel Island, then across to San Pablo Bay, where we drop flight following. I have the idea that I'll do some very light maneuvers for Alex to see how he responds; he loves them of course, so the turns get tighter, which amuses him, but Annette — who gets queasy at even the slightest bump — doesn't look so happy, so we return to normal level flying and head towards Concord, then along the Diablo Valley to Livermore. Alex recently went camping on Mt Diablo, and thinks it's really cool to see it from 3,000' up. On the way along the valley I do a series of little pull-up / pull-down maneuvers for Alex, which he later says was the high point of the flight, but Annette isn't so happy. Later, she sends me a short video she took on her iPhone of Alex reacting to the maneuvers — he's giggling ecstatically.

I was originally planning on doing a full stop landing at Livermore, and getting out to stretch our legs, but I suspect Alex would find touch-and-goes more exciting, so I call up Livermore Tower and ask for touch and goes. We get right traffic for 25R, and in what becomes a bit of an unintentional running gag, the controller promotes us to a Diamond Twin, then misunderstands my correction, meaning that for the entire time we're in the pattern, either we're a Diamond Twin, or she has our call sign one digit off (occasionally both). After about the third correction I just go with the flow — the controller's otherwise very competent and friendly, and who cares that we're missing an engine?! I keep waiting for a snarky comment on air about that missing engine, but everyone keeps it to themselves, I guess. It's predictably quite busy at Livermore, and we quickly get switched to 25L, which is a much smaller runway, and have our downwind extended a couple of times. Alex says he thinks the runway looks too small, but when we do the touch and goes, he's thrilled by the whole thing.

After the third touch and go (and to Annette's immense relief, I suspect), we head off back over the hills to Hayward. On call up to Hayward Tower, I'm amused that we still get asked to report "Cal State Hayward" when it's been "Cal State East Bay" now for years, and when the main landmark CSEB building was demolished a while back, and if you're not a local you probably have no idea where CSEB is otherwise, but never mind (it'll always be CSH for many of us locals anyway).

We land on 28R, taxi back to the Green Ramp, and tie the plane down. It's been a fun morning, and I suspect that the next time I take him flying, Alex will be sitting in the front seat. We shall see....

February 01, 2014

Fred, Flying

Fred's a colleague of mine, and has put up with enough of my stories at work about flying to call my bluff and ask me for a flight sometime. So here we are at Hayward (KHWD), taking the California Airways DA-40 for a nice VFR Bay Tour. The weather's perfect (creepily so, given the drought here in California), and, really, there's not much to say about the resulting 90 minute flight around the Golden Gate, Angel Island, San Francisco's Fishermans Wharf (we both work across from Pier 39), the Marin Headlands, Richmond, Napa, Concord, and other places nearby except it was a pleasant return to VFR flying with a passenger who's not a pilot but keen about flying.

The only drama — and really, it wasn't very dramatic — came on returning back to Hayward from across the hills when someone spotted what looked like clothing on the threshold of runway 28L, which was closed for maybe ten minutes, meaning we had to do a bunch of maneuvers to let the planes originally cleared for 28L land in front of us on 28R (it happened just as we were cleared on right base for 28R). Fred was following along well enough on the radio to understand what was happening, which was impressive; we ended up on an extended downwind waiting for a Mooney to flash past us. Otherwise, a scenic but entirely undramatic flight with a couple of touch and goes at Napa to keep proficient.

I'd spent much of the day before the flight wondering if I'd get the details — fuel pumps, flap settings, prop settings, etc. — correct on my own, but in the end, the combination of the iPad checklist app and my own memory seems to have served me well. I know I keep saying this, but I should do this more often...

December 21, 2013

Back In The Comfy Chair

Once again I'm sitting in the California Airways Comfy Chair at Hayward (KWHD), answering John's questions and feeling a little... well, uncomfortable. How could I forget that detail? What does this question really mean? And so it goes — but this time it's for the club's DA-40 signoff, and this time it's actually pretty straightforward. I filled in the DA-40 fam sheet while down in LA over the last few days (I have a client in the Mid-Wilshire area, and I spend an inordinate amount of time at both Burbank and Oakland airports as a result; unfortunately, all the flying between those two airports is done on Southwest, not in the DA-40), and I didn't find it difficult — just incredibly tedious. Oh well — at least it's not a bundle of trick questions or anything, and if I can't work out how to answer all of those questions quickly or even by memory (in an emergency), I really shouldn't be flying this plane. After a fairly short session, John signs me off for the DA-40 without too much ribbing about my spelling mistakes and typos.

Theoretically, now that I'm signed off I could just wander out on to the ramp and fly away in the DA-40 on my own, but I have other things in mind. In particular, I want to drag John along to help me tighten up power setting / throttle management on approach, landing, and takeoff (it was pretty rough and abrupt last time), and I want to try a practice approach somewhere to remind me what IFR flying is like, and to set the stage for further work in reclaiming IFR proficiency sometime in the new year (maybe). So we drive off to the Green Ramp, and twenty minutes later we're sitting off runway 28L, waiting for take off. The plan is to do the left 270 departure off towards SALAD intersection, while contacting NorCal Approach near the Hills for the practice RWY 28L LOC/DME approach back in to Hayward. I tell John I'll do the approach without wearing The Cone Of Stupidity (a.k.a. "The Hood"), mainly because I think I'll screw up enough of the approach after 16 months off without also worrying about keeping the plane right-side-up. Plus this is a Procedure Thing (a.k.a. "taming the beast", where "the beast" is my old friend the G1000, a system I really like a lot, but that does have its idiosyncrasies) — or at least that's what I tell myself.

Hayward Tower dumps us over Castro Valley, and I call up NorCal, who sounds really busy today. Luckily, I don't stumble too badly asking for the approach, but I do feel really rusty. The controller gives us a heading of 90 degrees for sequencing, and I struggle to remember how to set up both Foreflight and the G1000 properly for the approach. With some hints from John, I finally get the approach set up, and it's only then that I realise I just didn't study or prep properly for this — too much effort into getting the sign-off, too little into actually looking over the approach plate(s). I could probably still do the Oakland ILS and / or RNAV approaches in my sleep, but I haven't done IFR into Hayward in many many years, and it shows. I don't even know the names of the important waypoints or fixes, let alone the associated altitudes. Oh well — that's why John's along.

A lot of it does come back pretty quickly — the noting of crossing or minimum altitudes, intersection names and distances, and the missed approach procedures, but I still spend some time hitting the wrong buttons on the G1000, and my power and autopilot management skills definitely need more work. And I stumble on radio calls a bit more than I'd like (but at least I catch myself doing that). But it's an enjoyable experience, and as we get a couple of long vectors for traffic and then the localiser, it all sort of comes together in my mind. The controller's busy as hell, and there are several students on air doing approaches or whatever who are taking way more of his time than he'd clearly like, and it makes me wonder if we're about to blow through the localiser or hit the Fremont hills looming up ahead. But we get turned on to it in the nick of time (and the hills are actually below us, despite the way it looks from the cockpit), and I basically let the autopilot handle most of the horizontal tracking, while I watch with an eagle eye and set up the vertical bits. I can't help noting the autopilot's having trouble tracking the centerline at first, and wonder why out loud. John points to the crosswind display on the G1000 — there's something like 33 knot quartering headwind pushing us away. Looking out over the nose, I should have noticed — we're heading quite a way away from the airport (which I can see off in the distance) towards the hills, while tracking more-or-less correctly. A lot of the altitude management stuff comes back, with John's help, but I have so internalised the C172's settings, that I don't always do things as smoothly as I should. But, again, that's basically why John's here….

At minimums I dump the power, pull back, put in full flaps, and, a few seconds later, we're on the ground for a series of touch and goes in the pattern. As hoped, these end up tightening my control over the power settings and general flying, and a few times around the pattern later, I call it a day with another swooping left 270 to get us into the right traffic pattern for 28R (when the controller asks if we want the left 270 rather than going the long way around, I answer with something like "2MA, sure!", which surely isn't approved aviation speak, but I guess it did the job).

And once again, I don't have a suitable photo from today's flight, so here's one from my latest trip to LA — a sight I see pretty much weekly from the Southwest terminal at Burbank (KBUR). One day in the next six months I hope to fly the DA-40 there and back for business. We shall see….

December 14, 2013


I still need to do my BFR (Biennial Flight Review) to get back into flying legally, so here I am in the California Airways office at Hayward Airport (KHWD) with John, sitting in the Comfy Chair being grilled on airspaces, VFR sectionals, and sundry other ... stuff ... to do with regulations and safe flying. John asks me what this particular airspace is, and I realise that while I know what it means (in this case, that 23 year old student pilots from Travis in giant C-17s will be under the hood in the vicinity of my little DA-40 or whatever, and that while I don't have to get permission to enter the airspace, keeping a good lookout might be appropriate),  I can't immediately remember what it's actually called (an Alert area). I quickly come to the conclusion that I still have an IFR pilot's view of airspace, which isn't all that helpful now that I'm likely to be mostly flying VFR. You fly IFR, and, to a first approximation, airspaces are the controller's problem; VFR, they're yours. It's kinda mortifying how poorly I remember some of this stuff.

On the other hand, I have done my homework (including a self-test worksheet from John), and most of the regulatory and other questions are not that hard, and much as I loathe the bad writing and inscrutable organisation of the FARs and the AIM, it's still light relief compared to some of the things I have to read or work on for a living as a techie. So the verbal bits go OK — John doesn't try to make the questions tricky, or ask about obscure regulations that would have no impact at all on a GA pilot like me — and we finish up after a little more than an hour, and decide to go flying. BFR part one, accomplished!

The agenda for the rest of the day was originally to get a club sign-off on the DA-40 as well as doing the BFR. Unfortunately, I haven't got the paperwork ready for the sign-off, so the focus today will be on the BFR only. I'll have to do the sign-off paperwork some other time -- I'd like to be able to rent the DA-40 on my own, as it's definitely a nice plane to fly.

This time things work really well with my iPad checklist, and that part goes OK, if slowly (I've internalised the complete pre-flight checklist for the 172s (including all thirteen fuel test points), but not the DA-40 yet). Once in the cockpit, I'm impressed at how well the new RAM mount for my new iPad Mini works (yes, I broke down and bought John's old iPad Mini after he got a new one). This time, the iPad just works, and throughout the flight it's a comfortable and useful addition to things. There's only one thing that irritates me — the Foreflight basic airport info should include pattern altitudes for each runway. Never mind, I'm sure I'll cope.

We depart VFR for Napa (KAPC), one of the most familiar non-Oakland non-Hayward airports in my life, and do the transition through Oakland Tower's airspace; we're then handed off to NorCal Approach. I haven't done this transition in years, and it probably shows — I pester John for hints on what happens next, and I'm not as immediately familiar with the various landmarks as I should be. Flying out of Oakland is definitely more straightforward, but then again, I can't rent a DA-40 there, can I? Hayward works fine if you can live with the little irritations of being a small Class D airspace airport wedged in under Oakland's busy Class C airspace (an airspace that extends to the ground only literally metres from the end of Hayward's runways and that gives you a 1,500' ceiling on departures that haven't been cleared into the Class C anywhere around the airport); Oakland's Class C is itself under San Francisco's Class B airspace, but that's less troublesome for departures towards Napa. Plus Hayward's a longer drive for me, but not significantly so (I could be like John and ride my bike, but I already ride my bike every day as part of getting to work, so sometimes I feel I need to exercise my car on drives like this).

So we potter off towards Napa, and NorCal gives us the frequency change about twelve miles out. I call Napa Tower and tell them we're inbound for touch and goes, and the controller responds with standard instructions for runway 6. This is a (somewhat) new one for both John and me — we both almost always get 18L or 18R, or 24. Woohoo! But I'm more interested in the controller's accent (being a funny-accented guy myself — I collect accents) and ask John what he thinks her accent is. Neither of us is sure, but John's probably right that it's very slightly Caribbean, maybe Guadalupe; in any case, it's pleasant and intrigues me the entire time we're at Napa.

The first touch and go at Napa is a fairly straightforward thing from a right base, and I don't break anything or kill anyone, even if I did come in like I was landing a bit short. There's really not much wind, but there's more traffic than I expect, with a constant (small) line of planes waiting to take off much of the time. Just as we're downwind abeam the tower for the second touch and go, tower clears me for another touch and go, with the short approach. Alllriiiighht! I think (I love these swooping approaches), and go ahead and try it. First lesson here: you can easily do a forward slip in the DA-40, and while it feels and looks dramatic from the left seat, it doesn't actually lose you much airspeed or altitude. Oh well. Again, I actually make it onto the ground and back up into the air without breaking anything (and only once, not repeatedly), but it wasn't as smooth or as professional-looking as I'd like.

The next few times around include a couple of power-off and no-flap approaches and landings, and, again, while they're nothing to write home about, they don't cause me to question my choice of ways to spend a Saturday afternoon (and what always feels like millions of dollars :-)). Despite the fact that I don't seem to have internalised the proper power settings for each part of the pattern, John seems satisfied, so we head back out over San Pablo Bay to do some airwork. The next fifteen minutes or so have me either repeatedly on the edge of a stall as I wander around the sky, or actually stalling, or doing steep turns (and definitely not stalling). I love this stuff, even if it's not the aerobatics I used to do, and even if we can't do spins. Again, although my flying is nowhere near as precise as I'd like (that word "agricultural" keeps popping into my head at times like this), John seems satisfied, and we head off back to Hayward.

We call up NorCal and tell them where we're going, and the rest of the flight — over Berkeley, over the Coliseum abeam Oakland (KOAK) and so on all the way to Hayward — is familiar territory and relatively easy. At one point as we're somewhere north of Berkeley I look west towards the Golden Gate, and, yes, it's Just Another Boring Bay Area Sunset out there. Hopefully fairly soon I'll start taking people up to see all this again....

I line up on final for Hayward's 28R... and promptly botch the landing. Well, as I seem to keep saying, I didn't kill anyone or break anything, but I was definitely a little slow, and while almost all my other landings were fairly smooth, this was not. Oh well. Must Do Better Next Time, as my old primary school teacher used to say. We taxi to the Green Ramp, tidy up, tie down, order fuel, and drive back to CalAir. On the short drive back I can't help noticing just how well-maintained Hayward Airport is compared to Oakland Airport nowadays — there may be fewer planes on the Green Ramp, but there's a waiting list for hangars, and those hangars, and the taxiways, the ramp and runway surfaces, the buildings, the lighting, etc., all feel both more modern and just plain newer than the Oakland equivalents (except, of course, Hayward's classic old tower). We discuss the different business approaches the Port of Oakland and the City of Hayward take to the respective airports — it's striking how much more care Hayward seems to put into the GA side of things. It's no secret that Oakland's not thrilled by the small GA side of its operations, but coming back to Hayward made it even more obvious. Not sure what it all means for flying out of Oakland, but we'll see....

Back at CalAir we do the debriefing — yes, John's signing me off for the BFR — and decide on next moves. I still need to get signed off on the DA-40, so hopefully next weekend I can get that out of the way and start flying out of Hayward again.

I wish I had some photos from the flight, but, hey, my little iPhone doesn't always come up to scratch for things like this, so what you see up there is a typically pastoral scene from my neighbourhood instead. Sorry.

November 27, 2013

Back In The Saddle

I drive to California Airways at Hayward (KHWD), not really sure what’s going to happen, but curious and not particularly worried about much. I haven't flown with CalAir for years, and this is my first flight PIC from anywhere since August last year, and I'm wondering whether I should be getting back into flying — almost all the things that were true when I announced I was going to take a break are still true, and it's going to be a long and difficult-to-schedule return to regular GA flying, if I make it at all. And while I renewed my medical and KOAK ramp badge, I'm way out of currency with almost everything, and need to do a BFR.

It starts well when I walk up to the CalAir office and there’s Keith, playing a fighter pilot shoot-em-up on a large screen overlooking the runway. He looks up at me, grins, and says “Well, well, well — look who the cat dragged in!” We talk a bit about the TSA, Hayward Airport's (non-) security, and how GA’s dying — pretty much the same things we talked about the last time I saw him, all those years ago. It's good to see him again. The office is buzzing with students and instructors, which is always a good sign.

John and I sit down and discuss the flight — what's the aim, what's the agenda? I still haven't even started my BFR, so that's a possibility, but really, for me, it's mostly just about getting back into flying after a 16 month absence, and becoming familiar with a new plane, the Diamond DA-40, a type of plane I've never even seen before as far as I know. If I can still take off, land, and do basic airwork without major issues in a plane I've never seen before, I'll be pleased; I'm really not that fussed yet about the BFR. Aim low, I tell John. He seems amused by this dedication to underachievement, and we decide we'll just head for the Diablo practice area and do a bit of airwork and see what happens. It's a hazy day in the Bay Area, and it's even hazier out in the Valley, with Livermore (KLVK) reporting three miles visibility, which makes me a little cautious.

John spends some time prepping me for the DA-40 — some idiosyncrasies in the controls, the G1000 (which I remember well), the V speeds, the best way to approach and land, etc. — and then there's a bit of paperwork (bringing my club records up to date mostly), and then we’re ready for the plane. At the old CalAir location, you simply walked out of the building onto the ramp, but the new location’s at the eastern end of the airport on Hesperian, and we have to drive to the Green Ramp near the tower up towards the other (western) end of the airport. As an Oaklander normally based at KOAK, with its high security and all, I sort of expect to drive up Hesperian, park in the parking lot under the Tower, then walk on to the ramp, but this is Hayward — we just drive through the gate onto the ramp (there's a combination lock there), then drive up the marked vehicle access “road” on the tarmac on the north side of the airport to the Green Ramp, and park right near the plane. Cool! The Green Ramp looks almost deserted, which is not a good sign, especially since when I last flew out of Hayward, it looked difficult to get a space there.

The plane’s pretty much what I expected — sleek, relatively modern-looking (at least compared to a 172), and in good condition. We spend maybe twenty minutes doing a thorough pre-flight, using John's iPhone checklist app and his DA-40 specific checklist (we tried getting it to work on my iPad checklist app, but it didn't take, for some reason), and there’s nothing much to report about this except it all made sense and there’s really nothing unfamiliar or surprising about the mechanical bits. One of the news helicopters lined up next to taxiway Alpha a hundred metres away starts up and flies off, and three or four shiny business jets taxi past interspersed with a handful of smaller 172s. The noise is at times too loud for talking, but I'm not complaining — it's a welcome, very familiar background chorus.

We get in, which is a little difficult the first time — the canopy is large, and it should be easy, but it isn't, for some reason, possibly due to the need to drop in rather than climb in. I don't know. Once in, I have to adjust the rudder pedals rather than the seat — the seat's fixed, and at first this feels weird — there are simply no adjustments at all for the seat, meaning it's basically a like it or lump it thing. I'm not sure I like it at first, but we'll see. The first problem is immediately obvious: my old iPad 3 won't easily fit on my thigh (like it did with the 172) because the DA-40 uses a stick; the iPad just gets in the way, much more than I'd expected. This is actually something of a long-term show-stopper — I have to rely on John's iPad mini as held and manipulated by him — but with the G1000, at least, for VFR it's no big deal, just annoying. The good news? My old Lightspeed headset still works. Battered, clunky, bulky, and outdated, but still usable.

I follow the checklist for startup, and it starts first time, which always seems to be a bit of an accomplishment with fuel-injected GA engines like this; I feel gratified. The engine controls (prop, throttle, mixture, etc.) feel familiar — I have a complex endorsement, some time in complex aircraft, and the G1000 really makes this sort of thing easy to monitor and control. We go through the checklist again, then I call Ground. The second issue… argh! The call sign is weirdly difficult to say (some just are, for pilots and controllers alike; the AAC's old (and long-gone) N5445H was the worst I've had to use), and it'll take a long while to get used to saying — and hearing — “Diamond Star …” rather then “Cessna …”. Oh well.

We request a right crosswind departure from 28L and get taxi clearance. I do the runup in the runup area — nothing weird or unusual about this, either — then we saunter up to 28L at Alpha. I call tower, and get told initially to hold short for traffic in the pattern (a 172 I can see on downwind for 28L), then get a quick “2 mike alpha, cleared for immediate take off runway 28L, traffic's on left downwind, right crosswind departure approved” (or something like that). I get the hint, and we do a fast arcing turn onto the centreline, and start the takeoff run. The DA-40 has a castoring nose wheel, with little rudder authority below about 30 knots, so you have to use differential braking on the ground for most turns; this can be an issue for the first few hundred metres of the takeoff roll, as you really don't want to use braking to maintain directional stability as you're trying to accelerate, but what else is there? I'm familiar with this from both the Tiger and the Cirrus, but it's still a bit annoying, especially on narrower runways. Still, we survive, and I rotate at Vr — or, rather, the plane lifts off with little input from me on this, before I'd even started to pull back on the stick. Flaps up and fuel pump off on initial climb out, then a quick right turn to heading 030, then we're on our way. Pull the prop back to 2400, keep the throttle full forward (this plane is fine running continuously oversquare), and we climb quickly — we have a 1400' ceiling here below Oakland's Class C airspace we can't break for several minutes, and I have to be very careful with this (I'm used to departing Oakland, where this isn't an issue as long as you stay out of the much higher KSFO Class B airspace, which is easy). The controls all feel absolutely fine to me — it's a nicely balanced plane, and nothing about stick or pedals feels weird or uncomfortable. But the climb out angle at Vy feels too high for me, and I drop the nose a bit so I can see better.

Once past the edge of the Class C we climb towards 3,500 and head out over the hills. For the first time I can see the Diablo Valley, and it's really hazy. I tell John I'm not sure I'm comfortable with doing airwork out there — the visibility is MVFR at best, and I'd like to be able to actually see other planes while doing steep turns, etc. John's OK with that, and suggests we circumnavigate Mt Diablo, which I'm up for. I quickly get a feel for the trim on this plane — a lot more sensitive than the 172, but easily usable, and within a few minutes I'm very comfortable with the way it all handles. As John says, there's a nice harmony between aileron and elevator controls, and the engine's efficient and effective. After leveling off and proper trimming and leaning, we're doing (from memory) 135 KIAS on 75% power at 9.5 GPH, which is considerably better than a 172. I engage the autopilot (a bog-standard KAP 140, something I could probably use with my eyes closed), and we start around Mt Diablo. The view from up here is hazy, wintry, beautiful, almost monochromatic. On the far side, John asks if I'd like to go over to Rio Vista (O88) for landing practice. Of course! We set the GPS accordingly, and off we go. Ground visibility here is poor — a few miles — and the sight of the windfarm's windmills in the same nearly monochromatic soft Delta haze is other-worldly.

We can hear another plane in the pattern on CTAF, using runway 33; we want to use 25, and John carefully negotiates our way into this with the other pilot, who sounds a little grumpy at the intrusion (he leaves the pattern after our first landing, leaving us to ourselves for the rest of the exercise). Runway 25 is longer and wider than 33, and for my first few landings, makes a lot more sense — and, in any case, there really isn't a lot of wind in any direction on the ground (or at altitude) today (hence the haze). John does the first landing on 25, talking me through it, then hands the controls to me again on the upwind. The pattern is straightforward, and I do OK — flaps, prop, mixture, fuel pump, throttle, etc., and on final it all looks good. I realise once again — for probably the hundredth time in my flying life — that Rio Vista's 25 looks kinda narrow to this Big City Airport kinda guy. Luckily there's no significant crosswind, I guess. The first landing goes fine — this is not a plane you want to land in a full stall, unlike the 172, but that's no problem, and the sighting in my mind just works. This feels like it isn't going to be problematic, and it isn't — the rest of my landings here and back at Hayward are OK, perhaps a little agricultural sometimes, but the plane handles nicely, and while it's slippery and there's a lot of ground effect (the wings are quite a lot longer and thinner than a 172's), that's not a big problem if you think your way through it and hold off all the small adjustments you'd probably make in a 172. Again, the mental visualisation for landing this plane seems particularly easy, and while the differential steering thing could be annoying on rollout, it's not much of an issue for touch and goes.

We do a handful of landings and pattern work, then depart straight out for Hayward. John calls Travis Approach for flight following back (I was about to do it myself, especially given the haze — I'm not one of those nutters who eschews ATC contact just because ATC is The Government or because they cherish “freedom”). The flight back to Hayward is uneventful, and, as suspected, it's a bit difficult to get back into Hayward itself without GPS — the haze and the glare is pretty bad. The conditions are a lot like my PP-ASEL checkride with Larry Peters, where I decided to use the ILS to get back to Oakland from several miles out (Mr. Peters was impressed and pleased by this, but what the hell else could I do safely?). We land back on 28R, and taxi to the Green Ramp. I feel pleased to have done it all without killing or scaring anyone, and with minimal clobbering around the head from John. The plane feels good, the flying was fun, and it was weirdly easy to land and handle the plane after all this time off — and in an unfamiliar cockpit. John seems fairly pleased as well.

* * *

While prepping for the flight last night, I go through my old flight bag, trying to sort out the useless crap from the more useful crap (and occasional non crap). It's an odd experience. It contains the collected detritus and paraphernalia of nearly fifteen years of flying, spanning simple pilotage-based VFR through steam-gauge era IFR to complex GPS and autopilot IFR (with side jaunts for things like aerobatics). The biggest change is that I've simply junked my old paper backups — I was already using my iPad for charts and approach plates before the break, but I kept the old paper stuff around just in case. That doesn't make much sense any more, and in any case I stopped my paper subs a year ago, sort of forcing the issue. My ForeFlight app has been at the centre of my flying since it first appeared (I was a very early adopter, actually quoted on their website in the early days), but its role has changed from just weather and info to charts, plates, briefings, filings, etc.; now it's difficult to imagine being without it, IFR or VFR. The result of all this is that my gear now fits in my normal backpack; I'm no longer carrying around a heavy black flight bag. I stand there thinking: will this all work? I don't know — I feel rusty at everything, especially packing for a VFR local flight.

And I probably need a new headset if I'm going to take this seriously again. Not cheap.

* * *

So will I keep flying? Will I do my BFR anytime in the next few months? The simple answer is: I don't know. This was a fun and morale-boosting flight, but as I said earlier, all the reasons I took a break are still valid (in some cases even more so — I work in LA a lot nowadays, which is a long commute). We shall see....

January 21, 2013

Lou Fields, RIP

Lou Fields (CDR, US Navy (Retd.)) died yesterday (see John's thoughtful Memento Mori on Lou). This is sad news — Lou was a welcome, wise, drily-funny, respected, and much liked presence around Oakland's North Field and elsewhere.

Lou served in the Pacific during World War II, then stayed in the navy for a couple of decades afterwards, flying everything from Corsairs to jets off carriers, retiring as a (full) Commander in 1969. He later ran Lou Fields Aviation out of a trailer at Oakland's Old T's, where, as well as being an instructor, he was also an FAA Designated Examiner (DE, aka DPE).

Lou was one of my mentors when I was learning to fly, and for a long time afterwards, as well. He often had interesting and sometimes sharp things to say about the way instructors taught, about things like GPS (he could be surprisingly enthusiastic about — and adept with — new technology), and things like the wisdom (or lack of it) of tailwheel training. He took an interest in my learning aerobatics with Ben Freelove, and had a lot of advice on aerobatic technique and instruction (he also used to threaten to take me up in his Pitts and teach me some "real aerobatics", but that never happened, unfortunately). He let me rent his old Arrow, 29J, after a thirty minute sign-off flight to Hayward and back in appalling weather, during which he mostly just talked about Australia, while occasionally giving me terse advice on my crosswind landing technique or telling me a few tricks about descent planning in 29J, etc. Lou would have been my instrument rating DE if he hadn't got an extended bout of illness back then.

He was always joshing me good-naturedly about being both an "Aussie" (he pronounced it the Australia way) and a "Brit", and always asked about how things were going with me whenever he saw me around the airport. An all-round good guy, easy to talk with, amusing and knowledgeable about almost any subject, and one of those seasoned old warriors who'd come to believe that peace was always a wiser choice than war. He once told me he'd make a more effective fighter now than when he was younger — not so distracted by trying to stay alive nowadays, much more willing to take stupid risks now, as he put it.

Lou will be sorely and sadly missed.

October 08, 2012

Taking A break

I've basically had to make a decision in the last week or two that's been a long time coming: I really need to take a break from flying to be able to concentrate on the rest of my life for a while.

It's not that I won't fly as (say) safety pilot if asked, or that I'll let my medical or KOAK badge lapse, or not do my BFR when it's due, it's that I just can't afford the time and money for the foreseeable short term to fly semi-regularly the way I used to.

Basically, it's not really so much a money thing, it's a time thing. I have a new job that involves a lot more commuting, more travel, and much more extensive responsibilities than my previous job(s). It's no longer as easy to fly on weekday evenings as it used to be (I'm often still at work at 7pm, which would be when I'd want to start a flight, especially since I typically have to be up well before 7am the next day to get to work on time), and weekends are typically devoted to the other things and people in my life (or just recovering from the weekdays).

It's been a real struggle to find the time to stay current: not just instrument current, which has always been a bit of a chore, but club-current — which, at one PIC flight per 60 days, gives you some idea of how low the bar is set, and how I can't make even that bar. Given the vagaries of my life, it's turned out to be very difficult to book a plane ahead of time and not have that booking canceled because of weather or the need to stay late at work to sort out some emergency or other; sometimes I wish I could just turn up at the airport (KOAK, in my case) on a whim and just go fly the pattern on random evenings, but the current rental situation makes that basically impossible (for good reason).

And I'd say it's been even more of a struggle staying not just current, but proficient. That really does take significant time and effort, especially on the IFR side. No matter how ruthless I am about keeping my interactions with the G1000 on a "need to know" basis for single-pilot IFR, it's something that requires regular use to be comfortable with, and I just don't get that regular use at the moment.

Having said all that, money certainly plays a part: flying costs at least twice as much per hour now (for comparable planes) as when I started back in 1999, and more than three times as much for the type of plane I prefer flying single pilot IFR. Despite the apologists, GA flying really is expensive — many of my friends are (starving) artists and the like, and the amount of money I put into an hour or two's flying (for fun!) amazes a lot of these people.

Plus I do video and photography semi-professionally (as in I charge for it, but it's not my main source of income) and for more arty-farty reasons, and neither calling is exactly cheap (or at least not done the way I do it). A good piece of gear that I need for a specific type of shot or gig might cost the equivalent of a few hour's flying — and it's not hard to guess what choice I have to make for the long term in situations like that.

So it's unlikely that I'll be flying much (or even at all) in the next six months, maybe even the next year or two. We shall see….

August 19, 2012

A Theme

Long-term YAFB readers might just sense a theme in some of the photos here, but I'm not saying :-). In any case, this one celebrates a really enjoyable VFR Bay Tour done a day or two ago with a friend of mine — Atanu, one of the few people I've known in Sydney, London, and here — and G., his teenage niece who currently lives in Cairo, mostly to show G. the local sights (the Golden Gate, San Francisco, the Bay, Alcatraz, Napa, the Bay Bridge, Berkeley, the Hills, Mt Diablo, etc.) from the air. A perfect day for it, marred only by being stuck in traffic for an hour on a mile-long stretch of Interstate 880 on the way to the airport due to a combination of construction activity and a bad accident on the other side of the freeway. But we got there, and the ensuing flight was deeply enjoyable for all three of us, with G. getting her first taste of flying in a small plane — including probably 30 minutes of actually controlling the thing (under my hawk-like supervision).

A classic California Flying day, in every way….

June 28, 2012

Traffic's A Coyote At 8,000 Feet

I'm under the Cone of Stupidity in Cessna 051 somewhere a mile or two out from the runway threshold on the Stockton (KSCK) RNAV 29R approach when the tower controller tells us to exercise caution for (as I hear it) a coyote at 8,000'. Several things immediately go through my mind as we bump along the approach: a) Umm, what?! It's bad enough that the approach is seriously bumpy, but we have to contend with a coyote at 8,000'?! b) Is "Coyote" actually some sort of aircraft type, and he's calling traffic? c) We're below 1,000' — why would he call out anything at 8,000' unless it was dropping like a brick (or, for that matter, a coyote). It's a mystery to me, so I quickly ask Evan H., my safety pilot sitting in the right seat, what the hell the controller just said.

Evan patiently explains that it sounds like there's been a report of a coyote on the runway at around the 8,000' marker. Well, that makes much more sense, but I still ask the controller to say again. He does, a bit more clearly this time, and I reply with an enthusiastic "Yeah! we'll definitely keep a lookout for that!". In the end there's no sign of any coyotes anywhere on this or the next few landings, but it's hardly the first time I've either seen or been warned about a fox or coyote or dog on the runway here at Stockton or Livermore or even at my home base, Oakland (KOAK).

And it's already been that sort of flight, not the flight I expected, and a flight full of little errors or miscommunications, none of which amount to much, but all of which when put together make me feel glad I was under the hood in clear (bumpy) VMC rather than in actual IMC.

* * *

It started a few days ago, when Evan and I were supposed to do this flight on a weekday evening (rather than a Saturday morning), but the flight was scrubbed when I noticed that the port side (red) nav light was inoperative (no matter how much I banged on the wing); we rebooked for this morning.

Then came the forecast: I'd filed a real IFR flight plan to and from Stockton because the forecast the previous night had implied there'd be a deep coastal stratus layer over much of the Bay Area today, and the weather had been rather weird for the previous few days (it very nearly rained in Oakland last night, which in California terms is surely one of the four horsemen of some sort of apocalypse). But the day dawns bright and clear, if a little cold and blustery. So none of the benign actual IMC I'd really hoped for, unfortunately.

I check NOTAMS and such, and notice that Oakland's radar — a large part of the Bay Area's approach system — is NOTAMED OTS, and with it out, Oakland's Class C surface area and associated services are temporarily gone. No big deal — this has happened before when I've been flying and it's not going to make any difference to the flight.

Then doing the rental paperwork at Oakland Flyers, we hear that 051's G1000 has some sort of problem that supposedly makes the database out of date, and that cross-filling from the PFD to the MFD also isn't working. OK, I guess we can do this flight VFR with practice approaches then… (I prefer to do things on a real IFR flight plan just to keep current on things like copying clearances, etc.).

Out at the hangar I notice the lock's missing from the hangar door and point it out to Evan, thinking "that's careless…". Then I open the door and burst out with a surprised "Where's the bloody plane?!" The entire hangar is empty. OK, time to actually look at the book — sure enough, in tiny characters on the front where it used to say "Hangar XYZ" it now says "Hangar ABC" — RTFM, I guess, but no one at the club mentioned it'd been re-hangared a few hundred metres away — and it'd been in the original hangar only a couple of days ago when the original flight was scrubbed. No big deal, I guess.

We pre-flight 051, then get in and start up. Three things are immediately obvious: 1) the database is actually up to date — maybe we can do this on the IFR flight plan, after all; 2) Yes, there's some sort of weird PFD / MFD cross-fill problem, which is going to make things irritating but not too difficult with the two of us paying attention (I wouldn't want to do this in single pilot IMC); and, 3) The standby (mechanical) AI seems to have lost its tiny mind and is revolving and swirling like something from The Exorcist (a movie I've never actually seen, but never mind). The standby AI doesn't settle down after a couple of minutes, and since it's quite distracting, Evan covers it with one of his inop covers. We decide we'll depart VFR and just do the approaches as practice approaches — after all, this is just an IFR currency flight, and the weather is clear VMC as far as Stockton, at least.

By the time we've done the runup off 27R the standby AI's settled down, but we still depart VFR. We head for the Central Valley — and that lovely weather turns out to be bumpy. Not quite continuously, and not severely, but it's a factor in almost every approach and cruise segment for the next two hours, and it's the sort of bumpiness that anyone not a pilot would probably find tedious at best, sick-making at worst.

We get the practice approaches set up with a bit of extra programming (Evan just replicates on the MFD what I'm doing on the PFD), and after plodding on bumpily across the Central Valley we do the RNAV 29R into Stockton with full pilot nav, including the hold-in-lieu at OXJEF. The bumpiness is close to too much for the autopilot, but I sadistically keep it engaged for most of the way to see how well it could cope. Not very well, is the answer, and after the coyote thing and a smooth touch-and-go, we go missed back to NorCal approach. I re-engage the autopilot at about 2,000' in what I think is the correct altitude mode, but the bloody thing just keeps the plane climbing; at 2,200' I cut the autopilot out of the equation and start diving back to the assigned 2,000'. I can sort the issue out later… and, after setting up the next approach that's what I do.

This time around on the same approach it's just too bumpy for the autopilot, and I hand-fly the entire approach, a little roughly, but quite a lot better than the autopilot last time. However, this time my landing is really pretty bad — I blame the sudden windshear just as I'm flaring, but whatever it was, we bounced, and I had to use the throttle to ensure we didn't land hard on the second bounce. Not too bad, but a lesson in wariness. And, once again, on the missed I engage the autopilot in what I think is straight and level mode at 2,000' — and it starts climbing. This time I'm more on top of it and we don't bust altitude too badly, but I'm always a bit aghast at how much trouble I have with this unit in altitude mode (it's all me, the unit itself is just fine). Just to add to the overall feeling that not everything is going as well as I'd like, I keep making minor radio errors (missing calls, not understanding the controller, etc.) for the approaches (it seems to clear up as I get closer to Oakland for some reason).

We request, set up for, and get the ILS 29R with vectors, and things go better with the autopilot this time around, but I watch it like a hawk. And this time around my landing is OK, considering the windshear, but there are still no coyotes to be seen, which kinda disappoints me. We go missed as published and I let the autopilot drive us around the hold at ORANG, just because I really enjoy seeing this particular chore automated (and I am, after all, an engineer who delights in technology like this). After once around the hold we depart with VFR flight following back to Oakland.

This part — the VFR flight back to Oakland — is not without its hazards either. For much of the past 45 minutes we've been hearing parachute drop zone announcements (there were several drop zones NOTAMED for today in the area), and we have to be careful and listen to the controller to ensure we don't get caught in anything bad. There's a drop in progress over Lodi, but that's quite some distance north of us, and another supposedly closer in to Stockton, but nothing was ever announced on air as we flew by. And just as we're getting towards Byron (C83), Evan suddenly points out a flight of four or five military jets slightly below us, maybe two miles away, going rather quickly towards Sacramento. A nice sight (they're maneuvering in not-quite-aerobatic ways as they shoot past), but I kinda wish NorCal had pointed them out to us as traffic. Oh well. We watch them disappear rapidly northwards, hoping they don't reappear back in our direction.

All through the flight from just after takeoff one of the G1000's MFD fuel gauges intermittently shows a red 'X' for a few seconds and then reverts to normal; it seemed to stop doing this around Stockton, but it's back again. Oh well, another thing to squawk when we get on the ground.

We set up for and request the RNAV Y 27L back in to Oakland, and potter on towards JUPAP as requested. Nothing much to report about this segment except it's still bumpy, but (predictably) the air's clear and cool. We get vectored for the approach, and at first I let the autopilot handle things, which it seems to be doing OK. But just past the final approach fix, even though it's captured the (LPV) glideslope, it just can't seem to cope with the near continual windshear, and we end up two dots above the glideslope. Time to take over, I think, and I disengage the autopilot and hand fly the rest of the approach successfully and fairly smoothly down to about 400'. It's a weird sort of day when my hand flying is smoother and more accurate than the autopilot, but there you are. But however smooth the approach, I land badly on 27L. Once again, due, I think, to low-level windshear in the flare, I billow down the runway and have to salvage things with some throttle work. Nothing terrible, but a bit of a blow to the ego, I guess.

Back in Oakland Flyers I do the paperwork and notice that the tach time we took from the MFD is way out. I suspect that maybe the G1000 cross-fill problem has affected the tach time (or not — I just don't know) on the MFD without affecting the rest of the engine instruments. Whatever the cause, it means I have to trudge back out through the security gate to the hangar and back again just to see what the tach time is on the PFD; it's much more believable this time (and yes, I check what the MFD displays — we didn't misread it, it was maybe ten hours out). Back in the clubhouse again, my pen stops working as I'm trying to finish the paperwork. It's been that sort of day, really….

May 31, 2012

T. F. R., Mate...

Dominga (part of my Instagram series)

As we circle Alcatraz in the gathering dusk at 2,500', we hear the Northern California Approach controller ask yet another small GA plane whether they knew there was a TFR over AT&T Park… and that they were about to blunder into it. This has been happening all evening — NorCal even asked us, even though we were miles away, whether we knew about it; we didn't (it wasn't NOTAM'd anywhere — I think you're just supposed to infer these things from the stream of orange-shirted Giants fans on BART or something), but I always steer clear of stadiums like that anyway (I just assume there's a TFR over them), and we'll never get within three nautical miles of it this flight in any case.

And what does "TFR" stand for, Dominga asks? I suppress the urge to tell her the very familiar Australian phrase it stands for — a phrase that'd be entirely appropriate right now given the number of pilots seemingly asking whether they've just crossed into the TFR — and explain it's about temporary flight restrictions, and that we just have to ensure we don't get close to AT&T park. Which is fine — we're heading off towards the Golden Gate now, and there's no way in hell I'll end up in that TFR.

And so it goes (no, this wasn't leading up to yet another "how I blundered into a TFR" story): in something of a reprise of a previous flight, I'm up over the Bay on a VFR Bay Tour with Dominga and James, a couple of friends associated with a local coffee shop I go to a lot (as does John, occasionally, come to think of it). And it's a great day for it: few clouds, warm stable air, and the Bay coming alive in the evening light. Woohoo! Dominga takes this moment of elation to tell me this is something of a test for her — she has a serious fear of heights. Oh well, I think — now she tells me… but except for some nervousness when James or I turn too steeply, she takes it all in her stride, and in the usual sign of a successful flight for me, no one starts screaming "we're all going to die!!!". In fact, as far as I can tell, both Dominga and James enjoy the flight a lot (I've been asked to do it again).

We potter on above the Bay, giving Dominga a chance to fly a little, then head off towards Napa, where we land and let James swap with Dominga into the front seat. Napa's dead — I'm not sure if that was a zombie we saw shuffling very slowly towards the FBO or what, but there didn't seem to be any humans around except in the tower — and we depart quickly back towards Oakland via Concord and the Diablo Valley. James gets the hang of flying very quickly (I get the impression he's been in small planes as a student a long time ago but not since), and if it weren't for the gathering stratus coming in over the hills, we'd have stayed out longer.

The stratus doesn't seem to cover Oakland itself (at least according to ATIS), but it's hugging the hills around Hayward enough for me to ponder getting a clearance back in. But as we approach the clouds, I firewall the throttle and climb over the layer, hoping it'll disperse in time for the descent into Oakland. And so it does, but only just — I'm on the verge of asking for a clearance the entire way in to somewhere abeam Hayward Airport (KHWD), when the layer clears suddenly and things are clear VFR again.

We land in the late evening darkness, the video game effect taking over on final, and once again I land back at Oakland. Mission accomplished: a very pleasant VFR Bay Tour with friends who actually enjoy flying. Well, mostly: Dominga's still afraid of heights.

Some photos from Dominga's iPhone:

May 15, 2012

Hand Made

Just as I'm turning to a new heading for the vector NorCal Approach has given us for the Livermore KLVK ILS 25R approach, the 172's autopilot gives up the ghost with a distinct lack of drama. Just a little blink, the usual autopilot disconnect sound, and then a blank panel display. Dammit, I think, this flight is supposed to be at least as much about keeping on top of the G1000 and autopilot combination while under the hood as anything else, and now half of it's lost its tiny mind and isn't quite all there…. John's sitting in the right seat as safety pilot and without missing a beat says "just hand fly it". Well, he would say that, wouldn't he? Well, I would have said the same thing if I wasn't under the Cone Of Stupidity and thinking at the speed of molasses, and if my engineer brain wouldn't keep trying to debug things like this on the fly, but I know the deal, and we plod off towards the approach under my control in the cool clear darkness of the Bay Area night.

Predictably, closer in to the runway my flying gets agricultural (as we would say where I come from), and while I don't break PTS standards, neither do I set any records for accuracy and stability. I over-control the whole way down, and decide to look up 100' above the decision altitude before I make total hash of the approach. I salvage things a little bit (and over the next few landings) by absolutely nailing the landing, but still, I feel mortified — I usually do better than that on hand-flown approaches, and it's not like it's a difficult approach or the weather's getting in the way or anything. The only other saving grace is that — so far, at least — my radio work's not terrible: it's usually the first thing that goes to pieces after a long break from flying.

We do a bunch of stop-and-goes in the darkness at Livermore, then depart VFR back to Oakland (KOAK), but we already know we'll need a real IFR clearance to get home due to the coastal stratus layer that's moved in over the inner Bay area, and we gird ourselves for a stretch of ad hoc holding or circling out here in the clear skies above the Diablo Valley before we're allowed home. It doesn't sound promising when I call NorCal and ask for a clearance back from over Dublin (the one in Northern California, not the one I used to visit occasionally for my job when I lived in London…) — the controller effectively asks if we're OK with at least a ten minute delay in getting the clearance. I reply with a resigned "affirmative", but almost as soon as I've loaded the G1000 for the RNAV Y 27L approach back to Oakland, we're given a heading that looks suspiciously like a vector towards the approach just outside JUPAP, the initial fix. Sure enough, a few nautical miles closer in we're cleared for the approach, with a request for best forward speed (we're already doing that, but it's the thought that counts, I guess). I hand fly down towards the stratus layer, and in a few minutes, after a small amount of actual IMC and yet another smooth landing, we're on the ground. It's deserted down here, and we taxi off towards Landmark, unable to raise them on Unicom for fuel. At least I flew this approach with some sort of accuracy and stability, and it's all starting to come back to me. And as we wander in to Landmark to find out why they're not talking to us (we never find out in this case, but the Landmark staff are as pleasant and friendly to us as they always are), I feel pleased that I'm current again: IFR-current, night / day landing-current, and club-current. Every little bit helps….

* * *

This was supposed to be a simple short club- and landings-currency VFR flight caused by my having started a new job and losing the flying thread for way too many weeks, but the coastal stratus closed in on us earlier than predicted, and by the time we were at the airport preflighting the plane, it was obvious we'd need to depart and return IFR, even though (as usual) it was clear less than ten nautical miles to the east and / or 2,000' above us all the way east to (I'd guess) Nevada. I wasn't too upset — if I could get two approaches in I'd extend my IFR currency enough to be useful, and if John was up for a longer flight (we weren't going to depart much before 9PM), I was keen. And so it went — the only other interesting thing about the flight being that it was the first time I was using my new iPad with Foreflight for serious in-plane navigation. It's not like I haven't used John's iPad before (YAFB passim), and I'm an early Foreflight booster, so it's all fairly familiar, but actually doing it on-the-fly (as it were) while under the hood and on a real clearance is novel, and I occasionally have to ask John for advice on the best way to do things. On the other hand, I can't imagine flying IFR or even VFR in the future without the iPad (or something similar); I think the only really irritating thing was being unable to get the clearance down on the iPad — I had to scrawl it down with my left hand on my real (paper) pad. Yes, I'm vaguely ambidextrous, but still, I'll have to get a better way of copying the clearance on my iPad only. The other thing I need to get set up is the Foreflight checklist app, but that was just me being too busy over the last few weeks to get that together. Maybe next week (there's always next week).

The other thing that got our attention was a small underwing-engined RJ of some sort in Finnair livery parked at Landmark. As we taxi past we wonder what it is; I can't help noting mordantly that it looks a bit like the pictures I've seen of the Sukhoi that crashed in Indonesia last week, but Finnair (to my knowledge, at least) doesn't have Sukhois, and neither of us is sure what it really is. Later, I look it up on Wikipedia — it's an Embraer E-190, but what it's doing here in Oakland I don't know. I'm surely one of the tiny handful of Oaklanders who's not only actually flown Finnair, but who's been to Finland, so it doesn't seem likely they're scouting out a new Oakland direct Helsinki flight or have suddenly decided that Oakland's their new US hub, and it's unlikely to be a sports team charter (which usually accounts for some of the larger jets parked in front of Landmark). Just one of those Oakland mysteries, I guess.

May 14, 2012

Hayward Airport Open House

Last Sunday (the 12th) I dragged my two young nephews (3 and 5) along with me to the 2012 Hayward Airport (KHWD) Open House just down the road from Oakland, a sunny, good-natured event attended by a lot of locals, an event I enjoyed a lot.

Although they only lasted about an hour, Alex and Simon really enjoyed clambering over and around the Coast Guard helicopter, watching the B17 taxiing and flying around, "driving" the fire engine, playing around the Grumman Albatross, waving at the P51 as it did repeated flyby's, and just generally wandering around looking at the planes (long-term readers will know that the older one's already flown with me in a 172 out of Oakland). The two Tuskegee Airmen I talked to at the TA stall were great too — hope I'm that sharp and drily funny when I'm their age...

A few random snaps from the day:

Aluminum Overcast

Little Simon, Big Albatross

Little (Loud) Albatross: an Aero Vodochody L-39

Two Tuskegee Airmen