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.


June 01, 2014

Welcome To Napa County Airport



Well, it's not quite the first time I've been here, but it's J's first fly-in, and that's pretty much all that matters, no?

We're on one of those enjoyable extended Bay Tours, this time out of Hayward (KHWD), once again in CalAir's DA-40. The weather's perfect for it, and we have the plane for four hours, so why not just ... fly? And so we do: departing from Hayward we do the (always-rather-stressful) head-for-Lake-Chabot-and-wait-for-hand-off-to-Oakland-Tower-while-trying-to-remain-out-of-the-Class-C-and-Class-B-airspaces-and-simultaneously-try-not-to-hit-the-Oakland-Hills thing, then get the Oakland Tower transition along Interstate-580 (which I asked for rather than Interstate 880, mostly because I'm like that (and there was some sort of game on at the Oakland Coliseum which we would have had to avoid on the I-880 route)), then get quickly handed off to NorCal for the usual "remain well north of the [Bay Bridge] toll plaza and clear of the Class Bravo at all times" Bay Tour, then potter along at 110 knots or so past Downtown Oakland and Emeryville, destination the Golden Gate. So far so good.

My passenger J., a recent acquaintance (we have several mutual friends) who didn't seem too horrified by the idea of flying with me when I first asked, seems to be enjoying it, and I start to relax. This is her second time in a small GA airplane; the first was a long time ago out of Willits, an airport that I've visited a couple of times, and that isn't exactly the least exciting place to land or take off at. We head off over the Bay towards Alcatraz, which we circle a couple of times, then wander off towards the Golden Gate. I hand J. the stick and let her fly for a while; she's a bit nervous with that, and hands control back to me after a couple of minutes, but she does pretty well, and no one dies or gets arrested as a result of her flying. The Golden Gate turns out to be invisible under the stratus layer, so we go back down along the San Francisco shoreline for a while before heading across to Marin via Angel Island. J. seems content to mostly just watch things go by — as she says later, it's great being above it all, no? Yes, it is.

We then head off towards San Pablo Bay, passing San Quentin and the Richmond Bridge, ending up over San Pablo Bay at 3,000' so we can do some light maneuvers. Once again, I give J. control of the plane, and we do a few turns and things until she gives it back to me. She seems to be enjoying this too, but I suspect she's more comfortable just watching the world go by. I do a few steep turns to show her how that works, and she enjoys that, at least.

We head off towards the Petaluma River, fly up and around it for a little while, then head off towards Napa (KAPC). We join the pattern for runway 18R on a long 45 from Scaggs Island VOR, then get an extended downwind and then a wide left 360 out of the way as we wait for a rather fast Challenger to do the straight-in from seven miles out. We finally see him and join the pattern again, landing on 18R staying high to avoid wake turbulence. We taxi to transient parking; embarrassingly, I have to ask Ground the best way to get there and where to park (it's been a while, and there was some weirdo stuff with orange cones and maintenance along the obvious way; plus the Challenger was bearing down on us from the other direction...).

We get out and wander off to the terminal, then spend a few minutes relaxing quietly in the comfy chairs looking out at the apron and runways. There's a beautiful view of Mt Tamalpais shimmering darkly way off in the distance, and in the foreground there's a bunch of reminders of how the other half (or 1%) live, shiny and simmering in their own way (or maybe they're just glinting).

As we're sitting there, a bunch of people come in through the main terminal door from the parking lot looking for Jonesy's, the steak house that used to be in the terminal. But Jonesy's has been closed for a while now, and they leave disappointed. In fact, the terminal's quite dead; we're the only people there as far as I can see.

We eventually wander back out to the plane, with J. commenting that our plane looks nicer, newer, shinier, faster, and better-maintained than the other small GA planes out on the ramp. I'm not sure I quite agree (she would say that, wouldn't she?!), but it makes me feel proudly-amused (or amusedly-proud; maybe both). There's a Cirrus SR-22 sitting there next to our plane, and for my money it's the better airplane overall, but it's got a puzzlingly-bad paint job on it (aesthetically, anyway), so I guess we still look the hippest and sleekest and most modern of all. Not that that matters to me, oh no!

We depart Napa towards Concord and the Diablo Valley, and it starts to get a bit bumpy. This doesn't faze J., but she definitely notices the way the plane's reacting and the way it affects the controls. The view of Mt Diablo off to our left is dramatic (I get so jaded flying around the Bay Area), and J. gets an appreciation for just how extensive the Berkeley / Oakland Hills are for the first time (it's difficult to judge from the ground). We fly down Interstate-680 until I decide to do a detour out towards the Altamont wind farm, after which we fly back up past Livermore, then up Interstate-580 (it's been an Interstate kind of day in the best sort of way...), and over the Hills into Hayward, getting the old "Report Cal State Hayward" thing that always amuses me (I'm easily amused).

Back on the ground at the Green Ramp, someone else has parked in our designated space, and I fret and fume my way around the obstruction and park in the spot next to it, wondering if the Hayward Airport Parking Police will come and ding me for it. I have to steal the wheel chocks from the plane parked in our authorised spot (actually one of the club's other planes, but never mind) because they're the only ones that fit under the reduced-clearance wheel pants on the DA-40. I keep imagining Hayward Tower watching me take the chocks through their binoculars, but no one turns up to arrest me or anything (and I do at least put the other chocks in the right place under the Other Airplane).

While we're still there, the fueling truck arrives, and I discover that we used a fair bit less fuel than I expected. I guess all that paying attention to leaning and throttle / prop settings can pay off, but then the DA-40's a pretty fuel-efficient plane anyway. Back in the club, I tell Susie about the planes being in the wrong place, and feel better that this is an irritatingly-common thing with certain club pilots (I KNOW WHO YOU ARE!), and I won't get blamed for it. Not this time, anyway.

* * *

Later, I ask J. what the best bit was. "Oh, everything!", she says, which is an enjoyable thing to hear after a flight like that.

April 26, 2014

The Way We Were



I can't help it: the image in the previous post of the cockpit instrumentation (including my iPad) I now take for granted made me go back to my original flying diary to find this image of 12R's panel back when I was learning to fly. Not exactly state of the art even then, but still, a pretty representative Cessna 172 panel from the late 1990's (12R's panel might even still look like this for all I know).

Do I ever look back on this sort of stuff with nostalgia? Not bloody likely. Like the old flying diary itself (which transmogrified into this blog, but still lives on as an extremely old-fashioned and primitive-looking thing if you can find it), I look on it and wonder (but not exactly with wonder)....

April 20, 2014

Because I Can

2,500' Over Oakland



A low-intensity solo local VFR flight… because I can. This should have been another flight with a friend, but he couldn't make it at the last moment, so why not just … fly? So I do, circumnavigating Mt Diablo, doing touch and goes at Livermore (KLVK), lazily sightseeing over the Diablo Valley, etc., all in perfect Bay Area spring VFR weather.

I've bought new headsets — Lightspeed Sierras — to replace my old Lightspeeds, and the new ones work nicely, after having wrestled with the odd settings on the audio panel which initially made me think the new Sierras were broken. Back when I had something to do with club aircraft maintenance, we used to joke that 90% of all pilot-initiated avionics-related squawks are ultimately caused by the pilot not understanding the audio panel, and this is nearly one of those (but I did understand the panel, and I did debug the problem, after first blaming the headsets :-)).

Early tomorrow I'll resume my more usual position somewhere in the passenger cabin of a Southwest 737 bound for Burbank (KBUR). Not quite the same thing, really.

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

The BFR




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….