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Travelogues
By Ryan Ferguson, © 2001-2005


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Flight Instructor!

12/21/02: Thanks to DPE John Azma for another enjoyable practical test. And Mr. Azma, I promise and swear that I will memorize those darn radar summary codes for once and for all! A year of on and off-again effort has finally culminated in my CFI certificate. On to CFII and MEI!


Friday the 13th

12/16/02: The plan was simple enough. Noel and I would fly to North Carolina, drop off my wife, spend the night, and then travel from Rutherfordton to Deer Valley, Arizona, the next day.

Things got off to a rocky start on Dec. 12th. Our night-time arrival into FQD resulted in a miss. We drove along to the missed approach point and could see the clouds illuminating in the vicinity of the REILS, but that was it. We diverted to Asheville, landed, and did a rental car dance.

The next morning - Friday the 13th, of course - we got a late start due a combination of weather and planning issues, and when we did it was up into a soggy, drizzly 600 foot overcast with 2SM visibility. Freezing temps were forecast at 9,000 feet, and we'd filed for 8. About 20 minutes into our flight, it happened: total electrical failure.

Not just loss of generators. The whole panel went dark, and the ampmeter showed a -40amp load even with everything shut off. Something was terribly wrong. We squawked 7700, circled back to head towards Asheville, and took stock of our situation. We had two good vacuum pumps and three good gyros, two handheld transcievers, two hand-held GPS', and most importantly, four-plus hours of fuel. Everything else was dead. Low IFR conditions existed within a wide radius of several hundred miles in most directions. We went through the standard troubleshooting procedures to no effect. Recycling the generators would not bring them back online, and no circuit breakers had popped.

Immediately I thought of my all-electrical gear system and the likelihood that I'd need to drop the gear down manually.

We found a little area in the clouds in which to circle. I have to hand it to my magnificent copilot Noel, who kept his cool and patiently worked the handheld radios trying to reach an approach facility, anywhere... no dice. You've really got to be right on top of an airport to talk to anybody with the damn things.

We decided to fly to Greer, which is southeast of Asheville and clear of the mountains, to have a shot at talking to someone, when I decided to try recycling the generators one last time. Amazingly, the left generator came back online. The sight of a lit-up panel was one of the finest things I've yet seen in my 28 years on planet Earth. Immediately we were talking to Asheville approach who vectored us in for the ILS to runway 16. The rolled the trucks... felt a little sheepish, but did not regret declaring an emergency.

As soon as the mechanic comes out to look at the plane he asks me, "Were you in heavy rain?" Well, moderate to heavy, yeah. He says he suspects there was a short and that both generators will work now. He hops in and I'll be damned if he isn't right. Both generators come online, each time. We recycle them, try different RPM settings, and just try anything we can think of to reproduce the event. Nope, they work fine.

After a compass swing we head back out and make it as far western Tennessee before the lowering freezing level forces us onto the ground at Jackson (McKeller field.) 100nm out we were forced by trace ice from 8 down to 6; 50nm out, down to 4; until finally we were cruising at center's minimum vectoring altitude. It was time to land. We shot the back course into McKeller and visited the on-field FSS in person for a briefing. We tried again in a few hours to no avail; then tried at 9pm for one final shot after a SIGMET for icing had expired, but found moderate to severe mixed icing in the clouds. We returned directly back to the outer marker and shot the ILS. Even though we were only in the clouds for a short time we picked up a noticable amount of rime on the airplane's extremeties.

And that killed our chances of making it to Arizona. Since we had time to kill, we flew the Cub through the Blue Ridge, including a nice photo op flyby at Avery (7A8).

I hope you enjoy the pics.

Note: problem partially identified. I recently replaced the aircraft's old battery with a new G35. Huge improvement. I realized that the old battery was simply not able to carry any significant load and that if I did have some water-induced short that day, the symptoms I observed could easily be attributed to a weak battery.

All pics courtesy Noel Heraty.


Operation Spike

Shelly with Spike Shelly keeps Spike company during the takeoff.
11/26/02: On the Yahoo! Groups, my username is "dogs_can_fly". The reason for this is that my airplane is available to transport animals for dog rescue organizations and persons in need. Recently, I received an email from a rescue volunteer about Spike, a 7-year old, partially blind bulldog undergoing heartworm treatment. Spike had been rescued in South Carolina just one day prior to his euthanization. Spike's various scars were proof of the former life he was likely forced to lead: dogfighting. Being an animal lover and, in particular, a dog lover, this sort of activity sickens me. When I learned Spike had an opportunity to be transported to a permanent, loving home in Pennsylvania, I was happy to provide my pilot, er, "services."

Spike is one of the sweetest, gentlest dogs you're apt to meet. The rescue volunteer in South Carolina, who was serving as a temporary foster family for the lovable old guy, was kind enough to bring him to my "home base" in Rutherfordton, North Carolina. The plan was to pick him up at noon and fly him to the North East Philadelphia Airport (PNE), where his new family awaited him. I asked our SC contact to bring sedatives. "You just never know," I told her. She chuckled and agreed, but said, "Trust me, you won't need them."

How best to describe Spike? Uh... unflappable. He walked up to me, slimed me (that's a Bulldog hug) then had no problem with being installed in the backseat of the airplane. He snuggled up to Shelly as we taxied out, and didn't appear to notice the increase in noise level as I brought the throttles forward. In ten minutes he was out like a lightbulb, dreaming bulldog dreams, and drooling all over my backseat.

We enjoyed fantastic groundspeed northbound... I finally got my wish! 200 knots, level flight, sustained! Shooting the visual into PNE we were met by Spike's new mom and dad, who instantly fell in love with the big dog. The PA volunteers even brought us some signature Philly subs for dinner... fantastic! We cooled out with a friend of mine based in Philly, Steve Kuester, then hopped back in the plane for the return trip.

Of course, what goes up must come down, and what flies northeast must return to the southwest... ugh, 115-120 knots the entire way back. 4.3 hours! I had to throttle back and fly at 65% to keep my IFR reserves legal with such a strong headwind.

As we neared FQD, I was irritated to find it was overcast at 1500 (2600 MSL), which is below Center's MVA, and requested to be vectored in for the localizer runway 1 approach. I was really tired and did not feel like flying the procedure. I'm glad they were able to provide services for me out there.

A very satisfying day. Good luck to Spike and his new family.


More on helicopters

11/07/02: I know, I know, enough already. But, wow! It turns out people really do visit my site, because I've gotten several emails about helicopters every single day since my helicopter update. Some of those emails are from current pilots, and others are from potential students who want to learn. Forgive me while I wax on for a moment, in an effort to answer what I think are the most common questions and issues facing those who want to fly rotary-wing aircraft.

First: yes, I feel perfectly safe in helicopters. The Schweizer 300CB is a very safe and forgiving training aircraft with a safety record that is the envy of the industry. In the last 180,000 flight hours, there have been only ten accidents and NO fatalities or serious injuries. For light aviation aircraft, and especially for one which is used primarily for training, that's beyond good... it's fantastic.

Not that I put too much stock in statistics. Certainly, flying is a riskier activity than, say, watching TV. But I've learned enough about the aircraft, it's systems, and how it's built to have a great deal of trust in the machine. The fully-articulated 3-bladed rotor system has a reasonably high rotor inertia for a light training helicopter. Components are robust and built with simplicity and reliability in mind. Hardly anything ever needs maintenance! That's amazing when you consider that unlike a fixed-wing aircraft, this machine has 5 airfoils (all of which feather), two transmissions, a clutch, reduction pulleys, a reciprocating engine, and a very complex (relatively speaking) control system, all housed in an inherently unstable flight platform that vibrates ten ways to Sunday!

I am also surprised to find that the misapprehension of engine failure equating with certain doom is so widespread - even among some fixed-wing pilots! Okay, for the record: helicopters DO NOT fall out of the sky in the event of powerplant failure! The freewheeling unit allows the rotor blades to keep spinning, and the relative wind rushing up through the blades keeps the helicopter gliding. (Yes, gliding!) A properly executed autorotation sits the helicopter down on the ground in small areas - intersections, small lots, confined fields - and it occurs at low airspeeds, which means less potential for impact trauma injuries to the crew.

Is learning to fly a helicopter difficult? No, not really. This is evidenced by the fact that student pilots are usually flying the helicopter, hovering, looping around the traffic pattern - with little if any control input from the instructor - within 10 or so flight training hours. It's not brain surgery, folks... if one person can do it, so can nearly everyone else. With practice and training, you're up next.

Are there are any jobs out there for helicopter pilots? Ah, that's the crux of the matter for many would-be students. Helicopter training is expensive, and for an awful lot of folks out there, the only way to justify the investment is to turn it into a career. As a humble helicopter pilot with private pilot privileges only (and a mere 45 hours of rotor time), I'm not really the right person to ask about that. From informal discussions I've had with people in this industry, it seems your only 'sure' bet is to instruct in helicopters. There simply aren't that many flying around the world compared to airplanes, and the 'cool' jobs (news, traffic, passenger transport) are in very high demand with stiff competition from very experienced helicopter pilots. From my unbiased and somewhat uninformed perspective, the market looks pretty tough. But where there's a will, there's a way.

Finally, here's what happens when you try to teach yourself how to fly a helicopter.

Keep those emails coming! Send them to ryan@fergworld.com. I'd love to hear from you.


New rotor photos

11/03/02: Some photos taken by Shelly, my first passenger in the helicopter.


Helicopters

10/31/02: I've been thinking mostly about helicopters for the last couple of days. Maybe it's just the 'high' of having the rating, but normally when I get this way about flying I have to sit down and start writing about it. That's one of the reasons I have this site. If I'm not flying, I'm thinking, reading, or writing about flying. Unfortunately, I'm barely qualified to recite what I read out of textbooks when it comes to rotary wing flight. The aerodynamics and physics involved are vastly complex. It would require many large tomes just to cover the fundamentals in detail. So I'm sure as hell not going to write about helicopters the way I do airplanes. I'm surely not going to be doing anyone a service by doing that, what with my whole 40 hours of rotor time.

But I can write about flying helicopters... what I like about it, and what makes it so different from fixed-wing flight.

My interest in flying started at a very young age. When I saw a bird, or an airplane, in the sky, I would look up and watch it. (Still do, today - no matter what size of flying machine or animal.) Most of the childhood dreams that I can remember involved flying. One of the most enjoyable 'flying dreams' which I experienced was the sensation of effortless flight out of some field or other surrounded by trees - free of wings or any mechanical device - vault up above them into the blue, look down and around, watching the ground recede away. Then, maybe come swooping back down again to where I started. Very pleasant.

Flying helicopters really comes closest to making that fantasy a reality, moreso than most any other type of flying I've done. Perhaps aerobatics comes close in many ways, but that ability to control your speed, interact very intimately with the ground and terrain, and of course hover in place makes a big difference. It simply requires a helicopter.

I've read accounts of helicopter pilots bringing their fixed wing friends aloft for their first helo flight, and enjoying their fumbling attempts to control the machine. I can see the fun in that, sure. But more than anything, I like to see the expression of my companion as we speed forward from a hover several feet above the ground, into effective translational lift, and vault away from the earth in any direction we choose. I remember, on my first helicopter flight, comparing it to a magic carpet. Very wondrous, very different. Not the sense of being on rails like an airplane. Tiny inputs on the cyclic - you don't notice them. You think it, and the helicopter does it. Instinctive. And of course, that view! I'm more immune to it now, but the full field of view in all directions above - around - and below - was amazing. Still is. I hope that those who join me in the helicopter will appreciate these things.

So, if you'd like to join me sometime, drop me an e-mail. :) Might help if you live in Central Florida, though...


Rotorhead

10/30/02: It's official... DPE Budd Darling, as a representative of the FAA, has seen fit to rate me 'satisfactory' in performance on my private pilot rotorcraft-helicopter practical test. I'm now a helicopter pilot. Whoopity-doo-dah!

I am Orlando Helicopter Training's first 'graduate' of sorts. Thanks to Gabi Rotunda for seeing me through as always. (World's most versatile flight instructor?)


From FL to AZ and back in 72 hours - Oct. 25-27, 2002

Route: SFB -> HZR -> SNK -> DVT
DVT -> ABI -> BTR -> SFB

Aircraft: Piper PA-30 Twin Comanche

Note: pictures are available by clicking here.

10/29/02: Noel Heraty and I hopped aboard my trusty steed, 8259Y, for a quick jaunt out to Deer Valley, Arizona, where I had to meet with an advisor of mine for a day - and then return the next morning! Our plan called for departing SFB at 6AM on Friday (Oct. 25) morning, stopping for fuel at False River, then Snyder, Texas, and finally landing at DVT at approximately 5PM local time. Noel is a CFII/MEI and a damn good pilot to boot. We both looked forward to an enjoyable trip.

SFB to DVT
Great circle route courtesy Great Circle Mapper

Thanks to the Airnav.com Fuel Planner we were able to easily select stops which offered inexpensive avgas. Both False River and Snyder were good choices in that regard, although we were initially concerned after landing at HZR to find a note indicating that the fuel pumps were out of service. Luckily, this turned out not to be the case and the TwinCo gulped down a quick 64 gallons at $1.95/gal. (Nice!)

As it turned out, Noel and I had very interesting weather to contend with for most of the outbound trip. A low settled in over Texas - a 300-500 foot overcast which covered almost the entire state like a blanket. As we cruised in glorious sunshine above, the poor citizens of Texas were moping about in gloom. Ah, flying instruments is rewarding.

The approach into HZR was right down to minimums. Non-precision approaches are my favorite and this one was rewarding. I was actually preparing to go missed when we popped out just under 400' AGL. Noel got a great picture.

By the time we got to Deer Valley, we were tired but happy. The airplane flew with nearly zero squawks. Shortly after takeoff from SFB my left engine CHT probe on cylinder #4 started going haywire. I had recently dealt with another bad probe (EGT) and this one was dying in an identical manner. I deactivated the probe on the JPI EDM-760 and continued on. Other than that we had only a couple of minor glitches here and there. The A/P was borked, but that's been an ongoing issue, and having two pilots aboard really helped in that regard.

The return trip was also quite interesting. The low was still solidly entrenched in Texas and we shot a localizer back course into Abilene followed by an ILS into Baton Rouge. Fun day to fly - plenty of IMC.

Welp... that's about it. Check out the pictures. Thanks to Noel Heraty for his assistance and good company on the journey.


Worst... approach... ever!

10/03/02: Ever have one of those "Jeez, do I suck" moments? Yeah, you know you have, I don't care how good you are. Well, here's mine. It's my standard trek from SFB to FQD (Rutherford Co. airport, about 30nm ESE of Asheville Regional in North Carolina.) I've made this trip dozens of times. It's pretty easy: depart SFB, turn 90 degrees to the left, fly direct to CRG, then direct SPA, and shoot the only approach worth yer time, the FQD LOC RWY 1. Like a good, dutiful pilot I get my complete DUATS weather briefing and check the FDC NOTAMs for anything affecting my destination, alternate, and potential enroute diversion airports. Sure enough, here's what I find:

!FDC 2/4237 FQD FI/T RUTHERFORD CO-MARCHMAN FIELD,
  RUTHERFORDTON, NC.
    LOC RWY 1, AMDT 1...
      TERMINAL ROUTE SPARTANBURG (SPA) VORTAC, TO EPOZI INT NA.

I've seen this one before and I'm familiar with it. The last time I was up there I queried the controllers about it, and it had to do with certain radials from SPA being unusuable below certain altitudes. I filed that little factoid away and forgot about it. The weather's been pretty good VFR at the destination for a few months so I haven't had any need to shoot the approach in actual conditions for awhile. Generally you can expect to be cleared for the full approach starting at SPA at 3000 feet, where you take the SPA R-358 transition to the EPOZI intersection, at which point you drop down to 2600 to pick up JAKIB, the FAF. The straight in DME minimums are pretty low for a non-precision approach - 348 feet AGL! But, there's not a whole heckuva lot to hit south of the airport. There's some rising terrain in the northeast quadrant of the plate (conveniently hidden below the localizer tag) but other than that, you're looking at a pretty easy and straightforward approach.

And one other thing.

Rutherfordton NC (Rutherford Co - Marchman Field) [FQD]: September NOTAM #10
Automatic weather observing/reporting station (AWOS) not available

Rutherfordton NC (Rutherford Co - Marchman Field) [FQD]: September NOTAM #8
Aerodrome beacon out of service

AWOS at FQD is listed as OTS. The beacon is practically invisible even on a moonless night - couldn't care less about that one. So that's fine, I'll pick up the weather at Greer (GSP) and try to get a PIREP if anyone else has been shooting the approach. Weather in the area is reported at just above minimums in the Asheville area, but at GSP the clouds are broken at 600 feet AGL.

So I file, pick Greenville as my alternate for FQD, launch into the murk, and get on top to cruise in glorious sunshine - one of my favorite aspects of flying IFR. As Otto gently hunts the heading bug on the DG to keep me flying northbound I take note of my groundspeed: 195 knots! Now we're cookin' with gas. I never did touch the elusive 200 knot mark in level flight but I came within a few knots on many occasions.

I play with my Palm Pilot, using my beloved, nearly free CBAV application to pick up the weather up in western North Carolina and northwestern South Carolina. (Boy, that's a mouthful... Northwestern South Carolina?) Winds on the ground are running in the mid twenties to low thirties, more or less in parallel with my strong tailwinds aloft at 9000. Okay... so that means a circling approach to FQD. Asheville's still at minimums, but that's to be expected as the field elevation is about 1000 feet higher, and the airport is in a bowl formed by mountains. Normally I'd have about two hours and forty five minutes to study approaches and do any other cockpit organization enroute, but with my fantastic groundspeed today I find myself rushing a bit to keep up. The dog's asleep in my wife's lap. And come to think of it, my wife is also asleep. And the MP3 player pumps out some nice Django Rheinhardt. Life is good, for right now. I study the plate a bit more just for the hell of it, and by the time I get PD down to 4,000 my descent checklist is completed and I'm pointed back down into the murk. At 210 knots ground speed. Go, baby, go!

I ask Greer approach for an update on their weather. "Down to broken at 500," is the reply. Okay, let's hope for better weather at FQD. With circling, I'm going to need to break out at or above 1540 feet MSL (462 above the ground) and that's cutting it awfully close. And I'm really gonna be rocketing along. I'd really like to get in today... Normal procedure is to fly left traffic for both 01 and 19, but there's that little hump of dirt up in the northeast quadrant... hrm.

I'm expecting Greer to vector me in for the localizer, when I'm surprised by being told to expect the normal full approach including SPA transition to EPOZI. I query Greer. "Greer, isn't that transition NOTAM'd NA?" I ask. "Nope, NOTAM's been lifted," says the controller. Huh. Okay, well... "November 8259Y, cross the Spartanburg VOR at or above 3000, maintain 3000 until EPOZI, cleared Ru'ford localizer runway one approach." I repeat the clearance and drop down to 3000. I am screaming along compared to my normal speed at this point: 185 knots along the ground.

I come up on SPA right as I touch 3001 feet MSL and turn left slightly to start tracking the 358 degree radial. Well, trying to anyway. The second that the indicator flips from "TO" to "FROM", it just starts waving around to the left and right. I hold my heading for a moment, but the needle doesn't stabilize. A little strange, considering I'm only about one mile away from it. Jeez, make that two, I'm moving along at nearly four statute miles per minute! I've got an approach to fly!

Considering my strong tailwind from the south, I figure cutting about a ten degree correction to the left, holding 348 degrees and waiting for the mostly left deflection to settle down and give me a good heading. I've got the localizer inbound course dialed in on #1 and am watching it slowly float around at about 5 degrees left deflection. I concentrate on the VOR radial some more. Still just waving around. I decide to tell Greer. "Just to let you know, I've got strong reception of SPA on the audio, but terrible course guidance." The controller sounds surprised and thanks me. According to the plate, the transition route is 13.8 nautical miles, and by the time I give up on the R-358 and just start looking to get aligned with the localizer, I'm well off the to the left. To make matters worse my GPS ground track shows that the wind near FQD has shifted to come from a more southeasterly direction. And I'm still motoring along at a brisk clip, to say the least. I've throttled back to 18" of MAP and my airspeed is only 130 knots.

I crank in another 5 degrees of right correction trying to reel the localizer back in. I glance at my GPS, wishing that I had set it up to OBS mode so that I could have the final approach course painted on the moving map. For now, my hands are full flying the airplane. Nothing but clouds and an occasional glimpse of the rolling green hills below as I pass JAKIB. I've got 3/4 right deflection on the localizer. I'm still in the game, but I'm getting my ass whipped.

I reduce to 16" and crank in yet another 5 degrees. Not too much! Down we go to 1500 feet and I've still got a five degree needle deflection to the right, and my groundspeed isn't getting any slower... gear's down, airspeed's 120 knots, and I'm clocking 160 knots GS! The needle finally starts coming back my way as I cross 2.2 DME and head down to 1540 MSL. I break out looking at the left corner of runway 01 and a low, rolling broken layer. Good visibility. I bank to the the right to start a circling maneuver (which is essentially a low traffic pattern) at 150 knots groundspeed. I don't really want to go any slower, as I'm already at 100 knots and dropping half flaps (13 degrees.) I rocket past the FBO midfield at pattern altitude and rack the airplane into a steep left turn in an attempt to roll out on the centerline of the airport. Close, but no cigar - slight overshoot. My groundspeed now is 75 knots (ha!) and dropping fast, and the rest of the approach is a non-event, followed by, mercifully, an acceptable landing.

Wife wakes up. Dog wakes up. All is well. But that approach sucked!

Note to self: I shoulda just used the damn GPS to navigate directly to EPOZI from SPA, and not even worry about VOR reception issues... duh. And, don't get behind the airplane because things are happening fast - think more about how the approach will unfold before beginning the initial descent. If I had, I'd have been flying direct SPA -> EPOZI -> IFQD, and using indicator #2 for the localizer.


Colorful characters

8/07/02: Sometimes, you just never know who or what you'll find in the aviation world.

The little airport we found - it shall remain nameless to protect the guilty - was off the beaten path. An hour of searching by car led us to what was obviously an airport - a bit unkempt and overgrown, but an airport nonetheless. A private one. I wanted to find the airport manager. My father was with me. The story that follows is very nearly 100% true.

We pull off to the side of the road and gaze at the only structure which could possibly accomodate an airport office. It'S leaning; the windows are crazed, trash is piled up outside the door, and grass grows tall over the sidewalk. But there's no mistaking the small sign which states: "Office." Office to what? Hell if I know. My father and I glance at each other. It actually takes a little courage to push the door open and walk in. We don't know what we'd find.

Ever look at a really complicated painting and have to stare at it a few seconds before you can interpret it all? I'm overwhelmed by piles and piles and piles of... stuff. Indistinct piles, not neatly formed, just many years of various odds and ends laying around. I feel uncomfortable, like a kid who snuck into an empty building which maybe isn't so empty after all. Dust mites are clearly visible in the rays of afternoon sunshine which somehow make it through the dirty window panes. Anyone here?

Aha! A pair of eyeballs hover beneath a graying, balding head of hair, sitting atop a stack of old LPs. He sits, expectantly. He saw us come in.

"Oh, hi there!" I say, injecting a 'Hey, you're just the guy I was looking for' tone into my voice. "We were looking for the FBO or airport manager. We wanted to find out if we could fly in here. Heard you needed prior permission."

The eyeballs wheel their way out from behind cover to reveal a guy who's no stranger to sitting in chairs for long periods of time. He doesn't get up, just scoots the chair to an area where there's less detritus than others. I assume it's his desk.

"Private airport," he says cautiously. "Yeah, you need permission."

He looks me over. He probably figures I don't look like much of a pilot. "You got mountain flying experience? High density altitude experience?" he snarls.

I glance around. I'm standing at 3,100 ft. elevation in North Carolina. There is terrain surrounding the airport, sure - but I wouldn't exactly consider it 'high altitude.'

"Yessir," I reply.

He acts like he didn't hear me. "If you don't we tell you to get the <BLEEP!> out."

I blink. My ears feel hot, and I'm suddenly glad I left my mother out in the truck. "Shouldn't be a problem," I say. He growls something again, murmurs something unintelligable, and slides his business card over to me. It reads Harry Lawotka, airport manager. It's also embroidered onto his shirt, mechanic style.

"Wanna buy an FBO? I'm burnt-out. Flew corp-rett for years, then I got a divorce."

Rhetorical question, I hope? I look around and wonder if this is the FBO he's trying to sell.

"Sell fuel here?" I ask. A rusting pump sits outside, overgrown with weeds.

"Not anymore. Liability!" he spits.

I nod. He leans back, thumbs in his trousers. His potbelly hangs well clear of his belt buckle. "What do ya fly?"

I tell him I fly a Twin Comanche.

"Twin... Comanche!" he exclaims, booming the second syllable of 'Comanche' with extra emphasis. "Had a Comanche... two hunnert and fif-tee horsepower, crash and burn here a couple years ago."

He spits into a cup.

"Saw the guy load up, told him he was loco to put all that shit in the back. Kilt four people. The Twin Comanche is kinda underpower'... hunnert an' sixty per side?"

I tell him, yes, 160 horsepower per side, and that I fly at max gross frequently with no problems.

"Well, be careful. You can fly in here, it's seven fiftee a night."

I thank him and think about beating it out the door.

"Franklin Graham, the Rev' Billy Graham's boy, owns this place. Dudn't allow anyone to come in or take off at night."

I glance out the window again. The airport is obviously unlit. I can barely make out the pavement -- in broad daylight.

"Oh," I say, "I don't think I'd want to try that anyhow, but don't worry, I'll only come in during the daytime."

Harry's doesn't miss a beat. "Caught one guy leavin' at night. Called me up, said, Har, tell him not to come back." He stares right at me, emphasizing his point.

"Gotcha," I reply, nodding slowly, trying to telegraph that I deeply and truly understand.

I decide to try to change the subject. Really, I just want to leave, but I have to go on a more graceful note.

"By the way, where should I tie down out there?" I see three planes - one is a tiny experimental. There are a couple of Cessna 172s on the approach end of 31. They sit among tall grass.

"No tie-downs," he drawls. "You can keep it on the pavement though."

"Oh," I say. "I'd probably prefer to keep it indoors or tied down. Storms can get nasty around here."

His eyes light up, practically twinkling. "Ayyyuh! That they do, that they do." He chuckles, or coughs. "Turn' a couple planes upside down here a year or two back."

"So you keep them all in the hangar now?" A rusty old hangar adjoins the office.

"Naw, that's my shop."

"Oh."

He doesn't say anything more on the subject, so I infer that tie-downs are still scarce at this airport. I then deduce that this is the reason I see three planes on the entire field.

"Well, hey, off I go, got my folks out in the car," I say. "Been good meeting you, Harry!" He spits in his cup, shakes my hand, and reminds me that his FBO is for sale.

Just another day out in the country.


Knowledge exams done

8/07/02: Finally, I have my CFI knowledge tests out of the way. My Fundamentals of Instructing and Flight Instructor Airplane tests are history! Oh, and I took my AGI written the day after FIA, so I'm now an Advanced Ground Instructor (whoopee!)

I am getting much closer to the CFI checkride. My lazy eights from the right seat are still kind of clunky but I think they're now hitting PTS.


Cub wanderings

Piper Super Cub Piper Super Cub 271T.
8/07/02: Things I like: getting into a 50 year old Piper Cub and wandering through the Blue Ridge. Leaving the door and window open, bringing along a special someone, staying close to the ground, waving to people who are still not terrified of a little yellow airplane buzzing slowly through the cool mountain air. Staying low enough to read street signs to find my way. A control panel with little more than flight controls, throttle, carb heat, a mag selector, and starter button. Being cradled by the lush landscape rolling by below, beside, and above me. Wheel landings. A well-worn stick: how many countless pilots have piloted this craft before me? Many that are doubtless now dead and gone. Leaving the tail up on the rollout and letting it drop ever so gently to the ground just as it's time to turn off the runway. Putting my arm out into the slipstream and pointing out features a few hundred feet below. Sharing the joy of flight with my wife, who is now also a pilot, as she takes the controls from the back seat.

Yes, these are things I like. The little things, the subtleties that form some exquisite taste, or touch, or some other unexplainable feeling that fills me with wellness, spirit, and hope. The things I will remember when it's all said and done.

Lake Lure from Cub
Shelly took this picture of Lake Lure from the open window/door of the Cub.
Cub fun
Flying the Cub.
Chimney Rock
This is Chimney Rock, overlooking Lake Lure.
Cabin picture
Up close and personal.
Chasing our shadow
Chasing our shadow.
Side view of Piper Cub
Magic carpet ride ready to depart.


Real mountain flying

Approach to Telluride The approach to Telluride, CO (TEX).
6/14/02: I'm back from a 'flying vacation' of sorts. Shelly and I flew to Boulder, Colorado, to spend time with our good friends David and Vay, and their ridiculously adorable baby, Quinlan. David and I took the Mountain Flying Ground School offered by the Colorado Pilots' Association. Following the ground school, Mark Stevenson (a CPA-approved instructor) was gracious enough to fly with me into the high country, where you frequently look up to see the terrain you're trying to avoid (instead of down.) A complete writeup of that experience is available in my Articles section. Click here to read it.

Following the Mountain Flying Course, my newly minted copilot and I flew to Telluride, Colorado (TEX), for several days of hiking and 4x4 adventures. Telluride is a fantastically beautiful place, and flying the approach into the airport is a humbling experience. The airport is not exactly at a very low altitude (in fact, field elevation is 9,078 feet) and the peaks surrounding the airport touch 14,000 feet and higher. The flatlander in me was amazed. Hopefully I brought a bit of the mountains back with me.

8259Y on ramp at TEX
8259Y on the ramp at TEX.
1280x960 version
Takeoff roll
Although the photo doesn't do it justice,
the western half of this runway looks
like a downhill ski jump!
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On climbout
The terrain surrounding TEX on climbout.
1280x960 version

Returning back to Florida, we flew a huge dogleg to the south to avoid some nasty convective activity in Kansas. We climbed to 15,000 feet where I enjoyed groundspeeds of 170 knots while sipping a mere 13.5 gallons per hour! We had such good fuel efficiency and such a nice ride that we flew all the way to Austin, Texas, nearly 700nm, in one leg.

I've flown into enough good FBOs now that I don't normally comment on the experience, but at our final fuel stop in Mobile, Alabama, I received service that was so exceptional it must be mentioned. In we walked to the Mobile Air Center at Mobile Regional (MOB), bedraggled and tired, and were instantly attended to as though we were royalty! Free refreshments, including a pizza ordered specifically for us on the house, and the best hospitality I've gotten on this continent. If you land at MOB, this is the place to stop and rest.

Back to SFB we dodged around some more convective stuff to finally land, 12 hours after takeoff from Telluride. What a great trip! And the plane was nearly squawk-free. Who could ask for more?


Shelly earns Private Pilot Certificate

6/05/02: It's official: we're a 2-pilot, 2-dog, 2-bird family now. My wife, Shelly passed her checkride with FLYING COLORS! She is now among the ranks of the few, the proud, the Mar-- er, private pilots. Gabi, Shelly's instructor, overprepared her student as usual. Shelly reported that the checkride was easy compared to Gabi's rigorous instruction! ACHTUNG!


International flight

Route (May. 29-30): SFB -> FQD -> TEB -> CYHU
Route (June. 02): CYHU -> ALB -> RDU -> SFB
Aircraft: Piper Twin Comanche

Int'l flight
Great circle route courtesy Great Circle Mapper

06/03/02: Flew to Montreal, Canada, for business. Landed St. Hubert (CYHU) - don't say "Saint Hubert," it's pronounced 'Saint Hubair." What a great city... I'm going to go back for sure. It's a pretty reasonable flight, right around 1100nm from SFB, which is a very doable one-day'er.

Highlights: not much, really. It was pretty uneventful. My A/P is inop so I hand flew the trip. That's quite annoying, but I've flown the last 50 hours or so without it and I'm almost getting used to it. The big downside is not being able to mess with my Palm Pilot very easily while flying.

Luck awarded me with pretty good days to fly through the northeast corridor. I enjoyed slight tailwinds both ways and the weather was mostly clear, although occasionally the visibility dropped and/or I spent time in a cloud deck. Probably only picked up two hours of actual instrument time on the trip. Passed through New York, landed at Teterboro (TEB) for fuel, and was disappointed to see the city skyline minus the World Trade Center towers.

Montreal from the air
Looking at the island (Montreal) on climbout from St. Hubert (CYHU).
Passing through New York was fine, but it seemed that no matter what I did I couldn't get my routing right. On the trip north, I received 3 amendments to my routing, and on the return trip, I was given 6! Not the quick change here or there, but a complete full-route amendment that required lots of time on freq and lots of time reprogramming the GPS. However, ATC was quite friendly and I cut a lot of corners around the VORs when they could give me direct.

Passing through north New York and into Canada I started hearing more French accents. When handed to Montreal Terminal, the controller was speaking in French, and my IAP for CYHU listed ATIS frequencies in both French and English. It was very easy to understand the controllers and except for minor changes in terminology, flying in Canada is pretty darn similar to the USA. When cleared for the ILS, the controller said, "Cleared for the IFR Approach." Those kinds of differences.

I experienced my first instrument equipment failure on the approach into St. Hubert. It was quite hazy, perhaps 3sm visibility; ceiling was broken to overcast at 1200 feet. As I intercepted the localizer I noticed my heading was 30 degrees off from the runway heading. "Wow, that's a heck of a wind correction," I thought to myself. Then the controller called, "59Y, you are 1/2 mile north of the final approach course." I checked my indicator (I had just used it to track the ILS at TEB) and said, "Ma'am, my equipment shows me on course." Now, I must have been suffering from brain fade from the long trip, but one look at my GPS should have showed that I was not pointing at the airport. Nonetheless, down I continued a bit more and the controller called again, "1 mile north of course." Then she gave me the missed approach instructions. At that moment I broke out, saw the airport well off to my left, and called it in sight. Landed uneventfully. I will definitely start monitoring the localizer with indicator #2 in the future.

I did mucho preparation to fly in Canada. Ordered the Canadian charts, spent $150 on my Restricted Radiotelephone Operator's Permit and my Aircraft Radio Station License, and they were never examined. I also retrieved my original birth certificate, which I'd expected to need, but Canadian customs asked only to see my driver's license. Frankly, the international part of the flight was a nonevent.

Clearing Customs in Albany, on the return trip, was also very easy. I called ahead to the national operations center to have a Customs officer paged. I was traveling on Sunday, thus the requirement for doing this. To be honest, I was a little nervous about waking the agent early on a Sunday morning, but he was very pleasant and efficient. I simply taxied to the customs area, shut down in the little circle painted on the pavement, and displayed my US ID and airplane paperwork. Then I continued onward.

Southbound, the trip was fine and I was averaging 175 knots ground speed. I was in continuous moderate turbulence when I left Albany, all the way down to Raleigh-Durham International, my fuel stop. Enjoyed decent weather enroute and didn't need to shoot any approaches.

I was wheels-up in St. Hubert at 8:30AM and was shutting the door to my hangar in Florida at 6:00PM the same night. When you fly, the world truly is your backyard.


General Update

04/28/02: Well - I read my entries in my 'log' below and I have to laugh! I had hoped to be instructing by now, but I'm still firmly planted in the sea of CFI wanna-bes. Despite my lack of progress on the CFI certificate, I have been learning more about flying in other ways.

1800 RVR On the ramp at Asheville. We had to wait until visibility improved to ILS minimums before I was willing to depart.
My wife and I purchased a little cabin in North Carolina for the purpose of weekend enjoyment and, eventually, vacation rental. We've been flying to and from (based in Florida) several times per month in the process of fixing it up, adding a gameroom, and so on. I've really enjoyed the flying as I've been exposed to some good weather challenges. I'd estimate that a solid 60% of the commutes we've made to and from North Carolina involved some IFR elements enroute. It's a 400nm trip, and the weather has really run the gamut from severe clear to ice, convection, and widespread fog. In some cases I've had to stay low below the freezing level as I cross into South Carolina heading north. On others, I've stayed in clouds from shortly after departure until breaking out on the approach. I've flown the FQD localizer approach into minimums, as well as several other Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida approaches with very low ceilings and/or visibilities. I've come home to Sanford or Orlando Executive at ILS minimums and have gotten a grand total of two enroute holds now. I've discovered that I really live for that kind of flying above anything else. It is extremely satisfying to fly smoothly and feel competent at one's craft, despite a relatively complex environment. I wouldn't venture into IMC regularly without redundant systems, and if anything my interest in backups has increased. My recently updated panel includes an IFR GPS, quality radios and indicators, electronic engine analyzer, and a backup attitude indicator (still waiting on paperwork for that one.)

The experience of flying IFR cross-country in a regular commuting fashion has been a very good one. I've learned the value of minimizing the stuff I bring with me in the cockpit; staying organized and situationally aware; learning more about my aircraft's systems and capabilities; and most importantly, the weather.

Beautiful NC sunset We've been treated to spectactular sunsets on some flights.
Ah, the weather. The more I learn, it seems the less I know. Flying IFR it's become very apparent that weather forecasts are nothing more than very good guesses at what you'll encounter. I've had some wildly inaccurate forecasts, although thankfully they usually erred on the overcautious side. The well-intentioned briefers who caution that 'VFR is not recommended, and I'm not sure you'll even be able to get through on instruments' are almost always completely wrong. That's not to say I buck the wisdom of the weathermen, but I trust my own opinion of the online DUATS and ADDS weather data as much or more than I trust theirs. As Bob Buck laments in his just-published book, 'North Star Over My Shoulder: A Flying Life', aviation weather is a transformed art. A personal briefing with a skilled meteorologist is no longer available to most pilots, and the flight service briefer you're talking to is doing little more than deciphering the computer display. There are exceptions, of course - I've talked to some pretty knowledgeable guys, but it's a crap shoot for who you'll get for your telephone briefing.

If I haven't mentioned it already, 'Weather Flying' by Bob Buck and 'The Complete Advanced Pilot' by Bob Gardner are my two aviation bibles. In my opinion, every serious pilot should read them.

OHT's Schweizer 300CB This is the helicopter I fly.
So, anyway. Along with my weather flying I've finally gotten back into my helicopter training. I started in late 2001 at a Part 141 school in Titusville; I was near solo in December, which is when my wife and I purchased our cabin. My weekend time evaporated and I dropped the helo and CFI training until recently, when Air Orlando purchased a Schweizer 300CB and began offering flight training. They've created a new branch of their business called Orlando Helicopter Training, and my favorite CFI(s), Gabi and Tom Rotunda are the chief instructors! (I wonder how many other husband/wife helicopter instructors work at one flight school?) That was too perfect to turn down, so I signed up. After a warm-up flight, I solo'd the copter.

I like Air Orlando, and I like my instructor - a lot. I've gotten my private multi, instrument, private multi-instrument, commercial single, and commercial multi certificate/ratings with Gabi over the last couple of years. (Note, this is absolutely the most inefficient path to becoming a commercial pilot with multi/instrument ratings! But, circumstances and timing dictated it.) In fact, the only certificate she hasn't worked on with me was the original private ticket! Gabi also instructs my wife, Shelly. (Incidentally, Shelly is due for her checkride any time now. She's gonna do great.)

The plan I have in the back of my mind is to finish up the helicopter private, then build time for helicopter commercial as I finish my initial CFI in the airplane. Then, go for CFI in the helicopter. I'm still debating whether to seek the instrument rating in the helicopter as I'm not sure I'd ever need it or use it. But hey, it's a rating, so I'll probably end up getting it.

In June I'll be attending a mountain flying course in Colorado. I can't wait to learn more about mountain flying. I've read books on the subject and have operated out of some pretty high density-altitude airports, but all of the enroute stuff was via the airways and I was well clear of the mountains. This time I'll be down and among 'em, Charlie! I'm also hoping to get my glider rating in Colorado later this year, with my friend David Knapp.

I updated this page because, well, it was time, but I also started getting a lot more emails about my site. Maybe a search engine picked it up? I don't know, but I'm glad that the comments are generally positive. A flight instructor friend of mine said he was amazed when a student of his printed out a page of my site and brought it in to him! Go figure.

I've been a bit lax on the articles. Believe it or not, I've actually written several complete articles that I've yet to publish. I'm debating yet whether the merits of what I have to say are worth releasing into public knowing that everyone from student pilots to ATPs might read my words! Nonetheless, I believe that I will be publishing at least two of the articles shortly.

That wraps it up - your comments are welcome, and please do contact me at ryan@fergworld.com. Fly safe!


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