Sunday, August 13, 2006

Lunch in Livermore

Today's flight was actually very tiring, considering that we only went to Livermore and back. For one thing, it was a plane I hadn't flown before, so I always do an extra careful preflight. For another thing, my sister Shilpa and her fiance (and my good friend) Bud were with us, and they had many questions. It was great, it really gave me an opportunity to teach them a lot of what I'd learned, and frankly to remember some details that are generally..not forgotten, but compartmentalized..after the checkride.

It was really fun for me to take them up, as they are among the (many) people who expressed some consternation about flying in small planes. Afterwards, they said they had a great experience and gave every indication that they'd have no problem going up again, which is a good sign!

The flight itself was pretty uneventful except that the visibility was lower than I'd been used to going in. It was listed at 10SM. My yardstick has been that if I couldn't see the hills to the east of Fremont (probably about 20SM away) I wasn't going, at least not in that direction. Today, I could barely see the outline of the hills, and I'd cancelled flights in these conditions before. But today we went, and it was fine. So I have a new, lower personal minimum for visibility, which in this case I think is a good thing.

The only other eventful part was trying to find my way around Livermore ground. I basically wasn't totally prepared and kind of blew it, and the controller kind of handed me my hat at first, but then helped me out. I do need to do better at studying ground diagrams before going off to new airports.

Beeb's at Livermore is excellent, by the way.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Clouds at night are scary

I read somewhere that pilots start out with a bag full of luck and an empty bag in which to put their experience. The trick is to fill the experience bag faster than you empty the luck bag.

Tonight I definitely filled the experience bag some, and took something out of the luck bag. I flew to Modesto for the final day of the County Fair Gig From Hell, after checking the weather and feeling quite sure that the marine layer was not coming in until 2 or 3 in the morning. The flight out was quite nice -- windy, at both ends, but nice otherwise. I got flight following, which made my transition into Modesto really easy.

I parked at regular transient parking this time, and the place was nearly deserted. Very strange, and very different from the Sky Trek experience from last time. This came into play when I got back to the airport at 9:30pm, and ... I didn't have the code for the gate. All the doors were locked. I had no way to get to my plane, until a very nice guy opened the door for the local flying club. Whew, was I lucky. Experience says: Never leave your plane without knowing the gate code.

I took off without incident, and kept contemplating getting flight following and then getting distracted by trying to stay on course or avoiding other planes. Soon enough, I was near Livermore, cruising along at 4500', and all was well. Then I was past Livermore, and ... what exactly am I looking at, down there below me? Hey, I know what that's a SOLID deck of clouds!

Alright: Options. 1. Go to Livermore. It's wide open, I know I can get there, and it's inconvenient but it's ground. 2. I can see that there are some clouds over the east bay, but I can see the far side of the bay. See if I can just play giant slalom with the clouds. 3. Call up NorCal and ask for help.

I decided for option 2, keeping options 1 and 3 as a backup plan. I descended down past 3000 as I cleared the Sunol hills, so as not to break the SFO class B. There were clouds over the bay, but there were also clear patches, and I could see some lights where I thought San Carlos should be. Palo Alto was in the clear, so I knew I could go there.

I descended to 2000, then as I got over the east end of the Dumbarton Bridge, I brought it down to 1400 and called up the CTAF for San Carlos and announced my presence, and asked for advisories. Eerie silence. Two large dark splotches loomed at my 10 o'clock and 2 o'clock positions, so I concentrated on the lights dead ahead, which conveniently corresponded to where I thought San Carlos airport was (and my GPS agreed). I turned on my taxi and landing lights -- what the heck, let's get through this stuff lit up like a Christmas tree. Wisps of cloud entered my visual field and I went through them. I started to worry -- am I going into a cloud? No, I can still see the lights ahead. Keep going. I'm sure I just busted my 2000' horizontal cloud clearance requirement. Whatever, keep going.

After that, I was pretty much at the cement plant, the reporting point for entering on right base (which in my radio calls I'd been calling "left base") for runway 30. The area around the airport was clear, though I was really trying not to go around because the area just north of the airport was NOT clear. My landing was good, and I taxied to parking and let out a huge sigh of relief.

I was lucky. Experience says: Never fly back to the Bay Area without getting a recent weather report. 1-800-WXBRIEF had gone to a recording, and I never bothered calling FlightWatch or an FSS. That was pretty stupid.

The Stanislaus County Fair is now over and hopefully my flying in the near future will be more fun and less stressful.


Here are the METARS from SFO/SJC/OAK/HWD:

KSJC 070636Z 36007KT 10SM FEW011 SCT019 BKN026 16/12 A2996 RMK AO2
KOAK 070553Z 27011KT 10SM OVC012 16/12 A2998 RMK AO2 SLP150 T01560117 10200 20156 51010
KHWD 070554Z AUTO 27010KT 10SM OVC012 16/12 A2996 RMK AO2 SLP155 T01610122 10200 20161 51009
KSFO 070556Z 28014KT 10SM FEW009 OVC012 15/11 A2997 RMK AO2 SLP149 T01500111 10189 20150 51012

Hayward, Oakland and San Francisco are all reporting overcast at 1200. San Jose is reporting a less intense experience, which is basically what I saw. San Carlos is about halfway between San Francisco and San Jose.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Flying to a Gig!

Today was the first time I successfully flew to a gig! I've been performing with my a cappella group Boyz Nite Out at the Stanislaus County Fair for the last 9 days, which seems totally unbelievable. It's been such an effort to get out and perform every day, and I can't believe I still have 2 days left.

Anyway, that's a different story. The real story is that I actually flew to Modesto today, and I flew back after the gig at night! The flight there was quick and easy, except that I got there much faster than I thought I would and had to take a quick descent path. When I got there, the main terminal building (where I thought I wanted to go) was closed, so the tower directed me to Sky Trek Aviation, an FBO next to the terminal. I landed, and what a squeaker! One of my best landings ever, so great that I actually was cheering out loud for myself! I taxied over to Sky Trek, and they helped me park. They actually waived their $25 fee even though I bought no gas (I intended to, but I'd used so little that they had nothing to fill).

The gig was quite good, one of our better sets. But performing takes a lot of energy. I got to Sky Trek at about 9:15, and did a thorough preflight before taking off. I set the VOR to the opposite as it was when I came in, and sure enough it led me directly to Tracy. I turned on my portable GPS (the one in the plane was completely uncooperative) and it helped guide me back to San Carlos.

San Carlos was a bit stressful; I asked for advisories, and somebody with a thick French accent murmered something completely unintelligible. Then a few minutes later, he said he was lining up on runway 12, which was news to me because I was preparing myself for 30. Anyway, I made left traffic for 12..or I tried to anyway. I could not see the airport! At all!! So I guessed. Turned out, I guessed right, which is a very lucky thing. Since I wasn't sure where I was, I turned base very early (I got really nervous about keeping clear of SFO's class B airspace), and my final leg was very steep and my landing quite long. But all is well that ends well!