Monday, February 11, 2013

KSJC <=> D83 (Boonville)

They say when you get married that what's yours is hers, and what's hers is also hers. Naturally, my wife wanted a ride in her new airplane, since it had been almost three weeks since the purchase and she hadn't been in it yet.  So I asked her where she wanted to go: San Luis Obispo? Santa Barbara? Monterey? Las Vegas?


She wanted to go to Boonville, near Ukiah and in the middle of nowhere.

I kid, I kid.  I mean, she really did want to go to Boonville, but I never offered to go to Las Vegas.  And we'd been to Boonville before, in a 172, and really liked the fact that the airport was about a mile walk from the center of town, which featured some cool restaurants and stores, and the cutest little ice cream shoppe that made their own popsicles.

So I planned a flight to Boonville via the San Francisco class B transition so we could get a good view of the Golden Gate on what was an absolutely beautiful day.  I asked Clearance for a straight out departure and told them we were VFR to Boonville, via SFO Class B.  After runup, I was cleared to take off, so I followed the clearance - Runway Heading at or below 2000, and when requested, I switched to departure frequency.

And then I got the dreaded question: What is your on course heading?

I really need to get better at answering this question.  I just said "Standby" as I tried to figure out the correct heading toward SFO, but frankly, flying the plane was taking priority. The T210 is complex enough that there's a lot to clean up upon entering a low cruise. After a few moments, the controller asked: "Are you familiar with the Dumbarton Bridge?" Affirm. "Roger, N24R, fly to the east of the bridge, at or below 3000'."  So. He got sick of me and didn't want me in SFO airspace.  Fair enough, so I crossed the bay and headed toward Sunol.

As I was handed off to the next controller, he asked me: "Are you on course to your destination?" This time I was somewhat smarter: "Affirm, cancel original request for SFO Bravo transition, I'll follow 680 north."  Efficient, and I let him know, professionally, that I had made an adjustment for their traffic flow.

The rest of the flight to Boonville was smooth. We stayed at 4500' simply because there didn't seem to be a good opportunity to climb. A controller over the East Bay (with an Asian accent of some kind, which was a first for me) told me "altitude your discretion" but I was still under a 6000' shelf, so 4500' it was.

My wife spotted the airport before I did, but in my defense I was busy slowly lowering the power settings so as not to shock cool the engine. I overflew the airport, saw the windsock, quickly turned out to the right, and while protocol would've been left turns to enter a right pattern, there was no one there (and the airport is nestled in between a lot of hills) so I kept it tight and just turned downwind. Everything was happening very quickly, but I got 10 degrees of flaps in, slowed below 140mph, got the gear down, did my prelanding checklist, and by the time I turned final, I was configured and going about 90mph with 20 degrees of flaps.  I put in the rest of the flaps, and .. I was a bit high, but airspeed was fine at 80mph.  Given the relatively short runway, I probably would've been better served to come in slower, but I landed and stopped about halfway down the runway - not bad.

The airport is just a paved runway with a downward slope starting about halfway down, and no taxiways - you have to taxi back on the runway.  I did so, and pulled off into the transient parking area, and pushed the plane back against a fence that separated the airport from a horse ranch.  So tranquil!  Nobody was there - no planes, no people - I guess this is what they mean when they refer to an "unattended airport."  My wife remembered all this from our previous trip, but for some reason I didn't at all.

We walked into town and had lunch, and poked around in the shops and had homemade popsicles.  It was an amazing day up there, weather-wise, and we found we didn't need our sweatshirts at all.  Fun!

On the way back, I'd decided to stop at San Carlos for fuel, because it was more than $1.50/gal cheaper than at San Jose, and not as far out of the way as Livermore (which is cheaper still).  Plus, by requesting San Carlos as a destination, we would have to fly over the Golden Gate.  I climbed to 5500 and stayed there, for an alarmingly long time. As I approached Sausalito, I had already been pulling back power, anticipating a descent. At that point, Approach asked me: "Do you want to descend?" I'm thinking..uh, yeah, usually don't you guys tell me to descend? I answered, "Affirm, VFR descent." They told me: "Maintain at or above 2500, do not enter class Bravo, notify if unable."  Well...I was at 5500, class B was at 3000 and above and right in front of me, so I ended up making a couple of sharp turns, to the left and right, descending rapidly.  Again, luckily I had cooled the engine prior to all this.

We were cleared into San Francisco airspace, and headed for 101.  As we talked to SFO tower, they requested we "hold at Candlestick."  OK, that should be I flew over Candlestick and made left turns (even though right turns are standard, I didn't want to turn toward the SFO airport). I was at 1200 feet, and we were circling over San Francisco and Candlestick point.  It was awesome! Eventually we were cleared to progress, and we made our way in to San Carlos, parked and got fuel.

On takeoff from San Carlos, we did a "Bay Meadows Departure" - it had been a while, so I had to confirm what that was, but it was pretty simple; fly straight until abeam Bay Meadows (which is gone, but I knew where it used to be), then left turns to fly to the west of 101.  All went well until HOLY CRAP WHAT IS HAPPENING all we could hear was a loud, high-pitched squeal in the headsets! Finally I hit the "AUTO" button on the audio controller and it turned off.  It took me a good 20 seconds or so to realize, wait, I can't hear anything the controller is saying now.  So I turned down my wife's audio controls, and turned AUTO back on.  About 30 seconds after that, I got, "N24R, are you still on frequency?" "Affirm, 24R" as if to say, "of course, why do you ask?" It was busy, no time or need to explain.

We passed through Palo Alto and Moffett airspaces and as we were handed off to San Jose tower, the squeal happened again - my wife had turned up her controls again, so I turned them down again (sorry, dear, you can't hear what's going on) and the squeal went away.  I flew a clean pattern and landed nicely.

Apart from the audio troubles, this was a smooth, fun flight! And I think the audio problems were just because for some reason we had to turn up my wife's audio controls to the maximum, and I'm guessing that we were also accidentally turning up the rear passenger's controls (with nothing connected) which might have created feedback.  I'll have to experiment with that next time I fly.

Thursday, February 07, 2013


Last Friday, I flew N6824R down to Hawthorne, next to LAX, for the Los Angeles A Cappella Festival. I decided on Hawthorne as it seemed easier to get to USC from there than from Santa Monica.

Despite the beautiful, sunny weather, I decided to file an IFR flight plan and fly it down, so that I wouldn't have to cope with the LAX airspace VFR, which has always seemed daunting.  But 24R has no certified GPS, so for the first time, I ended up flying IFR enroute using only VOR navigation. And I realized just how inaccurate VORs are - I was on course, as best as I could tell, less than one dot deflected, but when you're almost 40 miles away from a VOR, that's way off course!

I get the impression that with the prevalence of GPS, there's a higher expectation for being on course to a fix, even though ATC knew I was /A (without GPS).  Once I fired up my iPad, I saw what they were talking about, and proceeded to use the iPad and ForeFlight very heavily for situational awareness.

On the way in, I made one very critical error - for some reason, I inverted the approach course on the LOC approach into HHR before dialing it in.  In retrospect, this makes no sense. So my turn on course was very confused, and caused a moment of franticness - but I figured it out. Not in time that ATC didn't ask what I was doing and whether I need to be turned outbound for another vector, but in time that I could respond, "negative, moving to intercept the course now." Good thing it wasn't IMC - not that I would've attempted this in IMC at this point.

One win on the way down was that even though I meant to fly at 12,000, below required O2 levels, I had hooked up and preflighted the O2 system and had the cannula hanging at the ready in case I needed it.  I monitored my O2 levels with an oximeter, and all was fine, but they did send me up to 13,000 along the way, so it was great to just pull up the cannula and turn a knob.

The way back on Sunday was gorgeous. I came back VFR and flew the Mini Route over LAX (and I think I did it well).  There was a lot of confusion about the flight following; controllers kept terminating flight services instead of handing me off (though they'd give me the next frequency - "N24R, flight services terminated, squawk VFR, for flight following contact approach on xxx.x. Good day.").  So I cruised along at 8,500, and picked up flight following again once I was out of the busy section.

The approach into SJC was great - I found the Pruneyard, I slowed the plane down gradually, and landed it easily (it's a very easy plane to land).  All in all, this was an awesome first trip!