Monday, March 18, 2013

There Is An A In Airplane, And In Arizona!

Last weekend I took a little trip to the Phoenix, AZ, area to get a few days away, and to take in some spring training A's baseball. And by "little trip" I mean the farthest away from home I've flown solo, and the farthest without a G1000 (the trip to Orcas Island was much longer, and slower, but the G1000 is very nice for situational awareness).  So in the days preceding the trip, I created a VOR-based flight plan, made sure my charts on my iPad were up to date, and made sure everything was charged up.

I woke up at about 6:00 Sunday morning, and .. could barely stand.  For some reason I was really dizzy.  My plan was to take off around 8:00am so that I could get to the game that started at 1:00, but wow, IM NOT SAFE.  [Aside: IM SAFE is the acronym for evaluating aeromedical factors and fitness of flight from a mental health perspective: Illness, Medication, Stress, Alcohol, Fatigue, Emotion are all factors that could lead to a bad day in the air.]   As I contemplated canceling my trip, I drank some water, ate some food, took a shower, and quickly began to feel better.  By about 8:30, I felt totally normal - I tested myself several times, closing my eyes and shaking my head around, to make sure the dizziness was gone, and it was.

So I headed for the airport.  I had preflighted on Saturday, and gotten the fuel filled up, but there was still plenty to do. I still did a basic preflight, hooked up and tested the oxygen, towed the plane out, checked the fuel and oil one more time, went to the bathroom like 15 times (all that water, to hydrate myself, had to go somewhere).  By the time I took off, it was after 10:00am.

I had resolved to try to use the old Cessna 400 Nav-O-Matic autopilot on the way down to Glendale (KGEU). It was supposed to have a mode (two, actually) that could track VORs, and I had read the manual on how (theoretically) to accomplish this.  Unfortunately, every time I tried to follow the procedure, the plane turned sharply to the left.  Good thing I was VFR.  So I ended up just using the heading mode.  And the altitude hold was pretty much useless.

I once again was asked (both there and back) to "say on-course heading."  This time I had anticipated the question and had the answer ready.  I also got asked (both there and back) to say my route of flight, which I thought was interesting.  The hard part about that was translating the VOR names to English to read them (my flight plan just had the 3-letter abbreviations).

Just south of Avenal, ATC asked me: "Do you want to just fly direct to destination?"  I had routed myself around all the military areas and restricted areas, but on a Sunday afternoon, these were mostly inactive.  Sure, I said, and told my iPad (and the expired GPS in the airplane) direct KGEU. Nice!

For the next couple of hours I flew in a straight line at 13,500, getting nothing but the occasional frequency change from ATC.  Eventually I decided it would be a good time to descend, so I told ATC and started down.  Nothing too eventful, except when I was over Luke AFT at 4000, they told me "Flight services terminated, squawk VFR, frequency change approved."  Huh, no handoff to GEU tower, when I'm right next to his airspace? That's nice.  So I quickly called tower, told them where I was, made right traffic for Rwy 1, and landed OK and taxied to the FBO.  It was 1:20pm, and I got to the game around 2:00 in time for the 5th inning.

On Tuesday, for my return, I had planned to basically take it easy.  I had all day to get back.  But instead, I ended up spending 1 1/2 hours trying to figure out what weight of oil the airplane needed! Sigh.  Things one should know about one's own airplane.  The answer, by the way, is 15W50.  Eventually I filled the oil and got on my way.  This time I didn't have the luxury of flying through the restricted areas, and the controllers down there I think expected me to be a lot more assertive.  They'd give me a restriction, and then forget all about it so I'd query them later ("Center, 6824R - let me know when I can climb to cruise altitude, 14,500"  "6824R.....altitude your discretion (sounding confused)").

The scariest moment was climbing through 13,000, when I was startled by a loud POP!  Gauges looked OK, oil pressure still good, RPMs and MP still up...I'm still climbing...turned out a bag of chips (PopChips, actually) had exploded in my backpack!

I flew the way back with no autopilot, and it was easier than flying with the autopilot.  Maintaining altitude was not an issue. The only glitch was that my iPad's batteries ran very low, but by that time I was on SF sectionals, which I had on paper as well. After a quick stop at South County (E16) for fuel, I was back in San Jose!