Friday, September 25, 2015

Taking chances, fulfilling dreams

A long time ago, I had some idealistic vision of what it would mean to be a pilot. I'd fly to gigs with my band, to client meetings for work, to visit friends who were far enough away to make driving a hassle. It was just about 10 years and 500 flight hours ago when I started taking lessons, and as I look back at the last few weeks, I feel closer to really living those dreams than I ever have before.

On the surface, it's not even that mind blowing: I flew to KSMO for a work meeting about 4 weeks ago, and I flew down to Carlsbad to visit family about 10 days later. As a part owner of a Turbo Centurion, these are the kind of trips I should be making frequently, and yet, the last trip was only my fifth trip to Southern California, with two of those prior to my purchase of my share of N6824R. 

I think what feels different about these trips is that I didn't feel like I was totally in my comfort zone. For the work trip, I was flying to somewhere I needed to be. I haven't done much of that, and it does change the equation. Granted, there was a lot of safety built into the plan - I had a Southwest ticket as a backup plan, and the flight to LA was the day before the meeting because the meeting was early in the morning. Worst case scenario on a late scratch, I could just drive till about 1:00 AM and still make it. Thankfully, it didn't come to that, and I nailed my estimate of when I'd arrive at KSMO.

On this trip, it's the longest trip by far that we've taken with the kid. We had a brilliant plan to time it so he'd fall asleep in the plane, but instead he fell asleep in the car on the way to the airport. Luckily we timed it better on the way home, and it worked beautifully - he slept for the first hour of the 2.3 hour flight! The problem is that when he's not sleeping, he's generally trying to remove his ear protection, which is not ideal.

I'd really love to be IFR current for my next trips. That would add a level of confidence and flexibility that would go a long way in planning.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Hot starts and hurried descents

Let's take a moment to review 2014, since I didn't post at all last year. I did fly some; generally a few shorter trips into the foothills, probably a couple of bay tours, a flight review, some maintenance flights, and some practice approaches.

My second to last flight was in October.  I went to Marina (KOAR), and was tons of fun. I flew down and landed, and went to refuel, but my engine died before I got to the fuel island. I couldn't get it started again, so there I sat on the thankfully-quiet taxiway.  I got out and got my towbar, and pulled the plane up to the fuel pump. A guy who had just refueled his Van's RV-7 (I think) asked if I needed help - by that time I'd already gotten the plane there, but he and I got to talking; he let me sit in his RV, which was awesome, and eventually, he helped me push my Centurion into a tie-down.  Then he and his (wife? girlfriend? I don't remember...) significant other drove me to the beach (in their Fiat 500E!), stopping for ice cream, hung out with me on the beach for a little bit, and drive me back to the airport!  Nicest people ever!  I eventually got the plane started (with difficulty) and flew home.  I don't have their contact information, and I've forgotten their names because my relatively-new-dad brain is a sieve.  If you're reading this, please get in touch with me!

My last flight was on January 3, 2015, and was incredibly frustrating. I flew to KCPU, Calaveras County airport, and read my flight plan wrong so didn't descend or slow down nearly in time.  So I dilly-dallied around the foothills for several minutes trying to bleed off some speed, before getting into the pattern and landing.  As I taxied back, I saw the fuel pumps and decided to go for it.  I filled up, and....couldn't get the plane started, again.  Now this time, the plane's battery was low as well, so while the initial trouble was probably that I flooded the engine, after a time, the battery was too low to start the plane anyway.  So I had to wander around and get help, which is always fun - luckily, more nice people here!  Not only did the guy I met give me a jump start, he also gave me a second jump start when my engine died because I'd left the fuel pump on (the jump start is done with the master switch off, so when I flipped the master on, the fuel pump came on and re-flooded the engine).

Since then, I've read a lot about Continental start procedures, and I think I know what to do next time:  1) Throttle open, mixture full lean, high fuel pump for 30s.  2) Throttle most of the way closed, mixture full rich, fuel pump OFF, crank the engine.

Today, however, I chose not to stop the engine.  I flew from SJC to LVK, and after bouncing through some turbulence, arrived way too fast and too high (sound familiar?).  After I broke off my pattern to go descend and lose some speed, I did a nice gusty crosswind landing.  I taxied back and took off toward SQL, and as I approached Coyote Hills (fast!), the tower frequency was nonstop. I found a gap and said quickly, "Centurion 6824R, Coyote Hills, 1500', landing, negative ATIS." I wasn't receiving ATIS for some reason; "negative ATIS" wasn't a great thing to say to a busy controller, but my options were limited. I got to the sunken ship, and still hadn't heard back, so given the madness of the airspaces around there (HWD and SQL below, OAK and SFO above), I got down to 1200' and started making a hard circle. But thankfully the controller acknowledged me and routed me inbound. I landed decently and taxied back.

The flight back to SJC was great. Right downwind off runway 30, handoff to PAO, handoff to NUQ, handoff to SJC, left traffic for 30L, and actually squeaked the wheels on landing.

As I look at the sequence of flights, going back to the one in January, I was clearly underestimating how fast the plane is, arriving at airports too high, too fast, not in front of the airplane enough.  Today, my arrival at LVK was crappy, but then at SQL was better (though still too fast initially) and at SJC was good.  Just another "rust" phenomenon to work through.  In any case, it was great to fly again!