Yesterday, I flew up to Olathe for work to visit a client site. After a couple of days of work, it was time to fly home. With heat index up around 110 degrees, I was ready to head back home from a work trip to Olathe, KS. The winds were up around 15, gusting to 24, but right down the main runway. I was really dreading doing the pre-flight in the heat, but one of the linemen drove me out to the airplane with my bags, and the wind kept the heat from being too oppressive. I got the airplane started and carefully taxied to the runway.
Takeoff was smooth despite the gusty conditions, and even though it was hot, the air was pretty smooth, and the airplane climbed well. The wind forecast was for a headwind factor of 2-4 knots at 5,500, but no wind at 7,500. Once cruising at 5,500 I could see a cloud layer ahead at my altitude ahead, so I slowly climbed up to 7,500. The wind forecast was pretty accurate as I did see an increase in ground speed.
Last weekend was our EAA chapter’s annual camp out/fly-in. and I was really excited after having so much fun last year. This year’s event did not disappoint. I had been itching to get with an instructor to start my tailwheel training. It is challenging because instructors around here are very busy, or are not interested/current in tailwheel aircraft. I told one instructor, Ron, who I had never flown with before, that I was interested in doing it, and he was eager and willing to get me going. We scheduled to get started right away on Saturday morning.
We did the usual aircraft familiarization, looking at weight and balance, operating limitations, key airspeeds, aircraft systems. After getting some fuel, we loaded up and started with some taxi practice. The ramp was empty so we did several passes doing figure eights, 360 degree turns. Then on to working on keeping the centerline, wind correction, and just getting used to the heal brakes.
Next, Ron demonstrated a takeoff and briefed me on what it would be like, and how I would need to control the aircraft, followed by a demonstration of a landing. Then it was my turn to try it. This first lesson was rough. I am not going to sugar coat it. Some of my landings were harrowing and embarrassing. A lot of good friends were there watching too. Despite the fact that this was all new to me, I was also struggling with the controls. I felt I was too far reclined, and that was limiting my ability to reach some of the stick forward positions. It was really uncomfortable.
We took a break for lunch, and to wring the sweat out of my shirt. All of my friends that had been watching on the ground were great They were supportive, offering advice, and sharing stories from their own learning experiences. For the next lesson, I was refreshed, and I had a new seat cushion that put me in a much better position to control the airplane and see.
The second lesson was much better. Ron, did an excellent job of giving me little nudges of feedback at just the right time. The landings were much smoother, but I was still really awkward on take-off.
The next morning, we got started right away and headed over to a nearby airport that would offer us direct cross wind’s to practice landings. Ron had me do several low passes keeping the airplane centered over the runway to get the feel for the inputs. Then it was time to land. I felt more in command of the aircraft that morning, and my cross wind landings confirmed it. I was able to smoothly touch down on one wheel and maintain my crosswind correction until all three wheels were on the pavement with a smooth roll out… It felt terrific!
This Citabria is notoriously difficult to wheel land, and we made several attempts. After a while, we were kind of getting the hang of it.
We just took a short break, then back up to do the fourth lesson. Throughout this whole process, I had never envisioned that I would get the endorsement over the weekend. In my mind, I was just starting out, working to get the endorsement in the next couple of weeks. On this flight, Ron started coaching me on “when I solo”, so I got the idea he was planning to get out of the airplane. We did several circuits, and I was feeling very comfortable, and Ron was completely hands-off of the controls. He told me to pull over, where he endorsed me for tailwheel and told me to go do three take-off and landings, full stop, with one of each in the grass.
My solo went great! On one approach, as I was coming in over the tall grass for the grass strip, I added power to maintain a safe height above the tall grass, but let my airspeed get too high. Rather than try and salvage it, I just went around for another shot at it.
There were lots of friends eager to greet me and shake my hand. I even got a hug from our chapter president, Tom. It felt extra good to get that from a man I admire so much. My solo during primary training was a relatively mundane event. It was just me and my instructor, and a single photo after our lesson, mostly in the dark. While this wasn’t as big as an accomplishment as the first solo, it still felt really good to have a bit of a moment of celebration with a large group of friends. Since we weren’t expecting it, my wife and I had planned for her to head home with the dogs, so I didn’t have her there to share the moment with me. That is my only regret.
This past weekend was our EAA chapter’s third annual Fly-In/Camp Out in Willow Springs. The weather forecast was a little dissapointing, especially on Friday with rain showers, low clouds and humidity that could choke you.
I took Friday off to get the camper ready, buy any groceries we might need, and get camp set up. I had our camp sight setup and ready around mid-day and headed back home to collect Erica and the dogs.
We got back to the campsite and joined the rest of the chapter for an excellent meal of hamburgers and fixings, followed by a jam session with local musicians in the hangar.
One of my goals for the weekend was to snag one of the local instructors and get some time in the Citabria and get started on my tailwheel endorsements. Ron Hook was eager and willing to help me out and had just gotten current in the Citabria the day before, so we were all set. (See post: Tailwheel Training)
After the music, we went back to our camper and hung out with my friend Joe, with another friend, John, joining us occasionally. It’s the times like this, that cause me to love this fly-in, and other fly-in’s in general. The comraderie of pilots is an incredible thing. We love to share stories, support each other, and I never detect competitiveness, just a shared love of aviation and a desire to be around others that share it.
On Saturday, the weather was much improved. There were some low lying clouds, but it was great VFR weather, with winds right down the runway. We had breakfast, and I got a (exercise) lesson in the Citabria. After landing for that, we grabbed lunch, and I made sure to give a few rids to each member of a family from our local chapter that were excited to get any flights they could.
In the afternoon, we did another Citabria lesson, then I got to take my other friend John’s wife and kids for rides in the 172. The clouds were beautiful, and well lit late in the afternoon, so it was a fun flight with light winds.
After an excellent BBQ dinner, we went back to the camp site to enjoy a wonderful evening. Erica and I went up for a flight to watch the sunset from the air.
The next morning, we were up earlier to get to breakfast on time. Ron was eager to get back in the Citabria and head over to a nearby airport where the cross winds would make for some excellent learning opportunities. After that flight, I went back to camp to help Erica pack up and head to the house. I elected to stay and break camp later in the day so that I could take advantage of Ron’s willingness to help me out in the Citabria.
Afdter my last flight in the Citabria, I visited with the gang at the chapter hanger for a bit, and my friend Joe stuck around to help me put airplanes away and break down the camp site.
It was an exhausting, but awesome weekend. There are a lot of reasons why I have been looking forward to this event since the day after last years event, So today, I start anticipating, and planning for the fourth annual event next year!
This is going to be more “Much Ado About Nothing” than two different tails of a flight plan for many of you, but I wanted to share some of my thought process on flight planning.
I rarely go direct. Sure, for short hops, I will go direct, but I like to look at several factors when I am cross country planning. One of the factors I look at is available airports and emergency options. If one route puts me over rough terrain, with few nearby airports, while another route provides a selection of airports to divert for an emergency, without adding a lot of time. I am going to choose the route with options.
My example is not a long flight, just a little over an hour, but it illustrates the point. Going from 1H5 (my home airport) to Spirit of St. Louis (KSUS) is about 120nm flight that takes you over some of the more sparsely populated (as far as roads, airports, etc.) and hilly areas in Missouri. In the event of an in-flight emergency, there would be very few options to get the airplane down safely. Airports are out of glide range for a large portion of the flight, and the area is heavily wooded, making finding a suitable off-field landing site much more difficult.
By shifting my planning a little bit, including a navaid and a couple of intersections, the safety factor changes considerably. All along the route there are towns, highways, airports, and a couple of the airports have weather reporting. There is no point where I am more than 15 miles from an alternate airport.
So, what does it cost in terms of time/distance/fuel? For this particular flight, which featured a nice little tailwind, my planned route cost me 3 minutes of time, .3 gallons of fuel, and 3 nautical miles. An easy decision.
One thing that strikes me is that when flying with ATC Flight Following or IFR, they seem perplexed that I include the MAP VOR in my flight plan. 3 of the last 4 trips the controller has offered me direct routing to bypass the VOR. I do love that our controller friends are actively looking for ways to help us out.
For a longer flight, it doesn’t pay to micromanage these routing decisions. When the route is longer, I do still look at towns, weather reporting, and other options along my route to maximize safety.