Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Between the Raindrops

Just a short post to say that the weather was quite cooperative for Monday's flight from the DC area to Connecticut. As you can see (image courtesy of the useful folks at FlightAware.com) most of the precipitation was off to the west during the trip.

The METAR's bracketing the time that N631S and I departed were these:

KDCA 261152Z 10006KT 8SM -RA OVC009 12/09 A2936 RMK AO2 RAB49 SLP941 PCPN VRY LGT P0000 T01220094
KDCA 261052Z 07005KT 10SM OVC008 12/10 A2935 RMK AO2 SLP938 T01220100

We were in the clear between layers by about 2,000 feet and only found a bit of rain over central New Jersey.

The New York Approach controller vectored me for the ILS to Runway 6 at KBDR without my asking, but the visual approach would have been perfectly feasible. Here's the KBDR weather for around the arrival:

KBDR 261352Z 05008KT 10SM OVC041 12/08 A2936 RMK AO2 SLP940 T01170083
KBDR 261252Z 02009KT 10SM FEW011 OVC041 11/09 A2936 RMK AO2 SLP943 T01110089

By about an hour later, it was raining and the ceiling was coming down. Sometimes timing is everything.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

April Showers

It has turned into quite a nice Sunday afternoon here in Virginia, but the forecast for tomorrow morning's flight up to Connecticut is not very pleasant. It looks like N631S and I can expect to get wet.

As you can see from the graphic at left (as usual, click to enlarge), the forecast for 12Z on Monday has Bridgeport involved in the precipitation event. The good news is that the area associated with thunder-showers is mostly offshore in the Atlantic.

For departure, the KDCA Terminal Area forecast (TAF) is calling for 5 miles visibility in mist with an overcast at 900 feet and a light southerly breeze. Not bad departure weather.

The TAF for KBDR offers this:

KBDR 251720Z 2518/2618 08010KT 4SM -RA BR BKN008 OVC012
FM252000 08010KT 2SM -DZ BR OVC008
FM260400 07008KT 4SM -DZ BR OVC006
FM260800 06005KT 2SM RA BR OVC007
FM261500 06007KT 2SM -DZ BR OVC008

For the time I should be arriving, a light breeze out of the northeast, 2 miles visibility in rain and mist, and an overcast at about 700 feet. That looks made to order for the ILS approach to Runway 6 which has minima of 300 feet and a mile.

A quick look at the 800 millibar (about 6,000 foot) temperature forecast (courtesy of NOAA's Aviation Weather Center site) gives no cause for concern. The 0 degree C isotherm will be well to the north.

As of now, FlightPln.com is predicting 1 hour + 46 minutes for the trip with an average tailwind component of 23 knots. So the trip won't be pretty but it will be quick with manageable weather at the destination. And of course, it will be interesting - weather will make it that way.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

2010 Annual Inspection (vii)

As I mentioned a year ago in the last post about the 2009 Annual, "Nobody ever claimed that flying GA aircraft is an inexpensive pastime." Still, with the final invoice in hand for N631S's 2010 Annual Inspection at about $4,800, I don't feel badly.

As pointed out last year, the inspection consists of that which is specified in Appendix D to Title 14 CFR 43 - no more and no less. As with most shops, Three Wing Flying Services has a flat rate for the Annual Inspection. For a Cessna 182 like N631S it amounts to 17 hours at $85.00/hour, a total of $1,445.00.

Beyond the scope of the Annual Inspection defined by Part 43, there are a number of maintenance actions that normally get accomplished in conjunction with the inspection but that are charged for separately. Such as:

  • Service the spark plugs; $97.70
  • Change the oil; $276.78
  • Check and re-time the magnetos; $68.00
  • Service the flight controls; $68.00
  • Service the tires, brakes and battery; $68.00
  • Service the landing gear and wheel bearings; $246.50
  • Service various filters & screens; $73.95
  • Dress the propeller blades; $59.50

That adds up to $958.43 for maintenance items. To this, add a number of "inspections" that need to be done but fall outside the scope of the "Annual". That's another $229.50. And, there is the research necessary to confirm AD compliance and to ensure correct parts are ordered. That's $187.00 - we're up to $2,820 and we haven't fixed anything as yet.

As for the "fixing" part, there were a few items, either identified before the Annual or discovered during the inspection, that required corrective action. In the first category (i.e., "squawked" when the aircraft was presented):

  • Lube prop control cable to relieve "stiffness"; $76.50
  • Replace (cracked) right main gear leg fairing; $395.27

The successful fix on the prop control cable was a major save. If that hadn't worked, a new cable assembly would've been needed to the tune of about $625 plus a couple of hours of installation labor.

Items revealed by the inspection and corrected included:

  • Install Brackett filter to replace worn paper filter; $95.59
  • Replace forward engine vibration isolation mounts; $406.09
  • Replace alternator belt; $79.20
  • Reseal aft window; $102.00
  • Replace inop Cyl #5 CHT probe; $157.75
  • Assorted minor corrective actions; $416.74

That all adds up to about $1,725 in corrective actions, bringing the total for inspection and repairs to about $4,550.00. Add in charges for consumables, freight and the Airport Utilization Fee (2% here) and you get up to $4,800. The total labor charged was 46.20 hours and the total for parts was $618.52. I can't complain.

Oh, by the way...both the flight from KVKX north to CT on last Monday morning, 4/19 and the return flight on Friday evening, 4/23, were uneventful. The latter trip was quick and a bit bumpy, but unremarkable.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Summer Wx Already?

And it was just last Tuesday that I was dealing with the freezing level at 5,000 feet and snow en route and other wintry fun stuff! And last evening, N631S and I found ourselves deviating to avoid convective weather over eastern Pennsylvania. What happened to spring?

Departing Bridgeport (KBDR) a little before 21Z, we found the weather we were expecting. Overcast at about 2,500 feet MSL, significant headwinds from the west, and areas of light-to-moderate precipitation. And indeed, the slog over to Sparta (SAX) took quite some time, mostly at ground speeds of 100 to 105 knots (with true airspeed about 138 knots).

After turning the corner at SAX the question was, "When to ask for direct LANNA?" The idea being to keep the area of (yellow) moderate precip off the right wingtip. And, there was an area of heavy weather near Allentown that bore watching.

The turn toward LANNA worked well, but the cell of severe weather near KABE was threatening. I requested a 20 degree left deviation from the Allentown Approach controller soon after passing LANNA, and found a few bumps on the way over to the FLOAT intersection (just above Reading (KRDG).

I'd had a very useful conversation with a young Lockheed-Martin Flight Service briefer at about 1830Z (I assess his youth based mostly on some of his vocabulary choices) wherein my attention had been drawn (full points, young man!) to developing convective weather between Pittsburgh and Altoona. Given the time that would elapse between that very good briefing and my proposed departure, that patch of weather would bear watching.

And sure enough, there it was about 30 nm west of my track, moving east at about 40 knots (image at left, click to enlarge). As N631S and I made our way down to Lancaster (LRP) we listened to folks playing "dodge the cell" on approaches to Harrisburg. For my purposes, it looked like there would be a clear lane from LRP down to BAL. Sometimes I'd rather be lucky than good!

Passing LRP I requested (and got) "direct BAL" and the remainder of the flight was uneventful. Conditions were suitable for the visual approach to KVKX with winds calm at the field.

Reflecting on the flight, if I'd had to depart about a half-hour later it would have been very dicey dealing with that frontal line of convective weather. The backup plan would likely have been to plead with ATC for a routing down V16 over New Jersey - although we all know how much they like to do that.

Here, courtesy of FlightAware.com, is the track for the entire flight, with the weather depicted for about the time N631S and I were just south of Allentown.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Clearance Roulette

Because I don't usually fly from Manassas (as I needed to on Tuesday because of the Security Theater surrounding the Nuclear Security Summit), I was without a clue as to the best route to file to KBDR. As you might expect, FltPlan.com had suggestions.

One route that was said to have been issued by ATC recently was ARSNL2.WOOLY MXE V419 CMK Direct. (From KHEF you always get the Arsenal 2 Departure.) This was a nice looking route - direct and efficient. So that's what I filed.

And early Tuesday morning when I checked, the system was saying that I ought to expect the filed route. How very nice. Seemed too good to be true. (Danger, Will Robinson!!)

So I trek out to KHEF, load and pre-flight N631S, dig out the hand-held radio and give Clearance Delivery a call. And the nice lady says, "Skylane 631 Sierra, stand by. I've got your clearance right here, but they sent this weird routing and it won't work at all. We've got to get you something else." (Groan...)

About five minutes later she calls me back with this: ARSNL2.WOOLY EMI LRP V39 ETX V162 HUO Direct. In case you're wondering, the Huguenot VOR (HUO) is about 60 nm northeast of Allentown, near Port Jervis, NY. This clearance is just about 100 nm longer than the one I had been planning on, incorporating a huge loop to the north.

I hope that someday, someone will explain to me why a route makes sense on certain days but not on other days; why a route will be fine in one direction but not in the reverse direction. (I actually get why a route can be good at 8,000 feet but not at 6,000. I deal with that one often when crossing over the KEWR arrivals as I'm headed west from KBDR to Sparta (SAX).)

It may be that my filed altitude of 5,000 feet was part of the reason that my original routing wasn't usable. But there was ice above, so higher wasn't possible. And of course, I knew that the "...HUO Direct" part wasn't going to hold up. And in due course I got the expected re-route: After HUO, IGN LOVES DENNA Direct. That only added another 15 nm.

"Credit Where It's Due" Department: Once embarked on this odyssey, the en route controllers gave me a couple of short cuts and helped greatly in keeping me out of icing conditions (which wouldn't have been an issue on my filed route...grrr!)

I guess that's IFR flying!

About Tomorrow...

Given that I'm looking at this by 00Z tomorrow evening:
It's nice to see this:

It will probably be a damp departure from KBDR and a lot of the trip will be in the schmoo, but conditions should be improved at destination and the freezing level will be comfortably above N631S and me. Old Man Winter weakens his grip at last.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


My first logbook reminds me that this journey began, in a sense, on 15 March 1994. On that date my CFI, Tom Lehn, decided that he may as well turn me loose on my own. After a couple of dual touch 'n' go's he had me do a full stop and got out of the Skyhawk. He told me to make three circuits and that on one of them the tower would call a go-around. To that point I'd logged 18.1 hours of dual instruction.

That first solo flight in N6583D, a somewhat weary '79 172N, came off un-remarkably. After the third landing I taxied '83D to it's parking spot and shut down. When I got out, Tom came over, shook my hand and said, "Frank, you're a pilot now!"

He meant that sincerely, but I had trouble accepting it. It would be a while before I began to believe that I'd earned my place at the controls.

Now, time has flown in its usual manner. At 0.4 hour after departing KHEF this morning my log clicked past the 1,000 hours Pilot-in-Command mark. Sixteen years (plus 29 days) after that initial solo, I can use four digits to record my PIC time.

What can I say about these 1,000 hours? Well, I think they've been reasonably diverse. I've seen quite a few airports, poked my nose into a fairly broad range of weather conditions, and had a nice mix of short and long distance trips. I think that about 400 hours ago I really started to "feel" the airplane. I am really sure that the sum of what I've not yet learned far exceeds the small store of knowledge and experience that I've acquired. Every flight remains a learning experience. It's a rare occasion when, looking back at a flight, I can't find things that I surely could've done a lot better. It's said that the Pilot's Certificate is a license to learn, and that never changes.

Mostly, after 1,000 hours, I'm grateful. Grateful for having had the chance to bring my childhood dreams to life and grateful to the mentors and instructors who made it happen. Among them, Tom Lehn, Ray Noble, Bob Parks, Greg Erianne, Rich and Field Morey - each an essential partner on my journey. My gratitude to each of them is unbounded.

And, hey, I'm half-way to 2,000 hours!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Little Ice & A Lot of Wind

The flight last evening from KBDR down to KVKX was, shall we say, interesting. In more ways than one. The cold front, with associated precipitation, had come through Bridgeport overnight but the forecasts insisted that by late afternoon the rain would end and cloud cover would be going from broken to scattered. Well, that didn't exactly happen.

I'm thoroughly trained, so I filed for my usual route.[1] On departure at 2045Z in light rain, KBDR was reporting scattered clouds at 4,200 and a broken ceiling at 8,000. I knew I was going to find the freezing level at around 6,000 feet. New York Approach cleared me to 6,000 and gave me a heading of 290 in the direction of SAX. (You can see the initial track on the plot from FlightAware.com above. Click to enlarge.) As expected, the Outside Air Temperature (OAT) instrument indicated 32F. In a few miles, the ceiling came down to meet me and it was time to make myself unpopular with the controller.

I know the drill. The controller handling the White Plains sector needs to get me above the KEWR arrivals so I'll get "climb and maintain 7,000" and then, usually crossing the Hudson, "climb and maintain 8,000". But the ceiling looked thick and dark and gave every indication that if I poked N631S's nose in there I'd be thoroughly iced up in short order. So I told Approach, "Skylane 631 Sierra is in IMC at the freezing level. I will be unable to accept any higher altitude."

That got a reaction. The controller said, "Cessna 31S, 6,000 is just not going to work. We'll have to reroute you up over Huguenot and V162 at 4,000." That would be a pretty extensive loop to the north and would add about a half hour to my trip, but it sure beat picking up ice. I said, "That'll be fine, 31 Sierra."

Then the controller demonstrated why controllers are wonderful, by asking, "31 Sierra, are you going to be OK there at 6,000 for a few miles while we work this out?" I love these people. I replied, "31 Sierra is doing fine at 6,000." Of course, within a minute the OAT dropped to 30F and I began to pick up a bit of light rime ice on the strut and wheel fairing.

My best friend the controller soon came back to me and said, "Cessna 31 Sierra, y'know what, we're going to send you direct to JFK and then down V16 all at 6,000 feet, does that sound OK?"

I could see breaks in the clouds to the south and the ice was not accumulating so I replied affirmatively and heard, "31 Sierra, cleared direct JFK, maintain 6,000 and the next controller will have your full route." I entered JFK into the GPS-530W and turned to the south, soon to find myself just below the ceiling (see photo above). As the controller handed me off to JFK I said, "120.7 for Skylane 631 Sierra. Thanks very much for your help today." He replied, "No problem; I've been there myself."

Heading down toward JFK I noted that N631S was getting about 5 or 6 fewer knots of true airspeed than normal for the throttle, prop and fuel flow setting I was using. The small amount of ice I'd picked up was having an affect on performance.

I leaned forward and looked at the left wing. There was a narrow line of rime, perhaps 1/2 inch wide and 1/4 inch thick just below the leading edge, along the stagnation line where the incident airflow divides to pass above and below the airfoil. Kind of neat! And there was a small amount of rime on the struts (click to enlarge) and the gear fairings as well. Not hazardous, not getting worse, but something to get rid of at an early opportunity.

So when I was handed off by New York I checked in with "McGuire Approach, Skylane 631 Sierra, level 6,000, requesting 4,000 when and if you can." I was advised to expect 4,000 in a couple of miles and so it came to pass. At 4,000 feet the OAT was 41F and all of the rime disappeared in about a minute.

McGuire handed me off to Atlantic City Approach who, in their turn, turned me over to Dover. I knew that the forecast had called for breezy conditions in the DC area so I thought to check the METAR's for Andrews and Washington National.[2]

Here's what the XM Weather system had to say:
KADW 092155Z AUTO 32023G30KT 10SM CLR 12/M02 A2990 RMK AO2 PK WND 32030/2152 SLP129 P0008 T01161016 $
KDCA 092152Z 32013G29KT 10SM SCT060 12/M03 A2992 RMK AO2 PK WND 30033/2135 SLP133 T01221033

Well, clearly the flight was not through being interesting. The wind at Andrews would be almost a direct crosswind for the 6/24 runway orientation at VKX. And I'm not at all sure that either N631S or I can handle 23 knots of crosswind.[3]

If there was any consolation, it lay in the fact that the wind on the ground at KVKX is nearly always less than is current at either KADW or KDCA. My little airport is in a valley and surrounded by trees, and the terrain and forestation act to shield the runway environment from the worst of the wind. I'd need to press on until I could pick up the automated on-field weather information from the local traffic frequency (CTAF).

About 10 miles out I checked the weather - by switching to the CTAF and clicking the microphone three times. This triggers an automated weather statement and it reported "Winds Variable 270 to 050 at 12; caution, crosswind; caution, wind shear." Well, that was less bad. The wind was swirling around like a confused squirrel but at the surface it was just 12 knots.

I calculated that the wind would sort of favor Runway 6 and set up for a straight in approach. At about 1,000 feet I was holding a 45 degree crab angle to stay on the extended runway centerline. At about 250 feet the swirling ground effect tossed N631S about quite a bit - keeping on a path toward the runway and ensuring that the airspeed stayed somewhere near 75 knots was a bit challenging.

As we dropped below the tree line (about 100 feet AGL), the handling got a little less sporty. I put in the last notch of flaps and flared just a bit. As the left main gear touched the runway the ground speed must have been about 45 knots and so the rollout was short. I made my usual turnoff, stopped on the taxiway and took a deep breath. It was 2305Z, and it was good to be home.

[1]As regular visitors here already know, that means radar vectors west to Sparta, NJ, thence airways south to Solberg, NJ, west to East Texas in PA, south to Lancaster, PA, southeast to Baltimore and then direct to Potomac Airfield. It reads: SAX V249 SBJ V30 ETX V39 LRP V93 BAL and that is what the ATC computer will give me regardless of what route I request.(back)
[2]KVKX doesn't issue a METAR but Andrews (KADW) is about 4.5 miles away and National (KDCA) about 6. So while enroute, those two give a reasonable idea of what's going on around home plate.(back)
[3]N631S's Pilot's Operating Handbook (POH) says that the Maximum Demonstrated Crosswind for landing is 15 knots. Now, that is not a Limitation, and I believe I have managed about 17 knots of crosswind - but that pretty much used up all of the rudder and more than 20 knots of crosswind would be good cause for a diversion to a better oriented runway.(back)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Trapped in Security Theater

Operating N631S from Potomac Airfield (KVKX) has proven for over a year to be convenient and trouble free...'til now. I should have known that sooner or later the Security Theater people would find a way to disrupt the lives of we law-abiding denizens of the 'Maryland 3 airports'. Their opportunity arrives in the form of the Nuclear Security Summit.

Presidents, heads-of-state and high factotums will converge on Washington, DC next Monday and Tuesday for discussions aimed at keeping us safe(r) from loose nukes and such threats. It would appear that this has led to the DC Convention Center being considered a Target Rich Environment and so, of course, Something Must Be Done. Actually, several "Somethings" including road closures, Metrorail station closures and NOTAM 0/3400.

The NOTAM establishes a Temporary Flight Restriction (TFR) that provides, among other things:

"D. Effective 1004121200 UTC (0800 local 04/12/10) until 1004140200 UTC (2200 local 04/13/10) all flight operations within the dc FRZ [i.e., the inner red ring, above] are prohibited unless specifically provided below;
5. The provisions of FDC NOTAM 9/4399 and 14 CFR part 93, pertaining to the Maryland 3 airports known as Washington executive airport/hyde field (KW32), Potomac airfield (KVKX) [N.B.: That's me!] and college park airport (KCGS), are temporarily suspended. Aircraft operations are not authorized at these airports."
Normally, N631S and I make the trip from KVKX north to KBDR on Monday morning but this week there are personal obligations keeping me in the DC area until Tuesday morning. Thus, the TFR complicates my life considerably. But, there is a work-around:
"C. Effective 1004121200 UTC (0800 local 04/12/10) until 1004140200 UTC (2200 local 04/13/10) daily 1200-0200 utc (0800-2200 local), all flight operations within the DC SFRA are prohibited unless specifically provided below;
2. General aviation aircraft on an active IFR flight plan may arrive and/or depart the following airports only: a) Dulles international airport (KIAD) b) Baltimore Washington international airport (BWI) c) Manassas Regional/Davis airport (HEF) (only when tower is operational)"
I've checked...the tower at Manassas (KHEF) opens for business at 0630 local time. So here's my plan: Fly into KVKX Friday evening in the usual way. Arrange for a ride back there on Sunday afternoon and fly over to KHEF. Rent a car and drive home, take care of business on Monday, and head back to Manassas at the crack of dawn on Tuesday to return the rental and fly north. That ought to work, at the cost of two day's auto rental and some lost sleep.

Here's my question: Why can't they convene their Summit in, maybe Sparks, NV? Or Whitefish, MT? Hey, I hear that Ulan Bator is lovely this time of year.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Every Flight a Learning Experience

Even on the most uneventful of flights, you learn things if you pay attention. Last evening's trip from KBDR to KVKX was totally routine. Light winds, severe clear, couldn't find a cloud if you wanted. Just boring a hole in the sky.

The KEWR west arrivals sector gave me direct SBJ then direct LANNA (thank you very much) and soon switched me to Allentown Approach. Upon checking in with Allentown I decided to try something and said, "Allentown Approach, Skylane 631 Sierra, level 8,000, direct LANNA, and happy to take direct FLOAT whenever that works for you."

The immediate response was, "Skylane 631 Sierra, Allentown altimeter 30.13, cleared direct FLOAT, join Victor 39, resume own navigation."

Neat! Lesson learned: On check-in, ask for what you'd like to have. You may very well get it!

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Nice Day to Fly

With the Annual Inspection completed and last evening's half-hour flight check in the logbook, it's a perfect day for the flight back to the DC area. A look at the 1745Z satellite image (from Aviation Weather Center) reveals not a single weather feature between Connecticut and home:

The computer at FltPlan.com is suggesting that I should expect about 2 hours + 15 minutes en route.
That leaves me thinking about Monday morning and the trip back. At left, the current forecast map for Monday,courtesy of NOAA. It looks good, with high pressure dominating.

It's still early enough in the season to be thinking about the freezing level, so here at left (again, from Aviation Weather Center) the forecast 800mb pressure level temperature chart for Monday at 12Z. The zero degree isotherm is expected to be comfortably to the north.

So it should be not just a good day to fly today, but a good weekend to fly.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

2010 Annual Inspection (vi)

We're in the home stretch. This morning, N631S is in the process of being closed up. The new forward engine mounts have been installed and most of the other minor work package items have been completed. I'm told that I may even get the logs back with finished entries covering the work.

I'll go back to KBDR after work today, put a few necessary items back in the airplane and go for a brief flight to verify that everything works "ops normal." That should get N631S and I all set for a flight back down to the DC area tomorrow afternoon.

As usual, I'm very happy with the work done by Mike, Tony, Skip and their colleagues at Three Wing Flying Services. These folks are real professionals.