Captain YS's Flight Log Book

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11/15/2008 Annual Foliage-Watching Flight

I have been extremely busy.  Nonetheless, I tried to keep flying on the weekends.  I had a visitor from Japan three weeks in a row, and I took each of them to the sight-seeing flight.  The weather was not so good, and the scenery was obscured by the mist.  But, for some reason, I was able to land my airplane very well.  I was happy about that.

Two weeks before I took my first visitor for a flight (so, it's already almost a month ago), I flew for a foliage-watching flight.  It's a sort of an annual event of me and my wife.  The sky was clear with very good visibility and calm wind.  It was the best condition for a flight.

I took off Allegheny County airport and headed south.  I found that it is very difficult to tell when the foliage is at the peak.  If I fly early fall, some trees are still green, but if I fly late in the season, some trees already are naked.  This time, it was somewhat earlier side.  Some trees were red and yellow.  They looked beautiful from the sky.

Then I headed north.  I usually only take off and land at the Allegheny County airport.  But, this time I requested class D transition and got clearance.  Actually, as far as I remembered, I had never flown over Allegheny County airport at 3,000ft.  So, it was my first view to see the airport from this angle.

I circled over Fox Chapel area, which is on the north of Pittsburgh, then came back.  If was late afternoon, and the shadow of my airplane cast on the runway approached to my airplane on landing.  Actually, the trees right under the short final runway 10 were most nicely colored.  Below is the video from the foliage-watching flight.  (Click to play)

10/05/2008 Flying Stearman!

On Saturday October 4th, there was a small air show called "War Bird Weekend" at Butler County Airport (KBTP).  Butler County Airport is located about an hour from my apartment by car.  Many times, I flew over KBTP, but I never landed there.  In fact, if I drive down to Allegheny County airport, it takes at least 20 minutes, and then it would take 20 minutes to fly to KBTP plus time needed for pre-flight check, so it doesn't make much sense to rent a Cessna to go to KBTP.  So, this time I just drove there.

In fact, this event was not advertised much.  I didn't know about the event until one of my pilot friends told me about it.  Many World War II war planes including B-25, T-6, etc. flew in to KBTP, and some of them offered a ride.  (The B-25 there was the same B-25 "Panchito" that flew in Dayton air show.)

One of the airplanes flew in to KBTP was Stearman, which was used as a trainer during the World War II.  It was based at Beaver County airport, where I had my instrument check ride.  It was offering a ride, and the price was just $80.  It was cheap compared to $350 for B-25.  One of the pilot friend who was there also pushed me to go for ride, so I decided to go.  Actually, the pilot who was giving a ride was an instructor, so he said he could sign my logbook after the flight.

Stearman.  I'm sitting in the front seat.  (Photo taken by a pilot friend on the ground.)

So, I strapped in.  I'm used to ride a small airplane.  So, it was just comfortable.  However, although I've heard about it, I could see nothing in front.  Big engine and the instrument panel was totally hiding the forward view.  The instructor in the back seat easily started engine and began taxing.  I noticed there was no heading indicator on the instrument panel.  I pushed the intercom button and said to the instructor "This guy doesn't have a heading indicator, does it?"  I was almost expecting to hear "no, it doesn't," and I got a reply from the back as expected.  I have also heard that this type of airplane swings nose left and right during taxing because there's zero forward view.  And, it indeed was swinging the nose left and right while taxing to the runway.

A Stearman is an old airplane, and the main landing gears are attached front of the center of gravity, and a small wheel is attached aft.  Since it drags its tail on the ground, this type of airplanes are called a "Tail Dragger."  In YSFLIGHT, it is not difficult to take off in a tail dragger, but in an actual airplane, there are a lot more things to pay attention.  So, the instructor controlled the airplane during take off, and I was taking a video.

B-25 Panchito.

Then we flew to north east a little bit, and did some maneuvers.  I did some Lazy Eights, and Stalls.  The airplane was very maneuverable compared to Cessna.  I wanted to do some aerobatics as well, but this time I didn't.  Nonetheless, I banked the airplane like 60 degrees to do Lazy Eights.  It was such a fun!  One thing I noticed was during the level flight, the instrument panel was still blocking some forward view.  If I lower nose to have a better forward view, the airplane descended.  Also, in Cessna 172, all I need to do for coordinating turn is apply some pressure on the rudder pedal.  But, in Stearman, I had to positively push the rudder pedal to keep rudder and aileron coordinated.  So, I ended up with go up and down, and turns were not quite coordinated.  Nonetheless, it was my first time to fly Stearman.  I guess that was normal.  I would do better if I have next chance.

I handed the control back to the instructor for landing.  And, the landing in Stearman was again very different from Cessna.  He first aligned the airplane with the runway.  Then, slightly moved off to the right.  Then he pushed the right rudder, and applied left aileron, and put the airplane into a forward slip.  The forward slip I learned was to fly the airplane parallel to the runway while the nose was pointing left or right from the runway.  But, Stearman's forward slip was slightly different from what I learned.  The airplane approached the runway from the right.  That big forward slip was something I had never experienced before.  It was really a good experience.  After landing, the instructor signed my log book and gave me 0.4 hours of dual-instruction time in Stearman.

<- Log-book entry.  Click to enlarge.

It was my first time to fly in a tandem cockpit, bi-plane, tail dragger, and World War II trainer.  It was totally a new and exciting experience to me.  $80 for this opportunity seemed to me a very good deal.  Below is the video I took from the Stearman's cockpit.

09/12/2008 Fourth leg, Elmira/Corning (ELM) -> Allegheny County (AGC)

I ate a piece of Hershey chocolate at National Warplane Museum, but I was still hungry.  I came back to FBO, and chatted with the person at the counter, and said that I was hoping there had been a cafe at the museum.  Then she offered a courtesy crew car so that I could drive to a nearby sandwich stand.  But, I declined the offer because it was almost the planned departure time.  But, there was a free coffee and free ice cream machine in the FBO, so I had some to fill some of empty space of my stomach.  Elmira FBO was run by Atlantic Aviation, which is a big franchise in the north eastern U.S.  In fact, when I landed at Northeast Philadelphia, the FBO was also Atlantic Aviation.  I was very happy with the service at Northeast Philadelphia and Elmira.  I don't mind giving five-star rating to their service.

I finished pre-flight inspection, started engine, and contacted Elmira ground to obtain IFR clearance.  According to the memo, what I heard was:

"Cleared for Allegheny County, Elmira two departure, then PSB, TSO, REC, MKP, then direct, maintain 4,000, expect 6,000 in 10 minutes, departure frequency 119.45, sqawk 1675."

Can I make an emergency landing on the open space below in case of engine failure?
Where can I make an emergency landing over here?

Actually, I cannot write this long.  What I actually wrote down was "C AGC ELM 2, PSB TSO REC MKP AGC, M 4000 6->10min, D 119.45, S 1675."  I read back accordingly, and the ground controller said "Read back is correct."  But, what's TSO?  I knew TON is Tyron VOR, which is near my route.  But, I've never heard TSO.  I tried to type in the GPS to find out, but my GPS told there's no such thing.  I didn't see it on the chart either.  So, I called the ground again and asked "I thought the second waypoint was TSO, but I don't see it.  Can you verify the second waypoint was really TSO?"  It turned out it was TON.  It was good to ask back.  I then knew the cleared route.

Then I took off Elmira, and Elmira tower handed me off to Elmira approach.  I thought Elmira approach told me to direct Phillipsburg VOR (PSB).  So, I started right turn to head to Phillipsburg VOR.  But, the approach controller called again and told me to make a left turn.  Apparently, I missed "left turn" part when I first heard fro Elmira approach.  So, I stopped right turn, and made a left turn (almost 270 degree) and headed to Phillipsburg.  I don't claim I am an experienced IFR pilot.  I need to add a lot more experience.  This time, the approach controller corrected me and I followed the instruction.

The opening below seems to be a good emergency landing strip, but are there power lines if I come closer?
I guess it was West Mifflin High School.  Nice landmark to come back to Allegheny County airport from the north east.

I wanted to fly straight from Elmira to Allegheny.  But, if I did so, I would have flown through the Duke MOA (Military Operating Area).  So, I chose to fly to Phillipsburg, then head to Allegheny.  This route will keep me off the Duke MOA.  But, this route is not very efficient.  In fact, I wanted to turn direct Allegheny as soon as I clear Duke MOA, but I had to fly straight for 10 minutes or so after clearing the Duke MOA to reach Phillipsburg, which turn into about $20 of rental fee.  However, as soon as I cleared the corner of Duke MOA, Cleveland Center told me to fly direct Allegheny.  I thank Cleveland Center ATC!  He saved my $20.  The airplane I was flying, N96557, had an IFR certified GPS.  Since I had to give an equipment code when I filed my IFR flight plan, the air traffic controller knew that my airplane was capable of flying solely by GPS.  So, the ATC allowed me to fly direct Allegheny without relying on VOR.

Then I came over mountainous terrain.  When I am flying I always look for an open space that I can land in case of total power loss.  I saw no such potential emergency landing site around my airplane.  But, one of my friend who is flying a rescue helicopter told me that almost all fatal accident happens when the pilot does not realize the airplane was about to hit the terrain, which is also called as a CFIT (Controlled Flight Into Terrain.)  So, if I lost engine, I would have to slow down to just above the stall speed, and try to hang my airplane on one of the trees.  I was thinking such a thing, and kept flying straight to Allegheny County.

Before long, I was handed off to Pittsburgh approach.  When I called Pittsburgh approach, I felt I was coming home.  That was the same feeling I had when I flew back from Northeast Philadelphia airport in May.  I realized that it was my second time I approached to Allegheny from northeast.  (Last time was when I flew back from DuBois.)  I saw my left, and there was a nice building with bright blue roof.  I took a photo, and saw a football field beside the building.  I guess it was a building of West Mifflin high school (maybe.)  It is a good landmark for coming back to the airport under VFR.

When I came close to the airport, PFTC's airplane N9417L was in the traffic pattern and doing touch & goes.  I landed and tried to make a right turn into a taxiway to give runway to the approaching 17L, but the tower told me to go all the way to runway 31, then taxiway B1 to PFTC.  So, I added power a little bit and dashed into runway 31 to give way to 17L.

I finally finished one of the biggest requirements for the commercial certificate, 250nm long cross country.  This flight gave me a little more confidence.

The shadow of the airplane cast on the runway of Allegheny County airport.

Well, but I practiced IFR approaches today, but I didn't do as good as I wanted to do.  I could flew pretty close to the airport, but I couldn't stay on the glide slope just before the minimum.  (In fact, ILS gets more and more sensitive as I close to the airport, so it becomes more difficult to precisely on course and on glide path as I come close to the touch down point.)  I need a lot more practice to be a good IFR pilot.  So, I keep practicing.

09/07/2008 Third leg, Rome/Griffis (RME) -> Elmira/Corning (ELM)

Very nice golf course.  A little before arriving at Griffiss.  (I forgot uploading it last time.)
Griffiss airport.  After taking off from RW 33.

I arrived at Rome at around 12:30.  Planned flight time was 1 hour 30 minutes, but it actually took 2 hours.  I actually had to wait for several minutes before take off at Willaimsport.  But, in addition to that, this airplane's rudder was apparently not completely adjusted, and I had to apply left rudder slightly to keep the airplane straight.  But, keeping precise pressure on left foot pedal for long period of time is really tiring.  So, I kept pushing and releasing left rudder pressure, and the airplane did not quite follow the straight course.  Maybe that's another reason of the 30 minutes delay.

Anyway, I was pretty hungry when I arrived at Griffiss.  But, I was hoping there was a restaurant or a cafe at National Warplane Museum located in the field of Elmira, and my plan was to eat lunch there.  So, I refueled the airplane and took off right away.  Griffiss ground told me to taxi runway 33 via Charlie, Alpha, Charlie, meaning taxi to runway 33 via taxiway C, then taxiway A, and then taxiway C.  Taxiway C was connected to the middle of the runway.  Not exactly middle, but almost.  If I taxied to runway 33 via taxiway C, I would be able to use only half the length of the runway.  But, Griffiss had a nice long runway, and half the length was more than triple the length that a Cessna 172 needs for take-off roll.

So, I took off from the middle of the runway with no difficulty.  Griffiss tower handed me off to Syracuse approach.  Then I headed to the first waypoint, Ithaca VOR.  I once drove to Ithaca from Pittsburgh several years ago to attend the International Meshing Roundtable conference, when it was held at Cornell University.  That time, it took 6 or 7 hours.  I had to drive north to Erie, then drove East to go to Ithaca.  I remembered I was very tired when I arrived there.

Directly above Ithaca airport.
Cornell University Campus.

The flying altitude from Griffiss to Elmira was 6,000ft.  Since scattered cloud were between something like 6,000 to 7,000ft, I expected I would fly through some of them again.  As I expected, I flew through a lot of clouds on the way.  I logged 0.3 hours of Actual IMC time from this leg.  But, I was planning to take a photo of Cornell University Campus.  I was hoping the sky was clear above Cornell University.  I should have checked Google map before leaving Pittsburgh to see how the Cornell Campus looked like.  But, I was too lazy to do that.  I relied only on my memory from several years ago.

Before long, the airplane came close to Ithaca VOR on the GPS screen.  Ithaca VOR is in the field of Ithaca airport.  I looked below and saw a nice runway.  Ithaca was not a big city.  So, I was thinking I should be able to find the Cornell Campus by looking for a group of large buildings.  Then I saw some relatively large buildings, football field, and a pond.  I remembered there was a pond next to the campus.  That should be it!  I took some photos with my *ist DL digital camera.  I zoomed the picture on its LCD screen and confirmed the letters "CORNELL" was written on the football field.  One mission accomplished!  It is fun to fly to somewhere I have never been, but it is also a fun to see a place that I have been to before from an airplane flown by myself.

Then Syracuse approach handed me off to Elmira approach.  The airport was approaching.  ATIS was saying Runway 24 in use.  So, I was expecting a clearance for visual approach to runway 24.  But, Elmira approach simply told me to contact tower without clearing me for visual approach.  Usually, when I make a contact to tower in IFR, I say on what approach I am.  But, this time I didn't know on what approach I was.  I wondered what to say to the tower.  So, I said to the Elmira tower, "Elmira tower, Cessna 96557, inbound visual 24."  Butm apparently, the wind direction changed after I got ATIS and before I called the tower.  So, actually runway 6 was in use.  Elmira tower told me to enter the left traffic pattern for runway 24.  I flew accordingly, and landed without difficulty.

I could see three of the static-display airplanes from the place I parked my Cessna.  Last time I came here A-7 Corsair was parked there.  I asked FBO, Atlantic Aviation, to top off my airplane, and walked to the National Warplane Museum.  The A-7 Corsair I saw last time was now displayed at the entrance of the parking lot.  I believe A-7 Corsair was a well-designed airplane, but it retired before A-6 Intruder.  (Actually, I saw an A-6 Intruder in Williamsport airport.)  I have never seen A-7 Corsair flying.  I hope an aviation museum restores it and fly it again in an air show someday.

Static-display airplanes from where I parked my Cessna. National Warplane Museum hangar.

I had a good time at the museum.  I will upload photos from the museum in my Airplane Photo Gallery.  But, the National Warplane Museum didn't have a cafe or a restaurant.  So, I could not eat lunch there.  (Continued to the 4th leg Elmira -> Allegheny)

09/03/2008 Second leg, Williamsport (IPT) to Rome/Griffiss (RME)

I re-fueled the airplane at Williamsport, started engine, and took off to the next destination.  It was around 10:30am.  The next destination was Rome!  Well, not Rome Italy, but Rome NY.  The destination airport, Rome/Griffiss, used to be an air force base, where B-52s were stationed.  But, the base was closed, and now it is used as a general-aviation airport.  Since the airport was designed for B-52s, it had a big wide runway, 200ft wide, 11850ft long.  My home base, Allegheny County airport's main runway is 150ft wide, 6,500ft long, and a Cessna can take off and land within one third of the main runway.  At Griffiss, I may be able to do three touch and goes within the length of the runway.

A plastic bag of some cookies was blown up due to the low air pressure at 7,000ft.
A river.  Is it connected to Pittsburgh?

I took off Williamsport airport, flew over Williamsport VOR, climbed to 7,000ft, and headed to the next waypoint, Georgetown VOR. 

A little before reaching Georgetown VOR, I saw scattered clouds in front of me.  The cloud was between 6,500 to 7,000ft.  I expected to fly through some of them.  Since I am not allowed to fly through a cloud when I am flying under Visual Flight Rule, flying through a cloud is a privilege of an instrument-rated pilot.  In fact, I can log Actual IMC (Instrumental Meteorological Condition) time in my log book if I fly through a cloud.  When I go for an instrument flight training, I wear a foggle to hide the outside view to simulate IMC.  But, I have to log simulated instrument flying time and actual IMC flying time separately.  Basically, a Cessna cannot fly in a severe weather, so I have little chance to log actual IMC time.  So, it was a rare opportunity for me to log some actual IMC time.

Looks like a drag-racing field.  It's a good emergency landing site.
Clouds were near.

Then my airplane came close to a cloud that was almost as tall as my flying altitude.  I thought I was going into that cloud, when my digital camera ran out of battery and stopped recording.  I took spare battery out of my flight bag and replaced it in time before hitting the cloud.  I turned on pitot heat and Carburetor heat.  Even when outside temperature is above freezing, due to the evaporation, the temperature inside the carburetor may be cooled to below freezing.  If ice blocks the carburetor, the engine will stop.  So, to be safe, I have to turn on carburetor heat before entering the cloud.  I am not sure how likely to get pitot ice when the outside temperature is above freezing, but I was told to turn on pitot heat in cloud during my instrument training.  So, I did as I was trained.

A white wall approached, and I was sucked into the wall.  The airplane was shaken a little bit.  In most cases, there are some turbulence in cloud, so I was expecting it.  We say being inside a cloud as "in the soup."  In a cloud, it feels just like swimming in a creamy soup.  Everything outside is white.  It was a small cloud, and the airplane popped out of the cloud before long.  Probably, I was in that cloud for 10 to 20 seconds.  Then I flew in and out of a cloud before reaching Georgetown VOR.

Then Syracuse approach handed me off to Griffiss approach.  It was about 20 miles away from Griffiss airport.  But, I was able to easily identify the airport.  The runway was indeed wide and long.  After touching down the Griffiss runway 33, I had to taxi considerably long on the runway until turning into the taxiway.

Griffiss airport apparently was a very busy air force base.  In the FBO building, I saw some photos of those B-52s, KC-135, and also some photos from passed air shows.  But, now the airport was pretty much empty.  I saw several B-747s.  Ground crews were loading something to one of the B-747s, so it was at least was not a static display.

B-747 of Evergreen International.  Ground crews were loading something. Griffiss FBO building.

I finally landed at an airport 266 nautical miles away from the home base.  It satisfied one of the requirements of the commercial long-cross country, landing at an airport more than 250 nautical miles away from the originating airport.  (Continued to the third leg: Rome/Griffiss to Elmira/Corning)

Below is the video from the second leg.

09/02/2008 First leg of my 250nm cross country, Allegheny County (AGC) to Williamsport (IPT)


In the morning of 8/31, the sky was clear, visibility was virtually unlimited.  I was expecting some fog in early morning.  So, I was prepared for the actual IFR departure, and ILS approach to Williamsport, but the weather briefer told that there was no fog.  The first leg seemed to be entirely VMC (Visual Meteorological Condition.)  Since I had already filed IFR flight plans last night, the briefing was short.  Then I headed to Allegheny County airport.

I arrived at the airport at around 7:45am.  Pittsburgh Flight Training Center opens at 8am, so nobody was there when I arrived.  The airplane I reserved was N96557.  I did pre-flight inspection while waiting for someone to open PFTC.  The fuel was topped off.  I didn't have to wait for the fuel truck this morning.

At around 8am, PFTC opened, and I received the ignition key.  I checked the tach time to make sure the airplane had enough hours before the next 100 hour inspection.  I picked up one bottle of engine oil, just in case.  Planned take-off time was 8:30 (as filed in my flight plan), but the flight plan usually pops up on the screen of the control tower at least 15 minutes before the planned departure time.  So, I started the engine at 8:15am.

In a large airport, an IFR clearance is given by a controller called Clearance Delivery.  However, Allegheny County airport is not that large, although it has two nice runways.  In such an airport, I pick up clearance from a ground controller.  I contacted Allegheny ground:

YS: Allegheny Ground, Cessna 96557, IFR, Ready to Copy.

Allegheny Ground: Cessna 96557, Allegheny Ground, Cleared for Williamsport, Allegheny Five Departure, then as filed, Maintain 3000, Squawk 7450

YS: Cleared for Williamsport, Allegheny Five Departure, then as filed, Maintain 3000, Squawk 7450

Allegheny Ground: Cessna 96557, Read back is correct.

This way, I picked up the clearance.  Ground controller told that I can take off from runway 31.  I taxied to runway 31, performed engine run up.  I took a deep breath, and called control tower.

YS: Allegheny Tower, Cessna 96557, Ready to take off 31, IFR.

Allegheny Tower: Cessna 96557, Turn right heading 080, Cleared for Take Off.

I took off for my 250nm long cross country!  As the briefer told, the visibility was very good.  Little fog was remaining over Monongahela river, but that was it.  Referring to the GPS, I headed to Tyron VOR.  N96557 is equipped with an IFR certified GPS.  So, I was allowed to use it as a primary mean of navigation.  Actually, I also put my own portable GPS as well for backup.

Waterfront Mall.  We often go there for grocery. Monroeville Mall.  We don't go there as often as we used to do.

I climbed up to 7,000ft.  I don't usually climb up to this high, but this time I had to fly over Appalachian mountains.  I took some safety margin.  (I used 7,000ft when I flew to Northeast Philadelphia, too.)

I turned toward Williamsport airport after passing Tyron VOR.  About an hour and 15 minutes or so after take off, Cleveland Center told me to descend to 5,000ft and report when I see the airport.  GPS indicated that the airport was almost straight ahead.  But, I couldn't see the airport.  Then Cleveland Center told me to descend to 4,000ft.  I descended accordingly.  There was no fog or mist covering the ground.  No weather was blocking the airport, but I couldn't see the airport.

Some fog was remaining over a basin.

It turned out, the mountain was blocking the airport.  Now I understood that why the airport directory was indicating right traffic pattern for runway 27.  If I flew left downwind for runway 27, I would flying into the mountain.  I reported airport insight, and then Cleveland Center cleared me for visual approach to runway 27 and told to contact the Williamsport control tower.

I called Williamsport tower as "Williamsport tower, Cessna 96557, inbound visual 27."  But, maybe due to the mountain, my airplane apparently was not on the radar screen of the control tower.  A few times, the tower asked me where I was.  In fact I was very high.  Since I was maintaining 4,000ft until I actually saw the airport, I started descend very late.  Maybe that's why the tower didn't find me soon.

Welcome to Williamsport Williamsport FBO, DeGoL Jet Center

Williamsport tower told me to enter right downwind 27.  I entered right downwind from the above.  While I was approaching the downwind, another Cessna took off runway 27.  Initially I thought it was not a factor, but it turned toward me.  So, I stopped descending for a while, then descended.  I ended up with making a steep descent to enter the downwind leg.  Soon the tower cleared me to land.  I landed runway 27 with no difficulty.  The flying time for this leg was 1.7 hours.  (Will continue to the second leg, Williamsport to Rome/Griffiss)

Below is the video from the first leg, AGC => IPT.  Click to play.

08/30/2008 Getting ready for 250nm Long Cross Country flight

I'm planning to start training toward my commercial airman certificate early next year.  To get a commercial certificate, I need to go through some training, as well as gaining certain experience requirements.  One of such requirements is to fly a long cross country flight, in which I fly to an airport at least 250nm straight-line distance away from the originating airport.  The total length of the flight needs to be more than 300nm.  It means that I can terminate the flight at a different airport from the originating airport.  But, usually I fly out of Allegheny County and back to Allegheny County.  So, if I fly to an airport 250nm away from Allegheny County and come back, I satisfy the distance requirement.  Also, I need to make landings at three different airports.  This flight needs to be solo.  Even no passenger is allowed.

I have reserved a Cessna 172, N96557 for a whole day tomorrow.  I considered several candidate destinations including, Essex County Airprot (KCDW) nearby New York city, Lexington Kentucky, and Rome/Griffiss airfield New York.  After careful consideration, I decided to fly to Rome/Griffiss.  I'll land at Williamsport (KIPT), Rome/Griffiss (KRME), and Elmira/Corning (KELM).  You can see the route by clicking the picture below.

The reason why I don't fly straight from Elmira to Allegheny is to avoid Duke MOA.  MOA stands for Military Operation Area.  Actually, I'm allowed to fly through an MOA.  However, I'm responsible for avoiding military training activities. I don't think I'm skilled enough to avoid Anti-Air Artillery in Cessna, so I decided not to fly though it this time.

If the weather cooperates, and the condition of my airplane is good, I'll take off 8:30am tomorrow morning.

06/10/2008 Summary of flights in May

I had been busy for several weeks and could not update the web site.  But, I tried to keep up my flight training, and I flew for four times in May.  In the first one, I took a student of my lab.  He wanted to see how the flying in Cessna is like.  I flew to Grove City (29D), did one touch & go, and came back.  The following video is from this flight.

The second one was night landing practice.  I initially was thinking to do only some stop & goes, but the weather was too good to stay in pattern.  I flew to the north for ten minutes to see the night view of Pittsburgh.  I then came back and did two stop & goes, three tough & goes, and landed.  I did three full-stop landings in total.  So, I can take a passenger at night for another three months.

The third one was supposed to be my once-a-month IFR training.  However, the Cessna I was supposed to fly, N430U, got a fuel indicator of left fuel tank malfunctioned.  Federal Aviation Regulation requires an airplane to have a fuel indicator to fly.  So, I gave up IFR training.  Instead, I did some touch & goes in Diamond Eclipse.  Cessna is very competitive and difficult to reserve, but this Eclipse is nearly always available.  So, I wanted to get used to this airplane.  First three landings were somewhat iffy, but the rest four went well.  Probably I'll be ready to take it solo after flying with an instructor a few more times.  Actually, I was thinking I was not doing landing practices for a while, but I realized I was doing it pretty often.

I presented the last flight of the month to a family doctor who helped us a lot.  He is a Japanese and will return to Japan soon.  So, to give him our appreciation, I took him to Meadville for a hot-dog run.  I hear that many student pilots stop flying as soon as he/she gets a private certificate because it is difficult to find a next goal.  (I say go for instrument rating!)  But, I feel it is one of the privilege of a private pilot to present a flight to show someone an appreciation.  So, if you are a student pilot and finishing your private certificate soon, keep your currency up, and don't lose your privilege!  And, it is only possible in the United States.  I would need to be super rich to do this in Japan.  I'm just a research associate working for a university, but I still can afford flying.  I always thank this country for giving me this opportunity.

A pond nearby Meadville Airport.
Port Meadville Airport.

05/06/2008 Long Cross Country (Part 3: Homebound!)

I parked N430U at Atlantic Aviation.  A large corporate jet, probably for 10 to 20 passengers, was parked outside the Atlantic Aviation building.  I walked inside the building.  The lobby was very nice.  I told the receptionist that I parked my Cessna outside, and asked her to re-fuel it.  My friend who flew with me was from Philadelphia.  So, he called his brother to pick us up.  Original plan was to visit some museums of Philadelphia.  However, due to 3-hour delay, we didn't have time to do that.  At least, I met with his family, and had lunch together.

If no severe weather had not been forecasted, I could have stayed there longer.  However, the forecast was calling a late-night thunderstorm.  If I fly into a thunderstorm in a Cessna, probably wings are ripped from the fuselage, and I will fall like a rock.  I had to make sure we come back to Allegheny County airport before the thunderstorm reaches the area.  We came back to the airport around 4pm.

I made payment for the fuel at the Atlantic Aviation, and called flight service station to receive a new weather briefing.  Allegheny County airport weather was clear sky with good visibility.  However, the thunderstorm forecast was still there.  But, we were supposed to be there way before the storm struck.  I filed an IFR flight plan, finished pre-flight inspection, and started engine.  I called Northeast Philadelphia ground "Northeast Philadelphia Ground, Cessna 430U, IFR, ready to copy."

The route on my flight plan was Pottstown VOR (PTW) -> Lancaster VOR (LRP) -> Harrisburg VOR (HAR) -> Johnstown VOR (JST) -> Allegheny County.  However, I was expecting that the ATC may give me Modena VOR (MXE) -> V474 airway -> St. Thomas VORTAC (THS) -> Indian Head VOR (IHD) -> NESTO intersection -> Allegheny County.  This route was assigned by ATC to other airplanes that flew Northeast Philadelphia to Allegheny County, according to 

But, the ground controller gave me neither.  What he said was "Cleared for Allegheny County, fly runway heading, then vector to Pottstown VOR, V12, then direct Allegheny County, climb maintain 2,000, expect 6,000 in 10 minutes, departuer 123.8, Squawk 1160."  So, it was something I was not expecting.  I pulled out my chart, and found V12.  I figured that after Pottstown, I had to fly to BOYER intersection -> Harrisburg VOR -> Johnstown VOR -> NESTO intersection -> Allegheny County.  So, it turned out similar to what I filed on my flight plan.  I wrote down the check points, and re-programmed GPS.

When I was ready to take off, many airplanes (I guess airplanes of a local flight school) came back, and I had to wait for maybe five minutes or so.  Then I was cleared for take off.  I took off, and climbed to 2,000ft maintaining runway heading.  Then I received a vector to Pottstown VOR, and was given 5,000ft then 6,000ft.  I saw Wings Field, the original destination on my left.  I wished the weather was like that in the morning.

Wings Field.

After passing Pottstown VOR, toward Lancaster, I flew into an opening between high- and low- cloud layers.  The visibility was good.  So, it was not an actual IMC.  Nonetheless, if I assume that the cloud was spreading horizontally, it can give a false feeling of the airplane orientation.  So, I mainly relied on the instruments and continued on.

Between high- and low- cloud layers. Sea of cloud like a view from a jet. 
But, actually I was in Cessna at 6,000ft

I then flew in and out of the cloud.  I passed Lancaster, and Harrisburg.  The stationary front looked really stationary.  The condition over Harrisburg was just like the condition I saw in the morning.

I flew in and out of clouds. I guess the gap of the clouds was
where the frontal surface was.

When I came close to Johnstown VOR, the sky was clear again, and I could clearly see the ground.  I passed Johnstown VOR, and then the ATC called "N430U, contact Pittsburgh Approach 119.35"  The ATC finally handed me off to Pittsburgh approach.  That was a home feeling.  I came back home!  Actually, the visibility was good, and the sky was clear.  I could have cancelled IFR then, and flew back to Allegheny County on my own.  But, I decided to continue on my IFR flight plan.  I finally was cleared for visual approach to runway 10.

Cleared for Visual 10 approach to AGC!

My longest cross country that I flew by myself was my solo cross country during my private training.  I flew from Chandler Municipal (KCHD) to Blyth (KBLH), which was 147 nautical miles.  This time, I flew 226 nautical miles.  Almost 80 miles longer than my previous record.  For the first time I flew in an actual IMC without an instructor, and made a VOR approach to Lancaster.  My confidence level was clearly higher than before the flight.  I parked my airplane at PFTC, and I felt a comfortable fatigue on my left hand, which had been holding the control yoke for over two hours.  By the way, the forecasted thunderstorm struck Pittsburgh area around 11pm, exactly as forecasted.  I could have stayed in Philadelphia another one or two hours.  But, it was better to be home way before the storm, than flying right into the storm.

05/04/2008 Log Cross Country (Part 2: Localizer Back Course approach to Northeast Philadelphia)

After landing at Lancaster, we taxied to the local FBO called Air Ways and had my airplane topped off.  There was a nice pilot shop there.  I wanted to look around if I had more time.  Maybe next time I will come to Lancaster airport as my final destination instead of just stopping for re-fueling.

I had to decide if we should continue on to Philadelphia or head back to Pittsburgh.  The weather seemed to be recovering from the west.  But the recovery was much slower than forecasted yesterday.  The cold front, with thunderstorm, that passed Pittsburgh the day before apparently became a stationary front and was reluctant to move away.  Lancaster was covered by overcast clouds.  It didn't look possible to make a visual approach to Wings Field, which was farther east of Lancaster.

Only approaches available at Wings Field were GPS approaches.  However, N430U didn't have an approach-capable GPS unit.  It is possible to shoot a GPS approach with my portable GPS unit, but it is against the federal aviation regulation.  I would do it if it is absolutely necessary in the event of emergency, but it was not an emergency.  Just a bad weather.  About 12 miles east of Wings Field, there was an airport called Northeast Philadelphia airport (PNE), which had ILS and GPS approaches.  The original plan was to try Wings Field, and if we could not make Wings Field, we were going to head to Northeast Philadelphia as an alternate.  However, in this weather condition, heading to Northeast Philadelphia airport as a primary airport seemed to be a better destination than Wings Field. 

I called Flight Service Station to get a newest weather report.  As expected, Wings Field was in an actual IMC.  The ceiling was high, but probably it was impossible to descend through the cloud without using a GPS approach.  I decided to change the destination to Northeast Philadelphia.  I chose Lancaster as an alternate.  The weather was recovering.  I was able to shoot VOR-8 approach.  I must be able to do it again in the event that I cannot land at Northeast Philadelphia airport.  Actually, because I had my airplane topped off, it is even possible to fly all the way back to Allegheny County if I miss Northeast Philadelphia.  I had more than enough fuel to fly back to Altoona.

We hoped we could immediately take off after re-fueling, but, we lost roughly an hour at Lancaster after all.  Although the route I chose was Lancaster -> Pottstown VOR -> Northeast Philadelphia, the ATC gave me the route Lancaster -> BUNTS intersection -> Northeast Philadelphia.  I quickly modified the course I entered in my GPS and took off at around 11:30am.  The initially-assigned altitude was 3,000ft.  Before reaching 3,000ft, the airplane flew into the cloud layer.  Again, I was in an actual IMC.

Taking off from Lancaster. Approaching the cloud layer
Almost in. In the cloud.  I saw upper-layer clouds occasionally

Outside the window was all white.  We call it "in the soup".  I was relying solely on the instruments as I was trained.  I was soon given 5,000ft.  I climbed up, but could not come above the cloud layer.  Sometimes I could see through the lower-layer cloud.  The cloud layer was not very thick apparently.  Nonetheless, I could not see Wings Field.  So, my decision to change destination to Northeast Philadelphia was apparenly a good decision.

Soon I could hear Northeast Philadelphia ATIS.  The ATIS was calling 2,000ft ceiling.  If it was true, visual approach was even possible!  However, it was also saying Localizer Back Course 6 was in use.  Localizer Back Course approach uses a Localizer signal from an ILS for the opposite runway.  ILS is similar to VOR, but ILS emits radio signal for one direction.  If I tune a VOR receiver to a VOR station, and I turn OBS to the designated course, the needle on the VOR indicator will tell me which way to turn.  By chasing the needle, I eventually will intercept and track the designated course.  However, if a VOR receiver is tuned to an ILS, turning OBS will not affect the indication.  Therefore, if I fly 180 degree from the designated Localizer course, the needle will show reverse indication.  I need to fly away from the needle, as opposed to toward the needle.  It's called a reverse sensing.  In addition, I practiced a back-course approach only once during my instrument training.

HSI saved my day.

So, what I thought when I heard that Localizer Back Course 6 was in use was: "Oh, no!  Why back course.  I may screw up, so I should really prepare myself for missed approach.  If I miss it, I would just request VOR-6 approach, and will be all right.....  Wait a sec, N430U has an HSI.  It saves my day!"

HSI is an istrument that combines gyro compass and VOR indicator.  Because VOR indicator itself rotates with the gyro compass, by setting the OBS to the originally intended Localizezr course (in this case 240 degree) the OBS will be pointing backward when I turn to the final approach course of 060 degree heading.  So, it's like flipping the VOR indicator by 180 degree, and there is no reverse sensing.  Suddenly I got confident.  It's no different from a localizer approach, which I practiced over and over again.

Soon I was told to descend to 2,000ft.  Suddenly, the cloud broke out of the cloud, and I saw Philadelphia downtown below!  On my left, I saw the runway of Northeast Philadelphia airport!  The visibility below the cloud was good.

Philadelphia downtown.

ATC gave me "Cleared for Localizer Back Course 6 approach" and this time I was handed off to the Northeast Philadelphia tower.  I maintained visual contact of the runway through the approach.  I once flew through a small cloud, but that was it.  I didn't think I could count it as an approach in an actual IMC.  I was looking at HSI until I intercept the course, but after that, I relied on visual reference.

Finally, we arrived at Philadelphia, with three-hour delay.

(Continued to Part 3)

04/28/2008 Long Cross Country (Part 1: VOR approach in actual IMC with no instructor onboard!)

One thing I wanted to do after getting my Instrument Rating was a long cross-country flight.  Basically, unless I go to super-rural area, I can expect radar flight following service.  Also, usually clearances to fly through air spaces are given on take off.  So, I don't have to worry about busting class B during the flight.  And, I need to fly a cross-country flight to an airport more than 250nm away once to get a commercial certificate.  So, I wanted to practice longer flight gradually.  For the first step, I reserved N430U for April 27 all day and planned a flight to Philadelphia Wings Field (LOM), which is 210nm away.  It is short of the commercial cross-country requirement, but one of my friends is from Philadelphia, so I took him to the trip.

N430U is one of the Cessnas of PFTC, and is equipped with a GPS unit.  However, the GPS unit is not IFR certified, means I can use it for supplemental information.  But, it cannot be the primary mean of navigation.  N430U's GPS unit is so old, and it does not even show a moving map.  The indication is just like a VOR.  Also due to bad maintenance, its plasma display was hardly readable.  In fact, two Cessnas of PFTC did not have a GPS unit at all.  Students like to use a Cessna with a GPS unit with moving map.  So, those Cessnas with a nice GPS receiver are usually taken first.  The other Cessnas are relatively easy to reserve, but I cannot take advantage of GPS.  Then, why not invest some money to buy my own portable aviation GPS?  So, I purchased Garmin 96c.  It comes with a yoke mount.  But, it turned out that N430U's yoke had a chart clip, which obstructed the yoke mount.  So, I manufactured my own mount by wooden bars and cable ties.

Yoke with a chart clip. Original Garmin 96c mount.

Garmin 96c works pretty well.  I can use it with two AA batteries or NiMh rechargeable batteries.  As I wrote before, if the GPS unit requires a special rechargeable battery, or if the rechargeable battery cannot be replaced, you may need to throw away your GPS unit when the life of the battery ends.  In fact, the life of a rechargeable battery tends to be much shorter than other parts of the GPS unit.  But, because Garmin 96c works with AA or NiMh batteries, I can use it to the end of the life of the unit.  In fact, I suppose Li-Ion battery manufacturers are sending big money to the politicians so that nobody standardizes Li-Ion battery and people need to expend Li-Ion batteries one after another.  Just say no to Li-Ion batteries!  (When you have a choice.  I have no choice for my laptop battery.)

I was also worried about the GPS reception because it would sit way inside the cockpit if I mount it on the yoke.  But, it turned out nothing to be worried about.  It receives easily more than enough satellites when I mount it on the yoke.  It didn't even need a booster antenna.

Nine days before the planned cross-country flight.  I practiced some approaches with my instructor.  It went well.  Although I wanted to fly in a nice clear weather with IFR flight plan, I readied myself for a potential bad weather.  Two days before the planned date, the three-day forecast predicted bad weather at the destination.  Since three-day forecast tends to be accurate, I once decided to postpone the flight.  However, the forecast changed later in the day.  So, I rather postponed the decision to the next day.  One day before the planned date, the forecast looked a lot better.  It still indicated that I would need to fly through the cloud en-route, but terminal weather seemed to be good enough for visual approach.  I decided to go for flight.

I studied the route to the details and reviewed available approaches at the destination.  Since the actual weather could be worse than the forecast, I decided to make a stop at Lancaster (LNS) for re-fueling.  A Cessna can fly for about 4 hours and 30 minutes.  If I fly straight to Philadelphia, it would take 2 hours.  The weather seemed to be worse to the east.  If I could not make Philadelphia, I will need to come back to the west.  If I flew to Philadelphia, and shoot one or two approaches, I would have only 2 hours of fuel left to escape out of the bad weather.  Instead, if I made a stop at Lancaster and topped off, I would have plenty of fuel to come back in the event that I could not make Philadelphia.  It would allow me to shoot three or four approach attempts.

Then, the day had come.  I woke at 6am, called a flight service station to get a weather briefing.  Unfortunately, the weather recovery seemed to be slower than forecasted.  Lancaster was still calling low cloud cover.  However, the forecast was still saying the weather would recover by 10am.  I filed two flight plans, one for AGC to LNS, and the other for LNS to LOM, and headed to the airport.  At the airport, I called the flight service station at around 8:30am, but the cloud was still hanging low over Lancaster.  Nonetheless, the forecast was predicting that the weather was getting better.  So, I took off at 9:15am, about 1 hour later than the initial plan.

Shortly after taking off from AGC. NearJohnstown.

On the way to Lancaster, I flew over Johnstown and Altoona airports.  Sky above the two airports was clear, and I could clearly see the runway from 7,000ft.  If I could not make Lancaster, there was a safe heaven at Altoona.

Wind mills between Johnstown and Altoona. Altoona airport (and the landing gear)
Menacing cloud ahead.

Before long after passing Altoona, the ground was totally covered by the cloud.  I was flying in between high-layer and low-layer clouds.  Occasionally I flew in and out of clouds.  When I came close to Harrisburg, I tuned to Harrisburg ATIS, which was reporting ceiling 800ft overcast.  It was too low.  Unfortunately, ILS approach at Lancaster was not authorized unless the airplane was equipped with an approach-certified GPS or a DME according to the FDC NOTAM.  N430U had none of these.  Only approach available to me was VOR-8 approach, which required at least 1,000ft ceiling.  I continued on, and I was able to get Lancaster ATIS, which was reporting 1,400ft overcast!  That's good.  That's high enough for VOR-8 approach.  I requested VOR-8 approach to Harrisburg approach controller.

Soon Harrisburg approach asked me if I wanted to do the approach from the Lancaster VOR (means I fly all by myself), or radar vector to the final approach course.  I requested radar vector.  Then, the ATC directed me to the final approach course, and called "Left heading 050, intercept final approach course, cleared for VOR-8 approach!"  It had started!  For the first time, I was flying an approach in an actual instrument meteorological condition with no instructor onboard!  Then I intercepted the course and began descend to the minimum altitude.  If the weather was as reported, I should see the runway way before I hit the minimum altitude.  And, then the runway came out of the cloud!  (What actually came out of the cloud was my airplane though).  Runway insight!  I only need to get landing clearance and land.

However, Harrisburg approach didn't hand me off to the tower at that moment.  I called Harrisburg approach twice and asked if I should contact Lancaster tower, but I didn't get response.  Did I miss the hand-off instruction from ATC?  Was I too low to reach Harrisburg approach controller?  Or, if I cannot reach Harrisburgh approach, how can they tell me to contact tower?  I'm not supposed to change the radio frequency unless I was told by an ATC.  But, I apparently lost contact with Harrisburg approach.

There were two options.  One was to execute missed approach and climb back into the cloud.  The other was to contact tower and get landing clearance and land.  I am instrument rated.  I should have been able to go back up into the cloud and shoot another approach.  If I go up again, I should have been able to contact Harrisburg approach again.  However, landing on the runway straight ahead was clearly easier than shooting another approach.  It I consider the difficulty, landing should be a lot safer.  I didn't see any other traffic.  I saw no danger in landing.  The weather could have got worse while shooting another approach.  I would reach the runway within a minute.  I had to make a split second decision.  If I had simply missed the hand-off instruction, the Lancaster tower must know that I was inbound.

I made a decision.  I switched to the tower frequency and called "N430U inbound VOR-8."  But, apparently Lancaster tower didn't get it.  Curse my Japanese accent!  I called again, and Lancaster tower said "N430U report 3 mile final," when I was already about 1.5 miles to the runway.  Wasn't he looking at the radar?  Oh! Come on!  I ended up with shouting "I'm on short final.  Please give me clearance!" over the radio.  Lancaster tower finally cleared me for landing.

I believe my decision was right.  Best of all, I landed safely.  I made my first VOR approach without an instructor onboard in an actual IMC!

Approach to Lancaster Runway 8 through the cloud

(Continue to Part 2)

04/18/2008 ILS Approach

I changed the background from light blue to white.  I wanted to use a color something similar to the color of the blue sky.  White background may be too plain, but it is more readable.

I'm planning to fly to Wings Field (KLOM), 210nm east of Allegheny County Airport.  It will be my second try to fly under IFR flight plan without an instructor onboard.  To really get ready for the flight, I flew an IFR training flight today.

I took off Allegheny County Airport, did two ILS approaches, and then two GPS approaches to runway 28.  I'm practicing IFR only once a month after finishing my instrument rating.  So, I was expecting that first one or two approaches may be crappy.  But, in fact, I did all right.  The below videos are from my first ILS approach of this flight.

I used ATC2K to capture video of the instruments.  The instrument on the top-right corner of the video is VOR indicator, which also show a localizer (lateral guidance) and a glide slope (vertical guidance.)  Basically, if I maintain the two needles centered, I will come very close to the runway safely.

Forward-looking video may give you an impression that the airplane approaches to the runway with some angle, and indeed localizer of runway 28 of Allegheny County Airport is, for some reason, not perfectly parallel to the runway.  But, in the end, the airplane comes close to the runway end, so practically there is no problem.

04/06/2008 20kt of safety

When landing an airplane, the pilot performs maneuvers called round out and flare.  For example, a Cessna 172 glides toward the runway at 65kt.  On the final leg, I look at the aiming point, which is usually a runway number, and airspeed indicator alternatively.

When the airplane comes to roughly 30ft above ground, I start round out.  The purpose of the round out is a transition from descend to level flight slightly off the ground.  To level off slightly off the ground, I stop looking at the airspeed indicator and rely only on the outside view.  During the round out, if I am certain that the airplane reaches the runway, I reduce the throttle to idle.

When the airplane levels off slightly off the ground, I start flare.  Actually, there is no clear boundary between round out and flare.  It is a smooth transition.  Now I have to keep the airplane in the air as long as possible, and let the airplane settle on the ground by itself.

To let the airplane settle on the ground by itself, I need to stall the airplane while flying level slightly off the ground.  Cessna's stall speed with flaps full down is 45kt.  So, ideally, the airplane should be at 45kt when it touches the ground.

I learned this during my private training.  However, since I don't look at the instrument during the flare, I never knew if the airplane was actually touching down at 45kt.  Now I have my small video camera taking video of my instruments, and I am able to check whether I was landing an airplane right.

The videos below are from the flight on last Sunday.  The airplane settles on the ground at 1 minutes and 36 seconds from the beginning of the video.  The airplane was, in fact, landing at 45kt.  Now I can tell for sure this landing was a nice landing.

I often feel that the airplane stays afloat pretty long during the flare.  Although I cannot tell exactly from the video, it looked to me taking roughly 7 seconds after the start of round out before the airplane touches the ground.  Theoretically, I can reduce speed even slower, like 50kt, as long as it is faster than the stall speed before round out.  With slower approach speed, the airplane should settle on the ground with shorter time, and the airplane should be able to stop within shorter distance.  In fact, I maintain 60kt during the short-field landing, 5kt slower than normal approach.  But, I never decelerate to 50kt on final.

If I slow down too much, the airplane may stall when headwind decreases suddenly.  Or, if I misjudge the altitude from the ground and start round out too early, the airplane may stall too early and ends up slamming on the runway.  If I approach at 65kt, i.e., with 20kt safety margin, I will be safe even if I misjudge the altitude a little bit, of if headwind suddenly decreases.

Then, how about approaching at even faster speed, like 75kt?  In fact, an instructor told me to use partial flap and approach at slightly faster speed if I have a significant cross wind.  This partial-flap landing technique makes cross-wind landing very easy.  In return, I use longer runway.  So, approaching at unnecessarily fast air speed also risks the safety.  I suppose whoever designed Cessna came up with this 65kt approach speed based on the safety consideration.  It is a balance of landing distance and margin of pilot error.

I used to be too busy on final to think about such things.  In these days, I am a lot more relaxed and in control than before.  When I am on final, I appreciate the 20kt of safety and try to keep exactly 65kt.

04/02/2008 Landing Practice in Gusty wind

I haven't practiced touch & goes for a while.  I usually practice at least one touch & go when I come back from a cross-country, but it has been a while since I dedicated one flight to touch & goes last time.  So, I spent one hour just to practice touch & goes.  I practiced 12 landings in total, and the rental fee was $119.  $10 per landing.  Not too expensive.

The visibility and the ceiling was good, but the wind was gusting a bit.  The needle of the airspeed indicator was jumping up and down by 7 or 8 kt.  In such a condition, the airplane is blown by the wind just before touch down, and it is not very easy to make a smooth landing.  In fact, I made some not-so-smooth landings, and bounced on touch down several times.  I thought I could deal with a gusty wind better.  I was a bit frustrated by some of the not-so-smooth landings.  So, this time I uploaded a video from one of the unsatisfactory landings.  At around 1 minute 40 second, my airplane bounces once, and lands again in a few seconds from the bounce.  The bounce is not so clear in the video, but I felt "Oh, wait a sec!" when I felt the airplane sank just a moment before the bounce.

In a gusty condition, the airplane is lifted when the head wind component increases.  So, if I release back pressure on the yoke, and if the head wind component decreases again, the airplane tends to sink and makes a hard landing or a bounce on landing.  At least I was able to react to the gusty wind sufficiently to keep the landing gear from breaking, but I'd like to be able to land smoother even when the airplane was blown by the gusty wind.  There's always a room for improvement.

03/23/2008 First Solo on IFR Flight Plan

The weather in Pittsburgh has been poor for several days.  But, the blue sky came back on the Easter Sunday.  I had reserved N172RQ for 4 hours for this day, and I took to a cross-country flight.  Actually, the forecast was predicting a not-so-good weather, so I initially was planning to fly to Latrobe or somewhere near Allegheny County airport.  The weather turned out a lot better than the forecast.  So, I decided to fly to New Philadelphia.  This airport is called New Philadelphia Clever airport.  And, the airport identifier is KPHD.  Clever and Ph.D?  Someone (presumably an FAA employee) who gave the airport identifier to this airport had a sense of humor.

I am planning to fly to Philadelphia, which is about 200 nautical miles away)  with a friend end of April, and I wanted to practice a cross-country on IFR flight plan.  Even when the weather is VMC (Visual Meteorological Condition), flying on IFR flight plan is good because of several reasons.  First of all, unless I go to very rural area, I can expect radar service from the ground.  I can also get radar service by asking VFR Flight Following, but VFR Flight Following may be cancelled by the ATC when the ATC gets busy.  Also, unless I fly through a busy airspace, I receive clearance to the destination on departure.  So, I don't need to worry about airspace violation.  Needless to say, it's a good practice to stay IFR current.

I was always flying with my instructor when I flew on IFR flight plan until this flight.  This time, for the first time I filed an IFR flight plan, and flew by myself.

I filed a flight plan as flying toward Wheeling VOR (HLG) and then head straight to New Philadelphia.  But, I didn't have to fly to HLG because Pittsburgh approach cleared me direct New Philadelphia before I reached HLG.  The visibility was good, and the sky was almost clear.  But, the air was a bit bumpy.  It was bumpy enough to remind me of days when I was training for my private certificate in Arizona.

Bumpy air makes it difficult to take elevator trim.  I have a feeling that there is no single elevator trim that makes the airplane fly level in such a condition.  The air under a puffy cloud is typically turbulent, and the turbulence is associated with an updraft.  Therefore, the airplane comes under a puffy cloud, it tends to go up.  If I trim to counter the climbing tendency, the airplane wants to go down when the airplane leaves under the cloud and out of the updraft.  I need to re-trim to counter the descending tendency.  When I looked outside for a few seconds, the altitude easily changed by 100ft.  I need to be able to react quicker.  That was one of the things that I need to improve.

I came to within 10 miles (according to GPS) of the destination, but I could not find the airport.  Instead, I saw a big river.  I was curious if such a big river was supposed to be there.  It turned out to be a flood.  I was seeing news talking about flooding everywhere.  But, I didn't know that it was flooding there.

Flooding river near the airport.

I flew by GPS toward the airport, and finally I found it.  I cancelled IFR and landed.  It's important to cancel IFR (if possible) before landing an non-towered airport.  If I forget cancelling IFR, and forget calling a Flight Service Station to close my IFR flight plan, a search and rescue operation will start within 30 minutes, and I end up with paying big fine for that.  Below videos are from the landing to Runway 32 of New Philadelphia.

It was a small airport, and I could easily find a parking spot.

An airport management building (I suppose)   There was nobody at the airport.

According to, the restaurant on the field sells a good pie.  So, I was planning to buy one.  But, ....

Perfect Landing Restaurant on the field.
I should have checked the hours.

The restaurant was closed at 1pm.  By the way, I arrived there at around 5pm.

Because there is no control tower, I got an IFR clearance for return flight in the air.  When I was handed off to Pittsburgh approach, I missed some portion of what the ATC said, but other than that, the flight was eventless.  On the way back, I flew above Wheeling VOR (the ATC didn't give me clearance to fly direct AGC before arriving at HLG VOR).  I practiced one touch and go at Allegheny County airport and landed.  The sun was almost directly in front of me, and it was tough to keep my eyes open on final.

03/20/2008 Permanent Airman Certificate

I finally received my permanent airman certificate.  Below is the close up of the back face of the certificate.  Yes!  I am instrument rated!  Well, I was allowed to fly even IFR with my temporary certificate.  So, receiving a permanent certificate makes little change.  Nonetheless, it feels good to have a permanent certificate :-)

03/17/2008 IFR Training (with Instrument Panel Video)

I flew a instrument training with my instructor.  In the last instrument training, I practiced holding over AGC VOR, and then a VOR-A approach, and two ILS approaches.  This time, I planned to practice holding, then two GPS approaches and an ILS approach.

However, after two rounds of holding over Allegheny VOR, the airplane started making strange metallic noise.  The noise was apparently from engine, and that was a sort of sound that I don't want to hear in flight.  I suspected engine failure was imminent.  But, oil pressure and oil temperature were both in green arc, and engine RPM was stable.  So, I continued hold.

But, the noise became louder and louder.  I discussed with my instructor and decided to go back to the airport with VOR-A approach.  Below videos are from that approach.  This time I used a new camera mount that gives a better visibility.  I used ATC2K to take video of the instrument panel.

The right-most instruments are two VOR indicators.  I was supposed to keep the needle center, but I ended up with flying right of the course.  So, the needle was staying left.

It's just an excuse, but at 3000ft, I was receiving strong wind from the east.  So, I had to take about 10 degree wind-correction angle to the right.  Apparently, the wind was considerably weaker at lower altitude.  Sometimes the surface wind and the wind at just a few hundred feet above ground are considerably different nearby Allegheny County airport.  Maybe it is because hilly terrain nearby the airport.  In addition, I usually scan major 6 instruments plus VOR and GPS.  But, this time I was also looking at oil temperature and oil pressure.  So, I had some more things to pay attention.  When I become an experienced IFR pilot, I should be able to deal with this situation better.

So, I landed and checked the airplane.  The noise turned out not from the engine, but from the left wing.  A rubber sealing material between the wing and the fuselage was torn and loose.  The wind vibrated the loose rubber sealing, and it was hitting the surface of the wing.  I didn't hear noise at the beginning maybe because the sealing was not loose at that time.  You can see from the video that the noise was considerably louder on final.  On final, the airplane takes a large angle of attack.  A large angle of attack should have vibrated the rubber piece more violently and made the noise louder.

So, I couldn't practice GPS approach this time.  Next time (sometime next month) I will do some GPS approaches.

03/11/2008 Cessna got a flight-data recorder, and 15kt Cross Wind!

I flew to Franklin Venango Regional airport with two friends for dinner.  I reserved N430U, which was a relatively new airplane of PFTC.  I used to fly N430U often, but this particular Cessna doesn't have an IFR-certified GPS, and I haven't used it as often as I did before while I was working on my Instrument Rating.  Actually, N430U has a GPS unit, but the GPS display of this airplane is falling apart.  I could barely read the distance to the selected waypoint or an airport.

I took off Allegheny County Airport at 6:30pm.  I did one touch & go and then headed north.  It was more than one hour before the sunset, but due to thin cloud, the environment was gradually getting darker.  The visibility was also getting lower as we flew north.  However, this airplane was a lot more trustworthy than 39J.  Two VOR and ADF receivers were working perfectly.  Although GPS was not giving as much information as it could calculate, I could read the distance to a waypoint.  So, I could substitute it as a DME.  I flew to the destination with confidence.

This time, I took video of the instrument panel with my ATC2K with a laser designator.  I also was taking video with CoolPix P50.  You can play the videos side-by-side to see how the instruments moves during the landing.

After having dinner at Franklin, the return flight was totally a night flight.  The weather briefing I heard before leaving Allegheny was predicting that the sky was clearing up.  But, to be safe, I received a new briefing at Franklin.  The briefer told that the sky was clear, and the forecasted wind at Allegheny was 220 at 10kt, but he also said that the actual wind was dying down quicker than forecasted.  So, he suggested that the wind should be weak by the time I reach Allegheny.

I took off at 8:40pm.  The environment was dark.  But, the air was smooth, and the airplane flew stably.  I asked VFR Flight Following to Youngstown Approach, then Pittsburgh Approach, and headed to Allegheny. 

As I approached Allegheny County Airport, the airplane was shaken more than I expected.  Because it was a night flight, I decided to do two stop & goes before landing so that my night currency will be good for another three months.  So, I did my first stop & go.  On downwind leg, the airplane was shaken again.  I called tower to give me current wind.  I didn't write down, but I believe the tower said 230 at 15 or something like that.  230 at 15 isn't too bad.  Something like 12kt cross-wind component.  I can handle that.  So, I did second stop & go.

On the downwind leg after the second stop & go, the tower called "Wind 220 at 18"!  It gives just about 15kt cross wind.  There's no written cross-wind limitation for Cessna 172.  However, the operation manual presents what's called "demonstrated cross-wind," which is the maximum cross-wind component tested by a test pilot of Cessna.  Actually, it is exactly 15kt.  But, it was not my first time to handle 15kt cross wind.  I experienced one landing in a similar condition during my IFR training.  It was a good practice.  Below is the video from the approach with 15kt cross wind.

Unfortunately, ATC2K was not sensitive enough to capture the motion of the instruments.  As can be seen in the video, I didn't miss the centerline.  I did good.  Actually, I realized that this was my first night cross-country that I flew without an instructor.  There were a lot of new experience in this flight.

03/06/2008 ATC2K + Laser Designator : Preparing for Taking Instrument Video

I have used ATC2K three times, and I was impressed by its compactness.  I can place ATC2K in anywhere in the cockpit without obstructing the outside view as long as I can fix it.  So, I'm thinking to try to capture movement of the instruments during the flight.  But, one problem of ATC2K is that I cannot tell where exactly the camera is aiming until I come home and play the video with my PC.  To solve this problem, I attached a laser pointer underneath the camera.  So, now my ATC2K is equipped with a laser designator.

The pointer is not parallel to the axis of the camera.  It's pointing a little bit upward.  To calibrate, I tested it in my car.  Below is the video from the experiment.

I shot the laser at the beginning of the video to see where in the camera's field of view the laser pointer was pointing.  I suppose if I adjust the camera direction so that the laser hits the bottom edge of the attitude indicator, I should be able to get a good view of the six main instruments (attitude indicator, heading indicator, airspeed indicator, turn coordinator, altimeter, and vertical speed indicator.)  I'm going to try it in the next flight.  It would be nice to play the videos of instruments and outside view side by side.  The next flight is planned on Sunday.  The weather forecast does not appear promising, but I hope I can go flying.

03/02/2008 Close Encounter with Hawk kind

Allegheny County Airport, where I am based, has two nice runways.  The main runway 10-28 is 150ft wide, 6500ft long.  The sub runway 13-31 is 100ft wide, 3825ft long.  Both are more than enough for a small airplane.  In fact, a DC-9 often comes to Allegheny County airport, and when FedEx donated its retiring B727 to Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics, it flew to Allegheny County Airport by its own.

However, regular airports for a small airplane in general has narrower and shorter runways.  I believe 75ft-wide runway is most common.  But, appearance of such a narrow runway gives an illusion, and I feel I am too far on downwind, and too high on final, when I am at exactly where I should be.  As a result, I may overshoot the runway when I turn to final, or may descend too steeply on final.  Only training can help overcome such illusions.

There is an appropriate airport for such a training just 10nm south east of Allegheny County Airport, called Rostraver airport (KFWQ).  Today I flew to Rostraver and did some touch & goes to get used to a narrower runway.  Indeed Rostraver was very close to Allegheny County Airport.  Within 10 minutes from take off, I made a first touch & go at Rostraver.  You can see it in the video below.  (By the way, the video was taken by Suction-mounted ATC2K.)

Just 10 minutes from Allegheny County to Rostraver

I did four touch & goes, and then made a full stop.  I taxied to Runway 8 and took off again.  When I took off after a full-stop landing, I saw a white thing approaching from my 11 o'clock.  An airplane?  I thought, but it was a big bird.  Its belly was white, so I suppose it was a Red Tail Hawk, which I commonly see around Pittsburgh.  I suppose the hawk thought he was attacked from his 6 o'clock by surprise, so it made a steep left turn and evaded.  I don't know if it attempted to take my back after that.  The below picture shows a shadow of the hawk taken by ATC2K.

02/26/2008 Suction-Cam

I have used Action Cam ATC2K in the last two flights.  The first night-flight was too dark for ATC2K, and in the second flight, the propeller blade was too visible in the video due to the slow shutter speed.  The shutter speed of ATC2K seems to be too low for a camera that is supposed to be designed for capturing actions.

I can reduce propeller effect by mounting the camera outside the airplane, like underneath the wing.  However, if the camera breaks loose in flight and causes some damage to the ground, I'll be in trouble.  If I really do it, I need to talk to the mechanic and ask him to install a secure mount, which will be too expensive.

Or, another solution is to take side-window video.  Or, if I mount the camera at higher position, the time that a propeller blade passes in front of the camera will be shorter, and the propeller effect should be less visible.  To mount the camera on the side window or high position on the wind shield, I made a suction mount shown below.

I attached a helmet-mounting socket on a disposable chopstick, and attached the chopstick to a suction hook that I purchased from Walmart at less than $2.  Today I put it on the windshield of my car and tested it.  It stayed there.  Didn't drop.  But, it turned out that the camera vibrated too much.  I underestimated the weight of the camera.  So, I made a second version shown below.

I used a harder wood, and I attached the camera closer to the hinge of the hook.  It is a lot more stable than the first version.  In the next flight, I'm planning to fly to a nearby airport called Rostraver to practice touch & goes on a narrower runway.  I will try to put it at a higher position on the windshield, but if I fail to do so, I'll put it on the side window.

02/24/2008 IFR Training for the first time in a month

I flew with an instructor for an IFR training for the first time in a month.  Although I have passed my IFR check ride, I'm far from an experienced instrument-rated pilot.  I make small mistakes especially when many things happens all at once.  So, to be able to fly IFR confidently, I plan to fly an IFR training with an instructor at least once a month.

Even when I fly for practice, I can file an IFR flight plan and fly under the air-traffic-control system.  Actually, it is better for practicing radio communication.  However, only instrument-rated pilot can file an IFR flight plan.  I had been filing an IFR flight plan with my instructor's name (which is allowed for training purposes.)  But, this time, for the first time, I filed an IFR flight plan with my name.  It essentially changes nothing, but I just felt good.

This time I flew N596CS.  I took off, and practiced holding over Allegheny VOR.  Holding is a procedure to fly around a specific holding fix until the destination airport or an air way becomes available.  But, I am not supposed to fly randomly around a holding fix.  I should fly a specific pattern given by the ATC or published in a chart.  Most common holding pattern is flying to a holding fix with the specific heading, then turn 180 degree to the right, and fly straight for one minute.  This one minute straight course is called an outbound leg.  Then make another 180 degree right turn and head back to the holding fix.  If there is no wind, the airplane will come back to the holding fix exactly one minutes after rolling out from the turn.  The straight course is called an inbound leg.  If there is a wind, I need to adjust the heading and time of the outbound leg so that inbound leg matches the specified course heading and becomes one minute.  So, one of the things I need to do to fly a nice holding pattern is to estimate a wind accurately.  However, in this flight, I couldn't make a good guess of the wind and ended up with making slightly distorted holding pattern.  Not too bad though.

Then I shot VOR-A approach to Allegheny County airport.  In VOR-A approach, I need to descend to 1740ft after passing Allegheny VOR, and then join a traffic pattern for the active runway to land.  It used to be called VOR-5 approach when runway 5-23 existed.  But, it has changed to VOR-A because runway 5-23 of Allegheny County airport was closed permanently.  It should have been easy if I had a good wind estimation.  I had a feeling that I had a wind from the right when inbound to Allegheny VOR.  So, I took 5 degree wind correction to the right.  It looked ok until I passed the VOR, but as soon as I passed the VOR, the airplane started drifting to the right.  So, I took 5 degree to the other side, and it worked ok.  Actually, the forecasted wind was from the left.  I don't know which was accurate.

After VOR-A approach, I shot two ILS 28 approaches and landed.  I was confident in ILS approach because I practiced it many times during my instrument-rating training.  Basically I need to chase the needles, called localizer and glide slope, on the VOR indicator.  I did these two ILS approaches all right.

Overall, I did ok.  But, I misunderstood ATC calls three times and my instructor covered me then.  That's something I need to continue practice.  Eventually I will be able to fly IFR with confidence.

In this flight, for the first time I took a cockpit video during the training.  I have never done that in a training because the camera blocks the view of the instructor.  But, this time I mounted ATC2K on my headset, so it didn't block the view of the instructor.  In the last flight, my headset was unstable due to the weight of ATC2K.  To make it more stable, I lowered the mounting position.  From Mechanical Engineering point-of-view, lowering the center of gravity makes things more stable in general.  This time my headset was not so unstable.

ILS 28 Approach to Allegheny County Airport

You can see my finger a little before the landing.  That is when I raised my foggle.  Until then I was flying without looking outside.  And, I see to the right twice.  Those were the timings when I lowered flaps 10 degree at a time.

But, the propeller blade in the video was a bit bothering.  During ILS approach, I reduced the power to 1500 to 1700RPM.  I see two blades in the video in that condition.  It looks like ATC2K uses slow shutter speed even when the environment is bright.  If I assume the propeller was rotating at 1500RPM, since two blades are attached, a blade passes in front of the camera 3000 times per minute, or 50 times per second.  To capture two blade in one frame, the shutter speed needs to be slower than 1/25 second.  Probably it is 1/30 second.  The lens of ATC2K is so tiny, so 1/30 second may be the fastest it can use.  But, ATC2K is supposed to be for "action", and I wanted it to be able to use 1/125 second or so.

02/15/2008 Action Cam (ATC2K) vs. Coolpix P50

This web site is hosted by @Nifty, which is one of the biggest internet providers of Japan.  @Nifty recently offered a user-review program of Action Cam (ATC2K).  I believe Oregon Scientific will soon make ATC2K available in Japan, and they are trying to promote the camera.  I applied the program, and luckily was selected as one of the reviewers.  I received the camera yesterday.  I'm supposed to use it for four months and write reviews here.

Included items

ATC2K is a nice small video camera.  It captures the video into SD card (not SDHC compatible, unfortunately).  So, I can directly copy the video to the PC by a SD card reader or by connecting the camera to the PC by a USB cable.  Another good thing about ATC2K is that it uses two AA batteries.  Not a specially designed Lithium-Ion battery.  As I wrote before, Lithium-Ion battery will rot sooner or later.  When the battery becomes unusable, and the camera manufacturer is no longer manufacturing the battery, the camera itself becomes an industrial waste, no matter how good care you have been taking.  So, the most environment-friendly way of using a digital camera is to use a digital camera that can accept AA batteries with Ni-MH rechargeable batteries.  Lithium-Ion battery is bad for environment.  Also, ATC2K can take 320x240 or 640x480-size video with 15fps or 30fps frame ratio.  So, with 2GB SD memory card, it can capture quite a long video.

I plan to use it for taking cockpit videos from my flights.  Although I recently purchased a new digital camera for that purpose, ATC2K has some advantages over my new Nikon P50 for taking video.  I used to take my cockpit video only when I was flying by myself.  When I fly with an instructor, I don't put my digital camera in the cockpit because it blocks his view.  But, ATC2K can be attached to the headset and does not block the instructor's view.  So, I can take cockpit video with ATC2K even when I'm flying with my instructor.  Last year, I regretted I could not take videos from my instrument training.  But, with ATC2K, I can take videos of flying through cloud or rain.

Attached to my headset
Close-up of the attachment.  I could easily attach it to my headset by two cable ties.

ATC2K arrived just in time for my night landing practice today.  This time, I used both Nikon P50 and ATC2K to compare them.  Actually, it was not quite a fair comparison.  I chose P50 specifically to take night flight video.  Its maximum sensitivity is ISO 2000 (in video mode ISO 1000).  ATC2K's maximum sensitivity was unknown.  So, I did not know its performance in the dark environment.  I gave a tough test to ATC2K  :-)

I arrived at the airport around 7pm.  The temperature was below freezing.  Nonetheless, the sky was clearing up.  The weather had been just frustrating for two weeks.  I tried to fly twice, but the weather didn't cooperate.  In fact, it was cloudy until 6pm or so, but the weather forecast was calling for clear sky after 6pm.  So, I called PFTC and reserved an airplane from 7pm.  In fact, the cloud finally gave way as forecasted, and it became a nice flying condition.  I had moderate cross-wind from the right.  In fact, the ATC asked me if I wanted to use runway 31, but I just replied either one (runway 13-31 or 10-28) was fine with me.  So the ATC gave runway 28, which gave me a good cross-wind night landing practice.  It was so nice to fly after two weeks of no flying.  I did 3 stop & goes, 1 short-approach touch & go, and then landed.  It was a short flight (0.7 hours).  My plan for this year is to make shorter flight more often.  It was a nice night-landing practice.  You can see the videos by clicking below (Need Flash plug-in)

Video taken by ATC2K
Video Taken by Nikon P50

Overall, ATC2K did a good job in a difficult environment.  It was able to capture runway lights on take-off and on final.  It also captured lights of Century III mall.  Sometimes white bright square appears when I look to the right.  That was the screen of Nikon P50.  Another interesting thing of the ATC2K video was because it was attached to the headset, I could tell where I was looking at in various stages of the flight.  The environment was unfortunately too dark to capture instruments this time.  But, if I use it during the day, it should capture instruments as well.

However, I also found some problems with it.  The biggest problem is its buttons.  The manual says do not push the rubber button by nail.  However, unless I push the power button with my finger nail, it was so difficult to turn the power on.  The shutter button was very easy to press.  They could do a better job for power and menu buttons.  Also the sensitivity of the CCD seems to be lower than Nikon P50.  Probably ATC2K's sensitivity must be, I suppose, somewhere around ISO 400.  So, it is not ideal for night flight.  And, the it was heavier than I expected.  So, my headset tended to come down when I moved my head.

Nonetheless, I expect that ATC2K would take interesting videos from the cockpit.  I'll use it for coming flights and upload videos here.  (Otherwise, I need to return it.  :-)

02/03/2008 VOR-only Navigation

As I've been writing since last year, I spent considerable amount of my flying-time for training toward my instrument rating.  During the last portion of the training, I had to learn to use all available navigation equipments, VOR, DME, and GPS to have better situation awareness.  The training was concluded with my successful instrument check ride, as I have written below.

Last Sunday, I took my wife's friend's husband to the air.  My wife's friend wanted to present her husband a flight over their house for his birthday present.  I am always happy to have an excuse to go flying.  So, I happily offered a ride.  Their home was in Monroeville, about 30 minutes drive to the east from Pittsburgh.  According to the aeronautical sectional chart and a road map, their home was located south of Monroeville airport (4G0).  Monroeville airport is a small tiny airport, and in fact she did not know there was ever an airport in Monroeville.  With a GPS unit, I can easily fly to Monroeville airport, and then turn south to go to above their house.

The weather was very good when we took off.
Monroeville airport.  Very short and incredibly narrow runway.
The forecast didn't expect this low visibility.  I had to give up flying near the downtown.

However, when I came to PFTC, the airplane I reserved was down for maintenance.  Only available airplane was N4739J, which was the oldest airplane of PFTC.  I usually avoid 39J, but this time, the weather was too good to cancel the flight.  The weather in Pittsburgh had been cloudy and rainy through the week, and the weather on that day seemed to be a small but golden opportunity for the flight.  Ceiling was high, and visibility was good.  So, I decided to go with 39J.  39J was just old.  Not dangerous or like that.  But, it didn't have GPS.  And, its navigation equipments were somewhat iffy.  Well, but in this good weather, I expected I was able to fly just by the ground reference.  In case I lose VOR, I should be able to track the road, I-376 to reach Monroeville.  In the worst of the worst cases, if I got lost, I had a last option to call Pittsburgh approach and request practice ILS approach to Allegheny County airport to get back.  I am now instrument rated.  I can do that.  In fact, according to what I heard, technically a non-instrument rated pilot is allowed to request practice instrument approach to an air traffic controller as long as the airplane flies under VFR.  But, unless a pilot is adequately trained, it will be very difficult to do an instrument approach.  But, I felt it was ironic that I had to fly an airplane without sophisticated avionics after a year of IFR training.  Anyways, that was an only available airplane to me.

First, I tried to track 055 radial of Allegheny VOR to reach Monroeville airport.  I tuned VOR 1 to Allegheny VOR on the ground.  The VOR was supposed to be able to receive signal even on the ground.  However, it didn't.  I heard VOR identifier tone, but the needle on the instrument didn't move.  So, I tried VOR 2.  It worked.  I found 39J also had DME (Distance Measuring Equipment) which can tell the distance from a VOR/DME station.  So, I tried to tune it to Allegheny VOR, but the indication flickered and was unreadable.  So, only navigation equipment I could use seemed to be VOR 2.  That was fine.  N19015, a Cessna 150 in which I was trained for my private certificate, had only one VOR, and I survived it.  I could fly with one VOR  + ground reference.

So, I took off, and tracked 055 radial of Allegheny VOR.  In fact, as I gained the altitude, VOR 1 came alive.  So, I could use two VOR receivers.  Also, the DME indication became stable.  Somehow it didn't flicker any more.  So, I had much better situation awareness.

Soon I saw I-79.  Monroeville airport is supposed to be before I-79.  If I was tracking 055 radial of Allegheny VOR, I should be almost directly above the airport.  So, I made 360 to search the airport, and soon I was able to locate it!  Actually, the needles of the VORs were oscillating a little bit, and I was unable to tell if I was exactly on course.  But, I was tracking the course all right, apparently.  So, I turned south.  I could identify some buildings, and exit 14A of I-376.  Then I followed the road.  The impression from the ground and from the air was different.  So, I could only make a guess on where his house was.  My guess turned out to be pretty good.  Soon we identified his house from the air.  I circled around his house several times at 2700ft.  I might have been able to go down to 2200ft.  But, the sectional chart was indicating that there was a tower, about 1700ft tall, was in the vicinity.  I was supposed to stay at least 1000ft above the tallest structure within 2000ft radius from the airplane.  So, to be safe, I stayed 2700ft.  But, we clearly identified his house.  The first mission accomplished!

Then, I tried to fly to Butler County Airport, then call Pittsburgh approach at 5nm west of the airport to request flight following to Allegheny County.  By doing so, Pittsburgh approach controller usually gives a clearance for Pittsburgh class B airspace, and allow to fly straight to Allegheny County airport.  That course brings me pretty close to downtown.

First I headed to Ellwood City VOR.  I was hoping I could intercept 189 radial of Franklin VOR, and then fly north for a few miles to find Butler County airport.  However, the VOR got iffy again.  In other airplanes of PFTC, I could receive Franklin VOR almost soon after passing the Allegheny river.  But, 39J's VOR didn't.  Also, the DME was initially showing distance to Ellwood City VOR.  But, the indication disappeared when I came to 15 to 18 nm from the VOR.  At that time, all I knew was I was on 140 radial of Ellwood City VOR.  I could have continued on if the visibility was good.  However, as I flew north, the visibility decreased.  It was probably still more than 5 miles, but I lost sight of Pittsburgh downtown, and Cathedral of Learning of the University of Pittsburgh, which usually are good references to find my location.  The visibility was getting low, two of three navigation equipments were gone, a GPS unit was not there from the beginning.  I decided to turn back.

But, if I turn south to head directly to Allegheny County airport, there was a possibility of busting class B airspace.  So, I decided to track 140 radial of Ellwood City VOR until I intercept 055 radial of Allegheny VOR, then head to Allegheny VOR.  Allegheny County airport is on 056 radial of Allegheny VOR.  So, by tracking 055 radial, I can come back straight to the airport.  I was not panicked.  I still had an option to request practice ILS approach to Allegheny County airport.  Having a backup plan is always good.  But, I even didn't have to fly to intercept 055 radial of Allegheny VOR.  After flying a few minutes I could see, although obscured, some buildings of downtown and the Cathedral of Learning.  I could also see Allegheny river.  I recognized precisely where we were.  So, I flew along the Allegheny river a little bit, and then turned south, and came back to Allegheny County airport.

I believe I did not panic when the visibility was getting low, and the navigation equipment got iffy, because of a year of my instrument training.  First of all, I knew I had an option to fly a practice ILS approach.  Also, the low visibility was not as menacing to me as it used to be.  Actually, this flight gave me some more confidence.  My passenger, my wife's friend's husband, said he enjoyed the flight.  It was a nice and fun flight.

01/23/2008 Instrument Check Ride Passed!

Instrument Check Ride Passed!

January 23, 2008, my instrument check ride was scheduled.  The weather forecast from the day before was not very promising.  I talked with the examiner the day before, and I was supposed to do only oral part if the weather was not good, and schedule a flying exam for another day.  However, when I woke up, the sky was almost clear.  I first checked the weather report and forecast by Aviation Weather.  It said the sky would be almost clear all day, and the wind would die down toward the afternoon.  The weather was good.

At around 10am, I called Flight Service Station to get weather briefing.  The briefer on the phone was the least efficient briefer I have ever talked with.  Maybe he was exhausted.  I don't know.  But he spoke as if he were asleep.  And, he apparently mixed up Pittsburgh International airport and Beaver County airport.  At that time, my main concern was the runway condition.  The examiner told the day before that the runway of Beaver County airport was covered by ice.  I wanted to make sure the ice was removed, and the braking action was fair.  So, I asked him about the runway condition, and he started giving information of runway 13-31, 10R-28L, and other runways.  Beaver County airport has only one runway, 10-28.  I said to him I didn't think there was runway 13-31 there, and finally he pulled information for Beaver County.  But, there was no NOTAM of Beaver County airport regarding runway condition.  To be safe, I also called Prospect Aviation, which is located at Beaver County airport and asked about the runway condition.  The person on the phone told that she saw an airplane departing the airport, so she believed that the snow and ice on the runway was removed.  OK.  Fair enough.  The condition was set for my check ride!

On the way to Beaver.  Carnegie Mellon campus and Cathedral of Learning of the University of Pittsburgh.
Flying through Pittsburgh class B.  A flat land on the top of the picture is Pittsburgh International airport.  It was my first time to fly VFR this close to Pittsburgh International.

At 11am, I took encouragement from my wife, and headed to Allegheny County airport.  This was the debut flight for the pilot bag which my wife purchased for my birthday present.  Also, I used my new Nikon P50 for the first time to take a cockpit video from Allegheny to Beaver.  So, it was also the debut flight for my Nikon P50.  The airplane I reserved was N172RQ.  It was the same airplane that I flew out of Allegheny county without instructor for the first time.  I was supposed to get this airplane at noon.  The airplane came back about 5 minutes late.  I asked re-fuel, did pre-flight check, and added one quart of oil to be safe.  The outside temperature was -8C.  I would have needed to use an external pre-heater if the engine had been cold.  But, since the airplane had just come back, I could start the engine with no difficulty.  I asked VFR flight following to Beaver, and took off.

Landing to Beaver County airport.  I turned to base a little too early.  As you can see, some snow was still on the runway.  It looked just a snow-covered field until I came to 3 miles away.

It is just one hour drive from here to Beaver.  If I could fly straight, it should be 30 minutes or so.  However, the straight course from Allegheny to Beaver cuts through Pittsburgh class B airspace.  In fact, it passes almost right above Pittsburgh International airport.  Usually Pittsburgh approach controller does not give a class-B clearance until I come to the point where straight course does not come too close to the airport.  This time, I was told to fly 360 for a while, then I was cleared for class-B airspace to head straight to Beaver.

However, I couldn't recognize the airport when GPS indicated 5 miles to the airport.  I was on course according to the GPS.  So, I started descend while searching the airport.  At 3 miles to the airport, I finally saw it.  As you can see from the video on the left, some snow was still covering the runway, and to me it looked just like a snow-covered field.  I was glad I had GPS.  I was supposed to meet the examiner in the airport terminal.  I was curious if I could easily find the terminal, but it was really easy.  I saw a big sign "TERMINAL" on a building beside the runway.  I taxied there.  Marking on the main ramp was almost completely covered by snow.  So, I parked my airplane beside another airplane.  The examiner was waiting in the terminal.  The flying time from Allegheny to Beaver was 0.7 hours.

We first walked in to the building beside the terminal, and did some registration using IACRA.  He said he often experiences some trouble doing it, but my process went flawlessly.  Then we went to the second floor and did oral exam.  He didn't ask me anything difficult.  One question I remember was what if I would do when I could hear what ATC said but could not transmit.  That was an exact situation that I experienced recently.  So, I answered I can use transponder.  I meant I could set transponder code to 7600 to let ATC know I had a radio problem.  But, he explained that by using the transponder code, I could send some easy signal to the ATC.

Return flight.  Downtown (?) of Beaver county.
Pittsburgh.  The closer bridge is 62nd bridge, and the farther one is Highland Park bridge.
Allegheny County airport from left downwind 28.

Following the oral exam, we headed to the airplane, and started the practical test.  I was thinking I was required to file a flight plan for the exam because I was practicing that way.  But, he said I didn't have to.  According to his explanation, if I file a flight plan, and if I missed the assigned altitude more than 350ft, his examiner certificate would be revoked.  He told me to request practice ILS approach to the ground controller of Beaver instead of filing a flight plan.  I listened to ATIS and called the ground controller: "Beaver ground, Cessna 172RQ, main ramp, ready to taxi for take off, we have information Foxtrot.  Request practice ILS 8 approach to Butler County airport."  Beaver ground told me to taxi runway 28 and soon gave me squawk code 5161 and departure frequency 124.75.  The practical test had begun!

I taxied to the end of runway 28, pulled to the engine-run-up area, and did engine run up.  If I were on an IFR flight plan, I was supposed to say to the tower "Beaver tower, Cessna 172RQ, ready to take off 28, IFR."  But, I was not on an IFR flight plan.  He told me to just say "ready to take off 28."  So, I did it.  The tower called "Cessna 172RQ, cleared for take off 28, left heading 140."  I called back "Left 140, cleared for take off 28, Cessna 172RQ," and then took off.  Soon I was handed off to the Pittsburgh approach (124.75) and Pittsburgh approach told me heading 120 and 3000ft.  I turned to 120 heading, and climed to 3000ft.

The first approach was ILS 8 to Butler (KBTP).  Soon I was cleared for ILS 8 approach.  The air was not too stable.  There was some light chop.  But, it was not too bad.  I had experienced same level of turbulence and I didn't have any difficulty in maintaining altitude in such condition.  However, I lost altitude a bit and warned by the examiner a few times.  I usually do better in a real situation than a practice.  But, this time I might have been a little bit nervous.  Nonetheless, I was tracking the localizer well and soon came to the outer marker where I intercepted the glide slope.  I descended to the decision height (1496ft) and raised the foggle.  I saw the runway right in front of me.  First one done!  The approach controller told, when he cleared me for the ILS approach, to go missed approach as published.  However, this particular ILS approach had two missed approach procedures.  To be clear, I called "Pittsburgh approach, Cessna 172RQ on missed approach, turning left to Ellwood city VOR, 2000 climbing for 3000."  Pittsburgh approach then assigned heading 280 to go for the next approach.

The second approach was LOC 8 (Localizer 8) to Butler.  A localize approach is similar to an ILS approach.  However, in a localizer approach, as soon as I come to a point called final approach fix (FAF), I rapidly descend to the minimum descend altitude (MDA.)  In this particular approach, FAF was the outer marker, and MDA was 1600ft.  I did this approach partial panel (attitude indicator hidden.)  I was still going up and down a bit, but I was doing everything all right.  Pittsburgh approach gave me heading 220, then 110, and cleared me for LOC 8 approach.  I came to above the outer marker, started timer to measure time for missed approach, and began descend.  3 minutes and 24 second to reach missed approach point at 90kt.  After about two minutes, I reached the MDA and leveled off.  With a help of GPS, I could easily maintain the course.  Slightly after 3 minutes, the examiner told me to take foggle off.  Again, I saw the runway straight ahead.  Second one done!  And I went missed approach.

The last one was VOR 28 approach to Beaver.  In this approach, I needed to pass Ellwood City VOR with heading 256, and then descend to 2020ft.  At 5 nautical miles from the VOR, I could descend to 1680ft.  Actually, because I knew I needed to do this approach at least once, I had set DME frequency to the Ellwood City VOR when I left Allegheny county airport.  It's not a cheating.  I was told to expect what to come, and configure airplane well ahead of time in an IFR flight.  So, I expected and prepared the DME frequency ahead of time  as I was taught.  Although I was blown a little by light turbulence, I believed I did a satisfactory approach for the third time.  The last landing was a little rough due to the gust, but the exam was over.

After landing, the examiner told that I passed it.  He also said I maintained course all right, radio communication was good, I practiced things well.  So, essentially everything other than maintaining altitude was good.  He said I should brush up altitude maintenance.  That was a fair observation.  He printed out and gave me a temporary airman certificate, and suggested to head to Allegheny county airport right away before a snow storm hit the area.  I wanted to get some fuel for safety, but I knew I had fuel for almost two-hours.  So, I headed back to Allegheny county immediately.  The return flight was purely a fun.  Actually, Pittsburgh approach cleared me for class B airspace early.  The straight course from there was supposed to bring me very close to the downtown.  I expected a magnificent view, but the approach controller gave me another heading before I came close to the downtown.  I ended up with taking usual course to Allegheny county airport.  At Allegheny county airport, I did one touch and go, to practice one more landing, and landed.  The return flight was 0.7 hours including the touch and go.

01/21/2008 Getting ready for the Instrument Check Ride

After almost one year of training, I go for my instrument check ride this Wednesday.  If the weather is not good, backup date will be Friday or next Monday.

I wished I could fly a check ride out of my home airport, Allegheny County Airport.  However, I need to do it out of Beaver County Airport, where the examiner is based.  So, I fly to Beaver County Airport by myself and meet with the examiner there.  I will have oral exam, and practical test, and if things go well, I'll be instrument rated.

In fact, I'm not just unfamiliar with Beaver County Airport, it will be my first time to fly there.  I have never practiced approach to Beaver County Airport, either.  So, it will be quite a challenge for me.  I'll study approach charts and familiarize myself as much as possible, but I never know what's going to happen.  Let's see how it goes.  I'll post the result here when I get it.

01/13/2008 New Digital Camera for Night Flying Video

I have been to New York to renew my passport.  I can renew my passport at the Consulate General of Japan in New York city.  I stayed there for two nights.  I also visited B&H Photo Video shop located in Manhattan.  B&H is a popular online camera shop, and it sells stuffs at reasonable price.  I often buy stuffs from them.  It also have a retail store in Manhattan, and the price is (looks like) same as the online price.  By buying at the store, you can save shipping cost.

Actually I was looking for a new compact digital camera for taking cockpit video during a night flight.  I have been using Pentax Optio S55, and it was adequate during the day, but not for night flying because of the low maximum sensitivity, ISO 400.  However, none of the available models satisfied all of my requirements completely.  I didn't want to invest $200 to $300 for something that does not satisfy all of my requirements, so I was thinking to wait until next models come out.  I was planning to just look at the current models at B&H.  However, I realized that Nikon Coolpix P50 was sold at $159.  I didn't think it was that cheap.  I ended up with purchasing it.

To take video from the cockpit, the camera should be small enough not to block the view.  Most of the dedicated video camera don't satisfy this criterion.  Some video cameras are sufficiently small, but those cameras can take a video shorter than one hour.  Many compact digital cameras can take a longer video.  I don't want to worry about video camera while flying.  So, I want the camera to be able to take a video for at least two hours continuously.  Well, I can push buttons during level flight, but I don't want to if I don't have to.

For taking a two-hour video, Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery is inappropriate.  Probably, while the battery is fresh, it should last more than two hours.  But, a rechargeable battery soon degrades.  When the battery capacity becomes half, it is still ok for taking still images.  A fresh battery should be good for hundreds of pictures.  A half-capacity battery should still be able to take one hundred pictures or so.  However, a half-capacity battery can probably take a video for less than one hour.  When the battery capacity is reduced to less than half, the camera becomes just an industrial waste if the camera manufacturer no longer supplies a compatible battery, even if the camera itself is in perfect shape.  If the camera can be used with standard AA or Ni-MH batteries, I can continue using the camera by replacing the battery.  When the capacity of Ni-MH batteries is reduced and becomes inadequate for in-flight video, the batteries are still good for a wireless mouse, keyboard, or TV remove control.  On the other hand, a rechargeable battery specially designed for a specific digital camera cannot be used for anything other than the digital camera.  If you were thinking that a digital camera that uses a Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery is environmentally friendly, you need to re-think about it.  Such a camera is not environmentally friendly at all.  Using a camera that can take AA battery with Ni-MH rechargeable battery is the best for the environment., and you can use your camera long

The video format is also important.  The camera needs to be able to take 320x240 15fps movie, or even a 2GB SD card is not enough for a two-hour video.  Also, when I know that the flight will be short, I'd like to take higher-resolution, like 640x480 15fps video as well.  To take night view, the maximum sensitivity needs to be high like ISO 1600.  It is better to have an optical shake reduction.

The best matching digital camera for these criteria was Canon Power Shot A570 IS.  However, this digital camera has a bizarre 60-minute limitation of movie taking.  From the programming point-of-view, the duration of the movie can be limited by only three factors: (1) battery life, (2) available memory, and (3) data format.  Therefore, for some reason, someone who wrote a controlling program of Power Shot deliberately added an unnecessary time restriction.  Therefore, Power Shot lost the candidacy.

Second best matching digital cameras were Panasonic DMC-LZ7 and DMC-LS75.  These models can take a movie of longer than two hours.  However, the maximum ISO sensitivity was 1250.  So, I could not decide to go for it.

The third candidate was Nikon Coolpix P50.  It satisfies all criteria but optical shake reduction.  While taking an in-flight video, I fix the camera on the dashboard of the airplane.  So, lacking optical shake reduction was not so critical for in-flight movie taking.  But, I was thinking to use my next digital camera also as a primary camera for short trips (not for an air show).  So, I wanted it to have an optical shake reduction, and I was holding from buying it.

What I never expected was a Coolpix P50 was far less than $200.  I can just give a try for $159.  So, I purchased it.  I don't have planned night flight this month, but I'll try this camera when I go for my solo night flying.  (* When I'm flying with an instructor, I don't put my camera on the dashboard because it blocks the view of the instructor.)  Pictures below are screenshots from the videos I took with my new Coolpix P50 and Optio S55.  One thing that disappointed me was the maximum sensitivity of Coolpix P50 for movie mode turned out to be ISO 1000.  Nonetheless, P50 is better than S55 for night in-flight video.

Taken by Coolpix P50.  Distant street lights are clearly visible.  Lights reflected on the wet road are also visible. Taken by Optio S55.  Distant street lights are dimm, and lights relected on the wet road are not visible.
Taken by Coolpix P50.  Due to high sensitivity, the picture is a bit grainy, but good for enough for night in-flight video.

01/07/2008 IACRA? Viagra?

FAA has a program called Pilot Proficiency Award Program, also known as the Wings program.  The purpose of the program, as far as I understand, is to encourage a pilot to go for a basic flight training regularly.  Until last year, I could receive a certificate and a wing pin by attending an air-safety seminar and flying three hours of flight training including one hour of take offs and landings, one hour of maneuvers, and one hour of instrument flying.  It was not just for certificates and pin badges, but it also lowered insurance rate, and it could be substituted as a biennial flight review, which I need to go once every two years to fly without an instructor.  I can do one wing per year, and I could receive phase 2, 3, 4.... wings after the first wing.  The contents of the trainings were the same, but it looked ok for the purpose of encouraging regular flight training.

I received my first wing last March and was working toward the phase-2 wing.  However, the program has changed this year, and unless I finished all the trainings before the end of December, I had to start over again.  I managed to do the last flight training toward the phase-2 wing on December 26th and sent the application, hoping it was processed in time.  Fortunately, my application was processed, and I have received the phase-2 wing.

The pin badge on the right is the one I received last year, and the left is the new one.  The phase-2 wing has a star on top.

New wings program is proficiency based.  If the instructor confirms that I am proficient in certain area of flying I do not need to fly for an hour to get qualified.  I think the older system was better for encouraging pilots to do regular flight training.  But, I'll go for new wings anyway.

By the way, I'm getting ready for the practical test toward my instrument rating.  In the past, I had to fill a form called ACRA (Airman Certification and/or Rating Application) and get a signature of my primary flight instructor and take it to the examiner.  If I pass the test, the examiner signs the form and send it to FAA, and then a new certificate was sent.  Now, those forms are all online.  I have to create an account on the FAA web site and fill the form online.  My primary flight instructor digitally signs the form, and it is sent to the examiner electronically.  Funny thing is its naming.  It is called IACRA, standing for Integrated ACRA.  Sounds like Viagra.  In fact, when I heard IACRA for the first time, I was curious why we needed to discuss about Viagra there.  I suppose someone in FAA intentionally made it sound like Viagra because most natural naming should be something like EACRA, or Electronic ACRA.  Nice humor though  :-)

01/03/2008 First flight of the year

My first flight of 2008 was a night flight to see a light-up event called Celebration of Light from the air.  The event was held in Hartwood, which is about 10 miles north of Allegheny County Airport.  I drove through the event last year, and it was really an impressive light-up show.  However, it was not so impressive from the sky.  It took five or ten minutes to find the place.  The city lights of Pittsburgh was more impressive from the air.  Unfortunately, the maximum sensitivity of my digital camera used for taking flying video was ISO400, and it could not capture city lights well.  The below video is from the landings when I came back to the Allegheny County airport.

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