Captain YS's Flight Log Book

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12/23/2012 Last flight of the year and test-shooting Olympus E-5

I flew for the last time of the year on 12/23.  I just took off Beaver County airport, flew to Allegheny County airport, then made a few circles over Oakland area taking pictures of Carnegie Mellon, Pittsburgh downtown, and came back.

This time I took my new digital SLR, Olympus E-5 with me.  Olympus E-5 is unfortunately the last line of Olympus digitla SLR.  Due to a scandal followed by a financial break down, Olympus lost power to develop a new digital SLR camera.  Which means, sooner or later, I will not be able to upgrade my camera body.  But, I often walk into pollen floating area to take pictures of birds, that requires the best anti-dust capability.  I was sick and tired of dusts sticking on the image sensor.  No other SLR cameras have the same level of anti-dust capability like Olympus digital SLRs.

Hopefully I don't have to be worried about a new camera for another five years, but I hope by then other camera manufacturers get more serious about anti-dust performance.  Right now, they are not interested at all.  When your camera gets dirty, you need to send your camera back to the service center for cleaning, unless you are brave enough to clean the sensor by yourself, or you are lucky enough to be living in Tokyo and can walk in to one of the service centers.  Then, the whatever carrier will shake, throw, tumble, crush, heat, freeze, kick, and punch to make sure your camera is destroyed.  The camera manufacturers happily offer you a new camera at $1,000+ price tag.  If you want to avoid this ridicule, Olympus is the only option to go.

But, if you are thinking about buying a mirror-less camera, mirror-less cameras of Olympus are supposed to be using the same anti-dust technology.  Also, I heard that Panasonic is licensed the technology for their mirror-less cameras.  I definitely recommend Olympus and Panasonic.

<- (AA)

Anyway, I have Olympus E-5.  I purchased with $200 off for the black Monday sale.  It was a good deal.  So, I took it with me for testing out.

The ground was partially snow covered.  I always think it is a privilege to be a pilot to see four seasons from the air.  I thanked the Cessna I was riding.


Patchy snow covers


Beaver County Airport

As soon as I was handed off from Beaver County tower to Pittsburgh departure, the air traffic controller cleared me for Pittsburgh class-B airspace, and I was able to fly direct to Allegheny County, which allowed me to pass west side of downtown.


Downtown Pittsburgh

When I was about to pass downtown, suddenly came to mind was, "Wait, is the Steelers' game TFR not in effect now?"  There is a ridiculous regulation that prohibits general-aviation aircrafts from flying within 3 nautical miles below 3,000ft above ground from a stadium of a major sporting event.  National Football League game certainly qualifies to be a major sporting event.  The TFR starts one hour before the event and ends one hour after the event.  I checked that the game was going to start at 1pm, and it was like 10:30am or so.  The question was, does the TFR start one hour before the game starts?  Or one hour before the gates open?  If it is gate-open time, then what time would the gate open?  I didn't know!  That's why that's why the rule is ridiculous.  In fact, I don't know exactly when the TFR starts.  Another problem, is flight-service stations, where I get pre-flight briefing don't keep track of the sporting-event TFRs. 

This rule was imposed by the Bush administration only in order to decimate the general aviation.  Do you know one more reason why this rule is ridiculous?  Terrorists used huge airliners.  The government bans small aircrafts like Cessna.  Where is the logic?  OK.  You may have heard a lot of potential attack that a small airplanes can do.  For some reason, some group of people want to decimate general aviation, who talks about all fictitious threats of a small airplane.  But, THEY ARE ALL BOGUS!  Cessna cannot even take off with an explosive device that can cause a measurable damage.  There have been at least two incidents that a pilot gone crazy and crashed an airplane intentionally into a building.  One destroyed one room.  The other destroyed an entrance hall.  No more destructive than a pick-up truck.  If Cessnas are not allowed, pick-up trucks should also be banned.  The rule is broken and should be gone.  I wish Obama administration to get rid of this rule, but he seems to be too busy for other stuffs.

So, there was no way for me to know exactly when the TFR was going to start.  But, local Air Traffic Controllers are supposed to know about the TFRs because they need to direct all IFR general-aviation aircrafts away from this infamous TFR, and I was talking with Pittsburgh approach controller (Pittsburgh departure and Pittsburgh approach are the same ATC), who gave me class-B clearance.  So, I assumed I was ok.  Looks like I was ok.  No police aircraft called me from behind to stop for ticket and I was not shot down by a fighter jet :-P

I did two touch and goes at Allegheny County airport then headed back.  I circled a few times over Oakland area and took bunch of pictures.  My E-5 captured wonderful shots of Pittsburgh.  Yes, it is the camera I wanted.


From the bottom, Carnegie Mellon Campus, University of Pittsburgh, Downtown, and Pittsburgh International Airport on far right.


Carnegie Mellon Campus and Cathedral of Learning of University of Pittsburgh

After landing, I thanked Moore Aviation for letting me fly.  I also thanked Cessnas for giving me wings before leaving the airport.

On the way home, I stopped at Radio Shack to buy a surprise Christmas gift for my wife.  This time I bought a Sony active noise-canceling head phone.  For the past, I never failed to surprise her, and this time I succeeded in hiding it for 36 hours, and made sure she found it when she woke up  :-)

<- AA

My flying time in 2012 was 44 hours, which made my total flying time 444.1 hours.  I didn't reach my goal, which was to fly 50 hours per year, but it was a good year.

12/02/2012 hRequest 5000ft" (Oops!  I was flying VFR.)

The day is getting shorter and shorter.  I used to leave my office early and flew an hour or so.  But, if I do it now, it is well likely that the last landing becomes a night landing.

I wanted to be ready for night flying.  Although I was confident, I haven't done it for more than two years.  I asked an instructor to fly with me, and flew three night instrument approaches and two stop & go landings.  Two stop & go plus last full-stop landing give me three night landings to the full stop, which the Federal Aviation Regulation requires to practice preceding 90 days if I want to take a passenger for a night flight.

In fact the regulation says, if I take a passenger for a night flight, I need to do within the preceding 90 days (1) 3 night take offs, and (2) 3 night full-stop landings, and log them.  If I take off before it is qualified to be a night take off, and then do two stop & goes and land, I will have two night take offs and three night landings.  My question is, let's say I have two night take offs and night landings within preceding 90 days.  And, let's say I take a passenger at night.  As soon as I leave the ground, I have the third night take off.  I can write on my log book like "1 night take off as soon as I leave the ground."  This way, as soon as I leave the ground, I'm supposed to satisfy the night-currency requirement.  I'm curious if it is legal or not.  Of course, I don't push the envelope that much.  I made sure I took off later than 1 hour after the sunset this time.

Below is the video from the night-landing practice.

(YouTube video)

And, yesterday, the sky was clear and wind was mild.  I took my wife with me for a cross-country flight.  In these days, I fly on IFR flight plan most time when I fly a cross country.  If I fly VFR, I am supposed to fly X thousand plus 5,00ft, like 4,500ft or 5,500ft.  But, when I fly IFR, I fly X thousand feet.  So, I am used to fly at X thousand ft on a cross-country.  This time, I called Beaver ground as:

"Beaver ground, Cessna 986AV, main ramp, ready to taxi for take off with H.  Request flight following.  We fly to IDI, N35, and DUJ, at 5,000ft"

The Beaver ground controller asked me back about the altitude.  I replied 5,000ft.  Then I realized that I was going to fly VFR.  Oops. :-P  Later Pittsburgh approach assigned 4,500ft for me.

I did one touch & go at Indiana County (KIDI), then Punxsutawney (N35), then landed at DuBois (KDUJ).  Actually, the runway of Punxsutawney was the narrowest runway I have ever landed.  It was 50ft wide.  I wanted to practice landing on a narrow runway, and the wind was almost nothing.  I took this opportunity.

(YouTube video)

I knew I could do it.  I never miss the centerline even with 15kt cross wind nowadays.  But, anyway I haven't landed 50ft-wide runway before.  The narrow runway not only requires better directional control, but also gives illusion of the distance.  I may misjudge the altitude because the runway appears to be too far, means I may feel I am higher than actual.  So, I wanted to practice, and did it this time.

After having late lunch at DuBois, we headed back to Beaver.  It was hazy.  The sun was already getting low.  I was pretty much blinded by the sun and it was like flying IFR.

When I come back to Beaver, I practiced simulated engine failure.  Beaver tower gave me straight in runway 28.  I pulled the throttle to idle about 4 miles out, and glided down.  I was adjusting descend rate by flaps.  That worked out well.  When I rounded out, the airplane sank unexpectedly.  If you look at the video, you can see that the airspeed dropped from 60kt to 50kt within a second.  Maybe due to wind?  I reduced the back pressure and gained control again.  The rest was just normal.  It was nice to have a video recording of the instruments.

(YouTube video)

11/05/2012 A Bridge Too Far?

My Garmin 96c came back in one week.  I never flew without my portable GPS.  Nonetheless, when I flew last month, I tried to come back to Beaver primarily relying on VOR with my cheat sheet.  Beaver is still a relatively difficult airport to spot.  But, I was able to come back with VOR.  Well, I'm supposed to be able to.  I'm instrument rated.  In case of GPS failure, I should be able to shoot VOR-28 approach to Beaver.  Next time, maybe I'll try to come back from North by tracking Montour VOR.

There is a big bridge called New River Gorge in West Virginia.  It's far south from Pittsburgh.  I don't know how long it takes to get there if I drive.  This bridge is, according to Wikipedia, is the third largest steel arch bridge in the world.  My understanding is that it excludes cable-supported bridges.  Golden Gate Bridge is obviously bigger, but that one is in a different category for this competition.  This bridge is famous for annual bungee jump event from the bridge.  Also, an aerobatic airplane has flown underneath the bridge in the past.

I was thinking that it would be nice to see it from the above.  I was talking with my friend who got his private pilot certificate last year to fly there once.  However, every time we planned, the weather was bad in here in Pittsburgh of in there, or both.  We had to cancel all the time.  The bridge was becoming "a bridge too far" for us.


We saw some snow from last week's Hurricane Sandy.

But, finally, we had chance to fly there.  The forecast was predicting overcast cloud at 2,500ft above ground.  We typically fly at 3,000ft mean sea level, which is about 1,800ft above ground.  If the cloud was 2,500ft above ground, we had 700ft clearance.  If it were in summer, I would have just filed an instrument flight plan and flew through clouds, but it is getting colder, and we had to be worried about icing.  Unlike airliners, Cessna 172 does not have an anti-ice equipment by default.  I suppose it can be added as an option, but it is very expensive to maintain.  The temperature gets colder by 2 degree C every 1,000ft.  At 1,800ft above ground, the temperature is roughly 4 degree C lower than the ground.  The ground temperature was about 3 degree C.  If we had cloud at the altitude we were supposed to fly, Cessna 172 gets a trouble.

By the way, why I describe cloud base in above-ground level, and flight altitude in mean-sea level, why I don't use a consistent measurement, is just an aviation tradition.  For some reason, the forecast tells us cloud base above-ground, and we use mean-sea level for flight altitude.  Most of new pilots get confused.  But, it's the way things are set up.

The destination, Beckley airport, is on a high terrain.  The elevation there is over 2,500ft.  The cloud ceiling gets relatively lower than low terrain.  We didn't know for sure that we were going to be able to land there.  So, we decided to land at Parkersburg, check the weather at the destination, and then decide what to do.  If the weather at Beckley was going to be too bad to land, we had enough fuel for flying to the bridge and come back to Parkersburg without refueling.

Sectional Chart indicated that to the east of the bridge was mountainous terrain.  That' where I don't want to fly when the visibility is low.  The elevation around the bridge was roughly 2,200ft.  I didn't see any populated area near the area.  So, I suppose it was a non-congested area where I was allowed to fly as low as 500ft AGL. If the visibility was good, I should be able to clear the terrain at 3,000ft.  There are a few airports nearby.  Two of them are privately owned airport.  But, in case of emergency, we had a place to land.

I flew from Beaver to Parkersburg, and my friend flew the rest.  I only flew about a quarter.  I wanted to save money, and he needed to rack up his cross-country time for his instrument rating.

At Beaver, I asked some pilots who just landed about the weather.  They were saying the ceiling was about 2,700ft or so.  It gave good enough clearance for us.  We took off and flew an eventless flight to Parkersburg.  We got topped off, and then took off to the New River Gorge bridge.

At first, we saw a lot of patches of open field underneath.  It was easy to make an emergency landing spot in case of total engine failure.  But, gradually it became mountainous.  Finally we didn't see any open field underneath.  Should we experience total power loss, only place we could go was tree top.

Soon the terrain started rising.  We were supposed to have more than enough clearance, but the ground clearance seemed to be smaller than the chart told.  He suggested to go up higher.  We tried 5,500ft first, but the cloud was almost at 5,500ft.  We couldn't go in because we were flying VFR, and even if we had been flying IFR, we wanted to stay clear of icing.  We came down to 4,000ft and continued on.

Then, we saw the big bridge!  Well, I was expecting it to be bigger since it was said to be the third biggest steel arch bridge in the world.  But, it was pretty big.  Maybe I was biased by the Golden Gate Bridge that I saw in San Francisco last month.  The river under the bridge was making a good view.  But, I wouldn't fly under the bridge unless I were flying a very maneuverable aerobatic airplane.  I wouldn't fly into the valley with a not-so-maneuverable Cessna 172.


New River Gorge Bridge

The sectional chart suggested that there was a privately-owned airport nearby the bridge.  In fact, it was right next to the bridge.  If I land there, I would be able to walk to the bridge.  But, the runway width of that airport was just 24ft.  1/4 of the runway width of Beaver County airport.  Also the runway length was 2,950ft.  50ft short of what's required by the rental agreement.  Actually, although I don't miss the centerline now a days, I would be a bit intimidated if I had to land at 24ft-wide runway.  How can I become confident in landing at such a narrow runway?  Maybe I should ask an instructor to fly with me to go to an airport with a narrow-runway.

The weather over the bridge was almost clear.  Maybe we could land at Beckly.  But, we decided not to take a chance and flew back to Parkersburg.  We had late lunch at Parkersburg.  He flew the last leg back to Beaver.  It was all nice flight.


Flying Wild West Virginia

10/04/2012 Fixe Rate Repair

My GPS stopped working all of a sudden yesterday, and I almost gave up on it.  But, I sent an E-Mail to Garmin tech support anyway to ask for repair quote.  I got an answer quickly, and they say it's going to be a fixed-rate repair at $175.  I almost made up my mind to invest another $700 for a new unit.  I'm happy to pay $175.

In my past experience, when an electronic device broke, almost always a tech support replied that the repair will cost more than buying a new unit.  In fact, because of those memories, I was surprised that my 2008 Macbook Pro was repaired at just $300.  But, maybe it's a trend now.  I'm so happy to get it fixed at $175.

(Or, was I too unlucky in the past?)

But, I realized that I was so reliant on GPS now a days.  I need to be able to fly without GPS.  Especially I need to be able to locate my home base, Beaver County airport without relying on GPS.  My previous home base, Allegheny County airport, is an easy airport to spot.  I can look at Pittsburgh downtown skyscrapers and Cathedral of Learning of the University of Pittsburgh as reference points.  From those landmarks, I can easily spot Allegheny County airport from more than 20 miles away (if the visibility is good of course).  But, Beaver County airport doesn't have such an easy landmark.  It is north of Shippingport Nuclear power plant, but it's not as easy to spot Beaver County airport from that power plant than Allegheny County airport from the downtown and the cathedral.  I was primarily relying on my GPS to get close enough to Beaver County airport

To prepare for the GPS failure, at least .I remembered one route, 115.8 256, which means 256 degree radial from Ellwood City VOR (115.8).  But, it works only when I am coming back from north or east.  From the other directions, I had to go around a long way.  It doesn't work in case I'm running short of fuel.  Whole point of preventing an accident is cutting the chain of events.  GPS failure and not knowing a route to come back from the other direction would connects two dots.  In case I didn't have enough fuel to go all the way around, I may crash land.  By preparing other route will cut one chain leading to the accident.

Still in the worst case, I can call Pittsburgh approach for help.  But, in one occasion, my push-to-talk button stopped working.  That time, I couldn't speak to an air traffic controller until I found a hand-held microphone.  Some Cessnas don't have hand-held microphone.  If the push-to-talk button fails, I'll lose a way to ask for help from an air traffic controller.

So, I made a survival chart.  When I am coming back from west, probably I first should use Wheeling VOR and then track Ellwood City VOR 76 TO.  Or, from north, I can use Montour VOR to find I-376 and then follow the road, or track 161 TO Montur VOR.  I can use Ellwood City VOR to identify the distance to the airport.  I made up my survival chart so that I can easily find all those information.

Until I receive my GPSMAP 96c back from the service, I can use this chart.  When my GPS is back, I will keep it in my flight bag for my back up plan.


My BVI survival chart

10/03/2012 My portable aviation GPS is dead....

I had been using portable aviation GPS, Garmin GPSMAP 96c since April 2008.  Although the unit was old, it had adequate functionality.  It even shows the flight path for IFR approaches.  It helped me shoot VOR-8 to Lancaster, in which I shot an approach in actual IMC without an instructor.

But, today, when I turned on my unit, the unit could not acquire satellites.  It only found GPS #46, but later it didn't lock on to any satellite at all.  I used it for 4.5 years.  I invested something like $600.  I burnt about $133 per year.  I wished it to work a bit longer.  Now I am asking Garmin for the quote for repair, but I am also looking into a new GPS unit.

07/29/2012 (Almost) Perfect Landing

Once you become a pilot, the quest for the perfect landing begins.  After practicing enough time, you will be able to land with a nicely nose-up attitude on the main landing gears.  That is good enough to keep the airplane from damage.  However, it probably is not just me who is working hard to be able to land a super-smooth landing with zero shock of touch down.

I haven't done intensive landing practices for a while.  So, I decided to do it.  On 7/22, I flew 1.5 hours just doing touch & goes.  I made 18 landings.  Flying high and going to somewhere I have never been to is one of the fun of flying.  But, landing is also one thing I never get bored of.

Actually, I have succeeded in super-smooth landings a few times before.  In such landings, I start hearing the noise of main landing gear rolling before hearing a noise of the tire hitting the runway surface.  Those ones were just by luck.  I was not able to intentionally make those.  And, I have been wondering how I can make such super-smooth landings.  A while ago, I received an E-Mail from a flight instructor who has been reading this page (thank you!) for a hint.  His suggestion was as follows.

In private-pilot training, a student pilot is told to level off and hold the airplane slightly off the ground until it stalls and touches down on the runway during the landing flare.  But, it will come with a slight shock of the touch down.  For a smoother landing, you once arrest the descend ratio, then try very slow descend instead of holding the airplane slightly off the ground until stall.

It brings the landing flare to a whole new ball game.  As a student pilot, just keeping the airplane slightly off the ground was difficult enough.  Controlling the airplane into the slow descend during the landing flare was beyond impossible.  That was then.  I can do better now.  Now a days, on landing flare, after arresting the descend ratio, I am trying to descend very slowly.  It requires very sensitive control of the control yoke.  With this technique, I am able to make softer landings.  However, I haven't been able to make a perfect super-smooth landing with this technique yet.

In the next flight of my intensive landing trainings, I was landing at Beaver County airport.  As usual, I leveled off then started a slow descend.  I heard a noise of the right main wheel rolling before hearing the noise of touch down.

"Wow!  It's a perfect landing that I've been trying!"

That's what I thought.  The problem was the left landing gear was still in the air.  I shouldn't have reduced the pressure on the yoke, but I did.

"Thump!"

I heard a regular touch-down noise from the left landing gear  :-P   It was close.  It was almost a perfect landing that I've been looking for.  Well, but I'm getting there.  I want to be able to do it all the time.  Hopefully I'll get there some day.


YouTube Video from this landing

By the way, in this flight, while I was flying from Beaver to Meadville, I saw a Bold Eagle at 3,200ft.  Two birds were circling at the same altitude and coming close to my airplane.  I was watching them not to collide.  When one of them came to the closest point, I was able to see clearly the white head and dark body, which is the signature of Bold Eagles.  I should have carried my tele-photo camera with me.  (Although there was no chance of capturing it.  I'm no sniper.)

07/01/2012 Re-trying Reading

I had to cancel Reading flight last month.  Instead, I flew with my pilot friend to Reading just to visit the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum.  Maybe flying there once can be a good preparation for the next year anyway.  This time, I flew from Beaver to Reading, and my friend flew the return flight.

The name of the airport "Reading" is pronounced like "redding", like color red + ing.  I was expecting like "r-e-e-ding", like reading a book.  But, when I flew to North East Philadelphia, I was told by Harrisburg approach to "contact redding".  It took a few seconds to realize it was actually Reading approach.

According to the weather briefing, the main runway, 13-31, was closed.  The sub runway 18-36 was open.  The forecast was predicting weak wind.  It was going to be ok.

Although the sky was clear, I try to fly IFR when I go for a cross country.  I filed an IFR flight plan, did pre-flight, and strapped in, and realized that there was a sticker on the attitude indicator saying:

"Attitude Indicator INOP.  VFR only."

I guess I need to add one item in my pre-flight check list, which is checking all the instruments.  An attitude indicator is a required instrument for an IFR flight.  I had to fly VFR.  So, I requested VFR flight following and took off.  The attitude indicator was working ok for about the first hour into the flight.  Then it indicated -20 degree dive and stuck.  It was ok.  I knew it was not working and was not relying on it.

Soon after taking off, I was cleared for Pittsburgh Class-B airspace and climbed up to 7,500ft.  The surface temperature was 33 degrees Celsius, which was 91 degree F, and humid.  As we climbed up, the temperature got down and it was very comfortable at 7,500ft without an air conditioner.


Near Harrisburg.

The flight to Reading was eventless and very smooth.  It was one of the smoothest air I have flown in.  I trimmed and set the horizontal auto pilot (this Cessna was not equipped with the vertical auto pilot) then I flew mostly hands off.  Almost I fell asleep.  Of course I didn't.

But the drawback of the super smooth air is a poor visibility.  I was able to see verr far, I say the visibility was greater than 20 miles, but things were obscured by the haze.  Only once an airplane came very close to us over Tyron VOR (TON), but we were on the flight following and the air traffic controller gave us heads up.  We were able to spot the airplane and were able to keep safe visual separation.  By the way, Tyron VOR turned out to be out of service.  We were flying VFR watching GPS, so the VOR outage was not an issue.  But we didn't hear the VOR identification tone.  The briefer didn't tell me about that in the morning.  We didn't confirm the outage until my friend called a briefer for the return flight.


A warm hazy day.

The flight to the reading was fast with the help of 25kt tail wind.  It took only 1.9 hours.  We parked at the museum ramp as directed by the museum.  Our airplane was parked among the other outdoor static-display aircrafts.  Our Cessna looked as if it were a temporary display there.  I should have taken that picture, but I forgot.


On short final runway 36 of RDG.

I'm going to upload photos of the museum aircrafts in the Airplane Photo Gallery soon.

We wanted to get something to eat before the return flight.  The person at the museum told that there was a restaurant in the passenger terminal located the other side of the museum.  We anyway needed to taxi to somewhere we could get fuel.  We taxied to the Millennium Aviation ramp located next to the passenger terminal.  Reading ground gave us progressive taxi and made it easy for us to get there.

So, we thought to walk to the terminal to get lunch there while the line person was fueling the airplane, but we were told that the restaurant was closed.  Instead, Millennium Aviation let us use a complimentary crew vehicle to drive to a nearby Subway.  It was a very good service.  I'm going to give a good review in airnav.com.

My friend flew the return flight.  The air was less smooth than in the morning.  And, to avoid 25kt head wind, we stayed at 4,500ft.  The air at 4,500ft was not as comfortable as 7,500ft and still gave us 10kt head wind.  It took 2.2 hours in total.

When we got back to Beaver, there was an accident.  No, not an airplane accident.  My friend lost his cell phone.  We called Millennium Aviation and asked them to look for it.  We triple checked inside the airplane.  Also we looked for it in the Moore Aviation building.  But, it was lost.  He has a bad luck with his cell phone when he flies.  Last time he dropped his cell phone in the sink.  He was able to salvage his phone before the water destroyed his phone.  But, this time, his phone was gone somewhere.

So, it appeared to be a bad ending of a nice flight until Millennium Aviation found his cell phone on the ramp.  He was able to arrange shipping, and it should be back in his hand by now.


UH-1 of Air Heritage Museum at Beaver County airport was flying when I came back.

06/03/2012 Cancel Flight to Reading

I woke up at 6am and looked outside the window to see beautiful blue sky.  It was a perfect flying condition in Pittsburgh at the moment.  But, the low-pressure system that was staying over Canada chose to pass through Pennsylvania today.

As of 7am, a line of storm was observed over the shoreline of lake Erie and was moving south with the low-pressure system.  Of course, the storm gets dissipated while moving over the dry ground, but I never know how much weaker it gets.  A line of storm could make a wall between Reading and Pittsburgh, and if I fly to Reading, I may get stuck there for a day.  If it was going to be just cloudy, I would be happy to fly IFR.  But, this time showery rain is forecasted, which may get worse to become a thunderstorm that could tear the wings of a Cessna 172 mid air.

I tried to fly-in to Reading air show last year, and had to ditch the flight.  I didn't have chance this time again.  I can try again next year.  I really wanted to see B-29 "FiFi" flying, but this time I chose to be on the ground wishing to be in the air. 

Update: I have regretted the decision of no-go many times in the past because the weather didn't turn out as forecasted.  But, this time, Pittsburgh area was struck by a thunderstorm around 5pm.  At 6pm, when I would have taken off Reading, Reading airport was under heavy thunderstorm.  If I decided to delay the take off by an hour, I would have taken off Reading at 7pm and would have been over State College around 8pm, when I would have flown into another thunderstorm.  This time, the decision of no-go was right.

06/02/2012 I'm supposed to fly-in to the Reading Air Show tomorrow, but ....

After flip-flopping several times, the forecast for tomorrow in Reading seems to be a good weather for an air show.  But, Beaver Falls weather doesn't look promising.  As of 2:24pm, weather.com and intellicast.com are predicting isolated to scattered thunderstorms through the day, all the way to 9pm.  Accuweather.com is predicting showers at 3pm and 9pm.  Aviation Weather has not yet published the forecast for that far future.

The predicted wind for the return flight is headwind 20 to 25kt.  If I am able to take off at 6pm, I will arrive at Beaver 8:30pm.  The sunset time at Beaver will be 8:48pm.  However, the cloud cover may make it dark even before the sunset.  Although my favorite approach is an ILS approach, Beaver County airport doesn't have ILS approach.  I will need to shoot a VOR approach if the cloud is low.

I am confident in night flying.  I have shot VOR approach in rain once.  So, I should be able to handle each one of these.  But, shooting a VOR approach in rain at night will be a challenge.  If the wind gets stronger as the shower passes the area, I may have to land on a wet runway with cross wind, which I believe I can handle.  But, I'm not so thrilled to do so.

What doesn't make sense to me is the prediction of thunderstorms.  The center of the low pressure system is in Canada, and the cold front associated with that has already passed the area yesterday.  It is almost over the east coast.  The temperature is not too hot.  I doubt it is hot enough to cause strong convection.  How come scattered thunderstorms can grow in this condition?  Well, the forecast is predicting that the storm will be away later at night.  I may delay the departure from Reading to be back when the weather is calm.

If it appears to be difficult to come back tomorrow, I will cancel.  It is always said "It is better to be on the ground wishing to be in the air than to be zin the air wishing to be on the ground."

05/26/2012 New chocks.

Although I am not (yet) an aircraft owner, I bout two pairs of chocks.  I am planning to fly in to Reading air show next week.  I need to bring my own tie down.  I will bring some vinyl ropes, but I don't know if there is a hook to tie my rope.  If not, I am going to use my new chocks.  Reading is about 2 hours from Beaver by Cessna 172.  But, I wouldn't fly unless the forecast is flyable all day.  I don't want to get stuck there.  So, I don't know if I can really go there yet.


Some day, I own my own airplane resting on these chocks.  It's not an unachievable dream!

I flew from Beaver (KBVI) to Clarion (KAXQ) today.  Man!  It was hazy.  I could see the airport 6 or 7 miles away, so the visibility was more than twice the minimum VFR.  But, despite the forecast that was predicting sky clear, scattered to broken cloud layer prevented me from going up above 3500ft.  Maybe I should have filed a pirep.  I always want to do it, but I have been lazy to study how to do it.

After doing one touch & go at AXQ, I wanted to do a low approach at NARDO.  But, as I flew toward Rock (9G1), which is right next to NARDO, the cloud was getting thicker and visibility lower.  In that visibility, I didn't think low approach was safe.  I gave up and flew back to Beaver.  The forecast wind at Beaver was variable at 5kt.  It was supposed to be a weak to no wind.  I ended up dealing with straight 10kt cross wind gusting 14.  My personal limit now a days is cross wind 15kt.  It was a good practice condition for me.  I did three touch and go and landed.  Other airplane landed before me was missing taxiway C, which was connected at the middle of the runway, and turning at taxiway D.  I tried to make taxiway C.  Well, I missed that, too.  Maybe there was some tail wind.  I felt the airplane faster than usual when i rounded out.  Also I felt a good up draft a little before runway 28 threshold.  I have video recording.  I am going to review it later.


Clarion airport.  It was very hazy today.

04/01/2012 Shooting an ILS approach through an overcast layer

I flew a short cross country with a friend.  He has a private pilot certificate and is preparing to get an instrument rating.  To do so, he needs some cross country time.  If he flies alone, he would end up flying a lot of short cross countries.  But, if I fly one leg, and he flies the other, we can fly long cross country flights for the same price.  That has been a plan.  But, this time, the forecast was predicting rain to the later afternoon, and we decided to make it a short cross country to be sure to come back before the rain starts.

Nonetheless, the flight from Beaver to Latrobe had to be IFR because there was an overcast layer at around 3,000ft.  I requested 3,000ft in the flight plan, but I was assiened 4,000ft.  If I flew at 3,000ft, I would have been mostly in cloud.  The cloud layer was thin, and as I climbed, I quickly flew through the layer and came above it.  It was just 4,000ft, but the view underneath was as though I were in an airliner.  I always like the feeling of flying above the cloud.

Another thing of this flight was that I shot an ILS approach without an instructor on board through an overcast layer for the first time.  I have done that before with an instructor on board.  And, I have once shot an ILS approach through scattered clouds, but it was almost VFR.  This time was truly my first ILS approach in actual IMC without help of an instructor.  Recently I was becoming more and more confident in ILS approach.  It was a good chance to test if I can do the same by myself.


(YouTube Video)

Despite my confidence, I once was carried away to the left at around 1:42.  I think that time I added power to come back to the glide slope.  I was adding power little by little, but the airplane didn't really come back to the glide slope.  So, I added more than a little that time.  Probably due to less-than-enough counter input to the P-factor, my heading was drifted to the left.  Nonetheless, I was able to recover before the airplane went too much off course.  I think it was ok.

After I broke out of the cloud, I put on my foggle and descended to the minimum altitude and landed.

ATIS was reporting cross wind from the left, but what I felt was a slight cross wind from the right.  In fact I was taking an wing-low attitude to the right, and my right main landing gear touched the surface first.

We were not planning to stay there long.  So, I just wanted to park our airplane in a general parking ramp rather than at the FBO, but a follow-me car from FBO came and guided us to the spot.  I felt guilty for not buying fuel from them.  So, I topped off.  Anyway, the weather condition was still IMC.  If we needed to fly IFR back to Beaver, I definitely wanted to have full fuel.

But, the sky got cleared in an hour.  The rain didn't start till the evening.  I guess I could fly a long cross country.  Though, I also didn't want to come back just before the rain started.  It is said it is better to be on the ground wishing to be in the air than to be in the air wishing to be on the ground.  I was able to shoot an ILS by myself.  It was all good flight.

03/29/2012 Planned Cherry-Blossom Watching Flight, ended up with watching Cherry-Leaves.

I have been volunteering aerial photography of cherry blossoms of Pittsburgh North Park.  There is a non-profit organization called Pittsburgh Sakura Project, which has been planting cherry trees over the years there.  I thought it would be nice to take aerial photos of the cherry blossoms of the North Park every year so that the growing number of cherry trees is recorded.  According to my wife, it is my rare opportunity of doing something useful by flying an airplane, and for me, it is a perfect excuse to go flying.  Last year, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom on April 21.  Though, the trees were still young and small.  I was expecting more spectacular view this year.

However, we had record warm winter here in north eastern U.S.  Not just warm winter, but we also had summer-like hot days mid March.  I thought that the cherry blossoms will open early April rather than later.

Actually, the cherry trees reacted to the warm temperature way faster than my expectation.  I heard the news that the cherry blossoms in North Park was in full bloom on March 25.  How come it be this early!  Cherry blossoms goes away quickly.  So, I reserved an airplane early Tuesday morning (3/27) to fly a photography flight.  What was disappointing was that the airplane that I reserved was down for maintenance.  Not for a mechanical issue.  It was for re-painting.  Tuesday morning was a perfect flying condition.  Clear blue sky with absolutely zero cloud and calm wind.  What an irony.  I had to postpone to the evening of Thursday.

The next day, a rain with moderate wind struck Pittsburgh area.  Probably, the cherry blossoms are gone with the wind.  I was almost giving up.

In such a hopeless mood, I took off Beaver County airport at 6pm on Thursday.  I also heard that there were some flower buds as well on Sunday.  There still may be some cherry blossoms that opened later.  As I usually do, I circled over the North Park Lake at 2200 to 2300ft several times and took pictures.


I could see some pink fluffs.  There were some left over cherry blossoms (Photo taken by my wife in the back seat)


Cherry trees in this picture were the oldest ones that were planted there.  It should have been spectacular on Sunday (Photo taken by my wife in the back seat)

Although it was not in full bloom, I could see some small fluffs of cherry blossoms.  I'll keep closer look at the cherry trees in the North Park next year.

01/09/2012 First Flight of 2012 over Hawaii

I am working in Pittsburgh for Carnegie Mellon University.  Of course I am getting paid in U.S. dollars.  Now, Japanese Yen is super expensive against U.S. dollars due to a strange currency market dynamics.  Japanese economy is no better than U.S. economy now.  There is absolutely zero reason for Japanese Yen to get this expensive.  But, this crazy Yen-Dollar rate makes it very expensive for me to visit my friends and families in Japan.  So, this time my parents came to Hawaii, and we also went there to spend a few days together, instead of us going all the way back to Japan.

The day before departure, we had good amount of snow in Pittsburgh.  Within half a day, we were in Hawaii.  Airplanes are great!


American Airlines S-80 (MD-83?) N589AA.  We took this airplane from PIT to DFW.

The biggest attraction in Honolulu is F-22 Raptor based at Hickam Air Base, which is sharing runways with Honolulu International.  There is no question about that.  (Is there any?)  Due to reduced production, it is very rare to see F-22 in an air show.  I was looking forward to seeing some of them while I was there.  But, I could see F-15 taking off twice, but didn't have chance to see F-22 this time unfortunately.

As a bird watcher, tropical birds in Hawaii are also nice photo targets.  I wanted to take a crisp close-up photo of Red Crested Cardinal.  I took my Olympus E-30, 50-200mm F2.8-3.5 telephoto lens, and 2x tele-converter.  I got some successful shots.  I'm going to upload them in "Birds (and animals) around Carnegie Mellon."  In fact, I am thinking to change the title of that page to "Birds (and animals) around Carnegie Mellon (and wherever I visited.)"


Due to jet lag, I woke up at 5am.  I was able to take this sunrise from my hotel room.

As a general aviation pilot, one thing I cannot miss is a flying over Hawaiian islands.  There is a flight school called Washin-Air at Honolulu International.  This flight school is owned by a Japanese, and mainly doing business with Japanese tourists.  I have flown from this flight school a few times before.  I reserved an airplane from this flight school again this time.  If you are an airplane fan, you should try discovery flight over Oahu island once.  The scenery from the cockpit of an airplane is totally different from a scenery you can see from a small tiny window of an airliner cabin.  No photo or video can fully express the magnificent view over Honolulu.  In fact, this year, Kaneohe Marine Corps base will hold an air show on September 29-30.  You can visit this air show, watch Blue Angels and stay one or two extra days to fly a discovery flight from Washin-Air.  I have uploaded some pictures and videos from the last time here.

I have flown round-the-Oahu-island flight a few times before.  This time I asked to fly across the ocean to go to Molokai island.  We don't fly differently over the ocean, but I just wanted to see how it feels like to be over the ocean.  Since I was already confident in ATC communication as long as I am flying around Pittsburgh, I thought I could deal with at least a little bit of radio communications here.  But, the difference is, in Pittsburgh, I fly out of class D airport and fly through or below class B airspace, but in this time, I fly out of class B airport.  Last time, I felt that Honolulu ATC spoke like twice as fast as Pittsburgh ATCs.  Also there are some local rules like position reporting with island CTAF (yes, island CTAF, not an airport CTAF), maybe because of numerous sight-seeing flights.  I certainly couldn't study and familiarize with all of these rules unless I practice there.  I relied on an instructor for those things.


Hanauma bay. (Click to enlarge)

According to my memo from 2006, I needed to contact Clearance Delivery first to get class B clearance before taxiing even though I was going to fly VFR.  My memo suggested to say:

"Honolulu Clearance, (Aircraft Callsign) at Air Service, Request Freeway 4 departure, with (ATIS code).")

But, I didn't remember what to expect from Honolulu Clearance.  I guessed it to be similar to IFR clearance.  I just prepared to get CMEDS (Cleared for, Maintain (altitude), Expect clearance, Departure frequency, and Squawk code).  I called "Honolulu clearance, Cess.... Archer 4338V at Air Service, Request Freeway 4 departure with Hotel."  Honolulu clearance said:

"Archer 4338V, Cleared for (couldn't hear), ....ain 1500, departure frequency 124.8, Squawk 0262."

Oh man!  Fast!  I thought the ATC said either "cleared for class B" or "cleared for freeway 4 departure".  I believed I heard "...free...", so I guessed it must have been "cleared for freeway 4 departure."  And, next must be "maintain 1500".  I read back:

Cess.... Archer 4338V, Cleared for Freeway 4 departure, maintain 1500, departure frequency 124.8, Squawk 0262."

The ATC replied "read back is correct."  So, my guess was right.  I almost said "Cessna 4338V."  I guess I flew Cessna 172 too much!  Then I needed to contact ground.  I wondered if I should say something extra in addition to what we say regularly.  I asked the instructor, but he said no.  Also he said I should have said "Washin Air" instead of "Air Service."  I called:

"Honolulu ground, Cess.... Archer 4338V at Washin Air, ready to taxi with Hotel."

The ATC instructed us to taxi to 4L via taxiway A and F.  I was almost saying Cessna.  I also almost said "Pittsburgh Approach" but I didn't make this mistake.

While taxiing, Honolulu ground apparently gave me take off clearance after Bombardiar Q400 on final 4R.  I was caught by surprise.  Getting a take-off clearance before requesting never happened to me.  So, I totally missed it.  The instructor on my right covered it.  Honolulu International is a busy airport.

While taxiing, I noticed my forward looking video stopped recording.  I charged my battery before leaving Pittsburgh.  Maybe my battery came to its life.  I wanted to change my batteries, but we were already cleared for take off.  I gave up taking take-off video, and took off.  Then flew along the freeway.

Soon I was told to contact departure.  Then I wondered what to say.  If I were flying IFR, I would say "Honolulu departure, Archer 4338V, (current altitude) climbing to (assigned altitude.)"  But, I was under VFR.  Under VFR but was flying Freeway 4 departure.  I had to consult with the instructor again.  He told me to say "Archer 4338V Freeway 4 departure."  So, I said accordingly to Honolulu departure.  Then Honolulu departure said something, but again it was too fast for me to catch.  Man!  It's fast here.  The instructor said the departure was asking current altitude.  Maybe I should have said "Honolulu Departure, Archer 4338V, Freeway 4 departure, 700 to 1500."  Next time, I'll try that.

I leveled off at 1500.  Underneath was a magnificent view of emerald green of the ocean around Oahu island.  I would never get bored of flying this place.  If I want to see this large body of water near Pittsburgh, the best thing I can get is lake Erie  :-P


Right in front is Koko head.  There is a VOF on top.

I handed airplane to the instructor for a little bit and replaced the battery of my forward-looking camera.  But, all I could do was taking two batteries from the other camera, which was not fully charged.  To take touch & goes over Molokai airport, I didn't record the video all the way.

Couple of times, the instructor pointed that the engine RPM was exceeding the red line.  That was my bad habit.  In Cessna, I remembered the tone of the engine noise.  What I was doing was when the engine noise reaches some level, I pulled the throttle a little bit.  But, this Piper Archer II seemed to be quieter than Cessna, and I forgot looking at the RPM.  Getting used to an airplane is a good thing, but it also develops some bad habits.  In fact I wouldn't have noticed this habit unless I flew in Archer II.  So, it was nice to fly here.  I got one new year's resolution: Watch RPM regardless of the engine noise.

Another habit was whenever I wanted to adjust the elevator trim, I tried to reach the trim wheel on the front instrument panel, but in Archer II, it is located side of the seat.  I think I had a same issue when I was flying Piper Warrior from Butler county.


Flying to Molokai island across the ocean.

Molokai airport was a class D airport.  I should be able to deal with it.  But, still something new to me was position reporting on the island CTAF.  This time I had to say to CTAF:

"Northshore Molokai traffic, Archer 4338V, abeam ILIO, inbound Molokai."

Then switched to Molokai tower and called:

"Molokai tower, Archer 4338V, abeam ILIO, inbound for touch and go with Uniform."  (Uniform was the squawk code then)

The tower replied:

"Archer 4338V, left traffic runway 5, report short base."

Sure, I could deal with it.  But, "short base" was an expression that I heard for the first time.  I understood what he meant, but just I never heard around Pittsburgh, they just say "report base." in this case.

There was one traffic before us.  Wind was weak, almost parallel to the runway and almost zero cross wind.  I maintained 72kt all the way on final, and leveled off nicely, at least that's what I thought.  Suddenly, the instructor told "Too high!  Lower nose!"

"What?"  It's a split second that I couldn't react very well.  In my mind, I flared nicely.  I was waiting for the airplane to sink a little bit to land.  To me, lowering nose at this time would land on the nose gear, which was not good.  But, the instructor is an expert of this airplane.  I took in the middle.  I reduced the back pressure just a little.  Soon the airplane sank a little and landed.  I thought it was not bad, but according to the instructor, it was just a little too high.  Piper Archer's cockpit was lower than Cessna 172.  In this type of small airplanes, 5 inch makes a difference, although it will not damage the airplane.


First touch & go.  Did I flare too high?

So, for the second touch & go, I tried to level off a little bit lower.  The result: Super smooth touch down.  The instructor praised it.  In fact you can hear the difference.  You clearly hear the noise of the main gear touching down in the first video, but it is almost inaudible in the second video.


Second touch & go.  Nice and soft touch down!

Then we headed back to Honolulu International.


Northshore of Molokai island.

This time, I needed fly back into class B airspace.  And, according to the instructor, I was going to fly freeway 2 arrival.  When we made a first call, Honolulu approach apparently couldn't see us on the radar.  We were told to continue inbound.  As we got closer, I heared:

"Cleared for class B, freeway 2 arrival, (couldn't hear) Left traffic 4R (that's what I thought.)"

I read back as:

"Cleard for class B, freeway 2 arrival, expect left traffic 4R."

Turned out "left traffic 4L" the ATC soon corrected me.  Man!  They speak fast.


Coming back to Honolulu International.

As we got closer, we were given "Direct right base 4R".  There was a seaplane passing underneath our flight path.  I wanted to keep the altitude a little high, but the instructor wanted to go down faster.  ....  Maybe they take smaller separation in a busy airport.

I imagined a course like the following.


The course I thought to fly.  I thought to make a little bit of base leg.

But, the instructor guided me almost straight to the end of 4R like:


The actual flight path.  There was no base leg.

I thought we were not going to make it, but the instructor said that there was more than enough runway length.  He was right.  We stopped with I guess more than half the length of the runway.  I really wanted to record the landing.  But, the battery didn't last.

It is always nice to fly in an unfamiliar airspace.  There are many different local rules, and I learn a lot from those.  I want to come back again, and next time I want to stay a little longer and fly several times to get used to the rule more.  Eventually, I want to be able to keep up with Honolulu ATC and fly solo from Honolulu International some day.  It was a good start of my flying in 2012.


Sunset of my last day in Honolulu.

01/01/2012 Happy New Year!

Last year I reached 1000th landing in January, and 400th flying hour in December.  I probably will not hit any milestone this year, but I put some of my goals of this year.

  • Flying at least 50 hours.  I could fly only 36.5 hours in 2011.

  • Being able to control altitude better during landing flare so that I can make a super-soft landing all the time.  I always want to improve my landing skill.  It's a never ending quest!

  • Being able to control glide path on final with flaps rather than throttle.  This will give me more chance of survival in case of engine failure.

My first flight of this year would be January 7th.

[Click here for posts from 2011]

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