We all are looking for a sense of normalcy. But, to me, what's abnormal is I feel the most normalcy while I am flying an airplane. I'm no millionaire. I'm just a researcher at a university. Not even a tenure professor. But, I am able to drive about an hour from my place, hop on a Cessna 172, and climb up to 3000ft over the weekend. That's so unusual, until COVID. Now what's the most normal thing I was doing before COVID and am still able to do is exactly flying.
I joined a flying club last November. I was planning to fly to all over the places, but that was not possible in this COVID world. But, at least I was able to take my wife for a foliage-watching flight over Ohiopile last month. The trees changing yellow and red from the above is always a spectacular view.
Below two are Carnegie Mellon campus. Scaife Hall has long been the headquarter of the Carnegie Institute of Technology, but will be demolished and rebuilt.
Until this COVID thing is under control, it is difficult to satisfy legal instrument-currency requirements. Before COVID, it was not a big deal. I just asked a pilot friend to sit beside me, and shoot six approaches and one holding. That's it. But, today flying with someone in a small Cessna 172 cockpit for am hour is a significant risk. If one had COVID without knowing, the other has a very high risk of get infected. I am seriously limiting contact with other people. Not going bowling. My lecture is all online. So, I do believe I have a small risk of having COVID unknowingly. But, still risk is a risk. There are some requirements that I really could not satisfy without flying with an instructor, but I was avoiding to fly with someone else otherwise.
To satisfy instrument currency by myself, I need to fly in an actual instrumental meteorological condition (IMC). But, I don't want to fly into serious minimum IMC. I don't want to risk my life. But, if the cloud is too high, I may not fly into IMC at the altitude where I shoot approaches, then I cannot log instrument approaches and holdings.
I found several moderate weather in September and extended my instrument currency to next March. But, March may be too cold to fly into cloud due to icing hazard when I need to renew my currency. I wanted to extend to May or June. Luckily I was able to find such a moderate IMC again yesterday.
The forecast was predicting cloud ceiling to be 2500ft above ground which is about 3600 to 3700ft mean sea level around here. We usually go up to 3000ft MSL to shoot approaches and holdings around Pittsburgh. So, the forecast was predicting too-high cloud to shoot approaches in actual IMC. But, when I got to Beaver County, Allegheny County airport was reporting like 1000ft ceiling with some scattered cloud at 600ft. The ground temperature was 8C. There is no way the temperature is below freezing at 1800ft above ground. Perfect moderate IMC. I filed an IFR flight plan, took off, and requested vector for ILS 28 at Allegheny County to Pittsburgh Approach.
Like 15 minutes after take off, I was in cloud. I like this feeling of fly into cloud. It's just like Harry Potter stepping into the wall of that platform. The wall of cloud comes toward me, and then I am surrounded by all white. Outside air temperature gauge was showing 40F to 44F. Way above freezing. But, as my pilot friend suggested, I kept pitot heat turned on all the time.
Then I shot ILS 28 at Allegheny County airport, and then flew published missed to hold over Allegheny VOR. And two more ILS 28s, and three GPS 28 to satisfy six approaches and one holding requirement. Flying Garmin 500 is extremely easy. I don't feel I get spatial disorientation at all. It's just like flying YSFLIGHT with some shaking seat. The velocity vector makes it real easy to trim for level flight. I just need to keep the velocity vector symbol on the horizon, then the airplane keeps the altitude. Even during the approach, if I keep the velocity vector symbol on the runway on the synthetic vision, the glide slope and localizer stays at the middle. I'm worried I may never be able to go back to six-pack instrument panel. It is surprising that I used to be flying instrument with such a small artificial horizon.
I landed at Beaver a little before noon. After landing, I am supposed to top off the fuel for the next person. I called the FBO, AirQuest, and no answer. I knew AirQuest was most likely closed on the Thanksgiving day, but I was expected it to open the next day. I called the next person and told I need to make a short flight to Zelienople to refuel. Then I called Flight Service to get briefing to make sure Zelienople is open, then took off.
It's less than a 10 minute after the tire left the ground to Zelie. I landed and topped off. For the first time in my life, I fueled an airplane by myself. Then, 10 minutes back to Beaver.... didn't happen.
The engine didn't start. When I turned the key, the starter didn't spin. The battery voltage meter was showing 24V. It's supposed to be full after two hours of flying anyway. A pilot from Zelienople flying club took their mechanic to my airplane to jump start. But, even with the external power, the starter didn't spin. It's a dead starter. I thought.
I called some club admins to notify about the situation. Also called the next person who was supposed to take this airplane after me. And, I was stuck.
It's like 20-minute drive to Beaver. But, if I get a rental car, who drives back to return it? If I use a taxi or Uber, I would need to sit with a driver for 20 minutes. I know they are doing their best to disinfect the car to minimize risk and stay in business, but it does increases the risk of infection.
For one last attempt before calling a taxi or making my Uber account, I turned the ignition key, and TA-DA! The starter came back to life. I had a good engine running! Once the engine starts, starter doesn't matter.
I was monitoring engine instruments closer than usual. The ammeter was strongly to the plus side, meaning the battery was charging. The starter didn't spin maybe because of the low battery. Or, the battery was low because I made so many attempts to start the engine. I don't know. I circled around Cranberry Twp for about 30 minutes until the ammeter needle came to zero before landing.
After landing, I learned that AirQuest opened late. So, I really didn't have to fly to Zelienople :-P
It was a looooong day.
Later the club mechanic chief called me and there was nothing wrong with the starter and the battery. Why it didn't start at Zelienople was a mystery. But, his guess was the battery was not behaving nicely because the temperature was getting colder. He said the same thing happens when the temperature was becoming hot from spring to summer. But, it doesn't explain why jump start even failed. He also said he was going to replace the starter, so maybe the starter was also about time to replace.
But, a conversation like "I flew to the airport 10 minutes from my home base, but the engine didn't start after I topped off the airplane by myself." is unimaginable. What's abnormal today is this is currently the best normalcy for me.
I guess we will get more normalcy by spring when the COVID vaccine is widely available. It's not like the COVID stays dangerous until everyone gets vaccinated. The situation will gradually improve as more people get vaccinated. I suppose even when only 10% of the population got vaccinated, we will see the notable difference. I was guessing that the treatment will come before the vaccines, but as always I am good at predicting the future wrong. Hope we have more normal life in a few months.
I have joined Beaver Valley Flying Club last year. I was hoping to fly a lot from the club.
Then Coronavirus struck. I took the state stay-at-home order seriously and ceased flying since March.
Pennsylvania governor made a right decision and ordered every Pennsylvanians to stay home. Pennsylvania is one of few states that see declining number of COVID-19 cases. Pittsburgh is exception though. We are seeing a spike from reckless people flocking without wearing masks, irresponsibly breaking the distancing rule, and those who are wearing a mask but prominently exposing nose holes. I never realized that so many people were proud of their nose holes before this pandemic. What made me feel helpless was one of the pharmacist in the pharmacy next door is always showing off her nose holes. She is a pharmacist who is supposed to have a college degree. Isn't she supposed to know the right way to wear a mask? I am hoping that the surge stops and cases start declining again, but nobody knows what's going to happen next.
My current understanding is that COVID is not too a serious threat to healthy people as long as the hospital system is not overwhelmed. It is probablistic, therefore everyone, no matter how young and healthy, has non-zero chance of getting serious symptoms. Healthy person has a less chance of getting a serious symptom does not mean healthy person never gets a serious symptom. But, a healthy person has a very good chance of survival as long as the hospital system is functioning. But, as soon as the hospital is overwhelmed, diagnostics get delayed, treatment may come too late, or you may be killed from a non-COVID related disease or injury that is not a big deal if a doctor can treat you.
The state guideline made sense to me, and I followed the state guideline and ceased flying since March.
Now, Pennsylvania is re-opening. (Again Pittsburgh now is the only one county that is seeing the surge in the state though). One of the advantages of flying from a club is I can go in, check out, fly, and return without seeing a dispatcher. I should be able to fly with minimum risk of getting COVID. I resumed minimum flying needed for maintaining the proficiency.
My flying club imposed a new rule: I am supposed to wipe down the cockpit, control wheel, levers, buttons, and all the surfaces that I may touch. Actually, I was wiping the door lever, and window lock lever, but later realized I end up touching window frame when I close the door. Also I realized that I touch the root of the throttle lever when I make adjustment. I need to wipe from the root to the end of the lever. And, in-cockpit check lists are in the plastic cover, on which the virus can stay infectious for up to 4 days. I made a copy, and I'll use my copy not to touch the check lists. Alcohol was unavailable and as precious as gold in March. But, now although expensive I can buy bottles of alcohol. I buy 99% alcohol and dilute to 70% for disinfecting purposes.
Moore Aviation, a flight school I used to be renting from, did some experiments, and concluded that flight training can be conducted fully with a face mask on. So, I wear a mask leaving home, and never take it off until I come back home.
I took my wife to my first flight after the lock down. I wanted to assure her that there is minimum risk of getting infected from flying. However, I realized that for the first time since I resumed flying in 2004, I didn't fly for 90 straight days. To carry a passenger, I need to log 3 landings within 90 preceding days. So, I took off solo, made 3 landings in a pattern, came back to the hanger, put 3 landings in my logbook, and then took my wife with me to the air.
I reserved for 3 hours, but it took 30 minutes to wipe down before flying, and I expected it should take the same after the flight, so I landed 30 minutes before the end of my reservation. I could fly only 1.1 hours.
The second time, based on the last experience, I reserved for 4 hours. It again took 30 minutes to wipe down. But, I had good 2 hours before returning it to the club hanger. I practiced approaches. But, since I flew solo, I didn't wear a foggle, which means I cannot log simulated-instrument time, nor the approaches counts toward my instrument currency. Nonetheless, I renewed my confidence in instrument flying. In fact, foggle or no-foggle, the difficulty of shooting an approach doesn't change much. I've been feeling it, and an examiner for my multi-engine rating was saying the same.
Before the pandemic, I needed to shoot six approaches, and fly a holding pattern within preceding 6 calendar months to be instrument current. Due to the pandemic, it is extremely difficult to satisfy the requirement without risking an infection. FAA temporarily extended 6 calendar months to 9 calendar months, but not beyond September 30. My last instrument practice was in February, with the new temporary rule, I can fly instrument until the end of September. If I am able to fly actual IMC and shoot 6 approaches and 1 holding, I can extend my instrument currency. Well, Beaver County Airport is 1 hour drive from my home. If I wake up and realize it is a moderate IMC, the sky may clear up by the time I get there and wipe down the airplane. It's not straight forward, but I hope I can do it.
On downwind leg of Allegheny County Runway 28.
Happy New Year!
I haven't been able to fly this year due to bad weather yet.
So far, I have:
Total Flying Time 683.7
Total Landings 1737
Total Night Landings 146
Cross Country as PIC 210.7
Night PIC 38.1
Dual Instruction 285.2
Dual Cross Country 30.5
Dual Night 26.3
Actual IMC 9.1
Birds Killed 2 (Rest In Peace....)
Flight schools are extremely crowded recently. So I've joind Beaver Valley Flying club. I hope I can fly more cross countries this year.
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