Saturday, May 13, 2017

Breaking Down a Barrier

Every pilot has at least one reason to fly. In fact, I would hazard that the majority have more than one reason that they were initially drawn to flying. I know I do.

I get the question a lot from curious folks: "What attracted you to flying?"  Others will answer along the lines of "more efficient travel," "it's my job," or "I read Jonathan Livingston Seagull and I was hooked,"but in the interest of concision I have distilled my response down to a minimalist answer: "I like airplanes."

It's short, sweet, and has the benefit of being utterly honest. I developed a fascination with airplanes when I was six years old. Not "flying," mind you, but "airplanes."  It was part and parcel with an interest in operating machinery.

I recently came across a little book my mother used to keep for each of her children, of which I was the middle of three. I found in that book that when I was five or six years old, my career goals were recorded as "Astronaut" or "Gas station attendant." Honest truth!

Why astronaut??

Ha, kidding. That one is obvious. The thing about the gas station attendant, though, was that even at that age I was smitten with operating equipment. I just wanted to run the gas pump! That career path was, as we all know now, rendered moot soon thereafter. Ironically, I now hate pumping gas.

I provide this snippet of autobiographical data to set the stage for the remainder of this story.

The wife and I are considering buying a winter home in Florida, but one potential drawback of being down south during the inclement months is that it would be difficult to visit my father. I was relating that concern to a friend of mine and was describing the budgeting process I had gone through to determine the monthly airline and rental car costs associated with making visits.

His response was along the lines of "Why would you want to do that??"

While I was trying to understand why visiting my father would be a questionable activity, he said, "Why wouldn't you just fly your plane?"

That left me just as speechless as his first comment. Why? Because the though had never crossed my mind! 

I fly because I like flying the airplane, not because it's (sometimes) a more efficient way to travel. Sure, I make day trips and give lots of rides, but I have never thought of the airplane as a travelling machine.

I decided to give it a try. The friend that woke me to the idea of Ohio-to-Florida happens to live in Florida and has often offered to host me for as long as I want if I ever travel down that way, so I decided that would be the perfect way to introduce myself to long-distance (well, 600nm) flying. 

Given that my longest flight ever, across almost four decades of flying, was a trip to Oshkosh in my RV-6 more than a decade ago, and the furthest I had gone in the RV-12 that replaced the -6 was a 100nm day trip, this was no mean feat to consider.

The thing about about flying any appreciable distance in a small plane is that it is NOT just a collection of 100nm flights taken contiguously; it's not a question of enduring the distance, it's a question of dealing with a potential six (or more) different weather systems. Considering that weather is my personal #1 challenge/fear in flying, this is no small thing to consider.

I have found that a strong tonic for personal trepidation is planning - lot's and lot's of planning. The first decision to make was fuel stops: how many, and where? Deciding the "how many" was the first order of business. I could make three 200nm legs, or two 300nm legs. That's a pretty straightforward napkin-math equation: the most likely fuel burn, as provided in the Van's performance charts, is 4.0 gph at 5,000 rpm and 5,000' density altitude. That does not, however, account for the fuel used for the takeoff, climb, descent, or reserve. At 5,500 rpm, the projected burn rate rises to 5.0 gph.  The projected airspeeds at those values range from 101 - 114 knots (TAS). 

For my planning, I used 100 knots and 6 gph to make the math easier. I also selected these values as a reflection of the conservatism I adopt when faced with the relative unknown. It's not that I don't trust Van's calculations, mind you, it's more that I don't trust myself to do everything correctly and as efficiently as theoretically possible. And, of course, the weather gets a say in that matter too.  Burning six gallons per hour would take 18 of the 20 available gallons for a 300 mile leg, but would leave me with less than the mandated 30 minute reserve, which I conservatively bump to 45 minutes.

The one-stop plan would have to wait until I become more comfortable with this kind of planning/flying.

With the two-stop decision made, I used's fuel planner to find a route: KTZR → KBYL → KCTJ → 2R4.

Most of the rest of the preparation was making sure I brought everything that I thought I might need and adding a couple of alternates for my chosen stops. The last bullet item is Decalin, because it was likely that I would have to use 100LL instead of the Rotax-preferred 93 octane Mogas :

"Pee bottle" was a last minute addition, and took the form of a couple of Travel John packs, just in case the fuel capacity exceeded my bladder capacity.

With the things I can control taken care of, it was then a matter of waiting for the perfect weather, which in this case I defined as "CAVU the whole way."  When that day arrived, I went.

Crossing the Ohio River

The first leg would have been as easy as pie, had I not run into a difficult decision: about 20 minutes out from KBYL, I had to decide whether one of the Travel John packs was going to finally achieve its career goal, or whether the operation would be so constrained by the tight quarters of the RV-12 to the degree that I'd be just as well off waiting.  I chose to wait. About ten minutes later, when the options had dried up (so to speak) and the FBO building was the only recourse, I remembered that it was early on a Sunday morning and the FBO building might be locked.

It wasn't.

One tank emptied, one to be filled

The second leg was notable only for altitude flown (8,500') and a tailwind that ranged from 20 to 35 knots. As happy as I was for the tailwind, I could only wonder how bad it would be as a headwind on the return flight. But that was days away, so I didn't spend too much time thinking about it.  The fueling at West Georgia went easily, and had the benefit of being Mogas. I wish more airports would get it.

Ground speed 146 knots! It peaked at 148.

The third leg would include the arrival into Peter Prince (2R4) which is somewhat complicated by the surfeit of restricted airspace, large MOAs, crazy amounts of student traffic, and an airport sitting in a two-mile diameter notch in the Whiting NAS Class C space. As a final wrinkle, 2R4 has left traffic for runway 36, and right traffic for 18. I would have to be careful in how I managed the landing pattern.

Studying the sectional, I decided that the most conservative approach would be to utilize the channel that runs between the restricted area on the east side and the MOA on the west side and make sure to stay below the 1,400' shelf of the outer ring of the Class C around Whiting.

Once mostly south of the Whiting Class C, I would just have to shoot the two mile wide gap between the inner ring of the Class C and the restricted area. Yes, I could have contacted Pensacola Approach, but local knowledge gleaned from interviews with local residents indicated that I would end up with the same kind of "skirting" approach, but with the additional stress of knowing someone was actually watching.

In the event, the Dynon Skyview, for the umpteenth time, earned its keep.  Just flying the little airplane between the lines was no more difficult that playing a simple game on my iPhone.  It did make me wonder, though, how we were able to do things like this in the pre-GPS era.

I spent a couple of days in Florida, the highlight of which was a trip to Pensacola NAS to watch the Blue Angels practice and to visit the terrific Naval Aviation Museum. As much I love the USAF museum in Dayton, the naval air museum wins hands down: no cordons around the airplanes, and much better lighting.

After just a couple of days there, the weather looked favorable for the return trip, so I decided to head back. Note that by "favorable," I do not mean "perfect."  It was time to add a little bit more challenge, which came in the form of a less-than-perfect forecast for Ohio.

The first two legs were just as easy as those of the trip down to the south, but the last leg from Kentucky to Central Ohio required some decision making. Most of the salient portions of the state of Ohio were reporting VFR, but there were a couple of airports, conveniently directly on my preferred route, that were steadfastly refusing to go from IFR to VFR.

Again, the Skyview was a great enabler. While sitting on the ground in Kentucky, I was able to check the most recent conditions at every airport that mattered, and determined that if my preferred route didn't work, I could detour to the east or west to get past the areas in question.  I hadn't been in flight long before the recalcitrant airports went from IFR to LIFR to Marginal VFR to good-enough VFR. As I flew over the hills of southern Ohio, I had a few minutes where good-enough VFR had me flying at a lower altitude than I would have preferred, but I was still legal in the eyes of the FAA and made comfortable by the fact that I could see well into the distance. It wasn't pretty, but it didn't need to be.

The final tally was 5.5 flying hours down, and 6.1 coming back. I got back faster than I had thought I would: not only did I fly a 600nm trip for the first time ever, I also had another notable happening: I had tailwinds BOTH WAYS!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Working for THIS man!

So, as mentioned previously, I have shaken off the shackles that go in concert with working for The Man.

What to do now?

Work for this Man!  Or, in other words, me.

It's not like I forgot how to build programs, after all.

To understand this undertaking, there are a few things to know:

  - the RV-12 airframe and the Rotax 912 engine both have scheduled maintenance items, which fall under the broad categories of coming due based on calendar time ('do this once after 36 months in operation' versus 'do this every 200 flying hours')
  - it requires constant attention to make sure you don't miss any
  - there are also Service Bulletins from the factories that need to be addressed. Some of these require periodic scheduled inspections too.
  - the Dynon Skyview, which is the central flight computer in the airplane, can be configured to capture data logs every time the plane is flown.
  - these data logs include both the most current Hobbs and Tach times.  If you don't want to read that short article, just read this snippet from it:

"Tach time is the preferred method for logging engine time for maintenance purposes."

This is misleading - for the Rotax 912, Rotax stipulates that Hobbs time is a better (and mandated) measure of the aggregate working time of the Rotax engine.  Tach time was (and still is, I suppose) the choice for the older, more traditional aircraft engines like the Lycomings in my previous plane, but with the Rotax, time spent idling is still considered to be working time, primarily because of the RPM reduction gearbox. Hobbs time runs faster than Tach time on average, so the extra effort of idling through the gearbox on the Rotax forces us to manage maintenance on the engine using Hobbs time to account for the extra effort required by the gearbox.

So,  I intend to make use of the Hobbs time recorded and reported by the Skyview to track maintenance requirements on the engine. That's a bit of a simplification (I'll do a lot more, including using the calendar date to find the "n number of months" inspection/replacement schedules too), but I'm sure you get the point.

Where this all ends up (personal use only vs. a for-profit service) is up in the air, so to speak, but it sounds like an intriguing project, and that's all I need these days.

Now, I don't expect you to sit through all of this video - I present it only because it is the flight for which I gave the data logs to work with:

A short recap of the flight for people with better things to do with an hour and twenty minutes:

  • I flew an IFR approach into Madison Co. (KUYF) using the Skyview. I remained VFR at all times.
  • I then flew a 2nd IFR approach into Urbana (I74) - I had initially intended to use a navigation waypoint on the far side of the runway, but shifted to a closer one before I got there.
  • The approach I flew was to runway 20, but the wind slightly favored runway 2, so I had to circle around.
  • I didn't get the plane low enough on the first try, so had to go around for another try.
  • I stopped for lunch at Urbana, then flew back to Bolton (KTZR)
I started on the program (which will take a few weeks to build) this morning. I selected "read the data log file" as the first step.

Here are the results:

As long as I was reading the data to present it in that list (there are approximately 127 columns of data, two of which are latitude and longitude, so I exported those two plus altitude into a new file, correctly formatted for display in Google Earth (3D) or Google Maps (2D).

This is the 3D representation of the flight - you will note that the altitude I can get from the data is MSL (above sea level), not AGL (above ground level) and I don' know how to translate twixt the two, so the plane never seems to touch the ground.

This is the entire flight:

This is the 2D representation of the taxi out and back in at KTZR:

This shows the go-around at I74:

It's a good start, and not bad for three hours of work!

Stay tuned!