So Much for the Resolutions

My PIC and night currency expire today. I had planned a flight home tonight for Valentine’s night with the wife which would have had the side benefit of giving me the one landing I need to extend another 90 days or so. But the storm system that has been sat over SoCal is taking its time to move out and the winds in the desert are unpleasant. Current METAR at my destination is 18 knots gusting 22 almost perpendicular to the runway, making it a 17 to 22 knot crosswind. I doubt I’d go if I was very current, but at night definitely not.

So thats number 1 resolution gone unless I can go up tomorrow and then no one will notice there was a lag.

Agua Caliente: A Tricky Airport?

Not too far from where I live is Agua Caliente airport. Its a neat little airport since it is a strip in almost the middle of nowhere, nothing but desert for miles around, excepting a small store and campgrounds. But it packs a nasty surprise for the unwary – some rock can get in the way of your flight if you are not careful.

In SoCal we hear a lot about the dangers of Catalina, Big Bear or Sedona but I don’t know of any club airplane that has been damaged at those fields (which is not to say that they haven’t). However, this week is the third time a club (that I belong to) plane has been damaged at Agua Caliente. I don’t know the details of this incident but the previous two incidents were the same – landing long and fast. If you look at this aerial photo you can see that the go-around options run out pretty fast and in each case the pilot elected to overrun the runway rather than risk the abort. Damage is definitely less this way.

I don’t hear people talk about Agua Caliente but the airport definitely seems to have a habit of catching people unaware.

February Plans

As the Flight Time box to the right shows, February is currency month, so my plan for the month is:

  • Short night cross country to extend my day and night-PIC. Perhaps another French Valley hamburger….
  • An early morning sim session with my CFI for holds and approaches. The club now has a Frasca which I might like to try, and rather than do the usual things I want to revisit DME arcs and ‘unexpected’ holds.
  • Take the Commercial written exam. I am still averaging around 85% with three or four silly mistakes a day.

Stay tuned for reports on each.

Watching the Clouds…

The weather has been coming in all day, will probably rain later tonight. Its rare one gets any real instrument conditions here in SoCal so I’ve been watching the METARS to see if I can sneak a short IFR flight in actual clouds. For a while it was 1500 overcast which gave me hope that conditions would be right later this evening – I am looking for around 800 overcast – but now the cloud cover is 2100 which is absolutely no good. I’ll keep watching just in case.

[Update:] Clouds lifted to 3400 overcast so I stayed inside instead.

4 Approaches

My IFR currency expires at the end of the month and, according to, I need 4 more to extend it until the end of February. Our simulated IFR currency rides are usually three approaches: the “south pattern” of the VOR approach at Brown Field, the LOC at Gilliespie, and the ILS at Montgomery; or the “north pattern” which is holding at Oceanside VOR followed by the VOR approach into Oceanside, the ILS at Carlsbad, and the ILS at Montgomery.

So I’ve been trying to think how best to fit in one extra. Carlsbad is a natural choice by extending northwards from Gilliespie, or perhaps even doing Calsbad, Gillispie, Brown and then home. But recently SoCal has not been allowing low approaches at Carlsbad and I really don’t want to do a full stop and then back up. Or, how about a brand new approach – the VOR into Ramona, a little out of the way and almost certainly a bad idea in the current Santa Ana winds. Nah, I think it will probably be the south pattern with a missed approach at Montgomery and back around for another go. Flight is set up with my safety pilot Serge on the 27th.

A Cross Country Adventure

Click to enlargeIt had been quite a long time since I took a cross-country trip but everything looked good for my plan to fly myself and Teri to Camarillo for lunch, followed by an excursion to Santa Rosa Island with Channel Islands Aviation.

Our Piper ArcherIt started off ominously with two sqawks that had not been fixed – no beacon, or landing light. No big deal, strobes will subsititute for the beacon and I plan to be back before dark. The plane looked in good shape and I picked up my pre-filed IFR clearance. I must have filed the wrong timezone in DUATS as they had me down as departing at 10.30 rather than 9.30. Although the plane has DME it had been acting up on the last training flight so I filed /U. This turned out to be wise as it barely worked throughout the whole trip.

I had realised during the week that all of my flights in the Archer were dual and I had never been shown how to shut the door. So I made it a point before we got there to check out the door mechanism. About over Oceanside my wife says that she thinks the door isn’t closed properly, she can see light through the top of the door. Eek, I had forgotten about the latch at the top of the door. There was no way to fix it in the air, but the door was thoroughly closed, my wife seemed not worried so I decided to continue to our destination.

If you look at the flight track above you can see an odd course reversal, north east of CMA. I was being given vectors to final so had the VOR approach tuned into NAV1 and the VNY VOR into NAV2 as I had been instructed to intercept the 260 radial. I am sure it was tuned in correctly but the needle never came in and a gruff LA Centre chastised me for busting my turn before turning me back onto the approach. For the rest of the trip I distrusted NAV2.

I made two oversights in my “briefing” of the plate. First, if I had looked properly I would have seen the 260 radial feeder and had been setup for it before being given the intercept. Second I hadn’t taken in the (obvious) fact that the VOR approach was 20 degrees offset from the runway. At the last step-down fix I aligned myself with the runway and the tower rightly queried if I was south of course. I need to get out in the system more often.

Lunch at CMA had to be quick for us to get to the excursion in time. I will blog about that on my regular site but I’ll say it was a great trip.

Click to enlargeAfter lunch I had gone to the plane to check it out and saw a large puddle of brake fluid under the right main gear. Uh-oh. I called the owner and he had me check the brake pedals – the right brake was indeed almost gone. He told me just to come on back to San Diego making sure I coast to a stop on the runway rather than use the brake. He convinced me that it would be easy so I made plans to do just that.

I knew I would control the plane using a combination of braking with the left brake and correcting with the right rudder. Taxiing out to the runway was instantly a lot harder than I had expected. In retrospect I should have pulled the plane off the line to give me a straight taxi out. However, the effort required to taxi out and stop at the runup and then again at the runway proved useful in forming a plan for when I landed.

At the runup I realised I couldn’t do the engine runup – no way to hold the plane in place with the engine at 2000 RPM. I figured that it would be ok to miss since there had been no engine issues on the way up but it didn’t help my apprehension about the forthcoming landing at Montgomery Field.

In contrast to the IFR trip up, I elected to fly VFR back, flying over Point Mugu, Santa Monica and through the Special Flight Rules Area over LAX. Over Oceanside I asked for the ILS into MYF so that I could get some more practice, and be guaranteed the right, wider, runway. On final I called the tower and told them my predicament and informed them I would be using the full runway. The controller asked if I needed assistance (I declined) and approved my request. He also added that if I wanted to use the displaced threshold I should do what I need to do.

I touched down right on the numbers in what was probably one of my best short field landings (the Archer really is a joy to land) and used aerodynamic braking to slow the plane down. About 3/4 down the runway I was slow enough to turn off and slow to a crawl. I was cleared to parking during which time I was down to a snails place. My final challenge was parking. Our spot was at the very end of a row of planes, an out of control stop here would be an expensive disaster. I toyed with the idea of pulling the plane down but I was pretty certain I had the one-brake taxi routine down and inched down the row, cutting the engine near the end and coming to a stop without incident.

All in all a very interesting day. I made some mistakes from being rusty on cross country procedures and IFR flying, and had to overcome a mechanical problem. I gained some confidence in my flying skills from dealing with the problem and came away with some lessons learned for the next time.

You can see my pictures from the island tour in this flickr photo set. I highly recommend visiting there.

A Happy Sagitarian

I’m a Sagitarius so if I think about it, it should be no surprise that I really liked flying the Archer these last two days. Much like the 182, it felt a lot more solid than the 172 and its handling in the air was just a joy. The fact that all my landings were total greasers doesn’t hurt my impression, either. There are some cons of course: the lever-operated flaps; the single door, climb over the seats entry and exit, and the mandatory fuel selector usage will take some time to get used to. But I think I have found a new favourite plane.

Last night we practiced IFR work in the Archer, some holds at Oceanside, the VOR approach and then the ILS at Montgomery Field, even did some partial panel en route. The electric trim is great (though I am sure I overuse it as its so easy) and, once trimmed, the plane stayed right on the glideslope all the way from the intercept. Made it much easier to weave my way back and forth across the localiser! I’ve booked the plane for some cross country flying for the Labor Day weekend.

Back from Laughlin

Had a blast in Laughlin, the flying was smooth and easy though, as with any trip, there are moments of interest. By far the biggest was the wind this morning for takeoff – 26 knots varying from 0 to 30 degrees of crosswind, easily the strongest winds I’ve ever taken off in. Related to winds, Laughlin is odd in that it has no weather reporting but you can get METARs for it online. When you ask to taxi, the tower will give you the current weather. Speaking of the tower, it closed on us about 8 miles out. They close at 6pm but since they are in Arizona, that’s 5pm my time so we were the first uncontrolled people in. I was able to get the weather from them before they shut down (winds were dead calm) and I remembered to put the runway lights on, sure helped in finding where to land! Stayed up too late and was pretty tired this morning, did not make a pretty landing back in San Diego, flared too high, as is my regular fault.

I had promised some cool Google Earth maps but I had some problems with the GPS mount and the iPaq switching itself off so I ditched it and went VOR to VOR instead, good VFR boy that I am. Hopefully next time.

Crazy Winds

I started coming down with a cold on Monday afternoon and knew by Tuesday that I wasn’t going to be up for flying to Laughlin this week. It also meant that I didn’t get to do my IFR currency flight (though I did do my three stop and go’s to get my PIC back).

Desert airports often have crazy winds and Laughlin seems to have them more often than most; its not unusual to see 30+ knots. I watched the METARs yesterday and around the time we would have arrived the winds were 010° at 18knots. Laughlin’s runways are 16 and 34 so that would be about an 8kt crosswind, not too brutal but enough that I’d be paying attention. I looked again just now to see what it would have been for our planned departure time and the winds are currently 360° at 25kt, a crosswind component of 14 knots. Now we’d be having some fun, especially as other airports in the area are reporting much lower winds suggesting a bumpy ride out of the valley. We’ve arranged the trip for next week so we’ll see what the weather does between now and then.

Update: the preliminary report on the airplane crash mentioned below is now available on the NTSB’s website.