Tuesday, June 27, 2017

N188EV 2.0 50th birthday flight to coast with Melissa

It's my 50th birthday today! :) I decided to go for a flight with my lovely wife Melissa. We were a little bit squished for time because our son Aden was in camp and we had to drop him off and pick him up, so we opted for a short flight from KRHV to the coast.

During climbout, I wanted to look at the map and asked Melissa where the iPad was. Neither of us could find it. Then all of a sudden I was like, wait. Here it is on the left wing walk, where I had forgotten it. It was sitting there on top of the wing, plastered down by the airflow, just fine and dandy.

So this was a practice "emergency" drill. What to do?

I grabbed my Android phone, which has a freeware EFB app that I use as my backup to iPad Foreflight. We figured out the frequencies for E16 and planned a landing there. It was very turbulent, and on my first try, I did a go-around. The second time around, I ballooned back up a bit during my flare and the result was a gentle bump down and, I'm sure, an unworkmanlike appearance. I'll chalk that up to the really challenging gusts, but I would like to do better next time.

We brought the iPad in and took off again.

We flew basically to the Elkhorn Slough, then up the coast as far as the Southern-most reaches of Santa Cruz, then retraced our route back to KRHV. There was of course lots of pretty scenery. And we identified the Monterey Bay Academy airport and Frasier Lake Airpark, two fun dirt/grass fields where unfortunately, due to FBO's rules, I can't land the plane.

Our return was uneventful. I got a straight in landing on 31L. I flew to a point where I believed I was within glide range, then cut the engine and glided down all the way, adding flaps as necessary. I ended up under-estimating my energy so I had to slip quite a bit on short final (Melissa said the nose-down angle was scary and she closed her eyes! I did not mean to scare her!). But the landing was soft.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

N712MF 3.4 XC to Rio Linda (L36) for Sonex fly-in

I've always wanted to fly into a Sonex fly-in at Rio Linda (L36). With my wife and son off for the weekend at a camping retreat, this was my chance.

I booked one of the Evektor SportStars, N188EV. I also made a mount for my iPad to a RAM suction cup (yes I know they sell these but I didn't have the time and I like to build stuff), and prepared to take my Airball demo with me to show people.

I got up early and had breakfast (huevos rancheros) at a local taqueria on the way. I got to the airport, calculated W&B (N188EV is not a SportStar MAX so its max gross weight is below the LSA limit), preflighted the plane, packed everything, and got ready to tow.

Oops, the right wheel was dragging.

Out came our A&P, who clicked something and fixed it.

I continued on to fuel the plane, get in, start up, taxi, and do my runup.

On the way to hold short, the right wheel seemed heavy again. By the time I was near the hold short line, it was all seized up so good and proper that the airplane would not budge even at full throttle.

Yay, I was officially a "disabled aircraft".

The authorities were called, and our A&P came out again, and once more clicked whatever he clicked, but now there was no flying this thing. He taxied it back to the shop and I rode back to the FBO with the airport crew.

While on the runup area, a 6-seater Cherokee was coming towards us. I was like, oh, they are going around so they are offsetting to the right. But they were not moving in my line of sight. But they were growing bigger. I was like, O. M. G. They are going to land on the taxiway. OMG OMG OMG. The plane whizzed above our heads at an incredibly close distance, sailed off down the taxiway, touched down for a second, then lifted off again. Later on the radio, I could hear the pilot being told, "possible pilot deviation", and given a number to call. Yikes. :(

The other SportStar, N712MF, had been booked today, but I noticed the reservation had been canceled. Wow. I booked it for the day and did some thinking....

By that time, it was almost noon, and the huevos rancheros were pretty well digested. I was very tired, it was extremely hot, and the SportStar canopy on the ground is basically a greenhouse.Was I ready to do an XC? Really?

I had some coffee, lots of cold water, and a granola bar. I felt better. Good, even. But something still worried me. The gods of aviation demanded a sacrifice, lest "mission mentality" -- the insistence on sticking to the original plan come hell or high water -- be my downfall. I would not be the first pilot to fall prey to this, unfortunately. But what could go?

I decided the Airball demo was going to stay home. No demonstrating of flakey electronics to people. no searching for a place to plug in my equipment. No extra stuff rattling around in the back of the plane. Nothing to think about except getting to L36 and back without hitting anything. That seemed like a reasonable simplification, and so I preflighted N712MF and off I went.

To start with, I asked for closed traffic and did two landings for practice. It's been a while since I've flown, and I would hate to flub a landing in front of the crew of onlookers at a fly-in -- or be worried about it. My first landing was a bit of a bump because I flared a tiny bit too high; the second was silky smooth. Nice. I asked for my departure and flight following, and off I went.

The trip was uneventful. Except for the behavior of my electronics. My iPad (with Foreflight on it) would cut out randomly due to overheating. It failed to charge from my USB adapter. It was hard to read in the sunlight. My Android phone, which had Avare on it as a backup EFB, ran out of battery unexpectedly and died. I really really wished I were just using paper charts and VORs.

The Central Valley was very bumpy, and near Sacramento it was even more so. I made a pretty okay landing though. Again, this was the same technique I've been practicing: fly to the point where I can cut power, trying to estimate where that is, then cut power and fly an idle (or near-idle) glideslope. Keep approach speed until just before the runway, then fly down the runway at zero feet and flare, flare flare flare, ..., scritch! and land. It works really really well.

Of course there was a whole line of hangar flyers with their chairs set up in a row, drinking beer. I was glad that I had practiced these landings!

Everyone was, as usual, very nice. I was too late for lunch but had some excellent ribs that were left over. I checked out some really cool planes.

The way back was again uneventful, save for the unreliability of my electronics. This time my iPad was failing to connect to the Wi-Fi from my Stratux, so I had to reboot the iPad to get things to work. Yeesh.

My landing at KRHV was pretty good.

Overall, I'd say this was a pretty cool adventure. For my first XC in a long, long time, it was pretty awesome actually. But my EFB (iPad, ...) situation left something to be desired.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

N188EV 2.7 Practice flight to KLVK

Bad weather and Mx issues have kept me out of the planes so today was a day to get out there and fly like hell. :)

I'd been out as a pax with my CFI friend Lisa a couple weeks ago to KLVK and she showed me her landing technique of staying within glide distance of the field and coming in steep at, or almost at, idle power. She also gave me a hint as to when to start my roundout, and it was way later than I had been doing it before: Basically she flew the approach almost to the ground, then rounded out and flared. It all "clicked" for me in a way that has not clicked before, and it seemed like a really well-thought-out technique. I was excited to try it out.

Last time I flew the SportStar, I topped up the plane to the brim, flew for a while, then came home. The CFI and student after me -- both good friends of mine -- were then unable to fly because they were right at the limit of the aircraft gross weight! Yikes! So this time I stuck the tanks, decided how much gas to add, and added it carefully, planning to return with no more than 1/2 tanks.

My CFI friend was flying the other Evektor SportStar at AeroDynamic Aviation with a student, taking the same departure as me, and right in front of me. Tower asked me to "follow company traffic"! Haha! :)

I took the Calaveras departure and flew out towards the Del Valle reservoir, in a constant VY climb. I'm getting pretty comfortable with the SportStars -- approaching (but not yet at) my level of comfort with the Flycatcher -- so I just trimmed for climb, and practiced holding the stick between my knees while I navigated using Foreflight. All went well.

I topped out at 9,750' MSL (recall as a Sport Pilot I'm only allowed to go up to 10,000 MSL or 2,000 AGL, whichever is higher). I then tried a series of descents, trying to learn the "gait" of the airplane in a power-off descent with the 2nd notch of flaps, and figuring out where the aiming point should be and what the nose attitude ought to look like.

I also did a few steep turns, which generally went pretty well, and a stall, which seemed uneventful. I felt pretty comfortable with the plane at that point. Now for some landings.

I called in to KLVK and entered the pattern, slipping to burn the remainder of my energy on the way there.

I did 7 landings at KLVK Rwy 25 Right. All were with the goal of (a) flying a more tight pattern than I usually do; (b) trying to gauge the point where I can cut power and trying to make my glide with minimal or no power; and (c) put as few dents as possible on the plane (always a good thing).

One of my problems with landing has been that the power "cut" over the fence is always a de-stabilizing factor, right when you sort of want to take advantage of a stable approach. It always threw me off. With the new low-or-no power approach technique, any power cut was very much less drastic, and so I held my approach to the ground much more nicely. I flared a tiny bit high a couple times, but not too high, and I plopped down gently enough without too much fuss. All the landings were actually pretty smooth.

I then departed and flew back to KRHV, and landed there. First test of the new technique! I gauged where the runway was by the position on my wing, turned final, came in with very little power, and greased it. Nothing to it. Wow!

Now of course the technique of maintaining VREF almost all the way to the ground means that I have a rather long flare to burn energy all the way down to VS0 before I finally plop down. With an Evektor SportStar and lots of runway, that is so totally not a problem. But once I'm happy with this technique and am judging my aiming point consistently, my next goal is going to be to figure out how to manage my energy even better so I can make accurate spot landings and nail my short-field landings.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

N188EV 1.4 Quick flight with Melissa

Melissa and I decided to go up today for a quick flight, for currency and fun. Wx was high overcast (140-150) becoming sunny.

We stopped by for banh mi on the way there, and ate it at the airport. We took off and did 4 landings back at at KRHV, then went South, did a couple steep turns, then came back and landed.

My first landing was a go-around because I was too high and I wanted to "train" the go-around button in my brain. Subsequently, Tower just "gave" me Rwy 31L to land on and back-taxi each time. I did 4 landings, becoming successively better each time. One of them was a high flare but I corrected that in later ones. They were all gentle flares to landing, with no attempt at a "spot" landing or soft-field technique.

We departed South, then after a while, I did a clearing turn then attempted a pair of rather steep steep turns (halfway between 45 and 60 degrees). I was trying to challenge myself so that PTS 45-degree turns would seem easy by comparison. I got them done within PTS, though I did oscillate in pitch a little bit during the sharp roll rate from left to right turn and had to correct. Adding power during the turns, as my last CFI taught me, ends up being super helpful.

We came back and had an uneventful landing, with a slightly high flare but acceptable.

Total was 5 landings today.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

N712MF 2.3 Flight to Hollister with Lisa

I went for a practice flight with my (CFII) friend Lisa flying right seat. We did some maneuvers there and back, and I did a total of 5 landings.

I was having a lot of trouble maintaining glide slope. It seemed like I was not catching on to my glide slope and speed and would end up "low and slow" and have to regain energy quickly a few times. My reflex in these cases is to lower the nose for speed, and add LOTS of power, which I think is good for safety but it throws off my approach. I should probably have gone around more often than I actually did.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

N188EV 2.0 Practice flight

We've been having a YUUGE amount of rain here in California lately, so it hasn't been flying weather. Today, though, it was nice. I rode my bike out to the airport, picking up some banh mi from the local Vietnamese place on the way.

I took off from KRHV with a downwind departure, flew around doing some air work, did 4 landings at E16, did a bit more air work, then came back. Pretty simple.

Of course I felt very "wobbly" at first -- as I usually do. I did some steep turns and was barely within PTS standards, and felt pretty weird doing stalls and slow flight. But eventually I got more confident and things got better.

E16 was pretty busy with people practicing, but it was not too bad.

On my way back my steep turns were much better and I was much more confident.

Friday, December 30, 2016

N712MF 1.3 closed traffic at KRHV

Today I did some closed pattern work just to get my landings straight. After talking with CFI friends, I had three tips to try out:
  • Put a piece of tape on the canopy to mark "straight ahead";
  • After a stabilized approach, pull power to idle SLOWLY so I can keep up with the compensation required; and
  • Don't bother using full flaps on the SportStar -- that's like dragging a barn door and does not add lift, so does not appreciably reduce landing speed.
7 takeoffs, 1 of them soft field (went okay, could be more precise on "hovering" closer to the ground) and 2 short field (also went okay, could be more precise on speeds but acceptable).

1 go-around requested by tower. I was asked to follow a Cessna on final. I followed a very similar Cessna, also on final, that I later realized was actually on the parallel runway! I ended up following my actual #1 traffic too close and was asked to go around.

7 landings (isn't it nice that it's the same as the number of takeoffs?), 3 of them attempts at short field. The short ones were mixed: 1 was really good, and the other 2 were iffy (landed too long). For all my landings, however, I had a good flare, with good control over my flare height, and they were all full-stall landings in the proper nose-high attitude.

The tape on the canopy was really helpful. Here is what I did:
  1. During preflight, sighted down from the tail to figure out what was directly ahead of the plane;
  2. When inside, with my head at my comfortable position, closed my left eye and lined up the tape with the "straight ahead" object with my right eye;
  3. With both eyes open, and focused far away, I could see two images of the tape -- and the LEFT image, which is the one seen by my RIGHT eye, was my aiming point.
This really helped with taxi, but also with runway alignment during takeoff and landing.