Saturday, July 18, 2015

N162HG 2.5 Palo Alto to Byron

I tried to get my wife to go with me on this trip, but she was worried about leaving our son for a long time so I went solo. My plan was to go to Byron (C83), practice takeoffs and landings, and return.

The plane already had 3/4 tanks, so I was good to go. I took off uneventfully, and entered the Byron pattern on the 45 for right pattern Rwy 30 for my first landing. Meanwhile, there was a glider being towed into the pattern for landing practice (what a big pain in the butt for such a short flight!), and the constant stream of skydivers being dropped by a twin calling itself "Elevator 2".

On my first landing, the glider tow plane was like, "Skycatcher, you're waaay out there, guy!" I guess I was a bit far from the runway. I am usually too close on strange fields, so, oh well.

I did a total of 5 landings at Byron. They were uneventful but not artful; I ended up floating a lot due to the masses of thermals around the area (I think gliders call these "lift" -- I call them annoying bumps).

The big thing I learned today was how to hold my own in a busy pattern in an untowered airport. It's sort of a mess, with the glider folks calling out their launch procedure; Elevator 2 telling us what he's doing; people chatting about random b.s. that doesn't really belong on frequency; and the occasional hotshot coming in with a Bonanza and flying dramatic S-turns on final. The time available to get your few words in edgewise is not huge.

I did find myself more or less doing most of the pattern stuff automatically, without having to think about it. It was really nice to be able to get to that point....

I stopped for fuel at some point. I also tried to get water to drink; apparently the tap water at C83 is not technically potable, and it tasted like sh*t, but the dude at the airport said they added chlorine to it so it was fine, and I didn't want to fly dehydrated.

Part of stopping for fuel was having yet another experience with the infernal fuel credit card machines, which are the same everywhere, and which have totally busted and unreadable LCD displays, which is fine because you sort of get to know what to expect since they are the same everywhere.

At some point Elevator 2 wanted to come in for landing and said he was going to come in ahead of me. I offered to do a right 360; he said no then changed his mind. As I was turning, he was coming down in a dive into the pattern, which made for a very dramatic closure. He radioed "Exciting!" and I responded, "Woo hoo!"

On my trip back to KPAO, I was trying to get to VPALT by pilotage when I noticed the unmistakable burned grass in front of me, and with a quick GPS check confirmed that I was headed towards R-2531. Good to know. :) Subsequently, I used my GPS to navigate around KLVK's airspace (I was above them, but only barely). I guess it'd be nice to be able to navigate only by pilotage and paper charts, but in the busy Bay Area airspace, the GPS really does help.

I came home feeling tired and happy. But my only complaint is that this is just so damnably expensive. I wish I could find a really cheap plane to fly -- N162HG is nice, but it's fancier than I need. Then I would not feel guilty about long-ish adventures like this, and could afford to do them more often.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

N162HG 1.3 Sightseeing to KVLK with Aden

Today, KHAF was reporting clear (when does that happen, ever?) so we had the usual conversation in our family as to whether my wife or my son was going to go with me. My son won the argument, I guess, so we were off.

Winds were a bit on the high side (18kt if I recall correctly) but aligned with the runway enough to be below 7kt crosswind component. That sounded pretty achievable.

We did a left Dumbarton departure but, as we approached OSI and climbed, it became clear that the coast was covered in a layer of clouds with bottoms around 3000-3500'. I didn't really care if they were technically over KHAF or not --- the problem is that I didn't like the idea of sneaking under them and, possibly, having them move closer to the mountains and making it hard to get back home.

Aden and I had a quick confab and decided we'd go to Livermore instead. So, I turned back and asked KPAO to transition their airspace to VPSUN.

KPAO asked me to cross at or above 1500'; I crossed at 2000' and they told me to remain there. Of course, given that I was further South than I usually am, I entered ... can you guess? ... correct! the edge of San Jose's Class C! The tower controller was really nice and asked me if I was maintaining my current course, then recommended descending. I of course descended like crazy and turned clear. He then said, "Observe you are clear of the San Jose Class C, frequency change approved, have a nice flight!" Lesson learned, I guess. Watch for the magenta as well as the blue!

It was a bumpy ride to KLVK, but fun.

In the KLVK pattern, it became clear that they thought I was "Cessna 1 6 2 Echo Golf" ... which caused some confusion when they asked me to change from 25L to 25R in the middle of my approach. I have said my callsign so many times now that I tend to slur/hurry it, but as my friend says, it's the one thing that a controller cannot on some level predict. So, second lesson learned.

It was windy but not with a huge crosswind at KLVK, and my landing was okay -- I still had my early flare disease (am I ever going to get rid of this?) but it was safe. I think I really need to do more landing practice, on my own so I can concentrate, and try and refine my landing technique.

At KLVK, Aden and I went for a walk and then hopped back in and took off.

When inbound KPAO, our controller asked me if I wanted to do a direct right base, and I said yes. He mentioned specifically "at or below 1500'" -- maybe he was the same controller as before and wanted to remind me to stay below the San Jose C again! :)

A fellow aviator was flying a Yak in from the East, like me, and the tower sent him all over tarnation to get him behind me, including sending him on a left pattern, putting him on a long downwind, etc. Poor dude still had to do S-turns. The Flycatcher is slow. :)

For my KPAO landing, it was bumpy with a bunch of wind but not too much crosswind. I decided to try adding 5 kt to my approach speed, to 60 kt, to see if that would make the landing more gentle. It worked -- up to a point. I touched down gently, but then bounced up a little bit again. I guess the POH advice to use partial flaps for this sort of approach is worth heeding. Next time.

In summary: This was my first PIC flight in wind conditions a little beyond my solo limits (higher winds but not more crosswind), and I think I did fine. I sort of knew that, given that I have flown in all sorts of whacky conditions with my CFI.