Thursday, September 17, 2015

N162HG 2.0 Trip to Petaluma with Lisa

I've been meaning to fly with Lisa since I got my SP-ASEL. She's a CFII friend who has been informally mentoring me through many, many things regarding aviation. Today, we finally got to have a flight where I could show off my new-found skills. Um, such as they are....

The plan was to go from KPAO to Petaluma (O69) and back. I hoped to get a KSFO Class B transition on the way up, and return via a Easterly route passing between Oakland and Mount Diablo. If we didn't get the Class B on the way up, we would try again on the way down.

I had planned pretty thoroughly, with route leg headings and estimated times written down, Google Maps views of the destination airport, and all that. Lisa seemed to approve.

We called in to ground at KPAO, and it turns out KSFO was not giving Class B transitions at that time. Well schmell. We went the Easterly route then. Our route was KPAO VPSUN VPDUB VPWAL O69, with the plan being to cross VPSUN at 4500' and remain at that altitude for the rest of the trip. However, when we called in at KPAO, they gave us flight following, and NorCal told us to remain below 4000' for a while. Otherwise, they were fine with our route.

On the VPWAL O69 leg, there were a bit of mountains before crossing the San Pablo Bay. These were not clear from the chart. They looked "high" from far away, but were less than 1000' and looked really low when we passed them at 4500'. Interesting how terrain can look misleadingly high from far away. Lisa flew quite a bit to get a feel for the Flycatcher and also so I could spend time futzing with my charts and comparing to what I was seeing out the window.

We arrived at O69 without event. It was hard making out the runway as usual -- the main problem is figuring out, given where we are right now, how big should the runway look? There was a Cessna Caravan taking off who was very nice and diligent on the radio about making sure we didn't crash. I did a nice smooth landing.

We got fuel after much futzing with the stupid half-broken gas pump, took care of natural liquid elimination needs in ... um ... nature, then got in the plane and puttered off to the runup.

At the runup, I realized I had failed to test the fuel! Eek! I shut down right there, tested and came back in. Then we restarted and took off.

We made for the Golden Gate Bridge, hoping to try again for a Class B transition. As we got closer, I saw there was a thick layer of fog over the bridge and San Francisco. As a Sport Pilot, I am required to fly with reference to the ground, which I take to mean I cannot fly "VFR on top" over a layer, so no Class B transition that way either. No problem. We turned to retrace our Easterly route, back to KPAO.

Then we realized it was getting late. As a Sport Pilot, I am not allowed to fly after the end of evening civil twilight. We were right at the middle of San Pablo Bay, and Lisa suggested I just call NorCal and ask for a direct route. I did, and they gave me a squawk code.

We were routed direct to the Oakland Coliseum (hard to find without knowing where to look, but hard to miss once you see it) at 2000', then direct midspan San Mateo bridge at 1400', then released to talk to Palo Alto.

On the return flight, Lisa helped with the flying a bit, and also helped with getting our waypoints entered into the GPS.

At Palo Alto, things were quiet, and I made a pretty smooth twilight landing.

Overall, I think having a GPS is a pretty important thing for flying around the Bay Area. Maybe if everyone used paper charts, then the controllers would have different expectations, but I get the feeling that basically everyone expects everyone else to have the precision and situational awareness of a GPS. This means I should consider, at some point, switching to an EFB.

When we landed, there was a meeting of the Ninety Nines at Advantage Aviation, so Lisa just joined right in. By the time I had packed up, they were all listening with rapt attention as she held forth about some flying story or the other!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

N162HG 2.0 Watsonville fly-in with Rodrigo

Today's plan was to attend the Wings Over Watsonville fly-in, flying there with my friend Rodrigo. I planned to go out there by following Hwy 280, 85 and 17 over the Lexington Reservoir and out to the coast, then returning via E16 (San Martin, aka South County) and transition the SJC Charlie to get practice talking to controllers. The idea was to do as much of the trip as possible using pilotage and paper charts.

We took on only 1/2 tanks to keep our weight down.

On our way out, Rodrigo did most of the enroute flying. I called for 3500' after we cleared the SFO Bravo shelf. Then, as we went South, he asked me if I was going to talk to Norcal or descend below the 2500' SJC Charlie! Oops, I did it again! I was so careful about the Bravo, but forgot the Charlie! I decided we should descend to 2000' then climb again when possible. I correctly identified our climb point, clear of the Charlie, via landmarks, and we climbed clear of terrain while following Hwy 17 over the mountains.

Once we were within sight of Santa Cruz, Rodrigo asked me if we should take a shortcut or continue flying to the coast. Hm. I called up the temporary tower frequency for KWVI, and it was a hot sticky mess! Oh my god. There were like half a dozen airplanes talking over one another and the controller was clearly very overwhelmed. I took the controls and started circling over the Santa Cruz pier, and called in expecting to be given directions to make inbound. Nobody replied. Reports from planes in our vicinity, only some of whom we actually saw, continued.....

At some point one of us -- Rodrigo or I -- figured they were expecting me to just make inbound. But I didn't want to do that without asking first. I called specifically asking if I could do that, and was told to make inbound and report on the right 45 for Rwy 20. I descended to TPA, to avoid running over anyone or getting run over, and did that.

The problem is that there was a hill, hard to see on the sectional, which if you happen to be flying at TPA happens to obscure KWVI from view. I sort of felt around until Rodrigo pointed out that, um Ihab, there is the runway! Oh. I made inbound, was given a very long downwind, was asked to turn base seemingly seconds before we crashed into the hills :), and made an uneventful landing.

I was asked to follow the ground crew, but they didn't take any interest in me until I complained. Eventually, we backed into some grass and parked. There were no tiedowns and I had failed to bring the chocks, so I set the parking brake and borrowed a couple of random wood blocks from some dude in a hangar, and we were good.

We had lunch. I walked to the 7-11 to get drinks with my credit card. We checked out a Rans S-6S, David "Pablo" Cohn's Commonwealth Skyranger, and a bunch of other planes.

We got fuel, again 1/2 tanks.

We pulled the plane out to depart. There was a dude who wanted to get by with his Cub and was running around frustratedly -- it was not clear why he was in such a hurry given that we told him we were leaving. I tried very hard to ignore his wild gesticulations and go through my startup checklist. As it was, I forgot to ground lean before taxiing. Oh well. :P I got to the runup, did my runup, then called in to take off. Another pilot was like, Skycatcher, are you going to pull up to the hold short line there? Ah, this is not KPAO. We pull up! So I did.

We did an uneventful departure towards E16, I got the KPAO ATIS, and then I called into Norcal. So far so good.

Going Northbound, I then did my classic mistake of not realizing just how far to the left of KSJC the Pruneyards (VPPRU) are! Once again (I did this before on a training flight, tsk tsk) Norcal was confused about my course and asked me if I was going South of KSJC or planning to cross midfield. I cluelessly said, whichever works for you. They replied, we'll get you a route. I said I was going direct VPPRU. They said ok, that works. Oh dear. I must have come across as very clueless!

Now apprised of my actual route, I made North without event. As I passed KNUQ, there was a Cirrus about 3nm to our left that I was told to follow in. I kept losing sight of them -- most of the time, it was Rodrigo who saw them. That made me kind of veer to the right of the KPAO centerline. Yuck. Anyway, I centered myself again, tried a short field approach, and sort of made it but sort of didn't -- I was maybe one foot short of my intended point, probably because I had under-estimated the wind. It was okay though. I landed, and it was short.

But then there I was. Tower told me to expedite off the runway because there was someone following me and already over the pond. I did my best, but the following traffic had to go around. Oh well. :P

Overall, this was a decent though not perfect flight, and I learned a lot!