|Posted by Aaron Harrington on April 7, 2012 at 6:20 PM||comments (0)|
With only 4.2 hrs left in the Citabria before I am out on my own, Duane and I went up for a 2 hour flight. Faced with the prospect of a 2 hr flight, I was trying to think of places to go. I could go to an airport I have never been to before, I could challenge my navigational skills, I could sight see, the options were open. A week prior, I had taken Shannon on a beautiful sunset flight along the Eastern Shore of the Bay down to Bay Bridge airport, my old training grounds. It presented some navigational challenges as you can't really use airways and fly along VOR radials, and you have to avoid APG's restricted airspace, but you cant exactly get lost following the shoreline of the Bay down to the Bridge. I decided that I would go to Bay Bridge again and drop on down to 2,000ft and enjoy a nice sight seeing trip as it was very warm out, unlimited visibility, and there were lots of boaters out recreating in the beautiful weather.
I have to say that flying with Duane is a lot of fun. He is always pointing out interesting little landmarks, big beautiful houses, wind mills, and is always asking questions (probably to see how much I am paying attention to where I am, my navigation, etc) It was a great flight. I was really hoping to land on RW11 but the wind was strongly favoring 29 when we got to Bay Bridge airport. I have to admit that although I was trying to think ahead, and do everything perfect, I was severely disappointed in my first landing. My pattern was too wide, I got a little bit of sink on final that put me lower than I wanted, the wind was shifting me around and although my rudder skills were on par, keeping the nose strait down the runway, I didn't give enough aileron and I drifted a little in the flare. I landed off centerline, which wont get you into much trouble at Bay Bridge's 60ft wide runway but I still felt it was unacceptable. Determined to do better, I told Duane I'd like another go around the pattern. It was a little better, I was still too wide in the pattern, but my approach was good and the landing was a little better. A little discouraged, we decided to head back to Harford and do some landings back 'home'. Flying back was great and the views were terrific.
At Harford, I redeemed myself with a nice three pointer on rw 28. Duane suggested that I try rw 32 since I had joked on my upwind on 28 that the wind was favoring 32. My first landing, I attempted a wheel landing and I had it but the undulations in the uneven ground kinda kicked me back up into the air as I had not pushed the stick forward enough to keep the wheels stuck to the grass. We did a touch and go and I came back around agian set up much better this time when I turned final for the diagonal rw 32. Just above the ground, I did a quick glance at the airspeed and saw that I was a little too slow for a wheel landing so I sat it down in a three point configuration. Determined to pull off a nice wheel landing, I told Duane I wanted one last chance and so we took off again. This time, things got interesting as I turned crosswind, I pressed the push-to-talk to announce my position and I couldn't hear myself in my headset. I told Duane and then he said he smelled electrical smoke. WHAT?! I did NOT smell the smoke but I did glance down at the radio to see that it was dead. I quickly glanced at all the gauges, everything looked good, quick glance at the breaker panel over my left shoulder, didn't see anything but I was on downwind and it was time to do the drill. I slowed the plane, put in some flaps and set myself up for the turn to final. I rolled out perfectly and at 70 kts. I kept the speed around 65-70 on the final and swooped down obove the threashold of 32. This time I kept knew I had it and my wheel landing was very very good. I kept the stick forward and the wheels stuck to the ground. It felt great. A terrific way to end our flight. On the taxi back, we tested the radio and checked the ammeter but couldn't decipher what had gone wrong. Oh well, something for Steve to fix! Cant wait for my next flight! 2.2 hrs to go!
|Posted by Aaron Harrington on March 24, 2012 at 8:00 PM||comments (0)|
The day had finally come last Saturday March 17th. Duane said that he was satisfied that I was ready to take the tailwheel endorsement test. It would mean 3 three point landings, 3 wheel landings, and one emergency engine out landing. The winds were good and were favoring 10 at about 8 knots on about a 30-45deg crosswind. This would be the first time I had ever taken off or landed on 10 at Harford. No matter. Duane said I could do any of the landings in any order that I wanted so I decided to build my confidence with a nice three pointer. We went up, came around through the pattern and I executed my first three pointer. Confidence boosted, I taxied back and went up again using a 'short-field' technique. We came back around and I performed my second three point landing. This time Duane wanted me to take off in the grass. I configured for grass with two notches of flaps and then did a short field, soft field, takeoff in the grass next to rw10. Around the pattern we came and I did my final three point landing in the grass. I hit the 'hump' of the crossing runway 01/19 and it flicked me airborne for a slight bit but I did a good job of handling it. Now it was time for my wheel landings. I know this isnt my strong suit and quite frankly, I was a little nervous I would be able to successfully execute 1 wheel landing, much less three. We took off and came around and I had nailed the numbers knowing that it was important to be at 65kts durring the level off over the threashold. I leveled and saw that I was doing good but as we started to sink, I decided (for some stupid reason) to push the stick slightly forward in an attemp to 'stick' the landing. This only resulted in a bounce and I proceeded to level off again with a quick flick of throttle, back at 65 kts and nervously tried to 'stick' it on again...... bounce...... darn it! I knew I was running out of runway so I flared it back and saved it with another three point landing. Duane asked me if I knew what I had done wrong and I explained that I got 'excited' and tried to stick it on instead of letting the runway come to me. Now we went up around again and I was determined to resist the urge to either flare or stick it and I got a reasonably good wheel landing in, "Thats one" I heard Duane say "Just do that two more times" As we went up again Duane said "lean the mixture an inch so we dont foul the engine" I have to admit that I am a little smarter and more on top of my game that people might realize as my primary instructor used to play this little 'game' with me all the time. I knew that either on this downwind leg or the next, I was going to get my 'engine out' landing in. Predicting this, I was prepared. We came in, turned final and I was looking good with 3 notches of flaps and decending at 67-68kts. I leveled off and 'chirp...chirp' a good crosswind wheel landing, this was a touch and go and as I accelerated up, the lightbulb went off in my head that Duane was probably trying to keep me busy so I would less anticipate the 'engine out' I knew was to come. With this prediction, I kept the pattern very tight and sure enough, on the level off turn to downwind, Duane pulls the throttle back to idle and says "oops, looks like we fouled up the engine" I stuck to 65-70 kts on downwind, base, and final slipping it in fairly hard since I probably turned base a little early. I clicked in 4notches of flaps, leveled off over the runway, glanced at the airspeed and saw I was at 58-60kts so I knew a wheel landing wasnt going to happen. I continued to flare and plopped down a three point landing slightly tailwheel first. Oh well. A safe landing none-the-less. Now with 7 landings down. I was anxious to make number 8 my last wheel landing. We went back up and around the pattern and this was probably the best of the wheel landings (in my mind) I felt really good and chirped the tires on, pushed the stick forward to keep the tail in the air as I put the flaps down, and throttled back. On the taxi back I was feeling good. "Good job" I heard from Duane "you are now a tailwheel pilot. now you know what those rudder pedals are actually for" I was estatic as that last landing felt really good so I asked if I could go up for one more takeoff and landing (my victory lap if you will) so we taxied back, pivoted around and up we went. On downwind, we saw the skydiving plane plop it down on the numbers and roll out in less than 1,000 ft. Duane said "lets try to do that this time. Try to set her down on the numbers and stop before the wind sock" so I turned base, turned final, as soon as I passed the trees, dipped down and got in ground effect at about 70 kts. Floating along in ground effect, I was level at about 10-15 feet. As I approached the threashold, I held it off watching the airspeed decrease from a little over 60. Then I saw how low we were and thought (erroneously) that I might clip a runway end light and so I pitched up a little more flare and we floated up slightly and I ended up doing a three pointer, setting it down about 100 ft past the number. Duane laughed "you didn't have to do that!" I knew, feeling alittle silly, but hey... It was still a good landing. Next time! So there you go. 9 landings and a tailwheel endorsement with 5.8hrs tailwheel time in the logbook. Just 4.2 hrs needed to fly the Citabria solo (for FBO insurance requirements), but if you have a tailwheel airplane out there, just let me know and I would love to come fly it!
|Posted by Aaron Harrington on March 13, 2012 at 9:55 PM||comments (0)|
Sunday I went out with some friends for an all around fun sightseeing flight. I took it as an oportunity (as always) to learn and refresh my skills. So I decided to go out to the eastern shore and look for a nice little 'grass' roots airport called Massey Aerodrome (MD1). This airport has a beautifully groomed 3,000ft turf runway and a terrific vintage airplane museum that includes a (non flying) DC-3. The last time I was there was for the Vintage Sailplane Association meeting back in the Fall. This would be my first flight to the quaint little airport. Piloting the 172SP (N647SP) I decided to forgo the moving map GPS and do it old school. Good ol' fashion pilotage (and tinkering with the VOR) With my trusty Terminal Area chart we set out at 3,000ft. Let me tell you what, I have respect for the pioneering aviators, void of navigational equipment, that airport was a little tricky to find (even with the big DC-3 sitting out front). I have to admit that at about 2 miles out, I did tune in the GPS to see my position in relation to the airport right about the time I spotted it... fail, I know (the learning portion of the flight, lol) :-( At the same time, there is something really special about flying a modern airplane, with a GPS, dual VORs, dual radios, fuel injection, etc and then landing on a grass strip with two other NORDOs in the pattern.
What a BLAST! I swear, the turf at Massey is finely groomed to near golf course quality. It was a terrific landing. Short-soft field technique, wheels touched, kept the nose of the airplane up as long as possible, full aft yoke, and taxied off the runway to allow the light sport aircraft to land. Takeoff was also great, full aft yoke, got the airplane in the air at about 45 kts, lowered the nose to stay in ground effect, gained speed, and climbed out at 75kts. I wouldn't go as far as to say it was perfect, but it sure felt really good. Hopefully this weekend I can convince Duane to go there with me in the Citabria! Great time flying with you guys Alycia and Chris!
|Posted by Aaron Harrington on March 4, 2012 at 7:45 PM||comments (0)|
Lesson 5: March 4, 2012
Today was quite the day for tailwheel flying. My original plan was to fly Saturday and Sunday to get me closer to the finish 10 hrs required for insurance purposes. However, Saturday turned out to be too windy and although I tried to show up earlier in the day, the wind was fast approaching and within 20 min MTN ATIS reported an increase in gusts from 18kts to 22kts. Anyways, today was a bit better and when I arrived at the airport, the wind was about 8-12 but not really gusting... but wouldn't you know... I get in the airplane and the wind sock starts flopping. Here we go.
Things went really well, but I learned quickly after the first landing, that I was going to get tossed around this lesson if I didn't learn some fancy footwork. We did about 5 landings before Duane suggested that I go for a wheel landing. The first wheel landing was (in my opinion) really good, we taxied back and off we went again. At this point, some Verga could be seen about 5-10 miles away (this is the technical term for rain that doesn't reach the ground). This happens because the rain evaporates on the way down. What is the big deal you might ask? Turbulence and shifty wind. The wind at this point, is now shifting around plus or minus 30 degrees off the runway and was probably gusting up to about 18-20kts. I went for another wheel landing and right at the end, I sank down quicker than expected and I bounced.... and bounced again and, reverting to my tricycle gear training, on the way down for the next bounce, I went full throttle to go around, but Duane assured me I could save it for a 'three pointer' so I leveled off, throttled back to 60-65 kts and saved the landing with a swirvy three pointer. At this point, the wind is really bouncing us around and I did a decent touch and go landing on the next pass. I was so focused on good control of the takeoffs and landings that I didn't realize till Duane pointed it out, that the rain was getting fairly closer. I was really having a great time battling the winds and I felt I was really learning a lot about good throttle control, rudder control, and stabilized approaches and wanted to keep going but I know when to call things quits and I am never one to push my luck. I try to use good ADM (aeronautical decision making) so I went in for a full stop three pointer which, right when I hit the ground, the wind got under my right wing and picked it up, but I kicked in some rudder and went full right aileron and brought it back down. It wasnt a perfect landing by any stretch of the imagination, but I felt really confident and I could tell my skills were improving, I really did enjoy it. I think Duane really enjoyed it too because right as I approached the hangar, Duane bet me $1.00 to see if I could spin the tail around and land it right on the yellow line as I killed the engine... I DID IT! (it was luck, not skill, I dont pretend to be better than I actually am) so I told Duane he only owed me a cup of coffee, I didn't need the dollar, and I like coffee better. As it turned out, Roy had just put a new pot on!
I learned today that the tailwheel can be a handfull if you are not ahead of it. It is NOT the kind of airplane that you can be casual about when its time to land. You need to have your hand on the throttle and your feet dancing. Keep the nose of the airplane down the runway and be ready for anything. But as long as you are on top of your game and ready to anticipate what might happen, you'll be just fine. Duane said that next time out, I will be tested for the endorsement. That will put me at about 6 hrs. Then I will need 4 hrs more for insurance to solo. I suggested we utilize our PIN numbers and go on down to College Park. Great practice today!
|Posted by Aaron Harrington on March 1, 2012 at 6:35 PM||comments (0)|
Lesson 3: Feb. 26, 2012
This past lesson was a little bit shorter as some heavy winds 30knots gusting 45kt cancelled my lesson on Saturday. I was scheduled to go up for an hour and a half, but, I had to re-schedule. Unfortunately, Duane was only available from 3-4 and so the most we could get in would be a little less than an hour.
The lesson sure was interesting as we stayed at the airport and just worked on take-offs and landings in the pattern. The wind was quartering from our left and as I would turn final, a strong updraft would cause the plane to float. The first 3 times around, this thermal like action actually would cause me to gain altitude (back up to pattern alt.) as I would turn final. This was with the power all the way back to idle. I realized after the third time, that I was going to have to really modify my approach significantly if I wanted to stay on the glideslope. What I ended up doing, was cutting the throttle back to about 13,000 RPM just before turning base and kicking in 3 notches of flaps, this caused me to be about 100ft "low" as I turned final, I would then start to rise in the wind rotor and I would cut the throttle to idle and kick in a 4th notch of flaps, this kept me at about 65-70 kts (proper approach speed in the Citabria) and the next 4 landings went very smoothly.
All my landings were very much under control, however, I was practicing three point landings and I was touching down ever so slightly tailwheel first and then main wheels. Last time around Duane said "this is the $10,000 landing" so I made it absolutely perfect. It was my best landing of the day and a textbook three pointer. Duane said "I'll give that one $8,000, you didn't get your tail up high enough on the take-off".... nit picker. All in all a good lesson. 6 hrs to go!
|Posted by Aaron Harrington on February 20, 2012 at 5:25 PM||comments (0)|
Lesson 3: Feb. 20, 2012
Wow, It sure has been a while since my last tailwheel lesson and I have to admit that when I woke up this morning, I was a little nervous. After a month of bad weather, me being busy, and the Citabria in the shop, I was anxious to get back up there. Finally, the stars alligned, I had a Monday federal holiday off work and Duane was available. I quickly booked N1138E and was ready to go.
The wind was a little stiff today but I was determined to get a flight in. The weather in the area was fairly consistently comming from the NNW between 330 and 360 at about 8-12kts gusting 18. Not too much of a problem at our destination, Summit (KEVY), as their runway configuration is 17/35. I pre-flighted the airplane, pushed it out of the hangar, Duane climbed in and I turned the engine over. Like the methodical, safety minded pilot Nizar Bechara taught me to be, I went step-by-step per the checklist using my standard audible challenge- verification-response strategy (of which many people have complimented me on). After not flying this plane in a long time, I took my time with the checklist as I wanted to spend the proper amount of time re-aquainting myself with the systems and cockpit layout. After verifying everything, I back taxied down the runway using a 'new' technique' (new to me anyways) of pushing the stick forward and "diving away" from our quartering tailwind. This is to prevent the wind from getting under the tail and flipping us over forward. We then preceded to line up on the runway....mixture, compass, DG, throttle, engine instruments, and like a rocket, we were up at 3,000 ft before I knew it. It was an absolutely BEAUTIFUL day as visibility was unlimited and we could easily see Phili from Harford. We then flew to Summit, entered the pattern on 45 to downwind and I attempted my first three point landing. It was the longest of all my 7 landings today but I was still able to put her down and turn off the first taxiway (approximately 800ft total). I was stoked! The rest of my take-offs, preceeded by high-speed tail high taxis, and landings were terrific, and I attempted 2 'wheel' landings. These were a little different feeling and more touchy but my first one was just perfect. Duane told me he was extremely impressed after my first go at it. My second attempt had me battling a shifty 10-12 kt wind that varied from strait down the runway to about 45 deg off axis and I started to sink a little fast right in the flare. I bounced a little off my right wheel (upwind wheel) and I gave a little extra throttle, eased the stick forward and to the right a little, added some left rudder to keep me strait and "expertly" saved the wheel landing after which, I held the tail high all the way down to 45mph to practice tracking strait with the rudders. Duane said it was an excellent save and he was sure I was going to exchange the bounce for a more docile and easily accomplished three point landing.
Duane then said that he wanted to really test my skills. He suggested that we head back to Harford with a quick stop off at Cecil County Airport. I have only landed at Cecil once before but I know what kind of approach it is. Trees all around, large displaced threashold, and fairly moderate uphil runway. As we approached on extended 2 mile final, I saw the wind was about 45-50deg off runway centerline from the right. I also suspected that the wind was creating a rotor, up over the trees and then sinking down onto the runway on the backside and that I would probably sink substantially as I got down to about 100 ft. Yup, I was right, but I was totally ready for it and throttled up slightly, (instead of the 'instinctive pull up' most people would do and I plopped it right down on the runway slightly tailwheel first, no bounce, but a bit of 'tail wiggle'. The lady at the FBO must have seen the landing because she asked about the approach so she could inform their instructors who had some upcoming students. After a quick over radio hello, it was back to Harford. Duane was with me on the controls on this landing because we had a gusty 12kt 90 degree to the runway wind. The landing was less than perfect but we were down, safe and sound.
This was my favorite lesson yet and it was terrific practice. I am really enjoying learning this tailwheel thing and I can already tell it is making me a better stick-and-rudder pilot. 3.2 hrs logged, 6.8 to go!
|Posted by Aaron Harrington on February 20, 2012 at 5:25 PM||comments (0)|
Lesson 2: Jan. 16, 2012
Todays lesson was terrific practice for both learning to fly the tailwheel airplane as well as wind practice. The winds were about down the runway at Harford when we took off. My guess is about 6-7 kts. We took off and headed for Summit when I realized that something was a little off. Visually, I thought I was about 3,000 ft but the altimeter was reading 2,000. As it turns out, when I listened to the nearby ATIS, I was EXACTLY 1,000 ft off. No joke, total rookie mistake. I set the big dial to the right number but didn't look at the little dial. *dur*. Anyways, the winds at Summit were 180 at 10 and they have runway 17 so it was pretty much strait down the runway. We practiced descending turns and entered the pattern crosswind over the field. I throttled back to 1,600 rpm and kicked in two notches of flaps. Perfect 80 knots. Base, nother notch of flaps, 70 knots, turned final, kicked in another notch of flaps.... rose like a balloon. The wind was in my favor but because the Citabria is so lightweight, that turn from base to final was like entering a thermal. Up went the altitude and up went the airspeed indicator. It took me about 4 or 5 landings in a row before I became acoustomed to and anticipated the change on the roll out to final but by that time, it was almost time to go home. We did have a good practice and my three point landings were spot on. I only had one goof up where I flared a little high, and then sank suddenly onto all three wheels but it wasn't more than a foot or two. We also did high speed taxis. Duane controlled the throttle and I controlled the rest of the plane until he was satisfied I was doing well. Then he let me take over throttle control and I did terrific. We did this in preparation for wheel landings so I would have a good idea of the sight picture before we did it. Then it was time to head home. When we got to Harford, there was a good stiff, slightly gusty cross wind....90 degrees to the runway. The CAP plane on the taxiway was "trying to decide what to do" use 10 or 28? I was already on upwind for 28 when he said he was going to use 10 and wait till I landed, I guess I was on downwind for 10 then. Duane took the controls and he milked it in easing it left and right, keeping the nose strait down the runway and quite a bit of aileron into the wind. We touched down on one main wheel first, then the tail, then the nose. It was a picture perfect landing. I bet everyone in the FBO knew Duane was flying it and not me. Duane asked me what I would have done in that situation, and being a smart @$$, I said I would have used runway 19 even though it was 'closed for the season'. He said that would have probably been the best course of action. I answered correctly...lol. Can't wait till next Saturday for flight number 3!. 2hrs down 8 to go!
|Posted by Aaron Harrington on January 14, 2012 at 7:05 PM||comments (0)|
Lesson 1: Jan. 7, 2012
I recently decided to get my tailwheel endorsement as I have been flying about twice every three weeks and have really only been taking people up for 'rides.' Rides are expensive if it isn't getting you anywhere and I really only want to be doing flying that is going to count towards something until I either (co)buy an airplane or start my instrument rating. So, because Harford has a nice Citabria 7GCBC and I can't afford to do the complex rating in the Piper Warrior, I am working on the tailwheel. It will make me a better stick and rudder pilot anyways.
Lesson 1 begins with me meeting Duane Wallace. I have met Duane once in passing really but this was the first time really getting to spend time with him. I am always nervous going up with an instructor for the first time because I want someone whose teaching style matches my learning style. I am the kind of person that you only need to explain things to once with only slight reminders here and there. If I already know something, I don't want them to waste their time explaining it to me again. (i.e. I am an aerospace engineer....i know what a stall is. I am only using that as an example, a stall explaination hasnt been attempted on me quite yet). However, I want someone who is very verbal and coaches me through the process. I like to be coached, "the plane likes to turn left so it is going to need more right rudder on take-off than you are used to" is much much better than waiting till I start the takeoff roll and "more right rudder.... More right rudder.....MORE rudder!"
Duane was great. He allowed me to pre-flight in peace but still explained to me the nuances of the Citabria pre-flight. 4 sumps, one under each wing, one under the gas collater and a belly sump. He also explained the importance of checking the tailwheel and leaf springs and encouraged me to sit in the airplane for a few minutes and figure out where everything was and the buttons and switches before he got in so we could go flying.
The initial taxi was benign and I had read that you need to anticipate any rudder/tailwheel control inputs before the plane required them, meaning, don't react to what the plane is already doing but command what you want it to do. The tailwheel was definately something new (and really cool) as I found turning super easy and I liked the amount of 'power' i had over its direction. After run-up and pre-takeoff checks, Duane explained the takeoff procedure. He was impressed with my ability to precisely counter the much more pronounced left turning tendancy of the plane and I hit the rotation, Vx, and Vy speeds perfectly. We flew around doing steep turns (up to 60 deg bank, the plane is, after all, aerobatic) slow flight, stalls, and departure stalls. Duane then demonstrated a three point grass landing at Moxley's private strip and it was back to Harford. Duane let me be on the controls (without direct input) while he demonstrated another landing. He then said that I had done so well my first time out that he thought I was ready to try an unassisted take-off and landing at Harford. He said that he rarely allows students to land the Citabria at Harford their first time out but thought I might be able to do it. We taxied back, took off, and I hit a perfect 80 kts downwind, 70 kts base, and 60 kts final. I lined the planes nose up with the runway, held her off in the flare and greased it on. I immediately felt the 'sway' of the tailwheel and kept the nose strait down the runway with small jabs to the rudders. Duane told me he was very impressed and was confident that my tailwheel transisiton was going to be easy and fun for the both of us. Next time, we are going to Summet and he is going to show me how to do wheel landings. I need 10 hrs before I can solo the Citabria for insurance purposes but it was a total blast! Cant wait for next lesson.
|Posted by Aaron Harrington on January 2, 2012 at 11:40 PM||comments (0)|
2011 wasnt the great year of flying I hoped it would be but it still turned out well. Due to school work, including an aircraft design competition I was team leader for, research, thesis writing, and finishing up requirements for my Master's degree, went for some long periods of time without touching the controls of an airplane. I went over 2 whole months in the spring without a single flight. Not the best way to start your first year of having your PPL. However, I did learn a lot and gained some valuable experience. More than 50% of my flying in 2011 was cross country flying, valuable experience indeed. I also started flying at Harford County Airport (0W3) and met some amazing people. I have been flying Cessna 172m and SP models and passenged along in the back of a Citabria a hand full of times as well. Harford has taught me that flying is a lot more unpredictable than the regimented Class B experience I was used to at Baltimore Washington International. Nothing like entering the pattern with a guy on final, base, and downwind, with a glider turning final for the crossing runway while two people are waiting to take off. I was told by Roy (one of the guys who works there on the weekends) that Harford is like little Hethrow without a tower and that given enough time, the people in the air figure it all out eventually. A far cry from the 90+% of flights to towered airports I was previously making. I also got to start flying with Justin Shumaker, a friend and fellow pilot and our flying time together has not only kept me honest but has taught me a thing or two. (especially about distractions in the cockpit, I love you to death Justin but you sure do talk a lot) So here is to 2011 and the hopes that 2012 bill be an amazing year of flying!
|Posted by Aaron Harrington on December 7, 2011 at 8:05 AM||comments (0)|
The sunday following Thanksgiving was a beautiful day to fly. The wind was a little strong even at 3000 ft and so surface winds were 10-12 gusting 15ish but all in all not too bad. I had reserved the 172SP that day to fly Shannon back to school which provided me a good excuse to get some cross country time. I planned the trip via airways. Departing Harford (0W3) to the Pottstown VOR, then taking the V403 airway to the Solberg VOR and then direct Morristown (KMMU). This would be my second trip to Morristown and so I was a little bit more comfortable with the jouney.
The winds at 3,000 ft were 32 kts on my tail the way there and so after we departed from Harford, we were on the ground 10min ahead of schedule. You know what that means for the return trip... All in all it was a good flight and I really enjoyed it. However, something happened to me on that trip that really got me to thinking about how air traffic controllers deal with small GA aircraft. Here's the story.
On the way to Morristown, I got up to 3500 ft and called Phili App. for flight following. They accepted my request and I didn't hear really anything from them for quite some time. Then about half way to Morristown I hear over the radio "CESSNA 647SIERA PAPA, TURN LEFT TO 360 NOW!" I immediately innitiated a 45 degree bank to 360 with my heart suddenly jumping up to my throat. I then heard "Cessna 7 siera papa, look out your right window, can you see anything? I got a sudden hit on my radar screen a second ago of an unknown aircraft at your same altitude heading in the opposite direction" I scanned and scanned and then told Shannon and my mom to tell me if they saw anything. Sure enough the silent glisten of the sun shone of the wings of a glider. He had obviously seen my evasive maneuver and he had started to initiate a left hand turn away from us as well. I radioed the controller and told him that I saw a glider and i'll maintain visual separation from him. The controller responded by telling me that the glider was no longer on his screen and thanked me for my quick response. If I had not have turned, chances are I would have still missed the glider, but it would have been less than 100ft separation which would have been very uncomfortable for me and probably terrifying for the glider pilot as well.
This isn't the end of the story however because of what happened on the return trip. After we dropped Shannon off at school, Mom and I climbed back into the Cessna and headed for home. We requested flight following starting with NY App. on the way back and were promptly denied but told to try a different NY frequency which was given to us. This controller also denied us and also handed us off to a different frequency to try. This guy told us that, yes, he was busy but would give us FF till we got to Phili. When it was time for the handoff, the NY controller told us that Phili was refusing to take us with the excuse that we could not be seen on radar. (which I know was complete BS because it was a crystal clear day and I could see the Phili skyline off in the distance out my window) In any case, I flew back without flight following but continued to listen in on the Phili frequency. That is when I heard Phili dropping VFR aircraft from flight following one right after another. "Radar service terminated, squawk VFR, frequency changed approved." Then as new aircraft called up, Phili said, "we are only handling IFR traffic right now" This got me to thinking. On a super busy day like today, yes, it is a lot of work for the controllers to handle all that traffic, but what would have happened if I was denied flight following on the way TO Morristown. I could have hit that glider. I could have it another aircraft. There were planes all over the place and I could see them out my window like annoying gnats that orbit your head in the summer time. ATCs job is to keep us safe and I seem to always have problems with Phili when I request flight following from them. I would say only 75% of the time do they actually grant my request. I know they like talking to the "big boys" but they should really be a little warmer to GA aircraft. So Phili ATC, if you happen to read this, keep this in mind the next time you think about denying FF to a GA aircraft.