2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 6,100 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 10 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Great Avionics Upgrades Available: What’s On Your Wish List?

We have a great fleet of planes with good modern GPS technology. We are however always planning the next move to keep current. One thought is to start integrating the 430 technology into the C-152s. Many people train here and it is time to upgrade the navigators here. There are several ways to do this; buy used and install of trade down as we upgrade the Skyhawks. By way of starting this dialog here are some options. Take a look at the Avidyne 440 “plug and play” replacement for the Garmin 430s in the C-172s…cute!

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Avidyne has a good product here, cleverly designed as a slide in replacement for the 430. The touch screen yields a larger form factor for displaying and interacting with data. The current sale at $9K is available through the end of the year and quite a savings (anyone want to buy a Christmas present for East Hill?) The other sensible move is to continue upgrading N97266 to include the Aspen MFD and perhaps even access the “connected panel” technology. This allows the uploading of flight plans to the panel through a bluetooth interface and the future ability to download trip and engine data is also part of this package. This is an open source API available to all manufacturers.

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    Please chime in with your opinion! What is on your wish list?

Stranded at Teterboro: Part II…”The Rescue Misson!”

On Saturday the 24th, while Thomas was traveling back to Ithaca on the bus, I was eating Thanksgiving leftovers and thinking about my upcoming Sunday IFR lesson. I was scheduled to fly with David (St George) on a cross-country to Syracuse and Oswego. From the East Hill Facebook page, I learned of Thomas’ adventure and of a planned Sunday “rescue mission” to Teterboro. From the weather forecasts, I learned that lake effect snow was expected in Syracuse on Sunday, making a northbound cross-country somewhat unlikely. Upon discussion with David, we decided to combine my cross-country lesson and the rescue mission and fly to Teterboro instead of Syracuse. I was thrilled, since I really wanted to get some experience in the busy NYC IFR environment. I had been in NYC airspace once before, on a solo VFR Hudson Corridor trip, so I already knew there is no substitute for that airspace if you want to challenge yourself as a pilot and take your skills to the next level.

On Sunday morning, Thomas, David and I met at the club and decided on the plan. The weather was not ideal, but acceptable. There was an overcast over Ithaca that extended somewhat futher southeast, but the NYC area was clear. Icing would be a possibility and definitely something to watch for on climbout, but we made the collective judgment call to give it a try, while being very vigilant and ready to divert to Binghamton at any sign of trouble. We took with us the tire and tube for the Mooney, Thomas came along to fly the Mooney back, and David Wanagel came along to help as well. The plane we would be taking was 97266, as it was still in engine break-in and needed to go on more trips. This would pose a challenge for me as I had hardly flown that plane at all; as most of you know, unlike our other two 172’s, it is equipped with an Aspen “glass” display which looks quite different from the traditional instruments that I am accustomed to. Still, I was up for the challenge and we set off for Teterboro. We filed KITH-HNK-V167-WEARD-V489-COATE-KTEB and received an “as filed” clearance. So far so good.

After takeoff, icing was not as big an issue as we had feared, so we continued on past Binghamton. I was having to work very hard to understand the display on the Aspen, and many of the fancy features were confusing me greatly; however, I gradually got used to it. The flight was uneventful until we got close to the city and switched to New York Approach. As you know if you’ve flown that airspace, there’s always a moment where things go from “sleepy and quiet” to “OMGWTFBBQ there are HOW many planes around me and on the frequency?”. That definitely happened, and I had a hard time maintaining situational awareness given that I was also dealing with an unfamiliar plane.

Landing on Runway 19 at Teterboro with crazy right crosswind

With David there to help, however, things went reasonably smoothly and soon we were descending — through a thin layer of clouds, picking up just a trace of ice — and tracking the localizer and glideslope inbound for the ILS 19 approach into Teterboro. The wind situation was less than ideal, with winds reported at 330-ish at 10+ knots with gusts, setting us up for an unpleasant downwind landing. We were considering asking for a different runway, but as we were coming in to land, the wind had shifted to a right crosswind, which we could work with. The photo you see was taken on short final; I have only the faintest recollection of David taking it, I was so overloaded.

The team at KTEB
On the ground at Teterboro

Once safely on the ground, we had a minor misunderstanding with the Tower controller as to the taxiway we should pull off on, but this was quickly resolved (with traffic behind us, there was no time to resolve it slowly!). At Meridian, we delivered the tire and met with Eric, the mechanic who would install it on the Mooney. In the meantime, we borrowed one of the crew cars and went to have lunch at Panera Bread.

Once back from lunch, with the Mooney fixed and ready to go, we needed to get back to Ithaca. Thomas and David Wanagel would return in the Mooney, whereas David St George and I would take 266. With 30+ knot headwinds along our route and the challenges of IFR routing out of Teterboro, we readied ourselves for a long trip.

Our clearance
ATC making us take the long way home!

I forget which route we filed out of Teterboro, but that turned out to be highly irrelevant as ATC had other plans for us. The clearance I received is shown on the photo you see, and it is KTEB RUUDY4 SBJ V6 FJC V149 CFB KITH. Less than ideal, but hey, at least it included a “real” departure procedure (you don’t get exposed to those much flying around Elmira and Syracuse :-)). Plus I got good practice copying down and reading back a “real” clearance. Then we had to get permission to taxi, which proved harder than anticipated. It was now about 3pm on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and the concentration of assorted Citations, Gulfstreams and Learjets on the airport was very high. We waited a good 20 minutes before we got cleared to taxi, and then spent some more time waiting in the runup area between runways 19 and 24. The airport was insanely busy, with traffic constantly landing on 19 and taking off on 24.

We took off and followed the RUUDY FOUR departure procedure to the letter, with various Newark-bound jets zipping around surprisingly close to us. Then things became logistically simple if rather slow; our routing took us very far west before we could turn back north. We requested shortcuts several times (another thing you don’t get to practice with Elmira Approach!), but the airspace was busy and the controllers could not do much for us. We did eventually get “direct Ithaca”, but were pretty much over Wilkes-Barre by then already.

At about 16:30, the Sun set over the clouds, and then it was night. After Wilkes-Barre, we were in and out of IMC, it was snowing lightly, and the plane slowly began to pick up rime ice. There was now virtually no-one else on the frequency, it was very dark and somewhat uncomfortably cold, even with the cabin heat on. I took the hood off since there was nothing to see outside anyway. Occasionally we would see a few lights on the ground, then it would be completely dark again.  After the intensity of the New York City airspace and all the excitement of the day, the silence and darkness felt pretty strange. As has been pointed out by better writers than me (notably Saint-Exupéry in “Night Flight” and William Langewiesche in “Aloft”, both books you should read if you haven’t already), there is something singularly isolating about flying on a dark night. I forced myself to focus on the mission of getting home.

Fortunately, reality intervened before I could get too meditative. The microphone on my headset, which had been giving me minor trouble for a while, decided to malfunction seriously (of *course* it had to happen at night, in IMC, with ice on the plane…). I wasn’t scared, but I was certainly glad that David was there and that his headset was working fine. Finally — we still had a bad headwind, so it was slow going — we landed in Ithaca around 6pm. We flew the familiar ILS 32 approach and made it home. The total time on 266, including ground delay time in Teterboro, was 5 hours. Meanwhile, Thomas and David Wanagel made it back in the Mooney safely and much earlier than us, after — to my understanding — an uneventful flight with little or no icing trouble.

All in all, it was an amazing trip and a great learning opportunity. I certainly plan to fly frequently in busy airspace once I have my instrument rating, so this was invaluable training for me. At this point, I am confident that when I go into New York City airspace IFR on my own, I will be able to handle it. It will still be a challenge, to be sure, but now I know I can do it. And hey, as a bonus, we got the Mooney back, so all’s well that ends well. Thanks to everyone involved in this great adventure!

Stranded at Teterboro! Mooney Tire Mission Part I

Last Friday I planed a short trip to Teterboro to get a little more experience in the busy NYC airspace and some night time on the return flight to Ithaca. I flew this route three times before and each time has been a great learning experience, including asking NY approach for an IFR clearance in the air and some trouble with a poorly closing door. This time wouldn’t be any less interesting.
 ThomasKTEB    There are many possible routes from ITH to TEB, only one of which I experienced going through “as filed”, KITH-HNK-V167 -WEARD-V489-COATE-KTEB. On the day of the flight there was an Airmet Zulu for icing only above 10 000 ft but considering the temperatures aloft it looked more like there was a freezing level around 9 000 ft which made me wondering about icing even at lower altitudes. Thus, my plan was to stay as low as possible in warm air. I filed to fly via airways which allowed an altitude of 5 000 ft, well below the freezing level. It turned out that ATC did not share my careful considerations and the clearance I got involved direct segments at 7 000 feet. There was no forecast icing at that altitude and I knew that in case I would pick up any ice I could descend to 4 000 ft on nearby airways so I decided to continue. Also, all of the airports along the route reported VFR conditions so I would always have a safe way out of the clouds. The flight itself was uneventful until I ran into some trace ice that started to build on the windshield. Fortunately, that occurred very close to my destination so I got a lower altitude right as I asked for it. Flying a Mooney into Teterboro always has the excitement that it feels like everyone else is going at least twice as fast as you are. During the descend, at an airspeed of about 180mph, ATC asked me to “maintain present speed or faster” which is hard to do in level flight with a Mooney, but the usual ILS 19 approach worked out fine and I safely made if off the runway, just before the traffic behind me touched down.
     Every time I flew into Teterboro I used Signature so this was my planned FBO. (It turns out Meridian is cheaper for both handling and parking, but I only learned that the next day). Originally, I wanted to get some dinner and depart the same day, using my night return privileges to get back to Ithaca. When I checked the weather, however, the ceiling at Ithaca had dropped faster than expected and combined with the icing at 7 000 ft I decided to stay in the city for the night. I did not want to deal with a night IFR approach into Ithaca with possible icing.
     There is a direct bus going from the Teterboro airport to Manhattan that runs about every half hour, so the friendly staff at Signature gave me a ride to the bus stop (about 15-20 minutes walking). It just takes about 30minutes to get to Port Authority but the few times that I used this bus it was reliably 20minutes late (something to keep in mind during winter or you’ll be as cold as I was!).
     After spending the night in an overpriced hotel in Manhattan I headed back to the airport to finally return to Ithaca. While the ceilings at all airports along the route had improved to 5000-6000 ft the temperature decreased significantly so I had to expect ice at 7000 ft. As our Mooney is not equipped for flight into known icing conditions, this only left me with a VFR return below the clouds. Apparently, that was what everyone was doing that day because just before I got my transponder code for VFR flight following two other aircraft canceled their IFR flight plans and asked for VFR departures. After a thorough preflight inspection (including inspection of the nose wheel condition) I asked for taxi and was cleared to runway 1. As I arrived at the runway I stopped to complete the usual run up: mixture rich, 2100rpm,… Right after increasing the throttle I noticed that the nose dropped noticeably so I reduced the throttle immediately to see what was going on. The first thing I double checked was the gear switch and gear indications, which all indicated gear down. But when I tried to let the plane roll a little, it would not move an inch and the steering was extremely stiff. At that point, for the first time, I asked tower for assistance with an actual problem. He promised to have someone out shortly. Fortunately, there was enough space next to me to let the plane behind me pass. As they taxied past me their comment was “So it looks like that Mooney has a flat tire!” So that’s what was going on. I shut down the engine because there was nowhere to go and waited.
     The friendly manager of airport services arrived quickly and invited me into his car to figure out how to resolve the problem. He started calling FBOs on the field to see if they could handle a flat nose wheel and transport the “disabled aircraft” off the taxiway. The first FBO that offered help sent a truck and a tow bar to us. The first thing they wanted me to do was to sign a liability release form. It turned out that their plan was to just tow the plane as usual and then see what would be left of the nose gear. This did not seem like the smartest choice and I did not want to be responsible for having signed that someone can destroy our plane. I declined and asked to call other FBOs. Finally, after about one hour on the taxiway, Meridian sent their mechanic with the right equipment to get our Mooney. What they did was to place a dolly below the nose wheel which allowed the plane to move. They did not even ask for a liability release form.
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     Once at the Meridian FBO we discussed with Nick (the Meridian mechanic), David and Adam what would happen next. It turned out that there was no way the Mooney would get a new tire and tube the same day so I made my way back from Teterboro via bus. It’s amazing how far you can get in a small plane in just an hour, especially if you have to travel the same distance by bus! I departed Teterboro at around 4pm and was back in Ithaca just before Midnight.
[Great PIC authority here taking control of the retrieval of the plane…towing with a bar would have ruined the wheel and cost a lot. In the final bill Meridian did not even charge for the recovery from the taxiway! Our mechanic, Adam Coombs, inspected the tube/tire on return and found marks on the tube near the cut indicating something had been between the tube and tire for a long time (improper installation) and eventually this cut into the tube resulting in the sudden loss of air-Ed]