Fly fly fly ... McFly!
Its back to the future this summer! I am planning to do a LOT of flying. Planning to complete my night rating with Jeff in Toronto (just have a few more hours), start my Instrument training at Aviation Adventures in Washington, DC. and go on two major cross country trips in Northeast USA to do university visits for Aria (everything needs a good excuse)!
It will be a terrific summer and I'll share with you the experiences, the airports, the airplanes, the plans and the adventure.
The Summer Madness is Finally Upon Us!!
Visiting Universities ... a GREAT excuse!
First stop - Boston - Harvard University
We then headed to Buttonville around 4pm. The weather was ok, but I decided to put the hood on and ask for the full NDB/GPS approach to runway 21. The ATC was surprised, but gave it to us. I shot the approach to the minimum decision altitude and then Mike asked me to take the hood out and fly the plane visually. This being a non-precision approach, we still had quite a long way to go. We landed, cleared customs with a simple phone call to CANPASS (you have to pre-arrange this), loaded the plane and took off. By the time we got to KBED (Bedford) airport near Boston, it was 10pm. It was pitch black and I made my first IFR night approach which was an ILS into runway 11. I cannot say that it was a perfect approach on the glideslope, but overall, it was nice. We did get vectored in for a straight in approach as opposed to shooting the whole procedure, which is the normal was these are done when there is no traffic.
The next day, we went to visit Harvard University (see below) and had lunch with my good friend Stace and his family near the campus. We then flew to KPSM (Portsmouth) to drop Tara off at Camp Green Acre.
KPSM to KJYO - The Long was to drop off Mike!
We took off from KPSM around 4:30 pm for the 3 hour journey to KJYO to drop off Mike. We climbed to 8,000 and I did it mostly under the hood and manually. Flying it all by instruments takes a little getting used to, but filing IFR sure beats flying long distances around the country VFR. Its actually a lot easier. I'll talk about that in a new section which I will dedicate to IFR flying.
We landed at Leesburg around 8:30pm and it was too late for the next leg of flight for Aria and I. We dined at Mike's favorite Italian restaurant in Leesburg and reminisced about the two days of mad mad flying.
Must say that Mike was just terrific. He threw me right off the deep end of IFR flying but had me tightly hung together so that the various pieces did make sense. After all, I started my IFR training not on a normal course, but on a long X-Country real weather situation with a brand new high performance plane!
In addition to being the professional and understanding instructor that he is, Mike is the quintessential American with the matter-of-fact and in-your-face attitude and the free spirit that is uniquely his, my son learned more than just a few tips on flying. Thanks Mike and I look forward to more of that soon.
We stayed in Leesburg that night and then just the two of us took on the blue skies the next day.
Princeton in a flash!
Leesburg is withing the Washington DC Special Flight Rules Area (SFRA) and has its own little cutout called the Leesburg Manuvering Area. As such, you do need to file a special flight plan to get in and out of Leesburg. I explain this in the "getting current" section under "Flying with Uncle Sam". So, for our flight to KTTN, we needed to file TWO flight plans -- one for the SFRA to get out of KJYO with a special squak code of 1226 (1227 for inbound) and one for the trip from KJYO to KTTN.
We headed to KTTN (Trenton, NJ) which has a full service FBO and is around 20 minutes away from Princeton. The flight was non-eventful. We asked Petomac control for "Flight Following" and he was very kind and immediately gave us a squak code and we were delivered from conrtoller to controller, down to Class B airspace over Philly (we didn't want to cross it, but the controller cleared us into it by herself and told us to go direct to KTTN instead of skirting around Class B).
We had to descend down to 2500 to keep clear of clouds. The controller asked us to climb to 3000 within Class B, but we were unable and she was ok with that. Someone clipped the airspace without permission and the controller was not kind then. She strongly reminded him that he was in violation, but did not seem like she was going to report him.
We got to KTTN and were cleared into RW34. We were asked to extend the downwind leg to accommodate a departing jet. We had a LONG final and set up the skylane for a 90Knot descend till short final and the greased it on the runway.
The National rent-a-car was waiting for us from the night before. We rushed to Princeton using our Honeywell AV8OR GPS which is good for flying and driving. Got to Princeton at 12:10. Rushed for a quick Panini (which we ate on the back trunck of the car). Rushed to the campus tour and had a few minutes to spare. We toured the beautiful campus of Princeton University and at 2:30 rushed back to KTTN, checked the weather and took off for our next destination ... CYKZ -- Toronto Buttonville International Airport!
Finger Lakes, Niagra Falls & Toronto
IFR Flying and Approach of a Lifetime
Well, if you've ever lived in Northeast US/Canada, you know that weather is always your constant surprise! And Surprise is what we got yesterday ... Sunny, cloudy, rainy, clear, misty, thunderstorms and more ... all in the course of the same day!
So, I had planned to fly from Toronto (Buttonville - CYKZ) to Boston (Bedford - KBED) airport with my son that day. Weather was in-and-out of marginal VFR, right into IFR and back every hour. It was time to call in the pro as a safety pilot!
Enter the 'Ray' Man!
So, I made a call to Aviation Adventure's Raymond de Haan. Ray, the usual gentleman that he is, understood my dilemma and immediately offered to help. We had him fly up to Toronto that afternoon and decided to make the best of it and make it a big IFR training day in real weather. Well, it turned out to be not only the best training, but also a most memorable flight -- one for the books for sure. I'll describe the details of it in the "IFR Ticket" section, but here are some of the highlights:
We arrived at CYKZ around 7:15, did the weather briefing and filed IFR. The weather was definitely IFR with lots of activities along the route. This was going to be as much about Instrument flying as it would be about weather management.
We filed our IFR flight plan with London FSS direct using low altitude airways. Jumped on the plane and did our run up, entered the flight plan into the G1000 and called ground for our clearance. Well, we got a different clearance around lake Ontario to KROC (Rochester). Both Ray and I knew that this was not going to happen. Within a few minutes after take-off, Toronto Terminal vectored us direct over the lake to Rochester and we were well on our way. Weather was definitely marginal and I was hand-flying until established at our designated altitude of 9,000. It was around 5 degrees Celsius already on this June 30th! So, pitot heat had to come on. After being well established on the course, Ray allowed me to engage the autopilot and we began to "manage" the weather and the cockpit. I soon found out what a real natural and gifted teacher he is. Ray was thorough, completely non-intrusive and at the same time absolutely non-compromising. Everything about him is precise, thorough, patient and meticulous. This is a man with 15,000 hours of flying, but he prides himself mostly in being a flight instructor throughout his career that spans airlines, corporate and the whole spectrum of professional life as an aviator.
Ray's philosophy is that, especially on a night like this when conditions are so marginal and we were both at the end of a very long day, we should make the absolute best use of technology that was in front of us -- the state-of-the-art G1000 glass cockpit with a fully integrated autopilot and flight director, complete with radar and XM-Weather. So we got to work. Page by page, he took me through precise leaning of the engine, cockpit management, weather system analysis and early decisions to avoid the rough parts of the thunderstorms ahead. We managed beautifully to keep most of the flight on the fringes of the bad stuff. We could see thunders in the distance ... beautiful scenes ... and we were of course glad that our advanced preparations made us spectators and not victims of that weather.
Somewhere over Albany, we realized that we were going to go around the weather and won't make it by 10pm in KBED. We had to let Customs and Jet Aviation know. So, I tried the Blackberry and sent an email to my assistant, Evelyn, who was in Hong Kong at the time. She made all the calls and confirmed with all parties. How is that for magic of new technology and telecommunications!
To the 'Minimums' and Beyond
The trick to a good approach is being well prepared in advance and that's what Ray went through with me. Ray taught me how to methodically brief the approach. His example of how a conductor knows every part of an orchestra intuitively was a good parallel to how a pilot should know every piece of the approach and digest it as a whole with every piece working together.
The ILS RWY 11 approach at KBED allows for DA of 383 feet MSL. We set the DA on the G1000 to 390. The runway had HIRL lights and the TDZE (touch down zone elevation) was 133 feet. The runway environment is part of an ILS approach. We could legally descend below the 383 feet all the way to 100 feet above the runway threshold or 233 feet indicated before executing a missed approach IF (and that is a BIG IF) we could see the approach lights. To descend any further, we needed to see at least one more runway element (threshold lights, REIL, Touchdown zone lights, etc.). Given the extremely poor visibility and low ceiling, we needed this badly.
To go that low, we had to have at least one mile visibility in order to land. We also had to have good visuals of the runway threshold lines and edges. Our visibility was lower than that but it was improving. We needed a bit more to get there. That was RVR 50 which is about 1 mile. We had t o check that before we could proceed with the landing.
ATC cleared us for the approach and since we had already loaded the approach into the G1000 and had briefed it well in advance, we had no problem going direct to ZELKA. We had seen the fix on the approach plate and it was already in the system. We tracked direct to ZELKA and then pressed the magic button --- "APR" -- which follows the approach right to the minimums.
Honey, I 'missed' my Approach!
At this point, we went into full dual crew mode. Ray was looking out for any signs of the approach lights while I was flying the plane by instruments and calling out the altitude ... 600, 500, 400 ... and suddenly the loud sound of the system in our ears ... "MINIMUMS"!
At the same time, suddenly Ray called out "disengage auto-pilot." I complied and disengaged the autopilot, added full power and pressed the 'GA" button for a go around to execute our missed approach. The procedure called for climbing to 800 feet and then a left climbing turn to 2000 feet toward MHT VOR and hold. Things seemed to work out until I heard Ray's voice saying that he actually wanted me to land. He had seen the lights! Unfortunately, this is where our dual crew cockpit management didn't quite work as we had not briefed how he would call my attention to land or go around. My assumption when he called for autopilot disengage was that I had to go around!
Let there be lights -- and there were lights! :)
So, we executed the missed approach and informed the controller that we wanted to do it once again. Boston Logan was at lower ceiling and Manchester was not much better. Ray was confident that we could try it again and so we did. Once again, we engaged the flight director's "APR" and were nicely set up on the Glideslope. The difference was that this time we had briefed that if Ray saw the lights, he would call them and we would then look to land if we felt comfortable. If not, he would call for go missed. We had turned all the lights off (Taxi, Landing, Strobe) to make sure we don't have distraction.
I asked Ray if he wanted to fly the plane at the end and he confidently said no, I can easily do it. That was an amazing reassurance. We put on 20 degrees of flaps and tracked down at 90 knots. My hands were ready on the wheel and the throttle. I was prepared to disengage the autopilot, turn on the lights and either land or execute a second missed approach.
We were tracking well ... 600 ... 500 ... 400 ... 390 ... and I was calling them. Ray called further descent to 233 feet. somewhere just below 300 feet indicated, I heard Ray call out "Lights" ... We were within the window and still slightly above "MINIMUMS". I disengaged the autopilot, turned the lights on and looked up. The approach lights were indeed right in front of us. The runway threshold lights began to appear and we could see just about one mile of the runway edge lights. I was hand flying and Ray was reassuringly supportive. We heard "MINIMUMS" slightly after that, which was our comfort zone. Over the threshold he called for power cut off. We had a 6 knot cross wind from the left. I did not bank or tilt the plane, but eased it over the threshold and began to flare and keep the nose up. The 182 is a heavy plane, but it does settle in well on final flare. Left wheel touched down gently, followed by right wheel. I kept the nose up and we had a beautiful landing. We had drifted a bit to the right of the center lines, but the sheer beauty and magnificent landing on this night made that a minor point.
We were on the ground ... rolling down the runway ... happy to feel terra firma once again!
Here's one for the books. The three pilots, celebrating it by the beautiful bird under the rain!