December 28, 2005


As John mentioned elsewhere, a Cessna 172 recently went down a little south of here, killing all four people onboard in rugged terrain that many of us Bay Area pilots fly over regularly. The NTSB brief makes chilling reading ("The non-instrument rated private pilot and three passengers were fatally injured. The airplane was destroyed. Night instrument meteorological conditions prevailed [...]"); I remember hearing about it on the local news the next day and wondering how anyone would want to have been flying that evening (a dark and stormy night, so to speak), let alone someone intending a VFR cross-country with passengers...

December 16, 2005

Flying Glass (Part 1)

Garmin G1000 Panel shotA quick early morning call from John as I'm getting coffee at Javarama, and an hour or two later I'm face to face with the Garmin G1000 in California Airways' glass cockpit C172, N14008, a few weeks earlier than I'd planned. I'm not sure what to expect -- I did my homework a few weeks ago, but with the short notice I can barely remember the various primary function display (PFD) features, let alone some of the crucial system and module failure modes. I tell John we should aim low -- the Cal Airways sign-off requirements for this plane are two hours of flying the G1000 with an instructor plus a written checkout for straight VFR use, and a full instrument proficiency checkout on top of that for IFR use -- so while I know we haven't got time to do the IFR thing today, maybe we can get most of the VFR flying done. I can fill out the four page checkout sheet (with all the usual questions about failure modes, etc., some of it common to the sheet I filled in for the SP's a few months ago) over the next week at my leisure. We'll do the IFR checkout early January, probably.

We go through the checkout sheet in the club, and I feel embarassed that I can't answer even some of the "obvious" questions about the unit and the plane -- luckily, though, these were mostly the sort of questions whose answers you typically wouldn't memorise anyway. But at least the questions about things like how to kill the autopilot, or display reversion, or soft field / short field (etc.) procedures have been burned into my brain one way or another enough that I could answer them (mostly). John shows mercy and lets me take the sheet home for filling out later -- he'll have to sign that off separately.

It's a marginal VFR day at best, so I file IFR to VFR on top, something I realise I've never actually done for myself before (which surprises me). DUATS says it's basically clear on top of a broken layer that doesn't extend much above 2,000' locally, so we'll head off towards Mt Diablo and make things up as we go. I do the pre-flight, which is essentially identical to the other SP's, but when we get in and prepare to start the thing, the information overload begins creeping up on me, and I slowly become more aware that this is a system I'm playing with, not just a bunch of disparate instruments. In particular, things like backup battery power, fall-back instrumentation, etc., have to be armed and tested in a certain order before and after engine startup. This is the classic time for an official checklist, so on John's prompting, out it comes. It's a lot more complex than the SP's, let alone something like 4AC, where startup is little more than priming a bit, yelling "clear", and turning the key.... I feel curiously like, erm, a real pilot; I start feeling maybe I should wear a uniform....

I get it all under control eventually, and we taxi off to the runup area with John asking me questions about how I'd do this or that, and giving me a few hints, etc., and somewhere along the line we pick up our clearance, the standard "cleared to San Jose VOR (SJC), runway heading until 400', then left turn to 160, radar vectors to San Jose, report reaching VFR conditions" IFR-to-VFR on top clearance. Nothing too difficult. And programming the G1000 for this -- and later escapades -- turns out to be nothing too difficult, either -- it's basically the same as programming the GPS 530, with all of the pluses and minuses that implies (I share John's frustration at the "enter" key thing). We spend the time waiting for release going over details like how to get the HSI to superimpose bearing to a station, how to set up the cramped little situation window (whatever it's called) next to the HSI, etc., and the different multi-function display (MFD) modes such as traffic, nexrad, XM, etc. This stuff's magic. And the MFD engine data displays are a model of clarity, too, laid out logically and very effectively (for me, anyway).

After the usual long wait for release we're finally cleared for takeoff on 28L. The big test here for me is how well I'll cope with the vertical tape airspeed and altitude displays -- everything else seems at least somewhat familiar, especially the HSI and huge AI (finally, an AI in a C172 that's big enough to use easily and accurately, especially for pitch information!). So we start down the runway, and ... disappointingly for some of you, I'm sure, for the rest of the flight the airspeed and altitude displays (especially the altimeter) turn out to be little or no problem. Yes, I make a few mistakes reading them a few times here and there, and yes, I miss the quick-glance mode of readout available from the analog versions, but really it's just not that hard to adapt. Half way through the flight I catch myself thinking "I'm doing 108 KIAS instead of 110 -- let's just push the throttle forward 30 RPM..." (or whatever) and think, hmmm, this three decimal place readout thing might just be a little spurious... (but it's fun).

So we cancel IFR at about 2,000 feet and spend the rest of the time doing maneuvers, then two times around the ILS RWY 27R into Oakland, both times under the cone of stupidity. Nothing much to report about any of this, except the information overload caused me to miss a few radio calls, to screw up a simple VOR interception, and to fly really pretty badly during some pure VFR segments. Urgh. And it was a good workout for getting on top of the KAP 140 autopilot as well -- most of the time we left it coupled -- and John was full of the usual hints and help. I've tended to use it more in vertical speed mode, dialing in a positive or negative VS to get to the altitude I want, monitoring it myself and getting it to level off by hitting the altitude set button at the right time; John's getting me more comfortable with using the dialed altitude method. Unfortunately, I keep making mistakes with this -- it seems to be way too easy to reset the VS while dialing in the altitude -- which keeps reminding me why I started using the VS method in the first place. I'll get it right every time... eventually.

The first time around the ILS at Oakland we can't get the autopilot to couple to the glideslope, so the next time around we concentrate on getting it right by intercepting it from well below; this time it works. It didn't help that the NorCal controller vectored us straight through the localiser (I saw it about to happen and called him, but he responded -- apologetically -- too late); this is a first for me -- NorCal usually vectors you nicely onto the localiser... several thousand feet too high. One embarassment for me: the first time around the ILS, somewhere outside FITKI (the notional GS intercept point), John casually asks me where the glideslope indicator is. I realise in horror that it's not where I thought it'd be -- on the HSI. He lets me sweat a little then points out the tiny moving green blob next to the altimeter that's obviously (ha!) the GS indicator. I guess it makes sense to have it there, but it's way too small to be easily visible while you're monitoring the HSI on final, and I'm unimpressed by that particular design decision. I'd prefer to have the choice of bars against the HSI as well.

After the second time around the ILS we depart VFR through the murk back to Hayward; I embarass myself further during this leg by some really bad flying -- again, it's easy to blame information overload, but this time it was also caused by having trouble finding the airport through the mist (it's still MVFR) and by my obsessing about the engine instruments. I'll learn....

So now I'm basically checked out and ready to fly VFR with the G1000 (I need to get John to sign off on the paperwork early next week to make it totally legal); I'll be making another flight with John sometime over the next few weeks to get the rest of the IFR checkoff done. This is a lot of fun, I have to admit.

* * *

All in all, a good lesson. Not so much because of the G1000 itself, but because the rough bits of the flight once again rammed home to me just how much you need to guard against the temptation to put aside the actual basics -- keeping the airspeed up, ensuring you're listening to the radio -- to get some minor detail or other figured out or completely correct just because the bloody thing's there in front of you on the PFD or whatever (and thanks to John for his patience with this).

My overall impressions of the G1000 so far? This is a very nice way to fly, even in a 172. Especially in a 172, if you're serious about flying single-pilot IFR. Basic VFR flying with it is -- with caveats about getting used to vertical tape displays and a few other fiddly bits that seem incomprehensibly-designed or laid out -- as easy as with "normal" 172 instruments, and for the limited amount of IFR flying I did under the hood, the displays and the way everything's nicely integrated becomes very addictive after a while. Yes, as always, your mileage may vary depending on how much you like integrated computer displays (I'm a nerd, so they seem utterly natural to me...), but, if nothing else, the various redundancies and fallbacks -- including the steam gauges of last resort under the main displays -- strike me as just an order of magnitude more reliable (in every way) than something like the conventional instruments in, say, 4AC. If you're looking for a detailed critique of flying with a G1000, or second thoughts on the wisdom of digital flying in a GA context, you're reading the wrong guy, unfortunately. I liked it immensely, I'm enthusiastic -- the only downsides have to be the extra costs and the training.

But it's obviously not for everyone -- and I couldn't care less about the G1000 when I'm doing aerobatics or just pottering about the Bay on the Bay Tour -- and I couldn't afford to buy an old M-series 172 with steam gauges, so if I weren't renting the damn thing for not a lot more than a conventionally-instrumented 172SP, I'd probably have a very different view of the cost vs. safety / convenience tradeoffs here....

December 10, 2005

Reading Glass

Well, reading the G1000 manuals wasn't as bad as I'd thought -- what's a few hundred badly-written tech pages to someone who's motivated? -- but, as usual, the proof's in the pudding. I haven't flown for weeks (weather, and a new project at work, mostly), and I sometimes wonder whether I'll even remember how to take off, let alone what this readout or that instrument is telling me in IMC.... I've been in touch with John a couple of times about getting checked out (or even just flying along with him as safety pilot), but there's always some excuse on my part. So it goes. It'll probably be January; the good news (on the grapevine) is that Cal Airways is getting more glass cockpit 172's. Cool!

Anyway, as an old hardware and software engineering nerd, I'm impressed and intrigued by the G1000 system architecture and implementation. For example, it warms my heart that it uses ethernet to join the components together -- the sort of thing I predicted decades ago when ethernet was still done with temperamental inflexible thick co-ax cable and vampire taps (don't ask...), and when 1Mbps was pretty optimistic. I just love this sort of thing -- and the second-guessing and mental reverse engineering I do when reading about hardware and systems architecture like this keeps me occupied when I should be doing real work.

Something I don't love is the likely difficulties I'll have with the vertical tape displays for airspeed and altitude. Almost everything else looks straightforward about the G1000 -- the GPS seems to be a glorified GPS 530, and the rest of it is "obvious", at least while sitting here on the ground -- but, as both John and David Megginson have pointed out (see e.g. David's article here), the transition to this style of presentation can be rough.

As my over-used catchphrase has it, we shall see.

November 25, 2005

Going Glass

I've decided to take the plunge and get checked out in California Airways' G1000-equipped 172. Why? Mostly because it's there, of course, but also because I'm curious, and because it seems like a good way to fly IFR -- if I'm serious about those trips to Klamath Falls (KLMT) or Portland (KPDX) or Santa Monica (KSMO, again) or Arcata (KACV, again...) (all of which would be done IFR, most likely with actual IMC at both ends of the trip on most suitable days), the G1000 will certainly make the trips more enjoyable and safer -- as long as I'm on top of the systems. And it's only a few bucks more per hour than the 172s with GPS and autopilots I'm already flying (yes, it's a long slippery slope, but I'll burn that bridge when I get to it, or some such mixed metaphor...).

I'm in no real hurry, and will probably end up doing it with John (who's now associated with Cal Airways as well as the AAC) over the next month or two, but I think it's a good idea to start doing my homework now. Garmin has a G1000 simulator, which I'll probably get (it's dirt cheap, but may not run on my Windows box), and as always, Garmin has the full set of manuals, supporting documentation, etc., for free download on its website.

So I download the manuals. Argh! There's now nearly 30 MB of G1000 PDFs on my Mac -- literally hundreds of pages of stuff to absorb. Yes, most of it's relatively obvious if you're at all familiar with the conceptual architecture of the system and with glass cockpits in general (no problems here), but as I've said elsewhere, there's a big disconnect between mind and menu with these new systems (very little perceived affordance), and in order to feel confident-- and safe -- in using something like this in hard IFR over (say) LA while getting amended clearances from SoCal Approach on the way into Burbank or something, that disconnect's got to be bridged in ways that are burned into my brain (to bring the mixed metaphors full circle). There's something deeply discouraging or intimidating about a life-and-death system whose official quick reference card or cheat sheet is eight full pages long...

So I predict a ton(ne) of dense technical reading in my near future.

November 18, 2005

Strange Weather...

From the NWS San Francisco and Monterey website's weather discussion pages:
"UPDATED AVIATION: Discussion... the remarkably warm weather continues over the district under a very warm airmass and strong offshore flow. By 1 PM the temperature at the Monterey weather office had soared to 86 degrees making this the warmest day of 2005 here. The previous warmest day was March 11... when the high was 84. Summer is sort of a nebulous concept here on the California coast... it comes and goes without regard for the calendar. As on past days the warmest weather is from Monterey Bay S where 80s are common... 70s prevail farther north. Some inland sites are showing huge diurnal temperature ranges. At Bradley in the southern Salinas valley thursdays high was 89 but the mercury plunged to 32 this morning! It was back up to 86 by 1 PM."
Ah, what's a Northern Californian to make of it all?! Severe clear skies, very bumpy rides, and air that feels like the western Mojave's without the pollution — at a time when it's normally grey, overcast, cold(ish), and damp. Luckily, I've got too much work to do to be able to fly...

(As John has probably mentioned elsewhere, these discussion pages are often fascinating reading, with some open and revealing thoughts being posted about the various models' failings or successes, and a bit of thinking out aloud by the various meteorologists as they try to come to grips with the weather 'round here. The Weather Underground site — one of my fave general weather sites — contains links to these pages under the various local forecasts as well).

November 10, 2005

The Workout

TBM Avenger 'Blue Lady' At Hayward Airport (KHWD), 2005.A good sustained workout under the Cone of Stupidity in night VMC: a short IFR flight to Stockton (KSCK), a few times around the ILS 29R and VOR 29R approaches there, a bunch of holds on the associated published misseds, then IFR back to Hayward (KHWD) for the LOC/DME 28L. An attempt to keep comfortably current (as opposed to just legal), and, once again, to master the intricacies of the KAP 140 autopilot under the hood.

It starts with a short 10nm VFR hop from Hayward to Oakland's Old-T's to pick up Boyan, my safety pilot and sometime flight-share partner at the AAC clubhouse (yes, I'm still a member). Once he's on board we call Oakland clearance to see what they'll offer us in response to my filed KOAK V244 ECA KSCK (a route I've filed and flown many times in the past): "Cessna 0SP cleared Stockton airport via the Nimitz 2 departure vectors for victor 244 then as filed." Hmmm -- that Nimitz 2 has me a little surprised -- I know it exists, but I'm not familiar with it at all, and due to the endless problems over the last two or three years with OAK VOR, it's never been issued or available. Until now. I read the clearance back, thinking "no problems, I'll just grab it out of my bag...", and proceed to get Boyan to find the appropriate plate. One look at it makes me wonder what clearance is thinking: although I've put "DEPARTING OAKLAND RWY 33" in the remarks of my flight plan, and even though I actually said explictly as part of my call to clearance that I'll be departing 33, they've issued me a DP that's not applicable to runway 33. D'Oh! The DP itself is trivial -- basically a heading and a VOR radial -- but it makes no sense for departures off 33.

I contemplate calling Deliverance back and querying it, but I have a better idea: I'll call ground, where I just know from past experience what's going to happen. Sure enough: "0SP taxi 33, and, uh, I've got an amended clearance for you: on departure, left turn heading 310 then vectors for V244". Oakland clearance never seems to connect the dots here with the runway 33 thing; Oakland ground always seems to be the one to stitch things back up properly again. I stifle the urge to make some sort of snarky reply, and read the new clearance and taxi instructions back. A few seconds later there's a familiar voice on frequency: "Hamish?" "John!". In the next minute or so I hear ground giving taxi instructions to John and his Caravan. Once again I blame my accent....

We get cleared direct JOTLY (the LOM at Stockton) a couple of minutes after departure, and the rest of the flight itself is a lot more fun than I'd expected, even if it didn't turn out to be the autopilot workout I'd anticipated. I'd really planned to do about half the flight continuously with GPS and the autopilot to see if my brain exploded under the hood with the effort to make all these damn things work together under a real (changing) workload, but I unexpectedly enjoyed hand-flying the plane so much that the only time I engaged the AP was on the first (vectored) ILS approach into Stockton (just to prove I could do it), and during the en-route bits when I needed to look at charts, etc., or I was getting bored. I really hadn't expected to look forward so much to donning the Cone Of Stupidity, but I caught myself several times impatient to put the hood back on after departing or the latest touch-and-go. Not quite how I felt this time last year during the whole instrument training experience :-).

Nothing much else of note in the flight itself except the long string of Southwest and United 737's heading for Oakland's 29 being vectored in front of and above us on the way back into Hayward (and my constant worries about the resulting wake turbulence), and the ghostly feel to Hayward after the tower closes at 9pm. You cancel IFR on the ground through Oakland tower at that hour (as we discovered), which isn't too hard, but in this case I decide to cancel on the change to CTAF -- I guess I just don't fly IFR into enough uncontrolled fields to make IFR cancellation on the ground a reflex thing, and don't want to cause an incident or anything.

One other thing: 0SP has a working Stormscope. It's not exactly obvious how it's supposed to work (I'll get the manual next time I take 0SP out), and not as useful around here as it might be in stormier climates (we get maybe two or three thunderstorms a year here), but a nice touch anyway. Can't help thinking 0SP started its working life in Florida or somewhere like that....

* * *

Wandering across the ramp to get to 0SP on the green ramp, I almost literally stumble into this huge old warbird just outside the Cal Airways office. It's a taildragger with a tailhook, folding wings, and a greenhouse-style cockpit; as Boyan says later when he sees it: "You could stand up in that cockpit!" -- it's much larger in real life than it looks in the photos here...

I have absolutely no idea what it is -- it's too big for any of the carrier-based WW II fighters I know about -- and there's no one around to ask. Bloody impressive -- the sort of thing you're more likely to see in Oakland, but it's pleasing to know that it happens in Hayward occasionally as well.

[Later edit -- I returned the next day and took the photos here. The plane's a TBM Avenger, "Blue Lady", and has quite a history, apparently -- HR].

November 01, 2005


Surprisingly, I haven't actually flown a real airplane with an HSI in it until today. Or at least I can't remember one -- there may actually have been one, but nothing stands out, especially since they would have been flown VFR where it wouldn't have been of much interest. Simulators, yes, but nothing that meant my life was hanging on it, and certainly not IFR, let alone in IMC. So when I get the chance to take 0SP (2SP's near-twin at Cal Air) out for an IFR-in-VMC(ish) flight from Hayward to Sacramento and back this evening, and discover it's got an HSI, I think "Cool! New toy...".

And so it proves. Yes, an HSI is quite an improvement on using a separate OBS and HI (and a lot more intuitive, if you ask me), and if it takes you more than a few seconds to "get" it and how to use it IFR or with the autopilot, well, I guess there are web sites, books, or DVDs out there dedicated to explaining it all. I particularly like the slaved compass card -- but I still keep checking the HSI against the whisk(e)y compass every few minutes anyway. Ah, this is the way to fly...

The flight's predictably uneventful, and it doesn't take much time to adapt to 0SP's quirks, but after the flight I feel irritated and a little depressed by the evening. No, I didn't bust any altitudes or headings, and had no problems with the basics or the approaches, but I kept making little errors -- like tuning the wrong frequency, hitting "direct" on the wrong waypoint, or blowing a radio call -- that might cascade into something serious with stress under hard IMC, and I'm a little depressed that after all this time I still make errors like this. I guess I still don't fly enough to get things right as a habit or ingrained process rather than a continuous mental effort.

* * *

At one point on the localiser back into Hayward NorCal vectors a Southwest 737 for the visual into Oakland close in front of me and at my altitude, then calls traffic for me on it. It's a beautiful sight, all flashing lights and slow graceful movement, but I'm worried about wake turbulence. I stay high until past where I judge it's safe to descend, then drop like a rock back to my desired segment altitude. It's not really clear what I would have done if I'd been lower than the 737 at that point (I was higher because I'd been cleared very late for the approach by a grumpy NorCal controller who clearly lost me in the shuffle and vectored me towards the LOC/DME FAF 1,500 feet above the FAF crossing altitude, and who got irritated when I subtly reminded him he hadn't cleared me for the approach even though I was rapidly approaching the FAF...).

October 25, 2005

Vectors, Vectors, Vectors...

Departing Oakland (KOAK) IFR is usually pretty straightforward. There's a bunch of published DP's, and a useful set of airways converging on the on-field OAK VOR, and in reality you'll just get an initial vector or two then you're on your way on the published DP or as-filed route. I'm used to all this, and it's one of the advantages to being based at Oakland in Oakland's Class C airspace (under San Francisco's Class B).

So on my first IFR departure out of Hayward (KHWD, my other home base) today, I'm not sure what to expect. Hayward sits between the KOAK ILS RWY 29 approach and the KOAK ILS 27R approach, only about 5 nautical miles from either threshold. Both are busy and in continuous simultaneous use. And there's San Francisco traffic to contend with just a few miles further west. So you can't just depart -- your path is going to cross one or the other of those two ILS's or the KSFO east-bound departures, and your release is intimately dependent on the traffic into Oakland (which used to -- and probably will continue to -- include me at times). And Hayward has no published DP's. So I'm unclear on what my final clearance is going to look like, and I have the impression I'll be waiting for release next to Hayward's 28L for a long time....

In the end I file KHWD OAK V6 SAC KSAC with DUATS, and a few hours later sitting there on the ramp, Hayward clearance gives me "runway heading until 400', then left turn 160, then vectors to OAK, V6, SAC, direct". Not too hard, I think, and since it's basically VMC today (there's only a broken coastal layer at about 1500'), I'll engage the autopilot early on departure and just sit back and watch for traffic and have fun.

And that's basically what happens for the departure and the rest of the flight (after the obligatory ten minute wait for release), but I've underestimated the amount of juggling and vectoring NorCal Approach needs to cope with my departure. From memory, not only do I never get close to OAK VOR (not that I really expected that...), I receive something like nine or ten vectors and several altitude adjustments from the moment tower hands me off to NorCal to the time I get "direct PITTS" some fifteen or more minutes later. It's like a partial-IMC Bay Tour without the time to enjoy the view. Almost all of the vectors are for traffic into Oakland or San Francisco; at one point as I seem to be well on my way to San Jose VOR (SJC) climbing to 5,000' (i.e. on a heading nearly opposite my intended heading to Sacramento), I'm given yet another vector to avoid an incoming A320 that I can't see, and I start wondering what this is going be like in real IMC when NorCal's running the Southeast flow. Can't wait to find out -- especially on the approaches back in to Hayward that fly straight into the traffic departing Oakland only a few miles away.

Still, I enjoy the flight a lot, and I think I'm becoming fairly good at working with the two-axis KAP 140. With the exception of a last-minute screwup into Sacramento (below), and the initial few hundred feet of departure at each airport, I manage to fly the entire time to and from Sacramento IFR with the KAP 140 fully-coupled. I still have a few rough edges, but the thing's magic, no doubt about it -- as long as you treat it, as John says, like a student (i.e. with eternal vigilance). The only time I screw up significantly is, ironically, just before the ILS glideslope capture at Sacramento -- part of the whole point of the flight today. I manage to disengage the autopilot at just the wrong time (it's way too easy to try to talk to the autopilot when you're really trying to talk to tower -- those two buttons are far too close to each other on the yoke...), and at that point it's easier just to hand-fly the ILS rather than reset the bloody thing and see what happens. Especially since NorCal has handed me off to tower with a Falcon behind me ready for the ILS. No problem -- I'll leave automatic glideslope coupling for another flight.

* * *

In the Cal Air office as I'm filling out the paperwork before the flight I hear a strong Scots accent, and can't help introducing myself. Mark P. is over for a while from Scotland, visiting some friends, and thinking of doing his commercial here. In the meantime he's just flying around in Cal Air's 172s -- Reno today, Vegas a few days ago, etc. We start talking about GA in Scotland -- basically, there isn't much -- and I make a joke about the three days of each year it's safe to fly VFR at his home base somewhere in Fife (an area I vaguely remember from my early childhood in visits from not-so-nearby Tighnabruaich on the other coast of Scotland). GA's hideously expensive there -- a 172 might rent for UKL 120 (about $200) per hour dry, with much higher fuel costs, and it's incredibly restricted -- not to mention ruled by capricous and mostly bad weather (I once saw a dog get blown over while walking in the nearby Grampians as a kid; the locals I was with just muttered something about the breeze and kept on walking). A different world, for sure.

October 23, 2005

I'm Such A Wimp (The Perils Of Renting)

I book 8TA for 10am - 2pm this morning for some IFR practice and to get more familiar with the KAP 140 two axis AP vertical guidance (specifically, coupling to a glideslope). I file KHWD OAK V6 SAC KSAC, a route that's new to me only because of the Hayward rather than Oakland departure; the route back (V344 to SUNOL then the LOC/DME back into Hayward) is something I have flown before already. What could go wrong?

The weather this morning turns out to be low overcast, 600' ceilings, 1600' reported tops, visibility 10NM, the usual thin coastal stratus; icing levels well above 10,000'. Cool! I think, I'll get some actual in this as well. I wander down to Cal Airways and get the keys and paperwork for 8TA from Linda, then slouch out through the grey to the ramp. I open up 8TA -- and there's this bloody great hole in the panel where the KLN 94 GPS ought to be. The whole unit's just ... missing. Hmmm, I think, did someone steal the damn thing? No, too clean -- no forced entry or anything -- but then why didn't someone tell me, as now I have no DME as well as no GPS? I'm not a /G any more, but a lowly /U. And, as I quickly realise, without that damn unit I can't do the LOC/DME back (with its very reasonable 400' MDA), or the fairly decent GPS / VOR/DME approaches -- only the VOR or GPS A with a circling-only MDA of 800' (750' AGL). Which means under my own self-imposed rules I can't depart, because I can't actually return to Hayward legally if anything goes wrong. Yes, I could do the ILS back into Oakland as it's only a few miles away (and I'll always have that plate on my clipboard when I depart Hayward, IFR or not), and there's plenty of space under the layer to return visually without hitting anything, and if I can make it over the Berkeley / Oakland Hills it's hard VFR. But I just won't do that; I decide to wait maybe an hour or so to see if the ceiling lifts.

I'm also nowadays very reluctant to fly in IMC without GPS -- panel mount or just my old Garmin 195. But I've left the 195 at home this time because it should have been just a short flight to clear skies, and because, well, 8TA has a decent panel-mount GPS, no? Urgh. OK, the lack of GPS in this case is only a convenience thing given the thin coastal layer, and I actually start looking forward to just using the VORs again without the GPS. But there I am, sitting on the benches on the ramp outside Cal Air, talking to a couple of instructors waiting for students, watching a few IFR departures (all of whom disappear into the marine layer at about 800' or so by my estimation), thinking, "it'll lift a bit soon -- it always does...". Two hours later, just before noon, I give up and cancel the flight with ATIS reporting an unchanged ceiling. Thirty minutes later as I'm getting lunch in Oakland the sun starts streaming through a scattered layer, and within an hour planes are no doubt departing Hayward VFR.

As for the GPS in 8TA -- it appears to have been removed to fix a connector problem; no one's entirely sure why I wasn't told about it. To their credit, everyone who I talked to at Cal Airways thought I was doing the right thing by not departing when the ceilings were lower than the relevant approach minima (some people expressed this in even stronger terms...) and that someone should have been a bit more on the ball about the unit.

Frustrating, but just another lesson in reality, I guess.

October 12, 2005

Making The World Safe (Again)

Like John in Death By PowerPoint (sounds like an exciting movie, no?!), I need to renew my Oakland (KOAK) ramp pass / badge sometime October (unlike John, though, I don't need driving privileges, so I miss the fun of the driving class). So I drive to the airport this morning to sort it out.

In contrast to the initial badge applications -- which involve full background and employment checks, fingerprinting, a three hour security class (whose contents you're not supposed to divulge, but which had some really hokey videos and a lot of Powerpoint presentations when I did it six years ago), a huge amount of paperwork, etc. -- unlike all this, a renewal is relatively easy (they even do all the paperwork for you themselves). As long as your old badge is still current, you just wander up to the badge place, hand your old one in, get a new photo taken, and wait. And wait... and wait... and wait. It took 90 minutes to get my new badge. Ninety minutes of watching the TSA staff taking breaks in the little break area next to us, using the microwave to reheat coffee (urgh) or melt frozen burritos; ninety minutes of watching the TSA people do their thing downstairs in the security check line (why they let us stand there upstairs looking down at the process and machines is beyond me, but never mind). Ninety minutes of wondering just what it is that takes so long.

And ninety minutes of fitful conversations among the two dozen or so people also waiting around for badges. In line, the woman in front of me -- "E." -- turns around and asks me a few questions about the process. I say it's easy, last time it only took fifteen minutes, but she's still there when I leave (E. turns out to be a Berkeley grad student moonlighting with one of the catering firms, a crappy way to get through grad school if ever I've heard one). The baggage handler next to me standing around watching the security check line below keeps talking to someone I presume is his (United) supervisor on his cell phone, getting more and more frustrated by the minute. A bunch of construction workers stand around talking among themselves, periodically sending one their number off to get some snacks from downstairs.

Finally my name's called, and the woman behind the counter apologises profusely for taking so long (I have to say the badging staff were always friendly, helpful, and fairly obviously competent -- it's just the process that seems a little glacial). And I'm surprised that nowadays the fact that I'm a foreigner makes no difference at all to the process. I guess what really counts is that I'm a certified (certifiable?) Oaklander....

So now I have a shiny new badge again (with an awful smug smirk on the photo), and the world -- or at least Oakland International Airport -- is a safer place because of it, I'm sure. Hayward -- my other home airport now -- has no such badging at all. I just have to remember the various lock combos...

September 25, 2005

Artist 3

Artist 3A nice VFR flight up the coast in perfect California VMC with Artist 3, a friend with a sculpture studio near my own studio in Oaktown, and with whom I'm collaborating on some arty-farty photo and web projects. We'd originally planned to fly to Crescent City (KCEC) together from Hayward (KHWD) in 8TA to pick up one of her glass castings from a foundry up there, but that flight -- which would probably have involved a fair bit of real IFR in IMC, with an ILS to near minimums in the persistent coastal stratus at Crescent City -- has to be postponed because the foundry isn't ready, so instead we potter up the Marin and Sonoma coasts past the Golden Gate, Bolinas, Point Reyes, and Jenner, then inland to Santa Rosa (KSTS) for a break. The weather's perfect, Artist 3 discovers that she enjoys flying, and we spend an or hour two gossipping about (amongst other things) Artists 1 and 2 (and Artist 4, who hates flying, and Artist 5, who I think I've offended, and who'll probably never fly with me). Yes, it's a small, inbred world I inhabit.

We stop again at Napa (KAPC) on the way back and discover that the apron's chock-a-block full of shiny business jets, expensive-looking piston twins, and a fleet of aerobatic Yaks. We never find out what the occasion was, but I've never seen the ramp at Napa that full before. We grab the last available transient parking spot after a mad dash across several lanes -- just like parking in The City, including successfully heading off a likely competitor in a Cherokee with some deft shortcuts -- and park between a couple of Bonanzas. Inside the terminal's airport shop we browse the kitschy flying toys and knicknacks, and debate whether to buy anything; in the end we just sit around in the cool air for a few minutes and watch the people come and go at Jonesy's (not quite our cup of tea, but never mind, it's famous, dammit!). Then it's back over the beautiful colours and shapes of the lower Delta to Hayward.

Not the 600 NM IFR trip I'd obsessively planned all week, but a nice flight anyway.

* * *

During pre-flight I somehow manage to slip while checking the seatbelts, and bash my forehead against the door frame. It's painful, but I don't think much more about it until Artist 3 looks at me a little oddly and says I have blood all over my forehead. Hmmmm. I wander back into Cal Air's office and get a similar (but rather less blase) response from Linda behind the desk. Turns out I've cut my forehead fairly impressively, and a couple of bandages later I look like some sort of beaten up homeless guy (especially since I'm limping slightly from an earlier injury and am wearing my Worst Clothes Ever). I spend the rest of the day making up stories about how it happened. It's amazing how much a small almost-painless shallow cut on the forehead can bleed...

September 22, 2005


Connielingus Corrosion Blowout!!Nah, not me or the tires or anything, just "A[n airplane corrosion] blowout of such epic proportions it could make an inspector weak at the knees..." (Kewl!) from Connie's Connielingus blog (warning: Connielingus may contain thoughts and images hazardous to conservative moral health). I've had a soft spot in my intellectual heart for Connie's older Corrosion Of The Week (now part of her main blog) for quite a while because it's the sort of thing pilots don't often see up close, and because who can resist things like the "The Great Canadian Corrosion Experiment!!!!" ("Coffee, Cola, Urine and Vomit -- The Silent Airplane Killers"). Finally, a blog that treats aircraft corrosion, Rush, the L-Word, and The Pina Colada Song with the seriousness and dedication they deserve.

September 20, 2005


A short flight out of Hayward (KHWD) through Yet Another Boring Bay Area Sunset to get used to the two-axis autopilot on 8TA out of California Airways. This thing's magic, and after 30 minutes of climbing, turning, and generally playing around over San Pablo Bay in the dark with the autopilot engaged the entire time, I think I'm confident enough to use it in IMC on real approaches. It's the two-axis / alerter version of the KAP 140 AP, and I have to admit it takes me a few minutes to get used to using the vertical speed / altitude feature and the whole thing about commanding a computer to command the plane, but in reality the whole process is "obvious". Yes, I read the manual, but not until after I've worked out most of it on my own (I stop at Napa -- KAPC -- for some night landing practice and a quick read of the manual to confirm my suspicions).

I'm initially stumped that there doesn't seem to be any way to decouple only the vertical axis parts of the AP -- I find altitude easier to control than heading on IMC approaches and I'm not sure I want to have to dial in floor altitudes or work out required vertical speeds on the fly during an approach -- but I quickly get used to that, too. It really just isn't that hard to work out how to use this, and I do the LOC / DME 28L back into Hawyard fully-coupled, basically just sitting there watching for traffic, keeping the throttle and trim appropriate to the approach, dialing in the new floor altitudes, and making damn sure the AP is doing what I ask it to do. Magic, as I keep saying.

I'm also confused about how to use the AP for an ILS -- while it's obvious how to use it for non-precision approaches, I don't want to be vertically-coupled on an ILS if all I've got to control the AP is vertical speed or desired altitude. I feel I'm missing something really obvious here, so I call John and see if he's got any advice. The answer's pretty obvious in retrospect -- if the unit's in approach mode and vertical guidance (i.e. the glideslope) is operational out of the HSI or ILS, it'll use it. I need to practice this on a real ILS sometime soon. And read the manual properly this time.

August 28, 2005

Checked Out

As I've said elsewhere, I've been thinking of looking around for another local club or FBO that has a complex airplane or two for rent, as I'm slowly getting used to the idea of doing my commercial rating. In addition to this, 2SP and 4JG -- the only planes I'd really trust flying in sustained IMC -- are leaving the club (the economics of GA flying are quickly getting to the point that clubs like ours are barely able to charge enough to cover expenses without losing members rapidly), so I also want a place to rent decent 172s (or whatever) for flying IFR in IMC.

So over the past few weeks I've been in touch with California Airways down in Hayward (KHWD), a few miles further south of Oakland (KOAK). I did my instrument written there a year or so ago, and was impressed by the place back then, but didn't really think of it in terms of an alternative to the club -- there wasn't much point back then. But now there is, and I book a checkout with them for today so I could start renting and flying with them. I've already completed the copious paperwork needed -- a set of typical question sheets on VFR and IFR flying (airspaces, FAR stuff, personal minima, etc.) and a two-sheeter on the 172S's I'll be flying (POH stuff, W&B, fuel management, stall speeds, etc.), plus all my personal details (well, not the really personal stuff :-)).

I meet Chuck Kennedy, who'll be my instructor / checkout guy today, and we go over the paperwork. It checks out OK, except I made a mistake with the 172S's Vs0 (not sure what I was thinking there...), and got my own address wrong (very impressive work there, Hamish...). Chuck turns out to be a software kind of guy, and a good instructor, with a good sense of humour (I can't imagine a humourless instructor being a good instructor, but that's just me...), and a fairly thoughtful approach to things.

After the paperwork we wander out to the plane itself -- 8TA, a 2003 model 172S (or SP, as some people call it). It's pretty much the same as 2SP, the only real difference being a slightly different panel -- apart from the KLN 94 GPS it's got a KMD 550 moving-map display coupled to the KLN 94 (not too shabby...) and a KAP 140 two-axis autopilot (cool!). Basically, though, it's very familiar, and pre-flight, startup, and departure are routine (I'm pretty familiar with Hayward since it's where I did a lot of my initial tailwheel training, and it's a favourite for touch and goes when Oakland's 27L isn't available).

We head for the Diablo practice area, where I do the usual repertoire of MCA maneuvers, stalls, bad jokes about aerobatics, observations about the rapid growth of the Diablo Valley, emergency procedures, etc., and I discover that I'm actually enjoying this part a lot. It feels like years since I've done a real VFR workout like this (dragging the plane around continuously on the edge of a stall, doing steep turns, clearing turns, real rudder work, etc.), and it's not only going much better than I expected, but it's such a pleasant change to chasing needles in IMC (I must restart my aerobatics training with Ben again soon...).

Chuck asks me if I want to do an approach back into Hayward, without going under the hood or anything, just to check out the approach and the GPS and associated gubbins. I'm keen, since I've never actually done the HWD LOC/DME 28L approach before, and this seems like a good time and leisurely way to get acquainted with the instruments and the approach (it's a pretty common-and-garden approach, but it's likely to be my main route back in the future, so checking it out in VMC seems like a good idea). I grub around in my flight bag for the approach plate while Chuck flies for a minute or so. I familiarise myself with the approach, then set up the localiser and GPS, then follow the GPS to SUNOL, getting ready to call NorCal for the approach. After a few seconds we both realise very quickly that the GPS isn't taking us to SUNOL as it said it would, but direct to the approach's MAP. What follows is one of those GPS Moments, when two instrument-rated pilots taking it in turns can't work out for the life of them quite why the properly-programmed GPS has suddenly decided to bypass the activated approach and send us direct to the missed. Hmmmm. In the end I simply set it direct SUNOL and figure we'll get vectors anyway, which is (of course) exactly what happens. I still much prefer the Garmin 530, which seems a little less capricious -- but then this was one of those impromptu things, where I probably missed something crucial during the setup, and where it just wasn't worth debugging at the time, given that the approach is flyable entirely with the other gear, and the GPS was still giving us DME. One of the heartening things about it all is that nowadays when this sort of thing happens, I don't get flustered any more -- I just get on with it, which is part of basic instrument flying skills.

We do a couple of touch and goes in the pattern at Hayward, mostly to fill out the full hour needed for the checkout, then head back to Cal Air, where I meet Cal Airway's owner, Keith, who seems scarily on top of everything, and learn a little more about the rental procedures (basically a more formal version of what we use in the club, including using the same online web-based scheduler). Chuck signs me off and I'm now a fully-qualified Cal Airways renter. Cool!

* * *

Today's checkout was a much more enjoyable experience than I expected, and I'm so far pretty impressed by the procedures, aircraft, and general attitude at California Airways. Everybody there seemed enthusiastic and helpful, and there was always someone around who could tell me how to do this or where that was, etc. The planes look well-maintained, and the rental costs are similar to the AAC's (but charged dry / Hobbs rather than wet / tach). I'm not sure how well flying out of Hayward will work in winter IMC with the Southeasterly flow in place -- the only approaches into Hayward fly you straight into the path of Oakland's bad-weather approaches, and circling minima aren't great at Hayward -- but I'll burn that bridge when I get to it. And I'm sure I'll discover the hidden bodies at Cal Airways soon enough :-).

August 19, 2005


On Top, Direct MUNSOI discover I have the day off and decide -- what else?! -- to get up really early and fly to Monterey (KMRY) and back in 2SP. Pretend freightdogging, really, especially the getting up early bit. All in search of actual, and, well, fun -- and to make up for Wednesday's failed attempt. NUEVO5.SHOEY MUNSO -- the Usual, with the ILS 10R at Monterey, and TORO5.SNS PXN SUNOL / ILS 27R return to Oakland. Nothing I haven't done before. This time, though, there's widespread coastal stratus from about 600' up to 2,500 or so, and I'm guaranteed real IMC departures at both ends as well as a real need for the ILS in to each airport. Cool!

Prepping the ApproachThings don't start so well. I can cope with the earliness (with the help of coffee from Javarama), but when the fuel pump at Kaiser spends several minutes printing my fuel receipt one character to a line, double spaced (I still have the three-metre-long receipt in my flight bag), and then the Kaiser person on the desk gets my written receipt wrong twice in a row, and then tower tells me I'm number five for release ("expect about a fifteen to twenty minute delay") as I sit there just off 27R, I realise this is probably going to be One Of Those Days. I sit there thinking it's a good thing it's cold and grey out there and I'm not literally stewing in the cockpit... I depart 45 minutes later than expected. So much for being early.

But the rest of the flight actually goes well, and I get quite a lot more actual IMC than I'd expected (ATC keeps me low and in the clouds longer than usual on both departures). Not much to report about the actual flights themselves except that the stress levels on the ILS into Monterey -- my first real IMC single pilot approach to near minimums (600' MSL breakout for 440' MSL minimums) -- are much higher than I expect, even though it's an unremarkable vectors-to-final approach. It feels great to break out still in "the donut" at a little under 600', the runway dead ahead, but single-pilot approaches in solid IMC have to be the most stressful thing I do at the moment, even worse than the drive down Interstate 880 each day. The ILS back into 27R, by contrast, is a relatively familiar exercise despite having to keep the usual best forward speed, and breakout comes at about 800' into light drizzle. As always, sinking into the cloud layer on the approaches is just breathtaking -- but of course that's exactly the time you should be most concentrating on transitioning to instruments, and not looking around, and the approach into Monterey is momentarily destabilized as I forget this obvious fact (another good lesson...). I use the autopilot this trip for the enroute portions only -- I want to keep my actual approach flying from getting rusty -- but as always, it's good to know it's there if I need it on the approaches.

Position and Hold, 10RWhile sitting on 10R holding for the Citation that departs immediately in front of me I get enough time to actually look down the runway and contemplate what it is I'm about to depart into -- the cloud-shrouded hills just to the right of the centreline, the range I know is just behind those clouds... it's a sobering sight, and that left turn and 400' per NM to 4,000' climb requirement on the DP chart makes a lot of sense. I watch the Citation climb steeply and disappear into the cloud at about 800' or so, then it's my turn. Again, nothing interesting to report about this part of the trip except as soon as tower hands me off to NorCal I get the dreaded "2SP standby for a new clearance, Oakland Center wants to re-route you...". I ask in my best whiny pleading Anglo-Australian voice if I can get direct BUSHY or BORED instead (as I've said elsewhere, a significant short cut from the standard SNS PXN SUNOL routing), and tell him that it'd make my life a lot easier... he replies that for reasons he's not going to go into right now it'd make his life a lot easier too, and he'll see what Oakland has to say. One minute later I'm cleared direct BORED, and life goes on...

* * *

Lou's Thunderchicken at the Old T'sWhile tying 2SP down at the club I hear a familiar voice calling me from Lou's hangar. It's Lou himself, dressed up against the cold grey, working on his latest plane, a 1946 Aeronca Champ. He wants to know the real ceilings down past Hayward to see if he can get out beheath it to Livermore. Not likely, I tell him, it's hanging low all the way out to Livermore, and Hayward's reported 800' is a little optimistic right now if you ask me... oh well, he says it'll give him time to do a little more work on his plane. I've never actually seen it close up before -- it's an absolute classic, almost no instruments (the only concession to modernity being the hand-held GPS unit strapped to the internal cockpit bracing -- Lou wouldn't fly anywhere without it), and with a relatively powerful 85HP engine. We talk a while about taildraggers and aerobatics, and how much he enjoys the Champ for just pottering about the Bay and out into the Valley. He's started calling it the "Thunderchicken" after the artwork on the side.

Lou and the Thunderchicken at the Old T'sLou's watched me get my private license, then let me rent his Arrow to get my complex endorsement (and later just to fly it around), he had some usefully-pithy advice when I was having trouble learning to do good wheel landings in the taildragger, he had similar things to say about my aerobatics training (until recently he still taught aerobatics, and he gets on well with Ben, my aerobatics instructor), and until some health problems cropped up, he was slated to be my DE for the instrument rating. He's been a constant background presence in my life at the Old T's, and I've always been grateful for his help and his sense of humour. Lou flew off carriers in the Pacific during WW2 and for many years after that, including Korea, and given his background and age you'd probably expect him to be the sort of crusty old military type who'd get on badly with me. But he never seems to mind the earrings, the funny accent, or my basically Berkeley Liberal (East Oakland division) existence. Living in the Bay Area can do this to you, Naval Aviator or not, I guess...

August 17, 2005

Dude, Where's My Plane?!

I book 2SP for a few hours at 7pm, ready for a hop down the coast to Monterey in search (again) of actual actual. It all looks good -- the coastal stratus is coming over nicely and forecast for more to come, especially down south Monterey way. I get to the club at 6.30pm. No plane. No worries, the previous pilot's probably refueling... Well, you can see where this is going. All I'll say is I don't even get to see the business end of 27R this evening, let alone the sunless shores of Monterey, and the mortified call from the previous pilot much later explaining that he'd been sitting with 2SP's owner at a certain well-known food place at Livermore airport (KLVK) discussing flying and stuff like that and had just entirely forgotten I had the plane next only partially made up for it (hello, Ian!). Humph. The Sloppy Pilot has it right about the perils of renting -- I just wish I had the money to buy.

Still, I get to talk a while with Wendy K. at the club about training and stuff (she's very close to getting her private), and to watch open-mouthed as a Challenger (I think) departed runway 33 VFR for the hills at a high rate of knots after rotating at what seems like only a hundred or so metres down the runway. Take that, noise-sensitive Alamedans! (the noise was incredible, I have to say...). John once said something about a prominent local businesswoman or something like that who owns and flies it to Tahoe and back every day (I may have this entirely wrong), which leads Wendy to start on an amusing riff about women and flying. So I ask her what she wants to be when she grows up? Not a commercial pilot, apparently -- an answer which surprises me, given her age and enthusiasm for flying. Oh well.

August 07, 2005

The Instrument Training Diary

New!!! Improved!!! Or something like that...

Probably not of much interest to most readers here, but I've finally put the blog entries that relate to my recent instrument training adventure into a coherent, separate, diary called (very orginally and with great imagination) the Instrument Training Diary on the same site ( as this blog (YAFB). Basically, I did this because the back-to-front blog organisation plays havoc with actually trying to read what happens on a sequential basis (rather than following along in real time), and a few colleagues had complained about it being difficult to follow. Well, it's probably still difficult to read, but at least it doesn't start with the checkride and work backwards any more... if anyone does slog their way through it without going catatonic, I'd appreciate reports on things like typos, thinkos, etc. via email (yafb at ylayali dot com is probably easiest).

And once again, thanks to John Ewing, CFII for getting me through the whole instrument rating experience and for putting up with several sense-of-humour failures and other odd contingencies along the way. It was quite a trip.

August 03, 2005

In Search Of Actual

A flight into Yet Another Boring Bay Area Sunset to Monterey (KMRY) and back with Boyan (my flight-share partner, more-or-less) in 4JG -- my half IFR, the return VFR under his command. The whole idea is to leave mid-evening in order to get some actual IMC at Monterey, a coastal airport that's notorious for having low coastal stratus at this time of the year with ceilings regularly down to 100' in the early mornings, and often about 400' at the time we're flying. And although the clouds are rolling in as usual over the Golden Gate, I log less than two minutes actual (actually, I don't log any actual -- what's the point?!) for the whole trip -- a couple of minutes lowering ourselves through a very thin coastal layer on the ILS for 10R, circle to 28L. We break out well before DH; the breakout is very sudden, being both horizontal and vertical at the same time, as the cloud bank just ended abruptly over the shoreline. On breakout I have one of those moments of disorientation when I can't see the runway (which is pretty much right in front of me) -- I guess I'd expected to break out a little later and wasn't prepared for a sudden windshield full of lights. An interesting little lesson.

Making the whole thing worse is the fact that I manage to leave my Cone Of Stupidity at home (D'Oh!) -- so the whole thing, planned as an IFR workout with multiple approaches at MRY, with holds, etc., just turns into a pleasant IFR-in-VMC flight along a familiar course over the usual beautiful Northern California coastline. Could be worse, I guess.

On the way back approaching Oakland VFR (with Boyan as PIC), NorCal -- who's been pretty much ignoring us up to that point except for the usual traffic calls every few minutes -- suddenly calls and with an irritated and slightly urgent-sounding voice tells us "4JG, head north, descend and maintain 2,000". Say again? Both Boyan and I are uncomfortable with this -- apart from the "north" thing (and the lack of any reason for the vector), heading in that direction right there at 2,000' will put us uncomfortably close to terrain which we can't see but we both know quite well from daylight flights (and from the ground). We decide to do as ATC tells us, but if he hasn't vectored us back over lower ground within two minutes (or by the time the last lights on the ground are disappearing below the nose), we'll call him and ask for higher or another vector. After about 60 seconds the controller heads us back towards KOAK and things return to normal. I'm still unsure what the hell it was all about -- there wasn't much else happening in the airspace at that time that we could hear that would have caused such a vector -- but I guess there are times when ATC moves in mysterious ways...

July 27, 2005

Mementos Mori

John calls and amongst other things he tells me about a recent serious accident involving an acquaintance of his -- the sort of accident that friends keep asking me about when I start waxing lyrical about flying and becoming a grizzled old freight dog.

We also talk a while about jobs and flying stuff; he gently taunts me by telling me I could be flying for AmeriFlight instead of driving 100 miles a day down to Silicon Valley and back for jobs and such (urgh). I have visions of endlessly flying the AmFlight Death Tube back and forth between Oakland and Fresno or Bakersfield, with ten hour layovers at either place during the day -- all for about $20K per year, no benefits. Now there's a reason to get my Commercial :-). Speaking of which, we discussed this a little bit, and I'm starting to feel a few little stirrings towards getting off my arse ("ass" for the linguistically-challenged out there) and actually starting it. It shouldn't take too long: I already have the required hours, the instrument rating, etc., and the complex sign-off -- I just need to find a club or school with a decent complex plane. After flying the Arrow (with its robust and utterly fool-proof gear) for so long, I'm always deeply suspicious of the origami-like gear on the light Cessna retractables available elsewhere locally (like Oakland Flyers or California Airways). Especially since (as I've mentioned elsewhere), I've actually had a gear failure already (a total non-event in the Arrow; it's less clear how enjoyable it would have been in a 172RG or similar). It's a shame the Arrow's been sold.

Still, I'm in no real hurry yet, but it's starting to weigh on my mind...

* * *

An hour or so later I drop off some fuel receipts in the club and run into Gabe S., who tells me he and Alan G. are seriously thinking about buying a Mooney. I tell Gabe this is the first step towards becoming a real Grownup. I joke out loud about cashing in my 401K and joining them, but suddenly realise I ought stop saying things like this -- one day I might just do it. And then what would I do when I get old(er)?

July 24, 2005

Early Aircraft Design

I recently stumbed across Adventure Lounge's Early Aircraft Design, a fascinating look at old patent drawings for mostly unbuilt aircraft from the 1930's, 1940's, and 1950's (nothing whatever to do with Northern California GA flying, but as I've said before, I'm a sucker for this sort of thing).

John recently remarked on the odd looks of the Beech Starcruiser (and I said something similar about the Piaggio P180 in comments on his posting), but some of these are quite bizarre even by that standard. Some others are just toys; some look very conventional. Whatever the size -- giant four-engined seaplanes or small runabouts -- they're nearly all bristling with propellers. Very futuristic in that inevitably-dated way ("Nothing dates as quickly as the future..."). The odd shapes make you realise just how standardised airplane designs are now (for good reason, for sure). (Slow) evolution in action, I guess.

July 16, 2005

The Bay Tour

Bay Area pilots tend to have strongly-differing ideas about what the "Bay Tour" is, depending mostly on where they're based. For pilots based in Palo Alto or San Carlos, it typically seems to mean the 101 transition north (actually west) up the Peninsula, over SFO, and up to the Golden Gate; this involves a Class B clearance, and some careful airwork.

For us GA pilots in Oakland (and the occasional SouthWest departure that asks for -- and gets -- the Bay Tour on the way out of Oaktown for Burbank or wherever) it basically means lazily pottering about under SFO's Class B out towards the Golden Gate, Angel Island, Marin, etc., while getting flight following from NorCal. You call up ground at Oakland and tell them you'll be doing the Bay Tour, and they coordinate this with NorCal -- and as long as you're not busting the Class B, NorCal just keeps a helpful eye out for you as you meander, circle, etc., lazily about the Bay sight-seeing, taking photos, showing the relatives the sights, etc. Yes, you can do the 101 / Bayshore transition too, but you have to ask NorCal for it explicitly -- which is usually worth it, because it takes you right over SFO at 1200', and because NorCal will typically give it to you if you sound like you know what you're doing.

The 101 transition itself is deliberately not charted or mentioned anywhere official -- it's one of those Bay Area insider things that we don't talk about too much, in case it gets too popular and the FAA decides it's a bad idea :-). From an Oaklander's perspective, it's most useful to get you from over The City or the Golden gate down the Peninsula to Palo Alto; the routing is typically through the Class B at 2,500 or below initially, then 1500' or below as you approach SFO, over the City past San Bruno and SFO, over Bay Meadows, then along 101, always keeping 101 to the east from the City onwards. It's quite a flight, and great for showing visitors the local sights. But you have to ask for it explictly, and yes, it's quite true that controllers won't give it to you if you don't sound like you're on top of things or you sound hesitant or unclear on what it is (I asked this question when I visited NorCal's predecessor, Bay Approach, a few years ago). Not using the term "101 transition" or "Bayshore transition" tends to flag you as not-from-round-here -- and maybe less likely to understand exactly what the various restrictions really mean on the transition. The moment you're suddenly told by SFO tower to do 360's west of 101 off San Bruno, or to overfly "the BART station", or to head towards South City for a minute or two for traffic, is probably not the time to discover that you don't actually know where South City is, let alone San Bruno (or Hunters Point or Candlestick or Bay Meadows or SLAC or Stanford or any of the other informal local landmarks most Bay Area flyers will at least have a fairly good idea of. And heaven help you if you don't know how how to pronounce "Suisun" properly :-)...).

So after all those long flights, IFR or not, it's great to be doing the Bay Tour again, just lazing around over the Bay with Just Another Boring Bay Area Sunset in the background beyond the Golden Gate, the fog coming in over the Marin headlands and the bridge, the sky otherwise clear, the traffic very light... wish I'd brought the camera along with me. Or maybe not -- sometimes it's best to just let the views wash over you and forget about the camera. In any case, I'm taking a colleague from work up for a short introductory flight, and he appears to be enjoying it immensely, so after the obligatory circling of the Golden gate and Angel Island, we head off towards San Pablo Bay, then Mare Island, the mothball fleet in Suisun Bay, then back over Concord and down the Diablo Valley for a quick landing at Livermore (KLVK), then back through the darkness to Oakland. Cool! Even my cynical and humourless self enjoys this. I'll have to punish myself by spending several hours under the cone of stupidity again, paying to block the beauty out and to restrict my world to the AI, TC, DG, ILS, GPS, VOR and other essential acronyms.

* * *

Back at the fuel pumps there's a beautiful old Champ or Pacer (I can't for the life of me remember which is which...) being fueled by a guy in an airline uniform (three stripes...). We talk a while -- I babble on incoherently about taildraggers, aerobatics, Decathlons, Texas Taildraggers, etc., for a few minutes, and once he gets a few words in it turns out he's a SouthWest pilot who uses the Champ to commute to and from Oakland, all the way from Truckee (KTRK, up in the Sierra near Lake Tahoe). He does this every few days by the sound of things. That's quite a flight in a non-instrument certified plane, especially at night (for those of you who don't know Truckee, let's just say the density altitude there yesterday was well above 9,000', and the area's not exactly flat or blessed by extensive ground lighting, let alone given to perfect weather all the time), but he sounds suitably thoughtful about it all, and a few minutes later we hear him depart north into the night...

Nice guy -- and apparently living the life I sometimes wish I were living...

July 10, 2005

Loose Ends

Some loose ends, in the absence of any real flying for a couple of weeks now due to the usual work and contract pressures...

Official Self-Portrait Of the AuthorSomeone emailed me a few weeks ago and asked if that was me "striding across the ramp towards 2SP at Kaiser last Thursday". Sadly, no -- I'm more the slouching type. For future reference, the self-portrait, right, is the official guide to what I look like. Yes, my roots are showing.

And fresh from my stunning win of a shiny new quarter in John's latest competition, L. took one look at me and asked disgustedly what sort of nerd would know what that plane was without looking it up? This sort of nerd, apparently. A nerd well-schooled by the likes of Dave Montoya, who had a brilliant memory for the infinite varieties of aircraft, and who used to regularly correct ATC on-air for their (often quite obvious) misidentifications ("12R, traffic, a Challenger crossing 27R. He'll be clear before you land". Dave, taking over the radio from me: "Tower, that's a Bombardier". Tower, sounding a bit taken-aback: "12R, it's a Challenger. Trust me". Dave, confidently: "Nah, it's a Bombardier". Tower, after a slight pause: "12R... but... you can see it, right?" -- a scene repeated many times with slight variations).

Anyway, that wasn't really the point -- the Jetstar should be instantly recognisable to any flying James Bond fan, being that other aviatrix Pussy Galore's aircraft of choice (but I'm sure you all knew this already). And here's another view, courtesy of Ephemera Now, one of my favourite sites. Dig that red Lincoln. And those hats....

(From the same site -- here's what I want to be when I grow up and get my ATP. Oh, and anyone for the latest in aviator glasses?).

June 18, 2005

Back To Reality

Postcards From Purgatory
After an evening doing the Jaded Tourist Thing on the Boardwalk, Muscle Beach, etc., and a great dinner on Main in Santa Monica, it's back to reality. Or what passes for reality in that capital of ostentatious public self-absorption, Venice Beach....

7.30am Saturday, bright sunlight, a cool breeze, the Boardwalk and beach overrun by early-morning joggers and dazed stragglers from last night, cyclists, rollerbladers, little clumps of homeless people sprawled across the grass, dogs, sun-drenched dirt, cigarette butts planted in the sand, an army of dark glasses and shorts, vendors setting up their stalls along the boardwalk, the 737's and 777's silently launching themselves out over the Pacific off LAX a few miles to the south, Santa Monica pier a mile or two to the north, the Santa Monica mountains looming behind the pier and the Malibu coast in the haze... and I'm standing on the beach feeling badly sunburned and marveling at the perfect weather.

We'll do today VFR the entire way, I guess, up the Malibu and Ventura coastlines, past Santa Barbara a mile or two offshore, up the Gaviota pass over Solvang and over Santa Maria to San Luis Obispo for lunch. Then what? I'm not 100% sure, since FSS is reporting some confusing and unusually quickly-changing weather over Oakland and the Big Sur area (showers, overcast, etc.). I'll leave that part until after lunch. Right now I just want breakfast.

* * *

Artist 1We return to Supermarine at about 11 am and drop the car off. Once again, Supermarine treats us -- two badly-dressed poverty-stricken artists and one really badly-dressed wannabe pilot -- nicely, and we get to sit in the leather-chair and glass-table Executive Pilot Lounge picking apart the ideological underpinnings of the large-format glossy mags artfully arranged around the coffee tables in front of us (hey! this watch is only $12,000! Let's order one!!), while the ground staff tow 2SP out of storage onto the ramp and refuel it (we're clearly not quite the target market for the glossies, unfortunately. Or fortunately. I dunno). We don't do a lot of planning this time -- as I said, it's straight up the coast, and as long as we're clear of the LAX Class B and the various restricted and prohibitted areas, we'll be fine. But there are several of the latter, and it really pays to be careful here -- especially near Vandenburg AFB and the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. Nothing unusual or onerous, but I really don't want to have them roll the F16's at us.

There's some sort of fly-in at Santa Monica this morning, and ground is directing planes to an overflow transient parking area while trying to marshal the rest of us as best he can. We taxi to the runup area, then sit there waiting maybe ten minutes for departure, then we're off into the sunshine with the right shoreline departure.

Artist 2Predictably, the next hour or so up the coast and inland to San Luis Obispo is beautiful, a privileged view of the Malibu, Ventura, and Santa Barbara coastlines from about 3,000', the typical Southern Californian mixture of sunshine, blue skies, blue-green seas, rugged islands, jagged mountains ... and suburban sprawl. Even Malibu looks overrun. My passengers are mostly silent as they just look out and watch. We pick out the old Getty museum in Malibu below us. Not quite the same scale as the new version over the 405 (one of my fave LA sights is the Getty shrouded in fog late at night from below on the 405), but still impressive in context. Barb flies a significant portion of the leg under my command; Scott just sits in the back waiting for a chance to have his next cigarette (this is payback for all those times I've hung out in his studio enveloped in a cloud of smoke watching him paint or construct another piece :-)).

We land at San Luis Obispo into the usual stiff headwind and confess to ground that we don't really know where to park for the restaurant, The Spirit Of San Luis. Ground cheerfully directs us to the (really obvious) parking spot right in front of us (D'Oh!) and wishes us bon apetit. We're all hoping it's better than the caff at Santa Maria -- we're hungry, dammit. And once again I need coffee. And Scott needs that cigarette....

* * *

Artists at work, againThe Spirit Of San Luis turns out to be one of those great little small-town airport institutions -- good California food, cheerful staff, a healthy mix of locals, travellers, and fly-ins, a nice view of the airport and surrounding areas, and better coffee than most such places. As with the Arcata trip I just have to try the fish and chips. Not bad -- not as good as the Arcata version, but still definitely recommended. Barb tries the fish and chips as well; Scott has a hamburger from which he carefully removes anything resembling salad. We spend a relaxed hour or two over lunch (including dessert...), then stagger back to the plane. I realise I haven't a clue how to get it refueled, but a short walk across the apron next to the Gulfstreams and Citations to the San Luis Jet Center sorts that problem out (yes, another Executive Pilot Lounge where we're actually made to feel welcome, and where a fully-uniformed G5 or Citation pilot about my age walks up and asks me -- earrings, torn black jeans, broken shoes, funny accent and all -- what's the weather really like out there? in a friendly and interested way; we talk a few minutes about the weather and the joys of flying along the coast VFR... what's the world coming to?! Maybe we are in Kansas).

We depart VFR for the north after an FSS briefing that tells me the weather's basically now OK all the way from here to Oakland. The departure's an eye-opener -- the terrain in the immediate vicinity of the airport explains all the various departure procedures and approaches. Lots of small (less than 5,000') jagged-topped hills and rugged ridges in all directions except the northwest. I'll bear this in mind the next time I'm down here on the ILS...

The flight back to Oakland goes smoothly -- nothing much to report here except we see the same brightly-coloured blimp we saw approaching Santa Maria now tied down below us at Hayward (KHWD) as we approach Oakland (that must be a slow trip...), and the subtle change in light along the East Bay hills as we descend over Fremont (the quality of natural light in the Bay Area is one of the things that attracted me here in the first place; Ed Ruscha (speaking of Artists, this time with a Capital "A"...) has a mordant little riff about it in a NYT Magazine interview a week or two ago which struck a chord with me).

Some five hours after departing Santa Monica, we're back on the tarmac at Oakland, taxiing to the Old-T's. I'm even more sunburned now, and I can tell from the fidgeting in the back that Scott's just dying for another drag.

* * *

After being handed off to Oakland tower, we hear the controller give a mild on-air admonishment to an out-of-town pilot for doing something potentially dangerous. The controller's familiar to me, a decent and accomodating kind of guy (at least on air), and it should end there with the pilot's mea culpa (sincere or not). But the pilot decides to fight back, and for the next few minutes he escalates the exchange to the point where he's given a number to call and basically had the riot act read to him. Throughout the entire exchange the controller keeps his cool and sounds polite, if at times a little exasperated; the pilot sounds sarcastic and combative. I don't know what's going through the pilot's mind, but rule one around here at least is just own up to the mistake (even if it may not have been entirely your fault) and get on with it. Oakland tower's pretty forgiving, at least in my experience, and in six years of flying out of Oakland I've never heard it get that bad on-air. I once accidentally busted Hayward's Class D while still with Oakland's South Field tower; tower asked me if I knew where I was -- I looked around and thought, uh oh!, I know exactly where I am (in deep shit) -- and I just apologised and said (with my best Australian accent) that I hoped I hadn't caused an international incident or anything. Tower laughed and basically just said please don't do it again...

* * *

I logged about 7 hours total time for the trip; somewhere over the Malibu or Ventura coast I reached the big 500 hour mark (about 20% of which are taildragger hours). Woohoo! OK, so most of the aviation blogs I read are written by people with billions of hours logged, and this really isn't much of a milestone, but hey, it's been fun so far...
Postcards From Purgatory

June 17, 2005

We're Not In Kansas Anymore...

Venice BeachNot that I've ever been to Kansas, or that the Bay Area is remotely like Kansas, but the view outside surely isn't Oakland, either. The VOR / GPS-A approach into Santa Monica (KSMO) takes you straight down a line from Glendale over the Griffith Observatory past the Hollywood sign and close to the towers of the Westside / Westwood / Beverly Hills axis straight towards Santa Monica and Venice beaches. Just as we're 7,000' over Burbank (KBUR) above a beautiful broken marine layer a few thousand feet below us, SoCal Approach starts vectoring us for the approach inside DARTS (the customary vectored entry point for the approach on this arrival), and has us descend to 6,000'. We can see downtown LA in the distance through a light haze, and Santa Monica airport itself is glimpsable below a thin scattered marine layer off to our right (I know the area from the ground very well, so I at least know where the airport should be). One final vector and we're cleared for the approach inside DARTS at 6,000' -- 3,500' above the minimum altitude for this leg of the approach, and less than 10 miles from the threshhold (which is about 175' MSL). And we're still doing the 120 KIAS SoCal asked us to maintain a few minutes earlier. I've been warned by almost everyone who's done this approach about the "Santa Monica Slam", and this is it -- cool! It's too scenic to complain, and I slow us down quickly and just drop us like a rock through the scattered layer. The slam would take a supreme act of faith in actual, but this is kinda fun...

SoCal hands us off to Santa Monica tower, but tower's carrying on a standard Friday afternoon race call -- the first thing I hear when I switch to tower frequency is a slightly more formal version of "attention all aircraft, don't call me I'll call you...", followed by a string of clearances and instructions. Then he calls us -- "Cessna 2SP if you're with me report the airport in sight". After waiting nearly a minute to get a word in edgewise we report the airport in sight, get an immediate clearance for the visual (I guess this just isn't the time to insist on the full GPS approach...), and a minute or so later we're cleared to land number three in front of a Citation and immediately behind a very slow Cherokee who is in turn behind a completely invisible 172 on short final somewhere. The Cherokee exits the runway just before I think I'm going to have to go around, and we land roughly and a little too fast. Oh well. At Santa Monica you exit the runway basically wherever you can -- the apron extends to the runway along most of the runway's length, and we pull off as soon as we've slowed down enough not to rip the tires off the wheels. We sit there on the apron clear of the runway waiting for a break in transmissions to call Ground; behind us we can hear the Citation landing. Deafening (and this is a very noise-sensitive community...). Finally we're cleared to taxi to Supermarine, who have a "Follow Me" vehicle coming towards us, and only a few minutes later we're in a nice little rental car heading for a cheap hotel in Venice. Cool! This has gone a lot smoother than I expected...

* * *

I've wanted to do this trip -- Oakland (KOAK) to Santa Monica (KSMO) and back, about 350 nautical miles in each direction -- pretty much since I got my license all those years ago. There was always some reason not to do it, and I delayed it until this year; but now I have the instrument rating, there's really no excuse. A couple of friends of mine -- Barb and Scott, two local artists I've known for years -- want to come along (Barb enjoys flying, and Scott likes Santa Monica), so we settle on a two-day trip there and back with an overnight stay in Venice, and a stop at Santa Maria or San Luis Obispo in each direction for lunch and fuel. All three of us have lived or worked in the Santa Monica area at some point in the past (yes, as hard as it is for a Northern Californian to admit it, I actually like parts of LA -- Pasadena, Venice, Santa Monica, etc...) so this isn't entirely a trip into the Unknown.

I initially plan this flight to go down the coast IFR but in VMC, assuming typical early summer coastal weather, but the day before the flight the weather's dreadful, absolutely the sort of weather you don't expect to see mid-June in the Bay Area: widespread layered overcasts, rain, southerly winds, low temperatures, icing levels below 10,000', and some scary-looking low twisted cloud formations below the overcast over San Jose. The weather's likely to make the coastal trip an unpleasant sustained-IMC sort of thing out over the Pacific with no nearby airports for several legs down past Big Sur and towards Morro Bay, and late that day I opt for the inland route, a much longer route that looks likely to be more manageable in IMC. The forecast right up to midnight for the next day promises more of the same, and I call Scott and Barb and warn them that the trip probably won't be quite the sunny experience I'd promised. They're still up for it, so we decide to depart about eleven the next morning, and stop for lunch at Santa Maria (KSMX). I call Supermarine, the larger FBO at Santa Monica recommended to me by several people, and book a small rental car for the stay. I'm a little apprehensive about Supermarine -- they do corporate jets and such, and we're small beer to them -- but my guess is they'll be professional about it all.

* * *

Enroute, 7,000'...Friday dawns much brighter and sunnier. Scattered showers, slightly warmer, and basically a single scattered-to-broken ceiling over Oakland and the inland route. I feel relieved -- I didn't much like the idea of lots of actual with my passengers -- but still file the inland route, KOAK ALTAM V244 ECA V113 MQO KSMX, which is effectively what Deliverance gives us a few hours later when we're ready to depart. As usual, we don't get to fly this clearance for more than the first 15 minutes or so, but loading it into the GPS keeps me occupied while waiting for release off 27R.

We depart about 11.15 am and spend the next 20 minutes or so in and out of clouds. I ask for higher a couple of times to get above the layers; by about 9000' we're above it all and that's where we stay until approaching Morro Bay VOR (MQO). I get about five minutes of actual during the climb (Barb and Scott seem to enjoy this part more than I thought they would...), but otherwise the flight could have been done VFR with a bit of care. We pick up trace icing on the windshield coming through the highest broken layer (OAT reads about 2C at this point), but this disappears almost immediately we're out of the thin layer of clouds, and the plane keeps climbing just fine.

Somewhere around ALTAM just after I say something to NorCal a familiar voice pipes up on frequency with "Hey Hamish!". Me: "John? Ben?". The Voice: "The Colonel!". Aha -- Mike "Colonel" Klinke, one of our club instructors and all-round nice guy. "Hi Mike!" I blame my accent for things like this. Other people get away with anonymity on-air around here; me, I'm kinda marked... (Dave Montoya used to do a wicked impersonation of my indeterminate Anglo-Australian accent on air, good enough to fool controllers...).

On Course...The scenery from up here above the broken layer is typically California Beautiful, and I engage the autopilot and basically let it follow the GPS from this point on until the arrival into Santa Maria. We get an amended clearance somewhere past ALTAM -- direct Paso Robles (PRB), MQO, direct. A nice, undramatic short cut I'd requested on initial contact with NorCal, and after a few seconds hitting the knobs on the GPS we're heading for Paso Robles about 120 nm away. Nothing much to say about this part except that I start rueing the fact that I'd forgotten to slather myself with sunscreen, and after an hour or so I feel quite sunburned.

By about Paso Robles the cloud layer has mostly dissipated, and we're vectored for the ILS RWY 12 approach into Santa Maria with the circle to land on 30. ATIS is reporting strong gusting winds out of the northwest, which is pretty characteristic for the Santa Maria / San Luis Obispo area -- it always seems to be windy here. We're cleared for landing, circling our discretion, then tower requests a short approach due to a commercial arrival. No problem, and I do a rather dramatic diving arc onto the runway from abeam the numbers (keeps the passengers amused...), landing into the headwind at a groundspeed that doesn't seem much faster than a quick jog. We pull off at the first exit and taxi for the fuel pumps. We're all starving, looking forward to lunch. And I need sunscreen. And coffee. And Scott needs a cigarette.

* * *

Artists At Work, Santa Maria (KSMX)...After refueling and tie-down we walk to the little GA teminal and I call Hawthorne FSS to get a briefing for the proposed route to Santa Monica (I have the usual problem this time using my mobile phone to call the generic FSS 1-800 number -- you always get routed to your home FFS, not the local one, so I had to call Oakland FSS to get the local FSS number, which can be quite an exercise, as I discovered...). The weather's apparently basically pretty good from here on, with the usual marine layer over the Ventura coast and extending inland over the San Fernando Valley (Burbank, Van Nuys, etc.). Santa Monica itself is reporting scattered clouds at about 3,000', and the forecast is pretty much unchanged for the next few hours. Sounds good to me, and I file BUELT1 RZS OHIGH.FERN5, which looks a pretty logical set of DP's and STAR's; I make a bet with myself over just how long this clearance will last unamended. I think it'll last about 20 minutes.

We wander off to get lunch at the main airline terminal at Pepper Garcia's, a Mexican cafe I've eaten at before. I remember it as basically pretty good -- friendly staff, decent food, busy with both locals and fly-ins -- but the place looks dead this time, which is never a good sign at 2pm on a Friday afternoon. We're pretty much the only people eating there, and yes, the staff are friendly and efficient -- but the food ... oh well. Nothing to blog home about.

An hour or so later we get back to the plane and pick up our clearance: an unambiguous "as filed", for maybe the first time in my short experience. We depart a few minutes later behind a United Express Brasilia (I think). As soon as we're handed off to Los Angeles Center at about 400' AGL I get the dreaded "2SP, I've got an amended clearance for you, advise ready to copy...". OK, that one lasted five minutes. "2SP, ready to copy". "2SP cleared to Santa Monica airport; current heading then passing 4,000 direct San Marcus VOR (RZS) then V186 DARTS direct; climb and maintain 7,000". Sounds simple, no? Yeah, that's what I think, too, until I look at my L3 chart and realise it's going to mean a total reprogramming of the GPS and a lot of VOR OBS twiddling enroute. V186 isn't exactly straight -- and it even doglegs over an intersection I've never heard of. Urgh. I guess I'd expected a published arrival (the Fernando Five arrival in particular) and / or vectors, but not a plain airways routing. So I spend the next few minutes flying, reprogramming, and scanning for traffic. This is something I should let the autopilot do (well, the follow-the-heading bit, at least...), but this time since it's VMC I'll do it myself for practice. LA Center calls traffic on a blimp that's approaching Santa Maria from the south -- a brightly-coloured thing that's slowly battling the strong headwind over the hills just ahead of us. From our altitude it seems to be crawling along the ground, but it's not actually much lower than us when we first see it.

We pass over the blimp and proceed towards San Marcus in the mountains behind Santa Barbara, another place I know well from my past. We're handed off to Santa Barbara Approach, who call me a few minutes later to tell me they have a new clearance for us. Cool! So that one only lasted 15 or 20 minutes, too. I tell him I'm ready, and get an identical clearance to what I'm already flying -- the V186 thing. I read it back and then tell Santa Barbara that it's identical to what I've already got. He sounds confused for a second or two then says something along the lines of "Oh well, at least you won't have to change anything!". Well, it amuses me; and it's this sort of back and forth that reminds you that there's a real human being on the other end of the radio.

We join V186, and plod along out over the ocean then back through Point Mugu Approach's airspace, then back inland with Southern California Approach over the Santa Clarita valley. The marine layer's now pretty widespread below us, but we can still see bits of the ground through the breaks. We pass over Santa Paula airport (KSZP), recently almost swept away by flooding, and can just see it against the Santa Clara river 8,000' below us through the clouds. It seems an unlikely place to put a runway -- on the banks of a river known to flood violently every decade or two -- but there it is, a broken smudge of dark grey against the lighter sand and silt. We start to get traffic advisories for Burbank arrivals and departures, but rarely actually see the traffic. Then we're over the San Fernando Valley, heading for Van Nuys (VNY) and Burbank, with the San Gabriels in the distance dead ahead. This is beautiful -- LA at its best, sunny, relatively clear, surrounded by dramatic landscape. And then we start being vectored for the approach towards DARTS...

* * *

So far, this has gone exactly as planned, which is not what I've learned to expect in my world :-). Supermarine treats us with professionalism and amusement. One of the guys turns out to be a private pilot trying to build time towards his commercial between towing the planes around the apron. The other guy has our rental car next to the plane within seconds, and there's a minimum of paperwork for both car and plane. Nice guys. I tell them we'll refuel tomorrow when we return, and then we're on our way towards Venice and the beaches. Which is a whole 'nother story...