April 30, 2005

Freight Dog Tales

In the absense of any actual flying to report (two cancellations in the last two weeks due to weather), and having been stuck behind desks and computers for most of the past few weeks, let me just point readers at my ex-instructor John Ewing's new blog, Freight Dog Tales. I've watched John progress from newly-minted PP-ASEL through several years of full-time instructing to being a newbie freight dog, and his new blog documents the latest progress really nicely (and explains why I had to cancel a trip a couple of days ago to the same "Northern California coastal city" as he's flying to at the moment -- ice, dammit. He at least has a nice Cessna Caravan to do it in; me, it would have been one of the 172's at night, meaning not bloody likely...).

And what other aviation blogs do I read regularly? Well, there's David Megginson's excellent Land And Hold Short, a rather thoughtful perspective on flying in a much colder climate than I'm used to (Canada...), and there's Aviatrix's snappy (and sometimes nicely snippy...) Cockpit Conversations, a throughly readable counterpart to John's blog, with (another!) Canadian view on climbing up through the (lower) ranks of the commercial aviation industry. Other than that, I think I rather fitfully read my old acquaintance Philip Greenspun's "Philip Greenspun's Weblog" ("an interesting idea every three months; a posting every day", as he says...), which has aviation entries every now and then from the point of view of someone who made enough money in the 90's to be able to afford to do all this without too much effort (it's how the other half live, I guess ;-)). There are more, I'm sure, but I can't say I read them regularly yet.

April 19, 2005

Moose Stalls

Aviatrix's reliably bright and sarcastic Cockpit Conversation blog has an article peripherally about "Moose Stalls" -- that often-fatal stall that happens when you lose control of the airplane in a steep low altitude bank while you're fixated on something interesting on the ground. In Canada, that'd be a moose, apparently.

In Australia I heard them called "'Roo Stalls" (Kangaroo stalls) -- my instructor while I was there on a short visit a few years ago had to explain the term to me after warning me not to Roo stall over the practice area while I was fixated on trying to identify a reporting landmark. I've been using the term ever since, often metaphorically and way out of context, to describe any sort of fixation leading to a (usually virtual...) loss of control. Needless to say I get a lot of blank looks around here. Oh well. Now I can use the term Moose Stall and point 'em at an authoritative explanation...

April 15, 2005

Dirty Socks Springs

I think it finally hits me as I'm standing in the High Desert glare at Dirty Socks Springs near Olancha, watching a California Air National Guard C130 doing exuberant-looking low passes over the dry lake bed a few miles to the north -- hey, I have an instrument rating! Finally...

* * *

A few hours later I'm standing in Bishop's Mountain Light Gallery, looking at a bunch of Galen Rowell's Owens Valley and other photo landscapes. Galen and his pilot wife Barbara -- both well-known in the Bay Area -- died while landing at Bishop (KBIH) late one night in 2002 in a locally rather infamous incident (Barbara was not the pilot). From long-time local knowledge, Bishop's not the sort of place you want to do a lot of late night moonless landings, let alone circling approaches at minimums. Take a look at Bishop's approaches (VOR or GPS-A, VOR/DME or GPS-B) -- and those minimums. It's one of the three airports in the US where the lowest approach minimums are higher than the standard minimums needed for filing an alternate (2,000'). As the FAA rather drily says somewhere in relation to these airports, don't just assume the old 1-2-3 rule about alternate minimums with this airport -- you may need an alternate for real with the ceiling at 3,000' -- and this is the sort of airport where even a 3,000' ceiling might cause you problems if you don't know the local terrain (it's in a long valley ringed by sharp 14,000' mountains, and subject to some pretty rough weather, and any local alternates are in similar weather and terrain). Having said all that, it isn't clear quite why Bishop's minimums are so high -- the immediate vicinity of the airport is fairly benign, at least by Californian standards -- but I presume it's due to the excessive descent angle required for lower minimums after the initial legs of the approach needing to be so high.

It's not too clear what a small plane like the 172 gets from IFR out this way -- it's been my ambition for years now to fly from Oakland to Bishop via (say) Minden or Reno, and I still want to do it, but Bishop and its approaches, and the various victor airways and feeder routes to them, are a classic example of where the various minimum climb rates, altitudes, and procedures all make flying something like a 172 IFR in even VMC pretty much too close to the edge to be really comfortable (for another relatively close-by example, take a look at South Lake Tahoe's Richy Five departure procedure -- that anodyne little note, "This SID requires a minimum climb rate of 400 feet per NM to 10,000’" rules out the average 172, especially in summer. I guess it pays to read these little side notes (this was actually a question in my orals -- "would you accept the Richy Five SID in a 172?" No, not bloody likely...)).

April 05, 2005

A First...

A leisurely trip in 4JG through the twilight to Modesto (KMOD) with Boyan (my sometime flight-share partner) and back. I fly out, under a proper filed IFR flight plan -- my first as a certified gen-u-wine IFR-type pilot thing -- and Boyan flies back VFR. Boyan's curious about what a Real IFR flight's like, and I do it without the Cone of Stupidity so I can answer his questions. Everything is utterly straightforward and predictable, but I'm still somewhat nervous -- which is ludicrous, but there you are. A severe clear VMC evening, little-to-no traffic outside the main airways, a bunch of laid back Northern Californian controllers doing their competent thing with humour and grace, and a flight through Yet Another Boring Bay Area Sunset.

Flying 4JG again after 2SP brings home just how much better the Garmin 530 can be than 2SP's KLN 94 -- not just the bigger display, but the interface still seems friendlier, or at least less prone to inducing user error. It's still not friendly -- will there ever be a GPS unit that's as simple to use as an OBS or HSI? -- but somehow I make fewer errors setting it up and changing it on-the-fly (inevitably we didn't actually fly any of the original clearance beyond the initial departure vectors -- we got cleared direct Modesto within five miles of Oakland...).

I have to say I'd miss 2SP's autopilot on long flights or high workload segments, but it's not the big deal I sometimes think it could be. But then I wasn't under the Cone of Stupidity, was I? Makes all the difference...