October 08, 2012

Taking A break

I've basically had to make a decision in the last week or two that's been a long time coming: I really need to take a break from flying to be able to concentrate on the rest of my life for a while.

It's not that I won't fly as (say) safety pilot if asked, or that I'll let my medical or KOAK badge lapse, or not do my BFR when it's due, it's that I just can't afford the time and money for the foreseeable short term to fly semi-regularly the way I used to.

Basically, it's not really so much a money thing, it's a time thing. I have a new job that involves a lot more commuting, more travel, and much more extensive responsibilities than my previous job(s). It's no longer as easy to fly on weekday evenings as it used to be (I'm often still at work at 7pm, which would be when I'd want to start a flight, especially since I typically have to be up well before 7am the next day to get to work on time), and weekends are typically devoted to the other things and people in my life (or just recovering from the weekdays).

It's been a real struggle to find the time to stay current: not just instrument current, which has always been a bit of a chore, but club-current — which, at one PIC flight per 60 days, gives you some idea of how low the bar is set, and how I can't make even that bar. Given the vagaries of my life, it's turned out to be very difficult to book a plane ahead of time and not have that booking canceled because of weather or the need to stay late at work to sort out some emergency or other; sometimes I wish I could just turn up at the airport (KOAK, in my case) on a whim and just go fly the pattern on random evenings, but the current rental situation makes that basically impossible (for good reason).

And I'd say it's been even more of a struggle staying not just current, but proficient. That really does take significant time and effort, especially on the IFR side. No matter how ruthless I am about keeping my interactions with the G1000 on a "need to know" basis for single-pilot IFR, it's something that requires regular use to be comfortable with, and I just don't get that regular use at the moment.

Having said all that, money certainly plays a part: flying costs at least twice as much per hour now (for comparable planes) as when I started back in 1999, and more than three times as much for the type of plane I prefer flying single pilot IFR. Despite the apologists, GA flying really is expensive — many of my friends are (starving) artists and the like, and the amount of money I put into an hour or two's flying (for fun!) amazes a lot of these people.

Plus I do video and photography semi-professionally (as in I charge for it, but it's not my main source of income) and for more arty-farty reasons, and neither calling is exactly cheap (or at least not done the way I do it). A good piece of gear that I need for a specific type of shot or gig might cost the equivalent of a few hour's flying — and it's not hard to guess what choice I have to make for the long term in situations like that.

So it's unlikely that I'll be flying much (or even at all) in the next six months, maybe even the next year or two. We shall see….

August 19, 2012

A Theme

Long-term YAFB readers might just sense a theme in some of the photos here, but I'm not saying :-). In any case, this one celebrates a really enjoyable VFR Bay Tour done a day or two ago with a friend of mine — Atanu, one of the few people I've known in Sydney, London, and here — and G., his teenage niece who currently lives in Cairo, mostly to show G. the local sights (the Golden Gate, San Francisco, the Bay, Alcatraz, Napa, the Bay Bridge, Berkeley, the Hills, Mt Diablo, etc.) from the air. A perfect day for it, marred only by being stuck in traffic for an hour on a mile-long stretch of Interstate 880 on the way to the airport due to a combination of construction activity and a bad accident on the other side of the freeway. But we got there, and the ensuing flight was deeply enjoyable for all three of us, with G. getting her first taste of flying in a small plane — including probably 30 minutes of actually controlling the thing (under my hawk-like supervision).

A classic California Flying day, in every way….

June 28, 2012

Traffic's A Coyote At 8,000 Feet

I'm under the Cone of Stupidity in Cessna 051 somewhere a mile or two out from the runway threshold on the Stockton (KSCK) RNAV 29R approach when the tower controller tells us to exercise caution for (as I hear it) a coyote at 8,000'. Several things immediately go through my mind as we bump along the approach: a) Umm, what?! It's bad enough that the approach is seriously bumpy, but we have to contend with a coyote at 8,000'?! b) Is "Coyote" actually some sort of aircraft type, and he's calling traffic? c) We're below 1,000' — why would he call out anything at 8,000' unless it was dropping like a brick (or, for that matter, a coyote). It's a mystery to me, so I quickly ask Evan H., my safety pilot sitting in the right seat, what the hell the controller just said.

Evan patiently explains that it sounds like there's been a report of a coyote on the runway at around the 8,000' marker. Well, that makes much more sense, but I still ask the controller to say again. He does, a bit more clearly this time, and I reply with an enthusiastic "Yeah! we'll definitely keep a lookout for that!". In the end there's no sign of any coyotes anywhere on this or the next few landings, but it's hardly the first time I've either seen or been warned about a fox or coyote or dog on the runway here at Stockton or Livermore or even at my home base, Oakland (KOAK).

And it's already been that sort of flight, not the flight I expected, and a flight full of little errors or miscommunications, none of which amount to much, but all of which when put together make me feel glad I was under the hood in clear (bumpy) VMC rather than in actual IMC.

* * *

It started a few days ago, when Evan and I were supposed to do this flight on a weekday evening (rather than a Saturday morning), but the flight was scrubbed when I noticed that the port side (red) nav light was inoperative (no matter how much I banged on the wing); we rebooked for this morning.

Then came the forecast: I'd filed a real IFR flight plan to and from Stockton because the forecast the previous night had implied there'd be a deep coastal stratus layer over much of the Bay Area today, and the weather had been rather weird for the previous few days (it very nearly rained in Oakland last night, which in California terms is surely one of the four horsemen of some sort of apocalypse). But the day dawns bright and clear, if a little cold and blustery. So none of the benign actual IMC I'd really hoped for, unfortunately.

I check NOTAMS and such, and notice that Oakland's radar — a large part of the Bay Area's approach system — is NOTAMED OTS, and with it out, Oakland's Class C surface area and associated services are temporarily gone. No big deal — this has happened before when I've been flying and it's not going to make any difference to the flight.

Then doing the rental paperwork at Oakland Flyers, we hear that 051's G1000 has some sort of problem that supposedly makes the database out of date, and that cross-filling from the PFD to the MFD also isn't working. OK, I guess we can do this flight VFR with practice approaches then… (I prefer to do things on a real IFR flight plan just to keep current on things like copying clearances, etc.).

Out at the hangar I notice the lock's missing from the hangar door and point it out to Evan, thinking "that's careless…". Then I open the door and burst out with a surprised "Where's the bloody plane?!" The entire hangar is empty. OK, time to actually look at the book — sure enough, in tiny characters on the front where it used to say "Hangar XYZ" it now says "Hangar ABC" — RTFM, I guess, but no one at the club mentioned it'd been re-hangared a few hundred metres away — and it'd been in the original hangar only a couple of days ago when the original flight was scrubbed. No big deal, I guess.

We pre-flight 051, then get in and start up. Three things are immediately obvious: 1) the database is actually up to date — maybe we can do this on the IFR flight plan, after all; 2) Yes, there's some sort of weird PFD / MFD cross-fill problem, which is going to make things irritating but not too difficult with the two of us paying attention (I wouldn't want to do this in single pilot IMC); and, 3) The standby (mechanical) AI seems to have lost its tiny mind and is revolving and swirling like something from The Exorcist (a movie I've never actually seen, but never mind). The standby AI doesn't settle down after a couple of minutes, and since it's quite distracting, Evan covers it with one of his inop covers. We decide we'll depart VFR and just do the approaches as practice approaches — after all, this is just an IFR currency flight, and the weather is clear VMC as far as Stockton, at least.

By the time we've done the runup off 27R the standby AI's settled down, but we still depart VFR. We head for the Central Valley — and that lovely weather turns out to be bumpy. Not quite continuously, and not severely, but it's a factor in almost every approach and cruise segment for the next two hours, and it's the sort of bumpiness that anyone not a pilot would probably find tedious at best, sick-making at worst.

We get the practice approaches set up with a bit of extra programming (Evan just replicates on the MFD what I'm doing on the PFD), and after plodding on bumpily across the Central Valley we do the RNAV 29R into Stockton with full pilot nav, including the hold-in-lieu at OXJEF. The bumpiness is close to too much for the autopilot, but I sadistically keep it engaged for most of the way to see how well it could cope. Not very well, is the answer, and after the coyote thing and a smooth touch-and-go, we go missed back to NorCal approach. I re-engage the autopilot at about 2,000' in what I think is the correct altitude mode, but the bloody thing just keeps the plane climbing; at 2,200' I cut the autopilot out of the equation and start diving back to the assigned 2,000'. I can sort the issue out later… and, after setting up the next approach that's what I do.

This time around on the same approach it's just too bumpy for the autopilot, and I hand-fly the entire approach, a little roughly, but quite a lot better than the autopilot last time. However, this time my landing is really pretty bad — I blame the sudden windshear just as I'm flaring, but whatever it was, we bounced, and I had to use the throttle to ensure we didn't land hard on the second bounce. Not too bad, but a lesson in wariness. And, once again, on the missed I engage the autopilot in what I think is straight and level mode at 2,000' — and it starts climbing. This time I'm more on top of it and we don't bust altitude too badly, but I'm always a bit aghast at how much trouble I have with this unit in altitude mode (it's all me, the unit itself is just fine). Just to add to the overall feeling that not everything is going as well as I'd like, I keep making minor radio errors (missing calls, not understanding the controller, etc.) for the approaches (it seems to clear up as I get closer to Oakland for some reason).

We request, set up for, and get the ILS 29R with vectors, and things go better with the autopilot this time around, but I watch it like a hawk. And this time around my landing is OK, considering the windshear, but there are still no coyotes to be seen, which kinda disappoints me. We go missed as published and I let the autopilot drive us around the hold at ORANG, just because I really enjoy seeing this particular chore automated (and I am, after all, an engineer who delights in technology like this). After once around the hold we depart with VFR flight following back to Oakland.

This part — the VFR flight back to Oakland — is not without its hazards either. For much of the past 45 minutes we've been hearing parachute drop zone announcements (there were several drop zones NOTAMED for today in the area), and we have to be careful and listen to the controller to ensure we don't get caught in anything bad. There's a drop in progress over Lodi, but that's quite some distance north of us, and another supposedly closer in to Stockton, but nothing was ever announced on air as we flew by. And just as we're getting towards Byron (C83), Evan suddenly points out a flight of four or five military jets slightly below us, maybe two miles away, going rather quickly towards Sacramento. A nice sight (they're maneuvering in not-quite-aerobatic ways as they shoot past), but I kinda wish NorCal had pointed them out to us as traffic. Oh well. We watch them disappear rapidly northwards, hoping they don't reappear back in our direction.

All through the flight from just after takeoff one of the G1000's MFD fuel gauges intermittently shows a red 'X' for a few seconds and then reverts to normal; it seemed to stop doing this around Stockton, but it's back again. Oh well, another thing to squawk when we get on the ground.

We set up for and request the RNAV Y 27L back in to Oakland, and potter on towards JUPAP as requested. Nothing much to report about this segment except it's still bumpy, but (predictably) the air's clear and cool. We get vectored for the approach, and at first I let the autopilot handle things, which it seems to be doing OK. But just past the final approach fix, even though it's captured the (LPV) glideslope, it just can't seem to cope with the near continual windshear, and we end up two dots above the glideslope. Time to take over, I think, and I disengage the autopilot and hand fly the rest of the approach successfully and fairly smoothly down to about 400'. It's a weird sort of day when my hand flying is smoother and more accurate than the autopilot, but there you are. But however smooth the approach, I land badly on 27L. Once again, due, I think, to low-level windshear in the flare, I billow down the runway and have to salvage things with some throttle work. Nothing terrible, but a bit of a blow to the ego, I guess.

Back in Oakland Flyers I do the paperwork and notice that the tach time we took from the MFD is way out. I suspect that maybe the G1000 cross-fill problem has affected the tach time (or not — I just don't know) on the MFD without affecting the rest of the engine instruments. Whatever the cause, it means I have to trudge back out through the security gate to the hangar and back again just to see what the tach time is on the PFD; it's much more believable this time (and yes, I check what the MFD displays — we didn't misread it, it was maybe ten hours out). Back in the clubhouse again, my pen stops working as I'm trying to finish the paperwork. It's been that sort of day, really….

May 31, 2012

T. F. R., Mate...

Dominga (part of my Instagram series)

As we circle Alcatraz in the gathering dusk at 2,500', we hear the Northern California Approach controller ask yet another small GA plane whether they knew there was a TFR over AT&T Park… and that they were about to blunder into it. This has been happening all evening — NorCal even asked us, even though we were miles away, whether we knew about it; we didn't (it wasn't NOTAM'd anywhere — I think you're just supposed to infer these things from the stream of orange-shirted Giants fans on BART or something), but I always steer clear of stadiums like that anyway (I just assume there's a TFR over them), and we'll never get within three nautical miles of it this flight in any case.

And what does "TFR" stand for, Dominga asks? I suppress the urge to tell her the very familiar Australian phrase it stands for — a phrase that'd be entirely appropriate right now given the number of pilots seemingly asking whether they've just crossed into the TFR — and explain it's about temporary flight restrictions, and that we just have to ensure we don't get close to AT&T park. Which is fine — we're heading off towards the Golden Gate now, and there's no way in hell I'll end up in that TFR.

And so it goes (no, this wasn't leading up to yet another "how I blundered into a TFR" story): in something of a reprise of a previous flight, I'm up over the Bay on a VFR Bay Tour with Dominga and James, a couple of friends associated with a local coffee shop I go to a lot (as does John, occasionally, come to think of it). And it's a great day for it: few clouds, warm stable air, and the Bay coming alive in the evening light. Woohoo! Dominga takes this moment of elation to tell me this is something of a test for her — she has a serious fear of heights. Oh well, I think — now she tells me… but except for some nervousness when James or I turn too steeply, she takes it all in her stride, and in the usual sign of a successful flight for me, no one starts screaming "we're all going to die!!!". In fact, as far as I can tell, both Dominga and James enjoy the flight a lot (I've been asked to do it again).

We potter on above the Bay, giving Dominga a chance to fly a little, then head off towards Napa, where we land and let James swap with Dominga into the front seat. Napa's dead — I'm not sure if that was a zombie we saw shuffling very slowly towards the FBO or what, but there didn't seem to be any humans around except in the tower — and we depart quickly back towards Oakland via Concord and the Diablo Valley. James gets the hang of flying very quickly (I get the impression he's been in small planes as a student a long time ago but not since), and if it weren't for the gathering stratus coming in over the hills, we'd have stayed out longer.

The stratus doesn't seem to cover Oakland itself (at least according to ATIS), but it's hugging the hills around Hayward enough for me to ponder getting a clearance back in. But as we approach the clouds, I firewall the throttle and climb over the layer, hoping it'll disperse in time for the descent into Oakland. And so it does, but only just — I'm on the verge of asking for a clearance the entire way in to somewhere abeam Hayward Airport (KHWD), when the layer clears suddenly and things are clear VFR again.

We land in the late evening darkness, the video game effect taking over on final, and once again I land back at Oakland. Mission accomplished: a very pleasant VFR Bay Tour with friends who actually enjoy flying. Well, mostly: Dominga's still afraid of heights.

Some photos from Dominga's iPhone:

May 15, 2012

Hand Made

Just as I'm turning to a new heading for the vector NorCal Approach has given us for the Livermore KLVK ILS 25R approach, the 172's autopilot gives up the ghost with a distinct lack of drama. Just a little blink, the usual autopilot disconnect sound, and then a blank panel display. Dammit, I think, this flight is supposed to be at least as much about keeping on top of the G1000 and autopilot combination while under the hood as anything else, and now half of it's lost its tiny mind and isn't quite all there…. John's sitting in the right seat as safety pilot and without missing a beat says "just hand fly it". Well, he would say that, wouldn't he? Well, I would have said the same thing if I wasn't under the Cone Of Stupidity and thinking at the speed of molasses, and if my engineer brain wouldn't keep trying to debug things like this on the fly, but I know the deal, and we plod off towards the approach under my control in the cool clear darkness of the Bay Area night.

Predictably, closer in to the runway my flying gets agricultural (as we would say where I come from), and while I don't break PTS standards, neither do I set any records for accuracy and stability. I over-control the whole way down, and decide to look up 100' above the decision altitude before I make total hash of the approach. I salvage things a little bit (and over the next few landings) by absolutely nailing the landing, but still, I feel mortified — I usually do better than that on hand-flown approaches, and it's not like it's a difficult approach or the weather's getting in the way or anything. The only other saving grace is that — so far, at least — my radio work's not terrible: it's usually the first thing that goes to pieces after a long break from flying.

We do a bunch of stop-and-goes in the darkness at Livermore, then depart VFR back to Oakland (KOAK), but we already know we'll need a real IFR clearance to get home due to the coastal stratus layer that's moved in over the inner Bay area, and we gird ourselves for a stretch of ad hoc holding or circling out here in the clear skies above the Diablo Valley before we're allowed home. It doesn't sound promising when I call NorCal and ask for a clearance back from over Dublin (the one in Northern California, not the one I used to visit occasionally for my job when I lived in London…) — the controller effectively asks if we're OK with at least a ten minute delay in getting the clearance. I reply with a resigned "affirmative", but almost as soon as I've loaded the G1000 for the RNAV Y 27L approach back to Oakland, we're given a heading that looks suspiciously like a vector towards the approach just outside JUPAP, the initial fix. Sure enough, a few nautical miles closer in we're cleared for the approach, with a request for best forward speed (we're already doing that, but it's the thought that counts, I guess). I hand fly down towards the stratus layer, and in a few minutes, after a small amount of actual IMC and yet another smooth landing, we're on the ground. It's deserted down here, and we taxi off towards Landmark, unable to raise them on Unicom for fuel. At least I flew this approach with some sort of accuracy and stability, and it's all starting to come back to me. And as we wander in to Landmark to find out why they're not talking to us (we never find out in this case, but the Landmark staff are as pleasant and friendly to us as they always are), I feel pleased that I'm current again: IFR-current, night / day landing-current, and club-current. Every little bit helps….

* * *

This was supposed to be a simple short club- and landings-currency VFR flight caused by my having started a new job and losing the flying thread for way too many weeks, but the coastal stratus closed in on us earlier than predicted, and by the time we were at the airport preflighting the plane, it was obvious we'd need to depart and return IFR, even though (as usual) it was clear less than ten nautical miles to the east and / or 2,000' above us all the way east to (I'd guess) Nevada. I wasn't too upset — if I could get two approaches in I'd extend my IFR currency enough to be useful, and if John was up for a longer flight (we weren't going to depart much before 9PM), I was keen. And so it went — the only other interesting thing about the flight being that it was the first time I was using my new iPad with Foreflight for serious in-plane navigation. It's not like I haven't used John's iPad before (YAFB passim), and I'm an early Foreflight booster, so it's all fairly familiar, but actually doing it on-the-fly (as it were) while under the hood and on a real clearance is novel, and I occasionally have to ask John for advice on the best way to do things. On the other hand, I can't imagine flying IFR or even VFR in the future without the iPad (or something similar); I think the only really irritating thing was being unable to get the clearance down on the iPad — I had to scrawl it down with my left hand on my real (paper) pad. Yes, I'm vaguely ambidextrous, but still, I'll have to get a better way of copying the clearance on my iPad only. The other thing I need to get set up is the Foreflight checklist app, but that was just me being too busy over the last few weeks to get that together. Maybe next week (there's always next week).

The other thing that got our attention was a small underwing-engined RJ of some sort in Finnair livery parked at Landmark. As we taxi past we wonder what it is; I can't help noting mordantly that it looks a bit like the pictures I've seen of the Sukhoi that crashed in Indonesia last week, but Finnair (to my knowledge, at least) doesn't have Sukhois, and neither of us is sure what it really is. Later, I look it up on Wikipedia — it's an Embraer E-190, but what it's doing here in Oakland I don't know. I'm surely one of the tiny handful of Oaklanders who's not only actually flown Finnair, but who's been to Finland, so it doesn't seem likely they're scouting out a new Oakland direct Helsinki flight or have suddenly decided that Oakland's their new US hub, and it's unlikely to be a sports team charter (which usually accounts for some of the larger jets parked in front of Landmark). Just one of those Oakland mysteries, I guess.

May 14, 2012

Hayward Airport Open House

Last Sunday (the 12th) I dragged my two young nephews (3 and 5) along with me to the 2012 Hayward Airport (KHWD) Open House just down the road from Oakland, a sunny, good-natured event attended by a lot of locals, an event I enjoyed a lot.

Although they only lasted about an hour, Alex and Simon really enjoyed clambering over and around the Coast Guard helicopter, watching the B17 taxiing and flying around, "driving" the fire engine, playing around the Grumman Albatross, waving at the P51 as it did repeated flyby's, and just generally wandering around looking at the planes (long-term readers will know that the older one's already flown with me in a 172 out of Oakland). The two Tuskegee Airmen I talked to at the TA stall were great too — hope I'm that sharp and drily funny when I'm their age...

A few random snaps from the day:

Aluminum Overcast

Little Simon, Big Albatross

Little (Loud) Albatross: an Aero Vodochody L-39

Two Tuskegee Airmen

February 22, 2012

Just Another Boring Bay Area Sunset... (Part 37)

I know I joke about it a lot, but here it is again — Just Another Boring Bay Area Sunset, except this time it's a little different: instead of being under the hood training or trying to keep IFR proficient, I'm looking outside, and M., a local friend of mine, is sitting in the right seat taking photos and just generally taking it all in. And she's not even screaming "WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!" :-). Sometimes it's hard for me not to get a little jaded about the weather, the sights (Those Bridges! That City! The Hills! The Bay! The Pacific!), and the fun of just flying around doing nothing much at all… but it's M's first time over the Bay in a little Cessna like this, so I don't feel so blasé. I give her the controls as we head off past Alcatraz towards the Golden Gate. She gets to fly for a while — the first time ever, apparently. She gives me back the controls after a few miles so she can take pix and just look out.

We circle the Golden Gate, watching the container ship head out towards China or wherever, then wander back slowly past San Quentin towards San Pablo Bay, where I do a bunch of steep turns and lazy eights because… well, because I can, and because M. enjoys it. She flies some more, but mostly I get to fly while she looks out and watches the world go by in the twilight over the Diablo Valley and the East Bay hills. We get to do some creative work on final for Oakland (KOAK) in response to vectors from Tower for a Falcon jet coming in quickly behind us for runway 27R, a pleasant detour over and around bits of Oakland I guess most people don't see (or particularly want to see). Not sure why we didn't get the quick sidestep to 27L, but never mind. By the time we're back on track, it's dark, and the video game effect comes into play on final (airports at night are definitely one of my fave places). Luckily I can't see those seagulls lurking below me….

A really pleasant relaxing flight, despite the official forecast for at least moderate turbulence all day. Earlier, in the clubhouse, we'd run into John and the forecast was one of the things that came up (with a bunch of people chipping in…), but in the end we didn't get a bump the entire trip. Not bad, not bad.

February 10, 2012

Who Knew?

The new Bay Bridge taking shape

 The Bay Bridge Under Construction (from 2,500' MSL).

On the ramp at Oakland (KOAK) it's a classic California winter's day — sunny, cloudless, windless, 19C (no, I don't know what that is in Nineteenth Century measurements — look it up!) Yes, it means yet another drought's on its way, but it's pleasant outside right now, and that's all that matters, right? Standing in front of 051's hangar I junk my original plan for a disciplined IFR run down to Monterey (KMRY) and back, and instead prepare for a leisurely VFR trip down over the Golden Gate and past Devil's Slide, Maverick's, Half Moon Bay, Pigeon Point, Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Moss Landing, and other assorted local Pacific Coast landmarks to, well, Monterey. Why Monterey? Why not? I used to do this trip a lot, and this morning I just feel like flying down the coast and back up the inland route after a snack and coffee at one of my fave California airports. The hundred dollar coffee, I guess.

San Francisco!


So thirty minutes or so later I'm climbing over the Golden Gate and San Francisco on an ad hoc clearance into the San Francisco Class Bravo at 3,500' along the coastline. It's beautiful — I can see for miles and miles — and even being vectored well out of my way for a United 747 departing KSFO right into my original path is fun (especially since the vectors take me just behind and over the 747 close in to KSFO itself; knowing a few tech crews myself (mostly Qantas and BA), I imagine the cockpit crew rolling their eyes as they hear that they're being altitude-limited so that my mighty Cessna 172 can roll on by on a glorified sightseeing trip). I resist making the obvious joke on-air about "caution wake turbulence from the Cessna crossing above you". I head slowly back to the coastline and potter on southwards, climbing to 5,500' to help keep me visible to ATC — radar coverage is patchy to non-existent for a stretch of the coast there below about 5,000' due to the Coast Range. From 5,500' the view's amazing — I can even see the Sierras some 150NM off to my left in the distance; ahead, I can see at least as far as Point Sur.

Closer to Monterey I'm handed off to NorCal's Monterey sector and slowly notice that there seems to be a bit more traffic than normal on air. This is usually a pretty sleepy sort of sector, but the controller seems to be handling a bunch of business jets and private planes heading mostly to or from Monterey. More intriguingly, I can see what looks like a blimp (or maybe it's the local Zeppelin) way off over the ocean abeam Monterey. What the hell's it doing there, I wonder — a sightseeing excursion for paying customers? A naval exercise? The ghost of the USS Macon?

The view outside from the KMRY RNAV 28L approach

The View Outside From The KMRY RNAV 28L Approach…

I put it out of my mind as I request the practice RNAV Y 28L approach with full pilot nav including the course reversal (just for fun — it's not loggable, but it sure helps with procedural currency) and head across the coast towards HIXIE, an initial fix for the approach. I've commented before on this and the similar localiser 28L approach, so I'll just repeat what I always say about it: this is a scarier approach in VMC than in IMC. When you can actually see outside the cockpit, you can't help noticing that after the course reversal you turn onto an approach segment heading straight at a range that rises abruptly out of the Salinas Valley in a set of peaks and ridges that are noticeably higher than you (and that rise close abeam you as you start the descent), and that the ground below you slopes off towards the airport at the same angle as the glideslope for a while, seemingly just below you much of the way (as I descend on the approach I can easily see individual people in the back yard of one of the isolated houses on the ridge below me). Luckily, Monterey tends to use the ILS 10R approach when the weather's really bad — at least with that you only have to deal with the ocean, not the rolling peaks and low-level turbulence in the other direction.

Embraer Phenon 100 at KMRY


After landing I taxi to Del Monte Aviation, a place that over the years has become one of my favourite corporate jet GA FBO's (and no, I'm not being paid to say this — they don't even know I exist). The first thing I notice is that the guy waving me in to Del Monte's parking area has to step through several business jets to do it, and I gingerly edge my way through the gaps between the tens of millions of dollars worth of shiny gear all around me to park (I have this special admiration for the ramp guys — standing in front of even a small Cessna with its prop whirling dangerously a few metres away from you as you signal to some unknown guy in dark glasses lurching straight at you in it takes a lot of guts). The ramp guys chock me and get my fuel order and I wander in to the reception area, looking kinda scruffy in my usual black jeans, t-shirt (it's winter in California, remember), earrings, and bad shoes. Outside on the ramp right next to the reception there's a shiny new Embraer Phenom 100, looking gorgeous in the sun; inside it's busy. There's a four-stripe pilot at the desk trying to second guess his passengers with a catering menu, there's a bunch of suited guys in the corner watching some sort of golf game on the big screen TV, there are uniformed pilots and support staff purposefully walking around here and there, and behind the desk the staff is handling a bunch of phone calls and requests. What the hell?! Usually I'm either the only pilot in reception or there's only one or two other people hanging around. Once I get my fuel order in with the desk staff there I wander off and find some coffee and some rather nice chocolate chip cookies. Not bad, I think, and I find an empty chair in the main lounge, feeling smug about being the only person not in uniform or a suit, and still getting treated with friendliness, efficiency, and, above all, humour by the Del Monte staff. In the background the TV golf thing seems to be grabbing the attention of more people, but what would I know about golf? (What would I care about golf?) I'm semi-famous amongst friends for unwittingly referring to golf clubs as "golf bats", and the planes out on the ramp are much more interesting.

A Bunch Of Business Jets


Over on the other side of the ramp there are several rows of neatly parked Gulfstreams and the like. As I'm sitting there with the coffee and cookies, several business jets arrive either for Del Monte or the other corporate business jet center up the ramp. There's a Pilatus PC12 that arrives while I'm watching and is parked right next to my little Cessna. Two helicopters land, one of them some sort of media thing. My plane gets refueled in between some other fuel requests. Something's up, but what? I would have asked the staff but they're kinda busy with catering and ground transport requests. Instead I somehow manage to get drawn into a funny animated discussion about Twilight going on behind the desk (can I be the only person in America who hasn't seen it?)

I sign the fuel receipts and wander out to the plane again. I start up and talk to Clearance for the VFR departure towards Hollister (KCHV); while I'm sitting there idling away on the ramp it occurs to me that the Del Monte folks might not like me blowing crud all over their besuited customers walking to and from the reception, but never mind — no one complains, and in a few minutes I'm way up taxiway alpha doing the runup.

On departure I can see a banner tow out over the point near the blimp — what is going on, I wonder? Monterey mid-week isn't exactly banner tow or blimp territory. A helicopter departs behind me for Carmel. Finally, I hear the magic words "Pebble Beach" from the banner tow as he requests a transition from tower. D'Oh! It's the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, apparently. I'm just not the sharpest tool in the toolshed, am I? It's in all the media, now that I look — there's a lot of expensive golf bats being wielded professionally down there today apparently. Who knew?! Everybody but me, I guess.

* * *

On final back into Oakland's 27R, tower calls out a primary target at 12 o'clock, unknown altitude, less than a mile, "probably birds". I keep a sharp look out and, sure enough, a few seconds later there are two large eagles or hawks soaring up at me straight ahead; I swerve a little and then immediately after that there's a bunch of (I think) seagulls wheeling around between me and the threshold. I take evasive action, but there's not much you can really do except avoid the obvious targets and hope that you don't get hit. Down below me there are literally hundreds of seagulls congregated in some sort of small lake or pond in the golf course. This can't bode well….

Back on the ground, compared to Monterey, Oakland seems even sleepier than usual. But then our golf courses can't quite boast the views (or greens fees) of Pebble Beach, I guess.

January 25, 2012

Apropos Of Nothing At All…

Just to fill in the space between real blog entries, here's a non-flying-related video I recently did around the Bakersfield and Westside (Central Valley) areas, posted basically as a response to the people who occasionally ask what I do besides flying…

I'm thinking of doing a Drive-by: Airport video soon….

January 14, 2012

Two For One

Or Two For Four — I'm not really sure…. Anyway, my sister and her three teenage kids visited me over the new years holiday from Australia (their first ever visit to the US and California), and (of course) we had to go flying. That probably makes it sound like a chore, but it definitely wasn't: two really enjoyable 1.5 hour flights through beautiful clear blue skies over the Bay on the Bay Tour out of Oakland (KOAK, my home base), with stops at Napa (KAPC) and Livermore (KLVK). Everyone got to fly for at least a few minutes, and the more adventurous ended up doing a lot more than just flying straight and level; everyone seemed to enjoy it a lot. The G1000 screens probably helped — as one of my earlier passengers noted, it adds to the video game effect on final in the dark, and at least one of my passengers was happily mesmerized by the experience.

Uncharacteristically, I don't have any photos of the event — we certainly took a bunch, but they've accidentally gone with my sister and the kids to Mexico for vacation; maybe when they get back (or just within wifi range) I'll retrieve the images and have something to show for the day….