Tuesday, April 12, 2016

World's Largest Longhorn

Boeing started it.....Adam Curry egged me on.....so here it is...my 15 minutes of fame:


Friday, June 26, 2009

Flying the Florida Keys

On my visit to Key West I decided to get some much-needed cross-country time in pursuit of my Instrument rating. I found the flying solution at KEYW at Island City Flying Service, Inc. I called and scheduled a check-out flight in their fuel-injected C172R N2435X.
Below is my flight path for the round trip (click to enlarge):
Island City Flying Service will rent you a C172R after you get checked out. I used local CFI Perry Jones and we did a quick 0.5 hour (hobbs) check-out flight out towards Sand Key Lighthouse for some steep turns and slow flight. Then it was back to KEYW where I did a pretty good landing considering I haven't flown a Cessna in a while. (checkride route shown below) Cockpit audio of the entire flight is here.
The next day I scheduled a flight with another local CFII (Nick) for a flight all the way up the Keys to KHST (Homestead Air Reserve Base) for some instrument approach practice. Even though you can't land at KHST (military) they will allow civilian aircraft to make practice approaches when they are not busy. We departed KEYW and flew at 1000MSL (pretty much 1000 AGL) all the way up the south side of the Keys. This allowed me in the left seat to see the islands. Nick took some photos while I flew. Here's my complete flight track overlaid in Google Earth: (click here for a less fuzzy view)
Incredibly beautiful water even on this hazy day. We flew over this little private island. How cool is that! Turns out this place is for rent: http://www.unusualvillarentals.com/us/florida/pecuniary/ or cut and paste this LAT/LON into maps.google.com to see where the island lies with respect to the other Florida Keys: 24.640523, -81.453077
Co-pilot CFII Nick has many hours of experience in the Keys. A good safety co-pilot to have along if you feel the need (as I did) for my first flight.

(below) Bahia Honda State Park as seen from my vantage point in the left seat. The tressel-like bridge in the foreground is the remains of the old Flagler Railroad which was also known as Flagler's Folly. In later years they actually built a roadway over the top of the RR tressell. Later the road was re-done as it appears today. This area is known as Bahia Honda State Park and is a great driving stop. You can get a close-up view of the tressell as you are allowed to walk out a limited distance on it and peer across to the other longer portion of the tressell.

(Below) Bahia Honda State Park as seen from Google Earth with my flight path overlaid in RED.
I flew two ILS approaches into KHST. The HST tower claimed the ILS was 'out of service'...but it seemed loud and clear and we shot it with no problem. So much for government operations. You can just make out the runway in the upper righthand portion of the photo below. (click here for a less fuzzy view) Also notice the cooling ponds on the right side of the image. The ponds are cooling for the nuclear plant located on the north side. These ponds show up on the Miami sectional chart as an easily-distinguished VFR landmark.

After shooting 2 approaches we headed back at 4500 MSL above the clouds and pretty much full throttle. Nick needed to get back so we didn't do much island viewing on the way back. The layer of clouds below us made the photography less inviting on the return trip. I did grab this nice photo from the left seat.

(below) Dodging a few clouds at 4500 MSL on the return leg.
Below is a track of my landing pattern at KEYW. KNQX is nearby so make SURE you are looking at the right airport when you talk to ATC!! It's easy to get confused visually!
Finally...I encourage pilots to try this island flying adventure but you need to study the airspace pretty carefully for "gotchas". In particular the tethered ballon at R-2916 which is way above where you'll be flying. Also the US ADIZ must be respected unless you plan to file a DVFR flight plan and stick to the required schedule. So just stay inside the ADIZ and no VFR flight plan is required. See some of the noteworthy details below or click here for a nice readable .pdf file.

You can reach the nice folks at Island City Flying Service, Inc, Key West, at the following phone numbers: 305.296.5422 or 305.296.8895 Friendly and courteous folks and once you are checked out you can return at any time, show proof of currency and rent the C172's. They will also get you in touch with CFI Perry or CFII Nick.

(below) AHHHH!! Back at the Condo after a great flight. Time for a Keylime Margarita!

Great Fun!


Wednesday, April 29, 2009

In the Soup - IFR Cross Country Number Two

Today we flightplanned Austin-->Llano-->Junction-->Austin. Of course we stopped in Llano and took the airport courtesy car to Cooper's BBQ in downtown Llano. We filed the IFR flight plan for all three legs before departing Austin. Picked up the 1st leg IFR clearance on the ground in Austin by calling Bergstrom Clearance Delivery on 125.5. On the second leg we picked up our IFR clearance via cell phone just before engine startup. There are no remote communication outlets in Llano hence the need to make a cell phone call. On the third leg (leaving Junction) we picked up our IFR clearance in the air by calling Houston Center on the radio. We were in and out of the soup...sometimes I could see the ground and then we'd go back into the clouds. Below is a map of our flight plan.
I hand-flew the route back to Austin. No auto-pilot. Just following the course indicator.
Below is the radar track of my flight. As I approached Austin I was receiving vectors to the final approach into Bergstrom ILS-17L runway.

Here's a photo "on top" of the cloud deck:
On top is pretty mellow. Compare the above photo with this photo in the full soup (below).
You can hardly see the propeller! Your vestibular system goes haywire and you fly the instruments and ignore your inner ear sensations. You can also see the moisture streaming up the windshield. I guarantee that no matter how good your inner ear is this sight picture and the motion of the airplane will totally fool you as to which way is UP.
On the ground in Junction, Texas. It starts to look like WEST TEXAS out here. The airport is about 1/2 mile north of Intersate-10. Cute little podunky airport with a nice landing strip and velvet smooth taxiway.

Cruisin' home at 7050 feet. (below) I have the power pulled back due to the bumpiness in the clouds:

A rare photographic siting of my flight instructor Lindsey. This was a candid shot. :-)
So all in all it was a good day. More cross-country time is needed for my instrument rating. The good news is that I can count beautiful blue sky flight days as cross-country time.

...stay tuned....

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

My First IFR Cross-Country

Today (with beautiful weather) I did my first IFR cross-country flight to West Houston airport. We filed two flight plans (one each way) and took off from Austin about 1:30pm. On the outbound leg from Austin I was not given a "direct" routing but rather the "Centex Three" departure with Jayjo transition with the Blue Bell Two arrival (don't you just love that name?)

So I flew all the way to Houston and saw nothing out the window until I was over the Pine Forest golf course on the final approach to runway 15 at West Houston airport. No sightseeing today. Landed, got some ice water, re-fueled, organized my departure/arrival procedures, called Clearance Delivery for routing and clearance, took off and started back to Austin. The flight back to Austin at 6000 feet was smooth. But I must admit the last 10 miles at 2000 feet was *hot*.
ATC cleared me "direct" on the return leg...as shown below. One more IFR cross-country and I'll be done with this phase of my instrument training!

Friday, March 13, 2009

A White Knuckled Ride on my Birthday

Yesterday, March 11th, my birthday, was rainy, cold, wet and cloudy. A great time to try my skills as a student instrument pilot! This was my first lesson (actually lesson number eight) where I was totally in the soup.

I flew 3 instrument approaches in IMC conditions down to near approach minimums. My first approach was the GPS 36 approach at Georgetown (KGTU). Shown below is the approach plate that I used. Highlighted areas are important information. We filed a "local IFR" flight plan in order to accomplish this flying session.

Thirty minutes of terror followed by 30 seconds of exhilaration as the Georgtown airport finally appeared when I was about 500 feet above the ground. Flying in the clouds can give you the feeling of rapid disorientation. I had this feeling much stronger than any of my other instrument lessons because any tiny glimpse out from under the hood gives your brain enough data to keep going on deciding which way is up. Take away all visual cues added with the movement of the airplane and your brain is toast when trying to figure out which way is up. This was a very strong sensation and the solution is to simply trust your instruments and FLY THE AIRPLANE... while your brain is yelling at you...giving you bad advice.

After the flight I decided to play back my recorded cockpit audio and re-fly the flight using the Garmin simulator on my PC. This is the same Garmin we use in the airplane to fly the instrument GPS approaches. Shown below is what this looks like on the PC. You can see me heading to my inital approach fix EWETU. (click photo to enlarge)

In closing I flew from Austin-Bergstrom to Georgetown to Taylor and back to Bergstrom. Shown below is a screen shot of my GPS track log. A little swervy but not bad considering I did not enjoy the luxury of using the auto-pilot. This is all hand-flown in the soup and blind as a bat with regards to looking out the window. The little loop is where we landed at Taylor and taxi'ed back for fuel.

Some ride for my birthday eh?


Tuesday, March 03, 2009


San Geronimo Air Park that is....
Finally, on February 22nd, the stars, moon, winds, weather, and scheduling were right for a flight down to see Chester at San Geronimo Airpark(8T8)... due west of San Antonio, TX. Chester has a hangar full of interesting stuff to ponder but the real gem was his re-built 1947 year model Piper Cub. I can't tell you how many pilots cut their teeth flying Cubs but it was probably the single most popular training aircraft on the planet at one time. The Cub still holds a soft spot in many a pilot's heart. Some photos and comments below:

The air strip is 3000 feet long and 40 feet wide.

Landlubber entrance

Ed and I landed the Grumman Tiger and taxiied off into the grass:

There she stood...in all her glory...almost ready to fly!

It wouldn't be a Cub without the "Bear"!
(click photo to see the the Bear up close)

Dead simple instrument panel. VFR-only of course!

Here's the obligatory aerial photo shot...... Canyon Lake and Dam.
Photographed by Charlie on the way down. Autopilot was flying not me.
(click photo to enlarge)

Chester took us for a $100 hamburger at the Dancing Bear Cantina at Medina Lake.
Medina Lake is really low! Indicative of our Central Texas drought situation.
This view is shot from the parking lot of the Dancing Bear Cantina.
(click photo to enlarge)

A great time was had by all...a beautiful day of flying!


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Adventures in Sugar Land

Today's flight was to a new airport for me. Just inside the giant Class-B airspace of Houston Intercontinental (IAH). The airport is called Hull Field Sugar Land. Wheels up at 8:24 am into glassy smooth air. It was like the airplane was suspended and mid air and not moving...wonderfully smooth. Forty-nine minutes later we landed.

Here's what the entrance looked like. More like the Hyatt Lost Pines. Very swank for a General Aviation air terminal.

After landing I visited with one of my friends in the oil seismic business. He took me into a room with 10,000+ blade servers all running at once. I've never seen so many blinking little LED's in one place at the same time! This was a surreal scene like out of a science fiction movie. Unfortuantely no photos could be taken So here's a radar track of our flight down. Nick was flying the airplane and following the GPS...hence the track isn't perfect.

For lunch my pilot pal Mark took me to a quaint Mexican restaurant in Sugar Land. Here are a couple of photos. This was NOT a "papasitia's" style plastic restaurant. It's the real deal.

After lunch we checked out Mark's flight simulator....then it was back to the airport and home to Austin-Bergstrom.