Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Summer Trip 07

Nothing in aviation goes according to plan. I left Ottawa last weekend thinking I was going to Idaho for a Husky Fly-in. The smoke haze in the air got worse as I headed West, I started to see it in Wisconsin and Iowa. A look at the satellite photos showed smoke plumes from fires in central Idaho and western Montana reaching the mid-west and up into Manitoba. I gradually turned left, starting a diversion (Canadian Private Pilot Air Exercise #23) of major proportions.

I'm not quite sure where I will end up - I will have to stop before I run off the edge of the charts (maps) I brought with me.

Somewhere South West of Ottawa

Monday, July 2, 2007

Landing on Grass

We found Carleton Place airport after our initial navigation difficulties (see earlier post).

CNR6 has 2200 feet of nice rolling turf, although it can be a little soft and wet in spots, especially in the Spring. Each year I phone before landing there, since it is a "Prior Permission Required" (PPR) airport.

There was an ultralight Challenger on the frequency in-bound when we checked in, but we were closer and travelling faster. I let Lauren fly the approach while I made the radio calls. I pointed out the power lines and the displaced threshold, and she came in low over the hangars and touched down at the threshold. There was no hard bounce and no fighting to keep the aircraft lined up like when we land on asphalt, just a gentle bump and a slide. The grass slowed us down quickly, and we only used a few hundred feet of runway. We turned around and Lauren was surprised by how much power it takes to keep the aircraft rolling on the grass.

CNR6 - Carleton Place, Lauren's first landing on grass and Wonder Woman is still pumped about her landing

CNR6 - Carleton Place, Challenger C-ILPM followed us in

After taking photos to celebrate her best landing yet, and a chat with one of the ultralight pilots, it was time to go again. We did several more "stop and goes" on the grass, hopefully not too many because we don't want to annoy the airport neighbours on a Sunday morning. Lauren experimented with forward slips to lose altitude coming over the trees, and worked on her directional control on the rolling grass runway. Then it was time to leave Carlton Place and go to Gatineau Airport and have lunch at the little restaurant "L'Aileron" in the terminal.

Enroute - Look, it's the Palladium. Wait, it's the Corel Centre. No, it's called Scotiabank Place now. Look for the Ottawa Senators to host another Stanley Cup final series here soon.

Enroute - An eye-catching tennis court in Kanata

Enroute - Canadian suburbia in Kanata

My Aviat Husky has a cousin at Gatineau - this Pitts Special (built by Aviat). He was going up to practise in the aerobatic box as we were getting ready to leave Gatineau. I wanted to tell him that his engine had swallowed a valve but he looked like he was having too much fun.

Pilot Navigation

Lauren has been working on her landings at Rockliffe and Gatineau airports. They have paved runways, fairly long, wide, and flat. For a change, I wanted to give her the chance to practise on a nice grass strip - CNR6 Carleton Place, about 10 miles South West of Carp.

First, we did a little navigation exercise to find the field. She flew West from Carp, at 1,200 ft above the ground. We overflew a small town and I passed her the map and asked her to identify the town. Her first guess was "Carleton Place", simply because she remembered where I said we would be going.

Dad: "How do you know this is Carleton Place?"

Lauren: "I don't know ... it has a road, and a railway, and a river ... ???"

Dad: "Check the map. Is Carleton Place on a river?"

Lauren: "No, it's near a lake on the map. So this is Almonte, it has a road, and a railway, and a river."

Dad: "It seems a little small to be Almonte. Does Almonte have a ski hill - do you see those ski trails and lifts over there?"

Lauren: "Umm. I Dunno."

Dad: "Do you see Mount Pakenham over there? With the ski trails?"

Lauren: "So this is Pakenham? Pakenham has a road, and a railway, and a river too?"

Dad: "Yeeeesss. Now where should we be heading to go to Carleton Place?"

Lauren: "I don't know. I thought you knew where it was."

And this is how pilots learn to navigate. My daughter inherited her map reading skills from her mother. I think I will show her how to program the GPS before she does her solo cross country trips.

This is Almonte - a nice little Ontario town with a road, and a railway, and a river too.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Flying with Lauren

Lauren Spots the Traffic First

Probably the hardest job for a flight instructor is teaching family. My daughter started taking flying lessons with me in January. On one level, it makes sense. Learn from Dad. I own a plane, I am an instructor, my daughter is bright and an aeronautical engineering student too. What could go wrong?

She has the demands of fourth year engineering courses and two part-time jobs, I have my work and a part-time instructing job on weekends. There are extra demands that come with airplane ownership. She started a new job, the airplane had an annual this month, and I started working on Saturdays at Ottawa Flying Club. Suddenly, we had very little time for her lessons.

Mont Laurier, Quebec in January

Today we went flying together for the first time in a month. It was Victoria Day, the May long week-end. There were several people working in their hangars, but not many people were flying at Carp. We were going to work on takeoffs, circuits and landings, but first we needed a short warm-up flight to shake off the cobwebs. We flew over to Rockliffe (CYRO) to see who was around and grab a burger.

My daughter never eats before leaving the house. Her favourite part of the flying lesson is a ground briefing over brunch at Lachute, Mont Laurier or Gatineau. Dad pays for breakfast, of course. On some marginal weather days, we just leave the airplane in the hangar and discuss flying together over breakfast at Kelseys.

Rockliffe was great - John, my first instructor had dropped by for a burger. He is working in Africa, he gets a month off after two months overseas. Tony had the BBQ running, everyone had a cheeseburger with the works, some drinks and lots of conversation. Grab some napkins for the mustard running down your shirt. Oh well, you are wearing your old flying clothes and no-one from the office can see you here.

After Rockliffe, some pattern work ("circuits" in Canada) over at Gatineau Airport. Gatinau has a wide 6,000 foot strip, there was no other traffic and a friendly voice on the radio. Perfect conditions for a beginner to work on her landings. We did four circuits and stopped for a rest and discussion. We reviewed the lesson on slipping and how that applies with a crosswind. Her takeoffs were fine earlier in the day, but now she is overcontrolling and stomping hard on that right rudder. With the wind coming from the right, the aircraft nose seems to point into the wind when the tail comes up, while she was expecting a yaw to the left. Both the aircraft and the student are pushing hard to the right, and we head for the ditch. Good time for a break.

We wrap things up and head back to Carp. We didn't want to tire ourselves out with this lesson. It is stressful for a low-time student, and nobody learns much when they are tired. After landing in Carp, we discuss how the day went. It is much more difficult teaching her than flying with a stranger, because we know each other too well. I worry that I overcompensate for some of her weaknesses. I worry that I am not critical enough. I want us to have fun, neither of us wants to ruin it with silly bickering because we are tired or stressed by the lesson and the length of time we are spending together. I hope that we can continue flying together like this for a long time, whether she perseveres and gets her license or not.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Back to Idaho - Summer 2006

I flew the Husky from Ottawa to Wyoming in two days in 2005 and I now admit that it must have been beginners luck. In 2006, nature threw up all of her General Aviation obstacles to ensure I did not get complacent. Low ceilings, forest fires, heavy rain, thunderstorms, and SNOW. Every leg was a learning experience. I spent an afternoon on the ramp of the Medicine Hat flight school Bar XH waiting for thunderstorms along the Montana border and a snowstorm (!) in Montana to dissipate.

Packed, Ready

I originally planned to leave on Thursday, 20 July 06, but there was lots of convective activity (ie thunderstorms) across Western Ontario and Michigan. I tried leaving Ottawa again on Friday, along with several homebuilt RVs from Carp that were going to Oshkosh for AirVenture. We all got turned around by low ceilings near Peterborough.

Lower Ceilings and Rising Terrain North of Peterborough

I could work around the weather in the Husky, but that is not fun and this was supposed to be a vacation. The prudent thing to do was to return home and try again later.

22 July 06 - Early Saturday morning, I re-packed, re-fuelled and re-filed. I used the route North of Superior again, flying over North Bay, Sudbury and Wawa.

Departing North West out of Ottawa, Skirting the Rain (Green Blobs on the Garmin)

Self Serve Fuel at Marathon

I used the self-serve fuel at Marathon, the cheapest fuel so far this trip. There was lots of smoke near Dryden, and firefighting helos transiting at 500 AGL. Ceilings no higher than 2,500 AGL between Marathon and Dryden.

I had a sore neck when I arrived in Dryden from map reading and constantly looking for traffic. I departed Dryden Sunday morning under a Special VFR clearance, the ceilings were much lower than Saturday and the flying was hard work. I met a gentleman ferrying a Bell Ranger from Marathon to Alberta while refueling at Saint Andrews (CYAV, Winnipeg). We had been travelling together between Dryden and Winnipeg, listening to each other's radio calls. Saint Andrews (Winnipeg) is not the same since the last Winnipeg Flying Club went bankrupt. Harv's Air is now operating the facility, but the restaurant is closed on the weekends, believe it or not. The vending machines at Shell were out of order. I survived by scarfing the granola bars and water from my camping supplies.

The further West I travel, the higher the Avgas prices. In Medicine Hat Alberta, literally within sight of the oil wells, 100LL is $1.67 litre.

For anyone sitting on the fence about buying a new GPS with satellite weather (the Garmin 396, 496 etc), I can tell you that having the weather in front of you in flight really helps flying cross-country. I bought a Garmin 396 when the 496 was announced, taking advantage of the drop in prices on the 396. This has been my first cross-country trip with it. It gives you a strategic overview of the weather, and allows you to understand what Flight Service is talking about while in flight. There are bigger screens and more complex GPS' and PDAs available, but they are too complicated for use in flight in the Husky. I should have bought stock in Garmin, I have bought almost everything they have produced since I got my PPL.

Snow in Montana

Pilot geeks will find many ways to amuse themselves with satellite weather. I looked up the METAR and TAF for Cut Bank Montana, where I planned to clear customs. 2 mile visibility with SNOW - in July. Time to call customs and change the plan.

Montana, "Where the Prairie meets the Mountains"

24 July - I got to Montana just before sunset, after waiting all afternoon in Medicine Hat for thunderstorms to pass. I crossed the border at a little place called Coutts Alberta (CEP4). There is a little grass runway that runs East-West right along the border, the US side of the border is called Sweetgrass Montana (7S8). The highway border crossing is only 100 yards away, so the agent just walks over, like at Piney in Manitoba. I think THY was parked with the tailwheel in Canada and the front tires in the US. The border runs along the side of the runway.

There are several little air strips like this between Chilliwack BC and Piney in Manitoba. Because they are only yards from a customs office, they only require one hour advance notice (to avoid that $5000US fine) and since you land on the Canadian side and take off from the US side after clearing customs, there is no requirement to call Flight Service for a transponder code. Check the AOPA International Operations website or the AOPA Airport Guide for the latest advance notice requirements for the specific airport. Just squawk 1200 and call on their Unicom (CTAF) frequency.

When I phoned to give my one-hour notice, the border agent asked me to confirm I was flying a taildragger and suggested I should not land here if it was wet, since it can be very rough. It took two low overhead passes to identify the strip, check the wind (gusting 20 knots from the North) and set up to land. Remember those precautionary landing practices? I positively identified the strip when I saw the Border Patrol pickup truck parked in the field waiting for me.

CEP4 Coutts Alberta is also serves as K7S8 Sweetgrass Montana

Coutts Alberta - Sweetgrass Montana Grass Strip at Sunset

I landed before sunset, and took off as the sun set. There are no lights at this runway, so if I had been delayed, I would have had to camp at the little grass strip. I flew for another two hours after dark, watching the lightening as the huge thunderstorms moved East into North Dakota. Beautiful flight, followed by a squeaker of a landing in Great Falls. Always a great landing when there are no witnesses.

I spent the night in a Holiday Inn Express in Great Falls Montana, within sight of the Rockies.

Into the Mountains
25 July 06 - I left early in the morning to fly into the Idaho mountains. No wireless internet out there, there are not even any roads into the campsites.

Heading West out of Great Falls Montana

I spent four days in Idaho - I flew from Great Falls (KGTF) to Johnson Creek (3U2) in Idaho. This airport is at the bottom of a mountain valley, but there is over 3,000 feet of immaculate grass runway, 300 feet wide. The caretaker waters this runway daily with water from the creek running beside the camping area. This airstrip caters exclusively to fly-in campers, no other tourists are allowed to camp here. The facilities are provided by the State of Idaho, and are very nice indeed. The facilities include hot showers, firewood and two courtesy vans for driving into the hamlet of Yellow Pine for groceries or a burger. I set up camp in the shade, since the strip is at 5,000 feet and the temperature had been 101F each afternoon for a week.

Tied Down at Johnson Creek

Camping at 3U2 Johnson Creek, Idaho

Check out the local web-cam
The resolution is not great, but you can see the grass strip is always being watered. It looks like a nice long and wide runway, but the field elevation is 5,000 feet and those mountains are 8,000 feet high. There is no specific circuit, since the valley is very tight. I use a dramatic slipping turn to bring the Husky in from 7,500 feet overhead to final in a 270 degree turn. Do NOT try this in the afternoons, when the density altitude can be over 9,000 feet on the field and the winds unpredictable in the valley.

There were a number of lightening strike fires burning in the area this year, and two firefighting TFRs to fly around. Johnson Creek exists to support the fire fighters. There are presently 50 firefighters from Washington State camped at the other end of the field, brought in to fight these fires in Oregon and Idaho. They are supported by up to six helos that drop in to pick up supplies. Everyone talks on the same CTAF frequency in this area of Idaho, so there are no conflicts. The bulk of the firefighting traffic occurs during the afternoon, when sensible pilots are snoozing in the grass or watching the helicopter activity.

There are many small backcountry strips in the area, all described in the "Fly Idaho" series of books by Galen Hanselman www.flyidaho.com . It is possible to fly into these strips, with the appropriate instruction and lots of practise in SLOW FLIGHT at altitude. There are Cessna 170s and 172s here, as well as lots of 180s, SuperCubs and one very nice Husky. It is best to fly at dawn or dusk, when the cooler temperatures and stable air make the winds down the canyons more predictable. I leave the afternoon flying to the professionals in their Cessna 206 sightseeing flights and the firefighting helos.

Cessna Turbo 206 Departing Johnson Creek

26 July - Surprise! The FBO at McCall Idaho (KMYL) had wireless. An opportunity to update my e-mail and ignore all the work-related ones. Fuel at McCall was $4.06 a gallon. The local pilots are complaining. I just pump the gas (half-tanks only at these density altitudes) and think of the price at home. Density altitude at McCall is 9,000 feet this afternoon, I am going for a walk to the lake and I will fly back to the campsite after things cool down.

28 July - I left Johnson Creek at dawn. I intended to land at Soldier Bar or Cabin Creek, two small strips on the Salmon River. There was a large forest fire burning 60 miles east of Johnson Creek and the smoke had built up in the mountain valleys. There was not a cloud in the sky, but the valleys were IMC with smoke. Flying further East was not possible.

Smoke in the Valleys

I had overflown Vines airstrip on the way out, so I doubled back to examine it closely. It is a very small strip (1100 ft x 30 ft wide) at an elevation of 4,110 feet. It is at the bottom of a winding river canyon with 200 ft tall trees on both sides of the river. I could make an approach from downstream, landing upstream. The visibility was fine, and the sun would be behind me on the approach. I flew a mile further down the canyon, dropped 20 flaps and did a tight turn (a real "canyon turn") to set up.

Vines High Pass

Vines Approach - Heading Upstream

Obviously this is not a regular circuit, it is a long, winding final following the bends in the river to stay between the trees as you descend. Stay on speed all the way down. I was thanking Simon Garrett at Rockliffe for all the slow flight practise we did in June. Because the approach is blind, you have to maintain a steady speed (1.2 Vso) just above the trees, ready to cut the power and drop down when the airstrip comes into sight. Because the strip is short, you want to touchdown within the first 50 feet of runway.

I overflew the strip twice before descending into the canyon (remember the precautionary procedure for an unfamiliar strip) and noted some rock formations to give me clues how far I had to go to the threshold. I also had my GPS counting down the distance, but I wasn't really going to place all my trust in the GPS. The book states that this is a "no go-round" strip, but I knew that if I was too high at the threshold, I could overshoot and climb out along the river at full power. Just follow the river, and avoid the canyon walls while climbing out.

I made the landing, stopping in less than 500 feet from the threshold (I paced it out). I shut down and sat in the plane for a few minutes, listening to the engine cool down and my heart rate decrease. The adrenaline rush from landing for the first time at an extremely challenging strip cannot be described. Better than chocolate.

Vines, Idaho

Landing Spot

Vines - Facing Downstream for Departure

The strip was extremely narrow and partly overgrown. The runway threshold was overgrown, there were many small trees growing on the riverbank and lots of rocks on the runway. The runway is maintained by the Idaho Aviation Association, but they cannot send in a volunteer workparty to all of these strips every year. Since this is in a national wilderness area, there are no roads into the site and the maintenance is all done by manual labour. I did my part, moving a few of the larger stones back under the trees and clearing some fallen branches.

The takeoff should have been anti-climatic, climbing out as steeply as possible to get back up to 7,500 ft. Acceleration was good but the runway was uneven and I was bounced into the air before normal rotation speed. The aircraft does not respond as crisply at 4,000 feet, so my corrections were slow and I felt a little wobbly, but I avoided the trees and quickly settled into a Best Angle (Vx) climb until I was above the canyon walls. I learned a lot and had a truly memorable flight.

29 July 06 - The town of Dixie is a small Idaho mountain community with a year-round population of 16. It was originally a gold mining community founded in 1862. I was given a tour by the lady who owns and operates the local outfitting lodge. She caters to hunters during the fall, snowmobilers during the winter and pilots, hikers and horseback riders during the spring and summer.

Dixie Town

Dixie Town (no airport ID) has a graciously curved runway that runs through town. The Dixie Town runway is nominally at 5,618 feet elevation, although it dips as it curves. The 3,000 foot runway is 80 feet wide but it also doubles as the main street, so have a good look for ATVs, motorcycles and pedestrians before commencing your approach.

Dixie Town has it all, high elevation, a narrow, curved and uneven runway, high density altitudes and surrounded by tall trees. Verify the condition of the strip, have a careful look for vehicles and set up with a nice long final. Have a good look at the strip, and let the vehicle traffic on the ground see that you are coming in to land. Be prepared to overshoot if things are not perfect.

There is a sign telling people not to drive on the runway, but it is the only road through town!

Looking Back Down the Runway, Dixie Town

Dixie Town, Idaho

The Outfitters Lodge and Restaurant, Dixie Town

Line Up for Departure, Dixie Town

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

My Husky Panel with Garmin 396 and GNS430

This post is for anyone who wanted to see my Husky panel setup with 396 (weather, XM Radio, terrain, etc.) plus IFR certified GNS430 in the panel. These photos are from my summer 2006 trip to Montana.

Summer 2006 - Passing South of Moose Jaw, near the Montana border

The photo shows US NEXRAD data superimposed on the 396 moving map. In 2005 & 2006, only US weather radar (NEXRAD) was available with the XM Wx service. This coverage extended into Canada, but only close to the border and was more reliable at higher altitudes. The weather (green blob) is a summer storm building west of CYMJ. I was en-route Coutts Montana. About an hour later I diverted to Medicine Hat because of a series of thunderstorms moving East across Alberta and Montana. You can see that there is no comparison between the map detail on the Garmin 396/496 and the IFR panel mounted GNS 430 below it.

As of 18 April 2007, Canadian radar data and weather forecasts (METAR/TAFs) are included with the US XM Wx Aviator service, but there is no way for a Canadian subscriber to get that data through their XM Radio Canada subscription. I have e-mailed and called but XM Radio Canada does not seem to understand the issue. A pilot living in Canada has several means to obtain weather data on his Garmin. Having a friend in the US buy a Garmin 496, getting a US XM Wx subscription and then lending you his GPS is one option. Another is to buy the Garmin yourself and get the US XM Wx subscription by using XM Radio gift certificates which do not require an address, or by simply giving XM Radio a US postal address.

The Terrain display - in Montana, just west of Great Falls

With the sensitivity on the terrain warnings turned to "low" - terrain less than 500' below me is yellow, less than 100' below me or above me is red. Here is the same view out the window:

Yes, I do use the XM Radio sometimes ....

And the PIC chooses the tunes.

Headset discussion - I still own a pair of both BoseX and LightSpeed 20XL ANRs but my clear favourite in the noisy environment of the Husky is the Telex Stratus 50D (below)

Telex Stratus 50D Headset

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Last Day - Grand Forks ND to Carp Ontario

LAST DAY: 31 July 2005:

Grand Forks was not very memorable. Relatively expensive gas, an unremarkable hotel and not much to see downtown. The next morning, I was eager to get back on my way. Airborne at sunrise, there were fairly extensive low stratus clouds so I was forced to fly on top for most of the morning, and a slightly circuitous route across Northern Minnesota to avoid the rain. I could have made it all the way to Thunder Bay, but I wanted a weather update and I needed to provide Canadian Customs (1-800-CANPASS) with an updated ETA.

KORB Orr Regional, Minnesota

KORB Orr Regional

I stopped at Orr Regional for fuel and to call CANPASS. Very quiet airport and a nice looking area but I couldn’t wait long because I had to make that ETA in Thunder Bay. The weather had cleared up, it was sunny blue skies north toward the Canadian border, although the route South of Lake Superior was again getting lousy weather. It was still early, but it looked like there would be thunderstorms along that route in the afternoon.

I left for Thunder Bay, opening my Flight Plan with Flight Services and setting the assigned transponder code for crossing the border. On arrival in Thunder Bay, I was directed to the customs ramp. Although I had met my ETA exactly, I waited a good five minutes before getting out of the airplane and walking inside. There was no-one around, and I used the courtesy phone to contact Canadian customs. “You have a clearance number, thanks for checking in, have a nice day.” I was free to proceed. I like this CANPASS system, I hope no-one abuses it.

Approaching CYQT Thunder Bay, slowing down to make my ETA, what a lot of bugs!

I was ahead of schedule and I could probably make it back to Ottawa that evening if I hurried. I filed a VFR flight plan for Wawa, (Since I was back in Canada, I have to file a flight plan or an itinerary for a flight of more than 25nm.).

Enroute along the North shore of Lake Superior, I could see thunderstorms on the US side of the lake. Sault Ste Marie had reduced visibility, wind but no rain, while Wawa and Elliot Lake were both clear. I had a good tailwind, so I continued past Wawa to Elliot Lake. An hour on the ground at Elliot Lake allowed me to check the weather, have a chat with the airport manager about organising a taildragger fly-in, and top-up on fuel.

Homeward Bound, somewhere north of Lake Superior

CYEL Elliot Lake, Ontario

Departing Elliot Lake, I kept a good lookout for traffic. I had not encountered any other aircraft since leaving Idaho, but descending into Elliot Lake, I was surprised by several floatplanes flying in the opposite direction at my VFR altitude and not making reports on 126.7 nor on the Elliot Lake CTAF. I doubt that they even saw me, they certainly didn’t take any avoiding action.

The sun was setting as I continued along the shore of Georgian Bay. Heading direct toward Ottawa, I could avoid the convective activity that extended over Lake Huron. It had been a long day, and as much as I wanted to admire the lightening over the lakes, I was looking for the lights of Ottawa. It was just after 10PM when I landed at Carp and put the aircraft back into the hangar. I was tired but felt very satisfied at how my first major trip in the Husky had gone.

Weeks later, I was still pumped about my trip but I was already thinking about next year. I saw lots of places in Idaho and Montana that would be interesting to visit. John & Trish told me about flying in Northern Labrador. Bob Hoff told me stories about ferrying Huskies to BC and Alaska. And my teenage son is interested in going across Canada with me next year. Life is great.

Recommended Reading:

• Fly Idaho, by Galen L. Hanselman (press) Q.E.I. Publishing, Box 1236, Hailey, Idaho 83333

• Guide to Bush Flying, by F.E. Potts (press) www.fepco.com Aviation Book Company, 7201 Perimeter Rd South, Suite C Seattle, WA 98108

• Mountain Flying Bible, by Sparky Emerson (press) Aurora Publications, P.O. Box 573, Jackson Wyoming 83001-0573 www.mountainflying.com

Backcountry Flying Associations:

• The Idaho Aviation Association: http://www.flyidaho.org/

• The Montana Pilot's Association (MPA): http://www.montanapilots.org/

• Idaho Aviation Association: www.flyidaho.org

• McCall Mountain Flying Seminars: www.mountaincanyonflying.com/

Idaho Airport and Mountain Pass Webcams:

Johnson Creek Webcam:

The Husky Taildragger.info Website: