Monday, December 14, 2009

My Pilot Mnemonics and Acronyms

Mnemonics are general lists of items that are good to remember and memorize from airplane checklists and FARs. Over time, I am liking these flying mnemonics more and more. There is so much to remember when flying IFR or VFR in all the different phases of flight. These items make this easier. The key is to use them though. If you learn them once and don't use them, you forget them. During an emergency or other critical times, it is important to know them quickly.

So I thought I would write down all the different mnemonics that I remember using through my pilot training. That way I will have them in one place that I can review occasionally. I have also put them at the end of my personalized checklist.

My description, list, and meanings may be slightly different that yours. The important part is that it works for you and gets you to memorize easier the things you need.

VFR Mnemonics

ARROW (Inside the Airplane)
air worthiness, registration, radio certificate (only outside US now), owners manual, weight/balance

tach, oil press, manifold press, altimeter, temp, oil pressure, fuel guage, landing gear position, air speed, magnetic compass, elt, seat belts

FLAPS (night time equipment)
fuses, landing light (if for hire), anticollision lights, position lights, source of electricity

IMSAFE (Health preflight)
illness, medication, stress, alcohol, fatigue, eating

RAWFAT (preflight requirements)
runway lengths, alternates, weather, fuel requirement, atc delays, takeoff/landing distance data

CIGAR (Runup before takeoff)
controls, instruments, gas, attitude (trim and flaps), runup

Lights, carb heat/cowl flaps, gas, undercarriage, mixture, prop/power, safety

SLIM (Engine shutdown)
switches, lean, ignition off, master off

ALARMS (Emergency Engine Failure)
airspeed, landing site, air restart, radios, mayday, secure plane

PARE (Spin Recovery)
power, aileron, rudder, elevator

CCCC (Missed approach start)
cram it, clean it, cool it, call it

IFR Mnemonics

GRABCARD (ifr equipment)
generator, radios, attitude indicator, ball, clock, adjustable altimeter, rate of turn indicator, directional gyro

CRAFT (IFR clearances)
cleared to, route, altitude, frequency, transponder

AVEF (IFR route for lost comms)
assigned, vectored, expected, filed

MEA (IFR altitude for lost comms)
minimum, expected, assigned

TTTTT (IFR Holding Patterns)
turn, time, twist, throttle, talk

WRIMTIM (IFR Approach briefing)
weather, radio comms and navs, instruments, missed approach point, time, inbound course, minimum altitude

UNOS (Compass errors)
undershoot north, overshoot south (by lattitude for standard rate turn)

ANDS (Compass errors)
accelerate north, decelerate south

Other Sayings

Lights, Camera (transponder), Action (speeds, flaps)
before taking off on the runway

Cold or Low, Look out below
Going towards a low pressure or cold temperature, altitude is lower than expected.


One of the other things I really like to do is to customize my checklist. I take the one out of the POH, sometimes rearrange a little, and add some. I also add information for other avionics on my plane. And I also add general items that I like to have handy on flights such as flight plan order, pirep order, common frequencies, cloud clearances, time conversion, light signals, and other miscellaneous things. I decided to put my list of mnemonics in it now too. I recently got a Sony PRS-505 ereader, so I formatted it for the ereader to take with me. If you would like to see what I did for my customized 1974 Cessna 182 checklist, here is the word document version of my C182P checklist and the pdf version of my C182P checklist.

I think personalizing your own checklist is a great thing to do. Then you can put it in the format that you like the most.

Pilot and Flying Mnemonics on the Web

On the web, I found some other lists of mnemonics.

Also some common aviation acronyms


Don't get rusty during the winter months. Create some homework for yourself. Go make your own list of mnemonics and your own personalized checklist.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Engine Failure Emergency Practice

I just practiced an emergency engine failure on my last biennial flight review for single engine airplanes. I did it in a way I really liked, and I would recommend it to other pilots to practice.

The Engine Failure Practice Setup

We were south of the airport and supposedly flying on our way back to a practice area north of the airport. We were flying at 7500' MSL which is 2500'AGL for our airport. When we were about to pass over the airport, he pulled my throttle and told me I had an engine failure. He announced to CTAF that we were practicing an engine out from 7500'; there was time for some landings and takeoffs before we landed.

Why This Method is Good

Emergency practice is always good; always make sure you make time to go practice. But one thing that has made me a little uncomfortable is that most of my emergency practice in the past has been in the middle of nowhere, trying to make it to a field, and going to low altitude in some farmer's back yard. I like this new method better.

Having your emergency field be an airport made it so we could take the emergency practice all the way to the ground. If I was short or long, it would be obvious, but still safe even at low altitude. For good practice, he still wanted me to put it down at the beginning of the runway even though it is a relatively long runway.

If something somehow happened for real when the engine was put to idle at low altitude, we would still be safe. There have been accidents where emergency practice turns into real emergency, and what better place to be if the unlikely happens than approaching an airport.

For my commercial certificate, I had to practice and show the power off 180 degree accuracy approach and landing. On the commercial maneuver, the power was pulled to idle abeam the touchdown point. In the emergency practice, the power was pulled at 2500' AGL which had me practice something a little different and closer to a real emergency. I would recommend getting good at the pulling the power on the downwind first before trying 2500' AGL.

The last big reason I like this method of emergency practice: This setup is something that all pilots should feel fairly comfortable with. You don't need an instructor in the plane to feel comfortable. All the low altitude operation is near a real runway with this method.

What to Remember

Remember to practice your favorite acronym during your emergency practice. My favorite for this is ALARMS.
  • Airspeed (Best glide speed)
  • Landing Site (remember to look straight down for sites)
  • Air Restart (carb heat, throttle, mixture, primer, fuel tank switch and indicator, ignition L/R checks, etc)
  • Radio set (7700 on transponder, 121.5 if not talking on another frequency)
  • Mayday
  • Secure (Final flaps, then Electric off, fuel off, mixture off, tighten seat belts, crack the door)
Maneuver so that you end up around 1000' AGL in a downwind abeam your intended touchdown point. This might be S-turns or wide turns or full 360 degree turn, but remember that 360 degree turns take a fair amount of altitude. Since I had to descend 1500' and was not above my downwind entry, I did not do a 360. If I needed to descend 2000' and I was above the downwind, I probably would have done a 360.

Don't put the flaps in until the runway is made. Once you put flaps in, you should not remove them. And remember a C182 will drop fast with flaps in. Remember you can always do a foward slip and remove it as needed. This can be better than flaps in this situation.

Think about the entire emergency procedure on the ground occasionally along with all your other acronyms. Maybe make your own list of your acronyms. If you don't know them quickly, quiz yourself and think of what other acronyms you have forgotten. Here is one site for pilot acronyms. I am still searching for some others. I thought I had found other places in the past. If I can't find a good additional list, maybe I will add a post with some.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ventubes Replacement Air Vent

The front air vents in my Cessna 182 have been quite annoying, and I think they are for many people. I had heard of these Ventube replacement air vents, and thought it was worth a try since they are pretty inexpensive. So far, they have far surpassed my expectations. So I thought I would write a quick review of my experience.

Ventube Cessna Air Vents
The Ventubes Replacement Front Air Vent are available at this Vantage Plane & Plastics ventube page and also from Aircraft Spruce ventube page for under $100 for a pair. And they work for most models of Cessna single engine aircraft: Cessna 120, 140, 150, 152, 170, 172, 175, 180, 182, 185, 190, 195, 205, 206, 207, 210 thru F, and 305's.

One thing I wondered was what they would look like in my plane. I did not see any pictures of it. So here are a couple pictures.

Here is one with it closed and locked. It looks pretty similar to the original except it has the bumps around the side to help twist the outside.

Ventube Cessna Air Vents
Here is a picture with it out and extended. It once again looks pretty similar to the stock one.

Ventube Cessna Air Vents

The big difference in the way this works is in the sleeve that the new vent fits into. The stock vent does not have this sleeve and leaks cold air between the wind screen and the white molding. The molding stops the air flow a bit, but not that well. We had started stuffing paper towels and such to try to improve the leaking air flow with the old vents. The new vent and its sleeve stops the air flow completely. Very nice!

I read the instructions which looked pretty easy, and my A&P put them in. He said it was easy. I had him transfer the temperature probe over from the old vent as well which was simple for him. There is a 337 Form to file for the STC, but that is not too hard for an A&P.

So the plastic ventubes do not look fancy, but they work great and look pretty similar to the original vents. If you have the original stock vents, I highly recommend you get a pair.


Friday, September 25, 2009

Aerial Crop Dusting

Every once in a while from the ground or up in the air, I see a crop duster at work. It is pretty amazing to watch. Then lately, I have been hearing how crop dusting or agriculture aerial application industry is doing pretty well and has advanced technically as well. It sounds like for the right person, it could be a good aviation career as an agricultural pilot.

Recent articles

Recently, there has been crop dusting articles in the Wall Street Journal and Associated Press. The Associated Press crop dusting article talks about the industry, and how it has increased recently. Some new sprays have come out for diseases that happen when crops are mature, these are hard to apply from the ground without destroying part of the valuable crop. Perfect for aerial application. In the Wall Street Journal crop dusting article, it also talks about how crop dusting is on the rise and is one of the few jobs a pilot can make decent money. But it really cautions that crop dusting is not for every pilot. This two articles sparked me to find an old AOPA Pilot magazine crop dusting article that I remembered from June 2007. It talks about how the industry has changed quite a bit to using GPS significantly for tracking and accurate spraying as well as using Air Tractor turbine driven turboprop planes or turbine converted older planes. If you can find your old AOPA magazine, I remember some good pictures to go along with the on-line article.


Pictures and articles don't do cropdusting justice, so I thought I would look on YouTube. Yep, there are some good videos there.

More Good Crop Dusting Information

Digging around a little more, I found an article on crop dusting and a little on becoming an ag pilot.

Then I found the most crop dusting information on an association for aerial crop dusting: National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA). On the NAAA web site there are multiple articles on becoming an ag pilot and getting a crop dusting job as well as links to FAA publications on crop dusting and other links as well as a convention coming up for crop dusting. Lots of good stuff on the NAAA site.

I also found this crop duster / agricultural pilot information on an aviation career website.


It is an amazing industry and amazing to watch the pilots doing their job.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

Airplane Mixture Leaning

Airplanes have manual leaning adjustments of the mixture for the engine. Every pilot knows about this engine management theory and might briefly discuss it during the private pilot training. But I was talking with my pilot friend the other day, and we both recalled that our introduction to this in our training was not very detailed. It is important to know how to use that red mixture knob during taxi, climb, cruise during a cross country trip, and approach to land.

Things do get a bit confusing since this subject is often debated.

The Controls and Instruments

Here are the engine controls in my plane: Carburator Heat, Throttle, Propeller Control, and Mixture.

C182 engine controlsHere is the standard C182 Instument cluster containing Cylinder Head Temperature (CHT), Oil Temperature, and Oil Pressure.

C182 engine instruments

Here is a picture of an Exhaust Gas Temperature (EGT) gauge that is sometimes found. This type only shows the temperature at one point instead of separately for each cylinder. The absolute temperatures are not shown since this is not as important as the number of degrees less than the peak EGT temperature. The yellow needle can be adjusted to line up with the peak that is found during leaning checks.

Single Point EGT gaugeHere is a multipoint engine analyzer which shows EGT and CHT for each cylinder. This is very good since different cylinders will be slightly different temperatures during normal operation. That way all cylinders are checked to be appropriate mixtures. Also if a cylinder starts having problems, it will show up here as one cylinder having a larger EGT or CHT difference.
In my C182, I pull partial carb heat while cruising so that my carb temperature is 10 degrees C. This makes the EGT differences between cylinders smaller and the engine operates a little better. Fuel injected engines will have even tighter EGT differences due to very even fuel distribution and this is part of why they operate a little more efficiently. If you don't have the carb temperature gauge, do not use partial carb heat; only full carb heat on or off.
C182 carb temp

Why Lean?

Leaning can be important for a number of reasons. It can give you better power and speed at altitude. You need to lean in order to plan your fuel more accurately for long cross country trips; you don't want to run out of fuel, and the performance charts count on you leaning. If you own your own plane, it saves you gas and money.

Operating to rich can lead to fouled spark plugs and then a bad mag check during runup; operating too lean (but not Lean of Peak) can lead to engine problems or reducing the lifetime of an engine.

Running Lean of Peak EGT is a hot point of debate, but it does not work very well in carburated engines like the older C182 so I will not talk about it much here.

How to lean is a choice you have to make. There is a lot to learn as well, and I am still learning/exploring. If you own the plane that is especially important. If you rent, you should probably use the owner/instructors recommendation.

Web Articles

I have been looking over the web extensively and trying to find articles that both describe how to run the mixture and the physics behind it. The best articles I think I have found are John Deakin's old Avweb Pelican's Perch articles. They talk a lot about engine operation and base it on physics. Much of it sounds like it follows what is taught at Advanced Pilot Seminars for engine management. He talks a lot about Lean of Peak, but I am trying to grab the information just on Rich of Peak.

John Deakin's articles:

There is a lot of detail there especially for the engineering minded person.

For pictures of what do do with a single point EGT, this Rod Machado article about leaning is pretty good.

Mike Bush's Savvy Aviator article list on Avweb is excellent for engine management and general airplane maintenance. There are a number of articles there; they basically follow the same principles as John Deakin's articles.

There appears to be quite of maintenance information the Sacramento Sky Ranch knowledge base web site.

I will try to summarize what I have read. See the full web site descriptions for more details.

Leaning for Taxi

Most people follow the recommendation to lean aggressively while taxiing. The idle mixture is set for starting an engine which is much too rich for taxiing. Prolonged taxi with full rich mixture will foul the spark plugs over time.

Mixture for Takeoff

Mixture should be full rich for all but high altitude takeoffs. Throttle should also be pushed full forward for most of the climb since that enables an extra richening feature in many carburators which is important for full power operation. Talk with an instructor for leaning at high altitude; you want to find the climb mixture, but on the ground before takeoff.

Mixture for Climb

When climbing, maintain the EGT that appears at Sea level when full rich or something around 250-300 rich of peak or richer for all cylinders. Most non-turbocharged engines have a peak EGT around 1525-1550, so this will probably be around 1275. Those are some typical numbers; you have to determine them for your engine and EGT probe location.

Leaning for Rich of Peak Operation

During cruise, the EGT setting is found as follows. Lean the mixture 1/2 turn counter clockwise, wait 3-5 seconds, and watch the EGT gauge. It will start going higher. Repeat until you see it go lower. The top temperature is the peak EGT. If you want to be 100 degrees Rich of Peak (ROP), then you want to enrichen the mixture back to the peak, then 1/2 turn clock wise rich, wait and repeat, until the temperature reduces by 100 degrees from the peak temperature.

If you have single point EGT, the above is close to what you want to do. It will only be checking one cylinder, but hopefully the probe is on the leanest cylinder by design. If that is the case, all cylinders will be 100 ROP or richer.

You might want different amounts of ROP depending on the percentage horsepower that your power setting is currently at. A particular Manifold Pressure and RPM setting will yield a particular horsepower that is specified in the POH. Be careful that your RPM gauge is displaying the correct RPM; many are out of adjustment and indicate lower than real. Check it with an optical RPM gauge. If it is wrong, you could be developing more HP than you think and be at the wrong ROP setting.

If you have a multipoint engine analyzer such as one by JPI or Electronic Instuments, there are usually automated ways to do this procedure. You want to do it so that all cylinders are the desired ROP setting or richer.

Lean of Peak (LOP) would be done similar, but all cylinders would be leaner than the peak and the richest cylinder would be leaner than the LOP setting. This is difficult in my carburated C182 engine due to uneven fuel/air distribution from the carburated system, and it is a very debated topic so I will not discuss it now.

The Red Box

Many places either talk directly about a red box or at least the need of not operating too lean while operating at high power settings or not being too lean when Rich of Peak. John Deakin refers to this Red Box description in his Pelican Perch article on Where Should I Run My Engine (Part 3-cruise):
  • At high power at Sea Level, operate full rich and full throttle for extra enrichening. This should place you at 250-300 Rich of Peak (ROP). Anything leaner is bad.
  • At about 80% horsepower, 200ºF ROP to 60ºF LOP is bad.
  • At about 75% horsepower 180ºF ROP to 40ºF LOP is bad.
  • At about 70% horsepower 125ºF ROP to 25ºF LOP is bad.
  • At about 65% horsepower or so, 100ºF ROP to Peak is bad.
  • At and below about 60% horsepower, there is no red box. Put the mixture wherever you want it.
So you would want to make the EGT Rich of Peak setting to be richer than the red box described above for the different power settings.

As the red box is described by John Deakin, it also means that 60% horsepower is a good place to be since any mixture is good. I have heard it is still best to make sure you preferrably don't end up with some cylinders LOP and some ROP. Aim for all cylinders to be all ROP or all LOP.

These cruise mixture settings will end up with richer EGT settings than what is specified in most POHs unless you are 60% hp or lower where any mixture is ok. If you believe John Deakin, Mike Bush, and Advanced Pilot Seminars, this is the way to go. I think it is the way I will aim to put my mixture. If your mixture is richer than the POH specified setting, realize you will burn fuel at a higher GPH rate.

Cylinder Head Temperature (CHT)

Through all these different mixtures, you should try to maintain a CHT lower than what the factory indicates. This will lengthen how long the engine will last and is easily attainable if the baffling and seals around the engine are in decent shape and control the air flow past the cylinder cooling fins appropriately. I try to keep my CHT under 390 degrees and preferrably much cooler. But John Deakin also advises in Pelican Perch to not adjust mixture for this top CHT temperature; adjust mixture with the red box in mind and then make sure it stays below a CHT threshold.

Burned Exhaust Valves

I am searching for articles on burnt exhaust valves as well and have found these interesting articles:

Once again, it is your choice on how to operate your plane. I am still exploring and learning. Talk with your mechanic, instructor, and others and form your own opinion. There are lots of opinions on this, and they seem to be in flux these days.

Any comments on my interpretations that do not involve Lean of Peak?


Saturday, September 5, 2009

Tailwheel Transition

Getting a tailwheel endorsement is a lot of fun. I just finished getting mine in a Citabria. See my earlier post about the Citabria for some pictures of the plane. I always like to keep learning, and I had heard that learning tailwheel will also help your non-tailwheel flying skills. It is also fun and will let me be able to fly a wider range of planes. I dream of flying in a super cub with bush tires some day.

So where to start... First, I picked up a book to hear more of the details, then I took a few initial lessons that combined tailwheel and aerobatics, then recently I focused on finishing up my tailwheel endorsement in a Citabria at Air West Flight Center. They have quite a few instructors that specialize in tailwheel and aerobatics, and I found one I liked there.

So here are my thoughts on the experience just after finishing....

Negative Stability

One of the biggest items to keep in mind is that the tailwheel is negatively stable when on the ground. When trying to slow down, the tailwheel plane wants to flip around since the center of gravity is behind the main wheels; this is especially true if landing incorrectly in a slight crab. If the plane flips all the way around, it is called a ground loop and is very bad. In tricycle gear, the situation is the opposite. In a slight crab while landing a tricycle gear plane, it will tend to correct itself and swerve a little back to the main direction of the momentum. So a tricycle gear pilot needs to be careful of this difference. This same tailwheel negative stability can happen during times other than landing as well. I think I might try to draw some pictures of the forces involved and put this in a separate post. The important thing is do the corrections quickly when they are still needed to be small.

The other item that makes the controls a little different for a tailwheel is the distance between the main wheels and the wheel for steering. The steerable nosewheel is much closer to the main wheels than the steerable tailwheel. The steering mechanism is also more like casters in a tailwheel; the wheel extends out horizontally from where the actual pivot center point is. These effects make the response time to steering input different and delayed. You have to be careful too much change in steering too late does not happen.

Taxi Operations

Forces during taxiing are different and stiffer in general in a tailwheel. If windy, it is harder to turn while facing wind, easier when faced away from wind. The plane will also tend to weathervane and push the tail where the wind is going. Taxi slow.

If you turn sharp, the tailwheel will pop out of the control of the steerable tailwheel rudder pedals. Then it is controlled by the brakes and wind over the rudder itself. Go straight again to have it pop back into standard steerable tailwheel control.

Remember typical wind control while taxiing. Climb into, dive away. But watch out for pushing the stick forward much if using much power; this reduces effectiveness of the tailwheel and can push the nose over if power is used at all. The Compleat Taildragger Pilot book refers to a different taxiing method, but I believe this is for non-steerable tailwheels.


Now for the first challenging part. Push full throttle, but keep stick buried backward initially so the steerable tailwheel is solidly on the ground. Then lift the tail at a certain speed by pushing forward on the stick until the attitude out the front window is correct. I was doing this around 40mph in the Citabria. You can get a little better feel of what is the level attitude when you get up in the air and cruising level; look where the horizon is on the windshield then. Back to our takeoff sequence. We are zooming along at 40mph+ and the tail up. If the attitude is right, the plane will fly off the ground gradually just like tricycle gear. If you hit 60mph+ and it is not, then pull the stick back slightly to let it fly off slowly.

Remember to not forget to lift the tail on takeoff. And lift it fairly quickly on a touch and go, especially if you did not slow down too much. If you do start taking off before lifting the tail, you are flying at a very low speed, so stay in ground effect until good speed is attained.

All that sounds relatively easy, but it does happen fast, and you have to be very good on the rudders through it all. That is what all of us tricycle gear pilots need to get better at. The left turning tendencies are changing constantly, so you have to compensate differently all the time. Be particularly attentive when you raise the tail. If you raise it faster, the turning tendency will change more significantly, and you will need to be more attentive. So raising the tail at a medium speed is easier. Once the tail is in the air, you are then susceptable to crosswind pushing the tail and any gusty winds; so continue to be attentive on the rudders.

Jabbing on the rudder pedals works well; be careful with sustained pushes. The effect of pressing the rudder pedal is a bit delayed and can easily be more than necessary, so a light jab works well.

Another method for learning rudders is happy feet. Try a little left then a little right rudder and watch the plane is in correct position, and continue a little left and right pedal. This prevents you from being lazy from tricycle gear operation and then not do the appropriate correction soon enough. You are already seeing the effects, so you compensate right away with small corrections.
Pattern speeds, flaps, and power settings

As with any new plane, it is good to become familiar with what the different power/speed/flap settings are.

With the Citabria, 70mph worked very well for the initial climb. I let the speed go up a little bit on downwind to maybe 80mph, and then bring it back to 70mph on base and final along with a reduction in the RPM to about 1500 RPM.

I heard that 70mph can work pretty well for the Decathalon too. I remember doing 75mph last time which is roughly the same.

3-point Landings

3 point tailwheel landingsA 3-point landing is an attempt to have all three wheels settle onto the runway at the same time right about when the stall horn goes off. This is the most common landing method for people to use in tailwheel trainers like the Citabria.

Make sure you are very well lined up with the runway for any small amount of crosswind. Do a foward slip early and maintain it as the winds change as you get lower. Make sure that you fly the plane in until around stall horn would go off. This makes the landing with a fairly nose high attitude; similar of course to when you are taxiing on the ground.

It helps to get the speed as close to 70mph in the Citabria as you can and trim it. Being too fast, makes the plane float and makes more back pressure needed. If you are at the right speed, you still have to ease the stick back during the flare, but it has less pressure and easier. Trimming, of course, helps your back pressure as well. When you get about the height of hangars, then start leveling out, and then flare when you are at the right height above the runway.

When you get close to touching down, you will have to watch the side of the runway with your peripheral vision in order to stay in the middle. Do not get off center from the runway and correct any difference right away. Light jabs on the rudder pedals is best; don't keep sustained pressure. The effect of pressing the rudder pedal is a bit delayed and can easily be more than necessary, so a light jab works best.

If you are not nose high enough in a 3 point at landing, the mains touch, the tail goes down from the weight behind the main wheels, angle of attack goes up, and airplane starts flying again. It looks like a bounce, but it is not from bouncing off the main wheels and is from the airplane flying again. Sometimes it is called a jounce instead because it is different. In tricycle gear, if you touch down a little early, the nose goes down from the weight being in front of the main wheels, angle of attack goes down, and the airplane stops flying. Of course if you touch down way too early in tricycle gear, you can bounce, but this would be even more severe in a tailwheel.

If the tailwheel hits a little before the main wheels this is ok, but don't make it too much before. Having the tailwheel hit slightly first is better than having the mains hit first to prevent the jounce.

Bury the stick backward once tailwheel is on the ground so the steerable tailwheel works well. Do not relax the stick to neutral or push it forward after landing.

Don't slam on the brakes after landing at least in the beginning; this will make it harder to slow down in a controlled manner; it will accent the negative stability. Keep attentive to the rudders all the time until stopped.

One thing I noticed was that the Citabria/Decathalon sit lower than a C182, so you need to flare with a lower sight picture.

I got a chance to sit the back seat a couple times. This is a little strange for a few reasons. It is hard to see the instruments. Also, when you flare, you feel your part of the plane sink because you are behind the pivot point of the plane. And when you flare, your peripheral vision for runway alignment is even more important since you can see less over the nose of the plane.

Wheel Landings

tailwheel wheel landingsA wheel landing is a landing where you attempt to have the main wheels touch first and keep the plane with the tail up while the rudder has effectiveness. Also leave the tail up until the airspeed is below stall speed. That way the plane will not try to take off again when the pitch increases when the tail is lowered.

Here is how we practiced it. Leave a little power (1300-1500RPM in Citabria), fly a shallower approach at least for starters, get in the flying low over the runway mode, don't let the plane slow down, quickly try to fly exactly level over the runway, but 1-2 feet over, then very very slowly slightly pitch down then level to inch down the runway, when you feel the wheels touch and not bounce, push the stick slightly forward, ease the power back. Bring the tail down after a couple seconds when the rudder is losing effectiveness, then go full stick back.

Flying over the runway is strange especially with enough speed to really keep flying and not flare. Pushing the stick forward is a little strange, but as long as you are slow and power off, this should be fine. Be as close to zero sink rate when initially touching the main wheels down. I flew the final at 70mph and was touching the wheels close to 60mph maybe. If it gets much slower, it tends to bounce.

If the wheel landing ends bounces, convert to a 3 point or go around. Bouncing/jouncing is very easy in the wheel landing. If you land with the slightest descent, the tail goes down, the wing flies again, and you balloon/jounce up. The key is to have the descent rate at something like inches per minute; or you effectively are nudging the plane an inch down at a time until it touches. Once again, it is easy to convert to 3 point or go around. If you convert to a 3 point, it helps to add a little power to re-establish the landing position.

Books and Websites

I looked on Amazon and looked for the best recommended book and asked some people, and ended up getting The Compleat Taildragger Pilot by Harvey S. Plourde. It seemed like a decent book. I reread a few areas after having the lessons and his comments and points about landing and takeoff are pretty good. There are some extra sections on taxiing without steerable tailwheel and landing with crosswind gear that don't apply to me, but they might to some. This other book looks good and cover others aspects of flying. I have not read it yet though. Stick and Rudder: An Explanation of the Art of Flying

I glanced around the web and found this website with taildragger information and this other site with taildragger information. Much of the information is similar between these two sites. I also found this description of landing specifically a Citabria; it is pretty good. Here is yet one more article about tailwheel training.


I think that getting a tailwheel endorsement is a good thing for pilots to get. It does not take too many hours, is a chance to try something new in flying, and is fun.

If any tailwheel pilots feel I have something a little off or could be described better, please let me know or leave a comment. I am a brand new tailwheel pilot and still comprehending how it all fits together.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Tailwheel fun in a Citabria

Citabria Lately, I have been having fun trying out tailwheel airplane lessons in a Citabria 7GCBC. I got my first exerience at tailwheel and aerobatics in a Decathalon and Pitts in the spring, and I wrote about that tailwheel aerobatic fun in this post. I always like learning something new each year if possible, and tailwheel is something I have not done yet. It has been fun so far, and it really makes you concentrate on your rudders. My latest lessons focusing on the tailwheel endorsement have been at Air West Flight Center in Longmont (KLMO). They have two Citabrias, one Decathalon, and a number of experienced tailwheel instructors.

One of the things I like to do when going into a new plane is take some pictures if possible. That lets me think through the different items on the ground at home before I get in the air. There are not as many controls in a Citbria as an IFR equipped plane, but I still think it is good. I can imagine all the different parts of a flight and what I would be doing.

Below is the avionics panel for this particular plane. This plane is carburated and has a nice VFR panel. The engine controls from left to right are mixture, prime, and starter. This plane does not have a key for starting, just a button. This model also has manual flaps and if you look closely you can see the flap handle to the left of the left rudder pedal.

Citabria avionics panel
There are some controls on the left side for throttle, carb heat, and elevator trim. At the bottom of the picture near the red placard is the fuel control valve (down is on).

Citabria Left Controls

Up high on the left are the switches and circuit breakers. Since this plane does not have a key for starting and the mags, the mag swithes are up here as well. One for left and one for right.

Citabria Left Switches

Up by the wing roots inside, there is a fuel tank level, but it is only for one wing. So it is important to check the fuel manually in each tank.

For operations here in Longmont, 70 mph is a good number to remember. 70 mph works well for the initial climb after takeoff and the base and final legs during landing. 1500 RPM for the base and final legs seems to work pretty well for a power setting. I raise the tail when there is enough speed, and it seems to be around 40 mph. Takeoff is around 60 mph. There is a lot more to the tailwheel transition, but I think I will leave that to a follow on post after I get my endorsement. It should be soon.

I found these two checklists on the web that seem pretty decent: a fuel injected 7KCAB checklist and a carburated 7ECA checklist.

From what I remember, much of the Citabria was similar to the Decathalon I flew earlier. The Decathalon had a more powerful engine, a constant speed prop, and descended quicker due to a symmetric airfoil (it is not flat on the bottom for more intense aerobatic work), but overall pretty similar.

Lots of other details to think about concerning the aircraft, but that is some quick pictures and information. See the POH for lots more info.


Friday, August 7, 2009

Local Mountain Flight

Some days I feel very lucky for where I live and work and owning a plane. Wednesday was one of those days. The airport is only 5 minutes from work, so I can have a very memorable flight over lunch. Every once in a while I take advantage of that. I took up two friends from work on Wednesday for a flight over the continental divide.

Below is my approximate flight path recorded from my SPOT tracker as mentioned in my earlier post about SPOT tracking with planes.

Local Mountain Flight PathI did not have a chance to take pictures, but my friends did and here are some of their pictures from the flight.

Shortly after takeoff, we leave the edge of the plains for the foothills.

Edge of foothills
Minutes later we are up on the eastern side of the divide looking at the Indian Peaks Wilderness Area and Rocky Mountain National Park.

Lake on East side of divide Approaching Rollins/Corona Pass, we fly by the Eldora Ski Resort which is just on the east side of the divide.

Eldora Ski Area Aerial

Just after passing over the divide, there are more mountain ranges and the Winter Park Ski Resort. It is amazing how close these two resorts are by plane; only minutes apart by plane, but 2 hours by car.

Winter Park Ski Area AerialThere are lots of pretty alpine lakes on both sides of the divide. Below is one on the west side of the divide.

Lake near divideHere is a picture of Bear Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park. This is a beautiful area from the ground and the air.

Bear Lake Aerial Here is the pretty Long's Peak from the air.

Long's Peak
And then it is time to descend into KLMO, put the plane away, grab a quick and tasty burger at the new Flight Deck Grill in Longmont, and head back to work.

Flying in the Rocky Mountains over the divide reminds me of some of the best parts of flying with only one hour of flying time.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Flight Following ATC conversation

Here is an example conversation I might have with Air Traffic Control (ATC) and Flight Service Station (FSS) while flying under Class Bravo airspace and into Class Charlie airspace and dealing with a Tower and Ground. On this path, I would not typically go through Class Bravo; if I did I would need to make sure I heard the words "cleared into class Bravo" from ATC before entering the airspace. In this conversation, I will open a flight plan, get flight following, communicate with a number of controllers, and land at Colorado Springs Airport which is in Class Charlie airspace. This is from memory, but I think it is pretty close to all communications that would happen.

You can read my thoughts on flight following in my other VFR flight following blog post. I think it is a great service that everybody should use on cross countries.

Here are some other articles to check out:

Call FSS and activate flight plan
Tune Freq 122.4
Me: Denver Radio, Skylane 9699G, listening on 122.4, ready to activate my flight plan to Colorado Springs
Denver Radio: Aircraft Calling 122.4, standby, number 2
I often have to wait my turn to talk with FSS.

Denver Radio: Aircraft calling 122.4, say request.
Me: Denver Radio, Skylane 9699G, ready to activate my flight plan to Colorado Springs 15 past the hour
Denver Radio: 9699g, Flight plan to Colorado Springs activated, Local altimeter setting at Metro is 3002. contact flight watch on 122.0, pilot reports appreciated

Me: 3002 for 9699g, thanks.
Ask for ATC frequency if I do not know it.

Get VFR Flight Following
Tune Freq 126.1
Me: Denver Approach, Skylane 9699g, south of Longmont, VFR request
Denver Approach: Skylane 9699G , Denver Approach, say request
Me: Denver Approach, Skylane 9699g, 6,500 south of Longmont, request flight following to Colorado Springs
Denver Approach: Skylane 9699g Squawk 0432, ident
Tune Transponder and hit the ident button. No need to respond if he indicated to ident. Otherwise repeat back.
Denver Approach: Skylane 99g, Radar contact, 10 miles north of Metro airport, altitude 8,500, altimeter 3002
Me: 3002 for 99g

Maybe in the middle sometime, there will be a report of trafic.
Denver Approach: Skylane 99G, Traffic 10 oclock, 7500, 5 miles, north bound
Me: 99G looking for traffic
5 miles out is a ways to see a small plane. If they get closer, you will probably see them. If they get closer, ATC will mention again probably and suggest vectors to avoid the other aircraft if it becomes a concern.

Denver Approach: Skylane 99G, contact denver approach on 128.45
Me: 128.45 for 99g, thank you.
Tune Freq 128.45
Me: Denver Approach, Skylane 9699g, level 8500
Denver Approach: Skylane 99g, Denver Approach, altimeter 3002
Me: 3002 for 99g

Me: Denver Approach, Skylane 99g climbing to 9,500
Denver Approach: 99g, Denver Approach, roger

Denver Approach: Skylane 99G, contact Springs approach on 118.5
Me: 118.5 for 99G, thanks
Tune Freq 118.5
Me: Springs Approach, Skylane 9699g level 9,500
Springs Approach: Skylane 99G, Springs approach, altimeter 3004
Me: 3004 for 99G

Listen to ATIS on second radio. Or ask Springs approach to go off frequency to listen to it.
Me: Springs Approach, Skylane 9699g request to go off frequency to listen to ATIS
Springs Approach: Skylane 99G, frequency change approved, report when back on frequency.
Listen to ATIS
Me: Springs Approach, Skylane 9699g back on frequency. Have information India.
Springs Approach: Skylane 99g, roger

Springs Approach: Skylane 99g, contact Springs tower on 119.9
Me: 119.9 for 99g, thanks
Tune Freq 119.9
Me: Springs Tower, Skylane 9699g, 9,500 inbound full-stop with India
Springs Approach: Skylane 9699g, Report 5 mile final
Me: Report 5 mile final for 99g

Me: Springs Tower, Skylane 99g, 5 mile final
Springs Tower: 99G, cleared to land 17 Right
Me: Cleared to land 17 Right, 99G

Springs Tower: N9699g, turn right first taxiway, contact ground point 7
Me: Contact Ground point 7 99g

Tune Freq 121.7 (Ground point 7)
Me: Springs Ground, 99G at Alpha 2, Taxi to the Jet Center
Springs Ground: 99g taxi to parking via alpha 2
Me: Taxi via Alpha 2, 99G
Find a spot to park and look for a line person if they appear to help with parking.
I usually close my flight plan after landing on my cell phone through FSS.

Discontinuing Flight Following

After using flight following and landing at a Class B/C/D airport, change Transponder to 1200 after landing or at least before leaving. If going to a non-towered airport, you will likely be told to change to 1200 in the air approaching the airport. You can request to cancel advisories as well so that you can change frequencies to the local airport.

Longer Cross Countries

Longer distance travel will not be much difference. Actually it is likely to be easier and more relaxing. In general, all there will be is a new freq maybe every 1/2 hour or so.

That is mostly it. So that will give you an idea of what to expect and what to say.


Friday, July 24, 2009

VFR Flight Following

Using VFR flight following with Air Traffic Control (ATC) is great for small and large planes in VFR. I heard about it when I had my private pilot lessons, but never used it with my instructor. My first time using it was on my own. It made me nervous the first time, but it went smoothly and ATC was very nice. Each time it got a bit easier because you know what to expect. Now I use it frequently, and I think everybody should.

I found this web site which details the use of flight following pretty well. If you have not tried flight following yet or want a refresher, I recommend reading that web site.

Why Use Flight Following?

Flight following is great for many reasons, and I highly recommend it to all for cross countries or transitioning Class B or C airspace. Here is one web site that states nine reasons to use Flight following. AOPA Air Safety Foundation recommends instructors to teach their students about flight following now.

There is a web site on AOPA that answers some questions about VFR and IFR ATC communication. I just asked a few new questions to that web site, and I am curious to how long it takes for the question to get answered. There are a number that are already answered on there.

My Good Things about Flight Following

I find that flight following brings extra confidence from your passengers that are listening. They like to hear that you are talking to controllers and that you are on somebody's radar. Most non-aviation people are surprised that you can fly around without talking to ATC. Although, flight following is still not as practical for a local sight-seeing flight.

Flight following is good for helping spot nearby traffic. Sometimes the traffic that ATC will point out will be pretty far away and not easy to spot; some will be closer and important to find. If you can't spot them, ATC will often give you a vector to help with spacing to the traffic.

Flight following is good if anything happens in an emergency. You are still the pilot and the only one in the plane, but they will help where they can. AOPA has a short article and sound recordings of some emergencies where ATC helped; controllers are given a special Archie League Medal of Safety Award for this. If you do emergency land, help would start immediately to find you instead of waiting until your flight plan expires, and they would closer where you landed.

You can ask a little about weather (although FSS is more for that). Sometimes they will comment about weather head or near your vicinity. Controllers have something similar to XMweather available to them if they are not too busy.

Flying through and near Class B, C, D is easier with flight following. They coordinate your handoff and the controllers are expecting your call. Make sure you hear the words "Cleared into Class Bravo" before going into actual class Bravo airspace. If you think you will hit it and are not officially cleared, asked ATC. They will likely give you the clearance or ask you to turn a little to avoid it.

Flight following has the positives of IFR of talking with ATC, but is much more flexible because the flight path is under your control.

Practice with using flight following also will give you a jump start to working on your IFR rating. A lot of using the IFR system is getting used to talking with ATC while flying the plane.

If you might transition to an IFR flight plan, it expect it can make it easier to transition to an IFR flight plan. You can certainly go the other way to from IFR to VFR flight following.

Lots of good things about using flight following.... That is what I can think of quickly.

Higher Altitudes Sometimes Needed with Flight Following

With flight following, you may have to climb higher in some areas than you want. In the mountains, it depends on where radar is and what altitudes it can see airplanes. It varies depending on the area. Around Eagle/Vail and Rifle, there is radar to the ground. If near Gunnison or Alamosa, you have to be something like 13,000 or higher. In these situations, I like doing a VFR flight plan with Spot Tracking as described in my blog.

Other Notes

It is best to do VFR flight plan in addition to flight following. This also helps as a backup plan if ATC does not have time or need altitudes higher than you want.

At one point in the beginning I was nervous about how to switch frequencies for talking with FSS. It is much easier that I thought back then and is usually no big deal. Switching frequencies for weather or PIREP ok. Just ask the controller. If they don't want you to swith right now, they likely can do it in a couple minutes or after the next controller handoff.

Giving PIREPs is useful for lots of reasons and AOPA has a course to talk you through Pireps. I maintain a list of items that are asked for in PIREPs and prepare ahead of giving the PIREP so that I can give them quickly and easily over the radio. The Skyspotter course gives you a list you can use or modify.

Flight following sounds like a lot of radio communication when in Class Bravo, but minimal will be for you. Away from dense airport areas, the radio communication is usually minimal overall for everybody. ATC is very friendly and is use to different levels of experience. Practicing a little ways outside of Class Bravo first can be a way to get your feet wet. None of the Class Charlies I have been in have been very hard so that would be another place to start. You can also glance at my comments about how to get comfortable with talking with ATC. Most of the web accessible controller communication is for busier airports, so the aviation band scanner may be the better way.

Controllers are here to help the pilots. First IFR traffic, then VFR traffic. They would not have jobs if we were not here or did not use them. So all the controllers I have talked with personally say they try to be very accomodating to all pilot requests.


I plan on following this up with another blog post about an example flight following conversation. Look for it soon. Hopefully, it will answer questions on typical radio communication. It is something that I wish I had when I started, so I will write it down soon.

Everybody should use flight following on cross country trips if possible. If you don't use it yet, make a promise to yourself to try it out.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Some Mountain Flying Thoughts

Winter Park Aerial Panorama
Recently, a reader asked me for some of my thoughts on flying in the Rocky Mountains with a small plane such as the Cessna 182. The best thing you can do is fly near one of these areas and get some specialized instruction. Most airports around Denver have flight instructors available for mountain instruction. I am not an instructor (at least not yet), but I have some experience of the mountains. Here are some of the big things I can think of from lessons I have had and some of the books I have read. Once again, the best thing is to find an instructor in one of these areas for the specialized instruction.

Before taking instruction or the next best thing to instruction is to read a book about Mountain flying. Here is a link to some books on Mountain flying. Sparky Imeson's mountain flying book is a standard for reading on the subject. There are also good tips on Sparky's web site. Some of those web pages are more focused for backcountry mountain strips. Here is a minimum mountain flying knowledge page. If you become interested in backcountry strips, I would recommend taking a class such as the ones offered by McCall Mountain/Canyon Flying Seminars. I took the basic course and wrote about this great mountain/canyon flying seminar in the past.

  • Make sure you richen your mixture somewhat before landing. I do 5 half turns rich of my cruise mixture, but not full rich. Full rich and too lean is not good at high altitude. This method gives you appropriate power for a go-around if needed.
  • Land with short field techniques with smooth stabilized approach/descent. Don't chop the power on short final if you would land too long. Go around and try again.
  • Ground speed is faster landing at high altitude, it looks different, but keep same airspeed. This is due to larger indicated vs true airspeed difference at altitude.
  • Do not land too fast. Fly the speeds in the POH. Very important at high altitude. Landing fast will cause you to float and use a lot of runway distance.
  • Don't land two slow either; you do not want to stall.
  • Colorado airport information is available on-line on the CDOT web site.

  • Lean during runup. Find where leaning mixture drops RPM. Then richen 5 half turns
  • Takeoff with short field techniques
  • On takeoff reach 70% of take off speed 1/2 way down the runway, if not abort. Wind, weight, temperature, pressure altitude or something is causing problems.
  • Be 10% or more under gross weight. Reduced weight greatly helps your takeoff distance. Don't fill tanks all the way if at a high altitude airport
  • Your manifold pressure at takeoff will be much lower and the wings/prop develop much less lift. You can simulate the manifold pressure difference at your airport. A 29.92 day at 10,000 feet, I think would be about 19" Manifold pressure at takeoff
  • Likely the temperature will be much higher than standard as well which will greatly affect things and cause a very high density altitude. Taking off from Leadville in the middle of the day in the summer is a bad idea.
  • Check your takeoff distance in your POH, but realize your distance will possibly be much longer due to not being a new plane and not being a professional test pilot.


  • Climb out after take off, fly the POH airspeeds. Your pitch and climb rate will be much slower, but this is normal.
  • Watch your rudder control; step on the ball during the climb. Coordinated flight will help increase your vertical climb rate and is safer.
  • Don't let your speed drop too low trying to maintain a positive climb rate and stall
  • Watch for clearing obstacles when climbing out. Circle if you need to.
  • Lean your mixture appropriately. The 5 half turns rich works pretty well for me to start. Then afterwards I do it according to fuel flow mentioned in POH. I have a Fuel Flow meter. The fuel flow is about right for the EGT to be about 250+ rich of peak. Too lean is not good too. Detonation can happen and cylinder temps can get too high.
  • Keep cylinder temps 390 degrees or lower. Level off, gain speed, and richen mixture to lower cylinder temps
Crossing Ridges

  • Be careful crossing ridges. Approach at 45 degrees when close. Maybe within 1 mile. If you approach at 45 degrees, you will have only 90 degree turn to go back to lower terrain If you are further away from the ridge, you can probably afford a full 180 degree for lower terrain.
  • Downdrafts can be subtle or severe in the mountains. I have usually seen subtle ones which are still a problem. You get down to Vy and you still can't have positive climb rate. Make sure you are at max RPM max throttle. 2600 RPM in my C182P.
  • If in a severe downdraft, turn around in the direction of lower terrain.
  • If in slight downdraft, try near opposite side of the valley, if one side is in down draft, sometimes other is in slight updraft. Otherwise, go further away from pass and try climbing before approaching pass.
  • If having difficulties climbing, but not in a downdraft, you can step climb. Level, gain speed, then climb a bit, level, gain speed, then climb, repeat.
  • Always plan an alternate to crossing your intended pass. A different pass or another day. Or possibly stop and rent a car for the last portion of the trip.
  • Turbulence as you get closer to ridge is probably a sign to not cross the ridge here or today. Some is expected, but severe turbulence is definitely a warning. Likely bad downdrafts as you get closer. Flying higher can help.
  • 20+ knots predicted winds aloft at 12,000 is a concern. 30+ is probably a no go. Sometimes the Mountain AWOS will be indicating 30+, but it can be ok if it is not too near you. But be careful.
  • One side of the valley or ridge is usually smoother than the other due to winds. Sometimes it is dramatic.
  • I usually cross 1000-2000' over the passes. Especially when my wife is with me and when I was new. That will put me 12,500+ over many of the passes and then I drop down after the pass to under 12,500.
  • My 7-year old son gets airsick easier at higher altitudes, so I try to descend when possible.
  • If you have Garmin 430 Waas, the altitude reported on the Terrain page is accurate. I have found this is better than using the Altimeter setting from the airport. Usually you are higher than what the airport altimeter setting would tell you. The altimeter setting will vary around the pass and a mountain AWOS will tell you a pretty high setting which is valid only for the pass.
  • Mountain AWOS are good for wind and cloud reports. But it can be reasonably clear at the pass with clouds backed up on the other side.
  • Also watch that you can see more and more terrain on the other side as you approach a pass. This ensures you are currently higher than the pass.
  • Fly the main passes and then down the valleys. See my other blog entry for some suggestions on VFR Paths over the Rockies. It won't be a GPS direct course, but you usually can make some GPS waypoints that are relatively close to what you want to fly. Fly it with a Sectional Map and watch very carefully where you are and where the nearest airport is. There is a sectional of Colorado with passes marked at the CDOT website.

Other General Items

  • Portable oxygen is good at altitude if possible especially for a flatlander. Maybe borrow one? I use it if I am going to be at 12,500 or higher for a long trip, and I live at 5,000. It keeps you thinking clearly and prevents headaches. Remember to refresh your memory on the oxygen altitude requirements.
  • Manifold pressure goes up as you descend. This can be strange when you are reducing power and trying to lose altitude. You set it at 15", descend 2000' and MP is now at 17" without moving the throttle. You need to keep reducing the throttle a little as you go lower in altitude to maintain 15". Make sure cowl flaps are closed as you descend.
  • Always have an out. Know where lower terrain is. Plan so that you don't have to go over the pass. Stay a night somewhere and wait for a better day. Plan for a different way around even if it adds 2 hours. Always be able to turn to lower terrain. Land and rent a car for the last portion of the trip.
  • Avoid IFR in the mountains
  • Avoid night flying in the mountains
  • Carry survival equipment in the case of emergency. Sleeping bags or lots of space blankets, first aid, etc.
  • I use a SPOT Satellite Messenger for emergency notification and tracking as indicated in a past blog. A Personal Locator Beacon is another good way to go.
  • File a flight plan and get flight following if possible. Flight following is not possible in most mountainous areas though.
Instructors or others out there... Did I miss any big items?


Friday, July 3, 2009

Teton Flying Trip: 2009

We had another beautiful flying trip with my wife and son to the Grand Teton National Park last week. We followed what I wrote in my blog a while back for a future Yellowstone/Teton trip idea.

Here is our flight path up to the Tetons and back through use of the SPOT Satellite messenger as mentioned in my previous blog. SPOT also now has a new web site called Spot Adventures that I am trying out. It enables you to do a story with pictures linked to your SPOT GPS track. By the way, it looks like SPOT is having a special offer for free SPOT trackers if you sign up for the service for 2 years.


Getting There

The path up from KLMO was not quite as pretty as we hoped for. It was cloudy most of the way. Our route was basically KLMO-KLAR-U25-KJAC.

Tetons from the ILS 19 KJAC approach

We ended up filing IFR for the last portion. Here is a picture of our track in FlightAware.

KJAC IFR ILS 19 June, 2009

Arriving in Jackson Hole

We flew into the Jackson Hole Airport (KJAC), rented a car through Hertz with the Jackson Hole Aviation FBO rate. Their rate ($48/day) was better than and they were extremely helpful and had our car waiting at our plane's tie down spot. Make sure you reserve a tie-down spot with them. They typically have only 20 spots, and right now only 5 spots due to some planes relocated from the Driggs Airport. It also gets you the good treatment with the rental car and parking. There was a $5 landing fee and $10 per day tie down fee. Gas is a little expensive, but it is worth it due to the location. We then drove up to Colter Bay on Jackson Lake in the Grand Teton National Park and stayed in one of the Tent/Cabins.

Colter Bay and the Tent Cabin

Colter Bay Tent/Cabin

The Tent/Cabin was quite nice, but rustic; it has a wood stove. We chose these since we wanted something like tent camping, but you can't reserve a tent site in advance. It was $48/night. The bathrooms were down the hill and the showers were available for $3 in the Laundry/General Store area. Some of our friends reserved the normal cabins which were nice too.

Here is a picture from the air I took on a previous trip. The area has tent/cabins, regular cabins, regular camping, a marina, restaurants, and a general store. It is well laid out in the trees and areas are separated, so you do not know how big it is from the ground.

Colter Bay Aerial Photo

The restaurant, cafe, and general store were pretty nice with good prices. The menus are on-line for the restaurant and cafe. We also bought things from the deli at the general store and ate a the nearby picnic tables a number of times. Much better prices than the Yellowstone area.

The first day we went to Old Faithful which we missed on our last visit to Yellowstone and my son really missed.

Old Faithful

The next day I did some sunrise hiking around Colter Bay and then a visit to the town of Jackson in the evening.

Tetons from Colter Bay Marina

The next day all three of us got up for sunrise pictures and wildlife searching. We saw a nice sunrise and some wildlife (Bison, Antelope, Otter, Pelicans, Elk, Deer, but no Moose). We hear moose are usually near Moose Junction, but we weren't lucky in seeing them. There is a Chuckwagon dinner in Moose Junction that looks interesting, but the chuckwagon special dinner is not on every night and we missed it. We also went to Jenny Lake, took a boat across the lake and hiked the rest of the way to Hidden Falls (0.5 miles each way). Lots of fun stuff!

Getting Back

Some thunderstorms passing through in the morning near Jackson, but otherwise great weather. Pretty scenic flight around the Tetons before heading south. Just fly 2000' AGL or higher since it is a National Park and no closer than 2000' from the mountains. I told Jackson Tower what I wanted to do and they were very accomodating.

Tetons Aerial Photo

Then a pretty flight over the Wind River Range. Then home.

Wind River Range Aerial Photo

Our approximate path was KJAC-KPNA-LAR-KLMO.


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Dakota Thunder 2009

Dakota Thunder was a great airshow in Rapid City, South Dakota at the Ellsworth Airforce Base (KRCA)! I got a chance to go up there last weekend, and it was a great trip! Ellsworth Air Force Base is home of the B-1B bomber. There is also more information on Wikipedia about Ellsworth here. The Thunderbirds were there, 2 B-1Bs on the ground, 2 B-1Bs in the air, and A-10 demonstration, and lots of other stuff in the air show and on the ground to look at. And it was all free and not too crowded!

On the Ellsworth Air Force Base site, it indicates that approximately 40,000 people came to the Dakota Thunder. The area for the air show was quite large with many large planes on the ground, so it did not seem very crowded. There was also lots of food booths, so there were basically no lines for food which is fantastic for an air show. I found an article about Dakota Thunder in the Rapid City Journal here and another article about Dakota Thunder in the Rapid City Journal here.

Air Show

Grand Canyon AerialThunderbirds, Dakota Thunder

Thunderbirds, Dakota ThunderThunderbirds, Dakota Thunder

Thunderbirds, Dakota Thunder

2 B-1Bs Air Demonstration
B-1B, Dakota Thunder

A-10 Air Demonstration
A-10, Dakota Thunder

Planes, etc on the Ground

You could go inside a number of these planes and into the cockpit including the B-1B!

B-1B, Dakota ThunderB-1B, Dakota Thunder

C-130, Dakota ThunderC-17, Dakota Thunder

Getting There and Back

Flying ourselves in our C182 was simple. We could basically go direct KLMO-KRAP. We flew a little west at the end to do a pass near Mt Rushmore and then landed at KRAP. If we had filled out some paperwork, we could have landing at Ellsworth Air Force Base KRCA. But I was late in checking into it, so we landed at KRAP at the Westjet Air Center, and they had a very convenient shuttle to Ellsworth Air Force Base. The shuttle bus took us right up to the flight line and enabled us to bypass the long line of cars coming into the show as well as the distance from the parking to the flight line. It was very nice.

Mt Rushmore Aerial

On the way back, it was pretty nice and smooth too. We had to dodge some thunderstorms, but the route was still fairly direct. Flying both ways and going to the air show made for a little bit of a long day, but it was reasonable and a great show. Well worth it.


Dakota Thunder is an airshow I will recommend to anybody in the area that can make it!


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Grand Canyon Flying

Grand Canyon Aerial

Flying over the Grand Canyon is an amazing experience. Luckily, it is right on our path between Colorado and Southern California and we like going to Southern California. Navigating over the it with the special rules may sound like more hassle than it is worth, but it is pretty easy in the end if you have a GPS.

The Sectional and Grand Canyon VFR Maps

The first thing you look at is the Las Vegas Sectional, but it does not have much information on it except to avoid the entire area. Below is a snapshot. But the situation is not that bad.

Grand Canyon Sectional Piece

The next step is to buy the Grand Canyon VFR chart or at least look at it on-line with Below is a snapshot. The main areas you have to avoid are in purple unless you are at or above 14,500 MSL. If you avoid the purple areas, you can be much lower. You basically have to stay above the rim of the canyon. The altitudes you cannot go are marked somewhat similar to how it is marked on a Class Bravo area. You also should try to be at least 2000' AGL since you are over a National Park. I wish some of this information was included on the sectional chart.

The commercial traffic is allowed to go lower and below the rim. This is a little annoying that non-commercial GA traffic does not have the option, but it does separate the commercial and non-commercial traffic well. I monitor the advisory frequency of 127.05Mhz and have only heard the commercial traffic when I have flown through. So I have had no other traffic at might level while enjoying the scenery.

Grand Canyon VFR chart

The Grand Canyon Corridors

There are specific spots you can cross the canyon between the purple spots. These are labeled as the Grand Canyon VFR Corridors. I have highlighted them below with green lines. The beginning and end of these green lines are described with GPS coordinates, so it makes it easy to find the beginning and end as long as you have at least a handheld GPS. When you go across these corridors, make sure you are at the appropriate altitude for you direction on the corridor. The altitudes are marked on the map.

Grand Canyon Cooridors

Modifying My Route for the Grand Canyon

On the last trip, I need to go from Page, AZ (KPGA) to Laughlin/Bullhead, AZ (KIFP). Below is the picture of the direct route. If I looked at the sectional, I might be make a big loop around the Grand Canyon. Looking at the Grand Canyon VFR chart, it looks like I could just about make the route without crossing the purple. But I would not maximize my fun over the Grand Canyon.

Grand Canyon and PGA-IFP direct route

So below is what I modified the route to. See how I used the end points of the corridors to help with the path and maximize the time near the Grand Canyon. My first time over the Grand Canyon, I went over 1 or 2 more of the corridors to get more of the experience. But that was easier that time because Grand Canyon airport (KGCN) was my final destination and that was the purpose of the trip.

Grand Canyon and PGA-IFP modified route

For this trip, I first gained altitude outside the special areas to over 8000', then kept climbing over the Marble Canyon area to above 10,000', then went to the north point of the Zuni Point Corridor (36°17.38'N 111°51.04'W) then to the north side of Dragon Corridor (36°19.11'N 112°06.60'W) while climbing to maintain 2000' AGL, then through the Dragon Corridor to the south point (36°01.00'N 112°15.51'W) at either 10,500' or 12,500' for the southbound altitude, then towards KIFP. Note that there is a restricted area just south of the first westbound leg. I am not sure what it is for, but it is something to watch out for and bend your course a little north for.

Another Article

I found another article on flying around the Grand Canyon. I would recommend reading that too.

Staying at the Grand Canyon

My first trip around this area, we landed at KGCN and got a shuttle into the National Park. This worked out nicely. We stayed at one of the hotels inside the park and then took the National Park shuttles around.

Some spots I wonder about checking out in the future around the Grand Canyon that are more remote are:

Marble Canyon

Bar 10

Cliff Dwellers Lodge


Flying over the Grand Canyon is something everybody should do as a pilot. It is not that hard to plan, and it is a great experience.


Here is another possible path I showed someone. You can't quite go direct between the points like it shows since it clips the no-fly zones, but if you fly wide in those spots it should work. I would recommend something like this for your first trip through the Grand Canyon. Remember 11500 northbound and 10500 southbound and try to maintain 2000 AGL over the North Rim.
Possible Grand Canyon VFR route