Monday, April 28, 2008

Buying: Searching for our Plane (C182)

I wanted to jot down some of our experiences of searching for our Cessna 182. My wife helped out quite a bit on the search and we missed out on one plane and ended up buying the second plane we were interested in.

What to Look For

So we had decided on a Cessna 182, but what year and what were the tradeoffs. I went to the Cessna Pilot's Association for more information. They have a publication for prospective 182 owners. I also became a member of the association and asked some questions. People were very helpful there. I am still a member and continue to learn just about every day something about Cessnas.

Where to Search

We looked both locally and on the internet. For internet places we look at: ASO.COM, global plane search, trade a plane, My Plane, Aerotrader, Wings On-line. For local situations, I went to local airports and asked around and looked at bulletin boards. I have heard of people sending out letters to local people using the FAA database of planes, but I did not go that far.

Finding Planes and Asking Questions

Before starting to make all the calls for potential, I put together a list of questions I would ask each of the sellers. As much as I could I asked the same questions so that I could compare them well. I added a few over time when somebody volunteered information that sounded interesting to ask others.

  • TBO, total time
  • Last annual, how many hours per month flown in the past couple years.
  • Oil consumption, compressions, any oil analysis reports?
  • Avionics (Autopilot, GPS and if it is IFR approach capable)
  • Any damage history (sometimes it is hidden, so it is good for an A&P to look over logbooks)
  • Location during its life (is it located in near a coast with corrosion concerns?)
  • Hangared or not.
  • Any corrosion: Very big having a good airframe.
  • Send pictures. Enough pictures to see condition of interior/exterior.
  • Send maintenance logbook information if getting serious.

Sometime a high time engine that has been regularly flown can be a good deal. The cost of the plane will be reduced due to a possible overhaul. If it has been flown well and maintained there is a chance it will make it past TBO which can work out well.

A low time engine that has not been flown a lot maybe very susceptible to needing an overhaul.

I would stay away from recent damage history. I have heard that old damage history can be ok depending on what happened and how it was repaired. If it happened a long time ago, it is thought that any problems after the repair would have appeared.

In general, if there are features (especially avionics) that you think you will want after you buy the plane, buy the plane with them. It will cost much more money to add an autopilot or other large cost avionics afterwards than buy a plane with the autopilot you want. The installation costs for avionics are very high.

My wife called many, many people and wrote down many, many answers. She was a big help.

Finding the First Plane

Many people say don't buy the first plane you get excited about. That happened to us. It is hard to say if that was good or bad. In the end we did end up with a better plane, but it was a little more expensive.

I can see the point about waiting for just the right plane. It is important to be able to walk away for a significant problem. It is easy to get excited, and I could see downplaying a significant problem. What seems small (a muffler) can end up costing $4000 to repair quickly when it ends up being an entire exhaust system. An engine overhaul is even more. Or even worse, a corrosion problem which can just about make a plane worthless.

I think we did a decent prebuy, and our three annuals were over $4000 a piece on catch up problems and cylinder repairs.

The first plane we found was in Oregon and we had somebody in CPA look it. It looked good and the price seemed reasonable. Right when we were working out the prepurchase agreement, the broker indicated the seller sold to somebody else without him. Grrr!!

Negotiating price

Prices can vary a lot. It depends on interior, exterior, avionics, TBO, and other factors. Some appraising tools show prices high than others. Trade-a-Plane NAAA seemed reasonable to me if you entered all the avionics information, but I balanced that with AOPA Vref and the Aeroprice software appraisal program. Then you just have to figure out what this plane is worth to you. It makes it easier if you are ok with walking away from the deal.

Finding the Plane to See

After you think you have found your plane, there are a number of things left to do.
  • Prebuy inspection
  • Do AOPA title search.
  • Prebuy agreement

The prebuy inspection is very important. Make sure you do not get the seller to arrange the mechanic. Preferrably you find a local mechanic to look at the plane. Through Cessna Pilots Association, you can get ideas of mechanics to look at it as well. It should be somebody you feel you can trust not associated with the seller, and you are paying. It will cost, but most things you find should be potential negotiating or fixing points with the seller.

AOPA is a great resource for the title search and prebuy agreement.

We bought our plane from out of state which makes some things hard. We had to buy a plane ticket to go sign the final deal. If things had not gone well, it would have been very aggravating. But better to lose the price of a plane ticket than have costly repairs.

The next plane we found was in Houston, Texas. It was right in line with what I wanted, but a little more money than I wanted. Isn't that the way it always is?? Well we worked it out to be agreeable, and we had the prepurchase inspection and agreement in place. Nothing major was found and couple of things were fixed. We bought round trip tickets (just in case) and planned a return flight in our potential future plane. We landed at Bush International and took a van over to the General Aviation terminal. There we met the seller's friend and the plane. It was everything we expected. We flew it back to Beaumont, Texas to check out the plane and work through the final paperwork.

On the flight to Beaumont, I tried using each of the avionics. It was a little challenge since I only had about 15 hours of C182 time and this was a different C182 with more gadgets. It worked out well though, and I only missed checking the ADF which of course was broken. Luckily, it was an instrument I did not care about, and I have since removed it.

Meeting the owner and signing the deal went well. They helped us get back and forth from the hotel and bought us dinner. In the morning, we taxied away as the old owner waved bye to his plane. It sounded like he really liked it, but his family did not like flying in it. It was sad. Luckily, I already knew my family liked small planes, and my wife, son and I flew back to Colorado.


We have only purchased one plane, so I highly recommend talking with other people who have planes and get their ideas and recommendations.


Rentals and Mountain Flying

Wow! I just heard something a little surprising today. One of the places that I have favored for rentals is now not allowing mountain flying.

Part of the beauty of flying in Colorado is going in the moutains. Rental places have always required special check outs before flying into the moutains. This I think is an excellent idea and makes a lot of sense for everybody flying into the Colorado mountains. The high density altitude makes landing/takeoffs challenging, the winds and downdrafts can be challenging, and the tight valleys in Colorado can be challenging. But to not allow people to enjoy the mountains is too bad.

I hear it was for insurance reasons which is not too surprising. So this might place another mark in the side of owning your own plane. At least, you need to check and make sure your proposed rental place will allow you to take the plane where you want to go.

I always wanted to learn the backcountry grass strips in Idaho and many rental places do not allow anything but paved runways. So this is another item to watch out for. But I was surprised to hear somebody wasn't allowing any mountain flights.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Buying: Which Type of Plane to Own

Ok. You have decided to buy a plane. But which one. Maybe you learned on a Cessna 172 or Piper Archer, but is that the one to get? You will be familiar with it, but there are a lot of others to consider. There are lots of tradeoffs and emotions come into play. Try to be practical; once you buy one, you will you have it for a long time. Here are my thoughts on some of the things to think about.

High Wing or Low Wing

This can be a big factor in the beginning. Many times people emotionally make this decision based on their earlier training experience. Or just what looks better on the ground to them. I would recommend flying in both to at least try it.

In a high wing, you can see the ground in normal flight easier which can be nice for sight seeing. But in the pattern, you cannot see the runway when you are making your turns. The visibility for seeing other airplane traffic is good looking down in altitude, but not up in altitude.

The low wing is the opposite of these items of course. The visibility is better in the pattern for the low wing, but not as good for sight seeing straight down. If you are doing long trips, this may not matter. Maybe forward visibility is more important which can vary independent of high wing or low wing.

Cabin Comfort

There are a three main items thing about here.

What is the plane like for entry and exit from the plane? When you are loading or unloading the plane, some planes are easier than others. You only need to do this twice per flight, but this can be important for non-pilots or even pilots. Having one or two doors can make a difference as well as high wing versus low wing.

How is the baggage area for your needs. Depending on what you are trying to do, the size and accessibility of the baggage area can be important.

What is it like inside for the hours of travel? Ease of entry exit and comfort inside. 1 or two doors. Cabin width and height. Plane and Pilot magazine specifications section lists many useful descriptions including the specifications for cabin height and width. Comfortability of back seat if needed. posture in the seats. Cessnas you sit more like in a chair, but Mooneys you sit more like in a sports car.

Weight Capacity

How many passengers and baggage is a big factor. You also want to get a plane that is suited for your normal trips. If you might once a year need a 6 place plane, it probably is not worth buying a 6 place plane. You pay a gas and maintenance penalty all year for the one trip you really need it. Maybe consider a 2+ passenger plane to own and rent the 6 place plane? Or will you really need the 6 place plane or is really a wish.

Fast or Slow

This may sound like an easy decision to make in the beginning, but many things come into play. Fast is great for long trips, but slower is needed for short fields or backcountry fields. Also faster planes can be more expense to maintain and insure. Retractible gear such as a Cessna 210 is often not even insurable by a non-IFR pilot. A Cessna 182 RG might be but it may be very expensive. Maintenance could be twice as expensive for retractible gear plane. Multi engine planes are often not insurable by pilots without a lot of experience in multi engine planes.

Gas cost is higher for fast planes, but you get their faster. So for long trips, the overall gas cost may not be too bad for a faster plane. But if you are not going on long trips all the time, the gas cost for going fast is a negative for all the local trips that slow is fine or desired.

What type of Airports

Moutains or plains. High altitude or not. Backcountry or paved runways. Short or long runways. IFR or VFR equipment. This all can factor into what planes make sense.


Trade a Plane and Plane and Pilot Magazine and Aviation Consumer has plane specifications.

Type Clubs

Look at the type clubs. Examples for type clubs. Cessna, Cessna 177, Piper, Mooney Owners, Mooney Pilots, Beechcraft. These can be a great resource for finding other people with the same plane (commeraderie) and helping solve problems.

Availability of Planes for Sale

There are a number of places to get an idea of what planes are for sale and how much they go for. ASO.COM, global plane search, trade a plane, My Plane, Aerotrader, Wings On-line are some on-line selling places. Sometimes people do not necessarily ask a reasonable price, so it is also good to check what is a reasonable price. AOPA has an estimator called Vref, NADA, and Trade-a-plane has the NAAA estimator if you subscribe.

Also keep in mind that having a reasonable number of planes to pick from can be a good thing for many reasons. The more planes that are out there, the easier it will be to find one you like. You also may not have to travel across the country to find one. Finding a mechanic who can work on it will be easier as well.

New or Old

Newer will be more expense to purchase, but will likely have a little less maintenance needed. But keep in mind that all planes need maintenance. An older better maintained plane might be better than a newer less maintained and less flown plane. Newer planes have nicer interiors and potentially avionics. Sometimes you find older planes with renovated interiors and this can be a nice alternative. Corrosion all planes should be carefully checked; new and old. A plane with a high time engine, but frequently flown can be good.


Try to rent the plane first for a while and others being considered. Maybe somebody in a type club can help you if rentals are not available. Look at the different planes at an air show or fly in. Ease of sale later. Availability of the plane for rental may be an indication of how easy it is to find.

For us, a 1974 Cessna 182 made sense. Reasons...

We wanted high wing with good downward visibility. We liked the cabin with two doors. We wanted something that had high power to easily go over the rocky mountains. We also did not want retractible gear since my wife was a student pilot. I also wanted a plane that I could go into Idaho backcountry strips with. 1974 was a reasonable year for age and equipment for us.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Buying: To Rent or Own a Plane

After getting your pilot certificate or probably before that, most pilots start dreaming about owning their own plane. But that does not always make sense. It sure does sound cool to say you own a plane instead of rent one. And if you have the money just laying around, then maybe the decision is easy. For me, it was a little tough, and it went through phases.

Renting and Cross Country Trips

Initially, I thought about it since I wanted to go on trips. I wanted to be able to go on a long weekend or a week long trip. But most places will let you do that if you rent a minimum average amount per day. In a lot of cases, this works out. On my recent trip to Carlsbad, I flew 9.6 hours round trip. I think that a lot of places have a minimum of 2-3 hours per day. So that would allow you to stay 3-4 full days and come back on the 4th or 5th day depending on the policy. On trips I have flown to California, I have flown 16 hours round trip which would alow for 5 or 8 full days. When renting, you have to book this trip way in advance and possibly use non-training aircraft. But it is still usually doable.

Of course, in your own plane this is not a problem. If you are in a partnership, it depends on your partners and how many you have.

Renting and Spur of the Moment

The other item that I thought about was the desire to rent spur of the moment. If it is a nice day, it would be nice to go fly. Sometimes it is not predictable. If you get checked out in higher performance airplanes, sometimes this gets a little easier since they are not used as much for training.

Of course, in your own plane this is not a problem. If you are in a partnership, it depends on your partners and how many you have.

Rental Aircraft Types

Selection of aircraft and overall availability is very important. Some places I have rented have old planes that are not well equipped with avionics and not as nicely maintained. On the other hand, I have rented from some places where they have new aircraft that are maintained very well at a good price. I really like things like nice avionics, so this was important to me long term. If I could find close by planes like at McAir Aviation, I would be set. But this good a fleet list is not common.

It can be nice to have different types of aircraft to rent. If you are by yourself, you can go for the C152. If you are taking the family a C182 or C206. This is not possible when you own.

If you own your own airplane, it will be the same size no matter how many passengers you take. On the positive note, since you are flying the same plane every time, you become very familiar with it. You can leave the headsets and other items in the plane. A nice convenience.

Aircraft Location

Location of the planes is important. There are airports all over, but is the one with the good rentals the one that is close? For me, I ended up moving to a place with an airport 5 minutes away, but the good rentals 45 minutes away. This ended up being a deciding factor for me.

Rental vs Owning Cost

In order to make owning cost effective, you do need to fly a number of hours. Even then, it is not that cheap. This past year, my C182P cost $85/hour with normal maintenance and 150 hours of flying. I do have a hangar that amounts equates to $20/hour of that cost. With some extra maintenance and GPS upgrades, the cost really went up to $125/hour. That is with the plane owned without a loan; if I included interest, it might add another $30/hour to total $155/hour. So the rental seems a lot more reasonable especially if you do not fly 150 hours a year.

At least, planes do not lose value to much. In the past, they gained value, but recently they are going down in value. But not like a car. I think planes retain value reasonably well due to new airplanes still being much more expensive than used ones and required annual maintenance keep used planes in good condition.

Once you have made the commitment to own, each hour of flying is cheaper, so you fly more. This is nice. It keeps you more current and you experience more flying...

Maintenance when you own your own plane is a plus and minus. I now try to do some owner approved maintenance and owner assisted annuals. So I know how my plane works better and what condition it is kept. But it does take time.

My decision

Location and ease of use combined with nice avionics made the decision for me. Since I was living and working 5 minutes from an airport, this was a key airport to use for me. But the rentals were not as good as I would like long term. I found a plane I really enjoy, and I have been flying it consistently (even over lunch time sometimes).

Which plane to buy... That is for another day.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Free On-line Aviation Books

Now with the advent of the internet, the FAA has put many free on-line accessible items that you would have had to purchase previously. There are also many items that I did not know even existed. Below are some links to the more interesting things I have found.

Aviation Handbooks and Manuals
Aviation Instructor's Handbook
Instrument Flying Handbook
Student Pilot Guide
and others...

Aircraft Handobooks and Manuals
Airplane Flying Handbook
Glider Flying Handobbok
Seaplane, Skiplane, and Float/Ski Equipped Helicopter operations Handbook.
and others...

Searchable Aviation Circular list
FAA Aviation Weather Circular: AC 00-45F

On-line FARs

On-line AIM

On-line Airport Facility Directory

FAA On-line Approaches
This is available in a lot of places, but this is the link to the FAA's version.

There is enough reading there to keep me busy for a very long, long time.


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Favorite Flying Books

I thought I would pass on some book ideas that I have really liked. They are easy reading, inspiring, and about flying.

A story about two teenage boys who join together to rebuild a Cub and fly it across the country in 1966. It is about flying and about the brothers and their family. They encounter some interesting weather situations as the cross the country with just a map and compass.

Moondog's Academy of the Air and Other Disasters by Peter Fusco
How a pilot started his career many years ago with flight instruction and freight hauling. It sounds normal from that situation, but it is not normal at all and quite funny and amazing to read.

Flying: The Aviation Trilogy (Scribner Classics) by Richard Bach
Three great stories including barnstorming and flying for the military.

Wager with the Wind: The Don Sheldon Story by James Greiner and James Arness
Don Sheldon was one of Alaska's most amazing bush pilots dealing with many life threatening situations and rescues.

I would highly recommend all books. If you have read these and have additional suggestions, please let me know.


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Denver Sunrise Flight

Well, we got up early this morning to check out the sunrise over Denver. It was not as pretty as we had hoped, but it was still fun. It was also interesting to see how the colors change during the sunrise. Below is pretty much the same view at different times during the sunrise.

Official sunrise was at 6:15am this morning.

Still very dark.
Time: 5:50am, 25 minutes before sunrise.

Denver Sunrise Aerial 25 min before sunrise

Starting to get brighter.
Time: 5:54am, 21 minutes before sunrise.
Denver Sunrise Aerial 21 min before sunrise

Getting brighter, but very blue in tint.
Time: 6:08am, 7 minutes before sunrise.
Denver Sunrise Aerial 7 min before sunrise

After sunrise, and colors are getting warm, purplish.
Time: 6:18am, 3 minutes after sunrise.
Denver Sunrise Aerial 3 min after sunrise

Colors still warm, but different, more golden.
The favorite for me.
Time: 6:26am, 11 minutes after sunrise.
Denver Sunrise Aerial 11 min after sunrise

Colors are not golden and getting harsher.
Time: 6:47am, 32 minutes after sunrise.
Denver Sunrise Aerial 32 min after sunrise

We ended up with some dust on the sensor that was not there before the flight. We will have to fix that for the next set of pictures.

A fun flight in relatively smooth air. Especially since it was windy yesterday and is expected to get windy again today. We will have to do it again.


Saturday, April 19, 2008

Getting my Commercial Certificate (3/2008)

I have been wondering about getting my Commercial Certificate for a while. I have the hours and most of the required experience. But I have been doing other things like taking the Idaho Mountain Flying course and gaining other kinds of experience.

My wife has combined our talents and desires into an Aerial Photography Business, so I now had a reason to get my Commercial Certificate and also maintain biennial currency.

We own our own plane, but it does not have retractable gear. So I was going to have to rent. Wow, that looks expensive after owning! Well, it is isn't much different if you only rent or only use your own plane. But I was paying to have my own plane and then having to pay the premium of renting. Oh well, I needed to do it.

Experience Requirements for Commercial (Abbreviated)
Details in FAR 61.129 (Online FAR regulations)

  • 250 hours
  • VFR day Xcountry with an instructor 100nm distance from start
  • VFR night Xcountry with an instructor 100nm distance from start
  • Solo VFR Xcountry 250nm distance from start and 300nm total with 3 landings
  • 5 hours night flying solo with 10 tower controlled takeoff and landings
  • 10 hours training in a complex aircraft, 3 hours prep for the practical test.
Most of these requirements I had already. I had over 450 hours, check!

I did a mountain check ride with Dick Bevington in Colorado klmo-k20v-kgws-kase-klxv-klmo, check!

I have many long distance Xcountries, but most of them are with my family. I did end up getting one at the end of my Idaho Backcountry Seminar; I had to make sure I got my 3 landings in which I almost forgot. That would have been annoying to do a 561nm trip and not have it fill the requirement. I remembered so that worked. kmyl-ku87-kfnl-klmo Check!

The last one to work on was the night flying. I had done this for my private, but not much since. I went up with an instructor initially to get current again, and found it to be easy with more hours under my belt. So I got my time in with 2 solo trips (klmo-kbjc-kfnl-klmo, and klmo-kbjc-kapa-kftg-klmo) and 1 with an instructor (klmo-kpub-klmo). Check!

I had 6.6h of training in a Mooney 20J and a C172RG and I had 15.2h total Complex time, so I was most of the way towards the 10h complex training requirement.

Picking a School and Instructor

I only needed 3.4h of complex training and had practiced the maneuvers a little in our C182, so I didn't think I would need much time to refine my skills and finish the commercial. But most of the places around here either wanted 25 hours retract or 10 hours in type which would mean more than 10 hours of rental. In the end, I found a place that had a good deal. McAir Aviation has a new 2004 Piper Arrow that rents for $145/hour and only required 5 hours in type to go solo. I had already gotten my IFR at McAir Aviation, so I also knew I liked the school. I definitely recommend them.

I asked what instructors would be good for my situation only needing to prepare for the test and ended up with Keith Hammond. I had met him before and he was a flight instructor by choice and a past university professor. I nice combination for my interest.

I think it is always good to interview instructors for your ratings, especially ratings that will take a while like your private and instrument. You want to make sure that your styles of teaching and learning will be compatible. It is a little awkward if you do not choose somebody, but it is very important. If you switch instructors in the middle or are not compatible it is money and time wasted and maybe a bad experience. Flying should be fun!

Getting used to the Arrow

It has been a while since I flew the Mooney 20J, and the Arrow was certainly different from the C182. Some quick differences are manual flaps, low wing, switching fuel tanks, and retractable gear. I have been using Cessna POHs for a while, so I was a little surprised to see the performance tables in a different fashion. Still saying the same information, but a different format. The emergency gear procedure was much nicer than the Mooney; pulling a breaker and flipping a switch to free fall the gear. Wow that is easier than handcranking 20+ rotations that is required on the Mooney. One thing that I was surprised at was the plane was not that quick on takeoff considering it had a 200hp engine.

As far as gear procedures, I liked lowering the gear on midfield downwind in the pattern or when approaching the airport and getting close. When lowering the gear or raising, it is nice to hold onto the lever until the gear is verified up or down (3 green). One of the instructors told me this and I like it.

McAir had a nice booklet for all the maneuvers and general numbers to use during Arrow operations.

Some numbers I used...

  • Takeoff: 25 degrees flaps for short/soft takeoff, full power, liftoff at 65kts normal, 60kts for short field, accelerate to 78kts normal, 72kts for short field, gear up and safe, 90kts normal, 78 kts until clear of obstacle.
  • Crosswind: reduce RPM to reduce noise.
  • Downwind: 18", 2300RPM, 100kts, gear down, 3 greens.
  • Abeam touchdown: 14", 10 degrees flaps, 500fpm descent
  • Base: 25 degrees flaps, 90 kts
  • Final: 40 degrees flaps, 80kts, prop forward, 3 greens, 75kts short final, 70 kts for short field.
Go-around, Stall recovery:

  • Full Power, Flaps 25, 78kts, positive climb, gear up, 90kts, positive climb, flaps 10, flaps up.

  • 18", 2300RPM, 100kts.

Practicing the Maneuvers
A good description of the maneuvers on-line
Chandelles, Lazy 8s, Eights on Pylons, emergency landings, power off 180 landing, steep spiral, steep turns.

8s on Pylons. These were not too hard except during higher winds. The critical altitude or altitude to fly the maneuver is Ground Speed^2/11.3. If you have no wind, this is around 1100' AGL at this altitude. If you have a 20kt wind, it will vary theoretically between 1500' and 700'. It doesn't end up that much because you end up in a climb when your ground speed goes up which slows down your speed which means a lower critical altitude. Having the objects lined up correctly with the wind makes a big difference if there is significant wind. I would normally just watch for the object to start moving forward or backward on the wing. If it moves forward on the wing, go lower in altitude. If it moves backward on the wing, go higher in altitude. Realizing what is going on with a big wind can prevent you from falling behind the curve too much. One other problem is that most of the time I did not get strong winds, so it was not easy to practice the effects of it.

Lazy 8s. There were a couple things that really helped me here. My instructor mentioned to think to myself "pitch, pitch, turn". This is not meant to do separately, but to remember that there are 2 amounts of pitch for each increase in turn in the beginning. 2nd 45 degrees, I told myself to "keep the turn coming" while slowly reducing pitch. Similar kind of thoughts on the 2nd 90 degrees. Another thing I made a mistake in the beginning with was trying to cross a road in the same place. This is not important for the maneuver as it is for the private S turns maneuver. Another thing that seemed interesting to me is that the Arrow seems easier to do lazy 8s than C182; I think due to the extra power in the C182.

180 power off landings. This took a little getting used to with how the Arrow descends so quickly. I hear it is worse in the summer. One thing that was interesting was that moving the prop control to slow RPM made a big difference on the Arrow for increasing the glide distance. This did not seem to make the same difference on the C182 for some reason.

Emergency landings. Always a good one to practice. After identifying a field, it helps to think of a high position and a low position abeam the touchdown point. If you need to loose 1500+' at the high position, a steep spiral can be good. Otherwise, slow turns can help while give you more time to diagnose problems.

Coordination... This is always important for commercial maneuvers. It was interesting that this was not too hard in the Arrow, but in our C182 it was a bigger challenge due to the higher powered engine.

The Check Ride

So it took me 7.6 hours to get ready for the check ride including a practice check ride. Not too bad. I did do some extra practicing in our C182 in between Arrow instruction. I think this helped.
I used Alan Carpenter for the check ride, and I would recommend him. For a highly stressful situation, he made it as comfortable as possible. The night before the called for high winds which would have caused problems, but in the morning things were reasonably calm at the airport.

My ground time went pretty well with knowing most of the items well. In the air it was a bit more of a challenge and intense. I remember doing tracking an initial Xcountry course, soft/short field takeoffs, short/soft field and 180 power off landings, Chandelle, Steep spiral, emergency landing, 8s on pylons.

There were a couple of things that were more challenging than others. There was wind in the air which made the 8s on Pylons a challenge. I also had a interesting time with the 180 power off landing. I was doing a right pattern to KEIK and there was other traffic. Those two things messed me up just a little and caused me to extend my downwind a little more than I liked. By using the correct mixture of no flaps and pulling the prop to low RPM, it worked out to be perfect.

One interesting comment on the check ride was knowing well the Va versus the 100kts+10kts leeway. In the end, Va is 110kts or over since we are lightly loaded. But if you were heavy, this could be a concern.

I got to the end of the check ride (1.4h), and he commented I did well. Yeah!! I felt I could have done better on a few things, but I think most people probably feel that way.

Next Steps

CFI some day. Tailwheel Endorsement, Aerobatic training, float plane rating, and plenty of other things.

There is always something to learn in aviation and ways to perfect your skills.


Friday, April 18, 2008

My 1st Helicopter Lesson (12/2006)

Getting a helicopter lesson has been something I have been curious about for a while. To get a rating is very expensive, so I do not know about a rating. But an intro lesson sounded interesting. Then I found out that intro lessons for helicopters were inexpensive like they are for airplanes. Well... almost as inexpensive anyways and a lot less than a normal lesson. Around $99 I believe which includes 1/2 hour ground and 1/2 air time.

I had been talking about it and one of the people at work has been taking helicopter lessons, so I lucked out. For my birthday, my coworkers got me a certificate for an intro lesson at Rotors of the Rockies. Very cool.

  • I had heard that helicopters were sensitive
  • I had heard that there were a lot of controls to work all at once
  • I thought that some of my airplane experience would help

What it was like

It has been a little while since I had the lesson (12/10/2006), but I remember all those things being very true. For a 1/2 hour lesson, it seems like we did a fair amount. The helicopter I received my lesson in was a Schweizer 269C: N2092J.

We talked a little on the ground, but not too much. He walked me through the preflight, and I had lots of questions. We went over a few of them this time leaving more questions for a future lesson.


We first practiced some hovering. There are three main controls (plus throttle which I did not do much with during the lesson). The Cyclic is the stick in the center and it controls your tilt effectively. The pedals (Anti-torque pedals) control your twist. The collective is the lever of sorts next to the seat and it controls the altitude of the helicopter during hover. Wikipedia has a decent article on the helicopter controls.

First, he would have me just to maintain position and then try moving position. For Cyclic it was tilting and moving over 20'. For the pedals, it was rotating 90 degrees each direction and all the way around. For the collective it was gain or lose 10'. Then he had me try all the controls at once. Quite a challenge. Just maintaining position was hard and then actually moving with control was harder yet.

Everything took very minute adjustments; it is hard to describe. For the Cyclic trying to use a loose grip with the thumb and forefinger seemed to work. Almost no movement was necessary. Just thinking about it was almost enough. The pedals and collective were not quite as hard, but still touchy.

Forward Flight

Ok. Enough hovering practice for a short intro lesson. So we call tower and off we go. Transition to forward momentum from hover was a little different. When going forward there is a shift of lift and you drop a little, then quickly start gaining altitude.

During normal forward motion, the helicopter was not too hard to operate. All the controls were a little closer to a plane. The one thing that confused me a little was gainging or losing altitude. It seemed to be a careful coordination of Cyclic, Collective, and Throttle. All the while watching for the RPM to stay in the green. In the end, the instructor handled the throttle so the RPMs stayed in control.

Noise in the helicopter was a little different than I expected. You don't hear the blades as you do on the ground. Inside the helicopter there is noise of the engine and general noise, but not cavitating noise.


One thing I wanted to experience was an autorotation. My friend at work had talked about them quite a bit and I was curious what it felt like. We left the Class Delta space and he showed me a quick autorotation. It was not what I expected. I thought it was going to be approaching 0 Gs, but it just seemed like a steep descent. We didn't have time to do the entire procedure, but I got a small taste of it.

Back to the Airport

Then back to the airport and landing. It seemed like a fair amount of time had passed. I thought I had gotten a good deal and maybe had close to an hour lesson. In the end, it was only 0.6h. It is amazing how you can accomplish in a short time.

It was a very fun experience. I wonder how many more intro flights I can get. Or can I get somebody else to pay for the lessons? Or can I justify it somehow sometime? Or maybe win the lottery?

Well, we will see if I do much more helicopter flying. But I recommend everybody try it once.


Thursday, April 17, 2008

Weather Planning for a Long Cross Country Flight

There is a lot to planning a cross country, but these days with the internet, there is a lot more available than when I got my private. You can work just with flight service, but that does not give you as many details as possible. If you prepare before a flight service call, you can also ask more intelligent questions. So here are some of the things I do in addition to flight service.

3-5 Days Before
I will check the long term forecast on I will do this not only at my start and destination, but at some of the locations in between. I will usually select 2 or 3 possible paths to get to my destination so I can be flexible for weather.

2 Days Before
I will start looking at couple extra places:
3 day forecast precipitation
3 day surface analysis
Prognostic charts on ADDS (And pick the 36h or 48h forecast)
Graphical Winds Aloft on ADDS (And I look at the graphical version since it has a longer forecast).

The Night Before
When it gets to the night before, I add a couple more things to my list:
TAF Java Tool on ADDS
Winds Aloft in Text on ADDS
Can I get a tail wind in certain paths?
Are the winds over 25knots over the mountains?
Duat Flight Service
look for agreement with other tools and anything extra.)
(And look for TFRs. I have seen this more up to date than the FAA site. Flight Service is the last word.)

Stadium TFR Information
For me, I also have to look at the Denver area Baseball field and Football stadiums for TFRs as well:
Rockies schedule
Broncos schedule
Cu Buffs
CSU Rams
Air Force Academy
University of Wyoming Football

The Morning Of
I will usually call the night before and possibly the morning to Flight Service. The morning of I will check the Metar java tool as well before a call to Flight Service. Remember to ask about TFRs.
Metar Java Tool on ADDS

If IFR is involved, I will check the Metar closely, Radar summaries, SkewT diagrams, and freezing levels in the winds aloft information. Also double check the surface forecast to see where the fronts are; will I be crossing a front?
SkewT diagrams to check for cloud levels, layers, and freezing temperatures.
Site radars on ADDS
Winds Aloft in Text on ADDS
Prognostic charts on ADDS (Look at the latest 4 panel 12/24h prog chart for frontal information)

Quite a few places to look, but I like to be well informed when flying a long ways.

I don't have a Garmin 496 yet, but I want something like that soon. If I am flying west over the Rockies which is the direction I have been traveling lately, I do not want to do much IFR. I may do a trip this summer to the East and then I may fork out the dollars for a 496. It looks like a very useful tool especially to compliment the Stormscope that I have in the plane.


Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Flying Trip to Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is very cool place. Last time I saw it, I was a teenager, and I remember it as being exciting. Later, I actually got into real caving. Now after many years and some real caving, the caverns are still very nice.

It has been my sons spring break, and for a while I was worried I would get so tied up at work I would not get a chance to enjoy life. Having our own plane makes things flexible which is good and bad. Since it was flexible, we could delay our plans to the last minute. But then they are endangered of not even happening.

The Trip Down

Well, we made it off. We had to delay a day due to snow showers, but the next day was beautiful. We took pictures of Denver, Colorado Springs, and Pueblo on the way. Our route was klmo-pub-lvs-cnx-cme-kcnm with initially a planned stopover in KLVS.

Our son who is 6 has had a terrible time with air sickness in the last few trips. This time we tried dramamine and it worked wonders! He watched his DVD in bumps and did not get sick. Then fell asleep. Yeah, we can enjoy trips again.

We had a little bit of a tail wind, and our son was asleep at our stopping place, so we went the entire way without stopping. 4.8hours. We were ready to get out of the plane when we got there, but it was nice to be at our destination.

The Airport

Cavern City Air Terminal (KCNM) was a quiet airport with lots of runways. 3/21, 14RL/32LR, 8/26. They are all in pretty good condition too. I guess it used to be a Air Force Base or something, and they also have a lot of different runways for windy days. When we got there, the FBO was very friendly. Parking was free, and there was a self serve pump. We got a rental car from Enterprise, and we were on our way.

Cavern City Air Terminal aerial view
The Town

The town was fairly small with lots of older hotels. We stayed in the Best Western Steven's Inn. It was pretty nice. Some rooms are better than others though. There was a hot breakfast buffet included in the price which was convenient. There was also a Holiday Inn Express which was recommended, but we did not stay at.

Lots of BBQ places in town. We tried out the Red Chimney BBQ which had good food and lots of things to look at on the walls. We heard No Whiner Diner, Pecos River Cafe, and Lucy's Mexicali were good ones to try as well, but we did not get a chance.

There is a nice river going through town with a great playground for kids, a "beach" with non-powered boat rentals, small golf course, and a river walk.

Carlsbad aerial view

The Cave

The cave entrance has two options to get in. Take an elevator 750' down or walk in the natural entrance through a winding trail that is about 1 mile long. We opted for the natural way in and the elevator at the end.

Carlsbad Caverns entrance
The cave is BIG and has high ceilings most everywhere. So for people a little timid about caves, it is easier than most. The big room at the bottom is about 1 mile to walk the perimeter and has 50+ foot ceilings.

Lots of pretty formations are in the cave. There are pictures on the national park web site, and here are some of ours.

Carlsbad caverns formations

Carlsbad caverns formations
There is also an opportunity to see the bats fly out at the end of the day. But it is a little awkward to do. We were finished shortly after lunch and the cave closes at 5pm. The bat flight when we were there was around 6:15. Town is a good 1/2 hour away. So we went back to town and did not feel like going back to see the bats. Maybe next time.

The Flight Back

Time to go home. High winds and turbulence were reported. I have had a couple of very bumpy experiences on the east side of the rockies (Sangre de Cristo range) which is the way we went to Carlsbad. Once before I tried just on the west side of the Sangre de Cristo range, and it worked well, so we tried it again. It was a little out of the way, but not much. kcnm-cme-saf-skx-k05v-gosip-pub-klmo It was a little bumpy, but not too bad. We did either get a slight tail wind and only updrafts. The wind comes from the west, and then causes updrafts when it hits the west side of the range. I think the other side would have been a lot bumpier and have on and off downdrafts. I think the west side path may be my path of choice in the future.

Once again. Give Carlsbad Caverns a try! It is a long ways by car, but very reasonable by plane.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

IFR Firsts (2006-2007)

I got my IFR rating in 2004, and I think it is a great thing in a number of ways. It made me a better pilot. I feel more comfortable on long trips that it is an option. But in Colorado it is hard to get real practice in the clouds. Most of our days are usually sunny. During the winter they can be cloudy and snowy, but this is not good for small planes. During the summer, the clouds are usually thunderstorms which is also not good.

So how do you gain confidence in real clouds in Colorado? You have to go searching for them. Or be flexible and decide on a cloudy morning to come in late to work. The hard part is if you plan by the forecast many times it does not work out.

Here is a link to some of my first real IFR flights after my rating. IFR Firsts: More Details (2006-2007) The initial times were with 1500' ceilings and later I worked down to 200' and true missed approaches.


Saturday, April 12, 2008

Past Trips and Stories (2005-2007)

Some past trips and stories on our home web site:

Idaho: McCall Mountain/Canyon Flying Seminar: The Story (2007)
The Pictures
A great chance to learn backcountry flying in Idaho with world class instructors.

Aerial view of sawtooth mountains
San Diego Trip #2 (Carlsbad): (2007)
I still need to put some information together on this trip.

Reno Air Races: More Pictures (2006)
My first trip to the Reno Air Races. Very impressive. Planes flying around a 6-8 mile circle at speeds over 500mph and less than 1000' off the ground right with the finish line right in front of the grand stands. Lots of other stuff to look at there as well.

Aspens in the Fall: More Pictures (2006)
A pretty trip with some friends. It has just snowed a little, the aspens were in bloom, and the mountains were beautiful.

Aerial view of aspens and snow

San Diego Trip #1 (Downtown San Diego) & Albuquerque: Pictures and Story (2006)
The trip from Colorado to San Diego is a nice one along the Colorado River. Rockies, Arches National Park, Canyonlands National park, Lake Powell, Grand Canyon, and others. San Diego is of course a nice place in itself. I was nervous of California air traffic, but it was not too bad.
Lake Powell Aerial

Teton National Park: More Pictures (2006)
A beautiful place to go that is not too far by plane. The approach to this airport is incredible.
Jackson Airport approach

Grand Canyon & Sedona & Durango: More Pictures (2005)
A beautiful long weekend trip.
grand canyon aerial

First Blog, sorta

I have been doing a manual blog of sorts on our own family home page and a page more dedicated toward flying stories and thoughts. But this interface seems quite a bit easier than manually making your own home pages. So... I think it is time for me to try an official BLOG. Maybe it will get me to write down more information which is fun to look at myself and hopefully for others.

There are probably three types of things that I have always liked ever since I was very small. Computers, Nature, and of course Planes.

Computers.... This ended up turning into a career and I now work as an SoC Product Manager for STmicroelectronics and work with ASICs for Seagate hard drives.

Nature and the outdoors... I have always loved nature and doing things to be around it. That includes hiking, climbing, backpacking, mountain biking, ice climbing, mountaineering, snowshoeing, skiing (downhill, telemark, backcountry), caving, just sitting and enjoying the woods, etc. And of course photography of all those items.

Planes... One dream I have had ever since I was small was flying. I thought about applying to the Air Force Academy at one point. That did not happen, and I always wanted to somehow get into it. Later after college, a friend got into flying small planes. He asked if I wanted to go up with him some time. I was a little worried in a strange way about this. I knew if i went up, I would be hooked. And I was. Shortly afterwards in 1993, I worked towards and got my Pilots Certificate. Due to the cost of flying and money situations, I had to take a break from flying. Later on, I met my lovely wife. She grew up with flying with her father in small planes but had not been in a small plane in years. When we had our son in 2001, she actually twisted my arm to get back into it. Amazing! Not many wifes do that I hear. She wanted our son to experience what she experienced as a child. That did not take much arm twisting. We first rented to make sure the interest would continue and it did. I got my IFR in 2004, we bought our own plane in 2004, she got her pilot certificate in 2005, and we continue to fly frequently.

We decided to combine our interests and expertises into a side business for me and a main career for Debbie. We now have an aerial photography company, Colorado Aerial Photography that we are building.

Some of this is probably a typical story, but it is ours.

I look forward to telling more tidbits that I find and stories.