Saturday, March 14, 2009

Flying Trip to Disneyland

Our next small plane flying trip will be a trip to Disneyland for our son and a photo opportunity of the Grand Canyon and Colorado River. I found out that Disneyland is offering some cheap tickets right now, there are hotels near Disneyland for a reasonable price, and trips to California have been fun for us in the past.

For the 2009 year, Disneyland kids 4-day ticket is $164 down from $194 and till April 30th, 2009, adults get in for the price of kids ($164 instead of the normal $224). I am not sure if this is all due to the economy or if part of it is a typical spring discount. But it looks like a great deal we want to take advantage of.

I glanced at some of the hotels near the entrance other than the Disney branded ones and found that they were around $110. Maybe not fancy hotels, but will do the trick.

Time to start planning...

What Airport

So it looks like there are two airpots close to Disneyland: Fullerton (KFUL) and Orange County (KSNA). After glancing at Airnav for fuel prices and feedback from customers, it looks like the decision is Fullerton (KFUL). I also look at availability of rental cars, but I will cover that later. Then it is good to check what FBO after determining which airport. Aviation Facilities Inc seems to get plenty of good reviews on KFUL pages of Airnav.

What Route

I usually start with lookup up the direct path on Flyagogo On-line Charts. Then I compare that with looking for stops for fuel/hotel, good paths through mountains and MOAs, and the victor airways. Sometimes the victor airway are decent routes around MOAs and they also good for getting the IFR Minimum Enroute Alitutudes.

One past trip to California, there was clouds for a whole week, and I was very glad I had an IFR rating. It was just a thin layer of clouds flowing in from the coast, so it was not too difficult, but definitely not VFR. So it is definitely time to refresh my IFR rating and practice and look at my past IFR refresher blog notes.

So my first path if weather is good is: klmo-allan-rlg-kege-kril-jnc-kpga

Which is effectively one of the routes I describe in my blog post about VFR paths over the Rockies. It is also an incredible route along Colorado River, Arches, Canyonlands, and Lake Powell; a great photo opportunity. That puts a nice fuel stop and lunch break at a nice place at the edge of Lake Powell with a good price on fuel. For checking fuel prices near where I think a stop would be good, I usually use Airnav local fuel price checker.

The next path for the day is: kpga-kifp

This takes you over the beautiful Grand Canyon. Be careful to cross the Grand Canyon air spaces according to the Grand Canyon VFR chart; so you can't quite do the direct route mentioned. This path takes you approximately over Fossil Canyon Cooridor which should be flown at 10,500 or 12,500 southbound and maintaining proper altitudes over the north area. has the Grand Canyon chart online.

That places at Laughlin/Bullhead (KIFP) which has been a good place for us to stop in the past. It is a casino town at the Arizona/Nevada border and also very close to California. They have a free shuttle between the airport and hotels and every time we have been able to get a hotel room which cost something like $40. Lake Havasu City (KHII) looks like an interesting possibility too.

The last bit to Disneyland: kifp-zelma-jotnu-tnp-psp-V388-pdz-wisup-kful

There is an arrival for KFUL, but I will try to avoid it if I can. The MEA for a portion of it is 13,000 and if an alternate path is taken that is slightly different, the MEA is 9500.

What Hotel

Google has a good method for checking for hotels near a location such as Disneyland. This is a also good for looking at reviews. Google also has a good method for checking for restaurants near a location.

From this it looks like there are number of restaurants right near the entrance. The kids favorite McDonalds, as well as IHOP, Mimi's, Denny's, Tony Roma's, Quiznos, and Millies (which seems to have a number of good reviews).

Expedia easier to check prices near Disneyland than Travelocity since you can select "near an attraction". You can then filter it for things like free breakfast, free parking, and free wireless internet. This and the price then narrowed my thoughts down to 3 options: Tropicana, Del Sol, and Ramada Main Gate. Around $110/day. It looks like sometimes you can get a cheaper rate by contacting the main hotel web site, so it is good to try that as well as Expedia. All have a heated pool, restaurants nearby, walking distance to Disneyland, and web site that looks pretty decent. We'll see....

Renting A Car

So with planning on being walking distance from Disneyland, I figure on just getting a taxi from the airport to start with. I found a taxi fare checker to hopefully not have surprises on the fare.
It looks like it is about $25-30 each way between the airport (4119 W. Commonwealth Fullerton CA) and the hotels (1540 S Harbor Blvd, Anaheim, CA).

For rental car starters, I checked what Enterprise has at the KFUL airport. Hmmm.. $59/day. Well that makes the taxi really make sense. So I figure there must be a better way so I kept looking.

I then discovered that Enterprise has much better deals from the local offices. I found that the Fullerton Enterprise office has rental rates of $25/day and the Anaheim Enterprise office has rates of $37/day. They also have free pickup/dropoff if you use the closest office. That won't get the cheapest Fullerton rate, but should get the Anaheim rate. I could also get a taxi to the Fullerton office and get the cheap rate if it makes sense. It will probably depend on how many days I plan to rent for. It is nice to see some nicer priced options that are also pretty convenient.


Well I think that wraps up the important details other than packing and going. We'll see how it goes. Anybody have suggestions??


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Aerobatic Lessons in Denver

Aerobatics in a small plane is a blast and every pilot should try it, especially in a Pitts S-2B Biplane if you get a chance.

Pitts S-2B

I finally got a chance to go up and take a lesson in aerobatics. I have been wanting to do this for a number of years, and my wife got me a gift certificate for Christmas this year at New Attitude Aerobatics at Rocky Mountain Metro Airport(KBJC). By the way, that airport was previously known as Jeffco Airport in Broomfield, Colorado, and it is in the North Denver area. New Attitude Aerobatics has a good price for the Pitts S-2B plane rental and instruction and is close to where I live. So far, I really like the instructor, John Blum. I also think he is the only one with a Pitts for rental in the northern Denver area.

There is a list of aerobatic schools provided International Aerobatic Club. New Attitude Aerobatics that I went to is on this list. Air West Flight Center in Longmont (KLMO) is on this list for Colorado as well; they have Citabrias and a Super Decathalon. By searching the internet, I found some other aerobatic instruction in other areas of Denver. I found there is Barnstormers Aero Services at Centennial Airport (KAPA) in South Denver and Dagmar Aerobatics at Front Range Airport (KFTG) in East Denver.

I went up twice in a Pitts S-2B and once in a Super Decathalon at New Attitude Aerobatics. I did both planes just to see what both were like and also to get a little tailwheel transition training in the Super Decathalon.

1st Lesson (in Pitts) (Time: 0.8h)

What an experience! The Pitts is a fun little plane with a big engine (260hp). Getting in takes a while due to strapping the 2 seat belt harnesses as well as the 2 parachute belts. It takes a little less time each time though. Taxiing really takes s-turns since you can't see over the nose. Turns in the air are fun and different. It is neutrally stable and will not come out of a turn by itself, but easily is turned back to straight and level with minimal stick pressure. It is amazing; you point, it turns, and stays in the turn almost like a video game.

So then on to the fun. We started with a steep lazy eight from what I learned in the commercial certificate, then we took it to the aerobatic level with a wingover. Next was fun with loops; the thing everybody dreams of doing with an aerobatic plane. It was great and easy in the Pitts. Then it was time for aileron rolls. Fun and easy and another one you dream of doing. The Pitts has a very fast roll rate, and it was great. All this was very exciting, and at this point I was getting little light headed, so it was time to head back. Better to end on a good note the first time.

2nd Lesson (in Decathalon) (Time: 1.6h)

The Super Decathalon is a great plane too. A little easier tail dragger for the beginner tail dragger. A little easier to see over the nose, a little less horse power (180hp), and more normal takeoffs and landings. So this lesson was mostly about learning the tail dragger with a little aerobatics thrown in. In the process, we did a lot of touch and goes. It went pretty smoothly, and I will talk about that in a different blog posting.

On the aerobatic side, we started with aileron rolls. The loop was next and was fun as well. The Super Decathalon was very capable in these maneuvers. Then I wanted to try a spin. This is a great experience to see. It is similar to what I have heard, but there is nothing like experiencing it first hand. I think I want to experience it a few more times before it will be comfortable. It seems like you go inverted slightly at least in the beginning. After the recovery though, you are not inverted, but in the expected dive, and it is time to pullup before you develop too much speed.

I did notice that aerobatics are a little different in the Decathalon versus the Pitts. The Super Decathalon is not quite as fast in roll rate, stick pressure is harder, and some other things, but still very very fun.

3rd Lesson (in Pitts) (Time: 0.8h)

Being my third lesson, I was able to tolerate a lot more on this one. I repeated some of the previous maneuvers and learned some new ones.

  • 2 aileron rolls
  • 2 hammerheads
  • 2 inverted flight
  • 2 spins (standard and one with the stick forward and spinning faster)
  • 2 Loops (one ending in spin because I did not pull hard enough. Easy to recover from though.)
  • 2 hesitation 4 point rolls
After all this I felt fine. I had done a lot of stuff, and it was a moderate turbulent day. Once again, it is getting easier every time. Landing though was interesting to follow through. It was a windy day with a bit of a crosswind, and once again the approach is very different in a Pitts with forward slip until right before landing.

General Thoughts And Notes

A good start for generation information is at International Aerobatic Club which has a magazine and local chapters across the country. For some other introduction information I found this page on competition aerobatics in Wikipedia. I found some descriptions on competition sequences in Wikipedia and some descriptions on competition sequences at International Aerobatic Club.

Plenty of things to think about with all the maneuvers. I'll mainly leave that to a book to talk through. I purchased "Basic Aerobatics" by Geza Szurovy. It seemed to get a number of good reviews and seems like a good start.

Here are a few couple basic notes for myself on loops:

  • Look to left at beginning
  • Watch for no turning when starting loop.
  • It is easy to pull the stick/ailerons to side
  • Reduce or neutral back pressure when near inverted.
  • Switch to looking up when a little past vertical
  • Harder back pressure at bottom of loop.

Having good breathing seems to help during the aerobatics. Probably good all the time, but especially during the aerobatic high G maneuvers. Nice steady breathing; deep breathes in and out. During the high G's, I hear this is good: Take a deep breathe, tighten stomach muscles, and then breath out slowly through your mouth like you are playing a musical instrument (This tightens the neck muscles).

One interesting thing I heard was that you can do competitions with an instructor in the other seat. He is not allowed to do anything during the aerobatic sequence, but be a safety pilot. But he can also help during the landing, which can be nice for a plane such as the Pitts which can be hard to land. Seems like an interesting alternative or a way to get started.

Telling Friends

I have told 2 pilot friends already. One of them has already gone up already and came back with a big smile and wanting to go again. Give it a try yourself when you get a chance!

Going Back For More

So what is next?? Well, I think I want to do more at New Attitude Aerobatics. First thing, I think I want is to work on my tailwheel endorsement in the Decathalon. Maybe some aerobatic practice at times during the lessons. Then maybe some more lessons in the Pitts afterwards. Who knows... maybe a try at the basic competition. I am not sure if I will get into it to the higher levels of competition, but I think the simpler stuff will make me a better overall pilot.