Friday, May 27, 2011

Elapsed Time: Heavy Traffic

This is quite brilliant
Simple but brilliant

Its gone international

I have managed to find in the setting for the blog the part which tells me where people are reading it, I was really chuffed to see there are people as far afield as India, Malaysia, Australia, Germany, Denmark and Canada reading it. Thankyou for reading and feel free to post any thoughts or comments.

United States
United Kingdom

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Some great views and for once I took my camera. Probably the best day of flying this year.

This afternoon I had the chance to fly in a different plane, similar to the usual one but a bit quicker and a little nicer.
Miami Beach
I even took my work camera on this trip as for my day job I am a photographer, so took the opportunity to take some aerial pictures around Miami and the keys here.

Downtown Miami
I wont write loads about the flight other than to say that Blake took me to visit the King Air which he gets to play in as a part of his day job which is based at a local airport and we then got to see Key West in the day time and then took a low level flight over south beach for some nice landscape pictures. I hope you like them. You can click on them to see them full-size..
I also shot some video but will need to get around to editing it and will post it shortly.

One thing I will say is a huge thank you to Blake for making the flight today happen, we had a lot of fun and I was still laughing like a school boy when I got home. But as they say, "some things stay on the flight deck."
Infact I am thinking it might an idea for a reality tv show to record our conversations and put in a little camera into the plane as you really wouldn't believe where the conversation goes over the course of a 4 hour flight late into the night.
I think Blake has flown next to me for over 25 hours over the passed 2 weeks and he always has a smile on his face and never seems fazed by my flying.

A smiling Blake

The Author of the Blog in a King Air

The King Air

Our Cockpit in the CTLS

Key West with the airport in the bottom right corner

7 Mile Bridge

South Beach

South Beach

Tamiami Executive Airport

South Point Miami

Somewhere in the Keys

South Point Miami Beach

26 hours to go after a visit to Honoluana Island Grill for fish and chips

It was a little strange to get in a little daytime flying yesterday, and what an awesome sight it was too, I decided to head out West and head up the West coast of Florida and finally get to eat at the Honoluana Bar and Grill at Venice Municiple airport.
There was a nice mix, some good weather (happy clouds) and rough looking weather (unhappy clouds) so a little cloud dodging and when we were arrived at Marco islands the weather vanished and a nice climb up to 4000ft, the views were magnificent. I feel really lucky to be able to spending so much time flying in this area.
I love flying in France with the mix of coast and mountains, the South West of the UK is picturesque and steeped in history and this is breathtaking coastline and beaches around southern Florida with the mix Keys, Islands bright white beaches.
I spent the christmas holidays in this part of the world at Fort Myers beach, which is rugged like the north cornwall coast and I loved it, I have flown over here 3 times at night but never during the daytime, so I was taking pictures like a crazed paparazzi.
Just after Fort Myers beach are the islands of Sanibel and Captiva, exclusive islands, with gorgeous houses ad large boats parked up at the end of the garden. One of the beaches on Sanibel when I visited in December was a stretch of beach about 5 miles long made solely of shells. Its just breath taking.
On Sanibel there is also nature reserve which I took my son Thomas to where you can take a boat out into the shallow bay which is waist deep and you can see so much of the wild life there so I took Blake down for a 400ft fly by over the reserve and then continued up the coast line over Captiva and North Captiva en route to Venice.
Now to explain how you normally arrive into airports like this which do not have a control tower for those who don't know. There is usually an automated weather radio transmission which we can dial up on the onboard radio to get the wind strength and direction and then choose the appropriate runway. At Venice there are 2 runways, hence 4 possible directions of entry. This airport is also home to some pretty quick jets which come in and out. So when its busy if you can imagine the round about at Piccadilly Circus with a couple of formula one cars mixed in you might get the picture.
The problems with this approach is the weather system wasn't working. Hmmmmmmm
What to do ?
Well we had wind coming at us from the direction of 310 degrees and there is a runway 31 so its a no brainer line up for 10 mile final for 31 as we were approaching from the south it was easy. The problem then comes in when you have a different aircraft coming in from a different altitude and direction where the wind will be reading very differently from ours so their decision of appropriate runway may well not be the same one as ours, or even end up coming in directly in on the same runway from the opposite direction. We had had a plane also on finals for their runway 04 and was a turbine so a lot quicker than us, there was also a small plane in the circuit for another runway.
To go back to the car analogy, imagine that round about at Piccadilly Circus now with all of the traffic lights on green at the same time.
I had my dad's voice in the back of my mind, (Dad is a driving instructor) "Make a situation safe yourself, a good driver makes a situation safe by their own decisions", so I thought it best to do the same here, time to circle away from the airport and do a little sight seeing whilst the converging planes got safely onto the ground as we were in no rush.
A little look around the islands and then time to line up again for runway 31 and reasonable if not a little quick landing into Venice and time to look for the restaurant/bar.
After a decent fish and chips, which the Americans put in a bun to make a huge piece of battered fish into a burger, a little strange but very good.
We decided to get out reasonable quickly as we wanted to see the sun set from up in the sky.
As we taxied out to 31 again the same problem started to happen, I was lining up for 31 with the wind coming down the runway and someone was established on finals in the opposite direction, and another lining up for runway 04 for takeoff. This place is truly bonkers, every runway was in use at the same time at one airport !!
Patience prevailed, wait and watch them all leave and land and head out myself, keep it safe.
The only thing just as I'm climbing out at 700ft a very quick jet comes over the radio joining the circuit near to us, so changed the departure kept low, talked to them over the radio to let them know where we were and we pottered off down the beaches heading south watching the approaching jet.
When ever I have flown up here I have never been able to spot South West international airport from the coast, its a strange one as it seems to hide, so a quick check of the airspace rules for the airport and we would be able to transit the airspace at 4000ft directly overhead runway there. Carefully watching the cloud ceiling above which was at about 5000ft we squeezed between the cloud and the airspace. Between Blake and I we only managed to spot the place when we were virtually on top of it, it was like the Bermuda triangle I was wondering if it actually existed. But we were treated to a 737 taxiing and taking off as we passed by.
From there a trek south towards Naples and a left turn to follow the Tamiami trail with a heading due East towards Tamiami Airport and the city lights of Miami came into view.
The approach from West into Miami is great, to the left you have the planes taking off and arriving into Miami international and further left the same for Fort Lauderdale, from 4000ft at night this is what night flying is all about.
The circuit at the airport sounded busy so after getting the up to date weather details we were lined up perfectly for runway 9L over 20 miles out and listening to the comings and goings ahead of us.
Including someone who was taking a Jet for a run up and down the closed runway 9R to test the engines, the strangest things happen at night.
So here I am on finals on my way in and what happens ? Divert onto runway 13 at the last minute, not unusual and happens all the time so a quick adjustment right turn and into 13, things were looking good until I got to about 20ft, when things went a little wayward with my landing which ended up with a pretty decent balloon and ended up straying off to the right of centre line by a little too far. Not exactly my most gracious arrival into an airport with a touch down which managed to test both mine and Blake's dental work to the max.
Over 25 hours of night flying over the passed few weeks.

26 hours of flying to do until I reach the magical 100 hours PIC, hopefully no more ropey landings like that, I am not sure my medical insurance will pay for the dental re-alignment.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Night time solo & what's next......

Last night I went out to continue my quest for flying hours, I am starting to wonder if the quest for the Holy Grail might have been easier.
The Holy Grail for me is 100 hours of "Pilot in Command" time so basically flying not under instruction and in command of the aircraft. I also have to have 150 hours total time before I can start the Commercial Pilot practical course. So far I have over 150 hours total so thats all good. I currently have about 65 hours "PIC" time, so 35 to go.
My plan is to get as many more "PIC" hours as I can afford whilst here in the US. Here in Florida is the cheapest place in the world to fly so it makes sense to fly as much as possible here. For me I feel that night flying is really helping my growth in the cockpit as I am using instruments more and more almost as  default now where as flying during the day time you don't tend to use them so much. Infact its been over 25 hours since I have flown during the day.
I am heading to europe for the summer and hope to get some hours in with my friend John, who is also on the same path as me,  he has a gorgeous little plane called "Molly" and we are hoping to do a little wine tasting trip around France and continue building those hours.
My aim when the log book is full and the last of my theory exams is passed (No easy task)  is to head back to the US and do my Instrument rating, Commercial Pilot license and Instructor rating in September/October. These all involve some intense flying with tests at the end, one example, the Instrument rating test involves a 6 hour oral exam prior to being even allowed to fly on the day of testing, you then take to the skies with a kind of blindfold on for a few hours and try not to tip the plane upside down without being able to look outside. As I write that, I feel I must be mad !!
Now might be a good time to mention, I have a whole new respect for the pilots who fly us around on our way to our holidays and business as the training and testing is immense. I have mad a point of saying Thank you to them each time I fly. As the testing doesn't stop there, you have to be re-tested every year or 2.
Last night my usual flying buddy Blake had to bow out as he has a day job getting to fly one of the best aircraft on the planet in my opinion, a King Air, and he was called with a very early start this morning so night flying before hand wasn't the best preparation, so it was time to the take to the night skies alone.
Most of my flying friends tell me they hate flying alone, and I haven't done that much of it but I can't say I hate it, its just that flying is a fun thing to do with friends as its nice to share the experience. The problem for me is that things often stop working on the plane when ever I fly alone and last night was no exception.
The plane was ready and waiting when I got to the airport and I was quickly lifting off to depart the traffic zone to the east.
Just as quick back story, I had to cancel a flight a couple of nights ago as there was an electrical issue with the plane that cut the navigation system which I only discovered when we were about to taxi so we had to put the plane back in the hanger. This lead to some thinking about what would happen if it happened in flight and made me realize how I was relying on the all singing all dancing moving map GPS system in the plane and not doing enough manual map work anymore.
When you take off with this system the initial screen was the plan of the airport, the taxi ways, runways etc. Tamiami isn't a huge airport but still there are 3 runways and half a dozen taxiways so pretty easy to make a wrong turn.
So I took off and normally the screen on the GPS changes to the local map showing all of the geographic points and more importantly the airports and you can therefore get the radio frequencies for those airports including any possible developing weather but all that popped up was a green map showing the geographic outline of florida and no further info even a good look through the options i couldn't get the info i needed.
I know the flying area around here well enough by sight in the day time to fly without any trouble at all, but night time, squeezing between Miami international airspace on one side and a fast jet military base on the other and out over the ocean was going to be a stretch.
So my thought process went through the options, go back in to Tamiami and go home and watch the basketball on tv, (we'll call that the big girls option).
Just fly around the circuit at Tamiami and have a look at south beach and burn fuel flying in circles.
(we'll call that the wasting flight time option)
Option number 3 is realize I have a map and a functioning plane, I am well trained and its time to grow a pair.....

So off into the blackness it is with a map in one hand and the stick in the other. This way of flying at night is a challenge but is great fun and nice to feel under pressure to trust the compass in front of you when there is only blackness ahead. After a while it was great, looking for the way points on the map with a torch and spotting them come up all the way down to Key West over the ocean although I have started to realize why my friends don't overly enjoy flying alone, it really is nice to be able to share the experience.
So I managed to get to the southern tip of mainland US it was time to head back, and the wind had really started to get up at altitude, I had 25 knots off to the right hand side of the plane and was crabbing my way up the coastline so I shortened the amount of time between the check points where I was navigating between to keep a good course but all was going well. The coast guard helicopter came over the radio as they were in the area so even had time for a little chat with them before the city lights of Miami came back into view.
Remembering it was a big night for Miami with the Basketball version of the Champions league finals happening I decided to head up south beach and north for a trip as they always have the goodyear blimp over head the city on big sports nights and its a great sight from the air.
When I checked my watch I saw I had been up for over 3 1/2 hours which had gone quickly, I suppose it does when you concentrate a lot and there is a work load but it felt good, the challenge now is to find the airport and enter the circuit correctly at night, at the correct altitude without a the GPS for help.
A good look at the map a taking a bearing from Key Biscayne to the coast and then the coast inland it seemed to be fine and was confirmed when the tower at Tamiami confirmed and gave me a left hand circuit for runway 9L then with the added twist to the evening of cutting the downwind leg short and squeezing me between 2 planes and give me a last minute change onto runway 13. 

 The great thing about flying is you never know what's coming next and its good to test that training every now and then........

Sunday, May 22, 2011

One third of a Greaser.......

So there I was completing the departure for another night flight out of Tamiami at 1000ft with the idea of heading down for another run down to Key West (KEYW) as there were some pretty heavy storms out to the north and west, explaining to my flying buddy Blake about my flight with with Ozzie the other night.
I happened to mention that I had one of those moments that we all love as pilots, at the end of the flight with Ozzie, its like a little ray of sunshine at the end of a trip, where all of the elements conspire, where everything comes together and you get the almost perfect touchdown on landing. Where the tyres literally kiss the tarmac with a little Smooch.
I didn't make too much of this with Ozzie sitting next to me as it was his first flight I was hoping he'd just think thats the way I do it every time. He musn't read this blog. But to nail one on a night landing, in the wet, with a plane which has a landing light with less illumination than a candle I had been beaming inside.
Anyways..... I was telling Blake about this and he so informed me that Americans call this a Greaser, when you nail a good one.
So a little ballade down south beach just to keep an eye on where the storms were going and the decision was made to head down to Marathon (KMTH) and from there assess whether the weather was ok to continue.
The night was moonless due to cloud and it felt a little unnerving at one point as we were heading into total complete and utter blackness over the sea, but as my trusty friend next to me reminded me, its good for the instrument training, and to get to grips with actually trusting your instruments and developing "the scan".
I have to say it was with a little relief that the lights of Key Largo 20 miles in the distance.
Due to the total blackout we could see a huge storm rumbling away about 50 miles off to the West over towards Naples,  all along the horizon with forks of orange lightening every 30 seconds or so. A truly amazing sight from 3000ft.
The flight down went pretty much without drama apart from keeping an eye on the pulsating storm, you have to be careful, particularly flying at night, not to get fixated upon things and you stop carrying out the rest of the business in hand, flying the plane and keeping it straight and level.
We entered the overhead at Key West at 3000ft, taking the easier route this time of staying high and above the controlled areas.
The more of the night flying I am doing the more I am loving it, learning the all new skill of instrument flying and gently getting used to it is one part of that but I think it really hones your skills, even just picking out the airports amongst the city lights.
After a chat with a jet who was departing Key West with some frequencies for his departure we got to watch his take off and climb out, which I never tire of at night when he managed to boot it out of there at god knows how many hundred knots, I wouldn't have been surprised if was flying concord.
I was back to the East for us and track back up the Keys for the return leg.
The huge storm was out of my window now and it really was an amazing sight. Then to my surprise another cheeky little storm opened up on the right with some flashed of lightening.
This one had just popped up out of nowhere. We checked the radar and it was sitting about 40nm away and not an issue but was a nice light show all the way home to Tamiami (KTMB).
The wind was pushing in from the East so I joined the left hand circuit for runway 9L, all on my own, not another plane in sight. Its amazing for an airport of this size and to have so many planes that we are the only ones flying.
So lined up, looking good with 2 whites 2 reds concentrating hard, Blake turns and says "Lets see this landing then"
Great there's the pressure, right at the perfect moment.
Touch down wasn't too bad, but like a judge on the X-Factor panel Blake turns to me and declares:
One third of a Greaser....

A pretty big week of flying with some centreline hopscotch.....

Hours flown this month(FEB): 33 Landings: 8 Countries visited: 5  Continents visited: 3  Quick iron of the shirt and in th...