Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Alternator Repairs

The IFR Pilot's way behind on updating the blog. Sorry, kids. Every once and a while, work interferes with blogging.

For those that care, the final tally for repairs to the alternator was a mere $245. Our beloved A&P found the adjustable arm for $50, welded the bracket that secures the alternator to the engine block, and did an improvised repair of the carbureator air filter bracket. MS is taking her next week to have the propeller dynamically balanced at Tiffin Aire for $220. Hopefully, that investment will prove cheaper than any other repairs to the engine that might result from excessive vibrations caused by the prop.

Of course, if any of you think there's other possible culprits for causing the series of bracket failures we experienced other than the properller, PIPE UP.

(Look for pictures of the repairs to be posted later this evening.)

That is all.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Video

As promised, here's the video of MS and the IFR Pilot from last Sunday evening landing at BKL and then the home base.

Yes, I know there are misspellings in most of the credits. Give me a break, it was after 1:00 a.m. when I finished editing this thing. Microsoft Movie Maker isn't the easiest piece of software to learn, especially when you start at 11:00 p.m. Just go with it!

Thursday, April 13, 2006


Tuesday night, MS and the IFR Pilot meet at the hangar to take 78S out for another flight. (It appears that possession of the 396 has inspired MS to stop spending time with his son and spend time with his new baby -- the 396, of course.) MS begins the preflight and almost immediately announces that something is wrong. The IFR Pilot, always attuned to MS's BS, denies the condition . . . until he checks for himself. See if you can spot what's wrong in these pictures, taken after we removed the cowl for a "closer inspection."

Needless to say, 78S is grounded until the mechanic replaces the alternator bracket arm and the carb heat brace. He reports that the bracket securing the alternator to the engine block also broke. He says he's never seen anything like it before.

Thank goodness for the safety wires, which seem to be all that was holding the alternator in the vicinity of the engine. Had it fallen out, the IFR Pilot's Monday evening flight could have become quite an adventure. Perhaps it's time to hire the CFI for an afternoon of emergency procedures refresher training.

One concern was that the alternator belt has been damaged or stretched-out and needs to be replaced. That, of course, requires that the spinner and prop be removed. While the mechanic -- who gets paid by the hour -- would no doubt like that, none of us -- who pay those hourly bills -- really wants that. Thankfully, in this morning's phone call, the mechanic report that he didn't think replacing the belt would be necessary. And, the new bracket arm is only .5 AMU. (AMU = "Aviation Monetary Unit" = $100. Didn't think you could get a new aviation part for less than 1 AMU. Go figure...)

JS was there with us, checking out the 396. So, MS took advantage of the flight cancellation to hold an little impromptu seminar on the features of the 396. Here they are in all their glory:

(Yes, I know, neither of them are as handsome as the IFR Pilot. But whatcha gonna do?)

Stay tuned tomorrow (hopefully) for videos of MS's landings at BKL and the Home Base from last Sunday evening -- when we still had a working alternator!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

More Night Flying

With completely clear skies and a full moon, it was an opportune time to log some more night flying time, and more takeoffs and landings at a towered airport, in pursuit of the commercial rating. Grabbed the 396 and installed it, but really, it wasn't going to be needed. Just wanted to try using it while flying solo. Quickly realized that the 396 isn't going to be particularly useful on the co-pilot's yoke while flying solo. We'll have to explore alternatives for that.

Went to MFD and did 3 touch 'n goes there. Pretty quiet in the area, and unlike last time MS and I visited there, they had the lights on. (During our last night visit there, they had half of the lights off to allow the C-130's to perform their night-vision work.)

From there, it was back to CAK for another 3 touch 'n goes. Right base to runway for the first one. Right traffic back to runway 19 for another. Then, instead of right traffic again, tower instructed to make left traffic for runway 23. On downwind, spotted the inbound traffic for 23. Just as I was about to query whether I should extend downwind and take the number 2 position, tower instructed the Caravan to slow and allow me to make my touch 'n go.

Realized that I still need to work on night landings, as I consistenly made them too shallow and didn't flare enough. Almost all 6 of the landings were a bit firm.

Departed VFR back to the Home Base, and actually made a pretty smooth landing there. Go figure, it's got the least amount of vertical guidance (a non-standard sort-of VASI thing that I can never quite remember how to interpret).

Total time, 1.4 hours. That totals 2.5 hours night solo (half of the required 5), plus 9 out of the 10 towered-field landings.

Hopefully, the weather will hold for the rest of the week, and another flight can be squeezed in and that will complete the 10 landings!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Chicken Fried Steak

MS and the IFR Pilot took '78S and the 396 out for a test flight last night. Because MS had had possession of the 396 since its arrival on Friday, the IFR Pilot had initial flying duties so MS could run the 396 in-flight. Although we often pray for good weather, with the addition of WX Weather, we wanted some crummy stuff to check out all of the 396's features. Go figure - we had CAVU.

A .5 hour leg from the Home Base saw our arrival on the GPS-A at TSO. The IFR Pilot and MS both had difficulty finding the airport until we were literally on top of it. She always seems to be a bit difficult to find when you're inbound from the northwest. The restaurant was still open, so we gorged ourselves on some tasty Chicken Fried Steak and cornbread, followed by some pie.

The IFR Pilot then forced MS to do the aviating, as I wanted my turn with the 396. The initial plan was to head straight home. That morphed into a trip to BKL -- might as well enjoy the scenery after going to the trouble of taking the plane out of its hangar.

MS made a fine, fine landing at BKL, dutifully following the IFR Pilot's instructions on how to fly over most of downtown Cleveland (the IFR Pilot having received his private at BKL), and the IFR Pilot captured it all on video. (I'll try posting it to Google Video or Flight Levle 350 after I offload it.)

We then talked about trying to land at CLE, and add that coveted Class B airport to MS's logbook, but our time together was drawing close to an end, so we made a beeline for the Home Base, stopping only to add TOWR waypoint to the 396's database. Basically, it's a radio tower that positions you for the 45-degree entry to runway 3 at the Home Base. MS did a nice job on the landing there as well, and that's also on video.

The initial conclusion is clear: The 396 was and is an outstanding piece of machinery, and so here's to having some bad weather in the near future. The IFR Pilot's first possible test of it during cross-country travel will be an Angel Flight from PHL to CAK at the end of this month. Stay tuned for further action reports from the front lines.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Accident of the Week

This week's Accident of the Week is very, very strange indeed. Read for yourself, I don't think any commentary from the IFR Pilot is necessary other than "IMSAFE." If you don't pass it, don't go fly.

NTSB Identification: ATL06LA058
14 CFR Part 91: General Aviation
Accident occurred Friday, March 31, 2006 in Double Springs, AL
Aircraft: Cessna 182T, registration: N2157V
Injuries: 1 Serious.

This is preliminary information, subject to change, and may contain errors. Any errors in this report will be corrected when the final report has been completed.

On March 31, 2006, at 2015 central standard time, a Cessna 182T, N2157V, registered to Wings South Inc., and operated by a private owner as a 14 CFR Part 91 personal flight, collided with trees while maneuvering in the vicinity of Double Springs, Alabama. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed and no flight plan was filed. The airplane received substantial damage. The airline transport rated pilot received serious injuries and was transported to a local area hospital by helicopter. The flight last departed Fletcher Field, Clarksdale, Mississippi, on March 31, 2006, at 1800. The destination airport was Grinder Field, Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

According to a lineman at Pine Bluff Aviation, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, the pilot departed Pine Bluff at 04:50 PM, on March 31, 2006. An employee at Fletcher Field, Clarksdale, Mississippi, stated he noticed the airplane landing at the airport at 05:45 PM. The pilot was having trouble deciding which exit to take to the ramp. The airplane stopped at each exit until the airplane came to the end of the runway. The airplane was subsequently taxied to the ramp. The pilot shut down the airplane and exited with out turning off the master switch. Upon exiting the airplane the pilot stated, "You know I've been flying for 60 years, and don't tell anybody, but I'm lost. I know I'm in Clarksdale, but I don't know how to get home." The employee having worked at Grinder Field asked the pilot the names of 3 or 4 people. The pilot had a blank look on his face. The pilot informed him that he was almost out of gas and he did not have any maps. The pilot ordered fuel and the employee informed the pilot to go inside and he could obtain a map. The pilot paid for his fuel and returned to the airplane.

The employee stated to the fixed base operator owner (FBO) that, "this guy (the pilot) has something wrong with him, almost like dementia or Alzheimer's." The employee watched the pilot returned to the airplane. The pilot got in and out of the pilot's door 4 times. The employee went out to the airplane and asked the pilot if he had a problem. The pilot stated his door would not close. The employee asked the pilot if he would like them to drive him home and the pilot said no. The pilot entered the airplane through the passenger door, secured the door, slid over to the pilot seat, opened the pilot door, closed it, and secured it without any problems. The employee returned to the FBO and called Grinder Field and informed them of the situation and asked them to be look out for the pilot. The employee watched the airplane take off and head towards the northeast for a couple of minutes before turning back towards the northwest.

A witness located at a restaurant in the vicinity of Double Springs, Alabama, stated he heard and observed an airplane approaching his location heading north-northwest. The airplane was at a very low altitude, turned to the left, and flew over a day care center located behind the restaurant. The airplane made another turn and flew south towards highway 278. The witness stated he watched the airplane until he could not see it or its lights. A short time later he heard an impact noise. He went inside the restaurant and informed his mother what he saw and heard. They both went outside and drove their van to a friend's house located near the airplanes last observed location. They contacted the friend at his home and he informed them that he did not hear anything. The friend got his four-wheeler and they all went towards a wood line and observed a flashing red light in the woods. They called out to see if anyone would answer. The pilot responded and walked out of the woods and came to their location. The pilot informed them that he had been in a vehicle accident. The 911 emergency operators were called, and emergency responders arrived on scene.

A review of navigation maps by NTSB showed that from Clarksdale, Mississippi, the heading to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, is 264-degrees and the heading to Double Springs, Alabama, the accident site, is 92-degrees.

Impending Delivery

No, no, no, the IFR Pilot is not pregnant. If I were, that would be one heck of news story.

Rather, the title of this post refers to the lovely little package that should be arriving later today: A brand-spanking new Garmin 396.

Yep, that was the final decision, after probably fifty or more e-mails back and forth between the partners. We all admired the many features of the Anywhere WX system, and its lower cost, and all of us wanted to support the "underdog" if we could. But, after reviewing everything we could -- not just the manufacturers' puffery -- but user guides, support forums, usenet posts, etc., we had to go with the 396.

Here was my "final word" to the other partners in 78S:

I am now convinced, based on this review [from Aviation Consumer that MS found], the research I have done, and the concerns I shared yesterday that we should opt for the 396. I shudder at the added cost and the loss of some of the flexibility and features compared to the Anywhere WX. Nevertheless, here are my reasons for suggesting we go with the 396.

1. Platform stability. While some users report no problems with Anywhere, there seem to be an equal number of reports of difficulties. I want something as bullet-proof as possible. The Anywhere relies on Pocket PC running Windows Mobile. Hello, have you heard of Windows? You know, the operating system that can't run for a week without crashing? I don't want Bill Gates taking his revenge on me when I'm in hard IFR trying to decide whether it's time to divert. Plus, I want to fly. I don't want to be a computer scientist. I want the system to be as simple and possible.

2. Cockpit complexity. The 396 will only require two wires: one for power, one for the XM antenna. For that, we get both real-time weather AND the XM radio. If we go with Anywhere, even with Bluetooth, it's three wires, all of which lead to one power jack, but you've still got power cords running to the PDA, the GPS, and the XM weather antenna. Plus, if we want to undergo the field approval process, we could add the 396 to the panel underneath the transponder in the empty black plate. Also, we would be able to forgo the separate XM receiver for radio tuning (see this experimental builder's comments here and here If we go with Anywhere, and still want satellite radio, we have two more cables in the cockpit. Talk about a spaghetti-like nightmare. Also, the Anywhere system is either going to have to be yoke-mounted (which I don't like personally, I want the yoke free for checklists or approach plates) or suction mounted to the glare shield. Even if we don't go with the Aizgizmos mount and field approval, the 396 can sit on the top of the glare shield. No such option for the Anywhere PDA.

3. Resale. If we ever move on from 78S, and decide we don't want to keep the 396, I think it's much more likely to bring a higher return on our original investment than the Anywhere system. Just look at the prices of the Anywhere systems on eBay. They seem to be bringing less than 50% of the original price. Not so with the 396.

4. Company stability. Each unit requires updating for the map. Even if we go with only a once-a-year update, I have a higher confidence level that Garmin will be around much longer than Control Vision (which farms out the mapping data to a vendor; who knows how long that vendor will be around).

5. The 396 is WAAS enabled. Although it's not legal for IFR approaches, if the stuff hits the fan and you need to, I suppose you could fly an LNAV or VNAV GPS approach to WAAS minima if you needed to get on the ground NOW.

6. The aural alert capability of the 396, mentioned in the review that [MS] forwarded. I can't determine if the Anywhere system does this, but I think it's a neat feature.

7. Non-flying maintenance. Every time we're done with the Anywhere system, it has to be removed from the airplane and placed in a cradle charger to keep it alive. Let the batteries die, the system conks out and we have to set it up again. This means leaving it in the hangar, subject to dust and dirt, etc. That means covering it as well. I don't know how well it's going to do sitting in the hangar during the cold of winter.

I'd like to say that I'm comfortable with the Anywhere system, esp. because it would save me a few hundred $$, but the truth of the matter is that I'm not. I'm happy beyond words with the 430. I have a much higher confidence level that we'll find the same degree of satisfaction with the 396. I don't have that confidence level with the Anywhere system -- even though I really, really want to.

I guess this is my way of saying I think we should bite the bullet and go with the 396. Look, if it sucks, we can sell it and go back to calling Flight Service every 20 minutes....

Let's see if the reality of the 396 holds up to the IFR Pilot's predictions. We'll let you know.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Seeking Recommendations

The Boys are thinking about equipping 78S with some in-cockpit weather. Either a Garmin 396 or the Anywhere XM. There are competing views. We're seeking some real-world feedback.

We offer nothing in the way of compensation, other than our eternal gratitude. And maybe a $100 hamburger, if we ever visit you in your hometown airport.

Thanks y'all.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Vacation, Interrupted

The events of the prior evening and this morning having taken their toll on the IFR Pilot and MS, we amended our destination from Nash-Vagas to the Home Base. Hey, vacation isn't always about the quantity of time, but the quality of what you make out of the time you have. And believe you me, we packed enough trouble -- literally -- into 36 hours to last a lifetime.

The flight back was uneventful, except for the last 20 minutes. Weather was mostly scattered in Lexington and we filed for 7000, which put us on top for the entire trip home. Just south of Mansfield, we were descended to 5000, which put us in the thick of it. Water was flying all over the cowl -- and into '78S itself. Such are the quirks of owning a 40-year old flying machine.

MS and the IFR Pilot were a bit concerned, as the OAT was barely a bit over freezing. We asked for and immediately got a descent to 4000 from Akron Approach, looking for warmer air. It helped a bit, but not enough. We wanted 3000, which happens to be the same altitude for the initial leg of the GPS 2 into 3G3. CAK denied us 3000, as there was other traffic at that altitude. Plus, there was another aircraft inbound to 3G3 on the VOR-DME approach. This, of course, caused the IFR Pilot a bit of silent concern -- are we actually going to be asked to hold, in actual conditions? Heaven forbid, we don't need this kind of workout, that's for sure. That turned out to be for naught, however, as we appeared to be ahead of him.

Soon enough, we got our descent to 3000. At 3500, we started to see the ground, and by 3000, we were VFR. A final descent to 2500 and we cancelled IFR, broke off the approach, and headed for the Home Base.

We chased the Apache in, and landed after 2.3 hours of fun in the sun, having benefited from the tailwind.

Let's hope the next Boys Weekend isn't quite as eventful.... Y'all don't forget to set your clocks forward an hour tonight, here?

Vacation Day #1

Blogging brought to you from Lexington, KY, where the IFR Pilot and MS descended with abandon yesterday afternoon. After chatting on Thursday night and looking at the weather, it appeared that it was a morning launch, or none at all and we'd spend day #1 drinking in the hangar. Well, that's no fun, so we hit the skies at 8:00 a.m., destined to cheat Mother Nature, who was sending a cold front our way, and enjoy our Boys Weekend.

Initially, there were reports of wind shear at 2000, 40 knots. Yikes! Well, that turned out to be for naught in our area. But, what we did find was a headwind. I mean, a massive headwind. I kind you not: We didn't break 90 knots until Lexington Approach vectored us for the localizer on the ILS 22.

That, of course, was nearly three hours later. Yes, that's right, those nasty winds turned a two-hour jaunt just over the Ohio River into a glacially slow trek (3.2 hours to cover 224 NM; route for record keeping purposes: Home Base-MRQ (avoids Buckeye and Brush Creek MOAs)-LEX). We had clear weather until just south of CMH, where the clag was just waiting for us. It was mostly rain showers, and we were in and out of the clouds. But, it was nerve wracking not having any on-board weather (Garmin 396, anyone???), even though MS was doing his best impression of Jim Cantore of the Weather Channel talking to Flight Watch. At one point, I thought MS was going to ask the briefer out on a day, they had talked so much....

Just over Wilmington Airpark, we had our only sphincter-tightening moment of the day. It was a pretty heavy downpour, and the engine hiccuped. It was only a beat, and the engine immediately roared back to life and the engine analyzer showed compression in all cylinders. Perhaps it was just a bit of water in the carburetor or air intake, but I gotta tell you: Those are the moments that inspire thoughts of returning to flying only on MSFS 2004.

Flight Aware's record of the trip:

Anyway, on landing on KLEX, we taxied over to the fine folks at TAC Air, who took good care of us during our return from New Orleans last year. There was a whole group of high school kids on the ramp, walking towards a lovely little jet. Turns out that someone's daddy had charter a jet to take them to Aspen for Spring Break. Nice to see how the "other side" lives, huh? Can I borrow $100 for some avgas for 78S???

We explored downtown Lexington for lunch (IFR Pilot recommendation: Shephard's Pie at deSha's; avoid the Foccaccia Pizza at the Radisson's Bigg Blue Martini), then grabbed a power nap before hitting the streets for the evening. Among our destinations were: McCarthy's Irish Pub, the afore-mentioned Bigg Blue Martini, Triple Crown (lame!), and Cheapsides. The IFR Pilot, who was destined to have the flying duties again on Saturday, called it quits around 12:30 a.m., but MS was going strong. He hit a few more places and then . . . well, the rest is protected by attorney-client privilege. 'Nuf said.

We're off to Nashville (a/k/a "Nash-Vegas") after the IFR Pilot wakes MS from his beauty nap.