Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 Year In Review

It’s time for the annual retrospective on what was accomplished, flying-wise, during year 2007. Let’s start with the goals set in the beginning of the year, and recap whether they were met.

Obtain commercial pilot, single-engine rating, including the written test by February 28 and the certificate by June 30. Passed the written on January 13 with an 89%. An impressive start. Took a number of flight lessons in April once the weather broke and supported regular flying. Things fell apart after that, due to work and other life commitments. So, we’ll generously call this one a “D.”

2. Obtain flight instructor license, including the written test by September 1 and the certificate by December 31. Nothing accomplished here, with the notable exception, squeezed in at the proverbial eleventh hour, of passing the Fundamentals of Instructing written test. Call this a “D----.”

3. Fly ten Angel Flights. Volunteered for a bunch, several were cancelled by Angel Flight, a few by the IFR Pilot due to changes in work commitments, and one (on December 26, which was a GREAT weather day) due to sickness within the preceding 48 hours. Since the “no illness in 48 hours” is a personal minimum for me, I really had no choice. All of this is a long way of saying that the IFR Pilot did fly one actual Angel Flight during 2007. So, this one is also a “D-,” especially after a really nice article was written earlier this year about the IFR Pilot’s involvement with this very worth charity.

4. Log 20 hours of actual instrument time and 10 approaches in actual. Given that I only flew a total of 57.7 hours during 2007, there’s no surprise here that this goal wasn’t met. reports that I flew a total of 5.9 hours in actual instrument conditions and another 2.9 under the hood, with a total of 14 approaches. So, that’s a total of 8.8 hours, or 15% of my total time for the year. In the past, I’ve averaged around 110 to 120 hours for a year. Had I flown the average and met the 20 hour goal, that would have translated to a total of about 17% of my time on the gauges. Call this a “B” performance for the year.

5. Return to publishing "Accident of the Week" each week, or at least on a more regular basis. I did this for a while, but frankly, the content of some response e-mails that I received convinced me that this isn’t a worthwhile endeavor at this point. Call this a “withdrawn goal.”

6. Publish one freelance aviation article. This one was accomplished, but only after pounding the pavement to find a willing publisher (Piper Flyer magazine, September 2007 issue). The freelance aviation writing gig appears to be a harder nut to crack than I first thought. However, I was asked to submit some more to the magazine, and I’ve finally had time to sketch out some ideas, so perhaps we can keep the momentum moving on this one.

Overall, it’s tough to grade the year. I guess I’d call it a “C,” in other words, average. Some goals weren’t met, but I did at least make an honest effort towards them. Also, I did conceive and help organize the first Blogging Pilot World get-together in Toronto. Here’s hoping we can do that again this summer.

So, what’s the plan to 2008? Simple: Meet the goals of 2007, and add in obtaining the Ground Instructor ratings this winter while the weather precludes regular flying. Some of these goals could be even more challenging in the coming year, as there’s a bit of uncertainty concerning Mike Hotel’s future. But, those issues aren’t ripe for full analysis or disclosure here yet. Stay tuned on that front!!!

Here’s one last piece of analysis, something I’ve shied away from doing in the past. We all know and understand that aviation is an expensive addiction, and airplane ownership is the apex of that addiction. That being the case, I have never tried to sum up how much I’ve spent in a year to operate either N3978S or N72MH. But, let’s explore the actual costs of operation for a minute.

For the 57.7 hours that I flew in 2007, I wrote checks to our little partnership for a total of $9932.83. After subtracting $558.00 for expenses that I would classify as not directly related to owning the plane or are one-time expenses, I spent $9374.83 to own Mike Hotel during 2007. That translates into $162.48 per hour to own, insure, operate, and maintain a very, very nicely equipped Piper Arrow. I don’t think that I could find a plane of the same caliber anywhere in the local area. Keep in mind, our equipment includes Garmin GNS 430, MX-20 MFD, Garmin 396 with XM weather, standby electric attitude indicator, autopilot, and vertical card compass. These are all items that increase the safety and reliability factor. Then, add in having the plane available anytime I want it, with no daily minimums, etc., it starts to approach a “no-brainer.”

Assume for a moment that I had actually flown 100 hours in 2007, the level that is often bandied about as the “break-even” point for aircraft ownership. My costs would have increased by $1607.40 (assumes fuel only, no additional maintenance, which I recognize might not be entirely accurate), for a yearly total of $11,540.23. Or, about $115 an hour.

Now that makes it a real bargain. A 182RG at our airport rents for about $136 an hour, but its Garmin 430 isn’t kept up to date. I’d have to purchase a renters insurance policy ($300 to $600 for the year). And, if I wanted to keep my Garmin 396, I’d still be paying $50 or so a month for the data. Also, our monthly payment to the airplane partnership includes subscriptions for charts, approach plates, and the Flight Guide. So, I’d still have those expenses if I was renting. All of that piles on to the hourly rental rate. Then, throw on the intangibles, such as not having the plane available when I want it, not controlling the maintenance decisions, and the like.

Ultimately, there’s no denying that it’s expensive to own and operate an airplane, especially when you don’t engage in deferral of maintenance squawks and aren’t afraid to make the decision to spend more to upgrade the airplane. So, I’ll take what I’ve got and be happy.

Happy New Year to all of you.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Update from Lake Erie's Shores

It's been pretty quiet, aviation-wise, here on the shores of Lake Erie. Although there have been a number of spectacular days for flying, they have yet to coincide with days that the IFR Pilot has off from work. Translated, that means no flying. Our fingers are crossed that Sunday will permit a local flight, but who knows.

In the meantime, our Faithful Narrator can reveal that -- in an effort to accomplish something aviation-wise this month, he crammed for and passed the Fundamentals of Instruction test this afternoon. To tell the truth, it's the easiest of the five FAA written tests taken so far, and it was over in about 15 minutes. A perfect 100% was not achieved; instead, a healthy, respectable 92% was achieved. Not bad.

As crummy weather shall be upon us for the better part of the next couple months, the immediate goal will be to achieve AGI and perhaps IGI ratings.

Happy 2008 to you all, I'll have the annual recap post done soon.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Mmmmm, Breakfast

Saturday, the IFR Pilot dragged his lazy butt out of bed early enough to justify taking Mike Hotel out to play. The weather gurus were predicting lovely weather here in Northeast Ohio until about 6:00 p.m., after which Old Man Winter was going to make his first appearance of the season, in the form of freezing rain, sleet, ice, and maybe even some snow. That was plenty enough reason to take the plane out while the taking was good.

Fortunately, after last weekend's touch and go session, I had installed the AeroTherm heater, so the engine was ready to go upon arrival. Not so much so for the Garmin 430 display, which doesn't like to cold weather too much. It takes a loooooooooooong time to warm up, so if you're the betting kind, don't be surprised that when the 430 goes in for its WAAS upgrade in February, Garmin tells us we need a new display as well. (MS, you've been warned!)

After filling the tanks, it was time to blast off. Man, the airplane leaps off the runway in winter! Briefly holding 70 KIAS in the climb, the VSI was showing probably 1000 FPM. Quickly dropping the nose to effect 80 KIAS, the VSI still showed a nice, healthy rate of climb, which is always nice when you're using Runway 3 at the Home Base -- lots of tall trees immediately beyond the end of the runway.

Destination was KMFD, which the "Flying Turtle" has changed hands and morphed into "Flyboys Cafe." Vectored for a visual to 32, ATC then switched the active to runway 5. Already established on a left base for 32, Tower offered the option of 5 or 32. The IFR Pilot elected to remain inbound for 32. Might as well get a cross-wind landing in the book.

All went well, and before you know it, Mike Hotel was properly secured and the IFR Pilot was eating the biggest ham steak in the history of mankind. Of course, I'm sure that it sent my sodium content through the roof, but hey, what's the point of eating a "healthy" $100 breakfast???

After laying waste to the eggs, homefries, and toast that accompanied the ham steak, it was time to head home. Remember, stay awake even though your tummy is quite full.....

Holding #2 for takeoff on runway 5 behind a Twin Comanche, the IFR Pilot's ire got the best of him. With a Decathlon just exiting the runway and a Cirrus on a 2 mile final, the TwinCo pilot requested a takeoff clearance. "We can expedite if it will help."

Tower did the proper thing and denied the clearance due to traffic on final. The TwinCo pilot's response was unbelievable:

"Well, if we're going to have to hold much longer here, I'll have to shut down an engine."

Amazing. You want to shoehorn a takeoff in front of a aircraft on final, probably doing 85 to 90 knots, just so that you can save about 3 minutes of fuel in your one engine? Brother, if that's the case, go back to flying a Single Engine Comanche!!! You just aren't that important to jeopardize safety so you can save $5 or so in avgas!!!

OK, rant over. After the TwinCo departed, the IFR Pilot got cleared for takeoff with an immediate right turn towards the Home Base. Rocketing up to 3500 feet, Yours Truly settled in for a leisurely flight back home. The landing was pretty much a non-event, except for the bottom dropping out on final and a bit of extra throttle having to be applied to salvage the landing.

And that was that. By 7:00 p.m., it was snowing. Today, it's Lake Effect Snow Warnings, with some areas expected to get 15" or so. Who knows when there will be another beautiful CAVU winter day.

(Forgot the camera. Again. Doggone it.)