Sunday, September 23, 2007

Highs and lows.

It was one of those rare early fall days that are so perfect, they seem unreal. The sky was bright blue and visibility unlimited. The leaves that just started to change colors hardly moved in a light breeze. The air was light and crisp and the temperature just right, not too hot, not too cold.

I drove to the airport anticipating my flight. With storms, low ceilings, high winds and everything in between, it had been a while and I was due for a nice flight. I was going through all figures in my mind imagining flying through that crisp blue air and looking at the sea of colors underneath.

The plane is tied in a grass, so I normally check gas and oil (she needed both) and then taxi to the pumps and do my walk around there. Trying to screw the fuel cap on the right wing, I realized that it felt differently – it seemed to have sunk into the wing and the fabric edge was sitting higher than usual, mixing up with the thread. At that point, I knew that something was not quite right, so I decided to do the walk around right there.

The rest of walk around went fine until I got to the tail assembly and discovered a long gash in a fabric on the vertical fin with the part of the structural frame sticking out. Staring at the tear that was close to 10 inches long I knew that I was not flying that day and probably that week and possibly that month and I still could not believe it. It was a perfect day and everyone was flying. Everyone, except me. I was talking to my instructor and snagging the plane. I hope what ever it was is easily fixable and my little Citabria comes back soon.

And going from low to high, couple of days ago, I did a night flight in a Piper Warrior piloted by a friend of mine whom I met in the ground school for my PPL. My first ever time in the low wing plane (well, aside from commercial airliners) and my buddy’s first non-family passenger. We started and received our PPL tickets within weeks of each other, but I dropped the night training in April while he persisted and finished.

Even though my buddy did all communications, I surprised myself by remembering all the frequencies at Buttonville and most of the communication procedures. My friend did the take off and landings (and did a great job at both) and I got to fly the airplane straight and level. It felt very heavy and stable, quite a difference from the Citabria.

The skies were clear and we could see the stars and Toronto Pearson planes in a distance. We decided to fly north instead of downtown tour and ended up flying circles over Newmarket where I spend my weekends and my buddy lives full time. Time flew by. I enjoyed that flight so much that I decided to re-start my night licence training next week. And now, with Citabria off-line, I it might be the only flying I’d do for the next couple weeks.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Surrounded by the Clouds

The night before my scheduled Saturday morning flight, we had a massive front pass through the area with lots of thunder and lightning and very heavy rain, so I was not very optimistic about my flying prospects.

I did not get to fly the previous week and I knew I would be away for the next two weekends, so I needed at least a few circuits to make sure my skills did not deteriorate. Actually, I needed circuit practice regardless as I spent too much time enjoying acro flying and not enough time doing circuits.

Ready to leave for my 5 min drive to the airport, I checked the METARS for airports north and south of my field and all of the airports reported very low ceilings, embedded TCUs and rain, some heavy. It was also started to rain a bit outside my house.

My hopes very low, I decided to drive to the field anyways, thinking that I’d take a look. Arriving at the field, I saw that one of my school’s Cessna’s was in the air and raised them on my handheld radio to ask about the ceilings. They reported that right over the field it was over 3,000 ft but looked low all the way around it. That was all the info I needed – I decided to go up and just do circuits for 0.5 hr.

As it happened, I also had my own personal photographer with me, who took lots of pictures of me prepping the plane and practicing.

The plane is tied up in a grass field during the summer, so I normally check fuel and oil and, in case more fuel is needed, I them start it up, do a quick mag check and then taxi to the fuel pump. We had some magneto troubles lately, so I usually also do a quick mag check while on the grass so that if it drops too much, then I do not even need to move the plane.

This time, the check went fine and soon we were off to get some fuels. I did my walk-around as plane was being re-fuelled. Conscious of the heavy rain the night before, I made sure I checked all the fuel drains for water. Everything was fine and soon I was in the run up area.

As I did my run up, the Cessna in the circuit announced final, so I waited for them to land and take off and then backtracked. Wind was 5-10 kts, almost down the Rwy. The Cessna I was sharing the circuits with flew much larger circuits that I normally do, so I had to play with some power/ pitch settings that would get me on a nice stable approach at the speed that I wanted. My first approach ended up a bit low and I had to drag it in with power, but I figured it out and second approach was much more stable. At that point the Cessna was done for the day and I had the circuit to myself.

Turning from x-wind into downwind and not having to keep my eyes on a Cessna in front of me, I finally had a chance to look around and was surprised to see that I seemed to be flying in the middle in inverted hole. All around my airstrip were low hanging clouds, but they seemed to have parted right over my field leaving my circuit completely open with very decent ceilings. It was amazing.

I worked on my landings trying to make sure I do a nice 3-pointers with no bounces and also tried to stay right in the middle of Rwy. This mostly worked. The Rwy 26 that I was using is upsloping with a couple of bumps in the end that seemed to have gotten bigger over time. I would typically land and roll early enough to be airborne before the bumps, although one time, I was not airborne, but was above the flying speed, so that when I bounced off the bump, I just stayed in the air. I believe we also got that on camera.

I had the circuit for myself for a couple more approaches and then a helicopter announced his downwind as I was in the crosswind. My field is owned by a helicopter company, so we have more helicopters than planes. I quickly scanned the sky, located the heli and told him that I was behind him x-wind turning downwind. He flew a fast circuit and I did not have to extend mine at all.

On my last circuit, I got rained on while in the downwind and figured it was time to do a full stop. I got off the Rwy, taxied through the grass and tied Citabria down for the day as no one else booked it after me.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Summer Acro

Summer, especially the dry and hot one, is the prime season for my other passions, such as scuba diving and riding my bike. Some scuba trips take me away from home for the whole weekend, so scheduling flying had become challenging and 2 weeks intervals not uncommon.

Realizing that maintaining my currency and, more importantly, proficiency on 2 different types would be near impossible, I made a decision earlier this summer to lose my currency on a Cessna until fall as it would appear that remembering how to fly in controlled airspace with two working radios, gyros, etc. is much easier that remembering how to land Citabria. So, this had been a summer of Citabria. And what a summer it had been!

I was staying close to home this weekend and the Wx forecast was perfect for Saturday, zero wind, severe clear and unlimited viz. Still a bit too hot, but manageable. I scheduled a long overdue dual acro flight to go over some figures with my instructor and learn some new ones.

It was really nice to fly acro with the defined horizon instead of hazy transition between the earth and the sky that persisted all summer long. I warmed up with a couple of hummerheads, managing the near perfect one on a 2nd try. Then a loop and we were ready to try some slow rolls.

I have been practicing them for a few sessions, but they were falling apart on me. Soon, it was obvious why - i was trying to fly them too fast, too abrupt and some controls inputs were too little, too late. My instructor done one, i followed him on a controls and then few a few semi-decent ones myself with the mental notes on what and how to practice later.

Then we tried a few half loops and immelmans (still need to work on those) and finished by working on reverse Cuban 8's, which proved an almost impossible figure to fly for me. Finally, on try #6 i almost got it. By that time, were were in the air for over an hour and my stomach went into unsettled mode w/o any warning. I seriously thought i was going to lose it this time, but as we got closer to the field and i got preoccupied with spotting the sock, etc., it then settled.

As we flew over the field, we looked at where the sock was supposed to be and could not see it. Took us a few seconds to realize that the reason we could not see it was that it was completely limp, hanging straight down in the still air. That gave us a choice of either Runway and naturally, we wanted the upsloping usual one, so i had to loose a lot of height as we joined the downwind and descended to circuit height at the same time. I was a bit high on final and had to slip a bit, but stabilized over the threshold and had a beautiful landing.

That was yesterday. Today, i was going to practice some of the same elements solo. As i came to the field, i noticed my friends that were flew to Tobermory yesterday and were not supposed to be back until later today were already back, with the plane tied down. Taking to the guys on the field, there was a moving storm line North of us, but the effects were already spilling into our local area with ceilings dropping down and wind picking up. The rain and thunder were not supposed to arrive for a few hours, and the wind was straight down the Rwy so i thought i'd go up for a very short flight.

It was a very short flight indeed. 0.6 hrs. Ceilings were low and getting lower, so i was limited to 3,000 to 4,300 ft space, which really was 3,500 to 4,300 as i do not start anything below 3,500 and do not do any loops or HH at that height. Horizon was not there anymore replaced by obscure transition between cloudy skies and hazy land. I fount a bit of a hole in the clouds that allowed me to climb a bit higher and do some loops. half loops and immelmans and then spent the rest of the flight working on slow rolls at around 4,000 ft. As i worked, the wind afloat was getting stronger and cloud bases darker and finally i decided that it just was not worth it and made a beeline for the field. Wind was strong and gusting, but still relatively down the Rwy, so i had another nice landing.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Window views

I recently bought a coffee table book that had photographs of views from the airplane windows. It was very nice to realize that i am not the only crazy person glued to the window while clicking my shutter. I had some luck on this recent trip with few pictured of Cyprus mountains as well as bird's eye view of downtown London.

London on approach path

Downtown London, Thames, London eye, Tower Bridge

Some mountain lake on a way from Lanaca to Heathrow and leaving the mainland towards UK

Cyprus from air. Throdos mountains. Note the grey cloud of smoke from most recent wildfires.

LHR airplanes

Had a few hours to kill at LHR waiting for connection. Amasing how time flies when you have a camera to play with! I love the rainy landings as the moisture on the wings can add some surreal effects.

On a way back, we sat on the tarmac for a while waiting for a T-storm to pass over. I turned back and snapped a long wet line up behind us and the plane right after us for take off.

Airplanes at YYZ

I took my cameras with me on a recent commercial flight on YYZ-LHR-LCA and back route. My first ever time flying on a one of AirCanada's newest Boeing 777's. That airplane is absolutely huge. Note two entrance sleeves - closest one is for business class pax.

While waiting to board the airplane, i occupied myself with shooting the landings of various airplanes.

My window seat at the back of the airplane was in Row 52 and there were still a number of rows behind me. I occupied myselt with the views our of the window for a while - although i must note that i liked the view of downtown Toronto from a small Cessna so much better. I have to re-start my night rating one of these days.

Monday, July 16, 2007


I have read a lot about building tolerance to G's while doing acro, but did not think it would apply at my (very beginner) level. Turns out i was wrong.

Recently, I had an acro session after a 3 weeks break from my previous acro flight. During this break i flew a lot on commercial airliners, but that's a subject of a next post.

I was very eager to fly after such a long break and planned to basically repeat the program i did 3 weeks before. Hammerheads (still the easiest one for me to do), loops, aileron rolls, inverted flight and may be try a slow roll or too. Change directions with HH or 1.5 turn spins. I did about an hour of these items last time around and enjoyed it immensely.

I normally fly in the mornings and either bike or scuba dive in the afternoon, so i planned the ride for the afternoon as well.

The Wx was VFR, but with intermittent showers in the area. The cloud bases were very high and the air was surprisingly smooth, so i was all set for a nice acro day. Except i could not.

20 mins into the flight, after a few HH, loops and rolls, my stomach just could not take it anymore and wanted straight and level. I was trying to fly through some light showers, so i took a break and picked my way to the clear weather again. Thinking the stomach should have settled, i tried a few more aileron rolls and then inverted flight again - not a very good idea. It was only 40 mins into the flight, so i thought if i do a bit more straight and level, i can try a few spins. During the first spin, i knew i had to go land fast as my stomach just could not take it anymore and i was getting very tired.

The wind picked up while i was gone and were gusting 15 kts directly across the Rwy, so i had to crab at a 45 degree angle. I figured i will try to land and if i am still blown sideways I'd go around and land on a grass directly into the wind. As i was transitioning from crab into slip and flaring, the wind stopped (it is blocked by the buildings at touchdown point), resulting in me over-correcting and drifting into the wind. I corrected back while adding a bit of power. The resulting landing was not one of my most graceful ones, but me and my stomach were safely on a ground.

I did not do anything else that day as i was feeling completely wiped out. I then remembered that that was a bit similar to how i felt after my first ever spins lesson and realized how much tolerance i must have built without even realizing it and how easy it was to loose it, especially with a bit of remaining jet-lag from a previous week's vacation.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

I am back!

Well, it’s now or never… I dived to 140 mph and then pulled on a stick to start the loop. And then pushed on a stick to stop the loop a few seconds later as tunnel vision made its presence known again. Plane hovered in zero G for a second, then started flying again. As the plane flew straight and level, I contemplated what to do next.

It was a few weeks after my blackout episode. I had a very successful dual session a week prior, doing loops, rolls, hammerheads and immelmans. Consequently, I knew there was nothing physically wrong with me. Whatever it was this time was entirely in my head. The blackout episode scared me quite a bit and that fear was preventing me from doing easy things I have done dozen of times before.

As I flew around I thought that the fear seemd to be associated with the upside down part of the loop since that was where the blackout happened. I then decided to try a hammerhead. I am sure that was probably the clumsiest hammerhead I have ever done, but it worked. Encouraged, I tried again, and then again and again – they all worked and I had no fear or tunnel vision.

Few hammerheads later, it was time for a loop again, except this time it went perfectly fine. I screamed “I am back” in relief as I was pulling out of the loop as I knew that I just overcame a huge barrier in my head. The relief and joy I was experiencing was immeasurable. The session got better and better afterwards.

I flew along the east-west roads, using hammerheads and 1.5 turn spins to change directions. I practiced more loops, rolls, some combinations of the above and inverted flight until my stomach nearly gave up and ordered straight and level flight with an open window. I was at about 3,500 ft and close to home field, so decided to call it a day and headed for the barn, i.e. airport.

Hobbs meter registered 1.0 hrs of flying time. One of the most meaningful hours of my short flying career. And i am already looking forward to the next session - will be practicing cuban 8's.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Hazy Flying

Having enjoyed my previous x-country flight in a Citabria so much, I decided to try a longer flight to a place with a restaurant for breakfast. My passenger was all for it, the plane was available all day, so I had the luxury of time.

We had some other plans for later in the day, so I decided to fly Collingwood airport that was 40 miles away from my home base, had a good restaurant and, most importantly, was located next to a big lake that would be a hard thing to miss in case I got completely lost.

All planning done the night before, I woke up on Sat morning to find the sun obscured by the same haze that was hanging over all southern Ontario for the previous week. Driving to the airport, and looking at the buildings on the sides of the highway, it appeared that haze was even worse that I expected, especially looking into the sun. Arriving on the field, I called Flight Services and discovered that the viz was 3-4 miles in haze, just above legal VFR, and, to top it off, they were expecting thunderstorms later than day. Strangely enough, it did not look bad on a ground.

I decided that the combination of barely VFR visibility and no navigational instruments in a Citabria was not suitable for a x-country flight to a place I have never been to, even if it was next to the big lake. Instead, we decided to bring coffee and sandwiches with us and fly to Greenbank again or, failing that, Simcoe Regional and have a picnic there. Both were a short hop away from home base.

I discussed my plans and itineraries with my instructor and told him that I will make a decision once I take off and see how bad visibility was looking east (the direction of Greenbank).

The wind was absolutely calm and takeoff uneventful. As soon as we turned to face East, I knew I was not flying to Greenbank that morning as trying to see anything through the haze while looking into the sun would have been very-very tiring and potentially not safe. I called my instructor on a radio and informed him that we were heading to Simcoe Regional and turned north to follow the shoreline of Lake Simcoe.

Flying through the haze was an interesting experience. It was surprising to look up and see the bright blue sky while everything around us and below us was dull and grey. It was tempting to climb out of that thick layer of haze, but I could not as I would lose the details on the ground above 2,000-2,500 ft.

Despite the haze, I found the airport with its 5,000 long runway with little problems, did my calls, checked the sock (limp) and soon I was coming in for a landing. By the time we landed and parked the plane near terminal, it was also very-very hot, so I had to sit in the shade under the wing to record my times.

With sun’s thermostat set at “full hot”, picnic on a grass no longer looked that appealing, so we took our sandwiches and coffee into the cool air-conditioned environment of the FBO and spent time talking to people inside and looking at the “planes for sale” section of latest issue of COPA newspaper and generally enjoying ourselves.

On a way back, we detoured a bit to see the another grass strip that we were encouraged to visit that was easy to find as it sits next door to a giant Honda plant, but it looked a bit too rough and sky was getting darker in the west, so we decided to head home where I had my best landing yet in a Citabria – we did not even notice the point at which we stopped flying and started rolling!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Playing on the grass.

1.6 hrs – “short cross country to Greenbank and back”. Simple number and a one-liner in the logbook hide so many experiences and emotions. Joys of grass landings as they supposed to be done (in the tail dragger!), flying low and seeing the earth come alive with flowers, grasses and leaves in the late spring and my first ever tail dragger passenger.

It was a gorgeous day at the end of a long weekend, the one we all wished for with all the wind, clouds, hail, storms that Mother Nature unleashed on us in the days before. Winds calm, visibility unlimited, temperature just right for inside the plane in the sun – it was a perfect flying day.

I had my dual acro lesson that morning, and seeing the glorious forecast, made an afternoon booking as well. Did not want to push my body too much, so decided against second acro that day and instead invited a best friend (who is also a great photographer) to come along as I flew to a local grass field to practice my grass landings.
As I was checking out the plane, my passenger occupied himself by taking some interesting pictures of my rental Citabria. Check ups done, we got inside were soon rolling to the run up bay.

I was concentrating on getting all my check lists items done and did not even notice the camera clicking behind me as I was flipping the switches.

Take off was uneventful and soon we were floating in the sea of green as various fields, farms and ravines passed under our wings. The warm air radiating from the ground was starting to cause a few bumps here and there, but seeing that we were both quite comfortable to ride those out, I decided to stay at 2,000 ft, not climb any higher.

Citabria does not have the Heading Indicator or any navigation instruments save for the compass, and with the bumps, holding the compass course would be difficult, so I pulled the maps, figured out which roads would end near the airport and just followed the roads.

Greenbank, so appropriately named, has 2 grass runways and is surrounded by farm fields and ravines, so it was quite difficult to spot. I made my calls to Unicom, but the radio in the Citabria was unusually squeaky, so I did not expect any answer (Greenbank is advisory frequency).

We flew over the field looking at the sock, which indicated Rwy 34 would be appropriate. I then turned around, descended to circuit attitude and joined the downwind for Rwy 34, making the calls. With the day being that beautiful, I asked my passenger to keep an eye for other planes as well, expecting lots, but we have seen none and had the little airport all to ourselves.
As I lined up with the Rwy, I realized that I was coming too low and was slowing down. Something in all that greenery disturbed my visual references a bit. I made the power and pitch adjustments and soon landed just fine with a bit of a bounce. Rolling to a full stop, I let my passenger and his cameras out to set up for shooting my touch and goes.

Made a few touch and goes trying to perfect the glide to the field w/o needing much power adjustments and had one of the very beautiful landings and couple of small bounces. And lots of great shots were taken as well.
Having had enough of touch and goes, I picked up my passenger and we flew a bit of a sight seeing tour over Lake Scugog and then made our way to the home field talking about how nice it was and how we wanted to do that again.
It was amazing to be able to share the plane that I normally have all to myself with a close friend and have some great pictures to prove it too.