Sunday, January 25, 2009

Winter Flying

I almost did not fly today because wind was 10 kts gusting 17 and at quite an angle (270 Vs 210 Rwy heading). As I was still not completely happy with my normal landings, I was not sure I was ready for x-wind and rwy 21 was a shorter Rwy, so there would be less room for error.

While I was waiting for a plane, I saw couple landings that could only be defined as “hair-raising”. And strangely enough, seeing those landings, gave me my confidence back as the only thought I had seeing those was “I can do better than that”. I also remembered that x-wind landings were always easier for me to do than the normal ones.

I got the plane that just flew and was warm, de-iced, so I did not have to bother with anything to start it. I took my time getting ready, got my clearance, flew a nice circuit and surprised myself with a really nice landing. Right down the centerline, no drift, touch down on one wheel first then the other, then the nose. Delighted, I did two more. Second circuit I was behind another Cessna that did a wider circuit and they were also doing a full stop, so I ended up flying long downwind and starting final from very far back and had to play with the power to get the approach right. I got it stable over the Rwy and touched down as 1-2-3 again.

With confidence fully back, it was time to go away from the circuit. I decided to go north and take a few pics of the Lake Simcoe, practice slips and steep turns. Alas, I did not get very far north. Just as I flew over the end of 404, the visibility dropped dramatically and so did the ceilings. Earlier, as I was driving to the airport, the radio was saying there were snow squalls in Barrie, Orillia area. I guessed that those snow squalls actually drifted south of where they were supposed to be and wanted no part of those, so I turned back and flew to Buttonville.

As I was getting my taxi instructions to the tie downs, I was told to hold short of Rwy 15/33. I repeated the hold short portion and, as I was getting closer to the hold short line, I heard the controller issuing landing clearance for 33 and she then reminded me to hold short. I figured it had to be something bigger and more important than single engine piston and it was – Falcon jet with 3 engines. Watching it land in x-wind was very neat.

They rolled to the end of Rwy and I was cleared to tie-downs. As I tied my airplane, I took a picture of it and the Falcon.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Keeping Current

Having finally regained my currency at the same time with completing my night rating, I managed one flight before I almost lost it again.

That previous flight was on Dec 17. I practiced some circuits which started somewhat less than square but got better as I started to get ahead of the plane and opposed to trying to catch up. After about 5 circuits, I had enough and decided to celebrate my night rating with the downtown Toronto tour, informed the Tower, got my transponder code and took off in the direction of the glinting lights in the distance.

Crossing the 401, I switched to City Tower frequency and they told me I had the space to myself and I was free to do whatever I wanted as long as I stayed north of the airport (I later heard Porter flights coming in to land). It was as exciting as it was the first time, all the changing lights and silhouettes of the darkened buildings. But there was also the new sight that I did not see there earlier in the fall - the brilliant white spots with the black specks on them. The outdoor hockey rinks. I did not realize there were a few in the downtown Toronto. I flew around looking at people playing hockey, looked down at the buildings big and small, brightly lit Christmas decorations, cars crawling on the streets. I tried to imagine what people inside the houses and cars were doing and was so happy to be above it all in the little airplane. That flight extended my currency to Jan 16 (it is on a 30 day basis for licensed pilots).

The week after that I went away for Xmas and New years coming back on Sunday Jan 4, which only left me one weekend to try to fly before my currency expired. I could also fly at night, but I really wanted to do a daytime flight.

Trying to beat the weather I booked flights on both Sat and Sunday mornings. On Saturday, I woke up to blue skies and no wind, checked the weather at the airport that showed pretty much the same thing with the air temp of -18C. I called the desk and asked about min temperature requirements and it was -20C, so I was good to go. Not quite believing my good luck (getting a winter booking on a first try), I drove to the airport an hour later. As I was driving south, the blue skies around my house changed into a very low thin overcast layer. Very low. My optimistic estimate was 500 above ground, definitely non-flyable. I kept driving hoping for a hole right around airport. Alas, no holes were in the vicinity and I was greeted at the Dispatch by a red “No Flying” sign with a lot of idle instructors sitting around and cursing that unexpected weather development. I was told that the thin layer was supposed to be blown away but not for a few hours. There was a time slot at 3pm for the same plane, so I decided to re-book it and come back instead of waiting till Sunday, for the weather was simply too unpredictable.

At 2pm, the airport weather was just about perfect for middle of January – unlimited vis, high ceilings, almost no wind and milder temperatures of -11C. I threw my flight bag in the car and started driving. The weather held almost right to the airport this time. Turning off the highway, I was greeted by some flurries that definitely reduced visibility. My heart sunk and the worst suspicions came true when I was greeted by the same dreaded red sign.

I did notice some activity on the apron though and asked if they were letting anyone fly circuits. The person in charge checked the weather and it did meet the circuit minima with a good margin of safety, so he agreed to let me fly. The rest of it was easy. The airplane just flown before me, so it was warm, started with no effort. Everything checked well and off I was to do circuits. I decided to do full stop landings as opposed to touch-and-goes as I believed it would have been a better practice for me.

There was only one other plane in the circuit and they were also doing full stops, so the spacing worked out great. I worked on things that needed improvement, which were mostly in the approach, flare and landing phase, so I had time to look around while on the downwind.

We were using Rwy 03, so my downwind was facing south, i.e. downtown Toronto. As I flew the downwind after downwind, I could not help but notice the ugly dark grey clouds covering a big chunk of the city with what appeared to be heavy snow pouring out of them. And just a few miles to the north, I was flying under relatively high ceilings, with good visibility and no snow. I thought to myself “better there than here” and kept flying. And with that flight, my currency was extended into February.