Sunday, February 8, 2009

Downtown at Sunset

Few days ago, going home on an early train, I looked out of the window towards downtown skyscrapers and gasped in amazement. The low setting sun put all the glass buildings on fire creating an unforgettable image. As I was watching the sunset from the ground, I noted the time (5:25pm) and decided that I’d try to get downtown at sunset again, but this time in the plane.

I had a booking for 4pm on Sunday, but knowing my Wx and airplane luck, I was not really counting on everything to fall into place, but, surprisingly, it did. The Wx was as perfect as early Feb can be, -5 and sunny. Wind was 10 gusting 15 at 40 degree to Rwy heading, but that was not an issue after my previous practice flight with twice that x-wind angle. The airplane was available, it had flown before, was de-iced and all the mandatory light were working – I was ready to go.

I wanted to get downtown at about 5pm, so I had lots of time, so I went and did three circuits. Rwy 33 was in use and the control zone was busy, so all three circuits, I was asked to extend downwind and ended up almost half way downtown anyways.

Back at the Rwy after my 3rd circuit and with circuit traffic not getting any lighter, I decided that I may as well go fly circles around downtown instead of Buttonville and requested departure for the “downtown tour”. As customary, I was assigned the special transponder code and cleared left turn off south. Crossing 401, I called City Tower, got clearance into the zone, was assigned 2,000 ft as my altitude (the lowest they usually give) and was told to remain north of the City Centre (or Toronto Island) airport.

As I was settling into my first circle around the downtown core, I realized that the zone was busy: there was one other plane circling (but they called after me and got assigned 2,500 ft), then there were a few planes practicing circuits at Toronto Island and a few more were arriving and departing.

I flew my circles wide – crossing the downtown core north of Bloor St heading west, then turning south heading towards Exhibition Place and then another turn to bring me along the shoreline, north of the airport, but south and right next to the CN Tower. For about half of each circle, the interference from all the transmitters and receivers on CN Tower made a deafening noise in my headphones that only disappeared when someone on the frequency was talking, so I was grateful for the fact that frequency was quite busy.

The sun was getting lower as I flew, with the skyscrapers and the CN Tower basking in the warm yellow to reddish glow making them really stand up against the bleak surroundings. On one pass, I took a picture of all the bank buildings, thinking it would look great on my office wall in one of those buildings!

As I flew around, another airplane in the area asked for permission to go south of the airport and was allowed. I figured I may as well ask too and was allowed, but had to climb to 2,500 ft. It was really strange to fly over water of Lake Ontario and the view of downtown was incredible.

Eventually, it was time to head home to Buttonville, so I informed the City Tower that I was heading North and was told to switch to Buttonville Tower. As I followed the DVP on the way to the airport, there was a sunset to my left and a moon to my right.

Tower routed me straight in for Rwy 33. As I was on a short final, the sun was disappearing below the horizon coloring the skies around me deep red. I landed uneventfully and tied down my airplane just as sun was putting the clouds above the airport on fire. What a flight!

Sunday, February 1, 2009

And then there was x-wind

The weather forecast for the 6 hr period that had my two hour booking showed 25015G25, so I drove to the airport knowing it would be windy. The wind was also from that strange direction that had been persistent all winter, 240 to 260. I drove in thinking that while the prevailing winds usually favored Rwy 33 at Buttonville, my four previous flights were on Rwy's 21, 03, 15 and 21 again, and based on the forecast and METARs, it would appeared 21 would be in use again.

As I was getting closer to the airport, i saw planes take off from 33 for a circuit. The ATIS confirmed that Rwy 33 was indeed in use despite the winds coming from 240 to 270 and wind strength of 10 to 15 kts with gusts up to 25. The combination of Rwy in use and the actual winds made me very uncomfortable.

As I was standing in front of the counter, one of the guys at dispatch desk asked me if i was comfortable going out in that wind and on that Rwy. I had to admit to myself that if i was quesitoning my abilities, I was not comfortable, so I asked if there was an instructor available to fly couple circuits with me to make sure i got it. There was.

He actually made me do weights and balances, detailed documents check, etc. which was a good review to make sure i had not forgotten anything and then we went out to the airplane. The winds kept changing so much that Tower was adding wind speed and direction with every instruction including taxi! Even ATIS had note of turbulence on approach, but that was nothing compared to turbulence on take off. Felt like we hid a brick wall.

I flew the first circuit (had to crab hugely on downwind) and had an OK landing. We then reviewed what i could do better and kept flying. The wind shifted from 270 to 260 and finally to 240, which made it almost 90 degree x-wind, and Tower offered us Rwy 21, but i said we'd stick with 33 since i wanted to practice as much as i could with the instructor on board. My 3rd landing, we did not notice when the wheel touched - it was amazing. By then, the instructor told me about 6 months review that Buttonville had implemented to allow their renters to fly with an instructor for an hour for free - so we turned this into a 6 months review and kept flying. When we were done, i was smiling ear to ear and i had my landing confidence fully back.