Don’t Wait for the SFO Hole

I took this morning off work to take advantage of the “crummy” weather we’re having, so I could shoot some approaches in real Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC).  The ceiling was 900′ and visibility was 3 miles in mist at San Carlos (SQL) when I was ready to depart.  These were probably the lowest conditions I’ve departed in since I’ve received my instrument rating but I was confident that I could make it back to San Carlos if I had any problems during takeoff and on my way down from the city I noticed there was a sizable break in the cloud cover over SFO so that was an option as well.

For this flight I filed from SQL to Charles M. Shulz, Sonoma Counta Airport (KSTS) in Santa Rosa.  Usually the weather is clear up there but today the ceilings were around Continue reading

Flying the Bay Tour

For the first weekend in March, we had some amazingly clear weather last weekend. It gave me an opportunity to take some friends on a couple trips over San Francisco in what is commonly referred to as the “Bay Tour”. When I got back into flying a few years ago, I was eager to fly the Bay Tour. Unfortunately, most of the information I found online talked about how incredible the flight was rather than more practical information about what to expect as a pilot. Having now flown dozens of Bay Tours out of San Carlos (SQL), I thought it would be a good time to share my perspective and experiences. Continue reading

OSUN, Where Art Thou… Going?

While my flight instructor Martin and I were working with the autopilot last weekend, we also spent some time working on flying with a partial panel.  This practice is intended to simulate the failure of one or more instruments on the panel. For this particular “failure,” we simulated losing the directional gyro and attitude indicator by applying round covers that obscured the instrument faces.  These are gyroscopic instruments that rely on a vacuum pump to operate, so we were essentially simulating a vacuum pump failure.

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Letting George Fly

When I was shopping for a plane two years ago, my goal was to get a capable IFR platform for my instrument training and eventual instrument flight.  Not being an instrument rated pilot, I leaned on my friends and flight instructor for advice.  The overwhelming response was “you gotta have an autopilot.”

The point simply boils down to safety. While you’re on an instrument flight in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), you have your hands full.  You’re writing down air traffic control (ATC) clearances, responding to ATC commands,  monitoring the health of your aircraft and oh yeah, you’re flying the plane.  Nothing beats a good autopilot for lightening your load when things get tricky.

As luck would have it, after a few months of “close but not quite what I want” planes, I discovered N96988 at Skywagons in Placerville just outside of Sacramento.  There’s a great story there that I’ll write up one day but the point is that I found the plane I wanted and it came with a great GPS (GNS 480), a MX20 multifunction display (MFD) and best of all an STEC-55x autopilot.  When I purchased the plane, I knew it was a capable autopilot but only by what I read, I didn’t have enough experience to put it through it’s paces.  Without having an instrument rating, my use of the autopilot has been limited to flying VFR flight plans on long trips (an all too rare occurrence).  That all changed this past weekend when Martin, my instructor, and I gave that amazing little box a workout. Continue reading

Precision Counts

I topped off a busy work week with a busy weekend of air work.  On Saturday afternoon we departed San Carlos for Salinas to do the Localizer DME runway 31 approach, my first with a DME arc.  We had practiced DME arcs the previous weekend out in the central valley well away from any significant terrain.  As you can see from the approach plate, that isn’t the case with this approach.

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Brief the Approach

Last Sunday’s flight was a real workout including holding patterns, DME arcs an approach to Tracy (KTCY) and Los Banos (KLSN).  The biggest lesson of the day was to brief the approach before flying the approach.  Martin was playing the role of air traffic control while I was under the hood.  After vectoring out of San Carlos, he had me cross TRACY intersection at 3,500′ and proceed direct OMWAP for the RNAV (GPS) Rwy 26 approach. Continue reading

Peanuts Approach

November 96988 proceed direct Woodstock, cleared RNAV GPS Runway 32 approach.

No, we weren’t flying in upstate New York, we were flying into the Charles M. Shulz airport (KSTS) in Santa Rosa, California.  Let me take you back to last night when I got a text message from my flight instructor suggesting we plan a trip up to Santa Rosa to practice some enroute work and new approaches.  As I was reviewing the available procedures, I was delighted to see the many references to Peanuts characters in the waypoints.  In March of 2000, the Sonoma County Airport was renamed after long time resident and comic strip artist Charles M. Shulz.  The fine folks at the FAA have obviously gotten behind the idea by naming several waypoints after some of my favorite Peanuts characters.  More on that in just a bit. Continue reading