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

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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

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

IFR – KSQL to KSNS

After passing my Instrument Rating Airman Knowledge Test last May, I began working through the flight training over the summer.  Unfortunately work and life just got in the way but I have recently picked up the training again and will hopefully be able to complete the complete certification this time around.

I had a training flight scheduled with my instructor, Martin Michaud, this past Friday which happened to coincide with the arrival of an arctic storm system blowing into the bay area.  As I was watching the weather come in, I pretty much gave up hope on making our flight.  The way things were trending, it looked as if the icing layer would be dropping down to 4,000′ MSL.

On Thursday evening I was going over the weather for a planned flight to Stockton (KSCK) and, based on the AIRMETs available at the time, it appeared that the icing layer would be down to 5,000′ MSL for our area, actually for a significant portion of the western U.S.  Ceilings were forecast to be in the 2,000′ to 3,000′ range which would be more than adequate but winds in the Stockton area were forecast to be 12 knots gusting to 20 which would make approaches difficult for a fairly green IFR student.

I got on the phone with Martin to discuss the forecast mentioning my findings.  When we discussed the icing forecast, he directed me to the Aviation Weather Service’s Advanced Digital Data Service icing forecast. The graphical forecast closest to our time of departure had the icing layer between 9,000′ and 10,000′ which would be well above our altitude.  The winds at KSCK were an issue so we looked at Salinas (KSNS) which had more favorable winds (i.e. no significant gusts forecast).  After discussing the weather and route a little further we decided to check back in before I left for the airport in the morning.  If the forecast held with no significant changes we would make the trip. Continue reading