MegaDollar Hamburger

by on January 13, 2015

No relation to the article, just a photo that was on my computer. The plane in the foreground was my previous Swift and I am flying it in the number two position - the photo having been taken from the lead aircraft.

No relation to the article, just a photo that was on my computer. The plane in the foreground was my previous Swift. I am flying it in the number two position of the 4-ship formation – the photo having been taken from the lead aircraft.

Last week I made the half hour drive north to Stead so I could pull the plane out and fly a half hour south for a hamburger at the Carson City Airport (KCXP). EAA Chapter 403 in Carson has a BBQ every Thursday at 11:30. They cook hamburgers and hot dogs for anyone who wants to attend. The proceeds from the weekly events go toward the Chapter’s Young Eagle Program.

I’m not sure if it’s an advertising problem or what but there are rarely any aircraft that fly in for the event. Most or the participants are EAA Chapter members or airport/area workers who are interested in an inexpensive lunch meal at the airport.

So, last week I thought I’d be different and actually arrive by air. It was a beautiful day for flying but I was a little late so I flew straight there through the Reno Class C airspace. It was a half-hour flight (engine start to engine stop). I had a nice meal and talked to several Chapter members, then helped clean up before heading back to Stead.

I had other errands to accomplish so I again took the straight route through Reno’s airspace. This time NORCAL Approach said that my transponder “wasn’t working right.” Not too specific or helpful for troubleshooting. They asked if I was at such-and-such a location, which I was, and then asked for my altitude – level at 7000′ MSL.

Then they asked me to recycle the transponder and confirm the squawk code and settings. I turned all the dials and pushed all the buttons as they asked but didn’t have any unusual cockpit indications. The blinking light on the transponder still indicated that it was responding to their interrogations.

They confirmed my position and altitude again and gave me no indication that I should be doing anything other than proceeding on course to Stead. They weren’t any more forthcoming with troubleshooting information, so I asked a few more questions. I finally got out of them that what they were seeing my assigned squawk code but were not seeing my altitude readout.

OK, that narrowed down the troubleshooting to either the part of the transponder that transmits the altitude or the altitude encoder that provides the altitude information to the transponder. The encoder was the most likely (and least expensive) culprit.

The next day I had the local avionics shop bring their test equipment to the hangar and see what was being output by the transponder. Yep, solid signal with the squawk code, but just an error light for the altitude. The avionics shop happened to have a used encoder of the same type so they temporarily plugged it in instead of the one I had installed. After a warm-up period the transponder mode c was putting out the correct altitude. Troubleshooting complete.

Now it was decision-making time. Option One: buy a new encoder ($235 + tax/shipping); Option Two: Buy the used unit that the avionics shop had on hand – unknown condition, unknown cost (parts manager was not available); Option Three: Ship my defective unit back to the manufacturer who said that the bill would be $100 or less and that they would turn it around in 1-2 days. (They are located in San Jose, CA).

I shipped the unit back to the manufacturer yesterday by Priority Mail. They’ll call when they get into it. The waiting begins…

When I get it back and re-installed in the plane I’ll have the avionics shop come out again and do another VFR transponder/encoder check. The checks are due every 2 years – or whenever the static system is opened up or equipment is changed.

Oh the joys of aircraft ownership.  It could have been much more costly. If the transponder had died I would have had to opt for an upgrade unit looking forward to when ADS-B will be required. That would have been a Gazillion-Dollar Hamburger.

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Last Flight of 2014

by on January 8, 2015

Single cloud that formed below the top of a mountain ridge west of the Reno-Stead (KRTS) Airport.

Just west of Reno-Stead Airport

I looked at the weather the day before Christmas and decided that if I was going to get to fly again before the end of the year I had to do it that day. The weather was supposed to turn really cold with the possibility of significant snowfall. (They were right on both counts.)

So, I called my friend in Gardnerville, NV and arranged to meet for a late breakfast at the Taildragger Restaurant on the Minden Airport (KMEV).

The winds were light but favoring runway 26 at Stead, evidenced by the three other planes in the pattern – their pilots apparently having come to the same conclusion about going flying.

There were a few clouds that had formed in the early morning as the sun warmed the ground but most were dissipating rather quickly. This photo is looking at one of the mountain ridges to the west of the Reno-Stead Airport.

I decided to take the ‘lake route’ to Minden – the west side of the mountain ridge toward Truckee, then around the east shore of Tahoe, past Incline Village to the first pass back into the Washoe Valley ((Spooner Summit Pass) followed by a descent into Minden.

Freezing fog over Truckee

Freezing fog covering Truckee (KTRK)

This time of year it is not unusual for the valley around Truckee, CA to be covered with what the AWOS calls freezing fog, often with a 200′ ceiling and 1/4 sm visibility. It usually burns off by 10 am but this particular day it was pretty persistent. There are two large reservoirs/lakes and a third smaller one in the valley that provide all the moisture for the clouds. If you are driving through the area it is a nice sensation going westward on I-80 up the mountain toward Donner Pass when you break through the top of the cloud deck into the sunshine. Almost like taking off on an overcast day and climbing through the overcast to clear skies above – but not quite…

Lake Tahoe on a calm day.

Lake Tahoe on a calm day.

It was a beautiful day for flying with calm winds and almost zero turbulence – it’s hard to get a day like that around all these mountains. I meandered my way up to about 10,500′ and headed over toward Lake Tahoe and Minden.

Tahoe had the glass-smooth surface that you see in all the promotional brochures for the area. I couldn’t help but take my own photo just to prove those types of images aren’t Photoshopped – well, not too much anyway.  When the wind is as calm as it was that day or with just a very light mixing breeze there can be a significant temperature inversion in the area. The cold air sinks to the bottom of the valley or lake surface and the temperatures aloft are actually greater than at the surface. That can set up a wicked inversion layer that traps the smoke from all the wood-burning fireplaces around the area.

After our lunch meeting I topped off the fuel tanks and then headed directly back to Stead where I topped off again. I thought I’d get the tanks filled to the top to avoid any water condensation problems when the temperatures turned cold. Traditionally the fuel is cheaper in Minden than Stead so I bought the majority of the fuel there. Turns out that I should have checked the pump prices first – Stead was about fifty-cents a gallon cheaper. Oh well.

Speaking of fuel prices – they are still going down – so it’s time to go out flying again. Over the holidays the morning temperatures were in single digits with highs right around freezing. This week we are experiencing highs in the mid to upper 50’s. I have a light work day today – so I’m going to go play for a while…

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A Flight Between Storm Systems

by on December 11, 2014


Northern Nevada’s Pyramid Lake – at normal water levels only the tops of the island peaks are visible.

We’re finally getting some much-needed precipitation up here in the mountains. Several of the ski resorts are open for business with a good start on their snow pack and we have a couple more days of storms on the way in from the coast. There was a break in the weather last weekend, so I decided to go get some airplane exercise.

I got to the hangar about 9 am, plugged in my engine pre-heater and then decided to spend some time in the pilot lounge of the new airport terminal/operations center. There were two pilots in there when I arrived sitting at a briefing table with all sorts of charts and manuals spread out. It turned out to be some ground training for an instrument instructor student. He and his instructor were going over all the chart symbols for an airport entry in the Airport Facility Directory (A/FD).  I heard them asking someone on the phone about some A/FD annotations that were unfamiliar to them. I happened to know the answer so I offered some input. Then they asked how I happened to know – it was just one of those pieces of trivia that was presented in a class some time that I remembered – the weight-bearing capacity of a runway depending upon the landing gear configuration (S, D, 2S, 2T, AUW, SWL, etc. – Check the A/FD Legend here).  They had another question that stumped me until the next day when I did the old forehead slap…  In the top right corner of the airport entry in the A/FD, in this case for Reno-Stead (KRTS) is the annotation

H–3B, L–9A, 11A

The legend says that this is where the sectional, high and low altitude instrument charts are listed where KRTS can be found. Then IAP means there are Instrument Approach Procedures available at the airport (AD means it has an Airport Diagram, DIAP means it has a DoD IAP = military: see KSUU).

KRTS is on the San Francisco sectional and it is on panel B of high altitude IFR chart 3 and on panel A of the number 9 low altitude chart. The question was what the 11A meant. Duh. The low altitude IFR charts overlap each other. It turns out that KRTS is in the overlap area and also appears (barely) on panel A of low altitude chart number 11. We sat there scratching our heads trying to make it more complicated than it was.

The CAF N3N getting ready for a cold morning flight.

The CAF N3N getting ready for a cold morning flight.

When I got back to the Hangar to pull the plane out I noticed that the CAF guys were doing some flights in their Boeing Naval Aircraft Factory N3N. Their plane was sitting in the wash rack area while they (snow)suited up and got into the cockpits. I opened my hangar and got ready to pull the Swift out but then waited and watched until the N3N  started and taxied out toward the runway.

Foreflight track of a local flight.

Foreflight track of a local flight near Reno, NV.

I had called my friend who lives down south of Minden to see if he was available for lunch – that would have given me a destination for the flight – but he was about to drive up to Reno for a meeting so there wasn’t much reason to fly down there.  I decided to just go wander around the area for a while.

It was a nice smooth flight – just a few small bumps when I flew close to the eastern side of any of the mountain ranges.  I flew over to Pyramid Lake, then south down that valley until I got to Interstate 80 just west of Fernley, NV where I turned around and flew back. As I got back into radio range of Stead at my altitude (not very high) I heard that there were two planes in the pattern and two move converging on the pattern from different directions.

Foreflight track of traffic pattern departure and arrival.

Foreflight track of traffic pattern departure and arrival at KRTS.

Rather than complicate the situation any more I turned north and did a little more sightseeing until the traffic cleared out. Three of the planes made full-stop landings and as I called on my 45 to downwind the last of the planes did a touch-and-go and left the area to go back to the commercial airport (KRNO). Since I was alone in the pattern I did a touch-and-go and then a full stop just for fun. The flight schools at KRNO often fly up to Stead to do their traffic pattern training – and to get uncontrolled airport experience. It can occasionally make the pattern a bit ‘messy’ but Stead is a big beautiful airport and deserves to be used.

The weather guessers were pretty close on their predictions for the big storm this week. yesterday we had record-setting winds in the area. Our neighborhood clocked gusts to 70 mph and the top of one of the ski hills recorded 145 mph. Unfortunately the rain/snow didn’t do much in the valley and the ski resorts are showing only a couple of feet of new snow. Sounds like most of the precipitation fell in California as rain – and lots of it.

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No Aviation BullshitAs many of you probably know, a Phenom 100 crashed on approach to the Gaithersburg, MD Monday killing three people on the plane and another three in one of the houses that it hit.

The Washington Post got right on the trending subject and put out an article on their website that would get them as many page-loads (and advertising revenue) as possible while being semi-related to the subject. Their article The Many Reasons Small Planes Crash was obviously a quick survey of the latest Air Safety Institute Nall Report interpreted and “explained”  by a non-pilot reporter. The USA Today “Investigation” was also quoted as a main source of information – an article ripped completely apart by the FAA, AOPA and NTSB for its sensationalism and inaccuracies.

There are currently eight comments to the Washington Post article – most blasting it for the inaccuracies and false conclusions.  A couple of the comments are obviously from people with no knowledge of aviation who just want to see their words in print.

One part of the article was particularly onerous to me:

There are several reasons the risks are higher with small planes. For one, they are piloted by people who don’t fly planes for a living. The rules are looser for amateur pilots, who don’t have to log as many flight hours to be certified. Small planes also land at small airports that may not even have paved runways.

This, above all, indicates just how little the reporter knows about aviation. Every pilot must have the same amount and type of training to be certified at a particular certificate level. The requirements for a given pilot certificate are clearly specified in 14 CFR Part 61. If a pilot meets the minimum requirements for a particular certificate level  it is their decision option to take the written, oral and flight evaluations for the award of the certificate. But no matter what the certificate level, all pilots start out as a student pilot and train to proficiency in the flying skills for the certificate that they are seeking.

Yes, higher certificate levels require more experience. That is because the higher certificates may be used in commercial operations where the pilot is being paid to transport good or people. It is the same philosophy that the government uses to certificate bus drivers and truck drivers – more training is required to be paid as a professional.

The Washington Post reporter cited the statistic that in 2012 a total of 440 people died in General Aviation accidents (all non-airline operations). Yes, that is too many and the aviation industry has active initiatives attempting to reduce the accident rate. Why did the reporter even bring up the number? Because very few people know anything about aviation. There are roughly 316 million people in the United States but only about 600,000 are certificated pilots. That makes aviation an excellent target for sensationalism – you can say just about anything you want and few people will know whether or not it is a valid statement or conclusion.  Contrast that with approximately 210 million licensed drivers in the United States. ‘Everybody’ knows how to drive, it’s common-place.  And every year since 2007 over 300,000 people have died in auto accidents – averaged out that is over 800 deaths on our highways every day. Why no sensationalism every time there is an accident – because it happens all the time and everybody knows how to drive – you can’t make wild statements or draw invalid conclusions without being called out by every driver who reads the article.

I’m not trying to trivialize the deaths in this accident. The loss of a young mother and two infant children in one of the houses is truly tragic… as are the other lives lost in aviation accidents.  It is our duty as pilots, at whatever certificate level we hold, to perform in as professional a manner a we are capable. And it is our duty to try to educate those around us about all aspects of aviation.

This reporter and her editor obviously took no time to seek out an experienced pilot to gain additional insight for the article. I’m sure reporters are assigned to write articles all the time on subjects about which they know relatively little.  Maybe some day they will learn to ask a professional in the subject matter for input  – but for aviation articles I find that doubtful… after all, sensationalism sells.


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