Still Here and Flying Around

by on April 13, 2015


Looking Southward toward Reno from just NE of Stead (KRTS).

I know it’s been a while since I last posted. Wow, I just checked and didn’t realize it had been 2 months. Life happens.

According to Logbook Pro I have flown 4 times since then, including yesterday when this photo was taken. There is still snow on the top of Mt Rose but nothing anywhere else.

During the break in writing I have changed hosting providers so maybe you will notice quicker page load times than you were getting. The change will also give me more capabilities with my website development business – which pays for my flying habit.

During that 2-month period I also helped an EAA friend/flight instructor conduct a Private Pilot (PPL) test prep ground school. It was an interesting exercise in remembering all those things that the FAA considers important to new pilots. It had been years since I had even picked up an E-6B much less worked a wind problem with one. The same could also be said for the plotter and determining a Magnetic Heading to fly after drawing a line on a sectional chart and measuring the True Course. All the GPS units available and the online flight planning software has made us lazy – like losing your hand-flying skills if all you do is turn on the autopilot after takeoff.

There were 9 students in the class, of which 7 made it through to the end (7 weeks, two nights per week). It was a quick trip through the text and test-prep book (both ASA products).  In order to receive a course completion certificate which would enable the student to take the FAA written exam, the instructor set a requirement to pass one of the available practice tests with a score of at least 80.  The tests were available on the ASA website as a benefit of purchasing the course materials from ASA.  Unfortunately, only one of the seven who stayed through the entire course had taken any practice tests and met the instructor’s minimum score.

The instructor is starting a new session of the course next week and has invited all the students to attend again at no charge to get ready for the test. A nice gesture. The amount of material to be covered and the time allowed meant that if you ever got behind with the study assignment it was almost impossible to catch up – especially if you had a life outside of class.



I saw this guy/gal land in the back yard the other day. Not something that you expect to see in a residential area of Reno – at 5000′ MSL.

Most of the lakes in the area are severely low. Washoe Lake, just a few miles south of us is almost completely evaporated. I imagine Mr/Ms Duck was looking for something green and our backyard appeared pretty inviting.

On tap next – this-coming Saturday is a pancake Breakfast – but since it’s only two hangars away from me I doubt I’ll fly to it. It will be a good reason to get out to the airport early. Then I can grab a plate and, hopefully, spend the rest of the day trying to finish the Spring polishing on the plane. I have the top of both wings and one side of the tail finished so far.  Have to look good for fly-in season, right?

I’m planning on making the AOPA regional fly-in again this year. This time it is a 2-hour flight to Salinas, CA (KSNS). It should be a fun time.

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A Short Flight on a Nice Day

by on February 16, 2015

Le Rhone Rotary Engine

Le Rhone Rotary Engine

Just a short note to cover a couple of topics.

I managed to get into the air for two short flights this past weekend. They were direct flights to and from the Carson City Airport (KCXP). The Carson City (Sierra Chapter 403) conducted a Young Eagles event. I work as part of the ground crew for their events – primarily in the technology support area. For their events Chapter 403 takes a photo of each group of kids getting a flight, taken with their pilot and the airplane they use. That is printed out and coupled with a Young Eagles flight certificate as souvenirs of the event. They also have available (for a fee) custom mugs that can include the same photo. The Chapter flew 31 kids during the event. Definitely a successful day for promoting aviation.

Anyway, the flight was nice – about a half hour each way. It was good to see that Washoe Lake (on the route between the two airports) has significantly more water in it than it did a month ago. Unfortunately it still has a long way to go to look ‘normal.’


There has not been a whole lot of discussion on this site about the things that I post – there are a couple of you who comment once in a while but it’s generally pretty quiet. On the other hand, I am getting roughly 2000 spam comments per week. These are usually one-word comments to obscure posts or attachment pages which have the intent only to provide a link back to the spammers website for search engine purposes. As a result, I have turned off commenting for my articles.

I have added a menu item at the top of the header just in case you feel the need to contact me. Thanks for understanding.

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Off the Injured List

by on February 10, 2015

ACK A-30 Altitude Encoder

ACK A-30 Altitude Encoder

My last post described my encounter with NORCAL Approach and a problem with the altitude reading they were receiving from my transponder/encoder.

I had, with the help of the local avionics shop (Aviation Classics), investigated the malfunction to the point where the altitude encoder appeared to be the most likely culprit. I had three options at that point and chose to send the unit back to the manufacturer, ACK Technologies in San Jose, CA.

I had talked with ACK about the problem before I shipped it off and found that they would test and repair the unit for a $100 fee plus the shipping cost ($12) to send it back. So, off it went. The ‘excellent’ timing put the unit in their hands the Friday before a 3-day weekend. So, I waited until Wednesday morning of the following week to call and see what they found.

I talked with their encoder guru (José) and found that they had been running it for 3 days and had found no errors in it’s output. He suggested that perhaps it was a wiring issue between the unit and the transponder. Hmm. When Aviation Classics came out for the initial troubleshooting they had with them an identical replacement unit that, when plugged into my system,  provided a correct altitude signal to the transponder.  Great. Now what? José gave me the option of sending the unit back to me at no charge or paying the service fee and he would put in a new  circuit board.

There was a possibility that the only problem was a poor connection between the plug and the encoder that was corrected when the avionics tech plugged in the replacement unit but there was no way to know if that was the problem or the unit was becoming intermittent after working for 6 years. I dug out my bank card and told José to replace the circuit board.

I had a box from ACK the next day. Apparently I finished the call just before their daily package pick-up. Rather than take the extra time to put a new card in my unit, the great folks at ACK just grabbed a new unit off the shelf and sent it to me. You can’t beat service like that.

The next day I went out to the airport, installed the new unit and took it for a short flight. I climbed up to 9000′ north of Stead and called NORCAL Approach asking if they had time for a transponder check. They gave me a squawk code, I plugged it in and they said everything looked fine.

A couple of days later I had the folks at Aviation Classics come out again and do a VFR transponder/encoder certification. The tech adjusted the altitude output by 100′ but everything else worked fine. So the transponder/encoder are legal to go for another 2 years. Of course, all this time the weather had been beautiful and we had been setting high temperature records.

The weather since then has been unsuitable for enjoyable flying. A few days ago we were recording winds at the airport gusting to 50 knots and gusts at the top of Slide Mountain (which I can see from my house) at 120 knots.  Then rain the past week has raised the water level of Lake Tahoe by 4″ – much needed but not really VFR weather.  It would really be nice to be getting snow like they are in the eastern U.S. – maybe next winter it will be our turn.

All that has cleared out now and the weekend is supposed to be nice so I’ll do my best to get up in the air again.

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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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