An Aviation Weekend

by on June 17, 2014

The taxiway leading to the Dye hangar/home.

The taxiway leading to the Dye hangar/home.

Saturday I attended a ‘hangar-warming’ at the Dayton, NV airport, an airport community just to the east of Carson City. New Carson City EAA Chapter ( members Paul & Louise Dye recently had a home and hangar built there and were gracious enough to invite the chapter to their get-together.

Paul's RV-3 parked in front of their hangar.

Paul’s RV-3 parked in front of their hangar.

Paul worked for NASA at the Johnson Space Center and was NASA’s lead flight director for three Phase 1 missions: STS-79, STS-86 and STS-91. With the termination of the shuttle program he retired and moved on. He is now Editor in Chief of Kitplanes Magazine.

The event turned out to be pretty much an RV fly-in – 4s, 6s, 7s a 10, a Rocket or two and Paul’s RV-3.  They were even nice enough to ‘let’ a Piper and a Cessna attend.

It was a great BBQ and a chance to make new friends and say hi to old friends. Paul and Louise – thanks for the great hospitality! Welcome to the high desert – just a bit different than Houston…

I chose to drive in rather than fly. Stead was still under a TFR for the Pylon Racing School. There were 15-minute periods 4-5 times through the day for local arrivals and departures and the no-prop line was in effect. That would have required towing my plane to the edge of the ramp, chocking it, taking the golf cart tow vehicle back to hangar and locking up, then walking back to wherever I left the plane and starting the published departure procedures. Then I would either have to wait until after 5 pm to return or be restricted to one of the allowable time periods.  Yeah, I’m a whimp…

Quincy, CA ramp for their 2014 Father's Day Fly-in

Quincy, CA ramp for their 2014 Father’s Day Fly-in

Pietenpol Air Camper built from plans buy the same person who built the Wittman Tailwind parked next to it. You can see my Swift just past the Tailwind.

Pietenpol Air Camper built from plans buy the same person who built the Wittman Tailwind parked next to it. You can see my Swift just past the Tailwind.

On Sunday I pulled the Swift out and flew over to the Quincy, CA airport (2O1) for their Father’s Day Fly-in and pancake breakfast.

They had a really good turnout for a small aircraft located in a mountain valley. One strong incentive for attendance was their decision to sell 100LL at their cost during the event. I took advantage of the 30-cent reduction in price and put 30 gallons in the plane.

After a nice breakfast I walked around with a few of the Carson City EAA Chapter members who also flew in. There was a good cross-section of general aviation planes in attendance and everyone seemed to be having a good time. It appeared that they had a good turnout from the local residents, too.

There was a very nice looking Stearman sticking out of one of the hangars down the ramp, so I made my way there to take a look.

Engine build-up room at Holloway Engineering in Quincy, CA.

Engine build-up room at Holloway Engineering in Quincy, CA.

It was a very good restoration, but even more interesting was the hangar and all that was in it.

I had managed to come across Al Holloway’s radial engine rebuilding business. He had all types of radials in various degrees of rebuild and even an old Menasco sitting on a pallet waiting it’s turn. In talking with him we found that he is currently the only engine rebuilder in the country working on the Warner family of radial engines.

Al is a really nice guy and took quite a while to give us a detailed tour of his facility and a little of the history behind how he got into the business.

It is shops like this that keep the older aircraft flying and it is really sad to see them closing. Sooner or later we all reach a point where we can’t do the things that we once could. When that day comes who will take over and continue the work?  Who will preserve the art of the radial engine rebuild? If you are mechanically inclined, love doing things with your hands and take pride in your work then getting an apprentice position in one of these shops may be a viable option. You may never be a millionaire but you can become an expert in a field that is becoming dangerously narrow.

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Past Time for an Update

by on June 10, 2014

Collings Foundation B-17

Collings Foundation B-17 The Foundation bombers (and P-51) were in residence at Reno-Stead last week.

I knew it had been a while since I last wrote and article, but a had no idea it had been almost a month four months. Ugly.

Ok, what has happened since the last update?  Bear with me, as you get older just recalling what you had for breakfast yesterday can be a test of will…

Collings Foundation B-24

Collings Foundation B-24

That last update was on February 11th. My logbook says I flew down to Minden (KMEV) on February 23rd. I had a really nice $150 plate of spaghetti with a friend of mine who lives near there. Obviously, I topped off the tanks before I flew back to Stead. That was the last nice weather in February that I was available to fly. The plane was running great on that flight but it really didn’t matter as far as the FAA is concerned, because the annual inspection ran out on March 1st.

The weather in Reno in March and April was unsettled at best. It seemed that every time I was able to clear some time to work on the plane a cold front would come through and drop the temperatures below my 40-degree threshold for working in the unheated hangar. I managed to work in spurts of time, starting the inspection from the tail and working toward the front of the plane.

When I got to the landing gear I decided it was time to do a re-seal operation on all of the hydraulics. The struts were seeping hydraulic fluid as was one of the actuators. So, everything came out of the wheel wells. I had the local Swift mechanic in Gardnerville, NV re-seal the struts and pressure-check them to make sure that they were sealed well. Meanwhile I placed all new seals in both actuators and downlocks. While I was at it I replaced all four of the position microswitches. The ones installed were the original parts from 1948 and were really looking their age.

When I got the struts back i started the re-installation and rigging – to make sure the micro-switches were located just right to turn off the hydraulic pump when both gear were either fully up or down.

Once all that was completed and the landing gear recurring ADs were checked I moved to the aircraft belly and the flap actuator. It had a small seep and, since I was already covered with hydraulic fluid…

I finally finished all of my checks and then scheduled a time with the IA to complete the annual and paperwork. The last check was of the operational pressures in the fuel injection system. All were in the middle of the acceptable range, so the annual was officially completed – on June 1st. Ugh. That took way too long.

A couple of days later I got back into the air for the first time since February. I flew around for a while and made sure that everything was still working as it should – sometimes I wonder whether taking things apart every year does more harm than just flying it until you notice something out of whack. Oh well.

Last weekend I flew down to Paso Robles for the weekend – logged 2:10 each way. It was good to get the plane out and about. The big engine makes it a nice cross-country machine.

This week PRS in going on at Stead (Pylon Racing School), so a TFR goes into place tomorrow through Saturday. If a tenant needs to fly they can get a PPR number and can work out a time to slip out and then back in – between training sessions or before/after the training day. But, in general, it’s a pain when you’re used to coming and going at will. There is a Father’s Day fly-in at one of my favorite breakfast destination (Quincy, CA  – 2O1). The TFR will have expired by then so I may try to make it there for some pancakes.


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A Stretch of Bad Weather

by on February 11, 2014

De-icing an airliner at its parking gate.

De-icing – a cold, miserable job.
Thank these people whenever you get the chance.

I haven’t had the plane out of the hanger for almost two weeks now and it looks like the non-flying stretch is going to last a bit longer.  Last weekend our winter finally came back. There was a little precipitation but, more relevant to an aircraft without a heater,  the temperatures dropped about 20 degrees (F) for the daily highs – barely reaching 40 late in the afternoon. Yeah, I know, compared to what is happening in the central and eastern part of the country 40 degrees is a heat wave.

This weekend the weather wonders are saying there is a 50-60 percent chance of rain/snow… and more wind. Around here they don’t put out a percentage that high unless it’s actually raining at the time. Such is forecasting in the mountains – way too many variables.

CFI Open Forum

Last week the local FAASTeam representatives put on what they call a CFI Open Forum. The FAA used to sponsor CFI workshops that, over a period of time with consistent participation, could qualify for a CFI renewal. They ended that program and the local office picked up with these Open Forums events. It’s a way to get a little more information out to the local CFI community and a chance for the CFIs and DPEs to get together and talk about the latest ‘problem areas’ that are showing up in certificate check rides.

The primary topic for this Forum event was Preventing Loss of Control Accidents. There has been a string of accidents in the Reno-Tahoe area over the past 12 months that has attracted the attention of the FAA Safety people.  When you live up here in the mountains it is easy to attribute accident causes to inexperienced mountain flyers – flat-land pilots flying up to mountain destinations for a weekend or to visit friends and then disregarding the tremendous differences in aircraft performance and weather phenomena between the two locations. In this case though, only about half of the accidents involved pilots from out of the area.

One factor that appeared in multiple accidents was an ignorance or disregard for density altitude. This FAA document discusses density Altitude in fairly clear terms and includes a Koch Chart that can be used to determine the effect of density altitude on typical non-turbocharged aircraft performance. You enter the chart with the OAT and the airport Pressure Altitude. It’s more for reference than specific number – that’s where your individual aircraft performance handbook needs to be referenced. If you use the Koch Chart and enter with 80 degrees and a Pressure Altitude of 5000′ the chart says to increase your normal takeoff distance by about 130% and to decrease your rate of climb by almost 65%.  Most general aviation runways will have enough pavement to handle the added distance necessary to lift off (though I would use 200% to account for my technique, engine condition and aircraft rigging). The question then becomes what you do after you get into the air.

In most cases ‘climb on course’ is not an option.  The safest option for a VFR pilot (especially at night) is to fly the airport traffic pattern rectangle in a climb until you are well above the mountains/obstacles that you have to cross. In our minds we know that mountains do not move – but they sure look like they are growing if you are flying toward them. Instrument pilots are familiar with ODPs (Obstacle Departure Procedures).

Most major airports have charted departure procedures that combine obstacle clearance with integration of the flight into the air traffic control system but small airports can have them, too. The Instrument Approach Procedures Chart has a section on Takeoff Minimums and (Obstacle) Departure Procedures. Each airport listed has a section for IFR minimum weather conditions for takeoff and a section that describe in text the Departure Procedure for each runway. As a VFR pilot, what do you care?  Well, the procedure described will keep you clear of terrain/obstacles no matter what the weather might be.  You know that the procedure listed will keep you clear of terrain. If you have any questions in your mind about what your options are for climbing out of a mountainous area, check the published Departure Procedure and see what is shown.

For instance, at Reno-Stead taking off on runway 26 the procedure says to use a climbing right turn to head 050 degrees and intercept the FMG 314 deg radial and proceed inboud to the FMG VORTAC. Then climb in the holding pattern at the VORTAC and describes the holding pattern. Then is says to depart the VORTAC at or above specific altitudes (from 10,000′ to 12000′) for different directions of flight. If you are VFR just call up (NORCAL) Approach Control and tell them what you want to do. There is no reason not to call them and get flight following out of the mountains anyway.

That was another topic of discussion – flight following, flight plans and personal tracking devices. One of the accidents described was survivable. Two of the three airplane occupants lived through the crash but died before the aircraft was found. No flight following was used, though I believe a flight plan was filed. It just took too long (measured in days) for the route of flight to be traced, the location determined and the rescuers to arrive. One Forum attendee recommended always carrying a 406 MHz PLB (Personal Locator Beacon). I don’t have one of those, but I do use a SPOT Satellite Messenger. It is set up to record my location on a map every 5 minutes. The map is available at any time to my specified list of individuals. The unit also has the ability to sent an “I’m OK’ message or a ’911 -  I need help’ message. So far the 5-minute interval seems to be sufficient. For an additional subscription fee I can decrease that to every 2 1/2 minutes.

As with most accidents we read about, every one could have a different outcome had the pilot in command made at just one different decision.

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A Trip to the Low Country

by on January 27, 2014


One of the peaks near Donner Pass.

I took advantage of the good weather again this weekend to get another of those $200 omelets. This time I decided to fly ‘over the hill’ to Auburn, CA (KAUN). The Auburn airport is in the foothills just to the northeast of Sacramento at an elevation of 1539′ MSL, a bit over 3500′ below Stead’s field elevation.

That sounds like a nice downhill flight, but between Stead and Auburn there is a hill with a pass known for the Donner Party. The sectional lists the elevation of the pass at just under 7100′ MSL with peaks on either side rising to about 9000′ MSL. Interstate 80 runs through the pass, so it’s an easy IFR ( I Follow Roads ) route to follow.

As long as the winds are light and variable I am willing to go through the pass at about 9000′. Anything more than a light breeze and I go up to 10-12,000′. Searching the Internet for Donner Pass weather will give you a non-aviation look at the weather in the pass at highway level. The closest airports to the pass are Truckee, CA (KTRK) on the west side down in a valley and Blue Canyon Nyack (KBLU) about 16 NM to the west at 5300′.

There was hardly any wind at all, so for my breakfast run I flew through the pass at about 900o westbound and 9500′ eastbound. Yes, 9000′ is not a VFR altitude for a westbound flight but you also need to remember that 9000′ MSL is well below the 3000′ AGL specified in Sec. 91.159.  The MEF in the sectional quadrant where you find Donner Pass is depicted as 9600′. I made sure to use see-and-avoid and flew on the right side of Interstate 80, sort of an unwritten rule when following major highways, especially through confined spaces like a pass – this mimics what you would do in a car and it allows you to keep the highway in sight on the left side of the plane.

The flights both ways were really enjoyable. The Auburn Airport was busy as would be expected with the weather so nice. I managed to arrive in the traffic pattern during a lull in the action between the breakfast departures and the lunch arrivals. A Piper landed as I was entering the pattern and a Highway Patrol plane was flying along the highway but no other traffic was in sight. I found an empty transient parking slot, secured the plane and headed for the Wings Cafe. It was definitely t-shirt weather in the lower elevations. All of the outside tables with nice views of the aircraft ramp were taken so I was relegated to sitting inside. There are plenty of large windows that let you watch the action, but eating at an outside table in late January would have been a nice experience.

After breakfast I wandered the ramp a bit. There is a pilot shop on the airport, but it was closed. The sign said they were operating under “Winter” hours – undeterred by the clear skies, temperatures in the mid 60s and undoubtedly losing business. By that time there were no transient aircraft parking spots on the restaurant end of the ramp. Most of the planes on the ramp were as you would see at any active general aviation airport. One transient that came in caught my eye – a Van’s RV-7 with a nice-looking 4-bladed Sensenich prop.

The weather people up here in Reno are saying we will get our first chance of rain/snow tonight and then an even better chance Wed/Thur this week. We really need it so I hope their guesses are correct. We have been experiencing great flying weather lately, but it is setting us up for a nasty fire season if we don’t get some rain/snow pretty soon.

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