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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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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