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Category Archives: Flying Adventures

Decisions, decisions…

Last evening I received a phone call from my Uncle Harold in Illinois. He called to congratulate my on earning my private pilot’s certificate. He’s an old railroad man but he is also a pilot.

He called to chat for a bit about flying. He is in his 80’s. He quizzed me a bit on my flying, asking me about VFR minimums and weather. It was sort of a mini flight review. He used to be a CFI and was anxious to impart his wisdom for which I was happy to receive.

I asked him how he heard of me earning my PPL and he said he thought Aunt Dorothy told him.  Now Aunt Dorothy lives in Forsyth, MT about 500 nautical miles west of where I live in Central Minnesota. My mom’s family is spread out from Illinois, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Arizona, and a few other states but this summer there is a family reunion in June at my Aunt Dorothy’s. He ended his conversation with “We’re looking forward to seeing you at the reunion!”

The reunion in on a Saturday and I have been contemplating renting a plane and flying out for the reunion. There is an airport in Forsyth, MT. I checked and there are several other airports along the way. It would be a little over five hours of flying from home to Forsyth. It would be a true “cross-country” flight in my book.

While in flight training we had to plan a long-cross country flight. It did not take the kind of planning that would be required for a five-hour flight. I’m excited at the prospect of taking the flight if the weather permits.

One thing I know for sure from flying is that weather is unpredictable. So while I would love to fly to Montana if the weather isn’t good, I won’t. This means that I will have to be watching the weather for days in advance to look at the weather patterns and make a decision. If the weather is at all iffy that means hopping in the car and driving instead of flying. If I wait too long to decide then I won’t make it to the reunion.

It’s a common dilemma for pilots. Some make bad decisions and put themselves and others at risk because they have their heart set on flying and not driving or they don’t allow enough driving time to attend an event if the weather seems to turn.

Even if the weather looks good for my departure time and I decide to fly there is always the possibility of not making the reunion because of the weather changing in some part of my route. If the weather doesn’t look good all the way through to the destination and back at the time of my departure, I will have to cancel and miss the reunion.

Between now and the reunion I have to decide. What is more important, attending the reunion or flying? If it is attending the reunion then I had better plan on driving and allow enough time for it. If it is some flying time then I will choose to fly to Montana for the reunion but if the weather is not great then I will cancel my flying time and look for another flying adventure at another time.

I hope the stars align for some flying.

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Just a Little Weather Lesson

This morning I have a plane reserved to get a little flying time in.  I’m excited.  It’s been a while since I’ve been up flying.  If I want to take passengers up flying with me I have to keep current.  The FAA rules state that if I want to carry passengers when I fly these are the rules:

  • That person has made at least three takeoffs and three landings within the preceding 90 days.
  • The person acted as the sole manipulator of the flight controls.
  • And the required takeoffs and landings were performed in an aircraft of the same category, class, and type (if a type rating is required).

The last time I was up flying was September 30.  It hasn’t been 90 days since I was flying but almost.  I could carry a passenger this morning legally but I won’t do it because frankly I am probably a little rusty in the landing department. 

I scheduled some time in the 152 for practice.  I will probably stay at the airport in the traffic pattern practicing take offs and landings.  After practicing take offs and landing I will fly to a local practice area to practice manuevers like steep turns, slow flight, stalls and ground reference manuevers. 

Before I can do any of this I have to check the weather.  Here is what it looks like:

Aviation Digital Data Service (ADDS)Output produced by METARs form (1227 UTC 10 December 2010)
found at http://aviationweather.gov/adds/metars/index.php
 
 
METAR text: KSTC 101153Z AUTO 30006KT 8SM CLR M11/M13 A2984 RMK AO2 SLP132 T11061128 11028 21106 51015
Conditions at: KSTC (ST. CLOUD , MN, US) observed 1153 UTC 10 December 2010
Temperature: -10.6°C (13°F)
Dewpoint: -12.8°C (9°F) [RH = 84%]
Pressure (altimeter): 29.84 inches Hg (1010.6 mb)
[Sea-level pressure: 1013.2 mb]
Winds: from the WNW (300 degrees) at 7 MPH (6 knots; 3.1 m/s)
Visibility: 8 miles (13 km)
Ceiling: at least 12,000 feet AGL
Clouds: sky clear below 12,000 feet AGL
Weather: automated observation with no human augmentation;
there may or may not be significant weather present at this time

Forecast for: KSTC (ST. CLOUD , MN, US)
Text: KSTC 101138Z 1012/1112 29006KT P6SM FEW020
Forecast period: 1200 to 1800 UTC 10 December 2010
Forecast type: FROM: standard forecast or significant change
Winds: from the WNW (290 degrees) at 7 MPH (6 knots; 3.1 m/s)
Visibility: 6 or more miles (10+ km)
Clouds: few clouds at 2000 feet AGL
Weather: no significant weather forecast for this period

 

I plan on flying from 9:00-11:00 this morning which translates to 1400-1600 UTC.  I like the part of the forecast that forecasts the winds @290 degrees @ 6 knots.  What that means to me is that there will not be much of a cross wind for take offs and landings.  I will be using Runway 31.  The heading for the runway is 310 degrees so when I take off and land the winds will almost be straight down the runway which is a good thing when you are flying. 

One thing I will have to watch this morning are the clouds.  We have snow moving in later today and the clouds will be increasing as the day goes on which is why I chose to fly this morning and not this afternoon.  Flying under Visual Flight Rules or VFR I need to see the ground  and maintain a certain distance from the clouds.  If I can’t do that, I can’t fly.  This would not be a day I would choose for a cross-country flight because the weather will be unpredictable.  It is a good day for flying at the airport or near it.  

If the weather cooperates next week I hope to go up with my CFI for my final checkout on the Cessna 172.  Once checked out on the 172 I will be able to take both my parents up for a ride.  I’ve put off taking them for a ride because I wanted to take both of them at the same time.  The 152 is a two seat airplane.  The 172 is a four seat plane.  My Christmas present for them is a plane ride to Alexandria for lunch.  If I don’t get everything done before Christmas with the 172 I may have to come up with something else to wrap up under the tree. 

Did I mention I hate shopping?

 

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2010 in Flight training, Flying Adventures

 

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Single Engine Safety…Do The Work!

This past week I planned for and took a flight with my husband up north to view the fall colors.  For the week preceding our trip I talked a lot about our plans for our trip and booked the plane that we would be renting.  I spent some time investigating the island that we planned on visiting on our trip.  Our trip would be from St. Cloud, MN (KSTC) to Duluth, MN (KDLH) and east to Madeline Island (4R5) and then return to St. Cloud.  I called the Madeline Airport to make sure that it would be open and if there was transportation available to town which was two miles away.  During the week I kept an eye on the weather and continued to make plans for our trip.

The evening before our trip I pulled out my sectional, plotter, E6B, AFD, and POH for the 152 that I would be flying.  I began the process for planning our trip.  I put my sectional out on the table.  For this trip I would actually need two sectionals because I would be flying outside the Twin Cities sectional and onto the Green Bay sectional.  I would need both for navigation.  Prior to pulling out the sectionals I had gone onto a couple of navigational aid sites NavMonster, AOPA, and Skyvector.  I knew that the distance from St. Cloud to Duluth was 110 nm , 59nm from Duluth to Madeline Island, and 156 nm from Madeline Island to St. Cloud.  All of the distances of each leg were within the 152’s fuel range with the required reserve.  I had planned on a fuel stop in Duluth and a chance to stretch our legs before we continued on to Madeline Island.

When I began plotting our trip on the navigation log it was going fine for the first leg.  I had already flown this leg a year ago so its planning for checkpoints wasn’t a big deal.  I drew my course line on my sectional from Duluth to Madeline Island on my sectional and started to plot my checkpoints and that’s when the uneasy feeling started to creep in.  I plotted my first checkpoint east of Duluth and that put me out over water.  Lake Superior to be exact.  Just how in the world to do verify your checkpoint over water?  Do you look for your abeam point on land?  The shore would be approximately 15 miles south of my course. 

Next realizing that the course that I chose put me over water I put my plotter down, measured and found that I planned on flying over approximately 28 nm over open water.  Now I’m not flying a float plane and the only place I can land is on land so …If  I lose an engine in a single engine I essentially become a glider which my plane will do for a time but not long.  I have to admit for a very short minute I considered continuing with my plans.  Afterall it was only 28 nm and that would only take about 20 minutes .  What could happen in that short amount of time?  It was time to reconsider my plans.

I started taking a fresh look at my sectional.  If I changed my course from St. Cloud to Superior, WI which is just a few miles east of Duluth I could still fly to Madeline Island as planned only over land instead of  28 nm of open water.  I originally choose Duluth because of familiarity.  I had already flown into and out of the Duluth airport.  I researched the Superior Airport KSUW and found that I actually liked the runway orientation better for the winds than Duluth’s runway.  There would be less crosswind for landing and taking off at Superior.  I began working on my navigation log once again and started plotting my checkpoints to Superior.  Then I plotted my checkpoints from Superior to Madeline Island and back to St. Cloud.  The next thing to consider was fuel.  Madeline Island reported none.  I would have to fuel in Superior before heading on to Madeline Island. 

I felt more comfortable with the changes from Duluth to Superior.  The only amount of open water we would be over was  3 nm.  At any point in time I would only be 1 1/2 miles from land if there was a problem.  The other consideration with Madeline Island was the fact that they didn’t have any services there for the airplane.  No mechanics, repair parts, or fuel.  I was renting the plane and the thought crossed my mind  Just how much does it cost to get a plane off an island that isn’t working and how do you do it? As it turned out because of the change in the weather we didn’t pursue our trip out to the island.  But the thought of having trouble stuck in the back of my mind as we continued home instead of going to Madeline Island.

The experts in aviation say that every accident is a chain of events.  Rarely is there just one item that contributed to the cause of the accident.  I thought of my plans for last week and possible accident scenarios.  The point I want to make is that with so many options for technology that I think people get complacent.  Before I got out my sectional I didn’t see anything wrong with my plans because I was just looking at one aspect of the planning.  I was seeing the miles as related to fuel but not really seeing the course I was planning.  I don’t have GPS or any kind of navigational system other than VOR tracking.  I need to rely on what I see outside the plane as I fly, my instruments for direction and my sectional with checkpoints marked for reference along my course. 

If I had hopped in my plane without doing the work of plotting my course on the sectional and marking my checkpoints.  At some point I would find myself in a dangerous position, over open water.  You can fly a plane like driving a car and say that I want to go east about 59 nm and it should take me about 37 minutes at about 95 kts.  Which is what I knew to be true for the trip to Madeline Island.  Believe me it is so much less work to plan a trip that way than to sit down and mark out the checkpoints, figure out the wind correction and ground speed, and figure out how many minutes to each checkpoint but the necessity of doing the planning is to keep me and others safe.

Another issue of safety that I noticed as we were flying was the terrain.  When I plan for a trip I look for things on the terrain that are important because of the height, mainly towers along the route.  I marked the towers along my route there and back.  When we were on our trip my husband made the comment  “There aren’t as many places to land the plane the farther north we go.”  He was correct.  Where we live is primarily an agricultural area with a lot of farm fields for emergency landings.  As we travel north the terrain changes mostly to heavily wooded areas with very few roads and fields. 

When I was learning to fly there were three things that they said we should always know at all times:  Number one was where I would land the plane in an emergency, number two was how much fuel I had on board at any given point in time, and the third was where was the wind from.  It became apparent to me as we were flying that there were fewer places to choose for an emergency landing.  This is important when you are choosing a course to fly in order to fly safely.

There were many lessons learned this past week.  The most important lesson I learned was to do the work of planning for the trip.  If you do the work, correctly and thoroughly you will be better prepared to fly safely.  I didn’t say that you will fly without any problems but you didn’t create any problems for yourself because of lack of planning.   Again I say, “Do the Work!”

 

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A Good Tired

As I sit in my recliner writing this post, I am exhausted but its a good tired.  This morning I woke up with an anticipation for a day off from work and day filled with flying.  All week long I’ve been looking forward to a day of flying up north with my husband to see some fall colors.  I was not disappointed.

We arrived at the airport at 9:30 this morning and I pre-flighted the airplane, got my weather briefing, filed my flight plan and we were off. 

The original plan had been to fly from St. Cloud (STC) to Duluth (DLH) and then east to Madeline Island (4R5).  Last evening we looked over my plan and decided to change our route to St. Cloud to Superior, Wisconsin (SUW) and then east to Madeline Island and then back to St. Cloud.  The change in our route meant less time over the open water of Lake Superior and more over land but still along the lake for the view.

We arrived in Superior just in time for lunch and ate at the airport at the Upper Deck Restaurant.  While we were eating we watched other pilots landing and taxiing to the ramp just outside our restaurant window.  Very cool.  The food was very good and reasonable in price. 

The more we watched, the more we noticed the clouds moving in from the northwest.  The sky was starting to fill up with clouds.  According to the forecast they weren’t supposed to move in until much later in the day.  Decision time.  Do we proceed with our plans to go to Madeline Island or start heading back home?  I am a VFR pilot.  That means I have to be able to see the ground at all times when I am flying.  I don’t have an instrument rating which would allow me to fly in the clouds. 

I had my heart set on going to the island because we had gone there on our honeymoon and this was our first big flying trip but I wanted to be safe.  We have a lot of responsibilities and flying in bad conditions put others at risk they may have to search for you if something happens and you are unable to complete your flight as planned. 

We sat a little longer and discussed our options of  other places to visit and decided to work our way back home and enjoy the scenery along the way.  We would have to visit Madeline Island on another flight.  It was a wise choice as it turned out.  When we departed from Superior southwest to St. Cloud we were unable to climb to our desired altitude because the clouds were too low.  Not only were the clouds too low but we encountered a very bumpy ride.  We were buffeted by strong winds from the northwest. 

Here are some of the pictures I took along the way.  I still haven’t quite figured out how to take good pictures while flying but here goes.

I believe that it’s the Rum River cutting through the fall colored trees.

This was one of many gravel pits that we flew over on our trip to Superior Wisconsin.  It only makes sense with the amount of road construction you see in Minnesota and Wisconsin in the summer.  It looks like a big boy’s sandbox.

The picture to the left was taken as we departed south out of Superior, Wisconsin.  You can see the shadows of the clouds on the ground as we were flying and how low the cloud were.

I liked the mix of the rows of pine trees and fall colors in this picture.

It looks like this farmer had some artistic flair when he started harvesting his corn.

Milaca Airport

 Can you find the airport on this picture.  It is a favorite around here.  It is the Milaca Airport (18Y).  Its a grass strip.  Your only clue is that it is near the top of this photo.  It was one of the hardest airports for me to find the first time I visited there.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2010 in Flying Adventures, Nature, Vacations

 

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Flight Planning

One of my favorite parts of flying is the planning.  I love choosing where I plan to fly and the route I will take.  I take out my sectional and spread it wide open across my kitchen table so I can start plotting my trip.  I gather the necessary tools to complete the task:  my current sectional, plotter, E6B(flight computer), 152 manual, crosswind chart and my current AFD.

Before I could fly solo, I would take out my sectional and look at how many airports there were and where they were.  I would dream about flights I would take and who I would take with me.  Then the time came for me to plan my first cross country.  I didn’t sleep the night before.  I had so many unanswered questions about what I was to do.  My CFI said we would go over the plans before we would fly my plan.  I was so nervous.  I kept looking at all the boxes on the nav log and realized that I didn’t know as much about flying as I thought I did.

He looked at my nav log, checkpoints, weather information, and sectional.  We went over what I had filled in and made changes where we needed to.  We spent some more time using the E6B on the ground so when we were up flying I would be able to confidently compute my ground speed as I checked the time in between checkpoints.  While I was learning about the E6B the teacher in me was thinking about all the cool applications for it in a classroom.  I was already writing lesson plans in my head for math and science.  I thought a unit on flying just might be the thing to get my 5th & sixth grade students  interested in math and science again.  For now, I was the student.

Next week I have a flight planned to fly a place I’ve never been before.  It involves landing on an island just outside of Bayfield, WI.  It will take extra planning on my part for it to be a safe flight.  I will spend a lot of time learning as much about the airports I will be landing at as possible.  One of the things I like to do is go to Navmonster.com to look at the satellite photos and track the path into the airport with the bird’s eye view.  It helps me visualize more of the flight and landmarks than are shown on the sectional.  I do it several times and imagine I am in my plane flying overhead and seeing what is below me.  It really helps me for my airport approaches.  I look at all the runways, their lengths, and possible obstacles to avoid.  I will call the airport the day before and the day of the flight to make sure everything is as I expect it to be.  I don’t like surprises.

Another item on my list for flight planning is checking out alternate airports.  The area I will be flying to is on Lake Superior.  The weather can change quickly near bodies of water.  Just this morning as I try to look across the lake I live on I cannot see the other end of the lake because of fog.  As much as I want to fly to Madeline Island, a place my husband and I visited on our honeymoon,  we will not go if the weather is not suitable.  We will choose some other destinations for our trip if the weather doesn’t look good or cancel our trip altogether.

Fuel management is another area of great importance for flight planning.  The FAR/AIM give you the required amounts of fuel you are required to have on board for daytime and nighttime flying.  Those amounts are the minimums!  I like to carry as much fuel as possible, with out exceeding my weight and balance.  I don’t try to stretch fuel between two checkpoints,  so if I run into problems that delay me  from landing or need to divert,  I can safely accomplish landing with enough fuel.  Running out of fuel just shouldn’t happen.

Weather is something I will be watching from today until my flight day and what is forecast for after it.  It is important to watch what is happening with the movement of fronts across and around my planned flight areas.  There are so many good weather information tools available for pilots for planning.  The main thing is to use them.

The day of our flight we will get a standard briefing and file a flight plan for our route, we will do the pre-flight inspection on the plane and make sure it is fueled up and flight worthy.  Most important is the me, the pilot, is also ready for flight which means that I have slept, feel healthy,  have eaten and am not dehydrated before we start.

If the stars align, the weather is good, the plane is ready, and I am healthy we will take off for a  day of adventure and to see sights not seen from above before.

I can’t wait to be one of those set of wings overhead that everyone looks up and imagines “I wonder where they are going?”

 

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Life With the Top Down

This morning my husband and I decided to take advantage of the much cooler weather and attend a local fly in at Paynesville, Minnesota.  We hopped on our 1984 Honda Gold Wing and rode to our shop.  We decided that we needed to clean our windshield before we continued on our way to the fly in.  We pulled into the shop and saw the Corvette convertible sitting inside just calling our names saying “Take Me, Take Me”.  We couldn’t resist the pleading anymore so we parked the bike and backed the Corvette out, gassed up and grabbed some coffee for our get away.

The morning air was cool but fresh as we traveled with the top down.  When you drive with the top down or on the motorcycle for that matter, you smell all the smells.  The good with the bad.  As we passed the corn fields we could smell the corn silk,  along the creeks, the dampness of the ground surrounding the creek banks, and as we passed the turkey barns, the turkeys.  Not a favorite smell of mine but still part of the open air experience.  At this time of the year there isn’t much blooming in the way of flowers so there are not the sweet fragrances of spring and early summer.

We arrived at the fly in just in time for some breakfast.  Scrambled eggs, sausage, cinnamon toast, hash browns, orange juice and coffee.  The fly in was sponsored by the local Lions Club as a fundraiser for eye surgeries for those in need without the necessary funds.  After eating we walked among the planes that flew in for the event.  My favorites today were the Pitts, there were two.  I loved the red and white coloring,  they were so festive.  We watched a short airshow and learned a little bit about the smoke that is released during the airshow so you can see the path of the airplane in the show.  It contains paraffin wax. 

On our way home we drove through an area that had been hit by straight line winds on Friday afternoon.  The three towns near us, Holdingford, Opole, and Rice,  had a lot of trees down and were still cleaning them up.  As you drove through the towns you would think that everyone had been getting ready for the long, cold, Minnesota winters because there were stacks of cut up logs everywhere.  We drove by several cemetaries with trees down.  This picture is of one of them in Opole, Minnesota.

 

The pine trees seemed to be hardest hit in the storm but we saw oak trees down as well. 

The crops were hit hard too.  There were soybean fields that looked as if someone had swiped their hand across the entire field pushing the plants to the ground and the corn stalks were bending sharply to the east(see the picture on top of post).  The winds had come strong out of the west.

As we were almost home this afternoon we met three motorcyclists on a curve and they were all looking off to our east.  We both looked off to our right to see what they were looking at and just in time managed to slam on our brakes to avoid hitting a buck and doe emerging from a corn field just in front of us.  Time to go home.  Fall is coming you could feel it in the air.

 
 

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It’s never too late to be what you might have been!

Back in 1978 I was a new high school graduate heading off to college.  My chosen major was Medical Technology.  That was, of course, until I had trouble passing biology.  I decided to change my major to business.  I completed most of the business core classes and decided that I really didn’t like marketing or the hours of crunching numbers in the old-fashioned double-entry system of accounting.  I’m talking about the time before computers were in use for most of the everyday office uses they are now. 

What next?  I had all my general education requirements met and finally decided on an elementary education degree as my chosen profession and followed it through to completion and graduated from college in 1983.  All the while in the back of my mind was the desire to learn how to fly.  I was told that just wasn’t something girls did.

Fast forward to about 1989 and I was a married woman with two children and a third one on the way.  While attending church in our small town we had a visiting pastor who was a mission aviator.  He talked about his missionary work as a pilot.  After listening to him speak and his passion for flying I told my husband that I still wanted to learn how to fly.  He said “We need to raise our children first.”  He didn’t say “No” just not now.

Life goes on and I taught school for nine years and we had one more child.  I quit teaching and went to work for the family business as the bookkeeper.  Nothing you learn in college is wasted.  It eventually is put to use at some point in time.  I don’t mind doing bookkeeping with Quickbooks instead of the old paper and pencil method for accounting back in the 80’s. 

In the spring of 2008 I jumped off the deep end and decided it was finally time to pursue my life’s dream of learning how to fly.  It has been the ride of a lifetime.  I have been challenged to learn things I didn’t know I could.  I have studied aerodynamics and read everything I could get my hands on about flying in the past two years.  I’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg in learning about weather.  Who would think that maybe a pilot should know something about weather when they are learning to fly.  I never thought about it before I started pursuing my certificate.

I’ve learned how to navigate using charts,  ground references, and radio navigation.  There hasn’t been a more thrilling day than the day I flew myself from St. Cloud, MN to Duluth, MN , Brainerd, MN and back to St. Cloud by myself on my solo cross-country. 

Pilots are a fun bunch to be around.  I love hearing the stories of how each has achieved their goal of learning how to fly.  No two paths have been the same.  Every day is a new opportunity learn something new when it comes to flying.  CFI’s are awesome. 

I’m fifty years old and I have achieved one of my life goals.  Better later than never.  I wonder where I would be now if I had pursued it earlier.  It certainly would have been the road less traveled.  Whatever your dream is, it is not too late.

 

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