23 April 2010

Sun-n-Fun 2010: Flight to Florida

So this was my first 'big' aviation tradeshow and fly-in.

I'm told it's not nearly as expansive as Oshkosh (the biggest) but it's the largest I've been to yet, and it was all I imagined — flying machines of all types, sizes, configurations, colors, you name it - from home-builts and kits, flying bathtubs, hang gliders with lawn mower engines, and fully-functional scale models of actual planes, to biplanes, WWII warbirds and transports, active duty fighter jets including the Air Force Thunderbirds, aerobatic wizards, and even a wing-walker.

It was an amazing spectacle of the love, or possibly insanity, that compels people to defy gravity, and there I was in the midst of it all... feeling right at home, like THIS is where I belong, among kindred spirits.

I was like a kid in a candy store, like a pig in slop, like a... well, ok enough.

My friend Jeff and I along with a third pilot and videographer, Keith, were on assignment for PilotMag again, shooting video and stills while interviewing various pilots and conducting general networking and glad-handing for the adventure-flying magazine.

I was slated to travel commercially but at the last minute a spot opened up in TailWind's Mooney M20 (a four-place single engine) and I jumped at the chance to fly a real cross-country.

What did I know.

I was safety pilot for Tiago, my flying partner who was working on simulated IFR using foggles which only let you see the instruments (unless you cheat, which defeats the purpose). The plane performed flawlessly in mostly clear but hazy weather, cruising at 140 knots while burning only 10.5 gallons/hr. Tiago flew the plane really well too.

That was the good part.

The not so good part? Unfortunately the typical westerly winds were absent and we faced 30-40 knot headwinds practically the entire 1500 miles. Which meant that our 140 knots through the air translated into only about 110 over the ground.

So instead of about 10 or 11 hours enroute (with no wind), it took almost 15 flight hours with fuel stops in Wichita (ICT), Little Rock (LIT), and a much-needed stop in Montgomery AL (MGM) for both avgas and mental fuel in the form of a few hours of shut-eye before flying the final leg.

After departing Denver's Centennial (APA) at 7am Tuesday we finally arrived in Lakeland FL (LAL) the next day about 11am local.

It was a long flight and we were just a bit fatigued. And in need of showers.

Negotiating the crowded traffic pattern for arrival at LAL was interesting too, and that's all I'll say about that.

I'll talk about the show itself in the next installment but for now, know that it was a TON of fun meeting and interviewing industry people and pilots, shooting video and stills of all the action, and just down-right enjoying the atmosphere of like-minded folks who are as passionate about aviation as I am.

Our return flight was way more fun than the outbound. Again, non-typical easterly winds were slightly in our favor but this time we had some weather to contend with.

Most of the trip between Madison MS (MBO) to Wichita was in the soup, and Tiago and I logged several hours of actual IFR flying (instrument conditions).

As they say, it was Good Training.

One of the great things about ATC (Air Traffic Control) is that they will try to help you however they can especially when you are on an IFR flight plan so that's definitely the way to go when you think you might run into some weather. Or any time, really.

Our controller informed us of weather about 60 miles ahead. When asked what 'level' of weather was showing, he responded 'moderate to extreme precipitation.'

I'll admit to being a bit... concerned.

But Bruce, our instructor who was in the back seat, said 'let's keep going and see how it is in a bit.'


Now Bruce only has about 50,000 flight hours and so I thought, well maybe he's right.

Actually, I implicitly trust him and had zero second thoughts.

After about 40 miles we were handed off to the next control center, who told us he was seeing only 'moderate.'

After a slight course deviation to the left (west) to avoid the strongest stuff, we penetrated the clouds.

It was awesome - nothing but white outside the windows.

Time to see how my instrument scan holds up in actual conditions as opposed to the simulator.

Probably because I have had very little actual instrument flying time and my scan needs more work, but it's still amazing how quickly our plane wants to bank in the turbulent conditions inside the clouds.

Bouncing up and down? Pretty much what I expected.

Holding altitude and heading? Flying by hand, more difficult than I thought it would be. It's hard work and I have a new appreciation for autopilots.

Even after some time in the clouds, excursions of pitch and bank sort of happen unexpectedly and you have to react quickly to make the correct control inputs. But not too much - overcontrolling can be as bad as undercontrolling the airplane.

Anyway I can say that Tiago and I got a generous helping of solid IFR experience in the clouds and rain that day. We even went through about 60 more miles of clouds in eastern Colorado.

When we emerged near Limon, we were treated to an awesome sunset through a layer of broken clouds that were just beginning to be tinged with pink on their way to magenta and scarlet.

We turned northbound over Castle Rock for the approach to Centennial and when we had the airport in sight, it was a very satisfying feeling to know that yes, we are capable of planning and executing such a thing as flying across the country and back.

It's a beautiful thing.


Annette Gurdo said...

Great Article Mike! What a nice account of your trip. I really enjoyed reading this!

JavalĂ­ Rubio said...

What a fantastic blog for people who love aviation!!! Congratulations!!!
Please visit a portuguese blog which shows aerial pictures from Portugal taken during my flights in Cessna, Piper, etc...:
Third Dimension - Aerial Photography from Portugal
Thanks a lot