Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cabin Helper

I went to help some friends unload a DC3 at their cabin site near Lake Creek. There's a link to a news video in this story - you can see my plane in the background when the DC3 lands and takes off and a couple pictures of me - riding on the back of a 4 wheeler and moving lumber in a green shirt… When they say her engines start on her own terms, no kidding - it took them 3 hours to get one of them running. It was a lot of fun, but turned out to be a long, wet, cold day after everyone else split and my friend and I relocated seemingly most of the 7000+ pounds of stuff to get it under tarps. I flew home in the dark exhausted and woke up pretty sore :-)

This guy made a really impressive short landing.

My plane on the strip.

Airstrip view.

View from the cabin site.

Owners Cubs.

This tent has an electric bear fence around it.

Cool storage - this thing was only $200 at Costco and is really well made.

From the air.

Video I took of the DC3 takeoff.

Link to Channel 2 News story about the delivery.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Short Flights by Necessity

The only flights I have been able to do in my own plane lately are to and from Merrill field. I quit taking my plane to my instrument lessons for a while because I would occasionally be nauseous afterwards and not too enthused about flying mine home. And I got chewed out for a perfectly acceptable parking/tiedown job I did on my plane when all their tiedowns were full. But, I've gotten over the nausea and decided that after 25 years of Alaskan plane ownership they can kiss my ass if they think I don't know how to protect it from the wind, lol.

Lots of GPS tracks to and from Anchorage...

This day started out nice enough... Looking toward the Knik.

Heading up toward Birchwood.

But got a little worrisome at Eagle River...

My Instructor was on the radio talking to Approach and recognized me when I was telling them I was coming in from the East... so she said "Approach, it's wide open to the West we just came in that that way", which was cool of her. But I didn't want to go the long way around if I didn't HAVE to. And it would have made me late. :-)

I had to jog about a bit and drop through a hole, but came out lined up nicely in the rain if a bit low...

Heading home it had tightened up even more going East, so I headed over to Point MacKenzie and went home over the Susitna flats...

And it opened right up before I got home :-)

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Some Complex and a New Instructor

"You're very good at quite a few things, unfortunately flying straight and level isn't one of them..." not so encouraging words from my new instructor, :-)

When I've thrown this quote back at her, she correctly points out that she was joking and that it's taken out of context... :-)

My 'old' instructor took some vacation time and, since I'm on a schedule, I carried on with a new one. She's very capable and as good a 'stick'; as myself which you often don't find in young instructors because they don't have the time or sometimes the interest - a lot of them are just looking to get an airline job. A few of them really have very little interest in general aviation which is a shame.

She is a very good pilot (owns part of her own taildragger) and is really fun to fly with. Also she's game - when I wanted to try a gusty 20kt X-wind landing she said "why not"... On short final I asked for help and she did a great job of it. The tower said 'nice job' so I let them think I did all the work, lol.

We did a couple flights in a retractable 172 so I could double up on some complex time for my commercial. It flies like a 172 with retractable gear (duh!) and also has cowl flaps and a controllable pitch prop like my 180 does. I was surprised that I had a little trouble configuring it correctly - I have become so accustomed to the prop and cowl flap control locations in my 180 that I automatically deal with them.... but in this plane, I found myself having to think what to do with the prop before I moved the throttle. And the cowl flap control is so different that I completely forgot about it.

Plus they do the "25 squared in the air" thing where they want you to pull the power back to 25 inches and prop back to 2500 RPM when you lift off. Neither this plane or mine have any time restriction on the use of full power, so I have always used it - I figure the engine's job is to get me as high as possible as fast as possible so I can do MY job which is to find a suitable spot to crash when it quits, lol. And it rubs me the wrong way to make any sort of power change that isn't completely necessary when you're in a vulnerable position.... like just broke ground. In fact, if I'm going high enough that I won't be able to pull 75% power (like 6000 or more), I'll just leave the throttle wide open until I descend for landing. But it's their plane, so "25 squared in the air" it is.

Regardless, it was GREAT fun to say "positive rate, gear up" :-)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Jake and Dave

Here's a photo I just stumbled on in the Alaska Airmen's Association Newsletter. We're walking away from the camera - Jake has a white hat. We were at the Palmer swap meet this summer, headed to check out the C119.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Approaches and Stage Check Dos

Lots and lots of approaches. They use a custom approach to a radio tower for the NDB approach so I've been flying that along with ILS's into Elmendorf and Anchorage and the Big Lake VOR approach.

The Big Lake VOR approach is usually timed. This means the vacuum driven instruments that show your heading and attitude (the plane has an electric turn coordinator) are covered up. So all turns are made by making a standard rate (3 degrees per second) turn and timing it. Which means you have to do the math pretty fast in your head on how many degrees, and then how long, you have to turn. Just watching the compass won't work because it goes crazy when you're turning, so you time, turn, stop.... wait for the compass to settle down and then do it AGAIN, because it won't be perfect, and at the end it comes down to counting "one, two" in your head to get the last few degrees fixed, lol. I like timing the approaches but it's easy to get off course and it's easy to take too long getting on course and blow past the fix if you're close to it when you start. Any deviation from the standard rate turn (like not even 1/2 a needle width) will make a huge error in a big turn, so you have to really have the bank angle nailed. Hard to do in turbulence.

The ILS approaches can be tough because the localizer (horizontal guidance) is twice as sensitive as a VOR, so you have to really stay on top of it. It's almost like landing a taildragger - if you can tell it's starting to drift it may be too late :-) The ILS gives you vertical guidance also, and I've found staying on the glide slope has been pretty easy, really.

The NDB approach to the radio tower isn't all that hard, but it confuses me sometimes which way to turn to correct the course. Particularly outbound if the wind is blowing and you have to trial and error the heading correction. I do like the 'old school' aspect of it. They are phasing the NDBs out in favor of GPS approaches, which is too bad because there are a lot of them in AK and I can't afford a GPS, lol. This particular approach has an interesting hold - outbound from the NDB to a radial off the Big Lake VOR. Not hard but it's at a NDB/VOR fix and not a single navaid.

Then I had to take my 2nd stage check which went OK. I had a couple altitude issues but would have made all the approaches, if not to the checkride standards quite yet, at least without killing anyone :-)

Next we fly some cross countries and try to get my accuracy up for the check ride.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Small Aviation World

I have long been a fan of Greg Swingle's Ohio Bush Planes Videos and have watched them all so far. He has a great sense of humor and puts a lot of effort into fun flying videos. He turns out to be acquainted with my Uncle that I fly a lot with.

One of Greg's friends featured in the videos is John Graham and last summer I met my Uncle and some of his friends up on the Knik...

Then, while searching for more Greg Swingle videos, I came across one that had my 180 in it! It turns out that the 'guy' I flew up to the Knik with was THE John Graham :-) and had made a video of the trip Ohio Bush Planes meet real Alaska Bush Planes. He was a real nice guy and I'm pretty embarrassed I never put this together. Note the GIANT JG in his N-number.... duh. :-) And I don't remember landing at Eklutna either, but there's a nice shot of me on short final.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Foundation Repair Two

We're still working on repairing the broken foundation. I was going to just shore up the wall around the steps to the daylight basement, but the wall turned out to be in a lot worse shape than I thought. Taking it out will give me better access to the footer and allow us to enlarge the entry a bit anyway. It's not going to get done before winter so pretty soon I'm going to insulate and let it ride until Spring.

Here is the demo crew. Hanna didn't have too much fun. She doesn't like picking up garbage or handing out tools - she only wants to run the power tools she isn't big enough to even pick up, lol

Pulled the first bit of the wall off by impact hammering through it with my Dewalt SDS Max hammer drill. I think it hits with 8 lbs of force - works pretty good but there is a lot of dust. I used my supplied air respirator. It will drill a 5/8 hole through the wall in 15 seconds - it took 5 MINUTES with my 1/2" Milwaukee hammer drill. Which is why I went and bought almost the biggest hammer drill I could find :-)

The next wall had separated from the footer so bad that Jake and I shoved it over by hand.

I had to break it up a bit because it was too heavy to yank away.

The first piece was little too heavy but I planned on dragging it a bit. The rest I was able to drag without picking up.

Unfortunately I found the load limit, lol.

Hanna was giving me a standing ovation, :-)

It was easy to tip back up.

I've been dumping scraps in a ditch about 6 feet deep so I can build a road to access the South lot.

Friday, August 28, 2009


Today we did a VOR approach to Big Lake and some holds... (picture gets big if you click on it...)

Holding isn't "hard", but figuring out how to get into the hold (depends on which way you're coming from) can be. And you're fully engaged - you have to turn and time every minute so there's not really time to divert your attention.

One thing it took me a while to understand is when they tell you: "Hold Southwest of the VOR", they mean that the inbound course is SW of the VOR. I was confused for quite a while trying to keep the entire hold circuit on that side of the VOR (which in this case it is because I'm turning left, if I was making standard right turns it wouldn't be). Confused? Welcome to the club!

I didn't turn the GPS on until inbound on the procedure turn, so you see from the top left I was on course to the VOR and then flew the missed when about a mile from the airport. I got a little wonky flying back to the VOR... My instructor wants me to go direct to the VOR (as published) and I always want to intercept the outbound radial on the way, which is wrong but that's where we're going in the end anyway... lol. You can see where I was set up for the intercept when she said; "Where are you going?" so I turned right a bit and missed the fix. :-(

Then the holds mostly look pretty good. The last one we were looking for traffic and deciding what to do next while I wandered about, so it doesn't count, :-)

What I'm glad to see here is that I'm really not too far off - even the sloppy missed route back to the VOR is only off by 1/2 mile. So with a little more practice I should be able to stay on track.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Alaskan Off Airport Operations Guide

The FAA came through with a pretty good publication in this one. There's the usual "Duh?" sort of stuff... fly light, don't land if you can't take off, etc., but there is also some good food for thought or discussion:
  • Practice at weight. I don't think a lot of us do this.... mostly because it's so much more fun to be light. But, I DO practice and I don't intentionally lighten the plane so that sort of counts, lol.
  • Fly recon from 3 levels: high to plan the route in and out, medium for length, rollout, rock size and a couple low to check the surface condition.
  • "Every recon pass should increase your comfort level", Art Warbelow. Goes without saying yes, but clearly articulated. How many times have you made another pass thinking "Man, I don't know?". Ideally, if you're not getting MORE comfortable (not just if you're getting LESS uncomfortable) you'd bail.
  • You need 70% takeoff speed in the first third to clear a 50 ft obstacle. Good to know. And you'd still have time to stop. The only problem for me is that the airspeed doesn't read until 40 MPH and my Robertson equipped Spam Can will lift off at 44 (by the book).
  • Chart for estimating runway length - good again, but all you have to remember is 70 MPH is 100ft/sec and scale from there.
  • No brakes on rollout. That doesn't work for me... Good advice to be ready to cram the throttle open and to keep the stick back though.
  • With a CS speed prop increase the runway length 12% per 1000 ft DA. That can really add up on a hot summer day at altitude and it's an easy rule-of-thumb I can remember.
I've got to thank the FAA for this one. It's worth looking at and they clearly listened to some real world experts and put some effort into it. Check it out - you'll take away some other information than I've mentioned, I'm sure.

Of course, the Fiddle Ass Association can't get everything right, so... since 3 of the 4 links in the publication for downloading this bulletin don't actually HAVE the bulletin and the fourth link is wrong... I've hosted it on my own site, Off Airport Operations. If you print it out landscape, you can put it together like the booklet.

I was unaware of this site which the booklet mentions and has some very good information: Alaska Aviation Safety Foundation.

Oh, does anyone know where that strip on the cover is?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Foundation Repair One

The inside wall has always been bowed, but I'd always thought the form had blown out on whoever poured it. In fact I put in an extended window sill (like a shelf) to hide the curvature.

This winter though, we had a cold snap and the sheetrock began to crack quite a bit. Our housesitter told me that the wall downstairs was cracked... so I told her not to worry - it had always been like that. But, when I got home it was pretty bad. The window glass was flexed and so stressed that I glued insulation to it and double layered plastic over it inside and out in preparation for it shattering (which it didn't). It looks like it's moved in about 3 inches so I began to realize that the wall had failed.

The pour is a piece of shit - there is very little steel and ribbons of unmixed aggregate run though it. Either they did it in a couple pours or, more likely, they didn't agitate it well.

This is the major fault where the footer is broken.

This part is not structural so I'm not very worried about it, although it LOOKS pretty bad.

Big hole for a little loader...

It took quite a while to dig out, not least because I had to fix the loader a couple times... Either 2 hoses were leaking simultaneously or I changed the wrong hose the first time. I think the second hose was the leaker but had jetted through the casing on the other hose - making it look like it leaked. It's hard to troubleshoot because of the pressure, sticking your hand in there to see where the fluid is coming from is not such a hot idea. In the past I've had to section the hydraulic compartment off with absorbent, run it and repeat a couple times to narrow down the leak location. Of course, you've got to open it up and put it back together on each try - very time consuming.

The repair plan is to epoxy rebar into the existing wall and pour a new one outside of the failed one. Then, I'll cut the framed wall loose from the existing concrete wall, bang it back out to where it's supposed to be, Hilti it down again and then fair out the wall inside (which will still be bent). I'll have to custom rip each stud or maybe I'll just come out far enough to build a proper wall, but that would make the window and door openings about 10 inches thick. I'll have to see what looks good.

I'll also improve the drainage somehow. The ground has a lot more clay that I expected. I know it's glacial moraine down there somewhere and had always thought it was gravel just a few feet down, but this is pretty solid stuff so far. I had planned to just backfill with gravel, but I think I'll need to excavate (with a backhoe this time) for a french drain.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Stage Check Uno and Some Actual!

I had my first of three stage checks a couple days ago. The basic idea is to ride with a check instructor to ensure your regular instructor has you on the right track. I was a little apprehensive and, when given the option, asked my instructor if we could delay it. Later I realized she'd sounded disappointed and figured that she had already set it up, so I called her back and said "look, it's your call... I really don't know what he'll want from me and it's impossible to embarrass ME, but I don't want to embarrass you..." She said she thought I was ready so we went ahead and did it. It's really supposed to be a learning experience and not a test anyway.

The guy was fine to fly with. He's very old but not frail either physically or mentally. I remember him from somewhere that I can't put my finger on when I used to be based at Merrill - in the mid 80's I think. I asked my instructor if I should brush up on my CPR skills before the check ride but she didn't think I was as funny as I thought I was and told me to be nice.

He was enthusiastic about unusual attitudes... really confusing me and then handing it back to me on the edge. I laughingly told him "Whoa man, if I tear the wings off this thing you're not going to like it..." but I did fine. Somehow along the way I learned to automatically NOT pull up from a dive and level the wings at the same time, which is good since I think that's pretty much the only way to get killed in a high altitude recovery. He told me the next day that he'd had a good time, so I obviously hadn't scared him too bad.

He also told me that I had to make procedure turns away from the fix, which I'm not so sure of. Clearly they have to be on the 'safe' side indicated, but somewhere I got the idea that you can turn either way. You have to stay within the distance limit... but why would you have to turn only one way? I mean they don't tell you where to start the turn, right? So as long as you're on the safe side and within the distance limit, who cares? What if there's a strong tailwind or you accidentally flew a long outbound leg? Turning inbound might make sense. If you completely space out and find yourself at the distance limit, you BETTER turn inbound... lol. I have to try to look this up.

The guy made me go through everything I'd done to date and I did better that I expected... we had more crosswind than I'd experienced so it was good tracking to the NBD - I hadn't ever had to put in any serious x-wind correction and occasionally turn to the heading to see how we were doing. It was educational. My steep turns elicited a bump on rollout (well, one went a bit awry...) pretty much the only thing I did wrong was blow a couple altitudes a little bit. I'm not flying to the checkride standards yet, but am sure a lot more aware and accurate than when I started.

If I was an instructor, it would be hard for me to not nag the student to do things MY way (the ONLY correct way of course!) but neither he or my regular instructor is like that so they're pretty easy to fly with. I can take any sort of criticism as long as it's preceded by the phrase "I might have done that bit differently..." lol.

Then, on my next lesson, we filed a pop up and I flew a little (VERY little, lol) actual. It was great fun looking out the window and not seeing anything but clouds. Too bad it didn't last longer and too bad it was mostly enroute and not on the approach. But it was still a lot of fun. When I could sort of see the ground and was in and out of the clouds... I can see where that might bite you. Better to just not look out. Hopefully we can get some longer actual on my cross-countries.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Morgan Horse Trail

I tried out an Iphone App called Motion-X GPS which sends an email like this:


Dave uses MotionX-GPS on the iPhone 3G and is sharing with you the following track:
Name: Morgan Horse Trail
Date: Jul 8, 2009 4:55 pm
Distance: 3.48 miles
Elapsed Time: 1:08:32
Avg Speed: 3.0 mph
Max Speed: 21.1 mph
Avg Pace: 19' 41" per mile
Min Altitude: 258 ft
Max Altitude: 678 ft
Start Time: 2009-07-09T00:55:10Z
Start Location:
Latitude: 61.594318º N
Longitude: 149.016273º W
End Time: 2009-07-09T02:03:42Z
End Location:
Latitude: 61.594295º N
Longitude: 149.016150º W

The track,

And one attached photo. I thought it would put the photos in the Google Earth file as clickable waypoints, and it might, but I haven't figured it out yet or maybe need the paid version... but at least I ended up with a phone full of photos :-)

So.... here's the story.

I gave Hanna the choice of the tandem or the Dinobak and she chose the Dinobak because she doesn't have to pedal all the time (the tandem doesn't have a freewheel in the back), so I put some toeclips on it to keep her anchored. When Jake was 5 or 6 he came off the Dinobak on a trail and stuck his leg between the tire and the frame. We came to a fast stop but it scrubbed him pretty good.

We headed for the Morgan Horse Trail. I think it's a guy named Morgan, not because of some Morgan Horses, but who's to say. We didn't run into either...

There's a demoralizing climb from our house to the trailhead (particularly brutal at 80F!). I took it slow.

The view from the trailhead is awesome when not obscured by smoke.

You could smell it - all the way from Nenana, I think.

Bears? Better send Jake first.

It starts out pretty brushy (Devils clubby actually),

But opens up into some almost-double track.. And... it's ALL downhill! WooHoo!

And it ends at an airstrip! What could be better?

Then a long boring flat...

And a nice little downhill to home!