Sunday, September 29, 2013

Hour 84 - Check Out in Leesburg, Virginia!

Jon Stewart had a small cameo in a Dave Chapelle stoner movie called "Half Baked."  His character is an "enhancement smoker" - one of the stoners who always wants to use being stoned as a way to improve whatever he's watching or doing.  You can check it out here if you're interested.

Anyway, I'm turning into an enhancement flyer.  I like flying over places that I've visited to see what they're like from the air.  No better place for that than Northern Virginia, where I spent the first 22 years of my life and almost none since.

Melch and I are in town tending to some family matters, but I managed to get some time to head out Leesburg Airport to get checked out to rent their planes.

Renting a plane isn't like renting a car.  With cars, you show up at the rental place, they take your license, try and sell you shit that you don't need at prices that make no kind of sense at all, and then when you say no they point you out the door to a vehicle.

There are a lot more differences between planes than cars, so just having a pilot's license isn't enough to prove to another rental company (okay, their insurance company, really...) that you know what you're doing.

So when you want to rent a plane, you have to go up with one of their instructors - at your own expense - in order to prove to them that you know what you're doing.  Imagine going to Herz and having them make you demonstrate parallel parking on both sides of the street, recovering from a skid, change a tire, check you oil and demonstrate all of the features of the infotainment system before they'd let you out the door.

It's hard to make a clean analogy because planes are a bit more complicated than cars and there are more maneuvers, but that's the idea.  My check ride was 2.1 hours with a ground portion in the beginning and then a 1.1 hour flight.

I demonstrated that I knew about the DC "SFRA" or Special Flight Rules Area.  The folks that run our country might be okay with buzzing most of the world with unmanned drones, but they don't really like to take what they dish out.  So they set up a no-fly zone around DC and a "you can fly, but it's complicated" zone around that.  Leesburg is outside of the NO zone and just on the outer edge of the "maybe" zone.  So there are new rules to learn.  That and the three class B (that's the busiest) airports in the Washington area: Dulles, National and BWI.

It's a bit of a stressful thing, being judged on your performance by a stranger, but the instructor was pretty friendly and I've been flying often enough that my skills were still pretty sharp.  I don't do the PPL maneuvers like stalls and steep turns often, but they came back to me.  Not my most precise flying ever, but it was safe and good enough for them, so now I can rent!

No photos today, but I do have a stop-motion video of the trip if you're interested.

A successful adventure of the best kind - this adventure unlocks future adventures. =)

Hour 83 - Pismo with Olivia, Tony and Melch

Hour 83 was sort of last-minute.  I hadn't flown in a few weeks due to the Portland trip.  Some of Melch's co-workers had expressed interest in flying on Sunday, so I reserved a plane for then.  Come Sunday they were no longer free, so I started looking for others.  Tina and Emilio enjoyed their last flight, but they "slept in" until way after noon.

Flying on a pretty day in Santa Barbara is too attractive of a proposition though.  A quick post to Facebook and I had some willing takers.  Tony had flown with me before.  Twice actually - hour 64 was a quick jaunt in the 152 and hour 70 was a trip out to Santa Monica for some Malibu coast and airport restaurant.

Olivia rocking out in the back seat.  Thanks to her for all of these photos.
For Olivia, it was a first.  Olivia is an awesome person that I knew from ultimate frisbee - years ago.  She had moved to Pittsburgh with her boyfriend, gone on to graduate school and... graduated.  I'd seen her the week before at pick-up on the beach in SB and she responded to my Facebook post with excitement.  She asked what time, and I said "15 minutes from now."  Lucky for us both, she was that flexible on a Sunday afternoon.

Pre-flight was straight-forward from start-up to taxiing for gas... right up to the point where a worker at Above All Aviation came running out to say that the plane we'd reserved, rented, and gotten going was actually grounded waiting for a test to come back from its 100 hour inspection.  They hadn't put any notes to that effect, they let me reserve it... but they caught me just in time.

Lucky for us, 4637G was free as well, with just the perfect amount of gas.  Too much and we'd be over max gross weight, too little and we wouldn't have the range.  7593X was free too, but that plane and I always seem to get ourselves into a little TOO much adventure.  Speaking of 7593X, a student pilot just landed her on the 101 last weekend - presumably out of fuel.  No word on what exactly caused the off-airport landing, but yet another adventure for 7593X.

4637G and I have a history as well, but a generally more positive one.  We've been to Pismo a few times before.  Hour 59 with Oura, and hour 30 with Vadim and Kyle, my instructor (I was still as student then).  Other than some quick pattern work, I hadn't flown in her for a bit, but I did all my solo cross countries in 4637G and we were old friends!
Looking happy in 411BP - but it was not to be...
Anyway, we moved our gear over to 4637G did a quick pre-flight and took off for Pismo.  The weather was good but windy, the rare down-canyon winds that have SBA using runway 33.  We almost never take off in that direction - it was the first time I'd done it since getting my license.

Departing SBA for L52
There was a bit of chop on the way out of the SBA area, but once we climbed above the ridge line it smoothed out just fine.  Winds were calm out at the destination and we did the usual Rock N' Roll Diner for dinner.

Here are some shots of the approach to Oceano:

The flight back was the same thing in reverse - not just the geographical reverse but the weather too.  Nice and calm until we dropped below Gaviota Pt, then choppy all the way in.  Landed on 33 as well - I think for my first time ever.  

Although there was some anxiousness due to the winds, Olivia and Melch both help up okay and it appears that good times were had by all.  In summary - another successful aerial adventure!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Erwin's Wedding

Erwin is a friend of Melch's from college that I met when I would visit her.  He also lived near our parents' houses after he graduated so we saw him from time to time before we moved on to Santa Barbara and he moved on to Seattle.  You might remember him from this earlier post.

Even though we now live quite a ways apart, we still manage to hang out pretty often.  We've been up to Seattle, we've met up at the weddings of friends (and our own of course), we've gone to Blizzcon together, we've played games online and so on.

Erwin's friends are in many cases our friends too - folks that we've known since college or even earlier and the sort of friends where you meet up after a week or a month or three years and it's all the same - you just pick up where you left off.

As you can imagine, we were excited to attend his wedding to Janne Hyunh, a person we'd heard of but not yet met.  He's Chinese, she's Vietnamese.  That meant two sets of cool and new (to us) wedding traditions.  The location was Portland.

Enough talking though, here are some pictures:

Supplies for one of the tea ceremonies.  Yes, that's plural.

Jon and Jordan escorting each other stage left during the rehearsal

The bride-and-groom-to-be

Nice location

Getting ready for the tea ceremony

The actual thing happening. =)

Post-ceremony hangin' out


Sunset on the river

They had coloring books for kids of "all ages"

Erwin is not a dancer, but some occasions call for exceptional behavior

Sparkler send-off!

Wedding favors!
More photos can be found here.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Hour 81, or the Day of Diversions

So there I was ("there I was" is the ultimate in pilot clichés), 4500 feet above the Malibu coast, heading almost directly westbound in a C172 with four aboard, running the numbers with Melch again.  I'd verified like three times with her when we took off, what our starting fuel was, verified my math on how long we'd been aloft, checked our ground speed.

As best I could calculate, we had enough fuel to make our destination, but no longer had the required 45 minute reserve for a nighttime flight.  And it was "nighttime" as it gets: 10:30pm on a moonless Saturday evening.

I informed our passengers in the cabin and and LA Center on the radio that we'd be making our second diversion of the day and started my descent into Camarillo.

Knowing that we'd be flying home in the dark from LA on Saturday, I'd reserved a plane on Friday night so that I could run the pattern solo and perform my three required full-stop landings to be current in the FAA's eyes for carrying passengers at night.

I found the plane I'd reserved with no oil filler cap and a quart low.  Well, the quart was still there - it was just all over the engine bay.  The cap must have come off in flight, spraying oil all over everything.  I took a different plane - good old 4637G and got in my landings.

Once I finally got airborne, life was great.  I could see Harder stadium lit up to the south...

Gaucho Soccer!

...and the Goleta drive in playing a movie on the approach end of 25 (not pictured - I don't text while driving and I don't take photos while landing).

The ACTUAL mission on Saturday was to take my co-workers Danny and Justin down to Santa Monica airport.  We'd take a cab to Venice Beach and check out Danny's friend's art and the sunset, then return home in the evening.

I'd wanted the 182 but it was unavailable, so I elected to take 7593X - the only plane that Above All had free.  There were some concerns with that.  First: a 172 can't take four adult passengers with full fuel.  I ran the fuel requirements and the weight-and-balance and it'd be close but we could make it.

Second: I have no manner of luck with 7593X.  In my previous outings with her, I had canceled for clouds, canceled for wind, had a comm issue, had a transponder failure, and had the above-listed oil cap go missing.  Flying is enough of an adventure all on its own without the additions that 93X always seems to bring.

Even so, 7593X was the craft available, so 7593X was the craft we took.  Forecasts were good for the 24 hours leading up to the flight, though the TAF (Terminal Aerodrome Forecast) did post a scare when on Saturday morning it called for low IFR at 8pm.  By the time of the flight though the forecast was for clear air through 6am and things looked good on the ground as well.  Even so, I informed our passengers that there was (and really always is) a chance that we might not be able to make SBA due to clouds and might have to fly to Santa Ynez, Camarillo, or even stay the night in LA.

Weather at take-off was superb.  A little warm but not too bad, blue skies and a pretty coast.  I handed the plane over to Melch just as we were exiting SBA airspace and let her fly the leg past Oxnard and Mugu and into Malibu.

Melch gettin' her copilot on

Near Malibu
As we got the radio handoff from Pt Mugu for LA over Malibu, the new controller informed us that the runway at Santa Monica had been shut down for an emergency landing and asked me for my intentions.  We had enough fuel for a diversion but not with a ton to spare, so I informed her that I would cross over Malibu Hills along one of the canyon passes and land in Van Nuys.

As I took the controls from Melch and prepared to get weather and tower frequencies for VNY, the controller came back and said that they were inspecting the runways but that SMO should be open soon if we wanted to wait.

That sounded much better than being stuck in Van Nuys, so I opted to continue.  We killed time by flying out over the Hollywood sign so that our passengers could snap a few quick pics.  By the time we'd wrapped that circuit up and started returning to the coast, the controller let us know that it would be at least 20 more minutes but that she couldn't guarantee even that.

Look to my left and I see the Hollywood sign
We had fuel for that with some to spare, but she didn't sound too convincing and we weren't packing a HUGE reserve, so I opted to divert after all.  I elected to go for TOA: Zamperini Field in Torrance.  Torrance was closer to Venice Beach than Van Nuys and given that we'd already made it into downtown LA it was just about as close by air.

There was however one thing between us and TOA.  A little airport called LAX.  LAX's airspace covers large portions of LA, but there are various pathways around, under and through it that a small craft such as mine can take in transit.

I chose to take the SFRA (Special Flight Rules Area) route.  You can think of it as a small "tube" cut out of the middle of LAX airspace where you're not in the class B airspace at all and don't even have to talk to LAX tower.

I'd flown the SFRA once before, but with an instructor and it was a long time ago.  I hadn't planned on taking it on this day and I hadn't really briefed the route.  I had Melch pull up the instructions on the iPad and read them off to me while I set the radio, transponder and VOR equipment.

1201 in the transponder, CTAF in the radio, 132 degree radial off of the SMO VOR, we cruised at 3500 feet directly above all 4 LAX runways, watching the jumbo jets land and take off below us.

Once out of the SFRA, I got on the line with Torrance tower and they cleared me for 29L.  Parallel traffic was a banner plane landing, so we got to see him drop his banner and then land.  Pretty neat.

First time at Zamperini Field
So there we were (see, it's a cliché!), on the ground at Torrance.  We needed gas and transport to Venice Beach.  I was pretty happy to be on the ground as the flight was a bit stressful.

Even a simple diversion is a bit stressful.  When landing at an airport, you want to know how long the runway is, what the field elevation is, what the pattern altitude is, what the frequencies are for approach, tower, weather and ground, what obstacles or other concerns there might be, etc.

Figuring that stuff out on the ground with a chart or a computer is easy.  Figuring it out while flying is a bit more taxing.  Sometimes you'll have a diversion airport in mind, but I actually had to scope out two diversions through the course of this flight - VNY and TOA.

The SFRA route added some more stuff to look up and then there was the matter of tight fuel reserves.  7593X continued to be my lucky plane!  So yeah, I was happy to be on the ground.

We called around for rental cars but all the places were closed.  We checked and a cab would be about 30-45 minutes and ~$50-100 each way.  TOA had a curfew of 10pm and we still needed gas.  That wouldn't leave a lot of time to enjoy Venice Beach.

So we decided to change plans and head out to Redondo.  Danny had always been interested in seeing it and we figured we could find some good eats.  So into the cab we got and off to the beach we went.  Joe's Crab Shack was happy to have us and a bunch of yummy grease and salt later, I was sitting outside talking with a flight briefer about the weather for the night flight back.

Redondo Beach Marina
Despite the offshore clouds that were making me nervous, the weather was reported to be great along our route and was predicted to remain that way throughout the proposed time of the flight.  I filed a flight plan (always a good idea, especially at night), thanked the briefer and told my passengers that we were good to go provided that I find someplace to purchase a caffeinated beverage.

We walked across the street and I bought a Dr. Pepper in a hotel lobby and we hailed a cab back to the airport.

Pre-flight was a bit slower than usual due to dark, but we were in the air over Torrance well before the noise abatement curfew.

We were full of people and as much gas as I computed that we could get airborne with, so our climb rate sucked.  The SFRA back was at 4500 feet and it's a pretty hard requirement.  I couldn't start heading west until I'd climbed to that altitude.  There was no way we'd make it in time, so I circled the city of Torrance while climbing.  Four times.  On the fourth we were close enough that I figured we'd make 4500 by the time we got to the base of the SFRA route, so we turned for home.

We picked up LA center on the other side of the SFRA and got flight following to SBA.  The slow climbout combined with unfavorable winds on the return flight left me unhappy with our fuel situation.  SBA was reporting clear, but if we got out there and found it fogged in we would have very little fuel to attempt a flight over the Santa Ynez mountains and into the valley for a diversion to Santa Ynez airport.

So to Camarillo we went.  They have a 24/7 fuel depot and it was a cool opportunity to demonstrate pilot-operated lighting.  Many airports don't leave the lights on at night - you turn them on by clicking your mic either 5 or 7 times on a specified frequency.  This saves energy and impresses passengers.  7 clicks and the whole airport lights up like a christmas tree - runways, taxiways, glide slope indicators, everything.  Pretty neat.

We landed, used the facilities (that Dr. Pepper...), picked up some fuel, updated our flight plan, and got back in the air for SBA.  By the time we got there SBA's tower was closed as well, so it was just me and two SkyWest pilots chatting on the communal frequency.  I followed them both in and we called it a day.

As adventures go, this was a good one.  My skills as a pilot were tested in so many ways: pre-flight decision making, weight-and-balance, endurance calculations, in-flight diversions, in-flight endurance calculations, night flight, traveling to new airports.  Heck - it was the first time I'd even refueled at another airport and I did it twice in one day!

All told, I feel that I fared well.  In retrospect it does seem like I might have been doing too many things at once, but at every decision point I believe that I applied my training properly and erred on the side of caution and safety.

I'm now much more confident about long cross country flights, night flights and I'm cautiously optimistic about my aeronautical decision making.  Speaking of decision-making, I think I might decide to avoid future long-distance flights with four people in a 172.  It obviously can be made to work, but the limits it imposes are pretty significant.  Never say never though - 7593X and I have been through a lot together - how could I say 'no' to another adventure?

More pictures can be found on Flickr.

Hour 77 - Oceano with Shelby

I met Shelby on a previous adventure, as we rode with her to and from the Bay Area.  Melch can be trusted to fall asleep in the car in 10 minutes or less, so that left me to keep our fearless driver awake.

One of the things we talked about was flying and she seemed to be pretty interested in giving it a try.  The weekend after the SF trip was warm but clear so I was looking to go up so I figured I'd see if she was still excited about it.

She was, so we went.  We opted to take the two-seater 152, which is cheaper and a fun plane to learn in.  The plan was for her to have as much behind-the-yoke time as possible, though I did handle the takeoffs and landings and demonstrate a few things along the way.

For a destination we selected Oceano as it's a nearby airport with a pretty ride and a long enough journey to count as a cross-country for my log book.

The 152 isn't too powerful and the day was warm, so I was joking with some pilot buddies about how our climb rate might not be so good.  I told one friend that if we got better than 500FPM, I'd text him a photo.  We did it!

I must have lost weight in the morning frisbee game
The flight is one that I've done several times, but I never get bored of it.  You get to overfly Santa Maria airport along the way...

...and come in over the dunes...

...and of course get dinner at the Rock N' Roll Diner!

Shelby got her behind-the-yoke time...

...and seemed to enjoy it...

...and we got to see a sunset from 3500 feet on the return.

It was the sort of fun little trip that really makes all of the work that goes into getting a pilot's license feel worth it.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Run or Dye

Goofy 5K runs have become a Thing.  There are zombie runs, mud runs, obstacle courses, night runs and color runs.  The latest of those to come to town was Run or Dye and it was going down at UCSB.

RightScale has a little fitness club called RightFit and this sort if thing is right up our alley.  We got some white tank tops printed out and got ready for some fun.

Looking nice and clean
The run itself went okay: lots of dye everywhere, people goofing off and having fun.  Even a 5K fun run made me a little nervous for the broken ankle but it didn't bug me too much and I was running with a group at a nice and easy pace.

The end result was of course colorful.  I tried to focus on the green as much as possible since I'm on the Green team at RightScale, but there's only so much focusing that was to be done.

Good times
If one of these things comes to your area, get out there and do it.  You're not going to PR - heck, they don't even time the race.  There'll be a billion people and a bunch will be walking or goofing off in the dye stations or whatever.  It's not about the speed, it's about goofing off on a Saturday morning with some friends and then going back home and destroying your shower/bathroom/bedroom/everything you own.

Not a bad adventure.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Giants and Niners, Oh My

Melch's co-workers had the idea to head up to San Francisco to catch a 49ers pre-season game.  Not only had I never been to Candlestick - I'd never been to an NFL game ever.  I watched a lot of live games in college at UVA and on the road.  I'd also been to several NFL stadiums for bowl games or marching band stuff or whatever, but never when an actual game was going on.

In the process of planning out the trip, a Giants baseball game was added as a side-quest.  I HAD seen some MLB games live and had even seen the Giants, but never at AT&T park.  Melch and I were both excited for both sporting opportunities.

So on Saturday morning we hopped in the car with Melch's co-worker Shelby.  Shelby is a recent transplant from Colorado Springs by way of Riverside, so she had never experienced the PCH through Big Sur.  I recommended the detour against the advice of the other cars who thought we wouldn't make it to Oakland in time to take the train to AT&T.

Big Sur and back in time for baseball?  We GOT this.
We did it anyway, stopping off at the famous Nepenthe restaurant to get some lunch and scope out the view.  Even with the detour, we made it up north in time to rejoin the group at the motel, get our mini-solo cup shot glass drink on and head for SF.

I didn't know this was a thing, but it is.  A good thing.

The sunset game against the Pirates was perfect.  Perfect weather, perfect view, perfect Giants win, perfect Giants dog, perfect mini solo cup shot glass buzz.  Great time.

AT&T Park and the (in)famous McCovey Cove

A few restaurants and bars and train rides later we were back at our Motel 6, but even the Motel 6 was noteworthy.  First marina-side Motel 6 that I've visited before.

I've stayed at a lot of Motel 6's.  The backyard isn't usually like this...
As fun as the motel was though, our main mission was to watch the Niners do their thing.  After some morning tourism fun at the Fisherman's Wharf in downtown SF, we hopped in the cars for some Candlestick tailgating.

This is the NFL.  The tailgating is at least as important as the actual game
All good things must come to an end, and we eventually had to stop eating, drinking and carrying on in the parking lot and actually attend the game.

Someone's excited
The Candlestick experience was pretty cool too.  I'll take AT&T for the view and for the food, but football is really more my sport than baseball these days and it was cool to see Kaepernick do his thing even for only a few series.

Another sunset game?  Count me in.
The private pilot in me also enjoyed watching some guy orbit the stadium for like 3 hours.  I was actually surprised by that - I've never looked into it in extreme detail, but I thought that NFL games usually had TFRs restricting flight over the arenas.  Beyond that, SFO is nearby so the guy must have been in contact with the tower there too.  I don't know if he was there on official business or just got some special permission or whatever, but it looked like fun.

Flying isn't cheap though - I think the guy could have gotten a better view for less if he would have bought tickets. =)

After the game it was a long dark drive home followed by not-that-much sleep before the work week.  A successful adventure to be sure.

More photos can be seen in the Flickr album.