Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Hour 95 - Pismo with Nato and Jason

I've flown into Pismo once or twice.  Or eight times.  It's actually my third-most visited airport, after Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez.  So more than anything that isn't my home base or the airport just over the hill.

Of course most of the time when I go, it's the first time for someone in the plane.  In this case, the someones making their first trip to L52 were Jason and Nathan, two of my friends from back at Softshare.

I hadn't seen them in a while due to the broken ankle followed by the Virginia trip but when I got back into town we ran into each other and decided to make it happen.  To my enjoyment, we actually followed through!

The weather was nice, the pax brought their cameras and we set out for some sky, some beach and some Rock and Roll Diner.  All was right in the world.

Climb-out over UCSB and Campus Point

Dune buggies south of Pismo

Nathan rocking the nautical shirt on an aeronautical adventure.

Nato even helped fill gas!

Departing for home 
Haze over Santa Maria

Dried out lake Cachuma

Looking towards Pt Conception

View of SB from the San Marcos pass

Monday, April 14, 2014

Hour 102 - Catalina!

Hour 102 was one of my best and worst flights yet.  I'd been recently checked out to fly to Catalina and had a 182 filled with gas and passengers.  Isaac from my rugby team, his girlfriend Rochelle, and Aaron a friend of my house mate's.

Rather than going down through LA and crossing the channel from Torrance to Catalina, I opted to fly along the coast and then turn direct for the island around Point Mugu.  This is the route used by a few of the folks at my FBO.

The advantages are that it's a shorter route, which is quicker and cheaper.  It also avoids the LA airspace which can be pretty cluttered at times.

The main disadvantage is that the distance overwater is longer, which adds a bit to the risk in a single-engine plane.  Another disadvantage is that the LA route can be fun for passengers as it goes over interesting things like Malibu and LAX.

Either way, we approached the island and flew around the back side just to see the sights before coming in to land.
Approaching the island from Pt Mugu

Twin Harbors

After checking out the northwest corner of the island, I entered the pattern to land at Catalina Airport.  After turning final, I found that I'd was a quite a bit past the runway center line.  I opted to reject the un-stabilized approach.  Rather than executing a straight go-around, I opted to continue around the northeast side of the island to view Avalon before setting up to land again.

 I circled around the southeast side and re-established myself on downwind.  This time I judged the distance much more cleanly and the picture on final looked a lot better.

This runway is on top of a cliff.  It's famous for optical illusions (which certainly affected my first approach) and downdrafts.  The downdrafts occur as wind coming down the runway drops downward over the cliff edge.  Planes land into the wind, so that means crossing the downdraft area.

I was worried about the downdrafts, so I carried a bit of altitude and power until getting close to the approach end of the runway.  Once I felt like I had the "runway made" (that is, I felt that I could glide in), I pulled power and added flaps in order to take out the excess altitude and speed before landing.

Too soon.  A few seconds after I put in flaps, I got caught in a substantial downdraft.  Even though I had been trying to avoid it, I got into the worst situation for a pilot on landing - I was low and slow.

The response is to go around - apply full power and climb out.  In this case, I was in danger of being dropped into the ground, so time was of the essence.  With the flaps in, the plane was VERY slow and close to stall.

I wanted to pull up and turn in order to avoid terrain, but both of those things are dangerous to do when a plane is close to a stall.  Pulling up slows you down and could stall the plane causing it to fall.  Turning increases the stall speed of the plane and can cause not just a stall but also a spin.

All those risks aside, the go-around was successful.  I turned away from terrain, descended down the mountain, and circled back for a THIRD approach.  This time I applied the lessons from the first two attempts.  I lined up properly and carried power and altitude far further into the approach.  I landed a bit long, but with more than enough time to stop the plane and turn off to the restaurant.

I was pretty happy to be on the ground.  There are those moments in life where you feel a combination of pride and shame that you had just enough skill to get yourself out of a situation that you should have had enough skill not to get yourself into in the first place.  This was one of those.

I was glad that I handled the situation properly, but the fact that I was in the situation in the first place has lead me to revise how I approach landings - especially on unfamiliar fields.  This was my second landing at Catalina ever and my first from this end (the downdrafts are worse from this direction).  I've flown in to several new airports since then and I've found that my recent studies have made things far smoother.

They say that you start with a full bucket of luck and an empty bucket of experience.  Your task is to fill the experience bucket before you empty the luck bucket.  This flight was definitely a transfer from one to the other.

Sorry for the long recap.  There's definitely an impulse to avoid sharing potentially embarrassing stories such as this, but I'm writing these "hour" posts not just for my loyal audience but also for myself to read as I progress through my life as a pilot.

Airport in the Sky
 For the return flight, we opted to take the LA route for sightseeing purposes.  I think I'll probably go this way in the future - it's not much longer, it's fun for the passengers, it's safer, and I really don't mind the extra radio and nav work.  It's good practice and good fun.

Long Beach on the return flight
The return flight was an uneventful one, chasing the setting sun westward toward Santa Barbara.  We touched down just before sundown and closed the books on another MrPinto Adventure.