Early-Season Training Continues – Team Tuskegee and CAP Form 5

Tupper Craig TG-7A

Time has been amazingly scarce these past few months.  But that doesn’t mean that I can let the rust build up on my wings.

Last weekend, I got up with Team Tuskegee for some three-ship formation deep in the Detroit Class B.  I needed some echelon takeoff and landing experience, so I flew 2 in a phantom 4 configuration, landing and taking off abreast of lead on 21L at Detroit Metro (KDTW).  John Harte ably flew Lead and Chris Felton flew a very competent 3 (or, as he likes to be called, “Element Lead”).  We also got in some tail chasing and other more general formation work with me flying 3 and Chris as 2.

I took along Alex Craig, one of CAP’s check airmen in the Michigan Wing, with whom I’ve flown several checkrides over the years.  Alex is an ATP with thousands of hours logged, but little time in gliders or in formation.  Alex sat left seat to observe the formation work.  And, as Tim Brutsche likes to say, flying an aircraft with an empty hole is a sin.  Aviation is always best when it’s shared.

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Then, this past weekend, Alex and I switched seats and aircraft and I flew a CAP annual Form 5 stan/eval ride.  I hadn’t flown the CAP glass C-182T in maybe six months.  Needless to say, I spent a fair amount of Saturday preparing for the Sunday-morning ride.

I approached this ride with more trepidation than usual, largely on account of the rust build-up.  But I suppose that I needn’t have worried.  I goofed up the throttle work a little (one of the few cross-contamination problems that I experience between the TG-7A and the C-182T) and I managed to forget which way the glideslope indicator was supposed to move and I got fairly high on the glideslope on the ILS 27 at KFNT.

But, generally speaking, the ride went far better than I expected.  I’ve always hated landing the C-182T.  I still do.  It’s so nose-heavy.  You run out of elevator pretty quickly in that aircraft if you’re CG-forward, as you almost always are when you’re flying with two guys and 60 gal. of fuel.  The usual way to deal with that, namely keeping a little power in on the flare and flying it all the way to the runway like an airliner, isn’t an option for practice engine-out work.  So it was all attitude and airspeed on many of the landings.

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I did use one technique that I recommend to anyone who has hot hands with a C-172 but has problems with the C-182.  Put 50 lbs of something in Cargo Area B.  It moves the CG back a little and makes the landing flare a lot more controllable.

We rocked out the high airwork, did most of the landings (engine-out, soft-field, etc.) at Lapeer (D95), shot the ILS 27 and the RNAV 36 (twice) at KFNT, then flew back to Pontiac (KPTK), where I think I did my best short-field landing ever in that aircraft, getting it down and stoppable before the 1,000-foot markers.

Work and other commitments are still keeping me out of the cockpit more than I’d like to be, but I think I’ve done as good a job of getting active and proficient early in the season this year as I ever have.


It’s About Aircrew

The low clouds and snow flurries retreated today and, as luck would have it, Capt Norm Malek and I had scheduled the G1000-equipped CAP C-182 all afternoon.  So we launched around 1:00 and wrung out the aircraft for a total of 3.3 Hobbs hours.

As of this morning, all of my approaches for instrument currency dated from October, which means that they’re going to expire next month.  So I clearly needed some approaches.  Capt Malek didn’t need as many, having recently flown some single-pilot actual as part of some aircraft repositioning work this week.

So I rocked out a hold on a DME fix about 18 miles sooutheast of Flint, then went in for the ILS 27, the RNAV 18, the ILS 27 again, and the VOR 18 before landing and switching pilots.  2.0 ASEL high-performance and 1.6 of it under the hood.  We had some VFR traffic around NUPUE, my intended IAF, and I volunteered to be vectored to JUBER instead, so there was some fast fingerwork on the G1000.  But no worries. [Read more...]

Duckin’ Fark

This is a regular blog post. Looking for show notes or links to show audio or video? They’re all here. Keep on scrolling.

CAP captain, myTransponder co-founder, and friend Rod Rakic happened to be in town this weekend and we made it a point to try to get up in a CAP aircraft for some proficiency work and aircrew activities.

I’ve flown in the same aircraft with Rod on several occasions. The first was the Cessna Citation Mustang flight during AirVenture Oshkosh 2009 with me in the left seat and Rod in the back. Then Rod flew me in a C-182T Nav III to Marshall, Missouri and back to get some B-2A weapons system trainer time in our logbooks.

But I had not yet flown Rod under circumstances under which I was in the left seat and was in the right seat. Where he could reach the flight controls and make it a fair fight.

Saturday afternoon, the wind howled like hell. I’m talking 18 knots with gusts over 30. Even with the wind coming pretty close to right down the pipe, that’s a log of gust factor, especially considering that I hadn’t flown the C-182 since last October or so. And I’m a pretty typical non-primarily-182 driver inasmuch as it’s a very nose-heavy airplane that likes to sink quickly and I live in fear of whacking the nosewheel.

I have no problem with the G1000. I just don’t like seeing the nosewheel strut come through it.

I arrived early and preflighted the airplane like I was buying it. The wind howled around the hangar. Badly enough that I feared opening the hangar door and badly enough that I had a hard time being understood on the phone by my flight release officer because of the noise of all that sheet metal that wanted to depart the tee hangar.

But around 6:30, it magically calmed down to a steady 18 knots right down the runway. Rod arrived, I got my flight release, we stomped the ramp (a very abbreviated ritual along the lines of the Haka – you had to be there) and we launched about an hour before sunset.

We flew up to Yale, Michigan located my high school buddy’s place, descended to about 1,600 MSL, and did a mock photo mission over it. Flying at 90 KIAS in a 45-degree bank that low would have bothered me a lot just a year ago. But, after NESA MAS and flying as much tailwheel and acro as I have, it seemed really natural. And the C-182 is a really stable platform for those kinds of maneuvers. You can almost roll in and fly the maneuver on trim alone.

Takeoffs, as they say, are optional. Landings, as they also say, are mandatory. Aviation, unlike maritime pursuits, has a perfect safety record. We’ve never left one up there.

We went to St. Clair County Airport (KPHN), whose Runway 28 was within 20 degrees of a 15-knot steady wind. Rod had spent a lot of time there in his youth as a line guy and student pilot, so it was a bit of a trip down memory lane for him. I was reluctant to face my C-182 demons more than 40 nm from the airplane’s home base in case I yard-saled it across the TDZ. And I began by mistaking Runway 22 for Runway 28.

But I got her headed in the right direction (without entering Canadian airspace in the process) and turned a very nonstandard entry into a very stabilized approach. 70 over the numbers, then kissed it down. I taxied back and got another trip around the patch, this time getting it a little flat, but serviceable and most of the parts stayed in formation with the rest of the airframe.

Rod is getting ready to become a CFI. And the CFI manner is beginning to creep into his right-seat personality. I pointed out a couple of the things that he said or did and made that comment. He was a little taken aback, but admitted it. I assured him that there were no violations of Wheaton’s Law involved. In fact, it’s very cool to see one’s friends constantly evolving and challenging themselves.

Additionally, Rod is going to be a great instructor. He’s already a very precise and disciplined pilot. But he also has an excellent way of inspiring confidence and channeling knowledge without being imperious about it. As someone who has watched new student pilot starts fall off and student pilot completions plummet, it would be important to me that Rod become a CFi regardless of whether he was one of my bros. But having him as one of my bros as well? Bonus!

To be sure, Rod gave no “instruction” per se in the aircraft. He’s not a CFI. And, even if he were, he’s not authorized by CAP to give instruction in CAP birds. (Yet.) We even briefed our roles standing at the nose of the aircraft before leaving. As PIC, I told him that input was welcome. And expected. But I was PIC and any yard sale that I laid out on a runway was mine and mine alone. A good way to brief almost any flight, in fact.

We departed St. Clair and pointed the airplane at Ray Community Airport (57D). I have some plans for things this summer at Ray and I wanted to show the airport to Rod. Ray is the prettiest airport to which I have ever personally been. And Runway at Ray 9/27 is just under 2,500 feet, which I had just proved was a distance within which I could get a C-182T down and stopped. But it was a little dark to actually see anything there and I was reluctant to put my C-182 skills to the test on a shorter runway in the dark.

So back to Pontiac. We got the straight-in approach to Runway 27R. No excuses. I had the airspeed and configuration dialed in from five miles out. the only issue was that it was dark. I mean “duckin’ fark.” It was less than an hour after sunset, but not a lot less.

Last notch of flaps at a half mile. Yeah, a half mile is further than I could glide with the barn doors hanging out, but a stable approach coming over the fence was more important in this case with this pilot in this airplane than the much-lesser chance of being screwed by an engine failure on short final.

Airspeed 75 KIAS over the fence. 70 KIAS over the numbers. I had my attention way over the nose and off to the side. Rod was looking directly out the side at the ground.

He said “flare.”

It was a little earlier than I expected to flare. But I had five more knots of airspeed than I really needed and lots of power available. And Rod has lots of experience in the C-182. All of the input funneled through that high-speed pachinko machine that I’ve built in my head. I made the decision as PIC to accept the suggestion from my PNF and flare.

I flared. A moment or two of feeling the sink and beginning to think about pushing in the power. Then “doink.” Mains down. Yoke in my chest. Nosewheel down. Nice! Let her roll to Kilo and then taxi to Royal for gas.

I think that the landing would have come out safe either way. My way might have been flatter, but would likely have been okay. In any case, it’s good to have two sets of eyes and two brains focused on the issue. And it’s one of the most special things in all of aviation to have a PNF next to you that you know well and whose thoughts will accelerate through your pachinko machine and get quickly to the place where you make the right decisions.

We hit the Pontiac pilot watering hole (the Shark Club) for beers and dinner after. I think it bothered Rod slightly that I had noticed CFI noises coming out of him on the flight and he was concered that it had been bothersome and launched into a discussion that was part apology.

I cut him off. “Dude, you had me at ‘Flare.’”

Laughter, beer, food, and pilot talk, then the departure – me for home and and he for his family in Clawson. I a slightly better pilot. He with a little more time in the right seat trying out the view from there and really thinking about what it’s going to be like when he adds the rating and starts flying with people who need his counsel more than I do.

All epic. In a smaller way than Dick-Collins-ing through the yellow IMC over Chicagoland at 2:00 a.m. But in an important way nevertheless.

Up aircrew! Huah!

Channeling Dick Collins: IFR to Whiteman AFB – Almost

So Rod Rakic calls me up a few weeks ago. Seems we have an opportunity to go check out the B-2 Spirit bomber at Whiteman AFB. Cliff, a mutual friend, had kindly offered to give us a tour of the facilities and get us close to the mighty Mach 0.95, 335,500-lb. Heavy stealth bomber.

I, not being an idiot, say “Let’s go!”

To make it even more epic, Rod arranged for an Illinois wing CAP C-182T Nav III to make the trip from Chicago Executive (fka Palwaukee) (KPWK) to Whiteman.

When we got together at KPWK and sat down to brief the mission. A band of precipitation sat between us and our objective. No getting around it, really. It was all green and yellow, but non-convective as nearly as we could tell. Ceilings between 800 and 3,000 and tops between FL180 and FL250. It was clear that, if we were going to make this trip, we were going to be in the crud for a good portion of the flight.

Both Rod and I are qualified CAP pilots in the G1000-equipped bird. We’re pretty good operators – Rod perhaps more so than me. The issue now became whether to go launch into weather that we both knew that the bird could handle and for which both of us are well-trained, but that neither of us had experienced first-hand.

It was like a Dick Collins video. Planning to go launch into the soup for an extended period.

I’m a reasonably cautious guy. Old and bold pilots and all. I plan to be old. So’s Rod. I’ve talked with him about go/no-go decisions a lot in the past. We’re both conservative. But we came up with a “go” for this mission. Capable bird. Two qualified pilots. Weather thick but non-convective.

So we launched. We got into the soup well before Moline at 6,000 MSL. Then we hit the precip. Green on the XM satellite radar. Then yellow. Then green again. We gave the airplane a good bath.

And we were rewarded with a smooth flight and a beautiful phase between an undercast and an overcast. One of those great feelings you get when you train for something and then have success when you go out and actually experience it.

Then circumstance frowned upon us. We had been watching some convective activity near Whiteman, but it appeared that it would blow over by the time we got there. But the red stayed near the base. And then ATC called us up and told us that the Whiteman tower was evacuating because of a tornado in the vicinity. No good for Whiteman.

So we looked at our alternate, which was near Whiteman, but also close to the thunderboomers. With the help of the G1000, we identified Marshall Memorial Airport (KMHL) in Marshall, Missouri and shot the RVAV 18 to a smooth landing. The field was well above minimums, but it was scattered and ragged with a frond in the area and we stayed IFR through landing, then called up flight service to cancel.

As we taxied to the ramp, our eyes were greeted by the glorious sight of a CAP van parked outside the terminal building. It’s assigned to the Marshall Composite Squadron, which is based there at the field. A couple of phone calls later, we were meeting with the squadron’s commander and getting the keys to the van to drive the last 50 miles to Whiteman.

As we drove, lightning lit up the skies and low and dark clouds rolled overhead. Rail came down in varying amounts. Like all good pilots, we rehashed the flight and the decision to divert. I think we did a pretty good job of being situationally aware, being nimble and flexible to deal with the weather, and using good CRM to optimize cockpit operations.

Channeling Dick Collins for the first time. Flying through the soup and letting nature wash the airplane. This is the payoff for a lot of hard work. Now down to the hotel lobby to meet Rod and go see us some bombers!