Archive for the 'Flying' Category

Rally for the Lane

17 October 2022 at 6:14 pm
by Berck

Photos are up in the gallery. Now that lives in the cloud (and even fronted by Cloudflare), the gallery should be reasonably fast. Even if still somewhat ugly and dated. I’d kind of abandoned it for awhile in favor of Google Photos because it was so slow, but I also hate that Google Photos doesn’t have a decent “here are all of my shared albums” front end. But it does have the ability to search photos with something other than whatever I might have tagged them with. I’ll try to migrate some of the Google Photo albums back to the Gallery. I’ll need to survey the photo-hosting landscape to see if there’s something more modern for self-hosted photos. On the other hand, it kind of fits with the whole aesthetic of the blog, which continues to run the hacked “theme” from the first version of WordPress. It’s like a time capsule at this point.

Another web hosting note: Google disabled support for Feedburner, which is what I’d been using for e-mail notifications. I migrated the subscriber list to a new tool only to discover after it sent out its first email that there are ads. Which is not acceptable. I’ll see if I can switch to locally generated email again without ads. Given the fact that isn’t particularly reputable, I’m unsure if I can manage to make it generate email that won’t just be tossed into your spam bucket.

The weather on the way to Nashville was perfect. Not a cloud in the sky, cool temperatures, and even a tailwind the whole way. But the gods of General Aviation always seek to remind us that traveling cross-country in a Cherokee is not practical, so I should have been ready.

As I approached the El Dorado airport, I let Wichita approach know that I had it in sight, canceled IFR and set up for a midfield downwind entry to runway 2. An aircraft reported 5 miles south of the field, and I briefly worried they’d attempt a straight-in approach and conflict with my more-friendly midfield pattern entry. I needn’t have worried as they reported me insight and said they’d follow me in from a downwind entry of their own.

I came screaming onto downwind at 110 knots, because there was no one in front of me and 110 knots in a Cherokee is just like 250 knots in the jet. Or something. I pulled power to 1800 rpm to avoid cooling the engine too fast, and worked in some flaps as the airspeed dropped below 100. I kept it high and tight to make sure not to hold up the folks behind me. By the time I rolled out on final, I was high and still fast at 75 knots. Not a problem, because if a Cherokee is good at anything, it’s slowing down. I made sure the carb heat was on, even though the outside air temp showed 81F, and pulled the power to idle. Shortly after doing so, I realized that while the propeller was still windmilling, that the engine was *not* idling. I’d never had this happen before, and if you’d asked me, the flight instructor in me would have told you that you can’t tell if an engine quits on final when you’ve already got the power at idle.

This turns out to be false. I could absolutely tell, but if you’re slightly less attuned to the sounds/feels of your particular aircraft you might not be able to. Jonah, from the passenger seat for instance, did not notice the engine quit. I was in a fine position to land even with the prop windmilling, but my immediate instinct was two-fold: (1) keep that engine running in case you need it, and (2) did it *really* quit or am I imagining things? I shoved the throttle forward and after half a second, it restarted and produced power normally. Now, even higher, I went ahead and pulled it back to idle again to land. The engine quit again, and once I was in the flare, I was worried about being able to clear the runway and taxi back to the fuel pumps, so I added power again, and it restarted. Only, I couldn’t land like with power that, so I pulled it back to idle and let it die again.

After touching down, I managed to get clear of Runway 2 onto the crosswind runway, which would at least allow the folks behind me to land. As I turned off the runway, I added power too late to keep it running and it died completely. I was able to get it restarted with the starter, but taxiing in, it just wouldn’t run below about 1,800rpm. No amount of playing with the mixture made it happy.

My first thought was that this was related to the fact that I was running with automobile gasoline instead of avgas. It’s cheaper, lead-free, and my choice of fuel given that my plane came with the STC that makes it legal to run. But a couple of times before on very hot days, I’d had some trouble with fuel vaporization while waiting for takeoff. Even though the engine was cool and not hot, and it wasn’t a particularly hot day, I managed to convince myself that was the issue. So, once I got to the fuel pumps, I went ahead and filled one of the tanks with avgas, even though the only reason I’d decided to stop at El Dorado was the readily-available mogas. I still put the $1/gallon cheaper mogas in one wing, reasoning that it had never caused me trouble in the air before, and the other wing full of blue gas would eliminate the possibility that mogas was causing the problem.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, after refueling, the problem did not go away. I did a high-power runup for a few minutes to make sure I cycled through any mogas in the lines, but the engine still refused to run correctly below about 1,800 rpm. I could force it to run lower with a mixture sitting at near-cutoff and a throttle setting too-high for the desired RPM. I briefly considered that it didn’t seem to cause a problem at high power settings, so I should just continue to Nashville and try to get it repaired there. This is a stupid and potentially fatal line of reasoning, so I parked the plane out of the way on the ramp and pulled the cowl.

I first wanted to make sure there wasn’t a gaping intake manifold leak or something obvious causing the problem. I reasoned that it seemed a lot more like it was running rich than lean, and I started peering at the carburetor wondering where the idle mixture adjustments were and if maybe the float was stuck when a fellow wandered up and asked, “Do you need help?” he asked. “Is there a mechanic on the field?” to which he replied, “I am.”

He’d witnessed my unsuccessful attempts to get it to idle and immediately suggested a stuck carburetor float and suggested that whacking on the float bowl might dislodge it. This sounded very reasonable to me, only I had nothing with which to whack. He trotted off to his hangar and reappeared with an assortment of hammers.

We spent a while attempting percussive carburetor adjustments, starting the plane with no change, and re-attempting hammering. After a few times, we both agreed that wasn’t likely to fix the situation. I asked if he would disassemble the carburetor so that we could see if the float was stuck, or if there were some other similar problem. He politely refused, saying that his approach to carburetors was simply to replace them if they didn’t work. My approach to carburetors is to take them apart, clean them, and put them back together again which tends to solve everything wrong with them. And this carburetor was likely to be much, much simpler than the ones I’m used to disassembling. But I’m not allowed to work on my own FAA-certified airplane, because I’m not an FAA-certified mechanic.

My new mechanic called an aircraft parts shop in Wichita that said they could get a carburetor overnight. Wichita is sort of aviation central, with almost all of the U.S. based aircraft manufacturers based there, but still, this was lucky. I was prepared to have to rent a car and drive all day to Nashville.

Overall, it worked out much better than I would have imagine. I’d stopped in El Dorado a half-dozen times before and almost never saw another human being there, and here was a mechanic on demand who was able to fix my plane overnight! Things could have gone much worse. I asked the airport manager if I could take the courtesy car overnight. He said that normally wouldn’t be a problem at all, but there was a fly-in of sorts that evening and he wasn’t sure if it might be needed to shuttle folks to nearby hotels. He let us borrow it, but asked that we come back in a few hours to see if anyone needed hotel rides.

The hotel available with the fewest credit card points turned out to be a disaster. Both rooms they attempted to give us had smoke alarms chirping every 60 seconds. He tried to offer us a third room, but I refused. Normally, it’s impossible to cancel a room like this, and smoke alarms chirping sounded like I might need to work to make a case. But fortunately, I’d reserved a room with a king bed and they didn’t have any of those available. I don’t mind sleeping in a room with a queen bed at all, but this is the sort of excuse that easily gets me out of the reservation. It worked, and we moved across the street to the Super 8, which was clearly owned by the same people, but was $10 more expensive, seemed quite a bit nicer and had no chirping smoke alarms.

We hung out at the fly-in for a little bit where a taco truck provided dinner. We didn’t stick around for the screening of Airplane on a giant projection screen set up in one of the hangars, and the airport manager let us keep the car overnight.

The plane was ready to go the next afternoon… I recommend refueling in El Dorado.

My first flying lesson

24 February 2018 at 3:29 pm
by Jonah

Berck said I should blog about my first flying lesson, since he did.  Since he’s my instructor, maybe that’s a homework assignment?

He also told me to read his post about his first lesson, and there’s a lot of similarities!

We began the lesson by going through the checklist Berck created for the plane. I learned all where all the buttons I’m supposed to push and switches I’m supposed to flip to test are and where all the hinges, etc. I’m supposed to  check are to make sure they’re not falling apart.

Then we pulled the plane out of the hanger, strapped ourselves in, and went through the checklist for starting the engine.  One of the things you have to do is open the little window on the left side and yell “Clear prop!” as loud as you can.  This is to warn anyone that might happen to be walking by your plane to get away from the propeller before they’re decapitated.  It took us so long to get through the checklist, however, that by the time I actually go around to starting the engine, it was probably ten minutes later.

The next step was to steer the plane down the taxiways to the runway.  As Berck noted in his post, there’s this thing that looks like a steering wheel right in front of you but is completely useless when steering a plane.  In fact, “driving” a plane is pretty much the opposite as driving a car.  You control the throttle with your hand and you steer with your feet by pushing on the rudder pedals, which move the front landing gear wheel.  I felt like a 15 year old with a learner’s permit, trying to move as slowly as possible while over-correcting my steering like crazy.  This plane also only has brake pedals on the left (my) side, so I had to try to brake (evenly with both feet) as fast I could whenever Berck said to.

Following the checklist went out the window as I was concentrating on steering, but I somehow managed to get us to the run up area.  Here, Berck took the controls and wheeled us around so we were facing the runway.  Then I kept my feet mashed to the brake pedals and gunned the throttle while we went through the checklist of the things that you have to check at high RPMs.

Berck took over to take off, and we headed east before he gave me the controls.  I practiced turning to the north and to the south, trying to coordinate my turns using the yoke (attached to the ailerons) and the rudder pedals (attached to the rudder).  Berck kept encouraging me to release my death grip on the yoke and to keep a hand on the throttle.  He showed me how to set trim and how to set the flaps to perform slow flight.  Then he had me head back to the airport and took over again once we got close to land.

I had to taxi back to the hanger, which seemed easier than the first time taxing out.  Once we shut the engine off, we went through the last of the checklist, which involves things like turning the key to off and taking it out.

I don’t share Berck’s passion for flying, but it seemed like a thing I should learn how to do, especially once our plane is built.  But I had fun! And even though I already knew he was a professional instructor, I was very impressed with Berck’s instruction.  He really is very good at it.

Trip to Silicon Valley

11 October 2014 at 2:03 pm
by Jonah

Last weekend we borrowed one of Berck’s coworker’s plane and flew to San Jose to visit Dave and Sydney, who was in San Francisco for the weekend.  Here are pictures.  I typed up descriptions for some of them.

Here is a short video of us shooting Marshall Pass (next to Monarch Pass).  We could only fly up to 14,000 feet for 30 minutes without oxygen, so we’re as high as we’re legally allowed to be.



Oshkosh Photos

7 August 2014 at 6:37 pm
by Jonah

Oshkosh photos are up.

Trip to Oshkosh – Day 10 – return home

2 August 2014 at 10:44 pm
by Jonah

Saturday, August 2

Berck’s phone rang at 2:50 a.m.  He answered it but no one was there.  Then my phone immediately started ringing.  Since my number is one after his, it seemed like something was calling every number. I don’t know if it was the motion sickness patch or because it was so early, but it was hard to get up.  We had to get up early because the taxi was arriving at 6:45.  The taxi ride was less than $9!  It was $10 to park at the EAA event, $1 to ride the city bus, and $1.50 to ride on the EAA bus.  Maybe we should have been taking the taxi each time.


The FBO had our plane ready.  We put up our VFR sign in our windshield as we taxied toward the runway and listened silently to the radio to find out when we were allowed to depart.  I watched the controllers on the ground giving us directions while the guys were fooling with the electronics.  We were waved up the same time as a plane from the other side of the runway, and we took off together.  That was unnerving.  We headed west into a lot of haze.  Chicago Center wouldn’t give us flight following, so we all kept our eyes open for traffic.

We flew high, and for the second time on the trip I was happy I had my Google hoodie sweatshirt to put on because it was pretty chilly.  (The first time was using it as a pillow while I napped in the plane.)

Our original destination with cheap gas turned out to have a pretty short runway, so Uncle Stacy looked for an alternative while Berck flew and complained about the weather.  We decided on Boones, Iowa.  In Boone we had to keep track of a plane in the pattern and a helicopter, which I spotted first.  We filled up with auto gas (which is cheaper) and emptied our bladders.  To take off we had to wait for some parachutists to land on the airfield before we could go.


We headed west from there over Omaha, then headed south to avoid some weather.  We landed in McCook, Nebraska to get some fuel.  Amusingly, the “courtesy hoopoe,” Berck and I had borrowed to go out to breakfast in McCook when we were taking the Air Force trainers to Rockford in 2007, was still there at the FBO.  We got back in the plane, headed back out to the runway, did a run up, and took off.  The plane was climbing very slowly and then the engine started sputtering.  Berck announced it was the right magneto but didn’t turn back to the runway.  The engine got some more life into it, and Berck turned around as he announced on the radio that we were coming back to land.  “I was five seconds from putting it in that field,” he said.  We landed without difficulty and taxied back to the FBO.  No one was there, so we let the engine rest a bit and tried it up again.  It was still running rough.  So we taxied back to the FBO again.  There was not a mechanic on duty, but the guys talked to one on the phone, who suggested cleaning off the spark plugs.  A couple of grease monkeys helped them with that task.  A couple hours later and a lot of carbon removed, the engine was running much better, and we took off, this time with no problem.


We made it all the way to the Springs without incident.  I was able to find traffic faster than anybody else.  The folks at Cutter Aviation put the Cherokee in a hanger, and we loaded up the car we’d left there for ten days.  Then we drove up to Black Forest to pick up the Professor, then drove to Randy’s house to pick up our bag we’d sent with him.  Then we had supper at McGinty’s.  Now we’re about read to collapse into bed.

And I think the Professor has finally forgiven us.