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Mothers' Day 2016

May. 11th, 2016 | 10:03 am

In april of last year I achieved the milestone of being certificated as a commercial pilot.  This means that as of that date I'm able to exercise commercial pilot privileges for the purposes of being remunerated for various (limited) flights.   Contrary to popular belief I can't ferry people from point-A to point-B or do charter or on-demand flights -- those all require "Part 135" certification (http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?tpl=/ecfrbrowse/Title14/14cfr135_main_02.tpl)

However, I'm able to do photography flights, cropdusting (ha!), and most importantly nonstop flights within 25 statute miles of home base under Part 91.147.  To that end the company I work for, Tango Three, has partnered with Groupon to create a program where we'll do "30 minute tour of Tucson" flights.  That has blown up beyond our wildest expectations.  Because the Groupon passengers are not interested in helicopters per se but rather "whatever experience is offered" they don't convert to regular customers... don't refer anyone else to us... so it's all a one-shot deal.  We do those three at a time (one fueling for 3 flights) every weekend day.  That is working out great.

We reserve special weekend days for potential full-fare passengers.  Mothers' Day was one such day.  My friend is a mother and her sons are all working so she got a "happy mothers' day ... off to work" and was left to her own devices.   Accordingly I invited her to come with me to go get coffee and breakfast/lunch in Phoenix.

We took off from Tucson International around 1130.  While we requested a northbound departure along the Campbell-2 departure corridor we were instead sent to A-Mountain (Sentinel Peak http://tinyurl.com/zp5x4on).  From there it was pretty simple to go direct following Interstate-10 northwest past Marana (KAVQ), Pinal Airpark (KMZJ), Eloy (E60) and over to Mesa/Phoenix Gateway airport (KIWA).  South of Eloy we elected to bisect Eloy and Coolidge (P08) and avoid parachuters at Eloy and traffic at Coolidge.  Our arrival into the Gateway area was just a few minutes after we passed Pegasus Air Park (https://www.google.com/maps/@33.2125,-111.6172222,2240m/data=!3m1!1e3).  This is a quaint airpark that has not taken off (no pun intended).  Never any traffic, nobody on the common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF - 123.0) etc.

We called Gateway, advised ATIS information Zulu, cleared for taxiway Yankee (Yes, AM familiar:) and landed into the wind to park at the FBO.  There were 4 AV-8B Harriers and one Erickson Aircrane (N237AC) parked on the tarmac.  Pictures of the latter at http://www.airport-data.com/aircraft/photo/001192644.html.

As it was around noon we had coffee (decaf for me), ate lunch, watched the Harrier pilots start up and go, and then do low-level takeoffs, and then wanted to head home.  By now the helicopter had been filled with fuel, which I confirmed was 100LL AVGAS, not Jet-A.  The former makes the engine work great.  The latter would be disastrous.  As the aircraft has had its fuel mixture settings changed, I've been working on not flooding it.  This time it was easy... 1/4 second prime, then started right up.  Next time I'm going to try zero priming.  We called Gateway Tower for permission to leave... asked for a westbound departure (into the wind) then SW.  They thought we said NW... but we got that cleared up in the air.

Once we were clear of their airspace they said "Frequency change approved" but there being nobody else to talk to... we stayed with them.  However, as we approached Pegasus again I saw an aircraft lifting off from there.  He was just off the runway.  I immediately turned left to remain on the north side of the runway... switched the radio over to 123.0... and identified our callsign, position, altitude, and intent.  I also apologized for not having been on frequency earlier.  The gentleman replied that he had us in sight and that we were no factor.  There was a second aircraft behind him.  Both identified as "Husky" which I later looked up as an Aviat Husky, a bush plane.  The gentlemen were headed to Marana (KAVQ) and we were going to Tucson (KTUS).  I asked for their speed and they said 102-105kts... which is what we were doing... so rather than keeping an eye out for them or having a lot of CTAF work where we're constantly updating each other on location while being thousands of vertical feet apart, we set about going a bit more to the south to head over La Cholla airpark and approach Tucson from the north.  While a bit bumpy, that flight was uneventful, required much less radio work, and was a beautiful way to see the Tortolita mountains.

Moral of the story: when approaching an uncontrolled airport even if you've never ever seen traffic there before - switch to its CTAF and announce your position.  Lesson learned.


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Vegas Trip, Cross-Country Flight Planning, and then some

Mar. 20th, 2016 | 02:12 pm

This weekend I needed a break and had planned to take a trip to Las Vegas.  Originally slated from Thursday through Monday, it had to be delayed because the emergency locator transmitter (ELT) had been out for repair and been returned but was not yet installed in the aircraft.  George, the guy who owns the hangar and the Bell Jetrangers, installed the ELT and it was good to go but logistics had already booked a leak-detector at the house (172,000 gallons of water gone nowhere and $3,200 in charges, yikes!) and I'd cancelled the hotel reservation...

The flight was therefore rescheduled to Friday and I had a straight-line course plotted out from Tucson to Lake Havasu City to go have lunch with Nick (and refuel the aircraft) enroute to North Las Vegas.  This route goes right over Buckeye, another favorite refueling point.  However, Tucson Tower did not clear me direct to that route (300°) but rather wanted me to head to "A-Mountain then on course" which meant I was further north.  Subsequently I would be too close to the Kodiak Military Drop Zone at Pinal Airpark (KMZJ).  Option 1 - head further west and away from everything then head northwest.  Option 2 - head northeast toward the I-10 freeway, and pass along the east side of Marana (KAVQ) and Pinal and continue toward Buckeye.   I liked this option more because there were many more airports along the way, there was a three-lane per side freeway and a two lane frontage road below me ("where to go") and I could save fuel/time by not climbing mountains to the west.

In the Robinson helicopters, unlike most piston-powered fixed-wing aircraft, we do not lean the fuel/air mixture as we go up in altitude.  Consequently there's no fuel savings in climbing.  To the contrary... when we climb we're trading a reduced airspeed for a climb rate, so we lose airspeed and time.  If we have to come back down the other side of the mountain we'll get some of it back but never all of it (second law of thermodynamics).  This means that if I eventually want to be at 783ft above mean sea level (MSL) which is where Lake Havasu City airport (KHII) is, there's a good reason to avoid extra climbing.  Thus the route to the east over I-10 was taken.

After crossing Marana and Pinal I continued heading toward Buckeye, passing to the west side of Picacho Peak and far away from Eloy Airport (E60) and their all-day skydiving fun.   At Buckeye they also have skydiving and their automated weather system (AWOS) has a notice to airmen (NOTAM) indicating that there may be jump operations from 13,500ft on the east side of the airport.  These were not in operation when I came by and I crossed east to west.  Some gravelly-sounding old-timer got on the radio and chided me for being east of the airport when there could be skydiviers there.  Seeing as I'd called out my position on the common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF) ten miles out, seven point five, and five miles out as well as right before crossing and right after crossing... it was evident there was no jump plane, no jump people, and no jump activity.  I responded professionally, thanked the guy for the head's up, and went along my merry way resolved to avoid the east side of Buckeye airport.

The entire route between Tucson to Buckeye to Lake Havasu to North Las Vegas goes through various military operating areas (MOAs) that we're allowed to fly through.  Most are inactive during the weekend.  There are no restricted areas to avoid, and once out west of Buckeye nobody to talk to for 50 miles or so.

About 70 miles out of KHII was up around 6000ft having crossed a mountain that looked cool enough not to go around and I heard some KHII traffic on the radio.  I called for a radio check and got two responses -- I was loud and clear.  It's good to know the radio has that kindo f reach!

When I got within tenminutes I called Desert Skies FBO to let them know I was inbound and wold like parking and fuel.  They said they'd send a Follow-Me vehicle.  I then proceeded inbound, crossed the active east to west at 500ft above ground level (AGL) and then detoured north a bit to dump altitude.  I returned south to follow the FM car, and park it.  Nick drove up, and we went and had lunch.  "College Streeet Brewhouse" was great.  I had the steak sandwich.  Nick had the chicken croissante.  The view was great (spring break in Lake Havasu...) and so was the iced tea.  It's amazing how many great brewhouses I get to when I'm flying, where I can't even taste a sample.

On the return to the airport, I was given the fuel reeipt.  Turns out I used 16.1 gallons per hour (GPH) on the flight.  That's the first full-tank to full-tank flight I've done since Manny reset the fuel/air mixture on the Lycoming IO540 engine.  It was good to get a baseline number.  There's no significant flight-planning difference between 16.1 GPH and 17.6 GPH (what it was previously getting) except we can plan an extra 3 gallons over two hours.  The main tank holds 29.5 gallons and the auxiliary tank 17.0 gallons.  Together, that 46.5 gallons at 16.5GPH (my eventual trip average) is 2.8 hours.  Subtract 0.33 (reserve of 20 minutes) and 2.49 hours or 2 hours 29.3 minutes -- just shy of 2.5 hours (plus reserve).   That's excellent for planning purposes.

I'd also asked them to clean the windshield of all the bugs, and had tipped at the counter.  My comment at that time was "Well if they did it please give this to whomever did it, and if they didn't please shame them into doing it."  The latter panned out.

My bubble clear of bugs, my fuel bladders filled, my personal bladders emptied, and the hot sun beating down in the 25°C (77°F) day I started up the aircraft and made for a northbound departure.  Once aloft I headed for Boulder City airport (KBVU).  There are several ways to enter Las Vegas airspace and the two easiest ones are either Boulder City or Lake Meade.  The latter has a VFR entry at 3500 ft but the last time I tried that they said "unable" and wanted me to climb to 7000ft.  Builder City is closer, quicker, and safer.

Along the way I was not over the Colorado Rier most of the time, and crossed it a couple of times.  Most notably I crossed it just south of Laughlin/Bullhead City airport (KIFP) after talking with their Class Delta tower controller.  He wanted me to pass on his west side... likely because the tower is east of the landing runway, and I did.  I got to fly over all the new hotels and casinos.  Then I continued till I saw a good break in the mountains on the west and took that route so I could head north to KBVU.  That's not the most direct route but it does provide lots of good clear flat ground underneanth ("where would you go?").

From Boulder I called out my position to the Railroad Pass, entered in, and then picked up McCarran airport (KLAS) ATIS, and called hlicopter control on 123.82.   I let them know I was going to follow the Boulder Highway to "Northtown" (local slang for North Las Vegas airport, KVGT) at or below 2900.  They cleared me to enter Class Bravo airspace, assigned me a discrete beacon ("squawk") code,   As I approached the "Spaghetti Bowl" (where I-15 and US-95 meet) they advised of a metro PD helicopter one mile west and told me to climb to 3500 to avoid.  They then turned me over to KVGT.

My call into KVGT was simple - "North Las Vegas Tower, Helicopter 04X with you 3500 looking for the Metro traffic, inbound for Rancho ramp with Foxtrot."  They cleared me to come in on the west side, so I did just that.  On final approach I could swear there were already two birds on the two helipads.  I asked Tower to confirm but they couldn't see from their vantage point.  I said if I couldn't park there I'd do a missed approach and go to the South Ramp.  They approved.  Sure enough there were two helicopters and I called for the Go-Around and did a climb out then a slow 270° left to the South Ramp.

On approach to the South Ramp it was steep but not rushed, and I had a thought that I should sidestep just in case I was getting into a vortext ring state (VRS) condition.  I performed it flawlessly without any extra thought and watched my rate of descent cut in half.  I caught that VRS before it was even a thing.  Perfect set-down and packed my stuff off and went walking to the 702 Helicopters hangar.  They were really nice and apologized for having both helicopters out on the ramp.  They then offered to take the helicopter into the hangar overnight.  I happily accepted!

One Uber ride later I was checking into my hotel.
Five hours later it was clear I needed to get back.
0800 I was at 702 Helicopters pulling out the aircraft.  I called 702-261-3803 and got fuel delivered.  They took my CC# over the phone and emailed me a receipt.

I got KVGT ATIS, KLAS ATIS, called KVGT tower to ask for transition along the Boulder Highway to Boulder with Class Bravo services.  They had me hold while they got me a squawk code.  Then I was cleared to depart south.  I then called KLAS tower (123.82) and they cleared me to enter Class Bravo and proceed along the Boulder Highway.

Then KBVU, headed east just north of it, crossed the Colorado River in a craggly spot with no flat land, and followed US 93 to just about north of Buckeye.  At KBXK arrived from the west, did a mid-field transition, and then a right corkscrew to the fuel ramp.   The facilities are nice, the friedge stocked with cold water (and snacks) and self-serve fuel delivered my last round of fueling for this trip.

I then replenished the camelbag water bottle with the patented spout, the vacum lined thermos bottle with the backup ice water, and headed off to Tucson.

The flight inbound was bereft of any notable events... I flew in, I landed, I put the aircraft in the hangar, and I left.

What a weekend.E

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Commercial Flying

Jan. 26th, 2016 | 05:52 pm

I earned my FAA commercial pilot certificate in early 2014.  Since then I've been wanting to actually do commercial flying, that is flying for money!

The FAA has a lot of rules about this, and the simple rule is that if you're an air-carrier or a charter operation you operate under particular rules but otherwise you're limited to commercial flying.

Specifically I'm limited to 14 CFR 91.147 flying, which is nonstop flights no more than 25 statute miles from the airport.  That means no picking up passengers, no dropping off passengers, and no going further than 25sm.

Getting the word out has been difficult.  We tried advertising with the University of Arizona athletic program but that did not pan out.  We the tried Groupon and lo and behold people have already bought 24 rides in the 5 days since we started.

Yesterday I flew my first Groupon flight.  That makes it my first ever 91.147 commercial flight for pay with people who did not previously know me or us or of us!  I scanned the Groupon code at the beginning, thus eliminating the entry of a Tip portion.  I didn't repeat that mistake today, and today was my first ever commercial flight for pay for which I got tipped!   If you're wondering how much, I'm just going to say it was generous and it was then and is now appreciated!

So some milestones
- solo
- private pilot
- commercial pilot
- 91.147 pilot
- 91.147 pilot with tips (yay!)
- 7.25 years of flying
- 382 flights
- 477 hours
- 796 takeoffs and landings

Upcoming milestone:
- At 500 hours I can work on getting Part 135 certified so that I can do charter ("on-demand") operations, fly people to Sky Harbor airport or pick them up, do the same with Inde Motorsports Ranch, etc.

That's all for now.


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Catching up

Dec. 31st, 2014 | 05:09 pm

It's been a while because not much noteworthy happened but now lots has so this is a placeholder to remind me to fill in the blanks.

1. Flew to Las Vegas for Christmas. Gila Bend now has 100LL but because of winds went via Buckeye (KBXK) which was awesome. Fresh hot coffee. Love it. Gusty over the Colorado River. more later.

2. Flew back. Gusty over the Colorado River and OAT showed -1. I'd not even known it had a "-" sign!!! Back through KBXK due to winds. Longest hover approach ever, probably could have done a traffic pattern instead but there were two fixed-wing aircraft I hadn't got a fix on doing pattern work. Fuel and out of there. more later.

3. Aircraft got a ramp check in prep for its 91.147 LOA work. The MAP gauge is wrong in its color bars (green range is wrong and yellow range is wrong). The FAA said it had failed a ramp check October 2012 when the gauge didn't match the POH. The gauge was then fixed January 2013.

Well guess what, _I_ noticed the POH was for a Raven I and put a Raven II POH in there... and that is why the gauge no longer matches the POH. We'll be fixing those color stripes asap. more later.

Off to ready Kenny's flight notes. Great start for a new year! more later

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Out of gas

Nov. 1st, 2014 | 08:14 pm

I write in this journal to remember important milestones in my journey to have fun in the helicopter. If you've been following for six years and one day then you know that goal is pretty much met.

The R44 is still out on a contract assignment and the weather appeared to be decent for the first half of the day so I resolved to get the R22 (N991KE) and go flying. I texted a potential passenger, got an approval, and showed up at the airport. (To be frank, I texted several people in sequence, but went with the first viable candidate.)

When I got there, CFI Phil was already there, and he helped me move the helicopter out from the hangar to the fuel trailer. The fuel indication was about 4 gallons (eep!). We know it's "off" so I said "let's add 5 gallons and see what it shows." We added 5 gallons (4.5indicated as the gauge is off by 10% high) and it showed 17 gallons. HOLY CRAP! Clearly there's stiction on the foat. Wow.

Anyway I started doing the preflight inspection only to have Manny the Mechanic come up and give us the bad news. Today is November 1st, and the aircraft transponder certification expired... yesterday.

You know I like to point out regulations, so here we go. The Mode C transponder reports not only the 4-digit octal code but also encodes the altitude. As per FARS 91.411 this has to be re-certificated every 24 months.


While we're not finger-pointing, who is responsible for this? The aircraft owner is responsible for DOING it. The Pilot In Command ("PIC" - me) is responsible for verifying it.

What did I learn? Next time - check the logs. Normally I check the Hobbs time, the SB for the main rotor blades, and compare to next-due-time. Now I will add checking transponder timeout to this...

We wheeled the aircraft back into the hangar -- now 17 gallons of fuel loaded -- and CFI Phil will fly it to get it recertificated on Monday.


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Red Rum! Red Rum!

Oct. 19th, 2014 | 08:31 pm

Halloween is fast approaching and with the theme of The Shining showing the writing of "Red Rum" on a mirror really reflecting the letters in reverse really spelling "murder" (with a free space for those who like shiny free things) that's been a popular meme used in everything from The Simpson's to shows that aren't funny.

Today I did not have anything to do with Red Rum, murder, Rum of any color, but I did have a good time at Red Rock! Red Rock Canyon is a national conservation area with unique and gorgeous red rocks, statuesque mountains of tall strong rock, and today at least one helicopter overflying.

I've been flying since October 30th, 2008. This is almost the six-year milepost, and through these years I've come to North Las Vegas Airport many times. I last did my commercial checkride here in April 2014. Throughout my many flights, I've seen many places like Hoover Dam, the Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, Lake Meade, Lake Havasu, etc. One of the places recommended to me is the Red Rock area... but I've never scheduled the flight to have someone show me the points of interest.

This time was different. I communicated with Brian from 702 Helicopters and let him know I would be in town and wanted to fly. He always has multiple helicopters available and we agreed that I could take N441JL, a Robinson R44 Raven I. Since I wanted someone to point out sights (and sites) he assigned Chris [Witter?] to fly with me at 0830.

I went to sleep at 2030, trying to get a full night's sleep. It was fitful (you try going to bed at 2030!) but I made it to 0700. Nice hot shower, coffee from the coffeeshop, and I was enroute to the airport early. The sun was in my eyes which reminded me that while I brought the FAA-required glasses (20/25 in my left eye means no FAA Second-Class medical certificate without it) I had no cap with a visor to shield my eyes.

I stoped at the 99 cent olnly store up the road and bought a red and white baseball cap. It went swimmingly with my red T-shirt. I then pulled up to the shop by which time (0829) Chris had already pulled N441JL to the ramp.

I parked, went in, came back to get my phone, went in, and we talked about the flight goals: have fun. See the sights. Identify the sites and reporting points. Get me comfortable with operating in the practice area(s). See Red Rock. Possibly take pictures. IMG_20141019_093726

The helicopter had 7 gallons of fuel from the previous night. Chris pulled the fuel trailer over and pumped in a full main fuel tank. That gave us 2 hrs of flight time. I went through the preflight check sequence and found nothing abnormal Chris didn't already know about. Sampled fuel, checked main-rotor hub/blades and we were ready to go. The startup checklist is home-brew and there are differences between it and the Robinson Pilot's Operating Handbook. I pointed them out to Chris from memory.

On this aircraft today there was an issue with the caburator temperature inlet gage showing high. Chris says it settles down in flight. The temperature/dew-point spread was 21C and therefore this was not a factor so I paid it no attention. On the carb-heat check I listened for engine roughness and reduced RPMs and was satisfied carb-heat assist works. Trivia question: was the aircraft worthy despite not having a working carb inlet temperature indicator? (My answer: Yes. Not on the required minimum equipment list and the POH controls what is required. However in a situation where carb heat IS indicated or close it would be stupid to fly without a working gage UNLESS pulling full carb heat at all times. The gage is of no value below 18" MAP, in which case you pull full carb heat. So if you commit to always full carb heat, the gage is irrelevant. The 22C spread today plus no visible moisture made this point moot.) I'm very pro-safety and not anti-authority. If carb heat was indicated we'd have flown with full carb heat and on pickup hover power check would have made a go/no-go decision.

I did spend some time on this because it wasn't a "simple decision". It was one involving all these factors and it was taken with full cognizance of what it means. I also discussed with Chris the Honolulu R22 crash where in my opinion the pilot failed to properly handle carb heat; her mechanic "friend" came up with a fanciful story; the FAA declined to send anyone out to verify the story; and in the end some schmo had his car plowed into by this pilot. These things do not do well to engender a respect for our industry. I am not going to be that guy (or girl).

Chris agreed. We were on the same page. We got Northtown ATIS information Alpha, called Tower, and went off on our merry way.

I'll complete this writeup (which requires finding lots of map links) shortly. So I don't forget:

- west departure, maintain 2900 or less prior to crossing the highway (US95?)
- Calico Bowl?
- Retention Basin
- southern practice area vs northern practice area
- Lone Mountain
- Red Rock
- Red Rock Visitor Center
- (something?) springs
- Blue Diamond Mine
- cool mountain fixtures, passes, pinnacles
- class Bravo shelves, minimums, physical points of demarcation to watch for

Flew over The JW Marriott where there was an Octoberfest bier garten set up on the lawn

Also notes:
- doors on
- perfect temperature (73F starting 83F ending but good times)
- perfect approach to landing pad
- rocking skids
- one of the coms failed weirdly

More when I get to it.


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Night currency and football game TFRs

Oct. 11th, 2014 | 08:39 pm



It had been a while since I'd done any night takeoffs and landings.  While there are multiple definitions of "night" for various purposes, the one for carrying passengers is 1hr after sunset to 1hr before sunrise.  A pilot in command (PIC) needs three takeoffs and three landings within the past 90 days in order to be able to lawfully carry passengers. See FARS 61.57(b).

Last Monday evening, the 6th of October 2014 (20141006) I set out to do some night flying under the fulll moon.  Because cross-country time at night is of value to a possible HEMS carreer it never hurts to turn night flying into night cross-country flying.  I called up CFI Phil and cajoled him into flying with me.  We got together at 1900MST (0200z) and after completing the preflight check with some "CFI Q&A" directed toward him (i.e. "If the button to test the Mister Chip light isn't working but by shorting the wire you get the lamp to light, is the aircraft airworthy and would you fly it?")  we wheeled it out.  They finally got BIG R22 ground-handling wheels which make moving the helicopter a breeze.

We fueled it up and took off following the Campbell-2 departure straight north over Campbell and toward Pusch Ridge.  We then followed AZ77 until it got within 3 miles of San Manuel airport, and then went direct from there.  The doors were off.  The moon was above.  I hadn't realized until this flight how much I'd gotten used to the extra instrumentation in the R44.  This night we had no horizontal situation indicator (HSI also commonly called "Artificial Horizon" by non-pilots), no RADAR-altimeter, no turn-coordinator.  No, this was a stick your eyeballs outside and see the terrain and watch the horizon and the trim-strings.

The wind at San Manuel was a right cross at 8 knots, and the first approach was an overshoot so I called a go-around.  The second was solid with a bit of loss of tail-rotor effectiveness (LTE) due to the wind.  The third time Phil suggested coming directly into the wind instead of over the runway, so I came down on RWY 11 from the north and it was a very very wide and very very short runway, but the approach was perfect.  We then headed out to Tucson and did another two traffic patterns there.  Mission accomplished.  I was now able to take passengers flying at night for 90 days.


There was supposed to be a football game going on between the University of Arizona Wildcats and the University of Southern California Trojans.  This NCAA Division I football match was also during "Parents' weekend" also known as "Homecoming."  I'm not sure where the latter terms comes from, and as much as I think American football is a lowly bastard stepchild to Aussie football, I'm not going to research it at this time.

I had planned to take a friend and go up in the air and see if we could overfly any part of the game.  I checked the weather and TFRs and NOTAMs the previous night as well as that morning and again that evening at 1700. As we completed our passenger briefing we heard the big thunka-thunka sounds of a large rotor-system approaching.  As the pilot flared it became obvious it was George bringing in N123HP, the Bell LongRanger. He set down and we waited for him to spool the turbine down and stop the rotor and then went over to say hi. He let us know that there was a TFR and that Tucson Approach had vectored him over to A-Mountain on his return from Pusch Ridge. Forewarned is forearmed so with that we entered the helicopter, put on our seat belts, and got ready to go.

When we asked Tucson Clearance Delivery for a Campbell-2 departure they reminded us of the active TFR, NOTAM 9/5151. It restricts the air around "major" sporting events with 36,000+ spectator seating to 3nm radius 3000AGL from 1hr before the event to 1hr after.

I wasn't inclined to fly at 5000MSL just to overfly the stadium so we headed north with the intention of skirting the TFR. The controllers at Tucson Tower were helpful as were the controllers at Tucson Departure. They asked if we wanted vectors and I said yes. Good thing too because I was calculating 3 miles based on streets, and the TFR is in terms of nautical -- not statute -- miles. That's almost a half mile extra. Better safe than sorry and busting airspaces or TFRs.

Air-1 was in the air patrolling the perimeter of the TFR and we saw them as we headed north. We visited a bunch of sites, saw some really cool sights, and ended up back at the ranch after 48 minutes of flight.

Great flying. Great radio work. Got to see my passenger comfortable with not-too-aggressive turns... overflew Phil's house (he missed it), didn't overfly the stadium (seriously, 5000ft, what can you see from there?) and had a great experience.


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Listen to the Wind Blow... Watch the sun Rise...

Sep. 3rd, 2014 | 09:27 pm

Someone recently observed a hospital emergency medical services (HEMS) helicopter taking off to the south... then a little while later turning around and going north. When I explained that the pilot took off into the wind, the person asked why. Here then is my protracted explanation of lots of things that ARE related to that answer:

In common navigation discussions, the direction of travel can be described as a cardinal direction name like "east". It can also be described as some number of degrees along the 360° that make up the whole circle of the compass.

So for example, starting from North (0° or 360° if you've made it all the way around), East is 090, South is 180 (Think about "making a 180"... short for a 180° degree turn, or going the other way... which the other way from north is south). West is 270. North is another 90° at 360°. *

We were going to talk about wind, but you need to know the above so I can tell you this:

At most airports in the world, the runway's magnetic direction on the 360° is (in 10s) the runway designation, or number. If a runway heads west<->east its numbers are 9/27. The 9 direction heads East (090) and the 27 direction heads west (270).*

So why have two numbers for the same runway? Runways are researched and pointed in some direction that is the result of extensive analysis of prevailing winds (long-term trends). This means, for example, that while Tucson International Airport (KTUS, commonly TIA) has Runway 11 (left and right) flown to the Southeast (110° is just a bit more south than east which is 90°)... if it's flown the other
way -- to the northwest -- it's Runway 29 (right and left).

Weren't we going to talk about wind?

Yes. Those are related. The runways are pointed so that during times that the wind shifts (if it does, which here inTucson it does around mid-day) they will stop using the one runway direction, and start using the other. That's why if you fly into Tucson on a day with wind, the morning flights will land and take off on Runway 11 and the afternoon flights on Runway 29.

But WHY is the wind so important?

Aircraft fly by an air pressure differential between the fast moving air on the top side of the wing (low pressure) and slower moving air on the bottom side of the wing. Now that I've said wing and you know what I'm talking about, I'm going to use a more generic term -- aerofoil, and on a helicopter instead of fast air moving over or under the aerofoil, we move the aerofoil very quickly through the air. That's why a helicopter has lift from the ground at zero airspeed and a plane has to taxi to get up to speed.

This leads us to the question of "what speed?" I said "zero airspeed" but that's not necessarily the same as zero groundspeed.

If you ignore the exception to the rule (hint: has to do with the speed of light), if you're in a car going 50MPH and you throw a baseball at 10MPH forward, that baseball is going 60MPH.

If you're going in a car calmly down the residential neighborhood at 25MPH and someone throws a slow 25MPH pitch backward -- do you know what will happen? That ball will exit the car, and then fall to the ground where the car was when he threw it.

As an exercise in messed-up thoughts you might consider these questions:
1. An outside observer sees someone wind up and throw the ball, but from his perspective what happens then?
    Answer: The ball slowly falls to the ground. Normally.  Because it has 0 airspeed, 0 ground speed, so it's just effectively a "dropped ball" even though it was thrown hard.

2. If he throws that ball from your patio, it will likely fly a good 5-10 seconds. If he throws that ball from the moving car, it will land at the same spot ...but what if that outside observer just looked over like ½ a second after he threw it and the car has now meandered away (62 feet) so all he sees is a ball in mid-air -- what will he see.
Answer: ball falling to the ground as if it were dropped from something..

Now if you can get your head around this, the concept then is simple. You need airspeed to fly. But if you're going INTO the wind, you can get that airspeed with a lot less groundspeed. If you're going WITH the wind, you need a HELL OF A LOT MORE groundspeed to get the same airspeed.

Example: Helicopters shove air down to stay up. The air under the rotor is called "dirty" because it is full of swirling vortexes. A helicopter (ALL of them) are more efficient if they can get a little bit of airspeed... doesn't matter in what direction... because then all those swirling vortexes are left behind them and they are operating in clean air.

The airspeed that happens at varies with main-rotor design but for what I fly it's around 13-15 knots. (Oh yeah, another term.**) At that speed (or higher) I have clean air and the rotor-system does such a better job that performance shoots up through the roof as if it had twin-turbochargers. This is called Effective Translational Lift (ETL).

So if I take off into a 14 knot headwind (a wind coming at my head, so I'm going into it)... all I need is to barely get moving and I'm at ETL. That's awesome.  If I was taking off in a 14 knot tailwind (a wind coming at my tail) I would need to get to 28-30 knots before reaching ETL...

It takes me 1 second to get the ETL in a 14 knot headwind. If I have an engine or other problem after that I have plenty of power, lots of airspeed, and things are rosy.

It takes me 20-30 seconds to get the ETL in a 14 knot tailwind, because I have to get from "-14 knots" to "+14 knots" and that's accelerating through 28 knots.  If something bad happens in THAT timeframe, sooner or later I'll have to ask myself why the heck I didn't take off into the wind

So wherever we can we take off into the wind. We land into the wind. It makes things SLOW with respect to the ground. The approach airspeed is the same, but the groundspeed is negligible. Remember: "Nothing in helicopters happens quickly."

If I haven't lost your attention yet, here are other things to consider.
1. If the wind speed is greater than the airspeed, you will be going backward with respect to where you are. So if I had some wild hair about always approaching the final spot at 5 knots... and I'm in a 10 knot headwind, I'm going backward 5 knots (6MPH) with respect to my landing spot.

2. If the wind is coming from the side helicopters still love it, but fixed-wing guys hate it. That's called a crosswind. They train extra hard for those.

Ok. That should pretty much now explain what you saw:

The medevac pilot saw the wind direction. It was coming from the south. THIS WOULD HELP HIM 30 SECONDS LATER (tailwind for the long flight makes it quicker)!!! He took off toward the south and attained his target airspeed quicker, then turned to go north and had the advantage of the wind at his tail pushing him to his final destination... at which he probably did a 180 and landed into the wind.

Helicopters CAN take off and land vertically. We try to only do that when absolutely necessary.

Nothing in helicopters happens quickly.  Except in the movies.  And it's all as realistic as Fast & Furious 1-6.


* Throughout this paragraph I capitalized the cardinal directions' names to make it easier to read. In real life and proper grammatical construction, north, south, east, and west are written thus.

** Quick glossary:
Magnetic direction
Prevailing winds
Rotor vortexes
Airspeed - the speed of the aircraft with respect to still air
Ground speed - the speed of the aircraft with respect to Planet Earth
Effective Translational Lift (ETL)
Knot / nautical mile / nautical mile per second (roughly 1 knot = 1.15 statute miles)
Statute mile - what we normally call "mile"
Crosswind - a wind not from the tail or the head

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Return To Target

Aug. 7th, 2014 | 10:48 am

Amongst the many maneuvers we get to practice there are the easier ones like normal approaches, straight-and-level flight, and normal takeoffs. Then there are those used for emergency procedures (EPs) like autorotation, running landing, and recognition of settling-with-power.

There are advanced maneuvers that we're not traditionally taught as part of the general skillset because they are specialized for particular uses. One of those is a the "Return To Target" or "Ag turn". It involves reversing course 180° in a very short space. The way it's done is to raise the nose up, then rotate the aircraft body about the main rotor so instead of nose high into the sky, it's tail high and nose toward the ground, then come out of the dive back to where you started over the ground.

The military uses this "Return To Target" to be able to do strafing runs. After one attack, they can instantly swap the front and tail of the aircraft and do another run in the opposite direction. Cropdusters use this when spraying agricultural pesticides and the "Ag turn" is exactly the same maneuver.

Here's a video of a helicopter performing this maneuver. Check out 1:42 and an even better one at 2:15 into it. The idea is you arrest all forward motion, immediately are proceeding in the opposite direction, and wasted no time on extra movement or altitude.

In Afghanistan an AH-64 Apache misjudged things and after the RTT maneuver slammed into the ground. All crewmembers and ground personnel were safe.

A conversation on a facebook helicopter pilot forum inspired reviewing this topic, as I was previously unfamiliar with it. Upon that review it appeared to me that it would be educational and inspiring to learn how to perform the maneuver. I messaged CFI Kent and he agreed. We agreed to meet up at the flight school and plan it.

I got to the school at 0800 and we started talking. We agreed that we'd ease into it, and we agreed about the operational requirements. We would start into it as we do the quick-stops -- 50 knots at about 50 ft. We would then pitch the nose up, and then add a bit of collective to get the torque to turn the body, as well as tapping the right pedal to start the turn. This last part was advise given by other R44 pilots who had done Ag Turns.

We headed out over to The HOP. Our clearance had been "From Southwest, Ditch transition approved, remain north of Taxiway Alpha". The "Ditch" is this wash which we followed all the way over to the FedEx Ramp and the parked Boeing 747. When we got there we could have hung out (lazy 360s) but Tower cleared us to cross 11L and 11R and proceed to the HOP... which we did.

Kent took the first one... headed SE along the HOP and then put the nose up, lost airspeed, applied a bit of pedal... followed through with the cyclic, and it was done. I was apprehensive at first but it quickly became a non-event. On the return NWward he did another one, this one even better.

My turn. I learned from watching Kent and my first one was good. My second one was better. He did some. I realized we want to lead the aircraft direction with the cyclic before decay at the top of the turn. When Kent did that the whole maneuver came together beautifully. Then I did some. Then we were really happy with ourselves and called it a day.

We were slow and methodical. We provided no risk to ourselves, aircraft, or others. We performed a maneuver that can be done much quicker, but we were focusing on precision and learning, not expertise on day 1. I look forward to doing more of these!


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Lotus Notes #1

Aug. 1st, 2014 | 02:01 pm

THIS IS LOTUS NOTES #1. It is in time-forward order. There will be another post, entitled LOTUS NOTES #2, which is in time-backward order (so newest entry first). It will be linked to here when I write it.

2014-07-25 Friday. I reach an agreement with Dream Car Autohaus in New Jersey to get a 2001 Lotus Esprit V8 delivered to me in Tucson. The price is right, which means there is going to need to be a LOT of TLC.

2014-07-28 Monday. The car shows up. I had expected it to show up to the office so was waiting there. This was right after 2x dental implant surgery so I was in a bit of discomfort but unable to go home and get meds until after the car was delivered. When the driver called and said he was at the house instead of the office, I jumped at the chance to go home.

First impression: the car is beautiful but dirty. The marker reflector on the right side was broken and a new one is being sent by the dealer. The right side mirror is broken. The driver says it was marked as broken on the manifest. Sort of -- it was marked "MBR" which means "MISSING and BROKEN". The dealer says it wasn't that way. this remains to be sorted out.

They left the glass sunroof on it. I need to take that off and put the solid roof on or get the A/C fixed (recharged). Anyway the metal gearshift knob was burning as I figured out how to get it into reverse. (Collar around gearshift stick... raise up... then shift left and down into reverse.) Got it into the driveway and called it a day.

2014-07-29 Tuesday. Asked my friend Cathy who is an insurance rep to get me car insurance. This turned out to be not so simple because most companies do not insure Lotus cars. However, she found one that did -- SafeCo -- and I will have insurance starting Monday August 4th. (I have temporary insurance by virtue that I bought a new car and already have insurance... but my current carrier won't write a policy for a Lotus.)

2014-07-30 Wednesday. It shipped with no fuel in it. Took a 2 gallon fuel container to the gas station and filled it up. Then brought it back. The Lotus fuel door was confusing because... the owner's manual pages are all fused together. By cobbling info on the net I found a button that made a loud 'click' where I thought the fuel door release is. The fuel door did not open. I then stuck a screwdriver in it and pushed the button -- door opened and screw driver fell. It's way way dirty. Did I mention the car is dirty? Put the 2 gallons in the Lotus. Now I can go to the gas station and get a real fuel-up.

2014-08-01 Friday. Got the 3-day Arizona Registration from the State of Arizona. Got the insurance proof of financial responsibility from Cathy. Put the one in the car pocket (there's no glove box) and the other in the rear window. Then I went to get some gas.

Second impressions. The rear-view mirror bounces like a clown. It will need to be tightened or replaced. The A/C does not blow cold air (or maybe I don't know how to work it). The interior turn-signal indicators do not light. The entire dash does not "christmas-tree" on turnon. This may be a British thing. There may be another way to test the dash lights -- can't read about them in the fused manual.

At the gas station I filled up half a tank, then when I went to start it I could tell the battery was about to give up the ghost. There was already a car lined up behind me... so this would not have been a good time to get stranded. Fortunately it roared to life. I drove it home. Then I put it in the garage. Then I turned it off. Then I tried to start it again -- no joy. So I will join the American Automobile Assocation, and they will get me a battery, and Saturday or Monday I can go get emissions checked and then get my registration taken care of. Then in two weeks Falconworks (they do Lotus work in Tucson) say they have covered space available for overnight hosting of the car... and they can do a post-purchase evaluation prelude to fixing what needs fixing.

Good news: it accelerates great. Engine runs great. Transmission was great. Just needs some TLC. Oh and a wash. Because. It's dirty.

--- later that evening --
I put the car on the trickle charger so that I could see how bad the battery was. The charger started at the full 10A and slowly worked its way down to 0. During this time I cleaned up enough of the garage so that both cars would fit. 80% humidity and 90F... whew.

The good news is once the charger said the battery was full I started the car up... and then did an alternator test. The charger says the alternator is good. That means I can take it tomorrow to get the legal stuff taken care of and not have to deal with tow trucks or AAA or batteries :)

2014-08-02 Saturday. The battery is all charged up so I drive it over to get emissions checked. It's a very humid day and I have the windows down. I don't know if there's another start left in the battery so I'm very careful not to stall it. It's been years since I've driven a manual transmission car on a regular basis and this one has a REALLY heavy clutch (on purpose). On hills I can't use the e-brake since it's in entirely the wrong place (left next to front of driver's door) so I'm being careful with the brake and clutch/gas dance. I've done this before. Not with this clutch tho!

I get to emissions and there's no wait. There's a "fast lane" for cars with an OBD-II (1997 and newer). I get in it. The guy has not seen a lotus and asks me what year it is. I yell out "2001" over the throaty roar of the V8. He says "1991?" and looks ready to wave me over to the non-OBD-II lane. "No, 2001" says I and he motions me in.

He then asks me to put it in neutral, put on the e-brake, and exit the vehicle. I let him know I'm not sure the battery will support another start... but he says that's part of the test. I comply.

He scans the barcode and then looks under the dash. Can't find the plug. The manual says "next to the battery" (which is in the rear trunk). The cable won't reach. He asks me to move the car forward... but alas there is no start. They push my stranded Lotus out so they can help the next guy and hand me a "Failed" report. Great. I ask if they can help me jump it "We don't have jumper cables." I tell them "But I do!" and they say "We can't help you." I ask a lady in a truck who just went through. She tells her husband who comes out in a second truck right after her. He pulls around to help. The car fires right away, I shake his hand, take my cables and go home. Defeated.

2014-08-03 Sunday. The battery has stickers on it that clearly identify it as a Bosch Type-34. Pep Boys sells them and has a special going. They also have a location 1/2 mile from my office. I call. They have one battery left but "Nick" will put it aside for me. I drive down there. Again making certain not to stall because there is no restart. Of course I could pop-clutch start it down a hill and most of the way is downhill, but alas all the stoplights and stopsigns are either on slight inclines or level ground.

There's also a not well-known fact that if your battery is 100% dead you CANNOT start the engine in this manner. The lightweight alternator requires its exciter-circuit to be energized or it will not supply any power. 0% battery + 0% alternator = no spark no matter how much you get the engine rotating due to wheels, transmission, and popped clutch. Keep that in mind. (Hypothetical thought for the needlessly complex thinker: if you're stranded at the top of a hill with a 100% dead battery but you have a 9V battery in your flashlight or whatever... wire that in parallel to your car's dead battery and then pop-start it down the hill... the 9V battery will be sufficient to activate the exciter circuit.)

I had spoken with Nick and let him know likely there would be no more starts when I got to Pep Boys... should I leave it running... or what? He said they have starting equipment so just park it and come on in. I drove down, parked it, went in, handed keys over, and took him outside to show him where the battery is (rear trunk), how to get to it (trunk release behind driver's seat), and how NOT to close the trunk lid (do NOT force it down. Pull it all the way up to release the holder interlock then just close it down normally).

I then walked 11 minutes to my office. Google maps shows it as 0.6 miles and 14 minutes. That's 3.3MPH in 90°F heat and 40% humidity. At the office I surfed the web and 45 minutes later got the call from Nick: the battery tested BAD. They had replaced it. They were now attaching it, as the original one had been put on top of the attachment hardware (and was therefore loose) instead of battoned down. I started my walk back.

When I got back to Pep Boys I paid my bill ($141), got my 3yr warranty on the new battery, and took the car back home. Driving was a real pleasure. I'm going to enjoy it.

Next up -- emissions attempt #2, registration, and then to get some diagnostic detail on what to do next.

2014-08-04 Monday. Bright and early I went to the testing facility. The computerized display said the cars currently being processed had waited 0 minutes. Perhaps the tens digit was burned out, as those cars and the four between me and them (and the same in the other lanes) waited about 5 minutes per car...

So twenty minutes later I pulled in, told the guy it's in the back and I need to pull in further so his cord will reach. This worked. Unfortunately with the new battery, the OBD II was giving a "NOT READY" status on various tests, specifically the EGR, O2 SENSOR, and EVAP. The guy at the facility gave me my second rejection notice and told me "drive cycle". I have been through this before with my CART Safety Truck. *sigh*

Looking up what it takes to reset these on the OBD II in the Lotus Esprit V8 I found some resources. This forum says:
- Evap - Idle the vehicle from start to warmup.
- O2 - Run at a steady pace 35-55MPH in 5th gear for 30seconds or so
- EGR - Engine speed above 1500 RPM and maintain slight acceleration for 10 seconds

Unfortunately the A/C still doesn't work, and it is still very very hot (although not humid finally), so I will have to wait until early tomorrow morning to do this... and go try, try, again.

2014-08-14 Wednesday. It got hot and dry (vs hot and muggy) and I didn't want to mess with it. Also the tires didn't look great (more on this shortly). So I had instead just waited to have the car taken to the shop for evaluation.

I'd already pulled one 3-day permit, which left only two more in any consecutive 12 months. So rather than pull a second one to drive it down to the shop I had them call a tow truck over to pick up the car. Don from TLC Towing was easy to work with and his driver Greg showed up to get the car.

2014-08-15 Thursday. The shop had reviewed the car, sent me some preliminary details, and it doesn't look super awesome nor super bad. There's rust on things, and it was an east-coast car. The hoses are likely factory original unchanged. The brake discs and rotors need some r/r. The tires are dead. They wanted a 3-day pass to do a road-test. Sigh. I pulled pass #2 of 3 and emailed it to them. So far I've spent $2 on registration $750 on insurance, and we're just getting started.

2014-08-15 Friday. I went by the Falconworks shop to meet them. Nice people. We talked about what to do with the car. I paid for the post-purchase evaluation ($230) and agreed to get started on the work discussed. I left a car-cover, and promised to tell them what tires to get. Whoops. Haven't done that.

2014-08-16 According to Tirerack.com the fronts are 235/40-17 and the rears are 285-35/18. I think that's wrong but I should have looked at the tires when I had the car!!! Anyway I just emailed the mechanic and asked him.

The plan right now is to have Falconworks fix all but the bodywork (rust, mirrors, etc.). That includes brakes, tires, A/C, dash lights, and then we'll see where it stands, how much more money it needs, how fun it is to drive, etc.


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