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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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Refresher on studying

Jul. 29th, 2014 | 09:25 am

Now that I have my commercial pilot license it would seem to be a good time to catch up on all those things I don't have 100% down yet. One of those has always been the subtle nuances of airspaces. I know my Class Alpha, although I've never piloted an aircraft that high nor under instrument flight rules. I know my Class Bravo, and have enjoyed flying in Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Seattle (they hate helicopters in the Bravo airspace). 200 knots is not anything I'm worried about exceeding in a helicopter. 30nm Mode-C veil, must be explicitly cleared to enter... I also know my Class Charlies since most of my flying is in Tucson's Charlie airspace, but of course I've experienced it all over the country. Mode C (or S), radio contact, make radio contact, etc. Deltas are no biggie either since usually I'm already talking to TRACON (Terminal Radar Approach Control). 4nm, usually to 4000ft, and usually round.

That just leaves Echo and Golf, and those two are the ones found all over the United States, so familiarity with them and their restrictions are important. Echo is fairly simple -- 3 sm visibility, 500ft below, 1000ft above, and 2000ft away from clouds. No speed limit above 10,000ft MSL, 250kt below or within 4nm of Charlie or Delta airspace.

Golf... there's a potpourri of rules there. That's my arch-nemesis. It doesn't help that the FAA changed the helicopter portion of it but then delayed its implementation by a year (April 2015 now).

I found a website that helps memorize these things: http://memorize.com/classes-of-united-states-airspace/kmcmillan

Once I have class Golf's complex rules (day, night, <1200msl, <10000msl, >10000msl) the next thing is to go over VFR Sectional Charts. I know a good 90% of the symbols... and it's time to get to 100%.


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Jul. 23rd, 2014 | 04:55 pm

The airspace above the United States (and most countries) is separated into classes of airspace each with its own restrictions for aircraft separation, visual distance from clouds, and other restrictions such as altitude or airspeed. In the United States, the busiest airspace is Class-B ("Bravo airspace"). This airspace is special in a variety of ways:
1. Explicit permission is required to enter. FARS 91.131 (a)(1).
2. Student pilots need special endorsements. As per FARS 91.131 (b)(iv) a student pilots complies with FARS 61.94 (b) an instructor logbook endorsement for the specific airspace.
3. It is the busiest airspace class in the United States such that airports listed here are subject to special rules including requirements for transponder, ADSB (2020 and beyond), and no student flights at some specific airports.

In planning a flight, Class B airspace is no more or less "difficult" than other airspaces. It offers the same advantages we love in Class C -- namely separation from other VFR aircraft. It offers the relaxation of dealing with one set of controllers instead of talking to each individual airport, and the Bravo covers any incidental Deltas adjacent to it.

However, the very nature of it being a busy airspace causes us to plan around it if given the chance, if only to reduce that saturation. Such is not always an option.

I had to meet up with a vendor representative at an address right near this location in Phoenix. If you look closely, you'll see that just a hair northeast of that spot is the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. A further examination will show that on the south-west edge is Cutter Aviation an FBO 1.1 miles away, 3 minutes by car, and as close as you can get to a perfect nearby landing spot.

I called ahead and Cutter verified that I could come in without a reservation; I could borrow a Crew Car for no charge provided I took on 15+ gallons of fuel; I could park on the ramp with no fee (provided I was flying Part-91 and not Part-121 or Part-135).

Meticulous planning makes for a safe flight, and despite it being my first time landing in a Bravo airspace (and of course first time landing at Sky Harbor) that just meant plan it right. First I inquired of my friends who had flown in the Phoenix area what they thought would be a good place to land. Kent (I can always count on him) said Cutter Aviation... and since I'd already had them picked out in my mind that was perfect.

I studied the Phoenix Sectional Chart, the Phoenix Terminal Area Chart ("TAC") and information on airnav.com about Sky Harbor. I also studied the NOAA weather and local reports for Tucson, Eloy, Chandler, and Phoenix. It all looked positive. Finally I used Skyvector to plot the actual flight path and verify distances. It would be a near one-hour flight with no surprises.

I had a kneeboard with all the required information as well as a small picture of how to find Cutter Aviation. I had a large 3-ring binder with all the information not in a small format, which I could refer to on the ground or while flying if time permitted.

Arriving at the airport early, I was not the first one there. CFI Phil was already there biting his fingernails as Tony, his student, was doing an unsupervised solo. I did my preflight in the hangar, attached the newly re-wheeled towbar (I had replaced an ailing busted caster over the weekend), and the newly-charged tow-vehicle (thanks, Phil!) and started to wheel the aircraft out of the hangar.

The sound of an approaching N991KE meant Tony was coming back. The wind was higher than 10 knots and gusting... but he brought it in perfectly. As Phil and I watched the windsock see-sawing in various compass directions Tony kept the aircraft from yawing, pointed in the right direction, and landed smoothly. (Good job!) I then moved the aircraft to the fuel depot and fueled it up.

Once fueled I moved it out of the way and did the rotor blade check. I then signed the logbook, put it under my seat, got the water bottle out of the cooler (now playing seat-belted rear left passenger) and got ready to go.

The plan was to leave by 0825, so I could be at Cutter by 0925, get the crew car and be onsite by 0955 for my 1000 meeting. When I made my radio call I asked for flight following so they'd stick with me as long as possible.

As it turns out I left 0810, and a strong tailwind propelled me in excess of 130 knots ground speed to get to Phoenix at 0900.
You can see here it was showing my speed as 138 knots (respective to the ground) during the part where I was on RADAR!

I landed here where the middle of the two little jets are on the bottom of the google maps image. You'll notice the runway (7R) is right to the north!

Here's me parked there, with a Southwest jet coming in for landing right behind me.
IMG_20140723_101434653 Feel free to click in to get high-res.

I was met by a many-passenger club car, and driven to the Cutter terminal where I was offered a bottle of cold water (had my own from the cooler) and the crew car. I took the crew car, did the job, and was back by 1030.

I then paid for the fuel, got a ride back to the aircraft, did another preflight check, and with all metal and leather hot to the touch put my sunglasses in the cooler for a minute so they at least wouldn't burn my face. Next time I'm bringing towels or something to lay on top of the seats...

The winds were out of the southeast, so I took off out of Cutter directly toward Tucson. When I crossed the freeway PHX Tower told me to squawk VFR... but I called PHX Departure and asked for flight following. They kept me till south of Chandler and then released me after several traffic warnings. It's good to have RADAR operators watching me!

The rest of the flight was equally uneventful, and I was back at the parking lot at Southwest at 1130. I did the postflight, put the aircraft away, exchanged some notes with CFI Scott and CFI Phil, and was back at the office by 1202. (Missed noon by two minutes...)

Class Bravo landing - accomplished.
Phoenix Sky Harbor landing and navigation - accomplished.
Mistakes or ill-planned moves - none

Five gold stars today.


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Jul. 4th, 2014 | 11:16 pm

On July 4th, 1776, the Continental Congress in the British Colonies in America approved the final wording of the Declaration of Independence. The original draft was put together two days prior, and on July 4th all the changes were done and approved. That is why the date on the United States Declaration of Independence is July 4th, 1776, although it wasn't actually signed until a month later on August 2nd. Source

Because of this, the United States celebrates its independence from Great Britain, the formation of the new country of the United States of America and it is celebrated as Independence Day. I emigrated to the United States a few years ago, and as a naturalized citizen I'm proud to celebrate this holiday in my adopted country. Starting this year I've also started accepting that people will always say "Happy 4th" when they really mean "Happy United States Independence Day." (After all, nobody says "Happy December 25th" or "Happy January First!" but whatever...)

Each year the holiday is marked with the honor of displaying the flag and fireworks! I've loved fireworks since I was a child. I think everyone enjoys the shows, and the non-combat PTSD people even enjoy the shrieking and exploding sounds in the air. (dogs hate it!)

In Tucson there are a few fireworks shows that over time have become so well-done and so expected that they've become virtual institutions. A-Mountain is the #1 show because it's visible from most of the city. The resorts around town have done shows, and over time some have stopped and some have restarted. One resort has made it into a three-day weekend where only hotel guests are allowed on property.

So here I was two years ago thinking that the best place to view all the shows would be from the air. At that time I wanted to reserve the helicopter -- back then the only available helicopter was N991KE, the R22. Kent said that was a bad idea because a lot of those fireworks launchers send the shells higher than advertised, and we wouldn't want to be in a helicopter anywhere near that. Well I hadn't been intending to go into the fireworks, but I respect his opinion.

Fast forward to last year, where I didn't try to reserve the helicopter, but Kent did! He took his girlfriend flying. Well! That reconfirmed the validity of the concept. After the flight he said the views were good, so I was planning to do it this year. I put on the calendar that I had the helicopter reserved -- this time N4204X, the R44.

During the week before, CFI Phil had expressed an interesting in joining the flight. His girlfriend Jen had a birthday coming up (Monday the 7th) and he wanted to take her and her son along. It sounded good so I got the passenger weights from Phil, and worked out the weight&balance. We could easily take 36 gallons of fuel, which is 2 1/4 hours (including the reserve).

We agreed to meet at 0300z (2000 or 8:00 PM) and I showed up early to start the preflight. I had hardly hooked up the helicopter to the tow-vehicle when Phil and gang showed up (also early :) -- this was great. We did the preflight together. While checking the governor light I accidentally touched the starter button and the starter actuated! Normally I have to push that thing in a lot to get action... Anyway nothing was harmed so we continued. We then took the helicopter out to get fuel.

The wind was blowing at 11 knots, which is fine, and it was slated to reduce. A constant wind at that level is still of no significance, even in the R22. Once fueled and ready we moved the helicopter to the center of the helipad. At that point Phil gave the passengers a preflight briefing. When he was done I added my 2¢ worth. Both of them listened attentively -- even the young kid :)

At that point we were early... had time to spend hanging out until it got late enough for the fireworks shows to begin. The wind was dying down. It was already dark. The moon (waxing 48%) was behind some clouds. The temperature was mid 80°s F but it was very humid (57%). We waited. To keep the kid entertained we turned on the aircraft radio and let him listen to Tucson Tower. After a bit he indicated that it wasn't working... so I put on the pilot headset and called for a wind check. It took the tower controller a good 10-20 seconds to get on and provide that info... so it must have been a slow night :) We waited until we saw fireworks starting up, and got into the helicopter.

My car had a business-logo wrap put on it the weekend before, so I'd taken everything out of it. I hadn't yet put the flight-bag back in, so my three flashlights were sitting at home. Phil kindly lent me one of his, so now we had one each and the two map lights in the aircraft.

We started the pre-startup checks, and when I did the check for full-travel and free control motion, as I lifted up the collective the low rotor-RPM light and horn sounded. I dropped the collective quickly. In hindsight it makes perfect sense. Normally when we do these checks, the master battery switch is off. In this case we were using the gage lights to view what was going on, so the master battery switch was on. No worries -- everything was as it should be. We continued with the checks and everything was nominal.

We then started up the engine, spun up the rotors, watched everything operate the way it was supposed to, activated the air-conditioning to dry that hot wet air, and closed the doors. We got comfortable, listened to ATIS, and called for clearance. Because we weren't going to go straight to A-Mountain and right into the fireworks show, we requested a Campbell-2 departure. Campbell-2 means go north on Campbell until reaching the I-10 freeway or being turned over to Tucson Approach. Approved.

When everything was ready to go we switched over to Tucson Tower and got permission to leave. The wind was about 8 knots in the wrong direction, but our hover power was at maximum continous power, so I preferred not to do a maximum-power takeoff over the power lines and instead take off over the back yard. We got our airspeed, then altitude, and headed north over Campbell.

I'd checked the NOTAMs for the fireworks shows and knew the highest level they were supposed to be were 800ft AGL. We were going to fly at 4000ft which is 1700-2000ft AGL -- far above the projectile. Once we started climbing we maintained that climb until we got to 4000ft. We actually got to north of I-10 and asked to be transferred to Tucson Approach. Nobody else was on the air, so I don't know why the Tucson Tower controller hadn't transitioned us yet...

We headed north toward the U of A. The A-Mountain show had not yet started. We headed toward River Road, figuring we'd follow it east, then head west along Sunrise and see shows if the resorts were having them. While cruising along River Road looking around we saw lots of ground fireworks... and then the ones over at Davis Monthan Air Force Base started up.

During normal cruise flight we do around 80-100 knots. That works great to get from point A to point B. However, when the goal is to go toward the fireworks show -- so the passengers get the best view -- but not actually reach it and have to turn around, a slower speed is indicated. Further, the normal method of doing slow orbits doesn't work, because during 1/2 of that 360° orbit the passengers are unable to see the show behind the helicopter.

While this seems simple now, it took a bit of flying to develop this strategy. Eventually we were doing lazy long S turns to keep the passengers within view of at least one show, be it A-Mountain, Davis Monthan Air Force Base, or the Tucson Country Club. All three had excellent shows. The Tucson Country Club was more ground-based and yet spectacular and long. A-Mountain lit up the sky and stayed longer than we did, and the DMAFB show went on forever and used a ton of launchers and had an amazing grande finale.

Evenutally it was time to call it a night. The kid was asleep (yes, in the back of a helicopter flying around...) and we had seen fireworks for an hour... so we called in to return to Tucson. Now during our flight there had been one aircraft coming into DM's RWY 12 that had been vectored around us, and on the inbound we had heard that TPD's AIR-2 was operating somewhere in the area so we asked where they were. Tucson Tower told us they were at 3500; we said we'd stay at 4000 till the approach; TPD a/c called in saying they were near Irvington and I-19 and would be there for a while... so we told Tower we'd start our descent and mosied down to 3100 by the time we hit Campbell and Ajo.

We continued inbound, wind reported at 11-12 knots at 150-180, and entered the backyard. Uneventful approach, setdown, cooldown, and aircraft stowage later, I gave Phil back his flashlight (thanks!), did the paperwork (logbook, etc.) and called it a night.

I learned a lot tonight. Yes, we can have fun watching fireworks from a helicopter. We do need to stay high (the A-Mountain fireworks shells were below us but the top of the fireworks were at our level!). We need to stay slow (40kts worked, and we had sufficient altitude not make that an EP issue.) Finally having good situational awareness makes the whole flight comfortable. There was maybe one time where I wasn't sure exactly where I was... but seeing DM's beacon and A-Mountain and the instrumentation immediately oriented me, and that's the point of having instruments.

AND FOR ALL THAT, a better shot of fireworks can be had by a $600 drone flying THROUGH the actual fireworks explosions itself: Inside a fireworks show -- from a drone.

Good night!


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Full Moon Flyin'

Jun. 11th, 2014 | 10:13 pm

It's been almost a month since my last night flight, and I've been excited to do more of it.  Each and every time I fly at night I gain more awareness of things around me on the ground.  At first, just working out at the airport, all the blue and green and yellow lights are confusing.  They're nothing like seeing all of the runway and taxiway surfaces, markings, and signs by day.

In time, however, these became more familiar.  Then it was off-airport flying, generally in furtherance of a 25 nautical mile cross-country flight for the Private Pilot License, and then a 2hr cross-country for the Commercial Pilot License.   Now that both of those are out of the way, it's really flying for fun.  At night the temperature is cooler, there is almost no other traffic to deal with, and very little to no wind or thermal updrafts.  On the downsides, however, there are no open restaurants, coffeeshops at airports, and in the event of a systems failure it's a lot harder to pick and choose a good spot to set down.

The weather forecast showed that there would be strong howling winds (20kts) until about 1900, then they would slowly diminish to 10kts at 2100, and down to 4kts at 2300.  However, I also wanted to use this opportunity to reset my night-currency and include a traffic pattern at KTUS.  Tucson is closed to training flights and "touch and gos" between 2200-0500MST.   That means that while I could arrive at Tucson or take off at Tucson, "doing a traffic pattern" was likely to be denied.

I got there early -- around 2030 -- and knew I had about an hour to get everything set up.  Nothing goes fast by day, but at night, working alone and with a flashlight in my mouth instead of adequate flood-style lighting it goes even slower.  I used the ball-hitch towbar to manually move the helicopter to the hangar exit.  I then hooked up the tow-vehicle (golf cart) and pulled it over to the fuel trailer.  I grounded the aircraft, filled out the fueling logbook entries, and filled up the main tank.  That would give me 2hrs, which after reserve is 1.5hrs -- long enough to reach and return from either Eloy or San Manuel -- both great nighttime destinations.

The solution to the timing vs wind debate was to plan on taking off at 2145, get the traffic pattern in (before 2200), and leave the area.  By the time we would come back there should be no wind.  Sure enough, my passenger showed up early and I was on the rotor mast examining the main-rotor hub.  Once I got down, I unlocked the gate and let her in.  I then resumed checking the hub, related pitch-change links, swashplate scissors, teflon boots, fasteners and nuts, and the blades themselves.  Everything looked good.  (I'd already signed the logbook AD entry for  http://www.keithwilliamslawgroup.com/library/Robinson_AD_re_Delam.pdf indicating the blades would be checked).  That just left sampling the fuel, which was quickly accomplished.

When asked which was the perferred destination, my passenger chose San Manuel as we would not be over the freeway the whole time.  Eloy is a boring trip, but in the full moonlight Picacho Peak on the left and Newman Peak on the right are pretty impressive.  Still only ONE sight in the entire trip is a bit on the weak side.  San Manuel includes the Biosphere (not lit up but still cool) and the San Manuel airport itself is nestled in a valley between two sets of mountains.  Having the moon overhead is a plus.

At 2145 we were ready to lift, got ATIS information Lima, requested transition to Rwy 21 with a pattern.  We were advised to do left traffic from Rwy 21 stay north of Txy Alpha at all times.  I repeated the instructions back and headed over to 21.  Picture-perfect approach.  "Airport 380" (an airport service-vehicle) was wanting access and they told him to hold short and wait for us.  We got to the numbers and then requested a pattern and were approved.  Off we went.  I did my run, then turned left before Txy A, then did the crosswind leg, but when I turned downwind, Tucson Tower asked me to extend the downwind for that service vehicle.  They said they would call my base turn, which they did, and I made another picture-perfect approach to the numbers of 21.

I then requested to head out to E77 (San Manuel) and they cleared an A-Mountain departure.  Did that, then was instructed to switch over to Davis Monthan Tower.  Did that.  They had a just-departed C130 at our altitude and we were told to cross behind it and resume own navigation.  By then we'd reached the I-10/I-19 interchange and headed north.

We were a bit north of where I wanted to be since we wanted to overfly my passenger's house.  Things look so different at night it was difficult to immediately figure out where we were.  In a short moment we figured it out and did a short detour to overfly and orbit my passenger's house, and then off to Catalina we went.  As we left Tucson proper we went from lots of lights and storefronts and red and green to a few roadways lit up by yellow lights.  Even from 1100-1200AGL our landing lights were reflecting off the road reflectors below us.  It was pretty cool!

We followed AZ77 past Catalina, past Oracle, past the Biosphere II, and all the way to San Manuel's Airport.  On arrival we entered the pattern and came to a picture-perfect approach to the numbers of Rwy 29.  We then called a takeoff into a left pattern, and did a second pattern.  That also terminated on the numbers in a rock-solid slow and steady approach.  Between these two patterns and the one in Tucson that completes the three for night currency, so -- mission accomplished -- we set out to return back to Tucson.

When we got near Rancho Vistoso Blvd loop it was so well lit up I just had to fly above it and do half the loop, so we did exactly that.  Then back toward Tucson.  When we were abeam Pusch Ridge I called Approach, they assigned us Squawk Code 0420, and we were inbound to Tucson.  Winds were 250 at 3, so with no factor there we did a standard "backyard approach" and landed the aircraft.

We then put it away and called it a night.

Night flying is fun!


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Into the night

May. 8th, 2014 | 10:51 pm

Meeting the requirements for the Private Pilot Certificate includes doing some flying at night. There are some traffic patterns. There are some landings and takeoffs. There is even a cross-country flight. Fortunately this is done with an instructor, as the night scenery is so different that it is like flying in a completely foreign country.

On the good side, when told that "traffic is 12 o'clock, 3 miles, 2000 feet above" it's easy to spot someone else's position lights in an otherwise dark sky. It's also a lot cooler temperature wise. On the bad side, it's impossible to see what's on the ground, so other than "aim for the road" or "aim for the dark area", any plans at emergency procedure exits are haphazard at best. There's an old adage... "When doing an emergency landing, at a few feet up turn on your landing light. If you don't like what you see, turn the light back off."

There are night flight requirements for the Commercial Pilot's License and I did those too. Ten patterns. Two hour cross-country, etc. All those were done with an instructor on board. It was after I was totalling up things for my new logbook format (The Helicopter Logbook) that I realized all 19.4 of my night flying hours were done with an instructor. There were no Night Solo hours nor Night Solo Cross-Country. Now this isn't a big deal -- there's rarely a NEED to fly at night. However, if there's an opportunity ("sunset photo flight") I want to be ready.

The night-currency means if you haven't done 3 traffic patterns to a full-stop within the last 90 days you have to go do it without passengers before you can carry passengers. Further, they have to be done at least 1hr after sunset (and up to 1hr before sunrise) as per the American Air Almanac. This is one of the THREE NIGHT definitions used by the FAA:

  • Night CURRENCY is established by flying 1hr after sunset to 1hr before sunrise (FAR 61.57(b))

  • Night LOGGING is done for any flight between civil twilight and sunrise (FAR 1.1)

  • Night LIGHTS must be on sunrise to sunset (FAR 91.209)

The moon has been getting fuller and fuller and two nights ago I wandered out the back patio to find a half moon staring at me lighting up the ground. That always makes me think of night flying. Since none of the CFIs I fly with were available I decided to try it on my own. The plan was simple and unambitious. I would do a complete preflight and then see if I was up to it. If I was, I would do a traffic pattern on Runway 21. Depending on how well that went I'd either call it a day (no mas!) or do two more patterns to regain currency, or best of circumstance head to Eloy (E60) and do the remaining patterns there and also get a cross-country out of it. Night cross-country time is prized by someone -- HEMS, Tour Ops -- I forget. (They want 200 so I've a ways to go before I need to figure out who wants it.)

I had written up a flight plan, shared it with a friend to call the feds if I didn't return in time (thanks, Chris!), and went down to the hangar. The preflight checks were all good. I couldn't check the blades in the hangar because they need to rotate. That meant it would need to be done outside, with the only light being the flashlight in my mouth. Oh well :)

I towed the helicopter outside and brought it to the fuel truck. After grounding it and recording the fuel tank meter reading (like an odometer) I hooked up the pump, and dragged the hose over to the main tank. I filled up, turned the pump off, recorded the numbers, put the logbook away, disconnected pump electrics, ungrounded the aircraft, verified fuel gauges showed correct amount, and towed the helicopter back to the pickup point, where the red helicopter is in the picture.

At this point I also tested all the lights -- really I could have done this in the hangar, because if they're not all working I'm not going and could have saved myself some effort. As expected, however, they were all working so no issues there. To test all the lights, one simply turns the NAV light switch on, the White-Strobe switch on, and verifies with a quick walkaround that the right (green), rear (white), left (red) position lights are all on, and that the BLINDINGLY-BRIGHT strobes are on. After turning those off all that's left is the landing light system. The landing lights will only come on if the clutch is engaged (this turns off the landing lights when you're on the ground). To test them we need to turn on the clutch switch but we don't want the clutch belts tightening. The procedure is therefore:

  1. pull the clutch breaker so the clutch can't engage

  2. clutch switch engaged so the landing light interlock is removed

  3. landing light switch on

  4. verify both landing lights on

To return it back to normal operation:

  1. landing light switch off

  2. clutch disengaged

  3. clutch breaker back in

I unhitched the tow vehicle, moved it out of the way, texted my flightwatch buddy that I was running ten minutes behind, took a swig of now-cold coffee, and put the cup in the tow-vehicle cupholder. It would be there for me when I got back. I made sure the hangar lights were off and all doors were locked, the gate was locked and secure, and made a final walk around the helicopter checking all fasteners, access hatches, and fuel caps. Everything was secure so I got into the aircraft.

The aircraft at night is different. Things that are obvious and within easy reach by daylight are invisible. The gauges are all lit once the power and NAV light switches are on... but the bank of radio switches is not. So if you want to turn on Com-2 you need to hunt with your fingers for the Com-1 toggle, and to its right is the Com-2 toggle. Do you want to transmit on Com-2? The TX selector knob is set to something and you can check it out with a light and memorize its position... but it's not lit.

There are two lights in the helicopter for use of lighting up maps ("map light") or sectional charts or checklists. However, we pilots also bring our own, usually in the form of headset-mounted lights or finger-mounted lights. I had the latter. Unfortunately during the pre-startup it got flakey and was not consistently lighting up. Of course I reached into my shirt pocket and used the backup light. Always be prepared. Always. If it costs 2 ounces of weight and $20 a backup light is PRICELESS to help keep good situational awareness.

I did the startup checks and everything was great. The engine fired up great. There were no unusual sounds. There is a little more ground vibration with only one person on board. I got ATIS information Lima, dialed in 125.1 for approach, and called clearance delivery. I let them know I wanted to do a traffic pattern to RWY 21, and then depart to Eloy. They said to go ahead and contact Tucson Tower.

I contacted Tower when I was hovering and asked for a traffic pattern at 21. They said to go to the numbers of 21. I did a perfect hover taxi over there, set down, and then called Tower. They approved a left closed traffic, stay north of RWY 11L and TXY A. I did so, and made a perfect traffic pattern reaching pattern altitude of 3100ft (500AGL) and then set up my downwind to the building Kent showed me... then my base turn, then down to 300AGL and final approach. My approach maintained airspeed and glideslope and I came to a stop on the numbers again. I called for the flight to Eloy and they approved a 310 departure.

I took off in that direction, got altitude, airspeed, opened the vent for cool fresh air, and climbed to 3500ft (1000AGL). They asked me to "reset transponder squawk 0412" so I did just that then "contact Approach 125.1" which I did as well. With Approach I requested flight-following knowing they couldn't really keep me on RADAR very long. Approach said they'd probably lose me past the Cement Plant.

After passing Pinal Airpark, the TIS display showed an aircraft along the same course as I was on, and slightly above me. As he had been identified as a low-wing aircraft, it would be possible he wouldn't see me. I stuck down to 400AGL right over the frontage road with my landing lights illuminating it clearly. I had a slight headwind, so I was set up for any emergency and did not require altitude. I verified with Tucson Departure it was the same aircraft that had been stalking me since Marana, and they confirmed it, told me no factor, and advised frequency change. I waited till after he passed me and headed back up to 1500AGL. I entered Picacho Peak area, switched over to the Eloy frequency, and continued my trip.

Once I got within 5 miles of Eloy, I activated the Pilot Controlled Lights. The beacon became backlit by the runway lights. I called my approach to RWY 2, and made a perfect approach to the numbers of 2. I set down, then picked up -- both good -- and did an entire pattern calling out each turn. My approach and setdown again were perfect. I repeated that, and my setdown completed two full patterns at Eloy. I then took off and left the area heading right for Picacho Peak.

On the way back I shadowed the frontage road at 1500AGL, descending to 1000AGL at the cement plant, picked up Tucson ATIS, and called Tucson Approach. The guy remembered me and said "Welcome back", assigned me a squawk, and quickly picked me up on RADAR. A short time later (still 10 miles out of KTUS) I was switched to Tucson Tower, and did my backyard-approach into the parking.

1.2 hours.
3 traffic patterns.
5 perfect setdowns

Very pleased with myself. It was a challenge... and fun.


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May. 2nd, 2014 | 12:07 pm

It's always fun to make a flight into a "Destination Flight." That's
when the point of the flight isn't to make a long picturesque flight,
but rather to get to somewhere. We've discussed the $500 burger before,
and the fixed-wing guys know the "$100 hamburger" all too well, but it
must be at an airport. We helicopter pilots have more options. One
of the places I've landed a couple of times is
Tucson Mcgraws Cantina
which is located atop a hill on South Houghton Road.

Kent had mentioned there's a cool place in Vail where they work on cars
and you can view that garage and hotrodder outfit from an attached
restaurant and bar. Cactus Helicopters
had taken pictures of the grand opening party. The pilots, after returning the
aircraft, then drove out there to partake.

It's call Hotrods Old vail" and it and
its huge overflow parking lot (aka helipad) are located
just east of Houghton and north of Interstate 10
. The west overflow parking lot is humongous.

My friend Cece goes there often so I asked her if she could get the manager's card so I
could inquire about landing. She did me a solid and not only got his card but told him
I wanted to land there... and said he was enthusiastic about it! I called JJ, the manager,
and he was indeed enthusiastic. He was agreeable to us landing on Friday, and suggested
the west side of the west lot -- exactly what I had in mind.

The night before Matt was interested in coming, as was Phil the instructor, so for the
first time since I picked up this aircraft it would be transporting four people. The
full-fuel carrying capacity is 600lbs, so to add in Phil's 160lbs we needed to reduce the
fuel load from the maximum (46 gallons / 276 lbs) to 116 lbs or 19 gallons.

In order to ensure that we have sufficient fuel, I did a flight plan. Eight nautical miles.
Seriously that's a 0.1 hour of flight there, 0.1 hour of flight back, 0.3 for startup and shutdown
and a high recon, and 0.33 for the reserve. That meant the reserve would be more fuel
than our entire flight! All in all we'd need 0.83 hours of fuel - 13.28 gallons.

When I got to the hangar, the aircraft already have about 20 gallons, so not only was
it heavier than I wanted, it was also one gallon (6lb) overweight. I was counting
on the ground startup and warmup (and the overestimates of everyone's weight) to make
the numbers work.

We got situated in the aircraft, and I fired it up, turned on the air conditioning, and
called Tucson Clearance Delivery with our plan. When everything was nice and warm we
did the startup systems checks, and then took off over the
back yard"
and headed 082.

Shortly thereafter we were revectored to the Fairgrounds. Bonus - more weight burned off so our
off-airport landing would be lighter. Once at the fairgrounds I called in on station
and explained our intention. We were cleared to go north.

Along the way there we examined a flag on S Houghton Rd showing the wind from the N/NE, then over at Hodrods they have
little wind-filled advertising banner "sails" that showed us the same thing. We
did a high recon, noting no obstructions, wires, people, animals, verified
wind direction, good entry/exit options, and set up an approach.

The approach was meant to be somewhere between normal and steep and I
steepened it as we approached once power check confirmed we could easily
land anywhere in there. I came to a solid approach northward, then turned
counterclockwise to keep the tail from the fence, headed south to the SW
corner of the lot, moved away from the fence, and turned the helicopter
around to face N. We parked and went inside for eats.

The food was great. The scenery -- staring into a hot rod garage while we
ate -- was also good. We got to see them put a tank on a motorcycle, and
seeing as it was late lunch not a whole lot of other things were going on.
When the time was right I left to go out and start the preflight.

The wind was still consistent from the same direction. The preflight check
was all good. Everyone else came out and got in. We could not get either
Tucson ATIS nor Tucson Aproach (125.1) from the ground. Once we were
airborne we got ATIS, then called Approach, and made a beeline for home
base. My setdown was good enough to turn off ANR on my headset.

Total time in flight: 0.3h (18min). Total distance travelled in each
direction: about 9nm. The experience, however, was priceless :)

AH, till next time!


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