Marqtholomew

Rod Machado is a very well known figure in the aviation community–he is the voice of the flight instructor in Microsoft Flight Simulator, he teaches several lessons in the “King Schools” computer-based ground school courses, and is a regular writer for AOPA Pilot and Flight Training magazines. Last week I sent him the following email:

I fly out of a fairly congested class D airport with a heavy concentration of student pilot activity, and to decrease my workload I like to open my flight plan from the ground, after performing my run-up. However, each time I do this, my FSS requests that I only open flight plans from the air, in case I run into mechanical problems, cancel the flight, and forget to close it. It seems that every time I open my flight plan after takeoff I miss a position report or a traffic advisory while I’m talking to the FSS, plus it’s just one more thing for me to do in the air. I think the practice of opening the plan immediately before takeoff should instead be encouraged, assuming adequate radio reception from the ground. Do you agree with this?

This morning I received a response from him:

There’s no reason that I can see for not opening your flight plan from the ground. I, too, realize that it can be quite busy in the terminal environment during departure and this isn’t a good time to be opening flight plans. So I’d just insist that the FSS opens the flight plan when you ask him to. Keep in mind that some folks file a round robin flight plan
for, say, a period of 8 hours at a time. They land at several different airports during that time to conduct their business then close the flight plan upon landing. So if they can do this why shouldn’t you be able to open your flight plan on the ground? As an aside, just to keep from forgetting to close my flight plan, I always leave a message on my cell phone to
remind me to do so upon landing.

Makes sense to me–the next heavy-traffic day I fly, I’ll insist that the FSS open my flight plan from the ground. I may also consider withholding the fact that I’m on the ground–how would the FSS know the difference?

This morning I took my girlfriend on a local flight for some touch-and-gos at Aurora State and McMinville. The morning was overcast with the ceiling at 3700 feet, so we cruised over to Aurora State at 3000 MSL. It was a busy day at UAO, with at least 3 airplanes in the pattern the entire time. On our first landing attempt on runway 35, departing traffic pulled onto the runway while we were on final, so I initiated a go-around.

Aurora On Final Runway 35

The air was rough and my passenger was getting airsick, so after 4 touch-and-gos we left the pattern and turned towards McMinville. Gliders were operating off of runway 34, and engine-powered traffic were using runway 4 with a crosswind from the left. The air was way smoother in McMinville than Aurora, but my girlfriend’s condition was deteriorating after the first touch-and-go, so I made the second landing a full-stop. We got out, tied down the airplane, and walked around for a bit. We talked to some pilots in the FBO for a few minutes, enjoyed a free beverage, then hopped back in the plane and headed back to Hillsboro.

Overcast Clouds at 3700The Willamette River, North of AuroraI-5 Crossing the WillametteIntel Ronler Acres CampusGolf CourseTraffic at 2:00CemetaryGliders at McMinville

Each landing throughout the morning got progressively smoother, and the landing in Hillsboro was nearly perfect: almost no float, and a virtually imperceptible touchdown. Mission accomplished, but in hindsight I would have spent less time in the congested, turbulent air of the Aurora traffic pattern and instead spent more time at McMinville, as that probably would have been a less nauseating experience for my passenger.

I just returned from a wonderful flight up the Oregon Coast in 3555L with my girlfriend. Last night I planned the flight from Hillsboro to Newport, then north following the coast to Astoria, and back to Hillsboro via Kelso/Longview. We did a full stop in Newport, but then decided that we’d rather be in the air to see the sunset, so I taxied back to runway 34 and we took off again.

Mouth of the Salmon River on the Oregon CoastNetarts BaySunset over the Ocean

The sunset itself was somewhat indistinct; the sun sort of blurred into the haze and then disappeared. After my co-pilot snapped a few pictures and took a video of low clouds near the Salmon River, I introduced her to some new flight controls: the rudder pedals, throttle, and the elevator trim. She did such a good job with straight-and-level flight at 4,500 that I had her initiate a climb to 7,500 as we approached Astoria. She kept the Turn Coordinator‘s ball in the middle, performed a climbing turn to the right, and controlled the throttle as we leveled-off and returned to cruise flight. She did great–I was impressed!

Once night fell, I turned the instrument panel lights completely off for much of the return flight along the Columbia River so we could enjoy the darkness and the city lights beneath us–it was probably the most peaceful time I’ve experienced in an airplane. We landed in Hillsboro just minutes after the tower closed, exactly 3.0 hours after we departed.

I encountered this sign on 13th avenue in downtown Portland:

Bike Sign

It seems to be depicting a somewhat complicated but very specific scenario. Here are some possibilities:

  • Danger! Your front wheel may snap off at any moment and propel you over the handlebars!
  • Warning: Your front wheel may become stuck in a groove, rotating the handlebars in one direction, and rotating you off the bike in the opposite direction.
  • Caution: Riding your bike into this hole may lock the front wheel in place, while inertia brings you to your doom.

Whatever the meaning, I’m more likely to injure myself while attempting to analyze the sign than to suffer injury from the hazard the sign is designed to protect me against.

Fred called my cell from the airport as I was driving home from work, and we made an impromptu flight to the coast, then to Salem for dinner. Fred was Pilot in Command, and I provided navigation services. We started west, with Tillamook programmed into the GPS as our first waypoint, dodging puny cumulus clouds as we cruised over the coastal range at 6,500 feet. It was as hazy as it has been for the last few weeks, and we couldn’t see the ocean until we were about 15 miles from Tillamook. After reaching the coast we couldn’t bear to leave, so we headed south along Cannon Beach to Pacific City before turning east to Salem.

The Pacific Ocean, Over Tillamook

Salem tower gave us Runway 31, and Fred made a fine landing; the approach was a little low, but it was nothing a little throttle couldn’t fix! I put Fred’s approach and landing up on Youtube. We had a nice dinner at the restaurant at the Salem Airport, and enjoyed a beautiful night flight back to Hillsboro.

The Coastal Range at 6,500 enroute to TillamookThe Coastal Range Enroute to Tillamook, Facing NorthTillamook BayPacific City Coastline

After crossing the Newberg Ridge we encountered a sky full of pilots with English that was difficult to understand over the radio, to put it politely. The tower had closed, and one pilot reported he was “in the area at 2100 looking for the airport.” Poor guy–Fred helped him out by giving him a radial to fly from the Newberg VOR. We had difficulty making out some of the other transmissions, so we played it safe and overflew the field before entering the pattern. Having two pilots really made it a smooth flight; we could share the workload and the experience. Nice flight Fred!

This morning I finished reading Aviation Weather (AC 00-6A), an “Advisory Circular” from the FAA. This book was heavily referenced in the study material I used in ground school, so I figured it was worth reading in its entirety. In fact, many of the questions on the Private Pilot Knowledge Exam seemed to be lifted verbatim from this book. It re-enforced concepts that I already understood, and more fully developed concepts that I had only minor exposure to.

Aviation Weather

From this book I gained a more complete understand of the Coriolis Force, the Jet Stream, the process by which thunderstorms develop, and the qualities of the various types of airmass fronts. The highlight of the book for me was the last chapter: Soaring Weather. The chapter covers topics that are primarily of interest to the sailplane pilot, but knowledge of when and where thermals will form and what qualities they will have is useful in assessing where turbulence might be encountered on an engine-driven flight. The last chapter also has a clear description on the formation of Lenticular Clouds and the effects of mountain waves (and their associated dangers!).

This book began as a bulletin in 1945, which was updated and published as the “Pilot’s Weather Handbook” in 1954, then released as “Aviation Weather For Pilots and Flight Operations Personnel” in 1965, and finally revised in 1975. Previous versions of the advisory circular included references to specific weather services, rendering it obsolete after a short period of time. The 1975 revision removed references to specific aviation weather services, which were moved to a separate advisory circular called “Aviation Weather Services” (AC 00-45E). The book attempts to focus on the more “timeless” aspects of weather processes, avoiding references to specific technologies or charts in use today. I got a lot out of the book, and I’d recommend it to those attempting to acquire a deeper understanding of the weather-related topics of interest to pilots.

This evening I rented 3555L and flew my sweetie down the Columbia River Gorge to The Dalles and back, transitioning through Portland’s Class C airspace both ways. It was a hazy evening and the winds gave us some light mechanical turbulence at low altitudes, but the haze produced a pleasant red and yellow sunset.

Sunset in the Gorge

There was a 13 knot wind in The Dalles blowing from 300 degrees magnetic, perfectly aligned with Runway 30. The low level turbulence was enough to make the approach to landing an intense experience for my passenger, but she managed to keep her dinner internalized. It was dark by the time we entered the Class C airspace on the return flight, and we experienced downtown Portland from the air at night for the first time. We descended into Hillsboro well ahead of schedule with another Cross Country flight under our belts. It was a very enjoyable flight, but smoother, clearer air would have made it perfect.

Downtown Portland from the NorthOver PDXPDX and the 205 BridgeMt. Hood from the GorgeHood RiverDescending into The DallesEast Portland After SunsetDowntown Portland at Night

This evening I added another command to the SMS Service for retriving winds aloft forecast data from the National Weather Service. The command is “FD”, which is the product code for the textual winds aloft forecast. You can query the service with the code for a major airport, and the service will reply with the wind direction, wind speed, and temperature for each altitude. The response for the command “FD PDX” might look like this:

[FD PDX] 3000:3422 6000:2720+04 9000:2533+02 12000:2539-03 18000:2454-17 24000:2363-28 30000:227143 34000:237750 39000:237053

So at 6000 feet, the wind is blowing from 270 at 20 knots, and the temperature is 4 degrees C. At 9000 feet the wind is coming from 250 at 33 knots, and the temperature has dropped to 2 degrees. They don’t give the temperature at 3000 feet.

See the SMS Services page for more information on this command.

I have a strange need to be constantly aware of the current weather conditions at the local airports, even if I have no intentions of flying any time soon. I found myself calling the Automated Surface Observation Station (ASOS) at Hillsboro Airport multiple times throughout the day and tying up the phone line, which led me to build a SMS service so I could get the same information through text messages. I started out with the METAR and TAF commands, allowing me to obtain routine weather observations and terminal aerodrome forecasts.

Last night I added a non-aviation related command for retrieving video game ratings from Gamespot. To try it out, just send this text message to sms(-at-)marqtholomew.com:

REVIEW ZELDA WINDWAKER

A minute or so later you will get this reply:

The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker (GC): 9.3 The Wind Waker is a strong achievement in every way, from its stunning graphical presentation to its tight control

The “9.3” is the gamespot rating on a scale of 1-10, and is followed by their short synopsis. Very useful for those times when you’re in the video game aisle and desperately need to make an impulse purchase.

I also put together a page that describes the supported commands and gives examples on how to use them. The service is implemented as a python script scheduled to run every minute in a cron job. The script processes the messages and issues replies to the sender’s address.

I’ve been working on a program for the Pocket PC to perform aircraft weight and balance calculations, implemented in C# using version 1.1 of the Mobile .NET Framework. There are plenty of programs available that do this, but they all had little usability quirks and few had all of the features I was looking for: a graphical CG envelope, takeoff and landing fuel calculations, and multiple airplane profiles.

Marcware Weight and Balance Station Entry Screen Marcware Weight and Balance CG Calculation Screen

You start out by creating a new airplane profile, then configuring the center of gravity limits from the chart in the Pilot’s Operating Handbook. Then you enter the actual weight and arm values for each station (including Takeoff and Landing fuel weights), and hit the “Calc” button. A screen appears that shows the values for the Takeoff, Landing, and Zero-Fuel center of gravity at the top, and plots the values in the graphical envelope. If any of the center of gravity values are out of the limits, they will appear in  red .

At the moment there are still a few features I’d like to implement before I make it publicly available, such as the ability to specify moments instead of just arm values for each station. I’ll probably put together a product page in the next few weeks. In the interim it’s been a useful tool for speeding up the pre-flight calculations!

What I need now is a good name for the program. “Weight and Balance” is terribly unoriginal (but it is descriptive!).

Saturday I planned the flight, rented N386ME, and flew my girlfriend to the summit of Mt. St. Helens. We climbed to 10,000 feet and circled counterclockwise (per the instructions in the “Special Notices” section of the Airport/Facility Directory), remaining clear of the TFR that extends 1.5nm from the crater to an elevation of 9,000ft.

Mt. St. Helens and Spirit Lake from the North

The unfortunate part about flying counterclockwise is the passenger doesn’t get a great view of the mountain from the right seat, so I took a few of the pictures. After a full stop at Chehalis-Centralia airport (KCLS) we returned to Hillsboro, crossing the Columbia River just before sunset. I’m quite certain we’ll be repeating this flight many times!

Mt. St. HelensCalculating our location during the long descent to KCLSLanding in Chehalis-Centralia (KCLS)Columbia River Looking West

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