INITIAL TRANSITION FROM BUILDING TO FLIGHT OPS NOTES
CROSS COUNTRY FLIGHT NOTES
FLIGHT TRAINING NOTES
I am a great believer in the power of info sharing on the INTERNET and especially of the “wiki” concept. Thanks to the fine effort of Brett and Elizabeth Ferrell we have a Velocity wiki. I want to contribute to that effort even though my thoughts and experiences are only my own two cents, and might be quite afield from somebody else with a better or longer perspective. So starting with a thank you to wiki hosts Brett and Elizabeth, I am honored to add to their fine work. Since this is a wiki, feel free to improve on or add to or correct what I have to offer. I am not the fountain of knowledge on this or any topic.
THE BREAK IN PERIOD
Like the rest of the fleet, my Velocity is fast and roomy and very comfortable on longer flight legs. I used the factory seat pans and made my own cushions of that 3 color foam that Oregon Aero uses. I have the XLRG-5 model with the fold down back seat which is always folded down and loaded with inevitable transit items and my cross country nav and tool kit. I commute about 10 to 12 times a year between IL and PA. It used to be an 675 mile tollway road trip of 12+hours behind the wheel. Now I can do it Eastbound in 2.5 hours block to block.
Back two years ago when my 40 hour “fly off” was finally completed, I imagined only spending my maintenance time doing add-on improvements. I was way off on that. In those first months, I never closed my tool box. Some few of my hundreds of electrical joints failed. Some bolts loosened up. Some parts and devices failed which required vendor level repair or replacement. That's not to say I didn't do a lot of cabin improvement as I gained experience in the airplane and saw a need for cockpit mods like pen holders or cargo retention webbing and of course more edits to my checklists.
In the first year of flight ops, I was very surprised at the lower level of reliability, and I was bit afraid of going anywhere too far from established airfields with lots of experimental activity. The good news is this shake out period seems to be ending. (I hope!) ...and I am further pleased with my own progress as a working “Repairman.” I have a handle on my raft of product literature and construction notes, and I am learning the ins and outs of my own airplane in new ways with a better eye to potential trouble spots. In the process have taught myself to be a better inspector too. But like with the actual building process, there is another “post build” reality check that took place for me. My dreams of being “done” were unrealistic, except to say the the airplane work that is required post-fly-off has a nice grit to it. It is often very purposeful and shorter term, and not just endless layups and resin dust which was the case for long periods up close to my Ugly Duckling as opposed to my current day Swan. Swans, up close, can be mean, while the Duckling just sort of sat there.
I worked for FedEx. They had a thing about getting close with your customer's problems rather than ignoring them in hopes they will go away. If your customer is an airplane, fly it. If it is broke, fix it. If you can't seem to do either, get close to “why not,” until you have an alternate plan and then follow that. I once delayed fixing (and so flying too) my #2 com radio believing I had to undo those endless wire bundles I had tied up, only to discover the radio box itself was bad. One afternoon I just yanked the box and took it to the local radio shop, for a $25 cheapo checkout. That's all it took—and of course a trip back to Icom for the actual fix.
Now that I am flying, I have to reorder what needs doing and what can wait. It is hard for me to stay on top of all this, and easy enough to fall backwards into an endless worry flip-flop that either the airplane is being vaguely neglected or it has taken control of my life. Neither has to be the case.
It is June 2010 as I write this. I just came back from a 6000 mile zigzag trip from PA to CA and back. I had a great time. I had weather and maintenance decisions to make almost every day. I didn't like the uncertainty at first. Next year, these decisions will come easier because of practice. Next time I will flight plan with more slack time, so I won't create my own itinerary pressures. I am supposed to be out on a lark. I need to remind myself, the further you go, the more days you are out, the more likely are the chances for flight delays and diversions. Also want to say thank you to everyone who invited me to stop by. Everywhere I stopped it was just great. If you take no other advice from this note, take this one: Let everyone know when you plan a big trip, and mention you want to visit whoever will have you overnight. Then make a list of who pipes up. This was the best part, the sense of welcome. Know that I my front porch light is always on.
WEATHER MIMIMUMS and INTERNET WEATHER SOURCES
Single pilot, IFR for filing purposes, I have a personal weather minimum of 800 and 2 and no worse than scattered to isolated for thunderstorms in the warm months. In the winter I use this link http://aviationweather.gov/adds/icing/ and the supplemental icing info chart on that page, and I avoid the areas immediately south of the Great Lakes all winter long no matter what the icing sigmets say. I also subscribe to XM weather for about $50 per month. I flight plan using http://fltplan.com/
XM RADAR AND BEST USE
I have a subscription to XM Radar. It is about $50 per month, and I think that they allow for a month to month operation. It is a GREAT cockpit asset, but it has limitations. It does not work with fast moving rain cells, and it is no good for close range maneuvering between cells. Stay visual. You are not looking at cells. You are looking at a historical pic of what was.
Recently, I went from GGP to GYY which is distance of about 75 miles, but with moderate to heavy rain cells that were isolated and numerous and all fast movers. I was never in any danger, since it was daylight, but in the end I turned the XM picture off because it was so out of date as to be only confusing. These storm cells were not monster height ones. Tops were probably 15,000 max, but full of rain and turbulence and moving very fast across the ground. XM is good for long range XC application and avoidance. It is not any good to pic your way around the cells, like what you could do with a real radar set. The display looks like a radar display...but it ain't.
I have a Lycoming IO 540, 300 hp with a single Electro Air ignition system where the RH mag used to be. I also have 18,000 hours in heavy jets and very limited—but growing—exposure to GA. I get 11.5 gph in cruise at 190 kts. I fly into busy places. Allowing for radar vectors and intermediate level offs, I use 13 gph as a rule of thumb. Additionally I want to be on the ground w/ 15 gallons in the tanks when the destination forecast is green VFR. When blue VFR or below, or when I know there is rain or convective weather while enroute, that “on the ground” fuel remaining figure goes to 20 gallons.
When I was a runny nose co-pilot on a freighter and working the weight and balance one dark stormy night, I had a Captain bump 5000 pounds of freight to add extra fuel. I had never seen that happen. The other Captains usually just grumbled about thin fuel margins and took whatever fuel they could fit and let it go at that. This decision to bump freight meant he would have to call the chief pilot the next day. My eyes got big. He looked at me and said: “Son, the weather sucks, and we can always use fuel for brains.” His wisdom guides me still, and I am honored to pass it along.
I should add in here that I do not trust my autopilot in the terminal area. It may be my install, but my TruTrak autopilot has been a disappointment. I have to hand fly departures and arrivals. That fact is further demanding because of the center stick and with my panel layout with a center radio stack. I have to reach across myself to get to radio dials or GPS function keys and use my left hand. VFR the center stick is fun. When IFR, I wish I had a side stick and a free right hand for the knobs and buttons.
I am proud to say I did most everything in my airplane to include even sewing the seats. I had Malcolm Collier of Hangar 18 as a constant guide and I still do. We try to stay in touch on a regular basis and he carries my endorsement as a master craftsman. In times of thinner factory resources and experience, he is likely the most knowledgeable, and most practiced of any source available to the group. I worked under his tutelage as we assembled my airframe and hung the engine and prop. What's this have to do with fuel planning? One of the first mandatory mods after the fly off was to modify my bottom chair cushion so I could stick a pee bottle between my legs and not have it pointing uphill! I am surprised that this topic (how to pee in reclining bucket seats) has never made it to the Reflector. Who knows, maybe there is a better solution? One unnamed source suggested the use of adult diapers and just pee in your pants until you can land. I don't have that problem because the forward most 5 inches of my seat pan cushion is fully removable, and that works fine for me.
For my wife, who, at age 55, is still not hesitant to go skinny dipping when the circumstance arises, is not all that uncomfortable about this issue when it is just the two of us. Here is what she has to do. She unbuckles, gets up turns around and kneels backwards on the front seat and pulls her pants down and pees into one of those Spruce pee things. I am one of 5 kids and I can't imagine any of my sisters or sisters-in-law going for that program in the least during a 4 person cross country overnight trip to somewhere. So, depending on your circumstances skip the in-flight coffee thermos and go w/ shorter flight legs.
Here is the link to airnav: http://www.airnav.com/fuel/ Then select the option for “Plan a Flight w/ Fuel Stops.” It is a great tool. Usually cheap fuel has a reason. It means remote most of the time, and often remote in combination with no locally based airplanes, or a runway misaligned w/ prevailing winds or narrow and all beat up. As I write this note my bird is locked up in a hangar in central Indiana until the airport re-opens and the weather improves. That's another story, except to say I am temporarily stuck at KGGP with nice folks but which is a very rural airfield with minimum local flying. My Verizon cell phone says “Out of Range” and won't work. The sole mechanic who could have helped with missed tool or when I needed a 2nd set of hands is on vacation. It is too far to walk to Logansport, IN which has no hotels, and no rental cars. The airport is nice. It is a county run facility w/ county workers. At 5 pm they all go home and lock up doors to the hangar and the FBO, but the gas is the cheapest around by at least 10%.
If you are dead certain you can transit GGP without incident or any extra needs, then this is the cheapest fuel alternative. Or you could consider a compromise between lower per gallon prices and access to food, mechanic, lodging, hours of operation and perhaps most of all a cell phone signal. In the winter months when it gets dark early, an after hours landing here with an out of range cell phone and an out of range VHF radio could be life threatening and not just inconvenient.
ROUTE PLANNING FOR EMERGENCY LANDINGS
On my recent transcontinental trip to CA, after being a part of the 1st Annual Mid West Velocity Fly In, I had originally pre-planned a direct course line from Lawrence, KS to Auburn, CA with spaced out stops as necessary. That was the shortest route. It was also the highest route, and with hours of exposure to remote mountainous terrain that would preclude any emergency landing areas. A better choice, going from the midwest to California, thanks to the advice of Lynn Cook is to follow I-80. If you are crossing north of Denver: KXLT, KBFF, KOGD, KAUN are good choices. BFF has a restaurant on the field. Kemp Air Serv at KOGD made for a great layover. KAUN is a busy hopping GA airport. This I-80 route will provide for a lower minimum altitude, and give you or a rescuing crew a much easier go of things and a worthy consideration anytime in mountain flying. Also be forewarned. It can be bumpy in the mountain states. Make sure sick saks are on your list, and like the Jepps, readily available on short notice.
ENROUTE CHARTS AND APPROACH PLATES
The gradual transition from paper documents to electronic flight bags continues. I am certain devices and subscription prices will come down from the old time Jepp/Garmin monopoly. For today, I keep current electronic set of plates and maps on a mini laptop and a ipod touch. I have a small inverter so I can plug a laptop into a 112v. I print out paper approach plates for all airports of intended landing. WAC charts work good for longer flights if you are good at map folding. For $75 per year I use Foreflight on my Ipod and I like it. I looked at the Ipad and found it too big for mounting on a stalk in the pilots line of vision without blocking something else, but maybe a ceiling drop down...who knows what awaits at Oshkosh this year?
Regards plate access, if you find yourself needing to land RIGHT NOW, skip the plates, pick up your pen and you can ask ATC for an airport, a safe descent altitude and an initial vector while you setup on board navigation guidance for the last 5 miles. The other snag I found was having all these plates in a place of ready-pilot-access. Never bury your maps to where you can't get to them if need be. If you are landing as a first timer to a planned enroute field, decide ahead of time which FBO you want, and write their phone and/or radio freq on your taxi diagram along with a little “x” for their physical location on the field.
Don't depart on an empty stomach. Don't get dehydrated. When you get to the other end, you want to have calories in reserve for the demands of flight. I carry fruit or a snack of some kind and water at least and have it listed as an item on my preflight checklist.
VFR PILOT TRAINING
A lot of the above assumes you are filing under IFR, but there is a whole world of VFR flying that is limitless most months of the year. The Velo is a GREAT VFR bird.
I have a couple of suggestions for low time pilot-builders and VFR flight training practice. One is to use Google Earth's flight sim. Control Alt A, tap on “start the sim” and then Control Alt B to get a heading indicator. Pick the SR22 and get a joystick. Checkout the help screen too. Then take the time to make yourself a decent arm rest so you can work the stick with your head, your shoulder, arm and wrist comfortable, stationary and supported. This is very important.
It is also vitally important in the airplane. Pick a seat position and stick to it. Your arm and wrist need to be fully supported and at resting on something solid. You work the stick with your first two fingers and your thumb. Get down to pattern altitude for your local airport. Set the throttle at about ½ travel and leave it there. Next set the flaps to what looks like the right deck angle to you for level flight which is different for each of us. Next set the trim so the sim does not drift up or down much on its own. Unlike the airplane you can get this perfect. It will take you quite a while to get everything done to very small changes, but keep at it. The overall goal is to reference outside and not chase your flight instruments. You will be delighted to find the airplane is much less sensitive than the sim, but with lots more distractions.
With speed about 110 kts, stabilize yourself in level and unaccelerated flight. Now note what you have for final speed, flap, throttle, and trim settings and write them down. Don't be in a rush. It can easily take a hour or more of experimentation just driving along level trying to zero out everything as best you can. Don't do this without cushions under your arm and wrist.
When you have straight and level by looking outside, learn the level turn picture. I have two bank angles: normal bank and half normal bank. I'll say 30 and 15. Not having a rudder in the sim is another drawback, but you can still teach your eyes and your hand to maintain level constant bank turn. We can add the foot part later in actual flight training. I really only use rudders in the traffic pattern.
Hold your altitude, hold your bank angle until your eyes and hands find these references just like you did for the level flight references. Only turn in one direction. Glance inside to correct and refine your outside reference points, but keep in mind this is an outside reference flight maneuver. Don't trim. Don't change power. The airspeed is going roll off a few knots in the turn. Let it. Make a note of what that is. Sooner or later you can add a touch of power and pull a touch back off when in a bank but for now just stay in a big circle. Every 5 mins or so, shake your hand out of to be sure you are not carrying tension. Remember just fingers and patience and belief.
When you are reasonably aware of the outside reference for straight and for turning try the next thing. Make a turn. Get stable. Make a roll out. Get stable. Never mind about your heading. Later on you can add in speed control. Later on you can add in turning to targeted cardinal heading. As you go through all of this, make a note each session of your control margins. Things like this: I couldn't keep my altitude within 200 feet, my bank varied by overbank and less by under bank, my pitch trended to go up more than down...whatever you thought you noticed. Pick any parameter that suits you and set a goal to reduce the some single vacillation testing them one at a time and keep a progress log for yourself. Get the cushion. Do the hand shake outs. A death grip on the stick won't cut it. I have 4 pics in my head for level turns. Normal bank, half bank, left and right. I would work on one at a time. Shorter sessions every day or so is usually better than longer sessions once a week.
FS 2004 works OK too. I like Google the best because it is a heads up display.
IFR PILOT TRAINING
If you opt for getting an instrument rating and you have a glass cockpit, don't bother learning 6 pack instruments and old time dive and drive non precision approach methods from your local flight school. Too many flight schools have old tech 6 pack Cessna's 172 trainers and they are teaching stuff that is of questionable value to a glass cockpit student pilot. To the maximum extent learn on what you will be flying.
I hope this helps. I have received a lot of help from the larger Velocity owners community and I am happy to try to give back where I can.
Respectfullly, Terry Miles N821TM