Mountain Flying Into Asheville, NC


With the cooler mountain weather, it was time for our annual pilgrimage to Western North Carolina. There is nothing prettier than the southern Appalachian mountains in the Fall. Some of my earliest memories are of family visits to Tweetsie Railroad, near Blowing Rock, and Clingmans Dome, near the Cherokee Reservation.

Flying into mountainous airports can be challenging, but especially rewarding. Under certain conditions, it can also be dangerous. The Mountain Flying Bible is an invaluable resource for GA pilots flying in and around of mountainous terrain. (Sadly the author lost his life in 2009 in a mountain flying accident.)sparky

Asheville Regional Airport (KAVL) is located at a 2,000′ elevation, in a valley surrounded by 6,000′ mountain peaks. Runway 16/34 is 8,000 feet long and is served by several instrument approaches, making it a busy airport for commercial airliners.

When we departed Florida for our 2+ hour flight, the weather in Asheville was still reported as low IFR with fog and 100′ ceilings. The weather was predicted to lift before our arrival, but I mentally prepared to fly an ILS approach, just in case.

Fortunately, the weather did improve just before we flew over higher terrain and we landed in VFR conditions. Not long before our arrival, at least one airliner and a Cessna 421 diverted after seeing nothing on the approach. Approaching the airport, we were number five for landing.

As we taxied in, we could see Asheville was a very popular destination as the GA ramp was full of private jets. The FBO, Landmark Aviation, treated us quite well, in spite of being one of the smallest aircraft on the ramp.

AVL

After nearly a week of hiking along the Blue Ridge Parkway, mountain biking and visiting the Biltmore Estate, it was time to head home. We lifted off just before an approaching front, and fought 40 knot headwinds out of the southwest for most of the flight. Even so, a three hour flight is always more palatable than a 9 hour drive.

2014-10-06 11.54.12

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Bob White Airport (X61) Fall Fly-in 2014


I am fortunate enough to fly the Bonanza out of a modern airport. At my home base, there are two crossing runways of 5,000 feet or more, multiple GPS approaches, inexpensive 100LL self-serve avgas, a friendly ATC tower, and excellent maintenance shops. What could be missing?

My airport exists within in a very efficient and sterile environment. There are lots of corporate aircraft and jets, but I rarely see my hangar-row mates. There are no social activities or hangar parties, unlike the days when I was learning to fly out of X04, Orlando Country Airport.

Even with all its benefits, part of me wishes my airport had the “soul” of Bob White Field, X61. Bob White is a 3,300′ pristine grass strip about 30 miles northwest of Orlando, nestled among farms and country homes. It serves as home for many tail draggers, warbirds, experimental aircraft and home-built. X61 offers no fancy hangars, ATC towers or instrument approaches, but it has a history, lots of aviation supporters and many stories to tell.

Last weekend was the 23rd annual Fall fly-in and barbecue at Bob White Field. The fly-in is always the last Saturday of October, and while it’s open to anyone, you only know about it by word of mouth. This year, over 80 aircraft from all over Central Florida, and at least 200 people were in attendance. Many of the same aircraft and pilots that flew into to the Bob White Flyin 2010 also participated this year.

The grass was freshly mowed and the temperatures were in the low 70’s, with a slight breeze out of the northwest.

The aircraft were vintage, some being built in the 30’s and 40’s. There were Luscombes, Piper Pacers, Aeronicas, Stinsons and Stearmans. Most of the pilots flying them were “vintage” as well. There were more than a few retired airline captains in attendance. One distinguished gentlemen started his career flying ag planes in the 40’s and retired in the 80’s, having flown just about every piston and jet aircraft in the National Airlines livery.

Many of the aircraft on display at Bob White have been restored and were in pristine flying condition. Most had no radios, or came with the original panel and tube-type avionics they left the factory with. No glass panels here!

For a $7 donation, we feasted on grilled hamburgers, jumbo hot dogs, homemade potato salad and chili, and an array of deserts that I suspect had many pilots re-running weight and balance calculations before departure.

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Instrument Proficiency Check


Maintaining IFR currency for instrument rated pilots is  a challenge if you are based in Florida. The Sunshine State almost always lives up to its moniker, and the only opportunity to get some real IMC time is in and around thunderstorms, (not advisable) or the occasional warm or occluded frontal boundary.

To legally file IFR and fly in the “soup”, you must be instrument current on a 6 month calendar basis, by one of two methods, or some combination of the following:

a. Fly and log 6 instrument approaches in actual IFR conditions,  with holds, tracking and intercepts.

            and/or

b. Fly  and log 6 instrument procedures, demonstrate holds, tracking and intercepts while wearing a view limiting device. This is accomplished with an appropriately rated safety pilot in the right seat, while in VFR conditions.

If you fail to log at least 6 instrument approaches in some combination of the above, within the 6 month time frame, you cannot file IFR and fly on instruments.

This weekend, I chose to maintain my instrument privileges by flying with a Certificated Flight Instructor-Instrument (CFII) in the right seat, to act as my safety pilot and critique my skill set. Instrument skills deteriorate pretty quickly if they are not used on a regular basis. By flying with an instrument instructor, I can receive an IPC, or Instrument Proficiency Check endorsement in my log book. This documents that I am current and proficient.

With the CloudAhoy app and an iPhone, we tracked my flight and it is pictured below. We departed from Leesburg, FL (LEE), and flew south. After contacting Orlando Approach on 119.4, we were vectored and then cleared for the RNAV/GPS RW7 approach at Orlando Executive Airport, (ORL).

After completion of the approach, ATC vectored us on a 270 heading to set up for the ILS RW7 at Executive. I hand flew the ILS to minimums, with less than a 1 dot deflection on both the localizer and glide slope.

After the second missed approach, we climbed to 2,000 feet and turned north to set up for the RNAV/GPS-A at Orlando/Apopka Airport, (X04). You can see the tear-drop shaped procedure track turn north of the airport, over Grand Island, and the inbound course reversal to RW 15.

After completing that low approach at Orlando/Apopka, we turned to 090 degrees, climbed back to 2,000 feet, and contacted Orlando Approach for the RNAV/GPS RW 03 at Leesburg. Initially our path was to the west, but we were soon vectored due south, over Lake Apopka, for sequencing into Leesburg. Once separation requirements were met, we were cleared for the approach.

At the end of the flight, I logged 2.0 hours on the Hobbs meter, 1.6 simulated instrument, and received a fresh IPC endorsement.

IPC

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Why We Fly- Instrument Approach Into Queenstown, NZ


This one always sends chills up and down my spine. An Airbus descends into the clouds on an instrument approach, between some tall mountain peaks. Stunning.

There is no better feeling than breaking out on an instrument approach with the runway right where it’s supposed to be.

I’m sure I will be thinking of this video as I fly the Bonanza into the Asheville, NC Airport (KAVL) next month. Asheville is situated in a scenic valley in the Western North Carolina mountains, and low ceilings can be a factor at times.

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Almost a Bad Day at Teterboro


Some pilots blindly follow ATC clearances. Good pilots always question ATC clearances, especially those that make no sense. It pays to have some situational awareness.

And question Authority, always!

This pilot should have spoken up sooner if he had questions about the odd heading that was assigned. The next time, that erroneous 180 degree vector could be into the side of a mountain while in IMC conditions.

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Insight Products Engine Monitor for the Bonanza


In my original Bonanza, I had a GEM 602 engine monitor in the panel. It was a great little unit, but it was developed long before the “lean of peak” engine management era we live in today. It helped me on several occasions to spot small engine issues before they became large ones.

When I bought the A36 Bonanza, it did not have an engine monitor, although the other instrumentation was superior. The plane came only with the single probe CHT in the panel, and you never really knew how the other 5 cylinders were feeling.

So, last week I ordered a new Insight G-2 engine monitor. This unit will help with monitoring EGTs, CHTs and fuel flow. It also has a removable SD datacard that will assist with assessing the overall health of the engine without dissembling it. Clogged fuel injectors, fouled plugs, and low voltage issues will be readily evident. And “lean of peak” engine operations will be a snap.

The plane is in the avionics show now, and I’ll update once we have a chance to fly it. This will make ocean crossings to the Bahamas and the Florida Keys a much less stressful experience, and it should eliminate the “automatic rough” pilots sometimes feel when crossing large bodies of water.

G2

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Summertime Flying


Summertime flying offers different challenges that Wintertime flying. In Florida we get to aviate all year, unlike those folks in the frozen north who “pickle” there planes for a few months when the weather drops below freezing.

Density Altitude (DA) is always a consideration while operating “hot and high” near full gross. Piston engine, propeller and airfoil performance always degrades as the ambient temperature and pressure altitude rises.

Thunderstorms are another consideration. These rain cells below have not yet fully developed into convective storms, but they are very close. The Stormscope showed no strikes during my flight to Williston (X60) for breakfast at the Pyper Cub Café. (yes that’s how its spelled). A few deviations were all that was necessary to stay clear of the weather.

The XM display below shows heavy precip, with some red and occasional purple gradients. It was easily navigable with a smooth ride, VFR, beneath the 2,000 foot bases. Flight visibility was unlimited, and there were no embedded cells.

The iPad Air with a Stratus-2 ADS-b unit radar display concurred with the XM display, but there seemed to be just a tad more latency.

With the temps and humidity in Central Florida today, all I can say is “thank goodness” for air conditioning in the Bonanza. It sure makes those long taxi and departure delays much more bearable.

Happy Flying!

 

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Vintage Beechcraft Bonanza Video


Amazing to see these original videos of the classic Beechcraft Bonanza. Even more amazing, all of these aircraft were designed by a group of engineers in Wichita with nothing more than a slide ruler.

To this day, there is nothing near as beautiful as an original V-tail Bonanza.

 

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Much Needed Time in the Sim


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Confusing ATC Clearances


On a flight a couple of weeks ago from Ft. Lauderdale Executive (KFXE) to Fort Myers, Page Field (KFMY), Clearance Delivery issued a clear, concise, straight-forward IFR clearance before taxi.

The clearance read as follows: “Radar vectors to V97, WINCO, LBV, direct FMY”.  I was not issued a departure procedure by ATC as part of this clearance.

FXE to FMY

After departing RWY 31 at Exec, the tower handed me off to Miami departure, who promptly radar identified me. I was cleared to climb to 3,000 feet and they turned me to a heading of 270.

A few minutes later, on that heading, the controller said to join the “WINCO transition”.

Um, the what? When receiving radar vectors, the controller simply says fly heading XXX, join Victor XX, resume own nav. If they give you a transition route, it’s already part of a previously issued departure procedure. You know it’s coming and are expecting it.

I quickly checked the FXE DP’s. Nothing about a WINCO transition. There was nothing in the Garmin 430 database either.

I then queried the departure controller and asked for clarification. She was a bit exasperated and said the transition route was defined by the DHP 322 radial. Sure enough, a check of the low enroute chart showed the Dolphin 322 radial IS V97, the same as my original clearance. So I asked for present heading to join the airway, and my request was approved.

I was a little frustrated at ATCs annoyance at me. Single Pilot IFR is challenging enough without a confusing clearance thrown in. After I landed at Ft. Myers, I did some research. There is only one departure procedure at KFXE, the Ft. Lauderdale Three. That procedure lists 6 transition routes, but none reference WINCO.

Further research showed that there are three DPs that do reference the WINCO transition, but all of those DPs are out of KMIA, Miami International, 30 miles to the south of Ft. Lauderdale Exec.

So it seems that the Miami controller issued me a transition route to a departure procedure from a completely different airport, despite the fact that no DP was ever issued as part of my original clearance from Ft. Lauderdale.

Confused? So was I. So I called Miami Tracon and spoke with a supervisor. He immediately knew what the problem was, took ownership of it, and apologized.

So the next time you get a confusing clearance, or non-standard phraseology from ATC, speak up. Ask for clarification if you do not understand the clearance. It just might save you a deviation, and your ticket.

 

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