After completing my instrument training on September 29th it was good to get up and start to practice on my own some of what I learned. My plan is to work on my take-off, enroute, and descent through the clouds segments of flight to gain a level of proficiency and comfort with ATC communications and procedures, clearances, cockpit management and workflow, and all those little things that pop up here and there that you just don’t get exposed to in training. Just as when I completed pilot certificate it seemed that the training was so much all at once and even after working so hard all summer and completing the rating you step back and realize just how much you still don’t know! As the saying goes, “It’s a license to learn”, and I’ve gained two of them in 16 months. I HAVE A LOT OF LEARNING TO DO. As I gain experience and proficiency I’ll slowly challenge myself with shooting instrument approaches in lower cloud ceilings and visibility conditions. I’ll continue to go up with pilot friends and complete approaches to minimums using view limiting devices, hood work, to stay sharp and when the time comes to do it for real I’ll be ready. The cost of a mistake in real conditions is death; very unforgiving.
In early August as I neared the end of my instrument training I suddenly realized that all my flying had been directly associated with training. I would see friends and Facebook Group members posting about all the awesome flying they were doing yet I could count on one hand the fun flights I had done and even those had been carefully planned to fulfill a flight hour/type requirement for either my pilot certificate or instrument rating. To be honest the instrument training had become quite stressful and I was putting a lot of pressure on myself. I’d began to dread lessons while at the same time wanting more. I could feel the Practical Test day looming heavily on me as I studied every available moment and went over instrument approaches by chair flying them; mentally practicing the flight in my mind while gesturing to the appropriate imaginary buttons and knobs to build muscle memory.
In order to give me something to look forward to I decided to schedule my first big Fly-In event. I had been to a few local afternoon events put on by local clubs or schools but this was to be my first major event. There are two main aviation organizations that represent the general aviation pilots like myself; AOPA Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, and EAA Experimental Aircraft Association. AOPA holds four events at different locations each year. Each event is two days and includes a selection of seminars, aircraft displays, vender and manufacturer booths, briefings, and entertainment all centered around general aviation. You have to register for these events far in advance and even though I was doing so in August for an October event I was behind the power curve. Thankfully with my points and hotel status with SPG I was still able to get accommodations at the sponsoring hotel near the airport. I booked a rental car and an airplane to fly to the event. Laura and I took a few extra days on either end and made a vacation out of it. The Fly-In was on Fri/Sat Oct 6th-7th in Groton, Ct so we flew up Wed the 4th and planned to fly back Sun or Mon; more on that in a minute. A few weeks after making these plans it became evident that my instrument training might be complete prior to the event. When I scheduled my Practical Test the available date ended up being the Friday prior to the Fly-In. My hope then was to obtain my instrument rating on that Friday and fly my first IFR flight to the event the following Wednesday. I not superstitious but at the same time why push my luck! I just couldn’t bring myself to do any IFR flight planning for the event prior to my test so I figured I’d see what happened on test day and then plan the flight accordingly.
After doing well on my Instrument Practical Test I came home and began planning the flight to Connecticut. I was hoping to fly northeast and then fly up the coast thus taking in some scenic ocean views and sneaking a peak at Philadelphia, Newark, and New York along the way. Though I knew the busy NY airspace might cause me to get routed west and north. The funny thing about instrument flying that differs greatly from VFR flight rules is that as much as you plan or want a certain route, in the end you never really know what route your going to get. You can file a given route but when you are on the taxiway calling for an IFR Clearance minutes prior to takeoff you have to fly what they give you, which might and in my case was, completely different from what I filed. My 1st instrument flight on my own ended up being great practice even though it wasn’t the route I wanted.
The morning of the flight I got a bit rattled because there was some miscommunication and my plane was in the back of the hangar, not fueled, with a twin engine Piper that I couldn’t move blocking me in. The electric aircraft tug was locked and I couldn’t locate the Piper’s tow bar. I made a couple calls and decided to preflight the plane in the hangar, get everything loaded in and set up, and call for my official flight/weather brief while I waited for someone from the school/club to arrive to move the Piper. Once out of the hangar I called for the fuel truck and worked on relaxing and brushing it off. There was no way I’d make my filed departure of 8 a.m. but everything would be ok and it was more important to get everything right than to rush and be on time.
Back to my first IFR flight being good practice. I filed my coastal route and once ready for take-off called Potomac Clearance Delivery for my clearance. Yup, the dreaded words “Advise when ready to copy complete route clearance.” NO! Anyhow I tried to copy the clearance down as the controller read it to me, they talk really fast. I got a few things wrong so I admitted it was my first flight and he appreciated that I was trying. We got it worked out and I did the required verbatim read-back. Then I had to get the route figured out on my charts (via iPad) and get it entered into the Garmin G1000 avionics. Finally I was ready to go and received a release from from ATC to take off .
After about 30 minutes of flight ATC advised me of a change to my route for the second half. I got it copied down and read back and it served as good practice for cockpit management and planning. Looking up the route, getting the flight plan changed in the avionics, communicating with ATC all while flying the clearance I had been given. After that came two portions of the flight where I was given vectors to fly off my route due to skydiving activity. Once clear I was instructed to return to my route via direct a given charted intersection. All good practice for thinking on the fly and executing the necessary steps. So far so good but not so fast!
After 2 hours of flight, about 30 minutes from Groton, Ct I began hearing a ticking noise. Have you ever left the sleeve of your shirt or jacket hanging out of the car and drove off? As your speed and the wind changes it makes a slapping/ticking sound. That’s sort of what I heard. At times I wasn’t sure I heard anything. I checked the engine instrument analysis screen and took off my headset to listen carefully. What is that noise? I thought maybe the cover where you check the oil had come loose, or my external camera mount was loose. I continued to closely monitor the engine readouts and everything looked normal. Minutes passed and the noise became loader and I started to get a little vibration. I wasn’t overly worried but my concern was growing. About then I was given an initial descent from 7000 ft to 3000 ft. I set the airplane up for a descent and as I pulled the power back the noise went away. However as I leveled out at 3000 ft I knew I had a problem. At the time I had no idea what it was but I knew I had to deal with it and fly the plane. I’d had some issues with my camera setup but I did capture most of this event on my internal cockpit camera.
I hesitated about whether to share this video because I don’t want family or friends to worry or be concerned about flying with me or in any other small aircraft. My school and club have well maintained aircraft with great mechanics who do an excellent job keeping them in tip top shape. The planes are extremely safe and it is very rare that anything happens whereas the pilot cannot get the plane safely on the ground. The fact is that things happen. Some pilots fly a lifetime or thousands of hours without anything like this happening; for me it just so happened after 180 hours on my first IFR flight. So now that I’ve got that out of the way……
The incident is best relayed by watching the video. I included some annotation where helpful. Click the below image to watch the 3 minute video.
Once on the ground we found a great aircraft mechanic named Tom who diagnosed the problem as an exhaust that broke off right at the engine, very rare. The flight school arranged authorization and payment for the repair ASAP. Tom ordered the parts but a day later notified me that the wrong part had been shipped. By then it was Friday afternoon and the earliest we could hope to get the correct part was Monday morning. Oh well we took it in stride and enjoyed the Fly-In. We would wait util Monday to see if the plane was repaired and if not either make alternate travel arrangements or stay a day or two extra. I voted for adding a couple days onto the vacation!
As with many marathons and triathlons, large events like this rely on a certain number of volunteers to make it work. Hundreds of planes arrive in short timeframe and have to be parked according to type and whether the the occupants are camping on the field or staying elsewhere. Since we arrived early I volunteered to help set up and park the first planes to arrive in mass on Thursday afternoon. This also freed me up to be with Laura for our seminar on Friday and the events on Saturday.
Unlike cars or RVs it’s a little more difficult to get a look at the newest aircraft that I have read so much about. Thankfully at these events they bring them all right to you and line them up! I was able to sit in the cockpits of all the newest models and discuss everything I had read about them with the manufacturer representatives.
These events are also a great place to get an up close look at military and historic. The National Guard brought out some good stuff on the military side and private owners of some historic aircraft showed up eager to show of their prized aircraft.
These events are meant to be fun and entertaining but they also serve an important educational purpose. There were dozens of seminars, classes, and briefings to attend depending on your interests or needs. Laura and I attended the Pilot Plus One seminar to help her become more comfortable with flying by exploring how to overcome the fear of flying, enjoying photography during flight, aviation specific get-aways, and a non-pilot companion safety course to prepare for an emergency. We also attended a briefing on current events impacting aviation and a briefing from the contractor who provides official weather & flight briefings when they call the FAA Flight Service.
I have read so much about The Zen Pilot, an aviation, motivational, educational speaker, so it was great to meet him in person. Laura bought me signed copies of his books that I look forward to reading. On his website linked below there are several short audio and video clips that explain what he is all about. His flying if for the purpose of highlighting aviation, demonstrating life lessons, and raising money to further access to aviation and for aviation scholarships.
In the main exhibition hall there were dozens of booths representing product manufacturers, venders, and organizations. They provide a unique opportunity to speak directly with someone who’s product or service you use and to gain insights or express concerns or opinions and gain feedback. I especially appreciated my conversation with Toby, an air traffic controller from New York who has started a great YouTube channel Weaving Flows. Our discussion gave me insight into how visual flight rules (VFR) traffic and instrument flight rules (IFR) traffic is managed in New York’s busy airspace and how it affects the routing I might receive when flying IFR vs VFR. I also met AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines who I watch weekly on AOPA Live podcast and who’s articles I read in AOPA Magazine.
I also met David St. George, a board member of SAFE. I’ve thought about working towards my flight instructor certificate (CFI) as a possible retirement job. Safe promotes education and ethics in the field of certified flight instruction.
No AOPA Fly-In would be complete without a Barnstormers Party to include a great meal and music in the backdrop of an Albatross
I love seafood and Groton, CT did not disappoint! Laura and I love our walks and we had several opportunities to walk around the seaport and historic areas of Groton and partake of the local fare.
Since we stayed a couple extra days we had the opportunity to do a short hike and met some wonderful locals walking their dogs, and as a bonus one was a hound.
The Fly-In was complete by late Saturday afternoon and the weather was forecasted to take a turn for the worse later that night through Monday as the remnants of a hurricane moved up the east coast. As mentioned above the part for the airplane wasn’t going to arrive until Monday and Tom felt confident that he could have the plane fixed by that afternoon. So Laura and I arranged an extra day off work so we could wait out the airplane repair and the bad weather, planning to leave Tuesday morning. We used the time to relax at the Mystic Marriott Hotel & Spa and take an extra trip into town.
With the insight gained by talking to Toby the air traffic controller, I planned and filed an IFR route that I hoped would get approved and issued Tuesday morning allowing us to get a good look at New York and the coastal shoreline. We didn’t get the exact route I filed but it was pretty close and afforded us some spectacular views and the opportunity to gain experience flying through this extremely busy airspace.
Smartphone cameras are great nowadays but they still can’t capture the awesomeness the human eyes behold; especially at a distance such as flying 6000 ft above. Even though I was having some operator induced camera difficulties I was able to capture some video which I’ll be editing and posting at a later date. I will leave you with these two photos from the flight home. Our routing took us directly over the top of New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport; the ocean views were breathtaking and we had excellent views of the New York bridges and the Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately due to the limitations of the iPhone’s camera I wasn’t able to get any usable photos. One day I hope to get a decent DSLR camera with a proper zoom lens.
The route from Groton, CT to Baltimore, Md was clear but I was watching our destination’s ATIS (Automatic Terminal Information Service) on my iPad and it showed marginal weather with cloud layers at 3600 and 2400. I was at the time descending from 4000. Potomac instructed me to report when I had the ATIS, make my request, and reminded me of cancellation procedures. I did so and got the distinct feeling they wanted me to cancel IFR. I told them I would do so in the air when I had the field in sight. At the time I was over BWI Airport and it looked clear but I could see clouds in the distance and had the above ATIS report at our destination; KDMW Carroll Co Reg Airport, MD. Sure enough I had to descend through two layers prior to getting a visual on our desrtination runway.
This last photo is a screen shot I took when looking through the video I captured from my underwing camera. It’s a little hard to see but in the lower right corner look for the circular rainbow and within it is the airplanes reflection. In the upper right corner I enlarged the reflection.
With all the time I have freed up after completing instrument training I’m taking the opportunity to enjoy the lack of stress and pressure from not having to study 24/7. Catching up on all my magazines, reading some books I had set aside and experimenting with my GoPro cameras and mounts to see if I can’t do a little better job of capturing inflight video. I’m sure I’ll think of other things to do also but for this week the above will keep me busy.
So this past week was a mix of education, vacation, and flight training. A chance to exercise my new Instrument Rating and gain some valuable practice. I approach each flight as an opportunity to learn and enjoy the wonderful gift of aviation. I’m hoping my next flight will be to a fishing trip with some pilot friends that’s been planned since spring. I’m also planning a hound dog rescue flight for the end of the month. I’ll keep you posted.
I hope you enjoyed reading as much as I enjoyed sharing, until next time.
Phil aka HoundPilot.