Pilot Blogging World

Disclaimer: I was reluctant to report on this, because I’m absolutely awful with people’s names, and not much better with faces (sorry David). Plus there is the problem that as well as names, there are people’s blog names, and the fact that some of these people don’t want their names appearing in public in anyway associated with their blog names, and keeping track of what details of their real lives shouldn’t be associated with their blog names, and you can see why I was hoping somebody else would write this up. But nobody has, so here I am.
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Friday’s lesson: Don’t make your weather decision without looking at the sky

I nearly didn’t make the flight up to Toronto for the Pilot Blogger weekend. There wasn’t anything on the radar, and the TAF (Terminal Aerodrome Forecasts) were talking about a 40 percent probability of isolated thunderstorms, which is pretty normal for this time of the year. But at decision time, the METAR (current conditions) at Rochester were:

KROC 131554Z 25011G17KT 10SM BKN037TCU BKN070 22/12 A2993 RMK AO2 SLP132 TCU SE CB DSNT N T02110111

Now, I’m not great at reading all the “RMK” (remark) part of the METAR, and that’s where the scary stuff was. All I know is that “TCU” means “Towering Cumulus” and “CB” means “thunderstorms”. And I went to the decoded report on DUATs, and it said that the “TCU”s were in all quadrants. So I thought I’d be flying IFR, dealing with the extreme turbulence of TCUs while out over the lake, and thought that wasn’t a good situation to be in. So I told people I’d be driving instead.

And then I walked outside. One odd thing about Rochester is that the airport is south of the I490 highway, and there is frequently a real difference in the lake-affected weather up north of I490 and the mainland-affected weather south of it. So I walked outside and looked up and north to see scattered clouds and bright sunshine, and then looked south towards to airport to see some of the TCUs the forecast was talking about, but mostly to the south of the airport. And suddenly realized that if I were to depart VFR, I could dodge the TCUs until I was in the lake-effected weather, and have no problems following the lakeshore around to Toronto.

I haven’t done a VFR flight into Canada in a while, so I had to dust off those old memories. But I managed to get all the appropriate paperwork all done, and didn’t cause any international incidents. (Not so on the flight home – as I type this I realize I forgot to close my flight plan, so I’m calling right now. Can I just mention for the record that I wish US controllers would open and close flight plans the way Canadian ones do?)

When I took off, as soon as I got turned over to departure control, there was a gigantic rain shaft about 5 miles in front of me, and I was about to tell him I was going to turn north because of it when he pointed it out to me and gave me a vector. But 5 miles later I was at 3,000 feet in sunshine, mostly smooth air, and I could see across the lake.

The lakeshore is a lovely flight, and Toronto gives me flight following around, but requires me to stay out of their airspace, which means descending into mild turbulence and staying lower than I’d really like to. But the flight was fun and I’m really glad I got to fly.

Beware falling doors

I had a cleaning appointment today at 9am. I went in, sat down, the hygenist opened the usual plastic pounch of various instruments of torture, and then decided she needed something out of the cupboard. She took what she wanted and turned away and the door fell off the cupboard and onto my knee, slid off, and evidently landed on her toe. She said “I just need to sit you up” and then left. Seconds later I hear her sobbing and a crowd of other hygenists around her acting all solicitous. I guess her toe was hurt worse than my knee.

They have rescheduled me for 10:30am with a different hygenist.

Hey, you know those distractions? They’re very distracting.

I thought I had no problems with distractions. After all, I’m a highly trained and experienced pilot, and when I was a student pilot my instructor had spent a fair amount of time making me deal with distractions. But today I was taking some friends out flying, and just as we were leaving the class C airspace I noticed a bit of a strange noise – and I looked over and realized the door wasn’t latched at the top. I unlatched the bottom to try and get it re-shut, but it wasn’t possible to get it closed. I slowed the plane to 80 knots and tried to get the passenger to close the door, but he couldn’t do it. Unlike the club’s other aircraft, the Lance doesn’t have a strap you can yank on to pull the top of the door closed, so neither of us could get it properly latched.

Now you and I both know there is nothing wrong with having the door open except for the breeze and noise, and the potential for having your charts whisked out of your hand at a bad time. But I didn’t want to do a two hour scenic flight with all that noise and wind, especially not with people who’d never flown before.

Fortunately, Ledgedale Airpark was about a mile off my right wingtip. So I told Rochester departure that I’d be making a landing there, and did a 180 degree turn to enter the pattern. But I was having a terrible time in the pattern. The winds at Ledgedale down low were gusty as hell. But I can’t blame the horrible pattern I flew entirely on the gusts – my speed and glide slope control was ridiculous. I heard the stall horn a few times, I got the “Landing Gear Unsafe” light a few times before I put the gear down as I horsed the throttle around overcorrecting altitude and speed excursions. I was so low on final I had to put in full throttle so I wouldn’t touch down a dozen feet short. And then my landing was, to put not too fine a point on it, a bit firm. I must have let the door distract me. And that’s not good.

I guess it’s time to spend some time with an instructor re-learning how to deal with distractions.

More problems with the home box

My home Linux box is acting decidedly weird. This time, when it froze up and wouldn’t reboot I opened the side to clean out some dust. I noticed two strange things:

  1. One of the case fans wouldn’t spin when I pushed it, like all the others
  2. Even after I removed that fan, when I booted the CPU fans would spin for a second or two and then stop.

I left it to cool for a few minutes, and now it’s booting. But that business about the fans spinning and then stopping is worrying me. Could it be overheating, or a sign that this motherboard is nearly dead? I was bzip2-ing a large file when it happened, and the hard drives were making ugly noises.