Posts tagged ‘Flying’

I’m a pilot and no one calls me Smokeboy

This is a journal entry from 11-December-1996. I hope, by now, the parental statute of limitations has expired …

WELL … it’s 1630 and I’m back from my solo x-country but without the plane. 45 minutes into my flight to Alice Intl. via Corpus Christi, I started to smell smoke. It was like burning electrical wire and insulation. Within 15 seconds, smoke was visible through the instrument panel and then a balloon puff of black smoke wafted out from under the panel followed by a lesser amount of gray/white smoke. The engine gauges were out.

I immediately shut down all electrical (turned off the Master switch). While my ground school has taught me the engine does not require the electrical system to stay running, there was a moment of surprise followed by relief. I then did my best to clear the smoke through the vents. I turned all the switches off and then brought the master back followed by tentatively turning one of the radios back on. The smoke didn’t continue so I called the last radio contact, Valley Departure, and announced the situation. “valley departure, Cameron 11. I have an situation – an electrical fire with smoke in the cabin”. “Are you declaring an emergency?”. What seemed like a long pause but likely a fraction of a second, “yes”. They requested intentions. I indicated my intent to attempt a landing at Port Mansfield, a small narrow single uncontrolled runway. Departure requested aircraft identification, number of person on board, aircraft colors. They then gave me a vector to the airport, approximately 360 and 2 miles. I had the strip in sight and they approved a frequency change so I could announce intent to any local traffic.

I had a go-a-round as I realized I would have a strong crosswind landing, in excess of anything I had attempted before and the the Tomahawke wanted to float on the landing. (I later realized that it was in excess of the aircraft limit of 15kts.) It didn’t add any margin of error that the runway was 3200ft and only 40ft wide oriented 12-30 and the winds were at about 200/15G18KTS. I had a little bit of bounce but I kept in on the runway and brought it to a stop.

After taxiing to a park space, I shut down and contacted SWFTS. They were already aware of the situation and had dispatched someone to get me. Within 5 minutes, two sheriff, state, local, an unmarked, and EMT were on the scene with fire enroute. They cancelled fire and ambulance. I gave a statement to the sheriff and shortly there after, the area had cleared out. One of the EMTs, about 38, raggy haired, bushy beard man wearing sandals (a nice man, pleasant helpful ‘local’ kind of guy), chatted for a few minutes and then gave me a ride up to a local store so I could get a soda. I then called FSS to close my flight plan. I had already called SWFTS and asked that they contact tower and advise that I was on the ground. In about 15 minutes after returning to the plane, I saw an aircraft overhead. It did the same change of approach I had, deciding on runway 12.

After landing, out stepped my instructor, Brad – a chief flight instructor, and Eddie – one of the mechanics. Brad’s comments were of surprise that I put it down on the runway and managed to keep it on the asphalt. He also was surprised by the amount of crosswind I held. Adam was skeptical about the smoke until Eddie opened the aircraft and Adam smelled smoke from the tail area. Everyone debated the problem and Eddie finally found that the panel light switch had burned, along with the circuit breaker and the under voltage switch, then the voltage regulator and finally the alternator. We couldn’t get the plane restarted so after contacting SWFTS maintenance, they sent up another mechanic with parts. Brad and I took off with the Warrior for Brownsville.

On the way back, Brad let me fly and had me do some interesting maneuvers. He had me fly heading and altitude with only the rudder and throttle. I had to maintain altitude and vary heading. It was a good exercise. All too soon we were back at KBRO.

As I am writing this, I can still smell the electrical smoke; it’s in my clothing. There were a bunch of funny moments. Shortly before takeoff, Adam instructed me that if I landed at any other airport, I had to inform him, since I was only endorsed for the ones on my flight plan and T31. Also, he said I should never allow smoking in an aircraft. When I got back, dispatch was calling me Smokeboy. My name was already changed on the dispatch board. They had made a magnet namecard (usually reserved for the instructors).

It’s now 17:50 and I’m finally starting to wind down. A slight head ache is setting in and I’m expecting to feel completely wiped within an hour. Adam wants a night flight but I’m feeling that by the time we’re ready to fly, I won’t be in any shape for it.

I won’t be able to write much about it but I wanted to note that it seems somehow strange, bizarre, and ironic that I am at flight school and I am watching a series on “the learning channel” called “Survival in the Sky”, all about flight accidents – pilot error, equipment failure, and weather. Imagine, watching a series on so many horrific accidents associated with a skill in which you are being trained. A little dimented wouldn’t you say …

Pilot physiology – flying cross country

When it comes to pilot physiology If you do everything right, you start the day at 100%. Everything you do from that point on will be a deduction. The goal is to make the deductions as small as possible and as few as possible. What follows is how I completed a recent cross country flight with that goal in mind.

Let’s start with the handy mnemonic for pilot assessment – IMSAFE

  • Illness – Is the pilot suffering from any illness or symptom of an illness which might affect them in flight
  • Medication – Is the pilot currently taking any drugs (prescription or over-the-counter)
  • Stress – Psychological or emotional factors which might affect the pilot’s performance
  • Alcohol – Although legal limits vary by jurisdiction (20 mg/mL blood in the UK,[2] one quarter that for driving), the pilot might want to consider their alcohol consumption within the last 8 to 24 hours
  • Fatigue – Has the pilot had sufficient sleep and rest in the recent past
  • Eating – Is the pilot sufficiently nourished?

While I love to read the posts on VAF about fly-outs and cross country adventures, this is a trip write-up with a different purpose. Throughout what follows, I will label which of the above apply to my experience. In most cases, the label will refer to what I was attempted to minimize – for example, all of the planning helped to reduce "stress".

My most recent trip was nothing unique and there were not lots of inspirational pictures. So, I thought I’d make this trip write-up about safety – specifically about pilot physiology.

My trip was to cover a couple thousand miles in three days. I knew I would have head winds on the first day and tail winds on the second and third days. My plan was for manage the winds as best as possible. [Stress]

A few days out I started to watch the weather. The headwinds would make the first day a long one and I had a limited number of daylight hours. [Stress]

I planned the longest day to be first and each subsequent day to be shorter. I knew I would not completely recharge each night being that I would be in a new place and would likely spend time catching up with people. [Stress, Fatigue]


The night before, I did my first pre-flight of the airplane and fueled up. This was a good plan since I noticed the tires were a little low from the current cold spell. I tested out a makeshift pre-heat solution. My hangar was at 40 degrees, and while I could sit on the ground waiting for the oil to warm, getting things up to 80 while in the hangar would save me 10 minutes. [Stress, Fatigue]

During the evening pre-flight, I also took the opportunity to replace the piece of foam weather strip on the RV-8 canopy. The sliding canopy has a nasty draft and I wanted the cockpit to be comfortable. Pilot comfort is a safety task. You want to start the day at 100% and everything subtracts from that number – the fewer deductions, the better. [Fatigue]

I also started the pre-flight of the pilot. This included planning a normal and definitely not late bedtime; skipping my usual glass of wine with dinner; and insuring the meal was something safe – I did not want there to be any risk of adding an extra stop just. I also set out various snacks and liquids for the flight. [Alcohol, Fatigue, Eating]

In the morning, I loaded the airplane and then turned on the engine heater while I had breakfast and dropped the dog off for boarding. [Fatigue]

I completed a full preflight, pulled the plane out, closed the hangar, and finished the checklist for engine start and taxi. I used the last bit of time – while the oil warmed up – to load the full day’s flight plan into the GPS (it was already loaded into both my phone and tablet which would serve as my backup EFB). [Stress]

There are a few things I keep in the airplane at all times – a backup hand-held radio, camera, light weight gloves, hat, a water bottle, a pulse oximeter, and TravelJohn disposable bags. These last two are definitely safety items.

oximeter traveljohn

Any time I am flying above 8000′ I will pull out the pulse oximeter and periodically check. The FAA does not require oxygen below 12,500. That is not to say that the body is unaffected. Altitude flying is another of those things that makes a deduction from that 100%. For me, it is not large, but spending multiple hours at altitude does made a deduction. It’s easy enough to measure and the solution is to fly a lower altitude. Over the three days, I would not be above 9,500′ and each time I checked it was 95 or 96 (with a 92 in there to make me double check I had the finger sensor on correctly). [Illness, Fatigue]

I fully understand the affect of being under hydrated. The problem is that drinking sufficient fluids results in two possibilities – you either drink too little or you need to eliminate liquid. My body much prefers being well hydrated. The TravelJohn disposable bags work as advertised. Knowing I can pee whenever I need to means I never am "distracted" when it comes time for my approach to an airport, landing , and taxiing. I’d bet that any pilot "in a hurry to get down" will make decisions differently than if they had no "pressure" to get to a bathroom. Just consider the decision of a troublesome landing – whether it be a gust of wind, a poorly established approach, a little bounce on landing – most of these are easily resolved with a go-around. But the "need to pee" is definitely weighing into the decision. I really don’t care how graphic this may seem. It’s a simple matter of this pilot’s physiology. [Stress, Fatigue]

As I mentioned, the first day was a log one and there were a limited number of daylight hours. I had several options planned out. First was my flight plan – I had two fuel stops for the 960nm flight – one at KDVK and the other at KPOF. Each stop would add time on the ground. I preferred a single stop at 2M0. [Stress, Fatigue]

Winds are only accurate as they are occurring so there was no guarantee that the "plan" for one fuel stop would be possible. My solution was to flight plan both a single stop and two stops AND to identify multiple options for fuel between (the white markers in the map image).

I watched both my fuel flow and my tank levels as I proceeded. The head wind was very close to forecast. I continually calibrate my fuel flow instrument with each trip and keep it about 5% pessimistic. As I approached my "one of two" fuel stop, I calculated my fuel remaining if I were to continue to my "one of one" stop. It was above my personal minimum (which in turn is above the FAA minimum). I wanted all of my available fuel in one tank (rather than have a small unknown amount in one tank). I used a stretch of sequential airports to run the tank down to zero and then another 20nm until my fuel flow indicated the tank was about to be empty. I then switched tanks. This confirmed both my calculations and that of the fuel computer. It also confirmed I had my personal minimums for fuel to make it to my "one of one" stop. Even still, I kept my flight plan over several alternate airports in case the winds changed. [Stress, Fatigue]

By the time I landed at Princeton Caldwell County airport, I had been in the air for 4 hours and 45 minutes. The only way that was possible was planning, backup plans, constant attention to the airplane, constant attention to the pilot, food, water, a TravelJohn, good clothing, and a comfortable cockpit. The landing was relaxed, unstressed, and uneventful – even with some gusty winds and a bit of ice on the runway. [Fatigue]

With the longest leg done, the plane fueled, a pilot break, and a call to check in, I was back in the air after only 25 minutes on the ground. And for the record, that "call to check in" was another safety task. I had my lunch early into the second leg. [Fatigue, Eating]

The second leg of the day was easier – it was shorter, the winds let up so my progress was quicker, I’d have plenty of daylight, and my destination was a bigger, and better maintained airport.

All day long, there were several people tracking my progress from my APRS tracker. While it is not designed as an emergency system, it does mean that individuals at both ends of my trip were aware of my location nearly every minute. This was helpful given my altitude was 2500′ for most of the trip and while flight following could maintain radio contact most of the time, there was not reliable radar contact. [Stress]

The rest of the trip was a lot less of the above. The legs were shorter times (even if one leg was 560nm) thanks to the tail winds. Each day was a single leg and only a few hours.

The one thing I deducted from that 100% was that my back was not thrilled by the RV-8 seat after that first long leg on day one. My tolerance did not come back to 100% for the rest of the trip. In the past, I’ve never had a day of more than 4 hours. The RV-8 does not give you many options for moving around. This is one issue I will need to be experiment to find a solution. [Fatigue]

Pilot stories – aka “hangar flying”

You never quite know what will happen at 53VG but this “born in the wrong era” aviator tries to prepare for all possibilities.

Using some updated Cold War tricks, the Salmon Farm has established an early warning system. So, there was time to prepare when the teletype spat out “VladRV9A is moving. 4.36 miles SW of Plymouth, MA”. Followed a few hours later by the Rusian penetrating the inner monitoring ring, “VladRV9A has entered zone 53VGREGION – vector is 202 degrees”

Fortunately, a small cow had already been sacrificed. The Russian had been sustained by little more that potatoes and borscht. American sized burgers were grilling.

With the Russian feasting …

… the shift ended for the American airman who could enjoy a higher octane beverage.

After swapping tall tails of our national pride, the Russian took on some vodka-free petrol and was just about to call “clear” when he and the American spotted a flight of two. It was hard to make up but we guessed they sounded Italian. These were not RV pilots (but we later learned one will be soon enough).

As the trailing aircraft broke formation and the lead setup for final, the old Cold War rivals chortled as they were sure the approach was high and fast.

You needed to wipe the grass from our lower jaws when, as the landing Italian bird came to an apparent stop in mid air and drifted down to a short landing. We could not tell what magic they possessed but it seemed it must be very dark magic. Fortunately, the spy photos revealed the secret of that magic wing.

It turned out the Italian aircraft were piloted by more Americans – the Russian feeling both famous and outnumbered – took his cue and exited.

With the Russian, having exited the inner zone, the rest of us sat down for the real business – filling voids in our APRS web with a new iGate. More of us will be hunting down the Russian in the months to come.

Some interesting departing images of the unique Rallyes …

Many thanks to all who visited. I hope the weather allows more to make the next gathering!

I fly for pie

Sometimes you find yourself in the enviable position of having all your chores done and left to your own to fill an afternoon. It’s even more rare when the weather deities have chosen that same afternoon to bestow dry air, light winds and only the puffiest of cotton ball clouds.

It was just such a confluence that happened on Saturday to I pulled out the Devastator, gave it a good “once over” and launched from the just mowed long narrow lawn.

The destination was a little ways off. It would take a little more than 90 minutes to get from 53VG to 5NC3.

The flight was beautiful and only the slightest of bumps and burbles to serve as a reminder this was flying an RV-8 and not an afternoon in a BarcaLounger.

After landing. I taxied past a home that looks like the little brother to my own “metal house”. There was really no time to stare, there was food ahead.

Most everyone who has traveled 220nm to get to Pick-n-Pig is greeted by a waiting line. The food is THAT good. fortunately I know secrets. I was seated immediately.

I could have stuffed myself on a nice pulled pork sandwich with sides of beans and slaw but I was on a mission. I was here for PIE! Key Lime pie to be exact.

I tried to savor it but it evaporated before my very eyes. Oh well. Pie always evaporates. It’s a scientific fact that it has very low coefficients of both adhesion and cohesion.

Back out side, the parking area for planes had thinned out considerably. The Citabria and the three Cubs had departed along with a few other craft. There was one classy bird still sun bathing.

I decided I had been on the ground long enough and should get high as soon as possible. There was a slight headwind up at 9,500′ but it was Kentucky Rye smooth.

At one point I decided to drop down for some sight seeing. I spotted the best case of “the Hatfield’s and the McCoy’s” – two guys with adjacent farms decided they each had to have their own grass strips. I’d say the guy on the left wins. He has a nicer looking runway (at least from 1500′) and even has a perfect tree lined driveway.

Finally home, I picked up a hitchhiker while taxiing back to the hangar. This little green guy is not so little.

All in all the day was great. The only lingering problem was that dang pie. It was only a fleeting memory.

As visitors to 53VG know, food is important. So, after watching the sun go down and then watching it come back up again I decided visitors should get to enjoy Key Lime Pie a whole new way – Key Lime Pie Ice Cream Sandwiches.

Any takers?

Travel / emergency oil funnel for the RV-8

use an old oil bottle as a travel funnel

Nearly every pilot travels with a spare quart of oil (or two) when traveling in their airplane.

The challenge comes when we actually need to add that quart of oil through the fill tube. Most airplanes – especially the RV line – have very small inspection doors for checking the oil level.

An easy travel funnel can be made from an empty quart of oil !

For the RV-8, the trick is to insert the funnel with the short side positioned at 2 o-clock and then rotate clockwise it to the 12 position. This way the funnel screws into the fill tube and is hands-free!

It stores conveniently on the end of a full quart of oil.

I’m sure you have paper towels in your airplane too :-)

Flight traffic at 53VG

Private airports – especially those on a farm – tend to have minimal traffic. Once in a while, the owner may try to put together an adhoc fly-in. But for most of the year, the airspace over a private grass runway is pretty quiet.

There are exceptions to nearly every rule – even rules of thumb..

This morning, I had intentions to go fly. The day dawned with thick fog. Once the fog lifted, it didn't go far – if became very low clouds. The clouds were too low for my flight plan, but it didn't ground everyone.

I took the opportunity to take a few pictures.