Tom Horne Archive

Time Out in Iguacu

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

The members of the Air Journey South American self-piloting tour group have been on the road together for about four weeks now. On average, the three pilots and their passengers fly about 500-700 nm every two days. No one’s complaining, mind you, but there does come a time for “something completely different” as they say in the Monty Python shows.

With this as a motivator, all hands signed up for a ride through the jungle in the national park surrounding our hotel near Iguacu Falls, Brazil (I’ve also seen it spelled “Iguassu,” by the way), followed by a jaunt upstream in a huge Zodiac-style boat. Upstream, as in breaching rapids. And actually entering the Iguacu Falls! The helmsman steered us right into the water, which came from, oh, maybe 500 feet up. One minute you’re looking up at the water as it rolls off the cliffs above, the next you’re getting a hydraulic pounding. And a thorough soaking.

Good thing Mike Fizer, AOPA Pilot’s senior photographer, was along. He took photos and videos–using his cell phone. His $6,000 Canon would have been a write-off after that dunking. He bought Go-Pro videos from the boat operator, as well as some watery stills.

You’ll have to wait to see the waterfall-inundation stills and videos in an upcoming article in AOPA Pilot and a segment in AOPA Live This Week. We couldn’t upload the files as we were in a rush at the time, and Fizer was preoccupied with trying to dry out his clothes. Seems he tossed his wet gear in his suitcase before the next leg of the trip. When he next opened it, all his clothes were wet, thanks to osmosis. And as the humidity here runs as high as 94 percent, air-drying is useless.

 

The Iguacu Falls, photographed by Mike Fizer at 4:30 a.m. A time exposure allows both stars and the falls to be seen--even though it was a pitch black night.

The Iguacu Falls, photographed by Mike Fizer at 4:30 a.m. A time exposure allows both stars and the falls to be seen–even though it was a pitch black night.

The falls at dawn.

The falls at dawn.

A stop along the jungle trail. My personal best moment here came when a toucan landed near by.

A stop along the jungle trail. My personal best moment here came when a toucan landed near by.

That’s it for now. I’ll get in a couple more posts in before leaving the Caribbean and re-entering the U.S. As always, stay tuned!

On to Iguassu Falls

Saturday, March 21st, 2015

Yesterday the Air Journey group flew from Buenos Aires’ San Fernando airport (SADF) to Iguassu Falls (SBFI), where there is a luxury hotel hard by a much-visited set of waterfalls–both within a national park. In retrospect, the departure from San Fernando had a comical air. Our airplanes were towed, one at a time, from the local FBO to the ramp in front of the tower. There, the police made us empty the contents of each plane for screening. After that, it was more cacophony on the frequency as attempt after attempt to secure permission for engine starts and clearances as communications dissolved into badly broken English. Seems that Spanish is the dominant language of aviation in Argentina. Oh, well, at least we could hear the controllers.

On this leg, I flew with Mike Williams in his CJ1+, along with Larry and Cathy Wilke. Williams owns a metal fabricating business in La Porte, Indiana, and Larry is his shop manager. Wouldn’t it be nice if all our bosses took us on a tour of South America? The CJ spent most of its time at FL370 and FL390. About 45 minutes into the flight, thunderstorms cropped up, forcing us to dodge their tops.

The first part of the enroute segment was on top at FL370. Below, IMC reigned, and thunderstorms began cropping up on the horizon.

The first part of the enroute segment was on top at FL370. Below, IMC reigned, and thunderstorms began cropping up on the horizon.

Eventually, the undercast broke up, and the storms were behind us. But behind us, at FL270 Ian Runge was in the soup, and so was Joe Howley in his PC-12.

Ah, that's better. The view out the front of Williams' CJ1+ . At this point we were about 75 miles from the destination.

Ah, that’s better. The view out the front of Williams’ CJ1+ . At this point we were about 75 miles from the destination.

Iguassu Falls tower cleared us to circle the waterfalls, with the restriction that we stay at or above 4,000 feet.

Iguassu Falls, Brazil, from 4,000 feet.

Iguassu Falls, Brazil, from 4,000 feet. Our hotel, the Hotel das Cataratas, is in the small clearing on the other side of the falls.

The CJ1+ lands on Iguassu Falls' runway 14.

The CJ1+ lands on Iguassu Falls’ runway 14.

We’re getting into Amazon basin territory now, so afternoon convection is becoming a regular event. The next leg, from Iguassu Falls to Rio de Janeiro, will probably start early in the morning to avoid the worst weather. Stand by for more…..

Bariloche to Buenos Aires

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

After a nice stay at the Llao Llao Hotel (http://llaollao.com) in Bariloche, Argentina it was time for the nine people in our travel group to launch once more. This time, to Buenos Aires’ San Fernando Airport. It would be a huge understatement to say that all of us fortunate flyers were sad to leave Llao Llao. Take a look at this and you’ll see why:

Llao Llao Hotel and grounds

Llao Llao Hotel and grounds

Nevertheless, on a trip that lasts six weeks and rounds the entire South American continent, someone has to beat the drum and keep the tour on the move. So Mike Williams, in his CJ1+, along with passengers Larry and Cathy Wilke; Joe Howley, in his PC-12NG with his wife Christine; and Ian Runge in his TBM 700 with wife Sue, fired up this morning at Bariloche and headed out for Buenos Aires. Here’s a couple of slides from the preflight briefing to give an idea of some of the route particulars:

The big picture--the route from the Argentinian mountains to the coastal lowlands.

The big picture–the route from the Argentinian mountains to the coastal lowlands.

Today's route basics. A 725-nm trip, complete with flight plan waypoints and expected procedures

Today’s route basics. A 725-nm trip, complete with flight plan waypoints and expected procedures

Once again, I flew with Joe Howley and got to see the great capabilities of the PC-12NG. I used to dislike the NG’s Honeywell Apex avionics, but I now think I can come to terms with it having spent four-plus hours in the right seat. If only someone would just give me a dozen hours or so more flying the NG and I’m sure I’d be able to make it sing. Someone, please help me here!

The takeoff from Bariloche's runway 29. And no, the PC-12's prop doesn't fling itself around like this. It's distortion caused by the iPhone's shutter--or something... I don't know. You tell me.

The takeoff from Bariloche’s runway 29. And no, the PC-12’s prop doesn’t fling itself around like this. It’s distortion caused by the iPhone’s shutter–or something… I don’t know. You tell me!

Mid-way through the flight we topped a large layer of building cumulus clouds beneath our FL250 crusing altitude. Some of the cumulus (cumuli?) were rising in isolated towers, and the NG’s stormscope and radar showed thunderstorm activity off our left. So we climbed to Fl270 and made a 10-degree deviation to get around the area. After about 100 nm, we were in clear skies. But get a load of the situation approximately an hour after landing:

Today's widespread convection, superimposed on our flight track. An end run around the right edge of a weak line of buildups was the perfect solution. There wasn't even any turbulence!

Today’s widespread convection, superimposed on our flight track. An end run around the right edge of a weak line of buildups was the perfect solution. There wasn’t even any turbulence!

The storms weren’t really the biggest problem we had. That award would go to the extraordinarily faint, garbled, and indecipherable transmissions from ATC. What does it sound like? Imagine a man in a fully-tiled bathroom, back to a microphone, and speaking into a tiny megaphone. It’s an echo-y, build-and-fade sound, with some static thrown in for good measure. And it seemed like every pilot in every sector stepped on each others’ transmissions. That’s international flying for you.

After a hard day fighting thunderstorms, plus landing and other fees, Joe Howley rejoices at his post-flight fillup--$4.40 a gallon!

After a hard day fighting thunderstorms, rotten radio transmissions, customs, general declarations, immigrations, and fees, Joe Howley rejoices at his post-flight fillup–$4.40 a gallon!

I would have taken some photos of the building cumulus, but somehow my iPhone fell down between my seat and the sidewall, and I couldn’t retrieve it in flight. Sorry about that. Tomorrow, AOPA Pilot senior photographer, Mike Fizer, will be joining the group to provide some world-class photos and videos of the goings-on in the air and on the ground. So be on hand for that. OK? I hope you said ‘yes’–I mean “correcto” as is the habit of South American controllers.

Cruising through South America

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

People often ask me about one of my titles on the AOPA Pilot masthead. “What’s an editor-at-large” do? Or, for that matter, “what does editor-at-large mean?” I’d say it means a couple things. One, I work out of my home office. Two, I travel a lot. I mean, a lot. So, I’m “at large”–in a state of more or less perpetual wandering. Sometimes I get really lucky. Like right now. I’m on an Air Journey trip through South America. Over the next few days I’ll keep you updated on the goings-on.

Today started in Puerto Montt, Chile, a resort town in a region that’s been called South America’s “little Switzerland.” Here’s a shot from our hotel this morning–the Hotel Cumbres in Puerto Varas.:

Hotel Cumbres, dawn

Hotel Cumbres, dawn

Today I flew with Joe Howley and his wife, Christine in their PC-12NG. Joe, by the way, is president of the Pilatus Owners and Pilots Association. It was s short hop from Puerto Montt to Bariloche, Argentina. We cruised at 17,000 feet and saw 265 KTAS along the way, and saw lenticulars as we passed over the mountains:

Joe and Christine Howley

Joe and Christine Howley

The lenticulars, and a shot of the approach we shot into Bariloche–in severe clear, but the drill is to file IFR:

Lenticulars--or are they rotor clouds?--as seen from 17,000 feet

Lenticulars–or are they rotor clouds?–as seen from 17,000 feet

Bariloche

Bariloche’s VOR DME ILS DME rwy 29 approach–what a mouthful!

More to come. The next leg takes us to Buenos Aires, then it’s on into Brazil. Stay tuned…..

Last stop: Nagoya and Kyoto

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

It was an easy two-hour trip from Taipei to Jeju, South Korea, and the day spent at Jeju gave the touring group of pilots a chance to see a volcanic caldera and check out the Shilla Hotel’s private beach. I’d never heard of the place before, but Jeju is a big tourist destination and has a huge modern airport to prove it.

But this trip is all about the flying so today we flew from Jeju to Nagoya, Japan. Jeju was hot and foggy at the surface for today’s departure but we picked up 50-knot tailwinds at the Mustang’s cruising altitude of 33,000 feet. Groundspeeds hit the 350-knot mark a couple of times. As a result we landed at Nagoya in just under two hours.

After that it was a bullet-train ride to Kyoto, where the group will see the sights. Then my Mustang flying comes to an end–for now, anyway–on Saturday morning. That’s when I head to Tokyo on the bullet train and board a flight back home.

Hope you got at least a bit of a feel for the experience, but an upcoming issue of AOPA Pilot will have a feature story on the same trip, and give you a more expansive look at the experience. Thanks to those of you who followed along, thanks to all the great new acquaintances I made during this unforgettable time, and for those of you who want to continue following the group as they make their way through Russia and back to United States, remember to follow Air Journey’s blog.

The route from Jeju to Nagoya. The green shading indicates high-altitude turbulence, and indeed there was some. About 60 nm from Nagoya we had to deviate around a thunderstorm, but that was about it for the weather enroute.

The route from Jeju to Nagoya. The green shading indicates high-altitude turbulence, and indeed there was some. About 60 nm from Nagoya we had to deviate around a thunderstorm, but that was about it for the weather enroute.

 

Here’s a sample of just some of the material reviewed during the previous night’s pilot briefing. Good material for armchair flying!

Briefing Jeju – Nagoya

 

The Women Pilots of Air Journey’s RTW

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

Of the nine pilots flying the current legs of Air Journey’s around the world (RTW) voyage, two are women. One, Laura Azara, plans to file for a record flight: the youngest female pilot to complete an around the world trip in an unmodified airplane–a Pilatus PC-12NG.

Yes, Amelia Earhart–no, not that Amelia Earhart–recently claimed an around-the-world record for being the youngest female pilot to reach that goal, and in a PC-12 NG to boot. But the latter Earhart made her flight using a PC-12NG fitted with ferry fuel tanks. And while she may have been the youngest to do the flight, Azara is even younger–by a mere three days. On the RTW trip Azara flies with Jimmy Hayes in his PC-12.

Laura Azara, copying  her clearance to depart Taiwan's Taoyuan Airport.

Laura Azara, copying her clearance to depart Taiwan’s
Taoyuan Airport.

Corinna Hettinger is the second female pilot. She has a private pilot certificate and logs time flying the Sierra-modified Cessna Citation ISP owned by her and husband Bill. She learned to fly in a Cessna 152 and in her 25 years of flying, she’s flown a series of Piper piston singles, then upped her game to serving as co-pilot in the Piper Navajo the couple have owned. These days, she’s riding shotgun and making contrails in the ISP at FL430.

Corinna and Bill Hettinger prepare to board their Citation.

Corinna and Bill Hettinger prepare to board their Citation.

Meanwhile, Betty Schlacter, while not a pilot, might as well be. She’s been flying with husband David for the past 65 hours in the TBM 850 the couple are using on the RTW trip. She’s attended a number of pinch-hitter courses, and learned a lot from right-seat experience. The skills she’s learned over the years make her very adept at working the GPS and other navigation equipment, as well as making radio calls. In the polyglot world of around the world flying that’s saying a lot.

 

Slots and Heat

Sunday, July 13th, 2014

For yesterday’s departure from Hong Kong each airplane in the group was assigned a slot. These ranged from 7:00 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. so it was important for us to all get to the airport well in advance. Hong Kong, with departures occurring at what must be one-minute intervals, is a very, very busy place.

In any event, our carefully allotted slot times didn’t work out as planned. Like many big airports overseas, at Hong Kong you have to call up clearance delivery, then ground control to get an engine start time. The first time I called up, I was told to expect a 10-minute wait for engine start. Ten minutes came and went, and the next callup said it would be 15 minutes. Then 20 minutes. Then 25 minutes.

This was bad not just because of the takeoff delay, but because of the weather. It was a soggy, rainy, 90-degree morning, so everyone ended up soaked in sweat waiting for permission to start. We didn’t dare start the engines so we could sit there indefinitely, even though that would have given us air conditioning. It would eat up fuel.

Finally, permission was granted. A half-hour taxi ensued, then our Mustang was finally cleared for takeoff. It was 10:30 a.m.

The intial takeoff and climb performance was OK, with climb rates of 2,000 fpm or so. But the much higher than standard temperature conditions (ISA +19 degrees) meant that to keep decent climb rates we’d have to use ever-slower airspeeds. Eventually we levelled off at FL330 (we gave up on cruising at the originally-filed FL370, feeling that it would take us too long to reach it). Coming up on the target altitude, the Mustang’s climb rate was down to 500 fpm owing to the heat’s adverse effects on engine power output.

Less power available also meant a slower cruise speed than typical–315 instead of 340 KTAS. All these factors turned what normally would have been a 1.5 hour trip into a 2 hour event. We landed at Taipei’s Tao Yuan International Airport at 12:30 p.m. Later in the day there was an outing to a huge electronics store, and today the group visited a Tao temple, Chiang Kai Shek’s memorial, the National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine–for those who died fighting warlords, communists, and the Japanese in the period from the 1920s to the late 1940s.

But this trip is all about getting there, so there’s another briefing tonight for tomorrow’s trip to Jeju, South Korea.

Here’s a view of our route:

The route to Jeju may involve some rain showers and convection. That's tropical weather in the summer for you!

The route to Jeju may involve some rain showers and convection. That’s tropical weather in the summer for you!

Here’s some shots from yesterday’s flight:

Waiting for engine start on the ramp at Hong Kong's Business Aviation Center. There's a Signature FBO here!

Waiting for engine start on the ramp at Hong Kong’s Business Aviation Center, with a big downpour on the way.

Baking in the heat, waiting for engine-start permission so I can close the door and start up. Outside the western world, general aviation pilots will find that  wearing a pilot uniform will mean bring better influence and respect.

Baking in the heat, waiting for engine-start permission so I can close the door and start up. 

The Mustang's G1000 MFD shows us enroute to Taipei, and more than halfway there.

The Mustang’s G1000 MFD shows us enroute to Taipei, and more than halfway there.

Two of the group's airplanes tied down on the ramp at Taipei.

Three of the group’s airplanes tied down on the ramp at Taipei–a Twin Commander, A Citation ISP, and a PC-12NG

 

Next Stop: Taipei

Friday, July 11th, 2014

It’s late here (10:30 p.m.) and we have departure slots reserved for tomorrow morning, so it will be a 5:00 a.m. wakeup for the trip to the airport. The trip from Hong Kong (VHHH) to Taipei (RCTP) should take us about 1.5 hours in the Mustang, and I thought I’d share a screen shot of our anticipated route before hitting the rack.

WSI's app, showing the planned route. Note how it studiously avoids mainland China.

WSI’s app, showing the planned route. Note how it studiously avoids mainland China.

Hong Kong Rendez-Vous

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

Six short years ago, I was lucky enough to join up with Air Journey’s first around-the-world (RTW) escorted tour. For those who want to check that out, select the “North Atlantic Crossing” category to the right. Back in 2008, I flew with Air Journey from Quebec City, Canada to Paris. This year the fates have once again smiled upon me. But this time I’m joining the biennial trip nearer the end of the odyssey–one with legs that begin in Hong Kong and end in Kyoto, Japan. And this time I’ll be flying with Air Journey president Thierry Pouille in his Cessna Mustang.

By the way, Air Journey has earned a well-deserved reputation as a provider of escorted tours to most parts of the world. Pilot-customers do the flying, and Air Journey does the grunt work of obtaining overflight permits, arranging for handling and transfers, filing flight plans, and oh yes, providing for most meals and tours at each stop. To learn more about the company visit their website and to read their blogs about previous legs in this year’s RTW trip go to their blog section and also at www.2014rtw.blogspot.com

There are four other airplanes in this year’s RTW group: A Citation 501 with Sierra Industries’ Williams-engine conversion, flown by Bill and Corinna Hettinger; David and Betty Schlacter’s TBM 850; a Pilatus PC-12NG, owned by Jimmy Hayes and flown by Hayes and Laura and Danny Azara; and Brad and Deborah Howard’s Twin Commander 690B. Several other participants have flown along in these airplanes as they made their way eastward, on intermediate legs.

For me, the big attraction this time is that I’ll be swapping legs with Thierry and logging some more jet time in the process. In some pretty exotic airspace. But of course, there is the quality tourism as well.

But first things first. Before there would be any east Asian general aviation flying, I had to make my way to Hong Kong. Let’s just say that this was a grueling 20-hour slog on the airlines. The 14-hour leg from San Francisco to Hong Kong made it seem like time had stood still. Sleep? Faggedaboutit. But I did watch a feature on Marvel Comics–two times!–something with the title “Winter Soldier” in it, a Big Bang Theory episode, a feature on weird pets–two times!–plus another short feature on how not to get scammed, and another movie–The Grand Budapest Hotel. I think.

It was, in short, a kind of exercise in physical and psychological duress. But what’s the alternative? Charter a Gulfstream? Ain’t gonna happen. Besides, it would still take nearly as many hours.

This is why, after this trip, I am now convinced that the idea of a supersonic business jet is a viable one.

It was 8 p.m. by the time I arrived at Hong Kong’s The Peninsula Hotel. Like every hotel Air Journey uses, The Peninsula is first-rate. It offers what to me is an embarrassment of amenities. Like a ride from the airport to the hotel in a chauffered Rolls-Royce. Or perhaps you’d like to be shuttled by their helicopter to the hotel’s rooftop helipad. You get the idea.

I am still badly jet-lagged, but today I went with the group for a guided tour of Hong Kong. This included a visit to Victoria Peak, Hong Kong’s highest point, a harbor tour in a 16-man sampan, and much more. Hong Kong, once a British colony, is in a transitional phase, on its way to being integrated into the Peoples’ Republic of China. It’s a hot, humid, crowded, busy place, full of construction. Once known for its manufacturing, it’s now a center for banking and shopping, shopping, shopping.

I’ll have more updates in the coming days, but for now here are some shots from today:

The view from Victoria Peak

The view from Victoria Peak

 

This year's RTW group

This year’s RTW group

Your ride from the airport. This OK?

Your ride from the airport. This OK?

...Or maybe you'd like to take the Eurocopter? Seen here on the rooftop heliport.

…Or maybe you’d like to take the Eurocopter? Seen here on the rooftop heliport.

Welcome to The Peninsula, your lordship

Welcome to The Peninsula, your lordship

A penthouse suite. Yours for $15,600 a night. And while Jackie Chan may have stayed here, none of the group is.

One of the rooms in a penthouse suite. Yours for $15,600 a night. And while Jackie Chan may have stayed here, none of the group is.

Stay tuned. We depart for Taipei, Taiwan on Saturday, and the preflight briefing should be interesting. Thankfully typhoon Neoguri is moving well out of the picture, having moved away from Japan. But this morning was IMC here, with bands of heavy rain showers, low ceilings, and plenty of fog and mist.

Skew-T fever

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

In last month’s AOPA Pilot I wrote my Wx Watch column about some of the dynamics behind frontal formation (http://www.aopa.org/News-and-Video/All-News/2013/September/1/WX-Watch-Front-formation.aspx). It’s a complicated subject but I tried to explain it as simply as possible given the space available. Believe me, entire volumes have been written on the subject.

My whole idea behind Wx Watch is to provide a mix of practical information with occasional introductions to some advanced concepts. Concepts that can help further an understanding of how weather works, as well as help better understand briefing products (such as Convective Outlooks). I take the same approach when giving my presentations on aviation weather at AOPA Summit. The audiences seem to enjoy knowing more about the weather than is provided in traditional pilot training materials. Seems logical to me. After all, we fly in it–be it good VMC or miserable IMC. Besides, weather-related accidents tend to have a disproportionate level of fatal outcomes.

And yet, the private pilot knowledge exam has remarkably few questions on weather. Last I checked, you could get all eight weather questions wrong, and still pass. No wonder pilots feel that weather is their weakest subject–a feeling that often can persist throughout a flying career. That said, I think that, at heart, most pilots want to know more. They ask questions that indicate an intellectual curiosity. But tune out when the explanations come.

Some are apparently defensive about this. One member wrote to say that the front formation article was aimed at meteorologists, and too esoteric to be of any practical use, adding that he is a VFR-only pilot. Oh, the irony.

Then there are those wanting more. One member wrote to ask for more coverage of Skew-T Log-P charts. Another wanted more talk about things like convergence, divergence, and vorticity. Proof that our membership is a diverse batch indeed.

Those not feeling the urge to better their understanding of weather may think of it as existing in the realm of entertainment. I like a good “there I was” or “Never Again” yarn as much as anyone. But many of them serve as poor substitutes for learning experiences. Sometimes you get the idea that these first-person accounts come from pilots who were genuinely surprised by horrific weather–even though its occurrence could have been predicted during the preflight phase. That is, if the pilot knew where to look, and what signs to watch.

So where do you stand? Do explanations of weather dynamics have a place in discussions of aviation weather, or do generalizations suffice? I suppose the answer is a mix of both. But for the squeamish, be forewarned: A Skew-T chart will appear in October’s Wx Watch! It will show a temperature profile of freezing rain, and there will be no quiz!