Posts Tagged ‘Dave Hirschman’

Getting there is half the fun–and most of the challenge

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

Crossing two Great Lakes, a right hook into Canada, and a safe arrival at OSH

Getting to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, from the Mid-Atlantic by Cirrus requires answering one central question: whether to fly over Lake Michigan, or around it?

Flying over the lake means being out of gliding range of either shore for about 20 minutes – but it also results in a shorter total distance, an efficient non-stop flight, and a mercifully brief period in Chicago Center’s busy airspace. Staying over land requires circumnavigating Chicago to the south and west, sometimes way south and way west, a fuel stop, and the associated descent, hot start, full-power climb, etc.

This year’s trip to OSH presented an especially challenging set of circumstances that, in the end, illustrated some of the AOPA’s 2009 Let’s Go Flying Sweepstakes Cirrus SR22’s impressive capabilities.

For starters, fellow traveler Warren Morningstar and I would have to confront 30-knot headwinds over most of the route. A menacing line of thunderstorms would require a significant deviation north or south, and if we climbed near the airplane’s 17,000-foot service ceiling to extend our range, we’d be at, or close to the freezing level. And even though there were only two of us aboard, we’d be carrying so much gear for the show that the airplane would be near its 3,400-pound gross weight limit.

Warren took the left seat and handled the takeoff and climb like a pro, even though it was his first time flying an SR22. He hand flew the airplane to 12,000 feet and configured for a lean-of-peak cruise (164 KTAS at 12.4 gph). The headwind made its presence felt right away, but if we could continue our relatively straight line, we’d get to the big show with more than two hours of fuel remaining.

That’s when the XM Weather depiction on the Avidyne display gave us the bad news about the storm system ahead. A cold front in the Ohio Valley was spawning a big line of storms that stretched from southern Indiana well into central Michigan. The south edge of the front was thin but violent with red and purple radar echoes and numerous lightning strikes. The north side was wider, but the radar showed only greens and yellows representing light and moderate rain showers.

We had brought a pair of inflatable life preservers in anticipation of crossing Lake Michigan. Deviating around the approaching weather system north of Cleveland, Ohio, meant they’d be doubly useful as we’d cross Lake Erie as well.

Morningstar, who grew up in Utah, said he didn’t mind flying over the big bodies of water.

“At least it’s summer,” he said. “The water down there’s probably about as warm as it ever gets.”

We entered IMC and continuous light chop near Cleveland, and a nearby airliner reported light rime ice at 14,000 feet. The OAT indicators (two of them) in the Let’s Go Fling SR22 weren’t in complete agreement. The one on the PFD (which derives its information from a probe on the wing) indicated the air around us was within two degrees of freezing. The one on the MFD (which gets its data from a probe on the engine cowl) showed eight degrees F above.

“I wonder which one we should believe,” Morningstar said.

We continued north all the way into Canada before a wide gap allowed a west-bound turn toward Muskegon, Michigan. We stayed at 12,000 but soon began collecting traces of rime ice. The airplane’s TKS system removed the traces quickly from most of the wings and tail, but small amounts remained on the wing roots and tips.

The OAT on the PFD registered freezing while the one on the MFD registered six degrees above.

“I guess we know which one to believe now,” Morningstar quipped. (The OAT probe on the cowling was likely getting some heat from the engine.)

We could have descended to warmer air, but flickers of blue sky above showed we were near the tops of the clouds. We climbed to 14,000 feet and pushed our way westward in blue sky and smooth air. The higher altitude allowed us to reduce fuel consumption to 10 gph, and ground speed was virtually unchanged. We had sufficient fuel reserves to make our destination under normal conditions. But the often swarming VFR arrival into Oshkosh isn’t normal, and we didn’t want to enter the melee with anything less than two hours of fuel in the tanks.

The clouds disappeared over western Michigan allowing a clear view of the blue waters of Lake Michigan. We were on an IFR flight plan for Sheboygan on Wisconsin’s eastern shore (Oshkosh wasn’t accepting IFR arrivals), so we planned to cancel when we arrived overhead and then continue VFR to the big show.

Oshkosh had wisely put its ATIS information on an extraordinarily powerful transmitter and we were able to pick up the information more than 120 miles away. The winds were out of the west at 16 gusting to 23 knots and the ceiling was 4,600 broken.

Morningstar clicked off the autopilot and started a long descent over the lake. Shortly after reaching the Wisconsin shoreline, we ducked under a layer of cumulus clouds and bounced along toward Ripon and the well-known Fisk Arrival.

It had been several years since I last flew to Ripon, joined the conga line, and followed the railroad tracks to Fisk, then Oshkosh. But the well-written and illustrated Oshkosh notam made the process straightforward and easy to understand.

Morningstar took out his video camera to record the event, and I took over the flying duties.

Given the strong west winds and relatively light traffic (for Oshkosh, anyway), I assumed we’d be landing on Runway 27, and I’d pre-programmed the radio frequencies accordingly. As we approached Fisk, however, the Cherokee Six in front of us was assigned Runway 36, and we got the same instruction.

One frequency change brought us to Oshkosh Tower South, and we were told to land on the “yellow dot” about half way down the runway.

The Let’s Go Flying Cirrus SR22 and its highly authoritative rudder pushed back against the crosswind and held the centerline. Moments later, Oshkosh volunteers directed us to AeroShell Square where we shut down the engine. The Let’s Go Flying Cirrus SR22 still had 24.1 gallons of fuel remaining after 4.8 hours in the air.

The ground crew tugged the airplane to the Big Yellow AOPA Tent for its weeklong display.

We were pleased to open the airplane to the highly knowledgeable and airplane savvy visitors that Oshkosh attracts, and glad to answer questions about the many modifications that have been made to the Let’s Go Flying SR22 in recent weeks. The Forward Vision EVS-100 infrared camera system and its pop-up display screen drew the most curiosity, and AOPA members also wanted to know about the in the AmSafe airbag seatbelts and S-Tec roll autopilot roll servos.

We didn’t intend to add so many new products and upgrades to what was already a fantastic airplane when philanthropist J. Lloyd Huck donated it in late 2008. But each modification has improved the airplane’s already impressive performance and utility.

And when you see it at AOPA Summit in Tampa Nov. 5 -7, the Let’s Go Flying Cirrus SR22 is likely to be sporting a few more improvements.

Old habits are hard to break.

Peeing in airplanes

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

Airplane designers have gone to extreme lengths over the last 100 years to make airplanes fly faster, farther, and more efficiently.

We’re now blessed with general aviation airframes capable of flying four or five hours or more at a stretch – far beyond the bladder capacity of most pilots and passengers. Do the designers mean for us to squirm and grit our teeth? Dehydrate ourselves? Should we stop every couple of hours for bathroom breaks and forgo the smooth air, cool temperatures and operating efficiency that come with high altitude?

Of course not.

Pilots are supposed to stay hydrated and comfortable on long flights – even in airplanes without lavatories. But it takes a little planning. And a few bottled sports drinks, an autopilot, and ride reports that warn of turbulence ahead sure can help.

Still, many general aviation pilots absolutely refuse to pee in airplanes, and they plan cross-country trips with the endurance of their bladders – not aircraft performance – in mind. After completing a recent four-leg, 16-hour, cross-country trip, several experienced pilots wrote to say that such a journey would have been impossible for them due to required potty stops. When I landed and shut down after a particularly long flight, the person who met the airplane (and had been watching its progress on volunteered to tie the airplane down anticipating that the pilot had to sprint to a bathroom immediately.

Cross-country flights are complicated enough without putting potty breaks in the equation.

Here are a few tips that (although kind of gross) can make long-distance flights a lot more bearable. But first, a couple of qualifiers: I’m a guy, and I approach the subject from a male perspective. Also, this article doesn’t address questions of etiquette for multi-crew airplanes or what’s appropriate when flying with your mother in law.

Relief tubes

World War II-era military airplanes, even trainers with limited range and endurance, almost all came with “relief tubes” as standard equipment. The arrangements were brilliantly simple: a funnel clipped to the bottom of each seat was attached to a rubber hose that drained out the bottom of the fuselage.

The contraptions were hard to miss, easy to use, and relied on gravity alone. They weren’t perfect. Hoses got kinked, blocked, separated, or frozen. But they worked well for many years, and it’s a mystery to me why long-range GA airplanes never incorporated them.

The high-tech solution

A variety of firms make “piddle packs” that contain a sponge or powder meant to absorb urine. Military pilots use them on long trips.

But they’re more expensive, harder to find, and problematic than other means of solving the same problem. Also, the powder inside can spill or lose its absorbency.

I was on a long flight with a fellow AOPA staffer once who was planning to write a review on one such product. He put it to the test over Lake Michigan (funny how the large bodies of water affect us). To say it didn’t work as advertised would be an understatement.

I hope no one who ever flies that airplane knows its history. (Your secret is safe with me, Nate Ferguson!)


I don’t have any preference when it comes to flavor or electrolytes. But sports drinks are perfect for the cockpit due to the shape of the bottles. They have large openings, so their advantages for guys with poor aim are obvious.

Bottled water is easy to find at most FBOs these days – but their small openings can be problematic, especially in turbulence.

The downside to these kinds of plastic bottles is that they’re clear. Once you’ve filled one, you’ve got to find a way to discreetly dispose of it (and dropping bottles from airplanes in flight is extremely tacky). I usually slip the full bottles into a canvas bag and empty them in an FBO bathroom, but I’m ever fearful a cap will come undone.

Also, beware changes in atmospheric pressure. A bottle filled and capped at high altitude will tend to crumple in a descent. That’s usually not a big deal – but watch out for the reverse situation. If you fill, or partially fill the bottle, then climb, the air inside will expand and build pressure inside the bottle. If you’ve ever a bag of potato chips explode at 10,000 or 12,000 feet, you know what I’m talking about.

Empty one-quart oil bottles have the advantage of being opaque, and such bottles also have a clear seam meant to show fluid levels. They would be ideal for in-flight relief — except for the fact that they, like water bottles, have small openings. (Murphy’s Law also creates the real and unpleasant possibility of mistaking a repurposed bottle for actual oil the next time your engine’s a quart low).

Say your intentions

There’s an ongoing debate about the proper times to use autopilots – but I don’t think anyone would argue that they’re a godsend when it’s time to go.

Still, no matter how long the radio frequency has been silent, it’s virtually guaranteed that ATC will call with an advisory or reroute at your most exposed and vulnerable moment. That’s why it’s a good idea to let ATC know you’ll be leaving the frequency momentarily (no, they don’t want or need to know why) before getting too far into the process. ATC will ask you to “check back on” in a few minutes, and that’s what you should do. Your voice is likely to sound noticeably lower and more relaxed when you call.

ATC also can be helpful in providing ride reports for the area ahead. Smooth air definitely simplifies matters, especially if getting down to business requires loosening or unlatching seatbelts.

XM Weather on some GPS units and multi-function displays also show areas of turbulence, so plan accordingly.

Half full

Flying at relatively high altitudes dehydrates you faster and increases fatigue levels, so it’s important to keep drinking on long trips. But it’s better to have one or two half-full sports drinks than one full bottle for a simple reason. When the time comes, you don’t want to have to guzzle an entire sports drink just to free up the bottle. This isn’t a zero-sum game. If you drink 12 ounces, make sure you have an empty 16- or 24-ounce bottle nearby.

This is one of those times not to press your luck – and a half-full bottle is better than a full one.