Private Pilot Resources - Aviation Blog

I obtained my private pilot license in 2006. This site is dedicated to capturing little gems of knowlege I collected during training. Periodically I add items I find during research so that others might benefit from them. Please review the disclaimer at the bottom of this page.

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Location: San Jose, CA, United States

In 1999 a friend invited me to go flying and I was hooked. I live in the Bay Area about an hour south of San Francisco and fly out of Reid Hillview (KRHV). Please do get in touch and lets go fly!!

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Flying the Bay Tour

Flew the bay tour today. My friend Mike, my son and one of the instructors at Tradewinds as a last minute addition to fill out the plane. What a fantastic flight it was. We were wheels up at 10:15 am on 31L. As luck would have it the same scenario I had written about in my last post. Sure enough the tower forgot to hand us off in time so we flew cross wind and into the downwind leg before we got in touch with San Jose, then broke right and back towards San Jose. Across KSJC at or above 1500 and soon we were with Norcal restricted to 3500 heading up along the Bayshore 101 freeway. To me 3500 feet was a very comfortable altitude. You could make out the terrain very nicely to navigate. Turns out that when we checked in that morning, somebody had taken the other Archer so we flew in N4313G which has a very nice KLN94 GPS.

I throughly studied its manual several weeks before and so with familiar landmarks and the KLN94 navigation to show airspace boundaries it turned out to be a snap. You have to be up on your radio game because calls do come in rapid fire and you're expected to respond in kind, but I had listened to my scanner for months and knew what was coming and to my surprise my responses came a lot faster than even I had anticipated. The marine layer was visible all along the coast, but right at the Golden Gate bridge it opened up with scattered clouds. Two other planes were on the tour, but were leaving the Bay just as we arrived. We crossed the bridge at a right angle and entered a theater of phenomenal views and scenery. Now at our own discretion, clear of class Bravo and North of the Bay Bridge we were clear to descend and went down to 2800 feet and circled Alcatraz, went around Angel Island, enjoyed views of Sausalito, watched a yacht race, flew along the San Francisco piers, saw a huge freighter pulling a tiny tug boat...wait a minute...shouldn't that be the other way around.. and all along enjoyed the fantastic skyline of San Francisco. Below are a few camera shots we picked up along the way. Click on the pictures to get enlarged views.

After about 30 minutes we headed back towards the East Bay, called Norcal to request a class Bravo transition along the East Bay to Reid Hillview. Norcal advised us to stay north of the Toll Plaza (which is where the Bay bridge meets land) and north of the bridge. We stayed to the left of 880 and received a few fectors for traffic, but were allowed to a ssume navigation quite soon. Eventually our radar services were terminated and we squaked VFR. At Embassy suites (little...or not so little pink building right along the freeway and maybe a few miles after the big auto plant) we made our call up to Reid Hillview and landed after 1:30 hours back where we started richer by an experience that few ever get to have and thankful for it all.

I was especially thankful to be able to share that experience with my son who was bright eyed about every little thing we saw along the way, did a great job at pointing out various lakes along the way and was very mindful of my radio work. He fell asleep the last 20 minutes on the way back.

Mike and I spent several hours this evening reliving the experience and we'll talk about it for a while to come. It was fantastic to have an interesting friend like Mike along. Thanks Shawn for joining us on short notice. It made the flight a lot more relaxing. You're an absolute delight to fly with.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Planning the Bay Tour

Last Thursday Tradewinds sponsored a Wings seminar that focused on flying the Bay Tour safely. I picked up a few pointers that I thought I'd post here. The Bay Tour starts from KRHV with a hand off to San Jose Tower, which usually makes you cross mid field at or above 1500 feet. You then fly west of the 101 BayShore all the way up North and usually get vectored towards the coast, up the cost. Around Golden Gate Park you can usually fly at your own discretion. 3500 feet is generally considered a safe altitude that also affords some spectacular views of Alcatraz, Angel Island and the city. After checking out the Bay continue East, but well North of the Bay Bridge and head back down the East Bay.

Check the weather at:
Web Cams for KON4 and KPIX are in and all around San Francisco. Add itional Web cams are searchable at Earthcam WebCam Network. Of course also check all the usual sources you'd use to be safe and comply with regulations.
Check TFRs for AT&T Park, Cow Palace and Candlestick, which may have events going on.

Have the VFR Terminal Chart out and open during your flight and be prepared for a lot of radio work. Several hand offs as you cross several Norcal frequencies. Be mindful of class Bravo Airspace and never enter without a clearance. Fully read back all clearances. Passengers should be given a special briefing regarding the need for them to keep conversation to a minimum at least until you reach the Golden Gate.

The hand off from KRHV to San Jose can get kind of tricky. Usually tower approves a frequency change at 200 feet after takeoff from KRHV. Do not cross the 680 freeway without contact to San Jose Tower. The tower must call your tail number. "Aircraft calling Reid Hillview" does not give you permissing to enter Class C. If you run out of room after take off from 31R just skirt class C along 680 until tower gets back to you. Takeoff from 31L gets really tight. Just climb on the downwind pattern and fly a few S curves shaking your tail at San Jose and they'll get back to you. When in contact, hang a right turn and head back up towards the field.

On the way up check out Moffett, Palo Alto and San Carlos which are your searest safety fields. Around San Francisco the beach and Crissy Field are just about the only emergency spots.

We'll see how it goes. Tomorrow we'll check the weather and if the fog burns off soon enough we'll head up to San Francisco on the Bay Tour.

Additional information about the Bay Tour is available here.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Runup saves the day

Last Sunday it was finally time to take the entire family on a fun outing. We were planning to make a 1 hour flight up to Mariposa (MPI), stay for brunch and then head back before the day heats up and turbulence sets in. The kids were excited and we headed for the airport. I had done all the planning and the briefing called for a picture perfect day. Car seat in the plane and family briefed for their first flight we finally taxi out in N4313G. The KLN94 has the flight plan loaded (I love that GPS...I finally read the entire manual on an 11 hour flight to Japan a few weeks ago. Even though the plane is constantly flown, only 3 flight plans were loaded..amazing). We arrive in the runup area and it's getting crowded. We're not alone and everybody is out there welcoming summer to California. I go through the runup checklist. Trim neutral, indicator lights, 2000 RPM, mags check, alternator, vacuum...wait a indication of fault indication on the indicator lights...try the landing light in addition to strobes, no popped circuit, cycle the alternator master switch. Still no load indication. Run up again to 2000RPM just to be sure. Only the slightest perception of movement on the needle. Normally you see a definite spike. This archer has a loadmeter, which lets you know you're drawing current on the alternator. I don't have a volt meter on this plane that tells me what the voltage is on the bus...bummer.... as a 12Volt indication would definitely tell me I'm drawing on the battery while 14 volt would tell me the alternator is producing the desired output. I call the office to check if anyone else reported any issue, but at this time it's clear already...we're not going. I have the family on way. They were just great about having to go back and canceling our plans.

After we pack up we decide to make alternate plans and head for the beach instead. One of the perks of living in California. As we lay on the beach of course at least about a dozen planes and two helicopters (see left) soar by overhead to which my honey says..."look they're rubbing it in". Of course, like everyone I start questioning.."but what if I had turned on the pitot heat. That draws a ton of power. Maybe that would have given me an indication". Make a long story short we had a great day at the beach, spotted a group of 5 sea otters and for the first time saw wales spouting on their migration up the coast. Another reminder to make the best of each day and accept the curveballs we receive. I wouldn't have traded that day for anything...well maybe a flight to Mariposa.

I called the club's office today just to find out and to learn from the experience. Turns out that one of the alternator wires had come loose. It took the club's mechanic about 10 minutes to fix so it will never come loose again, but the connection had at best been intermittent. We very likely would have lost alternator power on this flight. We would have lost several of the instruments including the GPS and radios, but we would have kept on flying. Not an experience I would have wanted with the family on their first flight out. A thorough preflight and a no-go decision saved the day. That's why we train. In retrospect, the experience helped me review the electrical system, gain confidence in my abilities and I still would have called it the correct call even if it had turned out to be nothing.

In the process I found that not everybody is familiar with the concept of a load meter (left) vs. an ammeter (right). So here is a little summary.

Ammeter: There are two types, the charge/discharge and the load. The charge -discharge will remain centered so long as the system output can meet the system demand. Beyond this point the needle will indicate a discharge and use of battery power. The load type of ammeter will begin near zero and rise as more electrical load is put online. The voltage warning light will indicate if the load requirement is beyond the alternator's ability to produce. The load meter reflects the actual electrical load as it is turned on. A load ammeter at zero or discharge is saying that you are using battery power The ammeter is an essential element of any pilot's instrument scan. It should be a part of the pre-takeoff, prelanding, and checkpoint checklists.
A pretty good summary on electrical systems is posted here.
Still in the mood to learn more? Here is a writeup on electrical system failures.