Repost: SFO Up Close & Personal

Fifteen years ago

Although it was July already, June gloom still prevailed. Early morning fog, gave each morning a caliginous beginning. But nothing could deter my excitement on this day. It was 4th of July and I was scheduled to fly with my instructor to the San Francisco Bay Area to fly the unofficial “Bay Tour”. Ceilings as low as 100 ft, delayed our early departure. The fog was gradually beginning to lift off, as we stood on the airport tarmac, trying to guess the altitude at which the just the departed aircraft would disappear, giving us a clear indication of the cloud bases. “800 ft, I think,” observed my instructor, which was later confirmed on ATIS. This was a reasonable ceiling for our departure. Seat belts fastened, floatable devices stowed away in the baggage compartment and cameras in hand, we were ready to depart by 10:30 a.m.

Continue to read here.

Repost: O Shenandoah

Eight years ago…

The weather this year has been marvelous so far. Winter almost non existent. Who could have expected 70’s in March even before the official start of spring? Unlike previous years, the DC99s were off to a good start to the flying season. Spring not here and already two flyouts accomplished. Quite unlike the last two years.

The day dawned, hazy with fog over much of the Shenandoah Valley. But clearing slowly but surely. Ted and I departed Manassas, on a sunny,calm but hazy Saturday. It was Ted’s first cross country flight since his check ride last December. Clouds and haze still hugged the rugged Shenandoah mountains, as we traced our way west and then south looking for a dip in the ridge to cross over to the Valley. Landing at the airport,we awaited the arrival of the other aircraft that had departed from FDK. It truly was a glorious day for flying!

Continue to read here.

Repost: Ten years ago – Planes, Trains and Automobiles

“An evening in Tangier Island”

Rush hour in DC is a nightmare! To think I could get to Manassas airport in an hour was wish full thinking. On a good weekend in light traffic it generally takes me 45 minutes to an hour. The trip out of DC was almost straight forward: a twenty minute train ride out to Alexandria to pick up my car at the metro station. Then the nightmare began. With almost every highway backed up, it was a ridiculous two hours later with endless stop and go driving, trying to find a highway that would get me to the airport fastest, that I finally arrived an hour late for my evening flight to Tangier Island organized by my flight school.

Continue to read here.

Book Review: In the Cockpit

“If it is true that the soul of a man sits near the head of the human body, it could also be true that a pilot sitting in a cockpit – using the intricate and often sophisticated instruments and machinery to accomplish the miracles of space and distance – could be the soul of an aircraft”

–John Travolta

I have this penchant for books. There was a time when I haunted libraries, and books stores, both new and old, purchasing books that I had read and liked or books that I wanted to read or books that looked interesting. Lately it is cheaper to buy and read e-books. It is also so much easier when traveling, since an iPad or smart phone is an essential device always on hand. Despite that, there is something to be said about sitting down with a good hardback or paperback.

I have had In the Cockpit for many years, but I finally got a chance to read it or really sift through the pages, learning about aircraft artifacts that grace the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.  Written by Dana Bell, with photographs by Eric Long and Mark Avino, with a foreword by John Travolta, In the Cockpit, provides a vivid and poignant history of 50 aircraft that are part of the Smithsonian Air and Space Collection. With beautiful photographs, and historical context, the author presents the evolution of aviation technology starting from the Wright Flyer to SpaceShipOne. While every aircraft is distinct and interesting, here are five of my all-time favorite aircraft.

First there is the Wright Flyer flown by Orville Wright in 1903 that changed the world. Comprising of three flight controls namely, a leading-edge clip to launch the aircraft on a wooden rail, a lever to control the elevators during climb and dive, and a hip cradle to turn the aircraft right and left.  There were also three instruments that could be read after the flight. The 1903 Wright Flyer is housed in the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.

The Lockheed 5B Vega, with its brilliant red color, also known as the “Little Red Bus” was an Amelia Earhart favorite. In it she set the record for women’s speed over a 1-mile course in November 1929 and an additional two more speed records in June 1930. In it she became the first woman to pilot an aircraft across the Atlantic in May 1932 and only the second person to do so. She followed this up with the first solo nonstop transcontinental flight from Los Angeles, CA to Newark, NJ in August 1932. There were 128 Vegas built and Earhart’s was the 22nd Vega.

The Bell XV-15 Tiltrotor. Part of the dream of vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) was realized in the 1930s with the invention of the helicopter. The dream continues with the electronic VTOL (eVTOL) and urban air mobility (UAM). For now, the second of the XV-15S resides at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.

The Concorde was one of its kind! The only aircraft to provide sustained passenger service at twice the speed of sound, it was operated by British Airways and Air France between 1976 and 2008. There were 20 Concorde’s in all and only 14 that entered service. The Concorde on display at the Udvar-Hazy Museum in Virginia was donated by Air France.

The last and final is SpaceShipOne. This should not come as a surprise to those who have been following my blog. I have a history with this aircraft. Designed by Burt Rutan, built by Scaled Composites, and funded by Paul Allen, SpaceShipOne was built to be a reusable space test vehicle. The first privately sponsored spaceflight was flown by Mike Melville on June 21, 2004 and went on to win the X-Prize. SpaceShipOne flew 17 flights before it was retired, and now model 316 graces the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.

It is interesting how sometimes life comes full circle. This book is in many ways very dear to me. Given as a parting gift by my coworkers, who understood me in so many ways more than I ever realized, this first edition of the book is marked with unforgettable warm wishes by each and every one of them. It is one of the books I received as a gift and will forever cherish. As I start this next phase of my life where I am learning about the Smithsonian artifacts, what better book to start than with In the Cockpit?

If you are plane crazy, you might like this book. You can purchase a hard copy of In the Cockpit on Amazon.

SEZ Who?

Fly 'n Things

The earth has music for those who listen
— William Shakespeare

Sedona,  a land of timeless beauty, surrounded by magnificent, natural red rock sculptures and pristine National Forest. Standing about 4,300ft above sea level, centrally located less than two hours north of Phoenix and just two hours south of the Grand Canyon, it is one of the most spectacular secrets of the world. Erosion has sculptured this masterpiece for over 350 million years.

As we drove north, I was almost disappointed. All that we saw were pine trees and the landscape looked no different from other countrysides. When we had set off it was hot and 90 degrees.

“Isn’t early morning better for a flight?” I had asked.
“No, anytime is fine,” was the response.

Checking the forecast that morning, I wondered how the day would play out. With thunderstorms in the forecast, chances of pulling off this flight were…

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Avalon: Airport in the Sky

Fly 'n Things

“A Mediterranean resort off the coast of Southern California”
Now that my Instrument training was finally over, I was ready for new adventures. The past few months had been hectic and nerve racking. Instrument training is very demanding and I am glad that, it is finally behind me. Browsing through “Fun places to fly in California” I thought I may as well start with the first airport listed there, which happened to be Avalon. I have wanted to fly to Avalon for sometime now. I had been under the misapprehension that I needed some kind of checkout prior to attempting to fly there. As it turned out, the flying club I rented from had no such restriction.

So it happened, that my friend Michelle and I set out from SBP airport one fine September morning. Low clouds and fog had laced the morning skies over SBP rendering the airspace IFR…

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May Day, May Day, May Day

Five Years Ago: Partial Engine Failure


“Did we hit a bird, ” I started to say…

There was no response from the cockpit. Barely a few seconds later I heard,

“Indy Center, Nxxxxx”.
“Go ahead, Nxxxxx, ” Indy Center responded.
“I want to declare an emergency. I am unable to maintain altitude, I want to land Parkersburg”
“What’s the problem,” queried Indy Center.
“I don’t have manifold pressure….I am losing engine power,” responded the pilot.

md1 - Copy

Continue to read here: May Day, May Day, May Day

See Also:
FOG Descends Over Dayton
National Museum of the US Air Force


“Hawthorne Flight Service
Press 1 to Speak to a Preflight Briefer”

This almost makes me feel nostalgic. Through out my flight training and initial years after getting my private pilot license (PPL), I dialed 1-800-WX-BRIEF and heard this same recording many a time. Sometimes it was just a planning period trying to gauge what the weather was doing or to get the latest forecast. Sometimes it was the moment before a flight when I chose to speak to the briefer to get the weather briefing or file a flight plan.

A Flight Service Station is an air traffic facility which provides pilot briefings, flight plan processing, en-route flight advisories, search and rescue services, and assistance to lost aircraft and aircraft in emergency situations. It also can relay ATC clearances, process Notices to Airmen, broadcast aviation weather and aeronautical information, and advise Customs and Immigration of trans-border flights. In the 1960’s, there were 297 flight service stations in operation.  The first automated flight service station (AFSS) was launched in Denver in 1982 and by the end of 1995, existing flight service stations were consolidated into 61 AFSSs. Today’s FSS is more virtual than physical. With apps and flight planning software, much of the charm of using the services of an FSS is fast receding. Pilots these days prefer the Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) apps as opposed to call-in or walk-in flight briefer.

Hawthorne Flight Service Center is based at Hawthorne Airport, a stone’s throw away from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). Operational since 1985, the station serves the area extending from Orange County to Paso Robles, CA.

It was summer of 2003, when my flying buddy Grace and I set off to visit our friends at Hawthorne Flight Service with whom we spoke so often. Flying to Hawthorne meant transitioning the LAX Class B airspace. There are several VFR routes for the convenience of pilots transitioning through this area: coastal or shoreline route, mini route, Colosseum, or Hollywood Park route.  Based on LAX airport configuration for the day and air traffic density in the region, arrival and destination airport, one of the routes can be assigned to pilots.

On this day, our assigned route was the Shoreline Route. It is quite impressive flying  by LAX, with views of arriving and departing aircraft, busy SOCAL freeways, crowded beaches and downtown LA. After visiting with the Hawthorne FSS, it was time to trace our way back home. The departure from Hawthorne presents some interesting challenges as well.  The proximity t o LAX meant that we had to climb to altitude quickly through a narrow space which meant a boxed climb to cruise of 3,500 ft and this time a transition through the mini route. We headed home enthused after our very successful adventures traversing LAX Class B airspace and visiting Hawthorne FSS.

ATC History
The Evolution of Flight Service Stations
FAA Facility going up at Hawthorne Airport
Helping the GA Community for over 90 years
LAX Class B VFR Transition Routes


Camping, Gold Mines, Seaplanes and Taylorcrafts

I learnt to fly in a Cessna 152 (C152), a two-seater high wing aircraft. It is interesting to note as I peruse my logbook, that as I upgraded to a 4-seater after obtaining my license, it was a Piper Archer (PA-181) that was the first aircraft that I got checked out in, which also allowed me to fly the Piper Warrior (PA-161). Although, I did eventually get checked out in a Cessna 172 (C172) six months later, it was almost 1-2 years later, that I started flying the C172 more frequently, not the least because they were newer and better equipped than the Piper aircraft available at the flight school.

It was Spring of 2003, when Grace and I set off in a C172, north to Columbia Airport (O22) for our very first attendance at the 99s Southwest Section Meeting. Columbia airport is located in the foothills, northwest of Yosemite National Park. Airport elevation is 2120 ft and there are two runways with the longest one 4675 x 75 ft. Definitely a challenge for someone who often flies into airports with long and wide runways. This can be compounded, especially summertime, when density altitude can further add to the challenge. It was most definitely a challenge for me. Proof?

Logbook entry reads:
“Perfect day! 2 go-arounds. Flew formation in Taylorcraft with Charles Ross”

Columbia airport also quite conveniently has a campground attached for that fly in and camping events. While the Section Meeting itself was hosted at a nearby hotel, Grace and I planned to camp by our aircraft. It was the first weekend of May (Mother’s Day) and a group of Taylorcraft owners had flown in for their annual fly-in and camping event and we had good company.

The highlight of the Section Meeting was the Safety Seminar Seaplane Operations out of High Sierra Lakes and attendees had the option to sign up for a flight if interested. The seminar certainly sparked an interest in Seaplane lessons, and I hoped to return sometime in the future to get that rating at Sierra Lakes. Another highlight of the trip was the tour of a Gold Mine.

Visiting Columbia is like traveling back in time to the sights, smells, and sounds of a nineteenth century mining town. Columbia State Historic Park, located in the heart of the California Mother Lode, is a living gold rush town featuring the largest single collection of existing gold rush-era structures in the state. In 1850’s, after gold was first discovered thousands of people arrived and the town grew in size. It is noted that about $150 million in gold was removed from the surrounding hills between 1850 and early 1900s.

About that formation flight? Grace and I had made friends with our Taylorcraft neighbors and on Sunday morning, had the opportunity to fly with Charles in his Taylorcraft while he and his friend wanted to do some practice formation flying. It was a perfect spring day and Charles even let me do some flying, although he thought my taxiing skills sucked!

 All in all, a perfect weekend with a lot of fun: Camping, Gold Mines, Seaplanes and Taylorcrafts.

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There was something in the air that night
The stars were bright, Fernando
They were shining there for you and me
For liberty, Fernando


“Cleared for the Fernando Five Arrival,” said the SOCAL Controller.

What…. OMG. I was almost freaking out. I thought they used Standard Terminal Arrival Routes (STARs) to manage airline traffic going into major airports. Why does ATC want me to fly this route? I hadn’t really planned for this.

It was Spring of 2005. Grace and I were newly minted instrument rated pilots anxious to try our new skills. The day was a picture-perfect California spring day. Couldn’t ask for a better day to practice instrument flying skills as we planned our trip to the Southwest Section 99s meeting in Van Nuys, Southern California. We had both gotten our instrument ratings the previous year. Most of my flying since getting my IFR rating was to file and fly IFR.

There was a drastic change in how I recorded my flights in my logbook since that fateful day almost a year back in May of 2004 that recorded my Instrument Check ride with the added notes “It’s finally over!”. Most of my entries began with “Crepe 3 FRAMS” or “Crepe 3 PRB” depending on the destination and direction of departure for my flight. On this fateful day the flight record was

Crepe 3 D>RZS Fernando Five VNY ILS R16R

While during the past year, I had mastered punching in the departure procedure into the flight plan, I had never flown an arrival procedure yet. The departure procedure was always easier since it was assigned during the departure clearance while still on the ground with ample time to insert it into the flight plan. Crepe 3 was the most frequently used Standard Instrument Departure (SID) at SBP for departing aircraft.

Grace quickly sifted through the stack of instrument charts we had to pull up the Fernando Five Arrival (FIM.FERN5) chart as I tried to keep the aircraft straight and level. Since we were heading to San Marcus VOR (RZS) direct, this would require us to fly the OHIGH transition (OHIGH.FERN5). First the 087-radial outbound from RZS to OHIGH thence Filmore VOR (FIM) radial 267 direct FIM. Then the notes say:

LANDING VAN NUYS RWY 16: Via FIM R-053 to UMBER INT, then via I-VNY localizer. Expect ILS RWY 16R

Watch your altitude. Watch your heading. I kept reiterating to myself. This was serious business. Flying under IFR requires pilots to maintain their altitude within 200ft and heading within 10 degrees. While flying IFR departures and enroute cruise flight seems fairly relaxed, arrival and approach flight is whole lot more complex and complicated. Not only due to the high density air traffic but also because of the step down altitudes to ensure safe descent to the airport environment, the frequent heading changes to orient the aircraft towards the airport, and transition to the approach procedures such as the localizer or instrument landing system (ILS). It was the first time either of us was flying a STAR and the first time flying into Van Nuys (VNY) airport which is considered the busiest General Aviation (GA) airport in the National Airspace System (NAS). Furthermore, it is in the busy LA Basin area. It was nerve racking, but we came out of it unscathed with the ultimate prize of flying the first STAR under our belt. Exhilarating!

That was not the end of the exhilaration. During that very memorable SWS meeting we got to visit Caltech and NASA Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL), saw Mars Rover exhibits: Spirit and Opportunity. That year they were the two most popular rovers on everyone’s minds as they had successfully completed their mission in April 2004. Although the original mission was for three months, the life of the rovers continued for much longer. Communication with Spirit ceased in May 2012 after being stuck in a sand trap for two years and couldn’t be rescued. Last year, in February 2019, NASA finally declared the Opportunity mission over after losing contact with it since June 2018.

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