Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Bear is an Intrepid Explorer

During our recent trip to New York City, we visited the Intrepid where it is moored in the Hudson River adjacent to Midtown Manhattan.

The USS Intrepid is an aircraft carrier that was first launched in 1943 and served from World War II through Vietnam.  During World War II, it survived five kamikaze attacks and a direct hit from a torpedo.  Prior to its retirement in 1974, is served as an astronaut recovery vessel.  In 1982, it was dedicated as a floating museum.

I last visited the Intrepid nine years ago.  Standing on the deck of the Intrepid and observing air traffic over the Hudson River in 2004 was my introduction to the VFR corridor existing overhead.

Nose to nose with a veritable floating city, one is struck by how the entire behemoth appears to be balanced on a knife edge.  It is quite impressive, really.

Vintage aircraft such as this Grumman Avenger and other exhibits fill the former hangar bay.

This A4 Skyhawk looked nice, but it was missing something...

Ah!  That's more like it.

The Bear tried her hand at transporting invisible patients to a nearby MASH.  Fortunately, she did not yank around the collective quite so wantonly as the young novice before her.

We tried on a Gemini capsule.  It was small.

The Bear was so eager to try out this lifeboat that we did not have opportunity to divine the purpose of the exhibit.  I did, however, discover that I am adept at rocking the boat.

Eventually, we made our way to the massive flight deck to inspect the aircraft on display outside.

A Bell Cobra attack helicopter.

The Cobra is very literally what you get when you put a Huey on diet.

The closely-related Sea Cobra.

A Sikorsky S-55 Chickasaw helicopter.

Yup, I remain a fan of the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II.

The Bear was captivated by this Grumman E-1 Tracer with its very distinctive radome.

A weathered F-16 seemed a bit out of place on the deck of an aircraft carrier.

But not so much as this Lockheed A12 Blackbird, the world's fastest, highest flying, air breathing aircraft.

The bulbous Grumman A-6 Intruder.

Right next to the Intruder rested its successor, the Grumman F-14 Tomcat.

The Intrepid was such a big ship that The Bear needed to be carried after a while.

The F-11 Tiger, one example of which is credited with shooting itself down.  This ship actually flew as a Blue Angel.

The carrier's island served as both wheelhouse and control tower.  The large white enclosure behind it contains the boilerplate shuttle Enterprise.  Unfortunately, the exhibit was still closed while Intrepid staff made repairs from Hurricane Sandy.

The sleek, French-built Dassault Etendard IV M.

A peek into the restoration tent revealed work on the museum's McDonnell Demon.

The Vought F-8 Crusader, an interesting design that featured a variable pitch wing to facilitate take-off and landing at lower speeds.

A view of the A12 Blackbird from the gantry alongside the Intrepid.

While The Bear and I were climbing around the island, I captured this photo of the Kfir, F-16, and A12.

Helicopter row.

"Ahead, full impulse, Mr. Sulu."

We also toured the USS Growler, a "top secret" submarine in service from 1958 to 1964.  It carried four Regulus I nuclear missiles, but had to surface in order to launch them, thus revealing its position.  Development of the ability to launch nuclear missiles while submerged made the Growler obsolete.

Here, a Regulus missile is visible on its launcher outside of an empty tube that now serves as an entrance to the submarine.

The Bear led the way inside.  Note the glass doors - the interior of the submarine is air conditioned by the museum.  Thank goodness.

The interior of the submarine was cramped and its technology seriously dated.  Though I am not claustrophobic by nature, I could imagine becoming that way as I contemplated the cramped spaces and the heavy doors designed to isolate flooding chambers from the rest of the ship.

The aft torpedo bay and a pair of conveniently placed bunks.

After two hours of climbing around the ship and looking at airplanes, Kristy carried our exhausted daughter over to the last airplane, a Concorde.

At the rear of the ship, The Bear and I contemplated the massive ropes used to secure the ship in its berth.

"They're thicker than my arm!" exclaimed The Bear.  I do not know if she retained any knowledge imparted during our time visiting the Intrepid, but I know that she walked away very impressed by those ropes.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Dream and Dichotomy of Clouds (IFR Training Update)

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
3 Jun 2013 N21481 SDC (Williamson, NY) - 9G6 (Albion, NY) - SDC 2.8 1162.1

Dreams of flight often begin, and end, with the clouds.

As earthbound creatures, we look up at those fluffy beasts grazing in the sky and they appear almost otherworldly.  Their forms morph from the familiar to the fantastic as they hover quietly out of reach.  For pilots, there is something magical about being amongst them.  I thrill at the perception of immense velocity that comes from zooming close to one in my stodgy ol' Spam Can (DiLulloesque disclaimer: always exercise proper cloud clearances while flying VFR).

But to the VFR-only pilot, the innards of clouds are not merely fantasy realms of rainbows and mist; they also impart disorientation and cloak obstructions (mountains, cell towers, other airplanes, etc.).  To be fair, they do the same for instrument rated pilots, too.  The difference is that instrument training provides tools, discipline, and a system for pilots to manage those challenges.

I was content to remain VFR for a decade before pursuing my instrument rating and there are a number of reasons for that.

In 2004, before buying Warrior 481, I contemplated an instrument rating.  But I was savvy enough to know that maintaining currency (forget proficiency) while renting would be a challenge.  Moreover, as a renter, I was not flying the sort of trips that would actually utilize the rating.  It was a lot of time, energy and money to invest on a solution in search of a problem.

After I became an aircraft owner, there was a cultural hurdle.  I was hanging out with pilots who flew taildraggers (many of them vintage) off of grass strips.  These guys were outstanding stick and rudder pilots, but they were not destined to become, or interested in becoming, instrument pilots.

I have had many people - some were aviators, some were not - tell me that flying cross country trips without an instrument rating somehow made me unsafe.  I disagree.  In fact, my greatest reluctance to pursue the rating is that exercising it exposes pilots to more dangerous situations.  As blogger and instrument rated pilot Ron Rapp so eloquently said on the topic of thunderstorms:

"Our strategy was simple: fly VFR. If we can see the weather, we can avoid it. This is something they don’t often tell you when you’re spending all that money pursuing an instrument rating. In a light aircraft, sometimes VFR is safer."

Here's the thing: the clouds are beautiful and wondrous, but they can conceal thunderstorms and ice, two weather conditions that can bring down airplanes far more capable than mine.  If I am not flying in the clouds, I will inherently avoid picking up ice (except in cases of freezing rain) and can see and avoid thunderstorms (or at least the dense rain shafts that indicate them).  In those scenarios, as Ron said, sometimes VFR is safer.

My biggest fear was getting an instrument rating and blundering into a thunderstorm, ice, or some unholy combination of the two while flying blind in the clouds.

In my view, safety is less about the rating held and more about pilots understanding their personal limitations, the limitations of their aircraft, and using that understanding to make good decisions.  Was I any less safe on those long cross country flight for my lack of instrument rating?  Absolutely not.  I stayed out of the clouds and made what I believe to be good decisions.  However, keeping safe requires flexibility and a willingness to make no-go decisions of the sort that would quickly bankrupt an airline.

Why did I have a change of heart?

North of Rochester, the skyline aflame with waning daylight

One simple reason is that I was looking for a new challenge.  To be clear, learning to fly on instruments is a challenge.

More importantly, the enabling technology of inexpensive cockpit weather displayed on an iPad helped assuage my concerns of blundering into an embedded thunderstorm while in the clouds.  And, of course, if there ARE thunderstorms in the vicinity, dropping below the ceiling and continuing VFR is a viable and safe means of continuing the flight.

Honestly, ice still scares the crap out of me.  I regard this as a healthy respect for nature and it means that there may not be much cloud-busting going on during winters in the Great Lakes region.

Finally, I have delayed or canceled flights owing to thin stratus layers hovering 1000' over the earth.  I realized that an instrument rating would make short work of such trivial conditions and meaningfully expand the utility envelope of the airplane.  I am not pursuing this rating out of a strong desire to fly long hours of hard IFR while staring at nothing but my instrument panel.

Decommissioned Rochester Gas & Electric Russell Station blushing at dusk.

And so, I found myself flying back to Williamson along the Lake Ontario shoreline after another round of simulated instrument flying with Ed.  Clouds that had blanketed the region for much of the day were rapidly dissipating, blushing pink in the day's final light.

Ed and Darrell, both based at Le Roy, have happily lent me their eyes over the past few weeks while we droned around in circles doing holds, DME arcs, and various ILS, VOR, and RNAV approaches under simulated (for me, not for them) instrument conditions.

When I started training, instrument flying was a nightmare of task saturation.  But several flight hours ago, something changed.  Time slowed; suddenly, there was plenty of time to set the next frequency, positively identify the next VOR, or set up the Garmin 430W for an approach.  I even started to consistently remember the timer on those approaches where it was a critical backup element for identifying the missed approach point.  Everything clicked and the rest just became practice drills. Many of my practice sessions this spring have been in strong, gusty crosswinds or subject to intense springtime thermals working mightily to push me off altitude or glideslope.  There is no question that striving for precision in these adverse conditions have made me a better pilot.

While flying with Ed around a holding pattern tonight, with the directional gyro and attitude indicators "failed" (covered) and my right hand shielding my Foggled eyes from a setting sun resting at the top of my instrument panel, I found the hold to be effortless.  I was literally flying the maneuver half blind and with one hand virtually tied behind my back.

I realized that I am almost ready.I dropped Ed back at the Pine Hill airport with its glorified sidewalk (2659' x 36') of a runway and departed under the orange glow of a magnificently setting sun.  With the exception of a dual cross country flight with Tom, I have everything else I need to take the check ride (for example, according to MyFlightbook, I have 1,166% of the cross country requirement met!).

I don't think I'll ever beat the clouds, but soon I'll be able to join them.