Flying Friday: smorgasboard

I’d be remiss if I didn’t post on National Aviation Day but I’ve been too busy to fly much lately. With luck I’ll get a few hours in this weekend though. Instead of a “real” article, enjoy this list of sentence fragments:

  • My cousin Steven, an aircraft mechanic, likes to point out that the Wright Brothers would have been grounded without Charlie Taylor. If you don’t know who he is, I strongly recommend reading McCullough’s biography of the brothers, which is superb in every way.
  • I’ve been playing with Seattle AvionicsFlyQ app. It definitely has some good points compared to ForeFlight; it will be hard to tell how it stacks up overall until I’ve used it more.
  • Michael Bauer just released a book on how to fly Avidyne’s IFD series of panel-mount GPS devices. It’s in my queue.
  • Want to fly left seat in heavy turbojet equipment? Maybe you should move to China.
  • The recent crash of a Piper Navajo in Tuscaloosa has fired up the speculation engine around these parts. I am glad that we have the NTSB, whose investigations are the undisputed gold standard for all sorts of transportation mishaps. I look forward to seeing the results of their investigation. Meanwhile, I’ll keep asking “what could I learn from that?”
  • Nflightcam still hasn’t sent the replacement audio adapter they promised me on July 8th.

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Flying Friday: O Canada! (KDCU-CYTZ and back)

Summary: fantastic trip with good weather; I enjoyed my first venture into Canadian airspace (which is operated and managed very similarly to US airspace, with a few procedural and vocabulary differences that perhaps will make for a good post later). Bishop Toronto City is a fantastic airport with lovely scenery; Toronto is worth another, more leisurely visit; and you should always pay careful attention to customs regulations.

When my boss told me that I needed to be at Microsoft’s Worldwide Partner Conference this year, I was excited, mostly because we were planning on demoing a cool new product to partners, but also because I hadn’t been to Toronto since a 7th-grade church choir trip. On that trip, we took Amtrak from New Orleans to Buffalo, an adventure in itself; this time I planned to fly.

I started by researching the requirements to fly into Canada. AOPA’s list covers it all. I ordered the required Customs & Border Protection sticker, and I already had the required FCC radio station license and a valid passport. I had a bit of a quandary when it came to navigation charts: the Jeppesen charts required for the IFD540 are quite expensive, but the 540 goes completely stupid north of the border without them. I decided instead to add Canada coverage in Foreflight, which would give me georeferenced charts and approach plates, plus airport and frequency information– but on my iPad, not on the panel. With that done, a week or so before the trip I started watching the forecast, checking fuel prices, etc. Because the convention was at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre (MTCC), the nearest airport was the extremely cool-looking Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, which is on an island in Lake Ontario. (Fun fact: you must either use a submarine tunnel or a ferry to get between the airport and the mainland, where the taxis etc are.)

I’d planned to fly from Decatur to New Philadelphia, Ohio (Clever Field, whose airport ID is PHD.. lol) for fuel, then overfly Erie, PA, then cross the lakes and land just before sunset, with a planned departure about 3p local. I may have failed to mention that I was running an Olympic triathlon that morning, but luckily I hit the airport on time and got en route as planned. Unfortunately, over Kentucky I developed a problem, or, rather, the airplane did: the oil filler door on the engine cowling popped open. It’s  hinged at the front (towards the propeller) so the slipstream was keeping it from opening fully, but it was flapping in the breeze and that made me nervous. I diverted to Somerset (KSME), latched it, and took off– only to have it pop open again.

After landing again, I discovered the problem: the spring that holds the latch button in place no longer generated enough force to keep the door latched. I borrowed some safety wire and pliers from the FBO, wired the door shut, and took off again– but that cost me some time I couldn’t afford to lose.

Once airborne again, I took a close look at the IFD540 to see what my fuel state looked like. The outer green ring represents the maximum range at the current fuel burn, while the inner dashed green circle shows range with the FAA-required reserve. Since my planned fuel stop was comfortably within the reserve ring, I knew I’d have enough fuel to get there or to Erie if needed– very comforting. The range ring is one of my favorite features in the IFD540 because it greatly reduces guesswork: either you have enough fuel, given the current conditions of wind and fuel burn, or you don’t, and this makes it easy to see which.

The fuel range ring is your friend

The fuel range ring is your friend

I landed as planned at KPHD, fueled up, and quickly called Porter, the FBO at Toronto City, to verify what time they closed. “10:30pm” was the answer, so I figured that would leave me enough time to get there just before they closed. This pleasant fantasy remained in my mind, with accompanying scenery…

…until about 9:50pm, when I was overflying the outskirts of Erie with about an hour to go. The city lights were gorgeous, there was a quarter moon, and I could see the dark lake water ahead when I called Porter again to advise my new arrival time of 1115p. (Thanks to the Bluetooth mode of the AMX240 audio panel, I can make in flight calls on my cell phone, provided I have cell service.) Their reply, paraphrased: no thanks, customs won’t allow arrivals after 11pm. I called Erie Approach, got vectors to the airport, landed, and headed for the local Comfort Inn.

After a decent night’s sleep, I fired up the engine and headed north. I’d filed for direct CYTZ, and that’s what I got. Before going to bed, I’d updated both my eAPIS and CANPASS border crossing permissions– the former signaling my departure from the US and the latter requesting permission to cross into Canada. More on that later.

Sunrise + water = awesome

Sun + water = awesome

The first leg of the flight was uneventful, until I wanted to go direct LINNG at ATC’s instructions. The IFD540 didn’t have that waypoint, so I looked it up in Foreflight. That went fine– it was listed with normal degrees/minutes/seconds latitude/longitude, so I plugged it in as a user waypoint, then added the airport’s lat/long and created a route. I did notice one discrepancy: Foreflight defaults to decimal notation, which the IFD540 doesn’t accept. (Since the Nav Canada plate showed the notation I could use, I just went with it, but this will become important later.) The rest of the flight was flawless and beautiful– for example, check out this picture as I overflew the Long Point wildlife area.

DSC_3505

Long Point National Wildlife Area

The weather was flawless, so I was expecting the visual approach to CYTZ, and sure enough, that’s what I was assigned. There was a significant volume of traffic going into the airport, as befits its status as Porter’s main hub, so I got vectored around a bit between a series of DHC-8s. This eventually led to a go-around for spacing, as the controller wasn’t able to slow the following DHC-8 down enough to keep me from becoming a hood ornament. The good news is that I was able to get some fantastic pictures of the Toronto skyline:

Beautiful Toronto

Beautiful Toronto

More beautiful Toronto

More beautiful Toronto

I made a great landing, taxied in to Porter, and called the CANPASS number. After a brief wait, they gave me a reference number (which I duly wrote down) and I was free to exit the airplane and go about my business. So I did.

Here’s where I’d describe all the other stuff I did in Toronto at WPC16, but since this is a Flying Friday post, let’s cut to the flight home… well, OK, maybe one picture first, this one looking towards the airport from the observation deck of the CN Tower.

CYTZ and the National Yacht Club

CYTZ and the National Yacht Club

I’d planned for a 1330 departure on Wednesday, and I arrived right on schedule, but hungry. I had filed CYTZ-KCAK, with a plan to continue on to Jamestown, Kentucky (K24) for fuel, then home. Since I didn’t have any Canadian cash, I skipped buying food at the airport, reasoning that I could eat when I stopped for customers in Akron, Ohio. I picked up my clearance and found a bit of an unpleasant surprise: I was given the OAKVL.1 departure, which referenced the OAKVL intersection, whose lat/long I couldn’t put into the IFD because it was only shown in decimal notation. Since I knew its approximate location and the heading to fly to get there, and because I had Foreflight plates showing me obstacles and terrain, this wasn’t a big deal. I looked at the departure plate but it didn’t give any coordinates at all for OAKVL, so I manually created a waypoint and off I went.

(Brief digression: in the US, waypoints that are used as part of a standard instrument departure (SID) procedure are supposed to be listed on the SID chart. In this case, OAKVL was shown, but its coordinates weren’t. I later learned that the Canada Flight Supplement (CFS) manual has a list of all the enroute waypoints and their coordinates, but not waypoints that are only used for departure procedures. I would have needed to look at the “OAKVL ONE DEP (OAKVL1) DEPARTURE ROUTING” chart. Unlike US charts, in Canada the departure routing is a separate page that’s not included as part of the SID chart. I also learned, later, that Foreflight can toggle its display format (look at More > Settings Units > Time)  to match what the IFD can accept, which would have solved my problem.)

What I did while waiting for my IFR clearance

What I did while waiting for my IFR clearance

In any event, I found OAKVL and was cleared to continue on to Akron/Canton, my planned US port of entry. I had filled out an eAPIS manifest, but I didn’t call Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to advise them of my arrival time. As a result, when I landed at CAK, ground instructed me to taxi to the “penalty box” in front of customs, but no one was there, and it took a few minutes to find an agent. When he got there, I had a brief but thorough customs inspection, during which I learned that I’d made a serious error: you must call US CBP at the port of entry you plan to use, in advance, and advise them of your ETA. 

Somehow I missed that in the AOPA checklist. I mistakenly thought that filing an IFR flight plan and filing an eAPIS manifest was sufficient, but no. The agent who cleared me in was firm on that point and cited me. Now I have to wait to see if they assess a fine for the infraction– not my favorite. I had joked with friends that I’d have about 800lbs of usable weight to bring back stuff from Canada– suggestions included Cuban cigars and Timbits. Thankfully I resisted the temptation.

Anyway, after I sweated my way out of CBP, I refueled and bought a soda at the FBO, but their snack machine was out of order. “No problem,” I thought. “I’ll eat when I stop at Jamestown.” I waited for this guy to arrive and clear…

Hold short for landing traffic

Hold short for landing traffic

…then took off, found a protein bar in my flight bag to tide me over, and off I went. When I arrived at Jamestown, I was crushed to find only a single empty, dusty vending machine with nothing edible nearby (except maybe some dead bugs). I fueled the plane, took off, and let the reassuring noise of the big IO540 up front drown out my stomach’s complaints. After an uneventful flight, I landed at home base, transferred all my junk to the car, went home, and slayed an entire Domino’s pizza while catching up on Game of Thrones— a good ending to a long but fruitful day.

 

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nFlightCam vs Squawk Shoppe cockpit audio adapters

First I bought this adapter from nFlightCam. It didn’t work properly— my phone didn’t recognize that it had a mic plugged in so all I got was loud propeller noise. After testing it, I sent three mails to nFlightcam customer support (since they don’t have a phone number) and got no response. 

Then I ordered this adapter from Squawk Shoppe. Immediately after placing an order, they offered to connect me with their Facebook bot for order status, which worked flawlessly. I got the adapter when promised and it worked perfectly.

Then, just before a cross-country plane trip, nFlightCam answered my support email and offered to send me a replacement. That was 13 days ago and, you guessed it, no replacement has arrived.

Executive summary: don’t buy anything from nFlightcam; despite their heavy advertising, their customer support is slow and unresponsive and (at least for me) their build quality suspect. I see from reddit that other users have been happy with their products so YMMV.

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Renaissance Man 2016 Olympic triathlon (July 10, 2016)

Last year, I ran my first Olympic-distance race. Although I kept it mostly to myself, I was really disappointed in my performance. I had a goal to finish the race in 3:15 and straggled in at 3:39. This year, I was out for redemption.

First, a good laugh:

renman-overall

(If you don’t know why this is funny, you might not be a triathlete, but I’ll explain later.)

Pre-race

Saturday I packed all my trash. I am a firm believer in “nothing new on race day,” but this year Dana convinced me to try an optimization: a triathlon bucket. She bought me a simple orange Home Depot bucket to use as a stool, and I resolved to give it a try in hopes that it would speed my transition times a bit by helping me not fall over. For nutrition, I packed several bags of Bonk Breakers, premixed some Mercury, and made a Sufferlandrian pain shake (1 scoop Karbolyn, 2 scoops Optimum Nutrition vanilla whey), stuffed my bike into the back of the Soul (it barely fit), and tried to get to sleep early. Too bad Matt and Tom woke me up a total of 3 times between 1030p and 430a. I got up on time, got my stuff together (sorry, no picture this time), and headed out to Florence under about a 12000′ overcast with occasional spotty drizzle.

Once I got to the venue, I got everything staged in transition, got my timing chip, and so on. I hadn’t forgotten anything, for once, so setup was smooth and I had time to chat with some of the many other Huntsvillians who were there. I also got in a short warmup swim.

The swim

renman-swimThe swim went very well except for my perennial sighting malpractice.. and that I forgot to start my watch when I went into the water, so it’s probably 25y or so short. The swim used a rolling start, with predicted swim times governing order of entry. I was #160. At about #125, one of the buoys came unmoored and had to be chased down by a kayaker, but it was in place before I passed it so I can’t blame my course line on that. (The zigzag just under the “T” in “Tennessee River” is a GPS glitch, luckily). I got out of the water, went into T1, and did my business.

T1

Obviously I shouldn’t have had a 6+ mph average in T1. I was concentrating on a smooth toes-to-head flow of gearing up: socks, bike shoes, HR strap, jersey, helmet, glasses. I forgot to include “press the lap button” in my flow so it didn’t get done until I was on the way out.

Bike

I love this bike course. It has several long straights that reward steady cadence, which I am slowly learning to hold. Unfortunately, I dropped my chain on one of those straights and that cost me 5 minutes or so. I also had an unplanned stop to try to get my power meter back online– it was working fine on my shakedown ride Saturday but wouldn’t send any data race morning, so I don’t have cadence or power data. I’m not sure why the bike and T2 times in the picture above are so jacked up, because I didn’t restart or stop the watch (just my ELEMNT bike computer). Thanks, Garmin. I ate some Bonk Breakers and drank nearly two full bottles of Mercury on the ride, which was plenty. Overall the ride was overcast and cool-ish; I had maybe 20 minutes of partial sun and 30 of drizzle.

T2

T2 was blazing fast for me. Belt, snack, running shoes, hat, and boom, I was off. The run course starts off uphill, goes through the UNA campus (so I got to see the famous lions), travels through downtown, and then hits a mostly-downhill course through some pretty, treed neighborhoods for the back half. I was able to hold a fairly steady pace because it wasn’t diabolically hot– in fact, it rained steadily for almost the entire race. Thankfully I had a hat to keep the water off my glasses, since I HATE running with water spots on my lenses. I was completely soaked by the time I made it back to the finish line.

Bottom line

I finished in 3:17:15:

  • 38:22 on the swim
  • 3:13 in T1
  • 1:34:33 on the bike
  • 2:49 in T2
  • 58:28 on the run

That’s a whopping 22 minutes faster than last year, and, had I not dropped my bike chain, I’d’ve come in under 3:15. For me, that’s a stellar time. If I can get my sighting under control and build a bit more power on the bike, I can see myself getting under 3:00 late this season– I think I can pick up 5 min on the swim, a minute each in T1 and T2, at least 2min on the run, and 5+ min on the bike. Onwards!

 

 

 

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Microsoft releases updated Office 365 Visio stencil

Yay! Microsoft has updated their downloadable Visio stencil set for Office 365 to include the 2016 versions of the application icons, plus some other visual improvements. Now your Visio diagrams can have that fresh 2016 feel. (Thanks to Samantha Robertson, Dan Fraser, and Tony Smith of Microsoft for making this happen.)

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When to declare an in-flight emergency 

From Thomas Turner’s excellent FLYING LESSONS newsletter, here is a simple guideline for knowing when you should contact ATC to declare an emergency. 

Should I declare an emergency?

If I’m:

  • Performing a task or procedure from the Emergency Procedures section of the Pilot’s Operating Handbook or Airplane Flight Manual;
  • Violating or in danger of violating an airplane Limitation;
  • Violating or in danger of violating a Federal Air Regulation (or international equivalent) with no way to rectify the situation; and/or
  • The safe outcome of the flight is in any way in doubt;

then I should declare an emergency. There is no question; it is not a judgment call. Get the help you need right away.

Clear, simple, and memorable. 

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Appareo Stratus and planned obsolescence

Back in September 2013, I bought an Appareo Stratus from Sporty’s Pilot Shop. I thought it was expensive, but getting in-cockpit weather and ADS-B traffic data, displayed conveniently on my iPad, was highly valuable. I have used it on almost every flight I’ve made since and it’s proven its value multiple times— being able to see weather while in flight is a huge safety benefit.

Recently I noticed that it was running out of battery unusually fast. Even if I left it plugged in overnight, it would only run for a few minutes when unplugged. I sent Sporty’s customer service an email asking about repair cost. Here’s what they said:

I am sorry, but we are unable to repair the Stratus 1.

We are able to offer $100 off the purchase of a Stratus 1S or 2S.

This is infuriating. The device is not even 3 years old yet, and the manufacturer won’t even attempt to repair it. Offering to let me pay $449 ($549 for a Stratus 1S minus the $100 credit) to get a device that, when it dies, likely will suffer the same non-support is a complete non-starter. I don’t expect a $50 consumer device to have lifelong support, but an $800 aviation device is a completely different story.

So, no thanks, Sporty’s. I’ll keep my money and build a Stratux instead. If this is the level of support I can expect, I might as well save a few bucks and do it my damn self. And when my Foreflight subscription expires, I’ll have to give serious thought to whether I want to continue to support them given their interlocking relationship with Appareo and Sporty’s. Meanwhile, time to take apart the Stratus and see about replacing its battery pack.

(n.b. the avionics stack in our plane has ADS-B weather and traffic, and it will soon be able to push those to the iPad over wifi. However, when I fly rentals or in other peoples’ planes, having a portable device is still a big winner, as is having the redundancy of a second ADS-B receiver just in case… so although I don’t have a single-point dependency on the Stratus I’ll still replace it).

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