I flew my family of four to Gaspé last Monday 24 July, and flew back yesterday (Sunday 30 July). Here are some disjointed notes, since I’m too far buried in work-related e-mail and demands to construct a continuous narrative.
- Flying four adult-sized people plus luggage plus full fuel in a 160 hp Warrior is legal, but it’s a huge challenge. You have to treat every takeoff as a short-field takeoff, and have to be bang on the numbers to make the thing leave the runway and climb at all on a hot day (I’ve posted before about how flight training fails to prepare pilots for heavily-loaded, underpowered planes). Expect to see frequent negative climb rates above 7,000 ft (4,000 ft if there are any mountain waves): just hold Vy and be patient.
- Deviating around thunderstorms in a slow plane is also a huge challenge because of the distances involved. I guessed wrong and deviated south when all the airliners were deviating north, and ended up giving my family a grand tour of the Eastern townships of Quebec (which we couldn’t actually see, but no matter). I’m looking forward to having radar images available for Canada.
- Bilingualism is a good thing, except in a busy circuit at an uncontrolled Quebec airport. I do speak some French, and I managed to understand that an incoming pilot behind me was bound and determined to land on 05 when I was already in the circuit for 23 and Unicom was insisting over and over that 23 was the preferred runway. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand enough French to realize that he was cutting me off after I switched 180 degrees and joined the downwind for 05 to accomodate him. He was behind me, but when I turned base I saw him right in front of me on a straight-in final (which isn’t even legal for VFR in Canada at an uncontrolled airport). Life’s too short to argue with morons, especially in another language, but I have another good reason to prefer controlled airports. The other pilots at the airport were decent, no matter what language they were speaking.
- With fuel prices so high, I’m glad to fly a plane that doesn’t burn too much of it, even if our trips are sometimes a couple of hours longer. I found some good prices in Quebec, though, sometimes in unexpected places.
- I always worry about emergency landing spots when planning a flight over completely deserted areas, such as the interior of the Gaspé peninsula (where the St. Lawrence River meets the Gulf of the St. Lawrence). No need, really. It turns out that the interior is criss-crossed with, literally, hundreds or thousands of wide logging roads. I imagine that the surfaces are rough, and it might take a while for someone to find us, but even though I flew for over an hour out of range of towns, farms, roads, airports, etc., if I had lost an engine I would always have had a choice of literally dozens of easy, straight landing spots right under the plane. They might not have been nice on the landing gear, but they’d be a lot better than trees or plowed fields.
- It’s very hard to resist cheating when you’re IFR in actual IMC, have a VFR-only GPS and ATC offers you a direct routing that will shave 15 or 20 minutes off your trip (and vectoring isn’t possible, because you’re below radar). I won’t say whether I resisted successfully or not, but if I hadn’t, it would have been easy to verify my position periodically using VOR/DME fixes.
- I have a decent amount of actual IMC now, all of it hand-flown, and much of it in rough conditions. In a simple plane like a Warrior, I don’t think there would be any real benefit in having an autopilot, because the plane is draggy and unresponsive, giving me lots of time to fold maps, talk on the radio, etc. without going off course or tilting the wings. I know that things would be very different in a retractable.
- A long, non-stop flight is always tempting, especially when you’re flying back home westbound and might not have serious headwinds. The upper wind forecasts suggested that I could do the return flight (503 nm) in only 4:10, while my Warrior holds enough fuel to fly over 5:30 lean of peak at 75% power (8.5 gph from 48 gallons usable). When the actual winds indicated 4:30-4:40, however, I decided that I didn’t want to be one of those morons who runs out of fuel, even if the GPS said that I would have minimal legal VFR reserves, so I added a fuel stop. It turned out that I did have enough fuel, but family bladders appreciated the stop all the same.
- Flying an underpowered plane over hills makes me appreciate that the air moves in three dimensions: in addition to headwinds, tailwinds, crosswinds, etc., there’s always an updraft or downdraft. I was high enough to avoid the rough stuff, but at 8,500 feet over the mountains (3-4 thousand feet still make a mountain) I was constantly aware of the gentle waves (5-10 minute cycles) that were adding or subtracting about 5-10 knots of airspeed. I notice that flying over the Adirondacks as well. Some people just hold a constant airspeed and ride up and down on the waves, while others hold constant altitude and let the airspeed climb and drop. I chose the latter, since I was in an area of no radar coverage, and didn’t want to crowd the IFR altitudes.
- I had my first experience flying a significant amount of IFR in class G airspace (green on the map), but it wasn’t actually uncontrolled. Because I was going to be crossing a controlled airway, ATC kept talking to me and never said that I was uncontrolled, even though I was flying no-radar. I could legally have flown about an hour of my route IFR without a clearance, though, as long as I could have crossed the airway VFR.
- My family has almost 4 years experience with the airplane now, and they’re all extremely light packers and unfussy travellers. How many teenaged girls can pack enough for a week in a 10 lb suitcase? That alone is probably enough to justify the expense of flying.
Nice to see some new stuff from you. Regarding circuit joining procedures you said that joining straight-in final is not legal in Canada. I agree that it is poor airmanship but unfortunately I thing that it is allowed from a strictly legal standpoint.
The CARs (legal reference in Canada) dont say much about circuit joining procedures (left turns, safe joining procedures).
The other reference albeit not a legal one, the TC AIM allows for straight-in joining for some uncontrolled aerodromes:
(vi) Aerodromes within an MF area when airport advisory information is available: Aircraft may join the circuit pattern straight-in or at 45˚ to the downwind leg or straight-in to the base or final legs (Figure 4.1). Pilots should be alert for other VFR traffic entering the circuit at these positions and for IFR straight-in or circling approaches.
Bad Airmanship, sure, illegal, only if you consider 602.01 (Reckless or Negligent Operation of Aircraft)
Keep up good work,
Some interesting thoughts here. I fly a diesel (thielert) Warrior, although I trained on a Grumman AA5. Since changing aircraft types I have found it quite difficult, the Piper appears to be more affected by even small bumps, turbulence or thermals and mostly it is just uncomfortable, but there are occasions, more frequently lately where they are starting to affect my flying because I am concerned for the stability of the craft. After consulting the relative tech docs it appears the warrior has an additional 40 square feet of wing surface over and above the grumman and I wonder if this is the only reason??
As someone who appears to have a good amount of hours on this type (excepting the engine mod ofcourse!) What are your impressions about this, is it usual for turbulence to be noticed more??…. any suggestions for the best ways to deal with it etc would be nice to hear.
Thanks in advance
Rob: I’m interested in hearing more about the Thielert diesel mod — it’s my parachute (so to speak) for when 100LL is no longer available. You must get an incredible range with 48 gallons of Diesel at 5gph — using 100LL, I’m lucky to manage 400 miles without a fuel stop. My only reluctance, aside from the cost and the diesel stink, is that I’d lose over 100 lb of useful load; on the other hand, I’d fly faster at altitude, and with the bigger range, I could get back the load by carrying less fuel.
As for turbulence, I find the Warrior much more stable than the Cessna 172, which is the only other plane I have a lot of time in. I went flying once in a friend’s Aztec in turbulence, but I found the yaw (from the big tail) very hard to stomach.
Re constant airspeed or constant altitude in lift or sink: clearly if you’re IFR or likely to be mixing with IFR traffic then holding constant altitude is important. In pure VFR circumstances, though, I really can’t see the point. More, constant altitude is harmful. It’s much harder to see another aircraft against the haze near the horizon than against the clear sky or the ground so if eveybody is moving up and down gently there’s more chance of early sightings.
Also, constant altitude is just about the most fuel inefficient plausible strategy. It results in you flying slowly in sinking air and quickly in rising air. Even if the airmass cancels out over the distance along your path the net effect is that you spend more time in the sink. Constant speed is better for this but the best strategy is to speed up in the sink and slow down in the lift. This, of course, causes even wider altitude excursions than flying at constant speed but, frankly, so what? (As long as the passengers are comfortable with the pitch changes, of course.)
Glider (sailplane) pilots spend a lot of time worrying about this sort of thing though it is now pretty widely understood that so long as you get the speed roughly right the details don’t really matter, particularly with modern high performance gliders. Where glider pilots have the advantage is that any half decent variometer will compensate for the extra sink caused by higher speed whereas an aeroplane VSI will not. If you try flying faster in sink in a typical aeroplane the extra sink due to the increased speed will cause the VSI to point further down causing you to fly faster, and so on.
Still, keeping constant speed or speeding up just a bit in sink will probably save you some fuel.