Category Archives: Uncategorized

Student Pilot Guinea Pig

Today, I volunteered to be a student pilot guinea pig. 20160318_165108

A pilot is studying for his CFI rating and wanted practice showing and explaining maneuvers to someone who isn’t a current CFI. Me? I was thrilled to “help”. No logable hours, but it was fun.

He flies a Cherokee and today was my first time manipulating controls in a low wing aircraft.

Preflight was done before I got the airport. I let Mr. pre-CFI to do radio calls because I felt completely unprepared to do so (I haven’t touched controls in foreeeever – over a year; am not comfortable with it anymore). It was a good call, I couldn’t really even understand the runway Fairbanks ground told us to use.

I did my normal unsteady taxi to the runway. There had been quite a few inches of new snow on the ground this week which hadn’t been removed yet, so it was really impossible to see the pavement.

Runup had all the same checkpoints I’m used to in Cessnas. Take-off was normal and mostly along the centerline: yay me. Pre-CFI did a great job in talkingΒ  me though all procedures before it was my time to put hands on the controls. Even though I couldn’t explain or do any procedure he asked when first asked, after his explanations, it was all very doable.

We went out the practice area and did slow flight. Pull power, pull up, wait for white arc, add flaps. Turns with rudder control mostly. Climbs and descents by changing power. Seems so long ago that I first did that. And it was all too fast to truly appreciate it then. I feel really good about it all now.

4 steep turns, whee! The faster they’re done, the better one seems to stay on altitude. I need to stop taking forever to roll 45 degrees, it feels like cheating to roll slowly since you can circle about 180 degrees “getting” to the right bank angle. Adding a touch of power once you get to 30 degrees was something I can’t remember doing in the past. Maintaining altitude is now what I need to practice. Although it was all within +/- 100ft, I want to be better.

S-turns and turns about a point, also whee! As was explained to me, the easiest way is to pick your reference point/line/road. Then pick your radial distance from the reference. Then pick points on the Earth’s surface at the correct distances from that reference (clumps of trees, water features, etc). Simply aim to fly over your clumps of trees, water features, etc and you will automatically fly with the correct bank angles to compensate for winds without extra effort. Worked beautifully and it didn’t take any effort to maintain altitude.

Landings. Here is where it kinda fell apart. Trim was a turn handle above the head and I kept forgetting to adjust it (out of sight, out of mind). Downwind was easy but turns to base and final were very sloppy/round. Correct glideslope? Nope. Lined up remotely close? Nope. Kept rounding out too high and actual touchdown was way too far to the right of centerline (the entire plane was to the right of the centerline). To be fair, it was slightly gusty at the airport, but that’s no good excuse. Touchdown was pillowly soft on one landing and certainly harder than I’d like on the other two (not so terrible pre-CFI was going to step in, but embarrassing for myself). Pre-CFI says I’m being too hard on myself since I’ve never flown a low-wing aircraft, haven’t looked at anything flying related in about a year, and didn’t study for today’s impromptu flight since I only had 15 minutes to drive to the airport once I got the call. I’ll accept the compliment and be motivated to fly better.

Blue skies!!!
Blue skies!!! Lovely 1.5 hour flight today.

Unmanned Flying Things!

The University of Alaska Fairbanks’ unmanned aircraft system test site (to count Alaskan animal populations) has been approved Β http://www.faa.gov/news/press_releases/news_story.cfm?newsId=16194.

The certification process was first mentioned to me at my flight school a few weeks ago. One of the PPL students is a UAV operator (Side notes: He tells me that the term ‘drone’ is derogatory to UAV pilots. UAV pilots also log ‘flight’ hours as regular aircraft pilots do – interesting.). As part of the FAA certification process for this unmanned aerial vehicle site, the FAA administrator actually did an in-person visit to Fairbanks. Even though his visit wouldn’t have impacted my training, I’m glad I wasn’t flying lessons during his visit. I don’t like the potential for judgement πŸ˜‰

Fairbanks. Everything outside this map can be considered wilderness. Large Animal Research Station is at the red inverted teardrop. North is up.
Fairbanks. Everything outside this map can be considered wilderness. Large Animal Research Station is at the red inverted teardrop. North is up.

I’m still unclear how the operations of unmanned vehicles will affect my flying – logically, not at all right? Flight operations are supposed to be out of the Large Animal Research Station which is north of campus, way on the outskirts of town (note PAFA is at the southern edge of Fairbanks). I assume there won’t be any flights over the city because there are usually no wildlife to count there (except hungry moose and an occasional bear)…but ‘civilization’ is easy to leave when flying out of PAFA…and searching for animals can be done anywhere in the local ‘outskirts of town’ areas….

Moose I felt way too close to on my first day in Fairbanks. This guy just wandered across the courthouse parking lot.
Two moose I felt way too close to on my first day in Fairbanks. These guys just wandered across the courthouse parking lot and started eating.

I don’t want to hit anything…. Will UAVs show up on the local radar? Will I get traffic alerts from tower? I’ve seen the UAVs and while not tiny, they’re not that big. I still have difficulties spotting other Cessnas. How on earth will I spot at UAV?

To me, unmanned vehicles are undoubtedly going to be very prevalent everywhere someday soon because of their potentially lower costs and ability to send surveillance into areas where sending humans would be massively expensive/impractical/dangerous. We’re going to have to learn to deal with them, but at the current stage, I don’t think there is enough education for the general public about what is going on/how they may impact our daily activities (however minimally), and there does really needs to be.

Short Term Survival

One of the things that terrifies me about learning to fly is ‘what happens if I have to emergency land in a remote location/crash?’ My morbid mind knows that if I don’t survive, then I won’t be around to care, and the fear is moot; however, my instructors keep reassuring me that if you take the correct actions, most small-airplane crashes are survivable. Yay.

But then what? In Alaska, if one goes down and survives, it will likely be in really remote brush and tundra. I know nothing about the wilderness. My job is to process satellite data in a cushy office building. I’ve never been fishing, I’ve only cooked deboned fish filets from the freezer section, never gone hunting, never gone camping away from a main road, never made an outdoor cooking fire, never taken a first aid course, have forgotten all my CPR training – you get the picture.

If one files a flight plan and doesn’t close it, local law enforcement starts looking for you at the landing airport at T+30 minutes after expected arrival. It’s likely that it will be about T+2 hours before any aircraft takes off to look for you. Best case scenario: the 406Mhz ELT can be location accurate to within ~2miles? (assuming it actually activates in the crash) Factor in travel time for the rescue planes to get to your general location and add in time for them to actually physically see you. A crash survivor needs the ability to stay alive for several hours to days for rescuers to get to them.

Alaskan winter: The ‘interior area (Fairbanks)’ is famous for its ability to get down past -40F. Brr.

Alaskan summer: watch out for bears, maternally protective/aggressive moose, swarms of mosquitoes.

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My flight school has a short course for creating a short-term survival pack – which I took this evening.

We started with many stories of crash impact survivors who subsequently died from lack of survival supplies.

  • Alaskan pilots who lacked proper winter clothing because they didn’t dress to survive the terrain they were flying over (those aircraft heaters are really toasty – it’s tempting to go flying without a parka).
  • Crashes where the pilots died on impact and passengers survived – but then passengers died from a lack of food&water because they didn’t know about the aircraft’s emergency radios and emergency supplies in their pilots’ vests. [Alabama case]
  • Float plane crashes where the plane’s emergency kit sinks with the plane. Uninjured survivors on shore with no supplies.
  • A duo who crashed into a 150ft tree and survived (only 1 person had a broken leg); they got down on the ground safely but forgot their survival gear in the plane. They couldn’t climb up the tree and died. Sad!

In a crash, you may just have to survive with just the clothes on your back. To increase your odds, you can wear a vest/fanny pack with survival gear.

The instructor showed us his personal vest. It was an inflatable life vest with pockets (inflatable vest because he exclusively flies float planes).

A lot of items were expected: knife/mini-saw (which every Alaskan seems to carry around in all occasions), strike-anywhere matches, waterproof matches in waterproof cylinders (include the special striking surface that comes with the original package! They usually won’t catch fire otherwise), swiss army knife (to dismantle plane parts), alcohol pads (prevent infection in the cuts a crash survivor is sure to have), bandaids, asprin, flashlights (batteries kept separate to prevent corrosion!), signaling mirror, compass, granola bars.

Then there were items I thought were truly brilliant: surveyor’s [flagging] tape (neon colored thin plastic you can mark your path with if you leave the crash site), rescue laser with a line filter (makes a red laser line instead of the normal dot), high powered Cyalume glow sticks, homemade altoids-mints-tin sized fishing kit (hooks, line, etc), 9V battery + steel wool (for starting fires), candles (importance described below), [wool] working gloves (stay warm and prevent blisters when building shelter), butane lighter, fresnel lens (for starting fires), Waterproof match case/film canister filled with cotton balls soaked with petroleum jelly (use as tinder), polarized sunglasses (to prevent snow blindness), whistle, wire saw (although many people consider these useless), waterproof-paper notepads (leave notes if you leave the plane/keep a diary/stave off boredom), pencils and pens, mini survival book, prescription medication, mini backup ELT+instructions+extra battery.

These items should be enough for short term survival, a few days – one is expecting rescue in the near future. Personalize your kit by adding or removing items.

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Alaskan law (AS 02.35.110. Emergency Rations and Equipment) requires certain longer term survival equipment in small aircraft. It includes mosquito headnets, a week of food for each passenger, first aid kit, knife, axe, and more. Winter regulations include snowshoes, wool blankets, and a sleeping bag. In his larger (longer term) emergency kit, our instructor also includes 33 gallon trash bags (great for carrying water&berries, covering large wounds, acting as a raincoat/mosquito net, shelter, collecting condensation from a tree branch to drink, etc), large roll of duct tape, Dinty Moore instant meals (ex. pot roast, no water needed), water pouches (they won’t burst on impact like a gallon container might. I didn’t know they made these!).

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Random tidbits from the class:

The importance of candles: heating snow caves! When building a snow shelter, we were told that one should dig all the way down to the bare earth, beneath leaves and branches. Bare earth is approximately +14F (geothermal heat!), warmer than having a snow floor. Googling only show sites that say to have a snow floor. I’ve not tried a snow shelter so I still don’t know what is best. Candles can warm a snow cave a few degrees, which can make a bit of difference in sub zero temperatures.

Never fly with bear spray in the cockpit. Law enforcement pepper spray is 5% ‘pepper’. Bear sprays are typically ~20%. There are cases of bear spray accidentally going off, incapacitating the pilots, and causing fatal crashes.

Gun: anything smaller than a 45 probably won’t stop a bear.

When a brown bear charges, it may stop about 15 feet short of you since they don’t typically eat humans. Then again, they might kill and leave you. Black bears will eat you. Thanks instructor for that nightmare-inducing warning, humph πŸ˜‰

Winter: don’t seek shelter in the plane. Build an insulated shelter. Pull padding from the seats for insulation.

Signal fire: use tires, plane oil, plane fuel to create thick, black smoke when you see search planes coming towards you/across your field of vision. (this is where the multitool is invaluable)

Not a cold weather secret: batteries die super fast. ELT batteries normally last for a day but one will be lucky to get 4 hours in the cold. Don’t rely on battery powered devices if possible!

After a crash, drink water! [if you have enough]. Adrenaline rush of the incident can dehydrate you and lead to brain impairment. Take a break and inventory all your supplies.

Steps to take are outlined here: http://wilderness-urban-survival.blogspot.com/2011/01/surviving-small-plane-crash.html

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I’ve always carried a few personal survival items on my previous flights: knife, granola bars, flashlights, extra Spot GPS batteries, lifestraw (large diameter straw with built in filter), a plastic bag, mylar thermal blanket, a sparkie firestarter (1 handed operation capable, works when wet), lip balm, chemical handΒ  warmers, and spare glasses. I am now going to invest in a fanny pack and strap essential items to my body.

Idea for me: I’m working on a solar powered purse for charging my phone. I should look into building something more powerful for general charging purposes.

**I am not experienced in wilderness activities. The information in this blog should be verified with a professional before its use in any real life situations.**

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I really look forward to getting back into flying next month. I haven’t piloted a plane since November – far too long.

Finally found an interesting airspace NOTAM

On all my flights, the NOTAMS I retrieve have mentioned spots of ice on the Fairbanks runways/taxiways, certain airport lights being out, and other items I know are important, but are really mundane. Finally though, I have an exciting NOTAM:

NOTAM - flight restriction over Poker Flat
NOTAM – flight restriction over the University of Alaska’s Poker Flat Rocket Range

This rocket is being launched to take in-situ aurora measurements; in-situ aurora data is a big deal to space physicists because the aurora occurs around 100km (~62mi) above the ground. It’s a region above where we can fly instruments on planes. The atmosphere there is too thick to place a satellite in a [cost-effective, ‘long-term’] orbit. We mostly rely on remote sensing to learn about aurora, but there are limitations on the type of data that can be obtained. The solution: rockets. But they’re so expensive, basically a one-time-use machine, and they only fly for ~10 minutes (remember not all 10 minutes is spent at the right altitude…). And you only get good data when you time the launch properly. Think of aurora as ‘storms’ in the atmosphere. They take time to grow and light up the sky. The rocket takes time to get to the correct altitude, so to observe the aurora at maximum intensity, you need to launch at the early, wispy green glow stages (but in the early stages, there is no guarantee that it will turn into the large event you want). So much stress in the control room!!!

Scientists don’t currently have a guaranteed aurora forecaster (a mildly accurate one is at http://www.gi.alaska.edu/AuroraForecast), but the hope is that with more data, we can someday have very accurate predictive capabilities. More details at http://uafcornerstone.net/rockets-set-launch-poker-flat-research-range/ and www.nasa.gov/content/goddard/nasa-funded-sounding-rocket-to-catch-aurora-in-the-act/

Having friends that work at Poker Flat is awesome. We get to go through the gates to observe the launch up close (~2 miles away).

On the 25th, auroras were mild:

I'm definitely enjoying the warm temperature aurora watching - 20F's! A bit too warm though so the ground is now a sheet of ice...
I’m definitely enjoying warm temperature aurora watching: 20F’s! A bit too warm though so the parking lot is now a large solid sheet of ice…

Auroras were too mild for a launch of the official rocket – but personnel were kept mentally sharp with two smaller test rocket launches. Total flight time is only about 40 seconds. Oddly thrilling hearing the loud ‘thud’ as it lands.

One of two test rocket launches of the night - Poker Flat
One of two test rocket launches of the night – Poker Flat. Courtesy T. Xiao

The highway bordering the rocket range needs to be shut down for ~10 minutes for every launch and I’m curious if anything is said about the launch to pilots in the area.

Even though I’ve finished my required night flight training hours, I kinda of want to schedule a night flight to see how rockets affect air traffic communications/instructions πŸ˜€

Auroral activity has been low so we’re still waiting for the launch as of today.

Gals with a love of flying

I attended my first 99’s meeting tonight and it was so much fun. For those that don’t know, the 99s is an international organization that supports female pilots. Local chapters get people together to do different social stuff.

We had a delicious potluck dinner and then watched the movie Flyabout. It’s a documentary following a female pilot as she flies an air tour encircling the continent of Australia. I’m still amazed that she started that journey in a foreign land with just 140 hours and a private pilot licence. All the other members of the tour (except her father) were in the thousands of hours I believe. I never realized that Australia could have so much rain/IMC!

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It was really great meeting alumna of my flight school. I’ve seen their pictures a lot and heard stories about all their flight training – its nice to have a personality to put with the face. πŸ˜‰

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I haven’t been in a cockpit since the end of November and I’ve done a poor job of motivating myself to study for the FAA written exam. I was running though some chair-flying in my mind the other day and it was disappointing how much I’ve forgotten. I really need to dig out my radio script. I have no doubt that I’ll quickly pick up everything I need once I start flying again, but being a somewhat lazy person sometimes, the thought of putting forth that effort is quite unappealing. Too bad becauseΒ Fairbanks weather has been surprisingly mild, +10Β°F’s : unexpectedly warm January temperatures – way above the school’s 150 and 152 temperature cutoffs (-15 and -20 Β°F respectively).

Tonight though, the combination of the flying adventure documentary and talking to people very excited about flying has re-lit my internal fire. Thank you Fairbanks’ midnight sun ninty-nines! πŸ˜€

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Mt Rainier sighting on my commercial flight to Seattle

Holidays Message

When I started flying in September, I really wanted to do that final checkride this week. It’s been highlighted on my calendar since the beginning of this year. Vanity. 3 months was how long it took the ‘most dedicated’ pilots to get their private pilot certificate at Embry-Riddle (on top of the freshman class load) and I’ve always wanted to say “I did that too”. It is mildly disappointing to not meet this goal (grr, weather), but it’s not the end of the world.

I’m not doing any more flying until mid-January because I’m swamped with research/other stuff – unfortunately January/February is the time when Fairbanks is usually the coldest (times you can expect -50’s F and such), darkest, and flying days are very limited.

At least I now have no excuse to not ace the written exam πŸ˜‰

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Watch this 2013 US Thanksgiving airspace timelapse and thank your ATC friends! I certainly have – their job is incredibly crazy looking.

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I’ve recently learned that people at my flight school/instructors have been reading this blog – and now they know I’ve been writing about them. Not that I mind (I don’t apologize for/am not ashamed of my thoughts nor what I observed/learned –Β  and not that their response hasn’t been generally supportive), but it feels a bit strange to have people I look up to reading my very personal opinions (hold-over reservations from myΒ painfullyΒ shy days); hm. Anyways, if you are reading this, hi! And happy holidays!

Waiting Waiting WAITING [for the Night Cross Country Flight]

Long waiting game detailed here. Only of interest if you want to hear about bad Alaskan weather. Actual flight described in next post, Night Cross Country Flight.

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Wednesday, Nov. 6: So mad. Crystal clear skies over interior Alaska. That evening’s auroras covered the entire sky for most of the evening [first time I had seen all sky coverage] and were perfectly timed to coincide with my last required night flight hours (!), but the beacon light fixture on the 150 broke and the ELT antenna on the 152 broke (limiting the plane to 50 nautical miles) – leaving me with no rent-able aircraft.

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UAF’s Poker Flat Research Range – Neal Davis Science Operations Center [credit artist of http://www.flickr.com/photos/musubk/]
TheΒ UAF physics studentsΒ ended up at the Poker Flat Research RangeΒ to watch the aurora. It was fantastic – but I couldn’t quite stop thinking about how I had missed a special opportunity to fly relative to the auroral curtain motions (it isn’t usually visible so early [green lights started ~830pm – near the end of my planned 2.5 hour night cross country (xc)] and if it is, it doesn’t usually continue all night – which in this case, it did). In the past, students who fly on aurora nights have been able to talk the instructor into extending the flight plan so they could enjoy the aurora away from city lights (I mean, you’re already in the middle of nowhere, might as well enjoy it). I’ve been told the aurora flying experience is spectacular….now I’ll have to wait til I get my private pilot certificate (or hope the sun is active for my next commercial flight). 😦

I’m definitely still mad at the beacon light situation. Turning it on during preflight had been tricky for about a month now; we kept reporting it on the aircraft logs; just figured it was slow due to the cold temperatures (~20’s Β°F). On Wednesday, CFI4 reached up to tap on it (try and get it to turn on); it fell off. [How is he freakishly tall enough to not need a ladder?!? Β πŸ˜‰ ] I always feel bad about hounding the school over ‘minor’ problems like a light being slow to turn on – especially since every little fix always takes days longer than expected….and that’s time the plane isn’t profitable for the school….but forget that from now on. I don’t want a similar preventable delay to occur in the future.

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Night cross country flight: PAFA-PAML-PACL-PAFA [skyvector.com graphic]
CFI4 had complimented me on my navigation log; after my flight was canceled, he kept teasing me about being ready to give me my solo cross country endorsement at the end of the night if we had flown…ahh (evilness πŸ˜‰ )!

I’m really rather proud of what I presented for inspection (although I do admit that I hastily put it together ~2 hours before I went to the flight school – ‘my best work is usually done under pressure’??? excuses…). Everything was extra legible, already had all my weather, AF/D runway info, all heading corrections; ground speeds, fuel, and weights&balances calculated, flight plan ready to go, extra notes written in the margins about differences between day and night flying, no mistakes* (with my expectation that I would check all current NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen) just before takeoff). It amazed me that some students had shown up for past cross country flights without the basic prep work (and more than once!). They take so long to write up nicely; showing up without the prep work leads to paying for the instructor to watch you sit in front of the computer on the ground, eating up your entire flight block. My only minor slip-up was that I forgot to bring a parka and snowpants to my flight (ugg, I can’t ever move in all those layers). It was only ~+15Β°F in Fairbanks (you don’t need snowpants until ~ -27Β°F, they’re too hot), but I still got the ‘mom’ lecture about how one always needs extra precautions when flying in the winter.

*My school has current Airport Facilities/Directories (A/FD) but gives copies of expired A/FDs to students to use in xc planning (Alaska doesn’t usually change that much – but one destination, Manley [Hot Springs], is an exception – airport was constructed this summer). Current NOTAMS say the summer runway 2-20 (only 1 runway listed in my AF/D) is closed permanently, is now a taxiway; a new runway, 18-36, is now in use. I didn’t know this until my instructor checked the online NOTAMS while I rechecked weather – a good lesson to me to always be through (and recheck everything when using expired publications).

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I’ve been rescheduling for basically every night since Wed., Nov. 6. To save me money on my training, I wasn’t ‘supposed’ to do any more flying until I do the night cross country.

Thursday: 150 had last minute beacon electrical problems, 152’s ELT still broken. Cancel.

Weekend: Heavy snow and fog all over interior Alaska.

Monday Nov 11: overcast morning but clear & sunny all afternoon! The 150 had potential engine problems (the engine stopped as a student touched down on the runway during touch-and-goes. We’re not convinced that it wasn’t a carburetor icing/lack of carburetor heat problem…). I’d fixed the 152’s ELT antenna on Sun. Nov 10, so that plane was ready to go. However…..the afternoon’s unexpected sunlight created a fog layer over the runway. So strange, no fog in town/over airport, just a thick layer over the runway (beneath crystal clear skies). The touchdown point was clear but the rest of the runway was covered. This was confirmed by the instrument rated pilot who flies at my flight school. Lucky for him that he had the knowledge to do an ILS (instrument landing system) approach. There was zero wind so the fog wasn’t going anywhere all night. Fog wasn’t forecasted to grow….but CFI2 and CFI4 said not to take any chances – Fairbanks has plenty of winter nighttime left for me to fly in – some other day. Their instincts were right: Fairbanks clouds & visibility dropped right at the time I was scheduled to land back at PAFA.

Tuesday: CFI4’s long day at his ‘real’ job flying military helicopters – he could fly with me, but would he be tired? Plus, my ‘real’ job’s weekly research meeting is on Tuesdays (and they are thoroughly exhausting). No flying.

Wednesday – Thursday: Heavy snow and freezing rain (got half a centimeter of ice frozen to my car – underneath 6 inches of snow, ahhh!). Winds 35kts gusting to 40s&50s. Weather bad enough to warrant a rare Fairbanks occasion: classes canceled due to winter weather. Trees took out many people’s electricity for several days. Flight canceled.

Friday: I was feeling lazy and didn’t schedule anything (naturally, PAFA weather looked lovely). I wasn’t sure if my destination runways were graveled/sanded/plowed after the interior Alaska freezing rain episode (even the main Fairbanks roads were still a bit iffy), so it was probably fine to wait.

Saturday: All day, clouds too low for comfort (2100ft) near one of my destinations (PACL’s nearest weather is Nenana ASOS). Flight canceled and 2 hours later, the skies turned perfectly clear. Darn it.

Sunday: clear at destinations, snow/fog at PAFA

Monday Nov 18: snowing – went night cross country skiing instead of night cross country flying.

Tuesday: Clear weather but lack of insulating clouds means it has finally gotten too cold (FAI in the -20’s Β°F) to fly the 150 (coldest allowed by flight school: -15Β°F on the ground, 0Β°F at altitude). The 152 rental limits are -20Β°F on the ground, 0Β°F at altitude. I had 6 hours of afternoon meetings on top of 3 hours of sleep, so I didn’t schedule a flight.

Wednesday and Thursday: It’s soooo cold! -20s to -30somethings Β°F. Too cold to fly anything but the Arrow (which is good down to -30Β°F on the ground, 0Β°F at altitude). Plus, it was weather class nights 1 and 2.

Friday: clear and warm (~+15 even at night) because of the Chinook wind from the south. Looking at this week’s temperature records, it’s completely wild! CFI2 uncomfortable with a night xc for me: clouds at minimum allowable height for night VFR at PACL. Forecast at the Alaska Aviation weather site was interesting: had the Tanana Valley clear but every other forecast zone was MVFR or IFR. Forgot to save that image, but it looked something like this:

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Tanana Valley (encloses Fairbanks and my destinations Manley and Clear) boxed in yellow. For most of the afternoon, every forecast zone (orange thin lined shapes) in Alaska was MVFR and IFR except for Tanana Valley. Almost impossible to believe? MVFR boundaries form a pointy boundary? Aii….

Did night cross country skiing underneath the aurora instead.

Saturday:Β I wasΒ busy not dying.

Sunday: clouds were too low for safe night VFR

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It’s been almost 3 weeks since I was last able to fly – and I’m definitely convinced to get my instrument rating so I have more flying day options. Also, safety! (read about my first unexpected IFR ride-along) The example I mentioned above, where you could have a VFR afternoon and return to the Fairbanks airport to find just the runway covered with low fog (but not the town), makes me uneasy.

PAFA Taxiway B Closed

So the rain did heed yesterday’s pleas and today is sunny and pretty – but this morning, the planes had a lot of ice on them (27degrees F this morning). Okay, maybe I should really reevaluate my planning of morning flight blocks as we move into winter. When the ice melted, my plane had a small electrical problem. Even if it got fixed right away, all the instructors we already scheduled to work with the Nenana school kids (lucky high schoolers get free flight lessons). Lesson: always be specific when you ask the universe for something. Cauz it’ll mess with you. πŸ˜‰

Anyways, while waiting for my morning flight block (ice melting), I decided to write about the current taxiway closure at Fairbanks International Airport.

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Airport diagram of PAFA-FAI. All rights belong to…not me.

Fairbanks’ airport is divided into 2 sides. West ramp is for commercial aviation (2L-20R), East ramp (2R-20L) is for general aviation. The runways are connected by taxiway B which runs from the tower (on east ramp) straight to the commercial airport terminal (My flight school is located on east ramp, the building right next to the tower).

A while back I noticed my ATIS information started concluding with a notice that taxiway B would be closed until further notice but didn’t think much of it – “it must be general maintenance or something” I thought. Turns out it was closed because people following iphone maps were driving through the gate on east ramp next to the tower and onto taxiway B/the runways, headed for the terminal to catch their commercial flights.

Good grief….however it is hard not to sympathize a bit with the drivers. I drive up to the same gate they did all the time and I’ve never noticed signs telling you that you can’t get to the terminal (I mean, assuming you have taxi clearance, you most certainly can…). The articles I’ve read all say there are signs…but even not in a rush, I’ve never noticed them. Judge for yourself:

Here is a google streets image of the airport:

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Fairbanks Airport, east ramp, google streets view. Runways are parallel to the road the google car is on.
Tower on left, my flight school on the right. The road ahead goes straight onto taxiway bravo (see the taxiway just to the left of the rudder of the parked plane?). The white buildings in the distance are the terminal buildings.

As a non-aviation person, there aren’t any indications you are driving onto an active runway with 737s landing. Even as a student, it took me forever to figure out where the runway was [what it looked like] from the main road (vs the parallel taxiways charlie and alpha). Hey now, don’t laugh, it takes time to get used to the new signs you’ve never seen before (unlike learning to drive since those signs are everywhere you are).

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This photo is from airport officials. I can’t tell which angle the picture is taken from. You should either see the tower or the terminal in the background if it is at bravo. I think this is what the signs at bravo look like up close though. I’m never close enough to them during takeoff to tell.

Even up to a month ago, before this whole flight school thing, if my GPS directions told me to drive straight onto the runway, I would have been mildly confused at the weird line markings, but I probably would have done it anyways. The airport needs more menacing signs…..and maybe a fence. I’ve seen gated apartment complexes that look more secure than east ramp.

This situation really speaks to the fact that there need to be more ways to get people familiarized with aviation. Not just general airport tours – I did one of those in May and I still didn’t learn the road/taxiway/runway lines and where you can and cannot drive at the ramp.

http://www.kirotv.com/news/news/national/apple-map-app-lands-drivers-airport-runway/nZ7tc/

http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/20130924/iphone-map-app-directs-fairbanks-drivers-airport-taxiway

I hope things get fixed soon. I told CFI2 that I wanted to land on 2L-20R just to try it out….it would be cool, but I have no way to take the plane home to its parking spot without taking off again (I know, I say that like it’s a bad thing).

First Canceled Flight – Oh Weather

I woke up this morning to this:
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That is the view looking from UAF southwards towards the Fairbanks Airport. It’s too bad I’m not an instrument flight student.

Last night’s rain led to the fog and the cool weather was going to keep it around til ~noon. I had already decided to explore Alaska with my day, so I couldn’t just reschedule for a flight block later in the afternoon. Weather in the rest of Alaska’s interior was a bit messy too:

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Driving though a cloud (stationary cloud over the mountain peak) on the way to Central, AK

Anyways, it turns out that the weather was only clear for an hour at Fairbanks today.

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Glad I got to hit the Alaskan roads:

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This picture doesn’t capture the view very well, but it was really ethereal.

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My first look at caribou πŸ™‚

Random Thoughts

  1. Having to speak on the radio has me a bit nervous. All the forums say thatΒ http://www.liveatc.net/Β is a great resource for helping you get used to hearing that style of speaking. Just for kicks, I searched for FAI and boom – we’re listed. I was morbidly curious enough to find the radio transmissions from my last flight lesson, and sure enough, it was in the archives. Really quite exciting until I realized that my voice is going to be on that site. Only time will tell if this has been a good revelation or not.Β I have no real objections except that I don’t want to sound like an idiot.
  2. I need to pick a primary CFI for myself. Only two guys look like they have the time to fly with me. Even though it may be a bit ridiculous, I want to take the practical test by early December. I’m not sure how I’m going to choose because I like the teaching styles of both men.
  3. I need to do more science, less aviation (awwww, nooooooo). I’ve never figured out how to balance things going on in my life. If you know the secret, please share. I feel I’m doomed to be the slacker graduate student in my office.