Tag Archives: plane

Logging Aerobatics Flight Time in a North American SNJ-4

This is such a pretty plane, a 1943 North American SNJ-4, WW2 fighter pilot training plane (also known as a T6 Texan but the SNJ is the Navy version?):

1943 North American SNJ-4

And I got to fly it this morning!!! This plane is visiting Fairbanks, Alaska this summer with its amazing pilot, Andy Bibber (long time Alaskan bush pilot and CFII). Rumor has it that he is self taught in aerobatics (that statement is hearsay but I really believe it to be true) which is fascinating to me because he is so sharp, so on top of every little thing that happens in the air. If you are in Fairbanks between now and September 2015, I highly recommend calling him to take a flight – it’s worth the money because let’s be honest, where/when else are you going to be able to fly in a machine so unique? (call 907-474-0099 – that isn’t his direct number but I will update this post when I find his card) Andy is also bringing a biplane to Fairbanks that quite a few pilots are really excited to be trying out in mid-July.

So you approach the plane from the left:

1943 North American SNJ-4 (I admit I haven’t done much research on the plane but here is some open source information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_T-6_Texan)

Put on a parachute that also doubles as a seat cushion. Something like this:

And climb into the back seat. I don’t feel my pictures accurately show how big the plane is. I’m about 5’1″ and I was just tall enough to grab one foot peg and still swing my left leg onto the black grippy portion of the wing.

4 point seatbelt attached. Was told I could leave the canopy open – heck yes, it was lovely outside. Safety briefing paraphrased by me: Pilot: ‘if anything happens I’ll say “bail-out, bail-out, bail-out”. You open the canopy by pulling the red handle and pushing the clear overhead dome forward.’

Red handle of canopy, open canopy as seen from back seat of SNJ-4
Red handle of canopy, open canopy as seen from back seat of SNJ-4

Safety briefing continued: ‘Detach seatbelt and dive for the trailing edge of the wing. The plane is moving so the horizontal stabilizer (attached to plane tail) won’t hit you.’ Gee thanks for that last line?

Aiming point in case of bail-out.
Aiming point in case of bail-out.

I’m left to ponder the instrument panel and other plane parts as the pilot put on his parachute and climbed in.

SNJ-4 rear seat instrument panel
SNJ-4 rear seat instrument panel
Trim wheel to my left: wow that’s big. Flaps like the electric flaps I used in the 172.
Throttle, mixture, and prop control in middle of picture. Mags underneath. Landing gear lights at picture right.
No yoke - I get to use a stick! And for the first time, rudder pedals that were comfortable for my very short height!
No yoke – I get to use a stick! And for the first time, rudder pedals (adjustable) that were comfortable for my very short height!

Five shots of primer sounded [and looked] like 20 (I could see some moving parts from the back). Engine was turned on and we were waiting the good long while needed for the oil temperature to rise high enough. It was as this point that I dropped my phone like a n00b. It fell into the large open area underneath my seat, at least a foot and a half below where I could reach. Darn it. The pilot climbed out, removed his parachute, opened the rear storage, climbed into the open space beneath my seat, and retrieved my phone. Embarrassing. Reminder for all future flights where I intend to go upside down: bring the phone holster and clip to attach it to my body for hands free pictures.

Taxi to the runnup area at 2R. It’s funny that none of the plane’s occupants can see out the front of the plane (extreme tailwheel). Taxiing was accomplished with wide S turns across the entire width of the taxiway for the long haul out to 2R (taxiway length traveled: approximately 6500ft (1.2 miles!)) – nice to go crazy with large slow turns (from my perspective as a student pilot in a Cessna who is required to do normal boring straight taxis).

Normal runnup as I’ve done in the Cessnas but with the added step of checking the propeller (as I’ve seen from flights in any of my flight school’s Pipers).

Ready for takeoff, 2R, PAFA
Ready for takeoff, 2R, PAFA

Takeoff felt the same as it always does except that the cockpit was open. Similar to my ride in a biplane, the air rushing by felt amazing. It was an incredible morning in Fairbanks: so beautiful and the colors so vivid.

Just took off from runway 2R at PAFA, looking back at the airport.
Just took off from runway 2R at PAFA, looking back at the airport.

As soon as we got the ‘turn on course’ okay from Fairbanks departure, the pilot took us for a [unexpected from my perspective] steep left turn. Oh boy, what have I signed up for?!? Exciting! The controls were handed fully over to me (pilot put his hands in the air above his head at one point, haha) and we flew out to the Goldstream area. This plane is so fast compared to anything I’ve piloted! Exhilarating!

When leveling out at 4000 ft, CFI suggested I use trim. I turned the wheel for nose down trim as much as I normally would in a 152 … and the plane did a dramatic-feeling pitch down- oops, light touch, tiny movements – must remember that. I was told to do two turns, did shallow left and right turns (15 degrees or so) because I was too nervous to go steeper – AHHH, I missed out. I was happy with my altitude holding on the right turn, but the left felt like a sine wave disaster (wavering about 300ft off my desired altitude at the worst of it).

Then we moved to the aerobatics portion of the flight. We closed the front and back canopies because if the engine caught fire in a maneuver and the canopy was open, the flames would come into the cockpit – yeah, let’s avoid that. Pilot said we should head 180 degrees away from the hills before starting an aileron roll; he just pulls the stick so we go up and over – no time for this straight and level turn business I suppose! πŸ™‚ Pilot talked through the main points of each maneuver; I did my best to remember and follow everything going on, but I make no guarantees to the accuracy of anything I’ve typed here. I also suggest watching the following video clips without sound because it is just loud engine noise.

First up: aileron roll to left and the right. (I thought we started at 4000 ft, pitched down for airspeed of 140 kts, pulled up, entered roll…this isn’t supported by my video as far as I can tell…..but I feel my memory was allowed to be wonky today; after the first roll, I suddenly realized I hadn’t taken my motion sickness pill [because I got the dizzy feeling I remember from my time on boats], oh no).

Did 2 loops. Started at 4000 ft, pitch down for airspeed of 160 kts and pull back for loop. Had extra airspeed after the loops so we also ended the loops with some rolls.

Hammerhead maneuver, I don’t even remember any airspeed numbers. Textbook says: 1/4 of a loop; executed by pulling up from level flight. All I remember are the words ‘and we don’t stall because the plane doesn’t stop flying’ (?)….but I was definitely feeling the effects of motion sickness (sudden extreme headache, a desire to find a plastic bag….[but never needed the bag, yay!]) by this point, so take what you will from my words. Also had enough airspeed to end in a roll I believe. The hammerhead was striking to me because it felt so gentle. Nothing like a stall in a C150/C152 (which was what I was expecting).

Then, all too soon, going back to PAFA:

Fairbanks International Airport, PAFA
Fairbanks International Airport (PAFA), and the greater Fairbanks area as viewed from inside the SNJ-4

Opening the canopy for fresh air helped immensely. I haven’t gotten motion sickness in small planes before, but I now thoroughly understand the importance of (and will appreciate) fresh air vents.

A marvelous flight overall and 0.6 hours of SNJ-4 time in my logbook. Would love to learn more aerobatics in the future (as long as I set reminders to take my meclizine – even now, 12 hours later, my head still aches if I turn my head too fast).

Ah Fairbanks, no wonder people save up for years to visit here. I love living here.

Fairbanks, Alaska 1am on an early June evening, looking north

Another Windy Day

Fairbanks Aviation Day 2014 was yesterday. I found this funny looking aircraft but didn’t have timeΒ to go see what it was. Can anyone enlighten me?

This was a big plane – I was able to limbo under the wing. 5 blade propeller and a tailwheel, interesting.


Did more crosswind practice today – and my favorite: flying 5 feet above the runway for 1-2 miles.

CFI3 letΒ me to practice on 20R and my first run over there was awesome! CFI3 never even had to tell me when to add/reduce power – I did the entire runway length myself without ballooning or touching the runway. Picture perfect except for ~2000ft at the end of the runway because the wind was stronger there and I forgot howΒ to compensate (aileron to pull one back to center)/I was ineffective when I tried it. But hey, no one is going to rain on my parade – my height was perfect.

I finally got to do right closed traffic off of 20R Β so I was flying over a section of Fairbanks I had never gotten to do before. Yay πŸ™‚ Almost accidentally flew over Chena Marina airstrip because I didn’t know where it was (~parallel to 20R, probably about ~6? miles west of the main Fairbanks airport).

The crosswind strengths were all over the place and my flight was really bumpy. Always scary when multiple unexpected wing drops occur ~60ft off the ground – ah! None of my other ‘landings’ were as good as the one described above (acceptably okay for my skill level, but I’m saddenedΒ I still can’t properly use aileron to stay aboveΒ centerline…)….butΒ the last landing was downright awful. I was as crooked as I’d ever been when the wheels touched down. Landed crooked and a bit hard, darn it.Β Oops. I was already stressed because during that final final leg; it was quite hard to keep the wings level. I was so ready to land and pulled the power to idle without thinking about the wind/rudders.


Every local university student knows the bridge over the Chena River in town (between campus and the nearest grocery store πŸ˜‰ ). Today was the first time I was able to pick it out from the air – totally cool.


Lately, all post flight debriefs have ended with the instructor asking when I’m going to schedule my solo cross country (xc) flight. Unfortunately, when I did my dual cross country flights last year, I ended up having to use different instructors for the day and night flights. To do the solo xc flight, the ‘day xc’ CFI of record has to be the one that does the logbook endorsement.

CFI4 did my daytime xc. He was waiting til I did my night xc with him before giving me my xc endorsement; we were all set to go but his car unexpectedly broke down so I did the night xc with CFI3. CFI4 is currently not in the state and can’t sign my logbook, darn it. CFI2 assures me that an emailed/faxed endorsement from CFI4 will suffice, but I’m thinking that it wouldn’t be a terrible thing for me just to do another day xc flight. CFI2 and CFI3 both seemed surprised that I’d want to do that (because of cost) – but to be honest, it has been a long time since the xc flights last year and I’d be more comfortable with a refresher xc before I went anywhere by myself. They decided that Bradley – Nenana – Clear would be the most economical route with many opportunities for me to practice landings. Once I finish all my stuff for work, I can schedule this flight for a nice calm morning, I’m excited! πŸ˜€


Things to remember:

  • Blustery winds: land with 20 degrees of flaps instead of 30 so airspeed is higher.
  • After a ‘dragging the strip’exercise, full power and do not let the nose come up!, then carburetor heat off. Don’t take out any notches of flaps until high enough (say ~200ft AGL?), final notch of flaps when v_y is established.
  • When taxiing, remember where the wind is coming from, adjust ailerons accordingly (especially when turns are made).
  • Focus on smoother rudder inputs to stay straight.
  • Summer afternoons in Fairbanks are always windy. Pick very early morning morning or evening flights to get calm conditions.

Float Plane Sightseeing

I had a space physics conference in Juneau, AK this weekend – a destination where the tourist websites are mostly devoted to cruise ship passengers. I saw tons of recommendations for both helicopter and float plane trips to the 5 Juneau neighborhood glaciers. I had to try and do it!

Sitting in a Q400, ready for takeoff, PAFA (Fairbanks)

Almost at Anchorage

Coming in for landing, Juneau airport


CFI2 was able to recommend a float plane company to me owned by a buddy. Sadly, my trip was ~5 days before tourist season started, so no glacier sightseeing tours were operating. However, small island communities of the Alaskan inside passage are serviced year-round by float planes (or planes on skis where needed in the winter). I got booked on a cargo flight to Elfin and Pelican.


I’d never taken a small commercial flight before, so I was definitely excited. When I checked in at the counter, there was a minor concern about whether or not I’d be allowed to go since I was nonessential weight and there was an unusually high mail load going out. Happily, the company airplane dispatcher let me proceed πŸ™‚

My carry on hiking bag was weighed and body weight entered into their weight and balance program. The funniest part of my morning was when the guy checking in next to me was asked for his weight.Β  He didn’t know and just proceeded to weight himself up on the luggage scale. Awesome! πŸ˜›

When it was flight time, the 2 other passengers (each going home) and myself were loaded into a van and driven to the float pond.


The pilot was loading the last of the mail and it was great to hear the other passengers comment on what was going where (mail included unwrapped paper towels, fishing gear, and food&drinks). I was thinking “Man, these communities must be tiny. Everyone knows everyone else. Mail includes paper towels. ” Oh yes.

Paper towels get a window seat

We were handed earplugs and I definitely got a little sad that I wouldn’t be able to listen to all the radio communications. Unlike the training aircraft I’m used to, the deHavilland Beaver only had flight controls on the left; I’m not sure if there was the option for multiple people to plug in headsets.

Funny moment: I was allowed to sit up front since I wasn’t expected to get out during the trip. I got to board first, but I completely forgot which side to sit on! All those student pilot hours got me. Ha, caught myself by remembering that I cannot operate the flight controls, sit on the right.


The pilot untied us from the dock and we taxied/floated to the end of the rectangular pond. Taxi was so slow compared to what I expected. Takeoff was incredibly smooth, I didn’t even realize we were airborne because it was essentially a soft field takeoff, get airborne and fly close to the surface for a while.

Heading out to Elfin


When we reached Elfin, we circled over the ‘normal’ landing strip at least 4 times (stomach churning really steep turns, mild turbulence). The pilot later told me that landing near the village would have been fine, but takeoff would have been a bit dangerous because of immediate downdrafts (coming over the the mountain between the open water and the village) and crosswinds. Amazing what the water surface can tell a pilot. The surface looked completely calm to my untrained eye.

Elfin Cove; yep, that’s all the buildings there are.

We landed right in the sheltered area right beside the mountain in the middle of the water. Scary exciting because our path was low right over mountain and then sharply down into the wind protected zone. A very smooth landing nonetheless. I want piloting skills like that someday.

We landed in the area sheltered from the wind (picture left).

A fishing boat met us out in the middle of all that water, and the pilot unloaded 1 passenger and some mail. The amazon.com box made me smile – this company is everywhere, even remote villages with a population of ~10 πŸ™‚

I assume amazon still has free shipping even when mail has to be delivered via tiny plane πŸ™‚
And we wave goodbye to the local airport shuttle boat πŸ™‚

Back up we went for the short hop to Pelican.

Landing at Pelican was super tame, taxied right up to the dock. We unloaded passenger 2 and the remaining mail.Β  Pelican doesn’t currently have a grocery store (closed due to the economy) so there was undoubtedly snack food in some of the the mail parcels.Β  Also took on boxed frozen fish. Pelican is a fishing community and since a supply ferry only comes once a month, the fish being sold is flown out to Juneau. I estimated at least 500 pounds of fish were loaded, 50 lbs at a time. We also took 2 packages on. Each was covered with about 30 $1 stamps – So much prettier than the normal labels the post office places on your parcels.

Pelican, AK straight ahead.
Floated right up to the dock
Pelican, AK
Mail being flown from Pelican to Juneau, so many boxes of frozen fish!

When we tookoff from Elfin, some mist had hit the plane’s windshield. The water evaporated but left behind a salt residue. I was given the task of cleaning the windshield (and not falling into the water).

Me, cleaning the windshield of salt residue, trying not to fall into the water πŸ™‚
See the whale?

On the flight back, the pilot took us low when he spotted breaching whales! I didn’t get pictures from the air but did see whales later on my beachside hike:

This was such as beautiful day!

Flying from Pelican to Juneau

I never got to land on a glacier on this trip, but at least I did get to see one from the air on the way back to Juneau:

Juneau and Mendenhall Glacier!!! Glacier is that blueish valley between the mountains.

And here we are, coming in for the final landing at Juneau. Landing on water is still such a weird concept for me.


I’m so excited that my flight school has recently started offering float plane training. I can’t wait to try it myself.