I picked them both up in Santa Clara after work, and we headed to
KPAO for a fun trip in N4WR.
We started with a Bay Tour, flying directly over the city, around Alcatraz,
and along the Golden Gate Bridge before heading south along the coast
with the setting sun to our right. It was lovely.
It was a fun trip, and I was reminded how fortunate I am to be able to live and fly
in such a beautiful place. I mounted the GoPro further out on the wing this time for a different
perspective. Here is the video of the flight:
After scrubbing my last
attempt to fly to Half Moon Bay, I decided to make another go at it. The goal
was to practice a few landings without the use of flaps, and to try mounting my
GoPro camera out on the wing. Previously I had only mounted it on a window inside
the cockpit during flight.
It was a clear, gorgeous day in the Bay Area. However, it was quite windy out on
the coast. At the time of my flight, winds at
Half Moon Bay Airport (KHAF) were
reported to be from 360 degrees at 17 knots, gusting to 22 knots (that's 20 to 25 miles per hour).
The runway there is at 302 degrees, so it was a 60 degrees crosswind,
which increases the degree of difficulty factor substantially.
Many pilots choose not to use flaps during landing in a strong crosswind, so
I considered the conditions to be a very realistic training scenario.
I was a little worried about the GoPro out on my wing. I have read numerous reports
from other pilots (PIREPs) who have used the suction mount on the outside of aircraft
with much success. One pilot even claimed that he's mounted his GoPro on the floats
of a seaplane many times, and even the splashing water during landing has never affected
it. My only firsthand experience had come when I used the suction mount on the
outside of my car and
filmed my commute. So I knew that it could withstand 85 mph wind. But could it hold
up to 200 mph wind out on the wing? I did some more research and
ended up watching an EAA video on the topic.
They provided a lot of good ideas based on years of experience, but their principal suggestion
boiled down to using clamp mounts on carefully selected parts of the airframe and then
wrapping the entire mount assembly in a ton of
gaffer tape. So for my first test, I decided to use the suction mount and
reinforce it with gaffer tape. After making the flight, my impression is that the
tape is probably overkill. That suction mount is pretty sturdy, even in 200 mph
wind. However, there is very little downside to using the tape, so I will continue
to do so. Nobody wants FOD!
You might notice that the camera moves slightly during takeoff. I had tightened
the screw that attaches the camera to the mount and allows the camera to rotate
on one axis, but apparently it slipped a little. The mount itself, however, did
The flight went great, aside from that wind coming in from the ocean, which made it quite bumpy
going over the hills. Once I got to HAF it was time to practice landing without
flaps. Flaps decrease the stall speed of my Bonanza from 64 knots to 52 knots, so
with flaps down you can come in significantly slower. Since I'm accustomed to that
slower approach, I had to adjust to the extra speed. On my first approach to land,
I overshot final a bit. The second attempt went much more smoothly. I was planning
on doing two or three stop-and-go landings. That means I would come to a full stop on the runway,
go through my normal "after landing" routine followed by the "before takeoff" routine,
and then go full throttle and take off again. However, during my first landing
I was followed closely by a Cessna, so I exited the runway as quickly as possible
to allow him to land. After my second landing I did a stop-and-go, and shortly
after takeoff another pilot on the ground came on the radio to advise me that
stop-and-gos are not permitted at HAF due to noise abatement. After consulting
Airport/Facility Directory, I found out he was right. Whoops! I apologize
for the extra noise, fair residents of Half Moon Bay.
One of a pilot's most important skills is the ability to cancel a flight. The 180
degree turn is one of the most difficult maneuvers to master, yet it's the one that
probably has the biggest influence on the safety of the flight. Of course the turn
itself is rather easy to execute, but the decision to make the turn can be arduous. Canceling a flight
is made difficult by a psychological condition that frequently plagues pilots:
Sometimes there is a lot of pressure to complete a flight. Maybe you have an
important meeting on the other end. Maybe a hotel room has already been booked
and paid for. Maybe your passengers are eager to go. It's the pilot's job to
resist all that pressure and make a sound decision based on the conditions
of the flight. As they say in aviation,
it's better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air, than in the air wishing
you were on the ground.
I love the cheesy old FAA safety videos from the 1960s. Making videos like
these is a lost art. There's a good one called
"All It Takes Is Once", which illustrates the types of pressures a pilot can
feel and how to respond to them. Here it is on YouTube:
One thing this video emphasizes is that accidents usually happen at the
end of a long chain of problems, rather than as a result of just one mistake
or mechanical failure. For this reason, some pilots adopt a "three strikes
and you're out" rule. That means if three things go wrong or pose a risk to
the flight, the flight is automatically canceled.
I had one of those flights the other day. I was planning on just cruising
out to Half Moon Bay to practice a few no-flaps landings. There was
virtually zero pressure to complete this flight. Even so, I'm proud of
myself for staying conservative and not attempting it. Since my GoPro
was on my wing, I made this short video about it.
We recently discovered that Sophie's mom and grandpa would be spending a week at
the Disneyland Hotel for an IEEE conference. That sounded like the perfect excuse
to take Max down for his first visit. Max is a huge fan of Pixar movies (especially
the Toy Story series), and he loves all the old Disney characters as well (Mickey,
Pluto, Goofy, etc.). So, even though he's not quite two years old, we figured he'd
have a good time. Also, Disneyland is ridiculously expensive these days (face value
for a two day park hopper pass is $200), so it helps that Max is still young enough
to not require a ticket (the cutoff is 3, so we have one more year to take
advantage of that).
Naturally, David Z and I immediately decided to fly down in
the Bonanza. Sophie is
still pretty nervous about flying, and
understandably so, so I
assumed that she and Max would take a commercial flight down. I had vowed not
to pressure her into flying with me (or even invite her to fly with me, actually).
After considering flying commercial or driving, she eventually decided to come
along for the ride with David and me, so we had all four seats filled for the trip.
This was the first time Sophie and Max had flown with me without an instructor on board.
Max was very excited to fly in "Daddy's plane".
Sophie climbed in the back seat and strapped little Max into his car seat. David
sat up front with me.
Unfortunately, the weather didn't entirely cooperate the day of the trip. Most
of the state was covered with clouds, in the form of two or three relatively
thin layers. The area around Monterey was also experiencing some moderate precipitation.
I watched the weather closely all day at work, trying to get a grasp on the trends.
By departure time in the late afternoon, the weather was looking much better, so we
decided to launch, knowing that we might have to turn back home if we couldn't find
clear sky. The first portion of the flight was flown at about 3,000', under an
overcast. Eventually that layer broke up a bit and I was able to climb up and get
between two layers. That didn't last long, however, and I had to go back down
to around 2,500', following highway 101 down the valley. Things started looking bleak
when fog started forming in the valley, and at one point I did a 180, having decided to
find a more clear route to the south, possibly along the coast. Right as I was doing the 180, Sophie said
she could see blue sky ahead (visibility through the fog was close to
10 miles, so were well above VFR weather minimums). So I turned 4WR back around and,
sure enough, we found ourselves in clear sky pretty quickly. Whew!
I did have the GoPro mounted just behind my head, but, in my typical forgetful fashion, I
neglected to turn it on until about the half-way point of the flight. So, all of
the exciting cloud dodging didn't get recorded, unfortunately. I also decided
to try time-lapse mode instead of video mode this time; I set the camera to take
a still photo every 2 seconds. I think I'll stick to video in the future. Here's
As you can see in the video, the Los Angeles Basin was full of some pretty nasty smog.
Combine that with the poor lighting, an unfamiliar airport, and a runway heading that
had us looking directly into the sunset, and the degree of difficulty on the landing
goes up substantially. I've been training for my instrument rating for the past couple
of months, so I decided to put that training to good use here. I asked SoCal Approach
for a practice GPS approach into KFUL.
Flying the approach got me lined up perfectly with the runway center line and at
the exact altitude I needed to spot the runway through the haze and land. It worked out
great. I'll definitely be using that technique again, even VFR.
We all had a blast at Disneyland, especially Max.
Hopefully we'll be able to go back again before Max turns 3 next year. It really
was a terrific trip. Flying it in the Bonanza makes it quick and painless, too, at
just over 2 hours from takeoff to landing. Our return flight was met with completely
clear, blue skies, so we took the scenic route up the coast. It was lovely.
About six weeks after
I acquired 4WR, the plane came due for its annual
inspection. Luckily, Paul McCracken had just performed a thorough pre-purchase inspection
in June, so I was fairly confident that there wouldn't be too many huge surprises during the annual.
Paul's shop is at KRAL, so I booked a round trip flight
from KONT (a conveniently close Southwest stop) to
KSJC. I optimistically booked the return flight for 2
weeks out, knowing that was an unlikely short turnaround, but that Southwest had a forgiving
David Zensius and I flew down in 4WR. David took the controls for most of the time en route, while I
performed a manual GAMI Lean Test.
Since I had to manually write down dozens of readings from the engine monitor, it took most of
the flight. When I was done, I left the mixture set for a fuel flow of 12.0 GPH, which was about
as lean as I was able to go with zero engine roughness. That was my first time running 4WR
lean of peak. Here are the results of the GAMI Lean Test, after entering all the data into a
I ran the test with wide open throttle at 9,500'. The engine gauges indicated 20" manifold pressure
and 2,500 RPM. As you can see in the first chart, the EGTs on cylinders #3 through #6 all peak at
almost exactly the same fuel flow: 13.2 GPH. Cylinders #1 and #2, however, peaked at about 12.2 and
12.6 GPH, respectively. I emailed John-Paul at GAMI about this and he said that for $99 they would
send me a couple of replacement GAMIjectors
that would bring those two cylinders in line with the others. I haven't done that yet, but I plan
to very soon. The indicated airspeed starts to drop off below 13.2 GPH, but even down at 12 GPH I
only lost about 6 knots. True airspeed peaked around 172 KTAS, so at 12 GPH 4WR was managing about
165 KTAS (190 MPH). Not too shabby!
The annual ended up taking about three and a half weeks, most of which time was due to the prop
being sent off to a prop shop for overhaul. Paul had squawked the prop during the pre-purchase
inspection, so I knew that the overhaul would be necessary. I even managed to negotiate a good chunk
of the overhaul cost off the purchase price of 4WR. Nonetheless, that was a large and painful check
to write! Welcome to airplane ownership. The first annual inspection is often a big shock for
the new airplane owner. I'm just glad that 4WR had a quality pre-purchase inspection, so that at least
there were no surprises.
On a positive note, I was able to cancel both legs of my Southwest flight due to the generosity of
my friend Mike Boich. He just happens to fly back and forth between the Bay Area and Southern
California with some frequency, and I was able to time my travels so as to hitch a ride with him
in his fabulous Eclipse 500. Here's a little video I took of his plane:
My dad sat shotgun in the Eclipse on the way down to KRAL,
and the two of us took the more scenic coastal route back to KPAO
in 4WR. It was a fun trip.
All in all the first annual went remarkably smoothly. My bank account took a nice hit, but 4WR is
now in great shape, having had a bunch of minor squawks taken care of. I also fit in some nice,
albeit relatively minor, upgrades, like my new
MilSpec cowling fasteners, which I love.
I've now flown over 20 hours in 4WR since the inspection, and everything is running great.
Thank you to David Zensius, Mike Boich, Paul McCracken, and my dad for being a part of this adventure