Starting 2010 flying early

Well to boldly start the new year with a challenge, I decided to mix in some aviation with a New Years Day ritual I have been doing for a few years now. A good friend of mine who lives in Auckland's North Shore and I take turns visiting each other on New Years day. This year was my turn to head up to see him, flying up to see him seemed like a good idea. At this point I want to apologise for not taking any photos. I knowingly left my camera at home so I would concentrate on aviating rather than sightseeing.

As the Aero Club is officially closed on New Years Day I had to get special permission to do the flight. My plan was to take a 172 as the clubs fleet are as familiar to me as a comfortable pair of shoes and as I was going to fly into a virtual unknown I wanted as little distractions as possible. I then realised that it was highly likely I would be flying alone, something I have not done on a cross country since my solo cross country trips as part of my PPL training back in 2006. Due to some mis-communication during the Xmas madness my request was lost and the 172s were already allocated when I turned up. A sympathetic instructor offered me an Archer, then my eye read down the booking sheet to the column assigned to DQV, the Arrow. It was empty. Whether it was my foolhardy streak or the dollar signs talking I asked and received the booking for the Arrow. I remember wondering if it was such a good idea at the time but upon reflection I was more than ready to take it out alone.

I had to make sure everything I needed from the club I got on the 31st so I got the checkout sheet, the keys and a headset and after checking the tanks I needed fuel so with a sigh I pushed DQV out of the hangar, started up, taxied around to the pumps, topped off the tanks, taxied back and put her back in the hangar. Satisfied that the plane was fuelled, I went home.

Once at home I thought about my route. Once again, a direct route was impossible because of conflicts with Auckland and Whenuapai airspace so I would have to go around and under controlled airspace. To make things interesting, I chose an anticlockwise route that would keep me away from airspace but also the busy Ardmore airfield and Auckland City airspace which would no doubt be busy with other returning day trippers when I was expecting to be passing through. The west coast route would be longer but far less busy. I also planned to be airborne early to ensure than anyone who had a bit too much to drink during the New Year celebrations would still be sleeping it off rather than getting in my way. Borrowing a hand held GPS off Chris and after a crash course in how to use it (actually I found it quite intuitive to use and only had one minor hiccup during the trip which resolved itself with a bit of patience on my part). I programmed in all the waypoints I thought I would need (the trip up had 6, the return trip had 4) and we were set.

The first day of 2010 dawned a rather murky gray with broken stratus at 3800 and visibility of only 25km. I got DQV out of the hangar and proceeded with the preflight which went smoothly. As agreed, after I had started up and was waiting for the engine to warm up I sent a text message to the "on duty" instructor saying that DQV had passed a preflight inspection and I would be wheels up soon. During the runups I had a mag that needed clearing, I prayed that it was only carbon deposits that needed burning off rather than a faulty mag or my flight was over before it began. Eventually it cleared and I was cleared out of the zone to the north. The tower gave me an option of 18L or Grass 25, and eventually they let me use 36R as the wind had died sufficiently. It certainly was good to take off in the right direction.

I cleared Hamilton airspace, climbed to 2000 feet, trimmed DQV for the cruise, leaned to 12 gallons per hour and settled in for the trip. There was a few bumps around, but nothing too bad, The forecast wind at 2000 was 20 knots so some turbulence was to be expected. As I headed north past Huntly the haze thickened and the visibility reduced to what I estimated was 15km, more than enough for VFR but enough to make me switch on the landing light. See and be seen.

I skirted Mercer airspace to the east, turned for my first waypoint, Hunua and tried to tune in Ardmore AWIB. It was faint but I heard enough to hear than UNICOM was off watch. I began a cruise descent to 1500 feet to get under Auckland Approach (my flight would take me across the Whitford NDB which is the outer marker for the Auckland ILS). I called up on the Ardmore frequency 6 miles south of Hunua and gave my position report. Another aircraft responded saying he was on a reciprocal heading. I responded I was looking for him, but he saw me and said we were miles apart. He then asked me what the weather was like further south, I said it got better south of Huntly and wished him a good flight. That was the only contact in Ardmore airspace so after 2 more position calls I switched to the Auckland CFZ (common frequency zone) frequency and made a position and intentions report. I heard a commercial pilot saying he was taking off from Waiheke and heading for Matarangi - far east of where I would be. Approaching the Musick Point waypoint I turned towards North Head on the northern shore of the Waitemata Harbour and started to descend to 1000 feet. Over the water the ride smoothed out and I allowed myself to enjoy the sights of Auckland in the morning. The weather was pretty much identical to what it was when I flew into Whenuapai way back in March of 2009 except it was not showery at all.

At North head I made my position report for traffic in the VFR transit lane and after hearing only one response from a rescue helicopter far above me I continued. Spotting my mates house in the North Shore I waved my wings but I did not see anyone. I got as low as 800 feet in the transit lane due to spending too much time looking at people on the beaches. Reaching the northern point of the transit lane, the Okura River mouth, I switched to the North Shore frequency, gave a position and intentions report, turned in land, set climb power and climbed to 1700 feet for the overhead join. Expecting to hear everyone and their dog, I was surprised to find that no one was active on the frequency. About a mile out I used a tip Chris had given me and lowered the gear. This cut my airspeed back to around 100 knots and meant that my turns were tighter. North Shore airfield is located 1.5nm north of the Whenuapai airspace boundary and I didn't want to be circling the airfield at 130 knots. Spotting the windsocks it indicated that runway 21 was favourable so I called I would be descending non traffic to join left hand downwind for 21.

Runway 21 has a pronounced dip in it, for someone who has never flown into North Shore it certainly made my sight picture interesting. Looking at the threshold you would appear low, but at the far end you were high. The finals approach has a motorway and a couple of hills and power lines to negotiate, but I chose a high approach because coming down in DQV is not a problem. I thought the fact that the sealed part of 21 is only 9 meters wide I might flare early but I did a pretty good landing and pulled up fairly quickly too. I vacated the runway in front of the Aero Club and squinted on the map for the casual parking area. I must say, its confusing to see a sign saying Casual Aircraft Parking on a strip of grass next to a sign which says Keep Off the Grass. Eventually when my brain power returned to full capacity I realised I was supposed to taxi around the patch of grass with the signs to the parking area. Duh! I parked on what looked like a weird angle, but it would give me room to swing around and taxi out afterwards, and was facing directly into wind to aid cooling of the block when the big fan in front is off. It's all about airmanship, well, thats what I told myself. :-)

After a fun day, I was dropped off at the airfield around 5pm. After patiently waiting for the GPS to find some satellites and then struggling to activate the return route (which strangely fixed itself) I preflighted DQV and fired her up. The wind had intensified somewhat but was more or less blowing down 21. This bode well, I couldn't see where I should do my runups but chose a spot that looked more or less OK and did them there. I think the summer sun and the later stage in the day than I had wanted to return had given me a mild case of get-there-itis. More on the consequences of that soon. The North Shore frequency was alive with aircraft returning from various parts of the country and there was a Rans RV6 in the circuit. By the time I was ready to go most of them had landed (except a 172 who had gone around on short finals). I announced I was lining up on 21 with the intention of departing west to the coast and down to Hamilton.

A quick check of the instruments and switches, a glance at the windsock and after stepping on the brakes I opened the throttle. Manifold pressure coming up, prop rpm coming up, off the brakes and away we went. After we got airborne I noticed a draft blowing at me. Putting it to the back of my mind, I raised the gear and flaps and set climb power. Once I got to 500 AGL I dared checking what was wrong. I had forgotten to properly latch the door and it had come open. The wind noise was such that I could barely hear the radio and my mike was adding to the noise in my ears. I turned the squelch down till the mike stopped transmitting wind nose, levelled off at 1500 feet and began to slow down. From memory, to close an open door in flight in an Archer is to slow to 80 knots, apply left rudder to skid the aircraft and attempt to pull the door closed. When this made it worse (I know I most likely did the procedure wrong but cannot think what it was) I made the command decision to return to North Shore, land, and close it properly.

Shouting into my mike I told North Shore traffic I had an open door in flight and was returning to North Shore to land. I don't know if they heard me but I lowered the gear early to slow the plane down and that made the wind noise reduce to a level that I could hear the radios. I did a fairly decent landing considering the conditions, I taxied clear and closed and latched the door. After re-announcing my intention to depart I lined up on 21 and away we went. After a much better takeoff, I had DQV cleaned up and in climb configuration early and she was climbing sweetly at 100 knots. I levelled off at 1400 feet, set cruise power, leaned the mixture again and made for the coast, intending to turn south through the Te Henga VFR transit lane on the western edge of Whenuapai airspace. The trip west was a bit lumpy, but once I was off the coast the ride smoothed out considerably. I regretted that I did not have my camera with me as I flew south. The coastal land in that part of New Zealand is breathtaking from 1400 feet with the setting sun on it.

I made a call on the general frequency as I turned south but heard nothing, in fact I did not hear anything from my radios for so long during the flight back I tested them several times to make sure they were working, which they were. This did not stop me from making position calls though. Once I was out from under Auckland Approach airspace I set climb power once more and climbed with the intention of getting to 2500 feet, but the low murky cloud that had dogged me on my trip up was still there and I was forced to descend to 2200 feet to stay below it. Seeing that my second waypoint, Port Waikato, was in sight 6nm away, I made a position report and turned to cut an inside track direct to Hamilton. As I got further inland the bumps came back but nothing too bad. I kept noticing that the wind was pushing me east of my intended track, almost every time I did a course check I was east of where I wanted to be. There are not a lot of recognisable features in that part of the country so I chose to be more vigilant when checking my course. Eventually I saw Huntly off at 10 o'clock and knew that Hamilton was not too far away, I had tuned in the DME but as I was low it couldn't get a clear signal. Switching to the Hamilton ATIS I got the details down and thought about what I would be asked to do upon entering Hamilton airspace. As there was not a lot of flying happening I thought I would get a plain english clearance similar to the one I got that morning rather than a published approach procedure.

After calling Hamilton they cleared me into the zone 2000 feet or below to join right hand down wind for Grass 25 left. The ATIS said the surface wind was 260 degrees at 14 knots, perfect for putting the Arrow down on 25 with room to spare. I took a serpentine course that would take me over my house, Chris's house, Aaron's house and would set me up nicely to turn downwind for 25. As I descended for circuit height, the indicated airspeed quivered up to 150 knots. Once I turned downwind I got to circuit height, levelled off and started reducing manifold pressure, once the airspeed dropped under 130 knots I lowered the gear, increased manifold pressure to maintain circuit height, reported downwind, was cleared to land on Grass 25 Left, and did my downwind checks. Turning onto finals presented a slight problem because I was looking into the sun but it wasn't as bad as it gets in late February when the setting sun is right down the runway. Lowering full flap, I picked out my landing spot on the runway and played with the throttle as the strong wind was giving me the typical Grass 25 rise then sink. I put DQV down very lightly on the grass and rolled to a stop. I was home. I taxied to the pumps to top up the tanks, then took DQV back to the hangar and put her away for the night.

A long day, but a great flying start to 2010.


Schafer Paul said…
Your foolhardy streak is by far an option