It’s hard to measure the impact that ForeFlight has had on the general aviation community. I’m a better pilot because of it.
ForeFlight is based in Texas, so I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and even flying with their staff. I’m left hoping that the acquisition by Boeing, a corporation that has relatively no interest general aviation, doesn’t smother innovation or leave the GA community behind entirely.
Training toward my instrument rating has been time consuming and challenging. Flying hasn’t been either fun or casual for a number of months. To remedy this, Lauren and I went to the airport on a cool, sunny Sunday morning and departed west for Fredericksburg, Texas.
The Gillespie County Municipal Airport in Fredericksburg is a popular destination for many pilots. The airport is home to an onsite diner and World War II-themed hotel. I’ve been flying out here since I was a student pilot; its still one of my favorite flying destinations.
The flight from Austin, which takes about an hour, tracks over downtown Austin. The corridor between Austin and Fredericksburg can be hectic. I always request flight following on this route, and today it pays off. Our en route altitude of 6,500 MLS puts us between eastbound aircraft that are cruising or transitioning between altitudes in our area. On this trip an air traffic controller would clear me to climb, then moments later would issue a traffic alert and tell me to descend as an eastbound aircraft would pass about 1,000 feet overhead.
Our route tracks along the Pedernales River and over the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park and “Texas White House.” The LBJ Ranch house and private airstrip is highly visible from above and indicated on VFR sectional charts. I like to make note of the ranch when I’m in the vicinity as it would make for an appealing option during an emergency around otherwise unforgiving terrain.
I navigate using the Stonewall VOR, and the onboard GPS and Foreflight serve as secondary reference. Arriving into Fredericksburg is an unpredictable adventure. Because Gillespie County is a destination airport, I often find myself sharing airspace with a variety of aircraft and pilots of all experience levels. I give frequent and specific position reports beginning about 12 miles out. Today, a flight of four Beechcraft Barons overtakes me near the airport. Meanwhile, two other aircraft are maneuvering in the pattern. I do a 360 turn a few miles east of the airport to create some distance between myself and other aircraft then proceed toward the airport for a solid landing on Runway 32.
We take an Uber from the airport to downtown Fredericksburg and spend a few hours for lunch and shopping. We walk through the Japanese Garden of Peace at the National Museum of Pacific War and catch a ride back to the airport. Gentle winds prevail as we arrive back at Austin.
I’ve logged very little night flying since I earned my private pilot certificate in 2012. A few years ago I experienced a sensory illusion while returning from a local airport after sunset, and the experience startled me enough that I decided to refrain from night flying until I could log more instrument training and build more pronounced situational awareness.
To refresh my night currency I went flying with David, my instrument instructor, over the weekend. We did a quick round robin of local airports to acquire the three full-stop night landings as required by FAR §61.57.
We departed Austin-Bergstrom and made a very short hop of 13nm north to Austin Executive Airport. Prior to starting our approach we briefed obstacles in the area, including a set of unlighted towers south of the airport. We were cleared to land on Runway 13, and I made a slow and methodical approach. My landing wasn’t anything to brag about. We bought fuel at Executive and did a quick walkthrough of the impressive facility, which includes a large media room, a theater and “quiet rooms.”
Next we departed Austin Executive and headed 18nm northwest to Georgetown Municipal Airport. The airport was difficult to see coming from the west, but we tracked a VOR and monitored GPS coordinates that took us directly to the field. I was cleared for a stop-and-go landing on Runway 18 and made a much better landing. I brought the plane to a full stop with about 2,000 feet of runway to spare. We did a short field takeoff and used 10 degrees of flaps for a rapid climb out of the traffic pattern.
From there we headed 29nm south to Austin, where David had me fly the ILS to Austin-Bergstrom’s Runway 17L. We identified the approach fixes using our number 2 VOR. Several miles out, David covered my airspeed indicator and had me fly the glide slope down to the threshold. The simulated failure really demonstrated how useful the localizer, glide slope and power setting are in such a situation. My final landing of the night was much more precise.
Although I’m now legal to carry passengers for night flight, I don’t yet feel especially proficient. I look forward to logging more time in both the simulator and in the aircraft to really hone proficiency.
I’ve been spending a couple of nights each week at the airport working with my instructor in the flight school’s simulator. We’ve been practicing flying airways, identifying intersections, using VOR receivers and flying holding patterns. Holds are tricky –– I’m proficient enough while in the hold, but there are a variety of ways to enter the hold depending on where your aircraft is relative to the fix at which you’re holding. Some of it is counterintuitive to me, but I’m making progress.
I enjoy flying DME Arcs –– a procedure for transitioning from the en route segment of flight into the approach segment. Essentially, you enter the approach on a “curve” or arc using the VOR OBS and heading indicator to turn 10 degrees at a time until you cross the initial approach fix. Although a lot of instrument students struggle flying DME Arcs, it comes relatively easy to me.
A couple of weeks ago I bought a used desktop computer on eBay and have been using that as a home simulator. A major benefit of the home sim is practicing instrument scans during different phases of flight. I also like practicing VOR work. The home simulator uses a replica of the Garmin 430, which is a standard GPS device in the Cessna 172s I fly.
Over the next few weeks we’ll be flying Standard Instrument Departures (SIDs) and Standard Terminal Arrival Routes (STARs), then begin flying actual approaches at nearby airports.
After spending Christmas Day with family and overindulging in an all-day marathon of Italian cooking, we were anxious to get out and stretch our legs. The forecast called for an afternoon snowstorm, so early this morning we ventured to Longs Peak Trailhead and set out on an easy hike to Eugenia Mine. This trail is located about nine miles south of Estes Park on Highway 7. The trail was only lightly populated with hikers. The thick snow allowed us to study animal tracks along the route. The trail to the abandoned mine is 1.4 miles and is only a slight elevation gain of about 1,000 feet. Upon reaching the mine we were met by two Gray Jays that we’re especially playful, first allowing us to take pictures at close range and finally landing on my outreached hand. This was a fun and easy hike.