Saturday, June 16, 2007

Maiden Voyage

N5236G is ready to fly! She's IFR current, all of the systems are functioning, the engine is strong... Now is the time to take her up on mid-range trip to see how she does.

The first flight away from home is the scary one. Not that the plane will fall out of the sky (hope not anyhow), but that if something were to happen we could be a long way from home. It is no fun being stuck in a small airport out in the middle of nowhere without tools, qualified maintenance facilities or transportation back home to Chicago.

My wife and I decided the best place to go is somewhere we are familiar with... We lived in Columbus, Ohio for several years, so we know the area very well. We also know of an excellent Fly-in BBQ at Bolton Field (TZR) called JP's Barbeque Ribs and Chicken. We only wanted a day trip, so a quick lunch would fit the bill. We also have a very good friend, and my blogging mentor, Dave Gamble that lives adjacent to the airport.

Dave is the kind-of guy that when he does something he does it well. Aviation to him is a quest for learning, fun and perfection. Dave owns a Van's RV-6, which is a fast, aerobatic, experimental (homebuilt) airplane. His blog, The PapaGolf Chronicles, details his experience owning and maintaining an experimental aircraft. Dave's blog has YouTube videos, fantastic pictures and it is very well written.

We know Columbus, Dave has the tools if we have a problem, and worse comes to worse there is a direct flight from Port Columbus Airport (CMH) to Chicago. This decision was made...we're heading to Bolton (TZR).

Walking up to the hangar knowing that I will soon be flying 36G is exhilarating. Adrenalin fills the vanes and the excitement builds. Opening the door to the hangar is like seeing an old friend. It may have been a week since the last flight, but this one would be the real deal. 36G, my wife and I would be on our own.

The preflight took a bit longer than usual. I was very careful about checking the controls, under the panel, etc. to make sure that everything moved freely without any resistance or binding. Controls freezing in flight would not be fun ;)

We launched out of Gary/Chicago (GYY) where we are based without incident. 36G climbed 1200 ft per minute and it was no time that we were at cruising altitude. During the flight I tested all systems and everything worked perfectly.

The flight took about 1 hour 20 minutes, which isn't too bad considering we traveled over 220 Nautical Miles! By comparison, the drive in a car to Columbus form Chicago is 7+ hours. 36G is a traveling machine and I was holding her back. If we would have climbed into the 13,000 ft range we would have cut the time back to about 1 hour 5 minutes.

We made it to TZR and parked on the ramp without a problem. Not too long after we landed the King Air in the photo above pulled in. 36G is proudly sitting in the background. She isn't as roomy as the King Air, but from a performance, maintenance and cost perspective 36G will give the King Air a run for the money. The King Air can't get back to Chicago much faster than we can, yet they are paying over $1000/hour to operate. And 36G actually has better avionics! The Technically Advanced Avionics makeover we just completed blows the old King Air steam gages out of the water.

Experimental Flying
No trip to visit Dave and his beautiful RV-6 would be complete without actually flying in it. We were hungry, but doing aerobatics after eating a heavy meal is not prudent ;)

We waled up to Dave's new hangar and eagerly watched as he opened the door. His RV6 was ready to go and in impeccable condition. My wife got the first trip and then it was my turn!

We took off out of Bolton like a Rocket. Dave likes to lift-off and then level out to pick up as much speed as she can get. Then he pulls up and climbs out keeping the engine cool and the fun-level high.

We quickly passed over Dave's house just off the end of the field, wagged the wings to say hi and then we were off like a rocket. It has been awhile since I've intentionally done some aerobatics, so this was an excellent opportunity to see what she could do.

What a blast! We were out for awhile and I couldn't get enough. It was so much fun my next project may be building one...stay tuned..

OK, the fun is over. Now back to why we are here...a $100 Hamburger, or actually famous BBQ! JP's has been at TZR for years. Their food and service is well known and worth a stop if you are looking for a good place to eat. JP's has a very nice picnic area in the front where you can sit and enjoy the airport as well.

Flight Home
Lunch was great. We had a good meal and we headed back home. The first part of the flight went wonderfully. The sky was clear and the ride was smooth. As we were spending idle time in the plane I was checking out, testing and learning the equipment. I was over about Fort Wayne (FWA) Indiana and started checking the weather at home in GYY.

To my dismay I started seeing a major storm develop on top of where we were going that was not forecast. Every 5 minutes the WX would update and I could see the storm on the MX20 developing out of thin air. Unfortunately when you live by the lake this is a common occurrence. The Chicago area has unique weather patterns. There is ample moisture in the air thanks to Lake Michigan and it enables one-off systems like this to build seemingly out of the blue.

I continued the trek toward home and started to plan for alternates. Thanks to our TAA update, I was able to keep a close eye on the weather. Having XM Weather in the cockpit provides detail that most GA planes simply do not have. I could make decisions based on information that was not available to 36G before. Every 5 minutes I could see what the weather was doing in relationship to where I was and where I was going.

I decided to divert south around the weather and fly in after it passed GYY. I could see that it was clear behind the small system and there were other airports that I could go to if necessary. It added about 20 minutes or so to the flight time, but I diverted south and flew around the weather staying 10 miles+ outside of what was depected. I approached GYY from the south instead of the east and landed without getting a drop of water on the plane! The tower commented that I had just missed the storm...

In 36G's past I would not have been able to tell what was going on in front of me. All would know is what I could see and what general information I could get from Flight Watch and/or ATC. The GYY ATIS wasn't even reporting the weather since it is only updated once per hour. Now that 36G is Technically Advanced, however, I had options that enabled me to see the weather and make better informed decisions.

No question the on-board weather saved the flight and enabled me to fly around the system. Prior to the avionics upgrade I would have landed and let the storm pass over me, which is a time consuming process that also risks the plane since it would likely be sitting on a ramp getting rained and/or hailed on. Not anymore. The first flight out of the gate and the avionics update saved the day!


Anonymous said...

I am curious as to your final useful load figures after all the make over. The 252 is one great plane, but if there is a beef about it, it is useful load.

Anonymous said...

Very nice history by the way. I read your story from start to finish.

Jim Kerr said...

In response to the anonymous comment about useful load... 36G actually lost about 5 LBS after the avionics upgrade. I picked the new equipment because of its capabilities to weight ratio. And I was able to remove two antennas -- the LORAN and ADF -- cleaning up some drag. In total 36G gained about 2 more knots and 5 more pounds of useful load in addition to being transformed into a Technically Advanced Airplane.

Accordingly, I have found that payload in most cases is more of a marketing issue than a real one for most aircraft owners. I can’t tell you how often I see those big A36’s, Saratoga’s and 4 seat Bonanza’s flying around with one or two people in them. They are burning 2x more fuel, going slower and paying quadruple the maintenance cost. They also need to remove fuel to fill the seats as well. In all reality you don’t gain much more than a bit more room in the cabin with the bigger planes. If filling every seat is your mission, you need a turboprop or jet before getting into a plane with an appropriate power to weight ratio. The key is to not worry about what the marketing people highlight in their brochures. Pick a plane that fits your personal mission. I generally fly with one other passenger, I like going far – fast and with the price of fuel going up by the day I don’t want to waste a ton of money on gas. 36G can carry two people with reasonable baggage without a problem.

Another point to note, the 252 isn’t like most high-performance airplanes that have a big-boar engine up front burning 22+ GPH. The 252 is remarkably fuel efficient. 36G can go faster than most production airplanes on 13 GPH! In other words, I can fill up with 76 gallons and fly for nearly 5 hours with IFR reserves blowing away every brand new Cirrus (even the turbo’s), Bonanza and most other Mooney’s in the process! Further, I typically cruse at 201+ MPH. I can cover nearly 1000 miles before refueling! In my opinion, the 252 is better, faster and cheaper. It has the perfect combination of fuel efficiency, speed, safety and payload, which is why it is considered by many aircraft enthusiasts as one of the best SEL planes ever built.