Category Archives: Aviation

Writings about aviation, including chronics of my flight lessons, product reviews, and so on.

GATTS day 3: DME arcs and Nebraska

First, I forgot to mention a couple of other things that Peter and I discussed in the day 2 classroom sessions. We talked about IFR currency rules (remember, kids, 6 6 HIT), as well as the procedures to be used if you lose radio contact with ATC. The most interesting topic to me was the discussion of DME arcs on approaches, like the one shown below:

See that arc? It's called a DME arc. Want to know why? Read on.

See that arc? It’s called a DME arc. Want to know why? Read on.

This is the VOR/DME-A approach to Emporia, Kansas.  Depending on where you are when you join the approach, several different things can happen. If you’re approaching from the southeast, you’ll probably get cleared straight to LUYIY, and you can just fly the approach inbound. If you’re coming from the west side of the airport, you might get sent to the triangle labeled ANUGE (those triangles mark intersections, imaginary points in space that you use for navigation); from the northeast or east, you’d probably go to KICRE. In those latter two cases, you’d fly a constant-distance arc from the intersection to the final approach course. They’re called DME arcs because originally they required you to have a special navigation receiver known as distance measuring equipment. Now you can use GPS instead, unless you happen to have a DME receiver. To fly these approaches, you basically fly to the intersection, fly a distance, turn 10 degrees towards the center of the arc, and fly another distance. Think of it like making a circle out of straight lines. (There’s a decent explanatory video here if you’re interested in more detail).

Anyway, on to day 3’s work. Since we’d finished day 2 in the classroom, day 3’s morning was spent in the airplane. We took off from Manhattan and flew to Marysville (where we shot the GPS 16  approach) and then on to Plattsmouth, Nebraska: my first time to visit the Cornhusker State. I flew the GPS 34 approach, but not until Omaha Approach vectored me all over the place to accommodate some KC-135s working the traffic pattern at Offutt AFB. After landing, we borrowed a crew car and went to– no joke– Mom’s Cafe, where I had a chicken-fried steak about the size of my laptop screen. In fact, it was so big that I couldn’t eat the whole thing and declined the offered dessert.

After fueling the plane, it was off to Beatrice (pronounced “BEE-at-riss”), where I flew an approach– can’t for the life of me remember which one though; then we flew back to Manhattan, shot another GPS approach, and spent some time in the sim practicing ILS and VOR approaches into Topeka. Why Topeka? Tune in tomorrow to find out…

 

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GATTS day 2: ILS and VOR approaches

Day 2 was a busy day– by this point, I was settled into the apartment and was able to navigate around through Manhattan fairly well. We spent the morning in the classroom talking about various types of approaches, primarily ILS and VOR approaches.

There are two basic types of instrument approaches: precision and non-precision. The method of navigation for the approach determines how precise an approach you can fly. Some approaches give you guidance on whether you’re left or right of the runway centerline (lateral guidance), but you have to figure out your own vertical position. Others give you both lateral and vertical guidance. For example, an LNAV approach gives lateral guidance but no vertical guidance, while an ILS approach gives lateral and vertical guidance. A precision approach is one where vertical guidance is provided by a ground reference, e.g. the glideslope signal transmitted by an ILS. A non-precision approach can still include vertical guidance, but it’s either calculated or measured by something aboard the airplane. For example, my onboard GPS can use barometric pressure differences to calculate the current altitude, and it knows where the airplane is along the approach course. The diagram for each approach includes a profile view that shows what your vertical profile should look like on approach, such as this profile from the ILS to runway 17 at the Montpelier, Vermont airport:

The underline beneath those numbers has a simple meaning: don't go lower than that altitude or you might die.

The underline beneath those numbers has a simple meaning: don’t go lower than that altitude at that point in the approach or you might die.

Let’s say that the GPS sees I am between the REGGI and JIPDO waypoints. It knows that I can descend a maximum of 600′ between the two. By using either GPS altitude data (VNAV) or altitude data derived from the current altimeter setting (Baro-VNAV), it can give me a visual indication of how much I should climb or descend to follow a smooth path along the approach course.

After all that, it was time to go flying in the ancient simulator. This particular sim doesn’t have a GPS but that wasn’t a problem given what we were doing. I (mostly) tamed the roll axis sensitivity and flew pretty well; we flew a couple of approaches and then took a break for lunch at a nearby Mexican place, thence to the airport. Our planned route was pretty interesting: Manhattan-Salina-Newton-Emporia-Manhattan. It makes a pretty square, as you can see below:

Kansas is square. So was our route.

Kansas is square. So was our route.

We flew one approach at each airport; I forgot to note exactly which ones, but I’d guess (based on the approach plate history in my iPad)  the ILS 35 at Salina, the VOR/DME-A at Newton, and one of the GPS approaches at Emporia, plus the GPS at Manhattan. 3 in the sim and 2.6 PIC in the airplane made for another fun-filled day!

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Database debacle: why aviation GPS systems are different

tl;dr: We’ve all been spoiled, and it’s Google’s fault.

All right, maybe it’s not entirely their fault (though I do love a good Google-bashing session), but the widespread availability of Google Maps put incredible price pressure on vendors of mapping data to drop their prices. That pressure led to today’s bounty of mapping applications: Google, Microsoft, and Apple offer high-quality map data on their mobile and desktop operating systems, and there is a huge number of applications that take advantage of this data and mash it up in interesting ways. Most of the major vendors of portable GPS devices quit charging for map data, given that their competition– smartphones– have instant map updates anytime, anywhere.

Sadly, this revolution in cheap, broadly available map data has largely bypassed the aviation world. In part that’s because the number of data sources are small; in the US, you can get approved digital chart data for aviation use from the US government or from a small number of private providers, many of whom take the government data and format it in various ways for specific applications or devices. The approach plates, sectional charts, and other maps that pilots depend on for planning and flying are generally not free (though, in fairness, some sites, such as SkyVector, make lots of data available for free).

If you have a panel-mounted or handheld GPS that’s certified for aviation use, you’ll be paying for regular database updates, one way or another.

This is true for two reasons. The first is that data quality is super important. Things change all the time: people put up new towers, airports open or close, the FAA changes routes to accommodate changes in air traffic patterns, and so on. If your car GPS doesn’t show the street you’re on, no biggie: you’re still on it, and there are probably signs. At worst, you can stop and ask for directions. On the other hand, if your airplane GPS doesn’t include a newly added TV tower along your route of flight, you may be in for a very unpleasant surprise.

The other reason is that the FAA requires you to use only certified and up-to-date data sources for navigation. You may use some data providers or devices for “reference” or “advisory” use, but you can’t depend on them as the sole source of navigation data. For example, the excellent Foreflight app for iOS has charts that display your aircraft’s position (known as “georeferenced” charts), which provides great situational awareness. For $149/year, you get full access to all the visual and instrument navigation charts for US airspace. But the FAA won’t let you use the iPad as a primary navigational instrument for instrument flight. For that, you need an IFR-certified GPS, and those have strict requirements for data quality and timeliness.

As part of my instrument flight course at GATTS, I’ve been learning to use the Bendix/King KLN94 navigator in my airplane. The KLN94 first shipped in (drum roll) 1991. Think about that for a second: I am flying with a GPS system that dates back to the First Gulf War. That said, it’s pretty capable; it can navigate me through almost all the different types of instrument approaches, and its user interface, while clunky, is not that much worse than the very popular Garmin 430/530 that followed it. (For an example of flying the KLN94, see this video.)  When Derek and I bought the plane, I knew the KLN94 database was out of date, but the owner gave us a Compact Flash card with a map update. (Note: yes, I said “Compact Flash.” Remember those? If so, then you are officially old.)

Today I got ready to install the database update on that card.. only to find that it was valid for 1-28 May of this year. That’s right; the whole card had one lousy month of map data on it.. data that was 3 months out of date. Showing up for my checkride with an outdated database in my GPS would lead to instant failure. But I found out about this about 215p on the Friday before a holiday weekend. I won’t say I peed a little, but I was getting unsettled at the prospect of hosing my checkride schedule. As soon as we landed, I called Bendix/King’s “Wingman” service number.. and got their answering machine. Uh oh.

At this point, I was trying to figure out how long it would take me to drive to Olathe, Kansas (not long) to pick up a new database card. Maybe I could lurk outside the Bendix building like a ticket scalper! Or I could hand-write a cardboard sign: “NEED KLN94 UPDATES PLEASE HELP”.

You might be wondering why I didn’t just download a new database update from Bendix/King’s web site. Fair question. See, there’s another problem with aircraft GPS systems. They often have ridiculous systems for providing data updates. KLN94 database updates can be downloaded from Bendix/King’s web site, but the only supported device for loading the databases is a single model of SanDisk CompactFlash card reader or you need a special cable to use it and the software to use that cable only works on Windows 95. Oh, that one card reader? It needs a firmware update, which requires a machine running Win95 to install. Other systems have their own failings, so I’m not picking on Bendix/King, but sheesh.

A second call to their tech support number got me a super helpful gentleman named Shane. He confirmed that only the Holy SanDisk could be used to load database updates, but he passed me over to Lorie, one of the folks in the database update department. She listened patiently to my explanation, refrained from saying how stupid I was to put off the update, and told me the solution: “Go to our web site, order the card, and I’ll make sure you get it tomorrow.” Whew, that seemed simple enough. I went to the web site, created an account, and found the KLN94 updates. For the low, low price of only $280, I could get a new CompactFlash card with data valid from 21 August to 18 September.

That’s right.

$280.

I ordered it anyway.

It will be here tomorrow. Then I can update my GPS and pass my checkride. After that, I will expedite installing a GPS system that has a lower ongoing maintenance cost. (In fairness, it’s only $120 to download a single month, and there are deep discounts for subscriptions, but I hope not to have the KLN94 long enough to make a subscription worthwhile.)

So, hats off to Shane and Lorie for their help; thanks to Bendix/King for continuing to support a 24-year-old GPS system, and shame on me for waiting until the last minute to check my database. Bet your boots that won’t happen again.

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GATTS day 1: holds and approaches

My first real day of GATTS started bright and early Tuesday morning. I met Peter at the GATTS classroom facility, which is in a nice office park adjacent to a sports bar and some medical offices. When you walk in, here’s what you see:

WP_20140828_003

Sadly, that wasn’t the simulator that Peter and I were scheduled to use, but more on that later. We adjourned to a small classroom and proceeded to dive into that day’s classroom curriculum. Because GATTS requires its students to pass the written exam before they show up, this was more a review of practical issues surrounding the topics we covered than a tabula rasa introduction. The GATTS class is structured in a fairly standard triad: first you discuss a topic with the instructor, then you do it in the simulator, then you do it in the airplane. These three things may take place on the same day, or they may not. I picked up a few tricks for holds, including what they teach as the “GATTS entry”. Instead of worrying about parallel vs teardrop vs direct, they preach a simpler rule: if you’re coming from the “long” side of the hold, go direct, and if you’re not, fly to the fix, fly 1nm past it, then turn 45 degrees opposite the turn direction for 2nm, then start your procedure turn. For example, let’s say you’re going to fly the published hold at DCU:

The DCU VOR 274 degree hold is that little racetrack-looking thing

The DCU VOR 274 degree hold is that little racetrack-looking thing

If you’re west of the Decatur VOR, just fly until you intercept it; that’s easy. If you’re east, fly to it, fly past it, then turn from 274 degrees to 219 degrees, fly for 2nm, and then do your standard-rate procedure turn– you’ll magically end up about 3nm from the VOR on a heading of 94 degrees. (Try it if you don’t believe me). I was always taught to fly timed legs in a hold, so doing it with DME distance was quite a revelation, and it’s much easierI flew that hold a few times in the simulator, along with a couple of other ones, then we reviewed and flew a few simulated approaches. About the simulator: Flight Simulator 2000 on an ancient Dell running Windows 95. Yep, old school. It shares the common PCATD simulator trait of being super sensitive in the roll axis, so you fly it like you do an A320: put in the amount of roll you want, then take it back out again. Neutralizing the controls in a turn does, basically, nothing; you have to apply an equal amount of opposite aileron to get where you want.

Anyway, I did a decent job in the simulator (flying a total of 4 approaches for 3.3 hours), so we headed out to the airport to go do some bidness. We flew approaches at Abilene (the VOR-DME A), Herington (the GPS 17), and Manhattan (the GPS runway 21, if I remember right) approaches, netting a total of 1.9 PIC hours for the 4 approaches. Sadly I only got 0.1 actual on this outing, but I did learn a great deal about how to coax the ancient KLN94 in the airplane into doing what I want.

The mental effort of learning all this stuff took its toll in the evening; after we put the plane to bed, I went to the grocery store, loaded up on food, then went back to the apartment and did absolutely nothing productive for the rest of the night. It took a while for all that learning to sink in, I guess!

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GATTS day 0: Huntsville to Manhattan

In my last flying post, I explained why I was going to GATTS to get my instrument rating. For the next few posts, I’ll be chronicling my experiences there.

One of the things that appealed to me about GATTS was that you have the option to use your own airplane. Another is that they assign a single instructor to work with each student for the entire course, and (for a modest fee) they’d send the instructor down a day early to ferry the plane back. I wanted to take advantage of that option for two reasons: in case the weather were bad my arrival in Kansas wouldn’t be delayed, and I could use the extra flight time to get a head start on my classwork. I signed up for the ferry option, and, as planned, my instructor, a cheerful fellow named Peter Schmoling, showed up Sunday afternoon. The boys and I took him to dinner to get acquainted, and then Monday morning I picked him up at his hotel and we headed to DCU to start our trip.

We had planned to fly from Decatur to Kennett Memorial in Missouri, thence to Manhattan, Kansas, where GATTS is located. This plan went off without a hitch. I don’t have much to say about the actual flight except that I hand-flew both legs and logged a bunch of simulated instrument time while doing it. It was pretty smooth.

We found that the Kennett airport had a nest of fast food places right near the arrival end of runway 18, so we walked over to McDonald’s and had lunch. After refueling, I got to practice my hot-start techniques. The POH calls for a hot start procedure that’s identical to the cold start, minus priming. After doing some Internet research, I found that the consensus seems to be that the best procedure is to leave the electric fuel pump off, set the throttle to full, mixture to idle, and then start the engine. It took a couple of tries, but this procedure worked and we were off to Manhattan. Our flight was completely uneventful except that we had a controller out of Kansas City Center who sounded just like Cleveland Brown. I took the ILS approach for runway 3, landed, and taxied to the hangar that GATTS provides– it was a tight fit, but with Peter’s help I got the plane in without bending anything.

GATTS includes housing and a car in the course fee. My car was a late-90s Taurus with great air conditioning– the only thing I was really interested in at that point. After handing over a map and the car keys, Peter took off and I drove downtown to my apartment building, which sits over a swanky restaurant named Harry’s. The apartment itself is basic, but nice: a small kitchen (two toasters but no dishwasher), a comfy double bed, a dinette, and a living room with a balcony overlooking the street below. It sort of reminds me of a timeshare beach condo: it has all the necessities but nothing fancy. GATTS maintains 3 apartments in the building for students, and previous occupants had left a small collection of airplane magazines, books, and movies around.

I unpacked, plugged in all my gadgets, and set out to explore.

My nifty apartment building

My nifty apartment building

Right up the street is Manhattan Town Center, a smallish indoor mall. I walked a lap there just to see what was on offer (answer: nothing I wanted except an iPad charging cord, since I’d forgotten mine). I’d spotted several restaurants during my short walk; the closest was Hibachi Hut, which I’d ignored because of the name. When I looked on Yelp, though, I saw that they a) served Cajun food and b) had great ratings, so I went there for dinner and had an excellent shrimp and crab bisque and a dish of andouille and chicken pasta. Friendly, quick service, great cornbread, and a nice selection of local beers made it a very pleasant meal.

Then I decided to explore a bit more; my apartment is right next to the Riley County Courthouse, and further down Poyntz Street is Manhattan City Park. I didn’t make it to the park my first day, but the courthouse has this excellent statue as part of a small courtyard dedicated to American veterans.

Because AMERICA.

Because AMERICA.

By this point I was pretty tired, so I hit the bed. Day totals: 4.8 hours PIC time, 0.5 actual instrument, 4.4 simulated instrument, and 2 approaches. All in all, a great way to start the week!

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Getting geared up for GATTS

So far, since Derek and I bought 706, I’ve logged just over 45 hours flying it. Solo, I’ve gone to Louisiana and Vermont; the boys and I have gone to Pigeon Forge, Demopolis, Atlanta, Anniston, and Tuscaloosa. Now it’s time to step my game up a notch: on Monday, I’m flying to Manhattan, Kansas, for a week of accelerated instrument training with GATTS. A few of the folks I’ve talked to (including family members and coworkers) have asked lots of good questions about this plan, so I thought a quick Q&A might be in order.

Q: What’s an instrument rating?
A: With an instrument rating, you can fly under what the FAA calls “instrument flight rules.” Basically, you can fly in and around clouds, fog, and rain, or in conditions of poor visibility– all by using only the instruments in your cockpit, without being able to see any landmarks or the horizon.

Q: So you can fly in bad weather!
A: Nope. An instrument rating allows you to take off, fly, and land under certain conditions. For example, to legally land at Huntsville’s airport, you must have at least a 200′ ceiling and 1/2 mile visibility. That doesn’t mean it would be safe to do so, just that if the weather is worse than that, you can’t land there. It’s not a license to fly in thunderstorms, blizzards, high winds, and the like, although each year a few people die from confusing “legal” and “safe” and taking off or flying through visible or embedded thunderstorms.

Q: Then why bother?
A: Think of a typical summer day in the South: partly cloudy in the morning, building thunderstorms in the mid-afternoon, then partly cloudy again in the evening. With an instrument rating, you can (legally and safely) penetrate the clouds, fly on top of them, then descend and land lately. You also get guaranteed routing and safety services from air traffic control, whereas when you fly visually those services are available on a best-effort basis.

Q: Kansas? Couldn’t you find a local instructor?
A: I love my instructors here in Huntsville. (Hi, John! Hi, Caroline!) But the big advantage of the GATTS program is that you spend the entire time flying. When I got my private license, my training dragged out because I had to line up 4 factors: my schedule, my instructor’s schedule, the airplane’s schedule, and the weather. By blocking out the time as one chunk, I should be able to build my skills much faster. Kansas is different enough from here that I will have to master the skills of navigation and approach management (in other words, I can’t depend on my knowledge of the local Huntsville area), but it doesn’t have a lot of demanding terrain or complex airspace.

Q: Is it like boot camp, then?
A: Wow, I hope not. There was a lot of yelling when I was in boot camp, for one thing. GATTS says their typical day is from about 830a to 6p. During that time, I’ll be in the classroom with my instructor, flying in the simulator, or flying my airplane. Oh, and eating lunch. The schedule varies from day to day, depending on what we’re working on. We’ll do this every day– weekends and Labor Day included– so that I get the most out of the time. I’ve already been able to carve out time for a few scheduled webcasts and conference calls that I couldn’t move.

Q: Is it expensive?
A: The answer to this question is always “yes” when it comes to aviation.

Q: No, really.
A: Yes, really. If you factor in just the instructor’s time alone, GATTS is more expensive. However, there’s no way on earth that I could get a local instructor to fly with me day in, day out long enough to learn what I need to know. Then I’d end up having to repeat lessons to knock the rust off. The GATTS program also includes lodging in Manhattan and a car to use. Plus, I’ve never been to Kansas.

Q: Why an accelerated program?
A: The best way to get proficient at flying is to fly. The best way to get, and keep, instrument proficiency is to compress your training, then use your instrument privileges regularly. I’ve already had to delay or change travel plans many times to account for vagaries of weather; being instrument-qualified doesn’t eliminate that (hello, thunderstorms!) but it gives me many more options. Ultimately, the airplane is a time machine: it lets me travel to places, and in time windows, where I otherwise couldn’t, so having the ability to fly in weather is really important to me. I want to do it as safely and proficiently as possible.

I’m planning, time and energy level permitting, to keep a daily journal of my experience at GATTS. Stay tuned…

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In which I become a repeat offender

Yesterday marked a milestone: my second triathlon, the Tarpon Tri in Houma, Louisiana. I was fooling around one day on TriFind and noticed that there was a race there, so I signed up– I thought it would be a fun trip to see family and visit my hometown again. But you know what they say: one triathlon and you can explain it away as harmless experimentation, or perhaps a temporary indiscretion… run TWO, though, and you’re a repeat offender, well on your way to “serial triathlete” status.

I’d planned to make the 359nm flight from Decatur to Houma on Friday afternoon, so after a great conference call with a potential new customer (more on that next week, I hope), I loaded up the plane. With the two rear seats removed, it was easy to fit my giant road bike, my tri bag, and backpack in; I parked the car and off I went. I’d like to say a lot of neat stuff about how interesting the flight was, but the fact is that it went flawlessly: no major weather, a smooth ride, and some really interesting scenery, including a beautiful crossing of Lake Ponchartrain right alongside the Causeway. After an easy landing, I headed to my hotel to drop off my stuff, plug in all my gadgets, and make plans to see family.

(Side note: I cannot possibly say enough good things about how well the folks at Butler Aviation took care of me. When I arrived, they had a rental vehicle ready because I’d emailed ahead– no mean feat since the nearest rental agency is 10 mi or so away.  When I got ready to come home, the plane was fueled and ready to go, and everyone there was super friendly. Highly recommended.)

Dinner Friday night was excellent: my Aunt Norma, my cousin Ricky, and his wife Tonya went to Dave’s Cajun Kitchen. The name gives it away, of course: it’s Cajun food, but the kind that people actually eat. Gumbo, fried catfish, white and red beans, jambalaya, and so on. I have never had a meal there that was less than excellent. This one was so good that I ate more than I should have, for which I would pay later.

After a visit back to Ricky’s, I headed to the hotel, got my gear ready for the morning, and went to sleep… then spent all night having reflux-y burps of white beans and catfish. Key learning #1: don’t eat so damn much before the next race.

Saturday morning I got up, hit Walgreen’s for some Tums, and headed to the race site for packet pickup. The place was packed! I should’ve gone to get my packet Friday night; after 20 minutes or so in line, I got my packet and chip, got body marked, and headed to set up in transition. Thanks to all the practice with the TRI101 coaches, I had no trouble getting my gear laid out, so I headed to the pool to get in a quick warmup.

This race had staggered pool starts: the fastest swim time was #1, the second-fastest was #2, and so on. If you didn’t put down a swim time, as I didn’t, you went to the back… so I ended up being #180, meaning that I had about a 35-minute wait to get in the water. Key learning #2: put down the right swim time. I had a very pleasant time visiting with the triathletes in line near me, including a multiple half-Ironman finisher and a guy who was running his first race to celebrate his birthday weekend (he didn’t say what birthday but he was no spring chicken!)

The swim went well– 150 yd in the pool in 3:57. Oddly, Movescount showed me with 125 yds (how? it gets its data from my watch, which showed 150 yds!), and the official time for the swim was 4:36:37. The info packet said:

The timing chips are all pre-set as to when they begin your time according to the seeding chart that we give to the timing guy. Please pay attention & listen to the volunteers who are starting you. They have a list of what time each participant is to start his/her swim.

That makes me wonder if for some reason the swim times were off based on the expected time at which I was supposed to get in the water. In any event, the swim felt good. I got through T1 in a leisurely 3 minutes, partly due to my decision to try my new USMC cycling jersey as racewear. Turns out putting on a clingy bike jersey when wet is really hard– and it reminds me of key learning #3: nothing new on race day. (For reference, the fastest T1 time in my age group was 19.9 seconds!) I also forgot to grab my race belt, which turned out to be OK because we were issued number stickers for our helmet, though at first I had paranoid visions of being DQ’d for not having a visible number.

The bike course was great: flat, hot, and sweaty, just like my first girlfriend. We got a steady light rain for about the first 25 minutes I was on the bike, so the pavement was a little damp but not unmanageable. The course runs right along the bayou, so there was lotsto see: egrets, various other birds, cypress trees, and the whole nine yards. There were plenty of volunteers along the course, great course markings on the pavement, and very little traffic. I averaged 15.6mph on the bike course, for a time of 38:28, which was a little frustrating because I thought I’d be faster. I didn’t take the time to mount my Suunto on the handlebars during transition, though, so I couldn’t easily see my cadence or pace. Next race I think I’ll mount the watch during setup and just go without in the pool.

Coming back in from the bike, I got through T2 in 1:02, then headed out for the run, which was also flat. The sun was powering through the clouds by this time, giving runners the sensation of being tucked snugly in Satan’s armpit. Luckily, the organizers had planned for this: there was a water station at the half-mile mark, then again at the turnaround. I spotted a roadside portatunity (that’s a porta-potty for those of you who don’t speak the lingo) and made an emergency diversion, then got back to it. I spent a few stretch breaks walking– more than I wanted to– but still finished the run in 31:51. During the run I noticed some pain on my chest; afterwards I found about a 1/4″ cut on my nipple! I have no idea how it got there, but I bet it was because of the new jersey and/or not using BodyGlide under my HRM strap. Ouch. Key learning #4: you can never have too much BodyGlide.

Overall, I came in 13th in my age group and 96th overall, with a total time of 1:19:00.2. I would have needed to pick up about 2min to move up to the next place. My goals were to finish and to be in the top half, so I was pretty pleased. Swag-wise, I got a nifty tech shirt, a coffee mug, and a can coozie, all of which I can add to my collection.

After the race, I took Ricky and his son Seth for a sightseeing flight. The ceilings at HUM were only about 3500′ and it was drizzling, but we did a couple laps around the pattern and overflew Gulf Island Fabrication, where Ricky works. This might have been the high point of the trip, because the two of them were so clearly enjoying it. I wanted to beat the weather heading north, so after I dropped them off I immediately took off to the north. There was heavy weather directly over the New Orleans airport, which I would have overflown, so I ended up diverting well to the west to get around it. As I worked my way further north, the ADS-B weather from my Stratus showed that there were storms all along my route from about Tuscaloosa north, so I landed at Demopolis to refuel and take a short break. After that, it was a simple matter to dodge a bit (as you can see below) by flying from Demopolis towards Courtland, then turning east once past the storms. Note that the magenta line shows the GPS track, not where I actually was; I had flown well to the west to clear the tail of the storm (the red blocks near the “6nm” label).

20140802_232620000_iOSKey learning #5: datalink weather is strategic, not tactical. It isn’t updated in real-time, so you can’t use it to thread through closely spaced storm cells. The weather was gorgeous when I got to Decatur, so I landed easily, put the plane away, and headed home– with another triathlon and another 7 or so flight hours under my belt. All in all, a great trip, even if I am on my way to a life of crime triathlons.

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