I don’t bother to review very many books, in part because I read a lot and in part because writing reviews takes time away from reading. However, I recently received the Kindle version of When Penguins Flew and Water Burned and wanted to quickly recommend it. The book is a recap of the career of Jim Clonts, a B-52 navigator (and, later, radar navigator) during the tail end of the Cold War. Clonts writes in an engaging style, and his tales of life on a bomber crew are absolutely fascinating if you’re at all interested in military aviation. Although his crew position is navigator, he’s also a pilot and so there’s a fair bit of inside-baseball talk. The book is moderately heavy on jargon, as you might expect, but it’s still pretty approachable even if you don’t know anything about bombers or the USAF in general. Well worth a read if you’re flight-minded.
Category Archives: Aviation
Early on this triathlon season, I bought a Suunto Ambit 2s. I loved the idea of having accurate workout data for my training, plus more accurate time/distance data for my races, and the Suunto has delivered. But it’s missing a few things: its support for interval workouts is poor, and the Movescount website is less reliable than I’d like. Luckily Suunto added export to Strava, but you still have to use their computer-based app to transfer workouts from the watch to the computer to the Movescount site, so when the site’s down you can’t see your workout data. (There are also various website bugs, including one in computing swim distance that means that the results on the website don’t match the results on the watch, but I digress). Having said all that, I was planning on sticking with the Suunto because I like the industrial design; it’s comfortable to wear, looks good, and has all the basic functionality I need.
Then I read this: Garmin announces ability to develop apps on wearables, with Connect IQ.
Coupled with my native lust for all shiny gadget things, the availability of the SDK opened a whole range of possibilities, not only for apps I could get for the watch but for apps I could write. I immediately started pondering what kinds of useful apps I could build and came up with one that I thought would be very useful: a flight timer. There are at least two different flight times that I need to log for every flight: how long the propeller was turning (because that drives how much money I put into our engine reserve fund) and how long I was actually in the air (which is what I actually log as flight time).
The GPS in 706 can automatically calculate flight time from takeoff to touchdown… provided you remember to look at it after landing and before turning off the avionics master switch. We also have a Hobbs meter that measures the time when the propeller’s actually turning. However, an app that automatically records time in flight, along with the origin and destination airports, would be useful. CloudAhoy does something similar, based on ForeFlight track data (and for all I know, ForeFlight can do this already). However, a timer that’s not tied to the aircraft would have the advantage of not losing its data when you turn off the airplane, and not being tied to a phone, external GPS, or iPad greatly reduces the risk of losing data due to battery or device failures.
So, I ordered a Garmin 920XT and downloaded the Garmin SDK. On first inspection, it looks like the SDK and development model are both pretty tractable for what I want to do. I’ll be blogging about my development efforts as they progress. For now, if I can get basic logging to work in the device simulator, I’ll be happy. There are a few features I’d like to have in the app to make it useful: it should automatically log flight time from takeoff to touchdown, geocode the origin and destination points so that the log file reflects airports and not just GPS points, and provide a timer function for things such as switching fuel tanks in flight. If I can extend that to include automatically logging flights into Safelog, that’d be even better but that might be some time away.
The 920XT itself will be a nice upgrade from the Suunto, which I am going to loan to my pal Jay for use in his training, but it won’t ship until sometime in November, so I’ll be running on the simulator for a while yet (and using the Suunto to log workouts, too!)
The SDK includes a comprehensive set of API docs, the device simulator, an Eclipse plugin that runs the command-line compiler, and assorted sample apps. I’ll have ore to say about it once I get my environment set up and running and start playing with the samples. Garmin’s clearly thinking about this the right way, though; in addition to their own developer forum, they are actively encouraging the use of StackOverflow.
Stay tuned for updates!
A few more-or-less random thoughts about our recent trip to Disney World and Universal Studios Florida:
- Universal is a see-it-once park, I think. We enjoyed it but there was nothing so compelling that I think we’d want to go back again in five years. On the other hand, all four of us had specific things at Disney that we looked forward to doing (among them: turkey legs, the Winnie the Pooh ride, Tower of Terror, and Space Mountain).
- Having said that, the Harry Potter attractions are superbly done: decoration, character acting, costuming, and all the little touches come together to provide a very immersive experience. Just don’t expect to be able to drink a whole mug of butterbeer. (And don’t be surprised if the Forbidden Adventure ride leaves you nauseated for a couple of hours afterwards.) Getting early access by virtue of staying in a Universal property was well worth it.
- We didn’t buy, nor did we miss, the front-of-the-line ride access benefit that Universal sells for $60+ per person, per day.
- Disney’s MagicBands system works extremely well and made paying for things much easier– which, I suppose, is the point.
- The FastPass+ system takes a little getting used to because you can get multiple passes at once, but there are limits on which rides you can stack passes for. Read up on it before you go.
- We stayed at two “value” hotels: Universal’s Cabana Bay and Disney’s All-Star Music Resort. Both had nicely equipped, clean “family suite” rooms. Both claimed to sleep six: Universal provided two double beds and a twin pull-out sofa, while Disney provided a queen, a twin sofabed, and two single fold-out sleep chairs: not ideal for six-foot teenagers, but workable.
- Disney’s on-property wifi was great at the parks, as was Universal’s. However, the Disney in-room wifi was unusuable– worse even than the worst of the Microsoft conference hotels I’ve had to use in the past.
- EPCOT’s International Food and Wine Festival was going on, so we got some primo foods when we ate dinner there. I’d like to do the festival again, but with more time to savor the food.
- Tom, Matt, and I all ran into friends at the parks. It’s a small world indeed.
- We didn’t rent a car, so we used Uber for the move from the Kissimmee airport to Universal, then a cab from Universal to Disney, then Uber again. Orlando’s taxis are about a million percent cleaner than in most other cities, but Uber was cheaper and faster.
Overall, a successful trip (good flight, too!) but boy, am I glad to be home!
My trip to DC to compete in the Nation’s Triathlon was my first “real” IFR flight. I say “real” because it combined flight in actual instrument conditions with busy airspace and a long cross-country—conditions I expect to encounter often as I fly around.
Earlier in the summer, I had signed up for the tri.The timing was such that I would come home from GATTS, have a couple of days to pack, and then fly up to DC, hopefully with my instrument rating. That turns out to be what happened.
Flight planning was straightforward. The DC metro area has a number of general aviation airports scattered around, but it also has significant restrictions on its airspace. Without going into all of the gory details, it’s enough to point out that the airports that are closest to central DC are heavily restricted. In order to fly to the so-called “Maryland 3”, you have to go to either Dulles or BWI, get fingerprinted, have security interviews with the FAA and TSA, and then get a PIN that you use when filing flight plans. I didn’t have time to do that, so I settled on Manassas, which is further out but would provide a reverse commute into and out of the city—it also helped that the route from Manassas to the hotel passed right by the bike shop where I’d made arrangements to rent a road bike.
I planned an early departure Saturday morning. Because I’d been out of the office for most of the week, I couldn’t leave earlier than about 5pm, and I didn’t want to fly night IFR in unfamiliar, complex airspace after a full, and tiring, day at work—that’s how accidents happen. My original plan was to fly from Decatur to KGEV, fuel up with avgas and diet Coke, and then continue on to Manassas. The weather at Decatur at departure time was OK, with an overcast layer about 2000’, and Huntsville Approach quickly cleared me to my target altitude. The first hour or so of the flight was smooth on top, then things got a bit bouncy because there were clouds at my filed altitude—with some light rain and a fair bit of chop. Once past that, though, things were looking good until I looked at the weather at my destination airport and alternate . Both were below minimums, so instead I flew a bit further east and landed at Winston-Salem, which was nicely VFR. It turns out that the airport there has self-service or full-service fuel, with a whopping $1.69/gal price difference—but getting to the self-service pump from the FBO is an adventure that involves runway crossings and, in my case, aggravating the pilot of a Malibu who had to hold short while I taxied. Such is life.
The flight into Manassas was perfectly uneventful, just the way I like. I had filed direct from Winston-Salem to Manassas, but I didn’t expect to get that routing, and sure enough, I didn’t; Potomac Approach sent me direct to the Casanova VOR, then direct Manassas. It was fun watching the Foreflight traffic display en route, since I could see a ton of traffic into Reagan.
Going to CSN first wasn’t much of a diversion, so it was no big deal. Manassas was VFR, but storms were expected later, so after I landed, the fine folks at Dulles Aviation hangared the plane. (I also want to point out that they provided stellar service: the rental car was ready when I got there, saving me a commute to the nearest Avis office some 12 miles away, and they treated me like I had just flown in on a Gulfstream.)
The return trip looked simple enough too. I filed direct Manassas to Greenbriar, WV. The race was on Sunday, and I needed to be at work Monday morning, so I had to leave late in the afternoon, meaning that several of the airports I would normally have considered as fuel stops were either closed, or would be. Greenbriar was reporting 900’ overcast, which was fine with me, so I filed, preflighted, and started up, then called Manassas Ground to get my clearance.
Here’s what I was naively expecting: “N32706, Manassas Ground, cleared as filed to LWB, climb and maintain 9000’, departure frequency…”
Here’s what I got instead: “N32706, Manassas Ground, cleared to LWB via the ARSENAL FOUR departure, thence the Montebello transition, then direct NATTS, then direct LWB; departure frequency…” Thus we see how ATC deals with the expectations of a novice IFR pilot. This set off a frantic burst of knob-twiddling as I tried to set up the KLN94 for that departure (which it didn’t have, since its onboard database was too old). I eventually got it set up, was cleared for takeoff, and then got a series of ridiculous vectors from Potomac Approach that sent me well north of where I wanted to be. However, the flight to Greenbriar was nice and smooth between layers, and, as advertised, the weather on arrival necessitated shooting the ILS, which I did smoothly. After taking on fuel, it was off to Decatur; the rest of the flight was unremarkably smooth except for a great sunset and some tasty snacks (yay vanilla wafers!) I considered it a very successful trip!
Day 7 of my GATTS experience happened to be Labor Day. That didn’t really make any difference to the flight schedule, but I did talk Peer into a later start time so that I’d have time to go run the Summer Send-Off 5K race in nearby Chapman, Kansas. The race was a lot of fun; I ran well despite getting lost on the way there and arriving literally 30 seconds before the starting gun. (Irony of the day: just as I was passing the high school demolished by a 2008 tornado, my iPod served up Flux Pavilion’s “Blow the Roof”).
After the race and a quick shower, I met Peter at the airport for a mock checkride. Checkrides are normally administered by people who hold the role of DPE, or designated pilot examiner. They’re not FAA employees; many of them are very high-time instructors, often retired. Every instructor knows, or should, the local DPEs: what they think is important, what they emphasize in the oral and practical exams, what their habits and idiosyncracies are. Although Peter didn’t attempt to imitate the DPE’s mannerisms or anything, he did tell me that I should expect to take off, intercept the V4 airway westbound, return to do the ILS 31 approach at Topeka, execute the published missed approach, transition to the VOR 22 approach, and then come back to do the localizer backcourse for 13. This last was necessary because of FedEx’s failure to deliver my updated GPS card on time, the dirty rats– I couldn’t legally fly a GPS approach without the updated data card, so I was stuck with the backcourse.
The first part of any FAA checkride, of course, is the oral exam, so Peter quizzed me for an hour or so on weather, procedures, approaches, lost communications procedures, and pretty much everything else we had discussed at any time during the preceding week. That went well, I thought; I felt well prepared by the combination of my study and his teaching. Then we went out to the ramp, fired up the airplane, and flew to Topeka to simulate the flight check portion. The flight went very well, although it was windy and bumpy, so I had trouble maintaining the nice oval shape we all associate with a well-flown holding pattern. Part of the goal of the simulated checkride is to put the applicant at ease with the flow of the ride, and it definitely helped; despite the blustery winds, I flew within the PTS and felt good once we got back on the ground and put the plane away. I had an easy night, packing and making one last visit to Hibachi Hut for bread pudding and a sandwich, then went to bed, eager to face the DPE on the morrow…