Friday, March 29, 2013

Hello, Aztec!

(voice like Andre the Giant)

Jodie says she had no doubt we would own another airplane, but that she thought it wouldn't happen this fast.  When the Tiger sold, I joined the local flying club to get access to its three airplanes.  The club is great for people learning or who want to occasionally fly.  For a variety of reasons, however, it was not serving our needs.  I was nevertheless determined to make it work, for all of the reasons that led us to sell the Tiger in the first place.

At the same time, in the wake of turning 40 and selling my airplane, I was looking for  a challenge that meshed with my love of flying.  So I called my instructor and scheduled the first lesson toward adding a multi-engine rating to my commercial pilot certificate.  We sat in the FBO before the lesson, catching up, and I told him about the frustration I was experiencing at being without an airplane for trips.  We talked about the airplane I would be flying for my multi-engine training.  My instructor owned it with a couple partners, and they had an opening for another partner.....

We went and flew the airplane.  A few days later, we became part-owners of this Aztec.

It is a GREAT airplane, and I'll spec it out below.  First, I want to point out that it is fantastic NOT to be the sole owner/maintainer of an airplane like this.  Second, I note the irony of the fact that because I don't yet have my multi-engine add-on completed, I can't fly it without an instructor.  Jodie said to me, "Did we just buy an airplane that you can't fly?"  Yes, Sugar, we did.

Nicknamed the "Az-truck," it has two, 250-horsepower, fuel-injected engines, a useful load of 2,100 pounds and can take off, fully loaded, in well under 1,000 feet.  It cruises at about 210 miles per hour* and can travel more than 1,000 miles without stopping for fuel, with enough fuel remaining for about another 100-150 miles in reserve.  With full fuel tanks, it can still carry just over 1,250 pounds of passengers and baggage.

*About 170-180 knots.  This plane was built during the mis-guided era when airspeed indicators were in mph instead of knots, and the performance specs are all in statute miles instead of nautical miles.  

It has six seats, which are plush leather and very comfortable.  It also has noise-canceling headsets for each of the seats, with streaming music for the comfort and entertainment of pilot and passengers alike.  Baggage goes outside the cabin in two, huge baggage compartments, one in the nose and one in the tail.  Each compartment is large enough for several suitcases and/or 150 pounds of unruly children.  That's enough for both of ours and a nephew!

Here's what gets me excited - the instrument panel.  This airplane has pretty much everything I could possibly want in avionics.  It has a pair of Garmin GNS 430W and 530W GPS/NAV/COMs, an Avidyne EX500 MFD, a Garmin GTX330 Mode S transponder, XM weather, radar (displayed in color on the MFD), strikefinder, TIS, TAWS, an S-Tec 55X autopilot with altitude pre-select, an HSI, and a backup AI.  It has alternators on both engines and vacuum pumps on both engines.  

Honestly, it has so much installed, the easier question is what it does not have, which basically boils down to an engine monitor and a working clock.  I suppose it will also need ADS-B at some point, too.

So, how does it fly?  Well, in a sense it simply flies like a Piper.  It is heavy in roll and in pitch, and requires constant use of the electric trim to fly it well.  In that respect it doesn't seem very different at all from the Turbo Arrow IV in which I got my commercial certificate.  It is very stable - I hand-flew an LPV approach my first time up in it, and it was a piece of cake, if a little faster than I am used to.  It has a strong, upward pitching moment when you deploy the first quarter of the flaps, which takes some getting used to.  In short, it handles like an overloaded, 15-passenger van.  That's not to say you can't bend it around the sky, but commercial maneuvers require a firm grip on the yoke, not the two fingers I could use with the Tiger.  As for the single-engine stuff, well, it seems okay.  I've flown it around with one engine shut down and feathered, and it was fine.  I haven't done any of the Vmc stuff yet, so we'll have to see about that.  

Anyway, that's it.  I'm very happy to be an owner, very happy not to be the only owner, and looking forward to flying the wings off it....

*   *   *   *   *


Both Jodie and the kids see a smile when they look at the picture of the plane that appears at the top of this blog entry and below.  To see Emma's impression of the particular smile that appears to her, please move your mouse over the picture below.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Good-bye, Tiger!

In the four and a half years we owned it, I flew the Tiger 366.4 hours, to twenty-one different states and 80+ different airports.  We flew to Oshkosh three times, north to Maine, south to Florida, west to the Mississippi River and Wisconsin, to Hilton Head Island and Long Island, crossed at least two of the Great Lakes.....

Only 93 of those hours were solo, the rest had some combination of people, usually Jodie (who got lots of good sleep aloft), but also including epic trips with my Nana, my buddy Ryan, and my dad.  I think the trips home for Christmas were my favorite.  I still remember a return trip, the morning after a cold front passed through and dumped twelve inches of snow, followed by a strong high pressure system.  We took off between snow banks in Worcester, Massachusetts, with winds gusting to 30 knots, into stark blue skies and saw silky smooth ground speeds in the mid-190s as we passed NYC.

I got my instrument rating, too, flying with lots of good friends in the process, and then endured survived accomplished a couple of fantastic, challenging IFR trips.  I still remember the time I was just buzzing along when the freezing rain hit, out of nowhere, instantly making the windscreen opaque.....

The Tiger is a great airplane.  But there's an economic reality to it, which is that unless you're flying more than a certain amount, the cost of owning an airplane all to yourself is just not worth it.  And when our kids showed up, everything changed, including the amount I'm flying.  I'm no longer looking for business travel opportunities, the school year keeps us rooted much of the year, and school tuition and other kid-related things put a damper on the affordability of keeping the plane just to have it.

So....  Sayonara, Tiger.  The new owner, Bill in Texas, drove in with his wife, flew it home, and emailed at his first rest stop:  "WHAT A GREAT PLANE!"  Yes, Bill.  I know.  Thanks.  He and his wife are going to get it painted, which it deserves.  And they'll use it to visit their kids, who have moved out, not in.

And we....  Well, we'll figure something out.  Can't stay on the ground, you know.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

AA-5B Tiger for Sale (SOLD)

I love my Tiger.  I took delivery of it on July 1, 2008, and flew my first cross-country from DC to Tennessee three days later.  Since then I've been to Maine several times, Oshkosh twice, Florida, and everywhere in between.  I completed my instrument rating in it, and would have gotten my commercial license in it if it were considered a complex aircraft.

My first day as owner

But two kids appeared in our lives, and my flying has been cut by 90%.  It just no longer makes sense, on a dollars-per-flying-hour basis, for us to keep the plane when there are good rentals available.  Here are the details:

It's a late-1978 model with the 1979 improvements (flush gas caps, etc.).  About 3,000 TTAF, about 1,000  TSMO.  New leather interior and carpets in 2005.  Interior is an 8/10.  It has the original paint, and could use a paint job, maybe 5 or 6/10.  All ADs complied with, last annual in February 2012.  Complete logs.  It has just about every STC out there, except for the LoPresti cowl and PowerFlow exhaust.  I love it dearly.  I'm just not flying it.

Equipment/mod list:
  • Garmin GX60 IFR-approved GPS
  • Garmin SL30 NAV/COM
  • Garmin GTX327 Digital Transponder*
  • JPI EDM-800 w/Fuel Flow*
  • Garmin 496 w/XM Weather & Warner Mount*
  • Electronics International SC-5 Super Clock*
  • Garmin/Apollo SL15 Audio Panel w/ front and rear audio (music) inputs
  • HSI
  • Stormscope
  • King KNS80 RNAV
  • Dual glideslopes (HSI and second head for KNS80)
  • Steelebrook LED Map Light*
  • Teledyne Alphabeam LED Landing Light*
  • Steelebrook LED Dome Lights*
  • Century 1 Autopilot (overhauled in 2009)
  • Sensenich Prop (& STC) so no RPM limitations
  • Split nosebowl STC
  • Rosen Visors*
  • Electronics International SC-5 Super Clock*
  • Vernier mixture control*
  • Bruce's cover & cowl plugs*
  • Aileron AD AMOC - so no 100-hour inspections*
  • Stand-by backup vacuum 
  • Electric oil-pan heater
*Added since I purchased the plane in 2008.

Recent major work include:  all new hoses in 2009, new canopy seals in 2009, autopilot overhaul in 2009, new tires 2010, new exhaust seals 2012, re-rigged 2012, all new spark plugs 2012.

In my opinion, all it needs is a paint job to be one of the best-equipped Tiger's out there.  I guess I would also upgrade the GPS to a Garmin unit with WAAS, although the GX60 is IFR-approved for en route and non-WAAS GPS approaches.

Damage history:  there are faint marks from hail sometime in the past (before I owned it), which will disappear when painted.  I also hit a gull in 2009 and dented the leading edge of the left wing.  The repair shop (Hortman at KPNE) was able to press out and repaint the dent, with no remaining damage or replaced parts.  No other known damage history.

Asking $59,900 or best reasonable offer.  Email me at or call at (865) 236-1073.  The plane is currently at KDKX in Knoxville, Tennessee.

It was in a valet hangar since we moved to Knoxville a few years ago, until I recently moved it to a shade hangar for easier access.  It is kept out of the sun, snow, and rain (except for IFR flights!).

Leather(ette) interior, Steelebrooke dome lights, and 3-point harnesses front and back.

Kids not included.

LED map light, mount for Garmin 496 with XM weather, Rosen visors, vernier mixture, etc.

Note position of Garmin 496.  It's perfect, and does not obscure the view out of the cockpit.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

LIFR Departure

Monday, June 07, 2010

My Ticket's Wet

A few years ago three fellow flying club members had an adventure. All three had recently completed their instrument training and went out to fly around together in the clouds. They landed at Hagerstown, Maryland, and then were trapped by fog that closed in around them. A fourth club member ended up driving an hour or two -- each way -- to pick them up and drive them home, leaving the airplane behind until another day. They were henceforth known as "The Hagerstown Trio."

I was talking to one of them around that time and he told me that the whole adventure was about "getting your ticket wet." He explained that getting an instrument rating is one thing, but that there's really nothing like the feeling of descending out of the clouds to an airport. That first, real experience of flying in IMC to get somewhere was a positive one, he implied. He then told me that when I finished my instrument rating, we'd have to go out and "get my ticket wet."

* * * * *

I needed to go to court in Memphis. Memphis is in the same state as my new home – Knoxville - but Tennessee is a big state. The distance from Knoxville to Memphis is almost as long as the distance from Gaithersburg to Maine. It's a long way, and it's summer in the south, which means convective activity everywhere.

I completed my instrument rating last year, but hadn't flown in any clouds in 9 months. With a total of less than two hours of flying time in actual instrument conditions -- all with the comfort of an instructor in the right seat -- I was an IMC virgin.

The clouds were scattered to broken over most of the state, with a line of serious storms running Southwest to Northeast across the top of the state to the north of and parallel to my route -- a crimson streak on the radar depictions. With luck, I could get above most of the clouds, dodge the serious stuff, and avoid any serious instrument flying. As long as the clouds remained scattered, I could also cancel IFR if I was in the clear and divert for an early landing. The ceilings were forecast to be more than 2,000 feet, and the winds light.

I took off and climbed to 8,000 feet in the Tiger. Although it was in the 90s on the ground, it was about 55 degrees up high, so I was comfortable and enjoyed the beautiful skyscape while listening to music.

About a half hour into my flight, I asked ATC -- for the first time -- for a course deviation to go around a cumulus cloud that had shot up many thousands of feet above my altitude. I wasn't the only one -- the frequencies were full of pilots asking for deviations to go around weather. I could see most of the dangerous clouds, and my Garmin 496 with XM weather confirmed a lot of what my eyes were telling me.

Both my eyes and the 496 were telling me that the storms to my right were getting closer as I neared Memphis, and there was weather dead ahead. The Stormscope in my panel confirmed what I was seeing with a mess of little red dots to indicate lightning to my right and ahead. ATC gave me my first descent, to 6,000 feet, about 40 minutes out from Memphis. I began popping in and out of some cumulus clouds, with the attendant bumps.

Then ATC directed me to descend to 4,000 feet and I was suddenly in the thick of it. I was getting bounced around pretty well. I was in the clouds almost continuously, except for briefest flashes of dizzying sunlight when I would shoot out of one cloud and into the next. Those flashes were becoming more brief and less frequent. The turbulence was getting worse and was well into the "moderate" range. The airplane was getting tossed around and was spending a lot of time on one wing tip or the other. I cinched my seatbelt tighter and was thankful I had had the foresight to use the seatbelt to secure my flight bag on the right seat.

After being continuously "on instruments" for perhaps 15 minutes, I was sweating. I could see on my Garmin that there was moderate to heavy precipitation straight ahead. When my weather display updated, it seemed that there were more storms popping up ahead and off my right side, which my Stormscope confirmed. The turbulence was continuous.

I felt like I was in over my head, and I wanted OUT of those clouds. I knew that the ceilings around Memphis were around 2,000 feet, which was above the minimum safe altitude, so I called ATC and with a squeaky voice asked for lower. They denied my request and instructed me to fly direct to the Memphis VOR.


Memphis VOR?

I had been navigating by GPS and had entered the clouds when I was too far from the Memphis VOR to dial it in. Although I often dial in VORs to provide navigational backup when navigating by GPS, I had been too busy flying the airplane on instruments, in turbulence, to read charts. The loose charts had been tossed by turbulence onto the floor on the other side of the plane and were no longer properly folded to show my location. I'd have to take my eyes off the instruments, lean over, reach down, get the chart, and then try to find the little symbols and letters on it that would tell me the right frequency for the VOR. All while keeping my plane (relatively) straight and level in moderate turbulence and IMC. I had no working autopilot to share the piloting.

Then, with a sigh of relief I remembered the "NRST" button on my 496. Nearest -- VOR -- there's MEM -- Enter -- Enter -- Go To -- Enter.

That got me on course, and I then dialed in the IFR-approved Apollo GX60 in my panel and both VOR receivers.

Something about accomplishing that act -- following ATC instructions, navigating, flying the airplane in bumpy, rainy weather -- something about doing all of that at the same time gave me a jolt of adrenaline and confidence. I thought, "Hell, I can do this!" And I thought of John Peake, my instrument instructor, and Bob Gawler, my DE, and the good bunch of guys that had flown with me as safety pilots during my training, and I thought, "Of course I can do this."

I burst out of a cloud into the open. I had been ignoring the music coming through my headset, but in the moment of calm before entering the next cloud, I reached over and grabbed my iPod out of the pocket of my flight bag. With a few clicks, the first beats of Aerosmith's "Just Push Play" pounded through my headset, the first in the playlist titled "Greg's Workout." I looked up at the wall of cloud coming at me at 120 knots, cinched my seatbelt tighter, and I grinned.

I loved every moment of the next ten minutes. It got dark -- dark enough that I turned up the cabin lights. (I didn't need them, but I didn't know how much darker it was going to get.) The rain sporadically pounded on the windscreen, and the turbulence took all my attention. Updrafts and downdrafts rocked the plane from one wing to the other, and it was all I could do to keep the plane within 200 feet of my assigned altitude. But I was doing it -- I was riding the beast, in dark, rainy, IMC.

My ticket was dripping wet.

Flying in "stormy" weather was one thing, but the red blotches, lightning bolts, and storm cells that my Garmin said were straight ahead was another. About ten minutes out from Memphis I broke out of the clouds and could see an airport ahead and to my left. I looked quickly to see what it was and called ATC. "Memphis Approach, Grumman 28244, I'm in the clear and am going to cancel IFR and divert to Olive Branch."

There was a new, younger voice on the frequency now. "Grumman 244, you can do that if you want, but I've got a hole in the weather off the approach end of the airport here and I was going to put you right through it. I'm showing clear over Dewitt-Spain [the airport where I was heading]." The phrase that immediately came to mind was "sucker hole." But my GPS had just refreshed the weather display and showed the same thing -- a gap in the serious weather where I could turn northwest and go to my destination. "Okay, I'll take it," I said to ATC.

A few seconds later, I re-entered the clouds and a few minutes later, ATC turned me to the northwest and told me to descend to 2,000 feet. The cloud bases were wispy -- solid enough so I couldn't see the ground most of the time, but I could sometimes see horizontally. That's how I saw the lightning. I don't know what caused me to look to my left -- maybe my fascination with the flexing of the wings -- but off to my left a jagged arc of lightning shot across the sky between clouds. It looked like it couldn't have been even one mile away. I gulped and returned my eyes to the instruments. ATC told me to descend to 1,500 feet and I broke out of the clouds at around 1,800. Then I saw my destination airport in the haze.

I landed, pulled off the runway, and opened the canopy to the hot, gusty air. I had cinched my seatbelt tighter so many times, it was embedded in my shoulder.

This was a trip I couldn't have made without my instrument rating, and it was a huge confidence booster. In fact, although I was dodging thunderstorms and spent a half hour in IMC on my trip home the next day, it was a relative non-event given my new-found confidence in my skills.

I filed IFR, took off, and headed north under the Memphis Class B shelf while I called for my clearance. They gave it to me right away and had me climb into the clouds. I was on instruments for maybe 20 minutes while I climbed to 9,000 feet and ATC routed me north to go around some weather to the east. I deviated north and south, with ATC's permission, to go around scattered convective buildups, and descended into IMC for perhaps 10 minutes on my approach into Knoxville. The ceilings were about 2,000 feet, and I cancelled IFR in the air for a visual approach.

After arguing in court and eating lunch in Memphis, a time zone away, I was back in my Knoxville office by 3:00.

I wish I had had more actual IMC during my instrument training, but I was well prepared. In fact, once I realized that I had all the necessary skills to aviate, navigate, and communicate in weather, it was actually fun. Lots of thanks to everyone who helped me with that rating!