Almost Home

Catherine and I got back to the airport first after lunch, filed our flight plan, then took off for Victoria (our airport of entry back into Canada).  Getting the Stuart Island arrival, I realized that this would be the first time in many years to be landing an airplane in Victoria International.  Now you need to remember that our home airport is 1520’x30′, so setting up for final for a 7000’x200′ is a little bit of a mind re-think.  To top it off, there was a dash-8 on final underneath us for a crossing runway while we were on the downwind leg, and he touched down on the intersection right where I had been planning to land myself.

I put on some power, and extended my touchdown point to a couple thousand feet further down, Catherine did her slide out of the way maneuver and I greased it in.  We pulled off by the Shell aerocentre and parked in front of the customs office.  Kevin taxied in after us (we beat him for once) and after a few minutes wait, realized the Canada customs wasn’t coming, so as per the instructions, phoned in an arrival report, got a report number, and prepped for the final leg back to Duncan.

Leaving Concrete

Yesterday was great!  Literally over a hundred airplanes arriving and departing this municipal airport in Concrete Washington.  No control tower, just a ton of pilots who know how to operate at an uncontrolled airport.  Not a single incident that I’m aware of, and only one real whoops moment which was when a plane lost it’s engine on short final, but as he had the runway made, just landed it and a bunch of folks ran out to help push him off the active runway.

Getting My Parachute On!

Catherine and I got to go for an early morning flight in the beaver as passengers, and right after lunch, I got to go up with Kevin in the stearman for some aerobatics and a bit of sight seeing around the area.

Packing up to leave, we waited over an hour for weather to improve back here on the coast.  Everything was clear skies except for our two choices for a destination.  Friday Harbor was socked in with Fog, and Orcas Island had 8 miles, but only 200′ ceilings.  We saw that it was supposed to improve dramatically, so we fired up, and yet again left before the beaver with a destination of Orcas island.

We climbed out of Concrete in beautiful blue skies, and levelled of at 2500′.  A few minutes after levelling off, I saw this white flash in front of me and to the right as Catherine’s hat got blown off :-(.  Just as quick, I felt a thump as it hit the tail section of the plane, causing my heart rate to bump up a bit.  Gingerly I tried the rudder and elevator in turn, and found I still had complete control.  I did take a peek back, and saw the hat was caught up in the flying wires.  A quick prayer that it stayed out of the controls, and I continued on.

Shawn (another DFC member who came to Concrete after the rest of us), was the first to pass as we crossed the coastline for the open water.  Then, as we started our decent for KORS, the beaver passed us too 🙁

Kevin had asked me to shift over to the right side when landing the stearman, and after my duh! moment, passed along the same request to Catherine so when we turned final after Kevin, she shifted to the side, and I was able to pull of what I felt was a great landing.  We taxied in and shut down by the pumps, then found that transient parking was down at the end, so taxied over there to park for a few hours.



Kevin, Shawn, and I all called Canadian customs for the obligatory (we’ll be there in 2 hrs) notice, then we caught up with the others in downtown Orcas Island for lunch.

Arrived in Concrete!

After waiting for a couple of hours in Bellingham for reasonable weather, we all got in the two planes (Catherine & I in the Spacewalker II, the rest in the beaver).  We took off and set course for Concrete.

The weather had indeed improved, but we were still limited to around 1200′ (which is 1000′ AGL) for this flight.  With the lower ceilings, we couldn’t take the more scenic route (to the base of Mt. Baker), but as it was cold and damp anyway, we just followed the most direct route down to around Sedro-Woolley, and then due East over to Concrete.

This was a bit of a bumpy flight as the winds were starting to pick up (Concrete is in a valley which acts as a wind funnel).  I’m sure there were times that Catherine was asking herself how she got into this, but patience, love and (most importantly) forgiveness are all virtues of hers.  I could feel the winds’ buffetting on the various controls, so I knew the landing wouldn’t be all that great, but I announced my intentions crossing midfield and set up on the downwind leg for runway 25.

Kevin and the beaver had landed ahead of us (they always seem to be able to leave after us, pass by, and land first), so I had a bunch of the Duncan crew out to grade my horrible landing.  Glad to have all the big pieces still (just kidding), we taxied over to a parking spot beside the beaver (leaving space for Trevor’s stearman that would be arriving tomorrow).

To be fair, Kevin had warned me about a bit of windshear off the approach to 25, and even though I was ready for it, I had been aiming for the numbers which was totally unnecessary with the length available in Concrete.  If I had come in a little slower (I was high and fast on final) and had been aiming for about 1/3 down the runway, everything would have come off much better…

Leaving for the Concrete Fly-In

We all met at 08:30 at the Duncan airport for a joint departure to the Concrete Fly-In.  Getting all our gear stowed into the Beaver was a lot of fun, and in the end, we all had to leave our collapsible chairs behind, due to physical space, not weight.

Catherine and I left first as we’re slower than the beaver, that way we’d all end up in Bellingham around the same time to clear customs.  The takeoff was a little rough, as it was my first at gross weight, and my first with a passenger (not the greatest visibility with someone sitting two feet straight in front of me :-)).

Once airborne, I tried calling Victoria Terminal.  They figured out who it was based on my squawk code, and cleared me to 3500′ as filed, but reported that they couldn’t hear my transmissions :-(.  Prior to leaving, we had duct taped in an intercom that worked great as an intercom, but apparently was interfering with outbound transmissions.  I told Catherine what was going on, then had to disconnect it, and plug directly into the radio.  That done, terminal could hear me just great, but Catherine was completely in the dark for what was coming next…

As we got closer to the mainland, terminal informed me that Bellingham was well below VFR (400′ ceilings and 2 miles visibility).  They cleared me lower (at my discretion) and handed me off to Bellingham Tower.  Calling Bellingham tower, they informed me of the latest weather (same as before), and I got the dreaded “please state your intentions”.  If you’re a pilot, you know that no tower will ever offer you special VFR, so you have to request it.  I made the call and requested special VFR into the Bellingham control zone, and I got it!  Remember that no tower is under any obligation to allow special VFR into or out of their control zone, so we could have had a very quick trip back home to try again later.

There ended up being three of us requesting special VFR, us, Kevin in the beaver, and a third that was inbound from Friday Harbor.  We actually got there just after the beaver, so he was cleared in first (even if a tower authorizes you for special VFR, typically only a single aircraft will be allowed into the control zone at a time).  Kevin was heading in, and we heard the transmissions back and forth between him and the tower as he picked his way between the various cell towers etc.

Once the tower had him in sight, and he landed, I got the “cleared in, maintain special VFR conditions etc.”, I swung the nose towards where the GPS said the airport was…  As a side note, the wait for the beaver to arrive was about 20 minutes of circling at 400′ half over the land, half over the water by the refinery.  I was picking my way towards the airport, when the tower asked for our distance to the airport.  I reported (from the GPS) the 4 miles and he asked me to turn around as he thought I was in closer when he gave me my initial clearance, and he had an IFR on final, sigh 🙁

Back to the refinery (ceilings were up to around 800′ out here, so I was able to relax a bit), we started making our circles in the sky while they cleared in the Friday Harbour plane after an IFR arrival touched down.  He did me (and himself I’m sure) a favour though, and allowed me to hold closer in to the control zone, so I staked out two intersections that were visible, and made my racetrack pattern around them waiting for the “…come on in” call.  Now that we were back in closer, this was all done at 400′ which is about 300′ AGL (above ground level).

After doing this for an additional 20 minutes, we were cleared in again, and asked to make our “…best possible speed” inbound.  Not really needing too much encouragement, I brought it up to high cruise and beelined down the highway towards the airport.  The tower called me in sight, just as I picked up the beacon and then the threshold of the runway.  Screaming in (which is 95kts for us), I brought the throttle back, slowed down, and got it down.  The landing was again a little rough as I hadn’t tried a landing with a passenger yet, but safely on the ground, we taxied in, found the customs box, and shut everything down.

The customs folks in Bellingham were great.  Kevin and crew who got to land ahead of us filled them in on the serious weather problems, and that counted as our (please inform customs if you’ll miss your alotted time).  I had made two mistakes on my eapis stuff, but they were very helpful, and ushered us through the steps quickly and most importantly without any penalties 😉

We got into the courtesy van and headed off to a local restaurant for lunch while we waited for the weather to improve.

Circuits Anyone?

Today was the day to take the plane to Nanaimo and work on my landings.

I hadn’t gotten the Contour camera mounted on the plane yet, but one of my students from Action Ultralights loaned me his GoPro camera, so I got it stuck on the forward fuselage before firing up.

On the first takeoff (leaving duncan), I wanted to try a tail low (but not quite 3 point) attitude instead of my normal (raise the tail fully) routine.  This is giving me more comfortable control of the plane, learning how to have it do what I want it to do instead of just plodding along.  It was nice just enjoying a bit of a cross country and getting to know the plane more.  The first thing I noticed is that the aileron trim tabs need a little tweaking, as I’m holding a little left rudder all the time…

For my first landing in Nanaimo, I tried my first wheel landing in the plane, and it went great!  Of course, the next two were miserable failures, porpoising down the runway, but at least I knew what was happening and how to recover…  The last three circuits got progressively better as I spent the time getting the final approach down in my head and the feel for the plane really started coming to me.

I taxied in and shut down to stretch my legs a bit before heading back.

I was feeling pretty good after my circuits in Nanaimo, so when I fired back up, the plan was to just come straight back to Duncan.  The FSS guy was great, it seems like he likes the Spacewalker II, and mentioned that he’d come by the Duncan airport some time.  Offering him a ride anytime, I firewalled the throttle and lept into the air 🙂

A quick trip back home (indicating 90kts at 2350RPM), and the normal Duncan arrival, brought me on final right where I wanted to be 🙂  With those landings in Nanaimo behind me, I was actually able to properly execute a wheel landing in Duncan!

For those of you who haven’t had the joy of flying into and out of the Duncan strip, it’s hard to explain how much of a chore doing the wheel landing is, but suffice to say I’m feeling particularly proud of myself 😉

Sadly, nobody was around the airport to congratulate me, but I’ve always got the video with the nice little chirp-chirp of the mains…