Uncategorized Stories

What a view! Could you imagine just seeing an L1011 on the beach?

What a view! Could you imagine just seeing an L1011 on the beach? – Photo: Jerome de Vries

I was recently in Cotonou for a 24-hour layover. Cotonou is the largest city of the small west African nation of Benin, and has become a secondary hub for emerging airline RwandAir. Taking advantage of its growing network, I booked a RwandAir ticket from Dakar, Senegal to Kigali, Rwanda via Cotonou. The transit stop included accommodation provided by the airline.

What is there to do in Cotonou? A quick Google search indicated that the closest attraction to the hotel was on the beach: an ‘amusement park’ called Air de Jeux Plage Erévan. This ‘park’ appeared to include a large-looking aircraft, so I decided to check it out. Little did I know the airframe was a historic Lockheed L1011 TriStar, full of amazing clues about its long and varied history around the world.

An L1011 on the beach, seen from space.

Mystery plane? – Image: Google Maps

On final for runway 14R at BFI in a Diamond DA-40 - this wasn't from our mountain-flying day, but it's too pretty of a photo to leave out of the article. Katie Bailey photo

On final for runway 14R at BFI in a Diamond DA-40 – this wasn’t from our mountain-flying day, but it’s too pretty of a photo to leave out of the article

 

This is a continuation of my multi-part series on learning to fly. You can read the whole Fly With Francis series here.

The lousy Pacific Northwest early spring weather notwithstanding, I’ve made good progress towards learning both the Garmin G1000 instrumentation and the Diamond DA-40 aircraft. We recently got a decent break in the weather that allowed a flight from Seattle across the Cascade Mountains to Ellensburg for some basic mountain flying training.

Cruising westbound at 6,500' over Snoqualmie Pass was an amazing experience. Katie Bailey photo

Cruising westbound at 6,500′ over Snoqualmie Pass was an amazing experience – Photo: Katie Bailey

I’ve got about 10 hours in the DA-40 now, all but one of them with Carl, my ever-patient CFI. I finally felt comfortable enough with the plane to take it out on my own last week, even though Carl had deemed me ready to do that about five flight hours previously. I just wanted a bit more time with the plane, as it’s quite a bit different than the Cessna 172, especially in that it’s a lot faster and a bit fussier when it comes to controls, and it’s got a constant-speed propeller (also sometimes referred to as a variable-pitch propeller) that needs tending to via a dedicated control lever.

If you’ve been following this series, you’ll have read a bit about route-finding through mountainous terrain in my December, 2020 story about my certification checkride. There are, pardon the pun, mountains of information and classes available concerning mountain flying. Here in western Washington state we’ve got a large mountain range to both the east (the Cascades) and the west (the Olympics), so it’s pretty much required reading if you want to fly beyond the Puget Sound area. Flying over and through the mountains also requires different training than is needed for landing in mountainous areas, so I’ll be tackling the landings next as my post-certification training continues.

The lakes at the summit of Snoqualmie Pass are quite distinctive and make great visual navigation checkpoints. Katie Bailey photo

The lakes at the summit of Snoqualmie Pass are quite distinctive and make great visual navigation checkpoints – Photo: Katie Bailey

Route-finding through mountainous terrain is definitely about avoiding the granite, but it’s also about doing your best to make sure you have options if something goes wrong in the air. If you need to land in a hurry, for whatever reason – be it mechanical issues or being surprised by unexpected bad weather – you want options. So, both the outbound and return routes followed Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass, which offered lower terrain, and a four-lane highway as an option for emergency landings, as well as a couple of mountain airstrips along the way. We flew the outbound leg at a higher altitude, and the return at a lower one to gain experience with both options.

Here we're adjusting the autopilot to turn a a bit more to the left while passing over Snoqualmie Pass in Washington state. Katie Bailey photo

Here we’re adjusting the autopilot to turn a a bit more to the left while passing over Snoqualmie Pass in Washington state – Photo: Katie Bailey

On a clear day with relatively smooth air, it was a glorious flight eastbound over the mountains at 9,500′, taking less than an hour to cover the 93 miles from Seattle to Ellensburg (which, for comparison, takes more than two hours by car via I-90).

On the downwind leg for landing at Ellensburg, Wash. Katie Bailey photo

On the downwind leg for landing at Ellensburg, Wash. – Photo: Katie Bailey

We practiced using the autopilot as much as possible, but it does require constant monitoring and adjustments to avoid clouds, while watching for other aircraft traffic, etc. Also, the DA-40 requires manually switching the two wing fuel tanks every 30 minutes to keep the load balanced, so watching for those alerts on the G1000 becomes part of your instrument scan.

Touching down on runway 29 at KELN. Katie Bailey photo

Touching down on runway 29 at KELN – Photo: Katie Bailey

The outbound flight went by quickly. After stopping to stretch our legs a bit at Ellensburg, it was back in the plane to enter the new flight plan into the nav system and head back to Seattle, this time through the pass at 4,500′ to 6,500′ (south and westbound flights are at even altitudes plus 500′, north and eastbound at odd altitudes).

While at ELN, we all visited the small mailbox outside the FBO containing the stamp for our Fly Washington passports. It’s a fun (and free) program to encourage pilots to visit airports in the state and log their adventures. If you’re a pilot (or have a pilot friend) in or near Washington state, I definitely recommend checking it out.

On short final for runway 32R back at KBFI. Katie Bailey photo

On short final for runway 32R back at KBFI – Photo: Katie Bailey

We had planned to fly at or below the tops of the mountain peaks traversing Snoqualmie Pass, but there was a fair bit of mountain-wave turbulence at 4,500′, so we climbed to 6,500′ into clear air – the DA-40 feels like it gets tossed around a bit more than the C172s in rough air. Mountain-wave turbulence happens on the downwind side of terrain, such as we experienced flying westbound into headwinds passing over the peaks. Mountain-wave turbulence and rotor waves are but two of the more uncomfortable/dangerous types of turbulence encountered in mountainous regions. Rapidly-forming clouds are another, especially when the temperature and dewpoint are within 3˚C of one another, so very thorough weather awareness, both pre-flight and updating in flight, are essentials.

More to come about mountain flying and, hopefully soon, the start of instrument training.

There are too many stories out there that promise new kinds of airplanes, amenities, and airports. We are not going to lie… when we see these stories, we get pumped.

“Radical…we can’t wait until we fly in an electric airliner that flies at three times the speed of sound and takes off and lands at an airport racetrack!”

We are told that these things are coming “very soon,” but we wait and wait and wait. Nothing. We have gotten sick and tired of getting emotionally AvGeek hurt (that is a thing) because these technologies never come through. Instead of just sitting around, we decided to do something about it!

INTRODUCING THE SlingPlane 5001-200NWN (No Wings Needed)

The SlingPlane 5001-200NWN

The SlingPlane 5001-200NWN… well an advance, high-tech drawing of it at least

We knew this endeavor of building our own plane was not going to be easy, but we have made such tremendous progress. We didn’t want to make the same mistakes of the others who had tried before us, so we quickly skimmed all their business plans (aka looked at the photos) and made solid assumptions on what went wrong. Here are the most common issues we found that led to failure:

A Southwest Air 737-700 seen at BDL. - Photo: JL Johnson

A Southwest Air 737-700 seen at BDL – Photo: JL Johnson

A few weeks ago I posted about how I was ready to fly. This is a follow-up to that story. You can start there (link opens in a new tab), or this story can also stand on its own.

I recently completed my first COVID-era trip. My AvGeek wife and I flew to Connecticut on Southwest with the following routing: MCI-MDW-BDL-BWI-MCI. Two years ago our trip wouldn’t have been noteworthy nor deserving of an AirlineReporter piece. But here we are. Everything is different in our new reality and frankly any chance to fly (even to cold places despite a brutal winter) is special.

Once the lockdowns began and the reality of the pandemic set in, I decided I needed to remain grounded until a vaccine became available and I had it in my arm. Not for risk to myself, but to protect others and not allow myself to be an unwitting vector for transmission. My decision came with a serious sense of FOMO (fear of missing out.) Airfares plummeted, airlines were flying planes nearly empty, terminals seemed abandoned, and hundreds of planes were put into storage. Heck some planes were parked on perfectly good runways for lack of space elsewhere. I say all of this to underscore a point. There were many reasons why I really wanted to get out there. But I resisted.

As I booked my first trip in over a year I wondered if upon getting back out there I would regret waiting to be fully vaccinated before flying. Perhaps all of the PR that airlines, airports, and their lobbying groups had pushed could be trusted? Maybe it was indeed safe to fly?