Flying the first Citation CJ3 with Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion

MFD Satellite Weather - Winds Aloft, NEXRAD.
CJ3 Fusion Line Up and Wait
CJ3 Fusion Line Up and Wait

Pro Line Fusion Citation CJ3 First Flight

A State-of-the-Art Avionics Upgrade

Spring/Summer 2017

Update Log:

  • August 7, 2017 – new content and videos on flight planning, navigation, and weather.

Note:  Due to the size of the photos, their resolution in the blog is scaled down.  To view higher resolution images, most photos link to higher res with a click.  This is a very long blog!  I tried to keep it short, however Pro Line Fusion is a very capable avionics suite and even at this length, I only barely touch the surface!

I had been looking forward to flying the CJ3 with Rockwell Collins’ new Pro Line Fusion avionics systems since the upgrade program was conceptualized 2 years ago. The CJ3 jets were originally outfitted with the Pro Line 21 avionics suite which is a extremely capable system, but as with all technology, didn’t match the full capabilities of newer aircraft avionics. Cessna has been delivering the CJ3+ with Garmin 3000 avionics since 2015 which offers the latest Garmin technology, but until Fusion was announced there were no advanced system upgrades for the CJ3, other than WAAS and other enhancements to the Pro Line 21. The Garmin 3000 is a great system, offering touch controllers, high resolution displays, and other enhancements over previous Garmin systems such as the G1000, which in itself was a transformative change when released.

Rockwell has been using the Fusion system in other platforms for a short time, and recently had installed them in the venerable Beechcraft King Air, which now offers them as a factory installed system. It was this system that Rockwell elected to customize for the Citation CJ3.

The Pro Line Fusion is unique in many ways, including the incorporation of touch screen technology in the PFD (Primary Flight Display) – a first for the aviation industry. While others have utilized touch controllers (G3000) or touch sensitive navigation displays (Garmin GTN series) this was a bold move by Rockwell to explore this technology.

I attended a brief system familiarization course at Textron’s Tru Simulation and Training Proflight center in a King Air 250 FTD (Flight Training Device). While helpful for basic familiarization,  nothing is like flying and teaching in the same aircraft model

The upgrade program engineering is extensive, and took over a year for Rockwell Collins and Duncan Aviation to design, install, fine-tune, fly, and obtain FAA approval for this system. A CJ3 owner graciously gave up use of his airplane for a year, so it could be used as a test bed. On Friday April 21, 2017, the FAA granted the approval STC to Rockwell Collins for the CJ3. It was only a few months later than anticipated, however it was worth the wait.

On April 26, Dave Lenz picked up his airplane at Cedar Rapids and made a few flights with Dale McPherson one of the Rockwell test pilots. After they landed it was now up to Dave and I to explore the aircraft. It was great to have the opportunity to teach, and fly, the first CJ3 with Fusion. Our first flight was short – Cedar Rapids IA (CID) to Madison WI (MSN).

It was helpful to have read the 838 pages of the Fusion Operating and Installation Manuals prior to the flight, but trying to remember everything was a challenge and clearly wasn’t possible. Rockwell Collins has a few YouTube videos explaining some of the basic functions which are helpful. While it is clearly a different technology architecture, previous experience with Pro Line 21 provided the basis for many of the FMS (Flight Management System) features, outside of that is is vastly different.

After 40 hours with the Rockwell Pro Line Fusion installation, I’m still learning about all of its capabilities.  My intent with this review to offer you a glimpse into this powerful suite, not to cover every aspect of its operation.  My goal is to constantly update this blog as I teach, and fly the CJ3 over the next several months.

The System Architecture

The Fusion system is comprised of 3 Adaptive Flight Displays (AFD). Rockwell Collins also names them Display Units (DU), in case you get confused like I do sometimes. Each AFD (DU) can serve as an MFD (Multi-Function Display) or a Primary Flight Display (PFD), depending upon configuration. This also is useful when an individual display is not functioning, the other displays can show the information from the inoperative display.

CJ3 Fusion MFD MAP Co-Pilot PFD Full
CJ3 Fusion MFD MAP display – Co-Pilot PFD full screen

All of the data is entered on the AFDs, either by utilizing touch on the displays themselves, or through actions using the Cursor Control Panels (CCP) and Multi-Function Keyboard Panel (MKP).  These multiple methods of entry are one of the most powerful features of Fusion.

Controls

The CCPs (one for each pilot) and the MKP (which pilots share) are located on the center pedestal.  This is the same location that previously housed the FMS display and Keyboard for the Pro Line 21.  The location of these controls is a natural reach for both pilots and enables the pilots to use either these controls, the touch screens directly, or both in conjunction for screen navigation and entry.  The most optimal method for me is to first touch the AFD field I want, then use the CCP and MKP to do my data entry.  As you can see in the photos, the autopilot CRS, ALT, and HDG controls have moved to the top of the pedestal, still in easy reach.

CJ3 Fusion Pedestal Note CRQ HDG ALT Knobs at Top
CJ3 Fusion Pedestal Note CRQ HDG ALT Knobs at Top
CJ3 Pro Line 21 Pedestal
CJ3 Pro Line 21 Pedestal

Cursor Control Panel (CCP)

The CCPs have several functions that can mimic, or enhance, touch functions on the AFDs. The controller (RC terms this a Multifunction Knob) serves as a joystick for movement on the AFDs, selection of fields for data entry, and select list data – hence the name.  Pilots rotate the controller  to tab between fields (using the outer knob) and move to select a field within a scrollable list (more on that later).  Pushing on the knob also serves as one of several ways to confirm entry of data.

Cursor Control Panel - CCP
Cursor Control Panel – CCP

These panels also have a number of other keys that provide quick access to functions such as; TCAS enablement on HSI (TFC), context-sensitive menu operation (MENU) that displays various menus depending upon the location of your cursor, frequency management (TUNE/Swap, COM 1/2 for select the radio to tune),  MFD  and PFD buttons to select which AFD to be controlled by the Multi-Function Knob on the CCP.   

Since both pilots have access to the MFD, the system needs to know which pilot is navigating the MFD AFD.  On each CCP there is a ‘MFD’ key, which selects the active pilot CCP. A great feature is when the Pilot selects MFD, their cursor shows up as a 4-Pointer, while the Co-Pilot would be a 3-Pointer.

CJ3 Fusion Pilot Cursor - MFD Home Position
CJ3 Fusion Pilot Cursor – MFD Home Position – note 4 point cursor in upper left corner
CJ3 Fusion Copilot Cursor - MFD - Home Position
CJ3 Fusion Copilot Cursor – Note 3 point cursor in upper right corner

Multifunction Keyboard Panel – MKP

The Multifunction Keyboard Panel (MKP) is extremely powerful.  In addition to the keyboard – which is now  in QWERTY format, the MKP contains a number of quick access function keys, and joystick.  Pro Line 21 pilots will see  familiar keys such as CHART, however many are new.  The EXEC (Execute) function which enables the pilot to commit a flight plan change, after reviewing the potential change on the screen, works the same as in Pro Line 21.    The EXEC function is also available on all AFDs, more on that later.

CJ3 Fusion Multifunction Keyboard Panel
CJ3 Fusion Multifunction Keyboard Panel

  MKP Short Cut Commands

Two very cool features are the Quick (QIK) Tune (I call it the Magic Key) and the Memory keys.  The Quick Tune function is simply awesome!  When you enter a frequency or transponder code into the scratch pad – the system intelligently determines if that number is a COM, NAV, or Transponder code.  For example, if you enter 11975 it will ‘propose’ it is a COM frequency (119.75) ; conversely if you enter 114.00 it is a NAV, and if it is 4576 – a Transponder code.  If it is an ambiguous frequency, then it provides numerous options.  It’s proposed selection is displayed on the lower portion of the MFD (the center AFD).  Of course you could also enter the frequency directly into each radio by touching the screen or use direct tune knobs on the CCP, but this is very cool especially when you are busy.

CJ3 Fusion - MFD Showing COM Frequency Selections at the bottom
MFD showing radio frequency selections using Quick Tune
CJ3 Fusion | Quick Tune | Transponder
CJ3 Fusion | Quick Tune | Transponder Code Entry

The cursor and zoom functions are now combined into one knob, facilitating navigating around the MFD maps. The Direct To button also has additional capabilities beyond those present in Pro Line 21. Selecting the Direct To button brings the Direct window to the foreground of the MFD.

Display Configurations

Each AFD, whether it is the pilot’s or co-pilot’s PFD or the MFD, can be split into ‘panes’.  You can display different data in each pane, however as I found out there are some configurations that are not possible.  For example you can’t display an FMS above a Map, the FMS must have it’s own pane.  When you want to split the AFD, you can select the Gear icon on the PFDs, or the Home icon on any AFD.  This presents you with a dialog pop-up to select the desired configuration. Some features such as Checklist or Video are not currently implemented in Fusion.  The Video option would be useful for Enhanced Vision or FLIR.

Splitting the AFDs - Format Selection for combining views.
Splitting the AFDs – Format Selection for combining views.

 

CJ3 Fusion - PFD Split with Map. Note: I did this photo in a simulator so the WX and TCAS show 'Fail'.
CJ3 Fusion – PFD Split with Map. Note: I did this photo in a simulator so the WX and TCAS show ‘Fail’.

Another great feature is the Display Memory function.  In the Pro Line 21, we had 3 memory storage locations used to configure the MFD display.  Generally pilots would use 1 for the FMS, 2 for personal configuration, and 3 for weather.  With Fusion, Rockwell Collins has given the pilots 8 configurable memory locations to store the AFD display configurations.  This feature is extremely powerful – setting the configuration of not only the MFD but also the PFDs.  Six are preset at installation (EMER,  Taxi, T/O, Cruise, Descent, Apr), and 2 can be easily configured by the pilot (User A and User B).  In working with the system we found how to program all 8, which makes sense rather than restricting the pilot to only 2 configurable memory locations.

CJ3 Fusion -Screen Memory Keys
CJ3 Fusion -Screen Memory Keys
CJ3 Fusion - Cruise Display Memory Configuration
CJ3 Fusion – Cruise Display Memory Configuration

We also found that as experience with the system progressed, different configurations were more appropriate.  Depending upon whether you fly the CJ3  Single Pilot or Crew, you may wish to have different display configurations. The Memory Screens are just for quick access, of course you can change the configuration to any one of dozens of options at any time.


Another great feature are the Quick Keys on the MKP for MFD display selections.  The MAP, FMS, CHKL (Checklist), CHART, D, SYS, CAS, DEP/ARR, TUNE/DLNK keys are a direct method of select that function for display on the MFD.  For example, pressing MAP once brings the window to the front of a split display, pressing it again will fill the screen.  Pressing it a third time will return to a split display.  I found that I used this function frequently when flying and desiring direct access to that feature.  One thing I would like to have is a direct quick link to the Weather.  One option would be to program one of the User display memories for that use.

CJ3 Fusion Multifunction Keyboard Panel - MFD Quck Keys
CJ3 Fusion Multifunction Keyboard Panel – MFD Quck Keys

Display Controls

Pro Line Fusion has introduced additional instrument panels controls for the system.  They have added Control Inhibit switches.  So why would you need to turn off the touch controls?  Well, the screen do get overloaded with fingerprints and to clean them with the system on, you simple disable the touch sensitivity and use the cleaners.  In addition, if for some rare situation where the touch system is creating problems you can turn it off, and operate the system solely by use of the CCP and MKP.

The other switches Revert the displays in the case of emergencies.

Rockwell Collins also included side mounted switches to control the Checklist function, which isn’t operative in this software release.  The system also now includes dedicated Baro and Radar Tilt controls on the panel.

Pro Line Fusion CJ3 Display Control - Pilot All Normal
Pro Line Fusion CJ3 Display Control – Pilot All Normal
CJ3 Fusion Baro and Radar Controls
CJ3 Fusion Baro and Radar Controls

Navigating the Displays

Unique to  aviation is the incorporation of certified touch-enabled PFDs that are a key component of the Pro Line Fusion.  While some avionics manufacturers may also offer touch screen MFDs, the Fusion system offers some unique capabilities.  Since only portions of the PFD are enabled for touch, you may forget which ones.  It is simple to find out, just touch the screen on the side and the ‘hot spots’ appear on the PFD to show you the active regions.

CJ3 Fusion PFD Touch-Active Regions
CJ3 Fusion PFD Touch-Active Regions

One example of using the hot spots is for V-Speed entry.  V Speed Entry is manual in the Fusion system versus the using the performance database in Pro Line 21. Touching the Airspeed tape will bring up the V-Speed/Mins dialog.  This can also be activated by pressing the ‘Gear’ icon at the bottom of the PFD and configuring via the PFD Config Dialog Box.

CJ3 Fusion Vspeeds-Mins
CJ3 Fusion Vspeeds-Mins
Another way to set the V Speeds using the PFD 'Gear' and Config Window
Another way to set the V Speeds using the PFD ‘Gear’ and Config Window

On to the Flying

Now that I’ve given you a brief introduction to the architecture, it is time to pre-flight the system and fly!

First – Check Status – Initialize System

One of the first steps is to check the status of the system (Databases, GNSS, Position, etc), initialize our weight and fuel, calculate performance parameters, and load a flight plan.  These functions can be accomplished using the Ground Clearance switch which powers up PFD1, required minimum systems, GNSS1, and COM1, which allows for configuration utilizing minimal battery power.  Alternatively the same functions can be completed using any of the AFDs on the Setup Page in the FMS Window.

CJ3 Fusion Setup | Status | FMS
CJ3 Fusion Setup | Status | FMS
CJ3 Fusion Setup| Status | Database
CJ3 Fusion Setup| Status | Database

While the Pro Line 21 system automatically sensed the fuel load on board the aircraft and pre-entered the data into the setup page (Perf Init in Pro Line 21), Rockwell Collins elected not to provide this function in the initial release.  The Pro Line 21 system also computes the takeoff and landing performance parameters (V Speeds, crosswind components, runway performance, etc) while Fusion does not at this time, requiring the pilot to manually enter the data.  While manual calculation is not onerous, it is much more efficient and accurate to incorporate these functions within the avionics.  Rockwell has stated they will release it in a later version, however it would have been nice to have the same functionality as the Pro Line 21 at release.

CJ3 Fusion Setup | Weight & Fuel MSN
CJ3 Fusion Setup | Weight & Fuel MSN

Loading The Flight Plan

The Pro Line series excels at flight plan data entry, and the Pro Line Fusion is no exception.  As mentioned, you can load flight plans using either Plan or Fly pages – however only Plan will support Airway inclusion directly.  Once the Airways are loaded, you can see the full waypoint detail in Fly, and of course modify as needed.

The Scratchpad, a hallmark of the Pro Line 21, is still present in Fusion.  For the pilots who have used it, and the ones that haven’t yet, the Scratchpad is very powerful for quick data entry.  It is very useful for entering intersections defined by crossing radials – e.g.  MZB 293 and SLI 148 is simply entered MZB293/SLI 148 and Paste the value.  If you need to cross 30 miles before JLI – then JLI/-30 and Paste the value.

Here is a relatively simple flight plan – KMYF (Montgomery Field) to KTOA (Torrance) with a clearance of:  After Departure Left to 270, Radar Vectors MZB 293 radial to intercept SLI  140 radial, SLI direct TOA – with an ILS to RW29R.  The MZB 293 – SLI 140 radial is entered in the scratchpad as MZB293/SLI140 and pasted into the Flight Plan, which shows as MZB001 – a temporary waypoint.

Flight Planning KMYF - KTOA with a Radial-Radial Intersection just pasted in the plan
Flight Planning KMYF – KTOA with a Radial-Radial Intersection just pasted in the plan
Selecting waypoints from a list of similar Idents.
Selecting waypoints from a list of similar Idents.
Selecting departure runway at KMYF - RW28R.
Selecting departure runway at KMYF – RW28R.

 

Selecting the KAYOH5 Arrival at KTOA.
Selecting the KAYOH5 Arrival at KTOA.
Selecting ILS 29R at KTOA with a transition.
Selecting ILS 29R at KTOA with a transition.

The Flight Plan page does not show all of the waypoint detail for airways or approaches.  That information is visible on the Legs page.

Of course – you need to Execute the flight plan by pressing EXEC.  The system prompts the pilot on the AFDs as well as illuminates the EXEC button  at the bottom of the FMS pages in yellow.

CJ3 Fusion Execute Message
CJ3 Fusion Execute Message
CJ3 Fusion - PFD Split with Map. Note: I did this photo in a simulator so the WX and TCAS show 'Fail'.
CJ3 Fusion – PFD Split with Map. Note: I did this photo in a simulator so the WX and TCAS show ‘Fail’.
Map view -approaching MZB001 (MZB293/SLI140).
MFD Map view -approaching MZB001 (MZB293/SLI140).

Departure Procedures

Departure and arrival procedures, including approaches, are loaded into the flight plan using the Dep/Arr button  The photo below show a curved departure, GROMO 4, on a recent flight from Yakima Washington (KYKM).  While initially the departure looks somewhat complex, the Fusion system makes it simple.  Since it is an RNAV departure, the Flight Director and Auto Pilot greatly facilities flying it, and it was fun flying the arc.

PFD showing the SID Arc at Yakima - KYKM
PFD showing the SID Arc at Yakima – KYKM

Complex Flight Plan – Denver to Chicago 

Setting up a complex flight plan into one of the world’s busiest airports takes just a few minutes with Fusion.  With this scenario, we are departing Denver (KDEN) with a clearance that contains a departure, joining an airway, then an arrival into Chicago O’Hare (KORD).  Our flight plan is:

KDEN 34L.EEONS5.WYNDM DRABS J60 IOW TRIDE SHAIN1 KORD

To show you how the same flight plan, and initialization, would be accomplished in the Pro Line 21 I’ve created the video below.  The initialization process is simplified in Fusion, however the flight plan logic is very similar with enhancements in Fusion that make the process easier.  In addition, of course you can program the flight plans on any of the AFDs (PFDs or MFD).

 

CJ3 Pro Line 21 – Initialization and Flight Plan Entry

 

Cruising

Pro Line Fusion provides what seems an almost unlimited number of display options, offering the pilot a wide variety of flight plan management capability and situational awareness configurations.

One advantage of a long cross county with Pro Line Fusion, is you get a chance to explore all of the display options and features!  Sometimes it is even more important to just look outside and appreciate the unique opportunity to pilot such aircraft at 45,000 feet.

Sometimes it is just nice to look outside - and enjoy the view from Fl450
Sometimes it is just nice to look outside – and enjoy the view from Fl450

Crossing Restrictions

Entering Crossing Restrictions (e.g.  10 miles east of JLI at 10000) is easy with Pro Line 21 and Fusion offers even additional methods.  Here are some  of techniques to enter the data.

  1. Graphically on the Map.  You can touch the waypoint on your map, and the Waypoint menu appears – Select Crossing and the Crossing options shown below.
  2. Waypoint Icon – Plan or Fly Page.  Touch the Waypoint ICON (Note- it is easy to forget and touch the Waypoint name) for the Waypoint menu, Select Crossing and the Crossing options appear in another pop-up dialog/menu.
  3. Waypoint Field. – Flight Plan or Fly Page.  This is the easiest – just to the right of the Waypoint is a field – touch it and you can directly access the Crossing menu.

NOTE: If the Crossing Restriction requires a specific distance from the waypoint, you must first enter a temporary waypoint ‘Along Track’, which is shown in the photos below.  This example is creating a descent point, for my own planning, of a temporary waypoint  10nm west of Missoula (KMSO).

 

Crossing Restriction before a way point - First step is to define distance from the waypoint
Crossing Restriction before a way point – First step is to define distance from the waypoint – Note the Waypoint Menu pops-up.
Crossing Restriction before a way point - Second step is to select condition (e.g. AT), altitude (5000), IAS (if applicable)
Crossing Restriction before a way point – Second step is to select condition (e.g. AT), altitude (5000), IAS (if applicable). One easy method is simply to touch the empty field to the right of the new waypoint KMSO001 and the Crossing Dialog appears.
Crossing Restriction before a way point - Third step - flight plan modification is Executed (EXEC)
Crossing Restriction before a way point – Third step – flight plan modification is Executed (EXEC)

Direct To Navigation

Always during a flight, the pilot is directed – or requests, to fly direct to a waypoint.  Pro Line Fusion offers multiple methods to achieve the same objective.  Pilots can use the dedicated Direct To button on the MKP, which then displays a waypoint window on the MFD, or use touch in a variety of methods.  The video below demonstrates some of these techniques.

Position Information – Winds Aloft, Nav Progress, and the Kitchen Sink!

Fusion introduces a great method to obtain detailed information on your flight’s progress as well as current information at your position. Fusion adds additional flight progress information to what was available on Pro Line 21.  The Pos Report page, accessible from the Fly icon, provides a great status of your progress, including DTG (Distance to Go),  Course, Fuel, etc.  A very useful feature is the Current Position Status (my term).  By touching the aircraft icon on the MFD, a status window appears.   As you can see in the photo (remember to select the photo for higher resolution image) you see detailed winds aloft, temperatures, RNP, track detail, and other information.  I haven’t seen a system that can display so much information on a flight concurrently on one screen.

Position Report and Aircraft Position Detail Reports.
Position Report and Aircraft Position Detail Reports.

Arrival and Approaches 

As with so many other features of Pro Line Fusion, there are a large number of methods to select an approach or arrival at an airport.  As shown above for the departure, you can select the Dep/Arr button on the Plan or Fly pages.

Perhaps a very unique method is to access arrivals by selecting the ‘feathers’ on the runway approaches depicted on the MFD at the airport icon.  As you can see by the MFD photo below, there are ‘feathers’ that depict instrument approaches to runways.  Rockwell Collins has displayed the feathers using the orientation of the runways – a great way to spatial orient a pilot to the airport.  While we have always been taught to visualize the runways at an airport, this method is far superior to guide the pilot.  With Fusion, you can simply touch one of the arrows and the available approaches appear on a pop-up dialog box.  I found it very useful when evaluating alternative airports along the route, or when I simply wanted to pick an approach at an airport.

MFD showing the 'feathers' that represent airport approaches.
MFD showing the ‘feathers’ that represent airport approaches.
Selecting Arrivals by touching the airport on the MFD - KCOS
Selecting Arrivals by touching the airport on the MFD – KCOS.

Detail view of Approach

With the Fly page (previously known as Legs page in Pro Line 21), the pilot sees additional detail that isn’t available on the Plan page.  You also have the option of collapsing, or expanding all of the detail.  I found it was useful to expand the detail and also use the ‘Window’ function on the MFD, which superimposes a progress window in the bottom center of the MFD.  Here is a photo of a Fly page showing the detail of our approach into KMSN.

Fly page, with expanded detail, depicting information for the approach into Madison WI, KMSN.
Fly page, with expanded detail, depicting information for the approach into Madison WI, KMSN.

Landing Phase

While previously available on other avionics platforms for a number of years, the inclusion of high resolution Synthetic Vision (Syn Vis) with Fusion is a welcome addition to the Pro Line series.  The Fusion synthetic vision is also coupled with sophisticated graphics that greatly add to situational awareness for the pilot on approach.  The photos below show a comparison between Syn Vis graphics on the PFD and the external view.  As you can see there is a high degree of clarity with the Syn Vis, including buildings.  It is so clear on this flight in Madison Wisconsin (KMSN) that you can almost make out the UW campus!

The PFD also displays a runway extension, flight path markers, acceleration markers (the horizontal caret) and well as distance markers (10,5) that help the pilot determine the distance to the threshold.  Also note the fingerprints!!  A critical cockpit resource is a screen cleaner!

PFD with Synthetic Vision view on ILS for KMSN. Note the detail of the buildings and rivers.
PFD with Synthetic Vision view on ILS for KMSN. Note the detail of the buildings and rivers.
External view of the approach into Madison - KMSN.
External view of the approach into Madison – KMSN.

Terrain Awareness

The Pro Line Fusion system has an extremely detailed, and powerful, terrain warning system.  It offers both absolute, and relative, terrain awareness.  With Relative Terrain display settings Fusion colorizes terrain based upon the clearance risk level, rather than absolute heights.  This assists the pilot by alerting them to terrain that poses the greatest risk of impact.   Below  is a photo of the terrain while on the ground at Scottsdale (KSDL) which shows the great detail of the display.

CJ3 Fusion Relative Terrain SDL MSN
CJ3 Fusion Relative Terrain SDL MSNm – Note RTerr setting under the Terr button

Placing the Terrain in TOPO mode removes the  TAWS color levels.  In any case, the TAWS will always alert the pilot of impending collision with terrain. The photo below also shows the VFR Theme which displays airspace.

CJ3 Fusion - Scottsdale Departure - Topo Terrain -VFR Theme
CJ3 Fusion – Scottsdale Departure – Topo Terrain -VFR Theme

Weather

One of the coolest features of Pro Line Fusion is the outstanding number of weather display options.  In addition to onboard Radar, XM/Sirius Weather, you can also add the optional Datalink Request system for weather.  I’m only describing the tip of the iceberg, if you can forgive the weather pun!  Fusion provides an amazing number of display options, and you can only begin to explore them all over several cross country flights.

Configuring Weather for Display

The pilot can display weather on any one of the AFDs, either as an overlay on the MAP, or a dedicated Weather window to display graphical or text weather.  While the Pro Line 21 suite offered a robust list of weather options for display on the MFD, usually be accessing the menu through one of the MEM keys, the Fusion pilot must configure their display.  As noted earlier, this would be a great use of one of the Display Memory keys – perhaps User A or User B.

Splitting the PFD for Weather

These photos show how to split a PFD to select and  display the text Weather selection.

CJ3 Fusion | Splitting PFD Display - PFD Config
CJ3 Fusion | Splitting PFD Display – PFD Config
CJ3 Fusion | Splitting PFD Display - Format Selection for Display Panes
CJ3 Fusion | Splitting PFD Display – Format Selection for Display Panes
CJ3 Fusion | Splitting PFD Display - WX Text Selection
CJ3 Fusion | Splitting PFD Display – WX Text Selection
CJ3 Fusion | Splitting PFD Display - Text - METAR TAF
CJ3 Fusion | Splitting PFD Display – Text – METAR TAF
CJ3 Fusion - SIGMET Weather Window
CJ3 Fusion – SIGMET Weather Window

Below is a video showing how to split the PFD screen into multiple windows with weather and onboard weather Radar.

 

 

Simultaneous NEXRAD and Onboard Radar

One of the great enhancements is the ability to see NEXRAD weather along side the onboard Radar on the PFD.  You can split the PFD and display the images along side the aircraft Radar.  For some pilots it may be too much information on the PFD, however this is one of my favorite configurations when flying through weather.  Of course you can also overlay weather on the MFD.

Simultaneously displaying Map, NEXRAD, Satellite, and onboard Radar on the PFD.
Simultaneously displaying Map, NEXRAD, Satellite, and onboard Radar on the PFD.

Additional Weather Displays

MFD with multiple weather overlays and Departure Theme
MFD with multiple weather overlays and Departure Theme

 

MFD Satellite Weather - Winds Aloft, NEXRAD.
MFD Satellite Weather – Winds Aloft, NEXRAD.

Data Link Weather

The Datalink  system, an option,  is useful if you are flying in an area that is not covered by XM/Sirius Weather services.  It is an air-to-ground system that uses a dedicated antenna to obtain weather, Digital ATIS and CPLDC (Controller Pilot Link Data Communications) information. .  You simply submit a request through Fusion for a wide variety of weather products, which is then transmitted to the ground and the reply is displayed after a short interval on the screen.  Datalink services can also be used to obtain Digital ATIS and other data.

Requesting Winds Aloft through the Datalink System.
Requesting Winds Aloft through the Datalink System.

 

Using Datalink for Weather. Requesting the Winds Aloft item which is then displayed. Note the 'DL' in the upper right as the data source.
Using Datalink for Weather. Requesting the Winds Aloft item which is then displayed. Note the ‘DL’ in the upper right as the data source.

 

CJ3 Fusion Datalink WX - KYKM
CJ3 Fusion Datalink WX – KYKM

You can display weather in a number of windows, and overlays.  Graphical weather is easy to understand, however a handy legend does help to decode the colors.

Winds Aloft

The photo below shows the XM Winds Aloft data along with computed winds aloft information from the onboard Air Data Computers in a separate window on the PFD.  You can also overlay any weather on the MFD. It provides a convenient method of comparing forecasts with actual flight conditions.

You can concurrently display calculated Aircraft data and XM Winds Aloft
You can concurrently display calculated Aircraft data and XM Winds Aloft

TCAS – Traffic Collision Avoidance System

Both Pro Line 21 and Fusion offer robust TCAS II systems.  Their audio warnings and commands are the same, however their graphical representation of how to avoid conflicting traffic differ.  Pro Line 21 provides vertical deviation commands on the Altitude Tape, providing a green bar for the pilot to maintain.  The Pro Line Fusion provides an even more complete graphical reference for the pilot by showing red areas to avoid, and a green box within which the pilot keeps the airplane.  Also note the difference in pitch ladder resolution between the two systems.

 

CJ3 Pro Line 21 TCAS Test
CJ3 Pro Line 21 TCAS Test
CJ3 Fusion TCAS Test - Fly in the Green Box to avoid traffic conflicts
CJ3 Fusion TCAS Test – Fly in the Green Box to avoid traffic conflicts

Failure Modes

We all hope that our avionics continue to operate, however in the rare case that one display fails Pro Line Fusion will automatically fail over the data from the inoperative display to another one.  Simulating a pilot PFD failure, Fusion puts the MFD into Reversionary Mode – combining the information from both displays.

CJ3 Fusion PFD Failure - Reversionary Mode
CJ3 Fusion PFD Failure – Reversionary Mode to MFD

Conclusion

I don’t know if there is a conclusion! After spending a lot of time with Pro Line Fusion, taking 1400 photographs of the system, and a large number of hours writing, I could still spend more time exploring its capabilities.  A pilot familiar with Pro Line 21 can learn the system in a few days and operate the system proficiently, however they will only discover its full power over time, similar to some of the more advanced avionics now available to pilots.

Pro Line Fusion is definitely an significant jump in capability over Pro Line 21.  I still enjoy flying the later system, however the Fusion system is definitely worth evaluating this upgrade path.  For those CJ3 Pro Line 21 operators anticipating adding WAAS and ADS-B out to their existing aircraft, upgrading to Fusion at an approximate cost of $325,000 which includes those functions is worth evaluating.

I worked on the software for the first HUD for Flight Dynamics, later to be purchased by Rockwell Collins.  I would love to see that system integrated into Fusion.

While I enjoy using Fusion, there are still some issues that Rockwell Collins will need to resolve, such as Vspeeds, Performance, ADS-B in, and some usability changes.  Of course, I’m very particular and I can always find ways to improve aircraft systems!

ICON A5 Review – Grab your water shoes, beach towel and swimsuit!

ICON A5 Light Sport Amphibian Review – Quite a machine

Rich Beaching at Eagle Island - ICON A5 Review
Rich Beaching at Eagle Island – A5

On an earlier blog I wrote about obtaining my Commercial Seaplane Rating in Alaska, you may have read how much fun it is to fly a floatplane (seaplane rating per the FAA). I had a blast flying the Pacer and Super Cub on floats – splashing around on lakes in Alaska. Recently, again in Alaska, I had the opportunity to experience a ride in a 1942 Grumman Goose amphibian (only 17 left in the world) and Lake Renegade amphibian, as well as fly a Cessna 180 on floats.

ICON Aircraft offered me the opportunity to be one of the first pilots to participate in their new training program and fly their amazing Light Sport Seaplane amphibian – the ICON A5. I have a deposit on a future A5, however my particular aircraft probably won’t be available for a few years.

The ICON A5 is in a relatively new class of Light Sport aircraft, which opens an incredibly wide range of opportunities for pilots; Sport Pilots and Private/Commercial Pilots alike. Officially it is a Light Sport Aircraft-Single Engine Sea (LSA-ASES). While there have been other great LSA-ASES on the market, this one has probably garnered the most interest recently.



I won’t go into the full details of the FAA Sport Pilot license (SPL) in this blog (more details at AOPA or EAA), however basically it allows a faster method to obtain a pilot’s license. In as little at 20 hours (most people require more time) you can obtain a Sport Pilot License to fly an airplane, lighter-than-air (balloon), weight-shift, or gyroplane depending upon your training. Training for a floatplane rating, will take some additional flight and instruction time.

With a Sport Pilot license there are some limitations in comparison to Private Pilot license (PPL). You are limited in the size of the aircraft you can fly, where you can fly, when you can fly (no night and high altitude flying), and can only take one passenger. Even with these limitations, it is a great avenue to obtain a pilot’s license and have a lot of fun, and you can always progress to the less-limited Private Pilot’s License later!  One of the nice aspects of a Light Sport aircraft, is you can also use it for training for a Private Pilot’s license, usually at a lower cost.

If you already have a Private Pilot’s license, you can fly any Light Sport Aircraft that matches your category and class (e.g. single engine airplane land). In order to add a Sport Pilot additional aircraft category and class (e.g. single engine seaplane) to your PPL you follow the Sport Pilot additional rating process.   Upon completion of the SP training you take a Proficiency Check – rather than a Practical Test. The Proficiency Check is very similar to the Practical Test except it is administered by a CFI.  You can also use a Light Sport aircraft, like the A5, to add a full rating to your Private or Commercial Pilot’s license which would then require a check ride with a Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE), similar to the SPL Proficiency Check.  It may seem a bit confusing at first, especially since you have so many options, however the process is fairly easy.

The Aircraft

The ICON A5’s primary structure is carbon-fiber for strength and light weight. Weighing in at a max gross weight of 1510 lbs., it has a maximum useful load of 500 lbs and fuel capacity of 20 gallons (100LL or Unleaded 91 Octane automobile fuel). Powered by a very smooth Rotax 912iSc, fuel injected engine, running a propeller at a maximum 5800 RPM (4800-5000 RPM in cruise), producing 100 HP. With a fully digital Engine Control Unit (ECU), it provides a modern way to power an aircraft, with automatic ignition and fuel/air management. This is definitely the way to power piston aircraft.

ICON A5 N184BA on ramp at KVCB
A5 N184BA – one of my aircraft for training at KVCB

All light sport aircraft have a gross weight restriction; in the case of LSA-SES it is 1430. ICON was able to convince the FAA to allow them a higher gross weight due to some great aircraft design features, including a parachute system, the Complete Aircraft Parachute (CAP) provided by BRS – similar to the one in my Cirrus SR22. The ICON A5 CAP is very unique, when you deploy the parachute an interconnect also lowers the landing gear to further soften your emergency landing.

The Numbers – A5 Specs at a Glance

  • Gross Weight 1510
  • Useful Load 500
  • Baggage 60 lbs.
  • Fuel capacity 20 gal
  • Wingspan 34.8 ft – folded 7.8 ft.
  • Length 23.0 ft
  • Draft 14-23 inches (depending upon gear position – yes gear position !)
  • Vso – 39 KCAS Vs – 45 KCAS
  • Vfe – 75KCAS , Vle –KCAS, Vo 76 KCAS, Vne 120 KCAS
  • Vwr – 10 KIAS  (my definition – max speed for Water Rudder extension)
  • Vwv – 1 ft (my definition – max wave height for operation)

Powerplant

The A5 uses the Rotax 912iS engine, coupled with a Sensenich 3-blade composite propeller.  Since it is a pusher configuration, it avoids some of the damaging water spray while on the water and offers the pilot and passenger an unobstructed view. While the engine is mounted high on the fuselage, the pre-flight checks are easy (more on that later).  Cooling is also optimized – as long as you don’t leave the canopy fully open after engine start ,which may impede the air flow. Checking oil is also very simple, just step on the seawing and check the quantity on top of the engine. Since it is both air and water cooled, you check the coolant level at the rear of the engine during preflight.

A5 Rear View of Engine
A5 Rear View of ROTAX Engine – Canopy would be closed or in the trailing position with the engine operating

Electrical System

This is an electric airplane, utilizing a 12-volt battery charged by 2 alternators. The Engine Control Unit (ECU) utilizes two channels (Rotax calls them ‘lanes’). The primary alternator for the ECU is actually the smaller 16-amp unit. The 30-amp alternator powers the avionics, battery, and provides backup power to the ECU. Since the ignition system is fully electronic, similar to a car, the two alternators are needed for redundancy.  The plane makes extensive use of LEDs for lighting, as expected, providing a good internal lighting environment and excellent position and taxi/landing lights.

ICON A5 Right - Starboard Position Lights
A5 LED Position Light – Needed as a plane and a boat!

Fuel System

The A5 uses a single, fuselage-mounted, fuel tank, with an amazingly accurate self-calibrating fuel indicating system. You only have to put the fuel selector in the ‘ON’ position in flight. The airplane incorporates 2 engine-driven fuel pumps, again for redundancy.  The engine utilizes premium autogas (MOGAS) or 100 LL – the advantage of longer oil change intervals, etc. with the autogas.  Another clever ICON design is solving the issue of checking for fuel contamination.  Sampling fuel on a land plane can be a nuisance, on a float plane it is a major pain, trying to balance yourself on a float – hanging out over the water to reach a wing sump or balancing between the floats in the front for the engine sump.  ICON’s design is downright simple.  They incorporated a tube inside the fuel neck that reaches to the bottom of the fuel tank.  The pilot inserts a syringe that connects with that tube and you draw a fuel sample up for examination – nothing could be easier!

ICON A5 Fuel Neck
ICON A5 Fuel Neck – Note the small tube on the left where you attach a syringe

Gear System

In land retractable aircraft you utilize a squat switch to prevent gear retraction on the ground, not in an amphibian! Since you can extend and retract the gear in the water, without a weight-on-wheels sensor to prevent accidental retraction, you need to be careful at all times. A simple task if you use the checklist – every time.

The gear system is simple, which is great, featuring a fully castering nose wheel , with a two position switch – UP for Water, DOWN for LAND. As with all amphibians, you recite a full gear check item on your checklist – “Gear down for Runway – indicating down” and “Gear Up for Water – indicating Up”. Similar to the usual GUMP check, but even more important since your landing surface changes frequently.  The A5 main gear will probably not retract if accidentally raised while on land, however the nose gear would.  I don’t want to be the pilot to test this theory

Cockpit

ICON A5 Cockpit
ICON A5 Cockpit – all switches in easy reach

As a Computer Science Professor and techie, I love technology in airplanes. There are a number of great LSAs and other aircraft with powerful glass panels featuring integrated MFD (Multi-Function Display) with EIS (Engine Indicating Systems) and PFD (Primary Flight Display) implementations.   I enjoy flying and teaching in them, however the ICON A5’s design offers a very efficient implementation for its mission.  At 6′ 3″ I found the 46″ wide cockpit quite comfortable, even after 2 hour flights.  The cabin height is great, however our son is 6’7″ and for him it is a bit tighter especially the legroom.  The ICON staff mentioned that they aimed for the 95 percentile in fit, which makes sense, however 97% would be even better for our son 🙂  On the other hand it fits me perfectly!

Flight Instruments

After  flying over 80 aircraft makes/models, from taildraggers and gliders to helicopters and modern jets, it is wonderful to slip into the cockpit of the A5 and experience a well designed and ergonomic cockpit. The ICON folks designed a cockpit environment that is intuitive the minute you sit in the pilot’s seat. With the instrumentation conveniently arrayed in front of you with easy to read analog displays, it just seems right!

The Angle of Attack (AOA) indicator sits prominently at the top. ICON positioned the AOA at the top for a reason – you reference it during all phases of flight and it is an important instrument for landings.

The A5 utilizes a Garmin 796 GPS, which is removable, as the navigation system with XM capability and communicates with the single Trig COM. The A5s I flew have a Trig Mode-S Transponder and future production models will have an ES – extended squitter unit for ADS-B out and possibly ADS-B in.

After owning, and flying, a number of aircraft my only suggestion would be the addition of a volt/ammeter so you can see the actually battery voltage before start to check the health of the battery and charging rate and voltage during flight.  I mentioned this to the ICON folks, as a suggestion for the future.  Alternatively, you could use a 12v meter in the accessory receptacle in the center console, which is next to 2 USB power ports.

ICON A5 Instrumental Panel
ICON A5 Instrumental Panel – AOA at top

You can see some additions over land planes- the addition of a Purge Bilge annunciator – important when water gets into the airplane structure during normal water operations.  Since the wings fold a warning light informs you if the wings or stabilizer tips are not secure.  In addition they have a LAND AIRCRAFT light which indicates you may have an impending engine issue and it is in your best interest to get on the ground — or water as soon as possible!  ICON is changing the altimeter design, so future aircraft will look slightly different.

You don’t need an Exhaust Gas Temperature (EGT) gauge since the ECU takes all of the work of setting the correct mixture, which optimizes the engine and makes flying that much easier.

Folding the Wings

One of the very cool features of the A5, are the folding wings. Utilizing this system you can change the width of the A5 from 35 ft to 7.8 ft, in a matter of seconds. We did it in 15 seconds. The wings fold, and unfold, easily by activating levers under each wing. In order to maintain integrity and greatly reduce pilot effort, the ailerons automatically align when the wings are unfolded back into flying position.

 

Folding the wing on the ICON A5 from Personal Wings on Vimeo.

 

Sully demonstrating releasing the wing folding lever on the A5
Shane ‘Sully’ Sullivan demonstrating releasing the wing folding lever on the A5

Then wings are then pulled slightly out and rotated back into the stowed position.

A5 Wing in Folded - Stowed Position
A5 Wing in Folded – Stowed Position
ICON A5 Wing Folding Mechanism
ICON A5 Wing Folding Mechanism – You can see the wing locking levers in their unlocked position

Next you need to remove the horizontal stabilizer tips to minimize the width for trailering.  Simply turn the lever under the stabilizer and voila – the tips are removed!  The bird is now ready for easy storage or transport to another lake, or airport, or both!

Jay removing the stabilzer tips on the A5
Jay removing the stabilzer tips on the A5

The Course

To say I was excited about learning another airplane, especially the A5, would be an understatement. To me, flying is always about learning and gaining knowledge since my first license in 1977. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the A5 training materials.

ICON is offering several training programs including; Initial LSA-Land and Sea, Private Pilot Land transition to LSA-SES, and Private Pilot Sea A5 transition. Since I already had my Commercial Single Engine Sea I chose the later course. In some ways I was bummed, since I wanted to fly the airplane more hours!


Wendi Hauger of ICON scheduled my training and sent my training materials by email and FEDEX. The materials arrived shortly and I couldn’t wait to read them. Despite already having my ratings, and far amount of experience in 10,000 hours of flying, I read all of the materials to get an idea of their full program.

The materials are simply some of the best I’ve seen for initial and transitioning pilots. The course books includes: Sport Flying Academics, Sport Flying Operations, Flight Training Course Guide, and Sport Flying Supplement.

ICON is also developing an online course to supplement the information and help with pre-assessment before arriving at their training facilities.

ICON A5 Course Materials
ICON A5 Course Materials

The Sport Flying Academics manual does a great job of educating non-pilots on the various areas of flight. Their discussion, and course flow, on aerodynamics provides a very fluid progression from a simple discussion of why the study is important to encompass all of the information a Light Sport pilot would need, or for that matter at Private Pilot. Their approach, which initially appeared too simplistic to me, began to make more sense as I progressed through the book. As a CFI I would prefer a bit more information on flying into controlled airspace in this manual, however  this is covered in a separate Controlled Airspace Endorsement (CAE) Course. In 193 pages, they cover a large amount of essential information.

Sport Flying Operations.  In addition to expanding on a number of topics from the Sport Flying Academics manual, ICON starts the application of many of these topics to flying the A5.  They expand the training emphasis to discuss land and sea operation of the A5.  Water operations are inherently more difficult due to all of the different environmental factors (water condition, winds, floating debris, beaches, docks, etc.) which is reflected in the 40 pages on water ops and a much shorter section on landing on runways.  The other topics include navigation, weather, hazards, and a great selection of references on items ranging from the FARs to abbreviations.  I particularly liked the weather section (maybe since I once worked as an ABC Weathercaster in Oregon) since it takes a large amount of information and presents it in a very understandable format that is useful for Light Sport and Private pilots.

Sport Flying Supplement.  If you were wondering how to tie knots, or always wanted to know the full mathematical formula for range as it relates to propeller efficiency and L/D, this is the book for you! It also offers a detailed look at Angle of Attack (AOA) and its relationship to many performance factors.

Flight Training Course Guide.  This guide provides the outlines for several training options:  Initial Sport Pilot Single Engine Land and Sea, Transition Seaplane Rating for Sport and Private Pilots with existing Landplane certification, and Transition-Seaplane for pilots that already have the Land and Seaplane ratings are want to learn to fly the A5.    The guide discusses the pre-arrival academics as well as a syllabus for each lesson, clearly listed in each section.

Location, Location, Location

The first, and currently one, training center is at ICON’s headquarters at the Nut Tree Airport (KVCB) in Vacaville California, near Lake Berryessa  which is used for the water training. ICON is planning additional training centers as their company, and the demand, grows. The next training center will be in the Tampa Florida area, with others to follow. KVCB is also where the ICON A5 is being assembled.

I flew up from Montgomery Field (KMYF) under VFR conditions in a friend’s Piper Mirage that I borrowed for the trip.  The flight was only a bit over 2 hours in smooth skies at 16,500 ft. Of course, I had to bring one of my bikes along for local transportation.

Mirage Silver Fox at VCB for ICON A5 Training
Mirage Silver Fox at VCB for ICON A5 Training

Dawn Arrives at ICON

I arrived early in the morning on my bike before my instructor and had a chance to checkout the planes.  The line staff were getting the planes ready for training.  They did a great job of ensuring all of the aircraft were fueled and ready.  They also were very helpful answering my constant questioning about the aircraft and the systems.

Gaggle of ICON A5s Early Morning at KVCB
Gaggle of ICON A5s Early Morning at KVCB

Classroom

The ICON Flight Center has a very good training facility with classroom and briefing rooms. After registering with Ariel Andrus, I was paired up with Shane ‘Sully’ Sullivan, a former Navy F/A-18 and P-3 pilot.  My classmate was a Private Pilot without a seaplane rating, so after an introductory session we split off for my transition training.  ICON describes their ground sessions as ‘Ground Labs’ and the information was presented in a very interactive method.  For me it was focused on the characteristics of an LSA and the A5 in particular.  Since I had reviewed all of the material prior to class, the process went very quickly.

Since this is a Light Sport Aircraft, one thing to remember is the keyword ‘light’.  It responds differently to high winds and the control forces are lighter than most General Aviation aircraft.  I found that not to be an issue, but always reminded myself that crosswind landings might be slightly more challenging, however its maximum demonstrated crosswind (an FAA definition) is the same as a Cessna 172.  In flight I found it to be an extremely responsive aircraft, you just need to adjust to its characteristics just as with any other aircraft.

Preflight

ICON A5 - starting preflight inspection
ICON A5 – starting preflight inspection

My airplane for the day was the first production A5 which was generously donated to the EAA and temporarily is used on the ICON training fleet.  The preflight inspection is straight forward for an amphibian!  As with all aircraft you check the general condition.  Since we have folding wings and removable stabilizer tips, you have some additional inspections as noted above by ensuring the wing release handles are secure and the stabilizer tips secured.  The cockpit also has an annunciator in case these flying surfaces are not locked.  The seawing (horizontal surface on the fuselage) makes it easy to step up and check the air intake and oil level.

ICON A5 Nose Gear inspection
ICON A5 Nose Gear inspection – note the gear fairing is also the lower surface for beaching
 Cockpit windows on the ICON A5 - easily installed in seconds
Cockpit windows on the ICON A5 – easily installed in seconds
 Cockpit windows on the ICON A5 - easily installed in seconds
With the windows out – and deflectors installed – limited to 90 KIAS but very cool to fly without windows!
A5 Preflight Cockpit
A5 Preflight Cockpit – master switch in lower left of knee panel
A5 Preflight Cockpit
A5 Preflight Cockpit – parachute is secured by pin before flight and electrical panel with CBs and fuses. Fuel valve aft of parachute handle
ICON A5 Wing Folding Levers Stowed - we also check the security at the wing tip and stabilizer tip security
ICON A5 Wing Folding Levers Stowed – we also check the security at the wing tip and stabilizer tip security
ICON A5 Water Rudder - check for security and ability to manually push up - You don't see this on your typical Cessna!
ICON A5 Water Rudder – check for security and ability to manually push up – You don’t see this on your typical Cessna!

Up, Up, and Splash – Time to Get Wet!

Sully and Rich about to fly the A5
Sully and Rich about to fly the A5

Starting couldn’t be easier.  After doing our cockpit check (securing belts, brakes, CAP pin removed, etc.) you simply turn the master on and move the ignition to ‘Lane A’ wait 6 seconds while the ECU performs tests, then do the same on ‘Lane B’, turn to both and start.  The Rotax starts easily – every time hot or cold.  I increased the RPM to 2500 to excite the alternator and do a few checks, then off to the runup area.  At the runup area you check the ignition system, similar to a mag check on legacy engines, verify everything is operational and proceed to the runway.

Takeoff

The A5 literally leaps off the runway in a short distance when I rotated at 50KIAS with flaps up.   Gear retraction, and extension, is 75KIAS so relatively quickly the gear was up after clearing obstacles.  I climbed at Vy (best rate of climb) – 60 KIAS, with initial rate of climb (ROC) of 500+ FPM.  To be the most efficient you fly by AOA – white line for Vy. The plane is a dream to fly!

ICON A5 Climbing Vy White Line AOA
ICON A5 Climbing Vy White Line AOA

Stalls – or Not?

On the way to Lake Berryessa I flew in slow flight (minimum speed just above a stall) and performed the stall series.  This plane is so docile in the aerodynamic stalls, maintaining aileron control throughout the maneuver, that is is hard to call these the typical stalls you might see in other airplanes.  In most airplanes you have a relatively abrupt aerodynamic effect when stalling an airplane.  The aileron control in the A5 is similar to the Cirrus, you can effectively use them safely through the stall.  Through the series of stalls, I lost a maximum of 50 feet unless I purposely held onto the stall.  The departure, power-on, stall had a buffet but I was still climbing almost 100FPM!  The stalls are so gentle that if this is your first airplane flight you might think all airplanes stall like the A5!  I enjoyed then so much I always did some on our way to the lake, but then as my students know I always love stalls 🙂

A5 - slow flight approaching clean Stall - note AOA just above redline
A5 – slow flight approaching clean Stall – note AOA just above redline and IAS approaching a stall of 45 KIAS

Time to Splash!

Just to the north of Vacaville is the lake, with the dam on the east side.  On the first day, I flew over the dam and headed for the main portion of the lake.  Since you have so much flexibility to land on lakes and the ‘runways’ are not marked obviously, and you share the water with other watercraft it is very important to stay vigilant.   Descending to the lake, I take care to look for power lines, especially since this is a hydroelectric dam, that extend across the hill tops surrounding the lake.

Angle of Attack – The ICON A5 AOA Indicator

Since the best way to operate an aircraft is by flying the optimum Angle of Attack for a particular maneuver the only accurate way to determine it is to use an AOA indicator. ICON uses an intuitive approach – with basically three references – on green line, on white (dashed) line and yellow line.  As your speed increases the indicator progresses towards the top of the green – which is high speed cruise.  The red line represents the stall mentioned above.   Since AOA for a particular maneuver should be always the same degree, however the Indicated Airspeed (IAS) will change depending upon weight, flap configuration and G-loading using the AOA indicator is preferred.  This is the same reason turbine and military pilots rely on AOA.

 

ICON AOA Indicator
ICON AOA Indicator

Landings

I don’t know what can be more fun, flying at least, than landing on water and the A5 definitely seems like a duck in the water!

Approaching the water it is time to do the pre-landing checklist.  1) Gear UP for Water, indicating up 2) Flaps 30 degrees, 3) Water Rudder UP.   I always like to repeat the Gear check, 3 times, on downwind, base leg, and final — just in case !

Using the AOA indicator for water landings is so cool!  In the A5 you simply start your approach at an AOA on the ‘On-angle white line’  and keep that value until on short final.

As you slow down for landing just a few feet above the water you slow down to an AOA in the middle of the yellow, which is approximately 1.3 times the stall speed with the flaps extended.  You can also land a bit faster if you are landing on a glassy surface. In the video you will see how smoothly you can land on the water, in this case we were practicing on ‘glassy’ water which can be more challenging since you may not have adequate references for height above the water.

Beaching

Okay you are flying into a lake and now you want to get on land.  You can use a dock, drive up a boat ramp, or what is really fun is to park on a beach!  On my first beaching, we chose Eagle Island – aptly named due to some eagles nearby.

From the air it is difficult to determine the true condition of any runway – land or water.  With water landings it may be more difficult since there may be submerged sandbars, tree stumps, and rocks.  Beaching can be an even bigger challenge.  The first order of business is to evaluate the landing area, then taxi by the beach after landing for a closer look, followed by a slow taxi towards the beach.

Rich Beaching at Eagle Island - A5
Rich Beaching at Eagle Island – A5

On Day 2 of the Transition Training, my second CFI – Mike Turner, and I  decided to practice a confined area landing on the way to the same beach.  Approaching the landing area, I was a bit slower than usual flying the AOA at the top of the yellow on base leg, then half way in the yellow for landing.  After landing, you can see a high speed, or step, taxi to the island,  then a turn to survey the area. As we approached the beach I shutdown the engine, removed headsets and seatbelts and prepared to get wet.

 

This time I beached on the point and made it easy for Mike to step out on dry land – for a change. The things I do for my flight instructor 🙂

ICON A5 Beaching at Eagle Island - Day 2
ICON A5 Beaching at Eagle Island – Day 2

As you probably noticed on the video, when you stop on the water –  water comes over the bow into the air vent as you decelerate, on your feet, then into the bilge.  The A5 has a water sensor, and when it illuminated, I simply turned on the bilge pump!

ICON A5 Purge Bilge Light
ICON A5 Purge Bilge Light

On the way out, I snapped a photo of one of my classmates, Burt, departing the island.

ICON A5 Leaving Eagle Island
ICON A5 Leaving Eagle Island

Since the A5 sits low in the water, you need to be careful when beaching on sloping surfaces or at docks.  To explore steeper beaches, we tried another island to experiment.  As you can see you have to be careful when using these beaches to avoid damage to the wing tip, or changing tides and water levels.

Beaching the A5 on a slope
Beaching the A5 on a slope – note how close the wingtip is to the beach.

Cruising!

Lake Berryessa is a great place to cruise, especially over the water in the A5.  One of the rivers that feed the lake is Putah Creek.  We dropped down and followed the creek back to the lake for more fun!

Flying along the Putah Creek
Flying along the Putah Creek

Emergencies!

Call me crazy, but I love practicing emergencies.  In 40 years of flying, I’ve had a few real ones and the best way to prepare is to practice frequently

On the way to the lake on another flight from Vacaville, I did an emergency descent, reducing the power to idle and gliding at white line on the AOA all the way to the water.  With a glide ratio of 9:1, the A5 glided effortlessly, and I kept my intended landing spot in the same sight picture.  Close to the water, I extended my flaps to 30 degrees, continued to slow to an AOA of mid-yellow for a smooth landing on the water.   After landing, I increased power to do a Step Taxi at 30 kts under the power lines suspended over the lake and then transitioned back to a take off.

As you can see in the video, the plane glides very well with the AOA stable on the white line, with a pitch of between 9 and 11 degrees from an elevation of 3300 MSL (feet above Mean Sea Level) to the water surface at 440 MSL.  Again a great example of using the AOA.

Simulated engine failures after takeoff, etc. were equally as simple.  As long as the pilot monitors the AOA, it is an easy process to consistently make a safe landing.

Landing on Runways

This will be brief, mainly since I had so much fun on the water I didn’t want to spend much time on the runways.  The A5 is very simple to land, as long as you use the AOA and fly stabilized approaches you can consistently land the plane exactly where you want.  Of course, you always want to follow the checklist – especially ‘Gear DOWN for Runway – Indicating down’.  Whether you use flaps, or not, the A5 doesn’t use much runway and the pitch attitude is similar to my SR22 – just about 5 degrees nose up on touchdown.

Over Too Soon

It seemed my two day transition course was way too short, in fact we added an extra 2 hours just to have more fun before heading back to San Diego.  Flying floatplanes is such a kick, and flying the amphibious ICON A5 has to rank up near the top of my flying experiences.  It isn’t a fast cross county airplane, can’t carry a large load of people or baggage, and may have other limitations but that isn’t why you own or fly an ICON A5.  You fly an ICON A5 to have fun flying, on land or water, and have experiences that are only available with a handful of airplanes.  The design, quality, and shear pleasure of flying the aircraft left me with a big smile on my face, and a desire to fly it again!

If you’d like to learn how to perfect your  flying skills, contact me to schedule an instruction flight. Don’t forget your sandals!

Flying – Music – Dancing – Biking – More Flying – San Diego CA (KMYF) to Quincy CA (2O1)

July 2016

920 NM Flying – 3 days/nights Music/Dancing – 93 miles Mountain Biking

We’ve been flying to Quincy CA – Gansner Field (2O1) since the early 1980s and it never fails to be a magical place to visit.  Located in Plumas County and the Sierras it is a small logging town that has a lot to offer. We first flew to Quincy from our home in Klamath Falls Oregon in our Grumman Cheetah.

Quincy - Gansner Field
Quincy – Gansner Field

This time we were visiting Quincy to attend the awesome High Sierra Music Festival (HMSF) for the second time from our home in San Diego CA (Montgomery KMYF) in our Cirrus SR22.  Not to be content with just attended the festival we also brought our mountain bikes to explore the mountains and to get around the town and festival!

The flight was smooth under clear skies, with a few knots of tailwind, it was a nonstop flight of 2:50, over scenic terrain and vistas.  Our flight followed the western slope of the Sierras, with only one deviation to stay clear of the restricted airspace near Edwards Air Force Base. 

Our flight to Quincy - Red Circles represent forest fire activity
Our flight to Quincy – Red Circles represent forest fire activity and Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFR) for firefighting.

Since this is high fire season we did see a fire that had just started west of Auburn CA.   In the 1980s I flew for Weyerhaeuser during the summer monitoring their forests for fires.   I remember one particular flight in northern California after a lightning storm in 2008 that spawned more fires than I could count.

On the way up to Quincy we spotted a few airports for future visits,  Blue Canyon (KBLU) and Columbia (O22) , both look like great hiking and biking spots.

Quincy California

We always like to survey the area before we land.  It was great to fly over the valley, circling the festival venue at the Plumas County Fairgrounds, our favorite swimming hole on Spanish Creek (more on that later), the town and of course the airport.  We were arriving on the first day, so it was pretty quiet in town and the airport.  The airport is in a narrow valley, which makes some of the approaches, and departures, a challenge. To the west is a even narrower valley between the hills that requires a dogleg to the right during the climb, so proper planning is important. Immediately to the north of the runway is large hill.  We circled north over Spanish Creek, then entered a right base and then final to Runway 25 (length 4100 feet).  The runway is a bit rough, however it is quite usable and they have a great price on self-serve fuel!   Bring tie-downs since the current ramp area doesn’t have them. Plumas County is also engaged in a program to upgrade the airport, so you may see improvements on your visits.

Quincy Gansner Field 2O1 East View Runway 7
Quincy Gansner Field East View Runway 7. Quincy is to the right of the airport and the Fairgrounds east over the small hill.
Quincy Gansner Field 2O1 - On Final for Runway 25 - The road in the foreground is Quincy Junction which leads to the Spanish Trailhead
Quincy Gansner Field 2O1 – On Final for Runway 25 – The road in the foreground is Quincy Junction which leads to the Spanish Creek Trailhead
High Sierra Music Festival Aerial
High Sierra Music Festival Aerial – at the Fairgrounds just to the right of the lumber mill.

We were staying at Ada’s Place, a great collection of cottages in Quincy. Mike Nellor of Ada’s Place,  greeted us at the airport to help with our luggage while we rode the bikes to the cottages. Mike is a veteran with some great stories, and his wife Valerie is also a very gracious host.  We rode our bikes the mile to our cottage with Mike ahead in his truck.  Ada’s Place is the perfect place to explore Quincy all year-round whether you are biking, hiking, or just exploring the area.  

At our cottage for the week - Ada's Place
At our cottage for the week – Ada’s Place

Our cottage was amazing, and cute!  Nestled among beautiful landscaping, and beautiful inside, it provided all of the comforts away from home. The last time we attended HSMF we camped in our tent with our son and his girlfriend in the livestock pens at the Fairgrounds.  We had to push the cow patties out of the way and navigate the livestock chute to the bathrooms!!  While a great experience, it is one of those things we didn’t need to do again 🙂

The town of Quincy is one of the friendliest places to visit.  Located approximately 80 miles Northwest from Reno it is in a very scenic area with year-round activities.  The Plumas County Museum, adjacent to the courthouse,  displays an interesting history of the area including it’s rich mining history.  The Natural Food Store (Co-op)  is on the main street, as well as a Safeway and other places to stock up on supplies.  On Thursdays during the summer there is a nice Farmer’s Market just by Ada’s, at the Dame Shirley Plaza by the courthouse, that features local produce from the region, crafts, and music.  

One of the unique aspects of the area, are ‘barn quilts’.  There is actually a Barn Quilt Trail in Plumas County with many of the art pieces displayed in Quincy, on you guessed it – barns!  We had fun riding out bikes around the area and discovering this unique public display of art.

The town is quiet at night, so just make sure you scope out the restaurants, etc. if you plan to eat late since their hours may vary.  We had great food, at very reasonable prices, throughout the town.  We had wonderful salads and sandwiches at Pangea and the West End Theatre, which is also home ot many performing arts events.  The local residents were also very helpful in guiding us to great places to eat, bike, and visit.

High Sierra at Last!!

There is something magical about music festivals, and  the High Sierra Music Festival matches our vibe, funkiness, and eclectic music tastes !  Smaller at 8-10,000 attendees, than some of the other multi-day festivals, it offers a great chance to see a wide variety of artists (music, art, performance), see old friends and meet a lot of new ones!

Jane, Rich and a friend at Vaudeville Tent
Jane, Rich and a friend at the Vaudeville Tent.  My shirt is from our last visit to High Sierra.

With music all day and  night, available from morning until 3 or 4 a.m. we had ample opportunity to watch some great artists.  HSMF has a number of official venues:  Vaudeville Tent, Big Meadows, Grandstand, Music Hall and others, as well as a number of ad-hoc music areas that offer spontaneous jams.  With music continuously playing, if a certain genre doesn’t interest you, simply find another!  With such groups as Ben Harper,  Tauk, Turquaz, The California Honeydrops,  Liz Vice  and 20+ others, the difficult decision is where to go 🙂  Most of the time, we would listen to artists for a while, then venture to another venue to catch another great performance at the same time.

High Sierra - Big Meadow venue
High Sierra – Big Meadow venue

It was just wonderful to dance to music, some familiar and most not, with so many very happy people.  The energy was so positive, that it still puts a smile on my face!  Seeing families attend, and young parents hauling their kids in wagons around the grounds and camp areas was great. While we didn’t camp this time, the energy and community in the campgrounds was palpable- with everyone helping others.  It almost enticed us to try camping again !

Late Night

For those inclined to listen to music until 4 a.m., High Sierra also offers late performances starting at Midnight.  We listened to The Main Squeeze on Friday night.   Many of the musicians play at other times, however these performances are usually in a smaller venue which is nice as long as you can stay up very late, which can be helped by copious consumption of Red Bull!

Performers and Parade

The HSMF abounds with various performances to watch, whether you want to watch or participate!  From art classes, to tie-dye instruction, to how to Jam, or yoga.  One of our favorites is the  Parade.  While there are ‘official’ (if there is such as word at HSMF) performers, it is open to anyone who would like to hold a puppet, flag, or whatever.  One of the favorite groups are the men and women of Samba Stilt Circus!!  I don’t like ladders so I am always amazed with their performance.  It is just one of the high-energy aspects of High Sierra!

High Sierra 2016 Parade from Personal Wings on Vimeo.

High Sierra Parade - Flag Procession
High Sierra Parade – Flag Procession

Mountain Biking

Plumas County is a great place to bike, and now is one of our favorites !  Okay, I love just about any place I visit but this is really is great :). On Friday morning after a late night of music, we thought we would warm up with a 20 mile ride up the mountains to Snake Lake and back.  

Snake Lake

The road to Bucks Lake follows a beautiful canyon up to, you guessed it – Bucks Lake!  Mike at Ada’s Place recommended visiting Snake Lake on the way, a place he likes to hike in the early morning. After our first late night of music, it seemed like a good warm up ride, only 10 miles away up the canyon.

Winding road to Bucks Lake - Spanish Creek is on the right of the road
Winding road to Bucks Lake – Spanish Creek is on the right of the road. Aerial view from our SR22.
Jane leading the way to Snake Lake
Jane leading the way to Snake Lake

Even the ride up the road towards the lakes was beautiful, with us stopping along the way to enjoy the scenery. 

On the way to Snake Lake - Spanish Creek
On the way to Snake Lake – Spanish Creek

Plumas County was one of the first locations of the California Gold Rush.  Some of the towns are no longer present, however you can still find some old mines and active mining claims in the area.  This sign, along the road, describes a 20 mile ditch that was manually dug to bring water for the mining.

Spanish Creek Mines Interpretive Sign.
Spanish Creek Mines Interpretive Sign.

We were riding our Haibike e-assist mountain bikes from the Bicycle Warehouse in San Diego.  While the bikes still require a lot of pedaling, it is amazing how just some assistance from the 400W motor helps with the climbs!  While we have always loved to bike,  these pedal-assisted mountain bikes have increased our riding range by many factors.  In the first two months, I’ve biked nearly 400 miles on trails and roads.

Six miles up the Bucks Lake Road from Quincy you turn right at the bridge.  It is important to know where to turn because there are no signs!  Thanks to Mike Neller we knew where to turn.  Three miles up on pavement and gravel you arrive at the first campground at Snake Lake. We use various apps for navigation, and still haven’t found the perfect one for biking.  One that comes in handy for offline maps (important when you don’t have cell service) is Offmaps which utilizes open source maps.  I’ve used these maps in Haiti when helping after their earthquake in 2010 and nothing else was available. It isn’t perfect, but it can help you from getting too lost!   I’ll write about other options in a separate blog.

Offmaps - Snake and Smith Lake
Offmaps – Snake and Smith Lake. Different zoom levels provide road and trail details

The lake is being overcome by non-native plants, which is regrettable since depletes the nutrients for other life, but it is still a nice place to visit, ride your horse, and hang out in cooler temperatures.  The bike ride is a moderate climb, especially if you venture around the lake or go up to Smith Lake, a smaller lake nearby that has water seasonally.  We ran into people camping that were extremely helpful, pointing out other places to ride and hike.

Snake Lake
Snake Lake

Spanish Creek Trailhead

On Saturday after a great day and night of music from TAUK, Turkuaz, Main Squeeze and others, we headed to the many trails along Spanish Creek, also near a fun swimming hole!  Riding just east of the airport along Quincy Junction Rd. it is an easy ride up to the trailhead.   This is one of the trailheads for the South Park Non-Motorized Trail System, basically where you want to ride!

Spanish Creek Trailhead - South Park Trail System
Spanish Creek Trailhead – South Park Trail System

The map is clearly labeled, if you actually read it 🙂  I led the way to the right, thinking it was the way to the easier route.  Quickly we found that not to be the case.

Maybe this isn't the right trail....
Maybe this isn’t the right trail….

We decided to continue, because you don’t know what is around the corner until you try it.  When you have to navigate over large obstacles, you realize that the e-bikes can be a bit ponderous to pick up and move.  I would have helped Jane, except someone had to take the photograph!

Just a few obstacles along the way
Just a few obstacles along the way

Of course, around the corner were some beautiful sites of Spanish Creek, small waterfalls, and vegetation.

Spanish Creek - flowing water through small waterfalls
Spanish Creek – flowing water through small waterfalls

The trail faded more and more, until we couldn’t find it any more and it was time to turn around, of course we had to go through a few obstacles the other way.

A more technical portion of the Wrong Way Trail
A more technical portion of the Wrong Way Trail

Just to the right of the Trailhead is a road that leads up to the Oakland Recreation Camp, and a very nice access road that progresses up the canyon on the east side of the creek.  A helpful ranger pointed out some swimming spots along the creek that offered a quiet, and private, access to the creek about a mile from the camp.

Just before reaching the Trailhead is a more accessible, and public, swimming spot that is great when it is hot.  Sometimes the water can be quite chilly, but this day it was probably in the upper 70s.  I decided to take my shoes off and just wade in a few feet.  Why should I change into a swim suit when all I was going to do was cool off a bit.  The water was great, so I went a bit deeper, taking out my iPhone to take photos.  Before I could say ‘High Sierra’ I was totally submerged, clothes, wallet, and backpack.  I handed my phone to someone standing on the edge and emerged a bit wet but a lot cooler from the ride!

Spanish Creek Swimming Hole
Spanish Creek Swimming Hole

We ventured back to the Festival for the evening and more music, and thought about another ride before we would leave for home on Sunday.  On Saturday night we listened to Anders Osborne,  Lettuce, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals.  What a great way to listen, and dance, to a variety of music with great weather and friends.

Of course it is always fun to ride a night, and we took a short cut along a fun trail back to the cottage at midnight.

Bucks Lake Road – Detour to Silver Lake

We were now psyched to bike to a higher elevation before leaving for San Diego.  We decided to try Bucks Lake, approximately 17 miles from Quincy up the same road that led us to Snake Lake.  With a full charge on our Haibikes we were off.  The road past the Snake Lake turnoff is windy and fun, with a number of narrow sections and all of the motorists were courteous.  One of the nice features of the e-bikes is the speed you can maintain along the roads.  While the top speed for the  assist on our bikes was 20mph, it was enough to help us go faster.

Along the way to Bucks Lake you enter Meadow Valley, a small town with a great country store, and beautiful views.  We had gained about 1,000 feet in elevation.

Meadow Valley Village
Meadow Valley Village

Just past Meadow Valley, we came across a turnoff with a sign to Silver Lake. Jane thought it sounded like a nice place, and since my navigation has led us down a difficult path on the last ride, we decided to take her suggestion.

Quincy - Gansner Field
Jane leading the way to Silver Lake

The initial approach to Silver Lake looked very nice. The roadway was smooth and there was no traffic.

Starting the ride up to Silver Lake
Starting the ride up to Silver Lake

As we rode around one of the corners, and the grade increased on the road, we saw Spanish Peak in the distance and thought we were glad we weren’t going up that far.

Starting the ride up to Silver Lake
Starting the ride up to Silver Lake

With the climb becoming steeper it was great to stop and take some photographs of the views.

Vista on the road to Silver Lake
Vista on the road to Silver Lake

We kept out checking our odometer, and battery charge on the bikes.  While we knew we could always rely only on pedaling back to Quincy, there were some steep climbs still ahead of us.  With each turn around a corner we were getting either closer, or more lost, and each view of Spanish Peak was getting closer.  We finally deduced that Silver Lake was probably high up on the peak.

Jane and I traded bikes on the way up so she could try my dropper seatpost and my bike had a higher charge level.  The last segment was probably the steepest, later we learned that our steeped grade was 16% with many grades above 8% on the way up.

We finally made it to Silver Lake and it was worth the effort!  It was 16 miles from our cottage, 1 hour and 35 minutes, and an elevation gain of 2400 feet.

Rich at Silver Lake
Rich at Silver Lake
Silver Lake Panorama
Silver Lake Panorama
Quincy to Silver Lake Route and Profile
Quincy to Silver Lake Route and Profile

We only stayed a few minutes up at the lake, however we found some great hiking trails for another time.  We met some local folks from Quincy who were extremely helpful, and amazed we rode all the way up from Quincy.  They typically don’t see older bikers this far up the mountain!

The way back was obviously faster!  At Silver Lake our e-bikes registered 16 miles range on High, 19 on Standard, and a bit higher on the 2 lower settings. We knew that we wouldn’t need much help on the way back to Quincy, however there were some steep climbs on the return.  The range is approximate and is determined by how much you use the assist.  We stopped at Meadow Valley for some water for the hydration packs.  Note to self:  you can never have enough water 🙂  By the time we arrived back at Quincy we had 6 miles left on High and 9 on Standard.  Second note to self:  Bring a charger when biking in the mountains!

Heading Back to San Diego

After a great lunch at the West End Theatre, and saying good bye to our friends, we headed back to the airport.  We also wanted to take some aerial photographs of where we had biked on the weekend.

Jane Biking to the airport
Jane Biking to the airport
Rich and Jane at DJ at Quincy
Rich and Jane at DJ at Quincy

It was a great way to spend several days, flying to Northern California, mountain biking, spending time with friends, and enjoying music.

 

Aerial Photos of Our Rides

Smith and Snake Lakes
Smith and Snake Lakes
Silver Lake from our Cirrus
Silver Lake from our Cirrus
Silver Lake at Spanish Peak - Quincy in Far Background
Silver Lake at Spanish Peak – Quincy in Far Background

 

Biking the Grand Canyon South Rim – Flying from KMYF to KGCN

Flying to the Grand Canyon – KMYF – KGCN

May 2016

Four weeks after breaking my ribs while mountain biking in Sedona , I was back on the bike in the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. Biking the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is quite different than Sedona. While Sedona prides itself on a wide variety of amazing technical trails – very few if any are at the novice level, the riding at the Grand Canyon NP is restricted to the fire roads, trails, and paved roads. The North Rim offers more challenging trails in a fairly remote area in the Kaibab National Forest, in particular the Rainbow Ridge Trail.  Each one different, with their own amazing qualities.

I flew to Grand Canyon  (KGCN) airport from my home base in San Diego (KMYF – Montgomery) in our Cirrus SR22.

Our Cirrus SR22 N412DJ at KMYF
Our Cirrus SR22 N412DJ at KMYF

The enroute weather was perfect VFR, virtually clear skies with unlimited visibility of at least 100 miles.  Only an occasional bump, interrupted the beautiful flight at 9500 Ft MSL.

Montgomery (KMYF) to Grand Canyon (KGCN) Route
Montgomery (KMYF) to Grand Canyon (KGCN) Route

Using Air Traffic Control (ATC) Flight Following, it was a direct flight taking only 2 hours to arrive at KGCN.  The Grand Canyon airport is just outside of the Grand Canyon Special Flight Rules area, which restricts flights over the canyon itself.

Grand Canyon Airport Sectional
Grand Canyon Airport Sectional

We were greeted by a very helpful control tower staff as well as Dominique the lineman with Grand Canyon Airlines, the fuel concession as well as the charter operation at the airport. Ten minutes after landing, it was time to ride!

On FInal Grand Canyon Airpot KGCN
On FInal Approach – Grand Canyon Airpot KGCN

From the Airport to the Rim

While the Sedona airport is on a Mesa, GCN is on a small hill just south of Tusayan, about 3 miles from the entrance of Grand Canyon National Park, and another 5 miles to the Visitor Center on the South Rim. The airport is at 6677 ft MSL, while the Visitor Center is at an elevation of 6860 ft which makes for a great climb!

Just north of the airport is a small shopping and services area, with some great places to eat and shop.  The shortest route to the South Rim is riding the highway, US-180 S, sharing the road with the busy traffic.  Some local folks suggested using the Greenway Trail. While slightly longer, it is a great alternative and a very scenic route.

The trail is in great shape with gradual rise towards the rim. It has both gravel (60%) and paved sections and meanders through pine forest just west of the highway.

Entrance to Greenway Trail - Tusayan Grand Canyon
Entrance to Greenway Trail – Tusayan Grand Canyon

South Rim

After about 7 miles of trails, we ended up at the Visitor Center complex, of course as we were riding we had furry friends to see. At first I thought they were horses, due to their size, then realized they were some of the largest deer I’ve ever encountered.

Grand Canyon Locals
Grand Canyon Locals

We stopped by and visited the hospitable folks at Bright Angel Bikes, a great place to rent bikes on the South Rim. They helped with some minor adjustments and I offered them the chance to ride my E-mountain bike. I think they were spoiled.

With limited time, this trip, we decided to head west towards Hopi Point and Hermits Rest. It was a path with initial downhill ride , i.e. tough coming back, then moderately challenging 6 percent climbs. You share the road with shuttle buses, and it is somewhat narrow with no shoulder to speak of. You get very friendly with the shuttles since they can’t move into the opposing lane!

The climb is well worth it. There are a number of scenic stops along the way, offering majestic views of the rim and canyon.

South Rim Panorama
Grand Canyon South Rim Panorama

We were riding with the setting sun, so the sun rays on the canyon wall were spectacular.

Setting sun on the canyon walls
Setting sun on the canyon walls

On the South Rim, this is also the top terminus for the walking trail to the canyon bottom.  This photo  shows one of the trails down into the canyon from the rim.

The Trail Down
The Trail Down

Continuing up to the far viewpoint, we were the only bicyclists climbing the scenic route. Every stop offered another incredible view,

Step back just one more step - for the photo!
Step back just one more step – for the photo!

Race to the Airport

Just before reaching the last view point, we decided to call the FBO in case we didn’t make it back before they closed. It was an excellent idea, since we learned the entire airport was closing that night at 7pm due to all airports lights being inoperative. Our choices were to either change plans and stay the night somewhere, or speed back to the airport. We only had an hour to get back, load the bikes, and takeoff.

Our calculations indicated we would barely make it in time. We raced down the rim, climbing up some of the great downhills runs. While I hadn’t used the electric assist much on the ride up, it came in handy also enabling me to push my biking colleague up some of the steepest hills.

This time we returned along the highway, 64, which has only a one foot shoulder on a large portion of the road. Most of the motorists were gracious and tried to give us some room, and the truckers were professional. Only a few drivers were clueless how to share the roadway with cyclists.

We arrived at the airport with 15 minutes to spare – now to preflight the plane, load the bikes and take off. The tower was scheduled to close at 7, but for some reason they shutdown 10 minutes early. Quickly taxing we were able to take off 3 minutes before closing — taking a photo in case the FAA challenged our departure time later !

We only biked 25 miles,  a very small portion of the area on this trip.  The flight back was a great way to finish the day – flying at night, through the clouds into Montgomery.

The next time, I’ll plan a longer sojourn with a trip to explore the North Rim as well.  Bicycling offers such a wonderful way to explore our national treasures, combining it with my other love – flying, only makes it that much better!

Departing KGCN Airport
Departing KGCN Airport

Citation Recurrent Training – Back in the Box

I couldn’t believe that 2 years passed so quickly, it was time for my second CJ3 Citation Recurrent Training – CE525S. I completed my initial at ProFlight in December 2013, wrote a blog about the experience, and had flown the CJ3 almost 300 hours in the past 2 years including some great trips to Alaska for business, add my Seaplane rating, and all over the lower 48 states.

CJ3 Fl450 Florida Panhandle
Flying the CJ3 over the Florida Panhandle at 45,000 feet (FL450)

Citation Recurrent Training with Tru ProFlight

Since that time ProFlight was acquired by Textron Aviation and their new company – Tru Simulation + Training , which also purchased two simulator manufacturers. Same great program and staff, however the acquisition has allowed them to expand, adding additional pilot and maintenance training courses under Textron Aviation as well as the establishment of a new training center near Tampa Florida. Proflight is now Tru ProFlight Training. Occasionally I also help as an SIC for some clients working on their crew – CE525 – ratings at Tru ProFlight.

NextGen CJ3 Flight Training Device (FTD)

One advantage of being a Tru ProFlight customer is the ability to visit during the year and utilize their Citation CJ3 NextGen Flight Training Device (FTD). While I used that opportunity a few times during the year, I knew that a full recurrent would test my flying abilities and give me a chance to update my skills, especially on Abnormal/Emergency procedures. This FTD is unique among the other FTDs that I’ve used. The ‘cockpit’ couples full tactile experience with many of the knobs and switches a pilot uses in the aircraft (e.g. autopilot, FMSs, trim, flaps, throttle) with touch screens for some other functions. By coupling this capability with full controls, and a wrap around visual system, the pilot experiences almost the same functions as in the aircraft and sim. The feeling is so close to the actual aircraft, that when I trained my wife to land the CJ3 in the NextGen she started to aim for our hangar at Montgomery (MYF) at high speed – I had to pause the FTD before she ran into the CJ3 I fly in real life! I forgot I was in the FTD.

The Tru Proflight CJ3 FTD
The Tru Proflight CJ3 NextGen FTD for Citation Recurrent Training

In order to fly Pilot In Command (PIC) of a turbojet aircraft, you are required to have completed a flight proficiency check per FAR 61.58 within the previous 12 months in that type (e.g. CE525 for the Citation CJ3). If you have multiple type ratings, you can alternate the required Proficiency Check between models each year, however you must train specifically in each model within 2 years to fly as PIC. Technically I could wait another year since my currency is active in multiple jets, however I believe that training is extremely important, and Tru ProFlight offers a great CJ3 Citation recurrent training program in Carlsbad California, close to my home in San Diego.

Learning Management System (LMS)

The first item you receive after enrolling in the Tru ProFlight Citation CJ3 Recurrent course is a link, and login, to their online LMS. The LMS is divided into a number of chapters, and pages, with a quiz at the completion of each chapter.

ProFlight CJ3 LMS
ProFlight CJ3 LMS

Each chapter includes narrative text, audio, and animations for each topics. The animated system diagrams are very cool, offering clients the opportunity to see various operations, e.g. fuel flow, under normal and abnormal conditions. If you are like me, you don’t remember everything about a system when first viewing it, and reviewing abnormal conditions is easy when you can click a valve closed and see the result — all on your computer.

CJ3 Fuel System Lesson
CJ3 Fuel System Lesson

After about 15-20 hours of pre-study using the LMS on your own, when you first visit ProFlight you take a review quiz to complete the ground portion of your Recurrent. With that complete, now the fun starts!

The Simulator

Proflight utilizes some of the latest Level D simulators. The one I used was built by Opinicus, which was also acquired by Textron and is now a business unit of Tru Simulation + Training.

On to the Training Flights

With access to the CJ3 NextGen FTD, I could practice by myself virtually any flight operation while up at Tru ProFlight. An instructor was also available to answer questions, or put me through challenging scenarios in the FTD. One of the great features of the NextGen is that it utilizes much of the same software that is used in the full motion Level D sims with full control feel. In this way a flight in the FTD closely resembles one in the Level D. After some time in the NextGen, the simulator sessions now started.

Chuck Hosmer was my instructor for 2 of the 3 hour sessions. No matter how much you fly, you still learn from flying the sim. Each sim session is preceded with a thorough briefing on the scenario for the session. Tru ProFlight changes the scenarios periodically, which makes it more interesting.

Our first sim session at first seemed easy – depart Aspen-Pitkin County (KASE) and fly to Colorado Springs (KCOS). A short, relaxing, flight in the CJ3 – in normal condition. Then I remembered that nothing is easy in the sim! My instructor had planned a few challenges along the way. The weather at KASE was:

KASE 091255Z 33015KT 2SM -SHRA OVC008 25/10 A3032

Even before starting the engines the ATIS indicated that the crosswind starting limit for the CJ3 (10 KTS) would be exceeded, so first I had to request a tug to turn us into the wind. Exceeding the crosswind or tailwind limits can result in a hot start, exceeding the Interturbine Temperatures (ITT) maximums.

Once that was resolved, I completed the systems check  only to find out that my brake anti-skid system was inoperative. A quick call to maintenance (my instructor) resolved the issue and we continued. The KASE weather was IFR which required flying the LINDZ 8 Departure (SID), which was uneventful, but fun flying IFR through the mountains. Cruising over the Rockies my autopilot failed. After going through the Abnormal Checklist for that failure, I could not resolve the problem so it was up to me to fly to KCOS and do the approach.

On the way to KCOS, the ATIS informed me that the glideslope was inoperative on the RWY 35L ILS, the approach I was assigned. Since the weather at KCOS was a ceiling of 400 feet overcast and 1 mile visibility which was below the Minimum Descent Altitude (MDA) for the Localizer, missed approach was probable — my first clue! I didn’t seed the runway at minimums, so it was on to a missed approach. Pickle (Go Around pushed) , Power, Pitch, flaps to approach, gear up at positive rate of climb, FMS set, flaps up at V2+10. All of which occurred quickly.

On the missed approach, I was diverted to my alternate – Denver International (KDEN) and my autopilot miraculously started working! Denver was a good alternate, however the visibility was reported as 1/2 mile, with rain and low overcast of 200 feet. Another clue! The flight to Denver was short and just when I was about to relax, I had an engine fire on the left engine. I had used the LMS to study engine fire procedures, which also included an interactive lesson animating a fire sequence.

Citation recurrent training LMS engine fire lesson
LMS engine fire lesson

In the sim, my first clue was the left engine fire warning light with concurrent loss of engine oil, fuel, and hydraulic pressure as well as failure of the generator.

CJ3 left engine fire
CJ3 left engine fire

Once I confirmed the fire, then secured the engine by pressing the LH ENG Fire light which also closes the fuel and hydraulic valves for that engine and arms the fire extinguisher. After activating the fire extinguisher and completing the checklist – it was back to the ‘usual’. As always, the most important thing to remember if to ‘Fly the Airplane’. A single engine approach in the CJ3 is not difficult as long as you follow the Checklist – flaps set to approach (15 degrees), fly the approach at Vap (approach speed – approximately 8 KTS above Vref), which requires an approximate power setting of 55-60% N1.

Always Assume a Missed Approach

I’m always prepared for a missed approach – VFR or IFR. Possibly the only tricky part flying on one engine is a single engine missed (or takeoff), since you have so much asymmetric thrust which is assisted by the rudder bias system. Another clue! Of course I had to do a single engine missed since an airplane had taxied past the hold line just before I was to land. The missed sequence is Pickle (push the go around button), Power forward, Pitch up – all simultaneously. The flaps are confirmed to be in the approach mode only, gear up at positive rate, set or confirm FMS for the missed, and use a lot of rudder to keep the plane straight. Once you are at a safe altitude, your airspeed at V2 + 10, the remaining flaps can be retracted. Simple!!

I then set up to do a single engine approach to 16R ILS which had better weather. Along the way the autopilot failed, so it was a hand flown single engine ILS to minimums. We had extra time after landing, so I did a VFR takeoff with both engines, for some simple pattern work. You get the picture – another clue! On downwind just before I was going to deploy the flaps – the flaps somehow failed. Slowing down a jet without flaps, or speed brakes (if they also fail) is not easy. You must immediately reduce power and let the plane slow down. When I had practiced it earlier, I was way to fast and it is almost impossible to slow down the jet if you are too fast. Without flaps the approach speed is faster, and of course the required landing distance is substantially greater. The landing distance is also increased if the speed brakes are also inoperative. If you have full hydraulic failure, the gear will also not extend normally – but with everything else happening this is a minor inconvenience since the manual extension is simple. The visuals on the Proflight sim (built by Tru Simulation) are outstanding. Here is an example of a VFR approach at one of the airports I ‘flew’ into during training.

On final at Memphis in the CJ3 Citation recurrent training simulator
On final at Memphis in the CJ3 simulator – beautiful VFR day

Windshear ! Windshear ! Windshear !

After landing, we still had time, so it was off on a departure into significant windshear with the Proline 21 system announcing something I already knew 🙂 One trick I use is to rotate at a slightly higher speed if I suspect windshear or gusts and might also consider a no flap takeoff if runway length permits. When encountering the windshear, I pitched up to almost the stick pusher and didn’t change the aircraft configuration. It is tempting to change the flaps, if deployed, and it usually isn’t a good idea! The CJ3 is very powerful and while the takeoff was turbulent and the verbal annunciators were warning ‘Windshear’ we were able to finally make it above the critical phase.

After a landing, with all of the systems working (a surprise) it was time for the debrief. Nearly 3 hours had passed in the sim, and it seemed we were only in there a fraction of the time. The debrief is extremely useful, reviewing what I did correctly and also to identify areas for improvement.

Finishing Up

My next sim session was full of activity. Early on in the session I did the required air work: steep turns, stalls – including high altitude at FL450, emergency descents. Also added for variety was PFD failures, then an IFR approach to Memphis (KMEM). Since we can compress a lot of training in the session, we followed with a brake failure on takeoff, low visibility taxi using SMGCS.

Just when everything was going smoothly, with just a few emergencies. I did another takeoff with an engine failure at V1 (decision speed). As with the single engine missed approach, the challenge is using enough compensating rudder. Once you remember that, then it is almost easy to fly the plane! Actually it is a lot of work, but then that is why we train, and train some more.

Proficiency Check

For the 61.58 requirements, you can either do a progressive check where the required tasks are spread out over 2 or 3 sim sessions, or elect to do a single check session. I elected the later at Tru ProFlight to give me more time to prepare.

This check was done with Chris Clevering, one of the Tru ProFlight designated examiners. While similar to the type rating check ride, it is a little more relaxed – at least for me. Chris did an excellent briefing, evaluating my system knowledge as well as my comprehension about operating procedures. It was then into the simulator to spend another few hours crammed full of airwork, emergencies, and even some ‘normal’ flying. After flying some much time dealing with abnormal events, it was odd sometimes to fly an airplane with all of the systems working!!

After the 2 simulator sessions, the evaluation was basically a review of what I had learned – a lot of single engine flying, systems failures, and low visibility operations. Just to end on a high note – I had a departure in windshear and after recovering from that, a dual hydraulic failure, with a resultant manual gear extension, and of course flap failure to a full stop. All in all, a very robust Citation recurrent training program designed to keep you safe.

Train Like You Fly and Fly Like You Train

It is so important to continue flight training, that it should be ingrained in every pilot’s psyche! I cannot stress this enough. With almost 10,000 flight hours I never fail to learn something new (or improve my skills) when I train. It makes you a better pilot, keeps your mind sharp, and is just plain fun. The day I no longer train is the day I will stop flying (which I hope will be a very, very long time from now).