Something to do on a rainy day

Fuel Filler After Polishing - Profile

One of the things I like to do is spend time working on our planes. Every time I walked by the  wing tips of our Eclipse I didn’t like the dull look of the fuel filler neck. The dull grey just didn’t match the sleek look of the plane.  The Eclipse service centers offer a service to polish the necks, and other components, however I like a challenge and always think it will take less time than it does! I was going to polish the engine inlets in any case, so just added this project to my list on a whim.

Fuel filler before polishing
Fuel filler before polishing

I started by assessing how to polish the neck without damaging the surrounding surface or worse, dropping something into the fuel tank.  I initially tried to polish it by hand however the surface was in such rough shape that it would take too much time. It was time to pull out the drill!

I’ve used a variety of metal polishes in the past, so I had a few to choose from in my inventory.  Due to the condition of the neck  I knew I would need a coarse polish to for the initial step.  I chose Rolite polishes which offer a wide spectrum of  grits, from very coarse to ultra fine.

The Process

To minimize and damage to the surrounding area and protecting the tank itself, I started with masking off the filler neck. This step is critical. If the polish residue or anything else contaminated the fuel, it could cause problems. I then masked the tank surrounding the filler neck. In hindsight it would have also been useful to drape the tank with plastic or cloth to minimize the hassles of cleaning the residue off the tank itself.

Initial masking of the filler neck itself. Use a sharp razor blade to cut around the circumference of the neck.
Initial masking of the filler neck itself. Use a sharp razor blade to cut around the circumference of the neck.
Filler neck masked and starting masking the filler mount
Filler neck masked and starting masking the filler mount
Masked and Ready for Polishing
Masked and Ready for Polishing

Tools of the Trade

I use a cordless drill fitted with a 3M 3 inch buffing attachment  onto which I attach foam polishing pads. A great alternative  is this inexpensive kit from Amazon  (full link below) that includes the adaptor and various pads. To make your projects easier, I suggest having multiple pads on hand so you don’t have to clean them as the residue builds in them.  Of course, I didn’t do that!

Getting Ready - Supplies and Tools
Getting Ready – Supplies and Tools

I used Rolite AP200 to start, if I could have found the AP100 that would have been a better initial choice. It is basically a messy job. The resulting black residue gets everywhere when you use a drill, including on the floor and your clothes. I should have used a friend’s hanger! As you polish  occasionally clean the consumed residue away to give you a better idea of your progress. If you have a slightly damp polishing pad it seems to work best for me. If it is too wet, the residue flies everywhere.

Polishing process - in action
Polishing process – in action

It takes patience and constantly check the status of your work. My filler necks showed machine marks from manufacturing and I didn’t try to obtain a perfectly smooth surface. It wasn’t necessary to obtain a nice result. As the aluminum was reaching my preferred look, I switched to finer grit polishes, including APS 500. Rolite also offers Supra 90, a very fine compound which works well. I used it and Flitz that I had handy as the final step.

Rolite AP500 - ultra fine polish
Rolite AP500 – ultra fine polish


After about 45 minutes I was close to being finished. The black residue, containing aluminum oxide, was all over my work area. No matter how careful I was, some also stained the surrounding paint as the masking tape was removed. From my previous experience polishing, I knew it wasn’t an issue. There are various methods to remove the residue, including any on the paint. I’ve found the easiest is to use a paint cleaner or polish.  I had Nulite NuPro handy. It is a great paint cleaner and easily removes turbine soot, dirt, and you name it.  It quickly cleaned the project surface and paint. I followed it with the use of an aircraft polish. I used what I had handy.

The Results

You’ve probably see the beautiful polished bare aluminum airplanes and props and were amazed at how nice they look. What you may not realize is what it takes to keep them that way.  When you polish aluminum, it looks beautiful however you are removing a protective layer of anodizing. Because if this it requires more frequent maintenance. I polish brightwork about once a month and The specialized metal polishes appear to work the best, however in a pinch any quality plush or sealant will work. If you don’t, you risk corrosion of the surface.

Fuel Filler After Polishing - Profile
Fuel Filler After Polishing – Profile
Fuel filler after polishing
Fuel filler after polishing

The result was great, maybe not as nice as what can be obtained by professionals, however at least my fuel fillers won’t bug me as I walk by them during preflight.  It also gave me an excuse to flight test my work!

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

Floats in Alaska! The Ultimate Flying Adventure

If you haven’t thought about adding a Seaplane rating to your license, you should!   I’ve considered it for years, however it wasn’t until this summer, 2014, that I put my plan in place.  My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner!  On the other hand, if I had then I probably would only be flying Float planes!

While up in Alaska  for the Iditarod  earlier this year –  Flying in Alaska – I explored options for obtaining my rating in our northernmost state.  This summer I was flying back up to Alaska in the CJ3 and had enough time to obtain the rating.  I found many good options for the course, however Alaska Floats & Ski owned by Don Lee looked like the best course.  They offer many packages, including one with lodging, which worked great for my needs.  I wanted to be as close as possible to the planes! Don’s Alaska Floats & Ski is located on  beautiful Christiansen Seaplane Base (AK8).

Alaska Floats & Ski - Christiansen Seaplane Base
Alaska Floats & Ski – Christiansen Seaplane Base

Located only a few miles from Talkeetna Airport (PATK) and the adjacent town, it is a spectacular location.  Talkeetna is about 2.5 hours from Anchorage on the Parks Highway, and 2.5 hours from Denali Park.  One of the great things about having a plane in Talkeetna, is you can fly to Denali in only 40 minutes in the PA-22 (Pacer) for an incredible view (more later).

I arrived at Don’s place on Monday morning and Lindsay, the Office Manager, quickly greeted me at their FBO.

Alaska Floats & Ski FBO - Lindsay the Office Manager
Alaska Floats & Ski FBO – Lindsay the Office Manager

Lindsay showed my their lodge and  let me choose between the Cessna and Piper rooms.  It was a tough choice!  The rooms are very nice, with a kitchen in the lodge if you want to prepare your own meals.  The lodge is only a few steps from the dock.  When I wasn’t flying, or sleeping I could be found studying, or writing, by the dock – even if it was raining.  Even at 11 p.m. I would be sitting by the dock enjoying the almost endless daylight.

Ground school with my CFI - Roger Anderson
Ground school with my CFI – Roger Anderson

Alaska Floats & Ski has a number of aircraft for their bush and float courses, some of which are converted to skis for the winter.  They typically fly Piper Pacers (PA-22) in their programs.  Here are some of their fleet, with the bush planes kept at the Talkeetna airport.

Alaska Float & Ski Float Plane Fleet
Alaska Float & Ski Float Plane Fleet
N7150K - Taxiing In at AK8
N7150K – Taxiing In at AK8

My primary training platform was N7347D, a very nice PA-22/20S.  With the floats, it took some time to get used to using more rudder than I’ve used in land planes.  It reminded me of sailplanes, which are also more sensitive to rudder input.  Once you get accustomed to that, it becomes second nature.

N7347D - My training platform
N7347D – My training platform

Don has a very welcoming staff, with a number of CFIs, all of whom have extensive experience across the fleet.  Don and Roger are also A&Ps, and their maintenance hangar is adjacent to the dock.  Sometimes after flying, we would sit by the dock and have beers — at ‘ramp temperature’.

Don and the gang

Seaplane Flights

We started ground school just after I arrived, then Roger and I started flying that same afternoon, taking my first flight in a Piper Pacer, let alone a float plane.  After donning a life vest, I learned that you want to have the plane ready to start the minute you are cast off from the dock – you don’t want to be drifting in a powerless plane in the lake. We started off by learning to taxi – without brakes!  The floats have very small water rudders which are somewhat effective if you are moving. We taxied to the north end of Christiansen Lake – which was fun by itself, watching the water go by with my door open.

Taxiing for Takeoff - view from my cockpit window
Taxiing for Takeoff – view from my cockpit window

The water rudders on the floats are only down when taxiing at idle or using the Plough technique, otherwise they are up.   The trick is to make a 180 degree turn and have the water rudders up by the time you are straight for takeoff.  Too early in the turn, and your can’t turn, too late and you are busy with other takeoff items.  With enough turning momentum you can raise the water rudders by 135 degrees, then add power and you are ready to go when lined up.

With full power, 10 degrees of flaps, and full back elevator we accelerate, albeit slowly.  As you accelerate the back elevator is gradually reduced until the plane settles ‘on the step’.  The step planing position is when the airplane is on the mid point of the floats and has the optimum, smallest, contact point with the water.  It took me some time to actually feel when that attitude is obtained.  Once there your elevator pressure is almost neutral and you wait to build up speed to attempt lift off around 50 MPH.

We had a smooth (glassy) surface which is actually more challenging than a rough water surface since the surface tension wants to keep the floats on the water.  One way to accelerate the process is to pull the plane onto one float – reducing the drag. Roger taught me to bump the flaps up, just a little and turn the ailerons to life a float.  Presto!  We are airborne – looking at the trees at the end of the lake.  I took advantage of the lower terrain on the left end by turning the airplane just over the water as I climbed.

In the photo we took off from the far right, then followed the lake to the upper left on the first departure.  The lodge and dock on the the far side in the middle. What a thrill!

Christiansen Lake Seaplane Base Alaska - AK8
Christiansen Lake Seaplane Base AK8

We headed to a series of lakes, the first being Rockys Lakes.  You always assess the landing area, including the winds, before landing.  Without an ASOS or even a wind sock, you are dependent upon your own observations. If there is wind, the upwind portion of the lake will be smooth – in the wind shadow.  Ripples will start to form around 2 knots, and waves at 4 kts.  As the lakes increase in size, the waves also get larger farther downwind.  All things to consider, including trees which surround most of the lakes I used!

Splash-n-Gos Getting My Seaplane Rating

Roger did a great job preparing for my first wet landing.  After assessing the first lake, I established a pattern and slowly decelerated to 80 MPH, flaps at 10 degrees. (G)as (U)ndercarraige – floats down and gear up (for amphibs) (M)ixture (P)ower (throttle, carb heat test).  Usually when water is on the runway, I’m considering hydroplaning – this time I’m landing in water.

Rockys Lake
Rockys Lake

I was glad that Roger picked a big lake for the first landing. Our goal was to land over the small peninsula just forward of the strut, a low lying area of marsh. The wind was light which made it nice, however the surface was fairly smooth which also removes some of the visual clues.  When setting up for landing on water, you don’t flare but attain a landing attitude which is close to level.

My first touch down was a bit rough and the pitch was a little low, so we ended up with a bow wave in front of the float.  The lift off was quick, since the bow wave reduces the surface tension and up we went.  I love touch-n-gos and the opportunity to do a large number of splash-n-gos was awesome!

We then practiced glassy landings, one of the most challenging landings.  When the surface is glassy, or you have reduced visibility, it is difficult to ascertain your height above the water.  The trick is to choose a visual reference (trees, grass, etc.) before you fly over the water.  At that point you set your final landing attitude.  The altitude above the water, is now totally controlled by power — with the landing attitude constant.  You must avoid looking at the water below and instead focus out in the distance.  You no longer have your side visual references. Surprise!!! You landed.  Roger said every glassy landing is a surprise.  On one landing I was so close to the marsh on final, that I landed on it then slide onto the water!  It was a very smooth landing in the water.

Next was confined landings over trees.  Similar to a short-field landing on a runway, you come over the trees on a steep approach with 30 degrees of flaps, round out to the landing attitude then – Splash!  It was more fun than any short field landing I’ve ever done.

Ten landings later, we headed to Fish Lake on the way back to base. Before landing at Fish Lake we saw perhaps the tallest structure out side of Anchorage!  It appeared that the owner was never satisfied with the view from their house, so they kept building another level!  I hope my wife doesn’t want me to do the same thing to our house —- it would take time from flying.

When a View is Really Important
When a View is Really Important

On the way back to AK8 we practiced on Fish Lake, which is just a few miles from our base.  It has a nice approach over the road to Talkeetna, then over the trees.

Fish Lake - Short Final
Fish Lake – Short Final

In the evening, which is still daylight since the sun didn’t set until almost midnight,  Roger and I decided to explore some mountain lakes – Rainbow, Sockeye, and Pineapple Man.  All of them are beautiful, with Pineapple Man offering some challenges since it is in a valley and on approach you can’t see the lake until you are almost over it.  Roger taught me to use ‘lead-in’ lakes, flying over the first, then turn left 80 degrees for the second, then finally seeing Pineapple Man after passing the second lake.  Since the lake has some large rocks, you fly over it for 1/2 mile, then turn right and Splash!

These lakes became my favorites, the location in the mountains and unique challenges made for fun landings.  Over 2 flights we made a large number of landings, many of which were on glassy surfaces.  On Rainbow, it was so calm that even on multiple Splash-n-Gos I could still see my wake.  We also practiced step taxiing and that wake also remained for several minutes.

My Wakes at Rainbow Lake
You can see the wakes from the step taxi and two previous landings

Talkeetna

Talkeetna is a quaint town, just a few minutes from Alaska Floats & Ski.  It is only a few blocks long, and is worth the visit.  There are various places to stay, shop, and eat.  One of my favorites is the Wildflower Cafe, offering some of the best meals in Alaska.  You will find many other options in the town, including homemade ice cream!

Homemade Ice Cream at Wake and Shake - Talkeetna
Homemade Ice Cream at Wake and Shake – Talkeetna

 

Side Flight – Denali Glacier

Roger signed me off for my checkride after our third flight, however I wanted to fly more.  We decided to fly up the Kahlitna Glacier which is the largest glacier in the Alaska Range, land at a few lakes on the way back, then fly down the Chitna River back to base.  We lashed fishing poles to the wing struts, just in case we wanted to fish on one of the lakes.  Denali was obscured in clouds, however the flight up the glacier was still spectacular.  Flying under the clouds, we explored all the way up to the base of Denali, and could see Mount Foraker (17,402) above us.  The glacier is covered with mountain debris on the lower sections, the result of extensive erosion by the moving ice.  Flying low over the glacier we could view the deep glacier blue water in small pools.  Along the way we viewed extensive ice falls, and flew up over the base camp used at the base of Denali for the climbers.

Flying Up the Glacier - Fishing Poles Ready
Flying up the Kahlitna Glacier – fishing poles ready
Kahlitna Glacier
Kahlitna Glacier
Mt. Foraker - AK
Mt. Foraker – AK

The Checkride

Now was the time to prove to the FAA that I could fly float planes.  Ray Hodges, was the FAA-designated examiner.  Ray owns his own float plane (PA-12) and flew up from Palmer to administer the examination.  Ray immediately put me at ease, then presented me with a 6 page written test.  The items dealt with aerodynamics, FAA regulations, and general knowledge on how to safely operate sea planes.  I had studied over the previous 2 days with material provided by Roger, which did a great job of preparing me for the check ride.  The ground portion of our check ride took a bit over 2  1/2 hours, then it was off to demonstrate my skills in accordance with the Practical Test Standards (PTS).  We flew over to Larsen Lake, close by to AK8.  The surface was calm, so most of my landing were made using the glassy techniques.  The check ride included various maneuvers including: step turns, plough turns, high altitude operations, constrained (short) operations, glassy landings, and a few others. Since Roger had thoroughly prepared me for the test, it was not a surprise.

Larson Lake - Checkride Central
Larson Lake – Checkride Central

It was great landing back at AK8 and then Ray told me I had passed and now was a Commercial Single Engine Seaplane pilot!

Rich and Ray Hodges DPE with SES
Rich and Ray Hodges DPE with SES

Hooked

Right after receiving my new rating, I wanted to fly again.  I talked with Don Lee and I wanted to explore the Susitna River.  With the recent rains it was moving fast with the high water and looked like a challenge. Don taught me how to determine the best landing option, especially with downed trees in the river, and taxiing in the moving river up to the shore for beaching.  It was interesting landing in such fast moving water, an opportunity I didn’t want to miss.  Don is an excellent CFI, with considerable experience and I realized I only touched the surface of this great opportunity to fly a float plane.

After arriving back in Anchorage, the first thing I did was go looking for another float plane to fly!  I scoured the Lake Hood Seaplane Base (PALH), the largest in the world, and found a Super Cub to rent with a CFI.  Richard Whyte at Acme Cub Training was available, so we went up to explore lakes north of Anchorage.  PALH has both water runways, and runways.  It is directly adjacent to Anchorage International Airport and it is an experience not to be missed.  You are flying float planes in the pattern, watching 747s landing nearby.

Super Cub - getting ready to launch from the dock
Super Cub – getting ready to launch from the dock

The Super Cub flies differently than the Pacer, and has 20 additional horse power.   Landing is very similar with minor changes in landing attitude.  I had never flown a Super Cub, yet the training I had received helped in flying that aircraft.  After an hour and half, it was time to head back to Anchorage.

Flying float planes is an incredible experience, and I recommend it highly. You can’t beat Alaska for the variety of lakes to explore and Alaska Floats & Ski provide a great opportunity to explore those lakes.

One caveat, once you fly on floats you might get hooked!  I’m now finding myself looking in Controller for Lake Amphibians  —  just looking of course 🙂