Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Cold weather ops are, well, challenging in an older airplane.

First off, the output by the cabin heater is negligible. I have an insulated jumpsuit that I wear for winter-time flying. Since my airplane has toe-brakes, not heel-brakes, I can get away with wearing insulated boots.

You'll need some kind of head covering and gloves. Sometimes you'll see a pilot getting out of a newer Cessna or Piper and he is putting his coat on. Try not to think evil thoughts towards him. Console yourself with the idea that if you both had forced landings, you're already dressed for it and he is not.

My "winterization kit" for the engine consists of duct-tape over the oil cooler inlet. If the air temperature is below 40F, I cover it completely. The oil temps get to where they need to be (180F). It doesn't get cold enough around here to warrant blocking off parts of the cowling inlets.

If I ever have the funds to repaint the airplane, I am going to paint it in a color other than white. Even a white with a little tinge of yellow, a sort of coffee-cream color, would help in using the Sun to shed ice and snow. But you have to get all of the snow and all of the ice off the airplane. Sometimes that means getting most of it off and then repositioning it to take better advantage of the Sun's rays.

Preheating the engine is a must, in my view, whenever the temperature drops below 32F. If you are at a location without electrical power, you either have to use a combustion-type preheater or an electrical preheater with a portable source of power. Whichever you use, if your engine has a remotely-located oil filter (as mine does), be sure that also benefits from preheating.

And cover the cowling with a blanket while preheating the engine! You can get a cheap blanket from a discount place for that. A nice touch is to get a grommet-inserter from a crafts store, for you can then use bungee cords to hold the blanket in place when there is any bit of wind. (If you'd rather spend the money, an insulated engine cover works.)

What it all means, though, is that for an hour's flight in the wintertime, you can easily spend more than that getting the airplane ready to fly. If there has been snow, you may wind up making an extra trip to the airport to brush the snow off and dig out the tiedown a day or two before. (If the snowplow driver who was doing the taxiway plowed you in and you don't have your own snowblower, you might be SOL until the snow melts, so you may want to have a chat with the FBO's owner about that.)

It can be very pretty to fly over a snow-covered landscape in a light plane.

But if you don't have a hangar and you don't want to take the steps necessary to fly, then pickle your engine late in the Fall. That usually involves draining the oil and replacing it with a preservative oil, putting desiccant plugs in the cylinders, exhaust pipes and inlet manifold, and removing the battery. Your engine will thank you for it.

You also may want to add mouse deterrents. Buy a package of women's knee-high stockings, fill a couple with mothballs, tie them off and put them in the baggage compartment and the cabin. You may also want to think about opening an inspection cover and put one in each wing. If you plan to fly it, you may be better off soaking cotton balls with essential peppermint oil (the real stuff, not the synthetic) and using them instead of mothballs. The smell is better for you, the mice hate it as much and your airplane will smell like a candy cane.

The two coldest pilots I've ever seen where two guys who were ferrying an Aerostar whose Janitrol cabin heater had conked out. They looked like pilot-sicles when they got out of that airplane and the first thing they did, after they got warmed up, was borrow a crew car and head for a sporting goods store to buy proper winter gear. They were on a schedule and they couldn't take the downtime to fix the heater.

I'd ague that a prudent pilot should dress for the outside air temperature and control the cabin temperature accordingly. Forced landings can happen and it would be kind of ironic to get frostbite or hypothermia after successfully executing a forced landing. But it is a pain int he ass to wear that many layers and to fly while so dressed, so most pilots don't bother.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sky Acres Airport (44N)

Sky Acres Airport is an airport in Dutchess County, NY. It is popular because it has a restaurant that is open from Thursdays through Sundays (7:30AM to 3PM). In the summer, there is also an ice cream stand that is open from Noon until 8PM.

The airport has a bit of a reputation for being difficult to land at, which is, to my mind, rather undeserved. The runway is almost 4,000 feet long, 60 feet wide, which seems adequate for almost everything not powered by a jet engine. But the runway has a few tricks to keep in mind.

First off, about 60% of it is sloped. Runway 17 slopes up, so you have to account for that in setting up your landing to ensure that you are not fooled by the visual picture and that you flare properly.

Second, Runway 17 has trees off to the right. If you are dealing with a right-hand crosswind on 17, it will die off as you begin your flare.

Third, Runway 35 begins as a flat runway, then slopes down just after the first turn-off (there is about a 50' difference in the elevation of the two thresholds). The flat area is at least 1,400' long. I cannot stress this enough: If your wheels are not fully on the pavement by the time you reach the first turn-off, go around!

Finally, and this is for those departing on Runway 35, you cannot see to the far end of the runway. If someone has landed and doesn't make the first turnoff, you won't be able to see them to verify that the runway is clear. Hopefully they have a radio and are polite enough to report clear.

Sky Acres is nowhere near as challenging an airport as, say, Marlboro, but if you are used to 6,000' x 150' runways, you may want to step up your game before flying in.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

No, I'm Not That Crazy

It's a nice day, temps in the mid forties. Blue sky, no wind to speak of. At my home airport, they've fixed the runway lights.

It occurred to me that this would be a good day to get in a little night VFR.

Then it occurred to me that I have less than three hours of flying time on a repaired oil cooler, one that blew out in flight.

I thought better of going for a little night VFR. I'll stay home and read a book.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Aftermath

An oil and filter change was done after I brought the airplane back to my home airport. Nothing was found, no metal bits or flakes.

I flew it yesterday. The wind was a little bit brisk and I debated with myself about going flying. Then it came to me that my reluctance to fly was based on the fun of putting the cabin cover back on when the wind is up. The wind was maybe 10 degrees off the runway centerline, so a crosswind wasn't a factor. Not wanting to mess with the cabin cover was a pretty lame excuse not to go flying, so I took 33C up for an hour. I did notice that I scan the oil gauges a lot more frequently than I formerly did.

I'm hoping that they fix the runway lights before it gets too cold. I'd like to get a spot of night flying in.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Depending on the Kindness of Strangers

Following this incident, I was able to hitch a ride from the Kingston Airport (20N) to Sky Acres (44N),my home airport, from some nice man flying a Cherokee 235. The repaired oil cooler is installed.

This morning I begged a ride from a nice gent flying a Cessna 150. So my airplane is back.

The consensus is that no damage was done, but a precautionary oil change and filter inspection will be done nonetheless.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

So There I Was, Flying Along, Fat, Dumb and Happy on a Crisp Fall Day...

.... when I noticed that the oil pressure had begun dropping. I immediately turned towards the nearest airport, which was Kingston, NY. Actually there was a private grass strip I would have landed on if I had to, which was the Old Rhinebeck Airport, but they had an airshow going on. Oil pressure kept sliding down and so did the oil temperature, probably because the thermocouple had become uncovered.

I came in on a 45deg right base to Runway 33, nobody was in the pattern (I'd have told them to get the frak out of the way if there was anyone there). I pulled the mixture out when I had the field made and landed. I came in rather hot; for that runway, the risk of running off the far end and maybe ground-looping was preferable to the risk of landing short. I made a turnoff without braking and coasted to a stop on the taxiway clear of the runway.

When I got out of the airplane, the tailwheel was soaked with oil and oil was dripping out of the cowling. Of the seven quarts that were in there when I took off 35 minutes before, a gallon of oil had been lost. Oil pressure never dropped completely to zero and the engine sounded fine. Some nice men helped me push the airplane to a tiedown and an hour later, another nice man gave me a lift back to my home airport in his Cherokee.

The cause was a split seam in the oil cooler, which itself is brand new (installed in May). The oil cooler will go back to the maker and then we shall see. I hope to have a new one back and be flying next week.

I've got over 1,200 hours of time, virtually all of it in single-engined aircraft, and this was my first emergency landing for mechanical reasons.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Momma, Don't Let Strangers Tie Down Your Airplane

This can be the result:

Notice that the tailwheel was not tied down. If a strong wind had come up from astern of the airplane, it would have been flipped up onto its nose. You might get away with just tying down the wings of a nosedragger, but never a tailwheel airplane.

Friday, August 27, 2010


On the right side of this page, you will see links to pages that have photos of the interior and the exterior.

Circumstances in my life have changed. I might be in a position in awhile where I have to seriously consider selling 33C.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Keeping a Promise

Years ago, when I was getting my private ticket, I paid my CFI to give my kid sister a ride. I took a photograph of that day, which my father framed and is now in my sister's house. Her daughter asked about it when she was very young and, upon being told the story, wanted to know when her Aunt Stephanie would take her for a ride in her airplane. I promised her that I would when she was a little older.

My niece is nearly ten years old. I kept my promise this Summer.

Of course, that also meant that I had to take her kid brother up for a ride.

I kept both flights short, maybe ten or fifteen minutes. I also did them fairly early, before the heat of the day began generating thermals.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Why I Bought 333C

I bought it because of my father.

Dad worked very hard from the time he was nine years old.[1] He had ideas and plans about what he wanted to do after he retired. But when he finally retired, a lot of those ideas were out of the question for medical reasons.

I had wanted my own airplane for a very long time. So, channeling a little bit of Travis McGee, when I could swing buying it, I did.

Was it a good move on a financial basis? Hell, no. Do I regret it? Not for a picosecond.

If you don't know the fun in being able to look outside at a nice day and decide to go for a flight, then I sort of pity you. There is a near absolute freedom in being able to fly.[2] By diving and then pulling up in a climb, I've made the Sun appear to set and then rise in the West. I've seen fireworks burst below my wings like colorful AAA fire. I've flown down over highways in the evening rush hour and seen the white headlights and red taillights turn the roads into rivers of light. I've seen Christmas light displays on houses that I've seen from ten miles off. I've circled a formation of Navy YP boats doing maneuvering exercises in Cape Cod Bay. I've flown in and out of airports with significant jet airline traffic and short grass strips, sometimes on the same day. I've gone on cross-country flights lasting from a couple of hours to ten days or more.

All are easy to do, but only if you have an airplane at your beck and call.

[1] He grew up in the Depression. The stories usually began with: "You damn kids don't know how good you have it. Why, when I was your age..."
[2] Or there was until those 9-11 assholes ruined everything.

Monday, July 26, 2010

So, Am I Going to Sell It?

Hell if I know.

I just renewed the insurance, so that sort of implies "no". I've had the oil cooler replaced, which was leaking and may have been weeping oil for a long time, as the inside of the cowling is staying very clean.

On a cold-hearted economic basis, I should sell it. But who the hell lives their life that way?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

So Why Buy an Airplane?

There are some good reasons for owning an airplane. So let's consider them.

1. You want to go places that you can't take a rental airplane. Most rental operations have restrictions on what type of airports you can use. If your favorite destination is an unpaved field or a private strip or under 3,000 feet in length, you may find it hard to rent an airplane to go there.

2. You want to fly someplace frequently for the weekend. For most rental operations, their busiest time is the weekend. They will be less than thrilled if you take their prize bug-smasher for those days.

3. You want to make extended trips. Some may let you do that, but you have to pay the equivalent of three or four hours of flight time each day. If you're not planning on flying 20 hours on a five day trip, this will cost you a frigging fortune. And if you get weathered in somewhere for a few days, do the math.

4. You want to fly something other than a Piper Archer or a Cessna 172. Oh, you can find places that will rent Beech Bonanza or a Citabria, but they are harder to find. If your heart is set on renting a serious classic or an antique, your search may be a lot more difficult. You may fly into an airport with a 172 and everyone will ignore yuo, but fly in with an old tailwheel airplane or even a biplane and you will get almost as much attention from the ramp rats as if you'd flown in with a turbine.

5. You want to fly when you want to fly. Even a club might not help here. Owning your own airplane means that as long as the weather cooperates and the airplane isn't being worked on, you can go when you want.

6. You are tired of dealing with other people's stuff/messes. As you feel secure about it, you can leave a lot of your stuff in your airplane. Maybe you need to just lock it in the luggage compartment or just in the cabin, but you can leave headsets, charts, manuals, whatever. And if you've ever gone to go flying and you've gotten a 172 that reeked of puke because some kid an hour ago blew his lunch over the back seats...

7. You want to know what you fly. This is a corollary to the old rule of "beware a man who only owns one gun, he knows how to shoot it". Accumulate enough time in one airplane and you don't fly it so much as wear it.

8. As a friend pointed out, you may want to know the quality of what you fly. There can be some real dogs in the rental fleet and the "dogginess" of them may not be readily apparent. You might not know that the spiffy Piper on the flight line has a very tired engine or that the #2 comm radio has a tendency to not work when you need it. You'll know all of those things in your own airplane and you get to choose what you will live with and what you'll fix or upgrade.

All this comes at a cost, beyond the basics. If you want to fly a tailwheel airplane, figure that your insurance is going to run 4% or better of the hull value. The cures for that are tailwheel time and time in type. Once you start getting well into the triple digit range for both without an accident or claim, your insurance costs may drop a bit.

There are few things in life that are more fun than going to an airport, jumping into your own airplane, and flying to wherever you feel like.

Monday, June 21, 2010

"If It Floats, F*cks or Flies, It's Better to Rent"

That is the old wisdom, which is particularly appropriate to aircraft ownership. If you own an airplane, you are the one who pays all of the fixed costs: Maintenance, insurance, and hangar/tiedown rent. Those costs have to factored in before you buy a single gallon of 100LL and go flying.

When you run the numbers for a lot of airplanes, you may find that ownership is a better deal if you can fly 100 to 150 hours a year or more. Below that, the fixed costs will drive the per-hour cost sky-high.

Let's assume that you buy a simple airplane, maybe a mid-1960s Cessna 172. You may find one with a mid-time engine for $35,000.

Insurance: If you have a fair amount of time in 172s, you will probably pay about 3% of hull value for insurance, which includes liability and in-motion/non-motion coverage. ("In-motion coverage" insures you for the loss if you crack it up. "Not-in-motion" coverage insures you if some nimrod smashed into your parked airplane.) So figure on $1,000 a year, minimum for insurance.

Tiedowns/hangar rent is very much dependent on three factors: Location, location, location. At some airports close to major cities, an open-air tiedown will cost more than a hangar at a distant airport. Hangar rent also depends on whether the hangar is a dedicated use one (your airplane alone) or a shared hangar or whether the hangar is enclosed or open-air. Tiedown cost depends on whether the airplane is sitting on grass or asphalt. Outside of rural areas, plan on between $50/month for a tiedown to $400 or more for a hangar. Cheaping out and you will pay $600 a year.

But wait: If you keep your airplane outdoors, you will need two things: An engine cover or plugs (to keep the birds out of the cowling) and a cabin cover, to keep UV from aging your interior and overheating your avionics. If you need both for your airplane, that will run $700 or so, and they need to be replaced every three years or so, as UV and weathering will slowly eat them up. So add $200/year to that $600.

Now the biggie: Maintenance. This is very much location-dependent; the higher cost of your area, the higher the cost of maintenance. First rule is this, and I cannot stress it enough: Never ever take your airplane for an annual inspection to an aircraft shop that works on turbine-powered airplanes. Jet shops have a far different view of what a "reasonable cost" is from the average owner of a piston-engined airplane.

Second rule: Ask around. Some shops are known to be "aggressive", some are not. Try to find a shop that will work with you and stay away from shops that have a reputation for charging off and doing work without authorization. If you are handy with tools, you may find a shop that lets you do the prep work, such as removing cowlings and fairings. If you have your own hangar, you may be able to do a lot of the work and hire a freelance mechanic to oversee you and do the heavier stuff.

Still, for a Cessna 172, $1,000 to $1,500 is a good rule of thumb for a "nothing unusual" annual. But if you have a cylinder on your engine with a bad valve seat or needs rework, that'll run $1,000 per cylinder or more. Older airplanes are capable of a few "zOMGs" at an annual that will shock you. Still, you are saving on not having retractable landing gear or a controllable-pitch prop.

Note that when you add the costs of insurance, tiedown/hangar and maintenance, you are at $3,000 a year or better and that is before you go flying. If you don't live close to your airport, an hour's worth of tooling around the countryside will take you three or four hours of time, which will work to limit the amount of flying that you do.

This is why people say that renting is cheaper.

But there are solid reasons to own an airplane, which I will get to in another post.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


I am mulling over whether to sell my airplane, N333C. I have owned it for 20 years. I love flying it, don't get me wrong, but my personal economic situation requires that I consider making some changes. When it comes right down it it, this airplane is, at least for me, more of a toy than a tool.

I will, as I get around to culling and editing them, put up a number of photographs. I will also write some thoughts on owning and flying personal aircraft.