Friday, September 5, 2008

Mountain Flying Seminar with Barry Schiff

I went to a seminar sponsored by the San Fernando Valley 99s at Van Nuys airport last night. It was part of their Pilot Proficiency Seminars series. The speaker was Barry Schiff, he of more than 27,000 hours logged in more than 300 types of aircraft.

Barry spoke about Mountain Flying. Since I live in Southern California there are many, many mountains to be concerned about. I wanted to see what the guy had to offer. I was hoping to pick up a thing or two that would help, or save, me.

I was not disappointed. Barry is a likeable guy and his vast experience has armed him with lots of stories and funny comments. Here’s one, loosely quoted, “My instructor got out of the airplane as he sent me off for my first solo with this comment, ‘Get me out of this airplane before you kill me!’“. Okay, I got that one from his book “Test Pilot: 1001 things you thought you knew about aviation” that I bought at the seminar. But he had plenty of interesting tidbits live at the seminar too. He described why we say an airport is “socked in” and how the Pitot tube was invented, and more. If you want to know the answers to these two, send a message.

Anyway, here’s a couple of things I came away with. When flying into an airport with a high elevation (use Big Bear California as an example at 6752 feet) you should fly the airplane at the indicated airspeeds you normally do. For example, in my Cherokee 140 (it’s a hot rod though) I usually slow to 100 on the base leg, then slow to 80 on final and touch down at maybe 70ish. That wouldn’t change at a high elevation airport. However, the density of the air up there is much different and what your airspeed indicator reads is much different that your true airspeed. You are actually going much faster through the space of air (or, compare groundspeeds) than normal. So, when you make your turn from the downwind leg to the base leg and then continue on to final, you will oftentimes find yourself overshooting the runway’s centerline significantly. You might think you just screwed up your turn but the reality is that the airplane is going faster through the air and it takes more room to turn a faster airplane (I’m using simplified terms here, and hope to God I’m not screwing any of it up). Solution: When flying into a high-altitude airport you need to give yourself more room on the downwind leg. Just 6 weeks prior to this seminar I did exactly as described at Big Bear airport (KL35). Was surprised I was off centerline. Now I know why and won’t do it again.

He, of course, went into great detail about density altitude and performance degradation. And an interesting talk about flaps on landing. I’ll get into that next time...

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