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Flying home from Sun ‘n Fun (2)

We had been watching the weather and there was a pretty massive storm that covered most of Texas. We over-nighted in Monroe expecting to go north to Oklahoma to go around the storm. When we woke up the storm had moved but it still looked like we could go up to Tulsa and skirt the storm. Once we took off it was clear through the use of our XM weather on the MFD and panning function that the storm was moving north. We re-routed to Joplin, MO, then to Wichita and tried to get around the storm back into Amarillo.  (see weather picture below).

The Aspen display of XM weather coupled with the cursor/info selection functions to look at weather at possible re-fueling airport stops was invaluable to making the trip home safely. I also got a good chance to use the new cursor functionality in version 2.2. In the picture (see cursor picture below) you can see how I managed my distance from local terrain on our way back into Albuquerque.

Keeping track of terrain on theMFD500 and watching the distances using the cursor while having XM weather on the MFD1000 provided for exceptional situational awareness. The unique ability of a three display Aspen solution to look at the MAP from both the terrain and weather perspective is extremely useful in a busy environment.

As we approached Albuquerque there were several large storms in the area. We anticipated having to divert to Santa Fe. So we brought up the weather and approaches at Santa Fe to ensure that it would be a safe alternative. We had plenty of fuel so we had options. In the end we were able to land safely between two pretty good storms at our home airport, Double Eagle II (KAEG).

All in all a very interesting and fun flight that challenged not only me as a pilot but also the Aspen system. I am happy to say that we came through with flying colors!

Flying home from Sun ‘n Fun

As I have been very slow in getting blog entries posted, mainly due to my travel schedule I wanted to at least give you some highlights. I will continue to share my experiences with the Aspen system.

First, the return trip from Lakeland.

In order to beat the traffic out of Sun-n-Fun I repositioned the airplane to Plant City a short distance from Lakeland. This seemed like a pretty simple thing to do. However, having flown a lot in the west where distances between airports are much greater, skies a lot less busy and I have a lot of time to transition mentally from departure to arrival mode, the trip turned out to be a pretty busy and unexpected hurried event. I was very prepared to get out of Lakeland, had all of the notams, instructions and guidance that one could find. The departure was uneventful and before I knew it I was in the air.

What I wasn’t mentally prepared for was how quickly I had to be ready to enter into the pattern at Plant City!  All went well, (after one go-around because I was too fast!) but it certainly taught me the lesson of begin better prepared for all facets of the flight BEFORE I get off the ground!

Prior to leaving from Plant City I had my software updated to version 2.2 with charts and geo-referenced airport diagrams. In addition, the new software had advanced panning functions and the ability to display OBS on the MFD. (I really could have used OBS when I repositioned into Plant City so I could have more quickly oriented myself to the runway headings) The next day we left for Albuquerque.

Our route of flight had us going up the west coast of  Florida, refueling at Dothan, AL (BTW, a great little airport with great service and facilities!) and proceeding to Monroe, LA. The flight was in clear VFR. The scenery up the coast of Florida was spectacular. Overall the flight was uneventful and went by very quickly. We did get to use the OBS function (not sure how I lived without it before!) and geo-referenced airport diagram at Monroe which was incredibly helpful in taxiing around the unfamiliar airport.

The three display Aspen system is the only retrofit system that I have seen that provides you the ability to bring up the approach chart and still have full Nav Map display capabilities. This is an incredible improvement in safety awareness. I can’t wait to have the upcoming NACO geo-referenced approach charts to improve that awareness even more.

Flying to Sun ‘n Fun (3)

April 30, 2010 Leave a comment

We got up the next morning and headed for the airport. Armed with the NOTAM for Lakeland and a new found confidence in flying IFR, even if only under simulated conditions, we departed KMLU for Albany GA. We filed an IFR flight plan for this part of the trip as well and I got a lot more experience in flying the Aspen PFD and MFD under IFR. I really like the amount of information and the flexibility of being able to arrange my data on the MFD as I needed. During takeoff I would have the MFD1000 (the MFD to the right of the PFD) showing three windows, displaying the back-up Attitude/speed/altitude in the upper right, traffic in the upper left and the nav map with XM weather and traffic overlay.

On the MFD 500 (the MFD to the left of the PFD) I would have that in the split 2 screen mode. The top half with traffic and the bottom half the Nav Map with terrain turned on. This gave me exceptional situational awareness. When transitioning into cruise I put the MFD500 in single window mode with the map. I used the MFD500 to get info along my path of flight. The flexibility to tailor the system to my way is really remarkable; there is nothing out there that can do this (yes I know I am biased, but it really is true!)

However, I have to admit that after having seen the advanced panning and info functions of version 2.2 in the labs in Albuquerque, I was a bit disappointed with the limited functions of the info and panning feature in version 2.1. I was looking forward to the return flight to use the version 2.2 panning/cursor, info and NACO charts and geo referenced airport diagrams.

After landing in Albany GA, picking up fuel and food, we headed for Lakeland. We decided to take this on VFR. We cruised at 3500 ft for the most part. As we approached central Florida we encountered those “puffy” clouds you typically see on a Florida afternoon. None were building at the time so I got a lot of chances to practice cloud avoidance and separation to ensure we remained in VFR flight. As silly as the next sentence may sound, this was really the first time I had a chance to do this. In Albuquerque and generally in the southwest because of the altitude, surrounding mountains and fast developing storms when there were clouds like this they quickly develop into thunderstorms, not a time to be flying VFR! I really enjoyed this part of the flying, as Anson was really helpful in describing techniques and identifying distances/altitudes to remain safely in VFR.

We quickly converged on Lakeland. There was considerable traffic that was showing up on my TAS and that we saw visually. It was beginning to get tense for me as I was closing in on Lake Parker, the initial point of entry into Lakeland. We both had the NOTAM out even though by now we had it memorized. The NOTAM was laid out very nicely as each page showed a specific part of the approach and was set up so that I could easily fly that portion, have time to turn the page and safely continue on. I thought it was really well done.

We flew towards the power plant, found an airplane to follow and acknowledged the controller’s instructions with an aggressive wing rock! We headed on in keeping a good distance from the 172 or 182 (we couldn’t tell from a distance which it was!). We followed the NOTAM instructions and monitored the appropriate radios and made a smooth landing abeam of the tower.

Landing Rwy 9 KLAL

I'm right behind the windsock

As I taxied off the runway and followed the volunteer’s instructions I could feel that my heart was still racing and the intensity of the experience was sinking in. We taxied to the Aspen Avionics parking area. We had reserved parking for Aspen equipped airplanes that had RSVP’d in advance through our website. During the show we had over 20 aircraft parked there at some time during the show.

Taxi to parking

Taxi to parking

It is easy to write about this experience calmly and factually but almost impossible for me to explain the emotional high it was to have completed the landing at Lakeland. I was proud of myself as a pilot and equally proud of the Aspen avionics that got me there. I am sure any of you that have experienced this know what I am talking about and for those that haven’t you really have to experience flying into an environment like this some time in your flying career. Having the Aspen system provided me great situational awareness lowering my workload and making me safer.

My next posting will chronicle the return flight and equally important my experience using version 2.2. This version added some key features like OBS, enhanced panning/cursor and info pages that give information on not only airports and navaids, but also airspace information and NACO charts and airport diagrams. I can tell you in advance that the features take the Aspen system to whole new level of functionality and information to the pilot.

Flying to Sun ‘n Fun (2)

April 29, 2010 Leave a comment

After fueling up and getting something to eat, we decided to file an IFR flight plan (my very first time!) and do the flight in simulated instrument environment. I was quite excited about this, as it would be the first time I used the Aspen system as my sole means of flight reference. We took off and climbed quickly to our cruise altitude.

Flying with the PFD and MFD combination made things easy. Using the CDI as the primary source for guidance while using the MFDs to get a look at the big picture was incredible. Lining up the blue diamond to the top of the CDI course indicator to compensate for winds made flying by hand a pleasure. I used the winds aloft feature of the XM weather on the MFD to watch the winds and fuel remaining to ensure we had more than enough fuel for an alternate to KMLU if we needed it. I hand flew for a good portion of this leg using the autopilot occasionally to get the hang of the integration.

We approached KMLU and easily made a visual approach. Again I wished I had the OBS display on the PFD and MFD. I was beginning to realize how important this function is when approaching unfamiliar airports with multiple runways. I was used to flying in New Mexico and Arizona where the air is very clear and there are distinctive geographical references like mountains that make it easy to find the airport and orient yourself to the runway layout well before it is right on top of you!

We over-nighted in Monroe. The FBO there was great and all-in-all Monroe was a great place to stop. During the evening I spent a lot of time reviewing our next legs, especially the NOTAM for getting into Lakeland. This was my first trip into an airshow like this and I was more than a bit nervous.

Next up: Day two of flying, on to Lakeland…

Flying to Sun ‘n Fun (1)

April 26, 2010 Leave a comment

Well, I have been a bit remiss in getting my Lakeland Sun-n-Fun trip up so please forgive me for being a bit late. I still wanted to share with you my experiences flying to Sun-n-Fun.

The trip by far is the longest cross-country trip I have taken. I brought along Anson Gray, one of my sales guys and an accomplished pilot and CFII to make it a learning experience and to try and get some instrument training in. I had just completed instrument ground school so I was excited about that part. The weather for the trip over was forecast to be clear and VMC all of the way to Lakeland. The trip was planned for two days with arrival in Lakeland in the afternoon the second day. Our path of travel brought us to Sheppard Air Force base (KSPS, Wichita Falls, TX) for a fuel and food stop then on to Monroe, LA (KMLU) for an overnight. From that point we proceeded to Albany, GA (KABY) for fuel and then direct to Lakeland.

This would also be the first chance for me to experience the use of the Aspen System in a cross country flight in both VFR and simulated IFR so I was not only excited about the flight but also for the chance to put the system through its paces.

We departed Double Eagle airport (KAEG) early Saturday morning. The departure from KAEG was uneventful and all we really needed to be aware of is to get enough altitude to cross the Sandia Mountains. My DA40 climbed very nicely at a 600+FPM rate in spite of the altitude–KAEG is at 5800 ft and the Sandias where we crossed was around 8700ft. We easily got high enough above the Albuquerque class C and Sandias. We climbed to 11,500 and maintained that altitude on our way to Sheppard.

The weather was clear and we had a pretty good tailwind and things were quiet and smooth. During this part of the flight I primarily used the Aspen info pages to look forward on the flight to review weather etc. Nothing much was out there so the flight to Sheppard was uneventful. As we neared the airport we used the KLN94 OBS function to help line up on the runway. The display of the OBS on the Aspen MFD is not available with version 2.1 software on the Aspen, and I found myself really wanting that function (version 2.2 was released during the show so I would have that on the way back, more on that later).

The Sheppard tower is closed on the weekends so we basically were entering a non-controlled airfield. All in all not a big deal, but since Sheppard also has commercial traffic it was rather odd to be in the pattern with an ATR42! The runway at Sheppard is huge (13,101 ft long and 300 ft wide) and when I touched down my airplane was barely a speck of dust on the massive concrete.

Next up: a little IFR practice on the way to Monroe…

Sun ‘n Fun arrival

April 19, 2010 Leave a comment

First flight to Sun 'n Fun!