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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Come chair-fly away with me

This is the navigational portion of the three-part final exam I give to my AVIA 111 students for the private pilot ground school I teach at Lorain County Community College. This project and three simulated FAA writtens (60 questions each, just like the real thing) are take-home and they have three weeks to work on it. The last part is a simulated FAA written given in class. So if you're thinking of learning to fly and getting college credit for it at the same time, you can use this as a sneak peek at some of the neat stuff you'll be learning by the time you're done.

If you're already a pilot, though, you might find this fun to use as an exercise to brush up on your own cross-country flight planning and execution, or just do some fantasy chair flying around Cleveland, Ohio—which is a lot nicer place to live than people make it out to be! If you're using ForeFlight or a similar planning app, your numbers may vary slightly since they will be using the real weather for that particular day. You can find information manuals for a 172R plenty of places online for free (which is why I picked this particular model), but I'd actually recommend using the POH for the airplane you usually fly instead, just to get more practice in using it.

The bonus questions are ones that require a little extra research or thought and tend to cover items not on an FAA written but are still useful or important to know as a pilot.


Materials required:
Detroit sectional
Navigational plotter
Navigation log sheet
172R Information Manual

You will be making a round robin cross-country flight from Burke-Lakefront (BKL) to Carroll County (TSO) to Mansfield-Lahm (MFD) and back to BKL. Each of these legs will be straight-line, direct legs, so there's no weaseling around airspace. I will provide you with the weather you'll need to do your calculations at the end of this document. You will provide the rest of the data you need to complete the flight through any resources you need to get that information: Airport/Facilities Directory, Detroit Sectional, FAR/AIM, etc.

You will be flying N1234A, which is a 1997 Cessna 172R. It has the standard six-pack of round gauges, a transponder, and a Garmin 430 (a popular IFR-capable GPS). It has an empty weight of 1639 lbs. and a total moment of 64,400 lb.-in. Its fuel burns are what the POH says they should be, and we'll assume your leaning skills are pretty good, so you actually get whatever numbers are in the book.

You'll start the day with full fuel tanks and will not top off during the flights, and all the other fluids like oil are full and will magically stay that way throughout the flight. You have two passengers: one of them weighs 120 lbs. and the other weighs 190 lbs. For simplicity, we'll assume you either gained weight or lost weight and you now are the FAA's mythical 170-lb. person. Your flight bag weighs 12 lbs. and is stowed in the baggage compartment closest to you.

1. Calculate your take-off weight:
2. Calculate the center of gravity:

Carroll County is famous for its home-made pies, so you plan on stopping there and eating. This means you'll have to file two separate flight plans, since you don't know how long you're going spend chowing down. You only plan on doing a touch-and-go at Mansfield and then continuing on your way, so you can combine the last two legs on the same navigation log. Hand in the completed navigation logs along with the questions.

You called Flight Service on the telephone and got a standard briefing. It turns out to be a beautiful but hot summer day, with moderate winds and hardly a cloud in the sky, and should stay that way throughout the day. (The weather data is at the end of this file.) The only NOTAM is for an OTS VASI at TSO. Before you even started drawing out the map, you checked to ensure there are no TFRs in effect, but you verified with Flight Service that you won't have to worry about an impromptu formation flight with a couple of military jets.

You pulled up a METAR for Burke-Lakefront and got this:

KBKL 091653Z 01011KT 10SM CLR 29/11 A2993 RMK AO2 SLP277 T12971106

3. Calculate the take-off distance required:
4. What will be the crosswind component?

You call up the tower, get your clearance to taxi, go to the runway, and have an uneventful take-off and start to climb. Normally, you could choose a cruising altitude of 3500, 5500, 7500, etc. feet for this leg, but I'm going to assign you 3500 for today. I know this will keep us from smashing into anything because that's what the MEFs for each quadrangle say.

5. What is the lowest altitude I could fly and know I will not crash into anything during this leg? Disregard the minimum clearance regulations or safety issues for now; I just want to know the absolute minimum number you could see on your altimeter and know you would clear everything: 

Bonus: If you were going to cruise at 5500 feet, what weather phenomenon might you expect at some point during the climb? (Hint: look at the change in wind direction on the winds aloft forecast.)

6. Are you going to climb straight up to 3500? If so, what are you going to do before you get to 3000 ft? If you're not going to go straight to 3500, why?

You're doing a good job of staying on course. After about 10 minutes, you see I-77 running south and crossing I-80. This means you should start to be able to make out one of your prominent visual checkpoints almost directly ahead.
7. This checkpoint is a cluster of __________________________

As you approach this checkpoint, you recall that during your flight planning on the ground, you selected this point as a reminder to do switch frequencies because in means you'll be needing to call someone soon. You need permission to (circle one):
8. overfly Kent State's airport   /   enter Akron-Canton's airspace   /   change your heading

9. What kind of airspace overlies Akron-Canton (CAK)? Class _______

10. Who are you going to call to get the permission from Q. 8?
11. On which frequency?

So, you dialed in the proper frequency and said,
“[Answer to 10] Approach, Skyhawk 1234A is two zero to the north, enroute to Carroll County (Tango Sierra Oscar), three thousand five hundred.”

You hear back, “1234A, [Answer to 10] Approach. Squawk 4632.”

12. He just told you to do what with 4632? (And, no, “squawk” is not the right answer here.)

You reply, “Squawk 4632, 1234A.”

After a few moments, you hear, “Skyhawk 34A, radar contact five miles northwest of One Golf Three, three thousand five hundred. Altimeter two niner niner three.”

13. Do you have the permission you need? Why or why not?

Bonus: He only read back the last three of your tail number, so how can you be sure he's talking to you? (Hint: It is you and you can be sure of it because he gave you two pieces of information to cross-check that it really is you.)

Bonus: Now that he's referred to you with only the last three of your tail number, what does that mean you can do when talking to him?

Bonus: What services do you know you will get (workload permitting) now that he's said “radar contact”?

You continue with the flight, still maintaining heading quite well. After about 15 minutes, you hear, “Cessna 1234A, traffic twelve o'clock, five miles, westbound, four thousand.”

14. Where are you going to look for this traffic? (Hint: the wind is almost always having an effect no matter what you're doing when you're flying.)

You spot it and it passes by with plenty of room. A little while later, you hear, “Cessna 1234A, you are one one miles north of Carroll County Airport. No traffic observed between you and the airport. Radar service terminated. Squawk VFR. Frequency change approved.”

15. He just told you to put what number in your transponder?

You bid him good day and, since he told you you were getting pretty close to 10 miles from the airport, you wisely decide to get the weather observation. However, TSO doesn't have a weather station. Since it doesn't, we'll tune in the frequency of the airport closest to our destination that does.

16. What frequency will you tune in on the com radio?

We got the radio tuned and hear this: “Automated weather observation, one zero three two Zulu weather. Wind one two zero at one five. Visibility one zero. Sky condition, clear. Temperature two eight. Dewpoint one zero. Altimeter two niner niner four.”

17. What runway will you expect?
18. What will be the crosswind component?__________________________________knots
19. What will be the landing distance required?______________________________feet
20. If you do everything perfectly, how much runway will be left if you came to a complete stop?

You have a picture-perfect greaser of a landing, taxi to the ramp, and shut down. You walk over to the regionally-famous restaurant on the field and chow down. Since Carroll County Airport is famous for its pies, you decide to buy a whole crate full of them. The crate weighs 50 pounds (although it will cause you to gain 100 pounds, somehow. Fortunately that won't be until after you get home and eat them, so you can just count them as 50 right now.) The crate full of angioplasties-waiting-to-happen fits perfectly in the front cargo compartment, so you put it there and move your flight bag to the cargo compartment further aft. Your 190-pound friend will not be making the rest of the trip, since he has decided to join the kitchen staff and get all the pie he can eat.

21. What is your take-off weight now? (Remember: you no longer have full tanks.)
22. What is your CG now?

You have a nice take-off and do a good job of getting on your initial course.

23. What altitude will you be flying on this leg according to the hemispheric rule? (There is more than one correct answer.)

The success of your first leg lulls you into getting a bit complacent. Also, after a double cheeseburger and seven pieces of rhubarb pie at Carroll County, your belly is sticking out too far to rest your sectional chart in your lap any more, so you realize you haven't been paying as much attention to your chart as you should. You also discover that your GPS is useless because you neglected to look at the manual before you started your flight. (I bet you won't let that happen again!) After approximately 20 minutes, you notice a town dead ahead. Although you lapsed on reading about the GPS, you were wise enough to chair-fly this route as you were laying it out, and you distinctly remember that there were not supposed to be any fair-sized cities directly on the way until you got closer to Mansfield. Being the smart pilot that you are, you logically presume that many cities have airports nearby and start looking for one. After a short scan, you see that there is indeed an airport just past the town, almost directly on your route once you fly over the town itself.

24. What is this airport's name and identifier?
25. Are you left of course or right of course?
Bonus: Assuming your planning was correct and you were holding your heading well, what's the most likely reason you ended up off course? (Hint: I already gave you a hint in question 14.)

To help you get back on course, you quite wisely decide to use the Mansfield VORTAC to help you navigate to Mansfield's airport.

26. What frequency will you tune into your nav radio?

You tune it in, turn on the NAV1 audio, and hear dah dah dit dit dah dit dah dit dit. This means you've tuned in the correct frequency and the navaid is working fine, so you rotate the OBS knob until the needle centers with a TO flag on the TO/FROM indicator.

27. What number made the VOR needle center? (To within the nearest ten degrees.)

Your little misadventure woke you up, so you are paying much better attention the rest of the way and get there uneventfully. You tuned in the ATIS, contacted the tower, and asked for three touch and goes then a departure to the northeast. You do a nice job on your landings, then go on your way and begin the leg home. After about 10 minutes, your passenger is looking a little green. You ask her if she's okay, and she says that going around the pattern over and over didn't mix well with the three whole pies and a milkshake she had back at Carroll County (I bet you didn't think a 120-pounder could eat that much!) and she'd like to get back on solid ground for a bit. Since a good pilot is by tradition also a gentleman (or lady), you slow the plane down a bit to make the ride that much smoother for her and to give yourself more time to look down at your sectional to find the nearest airport. Naturally you're going to pick a paved airport, since although your Skyhawk will land fine on grass, you want the smoothest surface possible. Fortunately there is one just about five miles off to your right.

28. What is this airport's name and identifier?

You point out the airport so she can see that it's not far and turn the plane gently toward it, using a shallower bank than you'd usually use. You're extra-careful on the rudders to make sure you're making as coordinated turns as possible. Although she started feeling a little better once you started heading toward the airport (sometimes just seeing an airport can have a calming effect—and that goes 100x more for pilots!), you still enter the pattern, giving yourself a little extra distance so you can keep those turns a little bit shallower and you go out a little further on final to make the descent a little more gradual. As you come in to the flare, you decide to make it a soft-field landing by leaving a touch of power in to smooth the touchdown a wee bit more. You make an excellent landing, taxi back, and shut down. While she walks around and gets some fresh air, you get your plotter from your flight bag and figure out your new course.

29. Assuming the winds have not changed and are as forecast, what is the new compass heading that will take you straight home?

Everyone is back to normal, so you take off and head home. After about five minutes, you notice a light on the panel that says “VOLTS”. You look at the ammeter and see that it is in the negative. 

30a. What are the first six things you would do to troubleshoot this?
30b. If that did not fix it, what would you now do? (Three items.)

Bonus: Let's say that everything is going fine, and then you notice that the oil pressure is going to zero! However, you check the oil temperature and see that it is staying constant. What is likely to be the problem?

Fortunately, after you do the first six steps, the light goes off and stays off. You have a perfect rest of the flight. You call up Cleveland Approach and they give you clearance to transition their Bravo airspace, which means you don't have to go around it, saving you some time and hassle. The ATIS says they're using 6L at Burke. Since you've had a nice, full day of flying, it's getting on toward sunset. The “few” layer at 15,000 gives a beautiful orange backdrop to a spectacular Lake Erie sunset, and since you're landing to the east, you get to enjoy it all during downwind and not have it in your eyes on final. As you touch down and turn to the west for your taxi back, you almost feel sorry for those who have never had a chance to drink in sights and experiences like this. You get to, though, any time you want to. This is just one of a whole logbook full of magical moments for you. After all, you're a pilot.

Welcome home, and congratulations on another successful flight!

Weather Data


KCLE 091454Z 0915/1018 14008KT P6SM BKN250 
     FM091900 02015KT P6SM FEW150 
     FM092300 04008KT P6SM SCT150
KCAK 091139Z 0912/1012 00000KT 5SM BR SCT250 
     FM091500 12015KT P6SM FEW250 
     FM091900 14008KT P6SM SCT150
KMFD 091139Z 0912/1012 12005KT P6SM SCT250 
     FM091400 14010KT P6SM SCT150
Winds Aloft

DATA BASED ON 091200Z    
VALID 091800Z   FOR USE 1400-2100Z. TEMPS NEG ABV 24000

FT  3000    6000    9000   12000   18000   24000  30000  34000  39000
BDL 0328 0319+00 0120-04 3525-09 3438-22 3344-34 335649 336659 326762
BGR 0422 0317+00 0314-07 0112-14 3219-26 2817-38 291852 313058 323759
CAR 0711 0310-02 0205-08 9900-15 2912-28 2617-39 242653 282359 303059
PWM 0322 0219+00 0316-06 3619-11 3228-25 3341-36 336451 336058 324859
EMI 0805 0313+01 3613-02 3316-07 3329-19 3344-31 326447 328055 327563
ACK 0333 0328+00 0226-05 3626-09 3428-22 3439-34 345951 345759 335559
BOS 0326 0324+00 0221-05 3624-10 3433-23 3456-34 347150 347259 335759
BML 3612 0214-01 3610-07 3314-13 3229-26 3457-35 337951 337260 325259
ACY 0224 0228+00 3623-03 3625-07 3430-19 3337-31 335247 336457 327263
ALB 0221 0314-01 3414-05 3423-09 3336-22 3341-34 325349 336159 326464
BUF 1106 9900+00 9900-02 0110-07 3225-21 3238-32 305348 306059 318164
JFK 0328 0222+01 3623-03 3527-08 3527-20 3338-33 335148 336058 326863
PLB 0210 9900-02 3309-07 3319-12 3337-23 3353-34 326550 336560 316463
SYR 0106 9900+00 3311-04 3317-09 3330-22 3235-33 324848 325558 316264
CLE 0615 2109+05 2510+01 2709-05 2723-19 2936-30 306446 307056 297266
CMH 1617 2011+07 2610+02 2609-05 2725-18 2938-29 295445 295755 286766
CVG 1820 2015+07 2213+02 2420-06 2723-16 2833-28 284544 275054 286265
AGC 1310 9900+02 3209+00 3112-05 3127-18 3140-30 316146 307355 307265
AVP 0110 0311+00 3413-04 3418-08 3324-20 3237-32 325347 325958 326863
PSB      9900+01 3306-02 3210-07 3229-19 3238-31 315947 317556 318264
ORF 0220 0322+02 3516-02 3424-05 3341-17 3349-29 337145 327853 316363
RIC 0514 0413+01 3514-01 3421-05 3340-16 3343-29 326845 327754 316363
ROA 9900 9900+03 3215+01 3217-04 3123-17 3139-28 305544 306254 307265
CRW 1612 2106+06 2909+01 3114-04 2923-17 3038-28 304944 295854 296965
EKN      9900+03 3211+01 3314-05 3126-18 3140-29 315645 306654 307265

The author is an airline pilot, flight instructor, and adjunct college professor teaching aviation ground schools. He holds an ATP certificate with a DHC-8 type rating, as well as CFI, CFII, MEI, AGI, and IGI certificates, and is a FAASafety Team representative and Master-level participant in the FAA's WINGS program. He is on Facebook as Larry the Flying Guy, has a Larry the Flying Guy YouTube channel, and is on Twitter as @Lairspeed.

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