Flight Report

Well, as I’d mentioned in my last report:

Monday, we’re taking out the much faster Cessna 172 for a longer cross country to the northeast. RHV to RIU; on to CPU; then a 10 mile detour to overfly my cabin in Arnold; on to O22; then E45; on to MOD; and than back home.

This was last Monday when I, my instructor Jim, and my wife Bea all piled into the C172. Started from Reid-Hillview in San Jose, CA, NE about 75 miles to Rancho Murieta, just a few miles SE of Sacramento, CA. Then it was SE about 30 miles to Calaveras County airport, midway between San Andreas and Angels Camp on the famous Highway 49 (think 49ers, i.e., 1849). Then we flew due east into the mountains about 10 miles, past Murphys and on up to Arnold to overfly our mountain cabin at 4,500 ft. elevation. It’s difficult to spot anything when overflying pine trees, and that "other" golf course faking me out didn’t help, either. But without even having to do a search pattern, we found Arnold and the cabin easily enough.

As soon as we’d spotted it, we headed SW 10 miles to Columbia airport. Quick turnaround and we were off, another 20 miles or so south to Pine Mountain Lake. What I didn’t know is that this is one of those flying communities. Nice houses with airplane hangers for garages line the taxiways. Some unbelievable airplanes, too. Also a very challenging place to land (and takeoff), as it sits in a bit of a gorge. This means you’re staring right at the slope of a mountain (close) on your right downwind, and as you turn on to right base, you’re very close to the ground, as it slopes down from there to the runway. As such, you can’t be too much lower than the standard glide, and if you freak out and get too high above the glide, that runway begins to look very short. I wasn’t comfortable with my first approach, so no shame in going around. Nailed it the second time, even though we were landing at 3,000 ft. elevation at 95 degrees. I calculated density altitude to be about 5,000 ft.

We parked, hoping to grab some lunch in the cafe. Closed Mondays. Well, a rest in the shade with a nice breeze will have to do. One thing about general aviation: these planes don’t generally have A/C. It’s usually not too problematic to get heat on cold days, even at altitude, but when it gets hot and you’re on the tarmac, it can get downright uncivilized.

We load back up, taxi, do a brief run-up, and because we’re so high, we lean the mixture out to tune for max RPM. Plus, we have a hill to clear on the climb-out. You want max RPM.

Then it’s due west, stopping in Modesto for a bit of fuel. Unlike the others (except Reid), this airport is controlled by a tower and I ask where I can get some gas. He directs me over. Should have checked on prices, cause 20 gallons cost $80. Ouch. I think it’s around $3.50 – $3.60 if you shop. On the other hand, this place treated us like royalty. Refreshments, lounge, etc. They also take care of jets that people own, charter them out, etc. They loaded us into a minivan and over to another hanger to check out a Bombardier Challenger they had in. I don’t know what they go for on purchase (probably $30 million plus), but you can rent one for only $4,000 per hour (engine running time), plus landing and parking fees at your destination. Actually, if you get 10 people together, you could do a Vegas trip for about what 1st class tickets would cost.

After parting from our excellent hosts, we took off to just about the same western heading, did a 100 mph climb-out to 6,500 ft., which is just enough to clear Mount Hamilton, and then dive down to 2,000 ft. as quickly as possible ’cause we’re only 5 miles from Reid (closed throttle, pitched down enough to get 120 mph, 1,500 fpm down). Got clearance for a right base approach and nailed the 3 mile out turn onto final at 2,000 ft., continuing descent to the 1,130 ft. pattern altitude.

Bea, my wife, did great. She didn’t complain a bit. The Cessna 172 is a fine airplane, but it’s not even close to being as fun and challenging to fly as the Citabria. The flaps add some complexity, but really, just make landing approaches a lot easier to control. At a full 40 deg., they are very effective at establishing a steep descent. Just add a little power to extend the glide angle. You’ll notice airliners have power on until they’re in ground effect. This is primarily because of flaps.

Also, the 172 is cramped, hotter inside, and the rudders have easily less than half the authority they do on the Citabria. Instructors at my school tell me that certified pilots transitioning from trike gear to taildraggers require an average of 25 hours. I always thought that was a lot. After experiencing how much the rudder is an "afterthought" in these sorts of aircraft, I know why. You can’t fly an average taildragger safely without being very accomplished on the rudder.

Update: Other than that, it was nice to get back into the Citabria today. Jim, my instructor, is in Hawaii so I’m on my own for a bit. Three go-rounds in the patters, then out to the practice area for some stalls. Found that I could not stall this particular 7ECA with a slow pitch up to full aft stick with as little as 2200 RPM. Very, very comforting. This means that with application of full power, you can climb yourself (if you know how to use the rudders!) out of just about any sort of shit.

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  1. Bea Nikoley on July 22, 2005 at 16:22

    I don't like to brag, but my husband did an awesome job! I don't really like flying unless it's in first class, but this was truly an enjoyable experience. Right up there with the helicopter ride over Kaua'i.


  2. Billy Beck on July 23, 2005 at 19:26

    How does he sound on the radio, Bea? (Did you get a headset to listen-in?)

    It's a little-known fact that about 80% of communications from the left seat is canned — strictly formal — and the whole trick is to know which can to open, and when. Beginners are commonly intimidated with the radios, and one can tell who's growing up by the way they sound.

    I would expect his airmanship to be together after his time in the Citabria.

    Good deal, all 'round. Keep it up, Rich. Be careful out there.

  3. Richard Nikoley on July 23, 2005 at 23:31

    Yep, not only a father-in-law who controlled aircraft and managed several towers in his time, but one of Bea's brothers is currently a controller that works oceanic (Pacific) at Oakland Center.

    Regarding the radio, I had an edge in being able to draw from my years of experience in the Navy, both as officer of the deck and also "Alpha Charlie" in the combat information center. Alpha Charlie is the carrier group commander, typically embarked on the radar-picket-station cruiser that runs the air intercept war for the entire battle group. Few people know that when fighters launch from the carrier, it's actually the CO (via the watch officer in CIC) of the cruiser 150-200 miles away on the threat axis who's ordering the launch. Other responsibilities include coordinating with Alpha Romeo (on the carrier) to get the fighters topped off with fuel regularly.

    Once I learned the specific lingo, it just plugged into my existing radio syle, which, as Bea says, it short and to the point. Nothing more irritating than sitting 2nd or 3rd in line on a hot tarmac waiting to go and having other pilots trying to dazzle the tower with their elloquence.

    Billy's right, though. It's easier than it sounds. At least 80% is scripted.

    I'd say also that listening is just as important as talking, especially when you're not even in the immediate picture. Listen up to what's going on with all the other aircraft in the pattern or on straight in final. That way, when the tower clears you 2nd behind the Cessna on right base, you know what he's talking about and can respond immediately with the acknowledgement that you've got the traffic.

  4. Billy Beck on July 24, 2005 at 06:01

    In re blabbermouths: that's the truth, innit? The less time spent with that button down, the better. I've seen this precept rise to crucial import in a pattern that's jammed full of traffic, when time is essential.

    It's not a good habit, but there are times when a prompt double-tap on the PTT switch can say what needs to be said. Mostly, it's been during comms with other airplanes, but there was one controller at LZU with obvious military experience and I was able to get away with it with him sometimes. There were a couple of times when he positively appreciated it because the channel was busy as hell and he was happy with that sort of acknowledgement in order to keep the channel clear as possible.

    At all times, however, the best styles are terse.

    "Your traffic is two o'clock at three."


  5. Bea Nikoley on July 23, 2005 at 23:10

    Hi Billy. Funny you should ask that question because that is one of the aspects of Rich's flying that I remember most.

    I was honored to be given a head set by Rich's wonderful and patient instuctor. When Rich communicated on the head phone to the controllers and other pilots, he sounded like he had been doing it for years. He didn't hesitate or stutter or anything else that might mistake him for a novice. He was clear and to the point.

    Prior to our flight my dad, a retired air traffic controller and manager of 36 years, had talked about the importance of being succinct and articulate on the headphones so I was listening carefully to Rich. I think my dad would have been pleased. :)

  6. Richard Nikoley on July 24, 2005 at 07:44

    One area I've found where controllers are tollerant of a click or quick "aye" rather than a complete taxi or runway clearance say-back confirmation is when they give an immediate clearance.

    I notice that LZU in a single runway shop. RHV has two parallel runways, so, if there's two guys waiting for takeoff clearance and you're first, he's likely going to clear you to cross 31R for 31L. If there's another plane on final for 31R, it might come through as "Citabra 5032G, cross runway 31R immediately, Cessna on 1 mile final. Cleared for takeoff runway 31L." That's a lot to repeat back. What he wants to see is your airplane hauling ass across 31R immediately, no delay.

    Same thing if you've just landed 31L and are holding short of 31R down on one of the taxiways. There might be someone on short final for 31R, or just cleared for takeoff, and you'll get the order to cross immediately. Don't wait. Just do it.

  7. Billy Beck on July 24, 2005 at 10:10

    Yup. That's a good example.

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