My Favorite Flights: Over Lake Tahoe

Nestled in the Sierra Mountain range is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world. It is located on the border between California and Nevada. It has a surface elevation of 6,225 feet and is the largest alpine lake in America. I grew up in Reno, which is only a short 30-minute drive from the northern shores of Tahoe. I have many memories camping at the beautiful lake in the summer, spending long days lounging on the beaches or out on the water on a boat. Lake Tahoe is a large part of everyone who lives in this area’s lives. In the winter Lake Tahoe is surrounded by some of the nations best ski resorts and offers great nightlife in South Lake Tahoe

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Flying over Truckee looking towards Lake Tahoe

It brought me great joy as a pilot to be able to see Lake Tahoe from the sky. Flying over Tahoe is an absolutely amazing flight. The water is extremely blue and clear. I like to take the Verdi valley pass to get to Tahoe from Reno. This brings you up over the Truckee area. You can see several reservoirs, Stampede and Boca, and you fly over Truckee Airport. Then you fly over Northstar ski resort and finally over Lake Tahoe.

Flying to Tahoe is not necessarily an easy task however. It is at a very high elevation and surrounded by mountain peaks that are even higher. There tends to be a good deal of turbulence when crossing over these mountain peaks to get into Tahoe. There have been known to be very strong downdrafts. There is one airport located in South Tahoe, KTVL. Density altitude needs to be taken very seriously up here. In the summer it can get very warm and there have been several accidents due to the miscalculation of density altitude. There are only a couple instrument approaches and all have very high minimums. 

Lake Tahoe is a challenging yet very rewarding place to fly to. If you ever get a chance I suggest that you take the flight up there and enjoy the spectacular views.

What are some of your favorite scenic flights? Comment below

TWA Flight 800 Documentary… Worth a Watch?

On July 17, 1996, an explosion occurred over the water close to New York. It was Trans World Airlines Flight 800 and all 230 people on board lost their lives. The Boeing 747-100, N93119, exploded twelve minutes after it had taken off from John F. Kennedy International. It set off one of the biggest NTSB and FBI investigations to date. This was one of the worst aviation disasters on United States territory. The wreckage was scattered throughout the ocean floor and was drifting apart on the surface. After many years it was pieced back together and still sits in a hanger in Virginia. The NTSB concluded that there was a short in the wiring that ignited the main belly tank of the 747.

Trans World Airlines Flight 800 Wreckage being removed from a hanger where it was being re-assembled.

There is a new documentary being released soon that refutes this idea however. Many of the original crash investigators do not agree with the conclusion that was reached. They believe it was an external explosion that brought the jumbo crashing down to earth. Many of the eyewitnesses claim they saw a streak of light going towards the plane before it exploded. Some radar operators claimed they saw the same thing on their screens.

I am usually very against conspiracy theories and never put much effort into them. I do think I will watch this documentary however. Something has me interested, could just be that it is aviation related, or there is actually something here. I have spent the last few days reading up on it and have a few questions myself now. I am hoping that the documentary will clear up some confusion. No details of their “proof,” that they claim they have, has been released yet. I do also believe that this could just be a cry for attention from conspiracy nuts.

I will be watching the documentary. I want to see their “claimed” new proof and judge for myself if it is credible. This is a major aviation disaster and it needs to be fully explained. If it turns out to be a conspiracy riddled mess, then I will probably still enjoy the aviation facets of it.

What are your thoughts on TWA Flight 800? Please comment below.

 

Photo Credit

Drones… Invading Our Airspace

Planes have become less and less dependent on the crew flying them. Back in the early days, transcontinental planes would need not only two pilots, but also a navigator, and an engineer. Using hundreds of analog instruments they managed to aviate across oceans. Today the largest planes in the world can be flown with just two pilots. The advancement of cutting-edge avionics and precise autopilots has taken a lot of duties out of the pilot’s hands. The future of aviation, unfortunately, will also start to see the end of the human pilot. The military has proven that drones are a viable option for dangerous missions, when a pilot’s life might be at greater risk.

F-22 Raptor performing a high G-Force maneuver. Check out www.bullercreations.com for more aviation photos.

F-22 Raptor performing a high G-Force maneuver. Check out Buller Creations for more of my aviation photos.

Already the military is starting to phase out the use of human pilots. It has been said by many that the latest generation of fighters, the F-22 and the F-35, might very well be the last human controlled jets. These planes can already perform maneuvers that a human would not be able to withstand. The net generation fighters will most likely be controlled from the ground and not have a soul on board. The Navy’s newest toy, the X-47B, has already proven it can land and take off from a carrier.

Drones are not just being used in far off wars however. The FAA is currently working on creating an airspace system that can fully integrate drones. I am not sure how this is going to work with visual separation and such, but I hope that they figure it out. Someday we will be sharing patterns with aircraft that are completely autonomous. Will they be able to make radio calls and announce their positions at non-towered airports? Or will it be up to pilots to avoid drones? They can get very small, so this seems highly unlikely and dangerous.

Drones will soon be joining us in the airspace over America, and I, for one, feel uneasy about that. Comment your feeling below.

Redbird FMX: Full Motion Simulator Review

I am currently in the process of getting my instrument rating. Flying in and out of Reno however, we rarely get good IMC weather that you can practice in. Reno generally has really clear skies, devoid of any clouds at all. If there are clouds that most likely means that icing will likely by an issue, or if it is hot out, thunderstorms. Because of this I have gotten very little actual IMC time. I am getting close to my checkride, but I am still missing some instrument time.

The Redbird FMX I have spent some hours in.

The Redbird FMX I have spent some hours in.

Since I am missing some hood time I decided to try out the full motion simulator. The simulator was called the Redbird FMX. It has the option to be set up for several different planes, even glass setups. I have been flying a 172 with the G1000 and it was great that the simulator had this option. The actual simulator has a footprint of about 10 feet by 10 feet. It sits surprising low on a welded metal frame that is painted red. This one was located on the second floor in a room with an average ceiling. Inside there are two chairs, I found mine quite uncomfortable. The machine is constantly humming from various fans keeping it cool. The whole simulator gets power from a single normal outlet.

The instruments were simulated very well and all the same buttons and knobs were there. The taxiing and taking-off feel very unnatural. The pedals are extremely sensitive and it is very hard to keep the yellow line under your right knee. Once in the air the simulator is at its best. It keeps constantly moving a slight bit, making it feel like you are truly in flight. When my CFI would turn on some turbulence it felt incredibly realistic also. There are 6 computer screens that wrap around the console and instruments. It was extremely nice to shoot approaches, without the foggles, and break out at minimums. This was the first time I tried this and really got to practice it. When trying to land it again felt odd and unnatural.

Overall the simulator was a very pleasant experience. It feels very realistic when flying. Taking off, landing, and taxing are difficult and feel unnatural. It was great to be able to pause the simulation and discuss the approach. If you are looking to get more instrument time, or to keep your IFR credentials current, try out a Redbird FMX near you.

Have you tried a simulator? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

 

My First Flight

Me at PHNL with the 1998 Cessna 172

The night before was stormy and very windy, unusual for Hawaii, where I lived at the time. I woke up several times that night disappointed because I thought the flight would have to be cancelled. Luckily when the sun rose above the mountains the sky was clear and the wind was gone. I rode my motorcycle to the hanger, on the south side of the airport, where I was meeting Scott my CFI. We walked out the backside of the hanger to a row of tie downs. Nestled between some twins was the airplane we would be flying, a 1998 Cessna Skyhawk 172, N9512F. Scott showed me the checklist and we walked around a pre-flighted the plane. The plane seemed so simple. Cables that activate the control surfaces and a small four cylinder engine turning a propeller. I had flown a lot in my life, but not in something that felt smaller than a car. We hopped in and completed the pre-flight. The Lycoming engine roared to life and the flight had begun.

Honolulu airport is very busy and exciting. Attached is Hickam Air Force Base, there are F-22’s, F-15’s, and C-17’s stationed here. We took off after a large FedEx DC-10 on the 4L runway. I had my hands on the yoke, but Scott took care of everything else. I was astounded by how easily the wheels lifted off the ground at 60 knots. The plane seemed to effortlessly gain altitude over the clear blue water of Oahu. I was nervous when I saw the speed at only 73 knots, surely planes needed to go faster than that to stay aloft?! Scott reassured me that was indeed all the airspeed that we needed. We headed east around the island. We flew past Waikiki and the Diamond Head Crater. It was the most amazing feeling in the world and it felt incredibly natural to control the plane. For the first time in my life I felt how solid air could actually be.

We decided to fly counter-clockwise around the island. The view from the Cessna was incredible; you get a perspective of the land, like none other. The weather was good and we were able to stay below all the clouds. When we flew by the Kaneohe Marine Corp Base we had a C-17 pass about 1000 feet underneath us on its way in to land. We also encountered several coast guard helicopters also cruising around the coastline. The radio calls that Scott were making sounded like gibberish to me, but I didn’t care. For the first time in my life I was controlling an aircraft and I felt at home. The flight took about an hour and we came back and landed on 4L. This flight got me truly interested in aviation and I never looked back.

More Photos from first flight: Aviation Galleries

How was your first flight experience? Please Comment Below

Aviation History… We are in the midst of it.

We are in a very exciting and turbulent time in the world of aviation. Sequestration and furloughs are hurting the industry, while new amazing materials and innovations are fueling it. Soon we will be flying in patterns with pilot-less planes. Boeing and Airbus have both created the new generation of commercial aircraft. Alternative forms of energy are being used to power flight. We are living through a new aviation revolution

Mostly carbon planes are starting to take to the skies. The Boeing 787, which just came back into service after a long and costly battery issue, and Airbus test flew its A350XWB this last Friday, June 14. Glass cockpits are replacing steam gauges in almost all new aircraft, in fact, many companies such as Cessna, only build their planes with glass cockpits. Solar and human powered flight is becoming a reality. The Solar Impulse is making progress as it makes it way across the country using only solar power. Not all the changes are good however. The sequestration has put a massive strain on our ATC network and furloughs still plague many professional pilots.

All this change is inevitable and should be embraced rather than scowled upon. All this technologies are making aviation safer and more efficient. Someday VORs will go the way of NBDs and be phased out for GPS intersections. Glass cockpits are becoming the new standard in all planes, from GA to commercial planes. Today’s pilots have more information available to them on the PFD and MFD than ever before, increasing their situational awareness.  Pilots need to know and stay up to date with this new information. Being a pilot is a never-ending learning process. The future of aviation is bright and will continue to flourish for the many years to come.