Phenom Trip Day Seven


The weather could technically be called “shitty” when Marcio and I departed Khabarovsk.  We were in the clouds and icing almost immediately after takeoff.  The published departure called for a left hand turn after take off and I was following the procedure when ATC called and asked what in the hell I was doing.  When I informed them that I was following the departure the controller screamed at me to reverse my turn because I was supposed to turn right after takeoff.  Not wanting to argue with the man while in the clouds I dutifully reversed my turn and held my tongue.  It wasn’t twenty seconds later when the controller came back on and again asked what in the hell I was doing?  He said I was supposed to make a LEFT turn after takeoff, did I not know the proper procedure?!  At this point I was starting to get just a bit miffed but was suddenly too busy to care because just then the pressurization system failed again and Marcio told me to put my O2 mask on while he tried to fix the problem.  I put the mask on, finished the turn and engaged the auto pilot.  Hell of a way to start the day.

  When we landed in Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka peninsula fours later I couldn’t take pictures fast enough.  Along both sides of the runway were hundreds of Russian military aircraft of every design.  Weird looking transports, helicopters and fighters were parked along side hardened camouflaged hangers.  I couldn’t help but remember that just a few short years ago when I was in the ARMY I probably would have been shot as a spy if I’d landed there.

We went up to the control tower to check weather while the Phenom was being fueled and got some bad news.  The controller told us that the weather in Anadyr was marginal and was forecast to get worse.  The forecast called for very low ceilings and visibility to close down the airport in six hours and would probably remain that way for up to a week.  We had a big decision to make.  Anadyr is located far north on the Bearing sea and there are no other airports anywhere near it to divert to in the event that we couldn’t get in.  If we elected to go we would be committed once we passed the point of no return.  But if we stayed we could be stuck in Petropavlovsk for god knows how long.  We decided to give it a shot.  Our plan was to call for a weather update when we approached the point of no return.  If the weather was good we would press on, if not, it would be back to Petropavlovsk and some of that wonderful Russian vodka.

A neat thing about the Phenom is the range circle on the Navigation display.  The computer factors in winds aloft, airspeed, fuel burn and fuel on board to display a max range circle on the moving map that lets you know just how far you can fly before running out of fuel.  It was really helpful to see the range circle expand when you throttled back to the max range setting.   With the range circle showing us approaching the point of no return Marcio called for a weather update.  The report was exactly what we didn’t want to hear.   The clouds were down to four hundred feet and three miles visibility.   The trend was  for the weather getting worse but it so far we could still get in.  I would rather it was complete dog shit or beautiful sky, not this maybe stuff.  Neither Marcio or I said anything for a few minutes, both of us thinking about the ramifications of turning back or pushing on.  In our favor was the fact that even if we wouldn’t have enough fuel to divert to another airfield if the weather got bad we would have enough for three or four landing attempts before things got quiet.   Not wanting to be stuck in Siberia for two weeks and trusting the Phenom Marcio and I decided to press on, after all what could possibly go wrong?


Brian Regan on Flying


I hate flying, well not all flying just airline flying, which technically isn’t really flying more like riding or being transformed into human cargo.  On Monday coming back from spring break with my family we were sitting in some soulless metal tube when the captain came on the intercom and announced that there was a small mechanical problem with the plane, not to worry something minor, but it would need to be addressed and the proper log book entry made before we could depart.  This was not good news because the plane had already been delayed almost an hour and we only had an hour and twenty minutes in New york to make our connection.  So we sat, and sat  until finally a mechanic boarded the aircraft and performed the life saving maintenance that would keep the hundreds of people on board safe.  He took out a roll of duct tape and taped, taped an overhead bin shut and then put a DO NOT OPEN sticker on it.  We missed our flight home and had to spend the night in NYC but it was worth it, I mean, hey, safety first.



You know you’re a pilot when…

You know you’re a pilot when…

  • you say “correction” instead of “eehhhh”, “affrim” and “negative” instead of “yes” and “no”, answer requests with “roger” or “wilco” and say “stand-by” if you need some time to find an answer and “say again” if you don’t understand the request

  • you spell everything using the ICAO alphabet

  • you pull back on the steering wheel in your car when the road is climbing, pull the handbrake thinking you extend flaps to slow down or brake / accelerate while trying to drive a coordinated turn, or use both feet to brake at a red light

  • you call “Airspeed is alive, engine instruments normal” when accelerating with your car

  • you see a UFO and think, “What a beautiful standing lenticular cloud!”

  • the first thing you do in the morning is to check local METARs and TAFs, and repeat them when someone asks you how weather is in your area

  • you’ve had either an accident or an incident with a lamp post or another obstruction because you were looking at a plane in the sky

  • you have aviation charts assembled together covering your wall like if it was one big chart

  • you know the airway system in your area better than the highway system

  • your non-aviation friends don’t want to sit at the same table if there is another pilot with you and are confused because your watch is set to zulu time but call you each time there’s an aviation accident because they think you know all about it

  • you call all cities by the ICAO code of their airport

  • have the phone number of local airports and ATIS programmed in your phone’s memory

  • you know the frequency and location of all AM transmitters and tune NDBs on your car radio receiver

  • you have a license plate frame that says “My Other Vehicle Is An Airplane”

  • when buying a house a nearby airport is a must

  • your headset is in the top three most expensive things you own

  • your camera is full of airplanes; many of which are several shots of the same aircraft, just different angles and your desktop background is a picture form

  • when you sign a document, you add your license number and expiration date

  • you know what a $100 hamburger is and have had them on many occasions

  • you notice that all the ships on Star Trek actually have Nav Lights on them and get upset during TV shows and movies showing airplane scenes because they just can’t do it right

  • the back seat of your car is littered with weight and balance sheets, aviation charts, flight computers, and other flying stuff and you write your shopping list on old approach plates

But the real proof that you’re a pilot is that you read through all this long list, laughed because half of these things apply to you and the other half could as well!

Black Betty

Black Betty

Ladies and gentlemen I would like to introduce you to my personal go fast machine “BLACK BETTY”.  Betty is a 1960 BE-65 Beech Queen Air and is to quote the classic song about  Shaft, “She’s a bad mother, shut your mouth!  Hey, just talken bout Betty.  I’ve had Betty for three years now and just lover her to death.  She’s legal for nine passengers, small ones, but I only have six seats and that’s just about right for comfortable flying with reasonable baggage space.   The Queen Air is a great IFR platform with de-ice boots and alcohol props and windshield making her an ideal all weather plane to take long trips in.  You don’t see many Queen Airs flying these days, although a company in Minnesota has a fleet of them they use to bring in cargo from small airports for Fed Ex.  Betty started life in the U.S. ARMY before doing a stint in a sheriffs dept before being bought and refurbished by a Texas businessman who put new paint and interior  on/in her before losing his medical and selling her to me.  It is a BIG job waxing the girl but it paid off last year at Oshkosh when she won Outstanding  Beech Multi-Engine in the Contemporary class.

I spent today helping, sort of, my mechanic with the annual inspection and while we’ve not found all that much that needed fixing we did notice that one the engine driven fuel pumps is leaking and needs to be overhauled.  Translation for those non-aircraft owners out there…$$$$.  She should be done and back in the air by April Fools day.  How fitting.

Phenom Trip Day Six “Put Your Mask On!”

Russian transport in Khabarovsk

The taxi ride from the hotel in Vladivostok to the airport in the morning was by far the most dangerous part of the trip up to that point.  We saw no less than three accidents on the highway wide dirt road, one of which was probably fatal.  At one point a Russian jet fighter went roaring past us and I said to Marcio “Hey look, a Mig!” at which point our cab driver leaned forward and looked out the windshield and proclaimed it to be a Sukhoi.  Although I was embarrassed by my miss-identification of former Soviet aircraft I was more concerned with the fact that the driver wasn’t watching the road and didn’t see the dump truck that had pulled out in front of us.  Not to worry though, I drew his attention to the situation by screaming like a girl.

      After Marcio and I finished scraping the ice off the Phenom’s wings with our credit cards, which  still took less time than it took customs to finish interrogating our camera man, we finally rolled down the pot hole filled taxiway and took off.  With just three people aboard the Phenom climb’s like a raped ape in cold dry Siberian air and it wasn’t long before we were passing sixteen thousand feet.  Suddenly my ears started popping like mad.  Marcio yelled that the pressurization system was malfunctioning and that I should put my oxygen mask on.  I”m sure I beat the eight seconds it took me to put the mask on when Marcio tested me on the system the first day of flying the Phenom, gotta love adrenalin!   I leveled off while Marcio tried to get the pressure equalized in the cabin., my ears were really hurting as the air pressure built up.  Air traffic control then started squawking about the mountains in front of us and demanding that we continue our climb.  I tried to explain our problem but I didn’t want to go so far as to declare an emergency and deal with whatever passed for the FAA in Russia.  We were unable to fix the automatic system but were able to stabilize the cabin pressure in manual mode, take the mask’s off and continue our climb to altitude.  For the rest of the day the pressurization needed constant attention and then started working just before landing.    Just another day on the road.

  After landing in Khabarovsk Marcio called Embraer and the engineers there told us that the rough taxiway in Vladivostok probably was the cause of the malfunction and that we could still fly the Phenom in manual mode and be legal.  That was good news because we were going to keep going anyway.

Ferry Flight Pic of The Day

Natures way of saying "LOOK OUT!"

Any idiot can fly a plane, I’m living proof of that fact, it’s really learning to make the right decisions that will keep a pilot from bending the expensive metal he rides in.  Weather or not, pun intended, to even make a trip is the most important skill, and it is a skill, a pilot needs to learn if he wants to have a long flying career.  But even the most Conservative pilot can get caught by surprise when the weather changes quickly.

Just a few days ago a very experienced balloon pilot in Georgia got caught by a fast building storm while he was flying a load of skydivers.  Apparently the storm came up so quickly that he was unable to land before the storm hit.  The pilot told the jumpers to leave just before he was sucked up to eighteen thousand feet by powerful updrafts.  He was in radio contact with his ground crew and described the whole event, including counting down his altitude as he made his final descent.  I can’t imagine how terrifying it must have been when the balloon collapsed and began the eighty second fall back to earth.  One of the skydivers said that if he’d known how bad the situation was he would’ve strapped the pilot to him when he jumped.  That would have been difficult but not impossible, he could have used some of the rope balloons always have on board and figured something out.  The landing would have been rough with all that weight but survivable.  According to the surviving skydivers the weather at the time of takeoff showed no signs of the approaching storm.

We had the same thing happen to us at Skydive Twin Cities last year.  A thunderstorm came barreling down on us out of nowhere while a load of skydivers was in the air.  The first half of the load landed safely but the last two tandems got caught by a gust front that pushed them far off the drop zone and slightly injured one of the passengers on landing.  The sky like the sea can be an unforgiving and harsh mistress.