Nineteen Minutes

“Time to spare, go by air.”

That’s the old saying. For those of you who aviate on airliners, you may feel this aphorism is directed your way. The delays, breakdowns, and other vagueries of the industry can leave you feeling like it would be faster to just walk to your destination.

In some cases, you’d actually be right. Here’s something I wrote last summer after returning from Mexico via America West:

The coming and going from Mexico was interesting. First of all, one of our divers has been in Mexico City for the past few months and decided to travel to San Carlos the cheap way, via bus. It took Seth more than 36 hours.

I thought he was crazy to be traveling by bus, especially since I made the savvy decision to go by air. Yeah right. It took me 36 hours to get home! Which is especially maddening when you consider that my conveyance was travelling at 500 mph, more than 10 times the speed of Seth’s taco bus.

Here’s what happened. First of all, the America West Dash-8 was about four hours late getting to Guaymas to pick us up. There was some sort of mechanical delay in Phoenix. Then, we dodged thunderstorms all the way to Phoenix only to find the airport closed by the weather. We held for more than an hour before diverting to Tuscon, which was totally unprepared for us. We got AW to comp us some lodging, but not before Arnie let off a little steam at a supervisor. The next morning, our flight from Tuscon to Phoenix was late departing, and I barely made my connecting flight to Orange County. Most of the guys on this trip drove, and they made it home in 1/3 the time it took me via America West.

Sadly, it was a typical airline experience.

Nevertheless, the “time to spare?” saying is actually directed at those of us who fly our own airplanes. Oh, the glossy ads and rosy prognostications about private air travel make it sound like you can just jump in an airplane and fly away.

I wish.

That sort of thing might be possible in the middle of nowhere, but when you’re in the Los Angeles area, it’s a very poor idea. No, the reality of flying oneself around is quite different, especially in a post-9/11 world. Consider:

  • check weather, TFRs, NOTAMS, etc.
  • ensure the aircraft is legally airworthy, meaning all required inspections and maintenance are up to date
  • open the aircraft, stow covers, heat shields, etc. and get the cockpit setup
  • perform a preflight inspection
  • get ATIS and a clearance
  • perform engine runup, system checks, brief passengers

You’d think that those of us who own aircraft would get there faster, but the truth is that we’re sometimes stopped short of the runway by mechanical discrepancies and/or weather. Hell, I recently scrubbed a flight because it took an hour and a half for Atlantic Jet Center to send a fuel truck over to my airplane! By the time the aircraft was refueled, there was no time to make the flight.

On the other hand, there are plenty of times when the system works the way it’s supposed to. I had just that sort of experience last Friday, zooming up to Van Nuys in an SR22 in 19 minutes. My family was impressed by the short flight time. Frankly, so was I.

The trip home was even more fun, departing around 11:30 pm. I did have to wait a few minutes for a Baron to land downwind on 34L before I could take off. He made his initial call to the Van Nuys CTAF while passing over Santa Monica. I thought about taking off before he arrived, but those airplanes are capable of moving at better than 200 knots. I wasn’t sure the light I saw off in the distance was him, so for safety’s sake I just held short of the runway until he landed. The guy was nice enough, offering to expedite for me, but I insisted he take his time. Visions of a gear up landing danced through my head, and I didn’t want that on my conscience.

After departure, I turned the autopilot loose with the GPS flight plan I’d entered, and sat back to monitor the aircraft, look for traffic, and enjoy the view. Those late night flights are just about the only time you can fly from Van Nuys to John Wayne without talking to anyone. The towers at both airports are closed and the Special Flight Rules corridor is usually vacant at that hour.

I wish I could get a night-time photo of what it’s like up there. Unfortunately, my camera never takes decent photos of the cityscape after dark. The pictures either end up blurry or, if I leave the flash on, the glare reflects off the windows and ruins the shot. But imagine: it’s quiet, it’s cool, the air is perfectly smooth, and an endless carpet of twinkling lights projects out all around you. What’s not to like?

I challenged myself to make the perfect descent, arriving on the downwind at 100 knots and 1000′ AGL. The Avidyne makes it so easy. Just figure out how much altitude you have to lose (in thousands of feet) and multiply by two. Start down when you’re that many minutes away.

Example: You’re cruising at 4500′ and the airport pattern altitude is 1000′, so you have 3500′ to lose. Start a 500 fpm descent when the GPS reports your remaining time to destination is seven minutes.

If you are able to maintain a consistent airspeed during the descent and the winds don’t shift too drastically on the way down, it’ll work out every time.

The one issue I wrangled with during the trip was that of the noise curfew at Van Nuys. It says “NOISE ORDINANCE CURFEW: NO TKOFS FOR ACFT EXCEEDING 74 DBA (PER AC36-3) BTN 2200-0700; EXCP MILITARY; MERCY FLIGHTS & LAW ENFORCEMENT ACFT.”

I sat there for quite a while trying to figure out how much noise an SR22 generates on departure, and how the noise signature is computed. Do they mean 74 db right next to the prop? Or at the monitoring equipment on the ground? I tried to find a copy of Advisory Circular 36-3, but a Google search turned up nothing substantive.

In the end, I did a maximum performance takeoff, lifting off before the numbers, and climbed to 1000′ as quickly as possible before reducing the prop speed to 2500 RPM.

Later, I thought of searching for “FAA Advisory Circular” rather than “AC 36-3” and found a comprehensive listing of Advisory Circulars on the FAA web site. 36-3 shows the SR-22 comes in at 73.6 db, just under the 74 db limit.

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  3 comments for “Nineteen Minutes

  1. peter
    July 12, 2006 at 1:16 am

    who said fliyng is hours of boredom interspersed with moments of terror?

  2. MJG
    July 12, 2006 at 12:16 pm

    I believe the noise ordinance curfew is referring to ground measurements. We’ve had one “ding” on 334CD’s record at SNA when a rental pilot did a max power take-off with a track that took him right over a monitoring station after leave 01L at 0-Dark-Early. Guess you only get 3 of these per airplane in a 2 or 3 year period before you get kicked off the field. That was over a year ago so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

    Climbing aggressively to a safe altitude and then reducing to 2500 RPM makes a huge difference in the sound signature on the 22.

    Nice description of the joys of night flight late over the LA basin. On a clear night (or one with few clouds) this can be magical!

  3. Ron
    July 12, 2006 at 12:33 pm

    Good points. I believe a few other airports have similar policies. Torrance comes to mind. I know it has a noise monitor on the departure path that often gets set off by loud airplanes like the T-210.

    Interestingly, I don’t see the SR22 as a very loud plane. Those scimitar blades really cut down on the noise.

    Sorry to hear about the “ding” on 4CD. There’s no reason we should be setting off the noise monitors. Unfortunately, because of the high deck angle, many pilots are reticent to truly climb out at Vy, but it’s a good idea because it gets you to the magic 1000′ mark so quickly that at fields like VNY you’ll still be right over the runway when the power comes back. On a side note, aerobatic training is good for this, because pilots are used to “unusual” deck angles and are less hesitant to fly them in appropriate circumstances.

    As I recall (I don’t have the AFM in front of me at the moment), the SR22’s Hartzell has 78″ blades. At 2700 RPM and 80 deg F OAT, the tips are moving at 626 mph, or mach 0.8. Reducing to 2500 means the tips slow to 580 mph, or mach 0.74. A major reduction.

    I think the relative position of the prop arc and the noise monitor make a big difference, too. If you’ve ever watched a C185 or T-28 takeoff, the noise is always greatest when the prop arc passes through the same ‘plane’ as the observer.

    If you know where the noise montior is located and pull the prop back before you pass directly abeam or over it, the noise signature should be considerably less.

    Of course, this is all moot unless the pilot-in-command does enough homework to know that there’s a noise curfew, what the limits are, and what established departure procedures will help minimize the noise.  As I was reading through the Advisory Circular, I wondered how many pilots who flew out of VNY after hours took the time to do the same research.

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