Flying to the Bahamas

Not quite there yet… but thinking about it…

Can you tell I’m starting to ramp up my interest in aviation again? 🙂

This video was posted on AOPA April 5, 2011 so – as of this blog post – the information and deals are still very relevant.

Of course there are still PLENTY of unknowns about the Bahamas (i.e. with respect to visiting the outer islands) so I think I’d prefer to experience these things for the first time with a small group of folks, especially those that know what they’re doing. The fly ins that Greg mentions in the video should be accessible from this page. I think this may be the way that I would do it.


My Current Podcasts

I thought I’d take a moment and note the podcasts that I’m currently enjoying.

There are a LOT of excellent podcasts and there are also a LOT of terrible ones. iTunes’ ratings help somewhat but, just like movie critics, you need to know the reviewer’s biases before you can really trust that their reviews are relevant to you.

If you know me, then maybe you know some of my biases and can figure out based on that if you’d enjoy any of these.

These are listed in order of preference from my favorites to the ones I like enough to listen to if I have the time. Yes, there are 39 of them, no I don’t get to listen to them all all the time. But I like having the option to listen to what I want, when I want.

Part of the reason some shows are more highly rated than others is that they are brief. I have more opportunity to listen to short shows (5-20 minutes) than the longer ones (1-2 hrs) so they get listened to more often.
Some of the podcasts are video podcasts and it again comes down to time available. I can easily listen to a podcast while driving, but a video podcast pretty much demands your full attention and so the opportunities to view them are much more limited.
Also, some of the shows are actually recordings of University courses or are infrequently produced, this will push them down in my frequency of listening and give them a lower rating. Keep in mind that I really like EVERY podcast below otherwise I just wouldn’t bother downloading it.

Just drag any of these to your iTunes podcast window and it will be added so you can check them out.

The Skeptic’s guide to the Universe – This is my favorite podcast of all. They publish regularly on Saturdays. They just published their 200th podcast and I’ve heard every single one of them. A group of intelligent folks discussing current issues with a critical (and often comical) eye. This is what you wish all folks were like when they get together to talk about things.

Slashdot Review – SDR News – Another podcast that I never miss. Published 5 times a week. A short 10 – 15 minutes podcast that’s great for keeping up to date on the latest news in the tech world.

60-Second Science – Roughly 60 second highlight from the world of science from Scientific American.

60-Second Psych – Roughly 60 second highlight from the world of psychology from Scientific American.

Astronomy Cast – A MUST LISTEN if you are at all interested in Astronomy. Start by listening to the back episodes. While they do cover some current topics much of the show is discussing various aspects of astronomy that will be valid for a long time to come. They’ve walked through the planets of the solar system (one per show), black holes, dark matter, interstellar distance, the shape of the universe and on and on. Fascinating stuff. Fraser Cain acts as the everyman asking questions of Pamela Gay, a physics professor with a great talent for clearly explaining the mysteries of the universe.

Are we Alone? – Science Radio for Thinking Species – Put out by SETI this podcast deals with plenty of topics beyond those to do with the SETI mission. Both the hosts, Molly Bentley (rowrrr!) and Seth Shostak offer intelligent discussion and well prepared and entertaining interviews. This is another show that I really look forward to.

Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena – Fairly short (usually under about 15 minutes) summaries of a particular topic. You know how you hear something and think “I wonder if that’s true?”. Well Brian Dunning get’s off his butt and does the research to provide a relevant and useful summary of the topic at hand. Often enough to satisfy your curiosity on a topic but a great launching point if it’s a topic that you have an interest in.

Quirks and Quarks Complete Show from CBC Radio – This is a generally science show, very polished and features interviews with folks on relevant topical science issues and discoveries. The host has a great skill for putting the interviewees at ease and fleshing out the relevant details of the topic at hand.

The Finer Points – Aviation Podcast – if you’ve ever thought of becoming a pilot or already are, you’ll enjoy this podcast. Start at the first one and work your way forward. Each is a 3-5 minute lesson that covers everything from aerodynamic theory to cockpit resource management to taking advantage of ATC resources. Good information and great reminders.

American Freethought – Very well reasoned podcast on topics from an Atheist perspective. Both the hosts are thoughtful in their commentary. If you are of a religious bent you probably won’t appreciate their candor concerning yours or anybody else’s beliefs. But if you can think rationally, you’ll appreciate their perspective. I think they are pretty fair in their assessments and largely non-inflammatory in their expression.

Clark Howard’s Call of the Week – A single call from the Clark Howard show that is thought to be of particular interest. I find it is useful for me about half the time.

Clark Howard’s Rip-Off Alerts
– This just helps me stay on top of the latest scams. As a fairly regular Clark Howard listener I often listen to about 2/3 of this podcast before moving on as much of his advice is common sense that I’ve heard him express before.

Science @ NASA feature Stories Podcast – Great 5 minute or so topical podcast that is essentially Dr. Tony Phillips reading his print article. Great for anybody who is interested in what NASA is up to.

The Clark Howard Show – I enjoy Clark Howard but after listening for a while you begin to get a good sense of what he’s going to say. But for particular topics I’m interested in his viewpoint. So I don’t automatically download all of his shows (2 hours a day… way more than I can hope to listen to). And I “get” (a button in iTunes) only the shows that I think will be novel for me based on the downloaded descriptions. It’s also just the right length for me to listen to while using the rowing machine. I don’t like wearing earbuds when I row and Clark’s voice carries nicely over the sound of the machine.

The Economist – In case you haven’t realized it, there is a world beyond America’s borders. The Economist offers great news and editorial insights from a perspective unlike that which is available from American media sources. Also, listening to the UK perspective on American issues is very eye opening. They’ve broken their podcast down into individual one article podcasts rather than a single podcast to cover the entire week. This is free and more than enough for me, but they offer paid subscriptions for WAY more articles if you’re interested.

Freethought Radio – from the “Freedom FROM Religion Foundation” (ffrf) this is a podcast of the radio broadcast that is hosted by the co-founder of the FFRF and her husband, a former preacher-turned-atheist. They are not ANTI religion but rather they are for both separation of church and state and for critical/rational thinking. This would be a good perspective for religious folks to consider. If you are OK with the government sanctioning religion, would you be so OK if it weren’t *your* particular sect that was the “winner”?

Skepticality – Science and Revolutionary Ideas – this is a pleasant podcast put out periodically and generally focuses on a single issue or interview. Swoopy and Derek are well regarded in the skeptical community and this podcast justifies that regard.

The Skeptic’s Guide 5X5 – This is targeted at folks who are interested in understanding skepticism from a logical perspective. You could take this podcast into a classroom and use it as a great launching point for discussion. Basically you have 5 skeptics talking for 5 minutes on a topic such as “logical fallacies” or “ad hominem attacks”.

IT Conversations – I actually am a paid subscriber. This is their free feed. There is a WIDE variety of stuff covered. My favorites are their keynote presentations from various conferences as well as Dr. Moira Gunn’s “Tech Nation” show. The original mission of IT Conversation was to capture pretty much ALL tech seminars and presentations in America if not in the world. After all, after the presentation is done it often just disappears, it is great to be able to participate in these presentations that I could never afford (either in time or in money) to attend.

Scientific American Podcast – About 20 – 30 minutes, Steve Mirsky often has relevant insights and interesting guests.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Video and Audio Podcasts These are very short videos highlighting current activity at NASA including the Cassini mission and the Mars rovers. This lets you keep up on stuff that is usually ignored by mainstream media because it isn’t “NASCAR”.

The Amazing Show starring James Randi – Although production of this show has fallen off a lot lately, this show has James Randi discussing his life experiences. Relevant for anybody in the skeptical community.

The Finer Points – Aviation Videos – Like the audio podcast, the finer points videos are brief videos covering specific topics in aviation. Very useful when visual aids are required to help get a point across. I find these complement the audio podcasts very nicely.

Cato Daily Podcast – Cato is a think tank and offers perspective on current political and economic issues.

Spill Movie Reviews – definitely an adult podcast, these guys live and breath movies. If you are curious about whether you a movie is worth investing your time in, this podcast can help greatly. They offer some much longer shows as well (LEOG – League of Extremely Ordinary Gentlemen, Cold Ones) which, while entertaining, are just too long for me to fit into my schedule. If I had more time or less interests I would probably listen to those too. As it is I just delete those.

Slacker Astronomy podcast – This USED to be a great podcast. It had 3 folks including Dr. Pamela Gay (from the Astronomy Cast podcast above) and was put out fairly regularly. But when Pamela left the show the production became somewhat inconsistent. I recommend listening to the earlier podcasts for great Astronomy information. For the current ones, I listen to any that have Dr. Doug Welch. He has a great sense of humor and is a font of knowledge and a real treat to listen to.

AOPA Never Again – I think this is now defunct but it is an audio version of AOPA’s “Never Again” column where pilots write in to tell about bone-headed or unfortunate situations they’ve encountered in hopes of helping other pilots avoid making the same mistakes or recognizing bad situations. Getting the existing podcasts is well worthwhile.

Camera Dojo: Digital Photography Enthusiasts – more targeted toward folks who do photography for a living, these podcasts are nonetheless useful for picking up nuggets for those of us who snap only occasionally. Kerry is the glue that keeps things together while David is somewhat more flamboyant…

TEDTalks (Video) – These are brilliant. Simply brilliant. There are so many that I doubt I’ll ever see them all and keeping up is not possible for me. But these almost always impress me. These are brilliant people who are given 18 minutes to speak about a topic that impassions them. There are some short comic or musical ones too and those are always worthwhile too.

The Silicon Valley Astronomy Lectures Podcasts – These are infrequent and about 90 minutes long. An expert on some topic astronomical will fascinate you. I usually listen until somebody puts their kid up to the mike in the Q&A portion.

David Allen Company Podcast – Also infrequent, usually a 5 minute pep session on a particular aspect of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” methodology. I enjoy the refresher.

EFF Line Noise Podcast – Too infrequent, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s podcast will keep you up to date on their trying to keep overly intrusive government or overly controlling corporation activities and the EFF’s efforts to keep them in check.

Humanist Network News – Would be nice if this was produced more frequently. A pleasant podcast presenting information and issues from a humanist perspective.

Mr. Deity (video) – A laugh and a half. Picture “Woody Allen” meets god. I understand these podcasts are presented in biblical forums to stimulate discussion.

This I listen to immediately after I watch the show:
Battlestar Galactica Podcast – Now defunct as the series is over, these are meant to be listened to as the episode plays. I find that distracting so I listen to them a day or so after having watched the episode. The executive producer’s insights very much enhance my appreciation of the series as he explains what he was trying to accomplish and why things are presented in the manner that you are seeing. This same kind of interaction was what made me a fan of Babylon 5. Understanding what is behind the show adds a tremendous dimension to the experience.

These I listen to periodically. The entire session is available but I don’t want to listen to it all in one go. I typically listen to one every couple of weeks or so.
Rhetoric 10: Introduction to Practical Reasoning and Critical Thinking – Obviously a little chemical entertainment is involved in this lecturer’s make-up but that does not detract from the very interesting approach to a world view that Rhetoric offers.

Virgil’s Aeneid – Audio – I enjoy classical literature and don’t spend enough time on it. Classes such as this, that can be enjoyed during my commute are absolutely wonderful.

English 117s: Shakespeare – Spring 2008 Audio – A bit choppy due to the missing copyrighted works and the student questions that are not captured by the microphone but overall worth the effort.

History of the International System – If you enjoyed James Burke’s “Connections” series you’ll probably appreciate this lecture series explaining how we all end up getting along economically and politically.

That’s it (for now). The great thing about podcasts is that you can go back and listen to old ones where it’s relevant and you can skip forward as you see fit or if something is not of interest. Also, you pick up your show just where you left off. I haven’t listened to my radio in… I don’t know how long. The only reason I turned it on before was to make sure it was still working. The control of time-shifting my listening to my schedule is too powerful to allow me to go back to “the old way”…

Completed my Biennial Review – Why don’t we do this for automobiles?

02 Marc and PlaneI’ve been shifting around my priorities lately and finally took the time to do my biennial flight review.

For this review I elected to use a Diamond DA-20 as I’m intending to use this type of plane much more often on future flights. Also, it’s a stepping stone to the DA-40 and my local flight school has two of those at a reasonable price.

This is really a great idea, every two years, to be legal to fly, you must sit down with a flight instructor for an hour and then fly for about an hour in order to demonstrate that you still know your procedures and that you know what you’re doing.

I think, if we were to adopt a similar system for automobile currency we’d have a LOT less foolishness and carelessness on the roads. I think folks are *way* to cavalier in their approach to driving. Being forced to stay current – as well as to come up to speed on the laws as they constantly change – would be a good thing for us all.

There needs to be some kind of accountability linking people and their care or lack thereof back to the folks who made it possible to be on the roads. Having one’s name endorsing someone’s driving certificate should offer some incentive to ensure that at least some of the basics have been reviewed with that driver.

Obviously, the bloated and ineffective system used by the DOT for driver examination would be useless for this endeavor, but a privatized system of folks who would administer these tests and held accountable for their approvals seems like it would make a lot of sense.

Now *that’s* a landing!

Low Landing PlaneAs scary as this looks I have to say that I’d *love* to try this someday. There is very little room for error and you definitely need to be confident with your skills.

Of course parking off to the side and watching planes taking off and landing from here would be a lot of fun too! I’ll have to see if I can ever get to St. Barts (maybe via a cruise) and make my way over to this strip for a couple of cool photo opps and some excitement.

Are airports destined to be the bus terminals of the future?

Airport to Bus TerminalI was discussing airplanes with my father earlier today and how the advent of smaller, more affordable jet aircraft will likely affect air travel of the future. Right now such aircraft are so expensive that only very wealthy folks or corporations can afford to take advantage of them. But with new “air taxi” services starting to come online hosting fleets of smaller, much more affordable aircraft, and with our wonderful TSA with all their extremism, I can see a stratification of air travel on the horizon.

Right now we have the big, stuffy common carriers – who fight tooth and nail to ensure that there are no laws to protect the rights of the traveling public – and the more agile economy carriers – who work hard to keep air travel at reasonable prices.

The Achilles heel of both carriers is that they must operate out of airports that are governed by, with all due respect, unimaginative, pandering dolts. There is a tremendous potential market growing out there as America’s super-affluent middle class decides that it would much rather not be caged in airplanes waiting for delayed flight slots or trapped in airports after having surrendered dignity and just-as-valuable time to get past the uninspired, callous, rude and ineffective security systems.

I am predicting that regional airports in America need to gear up for a boon in business as America’s middle class begin to discover affordable air transportation alternatives in their local cities while the poorer classes become relegated to the airports for long-distance travel much as the current underclass are today relegated to bus terminals for their travel needs. Just as with the bus terminal class, poorer folks do not have options and cannot exercise their power to shop elsewhere. But many Americans have more money now than they know what to do with. It will be interesting to see how much dignity is worth in airfare price premium.

*Update* Just saw this story about folks being kept on a Delta plane for 7 hours on Friday… *sigh*

“Zero G Puke”


I can honestly say I’ve only ever had one person throw up in a plane while I was flying. It was while I was still taking lessons and we took a passenger along since she’d expressed an interest in checking out the flying thing.

The nice thing about air-sickness is, once you actually finish heaving, you feel fine afterward. We went out and had lunch afterward.

Now this video takes your air-sickness scenario and goes over the top. I have no idea how the camera was mounted to capture this but it is very stable.

If you’re *really* squeamish you should probably give this a pass, but otherwise it’s great for a laugh!

July 4 Fireworks from the air

Fireworks (sorry I didn't take this one, all mine were ruined :(  )On Tuesday evening (July 3) I rented a Piper Warrior and regained my night proficiency. I practiced soft field and short field landings and takeoffs both with and without obstacles as well as just general takeoffs and landings. I really do need to get out during the day and hone my other skills (steep turns, S-curves, emergency procedures) but it was good to get out after a long hiatus. I haven’t been up in the air since that Thanksgiving trip.

That paved the way to taking Michelle up to watch the Independence Day fireworks over Atlanta. There are always surprisingly few folks up there doing this. I suppose one of the downsides is that you can’t do any alcoholic drinking during the day and I think a lot of folks like to kick back with a cold one and relax on the holiday.

There are several factors to balance, fireworks generally don’t exceed 1,300 feet AGL so you obviously don’t want to be flying anywhere near that low, ignoring the fact that you’d be daring some of the taller broadcast antennae to pop up on your route of travel. In addition to that you have the ceiling imposed on you by Atlanta’s Bravo-class airspace (about 5-6 thousand feet AGL in the area of interest to me) and the minimum altitudes required to not violate Peachtree-Dekalb’s and Dobbins Air Force base’s airspace (3500 and 3400 feet AGL respectively).  I opted to simply fly around those. I’d suggest you really want to be comfortable flying before you do this without an instructor or another experienced pilot in the airplane with you.

Even though there are relatively few folks “flight-seeing” the fireworks, they are all concentrated both at the big fireworks displays and again back at their home airports as the fireworks end. The lower airspace within which we view the fireworks is largely uncontrolled meaning that there is no standard altitude/direction scheme like you have from 3,000 feet AGL on up so you need to be vigilant in avoiding the other aircraft out there. I’ve found that everybody is pretty good at picking altitudes and keeping out of each other’s way.

In the past we found that it seems to be VERY difficult taking digital pictures at night from an airplane. We discovered that film cameras aren’t much better this time around. The constant vibration of the airplane makes long shutter times impractical and we had only 400 ASA film. Pretty much the entire role was a write-off. That picture at the beginning of this blog entry was one that I just found on the Internet to pretty up this posting. We *did* get two pictures but they are so blurry as to be laughable 🙁

Anyway, we appreciated the Phipps plaza and Centennial Olympic park fireworks and, as always, the HUNDREDS of local fireworks displays that you can see from the air. It seems nearly every cul-de-sac, not to mention municipality, has their own show and they look spectacular when you look out and can see them all happening simultaneously.

Nearly as spectacular has to be witnessing the absolute standstill of traffic as we overflew the various venue parking lots after the shows ended. Literally like the last scene of “Field of Dreams” only with both white AND red lights stretching out into the distance and none of them going anywhere as Atlanta drivers, typically, gridlocked all of the intersections. All that chaos was done with by the time we landed and secured our aircraft and we had a pleasant drive home.

Flying to Buffalo – pt 4

Continued from part 3.

I contacted my Plane Rental company and they offered to send over an IFR rated pilot in a powerful plane (Piper Aztec) to pick us up. This left our little Warrior at Knoxville airport to be picked up the following weekend.

I had never flown before in IMC in a GA airplane. The altitude assigned to us by Atlanta radio had us right at the tops of the clouds, so we would occasionally be above a valley of cloud and sometimes we were plowing through mountains of white fluff lit by moonlight. The effect was surreal and wonderful.

Overall this was a tremendous learning experience, our plane did not have any autopilot so I was able to hone my basic handling skills. Flying into more complex airspace than normal (C class, TRSA) and pushing myself to take advantage of the services offered have made me MUCH more comfortable with taking advantage of such facilities so that I will do so without hesitation in the future. The in-cockpit weather is a great tool and I think I will keep that subscription, however I will definitely be availing myself of the weather information services both on the ground and in the air on a much more frequent basis than before.

Mich is a great flying companion, she will voice her opinion when she doesn’t understand something or feels there may be an issue but she is cool about the realities of GA flying – i.e. sometimes you just can’t get where you’re going. Of course, bribing her with a nice hotel room never hurts 🙂.

1810This trip also underscored the need to attain my IFR certificate if I am to use the plane in any practical sense for getting places, that and getting checked out in more powerful aircraft will make this hobby a lot more practical for our vacation aspirations.



Flying to Buffalo – pt 3

Continued from part 2.

The return trip, if anything, was more enlightening. After a thorough weather briefing we ended up lifting off at about 4:30 in the afternoon from Erie. Our home airport was supposed to have high ceilings and be otherwise fine for landing at our proposed arrival time.

We elected to stop in West Virginia again as we liked the FBO and fuel prices were reasonable. This time I got a full weather briefing and found that Gwinnett was positively socked in. Low ceilings and poor visibility meant that it was unlikely that we would be able to land when we arrived. That and flying over the North Georgia mountains in the dark in uncertain weather led me to decide to stay overnight in West Virginia.

The next morning, the forecast for Gwinnett showed modest ceilings that were to improve to about 6,000 feet before we intended to arrive there.

By now most of those creaky old skills that I had learned in my flying lessons were coming back to me and I was taking advantage of all the facilities available to me. I had filed a VFR flight plan, was taking full advantage of flight following and was talking with flightwatch to receive updated forecasts to augment my in-cockpit information.

These are valuable tools that tend not to be used so much when you just fly locally and I needed to prod myself to take advantage of them and have now added them to my personal checklist as *must have* items for any cross country flight (i.e. more than 50 miles).

We arrived at Knoxville airport without incident. The ceilings had NOT risen above 7,000 as I was expecting and I could see that the North Georgia Mountains were impassible for VFR flight. So I decided to skirt around them by amending my flight plan to jog over to Chattanooga and then head South to home.

A few minutes later, what I had assumed from the distance to be just lower visibility mist turned out to be a wall of fog (picture the sandstorm scene from the movie “Sahara”) that extended from the ground right up to the cloud ceiling above. *sigh* there was nothing for it but to turn back to Knoxville and land.

Continued in part 4…

Flying to Buffalo – pt 2

Continued from part 1.

In my original planning I had figured on just under 3 hours for us to get to our gas stop. After 3 hours at ground speed of around 75 knots we still has a ways to go to our gas stop. Frankly, by now nature was calling rather urgently. So we put down at a small airport in Northern Kentucky and took care of business. I then decided to call ahead to our gas stop to ensure they would still be open when we got there. Hmmm.. no answer. It turns out that a LOT of FBOs were closed on Thanksgiving day. This is something that I still can’t get used to, the complete shut down of America on Thanksgiving.

So I diverted instead to my alternate airport, class C Tyson airport in West Virginia and refueled there instead. The FBO (Tac Air) was great and got me on my way in short order. It was dark by the time we landed. At that point I *should* have gotten an updated weather briefing to get the forecast for our destination airport, but I was still relying on my original briefing forecast plus my current in-cockpit weather which was telling me all was (and was going to be) well.

Lesson learned, while we were airborne on the first part of our flight, a dense fog advisory had been issued for the entire area South-East of  Lake Erie. New personal rule, never pass up the chance to get an updated weather briefing while on the ground.

Our flight toward KIAG was relatively uneventful, the in-cockpit weather was a great boon to night flying as I could “see” cloud piecemeal cover that I’d otherwise have begun to fly into and then would have had to guess at the best diversions to make (go under, over or around).  Approaching the Southern end of Lake Erie I could see the updated METAR for KIAG was showing marginal conditions for cloud cover but visibility was still OK. Not knowing about the fog advisory I figured this is something that would probably blow over soon and I’d just keep an eye on it. Shortly after that I saw the updated METARs for KIAG and the surrounding airports degrade into IFR and then low IFR conditions. Translation: we couldn’t land at any of them.  I could see the trend moving from the Eastern shore westward.

So we resigned ourselves to the fact that, whatever system was causing the poor visibility, it was not going away anytime soon. The best thing we could do was hunker down for the night and finish the trip in the morning. Looking inland we found an airport with fuel and an AOPA listing for decent hotel facilities and started heading that way. Calling ahead to let them know we were en-route, we got the bad news from them that they had neglected to update their METAR and that they too were socked in.

So I turned around and ended up heading to Tom Ridge airport in Erie, Pennsylvania. They turned up the landing lights to make their runway more visible to us and we landed there without incident. It was about 10:15 pm by this point. The guy at the GA FBO (North Coast Air) had heard us receiving clearance to land and had hung around to wait for us (Thank You!) as he was originally going to close an hour early due to Thanksgiving.

He got us a room at a local hotel and they sent a shuttle to come pick us up.

The next morning, the fog was as thick as pea soup. It had been forecast to lift by about  11 am so we made our way to the airport for then. Later the forecast was changed such that the fog was supposed to lift by 1:30 in the afternoon but when 1:00 rolled around and it was still 1/16 mile visibility and not improving at all we elected to rent a car and just leave the plane in Erie until our return trip.

Of course, while I was kicking the tires of our rental car after signing all the papers, the fog and clouds all dissipated leaving behind gorgeous blue skies. *sigh* c’est la vie.

The drive to Toronto from Erie was about 5 hours. Overall, had we driven from Atlanta we would have arrived at almost exactly the same time as we did on this trip.

Continued in part 3…