Photo File – Flying In The Time Of Corona: Croatian GA Snapshots

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

Due to reasons beyond my control (to put it mildly), I had quite a bit of free time on my hands this summer, which I decided to spend – like in the good ol’ days – by enjoying the scenery at various airports and airfields throughout the land. While one would have assumed that the lockdown (pretty mild in Croatia, but still keenly felt) would have had a negative impact on GA ops, the truth of the matter was that the number of aircraft buzzing about had actually increased – which meant that there were always plentiful photo opportunities wherever you went. A perfect setting then to get the camera out and see what I’d been missing over the winter… 😀

If you’re sad for the demise of Cold War underground air bases and bomb-proof aircraft hangars, don’t despair – Dubrovnik Airport (DBV/LDDU) has something for you! Not so much a Hardened Aircraft Shelter as a “Hardened Vehicle Garage”, the brand new semi-subterranean storage depot along the airport’s northwestern perimeter may seem like an unlikely place for aircraft photography… but as you can see, it pulls it off nicely!

Concentration at 120% as a young colleague readies his ship for a late afternoon training flight. Somewhat fortunately, this student-weary veteran of the Croatian Aviation Training Center – to whose weariness I myself had actively contributed a decade ago – will soon give way to…

… this. It’s startup may not have been as smoky as I would have liked (thankfully for the engine!), but it was nevertheless worth frying like sushi on the superheated apron to catch my first ever Duchess. Conceived on the same train of thought as the Seminole, the 76 was always a typical Beech design: built up to a standard rather than down to a price. Unfortunately, that made it quite expensive to buy and maintain, meaning that only 437 would ever be produced… barely half the Seminole’s ~930 (and counting). Ironically, being a replacement for 9A-DZG means that Walter Beech may still have a tiny last chuckle!

Number 2 for departure after three incoming arrivals, holding short on a parallel runway being used as a taxiway since it is too close for proper simultaneous operations… this is not Lučko – it’s Gatwick on grass!

Of course he’s happy – he’s going flying… and on an aircraft he built himself from the wheels up, and from parts of half a dozen factory Super Cubs!

The 70s are back – as an airplane. While this “50 Shades Of Brown” interior may not be all that hot by today’s style standards, it is nevertheless so throwback cool that it warrants a “10/10 would sit” rating! (it also helps that the entire cockpit is crisp, clean, neat – and fully original, with the same trim it had back in 1986 when it rolled off the production line) (and yes, despite the D- reg, this machine is a fully-fledged local)

Even on its own territory, the Reims Rocket is a shy and reclusive species, easily frightened by noise and sudden movement. Because its colorful plumage makes it easy prey for photographers, it has evolved the ability to escape and hide quickly and without warning; always approach it silently and patiently, using local terrain and foliage for cover whenever possible…

And finally, one little Cherokee I’m VERY happy to see again! Covered previously in two some of my earliest posts here (part #1 and #2), DJZ is the sole “pre-Warrior” PA-28 in the country, and had years & years ago been based at Dubrovnik (DBV/LDDU). Unfortunately, a while back it had fallen on some hard times and was left to rot in the corner of the apron. Thankfully, about a year ago it had been brought to Medulin Airfield (LDPM) in Istria, where it is now undergoing a complete restoration – and will be happily flying already in early 2021!

Tech/Photo Report – More Multi-Engine (Instrument) Fun

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

On the face of it, July was probably not the most enjoyable of times to have my Multi-Engine Class training. The summer’s record temperatures – once peaking at a toasty +55 Centigrade in the cockpit – really did us no favors at the best of times; and had certainly not done justice to our little, slightly underpowered Piper Seminole :). So keen to see what it – and I – could actually do given some favorable weather conditions, I was very much looking forward to my Multi-Engine Instrument training, slated to take place in the much more agreeable near-zero temperatures at the beginning of November…

Now, as mentioned in a previous post on the topic, flying a twin engine airplane is fairly easy – provided both engines are operating :D. When one decides to quit however, things can become interesting – still safe, but quite interesting nonetheless. The biggest and most immediate problem in this situation is the sudden lack of power – as my flight instructor had graphically put it, when you lose an engine, you don’t lose just 50% of the available power; in effect it’s as if you lose 75%, since you now also have the dead weight – and additional drag – of the inoperative engine. Specifically, it’s this drag that causes the biggest control problems: with one engine “dragging behind” and the other pulling forward, the airplane wants to yaw and bank around its center of gravity into the inoperative engine, a tendency that has to be neutralized by liberal application of opposite rudder (and possibly some aileron) :). With the rudder now deflected (at low speeds often fully), the drag increases yet again, forcing the airplane down to its speed for minimum drag (and hence minimum required power) – a flight regime that, especially during landing, requires considerable planning ahead…

When simulated for training purposes, this One Engine Inoperative situation also makes the aspiring student appreciative of the simplicity of the turboprop engine – especially if you’re flying a piston-engined Seminole, an aircraft seemingly designed to make your life then and there as complicated as possible :D. Given that many in-flight engine shutdowns are caused by small, easily-rectifiable problems rather than catastrophic failures, each aircraft has a specific set of “diagnostic” procedures the pilot needs to run through to verify whether one of the engines has indeed failed, identify the inoperative engine and – if all else fails (pun intended) – secure it. On the 100-cockpit-lever Seminole (though they’re broadly similar for other piston twins) these include:

  • moving both mixture levers forward into the Full Rich position – the idea being that maybe you’d forgotten to move them forward during descent and the fuel/air mixture had become too weak for the engine to run
  • moving both propeller levers forward. This may seem a bit odd given that one of the engines has failed or is in the process of doing so, but until you’re certain WHICH one it is, better have both props at their maximum
  • moving the throttles all the way to the Maximum Continuous Power setting, for the same reason
  • turning on the carburetor heaters (or opening the alternate air ports on fuel-injected engines) to see whether the problem is simply ice blocking the carburetor/air intake
  • turning on both auxiliary fuel pumps, in case the main engine-driven pumps had failed and no fuel is being drawn from the tanks
  • and then looking around to see whether you’d accidentally shut something off, like the fuel selectors or magnets

If once you’re done the inoperative engine still refuses to cooperate, you identify it and proceed with securing it – which is basically the reverse procedure to the above: close the throttle, feather the prop, cut the mixture and shut everything down related to the engine, such as magnetos, fuel pumps, alternators and the like… you may also have noticed that the above procedure is performed on both engines simultaneously; the rationale is that whatever plagues one engine can easily happen to the other – which is especially likely if the root cause is icing or incorrectly set mixtures.

Despite being a “screenfull”, out on the Seminole this procedure is pretty straightforward and comparatively simple – dare I say fun 😀 – in visual conditions: conditions where you always have a visible horizon and ground contact, and can afford to drift a bit off course while you get the hang of the airplane. In instrument conditions though that luxury is gone, with the only spatial reference you have provided by the instruments – which implies, in addition to everything stated above, continual scanning of the primary flight and navigation instruments and maintaining an image of your position and attitude in your head. Now factor in an ILS or VOR/DME approach and you have a party :D.

Given that during these flights I was want for a few more arms, I did not have the liberty to photograph at will as I usually do, so – after having drifted off course quite badly with this post 😀 – I thought I’d just throw together a small photo gallery of the ME/IR “tools of the trade”… 🙂

For us "modular course" types, the ME/IR rating also includes three hours on "the simulator" - our good ol', not-entirely-trusty BT220, produced by BT Simulations of Austria :). Though universally referred to as a simulator, the BT220 is actually a "Flight, Navigation and Procedures Trainer II" (FNPT II) - to be a fully fledged simulator, it'd have to be "full motion", that is be able to pitch, yaw and bank like the real aircraft

The copilot's view with the seats moved fully back. Representing (broadly) the Piper Seneca III, the BT220 has everything you really need for any sort of IFR training: an HSI and CDI, two ADFs, two DMEs - and an extensive list of failure options 😀

Cooling down after a grueling two-hour training session. Far from being just a cheap replacement for the real aircraft, "the sim" allows for very useful training for real life emergencies: during this session, we had multiple engine failures, system failures, instrument malfunctions, electrical and fuel issues, landing gear failures - not to mention weather related issues such as heavy icing, heavy turbulence, gusting wind and low-visibility operations. Though we'll probably never encounter such a pessimistic combination of conditions out in real life, the lessons learned from them can do wonders when something really does go wrong on the actual airplane...

Dripping wet after an hour's worth of flying though rain while shooting some ILS approaches. Apparently all of my instrument flights are doomed to either cloud and low visibility, heavy turbulence or pouring rain 🙂 (fitting, isn't it?)

At least we gave the Seminole a thorough - and thoroughly ecological 🙂 - wash! She was clean as a whistle when we were done!

Back in the dry in the University's hangar. Like many small twin-engine Pipers, the Seminole is equipped with contra-rotating propellers, eliminating the dreaded "critical engine" and all of its associated negative effects (at the expense of more costly maintenance)

9A-DMG, the Cessna 172N on which I'd passed my Single-Engine Instrument checkride, framed by 9A-DZG on which I'd passed my Multi-Engine Class, Instrument and CPL checkrides :). If they were people, I'd be thanking them now 😀

And finally, honorable mentions go to two photos I’ve snapped in flight with my mobile phone… due to a somewhat “expedited” departure from Pleso airport, I’d left my camera in the luggage compartment and couldn’t get at it in flight – so I had to use whatever I had at hand… 🙂

There really are very few things that are as enjoyable as a flight above the cloud deck :). Cruising at 6,000 ft in silky smooth air towards Maribor (ICAO: LJMB), the autopilot keeping the Seminole straight and true, and the scenery going from great to awesome!

Moments before we break into the cloud deck at 140 knots on our return trip...

Short Photo Report – Multi-Engine Fun

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

Having been warming the chair with my ATPL studies for a good part of the month – not the most fulfilling of activities I must say, especially since it’s 35 Centigrade outside… and probably more inside – I was naturally through the roof when my name finally came up on the multi-engine training roster :). Eager to fly (and photograph :D) any day of the week, I was doubly excited this time, since I’d finally get to try my hand at the university’s sole Piper Seminole – in a nutshell my first Piper, first low-wing and first twin 🙂 (greetings from fixed-gear Cessna land!).

The aircraft in question is 9A-DZG, a trusty 1978 normally-aspirated Seminole that has pretty much passed through the hands of almost every multi-engine qualified pilot in Croatia in the last few years. Powered by two 180 HP Lycoming O-360s, it may not be the most exciting or high performing aircraft in the world – but after half a dozen Skyhawks, it is pretty much the top of the line :D.

Training-wise, first up was the Multi Engine Class rating, done under VFR (thankfully we’ve been having some excellent VMC lately). This pretty much revolves around the most important skills multi-engine aircraft require – the ability to fly on only one of those engines. As well as zone work – to familiarize ourselves with the aircraft and its handling characteristics – the course includes a broad range of “one engine inoperative” (OEI) situations, such as in cruise, during landing, during takeoff, after takeoff and on go-around. Lacking any navigation elements (such as IFR flying), we could have done the course at Lučko or Pleso – but given that they do have a lot of traffic nowadays, and OEI ops tending to disrupt the normal traffic flow, we decided to head somewhere else, most often the coast :).

To compensate for the increased transit time, time we could spend on honing our OEI skills, we usually flew in pairs of two students, where one would fly outbound and do his/her training, after which we’d land and swap places. The other student would then do a similar set of exercises and fly the return leg, while the backseater would observe and learn… and in my case, snap a photo or two :D.

Heading for Rijeka (LDRI) on the coast, climbing to 5500 ft. Given the recent heatwave, forming cumulus clouds were a common occurrence. Many never developed far enough to carry any rain, but the few that did ended up wreaking havoc all round... (at Lučko two Skyhawks - including one I flew on my IFR course - were damaged when the sudden wind tipped them onto their wingtips)

A busy view up front as we near the first substantial clouds near the Velebit mountain range. Blowing perpendicular to it, the week's north-easterly wind was the perfect trigger for the formation of vertical clouds

On approach to Rijeka's RWY 32. Situated on Krk, one of the largest islands on the Adriatic Sea, the airport's comparatively low traffic volume, a long runway and an abundance of radionavigation aids (not to mention it being just 30 minutes flight away) makes it a popular training destination 🙂

On any of the Cessnas I normally fly, this sight would be cause for immediate - and considerable! - alarm :D. However here, with the other engine still pulling, you can breathe a bit easier :). Normally, engine-out training is simulated - with the throttle on one engine retarded - but in some cases the instructor will actually shut the engine down completely. The propeller is then feathered (turned parallel with the airflow) to keep the drag - and all of its unwanted side-effects - down to a minimum. Also, the small mirror on the cowl is provided for the pilot to visually confirm that the nose gear is down (generally, if the nose gear is down, probably the mains are as well).

Encountering a spot of rain on the way back with me at the controls. Photo courtesy of the aircraft's autopilot :D. While I generally prefer hand-flying - sharpens the skills - a (finally) functioning autopilot was just too good an offer to pass up 😀

Still more working atmosphere on day 2 :). Flying back home from Zadar along the islands, the long - but far more pleasant - way around. Capitalizing on the fine weather, the military had activated several of its training zones - which basically cover the entire Velebit range - so to avoid close encounters with supersonic MiG-21s, we were routed around them

Aaah, the sea! Always a beautiful sight for us landlubbers :).

DZG ticking itself cool - as much as it could have, given it was +40 on the apron - at Banja luka airport in neighboring Bosnia :). For our final multi-engine class flight, we'd decided to go international - which, to add to a list of firsts, this was my first ever international flight as pilot :). Succumbing to the traditional culinary delights of Bosnia - "čevapi" for any locals who might read this 😀 - we decided to stay in town for lunch. In the end, this turned out to be by far the tastiest training flight I've ever had!

Some more dramatic weather at 6,000 ft on our flight back to Zagreb