Filed Under (Aviation, Life) by Sean on February 10th, 2008 at 10:00 pm

(UPDATE 3) – This is basically a completion of the update 2 where I finish the pictures’ detailed descriptions and decode some of the other aviation gobbledygook such as the weather prognosis, etc. Below you’ll find all the images have been re-uploaded in much higher resolution, and I’ve inserted more detailed comments on each image. I even start to dive into some detail about the latest advances in avionics and related posts deciphering what each thing is on the various screens.

Wow what gorgeous weather we’re having down here in Houston these days. My sincere condolences go out to those who have suffered loss or hardship from the severe weather in neighboring states.

I’m going flying this morning with my long-time friend Erik to take advantage of the weather. I’ll post an update when I return to terra firma; for now here is the weather synopsis:

METAR KSGR 081253Z 13005KT 10SM CLR 08/02 A2999 RMK AO2 SLP166 T00780017
KHOU 19nm E 081253Z 14004KT 10SM SCT250 08/02 A3000 RMK AO2 SLP163 T00780017

So the above is called a METAR which is basically an acronym for “message d’observation météorologique régulière pour l’aviation” which is roughly translated into routine aviation weather observations. Here we see at KSGR (Sugarland airport) on the 8th at 1253 Zulu time (GMT, or 653 am local time) there are winds blowing from 130 (SE) at 5 knots, skies are clear, the temperature is 8 degrees Celsius and the dew points is 2 degrees Celsius, the barometric pressure is 29.99 inches Hg, the facility has an automated precipitation sensor, sea level pressure is 1016.6 millibars and the temperature in Celsius is 7.8 degrees and dew point is 1.7 degrees. The nearby METAR for Hobby Airport is an exercise left for the reader.

TAF KSGR 081128Z 081212 VRB04KT P6SM SKC FM1500 15008KT P6SM SKC FM1800 19013KT P6SM FEW250 FM2100 22013KT P6SM SCT250 FM0100 25007KT P6SM SCT250 FM0600 34007KT P6SM SKC
19nm E 081128Z 081212 VRB04KT P6SM SKC FM1500 15008KT P6SM SKC FM1800 19013KT P6SM FEW250 FM2100 22013KT P6SM SCT250 FM0000 23008KT P6SM SCT250 FM0600 35007KT P6SM SKC

Above we have what is called the TAF or Terminal Aerodrome Forecast. This TAF basically says that it was issued for KSGR at 1128 Zulu on Feb 8 and is valid from 1200 Zulu on the 8th until 1200 Zulu the following day. Starting at 1200 Zulu the winds are forecast to be variable at 4 knots and visibility is 6 statute miles plus. Starting at 1500 Zulu, the winds are forecast to be blowing from 150 at 8 knots with 6 miles plus visibility and clear skies. From 1800 Zulu, winds are from 190 at 13 knots, 6 miles visibility and it will be partly cloudy with the cloud layer at 25,000 feet. The rest if the TAF is an exercise left for the reader.


So I’ve returned to earth after our jaunt around southeast Texas looking for a place to get an omelette. We were unsuccessful in that endeavor and ended up eating at Denny’s after we returned. Some good pictures from the voyage are below. Click on each picture to zoom in and read more information about it.

Just getting going from KSGR

Here we’ve taken off and climb to about 2,500 MSL (Mean Sea Level as opposed to AGL – Above Ground Level).

A view en route


Here we’ve spotted a plane flying at approximately our altitude; we’ve already seen it on the display and follow that up with finding it outside. No, that’s not a giant red circle in the sky; I’ve highlighted it to make plane spotting a simple task for the reader. Note that spotting planes in the air is not that easy.

Getting a little closer . . .

It’s a Bird . . . no it’s a Mooney!

Here we can make out that it’s a Mooney, most like a Bravo. Basically the general rules for planes flying VFR (Visual Flight Rules) are that planes flying at 3,000 AGL or above with courses (ground track) flown between 0 and 179 are to fly even thousands plus 500 feet; planes flying between 180 and 359 are to fly odd thousands plus 500 feet. For example, if our heading is 310, then proper altitudes for us would be 3,500, 5,500, 7,500, 9,500 and so on. Aircraft under IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) fly on the thousands, i.e., 3,000, 5,000, 7,000, etc. This principle is known as the hemispherical rule. Note there are additional rules that govern altitudes that are beyond the scope of this post.

This isn’t your father’s Cessna!

You can see here that avionics have certainly changed over the years. This cockpit is more sophisticated than a 10 year old 747 jetliner. In the vernacular of aviation, this is known as a “glass cockpit” as opposed to a “steam gauge” or “six pack” cockpit.

A closer look at the PFD

Here I’ve taken an up-close picture of the primary flight display. It presents all the information you need in one place. The ticker tape to the left is indicated air speed in knots (118) and our true air speed (124). The right tape is our altitude (2,720 ft MSL), our dialed-in altitude bug (2,500 which can be used to salve the auto pilot) as well as ascent or descent in feet per minute (vertical speed) and the dialed-in barometric pressure (used to determine altitude – here 30.02 inches Hg). The center shows us our current attitude (vs. the horizon). Below all that is a compass rose with a wealth of information superimposed. This is called the Horizon Situation Indicator (HSI). On our display you can see our current heading is 308 (north is 360 and south is 180, as expected). The heading bug, or heading we dial in for reference (that can be used to slave the auto pilot) is 313. Our course that we’ve laid into the GPS (KSGR -D-> 60R) for our flight is 328. Our actual track over the ground (which differs from heading due to wind) is approximately 325. Other miscellaneous information displayed includes the outside temperature (56 °F) and nearest airports (vitally important information in case one’s engine were to stop running).

A closer look at the PFD

Here is the Multi Function Display. It also provides an amazing amount of information. A major advantage of this technology is situational awareness. A drawback is how much a pilot may keep his eyes inside the cockpit watching the pretty pictures and not looking outside. Here we can see the plane superimposed on a map. The orientation of the map is track up (the track is our track over the ground). You can see the plane itself is skewed to the track due to a large crosswind (displayed on the MFD as 38 knots!). The large megenta line is our dialed in course. The dashed arrow is the track vector showing our future track and position in 1 minute (selectable). The two diamonds are part of the Traffic Awareness System (TAWS) and are actually two departing aircraft from Hobby Airport (KHOU). It displays their vector track with solid white lines and their current altitude relative to ours (2,000 and 1,500 feet above us in this case). Other information displayed includes terrain (the teepee looking artifacts are towers), highways (Highway 290 and Highway 6 here), and the terminal area surrounding Houston depicted in Cyan (here known as class B airspace). There are also Victor Airways displayed (V194, V15, V571, and V574).

60R, our destination airport

Here we’re overflying the airport to identify the way the winds are blowing. We have a good idea already since we’ve got broadcast automated weather information for the area (plus information on current wind vector and speed at our altitude is displayed in the cockpit but that can be drastically different from the winds on the ground resulting in dangerous shear) , but this is a non-controlled airport (i.e., it doesn’t have a control tower) and you don’t want to be caught flying downwind on a short runway (you always land into a head wind if possible). If you’ve always wanted to know what the meaning behind runway numbers is, they basically equal the compass heading of the runway divided by 10. So here we see runway 35, which basically means it has a compass heading of 350, which is 10 degrees west of due north. The opposite end of the runway is consequently 17. In this case the winds are blowing almost directly down the runway, or from 170. Also note that meteorologists always describe wind direction by the direction from which the wind is blowing; i.e., northerly winds are winds from the north. It also makes it easy to pick which ruway you’re using. If the wind is 170, then you know you should be landing on runway 17.

Turning from base to final for RW 17

Now that we’ve identified the runway direction, we enter what is called the traffic pattern. While it’s described for each airport, the default traffic pattern is what is called a left hand pattern. Below is an excellent image of what construes the traffic pattern from the wikipedia article on the subject. The original image is available here.

Left field traffic pattern

Short final

Now here we’re in the “short final” phase of flight.

Getting out of the plane

A 1940 Taylorcraft BC-65


Arrival right behind us

This guy was practicing touch and go landings. He probably did at least 20 while we were present. This airport is a little tricky since there are no taxiways so you have to “back taxi” down the runway. Aircraft separation is maintained on the Unicom frequency where each aircraft announces their position, phase of flight, intentions and the target airport (many nearby airports share the same frequency, so an example in our case would be, “Navasota, Skyhawk 1615 alpha turning base for runway one seven, Navasota.”)


Take off roll

Well we never could find a place to eat within walking distance so we resume with a take off roll after hanging out at the airport for a short bit.

Random picture of cars from above

Cumulus clouds forming

Back at KSGR

Clear of the active

Planes on the ramp

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Wi-Fi at Onion Creek! | Maslow Forgot about Beer â„¢ on February 13th, 2008 at 4:34 pm #

[...] my previous article on flying to get hints on how to decode this. Until next time, back to my latte (and PHP development [...]

Muzaffar on May 21st, 2012 at 6:15 am #

I am well aware that there is a lot more to it .and the speeds are hieghr, but the view from the cockpit looks much the same as in a 172. The landing spot remains fixed in the field of view.Whenever I go on vacation, I wish I could have the pilot’s view. ThanksThey should have that on the seat backs or do they now, it’s been a while?

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