April 01, 2010
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March 30, 2010
We'll Be Right Back After This Short Message…
What fun this all is!
March 20, 2010
A good way to introduce a friend of mine, T., to the joys (or otherwise) of GA flying. I'm never too sure beforehand how people will take things like this the first time, but she seems to have enjoyed it. Well, I enjoyed the flight — once again, it's nice to get out and about VFR occasionally.
February 16, 2010
The Wrong ALTAM
Somewhere miles further down the line 5000' up in the darkness heading towards for Tracy (KTCY), the NorCal Approach controller vectors us for V244, then helpfully tells me "information Lima is current". Lima? We're heading towards an untowered airport without an ATIS. Have I missed something important? After a little prompting from John (sitting in the right seat), I blurt out to NorCal that we're heading for Tracy. We get that classic "Never mind…" again from the controller and head towards V244.
A few minutes later NorCal asks me how I'll be approaching Tracy (KTCY). I shoot back that we'll do the RNAV RWY 12 approach with ALTAM intersection (on V244) as the initial approach fix and a full stop at Tracy; we'll cancel IFR when we're close to JENEG, the final approach fix. A few seconds later I get the right words of approval and load the approach into the G1000 as part of the current flight plan. Without giving it much thought I leave the approach loaded but inactive — plenty of time to activate it later. In any case, a few seconds later the controller gives me "direct ALTAM" before we intersect V244, so (again, without giving it much thought), I find ALTAM in the existing plan, and punch in direct ALTAM. We head towards ALTAM, correctly enough, but as John reminds me a few seconds later, I've really hit "direct" for the wrong ALTAM. I should have hit direct for the ALTAM that's part of the approach rather than the ALTAM that's part of the main plan. Yes, the G1000's just not smart enough to know that the two ALTAM's are one and the same waypoints, and — unlike the clunky old KLN 94, which will tell you it's deleting one (or more) of the identical waypoints as it activates or loads the approach, the G1000 will happily sit there unaware of what you're really trying to do, and is quite unable to get its head around the existential crisis involved in having two ALTAMS. Not a huge issue, but the behaviour of the G1000 in the resulting flight plan configuration has puzzled me several times in the past until I nutted it out on my own. Not for the first time I wonder out aloud about the way Garmin's engineers have simply seemed to ignore the human factors associated with the otherwise excellent unit. I find it hard to imagine me doing much serious IFR flying nowadays without it, but nearly every flight there's some … oddness … lurking in unintuitive menu functions, wrong-sense knobs, weird layouts, etc.
Literally seconds later NorCal clears us for the approach, with an immediate descent to 4,000', then a restriction on crossing the OYOSO intermediate fix at 4,000', i.e. 1,000' above the published altitude. I wonder out aloud about why, thinking NorCal's probably got traffic below us or a hold in progress or something. No big deal, but I look at the chart again and mentally calculate the required descent rate past OYOSO — crikey, I think, that'll be about 1,200 FPM at our current speed, i.e. a precipitous drop in a C172 like this. I don't mind that on a clear still night like tonight, but it's not something I'd feel comfortable with in Very IFR weather.
We're passing ALTAM at 4,000' heading for OYOSO, when John decides to (politely) ask the controller why we've got the crossing restriction. The controller comes back quickly (and a little defensively) with "well, 4,000' is my MVA in the area"; to which John responds with the observation that the published altitude for the ALTAM OYOSO transition is 3,000' (me, I'm thinking "Gawd, John — don't question him! They'll send out the F16s!"). We get a non-committal answer to that one, so we putter on at 4,000' towards OYOSO. After a short period of radio silence from everyone concerned, the controller comes back to us unprompted with a "descend and maintain 3,000", and down we go. John says that he suspects the controller's not looked at the plate for ages, and on a not-particularly busy set of (relatively-new) approaches like these into Tracy, it probably just doesn't matter that much, but it's always reassuring that I'm not the only one making (little) mistakes in this business….
As we turn towards the final approach heading at OYOSO, the G1000 suddenly flashes up the message "Approach not active!" across the main HSI and the display goes into approach-not-active mode. Quick as a flash I look at the G1000 flight plan window (did I forget to correctly activate the procedure? No, it looks fine) and then the autopilot, start thinking about aborting the approach, then look up at the main display HSI again. And everything's just fine, all back to normal, with the approach active and the autopilot turning us correctly to the final approach segment. I watch the unit like a hawk for the rest of the way in (well, I always do that, but never mind, it's the thought that counts). We discuss this later, back on the ground at Oakland; I suspect we had a momentary WAAS integrity failure, possibly due to antenna configuration in the turn, or maybe a cranky antenna. John has a similar theory; I guess we'll never know.
* * *
Little errors and issues, for sure, especially on what was essentially a night VFR currency flight done as an IFR exercise under the hood in beautifully-clear and warm weather, but (again) it's weirdly heartening that it's not me that's making all the errors, and that nothing really disturbed my calm or caused me to do much more than blithely ponder the Big Issues while under the hood.
After canceling IFR and landing nicely at Tracy, we remain in the pattern for some night currency landing work, with John getting a couple of his own landings in (not bad, not bad :-)), and then depart back towards Oakland. The RNAV 27L approach back into Oakland is familiar and easy, and after a little over an hour and a half of very pleasant and enjoyable flying, my various FAA, insurance, and club currencies are up to date for quite some time again.
* * *
John's brought along his iPhone with the new Foreflight chart setup (and much more). I use the older Foreflight (without charts) myself, and I'm mildly curious how useful the charts are in a working cockpit. I'm also a bit suspicious that I'll find the setup distracting, but when — in response to a mild problem I'm having getting the Cessna's overhead lights to properly light my paper approach plate on the yoke clipbpard — John sets his iPhone up for me to my left with the suction cup against the window, it's actually fairly easy to use, and not at all distracting. In fact I have to remind myself that it's there, and remember to actually use it. After a while it felt fairly natural, and with a bit of positional adjustment and practice, I'd definitely give it two thumbs up for approach chart display and access, at least. I think in the long run it's definitely likely to be in my virtual flight bag….
[Note added 1 March: as John notes in his comment on this article, it wasn't in fact the Foreflight chart software on his iPhone, it was GoodReader with approach charts from Nacomatic.com — thanks John…].
December 17, 2009
But she's right in spirit, even if she's not using standard phraseology — it is very IFR out here, at least close to the ground. We've just gone missed for real — as in not a training exercise — at minimums for the second time in a row this evening at Stockton. It's one of those weirdo Central Valley winter nights: warm air with unlimited visibility above about 1,000' for literally hundreds of miles around us, but an impenetrable cold ground fog (a.k.a. "Tule fog") with tops at 450' going all the way to the ground. We know miles out from Stockton from ATIS and the various hints being dropped to us and other aircraft by ATC ("Stockton 29R RVR now 800, ceiling indefinite") that we'll have to go missed at Stockton, but as a Part 91 flight on an IFR flight plan, it just seems like a great opportunity to shoot a couple of real-world approaches to minimums in otherwise very benign conditions.
So that's what we do, with the RNAV RWY 29R approach (full pilot nav, just to get the thrill of watching the C172's G1000 do the course reversal automatically in conjunction with the autopilot), followed by the ILS with vectors. The descent into the fog layer's typically fantastic but brief; I can probably log about 90 seconds of actual for this flight :-). Otherwise the weather's California Perfect: calm, cool-but-not-cold, very clear, and just generally why-we-fly. Righter K. keeps me honest during the non-IMC bits, and thankfully doesn't spend too much time screaming "we're all going to die!!!" or anything like that (thanks, Righter!). All in all, a very enjoyable flight, even if I do start rather rustily ("what the hell does this button do?!"), miss a few en-route radio calls, and end up landing way long back at Oakland after a rather fast final on the RNAV RWY 27L (LPV) approach under the hood. A good IFR systems workout; just what I needed.
* * *
Earlier, I discover that the relevant club paperwork hasn't been left in the drop box outside the (closed-for-the-night) clubhouse. I suspect the damn thing's inside the clubhouse having been dropped off inside by the previous flight (instead of being left in the drop box), but I can't get into the club to retrieve it. But I can see John sitting in one of the club meeting rooms with a bunch of students. He can't see me out in the dark, of course, so I call his iPhone, but he's not answering. I contemplate knocking on the windows to attract attention, but think the better of this until Righter turns up. After trying to call John once more, we hit the windows. John's look is priceless, is all I'll say :-). Anyway, thanks John for rescuing us and letting us retrieve the paperwork, without which, of course, no airplane can fly.
November 16, 2009
Dang It Jim...
Just as I'm calling NorCal Approach for the return home to Oakland (KOAK), I hear on frequency:
"Uh, Norcal, Southwest xyz, can I have that frequency for Oakland again please?"And just another late evening on the ramp back at Oakland, the fields of steady red, blue, green, and white lights, the flashing lights and movement, the Coast Guard flight practicing approaches, the noise of the Pilatus PC12 that followed me in on the visual going into beta on 27R, a brightly-lit Gulfstream being readied for departure near Kaiser, the Amflight Navajo weedwhacker taxiing along taxiway Charlie … and my old nemesis again (again! The damn thing's always there…), the unmarked white Justice Department MD-80 on the Kaiser ramp preparing for departure, ringed by ostentatiously-armed men in dark uniforms watching me taxi past. I can almost imagine the pilots waving cheerily at me as I taxi by ("Oh him again! Didn't we run into him off 27R a couple of years ago?!" :-)).
"Dang it, Jim!"
"Southwest xyz, that was 128.7..."
I should do more of this sort of thing, but I never seem to find the time.
October 06, 2009
Keeping The World Safe For Democracy
September 29, 2009
An Evening Of (Fun!) Failure
Somewhere just past GULLS waypoint on the RNAV RWY 25 approach into Rio Vista (O88), in thick day IMC, the G1000 GPS fails. Not just a GPS1 or GPS2 failure, or a RAIM failure, but a full GPS system failure. Perhaps the satellites have all just been shot out of the sky or something? Who knows? All I know is that the autopilot's making an unpleasant repeated "disconnect!" noise, and the HSI annotation is "GPS DR", i.e. dead reckoning. Time for plan B. First things first: are all the other instruments and comms OK (or at least plausibly still working)? Will the autopilot work on plain old heading mode rather than the nav mode it was just on? Yes to the second question (I switch immediately); "unsure" to the first. Everything looks normal — no big red X's or anomalous values on the screens — so I assume it's just the GPS. Which I can probably handle. The plane flies on; it's only been a few seconds since I noted the failure, but it feels longer. We're just inside GULLS with a stable flyable aircraft, so I don't need to do anything immediately, but I'd better get my act together fairly soon.
What now? Well, I'm flying the (excellent, loggable, certified) G1000 simulator at California Airways again, so I have time to think a bit without hitting anything in real life, but it's still stressful. John remains poker-faced at the sim's meta-controls. He'd mentioned something about "a scenario" earlier; this is it, I guess.
My scribbled notes from when I picked up Travis's ATIS for Rio Vista (Rio Vista doesn't have its own AWOS for some reason) earlier indicate a 1000' ceiling. Not too bad, but I don't trust it (Travis is some distance from Rio Vista), and we're well above 1,000' at the moment. So I call NorCal Approach (i.e. John) and tell them we need to go missed as we've got a total GPS failure in IMC. "NorCal" doesn't sound too concerned and gives me vectors, a climb-and-maintain 3,000' altitude, and a "when able, direct Sacramento VOR". I acknowledge the instructions and set up the HSI and OBS and autopilot to get me SAC direct, then start climbing. Everything non-GPS still seems to be working (but I wouldn't put it past John to throw in something like an alternator failure at this point, so I keep a good eye out for any other failures). A few seconds later "NorCal" asks my intentions. I need time to think, so I respond with that old standby, "stand by".
The only other approach back into Rio Vista is the VOR/DME approach, but without GPS I don't have DME, and (unlike a few years ago when I did my checkride on this approach for real), there's no radials from Travis VOR to substitute for DME (Travis VOR was recently decommissioned). No going back, then. I ask "NorCal" whether there are any VFR airports in the vicinity; NorCal replies that the nearest airport reporting VFR conditions would be Klamath Falls (KLMT). I've driven to Klamath Falls several times; it's in Oregon, literally hours away from Rio Vista by car at 70MPH, and probably involves all sorts of mountain passes or high en-route altitudes to get there (John has that sort of dry sense of humour). I ask what the ATIS at Sacramento Executive (KSAC) is reporting; after a short delay I get the picture: KSAC's at absolute ILS minimums, but a) it at least has a working ILS, b) it's an approach I've flown many, many times in IMC and under the hood in real life; and c), it's relatively close. Oddly enough, KSAC ATIS (i.e. John) is reporting "ILS in use runway 2, circle to land runway 20", which wouldn't quite work given the reported weather, but never mind — I don't think I've ever heard KSAC ATIS without that phrase.
I request the KSAC ILS RWY 2 approach into Sacramento, get vectors for the localizer, and within a minute or two things feel more-or-less routine. Plain old GPS failure is not, after all, any sort of emergency (or shouldn't be), just an annoyance. I can remember how to set up for the ILS and the missed approach manually, and at least the autopilot still works well enough for my purposes (flying this sim is a lot harder than flying a C172 in real life, and it's especially difficult to hand-fly smoothly by instruments alone). I join the localizer and a little later intercept the glideslope, then get handed off to Executive tower. Piece of cake! Then I notice the alternator's failed. And the engine seems to be losing power. What had John said earlier about slow power loss? There's no carb heat in this plane (I don't think I've flown a plane with a carburetor for years), but aha! I hit the auxiliary / electric fuel pump. The engine returns to normal again, gratifyingly quickly. I call "tower" and tell them I've had an electrical failure in IMC. Do I want to declare an emergency, they ask? I guess so — I have thirty minutes of battery power from this point, but with IMC widespread across the area, I'll probably need every minute of that time (at least) if I have to go missed. I turn off inessential electrical gear. I report passing EXEC, the ILS LOM (it's still in use, unlike RORAY, the old familiar KOAK LOM), and prepare for a down-to-minimums approach. I just know I'll have to go missed — a dingo on the runway, a huge squall line across the airport, fire in the localizer transmitter hut, an outbreak of sudden-onset ebola in the control tower, something like that from deep within the simulator — and resign myself to remembering how to do a hold manually (a hold I've done manually many times in real life, but — as I keep whining — the sim's a lot harder to fly gracefully and smoothly than the Real Thing).
But no — about 50' above decision altitude the runway approach lighting becomes visible, and a few seconds later I'm on the ground. Cool! This is the stuff good simulators are made for….
* * *
Just one in a whole string of failures this evening, all of them an education, most of them really enjoyable: alternator failures, a complete engine failure on departure, the total GPS failure, a combined nav 2 / comms 2 / GPS 2 failure, a pitot failure, a fuel pump failure… some in combination, some on their own, and all in IMC. Again, this sort of thing is just what the G1000 simulator's for — and just what I needed. All of the worst failures were mine: forgetting to get the emergency checklist out, forgetting to turn the auxiliary fuel pump on the first time the main one failed, not recognizing from instruments alone that the engine had just failed (the sound on the sim was off), being too hesitant in making major decisions, getting a critical approach altitude wrong, etc. But that's the whole point, I guess: get the failures out of the way now rather than in real IMC. In any case, I didn't do so badly that I'd have crashed in real life, and I also got to "fly" the new 200' minimums RNAV approach into Marysville (KMYV), which, despite the excessive approach plate small print, is easy to fly and (hopefully) portends more 200' minimums LPV approaches around here.
Unfortunately it sounds like the sim may be moved to a different location in the next few weeks, which would make it difficult for me to get to. This particular sim has been a godsend in many ways for IFR currency and proficiency training for me, and I'll be really sad to see it go (if it goes). We shall see….
September 23, 2009
I won't say which was which, but the sights ran the gamut from the Texas Rangers 757 standing on the apron near the old Alaskan hangar, the Kaiser 737 wedged into a space right next to the fuel pumps causing me to wind my way around the orange markers to get refueled without hitting the plane's tail, one of the local Piaggios doing (loud and wide) pattern work (at great expense, I'd guess), the Coast Guard helicopters doing night-vision practice work around and over a darkened runway 27L (no lights at all), and, of course, the usual familiar feeling of standing on the ramp in the dark surrounded by lights and sounds and movement.
Back in the Oakland Flyers club house, Lou makes fun of John and my dueling iPhones. An occupational hazard for nerdy hi-tech flying amateurs like me, I guess. All my flying nowadays involves direct physical interaction with computers much smarter than even the biggest computers available in the university computing lab when I was an electrical engineering student; even the iPhone comes into the equation for every flight now. Not complaining, mind you (too much of a nerd for that); on the whole it's a great improvement for almost all the flying I do.
July 27, 2009
Just What I Needed
SOP, in my experience: NorCal Approach seems to like having you hurtle towards Napa's localizer 36L at (at least) 5,000' over the Bay, with little hints that you'll get lower Real Soon Now. I should bloody well hope so: we're hurtling (in that rather slow and steady way that little C172s hurtle, anyway) towards the localizer at 5,000', and if we don't get lower soon, we'll turn onto that same localizer just outside LYLLY at 5,000' on a segment with a 1,800' minimum, with (quite literally) only a handful of miles to get to sea level for the runway. We get 1,000' lower on the hand-off to Oakland Center, but that doesn't help much; I turn onto the localizer just as Center clears us for the approach with a rapid-fire set of instructions and sends me to Napa tower. Down we go; I calculate we'll need something like a 1,200+ fpm descent to make it, and program that in. Not something I'd enjoy in hard IMC, that's for sure, but since it's a nice sunny fog-coming-through-the-Golden-Gate VFR day, and Evan H. is sitting in the right seat as safety pilot, I let it rip. We get down in time, (barely), and successfully start the circle-to-land for 18R.
Just one of the many enjoyable little perils of the quick IFR flight to Napa (KAPC), I guess. I really like a filed-IFR flight there as a real-world work out because you don't get a lot of leisure time (just one damn thing after another, often enough, especially with the crossing traffic arriving at Oakland or departing San Francisco), it's a short (read: relatively cheap) flight, and it almost always involves a constant stream of ATC requests (vectors, altitude, speed, frequencies) ending in a rushed approach (RNAV or localizer, usually) into an airport I know well from years of visits. Oh, and the trip itself is very, very scenic (not that I'd know that under the Cone Of Stupidity, of course). Unusually, this time instead of going missed and back to Center to do the missed-as-published and have a go at (say) the VOR approach (and unintentionally tie up the airspace around us for billions of miles because we forget to cancel IFR), I decide we'll do the full stop and taxi back for some pattern work. I don't really need too much IFR practice (I'm good until November, at least legally), but my VFR airwork could do with some brushing up.
Tower has us circle west at circling minimums for right traffic on 18R, and almost immediately clears us for the option, telling us to follow a Bonanza that's crossing mid-field above and in front of us for the same runway; he'll land well before we do, if it's a typical Bonanza. It all looks good to me. But that Bonanza — part of the JAL ab initio training facility at Napa, I suspect — stays high and very very (very) wide (don't get me started…), and I have to veer well to my left and slow right down to stop myself from getting ahead of him. Then I think "dammit — let's request the short approach. I can be off the runway before he's turned base at this rate…". Unfortunately tower's preoccupied with something else and doesn't respond immediately, but in the end I get the short approach to 18L anyway and cross well in front of the Bonanza; I'm off 18L before the Bonanza's anywhere near short final. Where had he been all that time?!
18L's a much smaller runway than 18R; it's where I did a lot of my initial PP-ASEL pattern work and landing practice, because it's a nice short(ish) runway surrounded by flat land, not too far from home base (Oakland then and now). I really enjoy doing precision landing work on 18L, and the next five or so landings are a real blast (it helps that I had a steady 16 knot headwind straight down the runway, but never mind). At one point tower asks me whether I want the right instead of 18L; I respond with something like "nah, we'll stay on the left — it's more of a challenge…". She replies "well, it looks like you're doing a great job from up here!". My ego just about bursts, but I can't help blurting out that she's probably jinxed the rest of my pattern work with that sort of praise.
Amazingly enough, though, with the exception of some mild ballooning when I tried to be too clever landing back on Oakland's (long) 27L, the pattern work and landings were well within expectation. Just the sort of practice I needed, I think, and the short hop home (with a clearance for the ILS 27R back into Oakland with the side-step onto 27L for an incoming Amflight Najavo on the right) was pleasingly routine and smoothly-executed.
Later, while refueling at Kaiser, I take a bunch of stealth pix of a Kaiser Air 737 sitting there behind us. Something about the soft light and angular geometries appealed to me a lot; the results are up there somewhere at the start of this post, I hope. Not a patch on Glenn's excellent work, but not too bad either for a rushed low-light pic.
* * *
Sometime during the pattern work at Napa a Beech Staggerwing makes an arrival and landing, but rather disappointingly we don't get to see it close up at all — they're supposed to be quite photogenic. Not as exciting as sharing the pattern at Livermore with a B17 and a B25, but still something that caught my attention.
Something else that caught my attention was the inevitable (and slightly ominous) reappearance of my old nemesis, the Justice Department MD-80 that plies that part of North Field at that sort of time of day, as we were sitting in the runup area off 27R. This time it was departing, it was broad daylight, and Ground kept us well separated, but as John's recent posting on Oakland's Bermuda Triangle argues, you have to keep a sharp lookout and think on your feet in this part of the world at the moment. Not coincidentally, that Bermuda Triangle is a place he and I had to take evasive action in a few months ago to avoid being run over by more than one large aircraft due to what was probably a ground controller losing the plot or simply not caring; I still don't know which. I think my account of what happened that evening is remarkably restrained, in retrospect….
June 29, 2009
There's this weird sign just outside my studio window this morning. I'm not too sure what it could really mean in the context of my neighbourhood in Lovely Industrial East Oakland (we're not quite under any of the normal VFR or IFR departure or arrival paths for Oakland airport (KOAK), a few minutes' drive to the left down the road in the picture), but it kinda felt appropriate for this blog. I haven't been able to keep it up to date nearly as much as I'd like lately, mostly due to a relentless product release schedule at my day job and plain laziness on my part, so it's mostly just debris at the moment. I doubt that it's dangerous debris, but you never know.
Yes, I've been flying, most memorably a great flight down to San Luis Obispo (KSBP) and back with Evan H. a few weeks ago for the legendary hundred dollar hamburger, sharing flight duty and getting quite a lot of real and under-the-hood IFR flying in (well, Evan got all the real IMC; I had to make do with the cone of stupidity for a couple of hours). A lot of great scenery (that's a rugged part of the world, especially around Big Sur), generally benign weather conditions (if a little unusual for coastal California at this time of the year), and (as usual), some pretty good diner food from The Spirit Of San Luis at KSBP (right next to the ramp!).
As penance for my laziness, I've cobbled together a short video from the trip. Nothing special (and it turned out it was actually bumpier than either of us had realised, making a lot of the more interesting video footage useless), and not always entirely coherent, but it was a lot more fun than doing some of the pro videos I have to do now and then. If you've got a late-model Quicktime player and broadband, try this link; otherwise, try this one. If neither of them work, oh well, you probably don't have a Quicktime player for your browser… (or you don't have the patience to wait for it all to download). Oh, and it has a soundtrack, so don't be surprised if it suddenly starts blaring away while you're surreptitiously trying to watch it at work….
* * *
A few words about my fave useful iPhone app, ForeFlight Mobile (yes, I've reviewed it before on YAFB, and I'm even quoted on ForeFlight's site, but I'm not connected with the ForeFlight people, honest :-) )…. ForeFlight did much of the grunt work for the flight back from San Luis (the legs when I was PIC) — including IFR flight plan filing and a great deal of on-the-apron weather checking, not to mention NOTAM listing and much more. I'm finding this thing indispensable; not quite an EFB, but Pretty Damn Good at its intended uses.
I've only very rarely ever talked to FSS, either in person (when that was still possible), or on the phone (I've had online DUATS access since I was a student), but it's kinda ironic that I now file flight plans and get weather and airport info, NOTAMS, etc., through my phone. Just not by talking to a human with that phone….
May 18, 2009
Around and About (Still Alive!)
In other flying-related news I helped shepherd a friend of mine's two-year-old kid through the Hiller Aviation Museum at San Carlos Airport (KSQL) over the weekend, which was a lot of fun (he's way too young to actually come flying, but he already likes airplanes and seems to have a good idea what they are for a two-year-old). When the Aviatrix had coffee with me in Berkeley a few years ago she'd just come up from visiting the Hiller herself, and her description of the place made me want to visit some time (like so many local pilots I've done dozens of touch and goes at San Carlos airport without ever stopping there, let alone visiting the museum). For a variety of dumb reasons every time I'd planned on going there the visit got canceled, but yesterday seemed like a good day, so off we finally went (it helps that it's mostly indoors in air-conditioned modernity, given that yesterday was wiltingly hot, by far the hottest day of the year around here so far).
Even with Aviatrix's description, I was unprepared for how good it was in reality: it's a sign of something, at least, that while at most aviation museums I can identify maybe 80% of the planes and gear (at least approximately), I couldn't do better than about 40% at the Hiller. Even more enjoyable (especially with kids in tow) was the way you could sit in and play with various real cockpits — a 747, a 737, an ex-Blue Angels F-something-or-other (wish I'd noted it down…), etc., and a bunch of hands-on simulators and other working displays. It's very different in size and focus from somewhere like Castle Air Museum, another local(ish) museum I like a lot, and I'd thoroughly recommend it for kids and adults of almost any age. They even have a little raised platform right next to the museum near the west side of the runway that you can stand on to watch the local air traffic in the pattern or on the runways and taxiways (and, of course, that's exactly what we did, regardless of the heat and glare).
I think one of the high points for me was buying a soft Southwest 737 plush toy that Alex, the kid, immediately took to heart, and apparently cuddled all night. It seemed kind of appropriate given Oakland's role as one of Southwest's main hubs, and the number of Southwest 737's flying past his place that he sees every day. He certainly seemed to know what the fuzzy purple-and-orange 737 was :-).