April 28, 2004

Happy Happy Joy Joy

Another instrument workout in 05D with John, this time with me in a much better frame of mind. The Usual: under the hood continuously for about 1.3 hours of a 1.4 hour evening flight, with VOR tracking, level flight, climbs, descents, turns, etc., and ... DME arcs. A DME arc is when you fly an arc (actually a set of straight lines approximating an arc) a constant distance from a DME station, usually starting on one VOR radial and ending on another. There are a whole family of these with the possible permutations of inner vs outer curves, etc. They look like torture to fly. This is going to be a fun evening.

I've always been curious about the motivation for DME arcs -- there aren't a lot of them in real approaches around here, and the ones that do exist (Watsonville's VOR/DME or GPS approach springs to mind; further afield there's one down south at Paso Robles, and another up north somewhere like Eureka or Arcata) don't seem to use the DME arcs for any good reason like terrain avoidance or because of any oddities to do with traffic or navaid location. They're just DME arc approaches because, well, someone seems to have decided to put DME arcs in them. John's theory is that the FAA keeps a few DME arc approaches around to keep ATC and pilots familiar with them -- it's certainly a skill worth learning for the IFR rating, if only because it emphasises situational awareness and continuous control -- but I'm dubious. The only reason we do DME arcs is because there's a few DME arc approaches.... But I have to agree that being able to fly an arbitrary DME arc seems like a great way to learn positional awareness and precision flying.

In any case, the DME arcs go fine -- if, as always, they're much rougher than they're going to have to be on the checkride. The whole thing is one of those things it doesnt pay to intellectualize too much when you're doing it -- just follow the recipe and it all works -- much like my first few experiences with VORs in my PP days. I don't like the rote list- or method-learning thing, but if you sit around waiting to "get" it on an intellectual level, you'll never fly the damn thing. Just turn the knobs and watch the instruments. Or something like that.

For quite a lot of the time in the practice area it's bumpy as hell. At one point we start gaining and losing hundreds of feet per minute regardless of what I do -- but I never feel the need to turn it over to John to regain control. A good lesson in coping with turbulence in IMC. I can't imagine being in actual for an hour or so with turbulence like this -- not my idea of fun. IMC aerobatics without the freedom to just loop or roll away from it all...

I fly the ILS 27R back into Oakland, this time under the hood. John handles the radio, with me doing everything else including the briefing. I'm not anywhere near as precise as when flying visually, but I don't break any limits or get too far off track until short final. There's a weird visual illusion that I noticed the previous flight -- when I can see fast-moving lights on the ground out of the corner of my (left) eye, as on final into Oakland, my brain interprets it when I'm under the hood as the plane turning right, so I overcorrect left despite the instruments, and if I don't get over the momentary distraction, I keep going left. As happened on short final (urgh).... oh well. I just have to learn to ignore the visual distraction, but it's one of those insidious things that could mean disaster if you don't concentrate on the instruments instead of the attenuated visual clues. I'm slightly tempted to add more blinders to the side of the cone of stupidity to block this out, but I'm even more tempted to learn how to overcome distractions and illusions like that automatically.

* * *

No BOGUS NDB headings this evening (and no talk radio in the background to make a couple of Berkeley types like John and me mad as hell) because -- Happy Happy Joy Joy! -- 05D's ADF is inop. The whole ADF thing is one of those steam-age holdovers that you still have to learn, even though in the US with GPS there's almost no need for it, because (I suspect) it's one of those exercises that help instill situational and positional awareness in you, and there are still a few approaches where the NDB approach is the only approach.

ADF usage is still a primary skill in unAmerica, though (as I learned when I flew in Australia, for example). I don't mind learning it, as long as it's not at the expense of learning to properly and competently use the GPS 530 in our other aircraft. This seems to be John's attitude too -- he's not one of the instructors you meet occasionally who believes that you're not a real pilot until you can navigate comfortably solely by NDB.

* * *

Overall, I feel pretty pleased with things: I'm getting better at keeping a heading, and while I'm nowhere near PTS standards on headings and altitudes, I'm much better at recognising the fact that I'm off (or that there's a nasty trend building...) and correcting (or over-correcting) before things get too out of hand.

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