September 23, 2004

Short Sharp Shock

Another short sharp lesson, again somewhat impromptu (John King, the club instructor who was going to do the phase check today called in sick this afternoon, so The Other John (John Ewing) offered to do a lesson on short notice instead): a filed IFR trip to Concord (CCR -- all of about 15nm away...), the LDA 19R and VOR 19R approaches there, then a quick double back to Oakland for the ILS 27R. No GPS, unfortunately -- this was 05D, with the old steam gauges.

The shock? Basically, just how badly I coped with (of all things) the radios today. I kept losing it for some reason, missing calls to me, not doing readbacks correctly, saying the wrong thing, etc. Nothing lethal, but I thought I'd done better than that up till now. Most of the actual flying was OK, if -- as always, way too imprecise -- and the approaches went fine (with some minor allowances for a broken altitude here or there -- see below...). Not much to write home about one way or the other, this time at least.

* * *

On the VOR approach into Concord, just as Travis Approach hands us off to the tower, and just at one of the highest-workload parts of the approach near the course dogleg, someone on the ground calls Concord Tower and proceeds to discuss a taxiway sign lighting problem at great length. I can't get a word in edgeways and start to think I'm going to scream -- we're barreling straight (well, as straight as I can fly) down the VOR final approach course next to the refinery towers at 100 KIAS and here's some guy on the ground making a set of confusing reports about signage on tower frequency. I do exactly what you're not supposed to do here -- I start obsessing about the damn radio and the landing clearance, and slowly lose altitude and heading control, and bust the minimum altitude for the leg on a course leading away from the final approach course. Urgh. A good lesson. When the guy on the ground finally shuts up, I call tower, who clears us to land just in time.

* * *

When we return to refuel at Kaiser, there's a beautiful P-51 Mustang sitting in the dark on the apron in front of the Kaiser terminal. After refueling we wander over to take a closer look, and meet Tony -- an Australian friend of John's who works as a supervisor for Kaiser -- as we circle the Mustang. The Mustang's in great condition -- brightly-polished aluminium, well-maintained paint job, etc. -- and we spend a few minutes discussing this and some of the other military and ex-military planes you see around Oakland. Tony's had what sounds like a grim day of fueling bizjets and the associated baggage handling, and when he hears that I'm doing my instrument rating, he drily observes that for him the most useful part of his instrument training was being able to maintain spatial orientation while clambering around in total darkness inside the cramped baggage compartments of the average commuter or bizjet. I always knew these lessons must have some real-life relevance somewhere :-).

Next to us on the ramp a smallish piston twin starts up without any warning, belching smoke and sounding like an outboard motor even after a short warm up. Not a pretty sound. And then the strobes go on, blinding us all; John mutters something about "bet he used to be a Bonanza pilot..." as we get out of the way.

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