June 18, 2005

Back To Reality

Postcards From Purgatory
After an evening doing the Jaded Tourist Thing on the Boardwalk, Muscle Beach, etc., and a great dinner on Main in Santa Monica, it's back to reality. Or what passes for reality in that capital of ostentatious public self-absorption, Venice Beach....

7.30am Saturday, bright sunlight, a cool breeze, the Boardwalk and beach overrun by early-morning joggers and dazed stragglers from last night, cyclists, rollerbladers, little clumps of homeless people sprawled across the grass, dogs, sun-drenched dirt, cigarette butts planted in the sand, an army of dark glasses and shorts, vendors setting up their stalls along the boardwalk, the 737's and 777's silently launching themselves out over the Pacific off LAX a few miles to the south, Santa Monica pier a mile or two to the north, the Santa Monica mountains looming behind the pier and the Malibu coast in the haze... and I'm standing on the beach feeling badly sunburned and marveling at the perfect weather.

We'll do today VFR the entire way, I guess, up the Malibu and Ventura coastlines, past Santa Barbara a mile or two offshore, up the Gaviota pass over Solvang and over Santa Maria to San Luis Obispo for lunch. Then what? I'm not 100% sure, since FSS is reporting some confusing and unusually quickly-changing weather over Oakland and the Big Sur area (showers, overcast, etc.). I'll leave that part until after lunch. Right now I just want breakfast.

* * *

Artist 1We return to Supermarine at about 11 am and drop the car off. Once again, Supermarine treats us -- two badly-dressed poverty-stricken artists and one really badly-dressed wannabe pilot -- nicely, and we get to sit in the leather-chair and glass-table Executive Pilot Lounge picking apart the ideological underpinnings of the large-format glossy mags artfully arranged around the coffee tables in front of us (hey! this watch is only $12,000! Let's order one!!), while the ground staff tow 2SP out of storage onto the ramp and refuel it (we're clearly not quite the target market for the glossies, unfortunately. Or fortunately. I dunno). We don't do a lot of planning this time -- as I said, it's straight up the coast, and as long as we're clear of the LAX Class B and the various restricted and prohibitted areas, we'll be fine. But there are several of the latter, and it really pays to be careful here -- especially near Vandenburg AFB and the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. Nothing unusual or onerous, but I really don't want to have them roll the F16's at us.

There's some sort of fly-in at Santa Monica this morning, and ground is directing planes to an overflow transient parking area while trying to marshal the rest of us as best he can. We taxi to the runup area, then sit there waiting maybe ten minutes for departure, then we're off into the sunshine with the right shoreline departure.

Artist 2Predictably, the next hour or so up the coast and inland to San Luis Obispo is beautiful, a privileged view of the Malibu, Ventura, and Santa Barbara coastlines from about 3,000', the typical Southern Californian mixture of sunshine, blue skies, blue-green seas, rugged islands, jagged mountains ... and suburban sprawl. Even Malibu looks overrun. My passengers are mostly silent as they just look out and watch. We pick out the old Getty museum in Malibu below us. Not quite the same scale as the new version over the 405 (one of my fave LA sights is the Getty shrouded in fog late at night from below on the 405), but still impressive in context. Barb flies a significant portion of the leg under my command; Scott just sits in the back waiting for a chance to have his next cigarette (this is payback for all those times I've hung out in his studio enveloped in a cloud of smoke watching him paint or construct another piece :-)).

We land at San Luis Obispo into the usual stiff headwind and confess to ground that we don't really know where to park for the restaurant, The Spirit Of San Luis. Ground cheerfully directs us to the (really obvious) parking spot right in front of us (D'Oh!) and wishes us bon apetit. We're all hoping it's better than the caff at Santa Maria -- we're hungry, dammit. And once again I need coffee. And Scott needs that cigarette....

* * *

Artists at work, againThe Spirit Of San Luis turns out to be one of those great little small-town airport institutions -- good California food, cheerful staff, a healthy mix of locals, travellers, and fly-ins, a nice view of the airport and surrounding areas, and better coffee than most such places. As with the Arcata trip I just have to try the fish and chips. Not bad -- not as good as the Arcata version, but still definitely recommended. Barb tries the fish and chips as well; Scott has a hamburger from which he carefully removes anything resembling salad. We spend a relaxed hour or two over lunch (including dessert...), then stagger back to the plane. I realise I haven't a clue how to get it refueled, but a short walk across the apron next to the Gulfstreams and Citations to the San Luis Jet Center sorts that problem out (yes, another Executive Pilot Lounge where we're actually made to feel welcome, and where a fully-uniformed G5 or Citation pilot about my age walks up and asks me -- earrings, torn black jeans, broken shoes, funny accent and all -- what's the weather really like out there? in a friendly and interested way; we talk a few minutes about the weather and the joys of flying along the coast VFR... what's the world coming to?! Maybe we are in Kansas).

We depart VFR for the north after an FSS briefing that tells me the weather's basically now OK all the way from here to Oakland. The departure's an eye-opener -- the terrain in the immediate vicinity of the airport explains all the various departure procedures and approaches. Lots of small (less than 5,000') jagged-topped hills and rugged ridges in all directions except the northwest. I'll bear this in mind the next time I'm down here on the ILS...

The flight back to Oakland goes smoothly -- nothing much to report here except we see the same brightly-coloured blimp we saw approaching Santa Maria now tied down below us at Hayward (KHWD) as we approach Oakland (that must be a slow trip...), and the subtle change in light along the East Bay hills as we descend over Fremont (the quality of natural light in the Bay Area is one of the things that attracted me here in the first place; Ed Ruscha (speaking of Artists, this time with a Capital "A"...) has a mordant little riff about it in a NYT Magazine interview a week or two ago which struck a chord with me).

Some five hours after departing Santa Monica, we're back on the tarmac at Oakland, taxiing to the Old-T's. I'm even more sunburned now, and I can tell from the fidgeting in the back that Scott's just dying for another drag.

* * *

After being handed off to Oakland tower, we hear the controller give a mild on-air admonishment to an out-of-town pilot for doing something potentially dangerous. The controller's familiar to me, a decent and accomodating kind of guy (at least on air), and it should end there with the pilot's mea culpa (sincere or not). But the pilot decides to fight back, and for the next few minutes he escalates the exchange to the point where he's given a number to call and basically had the riot act read to him. Throughout the entire exchange the controller keeps his cool and sounds polite, if at times a little exasperated; the pilot sounds sarcastic and combative. I don't know what's going through the pilot's mind, but rule one around here at least is just own up to the mistake (even if it may not have been entirely your fault) and get on with it. Oakland tower's pretty forgiving, at least in my experience, and in six years of flying out of Oakland I've never heard it get that bad on-air. I once accidentally busted Hayward's Class D while still with Oakland's South Field tower; tower asked me if I knew where I was -- I looked around and thought, uh oh!, I know exactly where I am (in deep shit) -- and I just apologised and said (with my best Australian accent) that I hoped I hadn't caused an international incident or anything. Tower laughed and basically just said please don't do it again...

* * *

I logged about 7 hours total time for the trip; somewhere over the Malibu or Ventura coast I reached the big 500 hour mark (about 20% of which are taildragger hours). Woohoo! OK, so most of the aviation blogs I read are written by people with billions of hours logged, and this really isn't much of a milestone, but hey, it's been fun so far...
Postcards From Purgatory

June 17, 2005

We're Not In Kansas Anymore...

Venice BeachNot that I've ever been to Kansas, or that the Bay Area is remotely like Kansas, but the view outside surely isn't Oakland, either. The VOR / GPS-A approach into Santa Monica (KSMO) takes you straight down a line from Glendale over the Griffith Observatory past the Hollywood sign and close to the towers of the Westside / Westwood / Beverly Hills axis straight towards Santa Monica and Venice beaches. Just as we're 7,000' over Burbank (KBUR) above a beautiful broken marine layer a few thousand feet below us, SoCal Approach starts vectoring us for the approach inside DARTS (the customary vectored entry point for the approach on this arrival), and has us descend to 6,000'. We can see downtown LA in the distance through a light haze, and Santa Monica airport itself is glimpsable below a thin scattered marine layer off to our right (I know the area from the ground very well, so I at least know where the airport should be). One final vector and we're cleared for the approach inside DARTS at 6,000' -- 3,500' above the minimum altitude for this leg of the approach, and less than 10 miles from the threshhold (which is about 175' MSL). And we're still doing the 120 KIAS SoCal asked us to maintain a few minutes earlier. I've been warned by almost everyone who's done this approach about the "Santa Monica Slam", and this is it -- cool! It's too scenic to complain, and I slow us down quickly and just drop us like a rock through the scattered layer. The slam would take a supreme act of faith in actual, but this is kinda fun...

SoCal hands us off to Santa Monica tower, but tower's carrying on a standard Friday afternoon race call -- the first thing I hear when I switch to tower frequency is a slightly more formal version of "attention all aircraft, don't call me I'll call you...", followed by a string of clearances and instructions. Then he calls us -- "Cessna 2SP if you're with me report the airport in sight". After waiting nearly a minute to get a word in edgewise we report the airport in sight, get an immediate clearance for the visual (I guess this just isn't the time to insist on the full GPS approach...), and a minute or so later we're cleared to land number three in front of a Citation and immediately behind a very slow Cherokee who is in turn behind a completely invisible 172 on short final somewhere. The Cherokee exits the runway just before I think I'm going to have to go around, and we land roughly and a little too fast. Oh well. At Santa Monica you exit the runway basically wherever you can -- the apron extends to the runway along most of the runway's length, and we pull off as soon as we've slowed down enough not to rip the tires off the wheels. We sit there on the apron clear of the runway waiting for a break in transmissions to call Ground; behind us we can hear the Citation landing. Deafening (and this is a very noise-sensitive community...). Finally we're cleared to taxi to Supermarine, who have a "Follow Me" vehicle coming towards us, and only a few minutes later we're in a nice little rental car heading for a cheap hotel in Venice. Cool! This has gone a lot smoother than I expected...

* * *

I've wanted to do this trip -- Oakland (KOAK) to Santa Monica (KSMO) and back, about 350 nautical miles in each direction -- pretty much since I got my license all those years ago. There was always some reason not to do it, and I delayed it until this year; but now I have the instrument rating, there's really no excuse. A couple of friends of mine -- Barb and Scott, two local artists I've known for years -- want to come along (Barb enjoys flying, and Scott likes Santa Monica), so we settle on a two-day trip there and back with an overnight stay in Venice, and a stop at Santa Maria or San Luis Obispo in each direction for lunch and fuel. All three of us have lived or worked in the Santa Monica area at some point in the past (yes, as hard as it is for a Northern Californian to admit it, I actually like parts of LA -- Pasadena, Venice, Santa Monica, etc...) so this isn't entirely a trip into the Unknown.

I initially plan this flight to go down the coast IFR but in VMC, assuming typical early summer coastal weather, but the day before the flight the weather's dreadful, absolutely the sort of weather you don't expect to see mid-June in the Bay Area: widespread layered overcasts, rain, southerly winds, low temperatures, icing levels below 10,000', and some scary-looking low twisted cloud formations below the overcast over San Jose. The weather's likely to make the coastal trip an unpleasant sustained-IMC sort of thing out over the Pacific with no nearby airports for several legs down past Big Sur and towards Morro Bay, and late that day I opt for the inland route, a much longer route that looks likely to be more manageable in IMC. The forecast right up to midnight for the next day promises more of the same, and I call Scott and Barb and warn them that the trip probably won't be quite the sunny experience I'd promised. They're still up for it, so we decide to depart about eleven the next morning, and stop for lunch at Santa Maria (KSMX). I call Supermarine, the larger FBO at Santa Monica recommended to me by several people, and book a small rental car for the stay. I'm a little apprehensive about Supermarine -- they do corporate jets and such, and we're small beer to them -- but my guess is they'll be professional about it all.

* * *

Enroute, 7,000'...Friday dawns much brighter and sunnier. Scattered showers, slightly warmer, and basically a single scattered-to-broken ceiling over Oakland and the inland route. I feel relieved -- I didn't much like the idea of lots of actual with my passengers -- but still file the inland route, KOAK ALTAM V244 ECA V113 MQO KSMX, which is effectively what Deliverance gives us a few hours later when we're ready to depart. As usual, we don't get to fly this clearance for more than the first 15 minutes or so, but loading it into the GPS keeps me occupied while waiting for release off 27R.

We depart about 11.15 am and spend the next 20 minutes or so in and out of clouds. I ask for higher a couple of times to get above the layers; by about 9000' we're above it all and that's where we stay until approaching Morro Bay VOR (MQO). I get about five minutes of actual during the climb (Barb and Scott seem to enjoy this part more than I thought they would...), but otherwise the flight could have been done VFR with a bit of care. We pick up trace icing on the windshield coming through the highest broken layer (OAT reads about 2C at this point), but this disappears almost immediately we're out of the thin layer of clouds, and the plane keeps climbing just fine.

Somewhere around ALTAM just after I say something to NorCal a familiar voice pipes up on frequency with "Hey Hamish!". Me: "John? Ben?". The Voice: "The Colonel!". Aha -- Mike "Colonel" Klinke, one of our club instructors and all-round nice guy. "Hi Mike!" I blame my accent for things like this. Other people get away with anonymity on-air around here; me, I'm kinda marked... (Dave Montoya used to do a wicked impersonation of my indeterminate Anglo-Australian accent on air, good enough to fool controllers...).

On Course...The scenery from up here above the broken layer is typically California Beautiful, and I engage the autopilot and basically let it follow the GPS from this point on until the arrival into Santa Maria. We get an amended clearance somewhere past ALTAM -- direct Paso Robles (PRB), MQO, direct. A nice, undramatic short cut I'd requested on initial contact with NorCal, and after a few seconds hitting the knobs on the GPS we're heading for Paso Robles about 120 nm away. Nothing much to say about this part except that I start rueing the fact that I'd forgotten to slather myself with sunscreen, and after an hour or so I feel quite sunburned.

By about Paso Robles the cloud layer has mostly dissipated, and we're vectored for the ILS RWY 12 approach into Santa Maria with the circle to land on 30. ATIS is reporting strong gusting winds out of the northwest, which is pretty characteristic for the Santa Maria / San Luis Obispo area -- it always seems to be windy here. We're cleared for landing, circling our discretion, then tower requests a short approach due to a commercial arrival. No problem, and I do a rather dramatic diving arc onto the runway from abeam the numbers (keeps the passengers amused...), landing into the headwind at a groundspeed that doesn't seem much faster than a quick jog. We pull off at the first exit and taxi for the fuel pumps. We're all starving, looking forward to lunch. And I need sunscreen. And coffee. And Scott needs a cigarette.

* * *

Artists At Work, Santa Maria (KSMX)...After refueling and tie-down we walk to the little GA teminal and I call Hawthorne FSS to get a briefing for the proposed route to Santa Monica (I have the usual problem this time using my mobile phone to call the generic FSS 1-800 number -- you always get routed to your home FFS, not the local one, so I had to call Oakland FSS to get the local FSS number, which can be quite an exercise, as I discovered...). The weather's apparently basically pretty good from here on, with the usual marine layer over the Ventura coast and extending inland over the San Fernando Valley (Burbank, Van Nuys, etc.). Santa Monica itself is reporting scattered clouds at about 3,000', and the forecast is pretty much unchanged for the next few hours. Sounds good to me, and I file BUELT1 RZS OHIGH.FERN5, which looks a pretty logical set of DP's and STAR's; I make a bet with myself over just how long this clearance will last unamended. I think it'll last about 20 minutes.

We wander off to get lunch at the main airline terminal at Pepper Garcia's, a Mexican cafe I've eaten at before. I remember it as basically pretty good -- friendly staff, decent food, busy with both locals and fly-ins -- but the place looks dead this time, which is never a good sign at 2pm on a Friday afternoon. We're pretty much the only people eating there, and yes, the staff are friendly and efficient -- but the food ... oh well. Nothing to blog home about.

An hour or so later we get back to the plane and pick up our clearance: an unambiguous "as filed", for maybe the first time in my short experience. We depart a few minutes later behind a United Express Brasilia (I think). As soon as we're handed off to Los Angeles Center at about 400' AGL I get the dreaded "2SP, I've got an amended clearance for you, advise ready to copy...". OK, that one lasted five minutes. "2SP, ready to copy". "2SP cleared to Santa Monica airport; current heading then passing 4,000 direct San Marcus VOR (RZS) then V186 DARTS direct; climb and maintain 7,000". Sounds simple, no? Yeah, that's what I think, too, until I look at my L3 chart and realise it's going to mean a total reprogramming of the GPS and a lot of VOR OBS twiddling enroute. V186 isn't exactly straight -- and it even doglegs over an intersection I've never heard of. Urgh. I guess I'd expected a published arrival (the Fernando Five arrival in particular) and / or vectors, but not a plain airways routing. So I spend the next few minutes flying, reprogramming, and scanning for traffic. This is something I should let the autopilot do (well, the follow-the-heading bit, at least...), but this time since it's VMC I'll do it myself for practice. LA Center calls traffic on a blimp that's approaching Santa Maria from the south -- a brightly-coloured thing that's slowly battling the strong headwind over the hills just ahead of us. From our altitude it seems to be crawling along the ground, but it's not actually much lower than us when we first see it.

We pass over the blimp and proceed towards San Marcus in the mountains behind Santa Barbara, another place I know well from my past. We're handed off to Santa Barbara Approach, who call me a few minutes later to tell me they have a new clearance for us. Cool! So that one only lasted 15 or 20 minutes, too. I tell him I'm ready, and get an identical clearance to what I'm already flying -- the V186 thing. I read it back and then tell Santa Barbara that it's identical to what I've already got. He sounds confused for a second or two then says something along the lines of "Oh well, at least you won't have to change anything!". Well, it amuses me; and it's this sort of back and forth that reminds you that there's a real human being on the other end of the radio.

We join V186, and plod along out over the ocean then back through Point Mugu Approach's airspace, then back inland with Southern California Approach over the Santa Clarita valley. The marine layer's now pretty widespread below us, but we can still see bits of the ground through the breaks. We pass over Santa Paula airport (KSZP), recently almost swept away by flooding, and can just see it against the Santa Clara river 8,000' below us through the clouds. It seems an unlikely place to put a runway -- on the banks of a river known to flood violently every decade or two -- but there it is, a broken smudge of dark grey against the lighter sand and silt. We start to get traffic advisories for Burbank arrivals and departures, but rarely actually see the traffic. Then we're over the San Fernando Valley, heading for Van Nuys (VNY) and Burbank, with the San Gabriels in the distance dead ahead. This is beautiful -- LA at its best, sunny, relatively clear, surrounded by dramatic landscape. And then we start being vectored for the approach towards DARTS...

* * *

So far, this has gone exactly as planned, which is not what I've learned to expect in my world :-). Supermarine treats us with professionalism and amusement. One of the guys turns out to be a private pilot trying to build time towards his commercial between towing the planes around the apron. The other guy has our rental car next to the plane within seconds, and there's a minimum of paperwork for both car and plane. Nice guys. I tell them we'll refuel tomorrow when we return, and then we're on our way towards Venice and the beaches. Which is a whole 'nother story...

June 08, 2005

This Is For Real...

We've been flying in continuous night IMC now for more than 20 minutes, and after a long series of short vectors NorCal's just cleared me for the Oakland runway 27R ILS a few miles outside GROVE. I can hear on-frequency that he's sequenced a Gulfstream behind me; apparently there's a Citation ahead of me somewhere. I can't see a bloody thing outside. Boyan -- my sometime flightshare partner -- is in the right seat, following along as he contemplates starting his own instrument rating. He's been briefed to double check the altitudes against the GPS waypoints I'm using as backup (he has some useful experience over the years as a passenger in actual). NorCal asks me -- again -- to maintain current airspeed (120 KIAS) until at least FITKI (the FAF). Oakland's ATIS is reporting 500' broken, 1100' overcast, light rain, mist. I sit there thinking -- this is it. This is for real. I can't just put up the hood if something goes wrong, or have someone else recover a botched attempt.

Strangely, it feels good. The plane and the approach are set up properly; both are going smoothly; Boyan appears to be relaxed and enjoying himself; and I'm on very familiar ground. We intercept the glideslope at 1500', cross FITKI maintaining 120 KIAS, and switch to tower. Cleared to land, 27R.

At 1,000' we still can't see anything. I slow down to about 100 KIAS, put in one notch of flaps. At 800' I start noticing lights on the ground immediately below us through the clouds and rain. We slow to 90 KIAS; another notch of flaps and trim. We're tracking the localiser almost perfectly, deliberately one dot high on the glideslope. There's a slight left crosswind, but the air's otherwise fairly still. At 700' we start seeing enough lights on the ground to fly visually, but we can't see more than a mile or two ahead of us through broken cloud and light rain. I keep watching the ILS. At 600' we break out for real -- and there it is, Oakland's 27R, dead ahead. Woohoo! We land a few seconds later in the drizzle. Tower asks us where we're parking; I tell him the Old-T's. "27R, taxi down 2SP then 33... uh, 2SP you know what I mean... taxi down 27R then 33 for the Old T's...".

This feels great. Now if only I could get things going so smoothly in the rest of my life... :-).

* * *

It's one of those very rare things for the Bay Area: a day with sustained, widespread, benign IMC. No thunderstorms. Icing levels well above 10,000'. Layered overcasts all the way up to the flight levels, reaching down to below 1,000' around Oakland, but not much below about 4,000' in the Central Valley. Ideal for training and confidence building. I've had 2SP booked for this evening for weeks anyway, but this seems like a great chance to go out and fly some actual. I call John who's apparently lounging around down in the pilot lounge of his "California Coastal City", just to get a PIREP on the real weather out there and to see if there wasn't some obvious thing that I'd missed (it all seemed too good to be true). He confirms the weather's actually fairly benign out there -- go for it! So I do.

Taxiing out to Kaiser to get fuel before departing we see first one, then another, SouthWest 737 landing on 27R a few hundred metres from us. And then another... I ask Ground what's the deal with the 737's -- is 29 closed or something? (Note: Oakland's airline and heavy freight traffic uses runway 29 -- all 10,000' of it, a mile or so from the 27s -- and its ILS almost exclusively, leaving the shorter runways 27R and 27L to the rest of us. Oakland is also one of SouthWest's main Left Coast hubs, so the vast majority of airline traffic into Oakland is SouthWest 737s). Ground says 29's localiser suddenly went belly up a few minutes ago and since the ceiling's way too low for the visual, they're using the 27's with 27R's ILS. The results are pretty interesting, much the same as you see at John Wayne / KSNA -- lots of noise, heavy braking, clogged taxiways, spray, all sound and fury from where we are on taxiway delta. Quite a sight. But I can't help thinking this can't be good news.... We'll be coming back down that same ILS in about 90 minutes in night IMC and the thought of wake turbulence in IMC, and all the damn vectoring for traffic we'll get on the way to the ILS as the result of losing 29, well... I have visions of holding for 40 minutes in actual, miles from SUNOL, or ground holds at Stockton (our filed destination), but hey, it's all flying, and good real-world IFR practice, so off we go.

* * *

The flight out to Stockton (KSCK) itself is uneventful -- we enter actual IMC at about 500' and don't see the ground again for the next 15 minutes or so out towards ALTAM. I lower the Cone Of Stupidity when we start getting clear of clouds a bit later. I do the ILS 29R into Stockton with the autopilot coupled, mostly to keep in practice, and to test it (in VMC) after repairs last week (it started rolling slowly to the right in roll mode last week -- every other mode was fine, though). The repairs seem to have worked, and it tracks the localiser within a dot or two from quite a distance out. Nice to know I have it if I need it later this evening...

We land normally, then pick up our clearance back to Oakland. There's a few minutes' ground delay for us before tower lets us go, then we're off again. Back under the Cone of Stupidity and handed off to NorCal, we get an almost immediate clearance direct SUNOL (a slight short cut), then NorCal says (sounding quite apologetic) that we should expect "extensive vectoring" (his words) for sequencing closer to SUNOL due to the Oakland 29 ILS being out of action. No problem -- I'm up for it.

We enter actual IMC after about 15 minutes and don't see the ground -- or anything much else outside the cockpit -- again until breaking out for 27R. As with the flight out, the flight back is uneventful, but getting closer to SUNOL we start getting vectored all over the place, with several changes in altitude. We get handed off to 125.35, the final NorCal sector for OAK approaches from this direction. The frequency is non-stop talk; I don't get a chance to check in before the controller calls me and vectors me to my left for sequencing ("2SP if you're on-frequency left turn 210 vectors for sequencing climb maintain 5000", or some such). 29's localiser is still out, and there's a stack of SouthWest 737's on frequency all probably struggling to learn (or remember) how to program KOAK 27R into the FMS rather than 29, and to cope with the much shorter runway. A few miles from SUNOL the controller tells one of the 737's that 29's ILS is back in action, and asks whether they want it instead of 27R. The reaction's immediate -- "Uh, yeah, sure, that'd be a relief..." and within a few minutes it sounds like a general resequencing has happened, and the 737's are (mostly) back on 29. We get a few more micro-vectors, then we're approaching GROVE...

* * *

This was a great experience, a really enjoyable confidence builder. I guess I knew I could do it -- I'd done similar things with John in the right seat -- but it's great to have it confirmed, and to have things go so well the entire time without an instructor sitting there.

As with training, flying in actual wasn't much harder than under the hood -- it's just the stakes are (obviously) much higher. The hardest part for me -- predictably -- was entering actual at about 500' departing Oakland, where the transition was abrupt, and was combined with a hand-off to NorCal and a new set of headings and altitudes. I handled it OK, but for a minute or so the headings were a bit rough as I struggled to get into the groove. I'd have grave misgivings about entering actual any lower immediately after departure -- at least I'd stabilised the climb by that point.

2SP's autopilot is also a great resource for times like this (but I didn't actually use it extensively this time except for the Stockton ILS, as I wanted to brush up on my IMC control skills). I'm (not surprisingly) strongly with John on this -- as he puts it, the autopilot's a resource, a second-in-command, a very effective tool for keeping you ahead of the game. As with GPS, there's no excuse for not knowing how to use it effectively if you've got it -- and it's hardly cheating (as some people seem to view it) to use it to decrease pilot load, especially in single-pilot IMC situations like this. It's just another (albeit important) tool -- and if it's there, use it. I'll shut up now.

* * *

As I'm tying 2SP down in the darkness and drizzle of the Old-T's, I reach up and grab the pitot tube to start putting the pitot cover on. It takes a second or two, but suddenly I'm aware that a) the tube's bloody hot, and b) it's burned three of my fingers quite painfully. The pitot heat was on the entire flight, and I forgot to turn it off after landing -- and it only just went off when I turned the master switch off a few seconds ago (as I've said countless times, with things like this I'm really not the sharpest tool in the toolshed...). I now have a burned left hand that's going to require a lot of working around (I'm naturally slightly left-handed). That's about the only thing that's marred the evening.

June 02, 2005

What's In A Name?

It's not that I haven't been flying in the last few weeks -- I have a bunch of new hours under the Cone Of Stupidity between here and Monterey, Sacramento, Rio Vista, etc., and one flight in particular brought home to me (once again) just how dangerous circle-to-land maneuvers can be at night -- it's just that life's been too damn hectic and all-over-the-place to blog it all down coherently lately. Plus I have a bunch of other blogs to bring up to date, too, of course (a few under some obvious pseudonyms...). So nothing new under the sun here in YAFB-land for a while. My apologies.

And someone who shall remain nameless (but whose blog details his experiences becoming a Part 135 pilot 'round here :-)) asked over dinner a few weeks ago what the significance of the name "Yankee Alpha Foxtrot Bravo" might be. D'Oh! I always thought it was obvious: Yet Another Flying Blog would probably be the polite form....