October 25, 2005

Vectors, Vectors, Vectors...

Departing Oakland (KOAK) IFR is usually pretty straightforward. There's a bunch of published DP's, and a useful set of airways converging on the on-field OAK VOR, and in reality you'll just get an initial vector or two then you're on your way on the published DP or as-filed route. I'm used to all this, and it's one of the advantages to being based at Oakland in Oakland's Class C airspace (under San Francisco's Class B).

So on my first IFR departure out of Hayward (KHWD, my other home base) today, I'm not sure what to expect. Hayward sits between the KOAK ILS RWY 29 approach and the KOAK ILS 27R approach, only about 5 nautical miles from either threshold. Both are busy and in continuous simultaneous use. And there's San Francisco traffic to contend with just a few miles further west. So you can't just depart -- your path is going to cross one or the other of those two ILS's or the KSFO east-bound departures, and your release is intimately dependent on the traffic into Oakland (which used to -- and probably will continue to -- include me at times). And Hayward has no published DP's. So I'm unclear on what my final clearance is going to look like, and I have the impression I'll be waiting for release next to Hayward's 28L for a long time....

In the end I file KHWD OAK V6 SAC KSAC with DUATS, and a few hours later sitting there on the ramp, Hayward clearance gives me "runway heading until 400', then left turn 160, then vectors to OAK, V6, SAC, direct". Not too hard, I think, and since it's basically VMC today (there's only a broken coastal layer at about 1500'), I'll engage the autopilot early on departure and just sit back and watch for traffic and have fun.

And that's basically what happens for the departure and the rest of the flight (after the obligatory ten minute wait for release), but I've underestimated the amount of juggling and vectoring NorCal Approach needs to cope with my departure. From memory, not only do I never get close to OAK VOR (not that I really expected that...), I receive something like nine or ten vectors and several altitude adjustments from the moment tower hands me off to NorCal to the time I get "direct PITTS" some fifteen or more minutes later. It's like a partial-IMC Bay Tour without the time to enjoy the view. Almost all of the vectors are for traffic into Oakland or San Francisco; at one point as I seem to be well on my way to San Jose VOR (SJC) climbing to 5,000' (i.e. on a heading nearly opposite my intended heading to Sacramento), I'm given yet another vector to avoid an incoming A320 that I can't see, and I start wondering what this is going be like in real IMC when NorCal's running the Southeast flow. Can't wait to find out -- especially on the approaches back in to Hayward that fly straight into the traffic departing Oakland only a few miles away.

Still, I enjoy the flight a lot, and I think I'm becoming fairly good at working with the two-axis KAP 140. With the exception of a last-minute screwup into Sacramento (below), and the initial few hundred feet of departure at each airport, I manage to fly the entire time to and from Sacramento IFR with the KAP 140 fully-coupled. I still have a few rough edges, but the thing's magic, no doubt about it -- as long as you treat it, as John says, like a student (i.e. with eternal vigilance). The only time I screw up significantly is, ironically, just before the ILS glideslope capture at Sacramento -- part of the whole point of the flight today. I manage to disengage the autopilot at just the wrong time (it's way too easy to try to talk to the autopilot when you're really trying to talk to tower -- those two buttons are far too close to each other on the yoke...), and at that point it's easier just to hand-fly the ILS rather than reset the bloody thing and see what happens. Especially since NorCal has handed me off to tower with a Falcon behind me ready for the ILS. No problem -- I'll leave automatic glideslope coupling for another flight.

* * *

In the Cal Air office as I'm filling out the paperwork before the flight I hear a strong Scots accent, and can't help introducing myself. Mark P. is over for a while from Scotland, visiting some friends, and thinking of doing his commercial here. In the meantime he's just flying around in Cal Air's 172s -- Reno today, Vegas a few days ago, etc. We start talking about GA in Scotland -- basically, there isn't much -- and I make a joke about the three days of each year it's safe to fly VFR at his home base somewhere in Fife (an area I vaguely remember from my early childhood in visits from not-so-nearby Tighnabruaich on the other coast of Scotland). GA's hideously expensive there -- a 172 might rent for UKL 120 (about $200) per hour dry, with much higher fuel costs, and it's incredibly restricted -- not to mention ruled by capricous and mostly bad weather (I once saw a dog get blown over while walking in the nearby Grampians as a kid; the locals I was with just muttered something about the breeze and kept on walking). A different world, for sure.


Avimentor said...

I gave up taking instrument students to Hayward, due to all the delay in arriving and departing. Plus the controllers always seem a bit harried when aircraft go into or out of HWD on an IFR flight plan.

I remember waiting for IFR release once at HWD for over 25 minutes, with a full bladder no less!

Late at night when the HWD tower is closed, I've often heard aircraft on the ground at HWD contact Oakland tower to pick up their clearance.

Hamish said...

I haven't had any trouble getting back into Hawyard yet (that'll change when the Southeast plan is in effect...), but I spent nearly five minutes on 28L in position-and-hold while tower kept telling me release was "imminent". I have to admit it was kinda fun watching all the planes being forced to land on 28R because of me (rather, because tower jumped the gun...), but I can see it getting to be an awful pain at rush hour.

I'm starting to wonder whether it might not be easier to get to or from Oakland as the IFR flightplan end-point (even using SVFR if the weather's iffy) for all but the worst IMC days.... After all, it's only a ten minute flight.

Anonymous said...

"(it's way too easy to try to talk to the autopilot when you're really trying to talk to tower -- those two buttons are far too close to each other on the yoke...)"

I've often thought that inadvertant autopilot disconnect may have been a factor in the JFK Jr. accident.

On the Saratoga the mic and disconnect buttons are close and similar. Mr Kennedy called the tower just before he lost control.

Night, overwater, inadvertant roll... it could have happened.

Hamish said...

An interesting theory. I know that the one time the AP disengaged due to failure (rather than my clumsiness) I almost missed the disconnect, despite the loud alarm (which didn't register with me at all); I can easily believe that in the confusion of trying to talk to ATC someone might miss what happened and just assume the plane's under the control of the AP... with fatal results on such a night.