November 25, 2005

Going Glass

I've decided to take the plunge and get checked out in California Airways' G1000-equipped 172. Why? Mostly because it's there, of course, but also because I'm curious, and because it seems like a good way to fly IFR -- if I'm serious about those trips to Klamath Falls (KLMT) or Portland (KPDX) or Santa Monica (KSMO, again) or Arcata (KACV, again...) (all of which would be done IFR, most likely with actual IMC at both ends of the trip on most suitable days), the G1000 will certainly make the trips more enjoyable and safer -- as long as I'm on top of the systems. And it's only a few bucks more per hour than the 172s with GPS and autopilots I'm already flying (yes, it's a long slippery slope, but I'll burn that bridge when I get to it, or some such mixed metaphor...).

I'm in no real hurry, and will probably end up doing it with John (who's now associated with Cal Airways as well as the AAC) over the next month or two, but I think it's a good idea to start doing my homework now. Garmin has a G1000 simulator, which I'll probably get (it's dirt cheap, but may not run on my Windows box), and as always, Garmin has the full set of manuals, supporting documentation, etc., for free download on its website.

So I download the manuals. Argh! There's now nearly 30 MB of G1000 PDFs on my Mac -- literally hundreds of pages of stuff to absorb. Yes, most of it's relatively obvious if you're at all familiar with the conceptual architecture of the system and with glass cockpits in general (no problems here), but as I've said elsewhere, there's a big disconnect between mind and menu with these new systems (very little perceived affordance), and in order to feel confident-- and safe -- in using something like this in hard IFR over (say) LA while getting amended clearances from SoCal Approach on the way into Burbank or something, that disconnect's got to be bridged in ways that are burned into my brain (to bring the mixed metaphors full circle). There's something deeply discouraging or intimidating about a life-and-death system whose official quick reference card or cheat sheet is eight full pages long...

So I predict a ton(ne) of dense technical reading in my near future.

November 18, 2005

Strange Weather...

From the NWS San Francisco and Monterey website's weather discussion pages:
"UPDATED AVIATION: Discussion... the remarkably warm weather continues over the district under a very warm airmass and strong offshore flow. By 1 PM the temperature at the Monterey weather office had soared to 86 degrees making this the warmest day of 2005 here. The previous warmest day was March 11... when the high was 84. Summer is sort of a nebulous concept here on the California coast... it comes and goes without regard for the calendar. As on past days the warmest weather is from Monterey Bay S where 80s are common... 70s prevail farther north. Some inland sites are showing huge diurnal temperature ranges. At Bradley in the southern Salinas valley thursdays high was 89 but the mercury plunged to 32 this morning! It was back up to 86 by 1 PM."
Ah, what's a Northern Californian to make of it all?! Severe clear skies, very bumpy rides, and air that feels like the western Mojave's without the pollution — at a time when it's normally grey, overcast, cold(ish), and damp. Luckily, I've got too much work to do to be able to fly...

(As John has probably mentioned elsewhere, these discussion pages are often fascinating reading, with some open and revealing thoughts being posted about the various models' failings or successes, and a bit of thinking out aloud by the various meteorologists as they try to come to grips with the weather 'round here. The Weather Underground site — one of my fave general weather sites — contains links to these pages under the various local forecasts as well).

November 10, 2005

The Workout

TBM Avenger 'Blue Lady' At Hayward Airport (KHWD), 2005.A good sustained workout under the Cone of Stupidity in night VMC: a short IFR flight to Stockton (KSCK), a few times around the ILS 29R and VOR 29R approaches there, a bunch of holds on the associated published misseds, then IFR back to Hayward (KHWD) for the LOC/DME 28L. An attempt to keep comfortably current (as opposed to just legal), and, once again, to master the intricacies of the KAP 140 autopilot under the hood.

It starts with a short 10nm VFR hop from Hayward to Oakland's Old-T's to pick up Boyan, my safety pilot and sometime flight-share partner at the AAC clubhouse (yes, I'm still a member). Once he's on board we call Oakland clearance to see what they'll offer us in response to my filed KOAK V244 ECA KSCK (a route I've filed and flown many times in the past): "Cessna 0SP cleared Stockton airport via the Nimitz 2 departure vectors for victor 244 then as filed." Hmmm -- that Nimitz 2 has me a little surprised -- I know it exists, but I'm not familiar with it at all, and due to the endless problems over the last two or three years with OAK VOR, it's never been issued or available. Until now. I read the clearance back, thinking "no problems, I'll just grab it out of my bag...", and proceed to get Boyan to find the appropriate plate. One look at it makes me wonder what clearance is thinking: although I've put "DEPARTING OAKLAND RWY 33" in the remarks of my flight plan, and even though I actually said explictly as part of my call to clearance that I'll be departing 33, they've issued me a DP that's not applicable to runway 33. D'Oh! The DP itself is trivial -- basically a heading and a VOR radial -- but it makes no sense for departures off 33.

I contemplate calling Deliverance back and querying it, but I have a better idea: I'll call ground, where I just know from past experience what's going to happen. Sure enough: "0SP taxi 33, and, uh, I've got an amended clearance for you: on departure, left turn heading 310 then vectors for V244". Oakland clearance never seems to connect the dots here with the runway 33 thing; Oakland ground always seems to be the one to stitch things back up properly again. I stifle the urge to make some sort of snarky reply, and read the new clearance and taxi instructions back. A few seconds later there's a familiar voice on frequency: "Hamish?" "John!". In the next minute or so I hear ground giving taxi instructions to John and his Caravan. Once again I blame my accent....

We get cleared direct JOTLY (the LOM at Stockton) a couple of minutes after departure, and the rest of the flight itself is a lot more fun than I'd expected, even if it didn't turn out to be the autopilot workout I'd anticipated. I'd really planned to do about half the flight continuously with GPS and the autopilot to see if my brain exploded under the hood with the effort to make all these damn things work together under a real (changing) workload, but I unexpectedly enjoyed hand-flying the plane so much that the only time I engaged the AP was on the first (vectored) ILS approach into Stockton (just to prove I could do it), and during the en-route bits when I needed to look at charts, etc., or I was getting bored. I really hadn't expected to look forward so much to donning the Cone Of Stupidity, but I caught myself several times impatient to put the hood back on after departing or the latest touch-and-go. Not quite how I felt this time last year during the whole instrument training experience :-).

Nothing much else of note in the flight itself except the long string of Southwest and United 737's heading for Oakland's 29 being vectored in front of and above us on the way back into Hayward (and my constant worries about the resulting wake turbulence), and the ghostly feel to Hayward after the tower closes at 9pm. You cancel IFR on the ground through Oakland tower at that hour (as we discovered), which isn't too hard, but in this case I decide to cancel on the change to CTAF -- I guess I just don't fly IFR into enough uncontrolled fields to make IFR cancellation on the ground a reflex thing, and don't want to cause an incident or anything.

One other thing: 0SP has a working Stormscope. It's not exactly obvious how it's supposed to work (I'll get the manual next time I take 0SP out), and not as useful around here as it might be in stormier climates (we get maybe two or three thunderstorms a year here), but a nice touch anyway. Can't help thinking 0SP started its working life in Florida or somewhere like that....

* * *

Wandering across the ramp to get to 0SP on the green ramp, I almost literally stumble into this huge old warbird just outside the Cal Airways office. It's a taildragger with a tailhook, folding wings, and a greenhouse-style cockpit; as Boyan says later when he sees it: "You could stand up in that cockpit!" -- it's much larger in real life than it looks in the photos here...

I have absolutely no idea what it is -- it's too big for any of the carrier-based WW II fighters I know about -- and there's no one around to ask. Bloody impressive -- the sort of thing you're more likely to see in Oakland, but it's pleasing to know that it happens in Hayward occasionally as well.

[Later edit -- I returned the next day and took the photos here. The plane's a TBM Avenger, "Blue Lady", and has quite a history, apparently -- HR].

November 01, 2005


Surprisingly, I haven't actually flown a real airplane with an HSI in it until today. Or at least I can't remember one -- there may actually have been one, but nothing stands out, especially since they would have been flown VFR where it wouldn't have been of much interest. Simulators, yes, but nothing that meant my life was hanging on it, and certainly not IFR, let alone in IMC. So when I get the chance to take 0SP (2SP's near-twin at Cal Air) out for an IFR-in-VMC(ish) flight from Hayward to Sacramento and back this evening, and discover it's got an HSI, I think "Cool! New toy...".

And so it proves. Yes, an HSI is quite an improvement on using a separate OBS and HI (and a lot more intuitive, if you ask me), and if it takes you more than a few seconds to "get" it and how to use it IFR or with the autopilot, well, I guess there are web sites, books, or DVDs out there dedicated to explaining it all. I particularly like the slaved compass card -- but I still keep checking the HSI against the whisk(e)y compass every few minutes anyway. Ah, this is the way to fly...

The flight's predictably uneventful, and it doesn't take much time to adapt to 0SP's quirks, but after the flight I feel irritated and a little depressed by the evening. No, I didn't bust any altitudes or headings, and had no problems with the basics or the approaches, but I kept making little errors -- like tuning the wrong frequency, hitting "direct" on the wrong waypoint, or blowing a radio call -- that might cascade into something serious with stress under hard IMC, and I'm a little depressed that after all this time I still make errors like this. I guess I still don't fly enough to get things right as a habit or ingrained process rather than a continuous mental effort.

* * *

At one point on the localiser back into Hayward NorCal vectors a Southwest 737 for the visual into Oakland close in front of me and at my altitude, then calls traffic for me on it. It's a beautiful sight, all flashing lights and slow graceful movement, but I'm worried about wake turbulence. I stay high until past where I judge it's safe to descend, then drop like a rock back to my desired segment altitude. It's not really clear what I would have done if I'd been lower than the 737 at that point (I was higher because I'd been cleared very late for the approach by a grumpy NorCal controller who clearly lost me in the shuffle and vectored me towards the LOC/DME FAF 1,500 feet above the FAF crossing altitude, and who got irritated when I subtly reminded him he hadn't cleared me for the approach even though I was rapidly approaching the FAF...).