August 23, 2006

Command And Control

Grace under pressure, finally? I'm under the Cone Of Stupidity trying to set up the VOR/DME GPS-A practice approach into Tracy (KTCY) in the darkness over the Central Valley. I've just been vectored from the previous KSCK ILS-RWY 29R missed approach hold at ORANG intersection towards the extended final approach course for the new approach, and I confidently reach over to the G1000, press direct for Tracy airport, then hit the "proc" button, then the "select approach" option. Instead of the usual menu of approaches, I get an unfamiliar menu that stops me dead. Now what? I do the usual Garmin thing to try to get to the field in the menu that looks like it should give me a menu of approaches, but that doesn't work. Nothing works — I'm having one of those GPS Moments where nothing I do gets the expected results, and since I'm flying by hand, I start worrying. What the hell is going on? How the hell do I fix it? But that little voice in the back of my head kicks in (the result of long years of teaching by John, mostly, I suspect), and I suddenly think: who cares? I'll just do it with the VORs. Hell, it's the VOR GPS A approach, isn't it?! And so I do, and in a few seconds I've got the course on the CDI VOR 1 display from Manteca (ECA) VOR, and the cross radials dialed in from Modesto VOR on the VOR 2 overlay (something I would have done once the GPS version had been set up in any case). This gives me the luxury of debugging on-the-fly, which gets me nowhere, and so I finally just set the GPS into OBS mode based on ECA VOR and the course interception and final approach go just fine. As does going missed, using the newly-NOTAMED missed approach procedures with the GPS still in OBS mode (yes, it was far easier the new way). Boyan B., my safety pilot in the right seat, doesn't seem too fussed by the rocky start to the approach, so I count this as a real success. If this had been IMC I would have acted a little differently (in particular, I'd have used the autopilot rather than hand-fly it through the confusion), but the underlying principle's the same: don't panic, and concentrate on what's important.

The whole flight's been a bit like this so far: lots of small things going wrong, but I seem to have developed an ability to not panic but step back and work around the issue. For example, I was unable to get the autopilot to couple with the glideslope on the only coupled approach I did, the second ILS-29R into Stockton; in that case I gave up in disgust and set the AP's vertical speed to 500fpm down, which (with appropriate attention to the throttle) tracked the glideslope nicely. So far, in every case I manage to keep my cool and work around the problem, and I end up feeling pretty good about it all.

We go back to NorCal on the missed and ask for the practice localiser approach back into Hayward (KHWD), our home base. A short while later we're back on the ground, 2.5 hours logged, 2.3 continuous hours under the hood, five approaches (GPS, VOR, LOC, and 2 x ILS), a couple of holds, a bunch of enroute flying — it all adds up….

* * *

One of the aims of this evening's flight is to take heed of John's observations about the difference between flying glass and flying the old way. As one of his students, I learned both the traditional instrument flying techniques and the glass cockpit techniques with him, and I'm curious just how much the old ways have contaminated my glass flying. And of course, it turns out he's right — I really am treating the glass instruments as just glorified versions of the older gauges, when I really should be adopting a more "command and control" approach to things. It's not hard, and in many cases it's really just "obvious", and by the end of the flight I'm having no trouble using the AI as more of a flight director thing than as something to react to. The difference in things like heading and altitude stability is obvious — I really am finding the G1000 easier to fly than the old steam gauges. It's an attitude thing, really, in every sense of the word.

The other reason for this flight (apart from the fun of actually flying, of course…) is to maintain currency. No, I'm nowhere near losing instrument currency legally, but I like to keep my hand in, and as long as someone like Boyan's up for it, a decent workout like this evening's keeps me sharp. Or sharper than if I just did the minimums, I hope.

August 16, 2006

Yet Another JABBAS

It never gets old: the sunset from 2,500' over San Francisco Bay, the beautifully-textured and shaped marine layer pouring through the Golden Gate with the two red towers sticking out, the reds, purples, golds, and browns of the Marin headlands and Mt Tamalpais, the lights and reflections of The City itself from the shoreline, the ships and boats on the Bay, the bridges, the distant brooding darkness of Mt Diablo, the busy-but-friendly flight following from NorCal Approach…. Just Another Boring Bay Area Sunset, I guess, this time with Sheena C., another colleague from my day job, who's consented to potter about in the little 172 with me for an hour or two's meandering around the Bay, entirely VFR for once. A nice leisurely trip from Hayward up over the Diablo Valley, a short landing at Napa (KAPC), then a long slow lazy go-where-we-want thing over Angel Island, Alcatraz, Fisherman's Wharf, Marin, the Bridge, etc. Not a bad diversion from the strains of the day.

Back at Hayward we sit on a bench in the late evening calm and eat a snack in the darkness beside the club. We watch a few late stragglers arriving or departing on 28L long after the tower's closed for the night, and talk about the flight. Sheena's been in small planes before, but as she says, flying in California is so different from flying in most of Texas or over the fly-over states where she flew — here's there's always the landscape: mountains, oceans, canyons, rivers… and it's hypnotically-beautiful rather than just hypnotic.

The idyl's spoiled completely by Sheena getting stung by a bee as we sit there eating. I'm never going to hear the end of this one — she survives what everyone's telling her is a dangerous thing to do ("those small planes are always falling out of the sky!!") only to be bitten by a bee. I drive her back to her place wondering whether she's going to die from anaphylactic shock or whatever, but she makes it back to her place without any obvious problems.

[Two day later: Sheena's entire arm managed to get incredibly itchy and there's still an angry red patch around the sting, but otherwise there's no obvious harm. I guess I survived that one…].

August 10, 2006

By Any Means Necessary, Redux

During my instrument training I had an irritating time one night on the VOR A approach into Tracy (KTCY). The published missed approach procedure for that approach struck me as particularly difficult to fly, and I wrote that in hindsight it would have been easier (and safer, I guess) to ignore the written missed instructions (which included getting onto the SAC 157 radial inbound) and just fly the "wrong" radial (ECA 229) with DME to the missed approach holding point (TRACY intersection). The hold is so close to the airport itself that there's little chance of intersecting and tracking the SAC-157 radial before getting past TRACY intersection.

Well, lo and behold, here's a NOTAM I just noticed:


Someone's listening, I guess :-). Or someone complained loud enough… (not me).