October 31, 2010

Out Of Context

As penance for being such a slacker that I still haven't gotten around to writing up my last few flights here, here's a very recent photo of me in the right seat for once, probably ordering the flight engineer to restart that bloody number three engine immediately or he's being sent straight back to the galleys (flight engineers seem to get younger every day). Locals (and a few others) will probably know where this was (and what sort of plane it is)….

More real entries later.

September 25, 2010

Hot And High

It's another hot Central Valley day out there; this time, though, I'm in the right seat as safety pilot for Evan. He's under the hood as we approach Linden VOR (LIN) for the VOR/DME RWY 1 approach into Westover Field / Amador County Airport (KJAQ, a.k.a. "Jackson"). I briefly look over the approach plate and make fun of Evan for picking what looks like the easiest approach in the state. About the only thing that's even mildly interesting about it is the note that says use Sacramento Executive's altimeter setting if you can't get the local one — but KSAC's something like 35 miles away and in a different sort of physical environment altogether. I guess the 300' MDA penalty takes care of that, but in any case we've got the local AWOS on COM 2 and it's not just giving us the altimeter settings and all the usual boring stuff about wind and ceilings, etc., it's giving us the local FBO's Avgas and Jet-A prices! And damn they're cheap, at least compared to home (Oakland, KOAK) or a lot of other places in the area. Pity we don't need fuel.

We get to Linden VOR and turn to the final approach course. It's hot dry country down there, shimmering golden-brown Sierra foothills studded with green oaks and the occasional man-made lake or reservoir under the relentless California sun. Classic gold rush country. We've been cleared for the practice approach some time ago, and we're turned over to CTAF quite early. It's the usual Central Valley mass of incoherent, inconsistent, or hapless calls and stepped-on transmissions from the usual distant suspects like Gnoss (KDVO) and Tracy (KTCY) and much (much) further away, but there's no sign of anyone on air at Jackson itself. We potter on along the approach course at a steady 3,000' MSL, past the LIN 8 DME fix and towards the LIN 15 DME fix. We both think it's kinda quaint (or at least unusual) to be doing a VOR approach, let alone one without a GPS overlay (I was kinda surprised to see it existed at all when Evan mentioned that'd be the approach we'd do). There's no doubt that this is a straightforward approach, even if it's a VOR approach — in fact it's one of those approaches without even a published procedure turn, and whose missed approach notes just basically tell you to turn around and backtrack twenty-something nautical miles to Linden VOR, at which point … well, what? That's where the missed instructions end.

I can see the runway from about five miles out, and we debate whether to do a circling approach to runway 19 or a straight in to runway 1. The AWOS claims a very mild wind favouring runway 1, but we actually have a slight tailwind at 3,000'. We decide on the straight in, especially since the runway's long enough that even if the density altitude is fairly high and there's a 2 knot tailwind, we'll be fine. Evan makes a few calls on CTAF, but all we hear is the staticky squeally babble from far away, and we potter on. Past the LIN 15 DME fix the runway and airport environment get clearer — the runway basically sags in the middle and it seems to be sitting on a small semi-wooded hill. Nothing terribly unusual for the California foothills, but you never know — a deer might dart out from nowhere or the hot wind might suddenly start gusting something terrible at ground level.

As we get closer I notice that Evan is still going along at 3,000'; my instincts tell me we need to start lower now, and I hint at the issue over the intercom. Nothing worrying, at least not yet, but that airport environment down there looks a little unforgiving if — like me, and like Evan — you've never even seen the place before, let along landed there. Evan's OK with the current altitude, and we potter on; the weather's hot as hell even up here, but there's really no wind at all. Still no one else on CTAF or (as far as I can see) in the pattern. A minute later we're still too high in my judgment, and this time I let Evan know a bit more forcefully. Still nothing too worrisome, but Evan mutters something and points the nose down while cutting back on the power.

We start descending, but maybe not enough — within another mile or so I tell Evan we're still high; he says he's working on it. We're bang on laterally — it's just the altitude that's off. We both notice simultaneously that the tailwind has strengthened quite a lot in the last few miles, and Evan again considers circling. I obsess more and more about the altitude, and say so out loud again. We approach at quite a high rate of speed, the runway looking more and more scary as we get closer. Evan starts counting the altitude down in hundreds; I start thinking we're going to have to go missed, but I stay quiet this time. At the MDA, Evan looks up — and swears. Yes, we're way high, very fast across the ground, and it's even hotter down here than either of us had expected. And the runway's almost beneath us. It takes Evan about a second to decide to go around and go missed, and we do what amounts to a low approach over the runway at full power, climbing in the heat, and announcing our broad intentions on CTAF. Good move, I say to Evan. He gets the plane re-trimmed and pointing in the right direction, then says he just hadn't realized how fast we'd been going across the ground (ATIS was no help here), and how much quicker he'd needed to descend. Hot and high, and no way he was going to land on a small unfamiliar hilly runway with a tailwind in this heat.

We go back to NorCal for our next destination. Not for the first time, I guess, I jinxed an approach by making fun of it; but this was definitely one of the few times I've been involved in a real unplanned missed approach. Quite a lesson.

* * *

The rest of the flight's another lesson — mostly in how to cope with the heat and glare of the Central Valley and at Mather (KMHR) after a perfect approach and landing there by Evan, and in trying to decipher ATC's true intentions on the way back into Oakland. At one stage on vectors for the practice ILS approach into Oakland in the left seat I get a string of conflicting and inconsistent altitude assignments (in quick succession, something like "maintain 4,000", "descend maintain 3,000", "at or above 3,000", "at or below 3,500", etc. — all altitudes quite unusual in my experience for where we are at the time), and, inevitably, a few minutes later by "83Y, what's your assigned altitude?". I have the immediate IFR pilot's reaction to this — horror that I've busted an altitude somewhere — but for once it's not a controller hint, it's a case of (I suspect) a controller getting his wires crossed and thinking we're someone else (also, we're actually VFR in Class E airspace at that point, but still…).

Back on the ground at Oakland, the Texas Rangers 757 is parked near Kaiser next to the old Alaska hangar; I guess it's here for the North American Men's Baseball Championships (a.k.a. "The World Series"). It's looking sleek and expensive there in the sun. Later, 83Y's hangar is shady but still hot, and we struggle to clean all the million or so squashed bugs off the leading edges (an inevitable part of flying above the Central Valley) and generally tidy things up. Evan's still wondering about the missed approach (a go-around, really), but there's not a lot to wonder about: he got it right in the bigger picture, and if the tailwind was a lot stronger than forecast or as observed on the ground, well, there are an awful lot worse things to do than going around when you look up at the MDA and don't see the runway where you think you should….

September 09, 2010

Not A Good Sign

There's a large column of smoke rising up in front of us somewhere in the distance across the Bay as we drive through Alameda. We're heading towards Oakland Airport (KOAK) for a short VFR fun flight; my passengers are N. (a colleague from work) and his girlfriend C., neither of whom have flown in small aeroplanes before (they're English (and I'm mostly British, dammit) so it's spelt that way just this once). At this stage and from this distance it looks like someone's burning industrial trash or something, or it's a brush fire in the hills, but I can't help mordantly joking it's probably a plane gone off the end of the runway at San Francisco (it's that British sense of humour, I guess). A few minutes later it's looking pretty serious; it's rising up a couple of thousand feet and spreading horizontally maybe a couple of miles at the top of the usual inversion. It's dark brown, and looks menacing and sinister. I start thinking it may actually be a plane crash — from here the smoke looks to be rising from just under the departure end of KSFO. Not a good sign. My passengers make nervous jokes about it; I point out that we see columns of smoke like that a fair bit around here, and that it's probably a small brush fire. These things happen in California.

We can't see the smoke from the ground while preflighting and running up the plane at Oakland, and basically forget about it. A local pilot's pushing his 182 back into one of the neighboring hangars, and we talk a while with him — he's just back from Burning Man and spent hours washing the plane trying to get the alkali salts and dust off the exterior (I don't envy him that job — one of the clubs I used to belong to basically banned their planes from going to Burning Man because of the dust, which clings tenaciously and corrodes very quickly…). N. and C. learn about the basics of clambering into and back out of our little 172, and how to use the intercom and headsets, and seem fine with the idea of trusting their lives to me and the plane. I think (like me) they're both nerds enough to be impressed by the G1000 system and the way it all works together. We get in, talk to Ground, request the Bay Tour, and take off after the runup off runway 27R. And there it is again — much larger this time, and looming over the area south of San Francisco (South City or San Bruno(ish)), with clearly visible flames at the base. It's not in an industrial neighborhood, so it's probably some sort of major house fire or something. I can't shake the idea that it's a plane gone in off KSFO — it's in just the right place for an errant departure or arrival.

Immediately we're switched to NorCal from Oakland Tower someone on-air asks the controller what the hell that smoke is — the controller responds with something about a burst gas main, and it all seems a lot less worrisome as we potter on towards the Bay Bridge, Alcatraz, Angel Island, the Golden Gate, etc., in perfect California weather. If it weren't for the periodic requests on air by planes coming on-frequency for information about the spreading smoke and flames, we'd probably forget the thing — there's just too much to see elsewhere, and my passengers are enjoying the view.

We circle the Golden Gate a couple of times, then head off towards Napa (KAPC) so we can swap seats — N.'s done his bit of flying and now C. wants to sit in the front. The landing at Napa's fun — it's getting dark and it's Just Another Boring Bay Area Sunset all around us — and Napa's empty and quiet. We stop at the runup area off runway 24 and C. gets in the front. We depart 24 out towards San Pablo Bay, and once we've departed Napa's airspace I let C. fly for maybe fifteen minutes. She enjoys it (more so than N.), and we do a bunch of turns and mild maneuvers in the darkness over the bay as she gets the feel for it all. She seems to enjoy this a lot, but we have to return to Oakland after about twenty minutes. I take the plane back and call NorCal.

And sure enough, within a minute, someone asks on-frequency what all the flames and smoke off San Francisco are all about… in the darkness, we've basically forgotten it all. We get the standard "Temple 2,5000, right downwind 27R" VFR instructions, and in the magic of flying above the lights of Richmond, Berkeley, Oakland, and other sundry places we forget it again. On final for 27R C. looks at the flashing lights and the runway lighting and says quietly "it's like a video game, isn't it…". It is. We land smoothly and taxi off to Kaiser to get fuel; over on 27L a Coast Guard helicopter is practicing lights-off short approaches and landings; there's a steady stream of light aircraft and freighters moving across the ground and in the air, visible mostly as just flashing abstract patterns. The whole airport often feels like a video game at this point. A few minutes later we're shutting down and hangaring the plane. N. and C. seem to have enjoyed the whole thing, and I got a fun VFR flight between the IFR workouts (which I don't seem to blog as much as I used to).

* * *

Hours later, back home, I can't help turning on the TV to see what the fire (which I'd mentally written off as fairly minor, if spectacular) was really all about. Not that minor at all: several deaths, large parts of a whole neighborhood up in flames. Not good news.

July 18, 2010

It's Hot Out There

Like a lot of Bay Area residents, I must have driven up Interstate 80 straight through Davis — a small atypically-pleasant Central Valley town a few miles from Sacramento with a large (and rather good) campus of the University of California in it — dozens of times on my way to the Sierras or Tahoe or points further east. Similarly, I've flown over it dozens of times on my way to Sacramento Executive (KSAC) or further afield for instrument training or VFR trips away from the Bay Area; the runway's an easily-visible landmark on the way elsewhere. But amazingly (especially given the university), I've never actually stopped there, either driving or flying. So UC Davis's little Davis / University airport (KEDU) seems a natural place to go for this jaded pilot looking for a new instrument approach to shoot and a new local(ish) airport to chalk up as "done" (KEDU shouldn't be confused with KDWA, Davis / Woodland / Winters — yes, there are two closely-spaced airports with "Davis" in the name; not bad for a small town…).

Trouble is, it's hot out there — I'm a San Francisco Bay Area kind of person, and I've lived in coastal Northern California more than long enough to be kinda used to the mild dry summers here — so when I start doing my homework with DUATS and notice that the temperature out there in the Valley is already above 35C and forecast to be up towards 40C by the time we're out there, it's difficult to relate to the pleasantly sunny and breezy 20C around my neighborhood here in Oakland. I do a quick density altitude check out of curiosity: 2,900' for an airport effectively at sea level. Not that this really surprises or worries me, but it's one of those little reminders that all the world ain't Oakland, and makes me wonder what South Tahoe or Truckee would be like today. Not much fun in a normally-aspirated C172, I'll bet, with both airports up around 6,000' MSL.

That heat strikes almost immediately we leave the inner Bay Area, and by the time we're cleared direct CODRU (the KEDU RNAV RWY 17 approach IAF for our purposes), it's hot, even though we're 5,000' up. Closer in, at 2,000 for the procedure turn, it's bloody hot, and Evan H., my long-suffering safety pilot in the right seat, listens to me whinge from under the Cone of Stupidity on how dumb it was to wear my usual black jeans and dark t-shirt (so perfect for a London summer's day…) here in Aggie land rather than shorts. At least it's a dry heat, which I actually like in the right circumstances.

We do the course reversal (thanks to the G1000) and descend towards Davis, getting hotter each mile. The one thing most people remember about driving through Davis is the water tower(s), which you can see from miles away (the campus is pleasantly hidden by trees and things like that), but from the air, every damn Central Valley town has water towers (and / or grain silos, at least north of the Delta), so that's not a lot of help for VFR approaches. Evan keeps his eyes skinned for the towers, which he claims he'll recognise, which (of course) he does through the haze as we join the approach inbound. It's definitely hazy — several times we were unable to see opposing traffic Travis or NorCal called for us until they were nearly on top of us — but that haziness means the air is nicely smooth, and the rough ride I'd feared from the earlier higher winds aloft forecast and just general experience over the Valley never materialise. It's that heat that's getting irritating, and by the time we're on short final I'm sweating heavily, something I rarely do while flying. As soon as we land and turn off the runway, I open the side window. Big mistake! It's actually hotter outside, of course, than inside, and the superhot air just floods in. Oh well. I'll survive.

As for Davis airport itself, there's not much to write about. It's way too hot to stop and wander around, so we taxi back to the other end of the runway and depart immediately. Two things strike me: fuel at Davis is at least 60c cheaper per gallon than at Oakland, and the airport is dead as a doornail at a time and place you'd expect a lot of Sunday afternoon rec flying and training. We never see another plane in the pattern, nor hear anyone else on CTAF the entire time.

We escape back on the missed to Travis approach, who don't sound too busy either, but if there's been one theme on this trip so far it's the way Travis dropped the ball on (internal) hand-offs or the Travis controller doesn't seem to know where the RNAV approach course reversal starts (he asks at least twice whether we've started our procedure turn inbound yet, once before CODRU, the IAF that defines the start of the hold-in-lieu for the approach, the other time just after CODRU, when we still have some 4 nautical miles to go before turning inbound). Nothing serious, and Travis is pretty GA-friendly for a (big) USAF base, but when we get handed back to NorCal after Travis solicited from us a precis of how we're going to do the next approach (the RNAV RWY 25 into Rio Vista, O88), NorCal clearly had no idea who we were or where we were heading, let alone that we were (supposed to be) heading direct for EPPES, one of the RNAV approach's IAFs, for a full pilot nav approach. Oh well — we'll survive.

As with a previous flight a long time ago to Rio Vista, I wonder out aloud from under the hood about how to pronounce "EPPES". I've consistently pronounced it "eeps", but without any real belief that it's correct; and in my experience, controllers tend to go to great lengths to avoid directly pronouncing waypoints or intersections with weird or not-obviously-pronounceable so you don't get any clues from them either. But this time Evan points out that there used to be a restaurant chain in the area called "Eppie's", and that the fix is probably pronounced "eppies" after the chain. D'Oh! I've been here long enough that I should have known that. Live and learn, I guess.

After we let NorCal in on our apparently secret plans, the approach into Rio Vista goes well; I've done this particular approach a lot, and Rio Vista was one of the airports I did a lot of landing practice at for my original PP-ASEL; and at least here there's some traffic in the pattern.

As with the landing at Davis (and other assorted bits of the flight), Evan videos the landing at Rio Vista with his new iPhone 4 (humph! I only have a 3GS). He points it at me as I'm saying something sarcastic about Travis or controllers in general; I suspect I'll survive the ribbing if the audio ever gets out (it was probably swamped by the sound of the engine anyway). The landing itself is in the face of a steady 25 knot headwind straight down the runway, and unlike Davis, where I was a little worried about the effect of the density altitude, landing and takeoff here are brisk. But it's still hot as hell, and we escape back to NorCal and the RNAV RWY 27L approach with LPV.

It's been a GPS kind of day, quite deliberately; a good workout. Back at Oakland, the early evening temperature's dropped down well below 20C, and I have to put my sweatshirt back on. Back to normal, I guess.

June 02, 2010

I Want One Of Those!

I've been away — a long way away — almost continuously now for two months (traveling to generally promote a new obscure software product line I've helped bring to fruition), so it's time to do a club refresher to satisfy insurance rules — and to remind myself what all those things on the front panel do (actually, with the G1000, there really aren't that many things on the front panel any more, just icons of things; never mind, it's the thought that counts…). The result's a typically mixed IFR flight to Napa (KAPC) and back with John in the right seat to stop me from doing anything too stupid; in general, despite the time off, I don't do too badly, with a couple of approaches hand-flown and / or under the control of the G1000 and autopilot, and I come away from it all with a sense of mild achievement. The weather's MVFR and we actually need to file IFR in both directions, but, frustratingly, I don't get to log any real IMC as we climb over the marine layer very quickly and it hadn't quite covered Oakland (KOAK) on our return.

The highlight of the flight for me — and why I'd blog it at all — is being able to briefly use John's new iPad with his SkyCharts Pro setup for the approaches. This thing does pretty much what I'd expect it to do — what I'd want it do do — and does it well. I'd worried a bit about how distracting it might be or how irritating it might be to fly with an iPad on your lap, but it worked out well. I didn't get to play with any of the other iPad stuff — the IFR and VFR charts, Foreflight, etc. — but the approach charts alone made it worthwhile. No, I can't afford one of these for a while yet (and, unlike John, I don't make a living from flying, so I can't justify it as a tax writeoff or a tool of trade), but it's hard to see myself flying in a year or two without something like this, at least. We shall see….

May 09, 2010

Where I Am

Yes, no flying lately (at least not with me as PIC, even though I've flown more than 50,000 km in the last few weeks), as I'm a long way from Oakland at the moment (I was even further away a week or two ago). The image above was taken by me where I am now but a couple of decades ago (1985, at least). Back in a week or two….

April 07, 2010

Very VFR

Just another short note that should have been a full post, but that's how it is when you're simultaneously rehosting a bunch of blogs and juggling a job that takes you to Australia and Britain with not a lot of notice (it sounds a lot more enjoyable and exotic than it is — for one thing, why can't they send me to places I'm not from rather than places I've spent half my life in?!).

Apart from the previously-mentioned VFR fun flight, the most memorable thing was an IFR flight to Modesto (KMOD) and back with Righter K. (again) for instrument currency purposes one evening a few weeks back. Nothing much to report on that here except that this time it wasn't Very IFR, and my flying was predictably rusty and agricultural (as that great Oz hero Richie Benaud would say). Oh well. Maybe I'll get some more flying in over the next few weeks. We shall see….

April 01, 2010

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March 30, 2010

We'll Be Right Back After This Short Message…

I'm about to start some Blogger-related re-hosting work which may have the side effect that YAFB may disappear intermittently over the next week or two, or appear with bits missing, etc. So don't despair or panic if things are even less coherent or up-to-date than usual here for a while….

What fun this all is!

March 20, 2010

First Flight

An extended afternoon's Bay Tour around and above the Bay in perfect weather, a leisurely trip over and around the Golden gate, Marin, Angel Island, Alcatraz, the City, the Brothers and the Long Wharf, San Pablo Bay, Napa (with a few minutes' feet-up time at the terminal there, watching the locals come and go from Jonesy's), Concord, Mt. Diablo, Livermore, the Oakland Hills….

A good way to introduce a friend of mine, T., to the joys (or otherwise) of GA flying. I'm never too sure beforehand how people will take things like this the first time, but she seems to have enjoyed it. Well, I enjoyed the flight — once again, it's nice to get out and about VFR occasionally.

February 16, 2010

The Wrong ALTAM

Just off Oakland's runway 27R at taxiway Bravo — yes, almost exactly where I was nearly run over by that MD80 — we get cleared to depart on 27R. I'm taxiing up past the hold short line and onto Bravo when the tower controller tells me it looks like we're on taxiway Alpha, and to continue on up Alpha and make a right when able back onto the runway. By this time I'm actually on 27R's threshold (on the stripes, actually), and turning to line up for departure. I'm momentarily confused — the suspicious part of my brain's asking "what's he really trying to tell me?" — but eventually respond with something like "Uh Tower, we're on 27R at Bravo, on the stripes…". Not for the last time this evening, we hear a resigned "Never mind…" from a controller, and we're on our way. As we depart I wonder if he's working from the south tower rather than the usual north tower position — as with the MD80 incident, south tower controllers can't actually see that part of the airport directly. Oh well; I still think that part of the airport's an accident waiting to happen.

Somewhere miles further down the line 5000' up in the darkness heading towards for Tracy (KTCY), the NorCal Approach controller vectors us for V244, then helpfully tells me "information Lima is current". Lima? We're heading towards an untowered airport without an ATIS. Have I missed something important? After a little prompting from John (sitting in the right seat), I blurt out to NorCal that we're heading for Tracy. We get that classic "Never mind…" again from the controller and head towards V244.

A few minutes later NorCal asks me how I'll be approaching Tracy (KTCY). I shoot back that we'll do the RNAV RWY 12 approach with ALTAM intersection (on V244) as the initial approach fix and a full stop at Tracy; we'll cancel IFR when we're close to JENEG, the final approach fix. A few seconds later I get the right words of approval and load the approach into the G1000 as part of the current flight plan. Without giving it much thought I leave the approach loaded but inactive — plenty of time to activate it later. In any case, a few seconds later the controller gives me "direct ALTAM" before we intersect V244, so (again, without giving it much thought), I find ALTAM in the existing plan, and punch in direct ALTAM. We head towards ALTAM, correctly enough, but as John reminds me a few seconds later, I've really hit "direct" for the wrong ALTAM. I should have hit direct for the ALTAM that's part of the approach rather than the ALTAM that's part of the main plan. Yes, the G1000's just not smart enough to know that the two ALTAM's are one and the same waypoints, and — unlike the clunky old KLN 94, which will tell you it's deleting one (or more) of the identical waypoints as it activates or loads the approach, the G1000 will happily sit there unaware of what you're really trying to do, and is quite unable to get its head around the existential crisis involved in having two ALTAMS. Not a huge issue, but the behaviour of the G1000 in the resulting flight plan configuration has puzzled me several times in the past until I nutted it out on my own. Not for the first time I wonder out aloud about the way Garmin's engineers have simply seemed to ignore the human factors associated with the otherwise excellent unit. I find it hard to imagine me doing much serious IFR flying nowadays without it, but nearly every flight there's some … oddness … lurking in unintuitive menu functions, wrong-sense knobs, weird layouts, etc.

Literally seconds later NorCal clears us for the approach, with an immediate descent to 4,000', then a restriction on crossing the OYOSO intermediate fix at 4,000', i.e. 1,000' above the published altitude. I wonder out aloud about why, thinking NorCal's probably got traffic below us or a hold in progress or something. No big deal, but I look at the chart again and mentally calculate the required descent rate past OYOSO — crikey, I think, that'll be about 1,200 FPM at our current speed, i.e. a precipitous drop in a C172 like this. I don't mind that on a clear still night like tonight, but it's not something I'd feel comfortable with in Very IFR weather.

We're passing ALTAM at 4,000' heading for OYOSO, when John decides to (politely) ask the controller why we've got the crossing restriction. The controller comes back quickly (and a little defensively) with "well, 4,000' is my MVA in the area"; to which John responds with the observation that the published altitude for the ALTAM OYOSO transition is 3,000' (me, I'm thinking "Gawd, John — don't question him! They'll send out the F16s!"). We get a non-committal answer to that one, so we putter on at 4,000' towards OYOSO. After a short period of radio silence from everyone concerned, the controller comes back to us unprompted with a "descend and maintain 3,000", and down we go. John says that he suspects the controller's not looked at the plate for ages, and on a not-particularly busy set of (relatively-new) approaches like these into Tracy, it probably just doesn't matter that much, but it's always reassuring that I'm not the only one making (little) mistakes in this business….

As we turn towards the final approach heading at OYOSO, the G1000 suddenly flashes up the message "Approach not active!" across the main HSI and the display goes into approach-not-active mode. Quick as a flash I look at the G1000 flight plan window (did I forget to correctly activate the procedure? No, it looks fine) and then the autopilot, start thinking about aborting the approach, then look up at the main display HSI again. And everything's just fine, all back to normal, with the approach active and the autopilot turning us correctly to the final approach segment. I watch the unit like a hawk for the rest of the way in (well, I always do that, but never mind, it's the thought that counts). We discuss this later, back on the ground at Oakland; I suspect we had a momentary WAAS integrity failure, possibly due to antenna configuration in the turn, or maybe a cranky antenna. John has a similar theory; I guess we'll never know.

* * *

Little errors and issues, for sure, especially on what was essentially a night VFR currency flight done as an IFR exercise under the hood in beautifully-clear and warm weather, but (again) it's weirdly heartening that it's not me that's making all the errors, and that nothing really disturbed my calm or caused me to do much more than blithely ponder the Big Issues while under the hood.

After canceling IFR and landing nicely at Tracy, we remain in the pattern for some night currency landing work, with John getting a couple of his own landings in (not bad, not bad :-)), and then depart back towards Oakland. The RNAV 27L approach back into Oakland is familiar and easy, and after a little over an hour and a half of very pleasant and enjoyable flying, my various FAA, insurance, and club currencies are up to date for quite some time again.

* * *

John's brought along his iPhone with the new Foreflight chart setup (and much more). I use the older Foreflight (without charts) myself, and I'm mildly curious how useful the charts are in a working cockpit. I'm also a bit suspicious that I'll find the setup distracting, but when — in response to a mild problem I'm having getting the Cessna's overhead lights to properly light my paper approach plate on the yoke clipbpard — John sets his iPhone up for me to my left with the suction cup against the window, it's actually fairly easy to use, and not at all distracting. In fact I have to remind myself that it's there, and remember to actually use it. After a while it felt fairly natural, and with a bit of positional adjustment and practice, I'd definitely give it two thumbs up for approach chart display and access, at least. I think in the long run it's definitely likely to be in my virtual flight bag….

[Note added 1 March: as John notes in his comment on this article, it wasn't in fact the Foreflight chart software on his iPhone, it was GoodReader with approach charts from Nacomatic.com — thanks John…].