October 19, 2011

Rust Never Sleeps

On the LOC RWY 36L missed approach out of Napa (KAPC) I go back under the Cone Of Stupidity, tell tower we've gone missed, then get back to Oakland Center to tell them what we're planning, all while twiddling the relevant knobs on the G1000 to get me to the hold as published at Scaggs Island VOR (SGD) and setting up the autopilot for the climb and hold. I start feeling a bit better about what has so far been a rusty flight, with shaky radio work and somewhat iffy flying. Worse than either of those, though, was that I'd been distracted at a crucial time while prepping the approach and forgot to set the altimeter according to Napa's ATIS, leaving it on Oakland's setting, a really basic error, but one that in this case wouldn't mean much in reality — especially given how close Napa and Oakland are. But still — these things can have serious consequences in less benign circumstances….

We do a leisurely turn around the hold, I tell Oakland we're departing back towards Oakland VFR from the hold, then punch in KOAK direct. No problems — everything feels smooth and under control, and the plane's going well, it's a nice night out there, and I'm starting to get back into the groove, thinking ahead about setting up a practice approach back into Oakland. I don't actually have any preferences for this, so John suggests the RNAV Y 27L, an approach I've done only marginally fewer times than I've done the ILS back into Oakland (or so it feels — sometimes I pine for the old NDB RWY 27R approach with its hair-raising tendency to throw you at the wrong side of the airport up close and personal to a 777 landing on runway 29, or something smaller coming straight at you in the pattern for 27L. A bit of variety goes a long way, you know).

Anyway, we get handed off to NorCal approach and I ask for the practice approach. The controller acknowledges this, gives me a vector, clears me into the class bravo, and tells me to expect the approach down the line. So far so good. I anticipate we'll very soon be sent direct JUPAP (a useful intermediate fix (IF) on the approach), and reach over to set up the approach on the G1000. And, surprise surprise, the usual keystrokes aren't producing the usual response — and I have absolutely no idea what it's telling me. I sit there for a few seconds. John suggests I try it on his side (on the MFD); the same thing happens. I sit there for a few more seconds, quite unsure what to do. The menu options are simply not what I expect for the sequence of button pushes I've just done. What the hell is happening?

I don't panic, but it takes a few seconds — and some prompting from John — to get myself out of the mess (which is a classic G1000 Thing I won't go into here, but that I should have recognised easily). In the meantime, of course, I've lost the plot a bit, and it takes time to return to normal and set the approach up. A few seconds later we're heading direct for JUPAP, and all's (relatively) well again, but I'm back feeling rusty — very rusty.

But fairly quickly I realise that the real rustiness here is in the way I handled the unexpected, not in flying or planning or understanding the procedures themselves — after all, apart from the faux pas with the Napa altitude setting, I didn't really do anything wrong, I just did things sloppily (especially with the radio, when I reverted to long-winded plain English requests for what should have been terse by-the-book transmissions). My rustiness is mostly in forgetting to concentrate on getting around the problem (by any means necessary…) rather than on working out why something happened, at least in the short term. Don't get sidetracked! I take the little lesson to heart, and we plod on, waiting for further vectors or "direct JUPAP" (which never comes, but never mind — it's vectors all the way, as usual).

There's enough actual IMC on the way back in to Oakland that we end up needing a real clearance, and I take the hood off as we skim over and then through the light stratus layer — this part's as enjoyable as ever. I hand fly the approach (with LPV guidance) back in to Oakland feeling much better, and nail it to ATP standards (on a night like tonight, that's not hard, but still…). On the ground the ramp seems quite dead, and we taxi back to the Port-A-Ports and wait for the fuel truck. Outside the plane it's actually quite cold for this time of year in Northern California, quite a lot colder than I'd expected, and I rue the fact that my winter jacket is sitting in the back of my car somewhere on the other side of the security fence. Oh well, I'll survive.

* * *

This should have been an extensive IFR workout with John to regain both currency and competency (I wanted to do at least four approaches and a couple of holds as well as en-route stuff this evening), but I've injured my right knee sometime in the past month. I don't remember any specific incident, but whatever it was I made it much worse last Friday night when I spent six hours continuously standing, walking, running, climbing, crouching, etc., without a break with a heavy ENG video camera attached to my shoulder at the annual Beats 4 Boobs breast cancer fund raiser (I do the videography for the event — check out Beats 4 Boobs SF 2010 for a taste of my work…). By the start of the flight this evening, it's obvious I'm going to have trouble doing more than a relatively gentle workout, and I warn John we might have to cut it short (and that I might have to have him take the controls while I push my seat back to stretch my leg). And so it goes — by the time we do the stop and go at Napa, my leg's quite painful, and after the hold at Scaggs Island, it's clear that I'm not even going to be able to do the series of night stop and goes I'd wanted to do to regain night currency back in Oakland. It's disappointing, but I'm not dumb enough to push it too hard (except when it involves a San Francisco fashion event…); maybe next time. By the time I'm back home, I'm in quite a lot of pain, and starting to think maybe I should see a doctor. We shall see… (I come from a medical family, most of whose members would probably rather eat broken glass than see a doctor).

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