December 11, 2015

The Inevitable

Once again, I have to bow to the inevitable: I can't sustain my flying life and keep all the other stuff in my life (you know, things like jobs :-)) going properly at the same time.

So, sadly, and for pretty much exactly the same reasons as I wrote about back then (a little over three years ago!), I'm giving up GA flying for the foreseeable future. And also, by extension, blogging about it here (I didn't even get the time to blog here about the last few flights I made, which is never a good sign).

And once again, I suspect I'll be back, but I currently have no idea when, or even where.

July 06, 2015

I'm Sorry, Dave. I'm Afraid I Can't Do That (Me and Autopilots)

Somewhere over the Central Valley...

I get an unexpected extra day off work over the 4th of July weekend, so I do a sobering but weirdly-pleasant IFR-in-VMC flight on my own to Stockton (KSCK), where I do the ILS RWY 29R with the missed as published, all hand-flown (for fun!) under the guidance of the G1000's flight director, but not under the Cone Of Stupidity or in actual, of course. Following that, a leisurely VFR-only flight back to Hayward (KHWD) including a diversion to Livermore (KLVK) for some touch-and-goes on runway 25L there (and what a pleasure that always is!).

I’m rusty as hell on real-world IFR procedures, and it shows — and it’s the reason I do this flight on a real IFR flight plan but in clear VMC, and to a destination and along a route and including an approach all of which I'm familiar with. I can barely remember how to get my clearance on the ramp at Hayward (which takes me all of ten seconds to get right, but still…), I bungle several radio calls, I input the wrong heading on a vector, I can’t initially get the autopilot to do the right thing with altitudes (below), and I ask for the wrong approach at Stockton. I make it sound terrible, but really, nothing was so bad that I busted any limits or anything, as far as I know (the heading was 10 degrees off and I caught it quickly, for example), but it still left me seriously glad I did this today rather than in IMC. After this flight, I actually feel like I could do it for real again now; as always, it's all about complexity management.

The autopilot? A real brain failure on my part here, as usual. Initially on the departure out of Hayward I can’t seem to get it to do altitude arming using what I think is the “obvious” way, but it’s another of those weird problems I have with altitude arming on both this (the Garmin GFC 700) and the older non-integrated one in the other DA-40’s: I confuse arming and capture, and somewhere over the Central Valley on my way to Stockton I feel like kicking myself when I realise (with a few seconds of metaphorically standing back and thinking) what I should be doing (that “ALT” button in both cases means “capture / hold”, not arm, unfortunately). The good news here is I didn't obsess about it, or spend a lot of time debugging it on-the-fly (as it were) — I just shrugged and kept hand flying. The autopilot in the DA40 is a technological wonder — and increases single-pilot IFR safety an order of magnitude over hand-flying, and it’s more obvious in use than the other models — but it’s still a bit intimidating when it sits there (silently) doing the autopilot equivalent of “I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that”. I'll get over it….

June 29, 2015

A Million Years Ago...

It's no secret that I'm a bit of a Foreflight fan and an early adopter, but when someone recently asked me how long I'd actually been using it, I had to look it up. I had vague memories of using it back when the iPhone was still new and when iPhone "apps" were really just simple Javascript web apps running in Safari, but that seemed unlikely to me.

But my memories were correct — it's more than seven years since I started using Foreflight, and just over seven years since I reviewed it here on YAFB. Re-reading that review brought it all back — not just Foreflight in its first (and rather different) incarnation, but also the iPhone experience itself back then (primitive, limited, but showing potential — sort of like Foreflight in those days, for that matter).

Tempus fugit, and all that, I guess, and I take both the iPhone and Foreflight for granted nowadays. But I still don't get nostalgic for old gear or stuff like this — that little iPhone can do a hell of a lot more than probably all the computers available to me in the Electrical Engineering department back at university all those years ago could do (and at one-ten-thousandth the cost, I'll bet), and Foreflight can also do a hell of a lot more (and more usefully) than that first edition (for a similar sort of cost).

Now if only the other parts of my aviation world could advance as quickly and increase the bang for the buck as rapidly as these two have over the past seven years….

June 13, 2015

The God View

Somewhere on the (simulated) ILS RWY 16R into Van Nuys (KVNY) I can hear John clacking away on the keyboard behind me and to my right. Cool! I think — he's cooking something up to make my life harder. Sure enough, closer in on the approach, I start hearing thunder over the sound of the engine, and drops of water start hitting the screen. Not as visually disturbing (or just disturbing, in its own way…) as the prancing deer he had on the runway on the simulated FREES8 departure out of Santa Rosa (KSTS) a short time earlier, but in real life much more dangerous. But this isn't real life, and, sadly, the simulator doesn't rock or shake or buck wildly in the storm, and after telling John in real life I'd back right out of this approach now with ATC help, I fly on regardless, successfully breaking out a little above minimums and landing as well as one can in a sim like this (i.e. badly).

I've done this approach in real life (see e.g. "One Six Right"), and the real life version's much more scenic (especially at night), but I don't have the luxury of being able to do it in real life until I get IFR current again. Which is why I'm here at the sim, doing the remainder of the IPC with John. The time goes quickly, with a barrage of approaches, holds, departures, prancing deer, instrument failures, etc., and after what seems like a sweaty forever, I'm current again. It's been a long trek back, but worth it, I think, and I start thinking about a real-life trek to Van Nuys or Burbank later this year in one of the club's DA-40s, with the usual IFR leg into and back out of the LA basin. We shall see, as I keep saying.

Later, John sends me the picture above of the God View from the session, with the storms bearing down on the approach from the west. The joys of simulation….

June 06, 2015

Nothing Goes Horribly Wrong...

Somewhere 3,500' over the Diablo Valley, setting up for the RNAV 28L approach back into Hayward (KWHD) as I'm under the Cone of Stupidity in 7PV, Foreflight on my little old iPad mini just ... disappears. The screen goes blank; I'm locked out of the system. The proper response under these conditions should be a shrugged Simpsonian "meh", and a mental note to debug / fix the issue in a minute or two when I've got the time, not when I'm setting things up on the G1000 or trying to keep up with ATC on the radio (never mind actually just, you know, flying the plane). After all, I'm in a G1000-equipped DA-40 in VMC, John is sitting there in the right seat as instructor, and at this point in the (pre-) approach, the iPad's just not essential. But, of course, the engineer in me takes over and I try to fix and debug it all there and then, with the predictable result that I miss a call from ATC and (to mangle metaphors) generally lose the thread of what I'm doing in the big picture.

Oh well — another good lesson, one I thought I'd learned years ago, but that obviously needs to be hammered back into that poor little brain of mine again. But Foreflight and the iPad come back, and things go on as before — a weirdly-enjoyable couple of hours of little failures and well-received lessons (from John and / or what passes for Real Life under the hood).

* * *

The aim of today's flight is to continue my (possibly-Quixotic) attempts to get instrument current again. And overall, nothing goes horribly wrong — the basics, such as staying the right way up and within IPC tolerances for altitude and heading, etc., are generally OK, and it's really enjoyable decoupling the autopilot and just flying the plane by hand on the approach back into Hayward or on the departure out of Napa, but I spend much of the flight not feeling entirely on top of things. Again, not the serious things — I don’t think I have any real issues with either of the approaches we do (the KAPC VOR 6 with circle to land on 18R (probably my last ever VOR approach — we do it because we still can), and KHWD’s RNAV 28L) or the LIZRD 3 departure out of Napa; even the home-made 7 DME arc to the final approach course at Napa feels straightforward (I used to find these difficult to visualise in the old steam gauge era, but nowadays they’re just “obvious”). But my handling of the integrated GFC 700 autopilot was agricultural, to put it mildly, and my radio work was often really bad (missed calls, indecision, saying way too much on air, etc.). Plus my engine management skills always seem to go to pot under the hood. But the flight director was magic — I’ll be using that as much as possible in the future, regardless of whether or not the AP is properly coupled.

Overall, a good series of lessons, and I don't feel that it's too unlikely I could get current in the next few weeks; I'm off to Bogotá in July for several weeks of work, so I want to try to have it all sewn up by then. If not, it's not going to be the end of the world.

* * *

(And the cause of the iPad's blanking? I'd blame heat if it had been a warmer day and the sun had been intense, but it was a standard Bay Area coastal summer's day (sort of like a London summer's day but gloomier), and I don't think it was that. I know it's happened to other pilots here and there, but it's new to me. Again, though, it's hardly a catastrophe, and when I set up an approach correctly, it's not the sort of failure that should cause me much more than a jolt of irritation...).

May 22, 2015

Get The Bloody Job Done

"Huey" EMU 309 UH-1H at Hayward Airport Open Day

Hayward Airport (KHWD) Open Day, again — another wonderful couple of hours of strolling and exploring odd and interesting airplanes and helicopters at my home airport in the company of my two little nephews Simon and Alex (five and seven years old respectively). This isn't really an airshow (although on nice days there's a bit of flying, which has to be tempered by the fact that Hayward's right under the ILS for Oakland's runway 30, some six nautical miles to the west) — it's much more of (as it says) an open day, where locals, pilots, aviation associations, clubs, businesses, etc., get to see each other and interact.

We get there fairly early — just after the 10am opening — and spend the next ninety minutes exploring the insides and cockpit of the Moffet-based California Air National Guard C130 parked there (the insides are layered and packed with an astonishing array of 1960's and 1970's-era gear and wiring; the cockpit's a classic steam gauge ensemble (see below)); sitting in and exploring the Huey Vets EMU Huey (above — this has special resonance for me given both the RAN connection and the fact that Hueys (we called them "Iroquois") were such a visible (and very audible) part of my childhood in Australia); watching the Hayward Police Department showing off its little robot (the star of the show for the seven-year-old); the classic cars; the gleamingly-polished and nicely done up old four-engined JetStar business jet that I mentioned in a previous posting; watching the old EAA Ford Trimotor start up, taxi past, and depart; visiting the California Airways booth; and just generally strolling around looking at all the various small planes parked on the tarmac.

One of the things I like most about the Open Day is that it's so obviously full of locals. It's a diverse crowd in every way, and seeing all the local kids clambering over the C-130 or Huey or asking questions about the HPD's little robot or lining up for a short free flight in a small GA plane gives me some sort of hope for the world.

Highly recommended if you get the chance to go next time!

Alex at the controls of the California ANG C-130

EAA Ford Trimotor Taxiing Past

April 18, 2015

Just Another Bay Tour

Bay Tours are never routine for me — they're always full of wonderful sights, they're fun flying (if sometimes a little stressful with all that dodging other sightseeing planes and keeping out of the Class B airspace just above us), and the person or people I'm with usually enjoy it immensely. And so it is today, with my friend RS, who's never flown in a light plane before but is game to try it.

We depart Hayward (KHWD) in perfect cloudless VFR in one of the club's DA-40s, and she seems surprised by how much she enjoys it. She loves the steep(ish) turns, and keeps talking later about how pleasantly-surreal it all felt. She has trouble with the stick when I hand over control to her — she gives up after less than two minutes because she says she has no mental model of how it should work — but doesn’t seem fazed by that. We try to do the classic East Bay-based Bay Tour, but the Golden Gate is completely covered in incoming stratus, and after a few turns around Alcatraz and Angel Island we head off towards Napa (KAPC), where we land and wander across the apron into the terminal, hanging around for a few minutes watching the 1% go by in their shiny corporate jets (actually, pretty much nothing moved on the ramp the entire time we were there).

We get back in and head over towards Livermore (KLVK), doing a fly-by of Crockett (she has connections there), and doing a bunch of touch-and-goes at Livermore (because I can…) before returning via a detour over the Altamont windfarm and back over the hills to Hayward.

She's converted. She asks a lot of good questions about flying procedures (why did you fly at that specific altitude? How do you approach an airport? What happens when the control tower is closed? What are the pedals for if you turn using the stick? etc.) but definitely isn’t interested in being a pilot herself.

Just another Bay Tour? I don't think it's ever just another Bay Tour....

March 29, 2015

"I Didn't Know It Would Be THIS AWESOME!!"

My little five-year-old nephew Simon looks at me from the back seat of one of the club's DA-40s and says loudly into his headset mic "WOW!! I didn't know it would be THIS AWESOME!!" (he speaks A LOT in UPPER CASE). We're 2,500' over the Golden Gate, circling the bridge, in smooth perfect VMC, and besides Simon there's also Alex (seven), and their mother Annette in the plane. Alex and Annette and I have flown a couple of times before — the last time being just over a year ago — but this is the first time for Simon, and I was worried he wouldn't like it (he's been a lot more apprehensive than Alex about doing things like this — Alex has always just plowed straight in…).

As with Alex's first time, I needn't have worried — Simon's an enthusiastic passenger and spends much of the time pointing out things on the ground, taking photos with Annette's iPhone, and asking me to circle anything interesting (like ships or little islands). Alex is similarly enthusiastic, and given that they're both pretty voluble, I discover just how useful the Garmin panel's pilot isolation switch can be — there's just no way you can easily stop two brothers, five and seven, from arguing or talking loudly about what they're seeing, etc., regardless of what you tell them before you fly. I always find their chatter amusing, but when you're trying to talk to NorCal Approach on flight following as you maneuver around and over the Golden Gate and the rest of the Bay, isolation really comes in handy. I've never actually used that feature before, I think.

* * *

We start a little earlier on the ground at Hayward (KHWD), with both kids really liking the "bubble" canopy (they just call it the bubble) and the general shape of the DA-40; we watch a couple of smaller helicopters taking off, and a rather large one landing, and both kids ask if we could do that. Sadly, no, but we do get to taxi slowly past several interesting planes — an old Stinson (I think), painted in black and white zebra stripes, really took their interest, as did the ancient four-engined JetStar business jet that's been sitting on the tarmac for ages now, looking gleamingly-Modern in an ancient sort of way (think James Bond and "Goldfinger"). Simon asks "what's a business jet?", and I get into a long disquisition about business people and travel and stuff, then realize he doesn't really know what a "business" is. Oh well — Annette takes over the explaining as I do the runup.

After the runup, we take off on 28L for the Oakland transition up over Interstate-880, with views of their home in Alameda off to our left (and my place somewhere below us). The view's wonderful, the air smooth, and the kids are entertained and enjoying things a lot as we head off towards the Golden Gate. They chatter on about the voices on what they call "Mission Control" (they're great NASA and space travel fans); I was worried that the standard headsets I borrowed from CalAir would be too big or uncomfortable, but both kids love wearing the headsets and talking into the microphones, and not for the first time I'm glad there's no push-to-talk in the back of the plane.

It's a busy day, and there are a whole lot of other planes around us, both over the Golden Gate and further afield, and both on-frequency and not. NorCal calls a never-ending stream of traffic for us as I look out as paranoidly as I can; at one stage one of the old local sightseeing seaplanes (a Beaver, I suspect) goes well below us over the Bridge and then up towards Sausalito. Both kids excitedly swear it went under the bridge, but that ain't true (I was watching it like a hawk). After a few times around the Bridge and a pass over Alcatraz and Angel Island, we head off towards San Pablo Bay, where we do the inevitable little roller-coaster(ish) push-over / pull-up that Alex liked so much the last time; this time they both love it and keep asking for more, but Annette's turning green and I decide to head back via the Diablo Valley, where the kids spot all sorts of things on the ground.

Coming back over the hills towards Hayward (with the inevitable "report Cal State Hayward" causing me to do my usual internal eye-rolling) we have some sort of mild audio issues, but I suspect that the combination of four headsets and kids and stuff may explain a lot of that, and the problem clears up after Hayward Tower pings me several times about the quality our transmissions. Oh well — no flight's ever perfect, I guess. But this one was pretty damn good, and the kids tell me they're going to tell their respective classes at school all about it tomorrow. And maybe in another year's time we'll do it again, if not sooner.

And, finally, here's the obligatory formation flying photo my regular readers will probably expect: :-)

March 23, 2015

Recalculating... At The Next Cloud, Turn Left

I recently mentioned to a techie work colleague that the planes I fly typically have GPS. He was quite surprised that airplanes used GPS, and stood there and said in a very authentic GPS voice "recalculating… at the next cloud, turn left!", which amused us both, probably for rather different reasons... (he may well end up flying with me sometime soon).

All of which is to distract you from the fact that I didn't fly for nearly three months after injuring my shoulder (not too badly, but irritatingly) in a bicycle accident (like John, I ride a bike pretty much daily to get to and from work; unlike him, I do it all at a relatively leisurely pace, and I don't ride nearly as far…), and when I did get back in the saddle (with John in the right seat ensuring I didn't fly too badly), I ended up being unable to blog it in detail because I got sent elsewhere in the United States for work (as I often am) and promptly forgot to blog it.

So what do I remember of the flight? It was supposed to be both a club refresher and a preparation for a potential instrument proficiency check some time in the ever-receding future, but due to some mild instrument issues it turned into a shorter club VFR refresher only. Still an enjoyable flight — in Arpad M's nice new-to-the-club DA-40 (above) — and at least I'm now legal to fly with the club again. I plan to fly a bit more in the next few weeks; we shall see….