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...).