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).

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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.

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(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...).

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