Thursday, December 14, 2017

Instrument rated!

Guess who fell down on the job of blogging about flights?  You know, life is busy with two elementary-aged boys and their activities and the home and the dog and working 3/4-time and trying to train.  But I offer this as consolation:

Instrument rating check ride
December 12, 2017

The morning started at 5 am with another briefing of the weather for the day and updating the flight plan I had been assigned:  KBMQ to KHOU using an arrival.  It was a purely VFR day in all of Texas with the lowest freezing level at 12,000’, and the only detractor weather-wise was 30-kt winds at altitude and a Tango airmet for moderate turbulence below 8,000’.  I printed a few charts, printed the weight and balance for our flight (as well as my flight over there, just in case), and got everything organized.

My checkride started with a one-hour flight into the wind from the flight school at KAUS over to KMBQ.  The transition from surface to about 3000’ was pretty bumpy with pleasant smooth air on top.  My weather briefing had shown stronger and gusty winds during mid-day, so I was a touch anxious about trying to nail headings and altitudes on approaches while getting bounced around, but it was what it was and I would do my best.  I did the GPS 01 approach for giggles and landing at KBMQ was uneventful.

I’m a small person and parking the airplane is sometimes problematic for me.  I can push it easily, but I’m not heavy enough to depress the tail far enough to get the nose up and redirect the plane during pushback, so it’s a complicated back and forth and trying to press a rudder pedal to steer with one foot while pushing with the other on the ground.  Hilarious to bystanders, I’m sure.  After a few tries I went into the KBMQ blue FBO building, introduced myself to the DPE, and asked for help to get within reach of the tie-downs!  His first impression was probably either “this applicant can’t even park?” or “this applicant asks for help when needed.”

Inside, we made small talk for a few minutes while getting a cup of coffee and getting organized.  The DPE is a friendly guy and is easy to be around, and that was a blessing to my nerves.  He got his paperwork in order and I presented the required documents:  photo ID, pilot’s certificate, medical certificate, logbook, aircraft registration and airworthiness certificate, and maintenance logs.  Once it was proven and recorded that both the plane and I were airworthy, we got to the oral exam.

He started by emphasizing that the role of the examiner is to be a fair judge of knowledge and ability.  He sincerely wants applicants to do well.  The FAA is not looking for perfection, and he has discretion to let some mistakes and minor deficiencies slide so long as overall safety and competence are demonstrated.  Gaping knowledge holes would be a reason to disapprove (which means stop the exam, get more training, then come back and try again within 60 days).  During the practical flight, any intervention from the examiner for safety or timely response to ATC communications or instructions would be a reason to disapprove.  A discontinuance, on the other hand, is when applicant or examiner proactively decides to end the exam because of sickness or weather that causes discomfort or other justification.  

To begin the exam portion, he asked for the flight plan I had prepared for the hypothetical flight to KHOU and asked open-endedly about all of the preflighting and planning that went into it.  I talked about the time of year and the concerns of winter flying, checking different weather charts and products, drilling down into forecasts for departure, destination and fields along the way should we need them.  I talked about why I chose the BLUBELL3 arrival, the CWK ILEXY transition, 7000’ en route altitude (as well as mentioning the MEAs and OROCAs), what I might expect from ATC (like letting us skip CLL), what I would anticipate happening when we got to the Houston Class B airspace, which runway we’d expect to land on with which procedure (local winds, airplane equipment, fitting in with airlines and large traffic, etc).  Overall he seemed satisfied with the preparation.

Since I had mentioned turbluence and winds in the day’s forecast, he asked about how passengers would play into the flight and decisions.  We discussed being a good steward for aviation by involving passengers in the go/no-go decision, briefing them and checking on them during the flight, and also about managing distractions and changing plans in-flight with uncomfortable passengers.

Next we talked about how the flight would be different if instead of a beautiful VFR day we had solid IMC with low ceilings the whole way.  I talked about personal minimums and evaluating whether the flight could be made safely and whether delaying or rescheduling would be a good idea.  I talked about other weather products I would have at hand and knowing how to get to VFR if there was any reasonably nearby.  I talked about higher demands at the destination as well as the need for an alternate and what it would have to provide.  He asked a few regulatory questions about approaches and minimums for an alternate to check knowledge.

Next he introduced a comm failure into the hypothetical flight and asked me to evaluate.  ATC had cleared the flight as filed and we were just past ILEXY on the arrival in IMC, no VFR nearby, and we had already done all the trouble-shooting to ensure comms were truly down.  I squawked 7600 and talked through the process for selecting route and altitude in this case and what ATC would be expecting, and how our choices would either promote or compromise safety in the system.  In talking out loud and looking at options using ForeFlight, I got stuck at the transition from the last arrival waypoint to the airport, a distance of over 40 nm that would ordinarily be directed by vectors through Class B to an approach.  I was fumbling around with a plan to go direct to an IAF at an expected time as the process dictates but voicing my concerns about how all that other traffic was getting hosed by our situation and that it didn’t feel safe.  This was the point where he asked what you should do if the safety of a flight is in question.  That shifted my mindset to emergency decision-making, so I started backing up along the arrival to see where it might make sense to divert.  Given that we were at ILEXY, there were several nearby airports, and we conferred together that the best choice would be KCLL, which was just ahead and immediately adjacent to a point on the arrival AND has IAPs AND has services.

After that he asked me to pull up a few IAPs and asked some questions about them, to assess my ability to read and interpret the plates.  All fine.  We talked about proficiency v. currency and staying sharp.

The oral was actually over more quickly than I thought it would be!  It was about 2.5 hours from small talk to the end of the oral exam.  At that point, we took a bathroom break and then discussed plans for the flight portion of the test.  He explained what he’d be looking for and we talked about which approaches and maneuvers needed to be done.  He assigned three approaches (KILE VOR-A missed with hold, KILE GPS, KBMQ GPS) for me to brief, but after I stated the GPS in N652MA was non-WAAS he changed the plan to include a non-GPS precision approach, the closest of which was the ILS at KTPL.  The new plan was KTPL ILS missed with hold, KILE VOR-A, KBMQ GPS.  With no tower or GCO/RCO near Burnet, he asked me how I could pick up the clearance; I told him either in the air VFR or by calling flight service.

It was 11:30 by this point, so he grabbed a sandwich and I ate the lunch I had packed while planning, briefing and filing. As I briefed, I found that the TPL VOR was out of service as of 9am, which meant the missed couldn’t be done as published, and that an FDC NOTAM had gone up during the oral exam describing an alternate missed procedure.  I called Flight Service for a quick confirmation about the NOTAMs and asked about any other hazards or issues that might affect the flight; the guy was helpful and I don’t think it hurt that as I was talking to him on speakerphone, the DPE came back into the office and overheard that I was thoroughly doing my homework. The NOTAM’d hold put us quite close to an IAF for the GPS 33 at KTPL, so I took the plan to him of doing the KTPL ILS, missed with hold and then the KTPL GPS 33.  He liked that idea and said to plan and file for those, followed by cancelling IFR on the way back toward KBMQ to do unusual attitudes, and then he’d give mock ATC instructions for executing the KBMQ GPS 19 with circling to land 01.  Also he instructed that most of it would be under the foggles and that unless he told me to take off the foggles, to treat it as though we were still in IMC and make decisions appropriately.

The surface winds at KTPL were predicted to be 13G22, which is just beyond my personal limits, but they were aligned with the 15/33 runway and we weren’t actually planning to land so I just made a mental note to anticipate control challenges during the low approach and missed procedure.  I made a plan for which points to load in the flight plan and the GPS, when I’d need to switch to different nav sources, filed for 12:30, and preflighted.  There were a few minor delays, with his afternoon checkride applicant showing up really early and me needing to add oil (I had noted it was just at 6 in the cold at KAUS so brought a quart just in case; checking during this preflight showed 5.5).  After the runup, I configured all of the avionics and radios, and he liked that rather than plugging in our filed flight first thing, I configured for an immediate-return-to-field scenario should there be trouble on departure.

We were off by 12:40 and it was so so bumpy climbing up.  The DPE gave mock ATC instructions to get us headed the right direction while I was trimming and stabilizing, then I called Houston Center to get our clearance; done.  They eventually handed us to Gray approach who vectored us over to the ILS 15.  I tuned the localzier on nav1 and the ACT VORTAC (for the missed procedure) on nav1 and identified both.  The mag compass had been pretty unstable, varying 20 degrees at times in straight and level flight in smooth air.  Upon syncing the heading indicator for what seemed like the 20th time in 30 minutes, I told Gray we weren’t confident of the heading and asked if we needed to adjust; I was feeling a little flustered about the mag compass and fearing the ACS tolerance of +/- 10 degrees on heading!  Gray was not too picky and super helpful (probably used to the DPE’s constant flow of applicants doing these things!), and in the debriefing after the flight he said I demonstrated good use of ATC as a resource, with this being one example.  I tuned the AWOS, noted the winds, and made a comment about in the real situation we’d either use the ILS 15 to circle or the straight-in GPS 33 since the winds favored 33.

Someone else was doing the practice ILS also so he vectored us out for a pretty long approach.  The DPE asked me about my descent from our current altitude and how I planned to manage the descent.  I consulted the plate for glideslope intercept altitude and replied that ATC would be lowering us to intercept from beneath the glideslope, and then I stated the printed glideslope angle, noted that we’d have a tailwind, estimated our groundspeed, and flipped to the table in the dTPP (ForeFlight Documents FTW!) to select a descent rate of ~600 fpm and would use the movement of the glideslope needle to adjust as necessary.  Gray eventually turned us in, lowered us and cleared us for the approach.  He gave instructions for climb out and I confirmed that we would be doing the NOTAM’d alternate missed procedure.

Despite the bouncing and wind changes on descent along the glide path, I kept the localizer needle within one dot and did NOT go below glideslope, though I did go almost two dots above it at one point.  At DH he had not said to remove the foggles so I initiated the missed.  On climbing out, ATC asked if we were with him, and it dawned on me that he had never instructed us to change to advisory frequency at the airport, which is a busy airport given that it has two runways, five approaches and no tower, especially on a VFR day.  The DPE had said at the start that he would do all traffic spotting and clearing, but my stomach seized a little when I realized we hadn’t been listening to local traffic calls for VFR planes.  Once we were established in the climb and I had briefed the holding procedure and entry and made the plan for the following approach, I noted that we had not been instructed to change frequency and that you never change frequency without instruction.  He agreed that we were in a dangerous situation given that particular airport (and my heart sank because that sounded disapproval-worthy), but that in actual IMC we would have been the only plane in the airspace and the wise pilot would be monitoring the local frequency on comm2.  That was a light-bulb moment, and I admit that I had been so busy with the workload of aviating and navigating on approach, I didn’t have the mental cycles to consider that aspect of the communicating.

The NOTAM’d missed had a straight ahead climb to intercept the 181 radial from ACT and hold at CONRA/40 DME.  I forwarded in the flight plan in the GPS to go direct CONRA in OBS mode and nav 2 was already tuned to ACT (nav1 was on the ILS).  On the 181, ATC instructed to make left turns with 10 mile legs (what a relief!  That would build in time to comfortably brief the GPS 33 approach again without fiddling with the clock and figuring out 1-minute inbound!), EFC and time now, let him know if we wanted to start the approach before then.  When we reached CONRA, I made a standard-rate turn to the left, confirmed the GPS was giving DME to CONRA, already had the inbound radial dialed into OBS2, and set us up to track a reciprocal heading outbound.  Almost immediately upon leveling, he said to tell Gray whenever I was ready for the approach, no need to complete a circuit in the hold.  It took until about 9 DME to finish briefing and getting the GPS cycled to the next waypoint in the flight plan (FBURG, the IAF I had chosen for the approach), remembering to resume leg mode.  

I called Gray, he asked how I wanted to do the approach and intentions after (FBURG, low approach, back to KBMQ).  He asked if I wanted to get to FBURG by a right or left turn since I was headed the opposite direction on the outbound hold leg (a standard right-hand hold would have put us close to FBURG).  I responded that I preferred right (would give a little more time between events) but could do whichever worked best for his traffic management.  Right turns and vectors toward FBURG followed.  After a few minutes he came back and cleared us to cross something that sounded like it started with an R at 4000 and that we were cleared for the approach.  I asked for clarification, stating that we expected FBURG and could he spell the fix.  He said it was FBURG so I just looked a little silly, but after getting set up the DPE said he also heard something that started with R, so good that I had clarified.  After turning inbound on the final approach course, Gray approved the frequency change so I switched and announced positions; we were coordinating with another plane and a helicopter at this point.

On this approach, I made sure to get down early to the step-down altitudes and level off 100’ high, then use the remainder of the distance to the next fix to plan the next segment and descend the last 100’ close to the fix.  After eventually getting through the segments and down to the MDA, he stated that we were still solidly in IMC and would not be able to land.  I acknowledged and recited the missed approach instructions that we would be using after crossing the MAP at the runway threshold; I had the feeling that he was checking to see that I would in fact fly to the MAP before going missed.

After passing the threshold (judging by DME to the RW33 waypoint on the GPS) I initiated the climb over the runway, began the turn to the assigned heading of 240, announced to the Temple traffic what we were doing and switched back to Gray approach.  After a short time the controller handed me off to the western Gray controller (120.07), but being bounced around and trying to aviate and navigate again, I mis-dialed 127.70 into the radio. No response.  I switched back to the previous Gray frequency and asked for the frequency again.  This time I dialed in 127.07 and again got no response.  A quick glance at the GPS plate I had just executed showed the Gray control as 120.07 and I felt like an idiot.  Proof of workload dragging down the details.  Proper frequency dialed in, and this time got a response.  The DPE had instructed me to cancel IFR but stay with them for flight following back to KBMQ since we’d be doing unusual attitudes and needed the freedom, so that’s what I did and thanked the controller for his help.

At this point we had a bit of time before getting into the Burnet area, so he let me take the foggles off and just look around.  There was a fire burning to the northeast and based on the abrupt flat top to the smoke we talked about a temperature inversion, which is also associated with some of the lower turbulence I had been fighting.

Soon enough the foggles went back on and I closed my eyes with my head down while he took the airplane into an unusual attitude.  The first was an extreme climbing turn, and when I looked up the first thing I saw was airspeed dropping below 60 kts, so I put the throttle to the max and lowered the nose, then leveled out and started back to the original altitude and heading.  He took the controls again and this time it was an extreme diving turn.  I could hear the engine roaring and when I looked up instantly snapped my eyes to the airspeed, which was near the top of the yellow arc (!!!!), so I pulled out the throttle, leveled the wings and pulled up, which was fighting me and that’s when I realized the trim had been set way nose low so I spun that wheel.  My heart was definitely thumping after those two.

Next he gave me vectors to JIBAJ, the IAF we’d use for the circling GPS 19 approach back to KBMQ.  I briefed it, listened to the ASOS, and got the GPS set up.  I talked through the step downs and was set up on the approach course.  I don’t remember what we talked about, but some conversation distracted me briefly and when I resumed focus on the approach, I mistook where we were, thinking we had already passed DLORA (IF) when in fact we were not yet to it.  After DLORA the altitude goes from 3500 to 2600, so I started down and was repeating my next steps for the FAF ahead.  He let me descend a few hundred feet before asking me where we were (“hint, hint, you’re screwing up”), and immediately I looked at the GPS, realized we weren’t to DLORA yet, so put in full power and pitched up and said “My kids!”, flashing to a real-life consequence of going below altitude with my family in the plane.  We were back at 3500 in the blink of an eye, but he made a comment that it was a shame that the checkride had gone so well up until now.  I was convinced that as of that moment I had failed; the examiner had to intervene for safety of flight.  Regardless, I had to suck it up and complete the approach.  

The rest of the approach went as planned, down to circling altitude of 2000’, at which time he told me to take off the foggles.  There was 19 perfectly in front of us, and I announced that we’d shift right to enter a left downwind for 01.  I kept it in tight, knowing that for circling we had to maintain visual reference to the runway.  Abeam the numbers (19), he looked out his window and commented about how close that hill with towers was.  I glanced and acknowledged; I was more focused on compensating for the strong wind trying to blow us over the runway and planning for that with my circle-to-land.  At the far end we circled and were lined up well on the runway, but high.  We wouldn’t need all of the 5000’ runway, so I said I was going to bring us down and try but would go around if it didn’t feel right, which ended up being the case.  As I cleaned, crammed and climbed, he said to do a right pattern for 01 this time.  Then it dawned on me:  there’s an ODP for 01 about obstacles to the left of the departure end (the hill and towers) and 01 has right traffic.  Bad, bad, bad planning!  He instructed me to treat it like a circle-to-land and this one went better.  We still landed long, but it was one of my better landings and we were able to make the earlier turnout so at least it ended well.

After taxiing to the tie-down spot, he was very brief in saying to do whatever shutdown I needed to do and meet him inside.  As soon as the passenger door closed, I withered.  It was a really good checkride until the last five minutes when I had two big mistakes!  I was positive I had earned a disapproval and was dreading the debrief.

Inside, we talked.  He applauded the interactions with ATC, the planning and the abilities in the aircraft.  We went over a few points and finally got to the last approach.  Regarding the loss of situational awareness, he was not going to withhold approval since I did not descend not below the MDA, I aggressively corrected the error, and it was a good learning experience.  Regarding the poor choice of circling paths, he was not going to withhold approval since I kept in so tight to the runway and stuck to the MDA; it was safe but also a good learning experience that the circling plan should maximize the safety margin by utilizing airport and obstacle information.  He reiterated that at this point the FAA is not expecting perfection, and that overall I demonstrated good aviating and decision-making skills that would make me a safe pilot in IMC.

And with that, I became an instrument-rated pilot!  It was a happy flight home to KAUS.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Learning from failures, learning from mistakes

Another canceled flight.  This time ultimately because of my oversight.  Here's what happened and what I learned.

I was up at 5 this morning to get going and get to the airport by 6:45 for the 7 am flight lesson in 2MA with Mark.

PIC failure #1: I didn't inspect the "reservation change" email alerting that the lesson had been changed to 4AF.  When I scheduled, I hadn't been able to add Mark to the reservation in the system and so he added himself; when I saw the subject in my mail app on my phone, I assumed the change email was about him adding himself to the flight and never opened it.

I got the keys from the desk for 2MA and signed it out.  On the ramp, it was 24 degrees and there was a 10kt wind down the runway.  It was cold, but no clouds or humidity to warrant canceling.  There had been patches of ice on the sidewalk and ice on the plants out front.  The plane was frost-free.  

I did a very cold but thorough preflight.  Right off the bat some residue on the ground below the left brake caught my attention, but it didn't look fresh and visual inspection of the brake system didn't reveal any drips or breaks or accumulation.  There was a bit of old-looking grime on the rim of a plate below the brake, but the right side had the same grime (and no spots on the pavement).  I finished the preflight (did I mention how cold it was?) and when Mark arrived I asked him about the brake, and his assessment was similar to mine.  So we continued inside and filled in the Hobbs log.

PIC failure #2:  The entry above mine, the only one for yesterday, was struck through.  I did notice the note "No fly" on the line, but did not read the note scribbled off to the side.  Every note on the side I've seen has been about adding adding oil, and while it's inexcusable to not take the two seconds to read the note, I had checked the oil already and it was good to go.  This note will be important later in our story.  

Cold, right?  Prime a little extra, clear prop, crank attempt #1 fails.  Prime a little more, crank attempt #2 fails.  Open the throttle a little more, crank attempt #3 fails.  Consult the POH for any other cold-weather startup tips.  No big deal, just run-of-the-mill cold-weather engine challenges.  After resting the starter for a few minutes, another crank got it going.  It was a rough start, but it caught and took and despite my pressure on the brakes, we were moving slowly and drifting right!  At this time, there were enough obvious clues to warrant a brake check, which Mark did while I was getting my Halo headset on, and there was no action coming from the left brake.  Puzzle complete.

Shutdown, push back.  Wrap up the Hobbs log.  Ohhhhhhh...  That note from the crossed-out flight said the left brake was leaking and they were canceling their flight because of it.  Damn.  I looked at the brake again, just for giggles.  This big red drip of brake fluid (on the bolt at the right) was not there during preflight; we must have squeezed it out in holding and testing the brakes.  I looked at the right side again, too, and it wasn't quite as grimy, but still grimy.

Lessons from this lesson:
- Read the flight-school reservation emails.  All of them.  I've canceled flights before because of being switched to a plane I didn't like.  I should know this.  But I made an assumption about the content of the change email based on what I was expecting, and that assumption made an a.... made a something out of me this morning.
- Pay attention to the log.  What's stupidly funny about this is that I was questioning whether the previous (executed) flight had written down the Hobbs/tach correctly, and I spent extra time inspecting that entry, totally skipping over the canceled flight that would have saved a ton of time and effort.  (Turns out both measures had x924.y in their readings, and I was in the wrong column so it looked like the previous flight was off by .4 or so; easy mistake, caught and corrected upon inspection.)  Why oh why didn't I read that note?  I had even thought in my head about yesterday's weather, and figured they had likely canceled because of the strong and gusty winds, not considering any malfunction.
- Aside from those pre-preflight oversights, preflighting did its job: I found an unknown (to me) and unexpected condition that would prove to impact the safety of the flight, so we paid attention and eventually canceled for safety.  Fly another day.

There is one thing that irks me, though.  The keys to a disabled plane were at the desk for checkout.  Had the keys not been there, I would immediately have checked my reservation to verify the tail number I should be asking for.  That would have short-circuited the frigid waste of time and we would have gotten to do the lesson (provided 2AF checked out)!  More than that inconvenience, however, is liability.  We cranked up with a bad brake that straight away showed it was unsafe.  What if we hadn't been able to brake and had rolled right into the next row of planes?  What if we had enough control that we didn't abort the flight, but upon landing had critical brake failure?  I assume that the flight school's insurance would be dreadfully unhappy about the situation.  As PIC, the responsibility would ultimately have been mine, but I'm a student and obviously the communication process is not foolproof for ensuring a faulty plane was not flown; removing the keys would have guaranteed the plane was not flown.

Friday, December 09, 2016

Jepp I/C 5: maneuvers full/partial panel, compass and timed turns, plus ILS 35R

We had a very cold but pleasant start to the morning, with 34 degrees and a 12kt crosswind.  I proved pretty much right off the bat that 3.5 weeks between flights is enough time to build up some dust.  Notably, I failed to drain the nose sumps and didn't catch that my seatbelt was unbuckled until pre-takeoff check!  Good gravies!  Checklist checklist checklist!

17R/35L was closed today, so all the planes were on 35R.  We followed a Southwest jet and a Gulfstream down the taxiway, with a reminder from Mark to use proper crosswind inputs while taxiing -- dive away from a wind from behind, up and into a wind from ahead.  I did our runup, and we were cleared to depart.  It was a very brief time before being handed over to departure, and she almost immediately gave us the freedom of own navigation.  That's when the foggles went on...

Level at 3000' we began maneuvers.  Constant rate descents and ascents, using the VSI as primary for pitch and aiming for 500 fpm (and accounting for the +100 error on the needle) and any speed we wanted (so ASI was primary for power, keep it in the green).  Those are fine, just need more practice to get the right pitch/power settings more directly.

Turns by mag compass.  Mark failed the vacuum system, which takes out the attitude indicator and the DG.  This is why the mag compass is required equipment on all planes.  :)  It's really just fine as long as you remember COSUN -- compass overshoots south, undershoots north.  So when turning right to a heading of 180, you actually turn roughly to indicated 210 because of compass error; once you roll out, it swivels back.  Roughly speaking, it's a 30-degree overshoot for a desired heading of 180; 20 degrees for headings of 150 and 210; 10 degrees for headings of 120 and 240; and right on target for due east and west.   It's the same gradients for turning to the north except it's an undershoot situation; if you want a right turn to a heading of 360, you turn roughly to  330, and when you roll out it keeps swiveling a bit.  This varies by latitude and those numbers actually apply for 40N; we're at 30N so the error is a tad less.  But those easy-to-remember rules get you pretty close and then the minor correction needed to capture the desired heading is easy.

That's how the mag compass behaves in a turn.  The other thing to know about compass error is how it behaves during straight-and-level flight, meaning holding heading and altitude.  Unaccelerated, it's solid!  Accelerated, ANDS -- accelerate north, decelerate south.  When holding altitude and heading, adding throttle to accelerate will induce a temporary indication of a turn toward the north; pulling back on the throttle induces a temporary indication of a turn to the south.  NBD.

Next was timed turns, which I hadn't done before.  The idea here is that a standard rate turn, easily achievable using the turn coordinator (provided you don't have electrical failure), which means at the proscribed bank you'll complete a full 360-degree turn in two minutes.  That's 3 degrees per second.  If you need to turn 60 degrees, roll into the turn and time for 20 seconds.  When making smaller turns, say less than 15 degrees, you use a half-standard rate turn (1.5 degrees per second); a 15-degree turn would take 10 seconds.  That's all well and good, just requires a little mental nimbleness.  I also had two areas to improve that will help make the timing method result in rollout closer to desired heading:  roll in faster and keep the ball centered.  The first turn was the worst, and I was about 15 degrees short of my target because of lolligagging into the turn and not using enough rudder.  Subsequent timed turns were better.

All of the turns were fine, but I need to keep my scan going a little faster.  I wavered on my altitude, but kept it usually within 100'.  I find I have a tendency to climb during turns and need to work on that.

We did combinations of these maneuvers on partial panel.  It's fine, just needs practice!  

Recovery from unusual attitudes on partial panel was fine, too.  For this exercise, you look down, optionally with eyes closed, the idea being to become completely detached from the state of the plane while the instructor puts it into any type of configuration.  Then you look up, take the controls, and recover.  If the plane is descending, first you level the wings, then stop the descent, then return to assigned heading and altitude.  If the plane is climbing, first you level the nose (don't want to be near a stall), then level the wings and return to the desired state.

Lastly we decided to request the ILS back into KAUS.  We were still 33 nm out, so had lots of time to brief the approach and get set up.  We loaded the I-HCE localizer into NAV1, but were to far to ident.  We also loaded it into the GPS (whose database expired two days ago and so would not be legal for RNAV approaches but can still be used for DME, which this ILS has on the plate).  Next, Mark dialed in the final approach course of 353 on the NAV1 CDI, briefed the missed (DA ~700', climb to 1000', climbing right turn to 1500', head to CENTEX VOR), They vectored us to intercept and cleared us somehow....  my memory is fuzzy here.  My brain was definitely saturated and I was feeling the workload, and that was with Mark doing com and nav!  Maintaining proficiency will be so important.  

Anyway, we intercepted and had to chase the radial a little to get on it, but once established I'd say it went fairly well.  It wasn't close to the standard I'm aiming for, but it's early in the process and will get better.  That relatively straight blue line on the left is the approach.  The closer we got, and the squirrelier the needles got, the more I was getting anxious about the transition to visual and about configuring for landing.  They had asked us to keep up our speed since half the runways were closed and little ol' student flight with two souls might be holding up commercial flights with a hundred souls.  I was getting concerned about slowing for flaps and all that, and at one point put out the first notch without first checking the airspeed, which was still over 120, so I pulled them right back in.

Eventually that notch of flaps did get used, and we were quite fast over the numbers.  There was a touch of crosswind, and it was nice and steady, so for the first time ever I felt competent and successful in maintaining runway alignment, pretty close to centerline even!  We floated and flared forever.  Seriously, forever.  And when I let us down, it was too early and we were still too high and worse we were still too fast, so Mark asked for the controls and got us right back up into ground effect for more forever.  I'm going to have to look at the track log and see just was our speed was over the runway.

But that was it!  Other than that bounce, it was a very good flight!  I felt cautiously competent, understood what we were doing, executed pretty well (practice will fine-tune it), learned some things and solidified some other knowledge and feelings for flight.

We did not do full-panel steep turns, slow flight or stalls this time out since we got off to kind of a late start.  Next time we'll have to get those in, and it's on to Jepp I/C 6: partial-panel steep turns, slow flight and stalls with review of everything else we've done so far (mainly from today's flight).  After that, we're pretty much done with the aviating-by-instrument part and will start incorporating navigation, beginning with using VORs and talking about NDBs (since the flight school fleet doesn't have ADFs).

California flying, last flight

Le sigh.  I made these notes and have kept myself so busy I never got back to write it all up!  Now I've forgotten a lot of the details, but I do remember how interesting the approach into Salinas was!  You basically fly past the airport into a valley, pick up a DME arc that swings you around to the ILS, and when you intercept you had better be turning because there's a mountain straight ahead!

self-serve fuel

link to post about traffic on final

clearance, "if not off by ..."
mountainside fire
bad 107 tracking, questioned by ATC
DME arc into Salinas
Leader radial to intercept
Great needle alignment at first, then more squirrely as we got closer
Tower for approach
Low approach, cancel IFR with tower, then VFR back to KSQL
Through the saddle
Over Apple headquarters, saw Moffett(?) field, NASA and Google ops
relatively straight-in for final, slow down to give 1st-to-land cirrus space
bumpy final and ok landing

Sunday, November 13, 2016

IFR Operations: Two-way radio communications failure.

That's AIM 6-4-1 (which quotes FAR 91.185 and adds).  As I was mulling over the consequences and procedures for electrical failure, I wondered how I would get the airplane back on the ground at KAUS, which is a Class C airspace that requires two-way communications.  

If the conditions are VFR, you maintain VFR and land as soon as is practicable.  This allows the pilot discretion beyond "as soon as possible" to select a suitable airport or continue to the intended destination if it's close.  The idea in general, though, is that if ATC can't contact you and/or you can't respond, you're the jerk screwing up the airspace for everyone else.

To land VFR at a non-towered field is a simple matter of good judgment.  Fly over the field to assess winds and traffic, then fit yourself into the traffic safely and land.

If, however, the conditions are IFR, it's a little more complicated.  Assume it's all clouds.  What do you do?  First let's think about just radio failure, not full-on electrical failure (so you still have your transponder, which it says to set to Mode A/3 squawking 7600; does Mode A/3 broadcast altitude?).  The AIM section says:

  • Route
    • route assigned in last clearance
    • if being vectored, go direct to the next fix/route/airway in the clearance
    • route ATC said to expect
    • route filed in flight plan
  • Altitude - highest for current route segment
    • altitude assigned in last clearance
    • minimum altitude for IFR operations
    • altitude ATC said to expect
The ideas here are to be predictable to ATC.  There is likely to be confusion when you don't acknowledge or heed instructions (note to self: this is one reason it's so important for me to respond right away even if I have to ask to repeat), but if you move along in a predictable fashion, they can plan around you.  Again, if you get to VFR conditions, land.

What if the failure happens before your approach but it makes sense to try the approach?  First, this seems pretty risky to me since you have no way of knowing whether the airspace is clear.  Second, however, you've been acting very predictably so perhaps you can go for it.  The AIM instructs to start the descent/approach as near as possible to the expect further clearance time (if received) or the expected arrival time, keeping you predictable.

Assuming it's just a comm radio problem, consider using the nav radio to contact FSS on a VOR that can receive.  AIM 6.4.2 talks briefly about having them relay situation reports and clearances.

FSS gives in-flight weather, too.  Imagine being in IMC with no radios, headed straight into some nasty weather?  (And the Stratus/SXAR1 ran out of battery. Or the iPad died.)  Egad, man.

Suppose we were to lose comm while still inside KAUS airspace.  I believe we would have to maintain the last clearance (which generally is sending us out of the Class C) and stay out.  There are procedures for rocking wings and flashing lights to communicate with Class D towers, and they use a light gun where certain colors/patterns mean different things (solid green means cleared to land, flashing red means unsafe airport, etc).  If we were outside the airspace, we couldn't come back in:  Class C airspace requires two-way communications and Mode C transponder.  (I would think losing transponder in their airspace but maintaining communications could be dealt with to allow us to land.)

So, that's when radios fail when flying IFR in IMC or VMC, but ATC can still see you on the radar.  What about full electrical failure?  No comm and no transponder, so ATC doesn't know you exist, although hopefully they're concerned that you disappeared.  I'm getting sweaty palms just thinking about it.

I'll take a guess before I look it up.  If it's VMC, land.  If it's IMC, get to VMC safely ASAP.  So where is VMC, and how do I get there safely?  Having briefed the route, we should have a good idea of what the weather systems are like along the route (and ForeFlight + external device(s) is indispensable in a situation like this).  Turn back?  Proceed with a deviation?  Could descending to an MEA (or even a MOCA?) or climbing to an altitude (VFR, I assume) appropriate for our heading get us to VFR?  Do any of these options have a high likelihood of success with a low chance of compromising separation?  Do we pick areas away from airways or routes between waypoints (harder with GPS waypoints all over the place)?

In IMC, this is all risky business; who knows who else is out there!  Intermission now for dinner...

Saturday, November 12, 2016

California flying, day 2

(I started this post Tuesday evening and have been busy working, flying and mothering so it hasn't been finished until now!  Perhaps tomorrow I'll get to the afternoon flight...)  

We got started bright and early today but again had no actual IFR to play in.  The missions for the day went ahead as planned anyway.  I filed KSQL OSI SAPID SANTY for the LOC RWY 2 approach into KWVI (Watsonville).

Upon startup, the display for COM1 was blank except for a flickering vertical line separating the com from nav frequencies.  Hello, N24AF, anyone?  :)  Brightness controls altered the glow around the knobs but didn't change the critical display.  Combined with yesterday's flakiness on the #1 CDI (fed by NAV1), we were suspicious but had other troubleshooting ideas as well.  Jason thought it was potentially a sunlight-on-sensors issue (it's auto-dimming), and the sun was lighting us up from the back in the parking area.  By the time we taxied most of the way to the run-up area (into the sun), the display was behaving properly.  There was still some wariness about the CDI, but we were willing to give it another chance today to see how it went.  (Spoiler: it was not as flaky, but never agreed with #2 CDI, which was still solid.  Was within the 4-degree tolerance, but, you know, you'd like to have complete confidence in the instrument.)

CIGARS.  Lights, camera, action.  Pre-takeoff briefing (verify runway, last check of wind, takeoff abort conditions, emergency procedures before and after rotation).  We talked on each flight about how we should be starting a timer when cleared to depart and checking in after that 5 minutes if the expected higher altitude hasn't been cleared.  In the bay area, in particular, there are plenty of nearby MEAs above 5000', so in actual IMC it would be pretty important to follow up with ATC.  We forgot on every flight to set a timer, and Jason related how even when he starts a timer, there's enough going on as the flight starts that it's usually way later when he notices how far past 5 minutes the timer has gone.  Countdown timers with audible or haptic alerts would be best for reminders like this.  Had I not forgotten my Apple watch charger, the watch-based ForeFlight timers may have been able to fulfill this role.  I think I'll try to incorporate starting the timer as part of the pre-takeoff briefing as we roll onto the runway, so at least step 1 has a deterministic trigger point.


We followed the departure clearance and were soon vectored southeast then cut loose to resume own navigation.  I was quite busy aviating and navigating and didn't get ahead of the plane by the time we were at Woodside VOR ~6nm away, so I wasn't ready with my 5Ts.  My living autopilot took over in the right seat while I went into executive mode, assessing and directing the current phase and planning the next phase (verify SAPID with GPS waypoint and SJC radial).  Here's an example of what the 5Ts look like for SAPID from OSI:

Turn: none
Time: none
Twist: none (already twisted #2 CDI for SJC R-210, verify)
Throttle: none
Talk: none

With that 30 seconds of planning, I had caught up with the plane and was now six minutes ahead!  That was really pretty sweet.  I had lots of opportunities to do configuration change flow/checks (mag/DG sync, flight instruments, engine instruments, breakers/switches, throttle/mixture, fuel controls; checklist).  By getting ahead, more time is available for the management of the current phase of flight and being prepared.  An autopilot is a magnificent tool for facilitating this.

Next was SANTY (6+ minutes ahead once we passed SAPID).  SANTY is an IAF for the LOC RWY 2 into KWVI, so the workload would start increasing there.  Here's what SANTY's 5Ts look like; you can see that there's more to work on:

Turn:  left to track the SNS R-293
Time:  none
Twist:  #2 CDI for identifying SNS R-293; #1 CDI for the I-AYN localizer; these courses intersect at NALLS, the IF for turning outbound for the procedure turn and also the FAF inbound.
Throttle: none
Talk: none

Before getting to SANTY it was also time to start the 5As:
ATIS: tuned and received.
Altimeter:  Make note of it from ATIS, but don't enter into the altimeter until cleared for the approach.
Approach briefing:  this is the attention-consuming part.  Pull up the plate (or paper), check that it's the right approach at the right airport.  Read everything on the top, out loud is best.  If it's appropriate to load any frequencies at this time, go ahead and do so (see the 5Ts above).  Read restrictions.  Memorize the first part of the missed approach (climbing right turn to 5000).  Orient on the plan view, visualize how you'll fly it and how the instruments will guide you.  Check the profile view for altitude changes and where.  Get the BOTTOM LINE:  How low?  How far?  What's next?  700', at the MDA or 4:12 from NALLS, climbing right turn to 5000'.  That last bit is the missed approach trigger.  If you get down to the minimum descent altitude of 700' or go 4:12 (at 90 kts for the 172) past the FAF and can't see the runway or aren't oriented to use normal maneuvers to land, execute the missed approach by making a climbing right turn to 5000' (after which time you'll head southeast to the SNS VOR for a hold, but first is just to get up and clear of the mountainside).  The FAA has cleared the area and guarantees obstacle and terrain clearance if you follow the instructions, so plan to do it.
Avionics: This all ties together, right?  Redundancy built in, lots of chances to double-check yourself and catch any tuning errors.  Gather the avionics items from the approach plate, either tune it now or note it for the 5Ts for the upcoming trigger.
Airplane:  Flow/checks.  Descent checklists.  DG sync.  GUMPS.

With the LOC RWY 2 approach, you turn outbound at NALLS and perform a procedure turn within ten miles of NALLS.  90 kts is 1.5 nm per minute, so flying outbound for two minutes, a 45-degree right turn for one minute, and a left standard-rate turn is well within the 10 nm requirement.  This was done, and then it was a matter of tracking the localizer inbound, maintaining airspeed, and reducing altitude at the appropriate times.  2200' at NALLS, the FAF, 6.3 nm from the runway threshold, down to 700'.

I forgot to start a timer.  In practical terms, the GPS was also telling me where the runway threshold was, but it's sloppy to not utilize the correct methods for a non-precision approach.  And here's why the timer is important:  Imagine you're in actual IMC and pass NALLS.  You can safely descend to the MDA of 700'.  At some point, however, 700' is no longer safe and you need to execute a missed approach if you can't see the airport environment.  You can only identify that point by some kind of nav (GPS fix, a cross-radial from a VOR, etc) or by time since the FAF.  Being forward-acting pilots, our 5Ts and 5As have ensured that we're situated to identify that point, but what if....  What if the GPS RAIM check fails?  What if the VOR turns out to be unusable below 1000'?  There are enough reasons to have that timer going.

We executed the missed approach just before the airport and noted that they were using 20 for landing this calm day.  Climbing right turn to 5000' and heading to SNS VOR.  Once established in the climb (with flow/checks complete), a quick consult of the plate filled in the details for the rest of the missed approach procedure.  Sometime in there we had also switched to CTAF for WVI, so needed to communicate with NorCal approach again for holding instructions at SNS.  We would be using the published hold, so the controller just told us when to expect further clearance, the current time, and to advise if we wanted to leave the hold earlier (since we were on a training flight in VMC).

I looked at the plate for inbound holding course, mentally mapped it on the DG, and made my best guess for how we'd enter the pattern -- direct, parallel, or teardrop.  Then I used the thumb tool as a redundant check and found that my guess was wrong!  (Psst, the system works.)  It was obvious that the 5Ts would be happening frequently and in quick succession in the hold, so I started working it out.  The goal is to have the inbound leg be 1 minute long, so depending on winds, the outbound leg and turns may be longer/shorter and abnormally shaped.  Note to self: review the airspace extents; my recollection is 4 nm on the inbound (non-holding?) side, 8 nm on the outbound (holding?) side.

The first outbound leg was one minute, and the resulting inbound leg was well over 2 minutes!  The T for time would need adjusting on the next outbound leg.  Just when does that outbound leg start, anyway?  The holding fix is at the end of the inbound leg, then there's a standard rate turn, at the end of which you should be on the reciprocal course.  The outbound timer starts when you are abeam the fix; in this case, when the CDI flipped from "to" to "from."

The second outbound leg was only 25 seconds, and the turn to the inbound leg was finished before intercepting the radial.  In this case, the inbound time starts when wings are level or when the course is intercepted, whichever comes first.  Wings level, start the timer.  The inbound course is the resting time.  I was flying the hold, using the heading-only autopilot as much as possible, and trying to figure out when I'd have time to brief the RNAV approach back into KWVI.  The outbound legs were getting shorter, and the inbound leg was shortened by going through the 5Ts each time -- necessary to be prepared.

The third outbound leg was more like 15 seconds, and resulted in an inbound leg of close to one minute.  I started getting through the approach briefing, and by the time we were on the fourth circuit and the controller asked if we wanted to wait, I was prepared to ask for a clearance to the RNAV (GPS) RWY 2 approach back into KWVI.  This is what that set of holds looked like, though it felt like we were doing some kind of spirograph design.  The pattern was getting tighter as I shortened the outbound leg to standardize the inbound leg.

We exited the hold on a heading of 260, IIRC, being vectored to the IAF waypoint RISPE.  While enroute, more flow/checks and 5Ts to get ready for the approach.  As we headed out over the Pacific Ocean, it was clear that we would be north of RISPE and got a DTK from the GPS to take us there.  The controller noticed the change and asked us what we were doing.  My memory here is fuzzy, but I believe we had been cleared for the approach.  If not, surely at least Jason and I would have had a conversation about remaining on the vector even if it was off-course v. pinging the controller.  He did not object, however, when we told him we were correcting course to go to RISPE.  Perhaps because he knew we were training and had already proven to be a nice controller :)

These approaches are pretty simple.  They'd be even simpler if this aircraft had a WAAS-enabled GPS, which would provide vertical guidance as well as horizontal and allow use of a glidepath down to lower (LPV) minimums.  Without WAAS, however, we'd be managing our own altitude in accordance with the LNAV row.  NBD (LOL, unnecessary acronym -- no big deal), we'd fly it just like the localizer, but recognize waypoints and distances with the GPS instead.

The LPV DA is 458'.  This means that as you're descending on the glidepath, when that path intersects an altitude of 458', that's the MAP.  At that point, you're 288' above the touch down zone elevation (TDZE).  This DA happens short of the runway, allowing time to see the airport environment and runway lighting and use normal visual maneuvers to complete the descent.

The LOC MDA is 700' and the LNAV MDA is 740'.  But where?  It seems reasonable that the LOC MDA is closer to the runway threshold since it's lower, but.....  The only things I know for sure are that (1) the LOC approach specifies 4:12 after crossing NALLS as a (somewhat) definitive marker for when to execute the missed; we'll forego the imprecision for now; and (2) the LNAV has no time, but the rule is that the MAP is the last named waypoint; in this case, RW02, the threshold of runway 02.  At RW02, however, you still have 588' to descend!  Note this MAP explanation for future reference.

The other little complication to this approach was that Jason wasn't confident the non-WAAS GPS would properly manage the linear scaling.  When using the LNAV portion, the linear scaling can be 5 miles when enroute (beyond 30 nm), 1 mile in the terminal area (30 nm to the FAF), and 0.3 miles on approach (from FAF to runway).  This is to increase the course deviation sensitivity, ensuring your best chance at alignment with the runway in the clouds as you approach the airport.  Ideally, the GPS is smart enough to do it for you when you cross 30nm and the FAF, but Jason didn't trust it so he manually switched it.  People fail checkrides for that little detail, and it is an important detail.

As we neared the runway, we opted to convert to more of a circling approach since 20 was in use and it was almost lunchtime.  On final for 02, we turned right to offset from the runway and enter a downwind for 20.  Landing, taxi, and time for lunch and a debrief!  (BTW, the restaurant at Watsonville is a tasty Italian place, highly recommend.  :) )

That final "final" check

As we sat in the run-up area before departing Watsonville (KWVI), I called NorCal on the radio to get the IFR clearance over to KSNS for the ILS approach.  KWVI is a non-towered field, meaning no one controls the airspace and that pilots use the common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF) to announce positions and intentions.  We're all working together in that environment.  It's crowd-sourced tower ops.

It's all great, with one caveat:  no radio is required in this airspace.  So that means that not every plane and pilot may be participating.  This makes it ├╝ber-important to use those VFR traffic scanning skills and be responsible for your own safety and separation.

This was brought into very clear focus after we received the clearance, checked for traffic, announced our intentions and rolled across the ILS threshold believing everything was safe and that we had the right-of-way.  Luckily the run-up area has an odd shape, and as I glanced up the final approach before entering the runway, sure enough, there was a little Cub descending to land!  Brakes!  We stopped short of the runway threshold and watched him land.  He was probably cursing us; I hope he would have been able to perform a go-around had we taken the runway.

Let's look for explanations.

First and most obvious, is that by a stroke of (un)luck, when we visually checked the pattern for traffic, that plane must have been behind the high right wing of our Cessna.  We couldn't see him.

Second, we verified that we were talking and listening on the appropriate CTAF, not still accidentally tuned to NorCal or another frequency by mistake.  Confirmed.  If the other pilot was radio-equipped, he was not talking on this frequency.  He was wearing the unmistakeable mint-green David Clarks, so he at least was equipped for comm, whether his plane was or not.

Jason relayed a conversation that he had had with an "old timer" who always incorporated a 360-degree turn at the end of his run-up before taking the runway.  It seemed like overkill, but such an operation would have revealed the other traffic that surprised us.

Thankfully it was not even a near accident.  Just a learning experience.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Homework: Ammeter discharge, ALT FLD breaker out

From the 172R POH, Section 3: Emergency Procedures, Electrical Power Supply System Malfunctions:

NOTE The low voltage annunciator (VOLTS) may come on and ammeter discharge indications may occur during low RPM conditions with an electrical load on the system, such as during a low RPM taxi. Under these conditions, the annuciator will go off at higher RPM. 

If the overvoltage sensor should shut down the alternator and trip the alternator circuit breaker (ALT FLD), or if the alternator output is low, a discharge rate will be shown on the ammeter followed by illumination of the low voltage annunciator (VOLTS). Since this may be a "nuisance" trip out, an attempt should be made to reactivate the alternator system. To reactivate, set the avionics master switch to the OFF position, check that the alternator circuit breaker (ALT FLD) is in, then set both sides of the master switch to the OFF position and then to the ON position. If the problem no longer exists, normal alternator charging will resume and the low voltage annunciator (VOLTS) will go off. The avionics master switch may then be returned to the ON position. If the annunciator illuminates again, a malfunction is confirmed. In this event, the flight should be terminated and/or the current drain on the battery minimized because the battery can supply the electrical system for only a limited period of time. Battery power must be conserved for later operation of the wing flaps and, if the emergency occurs at night, for possible use of the landing lights during landing.

During our Thursday morning flight, the low voltage annunciator did not illuminate, although the entire annunciator inset flashed once before the ammeter started reading low.  The discharge was not present just before takeoff, and takeoff and climb were performed at full throttle.  I don't think the "NOTE" applies.

The ammeter was showing a discharge.  The ALT FLD breaker was tripped.  No failures or abnormalities were observed on any instruments or avionics using electrical power.  I did not think to check the voltage on the voltage/OAT/timer instrument.

The mentions of discharging ammeter and tripped ALT FLD breaker in the POH all indicate that the Low Voltage annunciator should be on, flashing at first, then solid on until the problem is resolved, but it wasn't.  The annunciator came on during preflight test, so the annunciator itself is capable of lighting.  

How I wish I had had the POH on my iPad!  A quick search would have brought me to the above section and proper procedure for dealing with what in all likelihood is a "nuisance" trip out.  The proper procedure is basically to shut it all down and start from scratch:

1. Kill the avionics (the big power users).

2. Reset the breaker.

3. Kill both battery and alternator with the master switches.  
---At this point, the circuits are open and electricity is not being delivered.  

4. Turn the master (both sides) back on to connect battery and alternator.
--- Incrementally bring things back to life.  Check for neither charge nor discharge and verify no annunciators and the breaker is in.  At this point, what is receiving power?  The turn coordinator, the voltage/OAT/timer, panel lighting according to knob setting, beacon/strobe/etc as per the switches, flaps when actuated, fuel pump when activated, and that's all I can think of.

5. Turn on the avionics master.
--- It could be a good idea to start with some of the items off.  For Class C flying at KAUS, transponder and radio are required.  If being conservative, I might turn off the GPS and COM/NAV2 and leave the autopilot off.  (Note to self: investigate how to get back to KAUS without radio or transponder.  An IFR clearance gets you your cleared route even in the event of lost comms.  At this point in my training, I'd land at Smithville or Lockhart and call home for advice!)

This forum has some interesting information about the circuits (as well as a lot of hot air and attitude, sorry).  And discussion of whether resetting a breaker in flight is a good idea.  Resetting it repeatedly is obviously ill-advised, but the POH itself indicates this particular issue can be a nuisance rather than an emergency.

- Be more thoughtful before rationalizing an abnormal indication.
- Have the POH in searchable form!!!!!
- Continue the flow/checks that identified the abnormal indication so promptly.

As for the fog in the turn coordinator, there are a number of reports of this in forums across the web and the recommendations are (1) do nothing, it'll be fine when the humidity goes down, or (2) moisture in an electrical instrument is not good, so repair or replace.  It's not my plane, so I have to make a determination of whether I feel comfortable as PIC to continue using it.  For now I think I will continue to fly 2MA, but will keep an eye on it.

Crosswinds, foggled unusual attitudes and stalls, mild in-flight failure

Yesterday morning Mark and I had an early flight.  In the interest of getting caught up with the posts and sleep a bit (I still need to write up the last of the California flying), I'm going to keep this one a little shorter.

My preflight was more efficient.  I think I'm getting more fluid and less hypersensitive to every little ding these "well used" old trainer planes have.  :)

Getting set up inside was fine, comfortable.  Clearance was fine, and luckily the controller monitoring ground was also handling clearance (oops).  VFR clearance is easy; tower just cares about keeping you safe and separated while getting you out of their airspace.

We were departing 35R, which was a first for me.  Every single other flight has been from 17L.  No big deal, especially with ForeFlight and a georeferenced airport diagram.  We taxied down alpha to mike for CIGARS and the run-up.  At this time, everything was normal, and that's an important note.

There was a slight crosswind from the right, so while taxiing and during takeoff I was using some aileron and rudder correction.  I don't have a great feel for it yet, so we ended up drifting into the wind and not maintaining alignment over the runway.  We weren't off by much and it was corrected quickly enough, and not long after they had us turning eastward (into the wind) to head over to 84R (Smithville).

We cruised along for a few minutes, and upon leveling at 3000' I ran the flow/check.  Mag/DG, engine instruments, flight instruments, breakers/switches, throttle, mixture, fuel.  But at engine instruments I noted the ammeter discharging.  Mark asked me if that was okay, and I STUPIDLY rationalized it with some hurried thought about sure it's discharging, it's supporting a big electrical load.  He didn't say anything at the moment, so I went about my business.  Moments later I did another flow check and found the ALT FLD breaker popped.

Hmm.  Ammeter discharging and an alternator breaker tripped.  I handed the controls over to Mark so I could look it up.  The checklist didn't have any troubleshooting tips for an abnormal electrical situation (just electrical fire).  Next I wanted to look through the POH -- still not sure why the searchable POH wasn't in my documents in ForeFlight -- but flipping pages in the paper POH was taking too long and requiring too much inattention to the airplane.  What if I had been flying alone?  What would a good pilot do?  Should I reduce the load?  Was the fog in the (electric) turn coordinator related?  Would it be safe to land?  What all would be affected?

So my homework (another post) is to research what conditions cause these two symptoms and what is an appropriate way to deal with it.  For that time, Mark had me reset the breaker and keep an eye on it.  Short story, no more symptoms.

We got to Smithville and had a more difficult than expected time at finding the runway.  Thank you, again, ForeFlight, for the situational awareness.  We basically entered the pattern on an extended base, watched to be clear of the water towers and power lines, and went in for my first crosswind landing in ten years.

After practicing the exercise at KHAF with Jason on Monday where we lined up on one side of the runway and cross-controlled to drift across the runway while keeping the nose aligned, it was fresh in my mind of *what* to do.  Doing it well will obviously take more practice.  I think I did ok as far as staying near the middle of the runway, but at touchdown I had a bit of a crab in so there was side-loading and a sensation of skidding to the left as the airplane straightened out.  I kept right aileron in into the wind as we rolled out to the taxiway, but I still had this incredibly unsettling feeling that we were tipping to the left.  Mark assured me we were fully on the ground, but (I think?) he said I could use more aileron correction.

Discussion, recheck of checklists and materials concerning the electrical situation, then back to it. The windsock was showing winds inconsistent in both direction and strength, and my heart sank a little.  I had been excited to get solid crosswind practice, but this was going to require way more change of inputs in response to constantly changing winds, which all in all is a good thing to be able to do but I'm already weak on crosswinds and wanted something nice and stable to work on! We kept our eyes and ears open while back-taxiing down the runway to depart.  After takeoff, I started a turn off to the right to make the pattern and do it again, when Mark asked where I was going.  Oh, dagnabit!  Left traffic!  Thank goodness we were alone in that airspace.  Left turn.  Self-briefing failure.

The wind variability was very noticeable on final.  Constant control changes.  I landed well left of center and didn't straighten out as quickly as I should have, but still got back to center, lifted the flaps and throttled up for a touch-and-go.  C'est la vie.

On the way back to KAUS, Mark gave me some unusual attitudes and I did power-on and power-off stalls under the foggles.  These were fine.  It takes a fair bit of effort to get to the stall point, and that's not where I like to be so Mark had to keep telling me to pull back, pull back, pull back.  Lol.  I just hope that in reality I stay on top of my pitch and airspeed well enough to only have these recoveries in practice.  Part of the unusual attitude bit was interesting.  While hand-flying, he had me look completely down at my lap, as though reading or checking the map or something, all the while trying to maintain altitude and heading.  After a minute, he asked how I thought I was doing (I felt like I had probably climbed but stayed relatively straight) and then told me to recover.  I was banking left and (I think?) descending at a very slow rate.  Ha!  Point made that you can't trust your sensations.

Getting back into KAUS was fine, although with the haze it was very hard to find until we were fairly close.  The KLN89B (in-panel GPS) and ForeFlight were helpful.  Another landing with variable light winds, not well done and hard with the stall horn squealing (on landing that's ok, but I was a foot or two high).  Live and learn.

Oh, my other homework is to go over takeoff emergency checklists.  Mark was unimpressed with my pre-takeoff briefing about emergency procedures should we need to abort or if we experienced a failure before or after rotation.

Except for &$*%# still saying "for 2MA" in response to some ATC comms, my radio work was ok.  Improving.  More room to improve.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Learning is hard work, part 2!

Oh my word.  I'm sitting in the hotel at 7:17 pm trying to scrape together the energy to continue sitting in this chair, typing.  

After lunch, we departed VFR from 30, this time turning left to go toward Half Moon Bay, being wary to stay clear of the SFO Class B surface ring.  Climb over the mountains.

Another enlightening exercise on our way to the coast was to use a dry-erase marker and mark the horizon on the side of the windshield, with an X for a reference point.  The point here was that the sight picture doesn't have to be over the nose, and for me I frequently can't see over the nose, and for all of us there are times when our pitch doesn't allow it, so having a good idea of what to expect from a diagonal view is useful, too.  After flying a bit straight-and-level using just that reference, we changed it up with some slow flight using that reference.  I hate the stall horn.  Or rather, I hate the precipice the stall horn is warning about.  Does anyone like it?  Does anyone like hanging out in a near stall?  (For those of you that don't know, this is what it sounds like.)  Changing sight picture, but you zero in on it and maintain.  Then we pressed the exercise one step further by attempting to maintain altitude and heading using just that reference while going full-power to recover.  If the X stays in the same place, the rudder pressure is correct.

 Hello down there!

Jason did a steep turn so I could snap a few pictures of the coast, then we headed to Half Moon Bay for some landings and to play with slips since I have 80+ hours and only three crosswind landings (all on my solo!).  First approach was straight-in and was way high so we just did a go around (right traffic).  The number and order of patterns is a little vague to me right now, but he demonstrated the crosswind technique as well as options during a power-off landing to change the geometry of the approach and use a forward slip if necessary.  At the key point in the pattern, turning base, in the 172, he likes to be at 20 degrees of flaps and 75 kts, which allows time and space to make choices, like turning in early when you're low or making a late turn to final if too high.  

Half Moon Bay airport is just across that half-moon-shaped bay.

We did not have a crosswind, but practiced the required cross-control by lining up on one side of the runway during a low approach and using aileron to cross the runway while using rudder to keep the nose aligned down the runway.  Jason demonstrated.  Back and forth, weaving across the runway.  This is a small move, smaller than what I was doing when I tried it on the next approach.  I understand it, I know why you use the controls you use, but I don't like it.  (Thanks, solo.) We did it a few more times and I felt like I was kinda starting to feel it. but really need practice.

Next it was DME arcs!  I need to blog this in detail when I'm better rested, but let's just say that I was finally nailing it by the time we finished.  The constant tweaking of the OBS, the checking of distance on the GPS, the heading coordination, the altitude monitoring, the heading changes to move to an arc of a different distance.  It's a high workload operation.  With no wind.  At the end of the exercise, still arcing, Jason had me descend 1000' and use my checklist.  Boom, fell apart.  That was too much workload.  I did not do the checklist and descended through the altitude (but stayed on the arc).

We pretty much came back after that.  I think.  I'm getting fuzzy brained.  :)

Learning is hard work!

4.9 hours over two flights today, and I am both enthused and exhausted!  It was a pretty amazing day, crammed full of good information and good experiences.  If only I could have 100% retention!

This morning we filed KSQL SJC V334 SUNOL V195 ECA to Stockton, planning to do the ILS 29R approach into Stockton.  After taxi and run-up and everything, we waited for probably at least 20 minutes for release because KSQL was the alternate for someone who was approaching KPAO (7nm SE) and probably going missed there.  Didn't happen, but we sat around burning fuel and had time to talk about things like the option to depart VFR and pick up clearance in the air.  

This is a good segway to mention a couple things.  First, using a taxi diagram to, um, you know, taxi.  Jason says this is a bullet point that examiners are looking for, so get in the habit of doing it all the time, even at the familiar airports.  (Pro-tip:  ForeFlight makes this easy with aeronautical charts, georef'd diagrams and plates-on-map.  Just sayin'.)  Second, in addition to the walkaround, preflight, another walkaround (gives a chance to catch any mistakes done during preflighting like missing a tie-down or forgetting to tighten a fuel cap), startup checks, taxi checks, CIGARS and run-up, do a pre-takeoff briefing that includes verifying the runway you're at is the one you're intending to depart, checking the windsock, establishing abort criteria, and reviewing the pre- and post-rotation failure procedures.  The pre-takeoff briefing was done during this time.

In our chats on the ground yesterday, we talked about standard operating procedures becoming a ritual.  There are so many things that we ritualize and it helps us to do things the same way every time and usually for a good reason.  Things like get in the car, fasten seatbelt, crank the engine.  Shower routine.  Getting ready for school routine.  Routines are successful (when followed), and considering it a ritual takes it one step farther.  SOPs for commercial operators have been established and revised in response to multitudes of occurrences that identify weaknesses in the process, and they become safety rituals.  Do it from memory, back it up with a quick run through the checklist for missed items.  And avoid complacency or lack of attention; match up each item on the read-aloud checklist to a specific action you just took.

Ok, back in the run-up area we finally were cleared for takeoff runway 30.  And by the way, this is what the clearance looked like and I did it all by myself! :)  Basically the clearance was along the lines of "Cleared to Stockton airport, after takeoff maintain runway heading until the diamond-shaped waterway, turn right to heading 120 within 2nm of the airport, radar vectors to sierra juliet charlie, victor 334 to SUNOL, victor 195 to Manteca, direct.  Maintain VFR at or below 1100 until the Oakland 165 radial, then climb and maintain 2100, expect 5000 in 5 minutes.  Contact NorCal departure on 135.65, squawk 4503."  Other than saying "runway vectors" in my readback before correcting to radar vectors (and trying to quell my desire to giggle at my own goofiness for saying that), I was pleased.  It's certainly the most complicated thing I've dealt with.  But also credit to Steve at FlightChops and Jason for having shown this clearance in videos -- I may have briefed it before coming to CA... 

Normal takeoff.  Airspeed was alive and over the 70% rotation speed (38kts) well before halfway, and we were up and off.  We had barely crossed the OAK R-165 (which marks the threshold of 30) when they vectored us to the east.  We got to pass through just a bit of wispy clouds before being VFR-on-top crossing the bay.  ATC wanted to vector us straight to KSCK, but since this was a training flight, Jason pushed back and asked if we could go to SJC and fly the airways as filed.  The somewhat grumpy controller gave us a big fat negative and set us toward Stockton.  Soon we changed frequencies and asked the new controller for the airways, and he vectored us toward V334 short of SUNOL.  We got there and turned onto the airway and got our wrists slapped by the controller who deliberately was sending us PAST it and had not cleared us ONTO the airway.  Ok, fine, that was a learning experience, too.  But given the hassle and the lack of IMC in the area, we just canceled IFR and went about our business on the airways as we wanted.  :)  

About that time, we were at the SUNOL intersection so we dialed the 229 radial of the ECA VOR/DME into NAV1 (after identifying) and the OBS and started flying V195.  Well, trying to, anyway.  It was pretty bad.  At the beginning, I thought it was just wind and started bracketing to find the right amount of wind correction.  But it just wasn't working.  The CDI needle would be centered, then would suddenly swing way to one side (usually left) and fluctuate.  We tried all the way to ECA, while also trying to utilize the cruise flow (mag to DG sync, flight instruments, engine instruments, breakers and switches, throttle and mixture, fuel flow controls; back up with checklist readout) periodically, plan for the next action point (5Ts and 5As), and brief the ILS 29R approach.  We had largely given up on the approach briefing as we got to ECA and were still working just on tracking and being suspicious of the CDI, so rather than turn northwest toward the airport (ILS was tuned and waiting), we continued on to work ahead to have time to brief and compare the NAV2 behavior against NAV1; while the NAV2 CDI did have little fluctuations, it was way more stable than the primary so Jason just turned off the primary radio.  It got way better after that.  The proof is in the track:

Starting from the lower left at San Carlos (just below the big label for San Mateo), we flew east, did a little circle when picking up V334 and then getting off of it and then canceling IFR, then did all the wavy tracking to the northeast, first on the lower leg and then on the upper leg to the right.  Coming back from east to west was nav by GPS and NAV2.  The lesson there is that if you're in actual IMC and it's that hard to stay on track, simplify what's going on to give as much attention as possible to get quickly to a reliable state of equipment.

Another lesson:  We had a goal of finishing the approach briefing before ECA, which would have been great since at ECA we should have been turning to start the approach.  Bottom-line items like DA/MDA at what point and the first few steps of the missed approach procedure, but big-picture items like the plan and profile, and detail items like frequencies and published restrictions or adjustments to the standard procedure.  Full briefing didn't happen, and we talked again about creating time to accomplish things and get/stay ahead:  slow down.  Seriously, slow the plane down.  Create time before the next action point.  Groundspeed deviations on an IFR flight plan require reporting when the change is 10 kts or 5%, whichever comes first.

On the way back to ECA, we did a few hold and hold entry visualizations using the heading indicator.  Then at ECA I did my first hold!  Entry has lots of room for improvement, but once established in the hold it was good.  So as long as all of my holds are in no-wind conditions, I'm good to go.  There was even time on the 1-minute legs to do the cruise flow/checklist and plan the 5Ts for the next action point.

On the way back, I had some foggle time to do constant airspeed AND vertical speed climbs and descents, which were ok and with practice I'll be able to nail the power/pitch balance more quickly.  Once established, VSI is the primary instrument for pitch and the airspeed indicator is the primary instrument for power.  I think we may have briefly done a DME arc somewhere in there, but I totally remember my brain slowing down and not feeling on top of things, so we stopped that exercise and ate some snacks (slow brain is a sign of low blood sugar for me for sure).

At various times during the flight, too, Jason covered some instruments for partial-panel work.  One illustrative exercise was to establish straight and level flight, then cover the altimeter and VSI and try to hold altitude.  This was to bring awareness to how very very small the changes in the attitude indicator's sight picture are.  It took less than two seconds to become hypersensitive to that.

I took a minute to snap a few pictures of the beautiful area, too.  The hilly bits would be a nightmare for a forced landing, but pretty to look at.  :)  

And here we are, ready for lunch but feeling like it was a productive flight.

Somewhere in there we failed the DG and flew by the mag compass, which is super screwy but with diligent study and experience would be fine.  There's ANDS (accelerate north, decelerate south) that explains what the compass does on east-west heading when ac/decelerating.  And there's COSUN (compass overshoots south, undershoots north) that explains that on a turn to the south the compass will lead your actual heading by up to 30 degrees and on a turn to the north it will lag by up to 30 degrees.  Oh, and the numbers turn the opposite way from the DG, so there's that complication.  (Increasing or decreasing is what matters...)

Back to KSQL for right base to 30.  Final was so very much like final for 31 at KJGG -- over some swamp-like water with its own monster.  But landing was fine, taxi was fine, and then it was lunchtime!