Friday, March 30, 2007

Bay Tours and Instrument Training

The last few weeks haven't seen much time for the skies, which is unfortunate given how absolutely beautiful the weather has been. Two weeks ago I started my instrument training with John Otte. We began work on the simulator and did some basic maneuvering and pattern following, and getting to understand the different "gaits" of an airplane. Basically, it seems that for a given airplane, there is a specific configuration that will yield a certain result. So, an approach descent will occur at a certain RPM and flap setting, reducing the need for guesswork. Pretty handy tool! We also worked on developing my "scan" of the instruments -- basically the idea is to be able to glance at all six instruments at the right time depending on what you're doing to evoke the right response from the airplane and find and correct any errors. It's much, much harder than it sounds.

It was a great first lesson; John is a very good instructor and has a great, relaxed manner about him that keeps me from getting too tense or too down on myself. I had another lesson with him last Friday, where I was too exhausted to do much of anything but we managed to get some good simulator time in anyway before I crashed it into the ground (that's a big advantage of a simulator!), and another one this morning where I felt like I made some major strides in keeping things under control. I actually felt kind of comfortable for a few moments while stabilized in a turn or in straight and level flight, which is a good feeling. We also did some partial panel out work (meaning, some of the instruments are not working), which was a big challenge -- especially holding altitude with no attitude indicator (the trim on the simulator does not work at all like that on a real airplane). So on Tuesday we will be heading into the skies for a flight in an actual airplane!

Speaking of actual airplanes, the last time I flew in one of those was about two weeks ago. On both Saturday and Sunday I went on a bay tour, with two different co-workers. I did the same route each time; the first time was more kind of random and guessworky. I actually very nearly missed my turn toward the west to return home, but saved it by deciding at the right moment to have the GPS locate Tracy Airport, and seeing that I was just flying past it. The second time involved an initial departure toward the coast only to see that it was totally cloudy, so I turned and transitioned back through PAO's airspace and on the same route as the day before, but tighter, since it was more familiar.

It's kind of funny to note my co-workers' responses when I get my pilot face on. Things are official, and important -- the passenger brief is important, and I think for a moment they're not sure if I'm kidding when I explain how the seat belt functions. Hey, it's in the regs! Then when I start talking on the radio I think there's a moment of "Hey, he actually knows what he's doing!" It's pretty fun for me to see that, for people who know me in one context to get to know me in a totally different context. On a day to day level, I'm not really that much of a "take-charge" type of guy, but in the pilot's seat, I'm in command -- it's one of the many things I really enjoy about flying. And there's probably a life lesson in there somewhere, about recognizing appropriate moments to take command of a situation.

Instrument training will resume next week, and I'm hoping to go flying this weekend in the sunshine!

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