Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Hey....I CAN Do This!

In my last post, I detailed how I took the easy way out, choosing to go back to Stockton instead of challenging myself with the Concord (CCR) VOR 19R approach. Well, last Friday, we went ahead and did Concord, and, all in all, it went okay -- I certainly reached my overload points, especially when arriving over the Concord VOR, where I must turn to the final approach course, start the time, twist the outbound course from the VOR, descend to the stepdown altitude, and report to the tower. That's all 5 T's: Turn, Time, Throttle, Twist, Talk. It got overwhelming, but John was able to snap me out of it by just prompting me: Turn. Time. Then I was on it. Again, on the missed approach, similar problem -- turning climb, twist the VOR, throttle full, and report -- twice (once to the tower, once to the approach controller).

We then set up and did the LDA 19R approach -- LDA is a localizer that is offset from the runway, or "Localizer Darn Angle" as the King DVD puts it, and as John reminded me. Localizers are easier than VOR or even GPS approaches -- you know there can never be a turn once you're tracking the localizer. That went OK as well; we did a touch and go at Concord and flew home VFR.

I felt alright about that flight; I got overloaded, I fell behind the airplane, John picked up the slack and did almost all the radio work. But it was a new experience, so it didn't bother me -- it was fun, actually.

Today was a different story. We did exactly the same two approaches, but I flew the procedure turn for the VOR 19R beautifully, all by myself, and didn't need a prompt until I was past the VOR as the final approach fix, and needed to turn more aggressively toward the final approach course. Other than that, I flew it pretty much perfectly; John picked up the radio on the missed approach, but I flew it, and did not get overloaded.

We then got vectors to the LDA 19R. I could feel myself getting kind of tired, but I just made myself concentrate. I almost missed the fact that I was supposed to intercept the localizer all on my own, but I picked it up. I chose the wrong altitude to descend to from the approach chart, but I figured out why -- the altitude I chose was for the procedure turn, that we didn't do since we were vectored. Here, John made a suggestion: There are certain things you can do a little before you get to a fix, and certain things that can wait till a little bit after. Reporting when crossing the approach fix does not have to be done directly over the fix, when you're starting your time and turning and twisting a new course; it can be done early. Turning to the new course can and should also be done a little early, since otherwise you'll overfly the new course and increase your workload trying to reintercept it. So, for the VOR 19R, I could have reported and started my turn 0.3 miles or so from the VOR, start time when crossing, twist the new course just afterwards, and throttle back once established. There's a flow to it that I'm starting to get.

On the way back to Palo Alto, John covered up my heading indicator and my attitude indicator, and I flew it partial panel. It was actually not very hard! I'm sure it'd be a lot more stressful in actual clouds, all by myself, but for what it was, it was not bad.

It just felt good to feel like if I'd been by myself in actual instrument conditions, I would not have killed myself; I would have in fact done quite well.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Another great flight

I will freely admit, I chose to take the easy way out today, and because of a weird miscommunication between us and air traffic control, it got even easier. My goal was to get some practice doing procedure turns, which for some reason stress me out. Procedure turns are part of an instrument approach to an airport, and generally provide a route to get yourself pointed in the direction of the airport and runway, assuming that you've come at it from a random side. They're not hard, I just need some practice.

So I had the option of going to Concord, but John had warned me that the approach there was a little challenging. So I chose instead to go to Stockton and Hayward, and to do the procedure turn into the ILS 29R at Stockton. As it turned out, there was some sort of NOTAM for some craziness (shooting? stunt flying? who knows) to the southwest, and since we didn't have the NOTAM information, we ended up requesting vectors to final. It was fine, though; I flew the ILS like a champ, executed the missed and the hold at ORANG intersection very skillfully, set up for HWD, and got it all done pretty quickly.

One interesting thing was that we took off from PAO on 13, but it wasn't terribly different -- just a left turn to 060 instead of a right.

At the end of the lesson, John handed me the phase check packet -- I'm getting close!

Friday, July 20, 2007


I think something finally clicked, where I've realized that it's just not that complicated to fly approaches. There's a lot of process, yes, and getting the process right requires a lot of attention, but it's not difficult really. My last two lessons have been really good. I've been very far ahead of the airplane, experienced very little self-doubt (maybe even not enough!) and have I think found the right level of analness, basically.

Last Tuesday, John and I went out to Stockton and flew the GPS 29R approach, followed by the ILS 25R at Livermore. The GPS approach went very well, but about 500 feet above decision altitude we were instructed to discontinue the approach and fly the missed approach. John was annoyed enough with this that he asked for a reason. The answer? One word: "Traffic." Seemed pretty suspect from my POV, but whatever; in any case I flew to the missed approach point. Here there was a bit of a misunderstanding on my part; as I approached ORANG intersection to hold, NorCal asked me what I'd like to do next (Livermore ILS 25R) and told me to expect a clearance at a certain time. So I dutifully went into the holding pattern, set up my approach, and waited for a clearance. And waited. And continued waiting, before John eventually asked me what I was waiting for -- this is when we discovered my error. I had not, in fact, asked for a clearance, so I wasn't going to get one. The earlier communication was so that the controllers would know what to expect in the event of a radio failure.

So I asked for a clearance, got it (actually, IIRC I got only part of it but John got the rest) and flew to Livermore. The ILS approach went pretty well, and I did a nice touch and go before flying back to Palo Alto, skirting a diminishing cloud deck at 2500'.

Today was even better. While my ILS performance on Tuesday was OK, it was not great, and John figured we should do some serious ILS work, so today we flew the Stockton ILS 29R, published missed, hold at ORANG and then back to Livermore for the ILS 25R. Things went very smoothly intercepting the localizer at Stockton, and I flew the ILS very nicely. We got to our DA of 232' and flew the missed approach, which went well (John had to prompt me to not overfly the course I was heading for); in fact, I was set up for Livermore before even completing one full holding pattern. This was in large part because I am now so familiar with that hold that I don't even have to look down at it any more, but also because I'd stopped over thinking the avionics setup. It's an ILS approach; I may very well not need my second navigation radio tuned to anything, especially since the outer marker was an NDB (which I can use my GPS to identify).

So I flew the ILS at Livermore very well, much better than Tuesday, and we executed a missed approach. My initial thought was that John was testing me, knowing that I'd spent less time studying the missed approach procedure, but in fact he was just expediting (I know how to land) and getting us out of there, so we got the left turnout and flew back to Palo Alto.

John was very complimentary, and the one thing I need to do is that when I finally get down time, to double check my avionics setup. Twice it happened that something was not quite right (I really think that the #1 navigation radio has a glitch, because twice, the same frequency ended up in both the primary and backup frequency boxes, and I know I didn't do that), and double checking would've caught the error.

So, I'm encouraged. There isn't anything I feel like I can't do, even now getting clearances in the air is a little easier. Next Tuesday..onward and upward!

A track of the flight is here:

Saturday, July 14, 2007

On Track, I Guess

I had another lesson yesterday, back with John but this time we went out to Stockton (VOR 29R) and Livermore (ILS 25R). It went..OK. I'm getting the distinct impression that I'm just expecting too much of myself. John's style is to sit back and watch, and jump in if necessary; however, that sometimes makes it hard for me to ask questions because I feel like if he's not saying anything, then I should know the answer. So...

I flew to Stockton and did the approach pretty much fine, except that I'm still not sure what was happening between the VOR and the GPS and which one I ended up using on the approach. On the missed approach, I was not particularly timely with my twisting of the course to the holding point, and John had to remind me. In the hold, I got confused with how to identify which side of the holding intersection I was on. I had trouble setting up for the Livermore approach, and did it very slowly. Once I finally asked for a clearance, I had trouble copying it and understanding what the heck it meant.

Taking it to Livermore, I flew the ILS poorly, which really pissed me off because that's something I KNOW I can do well. I was having all kinds of trouble setting a constant descent rate. I'd blame the plane, but it's the same plane I used last week to fly the ILS at Oakland pretty much perfectly. So, that's not it.

I was very discouraged after the flight..not discouraged in a "I want to quit" sort of way, more in a "Why can't I do this when I know I can do this?" sort of way. Afterwards, John informed me that I'm pretty much where I should be with this, average to slightly above average performance, which I was delighted to hear, since it's my expectation that I do everything perfectly.

I'll keep trying, keep plugging away. On the positive side, I have much more book knowledge than I possessed last week thanks to a lot of reading and studying. Maybe one day that'll help me.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Another Week, Another Lesson

I'd been unable to schedule John's time for this week, so I decided to take the opportunity to have a lesson with Sergey, my original CFI with whom I got my PPL. I'm realizing even more now how my lessons with John could be better: For one thing, Sergey has a way of keeping the lessons from getting boring -- he realizes that by flying the same profile over and over, I'm just going to get bored and inattentive, and not really learn anything. We went to Oakland and Hayward, the Hayward approach being a pretty bizarre one involving a circle to land even on the runway that looks like it should be a straight in: This is because the approach is so high. The minimum altitude at the FAF is 2600', and the MDA is 800'. The MAP, which is part way down the runway, is only 3 minutes away, so while getting to 800' is perfectly reasonable (600fpm descent) getting to 0' to land, along with the time to make a decision and all that, is not. So you have to circle.

Landing at Oakland was fun; we did a touch and go and took off to the right, where I got a great view of the Oakland Coliseum. I still want to fly to a ballgame one of these days, and just skip the traffic altogether, but I don't think the AirBART shuttles go to the general aviation area.

Anyway, the point is, it was fun because we went and did something new, and yet I was practicing all the same skills. It's a lot better than just going to Salinas and Watsonville over and over again. In addition, Sergey was very clear about what steps remain for the checkride: Partial panel flying, unusual attitude recovery, long cross country, and an autopilot coupled approach. It's amazing how efficient Sergey is. He also spent an hour grilling me on my book knowledge -- or, more accurately, chastising me on my lack thereof. I need to study; I knew that, but now I know WHAT to study. It's what an instructor should do. It's scary how good he is at it.

Now, I'm not trying to take anything away from John. Part of it is a tradeoff -- what John may lack in focus, Sergey might lack in completeness. John wants me to know everything, and I agree, I should know everything, but it's a matter of prioritization, which Sergey provides very clearly. Part of it is that Sergey discourages me from overthinking, whereas John's approach kind of leads me into overthinking -- perhaps we're too similar. So these are things I'll need to look out for: I need to (a) study, (b) drive my own training forward, and (c) stop thinking so much.

After a lesson with Sergey, I feel not only like I can do it, but like I'm good at it, or at least, I will be good at it. I'd like to feel that way much more often.