Sunday, November 11, 2007

Long IFR XC: Done.

After a cold, ugly, rainy day yesterday that would've been perfect IFR weather, I awoke this morning to the most unwelcome sight of sunshine streaming in my bedroom window. What a terrible time to have a beautiful day! I hate the bay area. Just kidding. I woke up at about 8:00 and had a nice relaxing morning, getting ready to be at the club by 10:00. At 9:45, John called and said, "Are we going flying today?" I said, "Well, the weather looks good..." He said, "Yeah, I was wondering more about the student.." Turns out, we were scheduled at 9:00.

OK, so things didn't get off to a great start, but I finally got to the airport, and we reviewed my plan briefly and talked about how we expected to get routed. We were going to fly to Ukiah for the LOC 15 approach, followed by Sacramento Executive for the ILS 2 and then back to Palo Alto. Ukiah is north, which presents the problem of trying to get around San Francisco -- to John's knowledge, it's quite rare to get routed via the SFO VOR, so in filing, I chose a route that took me via Oakland and then cut back over to Santa Rosa on the way to Mendocino. I also filed for Ukiah to Sacramento, and for Sacramento to Palo Alto.

So we got to the plane, which John had already preflighted ("and did a 50-hour inspection while I waited," John joked), and taxied out. Runup was smooth, and the clearance we got was in fact SFO - V443 (I think; I'm going from memory) - ENI (Mendocino) - Direct. The first part of the flight went well, though we were a bit at odds with the controller in that there seemed to be much more wind than any of us were expecting, and she was confused that our heading of 310 seemed to result in a course of 270. I also had some trouble trying to intercept V443 (or whatever) because I'm less familiar with GPS units than I ought to be.

The rest of the flight up to Ukiah was quite smooth, if a bit slow due to what became a strong headwind. A true airspeed of 128 knots had our ground speed at 93 knots, at only 6000 feet! Good thing I wasn't flying a Piper Cub or something. Anyway, the flight was smooth; I'm sure it was beautiful too except I wouldn't know since I was wearing my foggles. Once I got into the approach, things started going south a bit. I made the mistake of flying outbound on the localizer course for only one minute, instead of the recommended two minutes (and totally screwed up the "reverse sensing" -- when flying outbound on a localizer, the indicator needle shows the inverse indication from what you'd expect), which meant that I wasn't prepared to be inbound by the time I was inbound. Plus, the GPS was being a complete mystery to me, and I needed it to get the required DME distances from the localizer. Basically I fell pretty far behind, and got flustered. All that considered, I flew the approach OK, until I was on the missed approach, and for some reason decided it was more important to contact ATC than to put in my course guidance. Stupid.

So, with John's help I made it onto the missed approach and back toward ENI VOR, and requested (John requested) an IFR clearance to SAC. We got the clearance, and as I tried to find the appropriate radial out of ENI, I stayed at 90 knots (85, actually) because I didn't want to go too far without course guidance. John of course questioned this, but at least I had a reason for it when he asked. He did suggest that I use the autopilot as I was clearly overloaded, and my response was that I thought the autopilot would add more work -- a clear indication that I need to be more familiar with autopilot ops as well.

The flight to Sacramento was not bad, except for a moment where all indications were that we were entering an extreme climb, and yet our altitude was constant -- John figured and later told me that it must have been an extreme downdraft off the nearby mountains, combined with the autopilot trying to hold altitude, so my action of adding power and disengaging the autopilot was pretty much correct. The approach at SAC went very well (John even complimented me on it later), except that in the circle-to-land, I circled-to and nearly landed-on the wrong runway. Not good. Just a lapse in attention, the kind of thing that I can't allow to happen.

So we landed on 30 in Sacramento, and taxied back and awaited our clearance back to PAO. When it came, I had some fun trying to copy it. SAC-R157 MOVDD ECA-R215 CEDES SJC Direct. Radials? That's new for me. But I copied it, found it on the charts, and flew it without incident. I was tired, and Palo Alto was a very welcome sight. By the time we taxied back and shut down, it was 4.2 hours of engine-on time. Definitely my longest single flight ever, and most of it under the hood!

So I'll do a couple of flights with John to get more comfortable with the GPS, then do my phase check with Ali, and then on to the FAA check ride. I need to study!

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