Sunday, March 23, 2008

Studying less, flying more

After a week in which we studied ILS components, runway markings and ATC clearances, and flew together twice with mixed results, I took it upon myself to go out and practice approaches by myself today. I think there's nothing more educational than this; there's no safety net other than the fact that I'm visual the whole way so it's a considerably less disorienting. But still, it's up to me to make it through the system, to say the right words to the right people, which I think is part of what is so difficult about all this. I have another lesson tomorrow; let's see if my effort today helps tomorrow.

Earlier in the week, we flew to Tracy and Byron again, and this time with better results (still not great, but better). And the last flight, on Friday, was to Salinas and Watsonville. It also went OK, and got better as the flight progressed, but going into Salinas I found myself very much behind. I was in a mindset that day of not really wanting to work...but of course IFR flying is a LOT of work, so that wasn't such a happy combination. It bugs me when my friends tell me to have fun when I tell them I'm going out for a flying lesson. It's not fun, it's work and I'm going to be exhausted at the end of it.

Anyway, today I went and did the GPS and ILS at Stockton, which I haven't done much of -- usually we do the more challenging VOR 29R approach there. Luckily I had a very friendly controller who put up with my foibles. All of my foibles were communication related, and none were all that bad, so I'd say it was a pretty good day.

I'm still learning how to brief approaches, but I think taking the approach of simply walking through the approach in order seems to be working the best.

Alright..I'm barely coherent so I better stop now. More soon...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Studying a lot, flying a little

Since my difficult phase check, we've mostly been concentrating on catching me up on ground knowledge. This has been the most difficult area to keep up with in my training; certainly it would have been preferable to learn all this stuff alongside my flight training, but life is busy! And I can't go back in time, so I'm learning it now.

After learning in great detail about how the main flight instruments work (pendulous vanes! calibrated leak! aneroid wafers!) I actually discovered that some of the chart knowledge that my phase check instructor had dinged me for being wrong on..I was actually right. There are differences between Jeppesen and FAA charts, and some of the criticism I received would have been relevant if I were using FAA charts, which I was not. But I wasn't confident on it, where I could say "No, you're full of it" and drag out the book to prove my point. Now I am.

I'm currently studying the structure and components of ILS approaches. Localizer antenna at the far end of the runway, glide slope alongside the approach end, 1000 +/- 250 feet from the threshold, outer marker, middle marker (3500 feet from the threshold at DH), inner marker (not used for Cat I ILS approaches, which are the only ones I'm acquainted with), approach lighting, threshold lighting, runway lighting. Service volumes and course widths as well -- reception is available at 10NM at a width of 35 degrees either side of center line, but 18NM within 10 degrees. Course width is 3 to 6 degrees, depending on the distance from the localizer antenna to the threshold -- the course should be 700' wide at the threshold. This is all from memory and probably helps me more than it helps you, but so be it, right?

Anyway...I actually did go flying with John yesterday. It went OK, but it turns out there's a few things I didn't know about reading approach plates, which showed up on an LPV approach at Byron. So I busted an intermediate altitude, which I think perplexed and upset John, and definitely upset me. Turns out when I'm upset and tired, I don't communicate well, and John reacts to this by assuming I've gotten stupid (which isn't that far from the truth, I guess, I'm certainly acting stupid in those moments).

Let me first say that John and I are friends, which I think makes it somewhat difficult for him to be the instructor when he has to be. I try not to take advantage of that, but it's hard because when I'm doing well, it's fun for both of us, and when I'm not, it's frustrating for both of us. Anyway, John felt so bad for my frustration on today's lesson that he comped it. A very nice gesture, and one that has the side effect of adding guilt to the list of motivating factors to make sure I'm prepared for our next flight!

So anyway, on the way back, John was expecting me to set up for the GPS 31 to Palo Alto (clouds had rolled in; we couldn't go in VFR), but I for some reason was unclear on the plan, but didn't say so...and John didn't understand why I was not setting up and responded by getting impatient with me, and I got impatient with him...anyway, we conducted the rest of the flight in silence, I did a good job refocusing and flying the GPS approach well.

Some things to come out of this lesson:
1. Instrument flying skills go away quickly. I hadn't flown since my phase check two weeks ago. My scan was crap. My ability to hold altitudes...crap. I could still think about and set up approaches, but I was nowhere near as far ahead as I have been in the past.
2. Pay attention to the numbers in bubbles on an approach plate. They matter. If I were flying that Byron approach by myself in low IMC I would've crashed into a power plant.
3. When I don't understand what's going on, even if I feel I should understand, I need to ask.
4. Keep it slow. I think I flustered myself by exceeding the pace at which I can do things without making mistakes.
5. Landings -- though John disagrees on 2 of the 3, I say I found myself high and slow on all three landings. Maybe I need to go out and do pattern work or something.

Hopefully next time will yield better results.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

One more step

I finally completed my Instrument Phase Check about 10 days ago, but it was not without its difficulties. I'm not at all happy with how the phase check went, and as a result, there will be considerable gap in time between then and my check ride as I get myself ready for it.

I was assigned an instructor, Ali, to conduct the phase check, who had been highly recommended to me by my PPL CFI Sergey as a potential instrument instructor, so I was excited to get his take on my flying. I did have to wait, though, as Ali showed up over an hour late to our appointment. He did call ahead to say he'd be late, but I did not anticipate an hour.

We started with the ground exam, where I knew I had many weak areas. Ali quickly found many of them and just started going over what topics I should concentrate on reviewing. This did nothing for my confidence, but on the other hand I knew it was going to go this way, so I didn't worry too much about it.

We then went for the practical section. He did not have me file anything; he told me that we'd take a VFR departure and then see what we could figure out. I had to press him pretty hard to give me some kind of a plan so I could at least have the appropriate plates out. We took off, and as it was not an actual IFR departure (meaning, copying the clearance and all that, though we did simulate it), I fell out of my rhythm a little bit and forgot to start the clock as I started rolling. He dinged me for that later.

We went out and he had me set up a hold at the TRACY intersection, which I did well. We requested the ILS 25R to Livermore, but things were really busy so we changed plans and did the GPS-A at Tracy instead. This went very well, and I got back into the hold at TRACY on the missed approach. Here he tried to rush me into setting up for Livermore, but I insisted on taking my time. We flew the ILS 25R and were told to circle to land 7R. Here's where I made my big error, which I'm really embarrassed by: I lined up for 7L. By the time I realized it, the tower was already on me (they were very nice about it considering what I'd done).

We got out of there and he had me set up for and fly the Hayward VOR-A, which I did OK except I didn't descend as quickly as I should have.

So the write-up basically says that I have to study ground material, and that I'm not as attentive as I should be. I think that's pretty accurate for the performance I gave that afternoon; I don't think it's true in general, but I also think that if I ace the ground section I'll have more energy to be more attentive during the flight portion.

Since then I've been studying ground information and having John ask me about it. So far we've studied the flight instruments; I know now things about turn coordinators that would make a nun blush. Next is weather and chart reading.