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.

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