Thursday, April 10, 2008

Another great flight

Today's flight had all the initial indications of a complete failure. I didn't sleep well last night thanks to my messed up rotator cuff and a head heavy with the possible symptoms of the cold that I've been surrounded by for weeks. By the time I got to the lesson, I felt fine, but just a little light headed, and my stomach had been upset all day. When I arrived, John asks me, "What's the plan?" Now, it turns out I'd anticipated this and actually had something of a plan, but I was not quite in the mindset to completely take charge of the flight. I was not channeling my inner badass.

It was apparent as we started the engine, and I vacillated between wanting to take off IFR or VFR. I'd filed IFR, but it's always such a waste of time, so eventually I decided on VFR (there was an amusing moment when John didn't pick up on that fact and asked ground for our clearance).

We took off, I foggled myself and then the fun started. John had me enter an intersection hold -- I got it all figured out, and with 25 seconds before entering the hold...I realized I had it wrong!! So I quickly figured out the proper entry, turned left instead of right, and then should really have had it...but then turned right instead of left to intercept the course. Duh. OK, more practice on intersection holds.

Then came unusual attitude recovery. I'm generally very good at this, and today I was OK but not great. It's really very simple. Airspeed high/accelerating = power idle, wings level, pull up firmly but gently (aaahh). Airspeed low/decelerating = power full, nose down, wings level. That's it -- nothing to it. I was just being very slow, and came out of the experience feeling very disoriented, discombobulated, and like I was just going to fall apart, as used to happen so often. So John upped the difficulty level and rushed me: He called Stockton and asked for the VOR 29R approach, pilot nav from Manteca, which was only a few minutes away.

Paging Mr. Badass, Mr. Badass to line one! I quickly set up for the approach, including the briefing, and got everything all set to go about a minute before reaching Manteca VOR (ECA). I turned outbound, and was told by the controller that he'd call my turn inbound, and that the published missed approach/hold at ORANG was not an option, so we asked for a left turnout toward Livermore.

We were outbound for about 10 minutes. Thankfully I'd slowed to 90 knots and wasn't going the full 120 -- I feel silly even saying that; thankfully I was in a Skyhawk and not a Cirrus or an Eclipse jet or something. Anyway, eventually we turned back inbound, and I had to ask a question about altitude limits, despite the fact that the answer was right there on the approach plate. OK, stupid, but I got the next stepdown right, tracked the VOR inbound, passed over it, reported and tracked it back out...but forgot to start the time!! Again!! I was so upset. But no matter, the GPS was still working, I had my DME distances, so I got to the MAP and made the left turnout as planned. I told tower "missed approach" and they told me to contact approach control. So I did, and as I did so, I realized that I had to tell them what I wanted. What I really wanted was a holding pattern somewhere, but I decided just to go for the gusto and request the Livermore ILS 25R right then.

So again I had very little time to set up for the approach, but I did it, just went through the lists and got it done. I had the localizer tuned, identified and twisted long before it needed to be; I'd delayed getting the ATIS because of poor reception but even managed to get that done before I really needed it.

This approach was the best I've ever flown. There were gusty winds, so I had to do a lot of pitch/power compensation along the ILS to keep the glide slope centered. It was not hard. At the FAF, the marker beacon sounded, and John said, "What's that noise?" which usually means I've forgotten something, but I'd already started the time and checked my glide slope altitude, and we were flying VFR so I didn't have to report. I thought maybe John had again forgotten that we were not IFR, so I said, "If we were IFR, I'd have to report." He said, "Why?" I responded, "Final approach fix inbound in a non-radar environment." I think my ability to sound like a textbook while successfully flying an ILS shocked both of us.

Several great things from today: 1. I got to that falling apart point, recovered and had one pretty good and one fantastic approach. 2. Setting up for approaches is getting much easier. Lists, lists, lists. 3. I was able to focus on a day when I didn't feel great. Now I absolutely know I can do it when I feel any less crappy! An exciting day, and I'm psyched for the next flight (Saturday, solo!).

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