Sunday, June 26, 2011

Approaches

Any time I go on vacation for more than a couple of weeks without renting a car, I wonder if I'll still remember how to drive when I get home. Like I'm going to forget 21 years of driving experience after not driving for 15 days! Well, so far it's never been a problem; I get in the car to a sort of funny novelty of a "hey, this is familiar" feeling, start it up, put it in gear, and by this time I'm so completely running on muscle memory that I'm fully absorbed in whatever I'm listening to on the radio, which is usually the A's losing. Apparently, driving a car is like riding a bike, or, depending on traffic conditions, like falling off a log.

Yesterday I flew a few instrument approaches (VFR, with an instructor and JeppShades) after not having flown a single one in nearly a year (and, after not having flown much at all in the last 4 months). We took off on a right Dumbarton from PAO, and headed for the Land of Practice Approaches: Stockton. SCK is a great practice ground. They have an ILS, a GPS and a VOR with a couple of gotchas, and there are no major airports or mountains nearby, so we planned for the GPS 29R, the VOR 29R and the ILS 29R, in that order. At 3500 above Sunol Golf Course we called Norcal Approach and asked for flight following to SCK. By the time we changed controllers, we'd picked up ATIS and had the first approach request ready for SCK GPS 29R. I'm making this all sound very easy, but I found talking on the radio to be difficult, and I've picked up a bad habit of micromanaging via the trim wheel, so there were a couple of challenges here.

As we got close, things got busy. As we got close (and already on an assigned heading, vectors to final), I started with the checklists. First: 5 A's. ATIS (done), Altimeter (done), Avionics (frequencies set, loaded approach, activated the final approach leg), Approach briefing and Airspeed. I haven't done enough approaches to really have a set approach briefing, but I tend to review the waypoints and associated altitudes, and the missed approach procedure, along with any notes ("Notes That Kill," my CFII had called them). In retrospect, I should specifically review how I will identify the missed approach point - this is an area where the G1000 can make you lazy.

So I reviewed the approach, and decided when I would slow to approach speed (next vector assignment). We still had several minutes before being anywhere near the final approach course, thanks to the slowness of the 172. At this point, my CFI Mark said, "So there's something you could do here."

"Add ECA as a waypoint after the approach?" I asked, as I did it.
"Well, yes, but something else."
"Prelanding checklist!" I declared, and I started going through it.
"Yes, but that's not what I'm thinking of."
"Put my shades on?" I asked, realizing I still could see out the window!
"Uh, yes!" Mark said, laughing, "But something else."

What he had in mind was to zoom in the PFD for situational awareness, but it goes to show that even with all the lists, there are so many layers of preparation for an approach that are dependent on experience, fluidity and efficiency, and good decision making ability. I had checked off the "Avionics" item on my mental checklist, but there was a deeper level that I got to later.

So I flew the GPS 29R and the assigned missed approach. Mark had to prompt me as I passed one of the step-downs, so clearly I wasn't paying attention to the right thing. And when I tried to enter the hold at ECA, I did the calculation of what type of entry I'd need, and what heading to fly, but Mark suggested that if I load the VOR 29R approach into the G1000, it contains the hold as part of the approach, and the G1000 would guide me. Turns out I had the type of entry right, but the heading wrong (I subtracted 30 instead of adding -- need to review how that happened).

The VOR 29R went very well, and the ILS went pretty well though I was overcorrecting a bit, and thus far definitely doing far more needle chasing than is healthy. Then the ILS into Livermore went extremely well; we started it as a coupled approach, and then (since that ILS is not authorized for coupled approaches below 1700'), I took over, and at this point, found that I'd regained my scan and was flying the attitude indicator. Like falling off a log! After a missed approach, I removed the JeppShades and took us back to PAO with a nice crosswind landing.

I plan to go again on Monday and do 2-3 more approaches, to get me up to the 6 I need prior to Tuesday. I'm amazed at how much of these procedures came back, and how well I was able to execute the approaches and be relatively prepared. This is a credit to my CFII John Otte. That said, it's going to take a lot more for me to feel comfortable doing an approach in IMC. I was not nearly as ahead of the airplane as I want to be; I did not do some important "backup" tasks such as starting a timer at the FAF on the VOR (I think adding this to the briefing will help, and you may have noticed that I never mentioned Time, Turn, Twist, Throttle, Talk -- that's because I never used it, which is bad).

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