September 30, 2004
* * *
John talked to Ben today and they both think I'm making way too much of Tuesday's stage check problems -- Ben was overall fairly OK with my, erm, work, and told John I'd actually been dealt a pretty bad hand by ATC both times at Concord, and that while I could have coped better with that, without it things were reasonable. (Ben told John he'd watched amazed as -- while I made a bunch of wild twists on the OBS during the DME arc and seemed to be winging it and making it up as I went along -- I just kept determinedly steering the plane around the DME arc mostly well within the half mile tolerance and keeping within a few feet of assigned altitude, almost in spite of the damn OBS or any other damn instrument Ben suspected I was using).
John says I should take the FIDO principle to heart -- just F* It and Drive On. Just put it behind you. A more profane version of Ben's observations (on Tuesday and during aerobatics lessons earlier this year) that I let these things get me down way too bloody much. Good advice. I should also probably stop expecting my flying to be the best of all possible flying -- a deadly form of arrogance...
* * *
The first time around the ILS at Stockton there's a strong smell of burnt jet fuel around the outer marker. There's no sign of any jet landing ahead of us (Stockton has a lot of turbine freight operations), so it's not clear where it came from (it wasn't there the second time around). Just one of those mysteries...
September 28, 2004
Unravelled (First You Stumble, Then You Fail...)
We go back to Travis who doesn't seem at all surprised to be talking to us again so soon, and who in his rather gentle laid-back sort of way cancels IFR for us, approves the hold, and tells us to call him with the next approach (VFR, this time) when we're ready....
And it only gets worse from here. The next approach -- the CCR VOR 19R with the dogleg after a couple of turns around the hold at CCR VOR -- goes awry at the dogleg, and an approach I've successfully flown many times both in the air and on my sim goes belly-up. After being unable to track the inbound 171 degree final course after the dogleg (or even find it properly) I tell Ben I'd go missed in real life right here, and Ben has me look up and do the landing visually. I've completely failed. Nothing gets much better for the rest of the flight -- yes, I do the DME arc, the airwork, the partial panel work, the ILS 27R into Oakland, and a bunch of other stuff OK (if very agriculturally), but if this had been real life I'd have been in real trouble, and if this had been the checkride I'd have failed early on the LDA approach.
* * *
So what went wrong? The usual cascade of small events.... It started well -- the climb out of Oakland and the initial vectoring for the LDA approach all went fine (with the usual missing details here and there). But during the vectoring, I forgot to check the heading indicator against the compass, and by the final vector I was nearly 20 degrees out. A very basic error. Combined with the fact that (according to Ben) the vector the controller gave me was pretty marginal anyway given the wind, I was simply never going to intercept the course, and it's no surprise the needle never came alive. But I should have caught all this earlier instead of just sitting there waiting for the needle to start moving -- I failed dismally on some absolute basics here. Ben would have been quite happy if I'd just declared I was going missed and done so, then sorted it all out in the hold. But no, I just sat there. And then the radio problem with Concord -- no, not my fault that the handoff was apparently botched and that the tower controller didn't seem to know the approach that well, but I handled it really badly. I should have been able to keep my wits about me and do exactly what Ben did -- come up with a course of action that amounted to the published miss and tell Tower that that was what we would do.
And I never really recovered for the rest of the flight. I should have been able to put all that behind me and start again at the hold (which would also have satisfied Ben -- I can botch one approach on this stage check without causing him much concern, especially since I'd recognised fairly early that something was wrong), but I kept obsessing about the earlier mistakes instead of thinking ahead. So the VOR approach goes badly, and then everything else gets off on the wrong footing as well, and I end up making simple errors even in things like the DME arc, which I should now be able to do in my sleep.
If nothing else, I think I can now guarantee that for the rest of my flying life I'll check the heading indicator against the compass every few minutes, and over every damn IAF, FAF, and significant point in any approach or departure.
And I can't help thinking that if we'd been flying 4JG with the Garmin 530, I would have noticed things a lot earlier. It's the sort of thing the 530's perfect for -- but you can't rely on it being there, let alone always working...
* * *
So what did I do right? According to Ben, he was happy with my overall altitude, heading, and airspeed control skills (I busted altitude a couple of times, but noticed it and corrected well); he thought I had good positional awareness on the approaches (I'd mentioned the early vectors didn't make much sense, and I'd noted out loud that the controller had forgotten to let us down in time for the VOR approach, meaning I had a couple of miles of over 1,000 fpm descent to do on the dogleg, increasing my workload); he thought my radio work was generally good, with the obvious exception of the Concord Tower Thing; the hold at CCR VOR went well, with only a few seconds to set it up; I flew the ILS back into Oakland OK, if roughly; and the general airwork -- stalls, steep turns, slow flight, bad attitudes, etc. -- was good (but then that's something Ben's being teaching me for a long time, hood or no, and I couldn't help treating it like basic IFR aerobatics with him :-)).
* * *
A humbling, mortifying experience. A really really good lesson.... (and thanks to Ben for being so good at emphasising the positives after what for me was a draining, depressing flight that made me question whether I really had it in me to be an instrument pilot).
I don't know quite why I made such a mess of things, especially since every damn one of the things I did wrong was something that John had patiently worked on for a long while. I guess the meta-lesson is to pay more attention to the lessons :-).
September 26, 2004
How Ya Doin?
And unfortunately for the Diary reader here, I just haven't had any real major stumbling blocks or intellectual crises yet -- no disorientation or major control problems under the hood or in actual, no problems understanding the different models underlying each approach type, few real problems with things like estimating vertical speed on the fly or intercept headings, etc. No bizarre halucinations while surrounded on all sides by fluffy white clouds. Etc. That is, nothing that would spice up the diary a bit :-). Sorry about that. Maybe things will improve when we get to the checkride, which looms large on my own personal Fear Factor scale.
And so when will the checkride be? I don't know. Too much hinges on what happens with my contract work between now and November 1, when I'm leaving for three weeks in Australia. I may simply not have the time to fly much between now and then, in which case I'll have to resume it all in December, which would be a shame. But there's some chance I may be able to feel ready enough to get Lou (Fields) to do the checkride as DE by the end of October. But I'd hate to fail the bloody thing because I rushed it...
September 23, 2004
Short Sharp Shock
The shock? Basically, just how badly I coped with (of all things) the radios today. I kept losing it for some reason, missing calls to me, not doing readbacks correctly, saying the wrong thing, etc. Nothing lethal, but I thought I'd done better than that up till now. Most of the actual flying was OK, if -- as always, way too imprecise -- and the approaches went fine (with some minor allowances for a broken altitude here or there -- see below...). Not much to write home about one way or the other, this time at least.
* * *
On the VOR approach into Concord, just as Travis Approach hands us off to the tower, and just at one of the highest-workload parts of the approach near the course dogleg, someone on the ground calls Concord Tower and proceeds to discuss a taxiway sign lighting problem at great length. I can't get a word in edgeways and start to think I'm going to scream -- we're barreling straight (well, as straight as I can fly) down the VOR final approach course next to the refinery towers at 100 KIAS and here's some guy on the ground making a set of confusing reports about signage on tower frequency. I do exactly what you're not supposed to do here -- I start obsessing about the damn radio and the landing clearance, and slowly lose altitude and heading control, and bust the minimum altitude for the leg on a course leading away from the final approach course. Urgh. A good lesson. When the guy on the ground finally shuts up, I call tower, who clears us to land just in time.
* * *
When we return to refuel at Kaiser, there's a beautiful P-51 Mustang sitting in the dark on the apron in front of the Kaiser terminal. After refueling we wander over to take a closer look, and meet Tony -- an Australian friend of John's who works as a supervisor for Kaiser -- as we circle the Mustang. The Mustang's in great condition -- brightly-polished aluminium, well-maintained paint job, etc. -- and we spend a few minutes discussing this and some of the other military and ex-military planes you see around Oakland. Tony's had what sounds like a grim day of fueling bizjets and the associated baggage handling, and when he hears that I'm doing my instrument rating, he drily observes that for him the most useful part of his instrument training was being able to maintain spatial orientation while clambering around in total darkness inside the cramped baggage compartments of the average commuter or bizjet. I always knew these lessons must have some real-life relevance somewhere :-).
Next to us on the ramp a smallish piston twin starts up without any warning, belching smoke and sounding like an outboard motor even after a short warm up. Not a pretty sound. And then the strobes go on, blinding us all; John mutters something about "bet he used to be a Bonanza pilot..." as we get out of the way.
September 14, 2004
* * *
John's started talking about holding me to "2/2/20". No, it's not the date he expects me to finally get my rating, it's the 2 degrees heading / 2 knots airspeed / 20 feet altitude standard he wants me to aim for. Yeah, right! In the 172s I fly -- even 4JG, which is so nicely stable at speed below about 100 -- under the Cone Of Stupidity I have trouble with 10 / 10 / 100, and I'm not sure the instruments would even detect a 2 knot change in airspeed or 2 degree change in heading, let alone display the change usefully :-). But this evening's little flight was, for at least some of the time, close to a 5 / 5 / 50 standard, which makes me think I might be able to fly to PTS standards on a checkride (and at other times) with a lot of concentration.
* * *
A wrinkle's starting to develop in the schedule -- I need to be in Australia for most of November -- and I'll either have to do the checkride before then or after. I'm not sure I can do it before (in order to get to Oz I need to do a lot of extra contract work between now and then), but if I leave it for a month, it's going to take some extra time to catch up. I'm not sure how this will play out...
* * *
When we start up, OAK ATIS is announcing a ground hold for all aircraft leaving for the LA basin and San Diego. This sounds ominous -- 'round here you immediately think "earthquake!" when you hear something like that with such widespread disruption -- but later when we ask a NorCal controller what's up in the Great Southlands he says he's not too sure himself, but he's heard that there's been some sort of radio failure at SoCal Approach or LA Center. That turns out to be something of an understatement...
September 03, 2004
A Lot Of Fun
John's trying to arrange a club phase check for me with one of the other club CFII's next week; it may end up being with Ben, which would be an interesting change from sharing a Super Decathlon upside down over Tracy with him....
* * *
Before we start the lesson, I spend a few minutes taking photos of the club's new(ish) Diamond Eclipse for the website and gallery (the club doesn't actually own the Eclipse, it's on leaseback to us). A nice-looking two-seater with long thin wings and a T-tail, it looks more like a glider than a conventional Cessna or Piper, and the various procedures etc. are a little different as well. Its main attraction is probably that it cruises efficiently at a decent speed (125 KIAS at 5 GPH); unfortunately, it's not IFR-certified. But I still want to get checked out in it sometime soon...