October 26, 2004
Good News, Bad News...
The good news: the Death Grip is slowly loosening its hold on me, and nothing about this flight is remarkable or difficult, including the hold and the approaches. The bad news: I won't be flying again until after Thanksgiving, i.e. about four weeks from now, when I return from Oz. Oh well. By then I'll probably have trouble remembering what those thingies on the panel in front of me are for...
* * *
As we depart Oakland we start seeing immense lightning flashes to our North, bright enough to be clearly visible even under the Cone Of Stupidity. For most of the rest of flight we keep a wary lookout -- the thunderstorms are about twenty to forty miles away, and appeared out of nowhere (as reported by NorCal and a bunch of on-air comments), and they're causing havoc with flights into Sacramento and the Valley. At one point John has me look up and watch as an almost-continuous series of flashes lights up a set of tall thunderheads somewhere out over Lake Berryessa or Woodland. Cool! But not the sort of thing you really want to cope with in any sort of plane, let alone a 172. And certainly not what you'd expect in coastal Northern California, where we're lucky to see one (usually quite pathetic) thunderstorm a year....
* * *
On the approach back in to Oakland we're vectored towards the localiser just outside FITKI (the FAF, where the glode slope intersection is supposed to happen at 1,500') at the usual "best forward speed" and at an assigned altitude of 3,000'. At the last second the NorCal controller lets us down to 2,500' until established -- only a mile or two from FITKI when we're not yet established. I'm fit to scream -- we've got a maximum of two miles to descend 1,500' through the glideslope at 110 knots, join the localiser, intercept the glide slope from below, and stabilise the approach (all with the likelyhood of some corporate Gulfstream bearing down on us further up the ILS at high speed from SUNOL) -- but I decide to see what happens and how this plays out, since it's the sort of thing you need to be able to handle one way or another on approaches to major airports. Nothing bad happens -- I make it, just -- but the tempation to grumpily query the controller or go missed at this point gets very strong.... John (as usual) has a few pithy things to say about the way the NorCal guys are making this a regular thing nowadays, and discusses a few strategies for coping.
October 15, 2004
Return Of The Death Grip, Part 27
The only notable thing this evening was the usual Return Of The Death Grip -- but also a noticeable improvement when I remembered to just use the old light touch (remembering things like this is getting easier, which I hope is a sign that I'm internalising a lot of the flying I used to have to concentrate on consciously nearly all the time...). Pretty much everything else was routine, with the occasional exception of busting altitude by a few feet during the hold while trying to dial in a new flight plan on the GPS and simultaneously get Oakland's ATIS. Practice, practice, practice...
* * *
John got his ATP last week in Sacramento after what sounds like a grueling four day finisher course culminating in an intense checkride. Cool!
October 04, 2004
October 02, 2004
Given my problems over the last few weeks, the most impressive lesson this evening was watching John smoothly recover from a mistake he made on the GPS approach into Stockton: instead of sitting there dumbly like I probably would have (making things worse), he identified the problem, quickly worked out the cause, then calmly called approach with a confession that he'd screwed up and requested a slightly different clearance. No problem -- and the rest of the approach went smoothly (as expected...).
Flying this plane is a lot like flying a video game -- which is probably just the way it should be for instrument flying. The glass displays are large, and -- for the most part -- easy to understand. They include the usual control instrumentation (on the left hand panel), and a large Avidyne display on the right for everything from GPS course guidance (fed by the dual Garmin 430's below the panel) and terrain depiction through TCAD and strikefinder displays to engine status and flight checklists. I didn't think much of the right hand panel layout details, but the overall effect was a dream after 05D's or 4AC's steam gauges. At one point near Stockton I said that I could see a solid line of thunderstorms way out over the Sierra; John turned the display to the strikefinder, and, sure enough, there was a series of strikes well to our northeast. Cool! On the other hand, the TCAD display missed some serious traffic crossing our course at our altitude -- which is predictable, I guess. The nav and control displays sure look like they should make flying in actual or under the hood easier -- or at least a hell of a lot easier than the tiny little AI's and associated gubbins in our 172s.
The controls feel stiffer than a 172 or the Arrow, especially in roll, but nothing felt too odd in the short time I handled the plane. The sidestick system doesn't feel natural to me (particularly from the right seat), but it's not something that would cause any real problems with practice. Performance is predictably in a class above either the Arrow or a 172 -- we cruised easily at 175 knots ground speed on the way back, and climb rates were really impressive. And the kick when John pushed the throttle forward on takeoff each time was quite the thrill...
Sitting inside it was somewhat like being in a luxury SUV -- leather seats, a lot of space in the cockpit, cup holders (!), new car smell, the seats feel higher off the ground than the Arrow or a 172... and it drinks fuel just like a large SUV (more so, actually). Plus the engine is smoother and actually quieter than on either of those planes (inside the cockpit, at least). And this particular plane (which belongs to a friend and student of John's) came with Bose ANR headsets on all four seats.... How the other half flies, I guess.