July 04, 2007

Hands Off!

A short under-the-hood IFR-in-VFR flight to Santa Rosa (KSTS) and back with John, mostly just to get some tips from him on my IFR flying, to keep proficient as well as current, and to get better at managing the complexity that is the WAAS-enabled G1000 and associated process and tools, etc.

The highlight of the flight? Sitting there under the cone of stupidity watching the G1000 / KAP 140 combination fly us around the STS GPS RWY 14 course reversal hold at GETER intersection (including the proper teardrop entry) entirely on its own. No prompting or hints from me at all — it just aimed straight at GETER, entered the hold, and proceeded to fly the hold exactly the way I would, but smoother. Kewl! I love this stuff. As John said at the time, there really wasn't any need for me to be there at all. Actually, as we were approaching GETER I wasn't 100% certain whether the G1000 would push us around the hold or not (the older versions don't), but John just told me to wait and see. And what I saw was very slick and cool, as was the rest of the mostly-automated flight (I flew the ILS back into Oakland by hand for fun; the other approaches were all done coupled). The G1000 is IFR magic, no doubt, even if all you're doing is plain old ILSs or VOR-to-VOR victor airways routes. For VFR, it's nice, but basically just a very expensive way get too-easily distracted — I much prefer the older steam gauge SP's or whatever for just flying VFR around the Bay, etc.

A few other points from the flight: I'm still landing a little too flat for the 172 (it's the baleful influence of the Cirrus, or at least that's my excuse), and (at least on this flight) I was a little too lax about dialing in the underlying VORs for routes and approaches (I'm normally pretty good at that sort of thing, since what the hell else can you rely on when you're having a GPS Moment with the G1000 and you still have to do the hold or go missed or intercept a course that's also based on the underlying land-based navaids?). I'm also still a little too rough-and-ready with power / speed / altitude control trade-offs — the sort of precision John brings to this is still beyond me, unfortunately. But I did nothing terribly wrong, and the refresher was an interesting exercise (and for the short time I was allowed to look outside the cockpit, the view was typically gorgeous).

On the way back into Oakland (KOAK) I'd requested the ILS 27R practice approach, and after a bunch of vectors for traffic and a hand-off, I'd asked the new controller for an intercept outside GROVE intersection (a fairly common sort of request here, as it helps forestall NorCal's habit of instead dropping you closer in onto UPACI intersection, at least a thousand feet too high, meaning you have to drop like a rock to have a chance of intercepting the glideslope from below). The controller didn't quite understand what I was asking for, which wasn't as interesting as his response, which was to query whether I'd really be comfortable with intercepting at GROVE from my current position (a bit of a stretch, for sure). As John pointed out, while it was mildly irritating that he didn't "get" what I was getting at, the controller was definitely thinking the right way about the intercept, and given his understanding of what I wanted to do, was reacting in a really pretty helpful and thoughtful way. Top marks for that, I guess, and in the end I didn't have to drop out of the sky at 1,500 fpm to make the glideslope, and maybe the controller's got a better picture now of what I was really asking for. It's not all doom-and-gloom for GA pilots with NorCal….

Back at the fuel pumps in front of Kaiser, there's a big old Apache with a handful of twenty- and thirty-something hipsters milling around it taking a break. I chat with the pilot, a New Zealander who's lived around here, and it turns out they're just back from the Black Rock Desert (think "Burning Man", but a month or two before time). Seems the perfect way to get there and back (it's a hell of a drive), and I have to admit I've been attracted to the idea of flying there several times, but the alkaline dust and the dirt strip there make it a non-starter with club planes. (At first the New Zealander actually thought I had a New Zealand accent, which kinda amused me. His accent was obviously New Zealand, but, as he later admitted, my accent's a lot harder to pin down, having strong elements of my native British accent as well as a few thin insurgencies from my surroundings here).

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