Tuesday, August 28, 2012

From Number to Direction

I had a great instrument training flight yesterday evening. My CFI had nothing in his notebook to critique me on at the end of the flight. He even complemented my landing! I'm getting very close to checkride time. But I have time off and my CFI has time off and corporate flights to do so there will be a pause in progress soon. But that's not what I'm writing about.

Typical Cessna 172 Heading Indicator
On that training flight I had a real breakthrough... something I didn't even realize happened until much later that night and today too. My brain has finally made the transition from flying a heading as a number to flying a heading as a direction. From just flying 120 if I'm told to fly 120 ... by aligning the 'lubber line' at the top of the heading indicator with the 12 ... to knowing 120 is about 10 degrees to the left of parallel with the runways at my home airport, therefore I'm turning slightly away from the runways. For the first time I was on a radar vector of 010, then when I was cleared direct to a waypoint (which happened to be a bearing of 010) for a hold I was able to visualize where I was compared to that waypoint and how I would approach the waypoint and how I would enter the hold as a result. When I approached the waypoint and the GPS suggested a direct entry, I overruled it and did a teardrop entry instead because it made more sense for where I was entering the hold from. And my CFI agreed with my decision.

In over 229 hours of flying that is something I'd never been able to do, to really understand where I was and where I was going beyond just flying to a number and doing some mental math. I think this change will be a very big help for me when I do partial panel flying on my checkride. That is likely to come right when I'll be getting radar vectors for a VOR approach (and through the VOR approach) so being able to know what a heading of 030 means beyond just a 0 and a 3 and a 0 will help my situational awareness and ability to interpret what heading changes mean and predict what that will mean for the approach and navigation.

Other things that went really well last flight. I was ahead of the plane at all times. Every action I did had a purpose. I knew what altitude I was going to descend to before I started any step down. I planned on leveling off 50' over MDA on each approach and I did. I think all of that was due to me taking the time to sit down and write down the sequence of each approach including headings and altitudes and missed procedures. Writing things down helps me, even if I never look at what I wrote again.

I remembered what my CFI said and kept my scan rapid, wings level and made corrections no more than 5 degrees on the approaches. When I got down to MDA on the LPV approach at Tracy, I looked up and I was lined up with the runway. I flew a very good, solid, missed approach that got the plane up and away from the ground quickly and safely. When I got down to the MDA on the ILS at Livermore, I looked up and I was lined up with the runway again! I didn't bust once.

So much attention to detail is required. So many corrections and small adjustments have to be made to fly in the instrument environment. When it all comes together, it is just amazing. But the one thing that just blows me away is now I know what 120 means as a direction and not just a number. How cool is that?!

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