Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Partial Panel Missed into a Non Precision Approach

A little dry but sometimes you've got to boil it down to procedures... this is how to fly a partial panel missed approach and transition into a non precision approach at another airport.
Portion of an Approach Plate describing
the missed approach procedure from TCY.
  1. Stop descent at DH/MDA
  2. Proceed to MAP
  3. At MAP cram, climb, clean - establish Vy on runway heading
  4. Determine heading to fly for missed
  5. Turn to heading and continue climb
  6. Communicate: "on the missed"
  7. Set up for next approach
  8. Level off - pitch, slow power, trim
  9. Fly radar vectors/headings/altitudes as instructed
  10. Fly next approach once established & cleared
The specific order may change depending on circumstance... for instance, if you're at a towered airport, communicate before turning. And, if you have climbed to the missed approach procedure altitude before you set up for the next approach you'd obviously level off first, then set up the next approach.

Keep in mind all of this is to be done without the benefit of natural horizon, heading indicator and attitude indicator. All of those things that you've learned to depend on to stay safe... out the window. That's what makes partial panel so challenging, this is practicing an emergency procedure.

You know, I should give myself credit for knowing what that procedure means, being able to fly it and being able to understand what that picture of the chart is telling me. Yeah, I'm not doing bad at all! Just goes to show, study and practice anything long enough and you'll be amazed at what you can do without even thinking about it. 

Friday, September 21, 2012

Breaking the Chain

If you study aviation long you will hear about the "accident chain". This is a series of events and decisions, sometimes related, sometimes not, which eventually lead to an incident or accident. At any point the chain can be broken by making a different decision. Often these decisions are very easy to make in hindsight, they are less easy to make when you are in the moment.

Today's instrument lesson was less about instrument flying and much more about breaking the chain. What was going to be about a two hour mock check ride turned out to be 0.9 on the hobbs, 0.3 simulated instrument and a different lesson learned.

Link #1 The day started with my CFI running late, really late, 90 minutes late. Which is very unusual for him. Not a big problem, I had nowhere I needed to be. So I relaxed, took my time preflighting the plane we would be flying (its a new plane at the club and not one I know too well). I wasn't pressured by the time, but my CFI was feeling the pressure.

Link #2 I did preflight of the plane and noticed a couple odd things. One, the flaps extended, but extremely slowly. The low voltage light wasn't on but I suspected a low battery. Low but not dead. Two, two of the three tires were visibly low, not flat but low. So after I completed the preflight, I filled the tires to the proper pressure.

Link #3 We go to start the plane and it won't even attempt to crank. The battery was dead. There was no excuse for it to be dead, the plane had sat for less than a week with everything off (I double checked that during preflight, nothing was left on). But there it was, dead battery. My CFI gets out of the plane, finds the A&P and ask if he wants to help hand prop the plane and see if the alternator was working. We hand prop the plane, it fires up and, after a couple resets, the alternator starts charging the battery. We decide to go ahead since I had a hand-held radio with me.

Link #4 (and 4a?)  In run-up I cycled the alternator again and when I turned off the alternator the Garmin 430W power cycled itself. Alternator back on, everything was OK. When I did the mag check one side was lower than the other but both were within spec. I noticed the whisky compass was about half full of fluid, the ball was still floating, but the fluid was low. About this time my CFI noticed, the second on the clock in the plane moved significantly faster when the RPMs were higher and slower when the RPMs were lower. We may have found the cause of the low battery.

Link #5 After the normal delay for traffic landing at SJC airport (6 miles away) we were cleared for takeoff. The takeoff roll was good and the plane took off quickly and climbed strong. CFI took the controls, I put on the foggles and off we went. This plane climbed so fast (for a 172) I actually got to request permission to climb higher from ATC! The fun was short lived however, the engine was running a bit rough. CFI told me to fly and he adjusted the mixture to see if he could smooth out the engine.

Link #6 We leveled off at 5000 feet and he kept troubleshooting the engine roughness as I handled the radio comm and intercepted the required airway. He finally deciding that there must be bad plugs on the right side. We were then cleared direct to OYOSO (the initial approach fix for the approach we were going to fly.)  I repeated back to clearance and then said to my CFI, "You know, I'm OK if we call it a day and go back to the airport." I felt we had dealt with enough problems and didn't need to see what the next one would be. He agreed, he said he had just texted the A&P and let him know we were coming back. He said this was a good lesson in breaking the accident chain.

After canceling IFR and reassuring ATC we were OK and did not need assistance, I took off the foggles and we turned back to RHV. To be on the safe side we stayed at 5000 feet until about 10 NM from RHV. There I started the descent, about 2000 feet higher than normal. I got to learn a new trick. If you want to end up at a certain spot, put that location in the center of the windscreen and keep it there, that will give you the descent rate you need to get to the spot. Pretty cool trick that worked great. I flew a normal approach and a good landing. Then taxied the plane back to its spot and gave the keys to the A&P who suddenly had a bunch of work to do!

We talked about what we'll do on the next flight. We were both confident I'd get to that instrument checkride soon. All in all, it was a good day and another minor adventure. That's one of the things I love about flying... the little adventures.

PS. I just stumbled across an eBook by NASA called Breaking the Mishap Chain. Looks like some excellent reading.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Just call me Rusty

Friday was my first instrument training flight in almost three weeks. Three whole weeks. I think this is the first time I went three weeks without at least practicing in the simulator or with a safety pilot ... and ... it showed. The previous training flight's debrief was "Great job!". This one, not so much. Never so great when my CFI asks if I want the short list or long list. I always opt for the long list. After all, I'm there to learn so I may as well get my money's worth.

The day itself was just off in general. I had problems with details at work - scheduling meetings with people and then forgetting key people - twice! I had to fight with technology too (bizarre PDFs that showed blank sometimes and other times had data, fax machines that would only accept the first page of a fax, stuff like that). It was one of those days that I would not have gone up in the clouds by myself, just because I knew I was off. Surprisingly, I've learned to look forward to training flights on days like that, it gives me a chance to see how I will screw up and how I'll recover. What I didn't expect was the very significant effect of not having that practice for so long.

The flight wasn't terrible - if you don't count the landing that I bounced so hard my CFI offered to log two landings instead of one! (I haven't bounced a landing that hard since long before my PPL.) The flight certainly wasn't anywhere near the skill I demonstrated three weeks before. The main thing I noticed is, when I'm rusty, the tasks or activities or skills or whatever you want to call them, that I have integrated into my flying thoroughly remained strong. Basic attitude flying, even partial panel, was never in doubt. Radio com, great as always. Intercepting and maintaining a track, good. Maintaining glide slope on ILS and LPV, good. However, things that I have been struggling with, nailing the altitudes on step downs and compass turns, I struggled with again. I knew I needed to work on compass turns, to get those integrated into my flying, but I didn't practice that as I planned in the last three weeks. That, especially, showed. Good news was, by the third approach I finally caught up with the plane and got a couple feet in front of it. The third approach was by far my best. To be topped off by a spectacular bounce on landing back at the home airport... oh well :)

It is funny though... in the debrief my CFI wasn't ready to call and get my check ride scheduled. I am. I'll just have to show him that I can do it. I know that all I have to do to nail my altitudes is just DO it. And for compass turns, that is a matter of practice. I can do that in the simulator for only $30 per hour. So tomorrow that's what I'll do. For the rest of the areas I didn't do so well on, I am confident I will do better, much better on the next flight. The rust is definitely knocked off as a result of that bounce.. I'll do fine.

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Importance of Proper and Consistent Phraseology

Ever wonder where old aviation
headsets go to die? Race tracks!
Imagine you hear the following phrase:

Five. Yellow. Stationary.

or this one...

Turn five. Standing.

The former phrase is standard phraseology at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course in Ohio. The later is standard phraseology for tracks and corner workers in Northern California (NorCal). Both mean the same thing. Both phrases mean the corner worker in the worker stand at turn 5 is holding a yellow flag up, not waving it, just holding it up. If you want to know why a corner worker would hold up a yellow flag, that would be the subject of another post ;)

The problem is, if you are from NorCal like me and you hear "Five. Yellow. Stationary." You would assume the turn number wasn't called (or the transmission was broken) and the call is actually telling you car number 5, which is yellow, is not moving. Because that would be a normal call in NorCal. Our calls about cars are always: car number, car color, followed by car location/condition. In this particular situation, we had just received a call about a yellow car number 5 that was slow on the track and, therefore, likely to stop on track. See how easy it is for assumptions to snowball, especially when not using proper (or consistent) phraseology?

In amateur auto racing, there is no AIM or Pilot/Controller Glossary (or in my case Corner Worker/Controller Glossary). Here I don't have the protections or simplicity afforded by a standard phraseology and method of communications that I enjoy when flying. This little experience certainly reminded me how important it is to use proper phraseology.

Here's another interesting phrase I'm learning at Mid Ohio Sports Car Course...


Which I have finally figured out means, the last car on the course has passed by turn 8.  Go figure ;)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Conversations You Don't Have Every Day

A couple weeks ago I took my daughter and her teenage friend, Maddie, with me up to the Willows airport for a weekend at Thunderhill Raceway. It was my daughter's birthday and she wanted to spend it at the track. After all, she'd been at race tracks since before she was born. She's well known at the track and wanted to share her birthday with her track friends. I figured it would be a good idea to talk to Maddie's mom to make sure she was OK with me taking her daughter in a small plane, after all, some people don't like that idea.

The conversation when something like this:

I just wanted to check with you if it's OK for me to fly Maddie up to the track on Friday.
long pause
Ummm... fly?
longer pause
In a plane?
Yes, I'm a pilot. I've been flying for a little over two years and I fly up to this track a lot. It is a much quicker trip by air than by car.  I fly a Cessna 172.
What time will you get back? 
We should be back at the airport about 8:30 PM maybe 9, Sunday night. 
That's after dark.
Yes, it is. I'm night trained and current and have been doing much night flying recently. I fly very carefully at all times.
Ummm, where is this track? 
It's in Willows. About an hour south of Redding on Highway 5. Its about a four hour drive by car. 
long pause
Are you going to race? 
At this point I'm starting to understand the types of activities that I see as every day are not exactly normal for this person... not only am I suggesting I take her child in a scary airplane, now she's wondering if I want her in a race car too!
No, I don't race anymore. I do race control. The girls won't be getting into any race cars. They will just hang out at the track. Its a very family friendly atmosphere. 
If you aren't comfortable with me flying Maddie up there, that's OK. We can certainly drive. 
Ummmm, let me talk to her dad and call you back tomorrow. 

Katie and Maddie
In the end she talked with Maddie's dad, who had questions about how long I'd been flying and how often I've flown that route. I suppose my answers were good enough because they decided to let Maddie fly with us. Katie got to have her friend with her on her birthday and Maddie had an awesome time. She was so comfortable in the plane that I let her take the controls on the return trip (with a hand ready to jump in if needed). She got to fly the plane. I think she liked that too!

It is conversations like this that remind me what an amazing life I live. Flying, racing, and running. Its surprising I have time to work :) It's a great life, I just have to remember to ease other people into the concept a little bit more gently sometimes.