Monday, October 1, 2012

My first Nordo IFR Approach

Well, it was a good learning experience anyway.

Today's plan. VOR approach at Concord (KCCR), then localizer at Hayward (KHWD) with lots of step downs and then maybe we'd get climb out instructions for the 13L approach/circle to land at RHV. Always be prepared for the unexpected.

It was hot, very hot. ATC asked us to maintain best rate of climb to 2100 ft. Pitching for 65 knots I was able to maintain 500fpm, barely. Not a problem though, we got up to 5000 ft eventually and were cleared direct to the Concord VOR. Everything was going swimmingly until we got handed off to the last controller. He starts saying the transmission was very broken and unreadable. We are sort of able to communicate for a couple more calls, then it gets to the point that neither myself or my CFI was able to get a clear word out, we tried both radios and turning on and off the intercom. No joy. We tried my hand held, that didn't work any better. We were just too far from the receiving antennas for ATC at our signal strength. We tried to cancel IFR, they couldn't hear us well enough to do it.

When this happens on VFR flight following, ATC will quickly spit you out of the system "93K, radar services terminated, squawk VFR" and you're done (ask me how I know). But IFR is different. IFR they can't cancel IFR on you, they have to handle you somehow. So they handled us.
"N5093K, ident to acknowledge my transmissions." ident, I reply.
"93K, turn right heading X, descend and maintain 3000" ident, I reply.
"93K, are you planning a full stop landing?" ... long pause. How the heck are we supposed to answer that? we want to cancel IFR and just leave the area. No way to tell ATC that with an ident and we didn't want to play 20 questions with ATC. ident, I reply. Looks like we'll just have to land and work this out with the tower at Concord.
"93K, maintain 2000 until established, cleared for the LDA approach, circle to land RW 32", ident, I reply.
"93K, contact Concord tower, they are aware of your issue. Thanks for your help." ident, I reply and switch to Concord tower frequency. 
When I switched to Concord tower they could hear well enough for us to cancel IFR and request permission to depart VFR out of their airspace. They were happy to oblige.

Side note: Always have all approach charts for any airport you intend to land at IFR within easy reach. You never know what approach you'll get or if the approach you are planning will be available. We had planned to fly the VOR approach at Concord. We got cleared for the LDA. I had all approach charts for Concord in a little binder in easy reach. My CFI had his iPad. So we had no problem switching to the other approach on the fly. 

Still under the foggles I climb out and turn east. CFI starts playing ATC and then he decides to cover the HI and AI so I can do more partial panel work. I say "I would tell ATC at this point I have a gyro failure, but I can't!" He laughed and gave me a point for that one. We worked our way back towards RHV with a plan to call the tower if the radios were still not transmitting well.

My CFI joked that if he hadn't had exactly this problem before, in this plane, on a hot day, just like this, flying this approach, at this airport, he would blame me! First the problem with the plugs on the other plane, now the com gear on this one. I pointed out the other common element was him, so maybe he was the problem. :) It was good to joke around a bit. 

On the way back my CFI finally said we should just schedule the checkride for a couple weeks out and get this done. I agreed. This wasn't the way I wanted to get my checkride scheduled, but I think the recent technical difficulties may be a sign that its time to move on.  I'm looking forward to the end of this process, taking a brief break and then starting the next round of training!

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