Saturday, November 29, 2014

Instrument Practice Adventure

Yesterday my husband and I went out to do some practice approaches so I could improve my instrument proficiency before a potential instrument flight to Willows next weekend. I was going to do a modified "milk run" three approaches at the same airports (Tracy, Stockton and Livermore) I used for my instrument check ride and preparing for the ride. As seems to happen in aviation, when one expects a routine flight, one gets an adventure.

First approach was into Tracy airport, KTCY. I got cleared for the GPS 12 into Tracy. Did the procedure turn at OYOSO and was inbound on the approach when the GPS failed. Not the first time its failed on me in the middle of a GPS approach in this particular plane. It came back eventually and started working again.

GPS 29R into Stockton was uneventful, aside from the actual level of visibility. It was so hazy at ground level I got to log a little actual on that approach. The GPS worked just fine.

The transition to Livermore was rough. The sun angle from SCK at that time must have been right between 220 and 230. On climb out the switched me to 220, and then cleared my direct to TRACY (roughly 230) to intercept the localizer. The sun was exactly in my face and the glare made the top three instruments practically unreadable, I had to shield my eyes to see the whisky compass to reset the heading indicator.

Not like I hadn't flown to the initial approach fix for the ILS to Livermore with the sun in my eyes dozens of times before when working on my instrument rating, but I had a perfect storm this time. I overshot my target altitude by 200', so I was pitching down to return to 4000'. At the same time the first real turbulence of the trip kicked up so the turn coordinator was flopping around and the bonanza boogie got going. To top it off, the turn coordinator in that plane shows wings level when actually in a slight left turn, the AI is accurate, but I couldn't see it. All of that at once got me the most dizzy I'd ever been in real or simulated instrument.

I realized what was happening, and told myself repeatedly to slow it down. My husband says I said that out loud a couple times. I stopped the boogie, slowed down my scan, and used the heading indicator to tell if wings were level and the vertical speed indicator to ensure I wasn't climbing or descending anymore. Once I got the wings level and plane stabilized the dizziness stopped. Then I got the plane back on altitude and dialed in for the rest of the flight to the IAF for the ILS 25R into Livermore.

Once I turned onto the localizer the sun was enough out of my eyes I could actually use all of my instruments again. The actual approach was good. Nice how no flaps, 15" MP and gear down gives a perfect 3 degree glide slope descent in a Bonanza.

Never know what I'm going to get when I go flying. My trip up to Willows next weekend for the 25 hour race may be IFR. Fortunately there's a VOR approach there as well as the GPS approach. This little practice adventure was good preparation for that one I think.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Starting to Put the Flight into Flight Instructor

A new experience for me today. I got to see if my 'talking' was reporting, narrating or actually teaching as I flew. I also got to see why yesterday was so easy. It was too good to be true. It was so easy because I wasn't doing the maneuver right! Mystery solved. That's OK though. I think I learned more in this one flight than I have in months in the air. Of course, learning isn't learning until behavior is changed, so we shall see.

First I got to demonstrate a steep turn to my CFI while talking through it as well. As I would if teaching someone. Turns out my 'talking' was OK. He said I was actually teaching instead of narrating or reporting. Then he said I wasn't doing the turns right. I thought I was doing 45 degree bank. I was doing 30 degree. You may wonder how I could get that wrong. It's easier than it should be. From where I sit on the right side, with the seat as far forward as I need it, I can't see the top of the attitude indicator, which is where the markings are that I used to confirm bank angle in steep turns. He showed me another reference I can use to ensure I'm doing a turn at the correct bank. I re-did it and did better. He explained how to keep talking in the turns.

Then he introduced me to in-flight critique. Oh, that was fun! I immediately stuck my foot in my mouth and gave exactly the wrong feedback. My CFI gladly did exactly what I told him to do, and I finally had to stop everything and say what the heck is going on? Then I figured it out and we both had a great laugh. He told me when to be providing feedback and when to not. What to do while the student is doing it wrong. Just the start of the world of what I'll be learning over the next couple months.

Today was just a glimpse into the art of being an actual flight instructor. I have much to do and much, much to learn.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Talking and Flying

Back on the CFI training track, not that I've been off per se ... but I haven't flown for training in a while because one of our Arrows had an engine problem and the other Arrow with brakes for the right seat was finishing in the shop. Finally 55X, my favorite Arrow from my commercial training is ready to go and I'm back in the skies!

My day started well. I took the FAA Fundamentals of Instruction test this morning and passed with a 96%. Then I did my normal work day and took to the skies for a quick flight sitting in the right seat. My assignment was to practice a maneuver and talk through it. A preview of what I'll be doing all of the time as a flight instructor. Considering how little I talk in the first place and how hard it was to get me to talk for my commercial rating, I expected talking and flying to be hard.

After a long wait in the run-up I was cleared for takeoff downwind. The plane climbed strongly and I quickly overtook the Cessna that departed before me. It was fun to be in another fast plane. After passing the Cessna I turned towards the practice area. Then I sighed. I have to talk. This is going to be weird. 

I decided to pretend to be training someone named Renee. First I told her how we would slow down the plane, pointing out that I had to pitch up slowly and re-trim the plane to make it easy to maintain level flight as the airspeed slowed. Then I figured I should start her with some gentle clearing turns, explaining why we do them and emphasizing keeping the plane level by looking off the nose of the plane and visualizing shooting bullets to the horizon.

I got into the flow and talked through the desired airspeed for a steep turn and what qualifies as steep, how to set up for one with a good visual reference point, etc. Then as I did the turn I explained what I was going to do before doing it, talking about having to add back pressure to maintain altitude and some opposite aileron to counteract over banking. When to start looking for the reference point, how to roll out and go into a turn the opposite direction.

It was weird. Once I started talking I was flying smoothly. And, unexpectedly, I did all of the steep turns after the first one to commercial spec, from the right seat. I was told not to worry about doing it to spec, just to focus on the talking. I think maybe the talking helped me maintain the flying to spec? I am not sure if the talking I was doing was teaching, narrating or reporting. But the fact that I was able to open my mouth and talk and fly was just amazing to me.

After a while I got tired of the turns and the talking. I wasn't learning anything anymore I felt. I decided to head back to RHV, stop talking and just fly. On the return to RHV I mistakenly tried to identify the plane I was in as a Bonanza and laughed. Then I got behind the plane on the approach and ended up quite high. Dump the flaps, cut the power and an aggressive slip and I was back on glide slope over the mall for an OK landing. Proving I can still get behind the plane, especially right seat flying. It still takes conscious thought to translate the motions and process of landing that are now second nature from the left seat into conscious moves from the right seat.

I'll go back up and do the same thing tomorrow. If things go normally my second flight will be worse and then the third will be better. Fortunately the third will be with my CFI. On that flight I'll find out if my talking is the right kind of talking, with the right content, at the right time - and - if I can talk in front of a person!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Smells and Sounds

I am fortunate to live an active and varied lifestyle from the office to flying, marathon running and auto racing. I've often found myself reflecting on the unique sounds and smells in each of these environments.

The Office

The occasional smell of burnt coffee, toasted bagel and sometimes pungent smell of colleagues heating their lunches. The sudden chorus of beep, chirps and bings at 15 and 10 minutes before the top and bottom of the hour. Phone ring, pause, people stating their name as the join a conference call. The sudden change in volume and tone when people want to share privileged information but don't want to announce it to the entire cube farm. Occasional laughter as people share a joke. Many, many languages spoken as my colleagues switch to their native languages on occasion when its easier to communicate with another speaker of their native tongue.

Auto Racing

Many unique smells here... the smell of oil burning in gasoline in a rotary engine. Burnt tire rubber. Hot oil and gasoline. Hot clutch, hot brakes, hot, hot metal. Hot summer pavement. Auto racing is all about heat. Hot metal, hot laps, hot women in the podium photos.  There's the obvious sounds that everyone thinks about, engines at or near redline as the cars tear down the front straight. Backfires as the driver downshifts, squealing tires of course. There are other sounds too... the rattle and clank of tools, drills firing, whistles blowing the count down to taking the track, the god-awful clattering of gear boxes not tuned for moving slowly, generators running in the paddock at night.

Marathon Running

I don't recall too many marathon smells, perhaps that is good. There is the smell of heaven on earth, the smell of an orange slice at mile 20. But some smells are best left un-smelled! Twenty six point two miles of sweat, the pungent smell of port-o-lets. Speaking of port-o-lets, they make sounds too. A creak and click/slam as their doors open and close. Sometimes tens of them are lined up in an area with hundreds of runners carb-unloading before a race. There's also a slap-shuffle sound of the runners feet on the streets. Deep breathing at first, then huffing and puffing as the end of the race approaches. Gasps after crossing the finish line having spent my last iota of energy in a final sprint.


There are some standard smells in aviation. Avgas is one, hot oil and hot engines is another. I've found different planes have different smells. The little 172 I learned to fly in - she smells like sunshine. The Bonanza has a particular oily smell when I open the door to the cockpit. I have yet to place the smell of an Arrow, but Arrows have a wonderful sound. They have a whistle when the gear is down. It can be heard from the cockpit when the throttle is pulled back to idle or from the ground when an Arrow is on approach to land. 172 propellers make a pleasing snick-snick-snick sound cutting through the air when the power is pulled and the other racket of flying a 172 is ceased. Last night I was flying the Bonanza and enjoyed the smooth, reassuring rumble of power from its engine with the prop knifing through the nighttime air. Of course, there is one sound that all pilots of small planes love. The light scrch scrch of tires kissing the runway when you land a plane just right.


Experience is far beyond just what we see and touch. Smells and sounds are all part of what we become as we live and learn from our experiences. Next time you are fully in the moment, in a moment you enjoy, stretch out your senses and see if you can identify the unique smells and sounds of your experience in addition to the sight and touch. Treasure the entirety of the experience, make it yours forever.