Monday, August 30, 2004

Instrument Lesson Number 5 - Continued there we were taking off and climbing through 1000 feet, when Justin asked me to complete the climb checklist. I need to be better about making a show of the checklist--I've been flying by myself for about a year and I tend to complete the checklists in my head from memory, but FAA examiners like to see you do it, and it is a more reliable practice.

As we leveled off at 1,500 feet MSL (which around here is about the same as AGL), Justin took the controls and I donned the view obstructing device. He then transfered the controls back to me and gave me a variety of headings to take while he fiddled with the radios. After asking for clearance to transition the Class D airspace at Jax NAS, he put a napkin over my vacuum powered devices (The heading indicator and the artificial horizon) and asked me what do I do now?

We then went through the change in primary instrument references for this situation. Power is still monitored by the tachometer, pitch is still monitored by the altimeter, but bank is monitored by the turn coordinator. It was different not being able to constantly refer back to the artificial horizon and the heading indicator. You would think that with fewer instruments, one would be less likely to fixate on one instrument, but I found myself paying too much attention to the turn coordinator and as we entered the updrafts and downdrafts surrounding the rainstorms we were passing near, I allowed the plane to gain and lose too much altitude. Although I remained within the 200 foot requirement for the lesson, I wasn't real happy about my altitude control. I was also having a hard time trimming the plane - it seemed like as soon as I'd get to the desired altitude and set the trim, I'd start climbing or diving. It was very frustrating. Considering that during the entire trip from Crystal River (CGC) that I made just a few hours earlier, I never deviated from my desired altitude by more than 40 feet, I cannot explain why I was having such trouble other than we were experiencing some strong up/down drafts.

We then practiced turns to a heading relying on the whiskey compass. Following the UNOS (Undershoot North, Overshoot South) mantra, I attempted to turn to the headings designated by Justin. Overall, I think I did pretty well.

As we were crossing back from the westside of Jacksonville, Justin contacted Jax center to request vectors to CRG. We were given a discrete squawk code and headed over the river. Justin tends to talk quite a bit during our flights and it was impossible to hear anything over the radios. His mic has also lost its foam cover, so there is quite a bit of noise from wind and other noises coming from his mic. As we were crossing the river, he radioed Jax Approach to cancel our following and I heard a very faint, "Warrior 33Hotel, how do you read?" During his fiddling with the controls, he had turned the volume down on the radio to the point that we could not hear it at all! I told him we just missed a call and turned the radio up so we could hear it.

As we neared Craig airspace, we attempted to get the ATIS broadcast, but now, we really couldn't hear anything. Justin had jiggled his headset jacks and I think he may have caused a brief short in the radios--just enough to make the intercom need a reset. The volume was up, but there was no sound from either radio. It is unlikely that both COM radios would die at the same time, so we suspected the intercom. Justin killed the avionics power for a few minutes and when the power was turned back on, a very loud ATIS broadcast filled our ears.

We contacted Craig tower and they had heard from Jax approach that we were having radio difficulty, so they cleared us to land on runway 23. Justin gave me vectors to bring me into the pattern as I still had the hood on. As we got to certain points, he told me to descend to such and such an altitude. I know that the Minimum Descent Altitude for the instrument approaches to CRG is 241 (200AGL), so when he advised me to go below this altitude, I asked him if he wanted me to go visual. I had been looking only at the instruments the whole time - so I was totally relying on his vectors. As we reached 100 AGL, he advised me to go visual and there was the runway straight ahead--and we were almost over the threshold. I put in the last notch of flaps and pulled the power smoothly to idle and let the last bit of speed float off. The touchdown was fairly smooth and I braked fairly hard to enable us to exit the runway by Bravo-4 - which would take us right to Sky Harbor.

All told 1.2 hours flight time with 1.0 simulated instrument.

What did I learn? NEVER TURN THE VOLUME DOWN ON THE RADIOS. Keep my hand on the throttle during takeoff. Use my friggin' checklists. Level flight: Primary for Pitch=Altimeter, Primary for Bank=Heading Indicator, Primary for Power=Tachometer. Cross-check Pitch and bank with the AI. During vacuum failure primary for pitch is still the altimeter, primary for bank becomes the turn coordinator and tach still reports on power.

I had a ground lesson mid-week and Justin mentioned that the plane had some leaks and his jack was wet. He also told me that while sitting in the plane waiting for a rain shower to pass, he noticed quite a bit of water entering the interior. Since we had been flying in damp weather, we probably had a water-related short that caused our radio problem.

Instrument Lesson Number 5

On Sunday, after returning from visiting dad in Homosassa, I had my fifth instrument lesson. In this lesson, we focused on partial-panel. Before we got to that, my instructor had a few other tricks up his sleeve.

My pre-flight inspection determined that we would be flying with the left position light out (the red light on the left wing). Since we were taking off shortly after noon for a one hour lesson, FAR91.205 would not prevent us from flying legally.

I fired up my handheld Garmin GPS to assist with my situational awareness and stuck it up on the dash. Climbing in, I plugged in my headset, strapped on my clipboard and clicked my seatbelt. Following the checklist, I started the engine being careful not to give the already warmed up engine too much gas. After four or five blades, she caught and the oil pressure registered in the green.

Justin had previously advised me that we would be departing Craig field to the west. Our practice area is to the south, but I suppose he wanted me to fly through the Class D airspace that belongs to JAX NAS and Cecil Field. Perhaps, he saw the clouds and rain to the west and wanted to put me in realistic IFR conditions.

I radioed the ground controller and he cleared me to runway 23 at Foxtrot. This intersection departure would shorten the runway but only by a couple of hundred feet. The Piper Warrior is quite capable of taking off in far less distance than the 4,004 feet that this runway give us.

After conducting our runup and waiting for arriving traffic, I was cleared to position and hold. After just a few seconds in position, we saw the Cessna ahead of us do a touch and go and we were cleared for takeoff.

During our run-up, I briefed the instructor on the procedure I would follow for the departure, so he was aware that I would be rotating at 60 knots rather than the customary 55. I had explained to him that I had gotten more stable performance by rotating a bit later when the plane was carrying extra weight. So at 60, I pulled the nose up and we quickly left the ground and the plane accelerated to Vy, 79 knots. As we climbed out, I found myself having to pull too hard on the yoke to maintain the proper nose up attitude so I adjusted the trim. Apparently, I did not put my hand back on the throttle quickly enough, because Justin reached over an yanked it to idle and announced "your engine just quit, what are you going to do?" I immediately pushed the throttle back to full and told him, "I'm going to put the gas back in and take off". "But, if the engine really had quit, I would have landed straight ahead, hopefully." We were only about 200 feet AGL when he did this. He was trying to make the point that my hand should remain on the throttle at all times during takeoff lest the throttle friction give out. He sure made his point!

While I understand and agree with him, I have two problems with his action. First, he did not smoothly pull power to idle, he yanked it. This can result in an engine stalling. Second, we were in one of the most dangerous portions of flight and did not have sufficient altitude to return to the runway if the engine had stalled.
...more to follow...

Why do I fly?

When I was about 12 years old, my father's cousin who was an air traffic controller and a pilot, took me and my dad flying. He let me sit in the left seat of a high-wing plane, which I think must have been something like a Cessna 172. He let me take the controls and from that point on, I was hooked.
In the mid-eighties, I got my first computer - a 10mhz 8088 based PC-XT clone with a RGB screen. And the first software package that I paid for was MS Flight Simulator. Within a year, I had upgraded to the newest 386 clone with a whole megabyte of RAM and I added a joystick to the mix. I spent hundreds, if not thousands of hours "flying" all over the world. As my computers were improved, I improved the MS Flight Sim software. I currently have MS FS 2004 as well as all three Combat flight simulator packages. I still haven't bought a regular yoke, but since I spend so much time in the real thing these days, I might not buy one.

I spent years, ok decades, flying the simulator before I finally decided that I had enough time and money to learn to fly the real thing. A couple of years ago, my wife and I built a new home and when we moved in, we opted for Dish Network satellite TV rather than cable. One of the channels that I spent all my time watching was Discovery Wings. They kept running an ad for "", so one day as I was sitting in my office, I decided to hit the website. I discovered that Sterling Flight Training was right up the street practically, so I made an appointment to start my lessons. I didn't waste time doing the introductory lesson crap, I bought the books and tools and scheduled lessons for every Saturday. It took me about a year to get my Private Pilot Certificate. I'll write more about that as time goes on. Since I have work to do, I'll stop writing for now.

Getting Started

Testing my first entry in the Happy Landings Blog. I am a private pilot with a single engine land rating and this blog will chronicle my pursuit of my instrument rating.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Crystal River through the haze - Part 2

The flight proceded without incident until I was about 20 miles from Ocala. At this point, the cloud layer that I had been flying above appeared to be directly in front of me at my altitude. This was a very wide layer of clouds with only about 1000 feet of vertical development. The problem was that they were at my altitude. My choice was to either climb or descend. Since I was already at 6,500 feet for a short flight, I decided to descend to 4,500 and radioed my intentions to Jax Approach.

Everything was fine for about 5 minutes when suddenly I found myself flying in haze--I wouldn't classify this as truly a cloud - but it wasn't far from it. The strange thing was how quickly the haze appeared. Because I could not see the horizon in front of me, I decided to treat it as though I was in a cloud and I began my instrument scan followed by a roll into a standard rate turn for 180 degrees. I had planned to turn around and then descend below the clouds and then continue my flight. After only about 15 degrees of turn, I noticed that I was popping out above the haze. Therefore, I leveled the wings and began a full-power climb back to 6,500 feet where I remained until I reached my pre-planned descent point.

The flight proceded normally from this point on. As I reached the descent point, I contacted Jax Approach and advised them I was beginning my descent. The controller immediately canceled my flight following, which was a bit unusual since I did not tell him I had the destination in sight. The radio traffic was busy with calls to approach, so I imagine he canceled the following because he was rather busy.

When I was about 10 nm NE of Crystal River, I tuned the CTAF and listened for traffic. CGC and Leesburg share the same CTAF, so there was lots of chatter. I heard at least three planes in the pattern at CGC and also heard the Unicom advise that there was a non-radioed rotorcraft practicing landings in the pattern. The other planes were landing to the west and I was coming from the northeast. Normally, I would execute a midfield-crosswind entry to the pattern, but the traffic sounded like a fair amount of student activity, so I abandoned my intent to overfly the airport and opted to make a turn to the south at 4 dme, followed by a turn to the west when I was about 4 miles to the south of the airport. This enabled me to make a normal entry to the pattern at the 45 to the midfield downwind.

Since there was other traffic in the pattern, I kept my speed up right until I pulled the final notch of flaps on short final at which point I pulled the power to idle. The landing was smooth and I was able to leave the runway at the first turnoff freeing up the runway. I taxied to the FBO and was told to park in any numbered spot higher than 15. The plane was shut down and secured at 11:00 am - 1 hr 10 minutes after wheels up. Not a bad time. I could have done it faster, but I would only have saved maybe 5 minutes.

I wasn't proud of myself for failing to avoid the haze, but I was proud that I kept a cool head and immediately focused on monitoring my instruments to ensure that I did not end up like JFJ Jr. Overall, not a bad flight

Crystal River through the haze - Part 1

One of the reasons I learned to fly was to enable me to visit my family more often. My mom lives in Tampa, dad's in Homosassa, and Maureen's family is in Palm Beach County. There's no easy way to get to any of these places. All of them take from 3 to 6 hours depending on the number of tourists clogging the roads with their gas guzzling SUVs.

Getting to Tampa takes 1 hour 10 minutes in a Warrior and Crystal River (near Homosassa) takes only 55 minutes--assuming no wind. As an added bonus, there are no SUVs in the air!

Next week is my dad's birthday, so I planned a trip to Homosassa to spend some time celebrating. Since the afternoon and evening weather in Florida this time of year generally calls for thunderstorms, I planned to spend the night and fly home Sunday morning arriving in time for my instrument lesson at noon.

Friday night, I went to the Jaguar's game, but left early so I could get some sleep before my flight. I stayed up a little later than planned as I was fiddling with my flight plan and my GPS. I'm pretty meticulous in my flight preparation, and sometimes this takes me longer as a result.

Nevertheless, I got up fairly early and headed out to the airport. The sky was full of clouds that were formed by the early morning mist burning off. Winds aloft were forecast from a northerly direction, and I expected that to give me a slightly shorter flight.

My preflight showed that the tanks were nowhere near full, so I had to wait for refueling. I also discovered that the left position light was burned out, so no return at night was going to be possible--good thing I planned to spend the night! At least the strobes were working--they had not been working the last three times I flew N6033H.

I strapped in, got organized and went through the checklist. The engine caught after just a few blades and all instruments were in the green.

Whenever I go cross-country, I always get flight following. I usually file a flight plan, but I generally don't activate it. More on the reasons for that in another post. I made my call up to ground control at Craig Municipal and was greeted by a voice that I didn't recognize. It took a bit longer than usual for the ground controller to respond, so I figured he was getting a sip of coffee, or perhaps he was handling both tower and ground responsibilities. I advised him of my intent to fly to CGC at 6,500 feet and requested flight following. He took quite a while to respond and finally gave me a squawk code, but never cleared me to taxi. As I waited, a couple of other pilots requested taxi clearance, but no flight following and they were cleared to taxi to runway 32. After inputting the squawk code, I called the ground controller again and asked him what runway would he like me to taxi to. I was greeted by a more familiar voice that cleared me to 32 after a company Cessna was clear of Bravo-4.

As soon as the Cessna passed, I taxied to 32 and completed most of the pre-flight checks on the roll. This involves verifying that the flight controls work, engine gauges and flight instruments are working properly, a check of the annunciator lights, and setting the heading indicator. This meant that my runup would take less time as it would only involve checking the magnetos, alternator, vacuum, carb heat and one more check of the auxilliary fuel pump.

I approached the hold short line at 32 and announced to the tower that I was ready to go at 32 and I was immediately cleared for takeoff and left turn for my southwest departure. It was lights, camera, action, showtime at 9:50am.

With just me in the plane, she climbed at better than 700 fpm, which was nice. Using the GPS and the VOR, I maneuvered on course after reaching 500 feet. The tower then handed me off to Jacksonville Approach. Approach responded quickly and that's always nice when flying VFR. On busy days, they often ignore VFR flights and it is always better to have a controller watching out for traffic in addition to watching for yourself.

Climbout was uneventful although I had to adjust my course to avoid some clouds between 3000 and 4000 feet. I reached my climbout point precisely as I had calculated and I gave myself a mental pat on the back. Of course, if I had followed the charts in the POH, I would have missed the calculation by about 2 miles and 60 seconds. A little experience with the plane goes a long way.

---more to follow---