Monday, May 03, 2010

Six Shots in 2.1 hours

Desparately in need of instrument approaches, I arranged for some practice time yesterday. While most people would be happy for severe clear conditions, I wanted instrument conditions to make my practice as real as possible. The only challenge the weather produced was wind that gusted to 20 knots but was only 20 or 30 degrees off of the runway. In spite of the brilliant weather, we filed an IFR flight plan for a round trip to KCRG with an interim stop at VQQ - Cecil Field.

Cecil Field is a former Naval Air Station and alternate landing site for the space shuttle. There are eight runways...or four runways depending on how you count them. 18L/36R, 18R/36L, 9R/27L and 9L/27R. 18R/36L is 12,500 feet long, so one could probably perform 4 or 5 touch and goes without ever entering the pattern!

I picked up the local ATIS at CRG on my handheld before I started the engine in order to save a few minutes. After all, at $150 per hour, two minutes spent listening to the ATIS with the engine running costs $5.00 plus tax, so every minute counts. Time really IS money when it comes to flying.

With my flight plan plugged in to the GPS, I started the engine and ran through my checklists. I requested and received my clearance, and was told to taxi to 14 via Alpha when I was ready. I acknowledged by saying I was taxing to 14 via Alpha.

Since parking at North Florida is at the southern end of 14, I had almost a mile of taxi distance before I was ready to depart. I used this time to run through my run-up checklist and was ready to go by the time I arrived at the hold short line...or so I thought. There was one little detail that I forgot along the way.

At the hold short, I asked for takeoff clearance and it was quickly given with a "fly runway heading" instruction. I acknowledged, turned on my landing lights and with a quick peek for landing traffic, I headed down the runway. Climb out was uneventful until the tower controller reminded me that I was IFR and I was supposed to be squawking 4340. That's what I forgot. I apologized and quickly plugged in the correct transponder code. Apparently, my mistake also caused the controller to forget to hand me off to JAX Departure Control, so as I neared my clearance altitude of 2000 feet, I contacted the tower to request a frequency changed. This time it was the tower controller who apologized.

I contacted JAX and requested the GPS 18L approach at Cecil. I was cleared direct to ESLAC which sounded like AFLAC when the controller said it. Fortunately, I already had my approach plate in hand for GPS 18L and found ESLAC on the chart. I pulled up the approach on the GPS and indicated that I was receiving vectors to ESLAC. That made it easy to tell the autopilot to take me direct to ESLAC. I was level at 3000 feet and it was getting hectic. I was letting the plane and the approach get ahead of me as I briefed the plate. But I quickly settled in to my routine and was up to speed long before I reached ESLAC. I tuned the ATIS for Cecil on my other radio and put the tower frequency in standby. I listened to the ATIS and adjusted my altimeter while slowing the plane to 100knots indicated to allow me some time to prepare. The tower told me to cross ESLAC at 3000 which was 1000 feet above the minimum altitude for the next fix, COTAP, that was only five mile beyond ESLAC. Crossing ESLAC, I reduced the throttle to 1,900 rpm and began a steady descent to 2000 feet. I leveled off, then began a steady turn just before COTAP. After COTAP, I descended to 1,700 feet for the trip to the Final Approach Fix (FAF), MAUGA. JAX handed me off to Cecil tower and the controller there instructed me to advise her when I was crossing MAUGA. Crossing MAUGA, I started to descend to the 500 foot minimum for this approach and called the tower. She cleared me for the option and I continued with my eyes on the controls right until the "bitchin' Betty" announced, "Minimums! Minimums!" I leveled off at 500 feet and looked up. The runway was right in line with me about a mile ahead. I waited until I crossed the threshold before punching the throttle, taking out the flaps and executing a climbing turn to 270. I then told the tower I was going missed and she handed me off to JAX departure.

I had arranged for my next approach to be the ILS 36R and the controller advised me to ammend my climbout instructions and fly a heading of 220. That would save me some time for the ILS approach. I leveled off at 2,000 feet as instructed and plugged in the ILS approach in the GPS. ATC vectored me to the southeast and then turned me to the northeast before clearing me for the approach, "November 6-2-7-7-0, fly heading 030 vectors for the localizer. Maintain 2000 until established. Cleared for the ILS 36 Right." I made the turn and lined up on the localizer at which point the controller handed me back to the tower. I called and was cleared for the option. Since there was now an 18 knot tailwind, I had no intention of attempting to land and I had to push the nose down severely to remain on the glideslope. Nevertheless, I followed the flight director's guidance and flew the ILS flawlessly to the MAP.

This was my routine for the next hour or so. GPS18L followed by ILS36R. Each time the climbout was to the West. On my second approach on 18L, I decided to touch down and enjoyed an incredibly soft landing thanks to the wind blowing straight down the runway.

For my final two approaches, I chose the ILS36R back to back. I reasoned that with the winds from the south, I would pick up the VOR14 into my home base at CRG and would probably get a shorter route if I was departing to the North. I made my intentions known to the controller and for the last approach at Cecil, I tested out the G1000's integrated autopilot using the APR key to have the autopilot fly the beam while I monitored the equipment. I was surprised to note that the autopilot did not fly the glideslope as tightly as I had expected. It deviated by more than on ball on the display which caused me to take over. It did an outstanding job of lining up with the localizer, but the glideslope gave it some trouble.

After my low approach, ATC instructed me, "...turn left heading 180 vectors for the approach." Thinking that the controller had made a mistake, I asked him if he really wanted me to go to 180 when I was planning on the VOR14 at Craig. He said he had to keep me out of another controller's airspace, so I should fly 180. Silly me.

I slowed the plane after leveling off at 3000 feet so I wouldn't fly too far to the south and out of my way. ATC soon vectored me to 090 and shortly after sent me to 020. I flew across Jacksonville with my head in the cockpit as I listened to the ATIS and plugged in the VOR 14 approach. The minimum for this approach was 800 feet. I was vectored for the final approach and instructed to maintain 3000 until established. I lined up on the radial and since I was already inside the DIXYN intersection, I descended to 1800 feet. ATC handed me off to the tower who instructed me to advise him when I was 2 miles out. Crossing ALVAS at 1800, I began a steady descent to 800 feet. At around 900 feet, the tower controller announced that he had a low altitude warning. I acknowledged and verified my altitude. That made no sense to me since I was allowed to be as low as 800 feet. I continued my approach until I was 2 miles out. I announced my position as requested and was cleared to land. The wind was showing about 12 knots from about 170 as I continued my course to the runway. I noticed a twin engine plane holding short for the runway as I came in, so I decided to get out of his way as quickly as possible. I pulled power and held my attitude as the plane approached the numbers. Then, about 10 feet above the runway and traveling about 60 knots, I pulled the nose up and let the rest of the speed drop off. The wheels touched down almost imperceptibly as the stall warning whined in the background. That was one outstanding landing!

The rest was routine. Taxi off the runway; call for ramp clearance; park and the we shut 'er down.

This was a great day of flying. Too bad the instrument time was only simulated. Nevertheless, it was a good refresher and a confidence builder. The trip took 2.1 hours with 1.5 of simulated instrument and logged 3xILS36R@VQQ, 2xGPS18L@VQQ, 1xVOR14@CRG with two landings.

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