Sunday, August 12, 2012

Training Update: WINGS and Fundamentals

June and July found me logging more dual instruction time than I have experienced in years. As I noted earlier, I began working on an instrument rating this year. By spring, I completed a King course, though I have not yet made the effort to take the written exam.  Also by spring, Warrior 481 was certified for IFR flight and a Garmin 430W was installed to add greater capability.

The unexpectedly challenging portion of my three part plan to earn an instrument rating was finding an instrument instructor willing to meet me in Le Roy for lessons. I met some great people in the search, including reacquainting myself with a CFI who did my flight review back in 2009, but none of them were going to work out for lessons out of Le Roy.  Finally, in May, I rode backseat during a couple of instrument lessons with my friend Darrell and his instructor, Tom. For Darrell, I provided a valuable service as ballast and an extra pair of eyes.  For me, it was an opportunity to observe Tom in his element. It was clear that Tom knew his stuff and had a knack for imparting his knowledge to others.  He was also clearly instructing for the pure enjoyment of instructing (i.e., it is not his day job), and had a terrific attitude and sense of humor (a must). I quickly got myself onto his schedule.

In parallel with this came the annual Rochester WINGS weekend, a free aviation exposition held at the Greater Rochester International Airport. Saturday, June 9 featured free safety seminars for WINGS credit along with the opportunity to fly with a volunteer CFI to complete a WINGS phase. I was paired with Bill, an instructor out of the Buffalo area. Bill and I planned to meet at Le Roy on June 9, do a little flying in the morning, land at Rochester, attend the seminars, then fly back and complete any additional airwork that was necessary.

Mother nature had other plans and June 9 dawned soggy with some sizable yellow blobs on the radar tracking directly toward Rochester. Most pilots, including me, decided to drive to the expo rather than deal with marginal weather conditions. Naturally, once I arrived at the Rochester airport in my car, the clouds parted, those yellow blobs diverted around Rochester, and the remainder of the morning was dry. Bill and I scheduled a different day to meet.

CFI to the Stars

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
13 Jun 2012 N21481 5G0 (LeRoy, NY) - 9G3 (Akron, NY) - GVQ (Batavia, NY) - 9G3 - 5G0 2.2 1046.6

I met Bill at the Akron airport, arriving under a ceiling so low that legal VFR cloud clearances required the brief flight to be conducted just above pattern altitude (~1000 feet over the ground).  Though I was embarrassed that Bill witnessed my inelegant crosswind landing, he offered an unsolicited compliment as we shook hands.  We decided to spend some time chatting in the office while the ceiling lifted to an altitude more suitable for the stalls and other maneuvers required by the WINGS program.

Bill has been around a long time and has a lot of stories to tell.  For a time, he was an instructor for Professional Instrument Courses, Inc (PIC) and enjoys telling the tale of going to Italy and teaching Tom Cruise how to fly on instruments in Cruise's Marchetti.  Bill's logbook was filled with anecdotes, business cards of the famous, and photographs of people and airplanes (including one of him and Tom Cruise in front of an Italian villa).  I came to think of Bill as "CFI to the Stars".

Our flight was good.  My performance was generally good, though awkward at times when our styles clashed (nothing wrong with either style, just different).  Bill asked me to do a short field landing at Genesee County, then closed the throttle on the downwind leg of the pattern.

"Lost your engine," he said.  Right after the phrase "piece of cake" went through my mind, Bill added, "oh, and I still want this to be a short field landing."

Oh.  It was a little rough, but Bill was pleased and the airplane survived.

He had me track to an intersection with the Garmin 430W, something I had never tried before, but nailed despite my status as a total 430 neophyte.

Back on the ground at Akron, he shook my hand, gave Warrior 481 a final look and noted, "you have a nice airplane and you fly it well."  Sometimes, a guy needs to hear stuff like that from an unbiased source.

And that's how I completed a WINGS phase with the "CFI to the Stars".

Instrument Lesson #1: Fundamentals

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
13 June 2012 N21481 5G0 (LeRoy, NY) - Local Area 1.4 1048.0
From Akron, I raced back to Le Roy (ok, I fly a Warrior - I proceeded directly back to Le Roy) and landed there right at 2:00 when I was supposed to meet Tom for my first instrument lesson.  My time with Bill had lasted far longer than I expected and I had not eaten lunch yet.  Tom graciously told me that he would wait while I drove into town for a bite to eat.

I did my first zero/zero take-off.  For the uninitiated, instrument training is all about flying the airplane solely be reference to the instruments.  For every lesson, I wear a visor that prevents me from seeing outside the airplane windows, colloquially known as a "hood".  We simulated a zero/zero (zero ceiling, zero visibility) departure by launching while I was under the hood.  It's a bit disconcerting to barrel down a 60' wide runway solely by reference to the airspeed indicator and the gyroscopic heading indicator.  Tom provided occasional corrective suggestions.  "A little left...a little more...".  It's enough to convince me that doing this type of departure on my own under actual zero/zero conditions is not a good idea.

The object of the first lesson was to do simple turns to headings while under the hood.  Turns were required to be "standard rate", which is indicated by a rate of turn indicator that, as a VFR pilot, I have spent the majority of the last decade completely ignoring.  In a standard rate turn, regardless of airspeed, the airplane will complete a 360° turn in two minutes.  Tom wanted me to execute turns to particular headings at standard rate while maintaining altitude.  When I completed these tasks handily, Tom increased the workload by having me do constant rate climbs and descents to specific altitudes simulataneously.  Increased workload was the idea, to see if I could maintain a standard rate turn and roll out on the desired course while climbing at a constant rate to level off at a designated altitude.

Once, I blew through a heading while leveling the airplane, but at that point I was getting tired.  After all, I flew I total of 2.6 hours with two different (and new to me) instructors on the same day.  Sometimes, just getting comfortable with a instructor takes a lot of energy, let alone two!  But the lesson went well.  While vectored onto a 45° entry to the pattern for runway 28 at Le Roy, Tom had me remove the hood.  My world expanded, disorientingly, from the instrument panel that I had studied so intently, to the entire world outside the fishbowl of Warrior 481's windows.

Instrument Lesson #2: All in the Timing

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
24 June 2012 N21481 5G0 (LeRoy, NY) - Local Area 1.3 1051.3

The second lesson started with another instrument take-off and we turned to the practice area to do more of the same sort of practice as the first lesson. This time, Tom added timed turns. 

The notion of timed turns is relatively straightforward.  If the airplane requires two minutes to complete a standard rate turn, then any amount of turn can be timed: about 5 seconds for every 15° of change in heading.

I was better rested this time and handled everything Tom threw at me.  At one point, I relaxed for a moment in a moment of low workload.  "Why don't you tune in Rochester on the 430?" Tom suggested.  As I diverted my attention to the radio, the airplane immediately began a descending turn.

"You did that on purpose," I accused.

Tom hooted and clapped his hands.  "You know it!"  Tom is a master at keeping the workload high throughout each lesson, adjusting it carefully to stretch my abilities without increasing it so much that frustration sets in.

Instrument Lesson #3:  Attitude

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
28 June 2012 N21481 5G0 (LeRoy, NY) - Local Area 1.2 1052.5

One of my greatest fears about instrument training is the loss of a vacuum pump.  The engine-driven vacuum pump serves as energy source for the directional gyro (DG, similar to a compass, but more stable in turns) and the attitude indicator (AI), an instrument that was originally known as the artificial horizon.  The AI is central to the scan during instrument flying and any errors exhibited by this instrument can generate considerable confusion in the pilot.

We did another instrument departure from Le Roy and turned north to the practice area.  We studied the aberrant behavior of the compass in turns (resulting from so-called "magnetic dip") that makes the DG so useful during maneuvering flight.  Then Tom "failed" the vacuum pump by covering the AI and DG with post-it notes.  We performed timed turns to roll out on preselected headings without depending on the compass.  The rate of turn indicator was used to assess a wings level condition.  Climbs or descents were evident from both the airspeed indicator and altimeter.  In the end, I was surprised at how manageable it was to maneuver the airplane without reference to the AI.

We also "failed" the rate of turn indicator, which depends on an electrically-driven gyroscope.  Standard rate turns were achieved with the rule of thumb that [(airspeed / 10) + 5] yields the approximate bank angle (as read from the AI) that must be flown to achieve standard rate.  We did timed turns to demonstrate that this works.  It does, surprisingly well.

Then we did some unusual attitude recoveries on "partial panel" with the AI and DG covered up.  I have done many unusual attitude recoveries over the years with instructors, but never on partial panel.  Nonetheless, it was surprisingly straightforward and I felt my confidence in managing a system failure increasing significantly.  I think the real challenge is identifying that the instruments are reporting erroneous data.  It's one thing to figure out the malfunctioning instrument or system on the written exam, something else entirely to recognize it in flight.

"No need to do any more of those, you have them nailed," Tom commented.  "Now, you don't have to worry so much about instrument failures, you know what to do if you lose the vacuum, electrical, or pitot-static system."

"Yup," I commented dryly.  "But lose 'em all and you're f**ked."

Tom barked out a laugh and clapped.  "Couldn't have said it better myself!"

Instrument Lesson #4:  Really? Steep Turns?

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
20 July 2012 N21481 5G0 (LeRoy, NY) - Local Area 1.3 1057.4

There was a gap of several weeks owing to weather, schedule conflicts, and my vacation to Denver during which I tried my hand at flying gliders.

On the next lesson, we began using the VORs (VHF Omnidirectional Receiver, ground based navigational beacons) in earnest.  We tracked some airways, performed a VOR operational check (starting a new log for that as required by the gub'mint), and used two VOR signals to triangulate our position.  Most of this was old hat and presented little challenge.

The next thing Tom asked me to do was something else that I considered to be old news: steep turns.  The target bank angle for a steep turn is 45°.  I have been doing these for years and consider myself good at them.  I did not anticipate that doing them while under the hood would present a problem.  In fact, on a flight review a few years previous, the instructor commented that I had my head inside the cockpit too much during steep turns (i.e., I was relying on the instruments more than I should have been).

But, apparently, I was not using the instruments as much as that instructor throught.  Without visual cues outside the airplane, my steep turns were a trainwreck.  We drilled on them until I became afraid of making Tom sick.  As we debriefed the lesson on the ground, I put in a plug for doing more steep turns and was assured that we would.

Instrument Lesson #5:  Highways in the Sky

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
2 Aug 2012 N21481 5G0 (LeRoy, NY) - Local Area 1.4 1064.8

The backbone of the instrument flight environment is composed of VORs that define airways as bearings to or from particular stations.  This remains true despite the proliferation of GPS navigation.

For our fifth lesson, the now routine instrument take-off from runway 28 at Le Roy led to a climb to 3000' and interception of V252, the airway defined by the 314° radial from the Geneseo VOR.  We followed this airway to the station, then turned onto V119 (the 204° radial off Geneseo) and followed it to the BURST intersection.  This intersection, an imaginary fix in space, is defined two ways.  It "exists" 19 miles south of the VOR on V119 or it can be identified by a cross-radial from the Elmira VOR (V36).  We identified the intersection both ways by using the Garmin 430W to measure the distance from the VOR in addition to identifying the cross-radial from Elmira.  The former approach was clearly more precise as our radio reception of the Elmira VOR was poor at our altitude.  This certainly explains why the airways are eight miles wide!

 At this point, Tom simulated a vacuum pump failure and we negotiated the remaining airways on partial panel.  Turning northwest onto V36, we flew until we intercepted the 243° radial off Geneseo and returned to the VOR via that radial (only the turn was sloppy as shown by the GPS track above because we lost reception of the Geneseo VOR just before intercepting the radial).  Upon reaching the station, we turned back onto V252 and flew outbound toward Le Roy.

The key to all of this working is to maintain a mental picture of where the airplane is and what it is doing at all times.  I had no problem with the mental portion of this - I got it.  But my radial interception is still a bit sloppy.  I tend to overshoot and need to turn back to intercept the radial (note both turns near the Geneseo VOR).  I definitely need to work on leading these turns better.  Nevertheless, the whole exercise was a fun introduction to the en route instrument environment.

We passed Le Roy and flew north to the practice area where I proceeded to perform a few flawless steep turns in each direction, earning me a fist bump from Tom.

Instrument Lesson #6:  Hold On!

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
6 Aug 2012 N21481 5G0 (LeRoy, NY) - Local Area 1.3 1066.7

All non-pilots who have flown commercially are familiar with holding patterns.  When the time for landing has long since passed and the flying Greyhound seems to do nothing but turn in circles, you're probably in a holding pattern.

Actually, holding patterns are shaped more like oval race tracks than circles.  Depending on the direction from which they are approached, the aircraft needs to make one of three different types of entries.  The Kings teach one method for determining holding pattern entry that works well on the written test, but would be cumbersome to apply while flying an airplane.  Tom came to the rescue, teaching the "pencil method" that is used in conjunction with the DG.  Tom also introduced the "Five Ts": time (1 minute outbound off the holding fix), turn, twist (set the VOR indicator [OBS] to the inbound fix), throttle (slow down so as not to waste gas in the pattern), talk (ATC requires notification once established in the hold).

The first pattern Tom issued was to hold south on the Geneseo VOR 180° radial.  This required a teardrop entry and we did three complete circuits of the pattern.  The iFly 700 GPS showed a nice picture of three overlapping racetrack patterns.  These were spot-on;  victory was mine!

My first and third holding patterns ever!  The first was a huge success, holding south on the Geneseo 180° radial with a teardrop entry out of the northwest.  The southwest-oriented hold, my third of the night, was a complete failure as shown by the unblinking eye of the GPS.  I'm not even sure what I thought I was doing here.

Next, we flew a hold at the 10 mile DME fix east of the Geneseo VOR that required a direct entry.  This also went well.  The last hold was southwest of the Geneseo VOR and required a parallel entry.  My radial interception was poor and my wind correction was inadequate, both of which served to create a really ugly pattern.

These need more work, but I suppose two out of three ain't bad for my first time.

Tom had me remove the hood earlier than usual so that I could enjoy the spectacular red sunset.  The landing was a greaser.

"I may not be great at holds, but at least I can land an airplane," I commented out loud.  Tom heartily agreed.


  1. ...and here I thought you hadn't been doing a lot of IR training lately. Nice to see the full write-up. Congrats on all the progress so far. It's really coming along well!

    ok, I fly a Warrior - I proceeded directly back to Le Roy
    ^ Love it.

    I'm really thinking about finally starting my own IR training quite soon, with a couple other training things possibly thrown into the mix. Stay tuned.

  2. Hey Steve - I need to pick up the pace and my radial interception needs to improve, but overall, I would say that it's going well!

    1. Since reading your comment, I've been trying to figure out what training you have in mind. Then I remembered something: didn't your lovely bride gift you with some Stearman time last year?

    2. Technically, yes... but it was also just credit towards anything at Stewart.

      The true pilot in me said, "use it in the biplane!" but the realistic pilot in me said, "use it to stay current!" Especially with only one of us employed right now!

  3. Chris - glad your training is progressing along. I am still stagnated on the Instrument written, but recently purchased a book that I think will make the difference. Hope your training continues well.

    1. Thanks for the support, Ed! Sorry to hear you're still stagnated. Best wishes for better progress in the near future!