Monday, October 8, 2012

Timer, Not Forgotten

Date Aircraft Route of Flight Time (hrs) Total (hrs)
08 Oct 2012 N21481 5G0 (LeRoy, NY) - local 1.2 1094.8

It has been weeks since my last time under the hood and well past time to get back on the IFR horse.  Darrell was available for safety pilot duty, the weather was good, and the airplane was fueled and ready.  There was absolutely no excuse not to go out and fly blind this afternoon.

Though I have not been flying instruments, I have spent a lot of time thinking about flying instruments.  One thing that I have realized is that I need to internalize the process of flying approaches.  The specifics don't really matter.  For today, I decided that the Le Roy VOR-A would be the best way to accomplish this goal without wasting a lot of gas.  Darrell and I shot the VOR-A into Le Roy twice and, finding ourselves with time to spare, did an impromptu load of the newly-commissioned RNAV-28 approach.

It was bumpy today and I worked hard to maintain altitude to the PTS standards, but was generally successful.  VOR tracking was crisp and both VOR approaches were well-flown.  In fact, upon crossing the final approach fix each time, I remembered to start the timer.  Angels sang and fireworks exploded; there was much rejoicing.

Compared to the VOR-A approach, the GPS approach is stone simple.  My only issue?  Upon being instructed by the GPS to turn onto the 284° final approach course (which appeared as an LNAV+V with vertical guidance), I became fixated on the directional gyro.  While fixated, I stayed on heading while the northwesterly wind blew me off course.  The GPS-slaved CDI, of course, displayed the increasing course deviation unnoticed by me until Darrell decided to say something.  With the spell broken, I turned on course, flew the approach to minimums and landed.  The landing was a total greaser and was punctuated by some approving sounds from Darrell.

A post-flight review of the GPS ground track reveals every issue I noted while flying today:

1.  My Garmin 430W VOR receiver struggles to pull in the Geneseo VOR signal after departing Le Roy.  As a result, the initial turn toward the VOR is a bit sloppy, but tightened up as we gained altitude and neared the VOR.

2.  I inadvertently flew one of the course reversal teardrop patterns ten seconds too long.  There's no hiding that in the GPS data.

3.  I flew the RNAV-28 well except for the very obvious dip in the westbound course line at the top of the above figure.

Item 1 is a limitation in my instrumentation.  Both items 2 and 3 were my fault and resulted from fixation.  I need to work on keeping the scan going continuously.  It was a good lesson and a manageable issue to overcome.

Today was a great confidence builder and I ended the flight feeling good.  Despite the fixation issues, I managed to stay ahead of the airplane.  In fact, I felt more ahead of the airplane than I have ever felt while flying approaches. 

But much more practice is needed.  Next time, I will tackle some more complex approaches and see how I do.  To date, I have 21.4 hours simulated instrument time, 0.3 hours actual instrument time, and 13 approaches under my belt (a mixture of VOR, ILS, and GPS).

Slowly but surely...


  1. You're doing great. I can only imagine the angelic choir sounds in your head when you hit the timer button every time.

    I'm still firmly of the opinion that GPS loggers are great tools for any student pilot - whether in primary or instrument training. It's a great way to debrief in the comfort of your computer chair!

    1. I agree - particularly where instrument training is concerned. When reviewing one flight, I discovered that I had flown a holding pattern wrong, even though I and my instructor both thought I had nailed it. The funny thing is that it's my cheap $400 GPS that provides this opportunity, whereas my $$$$ Garmin does not.

      With that said, I'm still glad that I did my private training without GPS as a crutch. I do not think that I would have developed any proficiency at pilotage had the little box been there all along to tell me where I was.

      As for the angelic sounds, I'm pretty sure those were real. :-) Maybe they were coming out of Darrell.

    2. Yup, they're particularly handy for reviewing ground reference maneuvers as well. To be clear - I didn't use a moving map GPS until I had my PPL. I just used (and still use) a simple GPS logger that saves my tracks to text files that I upload at home to convert to Google Earth format.

  2. Chris - sounds like your IR training has come along well. So - When is the check ride? Ed D.

    1. Oh, there's still quite a bit more to do. Principally, I need to tighten everything up. Also, we did an experiment on Monday that very clearly demonstrated something goofy going on with my VOR reception that I want to investigate further because it's definitely impacting my ability to track radials and, more importantly, actually trust what the VOR is indicating. I'll write more about this happened the same day as the fire (yes, I said fire - it was not a good day).