Sunday, July 29, 2007

Where in the World?

Perparing for takeoff from Oakland ...

Clouds over Mono Lake.

Numerous tower cumulous clouds required a lot of weaving, back and forth. We were at FL350 when this was taken. Kudos to the flight crew for providing a pretty smooth ride, considering the circumstances.

After a boarding a connecting flight, we entered some high level clouds and tightened our seatbelts. A shiny coin to the first person to name the aircraft, based solely on this photo of the wing.

More tower CUs on the second leg, and more bumps, too.

Here are some visual clues as to our location.

This is one of the more unusual scooters I saw ...

The last time I was here, nearly twenty years ago, I don't recall the police carrying firearms. They do now.

And if you haven't figured out yet where I am, this photo should be a dead giveaway ...

Friday, July 27, 2007

On the Road

I won't be blogging much for the next two weeks. It's been a long, long time since my wife and I had a real vacation, one with no family or work obligations, no job interviews. And while I'm not a big fan of the trite suspense technique, I'll keep you guessing as to where we are. For now, I'll just say that we did a connecting flight through a Texas airport and after 14 hours, we arrived yesterday. Or did we arrive today? I think I reset my watch correctly, but ...

And for those of you who know here I am right now, don't spoil the suspense!

Monday, July 23, 2007

'Scuse Me While I Catch the Sky

After more than a year of teasing the public with glimpses of various prototypes, Cessna has announced that it will be producing a new, single-engine light sport aircraft called the Skycatcher. Kinda of a dumb name, but it looks like Cessna pretty much has it's ducks in a row in terms of price, performance and market. Their web site is even in a faux blog format - posers!

Now I don't have access to one of these beasts and I don't have any friends in high places at Cessna, but here are my observations based on the photos and specs that are currently available. I won't copy any of the photos from the gallery at the Skycatcher web site, seeing as the site (oh, excuse me, the Blog) has a copyright notice, but you can go there and view them.

Some have commented that the plane looks futuristic, but I'd disagree. Cool paint scheme aside, the Skycatcher looks remarkably similar to a Cessna 152 on the outside. Right down to the stubby prop spinner. The engine cowling does have a more LoPresti-like appearance than the old 150's and 152s.

The main change in physical appearance is the nose gear. Instead of a steerable nose wheel with an oleo strut, the Skycatcher has a spring steel, castering nose gear which generally have lower maintenance costs - as long as the aircraft touches down with the longitudinal axis aligned with the runway. A castering nose wheel requires differential braking to steer the aircraft, so the Skycatcher will need to have beefier brakes than a 152. Brakes on Cessna singles (all the way up to the Caravan) are nothing to write home about and often problematic. Let's hope Cessna gets this right.

Cessna decided on the Continental O-200D engine, which I think was a good choice. A fuel-injected Continental variant is used in Diamond Eclipse, which I always found to be smooth-running and economical. The plan is to mate the Continental engine to a composite propeller and frankly, I'm skeptical: Composite props, in my experience, tend to be less durable than metal props and more difficult to service, too. Probably not the best choice for a training aircraft, but as we'll see later, Cessna had to keep the weight on this plane to a minimum.

The location of the wing strut on the Skycatcher appears behind the cabin doors rather than in front of the doors. There will have to be some sort of door stop/catch/stay to prevent the doors from being whipped when the plane is stopped when faced with high surface winds. From what I can see in the photos, there do not appear to be windows on the cabin doors. Now Cessna trainers generally have pretty good ventilation, but a dark, purple aircraft is going to be hot inside. I'd assume that the production models will have more conventional paint schemes and that will keep the cabin temperatures lower, but without a cabin window, how's a flight instructor supposed to work on his or her one-armed suntan?

There is no foot step on the prototype's landing gear strut, but that's probably to keep it looking sleek. In the production models, I'd expect to see a foot step on both the landing gear strut and the wing strut. Which leads to observations about the wing, which from what I can see looks more laminar-flow than Hershey Bar. I can't make out any fuel caps, but it would be cool if Cessna provides single-point fueling with just one gas cap. Think of the thousands of hours saved during refueling ...

The interior is planned to be painted metal, which sounds good since the plastic interior components used in aircraft over the years have just not proven to be very durable, even on the Cirrus. Let's hope there's some insulating material in there somewhere between all that metal or flying the Skycatcher will be like flying a snare drum.

The seats look ... Spartan. Actually, they make my back sore just looking at them, but I'll reserve judgement.

The 490 pound useful load, combined with a 24 gallon fuel capacity means with full fuel, the plane can accommodate two 170 pound passengers, some charts, a ham sandwich, and a water bottle. This isn't a lot different from the useful load of the old 150 and 152, though the Skycatcher promises to cruise 10 to 15 knots faster.

The control stick choice seems like a good one, unless the implementation ends up loose and flimsy. Of course, a stick offers no place to clip your approach charts and given the clean and simple Garmin G300 primary flight display and multi-function display with no back-up, steam gauge instruments, I'd go out an a limb and say that the Skycatcher will never be certified for IFR. The Diamond Eclipse has the same VFR-only limitation and I know first-hand how much this limits the utility of a training aircraft.

With a maximum takeoff weight of 1320 pounds, the Skycatcher is obviously not going to be a serious IFR platform, but not being able depart IFR or get back in on an approach through a Bay Area marine layer will mean a lot of cancelled lessons. Without even rudimentary IFR capability, this plane won't be catching any sky other than the clear blue variety. But have no fear. Cessna is developing a FITS training program (thank god!) that will undoubtedly put a lot of emphasis on staying on the ground or getting on the ground if the weather is questionable.

I just hope it will be certificated for spins ...

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Head in the IFR Game

Several months ago I suggested some concise ways to check in with ATC while flying IFR. Lately I've been flying with several new instrument students and it occurred to me to pass on some general suggestions for radio technique as it applies to IFR flying. Some of the suggestions that follow are particular to practice approaches, which in many ways are more complicated that flying a scheduled IFR flight under part 121 or 135. The underlying goal is always to make communication with ATC as efficiently as possible and in the process, reduce your own workload while flying single-pilot under the hood. If you don't give the controller all the information they need, they will start asking you for that information, which can turn into a big distraction.
Cessna 3 Foxtrot Echo, fly heading 240, maintain three thousand three hundred until established, cleared ILS 27 right.

This may sound like a lot, so make things easy on yourself by reading back the clearance and put your tail number last. Many pilots make things more difficult by reading back their tail number first.
Cessna 3 Foxtrot Echo, turn right 240, maintain ... ah ... please repeat the altitude to maintain?

Putting your tail number first can interfere with your short-term memory register just enough that you forget parts of the instruction you're trying to repeat. I've seen this countless times. So repeat the instructions and then just read the tail number off the placard on your instrument panel. This is a great way to reduce your workload, especially when you fly different aircraft on a regular basis.
Heading 240, three thousand three hundred until established, cleared ILS two seven right, Cessna 3 Foxtrot Echo.

When you are handed off by one controller to another frequency, don't check in with just your tail number.
Oakland Center, Cessna 123 Foxtrot Echo.

If you do this, the new controller might not recognize your tail number (even though they accepted the handoff) and think you are making a courtesy call: You want to request services, but you are not yet in the system with an assigned squawk code. Instead, check-in with your full tail number (minus the November) and your altitude. If you're checking in with the approach controller who will ultimately provide your approach clearance (e.g. the approach control frequency listed on your approach chart), add your approach request and the ATIS letter for the airport where you are landing.
Oakland Center, Cessna 123 Foxtrot Echo, four thousand.
Or ...
Santa Barbara approach, Cessna 123 Foxtrot Echo, request the ILS runway seven, information Hotel.

If you are trying to get in the system, using the facility's name is like shaking hands when you introduce yourself. If you use the facility name correctly and the controller responds, you do not need to mention the facility name again.
Seattle center, Cessna 123 Foxtrot Echo.
Cessna 123 Foxtrot Echo, Seattle Center, say request.
Cessna 123 Foxtrot Echo, a 172 slant Golf, 14 miles southeast of North Bend, four thousand five hundred, request practice ILS four, full stop, with the one minute weather.
Cessna 3 Foxtrot Echo, squawk 5342 and ident ...

If you are requesting a practice approach in VFR conditions, let the controller know how the approach will terminate. Doing so will save the controller time and prevent them from having to ask you when you are busy programming your GPS or answering an existential question just posed to you by your instructor.
Norcal, Cessna 123 Foxtrot Echo, five thousand five hundred, request Sac Executive ILS two practice approach, multiple approaches, information Bravo.

If you are requesting a practice approach and you want to fly the full approach with a procedure turn, let the controller know when you request the approach.
Travis approach, Cessna 123 Foxtrot Echo, three thousand five hundred, request the Concord LDA one niner right, pilot nav, information Bravo.

Handed off to the tower on an approach, many pilots like to use the phrase "outside the marker," perhaps because they think it sounds cool. I think that phrase is like "clear of the active:" It's not very descriptive because there may be multiple approaches to multiple runways at the airport. I've even heard pilots use this phrase when the approach no longer has an outer marker (the FAA is decommissioning OMs at an alarming rate). It used to be that if an airport had an approach with a marker beacon, it was likely the only approach to that runway, but with the creation of RNAV approaches this is no longer the case. So do the controller a favor and tell them the name of the approach you are flying. It's easy - just read your tail number off the placard on your instrument panel, then read the title of the approach off the chart.
Concord tower, Cessna 123 Foxtrot Echo, LDA one niner right practice approach, request touch-and-go, then back to Travis.

In a non-radar environment, the tower will ask you to report the final approach fix and that is a great time to do your Five Tees - Time, Turn, Twist, Throttle Talk. Remember that reporting the final approach fix to the tower is your last priority. Some tower controllers get very talkative with pilots who are inside the final approach fix. If the tower is bugging you with trivial stuff, don't hesitate to tell them to standby.

When beginning the missed approach at a towered airport, remember to tell the tower. And keep it simple. You've already checked in with them so you do not need to say the name of the facility, just tell them what you are doing:
Cessna 3 Foxtrot Echo, missed approach.

When flying an approach into a non-towered airport where you plan to fly the missed approach, remember that the approach controller will have to radar identify you again. Many pilots do this check-in as follows:
Norcal, Cessna 123 Foxtrot Echo on the missed at Tracy.

A bunch of words that omit the main information the controller needs: your altitude and the altitude to which you are climbing.
Norcal, Cessna 123 Foxtrot Echo, niner hundred, climbing two thousand.
Have your finger poised over the ident button on your transponder when departing a non-towered airport because the controller will respond:
Cessna 123 Foxtrot Echo, Norcal approach, ident.

Remember that you don't have to read back the instruction to ident, just press the ident button.

You'll know you've done a good job giving the controller the needed information when the controller responds:
Cessna 123 Foxtrot Echo, Norcal approach, roger.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Head in the Game

Like basic stick and rudder skills, being sharp on the radio is the mark of an accomplished pilot. Like it or not, how you communicate is the primary way that people outside your little aircraft evaluate you. Concise radio communications are not only of benefit to a busy controller, they will almost always get you better service from ATC. Good skills set a positive example for other pilots, too. We certainly have enough negative examples out there. To get better at radio communications, you need to work at it.

Last Saturday, one radio performance after another made me cringe. The ground, tower, and approach controllers were very busy, yet mostly patient and they certainly deserved better. A few of the screwed up calls I heard were from student pilots, but most were from pilots who should have known better. Instructors need to teach and then drill their students on correct radio procedures. When an instructor gives solo privileges to a student pilot to fly in complex airspace without ensuring adequate radio skills, it does more than just litter the airways; it may be putting the student at risk.

This also made me think about the arguments for user fees. Listening to the near constant stream of botched calls and misunderstandings, I was hard pressed to come up with an argument for why these pilots should waste controllers' time for free. The thing is, most of that cacophony and confusion can be prevented if pilots (student, private, and professional as well as flight instructors) make the effort to prevent it.

If you don't get to fly very often, stop to think about what you're about to say before you key the mic. I often write out a script for student pilots that contains the sequence of communications they'll have with the various controllers in the order in which it will occur. This gives them the opportunity to hone their words so that their requests are clear and simple. It also relieves students of having to memorize phrases during the learning process.

Imagine you're at the GA ramp at a towered airport, you have the listened to the latest weather observation and you want to depart under visual flight rules. Here's a template of how you could concisely make your request with ground:
facility name, tail number, aircraft type, location_on_the_field, taxi runway number, VFR destination, information ATIS letter.
I have one student who created a communications cheat-sheet with these sorts of templates. Before each flight, he fills in the blanks by writing in the name of the airport, the tail number of the aircraft he is flying that day along with any other details specific to his flight. Then all he has to do is key the mic and read what he has written. This does wonders for reducing mic fright. This student also printed a PDF taxiway diagram on the back of his script: Exactly the sort of initiative I like to see.

Fill in the template above and it could become:
Stockton ground, Cessna 123 Foxtrot Charlie, a 172, transient parking, taxi 29 right, VFR Oakland, information Quebec.
What do we usually hear?
Ah ... Stockton ground, this is Cessna 123 Foxtrot Charlie, we're ready to taxi for takeoff with the numbers.
A lot more words and a lot less information, forcing the controller to interview you and waste time. If the frequency is quiet, this is just an annoyance. If the frequency is crowded, sloppiness is a real problem and can even compromise safety.
Cessna 123 Foxtrot Charlie, Stockton Ground, say your position on the field and verify that you have information Quebec ...
Here are just a few suggestions to consider when communicating on a busy frequency in complex airspace.

Poor radio technique is like a virus and you don't want to get infected. Just because you hear another pilot use a cool, non-standard phrase does not mean you should follow suit.

Flying an aircraft and talking on the radio has been likened to playing a game of chess. Be on your toes, paying attention, and thinking at least two moves ahead.

Test your radio's squelch and volume before you transmit. Few things are more embarrassing than not being able to hear a controller's response.

Don't try to talk to a controller when they have just asked another aircraft a question or given them instructions that need to be read back.

On initial contact on any new frequency, use your aircraft manufacturer's name and full tail number, omitting the November if you are a U.S.-registered aircraft in United States airspace. Controllers may refer to you as "November 123 Foxtrot Charlie," but pilots should not include the November part. Flying outside of the U.S., include the November in your tail number. Never shorten your tail number until the controller does so. For more information, see the AIM section 4-2-4.

When two people transmit at the same time on the same frequency, the result is a squealing, unintelligible mishmash of sound. Think of talking on frequency as a game of jump rope where the pilots and the controller take turns. This requires pacing and if you don't get the feel for the tempo of the frequency (fast or slow), there's a good chance you'll transmit when the controller has either decided to repeat a question for you or has temporarily given up on you and is now trying to talk to another aircraft. When a controller says something to you, you need to respond in a timely fashion.

When you're handed off, the next controller has already accepted the handoff from the previous sector and he or she knows about you. If you can't get a word in edgewise on the new frequency, one strategy is to just wait for the controller to contact you. If your altitude has been restricted and you need to go higher, then do you best to check in and make your request.
Norcal, Cessna 123 Foxtrot Charlie, two thousand, request five thousand five hundred.
You've thought about the altitude you'll want while you were still on the ground, right? Right? Don't add extra words, no "with you" or "on your frequency" or "good morning," just your current altitude and the altitude you want.

If a controller asks you to "ident," simply press the ident button on your transponder and your aircraft's target will change appearance on the controller's screen. You do not need to respond on the radio to a request to ident.

When a controller calls traffic for you, there are just two responses: "Traffic in sight" if you see the aircraft, "Negative contact" if you don't. "Have the traffic," "looking," "scanning for traffic," "no joy," "got 'em on the fish-finder" are verbal litter. The regulations always require you to look for traffic. The controller won't be offended or surprised if you don't see an aircraft and simply say "negative contact."

When approaching a busy airport, listen to the surface weather in advance and then tell the approach controller that you have the current weather. You'll be doing the controller a favor because they are required to ensure that you have the current weather.
Socal, Cessna 123 Foxtrot Charlie, three thousand five hundred, with Montgomery Xray.
When handed off to the tower controller and in radar contact (squawking something other than a VFR code), simply tell the controller your altitude and intentions.
San Jose tower, Cessna 123 Foxtrot Charlie, two thousand, landing with Foxtrot.
When contacting a tower and squawking VFR, tell them your cardinal direction and distance from the field, altitude, your intentions, and the letter of the current ATIS:
Santa Rosa Tower, Cessna 123 Foxtrot Charlie, 10 miles northwest, three thousand five hundred, landing with Xray.
After you have landed at a towered airport, remember you don't switch to the ground control frequency until the tower controller tells you to do so (see AIM section 4-3-20(c)). If necessary, remind the tower controller that you'd like to switch to the ground frequency. When you contact the ground controller, tell them your position and intentions. You have a taxiway diagram at the ready, right?
Santa Rosa Ground, Cessna 123 Foxtrot Charlie, clear runway 30 at Charlie, taxi transient parking.
Don't use the phrase "clear of the active" because it is meaningless: There may be several active runways, so just tell the controller (or the other pilots at a non-towered airport) exactly where you are.
Rio Vista traffic, Cessna 2 Foxtrot Charlie, clear of runway 25, Rio Vista.
These are just a few suggestions, but the overriding goals of radio communication are to be brief, concise, and clear. Instructors, teach your students to use the radio effectively and don't accept or condone sloppy technique. With a little thought and practice, you can make a good impression, set a good example, controllers will give you better service, and we'll all breathe a little easier.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Big Stuff

The past week has been quite busy for me. In addition to the usual instructional flights, I completed my flight review, signed off an instrument candidate for his check ride (congrats GP), and did several engine break-in flights.

During the week, some big aircraft were seen at Oakland. One of these big aircraft was the King of Jordan's personal Airbus 340. And I thought the Boeing BBJ was the ultimate in conspicuous consumption!

The other big aircraft was a frequent visitor - one of the Goodyear airships. It arrived for the Baseball All-Star Game held in San Francisco and stayed for the week. Here is a sequence of photos of the airship landing on the North Field. I was just able to snap these as I exited the twin I was flying. The airships takeoff is equally impressive and unlikely, but I wasn't able to get photos of it.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Flying in a 'lectronic World, Part II

Virtually all aviation GPS equipment manufacturers have failed to acknowledge that pilots fly aircraft in three dimensions, not just two. Granted, low-altitude IFR en route charts, high-altitude charts, and area charts by their very printed-on-paper nature are two-dimensional. Approach charts provide the third dimension (altitude) in a crude way using a profile view. And on non-precision approaches, IFR-certified GPS units seem to have been specifically designed to provide no vertical navigation at all, not even an awareness of step-down altitudes, which was left up to the pilot. But with the new WAAS-enabled G1000, it looks a new era has begun.

Computing accurate rates of descent or climb is a really good job for a computer, especially in single-pilot operations where the pilot has other things to occupy his or her time and where descending too soon, or too rapidly, can be dangerous. The new G1000 lets you enter a desired altitude for each waypoint in a GPS flight plan along and here's the radical part: A Vertical Descent Indicator (VDI) and Required Vertical Speed Indicator (RVSI) will appear on the primary flight display and actually provide vertical guidance based on your current ground speed. This is something that pilots have needed since the inception of IFR GPS and in most units has only been available in a very rudimentary form, usually limited to just one flight plan waypoint. Not any more.

The G1000 flight plan interface on the Primary Flight Display (PFD) is much more simplified than the Multi-Function Display (MFD). As you're creating your flight plan (or when editing an existing flight plan), you may notice that the MFD's flight plan interface on the new G1000 contains altitude fields. Press the small FMS knob, scroll with the large knob to the field where you want to enter a value, then turn the small FMS knob to start entering an altitude or offset.

An annoying feature is that you enter altitudes one digit at a time, starting with tens of thousands of feet: Turn the small FMS knob to set each digit and scroll to the next digit with the large knob. And when you are done entering a value, press ENTER to save the value. If you press the small FMS knob (which I have seen pilots do thousands of times), you'll jump out of cursor mode without saving anything. This is infuriating if you've just invested several seconds entering an altitude. Garmin perfected the same sort of dumb user interface policy in the 430/530 products. You'd think they would have come up with a simpler, more efficient, and more intuitive way ...

The new G1000 also has an Along Track Offset (or ATK OFST) feature. The name may be counterintuitive, but enter the Flight Plan page, press the small FMS knob, use the big FMS knob to highlight the flight plan waypoint for which you wish to specify an altitude, then press the ATK OFST button. You can now specify a distance from a waypoint and a crossing altitude, which results in the creation of a new waypoint in the flight plan. The name of this feature may be dumb, but the feature itself is quite useful.

The Avidyne CMax chart display is pretty good in that in shows your position on the actual chart (circled in red), but accessing a chart requires a strange sequence of button pushes. And navigating back out of the chart display is equally convoluted.

The G1000's NACO chart display is similar to the electronic charts provided on the Cirrus' Avidyne, but these charts aren't a substitute for paper charts. The G1000 provides a soft key (circled in red on the lower right side of the MFD) that makes it very easy to display these charts from the map view and then quickly return to the map view, but there are several disadvantages. The NACO charts don't show your current position on the approach chart like the CMax displays do. When you display a NACO chart on the G1000, the moving map display goes away as does your terrain awareness and the TIS traffic display. Some of this information can still be displayed in the inset map on the PFD, but that inset map is pretty small.

One of the coolest features of the new G1000 is it's ability, when coupled to the KAP 140 autopilot, to automatically fly course reversal and holding pattern entries. For this to work, the holding pattern must be part of a defined procedure: The G1000 doesn't allow you to specify your own holding pattern like the older GNS480 does. Here is a sequence of photos of the G1000 and KAP 140 autopilot flying the SCK ILS RWY 29R by proceeding direct to the SC LOM, flying a teardrop entry, and finally getting established on the localizer.

If you are flying a GPS or RNAV approach, the G1000 and KAP 140 should automatically fly the course reversal and get you established on the intermediate approach course. You'll have to initiate the descent using the autopilot and I still have not discovered why the KAP 140 will not fly a GPS glide path.

If you're flying a localizer, ILS, or VOR approach, there's a catch. Anytime the nav source is changed when the KAP 140 is engaged in NAV mode, the autopilot will automatically switch from NAV mode to ROL mode (wings level). If you load, say, an ILS approach the G1000 will automatically switch the navigation source from GPS to the VOR/LOC receiver prior to the final approach fix causing the KAP 140 to go into ROL mode. The only indication that the autopilot is no longer tracking a NAV source is the NAV annunciator on the KAP 140 will flash to prompt you to reselect NAV (or approach) mode. The ROL annunciation will display, too, but the autopilot's display is not really in the pilot's primary field of view and there is no aural warning to get your attention. If you don't manually select NAV mode again on the KAP 140, the autopilot will not track the newly selected nav source and you could find yourself flying off course in short order. The new Garmin autopilot may handle the change of nav source without a problem, but did I mention that it is not available on the Cessna 172? I think I did ...

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Flying in a 'lectronic World

A good two-dimensional representation on a moving map can be a huge asset during ground operations. This is where the new G1000's SafeTaxi™ feature really shines by providing a highly detailed airport diagram with taxiway designations that I find much easier to use than the Avidyne taxiway diagram and approach chart displays. Here's the taxiway diagram for Concord, California that you get on the Avidyne. It takes a few button pushes to access, but it shows your position on the map, which I've circled in red.

The G1000's NACO chart display is comparable to the electronic charts provided on the Cirrus' Avidyne, but frankly they aren't terribly useful. They certainly aren't a substitute for paper charts. I'm told there is a Jeppesen chart display that is similar to the CMax product on Avidyne, but it isn't installed in any of the G1000 planes I fly and I can't find any documentation on how it is supposed to work.

At major airports, the G1000 offers a really cool moving map feature - just zoom in and you'll see a detailed airport layout. The brilliant part of the design is that it's easy to access - no extra button pushes, just reach over and twist the zoom knob (which I've circled in red). Your position is shown on the moving diagram (also circled in red).

To better grasp how useful this feature is, imagine this scene with really poor visibility and rain.

At smaller airports, you won't see much if you zoom in. Then again, at smaller airports, you're less likely to get lost.

I wish that the G1000 and the Avidyne systems provided a complete, electronic Airport/Facility Directory that contained information on traffic pattern altitudes, which runways are right traffic, the local noise abatement, and data on runway slope. That should be high on the list of desired features and it will probably be offered in the future, especially since aircraft owners will have to pay to download that information. Just what we needed - another database subscription!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Teach Me to Fly

Being up in the air is not at all like being on the ground. It's a good thing that you won't realize how hard it's going to be, in total. If you did, you might not even try. I'll do my best to guide you and, especially in the beginning, to keep things simple and manageable. I won't lie to you, exactly, but I won't tell you the whole truth either.

There will be times when the joy of flying will fill you so completely you will be certain that you might burst. And there will be hours of frustration, days, maybe weeks of dissatisfaction. You may quit, you may cancel a lesson, then another, say you'll reschedule, then silently disappear. And if you do, I won't blame you because I know how hard it is.

I will never be sure what makes you stay, what makes you stick with it. Perhaps it will just be that joyous feeling of being in the air, the way the world's imperfections slowly give way to perfection and beauty. You'll see the endless variations of the earth's surface, how things fit together, and you'll forget about how hard and frustrating it is.

I will regularly critique your performance and though I'll strive to make it constructive, you may take it personally. At least once, maybe more. Sometimes you will blame me, but I won't mind because I've seen this before. You'll rationalize why things are going the way they are because, for whatever reason, being evaluated is uncomfortable and painful. We probably won't talk about the emotional dimension of this because, for some reason, we're not supposed to. I don't know why, but we'll just soldier on. You'll think about quitting again, but the goal of becoming a pilot will have taken a hold on you.

Just as it seems to be getting easier, I'll tell you it's time for me to get out of the airplane. If I've done my job, you'll be nervous but you'll be competent. You'll be safe, a descriptive word often used by instructors and examiners. Safe. Behind that small word is an entire world - your world. And soon you'll be flying more and more by yourself. You'll develop bad habits flying by yourself and I'll point them out on the occasions we fly together. If you're lucky, you'll find a way to accept each critique because for the rest of your flying life, you'll be evaluated.

I'll be there to supervise, provide guidance, evaluate the weather, endorse your logbook, but you'll have adventures on your own. You'll fly to airports you've never visited before. You will get lost, but only for a few minutes. More bewildered than lost because it's hard to spot airports from the air unless you've been there before. You'll get confused, maybe about something a controller says to you or about something in the plane, but you'll figure it out. You may feel embarrassed, but you'll persevere.

Before you know it, you'll prepare for your check ride, And you'll be evaluated, again. My critiques may make you angry, or sad, or disappointed, but by now you will know those demons inside and out. You may snap at me. If you're honest, you may tell me that I used to be nice, that flying with me used to be fun.

After many hours, days, months, you'll take your check ride. The examiner may intimidate you, make you nervous, but it won't really phase you. The maneuvers, the radio calls, the turbulence, the landings, the examiner's demands will all be familiar to you. You'll walk away with a temporary airman's certificate and with a perspective on flying, on learning to fly, that only a pilot can have. You may stop to think about what you've accomplished and how I helped, or you may be too excited to give it a second thought - free at last!

You'll shake my hand and we'll part ways. We may see each other at the airport from time to time, you may ask my advice, but you'll be on your own. You may still hear my voice when you fly, encouraging you, making suggestions, and in stressful times helping you relax.

And by the way, I won't really teach you to fly because no one really knows how people learn to fly. They just do. Mostly I will stand by and keep you safe while you teach yourself.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Oshkosh Dreamin'

Later this month, July 23 - July 29 to be exact, thousands of pilots will descend upon Oshkosh, Wisconsin for the 2007 Airventure extravaganza. I've yet to make the pilgrimage and I won't make it this year, but I do plan to go in the next two years. The reasons are simple: Oshkosh is where manufacturers of aircraft, avionics, and most anything else related to aviation announce the latest, cool stuff. And I have some theories about what might be unveiled at this year's show.

I'd expect Cessna to provide more details on their Next Generation Piston prototype, perhaps nailing down the power plant (Lycoming, Continental, Thielert diesel?) along with a date when a certificated type might be available. Hey, this plane has three doors and it looks like they all close securely with a latching handle, too! For now, be content to drool over this titillating AvWeb video that reveals a few more details, like a G1000 panel and a control stick.

I suspect that Garmin will announce a new portable aviation GPS, seeing as the price on the 496 and 386 was recently lowered by $400. One improvement 496 users would like to see is an integrated GPS/XM remote antenna and fewer wires, which would make it easier to hook-up and remove. And what could Garmin add to the 496 feature set that isn't already there? A small, QWERTY keyboard perhaps?

Eclipse is set to display their AvioNG avionics suite, which was originally just called Avio and was to be made by Avidyne before they got cold feet. Cirrus will probably be on hand to show their Cirrus Jet mock-up and I bet Diamond Aircraft will display their D-Jet mock-up, too.

Pilots I know who've gone to Oshkosh always came back with lots of cool, free trinkets. Many of the vendors sell products at a discount, so good deals can be had all around. But to my mind, nothing could compare with the buzz of flying into Wittman Regional Airport, parking on the grass, pitching a tent next to your plane, and enjoying summer in Wisconsin.

Some day ...

Sunday, July 01, 2007

New Approach(es)

I was introduced to a bunch of new things this week. I got to handle an iPhone and no, I'm not the proud owner. Fancy, flashy devices like this don't fit well with the Flight Instructor Vow of Poverty, but the physical design and user interface are both very slick. If only the designers of the iPhone could redesign aviation GPS user interfaces, that would rock my world.

While having lunch at a local, non-towered airport, I had the chance to ride a Segway. I know the Segway is not new, but I'd never had the opportunity to try one. With a little instruction from the owner, I was easily able to scoot around, accelerate, stop, and make very short radius turns. The stabilization technology in this thing is waaay cool and you move forward or backward by simply redistributing your weight on your feet. Again, the cost of ownership is beyond my modest means, but I admire the design and construction of the Segway.

Cirrus revealed a mock-up of the single-engine jet they are developing, which is an intriguing design. While I realize that the shape of the tail was driven by the positioning of the jet engine, I have to admit that the first thought that went through my mind was "The prophecies have come true! It has a fork-ed tail!" The second thought that went through my mind was "Given the pressurized hull, I sure hope the doors stay shut on this puppy."

A few pilots I regularly fly with pointed out to me that the July 5, 2007 revision of instrument approach procedures for California contain two new approaches for the Hayward airport. I wasn't yet aware of these new approaches because, for whatever reason, my Jeppesen revisions had not yet arrived. At least three pilots I fly with had received their updates last week, but I just received mine yesterday. The two new approaches are the HWD RNAV (GPS) Y 28L and the HWD RNAV (GPS) Z 28L. The HWD GPS 28L approach will be deleted as of July 5, 2007. If you're wondering why two new approaches and what's up with the Y and the Z included in the name of the approaches, here's the deal.

It used to be that the inclusion of a letter was just for approaches that had no straight-in minima due to the approach course being more than 30˚ out of alignment with any runway or because the descent gradient from the final approach fix to the threshold crossing height exceeded 400 feet per nautical mile (this is usually due to terrain or obstacles close to the airport). In these cases the letter A, B, C, or D was included in the name of an approach and there was no mention of a specific runway in the title, such as the HWD VOR or GPS A approach.

As always, do not use any of these approach representations for actual navigation.

With the advent of RNAV (area navigation), the need arose to create different approaches to the same runway that used the same type of approach guidance. Existing FMS and GPS hardware and their databases needed to be able to distinguish between these different approaches, so the design decision (or was it a kludge?) was made to add a single letter to the approach name, but to start at the end of the alphabet and work backwards. Approach names that include the letter Z generally have the lowest minima (though there are supposedly some old approaches out there that violate this convention).

Before getting into the details, I'll point out that instrument approach procedures into Hayward are problematic from the approach controller's perspective. Hayward arrivals conflict with arrivals into Oakland's runway 29 and controllers have to find creative ways to maintain the required separation. Depending on the time of day, there may be a constant stream of arrivals into Oakland and if you're flying a slower aircraft, you can expect significant delays while Norcal tries to make a slot big enough to fit you in. The same is true for instrument departures - more than once I've sat on the ground at Hayward for 20 minutes or more waiting for my IFR release.

Against that backdrop, consider the soon to be defunct HWD GPS RWY 28L which has a convenient initial approach fix at SUNOL at 3900 feet. If an approach controller has to delay your approach clearance due to traffic into Oakland, there's no defined holding pattern and they'll usually put you in a box pattern over the Livermore Valley, north and west of SUNOL. Note that the distance from JOCPI to SUDGE (the final approach fix) is a modest 5 nautical miles and the minimum descent altitude is a respectable 400 feet AGL. That short distance means that once you are cleared for the approach, you should be out of the way of larger aircraft inbound to Oakland fairly quickly.

The new HWD RNAV (GPS) Y 28L has an initial approach fix at ALEYA, which is a whopping 10 nautical miles from the final approach fix at CASGO. My reading of Order 7110.65R and the Instrument Procedures Handbook both say that any vectors issued for an RNAV approach must be to either an Initial Approach Fix or an Intermediate Fix. There even was an accident a few years back that resulted, in part, from a controller vectoring an aircraft to a fix other than an intermediate approach fix.
If you're flying a slower aircraft, this means you'll either proceed direct to ALEYA on your own navigation or the controller will vector you there. And once you're cleared for the approach, this means you'll spend significantly more time in the way of faster aircraft wanting to get into Oakland. If you're told to hold at ALEYA in bad weather, you're at an altitude and in an area that can be conductive to airframe icing. Oh, and the minimum descent altitude for this approach is actually higher than the old GPS approach.

The RNAV (GPS) Z 28L has most of the same disadvantages, but it offers a 300' AGL minimum descent altitude and only 8.8 miles from the IAF to the final approach fix at SUDGE. In short, while I like RNAV approaches and have observed that LPV approaches are easier for pilots to fly accurately, I'm not sure there's any reason to specifically request either approach. The HWD LOC/DME 28L might be a better choice since gets you down almost as low with less time spent in the cross hairs.

If you decide to request one of these approaches and you find the controllers aren't quite up to speed, be patient and remember that they have to learn these new approaches, too. And if the approach controller mistakenly refers to either of these approaches as a GPS approach, remember that approach name items within parentheses are not to be included in either the request for the approach or in the approach clearance phraseology.

Now I'm off to buy a lottery ticket. Who knows, in the near future I just may be able to afford an iPhone, a Segway, and a Cirrus Jet!