One of the reasons I find Flying magazine disappointing can often be traced to the editor, J. Mac McClellan and his opinion pieces. The January 2008 issue contains a McCellan commentary that doesn't fail to disappoint. Sorry if that's too many negatives - I mean to say I found his commentary disappointing because he attempts to explain how easy GPS and RNAV approaches are to execute with the Garmin 530/430 and G1000. Several of his statements irked me, the most obvious being his attempt to lay the blame for pilots' confusion in using these units at the feet of flight instructors and not where it belongs. To paraphrase the old Woody Allen joke, "Manufacturers (like Garmin) and the FAA have built a castle in the sky. Pilots and flight instructors live there."
But if this misplaced blame weren't enough, Mr. McCellan makes several assertions that he probably meant to be helpful, but are factually not true. His overly simplistic advice just might get a pilot into the danger zone. Jumping to the end of the commentary, McCellan closes with this claim:
The great news about WAAS is that just about every instrument approach looks like an ILS, can be flown like an ILS, and you don't need to learn how to do any extra button pushing. I think we want to make this seem hard because it's really so easy.While the goal of the new RNAV approaches is to provide vertical guidance for every airport, it's not always possible. Sometimes the required WAAS service level is not present and all you get is LNAV with no vertical guidance whatsoever. It may make things more complex, but an instrument instructor would be remiss if he didn't prepare a pilot for such an eventuality.
The commentary starts off fine and there's a lot to agree with. A recurring theme for Mr. McCellan is that navigational systems should be simple and easier to use and I agree that there is a tradition that mires pilots (especially GA pilots) with unnecessary amounts of detail about how things work. Mr. McCellan points out that many GPS instructional courses start out describing the constellation of GPS satellites and include many layers of complexity that have no direct relationship to successfully flying an instrument approach. Then it goes South with this amazing claim.
The box itself, and the instrument approach chart, show you everything you need to fly approaches with WAAS, and they do it automatically with no need for additional training.He then goes on to describe the Garmin product line in such glowing terms that it makes me wonder if we're using the same equipment. Perhaps someone from that corporation actually asked Mr. McCellan to write this piece to divert attention from the user interface mess they have created. It reads a lot like (gasp!) an advertisement.
But here's the rub that is baffling many pilots and their instructors—you can't modify the procedure if you elect to fly it as published. ... The system won't allow you to skip a holding pattern, for example, if that is part of the published procedure...With all due respect - Bladerdash!
... Stay with a vectors to final approach every time you can, and life will be easy. When a full approach is necessary you must understand that a WAAS box will not skip a thing.
Consider the RNAV RWY 34 approach to Willits, California.
Assume you are located somewhere near the Mendocino VORTAC (ENI), are proceeding direct to O28 (Willits), and then you learn the weather is not so hot. You request the RNAV RWY 34 approach and Oakland Center clears you "direct HERMT, expect the RNAV runway 34 approach." So you press the PROC button and select the RNAV RWY 34 approach and select HERMT as the transition. As Mr. McCellan points out, selecting and activating an approach is relatively straightforward once you've done it a few dozen times.
Here's where the 530W/430W units are a bit smarter than the older versions. Since the Initial Approach Fix (IAF) you selected has a hold in lieu of a procedure turn, the unit asks if you want to fly the hold. Mr. McCellan's simplistic description doesn't mention this behavior and here's where the FAA's regulatory complexity keeps instrument flight instructors busy. 14 CFR 91.175 says, basically, that in our scenario you shouldn't expect to fly the procedure turn. If you want to do a turn in the hold, say for currency, you need to ask ATC and get their permission.
Let's say that in our scenario we actually want to do a turn in the hold, Oakland Center gives us permission, so we answer YES to this prompt.
We've selected the full procedure. You can see the magenta line leading to HERMT and the hold depicted in white. Mr. McCellan claims that once the holding option is selected, it cannot be changed. Again I wonder if we're using different equipment or if he's in need of some refresher training.
Let's throw a twist into the scenario and say that you just learned that heavy precipitation has been reported 10 miles northwest of the airport and it's moving southeast bound. You decide to skip the hold. Press the FPL button, press the small knob to enter cursor mode, scroll with the big knob so that the hold is highlighted. Now press CLR and when the unit asks if you really want to remove the hold, press ENT. Viola! The hold has been removed. What's more, if the autopilot was engaged in NAV mode and was taking you to HERMT, it will correctly sequence you through the rest of the approach.
I've written before about the dangers associated with selecting Vectors-to-Final when the approach contains stepdown fixes outside the FAF. The short version is that if you take Mr. McCellan's advice then you won't see the intermediate fixes and you might descend into cumulus granitus if you're not careful. There are some new features in the Garmin units that make it a bit easier to handle this and I'll cover that in a future post.
Flight instructors are an easy target for frustrated pilots and for magazine editors who are trying to put lipstick on a hog. The problem with these units is that the user interfaces are a mess and by approving of these units, the FAA's fingerprints are all over them.
It's obvious that many flying magazines are dependent on advertising revenue from aircraft and aviation equipment manufacturers. And I wouldn't be the first person to point out that this often leads the columnists writing for these magazines to avoid taking off the gloves and drawing attention to the flaws and shortcomings in these products. I, on the other hand, have no relationship with these manufacturers and no incentive to ... well ... fib. I receive no income from these manufactures and I'm offering these observations for free to anyone who cares to read this. If you value my unbiased perspectives, please consider making a donation using the link found in the upper right side of this page. The amount you choose to donate is up to you, but it will help me continue to set the record straight.
Oh, and Mac, if you're reading this, feel free to drop me a line next time your in the Bay Area. If you buy me a coffee, I'll give you some free ground instruction in the use of the 530W. Or we can just chat about why you feel the need to blame flight instructors ...