Sunday, April 13, 2008

Covering Your Tracks

Whenever someone asks me why I'm not working for an airline, charter, or fractional operator, I often wonder the same thing. Then I think about the advantages of being a professional flight instructor and contract commercial pilot. I'm fortunate that my work offers plenty of variety and I get a lot of say in when and what I choose to do. I most often fly out of a busy Class C airport, but frequently go to small, non-towered airports. Many of these airports are off the beaten path. Some are exotic (like Ocean Ridge) while some (like Los Banos) seem more boring and deserted. Variety also comes in the form of the different aircraft I get to fly.

It's not uncommon for me to fly five to six different aircraft types in a week and this past week offered exceptional variety. One day I flew an aerial survey job in turbo 206 - lumbering along at 7000 feet over a dozen survey lines, 8 to 10 miles long, while maintaining a mind-numbing lateral course of +/- 10 meters and altitude within +/- 20 feet. A day later, I got a chance to test my G tolerance with a former CFI student of mine in an Extra 300. The Extra, a lightweight two-place aerobatic aircraft with a 300 horsepower engine, is what you might call a solution in search of a problem. It's pretty much the antithesis of a turbo 206 loaded with expensive digital camera equipment. So one day I'm flying tracks through the sky as absolutely straight and level as possible, then the next day I'm making different sorts of tracks - doing aileron rolls, loops and hammerhead turns.

This was my first time in an Extra and while I'm not drawn to aerobatic flying, I still appreciate the precision, skill, and physical conditioning it requires. The Extra 300 gives one the feeling that the plane could handle much more stress than most pilots can handle. This lead to a sense of confidence and trust in the plane along with, ideally, a healthy respect for your own physical limitations. I got too slow at the top of the second loop I attempted and I realized we were going to "fall out," I was very comfortable in letting the nose drop, gaining some airspeed, and just trying again. In normal and utility category aircraft I'm conservative, but in the Extra invites you to wring things out. A wise pilot remembers which aircraft he or she is flying and adapts accordingly - doing this stuff in a normal or utility category aircraft is just stupid.

I also spend a lot of time making IFR tracks with the G1000, which contains so many features that one could make a career out of knowing them all. Earlier in the week I had the opportunity to get creative and try some features that I hadn't used before during an VFR flight. I try my best to know all about the equipment I use, but many of the G1000 features fall into the category of "nice to know." You may never need to use them, but they can be handy in the right setting.

The Along Track Offset feature is pretty simple to grasp - it allows you to create an unnamed waypoint that is a certain number of miles before or after a waypoint in your flight plan. On the flight in question, we'd created a simple flight plan for a return flight from Petaluma Municipal Airport to Oakland. Since NORCAL usually instructs pilots inbound to Oakland from the Northwest to "cross the Mormon Temple at or above 2500, make right traffic runway 27 right," I'd entered the GPS waypoint for the temple - VPMOR.

Cruising at 5500 feet, we'd penetrate class B airspace if we didn't manage our descent, so I created an Along Track Offset that was several miles before the temple. To do this, I went into the Multi-Function Display's flight plan interface, pushed the small FMS knob to enter cursor mode, and scrolled with the big knob until VPMOR was highlighted, then I pressed the ATK OFST softkey.

I then used the small FMS knob to specify a point 7 miles before VPMOR. You press the ENT key to accept commit any changes you make.

Lastly, I assigned an altitude (you can only do this in the MFD's flight plan interface) of 3500 feet at VPMOR-7 and 2500 feet at VPMOR, again using the ENT key to confirm any field inputs.

A few miles later, we heard the aural alert "Vertical Track" and if you have a G1000 with the Garmin AFC autopilot, you can dial in the next altitude using the ALT knobs and use the VNAV button to instruct the autopilot to intercept and track the advisory descent. Our plane had the KAP 140 autopilot, but we were still able to track the advisory descent path.

Another handy feature is Parallel Track, which I'll cover in my next post. For now, I've got to rest my left arm which has some tracks of its own from several inoculations I received yesterday in preparation for an upcoming trip. More details on that trip as they become available.


Dave Starr said...

There is certainly a lot more built in to that G-1000 than the average pilot is ever going to 'find'. It's great that you take the time to point these sort of features out. If you were building a one-size fits all basic intro course on the G-1000, how many hours do you think would be needed?

BTW,as a point of correctness, it's Mormon vice Morman.

John said...


Thanks for pointing out that typo.

For an introduction to VFR flying with the G1000, I tell most people to expect between 4 and 8 hours. Some of the introductory stuff is best done on a simulator, but some will have to be in the real plane. Depending on the pilot's background and comfort level with technology, it may take more than 8 hour. I'd say 4 hours is probably the minimum for a thorough introduction.

For an IFR pilot, the work will encompass the tasks listed in the Instrument Rating PTS for an instrument proficiency check. Again, some of this is best done on a simulator. An IFR checkout is probably between 8 and 12 hours.

Colin Summers said...

And in just a little while you'll teach people about the synthetic vision in the G1000 too.

Head in the Clouds said...

I have a 172 with G1000... and it's what I learned to fly on. While I feel like I know all the essentials, it seems from reading your posts that there are all kinds of things to be learned about using the G1000 more fully. What's the best way to learn about these features/functionality? The G1000 reference guide is pretty useless... Do you have a recommendation of another book/tool/etc? thanks!

John said...

Hmm ... Maybe I should write that book?

Dave Starr said...

Thanks for the estimate on the hours involved, and thanks to the other commenters, I'm learning a lot here about somehting really fascinating ... which I will likely never get to fly.

John I assume you make these excellent screen shots from a simulation program ... certainly they weren't all shot under cockpit conditions, were they?

And it sounds like there is room for more than one book on the G-1000 ...