Saturday, May 17, 2008

Straighten Up and Fly Right

U.S. airport identifiers start with a K, so we enter KOAK in the GPS for Oakland.

But on the chart it just says OAK.

I know, but the GPS thinks that is the ID for the Oakland VOR, so we use the ICAO standard KOAK to refer to the airport.

Okay, so Tyler Municipal Airport is listed on the chart as T74, but we enter it in the GPS as KT74, right?

Oh, I forgot to mention that when a U.S. airport ID contains numbers, you don't prefix it with a K.

That's ridiculous! Why is there such an inconsistent convention for something so basic as an aiport's ID?

I don't know, these conventions grew up over time and now it's just the way it is.

This was just one of many exchanges between me and my wife as I prepared her to be my pinch-hitter on an upcoming cross-country flight. She's flown with me before on long trips, but it's been a while. And though she's not a pilot, she's a fast learner and is eager to assist. Helping her understand the basics of VFR charts has really underscored in my mind how hard-to-use these charts can be. At least U.S. charts are consistently hard-to-use. When we got to the charts that covered the area outside the U.S., things got really interesting.

This upcoming cross-country flight will be the longest one I've ever done and the primary purpose is to ferry an aircraft to its owner. My wife is coming along for the adventure and because she doesn't like the idea of me flying alone and without an autopilot for several days in a row. I'll be relying on her occasionally to keep the plane straight and level while I attend to some in-flight chores, to help locate the appropriate charts, to keep an eye on the handheld GPS with it's XM weather display, and to help program the panel-mounted Garmin 530 and 430 GPS receivers. We also cover in-flight emergencies, the aircraft checklist, and what she'll need to do in the unlikely event that I become incapacitated.

We covered the Garmin 530/430 knobology and while she made the usual beginner's missteps she became adept at the basics of setting communication and navigation frequencies, locating information on the nearest airports, and entering and modifying a flight plan. "Why do they make this stuff so hard to use?" she asked and I again I don't have a good answer.

How to use the supplemental oxygen system was next on the list, so we covered how to connect the cannula, and how to turn on and adjust the flow. We practiced donning our life jackets and discussed when we will wear them while inside the plane. We agreed that we'll put them before taking off for an over-water route, not take them off until we're above 5000 feet, and put them back on when beginning our descent. I'll have the waterproof, handheld radio attached to my vest and she'll have the personal GPS locator beacon attached to her vest. The life raft will be secured behind her seat, where I can reach it should be have to ditch in the ocean.

I'm always extra careful when flying an aircraft that has just been approved for return to service by the mechanics. It's not that I don't trust mechanics, I just know that aircraft maintenance is complicated and mistakes can happen. So I'll use an aircraft acceptance checklist that I created, do a very thorough preflight inspection, look for loose screws, check all the inspection plates, and I'll be the only person on board for the first flight.

On subsequent shake-down flights, I'll cover the basic aircraft engine and flight controls with my pinch hitter. But first the plane has to come back from it's annual inspection. The propellers just came back from the prop shop and have been installed, but the engine ground runs must still be completed and the aircraft logbook updated. I feel like I'm helping create a mosaic out of hundreds of tiny tiles while trying to maintain a normal teaching schedule up to our departure date. All the planning and preparation is tedious and time-consuming, but the big picture is gradually taking shape.


JLP said...

Good luck with your flight! And congrats on getting your wife so involved. I've just begun taking instruction through the local FBO, and I'm fortunate enough that my wife is into it as well, and is taking the lessons right beside me. Eventually, she says, she wants to get her PPL as well, but in the meantime we're content to just fly together.

If you feel such a yin, I'd like to see your checklist. Given my wife flies with me, safety is high on my list, so any suggestions and advice I can pick up is well received.

Otherwise I hope you have a great and safe break-in journey. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

John-- regarding your comment about one of your wife's duties keeping the plane straight and level while you doing chores. Is that strictly legal? Or, is it so safe that it doesn't matter whether it's legal or not? I know you're a CFI, but does that make a difference? I've often wondered about pilots letting their spouses or friends fly the plane (in safe, benign conditions) and whether it's strictly legal.

John said...


My checklist reminds me to ensure that the maintenance entries have been made in the correct logbook (aircraft, engine, propeller) and that they are accurate and reflect the correct Hobbs and Tach times. I've been burned before when taking an aircraft back from maintenance by finding that the gust lock, fire extinguisher, or towbar was removed and not returned. Stuff like that ...

Otherwise, I'll be doing very thorough preflight, taxi, and run-up checks. The brake wheel cylinders were rebuilt during the annual on this plane, so I'll be checking the brakes and parking brakes more closely than I might otherwise. Since the props were serviced, I'll do a shutdown, feather, secure and air start on each engine - one at a time, of course!


While I'm not a lawyer, I generally condone pilots operating under part 91 to supervise non-pilots while they manipulate the controls during non-critical phases of flight. Some people assert that it's okay for student pilots to act as pilot-in-command with an appropriately certificated pilot in the right seat who is not an instructor, but that sounds like a job for flight instructor to me. If the pilot in the right seat isn't an instructor and doesn't have training or significant experience flying from the right seat, I think it's a bad idea and many insurance companies think so, too.