Saturday, July 25, 2009

Stage Check Uno and Some Actual!

I had my first of three stage checks a couple days ago. The basic idea is to ride with a check instructor to ensure your regular instructor has you on the right track. I was a little apprehensive and, when given the option, asked my instructor if we could delay it. Later I realized she'd sounded disappointed and figured that she had already set it up, so I called her back and said "look, it's your call... I really don't know what he'll want from me and it's impossible to embarrass ME, but I don't want to embarrass you..." She said she thought I was ready so we went ahead and did it. It's really supposed to be a learning experience and not a test anyway.

The guy was fine to fly with. He's very old but not frail either physically or mentally. I remember him from somewhere that I can't put my finger on when I used to be based at Merrill - in the mid 80's I think. I asked my instructor if I should brush up on my CPR skills before the check ride but she didn't think I was as funny as I thought I was and told me to be nice.

He was enthusiastic about unusual attitudes... really confusing me and then handing it back to me on the edge. I laughingly told him "Whoa man, if I tear the wings off this thing you're not going to like it..." but I did fine. Somehow along the way I learned to automatically NOT pull up from a dive and level the wings at the same time, which is good since I think that's pretty much the only way to get killed in a high altitude recovery. He told me the next day that he'd had a good time, so I obviously hadn't scared him too bad.

He also told me that I had to make procedure turns away from the fix, which I'm not so sure of. Clearly they have to be on the 'safe' side indicated, but somewhere I got the idea that you can turn either way. You have to stay within the distance limit... but why would you have to turn only one way? I mean they don't tell you where to start the turn, right? So as long as you're on the safe side and within the distance limit, who cares? What if there's a strong tailwind or you accidentally flew a long outbound leg? Turning inbound might make sense. If you completely space out and find yourself at the distance limit, you BETTER turn inbound... lol. I have to try to look this up.

The guy made me go through everything I'd done to date and I did better that I expected... we had more crosswind than I'd experienced so it was good tracking to the NBD - I hadn't ever had to put in any serious x-wind correction and occasionally turn to the heading to see how we were doing. It was educational. My steep turns elicited a bump on rollout (well, one went a bit awry...) pretty much the only thing I did wrong was blow a couple altitudes a little bit. I'm not flying to the checkride standards yet, but am sure a lot more aware and accurate than when I started.

If I was an instructor, it would be hard for me to not nag the student to do things MY way (the ONLY correct way of course!) but neither he or my regular instructor is like that so they're pretty easy to fly with. I can take any sort of criticism as long as it's preceded by the phrase "I might have done that bit differently..." lol.

Then, on my next lesson, we filed a pop up and I flew a little (VERY little, lol) actual. It was great fun looking out the window and not seeing anything but clouds. Too bad it didn't last longer and too bad it was mostly enroute and not on the approach. But it was still a lot of fun. When I could sort of see the ground and was in and out of the clouds... I can see where that might bite you. Better to just not look out. Hopefully we can get some longer actual on my cross-countries.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Morgan Horse Trail

I tried out an Iphone App called Motion-X GPS which sends an email like this:


Dave uses MotionX-GPS on the iPhone 3G and is sharing with you the following track:
Name: Morgan Horse Trail
Date: Jul 8, 2009 4:55 pm
Distance: 3.48 miles
Elapsed Time: 1:08:32
Avg Speed: 3.0 mph
Max Speed: 21.1 mph
Avg Pace: 19' 41" per mile
Min Altitude: 258 ft
Max Altitude: 678 ft
Start Time: 2009-07-09T00:55:10Z
Start Location:
Latitude: 61.594318º N
Longitude: 149.016273º W
End Time: 2009-07-09T02:03:42Z
End Location:
Latitude: 61.594295º N
Longitude: 149.016150º W

The track,

And one attached photo. I thought it would put the photos in the Google Earth file as clickable waypoints, and it might, but I haven't figured it out yet or maybe need the paid version... but at least I ended up with a phone full of photos :-)

So.... here's the story.

I gave Hanna the choice of the tandem or the Dinobak and she chose the Dinobak because she doesn't have to pedal all the time (the tandem doesn't have a freewheel in the back), so I put some toeclips on it to keep her anchored. When Jake was 5 or 6 he came off the Dinobak on a trail and stuck his leg between the tire and the frame. We came to a fast stop but it scrubbed him pretty good.

We headed for the Morgan Horse Trail. I think it's a guy named Morgan, not because of some Morgan Horses, but who's to say. We didn't run into either...

There's a demoralizing climb from our house to the trailhead (particularly brutal at 80F!). I took it slow.

The view from the trailhead is awesome when not obscured by smoke.

You could smell it - all the way from Nenana, I think.

Bears? Better send Jake first.

It starts out pretty brushy (Devils clubby actually),

But opens up into some almost-double track.. And... it's ALL downhill! WooHoo!

And it ends at an airstrip! What could be better?

Then a long boring flat...

And a nice little downhill to home!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

NDB Practice

The NDB was killing me for a while. I was getting really confused with "turn to this inbound bearing", "turn to this outbound bearing"... but I had a couple epiphanies. If I can just visualize my route relative to the navaid, like a moving map in my head, it all makes sense. The only thing I still can find a bit confusing is which way to turn to intercept outbound sometimes... but as soon as I blow through it I realize what I need to do and if I turn to the heading and think for a second I can usually get it without wandering all about.

It's weird, but with a moving card ADF, I don't really see any reason to adjust it. In fact, it would work just fine without any numbers on the face wouldn't it? I've read a bunch of detailed explanations, but it really comes down to just mentally superimposing the DG on the ADF and seeing how far off you are. And remembering that the head will always fall, which I do by thinking that I'm always flying past the NDB - that is it will go by on one side or the other.

One thing that was a real "Aha" moment and a little embarrassing really, was during the procedure turn inbound it suddenly dawned on me why the procedure turn angles were always so.... uh, odd. I mean why not turn to some easy to remember number? Like 45 degrees instead 43? So I'm turning inbound to the intercept and talking... "OK we're turning to 213 to intercept the 168..." and I suddenly realize that the inbound course is under the 45 degree mark on the ADF.... duh. So I point at the ADF and blurt out "Hey, THAT's why the numbers are like that!"

My Instructor was polite enough NOT to laugh :-) Probably because she was so shocked at how dense I was... lol.

I can't see outside so my Instructor does all the traffic avoidance. While we were doing the NDB's Center kept telling us about fighters inbound to Elmendorf and C-130s that were just flying around trying to ram us, I think. So I told my Instructor, "Don't worry too much about all this traffic, if they get too close we'll hear crunching sounds." But I really don't like not being able to look when they're close. One C-130 was close, at our altitude and headed towards us when shortly after we flew under a cloud... I braced for the bump and said "OK, what the HELL was that!". :-)

The simulator is real handy for NDB practice, particularly figuring out intercepts. And I was on FS2004 flying the NDB into Venice, FL (near my 'winter home') and learned another good thing: I've been flying outbound 2 minutes to the procedure turn at 90-100 mph which is working pretty good. But, if the NDB is the missed approach point and is on or very near the field you have to get down fast to make it. You start down the final approach from two minutes out and have 2000 feet to lose so the decent rate is a little higher than I like and if you have drifted closer or sped up in the dive it's even worse. Making the procedure turn away from the airport helps a bit, but it looks like it's going to be enough just to know you'll need to expedite the descent.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

First Approach!

I flew the VOR into Big Lake under the hood. It was choppy and a lot of work but a LOT of fun. The second time, I think I might even have survived actual... :-) This is a useful approach too, because I could use it to get under and go into Palmer which only has GPS approaches.

I told my instructor that it was harder than I thought it would be, which she pointed out was a common theme with me... lol. It's more fun than I thought it would be, too. I can't wait to try it in actual IMC.

The Big Lake VOR is timed to the MAP so I ordered a timer - the clock is too hard to keep track of. How do people do this? Write down the start time and do the math on paper? Do the math in your head and write down the end time? Remember it all? I bought a timer... :-)

I practiced on MS Flight Simulator which made a big difference I think - the sim plane is a lot harder to trim out, but really helps with situational awareness. I ALMOST always know which way to turn now! I've run into several commercial pilots that use MS Flight Sim too. And it's good for knowing which way to look for the airport at MDA, although an experienced pilot would have already noticed this on the plate.

I have a program I can set the weather in the toy simulator with. So I set it at minimums (or just above if I'm not making it at minimums, because I like to land and feel like I accomplished something, THEN fly the missed) and I think it's pretty accurate. One thing I like about it is that you can usually see the ground before the airport - and it's tempting to descend a little and scud run the last little bit... just like I would be tempted in the real world. So I stay at or above the MDA and wait it out. Like a REAL instrument pilot... :-)

And for my son that will comment on my use of acronyms:

VOR - I forget ... lol Variable Omni something? Needle points to a radial.
NDB - Non Directional Beacon (AM frequency - we use a radio station in practice), needle points to it all the time.
MS - the Operating System almost everyone uses for stuff that won't run on any of the "Big Cat" OS's
MAP - Missed Approach Point
MDA - Minimum Descent Altitude
GPS - Have you been living under a rock?
IMC - Instrument Meteorological Conditions (and I spelled this right the FIRST time!)