Sunday, October 7, 2012

An October surprise

My old domain expired and, evidently, a fellow pilot had put in an order to grab the domain as soon as it was available. Shame on me for letting it expire but shame on my fellow pilot who has kept the blog name, added a new post, and kept a couple of my posts and pictures -- even re-dating them to seem as if they are from September of 2012.

So much for imagination.

At least it has given me some incentive to actually update this blog more often than once every three years. :) works fine. Leaving off the "www" does not work correctly yet but should work correctly soon, probably within 24 hours.

Happy October, everyone. :)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

2nd, 3rd and 4th Instrument Lessons

To date, I've had four instrument lessons. We're generally spending about a half hour going over the material before each lesson and then spending about 1.5 hours in the plane but today we spent most of the two hours in the plane since we knew what we were going to do.

Instrument flying is necessarily more precise than VFR (Visual) flight: on an instrument flight plan, the pilot is listening to Air Traffic Control (ATC) for instructions and then following those instructions. ATC expects the plane to be at the right altitude and heading -- this is important because the primary role of ATC is to maintain separation between planes even when those planes can't see each other. So it's critical that each plane be at the right altitude and on the right course.

"Attitude Flying" is comprised of a number of instrument skills that instrument pilots need to master. Attitude flying requires flying accurate courses at specified altitudes (within 100'), making turns at specified rates and climbing and descending, on course, at particular rates and airspeeds. Since the workload in the cockpit is higher in IFR flight, the pilot can't be constantly trying to figure what settings to use for a particular course every time ATC issues a new instruction.

Fortunately, there's a good solution. When flying an airplane, the pilot "pitches" the nose of the plane up or down through the use of the yoke. He also controls the speed of the engine (and thus the power available) through the throttle. In normal conditions, a particular pitch and power setting will produce the same performance each and every time. For example, in 70L, if I use full power and pitch the nose up 10 degrees above the horizon, the plane will climb at 90 MPH and about 700 feet per minute (FPM). If I set the throttle to 2500 RPM and put the nose right on the horizon, the plane will neither climb or descend but will instead fly along at about 110 MPH. With this in mind, instrument pilots use known pitch and power settings to achieve known performance. So one of the first things that Kyle and I did was to determine the a "power sheet" for 70L, which lists the settings I'll use for climb, cruise, cruise descent, approach, approach descent and non-precision descent. Mastering these will give me almost all of the speed and performance options I'll need for normal instrument flight.

We're using Peter Dogan's Instrument Flight Training Manual as a guide and I'm liking it a lot. It's a very clear, straight-forward book. In it, he discusses a couple of different ways that instrument pilots can use the instruments to guide the flight. The difference is in what instruments you look at and in what order to determine what is going on and what you will do next. We decided to use an approach called "Control and Performance". Basically, it identifies a couple of instruments (the attitude indicator and the tachometer) as "control instruments" that are used when making changes and the rest as "performance instruments" that you check after making a change to verify that the plane is performing as expected. For example, if I pull the throttle back and don't allow the plane to descend, I should then be able to see that the airspeed is slowing down by checking the airspeed indicator.

In the first few lessons, it became clear that I'd developed bad rudder habits through a year of visual flying, so I found myself really working to clean that up since it was a necessary precondition for precise instrument flying. I've also found a few things about 70L that I want to get corrected/modified. I'm going to take the plane to a mechanic in Massachusetts and have him check the "rigging" -- how the wings and control surfaces are adjusted. I think the plane can be adjusted to fly precisely with a little less effort on the side of the pilot and I think I'll get a little more speed out of it and maybe save a little fuel, too. Also, I hadn't noticed before that the weight of my hand on the throttle would slowly cause an RPM drop, even with the friction lock set tight (which is the way I like it). I didn't notice it before because I'm often adjusting the throttle during visual flying. But the drop in power became apparent as soon as we started instrument training. I talked to my mechanic who said "I know what that is -- that's an easy fix." Cool.

After the first two lessons, I really wondered if I was making a mistake in pursuing this. I wasn't sure that I was going to be able to learn to fly as precisely as needed and I felt like I was back at the beginning of my training again. It didn't help, I guess, that each of the first three lessons were on days when it was reasonably bumpy. Yesterday was a little calmer and, for some reason, it just kind of clicked. I had more understanding of what I needed to do and was more able to do it than before. At the end of the time, Kyle said "I didn't see more than a 50' deviation in altitude for the entire 1.5 hours and you only lost your heading a couple of times." There's still a lot of room for improvement and we'll keep working on it but I think it's fair to say that I flew more precisely tonight than I've ever flown before.

I should have gotten the instrument written test out of the way before this but I didn't, so I'm working on that reading on the side. Work has been crazy busy and family commitments are taking time, too. But I feel really good about how yesterday's lesson went and, oddly, I'd been so busy during the previous two days that I had no time to study or prepare before the lesson.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Departure from Basin Harbor, VT, October 11, 2009

Two friends and I planned a scenic flight for Sunday. One of my friends hadn't flown in a small plane before, so I was hoping for the forecasted clear skies and calm winds. Instead, we got low ceilings for the first half of the trip, including rain at points, and a great deal of turbulence. We left Glens Falls, flew along Lake George and Lake Champlain to Basin Harbor. We landed at Basin Harbor too early for lunch at the restaurant, so we took a walk to the lodge for coffee, then back to the restaurant. We departed a couple of hours after arriving.

When it came time to depart, the wind sock was showing a direct crosswind for runway 2-20. I sat and watched the sock for a few minutes, trying to determine if it was generally favoring one direction or the other, since it was swinging about quite a bit but it was about even. Based on the sock and trees and the winds, I estimated a 15 knot direct crosswind with gusts to maybe 20 knots.

I had landed on runway 20 earlier, since the winds had been from the south. But, given a coin toss, this time I decided to go with 2. There are tall trees that line the first half of 2 and even though the runway is quite wide, I felt that they might give some protection from the wind and I decided that I'd rather have a crosswind in the air than on the ground.

We took off and found that the trees did lessen the wind somewhat but the full force was felt as soon as we cleared the tops. Once we were high enough, I turned west over the lake and then south to depart toward Glens Falls.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

First Instrument Lesson

I had my first instrument lesson today. My CFII and I spent two hour all together. The first half hour was on the ground, discussing what we'd do going forward and what we'd do in this lesson today. Once we got in the plane, he went over additional preflight checks that are necessary for IFR flight.

The flying I've done so far has all been VFR -- Visual Flight Rules. IFR refers to Instrument Flight Rules and IFR flying is done with reference to the instruments. If the plane is in the middle of a cloud, looking outside isn't going to be very helpful since you can't see anything but the cloud. Consequently, the pilot needs to be able to control the plane and fly accurately and precisely solely by reference to the instruments in the plane.

After takeoff, Kyle had me put on the foggles, which look like sunglasses but are totally black on the sides and the front except for a small square opening. Wearing the foggles allows a pilot to see the instruments but not see out the front or sides of the plane, so it simulates flying in weather when you can't see out.

Today, we spent about an hour on basic instrument flying. We did straight and level flight, turns to the left, turns to the right, climbs and descents, all with reference solely to the instruments. (While I was looking at the instruments, Kyle was watching for traffic outside, since we were actually flying in clear weather).

I hadn't done any instrument flying since the small amount that was required for the private pilot license. I really enjoyed it last year and found that I enjoyed it again today. It forces you to fly very precisely and to control the plane much more accurately than is truly needed for visual flight, which is one of the reasons why doing an instrument rating will help a pilot become a much better pilot even for visual flight.

I hope to move forward with the instrument training reasonably quickly, with a goal of finishing it over the next couple of months. We'll need to work around my business travel but I hope to be able to get in either two or three lessons each week.