Saturday, October 27, 2012

Getting Lost in the Cockpit: Adventures in Glass

Today I took my first solo flight in a G1000 equipped C172, which was rather interesting.  I took a brief flight in this same airplane during my primary training so that my instructor and I could fly back a DA-20, and then completed a VFR checkout in it a few weeks ago.  This coupled with several viewings of Sporty's G1000 Checkout videos should have prepared me for today's flight.

Holy crap.  There is just so much going on with these displays, and I was warned that it is easy to get lost inside the cockpit trying to figure out how something works while the plane does all kinds of bad things.  I won't say I totally resisted the temptation to get lost, but I did heed the instructor's advice about using the autopilot and making sure it's doing what you expect it to before going on a pushing, twisting, and cursing mission.

Some advice for transitioning to glass:

1.  Review one of the educational offerings such as from Sporty's or the Kings before trying to take this on.  I confess that this is a blessing and a curse, though.  There were things I was trying to get the system to do that I just could not remember how to accomplish. 

2.  Use that autopilot.  Although the 172s that I fly all have something resembling an autopilot, I tend not to use them to build stick and rudder skills and I find that those systems that only hold a heading or following your GPS track are annoying.  But this keeps you from practicing CFIT if you get distracted, and N97VA has a real autopilot that will maintain course and altitude.

3.  Always know how to go back to the basics.  The instructor who checked me out said that if I can't figure out how to make the system do what I want it to, use the ways that I know.  For example, the Sporty's video says that selecting frequencies from the waypoint menu is the preferred way to enter frequencies, but I still have not figured out how to do that.  Fortunately, there is a method that anyone who is familiar with a 430 or 530 will immediately recognize.

4.  Today, I tried to do everything that a VFR pilot might want to do.  Instead I should have simply reviewed the basics that I had previously mastered and then chosen one or two of the more useful or important things to add on.

5.  Don't totally rely on the MFD to provide you weather.  While on the leg between KVPZ and KARR, I attempted to pull up the METAR for KARR.  I think that I was successful in telling the system what I wanted, but it simply told me that there was no data.  Sigh.  Thank goodness for the old fashion method.

6.  I think that Garmin has a simulator that can be downloaded from its website, and that is probably worth spending some time with before trying to fly the plane while you're at it.

7.  Remember that you may have more than one instrument to adjust.  With any G1000, you have at least two altimeter settings and in my case three (7VA does not have the fancy Garmin flight director, but a  KAP140 that works pretty well but requires a third barometer setting). 

Conclusion: I'm not sure yet that I actually LIKE the G1000.  Yes, it has many very powerful tools and I can see being very useful.  But I did not like how I got away from enjoying the scenery and flying the plane and instead got fascinated with gizmos.  Yet having on-board weather from XM being relatively easily able to access airspace information relative to your position is very handy. 

So, how was the flight?  I departed KUGN and followed the Chicago shoreline to KVPZ where I executed a bouncing go-around and a decent landing that was just a bit longer than I would have preferred it.  I then headed west to KARR and had a go-around (gust just as I was about to touch down made me nervous) and a smooth landing.  Finally, back to KUGN with "calm" winds being defined as direct 5-knot crosswind across runway 5.  While I appreciate a straight in approach as much as the next guy, it would have been easier to take 32.  However, my landing was pretty nice overall and I quit while I was ahead.  Things were fairly bumpy and 5-10 knot gusts were enjoyed at VPZ and ARR.    

I got some pictures of downtown Chicago that I'll post later.  As I headed from VPZ to ARR, I crossed paths with a couple of jets (a Southwest 737 and an RJ) going into Midway (KMDW).  I would have gotten a picture or two, but I was hand flying at this point and a bit worried that I had crossed up some airspace given where I was in relation to where those aircraft were.  By the time I confirmed that I was clear of ORD's Bravo and MDW's Charlie as I believed I was all along the opportunities had passed. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

DuBois... Denied

Tomorrow (Saturday) morning, the kiddoes and I were supposed to fly to DuBois Regional Airport (KDUJ) to visit my parents.  Here is the prog chart for the time we're to be airborne:

As you can see, we're forecast to have a nasty mix of marginal VFR and IFR weather along with some rain between Chicago and Western Pennsylvania.  Grandma is already disappointed and the kids will be in the morning when I don't wake them up at 6 am.

I've been looking forward to this in part because KDUJ was built on my great-grandparent's farm that was commandeered by the federal government because it seemed like a swell place to put an airport.  I also have heard that until recently there was a tree near one end the runway that my father fell out of and broke his arm as a kid. 

Of course, if I had that instrument rating this would all be of little consequence.  Well, there is that freezing level and turbulence... but the latter clears out by the next chart. 



First, before you read this you really should find Tim Minchin's "Confessions" on YouTube and hear the chorus going through your head before your read this.   It seems only appropriate.  This is a very hard post to write so a bit of humor helps.

September 29, 2012 will forever live as a day of infamy in my logbook.  It was the first time both of my children flew with me, and they actually did fairly well.  We departed KPWK in an unnamed Skyhawk and enjoyed the changing foliage as we headed for Janesville, Wisconsin (KJVL).  The plan was the enjoy some lunch at Kealy's and then depart to KDPA to check out the Pilot Shop on the field.

All was going well, and my straight in approach to Runway 30 was very nice.  Despite having to isolate myself from the rest of what was going on in the cockpit, my landing was on center line, smooth, and almost gentle even.  I was quite pleased with myself as we taxied over to the ramp.  Very nice.  Of course, my celebration was about to be overshadowed.

As we taxied to the ramp, there was a fair amount going on.  The Banana and the Boy had both decided that they wanted to take off their headsets, which was fine.  I was looking for where I was "supposed" to park the plane (mistake #1), and became tunnel visioned (mistake #2) as I found a place where the paint was conveniently painted on the ramp.  There was just one problem. The pilot forgot about these silly long things hanging off the side of the plane called wings (mistake #3).  All this coupled with forgetting that there was a temporary fence in place for construction (mistake #4) led to a very unceremonious stop... and a loud "what the hell!?!?!?!?!   Teaching my children new vocabulary was not part of the mission today.  What just happened? 

I looked out the right side of the plane to see that my wing just got into a fight with a pole and lost.  Pole 1 - Wing 0.  (insert Tim Minchin tune here).  Dammit.  (Note: this is about how it reads in my logbook, too). 

As you might imagine, I have been licking my wounds over this one.  A phone call and a picture to the flight school was executed, and the Banana, the Boy and I walked into Kealy's for some fare.  They enjoyed their fries and whatever else they ate.  I had a couple of pancakes, which were actually huge and pretty tasty.  It was really hard to enjoy them. 

So, after an hour I sent my instructor an email message and asked him if it was normal to feel like you should tear up your certificate after such an incident.  His response was priceless, "If you did that while taxiing, you might want to give up your driver's license instead."  Thanks, Jason. I needed that. I've also gotten encouragement from several other folks at the school, including the man who administered my check ride. 

So, they brought up another plane and a few instructors (which cost me a mint, you betcha).  One of them flew the wounded machine back to the hanger while I flew with the other instructor and my children in the other plane.  I was pleased that he was an instructor and we were in another Skyhawk.  I flew the plane back to KPWK and dealt with some squirrley winds and my shaken confidence.  My first go at RWY 34 was long because of the interesting tower instructions of "extend your downwind" and "turn base now" along with a tailwind.  So, I went around and the winds had just shifted and were favoring 12.  Managed to have a reasonable landing there that was on center line and about where I wanted it.  It was a good flight, and it did increase my confidence a little. 

Since then, I did a G1000 checkout in another Skyhawk (that's a whole other post!) and on another day flew from KUGN to Monroe, Wisconsin (KUES) where I did three nice landings.  My landing back at UGN was also reasonable - long because I was a bit too serious about avoiding wake turbulence but with significant crosswinds. 

I guess the good news here is that my landings are much improved in the Skyhawk.  So much for shredding the certificate. 

.... F**** I love.....  (you really gotta play the YouTube video.  Just so you know, there are some potty words here). 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Link: Fox News and the Grumbling Airline CEO

Fox News posted the following opinion piece today about the state of affairs in the airline industry.  I found myself chuckling, amused and frightened thinking about how many laws of business are getting violated, and thankful that I can fly myself wherever I want to go in these continental United States.... though I might pay mightily for it in time and money.  It's more fun though!