Saturday, July 20, 2013

Instrument Rated

Yesterday morning around 7 am, I departed from DuPage (KDPA) for a short flight up to Janesville, Wisconsin (KJVL) to take my instrument check ride.  Boy, what a day. 

I slept terribly.  I went to bed after 11, and was awake by 4.  I had planned to wake at 5:30 to be gone by 6, but 4 it was.  After 45 minutes of trying to go back to sleep, I concluded that it was moot.  So, I left early and figured that I'd be less anxious sitting at the JVL Jet Center waiting for my test than if I zoomed in after red lining it all the way up there. 

The flight up was very quiet and relaxing, and I nailed altitude to plus or minus 50 feet the whole way there.  Not bad, right?  Despite some interesting wind conditions, I had a very nice landing on 18.  "Today's gonna be a good day" (in my best Ice Cube voice). 

After hanging out at the Jet Center for about an hour and catching up with the kind gentleman working the fueling work on the latest airport gossip (why did they close Kealy's, anyway?!?!), the examiner and I got started on this test.  We went through all that obligatory paperwork at first, and then got to it. 

Oral:  I can say that I felt I did pretty well on this.  There were a few holes in my practical knowledge that became evident, but the examiner seemed to think that this was more a problem with how certain unnamed ground school offerings address the problems.  For example, I could nearly quote the regulation about what to do with lost communications in IFR conditions.  I clearly understood what the FAA expects me to do... or did I?  Suppose you get to your clearance limit of the airport, and then it's time to land.  How do you actually start the approach?  But overall, I felt this was the stronger part of the test.

Practical test:  Oi vey.  First, my takeoff was fun.  The winds had picked up and were gusting in anticipation of the cold front moving through.  Joys.  Despite proper corrections my plane wanted to weather vane into the wind, which was not exactly making for a smooth take off.  (where did you go, Ice Cube?!?!).  The examiner had given me a clearance, and it was not long before he basically dumped me on a hold.  But, it was right on the airway I was flying and a direct entry and hold right on the airway.  Perfect.  I got this.  Well, it was REALLY bumpy at 3000 feet, and staying on altitude was not going well.  I certainly busted the PTS multiple times, but I knew this and said I was correcting and did so.  Trim?  I was using it - honest!  Another funny thing.. I double tapped the OBS button on the Garmin 430, so it did not start using my intersection like a VOR.  I didn't realize it right away but it explained why I flew past my waypoint each time.  I could not just hit it again because the system already sequenced to my next way point. 

Approach 1: "Asiana 214 crashed" at my destination, and I needed to "divert."  Since I was near Rockford (KRFD), I listened in and chose the RNAV 25 approach.  I didn't do so bad on this one and had a good landing.  I REALLY needed to take a deep breath because I kept waiting for that dreaded "let's go back to the airport and talk this over" statement.

Approach 2: We departed toward the JVL VOR as the IAF for a VOR-A approach into Beloit (44C).  This was to be the dreaded partial panel, and the examiner kept dealing with trying to cover the Aspen panel.  This was REALLY distracting and I blew past the VOR and had to get back to it in order to do the procedure turn.  Upon reflection, I should have offered to turn it off as this is what my instructor does all the time.  I got south of course, then north, then south and then north and then eventually on the course.  I did NOT bust MDA.  If I was going to go down, this was not going to be the reason.

Interesting thing about Beloit.  If one is going to circle to 25, one must deal with some very poorly lit silos right on the approach end and some hills to the south.  The examiner was teaching me an important lesson about circles especially at night by taking me here.  He suggested using Google Earth or Maps to check an area out.  Take a look at Beloit, WI airport and you'll see what he was showing me.  

Going around, he took the airplane.  I had not done anything wrong at this point, but my honest reaction was "now we're going back to the airport."  Instructed to look down, I was quickly handed back a plane that was in a turning dive to the ground.  "Holy s*^&!!!" was the only thing I could think.  I mean, I recovered just fine, but that was downright frightening.  "And that's how it's going to happen, too," the examiner assured me.  I assured him that this scared the bejeezus out of me.  One more unusual attitude, then we were preparing for the last approach.

Approach 3: ILS 32 back into Janesville.  I flew this one pretty well, but it was a dumper.  It was the second time that a full and careful brief of the approach was not possible, so I had to prioritize.  I was doing just fine and landed without incident. 

That was a long taxi.  Not literally of course, but I was asking myself I I passed.  I mean, as you can see from my description above, it's not like I just nailed it.  On the other hand, he never said we should go back to the airport and I flew the ILS just fine. 

After shutting down, we opened the door and talked for a solid 10 minutes about some things that will certainly help me fly better.  They were not correcting me, but only helping me anticipate some things better.  It was the biggest sigh of relief when he congratulated me on the successful completion of my check ride. 

After we completed the paperwork, we talked for a bit more about flying and things that I wanted to make sure I understood from his feedback.  I learned that I rely in pictures a lot, yet when I had one available during the partial panel but with GPS working, I didn't use it.  I should have as it would have helped a lot.  The examiner did not say that, but it just hit me as I sit here processing this experience. 

After taking a bit of time to relax, eat a cookie, and stretch, I filed my first IFR flight plan back to DuPage.  Would you believe that I held altitude within 50 feet again?  Flew through a very small cloud (I don't think 10 seconds is really enough to qualify as "actual" instrument time), but I enjoyed the fact that I could. 

Then... the dreaded ATIS.  How does 250 at 22 gusting 31 sound to you?  Did I mention the runways are 20R, 20L, and 28?  I checked Foreflight for what I already suspected - 20R and 20L despite being the wider runways were past the crosswind component for the Arrow.  Sigh. 

Descent was fun - I had about a 35 knot tailwind component, and hit 175kts groundspeed on 140 IAS.  That was not even to yellow line.

As I approached the airport, the wind check was 240 with the same speeds.  Seeing that things were the same and above my comfort level anyway, I figured I'd take 20R as it's wide and nice and long.  Just as I was flaring, the wind picked up and blew me left enough that I could no longer touch down without bending the airplane.  Go around, which was sliding all over the place as I had to stay in ground effect to speed up.  When I was comfortable again, I called the tower and said "898 is doing a dosie doe and a go around."  The controller gave a new wind check and asked if I wanted 28.  The winds were now favoring that, so I requested it.  Let's just say that I am not at all unhappy with a less-than-gentle touchdown that was on center line.  My instructor for my private told me more than once that sometimes the winds are such that a squeaker is not a very constructive goal. 

"Good job, 898."  What a way to end the day. 

Here is my flight track back to DuPage from Fight Aware... cleared route was interesting.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Initial Thoughts on Asiana 214

I am getting increasingly annoyed with the coverage of the Asiana 214 crash in San Fransisco.  Every pilot I know - including myself - would want the benefit of the full findings of the investigation before being beaten and bruised in the media.  On one level, I understand that there is an interest to know what happened.  However, the media is trying to wrap this up before covering the next Obama family vacation and cannot wait the long time that the NTSB will take. 

Instead, we are going to talk about the "inexperience" of the pilots [if they were clear, it is relative inexperience in type - but at least the captain was a very experienced pilot], there is the focus on the alleged lack of safety in a "visual approach" [completely absurd - EVERY pilot first learns how to make visual approaches, and may later learn instrument approaches.  All airline pilots are instrument rated], talking about the problem with a nose-up landing attitude [if you didn't put the nose up, the nose gear would touch down first and damage the plane... and it might make the landing VERY eventful], and even a language barrier [FAA and JAA requirements state that one must be proficient in English to conduct international flights - at least those coming or going from the United States - I listened to the tapes, and while accented the English seemed fine]. 

What is actually known at this point is that the the plane struck the ocean barrier short of the runway touch down zone, and that it was the tail plane that hit first.  This means that the aircraft was not in a "landing attitude" but something more pitched up than this.  There is also apparently some information from the flight data recorders suggesting that the aircraft was well below the speed at which it was supposed to cross the runway threshold (Vref).  I have seen reports that the aircraft "stalled," meaning that the wings stopped producing sufficient lift to sustain flight.  While pilot error is certainly a possibility (and perhaps if we were gambling the one I would bet on), there are also some other potential explanations for what went wrong.  We should wait to rule them out. 

One thing that has not gotten much discussion that I would be interesting in learning more about is the "human factors" or the psychology of what has gone wrong.  This flight was about 10 hours, which is a long time to be flying an aircraft.  It will be interesting to learn more about what their days were like prior to getting into the cockpit.  I'm not passing judgment, but it is well known that the human systems aspects of flying contribute to incidents and accidents.  This is why from early in training we are taught to look at ourselves with the "I'M SAFE" checklist - Illness, Medications, Stress, Alcohol and other drugs, Fatigue, and Eating.

But all of these things interact with the mission and the aircraft.  Being a little tired from getting up early and hungry from not eating because you're going to your favorite $100 pancake breakfast at a familiar airport may require a different go/no go decision than if you're flying to an unfamiliar airport in a relatively new to you aircraft all while in hard-IFR.  As my DPE for my private ticket said in our conversation about these things, "it's difficult and not really desirable to have hard and fast rules, but rather than you've asked yourself if you're really up for this flight."