Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A better Perspective

Canc: Wx. It was marginal at best. A cold front had moved just south of the area and the low pressure area had lots of crud associated with it. Some airports were still reporting VFR, but most were changing to IFR and many were reporting high gusty winds. Since I wanted to do that )@#^ approach the conditions might be sufficient, but the other work in the pattern might not get done due to the winds. The trends predicted the weather to get worse.

So I drove out to the airport anyway, just to see the actual conditions at the field for myself. As I was getting out of the car my CFII called to offer his opinion and I decided not to go. I went into the office to cancel the flight and schedule another for next week. (If the weather ever breaks I'll try to go sooner, but the 'weather guessers' say its not going to get flyable for awhile.)

The Owner was sitting behind the desk and asked how things were going. I'm making progress, but not as fast as I thought I would. I love the airplane and am having fun, I like working with his staff and the CFII, so things are good. He has a deep background in power plant and systems technology and started asking probing questions about my last 'non-flight'. Evidently resetting the autopilot cb really should not have fixed the problem. He suspects that the controls were not neutralized properly during the check which may have lead to the failed servo indication. Interesting.

...and then the other systems questions started popping. The engine had been at low idle for awhhile, did I consider pushing the power up and burning off possible build up? Why does the book say do a mag check at 1700 RPM (not 2000 like it is for most other aircraft I've flown)? Why do you check to insure the flap light is not on when you do the battery check during preflight? How can you tell if the external lights are working from cockpit indications? What are the nominal engine indications during takeoff or cruise? What key indicator engine indicator should you monitor during Takeoff and climb out? Have you noticed that when you disconnect the autopilot the electric trim doesn't respond immediately?

...and many more "why's" and "how's". It was a good workout, and I'm afraid I didn't do too well. This is partly due to my current perspective. I realize the systems work is important, even vital for single engine operations in IFR conditions, but I'm still at that stage focused on checklists and procedures. I've yet to graduate to the "why" kind of questions.

It was great hanger talk. I'm not sure that all of the questions could be answered by studying the POH. This conversation provided motivation to learn more about the airplane...and enjoy the journey to becoming proficient again.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Why bother? The airplane had just been flown, the engine was still warm. Everything looked great, so why bother with all the ground procedures...Turn and burn, Baby!, not so fast. During the autopilot check in the run up area I didn't get any pressure from the roll servo. Pitch servo was weak and the electric trim didn't seem to have full range. Since I REALLY wanted to revisit the PTW LOC28 with my new understanding of the the navigation/autopilot system, this was a key element for my flight. So, we back taxied to the ramp area for some trouble shooting. It turns out resetting the autopilot circuit breaker did the trick.

We rolled back to the run up area and continued with the checklist. As I pushed it up to 1700 RPM I noticed the #1 cylinder was not responding. (Was it off line during our taxi? Not that I noted, but I didn't specifically look at it either. I just remember seeing green.) Pop Pop, etc. CHT at zero, and EGT below 200 seemed to indicate she just wan't firing. Back to the ramp.

So I got to see how to take the bonnet off and got a good look at the engine. Smaller then I expected and what a beauty. Spark plug changed, buttoned up and subsequent check proved that a failed plug was the problem.

Unfortunately the delay went beyond my planned endurance. So while we had a simply georgeous Pennsylvania afternoon, I was unable to take advantage of it. Rats.

Time = 0.6 hours.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


The weather was just perfect. Very few clouds in the sky and mild temperatures made it a perfect day for flying. I got to the airport on time and spent a few minutes with the CFII to go over the last flight. (VFR entry and pattern altitudes, where documented,, not necessarily in the Airport/Facility Directory.)

Ground work went fine. I took my time setting up the radios on the ramp and was introduced to pulling up charts on the MFD suing the select function rather then loading them from the GNS430. It is pretty much the same method of selecting letters by scrolling through the alphabet. The rest of ground procedures including run up, copying simulated clearance and take off all went well. I engaged the Nav function too soon on departure (still on vectors so should have stayed in HDG mode) but the rest of the air work was OK.

Objectives: Terminal Procedures. The LOC 28 approach at Pottstown is pretty straight forward. Holding pattern in lieu of a procedural turn, Googl Intersection is the Initial and Final Approach Fix and is defined by the final approach course (276) and a radial (160) from the East Texas VOR (ETX).Missed approach is a climbing right turn heading 090 until intercepting the ETX 160 then back to Googl to hold. No tricks involved, all in all as simple as they come.

So if this was so easy how did I end up with this spaghetti?
It all has to do with with interaction of the GNS430, and understanding of the reference points it uses and how it tells the autopilot to fly the various aspects of the approach. The last time I was IFR current I used a GNS430 along with with two CDIs and one with a glide slope. (Also had an ADF that I never used.) My transition is to take the knowledge I had then and apply it to what I have some cases that can't be done.

First Attempt: Late transition, and used too shallow a descent on the autopilot (-500) so never had a chance to get down to the MDA. Executed the published Missed Approach. ETX is in the VLOC2 so I look for my #2 CDI. Don't have one. So I stumble figuring out that I can use the Bearing indicator and wait for the tail to fall to 160. OR, better method would be to switch the source for the CDI to VLOC 2 while flying the HDG of 090.

Once on the 160 Radial then what? Let's go direct to Googl. So, I open the FPL on GPS1, find GOOGL and punch direct. AHAH! Which GOOGL? It makes a difference for the logic of the system. So it took me some time to understand the differences and how it would effect the track the autopilot would choose to fly.

Another Attempt. There is a subtlety setting up the source and switching from VLOC1 to GPS1. You must insure that you GPS is selected prior to initiating NAV GPSS mode, otherwise it generated a "Fail" message. I also asked about timing. There is a timer incorporated under the function button on the transponder. The GNS430 can also be used to provide time to the fix. In all attempts I forgot to use either one.

Final attempt: resulted in a full stop landing.

Next I set up to return to KLOM. Used the Menu button on the GNS430 to reverse the flight plan and planned for the GPS 6 circle to land 24. I copied Radar Vectors, took some heading changes and briefed the approach. My setup was slow, slightly overflying the final approach course. I did get all of the correct indications and understood what the system was presenting and knew it was correct. However I lowered flaps too soon and allowed the airplane to slide above the glide slope as I prepared for the pattern entry. The landing was good, although to much speed on final forced a long roll out.

Fantastic learning session.

Time = 2.0 hours

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Approaches (Simulated)

Different day, different time. I went out to the airport Tuesday evening hoping to get in some actual instrument time, and nearly got through the preflight before we decided to cancel. The weather in the Northeast has been terrible for flying over the past week. I rescheduled for Friday at 11:00AM.

The weather for Friday was forecast to be IFR with embedded thunderstorms. What a pleasant surprise to find the sun shinning. I got to the airport on time, briefed what we wanted to do and I went out to preflight. I still had a few nagging questions that the CFII patiently answered. Ground procedures at a non towered field are finally coming together.

Objectives: Practice flying in an IFR environment.

It had been a long time. I remembered to put my kneeboard on but forgot to take my time copying the simulated clearance. Frustrating to be unable to even copy and readback a clearance correctly, but even here helpful tips about local procedures filled in gaps on what to expect from ATC.

The takeoff and climb out were normal, although warmer temperatures and higher humidity had an effect on performance. It was about this point when the airplane started to get out in front of me. I had not made the mental adjustment to go from VFR to IFR flying. I was concentrating on checklists and hand flying the plane when I should have engaged the autopilot and begun setting up for the next event. So while I concentrated on pushing the "Done" button on the MFD I wasn't working on the procedures necessary to fly the plane in IFR conditions. Aviate/Navigate/Communicate; all suffered.

...but, I learned. Slowly. First the ILS into KABE, Accepted radar vectors, played with the GNS430, and really worked on the relationship between the autopilot and the approach, which was the point of the whole flight. Understanding what the autopilot is programed to do fly the approach for both precision and non-precision approaches.

The ILS went fine but the missed not so well. When it came time to enter holding I was unsure of the entry. Why? I didn't know the outbound holding course. Why? I struggled to find it on the chart. Ah, but the root cause was that I failed to brief the approach! You can play with the toys but the fundamentals can't be ignored. This would bite me again over at Quakertown. Once the CFII helped me find the right chart view, the holding entry calculation was obviously a teardrop. The airplane flew it perfectly.

We left holding and flew to KUKT for a non precision approach with a procedural turn. I was only slightly behind the airplane as I set up the communications and navigation radios. Anxious to get the autopilot set, I pushed the approach button on the outbound leg which told it I was ready for steering for the final approach course. Correcting that, the airplane flew a beautiful procedural turn to set us up for the inbound course. Without an approach brief (which should have been done in the previous holding pattern) I got confused looking for the MDA on the charts.

Enough fun for today, we wisely opted for a visual approach at home base. I was able to use the system to load the airport view and plan for the entry. The approach was high, I made good corrections and a nice landing.

Wow, what a wakeup call! In a previous life this would have been a 'down'. Fortunately I can be educated and am anxious for another try at this.

Time = 1.9 hours.