Friday, July 31, 2009

Simple NDB Approach

Two weeks since my last flight because the weather in the Northeast is still marginal. I guess I've been spoiled by flying in the Atlanta area. Yes, the weather gets ugly there too, but you can plan around the thunderstorm activity. Planning here is just impossible, so finding a good weather day is mere chance. Thursdays seem to work well for the current cycle.

Having spent so much time on the VOR approach with a holding entry, I wanted to see what the autopilot would do with an approach with a procedural turn. Quakertown (UKT) provides an NDB 29 (with GPS overlay) which includes some step downs along the way.

Preflight was normal, she needed some gas but the oil looked like it had recently been changed. The rest of the airplane looked good (I'm still thrilled to be able to fly a plane like this.) I finished my checklist and turned the key..and waited. No joy. What I should have known prior to start was that the airplane had been flown that day and was still warm...requiring the warm start procedure. Following the normal/cold start procedure flooded the engine. **Note to self, ask if the plane has flown when I pick up the key. Yes, the engine was warm when I checked, but I attributed that to sitting in the sun.

The rest of the ground procedures were normal and comfortable. I let the take off roll go too long, but otherwise the departure went fine. Setup and entry for the approach also went well. I am truly amazed at what the system can do. In the 'old days' I would perform the 5(I used 6) Ts: Time (for reporting purposes), Twist (CDI to outbound course), Turn (to the outbound course), Time (outbound for procedure turn), Transition (to new airspeed/altitude/or configuration), Talk (position report). While I audit those factors, the airplane is capable of aviating and navigating the approach entry hands off. The trick is being able to tell the airplane (through the GNS430) what you want it to do, and there are always a variety of ways to do that. My training is to understand all of those options and to understand the optimal use of the system at any given time.

So, once PT inbound I wait for the 'needle to come alive' to put the autopilot into Approach mode. Now I'm on the final approach course inbound and can make my first step down. How? There is no vertical guidance so I can set a vertical speed and automatic altitude capture, or just push the Alt button when I reach desired altitude. FAF requires a transition (half flaps) and descent to MDA. Again, options to be considered on how to do this with the various modes of the autopilot and I dutifully try each one. (CFII must be going nutz as he has told me this a dozen times, but my training requires me to make the mistake with each unsatisfactory option to fully understand the ramifications.) My rate of descent was too shallow so we missed and headed back for published holding.

A brief discussion about approach plates. Previously I would look down at my kneeboard and see the entire picture. Header, planview, minimums, etc, I would would cross check that plate a half-dozen times while on the approach. The chart function in the airplane has all of this information as well (and more), but it is divided into four views which can be displayed by cycling the view button. I'm getting comfortable with this but still lack efficiency. In this case I could have found and used the optimum vertical speed, but didn't...another lesson learned.

The training I've pointed out above is all secondary to the real key to controlling this technology; mastery of the GNS430. It is simply not good enough to have a basic understanding of some of the functions. This again became clear setting up for the 're do' approach from holding. Choosing the complete approach from Proc button (my choice) tells the airplane to do the whole approach with procedural turn, but realistically, if you're in holding already you don't want that. So understanding what options are available and where they can be found is vital if you expect to utilize the suite effectively.

This was a great exercise, the flight concluded with a GPS 24 back issues. I'm always delighted to fly by Willow Grove (NXX), a former 'stomping ground'. Landing was OK.

Time = 1.9 hours

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Select the Navigation Source

I wanted to go back to PTW to see if I really understood all aspects of the system. I had learned a lot from my last adventure over there and I hoped it was all coming together.

I was fortunate to pick a day between storms, fronts and other weather makers. The Northeast is still being hammered by ugly weather, so picking a time in the afternoon has a really a low percentage of getting airborne. I got out to the airplane as soon as possible, got the preflight done and buckled in. The CFII came out in a few minutes and told me a new Cirrus had just arrived. It is always good news to hear about additions to the fleet, and I look forward to taking advantage of flying a brand new airplane.

The ground procedures flowed normally, and the takeoff went well. As I started puching the buttons on the GNS430 the CFII stopped me. I had chosen direct-to GOOGL..why? Why not just activate the approach? His question was aimed at establishing standard procedures, not the functioning of the box. It was then that another puzzle piece fit into place. I had been studying the manlas for the GNS430 looking to find out why I fumbled seeting up navigation. Sometimes its the simple stuff and the CFII finally got it into my skull, you must have the correct source slected on the PFD BEFORE hitting the the autopilot NAV button.
My eagerness to engage George made me skip that key check. Hopefully a lesson well learned (again). Additional points were made in holding and setup, breifing and execution of the approach. This resulted in a full stop and taxi back for takeoff.

The weather check showed some interesting activity over at Wings. A little purple surrounded by red and yellow on the map didn't look inviting. The buildups were beautiful, but not anything I wanted to get close too. Listening to ATC confirmed that they were overloaded with traffic around the Philadelphia area trying to get around this nasty stuff. We decided to find a clear spot and wait for a few minutes. So I decided to 'hand fly' this pretty lady and relax a bit. Eventually the controller was able to fit us in for a GPS 24 back at LOM. By that time the trouble had moved south and it allowed a nice clean approach and landing.

Time = 1.9

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

FJC V149 LHY V408 V483 FILPS

The CFII suggested that we go out of the local area so that I could get a better appreciation of the departure, en route, and terminal phases of the flight. I suspect he thought I would head south, or maybe east to the beach, but I have a bit of history with Poughkeepsie and decided to venture up to Dutchess County.

I used to pick the route and it provided a very simple PTW-FJC-HUO into KPOU. The CFII filed as I went out to preflight. No problems, engine start was normal, but during the taxi out I cut the corner a bit sharp trying to avoid another parked plane and got stuck on the grass. Another embarrassing start. I did get the opportunity to perform a warm start.

The rest of the ground procedures were normal, I spent the time in the run up area to program the GNS430. I also learned that getting Clearance Delivery doesn't work using the A/C radios, so the SOP is to use the cell phone. OK, so here I am with headset, bifocals and cellphone trying to take copy my can bet it is not 'as filed'. I took down all the fixes and completed the read back. Later, the CFII suggested that I could challenge unreasonable routing's by asking if changing desired altitude might improve the route. I managed to fumble through it and the CFII helped out by re-programming the GNS430. Klutz comes to mind, but somehow we got airborne.

As you can see from the track, TRACON took us north before going east. Eventually we were cleared direct and requested the LOC 06 circle to 24 approach. All other procedures and communications went well, but my set up for the right downwind was WAY too close and actually turned into a modified left base to final. Landing was OK and we went over to Richmor Aviation to stretch our legs. (So if I ever do get the opportunity to fly up on business, I must find a way to expense the landing fee.)

The trip home was a little more direct, with most of the trip used just to enjoy flying. The weather was great and I got to see an old friend, the monument at High Point NJ. I was taken there as a boy on day trips, and passed it a few times as a pilot, including my first xcountry flight. Approach asked me if I had the weather at wings, and while I had been listening, we were still too far out for a clear transmission. Old school, there is a much more sophisticated way to get the weather IF you remember it is available. The flight ended with a LOC 24 back at LOM. Nice landing.

Progress is being made. Satisfactory when I'm on my plan, but not so much when forced to improvise. Think ahead of the autopilot when getting vectors, know what it means to the GNS430 to proceed on course or go direct to the next way point. Most of all, rely on the GPS for the primary Navigation source. While the VOR CDI is an old friend, GPS is driving this system.

Time = 3.0

Friday, July 10, 2009


I scheduled the plane and instructor three times last week. I only got the first one in, the others were canceled due to weather. I had driven out for each flight, actually started the preflight for the one scheduled in the afternoon, but the cumulus built up so rapidly I only got the the sun shade off the glare shield before the CFII said to forget about it.

As I drove out this morning the conditions were better. My weather maps and forecasts all showed lots of low pressure, but no weather makers in the local vicinity. I was pretty sure this would be a go.

The object was to become familiar with the navigation/autopilot systems again. A VFR flight out to KRDG for the ILS 36 followed by an approach at KPTW and finish up with another (LOC06) back at KLOM. The preflight/startup/taxi were all normal...not uneventful, but normal. He gave me a simulated clearance direct PTW, direct HUMEL direct RDG, and I spent a bit of extra time in the run up area getting that all programmed into the GNS430.

I felt good, not necessarily ahead of the airplane, but able to keep up with it. The first big lesson was when to engage the APR function on the autopilot. Since I did that late, the rest of the approach was catchup, which ended in a circle to land low approach to runway 31 and then out to DUMMR for holding. My 'knob-ology' is getting better and at times I can actually anticipate what will/should happen next. However, the chart function in the plane lack some intuitiveness, and I still need to work on my approach/missed approach briefing. We spent some extra time driving the racetrack while I discussed options for setting up the next approach, and while we did that the clouds started to blossom. Requested and received IFR clearance. It has been a very long time since I've seen the inside of a cloud.

The setup and execution for a repeat ILS RWY 36 went well, and so did the published missed approach. A few more turns and I requested to go back to Wings via Pottstown. Instead he gave me direct to BUNTS and then Phila approach approved the LASBE transition. Having selected the right transition in the GNS430 meant I merely had to activate the approach...slick stuff. No issue with the rest of the procedure, I cancelled IFR, broke it off at 1500 feet to enter the traffic pattern. Setup was OK, but horrible airspeed control resulted in a Go-Around. The next attempt (not perfect) led to a nice landing.

Progress. The puzzle pieces are really coming together now. This one felt very good.

Time = 2.7
Actual IFR = 0.8