Archive for November, 2009

Instrument Practice

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

How instrument pilots practice their skills can be confusing to non-pilots (or even to VFR-only pilots).  In mid-October Marc Zorn and I went up and did some practice approaches, and Marc took some great pictures that may help make the process easier to understand.  Here’s a short description of what we did.

First to set the stage, the whole LA basin was under an overcast layer with bases at between 1,000′-1,500′ and with tops between 2,500′-3,000′.  Visibility above and below the layer was excellent.  This means we were on IFR clearances all day, but much of our flying was in VFR conditions.  In fact, when we were above the clouds things looked like this:

Flying above the cloud layer

Flying above the cloud layer

As you can see, as far as keeping the aircraft right side up, these conditions are (almost) as good as a clear day with no clouds at all.  I say “almost” because there are some differences between the cloud deck and a real horizon – a sloped cloud deck can lead to the illusion that the plane’s level when it’s really banked – and because it’s a lot harder to see where the airports are.  In order to practice controlling the plane without reference to the outside clues, the training pilot wears a view-limiting device – usually called a hood – that restricts what he or she can see.  Generally a hood restricts the pilot’s vision to stop at the top of the glareshield (dashboard on a car).  Here I am wearing a hood:

Me under the hood

Me under the hood

While Marc is enjoying that gorgeous view, I’m seeing instruments and gray plastic. But, because I can’t see other airplanes Marc is acting as a safety pilot for me.  That means he’s looking out for other aircraft and letting me know if there’s a situation where I should remove the hood and take action.  Of course if there’s an emergency that happens so fast that it’s safest for him to take control of the airplane, he can do that as well.  We talk through the parameters of that on the ground.  A safety pilot needs to be qualified to fly the aircraft, of course.

While we’re above and below the clouds, I’m under the hood and Marc’s looking around (and taking the occasional picture).  Today we have some time when we’re in real instrument conditions – inside clouds.  When that happens, Marc lets me know and I take the hood off.  Here are a couple shots inside a cloud:

Flying inside a cloud

Flying inside a cloud

The wing in a cloud

The wing in a cloud

That picture inside the plane isn’t photoshopped.  There’s nothing but white outside, and the plane is being controlled entirely by instruments (and me).  You can see the wings, as the second image shows, but without a horizon to reference, that isn’t much help.

For those of you familiar with the LA airspace, the picture inside the plane was taken just as we were joining the localizer for the ILS approach into Oxnard.  The ILS provides vertical and lateral guidance to the airport – that is it tells the pilot what direction to fly to get to the airport and how high to be at any point on the approach.  It’s a precise system. It can guide a plane to within 200′ (altitude) of the runway threshold, from which point you land by eye.  Today the ceilings were much higher, but after breaking out of the clouds I went back under the hood until the 200′ mark.  Inside the clouds the view looks like this (the blur is the propeller):

Looking out the front in a cloud

Looking out the front in a cloud

At around 1000′, we break out and it looks like this:

Breaking out at Oxnard

Breaking out at Oxnard

The runway is the black strip right above the curl in the cowling between the propeller and the oil door.  It’s much easier to see on the larger image.

If we’re flying the approach in real life, we transition mostly to visual flying at this point; while training I go back under the hood.  We land at Oxnard and then filed a flight plan to another airport and do it all again.  Sometimes pilots intentionally miss an approach (in coordination with ATC) to get more approaches in, but I wanted to practice the transition to visual flying through to a landing today.

So that’s a little bit about how instrument training goes.  Marc took all the pictures in this entry, and I downscaled them somewhat, so distortions are my fault.

Lunch at Corona

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

It looks like Brenda and I will be flying East this year for the holidays, which means I’ll be finding extra excuses to go out flying this month.  Today’s excuse was a trip out to Corona, a small uncontrolled field out near Chino and Ontario.  Corona strikes me as a good community airfield and it’s usually a good trip, though it does get busy there.

The flight out through the LAX special flight rules corridor was pretty uneventful.  The Inland Empire had some haze in place, but nothing too bad.  I heard some people land at Corona ahead of me, but as I came in, I had the pattern to myself.

I tied down and moseyed over toward the restaurant, and spotted this cool Ercoupe on the way.

Ercoupe at AJO

There are so many cool Ercoupes running around these days that there must be some kind of Ercoupe hot rodder’s club or something.

Anyway, I like Corona because it’s the kind of little field where you can see the planes along the town’s roads near the airport.

Main road at AJO

Of all the things at Corona that I liked in the past, the restaurant made the least impression on me.  It was fine, but I don’t remember it fondly.  And now I’ll have to remember it. A new place has opened up in the old restaurant’s place, called Bobby A’s.  I talked briefly with Bobby when I was there and he says he’s only been open since mid-September.  He should stay open for a while – the food is good and priced reasonably and the place feels like it’s run by people who care.  It’s pretty much a 50’s diner, but there were vegetarian options, and the breakfasts looked good.  I’ll definitely be back.

Bobby A's

On the way out I passed this little vehicle outside the airport security office.  I don’t think I’d mess with a security guard riding it.

Gator Board

As I walked up to the place to move on, I saw this gorgeous Stearman running up and departing.  Boy do I love the old biplanes.

Stearman running up

As I was getting untied and ready to go, I’m pretty sure I saw two planes almost meet in the middle.  A Cessna was in the pattern doing touch and goes arriving behind me and going into the wind.  I saw him land and heard an engine run up, which I assumed was the Cessna following through.  I looked up, though and saw an airplane that was coming toward me and turning right to the downwind. Then I saw the Cessna follow through.

I’m pretty sure they were headed right at each other, though they were never very close.

Not a good thing.

Anyway, I cruised over to Chino and got some landing practice in.  I was going to do a few at Corona, but honestly the pattern was pretty busy, and though some people were ignoring it, there was a sign saying no touch-and-goes on the weekends.  I try to be a good neighbor, so I flew the 2 miles over to Chino.

After a few trips around the patch, I filed an instrument flight plan back to Santa Monica just for the chance to drill procedures and practice working in the system.  The trip back went very well.

I’m looking forward to a few more before the big trip in December.

New Reviews

Friday, November 20th, 2009

I have a new set of short reviews up on Bell, Book and Candle, covering Three Cups of Tea, Passionate Declarations, and What Have You Changed Your Mind About?

Upgrade to WordPress 2.8.6

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Auto upgrade to 2.8.6 today. That was slick.