Judgement Call – Grounded

After a relatively good run, the winds once again turned against me.  My home airport’s primary runway is 28 so technically, that wind is within the limits of the aircraft. Not so the pilot, however. We could have gone up but it was mutually agreed the conditions would not make for a productive lesson.


Rather than cancel altogether, we decided to get a second (actually 2.5 total) hour of simulator time in. Considering the fact that you can apply simulator time towards flight time requirements, you can make really make that work for you.  In my case, the simulator was the Elite 135.

Elite 135

One side note: During the class we discussed some of the similarities and differences between this FAA approved simulator vs. some of the more “game style” simulators like FSX or X-Plane. While the list is deep, the biggest is the graphics. FSX and X-Plane graphics, particularly on scenery and weather are far superior than the Elite. My instructor, almost apologetically said, “Well, this is 1990’s technology.” 

“Sure.  But that’s fine. After all, we fly in a plane from 1977 so in that regard, we are decades ahead of ourselves!”.

While you can definitely run through a lot of the standard flight maneuvers on the simulator, my instructor said certain things really need to be done in the plane for them to stick. Second benefit…there is a Freeze button on the simulator. Same as in flight, there comes points where the brain is trying to manage 5 things at once.  To the experienced pilot who can achieve a flow experience ,4.5 of those things are done almost unconsciously. For the student, each of those things demands 100% attention. The math just doesn’t work out. In the plane, that means something is going to get neglected until the next scan cycle. In the simulator, just press Freeze. Get everything organized and move on.

Just Give Me The Test Already

We are 50% complete with ground school. With the Regs, Aircraft design, systems, weather, weight & balance topics, and aerodynamics covered, we’re moving on to navigation, flight planning, and aeromedical factors.

So, with the relative end in site, I am getting eager to take the FAA Knowledge exam. Our ground school kit has 2 books with standard questions in it for each of the main topics.  It’s good practice but still not the exam experience.

If only there were a place one could practice an “actual” exam.  Google to the rescue. mywrittenexam.com This is a free site affiliated with MyPilotStore.com. From a database of 1000 questions, they will assemble a 60 question test for you.  It’s timed just like the standard test and requires that you have the Test Supplement.  It’s $6.  Well worth the money.

Even without the full course I decided to do one of the exams.  Took me about 55 minutes.  I scored 85%. So, technically, I passed.  I want a higher score when I do it for real but that made me happy for now.  Another benefit is that you get statistics on how you performed on the key knowledge areas…great for identifying where you need to work.

For me…I missed most of my questions on the Navigation area. Hmm…exactly what I haven’t studied in ground school yet.


VOR Basics

Prior to the class I mentioned my test score to my instructor as well as my “deficiencies”. She was happy with the score and then said that that was what we would work on in the simulator.  Perfect.

While I know all the basics of VOR navigation, when it comes to actually using them for navigation, I totally lose the picture.  Happy to say now that I’ve completed the lesson…it isn’t quite High Definition, but I definitely see it.

It’s all about orientation and interpretation.

From my notes:

  • Tune and Ident the station. Tuning is easy. Identification is by morse code. I was asked if I knew Morse code. Um..well, I know SOS and YYZ (Thanks Rush) but that’s about it. Not mandatory because the sectional chart has the code on it but might be a good challenge.

  • Center the needle with the FROM arrow.  This, for me was the absolute key. There are plenty of good sites explaining VOR navigation so I won’t go into it here. Center the needle with the FROM arrow. Then STOP. Look at the VOR indicator.  DO NOT BOTHER TO LOOK AT THE HI YET.  I would and that would just confuse me.  The heading indicator on the top of the VOR indicator tells you where you are relative to the station. As I write this it all seems like common sense but I just could not get that before.  So, if you see 270 (we’ll keep that part easy for now as I don’t have all my headings memorized), you can confidently say, I am WEST of the VOR.  If you have DME you can then also say, I am X Miles WEST of the VOR. That’s It! If you look at the HI and happen to be flying 310, well, that will just confuse you. Don’t worry about orientation at first, just relative position. 
  • Once you know where you are, you then get to decide what you want to do. If you still want to use that VOR for navigation (say flying to it), you can turn the OBS knob and center the needle with the TO indicator. That tells you what heading to fly to go directly to the station. This was the one thing I knew but would always get confused as to where I was relative to the station. Center the needle, turn the plane. That’s It!
  • Of course you could then fly a specific radial to the station. That’s where you tune align that bearing on the VOR (TO), note the CDI position and fly in the direction of that needle.  30 degree intercept is typically a good amount.

There’s more to say on the 3rd point but for now, I’m internalizing the first 2. 

After some standard maneuvers in the flight simulator, we tuned the appropriate stations and identified position. Hit Freeze and she would randomly re-position the plane. “Ok, now where are you?” Over and over.  PERFECT.  “Ok, fly to this point between the two stations. Let me know when you are there.” Don’t even need to think about it anymore.

“Ok, fly to this position 5 miles out, turn to 082 and make the landing.” That was a nice set up because we haven’t gotten to that point in flight training yet.  Soon?

Didn’t think I would be happy for a windy day but that session was worth every penny.

Ground School 12
Simulator 2.5
Flight 5.5

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