Tag Archives: distractions

Are we there yet?

Not including a few solo jaunts off to Capital City airport, I have 5 true Cross Country flights.

  1. A dual cross country from Carlisle to Martinsburg, VA.  My first so called navigational experience.
  2. A dual cross country from Carlisle to Reading, PA.  My night cross country.
  3. A solo cross country from Carlisle to Williamsport, PA.  My first 50NM+ solo cross country.
  4. A solo cross country from Carlisle to University Park, PA.  A “time builder” 50NM+ solo cross country.
  5. A solo cross country from Carlisle to University Park, PA, to Lancaster, PA,.  My long cross country.

In preparation for the dual cross countries, I had ground school coursework on flight planning as well as a 2 hour 1:1 session with my CFI. 1 hour of good instruction. 1 hour of me just running my mouth about everything else.

During these sessions the focus is on good route planning. Considerations are for terrain, airspace, navigational aids (e.g. VOR’s, prominent landmarks), backup airports, P-40!, winds, weather, and available runways.

Even though I was strictly VFR, I always tried to fly with reference to at least one radio NavAid. In that way, even if I had an issue with finding an expected visual reference, I had a “connection” to a known spot and could at least get to it and get reset. Of course, there was always the GPS but as my CFI would say…”ya never can trust those things…” Or at least the brightness knob which could somehow get turned to dim and stay there during the flight.

8-12 miles max between visual checkpoints.  8 miles was my minimum visibility for flight so, theoretically, I should always be able to “see” the next point. And, that seemed to be a good distance for managing checkpoint timings, calculating groundspeed, and adjusting ETA.

I also learned to fill out a navigation log with everything but the winds and photocopy it. This was a HUGE time saver. That way, on the day of the flight you just need to fill in the up to date wind information and calculate your headings, GS, fuel burn, and ETA . Well, that part is simple . The huge time saver comes when that flight you just filled out gets weathered out and you have to go through the same process 9 more times until the weather cooperates!

So with navigation log in hand, I’m off on the dual cross country flights. Navigationally, the first one was a bit of a disaster. I was task saturated from just flying and communicating. Trying to manage a precise location on a poorly folded sectional map with a penciled in set of checkpoints, while also reading numbers in the handwriting script the quality of which a 2nd grader would scoff at is next to impossible while also trying to hold a heading and altitude in an aircraft traversing the ground at 106 knots (or at least that was what was originally calculated!)

So, lessons learned:

  1. Binder clips are your friend. Get that sectional chart folded exactly how you want it before the flight.  Make sure it will fit on your kneeboard properly and then clip that thing in place. 3 clips minimum.
  2. While that thing is on your kneeboard, you won’t be able to see your navigation log (2 kneeboards???) So, when it comes time to update a timing, you’re out of space. Not easy to shuffle paperwork in a 172. It’s a bit goofy but along with binder clips, Post It notes can be your friend. Put everything you can on that sectional to minimize the back and forth.
    N94-KRDG-N94
  3. A C-172 has an analog clock in it.  Now, that’s nice and “classic” but it sucks for leg timing. A digital wristwatch is helpful but it would probably be better to have a timer within easy reach.
  4. You’re paying your CFI…as part of the lesson, feel free to use them as a storage facility for a reasonable amount of this material. Reasonable must be stressed though lest they decide to test you out on distractions by dropping a chart at your feet and then pulling the engine while you go reaching for it.

Handwriting…I’ve got a terminal case of bad handwriting.  The only thing for that is technology. Printed flight plans from iflightplanner.com or on the iPad with ForeFlight are MUCH more readable and arguably in my case safer.

In preparation for my solo cross country, I had to cover lost procedures and diversions. I knew I was going to get overloaded on that one as well but I definitely tried to prepare for everything. While I didn’t get “lost”, I was NOT happy with my ability to get myself to the “found” place including the calculation of time / distance.

For diversions, on a sectional chart, from a known position, it is not hard to quickly estimate a course and distance with a pocket ruler.

Get a general idea of the course. Measure the distance right off the scale.  Then, without changing the angle of the ruler, move it towards the compass rose of a VOR.  You can estimate your magnetic heading from there.

So, you’ve got a course, and a distance. HOW LONG UNTIL YOU GET THERE?

And that’s where I would begin the mental lock up. If you’ve got the GPS on you’ve got a groundspeed but we all know how unreliable at least mine is. So, you’ve hopefully been taking your leg times between checkpoints and calculating your groundspeed, right? RIGHT?

I already said I barely had room for the sectional chart and navigation log.  Now I need to manage either of these things as well?

Even if I could find a place for it…not going to be able to use it efficiently.

Slightly better but still…BULKY.

There are some rule of thumb estimates, but I like to be a little more precise than that. While I haven’t used it yet, I’ve come up with what I hope will be a useful tool.

TimeAndSpeed

Fits right on the kneeboard. Won’t always have the exact information but should have enough to make a PTS level estimate.

Confession: On my Williamsport trip I used the sectional chart and the navigation log as faithfully as possible. I took some leg times, tried to calculate my groundspeed and updated my ETA. But, of course, the GPS was working fine, I was following a major river the whole way, AND I had ForeFlight running on the iPad with the exact same flight plan loaded….which, incidentally was automatically calculating my leg times, my groundspeed and updating my ETA…which allowed me to keep my eyes outside.

On my subsequent trips, the iPad got attached to the yoke via my Christmas gift and, while there was always the paper and GPS backup, it became my primary inside navigation tool (I still did update the paperlog after each leg with the new groundspeed and ETA!). Is that a bad thing? I think you should always have a backup AND be able to do it the old fashioned way but realistically, if technology is there to help you fly and keep your eyes in the sky, why wouldn’t you take advantage of it?

On a checkride, I’m pretty sure the only thing I’ll be able to use is the charts and timer so I’ve got some practice ahead of me.  I’m definitely up for the challenge but also happy I took some of the time to work out a good balance between straight up pilotage and using all available resources to ensure a good outcome for the flight.

 

Lost Procedures and Diversions (2 of 2)

With my real world distraction training now completed it was time to get lost and divert.

The planned flight was Carlisle (N94)-Selinsgrove(KSEG).  From both a point to point navigation and visual standpoint, the flight was VERY straightforward.  Get yourself to the river and follow it north.

n94-kseg

The biggest challenge of planning the flight was figuring out how to manage folding the two sectional charts I would need.  Beginning of the flight was on the Detroit chart and 2nd half was on the New York chart. The river just happens to be right on the edge of both so neither map is really helpful or convenient. Perfect training opportunity. I did ask for cockpit organizational tips but my CFI said it’s a matter of personal preference.

I would LOVE to hear of other’s solutions to this as I clearly don’t have one yet.

I had slyly asked the week prior to the flight which way we would divert.  I used the chart issue as my excuse.  West would be Detroit, East would be New York.  CFI’s evil response “ya never know.”. So it was up to me to guess the where and when.

When:  I was guessing it would be at one of the checkpoints I had chosen.  Reason: It would be a “last known location” from which we plot a course.

Where to?? East was a possibility but I reasoned we wouldn’t do that because of the Restricted area. No need to really do that lesson, especially since the area would be hot that day.

North past the airport would be a possibility since I will eventually have to fly to Williamsport.

West seemed right.

So, under the premise of gathering “all available information relative to the upcoming flight”, I studied up on each airport (including Google Earth views)within 20 miles and had all the airport sheets on the kneeboard just in case.

On the day of the flight we reviewed the flight plan, the 5C’s for Lost (Climb, Circle, Communicate, Confess, Comply) and what we would be doing.  “Any questions?”  I said that I didn’t have any questions on the flight but, since I was still working on cockpit organization, AND would be deviating from the planned plan I fully expected to get behind the airplane a few times.  Other than an emergency, I didn’t want any “help” figuring things out. Another evil smile…I don’t think there was going to be any disagreement there.

Weather was brisk but good VFR at departure.  Forecast was the same for all of Pennsylvania with a few areas of layered clouds around 6000.

Take off was great…but of course, even before getting to pattern altitude that darn GPS went dark thanks to my CFI.  My comment was simply “Ya never can trust that thing.” No flight following for this one so we squawked 1200 and monitored Harrisburg Approach.  CFI also had her iPad and Foreflight so check on things but kept it angled away from my curious eyes.

First checkpoint is Harrisburg VOR.  She always asks for course, distance and time.  Satisfied with my answers she said to let me know when we were over the VOR. Typically, she wants me to note the full deflection of the VOR  and changing of the To/From flag. I said I would do that but since we were flying visually (and the leaves are now down off the mountain) I said I’ll let her know when we go over that big white bowling pin directly in front of us.

Over the VOR and slight turn to the North to follow the river. Duncannon (Rt 322) and Halifax were pretty good on timing so ground speed estimates were good.  At Millersburg (my initial guess), it is announced that the weather in Selinsgrove isn’t looking too good so we are going to divert to the West.

“Take us to Mifflin airport”.  Hmm…a trick question? Without looking at my sectional I immediately asked her to clarify whether she wanted to go to Mifflintown or Mifflin County airport.  Both would be appropriate. She was happy with the query and said Mifflin County.  “Plot a course, tell me what direction you are going to fly, how far it is and how long it will take.” I had a sectional ruler on the kneeboard which worked out pretty well.  The distance was 35 miles which happened to be the length of the ruler.  Course was estimated by sliding the ruler over the compass rose for Harrisburg VOR (VERY difficult because of being on the edge of the map).  Time was 18 minutes.  She was ok with course and distance but time…she said we should probably plan for 20 minutes.

“Fly your course”.

I wish it was that easy.  I got on my heading and then the questions start.  “Can you identify your position?” I knew generally where we were but I wasn’t seeing the landmark I expected.  Lesson from first cross country was to find external landmarks and then locate them on the sectional.  DO NOT force external landmarks to “fit” someplace you think you are on the map. To make matters worse…each time I referenced the map, my heading would drift.  I noted it a few times.  Question from CFI: “How do you maintain a heading in the airplane?”

What???

While trying to fly the plane and locate myself on a map, I had this question and, well, I locked up.  I confessed / hedged…”Not sure what you are asking”? Response was “Keep the wings level.” CLEARLY, I over thought that one by a ton. It broke the tension.

After a minute more of searching outside, we had another little challenge.  That cloud layer at 6000 was actually a little lower.  While it didn’t help my visual reference to ground flying, I got my first experience piloting an airplane above the clouds.  COOL!

Only about 2 minutes and the layer was gone. CFI then casually mentioned that even though the GPS was “broke” I was allowed to use the Nav radios.  Huh? Sure, that would have been nice to know.

Without any more discussion, I looked at my sectional and started tuning in a radio.  When she saw the frequency she asked what radio I was using.  She was expecting me to tune in Selinsgrove but I did Ravine instead.  “Why choose a radio that is farther away?”  I pointed to the sectional and said…”Well, there just happens to be a victor airway that goes from Ravine directly to Mifflin County.  The course is printed right there along with the Ravine frequency.  All I should have to do is tune and turn.” Again, I think I favorably surprised her a little and she wasn’t going to argue the logic except to comment that the further away you are from the radio the broader your track is going to be.  Agreed…which is why I was still searching for landmarks.

diversion

Despite having the radio tuned in, I located 322 and remained south of it to go via Mifflintown airport.

Note: Drive Ins are great visual landmarks.

Got to Lewiston and turned North. CFI told me to report when we were over the airport.  When close I said I have the airport in sight and there was an aircraft taking off.  While prepared to land there she then said we’re going back to Carlisle.  Same drill.

Navigation back was still an effort me to pick a heading and stay on it.  I think the challenge is that I am searching for positive fixes and diverting back and forth while doing so.  Need to work on that. She was asking me questions about features and towns.  Some I would answer, others I would ignore.  I was working on my own way of orienting.  Looking for features I could identify, radios / radials I wanted to track (e.g. due West of HAR).  Her questions got in the way.  So, the only critique I got there was that it was ok to ignore her questions (fly the airplane) but I needed to be verbalizing what I was working on so she could determine if I was making progress.  That’s fine by me and a very good point even when flying solo.  Nothing like permission to talk to yourself!

When we got into our “valley” I was a little high for the approach and had to do a descending spiral. To prove I knew where I was, I said, “How about we do it over my house”.  Not that I planned it but that’s exactly where we came over the last mountain.  That was fun.

Still have issues switching from Approach to Landing mindset. On the first approach I was too high.  I decided to go around and set it up again. That’s always good practice anyway. Next approach was a little high but I used 40 degrees of flaps (“The barn doors”) and that got us down in a nicely controlled hurry. Leveled off and transitioned into the flare with a nice low ground / airspeed.  Great patience.  Kept pulling back the nose to just hold everything.  Stall horn just inches off the runway.  It was perfect. Mains kissed the runway…and then my brain gorked again. For some unknown reason I didn’t just hold off the nose, I pulled back further.  WHY? WHY? WHY? Oh look…we’re in the air again. Second “landing” was not a greaser. I was pretty hard on myself.  CFI took it in stride and said something to the effect of “Well, we’ll write off that landing…the rest of the flight was great.”.

I was left to secure the aircraft.  My CFI asked for my logbook and said to meet her up in the hangar.  When I arrived we talked about the flight and my logbook / medical / student certificate was returned…with my Solo Cross Country endorsement.  Cool.

So, Williamsport will be my 50NM solo X-Country flight. Planning has begun.

Alas, holidays are upon us.  School is out for the next 2 weeks. UGH.  Weather’s been horrible so it’s no real loss but I’m eager to get this next phase complete.

 

Lost Procedures & Diversions–Well a Distraction (1 of 2)

“For the next lesson I want you to plan a flight up to Selinsgrove”. Fresh off and overly confident from a very successful night cross country flight to Reading, my quick fire response was, “That’s a simple flight….I just follow the river”. I really have to filter myself.

In the interim between that night flight and the Selinsgrove flight I scheduled one solo flight.  I’ll do more work on Soft and Short field takeoffs and landings but on another day.  For the solo flight it was simply out to the practice area to nail PTS on some maneuvers.

Simply…

I have a contribution

Ironically, I had read this cover article not too long ago.  I won’t dwell on it too long but I must share to enforce the learning and embed the shame. It is also relevant to the second half of the article title (although, more like distractions)

It was a frosty morning so I knew there would be some delay in my flight time.  No issue.  I would go pick up donuts for everyone and at least get the preflight done in advance. Besides being really cold out, the preflight was routine.  Just needed a quart of oil.  Of course, no spare oil in the plane so off to the hangar.  This is the beginning of the chain.  I had to go to the hangar for the oil.  A chance to say hello to everyone. I get the oil and off to the aircraft.  I had finished the rest of the checklist already so it was just a matter of putting the oil in. No big deal. My CFI came out and checked the wings…still frosty.  She said to come back to the hangar and help out with the donuts. I finished up and obeyed the order.

My CFI, a fellow student and I spent about 20 minutes in the hangar talking and ingesting sugar. Good times as always.  The two of us had initially been pretty even on our training progress but, with bad weather, business travel, and vacation, we have each experienced a different level of “delay”.  I’m ahead but it’s definitely not a competition.  In fact, I’ve been purposely getting out there a little early each day he’s scheduled for a morning flight because I want to see his first solo.

With the sun now helping out, it’s time to go practice. First, I head off to the office for a quick pit stop and then make the walk back down the ramp.  I notice my fellow student, and CFI, and a new white van huddled around the Piper.  Curiosity gets the best of me so I, of course, stop back to see what’s going on.

Question from CFI: “Are you any good at picking locks?”

After so much educational torment from her, I couldn’t resist…”Let me get this straight…you locked the keys in the airplane??? How is that even possible??? Seems like that should be a checklist item!!” All with a smile of course and a laugh all around.  Little did I know I just busted Karma.

So, trying to be ever helpful I assessed the situation. The keys were hanging from the sunshade because the student had started the preflight and the CFI had closed the door while we waited for the sun to come up. Again…the checklist process was broken .

The spare set of keys were in the CFI’s bag which was no safely secured INSIDE the plane. The guy in the van didn’t have a spare spare set. I walked around to the pilot side. Notice the little vent window. Being a nicely “aged” plane, the screw is a little loose. You can turn it with your fingers and the vent falls open.  That part I was pretty proud of.

Not so proud of…I was able to stick my entire arm in there, reach to sunshade and grab the key. Happy to retrieve the key but looking at the size of the vent window…I gotta hit the weights again!

Ok…now to the plane for the solo flight.  Finally. Or at least I thought.  I got in the cockpit and was getting things ready for departure.  Checklist in hand….

Up comes another student.  On the plus side, it is absolutely GREAT that there are more and more students around.  We need that tremendously.  He had recently done his first night flight so we talked about that for a few minutes. Definitely interested to share experiences.  He also recently bought his own plane. I said I’d love to see it sometime. Response: “Would you like to see it now??” Me, respectfully….”I’d love to see it but right now I want to go flying!” So, I have that to look forward to.

Ok…back to the checklist.  It had been at least 45 minutes.  I go through the pre-start items and am ready to start up. Since I had broken the checklist chain quite a few times, something inside me thought to take a quick look from the cockpit outside.  Pitot tube cover off, cones clear, chocks away from wheels…wait, what’s that? Holy Crap!

Laying there on the right wheel chock (which was dutifully pulled away from the right wheel) was the oil dipstick. I put the oil in the engine, closed the door but totally forgot to replace the dipstick.

No idea exactly what would have happened had I started the engine like that but VERY glad I didn’t.  My rationalizing mind said…well, you were going to get fuel first anyway so anything bad would have happened on the ground. REALLY?

Sheepishly, I slipped out of the airplane trying to avoid attention, thoroughly cleaned off the retrieved dipstick and placed it back in its place..and checked it 5 times.

Totally unacceptable mistake but something one can definitely learn from.

For me…checklist must be followed.  That didn’t change.  Slight modification. If something comes up and checklist must be delayed, I MUST fully finish and verify the one item I am on. Maybe someday I’ll get to a flow pattern but right now..it’s line by line.

Once up in the air, the flight went well.

Slow flight…controlled right to stall horn. Straight and level, shallow turns.  Recover.

First solo power off stall work…a little more daunting than I expected.  Not sure why.  Otherwise routine. Need to do power on stalls.

Turns about a point…decent but I need to pick a consistent entry airspeed and initial radius.

Steep turns…Probably only 40 degrees so have to get them a little steeper. Otherwise, they were to PTS both right and left. Particularly happy to get the little “bump” on roll out indicating I completed the circle perfectly and ran across my original wake.

Only one landing, in front of the Wounded Warriors group and a formation of helicopters. Greased it which was a nice change of pace since there were a lot of people watching.

So, along with some basic flight maneuvers, I “soloed” on distractions, which will be part of the practical test.  It was a real world test which I barely passed but a lesson which I will not forget.