Monday, August 03, 2009

First IFR cross country

After a long wait and many practice flights under the hood, the day finally arrived! I went on my first IFR flight with my instructor. While we didn't fly in actual weather (i.e. we were VFR all along), the fun of filing a flight plan, getting clearances and flying approaches under radar controller was an amazing experience.

The weather in this part of the country has been dicey this summer. Fronts seem to sweep this area like a dust mop :(. Some days are gorgeous and calm, while others are filled by spells of pouring rain. Saturday was questionable as well.

As per the plan, we were supposed to take off by 8am. Any later and we would have a long wait getting an IFR slot. So I woke up at 6:15am, checked the weather and then filed a flight plan from KCDW -> KTTN (SBJ V3 MAZIE, flight time 40 mins). The weather promised to be pretty good, with some concern for early morning fog. Luckily, no alternate was required to be filed.

Heading off to the airport, I had a funny feeling. I was going through the trip in my mind. What would I do on takeoff, how would my route look like? What if I was given a hold? After a quick preflight and weather check, we were ready to get our clearance. Goof up # 1. I had forgotten to get the clearance delivery frequency for CDW. For some reason I thought I would get my clearance from ground. Anywho, besides the snafu, the clearance went fine. A paper and pen in the cockpit is essential for any IFR flight. We got the following clearance:

"Cleared to TTN, turn left 180, vectors to SBJ, direct ARD direct trenton, maintain 2k, expect 4k 10 mins after departure, departure freq. 119.2, squawk on release". Pretty straightforward and close to what I had filed (actually I had looked up recent flight plans on and that may have helped, besides filing a TEC route).

We taxied to runway 22 and then waited for a release. Almost 15 mins later, we got our clearance (IFR in this part of the country means a lot of waiting on the ground!). Off we go. 800' and we turn left 180. The ride from there was pretty smooth. We soon got a clearance to climb to 4000 ft and interestingly the controller asked us to go direct to ARD before we reached SBJ.

We shot ILS 6 approach to TTN with circle to land on 24. This was the first time I actually circled to land. It was quite an experience seeing jets waiting on departure end of the runway as you land in your little cessna. Much better than waiting in line for departure behind a jet (as we did later on the way back!). After taxiing we got our clearance to head back to CDW and after a brief wait, we were back up in the air. The reverse route was similar, direct ARD, direct SBJ vectors to CDW.

The return flight was uneventful as well. I was under the hood the entire time. We shot the LOC 22 approach into caldwell. After a decent landing, we were taxiing back to the ramp. On the way back I finally got some time to reflect on the 2 hour flight of the day. It dawned on me how much it helps to keep planning and staying ahead of the plane. I remember constantly checking the DG, trying to figure out where we were, preparing for the next phase and so on.

The first thing I did when I got home was to check my flight on What a great site! :)

Sunday, March 08, 2009

What a day to fly!

Yesterday was a gorgeous day, a reprieve from the cold winter months. As the mercury read 65 farenheit, people flocked outside to enjoy this warm winter day. And what better day than like that to enjoy a flight. Even though there was a cold front just north of the area and an airmet in effect for moderate turbulence, people were not shying away from the idea of flying. The airport was filled with people, cars and planes and it was quite a sight to see a convertible roll down an uncontrolled taxiway towards a T-hangar. How I envy the guy :)

Yesterday was a good day to fly. I was running my flight to be in my head and what things I should watch out for. This made me more confident and I could see the result as I rolled down the taxiway towards the departure end of runway 28. There was a star-tech lined up in front of us about to depart. The aircraft looks quite small when seen up close.

The outburst in traffic meant we had quite some delays as we tried to get our take off clearance. About 20 minutes to be precise. The controllers word "8QZ, winds calm, runway 28, cleared for takeoff" sounded like honey. As I lined up on the runway, I saw another cessna land on runway 22 and I put throttle in and set us rolling.

There sure was moderate turbulence in effect and we could feel it as we started to climb. The airplane was getting bumped up and down quite often. Soon I donned my foggles and it was IFR flight for me from there on. We climbed up to 2500, the airplane jolting up and down frequently. Then we intercepted and tracked the 340 radial inbound for the Sparta (SAX) VOR. The confidence was paying off. I had my scan going pretty well and I tracked the VOR pretty good, despite the turbulence. My instructors voice kept echoing in my ears "don't chase the needle, decide on a heading and follow it and see what the needle does". Sure enough a lil bit of patience helps. The needle jerked momentarily from side to side as the wind swayed us, but then settled back in its steady state. I could feel my scan improving, the airspeed looked good, the altitude looked great and the needle was close to the center.

We did a couple of trackings and holds and in one instance we literally passed over the station (needle centered the VOR indicator changed from TO to FROM). I haven't had that happen to me before. That sure got my mood in the upswing. I did goof up on the parallel entry a bit as I had read somewhere that after paralleling the radial inbound, you turn and fly direct to the VOR. My instructor didn't agree and he said that its better to turn 270 and try to intercept the radial inbound. So I tried that the next time on and it went pretty well.

I think the secret to IFR flying is just to keep the scan going. Everything else seems to fall in place if you are attentive to what the instruments are trying to tell you. I wasn't too worried (fixating) about what the needle was doing or where the airspeed was or where the VSI was headed. An occassional scan revealed their status and if something was not in place I was adjusting for the error. This seemed to work pretty well.

On our way in, my instructor asked me to follow the 270 bearing to an NDB and that overwhelmed me a bit. The needle is crazier than a VOR and I think the way to fly an NDB is to average out where the needle is pointing. Initially I turned twice 30 degrees to center the needle but it just kept moving, so I decided to turn back to 270 and verified with my instructor that I was doing OK. I think I need to brush up on NDB concepts before my next flight. I seem to be forgetting that stuff.

Coming in I did the entire traffic pattern under the hood (couldn't see outside). This time I was also given additional work of handling the radios with my instructor prompting me what to say (remember I couldn't look outside :) ). Turning final, we switched to a no-gyro style approach. This means when I hear "turn left" I immediately enter a half standard rate turn and same for "turn right". When I hear "Stop", I immediately stop. This allows a controller to keep you on the extended centerline just like an ILS needle does. The instructor also told me whether I was high or low on the glideslope and that meant I had to control my vertical descent.

About 500-600 feet above the runway, I got to remove my foggles and it was great to see the runway right ahead. I think I was pretty overwhelmed with what had just happened that I did a pretty bad job at landing the airplane. I need to remember that I shouldn't stop flying till I tie down the airplane. Basically I got the airplane quite slow, had a slight updraft and then settled a bit harder than what I wanted the landing to be. Luckily no damage done and an important lesson learnt (again!).

Overall both my instructor and I were quite impressed with my flight yesterday and I'm looking forward to many such flights soon. Till then blue skies.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

IFR update

No no, I am not IFR rated yet. Still working on it... :)

This saturday was interesting. After a long hiatus, I drove back to the school for another IFR lesson. Arriving at the school I found that there had been some scheduling conflict with my Instructor and another student of his had also shown up for a lesson. To remedy the situation, the school offered me an upgrade to a 172SP and I flew with another instructor I knew (who also happened to be my Stage check instructor while doing the Sim). All in all, a great deal :) I feel that ts always good to fly with another instructor/pilot from time to time, just to avoid catching onto the habits of a single instructor.

The day was absolutely gorgeous. It was a bit windy aloft, but on the ground it was hardly anything. Due to the long break, I thought that on takeoff, I would probably goof stuff up, i.e. either pull the yoke too hard, or not manage the rudders properly. It was reassuring to find out that the takeoff was as smooth as ever.

Waiting for takeoff took forever. It was really very busy in the pattern and I am sure we were holding short of 28 for like 20 minutes (for a VFR flight!). I guess that's a good IFR patience practice, given the long delays IFR GA pilots experience here in the Northeast. The takeoff clearance was like a sweet melody to the ears. "Cleared for takeoff 28, 225 Juliet Victor" and off we went.

Ok! 600 feet AGL and I put on my foggles. These things annoy me sometimes. They tend to get fogged up a bit during wintry days! Anywayz, instrument scan it was from there on. We did the standard departure procedure and then headed out to the northwest.

"Intercept the 300 radial to Sparta and fly to the VOR" was my first task. Winds aloft were out of the south west (230) at 30 knots. So it took quite some wind correction to fly to intercept the radial and then track it inbound. Once at sparta, I tracked it outbound on 270 radial for a bit.

Then the instructor asked me to do slow flight, steep turns, power off and on stalls, all while under the hood. All of the manuevers, except the power on stall, went pretty well (we even caught our own wake on the steep turns :) ). It seemed that the 172SP doesn't want to stall at all. Then my instructor told me a neat trick. He said that to get the fastest stall, let the speed go down to 50-55 knots (I was adding power at 65) before adding power and don't be shy to pull up the nose. He showed me a stall and the next one went pretty well. See, it does help to fly with another instructor from time to time :)

After this we did some unusual attitudes and then did a hold or two. I goofed up on a parallel entry turn but other than that it went ok. I still need to practice a lot when it comes to holds and tracking radials. As my regular instructor says "When the needle stops, you stop!". The trouble is, I can't seem to realize when the needle stops! It seems to be in a persistent state of motion :(

Anywho, on reaching Sparta a second time I was pleasantly surprised. My instructor said, let's do an instrument approach into Caldwell. This was a first :) This way we could avoid the busy traffic pattern at caldwell and get in faster. A call to New York approach and we were approved for the localizer 22 approach but under VFR (he would just give us advisories).

I pulled out the approach plate, did a quick brief and then started setting up for the approach. We were flying outbound on the 120 radial of sparta. My instructor was giving me vectors for the localizer. I descended to 2000 feet and soon the needle came alive. It was time to wait for SNAFU, the Final Approach fix. We started our descend to 860' and once we identified KOLLI, got down to 540 feet. I was pretty impressed that I could maintain 540-560 feet without much trouble. My instructor said he would tell me when to remove my foggles and boy, when he did, the runway was right in front of us! Nothing compares to the feeling you get when you expect to see a runway right in front of you and its right there :)

I did do some major blunders on this little jaunt though. First off, I forgot to identify any of my Nav aids. Secondly I missed out on starting the timer for missed approach after crossing the FAF. Finally I let the needle slide past quite a bit on the localizer. The huge correction seemed to do the trick, but I shouldn't have let the needle slip in the first place. So these are things I need to keep in mind the next time on, esp identifying my nav aids.

The landing was pretty mundane compared to the approach :) Turning off on Delta, we taxied back to the ramp. They're building new T-hangars at the airport and it sure does look quite different now.

I am now scheduled to fly again this Saturday, weather permitting. Isn't it ironical that I need VFR weather for IFR training :) But very soon I am hoping to get actual IFR time with my instructor, so that's something I am eagerly waiting to experience and blog about! Till then adios and blue skies.