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.