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on euphoric flying

Friday I was scheduled with Aaron. I thought it was ground school, but he was ready to go up. We took N1959H, and after a bit of shaking off my instrument rust, he surprised me by wanting to shoot approaches. We did the VOR 4L via vectors, then the VOR 18 via procedure turn, circle-to-land on 32L, did one touch-and-go, then went out again for the ILS 32L.

I did mostly okay for someone who hasn't shot an instrument approach in fourteen years. Kept the needles mostly centered, didn't get too far behind the plane, which wasn't easy with Aaron wanting to constantly point things out on the approach plates and give other instruction. The worst of it was only about 100 feet above decision height on the ILS, he told me to take the hood off early "to see where we are"... sure enough, the runway was right in front of us but I had the nose pointed about 20 degrees to the right and we were in a rather alarming nose-down attitude. This was only 300 feet above the ground. "Thought you might want to have a chance to fix that so we could land." I kind of got into needle-chasing mode towards the end, and that was the result. The localizer and glideslope indications in the cockpit are extremely sensitive (hence "precision approach") and it doesn't take much loss of concentration or discipline to cause them to come off the centers, and close in to the runway, the time from coming off the center to pegging the needle (and thus blowing the approach) is only a few seconds.

The BEST part was on the second approach, which I was handling pretty well. Aaron said "take the hood off and check this out." And we were flying in and through and among these beautiful cumulus clouds! What a wonderful feeling knowing the plane is under my control, going where it needs to go, and just popping in and out of clouds and giving us such a show!

After we landed, I got asked "how that was." I answered, truthfully, not too bad. Kept me very alert; was a bit intense a few times, but didn't seem like anything I couldn't handle with practice. And my shoulder didn't hurt! Always after doing busy flying work, I get an intense pain in my shoulder, a combination of being tensed up and just using those muscles to pull and push on the control wheel. But Aaron is always telling me to relax, to not grip the yoke tightly, to keep on the trim so I'm flying with just three fingers of my left hand. He raps my right hand with his pencil every time I grab the yoke with it. It used to irritate me, but I think he might be onto something in terms of flying ergonomics.

Today was ground school... 90 mind-numbing minutes of learning the excruiciating details of approach plates. They're very complicated, and present a tremendous amount of information in a very small amount of space, with very little redundancy: every fact is on there once, and only once, and often needs context in order to properly interpret. Seasoned corporate jet pilots often puzzle over the more complex ones, even. So that wasn't so much fun. And I am having really bad hayfever today and was all drugged up on top of it. Yuck.



( 3 comments — Comment )
Aug. 25th, 2002 09:22 am (UTC)
oh wow... your flying write-ups never fail to leave me exhilerated... it sounds so amazing... i love cumulus clouds!

--the inarticulate one
Aug. 26th, 2002 03:53 pm (UTC)
Thanks, I'm glad to connect with you in that way. I know I like reading your very detailed descriptions of things/events/sights in Chicago. I dream of that city in new ways since I started reading those.
(Deleted comment)
Aug. 26th, 2002 09:11 am (UTC)

The instrument rating is harder than the license itself. It's not that any one piece of it is terribly difficult by itself, but to fly an instrument approach there's a lot of fairly precision flying that must be done (requiring attention to the navigation instruments) at the same time as you're keeping the plane "shiny side up" (requiring attention to the attitude instruments) at the same time as you're trying to figure out and remember what happens next (requiring attention to the information on the approach plate). And it's all too easy to focus on one of these and ignore the others, so it becomes a big exercise in "brain management" which I think is something most people have no experience with or practice at.

I think the first few times you're actually in clouds is a little unnerving, because when under the hood you always know the blue sky and brown ground are right there anyway, and in a panic all you have to do is look up to orient yourself. And obviously that option doesn't exist in actual instrument conditions. But I found that I at least got over that quickly.

Flying approaches in actual is more unnerving, because you know the only way you're going to get the plane on the ground is to successfully complete the approach. The only thing I'm a little scared of is the first time I have to do that without the instructor sitting next to me. But there's no "instrument solo" so the first time I do that will be after I've gotten the rating, and by then I will have had to convince several people that I'm competent enough to do it.

Yes, it's tough to ignore one's senses when flying on instruments. Actually the only one you really have to ignore is the balance sense, and since that's not one of the "five", it can be hard to ignore because most people don't realize it's even present at all. But it is, and very suggestive. And prone to mistakes, since it's very easy to fool with things like Coriolis forces. I'm a little lucky in that I don't get motion sickness and am very aware of what my balances senses are telling me, making it a little easier to ignore them when necessary.

( 3 comments — Comment )



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