Friday, July 29, 2016

A night flight

Piper Cherokee (PA-28-161/A)

0.7 hours

4 (3 to a full stop to obtain night currency)

Panel fully lit

It's been years since I have been up at night. Regardless, night is one of my favorite times to fly. The air is calm (unless there is some kind of storm present, coming, or going), it's peaceful, and it's magic flying above the city lights below. There are some risks, such as finding a place to land in the event of a failed engine, but otherwise, it's just as safe, if not more safe if you consider that it's easier to see other planes in the air with their lights on at night than it can be seeing them in daylight.

It's also just a better experience from the point of view that few others are typically out flying at night. You get the feeling you are all alone, you own the airport and the tiedown area.

The reason for making the flight was to get night currency. As a private pilot, I am able fly at night anytime - you have to have a couple hours logged night time as a part of getting your private pilot certificate.  Night currency simply means needing 3 take offs and landings, to a full stop (not touch and go) within the prior 90 days, one hour after sunset or no less than one hour before sunrise, in order to take up passengers with you at night. A similar day currency also exists; 3 takeoffs and landings (touch and go are ok) within 90 days to take up passengers during the day. Having both allows you some flexibility - I can fly out to Catalina in the afternoon, and depart at sunset with passengers knowing that I am legal to do so.

Some notes:
  1. While cockpit lighting usually is enough to see the panel (see the image above), you need a flashlight (in case the panel lights go out, and to light areas away from the panel). I carry two, one that I wear on my head (advantages: I can't misplace it, and the light follows my head as I look around), and a nice smith and wesson led light that I store in the map/checklist pocket fore of the left seat.
  2. The flashlights must have a red lens as well as a white one. You'll need the white light for preflight and postflight duties, but while operating the plane, red is the color you'll want to shine from your lights. This is because there are dangers using white light due to the eye being better suited to red light at night. The main danger is if you are looking around the cockpit with a white light, and then gaze out the window into the night, your eyes will miss things as they adjust. This could have bad effects if you need to see something to avoid it, or for example at critical phases of the flight such as landing or takeoff, where vision at night is quite important. Your eyes adjust much faster in the case of red light (or no adjustment is needed at all, as the same part of your eye that sees in the dark is sensitive to red light).
  3. Good to know the runways and taxiways for the airport ahead of time at night, and have an airport diagram for reference. While the signs are lit and the blue runway markers will be present to identify taxiways and the like, it's not as easy to place yourself in the airport environment as it is during the daytime. MYF has some closed runways and taxiways due to reconstruction of runway 23/5, making this more critical.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

SDM VOR circle to land, SEE LOC/DME, MYF ILS

Piper Cherokee (PA-28-161/A)

2.0 hours


Flight profile:
Instrument flight. File and fly VOR circle to land approach Brown Field (SDM) full stop (Depart runway 28L Montgomery Field MYF). File and fly LOC/DME approach Gillespie Field (SEE) missed approach, practice ILS approach land 28R MYF. 

LOC/DME Approach, Gillespie Field
Interesting things on this flight:

Today I flew my first 2 non-precision approaches in many years. For the MYF to SDM leg, a couple of things to note:

  • I made the approach without having obtained the ATIS at SDM. I'm pretty sure the controller never asked us to get the ATIS and reply back when we had it, and when we realized we didn't have it, it was a bit late in the game to go calling for it, as we were about to get handed off to the tower and just about to the missed approach point (thus the workload was getting heavy). Lesson learned: don't expect ATC to remind you about getting ATIS, and be prepared to initiate conversation with ATC if it is getting to a point in the vectoring where it might be too late (or workload too high) to switch over and obtain it.
  • I was prompted by my instructor when we were already far along in the approach to ask ATC if we should contact tower (they replied in the affirmative). My instructor made a comment that basically he felt that ATC had forgotten us. Here, the lesson again is to know what to expect and when to expect it during an approach, and when the expected does not happen, get on the radio and ask.
We landed full stop, taxied to transient parking, got set up there with a new clearance to KSEE. We went full stop to give me a bit of a breather after having flown the first non-precision approach before going on to the second.

Nothing particularly noteworthy occurred during the SDM to SEE approach portion of the flight. I had studied the approach plates ahead of time, but given the high approach angle and the fact I almost never fly into SEE, I felt a little concerned about the approach. But my instructor and I, prior to the flight, went over the details of the approach. I had a plan coming to the airport for how to manage any non-precision approach -- scan the DME and approach plate while being vectored ahead of intercepting the localizer, to get a feel for about where in the approach we were going to ultimately join, and the corresponding altitude. During the approach, the process would be to look ahead the next step down fix (DME) and following altitude, and of course, the missed approach point and decision height/altitude. My instructor pointed out that we would be likely vectored on all approaches to within 3NM of the Final Approach Fix (FAF), which helped to narrow to the step down fix just before the FAF, and just after.

Talking through all of this on the ground actually made the approach quite doable and enjoyable. Trying to figure out a strategy and learn the approach in the airplane on the spot without a plan and prior study of the plates would have resulted in some moments of stress and mistakes, I believe. Thinking ahead of the airplane is not all that unusual, in fact, I believe it is a core competency of a safe and effective pilot. Even as a VFR pilot, you don't just get in the plane or go (at least I don't). I always have a plan of what I am going to do before the prop starts turning.

The other interesting thing I learned about today was the practice approach. We were given a practice ILS approach into MYF, and effectively, what it meant was that I was still on an instrument clearance (ultimately, ATC contacted me and asked me to switch to tower), but they were not going to provide altitude and heading assignments, I was on my own. When they gave me the instruction that I was cleared for the practice approach, it was done after being given a heading that would lead me to intercept the ILS, and an altitude of 4000. I continued on to 4000, which put me above the glideslope on intercept (but in IFR flight, I suppose above is always better than below!). Getting down to the glideslope and the rest of the approach was uneventful.

Some tips from my instructor. Stop using "with you", "looking", and "this is" in my communications. Also, need to work on saying tail number at start of communications, not at the end (with ATC, not necessarily tower).

All in all, a great flight.

Next week, we take to V23 and do various holding pattern entries. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

This blog is intended to be an expansion of my Private Pilot Logbook. I hope it will be a place where I share something I learned or observed during a flight.

I'm a private pilot, licensed in 1990. My training was held at Brown Field in San Diego, mostly in a 150. I'm based currently at Montgomery Field, a member of a flying club named Plus One Flyers, also since 1990 (I'm waiting for some kind of award for being a paying member for so long). I mainly fly Cessna 172s and Piper aircraft (cherokee and archer II) as are available in the club. I have time in Mooney 210, Citabria (but I have no tailwheel endorsement yet, just the experience during instruction), and Tabago. I had an engine out over Montgomery back in 1994, maybe I'll talk about it here (I did get a chance to talk about it with the FAA and write about it for the club newsletter).

In 1997 I had enough hours for an instrument rating, plus a passed written exam and a signoff needed to take the Practical Test. I failed during the oral, really didn't answer the questions on icing and weather well at all. Part of it was I was just about to publish my first book, and it was a big one (near 800 pages as I recall). Not a good thing to be trying two difficult things at the same time. So I opted for the book, and went on to write two more (similarly long) books.  During the last almost 20 years, I've averaged anywhere from 5 to many more hours. In 2002 or 2003 I flew a Cessna VFR from San Diego to Florida and back. That was one of the years I had more than 5 hours :-)

Fast track to today. I have passed the Instrument written again (more confidently, the technology for studying is so much better). I've got a few ILS approaches under my belt, and weekly lessons.

In this blog, I'll share some of the process, and what I learn as I get my instrument ticket. But first, let's talk about my flight yesterday.

Piper Cherokee (PA-28-161/A)

0.9 hours


Flight profile:
Depart runway 28L MYF, V23, touch and go Carlsbad (CRQ) runway 24, south along V23, full stop runway 28L MYF.

On a 45 to left downwind, rwy 24, CRQ

Interesting things on this flight:

The first interesting thing was during run-up on 28L, ground asked me to do an VOT check. They were looking to see if the VOT was operating, but I went ahead and did a full check of both VOR receivers in the plane. That was a first (being asked to help out the tower with a check of their equipment), but I was happy to oblige (and able to, since VOT checks are something you learn to do as an IFR pilot).

Second interesting thing is that it appears now that MYF tower, for aircraft approaching the airport to land south along the coast (and presumably above 3300 MSL due to class Bravo and terrain restrictions which would make flying this below 1300 unsafe), are requesting aircraft turn inland only once past (south of) Mount Soladad. I remember getting dinged by the examiner during the IFR checkride for not doing this way back in 1997, but it is only recently that the tower is now requesting it. Perhaps it was just a good practice back then.

Third interesting thing. As I was flying back to MYF down V23 at 3500, there was a Cessna below. I was monitoring 119.6 (socal approach) once Carlsbad Palomar gave me the nod to frequency change, and looks like this 172 was with them, perhaps flight following. The chatter indicated to me this person was visiting and somewhat unfamiliar with flying in the area, and so cal was helping them get to MYF with vectors and the like. Most of the way down V23 the plane was at my 2:30 and looked to be at around 1300 feet. Anyway, when I switched to MYF tower to call in for landing, they alerted me to the aircraft, and I responded that they were in sight. I told them I was going to do some s-turns to give us some spacing. I think they were just turning base to final for 28L when I was turning downwind to 28L from my 45 degree inbound leg, so I guess the spacing was just about right.

Perhaps the most notable thing about this flight happened on the ground before takeoff. As typical in the club these days, the person before me didn't put in a fuel order after landing so I after visually inspecting fuel levels, I walked back to Gibbs as I always do to put in a fuel order. I always check the fuel first knowing that I'll do the complete preflight while I wait for the fuel truck to arrive and do it's thing. Two pilots (I assume CFI and student) were tying down a 172 right next to me, and I asked "How was it up there?" At a minimum, doing this I will find out if it was turbulent, or not. Sometimes I find out more.

This time, I was told about a visit to San Diego from Vice President Joe Biden that might affect my flight.

Turns out, he was due to flying into SAN (Lindberg Field), and so there was a TFR (Temporary Flight Restriction) for the region close to that airport because of his visit. Now, I would have heard about it on the ATIS, but they wouldn't have provided details.

Back at Gibbs, I used my iPhone to visit, and scanned the list of active TFRs. Sure enough, a TFR was in effect for a 3 mile radius from the 133 radial, at or below 2999 feet during the time I was going to fly. My plan was to fly the VFR corridor which would have taken me right above this TFR. Being above the TFR is ok, but then again, it was time to think a bit.

The thought process went like this: the VFR corridor southbound forces me at 3500 feet (southeast heading, odd thousand + 500 feet), so I clearly had room (500 feet) to spare. What if I had an engine out, or similar issue like a fire, while in that area? I'd have to declare an emergency, get over SAN, and circle down and land. But that would have put me in the middle of the TFR. Would such an emergency have happened? Almost certainly not. Would my flying over the TFR with 500 feet to spare have caught the attention of controllers on the ground? Almost certainly. Would it make them nervous? I don't know. Would they send up jets to escort me away if my altimeter was suddenly off kilter and I was below the VFR corridor and in the TFR? Point is, it raised for me as a pilot scenarios that I had to think about. But by going north to Carlsbad, I didn't need to worry about any of them (at least, related to the TFR) and that choice wouldn't detract from my goal for the day, which was to get up and fly a bit. So going to Carlsbad was the right choice.