IFR Diary, Day 6: Thursday,  Sept 2

Party Hats All Around

     The first few minutes of today's ground instruction consisted of a
     review of the previous Friday's brief session on basics
     aerodynamics.  "What does trim establish?" he asked, cutting to the
     chase.  "Airspeed," I said mockingly,  recalling his histrionics on
     Friday when I had answered "attitude."

     On that Friday he had lectured pragmatically, "Look, I don't want to
     debate this.  For purposes of flying an approach, you need to
     remember only one fact: when an airplane is trimmed for a given
     airspeed, it will try to maintain that airspeed when the power
     setting changes."  He paused to allow me to digest his last
     statement, but did not invite a response.  "This behavior means that
     you don't have to worry about the airspeed during the descent.
     Better, it means that you can adjust your rate of descent entirely
     with small power changes."  I decided that I sort of knew this
     already, but had never thought of it quite like that.  "So at the
     final approach fix, you should be trimmed for your approach
     airspeed, then reduce power to begin descent.  After that, whatever
     you do, don't touch up the trim."

     On our first flights, we had calibrated the Tiger.  The most
     important calibration is the "approach configuration," the
     power/flap combination that produces 90 knots in straight and level
     flight. On the Tiger, this is one-third flaps and about 2000 RPM.
     Reducing to about 1850 rpm produces a descent of about 475 feet per
     minute, just right for the ILS.  A setting of 1400 rpm gives a
     descent rate of about 1500 feet per minute, a rate suitable for the
     step-downs in a majority of non-precision approaches. For reasons
     that were not clear until later, we also calibrated the Tiger for an
     approach configuration of 130 knots.

     Now, back to today's story. "OK.  Now that you've flown a few ILSs
     and are comfortable with the pace of action, I want to discuss the
     most critical time on an ILS approach: the first thirty seconds
     after glide-slope intercept.  Let's assume that you're flapped and
     trimmed for approach speed and are flying straight and level.  The
     glide slope begins to come in and you...what?"  Charles has a way of
     turning declarative sentences into interrogative ones by
     unexpectedly replacing the final word with a relative pronoun.  This
     pedagogical technique is a little disconcerting at first, but with
     practice I learned to tell when he was expecting an answer and when
     he was asking a rhetorical question.

     Without a moment's hesitation I answered, "When the needle centers,
     I reduce to descent power and push the nose over three degrees."  He
     rejoined, "On most GA aircraft it is not necessary to push the nose
     over, just let the airplane reach its descent rate in its own good

     "In most planes, if you're in approach configuration, pulling the
     power at or a half-dot before glide slope intercept will get you
     into the slot just above the slide slope.  It's psychologically more
     comfortable to be a dot or so above the glide slope than below it.
     This takes the pressure off...there's a natural tendency to over-
     control a bit as soon as you drop below glide slope."

     "There's another reason for using this technique--you sort of plan
     to stay a bit high so you can ignore the glide slope for a few
     seconds.  Have you noticed that you lose heading in the first few
     seconds after starting down?" I nodded affirmatively. "Why do you
     suppose this is?" I shrugged stupidly. He could see that I was
     getting a bit bored with his Socrates act. He gave it one more try,
     "Well, here's a clue: you always lose the heading to the left.

     I knew the answer. "Because when the nose drops, the plane yaws
     slightly to the right.  P-factor."  Excellent," said Charles.  I was
     a little exasperated.  "Come on, Charles, I'm barely able to keep
     the plane heading in the right direction and you're trying to get me
     to compensate for a half a ball of yaw?"

     He laughed. "There's more to this than you think. Part of IFR flying
     is knowing which things are most important at any given time.  For
     example, the three most important things on an approach are heading,
     heading, and heading.  Well, your heading is at greatest risk just
     as you pull power and start down.  My solution? Pull back to descent
     power, then forget about it for five seconds or so while you nail
     the wings absolutely level and keep the ball centered.  This allows
     you to get the heading stabilized before the localizer starts
     getting sensitive.  You should also do this when you enter a cloud
     layer and your heading is at risk because of the buffeting."

     This was the second time I had been instructed to abandon my scan
     and concentrate on binding several operations into a single atomic
     act. He could see this was troubling.  "I know that after being told
     to keep your scan going, you're finding it creepy to be told to
     suspend it, even for a few seconds."  He had this uncanny way of
     being just an answer ahead of my question.

     "One of the reasons you get overloaded is that you assign an equal
     importance to all tasks.  But you know that it's not true.  If you
     learn what things are most important when, you'll always be focusing
     most of your mental capacity on the things most affecting the
     outcome of the approach."

     "The gottcha is that you've got to have common aviation sense.  I'm
     telling you that you can ignore descent rate for the first few
     seconds on the glide slope in order to establish a rock-solid
     heading reference.  The laws of physics tell you that your airplane
     is going to be in the ballpark.  But you must have sense enough not
     to ignore both heading and descent rate for 20 seconds while you,
     say,  set up a VOR for the missed approach.  I don't expect you to
     make these decisions today or even next week, but as you gain some
     experience, I want you to know that it's OK to prioritize--but use
     your head." 

     I nodded.  "Let's go fly," said Charles.  We launched at about

     Before leaving home, I had used DUATS to file a flight plan to
     Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa Ca, about a 45 minute flight.
     Santa Rosa is in the Sonoma Valley, one valley over from the Napa
     Valley. Today we got there just before the stratus burned off.  ATIS
     was calling ceilings of 400 feet, but departing pilots were
     reporting breaks in the overcast a few miles north.

     Cleared for the ILS RWY 32, at glide slope I pulled power to 1850
     and then concentrated on heading and centering the ball.  Sure
     enough, I had half a ball to the left. I stepped on the ball and
     noticed that even in that short time I had drifted a few degrees
     off.  I made an atomic tracking turn to 321 degrees, and rechecked
     wings level.  The outer marker went off. I glanced at the VSI which
     showed only about 350 ft per minute, then to the tachometer, which
     had crept back up to 1900 rpm.  I set it back 1850.  Only now did I
     check the glide slope.  Sure enough--I'm not quite two dots above

     Just out of curiosity, I decided to check my timer to see how long
     all this had taken.  Damn! I'd forgotten to start the timer again.
     No need to panic--the MAP is at the middle marker.  I started the
     timer. Better late than never.  I estimated I was 20 seconds inside
     the marker, dead on course and with the descent rate under control.
     This was going well.

     At about one minute out the needles were both inside the doughnut. I
     had never been this far ahead of the airplane. At 450 feet a change
     in the light in the cockpit told me that we had broken out. I
     started cheering, giving myself emotional high-fives, celebrating
     like a teen-ager.  "All right!"

     Getting to look up and see the runway is the payoff, the orgasm. At
     about 50 feet from DH, I queried excitedly, "Charles, can I look?"
     Silence. The Middle Marker went off.  "Charles?"  Silence.  By the
     time reality put its foot down, I was 50 feet below DH.

     MISSED APPROACH!  ALL HANDS ON DECK! I got the Tiger climbing, got
     the turn established, talked to tower, and, just as I got things
     under control again, we bumped into what remained of the clouds.

     "Now tell Center that we want the VOR/DME 14," Charles said.  This
     is a terminal approach--the transmitter is on the field. Center
     quickly vectored me around for the approach. Now things went to hell
     in a hand basket.  Because of conflicting IFR traffic, the
     controller vectored me very close to the final approach fix and kept
     me 500 feet high. To compensate, I started down at very fast rate. I
     was behind from the moment I was cleared, and stayed behind until a
     pegged needle forced me to initiate a premature missed approach.
     Along the way, I busted altitude on both step-down fixes.

     I didn't know what had hit me.  After I was correctly on my way to
     the hold-after-missed, Charles asked, "Do you know why you fell so
     far behind?"  I nodded no. "Well, there are two reasons.  First, you
     still had on your party hat well into the VOR approach. You never
     did get completely setup for the approach."

     Party hat. Jeeze, what a mean bastard.  A guy ought to be allowed to
     celebrate his first really good approach.  A rite of passage, that.
     I thought this stuff, but didn't say it.

     Charles started in a firm, but not unkind voice.  "If you hadn't
     been so busy patting yourself on the back and looking to me for
     praise,  you might also have noticed on your DME that the 5-knot
     head wind you had landing on runway 32 is now a 15-knot tail wind on
     14.  The stratus is gone and now the wind is up." Let's land and
     talk about this.  We circled to land, shut down the engine in the
     run-up area, and debriefed.

     Aside from never really getting on course, death in the VOR approach
     had also taken the form of busting the altitudes.  In trying to get
     down fast, I would shoot through them.  Charles offered, "What are
     the three most important things on an approach?" I recited heading,
     heading, and heading. "Well, you didn't fly it that way. Your
     heading slipped because you what?" The statement was a rhetorical
     question.  "Because you became preoccupied with distance.  With the
     power back as far as you had it, you had almost a full ball of yaw,
     which you repeatedly allowed to drag you off heading.  As we got
     closer to the VOR and it got more sensitive, you started chasing

     "Now," he began more cheerfully, "You had three balls in the air--
     heading, altitude, and distance--and you were treating them with
     equal importance." I wondered if our conversation this morning about
     priorities and common sense had been a setup for this.

     "Let me simplify the altitude step-down problem:  while stepping
     down, monitor the DG and the altimeter, and ignore the DME."  I
     should have seen this coming.  "When the altimeter gets to the
     desired altitude, just level off.  When you're certain that you're
     not going to bust the altitude, then, and only then, look at the
     DME.  Just ask yourself, 'Can I descend further?' If the answer is
     yes, start on down; if no, just wait."

     He got his wide-eyed, self-satisfied look. "Don't make this a mental
     exercise."  But I had to protest. "But if I'm already at the step-
     down fix, leveling off will just put me behind for the next one."

     It seemed like an intelligent observation when I said it.  "So what?
     The time penalty for leveling off is small--maybe 10-seconds.  In
     real life you needn't worry about being behind the step-down fixes
     until you reach the MAP anyway.  Unless you're WAY behind, chances
     are you'll break out, and it won't matter; just be ready to land. If
     you don't break out, you'll just have to try the approach again. The
     second time around, you'll have to get down faster, reduce your
     ground-speed, or both.  Keep in mind, though, that your troubles
     began when you didn't notice the 15-knot difference between your
     ground speed and air speed.  If you had slowed to 75-knots air
     speed, you wouldn't have had to dive for the altitudes."  He then
     grinned mischievously at me and said, "If you hadn't pegged the

     Out of Santa Rosa we flew a SID whose transition (legend has it) is
     over Charles Schultz's house. The name of the intersection is SNUPY.
     We then headed North for Lampson, a rural airport set in a caldera-
     like valley near a beautiful lake with the unimaginative name, Clear
     Lake.  Its only feeder route is a radial off the Mendocino VOR 18
     miles to the West.

     On the way to the Mendocino VOR, Charles asked Oakland Center, "Sir,
     we'd like the NDB at Lampson.  And when we get to the VOR, would you
     please make up a realistic-sounding hold for my student. We'll stay
     in VFR conditions all the way." The controller sounded a bit shocked
     at being thus invited out to play, but then agreed.

     At about 5 miles out, the controller gave me a pedestrian hold
     requiring a direct entry.  Once in it, Charles asked, "What's the
     maximum holding speed for a propeller aircraft?" I usually don't
     clutter my mind with facts like this, but for some reason I
     remembered the answer. "I think it's 175 knots, why?"

     "Slow down to 65 or 70 knots. Why work yourself to death?"  I
     throttled back and settled in at 70.   "Now, how far can an airplane
     fly at 175 knots in one minute."  Teaching electronics has made me
     quick at guestimational arithmetic, so I replied instantly "A little
     less than three miles."  He acted surprised at my speed, "Excellent.
     So ask the controller for three mile legs."  I complied.  Without
     hesitation the controller came back, "Three-mile legs approved.
     Five mile legs also approved."

     "Now this becomes a much simpler ball game, doesn't it? This means
     that you can ignore time and just fly distance.  The controller
     doesn't care how long a leg takes--he just wants you within
     protected airspace."

     He paused, then asked, "If you didn't have DME, what would you do?"
     I replied,  "I'd still have to fly time, but my inbound time would
     be the time required to fly five miles at 70 knots...four minutes
     and change."  I detected a grin in his voice when he said, "OK. Tell
     Center we're ready for Lampson."

     At the NDB approach at Lampson, I was again guilty of not studying
     the approach plate, which contained lots of new things on it: the
     initial approach fix is defined by the VOR radial and a bearing from
     the NDB, and the approach requires a procedure turn.  It is a
     terminal approach, the NDB is the MAP.  Plain and simple, I blew
     this one.

     We landed, debriefed over lunch, kicked some tires at a near-by
     Mooney store, then Charles said, "Let's finish up at Stockton.  Out
     of here, fly the departure procedure and see if you can get us a pop-
     up IFR clearance to Stockton."

     I contacted Oakland Center and requested IFR to Stockton, confessing
     sheepishly that we had not pre-filed.  The controller seemed very
     annoyed.  Charles said, "Uh oh, you're in trouble now. You just
     asked him to put down his doughnut.  Popping up for an approach is
     one thing, getting an enroute clearance is another."

     The Center came back, "Grumman 74613 unable IFR to Stockton at this
     time." It was not the same voice that earlier had cooperated by
     issuing the surprise hold.

     "Beg," Charles told me.  I couldn't believe my ears, "Do what?"

     "Beg. Try to cut a deal with him. First try sympathy--tell him this
     is a training flight.  If that doesn't work, tell him you'll accept

     "Charles!"  I sounded like a mortified school girl.

     Things got worse. "If he won't buy that, call him again in three
     minutes with the same request.  He'll either tell you not to call
     back for a long time, or he'll cave in.  If he stiffs you, go to
     work on the controller in the next sector."

     "Hey, I know this is humiliating, but sometimes you gotta do what
     you gotta do to get a clearance.  There's nothing in the regs
     against begging and nagging--just don't lie and don't fake an
     emergency or urgency situation.  Besides", he said with obvious
     pleasure, "on a clear day like today there ain't much traffic in
     this sector, and he ain't got nothin' better to do."

     I was a bit scandalized. But what the hell.  Using my most ingenuous
     'gee-whiz, Mister Controller" tone,  I told him that I needed this
     clearance for 'important' training.  He acquiesced, and judging from
     the clearance he gave me, he figured if it was so important, it
     ought also to be educational.  I expected a clearance comprising
     maybe two VOR-directs.  Instead I got six Victor airways with
     several altitude changes.

     He was right--it was good training.  And I flew it well, maintaining
     altitude and heading, and making all the airways. After an NDB and
     ILS at Stockton, and a VOR at nearby Tracy, we headed back to

     This the fifth day was the longest and most grueling day I would
     spend. It had cuffed me around as usual, but more important, it had
     tossed me a crumb or two from the table of success.  I enjoyed the

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