Wringing out the RG – Commercial PIC Cross-Country Requirement Completed!

This is a regular blog post. Show notes and links to show audio appear in the other posts.

Yesterday started out as a CAP proficiency flight out of Ann Arbor. That is, until 1Lt Malek and I figured out that the aircraft was still in Lakeview getting its 100-hour inspection and that no one had mentioned this salient fact on the aircraft scheduling system. Bummage. Trip to Ann Arbor wasted, other than the fact that it’s always worthwhile to have breakfast with 1Lt Malek.

Not bitching about CAP by any means. This happens sometimes in any organization operated by humans. Just a little disappointing because I hadn’t flown since August and hadn’t flown approaches on round gages since April. The C-182T Nav III Form 5 qualifies me to fly the round-gage C-172s and 182s and I don’t actually have to demonstrate round-gage proficiency to a check airman if I don’t want to. But I’d be less than genuine about my commitment to safety and proficiency (and an idiot) if I failed to go out and fly approaches on round gages now and then to maintain proficiency.

Plus, I was only 1.6 hours away from completing my 50 hours PIC cross-country (greater than 50 miles) to qualify for my commercial certificate. I was hoping to get to Lansing for the approaches, which would have satisfied the distance requirement.

Crap. So I walked over to the ramp, where the CAP Great Lake Region’s Gippsland GA8 Airvan was preparing to take up some O-flight riders. I talked briefly with Maj Mario Accardo, the mission pilot, and then wandered to the approach end of Runway 24 to shoot a couple of photos of the Gippsland on final for the wing’s PAO library.

Fun, but – crap. I really wanted to fly some round-gage. I tweeted things to this effect. And, lo and behold, I get a tweet from Robert Ericson, ace KingAir pilot and CFII at Flight 101 at Pontiac, offering to go grab Flight 101’s C-172RG and head up for some instrument flight. How cool is that? It’s especially nice because Rob isn’t on the instructor schedule for the school but offered to go fly with me when I had the opportunity. He’s an Airspeed listener and had been really accommodating whenever I’ve been in to Flight 101.

So, a couple of hours later, we launched in N6274R, the school’s RG. I already had something like five hours in that aircraft, but wasn’t fully checked out in it. All of that was about to change.

Only failure on the prep was forgetting to set the transponder. And to get Rob his Scotch.

We filed IFR at 6,000 (to be assured of getting up into some of the cumulous clouds) and headed for Saginaw, a popular destination because of its multiplicity or approaches and its distance of a little more than 50 nm from Pontiac and other Detroit-area airports. Nice IMC on the way. Good clouds without a lot of convection or turbulence inside. Ragged tops at around 5,500 to 6,000 and bottoms between 3,800 and 4,000. Lovely in-and-out flying. The higher overcast kept everything mostly gray, but we got some nice sunlight on the tops at points.

I was really, really pleased about how my round-gage scan came back to me after more than five months. I’ll admit that I was too fixated on the attitude indicator in the early going, but I recognized that quickly. Several altitude excursions of around 100 feet, but generally pretty good.

See the track at http://flightaware.com/live/flight/N6274R/history/20090927/1730Z/KPTK/KPTK.

We shot the RNAV 32, then vectored around to the ILS 23. I landed beautifully. (Rob complained bitterly, but an elbow to the throat silenced him for the taxi to the FBO.)

We extended the time on the schedule for the airplane and then filed IFR back with an approach en route at Flint.

Same fun on the way back. http://flightaware.com/live/flight/N6274R/history/20090927/1900Z/KMBS/KPTK.%20. Wewere given V133 to POLAR and therefore flew that leg on the VOR with the GPS magenta line as backup. I made a perfect teardrop entry into the requested hold south on the Flint VOR, then did a full-procedure VOR 18 approach. For some reason, Flint Approach yelled at me about being below the vectoring altitude on the approach. The plate says I get 1,560 inside the applicable waypoint. I might have though that he was giving me grief because I was off the centerline for the approach, but I was only a dot off and correcting. Anyway, I climbed it up to 2,200 until the FAF and then hung out all of the junk (gear and flaps) and crowbarred down to the MDA of 1,300 before going missed and heading back to Pontiac.

Another spectacular landing at Pontiac on 27R. Full stall onto the mains six inches off the pavement and a gentle lowering of the nosewheel.

I couldn’t help but post this shot of a tire that’s sitting on the counter at Flight 101. Note the labeled “circle of shame” on the tire. I guess there’s been a rash of landings in the RG with one or more brakes engaged, this causing balding of tires. A good reminder to anyone, not just RG drivers. Keep your heels on the floor until you’re good and landed, folks. It’s an easy mistake to make and it’s a mistake that I’ve made myself. (No, I didn’t savage this tire . . .)

So, after that 2.6 hours (with 1.1 actual and 1.0 simulated IMC), I have a fresh IPC, I’ve completed the required PIC cross-country for the commercial, and I’m checked out to fly the RG (and, by extension, all of the C-172s and C-152s at Flight 101).

Many thanks to Rob for swooping in and saving what would otherwise have been a flightless day and a waste of good and very flyable IMC!

Lt Malek and I are going to head up later this week in the CAP C-182T Nav III to get him refreshed on the G1000 and keep me current. Should be a lot of fun!

Safety, currency, and proficiency. Good flying and good fellow aviators all the way around. One of those days when you’re particularly proud to be a pilot and when your training (and willingness to work to stay current and proficient) pays off.

I do so love this stuff!

Capt Force Joins the Glass Mafia

This is a regular blog post. Show notes and links to show audio appear in other posts.

Last night, I wiped the bugs off the CAP Cessna 182T Nav III, buttoned up the plane, and then drove home with that sense of satisfaction that comes after a successful checkride. I had just passed my CAP Form 5 checkout in the aircraft. I’m now qualified to fly the airplane both VFR and IFR for CAP.

(By the way, some of you might not get the “Glass Mafia” reference in the title to this post. It’s hearkens back to the days of the Fighter Mafia, group of U.S. Air Force officers and civilian defense analysts who, in the 1970s, went against the grain and advocated the use of John Boyd’s Energy-Maneuverability (E-M) theory to develop fighter aircraft. We have the Fighter Mafia to thank for the F-15, the F-16, and many other of our favorite aircraft.)

For those not familiar with CAP procedures and/or the aircraft, I offer the following.

The Form 5 and CAP Operations

CAP flight operations require FAA currency and proficiency, plus a little extra special sauce. The ability to fly to FAA standards gets you into the diner on the morning of your checkride. But then there’s Form 5 with which to contend. Form 5 is simply a checklist of skills that CAP expects its pilots to have. They’re similar to the FAA PTS, but some require a little more of the pilot. For steep turns, CAP requires 720s instead of 360s. When possible, many CAP check airmen require engine failure simulations all the way to the ground (usually done at an uncontrolled airport with a runway suited to the task). You get the idea.

If you’re going to fly red, white, and blue airplanes with the CAP insignia, use a “CAPFLIGHT” callsign, fly cadets and AFROTC personnel on orientation flights, search to downed airplanes, and other CAP missions, CAP wants superior skills and wants them demonstrated.

The Form 5 ride is just like an FAA checkride in most respects. You brief, you fly, you debrief, and you get (or don’t get) your signoff. But there are also different kinds of Form 5 rides. The ride yesterday was to qualify me to fly the C-182T Nav III for training and currency and, once I have my Emergency Services card, I’ll be qualified to transport personnel and equipment for CAP missions. Additional training and check flights are required if you want to fly as a mission pilot or in other roles.

The Form 5 is a great way to demonstrate your pilot skills against objective standards. You get to fly well-maintained aircraft and fly with eminently-qualified check airmen. Getting and staying qualified in several CAP aircraft is a great way to keep your edge and get valuable commentary on your flying.

And, if you fail a Form 5 ride, it doesn’t affect your FAA qualifications. You’re still a pilot and can go rent all you want from the FBO. You just need to get through the Form 5 to fly CAP aircraft.

The Aircraft and Avionics

The NavIII variant of the C-182 comes with the Garmin G1000 integrated flight deck and the GFC 700 autopilot. It’s among the most sophisticated avionics packages available in general aviation. Most obvious to one looking at the panel for the first time are the twin 10” LCD displays. The Primary Flight Display (“PFD”) in front of the pilot gives you all of the information you’d expect from the usual six-pack of steam gage instruments and then some. The display on the right, the Multi-Function Display (“MFD”), gives you powerplant, weather, navigation, flight management, and other information .

Isaac Newton and Daniel Bernoulli still have final say about how the airplane flies, but you have a lot of tools available to help manage the airplane and conduct the flight. You give the airplane to the autopilot at 800 feet AGL and don’t take it back until you’re as little as 200 feet AGL and 1/4 mile off the end of the destination runway. Very cool.

None of this is to say that you must use the avionics all the time. But it is to say that you have a lot of tools available to you. It’s easier to stay ahead of an airplane that can fly itself en route and in the approaches better than you can.

I have always said that any kind of flying, and especially instrument flying, is about bandwidth packing. You only have so much bandwidth available. You can only think about so many things at once. The more you internalize processes, commit them to muscle memory, or find ways to automate things, the more bandwidth you have available to concentrate on what’s next.

The C-182T itself is a generally 172-shaped, but has a six-cylinder 235-hp engine in front and a higher cowl as seen from the flight deck, and it’s pretty nose-heavy and likes to come out of the sky quickly when you reduce power, especially when you hang out the barn-door-sized flaps. It’s not uncommon for C-172 drivers (like me) to have trouble handling the sink rate and related issues with the airplane. It’s also not uncommon for pilots coming to the C-182 from the C-172 or similar airplanes to bend the firewalls of C-182s by hitting the nosewheel (not hard to do – That engine up there is heavy!).

The Ride

No surprises on this ride. There never are. The Form 5 criteria are all pretty well laid out and the FAA PTS is always there underlying the whole thing.

Maj Alex Craig (the check airman who also did my instrument add-on in the C-172 in February) had me plan an IFR flight to Bad Axe (KBAX) up in Michigan’s thumb. We launched and I flew to the Pontiac VOR (PSI), the first waypoint, and then turned north toward KITNS, all with the G1000/GFC 700 flying the airplane from 800 AGL on.

We pulled it off autopilot, did some clearing turns, dropped the flaps, and slowed it down to between 50 and 60 KIAS for slow flight. Then a left-turning power-off stall and recovery to cruising altitude.

Another clearing turn and then the power-on stall turning to the right with a full break. A lot of sky in the window, baby! This airplane likes to climb! BE ON YOUR RUDDERS AND BE COORDINATED! The stall, even with a full break, was very benign, largely because we were very well-coordinated through the break and I stepped on the left pedal to right the airplane immediately after the break. We recovered 100 feet above the rotation point, so I feel pretty good about the survivability of a departure stall as long as I was on the rudders (and I usually am).

After that, I gave the aircraft back to the autopilot and continued en route. Three miles from Lapeer (D95), out comes the throttle and off goes the autopilot. We did a simulated engine-out emergency and I rocked the checklist pretty well. Yeah, I planned the flight to pass directly above Lapeer, so I had a pretty good idea of where we were going, but still had (as I usually do) the NRST inset in the lower right-hand corner of the PFD so that I could find the airport quickly and know the distance and CTAF frequency.

I should note that 123.0 (the CTAF for Lapeer) was loaded into the backup for COM1 when I looked up about five minutes before the engine-out, so I had a pretty good idea of where we were going.

I got the airplane down to 50 feet with a slip and lots of flaps. Had it been a real emergency, we would have run off the end, but all personnel would likely have been fine. Alex sent me back around for a short approach, pulling the engine downwind abeam, and I blew yet another power-off by being too high. Checkride in danger . . .

So he gave me one more shot. I hung it out a little longer this time and brought it in nice and soft in the first half of the runway. Whew!

Several short and soft field takeoffs and landings after that at Lapeer. These I nailed. The short and soft landing at the end was a thing of beauty.

Then on with the view-limiting device and proceed to Flint (KFNT) for the approaches. We shot the ILS 27, the RNAV 9, and the VOR 18.

For the ILS, he gave me the all of the avionics and the airplane flew a beautiful ILS approach to minimums. Yeah, I configured it and monitored it like I had designed the system, but the airplane, for its part, flew well.

For the RNAV, Alex took away my autopilot so I had to hand-fly it. The guidance is so good on the RNAV approaches with the G1000 that, as long as you can fly basic attitudes and airspeeds on the gages, it’s a dream. The G1000 even makes a glideslope for you and you just slide doen it to minimums.

For the VOR, Alex pulled the AHRS circuit breaker, which killed my primary instruments and left me with the backup instruments, the GPS course, and the VOR needle to fly. I flew it much better than I had expected to with only one real exception.

G1000 pilots seem to stand alone in CAP and pilots’ lounges everywhere. They’re kind of like the aloof UNIX guys, only without the suspenders and neck beards. They know things that you don’t know. (And, yes, I know things that you don’t know. Kiss my glass.) But, if there’s schism between glass pilots and steam-gage pilots, there’s also schism between those who fly glass with north always up on the displays (“north-up” pilots) and those who fly with the stuff in front of the airplane’s nose at the top of the screen (“track-up” pilots). And the two will never see eye-to-eye.

I’m a track-up guy. Alex is a north-up guy. Alex isn’t disagreeable about his north-up-ness. He’d willingly fly a track-up ride with a track-up pilot. I could have flown the ride track up with no problem and Alex, though benevolently thinking me mildly retarded for doing so, would have humored me.

Have you ever had complete brain farts when you forget how to spell “the.” Or similar moments where you forget your name or where you live? Here I was configuring and flying the avionics like I designed them and even getting compliments from Alex (an avowed G1000 fan who’s crazy good with the system). And I realized that I had completely forgotten how to switch the display over to track-up.

So I flew the ride using north-up for the first time. How hard could it be?

On the VOR approach, under the hood and partial panel with only the mag compass, the VOR needle, and the GPS display on the MFD to guide me laterally, I was watching the needle for fine guidance and the MFD for gross guidance and trending. When you fly a VOR 18 approach with track-up, the airplane flies up the screen, you just turn left or right according to the trend arrow, and the airplane turns in the same direction. Do that north-up and the airplane flied down the screen and everything’s reversed.

I got a good 40 degrees off course to the right before I realized that I was reading the MFD backward. Fortunately, I realized what I was doing, called it out, and did an immediate turn back to the course. I very nearly lost the needle to the left, but we were still several miles out and I had enough room to bring it back. It would have blown the ride if I had let it go to full deflection, so that was critical.

On the way back, I did the steep turns under the hood. Two full turns to the left and two more to the right. If I had problems with the C182 in the landings, we made friends during the airwork, especially the steep turns. It’s a big, stable aircraft and I just rolled in 50-60 degrees of bank and watched her go around with only minor changes in pitch to stay on altitude. Just beautiful. And Alex complimented me on them.

One more landing back at Pontiac and I was inducted into the Glass Mafia. I dropped off Alex at Pentastar and then taxied the aircraft back.

$90 for the airplane and $104 for gas. 2.5 hours in a $250,000+ airplane with a Cessna factory-trained ATP-rated check airman for less than $100/hour wet all in. At the risk of being a nag, if you’re a pilot in the US and you’re not a member of Civil Air Patrol, what’s wrong with you? Seriously!

I’m still basking in the glow of yet another successful Form 5 ride. Yeah, I have stuff to work on. Yeah, it wasn’t perfect, but I demonstrated competence to PTS and CAP standards by objective measures and it feels good.

Many thanks to Maj Alex Craig for the ride. And many thanks to Capt Tim Kramer, who did all of my training in the aircraft.

What’s next? Mission pilot? Time to retreat behind a shot of Jeremiah Weed and a bottle of Leinie’s and identify the next summit to challenge. Smoke on!

Prepping for CAP Instrument Form 5 – Flying Sim

This is a regular blog post. If you’re looking for show notes or links to show ausio, please check the other posts.

The CAP Form 5 instrument check is tomorrow. So I headed in the DCT Aviation to fly some sim and do more preparation. As many of you know, I took the Form 5 ride in August in a C-172P. I opted not to go for the full IFR ride because I was unfamiliar with the panel and didn’t want to waste the check airman’s time. As it was, I flew a lot of the VFR checkride on the gages and I think I would have had a 60-40 chance of passing the instrument version of the Form 5, but that’s not how I roll. I don’t like walking in less than fully prepared.

Cole, my FO, went with me. As is wise before a grueling sim session, we hit grabbed breakfast.

I flew a lot of sim prior to my instrument rating checkride in 2007 and it helped a lot. Not least because the airplane is a heck of a lot easier to fly than the sim. It was so nice to get back in the airplane after flying hours and hours of sim.

Anyway, I shot the ILS 23L at KYIP twice, the VOR 24 at KARB twice, and then the VOR A KYIP with a circle to land on 32. Things really improved after the first approach and I seem to have dialed it in pretty well. Some of it was getting the throttle settings for various phases right. It turns out that the sim is pretty accurate in terms of performance. 2100 RPM and 10 degrees of flaps gets you 90 knots maneuvering and about 1700 RPM gets you a nice ride down the glideslope at 90 knots over the ground in most wind conditions.

Here’s the inbound leg of the parallel entry for the hold at SVM prior to shooting the VOR 24 at ARB. The simulator doesn’t lie. There are parts of my flying that I like and parts that I don’t. The turn here was nice. The outbound leg was offset very uniformly, which tells me that I just accepted the offset all the way out without correcting. Not the worst thing in the world, but I should be better on that. Altitude is very sawtooth-looking, but I’m not going to complain about that. I’ve never met a sim that was any good whatsoever in pitch. Pitch works so much better in the actual airplane.

Here’s how Cole spent much of the sim session. When I flew sim at DCT in 2007, Cole came along and sat at a desk and watched DVDs on a DVD player that I brought in. DCT has taken this idea to heard and there’s a DVD player in the sim room. You can bring your kid along, hook him or her up with headphones, and let him or her watch DVDs while you fly. Cole’s watching Fighter Pilot: Operation Red Flag. For the 20th time. Not kidding. And he loves it. Love my boy, I do!

If you’re near Oakland County International Airport (KPTK) and you want a really good and friendly sim environment to polish up for a checkride or anything else, check out DCT Aviation.

DCT Aviation
6226 N.Service Drive
Waterford, Michigan 48327
Monday-Friday – 8am-8pm
Weekends – 8am-5pm

Spatial Disorientation Simulator

Subscribe to Airspeed through iTunes or your favorite other podcatcher. It’s all free!

These are the show notes to an audio episode. You can listen online right here by clicking: http://media.libsyn.com/media/airspeed/AirspeedSpatial.mp3.

I spent some time recently at the Great Lakes Aviation Conference and Expo in Novi, Michigan. While there, I took advantage of the opportunity to go through the Spatial Disorientation Simulator made available by the FAA’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute.

It’s a box that contains a single seat with a video screen and flight controls in front of it. You sit in the box in the dark and you fly some basic maneuvers like a climb and some turns. You have a horizon for the first bit of the climb and then you ascend into the clouds.

While you’re concentrating on flying, the box you’re sitting in rotates around its vertical axis something like seven to 12 times per minute. It’ll also pitch forward and back a little.

The simulator lets you experience two vestibular/somatogyral illusions: The coriolis illusion and the illusion that can put you in the so-called graveyard spiral.

The coriolis illusion occurs when you stimulate the semicircular canals by suddenly tilting your head while the aircraft is turning. The simulator rotates slowly for several minutes while you’re flying a simulator. You get used to the rotation and you begin to accept the sensations from your semicircular canals as telling you that you’re flying straight and level. When you move your head forward or back after this, you get the sense that the aircraft is moving in all three axes. I got the sense when I moved my head forward that the aircraft was snapping down and to the right. And the opposite when I moved my head back.

The graveyard spiral happens when you return to level flight after a prolonged bank turn. When you enter the turn, you feel the sensation of a turn in the same direction. If the turn continues for an extended period of time, you lose the turning sensation. Your body has settled into a stabilized mode that’s more or less just like level flight. Then you level the wings. That produces a sensation that the airplane is turning and banking in the opposite direction. If you believe the illusion of the turn (and it’s very compelling), you’ll re-enter the original turn in an attempt to counteract the sensation of the opposite turn.

If you re-enter the turn, you’ll continue in that turn and you’ll start losing altitude. If you pull to get the altitude back or apply power, you’ll only make the turn tighter. If you don’t recognize the illusion and level the wings, you’ll continue the left turn and keep losing altitude until you augur in.

The smooth rotation of the box lets your vestibular system get used to that rotation so that leaning forward and back gives you the coriolis illusion. It can also change rotation to give you that really, really convincing feeling that might lead to a graveyard spiral.

Today’s episode comes in two phases. First, I take the MP3 recorder into the box and fly the simulation. The simulation takes something like nine minutes, most of which is pretty quiet and consists of my flying a climbing turn. I’m going to accelerate the process by fading the audio up and down to tell you where I’ve omitted audio. You’ll hear the simulator giving me vectors and other instructions and, after each of the effects, the initial explanation of the effect that I just felt. You’ll also hear me give a “whoah” at appropriate times. I had intended to give a little more commentary, but I found that the illusions were so compelling that I was processing them myself and couldn’t really talk much about them. I guess that’s what the commentary on the show is for.

At the FAA staff’s suggestion, I exaggerated my head movements to really experience the effect. Note that I didn’t have to move my head much at all to get a really wild sensation in the graveyard spiral demonstration.

So here’s the simulator ride.


Afterward, I talked to Rogers Shaw, the team leader of the Airman Educational Personnel. Here’s the interview.


The take-home for this episode is that the things that the textbook tells you about physiological illusions are real. They’re very real. Even though I knew for a fact that I was in a box in an exhibit hall in Novi, Michigan, the sense of opposite rotation was overwhelming. If you’re going to fly on instruments or without a good horizon, you need to know that these illusions can happen and that they can happen to you. I’m glad that I experienced them for the first time in a simulator in Novi and not in an aircraft.

If you have the opportunity, go through this simulation. But even if you don’t, know and understand that your noggin is much more likely than your instruments to lead you astray. Flying in the clouds takes discipline in a number of different respects. Probably the most important is the discipline to get on your gages and believe them, even when everything you’re used to from walking around on the ground is screaming that things are wildly amiss.

Instrument flight is transcendental in many different ways. My personal favorite is breaking out of a cloud layer in a climb and then dragging my wheels in the cloud tops. But the price for that is building the ability to transcend what your senses have told you all your life and to rely on the science and instrumentation in front of you.

Thanks to the FAA’s Civil Aerospace Medical Institute for bringing the simulator to Novi. Make sure to watch for it at a conference or other event near you.

FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute
Aerospace Medical Education Division
AAM-400, PO Box 25082
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73125
Telephone: 405-954-4837
Fax: 405-954-2305

CAPFLIGHT 2028 to Ride Again

This is a regular blog post. If you’re looking for show notes or links to show audio, please check out the other posts.

Okay, I’m back in the groove. Or at least I have plans to return to the groove (important if you’re trying to plan ahead and you live in Michigan in January). I have three planned flights so far.

This week, it’s instrument currency and initial commercial maneuvers at Flight 101. Flying with an instructor I’ve met once, but with whom I’ve never flown. I think that, once you have your flight skills reasonably down, it’s a good idea to fly with different instructors. You learn more that way. Sure, there are crazies out there and sure, you’re going to discard some of the advice that you receive, but you also pick up stuff that you wouldn’t otherwise get.

Next week, it’s up with Barry again in the Citabria. Banking and cranking and starting to build my aerobatic duration for the upcoming season. I want to be able to do an hour straight with tummy in good shape by late May. I got to that point in July, but then work got busy and I had to let the duration slide. I got up in November, but I was done after 20 minutes. Like so many things, you must use it or you’ll lose it.

And then the stuff I’m most excited about. Capt Norm Malek (the ops officer for my CAP squadron and fiercely competent instrument driver) and I are going to go grab 2CP (CAPFLIGHT 2028) in Ann Arbor (KARB) and go get some cross-country time and some instrument approaches and do some hangar flying. I’m thinking KARB-KBTL-KAZO-KARB. But the beauty of it is that we don’t have to go anywhere in particular. Just turning 100LL into noise and challenging each other to improve our skills. If you’re a pilot, why on earth (or off) would you not join CAP?

Really excited to be back in the air! Sorry about all of the griping and whining about work over the last few posts, but I’ll try to make up for it with the exuberance that you know I can develop once I get airborne. Yeah!