So over the past few weeks I've been in touch with California Airways down in Hayward (KHWD), a few miles further south of Oakland (KOAK). I did my instrument written there a year or so ago, and was impressed by the place back then, but didn't really think of it in terms of an alternative to the club -- there wasn't much point back then. But now there is, and I book a checkout with them for today so I could start renting and flying with them. I've already completed the copious paperwork needed -- a set of typical question sheets on VFR and IFR flying (airspaces, FAR stuff, personal minima, etc.) and a two-sheeter on the 172S's I'll be flying (POH stuff, W&B, fuel management, stall speeds, etc.), plus all my personal details (well, not the really personal stuff :-)).
I meet Chuck Kennedy, who'll be my instructor / checkout guy today, and we go over the paperwork. It checks out OK, except I made a mistake with the 172S's Vs0 (not sure what I was thinking there...), and got my own address wrong (very impressive work there, Hamish...). Chuck turns out to be a software kind of guy, and a good instructor, with a good sense of humour (I can't imagine a humourless instructor being a good instructor, but that's just me...), and a fairly thoughtful approach to things.
After the paperwork we wander out to the plane itself -- 8TA, a 2003 model 172S (or SP, as some people call it). It's pretty much the same as 2SP, the only real difference being a slightly different panel -- apart from the KLN 94 GPS it's got a KMD 550 moving-map display coupled to the KLN 94 (not too shabby...) and a KAP 140 two-axis autopilot (cool!). Basically, though, it's very familiar, and pre-flight, startup, and departure are routine (I'm pretty familiar with Hayward since it's where I did a lot of my initial tailwheel training, and it's a favourite for touch and goes when Oakland's 27L isn't available).
We head for the Diablo practice area, where I do the usual repertoire of MCA maneuvers, stalls, bad jokes about aerobatics, observations about the rapid growth of the Diablo Valley, emergency procedures, etc., and I discover that I'm actually enjoying this part a lot. It feels like years since I've done a real VFR workout like this (dragging the plane around continuously on the edge of a stall, doing steep turns, clearing turns, real rudder work, etc.), and it's not only going much better than I expected, but it's such a pleasant change to chasing needles in IMC (I must restart my aerobatics training with Ben again soon...).
Chuck asks me if I want to do an approach back into Hayward, without going under the hood or anything, just to check out the approach and the GPS and associated gubbins. I'm keen, since I've never actually done the HWD LOC/DME 28L approach before, and this seems like a good time and leisurely way to get acquainted with the instruments and the approach (it's a pretty common-and-garden approach, but it's likely to be my main route back in the future, so checking it out in VMC seems like a good idea). I grub around in my flight bag for the approach plate while Chuck flies for a minute or so. I familiarise myself with the approach, then set up the localiser and GPS, then follow the GPS to SUNOL, getting ready to call NorCal for the approach. After a few seconds we both realise very quickly that the GPS isn't taking us to SUNOL as it said it would, but direct to the approach's MAP. What follows is one of those GPS Moments, when two instrument-rated pilots taking it in turns can't work out for the life of them quite why the properly-programmed GPS has suddenly decided to bypass the activated approach and send us direct to the missed. Hmmmm. In the end I simply set it direct SUNOL and figure we'll get vectors anyway, which is (of course) exactly what happens. I still much prefer the Garmin 530, which seems a little less capricious -- but then this was one of those impromptu things, where I probably missed something crucial during the setup, and where it just wasn't worth debugging at the time, given that the approach is flyable entirely with the other gear, and the GPS was still giving us DME. One of the heartening things about it all is that nowadays when this sort of thing happens, I don't get flustered any more -- I just get on with it, which is part of basic instrument flying skills.
We do a couple of touch and goes in the pattern at Hayward, mostly to fill out the full hour needed for the checkout, then head back to Cal Air, where I meet Cal Airway's owner, Keith, who seems scarily on top of everything, and learn a little more about the rental procedures (basically a more formal version of what we use in the club, including using the same online web-based scheduler). Chuck signs me off and I'm now a fully-qualified Cal Airways renter. Cool!
* * *
Today's checkout was a much more enjoyable experience than I expected, and I'm so far pretty impressed by the procedures, aircraft, and general attitude at California Airways. Everybody there seemed enthusiastic and helpful, and there was always someone around who could tell me how to do this or where that was, etc. The planes look well-maintained, and the rental costs are similar to the AAC's (but charged dry / Hobbs rather than wet / tach). I'm not sure how well flying out of Hayward will work in winter IMC with the Southeasterly flow in place -- the only approaches into Hayward fly you straight into the path of Oakland's bad-weather approaches, and circling minima aren't great at Hayward -- but I'll burn that bridge when I get to it. And I'm sure I'll discover the hidden bodies at Cal Airways soon enough :-).