A short flight out of Hayward (KHWD) through Yet Another Boring Bay Area Sunset to get used to the two-axis autopilot on 8TA out of California Airways. This thing's magic, and after 30 minutes of climbing, turning, and generally playing around over San Pablo Bay in the dark with the autopilot engaged the entire time, I think I'm confident enough to use it in IMC on real approaches. It's the two-axis / alerter version of the KAP 140 AP, and I have to admit it takes me a few minutes to get used to using the vertical speed / altitude feature and the whole thing about commanding a computer to command the plane, but in reality the whole process is "obvious". Yes, I read the manual, but not until after I've worked out most of it on my own (I stop at Napa -- KAPC -- for some night landing practice and a quick read of the manual to confirm my suspicions).
I'm initially stumped that there doesn't seem to be any way to decouple only the vertical axis parts of the AP -- I find altitude easier to control than heading on IMC approaches and I'm not sure I want to have to dial in floor altitudes or work out required vertical speeds on the fly during an approach -- but I quickly get used to that, too. It really just isn't that hard to work out how to use this, and I do the LOC / DME 28L back into Hawyard fully-coupled, basically just sitting there watching for traffic, keeping the throttle and trim appropriate to the approach, dialing in the new floor altitudes, and making damn sure the AP is doing what I ask it to do. Magic, as I keep saying.
I'm also confused about how to use the AP for an ILS -- while it's obvious how to use it for non-precision approaches, I don't want to be vertically-coupled on an ILS if all I've got to control the AP is vertical speed or desired altitude. I feel I'm missing something really obvious here, so I call John and see if he's got any advice. The answer's pretty obvious in retrospect -- if the unit's in approach mode and vertical guidance (i.e. the glideslope) is operational out of the HSI or ILS, it'll use it. I need to practice this on a real ILS sometime soon. And read the manual properly this time.