February 12, 2006

Heavy Weather

I look outside my studio window at about 7.30 am: a nice sunny morning, a typical Oakland winter's day -- temperature about 12C, no wind, a light scattering of high clouds. Perfect for finishing off the G1000 checkout. Cool! But by the time I've driven the 10 miles or so down to Hayward (KHWD) 90 minutes later, Hayward airport's covered in a thin layer of heavy fog. Visibility 1/2 mile; ceiling 100', tops probably 500', certainly less than 1000'. The locals are saying it wasn't there thirty minutes ago. Hmmm. Oakland (KOAK) -- 5 miles to the north west -- is still effectively reporting CAVU. It'll blow over -- it always does.

John arrives and we discuss this morning's agenda -- a GPS approach somewhere (we decide on Rio Vista, O88), a circle-to-land (Rio Vista again, if possible), and some partial panel and unusual attitude work along the way. Sounds good to me, and I preflight the plane. John has what he calls a mild cold and sore throat, but he sounds like he's about to die, while repeatedly insisting he's OK. I joke about dead bodies in the right seat, etc., but John's got a heavy schedule for the rest of the day, and I really don't want to screw that up for him if I can help it.

Thirty minutes later the fog still hasn't cleared. We sit there in the club listening to Hayward ATIS -- the visibility is up to a mile or so, and the ceiling is now 300' (still below the best Hayward approach minimums, so I can't depart), and Oakland's now reporting 200' / 1 mile (or similar, i.e. right on OAK 27R's Cat I ILS minimums), and it's obvious that we can't depart Hayward at all, despite it being sunny maybe 500' above us and pretty much all the way to Colorado to the east. We're still hopeful it'll clear, but by 9.45 am (for a 9am flight) it's obvious it's going to hang around for a while longer, and we cancel the flight. In the end it doesn't actually clear fully for another hour or more after that.

What now? John suggests we finally go through the paperwork -- the two long written tests I have to complete in addition to the practical checkride to be allowed to fly the C172 G1000 version. But I've left my mostly-completed paperwork at home (D'Oh!) and I did the original several weeks ago, so we have to start again, and I can't remember a lot of the answers.

What follows is excruciating -- two hours of searching the various Garmin manuals in vain for things you should be able to find instantly. An example: the test asks how you check system and / or GPS status on the MFD -- the sort of thing you'd probably want to do at least once each flight, maybe more. Ditto for RAIM status. Is there an index entry for any of these things in the Garmin manual? Not bloody likely. Is there even a paragraph or two in the entire manual about these status pages? Not bloody likely. An entry in an unrelated section of the official checklist implies that you can do this sort of thing with the MFD AUX pages, but that's it. OK, I'm sure that if I were sitting in front of the unit I'd suss it out pretty quickly, but sitting at a table in the club lounge it's less obvious. And so it goes -- Garmin does a great job in general with their products and things like simulators, but the written manuals are truly dreadful. It's hard to conceive of a manual that's intended to be kept at your side in the plane that doesn't even mention RAIM status, let alone tell you how to check it explictly.

Ditto -- in slightly less annoying ways -- for the Cessna 172 POH. I know Cessna has to use the approved FAA POH format, but it's astonishing how difficult it is to find the answers to things like questions about emergency S bus performance or battery current draws under alternator failure (etc.) in the POH. Urgh.

So, two hours later, with John's help, I get the paperwork out of the way and signed off. Shame about the flying...


Ron said...

You can depart when the weather is below approach minimums if you're operating under Part 91. Under Part 91, you can legally depart when the weather is zero/zero.

I'm not saying it's smart, just that the departure mins on the plates aren't legally binding for Part 91 operators.

Hamish said...

Ron -- I know I could have departed legally under Part 91, but my own fairly conservative personal miminums include being able to return to the airport of departure using a realistic approach if needed... the fact that Oakland, with its ILS very close by, was also out of contention was also a huge factor in this.

John said...

The case law on this is pretty clear. ASSUMING you survive a crash after takeoff, the FAA is going to come after you for careless and reckless operation even though 14 CFR 91.175 doesn't specifically restrict a zero/zero departure.

HWD and OAK have a lot of residential areas nearby. Okay, let's say your engine quits and you aim for the freeway, or where you think the freeway is - still a lot of cars to contend with. Considered this way, a zero-zero departure really is endangering the life and property of others.

Such departures just aren't smart in a single-engine piston aircraft or in a twin where single-engine performance would be questionable due to density altitude and/or terrain.

Hamish said...

I have to admit that engine failure on departure out of Hayward in IMC is one of my personal nightmare scenarios. At least departing Oakland's runway 33 you can probably ditch in San Leandro Bay without killing any innocents on the ground...