December 05, 2011

What Could Possiblie Go Wrong? (Rust Never Sleeps, Part 2)

Things are going quite well for me under the cone of stupidity on Yet Another Quest For Currency (the aviation sort, not the hard stuff I can use to get boutique bagels and exotic coffees down at the neighbourhood local). John's in the right seat, watching carefully. We've left Stockton (KSCK) behind after having successfully completed several approaches and landings in the still darkness of a Central Valley autumn night.

John's given me his iPad to play with on the next approach, the ILS into Livermore (KLVK), and it's working nicely with my new Dual XGPS150 GPS unit sitting up there on the dash. I've also got my little iPhone in my hand as I watch how well it works without coupling to the Dual (it'll only couple to one Bluetooth device at a time). Well, it does quite well, actually, and I feel pretty impressed with all the technology surrounding me (but it's really me doing all the real work, telling the G1000 what to do and such — well, that's what I like to tell myself). Suddenly I can't help it: "Siri! Set up a practice ILS 25R approach into Livermore from our current position, please!" Siri does nothing — either she's not listening, or she's as confused by my accent as everyone else is, and I revert to doing it all myself again. Oh well; I'm guessing we'll have to wait a few years before that'll work (and if you don't know who Siri is, this blog's probably not for you :-)).

Anyway, that's not the "what" that could possiblie go wrong in the title (diehard Simpsons fans will probably get the reference). What went wrong was the string of mostly weather-related cancellations and postponements that lead up to this flight — all sparked off (I'm absolutely certain) by my ending an earlier email to John with the words "what could possibly go wrong?". I'm just not the sharpest tool in the tool shed: one day I'll learn not to tempt fate like that. So what did go wrong? An example: we had to cancel our previous attempt when a howling gale caused by an unusually-strong high pressure system sitting somewhere over Utah was driving high-speed rivers of wind down over the Sierras and the coastal ranges towards the Pacific. As locals will know, this makes for unpleasant turbulence pretty much anywhere within sight of a mountain range or even hills (and there are ranges everywhere in California…). I looked up the winds on DUATS: 65 knots at 6,000 — a nice tailwind if you can get it, but we'd be going straight into it for at least half the flight, and that's a fierce source of rotors and bumps even over the Valley or in the lee of the Berkeley Hills (especially in the lee of the Berkeley Hills).

I might have been up for it even given all that, but my knee's still a bit iffy and I thought the better of it. So here we are, several non-existent flights later (I'll spare you the details of the other delays and cancellations).

The ILS into Livermore goes reasonably well — I'm getting better with practice — and we do the low approach past the tower over 25R when I come out from under the hood. Woohoo! (I always feel like doing a victory roll on low approaches — a hangover from my aerobatics days — but I know better, honestly). And now it's off to Oakland for the ILS 27R approach back home….

This goes fairly well as well, but we get the slam onto the localiser from somewhere between GROVE and UPACI intersections, and I can barely bring myself to program in the required 1,100 fpm descent to capture the glideslope from below. We just don't get low enough, and in the end I take over and hand fly the last few minutes (which kinda negated the point of this approach — it was supposed to be about managing the G1000. Oh well). The landing on 27R goes well (they've all gone well tonight, which was pleasing after all the time off from flying) and we taxi back to the Port-A-Ports.

* * *

Yes, I'm current again — but still a bit rusty. There's a touch of the old death grip creeping back to haunt my control of the plane, and my radio work definitely needs some polishing, but overall, this flight went basically as planned, despite all the preceding hiccups. We started it by taking off from Oakland's runway 9L, a bit of a treat for me: the winds nearly always favour one of the 27's, and I hadn't taken off from 9L for literally years, and we ended it an hour or two later with me feeling fairly OK about my flying, especially the landings and the big-picture procedural issues on the approaches. My hand flying on one of the approaches was definitely a little agricultural, but hey, I can't do everything.

* * *

Earlier, while prepping the flight I do due diligence with DUATS and notice the following NOTAM:

MSA WITHIN 25 NM OF ECA VOR/DME, 070-160 3000, 160-250 5300,
250-340 3400, 340-070 4200.

Hmmm, I think — what the hell does that mean? It basically seems to mean there's simply no way to do my fave ILS for currency at the moment. But why make the approach unavailable that way? Why not just NOTAM the entire approach N/A? I ask John — he's not entirely sure what the FAA's thinking with this either, so I decree that we'll just do the RNAV 29R approach out there instead. It's all flying to me….


John Ewing said...

In retrospect, I think the SCK ILS 29R NOTAM resulted from the JOTLY LOM being decommissioned before the new chart was issued. JOTLY has been replaced by CUSEX and another NDB has bitten the dust ...

Hamish said...

John — you're right, but to me it still seems a weirdly baroque alternative to just NOTAMing the entire approach N/A.

NDBs?! What are they?! Oh, right — I remember them :-).