watched several IFR instruction videos, and plotted out at least
one more flight plan route than I needed, so I got lots of practice
at that, too. I re-discovered that I like doing flight plans for
many reasons -- the best of which is that it is in so many ways
the foundation for a successful flight.
I visualized procedures
-- which improved strongly all week, and were especially good on
Sunday's final round trip to Richmond -- and affirmed many different
aspects of the skills I needed. I finally broke through a significant
wall when I applied one of the premises presented in a tapes on
the psychology of achievement: my mind already has all the information
it needs in order to solve problems or perform tasks well.
Flying is a mental game,
as became clear to me when working on the NDB. If I give my mind
a task to work on just before bed, it can work on it while I sleep.
Therefore, I decided to apply this to flying: I already know a great
deal of the theory I need in order to fly well. I just need to relax
and let my mind bring it all into high gear for me, ordered and
complete, instead of fighting some mental concept of an enormous,
barely manageable, task list.
I made sure to get my
flight plans done the night before, including a look at the frequencies
I'd need, and the order in which I expected to do things. I then
reviewed and checked weather first thing in the morning and filed
from home before going out to the airport.
The Monday Charlottesville
flight included some time in actual, but was otherwise calm and
uneventful. One controller hit me with a whole stream of clearance
without asking if I was ready for it -- my instructor laughed, because
I had occasioned a similar situation when leaving Manassas by saying
the wrong thing to ground control, so I had taken particular care
at Charlottesville to say the right things not to trigger that,
and it had happened anyway.
I got behind in my preparations
on Tuesday, and also got confused about the lesson time I was told
to expect, and so ended up unprepared to fly the long cross-country
that night. When that became obvious, I asked my instructor if we
could change the lesson plan and do the long flight the next time,
and he agreed. The approaches were overall very good; I need to
be more precise about ensuring that airplane is set up for landing
speed once I pass the FAF, so that I won't be fast and land long
when I break out.
Thursday was the x-c
from Manassas to Easton NDB to Salisbury VOR to Richmond ILS and
back to Manassas. Or, it was supposed to be. My instructor really
wanted to fly one of my favourite airplanes that had just come back
from refit after an accident last fall. So we changed from 172 to
Warrior at the last minute, I updated the flight plan, and away
It was 6 pm and a very
busy time for the DCA controller. Much traffic and it took a lot
of attention to keep the communications sorted out. The BOSE headset
earned its keep: it reduced the stress of being unable to hear ATC
by a factor of three at least. I have yet to figure out how to pad
the ends of my splendid Serengetis so that they don't gouge painful
troughs in the side of my skull behind my ears, however. We had
trouble picking up the NDB at Easton until we were very close to
it, and had to get vectors til were about four or five mile out.
It seemed to take a lot of effort to stay on course and altitude,
though, right through to Salisbury. Shot the miss at Easton, and
tooled along to Salisbury, where we had a fuel stop planned.
One of the com radios
displays flickered and then came back when I was changing frequencies
along the way. Several military Kingairs were doing touch&go
practice, and the airport was about as torn up from runway and taxiway
repairs as the notam had indicated. Fuelled, reviewed the flight
so far, did a walk around.
When I started up, I
noticed an unfamiliar smell. I asked my instructor whether he smelled
it and recognized it. "New paint" he said. I ran through
the rest of the checklist. Number two Com was being cantankerous
from the word go, but everything else on the checklist, including
COM1, seemed to check out. We left.
By now, it was dark,
but earlier bumpy conditions had calmed some, there was much less
traffic around, and I was flying well. About 20 miles out, I stopped
Tom mid-sentence and asked if he heard a quiet but high-pitched
periodic noise. It was a while before he did. Then we both saw that
the pulse corresponded to the OM light...but also was in cycle with
the strobes. Then the number two NAV went down, and I noticed that
the panel lights had dimmed. We were clearly losing electrical.
NAV/COM 1 held out the longest. We dialled in 7600, but as it takes
so much more energy to transmit than to receive, when we went to
notify ATC that we had a problem, we lost the radio entirely. Afterwards,
the tower told us that they never did pick up the NORDO squawk.
Well. It was an eerie
kind of calm, actually. A fine night. I still had a flight plan,
and DME was still working and dialled in; we had made the last heading
change and were about 40 miles out from Richmond. I held heading
and altitude for about another 20 miles, and then came out of the
hood. A nice night not to be in the soup, all told. We tried bringing
electrical back from time to time, occasionally picking up the tower
and trying to communicate, but losing them again when we did. They
said they basically got all our transmissions. We got ready to land.
Richmond tower lit up one of the smaller runways just for us --
we couldn't see any light signals from the tower -- and my no-landing-light
experience turned out to have been useful.
It was midnight. My instructor
rented a car and we drove back to Manassas, arriving there around
2 a.m. I got home about 3 am.
Next day, the instructor
called up; he had gone back with a mechanic to Richmond to get the
plane. "Did you check the alternator belt?" he asked.
"I know you always do on the 172; I watch you do the walk around."
Well, no, I didn't think so; I couldn't visualize an easily accessible
one on the nose of the Warrior, and I knew I didn't reach in and
feel for one when I had the cowl open. In fact, I had never checked
an alternator belt on a Warrior before, I thought to myself. ( On
Sunday, I went and deliberately found out where it was). "Well,
it was loose. We were just draining the battery all the way."
That seemed odd to me;
I was sure I had done my checklist and not missed any steps. Sure
enough, when I went back on Sunday and looked at the checklist carefully,
there was not the same line item as I was used to on the 172 to
check ammeter/alternator. I asked the instructor about that. We
both pondered it for a moment, and then he pointed out that (a)
checklists can't have everything on them, and....(b) the line item
"check annunciator panel" entails pressing a button and
looking to ensure that all three in a little set of lights light
up. I had only checked to see that something lit up when I hit the
button. For some reason, I can clearly picture the middle one of
that bunch NOT lit. Hm.
A useful experience for
several reasons: I learned that I had a calm reaction to an aircraft
system failure, and succeeded in flying safely despite it. This
was very encouraging.
I learned what I'm supposed
to be checking when I hit the annunciator panel light.
I learned where the alternator
belt is on the Warrior.
And I got to fly another
flight on Sunday to Richmond and back to complete the trip requirements,
which got me a very valuable and encouraging instrument x-c that
otherwise I probably wouldn't have done. That flight went VERY well
indeed, in spite of thirty-plus knots of wind at altitude, and an
abrupt transition to what the FSS described as "rock and roll"
at 5000 feet.
Basic needs now are:
maintaining precise heading and altitude -- which means not AIMING
for 100 +/- (which is what I realized I had set my mental bit for),
but aiming for RIGHT ON; and setting up the airplane so that I'm
ready to land at the right speed when I reach approach minimums.
Oh, yeah, and it was
Great Fun. :>
Got to polish some rough
edges, but I'm going to get there.
(Yes, and what did the
wise and ever-critical E-pilot think of such misadventure? Click
to find out...)