IFR CX Debrief

And here's what my online correspondent thought of the whole thing...

94/04/25 14:37

From: E-pilot To: DIPLOCAT Judith Bradt

Doing a thorough job of flight planning certainly leaves me much better able to concentrate and frees up more mental room to handle the unexpected.

Yes, exactly. Which is one reason why your instructor should have known better than to convince you to fly a different airplane than you'd expected.

Talking about feeling rushed by one's instructor: Two points. I should have listened to my gut when I was asked to change airplanes. Gut said "no", even though this was an airplane I liked. I hadn't flown it in over six months, and it had crashed and just been returned from an overhaul on which at least one post-repair adjustment had needed to be made two days before.

Nothing beats preparation. Nothing. You ARE NOT at the stage of being comfortable with last-minute changes and demands for flexibility. In some ways, you NEED to be flexible -- point in case, being required to make an approach different from one you were to expect: that, unfortunately, is a part of the game. Flying a different airplane than you're used to is almost ALWAYS a waste of time and money, in my not-humble opinion -- speaking as an instructor of twenty years experience. A student of any sort is learning to fly (1) new procedures, as in instrument flying, or (2) a new airplane. Give them both (two) major tasks to deal with, such as a non-familiar airplane or one the pilot lacks recent experience in, or new procedures not yet mastered, and the end result is LIKELY to be (1) a wasted lesson; (2) a frustrated student; (3) erosion of the student-instructor trust relationship; and (4) an unsuccessful experience which is indelibily branded in the student's memory.

My flight Thursday was disappointing, and I can see several more reasons why. First, the flight we planned and I had prepared for, practicing approaches at Davison Army Airfield (Ft.Belvoir), wasn't possible because the tower there was closed and didn't permit civil aircraft to use the field otherwise. Second, when we changed plans at the last moment to shoot one VOR, one NDB, and one ILS, I didn't review those charts very carefully before we left to plan out what I was going to do, and then what, and then what. Granted, I guess one can easily get cleared for a different approach than one planned, and have to be able to read and understand the plate immediately. However, I did not have the sequence of basic tasks for a VOR approach well established in my mind. When partial panel was introduced just over the VOR outbound, I got confused and struggled to regain an idea of where I was, what I was doing, where I wanted to be, and what I needed to do to get there.

I'm not surprised that you had difficulties, Judy. First of all, I believe that your problems, in part, are directly resulting from your experience some time ago in the airplane with the electrical problems. It's perfectly normal for anyone in your position. The problem encountered with the last-minute change of equipment, couple with some highly irregular problems encountered, would erode anyone's confidence a little. That's normal. Next flight, anything which would distract your situational awareness would tend to overload the thought processes. "Here we go again." -- that sort of thing...

This is an important lesson for you to learn.

Let me reassure you that this is all a part of the process of becoming mentally tough -- fighting until death stops you to stay aware and in control of your situation. This process isn't detailed in INSTRUMENT FLYING, FLYING THE WING, or any other great books about developing professional skills.

The game here, and it isn't necessarily intentional, is that you have to become mentally tough to stay in control, to remain completely aware of your entire situation -- fuel, weather, ATC or aircraft irregularities, etc, etc. Distractions of any sort can be devilish, that is, they can be absolute hell to deal with. But deal with them you can. And you have.

To the same degree that you have a mental game of tennis with the instructor, that is, you CAN'T distract me, overload me, or give me a problem too difficult to deal with -- no matter what he or she throws at you -- you have to develop another tough mental game.

If you'll think for a minute, any time a Space Shuttle is launched, the Launch Director has several built-in HOLDs in the checklist which enables them to "catch up" on small items -- so they can get the bird off the ground without missing their launch window. Understand?

Now, this might not be as original as I think it is, but when things really get screwed up in flying, I AUTOMATICALLY REQUEST A HOLD or down-wind vectors for the approach so that I CAN COLLECT MY WITS, REVIEW THE CHECKLISTS, TAKE A MOMENT TO BREATHE, AND BRIEF THE APPROACH before accepting vectors to the approach. It gives me TIME, repeat, TIME to review and objectively double-check my own thought-processes; it gives me TIME to consider the consequences of my decisions; it gives me TIME -- a moment -- to relax.

I call this "Creating a 'TIME' window" -- something you can open to take a breathe of fresh air. It's like a built-in hold on a space launch: I DON'T HAVE TO DO ANYTHING, but if there's something to do, I can get it done before I have to concentrate on anything else. It allows me to catch up, double-check my work, review the pending approach, and to check "WHAT HAVE I FORGOTTEN OR NEGLECTED TO DO??????"

Any examiner who would fail an Instrument Rating applicant for requesting a hold to sort things out after some sort of failure, in my opinion, doesn't know much about professionalism in flying. As a professional, I would NEVER object to someone creating a time window for themselves, fuel permitting.

I'm still getting used to the workload in flight, and rarely got a chance to calculate much of anything. That's one thing I hope to do MUCH better with practice.

We have two flights in our system that are less than 10 minutes long. We barely have enough time to do the checklists and brief the approach -- let alone deal with all the company-induced workload (there are several excellent NASA papers concerning company-induced workload).

Calculations in flight are precisely the reason why I suggest getting a circular E-6B computer, the pocket-sized whiz-wheel type which excludes the wind bar which extrudes through the center of the circular computer. Jeppesen calls theirs the Model CR Computer, Patent #2,775,404. This one has Mach number scales on it, so you'll never have to buy another one. :)

(For when you're flying jets, kiddo.) :) ;) :)

You don't need to be screwing around with a whiz-wheel on approaches -- this is strictly cruise-type stuff.

FIGURING OUT NUMBERS in my head (something I do not trust at all) is different from giving my mind a conceptual problem to work on. The latter was what I meant.

Oh. I thought the two were related. Seems I read that somewhere in a human psychology book concerning the psychphysiology of the human brain. Seems I read somewhere something about developing the ability to solve various problems -- such as figuring out numbers in your head -- helps you develop the ability to solve complex analytical problems and/or master difficult concepts. Complex synaptic reaction stuff. Oh well...

Anticipating corrections would be good. If I could grab mental hold of that surface wind ATIS report and manage to think about what that means I should expect as I descend, that would help. So often, I get the altimeter setting, and somehow don't do anything much with the wind information.


ATIS may or MAY NOT help. ATIS is OLD news; actual reported winds from the tower, when checking in with them, are far more valuable -- to the extent that their SURFACE winds, likely to be different from those on the approach some distance out, are from some point (who knows where) on the airport. My point was that when punching through cloud layers, expect a wind shift above, in and immediately below the cloud layer. Anticipate THOSE changes while ON APPROACH!

YES, I realize that it is telling me about what to expect on both the descent, approach and landing. That's why I just said that I need to utilize the information.

Again, the key word was while ON approach. By definition, that anticipation of wind shifts associated with clouds is one reason why they call them PRECISION approaches. (grin, duck, run)

Use half the correction is a good idea. Several times, however, I've been trying to correct for 30 degrees off, and the pie just keeps getting more narrow -- fast.

I can visualize what you mean, but I'm making some assumptions here. Again, I'll point out that inside the OM/LOM/FAF, bank and heading corrections MUST be limited to 10 degrees or less. If you're correcting for 30 degrees of heading change or bank angle, your scan dropped off somewhere and it's likely to be a highly unstabilized approach. Better to miss the approach and try again, sometimes. Know what I mean?

Yes, of COURSE I learned things -- why do you think I write you these notes, to tell you about the scenery? :) I suppose when I can tell you about both, I'll have passed through yet another threshold of some kind.

I hope you learned things. Tell me, what color shoes was your instructor wearing? Did you happen to notice that while you were on approach? How aware of things are you? Are you expanding your awareness to pick up more than localizer and glide slope? Can you feel the increased drag, in the seat of your pants, going from 15 degrees of flaps -- the moment when you must push over and add a little power?

Next time I hit a smell I don't recognize (on the ground), I stop the engine, get out, and start sniffing. It would also make sense to get down and do the same if I smell something odd in the air. That's my privilege and responsibility as PIC.

True. But more so, any -- repeat, ANY -- anamoly of your essential equipment must be immediately investigated. Operating battery only, did you notice the airplane being a little reluctant to start? Why did you wait until everything electric started acting up (or dying) to wonder what was happening? My point is that the failure you encountered was not catastrophic -- there were warning signs you could have noticed even before you first took off.

Prior to your run-up, did you turn a landing light on and watch your ammeter? Did it drop into discharge, or drop to zero? Did you repeat this test in your engine run-up to see if the system was operating properly?

I'll bet that if you'd checked the electrical system prior to flight, you'd have seen ALL the warning signs that something was amiss in the system.

Not to get you on the defensive, Judy, but the warning signs were ALL there. You and your instructor just didn't take note of them. A failure such as this didn't occur without warning. (Even Pipers have ammeter gauges, don't they?

I take it a loose alternator belt smells from the friction/burn caused when it's not tight enough to turn anything else. Also, I will now remember "smell" and "electronics" as being related. It's not a connection I'd thought much about...but it should have been.

Long before your nose would warn you, the ammeter would alert you to problems. Even at idle RPM, the voltage regulator should allow sufficient amps to power a high-draw item such as pitot heat and/or landing light -- without a battery discharge.

Like NASA reports, looking isn't always the same as seeing.

As we both noted, I learned a great deal, about both pre-flight plans and checkouts as well as ability to handle an in-flight failure. You may recall from one of my very early notes that I had seriously doubted my ability to respond in an emergency. The most recent experience belies that. No, I'm not God, but yes I certainly affirmed that I am a capable person able to do what needs to be done.

Yes, I recall your acute concern. Well done. Now, just don't allow yourself to get into that situation again as you did.

Anyway, another interesting development: on Thursday, when things did not go very well -- I was disoriented, and did not complete any approach with much success -- I did successfully fight the urge to give up entirely. After all, if one gets disoriented in IMC, you have to get it straightened out, either in your own mind or by asking for help. You don't have a choice. You MUST regain control. More importantly, I also did not disintegrate once we got down. That has happened once or twice before, but I managed to hang onto my senses and keep my ears open and absorb the lessons from the debriefing without giving myself some kind of horrible mental bashing just because I set myself up to fly a less than fully successful lesson.

Great! Refer to 'time windows" again. When you're ALL screwed up, it sometimes helps to get away from the ground, hold someplace safe, and get things sorted out for a few minutes -- fuel permitting. (In all things, safety and a conservative approach using honed skills and common sense.)

Obviously, when you're running low on gas or that single engine airplane you're flying has a fire, you can't screw around 'cause you might only get one shot at it, if that. But all things being equal, fuel and safety permitting, make yourself a time window before you get to the point of initiating an approach when you're mentally overloaded.

I know some of the reasons why -- I let someone else rush me

Students are all willing to please their instructor. It takes a couple of busted lessons to make you stand up for your rights and kick the instructor's butt, if only to get his attention and earn his respect. If I had been in your position, I'd have been angry with both of us -- and I'd have politely pinned his ears back a little for rushing you. After all, YOU are paying HIM.

Next: Checkride Insights: what to expect

Judy & JJ
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