July 26th, 2012: IFR, GPS and VOR Practice
Reading about a VOR is one thing, putting it to use is a whole different matter. A VOR is a radio navigation tool that can help supplement visual navigation and the use of a sectional chart to find landmarks out the window (also known as pilotage). While I have to say, reading about it over and over in the text and watching the DVDs was somewhat useful, using VORs still didn't make much sense to me until we actually got into the air and my CFI had me locating and flying to and away from them. This is tricky business, like everything else about flying, VORs are loaded with contradictions. Since the VOR locates the planes position and not it's direction, it's possible to be flying in exactly the opposite direction of the indicator. Now, while that seems confusing, there is some great logic to the way these things work, applying that logic however has me scratching my head a lot. I think the trick here, is to first locate the VOR by centering the lines on the indicator and then choosing a "track" that will intercept a path to the VOR. Now I have no business trying to explain this at this stage in the game, so I'm just going to say, I sort of got it. I successfully located the VOR station, my CFI then selected a path, say 240 degrees, and I turned to fly the plane in a direction that would ultimately intercept that 240 degree path. What that means, is that I turned left about 60 degrees past 240 degrees and flew that compass heading until I started to intercept the 240 degree path to the VOR, at which time I started to turn back to the right to follow the 240 degree heading to the VOR station. My CFI then chose another intercept path on the other side, and ask me to intercept the path and fly away from the station on that course, so I flew north of the station until I intercepted the 360 degree path away or "From" the station. All of which was successful, well, most likely because he was sitting next to me, it remains to be seen if I could do this again on my own at this point, but this was really just meant to be an introduction to VORs and radio navigation. My understanding is that we'll be doing a lot more of this as I start my cross country flying.
Next we worked a bit with the Garmin GPS system. Now, I've been using this and learning a little more with every flight, but these GPS systems are fairly complicated devices. You use them to set your frequencies for airports and weather, to set the frequencies for VOR stations, to set directions and headings towards airports, to locate traffic and to locate different types of airspace...and that's just scratching the surface, and what I know so far. Today I'm actually going to be looking for an online simulator and some instructions so I can really get a handle on everything these things can do. If I find one, I'll be sure to share the link in a future post.
Once we finished with the introduction to VORs and GPS we moved on to IFR practice. This was a great thing to do after practicing maneuvers yesterday as today we were doing much of the same, only I was flying only by the instruments. IFR practice consists of covering ones vision outside of the airplane using a "hood". In my case, it's an opaque visor that fits over my glasses and covers my vision outside of the windows allowing me only to see the instruments on the dashboard in the cockpit. This too, is some pretty tricky flying, but I find that it's great practice and really gives you an idea of what it would be like to be flying in a situation where you have no ground reference and no horizon to fly by. A few things I can say that I noticed immediately. 1) Everything seems to happen much faster and more dramatically than it does when flying visually, including speed adjustments, climbs and descents and especially bank angles 2) If you're in coordinated flight, it's very difficult to feel that you are in any type or bank angle, even steep angles, of turns, everything appears to be level if you aren't looking at the instruments so it's easy to see how one can get in some serious trouble if they don't have some training in instrument flying 3) You have to learn to scan the instruments constantly and quickly as fixating on any one of them for more than a second would cause me to over control just about anything and everything else. 4) I can see that flying by IFR, unless one is really comfortable and well trained, takes a great deal more concentration and attention, and thus uses a lot more of your mental energy, than flying VFR, in other words, it wears you out, quick.
That said, I'll add that I really enjoy this part of my training. This is something I want to be very comfortable with as I can see that the confidence will transfer over into many other aspects of flying, including VFR flight. My CFI had me practice a number of maneuvers including slow flight, constant rate turns, ascents and descents both turning and straight, flying on compass headings and power on and power off stalls. This was a good 30 minutes of my flying today and I have to say, while I wasn't stressed over it, it was a physical and mental workout for sure. While flying in IFR conditions, I can't help but wonder, and be amazed at the ability that so many commercial pilots share, for whom I continue to have a great deal of admiration and respect.
Once we finished the IFR work we headed back towards Skypark and en-route I asked my usual onslaught of questions about GPS navigation, VORs and cross country flight. I flew over Skypark at 1500 feet to get a look at the windsock below and after determining that the wind was favoring runway 26, swung around for my entry into the pattern. While I was coming in a few knots too fast, and trust me, at Skypark that can make all the difference on this very short, very narrow runway, everything else about my approach was going well until the last 100 feet or so on final when we hit some ground turbulence that momentarily rocked the Cessna off course. I set up a quick slip to dump some speed, made some very quick adjustments with the rudder pointed the nose at the ground and held off on my flare as long as I could, pulling back the yoke smoothly but fairly briskly, setting the Cessna down for, and I don't mind saying, a very nice short field landing.
Another amazing day of flying finished with the satisfaction of landing on one of the most challenging little airstrips around. All smiles.
Next up, Solo Maneuvers. Can't wait!