Category Archives: training

Three instrument approaches in actual

One of the simple facts about flying for practice or currency is that you only get the weather nature throws at you. I’ve been eager to do some practice instrument approaches on a day when there is actual instrument weather but the last few weeks have been beautiful instead. It’s hard to complain about beautiful VFR weather but this Saturday I was happy to have some Marginal VFR weather with ceilings in the 1000-1500 foot range to do some practice approaches in.

I planned to do three approaches in close proximity at Concord, NH, Manchester, NH, and of course an approach would be required back at Nashua. One nice things about all of the airports in the northeast is that you don’t have to go very far to do approaches into several different airports. I could accumulate some more hours by going to further away airports but doing multiple approaches into the close together airports is actually a good additional challenge with lots of maneuvering in the clouds.

To do practice approaches like this in actual instrument the usual technique is to file an IFR flight plan with Nashua as both the departure point and the destination. In the route field you put “KCON KMHT” and in Remarks just say “appchs at CON MHT”. The clearance you get is a bit weird since it’ll be “Cleared to the Nashua airport via radar vectors Concord, then as filed.” So, if you lose comms in the clouds, you’re cleared all the way back to Nashua via the route that takes you over Concord and Manchester!

Cruising in between layers at 4000 feet looking east.

Cruising in between layers at 4000 feet looking east.

Departing Nashua I was in the clouds after about 1300 feet of climb and popped out on top a bit before leveling off at 4000 feet. Here I was between layers, 200-300 feet above the rolling hills of the stratus cloud deck top and below a high overcast. This can be a deceptive situation as you’re not in a cloud itself but there is no discernible horizon and worse the “rolling hills” can provide a false horizon.

First into Concord the approach would be the RNAV (GPS) approach to Runway 17. I was cleared directly to the KERSY waypoint. The controller had me climb up above 4000 briefly to begin the approach and then after turning onto the final approach course you can descend down to 2500 feet. Once passing the final approach fix descent continues down to the minimum descent altitude of 1020 feet. I took the approach down to 1100 feet where the runway was easily visible and went missed without landing. I started the published miss which is a climbing right turn to 4400 direct INKOW waypoint.

Next I asked to do the ILS 17 into Manchester. Unlike the GPS approach the ILS is a precision approach which means it provides vertical and lateral guidance down to a lower minimum altitude (just 200 feet above the ground). ATC had me level off at 3000 feet and fly a vector for the ILS. I started trying to brief the approach but it would have been too fast and I asked for a delay vector which was immediately granted. This is always a good idea when hand flying single pilot IFR and things are happening fast. Flying a heading is one of the easiest things you can do and this will give you time to properly brief and setup for the approach.

I had a bit of trouble getting laterally stabilized with some of the winds aloft but after a bit of time along the approach everything was looking really nice with the needles perfectly centered. The Course Deviation Indicator displays with needles for lateral and vertical displacement. If they form a plus sign you are right along the ILS glide slope and localizer.

After breaking out about a thousand feet above minimums I continued the approach and did a stop-and-go on the 8,900 feet of runway 17. Doing a stop-and-go will take a bit more runway than a touch-and-go but gives a bit more time to make sure everything is set for the takeoff. Flaps back to 10 degrees, trims reset, mixture-prop-throttle forward. No sense in going heads down on the cockpit rolling down the runway single pilot. On departure ATC gave alternate climb out instructions which were a right turn to 270 and climb to 3000 feet.

Cruising along at 4000 feet in between layers looking west.

Cruising along at 4000 feet in between layers looking west.

Finally, I did the ILS 14 back into Nashua. Winds aloft were increasingly strong from the southeast and the intercept required a shallow angle. Once established I popped out at 1600 feet and spotted the traffic ahead which was a commercial student from my local flight school practicing short approaches in the Cessna Cutlass I did my complex training in. Their nice tight pattern kept them well ahead of me and I was able to keep the speed up around 100 knots until under a mile final. The winds seemed to be strongest right at 500-1000 feet making for an interesting approach but the landing was good with the windsock pointed almost directly across the runway. Great practice!

Conditions were relatively smooth and free of turbulence in the clouds today. In some ways I think this made me get “the leans” a bit worse than usual since you’re not getting bounced around. An important part of instrument flying is recognizing the dissonance between your vestibular system and reality. At one point in the clouds I was in a long standard rate left hand turn and realized that my vestibular system was convinced I was straight and level. Recognizing this led me to be extra prepared for the next bit of dissonance after rolling out of the turn and my inner ear tells me I’m now turning in the opposite direction!

400 hours

This entry wraps up two flights in one. Last weekend I did a solo local VFR flight on Sunday morning. I practiced steep turns and slow flight then took a look over at the road construction going on near our house. I dropped down to 1500 feet and circled the interchange between MA Route 2 and Interstate 495.

Railroad bridge construction at the top, Rt 2/495 interchange in the middle, Taylor St bridge at the bottom.

Railroad bridge construction at the top, Rt 2/495 interchange in the middle, Taylor St bridge at the bottom.

As you can see in the picture there are three interconnected construction sites. A bridge has been replaced where 495 crosses MA Route 2. They are preparing to demolish the old bridge. There is also construction going on where 495 crosses over the MBTA commuter rail. For this construction site they have been redirecting one direction of 495 over a temporary bridge constructed between the two permanent bridges. Then they are doing extensive work on the permanent bridge side with no traffic. Now the northbound side is going over the temporary bridge. Finally, the Taylor St bridge over 495 is being replaced.

After taking a few pictures of the construction site I climbed up a bit higher and headed back to Nashua. I practiced a steep power off approach with full flaps into Nashua. When I pushed the plane back I chatted for a bit with a flight instructor and his student from the local flight school. They were using the Cardinal’s different tail design to demonstrate the balance of forces acting on the airplane. Since the Cardinal places the front seats further forward relative to the wing (compared to a 172) the tail needs to be able to push down with greater force to balance the aircraft.

This Sunday I went flying again. I needed just 1.5 more hours to reach a big milestone: 400 hours. Abby and I had a delicious lunch at Midfield Cafe and then headed out. The original plan was to go to Rochester, NH (DAW) for some cheap fuel and then visit the big airport in Portland, ME and back to Nashua. We ended up cutting it a bit short after refueling and didn’t go to Portland after all. It was just too hot and we wanted to get back home to do some furniture shopping.

Abby took this picture from the shade while I refueled the plane.

Abby took this picture from the shade while I refueled the plane.

The weather was hazy, hot, and humid and it was definitely hot out on the ramp while refueling. The price was quite good at $4.45 and I pumped about 41 gallons into the tanks to give just shy of a full fuel load. We departed and climbed up high to try to find cooler air. It was a bit cooler higher up but I think we would have had to go to 7 or 8 thousand to find something reasonable. With the altitude under us we headed just offshore to circle the Isles of Shoals off the coast of NH and then headed back to Nashua.

The flight was still long enough to put my logbook exactly at the 400 mark, with 106 of them in the last 12 months. I’m looking forward to the next hundred and more!

Hour Count

  • Total time: 377 hours
  • Last 12 months: 99 hours
  • Time in the Cardinal: 287 hours
  • Landings: 544 (330 in the Cardinal)
  • Instrument approaches: 69
  • Actual instrument: 22 hours

Saturday flying

I had two goals for a flight this weekend. My instrument instructor was not available but lately with all of the instrument training my landings have been suffering. So I wanted to do a number of solo landings when the weather was gusty in the middle of the day. Towards the evening I’d come back with Abby and do some sightseeing and enjoy the clear October air and fall foliage.

On my first solo flight winds were straight down the runway at 10 gusting 20 knots when I departed. The combination of cold dry air, surface high pressure, headwind and solo occupancy meant that the airplane was very eager to fly and I was over five hundred feet AGL by the time I crossed the departure end of the runway. I headed towards Keene airport for the first landing doing some pure VFR maneuvering in the practice area along the way.

There were some other aircraft in the pattern as I approached but they were all on the ground by the time I arrived above the airport and maneuvered to enter a downwind for runway 02. There was a slight crosswind from the left and the landing was smooth. I did the landing full stop and taxied back to depart again.

Next I headed for Manchester airport and called Boston Approach 20 miles out. I was instructed to make a left base for runway 35. As I was about 4 miles out a Southwest Jet departed runway 35 in front of me. Southwest has a very recognizable paint scheme! The winds were a bit squirrely at the surface (or perhaps it was some lingering turbulence from the departing 737) but a reasonable landing was made. Once again I exited the runway and taxied back to runway 35.

Since I’d previously been challenged by making a reasonable circling approach from the low altitude pattern the VOR-A brings you into I told Manchester clearance that I wanted to fly the VOR-A after departure. I would be flying it entirely VFR this time so it wouldn’t be a loggable approach for IFR training purposes but it would give me a good idea of what the approach looks like visually and allow me to enter and fly the pattern at 900 feet.

After departing Manchester I received vectors to the east then intercepted the final approach course outside of the Manchester VOR. This time I was looking outside as I crossed the airport and began a circle to land on runway 32. One problem I’ve had before with this approach is that starting from a lower altitude the power settings end up being different. Things worked out differently this time and while I still had a bit too much speed crossing the threshold I made a reasonable flare and did a touch and go and continued in the pattern.

I made one more touch and go and continued around the pattern. This time the winds shifted and gusted as I was in the flare and I elected to do a go-around. The go-around was solid and I continued around and made a good landing this time.

I went home for a bit and picked up Abby. I had no definitely plans except to head north towards Lebanon, NH and look for interesting scenery. With the sun slowly sinking in the sky we flew north and located Lake Sunapee and Mount Cardigan where we will be in a few weeks.

Abby took this phone cam picture of us in flight.

We circled above Mount Cardigan for a bit and found the AMC Cardigan Lodge in the valley. Next we headed east. In the distance you could see Mount Washington which was completely snow capped already. I climbed up to 5,500 for our direction of flight and to give plenty of clearance above the lower Southern peaks.

Mount Cardigan and fire tower.

At this point it was getting quite cold outside and I asked Abby if she wanted to fly a bit so I could put on my sweater. Once I had the sweater on I asked if she wanted to continue flying and take us back to Nashua. She kept flying and I told her to start with a descent down to 4,500 now that we were headed in the other direction. Leveled back at 4,500 and headed direct for Nashua passing Laconia, NH I called Boston approach and asked for following and class C transit to Nashua.

Abby continued doing the flying through the descent until we were entering the pattern at Nashua. I took the yoke back at this point but talked her through the final approach and landing. At this point surface winds were completely calm at Nashua and the landing was nice and smooth and my flare point well calculated. It was the perfect end to a beautiful fall sunset flight!

More instrument training in Actual, Filing IFR

Monday was Columbus Day which meant a company wide day off from work. But since my CFII is available on Tuesdays instead I worked on Monday and took off Tuesday in lieu. This was nice for commute traffic reasons as well and as it turns out three other people from engineering did the same thing. Even better the weather on Tuesday was forecast to have some light rain and clouds at 2000 feet and the freezing levels were up at 5000 feet giving some room to experience some more actual instrument conditions.

Doug and I met up in the morning, discussed the weather and approaches, and decided that we would do the ILS 35 into MHT (Manchester, NH), the VOR 23 into LWM (Lawrence, MA), and the VOR-A approach back into Nashua. Nashua is still recovering from the runway construction and thus all other instrument approaches are out of service. But the weather was sufficient for the circling VOR-A approach so there would be no issue. Unlike last time we filed IFR ahead of time (using Doug’s information) and we would be on an IFR clearance for our entire flight. With the flight plan filed it was the perfect time for an early lunch so we walked over to the Midfield Cafe and grabbed a quick lunch before heading out.

Since this was an IFR departure from Nashua the procedure was a bit different. When I called up ground ready to taxi I said we were “IFR to Nashua” and the controller came back with the taxi instructions and then the clearance. The clearance was “N52667 is cleared to the Nashua airport via Radar Vectors, direct Manchester, then as filed. Climb and maintain 3000, squawk 1234, departure frequency 124.9.” I copied the clearance down correctly onto my kneeboard as the controller read it off but when I read it back to him my brain automatically stuck “five hundred” on the end of the altitude since I am used to reading off standard VFR altitudes! Doug laughed at me since he could see I’d correctly written down the altitude and made the freudian slip on the read back. The controller corrected my error and I taxied to the run-up area.

Once my normal run-up procedure was complete we did a few more IFR specific things including setting up the avionics stack (communication and navigation radios and GPS) for our expected route and pre-briefing the ILS 35 approach before leaving the ground. With all final checks completed I contacted the tower controller for our IFR release and waited while they coordinated our release with Boston approach. The final instructions included an initial heading “Cardinal 52667, after takeoff fly heading 180, cleared for takeoff runway 32″.

Climbing through 1000 feet I put on my blockalls instrument goggles. But by 2000 feet Doug told me to take them off since we were in and out of a broken layer. You could catch intermittent glimpses of the ground but no discernible horizon as Boston approach vectored us around for the ILS approach. Some other aircraft were doing practice approaches including a C-130 from the Rhode Island national guard with the call sign “Roady 38″.

After intercepting the glideslope and starting the descent eventually we broke out of the clouds and I had put the foggles back on. I did a reasonably good job on the ILS although it was hard work. Around 50 feet above minimums Doug had me look up and pull the foggles off and sure enough the runway was just a bit to our left. It would have been landable, but instead we executed the missed approach procedure. ATC had assigned an alternate missed approach procedure with a vector to fly, climb and maintain 3000 and by the time we were back up in the clouds again we were direct to the Lawrence VOR for the VOR-23 approach.

This time I briefed the approach in the air as we were in and out of the clouds. The view out of the window was never sufficient to maintain control without reference to the instruments. Unlike the Manchester ILS approach where ATC vectored us onto the final approach course for the VOR 23 we requested a “full approach”. This is done by flying to the Lawrence VOR, flying outbound on a particular radial from the VOR, performing a “procedure turn” to reverse course and rejoin that radial now flying towards the airport. We chose the VOR 23 for practice because the VOR itself is very near the airport but not exactly at it (you pass over the VOR about a mile and a half from the runway). Since the VOR signal gets squirrely directly over the VOR you need to be stabilized on a heading and wind correction in and continue flying that heading to reach the airport.

Flying the full procedure was a lot of work and I felt a bit rushed but the approach itself was well executed. Despite the VOR being close to the airport I held the course and when I looked up we were nicely aligned with the runway. The VOR 23 was not actually a good approach for landing since we had somewhat of a tailwind but it was the best VOR approach around. Since we weren’t planning on landing we advised the Lawrence Tower of our missed approach and climbed back up into the clouds once more.

Back with Boston approach I flew assigned vectors to the final approach course. The vectors took us west of the Manchester VOR first then intercepted the inbound course. The VOR-A is getting familiar now. Approaching the VOR we are cleared for the approach. Passing the VOR I put flaps 10 and gear down and begin the descent towards the minimum descent altitude of 900 feet. For a nonprecision approach like the VOR-A the descent is selected such that the MDA is reached prior to the airport and I increased the power and leveled off for the last part of the approach. Overhead the airport is the missed approach point and at this point I looked up and began the circling maneuver to Runway 32.

Unlike my last attempts at the circling maneuver this one was a bit nicer. The landing was a bit hard but tolerable. I’ll continue working on the transition between close focused instrument work and looking outside and focusing in the distance for the visual landings. Doug says many students have problems with the transition from Visual to Instrument flight in both directions, but my problem is primarily the instrument to visual transition.

With the plane tied down we went inside and debriefed. With some time left in the day but the weather a bit crummier I decided to spend some time in the Frasca Sim doing some approaches we don’t have easy access to. There aren’t many DME Arc approaches in our area. But an old approach plate from the 90s into Manchester features a DME ARC to the ILS 35. One other nice thing about the sim is that you can see the overhead and vertical profile of the approach. The DME arc looked very nice and the approach was right on the glideslope.

The other nice thing about the sim is it makes it easy to practice entering a nonpublished hold from several directions. Doing this in real conditions requires negotiating the hold with ATC (or asking them to make something up) which is extra workload for them. With Doug playing ATC I did several hold entries which looked nice on the overview.

My instrument training is coming along very nicely. I probably won’t get back to training until after the plane’s annual inspection is completed at the beginning of November. The break will set me back a bit but I am on track and after a few more lessons of approaches and holds we’ll do the instrument cross country required for the rating. Now I have 1.2 of actual instrument time and 9.7 simulated. I also get to count my time in the sim. Still, there is plenty more training before I am ready for the instrument checkride.

Actual IFR Flying

I am once again behind on the blog updates. On Saturday I went for another IFR training flight. The goal was to do more practice with holds and to fly both an ILS and two VOR approaches. On my previous flights I didn’t have the opportunity to practice an intersection hold so that would be one of the goals. Just like the last time I was doing holds for real the winds aloft were fierce – up to 30 knots.

After departing Nashua we proceeded direct to the KHRIS intersection which is defined by the intersection of the 060 Radial off the Manchester (MHT) VOR and the 154 Radial off the Concord (CON) VOR. The hold itself is along the 154 Radial, right turns, 1 minute legs. The first step was to fly direct to KHRIS. I began by navigating using the Manchester VOR while Doug dialed KHRIS into the Garmin 430 GPS to navigate direct. On the way I setup my two NAV radios for the Concord and Manchester VORs. About three minutes from KHRIS I began slowing the airplane down for the hold by reducing power and holding altitude. With the power setting I’ve chosen for holding the airspeed drops down to around 90 knots in the clean configuration (landing gear and flaps up).

There are multiple ways to enter a hold depending on which direction you come from relative to the hold. These entries are called “Direct”, “Parallel” and “Teardrop”. If you approach a hold such that you do not need to make a sharp turn to enter the hold after passing the holding fix then a direct entry is appropriate. Otherwise you need to choose between the Parallel and Teardrop course reversals. The important part is that you remain on the holding side of the VOR radial since the airspace on the other side is not protected (ATC could put other airplanes there). To enter the hold at KHRIS I used a parallel entry although a teardrop would have worked as well.

Once passing the KHRIS entry and turning to a 334 heading the wind became a direct crosswind. I applied a substantial amount of wind correction to the left and started my timer for the one minute parallel leg. With one minute up I turned more than 180 degrees to the left and back in on a course to re-intercept the 154 radial off of Concord (the inbound holding course). Once this was reintercepted I tracked that radial, adjusting for wind, until the KHRIS interception was indicated by the second NAV radio’s CDI centering the needles. At this point I reported to ATC that we were established in the hold at 3500 feet and began my first right turn around the hold.

After several rounds around the hold at KHRIS without major issues we decided to depart for the Concord VOR. This would give me the opportunity to practice another hold entry and also provide a transition point to do the ILS 17 approach at Manchester. I increased the power back to a cruise setting and headed for the Concord VOR. I don’t remember what entry I used here but it was either parallel or teardrop again. I settled into the hold reasonably well although the crosswind was challenging.

Soon ATC reported: “To your west about 8 miles an area of moderate precipitation, moving east quite rapidly… A jet departing reported moderate turbulence, moderate chop.” Of course, by this point I have been flying for almost an hour and a half without being able to see outside. I asked Doug how it looked outside and he said it was looking much hazier and there was rain off to the left. We could either head straight back to Nashua or call ATC and request a pop up IFR clearance to continue holding at the Concord VOR. It did not take me long to answer!

I requested the IFR clearance and got ready to copy it down while still flying the airplane. It took a few moments to get the clearance and soon the controller came back with “Cardinal 52667 you are cleared to the Concord VOR via… continued holding, maintain 3500, expect further clearance 20:00, let me know whenever you want to continue and do an approach”. Now we were legally on an IFR clearance and I continued to hold.

It was not Doug told me to take the foggles off and sure enough we were headed in and out of clouds and light rain. There was certainly no discernible horizon. I focused on the gauges and glanced up occasionally to experience the view of IMC. The rain soon got much heavier, definitely moderate precipitation. Each time I circled the hold I went in and out of the cloud and the area of moderate precip. In the cloud there were some fairly intense updrafts and I would suddenly find myself climbing a few hundred feet per minute and have to push on the yoke to remain level then the opposite would happen as I passed through the weather.

Soon we decided to advise ATC that we wanted to fly the ILS 17 at Manchester. I was immediately cleared to the Manchester airport via the Concord transition ILS 17 approach. I proceeded following the approach plate from the Concord VOR to intercept the runway 17 Localizer at the ROCKR waypoint. Along the way Doug flew the airplane while I briefed the approach and set up the radios. Visbility had improved but I stayed focused on the gauges. We planned to fly the ILS down to the Decision Altitude of 429 feet (200 above ground).

Soon I was back to flying the airplane and got my approach clearance which I read back “6 miles from KIMBR, maintain 2100 ’til established, cleared ILS 17 approach Cardinal 52667″. Intercepting the glideslope at 2100 feet I put the gear down and flaps 10 and began descending at 500 feet per minute to follow the glideslope needle. Once again, it was a direct crosswind! I focused on the approach and flew it down to 450 feet and looked up to see the runway in position. Doug asked me if I was prepared to land and I said I felt I could have landing it and he said “OK, go missed!”

Missed approach: Full power, climb pitch, gear up, flaps up, cowl flaps open. For the ILS 17 at Manchester, a climb to 800 feet straight ahead then climb to 2000 feet direct to the Manchester VOR unless advised by ATC. Tower advised me to proceed direct to the VOR, and contact approach again. Back on with approach we requested the VOR-A approach into Nashua (currently the only approach)

I grabbed the plate to quickly brief the approach while climbing towards the VOR since we didn’t have much time before reaching it. IFR is all about multitasking. This time the approach was not as cleanly flown as last time but I still ended up over the airport within a very reasonable tolerance.

There was no traffic to follow and with the airport now in sight and my foggles off I entered a left pattern for runway 14 and was cleared to land. Unfortunately what followed as a disappointing landing. While I was in a great position to land at Manchester at Nashua the circling approach combined with all of the close focused panel work meant that my sight picture was all messed up and I flared way too high. It wasn’t too bad, and I ended the flight with 0.5 of actual instrument time.

All in all the flight was a great confidence boost and a good reminder of why I have been doing the IFR training. When we debriefed the biggest thing to work on is transition from instrument flight back to visual for the landing. My instructor said that for many people transition into instrument flight is tricky but I didn’t have a problem with that. I’m excited for the next actual instrument experience with a better landing at the end!

Holding Pattern

On Saturday I completed another instrument lesson. This time the subject was holding patterns. Having done my reading I understood all the theory but we started with a short ground lesson on the various details of how to enter and fly a holding pattern.

Holding patterns are an important part of IFR flight. In practice their use is rare but when delays happen you cannot just pull over in the air so proficiency is a must. The skills you practice in learning the holding pattern are also useful for flying approaches. In visual conditions you can simply choose a reference point on the ground and circle if an airport experiences a delay. However, in instrument conditions you need to be able to remain oriented without any visibility.

After the ground discussion we moved to the Frasca simulator. This is a non motion simulator which is good for practicing the mechanics of entry into the hold because we can practice it from several different directions. Unfortunately the Frasca is also quite touchy and due to some uncommanded pitch excursions (presumably a dirty potentiometer in there somewhere). So after an hour of sweating in the sim we decided it was time to go out and practice a hold in the Cardinal.

After starting up I called Nashua ground and requested a squawk code from Boston Approach for practicing holds on the VOR or GPS-A approach into Nashua (if the link expires, you can retrieve it from AirNav). For our purposes we performed this approach with the VOR. The approach itself is based on the Manchester VOR which is actually located south of Manchester Airport in Londonderry, NH.

After takeoff I put on the foggles, began a right turn, and then planned my entry into the hold at the Manchester VOR. Since my course direct towards the VOR would take me over the VOR then outside the hold I planned a parallel hold entry. The meant that immediately after passing over the VOR I would turn to a 066 heading to fly outbound parallel to the inbound holding course on the non-holding side. Then I would turn left around 210 degrees to re-intercept the inbound holding course on a 246 heading. At this point the VOR is providing course guidance so using that I know I am flying on the correct radial towards the VOR. When the VOR indicator flips from “To” to “From” the holds continues with a 180 degree turn to the outbound course. After rolling out on the outbound heading I start a timer for one minute and hold the course. Once a minute has elapsed another 180 degree right turn is started. If all is well as the turn completes I will re-intercept the inbound course, start my timer again, and the timer will have elapsed one minute by the next time the VOR indicator flips. Phew! Now do it again! The result is a nice racetrack.

The hold depicted on the Nashua VOR-A approach plate. Right hand turns, one minute legs, inbound course 246 degrees on the 066 Radial of the MHT VOR.

Winds were pretty strong, around 27-30 knots at altitude and a direct crosswind to the hold. In order to avoid being blown off course the headings were modified to point into the wind – towards the northwest. Since it was a direct crosswind the leg timings worked out to around one minute in each direction so the timing did not need to be adjusted. But each time we came back around in the hold the VOR again provides course guidance on the inbound course. This gives a reference point to how well our wind correction angles were working. It was hard work. Each time around the hold the wind correction angles were adjusted a bit more. The air was bumpy too.

After many, many holds in the turn without losing situational awareness and without losing track of the VOR Doug suggested I fly the VOR-A approach back to Nashua. Perfect! My first approach in the Cardinal. We advised the controller who cleared us to descend in the hold down to 2000 feet. Now I had to keep flying the hold while descending. Once reaching 2000 feet we were cleared for the VOR-A approach which continues by following the 246 inbound course on the MHT-066 radial but this time I did not turn right to continue the hold and instead continued following the course outbound from the VOR.

As we exited the controller said “nice work in the hold.” Doug pointed out that the controller has seen lots of people fly this hold for practice today and we weren’t doing so bad given the fierce cross winds! If you don’t correct for the winds properly your hold ends up looking like spaghetti on the controller’s scope so this was good praise. I felt overwhelmed but Doug said I was doing an excellent job in the hold.

After passing the MHT VOR on the approach inbound to Nashua a descent to 900 feet is authorized. This is a “non-precision” approach which means it does not feature vertical guidance. So as soon as you pass the “Final Approach Fix” (the MHT VOR) you are authorized to descend down to 900 feet and continue forward at that altitude until you make visual contact with the airport. Passing the FAF inbound I put out flaps 10 degrees and put down the landing gear and adjusted pitch and power for a 1000 foot per minute descent. A bit over a minute later I leveled at 900 feet and held it there. The VOR needle remained nicely centered – I was nailing the approach so far! At the 90 knot approach speed it is around five and a half minutes of flying from FAF to the Missed Approach Point which is directly above Nashua airport.

The VOR-A does not take you in aligned with any particular runway (that’s why it is the VOR “Alpha” and not “VOR Runway 32″ which is a different approach at Nashua using the Lawrence VOR). This is called a circling approach and means that after reaching the airport you are expected to circle around and land on whichever runway makes the most sense. At the Missed Approach Point Doug told me to take my Blockalls off and for the first time in over an hour I looked outside. I was pleasantly surprised to see we were directly over Nashua airport! I held the altitude at 900 (somewhat below a normal visual pattern altitude) and flew a left circle to land around for runway 32. The approach was very well executed.

I wish I could say I made a perfect landing but instead the combination of gusty crosswinds and the sun directly in my eyes (especially after an hour of close focused blockalls!) led me to bounce it and I decided to shove the throttle forward for a Go-Around. I made my decision without much thought and announced it matter of factly. The Go-Around was well executed and I pulled up flaps and gear and made a right pattern at the request of the Tower controller. This time things looked much nicer. I made an excellent landing on 32, right on the center. Doug pointed out that often it takes some adjustment from the close focused instrument work with outside visual work required for a landing, and I agree. I’ll get better with practice! This is just the first of many instrument approaches to come in the Cardinal.

IFR Training and Partial Panel

Thanks to wrapping up a software release on Friday I got a free extra day off from work on Tuesday. My CFII was available too so this was a perfect opportunity to get back to my IFR training. I’ve been neglecting it lately since I’ve been quite busy and I’ve been keen on doing VFR flying during the spare time I have had. The weather looked ideal for Tuesday and I scheduled two blocks of lesson before and after lunch time.

We started with a quick ground lesson upstairs. After reviewing the standard instrument flying configurations I determined on Sunday we talked about partial panel operations. Out of the standard set of instruments the attitude indicator and directional gyro are powered by vacuum. The turn coordinator is a gyroscopic instrument which is powered by the aircraft’s electrical system. Because of this it is important to practice instrument flying with the attitude indicator and directional gyro “failed” by covering them up. This is called partial panel.

The standard “6 pack” of instruments: Airspeed, attitude, altimeter, turn coordinator, directional gyro, and vertical speed indicator.

There are two ways to master turns in instrument conditions with a partial panel. The easier method is to use the turn coordinator to establish a standard rate turn which is 360 degrees of turn in 2 minutes. To roll out on a particular heading you use the clock (a panel mounted clock is required equipment for IFR flight). For example, to turn 90 degrees left you roll into a left standard rate turn and stop the turn after 30 seconds.

If the clock has also failed the magnetic compass can be used. The magnetic compass has a number of errors which affect it during a turn itself and during accelerated flight. Because the wings are banked during the turn the compass does not read correctly on turns to north or south headings. The Wikipedia article on compass turns includes details of this effect. In normal operations the compass is only used to set and periodically verify the current directional gyro setting but partial panel is all about dealing with failures.

To start the flying portion of the lesson I did an instrument takeoff. In reality it is unlikely that a zero visibility takeoff would be attempted but in this case I donned the hood after lining up at the beginning of runway 32 at Nashua. With my Blockalls instrument training goggles on I increased power and used solely the directional gyro to remain centered down the runway as airspeed increased towards takeoff. From this point on I was under the foggles.

After raising the gear and flaps while in simulator instrument conditions I continued a climb towards the west and Doug (my CFII) gave several different headings to fly and altitudes to climb and descend to. The purpose here was to practice general instrument flight and to verify the pitch and power settings I obtained on Sunday. Generally things went very well. A few times Doug distracted me during a climb or descent and I busted an altitude by a hundred feet or so. But he said I am doing very well for this stage of my training. It was pretty bumpy too!

Next we tuned in the Manchester VOR radio beacon and practiced intercepting and tracking the VOR signal. This went well. I have learned to be more aggressive about my intercept angle and how not to chase the needle. The trick is to use the heading bug on the directional gyro to keep track of what heading I should be flying. Finally with noon approaching I suggested it was a good time to break for lunch and I headed towards Fitchburg and took the finally took foggles off.

The pattern at Fitchburg was busy with another plane which took us a while to spot. Finally we spotted them way ahead of us on short final and continued the downwind. I made a tolerable landing on runway 32 at Fitchburg and we went inside for home made Mac&Cheese and garlic toast lunch at the Fitchburg airport diner.

After lunch it was time for partial panel. This time I did not do an instrument takeoff from Fitchburg but we did look up the standard departure procedure for Fitchburg: “climb via heading 324° to 2600 before proceeding on course.” I did the takeoff without the Blockalls so I could see what the visual view looked like up to 2600 then went back into simulator instrument conditions.

After climbing to 4000 feet and leveling off on a west heading the vacuum instruments were covered with round post-its and we started with timed turns. It turns out that the point I was using as a standard rate turn was actually a bit shallow. Adjusting for my seating position the right indication of a standard rate turn is the miniature airplane on the bottom edge of the hash mark on the turn coordinator. This was confirmed with several standard rate turns to cardinal headings. In each case I managed to keep it together and did a reasonable roll out within 5 or 10 degrees despite not looking at the compass or DG.

Next the clock “failed” and was covered up! Now it was just the mag compass. We did several turns to East, West, North and South headings and sure enough the predicted lead or lag turned out to be quite real and after rolling winds level the compass read the intended heading.

Finally we did a partial panel descent and level off. With no attitude indicator I used the standard power settings and a 500 foot per minute descent on the VSI. Airspeed provided a good check and the turn coordinator was used to keep the wings level. It wasn’t too bad! I was stressed about the partial panel but I handled it well.

Finally, at 3500 feet we did steep turns under the hood. We started with a steep turn in each direction without the foggles then I put them back on and did 45 degree bank steep turns under the hood. Doug said my altitude tolerances were within commercial pilot standards and I managed to keep it together during the steep turns. After one in each direction we headed back to Nashua and I took off the foggles for a visual approach left pattern to runway 32.

The landing was great, very smooth and right on the centerline. I’m obviously getting used to the new runway at Nashua. I have two more simulator instrument hours in the logbook and a lot more confidence. Next lesson will be holding patterns and procedure turns, and maybe an approach or two!

Pitch and Power and Springfield, VT

On Sunday I went for a flight with the primary goal of obtaining some information about various flight configurations for my IFR training. The idea is to have the power setting and pitch attitude available for each configuration so that they can be easily recalled when workload is high during instrument flight. The various configurations are climb, cruise, cruise descent, approach (slow level flight), approach descent (500 fpm for an ILS), and non-precision approach descent (1000 fpm for step down descents on an approach without vertical guidance).

Winds on the surface were calm when I departed Nashua but there were some bumps in the practice area with cold air advection aloft and over the ridges to the west. Starting with the climb configuration I went through each and filled out my chart. For each configuration I recorded the manifold pressure (throttle setting), propeller RPM setting, pitch attitude, airspeed, vertical speed. Most configurations have the flaps and gear up but the precision and non-precision approach descents were done with flaps at 10 degrees and the gear down.

I went between 4500 and 2500 feet a few times as I tested the various configurations then I climbed back up to 4500 and went direct towards KVSF in Springfield, VT. I hadn’t been to this airport yet and I figured that it would be a good experience to land at a new airport. The bumps increased as I made my way over increasing hills in western NH and soon the Connecticut River was visible with the airport beyond.

There was some glider activity at the airport with a yellow sailplane above and a Piper Pawnee tow plane that was returning to the airport. Most aircraft including a Skyhawk that had arrived just before me were using runway 29 with gusting winds at 300 degrees. I made a left base pattern entry for runway 29 with my eyes peeled for traffic and almost immediately spotted the Piper Pawnee tow plane which announced they were flying a pattern for the longer runway 23 “to land in the grass” and would hold short of 29 for me. This sounded a bit odd to me but it was also clear that I would be on the ground and past 29 before they were on their final approach so I continued my turn to final and made a somewhat rough but safe landing. On a shorter runway it is good to plant it firmly in any case.

I turned off at the taxiway about 2/3 of the way down the runway and found myself following the Skyhawk back to the runway for departure. They had to hold short for the yellow sailplane which landed on the grass next to runway 29 then I waited for them to back taxi and depart before doing the same. As I taxied back to 29 the Piper Pawnee raced past me on the grass with a quick radio call, on their way to hook up the next tow load.

After departure I turned to the left direct back to Nashua at 3500 feet. Almost immediately I spotted the Skyhawk ahead of me at the same altitude and they appeared to be flying the same heading. I kept them in sight since I was traveling somewhat faster (I was cruising around 135 knots and the Skyhawk was probably at 105-110 knots) and overtaking them. They were many miles ahead of me but eventually I overtook them on the right over the hills of western NH. This was a pretty cool sight! Presumably they spotted me as soon as I was in front of them.

When I called Nashua tower around 10 miles out after getting the ATIS the pilot in the Skyhawk called about a minute later. Now they were following me in a right downwind pattern entry. My landing was good – closest to the center line in a while and a real greaser! Naturally, my best landings seem to be when there is no passenger to see them!

Maneuvers after work

Today we wrapped up a big release at work. This meant that I wasn’t staying late and could actually bug out a bit early and head up to the airport! I was a bit concerned with thunderstorms in the forecast and some building cumulus as I left work but it turns out these were all well to the south of Nashua and staying that way. The weather was hot and hazy, but the air was smooth and no clouds at Nashua.

Since it has been a while since I’ve practiced maneuvers I decided that was what I would do. I found my way to runway 14 through the new taxiway from the run up area and was cleared to take off following a departing Cessna who was staying in the pattern. I turned right and headed west off to the old “practice area” (not charted, but an ideal spot for maneuvers west of the airport). Once clear of Nashua’s airspace over Brookline, NH I did a clearing turn to the left then started with some steep turns.

I kept the speed around maneuvering speed (around 105 knots) and rolled into several steep turns to the left and right. They were OK, but I need to practice some more. Today was not as good a day as I’d hoped mostly due to the waning daylight combined with the haze and visibility. It made the horizon not quite as clear as it could be and this made the steep turns a bit tougher. I will do some more practice soon.

Next I slowed it down further with flaps and gear and maintained level flight for a short while, made some turns left and right, and finally lined up on the setting sun. The glowing ball of sunlight was a perfect reference to keep the nose centered and wings level in power off stalls. Bringing the power all the way out I maintained altitude as the speed bled off and waited… and waited… The Cardinal does take a while to reach a fully developed stall! Finally the nose dropped and I recovered, bringing the speed back to 80 knots before reducing the power again for another power off stall. Both were nicely coordinated and the nose barely moved off of the reference point.

I turned back to the east and headed back to Nashua. With runway 14 in use returning from the practice area usually puts you on a right base approach. In this case the controller asked me to bring it around for a long straight in final to follow some traffic. I had already slowed it up with flaps 10 and gear by the time I spotted the traffic turning final in front of me and I was cleared to land behind them. Gas, Undercarriage, Mixture, Prop, Seatbelts… Check. I added flaps 20 after getting my landing clearance and descended for the runway. The first landing was very smooth and I rolled out to what is currently the only midfield taxiway (due to the remaining construction) without any braking.

I decided to taxi back and do two more landings in the pattern. The first features a slightly late clearance to land as the controller was busy with a takeoff, but when I rolled out on final I was bang on aligned with the runway. Not everything was perfect however and the flare was a bit high with a bumpier touchdown. No bounce though, and I was soon back in the air for another lap around the pattern.

The final landing was a bit sloppier on the alignment in the roll out but my pattern was tighter and the descent was perfect. I slowed the flare down a bit and the landing was smooth on the mains with the nose gear held up by the Cardinal’s powerful stabilator for a nice smooth touchdown and excellent aerodynamic braking to the taxiway.

I only flew 0.8 but it was all good practice and three landings. It is always nice to practice with the setting sun providing a nice view. As I was practicing landings you could see the waning sunset behind and occasional flashes way to the southeast from the thunderstorms slowly moving over Boston! A very cool sight.