Sunday, June 11, 2006

Soloin' in Mike Hotel

The insurance gods want the IFR Pilot to log 10 hours solo flight in Mike Hotel before the first pax steps aboard. This is a perfect excuse to take Mike Hotel and travel from the Home Base to the Base of Origin, i.e., the IFR Pilot's Hometown. It's about a 3.5 hour flight to the CT/RI border (KWST), so if I'm doing the math correctly, a round-trip flight should get me about 7 of the 10 hours needed. Schweeet, time to go see the Dadster and other members of the family.

With an IFR flight plan on file due to anticipated WX concerns in New England -- and so the family can keep an eye on the flight's progress -- I blast off from the home base around 7:30. Honestly, I was a bit nervous making that first solo takeoff. Mike Hotel accelerates to 60 pretty quickly, but then it seems to take forever to get to 70. It's all a bit nerve wracking see the end of the runway coming at you soo00000 fast.

Anyway, on hitting 70, we rotated, jumped off the ground, wheels up, trim for Vy, turn right, engage the autopilot, and go to sleep. No, just kiddin on the last part. Contacted CAK and opened my flight plan. Amazingly, I got direct to the destination. That's too good to be true, there's sure to be some reroutes.

Into Pennsylvania, it was CAVU. About 50 miles inside Pennsylvania, however, we were on top of a solid overcast. About the only significant development was that the audio patch cable for the XM Radio in the 396 could not be located. A staggering development, as this meant for the 3+ hours, I'd having nothing to entertain me -- except my own lousy singing, and ATC chatter, which turned out to be remarkably quiet on a Saturday morning.

Managed to get all the way into Wilkes-Barre Approach's airspace before I got the first reroute: direct Kingston (IGN), direct destination. OK, no problem there, that's only a little bit out of the way.

Busted through a couple of small clouds, barely enough to qualify as "actual instrument conditions."

The 396 was foreboding about weather at the destination: OVC 900, +RA, 1SM. Umm, I've barely got twenty VFR landings in Mike Hotel and no instrument approaches. We most certainly don't need to be having to fly an approach to near-minima the first time. Not to mention the only approaches at WST are a LOC and GPS (and I haven't read the chapter on GPS approaches in the GX-50 manual!).

Once on with New York Center, I got the reroute that I expected: after IGN, V58, GON, direct WST. The V58 leg requires flying to the Hartford VOR, then making a turn to Groton. Shortly after crossing IGN, ATC advised to descend from 7000 to 5000, and we were into the clouds. It wasn't a solid layer, more of an in-and-out kind of thing. At Hartford, the autopilot made simple work of the turn while the IFR Pilot monitored.

A quick check of the ATIS at Westerly suggested a VFR landing might be in order. On V58, switched to Providence Approach, who advised to expect the LOC 7 to WST. Great, just great. Well, I had the chart marked already and had reviewed it a bunch of times, and had all of the frequencies loaded into the radios, so I was ready.

But, one complaint about the GX-50: Unlike the Garmin 430, which lets you load ILS and LOC approaches for monitoring purposes only, the GX-50 doesn't. Plus, it doesn't appear to have the localizer ID's in the database, so how then can you use it for DME? The hold on the missed at WST is defined by intersecting radials from the Groton and Providence VORs, but also by 5.6 DME for I-RLS. Since we don't have a DME unit in Mike Hotel, it should would be nice to be able to use the GX-50 for DME. But, the IFR Pilot couldn't crack that nut on this flight. Guess it's time to do a bit more reading on the GX-50.

On the leg to Groton, Providence gave vectors for the localizer and descended to 2500. The IFR Pilot was in it now, but the ATIS at Westerly (winds 280 at 9, visibility 10, ceiling broken 2100, overcast 330, temperature 14, dewpoint 12, altimeter 29.46) was still making it appear as if we'd break out and be able to make a visual approach to 25. Providence terminated radar services and authorized a frequency change.

And that's just what happened. At 2100, we broke out with the airport in sight. I was well right of the localizer, as my turn hadn't been aggressive enough. If I had still been in the clag, I would have had to go missed, because the needle had been fully pegged.

Once breaking out, I returned to Providence Approach and cancelled IFR per their prior request ("cancel in air or on the ground" -- didn't want to tie the airport up for what was easily a VFR arrival).

Truth be told, I talked myself through the entire landing sequence. Everything went pretty well, and the landing wasn't too shabby. About the only thing I realized was that I hadn't moved the prop to full forward on final approach, per JD's suggestion of not going full prop on downwind, but on final, when the change isn't likely to actually affect anything.

Family visits ensued, along with a trip to Radio Crack to get another audio patch cable. Now, it's off to the airport in a bit for an anticipated 10:00 departure. See you on the backside.


Greybeard said...

Great narrative!

Sounds like you were comfortably ahead of the airplane the whole trip.
Good deal.

Listen to your gut.
When it starts murmuring a warning, step back and listen. It also sounds like you are properly respectful of this new-to-you, faster machine.....another good thing.
Nose in the book...... you may need the detailed services of that GPS someday!

John said...

Localizer-DME waypoints are indeed in your GX-50's database.

If you use the NRST button, then turn the large knob and it should scroll through all the types of waypoints - airport, VOR, NDB, INTersections, and LOC-DME. Once you've selected LOC-DME, use the small knob to scroll through all the nearest LOC-DME waypoints until you see IRLS LOC-DME, then press DIRECT, ENTER.

The sequence is not as straightforward as the GNS430 or 530, but it works.