Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Dead Synapses

The plan was deceptively simple: ILS 32 at KMFD, GPS-A at 3G4, and GPS 10 at BJJ. Weather was a factor, due to the narrow gap between temperature and dew point -- 24 and 22, respectively. Predictably, with that 2 degree gap, there was some haze emerging. Also, there was a high overcast, nearly blocking out the otherwise full moon.

The IFR Pilot hadn't been behind the controls of our beloved Mike Hotel for over two weeks, since having returned from NC. But, sitting on the tarmac at the Home Base, organizing approach plates, I began to sense that maybe I was in over my head.

It was just a vague sense of "What am I doing?" I ignored it, thinking that it was just the product of a busy day at work. Buckling down and consciously thinking would remedy the problem. Wouldn't it?

After completing the run-up checks, we taxied into position for a departure on runway 21. MS was going to demonstrate his new-fangled bush pilot technique of not adding flaps until Mike Hotel had accelerated. Ten degrees at 55 knots, twenty degrees at 60 knots, rotate at 65 for short-field takeoff.

Standing on the brakes as power came up, the nagging little sensation returned. I was looking at the instruments, but they just weren't making much sense to me. I could see them, but I couldn't comprehend what they were telling me.

Shaking it off again, we began hurtling down the runway. It was dark, very very dark, and I was full of unnerving sensations. What am I doing? Why do I feel like this? What is wrong with me?

Rather surprisingly, after takeoff and establishing a Vy climb, all seemed to make sense once again. We climbed to 3000, headed direct to Mansfield. MS and the IFR Pilot were chewing the fat, as we are wont to do while aviating.

Shortly, we dialed in the Mansfield ATIS. Interestingly, it was silent. Nothing but a bunch of static. Hmmmm, did we miss an airport closure NOTAM? Nope, the 396 is showing nothing untoward.

So, we try Mansfield Approach. There's a perky little dude on the frequency, who says the ATIS was giving funny readings, so he just shut it off. He then gives us "the numbers."

We start with a VFR clearance for the ILS 32. But shortly, we decide that an actual clearance would be better so we don't have to try and dodge clouds on a dark night. We then convert the pop-up clearance to MFD into a full circle clearance from MFD to 3G4 to BJJ to the Home Base. Hey, we're the ONLY people on frequency, so we'll just make ATC do our bidding for once, K?

Vectored for the ILS, the IFR Pilot intercepts it nicely. Note: Because the GX-55 won't load the ILS for situational awareness, once we got vectors to the localizer from ATC, we set the GPS to MANNS, the LOM/IAF on this approach. Thereafter, a brief debate ensues as the IFR Pilot descends to 2700, which is the glideslope intercept altitude. MS says he read somewhere that you should eschew the descent from 2900 to 2700 and just intercept the glideslope higher in order to have a stabilized descent for the entire approach. While I see some wisdom to this, I think I prefer going ahead and stepping down as the chart depicts.

Anyway, inside the marker, all heck breaks loose.

Well, not completely. But we're way too fast when I drop the gear. Not above Vle, mind you, but nevertheless, no reason to drop the gear at 120 knots when there was plenty of room to slow down first. The rest of the GUMPS check also goes awry. Fortunately, MS is there to co-pilot.

I quickly realize that my brain is less efficient that a pile of corned beef hash tonight. An executive decision follows.

"Mansfield Tower, Two Mike Hotel."

"Two Mike Hotel, Mansfield Tower."

"This will be a full stop and taxi to the ramp."

"Roger that. We'll turn on the taxiway lights."

"MS, you're taking over, good buddy. Fly me home."

And so, we did a quick switch on the ramp. I say quick, but it really wasn't. I had trouble finding and latching my seat belt. Nothing was making sense. I mean, I knew where I was and what we were doing. But it was like being in a fog, where everything moves at 80% of its normal speed.

MS did an exceptional job of getting us home. And I thank him for that. But I knew I was really out of sorts when I decided on short final that I was scared stiff, and so I closed my eyes and just waited for the touchdown. Showoff that he is, MS pulled off a greaser and so I barely felt it. But I knew we were safely down when he started in with his braggadocio about his superior aviating skills. Hey, only one of us has flown to Alaska and back, buddy, and it ain't you! lol

Thinking back, I had similar experiences once or twice during my primary training, especially on after-work flights. I think that the combination of a less-than fitful night's sleep the previous evening and a demanding day at work took their toll on me and left me mentally drained. I should have aborted as I stood on the brakes for takeoff. And if I had been alone, I think I would have. In retrospect, I was willing to push myself a bit more because I had a "safety net" -- another pilot on board with me.

That was silly, and I shouldn't have done it.

As student pilots, we all learn about aeronautical decision making. Sometimes, you need to put that abstract knowledge into actual real work application. Last night was one such case.

I could make a bunch of excuses. I haven't flown in a while. Weather was a factor. It was dark. It was cloudy. Yada. Yada. Yada.

None of that really matters. If you can't pass the IM-SAFE checklist, don't fly.

So, the IFR Pilot has vowed to listen more carefully and closely to that pesky little voice.

Stay tuned. Sunday brings an Angel Flight from MFD to GAI. The weatherman says it's supposed to be lovely this weekend!


Paul said...

I'll admit that I'm a fan of the "intercept glide slope from above" rather than descend to intercept altitude and catch it there. I asked around my home base once and it was split 50/50 so like most things, there seems to be no right or wrong. I like it because I'm nicely trimmed up earlier in the approach.

John said...

I teach my unstrument students that they can intercept a glideslope from above only when they have a means of verifying their position over the FAF to verify their altitude. I also tell then to never catch a GS from above on a check ride.

For ILS approaches that have step-down fixes prior to GS intercept, it can be difficult to get down and intercept from undeneath and may result in descent rates that cause ATC to issue you a low altitude alert.

For most ILS approaches, there's usually isn't a compelling reason to grab the GS from above. In a complex aircraft, getting the plane configured and stabilized, then extend the gear 1/2 dot below the GS usually gives you very predictable descent on the GS. It can also ensure you follow the same procedure each time.

I would recommend against capturing the GS from above on any type of check ride or proficiency check.

Jason said...

Ditto on being able to verify your altitude if you intercept the glideslope high - don't want follow one of those glideslope false lobes down.

I guess that's mainly a problem when you descend into the glideslope though, which I don't think you are suggesting. I read your post as still intercepting it from below, but doing so at a higher altitude than the chart says. You'd still need to make sure you don't descend under the minimum altitude that ATC cleared you to the FAF at of course, but if you stayed right on glideslope then you should be fine for that.


I've definately had that same "brain" problem with flying after a busy day at work. Work wears out parts of my brain and leaves me a bit scatttered. I would think a night flight would compound that.

Good for you to know when to quit.