Signed off for the G1000

My instructor has signed me off for the Garmin G1000.

I’m pretty psyched about this.  The G1000 is what’s referred to as a “glass cockpit” that replaces the traditional analog instruments in the airplane cockpit with two large LCD displays.

Because the instrumentation is significantly different, flying a plane equipped with the G1000 does require some additional training.  The G1000 is sufficiently complex that if you don’t have enough practice with it, you could very easily spend a dangerous amount of time fiddling with the G1000 itself when you should be looking outside the plane.

Flying a plane with conventional instruments, I’ve become used to being able to glance at the instruments very quickly to see what I needed to do.  My first big surprise when learning the G1000 was that my landings completely went to hell.  I could no longer just glance at the instruments and tell if I was too high or too low, flying too fast or flying too slow.  Now it required a more careful look to find the information I need.  I was spending too much time looking at the G1000 display and not looking out the window.  Pretty quickly I learned to trust the ‘feel’ I’d developed over my years of flying and spend more time looking out the window and not so much time studying the G1000 display.

Diamond Aviation (where I rent my planes) requires a Biennial Flight Review (BFR) as part of the checkout for the G1000.  Now that I’ve gone through it, I understand why.  Performing the normal flying maneuvers required in a BFR (slow flight, stalls, steep turns, etc) does require being able to quickly coordinate controlling the plane with interpreting the instruments.  If you can successfully get through a BFR, that’s a good indicator that you’ve had sufficient practice with the G1000 to be able to fly the plane without getting into the trap of spending too much time staring at the G1000 and not enough time looking out the window.

Right now, I’m just using the G1000 for VFR flying.  I’ll continue my IFR training in a plane with conventional instruments.  Using the G1000 for IFR is considerably more complicated than for VFR flight, and the IFR training is already complicated enough without adding the G1000 into the mix.

Now that I’ve been flying the G1000, I’m feeling very spoiled.  It’s going to be difficult to go back to conventional instruments for the remainder of my IFR training.  But it’ll be great fun to use the G1000 for the bulk of my pleasure flying!

Best. Flight. Ever.

Whew.  Just got back from a flight from San Carlos (KSQL) to Harris Ranch (3O8).  I haven’t been flying much lately, as I’ve been working with my flying instructor to prepare for the Instrument Rating written test.

For today’s flight, I had a passenger with me: Cliff.  Cliff is a very good friend of mine, but he’s been reluctant to fly with me.  Apparently, some years ago, he was on a little puddle-jumper in Peru that scared the bejeezus out of him.  It’s been enough to keep him from flying in a small plane ever since.

Imagine my surprise when a couple of weeks ago, he actually expressed a desire to go on a flight!  I had told him a long time ago about flying down to Harris Ranch for lunch, and he thought that sounded like fun, so that’s what we did.

I’d been watching the aviation weather reports & forecasts for a few days leading up today.  The weather in the San Francisco Bay Area has been decidedly mixed.  I wasn’t at all sure that we’d be able to go today.  This morning was somewhat overcast, and the report at San Carlos had an overcast cloud layer at 1800 feet.  That’s considered ‘Marginal VFR’ (MVFR), and I’m not willing to fly under MVFR conditions, even though it’s perfectly legal to do so.  They call it ‘marginal’ for a reason.  We took the chance that it would burn off before too long and drove on down to the airport.

When we reached San Carlos it was already evident that the clouds had burned off to the point where it was ok to fly.  But there were still other concerns to check out before departing.

The forecast for today had a little item about fairly high and gusty winds at SFO.  The winds at San Carlos are somewhat less than at SFO, but it was still a concern.  I decided to depart knowing that there was a possibility that when we returned, the winds might be a little to squirrelly to land.  Fortunately, there are other nearby airports in the Bay Area where I could land instead if it was just too rough at San Carlos.  One of the other instructors at Diamond Aviation (Thanks, Bob!) gave me his cell phone number just in case I needed to land somewhere else and call him for a ride back to San Carlos.

San Carlos has recently changed some of their procedures at the airport.  Nothing dramatic, just tightening up procedures to be a little bit more “by the book”.  One benefit of this is that it is now possible to request VFR Flight Following before departing.  This makes using Flight Following a lot easier.  I wanted to use Flight Following, rather than filing a VFR flight plan, as I wasn’t sure what route we’d end up taking.  If the weather allowed, I really wanted to fly down the coast.  Unfortunately, today, the weather didn’t really allow for that.  I wanted to at least use Flight Following because that would allow me to practice my radio skills.  Since I’m studying for my IFR rating, having good radio skills is essential.  You’d be surprised how tough it can be at times to get a word in edgewise when a controller is handling a sky full of traffic.  It’s important to be on top of your game to be quick, clear, and concise.

Departing San Carlos was uneventful, and we ended up doing the “Belmont Slough” departure that takes us across the San Francisco Bay.  The weather was shaping up beautifully, so we had a very smooth ride down.  I did a pure VFR routing that took me east of San Jose International Airport (KSJC), staying out of their airspace, and hugging close to the East Bay hills.  After getting down abeam South County Airport (E16) we headed east across the hills and into the San Joaquin Valley.  Once over the hills, we flew a course following Highway 5 south.  Harris Ranch is located just beside Highway 5, so it’s pretty easy to find.

Lunch was terrific.  We had a bit of a wait though.  We arrived about 2pm.  For future reference, mid-afternoon on a Sunday is not the best time to hit Harris Ranch if you’re looking for a quick lunch.  Fortunately, I had reserved the plane for the whole day, so we didn’t need to rush.  Cliff had “The Big Bull Burger”, and I had the “Harris Ranch Ribeye Dip”.  We split an order of onion rings.  Yummy.

We had a leisurely lunch, but at 3:30pm, I was getting anxious to get out of there.  It would take about an hour and a half to get back to San Carlos, and this being Sunday, they close up at 5pm.  Of course, they have procedures to accommodate pilots who want/need to get back later, but I had reserved the plane until 5pm, so keeping it later would mean making some phone calls, and of course, that’s a little difficult in flight.

Coming back into the San Francisco Bay Area, I made a last minute decision to go up the peninsula.  This meant requesting a transition through San Jose’s airspace.  In the past, I’ve needed to have the whole radio conversation played out in my head before I push the button on the mike to request ATC to allow me to transition KSJC’s airspace.  But today was different.  Everything just went so smoothly.  Didn’t even really need to think about it.  Everything just flowed as if I’ve been doing it all my life.

I’m realizing that part of my radio anxiety is due to being constantly in training.  As soon as I got my Private Pilot certificate, I immediately started my IFR training.  IFR definitely requires a higher degree of radio competence, so the training keeps me feeling like I’m a rank beginner.  It’s only when I get out there and exercise my VFR piloting skills that I realize that I’m an honest-to-goodness private pilot, and a pretty decent one at that.

Landing at San Carlos was a little tricky.  There was a very strong crosswind.  I wasn’t sure that we were going to be able to land, but I figured I’d give it a try, and if it was just too difficult I could always do a “go around” and either attempt it again, or just decide to go to a different airport.  Exactly the condition I had mentally prepared myself for before we ever departed San Carlos.

Since this was Cliff’s first time flying with me, and since his last time in a small plane had been a negative experience, I warned him as we were approaching San Carlos that we would be landing on one wheel due to the crosswind.  I didn’t want him freaking out right at the most critical part of the landing, so I figured disclosing this information ahead of time would head off any surprise reaction.  Fortunately, throughout the entire flight, I had earned Cliff’s trust in me as a pilot, so he was completely ok with whatever I had to do.

The landing was good.  Not my best, but not bad.  My instructor was at the airport, having just returned from a flight with another student of his.  I was very glad that he was there and able to watch my landing.  After tying up the plane, I talked to my instructor about the flight, and particularly the landing at San Carlos.  He noticed one thing I should have done differently: I had full flaps in when I should have only had 20 degrees flaps.  Duh!  Of course that’s why the plane ballooned up while going down the runway!  Approaching San Carlos from the peninsula, I was doing a straight-in approach.  A straight-in approach is a little tough, as you don’t have the usual ‘legs’ of a VFR landing to gauge distance and height.  I knew as I was approaching San Carlos that I was approaching high, so I put in full flaps to get down quickly.  I should have either just put in 20 degrees flaps, or put it back to 20 after I got down to the right approach path.  The result of having in full flaps in this kind of wind is that the plane didn’t want to come all the way down.  We got a few feet above the runway and ‘whoosh!’, the plane ballooned up again.  A little wrestling with the controls, and floating down the runway a little longer than strictly necessary, and we were back down on terra firma.  As it turned out, I was able to exit the runway at only the second exit.  Not bad.

The entire day was an unqualified success.  Not only did we have a great flight and a great lunch, but I think I can say that I’ve restored Cliff’s faith in flying in small aircraft.  He’s already looking forward to our next flight together.

First time Piloting a Cessna 182

Whoo Hoo!  Just got back from my first time piloting a Cessna 182 (a.k.a. Cessna Skylane).

This is fairly significant in my flying experience because the Skylane is a High-Performance aircraft, as well as a Complex aircraft.  A High-Performance aircraft is any aircraft with an engine of over 200 horsepower.  The 182 has an engine with 230 horsepower.  My normal plane is a Cessna 172 (a.k.a. Cessna Skyhawk) which comes with either a 160 or 180 horsepower engine.

A Complex aircraft is one with either retractable landing gear and/or a constant speed propeller.  The 182 I was flying today has fixed landing gear, but it does have a constant speed prop.

I didn’t set out to fly a High-Performance, Complex aircraft today.  In fact, I haven’t been flying much at all lately.  I’m working toward my IFR rating, and I’m way behind in my preparation for the IFR written exam.  The past few weeks I’ve been spending my usual time with my instructor doing ‘ground school’ so I can prepare to take the written test.  Today, we were going over some test questions that cover the operation of the Horizontal Situation Indicator (HSI).  Well, I’ve never flown a plane with an HSI, so some of it just wasn’t sinking in.  There’s a lot to be said for actually seeing the behavior of an instrument as you’re flying a plane over trying to understand its behavior based on static diagrams in a book.  So my instructor and I decided to go for a quick flight in one of the planes with an HSI.  As it turns out, the only available plane with an HSI was the 182.  Whoopee!

Early on in my private pilot training, my instructor told me “One of aviation’s dirty little secrets is that the larger the plane, the easier it is to fly”.  That was noticeably true today with the 182.  Bigger plane, more power, nicer instruments like an HSI.  It all adds up to an easier plane to fly.  Even some minor turbulence felt better in the 182.  The 182 doesn’t bounce around as much in turbulence as the 172.

The HSI replaces the directional gyro in the planes I usually fly.  A really, really great feature of the HSI over a directional gyro, is that the HSI is driven from a Remote Indicating Compass.  With a traditional directional gyro, it is necessary to reset the gyro periodically to compensate for precession.  This means I have to reset the gyro to an accurate compass reading.  But the compass only reads accurately during straight and level, unaccelerated flight.  In short, the periodic resetting of the directional gyro is a pain in the butt.  It is so nice to not have to deal with all the nonsense of resetting the directional gyro.

So, now I have 1.7 hours toward being checked out in a Cessna 182.  I still need some more time in the 182, and some more landings.  The behavior of the 182 on landing is quite a bit different from the 172.  I also need to complete a checkout quiz that my FBO (Diamond Aviation) requires.  Compared to getting my IFR rating, getting checked out in the 182 will be a piece of cake.

I don’t plan on flying the 182 very frequently, as it is significantly more expensive to rent.  But, for some trips, the ability to choose a larger plane, with greater range and better performance will really improve my entire flying experience.  Choice is good.