Friday, May 2, 2008

Transitional Times

A nexus of three things got me thinking;
  1. aviationmentor's post "Where have all the pilots gone?". One of his points is that the FAA Knowledge Tests are behind the times in requiring knowledge of NDBs;
  2. a discussion about NDB approaches with a student;
  3. trying to design an extended IFR cross-country program, like  Doug Stewart's or
    Morey's West Coast Adventure
aviationmentor's posts are always thought-provoking and detailed, and he has some good points about the knowledge tests, which are really points about the way we teach flying. I still believe that there is something to be learned from NDBs, but the test questions don't test that, so books and instructors don't teach it, so the point is well taken.  I'll tell you what I think you should learn in a bit.

aviationmentor also points out that NDBs are disappearing quickly, but we should expect that: after all, there was a CONSOLAN station operating on Nantucket in my memory [What's that?? CONSOLAN was a clever low frequency long-range navigation system so obscure now that Wikipedia doesn't mention it, which also means that it wasn't in the Eleventh Britannica.  You can read about it in Bowditch's American Practical Navigator, if you can find an older edition.]

Just like CONSOLAN, lost between Brittanica and Wikipedia, I feel lost between the NDB and the Garmin G1000.  Where have all of the instrument students gone?  That's why I started to think about the multi-day IFR cross country program, as a way to attract students.  I have done this in the past, and it is a great way for people to learn instrument flying in the real world, either as initial or recurrent training.

But lack of a good syllabus isn't the problem.  The problem is that there are no NDB approaches nearby anymore, and the school where I teach has no airplanes that can be considered IFR trainers.  I'm caught in between.  

What makes a good IFR trainer?  A working ADF is nowhere near as important as a good IFR GPS.  You don't need a G1000 all-glass panel, nor even a Garmin 430, just a working IFR GPS, complete with current database.  [The school has one airplane with a King IFR GPS, but it is not working.]  The work of picking a good sequence of airports and routes and approaches and places to stay and eat is just make-work without an airplane that can do the flight.

So what's the use of studying NDBs?  This afternoon I was with a private pilot student who is starting cross-countries.  He had a lot of good questions, and I was trying to emphasize the basics of heading, heading, and heading.  Although I am sure that he will never, ever see an NDB approach, I found myself drawing the following picture.  I'm including it hand-written, not because I am a Luddite but because that's the way I use it.  Part of the pleasure is drawing it.

The picture shows a typical NDB approach from above.  You start over the beacon, and it will take about 2 minutes, or 1/30 hour, to get to the runway.  Imagine a screaming direct crosswind, one you would be willing to land in after breaking out at minimums.  I'll pick 15 knots, because that's what the Cessna 172 POH says the Skyhawk can handle with average pilot technique.

Imagine that you ignore the screaming crosswind and fly without any wind correction.  In  the 2 minutes it would take to fly from the beacon to the runway, a 15 knot crosswind would only blow you 1/2 mile to the side.  Since the visibility should be at least a mile to do the approach, you will see the runway and be able to land.  That's the red line: you land successfully with no wind correction.

If you pay attention to the wind and put in a little crosswind correction, say, 5 degrees, you will go directly to the runway.  That's the green path. 

Notice something: I never mentioned the needle, the relative bearing, the relative azimuth, pulling or pushing the needle, or mental arithmetic.  All you need is to fly a smart heading.

So here's the lesson: be a little aware of the wind and hold your heading.  But keep in mind that this analysis was for 5 miles or so; you need to be more precise about choosing a heading to cross the ocean.

But you still have to hold the heading.  That's the most important thing, and that's what NDBs teach us.

So what's our heading when we teach instrument flying? It's not the relative bearing stuff on the FAA Knowledge Test, but it can't be just the knob-twisitng and button pushing required to get the FMS to fly the approach.  Where's the judgment?

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At November 10, 2011 at 1:51 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

You question on the disappearance of pilots, in my work I question the disappearance of engineers. In reading just a bit of your posts, I have also found the same problems, it seems that the only thing that counts is the politically correctness of the clueless in the outcome of the transaction. Very few people know the difference between sophisticated and complex or for that matter that for every action there is a reaction. The latter applies to any field of endeavor.


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