Tuesday, December 30, 2008


It's ironic (typical of aviation) that as a full-time college professor and part-time flight instructor I have done no flying since the last day of exams. Most of my students have some kind of affiliation with the university, and all of my students decided that they needed to go somewhere for Christmas. So, just when it becomes easy to schedule flying, there is no flying to do.

And forget about any personal flying: the weather has been terrible.

But today's weather was good, so I grabbed a buddy to act as safety pilot for some IFR proficiency flying. I was IFR current but not feeling sharp, so my mission was clear. But there was also an über-mission: fly like a professional, with discipline. I had noticed a lot of undisciplined flying at the airport lately, like the King Air pilot who jumped out of his pickup and was airborne 4 minutes later. (Out of curiosity, I found out where he was going and got a DUATS briefing for his flight. I hope that Temporary Flight Restriction didn't cause him any problems...)

I got to the airport first, got a standard briefing including a NOTAM check, verified that my charts were up-to-date, and did a careful walk-around.

My discipline got tested right away when the battery proved too weak to start the engine. We called for a power cart, and I got out the checklist, having not done a cart start in a while. "Oh, it's easy," my friend said, "I do it all the time." But abnormals should be done by the book.

When the line guy got connected we heard the battery relay go and said "That sounds good!" simultaneously.

When I flew turboprops we had a standard departure briefing that we learned from a pilot who worked for us while furloughed from a major "network" airline. The acronym is WARTS:

    Wind and weather;
    Aborts and abnormals;
    Runway and route;
    Special items.

With the engine going and the alternator working, we taxied out. I gave the WARTS briefing out loud. There was one special: there were hundreds of ducks in the area, which we had both noticed on the way to the airport. I decided to forego the hood until we were clear of the birds, to keep the landing light on, and to give up any approaches if the birds were a problem.

We used the birds to our advantage. We called ready at runway 3, but the tower advised us to hold short for possible wake turbulence from a turboprop that just departed runway 21. We watched a couple of ducks fly across the runway at about 200 feet AGL. They flew straight and level, with no sign of a wake. So with the birds as sniffers we felt that it was safe to depart.

The first approach was an ILS. It was OK. I got down to decision height and flew the missed approach procedure to the hold.

The next approach was a full-procedure VOR approach. It was a little better. I did a touch-and go.

The last approach was a partial panel VOR approach. I couldn't remember the last time I had done a partial panel approach; we never got them at the simulator centers since the airplane always had another gyro source. The FAA's Practical Test Standards require a nonprecision partial panel approach for the Instrument Rating, so I should have to do one, too.

And it was the best approach of the three. Go figure.

After we landed I checked my phone and had a message from one of my students. He's back in town and wants to fly tomorrow, and the weather looks like it will cooperate. I guess my vacation is over.

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