Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Taking Advantage

Most people learn to fly near home, and only experience one climate while training. My students learn to fly in a very dry climate (12"/30cm of rain a year). Carburetor ice is unusual; airframe ice is not. My King Air initial training was in East Texas, where airframe ice is unusual, while carburetor ice is common. Everyone gets a partial picture.

This is a problem for instructors. We can't show our students every kind of weather situation, so we end up doing a lot of talking ("...you might see that if you fly to the Oregon coast..."). My instrument students practice circling approaches with unlimited visibility. This does not prepare them for the totally disorienting experience of trying to keep the airplane right-side up and the runway in sight at 400' above the ground in one mile visibility. No wonder people lose control while circling for real. For this kind of thing, showing is better than telling.

Today I got to show. The ceiling was 1600 feet, but the visibility was unlimited. There was moisture in the air, too: the temperature was around 3C, and the snowmelt was evaporating. It was a great opportunity to do a short cross-country by pilotage. I grabbed my IFR charts, just in case.

I noticed the RPMs falling while he copied the ATIS, and again while he checked the controls.

"Hey," he said, "the RPMs keep falling."

"Turn on the carburetor heat," I offered. The engine was at 1200 RPM. He pulled the knob, and in quick succession the engine coughed, dropped back to 1000 RPM, then quickly accelerated to 1400RPM.

"That was carburetor ice."

We followed the highway to the next airport, an uncontrolled field. We talked about the airspace classes along the route, and the cloud clearance requirements. But now they weren't abstract. We were flying under the VOR approach, and it was easy to picture a Citation dropping out of the overcast, coming at us at a combined speed of 250 knots. It made sense to leave 500 feet between us and the overcast above.

He did a good landing at the uncontrolled field, and taxied back for takeoff. A hawk sat atop the windsock, facing into the cold wind. We stopped on the taxiway so I could take a picture.

We followed the VOR approach course home, still well below the clouds. The overcast was breaking up, and there were some blue holes visible above. It seemed to get a little colder, and the wind got a little gusty. He did some short- and soft-field landings, flying the base and crosswind legs sideways. I tried to surprise him with a simulated engine failure on downwind, and he made the runway. We called it a day.

Actually, we called it a good day.

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