Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Against the Current

When you don't fly professionally (or, worse, when you don't have a medical certificate) it's important to take advantage of every opportunity. Looking at this morning's forecast of nothing better than 600 overcast, I figured that today would provide none. So I cheerfully went to class, then across campus to lunch, talking with a visitor from Spain. I couldn't help but notice that the university weather was a lot better than 600 overcast, but sometimes the city is in the clear while the airport is in the soup, so I once again dismissed the thought that kept interfering with what should have been my mathematical frame of mind. I settled into my office chair. I couldn't help myself: I logged onto DUATS and got a weather briefing. "Just for practice," I told myself, "just for practice."

Maybe practice makes perfect: the metar was KPIH 092353Z 03007KT 10SM SCT048 00/M06 A2998. How much research did I need to get done this afternoon, anyway? Hadn't I put two new theorems in my notebook just yesterday?

But it's not so simple when you don't have a medical certificate. I started phoning pilots. Greg was already at the airport and ready to fly. It's time to fly!

Greg and I have flown a lot together (I instructed him for his CFI), so settled into our personal patterns easily. One thing about flying with Greg keeps me at the top of my game. Greg used to be a controller. When there's traffic, he sees it before anyone. Better yet, he knows how to point it out, so when he says "There he is, 3 o'clock, down low," you look and find it right away, too.

And there was lots of traffic on this pretty afternoon. We went to Blackfoot for a touch-and-go, departing just as a flight of three high-wing taildraggers arrived, about 200 feet in trail from each other. Someone kept calling them "party of three" on the radio, as if it were a restaurant.

Heading home, the Worst Controller I Know was working the tower. "Uh-oh," we said, almost simultaneously, "this should be interesting." I wanted to fly a practice ILS, but there was another airplane already on the approach. Well, it was not exactly on the approach, it was outbound to the marker. So maybe Mike (it's a small town, we know who's flying what) was 6 miles from the marker, outbound, while we were 6 miles from the marker, inbound. By the time Mike got there and started outbound for the procedure turn we would be in the hangar. Somebody was swimming against the current, and it wasn't Mike, and it wasn't me.

But the controller didn't see it that way. So I did a 360 (under the hood), and when I rolled out there went the outbound 182, 1000' above us, headed away from the airport.

Somehow I got the controller to see that we were in front of the 182, where we had been all along, so we did the approach. The controller kept micromanaging, though, and his frequent irrelevant radio calls threw me a dot off. Grrrr. Greg was laughing loudly, but was also careful not to key the mic while he did so.

Done with the ILS, we were in closed traffic. A Falcon called, on the GPS approach. "This ought to be fun," Greg said, and I agreed. Four VFR airplanes was over this controller's personal minimums. I thought about calling the tower chief on his cell phone...

The frequency was busy and The Controller kept changing his mind about the landing sequence. I didn't help. He put us ahead of Mike in the 182, but I knew Mike needed to do a circling approach, so I volunteered to extend my downwind to let Mike finish. But meantime the Falcon was arriving, probably indicating 170 or so.

"There he is," Greg said, and sure enough I followed his eye to the Falcon. The eyesight pressure was on.

"Looks like a 900," I said.

"Yeah, beautiful airplane," he said, not missing a beat. Of course he was right.

So I didn't just get to fly. I got to be bury, mixing it up with The Controller and watching my spacing from other traffic and even avoiding a bird strike. the kind of flying that keeps you sharp. I hope. At the end of all this, I was surprised to note that I am instrument current until the end of March. Without a medical certificate it won't do much good, of course, but it will be nice to be ready.

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