Saturday, June 22, 2013

Certification Changes

John Ewing wrote about upcoming changes in the pilot certification process.  You can read about them here.

A couple of comments come to mind from a first reading:

1. There is more emphasis on having candidates interpret scenarios rather than just giving rote responses.

2. Better integration of technology, eg "Equipment available enroute to aid weather assessment and route selection."  The document refers to "proper charts", whcih seems to allow EFB use.  Use of a computer-generated navigation log is allowed, and applicant must understand GPS with a fair level of detail.  Applicants are still required to record times over waypoints as an aid in case they get lost.  (One way to do this is outlined here.)

3. Making sure pilots are aware that flight into different regions (Alaska, mountains) might require additional training.  Cross-country planning includes glide distances.  (I once had a CFI candidate fail for flying too far from shore over the Great Salt Lake.  Salt Lake TRACON had terminated radar service but instead of turning toward the shore he just kept flying west, far out of glide range and toward an active Restricted Area.  The pink slip listed the deficient Area of Operations as "Straight and Level Flight.")

4. Here's a mistake: "Establish and maintain the recommended best-glide airspeed, ±10 knots." Adding ten knots to best glide has little effect on performance, but subtracting ten knots really hurts performance.  It should be -0 +10.  I'll look into suggesting this.

I'll probably have more comments as I read the document again.

Monday, June 10, 2013

A little IFR

photo.JPGI was in the middle of nowhere in a state that many would consider to be a flyover state.  But we didn't fly over.

We were departing the local municipal airport, which underlies a MOA.  I looked in the A/FD for a Center frequency, but this is one of those airports which, despite its well-maintained runway and ramp, doesn't have an airport diagram, and the only entry in the COMMUNICATIONS section was "CTAF 122.8." Not even FSS.

And it was IFR.  Or at best barely VFR.  The closest METARs (both 40 miles away) were OVC009 and OVC011.

The nearest navaid was almost 40 miles away, and nowhere near on course, and we were only /A despite a very nice handheld GPS.  And then there was the MOA, which was NOTAMed active.  I fired up my browser, went to the DUATS flight planner, crossed my fingers, and asked for the low-altitude airways auto routing.  It sent me to the same VOR.  Sigh.

So I filed IFR, did a careful walk-around, did the runup, and set up the radios.  Then I called (888) 766-8267, the national clearance delivery number.

The last time I called for a telephone clearance was a few years ago in the same state and it went pretty smoothly, once I taxied onto the piece of ramp with cell phone coverage.  This time was a little different.

A hard-to-hear recorded voice said something about "...state you're departing from..." and "...briefer...," a garbled version of the usual FSS recording.  I said the state, and, out of habit, said briefer.

"Good afternoon," I said, "N1234E needs a clearance from KLMN to KOPQ, ready in 3 minutes, departing runway 8."

The briefer sounded flummoxed.

"You're departing where?"

I repeated.

"And headed where?"

I repeated that, too.

"You don't need to use the 'K.'  It just confuses us.  They all start with 'K'."

I didn't need a lecture; I was sitting at the hold-short line burning dead dinosaurs.  And I had enough of them to go to Mexico, where they don't all start with 'K.'  Or Canada, where they don't all start with 'K.'

(The company I worked for had a base in Nampa, Idaho, whose identifier got changed from S67 to KMAN.  You'd be surprised how often flightaware  showed a company Cessna 210 going to Manchester, England.  Or maybe not.)

"Ready to copy" was the best rejoinder I would allow myself.

"Hold on," he snarled.

After a short pause he came back with "ATC clears N1234E from the LMN airport to the OPQ airport [emphasis his] via [route].  Maintain 6,000, contact Minneapolis Center on 123.45, squawk 7700 [just kidding!], clearance void after ... ."  I thanked him and took off.

Center was waiting for us, and once we were in radar contact they offered us a generous vector for a short-cut; ATC is often very nice about that.  Unlike whoever answers the clearance delivery number.

I got to use another trick out of the IFR bag-o'-tricks.  We were in CAVU conditions facing an MEA climb, which would have put us into stronger headwinds and above 10,000.  So I asked for direct OPQ, VFR-on-top, providing our own terrain and obstacle clearance.  After a short pause while the controller checked the route he replied "Cleared as filed, maintain appropriate VFR altitudes."  I climbed to 8500 and we got another generous short-cut.