Bow before me, for I am a SKY GOD!

Last night I finished my checkout in the club’s Lance. And if this browser would stop crashing at random times, I’ll tell you about it.

The Lance is a big step up from the other club planes. It has 6 seats, nearly a literal ton of useful load, and retractable gear. It’s bigger, faster, and way more complicated than what I’m used to. You have to be on top of things, because things happen quicker and there is more to do, such as remembering to retract the gear and pull back the prop off red-line on take-off, and putting the gear down again on approach. The engine is producing a lot of power, so you have to baby it a bit so it doesn’t tear itself to pieces. It’s actually the exact same engine as the one in our Piper Dakota, but in the Dakota it’s been de-rated to 260 horsepower and in the Lance it’s pulling a full 300 horsepower. It doesn’t sound like a big difference on paper, but you can really hear the difference when somebody starts that puppy up next to you.

I’d done all the required stuff on previous days – learning the gear system and emergency procedures, doing VFR pattern take-offs and landings, etc. All I wanted for last night was to do some instrument approaches to get a feel for how much faster it is, and to get comfortable with the HSI (Horizontal Situation Indicator), an instrument that combines the functions (and complexity) of two instruments on the other planes – the DG (Directional Gyro) and the OBS (Omni Bearing Selector). This makes things easier on instrument approaches, but takes a bit of getting used to. Since I was out of official instrument proficiency – I had not done the required 6 instrument approaches in the last 6 months), I figured we could do 6 approaches and kill two birds with one stone. Actually, three birds since this would also count as my club required annual check flight, which was due on March 15th.

The winds on the surface were reported as 190@13, strong and from the south. There was a lot of commercial traffic landing and departing runway 22, so I thought I’d be nice to the controllers and requested the ILS 28, which would keep me out of the way of the jets. It would also leave me with a strong 90 degree cross wind (ILS 28 means approaching runway 28, which faces 280 degrees).

The first time round, they vectored me to the south of the runway and had me on a 100 heading, exactly opposite the approach course. I could see that I was getting blown into the approach course on my GPS, and then came the call: “Lance 977 turn left heading 310, 4 miles from BREIT, cleared for the ILS 28”. Ok, that’s way more turn than they usually give – normally they like to give you a few intermediate turns rather than making you turn 150 degrees all at once. Plus they were turning me pretty darn close to BREIT, the outer marker – pilots of normal ability like to be given some time to get established on the localizer (the horizontal component of the ILS) before you have to start descending on the glide slope (the vertical component, which starts at the outer marker). Freight dogs like to be turned right on top of the marker to save time. I started the turn and looked at my GPS and said to Lenny “it looks like we’re going to go right through the localizer before completing the turn”. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. As I blew through the localizer, ATC “fixed it” by saying “Lance 977 continue your turn to 250 degrees to intercept, cleared ILS 28, contact tower 118.3”. The 250 heading brought the localizer in just outside the marker, and holding a near 20 degree correction, I tracked the localizer and put down the gear to follow the glideslope. Things were working ok, except holding the glide slope required a lot less descent than I expected – normally at 90 knots ground speed you descend at 500 feet per minute, and at 120 knots ground speed you descend at 700 fpm. But I was barely using 300-400 fpm. I didn’t look up to see the ground speed on the DME, but Lenny said it was between 70 and 80 knots – with an airspeed of 110 knots, that’s a pretty significant headwind component to a wind that was supposed to be right off our wing.

At about 1200 feet, the ride suddenly got a lot bumpier and the localizer started skidding off to the left – instead of the 20 degree correction I’d been holding before, now it was more like 35-40 degrees, and the glide slope was going all over the place, up and down. As I struggled to hold it, Lenny said “I guess we’ve got a gust front coming though”.

On the missed approach, I forgot to retract the gear until Lenny reminded me. Oops. The tower controller chewed me out because I hadn’t reported on the two mile final like he’d requested. Oh well.

The second try, and this time they vectored us a little further to the south before turning us on the reciprocal 100 degree heading. But once again, I blew through the localizer on the turn, and they had to ammend the instructions to a “continue your turn to 250 degrees”. Actually, with the wind I cheated a bit and flew a 240 heading to intercept the localizer faster. Once again, I had to hold a lot of correction on the localizer, and everything went kind of nuts below 1200 feet. But I held it together and “broke out” with the runway pretty much right in front of me. And this time I remembered to retract the gear on the missed approach. But once again we got chewed out for forgetting to report on the 2 mile final. I figured that was Lenny’s job, since he was the one looking outside, but the next time around he pointed at the DME so I guess he thought it was my job.

On that approach, after botching the turn on again, the approach controller had said “Next time we’ll try bringing you in from the north”. So that’s what we did. This time the turn worked much better, and I didn’t blow through the localizer while turning. But he’d turned me in almost right on top of BREIT, so I’d had my hands full turning to intercept and starting the descent at the same time. But we had a different tower controller this time, and he didn’t ask for us to report the two mile final. Lenny said he should report the two mile final just to tick off the other controller in case he’s still around.

So we tried one last ILS 28, being vectored around to the north. This time everything worked well, except of course the bumps and gusts at 1200 feet. With nothing left to prove to myself on that one, and noticing a lull in commercial traffic, I asked for the ILS 22 approach next time. A little bit of stress as I had to set up for the new approach, reading the plate in the inadequate lighting in the cockpit. With the wind blowing almost straight down the approach path, the actually approach was almost boring. No huge correction angle, just follow the needle and go. We were still only making 90 knots ground speed, but 90 knots is what I was used to in the Archers in calm conditions, so a normal 500 fpm descent kept the glide slope within one dot deflection right into the gust front at 1200 feet.

By this time I was feeling quite at home in the Lance cockpit, so I asked for the next one to be a full stop, and that’s what we did. A perfectly uneventful approach, a bit of a bumpy time just before going visual, and a very smooth touch down.

All in all, a good and productive night.