Climb, Conserve, Confess

(Climb, Conserve, Confess is the mantra for pilots who are lost – climb up in case there are obstacles around, lean the engine and fly conservatively in case you’re far off course, and contact local ATC or Flight Service to “confess” and see what help they might offer you, like radar vectors or a “DF Steer”.)

Yesterday I went flying with a club member who is a CFII (an instrument instructor) who wanted a safety pilot. What I hadn’t known ahead of time is that because he’s an instructor he wanted me to sit in the left seat and fly some of the time. Not only that, but because he was an instrument instructor, I could log the approaches towards my IFR currency.

As I was doing the pre-start checklist, he said that he would work the radios while I flew, and then I would work the radios while he flew. I’ve never done that before, and it was confusing. The first confusion was that because he said he was going to work the radios, I expected him to turn off the avionics master when I went to start the engine. He didn’t, and I didn’t, and the noise through the intercom while the starter motor was cranking was horrendous. I should probably note at this time that while doing the pre-start checklist, I noticed the autopilot flashing strangely, and neither of us knew what it meant. After the engine turned twice and didn’t catch, the battery died and so I think we discovered what it meant. We jump started the airplane with the cart, and it ran fine, and the autopilot wasn’t flashing any more. I vaguely recall that the autopilot flashes when there was a low voltage condition.

I did the first approach, the ILS to 28. Jim surprised very mild surprise that I loaded up the real ILS approach on the GPS instead of a GPS approach. But hey, to me an ILS is a real approach and everything else is a pale substitute, even an LNAV+VNAV. It wasn’t the greatest ILS ever, and Jim kept telling me to correct this way and that, mostly stuff I would have done even without him. It seemed like I was doing the infamous “s-turns down the localizer”, then I remembered where to see the ground track on the GPS and used that to get settled down.

Then it was Jim’s turn, and in spite of the fact that he is a CFII, and he’s much more current than I, he too ended up doing s-turns down the localizer. We discussed it, and considering that both of us had the same trouble, plus how bumpy it was, we figured there were some shifting winds at different altitudes and that was throwing us both off.

Then it was my turn again, and since we’d just taken off from runway 22 and were requesting the ILS for runway 28, we ended up getting vectored to the south of the airport. The air was much smoother there. My second approach went amazingly well. I got a nice gentle turn to the localizer well outside the marker, in contrast to the nearly 90 degree turns we had gotten less than a mile outside the marker on the first two approaches, and the air was smooth, and plus I was using the ground track indication, so I did almost ATP quality approach, with both needles one dot and maybe occasionally two dots off all the way down.

But as we continued off runway 28 and asked for the ILS 28 again for Jim’s turn, they turned us right to the north of the airport, and once again it was getting very bumpy. And when you combine early in the year, bumps, and flying under the hood, for me that means airsick. So I reluctantly told Jim that we’d have to make this the last one. I don’t know whether it’s because we intercepted it from the bumpy north instead of the smooth south, or because I was felling sick and so felt the bumps more or because I wasn’t flying, but it seemed like it was much worse than when I’d done it, both in terms of the bumps and Jim seemed to be having much more trouble keeping the needles centered than I did. But then again, he adamantly refused to use the GPS ground track – he said it was “cheating”. I’ve heard it said for air combat, and I apply it for IFR flying, if you aint cheating, you aint trying hard enough. The plan was to do the ILS 28, do a touch and go, and join the pattern for 25, and I told the approach controller that, although more likely I should have waited to talk to the tower controller.

Now comes the confession part. I mentioned before I wasn’t used to this “pilot non-flying works the radios”. A few times previously I’d either gone to say something on the radio when Jim was working the radios, or waited for Jim to say something before I realized I was supposed to do it. Also, both radios had “flip-flop” alternate frequencies. Jim used the first radio for the tower frequency and the second for the approach frequency. But the approach frequency was also the alternate frequency on radio one. So when we took off from 28, I’d used the flip-flop to switch to the approach. And I didn’t think anything of it, until taking off from our touch and go on 28 that I realized we were still on the approach frequency. A terrible feeling in the pit of my stomach joined the already building air-sickness. I don’t know if I missed a radio call, but I just let us do a touch and go without a clearance, without even talking to the tower. The neither the approach controller nor the tower controller mentioned it, although instead of just directly joining the pattern for 25, we got a bit of a vector to the south and then back in again.

So here is my confession: I didn’t switch frequencies, I didn’t talk to the tower, and let us land without a clearance when it was my job to do all that. Time to fill out a NASA ASRS form.