Tuesday, January 29, 2008

IFR doesn't mean I Follow Road?

Went flying Saturday, from VLD to PDK (Atlanta-area airport), met with friends from studentpilot.com. Had a great time putting faces to names, and names to net handles. Flight was very IFR; I was in the clouds from 600 feet after takeoff until coming down over Atlanta. GPS died - low battery - on the way there, but was moderately helpful. Cannot figure out an easy way to get intersections ino the flight plan, making it very annoying to use as an IFR backup. There's probably a way, and I just haven't figured it out yet.

Going into the clouds was disconcerting as always - got the leans, and had to fight between my body saying we were in a hard left climbing turn, and my brain knowing that the instruments reporting we were still climbing straight ahead were correct. It's very hard to ignore your inner ear!

Lateral stability on the AA-1B is an interesting thing; as there's no "both" option, it shifts as we burn fuel from left tank or right tank. Climbing off the ground with both tanks full, the airplane leaned to the right because my brother is bigger and heavier than me. As we burned gas off the right tank, at some point, it started leaning to the left.

Broke out in a layer between clouds, and the top layer became thin high cirrus as we went further north. It was beautiful. I could see where air currents were stronger, as the mostly smooth cloud top started to bunch, then ripple in waves of disturbance headed out to the eastern horizon. As dusk came, the western side of the world was lit in beautiful colors - but starting in the northeast, the peculiar gray of haze anddusk combined to leave the sensation of a completely blank section of the sky - a growing nothing that was eating the world.

PDK and dinner was very fun, and good times were had by all. Net friends are an odd mix - in so many ways I know people, but then had no ideas of their ages, faces, or mannerisms. Conversation was easy, though: we were all pilots or patient and wonderful spouses of pilots, so flying and planes was the topic of the night.

Going back was harder - the weather went down instead of up at Valdosta while we were gone, and it required careful thought and a commitment to staying overnight in a hotel before taking off. Atlanta at night is beautiful - and while I was flying, my brother was having plenty of fun sightseeing the congestion as the world's busiest passenger airport slid under our wings on climbout. We had barely gotten up when we started descending again to Macon for more fuel. We'd topped the tanks at PDK, but in order to run the weather around Valdosta, we wanted to start with full tanks at the last clear point on the way home.

Ever driven with your headlights off? It's easier on an airfield as there are lights to define the edges, but it's a lot more challenging when your taxi light burns out. Ahem. Not that I know personally; a friend told me so.

But anyway, we found the FBO, and got marshalled in - a surprise, since they were supposed to be closed at 10pm. The line guys came over after engine shutdown and directed us to the self-serve across the field, with apologies and promises that it was cheaper gas. They were there, it turns out, because a presidential candidate was going to be flying in later - this also explained all the cop cars around. So we started the engine, taxiied over, and fill up from the other side of the field.

Flying home was better - it strongly reminded me of driving. When I first started to drive, after I'd gotten my pilot's license, I hated driving with a passion. Everything always happened so fast, with people coming out of nowhere and screaming by you with less than two feet's clearance. Only when I got out on the highway and had time to relax behind the wheel did I start to feel safe or calm about it. Well, holding heading and altitude while tracking VOR radials in the sky for hours on end will get me accustomed to not being able to see a [self-censored] thing out the windows.

Landing, though, showed one of the biggest differences between IFR training and actual IFR flight - in training, you have a hood or goggles fashioned to be blinders on, and you're not allowed to look outside until the instructor deems you can. In the clouds, flying that fine-tuned localizer beacon one degree wide to track down to the runway, you do look out the window. And when the black world suddenly imparted a dimly glowing streak about halfway up my windshield and a little right, I didn't have to worry about small course changes, trying to fine-tune that needle on the proper dot - I steered for the runway lights that were glowing a welcome home.

We didn't so much break out of the clouds as go from nothing to fuzzy dime lights to bright lights blurred by mist and rain, but at a point (I wasn't looking at the altimeter, I was looking at the VASI, the glide slope lights directing me in at a safe angle), they became sharp and clear, and I was coming in fine, if a little fast, for landing. Down, down into the dark, trusting that the lights ringing the runway defined the edges and made a surface for me to land on. Then we were down, and taxiin to the ramp. It was 1:30am, and we just might get home before the promised "We'll be home by 2am, or we'll spend the night at a hotel and call you in the morning." to his wife.

Who, as it turned out, was up because the teething baby was sick and cranky. So our quietly slipping in the door was met with a big hug and a kiss for him. :-)


  1. Yay for getting in some flying! Hope this means you're feeling better?

  2. I'm feeling mostly better - being an adult seems to mean this is a low-grade-misery sort of sniffles, instead of a big major "don't lay me on my back in the crib or I'll snuffle and wail for two hours until I'm exhausted and fall asleep" deal. Not getting enough sleep, though, for reasons that I think the above sentence illustrates.