One of the plusses of flying at Safety In Motion Flight Center is that they have a Redbird FMX full motion Flight Simulator. Occasionally I think of it as a drawback when in reality it’s a pretty amazing training tool. Today Meg and I were supposed to fly to KTIW (Tacoma Narrows) where, winds permitting, I was actually going to get to land today.
Unfortunately it wasn’t the winds that stopped us. We occasionally have a marine layer that settles in the Puget Sound region and doesn’t burn off until noon or so. That was the case this morning. When I woke up it was pretty overcast and I called Lockheed Martin Flight Services for a Standard Weather briefing already knowing that the cloud layer was too low. The cloud layer was reported at 1,900 feet for McChord and 1,800 feet at KTIW. As the plan was to fly from KPLU (Thun Field) to KTIW at about 2,000 feet, that wasn’t going to work.
So we hopped in the Redbird FMX. The great thing about the Redbird is it allows Meg to simulate just about any condition I’ll face in real life, but she has a “pause” button in the cockpit. You unfortunately cannot pause real life. So she set us up on runway 35 at Olympia (KOLM) with 2 miles visibility and the cloud layer at about 5,000 feet as I remember. She pretended to be the tower and I would talk to her as if I were talking to the tower.
Today we skipped ahead in my syllabus to lesson 14 (I’m really on 6) which is VOR (VHF Omnidirectional Range), NDB (Non Directional Beacon), ADF (Automatic Direction Finder) and GPS (Global Positioning System) navigation. The VOR is pretty cool. If you’ve ever seen one, they look like giant chess pieces at an airport, or usually nearby. This is pretty well ancient in the aviation world, but still pretty indispensable.
Developed in the 30’s and deployed in the 40’s, these chess pieces emit a VHF signal on 360 different radials around them. Using the VOR in the airplane, you can tune your navigation radio(s) to one or two VORs and figure out where you are on a sectional or terminal area chart. If you use one VOR, and you know you’re on say the 232° radial from a certain VOR, you know you’re somewhere along the line that is emitted from that radial at that VOR. If you’re on the 232 ° radial from that VOR and on the 047° radial from another, then wherever those two lines cross on the chart, that’s exactly where you are.
We did some flying and tuning in of VORs and NDBs and ADFs, I’ll admit, my brain got pretty full pretty quickly. I know that someday these will save my bacon and I’ll really have to know them, but for now, it was a nice preview to what’s to come in my flight training. I may have to mess around some more with them on my flight simulator at home, to REALLY understand how they work and of course some real world flying will be great as well. Even though the terrain is pretty accurate in the Redbird, it’s kind of tough to see even in the best of conditions where you’re at, and with Meg deteriorating the weather as we flew today, it was even harder.
We flew from Olympia (KOLM) to Bremerton (KPWT) using VORs, NDBs and ADFs and I was able to find the airport, so I guess that’s good. Then we used the GPS (Simulated Garmin 430) to find our way to Tacoma Narrows (KTIW) and then on to Thun Field (KPLU). Then Meg decided since I was doing so well (HA!) that she’d teach me how to “shoot an ILS”. ILS stands for “Instrument Landing System”. We basically pretended that I was a student pilot (big stretch there!) that had flown out under VFR (Visual Flight Rules) conditions, but the conditions had deteriorated to the point where VFR flight was no longer possible. I contacted the Tacoma Tower and they (Meg) gave me instructions on how to set up the airplane to receive the ILS signal on the GPS, and she would give me instructions on which heading to fly and at what altitude to get me to the ILS.
After a few turns and the “mother of all downwind” legs, I was turning final and ahead in the distance there was KTIW. A few minor course corrections and soon I was lined up with the center line of the runway. As I slowed down and dialed in my first notch of flaps Meg asked “White arc confirmed?” “Uhhh nope!” “Let’s not do that again OK?” Meaning the airplane was not going slow enough to deploy flaps as of yet. I was just a few knots off, but still you can bend metal that way, so again, good thing we were in the Redbird. After that Meg got completely quiet. She just let me fly. I was pretty positive that meant I was going to virtually die. I must have screwed something up completely. But as I lost altitude and slowed down, I deployed one more notch of flaps and as I was over the threshold of the runway, I cut power completely and let the airplane float down the rest of the way. I flared just before touchdown and soon we were on the ground, virtually anyway. So I did get to land at KTIW today, just not in a real plane. Maybe my lesson on Wednesday?
OK, so this is going to be a bit of a pat on the back for me. After we had landed, Meg asked me “Have you ever done that before?” (Meaning flown an ILS approach) and I said “No, why?” She turned the laptop towards me and said “I don’t have Instrument candidates fly that approach that well” and showed me my approach on a graph. (See the bottom graph on this photo I took of the screen. See the two green lines? The bottom green line I think is the ground. The top green angled line is the approach, the red line in between is my path. She went on to say “I thought either you had done that before, or you just have a natural aptitude for this.” Gotta say, that totally made my day!! I know I have SOOOOO much more to learn, but I may be a pilot after all.
After I get my Private Pilot’s license, I DO intend to go on to get my Instrument rating. A) I think it’s a smart thing to do for ANY pilot and B) Especially in the Puget Sound where if you don’t like our weather, wait 5 minutes and it’ll change.