Sunday, September 28, 2008

Head in the Clouds-- for Real!

I passed my stage check!

After my flight was canceled on Friday, I wasn't sure if I'd fly on Saturday. Husband and I watched the weather all morning... and it just looked dismal. The ceilings were hovering around 700-800 feet at all the local airports, and visibility was still only around 3 miles at some of the airports. After pretty much deciding there was no way we'd fly- and that we should just enjoy the day doing non-flying things, I decided to check one last time. And all of a sudden, the ceilings had raised 1000-1500 feet!

Husband had a cold, so I went out to the airport by myself. Our plane was still over at MRB, so the Asst. Chief, D, and I were to fly over 8373Y (a PA-28-181) and pick up my plane to do the rest of the stage check in. So yes-- I flew the first approach of my stage check in a (type of) plane I'd never before flown! It was pretty cool to get to fly a different kind of plane. To add to the excitement, we were in and out of the clouds all the way over to MRB.

As we began the takeoff roll, D called out the speeds for rotation and climb out, and we were off. We started our climb up to 3,000 and were vectored around a bit by ATC, and then were cleared direct to MRB (the VOR). I looked around to figure out how to set up for a course to MRB (the VOR) to enter the VOR-A approach into KMRB (the airport). And that's when I realized that there wasn't an HSI-- but rather a heading indicator and a separate VOR instrument. Uh oh! I'm staring at this thing, trying to figure it out, while also trying to listen for a strange call sign, fly this plane that feels slow and weird and is all steam gauges. I took a deep breath and told myself just to fly to the needle. Luckily, D did help me out by putting in a rough course of 330 to get me started.

By the time we got to the VOR, I kind of had things figured out, and we set up for a descent. Because we were in and out of the clouds, I didn't have to put on the foggles for that approach. D jumped in to ask Tower if we could just do a right base for 8 (they had assigned us left base), and we circled in for a landing. We were abeam the end of runway 08 when I thought to ask D the speeds for the pattern. He told me 85, 75, 65, and got the flaps (I never did see where they were), and I brought us in for the landing. Because we were going to the other end of the airport, he had me fly about halfway down the runway before actually putting the plane down. Strangely, I think that helped me get comfortable with the landing. It was a little flat (the sight picture is pretty different!), but not my worst landing ever, either.

We switched the planes out, leaving 8373Y tied down in the grass, and taxiing Good Dog out to the hold line to call tower. Just as we were preparing to make the call, Tower came on to say they were closed and we were on our own. Great. They did give us a frequency to call, though, and we picked up our clearance from Potomac after just a couple of minutes. Once in the air, we checked back in with Potomac, who queried if we had onboard radar. I had a temporary lapse and said no (I should have said that we yes, have Nexrad), so ATC gave us a heads up to some weather nearby, and asked if we wanted to continue on to OKV, our next intended approach. We said yes, that we'd like the ILS-32 for OKV. We received vectors to JASEN, and then were cleared onto the approach from there. Though I felt more comfortable being back in my plane, things were a little busy by this point. I was trying to get the approach loaded (still a little tricky for me), get the approach briefed, keep an eye on Nexrad, and keep the airplane on the right heading/altitude. Oh- and communicate with ATC. I think I did okay, though it certainly wasn't my best flying ever! I was under the hood at this point, so I had to rely on D to keep us clear of any convective weather.

As we flew closer to the approach, ATC again told us of weather nearby-- which we also saw on the screen. D indicated we should carry on, but that we would be cutting the approach short to miss a big area of yellow just off the runway. Around this time, I ditched the foggles as we were mostly in the clouds. I figured it would be better training to get the experience of being in and out. Turning inbound on the ILS course, ATC queried us a third time about our intentions and told us there was a Level 2 cell sitting right over the airport, and a Level 3 just to the north, right on the missed approach path. This time, we told them we'd be cutting it off just past the final approach fix. I was able to pick up the glide slope early, and fly that for just a bit. Immediately after we passed I-TZX (Cogan), we followed ATC's instructions for a climbing right turn.

Soon after, they vectored us over and cleared us for the LOC-17 approach into JYO. Again, I had a little problem programming the GPS with the approach and the initial approach fix. I ended up having to load STILL directly into the flight plan, and then reload and reactivate the approach. I don't know if that was right, but couldn't keep messing with the G1000-- and needed to focus on setting up for our approach. By this point, I was pretty tired-- the intensity of the stage check, the constant ATC chatter, and the focus required to fly in these conditions was starting to catch up to me. I lost my altitude a few times, and then was way off course on the localizer. I managed to pull things back together, though, and we landed uneventfully on 17. Whew. Stage check done!