IFR Diary, Day 12: Thursday Sept 9
Today we do only three approaches: the VOR at Tracy, the ILS at
Livermore and the VOR-DME back to Hayward. All are done partial
Charles uses the VOR-A approach to Tracy to continue the drill about
circling approaches. Again, circling to join the recommended
traffic pattern at Tracy is not authorized, so I pull up about a
mile out and begin circling, trying to assess the situation. Again,
the best thing do seems to be to cancel IFR and join the VFR
"OK. I agree, but only when the ceilings are substantially higher
than the circling minimums. There's nothing more humiliating than
to call up and say, 'Mr. Controller, you remember that IFR I just
canceled? Well, I'd like to uncancel it. S'matter of fact, I'm with
you on the missed.' In other words, before canceling IFR, be
absolutely certain that you can execute the landing safely under
This brought to mind a situation that I had wondered about since I
began work on my Private: a VFR airplane flying just below the
clouds at an non-tower airport.
"It's a problem. The transition zone just pushes the problem down.
Let's assume you're a week-end pilot who goes out to the airport for
a few touch-and-goes. You're not worried about the ceilings (let's
say they're 699 feet) because your airport is uncontrolled--just
have to remain clear of clouds with one mile visibility below the
700-foot transition area. If a pilot on an instrument approach
comes bombing down through his 699 foot ceiling and collides with
the VFR aircraft, who's at fault?"
I confessed that I didn't know. Charles begins wryly, "Probably the
only people who'll be interested in assigning fault will be the
lawyers for the families of the guys who died. My point is, all the
rules and regulation in the world won't make this problem go away.
The regulatory goals for uncontrolled airspace and for IFR are so
fundamentally different that there's danger whenever the two
This is very scary to me. "But," he continues, "There's a lot you
can do reduce the danger. "How many times have you been at an
uncontrolled airport and hear the following, 'Dogpatch traffic,
Cessna 1234's at ABNER, inbound on the NDB'? All the IFR pilots
will know where you are, what direction you're coming from, and how
low you'll be going, but the VFR pilots won't have the foggiest idea
what your report means--and they're the ones you've got to watch out
"Your call-up to an uncontrolled airport is much more important when
IFR than VFR. You may break out right at the airport, so you'd like
to know what's going on and what you're going to see. So make the
call up meaningful, like this: "Dogpatch, Cessna 1234 is 8 miles to
the northeast inbound on an instrument approach. I'll be descending
to 640 AGL. Request airport and landing advisories at Dogpatch.'
This kind of call-up works for everyone, and the VFR pilot at least
knows where to look for you. If you don't get a response, try
again, but this time try to be less formal: 'Any aircraft at
Dogpatch, Cessna 1234 is in the clouds 5 miles to northeast. Please
say runway in use and if you see any traffic..." Many times VFR
pilots won't respond to formal sounding calls, but will chime right
in to more personal ones."
On the way home, I set out to intercept V195 to SUNOL intersection,
the initial approach fix for the approaches for Hayward begin.
Charles was distracting me with chat and banter, so I admit I was
not paying total attention to what I was doing. I was somewhat
cavalier about it, I had now done this dozens of times and I could
almost find my way to SUNOL by instinct. Immediately, things didn't
feel right. I was flying almost due north, and it was taking much
too long to intercept the 229 radial. Casually I gave the OBS a spin
and to my consternation found myself on about the 240 radial.
I knew instantly what had happened. Everything I do in life is
influenced by a mild transposition dyslexia. Unlike Mr. Spooner, I
don't commit amusing conversational transliterations--I just
sometimes mistake left for right, transpose digits, and say the
opposite of what I mean. It's not clear whether these are
perceptual errors or whether they are psycho-motor.
The most annoying and alarming manifestation of this behavior is the
transposition of digits. Take, for example, what I call the "double
digit syndrome." I look at a chart and see the desired radial of 229
degrees. I repeat that aloud, then promptly dial in 292 degrees.
Then there are the goofs for which there is no pattern, yet which I know
are side effects of the same underlying phenomenon. For example, I
will hear or read or think 220 degrees, but inexplicably dial in 210
or 230. Writing numbers down before acting upon them helps, so I
always write down all heading and altitude changes on my knee-board.
Reading back controller instructions also helps, but sometimes even
the controllers get frustrated with me. At Salinas one day, Monterey
Approach was trying to give me a routine clearance to an approach
whose final course is 122 degrees. I kept reading back "212."
After three tries, he gave up and said, "Sir, just intercept the
final approach course."
I found an antidote to this error early in my training: I break the
number down into 100's, ten's, and units as I dial it in. For
example, I dial up 229 in steps, saying each step to myself. "Two
hundred" (I rotate the OBS to 200), "20" (OBS to 220), "nine" (nine
more on the OBS). This procedure works well but today the
distraction of chatting had caused me to revert back to my old ways.