IFR Diary, Day 3: Sunday, August 30
Silent, on a Peak in Darien
Today we went to Watsonville and Salinas, where I had my first look
in the maw of the beast: W2X2F. At glide slope intercept on ILS 31
at Salinas, and without much ceremony, I dropped two notches of
flaps, pulled power back, dropped the nose, and down we went. At
about 500 feet above the tops, Charles had me remove my Foggles.
I was unprepared for my reaction to the white windshield: utter
terror! More or less immediately I banked left and began turning.
Charles canted quietly, slowly, positively, "You're turning. Fly
heading 310, heading 310, heading 310..." I wrestled the needles all
the way down until talking to tower broke my concentration. At about
500 AGL the needle scooted off to the right and the glide slope soon
dropped out the bottom.
"Execute the missed," he said. I looked down at the approach plate
and began reading. Suddenly the gentle voice got very stern: "Get
your head out of your lap and fly the airplane. DO IT--fly runway
heading!" Once I got my head in the game, the rest was instinct:
full power, up a couple of dots on the AI, trim for Vy, verify climb
on altimeter, cross-check on VSI.
Whew! Now clean up the airplane. Flaps, carb heat, etc. Talk to
tower...now over to Approach who says "blah, blah, blah, blah,
cleared for the VOR approach," and Charles acknowledges. I relax.
Quietly, Charles says "Look at your panel. Does anything there leap
out at you?" Holly shit, I'm not climbing any more! In fact, I'm
half a dot down! Up comes the nose and the trim to hold it. Dummy!
You raised the flaps when you cleaned up. Some cleanup.
Just now we pop out on top of the clouds. God, I can never do
this...I'm not temperamentally suited for it. I feel like a one-
legged man in an ass-kicking contest.
Next we did the VOR approach. Things went better, but not by
This day's chaos wasn't accidental. In fact, it had been planned.
Charles likes to take eggheads like me (technicals, he calls us) and
demonstrate the paralysis of analysis. What my dead friend Alexander
Pope observed is true: a little learning is a dangerous thing.
At lunch on the ground, we derived the following morals:
1. The three most important things during the approach are
heading, heading, and heading.
2. Think of the missed as part of the approach, not an
emergency procedure. Memorize at least the first two steps
in the procedure just as you memorized the DH or MDA.
Dedicate unused equipment to identifying the missed.
3. Get trimmed for straight and level before descending.
4. Don't put down more flaps than you can climb with.
5. If you've obeyed rules three and four, the airplane will
climb positively with full power, so you don't need to be
in hurry to put flaps up.
The most painful observation came in the form of a query. "You had
a thirty-minute cruise leg during which you did nothing but shoot
the breeze. Why did you wait until the missed approach to read the
missed approach procedure?"
He was of course right and I accepted chastising without protesting.
I promise myself to develop a mental scan: "Where am I going, how
will I know when I get there, and what am I going to do once I've
"Look," he said very seriously, "an approach is not something that
happens, it's something you do. In fact, it's a war--and your battle
plan is that approach plate. Long before you arrive, read the
plate, think about it: find the final approach fix...how is it
identified? Where's the missed...how is it identified?"
Continuing the military metaphor, he went on, "Your weapons are on
your instrument panel. Work your way down the equipment stack and
pre-load and test everyone you can. Use the physical touching of
each item in stack as your check list--that way you won't miss
anything. Try to find some good use for equipment that you don't
plan to use."
"Of course you won't be able to set up everything because you'll be
using some of it for enroute navigation. The magic words you're
looking for from ATC are 'vectors to the approach course.' When you
hear those words, you're relieved of the responsibility of
navigation. Immediately load the rest of your instruments for the
final approach course."
I raised my right arm to ninety degrees and held up the three middle
fingers. "Be Prepared?" I said. "You got it, scout," he said.