IFR Diary, Day 8: Saturday, Sept 4

"Knock, Knock"

     This morning I feel as if I might actually be able to do this
     instrument stuff.  I've done about one of everything now and somehow
     survived.  Besides, Charles hasn't yet told me that I'm hopeless.

     We plan for this to be a proletariat kind day: lots of approaches
     and some air work.  As we rolled out the Tiger, I wondered if I had
     seen it all.  Was I entering into the boring 'proficiency' phase of
     this endeavor--when endless repetition replaces excitement? I hope
     not--I like the hormonal throb and want it to last. Thus, with a
     touch of melancholy I launch into the morning stratus and ask for
     the NDB 27R at Oakland, just six miles away.

     The NDB at Oakland is complicated compared to those I was accustomed
     to.  The transmitter is very close to the runway threshold, and is
     co-located with the Middle Marker.  The final approach fix is about
     four miles outside the Outer Marker.  I spent as much time as
     possible in the air studying the plate, but the stratus was thicker
     than usual and it didn't take long to get put on an intercept vector
     and cleared for the approach.

     I got Oakland ATIS, and the 600 ceiling reported was just below NDB
     minimums of 660 feet.  This should be exciting.

     It's very difficult to explain the extraordinary thing that happened
     next.  Simply put: I had an severe attack of profound stupidity.  It
     was as if I had never heard the phrase 'cleared for the approach,'
     and, what's worse, I hadn't the vaguest idea what to do.  If you've
     never experienced this sensation, try this:

            Me: "I have a new knock-knock joke for you."
           You: "Great, let's hear it."
            Me: "OK, You start it."
           You: "Knock, knock."
            Me: "Who's there?"
           You:  ?

     The feeling you have right now is exactly what I'm talking about,
     except that I got it about fifteen seconds from IMC on a tricky NDB

     "Uh, Charles," I said, "I've got bad brain-lock.  I'm looking at
     these instruments, but they're not ringing any bells.  I simply
     don't know what I'm supposed to do."

     He said calmly, "Turn to the inbound course, right now."  I
     complied.  "Now see if you can figure out what's going on."  Well, I
     thought, that needle's pointing over there and... In a blinding
     flash of recognition I remembered what I was supposed to be doing.
     Quickly I turned toward the needle and put the inbound course of 275
     degrees at the 45 degree mark.  In a few moments the ADF needle
     assumed the same position and I turned back smoothly to 275 degrees
     to find the needle on the Tiger's nose. I mumbled, "I may not know
     where I'm going, but by God I'm dead on course."

     Just then Oakland Tower said, "Grumman 613 I show you a half mile
     south of the course.  Please correct immediately."  I knew instantly
     why he was so nervous--runway 29, the one handling passenger
     traffic, is just over a mile to the south.  Once again, I checked my
     course:  the DG and compass both agree that I'm flying within a
     degree or two of the 275 degrees, and the ADF needle is sitting on
     the nose."

     Charles keyed up, "Roger Oakland.  We're in IMC and flying the
     needles and they show us right on course." Tower repeated its alert.
     The Middle Marker went off just as Charles said, "613 understands.
     We can give you a missed approach or we can accept precision
     approach radar vectors.  Otherwise, we're on course and continuing
     inbound."  Practice missed approaches in IMC at Oakland are just not
     allowed and the tower doesn't have Precision Approach Radar.
     "Continue," came the reply.

     This certainly got the rest of my mental juices flowing, but, as you
     can now imagine, it also proved to be an irresistible distraction.
     I was well inside the Outer Marker, 3 miles from the MAP when
     Oakland Tower hit me with, "Grumman 613, I show you level at 1400
     feet inside the Outer Marker." I had failed to start descending at
     the Outer Marker and they had spotted it.  I pulled the plug and got
     down fast.

     At minimums of 660 we were still solidly in the clouds.  At about a
     mile and a half I said, "Oakland, looks like 613 may have to do that
     missed anyway."  I sort of chuckled and said to Charles, "Boy, I bet
     these guys are sick of Grumman 74613."

     Instinctively, I slowed the Tiger down to about 80 knots.  Tower
     said, "613, Runway 27 Right, clear to land. And previous aircraft
     reported higher ceiling directly over airport."  I rogered just as
     the Middle Marker signaled to get ready to execute the missed. A
     couple of other pilots waiting for IFR release chimed to grumble
     about the delay.  Charles said, "Don't do the missed until the ADF
     falls past your wing."  At just that instant, I started seeing some
     ground below me.  Then, as the ADF needle started wiggling, I saw
     the big white 27R directly below and to the left.

     I almost shouted into the mike, "613 has runway in sight."  Charles
     remained silent.  I threw out the anchor and then said, "Oakland,
     613 requests low approach on 27 to land on 33."  Runway 33 butts
     against but doesn't intersect 27 Right.  I was, of course, cleared
     as requested. The Tiger came down quickly and we made a routine
     landing.  I got another 'good job' from Tower and we taxied back to
     the run up area to plan our next mischief.

     "Boy," said Charles, "You went from idiot to genius awfully fast.
     That maneuver to 33 was really quick thinking."  I replied humbly,
     "Hey, when the going gets tough..."  Somehow I was able to keep a
     straight face by not looking him in the eye.  I basked in the
     admiration for as long as my conscience would allow, then confessed
     to belonging to a flying club at the end of runway 33.  A low
     approach on 27R with a landing on 33 saves six bucks of taxi time on
     the Hobbes.  I had done it dozens of times.

     I flew four more approaches that morning--all different, and all
     without serious error.  In addition, I took another crack at the
     Oakland NDB and it seemed easy.  The additional navaids that had
     made the approach seem complex just a couple of hours earlier now
     actually seemed to make it simpler.

     In reflecting on my attack of dumb-ass this morning, I recalled that
     I usually did something terminally stupid at the beginning of each
     flight.  True, I have never been a morning person and my metabolism
     is not accustomed to rising at five-thirty for a seven o'clock
     launch. Still...

     During our now-traditional lunch debriefing at the Roi de Burger, I
     brought up Oakland Tower's nagging us for being too far south.
     "Actually, this happens all the time in IMC.  Whenever an NDB is
     located near a big body of water, its signal is curved toward the
     water.  So you actually are flying closer to 29. It's called the
     coastal effect. The NDB at Oakland is right next to San Leandro

     Had the controllers never heard about this so-called coastal effect?
     "Of course, but for all they know, you could be unconscious.  When
     you insist that you're just flying the needles, they at least know
     that you're awake. They have to ask in IMC to cover their asses in
     case you collide with a 747 full of lawyers. In VMC they don't even
     bother." Oh, great.

     Charles didn't even bring up the subject of my mental collapse, so I
     did.  He answered matter-of-factly, "I've seen it a few times
     before.  It just takes some people a while to get their heads in the
     game.  Once you know that about yourself, you'll start getting
     yourself ready earlier."  This brought to mind an image of me
     standing in front of the Tiger smacking myself upside-the-head like
     a boxer waiting for the opening bell.

     "This sort of worries me, Charles," I said, trying not to sound
     neurotic, but secretly wondering if this were early onset of

     Stealing a French-fry, he gave me the gentlest of shots. "Give
     yourself a break!  You're sucking up new stuff at furious rate,
     studying your head off, and won't even try to relax.  As wired up as
     you are, I'm surprised you don't blow a fuse more than once a day. 
     Relax. Don't be so damned hard on yourself."

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