IFR Diary, Day 9: Sunday Sept 5
We file for Modesto, about 50 miles to the east, to find some new
approaches. I resolve not to do anything really stupid right out of
the chute. Today the coastal stratus covers not only the entire Bay
Area, but spills over the East Bay hills into the Livermore valley
as well. When we see how socked in Livermore airport is, we ask
Stockton Approach for the ILS 25 before heading on to Modesto.
We planned to fly the published missed approach, which requires a
climbing turn to 3000 feet, direct to REIGA LOM, thence via an NDB
bearing to a hold. The controller modified our missed approach
instructions, "Cross REIGA at or below 2000, climb maintain
Although I rogered the instruction, it didn't sink in. The approach
itself was the best I had ever flown. About half-way down the glide
slope, I had the needles absolutely nailed in the center. I
couldn't believe it--perfection! If you fly enough approaches,
sooner or later you're bound to get one configuration--heading,
trim, and power setting--that is absolutely perfect. Right? Not
much to do here but wait for DH.
About one-third of the way down I began to get suspicious, so I made
a little left turn. The localizer needle didn't budge. Nada. Then I
saw them--the little red flags that tell you that you're navigating
on hope. Quickly I glanced toward the number one nav radio. It's
as dark as a coal mine. Charles has turned it completely off.
As I reach for its power switch, he slaps my hand and wags his hand.
"It's broken," he says. I now automatically start trying to come up
with something sensible. The number two radio has a localizer, so I
switch it on, tune and identify it. Not bad--only about two dots
off course. Glancing at my approach plate, I see that localizer-
only minimums are 940 feet instead of the 597 for the ILS.
I said, "Now I'd pull the plug, go down to 597 and wait for the time
to expire." I looked at my timer. "That is, if I had remembered to
set my timer." I slapped the side of my head like the French do.
Now I really feel like a moron. First I fail to notice the red
flags, now I can't identify the MAP. "Well, I'm going down to
minimums to see if I break out."
"No, continue," said Charles as he switched on the number one radio.
I had been tracking the localizer on the number two, so it was
inside the doughnut. When the GS needle came alive, I was delighted
to find that it was still on-scale, showing me three dots high.
I flew to DH, then started the missed approach procedure. We were
on top at about 1800. At about 2600 feet, Stockton queried,
"Grumman 613 say altitude." I cheerfully replied.
"613, I instructed you to cross REIGA at or below 2000."
The side of my head was starting to get sore. "Roger Stockton,
sorry about that. 613's correcting to 2000."
"Grumman 613, negative. Climb maintain 3000."
I was ticked off that Charles hadn't prevented me from busting an
altitude restriction. "I would have if we had still been in IMC at
2000. Since I could assure the safety of the flight, I let the
error play out. If the controller had gotten nasty, I would have
gotten on the radio and just explained the situation. It's a better
learning experience for you to get reamed by the controller than for
me to jog your memory. Don't you agree?" I did.
I informed Stockton approach that we wanted to continue to Modesto
and he cleared us to resume our flight plan as filed. I was in the
middle of setting up for the Modesto NDB 28R approach at Modesto
when we were handed off to another Stockton controller. After we
started inbound on the feeder route, the controller ordered,
"Grumman 613 fly heading 150."
I made the correction and continued to set up for the approach.
After about 30 seconds, Charles asked, "Where are you going?" This
answer was easy, "Heading 150." From his next question, I could
tell that something was up. "I didn't ask what heading you're
flying, I asked where you're going."
"To the NDB at Modesto, of course," I monotoned. "Show me on this
map where it says you get to the Modesto NDB by flying heading 150."
He picked up my enroute chart and offered it to me, but I didn't
accept it. "OK, then show me on this approach plate, or on your IFR
I still didn't have any idea what I had done wrong. "So? I just got
radar vectors from ATC." Having maneuvered me into an obviously
vulnerable position, his manner became more avuncular. "Radar
vectors to WHAT?"
"To the final approach course," I said smugly.
"The controller didn't say that. He just told you to fly heading
150." He was revving up in a manner reserved for life-preserving
knowledge. "You wouldn't accept an IFR clearance that contained
only the phrase 'fly heading 150' or just 'radar vectors,' would
"Look at the clearance you're flying on today. It reads, 'FLY
HEADING 160 RADAR VECTORS OAKLAND.' Some days it reads 'FLY HEADING
160 RADAR VECTORS V244.' The point is that any vector clearance
must tell you either what the vectors are taking you to, or a
satisfactory reason for the course change." He paused to let the
importance sink in.
"Here's a rule: if you can't answer the question 'Where am I going'
with a course, a place, or fix--you're in deep trouble."
He started enumerating on his fingers, "The controller should say
'Radar Vectors': TO FINAL APPROACH COURSE, FOR SPACING, AROUND
TRAFFIC, or some other legitimate reason."
"Now key up and ask Stockton where you're going."
I had to think of a more dignified way to ask that question. I came
up with, "Stockton Approach, say reason for vector 150."
"Grumman 613 standby." Charles chuckled. "If he's a rank
controller, I'll bet we're standing by while he gets chewed out. If
he's in training, he's getting the same lecture you're getting."
The radio remained silent. Charles decided to put the dead air time
to use. "Now I know we haven't talked about this, but an alarm
should have sounded in your head when you read the approach plate.
The plate says that the Approach Control for this approach is
The plate read, "Castle Approach 120.95."
"Yep. And it is very, very unusual for you to be started on vectors
by one facility, then handed off to another facility. Whenever this
happens, make certain you understand why and keep a very close watch
on the situation. Before accepting the hand-off, make certain they
know you're on a vector. And when you check in with the new
facility, make certain they know you're being vectored and why."
"We're in VMC now and can't get into any trouble. But never, never,
accept any kind of open-ended vector in IMC without an explanation
that makes sense to you."
About this time Stockton Approach came back, "Grumman 613, resume
own navigation to Modesto."
Charles keyed up, "And Stockton, Grumman 613. Sir, are you working
the approaches at Modesto today?"
"Grumman 613, Negative. Castle's radar went down about 15 minutes
ago and we're trying to work something out. You're our first
customer." His manner was apologetic, almost sheepish. Then,
"Grumman 613 contact Castle Approach 120.95, so long."
"See?" said Charles, "Just a simple, every-day equipment failure.
But you're on vectors and if one guy drops the hand-off, the next
thing you know they're scraping you off a mountain." This image
caused us both to think for a second. "They give these guys voice-
authority training to make them sound like God." He paused
dramatically. "But they ain't."
The remainder of the Modesto trip was one snafu after another.
Stockton handed us off to Castle, who, of course didn't have any
radar and couldn't do any approaches. We canceled IFR and did an
NDB and VOR in VFR conditions under our own navigation, but Modesto
finally got jumpy about Castle's lack of radar and asked us to go
away. We obliged, heading back toward the Bay Area to do more
Along the way, we discussed the situation I had found myself in
earlier during the ILS at Livermore. "I waited for a day when you
were doing a good job on the approach to pull that stunt on you.
When I saw that you hadn't started your timer, I started licking my
"Licking your chops!" I said. "Suspicion confirmed. You are a
"Oh, did I say 'licking my chops'?," he said in his best choir-boy
voice, "I'm sorry. Of course I really meant to say was that 'I
identified a superb training opportunity.'"
Anyway, my predicament had been an interesting one. By failing to
start my timer, I had made it impossible to identify the MAP. "OK,
Houdini, how would you have gotten out of that one."
I offered, "I'd have called Stockton and told them I had a nav radio
failure, and that I need radar vectors to the nearest VFR."
"Wrong. That's not true. Your number two nav radio is working
perfectly and so are your ADF and your markers. Remember, loss of
navigation in IMC is an emergency and that's the way ATC will treat
it. So you'll just waste valuable time clarifying your situation.
Besides, don't get in the habit of fabricating a story to cover your
own errors. You know, 'climb and confess'."
"Just tell the controller that you have to do the missed approach,
but can't identify the MAP. Then tell him what you want him to do.
Don't ask for vectors--it'll just waste time while he tells you that
he can't give you vectors until you're at his Minimum Vectoring
Altitude. Instead, ask for a position report as soon as he
establishes radar contact. This will tell you what you want to know-
-whether you've passed the airport."
This all made sense. Now what would I do after I'd contacted
Approach? "Since I'm familiar with the approach at Livermore, I'd
know that I was in no trouble. First, I'd start a climb immediately
and continue to track the localizer. I'd then note my altitude,
then set the timer. Then I'd think." I knew this last sentence
would tease him into a ruckus.
"Think about what?" he asked skeptically.
"Well, I was at about 1200 feet when I decided to do the missed.
Since the Maltese Cross is at about 2400 feet and DH is about 600
feet, the vertical height of the approach 1800 feet. So I'd know I
was about two-thirds of the way down. So I'd know that I had that
proportion of the time remaining. When the timer reached that
number. Then I'd start my turn and do the normal missed
Charles shook his head in disbelief. "Do you really think you could
think that clearly in the heat of battle?"
"Maybe not. But I would try. You told me just three days ago that
I had to learn to deal with these situations. Well, to me 'dealing'
means using my noodle." I could tell that he was unconvinced. "You
got a better idea?"
As a matter of fact, he did have a better idea: he made me do steep
turns under the hood and recover from unusual attitudes.
I dreaded steep turns and unusual attitudes more than any other part
of the training. You see, I'm a life-long sufferer from moderate-
to-severe motion sickness. I've mostly gotten it under control, but
even today, any flight that lasts for more than an hour makes me
feel slightly spacey. No, "spacey" is not quite the right word; it
makes me feel as if I just woke up from too much sleep. Oddly, this
sensation doesn't occur immediately, but begins several hours after
the flight has ended. It persists until I sleep or take a nap.
I had a lot of difficulty learning to do steep turns for my Private
because I found the G-forces to be extremely disorienting. And in
the back of my mind was the cold memory of having failed my first
private check-ride because of my inability to hold altitude during
oh-so gentle turns under the hood.
It was therefore with great anxiety that I approached this phase of
the training. Charles had agreed to schedule these drills at the
end of flights so that I wouldn't lose the day to motion sickness.
We had even discussed asking the examiner to do the same.
But I discovered an odd and wonderful phenomenon--I felt absolutely
no side effects as long as I was under the hood! True, the steep
turns still give me the just-woke-up feeling a few hours later, but
I found them otherwise harmless. The delight was that the unusual
attitudes caused no ill effects, either. My memories in this area
from the Private are particularly unpleasant (I decorated a couple
of runways), so I was expecting double trouble. Not only did motion
sickness never get me down--it never even materialized. During the
entire training, I never felt one twinge of wooziness.
Steep turns under the hood took a bit of work, but I soon had them
under control. I had been taught to control the nose by watching
the horizon. A different CFII had me try to keep the dot on the attitude
indicator on the horizon. Charles insisted that steep turns were
just a an exercise in altitude control in which you have the
advantage of devoting almost your complete attention to the
altimeter. The key for me was to react immediately to even the
tiniest change of altitude. As long as I never let the nose drop, I
could hold altitude within just a few feet. If I ever let the nose
get away, however, I would really have to muscle the yoke. It's
very difficult to be precise with big muscles, so I would sometimes
yank too hard and the nose would pop up. In other words, I would
sometimes over-control. Rather than trying to apply a "fix" to this
tendency, I concentrated instead on early detection of the nose
dropping. At the first sign of altitude loss, I simultaneously
apply a bit of back pressure and take out a bit of the bank.
By the end of training, I could hold altitude within 25 feet and
roll fairly smoothly from one 360 into another in the opposite
Monday Sept 6 (DAY OFF)
No training today. On Friday, my publisher dropped a pile of edited
chapters on me to review and return by noon today.
It's just as well, tomorrow promises to be exhausting. It's the 250
mile cross-country flight required by the FARs. To gain experience
in flight planning, Charles wants me to select a destination that
brings fuel reserves into consideration. That means I have to
select a destination that requires an alternate. That is, one that
won't meet the 1-2-3 rule.
Alas, everything in California is CAVU except the northwest coast. I
select Arcata, a trip of 230-plus nautical miles. The forecast at
Arcata is for ceiling and visibility to be just above ILS minimums.
Since other near-by coastal airports will have similar conditions,
they aren't suitable as an alternate. This means I have to look for
an alternate that is inland. Although there are lots of rural
airports east of Arcata, none is unambiguously forecast to be VFR.
I'm left with Red Bluff, 100 nm due east.
Considering a head wind aloft of 10 knots, I figure the trip to
Arcata, the ILS, and the missed approach to be 240 nm at 120 knots.
That's 2:00 hours. From the holding pattern in the missed approach
back to Victor 195 and thence to Red Bluff is 121 nm. Another hour.
Now add 45 minutes reserves. I'll need fuel to fly 3:45 hours. The
Tiger with full fuel and cruising at 65% power can fly about for
4:45 hours. I like it.