It was probably the most embarrassing experience I ever had as a CFI, and a good lesson I learned.
I had just sold my 1980 B55 Baron to a real pilot. He was an 8,000-hour, on-call charter pilot, current in G3s, G4s, Citations and Lears who wanted his own toy. Part of the deal, however, was that I had to teach him how to fly the Baron.
Is he kidding me, I wondered? My 1,500 hours are confined to this Baron, a Duchess and a smattering of hours in small Cessnas and Pipers. What could I possibly teach him? So, I laughed when he made that part of the deal and said, Sure, but you know more about flying than Ill ever know. Perhaps, he answered. I could teach you to fly the G4, but you know the Baron, I dont, so I want you to give me a complete checkout in it.
Actually, I respected him for taking that position. He was a very smart man, very modest with no false bravado, which made him a real pilot in my book. Years earlier when I bought the Baron, I had gone to a prominent simulator school, so I tried to copy the way they taught it.
I made a list covering everything about flying the Baron that I thought would differ from his experience and went over it with him. I planned for an hour or so of groundwork and five hours of airwork, which would cover the list nicely, plus as much time as was necessary on the GPS, a model with which he was unfamiliar.
He handled every task smoothly including the many engine failures I interjected whenever I thought he was concentrating elsewhere. The last item on the schools list, and on mine, was the manual extension of the landing gear. I saved it for last because it is not the most pleasant thing in the world to do. However, I remembered that I did not like the way the school taught the procedure and decided that I could do better.
Their instructor first broached the subject of manual gear extension in flight at the end of a hard six-hour day of training. The instructor had me slow the Baron down to 120 knots, engage the autopilot, tilt my seat all the way back and then remove the handle cover and engage the handle. This all had to be done by feel, as it was impossible to see what I was doing.
I finally got the handle in position and got the gear down satisfactorily, but it would have been a lot easier if I had an idea what everything looked like and how the handle folded out and got engaged before I tried to do it blindfolded, so to speak. So, remembering this, before our last scheduled flight, I had my student climb in the back seat and go through the motions while actually looking and seeing what he was doing. Thats when it happened.
The small cover came off easily enough. Its only held on with Velcro, but the gear handle would not budge. What a stunning surprise. It could not be extended no matter what we tried. What had happened was that in some annual inspection (the current one was completed just a week earlier) the plastic spar cover that runs the full width of the aircraft had been removed and replaced improperly.
The spar cover itself has a cutout for the gear extension handle. However, the handle is supposed to be extended while the spar cover is being replaced, and not folded back until the spar cover is properly located and secured in position. Whoever replaced the spar cover the last time had put it over the gear handle, effectively preventing its extension.
The only thing that could have been more embarrassing would have been if I had tried to demonstrate the gear extension airborne, the way I had been taught. It would have been potentially deadly if the gear needed to be extended manually in an actual emergency. My maintenance facility was very apologetic since it had done the annual inspections for the past 10 years, but more important was the lesson I learned.
The first preflight after an annual, or any maintenance for that matter, should be more extensive than the routine preflight. Any areas that required mechanical attention should be given careful scrutiny. It is not surprising to find screws loose or missing, tools hiding under seats and emergency windows not fully latched. I know these are not unusual happenings because they have all happened to me.
If only one pilot flies the aircraft and no maintenance has been done since the last flight, a routine preflight should produce no surprises. However, once the aircraft has been in the control of others, be it another pilot or mechanic, beware! Some surprises can just be embarrassing, some can be fatal.
Approaching Perfection With Practice
Im not a naturally gifted pilot but I work hard to try to keep up my skills. My P-210 and I go back to FlightSafety for yearly polishing and on one such trip a little more than a year ago I was fortunate to meet an instructor who was able to show me how to use my IFR certified II Morrow 2001 GPS for approaches – this after many failed attempts over the previous year and a half.
So now with a large number of GPS approaches available in my San Diego home base, I do lots of GPS practice. My usual practice flight is to go out in the early morning when we have a coastal marine layer and fly San Diego IMC – mild winds, no ice and a layer that starts about 1,000 to 2,000 feet with tops of 3,000 to 5,000.
I take out the plates for five or six airports and shuffle them up and pull out about five approaches, which I then fly serially with holds when and wherever ATC lets me do them. The only other rule I try to follow is no or very limited use of the autopilot during and between approaches.
With all of the GPS practice Ive been doing, Ive noticed a few peculiarities.
First, there is nothing sillier than an airspace alert when youre flying an approach. The GPS should automatically stop this alert feature during approaches. How could you be cleared for the approach and not to enter the airspace?
When flying sequential GPS approaches there are some logic peculiarities that can really trip up an unsuspecting pilot, especially IMC. For example, the GPS select switch is naturally on when making a GPS approach. If an ILS frequency is selected it automatically turns the GPS function off and you have your HSI with the ILS info. But if for some reason you inadvertently put in an ILS frequency or forget you have one selected – and you wish to do a GPS approach – it can take a while for you to realize things arent happening the way youre expecting them to.
If youre doing serial approaches and your missed approach instructions are to fly to a VOR and you forget to de-select the GPS switch youre in deep doo-doo. Also, if youre doing serial approaches and a VOR or VOR/DME or NDB or LOC approach is your next approach, its easy in the high workload of the missed to forget to deselect the GPS switch.
I think the GPS should show a flashing GPS light after a missed approach with a message asking, Do you want the GPS to remain selected? Likewise if you select a GPS approach and an ILS frequency is selected then the GPS select switch light should flash and there should be a message on your GPS that reads, If you wish to fly the selected GPS approach, deselect the ILS frequency on your VOR.
When flying a GPS missed approach to a hold, the GPS holding point shows up on my Argus 7000 moving map with a course heading on the GPS unit; and, after taking the GPS hold off, one simply flies to the holding point and enters holding. Everything is very logical and easy. But if youre doing serial approaches and the next approach is at another airport, you have to remove the current airport from the GPS and add the new airport or the GPS unit will not take the set-up for the next approach. When you do this the holding fix disappears from the map unless its a fix on the regular charts. All of a sudden youre IMC, exact position unknown.
Maybe theres a way around this for a smart and knowledgeable 2001 GPS user, but I think the simple fix would be for the GPS manufacturers to have the unit hold the missed approach fix after an approach as a fix on the map no matter what else is entered until the aircraft is no longer within 10 or 15 nm of that fix.
There are differences in how some fixes are named on the GPS unit/Argus map and the way they are indicated on the approach plate. If one isnt prepared for this, there can be trouble. In addition, the confusing names of intersections, including some that sound alike near the same airport, can spell trouble if you select the wrong one from the menu on the GPS.
There are some problems with GPS approaches in the real world that both pilots and controllers need to be up to speed about, and these are made worse by the GPS equipment foibles, and worsened still more by the selection of absurdly named and unpronounceable intersections. Many of these problems are moot in most cases, and the GPS approaches are in general a joy to use and a major benefit in real IFR.
For example, before GPS, the VOR-A to Oceanside (Calif.) allowed a MDA of 1140 with a circle to land. Now the GPS 6 allows an MDA of 760 straight in and the GPS 24 allows an MDA of 740 straight in.
If thats not worth the price of admission to IFR GPS I dont know what is.