Week 5
July 12 - 16

This week it was back to the classroom and simulators for us. We covered all the academics for our instrument flights. We will be playing the role of the navigator which means we tell the pilot where and how to fly. We will sit in the back seat with the charts and departure and approach plates and tell the pilot when to turn, what direction to go, how high to fly, and how fast to go.

Monday started off at 0730 with a new stack of books to read. We had the usual day of going over in a few hours what the Navy normally teaches over the course of several weeks. We went over the basics of instrument navigation, estimating the winds, estimating your time en route, calculating fuel usage, how to turn in arcs properly, and how to determine when and how you should start your turns early, so you end up where you want to be. It was definitely a lot to take in. The T-34' s primary instrument for navigation (the RMI, for those that are familiar with such instruments) is one that I have never used before. While conceptually it is straight forward, it does take a bit of getting used to on how the navigation information is going to be presented. For those that need help in reading between the lines, that was code for it was all rather confusing.

On Tuesday we covered the ins and outs of departure and approach procedures as well as my personal favorite, holding procedures. My fellow pilots out there may be interested to know that there are DME arcs on both the departures from and approaches to the Pensacola NAS field. I will definitely get lots of arcing practice. It is certainly one thing to fly arcs, it is another thing to lead the turns in and out of arcs at the right time and to tell the pilot how to turn through the arc. The navigator isn't supposed to just tell the pilot to arc around to the left at 9 miles from the navigation aid, which all pilots know how to do. We have to tell the pilot what headings to fly - so every time a directional adjustment must be made, we have to call out a turn direction (left or right) and the heading to go. It can be quite busy when arcing since you are constantly turning. Actually, it is quite busy all the time since the navigator has to keep up with everything and the pilot, theoretically, is only responsible for flying the headings and altitudes that the navigator tells him. And, yes, the navigator does all the communications with Air Traffic Control (ATC).

In the afternoon we had some simulator practice. We were not in the full cockpit simulators that we have flown before. We had a semi set up. Each person had a little booth that they were in which had simulated equipment for your navigation aids. They had equipment where you could enter frequencies for the navigation devices to receive the navigation signals. There was also equipment where you could enter your desired communication frequencies. This equipment was not like what is in the actual planes, but served the same function. An instructor would play the part of the ATC. And, finally, there was a computer screen that showed what the instruments in the plane would read. We typed on a keyboard which direction we wanted to turn, what altitude we wanted to fly, and how fast we wanted to go whenever we had an adjustment to make. It was a good a practice run before we get into the real simulators on Thursday. This simulator gave us a good glimpse of what a flight will be like.

There are lots of extra communication requirements that none of us really did with any finesse today. We have to give the pilot a departure brief (how to get out of the airport area), a 2 minutes prior to our next point brief (where we are fixin' to be, where we want to go next, and how long it is going to take us to get there), a mark on top brief (we are at such and such point, this is the time, and this is how much fuel we have), a wings level call after we have turned on a new heading (lots of fuel info - how much we have, how we compare to our preflight planning, and how much we expect to have at the end of the flight), field briefs (all the relevant information on the landing sight), a holding brief if we are to hold somewhere (where we are to hold, how to enter the holding pattern, what the holding pattern is going to look like), an approach brief (go over all the relevant information for the approach) plus all the normal ATC calls on top of these calls and briefs. All while going about 200 knots, which made it about 10 minutes or less between each point we are to turn, and while trying to keep the plane headed in the right direction. Not a lot of time to think, much less make calculations and heading adjustments. And, of course, we aren't allowed to have calculators so all the math must be done manually.

Wednesday consisted of more classroom briefs reinforcing the concepts we blew through on Monday and Tuesday. We did another practice simulator run in preparation for our first real simulator run on Thursday. I think I am getting the hang of it, but won't really know for sure until I get into a plane and really do it.

Thursday was our last day of academics. At lunchtime today, we had completed all of our classroom briefings. Did I mention that the regular Navy navigators get a month of classes before their first simulator runs? We only have simulations and flying now to do. Our first real sim in the full cockpit simulator was this afternoon. I think it went well, but it is very hard to keep up with all the required calls. I think the hardest thing is trying to make all the required altitude calls on the approach. There is a lot of notifying the pilot that is supposed to be happening.

On Friday we had our second sim. For each of our sims we depart Pensacola off of a different runway, do a circuit of 5 or so points (the path that we take for each sim is different) and land back at Pensacola using a different approach. I think I did better with all the calls. I can't seem to do the math quickly, though. Or, as my instructor says - do public math. I literally would try and add 9 minutes to, say, 28 minutes and get 27 minutes. That wasn't helping me to make accurate time estimates for when we were going to be places. And, don't even get me started on trying to do fuel estimates. There are two fuel gauges and when you do a fuel check you are to call out the left fuel amount followed by the right followed by the total. So, I would say something like 370 lbs left, 360 right for a total of. . .uh. . .uh. . . 6. . . hund. . . no. . . wait. . . 730 lbs. Scheez. Didn't I used to win awards for doing math in my head? Sure can't tell now.

Monday we will have our final simulation run and Tuesday they will let us get back into the planes. We will start off flying similar circuits to what we have done in the sims. Once we master that, they will let us plan some "out and back" trips, meaning that we can go somewhere, have lunch, then go back to Pensacola. That should be fun.

© Shannon Walker   2004

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Revised 07-26-04