July 19 - 23
Monday was my final simulation. I felt like I didn't have any significant problems to speak of. I think I am finally getting the hang of all the required calculations and briefings that the Navy expects from its navigators. I even got most of my communications done at "close to when they needed to be done". Of course, in the simulations you are flying ideal conditions - the winds match what has been planned. I am reasonably certain that isn't going to happen on the real flights. I was finally getting better with the math. But, my math skills are still pathetic, if you ask me. The rest of the day I prepared for my first flight on Tuesday.
Tuesday afternoon we took to the skies. It was a typical summer, partly cloudy, slightly bumpy day. We did a trek around the area similar to what we had done in the simulations. I guess I did all right being a navigator. My instructor thought I did better than I thought I had done. We would have made it back eventually to Pensacola on my navigation. Although, I'll be the first to admit that we wouldn't have flown the perfect, preflight-planned path. But, I think I got us pretty close to what we were aiming for. It was quite impressive to me to see the navigation skills of my instructor. I would be dithering in to the next point we were trying to fly over and my instructor could make one correction and get right on top of where we wanted to be.
I was happy with my communications with ATC. I managed to remember my call sign (always important) and got nearly all the calls right. Near Pensacola there is a convergence of three different ATC "centers" that control the airspace. You are constantly being handed off from one to the other. The air traffic controllers tend to rattle off the frequency on which you need to contact the next controller very quickly and it is easy to miss what they are saying. Throw in a few "approach controllers" into the mix, and it can be quite a jumble of different people to talk to. I was always good at noting what the next frequency was going to be. I just had trouble remembering to whom I was talking.
I still didn't seem to do my math fast enough for my tastes, although I was able to add and subtract most of the time. I finally decided that since I was born and raised at sea level, it just isn't possible for me to think swiftly at 9000 ft. Since I was slow on the math, I was slow on some of the required briefs to the pilot. However, as my fellow pilots know, the priority is aviate (mostly up to the pilot), navigate (my show), then communicate. The Navy adds doing checklists onto the end of that priority list. I tried to keep the priorities in order and point out when I was going to miss an expected briefing or run through a checklist. I guess that is half the battle, keeping your eye on the priorities and not letting a lower priority task swamp your activities such that you miss a higher priority item.
Wednesday we did another path around the local area. In addition to flying around practicing the navigation and communication skills, we performed a type of approach that I had never done before, an ASR approach. ASR stands for Airport Surveillance Radar. In this approach, the folks in the tower direct you all the way to the runway using their radar rather than the usual method of getting you close, and then you navigating down to the runway on your own instruments. I found it a very interesting and fun approach. Of course, the pilot was doing most of the work. I was just sitting in the back parroting to the pilot the instructions the controller was telling us. The Navy practices these approaches a lot since this is the kind of approach they have on aircraft carriers.
Thursday was a big day for us. We started very early with our pre-flight briefings at 0530. I flew with my instructor to Tallahassee and back. Actually, there were four planes that went to Tallahassee. We had a convoy going. It was kind of funny to hear us all on the radio - we had the call signs Katt 803,v Katt 804, Katt 805, and Katt 806. We were all about 5 or 10 minutes apart doing the same thing. If you weren't the lead plane, it was easy to get a head start on what the upcoming frequency changes were. Although, if you had any problems remembering your call sign, it could be very confusing. It was nice to go somewhere rather than do a big loop in the local area. After we landed in Tallahassee, we went out to breakfast and then flew back. Breakfast was a nice break between our two flights for the day. Each flight was roughly two hours long, so we spent a lot of time in the plane. It was a rare weather day in that there was virtually no wind. It was almost as if we were back in a simulator. It surely made navigating easy.
After we got back around noon, we had an afternoon of talking to the media. It was the first installment of what the astronauts in training are up to. We expect to do a media day like this about once a month. Following the media-fest we had dinner with the Center Director of JSC, who came out to check up on us. By the time our food arrived at dinner, I was pretty much ready to call it a night. I happened to be sitting next to the Center Director, so it was somewhat important that I didn't fall asleep in my plate. Luckily, dinner ended early. I was fast asleep by about 9.
Friday brought another two flights for me. Today we practiced a lot of approaches. I think we did at least one of every kind we could with the equipment in the plane - VOR, GPS, TACAN, and ASR. Today we took our between flights break in Mobile, Alabama. There are two airports in Mobile. The one we flew into is Mobile Downtown. The Navy flies there a lot so they are quite used to the T-34's coming in. They are very accommodating with cookies and food. They always have fresh cookies made and you can call ahead while in flight and order a pizza that will be delivered and waiting for you when you land. Or, you can do like we did, call from the air and have them make a lunch reservation for you at a restaurant. There were three planes of us that went out to lunch at one of the local seafood restaurants. I have to say, lunch was quite yummy, and I would have preferred taking a nap after lunch rather than getting right back in the plane. But, back in the plane we got and did another round of approaches at various airports.
As we were winding up our first flight of the day, we found ourselves with some extra time before our lunch reservation so my instructor and I cancelled our IFR flight plan and did some "out of control flight" for fun. This meant we went up to about 9000 feet, and the instructor made the plane fall out of the sky. Kind of like a spin, only more so. Because the plane knows it is in a bad configuration (stalling and no power), alarms are going off and the rudder shakers are shaking. It is very noisy, but quite exciting. However, I was surely glad I that I didn't have to try and recover the plane. . .
Since it had been a long week with a lot of flying, when we were done with the second flight, we relaxed with a beer in the "Fat Cats Lounge." This is the place in our squadron (we are called the Wildcats) where there is a pool table and keg of beer. It was a great week of flying.
Two more flights and then I am done.
© Shannon Walker 2004
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