Hello Gauges, My Old Friends

A glass-to-gauges transition

August 1, 2005

No wonder birds fly south for the winter. I'm preflighting a late- 1970s Cessna 172, and it's freezing outside. My fingers are cold and stiff as I run them along the corrugated control surfaces, and my nose is running. I've driven from New York City to the flight school at Mid-Island Air Service at Long Island, New York's Brookhaven Airport because I was curious to find out what it's like to fly the tasks of the instrument practical test standards in an aircraft with normal, round gauges. Funny enough, I've never done that.

In January 2004, I obtained my instrument rating in a Cirrus SR22 equipped with the Avidyne FlightMax Entegra "glass cockpit" flight deck and dual Garmin GNS 430s — a technically advanced aircraft or TAA (see " The Next-Generation Instrument Rating," August 2004 Pilot). With the Avidyne and Garmin suite in the Cirrus, I had up to four moving maps for reference during any phase of flight, so knowing my location was, indeed, a piece of cake. In this Cessna 172, I'll have none of that. No moving maps. No GPS. No autopilot. No visual aids whatsoever beyond a chart, an approach plate, and a pencil. And I'll only have raw data. Right. This should be interesting.

It had been a little while since I flew on instruments at all, so I thought it might be a good idea to crack the textbook for a quick review. As I plowed through the material, this one word kept popping up: visualize. Want to intercept a radial? According to the textbook, I'll have to visualize my present position, and then visualize where I want to go. What do you mean, visualize? You mean, like, in my mind? Are you kidding? Wow, I've been spoiled.

I actually started to get a little nervous. Before I decided to try this little exercise, visualizing my present position never meant more than a quick glance to the map page of the 10.5-inch-diagonal Avidyne EX5000 multifunction display (MFD) in the Cirrus panel; now, no such luxury. I kept reading, also mindful that I'll be flying with Mid-Island's Bob Osinski, a very personable CFII with white hair and an easy smile. He's also an FAA-designated examiner, so not embarrassing myself became another priority.

Turns out that's one thing I shouldn't have been concerned about. While it had been almost three years since I'd flown a 172 and about a year and a half since I'd even flown an aircraft with conventional gauges, by the time I walked up to that little Skyhawk, preflighted, and fired it up, it felt as familiar as a pair of broken-in cowboy boots.

Once under way, with the outside world obscured by my Foggles, Bob started me with a couple of holds — one on the 350-degree radial from Calverton VOR and the other at the intersection of the 177-degree radial from Calverton and the 260-degree radial from East Hampton. I was immediately struck by how fatiguing this was, even after a short time. I was working hard to visualize my position in space and my constant position relative to the VOR that I was using as my fix during the hold. I kept asking myself, "OK, where am I now?" I'm established in hold, holding north of the VOR, X minutes after the hour, inbound on the 350 radial, 15 seconds from what I hope will be station passage. Then I'll begin a standard-rate right turn for one minute to my one-minute outbound leg. Those 15 seconds pass, and no flag flip.

"Hmm, should be any second now, Bob," I say, trying to sound like I planned to arrive five, 10, 17 seconds late. I adjust my outbound leg accordingly on the next circuit, and it goes a little better. I notice that I'm picturing myself on a little magenta racetrack, just like I'm used to seeing on the Avidyne or Garmin boxes. I'm grasping for any familiarity here, for just maintaining aircraft control is taking more brainpower than I'm used to, and I've got no autopilot for relief as I adjust to new gauges and a new scan.

True fatigue starts tightening its grip. Ugh, this is no picnic, but it's definitely not as bad as I thought, either. Sure is a lot of work, though. Much more than what I'm used to.

Bob asks me to exit the hold, intercept the 177 radial from Calverton, track it to intercept the intersection at the 260 radial from East Hampton, and hold south on the 177. I swing the omni-bearing selector (OBS) around to 177 From and make my way down the radial like a centipede following a zigzagging ant.

"Hey, Bob, where's the wind vector in this bird?" I joke, as I hunt for an elusive heading that will correct for the wind. This was new, since with the glass cockpit, I fell in love with the projected ground-track line on the horizontal situation indicator (HSI) display; it made course interception and tracking as easy as a forkful of pie. The Jeppesen book wasn't kidding about trial and error. How imprecise and approximate, I thought, as I ran through the following little dialogue in my head:

"So, when am I going to hit that intersection?"

"I don't know, soon."

"Where am I now?"

"Somewhere approaching the intersection Bob asked me to fly to."

"When will I be there?"

"When the needle on my number-two VOR centers."

"When will that be?"

"When that happens."

"How long from now?"

"I don't know; we'll see."

"And what kind of hold entry will I make?"

"Teardrop. Definitely teardrop. Only on Sundays. Only in the driveway."

The big picture — the analog way

In a way, this really wasn't too different from flying a nonpublished hold in a TAA since the Garmin 430 will not suggest an entry in that case. I'd still have a graphic of the fix, which does simplify things, but beyond that, visualization is the key. When the needle on the number-two VOR finally swung past center, marking station passage, I took a gander at the directional gyro, picked an angled heading for the outbound leg, and began timing.

As I tracked away to the left of the inbound leg, I wondered for a few seconds why the course deviation indicator (CDI) in the number-one VOR was pegged to the right. I was confused, for real, and started to turn back to center the CDI. Bob asked where I thought I was, hint, hint, and I again pictured that magenta racetrack in what now felt like my pea-size brain. That helped, and I turned back to my angled course away from the fix. At one minute's time, I turned and flew right through the inbound course. The racetrack that I was trying to fly started to resemble a Formula One road circuit and my inbound course a series of chicanes and switchbacks.

After a couple of orbits in the hold, Bob instructed me to fly a heading as he covered the gyro instruments for a series of partial-panel unusual attitudes. In the Cirrus and other glass-equipped aircraft, even under partial panel, pilots still have an attitude indicator, so that was all I knew. I'd never experienced no-gyro unusual attitudes and was keen to see how I'd fare. Bob demonstrated the first one, and I learned how to use the pitot-static instruments and turn coordinator to regain and maintain aircraft control. I then tried a couple of my own, one nose up and the other nose down, and found it mentally taxing — not totally counterintuitive, but I'm not sure I'd feel as safe in a "real life" unusual attitude as I did with the glass cockpit.

During my initial instrument training, which was accelerated, I'd fly for four or more hours on most days, but because of the combination of capable boxes in the Cirrus panel and the autopilot, I'd emerge from the aircraft tired, but not to an extreme. Here I was, flying for barely an hour with two approaches before me, already fatigued from trying to maintain a constant mental picture of my position. Bob uncovered the gyro instruments and then gave me vectors to intercept the course for my first approach, the VOR to Brookhaven's Runway 6.

'OK, where am I now?'

I again asked myself, "And where am I in relation to the airport?" During my training in the Cirrus, all I'd do to answer that question was zoom in or out on the moving map, and I'd immediately have a graphical answer. Now I knew, more or less, where I was in relation to the VOR, and I could see on the approach chart where the airport was in relation to the VOR, so I had a rough picture of where I was. I will say this, though: It was a lot easier to get the radios ready for this approach phase of the flight.

As Bob had me turn to intercept the 41-degree radial to the Calverton VOR, the final approach course, I confirmed I had the 107 radial from Deer Park in the number-two radio to mark my initial approach fix, which was also my final approach fix (FAF) after my holding pattern procedure turn. Once on the inbound leg of the procedure turn, I confirmed the altitude I'd descend to and the time, at 90 knots groundspeed, from the FAF to the missed approach point (MAP). Again, this was quite different from what I was used to.

First, in the Cirrus, I had a constant readout of my actual groundspeed, so when I needed 100 knots, I could actually do that and nail my timing. Here in the 172, everything was, again, mentally calculated. There are also numerous variables in the accuracy of a VOR, so as the needle wallowed through the 107-degree radial, it fluctuated toward the center, then back left, then a bit more toward the center, then back a bit; then it crossed center, so I took that as passing my FAF. Not too precise, and for all I know, I could have been 4 degrees off, which is within allowable VOR accuracy tolerances. So did I cross the 111, or did I just cross the 103? Mind you, this wasn't difficult; it just seemed less precise than I was used to, which was actually seeing a picture of my little white airplane crossing the fix, with a little flag flip on the Garmin nav page one. There was just never any question when exactly station passage occurred. I liked it better that way.

The timing worked out OK as I descended to the circling altitude of 620 feet while working to keep the VOR needle centered. On most approaches in the Cirrus, I'd also opt for raw data on the HSI during approaches, so at this point, not too much was different, besides the less-precise situational awareness of my actual position relative to the MAP. I knew it was coming up in one minute, but that was if I'd nailed 90-knot groundspeed, and I had no quick way of verifying that. I did my best, and Bob was fine with the way it worked out, as he had me fly the missed to our second approach, the ILS back to Runway 6. Again, setting up the radios for the ILS was a breeze compared to the button pushing in the more sophisticated airplane. Indeed, pretty much all we had to do was dial in the ILS frequency and identify. That's it. Amazing.

Bob again gave me vectors to intercept the localizer and cleared me for the approach. This actually was much like I was used to, and was no problem at all. By now, I'd adjusted my scan to the gauges, adjusted to not having the graphical cues I was used to, and really, an ILS is an ILS, only the symbology I was using to track it — six-pack versus primary flight display — was different. It would have been nice to have an HSI, but you can't have everything, and that was the point — to see if I could be a safe IFR pilot without having all the goodies I was used to. We "broke out" at the circling altitude of 600 feet, and I entered a left downwind to land on Runway 33.

"That really wasn't so bad," I quipped as we taxied back to Mid-Island's base of operations, and I recalled a conversation I had a day earlier with Bob Wright, manager of the general aviation and commercial division at the FAA. He mentioned they were looking for a nonbureaucratic way to address the differences between TAA and non-TAA in IFR operations.

After this flight, I'm confident that a nonbureaucratic solution will fit the bill. While I didn't know it would be so taxing to keep a visual picture assembled from all the pieces of information, I would expect that aspect to get better with practice — like any transition. I'm sure any pilot who learned to fly instruments in a TAA aircraft, whether with a glass cockpit or not, will, after an hour or two of transition, be good to go on the most basic of panels.


Jeff Berlin, AOPA 1114679, is an instrument-rated private pilot with single- and multiengine ratings and is based in New York.


Links to additional information about IFR transitions may be found on AOPA Online ( www.aopa.org/pilot/links.shtml).