Friday, July 15, 2005

Economists & Weather Forecasters, part III

This guy was not especially good at controlling all three axes of flight at the same time. So we spent a good bit of time simulating a rollercoaster ride. I took over a few times, in order to avoid incurring the wrath of Washington Center's air traffic controllers. When our approach clearance came, lo and behold, it was not the approach my student expected.

So I let him fumble around for a minute or so, totally confused. All we needed was about a 30-degree turn to the right to go straight to our initial approach fix. After he managed a few lazy turns in either direction, followed by a complete 180, I was impressed, but I took over anyway. Our exceedingly patient controller called though, recognizing that it was an instruction flight, and instead of complaining at me, said they had a Cessna Citation that needed to get into Lewisburg quickly. I was happy to take their request to put us into a holding pattern.

We took the necessary instructions, including the holding fix, altitude, length of the legs, direction of turns, and the EFC (expect-further-clearance time). I was happy for the chance to work on holds with the guy, but I was also getting mildly concerned about the clouds. In the previous half hour they had gone from scattered to broken, and turned dark.

Another 15 minutes went by, and we were still holding, this time in the middle of a relatively minor thunderstorm (if there is such a thing). Then I noticed that our EFC time had passed. Then I discovered that we were not able to contact the controller.

So our status was, that we were in a small single-engine plane, in a holding pattern above an overcast layer of clouds, beneath which were a bunch of mountains, in the midst of a thunderstorm, with no radios. After working for a couple minutes to see if there was a loose connection in the avionics, I concluded that static electricity from the storm was causing the problem.

As I was preparing to squawk 7600 (the code for lost communications), we broke out of a cloud, and managed to get contact with another plane, who relayed communications back to the approach controller. The approach went fine, though the student was unable to handle it by himself. We broke out low enough that a circling approach was out of the question. I'd rather land with a 6 knot tailwind than hit a mountain while maneuvering.

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