Tuesday May 15 - Navigation
Tuesday was a flying day. The Navigation event tests the pilot's ability to plan a route based on a set of 4 or 5 lat/long coordinates. Pilots draw a line connecting the points then compute course, distance, time and fuel for the route. After planning they fly the route – about an hour and a half.
We had 3 Nav teams. A team consists of the pilot/planner, and the observer. The pilot is given the coordinates and 30 minutes to do the planning while the observer preflights the plane and gets it ready to launch. The first team to go was Jenna Sims and Kevin Brandt in 91E at 1020. Then Kyle Mayhugh and Dylan Jones launched at 1240 in 963. Heats ran late so Jackson Judge and Kayla Harder got airborne after 4pm. We won't know how we did compared to other teams until Saturday night's Award banquet, but SDCC has always been strong in the Nav event so we're hoping to pick up some points.
Upon returning to base, the judges download the tracking information and compare it to the planned route. Scores are given for how close planning time and fuel were to actual time and fuel used. Winners win by a few seconds, and losers lose by tenth's of a gallon over a route that covers 120 miles.
Mike Elm just finished his instrument rating recently was the most qualified to fly the IFR Event because of his recency of training. He reported good results from the route he flew with judges looking over his shoulder grading every move he made. He said he made a few mistakes but that the judges were pleased with his performance.
Wednesday May 16 - Power–Off Spot Landings
Another flying day included Power-off spot landings. Landings are judged on how close to the line they land, but rules require precise pattern work including precise altitude, heading, airspeed and ground track. Landings are 3-dimensional, so precision must be reflected in the vertical plane by flying a glide-slope or approach angle to the landing spot. Pilots must be at an exact speed at a precise altitude a 'certain distance" from the touchdown spot which is a line in the middle of a box painted on the runway.
The "spot" moves depending on wind so experience and judgement reward those with flight discipline. Judges line the runway and measure the distance the tires touch down from the landing line. Planes cannot bounce or porpoise, float, or fly erratically. The difference is the variability of the wind. The "certain distance" from the landing line depends on the wind which is ultimately undependable! Power off landings are done with the engine power at idle so pilots typically glide about a mile without engine thrust to touch down on the landing line. Try it at home! It's not so easy!
There was a stiff crosswind blowing when Paul Martin taxied out in Heat 4. We could not see his landings because the runway was too far from the ramp, so we'll have to wait for the results. Paul said he had to go-around on one approach because he was too high and he thought his next landing was "in the box". Kyle Mayhugh followed in Heat 10, then Jenna Sims in Heat 17. By then the wind was picking up. Dylan Jones flew Heat 24 and Jackson Judge was in Heat 30. Crosswinds are very tricky because you have to hold the glideslope with ailerons and rudders "cross-controlled" so the plane is flying "wing – down (into the wind) and opposite rudder (to align the longitudinal axis of the plane with the runway centerline) while still flying a perfect approach.
Dylan Jones, Jenna Sims and Kayla Harder gave the safety presentation in the American Airlines Safety Award. The judges were two American Airlines captains (including Captain Jeff Satterwhite, AA B-777 captain who is also one of our coaches). The American Airlines Safety Award is given to the team that demonstrates the best safety program at "SAFECON" - which stands for Safety and Flight Evaluation Conference – and gives the best presentation of their program.
At 5pm Kyle Mayhugh and Dylan Jones met the judges for the Crew Resource Management (CRM) event where they flew together as a "crew" in a multi-engine aircraft on a simulated mission. They were given a navigation route from Reno to South Lake Tahoe and graded on how well they employed CRM techniques to solve problems. Deviation from any route, altitude, clearance etc. resulted in penalty points. It is an event designed to test attention to detail and any missed note or procedure is grounds for disqualification or lost points.
Wednesday afternoon I flew up to Nampa Idaho to attend the International Association of Missionary Aviation conference at MAF headquarters.
Thursday May 17 – Short Field Landings
As I was attending the IAMA conference Paul Martin continued spot landings in Heat 4 of the Short-Field landings. Short Field landings differ from Power off landings in that pilots fly with some power on the plane but must reduce and land without power in a full-stall attitude – on the landing line. Wind is a factor, but not as much as in Power off landings. But before Kyle could fly in Heat 10, the wind picked up with gusts over 25 knots – the NIFA limit. Flying was canceled for the day. Later, Jenna and Kyle competed in the Preflight Event, and Paul and Mike Elm flew the Ground Trainer Event in the Frasca simulator. Ground Trainer Event requires the pilot to fly a 5 minute pattern of turns, climbs and descents to precise standards with points deducted for errors in headings, speed or altitudes.
Throughout the week aviation dignitaries visited NIFA to allow students to learn about different aviation careers. Thursday afternoon, Col. Jim Dutton flew into Salina in a NASA T-38. Dutton participated in SAFECON between 1988 and 1991 while in the Air Force Academy. He has had the opportunity to pilot the STS-131 on a resupply mission to the International Space Station in 2010. Dr. Stephen Robinson accompanied Col. Dutton on his flight to Salina. Several of our students toured a DC-8 NASA used to fly through Thunderstorms to collect data.
I returned from Idaho at 1030 pm following strong tailwinds over Wyoming. I wanted to be in Salina Friday morning for the final round of spot landings and Message Drop. I understood better why the landings were canceled Thursday when I was on approach to land on Runway 17. With 100 knots reading on my airspeed indicator, my groundspeed was 55 knots only 1000 feet above the ground. Winds so strong near the ground were not going to be a good sign for Friday…
Friday May 18 – Message Drop – They call the wind Mariah, but we call it Annoying!
The weather forecast for today was not encouraging. The sky was clear but the Kansas winds were expected to blow strong later in the morning. We briefed at 0630. Most college students are not big fans of early wake-ups, but the cook at the Webster Conference Center had breakfast ready at 5:30 and Kyle and Dylan rolled 91E into the queue for message drop at 0700. True to form the winds picked up and after only one round of Message Drop. NIFA officials switched back to Short field landings to get as many in as they could.
That didn't last very long. They suspended flying for the day at 0955 and as it turns out, for all flying events at the National Championships.
It's unfortunate that more flying wasn't done earlier in the week when weather was perfect. As Rosanne Rose Anna-danna used to say, "…it's always something!"
We were worried whether the planes were tied down against 35-40 knot winds so after a final check the team joined 300 fellow competitors in a social event on the KSU campus.
The next update will be following the Awards Ceremony Saturday night. There is no way to guess how anyone did in the flying events. The landings and message drop were accomplished in fits and starts and no one could get a rhythm going.