Wednesday, 30 April 2014

On the fly.

One thing that was causing me a little anxiety* about my latest dual cross country was the mess of airspace located to the west of City.

A few miles off course or a few hundred feet off where you are meant to be could see you busting any number of very busy control zones. If I get around to it maybe I’ll do another post with some charts and stuff on it.

One way to pre-empt this is to use “flight following”. Basically this involves talking to the ATC guys who keep the big boys from bashing into each other. If they are feeling nice (“workload permitting” is the official phrase) they’ll provide traffic advisory and separation information to VFR flights. They’ll also hand you over to any control zones you might be about to enter.

Generally flight following is a good thing. But it does involve speaking to scary people (IMO). So I was a little anxious about the whole thing. As usual, to try and pre-empt some of this nervousness, I planned it all pout in my head. I’d take off from city heading west. Staying under 1700ft (below Pearson’s zone). Once cleared from the zone I’d contact London radio to ensure my flight plan had been activated and make any changes to the times. I’d have a brief window to do this before I contacted terminal on 133.4 to get flight following and be able to climb higher.

OK I think I’ve got that straight in my head. I make sure that before I take off I’ve got all those frequencies dialed in so that I just need to flick a switch or two. This is going to be high demand as it is. No need to be fumbling for frequencies.

Yeah, that ain’t how it worked out. At all.

I’m sure City thought they were being helpful, they probably saw the details of my flight plan (the route being quite precise thanks to the help of the fantastic people at London Flight services**) and realised that I wanted higher sooner rather than later. So they threw me a curveball that I wasn’t expecting. They cleared me straight away to climb to 2000ft (which takes me into terminal airspace) and rather than clearing me en route, handed me straight over to Toronto Terminal. Not only that onto a frequency that I wasn’t expecting!


Still I got it sorted without annoying too many people. Even if I did hesitate long enough after my initial call that they called me back twice. Better that than tie up the frequency with “umms and errs”

The trouble is that all ATC have to judge you on, is the quality of your radio work. They can’t see that in fact you are holding your heading to within a degree and your altitude to within 10 feet. All they know is whether you sound like a muppet on the radio or not.

I think I managed ok, I didn’t p!ss anyone off and it does genuinely seem to reduce your workload by being an extra pair of eyes in traffic spotting.

They handed me off to Waterloo at the appropriate juncture and I confidently made my radio call. I’d kinda monitored the ATIS, close to workload overload my brain had filtered out much of the unnecessary stuff. I’d picked out the active runway and maybe the altimeter setting and that was about it. In the back of my mind I was vaguely aware of some wittering about “reduced capacity”.

None the less it came as a bit of a surprise when they declined me permission to enter their zone, informing me I was “number 2 for the zone”

Slightly bemused I wasn’t too perplexed. Courtesy of City I have plenty of practice in flying in circles!
Eventually they let me in and land though, which was nice!

I’d already decided that I wasn’t going to bother with flight following for the next, relatively short leg.
On the final leg from Tillsonburg to City. Initially I had planned to get Flight Following, for some reason though, don’t remember why (maybe workload related?), I decided not to and just remain on the common frequency.

I was flying along quite happily and then realised that this decision had consequences. My route back home took me through Hamilton’s control zone. Without flight following to hand me over, I’d need to contact them myself.

Luckily I realised this before I blundered into their zone and made the appropriate radio calls.
Looking back on that wall of text that I’ve just produced, I think the biggest confidence booster I took away from all this is that things don’t always do to plan. Sometimes because of your own actions, sometimes because of the actions of others. And I coped.

I thought through the consequences of what those changes meant and handled it appropriately. For sure, not perfect, but I’ve given up beating myself up in a desire to achieve perfection.

Stuff happens “on the fly” and apparently I can deal with that.

* I’m back to mild anxiety about these cross country trips, rather than near paralysing panic. It’s a big improvement.

** I’m rapidly becoming a fan of the fine people on the other end of the phone when I call for flight planning. They are really helpful and usually cheerful and encouraging. It makes a huge difference to my nerves.

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