Warning: ob_start(): non-static method anchor_utils::ob_filter() should not be called statically in /home/kradmin/public_html/wp-content/plugins/auto-thickbox/anchor-utils/anchor-utils.php on line 33

Warning: ob_start(): non-static method sem_seo::ob_google_filter() should not be called statically in /home/kradmin/public_html/wp-content/plugins/sem-seo/sem-seo.php on line 540

Where Are You Going?

"Skyhawk 80377, cleared into class Bravo airspace at 4,500," said the NorCal Approach controller as I was heading towards the Livermore Valley from my home base at San Jose International Airport.

"377 cleared Bravo 4,500," I replied, "Thanks!"

Eddie Pippin, Canine Aviator, and I were on our way to spend Thanksgiving weekend with my parents on the North Coast of California. The Wonder Pom was content in his crate as I dialed in a GPS course for the Scaggs Island VOR, just North of San Francisco bay. The winds were strong out of the Northwest, so our groundspeed was reading a paltry 90 knots. As we passed over the East Bay hills, the wind over the terrain caused some fairly insistent up-and downdrafts. Although it was pretty smooth, it was still more work than usual holding altitude and heading.

My practice with the GPS when flying such legs is to compare my ground track (TRK) with desired track (DTK) and find a reference heading on the heading indicator that makes the two match as closely as possible. If I find that TRK and DTK disagree, I adjust my reference heading slightly and wait a minute or so to determine the effect of my correction. Early in my instrument training, when first starting to use GPS in any sophisticated way, I'd expect TRK to catch up immediately after I made a correction. The result was a lot more course corrections than necessary. It was the digital equivalent of "chasing the needle" on the CDI.

Over time I learned to hold a correction long enough for TRK to stabilize. Later, I realized why: the GPS doesn't know where I'm going. It only knows where I've been. This is even true of sophisticated glass cockpits with AHRS (Attitude and Heading Reference System) units driving the avionics. Such systems know the airplane's heading, but that's still not the same as knowing where you're going. You never really know what the winds will do.

Recently, I got to thinking about this idea and realized it's much the same as our own course through life. Even if we know where we're heading, we still don't really know where we're going because the "winds" of circumstance change all the time. All we really have to work with is where we've been, the sum total of our experiences. Just as the GPS "observes" our past flight path and projects our future ground track, we tend to do the same thing. We assume that because things have always happened a certain way that they will continue to do so in the future. Barring further information, that's a reasonable assumption, but sometimes we'd like to break with past patterns. When we're diligent about practicing observe-act-observe, we can do that by recognizing our habitual behaviors and questioning them. The past doesn't have to dictate the future because we're free to make new choices in the present. I decided this idea merits further elaboration in the book I'm writing, The Confident Pilot.

As I mused on these thoughts, I noticed the little white witch hat of the VOR standing by itself in the dun-colored tidelands just ahead. We were right on course. Eddie Pippin stood up and stretched in his crate, did a jingly little doggy shake, and settled in for another nap. We still had a long way to go.

Filed under Pilot by  #

Leave a Comment

Comments are queued and moderated daily.

Fields marked by an asterisk (*) are required.

Register Login