Partial Panel

1001, 1002, 1003… stop left turn and level off. Didn’t quite work as planned, I thought. I overshot again. Try one more time 1001, 1002. Stop right turn and level off. Almost there, just a little bit correction to the left this time. I wondered what the Center folk were thinking with my zigzagging attempts of flying along the airway.

“You need to watch the compass when your course matches and try to fly that heading,” suggested Michelle, “What are the compass rules?” she queried, as we racked our brains to remember all the nice acronyms that our instructors had rammed down our throats. “ANDS,” she remembered triumphantly. “Accelerate North, Decelerate South.” I interjected. “And of course UNOS, Undershoot North, Overshoot South”.

I could fully understand now, all the countless times my instructor made me practice partial panel flying and execute compass turns during my instrument training. At that time of course, he merely failed the heading indicator and placarded it. He never forgot to question me each time about what one had to do when flying on an instrument flight. You have to inform ATC about the failure of the instrument and you have the option to seek a “No gyro” approach. I realized also the importance of covering the faulty equipment. For try as I might, each time I scanned, I seemed to spend an extra few seconds pondering over the non functional heading indicator. Not until we had covered it with a makeshift placard did my scanning technique improve.

We had set out on one of our monthly flyouts to Napa, in an aircraft equipped with only one radio, but fortunately with IFR certified GPS installed. At least we knew where we were and how to get to where we wanted. But most important of all was the fact that the weather was VMC with no chance of it deteriorating. There was not a cloud in sight where we were and we continued on our way, hoping for some good partial panel practice.

I had planned the route to steer as much as possible away from the busy San Francisco Class Bravo airspace, except for the last segment which put us near Oakland where we would commence our descent into Napa.

As we zigzagged our way, adjusting to compass flying, the controller came back with a lengthy, amended clearance, diverting us further away from Oakland airspace. She tossed out new intersections and airway designations in rapid fire which we tried to jot down as fast as we could. Meanwhile we drifted peacefully 30 degrees off course and climbed steadily. “Say Altitude? I show you at 8400,” she reprimanded. Yeah, yeah.. we’re fixin’.

With GPS updated with the modified route, we continued on our way and made it without incident. Just when I was getting comfortable flying with the limited equipment, it was time to descend. The last segment of the flight was an added challenge as it involved being vectored to intercept the localizer. There was no radial to track or no path to follow in the GPS, but pure compass flying. Was I glad, I was not flying direct north or south, but west at least I did not have to worry about UNOS at that point! Still I overshot the localizer as I delayed my turn a fraction of a second, but managed to get back on track and land at Napa.

We met with the rest of the group that had flown to Napa. After a relaxing lunch, it was time to return. It was Michelle’s turn to fly. The journey home was a breeze for her. She had watched and learned and knew exactly what to do. She tracked the radials with precision, maintained altitudes closely and executed the approach into SBP perfectly.

For both of us it was a lesson well learnt. What better way to prepare for partial panel flying, then with actual instrument loss in flight, but on a fine clear day?

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