Stephan Schwab's Personal Blog
Two days ago I passed my instrument checkride out of Wings Field Philadelphia (KLOM). After the oral exam and the practical test in the air I was awarded a temporary FAA IR certificate on paper - the plastic card will show up in a little while in the mail.
With that the training I started back in October 2013 culminated successfully.
Hand-flying the practical exam
The flying portion of the practical exam lasted about 2 hours. It all started like a regular cross-country flight towards Ohio. After several blind calls to Wings Traffic on the local Unicom frequency I switched to Philadelphia Approach to check in with them: “Philadelphia Approach N205EC 1300 for 2000”. I got a “Radar identified” back followed by a climb instruction to which I was to respond “2EC out of 2000 for 5000”. We eventually ended up at the filed cruising altitude of 6000ft.
The examiner was particularly interested in my hand-flying skills. The aircraft used was a 2012 Cirrus SR20 with the Perspective avionics - basically a flying computer and made to be flown on autopilot with the human pilot monitoring the system and planning ahead. My examiner was ex-military and a bit old school but not at all against modern technology. My impression was that he wanted to find out how much I depend on the technology. I believe that is a good approach.
Actually going to Ohio would have taken us about 2:45 hours but the examiner asked me to inform Philadelphia Approach a few minutes into the flight that we are canceling IFR to get started with some airwork. So I said “cancel IFR” and let them know that we would like to stay on flight following, which they confirmed. I was also to climb 500ft higher in order to be at a VFR altitude.
Flight following is service where the radar controller actively monitors a flight and provides collision avoidance and navigation service to VFR pilots. It is unknown in Germany where there is a sharp distinction between VFR and IFR flight.
ATC wasn’t happy with us doing airwork
Now that we had switched to VFR rules the examiner wanted me to start some airwork. He wanted me to slow down to 80kt and descend at that very slow airspeed for a while. Cirrus airplanes are not really made to be flow very slow so it was difficult to slow down that much. It becomes wobbly as well. It is really like the airplane were telling the pilot “don’t do that. I don’t like it”.
While we were doing the slow airspeed descend ATC contacted us to inquiry what we were doing. The controller’s voice showed some signs of being upset. We had changed our heading and were flying towards the Philadelphia airspace B while in a 500ft/minute descend. The controller wasn’t happy with our activities and she let us know “I can’t have you bouncing around up and down in that area”. So the examiner started to negotiate with her in order to perform the instrument checkride while not going very far away from his choosen practice area. Eventually we were allowed to continue the airwork and then heading towards Reading airport (KRDG).
Setting up for the first approach
En route to KRDG I was to request to Reading Approach a practice ILS, which happened to the ILS 31 with intention to fly the published missed approach. Now the tricky part started. :-)
I was hand-flying. It was bumpy and we had between 20kt and 30kt of wind at our altitude. During an instrument checkride one is supposed to stay within 100ft of altitude, within 10kts of airspace and within 10 degrees of course - and not to exceed these limits consistently. All that means that while hand-flying one is very, very busy with constantly monitoring all the instruments to ensure the aircraft does not deviate from the intented flight path while at the same time one tries to set up the navigation radios, read charts, talk to ATC, and listen to the ATIS broadcast to find out about the weather at the destination airport. The examiner might inject a few questions here and there as well.
So… It does get busy and one may find one’s own personal limits reached. Later the examiner told me that part of his doing is to find out where those limits are, because after all this is single pilot IFR and there will be no second pilot to assist when in bumpy IMC doing an approach somewhere. Apparently I was able to handle the situation to his satisfaction.
Controlled flight into terrain (CFIT)
Before the flight during the oral part of the exam we had been talking about controlled flight into terrain (CFIT). The term refers to the situation where a pilot has the aircraft fully under control but flies straight into a mountain without knowing that the terrain is there.
Well… The examiner had a second opportunity to make his point.
We were vectored onto the localizer at Reading airport a second time and the instructions from ATC were to stay at 2000ft. There is a mountain ridge on one side of the airport and we were going straight for it.
The student doing the practical test is required to wear a view limiting device, which is called foggles. It does restrict vision to the instrument panel and does not allow one to see outside without raising the head quite a bit. It is supposed to simulation being within a cloud. The safety pilot, usually the instructor or in that case the examiner, on the right seat has unobstructed view to the outside and is responsible for spotting other aircraft and anything else that might become dangerous.
When we were flying towards that mountain ridge he told me to look up and explained one more time what CFIT really means. We then were vectored the other direction and eventually onto the localizer to fly a second approach. This time it was the non-precision approach LOC 13 flown on the autopilot.
Part of the training for an instrument rating is to understand how to continue flight to a safe landing in an emergency situation. Even the best technology can fail and so one practices flying an approach in simulated IMC with only some of the instruments working. That is called partial panel.
Current models of Cirrus aircraft with the Perspective avionics have a fully redundant system design. Everything of importance exists two times, it does switch over to the other good one, if the first one fails, and one can switch manually as well. Still there are external sensors that can fail so one does practice to fly the airplane without airspeed indication amongst other things.
Near the end of the practical test we set up for the GPS LPV approach at Wings Field (KLOM) and pulled circuit breakers to simulate an avionics failure. The landing wasn’t straight in. We were going for the circle to land option of the approach and he had me fly around the airport visually before the actual landing. There was some crosswind and some gusts coming in to short final, which always creates an additional challenge but I managed to demonstrate a smooth landing.
After we taxied back to the ramp and I shut down the engine the examine said “Congratulations!” and we debriefed. Back in the office he started the process to produce my temporary airmen certificate with the magic words instrument rating on it. That piece of paper does allow me now to fly anywhere in the world an FAA registered single engine piston aircraft under IFR. In a little while the FAA will mail me the final certificate, which is a credit card size plastic card.
This is just a stub of an article about an IFR training flight from Wings Field, Philadelphia, to Hanscom Airport, Boston. More information will follow shortly.
Approaching Kennedy Airport, New York, at 6000ft. 10.8 NM to go:
Chart overview and flight plan on the right display (MFD):
Outside view: straight ahead is the JFK airport. ATC was quite busy.
That’s how we simulate flight in IMC on a bright sunny day:
And now the highlight of the trip: Me on N194TD talking to the Kennedy Approach controller in between all those airliners going into and out of the John F. Kennedy airport in New York: LiveATC recording of N194TD talking to Kennedy Approach. The recording has been stripped down to a few minutes. We were probably with that controller for about 45 minutes.
For the last part of my IFR training I’m at FlyAdvanced at Wings Field just outside of Philadelphia. I didn’t want to go to popular places like Florida or Arizona but instead go somewhere with real IMC (instrument meterological conditions) with just the right amount of bad enough weather. In my opinion it doesn’t make sense to do IFR training in perfect sunshine and then when you are on your own start venturing out into bad weather. It is better to experience difficult weather during the training with an instructor on board so you can build on that experience.
So far I’ve been “lucky” with the weather.
A few days back we had low freezing levels and went up in a FIKI Cirrus SR22 for a short cross-country flight. On another day in a non-FIKI Cirrus SR20 there was enough rain to make it IMC.
But today was special.
In the morning there was an icing forecast - no-go for a non-FIKI SR20 - and so we did some review of IFR flight planning for the upcoming practical exam. The weather improved a bit. It is not that the clouds disappeared - they covered the whole area - but it was warming up a bit and we had positive temperatures up to 5000ft to 6000ft - so it was perfect IFR training weather.
We filed a flight plan from KLOM (Wings Field) to KACY (Atlantic City) where we wanted to try the VOR RWY 31 approach, which has a DME arc built into. However, our request was denied due to military activity in the area. We would have been coming from the oppositive direction of the active runway. So we ended up doing the ILS RWY 13 instead. We broke out of the clouds at about 1000ft (field elevation is 75ft) and I made a full-stop landing on a very long and wide runway.
On the taxiway we picked up our IFR clearance for the next segment of today’s training flight. We had filed KACY (Atlantic City) to KLOM (Wings Field) with a request for doing the LOC BC RWY 6 at KPNE (Northeast Philadelphia).
Unfortunately, while we were in the air the controller informed us that at this time they were unable to accomodate the request for the LOC BC RWY 6 at KPNE. From the amount of radio chatter it was clear that we were at rush hour at Philadelphia International Airport with many airliners going in and out. We changed our plan and were then given the grand tour over the city of Philadelphia.
I’m sure it would have been great to see the city from 5000ft. But we were in the clouds the whole time :-)
Our TCAS showed a lot of other aircraft around us - but we never saw them. That was my first time being in a busy airspace flying the whole time in IMC. Now that I’m a bit further ahead in my training it does start to feel normal. There is so much information available on the Cirrus Perspective flight deck that the surroundings real doesn’t matter all that much. The situational awareness is great and it does feel safe.
The controller were quite busy and there were a few helicopters flying into KLOM (Wings Field) and so she sent us quite a bit past the airport towards the West before vectoring us back to the GPS LPV RWY 24. The right runway would have been RWY 6 (the other direction), but I wanted to practice a circling approach in marginal weather and so we were going the wrong direction on purpose.
My wish for a circling in marginal weather was granted. The circling minimum is 780ft and by 800ft we were out of the clouds with some light rain. It is hard to describe in words how that felt. A gentle turn to the right to enter the traffic pattern and then into a low base leg towards runway 6 for the landing with some crosswind.
This week I had several good reasons to use the light aircraft for a business trip to Dortmund and Berlin. Dortmund lies in the far West of Germany, Berlin to the far East while I live slightly south of its geographic center.
The trip outline was:
- Meeting on Wednesday afternoon in Dortmund
- Be in Berlin for two full days of work
There were several constraints:
- I wanted to arrive in Berlin the same day so that I can start working at my Berlin client the next morning and spend two full days on-site before the weekend
- Going by car to Dortmund would mean to fly from Düsseldorf to Berlin and then pick up my car at Düsseldorf on Friday for a 3 hours drive at night back home.
- Not using my own car would mean to use an expensive one-way rental car from Darmstadt for the drive to Dortmund and then on to Düsseldorf airport to drop it off and to take the flight to Berlin. The return flight would go into Frankfurt followed by an expensive taxi ride home.
- At the Frankfurt airport workers decided to be on strike on Thursday and other airports might be affected on Friday. I might have missed my trip to Berlin altogether.
Instead of dealing with complicated logistics and spending at least 7 hours driving I decided to take the light aircraft. On Wednesday I had breakfast with my family at 9 am, drove to the nearby airport of Frankfurt-Egelsbach, did my preflight check and took off for a short 50 minutes flight to Dortmund. I arrived there relaxed and was picked up by my contact to lunch with him.
Here is a nice picture of the Cirrus SR-20 G-OUNI parked on the ramp in front of the GAT at Dortmund airport. Regular passengers use the main terminal while General Aviation has a separate terminal (GAT).
The clouds in the background do look quite nasty and in fact there were a number of thunderstorms in the area.
After lunch and the meeting my contact dropped me off at the airport at about 4 pm in the afternoon. Minutes later I was in the cockpit to get the latest weather update and do some last minute preparations for the flight to Berlin.
I had plotted a course north of any higher terrain en-route to Berlin and stayed low in order to not become stuck on top of the clouds and then get into the night. There were a few rain showers to circumnavigate. The picture shows a very small one.
The flight took 1:50 hours. I arrived at around 6:30 pm and had a nice dinner and got to sleep at a reasonable hour.
Had I used the car to drive to Dortmund and then use the airline to fly to Berlin I would probably eaten some crappy food at the airport in a hurry, gotten to the hotel around 11 pm and be totally exhausted from a long day of driving.
Thursday was a productive day at my client with beautiful blue skies outside. However, when I woke up on Friday morning a look outside the window of my hotel room showed a different picture. It was a grey morning with low clouds hanging over the city. A look at the forecast did not provide hope for a VFR flight in the late afternoon to Frankfurt-Egelsbach. The eastern part of Germany was under an overcast. Not very thick but too low for a cross-country flight.
There would have been no problem for doing it IFR. The departure in Berlin would have been IMC for a short moment, then a beautiful flight in VMC on top followed by a VFR arrival at Egelsbach where the sky has been blue all day long.
Unfortunately, I’m not ready for that yet. :-(
So I did the most prudent thing and let the hotel know I’m going to stay one more night. Family at home wasn’t happy but then they were for my decision to play it safe.
On the bright side I was able to attend the Culture Hacking Meet-Up and see some friends and business partners there. It is a monthly event and happened to be scheduled for the very Friday I was stuck in Berlin. I did learn something about transparent salaries at several companies, we developed several culture hacks to open cracks in the culture of an organization for more transparency and I had beer with my friends. That’s not a bad situation to be stuck in.
The next morning arrived and the weather over the city center of Berlin was looking quite good: blue sky.
However, the closer I got to Schönhagen, a very nice airport for General Aviation a bit outside the city, the more obvious it was that I will not take off right away.
While I was waiting I heard another pilot calling in from the vicinity of the field. He had departed at another Berlin airport (Schönefeld, EDDB) and wanted to land. He was advised that it is not possible due to the fog and minutes later I could hear the aircraft fly over the airfield.
Eventually the thick layer of fog in the area was burned away and finally everybody waiting was able to take off and be on their way.
Mist and fog are two different things but both restrict visibility. After the fog on the ground was gone it was safe to take off. During the climb-out the visibility wasn’t great due to the remaining mist in the area. That changed after I got higher as the bottom of the controlled airpace overhead rose.
However, there were still large patches of fog and mist. These pictures were taken somewhere north of Leipzig. This is the view to the south towards Leipzip:
And this is to the north:
After 1:46 hours I landed at Frankfurt-Egelsbach and arrived home for a late lunch with my family. I was never in a hurry, did not had to run and then wait for the airline system to process me, had not had to run on the Autobahn - it was a pleasant trip and I don’t mind that it took another night on the road.
Once I am able to fly IFR I will have less limitations - after some practice shooting approaches in actual IMC, of course.
It’s been countless times that I observe managers rush things and panic when the desired results don’t show up. It does not matter whether those managers are senior or junior but common seem to be that they share the view that faster is always better. When asked, most of them respond “the market requires us to become faster” and some others say “upper management expects us to become faster”. They are also driven to Agile or agile techniques based on the perception that the more agile their organization becomes, the faster everything can be achieved.
However, they respond with a strange look, when I start talking about discipline, about practicing, about mindful execution, and about adhering to self-defined rules - at least for a little while - amongst other things. They seem to think that I, as a representative of the agile coaching crowd, am sharing their desire for ever increasing speed. My feeling is that they get a bit disappointed once they find out that being agile to me means something different.
Going fast is not really part of the game plan
I wonder, does the Manifesto for Agile Software Development say anything about going faster and faster? The word fast does not show up anywhere in the wording. It does say responding to change over following a plan. It also expresses a preference for delivery of working software frequently. In fact working software is a term that is repeated several times.
The laws of physics cannot be altered
Vehicles come in different flavors. Some move on roads, others float on the water, and there are those that fly. They also differ by the speed they can reach. A good car can go as fast as 300 km/h. An airplane can even move at several times the speed of sound.
Some owners and drivers are obsessed with the maximum speed their vehicle can go and there are competitions to find out who has the fastest boat, car or airplane. That competition is a healthy thing in itself. It does drive innovation in several fields of engineering.
Despite all efforts to go faster one common thing defines a binding ruleset that cannot be altered or cheated. The laws of physics apply - like it or not!
A fast driving car will be driven out of a curve at some point. In fact when exactly that happens can be calculated precisely and there is no doubt that it will happen. Still, there are people who believe they know better and end up in a coffin.
The same goes for racing boats that at some point start surfing and eventually come out of the water, flip over and kill the driver on impact.
Airplanes can go very fast, but try to pull up at a speed too high for the maximum load the wings can take and the wings will break. Again, a person who tries to break the rules ends up in a coffin and then people will speak about a tragic accident.
The laws of physics do apply and cannot be altered by man. But man can come up with designs that allow higher performance within the limits of nature.
It is not that long ago that supersonic flight was deemed impossible and it was said there were a demon in the sky who will strike down anyone trying to break the sound barrier. Until 1947 when an American pilot named Chuck Yeager flew faster than the speed of sound. Behind that pilot stood a large number of aerospace engineers who made every possible effort to understand the laws of physics better and better and to test many different designs until eventually they succeeded. That effort required dedication, funding, discipline and knowledge about what happens to an aircraft wing and control surfaces at high speeds. It also required the capability to manufacture an aircraft to the quality standards required by the design of the engineers.
Success came to them due to perseverance.
Decisions based on data and discipline in execution
There cannot be an improvement of anything without data. How would you know what to improve or where to start. You do need to measure. You need to find a baseline, then measure again after doing something, then you compare before and after and finally you are in a position to evaluate the data.
In order to learn something meaningful that can guide your further efforts you need to perform your action with discipline. Do it with precision. Know what you are doing. Do only one thing and wait for doing another until you got the measurements.
I just said wait.
Waiting requires patience. Patience is not everybody’s favorite. But patience is discipline’s sibling. They are related and quite hard to separate from each other.
Value stream analysis to help the managers
When managers find themselves between a rock and a hard place, they need something to guide them. It is easier to be in a challenging situation knowing that the situation will improve in the foreseeable future. Without that guidance we humans are likely to experience either despair, resignation or panic.
A well implemented continuous value stream analysis can help. We can get baseline data and see the effects of any changes we make. Are the numbers improving, we do a bit more what just worked. Are the numbers getting worse, we stop and try something else. That should help to feel in control of the situation instead of giving us the demotivating feeling of helplessness.
A mindset is tough to change. It was formed over a significant length of time by being part of the surrounding culture, formal education and personal experience, interests, reading, etc. Over time experiences made are likely to more and more reinforce things thus creating a very clear and sense-making mindset - everything fits together for the person having it.
“You know what, Joe. What you believe in for the last 10 years has actually been proven wrong” is probably not a good start to change Joe’s mindset. That approach is likely to open up a battle. Even if Joe initially has asked someone to be influenced in order to learn about new ways of behaving or doing things.
With a slightly softer opening the battle may just be a struggle but a conflict will still be there. In the context of an organization not only Joe may struggle to change his behavior but also his colleagues. Within the group cross-influencing will also happen. On some days it all goes backwards, on others it seems that the mindset change leaps forward.
The more ingrained a certain mindset is, the longer it will be necessary to have some element that serves as a constant reminder for the need to change. Something like pain. Pain is a strong message. It’s meaning is: stop what you are doing. If you ignore the pain, it will become stronger and the meaning will be more like a last warning before breakdown.
Unfortunately there is something as an organizational pain killer. Chris Argyris in 1986 called it skilled incompetence. Those who are most likely to take it, probably at ever increasing dosage, is middle management. Not only are they medicating themselves, they are also distributing the drug and influence others to also take the same pills.
What we need in this situation is some sort of antidote to rid the organization from the pain killer medicine that has become poisonous.
That antidote may be visualization of all relevant process data and kanban boards to see and feel any process steps and states of work. However, the visualization and the message being shown is likely to be attacked once it gets too powerful or distributed too widely. People like to change other people but don’t like to be changed themselves. Once someone feels uncomfortable the bad message should go away. The person or group will reach for the pain killers and try harder to kill the pain. They are likely also to find an explanation for the issues they face by pointing somewhere outside their group - the enemy is somewhere out there.
So it becomes important to not prompt the use of a stronger dose of pain killers.
Kanban does not change anything from the outset. It is entirely possible to use kanban with a very complicated process with a lot of back and forth or whatever people decided to put into it. Kanban - or better called a simple value stream analysis - allows to observe and measure. It is the perfect tool to determine the current level of pain and pain killer dosage.
A kanban board visualizes how people work, what stations and process steps are involved to create something or get something done. People who are willing to look at it will eventually make discoveries - some earlier, others later. That way learning can happen, because the visualization provides quick feedback, which is essential for learning.
However, learning will only occur, if the dose of pain killers gets reduced. The challenge is to reduce it just a bit so that those with a low pain threshold will not start to scream and panic. Once they do it is likely that any change process will be stopped before it has actually started. So the goal in the first phase is basically to build up enough momentum, get enough people enlightened in order to build up their willingness to change.
Only a few weeks ago I started to enroll in a training class for the instrument rating. My goal is to extend my flying skills so that I am a bit less dependent on the weather. I don’t intent to fly in really bad weather. I can always wait an hour or two for the worse to move away.
However, as a VFR pilot one is quite limited. My last attempt to travel to Berlin shows that. It would have been a great and pleasant flight in blue skies over a thin overcast or broken cloud layer in probably FL75 (7,500ft). Passing those clouds would have taken maybe a minute for the Cirrus SR20 that I’m using.
First IFR flight
Earlier this week my instructor and I went for a short flight from our home base Egelsbach (EDFE) to Zweibrücken (EDRZ). The idea was to get to know how it feels passing through clouds and get an impression of flying an ILS (Instrument Landing System).
We filed our flight plan using the proposed routing from the EDFE website. As Egelsbach is VFR only we had to file what is called a Z flight plan. That’s one that starts out VFR and then you join the IFR system once ATC picks you up.
The proposed routing was RID Y163 ANEKI MANEM Z818 ZWN shown as the magenta line in the following map.
After we took off from runway 09 at Egelsbach and turned towards the visual reporting point KILO we called Langen RADAR to request IFR pickup. We were greeted and got “direct ZWN climb 3000 IFR starts when passing 2500”. So …. That was it?? The route actually flown is the blue line in the map above.
My instructor had told me that in real life controllers almost always give you a shortcut and you hardly ever have to fly the filed route which gets validated and has to be accepted by the EUROCONTROL computer system in Brussels. But skipping over 90% of the route for that flight was still a bit of a surprise.
It did make the flight a bit boring though… I had hoped for some more radio chatter with a number of instructions. All we got was a stepped climb to our filed flight level FL60 in 1000ft increments. At about 4500ft we got into the thin cloud layer and seconds later we were up in bright sunlight. Once we reached FL60 our flight path was a straight line to the ZWN VOR which also serves as the Initial Approach Fix (IAF) for the ILS at the destination airport.
Within reach of the ZWN VOR ATC cleared us for the ILS 03 and asked us to maintain FL60 for the time being. That was a good way to connect theoretical and practical knowledge. As we had been cleared for the ILS there was no need to ask for permission to start the descent once we were established on a part of the approach procedure. So we had to maintain FL60 until the ZWN VOR and right after passing it we were allowed to descent to 4000ft on track 217 (refer to the chart provided by the VATSIM community).
The autopilot was engaged the whole time so there was not much to do other than supervising what it does and to program the setup in the first step. Our aircraft made the turn towards the ILS localizer precisely at 11.9 NM from the VOR as laid out in the chart. Then it captured the localizer and glideslope and flew us down towards the runway. We had passed the clouds again, went through a few more pieces of cloud and were out in VMC at more or less 4000ft. A few seconds later the runway was in sight. At the decision altitude of 1370ft (that is 200ft above the runway elevation) we initiated the missed approach - we didn’t want to land there just use the ILS - and then canceled IFR for a VFR flight under the clouds back to Egelsbach.
When the aircraft is ahead of you
That flight was meant as an introduction. I did fly myself, manually and with the help of the autopilot, but many times I felt like the airplane was actually ahead of me and I were trying to catch up to it. When there is so much new in an already familiar activity all the new actions lead to an overload situation. Especially when I was riding along with the aircraft flying the ILS. As I’ve never done that before my instructor set up the system and I tried to follow what he was doing. I did manage to understand but always a bit too late.
There is a reason why about 50 hours of flight training are required to earn the instrument rating :-)
This week my schedule calls for some full day activities at a client in Berlin on Tuesday and some activities at another client near Remscheid on Wednesday and Thursday. I am based near Frankfurt. Berlin is to the far East from me and Remscheid to the far West of my position.
There are multiple options for being able to visit client companies that are located in different corners of Germany within the same week. I chose to invest in my capability to transport myself in a light aircraft for the reasons outlined in my writeup about business travel in light aircraft.
After regaining my basic pilot license earlier this year I was already able to take advantage of that capability on similar occasions. It is now two times that I had to see people at the two locations mentioned above within the same week. That resulted in three very pleasant flights each time.
But this week is likely going to be a bit different.
Aviation weather forecast for a flight from Frankfurt to Berlin
Today (Sunday) I’m looking at beautiful weather with some light cumulus clouds and good visibility. Perfect weather for flying VFR. However, the forecast for tomorrow tells a different story:
Early in the morning there will be a cover of low-level clouds all over. The image above depicts the forecast for a departure around noon and the 2 hours flight time to the destination. It appears that by noon the clouds might have disappeared mostly in the Frankfurt area but the low-level cloud cover will still exist all the way to Berlin.
The yellow line is set at 7500ft, which is my preferred en-route altitude going eastwards.
Being halfway still means you won’t make it
I have invested into my abilities as a pilot so that I can take advantage of quick, easy, and flexible air travel on my own schedule. The resulting capability is supposed to provide value to my business as a coach and also for my family and me as individual. (I won’t go into details now as it would dilute the point I’m trying to make.)
Piloting an aircraft is a bit different than driving a car. For pilots there are different licenses and ratings. A license is a permit to perform the basic activity (take off, fly around when the weather is good and land successfully). A rating is a permit to execute a special type of flight or use a special type of aircraft. An example for a special type of flight is a flight at night or in bad weather. An example of a rating to fly a certain type of aircraft, called a type rating, is the permit to fly eg. a Boeing 737 or an Airbus A340.
After the reactivation of my pilot license I am allowed to and able to fly light aircraft during day time in what is called VMC. The three letters stand for Visual Metrological Conditions and basically it means: stay away and out of the clouds, see where you are going and navigate by looking out.
It now appears that this basic ability is not enough as capability for performing my business trip to Berlin tomorrow. So in the end I’m not yet good enough and won’t make it.
Development of a capability means being in it for the long haul
Capabilities are not something anyone gets just so. Many capabilities are about something complex. It is not that someone learns something rather quick and then possesses a capability for all times to come. He has just acquired a certain skill for performing a certain type of task.
In my case I can fly an aircraft - I possess that skill. But I don’t have the capability for flexible air travel for business purposes - yet.
Here is a rough list of what is missing to gain and maintain the capability flexible air travel for business purposes:
- Instrument rating for flight at night and in bad weather
- Instrument rated aircraft
- Aircraft with protection against icing
- Have the aircraft stationed at an airport equipped for IFR flights at day and night
Those four things contribute to having the capability. The first one is a skill that requires an investment in learning. The second and third one refer to the proper equipment, which can be procured by purchase or lease. The fourth one is a question of choosing the proper location.
If I fail to provide any of these factors contributing to the capability, I will either have a degraded capability or won’t have it at all. How bad that is depends on how important the quality of the capability is to my business.
Acquiring a capability is a long and winding road
There is no best way to acquire a capability. There are many good ways to achieve the goal and there are many other factors, about which one doesn’t know much in the beginning, that lead to changes or even to the abandonment of the pursuit of the capability one was after in the first place.
Based on past experience and some common sense I know that I need an instrument rating to fly on a more stable schedule. Being limited to VMC operations it is likely that I will have to cancel flights, and therefore client visits, or seek a different means of transportation which may or may not be available or get me to the destination by the time required.
As of now I have access to an instrument rated aircraft that has no protection against icing. I know that this is a limitation for about half of the year as freezing levels will be rather low and without protection against icing I would not be able to climb through clouds. That means I know about a limitation that leads to a degraded quality of the capability. However, I may find that the remaining quality is still good enough. This is one of the known unknowns I may find out more about by performing experiments.
To mitigate the potential degration in quality of my capability I can acquire a more capable aircraft. That leads to more known unknowns. As of now I know the cost of flying. I pay a fixed amount per hour to the owner of the aircraft and I have permission to go on a multi-day trip paying just the time I actually run the engine. Unfortunately I already know too that I have a very sweet agreement that is extremely rare to find. So the solution to fulfill the requirement for a more capable aircraft is likely to purchase one or lease one. That in turn leads to a bag full of known unknowns ranging from questions about maintenance over operating costs to financial risk.
The best I can do is to acquire as much knowledge from as many sources as I can find in order to understand the problem better. That doesn’t tell me whether the capability is achievable for me or not. Nor does it help me to say whether having it actually benefits my business.
In the end I need to perform experiments that are suitable to answer a clearly stated question and control risk by some mitigation measures.
The acquisition of a capability is not a straight forward process. It is a long journey and once one has embarked on it one needs to be willing to be in it for the long haul. Results may show up rather late. The more one reflects on the experiences made, the better risk mitigation measures are, the better one is able to decide on go or no-go along the way.
At the very least one may learn that a different capability is needed - something one would have never discovered without starting the process in the first place. The latter is called serenpidity and is another important concept to embrace when dealing with known unknowns and unknown unknowns.
Agile Coaching is a powerful medicine for an organization and can cause serious side effects. The risks of applying it should be clearly understood.
That sentence should probably said at the beginning of every day an Agile Coach performs his work - basically written on the package as a warning.
The client doesn’t understand what he is getting himself into
Many organizations are used to employ temporary workers as specialists. They are sourced on the market by using the services of staffing agencies that have a huge database full of well educated and experienced people. That works usually quite good when looking for an additional programmer on a C# project or for finding a capable SQL database administrator.
At some point the temporary worker will show up and perform his duties as being asked to do. It is unlikely that he will get involved into anything outside his immediate tasks and he probably has learned a long time ago how to stay out of trouble: do your job and keep your head down.
Coaching includes challenging the client
A coach - it doesn’t matter which kind of coach it is - wants to help the client be successful in some way. When he helps the client to be successful the coach is successful.
Going along with the way things are will most likely not help the client much. Something is about to be challenged the moment the coach shows up. It is inevitable that some change will happen. Were that not the case, nobody would call in a coach. Help cannot be provided by not touching anything at all.
So the coach will look around, turn over the proverbial stones, ask questions and highlight facts that are probably hiding in plain sight. People may have been talking in the hallway for some time already. That activity might be seen by some as sneaking around, as putting his nose into someone else’s business. Others may even perceive that activity as a threat.
The organization has no experience with being coached
All these activities may not be at all what a specialist is supposed to do. They may be seen as overstepping boundaries. It may be seen as causing turmoil in the organization. Management may grow afraid and accuse the specialist, who to them has gone rogue, of disrupting the work of their people.
Some of that actually points to a learning disability. See chapter 2 of Peter Senge’s book The Fifth Discipline for common signs of organizational learning disabilities.
It makes a difference who hired the coach
From my point of view a coach hired by a lower ranking manager is more likely to be seen as a specialist hired for a certain task than one who got hired by senior management. The lower ranking manager is more likely to have not understood what he is getting into. He may want to improve something in his own area of responsibility but doesn’t yet know that the root cause for his problem is beyond that. Now the coach figures this out and starts to nudge. Suddenly some fragile working agreements fall apart.
If the coach has been hired by senior management the issues will be discussed on that level. There are more changes to explain or it was kind of expected. Now it depends on the wisdom and selfconfidence of everybody whether the coach gets fired in order to “protect” the organization or the issues discovered get addressed to help the organization mature.
A single coach is challenged to mitigate side effects
In the case of an Agile Coach there is a technical and a psychological side. On the technical side, amongst other activities, new techniques are introduced, things are getting measured and made visible. On the psychological side, again amongst other activities, help to deal with the changes is offered.
If the same person tries to introduce change and tries to help those affected by it to deal with it, it is highly likely that they will blame the coach instead of developing a trust relationship with him. Eventually it will be only about who caused them pain and how to stop it by getting rid of the obvious reason for the pain. That’s a variant of shoot the messenger.
Pair coaching is more effective
Pair coaching with a partner who never introduces any changes whatsoever might be a good solution to that problem. It is that person who has access to those feeling threatened. He can build up a trust relationship by being the only who always has an open ear, shows deep empathy and understands their concerns. But as he also understands the reasoning behind the changes being introduced by the other he can help from the other side to make the transition to a different mindset and to a different way of working successful.
Essentially pair coaching is more effective as it helps to avoid setbacks or, in some cases, the total failure of the whole transition effort.
The forecast for Saturday and Sunday for the Eastern Alps and further on to Frankfurt looked not great. So we decided to head back home on Friday. The route was planned towards SASAL to cross over into Austria and then overfly the mountains via Mariazell, stay south of Linz and enter Germany shortly after for a landing at Mühldorf. There we wanted to have lunch and continue in the afternoon to Frankfurt.
I did file the VFR flight plan and after refueling we took off from Szeged (LHUD). Upon calling Budapest ATC they assigned us a transponder code and asked “what is your requested altitude” to which I responded “8500”. At the time of the flight there were two restricted areas on our route towards Lake Balaton. As I write this they have disappeared from the SkyDemon map. My inquiry to Budapest ATC about their status had been responded to with “not active”. It appears they have now been withdrawn completely.
We were climbing towards an area with some clouds and shortly after I took the picture were above them.
While getting closer to Lake Balaton they clouds stayed left of us.
And then the lake came into view.
A bit closer to the exit point SASAL Budapest ATC asked us “G-NI descend to 8000ft due to traffic”. We never saw the other aircraft in the clear sky. It must have passed above and behind us. I wanted to get back to my original altitude: “please confirm traffic is no factor” which was replied to with “traffic no factor. You can climb back to 8500”.
We overflew SASAL and contacted Wien. Radio communication in Austria is performed in English with just the small talk and “complicated questions” being in German. I mention this because in Germany on a FIS frequency it is mostly German. It does have a certain twist to hear German speaking Austrians communicate amongst themselves in English with the location names all being in German. Actually it is a good thing. That way foreign pilots passing through are not left out when it comes to situational awareness regarding the activity around them. With our British registered (G-…) aircraft probably nobody assumed I were speaking German neither :-)
But a slight problem showed up. There we were just past SASAL and ready to head to our next waypoint: the airport of Mariazell. We would not have been able to get over the clouds at FL85. Now what?
I didn’t want to go higher. The forecast had shown clouds over the mountains, although they were supposed to be a bit further south. I didn’t want to go lower neither, because I didn’t want to risk being in a narrow space between mountain tops and cloud base and then probably being forced into a valley.
So I turned north and asked the controller “can you coordinate with Wien to penetrate class C airspace for about 20 miles?” His reply was the frequency for the entity that owns the class C. A very friendly lady voice granted me permission to enter.
After traveling about 20 NM she said “G-NI climb and maintain 9000ft. Wien QNH 1012” followed by her question “when can you turn west?” I told her my next waypoint would be GISPO and I would advice shortly when able to turn.
Shortly after that conversation we saw a Lufthansa Airbus descend from left to right in front of us. It was a great sight and it was clear to me that we were apparently crossing one of the STARs (Standard Terminal Arrival Route) into the Vienna International Airport.
Not long after that the clouds to our left stayed back over the mountains and I was able to make the turn to GISPO.
We were leaving Vienna’s class C airspace. Without a frequence change the controller changed and was now a male voice.
Now we had a different cloud problem. This time we had a few clouds a bit below us and in the distance it appeared as there were more on our present altitude.
So I requested a descend to 6500ft. The reply was “descend after passing GISPO to 6500 granted”.
We were then traveling along the mountains in the south of Linz to the next waypoint MATIG.
I don’t remember any frequency change since contacting Wien ATC to request permission to cross their class C airspace. We stayed on the same frequency even after we were well clear of it. Maybe they started to trust that VFR pilot talking to them about RNAV waypoints :-)
When we were getting closer to Salzburg class C airspace I received “G-NI say further routing through Salzburg”. I responded “MATIG followed by ESEGA to cross over into Germany”. We were basically at MATIG so he replied “report ESEGA next”.
The autopilot turned towards ESEGA …
… and within reach of it the Austrian controller told me the frequency of München Information. I switched and made my initial call.
All the prior days over the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Austria we flew with an assigned transponder code and in contact with “real” ATC regardless of the type of airspace we were in. Now what a drastic change occured:
“G-OUNI München Information. RADAR identified. Squawk VFR”
I was on a FIS frequency which is just an informational service. When the workload permits they give you traffic information. You can ask them about weather and other things. But in no way do they offer US style flight following nor are they controlling anything. You are flying VFR and everything is on you. By requesting “traffic information” you get a second set of eyes - again, if the workload permits and he looks on the RADAR screen when not eg. on the phone. It is actually common to not get an answer from FIS. Later you can hear “I was on the phone. Which station called?”
This experience has not changed in the 17 years I didn’t fly. When I made my very first trip to a destination outside Germany and then returned from Brussels after crossing over into Germany and calling FIS the very same happened.
But then it is not wrong to be reminded that looking out is the best way to avoid other traffic. And VFR has the word “visual” in it.
Due to the detour via Wien we landed after 2 hours and 52 minutes in Mühldorf where we had a wonderful lunch with desert and coffee.
Here is the full flight log:
And the vertical profile:
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