Lesson 97
3 February 1999
1.8 hours

Enjoying the Nice Day
Letting the GPS do the Work

This was a pleasant flight back to Orange County Airport, W93, on what looks to be the one clear day this week.  All but one of DominionAviation Service's C-172's have been down for maintenance--one with a blown 100-hour engine--and everyone has scheduled  the one flyable 172 for what seems like 25 hours every day.  I've been in line for weeks, with bad weather and schedule conflicts getting in the way.  I scheduled today's flight two weeks ago--and it was the first daytime opening they had.

So just as I was going out the door today, the phone rang, and I knew--just knew it was going to be somebody saying that the airplane was down for maintenance.

But I was wrong.  It was Becky calling to say that the transponder had died and had been removed--so in other words, local flying only.  Well, in my mind, "local" was going to be 56 nm in Class E or G airspace to Orange County Airport.

And I'd been smarter in scheduling this time--put myself down for four hours for the 35 minute flight, so I wouldn't have to hurry.

It had been very foggy in the morning, but by noon the sky was pretty clear--scattered clouds at 2000 or 4000 or 6000 feet, depending on who you asked.  (Whoever said 4000 turned out to be right.)

I was trying the Palm Pilot GPS program, "Flying Pilot" and a companion program, "Atlas," on this flight.  I've used them before, and have even reviewed the for a magazine, but I wanted to see what would happen if I just flew by the GPS, without even paying attention to the sectional chart in flight.  I had planned the flight normally, using the chart and filling out a conventional nav log, so I had those to fall back on if the GPS and Palm Pilot programs didn't work out.  But they were fine.  I just flew the heading that Flying Pilot gave me and watched my position on the moving map display.  I had scanned the relevant portions of the sectional chart and loaded them into the Palm Pilot, so when I wanted to look at the sectional I just switched from Flying Pilot to Atlas, where I could see my location right on the digitized sectional at a scale of about 11 nm x 11 nm on the Palm display.  I found that the Atlas display was less useful than the Flying Pilot display, but it was interesting to see my position on the sectional view.

Anyway, the GPS and Palm Pilot programs pretty much took care of the navigation.  I mostly just sat there and watched the scenery go past.  The air was quite smooth at 2000 feet--only a few light bumps now and then, despite the scattered little cumulous clouds about 2000 feet above--so I didn't really have much flying to do.  The GPS took me directly to the Lake Anna dam, where I turned northwest toward W93, and then the GPS found the airport long before I did.  I was almost over it before seeing it.

The FBO at Orange County has the complete set of US sectional charts, assembled together (without the borders) and pasted on a large wall--great fun to look at.  It's a friendly enough place, and across the road there's a place to eat--but it's as close to what used to be called a road house as you're likely to find these days.

On the way back, I left my chart and nav log in the back seat and just used the GPS and Palm Pilot, and stayed right on course and arrived at FCI almost without having to think at all.

And that's the only thing I was uncomfortable about on the whole trip.  I found that I just didn't have to pay attention to the navigation at all--just follow the GPS.  Maybe this is old stuff to other, more experienced pilots, but to me it's a little scary.  If the GPS had died on the way back, where there aren't many terrain features to spot easily, I wouldn't have known where I was.  Well, the truth is that on that trip, just keeping to the heading has to take you to the James River, which runs almost perpendicular to the course, so you really can't get lost for long.  But on a longer flight in different terrain--well, I'm going to continue to use the GPS, but I'm going to keep at the pilotage, too.

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