May 15, 2019 – Autopilot and FlightStream Test

The opportunity to fly on the night before I left for vacation, encouragement really, came when my buddy Mike pinged me that he’d be in town unexpectedly. I was instructing a class up until 5pm, so we agreed to meet at the hangar around 5:45. This would be one of those times when I’d get to enjoy having a hangar only minutes from my work.

I worked all day to give the clients my best attention, while fending off that vacation slide mentality that typically sets in when you know you are leaving for somewhere fun the next day. Our session was successful, and the feedback I got from them was all positive. Never-the-less, when the 5pm bell rang I sent them on their way and left immediately for my hangar. It was on the way there that i realized I hadn’t completed all of their paperwork, and knew I had to do it before I left for vacation. I kept going anyway.

At the hangar I pre-flighted N833DF and pulled her out onto the taxi line to wait for Mike. I had filed an IFR flight plan from my phone and looked forward to loading it up with the new FlightStream. I also looked forward to letting the autopilot do some of the work heading southbound, and both of those would be a distraction. I’ll put Mike to work making sure one of us was flying and eyes outside while the other played with the new stuff.

It was a beautiful day with some wind, but really no significant challenge. I fired up the right engine, but Mike was struggling to get his seatbelt free. We can to the conclusion that it the seat re-install after the work may have trapped the right seatbelt, so I shut the engine down so we could get him out and safely troubleshoot. I reached under from behind and pulled the belt buckle down and clear – issue resolved.

Mike was now back in and buckled, so I primed a little and used the cold start technique again. The engine wasn’t catching so Mixture to idle; Throttle wide open; and she fired right up. I’ve gotten better at starting these power plants since the return and am understanding the process more. Yes – it has taken this long.

Starting the left engine, I leaned them both and turned on the avionics. There was a cirrus a few doors down preparing to leave, so I was under just a little time pressure to get moving. It was then we realized that the FlightStream 210 was not showing up for me to set up my phone. Maybe it doesn’t like iPhones, so I tried again with my iPad Mini. That didn’t work and Mike’s iPad also didn’t see anything under WiFi or Bluetooth. We spent time diagnosing what was going on, but the cirrus guys were nearing the time they’d want me out of the way.

I reached back for my old iPad, which the shop had connected.previously. It said it was connected, but I wasn’t able to do anything with it. Damn!  I had to move, so I tabled the FlightStream test and told Mike we’d focus on giving the autopilot a workout. I acknowledged that I’d be distracted, knowing that now I’d have to call the avionics shop and fix brand new busted-ass equipment. I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to do it for another three weeks, and that ticked me off just a little. Focus Frank – what you are doing here is serious.

Adding power, I taxied N833DF past my Cirrus neighbor and out to taxiway ECHO. I gave up on the FlightStream late in the game, as much as I could, and now had to revert to manual methods. Finding my pen and paper, I called for the IFR clearance, which included ‘As Filed”. Rather than ask for a full route clearance, I signed off and turned my phone back on so I could see what I’d actually filed. It frosted my butt just a little having to put this in manually, since I’d just paid a bunch to have the upload automated.

I’m admittedly distracted and had to resist continuous trouble shooting more than once while i taxied down the runway for a 32 departure. I was making my workload higher now it needed to be with my retentive behavior, and didn’t settle down until I was lining up. I did my line up flows as usual and the airplane was ready. We launched into a clear blue sky and headed south.

The autopilot check started early in the climb, but I had a few missteps with it that initially made me think there was something wrong. I hadn’t done a complete pre-flight ground test on it with all the commotion, so I never verified that pitch mode worked as it should. I did manage to get it all sorted out so that heading was held in the climb, and then transitioned to GPSS tracking. At altitude, we saw that the altitude hold mode worked and the subtle wing rocking is gone. That last one is a very big deal. The autopilot is rock solid and stable in lateral control now.

Flying a coupled ILS into Salisbury, MD, I had the change to relearn the proper button pushing sequence while I was testing the overhauled autopilot. The glideslope now captures without diving below initially. I’ve only done this one test so far, but I see real improvements here.

The FlightStream wasn’t working for this flight, so that also meant I had no traffic and ADS-B weather coming in. That’s right, I had written a very large check which resulted in my having LESS capability for this flight. I poked around a little for ways to get something back online, to no avail.

Our next approach was the GPS 23 LPV. There was conflicting traffic – a Piedmont jet – that diverted us initially. We asked for vectors clear, and then rejoined the approach. The glideslope didn’t engage automatically this time, which is when I realized that I’d forgotten to switch the mode selector to LOC mode. This must be done at least two miles prior to the FAF, or the system will not engage.. Once you are beyond that point, it is designed not to capture late, so I flew the glideslope manually. The autopilot remained engaged otherwise.

I was very happy with the autopilot work at this point, but will continue testing to make sure all ground function tests are successful, and no other bugs remain. I will also run through the convoluted altitude pre-selection methods called out in the original manual. This one requires up to ten steps in the proper sequence, so it will be just an academic exercise for me. I know and understand how to use the autopilot’s best features, and plan to ignore the convoluted ones. On the other hand, Mike wants me to try out everything. It is not uncommon for me to change my process due to something he has discovered, so I’ll do that.

Turning over the flight controls, I had Mike fly us home. He turned off the autopilot to get some airplane time, and at the same time kept mulling over the FlightStream Debacle. He went into bluetooth and activated the cursor in the name box. Voila!!  Traffic, weather, and all the Flightstream functionality started rolling in. Kudos for stumbling only on the secret for me, and allowing me to test the features and functions I’d just paid for. Now my cell phone and both iPads are tied into my avionics panel. Superb!!