Replacing the Radio
With the problem I’d been having, it seemed like a good time to replace my old analog Narco radio. The prices on new radios, at least the model that’s a direct replacement for mine, have been rising. The previous owner replaced one of the Narcos last year, and the new model went up by more than $100 since then. A lot of dealers are out of stock, since some of the old radios will become obsolete in January when new regulations take effect.
I finally found another radio to match my digital one. It arrived a few days ago. There’s no avionics shop at our airport, and I didn’t want to take a day off to wait for the work to be done.
Today I flew my plane to Sarasota (SRQ), close to work, and left it for the day. It was an interesting flight down. I had been a little nervous about the flight, since it would be my first solo trip to a class C airport, airline traffic and all, my controlled airport skills were a little rusty, and the radios hadn’t been in the best shape.
The trip to Sarasota is much easier with flight following, since you can get a clearance through the Tampa class B, a direct heading, and a handoff to the tower. (My backup plan if I couldn’t contact the tower in time was to just turn around and return home.)
I took off and called approach to request flight following. I got a squawk code, but didn’t hear from approach again. I occasionally heard voices on that frequency, but the radio was clearly only working halfway.
Without a clearance, I had to stay below 1200 feet and hope I could get in touch with Sarasota before I got to its airspace. I tried approach a couple more times with no luck, even keeping the test button pressed to bring in weaker frequencies.
I wasn’t sure what to do, so I put my transponder back on the generic 1200 code as a way of saying I wasn’t in radio contact. (Maybe I should have used the radio failure code 7600, but I didn’t think of it then, and I hadn’t lost my radio, just got too far away to receive the approach frequency I was on. Since I was in airspace that didn’t require radio contact, it probably doesn’t matter. If they called me and didn’t get a response, they would have terminated the service anyway.) I managed to contact Sarasota Tower before I got too close. They gave me a new squawk code and had me fly in a circle until the radar found me. Traffic was light, and I was cleared for a straight-in approach.
When I picked up the airplane after work, there was good news and bad. The two radios were working fine, but the first VOR was off by 30 degrees. That’s the one connected to the newly-installed radio, and the one that contains the glideslope. It had been working fine, and it seemed suspicious that it would suddenly be so far off when a brand-new radio was attached to it. I thought maybe it was a ploy to run up the repair bill, but I was told the shop is not authorized to repair Narco VORs. I asked about replacing it, and got an answer that made no sense (something about “we just threw away a bunch of those”).
The shop was clearly not interested in fixing or replacing the VOR. (What other options are there when something doesn’t work?) At that point, I couldn’t even be sure that it was defective, because it’s hard to test them on the ground unless you go to a certain part of the airport, if it even has a test area.
My guess is that whoever connected the VOR didn’t do it right. I seriously doubt it was deliberately tampered with, since they weren’t interested in selling me a new one. I’ll have to take it elsewhere and have the VOR checked.
I played with the radios a bit on the ground, listening to different frequencies on each one, with the speaker and my headset. Everything sounded clear. The sun was setting by then, so I wanted to get in the air.
To get out of Sarasota, I had to call clearance delivery, something I hadn’t done before. I told them who I was, where I was going, etc. I was expecting a squawk code and maybe a heading, so I had a pen ready. I got back a whole slew of stuff (squawk, altitude, heading, frequency), but somehow managed to get it down and read it back correctly. It was just like the practice IFR clearances my instructor has been giving me, but at warp speed.
The clearance guy was also handling ground, so he cleared me to taxi to the runway and hold short. I did my runup, called the tower, and was cleared to take off.
As I turned onto the runway, I heard an exchange between the tower and a Delta pilot, and looked over my shoulder to see what looked like the world’s largest plane waiting for me to take off. I was glad I hadn’t known it was there; it probably would have tempted me to rush through my runup. (I had landed behind an airliner and waited for one to depart before, but this was the first time one had to wait for me. It’s quite a feeling of power.)
The flight back was great, flying direct from city to city, through the class B instead of avoiding it like I usually do. The radios sounded loud and clear. The visibility was high, and I got a nice view of the cities at night. It was a year ago today that I took my first lesson, and that flight home was quite a way to celebrate.