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“Pilot Physiology”

By Matt Kreilein,

Being a scientist, I’m always interested in collecting data random as it may be.

Today I drove to Schenectady NY to fly with my old CFII for some instrument work. I like to make the trip up 1-2 times a year to fly with him and/or to reconnect with old friends from when I worked in Albany. Today, I decided to wear a GPS watch and HR monitor (standard marathoner training gear) just to see if anything happened. I actually meant to do this last night but forgot the HR monitor at home. It would have been interesting to see the spike in my HR when just at wheels up I saw a groundhog run across Rwy 24 at KPNE at the farthest point of where the landing light reaches ahead of you in 0TH.

You can take a look here http://connect.garmin.com/player/60038641 You can change the measurements at the top to HR and Elevation and click at the top and the pointer will show that point on the map below.

We went ahead and filed IFR for a round of approaches, GPS 28 NY0 touch/go, VOR 28 KALB low approach, to ILS 4 KSCH full stop. It was a fairly uneventful day today (winds 5 kts or less and variable, ~4000 SCT/BKN), but a few things stuck out at me.

We departed KSCH Rwy 4 and you’ll notice that in the climb (my typical “on the couch” HR is 60-70 bpm by the way) my HR started to climb to ~105 bpm.

It starts to come back down and then there’s a slight plateau at ~95 bpm. This was when CFII said, “Man, these vacuum pumps are so unreliable sometimes” and covered the DG and artificial horizon to go partial panel.

You can see that my HR comes down to ~80 bpm (apparently I’m “excited” by flying to the tune of ~10-20 bpm) but then spikes up to ~130 bpm when we level off. This was when I was told “Flip your foggles up cause we’re going actual” and upon entering actual & partial panel I was told by Albany to turn left to 280 to proceed direct LURYO for GPS 28 NY0. That’s an ~50 bpm increase when turning from 010 to 280 partial panel in IMC. Odd, because I didn’t feel outside of my comfort zone…it was making a partial panel turn to a heading maintaining altitude…pretty “standard” instrument training activity.

After roll out, my HR again drops to just above 80 bpm, my “piloting rate” we’ll call it. You’ll see another spike to ~110 bpm on short final and landing to NY0 Rwy 28. Upon flipping the foggles up ~1 nm out, I saw a runway covered in a light blanket of fresh snow…typical Upstate issue…and we caught a few swirling light gusts which required a bit of last minute rudder work to realign the nose at touchdown.

After the takeoff you’ll see a LONG period where really, nothing happened. The trek to KALB followed by the low approach was pretty uneventful. Standard under the hood flying.

After the low approach at KALB, we got vectors to the ILS Rwy 4 at SCH (kinda sloppy ones. Join and cleared for the approach just outside BUMPS pretty much on the GS instead of farther out and below it. He was busy and it was a VFR day so we didn’t really stress about it too much). While on the 010 heading, it’s pretty much a standard HR event and even for most of the ILS approach. However, you can see the slight turn over Rotterdam where a HR spike occurred and pretty much stayed with me until touchdown on Rwy 4. It’s interesting, but that little spot is just NE of a little ridge of hills that sit pretty much due West of KALB. When you come out from the “protection” of the hills, the winds change quite a bit and all of a sudden, the 030 you were keeping pinned to follow the LOC course of 040 with wind correction in there starts drifting you off the LOC rather abruptly (No more than 1 dot deflection on LOC/GS during whole approach), but it’s that sudden change that caused my HR to jump (even though I’ve flown that approach dozens of times and know it’s a characteristic). That elevated rate stuck with me until touchdown until clear of the runway. Even my heart knew that I didn’t land until I was off the runway and fully stopped!

For some reason, I spiked to ~90 while turning into the parking spot…odd. I think it’s the “financial fear” you get when taxiing with planes on either side of you on the ramp 🙂

This was all pretty much what I expected (faster HR partial panel/maneuvering IMC and on takeoff/landing), but it was still interesting to see that even when doing what’s “normal” and expected of you as a pilot, you still get charged up physically.

As a note, Garmin thinks I biked this route. I assure you I didn’t burn the ~6600 calories that Garmin calculated. If you have a HR monitor and GPS watch, this is pretty easy and seeing all this made for a fun additional debrief of my flight today.

Happy Holidays and safe flying to all,

Matt Kreilein

Matt Kreilein is a Chemist and instrument rated private pilot.  He trained out of KSCH and is now living in NJ. He is a member of the 150th Aero Flying Club at KMMU.

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  • Great post! I hate to see what my info would have printed out on my check ride.

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Amanda Michelle (Younkin) Franklin 3/14/1986 – 5/27/2011 Click for information on Amanda