Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Getting Ready For IMC

California, the San Francisco Bay Area in particular, is an interesting place to be an instrument pilot, in that there really isn't a whole lot of IMC for most of the year. Not that I'm complaining; the sunshine is beautiful, and zillions of people move here every 20 minutes. It's awesome, and all the more reason to be able to fly over the traffic jams and laugh!

So, I'm running a half-marathon this weekend with Team In Training, the fundraising and athletic training arm of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. That's two great causes: curing cancer, and making yet another futile attempt to increase my muscle mass. The race itself is in Santa Barbara, which is the perfect distance to fly instead of drive -- about a 2 hour flight instead of a 5 hour car ride. And, guess what the forecast is? That's right, rain in the Bay Area, and partly cloudy (whatever that means) in Santa Barbara. But that's OK, I'm an instrument pilot, right?

Well, not so fast. We still have to consider three things: Currency, Logistics and Readiness. My currency was on the edge of running out last weekend, as I'd only done four approaches in the last six months. There's just not a lot of IMC! And recruiting safety pilots who I'm compatible with has been slow going (Roland, you're awesome, but you were out of town!). So a reader of this blog, Russ (who has a blog of his own here though he really should write in it more!!), and I got together for a flight last weekend. It was great; we went down to Salinas and did the VOR and GPS 13 approaches, with a holding pattern (above actual clouds) at MARNA. Now, I've never been in real IMC without an instructor, and we were about a 1/2 mile from this being my first time! In any case, it all went well, except I attempted a circle-to-land off the GPS 13 to runway 26, and the sunfield and haze were so bad that we couldn't see the runway. An actual missed approach!

Currency: Done. Now, for Logistics. I managed to book a nice IFR plane for the weekend, a small miracle in itself. I won't go into that, but the plane is based at San Carlos, not Palo Alto, where I usually fly out of.

This brings us to Readiness -- since I've only flown IFR out of San Carlos once (that with my instructor), and I'd never flown this plane IFR, I decided to take a test flight today, again with my instructor John so I could get under the hood and do some more approaches.

I decided to replay the weekend's flight, but just do the VOR 13 at Salinas, not bother with a published missed approach but just head back to San Carlos. And obviously the start/end point are different, because we're starting in San Carlos instead of Palo Alto. So we talked it over, got in, started up, and it came time to copy my clearance.

"Skyhawk 35583 is cleared to the Salinas Airport via runway heading until past the diamond shaped waterway, right turn heading 120 within 2 miles of the airport, radar vectors Woodside, Victor 25, Salinas, Direct; climb and maintain 1100 until past the 165 radial of the Oakland VOR, climb maintain 2000, expect 5000 in 5 minutes. Frequency 131.25, squawk 4526."

Holy crap. And this came pretty rapid-fire. I struggled, John helped me. The standard clearance for Palo Alto is "right turn heading 060, radar vectors Salinas direct, climb maintain 3000, expect 5000 in 5 minutes, frequency 121.3, squawk 4526." This was much more complicated. So, score one for me going on this flight. Score two for me actually flying the clearance well enough that John complimented me on it.

Overall, the flight went pretty well. There were a few things that I slipped up on, the biggest of them being that after doing a touch and go at Salinas, I was supposed to execute a missed approach, but I forgot about that and started flying right back to San Carlos. Can't do that when you're on an IFR clearance. To my credit, I flew an unexpected circle-to-land perfectly, but it does no good if you fly into a mountain right afterwards. I didn't. Also, I did not correctly interpret an approach plate, which bugs me a little. Need to pay more attention. And, I needed to study the San Carlos approach plate prior to asking for a clearance to San Carlos...they sent me direct to one of the waypoints on the GPS approach, and I had no idea what they were talking about. Hate that.

But, those things aside, it was a good flight. I'm glad I did the bad missed approach on a training flight, and the other mistakes were recoverable. So, I'm now prepared for Friday. My biggest fear is now copying (and flying) the clearance when leaving Santa Barbara on Sunday! Let's hope for something easy!


Paul said...

Have a fun flight, I remember having a blast on my first solo IMC trip. Every time I've departed Santa Barbara I've gotten a Departure Procedure so my advice would be to have those ready in advance.

MKT said...

Thanks, Paul! Great suggestion on the departure procedures; we did talk about that yesterday as well, though it sounds like it'd still be wise for me to review the plates before my trip back. Thank you for the advice; I appreciate it!