Saturday, September 19, 2015

Flying Lesson #11 - Can You Play Your Instruments?

Lesson 11 started out interesting and got more so very quickly.

The Terminal Area Forecast I checked called for lots of rain and cloud cover but it was still VFR. I got up and it was raining, the clouds were low but since there was no emailed cancellation and the METAR was still VFR with good ceiling and visibility I headed to the airport. It stopped raining by the time I arrived but the winds were up and the clouds were definitely overcast and moving around but again thousands of feet above minimums.

I got there at 7:40 for an 8:00 am lesson, and was the first person to arrive, so I did the preflight on the plane. Even if it turns out you're not going, it's always good to get a thorough preflight in for practice.

Sure enough N73455 needed some more oil, which after they opened the office up I went in and got some and filled her up. Other than that the preflight was a-ok.

Sean arrived and noted that the winds were pretty bad so it would be a constitutional violation (cruel and unusual punishment, doncha know?) to have me practice landings in it at this stage, so he said we would do some instrument work.

Oh boy did we.

Engine start complete, pre-takeoff checks complete, and cleared to takeoff and the weather comes rolling in, and hard.

Rain and clouds came in right as we takeoff. I got in a good takeoff with a lot of crosswind compensation and proceeded to get pushed around the sky a bit.

Conditions started dropping fast, with tower advising us and another Cessna Skyhawk that had entered Pontiac's airspace and trying to route us to clearer air. Let's put it this way, the airport completely disappeared under the weather with clouds coming in fast from the south. So we started heading northeast with the other Skyhawk a few miles away at our 3 o'clock to get out of the path of the storm.

We were getting lots of bumps and rain and were considering heading back but decided not to as the bad weather was now solidly over the field and the field had fully disappeared from view.

As we were flying along the Tower noted that he had two Skyhawks with ground-speeds of 140 and 160 knots which was pretty darn respectable. Think "Real Big Tailwind" giving us a push. The Pontiac controller more than earned his pay routing us around the worst of the thin storm line and giving lots of good advisories and advice. Pontiac tower rocks.

Overall the viz was marginal VFR creeping into IFR so Sean had me put on some Foggles and do some instrument work.

Foggles restrict your vision to the instrument panel and you have to rely on your six-pack to fly the plane.

Not this kind of six pack:

This six pack:

I did quite well under the foggles, flying and compensating for the wind that kept pushing us around using the instruments to maintain our altitude, heading and attitude.

The weather kept getting worse, and the tiny ship was tossed, so Sean decided to demonstrate an IFR flight and to let me get some experience in complete instrument conditions. No more need for the foggles - it was real instrument conditions now. We contacted Detroit and got an IFR heading back to Pontiac with a climb to 3,000 feet and a heading of 240.

We climbed to 3,000 and were truly in the clouds. Forget about any outside references, there were none, it was all instruments all the time, period.

I did a good job keeping the plane steady on 240 even with the wind pushing us around. I quickly learned that in instrument conditions it's all about a light touch - no excessive angles of bank, rely on the instruments and ignore the feeling in your head if it conflicts with what the instruments are telling you. Especially ignore it if your head says you're turning left and the instruments say you're flying straight.

Detroit then had us turn to 180, which I did and I flew us along all the way to the approach point. Our ground-speed was now 55 knots due to the strong headwind so it took awhile to get back to the airport.

Sean thought I did quite well on instruments. Apparently all those hours as a youth flying MS Flight Simulator were not wasted after all.

Sean then took over as we were directed to descend and handed over from Detroit back to Pontiac. As we descended, we passed through the cloud layer and could see the ground again. The ceiling was 1,800 feet and we let Pontiac Tower know that as they had requested us to give them a cloud base report. We could also see the airport again which was very happy-making. We did a circle approach for a landing first on 9R but then with the very high tailwind wind on 9, we shifted to 27R for the circle approach landing with a circle in. Sean handled it amazingly smoothly and with a very smooth landing with one heckuva gusting crosswind. Great instructors are good to have.

I then got to taxi the plane back in under heavy tailwind conditions, So I got to do a quality crosswind taxi. I had the elevator full down and the aileron down on the tailwind side - always dive away from a tailwind. It worked fine and I taxied her right into the parking space with no trouble at all.

It was a great lesson, despite, or in truth, because of the conditions.

Again, the importance of a VFR pilot staying out of those kind of conditions were aptly demonstrated. Better to be on the ground than up in that soup if you're not qualified to handle it and no kidding, I'm not. It was good to learn how to handle the conditions and fly even in such crosswinds winds and turbulence, how to handle instrument flying, and how to handle communications if you get caught in those kinds of conditions. It was a challenging lesson with some not-nice conditions and a little nervous-making at first to experience that kind of weather, but I think I handled it well and learned a lot.

That's 1.2 more hours with .4 of simulated instrument flight and .5 of actual instrument flight with an instrument approach.


Anonymous said...

I enjoy your entries on flying. Always wanted to do it, but skeered.

juvat said...

Ahh Yes, Instruments. Never my favorite type of flying, but those skills are solidly in the "pistol" category. Better to have and not need than to need and not have.

Old NFO said...

Agree with Juvat! :-)

Aaron said...

flagunblog: Thanks! It's a lot of fun to learn a new and challenging skill and yes, I have been a bit nervous a time or two.

juvat: I've now learned enough to well and truly know to stay out of IMC until I'm qualified to handle it, and I now want to eventually get an instrument rating to be a safer and more competent pilot because of it.

Old NFO: It's good we all agree with each other on this, eh?