Saturday, September 05, 2015

Flying Lesson #8 - Landing And Flying In SVFR

This morning the visibility was bad and getting worse. My aviation weather app first reported it as MVFR and then IFR for Pontiac.

I went to the airport anyways in the hopes it might clear, after all, until they cancel the lesson I should be there.

I arrived, did the pre-flight of the plane and talked with the instructors. Conditions around the airport weren't great but it seemed to be getting better, even though the clouds were below VFR minimums.

Will figured there was enough visibility to see the runway and pattern, the overcast layer was above pattern altitude while below VFR minimums, and since we were doing pattern work we could ask for SVFR clearance.

SVFR, or special visual flight rules, is a clearance designed for just such an occasion - when the weather won't permit VFR but you have enough to see what you need to see to do what you need to do.

I started up the plane, did the call to ground and requested SVFR for the pattern.

We got the clearance along with detailed SVFR instructions, taxied to the runway (my taxiing keeps getting better) and checked in with tower. We had to hold for some planes doing IFR landings, then were were cleared for Runway 27R with a right hand pattern. This was my first experience with SVFR conditions.

We were then cleared for takeoff.

I did a nice smooth takeoff and we were off.

And SVFR gives quite a different view up there from VFR (photo snapped by Will as I was flying the plane around the pattern):

We were flying among the clouds and it was hard to make out the ground below at times.

I flew the first pattern, lined up on final and then Will did the final portion of the landing itself just to give me a refresher from the last lesson. Finding the landmarks in the mist was quite hard but I was still able to see the airport and runways and flew a good pattern.

Then, after another hold and a good takeoff the tower said they were going VFR and did we want to maintain SVFR? We said we wanted to stay SVFR as it sure didn't look VFR. Some clouds had moved in so I got a bonus instrument lesson, and I turned in a little too tight on base as I couldn't see the landmarks nor the field for a moment so I was too high on this approach. I noted that to Will who seemed pleased I had picked up on that, and we decided to make this approach a go-around. Will talked me through it - carb heat off, full throttle, and flaps out by increments as the airspeed rises, once all that is done and you're flying the plane, then call tower and let them know you're going around. Simple and a very important skill to have, as is developing the judgment to reject the landing and do the go-around.

Then we went around the pattern again, and I then did a good landing, had a good taxi back, another hold and then an even better takeoff - smooth and perfectly lined up along the runway with no left drift at all after takeoff.

I had just turned cross-wind and we were about to do a PIREP (pilot report) that it was not VFR when the tower then called us that it had changed its mind and as conditions were worsening they were declaring the conditions IFR and we would do the next landing to a full stop with an end to the SVFR clearance. We agreed completely, because it was really starting to suck up there.

We completed the pattern which I did much better at and I did the landing with Will talking me through it. Will noted I did that entire landing by myself and it was very nice indeed, especially given the conditions, but I should add just a bit more back-pressure.

That's 3 takeoffs, 3 more landings and a go-round.

This was a very instructive lesson indeed. The landing practice was great and I'm happy with how my taxi and takeoffs keep getting better and my landings are starting to come along. I'm sure as heck not quite ready to land the plane all by myself without any guidance, but I can see getting there.

More importantly, it reinforced the lesson that VFR-only pilots such as myself are drilled to stay out of IFR conditions, and there's a darn good reason for that.

Even in SVFR, finding the horizon was hard most of the time, as was seeing the ground some of the time. I was really using the instruments to keep the plane level, maintain proper bank and altitude. Under solid IFR conditions that would have been worse and the risk for spatial disorientation or indeed not even being able to see well enough to land would have drastic consequences.

As a VFR pilot remember: Stay clear of clouds and if the conditions blow, then don't go.

A very short lesson with .7 in the logbook, but a very good and important one.

1 comment:

Murphy's Law said...

I've found that the best method for reinforcing the mandate to stay out of IFR conditions is to inadvertently get caught up in them once. That makes for a very educational object lesson, if you survive it.

And never forget that the crappy weather building ahead of you is probably building behind you too, so the idea that you can always turn around in a few minutes is a bad one. Always know where your closest airports are in any given direction, because sometimes you've just got to land and wait it out, even if it means a motel room.