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My first IFR flight in IMC

IFR enrouteFinally some IMC!
After all of  my IFR flight training you would expect to see some actual IMC (instrument meteorological conditions) flight time in my log book, but after about 42 hours of IFR time there wasn’t much. Just a few flights at altitude in and out of the cloud layer, not what I would consider IMC. Well yesterday I made up for some of that. I didn’t think my simulated instrument time provided enough experience to just hop in the plane solo, takeoff into the soup and fly an approach to minimums; so I opted to fly with an instructor. After calling the flight school the dispatcher let me know that one of the instructors would head up to the airport in about an hour. As I got ready, I could hear the rain outside picking up. Nothing really hard, but the viability was around 1 mile and the ceilings were around 300 feet.

I met my flight instructor a the flight school and flied our flight plans. The plan was to follow the weather system moving north east that way we would stay in the soup. I filed for KMMU Morristown NJ to  KHVN New Haven CT at 6000. We were good to go until I heard the flight briefer mumble something about “locallizer and glideslope runway 1 out of service” I thought to myself “I don’t think there is another procession approach into KHVN”. As he was reading off the weather I looked up HVN to find that all approaches were for runway 2. After looking over the available approaches we made the desision to fly the VOR 2 approach (right at minimums) and divert to Danbury CT KDXR if it didn’t work out. The weather briefer told me that the tops were around FL20 so breaking out on top shouldn’t happen (or so we thought).

Waiting on IFR departure clearance at KMMUOn to the flight. First of all, I wish I had the time to setup my camera, but the instructor felt that it was best to concentrate on the task at hand “flying the airplane” and I agreed. This was also my first flight with this instructor and I am sure he was at least a little nervous about taking off in 300 foot ceilings with someone who just got their rating a few weeks ago. After waiting so long that we could have driven the entire trip and returned to the airport again, we were finally cleared for take off. Final checks. Mixture set to rich. Taxi onto the runway and line up. Lights (on) Camera (Transponder set to altitude reporting) action (DG set). Power set. RPM’s good, engine instruments good, airspeed alive. Rotate 55knots IAS. Climb at 75 knots. On instruments. Runway heading to 500 feet and then 210 to 2000. OK THIS IS DIFFERENT! I DON’T LIKE THIS! Were my thoughts. I guess the small view of the ground I always got while under the hood made me feel a bit more comfortable, or it might have been the idea that I could take off the hood at any time if it got to harry, but this was DIFFERENT this is the real deal. Over to departure. “Cessna 5322p 700 for 2000 Morristown five” NY Departure: “Cessna 5322p ident” as I reached over to the transponder I hear the slight sound of a pitch up attitude. Just as I go to check Daniel is on it for me. I apologized and we move on. (I only lost about 8knots) but that’s not cool. Not in a climb so close to the ground. (Filed under never again). We received a few more vectors followed by a clearance to 4000 feet. Just as a passed 3000 I noticed that the clouds were starting to lighten a bit “could we be breaking out?” Guess so. Beautiful blue sky! Now that’s a good thing. Just then I thought “I am paying for IMC time not VFR time” sh%t!

We flew in the wonderful sunshine on our way to New Haven CT until passing Carmel CMK. After that we were between cloud layers. I briefed the approach and checked the weather “right at minimums”. Ok hear we go. VOR runway 2. Down to 420 after Ponds (FAF). Turn (no turn) time (clock set) Throttle (set for non precision decent to 420) (MDA). MDA 420 and all I see are clouds. I can see the water below me, I can even smell it but I can’t see the runway lights. Ho wait! There it is! Underneath me. I looked down to see the runway numbers passing below us. Time for the missed approach. Power set. Pitch for the climb. Flaps up. Climb. Call tower. “New Haven Tower Cessna 5322p going missed” I start my right turn to the Madison VOR. Tower: “5322p did you see the runway lights?” “Negative. All we saw was the approach end of the runway as we flew over it”.

On to plan B. We were handed off to NY Departure and we advised them that we would like to proceed to our alternate Danbury CT. “NY Dep: 5322p advise when ready to copy” I let Danial deal with the clearance and I flew the airplane. In a solo situation I guess I wold request vectors or hold at the published missed approach holding pattern until setting up the auto pilot that way I would have time to copy.

We were cleared to 4000 feet. We setup and briefed the Localizer runway 8 approach. By this time the weather had improved over Danbury so we were confident this approach would work out. We were vectored for the approach and broke out at the MDA with the runway in sight. Setup for landing. Power set slowing. Flaps set full. Over the threshold. Power slowly set to idle. Hold it… Touchdown! Not bad. We taxied clear and called flight service to file our new flight plan back to Morristown.

After a brief hold we were once again cleared for takeoff. This time the climb-out was easy. Being in the soup was becoming a bit more fun. On our way back we received vectors the entire way and ATC had us intercept the Morristown localizer for runway 23 at about 20 miles out (I am just guessing on the distance). We were cleared out of 4000 to 3000 feet. Just then we flew into some heavy rain. For a second I saw the altimeter JUMP about 200 feet down. Not a problem if we were experiencing turbulence but we weren’t. It was smooth. Then again. Now not only was the altimeter jumping but the VSI and airspeed indicators were all over the place but still no turbulence. Pitch attitude was steady and the altitude and airspeed trend was correct. I turned on the pitot heat (should have done that earlier) and after a few minutes things settled down. The ILS 23 was almost a letdown. The weather cleared just as we intercepted the glideslope. I flew the ILS anyway and ended the flight with a nice landing.

Lessons learned (or relearned).

  1. I have to fly more. When I first took off I felt like I hadn’t flown via instruments in a long time even though it was only a few weeks.
  2. Stay ahead of the airplane and don’t worry about the small stuff. Fly the plane first. Play with radios / heading bugs / altitude bugs / ETC  later.
  3. Don’t settle for OK aim for perfection. I flew the VOR 2 approach into New Haven a bit off. I remember telling myself “that’s good enough” No it’s not. Center that needle.
  4. Fly more IMC. I will continue to aim for 2000 / 3000 foot ceiling days that way I can get used to the feeling of being in IMC without the tight margins of approaches to minimums.
  5. Set up the camera. I didn’t spend all of that money on the camera to leave it in the bag. If I setup the tripod I wont have to worry about it in the back. I can fly and not bother with it.

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  • Great writeup Mike! I just relived my first SOLO IMC flight. For me, much more memorable then my first solo flight.

    Now, you need to do this solo. :-)) And remember, that camera is secondary in our flying no matter how much money you spent on it.

  • Thanks Allen. As always, the camera comes second to everything going on in the airplane. I can't wait to fly solo, just not to minimums, I'm not ready for that just yet.

  • Good judgment taking a CFI along since it's been a while since you flew on instruments. It really is amazing at how quickly we all lose proficiency.

    It's not surprising that you barely get any actual IMC time. In reality, you usually climb through a thin layer and wind up on top for the majority of the flight. Even as an airline pilot, I only log three to five hours of IMC per month. As a new instrument pilot, I would intentionally seek out overcast layers and fly little IFR trips in the soup just to build my time and experience. Not a bad way to do it.

    Enjoy staring at those guages.

  • Thanks for the comment and advice Pat. I will fly as much IMC as possible while keeping it safe. Thanks again!

  • Marty Weiss

    Hey Mike – nice job. I too just received my IFR ticket (June 2009). My first IFR actual came as a surprise – Hyannis was "supposed" to be 10 mile vis and clear below 8000….well….it was more like 5 miles and 1000 feet ovc. Not bad, but my wife was with me and we were flying on a presidential TFR waiver to HYA then over to Martha's Vineyard for vacation (with the Obamas)! 🙂 I was a little stressed to begin with and filed IFR simply because of the TFR and waiver (NO VFR traffic was allowed in the 10 mile Obama ring during his summer vacation on the Vineyard) My wife was really cool – actually excited to fly the ILS through the clouds from 4000 to 1000 and have the airport right in front of us! I was worried she'd freak out in the clouds – just the opposite! (of course the MFD on our Cirrus makes it look easy) I taxied over to the secret service check area feeling like a fighter pilot. 🙂

  • Thanks for the comment Marty. Where do you fly out of? Maybe we can get together for a trip somewhere. 🙂

  • catherinezimmerman47

    My business partners needed to fill out UK MAT B1 recently and saw a web service that hosts a searchable forms database . If others want UK MAT B1 too , here’s https://goo.gl/ZgeUnQ.

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