Instrument Flight 14: Clear and Windy

Yesterday I almost got a chance to get some good IMC experience. When I got up there was a low ceiling, light rain, light wind, and the type of clouds that didn’t look too turbulent; right then would have been great instrument training weather. I was afraid it would clear up by lesson time. The conditions worsened; we could have taken off but didn’t think we’d be able to get back, since our airport has no instrument approach (yet).

Good thing we didn’t go- heavy thunderstorms rolled in, and several people who had left about the time we would have ended up stranded at other airports for several hours. We don’t get good IMC too often; usually it contains thunderstorms, but the period right before I was scheduled was ideal. It’s frustrating to get so close to that weather and not be able to go.

Today was the opposite- clear and windy, just what we didn’t want. We started with some holding over the Lakeland VOR. Since the wind was about twenty knots from the northwest and we were holding on the 180 radial, the first one-minute outbound leg took us several miles from the VOR. That inbound leg took over three minutes, so we had to cut the next leg out to 20 seconds to get the desired one-minute inbound leg.

I’m having a lot of trouble visualizing the pattern, where it should be relative to the fix, and how to enter it. After the first lap, I took off the hood to see what we were trying to do. That seems like an obvious idea now, but the goals of building instrument time and learning the maneuvers are conflicting. It’s why today’s hood time seems light; I had the foggles off almost half of the flight.

After the holding, we did a full VOR approach, including the missed approach. This was about as mediocre as the rest, only now I could see how bad it was, since I still had the hood off. At least the radio works now, so we’re talking to Approach as we fly, which makes it more realistic. (We were back to the old frequency we always had trouble with before, so it seems like the problem is finally fixed for real.)

One drawback is that now I have to start doing more of the radio work, which I have trouble with when I don’t know what to say. Sometimes I get a bunch of instructions at once that I’m not expecting, and I’m not sure how much of it to repeat back. Getting a clearance on the ground when I’m ready to write it down isn’t too bad, but when I get an unexpected call in the air, and it’s more than a simple “fly heading 280” or the like, it’s a problem.

I think this will take care of itself over time. I had a lot of trouble in my initial training when I didn’t know what to say when while going around the pattern, but by the time I was doing cross countries that was the least of my problems.

The next task was an ILS approach that I was totally unprepared for. I didn’t know we were going to do one; I hadn’t looked at the plate for a long time, and it had been weeks since I tried an ILS. I’m not sure if it was a spontaneous idea or a planned surprise, but it was a disaster.

I requested the approach and got a series of heading changes. I got the localizer frequency tuned right away, and all the comm frequencies were already set, but beyond that I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t realize I was supposed to set the ADF for something, I was wondering when the descent was supposed to start, and I couldn’t tell where we were on the plate.

Since I still had the hood off, and I could see the runway, I basically flew the last part visually. To do an ILS with the first VOR half working, I have to use its glideslope with the localizer of the other VOR. That wouldn’t be too hard if I knew what the glideslope was telling me. I couldn’t remember if a low needle meant fly lower or I’m already too low.

The GPS came in handy again for reviewing the flight. It shows the first leg of the holding pattern going way out, but once we adjusted the time, the rest of the circuits are shown as reasonably similar. (I don’t look at the display during the maneuver; that would make it a lot easier, but I have to learn the old-fashioned methods.)

I can see where I was vectored around from the missed approach to the next one, and it makes a little more sense now. The unit also seems to be more accurate than advertised. With the intentional error in the GPS system, a civilian unit is only supposed to be accurate within a hundred yards or so horizontally, but zoom in on our ground track, and it shows us going right over the VOR and the runways we crossed, etc.

The GPS is a great training aid, as long as you don’t get into the trap of flying the map instead of the plane, and after the lesson, it beats relying on the our memory of what went right or wrong.

Today: 0.8 hours instrument time
Total: 20.1 hours instrument time

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