Instrument Flight 34: Long Instrument Cross Country

Today we did the long cross country required for the rating. We had good IFR weather- clouds and rain with no thunderstorms.

We left Tampa late in the morning after a half hour delay to remove a bird’s nest from the engine compartment. (It was the first time I had taken the cowling off the plane.)

I did a back course localizer approach at Daytona Beach International Airport (DAB), then continued to Vero Beach Regional Airport (VRB), where we had to deal with some of the worst air traffic control I’d seen. We were told to expect the VOR/DME approach, despite filing a flight plan indicating we didn’t have DME. We advised them that we didn’t have DME, couldn’t do that approach, and requested the NDB approach for the same runway instead.

After vectoring us 15 miles out over the ocean (I have the GPS plot to prove it), they cleared us for the VOR/DME approach anyway. Again we said we couldn’t accept it.

After at least three tries to give us a bad clearance, they cleared us for a visual approach. After some more pleading, we finally got the NDB approach.

I was pretty exhausted by then, after three hours of so of hood and IMC flying and a couple of approaches. We took an hour break to rest, refuel, and get a weather update. (We were planning to have lunch at Vero Beach, but the restaurant was closed.) Some heavy rain rolled through while we were in the FBO, but it was clear again by the time we were ready to leave.

When we got in the airplane the airspeed indicator was reading 60 miles per hour, pretty fast for being parked with the engine off. (I’m usually airborne at that speed.) I assume the pitot/static system got clogged by the rain, but I’m still unclear how to explain why.

My pitot tube has a cover on it that opens in flight- that should have kept the rain out while on the ground. Even if the tube got plugged, the airspeed should have read zero and stayed there regardless of the actual speed. (That’s happened to me before.)

If the static port had been blocked, I would expect the airspeed indicator to act like an altimeter, showing a higher speed as altitude increased. Nothing I’ve read explains how the indicated airspeed would go from zero to 60 while the plane was parked. The VSI read zero, and the altimeter was correct, so I thought the problem might be with the instrument itself.

We waited for the weather to improve before leaving, in case the indicator didn’t behave normally on takeoff. It stayed at 60 throughout the taxi and runup. Once we got the actual speed up to match, the needle started moving, and the indicator seemed to work properly the rest of the day. It did go down to zero when we shut down the airplane.

One of the requirements for the flight was a precision (ILS) approach, but the wind was blowing the wrong way at most of the airports we checked. Sarasota–Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) is one of the few airports that has multiple ILS approaches, so the odds looked good of getting one there. We filed an IFR flight plan with several waypoints since there was no real direct way to get there via airways.

After departing Vero Beach, we got a more cooperative controller who let us navigate direct to Sarasota with the GPS. As long as you’re flying with radar coverage, it’s now OK to do that. It’s easier for everyone, since ATC can expect a straight path instead of waiting for the pilot to do an impression of a pinball.

We did get vectored a couple of times for traffic, and then to set up for the ILS approach, but were on our own the rest of the time. After the ILS approach, we flew back home visually.

I think it went pretty well today. I did OK with the enroute flying, holding my altitude and heading most of the time, and flying in and out of clouds and rain without losing my calm.

The approaches weren’t as good as I’ve been doing them lately, but they came after some tiring flying, and all but one of them (SRQ) were new to me. I got 2.2 hours of IMC and 5.2 hours total today. I also crossed the 250 total hour mark.

Today: 4.4 hours instrument time
Total: 4.8 hours IMC time
Total: 59.1 hours instrument time

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