An experienced eye
I’d met a private pilot with lots of experience and had discussed the possibility of his coming along in the right hand seat. I’ve realised that there’s plenty to learn from other pilots, much of which isn’t in the textbooks or official training, and was hoping to pick up some hints and tips. It was clear from the outset that this wouldn’t be an instructional flight, or even an official mentoring flight and that I would be PIC throughout and fly within my own limits.
With a few days off between Christmas and New Year, we discussed a flight where I might practice a couple of instrument approaches. The weather on Friday wasn’t good enough to fly, so we postponed to Saturday/New Year’s Eve. The initial idea was to fly to Lydd for the Flyer Forum bash there, but the weather again didn’t co-operate – we would have been in hard IMC most of the way there and back.
So instead, we settled on flying from Kemble to Gloucester via Filton so that we could fly down the ILS at Filton (keeping outside the ATZ) and also do the NDB/DME approach at Gloucester. With the cloudbase down to below 2000 feet, it was clear that some of the flight would be in IMC conditions. The flight would be in G-SNUZ, the only fully IFR equipped Warrior in the club fleet.
Arriving at Kemble fairly early, around 8:30, I had the aircraft covers off and most of the A-check completed before John turned up. We discussed the options for the day and called Gloucester to schedule the practice approach. I had to ring a couple of instructors to get authorisation – the biggest concern my instructor had was the wind which was forecast to be 15-20 knots plus gusts, but straight down the runway so within limits.
I also had a new 7″ GPS that I was getting to grips with. This runs the SkyDemon software, the same as my earlier 5″ model, but I’d not used it so far.
With paperwork sorted, we headed out to the plane and settled in. I had though that Kemble was closed today – there were few people around and so I wasn’t expecting the AFIS to be on duty. So my first surprise was when calling Kemble Traffic to self-announce my taxi movements, I got a quick reply saying they were operating as normal. That was good to know anyway, and passed the usual information. I had correctly guessed that runway 26 would be in use, with a fair breeze running straight down it.
Since this was likely to be an IMC flight, I checked the turn/skid indicator, AI and ADF as we made the long taxi down to the hold for power checks. I had pre-tuned the radios and navaids before we left the parking area.
Into the cloud
Departing 26 and making the turn for noise abatement, we entered the cloud shortly after departing the ATZ. Changed to Bristol and got a radar service. The frequency was very quiet apart from commercial traffic.
The plan was to head down towards Bath and intercept the ILS, then fly down that keeping outside of Filton ATZ and from there head up towards Gloucester. The IMC conditions weren’t the same calm still air found on your standard IMC training day with foggles/hood on, and I found it was quite bumpy at times. After identing the ILS, and using the GPS for situational awareness, the localiser came alive and I turned to anticipate and intercept it at around 8 miles on the DME. At this height we should be below glideslope and as we tracked inbound, the needle came down and centred nicely.
As we descended further, I found it got a lot more bumpy and I was making large corrections to try to compensate. I managed to hold the ILS track and slope reasonably well, but as we got closer this became more difficult and I lost it at around 3 miles out while still in IMC. Turning north and climbing away, this was disappointing but quite different from doing it in ideal conditions. In retrospect, I was making corrections which were too large – better not to try and “chase the needles” but instead make a series of smaller and more frequent control inputs.
NDB/DME at Gloucester
About half way to Gloucester, we left Bristol Radar after listening to the Gloucester ATIS (on this aircraft you can listen/monitor two frequencies at the same time), changed to Gloucester who cleared us for the NDB/DME approach procedure for runway 27 (although runway 22 was in use). They asked if I wanted to do a hold, but I thought I’d rather leave that for another day. This was already quite hard work.
Approaching the NDB beacon at 3000 feet, I turned onto the outbound track of 094 bearing in mind the wind was most from the west and now directly behind us. Slowly descended to the platform height according to the plate and tracked the DME outbound to 8 miles. I was focussed on the DI and NDB to make the right track, while John cross-checked on the GPS. I called beacon outbound on the radio and was told to report base turn complete.
After a rate one turn at DME 8, I picked up the NDB again and tracked it inbound, descending slowly (there was a strong headwind) at not more than 500 feet per minute. As we descended, we emerged from the clouds. Not being that familiar with Gloucester, it took me a few seconds to pinpoint the airfield exactly. ATC then directed us to turn onto left base for runway 22 and cleared us to land. I took this a little lower than John would have liked (he is more familiar with the sink that can happen over the buildings on final approach), but the headwind made for a smooth touchdown. I started clearing up the flaps etc. before vacating the runway, which John suggested would be better left until afterwards.
After filling up with fuel, I was pleased to find that they gave me a discount on the landing fee and there was no additional charge for making the NDB approach.
We popped into Cotswold Aero Club for a coffee, where a few members were “chewing the fat”. I saw Manuel Queiroz, whose book I’d got for Christmas and had just finished reading, and told him how much I’d enjoyed it. He had flown around the world from Gloucester in his single engine permit RV-6, which he still flies from there and departed in it shortly before us on a local trip.
Left turn out and up into IMC
Departing on runway 22 – which I hadn’t used before – the tower reminded me to make a left turn after takeoff for noise abatement. Unfortunately, I got this wrong and turned early (the AIP clearly states turn at 1.2 DME), which the controller politely pointed out to me “for next time”. We could see cloud above the ridge between Gloucester and Kemble, so flew south to see if there was a gap around Dursley.
Entering IMC conditions again, we ensured that we were above MSA (Mean Safety Altitude) and identified the Kemble NDB, using this and the GPS to track towards the airfield. Changing to Kemble Information, we announced our intentions and asked for the local weather information. We were pretty much in IMC all the way from Dursley to Kemble, descending into the circuit and breaking cloud on the downwind leg.
There was a strong wind of 20+ knots, directly down the runway, which meant for a slow ground speed on touchdown – I used only 2 stages of flaps and kept the speed up to cope with the gusts. The runway was wet after earlier rain, but my groundspeed was comparatively slow due to the headwind. After landing and with no other traffic about, we were told we could backtrack and exit the runway near the touchdown end, giving us a shorter taxi back to parking and avoiding taxiing over the wet grass.
Tody’s flight was quite a different experience from the IMC training and test, largely because at times the weather made conditions much rougher than typically found when practicing on a VFR day with foggles. Although I had done some real IMC in clouds before during my IMC training earlier in the year, I don’t recall the conditions being quite the same. The other major difference is having a GPS to use – during training there wasn’t one, but today we had both the built-in one in the aircraft which has a moving map display, as well as my SkyDemon portable. As found with VFR flight training, there is a real gap between what the training teaches you (using only the older very basic instruments) and the more practical/likely use of GPS alongside them, which is done in the real world by almost everybody after they’ve passed.
I was also trying out my latest SkyDemon portable hardware for the first time today – a new 7 inch model bought from Hong Kong via eBay – and in this aircraft it has to be placed on the right hand side rather than on the left close by where I’ve used the smaller one up to now. Perhaps this wasn’t the best idea – I still need to fix some issues with the font size and the battery life was much worse that I’d expected, meaning it was placed in a different side of the aircraft to what I have been used to. So I haven’t yet sorted out the scan to include it, and also didn’t set it up with the route beforehand (it only had the earlier route to Lydd). I should have used it more even if just by using the direct-to feature.
After a debrief over lunch, John explained that more regular IFR pilots would commonly use some additional bits of kit, such as a wing leveler or full autopilot, and even a full glass cockpit which reduces the workload substantially. Some even have autopilots that automatically fly the instrument approach and a “go around” button should you wish to do so.
Flying “hard” IMC for hours with older “steam gauges” which are common on club aircraft like ours is very demanding and tiring. Bearing in mind my low hours (and almost none in IMC apart from training), John thought I handled the IMC conditions quite well but clearly need further practice to be more ahead of the aircraft and to be able to relax when in turbulent conditions (I was gripping the yoke quite hard with both hands at times).
I think this provides a different perspective on the type of aircraft used by those flying IFR conditions more often compared to those flying mostly VFR but being able to go into IMC occasionally if required and/or still being able to get down safely if the weather closes in. So I’d like to practice the instrument approaches at Gloucester again (this would be the most likely airfield I’d use if Kemble was unavailable), and also an ILS at one or two other places. In the meantime, some further practice at home on the PC simulator program RANT, seems to be called for. Ideal for those winter days when its raining outside.
Today’s flight was in G-SNUZ, a PA28 Warrior 2, rented from the RAF Lyneham Flying Club, now based at Kemble Airfield, a VFR only airfield in the UK. The aircraft has ADF, 2xVOR, ILS, GPS (with moving map display), DME and dual altimeters. The flight was almost entirely IFR with VFR for takeoff, approach and landing, first from Kemble to Gloucester via Filton, returning via Dursley.
Total flight time today: 1:50 (of which 1:20 in IMC)
Total PIC time to date: 74:30
Total flight time to date: 165:35