New New Old
I was checking a pilot out in our "new" Cessna 414. He has a lot of time in multiengine turbojets but none in cabin class piston twins, so none in the 414. We had done a lot of ground instruction on systems and their operation, and now it was time to start the engines in anger (we had done a practice start already: the starting procedure for a Continental TSIO540 is nothing like that of a JT8D...). We went over my 414 transition mantra: pumps pressure props & pedals. (I say this a lot flying 414s to make sure the right things happen during a transition, say from cruise to enroute climb: boos Pumps on, check the Pressurization for the climb, Prop synchrophaser as required, and yaw damper (Pedals) as required.)
Since this would be his first flight at our airport, we would need to do some area familiarization, too. Knowledge of the local roads and creeks is worth at least another Garmin 530.
But the weather was marginal.
We taxied out (I taxied while he studied the airport diagram) and did a careful, detailed runup; we did some items twice, to cement the ideas into place. We programmed the Garmin 530s for an approach that we hoped to practice after doing some steep turns and stalls.
A Caravan (C208) taxied out, and we told the tower to let him go first since we weren't quite ready and didn't want to rush. Besides, he was on a schedule. But I also asked the tower to solicit a base report from the departing 208.
New pilot, new airplane, new airport, right?
As we were taxiing to the hold short line the Caravan called back to say that the bases were 4000AGL. Sweet!
But not for long. After a nice takeoff it seemed to me that the ceiling was a tad bit lower than the Caravan had reported, like 1200AGL. Not the right situation for airwork in a high-wing-loading cabin class twin. We decided to stay in the pattern. You know, the pattern he had never flown before?
This is where I got stupid. I thought it would be nice to put the final approach course for the approach we had programmed into the pilot's HSI, since, after all, he wasn't familiar with the airport. It would have been nicer to keep my head outside to help him stay oriented in the rapidly-decreasing visibility, but with my head inside (and not just inside the airplane: my head was someplace where the Moon seldom shines) I was not as aware of the decreasing visibility as I should have been.
He got us onto final without my help and noted that we were a "little fast" at Vref+50. This was our chance to try the spoilers, but this pattern was so screwed up that no amount of spoilers would help. We went around.
This time I was flying the airplane, or helping him do so, rather than flying the 530, and we turned 1 mile final on speed and altitude and with the proper configuration. Then came another surprise.
"I think you should do the first landing so I can get the sight picture."
Not one to refuse a landing, I complied. One of the things I notice when I am flying and teaching simultaneously, though, is that I exaggerate things a little to bring the point home. I held the airplane in the flare position with a little power, so we landed long. Better to taxi back then do a touch-and-go: you know, new pilot, new airplane, new airport?
As we did a 180 on the runway and the tower called and told us that the field had gone IFR. We looked at each other and easily decided to call it a day.
If I hadn't landed long we would have been a new pilot in a new airplane at a new airport and scrambling to get a clearance.
I was reminded of a flight many years ago at the former Oneida County Airport in Utica, NY, which has since closed. I was in the pattern in a 152 on a winter day. POOF: a snow shower hit the field and it was suddenly IFR. The tower played the "say intentions" game but I couldn't just air file IFR because he had General Electric's DC-4 radar testbed airplane inbound, so his airspace was full. I continued "VFR" on the downwind as the snow increased and was shocked by the sight of the DC-4 with all of its lights ablaze emerging from the snow just short of the threshold. With no thought of wake turbulence I turned base as close as I dared behind it and landed.
The moral? Snow showers happen quickly and with little warning. The fact that the bases were 4000AGL only 5 minutes ago is not helpful. Be ready to change your plans and abort, especially in training flights or in aircraft that can't handle ice.
And keep your head where it belongs.