Monday, May 18, 2009

I shouldn't have...

...but I did.

Back in January I whined that my wanderlust was unsatisfied. I am logging lots of time, and having lots of fun doing it, but I wanted to go somewhere. I made a day trip in March, but now it was May and my friend in California said that the fishing was good. School was out. I'd been bringing lunch to work, so I had a little money. It was time to go flying!

Our club's airplanes are IFR but not modern IFR (see this post, but it's an axiom of aviation that if you pick a day to fly VFR too far ahead the weather will turn on you. In this case, the weather turned near the Idaho-Nevada line; I was down to 7200, and the terrain ahead was at 7500, always a bad plan! I turned tail to Twin Falls where I landed, ran inside, and filed IFR. (My apologies to the student pilot who watched me do this; I hate to let a teaching opportunity pass, and he was curious to learn more, but my friends were waiting for me at the airport in California.)

I walked out to the airplane and taxied out.

"60N, I see you filed the SNAKO departure, would you rather turn directly to the airway?"

Gulp. "Um, yeah, I was in too much of a hurry to check the crossing restriction. What is it?" The departure goes straight out for 10 miles over low terrain, then follows a DME arc. It basically adds 10 miles to the flight. But, being lazy, I chose the safe route. This was silly: I had just flown over the area with a sectional open on my lap, and knew that I could outclimb the terrain.

He removed the DP from my clearance and I just turned down V293.

The MEA is 12,000 and the bases were around 11,000; I spent the morning bashing in and out of the clouds. The temperature was right at 0C, so there was a chance of icing, but I was using the "reasonable and prudent pilot" interpretation. Since the bases were high and it was warm at the surface, the probability of a dangerous icing encounter was negligible: if the ice got bad I would find a hole, cancel IFR, and descend to warmer air.

There was a little ice. By the Aeronautical Information Manual, it was somewhere between a "trace" and "light;" there was no hazard.

But the flight was quite easy. I hunkered down and watched the gauges. The key to smooth instrument flying is practice, practice, practice. I got 1.9 hours of actual IFR time.

Nevada is pretty empty, and the only time Center called traffic to me was east of Reno. "I'm IMC," I replied, when he told me of opposite direction traffic 1,000 feet above. I tried to look up into the clouds, but that was pointless. Then "Mooney XXX has the traffic in sight."

"That's a good trick," I said on the air, "since I'm in the clouds." Was my tail sticking up like a shark fin?

"TCAS," he said. Whatever.

With nobody to talk with, I critiqued myself. One thing I noticed is that it takes a lot of concentration to keep the pitch corrections small. My students, and I, tend to jam the nose right back to where it should be after a bump, but a slow, delicate slide works better. But being delicate is doubly difficult in the clouds or under the hood, so I am going to try having my students learn this maneuver by watching the horizon. It's amazing how slowly you can move the nose up and down, and slowly is the right way.

Except when you hit the mountain wave and start sinking at 10 knots (1000fpm)! But that's another post.

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