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Flying IMC...for my PPL

May 9, 2019

Author: Bianca Yang
Email: ipacifics@gmail.com

It’s been a long time since I’ve last posted something here. It’s not that I haven’t had any interesting thoughts; it’s more that I’ve been swamped trying to read House of Leaves or researching car-free cities or Tweeting about flight experiences or …eh, you can just read my Twitter. If you want some of my thoughts or debriefs on what Caltech’s super interesting intro political science prof has said during lecture, email or DM me.

The main point of today’s topic is 14 CFR §61.109.A.3:

3 hours of flight training in a single-engine airplane on the control and maneuvering of an airplane solely by reference to instruments, including straight and level flight, constant airspeed climbs and descents, turns to a heading, recovery from unusual flight attitudes, radio communications, and the use of navigation systems/facilities and radar services appropriate to instrument flight;

Up until this point, I’d only done basic instrument under the hood, over Pasadena (Santa Fe Practice Area). Those experiences were controlled, mentally straining but otherwise low stress, and were interspersed with VFR maneuvers that “purged” me of any bad habits related to staring at the instrument panel.

Today’s experience was much more real-world. We flew from KEMT to KCNO, following ILS procedures. Ceiling today was low: 2000’ BKN and 3500’ OVC, so I probably could have gone without the hood. We flew the TEC (tower en route control) route to KCNO, which is a relatively simple, canned route. We departed RW1, which is normal for KEMT because of KLAX’s airspace looming over RW19 departures. Departing RW19 means KEMT has to communicate with KLAX and try to find a way to get us C172’s and Piper Cherokee’s out among the 737’s and A380s and so on.

First thing’s first, we told KEMT’s tower that we wanted to fly IFR to KCNO, they came with back with CRAFT:

We were cleared to KCNO (Chino Airport, near Ontario – KONT) for an obstacle departure procedure (the most common IFR release I’ve heard for practice trips out of KEMT). We were told to follow (?) go to (?) Paradise VOR (sorry, my memory of this is bad. I’m not super familiar with IFR clearance terms) at 3000’ but expecting 5000’. 125.5 for Socal Approach and 5264 Squawk code.

All very palatable information, some of it filtered through my instructor and his handy-dandy (probably) Foreflight powered iPad. After takeoff on RW1, we climbed to 700’ MSL before turning towards the 098 for Paradise. We turned to a higher heading than 098 to begin with, because we were north of 098. SoCal gave us a couple of intermediate instructions for different altitudes and headings to maintain, and up until 200 feet above the runway, I did not take my hood off. It was extremely disorienting to see 26R just appear, exactly as planned, with us flying along a glideslope that was also doing it’s job of getting us to the ground smoothly.

We did a full stop landing and then got ready for the TEC route back to KEMT. KEMT uses VOR-A approach from POM (Pomona Alpha), so we were told to maintain heading 260 until we intersected with V363 (Victor airway 363). Once on V363, we could follow POM direct to KEMT.

KCNO’s ILS is nicer than KEMT’s because it takes you to 200ft above the runway, perfect for low visibility conditions. KEMT’s only takes you to pattern altitude, 1000’ AGL. Again, I didn’t take off my hood until I was at the end of the ILS, 1000’ above the runway, cleared to cross over the field from East to West and enter right traffic for RW19.

After the second landing, we did three more landings. One soft field, which is basically just keeping the nose high after touchdown. On actual soft fields, you may even want to keep power on or put on power after touchdown to maintain momentum. Then we did two short field landings. We also asked for a light gun demonstration, which, to my surprise, worked. We saw a bright green light (LED) shining at us out of the tower when we entered final. I was surprised because my instructor made it seem like the lights were highly ineffective and the ATC’s ability to aim the light at us was nearly nonexistent. Short field landings require a precision of 200ft beyond a chosen touchdown point. At KEMT, the distance from RW19’s displaced threshold to exit point Charlie is 400’, so make sure you touch down well before then, and no sooner than the threshold.

How was today’s experience? A bit nerve wracking. The first couple of minutes, I was struggling to maintain heading. There was a lot of yawing left and right, but thankfully I trimmed the plane pretty ok so not a lot of pitch oscillation. This amount of movement, combined with my tendency to sometimes combine yaw and pitch, did cause me a bit of motion sickness. It was no issue, just a mild feeling of being unwell after I landed at KCNO. The ride back was much smoother, though we got a bit of the cloud turbulence we avoided on the way to KCNO.

Overall, this was a great use of the cloudy weather. I have about 1.6 more hours of instrument flight needed. I wouldn’t say I’m looking forward to being under the hood, but I do now have a greater appreciation for what commercial airline pilots do every day.

A fun video to end the post with: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9ePtRpyyks