Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Actual Instrument!

After months and months of training and being ready to get some flying in actual instrument conditions with my CFI for just as long, I finally got the chance today! I actually flew in the clouds!

Me. And the grey stuff is cloud.
I finally know what it looks like.
I filed the instrument flight plan, almost out of jest, thinking that the clouds would clear out as they always did before I flew on an instrument flight plan. But when I got the the airport the clouds were still there. And they remained there. They were high enough to be very VFR conditions and scattered or broken depending on where you looked, but they were there.

I preflit the plane (making sure the pitot heat was working) and got more and more nervous. As I waited for my CFI to arrive I stood out on the ramp and looked at those clouds. They looked dark, wet, and not that friendly. I was going to go up in those. I got more nervous. I still don't like turbulence. I knew it would be.

He arrived and we briefed the flight briefly. He commented that he thought I would be all happy. I would finally get to fly in a cloud. I told him I was just as nervous as the first time I knew I was going to go up and take the controls of a plane. And I was. But off we went!

My nerves showed very quickly in my radio work. My pronunciation wasn't that great and one three right became one three white. I got teased for that one.. until I said, "Be vewy vewy qwiet. We're hunting cwowds." We laughed.

For most of the flight we were in the clear, but there were sections when we climbed up to the level of the clouds and spent some time going in and out of cloud after cloud. In the clouds it was turbulent and cold ... I think it was grey. I didn't look. I was too busy looking at the instruments! At one point we were flying between two sets of clouds in a bit of a cloud canyon. That was cool.

At one point we were in a cloud bank at 6000' (somewhere over Lick Observatory) and getting bounced around pretty good. I was given a vector to turn to 150 from 180 and started my turn, when I scanned to the turn coordinator, it showed wings level! The AI showed turning. The HI showed turning the same way.

I pointed it out to my CFI. We had vacuum, we had power, we had comm and GPS. We had no failure flag on the TC. Since we were in and out of clouds and the AI was OK we decided to keep going and see if the damn thing started working again. After about 5 minutes of me paying VERY close attention to the AI the turn coordinator started working again. *whew* It was a great opportunity to discuss what to do if the TC continued failed (descend to the VFR conditions about 1000 ft below us).

On the way back to RHV we got a strange (to me) clearance.. cleared direct CEDES then heading 180 cleared to RHV (180 headed away from RHV). So, we discussed what we'd do if lost com with that clearance. Because we had no EFC time and no filed ETA (I had filed to Tracy - we picked up clearance back to RHV on the go.)

Once we descended to 4300 feet on the GPS approach to RHV we were out of the clouds for good. For the first time I got to see what an LPV approach from 4300 ft to the airport looked like. It was rather strange to do a long, slow descent straight down to a runway and seeing it happen.

What a day though! The most amazing thing is ... when I left the club I looked up at the clouds again and they no longer appeared to be this solid thing I must go around, above or below... They looked like another route, another path. An path to be approached very carefully with planning and respect, but a path that I could travel nonetheless. Another avenue for adventure and discovery in the sky.

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