Wednesday, June 12, 2013

DSWT Day 6 - IMC Up, IMC Down - VNY > MYF

Busy Airport

The next morning the clouds were low at both my departure and destination airports. The clouds were forecast to be low enough at MYF that I had to file an alternate. They were low enough to not be VFR, but they were high enough they met my personal minimums for instrument flying.

Lineman waits patiently as we get
our clearances and program flight plans

On this leg I wouldn't be flying alone. My friend Rick would fly down with me. His CFI, Paul, would fly down ahead of us in a Lancair. Then Paul would fly Rick back to Van Nuys. This was going to be fun! For one thing it would be great to fly with a friend and for the second thing its always fun to fly with other planes, even if it isn't a formation flight. We weren't in a hurry to leave and both Paul and I are instrument rated so we didn't have to worry about the clouds being there or not. We all met for breakfast at a nearby diner and had fun joking and teasing each other. When we got back to the airport we saw a large twin, maybe a 12 passenger plane, break out of the clouds obviously high over the runway. He did a go around and circled back for landing on 16R.

It was time to go, I did my preflight and called for a weather briefing while the guys waited patiently. Then Paul started up the Lancair first and contacted clearance delivery for his clearance so I could hear the clearance he'd get. It was exactly what he told me to expect. It's always nice to fly with a pilot knowledgeable about the area. Then I got my clearance which was the same as Paul's. There is no run up area with the construction going on at Van Nuys so we did our run ups on the taxi way. Then we contacted the tower for our instrument release. The tower told Paul to pull up to the hold short line. I was told to wait where I was when I contacted the tower. 

Lancair interior, complete with "smoke on"
button on the stick.
We waited and waited for release. A large jet taxied up going the opposite direction, I figured he was waiting for an instrument release too. Behind me a Baron pulled into the "run up" and began his preparations.  This was a very busy airport! The tower contacted me and told me to pull up into the runway hold short area beside the Lancair. Fortunately, my high wings overlapped his low wings with plenty of clearance. That let the jet taxi past us. The tower told us to expect another 4 minutes. I told my friend Rick I've waited longer at RHV with our close proximity to San Jose International. A plane landed and Paul was released for an immediate take off. The Baron was told to pull up along side me. A few minutes later we were released for take off. Time to go!

Up into IMC

The cloud layer was supposed to start around 1200 feet and be a couple thousand feet thick. The departure procedure told me to take off, turn to 110 and climb and maintain 1700 feet. The plane took off quick and climbed strong. Paul gave me a tip that a better climb rate gives more direct routing so I planned to ensure our climb was good. In no time we were in the clouds and I was hand flying at 1700 feet, waiting for SoCal departure to give me a new heading and climb. The wind from the plane was hissing in my friend's mike adding to the noise in the cockpit. Loud noises like that bother me but I tried to force myself to ignore it.

CFI Paul and the Lancair
SoCal had me ident, gave me a new heading and told me to expedite my climb. I turned to the heading and started climbing. I saw I was in a 30 degree bank to the left. A quick correction and I was back wings level ... deep breath. SoCal said I had a stuck mike and told me to ident to acknowledge their transmission. I didn't see the transmit light blinking but I sure heard the wind. Still in the clouds I reached over and unplugged the mike portion of my friend's headset. The noise went away. I contacted SoCal and verified they could hear me. They could. Then they told me I had only climbed 200 feet in the last two miles, gave me a new heading and told me again to expedite my climb. A quick turn to the new heading, established in a proper climbing attitude and wings level. We were out of the clouds in a couple more minutes and intercepting the first leg of the expected route.

Enroute to San Diego

Above the low cloud layer we cruised according to plan and ATC control. My ground speed was slow compared to what I was used to and there was nothing to see below us but clouds. Rick tried to point out a couple landmarks but we couldn't see them in the clouds and haze. We tried plugging in his headset and every time the mike was plugged all the way end I could hear the wind. Neither of us could figure out how to stop it so eventually he unplugged the mike jack of his headset. I had to tease him for that, "Just think," I told him, "you are stuck in a plane with a woman and all you can do is listen to me talk." He plugged the mike back in for a moment to retort.

We were vectored back and forth across our route for traffic. The airspace was busy and the flight took a longer than expected but that was OK. We had plenty of fuel and it was anything but boring. When we approached San Diego our controller was working military planes off of Mirrimar making things even busier. Eventually he started giving me vectors for the approach into Montgomery Field.

IMC into Montgomery

Once I established for sure I was going to keep getting radar vectors I activated the approach. Almost immediately I was cleared for the approach and could start descending straight into the clouds.   I intended to continue to use the autopilot for headings while I controlled the altitudes manually. This method served me well in the past, but this time something was odd. I was coming in on the ILS approach so I made sure to turn the GPS over to CDI / OBS mode. Maybe that disabled the GPS portion of the autopilot. The autopilot did not turn the plane onto the localizer as I thought it should have. I recognized it 30 seconds late and was turning back towards the localizer when the controller asked me to let him know ... again ... when I was established on the approach. I turned off the autopilot and intercepted the localizer easily by hand.

Paul and Rick ready to head
back to VNY

Next challenge, I was high on glide slope. I started correcting that and started to drift left of the localizer. I was told to contact the tower. The tower told me I was high and left. I said I was already correcting. I got back on the right track and struggled to get the plane back down on glideslope. Rick didn't say a word until we broke out of the clouds and he saw the airport, right where it should be. Airport in sight I switched to "visual" mode and proceeded for the straight in landing. I was high still but not terribly high and I got the plane down without heroics to a decent landing on the centerline.

I wasn't happy with the sloppiness and mistakes on the IMC portions of the flight. I couldn't blame ATC for being high on this approach, this one was all me. I knew I could fly instrument much better than this. I decided I would fly the full instrument approach back into RHV even if it was visual conditions to force myself to fly a proper glide slope and track. I definitely need more instrument practice if I am going to continue instrument flying. That was OK though, better some small, non deadly mistakes to point out where I need to improve. I knew how to fix this problem and resolved to do so.

Land Bound for a Couple Days

Paul and Rick in front of N20791.
Tied down at Gibbs Flying Service for a couple days.
After clearing the runway and doing my after landing checklist I contacted ground to taxi to Gibbs Flying Service, an FBO I researched a couple days before. Paul would meet us there. We taxied up to the FBO and parked the plane. Paul arrived about 20 minutes before us in his faster Lancair. I tied down the plane and arranged for fueling and a refill of my O2 bottle. Then we hung out and chatted for a while before Paul and Rick had to head home. I had a couple of hours to wait before my husband arrived at San Diego International on his commercial flight. Then I would remain in San Diego for a couple days. Spending time with my brothers and sisters and Dad before my Dad's retirement party. My next flight would be Sunday. It seemed odd to not be immediately mentally planning for my next flight and knowing I would not be getting into the plane the next day. I already missed it.

About the Headset

You may be wondering, what was the problem with my friend's headset? Why did it always transmit this wind noise? Well... we discussed that on the ground with Paul. I'm sure the experienced aviators out there know the answer already... squelch. Somehow the squelch on that channel got turned way up (or down, I don't know which). With the squelch set where it was, almost all of the ambient noise was being picked up by the mike. My good friend Rick was quick to question how I can call myself a 300+ hour pilot and not know that? Easy, a good pilot is always learning! And for me, considering how much loud ambient noises disturb me when I need to concentrate (as in IMC conditions in busy airspace) this was a very important lesson that I won't forget.

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