Ticket to Learn

Yesterday I was in the family room while the boys were finishing up their reading before lights out. I had my laptop open and a soft voice was droning along. I struggled to remain focused. Nell walked by and said, “What are you watching?”

“Another IFR course.”

“I thought you were finished.”

Ah, but you are never finished. (Unless you are finished, in a bad way.) So even though I have the instrument ticket and I am certificated to fly in instrument conditions, I need to keep learning. I need to be better. I need to be proficient and, truth be told, I should struggle to be perfect. I should know, off the top of my head, where the instrument landing system (ILS) outer marker is in Torrance. I should know how to pull up the ILS into Van Nuys with the maximum number of waypoints displayed on the approach.

I need to read more and more writing about instrument flying. I will probably get the Rod Mochado book on instrument flying, since it is meant to be a great resource and refresher.

Tuesday I took my favorite instrument flight to date. It was only from Santa Monica over to Van Nuys and back, but it was up through clouds until I popped out on top, then over into the Valley where I was swallowed up by them again. At five thousand feet I continued to fly in and out of towering, docile characters.

The clouds broke below me for a moment and looked down at the city of Van Nuys as I flew north. They closed. I was a white plane against grey sky, so I doubt anyone noticed me. Then the layer above me broke and I looked up into blue sky. If an airliner were passing overhead I would have been difficult to spot since I was, again, white on grey. The layer above became solid, and I flew into a wall of opacity. In a moment I shot out the other side, and then I was in a pocket. There were cloud layers above and below, and I was surrounded by clouds, but I had a couple miles all around me. No on above or below knew I was hear (well, an air traffic controller on the ground somewhere knew I was here, but he didn’t know about this cool pocket of clouds.

I only had a few minutes to enjoy it, because then I was back in the soup, nothing but grey and flashes of white on the windscreen. I had to brief the approach (look over the plate, the page that described the approach in words and a graphic) and read aloud the details).

I felt the controller had forgotten me, because it had been at least five minutes since he told me to do something. Then, there he was, telling me to turn right to intercept the radio beam that I would ride into Van Nuys. There was a business jet behind me and I could hear him negotiating the approach with the controller. I focused on what I was meant to be doing and got the autopilot set up to follow the ILS vertical guidance down to the underside of the clouds. The plane bounced around a bit in the clouds, which makes things difficult for the autopilot. I turned it off and flew by hand.

As I broke out of the clouds with the airport in sight, I told the tower that I could side step to One Six Left instead of landing on One Six Right. I figured that way I could be out of the way of the business jet that was coming in on my heels and I could have a shorter taxi to my takeoff.

The flight back to Santa Monica was shorter (the approach is more direct), but still a lot of fun. I was in and out of the clouds until I stepped down on the approach to 2,600 feet. Then the airport was directly in front of me.

It was my first solo IFR trip and it was a huge success (I was alive, the airplane was in one piece). It was a good test of my training-to-date and I felt that I had a solid foundation to start building on.

Time to keep learning.

About Colin Summers

I am an architect, programmer, private pilot, husband and father. A couple of those I am good at.
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