IFR Firsts

Getting my IFR Rating

Getting my IFR rating was a great experience.  It took a lot of work (probably as much as my private certificate but different).  I got it at McAir Aviation at KBJC on 1/10/2004.  I tried to go 3 times a week and completed it in 3 1/2 months.  I would recommend trying to have at least 2 lessons a week.  I finished the written test before I started my lessons, and I also used ASA IP Trainer software with a CH Flight Sim Yoke at home to practice some of the maneuvers
(joysticks don't work to well with IP Trainer).  I think this helped as well.

I managed to find a few days in the clouds during my rating, but there were not many.  In Colorado, it can be very hard to get good days to get good flying time through the clouds.  If there are clouds, they are often too high in the summer, or are thunderstorms, or the temperatures are below freezing levels.

After My Rating

Since then I have maintained currency.  Initially, with an IFR hood which restricts your vision to see only the instrument panel and not outside the windows.  My favorite right now is the ViBAN IFR View-Limiting Device.  The problem is that you still see a little bit the ground in your periphery vision.  Another part is just knowing that you can always remove the hood and see out provides a good feeling factor.  The last thing is that real clouds have shapes inside that may look like false horizons and confuse your mind.  So lately I have been in search of more time in the real clouds.  When I need to go through clouds for a trip, I do not want to feel stressed.

To get used to the system, I file IFR when it is VFR when I can.  The other thing I do is read IFR magazine and IFR Refresher magazine every month.  They are excellent magazines that keep you thinking even if you are on the ground.  There are some discount subscription offers for this magazines at this link on AOPA. I also read a biweekly on-line journal called Over the Airwaves.

My First Times in the Clouds after my Rating

The first time in clouds after my IFR rating, I made sure I had practiced with a hood recently.  I tried to get an instructor to go up, but it did not work out.  I have some idea a day or two ahead, but I only really know the time is right the morning of the flight and then it is short notice for an instructor.  So my first times ended up as solo.  I had my IFR rating and lots of hood practice, so it was fine.

1st couple experiences with 1500 foot ceilings.
    10/8/06: lmo-ftg (ILS35) -apa (ILS35R) -lmo: ~1500 ' ceiling.  VFR at LMO.  clearance in the air. 1.4 actual.
    5/15/07: lmo-apa(ILS35R)-apa(ILS35R)-lmo(VOR/DME-A): ~1500 ' ceiling. clearance on the ground.  1.2 actual.

Then a trip needing to use it.
    5/17/07: ifp-crq (ILS24) easy approach: 1500' ceiling.  0.1 actual.
    5/22/07: crq-pga no approaches, but 0.8 actual.

Then some some good experiences including low ceilings
    6/27/07: lmo-fnl (ILS33)-fnl (ILS33)-lmo (GPS-B): 1500' ceiling.  painful obtaining clearance from ground. 1.0 actual.
    8/29/07: lmo-gxy(ILS33 to mins and land)-gxy(ILS33 missed)-gxy(ILS33 missed)-lmo 1.5 actual
    9/10/07: lmo-apa(ILS35R to mins)-bjc(ILS29R to mins)-lmo(VOR/DME-A to mins) 1.1 actual

Getting Clearances from a Non-tower Airport
One of the challenges for me is getting cleararances.  I am based at a non-towered airport, KLMO, on the approach area for a class D for KBJC and on the edge of class B for Denver.  I have tried getting the clearance in the air shortly after takeoff from Denver Approach and on the ground before takeoff through Denver Flight Service.  I hear you can use the phone number 888-766-8267 to get it from the ground, but I have not used it yet. 

Getting clearance on the ground is easy in method.  Just call Flight Service and they (when able) will give you the clearance with a void time.  If not in the air by XYZ time, clearance is void.  The problem is for KLMO is that the departure path when there is a loss of radios is to proceed direct to the BJC VOR which is at the pretty busy Class D BJC airport.  So I think when I am cleared for departure, it locks out departures at KEIK nearby and KBJC for the entire void time.  I have had to wait an hour to get the clearance and sometimes I get it right away.

If I can get clearance in the air this is the easiest, but I have to get to the minimum IFR altitude for Denver Approach through VFR conditions.  This is 7000MSL which is 2000AGL which means a ceiling of  2500 needed.  Once they have me in radar contact and have the IFR spacing needed, they can give me a clearance.  This works much faster and mostly guaranteed if I can get up to 7000MSL.

I think if ceilings were 1500AGL, another method might be to go to KFNL and get a departure clearance which has a different departure path.

I have obtained the Denver Approach phone number to get a better understanding and this appears to be the situation.  If you have problems with your non-towered airport, I would recommend talking with the appropriate Approach or Center for more information.

First Experience to ILS minimums in the Clouds
My first experiences to minimums was exciting.  It was to KGXY for 3 ILS approaches.  On the first approach  I broke out at 200' AGL with 1 mile visibility and landed.  It was interesting that I could not see the end of the runway since it is a 10000' runway.  This was the first time I had that experience.  The next 2 approaches I was still in the clouds at 200'.  There are no approach lights so the runway environment was not visible ahead, so it was a real missed approach (my first real one).  The strange part is that I could see down and see buildings.  I could easily see the urge to try to look straight down and find the runway.  This however seems like a very bad idea and I am glad I experienced the sensations when I did not need to land there and was only practicing.  The other item on the missed approaches that I noted as to make sure and keep the localizer aligned while climbing to first altitude on the missed.  On my first missed, I noticed I did not pay as close attention to that as I wanted and the second missed was much better.

ATC can make mistakes
When flying IFR it is important to be in charge and note it is possible for ATC to make mistakes.  I have noted a couple of things I have seen them do what I think is wrong.  Coming into KLMO has a few small quirks right now.  The GPS29 approach is Notamed against usage right now.  I once asked for the GPS approach into KLMO and they cleared me direct FIMUR which is for the  GPS29 approach.  I said no and asked specifically for the GPS-B approach.  Next problem...  they then told me to proceed direct to ALFIE which is the final approach fix.  I believe they are supposed to have me intercept the final approach course before the final approach fix.  The conditions were broken and 1500' ceilings so I did not worry about it this time.  The next time I intercepted the approach course earlier, and it worked much better.  I think I will insist on this next time if given direct ALFIE again. 

Sometimes problems can occur just from misunderstandings as well.  Here is one instance.  I wanted to practice a hold after the approach, so I asked for this.  The hold is on the approach path, so this in the end confused ATC.  They thought I wanted a hold before the approach when I wanted it after the approach.

So, it is important to be aware and tell ATC if you do not like the clearances they give.  It isalso  important to be as clear as possible of your intentions.

General Thoughts
I always look up my flight on www.flightaware.com after my flights.  It is fun to check your track.  Family can track you as well if they want.

I always like getting in the right frame of mind before a trip.  This is probably true for every flight, but especially so for IFR for me.  If I plan ahead while on the ground, it makes it even easier to be ahead of the plane while in the air.  Also, think about what you want to improve from the last flight.

Remember the acronyms and use them.  Cram/Clean/Cool/Call, CGUMPS, WRIMTIM or briefing the approach.

Be careful to align the DG and compass periodically.  Remember to be straight, level, and not accelerating/decelerating.

Be careful to watch the needles and not just the map on the GPS.  I think it is good to look at the GPS map, but not solely.  The GPS map may not be zoomed in and could not represent well how far off track you are.

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