IFR Fix: Ready or not

December 23, 2011

IFR Fix

Earning the instrument rating was intense. Now it’s nice to climb into the FBO’s everyday rental ship and just take folks up. No gray glasses today. This ride is all about hamburgers and picture-taking. (And because you’re so safety-minded, no one will be standing within petting distance of the propeller in the inevitable pose-by-the airplane photos.)

Yep, here’s basic flying as it was meant to be.

Suspicious? This isn’t a column about cooking or photography, after all.

So here’s the catch: low clouds and fog. They haven’t reached your destination yet, but they’re moving in fast on a wet south breeze. Inbound pilots are commenting on it. One says, “How about a special VFR?”

Your front-seat passenger finds the spike in radio chatter intriguing. “What’s a special VFR?” he asks.

Before you can explain, special VFR is denied because visibility has gone to less than a mile. You can picture the scene: the airport’s rotating beacon is on to proclaim less-than-VFR conditions, and gray murk is settling over the tiedowns.

You shouldn’t have dawdled during your ground stop—which could have been a fuel stop—but that was then. This could be a real mess if you weren’t instrument rated. At least you can “pick up a clearance,” as the hangar philosophers always prescribe.

Good thing you brought your charts along.

“Charlie, could you please look in back for a briefcase with charts?”

Charlie had better hurry so you can air file and copy the clearance. You’re a bit low on fuel for this sort of thing. Might have to mention that at some point.

Charlie hands you the briefcase with one hand, and snaps your picture with the other. It’s not your best picture.

Your front-seater has flown before, and knows that the game has changed. He pitches in by explaining to the rest that you are busy now. Do not disturb. With that issue off your mind, you call for an IFR clearance.

A quick vector and a handoff later, approach has you established on the final. All three passengers say “Whoa!” as one when you enter bumpy clouds.

Contact tower, cleared to land.

“Runway’s in sight,” says the front-seater. (Sign that guy up for flight training!)

So, was this a good flight or a bad flight? That you ponder as you tie down, and drive home.

Earning an instrument rating is guaranteed to be one of the most challenging, rewarding, and fun projects a pilot takes on during a lifetime in aviation. Each week, this series looks at the IFR experience from a new perspective. Catch up on what you may have missed in the IFR Fix archive. Have a suggestion for a future tip? Let us know.