December 9, 2011
By Dan Namowitz
The big holiday flight with the family aboard is tomorrow. Bags are packed and the alarm clock is set for early.
Weather’s only looking so-so—but you’re IFR current, proficient, and eager to fly the FBO’s trusty instrument airplane, in which you have spent many hours training, on this much merrier mission.
Phone call for you from the FBO: The aircraft is down for maintenance. But, good news! The new bird we’ve been expecting is in. Wait until you see the panel on this aircraft. You can fly it without a checkout because it’s the same make and model as the aircraft you’ve been renting.
Is this a go, or a no-go?
Let’s check that route weather again. Looks like you may have to file, based on an area forecast that predicts SCT015 OVC025 LYRD FL200. SCT—SHSN.
And there’s this part, suggesting that tough sledding may still be around for the hard-to-predict return flight: CIG BLW 010/VIS BLW 3SM PCPN/BR. CONDS CONTG BYD 03Z.
You call the FBO back and talk to the chief pilot. Yes, the new aircraft is available, and everybody who has flown it loves it. There are a few squawks; nothing major: Comm One is scratchy; the tower asked us to switch radios today. The VORs act a little funny at station passage. We’re checking the antennas. One pilot thought fuel consumption was high (but with him it always is). One tip: Use a notch of rudder trim in cruise; it’s slightly out of rig after the previous owner ran it off the end of his strip last summer when landing with a tailwind.
What to do? The chief pilot wouldn’t put you at risk—but it’s your call, not his.
You’ll be the only pilot aboard, and not everyone in the family is sold on this idea. They’re worried about getting home on time, putting added pressure on you.
Weather may be the clincher. If it’s better than forecast—meaning, VFR—maybe you can head out to the field early and take it around to satisfy yourself of its suitability (that is, its airworthiness).
Or, you can load up the family car and drive to Grandma’s, leaving the test flight for another day.
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.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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