IFR Fix: Sorry, no METARs

July 20, 2012

Jared, an old high school pal, isn’t a pilot.

He’s a classical guitarist living in New York City. And he probably never dreamed that after performing in mountainous Rangeley, Maine, he might find himself in the rear seat of a Cessna Hawk XP, gazing down at Mooselookmeguntic Lake in transit to several social appointments in the flatlands.

But that might happen, and planning has commenced.

For two pilots planning to pick him up, the flight to Rangeley would be brief, but possibly, far from routine.

The airport, named for local pilot Steven A. Bean, perches on a plain punctuated by peaks rising to 4,100 feet. The nontowered airport sits a respectable 1,825 feet msl, making it—if not another Leadville, Colo.—Maine’s loftiest landing strip.

Summer’s heat wave has not spared the region. Departing from a 3,200-foot strip with three men aboard, plus things, with peaks to overfly, invites a most careful analysis of density altitude and aircraft performance.

Given modest IFR infrastructure, instrument conditions would raise the bar significantly—particularly on the inbound flight to fetch the flamenco artist.

Choose between two nonprecision instrument approaches. Both bring you in over flat terrain and large lakes, but on courses almost perpendicular to Runway 14/32. The RNAV (GPS)-D approach has lower minimums than the rustic NDB-A.

A missed approach on the GPS procedure requires climbing to 6,000 feet in a right turn toward SHINY. You will still be climbing as you enter holding.

Flying the published miss, you pass near 3,160-foot- and 3,774-foot-high peaks. Climb well, turn smartly. The minimum safe altitude is 5,500 feet msl within 25 miles.

An airport with mountains at the margins possesses potentially peculiar, proprietary weather, so the plan is to make frequent checks before and during flight.

Clicking the link for the aviation routine meteorological report (METAR) produces this message: “Sorry, no METARs were found close to this airport.” (There is an ASOS-3 on the field.)

Moving on then, to review the local aerodrome forecast.

“Sorry, no TAFs were found close to this airport.” Choose between several TAFs for stations at significant distances, in dissimilar terrain.

That’s the setup as flight day nears. There’s nothing to do now but top off, and watch the weather.

Jared always was a tough act to follow.