IFR Fix: That was the easy part

December 9, 2013

It was 11 degrees Fahrenheit, with a light southeast wind, on a recent morning in Delta, Utah—not unreasonable for the season at the municipal airport northeast of town in the high desert at 4,759 feet msl.

A pilot won’t have to delve deeply into data about Delta, population 3,500, to discover the price of aviation fuel there. It’s displayed on the municipal website.

Places like Delta epitomize the term "the intermountain west," which usually refers to geographic and geologic characteristics but holds special meaning for pilots. There, terrain exerts strong influences on IFR operations, resulting in published procedures with unusual solutions to routing, and sometimes, unusual restrictions such as the maximum procedure turn altitude for the VOR/DME RWY 17 approach to Delta Municipal Airport. 

Contemplating IFR flight scenarios for airports like Delta is excellent review for any instrument pilot. That’s because briefing for a flight into and then out of Delta covers bases unlikely to be encountered on your next two-hour tour of your home field approaches.

One lesson emerges immediately: The instrument approach may be the easiest part.

Flights arriving from Provo or Salt Lake City to the north must keep that procedure turn restriction in mind. If cleared for the approach from V21, the initial approach fix, RUBOY, may be your point of transition to fly an unusually short DME arc to the final approach course; note the minimum altitude of 7,600 feet along the arc.

If the missed approach’s narrative description seems wordy, the simplified five-panel graphical description also makes clear that a miss would pit your VOR navigation skills against a demanding, climbing navigation exercise.

Following your Millard County vacation hiking, camping, enjoying Delta’s light sport aircraft fly-in, or collecting trilobite fossils in the local area, which radar facility will provide clearance delivery for your departure?

There isn’t one—just a frequency for contacting Cedar City Radio, so review that method of departure. Expect to fly an obstacle departure procedure designed to deliver you safely to minimum en route altitude before you proceed on course.

Even in winter’s cold, dense air, the altitudes to be flown here could tax the capabilities of a maxed-out, normally-aspirated aircraft, and its pilot. Do both pass muster?

Destinations like Delta remind pilots that there’s much more to IFR flying than navigating an airway and shooting an approach. Sometimes that's the easy part.