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March 25, 2013
In the early 70's, I was part owner in a Cessna 172 and feeling pretty confident of my flying abilities with around 100 hours in my logbook. I invited two friends to come along and we departed Greensboro, N.C. with good weather forecast for the entire trip to Morgantown, WV.
On the trip to Morgantown, there was a scattered layer at 9500 feet, so I climbed above the clouds to find some smooth air. Several hours after an uneventful landing in Morgantown, I began planning my return trip. I wanted to get back to Greensboro before dark, as I had not had many hours of night flying. The plane had been fueled, so I didn't see any need to check the weather, as the clouds looked the same as they did when I came into Morgantown. That proved to be a big mistake.
We departed and climbed to 10,500 to get on top of the scattered layer. The flight was smooth and we discussed the game as we enjoyed the snow-capped mountains below us. Soon I begin to get concerned as I noticed the clouds were becoming much more overcast than scattered as we proceeded toward our destination. I was also having difficulty staying above the clouds and they were definitely becoming solid below us. I knew it was not long before it would be getting dark and I did not relish the fact that I would have to descend through a layer of clouds in the dark. I called Roanoke approach and was advised that they were reporting overcast with a ceiling of 4500 feet. With no alternates, I advised Roanoke Approach that I was at 10,500 and desired to descend to VFR conditions. The controller asked if I was IFR equipped and rated, and I replied I was IFR equipped, but not IFR rated. There were several moments of silence and I imagined him thinking, "How did this idiot get into this situation"? Finally the controller told me to descend to 7,500 and gave me a new heading. I turned off the rotating beacon and advised my passengers to keep quiet as I was going to be pretty busy for a while. I eased the nose over and immediately went into the clouds. Fortunately I had some additional IFR training other than the required 5 hours and that proved a lifesaver. I concentrated solely on the instruments as the controller directed me through several turns away from the higher peaks and methodically brought me down over Roanoke.
I was elated to see the lights of Roanoke as I descended out of the clouds at 4,400 feet. I looked to the right and left and saw mountains with their tops obscured by clouds. I thanked the controller for his help and made an uneventful trip on to Greensboro. I learned a valuable lesson that day - don't ever take the weather for granted and always check the weather enroute and at your destination!
Safety and Education,
Pilots should be clear on the new ATP certificate requirements that will go into effect on Aug. 1.
Spot quiz: What is the METAR/TAF code for smoke?
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