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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!
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