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Weather and Flight Experience

My commercial certificate solo XC

On August 19, 2002, I had taken a flight from Van Nuys, CA (KVNY) to Hayward, CA (KHWD) to Monterey, CA (KMRY). This flight was to be completed with a mix of VFR and IFR flying. I just received IFR certification less than a month ago, and finished all but one item for my commercial single engine certificate, the long solo cross-country. My checkride was set for the next morning.

My clearance read something like this:

Cessna 13101 cleared to the HWD airport via CNOG8. GMN transition DP V23 to AVE then as filed climb maintains 5,000 and expects 10,000 (5min.) after departure.Squawk 4561-control freq. 134.2

Weather at Van Nuys was reported IFR with visibility 2 SM, 800 overcast, and tops at only 4,000, indicating that I would be VFR on top fairly quickly. The rest of the flight would be reasonable VFR not lower than 5 SM. The exception would be as I approached the Bay area; there was a marine layer extending very far inland.

Once I was established on the airway, about the area of AVE, Los Angeles Center told me that my Mode - C was stating 14,000; I was at 10,000. I chose to continue my flight, this being my first mistake of the day. Up until this point, as a newly minted IFR pilot, I was having an uneventful flight. After Center notified me of the problem, I was to descend and maintain 8,000 for the rest of the trip, another 200 miles, and contact Oakland Center on the appropriate frequency. This new controller was flabbergasted to see me at 8,000. "Who put you there?!!" I stated that the last controller requested it, to which his response was, "SHALL WE LISTEN TO THE TAPES THEN?!!" At this point, I was reviewing weather information, and asked for a momentary frequency change.

Flight watch stated that the high pressure was to continue to build off the Great Basin, and the low to decrease in strength by sundown. The marine layer with fog was to preside in the SFO and OAK area for the rest of the day.

I reported back on with Oakland Center over PXN to find no answer. I tried several other listed frequencies to no effect. Figuring that my radios had failed, I first thought of completing the flight as filed, then reflected on the repercussion from Center, seeing that I was currently still VMC. As PIC, I executed FAR 91.3 power, turning off the airway to remain VMC. About 50nm later I was able to reach someone at OAK center, who inquired as to why I was off course to the east by 20nm. After informing them that I thought I had a radio failure, I turned back on course to eventually set up for the VOR-A approach into HWD. It was then that I received an amended clearance. Work -OVERLOAD began to seriously set in, seeing that I was getting back into IMC conditions. Bay Approach was vectoring me for an American Eagle commuter emergency. I mistakenly put in the wrong radial, sending me off the final approach by 5nm. After correcting, I started to get vertigo. Becoming confused and lost, I call Bay approach and told them that I am a new IFR pilot, going missed and requesting vectors to Oakland for the 29 ILS, my alternate. I was vectored to the hold at OAK, having to declare minimum fuel soon after. I was then vectored to the IAF for the ILS. Control had me descend to 1,000 feet and maintain, then waived me off the approach for the American Eagle flight. At this point I became so terrified, that I lost track of where I was, lost my situational awareness, and got into a nose low attitude. With airspeed increasing, I caught sight of the bay rushing up beneath me. After recovering and regaining myself, I followed the vectors to the threshold and landed safely at OAK. Upon landing, the controller had me contact ground control, who had a number for me to call.

After all the mistakes made on this trip, I never continued on to Monterey that day. After talking with the supervisor for bay approach, now part of Nor-cal, I got a class B approval to depart IFR out of OAK, because it underlies SFO (San Francisco B Airspace).

I flew IFR out of OAK, then VFR on top to Van Nuys, Whitemen Airport, and back to Van Nuys.

What I have learned from this adventure:

  1. Never lose your cool.
  2. Be proficient in all area of operations.
  3. Know your limits.
    1. I thought, being a new IFR pilot, I could handle complex situations like that. I was wrong.
  4. Maintain your situational awareness at all times.
  5. Don't continue a flight with things that are inoperative for the sake of making a meeting, job, or family.

After surviving the flight, I did pass my single engine commercial check ride the next morning. I was fortunate that it all worked out that way. Take my advice, if you are going to go on a long cross-country IFR, go up with an instructor or safety pilot. Get the experience and have fun. I learned to do that after this, and a year later I am still proficient and legal IFR.

I ask you to pass it out to future applicants. I am pleased to say I am now ASEL & AMEL Instrument Commercial pilot. Now it is Aug. 9, 2003 I am going for my CFI ride in a couple of weeks. ENJOY and have fun.


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Topics: Cross Country, Safety and Education, Navigation

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