Saturday, November 26, 2005

VFR On Top

Today my friend Ken and his son Max were visiting from North Carolina, so I took them up for a flight around town. This was the third time I've taken Max up. I've let him take the controls in the past and today was no different.

The weather was not conducive for a sightseeing flight. The TAF called for broken cover at 1500, so I filed and IFR flight plan that would take us over St. Augustine and back to Craig. I had reserved one of the older Warriors since the Archers were both reserved. I did most of my instrument training in this plane, N512MA, so I'm quite familiar with its idiosyncracies, like the DME that doesn't work right and the NAV/COM#1 that always has alternator noise.

I called clearance delivery and was told that my clearance was "on request" and I should taxi to 5. Wind was 040 at 9 knots - almost right down the runway. Taxiing down Bravo, I saw two aircraft ahead of me and one coming in behind me. No rush, though.

As I started my runup, ATC announced that he had my clearance on the ground frequency and to respond when I was ready to copy. I stopped the runup and asked for the clearance. I would be cleared for 2000', expect 5000 in 10 minutes, approach on 124.9 and was given a squawk code.

Finishing the runup, I took position behind a Skyhawk from ATP that was waiting to depart and I called the tower, "Craig Tower, Warrior 512 Mike Alpha, ready to go at 5, Number two."

After the Skyhawk departed, the tower told me to position and hold, so I took my place on the runway and waited for my clearance. The clearance didn't take long and I was told to fly heading 100, cleared for takeoff. The plane began its takeoff roll and soon we were climbing into the cloudcover. At about 400', the tower advised me to turn to 080 and contact approach. That was a bit lower than I would have liked, but I could hear him dealing with lots of other traffic. I figured he was just looking out for my safety, so I complied and began my turn.

I wasn't much higher than 1000' when we entered the clouds. The tops were between 3000 and 4000 feet by my estimation. ATC called and wanted to know what my intentions were. I explained that we were just doing some sightseeing and I would appreciate vectors that would take us over St. Augustine (which is what I filed). The controller then asked if I would be canceling my IFR. I told him I would wait and see what it was like once we got above the clouds. He cleared me for 4000' and we broke out of the clouds just before reaching that altitude. Presently, he vectored me 090. We flew out over the ocean for a while. I could hear the controller dealing with quite a bit of traffic and figured I could always pick up a shorthand clearance to get us back down, therefore, I asked ATC to cancel my IFR.

Immediately, I began a climbing right turn back towards the shoreline. Once I rolled wings level, I let Max take over. For a kid who has never had flight lessons and who has only flown three times in a small plane, he does a remarkable job of controlling the aircraft. I had him level off at 5500 and make a turn to 170. We flew around making a few turns here and there. At one point, I explained the graduations on the attitude indicator and asked him to make a left turn, but to bank 30 degrees. We made a circle and rolled wings level. I had him feel how the nose wants to drop when making a turn and explained how to counteract this by pulling back on the yoke. He did a great job of maintaining altitude while turning.

Next, I had him do a steep turn using a 45 degree bank. Altitude control wavered a bit, but he never let it get ahead of him.

A check of my watch determined that it was time to come home. I tuned the ATIS and got information Delta. No change in the winds, but the ceiling was a little lower and the altimeter setting had dropped to 30.20 from 30.22. I then switched over to the Jax Approach frequency and it was clear that ATC was very busy. I called, "Jax Approach, Warrior 512Mike Alpha, with request." I got no response until my third call. I then announced, "Warrior 2 Mike Alpha, 3 miles East of St. Augustine, 5,500 feet, I'd like to get the ILS 32 into Craig." The controller asked if I wanted that VFR to which I responded negative. The controller assigned a squawk, advised me to remain VFR and ident. The controller then vectored me 010.

After a few minutes, the controller asked if I could descend to 5000' while remaining VFR. I told him I could and he said he would give my IFR clearance when I reached that altitude. While I descended, I tuned and identified the CRG ILS 32 frequency and briefed the approach. I also plugged in the time from the approach plate into my timer. Shortly after reaching 5000', the controller issued my clearance and had me descend to 3000. He also vectored me to 360 and asked me to contact approach on 124.9. I responded "Two Mike Alpha, 3000 and 360 and I'm already on 124.9." Around 4500 feet, we entered the clouds.

After just a few more minutes he advised me, "descend 2000 feet, remain at 2000 until established on the localizer, contact Craig tower 132.1". I read back the instruction and thanked the controller.

Contacting the tower, I announced, "Craig Tower, Warrior 512 Mike Alpha, 12 miles southeast on the ILS 32 with Delta to land." The tower cleared me for the appoach with circle southwest for right base for runway 5 instructions.

I did a decent job of intercepting and tracking the localizer and intercepted the glideslope about 6 miles out. When the glideslope was one dot above, I dropped the first notch of flaps and stabilized my speed at 90 knots and my descent at 500 fpm.

We broke out of the clouds at about 1200 feet, but the bases were uneven, so there was a danger of going back in. I flew the glideslope down to 700 feet and leveled off. I then began my left turn for the circling approach to 5. Turning base I could detect a bit of wind pushing me off course a bit, so I turned a bit to the right to compensate. I dropped the second notch of flaps and trimmed to compensate for the nose up tendency this would create. Turning final, I dropped the final notch and stabilized the approach right on the PAPI. With power set at 1700 rpm, maintaining the glideslope caused the speed to steadily drop from 85 knots down to 65 as I neared the runway. When it was clear that we would make the runway, I pulled power to idle and the plane increased its rate of descent. Just before touchdown, I pulled back on the yoke to flare the plane and our speed began to drop and the plane settled gently onto the runway.

Max and Ken both seemed to have a good time. We didn't get to see many sights due to the cloud cover, but the view from above the clouds was beautiful.

I logged 1.2 hours PIC and 0.5 actual instrument. Three days of flying in a row...I love it!

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