Monday, July 23, 2007

Charlotte IFR through Class B Airspace

To assist my old friend Jim in celebrating the purchase of his first house, I flew to Charlotte for a long weekend with my other friend of the same first name. We loaded our golf clubs and luggage in to the back of the Skyhawk and headed North for our three hour flight.

We flew North past Brunswick, Savannah and Columbia before reaching Charlotte. Along the way, ATC shaved some time off of the flight by clearing me direct to Columbia rather than forcing me to follow the victor airways from VOR to VOR. GPS is a wonderful thing.

It was nearly sunset as we arrived and the low overcast and haze made spotting the Concord Regional Airport a bit difficult. ATC vectored me for the ILS approach, but offered to give me a visual approach. Since I had never flown in to this airport, and visibility was less than ideal, I opted to fly the precision approach. The approach and landing were uneventful and the ground controller directed me to park at the base of the control tower.

After a nice weekend of golf and a great party, we headed out first thing on Sunday - Father's day. Jim had to get home because his kids had something planned for his day.

I filed IFR as usual and called for my clearance. The controller gave me a DP - departure procedure and unfortunately I did not have a complete set of instrument plates for this region. Consequently, I had to rely on the DP that was stored in the GPS...but which version should I choose? I hacked around with the GPS until I found something that seemed to take me towards Columbia. As it turned out, this was completely unnecessary. The clearance was issued to ensure that if I had a communication problem, I would go to an expected location. In this case, it was the Charlotte VORTAC.

We taxied to the departure runway. I positioned myself at the hold short line and called for takeoff clearance. We waited much longer than I had ever waited before, so I called the tower to remind the controller, "Concord tower, Skyhawk 1463Foxtrot holding short of runway two-zero."

The controller didn't care for this and with a little venom in his voice, he replied, "November 6-3-Foxtrot, you are on an IFR flight plane and are being held for release."

About five minutes later, I was finally cleared for departure and was told to fly a heading of 180. Then as I climbed to 3000 feet, I was turned to 140. I was given many headings and it seemed that every time I leveled off and trimmed up the plane, I was cleared another one or two thousand feet higher. We had filed for 6000 feet as our final, but ATC asked me if I could accept 8000. I advised that I could and we were cleared to 8000. I think the optimal performance from this particular aircraft is around 7000 feet, so we weren't getting the best airspeed, but we were moving pretty quickly around 123 knots TAS. We were eventually given a southwesterly vector and told to join the airway between Charlotte and Columbia - I forget which one. Throughout this time, I was hand flying the airplane. This was good practice and while it would have been easier to simply use the auto pilot and steer by turning a knob, I don't want to become too dependent on an auto pilot.

The rest of the flight was uneventful and we arrived home about 3 hours after takeoff. The total logged time for the weekend was 6.3 hours with over an hour of IFR and one approach. It was a great weekend for flying.

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