It is now 1:35pm and I still have not seen the sun today.
Craig field was reporting a ceiling of 600 feet overcast with mist. Visibility was ranging from 1 3/4 miles to 2 1/2 miles. The minimums for the ILS32-CRG are 241 feet MSL. So a 600 foot ceiling would make for some fun flying.
I filed IFR for CRG-VQQ-CRG with PLA in the notes section (Practice Low Approaches). After getting my clearance and performing a quick runup, I pulled up to runway 5 and announced that I was ready to go. After about 60 seconds, the tower cleared me and told me to make a left turn to 280.
Just as the METAR indicated, I entered clouds at 600 feet and executed my climbing left turn to 2000 feet. The tower handed me off to Jax Approach who gave me 3000 feet as my final altitude and asked for my intentions. I asked for the ILS 36 Right at VQQ and was vectored to the southwest. Level at 3000 feet, I tuned the ATIS for Cecil on my second radio. Once I had it I told Jax Approach that I had information Sierra.
The winds at 2000 and 3000 feet were varying between 29 and 36 knots from 070 according to my GPS. At the surface they shifted to 020. At no time did I break out of the clouds.
I loaded the approach on the GPS and clipped the plate to the yoke. Reading through it I noted the minimum altitudes, headings, etc.
Shortly, ATC dropped me to 2000 feet and vectored my base leg.
I turned off the autopilot and hand flew the approach. The winds required wind correction angles of as much as 25 degrees as I lined up on the localizer. I flew the plane lower and lower...still deep in the clouds. Finally, the ground began to appear beneath me...and then later ahead of me. At about 500 feet, I could see the rabbit directly ahead of me followed shortly by the rest of the runway environment. I leveled off about 50 feet above the runway, pushed full power, retracted flaps, then pitched nose up for my climb out.
I announced to the tower that I was executing my missed approach and turned the plane to 270 as instructed. Almost immediately I was in the clouds again.
Once the tower handed me back to JAX, I requested the VOR9R approach and was told to continue on 270 at 2000 feet. I loaded the approach in the GPS, tuned NAV1 to the VQQ VOR and read over the approach plate that I had clipped to the yoke.
In this case, the approach vector is 109 degrees for a runway that is 90 degrees. At some point, the controller asked how this approach would terminate and I told him perhaps a bit too verbosely that on the last approach I broke out at 600 feet, and that the minimums for this approach were 640 feet, so I expected to have to go missed.
I was cleared for the approach and lined up on the VOR with help from the GPS. Heading steadily towards the airport I descended to just above the MDA of 640 feet. I was in and out of clouds bouncing along for 4 miles at this altitude. I held the plane steady as I flew peering out of the window to spot the runway. The tower asked me to tell him when I could see the runway...but I didn't see it yet. Just then, the controller told me to advise when going missed - a silly instruction since that is the normal procedure. As soon as he called me, I spotted the runway below me. I could drop right down to the runway. I then executed the missed and headed back to the west...and immediately found myself back in the clouds.
ATC asked my intentions this time and I asked for the ILS 32 at Craig.
The controller turned me to a heading of 105 (first time I didn't have an even heading like 100 or 110). I leveled off at 3000 feet and headed 105. Because the wind was so stiff in my face - 36 knots, I pushed the power to 2600 RPM and fought the wind a bit. Still in the clouds, I pressed on towards CRG and loaded the approach. I checked the ATIS, but it was still Quebec.
Several minutes later, I heard ATC tell another aircraft that Romeo would be current soon at CRG, so I tuned COM2 to the ATIS and got the latest weather. The barometer had dropped to 30.14, and the wind was stronger with gusts, but the ceiling was still 600 feet.
As I approached the ADERR fix, I could see another aircraft approaching from my right. ATC called the traffic for me and said that he was bringing me in behind a Cirrus what was twice as fast as me - a bit of an exaggeration, but fine.
I told the controller that I had the Cirrus on my scope showing 900 feet above my altitude to my right, but I was in IMC and could not see it.
He held the Cirrus at 3000 feet and brought him onto the ILS above me. I slowed the plane down considerably to ensure adequate distance between us.
It looked like I was going to overshoot the localizer when ATC turned me to a heading of 300 to intercept. I executed the turn, but because of the wind, I never crossed the localizer and would not have intercepted it on that heading, so I made my own adjustments. Again I was having to keep about 25 degrees of wind correction to stay lined up. The wind on the ground favored runway 5 - the only one without an instrument approach. Consequently, the instructions were to fly 32 with a circle to 5.
ATC advised that it appeared that I was lined up with the localizer (I was) and cleared me for the approach. I repeated the clearance and added that the GPS was showing winds around 30 knots from 070 and he thanked me for the info.
I continued the approach down to 500 feet, breaking out of the clouds at 600 feet. There was the runway out the left side of the windshield - all that wind correction had me crabbing severely.
I made my circling turn and greased the landing - well before the first turnoff, as usual.
An OUTSTANDING FLIGHT! 1.4 hours total with nearly all of that in solid IFR. Three excellent approaches, too. There are few things that can build confidence like flying an approach to near minimums as a single pilot!