Recently I had the pleasure of flying with a student pilot shortly before he earned his wings. I had never met the pilot in person - we had corresponded when he was researching flight schools and came across this blog.
We made arrangements to get a $300 hamburger (inflation took its toll) at HighJackers at the Flagler Airport (KXFL). I've flown down there many times and like the food and the atmosphere, so I thought it would be a good place to take him. The weather was fine for an instrument rated pilot, but marginal VFR conditions prevailed. I filed an instrument flight plan and we jointly preflighted the plane. This was also the first time that Hank had flown in a G1000 cockpit. I took the left seat - I'm not an instructor and I have very rarely flown in the right seat. With a student in the plane, I didn't want to take any chances.
I got the clearance, taxied and after a short wait, we were cleared to depart on runway 5 and were told to fly heading 100. We encountered a few clouds on the climbout and during cruise. I demonstrated the autopilot, the GPS and explained the basics of the G1000 PFD and MFD. I also hit the reversionary mode button so my copilot would have the exact same display that I had.
During the flight we talked about Hank's training. He described a situation where his instructor had him flying in what he described as instrument conditions without an IFR flight plan. Further discussion revealed that these were not actual instrument conditions but hazy conditions that obscured the horizon. He also explained that he had an actual engine out condition that his instructor deliberately caused. They were over a non-towered airport and pulled power to idle. The instructor apparently had him pull back on the throttle until the prop stopped windmilling. Once it stopped, he pushed the nose over but the engine did not restart. They went through the emergency procedures and were able to restart. I found the situation quite disturbing and unnecessarily risky. It is a potential violation of FAR 91.113 and I told Hank as much.
Nearing the airport, ATC instructed me to descend to 2,600 feet - but I heard it as 2,000 feet and I repeated the same. ATC did not correct me and neither did my co-pilot who later said he heard it correctly. In level flight at 2,000, ATC told me, "fly 2,600 as assigned". Oops. Busted altitude. I replied that I was climbing back to 2,600.
As we approached Flagler, we could see a few aircraft on the Traffic Information System and I heard several talking to ATC. One was a Cirrus on instruments that was going to cause us a bit of a delay. ATC told me I could cancel IFR in the air and avoid the delay. Unfortunately, the airport was obscured by clouds and we were in and out of clouds at our altitude. I explained the situation to ATC who vectored me to the East where there were fewer clouds and he dropped me down. Clear of the clouds and low enough to stay below them, I canceled IFR and entered the pattern to make a landing to the East.
After a nice meal served by an attractive waitress who bore a striking resemblance to Sarah Palin...maybe hotter, I filed IFR for the return.
We taxied to runway 6 and were number 3 behind a Warrior and a Cirrus. The Warrior departed and the Cirrus taxied to the hold short. An aircraft in the pattern announced he was turning base and the Cirrus decided to wait. I don't know why. The Cessna that was on base was flying a very wide pattern and took a full five minutes to land. The Cirrus waited quite a while after the Cessna landed and executed a touch-and-go. As soon as I saw the Cessna airborne, I called on the radio, "Be advised that touch-and-gos are prohibited at Flagler". I felt like telling the pilot to read his A/FD, but my co-pilot had confided that he had done the same thing a few weeks earlier without noting the A/FD's warning, so I cut him some slack.
After the Cirrus' inexplicable delay that caused quite a back up of traffic behind me, I taxied onto the runway and watched as the Cirrus aborted his take off. He turned off of the runway quite a way down and as soon as he was clear, I departed. As I passed through pattern altitude, I leveled off below the clouds and contacted Daytona Approach to pick up my instrument clearance. We were cleared Direct to Craig as filed but we were assigned 6,000 feet as our cruising altitude. On climbout, I turned over the controls to hank. We encountered clouds on climbout and he did a pretty good job of handling the plane in spite of the unfamiliar display and right seat. He leveled off ok, but had a little difficulty trimming it. Encountering clouds, he busted altitude a few times and when focused on altitude, he drifted off of his heading, however he did an overall good job of handling the plane.
During the flight, we encountered some VFR traffic that was reported at 500 feet below us in the opposite direction. ATC announced the traffic and we spotted it on our scope. Since we were barely above the broken cloud layer, I advised ATC that we did not have traffic in sight and it was probably in and out of clouds. I then heard ATC instruct the traffic to remain VFR - so I suspect that someone was violating VFR. I see that quite a bit especially with the students flying planes with tail numbers that end in Echo-Romeo - YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE. This is dangerous and unacceptable behavior. What happens when two ERAU pilots encounter each other in a cloud and neither is talking to ATC? Not a good situation at all. The FARs were mostly created in response to some tragedy and are intended to protect all of us. Follow the damn rules guys!
The conditions at Craig required that we fly the ILS-32 Circle to 5 approach . I took the controls when ATC told us to descend and I flew the approach.
Hank had to postpone his check ride that was scheduled for Tuesday because the aircraft was down for maintenance. I got an email last Friday announcing that he got his ticket punched. I think he'll make a great pilot. Congratulations Hank!