Frank's First Post-Rating, IFR Flight

Well, after 2 months of solid VFR weather, I decided I couldn't wait any longer, and needed to practice my instrument skills. I've filed and flown IFR once since the rating, but it was VFR weather and I felt like actually being able to see where I was going. I've flown once under the hood, though it was under VFR (with a safety pilot). So today I decided to do some practice approaches and brush up on the things I've had a couple months to forget. I get another pilot, Ron, who is VFR only, to serve as my safety pilot, since I'd be under the hood.


I get to the airport about an hour early, to see some great IFR weather. About 400' vertical visibility, 2 miles visibility. Pretty much stuff I wouldn't launch into, given my current limited experience. But by the time I'm ready to go, the clouds are breaking and I can see blue sky. I knew the IFR wouldn't last.

Paws for a Brake

During the preflight inspection, I look at the main gear. There's a piece of fuzz near the break. A piece of fuzz that sort of looks furry. A piece of fuzz with a paw! Ewwwwww!!!!! Grossssss!!!!! Blahhhhhhh!!!!! Yuck!!! Dead mouse (or maybe bird) in the wheel gap. Uhhhhhh!!!! I get the chief pilot to "deal with it" with a screwdriver. Did I say YUUUUUCK!!!!!!, by chance? Guess that explains why the brakes were squeaking earlier...

The plane's ready, Ron shows up on time, and we head out. I've been mentally reviewing the approaches and procedures, so we're ready to go.


I call for the clearance and get an amended clearance (I had filed direct to Elmira, they wanted me to go on a Victor airway), and am ready to go. We taxi out. As we're taxiing, the tower asks us if we'll be ready to go when we get to the end, and I tell them that we'll be ready. Most likely, this is so they can call Elmira and get our IFR release. As we get to the end of the taxiway, another IFR plane calls up on final approach. Ithaca is a one-IFR-at-a-time area (we don't have radar) so that means we have to wait for the incoming flight to land, anyway.

Once he lands, Cessna 66230, taxi into position and hold. The inbound plane takes his time to taxi off the runway and apparently isn't familiar with the airport or where he's going. Eventually, we're cleared for departure. Cessna 230, wind 050 at 4, fly runway heading, cleared for takeoff.


After about 400', I put the hood down and go completely to instrument reference. Shortly after that, the tower tells me to contact departure control. I call up Elmira, report I'm at 1900', climbing to 4000'. They give me a turn (no radar contact yet, so it's still our responsibility to maintain obstacle clearance) and tell me to ident upon crossing 3000'. After hitting the ident button on the transponder about 4 times (Cessna 66230, say altitude crossing and ident) they finally establish radar contact (their primary radar was out of service at the time). We're on radar vectors for the ILS 6 approach, so the Victor airway and VOR from the clearance are now thrown out the window. We're on the approach.

I manage to get the proper approach plate out without putting the plane into an unusual attitude. Elmira tells me they're going to be giving me a wide approach to accommodate traffic. I set up all the radios and try to get Elmira's ATIS. I can only understand parts of it, but it doesn't matter that much, as I'll ask them for the information if I can't get it.

ILS 6, Approach 1

I've got the second VOR tracking the Elmira VOR so I can tell where I am in relation to the airport. It all pretty much makes sense. Eventually, they vector me onto final approach and I "shoot the approach." The minimums were 1144, however, the number 1440 stuck in my mind. So, I was 300' high when I decided I was at minumums and went visual (if I have doubts between the marker beacons and the decision height, I'll take whatever is higher). Did the landing, pretty uneventful.

On the missed approach, they gave us vectors to do it again (as I had requested). Cessna 230, turn left heading 270 when able, for vectors to final approach ILS 6. When able. Another one of those important phrases, meaning "you hit something hard, it's your fault." I decide to be pretty aggressive about the climb back to 4000' and know once I'm over around 2500' I should be ok for obstacle clearance. Which is good, since by this time, I was under the hood and we were in the clouds. I asked Ron, "Clear left?" and he responded, " got me." I take a peek and we're pretty much in solid IMC. Cool. I'll get to log some actual time.

ILS 6, Approach 2

We get vectored around for another ILS 6 approach. I'm trying to remember to reset up everything. I don't want to get lazy, just because most of the radios were already set up from the previous approach. Elmira asks me how this approach will terminate. "Uh, with a load explosion, fireball visible for 15 miles, and bits and pieces of Ron and my carcasses scattered haphazardly around the airport, much like the pieces of the mouse Stick managed to remove from the main landing gear." Actually, I would've had to think about the proper plural possessive phrasing of the "Ron and my carcasses" part, so I just stuck with the more mundane, Approach, Cessna 230 would like to hold as published on the missed approach.

The approach was ok, though I was consistently a bit high. I had it pretty much under control towards the end. Then at the very end, perhaps the last 200 feet, I let it drift a good bit to the left. I caught excursion and took it back to the reference heading and then a little, but we still were drifting. On the missed, Ron said that every bone in his body wanted to scream at me "you're drifting!!!!" but he was good. He did say I was lined up nicely with the taxiway. (Everyone's a joker...) At the decision height, I decided I did have the runway in sight and could get back to it. I did.

NDB Hold (must be clean living)

On the missed, they tell me to climb to 5000' and hold as published. The hold is at the NDB, so that'll give me some NDB work. Since there were clouds (not low) I didn't want to do an NDB approach. The instructors that taught me basically said they'd never use an NDB in actual (unless in a dire situation), so that makes me a little hesitant about doing that sort of approach. The hold will give me some NDB practice.

Amazingly, things work out pretty well. I enter the hold (teardrop entry), report being established in the hold. I eventually remember the T's (turn, time, twist, throttle, talk), and establish holding speed, lean the mixture, and do the other housekeeping tasks. After one minute, I turn to intercept the proper bearing from the station and damn but if I didn't roll out on the heading on the bearing. Fly inbound, cross the station, turn outbound and I figure I'll try to fly it without much wind correction and see what happens. After a minute, I turn inbound again, and BANG, almost right on the bearing again! One minute later, I pass the station. This does NOT normally happen. Nonetheless, it's nice for my ego. Oh, I did let the plane get 200' high when I first entered the hold, but corrected it pretty quickly.

Down Home ATC

I should also mention that Elmira typically has a reputation for being a bit unfriendly and not terribly happy to help. But today it was like "down home ATC." I heard one controller giving someone instructions on a highway to follow (contact approach?), and another saying, "Thanks for stopping by, have a good flight and come back again" with a little drawl. I almost expected to hear, Cessna 230, Elmira Approach: y'all come back now y'hear? Over. Also, holding at 5000', we were above the overcast layer. I took another peek while in the hold to see we were above the cloud layer. It was pretty cool. However, I knew it was too thin to fly it without the hood -- we'd break out pretty quickly.

ILS 32 at Ithaca

It was time to head home. I get Ithaca's ATIS, call Elmira and request an ILS 32 full stop at Ithaca. They give me a vector and I increase to cruise speed and we head back to Ithaca. I set up for the approach at Ithaca, including getting out the proper plate without requiring unusual attitude recovery. She gives us a 060 vector and tells us to descend at pilot's discretion to 3300. I've got the second VOR tracking our progress and am watching as we're getting pretty damn close to the 140 radial (runway 32, is on a heading of 320, which would be on the 140 radial). Normally, ATC is required to give the last vector onto final to be 30 degrees or less. Elmira came back on and said sorry for the delay, Turn to a heading of 010 and <pause> sorry, turn to 330 and intercept the localizer, report when you've got the localizer. Once she started talking, I realized, it was going to be a pretty serious turn, and the localizer was starting to come in. So I was already turning to intercept it and in fact had to correct as we were starting to pass through it. I reported that we had it, which was around the point of glideslop interception, I configured the plane for approach speed and started the descent.

It pretty much worked as it was supposed to. I was a little high but not too bad. I was pretty good on the localizer and was trying to pay more attention to keeping the wings level. Went visual at the decision height, and landed. I was a little high, so I landed a little longer than usual, but nothing too bad. Taxied in and shut down.

Wrap Up

Overall it helped my IFR confidence. It was good having another pilot, but since he was VFR, I had no illusion of lack of control (I knew I was PIC the entire time). I won't be flying down to 200' minimums in actual just now, but I can work towards it. I still have other things to work on too, but it's nice to know I haven't forgotten everything.

Written on August 12th, 1997