Thursday, April 29, 2010

IFR pictures

It is that rare time of year for us in Colorado to get good small plane IFR practice. It seems crazy that somebody would want to go into the clouds for fun, but that is what I do this time of year. It has been cloudy this past week and I have gone flying twice.... for fun in the clouds (or soup as many call it).

IFR picture

This golden time seems to happen around April/May in the spring and September/October in the fall for Colorado. The problem is getting clouds that are not below freezing at low altitudes and do not have thunderstorms. In the winter, we get clouds sometimes, but the freezing level is at the ground. In the summer, the clouds are either at 20,000' or they are thunderstorms. So now is the time of year to look at my IFR refresher notes.

I have used my IFR on many past cross country trips especially to California due to the coastal marine layer, and I want to feel comfortable. One way to feel comfortable is to get some hood time with a safety pilot, but it is not the same. Flying with an IFR flight plan or with flight following is good to feel comfortable with the radios. But nothing is as good as getting real time in the clouds. So, I like to get practice in the real thing as much as I can doing the approaches I am familiar with. This way I am not nervous about approaches while getting comfortable with the clouds again. Then when I do approaches I am not familiar with and in the clouds, there is less new items.

I really like the real thing. It is a bit different. Hoods are a pain; they sometimes mess up my vision since something is right next to my eyes, and most are cumbersome. See my review on IFR hoods I have used for my preferences.

Entering the Clouds

So what is it like. For some reason, entering the clouds is a little different than my insides think it should feel. When you go into a cloud, it is not at all like going into a cotton ball. There is almost no perceptable change in flight. Sometimes there is a little more turbulence in certain areas of the cloud, but many times not. For me, it is kind of like when you are driving a car and you enter the fog. Or if you have ever been driving in the mountains and a cloud has passed over the road.

In the clouds

Inside the clouds it is often like being in a very dense fog again. You can see your wing tips, but not much further. Look at the top picture. You often have moisture on the windshield or wings. If you are near or below freezing levels, make sure that moisture is not icing.

Sometimes the cloud has some definition inside instead of just being white. This can mess with your senses. If you see any sort of line, your mind wants it to be the horizon. This is a good time to keep the good scan going and double check your backup instruments and make sure you are not correcting in the wrong way.

Looking down sometimes you see more than looking forward over the nose, but beware in this case. If you are looking down, you are not looking at your guages and you don't have a horizon, so you can end up in a turn or other unusual attitude. An unusual attitude would especially be bad on an approach and this is when you might likely see more looking down rather than over the nose. If you have a real missed approach you are pretty close to the ground.

IFR looking down

Above the clouds or between clouds

Getting above the clouds can be very pretty, and the passengers really like it too. While getting my cloud practice, I try to get altitudes where I stay in the clouds, but sometimes you don't have a choice.

But sometimes it is not all bad:
IFR above the clouds picture

And then sometimes the clouds start breaking up in one area, so it is time to try another airport that might still have clouds.
IFR scattered clouds picture

Going back into the clouds

Sometimes it feels strange for me going back into the clouds after being above the clouds. It feels like I am flying into the ground which would not be a good thing. So I pick this as another cue to check everything well: on the approach, keep the scan going, needles lined up, altitude good and what was that MDA again.

The Illusions

Of course remember that there are illusions your body is feeling. You may not notice it completely when under the hood. Just slight views of the ground can prevent the full effect. Accelerating feels like climbing. Slowing down feels like descending. A turn with a little Gs probably feels like a slight climb too. A missed approach where you are climbing, turning, and accelerating will feel like you are going to the moon. Watch the airspeed and keep the scan of instruments going well. Your body tells you one thing and you have to ignore it. Double check the backup instruments instead of believing your body.

Turbulence of course messes up your body when there is no horizon. Trust the instruments.


I really like flying with a GPS. If you have your course plotted in and flying the magenta line as well as the needles, there are lots of clues to indicate you are turning. I imagine a glass panel is nice for the same reason a GPS is nice, but even better. Maybe someday I can get one of those Aspen Avionics devices some day.


As I write this, a few days have past, and now it is snowing again. Well, usually April/May is a mixed back, but there should still be a lot more good, safe IFR days left.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

California Flying Trip 2010

I just got back from our yearly spring break trek to California from Colorado. It has been a fun destination for us in the past in 2006 to San Diego, 2007 to Carlsbad, 2009 to Disneyland. And it was fun again this year both for the flying route and the visiting in San Diego.

Below is my track on this year's California trek using the method I described in a past block entry using my Spot Satellite messager. The route between KHII and KCRQ is missing below, but I will describe it further below.

The flying back and forth was similar to past years. It seems we typically have good weather on the way out, and then have weather to divert around on the way back. The one difference this year was that the marine cloud layer in San Diego was not around on departure or arrival, so IFR was not required. If we had arrived or left on any other days, we would have had the clouds, but not on our days.

We break our path each direction into three pieces. Two pieces done in the first day, and then we leave the last short piece for second day.

Getting there: Day 1

Starting off, we had to wait a day before leaving due to weather. But this worked out. We had an extra day to get ready and plan. The weather also left behind a nice blanketing of snow on the mountains for our route. Very pretty!

Our starting path between Longmont, CO and Page, AZ was roughly by klmo-dobee-funds-kege-kpga and weaving over Rollins Pass and through valleys and over Vail Pass. Along the way we looked at Breckenridge, Copper, Vail, and Beaver Creek ski areas.

Page, AZ (KPGA) is a great place for a inexpensive fuel stop and picnic lunch. The view on the approach over either Lake Powell or Grand Canyon are incredible. The view from the ramp is pretty nice too.

Page Arizona Airport Ramp

Our next path from Page, AZ to Lake Havasu, AZ was roughly by kpga-kgcn-khii and following some of the Grand Canyon cooridors as described in my earlier post.

In more detail, I went from kpga to Zuni north, Dragon north, Dragon south to khii. I went ahead and made waypoints in my GPS and followed that flight path. I also watched my altitudes so that I am in compliance with the needed altitudes in the Grand Canyon area. Basically 8500' initially, and then up to 10,500' when got closer to the Zuni North Corridor point. See the Grand Canyon chart on-line at and click the Grand Canyon VFR button.

Desert Skies FBO in Lake Havasu (KHII) was very helpful and had a wonderful free slushy machine. We stayed at the Travelodge at Lake Havasu; it was ok. We heard that the Desert Skies FBO had a deal on the Hampton Inn for $89 and we might try that next time. We found a nice beach/park area to park and walk around near the London Bridge; this part is worth looking around more next time.

London Bridge at night

Getting there: Day 2

For getting in and out of the San Diego area and just in case of a marine layer, I filed IFR. I received the following clearance: khii-tnp-v208-ocn-kcrq. In the end, I did not have to go to OCN and flew this route: khii-tnp-trm-jli-escon-kcrq. The Western Flight Services FBO at Carlsbad/Palomar Airport (KCRQ) greeted us and was very helpful and nice. We selected KCRQ since they had the best deal on rental cars ($33/day) and KCRQ was still convenient to San Diego.

Visiting San Diego

We found our hotel by searching on and clicking the best deals button. We ended up at the Best Western Island Palms Hotel on Shelter Island ($123/night including taxes); it was very nice!.

Island Palms balcony view

This trip, we visited the San Diego Wild Animal Park and fed the giraffes on the Photo Caravan Tour. The next day was San Diego Zoo. Then we visited the La Jolla seals. Then Cabrillo National Monument. Then it was time to head home. The highlights of the trip were feeding the giraffes and the pandas.

San Diego Wild Animal Park Photo Caravan

San Diego Zoo Panda

Coming Back: Day 1

Snowy weather was in the mountains of Colorado and expected to stay there for a while, so we plotted our path towards the Albuquerque/Santa Fe area. This works well when the mountains are snowed in.

I filed IFR to get out even though it was clear. I ended up receiving this clearance: kcrq-ocn-jli-shadi-blh-v16-pxr-kffz. I did not quite fly to OCN at the beginning and Luke AFB approach sent me on the 100° radial of the BXK VOR. So in the end I flew this path between KCRQ and KFFZ.

Falcon Field (KFFZ)in Phoenix has cheap fuel and good food. We ate at the Anzio Landing Italian restaurant on the field like we did last year, and it was very good again. We did the self serve gas and that worked well too.

Our last path for this day was a straight shot to Santa Fe: kffz-ksaf. There was clouds, nearby snow, and wind at Santa Fe when we left Phoenix, but it cleared out about a 1/2 hour before we got there. This took some planning and required some backup plans.

Santa Fe Air Center FBO in Santa Fe (KSAF) was very nice and helped us with parking and a hotel. In the end, we bought fuel at the self serve pumps on the other side of the tower, but this was fine with them and did not change the service. We stayed at Courtyard Marriot for $75 using the FBO. It has an indoor pool and some restaurants near by and a shuttle back and forth to the airport. It was a ways from downtown, but we heard there was a bus that went into town. We might have to come back to Santa Fe again and try this.

Coming Back: Day 2

Our last part back was approximately ksaf-1v8-larks-klmo, but stayed east of the course along the west side of sangre de cristos then over hayden pass.

Possible Return Path Next Time

There is another similar return path I want to possibly try next time. Phoenix and KFFZ is nice, but for something different, we might try Sedona (KSEZ) next time as a lunch break on a southern route. Sedona is beautiful, fuel appears to be reasonably priced, and it appears there is a restaurant on the Sedona field. Maybe we will do a path like this next time between KCRQ and KSAF: kcrq-ocn-jli-trm-pke-ksez-ksaf.

I am not sure how Bagdad 1 MOA between pke and ksez would be if filing IFR if flying Mon-Fri when active. It seems like you could fly below it since the bottom is 7000'MSL or 5000'AGL whichever is higher. But would ATC give it to you since there is no airway and it might depend on the Minimum IFR altitude in that area. You might get the following between KCRQ and KSEZ which is still not too bad: crq-ocn-jli-trm-tnp-jotnu-zelma-eed-drk-sez


Once again the Colorado to Southern California trip is a winner. A recommended trip if you are in the Colorado area.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Remember AWOS and FBO phone numbers

I just got back from our yearly spring break trek to California from Colorado. It has been a fun destination for us in 2006 to San Diego, 2007 to Carlsbad, 2009 to Disneyland. So hopefully I will have some blogs coming up including a trip report. Here is my track on this year's California trek.

One thing I remembered and used on this trip was the use of AWOS and FBO phone numbers: at the destination and also in between points. On the way back, the weather was mixed. A storm system was moving through, and I wanted to see how it was progressing especially through the mountains of Colorado. You can get some idea from surface charts, METARs, Radar, and Satellite, but more is always good. Here is a past blog post about some of what I check for weather planning a cross country flight.

On the way back from Phoenix to Santa Fe, the weather was changing. In this case, I called the FBO and asked what they saw from the ground. In this case, I heard not only the weather right above the airport which was windy, but that there was snow northeast of the airport. Albuquerque was more clear. By the time I got there the wind was not bad and there was no clouds, but it was nice to know what might be possible so that I could make my backup plans.

From Santa Fe to Longmont, I got the METARs from the Aviation Weather Metar Java site. Along the way, there is Taos (SKX), Alamosa (ALS), La Veta Pass (VTP), Pueblo (PUB), and Colorado Springs (COS). I was wondering about going a little further north from Alamos before crossing over the Sangre De Cristo mountains and there is no METAR for that area. There is however a few airports: Salida (ANK) and Canon City/Fremont County (1V6). Canon City is nice as well since it could indicate if there is clouds just past the divide. Both were clear below 10,000. Just to the west, Monarch pass (MYP) was clouded in.

Having AWOS information before, at the pass, and after the pass is good. I have noticed one time where the pass was clear, but there was a massive buildup of clouds just past the divide for 10 miles. So this time I planned on flying the west side and watching the clouds along the Sangre De Cristo range and look over the edge to see if there was any buildup on the other side. I like flying the windward west side when possible because it is a little less turbulent and will get updrafts if anything. The leeward east side is more turbulent with downdrafts being more consistent.

These AWOS phone numbers are available in the Air Guide Flight Guide, Airnav, and other places. The Colorado Mountain AWOS information is available from the CDOT AWOS web page.

So I checked these AWOS phone numbers during my weather briefing and just before starting the engine. I also watched the clouds and had a backup if things did not go as planned. You have to be flexible in the mountains.

Be safe out there and careful in the mountains and questionable weather. Always have a backup plan.