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.



Ross in Aviation said...

Whist being on a commercial airline, many a time the plane has seemed more turbulent whilst going through thick cloud.

The part of your post about the body illusions is interesting.

Brian said...

I was thinking about my comments in that area too. I think I have not noticed bad turbulence in clouds since I stay away from the thunderboomers or similar clouds. I go IFR in the morning when it is calmer and less lifting/turbulence action. Commercial airliners definitely go through more turbulent clouds, and I suppose some small plane pilots might, but I don't.

Duarte Fernandes Pinto said...

I love Cessnas and IFR.
What a fantastic blog for people who love aviation!!! Congratulations!!!
Please visit a portuguese blog which shows aerial pictures from Portugal taken during my flights:
Third Dimension - Aerial Photography from Portugal

Unstoppable Family said...

“The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.”
You got some great material on here, I see why people love your blog so much. Will make sure we subscribe to rss and keep up with your new stuff. Thanks so much for writing. Me and my family are on 3 year trip around the world having a blast. Come visit our blog we update with all types of crazy stuff.

Unstoppable Family
Brian and Rhonda Swan

Nate Duehr said...

You've been awfully quite since April, Brian? Summer flying, I hope?