26.8h IR – Unexpected Clouds

I flew the first time through clouds! Even if it was only for a moment, I am happy about it. I already believed I would go through instrument training without ever seeing a cloud from the inside. Since the last blog entry I had two flights and there is a lot to de-brief on the blog.

KFTG practice approaches
Practice approaches into Front Range and a couple holds at SKIPI.

Centennial is so busy, you don’t talk to the Tower, he is talking to you. I was told by Ground to monitor the tower frequency and after a few seconds he told me: “Cessna 9443L, cleared for takeoff runway 10, east departure approved.” and I answered “Cleared for takeoff runway 10, east departure approved.”, and that was it, the complete conversation I had on the frequency. They really know how to keep it simple. After leaving Class Delta of Centennial we switched to Denver Departure and asked them if we could do a few practice approaches into Front Range. They happily gave us clearance into Class Bravo airspace, told us to look out for the MD-11 freighter and to be cautious of wake turbulence. Roger, wilco. At Front Range we were vectored for an ILS approach and at minimums (200ft/60m agl) I was exactly in front of the runway. Flying was so much easier in real life compared to the simulator, I thought. We were vectored then for a localizer approach and again it went well. During the missed approach I asked the tower if he would mind if we did a few holds at NDB SKIPPI and he didn’t. We had a southerly wind and on the chart where it says “TAMs” you can see where I was blown through the inbound leg during the turn. But it was just within limits and after three racetrack patterns we went back to Centennial. This time for a RNAV (GPS) approach for runway 28 with a circling for runway 17L. Before we circled to land, the tower told us to follow the Gulfstream on downwind and on base we were number two, seconds behind a Citation jet. Due to wake turbulence that meant flying above the glidepath of the jet and landing beyond its touchdown point.

RNAV (GPS) Runway 28, we flew a circling north-east of the airport for runway 17L.
Cloud tops at about 5000 feet.

My last flight was a great experience. I had planned a cross-country to Goodland, Kansas. The weather forecasted clouds up to about 8000ft but it looked like we could climb in VMC, which was necessary because the temperature was below freezing and our Cessna isn’t approved for flight into known icing. The weather briefing was very interesting and I learned for example how to find the tops of the clouds. In Denver it is quite easy. If there are mountains on the satellite chart you can find out on which level that approximately is. Using ForeFlight and its satellite image overlay on the VFR chart the job is quite easy. Simply look along the topographic lines where the clouds begin. We departed at about 14:40LT, after I received my first ever IFR departure clearance. The controller said: “43Lima, readback correct.” I was very pleased to hear that, as I am usually nervous when I use a radio phrase the first time. Seemingly my English is becoming better and I don’t have to think about every word I say anymore. We flew a departure procedure (DP) out of Centennial, PLAINS 7. The Goodland transition brought us all the way to the Goodland VOR, which was our initial approach fix (IAF) for our VOR/DME approach runway 30.

Plains 7 departure procedure. Transition Goodland was our destination.
VOR/DME approach into Goodland. The first time I was in Kansas. :-)
VOR/DME approach into Goodland. The first time I was in Kansas. 🙂

Just a mile short of the VOR, when I prepared to do the Five T’s, ATC called me and asked if I was already flying the approach. I could handle the call but it made me overshoot the initial approach fix. The Five T’s are: Turn, Time, Twist, Throttle, Talk. Now it all seemed backwards. After figuring that out, I flew outbound for the procedure turn. According to the weather station the wind was favoring runway 23 so I decided to do a circling to land. It was important to stay above the minimum descent altitude until I started the descent. Busting the minima would mean an immediate fail at the exam. I lined up for landing and had a nice light crosswind. I corrected for it using the sideslip technique and it worked out well. I touched down with the left main wheel and increased aileron until fully deflected, until the moment the right wheel touched the ground. I never felt such control on a crosswind landing. The stick-and-rudder crosswind ground school seemed to pay off (well, it cost me about 30 bucks – crosswindconceptsltd.com). 15 seconds later my first stay in Kansas was over and the right wheel left the ground again, followed by the left shortly afterwards.

00684VD30-001During climbout I switched back to Denver Center and told them that we were headed direct to Front Range, because the weather at Kit Carson was too bad for an approach due to icing. The controller amended our flight plan and we continued direct by GPS. The course deviation indicator (CDI) showed small deflections, sometimes to the right, sometimes to the left. I had a hard time finding a wind correction angle that kept me exactly on course. It feels much easier if you have a heading bug. That way you simply point the nose toward the bug and if it doesn’t work out you adjust. That is how I did it in the 20 hours of simulator time. Now, in the real plane I don’t have that heading bug so I have to think of a heading and imagine it as a heading bug – maybe I should write down my wind correction angles. Anyways, thanks to a temperature inversion it was above freezing at altitude and I could climb through a cloud layer – the first time in my flying career. The stratus cloud was smooth, I could barely feel a difference to flying in VMC. Still, a strange feeling came up. A slight increase in heartbeats, but I knew I was able to continue and I told myself to look at the instruments, instead of admiring the white water droplets, passing so fast around the wings. It got dark and thanks to a Stratus ADS-B device, that we could connect to our iPads and iPhones, we were able to see the current weather at Front Range and Centennial. For some reason, it didn’t work for Front Range, so I listened to the ATIS, which I received from a distance of about 80 miles through a lot of static noise. It said Broken at 800 feet, temperature -3/-3.

ILS runway 35R into Centennial at night.
ILS runway 35R into Centennial at night.

There it was, the temperature/dew point spread that you always have to keep track of. It wasn’t forecasted and in addition it was below freezing, making the clouds known icing conditions that we couldn’t legally enter. As an old saying goes: If it’s too bad for IFR, go VFR! But coming up in the Front Range area we realized the clouds were extremely thin and the ATIS made it sound very dramatic. Nevertheless, we didn’t fly an approach into Front Range. Josh asked me several times questions beginning with: “What do you think, are we pushing our luck if…” and I decided to return direct to Centennial. Not only was fog coming up, also our flight took longer than expected due to strong headwinds at our altitude. We prepared for an ILS for runway 35R at Centennial. We were vectored very far south and when we finally were established on the localizer, Centennial Tower told me to fly as fast as I could because of a Challenger in my neck. True, the little Cessna and I were quite challenged with that bizjet behind. It wasn’t easy to keep the needles centered at that speed but it worked out quite well. At 600 feet I set 10° of flaps and almost ballooned through the glideslope. A few hundred feet lower I was allowed to remove my foggles and look outside. A whole christmas tree was right in front of me. The rabbit light, which runs sequenced toward the centerline and all these nice REILs and RAILs and MALSRs and so forth made this approach look like one of those cool videos on YouTube. The landing was smooth – but the whole night flight magic was gone, when I suddenly heard: “Keep your speed up 43Lima, Challenger on a half mile final, exit at Alpha 9er, Ground point eight.”

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