Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, February 25, 2014

20 Tips For IFR Flying

Yes, there could have been 200, but we decided to stop at 20

11 In fact, controllers can be your best friends. Flying a Cessna 340 from Pennsylvania on the last leg into Long Beach, I began to lose the HSI as I descended for the IFR approach. Uncharacteristically, the turbulence was fierce. Long Beach was reporting 300 and 1, barely above minimums, and there was a NOTAM for moderate to severe below 12,000 feet. Several pilots had already complained of the chop. I confirmed it. As I was being vectored for the ILS, the HSI finally quit completely, and things got very busy. Trying to hold a heading with the whiskey compass was almost impossible, as it was swinging 90 degrees left and right. My scan quickly deteriorated to merely trying to keep the airplane under control. I was encountering strong up- and downdrafts, trying to hold a semblance of a heading and stay within 500 feet of my assigned altitude. Several preceding pilots (who presumably had working DGs) had opted to go to their alternates. With no working DG/HSI available, I had to make do. Finally, after three tries to get on the localizer at somewhere near the proper altitude, a new controller came on the freq and asked if I'd like a no-gyro approach. I said yes, I had been there before, and he told me to concentrate on airspeed and altitude and he'd take care of heading. After a series of "start turn" and "stop turn" commands, he got me to the localizer where I could navigate with the localizer needle, and I was able to zigzag down the ILS, break out at minimums and land. To my surprise, no one gave me a phone number to call, and there was no inspector waiting to check my HSI. Three cheers for that talented controller, whoever he may be.

12 Every pilot is taught in training to familiarize himself with the missed approach procedure in case he can't land out of the first approach. A better mind-set, however, is to assume you definitely won't land on that first attempt. Even if the weather is well above minimums, the airplane is running perfectly and you're feeling great, don't fall into the trap of assuming the landing is guaranteed. Memorize as much of the missed approach procedure as you can, at least the initial heading and altitude, so you'll actually be prepared for a miss rather than surprised by it.
If you're flying in clouds, it's imperative that you know exactly where you are at all times without relying on
radar assistance.
13 Since we're addressing the missed approach, consider for a moment the number of pilots who have come to grief, because they weren't prepared for an abort. That's not hard to understand, since real-world aborts are extremely rare. I've had a total of three in nearly 40 years and 3,000 hours of IFR flying. The steps are numerous and critical, and if you don't accomplish them successfully and in the proper order, you may be in deep trouble. The first step (after you level the wings, in case you're still maneuvering) is to power up to arrest the descent and bring the nose up to at least a level flight attitude. Then, you'll want to reduce drag by retracting the gear. Next, most pilots will reposition the flaps to the takeoff setting to maximize lift. While you're doing all of this, you'll be trimming the nose up for climb to reduce the yoke/stick pressure, opening the cowl flaps, etc. If this all sounds like a three-handed process, that about sums it up. Do the best you can with only two hands.

14 Don't automatically file for what appears to be the most direct route, especially when operating overseas. On the 650 nm leg from Reykjavik, Iceland, to Wick, U.K., there are two typical routes. The most direct and the one most pilots are encouraged to file takes the aircraft through three FIRs (Flight Information Regions): Iceland, Shanwick and Scottish. If you file that trip, you'll save about five to seven minutes in Shanwick airspace, but you'll spend an extra $170 in airways fees for the privilege. If you file for Reykjavik direct to 60N 10W and then direct to Wick, you'll extend your trip by about 20 miles, but you'll only operate in two FIRs, Iceland and Scottish, and you'll save that $170.

15 In this age when GPS simplifies every aspect of navigation, it's fairly easy to cross waypoints exactly on time and hit ETAs within a few minutes. Even so, consider using only two operational airspeeds during IFR, one for climb and approach and the second for cruise. When it's time to descend, throttle back just enough to allow the airplane to maintain the same cruise speed. Most often, you can use the same number for climb and approach—Vy and normal approach speed are often the same, anyway—but consider using only one number for descent and cruise speed to keep the calculations easy. In VFR, it's okay to come down in a penetration descent, but you can simplify the math by using the KISS principle in IFR. (This obviously won't work when you're operating with an approach speed based on weight.)


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