Cutting Teeth

I am nervous, the weather is not good.  I have been contracted to fly a client in her airplane, a Cessna 182, to the Cook County Airport up in Adel, GA.  The weather in Tampa is awful, below mins.  And I am a fairly new commercial pilot with an untested instrument rating.  How did I get myself into this predicament?

I talk with the weather-liars, uh, I mean, briefers.  They explain all the dynamics of what is creating the weather in the southeast and they tell me Valdosta is 200 OVC ½ mile.  Then the briefer says, “But by the time you get there, they are calling for 700 to 800 broken to scattered with two miles or better.”

Uhmmm.  As long as the mighty Continental O-230 keeps purring while we fly over the bad weather, we should not have a problem.  I feel comfortable with his forecast, except for the part about flying over the undercast.  I know the weather below is solid cloud and fog all the way to the ground.  If the engine fails, it is not going to be good.  But I have been flying the airplane for a while in good weather, and the Continental has been as smooth and steady as a rock the whole time.  Uhmmm.

We pick up our IFR clearance and take off.  The client is in the backseat with her work spread around her.  I am up front doing my thing.  The skies are clear, except for the undercast, which is fairly thick.  We’re cruising at 6000 and it looks as if the tops are about 2000.  The further north we go, the more I listen to Flight Watch.  Then I start listen to VLD ATIS.

The more I listen, the more ATIS validates my perception that anyone associated with weather prognostics is an out and out liar.  They said, “700 to 800 feet broken to scattered with two miles viz.”  The reality is still 200 overcast with half a mile at best.  It is time for an ILS and while I have done plenty as a student in good weather under the hood, I have never done one in real life.  With real mins.  With real visibility down to one half a mile… I give my passenger the bad news that we are going to have to land in Valdosta and she will have to rent a car to get to Adel.

Over the years since becoming a flight instructor, I have counseled my new instrument charges not to do what I am about to do.  I always tell my new instrument pilots, “Go out and fly in lower weather conditions and get some experience before going to minimum conditions.”  I give them that advice from personal experience.

Now, I find myself at the outer marker about to enter the clag.  Localizer’s good, glideslope is good.  I am on the descent now.  Passing 1000 feet, something odd happens.  I go a little high on the glideslope and I can’t get it back down.  Try as I might, I cannot get the airplane back on the glideslope.  I am about half-deflection high and I just cannot bring myself to increase the rate of descent to get back down.  I know the ground is down there, somewhere.

I am now through 500 feet and looking for the runway and of course, there is nothing to see beyond the front of the airplane other than fog.  I notice I am starting to go a little higher on the GS.  This is not good.  Now, I am 300 AGL according to the charts and the instruments.  If the weather is right at 200 and I keep going higher, I might miss the airport.

Suddenly, I have the perception it is getting lighter around me.  Then there it is, the end of the runway, appearing out of the mist like some ancient sailing ship coming to port through a sea fog.

Holy [expletive deleted]!  The system really works, I thought.  There’s the runway!

My passenger, who has not said a word the entire flight, now leans forward and says, “Can’t you just follow Interstate 75 up to Adel?”  The answer was, of course, no.

There was no doubt in my mind, I had cut my teeth as a real instrument pilot.


© 2010 J. Clark

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