Saturday, 23 January 2010

First IFR flight

Last month I passed my IR test.  Today was the day to go and do that first IFR flight and also to blow away the cobwebs having not flown since before Christmas.  After cancelling a flight last weekend thanks to a strong crosswind at Liverpool, today looked like being the day.  The first thing to check from home was the weather, and I now wish I'd kept the data I gathered so I could post it here.  In essence, it was okay on top of the clouds, with tops at about 2,500' to 3,000', and not so nice below.  Very low visibility and cloud bases were around, but forecast to improve so I set off for the airport.  By the time I was there, the visibility was up to about 3km and the cloud base had lifted to 500'.  Pre-IR, I would undoubtedly have cancelled the flight last night and had a lie-in, but I now view this weather as perfectly acceptable!

I'd filed a flight plan earlier in the morning to go at F090 in a NANTI 2T departure from Liverpool, then following the L10 airway to HON, the Honiley VOR and then direct to Gloucester.  My clearance was exactly as filed and we lined up on runway 27.

Before being cleared to take off, I was asked to abandon the NANTI 2T departure and climb straight ahead to 4000'.  That read back, we were cleared and away we went, entering cloud at a few hundred feet.  Just to add a bit of distraction, the gear warning light wouldn't go out.  Back to basic training now - first thing to do with any fault is to carry on flying the aeroplane!  So onwards - flaps up, climb power set, and a couple of minutes later we popped up into glorious sunshine.

The autopilot set on heading mode and the Commander trimmed to continue the climb, I cycled the gear.  It lowered fine - three greens and the warning light out.  Raising it again was a repeat of the first attempt - green lights go out but the warning light remained illuminated.  Oh well, we were going to have to land at some point so no reason to concern myself with it for now.  I did limit flight to the 130kt max gear operating speed, though.

Liverpool radar asked if we really needed to go down the airways or if we'd be happy to fly direct to Gloucester from our current position.  With barely an aircraft in the sky, I replied that I'd be happy to go direct, so was given own navigation to Gloucester, continuing climb up to flight level 90 and to contact Manchester Control.  We stayed with them for less than 5 minutes before leaving controlled airspace and being handed over to London Mil for a traffic service.  This being my first flight, I hadn't quite comprehended that this meant my flight plan was over and I was largely on my own now!

We continued the flight, requesting a descent at the point where 500fpm would bring us to 2000' shortly before getting to Gloucester and being given it with the only traffic information of the flight.  We spotted the aircraft after the third report from London Mil, and with that in sight (and well out of the way) changed over to Gloucester approach.  Thanks to staffing levels, they were not able to offer instrument approaches.  Great, I thought.  Here I am on my first instrument flight at 3000' with no way of getting down through the clouds!

My passenger was also a PPL holder, so we had a look at the VFR chart.  It's an area I know well, having grown up nearby and flown to Gloucester many times and since we were south and east of the Malvern Hills, and north of Gloucester, we decided a further descent was safe and went into the grey.  We sighted ground at about 1,800' and levelled at about 1,600' in VMC.  The "arrival" was a standard overhead join for 09.  So much for a complete IFR flight!  Not to worry - we had arrived so it was time to meet the FLYER forumites for a cracking lunch at The Aviator, just outside the terminal building.

For the flight home, I booked out at FL65, VFR.  From the flight down, I knew this would be above the clouds.  Sure enough, after the long taxy to depart on 09, we entered cloud not long after the turn to the north.  We were asked to report abeam Worcester which is a fairly standard report for Gloucester.  First problem - how do we report this when Worcester is beneath a solid layer of cloud!  GPS to the rescue, and the "west abeam Worcester" report was given at the appropriate time.

We listened in to Birmingham with their 0010 listening squawk set, but they didn't seem bothered that we were there.  On the second radio, I tuned in to Tilstock to see if they were about and parachuting.  Much to our surprise, they were!  It's always a good idea to give them a call; they were dropping from FL100 right on our route!  We made a slight alteration to route well to their east over Crewe.  Once clear of Tilstock, I called Liverpool Approach for an IFR join and was told to join at the Whitegate NDB at 2,400'.  After descending to stay below Manchester's airspace we joined inbetween two layers of cloud and were under radar control for vectors to the ILS.

We headed north, intially on a heading of 350 but then on 360 until being turned onto 300 to intercept the localiser rather late.  This resulted in a continuous turn to get established, where I'd have preferred a short time straight and level before the beam bar started to move in.  Perhaps this is due to my inexperience but it wasn't a big deal.  I reported established and was given the usual "descend further with the glideslope, contact tower on 126.350."  We intercepted the glideslope as this was being read out, all making for a rather rushed minute or so.  Gear lowered, flaps extended, power reduced and down we went.  I was reasonably happy with the ILS; we were well within limits, if slightly right and low.

We trundled further down the ILS, finally breaking cloud at about 800'.  Wonderful!  It felt great to spend all that time up above the clouds, then inbetween them, then in them and finally to be rewarded with the runway lights just where they should be.

The landing was fantastically smooth, if I do say so myself!  The Commander's trailing link undercarriage will make even the roughest of arrivals seem alright, but if you get it somewhere near right then the results are very pleasing indeed.

So that's what I've been working towards for the last 3 1/2 years!  It was a fantastic day out.  A couple of unplanned for events happened (as always) but I'm happy with the way I dealt with them.