You would think that with all the rain and clouds we have had this winter in Southern California that I wouldn’t need to go up with a safety pilot for an IFR currency flight. If I were retired and could fly any day of the week, that would be true. But I am not independently wealthy, a state of life possibly postponed indefinitely by my love of flying, and the weather just hasn’t agreed with my free time. The days when I could fly the ceilings or visibility were either below my personal minimums, or a couple times when there was a nice overcast at 1,000-1,200’ and 5+ miles visibility I was fighting a cold and grounded myself.
So, with the end of January approaching and a need to get one more approach in to stay current, I found myself at the airport on a Saturday morning, not a could in the sky, doing a pre-flight on my plane so I could go shoot some approaches.
To stay IFR current you must have flown six approaches, holding procedures and tasks, and intercepted and tracked courses through the use of navigational electronic systems during the previous six months. My friend was set to arrive at 8am so we could get the approaches in before the typical Saturday masses were up in the air overloading the system resulting in “unable” from ACT when requesting practice approaches.
I had been at the airport for an hour when my friend arrived at the scheduled time of 8am and had not heard a single plane, it looked like we might beat the crowd. In hindsight, we should have been wheels up 30 minutes earlier, but it all ended up working out.
We went over the plan. I only needed one approach, but since we were going up, I wanted to take advantage and get in a few extra approaches. I would pick up flight following from KFUL Ground. Once in the air we would try to get in the RNAV 26R at Chino (KCNO), a hold over Paradise VOR (PDZ), the GPS-A at Corona (KAJO), followed by the RNAV 24 back into Fullerton (KFUL). I only needed the approaches “under the hood,” but for practice planned to do the whole flight with the foggles on and no autopilot.
I planned to hand fly the entire flight. The GFC500 is an amazing autopilot and reduces the workload while flying single pilot IFR exponentially, but while I had another pilot onboard and would be in VFR conditions, I wanted the added workload. One of my favorite quotes is attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson who said, “That which we persist in doing becomes easier, not that the nature of the task has changed, but our ability to do has increased.” IFR flying, or any flying, doesn’t change, but the more we do it the easier it becomes because we increase our abilities.
After a run up and all the checklists were completed we departed and the tower turned us loose to SoCal.
Me: “SoCal Departure, Mooney 78878, just departed Fullerton.”
SoCal: “November 78878, ident.”
After radar identification I was asked my requested altitude and replied “3,000.” Typically for the RNAV 26R at CNO, Approach will have you depart PDZ on a 080 heading and vector you around to intercept final just outside LINDN which you cross at 3,000’.
I turned the plane over to my friend while I put the foggles on, then took the plane back and did my best to level off at 3,000’ and proceed direct to PDZ. It wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t wander too much, and soon we were handed off to the next sector.
Me: “SoCal Approach, Mooney 78878, 3,000’.”
SoCal: “Mooney 78878, SoCal Approach, Ontario altimeter 30.14”
Me: “30.14, and we would like to request the RNAV 26R practice approach into Chino.”
SoCal: “I have your request.”
We continued along waiting for instructions from Approach. “If there is anything you want me to do just let me know,” my friend said, “I’m happy to help.” I replied, “for now just yell at me if I miss something. When I’m flying with Kathy I’m doing all of it so want to push myself.”
Just before reaching PDZ we heard, “November 78878, depart Paradise heading 080, vectors to final.”
“Depart Paradise heading 080, 878,” I replied. Perfect, exactly what I was expecting. Here’s another tidbit that was a game changer for me. When you are getting vectors to final ATC is giving you headings to fly a downwind and base leg, followed by a heading typically 30° off the final approach course to intercept. Knowing that, it is easier to visualize what is coming next, when to expect it, and helps to stay ahead of the plane.
SoCal: “November 878, three miles from LINDN, left turn heading 290, cleared RNAV 26R, no separation services provided, contact Chino Tower 118.50, on the go maintain VFR.”
Me: “Left turn 290, cleared RNAV 26R practice approach, switching to tower.”
Me: “Chino Tower, Mooney 78878 on the RNAV 26R practice approach.”
Tower: “Mooney 78878, 26R cleared low approach, I will call your left turn.”
Me: “26R cleared low approach, you’ll call my left turn, 878.”
With parallel traffic landing on 26L I was extra careful to make sure I didn’t drift left and for the most part kept everything centered. I was chasing the needles a little, but never ended up more than about ¼ ball off. At 1,030’ I tilted my head back to look under the foggles and there was the runway in front of us, right where it was supposed to be.
I advanced the throttle a little to stop the descent, pulled the gear up, eased the throttle the rest of the way in, and held the runway heading until the tower called my left turn and told me to contact SoCal Approach.
Me: “SoCal Approach, Mooney 78878 missed off Chino, we’d like the hold at Paradise then the GPS-A into Corona.”
SoCal: “November 78878, climb maintain 3,000, direct Paradise.”
Me: “Climb maintain 3,000, direct Paradise, 878.”
I felt a little overloaded as I tried to maintain the heading and climb while removing KCNO from the flight plan, adding KAJO and loading the approach. With the GNC355 I’ve found that on the round robin flights with approaches at multiple airports that putting all the airports into the flight plan doesn’t work well. It would always try to load the approach at the last airport in the flight plan. If someone knows a better way, I would love to hear it.
SoCal called back asking how long I wanted in the hold. “I’d like one full turn,” I replied.
“Climb and maintain 3,500’, there is additional traffic, let me know when you are inbound,” she said.
Just before we reached PDZ approaching from the northwest, as I was about to turn to 078 for a parallel entry we heard, “November 78878, right turn heading 150 for traffic.” I acknowledged the call, began my right turn, and my friend said, “there’s some real-world practice.”
A few minutes later we were given a left turn back to Paradise to enter the hold and told to let her know when we were inbound. We entered the hold then flew outbound leg, but as we began the turn to the inbound leg there was a controller change, and that changed everything. What had been quiet when we started the flight had morphed into everyone finally getting to the various airports and up in the sky to enjoy a beautiful VFR Saturday morning.
The new voice on the radio had already twice said, “Unable flight following” to VFR call-ups. The previous controller had instructed me to just inform her when I was inbound, but that was before it got busy. The new controller was not going to be able to accommodate our request.
SoCal: “November 78878, cleared practice approach, no separation services provided, full stop.” (Wait a minute, we didn’t want a full stop.)
Me: “We wanted to go missed followed by the RNAV 24 at Fullerton if possible.”
SoCal: “Negative, this will be full stop.” (Translation, I don’t have time to help you anymore.)
Me: “We can cancel flight following and switch to advisory if it helps.” (Translation, I know you don’t have time and I don’t want a full stop so just kick me loose and I’ll proceed VFR on my own and do what I want.)
SoCal: “November 78878, radar services terminated, squawk VFR, frequency change approved, good day.” (Translation, thank you and good bye!)
Me: “Squawk VFR, frequency change, thanks, 878.”
I pushed the VFR button on the transponder to auto populate 1200, switched over to the CTAF for AJO, and started making position calls with our intention to go missed and remain north of the airport. My heading was good, but I had the same issue I have had many times with that approach. You cross PDZ at 3,100’ and only have 3.6 miles to descend 1,440’ down to 1,660’ AGL.
My normal settings inside the FAF are gear down, prop full forward, and 13-14” MP which results in 105mph IAS (about 90 knots) and about a 450 fpm rate of descent. At 105mph IAS with only 3.6 nm to lose 1,440’ I need about a 600 fpm rate of descent depending on the winds. So, I was a couple hundred feet high at the Missed Approach Point, which is better than arriving low, but if you’re trying to break out of an overcast it isn’t helpful.
I didn’t want a full stop at Corona, and ATC didn’t really care what I was doing as long as I stayed out of everyone’s airspace. I was on a practice approach in VFR conditions, conducting a VFR flight which doesn’t require ATC coordination, and ATC didn’t have time to continue providing services to me. Hence, calling the audible enabled us to go missed and continue our flight.
When arriving at KFUL from the east the typical reporting point is the water treatment plant, which is charted, and then 99% of the time tower gives a straight in. The water treatment plant is also conveniently a couple miles west of LEYMI which is the fix that SoCal will vector you to when flying the approach.
I told my friend after we canceled flight following, that we would go missed at AJO and I would proceed to LEYMI and call up KFUL tower. If they gave us a straight in as expected, I would fly the RNAV 24 and get that third approach in. There were a number of times during my IFR training that my CFII would play ATC and give me vectors to put me on the approach to KFUL. On my IFR check ride I had a similar experience on the first approach, where ATC was too busy so the DPE coordinated transiting RAL’s airspace while giving me vectors to put me on the ILS at CNO. This would be similar.
As we approached LEYMI I called up KFUL tower reporting “just east” of the water treatment plant and received the expected, “make straight in runway 24.” Perfect, I was going to get that third approach. We crossed LEYMI at 3,000’ and then began the descent down to 2,700’, getting there 0.2 miles before HAVUR. I leveled off, crossed HAVUR at 2,700’ and then began the descent down to 2,000’ to cross AKTAQ. I got to 2,000’ 0.3 miles before AKTAQ which was perfect, it gave me a chance to level off and bleed speed to throw out the gear. We were given our landing clearance and I continued on down until pulling off the foggles at 900’.
After 48 minutes of flying, I had three more approaches with a hold and am still IFR current. The best part was flying the whole thing by hand and polishing up those skills. I love the GFC500, it is a fantastic auto-pilot which makes flying so much easier, but we all need to keep those hand flying skills sharp and this was a great opportunity.