Today’s flight was with a new safety pilot, Paul. We decided to fly up to Bartow and back, since they have a restaurant on the field and the gas is cheap. We agreed to meet at the airport at 11 am, but when we got there, it was raining. There was a normal summer shower parked right over the airport.
We waited for a while, then Paul suggested I file an IFR flight plan (he’s instrument rated) in case we needed it to get out of the airport. The rest of the way up there was VFR, so we could either fly the whole way IFR or cancel once we got out of the rain. I didn’t feel like pre-flighting in the rain, so we waited a little longer until the rain had slowed down to a sprinkle. Then I went out and did my pre-flight. By the time I had finished, the rain had come to a stop. We decided to just fly VFR, since now it was getting late, and IFR flights are always longer than the VFR ones, because ATC will route you around the area for traffic and to set up an approach.
We took off, and I went under the hood. Paul started to give me directions to fly, but once we got past the Gwinn airspace, he pretty much left me on my own to get to Bartow. I will admit that I used my Garmin 496 GPS to get the proper heading, but then I mostly just followed the instruments. I also used the 496 to let me know when to turn. Some people might say that is cheating since the 496 is not allowed for IFR flights, but I don’t agree. We weren’t under an IFR flight plan, and that was the simplest way to get where we were going. I’m sure I’m not the first person to do this.
We got close to Bartow, and I decided to fly the VOR approach, since winds favored runway 9 (the one the approach ends up at). I dialed everything in and we did a procedure turn to get aligned with the approach. The VOR that is used for this approach is the Lakeland one, which is only about 12 miles from Bartow, so it should be a pretty good signal. Unfortunately, I dialed the VOR heading in backwards, which caused me to fly the wrong way trying to align the needle. Paul let me do that for a while and then eventually pointed out my mistake. By that time I was pretty far off the runway and had to make some pretty sharp turns to get back to the runway. I was pretty annoyed at myself for making such a basic mistake this far into my training. That approach should have been easy for me by now. I guess I still need more practice.
We landed at Bartow only to find out that the restaurant is closed for a couple of weeks for some reason. So no lunch for us. I topped off the tanks and we headed back for home. The flight back (and the flight up) was pretty bumpy. This was the middle of the day in Florida, so there was a lot of convection to deal with. Normally, I just point the nose down or up a little to counteract the effects, but today I was having to pull the power out a little to get the plane to stay on altitude. Eventually, we would fly out of the updraft and I would have to put the throttle back in to keep from descending. It was kind of like using the gas pedal on your car to maintain a constant speed, even when going up and down hills. It made for a tiring flight with all of the constant adjustments.
Eventually we made it back towards North County, and Paul guided me towards the ILS. He tried to get me to fly a radial off the Palm Beach VOR, but I was so busy trying to hold my altitude that I wasn’t paying attention when I finally got on the radial. Paul pointed this out to me and then gave me another radial, which I followed just fine until I picked up the localizer.
I flew the ILS approach into North County fine, and lifted the hood at the minimum descent altitude (MDA). That is always a quick transition from flying at cruise speed to landing, but it can be done in my plane by the 1000 foot mark on the runway. A halfway decent landing, and we were done with our flight. Here was the track from today:
Another 2.4 instrument hours in the logbook. Hopefully I can fly with another safety pilot next weekend, if Hurricane Irene doesn’t cause any problems here.