So, in all my IFR training I managed to actually fly IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions - or in the clouds) about 30 minutes. The rest of the time was under a "hood", which restricts your vision to just the instruments. This is not an unusual thing but I think every newly minted instrument pilot (got my certificate in November) waits excitedly for his first real "in the clouds" experience. In Utah it's even harder because lots of times the clouds have ice in them, which one wants to avoid. So, after getting my IFR ticket, I was very much looking forward to an opportunity to fly some real IFR.
This weekend, I got mine!!
I decided to take myself to Wendover, UT. (that's where the airport is, the city is in Nevada) on Saturday. If you have been watching the weather you might have noticed that Utah has gotten a lot of rain of late. Saturday's weather was cloudy and rainy. Perfect!
I filed my IFR flight plan on my computer and took off for Wendover. My intention was to catch my clearance in the air which is what I did. Now, the MEA (minimum en route altitude) between South Valley regional (U42) in Salt Lake City and Wendover (ENV) is 9,000, which means I have to fly at or above 9,000 feet to go IFR. A Cessna-150 isn't a fast climber, particularity when you are full fuel. I was pretty much at the edge of the Salt Lake City (SLC) class B airspace when I finally hit 9k. At 9k I got my clearance from Center and I was on my way.
About 30 miles or so from SLC, I hit clouds for the first time. it was a line of very light precipitation .... the clouds enveloped me, light rain falling on my windshield and briefly looking outside (you want to be constantly scanning your instruments of course) it looked like I was enveloped in marshmallow or something.
At some points you could look down and see the roads below. This is really a pretty good route for single engine instrument flying... there are a few mountains, but you are pretty much following I-80 the whole way... and for the most part are flying along a valley (with one good ridge to pass). You can see the map of my route here (this is known as a sectional chart).
Also, click on this link and you will see the low altitude en-route chart that I used for my flight.
The ceilings were at about 8-10k MSL for the most part (but at some points seemed much lower), so if I had a problem I'd have lots of visibility to land on the highway. I also have a nice GPS which shows me the highway, terrain and the like, so coming down in an emergency would be a reasonable experience.
It took me a while to really get my scan going well, and I was hitting some light chop too. Also there was some lateral sheer trying to move me too and fro. After a while I got things settled down and pretty much did a good job of staying on the airway. The airplane was filled with Fuel. Originally I filed for 10k, but could only get it to climb to 9.5k. Center was nice enough to let me go down to 9k and fly the rest of the route. When it's heavy, that 150 does not want to climb fast at all!
The Outside air temperature (OAT) was about 40 degrees, so there was no risk of icing of course. However while in the clouds I did experience a brief and slight loss of power. I applied some carb heat and that took care of the problem. That was my second experience with carb ice... it can be a bit scary, but if you know what to do, it's not a big deal avoiding it. The only problem is that in applying carb heat, you loose some engine power. This can make holding altitude difficult if you are already barely holding it. I didn't have too much of a problem at 9k, but I suspect that I'd have not been able to maintain 10k with carb heat applied.
I exited the clouds about 25 miles east of ENV or so.... Excited for my first IMC experience. I proceeded to do a visual approach into ENV which went smoothly. I ate some lunch at ENV and then started the return trip.
On the way back, it became clear that I'd have to file IFR again. I dialed up Cedar City Radio and opened the IFR flight plan with them. I then called Center, got my clearance and was again on my way. On the trip back, I hit clouds again for about 20 minutes or so. it was a thrilling and exciting experience! Entering the Class B airspace, I canceled IFT and returned to SLC and my home airport South Valley Regional (U42) via a normal visual approach.
It is this kind of flying that I got my instrument ticket for! Had I been VFR only, I'd have not been able to go because of mountain obscuration and some low ceilings that, with mountains present, probably would have caused me to scrub the trip. I'm not into scud running with mountains around that you can't see the tops of. As it was, with my little C150, my VOR and a GPS as a backup I safely made my trip and enjoyed a great high that few pilots really get to experience.
I can't wait to do it again!