Monday, December 1, 2008

Seattle - Tacoma / Cessna 182RG II (N7109V) / IFR

Seattle was all foggy and misty, so naturally I had to fly there. That's a key difference between simulation and real life: In real life, you avoid bad weather, and in simulation, you look for it. Anyway, when Scotty beamed me into the cockpit of Cessna N7109V, parked in a cargo area at KSEA, I could hardly see the other side of the ramp. Perfect IFR flying weather!

So I filed IFR from Seattle to Tacoma-Narrows. Winds were from the north, so I planned to fly north a bit, then west, then south until I hit the 227 radial from SEA, at which point I'd turn towards KTIW and capture the ILS for runway 17.

Shortly after I turned onto the southbound leg of my trip, Seattle Center came online, so I checked in and got vectors for the approach. Visibility was essentially zero outside the window. I tuned the ILS and captured it, but getting onto the localizer and glide slope in zero visibility was really tough. I was fighting to keep the needles centered all the way. When I finally reached the field, I was several hundred feet west of the runway, so I made a sharp turn, roughly aligned myself with the runway, and called in a missed approach to ATC. I was directed to climb to 3000 on runway heading, where I stayed for a while. ATC then vectored me back around for another try. All of this was still in zero visbility.

I think this is the first time I've ever gone missed on an IFR approach because I couldn't see the runway in time. By the time I saw it, I was too far off.

After being taken a fair distance back out, ATC brought me back in to intercept the localizer. I was getting increasingly anxious because the visibility was really, really poor, just barely at minimums. I had plenty of fuel but I didn't cherish the thought of going missed again, or diverting to some other airport (none of the ones nearby had better weather, anyway). I managed to stay on the needles a bit better this time, but I still came in about 100 feet west of the centerline when finally I saw a few glimmering runway lights come into view. There was still time to line up, so I did, and by then I had a clear view of the runway and landing was straightforward and smooth (lots of fog, but hardly any wind). Nevertheless, it was a nerve-wracking experience. The avionics in the Cessna are not fancy and it's hard to shoot an ILS by hand in nil visibility. It was nearly sunset by the time I landed and I don't think I'll try this again today in the Cessna, but I might try it with an aircraft with better IFR instrumentation, such as the Baron or Bonanza.

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