Friday, August 28, 2009

Soldotna - Merle K. (Mudhole) Smith / Beechcraft Baron 58 (N704TL) / VFR-IFR

Inspired by a story about a helicopter pilot who went down in weather in this area some years ago, I decided to try a flight from Soldotna, Alaska, to Cordova. They are about 160 nm apart.

I filed and started out VFR, but there were clouds east of my departure airport that I just couldn't get around, so I obtained a pop-up IFR clearance to my destination. By then I was at 11500 trying to get over the clouds, but I requested and got 9000 after being cleared.

Unlike the flight of the helicopter pilot that inspired me, my flight was uneventful—but my weather was pretty bad, too. It deteriorated as I continued east, with solid cloud layers above and below me and mostly a lot of mist ahead of me. I couldn't really see anything useful, although occasionally I did catch the vague outline of land and water below me. Fortunately, my Barons have all those fancy avionics and are certified for entry into icing conditions, so I was good. And I did pick up a little bit of ice, but nothing serious.

The flight was practically a straight line from Soldotna to Cordova, although I had filed BROIL.NOWEL.JOH. Part of this was off-airway, which was no big deal for VFR but a bit more of a concern for IFR. I just checked the quadrant altitudes on the en-route chart to make sure I was clear of terrain before requesting an altitude. Actually, 7500 would have been fine, but 9000 was even more fine, giving me almost three thousand feet above the highest terrain.

I was very happy on this flight because I executed a superb IFR approach to runway 27 at Cordova. I didn't have ATC online, so I had to fly the approach myself. Once over Prince William Sound, I requested 5000 and flew along until I was just southwest of the airport. I then turned northeast until I had GIPRE at a bearing of 092, just like the plate says. I turned to 092, descending to cross GIPRE at 4700, then descended per the plate while making a procedure turn to come back. All in all, every step was properly executed; as I rolled out of my procedure turn, I was already aligned with the ILS and just beneath the glide slope. I made most of the approach from there on autopilot, but I got the field visually a few miles out and turned off the automation to fly in by hand in nearly-calm winds. Touchdown and taxi to the gate were fine.

I parked just before sunset, although at this latitude in summer, “just before sunset” lasts for quite a long time.

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