One of the simple facts about flying for practice or currency is that you only get the weather nature throws at you. I’ve been eager to do some practice instrument approaches on a day when there is actual instrument weather but the last few weeks have been beautiful instead. It’s hard to complain about beautiful VFR weather but this Saturday I was happy to have some Marginal VFR weather with ceilings in the 1000-1500 foot range to do some practice approaches in.
I planned to do three approaches in close proximity at Concord, NH, Manchester, NH, and of course an approach would be required back at Nashua. One nice things about all of the airports in the northeast is that you don’t have to go very far to do approaches into several different airports. I could accumulate some more hours by going to further away airports but doing multiple approaches into the close together airports is actually a good additional challenge with lots of maneuvering in the clouds.
To do practice approaches like this in actual instrument the usual technique is to file an IFR flight plan with Nashua as both the departure point and the destination. In the route field you put “KCON KMHT” and in Remarks just say “appchs at CON MHT”. The clearance you get is a bit weird since it’ll be “Cleared to the Nashua airport via radar vectors Concord, then as filed.” So, if you lose comms in the clouds, you’re cleared all the way back to Nashua via the route that takes you over Concord and Manchester!
Departing Nashua I was in the clouds after about 1300 feet of climb and popped out on top a bit before leveling off at 4000 feet. Here I was between layers, 200-300 feet above the rolling hills of the stratus cloud deck top and below a high overcast. This can be a deceptive situation as you’re not in a cloud itself but there is no discernible horizon and worse the “rolling hills” can provide a false horizon.
First into Concord the approach would be the RNAV (GPS) approach to Runway 17. I was cleared directly to the KERSY waypoint. The controller had me climb up above 4000 briefly to begin the approach and then after turning onto the final approach course you can descend down to 2500 feet. Once passing the final approach fix descent continues down to the minimum descent altitude of 1020 feet. I took the approach down to 1100 feet where the runway was easily visible and went missed without landing. I started the published miss which is a climbing right turn to 4400 direct INKOW waypoint.
Next I asked to do the ILS 17 into Manchester. Unlike the GPS approach the ILS is a precision approach which means it provides vertical and lateral guidance down to a lower minimum altitude (just 200 feet above the ground). ATC had me level off at 3000 feet and fly a vector for the ILS. I started trying to brief the approach but it would have been too fast and I asked for a delay vector which was immediately granted. This is always a good idea when hand flying single pilot IFR and things are happening fast. Flying a heading is one of the easiest things you can do and this will give you time to properly brief and setup for the approach.
I had a bit of trouble getting laterally stabilized with some of the winds aloft but after a bit of time along the approach everything was looking really nice with the needles perfectly centered. The Course Deviation Indicator displays with needles for lateral and vertical displacement. If they form a plus sign you are right along the ILS glide slope and localizer.
After breaking out about a thousand feet above minimums I continued the approach and did a stop-and-go on the 8,900 feet of runway 17. Doing a stop-and-go will take a bit more runway than a touch-and-go but gives a bit more time to make sure everything is set for the takeoff. Flaps back to 10 degrees, trims reset, mixture-prop-throttle forward. No sense in going heads down on the cockpit rolling down the runway single pilot. On departure ATC gave alternate climb out instructions which were a right turn to 270 and climb to 3000 feet.
Finally, I did the ILS 14 back into Nashua. Winds aloft were increasingly strong from the southeast and the intercept required a shallow angle. Once established I popped out at 1600 feet and spotted the traffic ahead which was a commercial student from my local flight school practicing short approaches in the Cessna Cutlass I did my complex training in. Their nice tight pattern kept them well ahead of me and I was able to keep the speed up around 100 knots until under a mile final. The winds seemed to be strongest right at 500-1000 feet making for an interesting approach but the landing was good with the windsock pointed almost directly across the runway. Great practice!
Conditions were relatively smooth and free of turbulence in the clouds today. In some ways I think this made me get “the leans” a bit worse than usual since you’re not getting bounced around. An important part of instrument flying is recognizing the dissonance between your vestibular system and reality. At one point in the clouds I was in a long standard rate left hand turn and realized that my vestibular system was convinced I was straight and level. Recognizing this led me to be extra prepared for the next bit of dissonance after rolling out of the turn and my inner ear tells me I’m now turning in the opposite direction!