Sunday, November 9, 2008

"Practice Approaches" in IMC

On a lesson a few weeks ago, I decided it was time to introduce one of my instrument students to IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions). It rained on and off all day long, and the ceilings were hanging around the 1,000 ft mark, give or take 200-300 ft.

By about the time our lesson rolled around, there was a pretty decent break in the weather and the ceiling consistently remained around 1,200 ft. There was very very light rain falling at the time, and the radar showed just very light stuff in the vicinity of the field.

I figured these would be good enough conditions for him to get in some practice approaches and if need be I could take over if he got flustered with being in the clouds.

We filed IFR, conducted our preflight, got our clearance and took off. Then wouldn't you know it, we got up there and ATC comes on to tell us that visibilities have reduced to 1/2 mile and the ceiling had dropped substantially (I think to around 500 ft). Also our flight school Chief CFI had called our approach facility and gave us instructions to land because these conditions were below the minimums for the flight school (1,000 & 3).

Now granted, this was far from any sort of emergency situation, but at that point, I knew that this was no longer a training flight. This was real IFR, and we were no longer doing "practice approaches." I took the controls after ATC told us to abandon the VOR approach we were doing and gave us vectors for an ILS. My student was doing fine, but I wanted the controls at that point.

The point of the story is that "practice approaches" in IFR conditions are not practice approaches at all. They are the real thing.

Now I do think it is definitely important for all instrument students to see IMC as much as possible before the checkride, because it is a lot different than being under the hood. Just remember that when you actually file IFR and get up in the clouds, it's time to step it up a notch or two, because this is the real deal. Make sure you are in fact proficient on instruments any time you plan on getting in the clouds. Bottom line...IMC deserves our respect.

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