Contact Approaches and Special VFR

I recently heard a friend talk about having to do a missed approach at an airfield due to reported low reported runway visibility though he could easily see it was VFR. That triggered the question in my mind, what about a contact approach, or special VFR?

My rusty knowledge from flight school wasn’t coming up with good answers in a hurry, so I popped over to www.boldmethod.com for some clarity. Basically, from what I read here a contact approach will let you fly when the weather is reported worse than actual. From what I read here a special VFR approach will let a VFR only pilot file a flight plan for landing in weather worse than normal VFR minimums near an airport for a visual landing.

The key here is for a contact approach, you need one mile FLIGHT visibility. Who cares what the RVR is reported. If you have one mile visibility (aka contact) from the cockpit, you’re golden. For SVFR, you are using this as a last resort to get out of trouble in deteriorating weather without having to file IFR.

Keep in mind, I’m not a CFI, so talk to one to get the full story before using these tools in the air. And as always, don’t hesitate to declare an emergency if you’ve gotten yourself in deeper than you should have.

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Check Those Instruments – VFR isn’t always so easy.

A few days ago I departed with a full load of passengers from Apahapsili (apa hap silly). The weather had been building on the ridges between Apahapsili and Wamena, but blue sky above the lowlands promised great weather to the north.

Even with full seats, I was pretty light. With 750 horse power up front, my Quest Kodiak posted a solid 1000fpm climb from the runway all the way up to 8000′. Above 8k I was seeing something more like 800fpm. Given my climb performance, I turned toward the top end of a valley. The ridge beyond lead to North Gap, which is the closest pass to Wamena. North Gap remains open and clear much of the day, even when storms brood either side of it. The ridge between me and North Gap had characteristic high build ups on them, but nothing concerning.

As I approached 10,000′ I worked myself into a corridor between clouds. At the end was a nice low spot where I could pass over and into North Gap. It was a little like flying up a canyon with a low pass at the end. As my climb performance degraded though, I began to realize I wouldn’t out climb that last bit of cloud.

The mountains are no place to mess with illegal IMC. No matter how confident you are that there’s no mountain there, never go IMC in the mountains unless you’re on an established route. I wasn’t about to do that, so I elected to circle once in the climb.

I knew my margins, I’d kept my out. I had room to turn around. What I’d not counted on was the disorientation from a steep turn out with no horizon. With clouds towering all around blocking my view of the horizon, I couldn’t visualize my bank angle or pitch.

It took less than a second. I lost my perspective, said out loud “disorientation!” and snapped inside to my instruments. Ahh! Better. 45 degree bank, slightly more pitch up than needed. A minor correction, and I finished my turn and passed over the clouds into North Gap uneventfully.

After years of flying, and even after recently reviewing here my past experiences of disorientation, it happened again. It can happen to anyone. The solution is simply however, when things get crazy, always go back to the basics. Check your instruments and fly the plane.

There’s a life application here too. For me, I find my time spent with God to be the thing that re-centers my life. When things start going sideways, I know I can trust God to be my steady guidance. What helps you find a balance, a center to orient your life?

Which way is up?

One night just over ten years ago my brain played a trick on me.

I was cruising along in a Beech 1900 over Western Africa. The weather was poor. Outside the front window haze rushed by in the deepest gloom. I was hand flying that bird and staring down the six pack of instruments, daring them to move.

The inner ear is a funny thing. And that night, it conspired with my brain to make me think I was about to die. Slowly I felt my body turning. I knew the symptoms. I was entering into classic vertigo. I ignored my gut which said that any minute now the contents of the cockpit were going to fly across the cabin to my right. That’s where down was, my brain said. Straight out the right hand side window.

I casually informed my captain that I was fighting vertigo, and kept my eyes frozen to the instruments, fighting to believe them.

After a while, the feeling passed. I continued on the flight, and we safely landed in Dakar. This kind of disorientation is not unusual, but it can be very deadly.

When it happened to me, I was lucky enough to have another pilot flying with me and recent training to help me fight the feeling. Not everyone is so lucky.

Fred Zanegood wrote about a similar experience he had as a new pilot. As I read through the article, I was reminded of that dark night so many years ago. I’m glad I took the right steps in my situation, though I probably should have handed control over until I was no longer disoriented. It’s a lesson to think about for me this evening.

Have a read through Fred’s article, and remember to always take that choice of extra caution. It could save your life.

http://airfactsjournal.com/2017/07/lasting-impression-power-spatial-disorientation/#

Shooting Video in Flight

I have come to really enjoy recording video in flight and then editing it later. It’s been pretty fun to see some of the results and to share it online. If you’ve wondered how to do it yourself, here’s an article that lays out some of the tricks behind a good in-flight video.

https://backcountrypilot.org/photo-and-video/how-to-shoot-video

Here’s a video that I put together a few months ago.