As I scanned the local conditions for my first IFR flight after relocating the airplane to Non-Towered Municipal, I decided I needed to get my clearance on the ground before taking off. Using my cellphone, I called Flight Service, obtained my clearance and departed just fine. Only then I discovered the weather was far better than my estimation; good enough that I easily could have departed and picked up my clearance airborne.
A few weeks later, I found myself preparing for a similar flight, with what appeared from the ground to be similar conditions. After the hassle of getting a clearance on the ground—including bad cellphone coverage and a lengthy delay while Flight Service coordinated with ATC—I was convinced the local weather would allow me to depart VFR and grab the clearance climbing out.
As soon as I took off, I realized I’d made a mistake: Although the weather appeared the same as my previous IFR flight, the ceiling was far lower. And ATC was very busy coping with all the IFR traffic. So busy, in fact, I spent a solid five minutes tooling around under a 1200-foot overcast and too close to a 1600-foot radio tower before I could get in a word on the frequency. The controller quickly found my clearance, though, and sent me on my way. I was greatly relieved to be back in the soothing embraces of ATC, but spent way too much time in marginal conditions at too low an altitude trying to save a couple of minutes. Thanks to the delay, I didn’t save any time at all, and spent it at a higher power setting and fuel flow. Dumb.
There’s a time and place to depart VFR and pick up a clearance airborne. But it’s sometimes difficult to determine ceiling height or expected flight visibility from the ground, and it’s a lot smarter to already have the clearance you need before taking off from non-towered airports. I’ve learned to take an extra minute or two and get the clearance on the ground when the weather’s iffy.
A Special Note
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Check the instructions (above right), then write up what happened, how you dealt with it and what you learned. Be sure to let us know if we can use your name!