One Wing Wet


Like so many things in aviation, there are procedures for launching into IMC from a non-towered field: File a flight plan, get a clearance, then take off and fly the clearance. Things can get exciting if you get these steps out of order.


Before a recent flight, I checked every available scrap of weather info. Nearby observations were reporting decent VFR, but weather at my rural strip appeared fairly low, with undefined visibility. I filed, dutifully called for a clearance and launched, fully expecting to be on the gauges soon after the wheels left the ground. In that case, the observations were correct, and I was wrong: It was pretty good VFR under a 4500-foot overcast and maybe six miles visibility. It just looked a lot worse from the ground.

Fast-forwarding a few weeks, I again needed to launch in less-than-perfect weather. Area observations were roughly the same as the last time and I remembered the relative hassle and expense of sitting in the airplane, run-up complete, trying to get a clearance via cellphone. “I can do better than that,” I said to myself. “Ill just launch and pick up my clearance after Im airborne.” Right.

As soon as my wheels left the ground, I began reconsidering my decision. Local weather was a lot worse than the area observations advertised. Visibility was three or four miles, with an overcast deck at around 1200 feet agl. I was VFR, but barely. The real problem, though, was the local Tracon frequency was saturated-I couldnt break in to request a clearance. Which makes sense, since the worse the weather, the more people need to go IFR.

The terrain surrounding my rural airport is pretty flat, but there are some tall towers nearby. So, I decided to orbit a bit until I could get a word in. Which was fine, except I basically had one wing in the overcast and the other in the clear. Not fun, and I was orbiting over my home field, where anyone could hear me and look up to see who was the idiot who took off without a clearance.

Eventually, I managed to get ATCs attention and a clearance. The controller didnt hide his disbelief I was VFR, though. Once cleared, I went on my way and never heard anything about it.

But I wont take off on a cross-country into what I consider marginal VFR again without a clearance. Ill keep the three basic procedures in order next time. You should, too.


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