Attacking Showers

This was a situation where IMC flew into me, not the other way around


I had read Richard Taylors article IFR for VFR Pilots [Instrument Check, May] when I encountered the following situation:

Returning to Honolulu from Molokai, the weather was gorgeous, except for a 2,500-foot overcast as we got closer to the Class B airport. It was a Kona day, meaning the winds were coming opposite the normal tradewind direction, and the runways were reversed.

This means the general aviation approach is to runway 22, with the mountains rising behind you on final. I was VFR, and given discretion on altitude plus an early landing clearance. Visibility was over 10 miles under 2,500, but there were rain pockets beyond the airport, which were thick but isolated, and you could see everything around them.

As I flew the base (no downwind), I noticed that the nearest rain was working slowly toward the runway. As I turned final, it began to rain slightly. Visibility was still excellent and the rain seemed to be stopped at the other end of the airport.

I set up the decent from 1,500 feet, and as I passed through about 1,000 feet, the rain came quickly to mid-field, crossing perpendicular to the runway, well down field from my landing and rollout. The other runways remained clear. It then changed directions and obscured the approach end, putting me in heavy rain and zero visibility.

I thought seriously about the go around, but decided a turn in those conditions would be foolish, so I went to the instruments and continued the decent. At about 200 feet, I was able to see that I was only displaced slightly from the runway, corrected easily, and landed. After landing, the rain passed, and the entire airport was clear again.

I have analyzed this event to determine where I might have avoided the situation, and what better alternatives I might have had. Upon seeing the rain pocket in the distance, I could have assumed it might have moved toward the runway and turned back.

With the low overhead, minimal flying room, and lack of much movement, this did not seem necessary, especially given the aviation weather report and visibility around the rain. Before turning final, I could have gotten more worried about the rain and continued on. Not knowing where the rain would go, this could have put me flying along the mountains in it, and possibly into successive rain pockets.

On final, I could have taken a seemingly more conservative approach and turned back to a reverse base course. Again, the rain seemed to be stalled away from the field, and the turn would have put me at low altitude with other showers in the vicinity. Once the rain started hitting us lightly, a turn seemed the last thing I would want to do.

I have concluded that this was a situation where IMC flew into me, not the other way around, and that I did the right thing by continuing. Until we were deep into the rain, I had visibility to either side, and I was well aligned in a stable decent.

The runway is 9,000 feet. I knew I could fly a long way at a very low altitude if necessary to see the runway (in fact, I normally ask for a long landing in this direction).

Although I was attentive to both the windshield and the key instruments, I was not concerned about where I was going or what I intended to do.

Im wondering if this was a pilot error accident which did not happen.

-Brian Barbata
Kailua, Hawaii

Without having been there, its impossible for us to say, but you asked for a little Monday morning quarterbacking, so here goes.

First off, you cant argue with success, so why try? Having said that, we think you should have throught a little harder about the go-around when you entered the heavy rain. With a 9,000-foot runway ahead of you, you wouldnt have needed a turn. Making the go-around straight ahead until clear of the showers would, in our mind, have been better than continuing a descent into zero visibility.


Which Way Is Up?
A quick question: Isnt the photo on the front page of the June 2002 printed upside down? Just wondering.

-Robert Blanken
Topeka, Kan.

No. Look closely. See the light standard? The photo was shot from the ground on a day when nothing was moving.


A Conservative Approach
The first thing that caught my eye when I picked up the June issue was the cover photo. Were I to see that when breaking out it indeed would raise my sense of awareness. Either the picture is upside down, or the plane is coming down the ILS inverted.

When I earned my instrument rating a few years back, Id have been quite comfortable flying most any approach here in the Midwest right down to minimums. Once I had the basics down and was flying well on the gauges, my instructor looked for those soggy days when there might be lots of rain but the ride was not bad. He had me flying approaches right down to minimums and going missed when things were not as advertised on many occasions.

At any rate, when I received my rating I had no problems with that part of instrument flying. I would now, as Ive not been flying enough to stay that proficient.

Notice I didnt say current. Im a firm believer that current does not necessarily mean proficient. My personal opinion is that current is not proficient in a large number of pilots. I tend to be quite conscious of my proficiency and I can feel it slipping away whenever Im unable to fly for even a couple of weeks.

If I havent flown for a couple of weeks, the first thing I do is head for the practice area and go through the whole range of maneuvers including Vmc, 60-degree bank turns and a complete stall series. The next step is to go through the commercial maneuvers and finally back for some landings.

-Roger Halstead
Via e-mail

Prudent actions, to be sure. We are continually amazed at the number of pilots who seem to think that, after a certain point in the logbook, practice is no longer necessary. We always manage to find some rusty skill to polish.


Solving Engine Failure Mystery
Just read Light Retract Safety [Aircraft Analysis, June] and I believe I have an idea why the same engine in one airplane has a much worse track record than another with the same engine.

I believe you touched on some possibilities (i.e. the much tighter cowling clearance and cooling effectiveness in the Mooney) but I think there is another, more eye opening, possibility. Both the Cardinal RG and the Arrow are used more extensively in training than a Mooney. What this means is that many RGs and Arrows are subject to 100-hour inspections than a privately owned and operated Mooney.

I believe that many of the small discrepancies that are found and repaired on these aircraft go a long way to extending their life and improving their operating environment. That is not to say that Mooney owners and operators are not conscientious, but a little preventive maintenance can go a long way.

I would highly recommend that any owner of any aircraft regularly pull the whole cowling off of their aircraft and look it over carefully. Better yet, adopt your own habit of conducting 100-hour inspections and join your mechanic for the fun.

-Adam Plummer
Washington D.C.

How about another theory? If RGs and Arrows are used as trainers, that means theyre flown more frequently than Mooneys, which keeps the internal corrosion at bay.


Say What?
In the article Living With Mins Ray Leis states for VFR pilots to fly legally in controlled airspace, one needs to stay at least 1,000 feet under the base of the clouds. This is a bit of an error. Checking what we used to call the FARs 91.155, one finds that for Class C, D, and E (less than 10,000 feet MSL) it is 500 feet below and in Class B its just clear of clouds. Now at or above 10,000 feet and more than 1,200 feet agl, VFR pilots must stay at least 1,000 feet below the clouds in Class E and even G if you can find some.Like your articles, even the errors.

-Frank Lewellyn Miller
Ninilchik AK

OK, so we took Ray out to the woodshed and beat him senseless with a FAR/AIM 2002 book.


Minimums and Maximums
Ray Leis recent article, Living With Mins was well-written, comprehensive and informative, but with a minor discrepancy. Perhaps Ray, (a CFII) should bone-up on the FARs for VFR minimums. He stated, To fly legally in controlled airspace, you need to stay 1,000 feet under the base of the clouds. In uncontrolled airspace, the pilot is required only to stay clear of the clouds.

Back-off the throttle, Ray. Last time I checked, FAR Part 91.155 read: 500 feet below, 1000 feet above, 2,000 feet horizontal, and in Class B airspace, clear of the clouds. Also, in uncontrolled airspace, the requirement above 1,200 feet agl is 500 feet below, 1,000 feet above, 2,000 feet horizontal, with one-mile visibility during the day and three miles at night. And we havent even talked about VFR above 10,000 feet msl.

And while Im checking in, just thought Id mention as a pilot based in North Idaho who regularly flies my Bellanca Scout into the backcountry, I very much enjoyed Pat Veilletes article Nowhere to Hide [Risk Management, June]. Hes definitely right: This is no place to screw around.

Please, if you plan on flying the backcountry, make sure youre in the right aircraft, that youve received the right instruction, have the right survival gear and the right mind set. This country is far too unforgiving for pilots who dont have the right stuff.

-Rick Kelbaugh
Hayden Lake, Idaho


Alive and Well
Wasnt it Mark Twain who said, The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated? Well, so it seems with my airplanes demise.

There are a number of articles dealing with accidents in the July issue, including one about a Cardinal on page 21.

The plane involved in this incident was destroyed – but the picture on the bottom of page 21 with the article wrapping it is one of my plane.

I assure you, both I and my airplane are fine. I have received a number of calls and e-mails as the result of this photo. Can you please print a clarification.

-Buz Heuchan
Clearwater, Fla.

OK, here goes. N34700, the airplane pictured, was a file photo and not intended to portray the specific accident airplane. We should have made that clear.

Next time a Citabria crashes, well run a photo of our airplane. Promise.


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