At AOPA Summit in Palm Springs this year, I’ll have the privilege of pontificating before a group of pilots regarding the real world of IFR. The topic is target rich. An extremely capable and dedicated retired Air Force colonel, who had flown all over the world, was my CFII. Couldn’t have asked for better, but our little airport did not have an instrument approach, so there was very little actual instrument time. The ticket, as with so many of us, was only the beginning. I’m asking for your thoughts on items you learned after leaving the IFR training nest.
I keenly remember the first real IMC flight with a friend, Buddy, who had also been recently trained by the colonel. Piper Comanches were new to me, but Buddy asked if I’d act as co-pilot since he’d committed to fly Sister Mary Catherine from the DC area up to Scranton, Pa. The weather was easy IMC with ceilings of about 800 feet and tops well above anything we could cruise at. No thunder or ice—just light rain. The Comanche had fuel enough for two round trips to Canada with an alternate in Ohio, if needed.
Sister climbed in the back, giving no indication that she felt at all uneasy. As we entered the clouds, Buddy and I looked at each other knowing that this was what we had trained for and wasn’t it cool (secretly being a bit apprehensive—couldn’t put your foot on the bottom of the pool anymore). The flight was uneventful other than the fact that Buddy and I kept the aircraft aloft with sheer energy. Lycoming couldn’t hold a candle to the horsepower the two of us were exuding. He watched me, I watched him, we watched each other, ATC watched us, and we surmised that we should be watching them. We probably could have walked on a bed of hot coals and not felt it. Upon return, we found a hole coming over the airport and landed uneventfully. Maybe all this IFR stuff was a bit overrated, or perhaps Sister MC had exerted some Divine Influence. We’ll never know.
Not so fast! In the coming months and years, I learned about icing, how a sector’s comm frequency can go down, how thunderstorms need great respect, that controllers make a few mistakes and largely put their pants on one leg at a time, and sometimes that the PIC really needs to exercise that authority. I learned that fuel is your friend. So is an HSI. So is an autopilot, but only if intelligently used. I learned that weather is what you find, not what is forecast. Lots of stuff that wasn’t immediately obvious in the training world.
In any case, I’d welcome short vignettes on things you learned flying IMC that your CFI may not have told you. Winning submissions will be publicly called out at Summit or held anonymously if you prefer. The asterisk? Maybe stuff you were told and just forgot—I’m told that happens but always to someone else!