First Flight in IMC!


New Member
Well, after wondering for the longest time if I was ever going to soon get a chance to log actual IFR time, I finally did on Monday. A day of light to moderate rainfall staggered in for most of the day creating an overcast layer of low-level nimbostratus clouds. The ceiling varied from place to place, but at most airports along the front range it was between 1,000 and 2,500 feet AGL.

After filing and getting our clearance, I took off from FNL with my instructor and headed south toward Denver to do some ILS approaches into BJC. We broke into the cloud layer at about 6,900 MSL while climbing to our cruising altitude of 8,000. We were then vectored by Denver Approach to localizer intercept of the ILS 29R approach at BJC. Throughout the enroute portion of the flight, I seemed to have no trouble with controlling the aircraft. The phrase "trust the instruments" has simply been nailed into my head to too long, there was no way I could do anything but. The air was smooth, and when we got to our cruising altitude, we were above the lowest cloud layer. I felt like I was inside an airliner, looking down at the clouds in my Skyhawk for the first time.

Personally, I felt that flying in actual IMC was easier than flying under the hood. Why I'm not sure, but my aircraft control didn't become sloppy until I shot the first ILS approach into BJC. I guess it was because I had never shot that specific approach before, and I also never actually had to shoot any approach in actual IFR conditions. The needles on the OBS almost went full deflection, which would have required that we go missed approach.

My second ILS was a lot better, probably because I was aware of what I needed to do as a result of the sloppy previous approach. We broke out of the clouds approx 300 feet above the DH, and I had the needles perfectly centered. We did a touch and go, and then proceded north back to FNL where we planned to shoot another ILS for a full stop.

However, things got a little scary for me. There was an embedded thunderstorm ahead of us, and lightning flashes were perfectly visible. My instructor wasn't anywhere near as nervous, but we agreed to cancel IFR and circumnavigate the storm to the northeast where VFR conditions existed. From there, we were able to do a visual approach into FNL. Had we not seen that clear on the northeast side of the thunderstorm, we probably would have made a 180 degree turn and landed back at BJC. We didn't actually fly into the thunderstorm prior to making the decision to turn northeast, but lets just say that we got closer than my comfort zone allows, especially with the lightning flashes.

Overall, I had a very fun time, and now have the confidence that I can handle IMC with no troubles at all. But I think the thunderstorm incident was the flying gods' way of reminding me that while I could handle clouds, I still couldn't handle thunderstorms, nor should I ever try. Sure, so point out to me someone who can... and will.

I'm glad I was able to get that flight in on Monday. Its Wednesday now, and almost the entire front rage is burried in multiple feet of snow with blizzard warnings remaining in effect until this evening.
Looking down on top of an overcast layer has to one of the most beautiful sights on earth (or in the heavens...)!!!
Great post Paul, and thanks for sharing.

Good luck with all the snow! Man, I miss Ft. Collins!
That is surprising and interesting that you find it easier flying in actual versus under the hood. I get disoriented pretty easily in actual, I get the leans and my body is often telling me different messages than my instruments. Today I was in snow, lots of heavy rain, had to get a special to get back home (no inst. approach at home), light turb., tail wind landing on 2400 ft. runway. Huh, I can't even fathom how it could possibly be easier in actual vs. simulated. That's a great post, thanks so much for sharing.