IMC Rookie - Tips and Advice Requested


New Member
I posted this same message on another board and thought I would post it here as well.

I finally got to do some real IMC stuff with my instructor yesterday. It was a lot more different than I expected. All of the smooth corrections that I was making while under the hood went out the window, especially on the return trip.

We flew from our uncontrolled base to a class C about 12nm away and shot the ILS. I actually did that pretty well considering it was my first time as PIC in IMC. It was an awesome feeling to see the approach lights and runway environment come into view. Once we landed we hopped in a twin Commanche with one of his corporate friends and flew about 90nm for some lunch. I sat in the back seat and "took notes" and got the approach plates out. The trip back to pick up our plane at the class C was the same.

Now it's getting dark and the ceiling has dropped 200' in the past 30-45 minutes. So has the temperature (duh, no sun = colder temps) but it was still well above freezing and the computer weather service didn't show any icing below 8000 (good thing the airport is at sea level, okay, 46' above
) So we fired up the 172 SP, got the clearance, and taxiied out to do the runup. Runup is done, we're at the hold short line and the adrenaline is really pumping now. Why? I don't know. Was it the fact that I just made a good contact for possible future employment? Was it that fact that we had to get the heck out of dodge to beat the dropping ceiling? I don't know. I taxiied the plane into position on the runway and waited for the takeoff clearance from tower. Brakes on, cleared for TO, full power, everything in the green, brakes off, rotate and we're out of there, climbing like a home-sick angel. We get into IMC at 900' and climb towards 2000' as we turn on our assigned heading. Instructor is making all the radio calls so I can focus on flying in the soup. ATC says to maintain 1600' as we pass through 1700' and approach 1800'. No big deal, power back a little and descend. Yeah, right. I got to 1600' and then to almost 1500'. The VOR-A approach back to our base starts at 1600' (IAF) and then drops to 1000' (FAF) where you can descend to 460' (MDA) and look for the airport environment.

Now I am having a hard time holding altitude and heading and I'm tense as hell; adrenaline in the veins is more prevalent than blood. Heading was still pretty good but was more than my usual 5-degree "under the hood" with smoothness to bring it back in. Altitude was the bigger story with 100' differences above and below 1600' and no smooth transitions; jerking the yoke to make corrections. Cleared to descend to 1000' from ATC. Botched that descent - could have gotten down at a more consistent rate. Cross over the FAF and break out of the clouds at about 850' and got the airport in sight. Cancel IFR with ATC and the rest of the flight is great; circle to land with smooth descent and great touchdown. I got the plane tied up and went into the FBO feeling like I could plow over Mt. Everest because my adrenaline went sky-rocketing again.

So what is it? Why is actual IMC so different from the hood? Or is it really that different. I mean, it's not supposed to be. By the way, I use white Foggles as the hood. Was it just because it was my first IMC experience as PIC? I was even pumped up a little while sitting in the back of the twin. Why was the flight over there not nearly as intense? I nailed the checklist items well each time (I fly a 172 like it was a G-V under part 135) so that wasn't it. Was it the added pressure from the weather on the way back? Does anyone have any similar IMC firsts? Believe me, I'm ready to go again (quitters never win, winners never quit) but would like to be more relaxed and have an "ace in the hole" (thank you, Mr. Strait) so to speak.

Sorry for the lengthy novel.
I always found flying in actual IMC the first few times a challenge because you no longer have the subconscious "safety net" that you're able to take off the hood and be back in VMC again. Your first few times in actual IMC may be semi-terrifying.

After you get more comfortable, you'll start to realize that flying in actual IMC is somewhat easier than flying under the hood because you have peripheral vision and you don't have this 15 ounce plastic contraption strapped to your forehead.

I dunno, just my opinion!
Relax, all of us instrument rated pilots have been there at some point in our life. Out of all the "hard" instrument time I have now, my first time in the clouds is still a very memorable experience. Not because there was anything unusual about it but just because it was the first time. It's new, exciting, challenging and scary all at the same time followed by a real sense of accomplishment when you break out of the clouds and the runway is where it's suppose to be.

I remember my first "solo" IFR trip in a C172. I was 17 with a brand new instrument ticket that was wetter than the clouds around me. The aircraft salesman asked me to fly a part to an airport about 150nm away. It was solid IFR the entire trip with around 600-700ft ceilings at both ends. I don't think I took a breath from the moment I entered the clouds until I landed and I was afraid to turn my head fearing vertigo. Fortunately, the air was smooth, I was vectored to the ILS by ATC and I shot a passable instrument approach!

You couldn't imagine the pride I felt when I touched down on the runway. Mother nature had not kept me grounded. My knees were still shaking when I strutted into the FBO and I was beginning to feel like the airline pilot I had dreamt of becoming. What a feeling of accomplishment!

My bubble was quickly popped when the girl behind the desk asked if I was "Bill". She said someone wanted to talk to me on the phone and he didn't sound very happy. Turns out it was the aircraft salesman I was bringing over the part for. He asked if I had the part, to which I replied, "yes". He said, in colorful terms, that the part was still in his office and the trip was a waste of time and his money!

I was so worried about the flight that I had completely forgotten about the part in his office and the whole reason for the flight! I remember being so embarrased and thought I'd never live that one down.

Bottom line, it does get easier. It just takes practice. Practice builds confidence and confidence brings the ability to fly smoother without all the herky jerky control inputs. Remember, the airplane doesn't know if it's in the clouds or not. Relax! Try to use fingertip inputs and small movements.

Why is the "hood" easier than real IFR? Because in the back of your head, you know you can always take the hood off if you need to. You can't do that in the real clouds.
Learn to trim the aircraft, so you can fly hands off. thatway, when you look down at your charts etc... you are not putting a slight down pressure on the control.

I never fly/cruise with my hands on the control in a light aircraft. drives my wife nuts.

Also remember to keep your course. I don't know whay I had this problem, maybe because I was looking at the AH all the time, but your DG/course is the issue. small changes, always small changes, and keep in mind what you are doing to make the heading good, a 5 degree left of course to make good your desired track will always be there, in verying degrees obviously. So when you have a heading change, you will still need that 5degree more or less apply to your new heading.

It takes time.
This thread made me think about a trip I made last week. Took off from KMQY for a 9 mile hop over to KMBT...but had to file to get there!! Overcast at about 2000 feet...I could have probably made it VFR - legally - but I wouldn't have felt very safe about it. Anyway, the minimum altitude on the approach (NDB) is 2700 feet until procedure turn inbound. As soon as I switched to Nashville Departure, I had to climb to 3500 feet for traffic, maintain that until procedure turn inbound, proceed straight to the NDB and was cleared for the approach!!! I got to the NDB at about the same time I reached 3500 feet....and the controller told me I could decend to 2700 feet since I was clear of the traffic. Shot the approach, landed and picked up two friends. We were heading to KMEM and it's only about 190 miles....we considered not topping off, until we saw the winds aloft. Topped the tanks, and headed back up into the goo.

For three hours, I fought a 55 knot headwind, continuous moderate turbulence, moderate rain and 0 vis. We could have landed anytime...with the lowest ceilings in the area at around 1800 overcast and more than 10 miles. But gettin on top wasn't an option for this trip, with tops being reported at 11,000. For the entire time, I flew on the gauges with no autopilot - although I did have the luxury of an instrument rated pilot to help out with the little things like "can I have another cookie?" and, "switch the radios for me". As soon as we landed at KMEM, I thought to myself about the time when I couldn't even copy an IFR clearance without asking the controller to repeat all after, "is cleared to...".

All I'm really saying is that over time, and with practice, IMC actually becomes easier to deal with. every flight is a little different, and you have to keep your guard up, but the beauty of it is that every flight will also have the exact same elements. Once you learn to predict what's comming next - which frequency you're going to get, which charts you're going to need, how many cups of coffee you can drink before you have to make a pit stop - your mind can focus on the task at hand!!

P.S. Good thing we topped off the tanks....always go with that gut feeling!!
I'd say that it is awesome that you were able to do it with your instructor on board and that he/she didn't have to intervene at any point. That means a number of things: first off the safety of the flight was never in question and secondly that you are doing a good job. You will be a better pilot having that experience under your belt.

Not that I have any room to talk (I have less experience than you) but it's just like everything else that's hard... you start off more or less wondering if you'll ever be able to handle it... and once you 'get it' you end up wondering how you could ever have felt so overwhelmed.
It gets more and more easy the more you do it. As I read your story, I wondered if I could still fly IMC with the "basic six pack" instruments after flying on glass. I have no scan any longer and cry like a little girl when the auto pilot and/ or flight director are inop and we have to fly "raw data."

Truth be told, you're probably more proficient with the type of IMC flying that you're doing now than many airline pilots are. Seek out chances to fly actual IMC as often as you can. It's some of the best experience that you will gain.
My first flight in IMC was a weird sensation.

At first, actual is more difficult than simulated because you don't have the hood to keep your field of vision focused solely on the instruments. Your eyes tend to drift outside to the white puffies, breaking up the rhythm of your scan.

If you aren't careful even a few seconds of distraction can put you into a pretty sever unusual attitude without your body giving you much feedback about it, that's why it's good to make sure you get at least a few hours of actual with your CFI before you go it alone in IMC. However, after a couple of hours of actual, you should grow accustomed and get used to ignoring the distractions of the clouds outside the windscreen.
You're right on in everything you said, Alchemy. I talked to my instructor about that flight and he said that it wasn't as bad as I am making it out to be. I really needed to trim the plane a lot better and I would have been fine.

I'm ready to go again. Wait, where are the clouds? Not in my neck of the woods anymore.

Thanks for the tips and advice everyone.
El Cid - Ironic that you posted this thread, because I got my first actual last night too - and thought about this thread and some of the things you experienced.

What it boiled down to was just what your instructor said: Make sure the plane is in trim. Everything else after that will be more relaxed.

Because of your post, I MADE SURE that I didn't have that "Death Grip" on the yoke (although, I'll admit to doing it once or twice anyway, but once I noticed it - IMMEDIATELY made myself relax).

Another thing that helped was that my instructor is INCREDIBLY calm and doesn't get stressed and get me stressed in return.

Be organized. Have your radios and avionics tuned and identified as soon as possible. Get you GUMPS checks and Five "A's" (if you do them) out of the way as soon as possible too.

The sooner you have the necessary tasks out of the way, the more you can concentrate on flying.

THANKS for posting this!!!

My lesson went FANTASTIC and I ended with one solid hour of Actual. My instructor had me so ready, that when we got up in the soup, it came easily sooner than I had imagined it would.

It was COOL AS HELL to pop out of the clouds and BOOYAH - there's the runway and I'm EXACLTY on the glidescope!!

Thanks again and GOOD LUCK!!!

Fly safe!


As an update/follow-up:

I got to fly in actual IMC the past two days. I was a lot more relaxed and confident. My instructor said I did pretty well especially since we were getting tossed all over the sky for a while.

Thanks to everyone for their tips and advice.

See ya'll on the airways...
Hey El Cid...I think I have read that you fly at ProFlight at JZI. I to fly there and used to work for Mercury there. Who do you fly with?
I think that it's just the idea in the back of your mind that this is the real thing. Plus, in actual you can't peek out the corner of your eye ("one peek is worth a thousand cross checks").

I always recommended that students who got their ticket start by filing to get IMC en route with visual approach and landing. As you get used to it, gradually lower your minimums.