Rusty Pilot, Must do Better
Just back from a night flight to Edson, and it sure goes to show that IFR currency is not something to take lightly. Despite everything going very smoothly for 80% of the flight, the last 20% got much more hectic than it ever should have. The troubles all started about 15 mins from the airport when the air traffic controller seemed to wait a really long time before giving us our approach clearance, hindsight I should have been on the radio requesting it, but then our instrument which was supposed to advise us of our decent profile, failed and we blasted into the approach several thousand feet higher than we should have been. Leaving us with only a chop and drop option through a thick cloud layer down to the final approach fix and our minimums 600 ft above the deck.
Although we finally got down on the approach and saw the runway, the approach was anything but stabilized and my landing didn’t look good so I decided to do a balked landing and missed approach – only I haven’t done a missed approach in months so it was pretty rough. Good thing my copilot helped me through it and we setup the plane to try it all over again. The second time started out a bit rough, nearly missing my decent point, but I got on ththe approach and landed without issue – the first night landing in over a year!
After a few breaths of fresh air on the ground, we loaded back up for the return flight, which was MUCH better. Cuing up the autopilot right off the departure, we climbed back through the clouds into a pitch dark sky. On the return flight we tested out the instrument and realized their is a bug in the software such that if you select a vertical decent waypoint on the approach (IAF), that unless the aporoach is activated, the vertical decent guidance defaults to the airport, thus leaving us WAY too high on the flight in. So instead of selecting the IAF, I did a little math and selected the airport and backed up the decent point equal to the distance of the IAF to the airport. This time the vertical guidance worked perfectly and set us up right on the altitude to start the approach.
Another valuable lesson learned for instrument flying, always double check the instruments! This time with a stabilized approach and everything looking good, the approach and landing were very smooth, a big relief!
So as they say a good pilot is always learning and I certainly learned a few valuable lessons tonight. IFR flying is complex and clearly practice makes the difference so I’ll have to commit to more frequent practice and probably a few simulator sessions and a flight a month will help me keep and hone the IFR flying skills.
As a side note, the night views of the city were fantastic and there is nothing quite like popping out of the clouds and seeing the runway all lit up for you.