IFR Long Cross Country

As part of the instrument training, you have to make a ‘long cross country’ trip in actual or simulated conditions to a destination at least 100 miles away. The trip must also utilise three different approaches, suggesting three different airports.

There are two types of approach – precision and non-precision. As you might expect precision approaches allow (and enforce) a very precise approach to an airport and provides a means of tracking direction (called the localizer – is the runway to the left of right?) and height (the glideslope – am I too low or too high this far away from the runway). In non-precision approaches there is no glideslope and often the checkpoints that tell you when to descend etc are timed or require multiple radio fixes. The Instrument Landing System (ILS) is a precision approach and we are lucky that our home field has one of those, therefore it will make up one of the approaches when we return. For the other two approaches we will choose a localizer (LOC) and a VOR approach (our plane is not equipped for any other kind). A LOC approach is an ILS without a glideslope; a VOR approach uses bearings off of VOR beacons to determine where you are and when to descend. After looking over the charts I decided to try the VOR into Camarillo, stop and have lunch, and then take the LOC approach into Fulleron and return home.

All good plans face difficulties. This flight was to take place the week of SuperBowl XXXVII and all the San Diego airports were restricted for instrument (IFR) flights – a reservation system was in place and all flights needed to book a departure slot and/or an arrival slot. I looked at Kimberly as if to say what on earth does this mean but she threw me the same look back. I called the 1-800 number and got bogged down in a maze of option choices until I heard a website. I went to the website and it was easy, put in the time, tail number and destination and hit a button – I made some educated guesses about when we would leave and get back: we had two reservations.

We hadn’t filed a flight plan for this trip because both airports are within the Southern California Tower En Route area. Flights within this area can be requested from the tower without filing a plan. We got to the plane and realised that this might not be available during this week. The ground controller didn’t know either and said he would get back to us. A few minutes later he said he had been given authorisation and we were cleared to Camarillo! We would later find out that this was a mistake and he should not have been allowed to do this for us. Flight plans must be pre-filed.

We taxied out and were soon cleared and in the air. As with most of my training flights it was only a short time before Kimberly had me put the foggles on. It was a super clear day and I was denied the views of the bay and the LA Basin that I would otherwise have enjoyed. Our route took us up the coast and directly over LAX. The controllers kept alerting us to large jets in our area and Kimberly would have to find them. After crossing LA we turned west and were vectored towards the VOR approach. The controller was pretty busy and forgot to turn us onto the approach. Some large hills were ahead so Kimberly was getting anxious that we had been forgotten about. At some point the controller came back and asked if we had joined the approach yet (I am sure he could see on his screen that we had not) and so he turned us back around and cleared us to make the approach. I did a decent job of following the approach in and we landed without upset.

During lunch we discussed how we would get back to Montgomery Field. We would get another tower en route clearance to Fullerton but, since we did not intend to land there (we would follow the approach and then abandon it at the point where you have to make the go/no-go decision) it wasn’t clear to Kimberly whether they would allow us to continue home without a flight plan. However, there are many ways to skin the proverbial cat and Kimberly had a few options she would try if needs be. At worst we would land at Fullerton and file a flight plan.

We left Camarillo and were vectored around the LA airspace towards Fullerton. It was getting busy and one controller apologised but said he was moving us out of the way and turned us to head away from the airport. After 7 or 8 minutes he turned us back and thanked us for helping him out. When we were handed to the approach controller we explained what we wanted to do and, after we confirmed that we had a reservation to land, the controller said he could help us. Fullerton was covered in a thick haze and was reporting 2 miles visibility. I followed the localiser down and we eventually made out the runway lights through the clag. The tower called and told us what the SoCal Approach controller wanted us to do. We turned and climbed and were then asked “are you ready to copy your clearance”. Eek, I had not stopped to think that we would be getting another clearance that I would have to write down. Typically, my pen had fallen to the bottom of the pocket and couldn’t be found. We were climbing and turning and it was impossible to find. I asked Kimberly to fly the plane whilst I reached for the pen and paper and copied down the clearance. A good lesson here – keep everything handy. If I had been on my own I don’t know how I would have managed.

Clearance copied, we were on our way back to San Diego. Our given route took us out to the east rather than down the coast as we would have chosen. However, once clear of LA the controller vectored us onto the coastal route and we received the usual vectoring to the ILS approach.

The trip netted me 3.8 hours of time and some very useful experience. It is quite tiring flying on instruments for that amount of time.