December 17, 2009

Very IFR

Somewhere after the hold for the ILS RWY 29R missed-as-published at Stockton (KSCK) we hear our NorCal Approach controller advise someone on air that she doesn't have the weather for Tracy (KTCY, fairly close to Stockton) at the moment, but right now it's "Very IFR" at Stockton. Righter K., my safety pilot in the right seat, comments that he hasn't heard it put that way before — it's definitely an oddly-non-standard way for a controller to phrase it.

But she's right in spirit, even if she's not using standard phraseology — it is very IFR out here, at least close to the ground. We've just gone missed for real — as in not a training exercise — at minimums for the second time in a row this evening at Stockton. It's one of those weirdo Central Valley winter nights: warm air with unlimited visibility above about 1,000' for literally hundreds of miles around us, but an impenetrable cold ground fog (a.k.a. "Tule fog") with tops at 450' going all the way to the ground. We know miles out from Stockton from ATIS and the various hints being dropped to us and other aircraft by ATC ("Stockton 29R RVR now 800, ceiling indefinite") that we'll have to go missed at Stockton, but as a Part 91 flight on an IFR flight plan, it just seems like a great opportunity to shoot a couple of real-world approaches to minimums in otherwise very benign conditions.

So that's what we do, with the RNAV RWY 29R approach (full pilot nav, just to get the thrill of watching the C172's G1000 do the course reversal automatically in conjunction with the autopilot), followed by the ILS with vectors. The descent into the fog layer's typically fantastic but brief; I can probably log about 90 seconds of actual for this flight :-). Otherwise the weather's California Perfect: calm, cool-but-not-cold, very clear, and just generally why-we-fly. Righter K. keeps me honest during the non-IMC bits, and thankfully doesn't spend too much time screaming "we're all going to die!!!" or anything like that (thanks, Righter!). All in all, a very enjoyable flight, even if I do start rather rustily ("what the hell does this button do?!"), miss a few en-route radio calls, and end up landing way long back at Oakland after a rather fast final on the RNAV RWY 27L (LPV) approach under the hood. A good IFR systems workout; just what I needed.

* * *

Earlier, I discover that the relevant club paperwork hasn't been left in the drop box outside the (closed-for-the-night) clubhouse. I suspect the damn thing's inside the clubhouse having been dropped off inside by the previous flight (instead of being left in the drop box), but I can't get into the club to retrieve it. But I can see John sitting in one of the club meeting rooms with a bunch of students. He can't see me out in the dark, of course, so I call his iPhone, but he's not answering. I contemplate knocking on the windows to attract attention, but think the better of this until Righter turns up. After trying to call John once more, we hit the windows. John's look is priceless, is all I'll say :-). Anyway, thanks John for rescuing us and letting us retrieve the paperwork, without which, of course, no airplane can fly.