We all have a different way to go about our flight planning, but most of it is along the lines of where to go, how high, how much fuel, weight and balance, etc. You factor it all into the plan, but at some point youll add that X for some bad weather and a re-route. Maybe the weather is fine where you are departing but not good where you are going, or vice versa. Depending on the mission, what are your options? It all comes down to a go/no-go on what youre comfortable doing and not doing. This is the typical process regardless of whether youre filing VFR or IFR.
This is a long flight, so you want to minimize distance and go as direct as possible. You scan the route from TAFOY to KFSM on the chart, and it doesnt pass through any special use airspace (SUA), so you could go direct. But, you want to comply with the AIM guidance (see below) and pick a fix or two in each centers airspace. You zoom in on the chart to see TAFOY clearly, then just scroll the chart to the east along your route, looking for fixes on your route that you could add.
There are a few things in flying life we might take for granted. In fact, some of us are downright spoiled. For instance, flatlanders (like me) get 99.9 percent radar coverage in our mountain-free region, all taken for granted. Southerners take for granted their three seasons of comfortable flying. Those who fly to larger cities all the time definitely take for granted the big runways, ATC help, and all the information they need at their fingertips.
Without those tools its important to get on the ground or find a route out of the activity if buildups start growing around you, because air mass storms often grow as clusters and the open spaces will quickly close in. If you dont think air mass storms are a problem, check out our August 2018 issue that details two seemingly benign air mass storms: one that downed a Piper PA-23, and another that downed a Boeing 727.
Among the caveats, though, is the fact that the guaranteed traffic separation works great with IFR aircraft, but not so much with VFR aircraft. On top of that, even those who always fly IFR must be in VFR mode at certain times, e.g. to depart and pick up a clearance, or to cancel IFR at or before the final landing phase. Even if you had those protections all the way in, though, you could be left to your own devices if VFR traffic conflicts occur. And they do.
Naturally, you want blue skies and full sun to get the most out of such a trip. Theres usually no issue with that, but the Gulf region and Florida Keys have their share of showers and thunderstorms. Hurricanes and tropical storms not withstanding, weather here is dynamic, so youre going to start familiarizing yourself with this new territory early. Little do you know that its the mapping, not the weather, that will catch you by surprise.
One of simulations greatest strengths is flying parts of the world where you might never make it in person. Alaska calls to the hearts of many a pilot, so well take you there today. Nothing too strenuous: Just a jaunt from Anchorage (PANC) down south to Seward (PAWD) on the ocean and then over to Kenai (PAEN) on Cook Inlet. Yeah, ICAO Alaskan airports start with a P not a K. Hmm... if you put the I-meaning you-in PANC you get Panic. Coincidence?
Your home field is non-towered, and the AWOS says the winds are fierce out of the west. If it was VFR, Runway 27 would rock. However, theres nasty precipitation starting five miles east of the airport. The RNAV 27 approach would drive you right through it. Youve already been beaten up enough for one day. Instead, the reported 800 foot ceiling inspires you request an RNAV approach to Runway 36 with a circle to Runway 27. The circling mins are 600 feet for your aircraft category. Youll stay close to the airport and once you get underneath, you can bring it around to land into the wind on 27.
Operations take place daily in uncontrolled airspace. Paynesville, MN (KPEX) is a typical non-towered airport with the familiar vignette depicting Class E beginning at 700 feet AGL. Departing Paynesville, any time we spend in the clouds below the Class E floor is IFR in uncontrolled airspace. Of course, as you should recall, lacking that magenta vignette, the 700-foot limit becomes 1200 feet. Instrument approaches begin with an ATC clearance in controlled airspace, but often take us into uncontrolled Class G airspace. At Paynesville, the RNAV (GPS) RWY 11 approach LPV mins take us to 200 feet AGL, 500 feet into the surface Class G airspace.
For those unfamiliar, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan boasts generous lengths of shoreline off Lake Superior, scenic byways, and lots of trees. While it can be a winter wonderland during the off-season, its not unusual to have many days of dreary gray skies and fog that wears away the most sanguine spirit. Its the kind of weather that gets us burning through a whole morning figuring out how to get out, around and back without getting stuck who-knows-where. Welcome to the UP.
While stability and instability dont always cause weather, they leave a mark on even VFR forecasts in many subtle ways, and they influence everything from wind gusts to cloud layers. Even in forecast models, there are always complex equations that factor in stability. Stability is important enough that an entire chapter is dedicated to it in the FAAs Aviation Meteorology circular. For meteorologists, a chart known as the Skew-T diagram is used every day at forecast centers. Its literally a worksheet that helps forecasters visualize the days stability and make calculations on it.
Likely you either practice approaches to non-towered airports or fly into airfields with part-time control towers. Non-towered airports, hotbeds of GA activities, present our greatest risk of a midair collision; a risk mitigated by a disciplined adherence to procedures (proper entry into landing patterns, proper departure patterns) and proper use of the UNICOM frequency at uncontrolled airports. (FAA Aviation News, May/June 2001) Therefore, its important that instrument pilots play nice around the pattern. The updated AC 90-66 covering non-towered airports specifically identifies instrument pilots, maybe because of some past misbehavior.