Sunday, September 27, 2015

Tower?!? Umm... Ok.

The downside of having only three partners in an airplane is that it is often hard to align schedules so that I can work on IFR proficiency and currency.  Recently, the stars aligned and one of my partners was able to go up for awhile.  On the particular day, the weather created some pressures.  A cold front was expected to bring through some thunderstorms, and this limited our options.  The entire day was marked by marginal VFR to IFR weather due to low ceilings.  Awesome - REAL IMC. 

I checked over all the weather and other pertinent information, including NOTAMS for where we were going to go... I thought.  The plan was that I would make the very short flight from KDPA to KLOT (Lewis University) to pick him up, then we would fly to Lake in the Hills (3CK) to return some keys to the shop that worked on our plane, and then we would determine things from there.

Say What? 

Even at a quite reduced power setting, Lewis University is just about 10 minutes away.  Because the ceilings required flying an instrument approach, I had set everything up on the ground at DuPage in order to reduce my workload in flight.  Everything checks out, and eventually I am cleared for departure on runway 10.  After switching to approach, I immediately informed the controller that I wanted to fly the RNAV 20 approach and was cleared direct BEPKE.  If one were to look and notice that the DPA VOR is 5 miles west of the DuPage airport, you'd see how fast this all happened. 

Cleared for the approach, and get myself established inbound.  Still in the clouds, I receive the most odd instruction.  "Bonanza 2458A, contact Lockport Tower now on 120.3."  My head froze for just a second - TOWER?!?!  What bloody tower are they talking about?  Lewis is an uncontrolled field!  Of course, I didn't dispute this with the controller.  I simply acknowledged the instruction like I was expecting it, tuned the unexpected frequency, and called up this tower as if someone would answer me.

And they did.  Alright, then.  I was cleared to land and had a smooth touchdown.  On final, I noticed an awful lot of biz jets on the ramp.

"58A, contact ground now."

"Contact ground - could you remind me of the frequency, please?"

They did, and I taxied to the ramp without further incident.  But what happened here?  Turns out that I SAW the NOTAM.  I READ the NOTAM.  But that this NOTAM applied to my flight TODAY did not register in my head.  Turns out that there was a NASCAR race in Joliet, and a temporary tower and Class D airspace was established around KLOT - guess all that extra business jet traffic required some extra TLC... or ATC if you prefer.  I'm very glad that it was a very marginal VFR to IFR day if for no other reason than I didn't bust airspace that I would not have known existed.  I'd have made all my happy radio calls on CTAF and wondering why it was so quiet at an airport with a university aviation program.  Then I'd have gotten that number to call.

A Few More Flights

I picked up my friend from Lewis, and we agreed that we would go ahead and fly up to Lake in the Hills a relatively short distance away to return these keys we somehow acquired and plan from there.  The flight up was almost entirely IMC, which made me quite happy.  However, as I was getting established on the RNAV 8 approach (to circle to 26) I was issued a descent.  Instead of hitting the yoke button to disconnect the altitude hold, I disconnected the autopilot.  In about 15 seconds, I noticed that we were in a descending turn to the left and accelerating.  I had a flash where I thought - well this is just how fast it would happen.  I corrected and got set back up on course in a more usual and customary attitude.  The rest of the approach and landing came off without incident.  

After reviewing the weather, I decided that it made the most sense to return to Lewis since the thunderstorm was about 80 miles or so away.  We filed, hopped in the plane, and were on our way back. Nice and smooth but again a lot of IMC.  

After arrival at Lewis, my friend hopped out and I returned back to DuPage.  I somehow got myself off frequency, so I sat for 10 minutes waiting for a clearance while ground control tried to talk to me.  Oops.  Got ahead of myself getting set up.  Soon, I was back on my way with a take off on Runway 2 and an immediate left turn to 270.  As I came on frequency, I had been cleared to Bomer Intersection on the ILS 2L approach at the same time I was handed off.   When I checked on, the controller just said I should fly a heading "for now."  I could hear I was number three for the approach, and then a Medivac came up and took priority.  This left me and the second aircraft being vectored around a bit while the Medivac got established inbound.  

At this point, I am in solid IMC complete with dark black clouds and a NEXRAD image 15 miles away that made me shutter.  The controller issues me a left turn of about 220 degrees in order to vector me onto the approach.  He apologized about the delay, and I acknowledged but did voice my desire to stay away from the thunderstorms.  I flew  nice path down the localizer but was a bit high.  I have not yet gotten the hang of flying the Bonanza on an approach.  Supposedly if I am all trimmed out for 105 knots and I drop the gear at the FAF, I should only have to make small power adjustments to keep on glidepath.  Yeah... well, the Bonanza is a slipper lady and I have work to do here.  

Touchdown, taxi, and self-serve fueling all occurred without incident or rain drops.  The skies opened about 10 minutes after I shut the hanger door.  Sweet.  


As you can see, one of the things that prompted me to write this up was that I somehow managed to completely miss that I had a major NOTAM that applied to me.  It's not like I was getting there and finding out a taxiway was closed and I'd need to adapt.  This one would have resulted in an uncomfortable phone call at least.  I learned here that my discipline about fully considering NOTAMs needs to be improved.  

Another major issue for me is that I know I need to focus on hand flying in simulated instrument conditions.  I was not happy about how much I used the autopilot during this flight.  However, several things have contributed to me feeling less proficient.  First, I did not do much instrument flying during the time I was training for my commercial certificate.  Second, I am transitioning to full steam gauges from an Aspen panel.  Third, the Bonanza is a lot less stable than the Arrow and can therefore get squirrely much more quickly.   Not only am I out of practice, but I am also needing a wider and more focused scan to capture the six pack as well as the navigational information that I need.  I really need practice on this.  In fairness to myself, I did hand fly the final approach course on three of the four approaches I flew (not the first since I knew I was going to be overloaded) and did so reasonably well. 

On a related note, I need to be careful about what buttons I'm actually punching.  I accidentally disconnected the autopilot and found myself in the early stages of an unusual attitude. Fortunately I caught it very early and corrected.  I do not think that the deviations from level descending flight would have occurred had I known what I did as I would not have over-focused on altitude and power.    

But it was still a good day to fly and left me feeling a bit more confident in this airplane.  I've not moved my personal minimums as a result of this flight, but I am more comfortable that I have them set in the proper fairly conservative place for now.   


  1. I know the feeling, I'm dealing with current vs proficient these days. For you it's knocking off some rust and learning a new plane at the same time. It seems it all came together for you just fine.

    I'm planning a ten day get-away and it feels strange not having planned a major cross country recently. Getting back into the flow of 'real' flight planning once again. Thanks for the reminder to really dissect the NOTAMS for my travels.

  2. I think that NOTAMs fall into the same category as physical pre-flights on the aircraft. It is so unusual to encounter something that significantly applies to your flight that, over time, it's easy to look without seeing. You got a terrific lesson on complacency at zero cost to you. That's quite a gift. And, yeah, thank goodness you were IFR!

    Thanks for sharing - this is good stuff.

  3. No matter how prepared we all are, seems stuff like this is prone to happen sooner or later. I will say one thing I love and still pay for is Weathermeister - though the interface is a bit basic/dated these days, the way it color-codes NOTAMs is particularly useful. While I've never seen a temporary tower NOTAM myself (and can't say how Weathermeister would highlight it) it always makes the airport/runways closed ones bold and very bright red.

    It seems like the newish Lockheed 1-800-WX-BRIEF website does something similar, but I haven't used it enough yet to say for sure.