To illustrate some of the concepts introduced in this chapter, follow along on a typical IFR flight from the Birmingham International Airport (BHM), Birmingham, Alabama to Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport (GPT), Gulfport, Mississippi. [Figure 10-18] For this trip, a Cessna 182 with a call sign of N1230A is flown. The aircraft is equipped with dual navigation and communication radios, a transponder, and a GPS system approved for IFR en route, terminal, and approach operations.
The success of the flight depends largely upon the thoroughness of the preflight planning. The evening before the flight, pay close attention to the weather forecast and begin planning the flight.
The Weather Channel indicates a large, low-pressure system has settled in over the Midwest, pulling moisture up from the Gulf of Mexico and causing low ceilings and visibility with little chance for improvement over the next couple of days. To begin planning, gather all the necessary charts and materials, and verify everything is current. This includes en route charts, approach charts, DPs, STAR charts, the GPS database, as well as an A/FD, some navigation logs, and the aircraft’s POH/AFM. The charts cover both the departure and arrival airports and any contingency airports that will be needed if the flight cannot be completed as planned. This is also a good time for the pilot to consider recent flight experience, pilot proficiency, fitness, and personal weather minimums to fly this particular flight.
Check the A/FD to become familiar with the departure and arrival airport, and check for any preferred routing between BHM and GPT. Next, review the approach charts and any DP or STAR that pertains to the flight. Finally, review the en route charts for potential routing, paying close attention to the minimum en route and obstacle clearance altitudes.
After this review, select the best option. For this flight, the Birmingham Three Departure [Figure 10-2] to Brookwood VORTAC, V 209 to Kewanee VORTAC, direct to Gulfport using GPS would be a logical route. An altitude of 4,000 feet meets all the regulatory requirements and falls well within the performance capabilities of the aircraft.
Next, call 1-800-WX-BRIEF to obtain an outlook-type weather briefing for the proposed flight. This provides forecast conditions for departure and arrival airports, as well as the en route portion of the flight including forecast winds aloft. This also is a good opportunity to check the available NOTAMs.
The weather briefer confirms the predictions of the Weather Channel giving forecast conditions that are at or near minimum landing minimums at both BHM and GPT for the proposed departure time. The briefer provides NOTAM information for GPT indicating that the localizer to runway 32 is scheduled to be out of service and that runway 18/36 is closed until further notice. Also check for temporary flight restrictions (TFRs) along the proposed route.
After receiving a weather briefing, continue flight planning and begin to transfer some preliminary information onto the navigation log, listing each fix along the route and the distances, frequencies, and altitudes. Consolidating this information onto an organized navigation log keeps the workload to a minimum during the flight.
Next, obtain a standard weather briefing online for the proposed route. A check of current conditions indicates low IFR conditions at both the departure airport and the destination, with visibility of one-quarter mile:
SURFACE WEATHER OBSERVATIONS
METAR KBHM 111155Z VRB04KT ¼ SM FG –RA
VV004 06/05 A2994 RMK A02 SLP140
METAR KGPT 111156Z 24003KT ¼ SM FG OVC001 08/07
A2962 RMK A02 SLP033
The small temperature/dewpoint spread is causing the low visibility and ceilings. Conditions should improve later in the day as temperatures increase. A check of the terminal forecast confirms this theory:
TAF KBHM 111156Z 111212 VRB04KT ¼ SM FG VV004
TEMPO1316 ¾ SM OVC004
FM1600 VRB05KT 2SM BR OVC007 TEMPO 1720 3SM
FM2000 22008KT 3SM –RA OVC015 TEMP 2205 3SM
–RA OVC025 FM0500 23013KT P6SM OVC025
FM0800 23013KT P6SM BKN030 PROB40 1012 2SM BR
TAF KGPT 111153Z 111212 24004KT ¼ SM FG OVC001
BECMG 1317 3SM BR 0VC004
FM1700 24010KT 4SM –RA OVC006 FM0400 24010 5SM
SCT080 TEMPO 0612 P6SM SKC
In addition to the terminal forecast, the area forecast also indicates gradual improvement along the route. Since the terminal forecast only provides information for a 5-mile radius around a terminal area, checking the area forecast provides a better understanding of the overall weather picture along the route, as well as potential hazards:
SYNOPSIS AND VFR CLOUDS/WEATHER FORECASTS SYNOPSIS… AREA OF LOW PRESSURE CNTD OV AL RMNG GENLY STNRY BRNGNG MSTR AND WD SPRD IFR TO E TN. ALF…LOW PRES TROF ACRS CNTR PTN OF THE DFW FA WILL GDLY MOV EWD DURG PD.
NRN LA, AR, NRN MS
SWLY WND THRUT THE PD. 16Z CIG OVC006. SCT
–SHRA. OTLK… IFR SRN ½ … CIG SCT – BKN015
TOPS TO FL250 SWLY WND THRUT THE PD. 17Z AGL
BKN040. OTLK…MVFR CIG VIS.
LA MS CSTL WTRS
CIG OVC001 – OVC006. TOPS TO FL240. VIS ¼ – ¾ SM
FG. SWLY WND. 16Z CIG OVC010 VIS 2 SM BR. OCNL
VIS 3-5SM –RN BR OVC009. OTLK…MVFR CIG VIS.
CIG BKN020 TOPS TO FL180. VIS 1–3 SM BR. SWLY
WND. 18Z BRK030. OTLK…MVFR CIG.
At this time, there are no SIGMETs or PIREPs reported. However, there are several AIRMETs, one for IFR conditions, one for turbulence that covers the entire route, and another for icing conditions that covers an area just north of the route:
WAUS44 KKCI 111150
DFWS WA 0111150
AIRMET SIERRA FOR IFR VALID UNTIL 111800
AIRMET IFR…OK TX LA AR MS AL FL
TS IMPLY SEV OR GTR TURB SEV ICE LLWS AND
NON MSL HGHTS DENOTED BY AGL OR CIG.
A recheck of NOTAMs for Gulfport confirms that the localizer to runway 32 is out of service until further notice and runway 18/36 is closed. If runway 6 is planned for the departure, confirm that the climb restriction for the departure can be met.
GPT 12/006 GPT LOC OS UFN
GPT 12/008 GPT MIRL RWY 18/36 OS UFN
Since the weather is substantially better to the east, Pensacola Regional Airport is a good alternate with current conditions and a forecast of marginal VFR.
METAR KPNS 111150Z 21010Z 3SM BKN014 OVC025
TAF KPNS 111152Z 111212 22010KT 3 SM BR OVC020
BECMG 1317 4 SM BR OVC025
FM1700 23010KT 4SM –RA OVC030
FM 0400 25014KT 5SM OVC050 TEMPO1612 P6SM
If weather minimums are below a pilot’s personal minimums, a delay in departure to wait for improved conditions is a good decision. This time can be used to complete the navigation log, which is the next step in planning an IFR flight. [Figure 10-19]
Use the POH/AFM to compute a true airspeed, cruise power setting, and fuel burn based on the forecast temperatures aloft and cruising pressure altitude. Also, compute weightand- balance information and determine takeoff and landing distances. There will be a crosswind if weather conditions require a straight-in landing on runway 14 at GPT. Therefore, compute the landing distance assuming a 10-knot crosswind and determine if the runway length is adequate to allow landing. Determine the estimated flight time and fuel burn using the winds aloft forecast and considering Pensacola Regional Airport as an alternate airport. With full tanks, the flight can be made nonstop with adequate fuel for flight to the destination, alternate, and the reserve requirement.
Next, check the surface analysis chart, which shows where the pressure systems are found. The weather depiction chart shows areas of IFR conditions and can be used to find areas of improving conditions. These charts provide information a pilot needs should a diversion to VFR conditions be required. For this flight, the radar depicts precipitation along the route, and the latest satellite photo confirms what the weather depiction chart showed.
When the navigation log is finished, complete the flight plan in preparation for filing with flight service. [Figure 10-20] Call an FSS for an updated weather briefing. Birmingham INTL airport is now reporting 700 overcast with 3 miles visibility, and Gulfport-Biloxi is now 400 overcast with 2 miles visibility. The alternate, Pensacola Regional Airport, continues to report adequate weather conditions with 2,000 overcast and 3 miles visibility in light rain.
Several pilot reports have been submitted for light icing conditions; however, all the reports are north of the route of flight and correspond to the AIRMET that was issued earlier. No pilot reports have included cloud tops, but the area forecast predicted cloud tops to flight level 240. Since the weather conditions appear to be improving, a flight plan can be filed using the completed form.
Analyze the latest weather minimums to determine if they exceed personal minimums. With the absence of icing reported along the route and steadily rising temperatures, structural icing should not be a problem. Make a note to do an operational check of the pitot heat during preflight and to take evasive action immediately should even light icing conditions be encountered in flight. This may require returning to BHM or landing at an intermediate spot before reaching GPT. The go/no-go decision is constantly reevaluated during the flight.
Once at the airport, conduct a thorough preflight inspection. A quick check of the logbooks indicates all airworthiness requirements have been met to conduct this IFR flight including an altimeter, static, and transponder test within the preceding 24 calendar months. In addition, a log on the clipboard indicates the VOR system has been checked within the preceding 30 days. Turn on the master switch and pitot heat, and quickly check the heating element before it becomes too hot. Then, complete the rest of the walk-around procedure. Since this is a flight in actual IFR conditions, place special emphasis on IFR equipment during the walk-around, including the alternator belt and antennas. After completing the preflight, organize charts, pencils, paper, and navigation log in the flight deck for quick, easy access. This is also the time to enter the planned flight into the GPS.