One of the problems with living in a beautiful western mountain setting is that it is hard to maintain instrument currency. Back on the Gulf Coast, there was a runway on the flat coastal plain about eight flying minutes from our airpark that had about six approaches to its single piece of concrete – an ILS, a VOR (from somewhere), and a sack full of GPS approaches. You could shoot the ILS in one direction, loop around and catch a GPS from the other, then do another ILS, grab the Back Course the other way, shoot the GOS from the ILS side – then pick one more, and you were done in less than an hour with you six month’s worth of currency. And, of course, it paid to keep current, because there were always opportunities to fly real IFR, what with clouds and fronts and other weather phenomena associated with that part of the world. Out at the western edge of the Great Basin, we rarely have clouds worth the name – and when we do, they have ice in them. The mountains stick up far enough that the approach minimums are above those for VFR flight – so as we say, you can always fly out over the desert, let down, and just come up a valley.
Living just a few miles west of Carson City, Nevada, we have far fewer choices for approaches, and they can be a bit problematic, with missed approach altitudes up near the service ceilings of many certified GA singles. Our RVs make them more reasonable, abut it is rare that you fly a miss all the way to the holding point – it just takes too long. And talk about pucker factor for your safety pilot – those rocks can look mighty big when you turn and follow the miss. The pilot flying under the hood is fat, dumb and happy of course – they can’t see how close they might be to the hills!
So I went out for my occasional sojourn under the hood this morning, my eagle-eyes pilot wife in the back seat of my well-equipped RV-8. We popped off the airpark and flew down the valley, climbing only 2500 feet to hit CHIME at 7,000. Programmed the magic box, punched the autopilot, and let it fly the first one – it doesn’t really care where the rocks are. I kept the speed up high to maximize the number of approaches in the shortest period of time – and, of course, to keep sharp for jet speeds on approach. It’s amazing how quick you can slow down an RV with a constant speed prop when you need to. Traffic in the pattern on a nice summer morning made me stay at or above minimums (out of courtesy) – but that’s no problem – the MDA is 200 feet above pattern altitude anyway!
Start the miss, then “radar vectors” from the back seat to head back to CHIME and shoot it again. And again… and again… before we both got bored and punched in the approach to Minden (KMEV) for the last two. Missed approach procedure? “Climbing left turn to 13,500”! Watch the temperatures as you do that… and bring an inflight meal!
If we wanted to shoot an ILS, we’d have to flit over to Reno and beg permission to mix with the airliners – or hop all the way across the Sierra Nevada to find something in California. Nope, this isn’t your classic busy middle-of-the-country airspace where approaches are a dime a dozen. But next time, I get to look outside and enjoy the mountain views while my wife flies her approaches. Just hope we stay out of the rocks.