Carlo and I flew with an Omni instructor on a series of IFR flights in April. I am building instrument time in RP-C391, Omni Aviation’s Cessna 172XP — a fuel injected, constant-speed prop and instrument-rated limousine!
We departed Subic as the sun slid down to the western horizon. We would be flying dusk IFR to Clark.
Night VFR is not allowed in this country. So to fly at night, one must be instrument rated, and on an Instrument Flight Rules flight plan.
As we flew north over the Zambales mountains, Carlo photographed the vivid sunset. We were content, cruising serenely at 7,000 feet.
We flew relaxed above the weather. “Relaxed” is good, during instrument flight. It means your brain has some cells reserved for when it gets busy.
Half an hour later we were busy! Clark Approach cleared us to the VOR and the published procedure for the Instrument Landing System at runway 20L at the former US Air Force base.
The chart for this approach is a wealth of information for a pilot. A single page shows exactly how to fly to a precise spot in space, using radio stations to lead you to within a few hundred feet of the runway.
The goal is to fly the procedure until the “decision” or minimum descent altitude. There you look up, and if you see the runway, you land.
It’s all about following the procedure.
It gets easier in airliners. Two pilots work the cockpit. The approach procedure is pre-set in the flight computer. The computer tells them exactly how to position the controls, to fly the procedure. In fact, the computer/autopilot can actually fly the approach for then, moving the controls far more precisely, if they let it. If they trust it.
In a small Cessna, you get to do it all yourself, by hand. Alone.
Smart airline Captains switch their computers off once in a while to stay sharp and proficient at this.
“Luke, your targeting computer is off. What’s wrong?”
They have to do this manually once every few months anyway, when they do their re-currency checks. No one knows when that computer will fail. In a fast jet.
That’s what airline pilots train for.
We eased onto the the last turn in the procedure, just inside ROSER intersection, less than 10 miles to the runway.
In this photo, we are switching to 110.1 and level at 2,600 feet, centered on the localizer, exactly as the chart prescribes. The tiny striped GS flag is up — Clark’s glideslope radio beam was out. It was a “localizer only” approach. No vertical precision guidance. Left-right guidance only. We are at 90 knots, exactly what I want on final.
I used to have trouble multi-tasking like this. I would switch frequencies and suddenly the CDI would be way off center, or the airspeed would be suddenly jumping. No autopilot in small airplane IFR. Now I like the challenge of being busy, and keeping the instrument scan going almost subconsciously.
We slid down final, cross-checking altitude against the chart, nicely stabilized.
We had briefed the approach so that I would look outside only when we reached the missed approach point, one mile from the runway threshold.
I was still under the hood, flying “blind” on instruments. Carlo was looking outside. He took this picture at 2 miles. We are centered on the runway, white and red PAPI lights showing. Man, the system works, huh!
We were aligning on this runway using a sliver of a needle on a tiny 3-inch gauge in our cockpit, what Airbus ‘cockpit managers’ call a “raw data” approach: no computerized flight director.
Well, in a Cessna 172 it doesn’t get any better than “raw data”! Real man flying… 😛
In this video capture we are at one mile, the CDI is dead center on the localizer, and the altimeter reads 720 feet, the minimum descent altitude. I looked up and there it was.
The sweet moment in instrument flight is to look up and see that you have brought the airplane to an exact point in space.
We had two white and two red lights on the Precision Approach Path Indicator. We were almost done here
It was past sunset. We could no longer sidestep to the small runway at Omni, a kilometer away. This would be a full-stop at Clark, and the airplane would stay the night.
I would rather fly VFR any time, flying visually in good weather and enjoying the visual, palpable thrill of flight. Free to go anywhere, fly as high or as low as you want. Land and have lunch, or don’t land. Go to Baguio and change your mind, head for the beach at La Union, instead.
Still, instrument flight has its own special appeal. The theory and precision are sweet challenges for any pilot. It’s like golf, I guess — you are constantly striving for perfection, to better yourself.
Taking an airplane from the sky safely to the runway on instruments is an advanced skill, and a lifering for the future. And mastering an advanced skill is its own reward.
We asked for a parking bay and a “Follow Me” truck led us there. It was totally dark when we locked up.
Carefully gathering our headsets, handheld radios, GPSs, flashlights and kneeboards, we hitched a ride on the truck to the security gate at the airport.
There was a big UPS MD-11 at a parking bay nearby. It is gratifying to know that we were just as qualified to be in his airspace as he was to be in ours!
This is the time for a cup of hot java, Windwalker would say. I agree, but there is no Starbucks or Figaro at Clark. I must tell Ben Hur that if Omni gets its own Starbucks then his airfield’s survival is in the bag!
We sent a text message to the tower folks thanking them again for the service, and then we were done for the evening.
Now there are few pictures better than that. Dusk at a tropical airport, after an IFR flight to an instrument approach and landing. Better than sex! 😀