W h y I ' m M a k i n g M y R V I F R by Are Barstad
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I will personally build my RV for IFR and I have a very good reason why I
should. Please keep in mind that an RV is only safer when IFR equipped if
you are IFR rated. In fact, you would be safer being IFR trained without an
IFR equipped aircraft than being in an IFR aircraft without IFR training (my
opinion). Now, on with the story...
Forteen years ago myself and a friend (also colleague at that time) in his late
50's flew an ~1 hr. flight from Parry Sound where I lived at that time to
Collingwood. We went to Collingwood to work on a Mitsubishi MU-2. I was to
perform an A/D by adding an autopilot disc. switch on the yoke while my
friend (painter and AME) was to paint Canadian registration letters on the
fuselage. We flew in my friend's very old Cessna 170B. It was not equipped
for IFR flight - all we had for NAV was an ADF. We did however have a gyro
attitude indicator (which I would never be without!).
I was 24 years old at this time. I had started flight training 1 1/2 years
earlier but the small flight school with a fleet of (2) 172's went bankrupt so
I hadn't been flying at all for 1 1/2 years. I soloed after 6 hours and had
2 or 3 hours after that - a total of 9 hours at the most. I was however a
flight sim freak and played with them since they first came out on the
Atari's and Apples. I would almost always set clouds to 100 ft above the
deck and vis to <1 mile and enjoyed immensely breaking out of clouds with the
centerline right in front of me. I can't tell for sure but wouldn't be
surprised if I had at least 1000 hr's doing this over a period of ~7 years.
On the way to Collingwood that day I thought the engine sounded a bit rough.
This was strange since I had never in my life been in this aircraft. My
friend had just bought it a few weeks earlier. I mentioned this to my friend
who's primary job was as an AME where I worked and he told me that he
thought it sounded just fine.
We finished the work for the day and headed for the 170 for our flight home.
He visually inspected his fuel tanks and decided we'd better top the tanks.
Good move!!!, in fact the only good move... He then called FSS to file a
flight plan and asked for weather since it looked a bit gloomy but they said
the worst we could expect was some rain about half way there. We had no idea
was waiting ahead...
We took off and headed north towards Parry Sound (CNK4) (see link to map
below). The engine sounded a bit rough still but I decided not to say
anything in fear of insulting the experienced pilot in the left seat. About
half way we seen a front that looked like heavy rain and bad visibility. I
suggested to my friend (a pilot with over 35 years of VFR experience in
several types) that we turn around. He did however think we could just go
around it to the south and then get north once east of the front. I had just
moved from Norway to Canada a year earlier but have later learned that
weather almost always moves from west to east so this was bad move #1.
We got around the worst of it and started heading north. The ceiling was
getting lower and lower all around us but he kept flying north. It was bound
to happen... the ceiling and ground was about to meet. My friend pulled up,
into the clouds. I just remembered reading how an experienced VFR pilot
would last for an average of 176 seconds (or something like that) before the
propeller would be screwed into the ground.
As soon as we entered the clouds I focused on the attitude indicator. My
friend was staring out the windshield. Oh no! He's banking to the right...
what am I going to do?!? I had my hand on top of my right knee and pushed
gently up on the yoke to level saying at the same time "Dick, you're banking
to the right!". He responded "Oh!" and started banking to the right again -
this time sharp. I pushed again. Now it was hard since I had to overpower
his hands. I said "Dick, you're banking again". He responded by letting go
of the yoke and told me that "it seems like you have a better feel for this
than me". His face was white, as was his knuckles. I grabbed the yoke with
both my hands and watched as my knuckles turned white as well. I focused on
the VSI, heading indicator and attitude indicator, just as I do in the
flight simulator. Note: I did not even have the required 5 hours of
instrument training we get in Canada to teach us to do a 180 out of bad
weather. In fact, I had never in my life been in a cockpit in clouds...
Here I was, in the right seat in a very old plane with no instrumentation
(except the ADF which I soon realized didn't work!), 9 hours under my belt
in a period of 3 weeks, 1 1/2 year earlier and absolutely no instrument
training other than playing with a game simulator. On top of that, the pilot
was now sitting with his arms straight down, a white face and leaning
forward staring out the windshield... Ouch!
As I was climbing thinking I could get out on top the airspeed started to
get real low. I should have done a 180 but was worried about this as well
since we were now at a higher altitude (I know, stupid move!). I kept going
north at this time. I initially climbed at ~100kts then adjusted pitch as
the speed dropped to 90, then to 85. I kept dropping the nose but airspeed
kept dropping. I had a brief look out the window and could barely make out
the wheels - wheels with a solid layer of ice on the rubber - yikes!!!. The
airspeed kept dropping while I tried to keep the wings level - now at 4500ft
(elevation was about 800ft). I MUST AVOID THE DEADLY SPIRAL IN CLOUDS! The
airspeed was now down to 50kts and then 40 and we were still flying and I
kept pushing the nose down. At this point I could hear the engine
over-revving - just like a hurt plane in a WWII movie. I screamed out from
the bottom of my lungs "We're going to stall!, we're going to stall!" Dick
didn't say a word - he was now completely paralyzed - still staring out the
windshield. What was he looking for???
In a panicky I never noticed that we were diving - big time! I then noticed
that the airspeed indicated 40,30,20,0 ???? What the hell? Ahhh, the pitot
tube is frozen! I instinctively pulled the throttle all way back and pulled
the yoke back. (Ok guys, I did many wrong things but this *is* hard when you
can't see anything!). At this point I was waiting for the ground to come up
through the windshield but somehow I managed to level out without folding
the wings but had no airspeed indicator so I had to fly by noise. Speaking
of noise, another loud noise started. Hail, that was all I needed, hail! Oh
no... what is the loud bangs? I could hear some very loud banging, just like
a shotgun firing?!? Dick finally spoke up "It's ice hitting the tail
feathers..." then he was silenced again. I guess as I got back down to
warmer air, the ice let go. Well, that was a relief although I learned later
than another 500ft would have got us on top (where's that RV performance
when I needed it!). I finally felt I had some control over the aircraft but
it was now _very_ turbulent.. I told Dick that I had flown in clouds many
times before and that he could relax. My lie obviously didn't work, he was
still like he was paralysed...
"Dick!, lean back, I can't see the instruments!!!" I had to yell this
several times as I started practicing gentle turns and focusing on relaxing
my grip around the yoke. I now turned south west hoping we could get out of
this but the hail and now snow just got more and more intense. I descended
slowly over a long period of time and could see an opening through the darl
clouds and water. This was a big risk but I stuck the nose out and noticed
that I had descended through the clouds over a small bay surrounded by hills
and trees, which was both higher than me. I had no choice "Dick, I'm sorry
but I have to go IFR again" I said as I pulled back into the soup. I can't
remember what I was thinking but do remember asking Dick (as a joke) "Is
this what they call marginal VFR?" He never laughed - just kept leaning
forward, staring out the windshield.
I flew the plane at 2300rpm and at a fairly steady altitude so I guess the
speed was ok. I started feeling more relaxed and looked at the time. We had
been airborne for almost 2 hours (where had the time gone???) and luckily we
had full tanks which I knew would last us at least 4 hours. 4 hours to
where? What is next? I grabbed the microphone and tuned the radio to the
nearest Flight Service Station which was Toronto. Dick came to life again
"What are you doing? Who are you calling?" I responded "I'm calling for
help, mayday I think". He said "no, that will get us into trouble". I
honestly didn't care and called Mayday anyway. Dick ignored me and went back
to his 'trance'. Toronto responded immediately and asked me to switch to
121.5. I briefly told them what was going on, what type (or lack of)
instrumentation we had and that I could really need a smoke as soon as we
landed (I since quit smoking many years ago.. - life is too precious!).
Well, I didn't say I needed a smoke but was thinking about it... :-)
Toronto asked for my approximate location and told me that they thought they
could see me on radar (we had no transponder either): "Stay calm, climb to
3500 and turn to 180 degrees" (or close to this). There are towers in the
area that are very high so this was the MOA. They further told me that
weather was bad in Toronto as well but that we had to deal with a landing
when we get there. As I slowly climbed towards 3500, I kept a close eye on
the tires for ice build-up. At 2500 it started accumulating again. I had to
ignore Toronto and descent back to 2000 and hope we'd miss the towers. There
was that shotgun noise again as ice hit the tail feathers. As this wasn't
enough the VSI started to jump around on me, then the altimeter stopped
working seemed to be jumpy... Ice must have clogged up the static port. I
had never heard before that I could smash a gauge to get static air so I
flew without. I have no idea why the PIC didn't think of this but he was in
another world. I advised Toronto and they asked if I had an alternate static
source. I told them "no" as this is what I thought. The heater was turned on
but was obviously not serviceable or I had turned it on too late. Why didn't
Toroto ask me to smash the VSI gauge???
The attitude indicator, turn & bank and RPM gauge was now my *only* useful
instruments. I thought if the RPM was fairly constant we couldn't dive or
climb too fast. I then thought of the ice and slowly climbed until I could
see ice build-up then levelled off and thought the smashing ice would warn
me off too low altitudes. Man, this was nerve wrecking! For some reason I
was fairly collected and was thinking clear - I just had very limited
knowledge of basic flying, never mind IFR in IMC conditions with no
instruments. It may have helped that I was an avionics tech. at the time and
had good knowledge of instruments which is all I had to go on - very few of
Suddenly, just like a miracle, we came out of the soup - right over Barrie,
a city with a small airpark. I had just been thinking how the heck Toronto
could talk me to a safe landing based on a 2 dimensional radar and we could
see stars!!!. I advised Toronto that I could now see Barrie airport and that
the airfield was in sight after successfully turning on the ARCAL system.
Then, the engine... that rough sound I heard earlier in the day now sounded
even rougher. I had added carb heat every 5 minutes or less (this I had
learned) so I didn't think that was a problem and I checked mixture right
away. Full throttle was now 1600 rpm and I couldn't maintain altitude. I
couldn't make the field either. I all of a sudden noticed how dark it was.
Pitch black... I could see all the lights below but no other contours. I
knew about the large lake (Lake Simcoe) and thought our best chance at night
was to touch down at or close to a beach. I headed for the big area without
lights (water) and started descending in circles with full full throttle.
Then another miracle, the engine came back to life. Instinctively I added
full throttle and climbed towards the airport to have enough altitude to get
there even if the engine quit. As we approached the airport I told Dick that
he should take over and land since I probably couldn't land it.. He said
"what???" and took over. He landed safely and I stepped out and had the best
cigarette in my life... :) The police met us at the plane. The airpark had
closed for the night and the airport manager had been called by Toronto
along with other officials. The police had been called from numerous cottage
people in the area where I circled the one time I broke out.
You can't even imagine all the paper work and 'interrogation' I was put
through afterwards. The only good thing (besides full tanks) was that we had
an official record of asking for weather and filing a flight plan.
When I turned around in the soup and went south I was only a few miles from
the destination. I called my wife to come and pick us up. She told me that
she couldn't because the highways were closed due to a heavy snow storm with
squalls. The highways were closed in the exact area I was flying in. The
airport manager (also an Avenger pilot) took us up to his house while the
roads cleared up. 2:00am in the morning my wife picked us up. My friend Dick
burst out crying almost hysterically in the car on the way home and told my
wife that I saved not only my own life but also his. He told me later that
he had 'given up' and just resiged himself to the fact that we were going to
die. I think he had a much harder time with this than me.
He told me a week later that I had a 'good ear for engines'. I said oh? And
he told me that when he went back down to pick up the airplane, he couldn't
get it to start. Upon closer examination he found that BOTH his mags were
unserviceable and needed to be changed.
I learned a lot from this trip. As soon as my RV-8 is flying I will take the
IFR training. I have considered it now but won't be able to upkeep it with
rentals. I will only fly aircraft with attitude indicators and a heated
pitot/static tube. I recently bought one from Gretz for my RV-8. It may not
be needed but it is a phobia I developed. I can easily sacrifice that pound
for safety... When people ask "why a heated pitot/static tube, I answer "I
have my reasons..."
Be careful out there! I have seen many RV's with just a turn and bank
indicator. At the very least make sure you have an attitude indicator and
maybe ask a CFI at your local flying club if he can give you 5-10 hours of
dual instrument flying. A well equipped RV is no good if you will be staring
out the windshield. If I had asked my friend before this flight what he
would do in sudden IMC he would no doubt have thought that with his 35 years
experience he would just look at the instruments. There is a reason 176
seconds is time to live in these situations! It turns out (much like a
*real* power off landing) that things are completely different when they
Dick is presently a supervisor of the Found aircraft production and I see
him once in a while. I would have thought he would have kept this ordeal a
secret but he has openly told people at and around the airport about it in
hopes for others to not do what he did. I never told people about this for
years since I was sure they would think I was fibbing but myself and two
other RV pilots (one which is a list member) went for breakfast in Parry
Sound and they were told the story by the source. This is the first time I
have actually written it down.
I made a map of the route to my best recollection. The actual flight was
much more back and forth, side to side etc, than you can see. The black line
shows intended route and the red shows actual flight. You can see us
attempting to go around the bad weather by going further east then back
north towards our destination. We then got IFR, I took over and started
flying south after climbing for a while, diving and getting control again.
The red circle is at the point were I broke out and circled and decided to
get back in the clouds. The route towards the water shows where I was going
to land around the shores of Lake Simcoe.
Here's the map (179kb):