Night ILS Down to Minimums!

I don’t know if words can express my feelings right now but I feel like I need to capture them the best way that I can.  Today was a beautiful day and the weather forecast was perfect for flying.  A friend of mine – Jeff P. – who I used to fly with here in Champaign let me know he would be coming back in town and we decided to pick up where we left off and fly to someplace where we could go to a Buffalo Wild Wings for dinner.  For some reason this has kind of become a trend as I’ve flown to quite a few destinations just to go to a “BDubs” for dinner.  Jeff also introduced me to another Jeff (Jeff B.) last year so he came a long with us.  Both of these Jeffs are University of Illinois graduates and CFII’s.  Jeff P. just started with American Eagle a few months ago and has recently completed his ERJ training.  He flies his first passenger flight on Sunday!  Try to keep up with all the Jeffs in this.  It was kind of interesting to have 3 Jeffs in the plane at one time!

So Jeff P. flew into Champaign on a commercial flight around 5 PM.  Both he and Jeff B. immediately drove over and met me at the hangar where I had already had the plane pre-flighted and ready to go.  We talked about the weather a bit and I commented that the temperature/dewpoint spread looked like it would get close but the TAF wasn’t calling for reduced visibility until after 1 AM.  It was pretty clear and well above freezing with hardly any wind so we decided to take off.  Our destination was Springfield, IL (KSPI).  This would be my first trip to Springfield.  I had filed IFR and we had a very nice, uneventful flight there and an excellent landing (if I must say so myself).  We had a great dinner and had good discussion through the whole dinner.  As soon as we walked out the door though all three of us noticed a ‘mist’ in the air.  I think we all pulled our phones out at once and checked the weather and Springfield was reporting 8 miles visibility and clear but Champaign was reporting overcast a 400′ and 4 miles visibility with mist.  We discussed our options and there is an airport about halfway in Decatur, IL (KDEC) that was reporting clear and 5 miles visibility so we decided to start heading back and keeping this as our “out”.  The whole way back was very clear and we could see the ground.  As we approached Champaign we received a report from a plane that just landed that they saw the approach lights at about 300′ AGL and the METAR was reporting 2.5 miles visibility.  We could see the layer but it was well below us.  We all discussed the plan and I felt comfortable taking a shot at the ILS.  If we went missed we wouldn’t try again and just head for Decatur where we’d call someone to come pick us up.

Everything was looking good.  We were on the final approach course ILS32R and I was ready to concentrate on the approach.  I asked both CFIIs in the plane to please point out if they saw any large deviations.  A commercial jet was cleared for the approach just ahead of us and when they were on the ground they reported entering the muck around 1500′ (750 AGL) and seeing the runway lights around 1000′.  The ILS DH is only 950′!  This would be a true test of my skills but I was very confident as I’ve practiced this many times and I’ve remained current and proficient.  As we intercepted the glideslope I reduced power and started to follow the glideslope in.  I used the autopilot to help me stay on the localizer and to reduce the workload so I could really concentrate on the glideslope.  I was doing well following it in but I found myself fixating a bit on the glideslope and I noticed that was doing about 110 knots.  I pulled back power and the nose up a bit to slow down which caused me to be a little high on the glideslope.  I quickly corrected and then at about 1000′ (250′ AGL) I saw the approach lights pop out of nowhere.  It was an awesome feeling and I honestly didn’t expect them as close as they were but I was elated to see them!  I was just about ready to go missed and then I saw them.  The other 2 Jeffs in the plane reminded me that I still needed to fly the plane and land it which I did with another smooth landing.

In looking back on this situation I am very happy that I was able to experience this.  I believe we managed the risk very well and always had a plan and an “out”.  The temperatures were well above freezing as even at our cruise at 5000′ we were seeing temperatures a few degrees above freezing so this wasn’t a factor.  I made one mistake of fixating on the glideslope and not paying as much attention to airspeed as I should and I shouldn’t have tried to over correct when I did.  I had plenty of runway and should have gradually slowed down rather than trying to get to 90 knots immediately.  I didn’t expect to fly an actual ILS approach to minimums tonight but I feel that I was well prepared for it.  Many thanks to my instrument instructor – Frank Dorrin – for preparing me for this day and for all of the other safety pilots and instructors who I have worked with in remaining proficient.  Thank you Jeff B. & Jeff P. for joining me on this adventure!

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Outstanding Jeff – and thanks for the kudos. I’ll pass them along to Rink Smith. Rink is an excellent pilot and instructor who really took me to the next level in instrument flying. I remember he came along on a ride with me when I told him that after every instrument flight, I was exhausted.

He fine tuned my approach to it; taught me how to reduce my workload; and all that seriously improved how I both fly and teach.

I learn something from everyone I fly with, and you are no exception. Way to get it done!!


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