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Fly High and Fast – Vol. II Chapter 7 – Flying IFR with Low Ceilings

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JJ Meehan
The Meehan Family

  Mooney N6419U and I spent a lot of time together.  Built like a sports car, it can still carry a pretty good load of people and luggage.  Together we covered the Heartland of the United States from Kansas City, MO USA to Chicago, IL USA.  From St. Louis, MO USA to Minneapolis, MN USA.  We made hundreds of trips to Omaha, Nebraska, Sioux City, Iowa, Des Moines, Iowa, Ottumwa, Iowa, Keokuk, Iowa, Albia, Iowa, Fort Dodge, Iowa and many more.

One of my favorite business trips was to a conference for one of our customers – Answer Iowa.  They were meeting in Rochester MN USA.  Tom Anderson, Senior Systems Analysis went with me.  We departed about 1:00 pm on Tuesday and were schedule to return on Thursday after the conference ended.  The weather was forecasted low IFR for both flights.  Tom loved to listen to the radio during the flights so I normally did not use a head set when he flow with me.

We were in the clouds about 300 feet off the runway and never got out of them until we landed in Rochester, MN USA.  The flight was scheduled to last just over an hour.  About 20 minutes into the flight, I noticed the lack of radio communication.  I quickly put on my head set and was able to make contact with Chicago Center again.  We had lost our speakers.  Again this may have been on of my Cat Lives – number 3.

Tom never blinked an eye and sat next to me in total silence for the rest of the trip.  We shot the ILS into Rochester, MN USA and broke out at   the 200 ft above the ground.  Visibility was about 1 mile.  They were calling 4,000 ft on the RVR.  RVR stands for Runway Visibility Range.  I’ve decide to include the video of a CAT III approach to give you and idea of what I was seeing when we finally saw the runway.  You can view this in Volume II Chapter 3 also.


After completing the approach we talked to the maintenance personnel and found out that there was no way to get the speakers fixed while we were in Rochester, MN.  They would need at least a week.  I decided to purchase a second Head Set just to make sure we would have communications on the way home.  We then headed for the hotel.  The first night we had dinner with the customer’s employees at an old Railroad in downtown Rochester.  The dinner was outstanding and the next day we sat in on their meetings.  Our purpose was to help them implement a new Accounts Receivable System – AR-70.  Wednesday night we found out that they had a jazz contest in the hotel that we could attend.  Tom, I and 20 girls from Answer Iowa attended the jazz contest.  There was one clarinet player from England who could really play jazz.  I could  have listened to him all night.  I was flying the next day so had given up drinking for the night but the rest of the gang just about drank the bar dry.  We continued the party in the hospitality suite until the hotel management asked us to be quiet for the sake of the other guest.  We finally got to bed around 3:00 am.

The next day we were in meetings all morning and then headed to airport for the flight to Cedar Rapids.  Weather was just as forecast – Tops were above 10,000 feet and the ceilings were 200 to 300 feet with visibility about 1/2 mile or 2500 ft RVR.   Minimums for both Rochester and Cedar Rapids are set at 200 feet and 2500 feet on the RVR.  I can assure you we were in the clouds the whole flight.  Omaha, Nebraska was my alternate if we need better weather.  Omaha was about 220 KM to the west of Cedar Rapids.  The video that I have included shows the plane above the clouds, just image that you are in the clouds for over an hour and the first thing you see will be the lights on the runway at Cedar Rapids after we take off from Rochester, MN.

Instrument Landing System (ILS) Approaches are very common at most larger airports.  I have made this type of approach many times in some cases had to make a miss approach and either go into a hold until the weather improved or fly to an alternate.  Cedar Rapids, Iowa USA has a corn processing plant just north of the airport and it is not uncommon to have the airport go below IFR because of the smoke from the plant.   Many times I would make the approach at Cedar Rapids and not be able to land and would then fly down to Iowa City and shot an approach with higher minimums and get into Iowa City and have my wife or a friend pick us up.  The Iowa City Airport sits lower than Cedar Rapids and also has less pollutions in the area.

A few years after this flight, my boss, Joe Phernetton and I were coming back from Texas.  We had spent the night in Tulsa, Oklahoma USA because the weather in Kansas City and Cedar Rapids was zero, zero.   In other words no visibility.  When the weather started to improve we took off for Des Moines and later changed our flight plan for Cedar Rapids.  Des Moines is about 100 miles to the west of Cedar Rapids.  On this flight we made the approach and could not get into Cedar Rapids, but did land in Iowa City and my wife picked us up.  About a year later we did the same thing and this time we did get into Cedar Rapids and were the first flight to land that day.

Several years later I was flying a Piper Arrow with one of my old students and we took off with ceilings of 200 ft.  Just as soon as we were airborne, there was smoke in the cockpit.  I declared an emergency and we immediately were given the number one position in for the ILS into Cedar Rapids.   As it turned out, another ex student was working the approach – Larry Darling.  I had no intention on going anywhere else that day.  I shot the best approach I had ever made and it may have been about 150 above ground when we finally saw the lights.  We landed with the fire trucks following us to the ramp.  They quickly determined that the smoke was from an exhaust manifold gasket that had broken loose and landed on the hot exhaust.  The problem was fixed but we cancelled the flight since Cedar Rapids had dropped below the 200 ft limit.  Remember you are always better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than in the air wishing you were on the ground.

Please visit my WEB Site for other stories on Flying at “Fly High and Fast”.


Written by jjmeehan13

January 8, 2010 at 9:23 pm

Posted in Flying

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