Runway IncursionA gray and cool day. My last two lessons – my landings have been – well – dreadful. The ideal place to practice – Quonset with a long runway to float over – is fogged in. Fair visibility everywhere – except Providence – and Quonset. We look at the weather all around. We can’t even get out of Providence because of the clouds. The decision – we file IFR to get out and go to North Central where it is clear for the lesson. I will get a chance to fly VFR into IMC under instruction and see what it is like. Today it is warm enough and there will be no icing in the clouds.

We pre-flight the aircraft. I haven’t flown for 8 days. I want GOOD landings today. I use my checklists to get focused. There is a broken layer of cloud 1,000ft above the runway. Just before we start up – my instructor outlines how we will use the North Central approach plate and the missed approach procedure. He sets up the VOR’s and the GPS. He briefs me how to ask for an IFR flight plan with Clearance and what I can expect them to read back.

We start up, get the weather and I call:

“N503SP is a Skyhawk requesting a pop-up IFR departure to North Central with Bravo.”

Even though I have a template on my kneeboard that should help me get it down – I barely get the simple clearance and only manage to read back about half of it – my instructor fills in the gaps on the read back. Then a little unusually for a pop up – according to my instructor – Providence asks us to file a complete Flight Plan. My instructor magic’s a blank Flight Plan form under my nose and I mentally “fill it in” over the radio as I read the details to Clearance. It goes through my mind that declaring 5 hours fuel – for a 10 minute flight seems a bit incongruous – but that is the reality!

We taxi to runway 23 on “Alpha”. Today it includes a hold short at “Mike”. When we get there another plane is sitting on Mike holding short of Alpha waiting for his IFR departure. We sit and look at each other. Two planes land then the other plane is sent on his way and then our turn. “Remember” – says my instructor – “follow the vectors they give you”. I’m on a normal climb out vector – just there will be more vectors. I trim the plane for a hands-off climb and look ahead at the bank of cloud. “Today you are allowed to fly into that” says my instructor – “keep going”. It lasts all of a disappointing 5 seconds or so and we break through. I hardly have time to see if I can deal with flying in the cloud. It is VFR all the way to North Central. Providence knows what has happened – do we want to cancel IFR? We tell them we will stick with it for the practice and they vector us onto the runway at North Central. I like this IFR stuff. It is like being treated as a bit more grown up by the tower! We announce our arrival on a straight in for runway 5 ILS. Other planes are VFR on 5 but as we get the weather it is already suggesting we should be using 23. We land on 5 because others are – it is a slight quartering tail wind landing and I don’t use full flaps to stop me being pushed off. I pull it off and the instructor says “nice”. I’m mildly pleased.

We taxi round checking three windsocks and a flag. It should be runway 23 now. We decide to announce a change of runway while sitting on the ground and hope everyone else will fall in line. The only problem is one of the other instructors has a student up soloing right now. We taxi over to tell him what we are about to do. Another plane in the pattern then announces that HE is changing to runway 23. So all is well. I proceed to practice soft field landings. Greg wants me to fly “just above the runway floats” on the landings. My first is pleasing – I skim touch down and float three times in 2000ft before climbing out and we do it a couple of more times while I dial it all in. My confidence – dented by my last two lessons – is soaring and I get my feet in better tension on the rudder pedals while close to the ground and everything really firms up on the centerline. One more and time for a break.

Out for short fields. A Piper Pacer is practicing tail dragger landings. With no flaps and has to slip like crazy to get down. Fun to watch. After a couple of landings I am beginning to really “sink it in” from on high over the theoretical 50ft tree at the end of the runway. Third time around a plane scoots out underneath us and despite warnings from another plane on the ground and ourselves – he takes off underneath us – just as we are about to land. We execute an emergency go around – clawing into the sky. We jink right of the runway but he is still under us. We swoop left and get clear. We fly around and land. Another school instructor on the ground says there was only about 100ft between us. We do a couple more and then in the thickening haze we fly back to Providence before we have to file IFR.

I feel much better about my flying today! :-)

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