Ok, not really. IFR, as the really old joke says is I Follow Railroads. It really means Instrument Flight Rules, or, I can’t see anything outside my window, how am I going to fly this airplane? By instruments of course.
You can take that quite literally. If you are flying in the clouds, you cannot rely on your senses. The human senses were not developed with flying in the clouds in mind. You can sense forces due to acceleration – both linear and angular – but you cannot distinguish between the acceleration due to gravity and the accelerations due to turning or changes in rate of climb or descent. Part of learning to fly an airplane in IFR conditions is to train yourself to ignore what your senses are telling you and learn to rely on the instruments in your airplane.
That is instruments, plural, not a single instrument, because any instrument can fail, and if you are relying only on that one instrument, you will be in trouble. So you learn to scan all the instruments, compare what they are telling you, and if they give you conflicting information, determine what it is correct.
All this takes a lot of practice. Often pilots wear a “hood” during practice. This is a view limiting device that is supposed to let the practicing pilot see the instruments in the airplane but not see out the widow. That works fine, but it is not quite like the real thing. For one, you can cheat a little by looking out the sides of the hood. Plus, knowing you can remove the hood if you get into trouble is different than flying in clouds that cannot be removed at will.
That is why it is a good idea to practice your instrument flying skills in actual low visibility conditions when possible. Last weekend, the conditions here were perfect for that sort of practice. Ceilings were 800 to 1,000 feet, which is pretty benign. (200 foot ceiling would be the hardest for the typical general aviation pilot.) So I took the opportunity to go up with a friend and shoot some instrument approaches. We departed from Fort Worth Meacham airport (KFTW) and flew the short distance to Fort Worth Alliance airport (KAFW) for some practice approaches. We shot 3 ILS approaches at Alliance. Here is our ground track from Meacham through our first approach at Alliance and part of our first missed approach.
After the third approach, we landed at Alliance for a break. Surprisingly, there were many military airplanes on the ground at Alliance. Primarily about 30 T-6 Texan II trainers, but also an F-18 and some military versions of the Beechcraft King Air. The ramp seemed pretty quiet, so it was surprising to see so many airplanes there.
We tied down the Cardinal and walked into the terminal building, which was full of young aviators in flying suits – the crews of all those T-6’s outside! We got a drink, used the facilities, filed an IFR flight plan to go back to Meacham, and then got ready to go.
We preflighted, got taxi clearance, taxied to the end to the runway, did our runup, then waited for take off clearance. While we were waiting, two of the T-6’s started up and taxied down to the end of the runway behind us. And when I say we taxied to the end of the runway, we taxied past the last turn off for the runway and into a run up area. This is where piston powered aircraft typically go to do an engine run up and make sure their engine is really ready to go. Turbine aircraft do no usually go into this area. They do not need a run up, and are ready to take off when they get to the end of the runway.
In this case, the two T-6’s followed us into the run up area, and then sat there looking at us, facing in the opposite direction, while they waited for take off clearance. It was a little awkward, sitting there for several minutes staring at them while they stared back at us. They ended up getting their clearance to return to Wichita Falls, before we got our clearance to Meacham. Luckily, they were able to make a tight turn and get out without us having to move. Here they are after they got turned around:
It took a few minutes before we got released to return to Meacham due to a high volume of traffic also heading there at the same time. Here is our ground track back to Meacham once we got going:
I am not sure why this image does not show the entire approach into Meacham. This image was captured on my iMac from flightaware.com. I am certain when I looked at this on my Windows PC earlier today it showed the ground track all the way to Meacham. You will just have to trust me that we flew all the way to Meacham and did not stop our flight over I-30 in west Fort Worth!