Flying among clouds


Like any new student of Instrument training I eagerly awaited my first foray into clouds. Would I be nervous, disoriented, distracted or maybe even a total disaster, I wondered often how I would react when it all happened. It has been several months now since I had started my instrument training. Now almost at the end of my training, I was sure I would not get a chance to find out, at least not yet, how it would all be.

Lo and behold, Saturday loomed gloomy and cloudy. For once I was excited and eager to be off the ground! This is quite contrary to my normal expectation for nice, clear weather on a Saturday morning. You see, I had scheduled a flight with my instructor for that morning. I was literally waiting for 9 am so I could be up, up and away.
As it was my first flight in IMC conditions we decided to do something simple. We decided we would shoot a couple of approaches in Santa Maria and return and do the same at San Luis Airport. We took off on runway 11 which was the active and performed the Avila 3 departure to Santa Maria. Before I knew it we were flying through clouds and over them. The sky was overcast at 4000ft. It was an awesome experience to be up there among the silvery white clouds with sunlight glinting on them.
After being vectored for the ILS into SMX, we soon started our descent and then we were back through the clouds. It is an almost joyous moment when you first break through the clouds and sight the runway where you expect it to be, right where you are headed. After executing a missed approach we were back again, this time on the VOR approach. But wait, where is the airport? We were already at the missed approach point with the airport was nowhere in sight. We were going to execute a missed approach anyway, but it would be nice to sight the airport environment. We looked desperately through the forward windshield, trying to catch a glimpse of anything at all. It was then, that I casually looked down the left window and what do you know, it was right there below us! We were not all that off the mark after all. The forward visibility being poorer than downward visibility we had not sighted the runway in time or where we expected it to be.
Returning back to San Luis, with visibility falling, we decided to just shoot the ILS to full stop landing. With changed plans and late clearance, we were too high most of the time to intercept the glideslope. Tracking the localizer we made our way back. Nothing is sweeter on a cloudy, rainy day than those two rows of shiny flashing lights proclaiming runway here. We were home, safe and sound. We broke through the clouds at 700 feet with the airport clearly in sight.

I always believed that life was full of stops, made up of moments such as this, moments to be cherished and remembered over a lifetime. Doing something I really wanted for the first time is one moment I will never forget!

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