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Touring Philadelphia in IMC and circle to land at minimums

For the last part of my IFR training I’m at FlyAdvanced at Wings Field just outside of Philadelphia. I didn’t want to go to popular places like Florida or Arizona but instead go somewhere with real IMC (instrument meterological conditions) with just the right amount of bad enough weather. In my opinion it doesn’t make sense to do IFR training in perfect sunshine and then when you are on your own start venturing out into bad weather. It is better to experience difficult weather during the training with an instructor on board so you can build on that experience.

So far I’ve been “lucky” with the weather.

Great IFR training weather

A few days back we had low freezing levels and went up in a FIKI Cirrus SR22 for a short cross-country flight. On another day in a non-FIKI Cirrus SR20 there was enough rain to make it IMC.

But today was special.

In the morning there was an icing forecast - no-go for a non-FIKI SR20 - and so we did some review of IFR flight planning for the upcoming practical exam. The weather improved a bit. It is not that the clouds disappeared - they covered the whole area - but it was warming up a bit and we had positive temperatures up to 5000ft to 6000ft - so it was perfect IFR training weather.

We filed a flight plan from KLOM (Wings Field) to KACY (Atlantic City) where we wanted to try the VOR RWY 31 approach, which has a DME arc built into. However, our request was denied due to military activity in the area. We would have been coming from the oppositive direction of the active runway. So we ended up doing the ILS RWY 13 instead. We broke out of the clouds at about 1000ft (field elevation is 75ft) and I made a full-stop landing on a very long and wide runway.

On the taxiway we picked up our IFR clearance for the next segment of today’s training flight. We had filed KACY (Atlantic City) to KLOM (Wings Field) with a request for doing the LOC BC RWY 6 at KPNE (Northeast Philadelphia).

Unfortunately, while we were in the air the controller informed us that at this time they were unable to accomodate the request for the LOC BC RWY 6 at KPNE. From the amount of radio chatter it was clear that we were at rush hour at Philadelphia International Airport with many airliners going in and out. We changed our plan and were then given the grand tour over the city of Philadelphia.

I’m sure it would have been great to see the city from 5000ft. But we were in the clouds the whole time :-)

Our TCAS showed a lot of other aircraft around us - but we never saw them. That was my first time being in a busy airspace flying the whole time in IMC. Now that I’m a bit further ahead in my training it does start to feel normal. There is so much information available on the Cirrus Perspective flight deck that the surroundings real doesn’t matter all that much. The situational awareness is great and it does feel safe.

The controller were quite busy and there were a few helicopters flying into KLOM (Wings Field) and so she sent us quite a bit past the airport towards the West before vectoring us back to the GPS LPV RWY 24. The right runway would have been RWY 6 (the other direction), but I wanted to practice a circling approach in marginal weather and so we were going the wrong direction on purpose.

My wish for a circling in marginal weather was granted. The circling minimum is 780ft and by 800ft we were out of the clouds with some light rain. It is hard to describe in words how that felt. A gentle turn to the right to enter the traffic pattern and then into a low base leg towards runway 6 for the landing with some crosswind.