In this lesson, we were originally going to fly west over to Piedmont Triad (KGSO) for an ILS approach in busy airspace.  Side objective was to get a little cross country time.  I am still lacking over 20 hours of cross country to meet the IFR rating requirement.  Once I arrived at the airfield, we noticed all of the clouds were east of us, so we chased the weather to get some actual.

My instructor decided that we would do a round robin to Rocky Mount/ Wilson (KRWI).  We would file for 5000 in hopes of making the flight smack in the middle of the clouds.  We were close and skimmed along the tops in and out and eventually deep in the soup.

For the first time, I filled out the flight plan and once my instructor looked it over, I clicked the file button.  Since it was VFR conditions above TTA, we decided to pick up the clearance in the air.  This was a first as well and I handled the initial call.

After calling up Raleigh Approach, I was given a vector, altitude assignment and squawk code and then asked to standby.  They were vectoring us around traffic before we could climb.  As I was setting the airplane course and trimming for the altitude, the clearance came across the radio and I was totally not expecting. (Why not you ask?  who really knows but I messed up).  Luckily, my instructor was writing down the clearance and handled the radio call.

The flight to our destination was pretty uneventful, other than being in the soup.  I had the airplane trimmed out and was flying along tracking to the destination.  We were handed off to Washington center and they asked us what type of approach we would like.  I responded we would like the ILS 04.  She cleared us direct to  BELGA intersection.  After a bit, approach asked us if we wanted vectors to final or would like to perform the procedure turn.  My instructor looked at me and I said, “Let’s do the procedure turn”.  My instructor keyed the mike and said “My student is requesting the procedure turn”  with a hint of pride.  I guess that was the right answer?  I figured, hey we are in the soup and likely staying in the soup until below 1700, why not do the procedure turn.  Good practice right?  I mean, this is for real and I want to be able to add this to my experience bucket for when I am doing this single pilot.

I briefed the approach, feeling better about this piece now. We performed the procedure turn at 2700 and we would be able to drop down to 2100 once we crossed BELGA.  Then we intercept the glide slope. As a side note, we requested a touch and go instead of a low missed approach so I could get credit for the cross country time.

Once we touched down, cleaned up the flaps and back in the air for the missed approach as per ATC instructions.  Climb to 1200 then climbing right turn to Tar River VOR (TYI) at 2100.

I contacted Washington Center once we were above 2000 and we got our clearance back to to KTTA.  Initially, they gave us an altitude of 6000, but we requested 4000 so we could stay in the clouds all the way home.

We were cruising along when I started to notice that the Attitude indicator was starting to precess a bit indicating a slight left turn when we were actually level.  We noticed that a bit of right rudder cleaned it up so I held in some right rudder.  As my leg tired I noticed that it was precessing more and the rudder wasn’t helping.  At this point we talked over whether or not this was a must report and under what conditions we would declare an emergency.  With the knowledge in hand that 500 feet below or 1500 feet above we would be in clear air, we decided to watch it and pretty much fly partial panel.  The important part here is we talked over our options on what we would do if things did become serious.  Say the Directional gyro starts to go or the Attitude indicator tumbles.  At this point, it just read about a 7 degree left turn but other wise seemed to be functioning.

As we neared our destination, we were handed off to Fayetteville approach.  We asked for the ILS 03 approach and were given vectors to HEDDY.  As we were briefing the approach we heard an interesting exchange on the frequency.  We only heard one side of the conversation, that being approach. “NXXXX, you are over 300 feet below your assigned altitude.” …….. “Do you have my number?” ……. “Call me at 555-555-5555”.  My instructor and I both moaned at the same time.  I mean, very glad it wasn’t us but ugh.  I haven’t been flying that long, only a couple of years but I do maintain contact with Approach for flight following on most flights and I have never actually heard the dreaded “Call Me” on the radio.  Bad news for any pilot, I feel for whomever it was.

We were vectored onto final and I followed the ILS 03 down to minimums, this time with foggles since we broke out of the clouds around 3500.  I was a little bit right of the runway but right on the glide sloop.  The landing was pretty disappointing.  We had gusting winds right down the runway swinging a little right to left and lets just say it wasn’t my best landing.

Crappy landing aside, I felt pretty good about the flight.  If anything, I was disappointed with my radio work.  It seemed my instructor was going to see how much of it I could handle and honestly, I did pretty poorly for all except the basics.  I missed copying the clearance, I had to be prompted a few times.  I guess like everything, that comes with time but I felt I should have been a little more prepared.  So I will take that knowledge and do some more chair flying and personal simulator time and see if I can figure that out.

Even the most frustrating days in the cockpit are good days, I got to fly….. I got to fly in clouds!