Photo Report – Some IFR Cloud-Hopping

By me
All photos me too, copyrighted

With my Single Engine Instrument Rating proceeding better than planned – a clear violation of Murphy’s Law and an immediate cause for alarm 😀 – I was growing increasingly excited about my upcoming first ever cross-country IFR flight. Having been confined to Lučko and its surroundings for several months now, I was itching – desperate even – to go somewhere further away, with bonus points if it involved flight to or near the coast :).

Much to my delight, I was scheduled a few days ago for a three-hour training session, for which my instructor decided to head to Pula airport (LDPL) in Istria for some instrument approach practice. The westernmost large airport in Croatia, LDPL is abundant in radionavigation aids (with no less than 5 NDBs, a VOR/DME and ILS) and is relatively traffic-free during the week, despite Pula itself being a popular tourist destination – a perfect setup for my anticipated cha-cha-cha around its airspace :D.

The plan was for me to fly the Lučko-Pula sector, shoot a couple of approaches, land and then plonk myself in the back seat while another student – who’d be tagging along outbound – flew the stretch back to Lučko, leaving me free to relax and enjoy the scenery. By an additional last minute stroke of luck, a schedule change saw us upgraded to the university’s sole Cessna 172R, a Gulfstream V compared to the usual 172Ns I fly :D.

Two and a half hours later, after two ILS, two VOR/DME and an NDB locator approach – not to mention a 140 knot tailwind-assisted dash across half of Croatia – I’d swapped the yoke for the camera, and sat back ready to make up every bit of photography I had missed on the way out :D.

A rudimentary Google Earth illustration to make the following comments a bit more understandable :). The red line represents my outbound flight, while the orange line is the return stretch flown by my student colleague

My ride for the day, ticking itself cool at a warm, sunny - and quite windy - Pula. A 2001 (I think) model, DAD is pretty much the top-of-the-line IFR trainer at the university

Sporting a standard navigation package (the "NAV 2" setup I think), DAD includes everything you really need for basic IFR training. And - for the most part - it all works 😀

Finally above the sea! After a whole winter of sporadic hops around Lučko, a trip to the coast - even for just an hour - was like a holiday! 🙂

Diving towards Pula's RWY 27 for a low pass following a high speed ILS approach. The daily Croatia Airlines Dash 8 to Zagreb was holding short for us, so we though it best to - expedite 😀

Cruising back home at 8000 ft, the skies started becoming progressively darker and cloudier as we neared the Velebit mountain range. A stiff 30-40 knot headwind didn't really help our heavily laden Skyhawk either...

Back above the mainland, we soon started wrestling with the strong downdraft from the mountains. Though small and apparently insignificant from this perspective, even at its lowest - around 4000 ft AMSL - the Velebit mountain range dominates the weather situation of the region, as the wall cumulus of clouds following the range best illustrates. With a northeastern bora wind blowing perpendicular to the range, even at 8000 ft - the Minimum Enroute Altitude for the airway we were following - we needed full throttle just to maintain altitude

Pretty much the last we'll see of the ground for the next half hour. Soon the cloudbase would start to descend, the temperature drop and the wind increase as we flew back into our less agreeable inland weather. As well as creating unpleasant inclement weather of its own - which every pilot in Croatia quickly becomes wary of - Velebit also acts as a sharp divide between the mild Mediterranean climate at the coast and more dynamic continental climate in the interior

Entering "the soup". Deep inside a thick cloud, this was true instrument flight, without even the most minute outside visual reference. IMC down to the letter 🙂

Lovely weather and good visibility all round :D. A nightmare to photograph - the featureless white tilting out my camera's autofocus system - it was nevertheless a fantastic (and very educative) experience

Finally breaking out of Velebit's weather system, replaced now by a dull 4000 ft overcast and mist. Still cruising in the cold air at 8000 ft, we'd soon be nearing our Top of Descent after a grueling two and a half hours of crawling at barely 70 knots ground speed...

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