Today was cloudy, gusty and turbulent flying weather as a cold front passed over the Willamette Valley, which made it an excellent opportunity to practice some approaches under less than ideal conditions. Immediately after takeoff it was clear that this would be a challenging flight due to the amount of turbulence we were flying through. The plan was to shoot three approaches, but we were running short on time so we amended the plans and just made it two.

First was the VOR/DME-C approach into Hillsboro. ATC cleared us direct to the Newberg VOR and then for the approach, so I flew the procedure turn as published, reported after crossing the VOR inbound and descended per the approach profile. When we reached the missed approach point Tyler had me look up so I could see the airport, and he pointed out how I would maneuver to fly a circling approach to land on runway 12. I executed the missed approach procedure and requested the GPS Runway 12 approach. For the next 20 minutes or so ATC gave us vectors and altitudes to fly to position us for the GPS approach. When we were straight and level and had a few minutes to spare, I lifted my hood a bit and took a peek out the window to witness a breathtaking sight; we had entered a hole in the weather where huge ragged clouds above and on all sides of us were being torn to shreds by the 50 knot winds aloft, and tops of the snow-covered hills protruded through the cloud layer beneath us.

As ATC vectored us over the foothills of the coastal range, the turbulence increased dramatically. I reduced power to 2100 RPM to keep us below maneuvering speed and reduce the risk of structural failure. The airspeed was next to impossible to keep constant, and I was continually fighting to keep the turn coordinator’s ball centered, but I managed to maintain our assigned heading and altitude pretty well. After being pummeled for several minutes, the turbulence suddenly stopped, and the air was calm until we intercepted the intermediate approach segment. The reported winds at Hillsboro were from the south with gusts up to 21 knots, so I kept an extra 6 knots of airspeed in during the final approach for an added margin of safety. With the runway in sight I put in a side slip to compensate for the crosswind and to keep the airplane aligned with the centerline, then smoothly landed on the upwind main wheel first. It was a satisfying ending to an intense flight.

3 Responses to “IFR Lesson #11: Dealing with Turbulence”

  1. David

    So, did ATC probably know there would be increased turbulence where they vectored you over the mountains and they did it anyway, or do you think they just didn’t know? It would be nice if they gave you routes that were relatively as smooth as possible while still sensible in the other factors.

  2. Fred

    you a crazy man!!!…I hate turbulent air!. Must have been something. Give me a call let’s do some lunch.

  3. Marc

    Nope, ATC generally has no idea where pilots may encounter non-convective turbulence; their radars only show returns from precipitation. If the turbulence is hazardous then pilots are expected to report it, and then ATC may vector arriving aircraft away from the area of reported turbulence. But the bumps we encountered weren’t hazardous, just uncomfortable.

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