The go/no-go decision for tonight’s flight was a little harder to make than usual. The freezing level was right at 4,000 feet, 15% chance of SLD (super-cooled large droplets) with trace icing, light rain showers, and low scattered and broken clouds. The conditions were fine at 3,000 feet where we would be spending most of our time, so we cautiously made a “go” decision, keeping a vigilant eye out for any signs of structural icing. We filed two IFR flight plans: one that would take us to McMinville for a full stop after shooting the localizer approach at Aurora, then a second plan that we’d open from the ground in McMinville to take us back to Hillsboro.

UAO LOC RWY 17 Approach

I was a bit rusty on the Localizer approach into Aurora; I overshot the localizer course and descended a couple hundred feet below our assigned altitude. It’s a hard approach because it comes so quickly after departure from Hillsboro, which doesn’t give you much time to brief it and get the frequencies identified (they can’t be identified from the ground). Once I was established on the localizer it proceeded smoothly. I executed the missed approach, contacted ATC, and they vectored us towards McMinville.

The ASOS at McMinville was reporting gusting winds up to 19 knots, but they were only a couple of degrees off the runway heading. I intercepted the localizer and glide slope, then followed the needles down the bumpy approach. When Tyler had me pull off the hood, the runway was nowhere to be found! Then it hit me: Pilot controlled lighting! I clicked the microphone 7 times, and the runway lights and approach light system lit up brilliantly directly in front of us. Pilot controlled lighting always makes me feel incredibly powerful for some reason. There was a lot of turbulence on short final, so I guarded the throttle in case we needed to go around, but the landing turned out to be very gentle with no side loading. That was my 300th landing!

McMinville Radio Frequencies

On the ground we called Portland Clearance Delivery to pick up our IFR clearance for the flight home…. but nobody answered. Then we called Portland Departure on 126.0, but they couldn’t hear me. For some reason they heard Tyler’s transmission though, and gave us our clearance. When I tried to read it back they still couldn’t hear me, so Tyler tried to read back the clearance, but now they couldn’t hear him!! So we switched to McMinville Radio on 122.45 and had the Flight Service Station relay the request. He sounded pretty annoyed to be bothered with handling our situation, but our taxes are paying for the FSS operators to be annoyed by pilots, so he begrudgingly relayed our clearance from ATC.

Weather Minimums for the HIO VOR/DME-C Approach

After takeoff I followed the textual departure procedure from McMinville, contacted ATC, crossed the Newberg VOR, and flew the VOR/DME-C approach to Hillsboro Airport. I pulled off the hood, and Tyler had me fly a circling approach to land this time. We crossed over the runway and entered a right downwind for 30, flying a low-low traffic pattern at 500′ AGL!! It felt really weird to be flying such a familiar pattern at half the altitude I’m accustomed to. I circled around to the threshold and set it down on 30, then taxied back to Hillsboro Aviation. It definitely wasn’t my best flight, but the landings were good, the three approaches went well, and the communication problems in McMinville served as a good learning experience.

2 Responses to “IFR Lesson #12: Non-Towered IFR Departure and Circling to Land”

  1. CC

    Hi there….

    Just came across your blog today! Awesome pictures. I’m one of the controllers at Portland Approach, and just wanted to give you a heads up about your communications issue at MMV. Radio coverage there can sometimes depend on where your plane is positioned on the ground there when you are trying to communicate. Just taxiing the plane to a different spot or even turning it around can sometimes make a huge difference. =) A little FYI!!! =)

  2. Marc

    Wow a controller!! Great advice, thank you very much. I will definitely try it next time I have communication issues–good to know!

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