by Michael J. “Mick” Kaufman
Copyright 2021. All rights reserved!
Published In Midwest Flyer Magazine June/July 2021
In my column on instrument flying in the April/May 2021 issue of Midwest Flyer Magazine, we described a simple flight plan and departure from a Class C airport (Madison, Wisconsin – KMSN). In this issue, we will address a more complicated departure from a Class G airport with an emphasis on piloting skills, aircraft automation and especially good flight planning.
I appreciate some of the emails I have received from readers and encourage you to email me your future comments and questions to: email@example.com.
One of the comments I received was on ATC (Air Traffic Control) communications on departure that I will address in a future issue as the topic requires more than a few sentences. Another comment was dealing with the aircraft flight manual in regard to cockpit automation, which I will incorporate in this issue.
I personally find it easier to do a departure from an airport with a control tower under most circumstances. The exception would be departing from a busy airport that I am not familiar with. In my travels around the U.S. providing instrument training, I did several instrument ratings out of John Wayne/Orange County Airport in Santa Ana, California (KSNA). The daily departure to the practice area included an SID (Standard Instrument Departure), the Anaheim 1 Departure with the Lake Hughes Transition (ANAHM1.LHS). We used that departure for every fight as we filed out of the airport to the practice area.
This departure seemed overwhelming at first, but it was a piece of cake once we did it a few times. Automation played a big role in this departure as once loaded in the navigator, all of the waypoints were depicted, and the autopilot flew it perfectly. If we had to fly this departure using only paper charts, it would be a somewhat overwhelming workload for a single pilot IFR (Instrument Flight Rules).
I have seen some complex departures, so it is very important that pilots review and understand their clearances before departure in the event the GPS navigator dies at the wrong time. I like to have the route in a backup device in case this happens. Foreflight does a great job and when connected to a Garmin Flightstream device, you only need to enter the route once. I then have the route on my iPad, Garmin Area 660 display and my Garmin navigator.
If I were faced with having to execute a low IMC (Instrument Meteorological Condition) departure from a remote airport in mountainous terrain, the departure can be a lot more stressful than the simple departure I had written about in my previous column. It is extremely important to study the SID or departure procedure in great detail before departing. You may even want to wait for VFR (Visual Flight Rules) conditions as you may not be able to get any help from ATC or your navigator and autopilot. A complex departure from the ILOPANGO INTL AIRPORT, SAN SALVADOR, ES (MSSS) in my Bonanza was one of those departures, and I waited for good VFR conditions to ensure a safe departure with mountains all around. The SID had a reverse DME ARC with three tiers circling the airport. Each tier had a minimum altitude before moving to the outer tier which was high enough to join the airway above high terrain.
In my column in the April/May 2021 issue of Midwest Flyer Magazine, I put together an example of a simple flight using aircraft automation and the autopilot. I previously had a discussion with a fellow instructor whom I respect, and the topic came up of when should we begin using the autopilot on a low IMC departure. My take is to hand-fly the aircraft until reaching a safe altitude and a time of low pilot workload.
Should we engage the autopilot during high workloads at a low altitude, an imminent disaster could occur.
The aircraft and autopilot manufacturers have included limitations on autopilot use in the aircraft flight manual or autopilot supplement.
In an email I received from one of our readers – Jim Gruneisen of Palo Alto, California – was a copy of one of the supplements, which you will find quite surprising.
In the Cessna 182 with the G1000 package, the autopilot may be used during an approach down to 200 feet Above Ground Level (AGL), but not used during other operations until above 800 feet AGL. This is to ensure a safe altitude for the pilot to recover in case of an equipment failure.
For the featured departure in this issue, I have chosen Ennis, Montana (KEKS) as our airport of departure. It is located in the mountainous region of Montana, has one 7600-foot runway, two published approaches and a SID for departure (Ennis One Departure). I have never flown into this airport, so I am using information from the charts to create this departure scenario.
The airport is located in Class G airspace with Class E starting at 700 feet AGL. This means that VFR aircraft can legally be in this airspace with 1 mile visibility and clear of clouds if under 700 feet AGL, and there is no separation of aircraft departing or on the approach below that altitude.
In studying the SID, which is an obstacle departure, there is one way out of the valley, which is to the north, so south departures require a 180-degree turn upon reaching 5930 feet. I have no idea if you can reach ATC on the radio or a cell phone to get your clearance on the ground or at what altitude you may be able to contact ATC once departed. As a rated instrument pilot, you can legally depart in 0/0 conditions and fly in Class G airspace, but I would not recommend doing this.
After filing a flight plan to Spokane, Washington (KGEG) using ForeFlight, you need to get your clearance, and you realize you have cellphone coverage, so you taxi out for departure on Runway 16. You get your clearance with your cellphone and it is just about what you filed.
“Cessna N2852F is cleared from the Ennis airport to the Spokane airport via Ennis1 departure as filed. Climb and maintain 14,000. Enter controlled airspace on a heading of 030 degrees. Contact Big Sky Approach on 118.975 passing 10,000.”
After reviewing your clearance and reading it back on your cellphone, you wonder what the (enter controlled airspace) means? This is to alert the pilot that there is no legal protection from other aircraft, in this case below 700 feet AGL in Class G airspace. The Ennis1 departure covers the right turn after departure to get you on course. Because the Ennis1 departure is an obstacle departure, you may not be able to put this in your navigator or ForeFlight. My ForeFlight did not accept it, so I added the waypoints of the departure manually.
The notation in the clearance indicated that I might not be able to contact approach below 10,000 feet. It should also be noted that some GPS navigators have the capability to make turns based on altitude, so reaching an altitude of 5,930 feet MSL, the connected autopilot could make the turn to (SPHNX). It is important know what the equipment in your aircraft can do. This is not a tough departure to make, but good flight planning is essential when dealing with high terrain, high density altitude and mountains.
Use your flight planning tools before departure and fly safe, so you will be able to read the next issue of Midwest Flyer Magazine. The world is a better place with you flying in the blue skies above!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Michael J. “Mick” Kaufman is a Certified Instrument Flight Instructor (CFII) and the program manager of flight operations with the “Bonanza/Baron Pilot Training” organization. Kaufman conducts pilot clinics and specialized instruction throughout the U.S. in a variety of aircraft, which are equipped with a variety of avionics, although he is based in Richland Center (93C) and Eagle River (KEGV), Wisconsin. Kaufman was named “FAA’s Safety Team Representative of the Year” for Wisconsin in 2008. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 817-988-0174.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this column is the expressed opinion of the author only, and readers are advised to seek the advice of their personal flight instructor and others, and refer to the Federal Aviation Regulations, FAA Aeronautical Information Manual and instructional materials before attempting any procedures discussed herein.