The Johnson County Executive airport (OJC) is about 25 driving miles from my home, and when I arrived at the airport, the day seemed flyable. The ATIS indicated VFR conditions, although just barely – 3 miles visibility with mist, 1,000 scattered, with a broken layer at about 3,000 feet. However, by the time I pulled the aircraft out the hangar and finished my preflight, I could see the airport beacon rotating. Better check that ATIS again.
Now I find that the cloud layers remain the same, but the visibility has dropped to two miles with mist and light rain. A quick check on the Lee’s Summit weather to the east shows no change so I ask for a special VFR clearance to depart the Class D airspace at Executive and I head for Lee’s Summit. And sure enough, by the time I clear the Class D airspace to the east, the lower level clouds have dissipated, the visibility is 10 miles or better, and we have only the clouds at 3,000 feet or so. So, it looks as if we will be able to pull this off.
I arrive at LXT, get my standard dose of coffee and pancakes, meet my first load of excited kids, and get on my way. I have two eleven-year old (“almost 12!”) twin girls who have never flown, and a CAP cadet who is an old hand at this. He tells me of his plans for continuing to get his license as he gets older. He is quiet, well-mannered, but every bit as excited as the girls.
We get airborne, make our 30 minute flight over all of the local landmarks and return to LXT. But it is obvious that the weather that I had left at OJC was now moving slowly eastward. I could still get back into LXT, but this situation was only going to get worse. So, I return excited kids to parents, and we decide to cancel the rally for the day. And I decide that I need to file an IFR flight plan to return back to my home at OJC, twenty miles away.
I did not call Flight Service for a weather check. After all, I figured that I knew what the weather conditions were. I had just been there. I knew the cloud levels in the Kansas City area, I knew the visibilities, and I knew that the winds were out of the east at about 10 knots. So, I pulled out the approach plates for the Executive Airport (OJC), loaded the Garmin 430WAAS with the GPS Runway 36 approach, contacted Approach Control for my clearance and prepared to depart.
The Lee’s Summit airport is untowered, so the local procedure is to get an IFR clearance on the clearance delivery frequency. I get this, and I am cleared to depart LXT on runway 11, climb to 3,000 feet, and turn to a heading of 240° for a vector to a runway 36 GPS approach at OJC. At 10:35 local time, I push the throttle forward, and I am off.
My first indication that this is not going to go as planned – I raise the gear, pass 500’ AGL, and contact Kansas City Approach Control. “Kansas City Approach, Beech 334Z is airborne off of LXT, turning right to 240°, passing 1,600 for 3,000.” And as I press my mic button, the GPS screen goes blank. UGH. I hear Approach Control say, “Radar contact, climb and maintain 3,000,” And just about this time I am entering the clouds.
So, I turn off and turn on the GPS, and quickly reprogram it, while I wonder why the press-to-talk switch affected it. Approach Control passes on some weather information which I acknowledge, and the GPS screen goes blank again. Now I am figuring that I am not going to have a GPS or the number one nav-comm. Fortunately, I have been transmitting and receiving on the number two comm, and I have a number two VOR-LOC. Time to dig out the approach plates, and set up for the localizer 36 approach.
I tell Approach that I have lost my GPS and one radio, and I ask for the localizer 36 approach at OJC. Approach tells me that if I continue for that approach I will enter some moderate to heavy precipitation, and suggests that I accept the localizer 18 approach instead (winds are out of the east at 8 to 10 knots.) I accept that advice, and then accept a heading of 320° which will put me a few miles northeast of the OJC airport. Time to dig out yet another approach plate and dial in new frequencies.
By now, the display on my number two nav-comm is flickering, and the radio, which has been real busy just a minute ago, has become pretty quiet. And I am not picking up the localizer yet. So, with another disgusting comment to myself, I figure that I ought to switch the transponder to 7600 while I still have some electrical power. Approach control picks that transponder code up, and after a couple of minutes tells me that if I hear them I should turn to a heading of 220° and maintain 2,700 feet. I do hear that, and I comply, and that is the last transmission that I hear.
So, now it is real obvious that I am on my own, in the clouds, without communications and navigation radios. Time for some decisions. I am at 2,700 feet, well above all obstacles, and I am traveling away from the Kansas City metropolitan area, with its buildings and various towers. I am on an intercept for the localizer 18 final approach course for OJC.
I have always preached, when planning for a flight into IMC, that a pilot needs to know where he can find VFR conditions, whether that is below or toward some point on the horizon. So, in my condition, I know that I probably have VFR conditions about 30 miles to the east. But my last assigned heading was southwest. I also know that if I descend I can expect to break out at 800 to 1,000 AGL. I initially turn back to the east, and then remember that I have a hand-held GPS in my bag, specifically for this situation. Time to pull that out and figure out exactly where I am