I book 8TA for 10am - 2pm this morning for some IFR practice and to get more familiar with the KAP 140 two axis AP vertical guidance (specifically, coupling to a glideslope). I file KHWD OAK V6 SAC KSAC, a route that's new to me only because of the Hayward rather than Oakland departure; the route back (V344 to SUNOL then the LOC/DME back into Hayward) is something I have flown before already. What could go wrong?
The weather this morning turns out to be low overcast, 600' ceilings, 1600' reported tops, visibility 10NM, the usual thin coastal stratus; icing levels well above 10,000'. Cool! I think, I'll get some actual in this as well. I wander down to Cal Airways and get the keys and paperwork for 8TA from Linda, then slouch out through the grey to the ramp. I open up 8TA -- and there's this bloody great hole in the panel where the KLN 94 GPS ought to be. The whole unit's just ... missing. Hmmm, I think, did someone steal the damn thing? No, too clean -- no forced entry or anything -- but then why didn't someone tell me, as now I have no DME as well as no GPS? I'm not a /G any more, but a lowly /U. And, as I quickly realise, without that damn unit I can't do the LOC/DME back (with its very reasonable 400' MDA), or the fairly decent GPS / VOR/DME approaches -- only the VOR or GPS A with a circling-only MDA of 800' (750' AGL). Which means under my own self-imposed rules I can't depart, because I can't actually return to Hayward legally if anything goes wrong. Yes, I could do the ILS back into Oakland as it's only a few miles away (and I'll always have that plate on my clipboard when I depart Hayward, IFR or not), and there's plenty of space under the layer to return visually without hitting anything, and if I can make it over the Berkeley / Oakland Hills it's hard VFR. But I just won't do that; I decide to wait maybe an hour or so to see if the ceiling lifts.
I'm also nowadays very reluctant to fly in IMC without GPS -- panel mount or just my old Garmin 195. But I've left the 195 at home this time because it should have been just a short flight to clear skies, and because, well, 8TA has a decent panel-mount GPS, no? Urgh. OK, the lack of GPS in this case is only a convenience thing given the thin coastal layer, and I actually start looking forward to just using the VORs again without the GPS. But there I am, sitting on the benches on the ramp outside Cal Air, talking to a couple of instructors waiting for students, watching a few IFR departures (all of whom disappear into the marine layer at about 800' or so by my estimation), thinking, "it'll lift a bit soon -- it always does...". Two hours later, just before noon, I give up and cancel the flight with ATIS reporting an unchanged ceiling. Thirty minutes later as I'm getting lunch in Oakland the sun starts streaming through a scattered layer, and within an hour planes are no doubt departing Hayward VFR.
As for the GPS in 8TA -- it appears to have been removed to fix a connector problem; no one's entirely sure why I wasn't told about it. To their credit, everyone who I talked to at Cal Airways thought I was doing the right thing by not departing when the ceilings were lower than the relevant approach minima (some people expressed this in even stronger terms...) and that someone should have been a bit more on the ball about the unit.
Frustrating, but just another lesson in reality, I guess.