Sunday, October 01, 2006

Hooky + Rain + Icing = A Good Day Off From Work

Friday proved to be quite an eventful flight. The Boss was advised that the IFR Pilot would be absent from the office in order to make an Angel Flight. Destination: Elmira, New York.

The weather on Wednesday and Thursday preceding the Angel Flight was classic late September in Northeast Ohio. A cold front blew through, bringing with it torrential rain, occasional lightning, and a rapid drop in temperature. In fact, the IFR Pilot got soaked to the bone on Wednesday night refereeing a high school soccer match, which was called off because of the weather.

Friday morning wasn't a whole lot better. On the short hop from the Home Base to Burke Lakefront Airport for the patient pickup, the IFR flight plan that had been filed "just in case" was fully activated and needed. There was an ominous nimbus cloud hanging over Hopkins Airport, and Mike Hotel got a good soaking on the way to Burke. (Note for the upcoming annual: Try to find the leak on the front window!) But, once about 2 miles from Burke, it was VFR and a visual approach to landing ensued.

Once the paxs filled out the paperwork, we loaded up for the 2 hour jaunt to Elmira. The clearance was simple as pie: "Radar vectors, direct Elmira." After the usual "turn right heading 350, contact departure" instruction from Burke Tower, we got handed off to Cleveland Approach, who promptly turned us on to our heading direct to Elmira.

Just south of Erie, we encountered heavy precipitation, which wasn't entirely surprising as Erie had warned us of it -- but it wasn't showing up on the 396. Oh well. So it goes.

What was surprising was that for a few moments it was like driving in a torrential blizzard. You could see white stuff shooting past us. It was awesome!

Until the airspeed started dropping like a brick!

The IFR Pilot immediately lowered the nose, thinking that we had encountered severe icing. After two seconds in a decent didn't raise the airspeed, on went the light bulb . . . and the pitot heat! Proper airspeed indications were restored before I could even take my finger off the pitot heat switch.

As an ounce of prevention, the IFR Pilot then requested a descent to 4000. That took us out of the clouds, and allowed any ice that might have accreted to melt or sublimate.

Later, after climbing back to the proper altitude, we did another quick battle with the pitot tube and ice. This time, without lowering the nose and trying to arrest the imagined loss of airspeed. The IFR Pilot dutifully gave a PIREP of the conditions (reported as "light trace, rime ice at 4000 feet").

Just about two hours after takeoff, we landed at Elmira. But even that wasn't free of adventure. Here's the exchange with Elmira Tower (ET):

ET: "Arrow Two Mike Hotel, cleared to land runway 24."

IFRP: "Two Mike Hotel, cleared to land 24."

ET: "Two Mike Hotel, be advised there is a hawk on the grass near the intersection of Runway 6-24 and 10-28."

IFRP: "Two Mike Hotel, we'll be watching."

(slight delay)

ET: "Two Mike Hotel, be advised, the hawk has departed the area."

IFRP: "Two Mike Hotel, roger. Did the hawk have clearance to depart?"

ET: "Negative. The hawk was NORDO."

Nice to have a controller with a sense of humor!

Regrettably, time constraints did not permit the IFR Pilot to enjoy the sights available at the National Warplane Museum located at KELM. It'll have to wait for another day!

The return flight was not without its own share of a workout. In particular, the weather over Bradford, PA, was awful. Frankly, I don't know why anyone lives there, as it always seems to be cloudy there. A climb from 6000 to 8000, and eventually to 10,000, was needed just to remain clear of the clouds.

Unfortunately, the tops were right about at the same altitudes, and that seems to be the worst place sometimes when you are trying to avoid ice. Even after the tops dropped off, the ice didn't start sublimating as the OAT was about 22 F. So, just west of Franklin, PA, a descent to 8000, then 6000 was requested. That took care of the ice in pretty short order.

Just west of Youngstown, a final request to descend to 4000 was granted, and after being handed off to Akron, the IFR Pilot canceled IFR and finished the trip in gorgeous VFR conditions. The landing at the Home Base proved interesting due to the direct crosswind, and coming in a bit high and hot. But, Mike Hotel was firmly on the ground before the yellow line denoting the runway half-way point (go around required if not on the ground by the yellow line), and the brakes did their job.

Total flight time: 5 hours.
Actual instrument conditions: 2.5 hours
Skipping work to help a lung transplant patient: A Very, Very Good Thing.

Update: Only managed a couple of pictures while returning home. They reminded me that despite the battles with the clouds, the sky above was a brilliant blue. And I left my shades in the car!

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