Sunday, June 11, 2006

Coming Home

The weather forecast for the return home was about as good as it gets. Good VFR weather all the way, perhaps some undercast through central PA -- where there always seems to be clouds -- and only the least bit of gusting winds for the departure at KWST.

For the heck of it -- or actually to avoid having to plan a route that avoided any restricted airspace -- the IFR Pilot filed IFR.

Before departing, we got to see a Pawnee pick up a banner for towing over the beaches of RI and CT. It was amazing! A very-low level pass about 10 feet off the ground, followed by the sudden roar of the engine as the pilot made a steep climb out with the banner in tow. The only thing missing is a picture, because the IFR Pilot left his doggone camera in the plane while it was all happening.

After saying all the requisite goodbyes, it was a short taxi over to runway 32 to accommodate the winds: 330 at 10, gusting 16. Every other time I've been into WST, winds have always favored runway 25, so this was the first time using any other runway. Takeoff was a non-issue on the near-4000 foot runway.

The first hint of a problem came when on checking in with Providence Approach.

"Providence Approach, Arrow 2MH."

"Arrow 2MH, Providence Approach."

"2MH just departed Westerly, IFR to [the Home Base], requesting IFR clearance."

"2MH, standby."

Then came the most feared words:

"2MH, I have your clearance. It is a full routing. Advise ready to copy."

"2MH ready to copy."

"2MH is cleared to [the Home Base] via Bradley, V130, BOWAN, V292, SAGES, V408, Lake Henry, Phillipsburg, Akron, direct. Climb, maintain 4000, expect 8000 in 10 minutes."

Well, after that exercise in Gregg Shorthand, I managed to get the readback correct and headed for the Bradley VOR. Clearly, this evil route was the product of a evil Air Traffic Controller who wanted to punish the IFR Pilot for going IFR on a VFR day! Here's what the routing looked like:

Truth be told, the IFR Pilot didn't care, because one purpose of this trip was to make a major dent in the 10 solo hours the insurance gods want. So, if it took an extra 15 or 20 minutes, that was fine, as was the practice in navigating the system with the new GPS.

Of course, the IFR Pilot doesn't take anything lying down, and as soon as it seemed practicable, I started requesting direct to various VORs or intersections that helped cut down on the unnecessary routing. Flight Aware shows the final track wasn't too bad:

Well, as it turned out, filing IFR was prudent, because it wasn't entirely CAVU. There were some awesome looking cloud formations out of CT, plus PA was socked in again. Do people living in PA ever see the sun?!?!?!

Of course, the IFR Pilot was hard at work aviating, navigating, and communicating the entire time:

This, unlike what he did during the San Diego trip:

For the record, however, MS was also seen "working hard" during the San Diego trip:

Anyway, back to the trip at hand. About 270 NM from the Home Base, after having been given another amendment to the routing, the IFR pilot was switched to a new controller. She promptly inquired if I wanted direct to the Home Base.

I briefly considering asking her to marry me, but I thought that a little quick. After all, it was only one good reroute. So instead, I responded with, "Two Mike Hotel will take direct anywhere you want to send me." LOL, she got a kick out of that. I'm just glad she didn't send me to, well, nevermind.

The worst part of the entire flight occurred about 80 miles from home, just when I'm starting to stop worrying about all the what ifs, and start preparing for the arrival. I noticed an object speeding toward me out of the corner of my eye. I barely had time to react, when I saw that it was a UAV. No, not one of these:

No, instead, it was a balloon. Not a hot air balloon. Just a balloon. Like your child would have at his or her birthday part. It was incredible, it just sped by me on a current of air and before I could do anything, it had passed by me. Only after it was gone did I think, wow, that really could have caused some problems if we had run into it. I think there was a string or ribbon attached to the bottom. We certainly didn't need to get that wrapped around the prop, that's for sure!

Well, after that excitement died down, it was time to make a beeline for the Home Base. A mere 4.6 hours takeoff, we were on the ground. The IFR Pilot did manage to bounce the landing, not too hard, but enough to come off the ground for a second before I got it back down in plenty of time.

With that, only another 1.5 solo hours until the sacrifice to the insurance gods is complete. Time to sign up for some more Angel Flights!

Soloin' in Mike Hotel

The insurance gods want the IFR Pilot to log 10 hours solo flight in Mike Hotel before the first pax steps aboard. This is a perfect excuse to take Mike Hotel and travel from the Home Base to the Base of Origin, i.e., the IFR Pilot's Hometown. It's about a 3.5 hour flight to the CT/RI border (KWST), so if I'm doing the math correctly, a round-trip flight should get me about 7 of the 10 hours needed. Schweeet, time to go see the Dadster and other members of the family.

With an IFR flight plan on file due to anticipated WX concerns in New England -- and so the family can keep an eye on the flight's progress -- I blast off from the home base around 7:30. Honestly, I was a bit nervous making that first solo takeoff. Mike Hotel accelerates to 60 pretty quickly, but then it seems to take forever to get to 70. It's all a bit nerve wracking see the end of the runway coming at you soo00000 fast.

Anyway, on hitting 70, we rotated, jumped off the ground, wheels up, trim for Vy, turn right, engage the autopilot, and go to sleep. No, just kiddin on the last part. Contacted CAK and opened my flight plan. Amazingly, I got direct to the destination. That's too good to be true, there's sure to be some reroutes.

Into Pennsylvania, it was CAVU. About 50 miles inside Pennsylvania, however, we were on top of a solid overcast. About the only significant development was that the audio patch cable for the XM Radio in the 396 could not be located. A staggering development, as this meant for the 3+ hours, I'd having nothing to entertain me -- except my own lousy singing, and ATC chatter, which turned out to be remarkably quiet on a Saturday morning.

Managed to get all the way into Wilkes-Barre Approach's airspace before I got the first reroute: direct Kingston (IGN), direct destination. OK, no problem there, that's only a little bit out of the way.

Busted through a couple of small clouds, barely enough to qualify as "actual instrument conditions."

The 396 was foreboding about weather at the destination: OVC 900, +RA, 1SM. Umm, I've barely got twenty VFR landings in Mike Hotel and no instrument approaches. We most certainly don't need to be having to fly an approach to near-minima the first time. Not to mention the only approaches at WST are a LOC and GPS (and I haven't read the chapter on GPS approaches in the GX-50 manual!).

Once on with New York Center, I got the reroute that I expected: after IGN, V58, GON, direct WST. The V58 leg requires flying to the Hartford VOR, then making a turn to Groton. Shortly after crossing IGN, ATC advised to descend from 7000 to 5000, and we were into the clouds. It wasn't a solid layer, more of an in-and-out kind of thing. At Hartford, the autopilot made simple work of the turn while the IFR Pilot monitored.

A quick check of the ATIS at Westerly suggested a VFR landing might be in order. On V58, switched to Providence Approach, who advised to expect the LOC 7 to WST. Great, just great. Well, I had the chart marked already and had reviewed it a bunch of times, and had all of the frequencies loaded into the radios, so I was ready.

But, one complaint about the GX-50: Unlike the Garmin 430, which lets you load ILS and LOC approaches for monitoring purposes only, the GX-50 doesn't. Plus, it doesn't appear to have the localizer ID's in the database, so how then can you use it for DME? The hold on the missed at WST is defined by intersecting radials from the Groton and Providence VORs, but also by 5.6 DME for I-RLS. Since we don't have a DME unit in Mike Hotel, it should would be nice to be able to use the GX-50 for DME. But, the IFR Pilot couldn't crack that nut on this flight. Guess it's time to do a bit more reading on the GX-50.

On the leg to Groton, Providence gave vectors for the localizer and descended to 2500. The IFR Pilot was in it now, but the ATIS at Westerly (winds 280 at 9, visibility 10, ceiling broken 2100, overcast 330, temperature 14, dewpoint 12, altimeter 29.46) was still making it appear as if we'd break out and be able to make a visual approach to 25. Providence terminated radar services and authorized a frequency change.

And that's just what happened. At 2100, we broke out with the airport in sight. I was well right of the localizer, as my turn hadn't been aggressive enough. If I had still been in the clag, I would have had to go missed, because the needle had been fully pegged.

Once breaking out, I returned to Providence Approach and cancelled IFR per their prior request ("cancel in air or on the ground" -- didn't want to tie the airport up for what was easily a VFR arrival).

Truth be told, I talked myself through the entire landing sequence. Everything went pretty well, and the landing wasn't too shabby. About the only thing I realized was that I hadn't moved the prop to full forward on final approach, per JD's suggestion of not going full prop on downwind, but on final, when the change isn't likely to actually affect anything.

Family visits ensued, along with a trip to Radio Crack to get another audio patch cable. Now, it's off to the airport in a bit for an anticipated 10:00 departure. See you on the backside.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006


The IFR Pilot humbly apologizes for the lack of recent posts. Tomorrow evening should allow sufficient spare time to post the narrative of the final leg of the trip from San Diego to the Home Base with 2MH.

Since then, however, the IFR Pilot has logged 1.4 hours with AW and 1.5 hours with JD, both CFI's extraordinare. Even got a BFR out of it, so we're legal for another 2 years.

Last night was with AW. Took 2MH out and did some basics: slow flight, steep turns, power on and off stalls, then takeoffs and landings. Did about 5 at BJJ, with its longer runway just to work on the pitch attitude and sight picture.

Tonight was with JD, who has a punch of Piper time under his belt. First takeoff from the Home Base was a bit nerve wracking, as the IFR Pilot let 2MH settle back onto the runway before getting back off and climbing. Apparently, a bit more back pressure was needed.... Go figure.

Then it was back to BJJ for more landings. After about 6 of them, including an elective go around due to excessive altitude on final, things started to shape up a bit. Even manged to grease one of them in. We also did short field and normal (no flap) takeoffs.

Once that was done, it was back to the Home Base to work on shoehorning 2MH into our lovely little 2350 x 35 runway. Hey, there weren't pretty and the touchdown was consistently firm, but we never even came close to overruning the runway, so that's a real confidence booster.

So, with 12.5 hours of dual in 2MH and 18 landings, the IFR Pilot is ready to venture out in 2MH by himself. (MS did so himself today and reports no problems.) So, what better way to start burning off the 10 solo hours required by the Insurance Gods than going to visit the family in CT. Should take between 7 and 8 hours, so that will be delightful. Long range weather shows clear and a million in our area, hopefully it'll be the same in New England.

Look for a full and complete status report of the trip on Sunday when the IFR Pilot retuns home.

We also signed the paperwork for JP to acquire all of the interests in 78S. A bit sad to say goodbye to that lovely lady who sheparded me through the instrument rating, trips to CT to see the family, a New England flying vacation, and, of course, The Great Alaska Flying Adventure (tm) . While there's no doubt that Mike Hotel will provide many great experiences, there's always a soft spot in your heart for your first love -- and your first airplane. Take good care of her JP, my faithful reader, or we'll come kick your tail!