Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"You Flyin' A Jet???"

The trials and tribulations that are the practice of law coalesced and sent the IFR Pilot back to Buffalo. Twice in six weeks. Ugh, why can't we have some clients with legal predicaments in more exotic places?

Anyway, it was an absolutely beautiful afternoon to fly. The flight plan was filed was ACO DKK LODIY KBUF, and the clearance came back "as filed." Nice, gotta love that. Climbed immediately to 5000, and caught a tailwind. Ground speeds averaged 145+ for the better part of the trip. Wheels up to wheels down was 1:20, much faster than one could do the trip by car.

Cleared for the visual to 23 behind a landing DC-9, the ALSF2 was lit up in all its glory. The ILS was dialed in just for practice, and the IFR Pilot managed to hold the glide slope all the way to touchdown. Wahoo!

Best part was as soon as I had parked at the FBO and turned on the cell phone, it started ringing. MS must have been watching the trip on Flight Aware. Opening salvo:

"What were you flying? A jet?"

Obviously not. But Flight Aware reported an initial ground speed in excess of 160 -- even though I'm certain it never got that high.

All good things must come to an end, however. I'm sure that todays tailwind will be tomorrow's massive headwind, and it'll take three hours to return to the Home Base. Oh well, as long as I make it back for Trick Or Treating, it'll be all good.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Mother Nature: Vanquished!

Wednesday saw the IFR Pilot skipping work and performing his first Angel Flight of the year. Despite a New Year's vow to do 10 of them this year, the demands of work and other distractions have limited the time available for this incredibly worthy cause. (We'll see how many more we can get done between now and the end of the year.)

Anyway, the synoptic picture wasn't pleasant. We were on the backside of a low pressure system that had moved into the Atlantic. Happily, there was no convective activity to be found. There were, however, very widespread areas of low-hanging clouds, along with lots of precipitation. The freezing level was at or above 10,000' MSL, so at least ice wouldn't be on the top of our list of worries for the flight from BKL to N94 (Carlisle, PA).

(Side note: Anytime I see this patient needing a flight, I try to volunteer. Carlisle Airport features somewhat prominently in the early part of Rinker Buck's cross-country flight at age 15 in a Piper Cub, recounted in his memoir Flight of Passage, one of my favorite reads. Go and get yourself a copy and enjoy it as much as I do. Or, get it on tape or CD, and listen to Rinker himself entertain you with a wonderful blend of aviation and teenage angst/familial conflict.)

The reposition flight from the Home Base to BKL was the usual milk run. Cleveland Approach always sends you 30 degrees further east than you want to, and then it's a turn back to the west once they cut you loose. Keep it high over the dense urban terrain, cross over the shoreline near the power plant, chop the power, and put it down on 24 Right. These days, listen carefully for your taxi instructions as there is a big repaving project underway, leaving men and equipment all over the place.

After loading the passenger and his wife, we had the usual chore of hot starting the Lycoming. Some days, it just doesn't want to jump to life after it's been run.

Then, it was verbal sparring with Ground Control who claimed that I had no flight plan on file. I knew I did, I spoke with the briefer personally (instead of filing via DUAT). Things got sorted our quickly when I gave the ground controller the exact location of my briefer and the specific N number that I used to file. (Angel Flights use "NGF" followed by the last three letters/numbers of your normal call sign.) He obviously found it and we got cleared direct.

But then he directed us to takeoff on runway 6L. Hey, that means taking off with an 8 knot tailwind. We're pretty heavily loaded, with three not-so-FAA-standard passengers and a bit over the tabs on fuel. This could be interesting... At least the runway is 6000' long.

Keeping a bit of forward pressure on the yoke to ensure the nose remained down, we accelerated quickly. I let an extra 5 or so knots of airspeed build before I rotated and we screamed off the ground and were airborne.

Of course, we were immediately instructed to turn to a heading of 350, sending us right over the waters of Lake Erie and well away from our on course heading of 120. We climbed into the clouds, obligingly maintaining a heading of 350. But, having learned my lessons on this once before, I simply started nagging Cleveland Approach to allow me to turn on course and get feet dry. The second time was the charm, and we got our right turn on course.

Within about 15 minutes, we were out of the clouds and enjoying the scenery. We climbed to altitude and enjoyed the tailwinds. I turned control of the XM radio over to the passenger, hit the "Pilot" button on the audio panel, and reveled in playing hookey and doing a good deed simultaneously!!!

Crossing into Pennsylvania, the NEXRAD starting painting some showers ahead. There was much green, a bit of yellow, and the occasional red. The supplemental weather spotting equipment - a/k/a my eyes - showed very little and it looked like we were going to miss it all. After a bit, ATC started reporting that we were headed toward an area of heavy precipitation. But there was no sign of it out the front window. We did finally get a bit wet, performed a small deviation "just in case," but never really hit anything coming anywhere close to "heavy." Just a nice ride between layers.

Soon enough, however, we were in the thick of it and I was on the gauges. Turned over to Harrisburg Approach, we were told to expect the VOR-A into N94. No problem, it's an offset approach, haven't practiced one of these in a while, but we've got lots of redundant equipment to back us up and keep us from getting into too much trouble.

I queried Approach whether we would be vectored or should expect to perform the full procedure, which uses a hold in lieu of a procedure turn. The obliging controller advised that he would vector us, and I thanked him for that.

The vector ultimately diverged from my expectations, however. Perhaps I should have spoken up, and perhaps there's a lesson to be learned here. Anyway, I expected that he would vector me to a position outside the IAF/FAF, in this case the HAR VOR. Instead, however, he vectored me to a position about one mile inside the fix. I thought this strange, because I couldn't then time the approach to have a backup basis for determining whether we had reached the MAP.

I started our descent, killed the XM, and instructed my passenger to get his eyes up and look for the airport. I fired up the light to help us, but we were still in IMC. There were moments of clear below, but I was momentarily confused about how to read the DME off of the GPS, when I realized that we had passed the MAP. Hey, no farting around here, we're going missed and the paxs are taking a cab to their car.

I firewalled the throttle, initiated the climb, and reported missed with a request for the ILS 13 at MDT, my alternate. We were immediately vectored for it, and it resulted in the 360 degree turn you saw on my "Teaser" post.

Soon enough, we were inside the FAF, needles alive and centered, everything's looking peachy. Whereupon, my approach clearance was canceled, turn left 070, there's an Air Canada inbound behind and overtaking you on the approach, we'll send you around. Ugh!

Once again, we complied. But then, Momma Nature did her best to really mess with everyone: Winds at the surface shifted 180 degrees and the airport switched to landing on runway 31. OK, cancel the ILS 13, grab the ILS 31 plate, quickly review it, and get vectored to the other side of the airport. Air Canada gets cleared first, then we're turned onto the final approach course, needles alive, let's ride 'em down to the patch.

And that's just what we did. We broke out about 900 feet above the runway, transitioned to the visual, and got Mike Hotel safely on the ground.

What should have been an 1:45 to 2:00 flight turned into 2:30, with three different approaches, and lots of time in the clag.

Of course, then I had to fly through it all again to get home...

Thursday, October 25, 2007


Did an Angel Flight yesterday. Thanks to Mother Nature, this was not to be the usual milk run. Expect a full report when I have time to write this evening. But in the meantime, here's a bit of a teaser for you. Too bad it doesn't show all of the machinations we had to endure to get on the ground safely...