Saturday, August 28, 2004

Crystal River through the haze - Part 2

The flight proceded without incident until I was about 20 miles from Ocala. At this point, the cloud layer that I had been flying above appeared to be directly in front of me at my altitude. This was a very wide layer of clouds with only about 1000 feet of vertical development. The problem was that they were at my altitude. My choice was to either climb or descend. Since I was already at 6,500 feet for a short flight, I decided to descend to 4,500 and radioed my intentions to Jax Approach.

Everything was fine for about 5 minutes when suddenly I found myself flying in haze--I wouldn't classify this as truly a cloud - but it wasn't far from it. The strange thing was how quickly the haze appeared. Because I could not see the horizon in front of me, I decided to treat it as though I was in a cloud and I began my instrument scan followed by a roll into a standard rate turn for 180 degrees. I had planned to turn around and then descend below the clouds and then continue my flight. After only about 15 degrees of turn, I noticed that I was popping out above the haze. Therefore, I leveled the wings and began a full-power climb back to 6,500 feet where I remained until I reached my pre-planned descent point.

The flight proceded normally from this point on. As I reached the descent point, I contacted Jax Approach and advised them I was beginning my descent. The controller immediately canceled my flight following, which was a bit unusual since I did not tell him I had the destination in sight. The radio traffic was busy with calls to approach, so I imagine he canceled the following because he was rather busy.

When I was about 10 nm NE of Crystal River, I tuned the CTAF and listened for traffic. CGC and Leesburg share the same CTAF, so there was lots of chatter. I heard at least three planes in the pattern at CGC and also heard the Unicom advise that there was a non-radioed rotorcraft practicing landings in the pattern. The other planes were landing to the west and I was coming from the northeast. Normally, I would execute a midfield-crosswind entry to the pattern, but the traffic sounded like a fair amount of student activity, so I abandoned my intent to overfly the airport and opted to make a turn to the south at 4 dme, followed by a turn to the west when I was about 4 miles to the south of the airport. This enabled me to make a normal entry to the pattern at the 45 to the midfield downwind.

Since there was other traffic in the pattern, I kept my speed up right until I pulled the final notch of flaps on short final at which point I pulled the power to idle. The landing was smooth and I was able to leave the runway at the first turnoff freeing up the runway. I taxied to the FBO and was told to park in any numbered spot higher than 15. The plane was shut down and secured at 11:00 am - 1 hr 10 minutes after wheels up. Not a bad time. I could have done it faster, but I would only have saved maybe 5 minutes.

I wasn't proud of myself for failing to avoid the haze, but I was proud that I kept a cool head and immediately focused on monitoring my instruments to ensure that I did not end up like JFJ Jr. Overall, not a bad flight

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