Saturday, December 18, 2004

December Skies in Florida

I've only been stuck due to weather twice in the past year and one of those times was last December when a front started to push through Florida and then decided to stall. I was stuck for two days and had to spend a night in the Hampton Inn in Ormond Beach.

Today, I flew from Craig (CRG) to North Palm Beach (F45) to visit my in-laws and to celebrate my nephew's 15th birthday. As it was this time last year, there is a cold front pushing through--fortunately, it does not have the force of last year's front, although it will bring freezing temperatures to the northern half of Florida.

I had planned my flight with a 105 knot airspeed and the cool air in north Florida sure helped the engine of the Piper Warrior deliver. I was showing as high as 125 knots groundspeed on my GPS and airspeed was indicating 115. Not bad for 75% power.

I climbed out of CRG at 8:45 with 3 1/2 hours fuel since the FBO failed to refuel the plane last night. That wasn't a problem since my schedule called for only 2.2 hours of flight time. And since I'm pointing out problems, ONCE AGAIN, the previous pilot recorded an innacurate Hobbs time. This has been a problem lately with the rental Warriors at Sterling. The procedure is that when any part of the next tenth of an hour indicator is showing, that next hour is the recorded time. A tenth of an hour is $8.80 plus tax, so this is not a minor deal. In this situation, at least half of the next number was showing. This has happened quite a few times in the past few months and I really am getting tired of it. I recorded the correct time in my starting entry and since the prior pilot had not been invoiced, I corrected his time, too. This guy also failed to tie down the aircraft properly using some sort of slip knot rather than the standard tie-down knot - I know there's a name for the knot, but I cannot remember it right now.

Anyway, back to the flight. I had used AOPA's flight planner to build my plan and get my briefing the night before. It called for a magnetic course of 168 on the V3 airway, but the Jacksonville Sectional Chart shows a course of 164. For some reason the AOPA planner is always off a little on the course headings. Using the VORs at CRG and St. Augustine (SGJ), I adjusted my course to intercept the 164 radial just west of St. A. With flight following from ATC and fairly clear skies, my journey was off to a quick start.

The weather called for a slight tailwind, cold air, and clouds of increasing density the further south I went. I passed the Ormond Beach VOR about 5 minutes ahead of schedule and was making 115 knots groundspeed on the average. Passing Daytona Beach, I saw a line of clouds covering my altitude and extending upwards about 1000 feet or so. I asked ATC for 2500' for 5 minutes and the controller approved. After about 10 miles, I had clear skies for another 15 or 20 miles until I encountered clouds from about 2000' up to about 3500. I asked ATC for 5500 and he said he could give me 4500 or hand me off to Orlando approach for 5500. In central Florida, the usual rules for altitudes are adjusted a bit--because there is a narrow corridor outside of the Class B airspace at ORL, we are often assigned non-conventional altitudes.

So I climbed to 4500 and proceded on course. I only had to adjust the course slightly to dodge the occasional cumulous cloud peeking above the layer. I started to get a bit nervous, though, because as I passed Melbourne, it appeared to be a solid layer of holes to duck through for my landing. I told myself not to worry--I still had 80 miles to go and clouds were forecast to be scattered at F45. So relying completely on my VOR and my GPS, I stayed the course. Things cleared a bit as I passed Fort Pierce. I tried to tune the ATIS at PBI, but couldn't get it. I could hear the HIWAS at Pahokee, though. I had tried to listen to both radios simultaneously, but that didn't work as well as it does in the new Cessnas. For a while, the radio was strangely silent, although I could hear the ident for one of the NAV radios--weird since I had neither selected on the console and I did not have the ident knob pulled on either....maybe that was the DME, I don't know. Since I hadn't heard anything from Miami Center, I called and asked, "how do you read". Very faintly and just above the background noise, I heard a reply. So he could hear me, and I couldn't hear him. Lovely. I then switched radios and the controller advised me to contact Palm Beach Approach ... I heard that loud and clear.

The pattern was full at F45 as I approached from the North. I passed over the airport at 1500, descended to pattern altitude and entered the left downwind for 31. I then proceeded to make a very soft, but crappy landing. Instead of touching down on the rears first, I did a 3 point landing, and then porpoised a little. Maintaining backpressure on the yoke, the plane settled down and I was safe. My excuse is that I've been flying the high-wing Cessna 172 lately and the touchdown attitude is different from the low-wing Warrior. The Warriors also have ground effect due to the low wing--I've got my excuses lined up!

The total trip took 2.1 hours for an average speed of 111 knots versus a calculated speed of 105 knots...Not bad at all.

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