Monday, December 20, 2004

No Day is a Perfect Day for Flying

Saturday night, Jerry Wilkey told me "If you have time to spare, go by air!" I'm sure glad Maureen didn't hear that. She would have cited that as further proof that my expensive hobby is useless.

With a front pushing through Florida, and the memory of the last time I got stuck in Ormond Beach fresh in my mind, I made my plans for the return from North Palm Beach (F45). The winds at all levels were forecast to be unfavorable for my direction of flight, although it appeared the higher I went, the worse they would be. I chose 4,500 feet as my desired altitude and the only challenge would be the forecast clouds at 4000 feet at various places along the way. I sure will be glad to get my instrument rating!

I paid my bill and checked the plane - full tanks, this time. The fuel pump was behaving oddly. Normally, it clicks rapidly when it is turned on and pressure climbs rapidly to 5 to 7 pounds. Now, it was clicking slowly and the pressure came up slowly--although it did come up. I made a mental note to keep an eye on the fuel pressure.

The engine started after eight or ten blades and I set the radios. COM 2 seemed to be working now and that was a relief. I taxied behind a nice Cherokee Six to runway 31 and following a quick run-up that showed no problems, I took the active. I departed ahead of a plane that had just turned base and I could hear him calling his turn to final as I made my takeoff roll. No problem--this was perfect timing. I climbed out and announced my intentions to leave the pattern to the north. Reaching 1000 feet, I contacted Palm Beach Approach and asked for flight following. They quickly gave me a squawk code and told me the altimeter was 29.86.

I could feel quite a bit of wind on the climb out and I knew this would be a challenging flight. Reaching 4,500 feet and lining up on the Victor 3 airway, I ran through the cruise checklist. I was turning about 14 degrees to the left of my course to account for the wind. However, the wind was not constant. I encountered frequent updrafts and down drafts and had to constantly alter my course to maintain my desired track. Even after fine tuning the course, I still drifted when the force of the wind changed. My airspeed indicator fluctuated between 115 and 95. Engine RPMs which I had set at 2400, increased and decreased due to the wind and the up/down drafts. I was really getting a workout. Maureen would have been tossing her cookies!

The clouds were almost non-existent. That was quite a relief from the forecast that had called for scattered to broken followed by overcast at some points along the route. They never reached the broken stage. I can imagine that someone on the ground looking up would have thought this was a perfect day for flying, but the way I was being bounced around, it wasn't.

As I passed the space center, I took the opportunity to snap a couple of pictures of the vehicle assembly building where they were working on the space shuttle. I couldn't resist. The sun was illuminating the site perfectly.

Passing, the airspace near the space coast, Daytona Approach announced traffic at my altitude, 8 miles, opposite direction, 12 o'clock. I looked and looked and could not see it. It was a Lake--an really cool sea plane, but I couldn't find it. Knowing that I was turned to the left to compensate for the wind, I looked in the 1 to 2 o'clock direction and just could not spot him. When ATC told us the traffic was now 4 miles, I began to get nervous. ATC then suggested that I descend to 4000 to clear the traffic, and I eagerly complied. I was releived when the other aircraft said he had me in sight. Just as I reached 4000', I saw him. Coming straight at me, 500 feet above directly through the spot I would have been in. Thank God for ATC.

A short while later, ATC announced additional traffic and once again, I could not spot him. This time, however, he was not in contact with ATC. He also should not have been at this altitude going the opposite direction, either. ATC told me to turn 30 degrees to the left and I banked the plane quickly. I never did see the other plane and within 30 seconds, the controller told me to resume navigation, the other aircraft was no longer a factor.

The skies over Craig were clear as I approached from the south. Once I spotted Craig, I called Jacksonville Approach to cancel flight following and thanked them for their assistance. I pulled out the approach plate for the ILS 32 approach to practice descended to 1900 feet and adjusted NAV2 to intercept the 139 radial of the CRG VOR. I tuned the ILS on 32 on NAV1 and turned to the north to intercept the approach. I quickly grabbed the ATIS, adjusted my altimeter, checked the heading indicator against the compass and contacted Craig Tower. The handoff from ATC to Craig must have been quite smooth, because, the controller immediately said "Make straight in for 32 and report 2 mile final. Winds 290 at 14 gusts to 20".

The winds had kept most folks grounded, so there were no other planes in the pattern. I devoted my attention to the ILS and noted that the glideslope was still out of service. At 5.3 miles, I started my descent adjusting the airspeed to account for the wind in my face while maintaining a 500 fpm rate. This put the airspeed about 100 knots. I planned to use only 2 notches of flaps because the gusts might make the plane float quite a bit.

As I neared the airport, the controller advised me that the wind was shifting back and forth and he could switch me to runway 23 if I wanted. I was a little suprised at this. I could see the wind sock and it appeared to be favoring 32. It was pointing straight out, but at an angle to the runway. I responded, "Thanks, I'll just stick to 32. I may have to go around, but this will do for now. 2-Mike-Alpha". Great, attack my confidence just before I land!

I divided my attention between the runway ahead and the CDI as practice and found that I was doing a pretty good job of maintaining the localizer heading by using a compass heading of 305 degrees. I had read an article recently that suggested it is better to choose specific headings when trying to maintain localizer and VOR headings, and that has proven to be useful advice.

The plane bounced and tilted in the wind as I drew closer to the runway. This was going to be a challenge. I progressively introduced two notches of flaps and adjusted the trim to compensate for the increased nose high attitude this tried to give me. As I neared the threshold, I shifted from a crab to a slip by dipping the left wing into the wind and using the rudder to maintain my line. Crossing the threshold, I pulled the power to idle and the plane settled down. I touched down on the left main followed by the right, then finally the nose wheel...probably in about as much time as took me to write this. Slowly, softly--I could hardly feel the touchdown. Better, yet, I was right on the centerline. This was one of my best landings ever and under stiff, variable crosswinds. I cheered for myself as the plane rolled down the runway.

Thinking about this flight, I cannot think of anything that I did wrong - usually, there's some gotcha that I forgot about or did incorrectly. Ok, so maybe I touched the transponder before I crossed the hold-short line. An maybe my altitude deviated a bit too much in the updrafts initially, but once I started to pay more attention to the VSI and the altimeter and less to the seat of my pants, that problem went away.

This was a challenging, but extremely fun flight! 2.6 hours thanks to the wind!


  1. How long have you had you liciense?

  2. Jared, I got my Private Pilot Certificate on 5 October 2003 and have about 200 hours time. It took me just over a year to get my license. I flew only on Saturdays. I soloed after 14 hours, but did not get my certificate until just over 70 hours. My first instructor cancelled lessons with short notice on a number of occasions, and she finally quit instructing just a few lessons before my final stage check. This set me back months as I had to prove myself to a new instructor all over again. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed flying with her. I'm probably a better pilot thanks to the second instructor.

    I'm now halfway through instrument training which will culminate in an Instrument Rating. And this is with a third instructor, who is outstanding.

    Thanks for asking!