Monday, August 08, 2005

Stage 3 - Dual Cross Country - Tallahassee & Thunderstorms

Now the fun really begins. Flying cross-country is what it is all about, in my opinion. For the first year after I got my private pilot certificate, I flew a cross-country flight every weekend. As a result, I've built up more than enough x-country time to meet both the Part 61 and Part 141 cross-country requirements.

Nevertheless, part of the instrument curriculum requires some cross-country time, so last Saturday, Justin and I made plans to go to Tallahassee on an instrument flight plan. Although I suggested that we should book more than four hours for the round-trip flight, Justin though four would be enough. I've flown to Tallahassee before and four hours including a fuel stop and a diversion to Cecil Field would be cutting it close. It was do-able, but we would have to leave right on time.

With this in mind, I arrived a little early to pre-flight the airplane. N512MA must really be burning oil because once again, it was just under the 6 quart minimum. Not good. I had to walk back to the office and pick up a few quarts. Rather than adding just one quart, I decided it would be best to be close to the maximum of 8 quarts because this was going to be a hot day and the more oil, the better the enging cooling. Of course this caused me to be delayed a bit and I was just finishing my pre-flight when Justin arrived.

We briefed the flight and then got situated in the plane. The engine started without a hitch and everything appeared normal. I tuned the NAV and COM radios to the proper frequencies and put the ILS 32 for CRG in standby on NAV1. I then contacted clearance delivery and advised that I was ready to copy. Amazingly, I was cleared as filed! I was expecting to have to copy a bunch of stuff down, but my plan was to take us to Tallahassee via V198, across the Taylor, Greenville and Seminole VORTACs then get the VOR18 approach to TLH. The IAF for this approach is the Seminole VOR. We were told to climb to 2000 and expect 6000 in 10 minutes. Fly heading 270. The controller advised me to call when I am ready to taxi.

Everything was good to go, so I responded, "2 Mike-Alpha is ready to taxi with information November". We were cleared to taxi to 23 and off we went.

There was almost no wind during the taxi, so I checked the flight controls and annunciator lights to shorten the time of my run-up. Everything on runup was fine, so I taxied to the holdshort at 23 at Foxtrot and requested clearance. As expected, the tower told me to hold short for release. Within a minute, we were released and off we went down the taxiway. All systems go!

It was a nice flight into TLH. As we neared the Greenville VOR, I tuned the ATIS and learned that runways 36 and 27 were in use. We were starting to encounter some weather, so Justin suggested the ILS 27. I asked the approach controller for the ILS 27 and he told me to standby for vectors. I then pulled out the approach plate and we started to brief the approach and get the plane ready. At Greenville, we were told to turn to 220 which would put us well East of the IAF when we intercepted the localizer. We requested lower and were advised to descend to 2000. I don't know when ATC would have brought us down, but if we had waited much longer, we would have had a very steep approach. We could hear the controller busy with a VFR aircraft who was having trouble remaining in VFC. At one point a lengthy broadcast was drowned out by another radio transmission. I thought it might have been my clearance to enter the ILS27 approach, but right after the transmission, he was confirming something with the VFR pilot, so I assumed it was him.

As we crossed the localizer, I wondered if we would be given clearance. Since it was clear that ATC had its hands full, I figured he wanted me to go South of the localizer for traffice or something. A few minutes later, the controller contacted me and said I had flown past the localizer (DUH!) and I should turn to 330 to intercept, cleared ILS27 approach, contact tower.

I made the turn as instructed and we started to enter the clouds. Cool! I lined up the needles on the ILS and flew a nice, stable 90knot approach. We broke out of the clouds at about 800' MSL and there was the runway, right where it was supposed to be. Rather than land on the numbers on this 8000' runway, I decided to fly about halfway down then set the plane down. The FBO was at the far end of the runway, so this would cut about a mile off of my taxi time.

We parked right in front of the FBO and bought some drinks then turned around and headed for home. Our calculations said we would have about 2 hours and 45 minutes of fuel on board, so we didn't really need to pay $4.17 for gas! Justin preflighted while I inspected porcelain.

We hopped into the plane and picked up our clearance. This time, it was not as filed. I had filed an entrance to V198 at an intersection before the Greenville VORTAC, but I was cleared straight to the VOR. The controller also asked me a question about the stop at Cecil Field. I had put this in at the instructors request so we could get a third approach. It isn't that far out of the way. I confirmed that this would be a planned missed approach.

We were cleared to depart via 36, which was great--that was the closest runway and it put us closest to our destination on the outbound track. I turned direct for the Greenville VOR and we proceded to climb to 7000 feet for the trip home.

Before we reached the Taylor VOR, Justin suggested that we request Direct Cecil. This would cut a few minutes off the flight. Good idea. Time was getting short - Justin had a 1pm ground lesson. I asked for and received direct. I requested the VOR9R approach and was again asked if this was a planned missed approach. "Affirmative, then vectors for the localizer 32 approach at CRG. The controller advised me that missed approach would be climbing left turn to 270 at 2000'. Shortly after that, the controller advised me that the missed approach would be right to 180 and 2000. Much better! He then said he had two jets coming in behind me, so keep my speed up as long as possible. I requested and received a descent clearance and proceded to dive down to 2000'. This gave me an airspeed close to 120 knots, which isn't bad in that plane. Groundspeed as 135 knots. Nevertheless, I was told that my option clearance was canceled and was asked to execute a missed approach as soon as I could - the jets had caught up to me.

Now is when the not so much fun started...Justin decided that he could get us back to CRG faster than the controllers and canceled our instrument plan as we were deparing Cecil. Cecil tower told us to turn to 030 from our current heading of 180, and I made a steeper than usual left turn back to the North-northeast. I glanced up an noticed that there were quite a few low clouds between us and CRG...AND A HUGE STORM on top of CRG. It was at this point that we tuned the ATIS at CRG and heard "Craig is IFR, due to rapidly changing weather conditions, contact tower for current weather." Lovely. Just freakin' lovely. I'm sure I told Justin several times, "I don't know why you canceled our flight plan." I was not very pleased.

Now Justin tried to get a shorthand clearance for the ILS at CRG, but ATC kept telling us to standby. One of the controllers even said, "it would have been better if you hadn't canceled your plan in the first place".

ATC advised us to remain VFR at 2000'. That was not going to be easy. We had airspace on either side of us, the tower farm dead ahead, a descending cloud layer above. Nevertheless, we managed to find a slot and passed through the hold into clear air south of CRG - which is ironically where we would have been vectored if we had not canceled our flightplan!!!

Justin was still trying to get a clearance for the ILS - gotta get back to do the lesson. After several communications, ATC finally said, "I will not clear you for any approach at Craig. I'm getting level 3 and 4 returns from the thunder storm and reports of severe windshear. If you want to discuss this later, I'll give you the phone number, but I am not giving you clearance. What would you like to do?" At this point, it was clear to me that ATC was getting annoyed and that Justin was getting too pushy. I jumped on the mic before Justin could respond. "Jax Approach, 2 Mike Alpha, thank you. I'm sure that is the best decision and I appreciate your help. We'll divert to St. Augustine." "St. Augustine is VFR and we can see the airport. Thanks for your help."

So I turned slightly to the right and headed straight for St. Augustine. We tuned the ATIS and fortunately for us, we heard that runway 13 was in use. Meanwhile, Justin was trying to raise Sterling on the radio...I don't recall whether anyone responded. I think so, but I'm not sure. Anyway, after contacting the tower at StA, we were advised to enter a RB for 13 and in we went.

We were worried that if we spent too much time diverting and executing missed approaches, fuel would become an issue. However, after landing, we refueled and the plane only took 28 gallons. That meant that we still had 20 gallons of usable fuel on board when we landed at St. Augustine after 4.0 hours of flying including three climbouts. Flying high and leaning, really made a difference. We averaged 7 gallons per hour which is excellent...I usually figure on 10 gallons per hour.

We had a nice lunch and I filed an instrument plan for our return to CRG. The flight back was not bad. We got more instrument time since there were still lots of clouds. I was given the localizer 32 circling to 14 approach which was executed very well. Justin asked me to give it a soft field landing and again, I opted to land a bit further down the runway to cut down on our taxi time. I greased this landing and we departed the runway at the Echo intersection - almost to the end.

All told, this was quite an enjoyable flight. I was not real impressed with the decision making when our instrument plan was canceled, and Justin's push to enter a thunderstorm that looked pretty nasty to me gives me some pause. Next time, I'll be more assertive with my time requirements and will insist on handling all radio calls unless I delegate them. 4.6 hours total time, 0.9 hours actual instrument.

I'm almost done with instrument training. Justin wants one more flight before I do the final stage check. Then it is off to the FAA for the check ride!

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