Monday, May 15, 2006

F45 - North Palm Beach

A few weeks back, I flew my wife down to the North Palm Beach airport - locally referred to as "North County". We've flown down there quite a bit and this was the second time this year that I've been down.

The last time we flew down, there was a NOTAM that announced that the PAHOKEE (PHK) VOR was out of service. This time, there was no such notam. Nevertheless, I could not receive the VOR on the published frequency. There WAS a notam that showed that the ILS for 8R at F45 was OTS. Fortunatlely I was flying on an instrument flight plan in an aircraft coded as slash-Golf. (It had an IFR GPS). The weather was good, but very windy, so navigation was not going to be a problem.

The weird thing about our outbound trip was the route that ATC gave me. My plan was approved with a slight modification - I was cleared from CRG to OMN via radar vectors, then MLB then PBI, then direct F45. I had filed CRG direct OMN, MLB, then an intersection and direct F45. Going all the way to PBI would have taken me way south of my destination.

When I took off, the tower told me to fly heading 100. The on course from CRG to OMN is via an airway that has a heading of about 164. So the tower had me heading out to the ocean well away from my ultimate course. After the handoff to JAX approach, I was eventually turned to a heading of 200 and told to join the airway then cleared on course.

Passing Daytona, I was handed off to Orlando Approach who were very busy. I got an occasional traffic alert, but no call at all for an aircraft that was headed in the exact opposite direction only 500 feet below me. Orlando handed me off to Miami Center just as I approached Melbourne and they were busy, too. I listened for a break in the chatter, but before the break came, Miami Center called me "Cessna 51313 are you with me?"

"Affirmative, Skyhawk 313 level at six-thousand", I replied.

"November 313, cleared direct Pahokee when able."

Heck, I'm flying GPS, I'm able now, so I hit the direct-to button and dialed in PHK. In a few seconds, I got the course and turned right towards PHK. I tried to pick up PHK on the NAV, but neither radio could receive it. About 20 miles from PHK, ATC told me to turn left and pointed me directly at my destination. The controller asked me what approach I wanted and since we had a visual, I told him that I had the airport in sight and I'd take the visual to 8R. I also checked with him about the Class D airspace at Gwinn - and asked if I needed to contact them directly. No, was his reply. He then said I could cancel IFR in the air or make a call from the ground - so I told him to cancel now.

We landed with a strong headwind which made touchdown very slow and smooth.

The next day, we headed back. I called clearance delivery from the ground in the runup area and was pleased to get a reply almost immediately. I was cleared via radar vectors to VRB, then as filed. Climb 2000, expect 5000 in 10, fly heading 360 and contact ATC on such-and-such. They NEVER give me the altitude I request. What's weird is that they always assign an altitude that is different from the altitudes specified in the AIM for uncontrolled IFR.

Upon reaching 2000' I was told to climb to 5000. Most cloud tops were right at 5000, but they climbed to as high as 6000' as I moved north. Around Daytona, I received a traffic call, "November 313, traffic 12 o'clock 1 and a half miles, VFR, opposite direction four thousand five hundred, Beech Sierra".

I immediately responded that I was looking, but cloud tops were at 5000 and it would be hard to pick him out.

ATC then contacted the Sierra who said he was clear of the clouds - "LIAR!" I thought to myself. There was absolutely NO WAY this guy was flying legal VFR at 4500'. At 5,500' he would have been barely legal with the 1000' above requirement. It amazes me how stupid pilots stretch the rules.

I never saw the Sierra - at 1.5 miles we would have had about 20 seconds to spot each other.

I called "No Joy" and ATC told me he was no longer a factor.

The rest of the flight was uneventful although coming through the clouds was bumpier than my wife likes.

The weekend gave me 4.7 hours of cross-country time with .7 hours actual instrument. Gosh, how I love to fly!

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