Friday, July 14, 2006

Leesburg and Mt. Dora

I flew to Leesburg Municipal Airport for the first time on the 24th of June. KLEE is on the outskirts of the class bravo airspace around Orlando. My mother was celebrating her 67th birthday with a dinner at the Lakeside Inn in Mt. Dora. This would have been an awful drive from Jacksonville. Only about 2 hours or so, but it would be through lots of small speedtrap towns and I just hate to drive when I can fly. Sure, flying is more expensive, but for pure enjoyment, you can't beat it. Besides, there are no SUVs in the sky.

I departed around 3:30 to ensure that I would be able to arrive by 5pm. My sister, Kathy, was going to pick me up at the airport. As is typical in Florida this time of year, thunderstorms were forecast for the area. I had been watching the radar earlier in the day and it didn't look too bad to me.

When I called for a weather briefing, the briefer in Gainesville immediately asked if I had looked at the radar. She was seeing lots of echoes and warned me to be very careful and to use weather avoidance via ATC. I was concerned about the conditions, but not so much that I was going to cancel the flight.

I called for my instrument clearance once I got the plane started and was given everything I asked for except the initial part. I was cleared via radar vectors to OMN, then as filed. I had filed a route that would take me directly to the IAF for the GPS 31 approach. The weather would be favoring that approach.

Once airborne, I encountered a fair number of clouds. ATC cleared me to the victor airway that I had filed and once established on the airway, it looked like I was in a valley about 50 miles wide. To either side of me running almost parallel to my path were ridges of clouds. Although they were tall, none were thunderstorms. I could see them growing and occasionally flew through them. I encountered rain on takeoff and again about 15 minutes into the flight.

South of St. Augustine, I encountered a large jet overhead. Looked like a Southwest 737 descending into JAX. ATC warned me about the plane and I never noticed any buffeting. He was about 3000 feet above me when we passed. About 10 minutes later, I saw very bright lights directly ahead of me. I was at 5000' and these lights were not far below that. The lights grew brighter and wider apart, when finally ATC announced that I had an MD-80 at 4000' in the opposite direction. I replied, "Tally Ho! Skyhawk 313". It was a beautiful sight to look down as this great jet flew beneath me.

Nearing Leesburg, I could see some thunderstorms to the southwest of the airport. The ASOS at the airport said lightning was "distant". I knew I had to keep an eye on the clouds.

Just a few miles before I would have penetrated the class bravo airspace, ATC advised me to turn right to 230. There was a very strong tailwind - about 20 knots or more, so I thought that wasn't enough. I watched the GPS as the Class-B grew closer and closer. Finally, ATC told me to descend to 2000', and I expedited my descent at about 2000 fpm. If I hadn't I would have gone right into the class B and ATC had not explicitly cleared me. While I descended, ATC turned me about 20 degrees more to the right and told me to expect the NDB 31 approach. He also advised that I could cancel IFR in the air or by calling the FSS on the ground. Since it looked like there were still some rainstorms between me and Leesburg, I advised that I would call on the ground.

I got out the NDB procedure and pulled up the approach on the GPS. I intercepted the course to the airport and was advised by ATC to switch to the advisory freq. Tuning the CTAF, I heard on plane departing from 31, but never saw him as I was still about 6 miles out. The approach took me directly across a large lake. I announced my straight-in intentions, but I was alone in the pattern. I touched down nicely and Kathy and Kevin were waiting for me.

Dinner at the Inn was very nice, but it would have been nice to have a glass of wine. Since I was flying home that night, I didn't dare. I've always maintained at least 12 hours bottle to throttle even though the FARs allow 8 hours...why risk losing a pilot certificate that took me significant amounts of time and money to acquire? Or worse...why risk my life for a glass of wine?

More on the return later...

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