Sunday, December 17, 2006

Florida Winter Weather

Having lived in Florida for around 40 years, I think I've seen about every type of weather in December. I've seen the city shut down on Christmas Eve (1987) due to snow - a inch was enough to close every bridge in town. I've been water skiing or golfing throughout the winter. You never know what it will be like.

Today, I checked DUAT for the local TAF and METAR information and saw IFR or marginal VFR conditions throughout most of Northeast Florida. The current information showed 6 miles visibility and mist at Craig, but JAX and St. Augustine were much worse. At 9am, JAX was reporting 1/2 mile in mist, but at 10:10, they were at 3 miles with a scattered cover. At 9am, it was 3 miles and mist at St. Augustine. I had planned a 10 am departure, so with iffy weather, I opted to file IFR.

The drive to the airport was covered by blue skies with an increasing cloud cover as I neared the airport - but nothing as bad as the earlier METARs had indicated. I grabbed the flight bag and prepped the plane. Today, I would be flying a Cessna 172SP with the NAVII package. I've been flying one with a glass cockpit lately, so this would be different flying with the traditional six-pack of gauges.

The plane checked out although it's tanks were only half full and the previous pilot had not secured the controls. Since my flight was only going to take about an hour, 2.5 hours of fuel would be more than enough.

The engine started easily and I ran through the usual checklists. Clearance delivery cleared me as filed and told me to climb to 2000 expect 3000 in 10 minutes and she gave me my squawk and the ATC frequency. While in the runup, I double checked the VORs against each other and they were perfect.

With the wind running down runway 5, I would have just a short taxi before takeoff. I taxied out of the parking area at Sterling and stopped on taxiway Golf short of the controlled space before contacting ground control and requesting taxi to runway 5.

There was a single, older 172 in the runup area and he was turned 90 degrees to the wind for his runup - a bizarre way of doing things. I passed him and parked myself into the wind as close to the hold short as possible. The engine ran just fine in the runup. I plugged in the frequencies and the transponder code, then pulled forward and requested takeoff clearance. Although I pulled out of my parking space, I remained clear of the taxiway thinking that ATC would make me hold for clearance - I was right. The wait wasn't long, though and I was cleared for take off quickly. I was given 100 as my departure heading. I put 100 on the heading bug on the heading indicator, turned the transponder to ALT, turned on my lights and noted the time.

On thing that the glass panel aircraft does that the traditional gauges won't do is to compensate for precession on the heading indicator - you simply never have to make an adjustment, whereas with the traditional gauges, you have to stay on top of things. Therefore, once I lined up on the runway, I double checked the heading on the HI and started my takeoff roll.

I noted that I was airborne before I passed the B2 intersection - that's less than 1000' for a takeoff - and I didn't even start my roll at the very end of the runway.

Reaching 700' I turned to 100 and ATC handed me off to Departure. The departure controller had asked me what I wanted at St. Augustine, so I requested vectors for the VOR31 approach. The NOTAMS said that the ILS glideslope was still out of commission, so a VOR approach would be fine. I've been flying ILS and localizer approaches lately anyway, so a VOR approach would be a good thing to do.

On the downwind leg at 3000', I took a few shots of the St. Augustine airport with my new lens. The shots at least show some of the haze that we had, but conditions were definitely VFR.

I made a very nice touch-and-go at SGJ then headed back to Craig. Due to the good weather, I decided to cancel IFR and putter around a bit. I took a few more shots of my house, the beach, other aircraft, etc.

I then headed back to Craig flying straight up highway 9A. I listened to the ATIS that reported winds at 4 knots at 070 - light and only 20 degrees off of the runway. Craig tower advised me to enter a right base to runway 5 and report 2 miles. I followed the highway for a while, then adjusted my course to enter the assigned pattern while descending to 1000'. I slowed the plane and maintained 65 knots of airspeed for the approach. I wanted to be able to exit the runway at taxiway B2. There was a seminole holding short and I hate to make people wait for me almost as much as I hate to wait for people. B2 was the quickest way off the runway provided that I could stop the plane in time.

This time, the plane was much lighter than usual due to the reduced fuel load. I had about 20 gallons of fuel versus a full load of 56 gallons - so I was over 200 pounds lighter with no passengers or cargo. Although my approach speed was steady at 65 knots, the plane floated and just did not want to stay on the ground. The tires chirped a few times too many - I hoped that no one was watching. Nevertheless, I stopped right at the B2 turnoff and was able to clear the runway quickly for the seminole.

It was fun day to fly, but I logged no actual instrument time...passing through a few whispy clouds just doesn't count in my book. I did log an instrument approach, though. I flew 0.7 on an instrument flight plan and the remaining 0.3 hours was pure VFR. Total time for the day was 1.0 with two landings.

David West

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