Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Florida on fire - the return

I checked the weather for CRG and noted that my destination was currently IFR. The temperature and dewpoint were close and wind was light and variable, signalling little change. The ceiling was reported a 800 and broken and the METARs showed several special issues in the prior hour showing different RVRs. The TAF called for scattered thunderstorms and rain. This was going to be interesting. On the way down the GDL69A - the NEXRAD weather radio had malfunctioned. I had hoped that it would magically fix itself.

There was haze at North Palm Beach County airport as we loaded the plane, but the ceiling was high and I probably could have departed VFR. My preference is to fly in the system, though, so VFR was out of the question. This proved to be the right decision as I would later discover.

"Good Morning, Palm Beach clearance delivery, Skyhawk 1-4-6-3-foxtrot is at foxtrot 4-5, ready to copy IFR to Charlie-Romeo-Golf", I called.

A reply came quickly, Skyhawk 1-4-6-3-foxtrot, cleared to Vero via radar vectors, then as filed, climb 2000 expect 7000 in 10 minutes, contact palm beach departure on 123.8 before entering controlled airspace, squawk 4415, How soon before you are ready to depart?"

I responded, "Clearance, Skyhawk 6-3-foxtrot is number one at 2-6-Left and ready to go" and I repeated the clearance.

The controller cleared my departure and instructed me to head 340 on departure and switch to advisory. I eased the throttle and taxied on to the runway. The plane accelerated down the runway and lifted off smoothly. I announced, "north county traffic, skyhawk 6-3 foxtrot upwind on 2-6-left departing IFR turning to 340, last call, north county".

I turned to 340 and switched the radio to palm beach departure's frequency. I was progressively cleared to 3000', then 5000 and finally 7000. I encountered solid IMC about the time I passed through 1500'. We flew in smooth, but obscured conditions until somewhere around Daytona.

Passing Ormond, the air took on a distinct smoky smell.

I noted several bogeys on the traffic information system and ATC advized me to head 360. About five minutes later, he advised me to descend to 5000'. I was nearing 6000' when the controller called back and advised me to climb back to 7000 and said he thought I was landing at St. Augustine. He also cleared me direct CRG.

Throughout the flight, I checked the METAR for CRG using the weather data interface - the GDL69A had miraculously repaired itself. The weather was still reporting an 800' ceiling with 3sm visibility. I pulled out the plate for the ILS32 and briefed it as I've done many times before. ATC authorized a descent to 2000' and gave me vectors for the ILS. We found ourselves in and out of clouds with a broken layer below us. I was cleared for the approach and handed off to Craig tower. I announced that I was 10 miles out on the ILS32 with Hotel, full stop. The controller asked me to report 2 mile final. I flew the beam and we broke out of the clouds at 1200'. Not quite minimums, but it was still fun. There was another plane in the pattern - flying VFR, illegally in my opinion as he was flying the pattern at 1000' and the ceiling was clearly less than 500 ' above him. The tower advised me that I was number two following a skyhawk turning final and asked if I had him in sight. I replied that I had him, but he looked rather high - he was turning final, but was still at pattern altitude through his base leg. I continued my approach and watched as the other pilot dove down and eventually touched down about halfway down the 4000' runway. He completed his touch and go and I continued down, slowing the aircraft gradually touching down near the numbers and turned off on the A4 taxiway.

The flight took a bit longer for the return due to headwinds and my more conservative use of power. I logged 2.2 hours with one full hour in actual instrument. Another Great Weekend for Flying!

Florida on Fire - Mother's Day Weekend 2007

Friday was my last day at SAS. I spent most of the day tieing up loose ends and packing up my office. I bolted for home at 3:30 in the hope that we could leave immediately for the airport and make the 4:00 IFR slot that I had filed.

We almost made it, but the plane wasn't ready. A photog from the Times-Union had hired one of the Sterling pilots to take him up for shots of the fires that are plaguing North Florida these days. Unfortunately, the pilot paid no attention to the time and returned the plane 30 minutes late. I was not pleased and probably was a bit harsher to the nice people at Sterling than I should have been...but this was the second time in a row that the plane was returned late by an inconsiderate pilot who blamed his tardiness on ATC.

We finally took off and headed south. Almost immediately, we found ourselves enveloped in haze as the ground disappeared beneath us. I departed runway 5 and was given a heading of 100 for departure. The plane's climb performance was miserable - I was only getting about 600 fpm. The air was hot, hazy and smoky, so I think there must have been lower O2 content. ATC turned me to a southeast heading, but shortly after, he asked me to expedite my climb. I replied that I was givin' it all she had. The controller turned me back to the east - probably to avoid the blimp that was orbiting the TPC Sawgrass for the big golf tournament. Once I had reached 5000', I was cleared direct to Ormond then on course.

We found ourselves in and out of IMC throughout the flight. Passing Melbourne, I was handed off to Miami Center who changed my clearance to Pahokee, as I had expected. I punched in PHK in the flight plan and turned to the southwest. I could see some large dark clouds ahead and I warned Maureen that it might get bumpy. I even dug out my plastic garbage bags just in case her Bonine didn't do the trick. The ceiling was barely VFR, so when I was asked if I wanted the ILS 8R, I replied in the affirmative.

There was no traffic in the pattern when ATC handed me over to advisory. I called, "North County traffic, Skyhawk 6-3-foxtrot, 4 mile final for 8 right, north county." Another voice asked if I was flying straight in, so I replied, "I'm straight in on the ILS 8 right, full stop."

Coming in, I slowed the plane to 65 knots and made a very nice touch down on the runway. I braked and turned off to the left at the first taxiway, then proceded to the ramp. The flight had taken a scant 2.0 hours and I logged .5 hours of actual instrument.