Monday, July 23, 2007

My Hairiest Landing Ever!

I had spent the weekend in Palm Beach Gardens and was a little concerned about the weather for the return flight. I planned a 10 am departure and that would put me at my home field around noon. The TAFs along the way were calling for thunderstorms after 1pm local, so any delay would put me in the middle of the mess. Departing at 10 would also put me in the developing cumulous clouds which would make for a bumpy ride.

The prior day, I flew down on an IFR flight plan at 6000 feet and stayed above the tops of most of the clouds only rarely passing through a growing cumulous cloud.

I don't think I'll ever understand why controllers do what they do. Based on my past experience, I filed for direct OMN then the airway to MLB, then PHK. This seems to be the routing I always get. But, my clearance was to OMN via radar vectors, then V3 to v492 to PBI then direct. V492 takes me off the coast, then back to PBI which is further south of my destination, then I would have to backtrack to F45. So much for anticipating ATC.

Our descent into the airport put me in the middle of a cloud layer near Lake Okeechobee, but it wasn't too bumpy and I was able to fly south of the airport and entered a left downwind for runway 26. There were three aircraft in the vicinity as I flew the pattern. One was coming from the North, one from the South and another had just departed. I turned my base leg and announced my intentions and position. While on base, I heard the pilot from the North state that he was going to enter the left downwind for 27. There is no runway 27 at F45, so I knew he was not familiar with the airport.

As I turned final, another aircraft took the runway. No call.

I announced that I was on short final for 26 left and told myself - "get off the runway, idiot!"

He began his takeoff roll. No call.

He began to climb on his upwind. Still no call.

I landed and turned off at the first taxiway since I knew there was another plane coming in behind me. I announced that I was clear of 26 Left and then called, "Aircraft on upwind for 26 Left, is your radio working?"

I was more concerned for other aircraft since I knew there were several others in the area who he would potentially conflict with.

He lied, "Yeah, we called our departure. We're departing the pattern to the south."

Bull hockey. He never called when he took the runway and he never announced his position.

Nevertheless, I replied, "OK then. I never heard any of your calls. Sorry."

So, fast forward to Sunday. I was concerned about the weather and filed IFR at 7000 feet. I planned to pick up clearance once airborne so as to avoid waiting for ATC to clear the area overhead. Doing this would also give me more direct routing home. I filed that I would pick up V3 at the MORGA intersection...not technically proper, but with GPS all things are possible.

I had plugged in my flight plan into the GPS, completed the runup and we were on the roll. I climbed out and made a right turn to the North and plotted my course directly for MORGA.

As I left the airport area, I called Palm Beach Approach and requested my clearance. I was cleared direct to VRB then as filed.

At 7000 feet we were above most of the clouds although there was an intermittent overcast layer well above us. This would have been inconsequential except that it interfered with the satellite reception for the NEXRAD weather downlink. I periodically checked the weather along our route and it looked like we were very safe until we neared St. Augustine.

Around OMN, the controller advised that I could fly straight through the rain or he could give me a vector that would take me around most of the weather. I told him I'd take the vector. He pointed me to the ROYES intersection and then cleared my via V267 to CRG. A few miles before ROYES, he called back to tell me that the weather was building and I should fly due North. That took us right into the rainstorms and we got tossed around a bit. I slowed the plane to maneuvering speed to ensure that we didn't have a problem with strong up and down drafts. This would hurt our time, but we'd be safer.

We encountered some heavy rain from time to time, but we were ok. Then ATC dropped me down to 5000 feet and I should have requested that we stay high, but I didn't. I flew right through the heart of the clouds and rain. Throughout this process, ATC periodically asked me how I was doing. This was a nice touch. We were fine. No problems.

We passed out of the clouds near St. Augustine and ATC handed me off to JAX approach. JAX dropped me to 3000, but the controller didn't receive my acknowldegement - three times.

After he repeated his instruction three times and I responded three times, it was clear that he didn't hear my response, so I hit the IDENT button to let him know I was there. He acknowledged that he saw my IDENT and repeated his instructions. I then switched to the second radio and called again. He heard me that time. The strange thing is that I heard him perfectly while he couldn't hear me. I think the problem was with the PTT button as even when you push it, the TX indicator doesn't always show.

The METAR at CRAIG showed wind at 060 and 16 knots. Landing on runway 5. When I descended to 1000', the GPS showed wind at 27 knots from the East. On final for 5, the controller advised that wind was 100 at 16, then 110 at 16. That would make for a killer crosswind. I was following another Skyhawk and was cleared to land.

I watched the aircraft ahead of me and it was clear that he was having trouble with the approach. He aborted the landing and climbed. For some unknown reason, he asked ATC if he could make a right 360 to gain altitude. This makes no sense to me. ATC was sending him over to runway 14. All he needed to do was to turn 90 degrees left and climb into the left downwind for 14 and fly a normal pattern.

The final was bumpy, but I maintained a steady approach. I crossed the threshold and the plane started to drop rapidly. I was getting considerable windshear going from 27 knot winds from 090 to 16 knot winds at 110. When the plane dropped so rapidly, I made the decision that runway 14 was the place to be, so I gave the plane full power and retracted the flaps to 20 degrees. I called the tower and advised that I was going around. He did not acknowledge. I then started climbing out and retracted the flaps fully. I asked the controller, "How do your read" and he replied somewhat snottily that he had heard me announce my go around." I then explained that I had encountered some difficulty with my radios earlier and just wanted to make sure he heard me.

At 350 feet, the controller told me to begin my crosswind turn, so I turned left and continued to climb. The wind was fierce and kept me close to the runway. I stopped my climb at only 700 feet as I was in position to make my base turn followed by by final. All the while the student and instructor in the plane that was doing circles at the end of the runway were saying they were going to do another circle for spacing and were bitching about me being in front of them.

"Well genius, if you had just flown a normal pattern instead of looping around in silly circles, you would have been ahead of me.", I thought to myself.

This approach was still hairy - the wind was gusty and about 30 to 40 degrees off of the runway. Nevertheless, I was able to set the plane down relatively smoothly and quickly exited the runway.

This was a challenge and it was the first time in nearly 500 hours that I have felt obligated to execute a go-around.

I mentioned that to Hayden in the office later and he said that he wished other folks would do that rather than breaking his airplanes...guess I did the right thing.

Good weekend of IFR flying. 4.6 hours total time with about .8 hours of actual instrument.

David West

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