Every year since I got my private pilot certificate, I have found myself at the airport on Thanksgiving morning preparing to fly somewhere to celebrate the holiday with family. I cannot remember a Thanksgiving morning that did not begin with fog and this year, things were no different.
Our plan was to leave as early as possible and fly from my home base at Jacksonville's Craig Municipal airport (KCRG) to Tallahassee Regional (KTLH) to pick up my mother-in-law, then the four of us would continue our journey to Tampa International (KTPA). We had a rental car waiting for us in Tampa and dinner was supposed to start at 1pm. I had warned the family ahead of time, that weather might delay us in spite of my instrument rating, but we all crossed our fingers.
The weather at my house South of Jacksonville was fairly clear as I loaded up the car. It wasn't until we neared the airport on highway 9-A that we started to see the lazy clouds still resting on the ground. We arrived at the airport around 7:45 am and the beacon was still lit indicating instrument conditions. As I pre-flighted the plane, I tried to determine how far down the runway I could see. I estimated that I could see nearly the full 4000', so visibility was around 3/4 of a mile. Looking up, I could see blue sky, so it was probably a thin layer of fog covering the airport. I listened to the weather on my handheld radio and the report said visibility was 1/4 mile with a ceiling at 300 feet. Since I could see much more than 1/4 mile and estimated the visibility as being much closer to 1 mile and the ceiling was 300 feet - more than 100 feet above minimums, I decided that we could safely depart. The weather was updated repeatedly during that time period - here are the METARS around that time period:
SPECI KCRG 261215Z 26003KT 3SM BR FEW005 10/09 A2999 RMK AO2
SPECI KCRG 261227Z 26003KT 2 1/2SM BR BKN005 10/09 A2999 RMK AO2
SPECI KCRG 261231Z 27003KT 1 3/4SM BR BKN003 10/09 A2999 RMK AO2
SPECI KCRG 261236Z 27003KT 1/2SM FG BKN003 10/09 A2999 RMK AO2 CIG 001V005
SPECI KCRG 261248Z 28003KT 1/4SM FG OVC003 10/10 A2999 RMK AO2
METAR KCRG 261253Z 27004KT 1/4SM FG OVC003 10/10 A2999 RMK AO2 SLP156 T01000100
SPECI KCRG 261300Z 28003KT 1/2SM FG VV001 11/11 A3000 RMK AO2
SPECI KCRG 261314Z 28004KT 1/4SM FG VV001 11/11 A3000 RMK AO2
SPECI KCRG 261327Z 29005KT 3/4SM BR VV001 11/11 A3000 RMK AO2
SPECI KCRG 261335Z 30006KT 1SM BR OVC001 11/11 A3000 RMK AO2
METAR KCRG 261353Z 31004KT 3SM BR OVC001 11/11 A3000 RMK AO2 SLP156 T01110111
SPECI KCRG 261403Z 30004KT 5SM BR OVC003 12/11 A3000 RMK
My plans for the trip required that we have no more than 33 gallons of fuel on board when we took off from Tallahassee in order not to exceed the maximum weight capacity of the Cessna 172. I was careful to reset the onboard computer to indicate a full load of 53 gallons prior to engine start. When I preflighted, I noted that the tanks were not quite filled to the top - perhaps one gallon was missing from each tank. That would give us a slight margin of safety. I would have to burn 20 gallons of fuel between engine start and our takeoff in Tallahassee.
There was one other aircraft operating at the airport and I heard it receive its clearance before I got mine. Nevertheless, my instrument clearance was given almost immediately. "November 62770, cleared as filed to Tallahassee Regional, climb to two thousand, expect six thousand in ten. Jax Departure frequency 124 point niner, squawk 4273.", came the clearance.
I repeated the clearance, received confirmation and then tuned ground control. I also plugged in the squawk code and tuned the second radio to 124.9.
I called ground announcing that I had information Quebec and wanted to taxi for westbound IFR.
Winds were from the west-north-west, so it was no surprise that we were departing on runway 32. North Florida Aviation is situated very close to the runup area for 32/23, so in no time we were completing our runup checklist. I took my time to carefully check every aspect of the airplane and was pleased that everything was working perfectly. I entered my flight plan in the GPS and also entered the frequency for the ILS-32 in case we needed to make a hasty return to the airport. With a 300 foot ceiling, the ILS would be the only approach available to us. I've landed closer to minimums before, but never in an emergency...as usual, I said a little prayer to myself before I requested takeoff clearance.
We were cleared to take off on runway 32 at intersection echo. I announced our clearance to Christy and Melissa and pulled on the the runway. I could see straight down the runway as I advanced the throttle. I called out "airspeed is alive" as the tape on the left of my primary function display began to roll numbers. As our speed came up past 55 knots, I began to gently pull back on the yoke and our nosewheel left the ground. Almost immediately, the entire plane climbed into the air. I stabilized the climb at 74 knots by adjusting the trim using the buttons under my left thumb. I glanced up and noticed that we were already in the clouds although we were only about 200 feet off of the ground. Our climb continued and soon we found ourselves above the clouds.
The tower called, "November 770 on heading 280, contact approach".
This meant that as I climbed to my assigned altitude of 2,000 feet and flew heading 280, I should contact Jacksonville departure.
I flew my heading, switched radios and listened for other radio traffic before calling, "JAX Departure, Skyhawk 62770 out of one thousand one hundred for two thousand."The controller came back with, "November 62770, radar contact three miles west of Craig, climb six thousand".
Runway 27 at TLH on Final Approach
Runway 27 at TLH from about 6 miles out.
This leg of our trip accounted for 1.7 hours of time on the HOBBS meter. Over the next day and a half, we would add another 5 hours some of which was spent fighting headwinds over the Gulf of Mexico. Any weekend that I get to fly is a good weekend. I haven't been doing enough of that lately. I'm looking forward to spending more time in 2010 finding new places to fly to with my wife, Christy. Even in the short time that we've been together, I've taken four of her family members up in the air. I'm sure there will be many more opportunities to have our family fly "Air Dave".